Walking with Ghosts: A glimpse of Hiroshima and Miyajima

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November 2011

Growing up in the States, I learned all about World War II and the A-bomb from a particular perspective. History exists based on how it’s written. American’s write it one way just as every other nation has their on take on the events. Going to Hiroshima was my chance to finally get a hold on the other perspective of the A-bomb first hand. Though I was as interested in what the city had become as much as what it had been.

Another time travel post, sorry. My classes are thinning out so I finally have time during my free periods to hash out the details of these experiences with a clear head. Or clearer. I’ve been having some troubles with my body acting up but that can wait till another post.

I love the way foreigners pronounce Hiroshima, when it’s done incorrectly. It always makes me giggle. I called my mom to tell her I was going on this trip and said Hiroshima the proper way (hee row shee ma – phonetic!) and she had no clue what I was talking about until I said it with an American accent. I certainly don’t expect people to know all about Japanese pronunciation. I’ve been listening to stuff in Japanese since I was 12. I think I have a little bit of a head start besides the whole living in Japan thing. It’s just interesting how these things stick after all this time.

Where was I… Ah so we headed out super early before the sun and made our way down the highways towards Hiroshima. I am proud to say I drove both ways AND only got lost once. Couldn’t have done it without my trusty navi unit – NicoNico aka my friend Nicole. There we were, driving down the big highways in a tiny little K-car with yellow plates (more powerful cars get white plates). I can’t wait to drive at 65 mph on a regular basis again. In a car that doesn’t feel like a tuna can. The driving here can be painfully slow and dangerous because of all the mountains.

When we got to the outskirts of Hiroshima, we made a turn off into the inaka in search of Nicole’s great aunt. After a little hunting in the wilds, we found the temple her family ‘owns’ up on a hill. Nicole’s grandmother had recently passed away and we brought Nicole to the temple to pay her respects to her grandmother’s sister and family. A bonus was to see the temple, of course. Her great aunt was really sweet and friendly even with us being absolute foreigners in both nationality and understanding. Anna was with us and she speaks Japanese and looks Chinese but is from Singapore. Nicole is half Okinawan and half Japanese and can understand conversational Japanese but deep down she’s full blooded American-Hawaiian to me^^. And then there’s me. An obvious foreigner and not the greatest with the language. But she welcomed us like long lost grand babies.

After sitting around talking and giving the letter and gifts to the great aunt (I think she was nearly 100 years old but didn’t look near that old), we were shown the grave site where Nicole’s ancestors were buried. It was inspiring. Then we headed back down the hill and thought we were done but there was one more thing to do… ring the evening bell. Here’s the video Nicole took. I might be a goof but I was really honored to have had that experience. The original bell had been taken during the war to melt down for weapons or whatever but after the war they got a new one. I don’t remember the whole complex story behind it, there was a lot going on to take in at one time.

We said our goodbyes as the sun set on us and made our way into Hiroshima… a slow way. Tons of traffic. The city is set in a half circle of mountains. This barrier is all that kept the fallout of the bomb from spreading to the surrounding towns. Because of that, there aren’t a ton of ways to get into the city. Hence the heavy traffic I assume. After we made it to the island part of the city with the museum, we found our huge hotel and got settled in. The service was friendly as ever in Japan and they even spoke English! Yay for big cities. Our room had 2 beds and pull out sofa. It was very clean and the front desk was helpful with our questions about where to eat and such.

We arrived in time to catch dinner somewhere so we headed out. Several of the places were closed but we found a popular Italian place across from the museum. It was surprisingly good and I laughed out loud when they handed the Japanese menu to Nicole and the English menu to me. Nicole looks Japanese so I can understand that but what was so funny was when I asked her if she wanted my English menu. The menus were all written in Italian plus one other language and I know enough Italian to order food. The funny part is when Nicole glances at the menu and goes “What ya mean? There’s English on here.” I started cracking up and made her actually read it and she starts laughing and face palms while passing me the menu. I think the waiters got a little weird-ed out by how hard we were laughing but whatever. I was a little drunk from a glass of wine and the leftovers of motion sickness pills so I went right to sleep when we got back to the hotel.

 

He had birds all over him!! Nicole just had to have a picture so to be polite, we took a sneaky tourist shot.

Since Saturday was shaping up to be a nice day, we decided to find our way to Miyajima. This island is still rather sacred and it used to be that no one was allowed to die or give birth on the island. Now it’s a tourist spot with hotels, restaurants, food vendors, a rope way to the near top of Mt. Misen and of course lots of deer. The photos might describe it better than I can. On our way there we wandered the grounds of the Peace Park.

Nicole and Anna actually made it to the top of the mountain but I was dizzy and weary from the 10 plus hour drive the day before as well as all the walking that day so I waited for them at the love temple. I already did Fuji, I didn’t need to prove anything haha.

 

Just hanging out. Totally unafraid of people.

To the rope-way!

Typical beautiful natural surroundings found in Japan. I guess it was typical for us, being from the countryside. That’s Anna on the left and Nicole on the right.

 

The rope-way! I would ride that all day around that mountain. Beautiful.

They always make it look so easy on the map…

 

The girls went on ahead without me. I was pooped. And watching people at the love temple was very entertaining.

The paddle thing was huge. Near this was the fried oyster place. They were delicious. I’ve never been one to enjoy that genre of seafood but I decided it was stupid of me not to try something that was so popular and famous there. I’m glad I did.

Then we caught the sunset on our way out. Beautiful. The deer were even being cute.

We waddled our way back to the ferry to take us to the mainland. Anna and I fell asleep on each other. The mainland train then took us all the way back around to the shopping district and we went in search of a good okonomiyaki bar. We found one. It was fantastic, highly recommended. I really don’t know if I like Osaka style better than Hiroshima, though. They were both amazing. I felt bad but I couldn’t finish mine… it was starting to burn on the grill, I had taken so long to eat it. One thing I have not acquired is the Japanese way of shoveling down food. I like to take my time.

Somewhere in this madness we found a spectacular okonomiyaki place. I’m lucky to always have such resourceful friends.

A pseudo indoor mall street thing.

The only building left standing after the bomb dropped. It’s so haunting. A constant reminder.

Nicole posing in front of the museum. Everyone cries in there. Everyone.

Saturday was quite gloomy so we decided to go to the museum. I didn’t bring my camera due to the rain. The museum… is an experience every human being should have. I can’t begin to express how impacting  it was on me and everyone around me. Certainly there are some things left out or slightly altered to betray Japan in a more favorable light (just as we do in the US). But there was also some surprising admissions of guilt. I highly recommend reading up on your WWII knowledge before walking through it (from many sides if possible) as it helps give perspective. The over sentiment was most definitely anti-war all around.

We then wandered to a nearby mall center to wander around the omiyage (souviner) places. Some very delicious stuff. I found a place that sold the hard candy balls that are nostalgic of the pre-WWII era in Hiroshima. So many flavors. I bought bags and bags of them and took them back for my teachers… and me. We ate at a kinda whatever place in the mall and then did snack night with drinks at the hotel room.

The last day out was gloomy again. The beautiful Saturday we had at Miyajima was turning out to be extremely lucky. Anna really wanted to see the castle in the center of the city… but we were tired and it was rainy and… it was time to go. So we drove by it on our way out and made our long trek back home. I drove most of the way back (I get motion sick so it’s better if I drive) but Nicole took over at some point. I was so tired.

The moral of this trip for me was to be in the moment. Don’t blink! And if it’s raining out, bring the plastic cover for the camera!

With love- M

 

EPIC Tokyo Trip part 2

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Talk about a long time gone. I’m coming up on my one year anniversary of my year of fabulousness in Japan. Thankfully, I’ve had some more free time lately and am catching up on logging my many adventures during that year. This is the first of many catch up blogs.

Actual time of post: July 2011

Saturday

WOOOOOooooo….oooo nonono no no. The morning started out well enough as we made our way to my first day in Harajuku. I was pumped, ready for action. I even did great on the subway. The 10 min switch at Shinjuku to get to Harajuku, however, did me in. I was an idiot and squeezed in with people… facing backwards. Yay. I spare you the gruesome details but let’s just say that I almost didn’t make it to the rest room. After this, I was queasy the rest of the day. Nicole’s friends met us for burgers at this pretty sweet joint. I had the most awesome avocado, cheese, and bacon burger sitting infront of me but… I just couldn’t do it. So I wrapped it up and took it with me. Notice I said that I wrapped it up. Japan isn’t so great with the doggy bag idea.

We split off after that for a little while her friends did some stuff. I can never live anywhere near anything like Harajuku. I would never have money. I ended up finding a lolita shop, Bodyline, and it’s now my favorite. They even ship to the states so I can continue this unfortunate addiction later. Why are they so good? Because the prices are reasonable. If I buy a regular lolita outfit, it’s so expensive that I’m scared to do any alterations to it; add lace here, buttons there, whatever. These Bodyline pieces are fantastic. I’ve only been able to wear the outfit I bought a couple times thus far but being out in the country, there’s not a whole lot of opportunity… and my wardrobe is not extensive enough to be lolita 24/7.

For real this time, Nicole and I went home on time. We were checking the time like the white rabbit. We got all dolled up and headed out for a night on the town in Shibuya, evidently the gay district. They have a whole district! So we got a cheap dinner at Sukiya, bowl of rice with meat on top and other things, and started taking in ‘the sights’. I wish I could’ve just walked around taking pictures. Lot’s of drag. Mostly all men. I was all done up with a corset and a tutu type skirt and I looked normal. I think the boobies gave me away, though. We stopped in at the first bar and it was pretty good. My main issue with it was the music. Sometimes the DJ just can’t feel the vibe. We made our way to the next club and it was a little better and people were starting to have a good time but it was starting to be that time so we split.

I love the looks I get from the hotel receptionists late at night. I’m sure they’ve seen it all.

Sun:

I have to admit how impressive the trains in Tokyo can be. Always on time… sometimes early. Because in Japan, to be early is to be on time. The above photo was morning on a Sunday so not too busy yet. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of rush hour when they’re cramming folks in on top of each other. Go here for that.

We headed to a local okonomiyaki place for some yumyums and to meet up with Nicole’s long time fan-dom friend, Liv. This was Tokyo style so it was a little different. I got the seafood version with shrimp and octopus and so on. Very delicious. Couldn’t finish it and felt bad about it. That’s not really a compliment in Japan… ever.

We then made our way to particular district known for it’s crazy fan-dom shops. However we had a nice surprise along the way. Lots of wall art! Some were old, some new, some in progress. All were lovely and really added to the beauty of the underground crossways (there’s a whole city of platforms and trains and stores under Tokyo).

Then came some heavy shopping – for Nicole and Liv, anyway. I’m not much for fan-dom stuff. I’d rather spend my money on food, clothes, karaoke, and adventures. But I can respect their love of these idols. It’s almost an art form.

Then we met up with another friend and had some fun in a fancy karaoke room. We ate, we drank, we sang and when the time was up, we took our time getting back to the hotel (got some snacks at a conbini on the way).

Mon:

Time to pack up and leave! But not before…

Odaiba! We wandered and talked and ate yummy burgers at a Hawaiian place Nicole was familiar with and it was such a good choice.

Then we headed to the castle. We were too late for a tour for the day but it was lovely just to see it from the outside. Besides, you see the inside of one Japanese castle, you see them all, right? Still, it is fascinating how such a peaceful, old world kind of place can be sitting in Tokyo.

We got hungry so we stopped at an izukaya. I’ve been to better. But it did the job. We still had some time to kill and debated about going to a karaoke place but on our way, came across what we think was an early Obon festival. Some fabulous yosakoi going on, too. What was so amazing was how it was just tucked away between a bunch of huge buildings. We heard the music and just followed it until we saw the big read gates all lit up and found the cutest little temple. Such a shame we had already eaten, too… I have a weakness for Japanese festival food.

We did end up singing some karaoke for a while but not too long since we had a free bath waiting for us before the bus ride. Lucky for us, it was in the host district. It was certainly an experience. I’ve seen women on street corners but never men. Supposedly there’s no sex involved but I think we all know how that works. They didn’t seem too interested in us foreign ladies though. So we found our bathhouse and got to it. I highly recommend it, too. I slept like a baby on the bus ride home.

Check out the whole Album.

With love- M

EPIC Tokyo trip part 1

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July 2011

Well, not that epic. There were no elephants or mermaids involved. I came away smiling despite that. Also, this story is quite old now so I apologize if I mix things up anywhere.

A quick sum-up of more recent occurrences (October 2011):

I’m studying Japanese quite bit more and taking lessons. My weekends have been either packed or empty… yet still packed with things that get pushed aside during the week like laundry and cleaning. Playing games with Joel and friends for hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings has been making me feel like a kid waking up for Saturday cartoons. My co-workers are much more comfortable chatting with me now, though I don’t think my Japanese has gotten that much better… just a comfort thing. This weekend I’m off to Hiroshima for a few days to see the sights and pay respects with Nicole for her grandmother who recently passed. Before I post on that trip I still need to do the August trip home, climbing Mt. Fuji, and Senmaida light up festival.

For this post I’m going to be methodical about my trip to Tokyo and go day by day and try not to forget anything important. It was an eventful trip. I pray that I am brief but still entertaining.

Tokyo. Everyone’s heard of it but everyone has not had the pleasure of experiencing it first hand. It appears to be different things for different people. For me, this trip was like a wine tasting. Nicole and I made our way through as much as we could while still enjoying our vacation and not getting too stressed. Maybe less nomi-hodai next time(see Friday)…

Wednesday night/Thursday

Traveling in Japan has been an interesting adventure for me. Never had I traveled long distance via coach bus before. Not only was I to be in a motor vehicle for 10 or so hours but I was to travel at night and sleep as much of the way as possible. This works in theory but since it was my first time… sleeping wasn’t on the menu much. Nicole did okay I think but my dramimine just wasn’t knocking me out like usual. I got a few hours of sleep before we touched down in Shinjuku. Here’s a picture of us waking up at 5:30am on the bus.

Nothing was open… really. There were some conbini’s scattered about but none had bathrooms except for one that we finally found. But why not go somewhere in Shinjuku station? You may wonder… the only area open that early was one with a men’s bathroom area. Granted, in Japan it is very acceptable for women to use men’s restrooms in times of need but men can never use women’s restrooms. I guess that was the idea behind only having the one bathroom available. Ugh. After cleaning up in the smallest (and suprisingly grossest) conbini bathroom EVER, we made our way walking about Shinjuku to kill time until we could check into our hotel.

I forget all that we did on Thursday as I was only partially concious. I do remember visiting the Square Enix store. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as I hoped but was still cool to see the dude (a life size Final Fantasy character) in the floor. I didn’t get a picture… don’t seem to have any pictures of that first day lol how silly. We also found our way to random pet shop and had a nice time in there with some exotic critters like monkeys and such. The best part was when we first walked in and there was what we thought to be a huge stuffed dog in the back. As soon as we were both inside the door he sprang to life and came over to say hello. That was the single most uplifting moment of that trip for both of us I think. We were missing our pets back in the States terribly at that point and he was just the friendlest little guy ever.

Finally we made our way to the hotel to unload our luggage and relax for a bit.

Friday

To the tower! We made off for the Tokyo Tower and I was surprised. I guess I expected to be in an area like in Paris where people take pictures with it and it’s imposing presence is always in the background. Nope. I could barely see it from the station we got off at, so many buildings and trees in the way. It felt like it was just stuck in the middle of stuff, an after thought. ‘You know what’d be great here! A HUGE tower!’ ‘Why?’ “Why not I think is what you meant to say…’. Anyways, here it is. We had some pretty good curry served by a foreigner who spoke perfect Japanese. Not weird at all…

In the evening we decided it would be best to keep it simple and not stay out too late so we opted for an interesting looking izukaya. After finally being seated (not sure why they were looking for customers, they had plenty) we decided to get nomi-hodai (all you can drink). Nicole’s friend came eventually and we enjoyed some drinks and jokes for a while until we realized we had missed the last train home… and were subsequently stuck in Shinjuku until the morning train unless we took a super expensive taxi. So stay we did. And party we did. We made our way around trying to find a half decent club but had a hard time surprisingly. Finally we found Xanadu and made ourselves at home with a second nomi-hodai. I don’t recommend the club unless you love that genre of music, 70’s and 80’s disco and techno style, slightly modernized but it’s hard to make poo any better than what is, no matter how many beats you smear over it.

School fest

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October 29, 2011

Jr. High School Festival

Taking the simple stuff and making it fantastic

This is a post that’s been sittin’ on the burners a while, sorry. There’s been so much going on these last few months. The second I can relax, I usually fall asleep. As of right now, I’m going through the last few weeks of classes and it’s wearing me down. I said my last “See you” to one of my elementary schools the other day and I was this close to crying in front of everyone. Giving me goodbye letters was hard enough but then one class actually read them all aloud to me… now that I can actually understand basic Japanese it was like a lovely kind of torture. My junior high kids are going to kill me, figuratively.

Let’s time travel back to the end of October. Also a busy time but full of awesome. My JHS was prepping for this festival. I kept hearing about it but didn’t understand exactly what it was or how it worked. All I knew was that I would be at the school the day before and the day of the event.

Next thing I know, I’m wandering the halls after my classes were finished just looking for trouble. I ended up making paper flowers, connecting paper chain links, giving painting advice, and generally being a huge distraction for the kids. They spent days getting materials together and making all sorts of artsy decorations.

All the stairwells in use for the day had these strips across them. I thought it was really smart way to get an interesting perspective effect.

And of course there were advertisements for the different ‘corners’ around the school. There were areas for snacks and all manner of games. One was a Japanese game show style, another was a gesture comedy show like Who’s Line Is It Anyway.

The opening ceremony had the best banner I’d ever seen come out of JHS.

Next there were a few speech contest winners who presented in Japanese.

One student, a first year, gave her English speech that one speech contests here and also nationwide. Rather impressive.

Next came the singing competition. Each class had to sing a song and there were trophies for the winners of each grade (in Japan, JHS has 3 grades – 7, 8, and 9 but call them 1, 2, 3 years). The trophies weren’t awarded until the end of the day… a few of the 3rd year girls cried because they were upset about not winning. It was little competition, unfortunately. The girls were all evenly matched but the boys were a bit more obvious in their weaknesses.

All in all, it was a lovely day. I felt honored to be a part of it. It gave me a chance to connect more with the students outside of a classroom setting. Some of them open up amazingly when not confronted with a blackboard.

The real surprise is their level of dedication. They aren’t even in high school and they’re more focused and organized than half the folks I knew in college. It blew my mind at first. After a while, I became less jaded and saw some the possible problems that cause and are caused by this high level of dedication. To name one, the conformity dilemma. Nothing wrong with it out right but the suppression of independent thought is a bit of an issue for me. I’ll have to devote a whole post to this topic, however.

Next, I’ll try to get Hiroshima and a couple other posts done before I leave Japan. Now I’m off to add (or distract) my JHS kids during their prep for graduation. I hear we’ll be drawing on blackboards and decorating the whole school for the 3rd years. Why is it so sad!

With love – M

Fujisan: Mount o’ Oxymorons

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August 25 2011

Few things in my life would I consider both awesome and awful at the same time. It seems as though most of these special moments have taken place during my adventures in Japan. Climbing the famous Mount Fuji is no exception.

First is the kids version with easy photo presentation and then I give the lowdown on how it went down. For info on climbing Fuji, google it. Or go here or here. For a full photo collection, go here.

Winding along the coast of Himi.

It’s not a town unless it has pachinko.

Biggest Godzilla statue I’ve seen yet.

Then into the mountains.

A cute rest stop for couples. You’re supposed to put a lock on the fence to signify your hearts being locked together forever I suppose.

This couple meant serious business.

We stayed the night at a friend of Craig’s place. He was rather awesome and ironically his name was Joel (the same as my boyfriend) so of course I assumed he would be awesome from the start haha. The three of us curled up on Joel’s floor and sort of slept. Yay Leo Palace. We received breakfast in bed the next morning with apples, pears, and nuts. Joel offered more and more but we thought it best if we were off.

We drove through the town on the northern side of Fujisan but I didn’t take any pictures due to the gloomy nature of the day. It was raining and we were set to climb a mountain. We took our time wandering around and eventually sat down for luch at a Cafe Gasteau. Not recommended. Coco’s Restaurant is much better thought some folks seem to really like Gasteau.

Almost there…

Welcome to Cloud-parking.

And there she is.

A beautiful artist’s rendition complete with English subtitles.

A couple prayers before I head to my impending doom.

As the sun sets on our climb, maybe 2 or so hours in.

One of the rest points.

Those crazy kids. And yes, it is that cold up there in August.

Don’t give up!!

There she blows!

So close I can taste it… The tori gate is the entrance to the top of the mountain.

Butt shot.

The colors Duke! The colorsss. Everyone was wearing lots of layers and in a multitude of rainbow assortments. Not typical fair in Japan. They tend to like their neutrals. Oh and here you can see people with the walking sticks. I bought one, of course, and am so happy I did. It was totally worth it and I even got it stamped with the base camp symbols and the summit symbols.

They’re still coming!

Here’s the story: We started off together, kind of bungee-chord-ing between eachother. Craig would bound off, Anna would pull steadily ahead of me, and I would drag along until Craig stopped to rest and we’d all come together again for a few moments before starting the next leg.

I was (am) not in shape. I don’t know that I’ve ever been very athletic in any capacity. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy physical activity in that way, I just find it a bit more trying than some people. That in mind, I did not take offense when those two didn’t wait for me. In fact, I think we all enjoyed the alone time as we climbed. It meant you didn’t have to keep pace with anyone, worry about whether you’re pushing them too hard or vice verse. Oh, and yes there was some actual rock climbing, not trail trail walking. I almost fell to my death a few times…I don’t recommend a heavy non-hiking backpack for something like that. Very top heavy.

At some point during the evening, after about 4 hours of climbing, we decided it was time to rest. The next rest station we came to, we inquired about staying and it was a bit more expensive than we had thought and was for the entire night, not a few hours like we wanted.

The next station felt like hours away and was really a struggle for me. This place also was all night but was a little cheaper for some reason. They told us that the next station was the one we wanted, the one that let you sleep for a few hours and didn’t charge for the whole night. Craig and Anna were exhausted also but were considering continuing the climb but I reasoned that by the time we got there, we’d only have 3 or less hours to sleep because our pace was so slow right now from being so tired.

We stayed and it was worth it. I pulled my beanie over my eyes, put earplugs in and knocked out for almost 4 hours. We began climbing again around 1am (I don’t remember the exact times of anything). Craig took off before Anna and I even had our boots on. We couldn’t blame him though with all the folks now pouring up the trail. It was packed. Anna and I just fell into line in the middle of some tour group and tried not to get in the way.

Following those tour guides was the best. They have awesome pacing and even though they look like they’re going really slow, they never stop moving. At this point, everyone was in the zone. Just one foot in front of the other. The best way seemed to be walking like a duck so you didn’t slip on the rocks.

After some time of my silly waddling, I came across Craig hunched over on a rock to the side of the trail. Evidently he’d felt sick when he woke up but thought he could push through it since we were almost to the top. But we weren’t actually almost to the top… the last bit is the steepest and is packed with tired folks so it’s the slowest. I passed him my pepto bottle and advised that he ate something but he refused. I headed on and stopped to wait for him at the next station. He walked over, sat down on the bench next to me and promptly stood back up to go throw up over the side of the mountain. Yuck. Don’t test altitude sickness, it will win. I think he ate a little something and took some more pepto before starting on again, very slowly this time.

I pulled on ahead of him and struggled on up to the top where I hoped to find Anna. I learned later that she had walked around the whole crater, she just couldn’t stop walking lol. I had myself some hot chocolate in a hut and tried to warm up. Got my stamp on my walking stick and then decided to go ahead and start walking down. My phone was on the verge of death and I tried calling her once but reception up there is unreliable. Craig actually found me then and we headed down until we hear from Anna and stopped for a food break to wait for her to catch up.

The way down was crazy difficult. I wore my Five-finger gloves (Vibrams). Great idea for the climb, bad for the descent. Poor Anna’s toes were hurting bad from her new hiking shoes but Craig took off with his long legs. I stayed with Anna for as long as I could but towards the end I had to take off also because it hurt less to just leap down the trail. Rocks, so many rocks. OH! And I was harrassed by an older man that I think was slightly handicapped and wouldn’t take “Leave me alone” as an answer. He kept trying to have a conversation with me, completely ignoring Anna, and kept walking backwards or sideways, constantly getting in my way and slowing me down. It was weird. We lost him eventually…

I made it, waited for Anna to catch up and we called Craig who was asleep in his car. We took off our gear, agreed that this had been both the best and worst experiences of our lives and left in a hurry.

And it was the most awesome and awful experience of my life. Never again. A wise man climbs Fujisan once. A fool, twice. I’m stickin’ to it. I hope everyone gets to have something like that in their lives.

Thank you to Craig and Anna for joining me in that crusade.

With love – M

Candles across rice fields

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Senmaida Light Up – October 8 and other random thoughts

I realize my last couple posts have likely been, well… boring. Sorry. I’m lucky to be posting at all. These winter months are eating away at my soul more than usual. We’re finally getting some snow again, however, so things should be on the rise. What I mean is: if it’s gotta be dark when I wake up and dark when I come home, at least I have snow to play in. But the winter solstice is long past and the days are only getting longer from here on! Always look on the bright side of life, do dodo dodo dodo dodo.

Anyway, thanks to Joel helping to set up my ‘new’ computer during his visit for the holidays, I have been taking time to organize and configure everything to my liking. Now that all is where it should be, I can get down to business. Lots to do in the last weeks in Japan. Gotta finish some projects, update my portfolio(s), update online sites like LinkedIn, line up job interviews for April, decide what I’m leaving and taking when I head back to the States, and somewhere in there I need to ENJOY my remaining time in Japan.

Moving on. I shall recap an excursion that took place over 2 weekends. First weekend was a relaxing drive up to Wajima, the long way round on the westerly seaside. Below are a series of photos from the drive up with Nicole and Anna.

This is Ganmon.

Then we found our way to an old temple that doubles as a cafe out in the wilds of the Noto. Adorable little place with yummy hot cocoa and tasty cakes.

The next weekend we joined forces with some more friends and headed up the faster way, stopping for lunch at a local place that serves something special. It’s called Notodon with Noto being this whole peninsula area and don meaning a bowl (of rice). So these local joints take only local ingredients for the Notodons and we had beef something or other at this particular place on the bay side. It was excellent. Definitely not Sukiya style. Sorry I forgot to snap a shot, everyone was taking pictures so I got lazy.

So here are some shots of Wajima and one of their temples.

And this is Senmaida, our reason for the outing. It means 10,000 rice fields. Since it’s on a mountain side, the rice fields have to be set up like this. I assume it helps with irrigation and so on. It was gorgeous.

And then there was, of course, real fire. No Japanese festival is complete without a little fire. People lined the larger path and were given sticks with stuff on the ends and then they lit eachother up. Woohoo. Thankfully, I don’t believe anyone was injured. I wasn’t sure how I felt about some of the little old ladies holding up those big torches. I had to keep reminding myself that these were not the little old ladies from Delaware. These were inaka women. I wouldn’t wanna get in a tangle with them, not even the centennial ones.

What can I say about the Senmaida Light Up? It was gorgeous. We got lucky with good weather and a lovely sunset. There were a few vendors, same old same old. Not as good as the Fire and Violence Festival in Suzu but that was a much bigger venue anyway. We walked all around and through the paths of the rice fields. It was surreal going from top to bottom… and a bit tiring heh. The music performances and taiko were all fabulous. I loved the children’s taiko! Such skill. And of course the adults came on after and blew them out of the water.

I wouldn’t give up Nanao for Wajima (it’s super rural) but it’s definitely a must see if you’re in the area. There’s something to be said for the serenity and grace of the country side in Japan (and most other countries, of course).

With love – M

 

To go or not to go

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Weighing the pros and cons of visiting home for an ALT

For every ALT there comes a time when, for one reason or another, he or she is confronted with the decision to visit the home from whence the came. For me it was no different.

I debated with myself a bit before leaving home as to whether I would actually come home during my year or two away. Then that possibility of 2 years was cut down by a couple personal reasons (one of which is everyone’s getting married!! How dare they ask me to be a part of such a special event… ). So being left with only one year abroad, I thought ‘Well I don’t really need to come home, right? It’s expensive!’ The more people asked if I was coming home in the summer at all, the more I questioned my conviction.

When the time came to own up and stay in Japan for the 2 weeks in August or go home, I went home. Why? Because I didn’t pay for it, for starters. I did not have enough money to pay for it so I thought the matter was settled. Boyfriends can have a way of overturning that it seems. It ended up being what I needed. I saw some friends, ate too much good food, got to see family, and of course spent exorbitant amounts of time with my significant other. Somehow I can’t remember half what I did but I’m sure it was all good times.

My details

  • The flight over was freakishly fast. Well, all except for the quick stop over in Chicago…going from Japanese folks for 4 months to brash and loud Americans in a cramped little airplane was not my idea of awesome.
  • THE FOOD man had I missed cheese. I don’t remember how many times I had Mexican but it was likely one too many… or never enough. Aside from my favorite joints, there was also my mom’s cooking which I may cry over when they eventually move to North Carolina. I don’t think I wait for Thanksgiving and Easter every year for her cooking.
  • I spent way too much time laying around while I was home but unfortunately, it couldn’t be helped. Whether it was jet lag or I was just tired still from the Tokyo trip, I don’t know, but I was beat. Everyday I’d be ok until the afternoon and then I’d crash.
  • While home I went to masseuse certified in pressure point therapy. It hurt but was worth it. I had a serious problem on the plane with my feet swelling it up. It happened for the first time before that during the night bus ride to Tokyo. Like balloons, they were.
  • I was having such a nice time at home that I started having second thoughts about coming back. Though I enjoyed my time thus far in Japan, I was still experiencing a lot of heartbreak for those familiar and comfortable things at home in the States. If my boy hadn’t been so strong, I would’ve stayed home in August. It was nice to know that it was hard for him but also that he understood how important it was for me to go back and work through the full year.
  • The flight back to Japan felt a bit longer but not bad. I kept more attention on my feet, wiggling my toes and so on to get blood moving. The still puffed up pretty bad though and stayed puffy for longer than necessary.

I took absolutely not one single photo while I was home. There were several factors involved in this result but I like to tell myself that the biggest one was that I was just having too much fun. The exhaustion and busy days with family and friends may have had something to do with it, too.

So that’s the question, to go or not. No matter what an ALT’s personal reasons may be, it usually comes down to money. If you can afford it and you need that time back in your hometown, do it!

For those ALT’s or other travelers with significant others waiting for them, it can be done. I have the proof. Thankfully, I have a boy who has a good job and can afford to fly out to see me in December. Eight months of waiting may have been a bit much for us… but I don’t doubt we would’ve lasted. A year is just a drop in the bucket and it’s not like we don’t live our lives while we’re apart. Those lives may be a bit… duller but we’re still enjoying each day for what it is.

My advice would be to keep relative contact. You don’t need to talk everyday, it’ll get old fast. You’ll end up just recounting your actions rather than having a meaningful conversation. But set specific times aside each weekend when you absolutely spend that time together online. My boy and I are gamers so it’s easy for us to ‘spend time together’ online. Otherwise, devise little projects you can work on together like learning Japanese together or something artsy.

Remember! Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Maybe the best thing to come out of this year away from home has been how detailed my boy and I can now be when asked what we like in eachother. Being apart, we notice the little things (and the big) more clearly because suddenly they aren’t there. A broad example would be my extravagant sense of optimism and his realistic skepticism.

Well this has gone on to long already and there aren’t even any pictures. Next will be, hopefully, my Tokyo trip which actually happened just before leaving to come home. Unfortunately, it’s LONG and shall be put into two parts.

With love – M