Tuesday, December 29, 2009


A few plans have fallen through and a few have gone fine.

Zack and I made it back to America after about 24 hours of traveling in planes, trains, and automobiles. We spent 3 hours on a bus, two hours on a train, about 14 hours total on a plane, and I spent 4 hours in a car (he spent about 2). But we made it safely. Walking through that terminal into the airport is one of the best feelings in the world, better than peeing on a long car trip. I hate flying. Even moreso because some guy tried to blow himself up on a flight two days after I flew home. What a scary world.

So my plan to surprise Melissa for Christmas was a success. Our ideas for how to surprise her (should I be in a big gift box?) didn't exactly come to fruition; instead, we met her in the parking lot of the Dollar Tree. She and Olivia were really happy and it made me feel good to give her a good surprise for once in her life. My big sister deserves a lot more than what this world has given her.

My plans for returning to Japan are still not finalized. I have a return ticket for January 3 that I won't get to use. I finally quit my job. I could only deal with them putting off getting me a visa for so long. When they told me to re-enter Japan on a tourist visa again using a fake ticket, I knew it was time to get out. I got my diploma from them and left a note at the main school building.

Zack and I have been offered jobs from the same company which we will most likely take. They said during our interviews that they could give us jobs close together. So I will be returning to Japan in March.

For about three months, I will have to readjust to life in America. I will have to deal with having little to no income again (unless I can miraculously find a job). I will have to drive again. My risk of getting cancer is increased.
I know it seems like a weird thing to worry about, but America has the highest rate of cancer in the world. When I moved to Japan, my risk of getting cancer was 1 in 4. Now, my chances are back up to 1 in 2. And it's easy to see why. The most shocking part of coming back was seeing the sheer size of things. The roomy lanes on roads. The huge SUVs and pickup trucks that people leave running while they order lattes at a coffee shop. The trash cans that we stuff bottles and styrofoam plates into without taking a moment to think about where it will end up. And of course, you see it in the people. In the way their clothes stretch tight across their chests and bellies, the way they load pounds of beef and buckets of butter-flavored spread into their shopping carts.

I've already gained back most of the weight I had lost in Japan. I know what you'll say, that I really shouldn't worry about that, but I do. I worry that I'll let myself go and end up like one of the women who tell me that they were once my size but got lost along the way. I just don't want to be unhealthy. I don't want to tell sell myself short.
Because the thing that is smaller in America is the life span. We may have what many consider the highest standard of living in the world, but we don't get to enjoy those pleasures as long as other industrialized nations.

I'm a little sad. I've been living in a place where it's hard to be unhealthy, where people feel it is their duty to sort the trash into bags to be recycled, where being old is seen as a mark of dignity instead of a burden, where people work hard and take care of themselves and each other. Now, I'm back in the land where you're free to be as horrible to yourself and the world in general as you want to be.

We will be long distance again. I hate being so far away from Zack but at least this time I can see a clear and happy ending. When he left the first time, all I could see was a depressing haze of calendar pages with nothing on them. I was in purgatory. Now, I'm more on a break from foreign life, just gearing up for the next adventure. I plan on getting a lot of writing done while I'm here. Work on my novel and interviews for the memoir that I hope to complete one day.

But I'm back in context. It's less comforting than I thought it would be. At least I get to see some of the people I love. They're the only thing that make this place seem like home.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Every year, I make a little list of resolutions. This year, I'm putting them online so that maybe they will seem more important somehow than a note scribbled in one of my notebooks. I've learned more in this past year than probably any other year in my life. I'm finally starting to feel like an adult. It's a weird but good feeling.
Here goes.
This year, I resolve to:
1. Finish the novel that I started in Nanowrimo and at least get excerpts from it published, if not the whole book.
2. Get a full time job in Japan and legitimate work visa. I've already started on this one!
3. Never drink as much as I did on Halloween. Ever again. I'm a grownup now; I can't be doing stupid shit like that.
4. Be a better environmentalist/vegetarian. I've been kind of slacking in my ambition to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. There's just something about traveling that makes me feel like I'm not in the real world any more. Which is stupid because anyone who cares about environmentalism knows that everything that happens on one part of the world has a direct impact on every other part. No place is that isolated; we live on a giant ball. My biggest goal is to stop eating fish. I've justified it in every way I could since coming to Japan but the truth of the matter is that it's wrong. The fishing industry is terrible for the environment; overfishing, bycatch, and fish farms are all working together to further destroy the ocean. Once the ocean is a dead zone, it won't be too long before the land is a dead zone too. At least one species of tuna is about to be added to the endangered species list. I want no part of it. I have decided that I will make exceptions occasionally for fish products like bonito flakes and dashi stock, because at times in Japan, it's almost impossible to find something in a restaurant without fish ingredients. My favorite "vegetarian" sushi from the grocery store even has fish flakes. Other than that, it's egg, mushroom, and cucumber. It's so good! But I will try not to do that very often. As for fish flesh, I'm done eating it.
5. Get pretty skin. I hate that I'm 24 and still break out; not as bad as I once did, but it's still embarrassing and painful. Any factor that could contribute to acne makes me break out. On top of that, my scars just keep looking worse and worse. I am sick of feeling like a leper if I don't wear makeup. This year, I am going to try my hardest to get rid of my acne and decrease the appearance of my scars with natural remedies. One major driving force behind this is the fact that I will be getting married at some point in the next year and a half. Ganbatte!
6. Start figuring out grad school and long term goals. I think that after one more year of being in Japan, I really want to go to grad school. I need to figure out what I want to get a master's in exactly. I love love love writing but I also want to be equipped to work for nonprofit organizations and charities. Hmmm...
7. Plan a wedding. I'm looking forward to this one the most.

So I hope you found these interesting. If you need any goals for the upcoming year, I urge you to consider doing "Meatless Mondays." It's an easy way to eat healthier and help the environment. http://www.meatlessmonday.com/

I'm missing everyone more and more as the holidays approach. I love you all!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I've been spending too much time in front of a computer screen. I need to remedy this soon. My latest online fascination is the story of Jason Statts, a musician who was shot in Savannah last year and was left paralyzed. His wife, Lyra, kept a blog of their first year dealing with their new life, a life totally different from their "pre-injury" life. Their story is so sad but so inspiring. What a strong couple.
Here's where you can read their blog: http://www.myspace.com/stattshimself

I started thinking about all the things that I have to be thankful for in my life, and all the things I take for granted. I'm going to try and be more aware of all the wonder in this world.

Being surrounded by beautiful mountains that are gradually being dusted with snow really helps with that goal. Last night, it started snowing on me as I was walking home from the train station. Snow is just so much more magical than rain. I took an extra long path just to walk through it a little longer.

I've never lived in a place with four distinct seasons before. Georgia kind of blurs between summer and a light autumn. A few random cold days in March but nothing really that drastic. I like living in a place where a scarf is actually used for function rather than as an accessory.

Riding on the train is like looking at a perfect snapshot of Japan. Out the windows you see mountains, rice fields, and traditional houses interspersed with stretches of aging, bright-colored stores like something out of a cyberpunk movie. School boys with spiky anime-esque hair stand in front of the doors, texting or playing handheld video games. School girls giggle and old farmers in bonnets and aprons sit hunched in the seats. Japan is so much more than I thought it would be.

I had an interview for an ALT job that starts in March. Here's to hoping that I get it so I can tell this job to go to hell. Good night! (Well, good afternoon to you.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

oh bla di

Things have been somewhat uneventful lately. My work visa is applied for but I have no idea when I will actually have it.

Zack and I have been semi discussing plans for a wedding. It's really weird that we're engaged, but in a good weird way. I shouldn't be thinking about it until I have a full-time job but I guess the "crazy-I-secretly-love-weddings-and-am-a-princess" part of my brain has been activated. I look at dresses. A lot. Still not sure if I should change my name to Butterfield either...one step at a time.

I've been falling a little behind in my writing the past few days. I think it's because they cut back my hours at work (A LOT) and I'm pretty much back to where I was when I first arrived in Japan, that is, with way too much free time and no structure. Which means that I don't get much done and drink at every opportunity. My company is figuring out which full-time teacher is going to stay on past February. I'm just dealing with the cut hours to get a visa and hopefully find a better job that starts in March. My student loan payments are looming in the near future.

This past Saturday was really awesome. We went on a tour of a ryo-kan, or traditional Japanese inn. We got to wear a yukata, which is like a light kimono that people wear during summer or just to be comfortable at home. I ate some amazing handmade ice cream made from soy flour and honey. The day ended with an awesome lunch and onsen.

It's weird how much more comfortable I am about being naked in front of strangers (all women, mind you). I've even gotten used to the fact that I'm pretty much always the only woman in the room to have tattoos and they will get stared at. (Still don't regret the tattoos, although I'm considering getting the skull covered up with something else one day). It certainly doesn't help that I've lost at least 7 pounds since I've been here (like 3 kilograms). Rarely eating cheese and never eating meat, drinking a ton of green tea every day, and being a pedestrian is the best way to stay in shape, in my opinion. I haven't looked like this since freshman year. But I'm also paler than I've been in a long time. Which is totally normal here. I appreciate living in a place where people aren't encouraged to fry their skin in a cancer box just to have darker skin. Probably another reason why the lifespan is higher here and the cancer rates are half of what they are in good ol' America.

The best part of the ryokan tour was when my former student Hatsue (they gave her class to another teacher) let me wear a really amazing kimono. She dressed me up in it and I walked into the big lunch hall and everyone went "ooh" and "ah." It's apparently a kimono that only a woman who is about to get married can wear. It was pure silk and had really long, traditional sleeves. It is worth about 1 million yen, or roughly $10,000. So I didn't wear it long. It was like trying on a diamond necklace or something. I was honored to wear it, especially since Hatsue's own daughter had worn it before her wedding.

Sadly, I forgot to put a sim card in the camera so I'll have to steal pictures from people where I can.

In the meantime, here's a picture of me with Mieko and Hatsue, my two favorite students:

Mieko works with the English Guide Club in Ina, and they are the ones who planned the ryokan trip. Hatsue owns an amazing restaurant in Ina called Hiromeya that serves traditional Japanese cuisine in a traditional setting.

Saturday ended with dinner and shenanigans with our favorite Japanese party animals, Takae, Tetsuya, and Hidoyuke. We chilled at Hidoyuke's house with everybody's families and drank until the men were drunk enough to take off their shirts and hit each other in the stomachs with a big ass beer bottle (which made me think of the old man tests at 276). Hidoyuke's wife just had a baby about a month ago. She is an adorable baby named Mika. Great night, great food, great friends.

I'm really homesick because I keep seeing Christmas stuff and hearing Christmas music. Bah humbug.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

taking a break

I'm taking a break from writing for a moment to think about all the books that i want to read. i stole this list from a fellow writer's (brandi wells) blog. this is a list of essential books to read. i just thought it would be fun to see how many i've read and see how far i have to go.

bold=i've read it

one flew over the cuckoos nest
anna karenina
the grapes of wrath
crime and punishment
war and peace
the communist manifesto
the invisible man
heart of darkness
a room with a view
cat on a hot tin roof
of mice and men
the turn of the screw
baby doll
breakfast at tiffany's
the beautiful and the damned
the autobiography of malcom x
the outsider
les miserables
the time machine
let the right one in
hell's angels
a tale of two cities
in cold blood
death of a salesman
guys and dolls
the count of monte cristo
the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy--could only make it halfway though
one thousand and one nights
the three musketeers
catch 22
the trial
all quiet on the western front
gulliver's travels
the unbearable lightness of being
the war of the worlds
david copperfield
don quixote
mrs. dalloway
jane eyre
the portrait of a lady
moby dick
slaughterhouse five
for whom the bell tolls
the picture of dorian gray
brave new world
swiss family robinson
the dharma bums
lord of the flies
atlas shrugged
the metamorphisis
another roadside attraction
white noise
the art of warfare
east of eden
the thin red line
tropic of cancer
a farewell to arms
confederacy of dunces
undaunted courage
cannery row
the idiot
waiting for godot
invisible man
their eyes were watching god
the bell jar
the color purple
madame bovary
the sun also rises
the jungle
infinite jest
dandelion wine
the wind-up bird chronicles
things fall apart
uncle tom's cabin
gravity's rainbow
gone with the wind
to the lighthouse
naked lunch
beh hur
mere christianity

Saturday, December 5, 2009

pinch me

The last week has been amazing.

I'm engaged to my favorite person in the world.

I finished a rough draft of a novel in a month.

I have a job interview for a full time ALT position that starts in April.

I have finally applied for a work visa for my current job.

We don't have a date yet, but I'm guessing we'll get married sometime in 2011. I can't wait! I'm so excited I can't stand it.

Next weekend, we're going on a tour of a traditional Japanese inn. Life is good!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

National Novel Writing Month

I just won NaNoWriMo--National Novel Writing Month. It's not so much a competition as a challenge. The way to win is to write a novel in a month. Not a polished, perfect novel, just a rough draft. 50,000 words. I did it! I've been wanting to win for three years now and I've failed since 2006. This year, I took advantage of my part time employment status and went for it.

I haven't felt this accomplished in a long time. I have 80 pages of unedited word vomit and I love it. I can't wait to keep going, to see where this leads me.
Because for the first time, I really feel like a writer. I went to places that I didn't know I could go. I saw things that I didn't know I could see. I learned about myself. And that is the point of writing. It's a kind of discovery, when you do it right and really let yourself go.

I have succeeded as a writer, even if I never get published.
But let's all cross our fingers and hope that I do one day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

journey to the heart of japan

Last weekend was our trip to Kyoto. I didn't know anything about Kyoto except that it was apparently a nice place to see fall foliage.
I didn't expect this weekend to be the best weekend I've had since I got to Japan, and I certainly didn't expect it to be one of the best weekends of my life.
Kyoto is so much more than beautiful foliage. It is the Japan that you want to experience; a place where it's virtually impossible to not take postcard-worthy pictures. This city has the kind of tourist spots that can be accurately described as breath taking.
But maybe I'm just a newb at traveling.

The trip was originally arranged by Melanie, our friend currently studying abroad at Nagoya University for Foreign Studies. She is a fairly experienced traveler and was very organized about what she wanted to see and how to get there. I'm way too disorganized to make plans that well. After seeing how much more fun a semi-planned trip can be, I am going to work harder at being organized.

Anyways, after a four and a half hour bus ride, we went from the freezing temperature of Miyada to Kyoto's pleasant Autumn weather.
I felt like I had stepped into a Travel Channel special. The streets near our hostel were lined with traditional Japanese restaurants and old Japanese houses. We even saw a few meiko, geisha in training, walking along the street!

Here are some of the amazing things that we saw on Saturday and Sunday:
Kiyumizu Temple

Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavillion (yes, it is covered in real gold leaf)

beautiful fall colors

Nara Park, where you can feed deer!

The park leads to the entrance of Todaiji Temple--

--which is one of the oldest and largest wooden structures in the world. The temple itself is the largest wooden structure, I believe:

Inside the temple, which was burned down and rebuilt over the years, is this:

a HUGE statue of Buddha. The sight of it gave me chills. I've never experienced anything like it.

Fushimi Inari, where there are hundreds upon hundreds of taishi gates that form tunnels.

We climbed stairs and followed winding paths for hours and were rewarded with this sight:

Kyoto at night.
We also visited Kodaiji Temple on Saturday night, which was beautiful and lit up. Unfortunately, the pictures turned out really blurry.

On Monday morning, we missed our bus (which may or may not have had to do with sampling the delicious beer and sake of Kyoto the night before). We had to wait until late afternoon to catch another bus, so we were given another day in Kyoto. We went to Arashiyama, which Zack had read about as being one of the best spots for viewing fall colors. Just like the rest of the city, Arashiyama was full of wonderful surprises. We found Arashiyama Monkey Park, where snow monkeys live in a beautiful mountain forest. You can stand near them and even feed them (you have to stand in a protective room and feed them through a fence). It wasn't like a depressing zoo; it was a wonderful park that allows visitors to appreciate these beautiful and intelligent creatures. I believe the money they make goes into protecting great apes.

Here's a shot of Arashiyama:

I felt so blessed to see such beauty, and even more blessed because I got to see it with Zack. Seeing such amazing things is even more wonderful when you can share the experience with someone you love.

When we got home, I felt extremely sore and extremely lucky. There are still so many things that I want to see and do. Visiting Kyoto made me realize how amazing this world really is. I currently love my life and Japan!

If you care to see the rest of our photos, check out my album on Facebook!

Monday, November 9, 2009

十一月 (jūichigatsu)

One of my new goals is to do a blog post at least once a week. I'm not sure if anyone is still reading it or not, but if you do happen to randomly check it, rest assured that more posts are coming!

It's obvious from my lack of posts that I'm pretty used to living in Japan now. I don't feel weird on the trains (unless I'm dressed in any way "sexy" or "cute") or asking for help any more. I'm not that scared when I order at a restaurant and have no idea what the server will bring me.

I was sick for almost three weeks. I didn't feel all that bad; I just sneezed and coughed and snotted my brains out nonstop. My throat was always dry. I don't think it was the flu. Several of the grades at Miyada Elementary and Miyada Junior High, where Zack teaches, have been shut down because of swine flu. I haven't heard of any deaths though. I don't really see how this strain of the flu is any more harmful than the regular flu, but I don't plan on finding out firsthand, either.

So I was sick on my birthday. I went to work, had a wonderful lunch with two of my adult students, Hatsue and Mieko, went back to work for a few hours, then met Zack for dinner. He bought me these amazing cakes from a dessert shop in Miyada. All told, I got three bottles of wine, a coin purse, a little Japanese small object holder, little chopstick rests shaped like cats, free food, and lots of cake. Not bad. The day after my birthday we celebrated a little with Tetsuya's family and Takei's family. We went to a trick or treating event in Ina, which Zack and I both dressed up for (I was a cat and he was Rilakkuma, "relax bear"), then went to Illumination. Illumination is a crazy light display put on by local businesses and schools. I said it reminded me of Christmas, but our Japanese friends didn't really know what I meant by that. We ended the night with a little party (for me!) and another beautiful cake (there are not cheap-o grocery store bakeries here). It was a really good weekend!

Next was Zack's birthday on October 29. I got up early and made him breakfast (French toast with honey, cinnamon, and kiwi; sauteed mushrooms and onions; and green tea). I had to work til late so I met up with him and the gang later that night for a free parfait from West Village, an "American" style cafe.

On Halloween, Zack and I headed to Nagoya to visit our friend Melanie. She's currently taking classes at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies and has a pretty good idea of where the party's at. She took us to a really cool bar called The Misfits for a nomihodai, which is Japanese for "all you can drink." Zack ended up losing the scarf I just got him for his birthday and I lost my custom-made cat ears that I bought for $20 off the Internet last year. We learned that we are, in fact, too old for nomihodai and had a very unpleasant bus ride home the next day.

It's November (already!) and I've seen some of the most beautiful fall foliage of my life. Japanese maples turn shocking shades of red and deep purple in the shade; ginkgo biloba trees are bright yellow; and in between there are silver trees, green trees, and all different kinds of orange. Riding the train towards Iida, we pass orchards full of apples and persimmons. I can see the first snow on the mountains. It's breathtaking.

We went for a small hike up a mountain yesterday. Aside from a sign warning about bears, it was really nice. No cars or anything. We packed a picnic lunch of homemade sushi, cakes, and apples. We used a little toy sushi maker that Tetsuya and Misaki gave us for our birthdays. It's kind of like an EZ Bake Oven for Japanese kids (which is why there are only like three overweight people in Japan). You just put the rice, toppings, and nori into a little plastic thing and turn knobs and it rolls it together for you. They laughed when we said we used it, but I don't care if it's a toy or not. It makes sushi easier, and that's awesome.

I'm not trying hard enough to learn Japanese. I can still barely read all the katakana. That's another goal of mine for this month. To completely and utterly master kana. My last goal for the month is to complete NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month. By the end of November, I'm supposed to have a 50,000 word rough draft of a novel. I'm working with an idea I got last year for a class project. So far, I've got at least 6,000 words. Not as many as I should, but not bad, either.

My job has gotten a lot better lately. I don't even want to talk about my visa situation because it's so complicated. So I'll tell you about it later. I'll post some pictures soon, too!

This weekend we're going to Kyoto and I'm so excited! I love Japan!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Miley Cyrus in Japan 2

Miley hasn't gone with me on all of my adventures, but lately she's been enjoying the fall weather in Nagano Prefecture. The rice fields are turning a beautiful shade of gold and the trees on the mountains are changing into reds and yellows.

Here she is in Iida, a nearby city.

in front of a rice field in a small town on the way to Iida.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I've become a slacker at blogging. Forgive me.

I haven't been blogging much because of several reasons: 1)I've gotten pretty comfortable being here and things aren't quite so surprising, 2)there have been times when I've been really lonely and wondering if things will get better and I didn't want to rant about that on my blog, and 3)I have so much free time and so little structure in my day-to-day life that I have no motivation. Also, things are still uncertain about my getting a visa. Yes, I know it's ridiculous. I've been working for this school for about 4 months now and they said they could give me a 6-month contract. Turns out that they can't really do that because of company policy. I'm not happy about it and I refuse to sign a year-long contract with them because if I quit early, I'd probably get a terrible reference from them. Seeing as how this is my only job experience that matters for getting another job in Japan, I don't want to have a bad reference.

So I'm here, I feel like this is my home for now, and I still don't have a visa. I'm working on a few plans to remedy this but none of them are certain yet. I'll keep you posted.

I finally discovered the joy of an enkai, Japanese drinking party. Last Monday was a national holiday, so Sunday we joined Tetsuya and some other Japanese friends at an izakaya and did what any normal people would do if they had the next day off work: we drank until we all wanted to sing karaoke. Very loudly. At an enkai, each person pays a set amount (usually about $30) and gets to eat and drink as much as they want.

Zack and I needed that enkai. We had just spent the day wandering around Iida, a city nearby that we had never visited. It was just as depressing as Ina, where I work. Ever since I went to Korea I've been hearing the call of the city. And we just want some more friends. All of our JET friends live just far enough away and are so busy that getting together is basically a hassle. Since I don't work until night, I'm just alone all day. So it's starting to wear on us.

But this weekend was another reminder of how much I really do love Japan. Saturday night, we joined Tetsuya's family to celebrate their son's birthday. We went shopping for Halloween costumes and ended up at an "American" cafe where you can get a free giant parfait on your birthday. Here's Shoma with his birthday ice cream:

Here's Tetsuya and Shoma. Don't they look exactly alike?

Zack bought a hilarious bear costume to wear to work in honor of Halloween.

The next day we helped out at the Kodomo Expo, a sort of fair to teach Japanese kids about other cultures. Zack and I volunteered to paint faces. Apparently face painting isn't common in Japan because we had a lot of people ask if it was some kind of American tradition. After almost 5 hours of painting faces, hands, and arms, our backs were sore from leaning over and it was time for another enkai. Zack's company were the main ones helping out with the expo, so I got to meet a lot of his coworkers. There were people from Australia, Spain, Sweden, New Zealand, England, and one other American. It made me realize how much more of the world I want to see.

Some days are still frustrating, but I'm learning the language, getting braver, and still appreciating the beauty all around me. The trees on the mountains are starting to change colors and next month we're going to Kyoto to see some fall foliage. The thing about traveling is that the highs are the most exhilarating highs you can imagine--but the lows can take you lower than you've ever been because you're so far away from home.

I'm looking forward to the future and taking care of myself and Zack. I can honestly say that life is good.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Comfort Women

I keep thinking about the play we saw in Korea called Hotel Splendid and how terribly the "comfort women" were treated. One of the parts that made me cry the most was when an 11-year-old girl (yes, they enslaved girls that young and sometimes younger) was talking about sending a message in a bottle to America to come and save them. She said, "MacArthur will save us." Part of the beauty of the play was that it was entirely in Korean with subtitles projected onto a screen beside the stage. Well, today I found this article:
http://www.wunrn.com/news/2007/09_07/09_24_07/100207_comfort.htm. It turns out that the American military made use of these "comfort stations," too. Here's another website where you can read some of the survivors' stories: http://www.womenandwar.net/bbs_eng/index.php?tbl=M04029. It's sad, but so important to know about.

If World War II was indicative of what modern humanity is capable of, I hope I don't live to see World War III.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

So Ko!

They say that as you get older, time goes by faster. And then there's that other saying, that time flies when you're having fun. These two expressions, if we take them to be true, may account for the fact that I was completely unprepared when I realized that my tourist visa was about to be up. On September 26, I had to get out of Japan or risk being deported.

I did something that is probably very looked down upon by Japanese immigration: I decided to take a short trip to South Korea and return to Japan with a fresh 90 days to use. It really doesn't sound like such a bad thing to do--other countries have arrangements with Japan that allow their citizens to stay for up to 6 months on a working holiday (oh, how I envy those citizens!). So I don't really see why little old me should raise any suspicions at Japanese Immigration. I'm just trying to find a way to experience this beautiful country in a legit and legal way. But I digress.

My worries over re-entering Japan melted away on Thursday after a fantastic flight on Asiana Airlines (so far, they tie with British Airways as my favorite airline) and this sight:

My first glimpse of the East Sea and South Korea. I landed fine, got through Korean Immigration and Customs no problem, and waited for Allison to meet me. I watched a cheesy Korean soap opera for at least an hour (it turns out Allison's train had broken down) and wandered the airport. Seeing prices in a new currency and hearing endless trails of words I didn't understand was a little overwhelming, like the first moment I entered Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. It made me long for a place where I had at least a limited vocabulary, where I could make sense of things. I actually though of Japan as home for a moment. And I loved that feeling.

Allison came and we headed to the province outside of Seoul where she lives, Gwangmyeong.

Seoul and its surrounding areas are full of arcades, or areas where there are tons of neon lights. Here's another view of Gwangmyeong at night:

The next day, Allison had to work, so I wandered Gwangmyeong by myself, careful not to get lost since I didn't even know the Korean word for "where." I discovered the Gwangmyeong Market, a winding food and clothing market that would take hours to fully explore.

I saw lots of traditional Korean food (some of which made my stomach churn, like tubeworms and pig legs) and a whole side street dedicated to traditional Korean dress:

That night, we headed to Hongdae, a major clubbing district in Seoul. We met up with another college friend, Michael (AKA Nandez), and went to a hookah bar and dance club before ending the night with a noraebang, the Korean answer to a Karaoke house.

The next day, Allison showed me around Insadong, a cool shopping district in Seoul. We watched people make traditional candy, do calligraphy, play traditional games, and got some cool free stuff because there just so happened to be a festival going on.

That night, we attended a beautiful play called "Hotel Splendid" about Korean comfort women during World War II. The so-called comfort women were sex slaves either lured with promises of being a nurse or secretary for the war effort or were blatantly kidnapped. I cried a lot. We met up with some of Allison's boyfriend's friends and went barhopping. I wish there were more cool people in our area in Japan.

I went sightseeing with Allison and Nandez on my last day in Seoul. We went to a stream that was reconstructed after it dried up, a museum about green technology, and finally a palace.

That night I watched movies with Allison and packed up. I barely got any sleep before heading back to the airport. Japanese Immigration seemed a little reluctant to let me back in, but I made it through. And now I'm back home (or at least, home for right now).

For the first time in my life, I feel like a citizen of the world. I really feel like I could make it anywhere if I tried.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

dun dun dun

Well, I've been getting more social lately which is great! The JET Program people (JETs for short) that live in this area are actually really fun. We also live near two people who work for the same company as Zack. We all went to dinner on Saturday night--an Australian, a half-Japanese/half-Texan guy, two Brits, a Canadian (I think), and a slew of Americans, mostly yankees. Besides the Texan, I've only met one other southerner here. There's supposed to be a guy who went to UGA teaching at a junior high in Ina, which is where I work, but he still hasn't emailed me. In a way I miss talking to people who know about where I'm from, but it's such a great opportunity to learn about other cultures! Plus, did I mention all the people we had dinner and drinks with are actually young 20 somethings? Yay! No babies in this crowd.

On Sunday, we went to Beautiful World Music Fest, a concert that started at noon and ended at 9 p.m. We got there about 3. It was in this beautiful park surrounded by mountains...I have to go back in the fall. It was a lot of fun, but the night got really chilly and we had to head out early.

It's already feeling like fall, which I guess it technically almost is. The temperature is about 60-70 degrees F at its high and 45-54 F at its low. Which is actually kind of like Georgia weather in the fall, but it stays hotter much, much longer there. So I'm going to try and buy some pants again. There have got to be pants that fit me!

I'm going to South Korea next week. Zack was going to go with me because he has vacation but he really wants to save money so decided against it. So I'm going alone. Michael Hernandez and Allison Nunziante are working there, so they're going to help me out with a place to stay and making sure I don't get lost in Seoul. I'm not all that worried about it. I'll keep my guard up and take care to not get lost. I have to ride a bus to get to Michael's apartment on my first day there but since my flight is coming in during the afternoon, I think I can handle it. I feel like a grown up.

And my company has agreed to give me a six-month contract, which is excellent news! That means that Zack and I will be able to sync up our schedules in March and hopefully find two day time jobs together. My boss still alternates between acting like a super bitch and acting nice, which is definitely the worst part of this job. I can suck it up for six months though.

I finished reading The Liars' Club by Mary Karr a couple days ago. I'm feeling very inspired to start work on my own memoir. I've been checking out grad schools to see what it will take to get in, and wow. The best schools for creative writing are dead serious about their programs. I have a lot of work to do, but now I'm happy because I have goals!

So that's life. I miss everybody!

Sunday, September 6, 2009


I've been stressing about what will happen in three weeks when I have to leave the country. I'm not so worried any more. Things will work out, although I don't think I will come back to the States after all. It really is cheaper to fly to a nearby place. I have friends in South Korea and Hong Kong that I could stay with. Zack's next vacation is the same week that I'm supposed to leave so we will probably go some place together. I really want to come back to the States but if this will save money and time, I'd rather not go all the way across the world and deal with terrible jet lag only to have to readjust a week later. But I will start saving up so that maybe I can come back sooner than later! (I really miss everyone and wish that you could all come visit and see what I get to see...)


Meanwhile, I came upon an article the other day while I was doing my daily "newspaper" reading, i.e. looking at headlines on Google News and clicking on whatever sounds interesting. The article was in The New Yorker, a publication that I don't often read, and it was 17 pages long. Called "Trial by Fire," the article intricately details the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man who was convicted of starting a house fire that killed his three children. You can read it here: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann

Willingham's story touched me. He was executed in 2004 and never gave up proclaiming his innocence, right up to the moment when poison was forced into his veins. Experts now reviewing his case are appalled at how it was handled and can't believe the "evidence" used in court to prove that the fire was an arson. Willingham was poor and relied on state-appointed attorneys.

So we have this man who is almost certainly innocent (an expert panel is now reviewing the case to see if Texas made the "ultimate mistake"), but he's gone. And his life, his story could stop there. But this writer took the time to do the research and meticulously piece together the story of a man whose voice was never really hard. To help another human being receive recognition for his/her life, to leave a legacy behind.

It was reading this author's expose that made me realize what I need to do with my life. I need to use my writing to help other people, to help make the world a little less terrible. I've always thought about that path for myself, but now that I've seen the impact that telling true stories to the world, stories that never would have been told otherwise, can have, I know that this is what I'm meant to do. I have a problem staying motivated when writing fiction, but when it's something I care about, something I have a stake in, I can dive in and stay more focused. The classes that I felt I produced the best writing in were Creative Nonfiction and Advanced Creative Nonfiction.

I'm so excited now that I can't wait to go to grad school. We'll probably stay in Japan land for another year to save more money, but the next time I'm in the States I'm going ahead and taking the GRE. I want to an interdisciplinary degree: creative writing and social work, activism, or working for nonprofits or something. I'll figure it out.

So, I just wanted to let everyone know that I think I've finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a writer. A writer who uses her voice to help the world.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Three weeks left on my tourist visa.

I need a plan.

I guess I've been eating really healthily lately because all I want to do is eat cake. But then again, that might have to do with reading all the entries in the Cake Wrecks blog. I can't tell if I've lost or gained weight since I've been here. It's been nice to have to walk every where--I know it sounds crazy but I really prefer it to driving. Less risk involved and my legs look like they did freshman year.

I've been writing everyday. Still barely scratching the surface.

All but one of our goldfish died. We finally bought a filter for the tank.

Waiting for books to come in the mail. Rereading Harry Potter because it's all we have in the house, but this time it's the British version. Scholastic felt the need to "translate" the books into American English so that the readers there would have to use less brain power.

I just keep thinking about watching fireworks over a lake this weekend and how nice it will be when I finally put my feet down somewhere and say, "This is home."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Well, I haven't been very good about updating my blog lately.

The weekends are fun, but sometimes the week drags along. It is now August 31 and I have yet to submit any of my work to a journal. I need a better place to write. I miss the GSU library and the way you could get lost and find a quiet spot all to yourself. Our apartment just isn't conducive to creativity--Zack has a hard time making himself paint here, too. I have yet to find a coffee shop or other comfortable place to write in Miyada. I was going to a temple every day to write for a while, but I really prefer writing via computer; it lets you get more thoughts down faster. I'm going to look for a place that's good for writing near the school I'm sort of working for. Let's all hope that works out for me.

Andy and Michael stopped in for a visit last weekend during their 10-day trip to Japan. It was so nice to share a little of our experience living here with some old friends, with people who have known us for years. I want everyone I know to walk outside and see beautiful mountains in the distance. It was like sharing Christmas with a little kid; it's just more fun when people who are truly excited are around. It was a weekend filled with inside jokes, eating delicious traditional cuisine, and just having fun, like we used to do back in college. We missed them when they left for Tokyo.

We ordered books from Amazon Japan. Zack has already gotten two of the books he ordered, both of which I had already read. I'm getting a little antsy waiting for my books to arrive. The Internet is killing my creativity. I came across this quote the other day, a quote that I remember liking in my Creative Nonfiction class:

"But a writer is not an artist until he is unwilling to be published at all costs." --Philip Gerard

That's really how I feel about writing; it is an art form. The reason I haven't submitted is twofold: I have pieces that I generally like but they don't feel finished and I have pieces that don't really say what I want them to say and I'm not satisfied. As long as I'm working towards something, I'm doing okay. I really do want to get published and get my name out there, but I don't want my name on anything that I don't really love. I can't aim for perfection--perfection is the killer of art--but I can aim for my best. I hope I'm not just making excuses for myself.

And in job news, this weekend I'm going to finally start on the daunting task of getting a Japanese driver's license. Zero to One (the school that I'm sort of working for, also known as "School 1" in earlier posts) won't let me sign a contract until I have a license, and I can't apply for a work visa until I have a contract. I went to work for School 2 last week and the owner said he would call me to discuss things, but he never did. So I have less than a month left on my tourist visa. I've decided that my best course of action is to secure a contract during these next few weeks, then leave the country for a week or so and apply for a work visa before coming back into Japan. If I stay here, it might take two or more months to switch my visa status. It only took a week for Zack to get a work visa in the States.

As lonely as it is sometimes, I'm not ready to give up this amazing opportunity to live in a new place. It has its ups and downs, like every place, but I love being here. And the thought of not living with Zack...well, let's just say we're in this for the long haul. :) Zack and I are trying to figure out where I should go when my visa runs out. My return ticket is back to the States, so I'd like to go there, but a ticket back to Japan might be super expensive. We have a few friends in Korea, but I don't know how easy it would be to get a work visa there...immigration is so complicated. Of course I'll keep everyone posted on what I finally decide to do.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

the skinny

The skinny on Japan is that everyone is skinny. Everything is small here; donuts, dogs, food containers, thigh highs, right down to the people themselves and the tiny percentage of the population that is overweight. In some ways, the pressure to be skinny is even more overpowering here than it is in the States. To be overweight is not only unhealthy and considered unattractive; it's also a way to stick out of a crowd in a country with the old adage "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down."

Apparently I'm "Japanese size" except for my curves.

I was so excited about buying clothes here. I imagined this perfect pair of jeans, a pair that would be just the right length that I wouldn't have to get hemmed or wear certain shoes with. In the States, pants are generally made to fit fashion models, both frighteningly skinny and plus-sized. It's rare to find your size. I thought I had arrived in the land of people my own size--surely designers here are catering to people like me. I tried on the biggest size I could find (I think it said 67 centimeters), and I couldn't get the tiny pant leg over my thigh. I barely got it past my knee before it just stuck there, like a wrapper on a sausage.

We went to an onsen (Japanese bath house) this weekend. The purpose of an onsen is relaxation. You get naked in a changing room, then clean your body in a washing area complete with body wash, shampoo, foot scrubbers, and face wash. Once you're all clean, you go and soak in a big luxurious bath tub filled with almost-too-hot water. With other people. I had the bath house to myself for about 15 minutes before two older women came in. I tried not to stare but I couldn't help but notice their complete lack of cellulite and how little their erm...flesh was sagging. These women had to be in their 40s or 50s but they looked younger. When one women leaned over, I noticed the bony ridges of her spine protruding from her skin like the spikes of a stegosaurus. A part of me was a little embarrassed walking back to my changing area as more women arrived later--mostly because tattoos are much rarer in Japanese society--but seeing all of those skinny, barely curvaceous bodies actually made me feel a little better about my own. Each woman's body was unique in its own way, but they also seemed so...similar. Not that being waifish means being unfeminine--look at Audrey Hepburn--but I happen to like my shape.

As much as America forces us into a certain mold, I am grateful to come from a land of all different shapes and sizes, where you can find pants that fit you if you look hard enough.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

my goal

for this month is to submit to one or all of these publications:





not a lofty goal, but a giant step for me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


inside a cat cafe, where you pay per hour to play with cute kitties and drink coffee!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

back to reality

Zack and I got back from Tokyo on Saturday after three crazy days of adventuring. Our feet were actually swollen from walking so much.

I came back home to the news that my cousin Kelly was killed in a car accident. She was only 19. I wasn't close to her, and in some ways that makes it even worse. Now I'll never get to know her. As anyone remotely close to me knows, my family is far from "normal" in any sense of the word. Kelly was on my dad's side of the family--the part of our family that we have little contact with. I don't think any of us intended to shut out all of those relatives; I think we just wanted to get away. We had to. They live in Liberty County, the place that haunts my and my sisters' nightmares because of our childhoods there. The main reason we left was to get away from our father, who is an abusive alcoholic psychopath. In the process, we alienated ourselves from that entire side of the family. Our grandmother on that side also has issues with Melissa for various reasons (reasons that I consider stupid and not Melissa's fault at all), and Melissa is one of the most important people in my life, one of the most amazing people Ive ever met. So when it came time to "pick sides," naturally I picked Melissa's. And things just haven't been the same since then.

But tragedy has a way of bringing people together. I wasn't able to go to the funeral--obviously--but Erica and Melissa did. Erica said that they welcomed her and Melissa with open arms. That grandma wanted to put the past behind us all and try to be a family again. They also saw our father whom we haven't seen in seven years. Losing one cousin, one of these people that I grew up with, made me realize that I need to stop taking all of them for granted. Some people I don't think I can fully reconnect with--like my father--but I don't want to go the rest of my life being separate from half of my family. Because that's what they are--my family. My bloodline. I've seen what my life can be like without them, and now I want to know what it's like with them as a part of it.

I feel terrible for neglecting my family. But I've been scared of that place and scared of what my life would have been like if we had stayed there. Now I know that I'm going to be okay. I'm going to have the kind of life that I want and nothing is going to stop me--not the past, not poverty, not fear. I think it's time to face the past. I know that I am strong enough to handle it now.

I wish that I could have been there when everyone really needed me. That's the worst part of traveling: being away from the people you love. I just don't know how to win in life. I want to see the world but I don't want to cut myself off from those I care about.

I'll post some pictures from Tokyo later...

Rest in peace, Kelly. I'm so sorry that you didn't get more time on this Earth. I'm even sorrier that I didn't really know you. I remember playing with you out in the blackberry patch and in the den at Grandma's house. You will be missed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

new experiences

I woke up this morning to a tremor, a little shudder of an earthquake. I was reminded that we live on a moving planet, not a big solid rock. I felt a hotel sway like a ship. It was surreal to say the least. It certainly gave me another thing to add to my list of somewhat irrational fears. But on the bright side, at least I have some new creative material to work with.

I finally saw the latest Harry Potter movie last night! It was quite an ordeal to find a theater that had it in English with Japanese subtitles but we succeeded.

We'll be in Tokyo Wednesday-Friday (probably coming back on Saturday). That little tremor made me realize that I should keep people posted on where I'll be. We're staying at a hostel called Asakusa Smile. I can't wait!

More creative things coming soon! I'm submitting to the "New Writers" competition in Glimmer Train and I'll post what I submit. Please get on my ass to submit. Let me know how disappointed you will be in me if I don't submit. The deadline is the end of August. Thanks in advance!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Music plays in cities across Japan at 7:00 a.m., 6:00 p.m., and other seemingly random times. We think it's to improve morale.
The Japanese have the longest life span in the world but I'm beginning to wonder if those extra years are worth it.
The young people that I've met here--we're talking 13, 14 years old--stay up until 2:00 a.m. studying every single night. Then they wake up at 5 or 6, go to school, stay late doing extra curricular activities, come home, study, barely sleep, and do it all over again.
One of the questions that I ask to get people to practice their English is "How do you celebrate your birthday?" The answer I get every time is "I don't." I'm not a fan of American over-consumption and trash bags full of ripped up wrapping paper by any means, but really? Not even a cake or a present or a bottle of wine? Surely there is a happy medium.
There are celebrations here all the time. I've seen fireworks exploding in the sky above the towns around us every weekend since I got here. But I realized that these are group celebrations; they don't celebrate the individual here. If you compliment someone, they deny it. Everyone is constantly putting a facade because that's how they think a person should act. When someone dies, they cremate the body and only bury the bones. The ashes, the outer layers of a person, don't matter, so they throw them away.

We went to Ina to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince yesterday. We were handing over the money for the tickets when we realized that the movie was completely dubbed in Japanese. A friend told us that English movies were usually left in English with Japanese subtitles. Thankfully we hadn't bought the tickets before this realization. The tickets prices are ridiculous and we would have been PISSED. A fat Japanese man took our picture in front of the theater.
A little disheartened, we wandered around looking for a bar we saw once that we knew would have import beer. We realized that the fat man was following us and snapping pictures. It was really creepy. He left when Zack made it clear that we what he was up to. We found the elusive pub and talked to a really nice Japanese guy who had lived in America for four years.

Every day is an adventure here. We discovered a little karaoke bar in Miyada the other night. It was so fun-women dressed in kimonos served us beer and the only other person there for a long time was a very inebriated old man with a good singing voice who kept dancing with maracas. It was the one night I actually forgot to bring a camera along. We had a great time, they had a great English song selection, everything was going good--and then we got the bill. We paid a huge fee for just sitting in the bar and singing karaoke. The fee was more than double the cost of our drinks. Japanese bars are tricky. Some charge a sitting fee and karaoke bars sometimes charge you by the hour. Maybe that's why we don't see people out enjoying the nightlife very often...

I am rewarding myself for all my hard work lately by going to Apita and finally buying some clothes!!! I am so excited! I have to ensure that I don't look like a frumpy tourist in Tokyo since we will be surrounded by the fashion elite.

Michael and Andy are coming at the end of next week to visit. I'm excited but I wish they had given us a little more notice. It will nice to have some familiar faces around.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

one month in

I've been working a lot since my last post. I've been commuting to Matsumoto on Tuesdays and Fridays (well, just two Tuesdays and last Friday) to help out at with the preschool class and see if I like it/if they want to hire me. I have pretty much made up my mind though--I think I'm going with School 1 for a job. I'm already starting the work visa application process. I've gotten more and more used to how the company runs and how the classes work. When I thought of not taking the job, I realized that I'd miss some of the students I've been teaching, etc. And I don't know about you, but waking up at 5:00 a.m. to catch a train and then work with 2 year olds for hours and then riding a train for hours to get back home is not my idea of an easy job.

I'm going to just try and do my best with School 1 (maybe I'll post their name when the job is finalized). In March, there will be a whole new hiring period for Assistant Language Teachers and by that time, I'll have some experience. So I should be able to get a better job if I can't stand working at night any more.

I came home at about 9:30 from working (and exhausted--I had been running around since 5:00 a.m.) on Friday night to find a barbecue in the parking lot of our little apartment complex. This was the first time I had seen any of our neighbors since I got here over a month ago. The Japanese work ethic makes American "workaholics" look like total slackers. They go into work a couple hours early and don't leave until 9 or 10 at night usually. Thus why I never see our mysterious neighbors. There were also a few other people from neighboring cities hanging out. I didn't realize how much I missed hanging out with people my own age until I was surrounded by "adults" in their early 20s. We've been hanging with people in their 30s and 40s. They are all good people, but sometimes you want to relate to someone your own age. I had a blast talking about how Japan and the U.S. are different. We let them taste a Reese's cup and tried to explain what peanut butter is. They didn't really get it.

On Saturday, Zack and I joined School 2 at the Matsumoto Bon Bon Festival, an event started 30 years to boost sales in Matsumoto once a year. Even if it isn't an ancient tradition, Bon Bon is AWESOME. Groups from different companies, schools, and even just groups of friends dance their way through the streets of the city as the official Bon Bon song plays over and over. It was pretty exhausting but so much fun! We sported England gear because the owner of School 2 is from England. Sorry, America. Didn't mean to disrespect. After the dancing, and drinking a beer every 20 minutes during the dancing breaks, we met up with Jerid and Yuki, our Matsumoto pals, and went bar hopping. We ended up at the same underground club that we went to the last time we were in the city, except instead of techno/house music, there were live Japanese rappers performing. It was fun for a while but it was soon apparent that Zack and I had had too much to drink and so we headed to bed.

Next week is my vacation from both schools that I've been training/semi-working at. We booked a hostel for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in Tokyo. I can't wait! We're planning out which parts of the city we absolutely have to visit. We want to see robots, weird vending machines, and insane fashion.

I've accidentally eaten meat more times than I want to admit in the last couple weeks but I've learned to just move on and not beat myself up about it. The Japanese don't consider some things "meat" like we do in the States.

So that's my life update lately. I don't really miss the States so much as I miss people and familiarity. I'm making new friends all the time but I don't want to lose touch with my pals back home. If we do stay for another year, I promise I will be home to visit at some point! I could never be away for that long.

Monday, July 27, 2009

and then there were three

Three of our fish have died of mysterious causes. We're trying hard to keep the other three alive.

In other news, I'm going to explode soon if I don't buy some cute Japanese dresses and skirts. It's just ridiculous how cute some of the clothes are. It's even more ridiculous how unfashionable some of the clothes are.

It's like there's a spotlight shining on me wherever I go. No matter how much I try to just go unnoticed, I can feel the eyes following me. Judging me. Some people seem genuinely curious and friendly, but others just seem...well, how it must feel to be a Mexican or an African or an Indian in the U.S. Zack and I joke because we finally know what it feels like to be a minority (well, I sort of already knew what it was like, being a woman). We finally know what it is to be considered an outsider, even unwanted at times. No one has said anything mean or hostile, but that's not the Japanese way. I just feel...unwelcome sometimes. I really want to live in a bigger area where gaijin aren't quite so few and far between.

It doesn't help my unwelcome vibes that I feel completely useless at School 1. This is my third week going there and I still barely know what I'm doing. The school is a joke; the students are only being prepared for these stupid English proficiency tests that won't help them at all in the real world. The students can pass the test on a pretty high level but they still just stare blankly at me whenever I talk. It's becoming more and more of a chore to go there everyday but I have to keep my options open just in case...

I'm going up to School 2 on Friday to check it out. Then Zack and I are going to be part of their team at the Bon Bon Festival this Saturday. Apparently the point of Bon Bon is to dance until you can't dance any more. I can't wait!

Our American dinner for Tetsuya's family was really fun. We made garlic bread, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, orange-ginger tofu, lemonade, salad, deviled eggs, and mozzarella sticks. They liked the garlic bread the best.
"You put garlic and butter TOGETHER?"
They were amazed at our ingenious use of garlic and butter. They also didn't know why we put butter in practically every dish.
"That's the American way," we said.

I miss the variety that an American grocery store has, although the overall quality of food here is better. There are barely any pesticides or herbicides in use and all the produce is locally grown or imported from China (not too comforting, but they inspect all of it).

Zack and I are trying to plan a trip to Tokyo in the coming weeks because his vacation starts on Wednesday. I just have to figure out what my schedule is like. Then Tokyo, I'm on my way!

Zack's family is in my thoughts right now. His grandmother passed away last week after a long battle with dementia. Rest in peace.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

working for the weekend

I've spent a lot of time on trains this week. I've been traveling to and from Ina, training with what we'll call School 1. School 1 is the first place that has offered me a job, but it's a shitty time frame and I'd have to get a Japanese driver's license, which I'm finding out more and more is no piece of cake. And I'd have to drive in crazy Nagano winter weather, which is lots of snow and ice. Which is really scary to this southern Georgia girl.

But I had another interview this week with what we'll call School 2. School 2 is in Matsumoto, which is a pretty long train ride (about an hour and a half away), but the job is pretty sweet sounding. I would be teaching preschoolers (cute!), and by "teaching" I mean "immersing them in English." Jim, the guy who owns the school, has the brilliant idea of teaching kids English at that age by putting them into an English-only environment. So I don't have to know any Japanese whatsoever. My job would be coming up with fun activities to keep the kids entertained and doing some not-so-glamorous things involving kids going potty, but hey, every job has its downsides, right? I don't mind kids, especially at these ages: the kids would be from 1 to 4 years old. Kawaii!! So I'm going up to School 2 next week and the week after for a trial period and then Jim will let me know if I'm hired. If I am hired, I'll start work on getting a visa. Zack and I have decided that we would move to Matsumoto, too, which is a pretty big and awesome city. I'm so excited! I hope that this job works out. Did I mention the hours are awesome too? Like during the day so I don't have to walk through Miyada alone at night?

Meanwhile, School 1 is starting to put the pressure on me to get my visa and sign the contract. I have to stall for at least two more weeks to see if this other job works out.

I also had another semi-job offer from Zack's company. They said they could hook me up with a part-time paid internship type thing so that I could learn about teaching English. It's also in Matsumoto, so it would also mean city life for me and Zack. So now I have lots of options and I am very happy!

Monday, July 20, 2009

This weekend I:

*ate Nepalese food, which is kind of like Indian food (i.e. DELICIOUS).
*went to my first Japanese festival, the Miyada GION Festival. There were shrines being carried through the street, traditional Japanese clothes, music, and dancing, fireworks, and lots of chaos. I had a great time!
*won some goldfish at the festival. Zack and I are now the proud caretakers of five fish friends.
*drank a lot of Asahi, "the beer for all seasons."
*spent time with my favorite Japanese family, Tetsuya's.
*sang at my first Japanese karaoke. It was awesome! You get a little party room all to yourself.
*ate at Kappa Zushi, where you pick up little plates of sushi from a conveyor belt. They have all different kind of sushi, even hamburger sushi!
*took funny pictures in a photo booth.
*started re-watching all the Harry Potter movies with Zack. Whenever I have a job absolutely secured, we're going to celebrate by coughing up the cash to see the new one. Movies here are very expensive; I think almost $20 for an adult ticket.
*really wanted a $5 veggie delight from Subway. *sigh*

I realized over the last few days that I'll always be an outsider here, no matter how long I stay. I'm gaining a lot of perspective on what it is to be a foreigner. Zack, me, and a couple guys from the JET Program were discussing the "specialness" factor the other day. You don't realize how different you are until you see another foreigner. Being an outsider here is like wearing a big sign that says "I'm special. Look at me." In a place like America, where the culture is a big melting pot, standing out feels really good. Here, I just want to blend into the crowd some days.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

when it rains, it pours

It has been raining all day. Most days the clouds just sit and threaten rain, but never make good on their threat.

I've been going up to the language school that might offer me a job every day this week except yesterday. The job they want to offer me is a Native English Teacher, which means that I would be in charge of classes all by my lonesome. Zack works as an Assistant Language Teacher, which is really sweet because he just has to go along with what the main teacher asks him to do. That is the job that I really want.

I thought this week was training and orientation, but for the most part, "training" to them means "let's throw her in a class and see what she does." Only one teacher, a Canadian guy named Patrick, has really helped me out at all. And even though the hours are comparable to a day job, working at night is just somehow more exhausting. I've been getting home at close to 10 each night. And while this part of Japan is overall very safe--school children ride the trains alone--walking around at night unaccompanied is pretty scary.

The job isn't all bad. I would be teaching a variety of ages, from elementary schoolers to adults, and most of the students are really nice. And I'm actually excited about designing my own lesson plans, making handouts about grammar and such. (I'm an English nerd.) Since my only other lead at this time was through a guy in the JET Program who has stopped replying to my emails, I had pretty much accepted that this job is my only key to getting a work visa.

But hooray! Another opportunity came my way this week. I posted a classified in Ohayo Sensei, an online newsletter for teaching English in Japan jobs, and a nearby school actually contacted me! I'm going in for an interview next week. The job would be sort of the same as what I've been "training" for this week except I would only be teaching children and working during the day. I'm very happy to have another potential job so that I don't feel so trapped. Please keep your fingers crossed or pray to the deity of your choice that one of these jobs works out (but especially that I get a day job)!

Tomorrow there's a festival right here in Miyada called the "Miyada GION Festival." The main street in town has been decorated with red and white lanterns all week. I'm so excited about witnessing my first Japanese festival!

And in other news, my chopstick skills are getting better every day. Life is good.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

a writer needs help

I feel that, so far, this blog doesn't really showcase my abilities as a writer or my voice. I'll work on that. I've been writing practically every day, which is a blessing. A new place is what I needed to get me out of my awful creativity/writer's block slump. I've started a few new pieces. I'm so scatterbrained it's hard for me to sit down and "finish" anything. I've got the beginnings of two novels and a multitude of material for new short stories and poems. I think I'll start posting all the contests and journals I want to submit to. Then, if you really love me, you'll make me feel extremely bad if I don't submit. That's what I need here, people. Accountability! Once I get my feet wet I should be able to start submitting of my own volition. But please help me get out there.

Monday, July 13, 2009

an adventure in nagoya

It was another exciting weekend in Japan. It's important to travel while you're young so that you can really experience the essence of a place, get to know what makes it tick, keep up with all the energy around you.

I had an interview Saturday with some people that I thought were with the Board of Education in this area. Turns out it was really two representatives from a school called Zero to One English School. They offered me a job as a Native English Teacher, which means that I would be teaching classes all by myself. I'm fairly confident that I could be a good language teacher if given some materials to work with and if I can get off my ass and learn more Japanese. They offer private classes at various schools throughout this area so taking the job would mean commuting by train and company car. Which means I would have to learn how to drive on the left side of the road and get a Japanese driver's license. I would also be working from the afternoon into the night, maybe as late as 11 or 12. The contract is a little fishy-sounding, so I'm going to hold off on signing it as long as possible and continue my job search. It's heartening to be offered a job finally though.

Sunday was our trip to Nagoya. We spent the day exploring the Nagoya Noh Theater, which has a mini-museum about the Noh theater tradition. One of my favorite parts was trying on traditional Noh masks:

Next, we headed to Nagoya Castle. The castle was actually destroyed in World War II so most of what we saw was a rebuilt version of the original. I didn't realize how devastating WWII was on Japan. Toyo, a man who works for Zero to One, was telling about how almost all of the buildings in Japan were built in the 1950s or later because of the extensive bombing campaign throughout the country. There are very few buildings left that exemplify traditional Japanese architecture. Everything has a Western influence nowadays. I found that very, very sad. A few parts of the original castle were still intact, though, including a nut meg tree that is over 600 years old! We walked through the castle gardens for hours. Everything was beautiful and it was interesting to learn about ancient Japanese culture.

Our day ended with a sumo wrestling match, which is actually more of a foreigner's attraction than a Japanese one. The arena was insane. Half the audience was sitting on the floor on purple cushions and the rest were on bleachers. Pissed off audience members would throw their cushions toward the small stage in the center when their favorite wrestler lost. Many innocent spectators were hit rather than wrestlers. We saw an old man take a cushion to the head. Sumo wrestling is a very unique sport. The wrestlers have to be in tune with one another to know when to begin the match. When both competitors touch the ground with their knuckles and make eye contact, they know it is time to begin. If one looked away, they would get back up and smack their bellies and stretch. They also did a strange dance at one point in the match. I plan on doing some research to try and understand sumo a little more. Even if it is mostly a foreigner's sport, I love seeing an old Japanese tradition continue to survive the 21st century. Click on the pictures for more detail.