Tuesday, January 26, 2010

a few more differences

it is still happening and i think that it will continue to happen for as long as i am here.  the small differences in the ways that we go about life from the states to here is just startling.  observing these seemingly small things that are kind of huge for an american in the flow of the 'wa' here is just something that leaves me scratching my head and wondering how and why we do things the way we do them back home and how they can do them differently here without a big fuss.

take for instance the regualrity of students and teachers alike carrying exact-o knifes.  you know those razor sharp little knives that we use for crafts and such back home, yes those knifes, well they all have them here.  i may be making it sound like they are all arming themselves, and really they are, but for entirely different reason; for EXACT cutting needs.  when they do any art project here, big or small, if one person's eyes will see it or one hundred, they make it as precisely and nicely as possible.  so naturally they need an exact-o knife so that they can get the job done and not have to make a big deal about 90 degree angles being off and whatnot.  it makes sense now that i see it in action everyday.  what really struck me about it though was entertaining the thought of any 6th grade student back home with the same tool in their pencil case.  well, honestly for the most part that is just scary.  i WOULD NOT want to be the teacher in charge with everyone packin razor sharps in their desks.  i just wouldnt.  what about you?  its a small difference here, but really its a big one, it kind of translates over to the disapline the kids have and the expectations that adults have of them.

this is seen again in the simple fact that when it is time for after lunch recess there is NO playground supervision.  yes that is right.  so your teacher wants to take a smoke break instead of watch you play soccer, what's the big deal?  there is no big deal.  the kids play and get along and there just isnt another option.  kids here know that the wrath of the sum of adult figures in their lives would come down on them if they got into the kind of trouble that american kids seem to find at recess.  they dont want that and life is easier when they all just get along, so they do.  they make it look so easy.  when i watch them play out my window it sometimes just blows my mind to think of all of the times that i had to interject an adult face/voice/words when watching my school kids in america play so they didnt beat the crap out of eachother or leave eachother out of play or a million other troublesome things that they seem to get into.  that just does not happen here.  wow. 

the small can become the big in a lot of ways and though i get used to seeing it i dont know if i will ever be able to fully wrap my mind around how it works.  i like it though.  its good to be in japan.

today was a special day though, i did join my fifth and sixth grade students after lunch for a friendly little game of soccer in the warm sun.  their homeroom teachers played as well and we used not one game ball but two.  good times i say.  as for all of the other kids running about outside, what were they up to you say?...who cares!

sendin love and sunshine from my island to yours


Friday, January 22, 2010

the molehill is a mountain

most of you out there who have been reading about my wanderings thus far are familiar with tanaka-san by now.  the sweet little office lady who thinks i am a super-model, clever american girl.  yes, she always has me smiling and keeps me guessing as to what she might say or do in one day's time.  today we shared a nice little laugh (at my expense...what's new!?) and i thought that i would pass it on. 

i walked into the office to order lunch.  (i have mentioned about how sweet it is to get little bento lunches delievered everyday to the office made by local chef's including all of the best local fish and produce and costing a mere 600 yen, right?  well if i havent then i should start telling you all about them in another post.)  she asked as usual first about my outfit.  (where is it from, what am i wearing underneath, how much did it cost...)  i relayed that it was from america and that i was wearing a camisole of sorts underneath and that i bought it on sale (of course).  she nodded and smiled at all the above and oohed and ahhhed at it coming all the way from san francisco!  oh la la!  we then moved onto what i would be having for lunch.  a big question some days when i just cant decide between chahan, saba ben, omu rice, or a nice udon seto.  i decided on omu rice ( a sweet little modern japanese dish) and turned to head out the door.  but in traditional japanese style i didnt get out without a question about the tempurature for the day.  samui?  (it is cold.  am i cold?  its cold isnt it?)  they ask this incesently and repeat this word as if it will somehow make the weather change if they say it enough times with enough distain.  so far i dont think that it is working, but that is not stopping them.  they do the same thing in the summer when it is hot (atsui! atsui! atsui!...).  anyhow she asked and i told her (for the millionth time or so it seems) that i indeed am not cold and that the winter here in naru is simply lovely, in fact it is the warmest winter i have ever experienced in my whole life.  i did add today though that my hands were cold and that my nose was a bit cold as well.  (nothing new if you know me or my mom.  we share a wonderful little circulatory system that does not quite make it to the tips of our noses, toes or fingers, hence making them cold all the time.)  well, i should have known better.  she whipped out the dictonary to try and figure out what circulation means and the like and i continued to try and let her know that i was not uncomfortable or suffering in any way by the 'cold' (weather here is in the fifties and sunny this week).  we finally arrived at the right translation and after she grasped what my situation was she ran with it.  my nose became a mountain in her joke (because my nose is indeed quite a bit bigger and longer than the average japanese nose) and the tip of it was freezing because that is what happens when mountains are so big, they get snow on the tops of them!  my nose was the mountain with the snow and it was all making sense to her now.  i endured her sharing this joke with the rest of the office staff and a few of my fellow teachers as they came in to order lunch as well.  i will admit that it made me laugh, but for entirely different reasons.  you just never know what is going to happen next.

on to bigger things.  jr high class this afternoon and tackling questions and vocabulary for year end wrap up lessons.  oh joy!

love from my mountain to yours

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

just breathing

it feels like spring here, actually i have to keep convincing myself that it feels more like spring than summer, because naturally spring will be our next season, right?  the sun in the evening is almost perfectly reminicent of lazy nebraska summer nights when it is just after supper time and the sun is finally giving up and falling down.  this is the time when nothing is better than a nice porch beer and a view of the mighty fall.  it really feels like that time of year here to me already here, but the only difference is that i get to watch the sun over the real sea and not the sea of corn.  i dig it.  the perfect spot for this view is just about five minutes via bike down the road from me and i can sit there and watch the sun play on the water until all the rainbow colors are gone and only blue and purple remain.  im so lucky and this amazing sight helps me to remember that everyday.

speaking of seasons, there is this fantastic blog page that i found way back during thanksgiving time (is it really that long ago?) and i meant to share it with you all then, but of course got sidetracked (thats the nice way i will relate to you all how my brain normally functions) and forgot.  this guy is super talented and clever with his artistry.  any of you fellow tree huggers, oregonians or just art enthusiasts will really dig this page i think.  tell me if im wrong...


i'll leaf you with that.


Monday, January 18, 2010

flowers in january

global citizenship

i like to think of myself as an optimistic person.  i think most of you out there reading who know me well would agree, or at least i'd like to think so ;)  it is not in my nature to want to find negativity in things but for some reason the recent earthquake in haiti has me shaking my head at the world around me.  i do realize that haiti has little or nothing to do with anything japanese but this is after all my blog and it is on my mind so im going to write about it.  if you dont want to read about it, dont.  this is your warning if you dont want to hear about something that could be controversial stop reading now.  in a lot of ways i feel like i shouldnt even be writing about this at all, but that is why i suppose i am.  just airing the ideas in my head.

now i do not claim to be anything of an expert on the subject of haiti or world relations or even the proper responses to natural disasters, but i know that all of these things are on my mind and many other peoples minds now.  a fairly natural response at this stage is to feel empathy for those who have lost loved ones and their homes and what few belongings they had in haiti, it is also natural i think to feel sadness at thinking of being in that same situation and our humankindness is set in motion.  this is great, it may motivate us to give to charitable work that is happening there.  this is great too, i think giving is part of us being world citizens and this is a wonderful thing.  the people of haiti are very, very bad off at this point.  this is a fact.  but what is also a fact is that days, weeks, months and many, many years before this disaster struck their homes they were very, very bad off as well.  haitian culture has a long history of slavery that it still practices.  people live on little or nothing, have little or nothing and adjust to lives where suffering is the only thing that they can depend on being constant in their lives.  these people for the most part are living lives that you and i shudder to even think about and shield our eyes from viewing when their truths are spewed on our tv screens.  the suffering that those people are feeling there is hardly new to them.

how is it then that we should all be so worried about them now?  where were we with our pocketbooks and warm hearts for the last who-even-knows how many years?  why does it take something really horrific happening for us to focus our attention on those in need in this world?  it feels so strange to me that it takes disasters for us to come together as a world community.  what is holding us back from responding to each other like this on a regular basis?  what is holding us back from keeping up on the quality of life being lived by our brothers and sisters who live in every corner of the world on a regular basis?  i can guarantee that there are thousands of other people in the world who are experiencing agony as those in haiti are now, but they dont have news crews there to show the rest of us what is going on.  dont they count?  why arent we rushing to their aid too? 

many of you know sam, my dear friend who is working now as a peace corps volunteer in the dominican republic.  i have her to thank for a lot of the information that i do have on how the people of hispanola are living.  its bad news, that is why she is there.  she sent an email out (which was a sort of miracle that she could even get a connection that worked) a few days after the disaster letting all of us who love her know that she was okay.  she also told us about the state of things post-disaster are looking like.  there is no censor on the island television there that prevents the camera crews from filming the dead bodies everywhere and then broadcasting them to the public.  they get to see what is really going on there, they dont get a sheltered version because it is too gorey.  i cant even imagine. 

i know im ranting a bit here but as i said before, it is just something that i feel that the whole world is paying attention to right now and the fact is, i dont have anyone to discuss it with.  actually i have yet to talk to anyone on the island who even knows what happened, so maybe it is the world minus my island in japan.  i applaud anyone who has taken action to help those in need now in haiti, but i challenge anyone who reads this to think about what you can do as a global citizen to help those living in misery on a regular basis.  it should not take a catastrophe to bring us together.  shouldnt we feel this compassion daily and reach out whenever we can, not just when it is in our faces?  part of finding a solution is simply becoming aware and educating ourselves about the state of the world around us.  this means getting uncomfortable and daring to dig into unsightly lives of those who live oceans away and stepping outside of our comfy little cocoons.  i cannot claim to be aware of all of the suffering that is going on in the world.  i do know that i want to push myself to be more aware of it all the time and to remember how lucky i am and to do what i can with my good fortune in life to help or bring awareness to those in need regularly.  caring for a moment is nice but it will never be enough to fix the lives of people like those in haiti.  it will take the world's populations making a habit of compassion and caring.

i have attached a link here of something im sure many of you have heard or read before.  it is lesson that i taught to my senior high students this past week and will continue to talk with them about.  it was extremely moving to share some of these figures with them and watch as they realized how lucky they were to be a part of the richest and most well off demographic in the world. 

today i will meditate on the thought of global citizenship and what it means for me and all of us.  i will do this knowing that i am not alone and that many of you reading already share this meditation with me.

namaste friends

Sunday, January 17, 2010

howl like the good wolf you are

 I found this somewhere out on the web.  I thought that it was pretty fantastic so i'm puttin it here for you all to enjoy as well.  I'm off to Fukue for a fantastic matsuri today and should be enjoying some sumo and festival food as you all enjoy Saturday night cocktails back in the states.  Be well...

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson
about a battle that goes on inside all people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two
wolves that dwell inside each and everyone of us.

“One is Evil.
It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed,
arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority,
lies, false pride, superiority and ego.

The other is Good.
It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility,
kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity,
truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for
a minute, and then asked his grandfather:

“Which wolf will win ?”

The old Cherokee simply replied:
“The one you feed.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

nothing like a big piece of love

i took this photo on my keitai (cell phone) today (and appologies, i cant figure out how to rotate the thing!) of this cake that one of my students created in art class that is being displayed outside of the teacher's room at the jr high/elementary school.  at first it caught me because i thought that my student had flubbed up the english, but then i realized that they really got it right.  there is an intentional play on words happening here and i love that one of them was clever enough to figure that out.  a sweet little piece of art if you ask me...

"If you judge people, you never have time to love them." Mother Teresa

namaste friends,

Friday, January 8, 2010

bring on another round

just to let you all out there reading know.  moments ago i turned in my recontracting papers to my supervisor.  he read it over and when he realized what it was gave me a huge smile.  it meas a LOT less work for him next year, thats why hes excited.  it means another year of crazy japan living for me, thats why im excited.  see you all stateside in august 2011...fingers crossed.



and the winner is...

me!  apparently i am a big winner around here because i have been able to claim a day and a half of the sick days that were allotted to me in my contract this year.  i have a cold.  just your regular run-of-the-mill blowing of the nose every ten minutes and coughing up some gnarly tasting phlegm every few hours.  nothing too life threatening or severe, im sure in fact that many of you back in the states have had these same symptoms this winter season and marched on right through work along with your other cold suffering collegues.  its nothing, right?  just what you expect from winter and how you deal with it.  but it shouldnt surprise you by now to learn that this is soooooo not the way that it is dealt with here.

i came to work on wednesday feeling a bit under the weather as i said.  though i knew that i was not super sick i thought seeing a doctor wouldnt hurt and its super super cheap to do so here, so what the hell, right?  i walked into the main office of the high school and asked my favorite lady on the whole island for a bit of help.  immediately she asked what she could do for me and i simply asked if maybe she could make me an appointment to see the doctor.  whoa...she jumped into action whipping open her filing cabinet and retrieved a mask for me instructing me to put it on while dialing the hospital number with her other hand.  as she waited for the phone to ring she asked the principal if it was okay if she took to the hospital and she granted her the priveldge no problem.  get the sick girl out of here was really the idea.  so moments later i was whisked three blocks away in tanaka-san's little car to the hospital and ushed into a private room with a nurse ready with her thermometer and japanese translation book.  i was asked lots of questions and answered them with broken broken japanese as i could.  the doctor arrived shortly after and asked a few more questions (she speaks okay english, okay) and stuck a dipstick deep into my nose to test me for the dreaded infruenza!!!!, which i knew i didnt have but wanted them to know so i obliged to their test.  it came back negative but at the end of the visit i walked out of the hospital with FOUR different medications and strict instructions to rest and not come back to work.  tanaka-san had been on the phone as asked permission for me to take the rest of the day off and the next and my pricipal okayed this as well.  nice. 
now i have enjoyed a few days at home sleeping off this cold and catching up on the latest american movies and just being able to relax and enjoy in japan for awhile.  when i returned today i knew though that i would need to mask up for the fear was in all of my collegues eyes that i was still infected and might spread the nastiness to them.  my supervisor passed me a sheet handed down to him from my principal and vice principal that was granting me a day and a half of sick leave.  he told me that i was very lucky that they were giving me the sick days and not taking them out of my nenkyuu or days off for the year.  he then told me that he has NEVER been granted a sick day.  jeez, jeez, jeez, whoa, whoa, whoa! 
there is just a certain work ethic that runs deep in this country.  though they are scared to death of being sick, they usually work through it and mask up so that no one will be in danger (this makes me laugh out loud) of catching it.  every collegue that i work with who has been sick this year will show up and perform whatever is necessary to get done for the day and THEN go home and feel better.  they might take another day of nenkyuu if they are really feeling bad, but most times they show up the next morning ready to get back at it.  these people live to work it seems and it makes me feel so bad most days knowing that i am the last to arrive in the mornings (or close to the last) and the first to leave every afternoon.  i work with teachers who leave for school when i get up in the morning and dont return until after i have eaten dinner and been relaxing for hours.  it is really so weird but i am learning that it is just their way. 
so today i tell you i am the big winner around here.  seriously.  i got the magic sick days that no one else seems to be able to use, but i know that they all have.  being gaijin here has its good points sometimes.  *cough, cough*

be well back home, spring is around the corner!
big hugs and warm love to you all,

Thursday, January 7, 2010


so here is the busy scene that was witnessed on the stairs leading up to the entrance gate.

this was the first buddhist temple that we visited after midnight.  it was much quieter and mellow than the rest of the stops that evening.  very zen.

this is the entrance up to the main gates of the shinto shrine where we threw money and clapped and bowed.  a super hoppin spot and the vendors were there in droves.  it was pretty entertaining.

and here i am ringing the bell at first buddhist temple.  the temple was high above the city and sported an amazing view.

this is spectacles bridge.  the most famous bridge in nagasaki and it is waaaay old and has been rebuilt a few times due to destructive flooding.  right outside and down the street from the hostel where i stay when i'm in town.

this is some signage outside a yakitori restaurant in chinatown district.  these are a fine example of the sort of english that can be seen everywhere in this country.  never fails to bring a good laugh.  nothing like a nice scorch bird.  mmmmm...

some really sweet looking old guys playing chess in the park.  spent plenty of time watching them and shooting the birds and kids that were playing there.  a lovely new year's day in nagasaki.
 the gate of the park entrance.  hey, it's a city park, why not go a little fancy?!

this little girl chased the pigeons for a good hour.  she was sooo excited every time they would gather and she could bum rush them.  i had a blast watching her.
here is the park entrance gate from my perch on the other side of the park.  the gates to enter the chinatown district are right behind them.

and here i am.  wearing the lovely house clothes provided by the hotel in ioujima.  people wore these to dinner, to the onsen, to ping pong and to breakfast.  i just wore them in the room, maybe next time i'll suck it up and wear them outside.

just a bit of the buffet spread that was encountered at dinner.  soooo overwhelming and more fresh fish then i have EVER seen in my life.  it was really a wonderful way to start vacation.

and to top it all off...grey jello!  that's right folks.  there are just too many things to even mention that happen here that are so far out of the spectrum of what i am used to.  this is just a fine example.  no i did not try it.  what flavor do you suppose grey is?!  i didn't really want to find out that much and thought that i probably wouldn't be able to identify it anyhow.  i will mention here that grey is the color of most chewing gum here.  it is mint flavor.  yum, grey food!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

watch out!

this is what most people look like here when flu season arrived. it doesnt mean you are sick, just being cautious. i think its a little nuts!

the year of the tiger has commenced

happy new year!!!!  okay, so the new year kind of crept up on me, much like a tiger on her prey.  it is indeed the year of the tiger here and i am feeling a renewed sense of wonder with life as new challenges arise.  as i am sure that my holiday time was much different than anyones back in the states i will ramble here about my end of year holiday:

i had the lovelist of holidays over my new year break and spent one night in ioujima (a little island just a 20 minute ferry ride from ohato harbor in nagasaki).  it was beautiful and calming to spend a night right on the sea.  for a quick fix in life nothing beats it.

after one night in ioujima i spent five beautiful, lazy nights with the good folks at the akari hostel near the temple district in nagasaki.  there are always lots of travelers coming and going day in and day out there from all over the world and it is always fun to meet them and share a cup of coffee and a little chat.  so many people dazzled by the culture and life that is japan.  it is great to share common and contrasting experiences with them.

i hadnt really made plans for new years eve when i came and did the whole 'see what life brings' sort of thing.  turns out that one of my gaijin friends who lives the next island over was in nagasaki with her friend from the states and so ben and i met them new years eve at the local gaijin bar for some magic.  its a local hot spot called the 'crazy horse' and there are plenty of crazy things going on in there on any given night.  we had checked it out the night before eve just to make sure that it would be open (many, many things close for new years here and for a few days that follow.  when i got home EVERYTHING in naru was closed.  EVERTHING.) and we happened upon an all japanese beatles cover band.  let me tell you that you have never heard 'hard days night' until you have seen five (yes, five.  i know its not right, but they didnt seem to care) 50-odd something's jamming it like it's going out of style.  i didnt know whether to laugh or sing along and so i did both.  i knew dad would be proud that i knew the lyrics better than the lead singer.  it's true and at one point after singing 'nowhere man' he covered the mic and leaned over to ask me 'what is nowhere man meaning?'.  i translated as well as i could but told him that it wasnt supposed to make perfect sense anyhow.  i asked him 'wakaru?' (do you understand) and he smiled and flashed me a big peace sign.  right on man, right on.  but, new years night there were more and different rock-n-rollers in the house and we were all singing and playing and just having a real dandy time.  midnight came without a countdown or champange toast, but quickly after the bar owner, Yubo, asked us all if we were ready to go.  sure!, where are we going?  without really understanding i hopped into a cab with my two gaijin girls and my new japanese friend Takeshi and whizzed off to a nearby buddhist temple.  turns out once we got there that our cabbie had taken us to the wrong one to meet the rest of the gang from the bar.   it is tradition for japanese people to visit a shrine or a temple in the first hours of the new year, or the first few days of the new year and so the place was packed!  at the buddhist temples there are huge bells outside with huge wooden ringers that you swing back and make the biggest bang (just one) that you can followed by bowing (duh!) and making a wish.  after we realized that indeed we were at the wrong temple and had all had a go at the bell we hopped in another cab and got to the right one where we met the rest of the gang from the bar.  the next was the biggest buddhist temple in the city and there were a huge, elaborate, golden shrines set up inside where monks were chanting and praying.  we silently entered and took seats to observe the chanting and to light some insense offering prayers of our own for new years blessings.  i was not able to take pictures in such a sacred place but let me tell you that what i saw and felt in there i will never forget in my whole life.  it was a truly moving and awakening experience for us all.  after we exited the sanctuary we were usshered into a room where we were given tea and soup by sweet old women in house aprons.  i thought that was were we would end the night, but oh, wrong again.  after moments of savoring the delicious (vegetarian!!!!!, buddhists, right!?) soup our leader and his wife got up and told us we had another stop.  one more cab ride and we were let out into the biggest crowd of the night.  we were at the biggest shinto shrine in nagasaki and it was hoppin!  wide staircases up through tori gates were filled with people, so much so that there were policemen on duty to let just the right amount of people up at a time.  given our chance we climbed the stairs and worked our way to the open shrine where we threw coins and bowed and clapped offering our thanks and recieving the blessings that the new year may bring.  then we were offered small dishes of spiced sake and shown to the reception area.  this was all outside mind you and on the other side of the offering and sake lines there were all kinds of vendors set up ready to please a slightly-buzzed and very cheerful new years crowd.  you could get everything from chocolate covered bananas to takoyaki to cheese on a stick and beers to boot!  what a way to end the night im tellin ya!  we enjoyed all the above for many moments and had a good time sitting around heaters sharing with friends new and old, japanese and american.  it was a really wonderful way to ring in the new year and i feel so blessed to have been a part of it. 

as for resolutions of the new year sort i didnt make any that night.  i didnt even really think about it.  it is just not what they do and so i kind of forget about it.  i have thought about it though now that we are a week into the year and i have decided that i want to be more creative and to be more willing to share my creativity with the world this year.  i want to be not so uptight about sharing my writing (see, yes i have already begun right here!) and paint however i chose and sing when people are listening and speak and listen when the time is right.  these are my resolutions, i hope you are making some of your own that are challenging and fun. 

be well friends and make 2010 great in your own ways.  thanks for staying in touch,

ps-pictures later, im at work now and dont have access to them.  though i am back at school i dont have lessons for another week and that leaves me a lot of time to catch up with all of you.  dont be surprised if i get to a bloggin a few more times this week.