Wednesday, August 25, 2010

horse head

i think that i may have mentioned in a previous post at some point the way in which japanese people can be kind of, well, rude.  except it isnt rude at all, and they certainly dont see it as such, but it is just for them stating the obvious i guess.  i am still getting used to this and upon being the recipient of this honesty it still surprises me and makes me laugh every time. 

it happened again about five minutes ago.

tanaka-san came into the staff room and sang my name out, as only she does "bess-chan! o-bento!".  this means that she wants me to come to the office and order my lunch.  i grabbed a 500 yen coin from my desk and followed her into the office.  this was our first meeting of the day and so naturaly she checked out my attire for the day and asked me how i was feeling.  fine fine fine, all was good i answered as i scribbled my best kanji on the paper and ordered my bento.  i looked up at her and smiled and all of a sudden she said "horse head" to me and motioned to my head.  i thought about it for a second and then realized that she was referring to my hair, which is piled up on top of my head with excessive heighth today.  no, i didnt do this on purpose, and if you know me you know that i never really give my hair-do for the day much thought or effort, in fact todays hair-do was done as i was walking to the bathroom to brush my teeth i think.  i didnt use the mirror or redo it after checking it out.  it was out of my face and out of my way, whatever.  she said it again and this time i laughed and tried to explain that i wasnt going for the horse head look but just didnt care.  she seemed to like it and so i smiled and tried to accept this strangness as a compliment of sorts.  a good laugh if nothing else, right?

this is kind of the way here.  i have had more people point out red eyes from allergies and such, bags under my eyes after restless nights of no or little sleep, my tan arms (GASP!!!!) and other minor physical things about me which seem out of sorts to them without even considering it would be rude to mention to me as it would be back home.  can you imagine walking up to your ONLY foreign co-worker and saying to them "wow look at how dark the circles under your eyes are!" or "you have a horse head today!".  seriously cracks me up and i dont even know how to respond except to laugh now.  just their way.

**as a side note here, i will mention upon having recently returned from the US and experiencing culture shock there, that japanese people on the whole are VERY polite when it comes to daily everythings, MUCH more so than anywhere i have ever been in the states.  their politeness and consideration for everyone here is ingrained in them and has been and remains a core of their culture here for centuries.  how on earth did these little "rude" comments slip by?  i have no idea, but perhaps that is what makes them even funnier to me now. 

horse head.  i will laugh about this one awhile. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

ohio gozimasu!

this is the friendly little guy who brittney and i woke up to waiting right outside her apartment for us on sunday morning.  i accidentaly walked through its web but it was okay i promise!  about the size of my palm and so beautiful.  had to share it with you all, (wink wink mama mel!)
and say good morning!

Friday, August 20, 2010


we have only just finished here in japan celebrating the week of old (deceased) family members returning.  the only holiday to which i can compare it to it la dia de los muertos which they celebrate in mexico and central america (?) where they honor the dead and invite their spirits back for the weekend and then send them back to the other side again when the weekend has finished.  on the last day of Obon it is a big no-no to be in or on the water at all, since they see this as kind of messing with the way that their loved ones will need to take, another words you are causing a traffic jam on their way back.  i, of course went swimming that day. Obon is quite a big deal in Japan and most of my co-workers actually took time off of work and went home to be with their families.  this is a huge shock considering they work as they do for most every other week of the year, save for a few days during new year.  this is one time of the year though where it is extremely important to them to be together and at the origin of the family and so the island was teaming with new people (family members who live on the mainland) and it was fun to watch them stare at me as i stared at them.  but anyhow we had a wonderful time celebrating here on the island and did so in the traditional ways of the naru people. 

in the morning on the 14th, which was a saturday, most of the people on the island gathered at one of the boat harbors for the annual Obon boat races.  there were many many teams participating and though i am not sure if there was an overall winner, most people who attended were a part of the action at some point or another.  i was asked to be a substitute and nervously accepted, but at the last minute the woman showed up and i got to step down.  big relief!  here are some pics of the races.

as you can see, this was more of a fun race than a serious one, and on the first day of Obon it is okay to get into the water and be in a boat.  i think (as i understood it) that this signifies them going out to greet their loved ones and welcome them back home. 

later on this saturday there was to be a matsuri in the town center, or what we use as a town center now, the old middle school recreation area.  if you were on the island that night, you were at the party.  it was great fun for me to be a part of it and i got to wear my yukata that i recieved as a gift from my friend Mari last year.  yukata is a light cotton kimono that is worn in the summer only and is appropriate for wear to any evening sort of activity or gathering when the weather is warm.  and though they were designed for when the weather is hot to keep you cool, i must say i was pretty warm in mine as the obi (waist line tie) is wrapped around you many many times and there are things (sorry i have no idea what they are called) inserted inside the obi to keep it flat on you.  Mari's grandmother and her grandmother's neighbor helped me put mine on as there is a very specific way to wear it and fold it on yourself and on and on.  they were quick and it took them only about 45 minutes to get us both dressed. 

off we went to matsuri after we were finally dressed but first i snapped a few shots of Mari's grandmother's house and the shrines that were set up there and various other non-western looking things in the house, like the entryway with the shoe cubbies, which EVERY japanese house has.  the shrine with the edibles is a Buddhist shrine and the one up high with a bell is a Shinto shrine.  most people here incorporate both religions into their lives in many ways no problem.  the food on the shrine is of course the favorites of those who have passed and i did ask if after Obon if it is eaten or not and Mari said yes.  oh and the peacoak pictured below is made entirely of beads and safety pins.  ingenious. 

once we were at the festival there were a bunch of foods to eat and so many new things going on that were keeping me happy and occupied.  all of my students were there and really got excited seeing me in my yukata and i got excited seeing them in theirs and also just seeing them in street clothes.  i rarely, if ever have seen most of them in anything besides their school uniforms.  it sounds weird but when that is what their life consists of that is how they are dressed.  thank goodness for one weekend of a break, huh?

some of my high school students and I.

some of my elementary students playing some kind of carnival game.  i dont understand it at all.

prizes at this game were masks among other things. 

another fun carnival prize, the huge blow up minnie mouse stick!  exciting!!!

some of my jr high 3rd year girls.  (thats high school freshmen to us)

my friend yoshinao is there on the right with his bow on.  no shame here, none at all.

and this is something that perplexes me every time i see it; marijuana leaves on EVERYTHING, even though it is classified as HIGHLY illegal here and you can be sent to jail for quite awhile for having it.  i dont get it.

some street meat, or carnival cuisine if you will.  i think it was bacon and beef and chicken, nothing weird. 

me with my light-up bow on with a few jr high 3rd graders.  no shame here either.  hey, when in rome...

and this is me with my favorite high school teacher.  he is a really great guy with a really cute family and he is always helping me out with things at work, as he sits next to me and is one of the english teachers, so i guess he kinda has to. ;)  but he also is kind enough to include me in all of the soccer games that ONLY my male coworkers play, and me i guess.  he is nakagawa sensei and was pictured a few entries back in a bad photo taken on my keitai sleeping at the karaoke bar.  remember him?  here he is with his son Ao and me with my bow again.  rockin. 

and after this awesome matsuri i trotted off with Mari to Yoshinao's house to watch a pretty great fireworks display that they were doing right out in the main bay.  all of the fireworks were launched from boats (proper portland style!) and some of them purposely really low.  (i was only told this when i said that there had been a misfire and Mari and Yoshi corrected me.)  a wonderful day on the island and loads of strange, new fun learning and enjoying with my island people. 

i did a bunch of thinking about and remembering my family who have passed on during this time as well.  a nice sentiment that the Japanese do this each year i think.  i was glad to be a part of it and will always remember this special holiday when august comes. 

thinking of all of you who i love today and holding you in my heart.  thanks for being with me in mind and spirit as i adventure in my little corner of the world.  tons of love to you in yours. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

back with the small people

by small i do not refer to anything except the size of all things japanese and it is not necessarily a bad thing i have discovered.  in fact, i have come to love the smaller size of things here and actually looked forward towards the end of my american journey to coming home to things that made sense porportionaly and not having to leave most of whatever i was served on my plate or feeling like everything was too large and too loud.  home is nice, i am so glad to be back on my little island in the sun now.

i returned on a saturday morning after leaving the states on thursday afternoon to find my new scooter (thanks kelly!) waiting for me at the port.  after some coaxing i got her started and was on a short ride back to my apartment.  what a feeling!  you will be getting updates on how our relationship is evolving just as soon as all of the paperwork is squared away with her.

my bags came in the afternoon (again, i sent them via baggage service.  about 20 bucks for them to ship them from the fukuoka airport to my doorstep instead of me lugging two HUGE (american huge) suitcases across town in fukuoka and then into and on the ferry with me and then home once i reached the island.  i love baggage service!)  and i hurriedly unpacked them and got clothes and gifts organized when my friend yoshi called me and told me that there was to be a matsuri (summer festival) that evening and that i should meet him at 5 o'clock.  OK!  i was anxious to get back into the swing of things so off i went and helped a bit with set up but mostly just enjoyed all that these festivals have to offer.  loads of my students were on hand selling the food/drinks and offering their help to all of the young and old in attendence.  it was a special festival that was set up for the old folks on the island at one of the retirement homes.  they were all tickled pink to have so many of us there and being able to celebrate the summer season with family and friends.  my taiko team performed (sans me, which i was soo happy about after missing a month of practices!) along with some other singing and dancing from all ages there.  it was generally a great time and everyone really seemed to be letting their hair down, as much as they do. ;)

this man was good enough to bring his tako-yaki van to the festival.  he served them up hot and delicious right from the back of the thing.  tako-yaki is a great street sort of food here and is like little balls of pancake batter with bits of octopus inside.  yum!

traditional dancing to a very old matsuri tune

it never fails, there is always a place at every event, no matter how small, for the "important" people to sit.  these are the guys and i have no idea how they are so important, but they are.  the good part is, they all semm to like me, or at least the novelty of me being around. 

more dancing and general enjoying!

i really enjoyed this little festival and felt like it was the perfect homecoming.  getting to see some of the folks there that i had missed and just being back into the thick of things.  it really reminded me how far i have come in a year and how much there still is to learn about these people, this place and its rich, wonderful history and culture.  i am so glad to be back here and to be starting another year in japan.  here is to one more and to having a clue!  yeehaw!

back in the USA: west side bliss

and after ten days at home though i was sad to say good-bye to my family and friends there i was soooo anxious to be back in OR with all of my wonderful, loving people there.  as soon as i saw this i knew it was going to be a great second round of my holiday...

my blonde Oregon sister Sam picked me up at the PDX airport with a Voo-doo doughnut.  nothing says portland like one of those.  one hug and one taste and i was really back in my american home.  and like any good oregonian would, she then whisked me off to the newest neighborhood brewery for us to have a taste of the NW hops and barleys that i had been missing.  oh man!  words cant describe how good that first taste was.  again, tasting like home.

i had a super full and super fun schedule for the next nine days though it seemed to kind of fill itself as the days went on (hmmm, or Sam had a great hand in that.  jah bless her little organizing self!) and i got to catch up with old friends from all over, old students who i ADORE, dance with my Oregon family, camp at a seriously amazing site, and just relish in the beauty that was all around me.  the people and places of Oregon really have captured my heart and it will forever be my american home now.  no matter how far i go i know that those mountains, trees and rivers will be there to welcome me back, along with the most caring, thoughtful, gentle and adoring people i have ever met (outside of my NE family of course!).  the love and comfort that i feel there with those people is enough to bring me to tears even now and if i think about it too much i often feel like a crazy woman for ever having left.  but they know my heart and welcome me back knowing too that my heart has always been there with them. 

you all in Oregon who matter so much to me know who you are.  thank you from the bottom of my heart for making my homecoming really feel that it was such a thing.  i cant wait to reunite with you for the battle of the purple capes (jerrys birthday), the ripplebrook, the tillamook and the crazy laughter and love again next year.  you keep me smiling with the love and joy you send me each day.

some snaps of these brillant people and places: