The Long Lag’s End: A Year in Retrospect

Well, I’m back after about seven months of silence. To first-time readers from Lourdes University who found there way here through an article, hello. You’ve picked a good place to start.

In March, this blog went on hiatus for seven months, partly because of my own problems, partly because of the incredible chaos of life, and partly because… well, I am prone to fits of indolence. But at least my indolence has been interspersed with much studying, knitting, writing, self-examination, culinary indulgence, and… maybe not so many adventures. Because to be honest, living in a country and vacationing there are two animals of a completely different species. When your stay somewhere feels finite, you tend to have the urgency to do more.

Thus it was in Nagoya, where I not only got food poisoning on my first night in a city where you GO to eat, but where I also got allergies so bad that my eyes were watering and my assistant manager had to text me a picture of her allergy medication just so I could get some relief. Despite four hours of sleep and the allergies, that Monday, I managed to see the TV Tower, the castle, and a great many other things. I also ate the local cuisine Kishimen (a kind of noodle) and miso katsu (fried pork with a miso sauce… it’s really sweet and salty, and I still prefer curry, but that’s beside the point).

Thus it was in Hiroshima, where my June visit with a friend was both fun and sobering. Fun because it meant dressing up like a samurai and acting like a dithering idiot in Hiroshima Castle. Sobering because walking through a museum that includes very graphic images of what America did to Hiroshima during World War II, and which also includes a photo-directory of everyone who lost their lives as a result of those actions–in short, sobering because such detail gives the tragedy a face. Ironically, I’m writing this on September 11 (both Japan time and American time), a date in which my own nation experienced its own national tragedy, a tragedy that has a face in my mind, too, but the two are entirely incomparable. I can honestly say that if you walk out of that museum doing anything less than questioning human nature, you are not human. Yet my friend and I marched on despite the sobering experience.

And thus it will more than likely be wherever I happen to go next. I didn’t travel in August despite the summer holiday. I didn’t travel because I finally invested in an iPhone, and may I say that they are delightfully useful when navigating anywhere that isn’t flat and doesn’t have straight roads (i.e., anywhere that isn’t Michigan). However, I’m planning an adventure for November.

Those were my major triumphs. My minor ones include finishing Genki I (a Japanese textbook), rediscovering my passion for knitting, sending off one short story to a publisher (the next one is, according my myself-imposed deadline, due in 21 days. I should probably start on that, shouldn’t I?), and getting featured in a publication at my Alma Mater. This is partly the reason for the entry.

But on August 16, my first day back after a week-long vacation, I realized I had been in Japan for a year, and while I have seen and done a great many things, I haven’t seen or done nearly as much as I liked. Two of the four people I trained with have gone home, and although I have a great many moments where I strongly dislike my job (who doesn’t?), the thought of going anywhere anytime soon is impossible to deal with because of the bonds I have with my students and coworkers. So, this year, I’m going to have more adventures and hopefully do more blogging, especially if the people attending the university that thought I was good enough for a BA in English are reading this.

So, after a year in Japan, have my plans changed? In some ways, yes. But not as much as you’d think.

My plans for the immediate future… in December, I plan to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I don’t know if I’m good enough to pass N4, but… well, they don’t call me “Majime” (diligent) for nothing. In November, I’m going to write another novel for NaNoWriMo. I might also take a trip somewhere (Okinawa? Korea? China?). I plan to explore Osaka and Kyoto thoroughly now that I have a bilingual friend (the iPhone) who can tell me where I am. Intersperse all of this with knitting, working 45 hours a week, cooking, reading, and all those little things I typically do, and you have yourself a sure-fire recipe for chaos. But that’s why the Good Lord gave his people coffee, which I plan to drink a lot of.

My plans for the far future? One day, I’d really like to go back to Writing Centers. But the where and the when and the how are really muddled, and right now, any thought of leaving my current students is too soul-crushing. Call it indecisiveness or a lingering strain of the carelessness of youth, or self-denial. I want to learn enough Japanese to read Haruki Murakami in his native language, because he has done something no American or British author has managed: kindle a growing interest in postmodernism. Above all else, I want to get published. That has always been my goal, and until I see my name on a bookshelf, that’s going to be my ultimate objective.

Perhaps this blog post doesn’t explain everything about my past 7 months on the far side of the world, but I think it explains enough.

Here’s to another year of adventures, and hopefully another after that.

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Week 1 in Retrospect: First Impressions

Time flies when you’re training for nine hours a day and lesson-planning after work.

My first impressions of Japan are this:

  • It’s pretty amazing, but it’s not home yet.
  • It’s bloody hot and bloody humid in the summer (it has been over 90 for the past 10 days)
  • Everything in Japan is bigger (buildings) and smaller (hotel rooms), sometimes at the same time (food)

When I haven’t been training for my new job, I’ve been learning about things like Japanese coin-operated washing machines and relearning things I learned in America. I’ll start with the gadgets.

There are bidets EVERYWHERE.

Bidet

Smart Phone? B*tch, please… this toilet has more buttons than a wedding dress.

It has been really fun trying to figure out what button does what. I’m seriously hoping for a normal toilet when I get to my apartment. If I walk in and see one of these, I am liable to flip my shit. What ever happened to just a simple flusher? I mean, yeah, it’s nice that the seat is heated and it can make flushing sounds if you lose your nerve and can’t go, but I really for serous am looking forward to a regular toilet to sit on… and not a squat one, either (yep… they have those in Japan, and when it’s not a bidet, it’s a squat toilet).

Another interesting thing I have noticed is that the toilet paper here is not perforated. Instead, there’s a little plastic thing you push down on and then just tear across. It’s a little strange, but I actually like it better than the perforations. You can take exactly how much you need. It saves paper, and saving is good.

Bathrooms aside…

Japan is a very fast-paced society, and very punctual. Being on time is being late, and being late is super bad. Public transportation is like clockwork, even if it does get crowded sometimes. You can take a train just about anywhere, and if you can’t, there are always bikes or your own two feet. Travel is also pretty cheep… 460 yen round-trip to training every day.

Now, let’s talk about something truly interesting: food.

There are vending machines EVERYWHERE. And they sell EVERYTHING. I mean it. I haven’t seen any of the really weird ones, but here is one of my fellow trainees’ favorites, and my dad’s from the sounds of things:

Beer Vending Machine

If they had these on college campuses, America would have a whole new epidemic of alcoholism on their hands.

Yes, that is what you think it is. Beer. Lots of beer. In a vending machine. This was in one of the little shopping roads in Osaka. Personally, my favorite is this one:

Boss Coffee

Drink some coffee… LIKE A BOSS!

My old boss Kelly will probably get a kick out of this. I’m really fond of the cafe au lait (sweetened coffee with milk). Coffee is the same price as beer, about 120 yen (unless you get a giant one), and the amount is just enough to give me a little kick in the morning. I’ve been a budget, so I haven’t bought much coffee, but I found a carton of it at the 100-yen convenience store right next to Daikokucho Station in giant cartons.

Japan, watch out. I’m about to be caffeinated.

There are so many delicious things to eat here. I have to share my first meal in Japan, and a valuable lesson I learned from it. Many convenience and grocery stores in Japan sell bento (boxed lunches). I bought one with chicken, egg, some pickled vegetables, and some ume-rice (rice with pickled plum). I confess that the pickled plum flavor was super-strong, and I was able to struggle my way through the egg by eating it with rice. The pickled vegetables were divine, and the chicken was good. Everything tastes richer and fresher, including Subway and McDonald’s (yes, I have eaten a bit of American food while I’m over here).

So, there I am, eating my way through some kind of seaweed, and I do a double-take because I suddenly realized my food was LOOKING AT ME. Fish. Tiny dead baby fish. Fortunately, the jet lag kept me from being totally grossed out, and I made my way through them. They’re in practically everything, so I figure I may as well get used to them. The bento I bought was big enough to be split into two meals, and I was super-excited thinking, “YES! I’ll only be spending about 700 yen a day on food. Winning~” I was at that point eating Asian pears and toast for breakfast, so that evening, I came back after curry and had the rest of my bento.

Three hours later, I feel like my intestines are being ripped out. I’m totally baffled. It had only been twenty-four hours. What the hell?

Y U No Like Bento

My initial reaction in Meme Form.

The next morning, I looked at the rest of my bento (just a bit of rice), and one of my fellow trainees pointed me to the expiration date. It had expired at 10 am on the morning of the 19th, and I had eaten it that evening. Just one of many lessons I have already learned about Japan.

The second food-related lesson comes from eating involves the convenience store again. I found what I thought was yakiniku (beef on a stick) and bought it. Only after eating a piece did I find out that it was chicken liver. The flavor was fine, but the texture was unbearable, so I conceded not to eat it.

Chelsea Tea House

Earl Gray with milk and sugar… a nostalgic flavor~

Last Sunday, when everyone was off training, we took a little adventure, starting at Tea House Chelsea. I wasn’t hungry at that point, so I wound up just drinking tea. The tea house itself is British, so I wound up getting a cup of Earl Gray. Everything there was beautiful, and it was really good. 🙂

I have also been fortunate enough to try toro (fatty tuna), a wealth of baked goods (including tiramisu), and maguro (for real). I don’t have many pictures of the food since I’m usually too tired and hungry to make the effort by the time I’m ready to eat it, but I will say that the food over here is amazing. It puts American Japanese fare to shame. We keep trying to go to a kaiten sushi place, but so far, we have failed in our endeavors, and with our final day fast approaching, it’s starting to look like we won’t get there.

Aside from that, the only thing we had time to do on our first Sunday in Japan was go to Tennoji Park. I have never seen anything so gorgeous in my entire life. Imagine it: the cicadas humming contentedly in the trees, their shade providing a touch of comforting coolness from the intense summer sun, the water of a giant lake glistening. There were some really thin foot bridges to cross, and a closed-in area with a vending machine.

But that wasn’t even close to the best part. Caroline, one of my fellow trainees, looked down and said, “Oh, look, a turtle!” I rushed to grab the camera, hoping that I would get a shot, but it soon disappeared under the bridge. Moments later, there was another one, and another. The next thing I know, we’re all up to our neck in turtles and carp. There are literally hundreds of them swimming in the lake just below us. I once saw a Loggerhead Sea Turtle crawl back into the ocean after laying its eggs, and it was breathtaking. This almost rivals the magnitude of that memory. Although these turtles are common, the tranquility of Tennoji Park lulled me into this relaxed state of mind. I was happy to see something that made me feel close to home.

Turtles

My aquatic cousins greet me… I love turtles so much, and it was truly amazing to see so many together at once. 🙂

That same day, one of my fellow trainees and I went to Junkudou, a bookstore of epic proportions. I could get lost in there for hours, but my objective was the phrase book I should have bought and brought with me before leaving. It took us about an hour to find it, and we got lost a couple of times, but the person I went with is from New York. I’m lucky someone is able to navigate this maze of skyscrapers more effectively than I can. I have been getting by on broken Japanese (like this morning, when we got locked out of the room).

Onsen Shrine

The shrine outside of the onsen… gorgeous!

By the time I knew it, a week had passed. Tomorrow is our last day of initial training. From there, we each go to our branch schools, but we plan to stay connected through Facebook and follow-up training. So, to celebrate our achievements of the week, we went to an onsen last night. As an American, it was a little strange stripping down to nothing around so many people, but like everything else in Japan, my mindset is, “Well, everyone else is doing it, and it doesn’t endanger my health or go against my ethics, so why not?” It was a relatively big onsen not far from the hotel, and it cost 800 yen to get in. After that, it was nothing but scrubbing and wandering from one hot bath (39.3 to 43.9 degrees celsius) to another. There was a regular bath, a massage chair bath, a standing jet bath, a silk bath, and a couple of tubs outside. My favorite was the cherry-scented perfume bath. The smell reminded me of tea, and I got completely washed away by it.

Thus ends my first weeks’ adventures in Japan. I look forward to having many more as the year goes on. Until then, I will continue on with my training and hope that my lesson plan tomorrow is a high enough quality to get me to the branch school.

Until next time, from the far side of the world!