Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Naru Apato-Mogie!

As I recently have promised my dear aunt Mogie that I would upload some pictures of my humble abode in Japan I felt it necessary to follow through...and so here is the grand tour for all of you who are curious as to what my apato in Japan looks like!  And yes, it is much bigger than I thought that it would be, but it is not BIG by any means.

This is what I would see if you were knocking on my front door before I opened it to (maybe???) let you in.  The entryway I guess some folks would call it.  I call it the place where I leave my shoes, coats and umbrellas.
And this is what you would see when (if???) I let you in.  The toilet room is the door on the left there and the bath/washing machine room is just off to the right there.  Straight ahead is the kitchen/eating space and then the room with the yoga mat on the floor and the couch is my bedroom/yoga space/movie viewing room.  The nasty reflection back there is coming off of my back door which opens to the art studio.  Oh, I will mention here that the floors in the entryway/kitchen are wood and the floors in the bed/yoga space are tatami (woven bamboo) mats.  You NEVER wear shoes on tatami, believe me, Japanese people will really freak out.  Really.

Okay, I know I said I wouldn't talk about potties anymore, but just one more time cause this is cool.  This is the toilet room off to the left in the last photo and my, well (western, obviously) toilet!  It is the only thing in the room and as you will notice there is a faucet and a basin on top of the commode in lieu of having a whole separate sink in the room.  Saves time and water like this: When you flush the toilet the faucet on top starts running and you can wash your hands with that water and as you wash your hands that water then runs into the bowl of the toilet filling it for next time you need to use the toilet with your soapy water.  Genius I tell you.  Why don't we do this in America?  This is a standard toilet in most homes and restaurants and the like.  Seriously genius.  Don't even get me started on the TP roll dispenser.  It is amazing too.

And if you peered into the room across from the toilet room you would find this; my washing/bathroom.  There is a standard sink in here with a mirror and the washing machine you see here and a door that opens into the shower/bathroom.  The shower room is quite large and you can sit or stand or whatever in there really as the shower head is adjustable/movable and the tub is quite a bit deeper than the standard American tub.  When I sit in it it covers my shoulders.  Those flat plastic things you see there in between the tub and the washer are to cover the tub so you can reuse the water.  Japanese people don't get into the tub when they are dirty, they use it after they have bathed in the shower and just use it to soak, so when they are done they can cover the water and use it again the next day or hours later or whatever.  Another good idea, but I never do it and use the tub as I was trained to do back home; to take a bath in.  For shame!
Here is a better shot of the tub.  See, it's deeper!  Deeper is better I can assure you...

Okay, so we have arrived in the kitchen!  This is the cooking/washing area, the same side of the apato as the wash/bath room for reference.  Featured here is from right to left; my refrigerator/freezer (Japanese size!) with my microwave/oven on top of it and my toaster oven on top of that, my sink, dish drying/dinner preparing area, my stove top i.e. glorified camping stove.  Behind the sink is where I keep many dry foods and dishes (European style which is a little weird considering where I am, but whatever) and in the foreground there is my moving island which stores food and serves as a floating eating/preparation space.

This is the opposite side of the kitchen.  The table with my exercise ball which I often just use as a chair, bamboo shelving above it and the bookcase in the corner.  Loads of art on the wall there and heaps of stuff in the corner on the wall are my home phone, (yes I have one!  How about that!?) the island intercom system (announces important things to all of us at its discretion like when the dentist is coming over and if a ferry is canceled or delayed.  So helpful when I can understand it I'm sure.) and a phone that allows me to talk to whomever may be at my door when they ring.  The doors separating the rooms are sliding of course and can be opened wide or totally closed leaving the spaces separate.  I love the sliding doors in my house and there is also one that separates the kitchen and the entry way.  Really does wonders for heating/cooling quickly.

Now into the bed/yoga/whatever room.  My bed is there folded up on the right side.  I left it out so you could see it, but it can be put away in a jiff and the room becomes a bit more spacious.  There is a table over in the corner which serves as a night stand/dinner table/computer workspace and myriad other purposes.  Nothing too exciting here.

And here it all is from the back door.  Oh and yes, all of the lighting is FLORESCENT! and I LOVE it!  (sarcasm does not usually work via written communication, sorry.)

Here is the room from the kitchen.  You can see the AC/heater on the wall above the couch and no, I never sit on the couch.  It folds out into a futon (American idea of futon) style sleeper, but it is not that comfortable.  The floor is better in my opinion. 

Okay and finally the art studio.  A wonderful space to get lost in on any night that allows me a little time to escape.  Directly above this space are the lines that I hang my laundry on to dry and opposite this side of the porch is where I store my recycling ect.  Not a ton of space but I'm makin' it work.

That's it for me.  Off to the studio for awhile before I have to climb back onto the floor for bed and work again tomorrow.  Life is flowing full throttle here in Naru!

Be well tomodachis!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

feeling good

went to fukue for the day to see mates there and enjoy being away from everyone i know here.  had the most delicious vegetarian lunch at the local co-op and got a massage there as well.  the massage was 90 minutes long and cost about $35.  the only draw back was that i had to leave all of my clothes on.  yes, it was weird, but i guess that is the japanese way and i'm not too keen on it, but it still felt nice to be massaged.  when i come home this summer i want mama mel's hands on bare skin.  is that too much for a girl to ask?

Friday, March 26, 2010

and one more...

and this one is surely my favorite.  watch out for the bubble that can grow in your tummy.  you want to go with the down arrow if you find yourself in that situation!  thank goodness for these pictures, or there might be bubble people running rampant around here...

more entertainment

the message is clear here too right?!  if you drink and smoke cigarettes you will get a large red X on your shoulder and your cigarette smoke will begin to appear as if it is a conversation bubble in which you should say something clever with...


this is the dangerous tidepool that one might be swept into if they are not careful about what they eat here in japan!!!!!!  i found this little illustration in one of the health books that was left in my desk from one of the many gaijin who have held the english teacher position before me.  these illustrations are really in line with what most signs and things are like here.  they are kind of exaggerate what they are trying to say and in doing so usually the point is lost, at least on this gaijin. the green water is dangerous and the blue water is where life is easy.  Watch out for the green water!!!!!!

one more

this is a really bad shot of two of my kyoto sensei's who are leaving naru.  they closed the night of dinner, drinking, karaoke, and more drinking with a sweet japanese song that i cannot remember the name of.  the man that is on his knees watching them (if you can make him out) is our kocho sensei, the principal.  he was the drunkest guy there and must have smoked at least two packs of cigarettes during dinner and singing.  a lively guy with loads to say about everyone's singing abilities. 

it was another good night and more sad goodbyes.  13 kinds of fish were presented at dinner.  leave it to the japanese to give you that much fish in one sitting.  almost all of it was delicous too.  exciting stuff.

off to finish up friday and hopefully to have a night at home...hermits unite!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

a surrpise ending

holy moses march is almost gone!  what a wild, wonderful, crazy, heartbreaking and fantastic month it has been.  the cherry bloosoms are starting their show here and are waiting for a sunny day to make a real spectacle of themselves.  i cant wait.  it has been rainy in naru this week and today the sky the sea and the mountains at my favorite viewpoint from school are all the same hazy shades of violet and blue.  in the absence of the sun it is still a spectacular sight and takes my breath away to think that i live here.  yesssssss.

yesterday marked the real end of school here in naru for the year.  i know that graduation was awhile ago now, but the rest of the students had to carry on with lessons while those who graduated ran around town playing all day.  not fair right?  well, i dont think many of them really mind because they all know that their turn will come soon enough.  all of the kids will still come to school almost everyday while they are on "break" to have club practice and to study.  its not a real vacation, but then again they never really have a real vacation here, so again, they are used to it.  i, on the other hand, am not.  and now i am going to have to find ways to fill my days for the next two weeks without teaching anything or anyone, because us teachers still have to come to school as well.  this means i will be doing a lot of reading and writing and internet searching and such.  if anyone has something good i should be checking out, throw me a line.  i offically have time to burn.

the end of the school year here signifies big changes for all involved in the system.  all japanese teachers who work in public schools are government employees and are subject to being moved at the governments whim.  usually in high schools that means 3-5 years for a teacher of being in one place and for administration 2-3 at the most.  in jr high and elementary it is usually around 2-4 i think.  but each year at this time the government or BOE (board of education) hands down its decisions on who will move and where they will go and teachers and administration have no choice in the matter.  they either accept the charge and pack up and move in one weeks time or they say no and loose their job forever.  there is no coming back as a teacher for the government if you refuse to take your new placement.  its sounds really harsh and i agree that i think it is, but it also seems to be much harder for some people than others.  some people really hate living on this tiny island and want to get back to the city as soon as possible, and for a few others who have been here for their 5 years and now have to move on, you can tell they are awfully sad to be going.  i am not subject to this moving and will only have to endure the ifs and maybes of being repositioned if i choose to leave.  i am lucky.  two teachers and our kyoto sensei (which is japanese title for the vice principal) will be moving to new schools in the next few days.  keep in mind they just found out they were moving last friday and i think that they are expected to report to their new jobs by next friday.  two weeks to move life.  ive done that before and it sucks, but they do this all the time, every 2-5 years.  super suck. 

so last night was the goodbye party for them and it was nice.  i am beginning to get the hang of making small talk at these things and have even begun to remember some of the japanese etiquitte which can be quite complicated and requires me to always be thinking and observing.  the dinner was fantastic and consisted of nine, yes nine kinds of fish (king crab legs of COURSE!) all prepared in different ways, some sort of raw looking beef, (which i happily gave to the sensei sitting next to me) rice and a delicious strawberry/caramel/pudding sort of desert.  top notch i'd say.  looking forward to doing it all over again with the jr high/elementary teachers here tonight.  i will keep you posted on dinner and try to remember my camera this time...

there is a great deal of hung over people around this office today, and i am so happy that i am NOT one of them.  no one is saying a word about the transgressions that took place last night, they are all just getting on and muddling through.  the high point of the day so far for me though (and it is a REALLY high point) is that i found a western toilet today!!!!!!!!  its in the student bathroom which i never use, but did today because our teacher bathroom was being cleaned (by one of the teachers, we all take turns rotating weekly.)  what a surprise when i opened the door to the last stall and saw that tall toilet smiling back at me.  it really did make me laugh out loud and do a little dance right there in the bathroom.  it's the little things in life folks that really keep us excited about living.  today my excitement is a toilet.  halli-jah-lu-la!

sorry to include so much info about pottys on this blog to those of you keeping up.  i will try to avoid the subject from here on out.  try...

mata ie ma sho!  (see you later!)


Thursday, March 18, 2010

the old and new

there was a small interaction that i had today with one of my students that pretty much sums up the whole of japanese life and the way things are for me here. 

i was on my way out of the jr/elementary school and heading back to the high school to eat lunch and finish my afternoon there.  as i came down the last flight of stairs i noticed that quite a few of my 10th grade students were coming down the stairs with me (they have music class at the jr high)  and one of them stopped and gave a hankerchief to one of my 9th graders.  i stopped him for a quick second and asked 'what were you doing back there?' he answered that she had 'forgotten' her hankerchief and he was just returning it.  with a big dose of sarcasim i said 'you mean you were giving your girlfriend your hankerchief' and he just smiled back at me and pressed his index finger to his lips, 'shhhh'.  I was stunned.  this is the first time that any of my students have admitted to having feelings about one another (I know there have to be loads of secret girlfriend/boyfriends in my classes).  i smiled back at him and we walked out the door.  next he asked me a question, 'do you know 'linkin park'?  i told him i did, though i dont really know their music i know that they are a popular american rock band.  he told me that it was his favorite and that he really loved them.  woah.  he had my head reeling.  he had in under one minute of interaction combined the tradition of old with the excitement of new. 

what high school boys do you see innocently handing hankies to their girlfriends in america?  the answer is none.  they dont do that, but they did in 1950 perhaps.  and how many high school kids are crazy about rock music, eyes blazing with excitement when you mention their favorite band's name?  all of them.  that is what a typical american high school kid does.  how odd to witness that mix of new and old in that student, but how cool it was too. 

this is a prime example of life here though.  they are mixing the new, hip stuff of the western world in with their lives that are steeped in culture and rituals.  it is fun to pull it all apart and to see how it fits together again and to learn about all of the old and new through observation, language, ceremony and the occasional lesson from one of my english speaking japanese friends. 

what a joy and a privilege it is to be here.  i did a quick count in my head the other day as to how many days i have left here and it is about 500 now.  i cant wait to see what happens in those days and how far from what i am now that i will be when they are through.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ends and beginnings

along with every other thing that they do differently here the japanese have graduation for students at all levels in the spring.  my high school kids graduated two weeks ago and today my jr high and 6th grade students graduated as well.  it is a VERY different ceremony than what i am used to experiencing in the states and totally formal and pretty rigid if you ask me.  loads of standing up and bowing and sitting down and standing up and on and on.  loads of speeches from people who the students may or may not recognize and a few somber little songs thrown in for fun.  all of the students are required to participate as graduation falls on a school day.  the most touching part of the ceremony was when a few representatives of each graduating class gave short inspriational messages to the other classes.  in return a few representatives from those classes stood and gave glad parting and congratulatory words to them.  most teachers were crying but i have to be honest, i didnt really try that hard to understand what they were saying like i did during the high school ceremony (tear jerker!) because i was facing a huge window that had the most wonderful view of outside and i was totally daydreaming about laying on the beach here really soon.  hey, you would probably have been drawn to do the same thing if you were in my place.  we were able to clap at the end as the students who were graduating were leaving, that was my favorite part because i could move again without being the fidgety gaijin.  and so the school year wraps up here in naru and it feels, well, really weird.  it could have to do with the fact that i walked past of few of my graduating students on the way to school this morning as they were packing their bags and noticed that they were including a straightening iron in their things; it was two of my 9th grade boys.   oh japan you just always throw a curve ball dont you?

happy spring to all of you and happy birthday to my beautiful momma.  her birthday is tomorrow and it is an epic one.  im so glad that i got to see her last week along with all of the rest of my family and hold them each for a moment and catch up on life.  though we gathered under very sad circumstances we all managed to speak of and share in the joy that our beloved KC had shared with each of us in her life.  what a wonderful thing to have such beautiful people inside and out in my life. 

im blessed beyond belief

Thursday, March 4, 2010

love and life and change

it is with a heavy heart that i write this short blog note.  the long 28 hour journey to Texas has begun for me now.  i type this from the airport in fukuoka which is a ferry/taxi/plane ride from my little island.  i'm off to meet my family for a few days and to celebrate the life of one of the most golden-hearted women i have ever had the privilege of loving; my grandma KC.  it was her time and it is a good thing that she has gone to be with my grandpa john and dance with him again, but our selfish human nature has many of us sad here as we miss her joyful being. 

i hope all of you remember to love each moment that you can. 

re entry back to being a non-gaijin is feeling weird and wonderful all at once.  i kind of miss my island already though...