An Exercise In Not Lying To Myself And Not Editing

Heading off to Tokyo in a couple of hours via night bus – the sudden realization that I’ve become less and less prepared for trips the older I get. Last minute clothes shoved into a backpack, barely remembering to keep passport in hand, and perhaps the keys are in my coat pocket; somehow this feels more like living than before, irresponsible but alive… Question mark.

Lately, I have no desire to continue scheduling my life into hour-long slots any more. Being continuously trapped within four walls will do that to you, I guess. Or maybe this listlessness is a new development in nervousness. Big changes came last week in our district for our educational system, in addition to word on the street being that a new JET will be hired in Gonohe. Excitement. New things. Horizons expanding. Worlds colliding. Exclamation mark.

Sometimes people are so alive, it’s easy to forget that we’re all here on borrowed time. I think, maybe, it’s all just starting to settle into place. I think less about America as the country to which I will eventually return and more as the country from which I came. But I don’t know where I’m going next. When I first arrived I didn’t seriously consider that I would stay abroad forever. This was always supposed to be A Temporary Thing. I expect this opinion to change in three seconds/ day/weeks/months/years. Humanity is a beautiful complication, I’m not even going to pretend to understand half of what I’ve just written but the coffee was particularly strong this morning and the Word Document conveniently opened. Semi-colon.

lepetitprince

 

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Hachinohe Jomon Museum

 The Jomon Period was Japan’s Neolithic period from 10,500 BCE to 300 BCE and is famous for the lacquered, flame rimmed pottery. The destinctive rope pattering decorations gave this period it’s name.

The Hachinohe exhibit features the national treasure, Gassyo Dogu, a clay figurine that was made with hands clasped in a seated position. I was unable to take a picture of it but I did find a clear version on the Internet (credit goes to museum website). More than prayer, the little guy looks like the Japanese version of the thinker. I can imagine that whoever it had been based on, they probably liked to sit on some grassy hill to think. 

The best part of the exhibit, in my opinion, isn’t just the sheer variety objects on display. It’s also the interactive portion, seeing the Jomon world come to life in screen and getting to touch replicas of the objects – admittedly it’s more for children than for adults but I believe adults are just bigger versions of kids. We all yearn to discover the world through the curiosity of a child, the ability to follow through with action however has been stamped out by high school. 

The process by which the pots, beads, and dogu are made are all in Japanese with little furigana. Come prepared with apps that allow you to trace kanji in order to look up their meaning or with a fair amount of knowledge of archaeological terms in Japanese. 

The next best part of this amazing exhibit? The price. It’s only ¥250. Cheapest date night/educational excursion ever.

   

   

Shingomura 

The place where Jesus and his brother died, according to local popular legend, is Shingo Village.

Or as a Jewish friend of mine once put it: “I’m not religious so I don’t know.”

Ebisuya Ramen features Christ Ramen as a specialty on their menu. I love the slightly tangy taste of umeboshi flavored soup and the fried nagaimo topping. According to Kouchan, however, it tasted like soap.

I am well aware that my taste buds are off. No one else seems to think rice has its own unique flavor, but if I had to compare it to something, steamed rice tastes like a chord in A flat.

Cheers.

Reunited…

…and it feels so good! University days aside, Kouchan and I have had three years of texting, Skyping, and planned road trips (that were never executed). And then she did the amazing: she air-tripped it to Aomori to see Michele and me. I’m so glad that through the good times, the bad times, and in-between times we can pick up exactly where we left off.

And it wouldn’t be a true Aomori experience without a trip down to Towada Lake. In the middle of a hail storm. Good times!

Alone in Two Billion One Hundred Light Years of Solitude

With the school principals seated by order of appointment in a discreet corner and their hospitality coffee served, my supervisor was free to return the tray and coffee things to the caddy stationed just behind my desk. Instead, he paused to glance down at my work… because no one really knows what I do in that office anyway. And I’m just the newest foreigner in a long succession of previous foreigners who have been teaching English since before my parents even dreamed of my possible existence. No one really knows what we do in that office, I suspect.

“Gaburieru Garushia Marukezu.”

Suddenly, without warning, he lifts my iPhone from its cover and pries open the battered book with the slightest traces of urgency. You can tell when someone loves to read. It shows and not just in the way they handle books. Anyway, as far as copies goes,  this one has seen better days, which means it has been loved properly. Again, I’m just the latest in a long line of assistant language teachers to inherit it over the past decade; also, I’m excited to see what his eyes might discover that I may have missed. On the title page, a boldly magnificent proclamation is brought back to life, its semi-neatly scrawled hand on the bottom right hand corner:

Bought by Kevin in Kinokuniya on 10/12/’o5 w/ Julia and Jason (on JET)

He points to the title.

“One Hundred Years of Solitude,” I read from the cover as he passes it back, gingerly, into my care. Subconsciously aware that used books breathe a different kind of magic, we’re very careful not to awaken it just yet. In a quiet whisper, I try with my limited, unpoetical, and clumsy translation skills to render the full weight of the title in a language that is not my own.”「百年の寂しさ」かなあ?” And then because I’m curious, too, ” どんな本が好きですか?”

Like most people, I realize immediately after speaking that there was actually a better word for ‘solitude’ but recognition comes a heartbeat too late to fix. Meanwhile…

…”I like poems,” he replies, finally replacing the coffee things where they belong.

“Like Matsuo Basho?”

Not Matsuo Basho. Tanikawa Shuntarou. I don’t think you’ll be able to find him, though,” he adds doubtfully but eternal optimists that we are, we both instinctively lean towards the computer screen anyway. It’s worth a shot, right?

The Google Machine sputters back nonsense juxtaposed next to potentially click-worthy links next to more nonsense. He’s silently not too happy with the results. “It’s okay. Let me look it up for you!”

The mastery of kanji is still outside my grasp but his native skills render a quicker and more successful search. I manage to scrawl the name onto my palm, a confused mixture of Chinese characters and Hiragana, before quickly making myself scarce as they’re busier today than most other days. In this way I busy myself in an office where no one – not even I – knows what I do exactly. Tanikawa Shuntaro’s Alone in Two Billion Light Years is metaphorically chewed on as my food for thought of the day. I can’t decide just yet if I like him or not; I can’t decide why I can’t decide, and that in itself is a beautiful feeling.

A simple enough conversation, an exchanging of pleasantries, yet I’ve been given a gift, the best gift: inspirational words to read.

 

White Day 2015

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As the legend goes, the reason for Japan’s strange tradition of having women give chocolates to men on the most ‘romantic’ date in the Western Calendar is due to a translating error. To be fair, Japanese and English are the exact opposite of each other. “I go to the store” is in English countries what “I to the store go” is to Japanese speakers. And don’t even get me started on passive grammar forms of keigo. Basically you can see how someone accidentally and quite literally translated the English for an otherwise catchy business slogan: “St. Valentine’s, a day for men to give women chocolate” into “St. Valentine’s, a day for women to give men chocolate”.

That’s right. Blame the translators that the men of an already heavily patriarchal society have been reaping the benefits of a holiday that forces women to shower them with even more attention and lavish gifts yet again. Feminists, unite! Cry havoc and release the dogs of war! Or not…

…strangely enough this version of Valentine’s is quite popular among most women in the adult night class that I team teach on Mondays.

“I like this Valentine’s Day,” one of the married women said to us. “Women are supposed to be shy. But on one day of the year they’re allowed to be forward and present the object of their affections with an interesting proposition: to date or not to date?”

Another woman chimes in, “And it’s not like the woman doesn’t get anything back. A month later, there’s White Day. On this day, the men that the woman has gifted with chocolate are expected to gift something back to her. And if he hasn’t already, he will also give his response as to whether he’s game to date her.”

But of course there’s always the chance that the men will forget, which is worse than an outright rejection. Or as the guys in the college dorms when I studied abroad did:

They taped up creepy pictures of Sadako from The Ring as our White Day present. Haha, very funny and clever />.>”

Thanks to my coworkers for surprising me with a White Day gift! I didn’t think that they would when I gave them the omiyage from Hokkaido but they did! I can’t express how happy it made me but it’s one of the best things that happened today!!!

The Weight of Love

“Careful now, it’s really heavy. What could possibly be in there?” the postal employee half laughed, but his eyes flashed quickly from the huge box he had just set down on the counter to my face. The curious side of him wanted to know what had been sent from abroad that was too heavy for the front desk employees to carry.

I took back my Foreign Residency Card and signed the proof of delivery notice on his clipboard, smiling a little bit inside, as I replied:

“Love.”

He muttered something unintelligible under his breath. It may have been, “Is that so?” But he was needed elsewhere so he gave a sharp nod of his head before disappearing into the back room. It may have been that he thought I had meant something else entirely. In any case, my parents could have sent me any size box they wished with nothing but packing styrofoam. Or even filled with air. I still would have been happy.

It’s the little things in life. The little things – for some reason unknown – always seem to matter more.

If dreams and wishes were streams and fishes…

The kids (ages 10-14) are learning how to express what they want to be in the future. I’ve gotten some very interesting and specific occupations that probably would take their American peers by surprise:

OCCUPATIONS BY POPLUARITY

Soccer/baseball player

Pastry chef

Geriatric nurse

Carpenter

Nursery school teacher

Farmer

Gasoline stand attendant

Pianist

Teacher

Refinery worker

Dancer

Needless to say, their reasoning for choosing those jobs is above and beyond funny. It’s a real joy getting to know them week by week, assignment by assignment.