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!