Tuesday, October 27, 2009

simple strangeness...it only continues

(again. wrote this one a few weeks back when I had lots of time on my hands and it just never seemed to make it up here. I'm making up for lost time and have the goal of getting pictures up tonight when I return home. Fingers crossed!)

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...)

Passion in action

(I wrote this a few weeks back, but have neglected posting it for reasons I can't give now. Trying to get it all out there for you all though...;) )

“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.

oh restroom, i miss you.

I know that I have talked about the bathrooms here before, but it is still an issue and I feel that it deserves a little more explanation than I have previously given it. Without being too crude or nasty I want to attempt to convey my feelings about missing I had never even considered missing before. I kind of miss the “restroom”. It sounds like such a funny thing to say out of context, but when you are an American transplant in Japan, you understand the meaning completely.

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


jitensha is the japanese word for bike and it is relevant today because i just got home from my first bike ride in over two months! holy cow it felt good to be on two wheels and watching the world go by at a nice speed with wind in my hair and salt air in my nose. i have been missing my bike ever so much and it is nice to be back on one here, even it if is borrowed and a far cry from my beautiful mountain bike back in portland :( a bike is a bike is a bike and today it just felt good to have one i could climb on and get lost for awhile. i discovered a new canyon and fresh water damn already and can't wait to see what else those two wheels will help me find. i think i must get a bike, perhaps tomorrow when travel to the 'big island' is on the docket...

(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

sweet inspiration

fall is here, despite my doubts that it would come on this beautiful island paradise. it is subtlely showing itself here with days in the 70's and low 80's now and some fall leaves have even appeared on some of the trees on the surrounding mountain sides. it is beautiful and inspiring me to live a new kind of fall.

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.

namaste friends