What is a hug?

There is a scene from Dreamworks’ The Croods, where Nicolas Cage’s character, Grug, and Emma Stone’s character, Eep, a dysfunctional father-daughter duo, tearfully clasp one another to themselves as the movie’s climax unfolds. They’re not holding each other like an adult would a baby. They’re not carrying the other as one would a tool or vessel. What purpose could gripping another body in such an obviously upset manner serve?

Eep and Grug stand there in that moment, the movie’s music score swelling, on a cliff that’s crumbling around them as the world they know falls to bits. Earth’s crust is cracking, breaking. They’ve got to move! Already, their family is on the other side of the ravine, eagerly awaiting them with worry and terror plainly etched on their faces. It’s a real nail biter!

Secured in her pa’s arms, Eep cuddles up close. “This works good,” she says through her sniffles. “What do you call it?”

In famous dadderly fashion, Grug confesses, “I was thinking about calling it a hug” before throwing in a Dad JokeTM. “Because it rhymes with Grug,” he says as he shrugs sheepishly. “But you can change it if you want.” Eep manages a chuckle and throws her arms around her big, strong Daddo, telling him she loves the idea.

The Croods, a heartwarming film about family and preservation. I recommend it for anyone who’s into a slice of life, family road trip kind of movie.

Man, someone get me some tissues because that scene gets me in the emotions EVERY. TIME! There is a handful of reasons I could think of as to why something that particular wrenches, from the depths of my tender soul, such a deluge of tears and snot.

The Definition of a Hug

Can you imagine a time when hugging, a gesture we are so accustomed to, didn’t have a name… or even happen outside of coupling? A hug in itself, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “a tight clasp with the arms; embrace.” How very straightforward and succinct. They suspect its first appearance in the English language was around the 1560s from the Old Norse word hugga, meaning to soothe, console.

Mmkay, so that’s starting to match what we know a hug to be. That’s certainly a lot more informative in regards to the movie I mentioned just a moment ago.

But what is a Hug?

We are beings with a consciousness. We are a veritable mass of muscles mooshed around a boney frame with this knobby, wrinkly blob encased within our skulls. It contains these vague, misty images we know to be memories. It releases hormones that allow us to move, breathe, digest, and rid ourselves of waste. It collects information from our five senses and somehow molds it all into reactions and moods.

These bits and pieces are what gives us an image… an interpretation of what a hug is. Crazy!

I set out and asked my friends and family via Facebook what they thought a hug is. Only a few responded, but I was intrigued anyway.

A Hug Is

Reassurance, comfort, love.

C. D., a friend, 30s

It’s anything and everything you need right now. It’s warm. It’s peaceful. It’s home.

K.M., a friend and coworker, 30s

A hug is the love inside you coming out through your arms to the one you’re hugging. It’s the friendliest way to say you care without being sexist, racist, religiously critical or too overwhelming. It gives back to you a feeling of well-being.

P.B., a family member, 80s

Closeness among friends.

G. T., a friend, 60s

…like a tip: it’s a sign of gratitude in a (usually) platonic way in the form of something vague and useful.

C. G., a friend and waiter, 20s

Holding someone you care for close to you with the purpose of feeling better or making them feel better.

S. C., a family member, 60s

A sign of affection. Happiness. Sadness.

M.C., a family member, 60s

[…is place where] there are no secrets.

D.C., a friend, 30s
From Google’s Reuse section

In amazing human fashion, there are as many different takes on what a hug is as there are people on this planet. If one were to take the time to make a word cloud of all the keywords from a free response survey, I’m sure real qualitative data could be gathered! Perhaps some of the top docs in the field have already done so.

Throughout the day, as comments continued to trickle in, one friend showed me an interesting perspective. She said something akin to “You must relax and remember to breathe in a hug. They’re not to be taken advantage of.” While I know her to have experienced many unfortunate and inconvenient upheavals in her life, I suspect this view was coming from experience.

What a Hug is Not

Other definitions of a hug are to cling together and to keep close to. Analyzed with a jaundiced and bitter eye, a hug can bring forth ugliness. It can make us remember times where we were oh-so vulnerable and an individual we thought we trusted took that openness in hand with a mean intent.

Touching a touchy subject, pedophilia and pedophiles have been in the news recently thanks to Jeff Epstein (seriously, what was up with that guy?) and the huge push for pedophilia to be recognized as a sexual orientation. Even now, in France, there is a public outcry to revolutionize old and out-dated views on what the best age for consent is because one victim decided to write a book about her encounter with a celebrated pedophile.

Not only that, but both men and women with a record of manipulation, aggression, and emotional abuse of their peers (among other things) use hugs to gain our trust and rip our finances, family, and peace of mind from right under our noses. What is their end game? Is it an internal drive they can’t rid themselves of? Perhaps they’re receiving some kind of divine vision from Up High. Do they feel this urge sometimes or has it been there since birth? I can continue to wonder in suppositions.

However, I’m certain we can agree on what a hug is not. It is not permission to do as we please with another human, their surroundings, or loved ones. It is not a green light to strip someone of their self-worth; for who are we to play an Ultimate Being?

A True Gesture

In my humble opinion, a hug is a place in which all is communicated and all is felt on the deepest of levels. It is a delicate dance that brings balance to us — a weakened state garnering strength from a sturdy source, a wail in the dark being soothed back to sleep, a celebration after much toil.

A hug is the hallmark of a strong community, a gesture shared among strangers and loved ones alike. It’s used to bring others into the fold, warm and secure.

Simply put, a hug is an aspect of true human experience.

***

For my next post, I’d like to discuss “silence.” But first, a poll!

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.

Ashley Goes to the Konbini

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As I was eating my food, I realized that I could do a segment on the things I buy and try out. Unfortunately, the items I’m going to share with you today have already been ingested and are now succumbing to my acid. Wait… that doesn’t sound right. Let’s try that again!

Unfortunately, the items I’m going to share with you today have already been impounded and are currently going through processing.

ShockingPowerfulAardwolf-size_restricted

…moving on!

7-11 is a thing here and it is quite different than my American counterpart. Two words: NO. SLURPEES. Despite not offering the snacks and hot foods I grew up eating, Japanese 7-11s are dope in their own way. The main reason is the above. If I could live off fried chicken and rice balls for the rest of my life, I would but I’d hate to see what my body’d look like after 10 years.

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The Jell-O dessert.

First up to bat is this “cream soda jelly.” Yes, Jell-O is called jelly here. Which is easier for you to say? Honestly, my mind gets stuck on the #ujelly schtick…

Topped with a cocktail cherry (sorry, it’s not a maraschino), whipped cream, and lemon mousse, it’s actually pretty tasty. I was transported back to my childhood. Story time! Furr’s was a buffet or cafeteria-style restaurant my family would take me to every once in a while. It has since been closed for many, many years. But I distinctly remember their green (lime-flavored, maybe) Jell-O with whipped cream. I think it became one of those must-haves a child always looks forward to.

 

Furrs
Once upon a time, there was a place.

VERDICT: 7/10. The dessert here was extremely pleasant. The Jell-O wasn’t overpoweringly flavored. The whipped cream was light. The lemon mousse was en point. It’s probably one of the few Western things Japan is doing better than their competitors. The only downer was that cocktail cherry.

 

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Tuna salad and rice. Who’da thought?

Up next, we have the humble rice ball. Why it’s called a “ball,” I have no idea because in Japanese, it’s called おにぎり (onigiri, oh-nee-ghee-ree). The number of things you can wrap rice around is just about endless, but let’s talk about this particular one: tuna mayonnaise. The mayonnaise in Japan is not Best Foods. Whatever their egg to oil to whatever ratio is, it’s tasty cold or warm.

The rice is fresh and springy; not cold and hard. The tuna is your typical, flaked variety. The mayo is mild and I swear it’s seasoned with something. VERDICT: 8/10.

 

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Goodness on a stick.

Last, but not least is the fried chicken (called 唐揚げ [karage, kara-age]). Made from thigh meat, the chicken is marinated in some kind of soy sauce, sake, ginger, and garlic combination or simply dipped in seasoned flour and fried until golden brown. Instead of nachos or a hot dog, you can buy these babies for about $1.50 each. Their crispy, juicy deliciousness will not leave you disappointed. Just don’t let it get soggy. VERDICT: 9/10 (Maybe I have low expectations, but wait until you try it.)

Honorable mention: Popcorn is popcorn. I’ve yet to eat bad popcorn that I didn’t make myself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my account of konbini food. Stay tuned for the next episode!

What do you mean ‘I’ll get lonely?!’

Disclaimer: Any advice given or situations are from my own experiences. Please take what I say with a grain of salt when comparing it to your own situation.

typingWhen you type into Google “teaching in Japan” or “ALT jobs in Japan,” it may not cross your mind that you’ll be lonely. You can only think of all that fresh, juicy anime you’ll be able to get your hands on, or the delicious foods you can finally try that’ll knock the socks off an instant noodle cup. Japan! Temples, beaches, cute boys, adorable women, fashion, music! YEAH! You find a company you like and click that “Apply” button.

Now it’s time to buckle up and brace yourself for the ride.

im ready

Fast-forward to a month in. Everything is uncertain. You’re uncertain of your choice, you’re uncertain of yourself; so, you call your family and cry. You complain of the prejudice. You complain of the lack of friends. You complain about how the food isn’t what you thought it was. The strings of malicious words are non-exhaustible. Most of all, you’re lonely. Oh-so oppressively lonely.

anime-lonely-gif-3

Wait… what? “But Ashley, loneliness wasn’t on the agenda.” It never is. “How do I deal with it?” I’m still learning and searching for that answer myself. Ultimately, you have two choices: healthily or unhealthily. Do you want to save yourself from the agony your emotions will cause or tackle it head-on? As for myself, I feel it’s like walking a tightrope. Some days, I’m above my pettiness and others… well, I drown in it.

For the first 7 months of ALT-ing, I felt I was doing fairly well if I took out all the weekends I called back home sobbing. I was connecting with my school and connecting with my students. I was becoming a regular at many of the shops and even made a friend here and there. I certainly won’t knock my time in my original placement. However… but… a part of me kept listening to the niggly peanut gallery. The devil on my shoulder was getting louder. “You could have more friends. You could have more relationships. You could have more sex. All it takes is for you to log on. You’re a pretty girl. Think of all the attention you’ll be getting!” it would whisper.

kronk

Call it confidence or call it stupidity, but I listened to that voice and stepped into the world of online dating in Japan. Yeah, I know. I can already hear your scoffing and see your eye-rolling. Why couldn’t I have been stronger and found other things to put my energy towards? Well… the answer is “Loneliness will do that to you.”

Being in another country with this newfound independence creates a drug-like effect in your brain. You’re free. You’re away from the judgment of your friends and family. I mean, what they don’t know won’t hurt them, right? I can guarantee that there’s so much going on in my daily life that doesn’t end up on my social media.

Without going into detail about that messy thing, I will tell you that life alone in another country is hard. Battling internally with myself has led me to question, has led me to doubt, has led me to self-hate, lowered self-esteem, a bad body image, and has led me to this ugly, clouded room of choices that look lifesaving but are actually there to hurt me. I am literally stuck within my own mind most of the time. “Ashley, you think too much,” you say. Yup, and I’m not ashamed of my problem.

Self-hate

I have discussed my issues with my friends and family attempting to find some kind of answer as to why. Why do I subject myself to this nonsense? This the advice I’ve received (as best as I can remember it):

  1. You need a pet or someone to take care of
  2. You need to ignore what everyone else is doing
  3. It’s normal. Don’t worry about it
  4. You should date more
  5. Concentrate on your hobbies
  6. Stop being so concerned about everyone else

Let’s address each of the points mentioned, shall we?

  1. In regards to pets, I live in a LeoPalace whom of which doesn’t allow animals in their buildings. Whether it’s because of noise or because of filth, I cannot have one on the premises. I did sneak fish into my place though but they don’t have the cuddle component one would look for in a dog, cat, or bird. As for having someone to take care of, that has backfired miserably and I want no part in it.
  2. Ignoring people is successful to an extent but keeping that up 24/7 is exhausting and once that barrier comes down, the world barges in. When I do this, I usually end up having an emotional breakdown. I’m surprised that there are less holes in my walls.
  3. Loneliness is normal, yes, but bone-crushing, fatigue-inducing loneliness with a side of depression is not. It is especially not normal when you’re thinking of ending it all during one of these episodes. (If you know someone who is suffering from suicidal thoughts or are suffering yourself, please do not hesitate to call a friend, a family member, your next-door neighbor, some randomly dialed number, 911 [110 for Japan], or the Suicide Hotline @ 1-800-273-8255 [or for Japan, +81-035-774-0992])
  4. Just… no.
  5. I have way too many hobbies but this has worked a bit. Lately, I’ve been trying to develop a caricature art style and it’s been fun. I’ve also invested money in coasters with the intent to design embroidered Sailor Moon themed sets to sell to the hardcore anime fan. Unfortunately, remaining interested is a struggle.
  6. Being concerned about everyone is in my DNA. For some reason, I’m always extending help to someone in some way. My heart is too big to not to. The downside to this is that I end up not taking care of myself. When I become worried over what everyone else is doing and thinking, it sends me into a funk that takes days to shake out of. I plummet right back into the Negativity Room. When I’m there, I don’t believe anything anyone says. I hear them but I don’t listen

I truly believe that rooms absorb our feelings. Being trapped in my apartment during the day or in times of rest when I’m not sleeping leads to ugly thoughts. I turn into this… awful, disgusting, vicious, spiteful, bitter woman. It becomes hard for me to relate to anyone or anything. I shut off. So, what do I do? I get out. I ride my bike to nowhere in particular. I take pictures of things I find interesting and share them on Instagram. I give my surroundings stories and characters. I let these small moments fuel my artsy-fartsy side and before I know it, I’ve emerged from the gloom renewed.

orig

Loneliness is tough and it should be taken seriously. Most of all, my advice to you is to analyze why you feel lonely. Finding the reasons while help you in punching the emotion in the face. You and I are smart. We are valuable to someone even if that someone is ourselves. We can overcome this.

A Weekend Diary: The Backwoods

Once upon a time, there was a sporadic blogger who disappeared. She was found a year later, quietly rotting away from overwork and self-imposed stress. If you listen closely, you can hear the tapping from the keys on her laptop and the frantic clicking of her mouse. She now serves as a living reminder to the young and carefree to not be so serious about life.

Just kidding.

Really, though, where has the time gone?! I suppose the stars have fallen from my eyes after almost two years of living in Japan. The adjustment time has ended. The urge to visit the places I saw in anime and other kinds of pop-culture has vanished and has been replaced with a desire to explore locally. As a challenge to myself, I will attempt to detail my weekend adventures instead of trying to remember everything I do on actual vacations. Mom, Dad! I’m sorry I’m such a failure!

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First, I have to say thanks to Niantic for bringing out PokémonGo. When I first moved here, I thought my area was a PokéStop desert – nothing to be seen or gotten. The oasis was an hour’s bus ride away if I wanted any action. So, having had a falling out with running, I decided to put my worn-out shoes back on and start walking. Luckily for me, my town has proven to be decently laden with Stops.

After passing through the local shrine a couple of times and seeing11325043_1559328200989984_1491583606_n a sign for “Hosoe Park – Welcome! Let’s walk together!” I got curious about what was actually up there in the woods. As a side note, I’m terrified of closed in spaces because I have no idea what will jump out and get me. The desert is much kinder and kills you faster.

Walking up the damn mountain was a bitch. After 5 minutes, I was huffing and puffing my way through dense foliage, rugged concrete paths, and glory-seeking spider threads. A glimmer of white finally greeted my vision and… wait! Is that a place to rest?! Do I spy a water fountain?! I’m SAVED! (‘cause, y’know, I’m a dummy like that and don’t hydrate). Oh… no. It’s just an observation deck with sour water.

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The view from the observation deck. You can see Lake Hamana on the far right side and the Miyakoda River leading to it under the landmark bridge.

As I continued trekking, I realized I’d come across a municipal hotel. No, joke, that’s what 国民宿舎奥浜名湖 translates to. Japanese lesson, go!

Japanese Lesson 1

I remembered an acquaintance told me there was a restaurant up here (coupled with seeing signs – am I psychic?!), I braved the front doors. As I walked in, unsure if the place was open to public patronage or not, I was greeted warmly and allowed to look around. Of course, in traditional Japanese capitalist fashion, a small shop dedicated to the local foods and souvenirs drew me deeper into the depths of a broke life. In case it wasn’t mention before, Hosoe is famous for tangerines (i.e. mikan), eel, and miso products. As it is March, there were also seasonal treats available. Anyway!

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My lunch. Rice, pickled vegetables, dipping sauces, red miso soup, a salad and fried shrimp.

I spotted a book titled “The Town’s Princess Road.” In Japanese, it’s 姫様道の町 (himesama dou no machi). Hosoe’s top festival is the Princess Road Festival and this book details important locations within the town that are relevant to the history of the area. Naturally, I had to have a copy despite the need to translate it.

This leads me to my next discovery: The Dual-Weight Saint. Thank you again, PokémonGo, because this place was listed as a gym. My original goal was to get to it and put a Pokémon in. (Tangent: the one I placed there stayed there for 2 days. No one battled it out.) But instead, I found a small shrine with a bunch of red-dressed monk statues commonly called Jizo* there. One in particular was singled out and protected with a bunch of origami cranes. Coincidently, the book I had purchased told the story of this place. Fast forward two days and here you go!

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The Dual-Weight Saint. It has since been enshrined.

おもかる大師
昔、おきぬという信心深い老婆が木の実を拾おうと気賀の裏山をさまよっていると、萩の下にお地蔵様のような形をした変わった石を見つけました。
「これはこれは、御大師様だ。何かのご縁に違いない」と、おきぬは、その石を近くの木の下に据えました。
その後、おきぬは毎日水や花を持ってお参りに来ていましたが、ある日、道順の良い所へ石を動かそうとしたところ、重くて動きませんでした。ところがある日、急に雨が降り出してきたため、石が雨にぬれてしまうと思い、動かしてみると、今度は軽く動くので、大きな松の木の下に移してやりました。そのうちに、おきぬは、この石には重い日と軽い日があるのを知りました。
この話が人々に広まり、多くの人が参けいに訪れるようになりましたが、願いをかけてそれが叶う時は軽く、叶わない時には動くて持ち上がらないことから、いつしかこの石は「おもかる大師」と呼ばれるようになりました。

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Jizo’s true appearance. He holds a wish granting jewel in his hand. (Props to you Inuyasha fans who get the reference.)

The Dual-Weight Saint
                Once upon a time, an old devout woman by the name of Okinu was wandering around the backwoods of Kiga when suddenly, she came upon a stone under a bush of clover in bloom. It looked like the saint, Jizo!
                “This… this is a saint!” she said, as she placed the figure under a nearby tree. “This must be fate, make no mistake.”
               After that, Okinu brought flowers and water for it every day. It became a ritual for her, when one day, she decided to move the stone to a better place. Upon trying to lift it, she discovered she couldn’t! Suddenly, the rain began to fall and she hurried to get it out of the way. It was light! She could move it! Quickly, she placed it under a pine tree. It dawned on her that the stone had its heavy days and its light days.
               The story became widely known by the townsfolk and they visited with their wishes. If the stone was heavy and they couldn’t move it, their wish wouldn’t be granted. If the stone was light, however, they could rejoice! Their wish would come true. It was from then on, it was called the “Dual-Weight Saint.”

I didn’t try to move it.

**According to Wikipedia, Jizo is a Buddhist deity. His original name is Ksitigarbha. He guides people through the 6 Realms of Existence. More information was found in The Japan Times article “A guide to Jizo, guardian of travelers and the weak.” Because Jizo is a protector of those who travel, he is often found at boundaries, physical or spiritual. Dressing and caring for this saint allows the soul to accrue karma for the afterlife.

 

 

Pain in the New Year

I had to stop and think about whether or not this was the first post of 2017 before realizing that I’ve already yammered on about something this month. Here’s another post that will drop your IQ a bit more. This will be a personal entry; a journey into my dilapidated mind.

Much like a good chunk of the people who inhabit the First World order, I suffer from anxiety and depression. How I yearn now for the times when I thought my darkest imaginings could go no further or farther. A word of advice that I can verify by experience: moving to another country point blank with no real direction is not for the faint of heart. I honestly feel there should be a disclaimer on these international job boards that reads, “Must be emotionally adjusted, have steadfast principles, work well alone and require no counseling.” Extroverts should have no difficulties.

I had been doing well lately in regards to all of this, I thought, until recently. Things have gone south for the winter and haven’t come back. It’s forecasted to be 13°F tonight, so I can’t blame them. I’m happy to announce, however, that I have a hunch about who’s causing my funk and am mad at myself for letting this person get under my skin. As Pink says, “…you’re just like a pill. Instead of makin’ me better, you’re makin’ me ill.” If you plan on hopping an ocean with your spouse or long-time significant other, good for you. If you’re doing this as a single person, you had best make sure your bridges are burned beyond ashes because when you are alone and not on solid terms with your emotions, you’ll discover how amazing your desperation makes you.

As a rule now, for my sanity, I don’t date. I despise this ugly, horrible troll I become. I often laugh (and excuse me, Mom, for saying this), thinking I transform into my mother. For as far back as I can remember she would always badger me. “What time are you coming home?” “Who are you going with?” “Where are you going?” “What is the place like?” Nag, nag, nag, NAG, NAG! It got to the point where I would give her a slip of paper that had the man’s full name, the make and model of his vehicle, his license plate number and a phone number. The “you’ll understand when you’re older” remark haunts me. Long story short, I morph into this clingy, jealous, overprotective show-off that, because of several failed relationships I forced on myself and others, I think all men can’t stand.

I read an article a few days ago in order to try and grasp some kind of understanding of the complex feelings I’m experiencing, posted it to my company’s Facebook support page, and ultimately had one of the top dogs messaging me seeing if everything was OK. I really should watch my mouth. The article was saying that, usually, a fresh incident will trigger a kind of psychological defense and that’s why we start wallowing in the sadness, fear, and mental self-mutilation. Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle with me and it all funnels down to one person. All it took for me to feel like this way was one picture of him on Instagram with a woman that wasn’t me. Like a childhood scar, all of my burgeoning issues that affect me now stem from that single, insignificant person. He was just like the others; the one relationship in my life that was so brilliant at first but has now rotted into this disgusting, decayed, putrefied lump of pain, self-hate, jealousy, toxic dependence and sexual frustration. A note: we are no longer together. We broke up in 2013.

This has led me to believe that my father is the only man in my life who can understand me. He is the only person I take comfort from. Unfortunately, my healthy (or unhealthy) connection with him has destroyed any resemblance of a chance an individual of the opposite sex may have with me. There are shoes on that front doorstep they will never be able to fill. This also has developed into a dilemma.

Will I always pine for my father and have this desire to be with him? I understand this might be getting a little weird, but I love my father. My throat chokes up with the emotion of it all and it’s a struggle to not cry as I write this. But would I throw away this fragile position I have here in Japan just so I can be close to him? It’s a question I have to seriously address. At this point, I can say I wouldn’t be sacrificing anything. All I would need to do is pack up my things, sell what I can’t bring along and that’s that. What’s waiting for me back home aside from family? It’s hard to tell at this point.

I always think about Eugene telling Rapunzel after she confides in him about her fear of the floating lanterns disappointing her and he says, “That’s the good part, I guess. You get to go and find a new dream.” That’s easier said than done.

100-yen Splurge

Hello! And Happy New Year! In Japanese, we say, 「明けましておめでとうございます。」(akemashite omedetou gozaimasu) and is often shortened to 「おめでとうございます。」(omedetou gozaimasu).  When you see a friend or a family member for the first time in the new year, you are required to say it. You’re also welcome to extend the politeness to strangers but it’s not necessary. No one has told me what happens when you don’t say it… It uses the same character as “bright.”

In the theme of the day, here is a bright, shiny, new post for you after a month of hitting the deck and kissing my ass (and sanity) good-bye.

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I told you once upon a time you can find just about anything at 100-yen shops, right? First, we have organizers. My rolling dresser that I was storing my hair things on wasn’t cutting it anymore after I purchased a small bookshelf, so now I have something a little more handy and accessible. What’s awful is that I hear my mom in my head whispering to me, “Y’know you’re going to have to bring all of that back.” Moms always know best, don’t they? It’s a shame we don’t give them enough credit most of the time.

The white bucket-looking thing is my pseudo-trash can for the bath. Japan prides themselves on convenience and I’m right on board with it. Using the small trash bags (in another photo), this will provide me a place to toss and amass dirty, slimy, minty-smelling dental floss.

Next, we have a tape roller and refills. Japan is big on reusing things and will often charge less for the refills. You definitely know you’re paying for the plastic here. Next to the refills, there is a silver-ion air filter for my aircon unit. Part of the reason for my inconsistent blogging is because I came down with a cold. I’m striving to keep myself from further marinating in any kind of contaminants while I sleep by utilizing this item.

Lastly, there is the filter for the exhaust fan I have above my tiny stove. That air filter is now firmly lodged in the darkness of a trash bag and awaits its fiery death. It caused me so much grief and prompted a panicked phone call to my ever-so-patient father at 1:30 in the morning Las Vegas time and a rapid skim through the manuals I never bothered to look at when I moved into this apartment. I swear he needs to be inducted into the Sainthood Hall of Fame. Thank you, Grandma, for raising such a wonderful son!

Moving along…

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Boom! Cosmetics, smelly things and… my feet. I’m so sorry. I seem to have unintentionally subjected you to a profound horror. Excuse me.

In this photo, we have Disney themed oil blotting paper for my face, Halls throat lozenges*, hair elastics (since I seem to be running out of the ones I use to tie the ends of my braids with)**, shower caps, nail cream that I intend to use for cracking cuticles and crusty nostrils, hand lotion and a body cream I was hoping to try out as a facial moisturizer (a note to the people who are used to using soft water: Japan has NO soft water. Prepare for flakage).  Oh, yes, and the aforementioned trash bags.

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A disclaimerthe pop-capped bottles on the left were not purchased from the 100-yen shop. I don’t know how or why I put them in this picture.

Snacks: cup ramen, cookies and popcorn. Last night, I got into the bag due to laziness in regards to dinner making and I decided that Family Mart definitely has better popcorn. It must be the oil (or they use MSG).

In the back, there’s a small box for sending packages. If you’re looking for much larger boxes, save the ones you get from Amazon or ask the post office.

Next is the Tupperware. The plastic used for these is relatively thin and I wouldn’t recommend microwaving them for too long even if the label says they can tolerate it. Use a plate and save yourself the grief.

Another miso bowl. Mini broom and dust pan (Remember: flakage. Every time I brush my hair, I shed this ungodly disgusting pile of human waste). Futon attachment for the vacuum. Vacuum bags. Crochet thread. If you go to a well-equipped 100-yen shop, you’ll find a decent selection of yarns and threads. They also stock various other craft goods for us folks who like to use our hands. There is an extra soft yarn they have that is oh-so-alluring and I’m tempted to buy it in a “Why not?” moment, but that’s how hoarding starts and my poor Japanese apartment can’t handle that kind of stress.

Anyway!

I hope you are well. I hope you aren’t sweating the small stuff and adding gray hairs to your scalp library. Breathe deep and be grateful for every moment you’re alive to experience. I’d like to think our thoughts and adventures will keep us company wherever we go after The Big One.

Happy New Year.

*If you’re used to the strong Halls in America, buy the black wrapper when you get here. Take my word for it.
**Japanese hair elastics, if they are unbaubled, require you to tie them yourself. For the longest time I thought all of my female teachers and students were having problems with their bands breaking but after buying mine, I understand. You will, too.

 

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.

Inadequacies

Today has dawned cold and depressing. My feeling for having to work while my heart isn’t in it makes me harbor a serious distaste for humanity this morning. I can’t quite decide what has put me in such a mood, but I reckon it stems from the news of the election shining a light on my own shortcomings.

I feel very alone. I see people every day but can do nothing to connect with them on that specially personalized level. There is this overwhelming despair at having the ones that understand me the most being so far away. And usually, when I get like this, I run to my grandma. The environment she creates is so without judgement and pressure.

The first issue I have with myself is the language barrier. I’m so daunted by my lack of fluency. I know so little. Most days my self-discipline is non-existent. It’s easy for me to make textbook examples of sentences but near impossible to manage the expertise and flow of conversation without having to think and translate before I speak. Just yesterday I practiced writing some of the old grammar point I learned in college and had them checked. I did well enough but I can’t be communicating with folks via notepad and pencil. Funnily enough, I did just that today to explain to one of my co-workers my sentiments about Trump. My words to him were, “Holding onto my freedom is the most important thing, I think. When a president makes a decision, it takes time to trickle down. If war happens, then I’ll worry.” Conveying this in Japanese was mentally taxing. It makes me want to escape to the mountains and be a hermit.

The second issue is that I feel extremely unattractive and insecure. I have this impression that I’m considered ugly here by being awash by all of the smooth and completely homogenized Japanese. I’m grimly aware of my own lack of culture and it has me questioning myself. “What can I possibly give to these people?” I’m certainly not looking to revolutionize anyone. I just don’t want to be a part of someone’s dark and dank background; taken for granted.

The whole general idea is that I’m painfully mindful of my own insignificance and uneducated state. Or maybe it’s my drive to please and I say whatever I can to look smart. I just know that it’s embarrassing that I know less about my own country than the students I teach.

In the Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops (PART 2!)

Welcome to Part Two of my Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops! This will be designed to give you some insight into how quickly your money leaves your wallet.

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Winter clothes! You can easily purchase gloves (some with touchscreen capability), scarves, and neck warmers. One night was especially cold and, if you’re like me in that your nose starts carving Snot River down your face and you suddenly can’t remember where you left your ears, you’ll be on the lookout for something warm.

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There’s nothing like knowing your grasp of the Japanese language can easily be beaten by a grade schooler. If you want to get a jump start on your kanji (漢字) practice, please use these books. They offer stroke order, Japanese and Chinese readings, and common words the characters are used in. Also, if you like Sudoku, they have loads of these. I’ve even been tempted to look on Amazon for more kanji textbooks/workbooks like what my students use. When all else fails, learn how to speak and ask someone where something is. There’s no better tool than to learn through association.

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Some weeks ago, I purchased a Christmas tree from Amazon sans star. Now I have one plus smaller ornaments. I also bought a tinsel boa to brighten it up. This year, since I can’t be with my family, I did my best to capture what we couldn’t do for the last couple of Christmases (damn dogs). I can’t tell you what I’m going to do with the embroidery hoop and hot glue other than I’m working to make a present for my grandmother. Shh! Don’t tell!

The hyaku yen shops sure are wonderful sometimes. I wasn’t kidding when you find things you didn’t know you needed. It seems like every time I walk through the aisles, I see stuff that I didn’t know was there.

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The first thing to address is the plunger. You will thank me when I tell you again how important this puppy will be in your life. It should go down as one of the Top 10 Essential Tools for Adulthood. Second is the plastic doo-dad next to the plunger. This allows you more space when you’re hanging things in your bathroom to dry. I figured I could use this for pants… or something. Anyway, you slap it into your showerhead holder and you’re done. Next, you can never go wrong with humidity absorbers. This time around, I was on the hunt for smaller units I could stick into my dressers. These are mandatory if you don’t want your shit to mold.

Also, glass cleaner. You’ll be surprised at how much of your bodily fluid ends up on your mirror when you’re consumed with nervous anxiety and are suddenly determined to rid your face of its blackheads and pimples. Oh, and make-up. I’ll never figure out how I got mascara smeared in two places.

The last item is a pack of hand warmers. You know those beans that get warm when you crack the package? I haven’t seen how long these last but I know you can buy some that work for up to 10-12 hours at the drugstore. When the weather turns chilly, you’ll thank your past self for buying them.

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In this picture, we have drain cleaner/odor absorber. When you come to live in Japan, you will see garbage disposals are non-existent. Instead, there are food catchers that sit under the rubber lip in your sink. You will either have a kind of steel net or a plastic cup. I have the plastic option and it gets scummy (especially when I choose to live off of cereal and ignore my pile of dirty dishes). Next is the sponge. This allows me to clean my thermoses since my hand is sponge-‘tarded. Thirdly, there’s the spoon rest. I was simply fed up with wasting my paper towels and dirtying up my limited counter space (pfft, who am I kidding? I don’t have a counter).

The measuring spoons are closing in for the finish line! I recently purchased cookbooks so I can save more money by using ingredients that are in season and well… I quickly learned the difference between a teaspoon and tablespoon. Just so I could save myself from the guesswork, I bought these. Next to them are soup spoons. You’ll notice these are often used with Asian dishes. I don’t know why I didn’t use them sooner. Finally, there’s the spice shaker. I got this for my sugar so I wouldn’t make a mess trying to get it out of the bag I keep in the freezer.

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In this final picture, the contents are self-explanatory. Since I’d rather use purified water for my drinking water for some stupid reason, I waste my money purchasing a bottle. I also happened to find some popcorn. That was exciting since I was craving it but don’t expect to find butter for it. You’ll have to go old school and pop it in cold stuff or use flavored oils. Be careful, though! Flash fires are serious. And because I tend to graze at work, I bought the noodle soups to hide in my desk just in case I couldn’t survive until lunch.

And there you have it! If you have any questions, feel free to holler.