this is the main street in naru. you can see this was rush hour as there was a car flying past as i took this photo.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
this is the main street in naru. you can see this was rush hour as there was a car flying past as i took this photo.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
there isnt a whole lot else that i wanted to post today other than i am thinking about everyone that i miss and love back home these days...a lot. i think i owe it to the time of year and how different it feels to be in another place but not be sharing the space that feels full of holiday cheer, overeating for no good reason and presents galore. none of that will be happening here and im not entirely sad about it, but still there is that something. i cant put my finger on it at this moment, but know that if i have cared to keep up with you at all since i have been here, i am and have been thinking about you in the last few weeks and will keep thinking about you and missing you for the next month or so.
have i bothered to mention the hawks on this island? never in my life have i seen so many birds overhead or gotten to know them as intimately as i do these birds now. their japanese name calls them black something-or-others, but they are brown hawks and they dominate the sky here. walking down by the harbor last week i stopped to count them quickly (just the ones that were in the harbor area mind you) and i quickly was at 25 before i could take another breath. their shrill little screams are becoming something that i look forward to hearing their calls with great anticipation on my walks to school as they do a great job of blending into the buildings that they perch on when the sky is grey and with their little screetches i can find them easily. its almost as if they are announcing themselves and letting the other birds and me know that "this is my spot, dont even think about coming over here". i have watched families of hawks teaching their young to fly, hunt and swirl through the skies. i have watched them dip, dive and soar through the naru skies and spent long thoughtful moments watching them brace themselves and lean into the wind with focus and strength. it is truly amazing to get as close to these creatures as you can here. one day when i am far from here and i hear the cry of a hawk, i will be transported back to this place and this time. their presence here is adding to the richness of this experience and i feel so priviledged to be observing their lives. i am convinced it is my karmic return for all of the people who are observing my life here.
happy days everyone. lots of love to each of you.
mata ai masho
Monday, December 7, 2009
i just had something occur to me that i hadnt given much thought to until right now; my older sister is really going to be old this year. sorry ab, but thirty all of a sudden just feels really old and really close. thirty is like a landmark and i am not that much behind her, which is why it is always hard for me to watch her have a big birthday; because i know that my day to be there is not that far behind.
so thinking about this and knowing how fast life moves i once again began reflecting on some things about being here and about life in general. its more and more important all the time to enjoy what is in front of you each day and to take it for what it is. i have been reading some of the meditations of the dalai lama at work and am really beginning to be able to take myself out of places of pain, hurt or fear and replace them with light, love and hope. the mind is an amazing thing if we care to take the time to harness the power that it possesses. i like the challenge of being able to do this on a pretty regular basis as it is easy to get freaked out here about everything that is going on, but it is also becoming relatively easy to control that anxiety and to turn it into wonder and education. the tests i get put through daily here are unlike any i have ever thought were possible in life and i can feel my mind and spirit benefiting from every day that i spend growing and learning. im doing my best to soak it up and suck it up. but sucking it up is no longer necessary when i remember to enjoy even the things that seems painful, as they will prove to be great lessons one day soon. every day is different and still the same thing applies; its all about attitude.
yesterday i enjoyed a beautiful day (even though it was a bit chilly and overcast. hey im from portland and nebraska. its going to have to get ALOT colder here for me to start complaining.) in fukue (sorry fukue friends, it was a covert misson and i didnt tell any of you i was coming) riding a rented bike (well its really not renting it when the guy gives it to you for free, is it? score one for kindness.) all over the BIG island and having myself a great time looking at the beauty around me and the admiring all of the strangeness that each shop i stopped in held for me. among the treasures i found yesterday were a five dollar sweater that FITS!, avacados (its been months since i have seen them!) and a nice bottle of spanish wine that was not too expensive at all. a hell of a day if you ask me.
today is much sunnier and my mood is high for the beginning of the week. im wearing my new sweater (its orange and is really going over well today i must say, and the fact that i got it so cheap is REALLY impressing all of my coworkers, male and female alike!), having avacados for lunch and have learned some more of my student's names this morning already. it really feels like i am getting life figured out when i can look at one of them and see the letters or even the katakana of their names in my mind and say it out loud. each new name i learn is a word that i have never heard of before. i rambled off a dozen or so names to mom when i skyped with her and dad the other morning/night and she thought i was making them up. i assure you mom, these names are no joke and once you get the hang of them you forget all about the joe's and mary's back home and replace them with ryuske's and kurumi's and ayaka's. aren't those some wonderful names?
on a very strange side note (sorry to overuse strange here, but it is just always applicable lately and so i am really using it for all it is worth); the main street of naru is TOTALLY decked out for christmas. i mean it puts many of the neighborhoods that i have lived in back in america to shame! i will get out and take some pictures, but i am telling you, these people had to of spent a whole day or afternoon or weekend (where was i?) putting up lights and moving signs and nani, nani, nani. its amazing and i am vowing to take a bike ride through it every night from now until christmas (when i get off work on christmas i will take one final ride through im sure too!). just so odd considering i have heard so little about them celebrating it in the ways that i am used to. take for instance the fact that i am working on both christmas and christmas eve. i dont really think that anyone here has ever even heard of christmas eve, and working on the holiday seems to be par for the course. just another day, no big deal. i think they only know that it is a big deal because of the western versions they see of the holiday on tv and movies and now they are doing their best to imitate it. let me tell you, so far so good. i'll let you know how the rest of the christmas season pans out though...
be well tomodachis!
Friday, December 4, 2009
i thought about something that was funny to me back when school started. it is something that anyone else in the world might think is odd, but if you have lived or taught in japan or know anything about living or working here you might just bring to mind your own first time that this happened to you and smile as well. it's all about brushing your teeth.
back in august when i first got to school there were too many things to mention that i had to start figuring out and getting used to. most of them were things like finding out where to make copies and how to read the katakana on the copy machine or how to translate the buttons on all of my computer applications from kanji or hiragana to something that i could remember. just your basic kind of exploring and there really was no one to tell me about what was what or how anything worked. i was kind of on my own as far as learning what was going on went. but i distinctly remember the day that i walked into the staffroom to find one of the other teacher's brushing her teeth. at first i was embarassed and thought that maybe she had just forgotten to do it that morning and was smart enough to keep a backup in her desk or something. but then later that day i noticed that there was a toothbrush in a little cup in the staff kitchen, then i noticed that there was one in my desk! what was going on here!? i suppose that in taking on the newness of everything that the brushing of teeth had somehow gotten lost on me for a few days but now i was really noticing it...everyone was brushing their teeth!
and now, it is true, i have come to realize that indeed everyone here, teachers and students alike both can be found brushing their teeth each day after lunch. it is a big event of sorts over at the jr high and i have found that it is much like clearning time in which it provides a great time outside of the classroom to interact with my students and get to know their personalities (see above). they all brush their teeth together and react to me in english when they are done with one simple word, "fresh!". yes it is hilarous and yes it has taken a good minute to get used to and remember to do, but now i am fully in the habit and understand it completely. i keep a small tube of toothpaste in my desk as well as a toothbrush (with a tiny head, this is the only size they have here!). there is no shame at all in standing somewhere in the main staffroom or with my students in the hall just brushing casually and having a bit of a chat. you gotta love the unexpected things that living in a foreign land bring to one's life...
hope december is treating you all well so far. i hope that the approaching holidays aren't proving to be too stressful to prepare for and that everyone is taking work, school and life in stride. i'm only too glad to be missing the craziness that can be this time of year back in the states now. whew! but we will see what they make of the holiday here, as i hear that it is quite different from the one that i am used to having back home.
merry season and happiness to everyone where ever you are!
Thursday, November 26, 2009
i handed the scores over to iriguchi sensei who had to enter them into the student database on his computer. he asked me how i thought the kids did and i told him that i was disappointed. to my great surprise when he was done filling the test scores out he responded back to me about them (both the response and the nature of the response were surprising). he told me that the students had done very, very well. in fact the students had done too well. it is the goal of the japanese high school system to keep all student grades between 55-65%. a lower average score is unacceptable and there will have to be something done about getting the students average grade up a few points, and a higher average score is also unacceptable and points will equally be taken from students so that their average falls within the given numbers. WWWWWHHAT!? he also told me that any student, on any test, at any time getting a grade of 100% is nearly impossible and perhaps will never happen in the high school career of any japanse student. apparently the grades one needs to pass here are a mere 30% and then you can move on a grade or even graduate. that's right, i triple checked and spoke way too loudly when i reponded to make sure he knew how crazy he sounded me to when he relayed this information. earn yourself a 30% in most classes in high school and you've earned yourself graduation from the japanese public school system!
here is where the discrepency lies; it is EXTREMELY hard to get into a japanese college and the students know this. though many of my students here will try to get in, many more of them are not even attempting it and looking towards other careers that won't require any further schooling after the 12th grade. while it is okay for students to do badly (at least by american standards) they must perform at a very high level to get into any school of recognition for post-secondary schooling. this is why they labor long and hard at juku, or study classes many of them attend after they are done with their 10 or 12 hour school day. they are not preparing for what is asked of them today or even next year, they are preparing for a test that they will have to take in many years. it is so strange to me, but so are a lot of things here. it is just the japanese way...
These thoughts and this moment is by no means unique to today. I have these emotions about being here so many days; some days they are easier to come by than others. Today it begin with walking out the door with a melancholy feeling. I got to Skype with my mom and my sister Abbie this morning. They are with the rest of my family in Miami, FL awaiting tomorrow’s (today for me) big turkey day and then Saturday my brother will be married. It is a sad thing to know that they are together and that I am not in their midst to enjoy these special and once in a lifetime moments with them. But stepping back I have to realize that they are not here either, for my once in a lifetime moments and that I weighed this decision long ago to be here alone and to be having these morning view moments as a solo explorer. I knew that I would only be able to relay them in story and picture (if I was lucky) and that I would have to be willing to do the same with their times in America together. I knew that I would only be able to really live by taking this action and that through action we really build character in life. If we never did anything, we would never really be anybody. I remind myself of this and the melancholy turns to joy as I know we are all happy to just be alive and to have the able bodies and minds that can share and enjoy these times.
Thanksgiving in America is my most favorite of all the holidays. It is a day that requires no gifts, no glitter and no great spectacles to take part in, unless you consider gathering in your pajamas on mom’s bed to watch the parade in NY as such. It is about giving thanks and being thankful, something we should each do everyday anyway but so often forget to do as life takes over and routine and the mundane settles in. I want to spend the next 48 hours doing little more than just being thankful. I’m taking two days to celebrate because it is Thanksgiving here for me already though the day has yet to reach anyone back home. I am thankful that I have two days in celebrate it in. I am thankful that I will have a solid two days of time to focus on being thankful because all Naru students are taking tests for the next two days. I am thankful that my days of taking tests are over. I am thankful that I live and work in a beautiful community of amazing people. I am thankful that I have a growing (in so many ways!) family who will be able to celebrate it together and who will give thanks for the simple and the complicated as well. I am thankful that they are all safe and healthy, that none of them will want for food or company today. I am thankful that I am here in the sunshine of Japan experiencing life as I never even knew it could exist. I am thankful that there are people across the world who love me and think about me, people who I can rejoice with when life is good and be still with when life is strange. I am thankful for hands that can write and a brain that can make feeble attempts at putting thoughts and words together. I am thankful for music, because it is always the answer (GDE). I am thankful for the chaos and craziness of never knowing what each day will bring for me here, because it makes life exciting and keeps my eyes and ears and heart open to the world. I am thankful for a heart that holds so much love.
So Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Enjoy the holiday and remember to hold it in your head and your heart all year long, not just for one day. It is my great desire to share the simplicity of this day with those I love back in the states again one day. Though this marks the second year that I won’t be stateside for the day (BC last year was amazing, eh Punchinello!?) I still regard it as a great day in where one should EAT, love, laugh and live life to the fullest. Salude, Kan-pai, Skol and Cheers!
*Extra love and laughter go out to my brother and my new sister Sophia as they marry this weekend. I am lucky to have such a wonderful brother who has shown me what a real man should and can be. I love you Jeremy and will be with you in spirit during your big day. I can’t wait to be with you again and you better believe that I am giving thanks in advance for the delicious beer I will drink when we are together again!
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
and now the students have moved on to something just a bit harder, (something i always attempted as a kid but never had the guts to get past two people high building...) the human pyramid five rows high!!!! and they just climb right up there and know that the kid under them is going to hold them or that at least they will support their fall is they slip. oh the trust they are forced to take here. subarashi! (great!)
this is by far the most popular and most anticipated event; tug of war! this is a big deal in japanese culture and adults and children do this all over the country.
okay, i know i keep saying it , but this was really something else. you may have seen this awesome act performed on some blooper television show or on youtube late nights, but this is the real deal; students lining up and one brave student (with helmet!) gets to walk across the back of all of the other students and they must keep running and getting in line until the student has made it across their backs all the way to the finish line. i laughed and laughed and laughed at this. no one else was laughing. apparently they've all done this at some point during their school years...no big woop.one of the great things about sports day was that everyone was able to get involved. they had a race for students and parents, a dress-up the teacher silliness and an elderly competition. there was a fair amount of jogging happening from these old folks and i was aptly amused and impressed at their feats. here one of the naru elders holds his prize for finishing the race. yes, it is a box a saran-wrap. they all got one. it was pretty hilarious. again, me only one laughing.
just a couple of the observers taking it all in, but when was the last time that you saw two rival tofu companies represented on the t-shirts of two people standing directly beside one another? that's what i thought, never. me too, that's why i took this photo. i do love the little laughs that living here will give me, and i could never explain why it is funny to me in a million years to them.
and the winning team celebrates! it was short lived though i'm sure of it. they probably had to go to a study session after the competition was done...such is the life of the japanse youth.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The Do’s and Don’ts of Japanese living.
I have shared with you all through this blog already many details about life here in Japan and what is considered normal and what is not easy for a Westerner like myself to adapt to. There are many, many more of these rules and standards and they always entertain me to discover, so I thought that I would share some more of them with you. I may add here that these are only observations of mine in the last few months of living here and that by all means I’m sure that there are Japanese people out there breaking all of these generalizations. Enjoy!
Things they DON’T do here that we think is totally normal.
1. Saying “bless you” to someone who sneezes. I have gotten more than one odd look after saying this to someone immediately following their sneeze and I know that it is not due to the language barrier. It’s just not something that they say here, I have asked all five of the people on this island about it and none of them have ever heard of such a strange thing. So I am going to keep saying it because now it has just become fun for me and I’m beginning to embrace the strange looks post-sneeze that it elicits.
2. Telling someone to “have a good day”. This is totally lost on them. Again I have asked all the English speakers here and none of them can even come up with a way to translate this for me. Out of habit I still say this nearly every time I leave a classroom or a nice conversation with someone. This is of course chalked up to my crazy ‘gaijin’ nature and so I intend to keep saying this as well.
3. Licking your fingers to assist in flipping pages. I got a hearty laugh out of a few of my coworkers at an ‘enkai’ party last week when I did this as I flipped through my Japanese phrasebook. They mimicked me for the rest of the party. I had no idea it was that strange.
4. Whistling or singing out loud in public or in the staffroom for that matter is TOTALLY out of the question. I guess that for Japanese people it is not okay to show that you’re having a good time outwardly. This is not a problem again for me as I am not adhering to this except for in work situations. They can’t understand what I’m singing as I’m on my way down the street here so I guess in my mind that qualifies like they can’t hear me at all. Funny what being alone in a culture does to your rational thinking.
5. Crossing their legs while they sit. I have only seen a few other Japanese people do this since I arrived and they were all men with much longer legs than the average Japanese person. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that many Japanese people have short legs or perhaps it is due to the fact that they are so accustomed to sitting on mats with bent legs and never really have the opportunity to do so. No wonder my crossed legs don’t fit under my desk!
Things they DO here that we think is kind of crazy-
1. Smoke inside closed cars, houses ect. I have seen dozens of Japanese people puffing away without opening a window, not even cracking it. Though it is not acceptable to walk and smoke (most places) it is very okay to do it indoors while children are present and right outside of buildings where children are as well. (Like my principal at my elementary school who just dashes out on the deck behind his desk every thirty minutes for a quick puff. No need to lie about it right?!)
2. Eating things raw. This includes (but is not limited to) eggs, fish (here on the island, almost always fish is served raw, or at least the choice of raw fish is available), chicken and horse meat (yes, a fine delicacy here). I have eaten my share of raw fish but have resisted the offers of all the others thus far. To think that a few years back when I started eating fish again that I severely overcooked every piece of fish that I ate due to paranoia. What a long way I have come!
3. Getting really drunk with all of their coworkers and then never talking about it again. They do this on a regular basis. I am happy to report that I have not been NEARLY as intoxicated as my coworkers have, but I feel that is the mostly due to the enjoyment that I get in being completely aware of everything and enjoying their totally inappropriate and ‘’un-Japapanese” behavior. Its pretty funny to observe grown men making asses of themselves and then seeing them in the staffroom soon after with straight-faced bows and strict business approaches with you. It’s like the elephant in the living room, but there is NO WAY anyone is EVER talking about it. EVER.
4. Sports day. I will end the list with this one because this is something that is so different I have decided to include many pictures and videos of the beauty and wonder that is a Japanese Sports Day. I have been told that this is just a traditional day that has happened every year in the lives of Japanese students for generations and generations now. It is quite fun and they really get into the preparation (see a few entries back for preparation details) and execution of it. Ask any foreign teacher who has witnessed one here and they will tell you, this is the big time, and it is big time something that is NOT a part of my American school experience.
(Pictures and videos in post that will follow...)
“If there is no passion in your life, then have you really lived? Find your passion, whatever it may be. Become it, and let it become you and you will find great things happen FOR you, TO you and BECAUSE of you.”
T. Alan Armstrong
For me this sums up why I felt compelled to move halfway across the world to teach English. There was unanswered passion that was coaxing me out of my comfort zone and wouldn’t let me be content to sit by the wayside and watch as other people in this life did what I was only then able to dream of. While dreams are lovely things that can keep us goal oriented and working towards something, passion is what really lights those dreams on fire and gives us the opportunity to carry those dreams as a torch to show ourselves and if we’re lucky, others a new way for awhile. I know that I am talking maybe more than I should about dreams and such here, but they are the thoughts that I keep coming back to and referencing for so many answers to so many questions; Why am I here? Why Japan? Are you crazy? You must be running away from something, right?
These questions can all be answered with a simple connection to this dream of mine, but that dream only got me thinking it did not bring me here. It is passion which brought me here. If you know me or know anything about me you know that I come from great, passionate people and that I am also very attracted to those in this world with passion. It is what I believe moves us on, helps us to learn, gives us strength when life is hurling boulders at us and brings us the greatest, most pungent joy in life. It is with and through this passion that living feels the best, becomes the most rewarding and renews worn spirits. It is with passion that I want to live each day and encourage others to do so as well with a gentle and excited manner.
I pondered this passion while I was teaching today. It was one of my days where I get to sit idly by and just repeat words with my fantastic native tongue (!!) so I really can sit and think about whatever I want while I wait for my speaking prompt. I was looking at my students and then looking out the window to the vast mountainous ridges that cover most of the land here, until one reaches the sea of course, and wondering if my students have a hard time seeing beyond these trees and this ocean that surrounds us. Of course they do was my immediate thought, but do they really entertain these thoughts and realize that they can do whatever they want with their lives? Do they really understand that this life is theirs and that with a dream and some passion that they too can move halfway across the world to live that passion out? I’m not sure if they have gotten there yet, because I don’t really remember reaching that point in thinking until I was in college I think, but hopefully they are there already and that experiencing a very simple existence for all of their years has pushed that thinking for them. There are zero higher education opportunities for them on this island and so many of them must be questioning what life off of this island will be like, but how far off of this island are they dreaming? Is it innate to dream far beyond where one is planted or are only a special few given the blessing/curse of a mind that travels far beyond one’s immediate reach and happiness is always another time zone/country/ocean away? I hope that my students are dreaming this big, and if they aren’t I hope that something that we say or do when I interact with them will light that passion inside them. Even if it is to stay here in Naru and fish for the rest of their lives, I hope that I can at least help them to remember that it will be better done with a heart full of passion than a head full of regret. There is nothing more attractive to me in people I meet than passion that spills and oozes from someone’s heart and soul. Passion that leads us through walls and over oceans is always worth following. I can say with confidence that I have never met someone who was sorry that they followed the calling of their heart. So here I am; head, heart, dream and passion in tact. I can’t imagine being better off than this. I am not attempting greatness in this lifetime, nor do I desire to be famous or known to any great population of people, but what I do want is to pass on a zest for living, so that others may know the profound way that life can be lived when we add the element of passion.
I never really stopped to give a trip to the restroom much thought while I was living in America, but boy am I mulling it over now. It’s right there in the name, “restroom” and yet so many people take this simple little time alone to sit and think or really use a few minutes for whatever you please for granted. In just the polite name alone we are allowed a small pleasure at really any moment in our day when life seems a bit overwhelming or simply when we heed the call of nature. I think that we have all used it to our own advantage at least once in our lives, and some of us are serial offenders. Simply walk out the office door and take leave in the restroom. Silently raise your hand in class and ask the rhetorical question, “may I use the bathroom?” Your wish is granted and taking leave of studies is okay for at least the next five minutes, and ten every once in awhile if you’re a woman. (Sorry guys, them are just the facts!) Yes, those were the days; America, where you can sit down to pee and have a real rest when you felt like it.
Gone are the days when after eight hours on my feet serving drinks in the bar I could slip away for two minutes to sit down in the restroom and just breath, and no more can I steal a rest on the porcelain god as I could back home without thought. What many American’s take for granted I am now remembering with envy; a real trip to the restroom. Here in Japan it is all work when one visits the loo. There is first the pulling, squeezing or grabbing that goes with undressing and then the clutching or hanging up of clothes before you begin. (I have taken to wearing dresses and skirts more often than I did back home for pure ease of the ‘pull-up’ method more than anything. Lord knows how women with panty hose are pulling the toilet off here!?!) Then there is the hard part, squatting. It is not the easiest position to hold or to relax in as one might associate with trips to toilet with if you are American or living in the Western world with sit down toilets. It is hard in fact and not enjoyable in the least. It is not like peeing in the woods when you are hiking and can just go with little care or aim. You have to be precise and get yourself lined up just so, so that you can hit the middle waters with as little disturbance as possible. There are no more moments to zone out, no more fleeting daydreams to have as you just sit, and no more chances of rest while you are in there at all. It’s beyond a bummer for me on days like this one where I feel just a little off and in need of a little five minute getaway. How does one do that with legs flexed and a small river flowing between your feet? Who knew that I would be missing such things? Who knew that it was possible to miss a restroom?
Friday, October 23, 2009
(side note: i owe all you lovely readers sports day story and pictures. i have them and promise that i WILL get them on here and soon at that. sumimasen.)
hangin out and hangin loose,
be well friends,
Monday, October 19, 2009
i discovered another beach just ten minutes from the house a few days ago on a sweet little night hike with my headlight. down the street on the back side of the high school through a few fun turns there lies a spot where one can jump off the road and spend many moments enjoying the ocean breeze, the sounds of salty waves gentley crashing on the shore and sunsets that won't let you forget how lucky you are to simply have the eyes to witness them. it is magic in it's purest and sweetest form, and it is right here down the street from me. everyday, all day it is there and all i have to do is walk down to find this inspiration waiting for me again and again. it's blowing my mind.
i wanted to visit again yesterday (duh) and so ben and i rallied and borrowed some snorkel gear from local hero, yoshinao, and packed a little lunch and headed down for the afternoon. what lay beneath that water did not disappoint either of us in the least. though everyone here who knew we were going snorkeling yesterday (which was only the few people who drove by and yoshi) thought that we were crazy, they are also island people and think that 60 degrees is cold. ben and i are a bit heartier and um, bigger, by simple fact that we are americans so the water was still perfectly fine for us and we didn't feel crazy in the least. after plunging in we discovered a whole world under the water which i had only been able to suspect was happening until i witnessed it with my own eyes. schools and school of fish of all kinds were floating in the soft currents and going about their business as usual. swimming in the same direction, taking little fishy-pokes at sea vegetables on the ocean floor and mostly looking very fantastic in coats of all shades of silver and blue (my favorite were electric blue). as i took my face out of the water to look up for a moment it occured to me that suddenly the rest of the world was looking more vibrant and alive. the mountain sides that flank that cove were covered with trees that were greener than i remembered and the water that we were in was somehow a more magical shade of turquoise. i was living in the moment fully and completely and the world was showing it's beauty off for me as if i was being rewarded for remembering to appreicate simplicity in that moment. it reminded me that when i choose to live that way that life does become a banquet of beauty and i must only pause to taste each pleasure and savor it fully.
i am so grateful to be here today. i am so grateful for the experience of now. i hope everyone in your corner of the world is able to live this way today and always and to see the wonder that is always at our fingertips.
no typhoons got me here. all is well and good.
Monday, September 21, 2009
As some of you who read this may have noticed, I am not the most terribly focused writer. Though it is something that I enjoy doing immensely, I have trouble finding one thing to write about and sticking to it. I have a hard time finding a style of writing that I stick to. The world is too big, I observe too much, too many things change and my mind is too busy and always wondering for me to settle on just one mood or topic or vein to write in. I know that I have gone from introspective to humorous to informative and back again on these pages. For this I apologize to you readers right now. Please accept this apology because this won’t happen again. I won’t think of it again now that I am writing it off my mind and onto the page. Its better to just accept that this blog will be full of mistakes and ramblings and misfit writings once in awhile…I do. But please know that I wont be offended if any of you choose to drop out in reading at any point; I don’t expect anyone to read all of this craziness…
Okay, that said I am going to take off in another direction today.
I have spent my morning in the loveliest of fashions. I woke up and took a cold shower, (what I do here. Its still hot in the morning even though I know its fall back home in the US for all you Americans and that leaves are changing and the weather is beauteous…not here. Still hot. I think fall is coming though, I think.) and then got a call on Skype from my best friend/soul sister back home in Portland. It’s been wayyy too long since we have connected and it just felt so good to be in her company again. We talked life and dreams, successes and failures. It was easy and smooth and reassuring, it was refreshing and has helped remind me of my goals and reasons for being on this island. She has such gusto for life and the greatest desire to not just fill the rhetorical glass of life to its fullest, but to have it spilling gleefully over the rim. This friend truly always leaves me feeling inspired and passes great energy for exploring life and dreams onto me.
Dreams are, after all, only ideas that have morphed into such in our minds over time because they hold strength of some kind for us or give us inspiration to change or live differently. Sometimes it feels like dreams in our lives serve only to act as a compass of sorts for us. They point us in the right direction and keep our hearts and minds seeking a common goal, but where they will lead us none of us really know. This dream of mine to live and work abroad has turned out bigger, brighter, more confusing, funny and wonderful than I ever could have imagined. I love the adventure that it gives me everyday and most of all I love that I get the opportunity to achieve my goal in new ways each day by learning about life through hands on experiences. Sure, I don’t know what the hell is going on A LOT of the time, but it only challenges me to really seek the answers out and to use the resources that I have in my hands, my head and my heart in finding them and this is where I really learn. Living my dream is becoming harder and harder though without considering others and letting them in on it…
And so today I am taking a moment to reflect on and return the positive energy and blessings that have been bestowed on me from friends, family and strangers in the last few months and years. Life is good and not what I imagined it would be right now, it is better. My main goal in coming here was to learn about life and to learn about the ways in which it can be lived that I have never had the imagination to consider before. If the quality of life here is better or worse is only matter of personal opinion, there is so much more to life than meets the eye in Japan, so many hidden dreams and desires that an outsider to this culture may never realize exist in the people here. The Japanese are moving and shaking and dreaming up a storm, it is simply a much quieter storm than I am used to hearing brew. The difference here may be in the interconnectedness of these dreams and the reading of minds that happens flawlessly, without fail each and every day. .
There are small things that happen here everyday that change my mind about life as I know it so far. For instance this morning after I arrived at school I was informed at our morning meeting that our principal’s mother died yesterday. While I felt empathy for her I soon learned that that was not to be enough, not in Japan. My supervisor told me, “maybe (I told you about ‘maybe’ right?, it never means maybe) you could follow Japanese tradition and give some money to Kocho sensei for the funeral”. “No problem” I said, (you don’t say no to a maybe) “how much?” And so everyone here will give the principal money so that she and her family can help to take care of funeral arrangements. I’m sure that we aren’t the only ones either. I am stopping in this moment to consider how many other people, family and friends, of hers and the rest of her family are contributing to help lessen the blow of this for the grieving? When is the last time that people back home took up this sort of community to aid and assist when a coworker or distant relative has passed? I know personally that I am surrounded by many generous people (in the US) and have heard of many of them coming to the financial aid of one another when times are hard and what not, but they I think are the exception. This is what happens EVERY time someone passes on in Japan, EVERY time.
There is just such a sense of community here and the overwhelming feeling that the simple fact that these people share space and air is enough to tie them together in many ways and to be aware and to care for one another. They do it subconsciously and I don’t hear them bitch or moan about it one bit. That is just the way that life is to be lived; you consider everyone else in every decision, every dream, every time. As an American myself it is pretty extreme to think of this sort of mentality working back home, but isn’t it kind of nice to imagine it as well? Maybe they really have something here, and I dare say that they did not just stumble upon it. It is well thought out and has been established as such over years and years of practice. It’s a lovely way to live and encourages people to do more than just exist. It encourages people to give what they can and to find their own best path of doing that which they do best. They are setting their compasses toward common goals and doing it with the same vigor that we as Americans commonly do with only personal achievement as our focus. I think the ways of living here really do encourage compass setting aligning with dreams. Even if Japanese people seem reserved and polite on the surface, when I have the time and space to get to know them on the inside they are warm and generous and overwhelmingly joyful people. It’s my great pleasure and surprise to be in their happy company. I am learning so much about community and what it really means to live with other people and to share life with them. Though I anticipated on this being a growing experience I never could have imagined that I would be thinking and growing in these ways now. People. That is kind of what it is boiling down to for me right now. They are essential in our lives and I am beginning to understand that no matter how badly I want to be independent in this life that I need people just as much as everyone else does. I am learning that it is okay to be a part of a community who depend on each other and that by being a part of that community it does not mean that one has to give up their identity or their freedom. Whoa. This is big stuff. I don’t know if I should be blogging on this anymore. I think I will retreat to my comfy little journal and give this all a spin around the old brain some more before I elaborate or confuse any of you any further…
I kind of ended up on a little tangent there didn’t I?
Jeez. The wheels are turning fast and furious in Naru this morning. More later, I’ll try and aim for lighthearted/non introspective, okay?
Friday, September 11, 2009
For instance being here and living in a strange country, where nothing is familiar and one cannot depend on what will or will not happen from day to day. Take for example the preparations that are happening in Naru’s schools for the sports day festival that will be in a few weeks. They are asking the students, both elementary/jr high and high school to do both individual and group tasks that are military in fashion and require great physical endurance and rigidity. The sorts of things that they are asking from these students I told sensei Iriguchi, would never go over on American students. I told him that you would have a zero percent chance of getting them to do these things, he laughed, but knows it’s true.
Today all of the Naru students gathered on the common playground between the schools for practice, three different times. First we gathered and split off into our teams for the first time; red and blue. There were short introductions from the captains from each team and then the teachers introduced themselves as well. Being that the teams are red and blue, of course this means matching outfits and for the younger students matching hats as well. Though the adults don’t “match” per se, they do all dress alike, with the women donning hats and “gloves” for protection from the sun (and 50 SPF sunblock!), along with long track style pants, naturally. The men are in long track pants and polo shirts or soccer jerseys. I (of course!) am the only adult on the field who has sandals on (they’re Chacos! outdoor shoes people!) and shorts (hello, it is ninety degrees out!), and I roll up my old soccer jersey sleeves just for good measure and good tan, I mean, hey, I already stick out like a sore thumb, why not get a tan while I’m at it? After introductions the practice begins.
Iriguchi sensei tells me that the opening ceremonies (again, EVERYTHING here has an opening ceremony. The practice had on opening ceremony for crying out loud!) will consist of some talking and good wishes and then the marching, yes, marching. We are not talking band style marching or even military salute style marching, we are talking arms pumping at sides, faces clenched in concentration, high knees marching. These kids know that this is the real deal and no body is messing around, I mean no body. They begin slowly by marching in place and then proceed to making lines of all kinds and taking their marching around the field and into different formations. It is fascinating to watch them all move as one but then it gets even more interesting as they add shouting to their marching. This is the part that makes it fun for me and keeps me smiling while they are stern faced and calling out “one, two, one, two” in Japanese, while they are marching. Now to all of them “ichi, ni, ichi, ni” sounds like “one, two, one, two” and they don’t know what else it could possibly be confused with, but to the lone American it is sounding very, very different from “ichi, ni…” and it is now my private joke as I watch them marching round and round and yelling in rounds, “eat shi%, eat shi%”, it is seriously almost too much to handle and I have to laugh out loud. This goes on for what seems like an eternity and gets to the point where I am wondering if the ones who are better at English are actually saying what I think I’m hearing so I even ask Iriguchi sensei what they’re saying. He looks at me like I’m crazy and tells me “ichi, ni, you know one, two!?”. Affirmative, I am the only one who hears it and now I can’t not hear it. I’m doing my best to make my laughing solely internal at this point, so as to draw a bit of attention away from myself, but it is only working on every other go around the field. Every time they get closer I laugh harder and cover my mouth and look away. I’m nearly crying now because this is just so obscene. So there they all are, every school aged child in Naru marching round and round the field swinging their arms and lifting their knees high in perfect marching order yelling at the top of their lungs at each other and the world, “eat shi%, eat shi%....”. It is a top notch day in Naru.
The fun does not stop there though. There are still two more practices and much to accomplish for the day! We take a short bento break (lunch) and then resume the practicing and in my case, the observing. We are all asked to be involved this time as “dance” practice begins. I have been told that this is a “dance” that all Nagasaki-ken students/teachers are learning with the goal of it one day being known by every Nagasaki-ken resident. I have no idea if they will all ever have a chance of doing it together, but hey I like their motivation for uniting themselves with dance anyhow. The “dance” consists of many movements that are fairly easy, actually anyone could do them and honestly they remind me of some of the early morning PBS geriatric exercise shows that I have seen. Lifting arms and bending at the waist and touching toes. (There is a move where we are supposed to be imitating Chinese dragons, but I can still see an old lady getting it done.) As some of you may know (Abbie, Amanda and the poor girls I took 1 year of dance with in 7th grade) I cannot do anything that is choreographed to save my life. I am ALWAYS two or three or four steps behind and on the wrong side and really making a mess of things, as I am with said “dance” on the field with all of my colleagues and students. It is too much again and I can’t help the smile that is taking over my face and exploding into a laugh as everyone around tries very hard to get it just right and with the proper ‘genki-ness’ (excitement). Just when I think it can’t get any better, it does. The music changes in the middle of the song and samples about five bars from the classic Christmas song, “Gloria, Enexcelius Deu” (I know I have spelled that wrong, sorry to all of you who care about that sort of thing.) Now on top of wondering about the movements and which dragon pose or bouncing is next I am literally standing still with confusion as to why they have chosen this music to be in the middle of their prefectural-wide dance, in the middle of the summer. Is this Christmas in September sort of thing? Do they even know that this is a Christmas song? Am I really the only one who thinks that this is beyond hilarious? I am failing at the dance, badly. I don’t believe that all the practice in the world is going to get me past this hilarity.
Sports Day preparations are fantastic fun, to say the least and are changing my ideas of school and what and how we all learn and enjoy things and how different these ways can be. These are things that I never imagined I would see or that even existed. I am astounded, inspired and entertained beyond belief at the changes that happen in my world daily. Being flexible and learning to “listen to the wind” as I was instructed to do before I arrived, have proved invaluable. I’m glad that these changes have come. I am choosing not to bristle at change, though at this point I think it would be rather absurd to feel that way, and to be open to it each day, knowing it is coming, knowing it will be both strange and wonderful at once. Who knows what could spring from these changes? Bring on the rock ‘n roll!
ps-i apologize for all of the pictures that have been showing up blurry and strange and for not adding one here. i will try to get it straightened out and working as it should real soon...
love returned to those who are loving me
Thursday, September 3, 2009
(Before I start, just wanted to share this pic with you. It's the view from the third floor (where I teach classes) of Naru High. Looks across the multi-purpose field to the elementary school and oh yeah, that's the ocean right there. Subarashi! This is NOT embarrassing, but I wanted to share it with you!)
There are so many things that I have learned to accept quickly as part of life here, but then on the other hand there are quite a few that are really taking some time to sink in for me. These are mostly everyday sorts of things that one must live and experience everyday to really appreciate living and being fully immersed in another culture and country. I will try to highlight some of the everyday examples I have of not adapting to these very well and working through the embarrassment. (again with the embarrassment I know, but I don’t see it stopping anytime soon…)
I start every school morning by walking to school. It’s a nice walk as I have said before. I walk on the side of the street (not the sidewalk, they don’t have those in Naru. The sides of the stripes on the streets are the sidewalks, seen here.) and it is sometimes very close to the cars that are passing. I hate to admit but I have more than once looked up at the oncoming traffic and begun to raise my hands in desperation at the driver to let them know that they are on the wrong side of the road only to remember that I am in Japan just in time to save myself with an energetic wave to them instead, which still kind of freaks them out because people here don’t wave, they bow. Yes, driving on the wrong side of the road is just hard to get used to, especially when you don’t drive. In my defense though, this usually only happens when I'm plugged into an old Dead tape on my walkman and lost in a jam...(thanks Sam!)
After my short walk up my big hill to the school the first thing that I must do when I enter the building is take off my shoes and replace them with my “inside” shoes (which are kept in these handy little cubbies seen to the left). This is not too hard to do, since it is the first thing that you see when you
walk into the building, but this IS hard to do for me when I am on my way out, because I don’t see the little cubbies and am often just focused on leaving. I have walked out in my “indoor” shoes more times than I can count, I have even made it all the way home in them only to realize it when I get to my front door! Drat! I’ve done it again! I’m starting to get better at it and have managed to not leave with the wrong shoes on for about a week now! One small success!
So after I change my shoes I enter the staff room, give my most energetic “ohayoo gozaimasu!” and settle at my desk. There is heaps of tea to be had and always cookies or some sort of sweet to have at the tea table so very soon after arriving I usually have to hit the head. This little saying has taken on a whole new meaning (
As the day rolls on there is lots of bowing and lots of thanking and apologizing for, well, everything. The students who need something from the teachers must first knock on the staffroom door and then stand at the door before entering. They then must ask permission to enter and for the teacher with whom they have business with by saying, please be kind to me “oniguyshimasu”. I have to each day before le
aving say the following to all of the other teachers with whom I work with because I need their forgiveness for leaving early, “osaki ni shi tsu, rei i shi ma su”. It is all about politeness here and it is taking a little bit of practice for sure. They all reply with the same thing everyday in unison as well, though I am still working on exactly what that is and what it means!
I have messed up the following a few times, but am proud to report that today I finally got it right! The Japanese apparently do not believe in paying janitors to clean their schools, especially when they have many able bodies ready to work! Each day at 15.00 the whole school takes broom, mop, dusting cloth or whatever they can and cleans the school. No one is exempt from this task as I (tardily) helped the vice principal clean the staffroom floor yesterday and the principal clean the entryway today. It’s really something to see the whole school at work and nobody complaining (they wouldn’t dare complain really). Like I said, I only sat at my desk listening to internet radio for a few days before I realized that everyone was gone and off working, and I, the lazy American was still sitting here in a daze. (Picture is of the nice clean entryway, thanks to yours truely today!)
After school lets out I usually take a stroll down to one of the markets to find something for dinner, since I can only fit about a day's worth of food in mine at home, one must really shop everyda
y. I have managed to 'jaywalk' a few times being completely unaware of it. See, there is exactly ONE stop light in Naru and I have only seen it red once, for a little old lady who was walking across the street. Roads really aren't that busy here so I never remember that if I'm going to cross right there I need to hit the button...well, I haven't caused any accidents but I have gotten some stares from some of the kids on the island and some smiling 'crazy gaijin' faces from adults in that intersection. I am going to try really hard to remember that light there now. Really, I am.
I've only managed to mess up my trash twice, whew! It's kind of a tricky thing here (Portlanders will understand, everyone else, not so much...). There are different days for differnt pick-ups, not too hard, right? But there are about 6 categories of kinds of trash and three differnt bags that they must go in which are all color coded and must be bagged and deposited accordingly. Oh and once you figure all of that out, you have to sign your trash. Yes, that's right, you have to put your name on the bag so they know who's trash it is, in katakana (one of the Japanese alphabets). First I couldn't figure out where to put the trash and took a stab at it and left it on my front porch. No good. My elderly neighbor rang my doorbell one Saturday and let me know that it was so. So I dragged said trash back into my house and waited for someone to help me. After getting in the know from much questioning of my supervisor at school I thought I had it down. I took the trash to the proper place only to have my other neighbors who were outside give me the big "X". You know you've done something wrong when a Japanese person does this to you, holding their arms up in a big X sign meaning, "NO!". I understood with my little knowledge of Japanese that I was a day early and that depositing trash in the dumpster before the pick-up day was "X"! After an embarassing dumpster dive to retrieve it, I think I have this one down.
So friends, you see it's really so easy to live in Japan. You simply must remember the small things and everything else falls into place. It's all different, but like they say in the USA, "it's all good".
Sunday, August 30, 2009
i have now been here on the island of narujima for approximately three weeks. it is better and more spectacular than i ever could have dreamed island life could be and i am learning so much everyday from so many sources. i am one of i would say three or four english speakers on this island of 3,000 people. i say that there are three or four of us, but that is being generous in that no one else speaks fluent english and there are always lots of charades happening between us when we try to speak. the liquor store owner, yoshi and his wife chiaki, are the two best civilian speakers and both of the 'english' senseis at school speak fairly well too. it is forcing me to learn japanese very quickly and i am very grateful for that for sure. it is one of my big goals to speak with everyone here and there are so many old folks on this island with whom i will never have the chance if i don't learn some more japanese! it's a struggle everyday but loads of fun and well worth the waves of embarassment that i am beginning to ride with less and less self-consciousness.
i have met many of my students here on the island even though our first day of school is not officially until this tuesday. that said we have all been at school everyday since i have arrived anyhow as they are supposed to show up during summer vacation for extra study classes and for club practice (badmition, track and field, brass band and baseball). i have been there learning the ropes and trying to make sense of what is going to happen when classes resume. the teachers in my school are very nice, though as i mentioned before, not many of them speak english and so i have spent many days in confusion at my desk wondering what has happened as everyone has disappeared from the room and i am the only one who remains. (iriguchi sensei came running back in about ten minutes after they had all disappeared to let me know that they were in a meeting...ahhh!) it is fully entertaining thus far to just watch the innerworkings of the teacher's office and to see them all moving about like there are ten different fires somewhere and they all need to get to putting them out on their own. i swear that none of them really walk, they all more or less run/walk all day long, even across the room to the copy machine. i watch them all move around and take cover at my desk trying to look as busy as possible with little to do since my english senseis have no work for me yet and class has yet to commence. so work is really not work yet, but soon!
i live about a seven minute walk from my school (up one HUGE hill), a two minute walk from the grocery in either direction and a five minute walk to water in about five directions (which is very sweet thing for a girl who grew up so landlocked). i have a small apartment with a living/bedroom, kitchen and separate toilet (western style, not a japanese squat toilet! (seen here)) rooms and shower rooms. this all comes complete with an airconditioner and a washing machine so i am one happy girl! my neighbors are all teachers that i work with in the apartment building and the folks with houses around us are older people with gigantic, glorious gardens on either side as well. everyone in this place has been really warm and friendly and i've managed to meet them all with the little japanese i know and some great hand gestures.
i eat fish everyday now, at least a couple of times a day. i'm not complaining becauese here in nagasaki (the prefecture i live in) we boast having the best fish in the country due to our lovely location. i've eaten the most delicious fish raw and cooked in the most unusual and interesting ways and only wish that i could figure out what the names of them are in english...? though the food is excellent, most things as you could imagine are rather expensive because they are all shipped in and there are plenty of things that we don't have here at all. i, like many of my other american counterparts here i discovered, are missing mexican food most and would love tortilla anything already. oh the things that you did not anticipate on missing...
there are so many things about the people here in japan that make me laugh and smile daily. things that are just so different and quirky for me, but very normal for them and i find myself laughing out loud often because i just can't stand it and then there are even more eyes in the "gaijin" (non-japanese person) than there were before. i think my favorite of these things thus far has to be the t-shirts that every third or fourth japanese person is wearing. old and young, men and women, boys and girls, none are exempt from wanting a t-shirt with english sprawled all over it, no matter what it says. this is where the funny happens for an english speaker, because none (well maybe every 100th shirt) of them make any sense and they are just a combination of a bunch of words that maybe don't even have anything to do with each other and make absolutely no sense at all. folks proudly display these shirts and you can find them in every shopping mall from here to hokkaido. here is one of my favorites that i have been able to capture in the last few weeks (see how proud she looks of her shirt!?).
okay, that will have to be it for now because i'm getting too frusterated with the posting of pictures here...more to come dear readers very soon. i have loads to say so don't give up and thanks for keeping up with me if you are!
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
there is no such thing as the same. everyone and everything is different, no matter how hard we may try at times to put things and people into boxes so that we can sort them neatly in our minds. this certainly holds true for what i have seen so far of tokyo and japan. i can admit that i came here expecting to see every businessman in the same black suit, every old woman with the same blank stare and every child with the same smile. the differences i have observed so far are inspiring and crushing stereotypes for me left and right. there are surprises at every turn here. the grey haired woman who runs across the street, the mohawks of men that are less than neat, the wonder in the eyes of the child who dares to wave at a gaijin (foreign people), the stares from women who slow their pace for a chance to look at eyes deeply set, the knee socks pulled up to there, the store clerk who speaks in english when you expect them not to care and the ease i've found in bowing to everyone at every interaction. these are things i did not expect to see or do or find in this place, but then again i guess i really didn't know what i'd find.
it is day three here and i am slowly becoming acquainted with customs anid closeness here. there is so much to take in and see and everyone and everything is blowing my mind. simplicity rules and smiling can get you everywhere. i saw shinjuku station last night (the busiest subway station in the world; more than 2 million people pass through it each day) and was blown away at the small pockets of peace that i found lingering around every corner that people were racing past, even at nearly midnight last night. peace is in us all and follows each of us in this world, and all we must do is slow our own pace, take a deep breathe, close our eyes and we will find it all around us. i am beginning to understand how people can live and work in places as huge as tokyo; it is simply by living inside their heads for moments of their days and daydreaming as i'm certain i have seen many people doing as they take part in this race pace of life.
i'm no doubt looking forward to island time very soon, as it has always appealed to me and now it will finally be my pace of life, but i am understanding much more about the ability that japanese people have to exsist as they do in huge numbers in small spaces. it's these daydreaming people i've witnessed that have surprised me the most so far about this country, though i know that the surprises have only just begun.
i will travel to nagasaki tomorrow and spend the day there with the other JET's that will teach in the prefecture around me. i will travel on the morning of the anniversay of the bombing to my island, naru, and begin to discover my new home there. it is very exciting to anticipate the extreme calm that will be there with the other 3,000 people on the island. but as sure as i am that it will be peaceful, i am sure that there will be plenty of times that i feel it is anything but calm. the adventure is really just beginning and i'm going to find things about life that i never knew exsisted. to be on the verge of this is fulfilling a life goal, it is watching the sun rise and set on the same island with hope for humanity and love for the world in my heart.
i have fun stories to tell about japanese toilets...more to come!