Back Home and My Fortune (New Year’s 2021)

So, I’m late on the new year’s wishes and felicitations. That’s OK, right?

I travelled back to my hometown of Gotemba for the occasion. Arriving at night, the town was as quiet as ever. But I could see that the old royal residence wasn’t immune to the tides of time.

The Subway I had eaten at many times was no longer there, much to my dismay. They’ve been disappearing slowly across the country, I feel. Would anyone be interested in investing in some sub stock? I could really use a good sandwich!

A few steps from Subway, there was a ramen shop I’d aim to partake of every Friday to celebrate the end of the week, but that too was either closed or gone. I still couldn’t tell after squinting in through the window from across the street.

Here are some more highlights from my trip:

When I lived in Gotemba, there was a Tourist Information shop underneath a hotel across from the station on the north side. Imagine my surprise seeing this new, fancy building on the south side. Not only was this there, the city had refurbished its shuttle area, too. It’s certainly more organized now!
Sun Sun Plaza was a shopping center I’d often go to. It had a drug store, a supermarket, a Daiso, a small arcade, and a few clothing shops. No longer will it be standing there in the future, as it’s gated off to be demolished. I still have the sweatshirts from that place!
Mt. Fuji in the background. My camera phone simply cannot catch the closeness in which the mountain is. Truly, I feel such kinship with this icon of Japan.
The Gotemba Premium Outlets are a hotspot for shopping and deals on expensive items. The lines for Nike and Adidas were out the door with scheduled time slots for the Pokémon Store. I managed to score some new sweatshirts that are… hand wash only. UGH!
The hotel I stayed at had some osechi for breakfast! The konbu roll hit me a bit hard. They must’ve used something that tasted like peppermint. I didn’t enjoy it.

Lastly, I took some time out on Sunday to hit up my local shrine for my yearly fortune. Before you skip ahead, you can read what last year’s fortune had in store for me!

The quote about the plum blossom blooming after a hard winter fulfilled its prophecy as we all stumbled into a year with Uncle Covid. Seriously, who invited him? Not only did I have familial brushes with possible infection, I also lost my Aunt Judy. She had a brain aneurysm that ripped her rather violently from us and I’m still sad knowing I won’t ever see her again.

Let’s have a moment of silence. That 2020 fortune had “a sad event” pinned down to a T.

I panicked too after hearing that my only grandma had fallen and broken her leg. What a heart stopper that was! I thought I would have to drop everything and move back home. Mixed in there was a several month-long mental breakdown that had me questioning if I even belonged on this earth.

At Kenroku-en, a former royal garden! It was “super green” if y’know the reference.

Through it all, I managed to regain a sense of myself by concentrating on my painting, floral wreaths, and my relationships with my friends. Yay!

Another something that came true was the advice not to travel. I don’t think any of us saw a worldwide shutdown in the cards, but it happened! I ignored the warnings and was extra careful taking some time for myself as I worked my way around Kanazawa.

This year in 2021, my fortune is extremely lucky! I had some help from an acquaintance translating it. Thank you, Mika! The words of wisdom, too, are very auspicious.

渦を巻く (うずをまく – As the whirlpools spiral)

谷の小川の丸木橋渡る (たにの おがわの まるきばし わたる – Cross the log bridge over the valley river)

夕べの心地するかな (ゆうべの ここちするかな – You’ll arrive at your heart’s hearth tonight)

My interpretation is affected by others’ interpretations on Japanese ask sites in that there are difficulties ahead, but I have the faculty to overpower them and reach the other side. Life is a powerful current that pulls and pushes us where it may, just as the water in the river ebbs and flows.

Below is my complete fortune for the areas of life:

  1. 願望 (ねがいごと, negaigoto, hopeful wishes) – You’ll remember how to get over your misgivings.
  2. 待人 (まちびと, machibito, awaiting person) – They won’t come.
  3. 失物 (うせもの, usemono, lost item) – It’ll be difficult to find. It might be low to the ground.
  4. 旅行 (たびだち, tabidachi, travel) – Travel on a lucky day.**
  5. 商売 (あきない, akinai, business) – Buy stocks that have a low risk of loss.
  6. 学問 (がくもん, gakumon, school) – Be relaxed. It’s a good time to study.
  7. 相場 (そうば, souba, stock market) – Sell; you’ll have a large profit.
  8. 争事 (あらそい, arasoi, quarrels) – You’ll come out the winner if you wait.
  9. 恋愛 (れんあい, rennai, love) – You’ll have happiness.
  10. 転居 (やうつり, yautsuri, moving) – Now is not a good time.
  11. 出産 (おさん, osan, pregnancy) – If you are careful, you’ll have a safe delivery.
  12. 病気 (びょうき, byouki, sickness) – If you believe in the gods, you’ll be cured.
  13. 縁談 (えんだん, endan, marriage) – You will be tempted by others’ words.

**Have you ever noticed that there are markings on each day of the month on a Japanese calendar? These are called 六曜 (ろくよう, rokuyou) or the “days of fortune” and follow the Buddhist practice of auspiciousness. Nippon.com offers a succinct chart.

Screencaptured from Nippon.com

How was your New Year’s celebrations? Did you do anything exciting or did you just chillax and hang out?
Let me know!
Until next time.

What have you been doing lately? (Part 2)

Aaa~nd we’re back! I’m wholly determined to get back into this blog. At least… I’m determined for as long as the fancy to write is instilled within me. I’m the kind of person who will drop things for years at a time before picking them back up again. A prime example: A quilt I started back around 2012. I still have it. In a Ziploc bag. Ready to be stitched together. I even brought it to Japan with me thinking I’d have all the free time in the world to finish it!

Mmhm.

…sure.

I focus when it interests me. How self-centered is that?

Whatever. #mood

Friends of a Feather

When I came to Japan, the very first piece of advice everyone around me told me was to make friends as soon as possible. “Find at least ONE PERSON who shares something in common with you. You’ll feel a lot more at ease here.” Sports groups, knitting circles, art get-togethers, park walkers… anything. Many of you will agree, yes?

BUT!

True to my character, I refused. I shunned the idea and thought, “Pfft, why do I need to go find people? They should come to me!” I mean, that’s what my family was always going on about whenever I’d have a falling out with love. Shouldn’t it work the same way with friends? God, what a pompous noodle butt I was… am?

Mr. Yearly the Groundskeeper

At one of my elementary schools, I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with the groundskeeper. Let’s call him Mr. Yearly. An easy-going man, he was a comfort to me in my new environment when I was first put into that school. We became friendly and I was surprised when he asked me if I had any plans for the New Year.

“Well… no. Not exactly,” I told him. “Why?”

“Oh, I thought maybe you’d like to come over for dinner with me and my wife. By the way, what Japanese food do you like?”

“Um… I guess traditional foods? I really like nikku jyaga.” Truly, I was at a loss for ideas. I don’t do well when people come to me all of a sudden with questions that have too many possible answers.

Fast-forward a few months and I was back again at his house to enjoy some okonomiyaki. It’s a popular enough dish, even outside of Japan, but if you’re unfamiliar with it, all you need to know is that it’s to die for. Side note: I had the opportunity to try true Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki one year for Christmas. I might just have to go back!

His wife was graciously eager to help me out with some unit origami that I was attempting in order to settle my anxiety. But at that moment, I was about ready to scrap the whole project and throw it out the window. Who knew working with something so delicate could be so frustrating!

Oh. Speaking of delicate somethings.

Mrs. Yearly is an exceptionally skilled egg carver. Until now, I had only seen a single documentary about it. That’s where I learned that the dust from an eggshell is toxic. In truth, despite the risks that arts present to their makers, they are a look into the human experience. In the end, Mrs. Yearly was kind enough to remove some of her creations from their cabinet so I could take some photos.

Can you believe that she did all of these herself?!

The rest of that afternoon was spent watching a segment on TV about a teenage correctional program out of Oklahoma, of all things.

I’m starting to see more and more as I take ginger steps out of my uptight bubble that time with friends and loved ones is so incredibly important.

Blueberries for Days

Another outing I’ve had recently involved some down time at a local blueberry farm. Now, if this ain’t a first world problem, I don’t know what is. I was under the impression that blueberries came from bushes. Squat, dense, leafy things! Not these 6-foot-plus trees crowded into a hot greenhouse. No, certainly not.

My image of what a blueberry bu- no — tree — has effectively been shattered.

Anyway, I went with a coworker and her two children. It was funny because the youngest was so in love with them while the oldest didn’t want to have anything to do with them. She pulled a couple of sly ones on me — a few of the blueberries she gave me in an attempt to share were bitter!

We concluded our day with homemade blueberry ice cream (made by yours truly — I’ll share the recipe, along with some others, another time), a simple beef broth soup, and sandwiches. I’m embarrassed to say that the excitement of it all had me passed out on the floor, snoozing.

What have you been doing lately? (Part 1)

I must be honest with you, my sparse audience. I attempted to write an entry for you a couple of days ago, but for some unknown reason, it wasn’t saved. Out of frustration and disinterest, I gave up. I said, “ENOUGH!” As it’s now a brand new day and I’m feeling quite relaxed, I suppose I can give it another shot.

What have you been doing lately?

As I understand it, the world is a bit of a mess right now (when is it not?), and that’s keeping people inside; or at the very least, our activities have been severely limited or altered. Here in Hamamatsu (probably due to the 4-day weekend a week back), COVID cases have gone up significantly. As of yesterday, there are 129 total with 27 discharged/cleared of symptoms.

My reaction to dumb people.

It’s becoming more and more evident that, despite living out in the countryside, the virus will spread as long as people keep moving around, unaware they’re contaminated. And would you believe I STILL see people not wearing a mask?

ANYWAY.

As I look out the window now, I see the sky is brilliantly sunny and the air soupy and hot. This oppressively heavy heat signals the end of the rainy season here. And boy! was it a long one.

Are you the kind of person who enjoys the rain? While I appreciate the petrichor, being a captive in my own apartment for days on end is no fun. I’m a baby that way — I absolutely hate the process I have to go through in order to run my errands. But with the rain comes the beautiful hydrangea and that’s exactly what I had the chance to savor with the group from my part-time job.

Hydrangea Temple

Truly, I love the delicate variety you can experience with a flower only available when the angels weep. Naturally, it was hu-mug-ity and uncomfortable, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the atmosphere of our very own Hydrangea Temple. 

There are many “hydrangea temples” around Japan. This particular one is Mitaniyama Gokuraji Temple and it’s been in service since around 712 AD. We don’t have anything remotely this old back in the United States. So, anything that can give me a peek into an ancient past is exciting. It certainly juices up my imagination picturing what the people may have looked like as they ambled along similar paths I was walking. (You can read more about the region I live in here and here.)

Afterwards, we all partook of a late lunch of cold soba noodles. It was my first time eating at this kind of restaurant and, I must admit, my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

Soba noodles, seasonal tempura, tempura dipping soup, toppings for the noodle soup, pickles, and a fried chicken cutlet bowl. Can you believe me if I told you that I had ice cream after all this, too?

There’s a lot more I can talk about, but for now, I hope you find this small bit interesting. See you next time!

Give me corona, or give me soap!

Give me liberty or give me death” certainly wasn’t how I thought I’d start this out, but it came to mind anyway. I suppose it fits the current situation nonetheless.

Everyone is aware that the coronavirus is wreaking mayhem across the globe. It’s seeping into our already weakened economic sectors, scaring politicians into denial, and causing panic all around. Even I’m starting to feel the nervousness around me.

When Abe Shinzo hit Japan with his suggestion to close all schools, the whole country absolutely freaked out. Social media lit up and everyone was left wondering: what’s next? My suspicions aside, I suppose the crackdown has helped… a little. Despite Japan’s uncanny ability to adjust and adapt, the cons are causing the scale of balance to tip.

Stocks are dropping.

People are becoming scared and downright mean.

Events are being cancelled.

Places that were once teeming with life have emptied.

Every morning, I watch the local train pass by my window. It’s become a ghost train; not a soul aboard. I so desperately want to go out and experience the world around me, but cannot because it’s been recommended that I not go out unless I have to.

To avoid people.

To… exist.

I honestly feel like I’ve walked into a Ray Bradbury story. The hairs on the back of my neck are standing up.

Give me corona, or give me soap.

A Weekend Diary: Dilly-dallying Depression and Fried Food

This weekend was interesting in that I tasted the rainbow when it came to emotions… and I didn’t even have to eat any Skittles!

eyeroll

Usually, I’m preparing and giving an English lesson on Saturdays except that this time, my student e-mailed me to explain that her daughter was placed in in-home quarantine. If you’re thinking Gasp! It’s the coronavirus! you’d be right… but also wrong. The daughter is completely fine, but because of the insane amount of paranoia running rampant in this country… cue the eye roll.

I was antsy, energetic and desperately wanted to get out of the apartment on Saturday. So, I did something weird: I donned some earrings, my denim jacket, and boogied on to the mall that’s FOREVER AWAY but whatever.

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Once I got there, a sense of apathy rolled over me. The lights were on but no one was home. When I saw the puppies in the pet shop though, I perked up a smidge. Every one loves them a puppy.

Over the course of a few hours, I leveled up my life experience by cruising the whole length of the mall, eating some good tonkatsu (sorry, no photo), and gorging myself on some bomb donuts from Mr. Donuts (Dunkin’ Donuts for the rest of you). Unfortunately, I think being out and exposed overstimulated my system and I arrived home with a splitting headache.

Sunday, too, had me in bed with a headache, but for a different reason. I won’t go into it here; however, tears were shed on two different occasions. Depression man… Just when I think I’ve got it under control and have achieved some kind of stability, it comes RIGHT ON BACK. Seriously, I wasn’t expecting it. As I tried to work through it, I suddenly had a craving for some 唐揚げ (からあげ, karaage).

Not a little craving. A BIG craving.

Coming home the night before, I had seen a place that looked newly open. It was hoppin’, too. Well, needless to say, I hunted it down on Google Maps. It’s a place dedicated to fried chicken goodness, からやま (Karayama). It hails from my favorite area in Tokyo, Asakusa, and I wasn’t disappointed by what I ordered.

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The meal included 4 pcs. of lemon-sized chicken, oh-so crispy and juicy! Rice and miso soup was there too. A larger order of rice could be handed to me for free, but I ain’t into rice that much. The sauces that came with it were a kind of sesame seed something, and some spicy-sweet oil. In the last well, I blooped out some mayonnaise. (Never thought it would be good? You should give it a shot. I mean, ya’ll be dipping your Tostino’s pizza rolls in ranch! …wait. Maybe that’s a me-only thing?). The french fries weren’t part of the package. I ordered them separately.

The grand total for all of that? About $10. And I left completely stuffed and sated. I’ll definitely be back. I got a ¥100 coupon to use!

Cold, Cold, Aa-choo!

We’ve all been there. I was there earlier this month. Whenever sudden symptoms crop up, we rush to the internet and research them. 99.9% of the time, it tells us we have some rare form of cancer when in actuality, it’s a cold. Next, we look up “easy ways to get over a cold” or “quick cold remedies.” I get a rhino in the room every year it seems, so I think I’ve got my routine down pat, but what about you?

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We all know that someone somewhere has got some whacky home cure to give you. You’re also probably feeling just bad enough that you’re willing to try it. In my case, I’ve gargled apple cider vinegar, drank a rancid lime and garlic tea, and have even taken shots of honey and lemon juice with a dash of pepper.

Crazy, right? But what does Japan have to offer?

First, the internet said (pages linked are in Japanese):

Probiotic foods
Found on Google that was linked to this page on probiotic health.

(Source #1): Dr. Mako

 

        • Go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep
        • Do a sinus rinse
        • Drink an herbal tea
        • Try some Chinese medicine
        • Gargle salt water
        • Don’t go nuts with OTC drugs
        • Suck on some throat drops
        • Take care of your gut with probiotics
          • For example, yogurt, kimchi, miso, etc. (A.K.A fermented foods)

(Source #2): Meiji Food Co.

        • Get some good rest
          • If you snore or can’t breathe, use a breathing strip so your sleep isn’t interrupted
        • Relax and quiet your body
        • Eat nutritious foods (high in vitamins, minerals, and protein)
          • Specifically easy to eat foods, like yogurt, fruit slices, and Jello, if your throat is hurting
          • Suggested Meal #1: Hot pot
              • Recommended because the nutrients from the vegetables and meat bleed into the broth. Eating hot pot ensures you’re getting all of it and not just some of it
          • Suggested Meal #2: Miso (instant or otherwise)
              • Recommended because it’s chalk-full of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals
          • Suggested Meal #3: Rice porridge
              • Recommended because it’s easy to swallow and is hot, helping you get some water (especially if you’ve got a fever)
        • Drink water along with a sports drink to get electrolytes

I went around and asked some of my friends and acquaintances, seeing if they could provide any novel advice. Here’s what they said:

  1. Drink sports drinks
  2. Sleep… a lot
  3. Drink Kakkonto*
  4. Drink Yunker**
  5. Gargle with green tea***
  6. Soak a long time in a hot bath
  7. Drink water
  8. Encourage sweating through hot foods like spicy curry with lots of garlic
  9. Drink warm milk and honey
  10. Eat vegetable soup with grated daikon root drizzled with ponzu

Basically… it’s all common sense.

As for my personal methods, I pound back black tea with lemon and honey, use my NetiPot religiously, gargle salt water whenever my throat starts feeling thick and sore, swallow way too much cold medicine, and take A LOT of hot baths. A phone call to the family telling them how miserable I am always seems to help, too.

What do you do when you get sick? Bye for now.

 

goodbye

 

*Kakkonto contains the following: (1) puerira root – improves antioxidant function, among other things, (2) ephedra herb – treats membrane inflammation, (3) jujube – packed with minerals and vitamins, it is used to relax the body, (4) cinnamon bark – a Chinese medicinal serve-all, (5) peony root – another medicinal favorite, this helps with inflammation and spasms, (6) glycyrrhiza (aka licorice) – acts as a biological adhesive helping other medicinal components get through the body more efficiently… plus it adds flavor for an unpalatable medicine!

**This English website provides drop-down boxes explaining what the herbs they use do. It’s very convenient.

***Rumor has it is that this is something only people in Shizuoka may do.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! …OK, so it’s not the first day of the year, but cut me some slack here. This blog has been quiet for some 6+ months. You should be patting me on the back for getting some kind of energy up enough to even post something.

Snarkiness aside, I have a question for you. Did you get your omikuji (御神籤、おみくじ) yet? How about your omamori (御守り、おまもり)? It’s a common enough custom in Japan that has little to no substance except that, with the new year, it’s out with the old and in with the new.

’tis the season the flock to a shrine or temple and get lucky!

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Omamori can be purchased throughout the year, depending on what you need one for. I only buy and keep one. Last year’s was for good relationships with people. This year’s is a standard safety one. Prices typically range from ¥300 to upwards of ¥2,000, so about $2.50-$18.

Omikuji are meant to be purchased ONCE and, if it’s a good one, it’s to be kept in your wallet or on your person at all times to better preserve the good luck. If it’s a “death will come to your door tomorrow” kind of fortune, you tie it some kind of sacred string the shrine keeps handy and hope for the best. At this point, you’re welcome to draw another lot. If that one is even a little bit lucky, cherish the heck outta it.

Just like last year, my fortune was average.

Most start out with a small Japanese poem. Mine was:

「雪にたえ風をしのぎて / 梅の花 / 世にめでらる、その香りかな」

This more or less translates to “The plum blossom that survives a snowy wind can be admired and smelled another day.” Romantic, ain’t it? Next comes the words of wisdom:

In the beginning, there will be a profoundly sad event, but if you can refrain [from drowning in it?], your mind will open. A confused and disordered heart is a calamity that needs to be calmed.

I’m sure there’s some kind of nuance that I’m missing here, but whatever. The last bit of the fortune talks about specific aspects of one’s life. Mine were as follows:

  1. 願望 (ねがいごと, negaigoto, hopeful wishes) – Late, but will come true. It’s good to try and speak simply (avoid manners of speech)
  2. 待人 (まちびと, machibito, awaiting person) – Will arrive late
  3. 失物 (うせもの, usemono, lost item) – High chance of appearing
  4. 旅行 (たびだち, tabidachi, travel) – Good to refrain from traveling, no benefit
  5. 商売 (あきない, akinai, business) – No risk in dealing with others
  6. 学問 (がくもん, gakumon, school) – Hurry and plan your objective
  7. 相場 (そうば, souba, stock market) – Good! Sell
  8. 争事 (あらそい, arasoi, quarrels) – Speak with your eyes
  9. 恋愛 (れんあい, rennai, love) – Can be enjoyed to a certain degree
  10. 転居 (やうつり, yautsuri, moving) – Good! But hurry
  11. 出産 (おさん, osan, pregnancy) – A safe delivery is favorable
  12. 病気 (びょうき, byouki, sickness) – No worries. Believe in the gods
  13. 縁談 (えんだん, endan, marriage) – Negotiations will be broken off, but after helping (the person? the people?), all will be well

What are some crazy things your family does to welcome in the new year? Do you have any interesting traditions or superstitions? Let me know! Bye for now.

A Weekend Diary: Summer Break (Part 2)

Being alone with my thoughts during this extensive summer vacation, of which ends in one more day (hooray!), has led me to wonder if I’m doing the right things in life. I suppose those are the kind of philosophical mysteries that I’ll never know the answers to. Even historians debate about the correctness of events long after they’ve happened.

Anyway.

In between gallivanting throughout shopping malls, playing PokemonGo, and cooking more food than I’ll actually eat, I participated in the English summer camp a local after-school club puts on every year. I wasn’t around last year to participate, but I hear there was a forest and tons of mosquitoes.

Have you ever gone to camp? I image it to be something like this.

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summercamp2

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This particular camp is basically an escape from home that kids so desperately need once in a while to be something they don’t normally get to be. Instead of watching the girls this year, I was thrown in with the boys. Surprisingly, they were easy to entertain and keep happy if one remembered to give them space. I’m assuming we were all the same when we were preteens.

But… what actually happens at an English camp? Activities vary, to be sure, but this schools’ selection is pretty tame. It all begins with welcoming the kids into the school and making sure they’re rounded up, comfortable, and sorted into their groups. Name tags are then made (even though the wisdom of this is lost on me as the tags fall off after 5 minutes).

Board games and funsies came later as we waited for lunch to be made. If there was time, we worked on some kind of performance to put on on the second day. Two groups chose a song and dance, the third did only a song and mine did… a weird variety of things. I believe in letting them make up their own things while I monitor because creativity in this structured Japanese society is so important.

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Taking a quick break to check my phone.

After copious amounts of soda and juice were consumed, it was finally time to pack up to go to the pool. I can’t remember the last time I had bothered to go swimming and I still suck at it as much as I did before. While the latest pop hits were blaring on the radio, we all splish-splashed about, getting ridiculously tired and sun-BURNT. I’m still trying to figure out to this day why only one foot got crispy while the other made it out unscathed. As an added bonus, it was funny as shit watching all the boys run away from the wasps that remained determined to terrorize them on the train platforms.

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Gotta love everyone’s impression what a BBQ should be.

Oh! On the first day, we were permitted to wash up in the spa/hot springs area in the neighboring hotel. Man, I don’t think heaven could get any sweeter. Do you ever get the impression you belong somewhere else other than where you are currently? For example, you might feel you have an old soul and don’t groove with today’s lifestyle, etc. Well! Hot springs were made for this girl and the eucalyptus-scented waters were hard to give up. The ice cream at the end of it was nice, though.

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Strawberry-flavored shaved ice with frozen berry topping.

After going back to the school and having a lovely BBQ dinner, we gathered up the chil’ens to watch a movie. The choices were Lion King, Toy Story or Frozen. Even though Frozen was on the agenda to be watched, the kids unanimously chose Toy Story. Thank you, Pixar. The power you hold to manipulate childrens’ emotions extends across oceans. I suppose it’s a good thing to get the international attention because 100% of the girls and boys under my partial watch weren’t born yet when the first installment to the series came out (1995 to be extact!).

I had forgotten how cool the first movie was. As I got older, I developed a kind of… complex (?) against Tim Allen and Tom Hanks. Their brand of comedy and gimmicky behavior wasn’t my cup of tea, but perhaps it simply wasn’t flavored with the things I prefer. What was even cooler was that two of the ALTs who were attending the camp alongside me had never seen it before. To see them touched just as the kids were was something special to experience. When I go back home, I’ll have to make sure to get the 2nd movie to complete my set and that’s only if the VHS for the first one is still up and running. Man… I’ve still gotta turn all those tapes into DVDs but I digress.

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A mixed sandwich and Coke for lunch. The fried pork cutlet was fresh this time and oh-so good!

Even though I won’t see most of those boys and girls ever again, their faces will blur into the fun and fine memory soup that I’m sure all of my experiences in Japan will culminate into. Sitting here, it’s hard not to become proud, sentimental, and content with the hand I may or may not have had in their lives. I guess I can only hope that their continued encounters with people of other cultures and backgrounds will convince them that the world isn’t as scary as the main Japanese cultural mindset wants them to be.

A Weekend Diary: Summer Break (Part 1)

Do you have those kinds of days? Those kinds of days where you’re sat in your chair or aimlessly walk around the house, staring into space? Since summer break started, that’s ALL I’ve been doing. That’s not saying I don’t have things to do – I have plenty – I just don’t have the interest to do any of it.

Ha! My boredom is my own fault, isn’t it? That’s OK though because I wouldn’t be here trying to focus on my writing if I was engaged elsewhere.

Because I chose not to travel this summer (a.k.a I didn’t have any money), I’ve been putzing around doing a variety of activities. Some were relaxing and others, not so much. When you wake up with no plans to do anything, the day kind of unfolds on its own. Like Marie Kondo finds joy in the smallest of things, I’ve managed to do the same.

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Riding the train, on my way to Nagoya!
My first incident of joy was going to my first-ever concert in Nagoya on August 2nd. I bet you weren’t preparing yourself to hear that it was a classical concert, were you? While many others would be over the moon to go and see their favorite band or singer live, it’s not my cup of tea.  I kid you not. It was such a treat to be able to sit in a music hall and listen to THE MAN, Joe Hisaishi. In my mind, him, John Williams, Alan Menken, and Hans Zimmer are the best. They are the musical geniuses behind Ghibli, Harry Potter, Disney, and Pirates of the Caribbean, respectively, among others.

Sitting there in the second row, surrounded by the razzle and dazzle of lights, crystal fixtures and the gleaming instruments is a moment in my life I wouldn’t… couldn’t trade for anything on this green earth. Even now, I can recall how the music lifted and swelled my soul to popping as tears of emotion rolled down my cheeks. The smile I had on my face would’ve cracked my head in two if it were possible.

 

Joe himself was such a humble man, thoroughly enjoying the audience’s energy. I can only imagine the immense honor it was to play for him. At the end of the concert, he was free to select the scores he wanted to play as a surprise for us. I was absolutely ecstatic to be able to listen to Merry Go Round of Life from Howl’s Moving Castle, one of my favorite Ghibli movies.

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The Aichi Prefectural Art Theater.
If you ever have the opportunity in your life to see something classical, whether it’s a ballet, opera, or musical, I wholeheartedly recommend you do so. It puts you in touch with emotions and memories you thought were gone forever. You are literally transported to another plane of existence.

Stayed tuned for the next installment of my summer shenanigans, coming soon!

I’ll be back, Japan.

All (good) things must come to an end.
Good things come to those who wait.

What do you think about when you’re reminded of these words? For me, they put what it feels like to be standing on the precipice of change into context. Lo’ how the mind can so easily waver.

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Flashback to 2016: Entering Japan. The weather was quite foggy.

Who knew emotions could be so damning? Who knew that deciding to adult at 28-years-old would result in mental turmoil? Much has happened to me mentally in the past month or two and unfortunately, I can’t attribute the frenzy to that one crazy aunt.

In order to clear my head of all of its thoughts, I sat down to making a web chart. It had been so long since creating one, I was stumped on how to start for the first few minutes. Technicalities aside, my pen eventually went flying across the paper. What started the mess in the first place? What triggered me to get so wrapped up in my own mind that it has convinced me to set aside my dream, if only for a little while?

Let’s take a gander at the gist of it all:

On the Japan side

  • more travel opportunities
  • more time off than in the US
  • job security as an ALT but no career advancement
  • get certified in as many things possible
  • BECOME FLUENT
  • not being close to family -> failure to complete self-imposed duty -> going through belongings after death = panic -> fear of going home for too long would result in job termination
  • fear of responsibility?
  • high demand for skilled labor (i.e. nurses, engineers, scientists)

On the US side

  • family is nearby
  • easier lifestyle
  • not being tied to family frees me -> the fear of being alone is stifling
  • can work towards becoming skilled

Even now, I’m thinking to myself that if wanting to be free to do as I please with no responsibility, why is it that I go looking for it? Certainly, I would be saving myself a lot of trouble by staying in Japan, right? Why drop the reputation I’ve started here and make a new one back home? Anxiety, probably. I’m a full-fledged worrywart, after all.

The optimistic side of me says that it’s never too late to buckle down and be serious for awhile before taking off again. Hell, there’s people out there who make such a thing a career. Most of the advice I’ve received is “You can always go back.”

The pessimistic side is saying that it would be impossible for me to do so permanently. There’s sex discrimination, age discrimination, pressure to retire at 60 because most older folks can’t be arsed enough to keep pushing for a bit of financial freedom, higher tuition rates (should I decide to go back to school), and a damned point system for qualifying as an HSP (Highly Skilled Professional).

Again, why think about going back home in the first place? The biggest reason is because my parents are aging and I feel it’s my responsibility to be there for them. I can’t explain this duty properly because it’s unclear when it got started.

Friends have accused me of living my life for the two of them, though, when that isn’t the complete truth. My original plan was to come to Japan, satisfy my curiosity and then leave. The only dependent factor was how long would it take for me to be satisfied? I always believed there was a Higher Purpose for me in this country.

Should I go home, the best-case scenario in coming back would be to land a decent job using the Japanese I’ve accumulated. A glance at Indeed.com showed me that speaking another language will be invaluable to businesses downtown, especially hotels.

Second, being an ALT and skating by on minimum wage is not the greatest way to live. For those curious, I make about $22,000/year. Because I was a dummy and didn’t listen to those same friends regarding Japanese study and saving, I’m paying for it now. I have nothing to show for the sweat, blood and tears I’ve poured into this whole endeavor other than gray hair and a sad bank account.we got a dollar

I don’t regret the choices I’ve made. I just wish I hadn’t been so corrupted by the freedom having a decent job and an actual paycheck afforded me.

I’m scrambling.

A few pieces of advice to anyone wanting to do this ALT thing: save up as much money as you can in your first year because you’ll basically be tax-free. The next piece lies in the realm of qualifications. Have them before you come or work your ass off towards them while you’re here in that precious virgin year because Japan doesn’t want you long-term otherwise. Do you want to remain in education? Get a TESOL/TEFL. Not too interested in education? Go back to school and get your Master’s or PhD in the field of your choice – and make sure it has a job outlook and it’s not something fancy to decorate your wall or bookshelf with.marriage

You can relax if marriage is your goal, though. Most of the red tape disappears if it’s to a Japanese national. Also, too if you’re that golden HSP, you’ve got the digs coming to you on a silver platter.

Basically, after all is said and done, I want job security (because I feel guilty) with the chance to safeguard my parents (because I feel guilty) and the way I’m choosing to do that is to do a total 180 and wrestle my way into the hotel industry. Lord knows Vegas is full of them. That way, I can continue to use Japanese (because I’ll feel guilty) and get a nice benefits package. Not to mention I can pay off my pesky credit card in the blink of an eye (because I feel guilty). Let’s just hope that whatever company I double-down on has transfer capabilities. With Japan wanting to build casinos, I’ll be on the first plane to spearhead the project.

The local community college has certifications related to the hotel industry, too. When I hit the ground running, everyone better watch out. I’m determined to make it back to Japan in any capacity possible… even if that means I’ve got to once more don the ALT guise.

I’ll be back, Japan. Just sit tight.