Long Time, No See

みなさん、こんにちは!元気ですか。長い間休んで、ごめんなさい。数ヵ月、色々なことがありました。旅行の後、学校に来て、忙しくなりました。私はALTをしていた学校の卒業式を準備しなければいけなし、英語の授業を練習しなければいけなかったです。

そして、最近、御殿場市から浜松市北区まで引っ越しました。御殿場市に比べて、このエリアは何もありません。御殿場はマクドナルドがありますが、ここに一番の近いのはバスで40分ぐらいかかります。マクドナルドがあまり好きじゃなくてよかったですね。

(Translation: Hello, everyone! How are you doing? I’m sorry I took such a long vacation. Many things came up after travelling and I became extremely busy. I had to prepare for graduation and review my English classes.

Recently, I moved from Gotemba to Hamamatsu’s northern ward. Compared to Gotemba, there isn’t really anything here. At least Gotemba had a McDonald’s. The closest one to here is about 40 minutes by bus (that I know of). It’s a good thing I don’t really like McDonald’s.)

I’m sure you were wondering whether something happened to me, but I promise you I’m very much alive.  During the last few months, I have been travelling. All places are listed below and will be addressed in their own posts (if I ever get around to doing them):

  • Yokohama
  • Odawara
  • Kamakura
  • Shizuoka
  • Mishima

Thinking now, I’m overwhelmed with the amount of writing I need to accomplish in the coming days. Thank goodness for the pictures I take or else I’d have trouble remembering the places I’ve seen and the food I’ve eaten.

Backtracking, my turmoil began back in November when I planned what I thought was a harmless visit back home. It was my little secret, cloistered away in the depths of my heart. It was days before I could wipe the smile off my face; days before I could stop daydreaming of my parents’ reactions to my popping in unexpectedly. In the meantime, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that Fate has its own agenda and I was helpless to stop it. Cue the last ALT meeting.

Surrounded by that tacky, office building interior with chairs that were too high, my trainer ominously beckons me over in that subtle Japanese way. “How would you like to move to Hamamatsu?” he asks.

“…what?” I blinked once, twice. What did I do wrong? What aren’t my teachers telling me? So many what-ifs flew around in my head. I was suddenly nervous.

“Yeah, we can’t keep you in Gotemba anymore,” he explained.

I handled the news quite well and, like a seasoned businesswoman, I asked, “Will the company pay for my moving expenses and will I have to come up with another apartment deposit?” Naturally, all my fears were laid to rest. Plus, the moving date wasn’t until the end of the school year.

I had nothing to worry about (or so I thought).

Reality came crashing down over my head when my credit card bill showed up. That meant time wasn’t waiting for anyone; including me. My secret was abruptly brought to light and it was imperative I tell someone in order to avoid any possible late fees. Who could I call? Who in my family wouldn’t bat an eyelash to help me…? Ah! Grandma!

How terrible of a granddaughter am I to rely on an old lady for financial assistance? Cynicism aside, she agreed and I was on the fast track to giving myself a heart attack. Without the absolute knowledge of my moving date or even where the hell I would be going, I was uncertain of whether I should start packing earlier or later. Even then, shoving things into boxes was double-duty. Not only did I have to make sure I was ready for my trip (without forgetting anything), I had to make positive I had my other things set up for the move (without forgetting anything).

Fast forward to Oh Shit Day and I was on a plane back to the desert. I thought I would be more excited to see home, eat Mexican food, and sleep under my glow-in-the-dark-star-dotted ceiling, but I wasn’t. I easily slipped back into the routine I was once a part of. My father even got some breakfast!

After a week of hanging out and being a fatty, I revved up my engines and went back to Japan. With the time difference, it was March 29th by the time I landed on the soil I’m quickly coming to call “home.” The rest of the week went something like this:

  • 29th: sleep in apartment
  • 30th: load up the moving truck, change addresses with the appropriate authorities, stay in hotel in Mishima
  • 31st: be homeless, register with the proper companies, and bum it out with a friend
  • 1st: attempt to locate the new apartment via Google Maps, get lost, have a breakdown

The day I got lost was the day I had never felt more foreign. Stuck in the middle of an area I knew nothing about, while it rained, with no knowledge on how to say, “I’m lost” was the most depressive state I’ve ever been in. I kid you not when I tell you my phone almost ended up in the gutter. Fear. Worry. Hunger. Hopelessness. It was all there in this ugly, knotted up thing lodged between my ribs.

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The Miyakado River. It used to be totally fresh but is now contaminated by the ocean after a large earthquake destroyed the natural dam that held Lake Hamana in.

Aside from a few odds and ends, I’m pretty much moved in and comfortable. There are other ALT newbies in the same apartment complex and I’ve been about as rude as I can be. So far, my only conversation with the lot of them has consisted of, “Hello. My name’s Ashley. Nice to meet you.” This love-hate relationship I have with people is going to see me as an unmarried spinster with plants and dogs clogging up my house in the future, watch.

I’m only sorry that I’ll be moving again after this school year.

…wait. What?

My new home is situated in Hamamatsu’s northern ward, quietly nestled in a field of rice paddies, surrounded by trees. The Miyakado River separates my apartment from my school and already, I’m enjoying having water close by. As the sun sets, I can see and listen to the fish jumping from the water. What’s incredible is that the waterfront is lined with cherry trees. This spring, I’ll have my chance to witness the epitome of Japanese culture every day I leave my apartment.

While my particular spot is famous for its oranges, Hamamatsu itself is famous for its gyoza, eel (うなぎ, unagi), music industry, and manufacturing. It was highly recommended to me to visit the unagi pie factory. They’re these crispy wafer-like cookies that are absolutely delicious. They’re often purchased as souvenirs.

Established along the Tokaido highway, Hamamatsu flourished with the constant flow of people coming and going. If you want to know more about the things that came out of this area, please visit the city’s website.

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An old photo. This is an older photo showcasing some of downtown Hamamatsu.

Recently, a drama was filmed here about a woman called Naotora Ii. Her original name was never recorded or never found, but she’s famous nonetheless. Born during the Warring States era and promised to her cousin Kamenojo (later named Naochika) in her youth, she was the only child in her family and unsuspecting of what life would give her.

As the political atmosphere heated up, Naochika was spirited away to protect his status as a potential heir. Because Naotora was left out of the loop, she thought he was dead and proceeded to be a nun. Over the course of 10 years, Naochika grew into a man of means, married, and had a male child: Naomasa.

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Promotional poster for the drama filmed last year.

This child was much beloved by all until his father was accused of rebellion and his family executed. Before the government could take Naomasa as a hostage of war, Naotora came out of seclusion, was declared lord of her clan and raised the boy. She sees him succeed as heir to the Ii clan before dawning her robes of religion.

The temple in which Naotora spent the majority of her childhood is about 20 minutes from here by car. It’s called Ryotanji. Every weekend, I can see the tourists gather at the Cultural Museum to get a gander at the historical artifacts… and buy some oranges. I’m sure they make their way up the hill at some point.

Overall, this is a town built for the quiet life and I’ll relish it (and the mosquitoes) until it’s time for me to start the next chapter in my life.

The Bread Knife.

Before I forget what happened, let me tell you about my day.

Grab yourself a hot beverage, preferably seasoned with marshmallows, and make yourself comfortable. I wish I could tell you to rest your feet by the fire, but I hope my electric heater will suffice.

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Today was a bruiser. Last night, I simply couldn’t sleep. Some kind of light bothered me, a Christmas song kept making an appearance in my head, or I ended up thinking about nonsense. All I did was toss and turn! That, in effect, made my Monday rather difficult. My last teacher of the day commented on my eyes looking heavy and patted my back all the way down the hallway.

After school, I talked the nurse into letting me take a nap in the infirmary. Naturally, there was too much noise for me to fully sleep but I think simply closing my eyes was glorious enough. It gave me the burst of energy I needed for what came next.

Most days, I make it a point to visit with the school secretary, Mrs. E. She was eager to assist me after I told her in casual conversation that I wanted to swing by the stationary store to see if they had what I wanted (Copic Multiliners). At this point, it was obvious I was a wilting blossom with petals too heavy to lift.

4:30 came quickly and off we went and I was pleased to see they had marker paper and a light board! The light board was too expensive, of course, for me to afford immediately, but I did escape with my paper, pens, and two folders with my favorite character on them: Panpaka-kun! (Click on the link to watch a video of his shorts.) You can find more information about him through Wikipedia. I was even able to redeem my point card for 5% off!

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Upon leaving the store, I made the comment about being hungry. No sooner did it leave my mouth Mrs. E. had us swinging into a local bakery. I had only browsed the selection here one time before as I was walking around a month or so ago. She insisted I get the curry bread (theirs was the best in town). I went ahead and indulged in sausage bread, a kind of sweet potato danish, walnut bread, teriyaki chicken bread, and some whipped butter.

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After she treated me to the carb package, Mrs. E. told me they had a campaign going on where you present your receipt, draw for a colored ball, and receive a prize. Luck must have been on my side tonight because I bingo-rolled for my ball and out popped the highest value I could get. What was my prize? A bread knife! The excitement my friend was feeling was contagious and I left there elated.

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With my arms full of assorted bread, art supplies, and my heart full of happiness, I returned home.

Chichibu-no-miya Memorial Park

Are you fond of nature?

Do you like to take big whiffs of that fresh mountain air?

Does your throat freeze with overwhelming emotion?

Your heart is light when you think of the wind making the leaves giggle, the brooks babbling to each other, and the creatures making their chitter-chatter. You want to play with the deer and antelope and be euphoric!

Do you also like to scavenge and scrounge; to escape the light and purity to muck around in the damp earth?

Do you take pride in your humanly power when you hear Mother Nature cry out under your harsh feet?

You are shrouded in malice as you find monstrous treasures under the centipedes and pill bugs. You want to make a cave your hideaway and be forever a grungy hermit. Who needs society anyway?

But isn’t there a part of you that trembles at the magnificence of it all? Of trees so tall that you swear it would take years to climb their branches?

Chichibu-no-miya Memorial Park (秩父宮記念公園, chichibu-no-miya-kinen-kouen), often shortened to simply Chichibu Park, is such a world that elicits much feeling from me. I visited this place back in September when I saw an advertisement there was a craft fair. Being a crafty person myself, I couldn’t resist the charm of the local talent. Also, there was going to be snack stalls and I can never say no to food.

Before I knew there was a free shuttle that would transport me to the park without much effort, I trekked the half hour up the hill. It’s funny how, when you return, the trip goes so much faster. Winding my way through the side streets, I chuckled at the clash of old and new houses, marveled at the smallness of the streets, and enjoyed my walk overall. Upon arriving, I was greeted with a wall of towering pines and a giant sign saying “Handmade Crafts!”

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Walking down to the wide pathway, I was in awe. I felt I could have been a princess in a fairy tale. Never having really experienced a forest before (unless you count dried up ol’ Mt. Charleston), my mind couldn’t help comparing it to Rumiko Takahashi’s Inuyasha. There was such glory! I was immediately humbled.

All too quickly, I was brought back to reality with a handful of fliers being shoved into my hands: pamphlets describing the booths, amenities available in the park, and a map (thank goodness for those). Too afraid to venture far from civilization, I stuck close to the booths. Having gone there early in the morning (apparently I’m too early for even Japanese standards), there weren’t that many open for business. They were all still at some stage of preparation.

The first things I purchased were cookies and a handmade bag. The cookies were more like shortbread than anything and the bag was required when I found out my little purse wasn’t going to cut holding everything. Amongst my paraphernalia were magnets (one for my mom and one for her friend) and two crafted owls (one for my mom and one for my dad). As I’m writing this, I should have purchased one for myself. They were awfully cute.

Giving my wallet a break, I decided to look around. This is where I give you your history lesson.

Gotemba’s characters (御殿場) stand for “palace place.” You see, Gotemba is only 2 hours away from Tokyo, formerly known as Edo. This area was a prime location for His Majesty and his entourage to vacation and rest on their way to the capital. It also proved to be a handy spot for daimyo and their families while they traveled. Because Edo was a time of peace, the Tokugawa shogunate wanted to make sure there were no uprisings so a hostage situation was arranged (参勤交代, sankin koutai). The conversation probably went a little something like this:

Shogun: (surveys the area) I see you have a large amount of land and your fief respects you.
Daimyo: Yes, sir.
Shogun: I also see you have a beautiful wife and two sons. Your daughter is rather pretty.
Daimyo: (starts to sweat) …yes, sir
Shogun: To show your loyalty to me, you will hand over your family. They will live in the capital with me.
Daimyo: But…!
Shogun: (hand pompously flies up for silence and with a stern expression) They will live in the capital with me. You will remain here for two years. Once your time is up, we will exchange your person for your family. Understood
Daimyo: (near to begging) Your Highness, I can assure you I will remain loyal! Please, don’t take my children! They are so young!
Shogun: You will heed my order. They will be well taken care of. The money will come from your coffers. (with finality) There won’t be any problems.

All expenses accumulated were to be paid by the daimyo. We all know war costs money and without it, there was no way for them to rebel. I digress.

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There was a typhoon swinging through the area that day.
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Bomb shelter.

The main house in Chichibunomiya still stands in its original form although the inside has been gutted and maintained as a sort of museum. The information pamphlet takes pride in it being 280 years old.

The last royal to stay there was Prince Chichibu and his wife, Masako. The son of Emperor Taisho, he was the second son and took up a successful life in the military. He was also an avid traveler and the royal villa in Gotemba became his favorite place to escape. Dying before his wife, Princess Masako made sure to detail in her will that the house be given to the city for preservation. I originally thought this to be a good gesture on her part, seeing as she and her husband never had any children, but there may have been a more selfish (or selfless) reason. The princess may have been avoiding taxation (酷税 or 国税, kokuzei) and by selling off the land to the city, she saved herself and any future holders of the house from being indebted.

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Prince Chichibu looking out towards Mt. Fuji.

Not only is the house interesting, but so is the nature. There are plants on the premises that bloom every season so you have something to look at while you’re walking around. Also, you wouldn’t be in Japan if there wasn’t a cherry tree. Those are scattered about as well. I happened to be there when the spider lilies were opening up.

Before I left, I popped into the gift shop/rest stop by the front gate. I was aware there were some workshops going on as part of the fair and thought I’d look around. In a far corner were some children playing with pressed flowers, arranging them on a paper lace background. The women running the shindig were welcoming and were eager to get me to join in. Between broken Japanese and selective listening, I was able to participate. Luckily for my wallet, my inspiration to do this as a hobby was short lived. I wouldn’t have even known where to get the materials.

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For ¥200, I took home a unique souvenir that I’ll always be able to treasure. The women also treated me to an arrangement already made. It now hangs above my bed with my collection of pinecones.

See you next time!

The Disease

I think it’s time I talk about “homesickness.” But, before I do, I need to get my thoughts out about what caused it.

I was watching a movie called The Little Prince based from a book of the same name. The side story introduced me to this little girl that was surrounded with the pressure of growing up and life plans. Enter this eccentric old aviator and a relationship was born. In the end, as heartwarming as it was, I still became overwhelmed with my emotions. They all centered on my grandma.

Before I continue, please do me a favor. Go hug someone you love. Read this with them. They are the only ones who will cry with you. Give them a big squeeze. We are only flesh and blood. No one has yet to tell me if there is central heating where our souls go.

My grandma is a beautiful woman and there’s no one like her. With all of my grandparents dead in the ground, I consider myself lucky to know her. What’s funny is that I may not know her favorite color or be aware of her favorite food but I can tell you that she likes blooming flowers with fuzzy bee butts, breezes that bring the smell of good food being cooked with love, and the liveliness only a family can give.

One of the things my mom talked to me about before I embarked on this journey was how I would react to the news of my grandma’s inevitable passing. I address it now rationally before I give my heart a chance to start making a plan. Death is an unexpected visitor and always comes on laundry day. I believe it’s our duty to greet it with souls laid bare. But I know, too, that a little part of me will die with her. My smile will be a little more false and my good nature just a tad darkened. It kills me to think I will be without her caring and kindness some day.

These feelings of loss — of something missing from my life hits me every weekend when my brain is given the opportunity to go blank. I would swear I was pregnant if I wasn’t keenly aware of how much I miss the people I’ve taken for granted all of these years (I can already hear my parents in my subconscious telling me “We told you so!”). My grandma is just the tip of the iceberg.

On Friday, I watched some students attempt to recreate professionally demonstrated tamagoyaki. I was immediately reminded of my Aunt Judy’s old home on Montebello Street. In the kitchen, under the dim glow of the stove light, she showed me how to crack an egg. I struggled just as those kids did. Even when they burned them from too hot of a pan, they were proud. Now I think nothing of breaking one open most days. What’s funny is that I still have difficulty sometimes. There are a lot of good memories I have in that house. If only it could talk. I wonder if it remembers me as fondly as I do it?

At the end of The Little Prince, the girl was seen with her mom. The one regret I have is not being closer to her. She and I are like magnets with our positive poles facing each other. You can get us close, but not too close. So, we have been forced to watch the life of the other from the sidelines hollering encouragement as best as we can. It’s rare when the Wi-Fi signal is strong. My guilt runs deep. I only hope we can lean on each other later in life.

Lastly, my love for my father is as natural to me as breathing and I’m reminded every day of his absence. He tells me often of how much he misses me. Whenever I hear a motorcycle in the street, my skin crawls with the expectation of seeing him. I anticipate on a daily basis him walking through my door. Some mornings my apartment is too quiet.

To me, this is homesickness. It’s the remembrance of the family I can’t immediately see.

If you think you’re strong enough to move away from everything you know, fine. I just want you, Dear Reader, to know that the disease will sneak up on you when you least expect it. I love you.

Home Sweet Home

Autumn has come to remind us that winter is not too far away. The wind and rain has become a bitter a lover – biting at my skin instead of caressing it. Lately, however, the sun has been shining. Like the bipolar weather, I too am experiencing times of happiness and times of bleak depression. Two times this week I have found myself in tears as I battle the raging torrents of self-doubt. Some days it feels like it will carry me away and I will give up the fight to find myself and what I stand for. The stress of wanting to show these kids I’m not an alien is really weighing down on me and has, unfortunately, caused me to come down with a cold. The fact that I have no Daddy or Mommy to baby me makes me all the more depressed.

To take my mind off of my tiny troubles, I will talk about what I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: my apartment. I live in what’s called a LeoPalace. They are a franchise that provides furnished apartments for single people. Each place is provided (basically) the same things: a folding table, bed with storage space, TV, mirror, two chairs, microwave, and washing machine. I was anticipating something that would fit in my bedroom back home but was pleasantly surprised. I will tip my hat off to the Japanese. They know how to utilize space. My only complaint is that I wish I had more cupboard/shelf space. This desire is even more pronounced due to the arrival of care packages from home.

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Thank you, Google Streetview.

My building is seemingly out in the middle of nowhere when it is, in fact, surrounded by several houses. There are just rice fields taking up the space in between. It’s a nondescript thing painted in blue and white stripes. Over time (with a bit of help from Toby), I have discovered the secret to the lights upstairs. One unit sits on the ground floor while the unit next to it is the one situated upstairs. It’s the door that’s on the foundation that leads upwards. My scaredy-cat self can only imagine what it’s like coming home in the dark of the night and having this spooky, gaping mouth staring you in the face.

Walking in, I’m greeted by the quiet stillness of the hallway. My shoe box is on the immediate right. The small doorknob that permits me access is often the place of rest for my wet umbrella. I used to have a pink rug edged in lace there until I got paranoid there was mold/bug eggs embedded in the carpeting. All of the floors, with the exception of the bathroom, are made of wood. I want to find the idiot that put the laminate down because he could have cleaned better beforehand. My parents already know how much the dust drives me crazy. What’s nice is that I feel a little more at home after noticing the dust bunnies behave in the same manner as at home.

After a few feet, you’ll notice the sorry cubbyhole that is my kitchen and pantry on the left and my laundry “room” on the right with the bathroom being immediately next to it. I can’t stress the amount of times I’ve stepped out of that place and almost killed myself slipping. In home improvement stores, I see small benches and chairs specifically for the bathroom, but I may just use one as a stepping stone from the tile to the laminate. At least the space is cramped enough I won’t have far to fall.

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Before the “remodel.”
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After the “remodel.”

The kitchen space, as previously mentioned, comes with a microwave, fridge and storage space. I don’t care too much for the storage because I’m used to such luxuries as a garage and mass amounts of shelving that allow me the opportunity to organize and avoid burying things that need to get eaten sooner rather than later. Microwaves cook hotter in Japan and they don’t light up when you open them. (I suppose I could count that as a blessing. I don’t have the chance to see the funk and gunk splattered on the inside.) At the time this picture was taken, I was recently moved in. Now, the following is crammed in there:

  • Panko bread crumbs
  • Tuna fish
  • Canned salmon
  • Sweet potato syrup packets
  • Instant miso soup packets
  • Pancake mix (I use this flour when I’m breading things)
  • Consommé soup packets
  • Hot chocolate mix
  • Rice seasonings (ふりかけ)
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Beef tomato soup

The fridge itself is very similar to an office unit but the freezer is more spacious. Unfortunately, during the writing of this installment, the fan on it decided to go out. The landlord was nice enough to offer English-speaking assistance and, between my company and theirs, my new unit should arrive this week. (I just hope my kitchen wagon still fits in its space. It’s where I store my dishes.) I’ve quickly discovered that, if I shop like an American and act like the world is going to end, things go bad in there startlingly fast.

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The infamous kitchen wagon.

I have issues with the cooking range and not because it’s electric. Coming to Japan, I didn’t realize I would be asked to go from a full four-burner gas-powered stove to a dinky two-burner contraption. Again, I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth because if a natural disaster happened, I wouldn’t have to worry about the stove blowing up on me. The sink is nothing special; nor is the tiny cabinet above it.

Across from the “kitchen” is the W.C. I can’t say bathroom anymore because the toilet room is definitely not where I would take a shower. It’s interesting how quickly I got over the novelty that is the Japanese toilet. All units differ in the options and features available. Mine comes with a sink that uses the water from the tank and a bidet that will clean my backside whenever I desire. My favourite feature is the heated seat.

After the short journey through that half of the apartment, we come to the anti-climax of my story: the bedroom. The only cool thing about this place is the outside monitor. It’s the “only window to the outside world.” (Did you catch that reference?) Beats peeking through a peep hole. Also, I hate the storage space under the bed. It’s dark and spooky and, when I first moved in, this was the spiders’ favourite place to hang out. I now have my luggage under there and make sure to move them around when I clean.

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This is probably the cleanest the place has been.

I do my best with what I have and can see myself becoming comfortable. Now, if only I can get over this cold/flu/whatever the hell it is. (Side note: nothing is scarier than looking for cold medicine when you can’t read the characters on the boxes. So, I’ve been treating with ibuprofen and vitamins.)

These Boots were Made for Walking

These boots were made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do.
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

Okay, maybe Nancy Sinatra’s break-up-woman-power lyrics aren’t appropriate for this entry. Then again, it’s the first thin in the morning and the weirdest things like to make an appearance in my mind’s eye.

This entry is in retrospect.

Started: September 12, 2016
Finished: September 18, 2016

おはようございます、みなさん。I realize this morning that, in America, everyone is remembering 9/11 and I’m sorry for it. You may want a quiet moment to yourself to remember lives loved and lost. I was ten years of age when it happened and to this day, I know I was wrapped up in the kind of self-absorption only a 10-year-old could manage. There was a part of me however, that couldn’t shake this omnipresent cloud of gloom the adults were projecting.

Because I don’t come from a military family, I can only express sympathy towards the unnecessary destruction of life. Humans are a violent species when their values are crossed and I foresee a constant miscommunicated rut. Labels are a dangerous thing and I’m struck now by a small inside joke: Allah is only another name for God. The waters are too muddied by bloodshed to determine for myself the nature of this beast that has continued for 15 years.

In the meantime, I have more than likely solidified my weirdness by taking a picture of a large snail I found in a drainage grate. I was disappointed that it wasn’t dead. I would have loved to keep the shell and add it to my small collection of All Things Japanese. This mainly contains enough receipts to fill a scrapbook and a hawk feather. I think I have some acorns running around somewhere. This brings to mind all of the things I see on my walks to school.

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I work at two schools but am at one the majority of the time. I teach at the other once a week. The main one is the largest in the area with over 600 students. (When I was doing my self-introduction lessons, I would show my classes a picture of the front of my JHS and explain to them it held 2,400 students. As I continue on my tangent, I think America could learn from Japan. There’s no zoning here. You apply for the school you want to get into and that counts for elementary onwards. Education is almost like a blood sport. These children put their sweat and tears into what they do and the results are amazing.)

My days usually start out like this: every time I leave my apartment, I do battle with an obnoxious spider that is determined to slowly suffocate me in my own living space. Viciously snapping the web from its foundation by opening the door, I continue on my way (though, the last few days have been nice; someone came and cleaned the web off. I have since scrubbed mine and my neighbor’s door. I even sprayed vinegar [EDIT: since I’ve been working on this blog entry, the web has returned but has remained above my door.]). I soon begin marveling at the nature around me. Shrines, flowers, butterflies… aside from the menacing looking spiders I see hanging in mid-air, I do fine. Some days, after it rains, there’s an old man neighbor of mine that likes to rinse his car off. Every time I see him he’s so happy to be out of doors; his smile is infectious.

 

Up one side of the street, I go, around two corners and I’m swiftly on my way to Minami-Gotemba Station. I’m sorry to say that there isn’t even a corner store for me to stop at on my way. All accessible shopping areas are near either school. For instance, by the one I teach at once per week is a 7-11 and Circle K (called “Maru K” here — “maru” meaning circle). My main school is near Family Mart, 7-11 and HAC Drug, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Japan is a network of rivers and streams. It seems like I can’t walk anywhere without encountering some form of waterway. When it rains and stagnant water begins to move, mosquitos are riotous. Walk over a storm drain and you’d swear it had fur.

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Once I get to Fujioka Station, I’m greeted immediately by a grouchy looking orange tabby cat and an equally grouchy Yankee. The definition of a Yankee in Japan is an ambiguous one. This article may help you understand the sub-culture a little more. I’m almost tempted to make friends with him. I see quiet folk as a challenge in getting them to open up about themselves. A few days back, I met him unintentionally at the vending machine and he was very polite in telling me “good morning.” I wish that cat would do the same instead of sitting under bikes glaring at people.

As I walk to school, I’m always welcomed by the local morning glories. There’s even a field of them by my apartment. I read somewhere that hydrangeas change their colors based on the amount of nitrogen in the soil. I wonder if the morning glories do the same. I’ve seen blue, pink, purple, varigated, white-rimmed, and blue-rimmed flowers. I might become poetic here, so I’ll leave my description short and simple. There are other flowers I see, but outside of the cosmos, I don’t know what they are other than cute. Japan seems to be big on beautifying their towns. I’ve yet to go to a place that doesn’t have pots of flowers hanging out on the curb. I often spot swallowtail butterflies paying tribute to the blooms. Other than the nature, my walk to school is fairly uneventful. (Grandma, you’ll be happy to know the grass you hate grows here too.)

Oh! I almost forgot about The House. This house is so overgrown with the foliage that you would think anyone lived there. I wonder a lot of the time how whoever lives there gets into the house. The only reason I know someone lives there is that there’s a white car that parks in the teeny tiny driveway every once in a while.

What really warms me is my interaction with two choice students. They’re in a class I can’t go into too much detail about. Most days, the one student runs up to me and is very eager to communicate. Sometimes, when her friend is there with her, she’ll translate for her. One day, not too long ago, she even told me that she liked me. The lonely gremlin within my heart was elated.

On the walk home, I usually notice a car or a truck parked behind some trees in my neighborhood. I often wonder who they belong to because there is no house and no field around where they’re sitting. They certainly can’t drive forward because the river is there. Maybe it’s a secret rendezvous point for hot couples.

Maybe I will draw a simplified map. It’s a good thing I’m no cartographer.

P.S. There is a rubber working glove that I’ve been paying attention to for the last week or so. It has somehow found its way into a tree. Also, here is a shopping list to let you know how crazy I get at the grocery store sometimes. I should know better than to shop while hungry.

Sponges                    Box cutter                    Chopsticks              Sweet curry

Drying rack for laundry                               Pepsi                         Milk

Eggs                           Bread                             Maple jam               Rice

Chocolate covered almonds                Chocolate covered macadamia nuts

Small Ziploc bags                                   Medium Ziploc bags

Small katsu don with fried egg (for lunch)

Pancake mix           Salad dressing              Croutons                  Sweet potato sauce

Alfredo sauce          Furikake for rice          Katsu breading      Watermelon

Bananas                   Macaroni salad              Asparagus katsu     Marinated salmon

Cabbage                   Potatoes                        Sweet potatoes           Mushrooms

Onion                       Frozen gyoza                Pork chops                   Croquettes

Frozen dumplings                 Cream puffs             Corn dogs         Hamburger patties

At the Supermarket

As my impatient stomach waits for its breakfast to finish cooking, I thought it’s about time to introduce you to my food excursions in the supermarkets of Japan. Yesterday was a boon for me because I was escorted by my coworker, Toby (Anecdote time! I have to put this in there because it’s cool to me: Toby was born in Zimbabwe and went to university in England. He sticks out way more than I do and it’s hilarious to watch the looks of awe we receive when we go out together. Plus, he gets points because he knows who David Bowie is) to a few stores in Numazu. Numazu itself is as close to being a coastal city without actually being on the coast and is a 40-minute train ride south from my apartment. Unlike Gotemba, this is a true city equipped with skyscrapers and bright lights. It even has a seedy Red Light District. It brings to mind old Japan: dirt roads damped with water lined with wooden houses, sliding shoji screen doors, rooms perfumed with the scents of nature and dainty paper lanterns hanging from the lintel.

I’m sorry. I digress. As I was saying, it’s about time I show you how I’ve been faring in the food department. Surrounded by another language, you might think it’s hard. It’s not too bad once you take the time to really look around. Japan is obsessed with pictures. My hunch is because the arts were a popular thing in their history: from archaic doodles to ukiyo-e woodblock prints, the Japanese were constantly surrounded by imagery.

My first shopping trip after coming to Japan was one of necessity. It wasn’t a leisurely stroll to assess the opposing party; no. It was a grab-what-you’re-familiar-with-and-run sort of thing. I believe I went home with carrots, potatoes, milk, apple juice, oranges, bananas, eggs, bread, butter and chicken.  The second trip produced garlic marinated beef and bacon. Somewhere in there, I procured cabbage, mushrooms, seasoning packets and Frosted Flakes. The Frosted Flakes I was particularly happy about. My latest shopping trip produced quite a bit and has gotten me thinking about meal planning. Because of the humidity and the unavailability of central air conditioning, food spoils fairly quickly. Just this morning, as I drank my apple juice, I noticed a blob of viscous mold swimming around. Let’s see how long it takes for my stomach to realize what I swallowed.

The following illustrates the latest shopping trip and my sudden panic at making sure everything I buy gets cooked and everything I cook gets frozen or eaten right away.

 

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Left to right: Green tea Oreos, tamago cookies, canned peas, and corn, Japanese mayonnaise, and tartar sauce.
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Left to right: Frozen broccoli, Earl Grey tea, vinegar, ketchup, meat marinade, Caesar salad dressing, and sweet pickles.
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Left to right: Pineapple juice, tomatoes, eggs, chicken, and pork.
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Left to right: Cooked peanuts, Pepsi, Frosted Flakes, celery, and Downy (called Aroma Jewels here) laundry scent.

 

Catching Up

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Downtown Hamamatsu.

What a whirlwind adventure thus far! The downside to all of the panic and sheer loneliness is that I want to go home. I have sunk into this funk that has made me rather depressed.

In the States, I wasn’t so uncomfortable being around people I didn’t know. Now, not only do I not know the people, but I feel like a true outsider. I felt this keenly when, yesterday, the children were practicing for Sports Day. I was interested to see how this all went down so I slapped on my shoes and ventured outside. What makes me frustrated is that I’m noticing Japan has double standards. The day before the conversation went a little like this:

Me: “What’s Sports Day?”
Teacher: “The school has sport activities. It’s a competition and it’s fun. You should wear a T-shirt.”
Me: “I think I have one. Is it really okay for me wear it?”

After the attempt to include me in school matters on that day, yesterday was the wake-up call alerting me to my foreign-ness.

As soon as the teachers saw me, I was promptly redirected back into the teacher’s lounge and advised to watch from there. I was very much left alone and it hurt. It takes a lot to discourage me and that about hit the nail on the head.

I’m sure it would help if there was someone I could hang out with on a regular basis; someone I could direct my love and attention towards so I wouldn’t feel so lonely. Even my frog buddy has left the sanctity of my air conditioning unit (more about this later).

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Here’s the frog. He used to hang out around my air conditioning unit but he’s since moved.

Backtracking, I left Hamamatsu on the 19th to visit my Board of Education (BOE) in Gotemba and make the required introductions. I was presented to the US equivalent of a superintendent and was promptly asked about how long I’ve been “studying” Japanese.

I say “studying” because there have been times I could’ve applied myself better (like right now instead of writing this). Soon afterward, it was requested I do a 自己紹介 (jikoshoukai). This took me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting it. My assumption was to only sit there, smile and nod. Apparently this went well according to my manager. He acted as the liaison between me and my Japanese superiors.

My last night in Hamamatsu was spent relatively in peace.

I walked around with a few more trainees from my incoming class visiting popular sites and eating good food. The portion sizes are another thing I’ve noticed that is one of those expectations vs. reality issues.

All this time, I thought Japanese food came in tiny portions that were easily manageable! If one was still hungry, they’d go get second helpings. Tiny portions my butt! There have been several times I’ve been served magnificent dishes that I just couldn’t finish. Soon, however, it was time for me to depart.

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Hamamatsu from the ACT Tower.

Hamamatsu was definitely more exciting in terms of things to do than Gotemba is.

On a bright and hot morning, I made my journey out into the spider-infested country. Already my attempts to impress everyone with my habit of showing up early failed miserably. Not only did I take the wrong train into Mishima Station, I boarded at the wrong time. I honestly thought all would be well because it was headed towards Tokyo. I ended up meeting my Independent Contractor (IC) over an hour later.

The next few days after that were a whirlwind of legal papers, shopping and apartment inspection. Let the spider hunting begin!

(Anecdote time! When I opened the window to my apartment, I heard something drop and hit the sill. Not finding anything immediately, I continued to push the window home. This time I was officially welcomed by a small green frog that dropped from… somewhere. I screamed and upset the gas man.)

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Top: Left view from my window. Bottom: Right view from my window. I look out onto a rice field. Birds often like to play there when it’s sunny.

Amongst the blur of activity, I was escorted to the two schools I would be taking over.

The self-introductions were repeated while the previous ALT flew off back to England and I was left with worksheets and flash cards only she understood.

Coming back to the present, the last two days have been a struggle. Working with children demands I have a magician’s bag of games and activities at the ready.

I questioned the ALT about the resources my company has available online and she said they were worthless. Maybe to her; I’m tempted to look to them for ideas. Never have I felt so lackluster and strange. At one of the schools in particular, I have 21 classes I need to present my self-introduction lesson to.

In my downtime, I’m expected to work on next week’s lesson planning. Lord, help me. Now I know how new hires faced with an impossible situation feel and I can’t quit.

In the meantime, I sit here listening to the soap operas on the TV and the rain-soaked crows cry on the power line.