Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving is an American holiday

Which makes it my job to educate the youth of Japan about it while missing it myself.

I’m not bummed, though. It’s sunny and looking like yesterday, which was warm for late November. And there’s nothing like trying to impress the meaning of Thanksgiving on kids who have never heard of it before, despairing of said task, then receiving a thank-you card right at the end of class.

Thanksgiving food game = the good side of “American food.” Apparently, according to another JET, it’s a Japanese tradition to get KFC on Thanksgiving evening because, ehh, it’s more or less the same thing, right?

I’m thankful for a lot of things. This is, I think, my favorite holiday!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The winter I hate is grey

I have a ridiculously hard time picking favorites out of things, so I’ve always found it kind of surprising that I could immediately announce that my least favorite season was winter. To the point that I couldn’t understand why anyone would like anything about winter, ever.

And while the winter season is something I’ve always just kind of endured, I realized I don’t have any particularly bad connections to the winter. There was never a really cold or hungry winter, for example, or even really an emotionally terrible winter that I can think of off hand.

Today wasn’t particularly cold, all things considered. Yes, it was chilly, and I wore The Longest Socks Ever, and I was sometimes uncomfortable. But the worst thing about this afternoon was the grey.

I identify grey-chilly-rainy-shitty with winter so much that months ago, when we had my first real true mudstain-grey day in Japan, where we didn’t see the sun at all, and you could never tell what time it was, I thought “this is like winter, to me.” Calling it cold that day would have been a long shot. I chalked it up to the fact that maybe in Georgia it is never cold. This is merely a myth, but you start to wonder if it’s true when you begin to see the way November ends in the mountains of inaka Japan.

And I realized that “This [grey rainy chill] is like winter,” and “I hate winter,” amounts to an actual statement of “I hate the grey of winter.”

I guess after this winter I may also hate the cold of winter, but last year in Kansas it wasn’t so much a problem. Partly because my poorly insulated apartment DID have SOME insulation, partly because there were random 70-degree days in the middle of like December or January or what the hell… Japan seems too true to season to pull a stunt like that, so I figure when it’s winter for real, it’ll be winter for real the whole time it’s winter.

Also, my house smells like kerosene. Probably because I spilled a bunch of it on the floor. I swear, sometimes I don’t know how I do it. I make stupid mistakes, rookie mistakes, even after being warned against them. I was told how to do this properly. I just can’t do more than one thing at a time, maybe? At least not properly.

Even if the winter I hate is grey, and that winter is coming soon, I still feel pretty good about where I am and what I’m doing. For today, that is enough.

I’m also excited that in one month, I’ll be in the States for a visit!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday: ridiculousness quota surpassed

So I've mentioned My Life, the Sitcom. The recent past has been a bit more slapstick in its comedic endeavors. I'm going to give you Tuesday and its immediately following as I lived it, because it's just too ridiculous.

So. I went to bed very early Monday night, after an exhausting day of absolutely nothing. I guess I went to Jusco. I guess I made pumpkin mash. I wrote a letter to Johnny and to Christy. I went to bed at ten. Because that is eight hours before six, when I wake up. Heh.

When I awoke, I thought I saw light around the edges of the curtain, which is wrong. It's not light until after 6:30 at least. I realize what this must mean, and check outside. It is, though cloudy and raining, light outside. I utter a choice word. I look at the clock. 7:30. I utter it again realizing in a growing panic that it is the day I get picked up for work instead of riding the bus, 7:40 or otherwise. I get picked up at 7:15. Choice words abound as I fly out of bed, unsure of what to do first. I check to see that her car is still in fact waiting on me. I begin to take off my pajamas but am halfway through that when I realize I have worn these pants to elementary school before and they are just as good today as any. I put on some deodorant, and go to the bathroom, frantically trying to call back the teacher who is waiting for me across the street in the AU parking lot.

I almost dropped my phone in the toilet and it for some reason would not call her phone properly. I caught the phone by its cute little Corteo keychain and blessed the day I bought THAT at the overpriced booth wherein it was sold. I grabbed my bags and giant Brown Bear book and umbrella (raining, yes), and somewhere in the middle of all this, my VP called me to make sure I was alive, awake, etc.. I felt like the biggest tool that ever tooled. I got my shoes halfway on (enough to clop outside) and dashed to her car, still only half awake because I'd only been awake for about six minutes in total. I looked like shit and I probably smelled funny; I'd been taking night showers so I could also have a bath, but I put it off Monday night so I could have better hair Tuesday morning. HAH.

I apologized profusely for a while, then attempted to just sit in silence the rest of the trip. She is my co-teacher for 6th and 5th grades, and she doesn't really speak English. Japanese was kind of eluding me right then as I sat in chagrin, trying to figure out how the hell I slept until 7:30 anyway. I felt my pockets to realize I did not have my bus card. Sweet. The bus home will cost me like 6 bucks or something. Whatever. I'll suck it up.

At school, things went as well as could be expected. At some point I realized I did not have my purse, which would make taking the bus extra difficult. I taught all my classes to varying degrees of success (some of them ascribable to needing better planning, others to the kids' attitudes, for which I guess I just need better planning), and managed to text Big Brother JET and offer him GRE help in exchange for a ride home. He obliged. While I waited for him, I discovered an "American popcorn" vending machine which I could not use, because I had no money.

I'm getting ahead of myself. During lunch with the 1st grade (whom I'd just spent the previous 45 minutes teaching), I watched a kid go down to swineflu before my very eyes. One second he was eating lunch, then he was crying, then he was gone, and the teacher was packing his backpack so he could go to the hospital. Yeah, it was like that. I was still in enough of space-land for that to not phase me at all. And of course you have to open the windows after that. To change the air. It's not that cold.

Waiting for BigBroJET, it was that cold. My hands began to ache and the knuckles turned a little blue. But then, the car was warm, and we ate delicious ramen (avoiding the lesser gyoza), and spoke of many things, then we fought with triangles, which gave me a sort of perverse glee. Honestly I kind of love GRE questions now that I don't have to take the damn test. They are puzzles and many of them have a 'catch,' and I have the luxury of time, which on the test I did not have. At all.

Went to bed again at an early hour. 9:30. Don't know when I fell asleep.

Wednesday morning gets appended because it feels like a continuation. Awake at 5. Back to bed until 6. Get your shit, get out the door to catch the 6:30 so you can do kendo... but it's trash day and you haven't written your name on the bag! So, back in to get a marker, and you scribble it quickly, and as you finish, look up, and there goes the bus (you have to catch it on the other side of the street). You watch it forlornly, and it's really sad because the bus driver sees you, and knows what is happening, and can't do anything to help you. You shrug, figuring that's okay, you can just do afternoon kendo instead, and maybe right now you should just go back in. Your shoes are only half on, and as you turn, still watching the bus, wondering if there could be anything he might do.. you step in a slight hole, turn your ankle, and fall down. Knees covered with mud, palms scraped up, you take yourself back inside to clean up and make something of this newfound morning hour you now get to spend.


From there, things improved. Although I had to take the bus at 7:20 with the JET I don't really like who never shuts up, we were driving out of the sunny south into the rainy north (and yes I had just put my laundry outside to dry, hadn't I!) and that meant there were some serious rainbows happening once we got close to my school. All day, the light moved over the mountains in cool cloudpatterns. That was really pretty.

Since my quota of ridiculous had been overdrawn, I could enjoy a quiet rest of the day.

Although my ankle still kinda hurts.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Right now, there are three flower arrangements in my house. A few days ago, there were five.

I'm pretty good at recycling plants and re-vasing whatever is still good from last week's ikebana class.

Ikebana is the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement. I've learned since coming here that it's one of those refinements that makes a woman a good wife, and it's part of keeping house. What it means for me is, there are always a lot of fresh flowers at the grocery stores, and they are usually pretty cheap. Also, it means I get to take flower arranging class, and always have plant life in my house, while simultaneously fulfilling my need to participate in a cultural (and even community) activity.

The first kind of arrangement I learned was moribana, a very traditional setup with three levels and a sort of triangular aesthetic.

I chose this flower set the first time because of the yellow flowers' resemblance to the flowers I used to pick in Kansas.


My second go was also in muted colors, so I was having flower envy for the bright yellows and pinks other people got to use.. and also the sweet smells of lilies. But, I was sure that I too would eventually have a go at the big leagues. (That's mine in the back)

The woman here is doing a freestyle.

The following week...

Now, ikebana, like all things beautiful, must begin with a bed of rusty nails.

What, you think I'm kidding?


How else did you think the flowers stayed where you put them?

Then you put in your three principle points...

And viola!

October 23rd was my first time to try "freestyle"! Our ikebana sensei called it "Freestlye Halloween." Heck yeah.

Trick or treat!

In a traditional house, moribana can be placed pretty much anywhere. But freestyle isn't supposed to go on the tokonoma, or the traditional display alcove. It can, however, go in the front entrance of a house.

My apartment does not have a tokonoma, or for that matter, a proper "entrance," so my flowers just go on the table, always.

My birthday, I got to do a fancier little freestyle that I really liked.

I even ended up putting it in as a display in the cultural art show that happened in my Big Elementary school. When I was there, I saw some of my kids with their parents. Mine was the only name not in kanji.
This vase? Does not travel well.

There were some other sweet ikebana pieces in the art show. I really liked the 'scene' type best.

Finally, what I have now is a new kind which I am still kind of trying to understand. This type is supposed to be viewed from the front, like this:

But I actually have it on my table kind of facing sideways at an angle (so it'll fit better).. and I kind of like looking at it from here a bit better.

I've still got leftover flowers here and there all over, in little vases. One is a dry vase because on set of the flowers are crispy, and have been since I first used them.

I like having flowers in my house. The end!

Update: a spider seems to have taken up residence in the top 'branches' of this ikebana sometime in the last couple of hours. Am I weird for thinking that is really cool?

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Today, The Cat JET and I made a pre-Thanksgiving supply run to Costco in Osaka. Everything about this trip was epic in scope, from the anticipation of what we might find there, to the failures we encountered along the way, and of course the amount of food we purchased. Costco, as you know, doesn't sell things by the gram, ounce, or even pound. In metric-measuring Japan, a "shitload" is still a shitload. And that's how Costco measures, and now that's how my cupboard is stocked.

Half of my fridge is full of cheese. I am not exaggerating. (I have a pretty small fridge...)

We're planning a Thanksgiving meal, to which we can all invite our various Japanese friends who might be "hungry" for a little taste of American culture. We're attempting to make more or less traditional TKG fare, so we're renting a hall (yay, ovens!) and we've ordered some turkeys shipped in. My task this year will be pumpkin pie, and I'm going to use a recipe I got from our head professor (in Rome)'s wife. Lana is in charge of stuffing. Other various people are in charge of other various things. (I tried to nail down sweet potato souffle, but alas, some LA-ite had already dibsed "candied yams," whatever the heck those are.)

I'm really, really excited, because I feel like this is a really great gesture, and I'm dying for my main JTE to attend ("Mikan-sensei" I call him here), especially after all the kindness he's shown for me. Did I tell you about the time I forgot my lunch and he gave me half of his? I've seen the guy put away like three times my small-lunch size... so it was a pretty small lunch for him to begin with. By like 2pm, I was starving. I could only imagine how he felt, though. This, and other instances of fail make me feel like a total tool. So I'm excited to actually have something to give.

The Cat and I were also jazzed about the possibility of getting all kinds of food for ourselves and our own everyday lives. We daydreamed all the way to Osaka about what imported American goods we might find.

Costco was a strange world of wonder and a little disappointment. We filled a cart and a half, between TKG needs, requests from others, and our own desires. We did not find stuffing or canned pumpkin. We kind of missed out on our main targets, really.. they didn't have mac-n-cheese either, which felt strange.

But they did have peanut butter, and they did have jarred spaghetti sauce, and they did have refried beans. We even got one more turkey which is now in my freezer. My kitchen has never been so stocked in my adult life. I bought granola and bagels and cans of soup. I was sorely tempted by cookies and loaves of lemon poppyseed bread.. but they don't really use preservatives in this country, and I can't eat a (even a metric) shitload of cookies or bread before the 10th. Nor could The Cat eat an entire pumpkin pie. Sadly we put that back.

On the upside, now I know that if my pumpkin pie plans begin to fail early enough, I can make a mad dash to Costco, buy a pie or two, and be back in like 4 hours.

Our failures included getting lost, both on the ways in and out, and running entirely out of money. Like, I was overconfident in my ability to front the TKG fund (we are sorting receipts and getting paid back later, to even out the cost on everyone) because I had 'a bunch of hundos' in my wallet. A bunch of hundos does not security make. I made it home with about 372 yen or something. Classy.

But, if it were to snow up to the eaves tomorrow (not likely, since today reached all the way up to 71!), I for one would not starve, even if we stayed like that for a month or two.

The cheese is for The Other Georgian, by the way, who is making Real Mac And Cheese.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Holy Sh*t!

This comes in three installments. And it got better every time.

Part I:
One day in early October, I was helping out with an English lesson since, you know, that's my job. I've kind of gotten used to the fact that there is information all around me that I cannot really read. When I see English, though, I tend to gravitate in on it because I'm actually much more used to being surrounded by information I CAN read but do not actually care about (advertisements, etc.).

So when I happened to notice English at the back of the room, I read it very quickly. And when I read it, I almost giggled right out loud. And after that, I kept looking back at it and trying not to giggle. Because it was just so... well, look at it:

You might want to click on this picture for the full effect.

I later examined the words at the top of the board, and saw that they were "something for this month" .. later actually translated to "A murmur of this month." This made it even more fun, since I kind of felt that way about October, too. But it just cracked me up that a kid wrote this, and put it up. I assumed it was one of our brash and outspoken guys, and wondered where he might have learned it.

I also began to imagine it as myself, amidst a sea of kanji and other Japanese writing... me, not alone, but standing out, in English.. crying out this phrase, in surprise, and horror, and delight. It seemed a good image for how I sometimes feel in Japan.

Part II:
I was eating lunch in this classroom, and it was a totally different experience from eating lunch with any other grade level, ever. The third-years actually talk to me, and are not afraid to struggle through English to attempt a chat. After asking them their names and a bit of gossip about who had a girlfriend (it's apparently a big secret if you do.. we're all part of the Ichinan family, though!), I just had to ask.

"Who.." (giggle) "Who put that up, over there, on the board?"

They all looked at it, and then pointed to one boy in particular, whom I honestly had not suspected. He, it turns out, is the son of one of my adult students in the conversation class. This made me laugh even more, because it meant that maybe, he didn't learn it at school.. maybe he learned it from his parent, who learned it from Big Brother or from Predecessor. I tried to imagine them teaching a lesson, or accidentally dropping that phrase so often it became part of someone's vernacular. I then tried to imagine that particular student whose son it was picking up that phrase in her daily life. No. Way.

So, I was going through all this in my head, and then one of the student leaders (I was basically at a desk cluster full of them) turned back to me and said "Holy shitto? Holy shitto. What means, in Japanese?" I was overcome. I also had my mouth full of food. I also can't translate that.. there really is no Japanese direct equivalent. I just shook my head and said I didn't know, but that it wasn't something you wanted to say to someone's parents.

Which is totally vague, and just left them confused. This particular student frowned (not in an upset way, just in a I-will-discover-the-truth kind of way) and left the room. I know that he probably went next door to ask Awesome-Sensei what it was in Japanese. He returned with no answer. I tried to imagine how that conversation had just gone. No way. No. Way!

Part III:
The student whose son it is doesn't come to class all that often, but she was at my birthday dinner. I had a beer or two, and then there I was telling her that her son put something on the board that made me laugh and laugh. She assured me that he is crazy, her son, and asked what he put up. I didn't want to tell her, but I had to have known she would ask, so I told her (and the rest of the table).

The adult students had pretty much the same reaction "Can you translate that for us?" .. Big Brother cracked up when one lady (our leader, actually) was like "(Tell me holy.) I know shit!" So I spelled holy for them to look up in their dictionaries, but then I had to explain that this phrase is different than the sum of its parts. We tried to field a suitable equivalent, but there aren't really a lot of curse words in Japanese.

But I was still curious as to where he'd learned it, and his mother then mentioned "Oh, he heard it on this video game," and I instantly asked, "Was it Grand Theft Auto?"

And yes, dear readers, it was indeed GTA, and she was amazed that I had guessed so quickly.

Grand Theft Auto, in case you've never played, is a game full or violence and maybe even a little sex, and you get more points the worse person you are, basically. You steal cars and run from the police and run over/shoot down as many people as you can in the process.

Or, the few times I've played, that's how I played. I tried to procure this game once, because I was having a bad day, or a bad week, and I turned to my then-roommate and said, "I need a video game like GTA. I really want to beat up some hookers right now." But GTA 3 was not backwards compatible for my Xbox360, so you can imagine how I felt after I was already frustrated enough to want to beat up virtual hookers, at putting the game in to discover it would not work.

Anyway, in this moment, on my birthday, it made the entire saga that much more wonderful, to know that he had learned these words from a video game.

The end!

Friday, November 6, 2009

School Lunch

...and why I still love it.

About half the time, I don't know what I'm eating in this country. Once again, "Thank goodness I have neither allergies nor scruples," right? I have a tendency to eat whatever is put in front of me in Japan for two reasons. The first is, I have very little hope of knowing what it is ahead of time. The other is, if they say it's food, they must have eaten it before, and by golly that's good enough for me.

Especially school lunch, because, I mean, they're feeding that stuff to their kids.

School lunch has become a normal way of life for me by now.. its beginning celebrated chiefly because in the days without it, I was expected to bring my own lunch, and between catching the bus and forgetting my wallet, I was really bad at that.

But it bears mentioning that Japanese schools do not have lunchrooms (unless you count the little room where the staff eats at my school). Students eat in the classroom; they also serve the food.

When I first started eating school lunch, Big Brother JET would tease me and say that I better eat it all, or people would judge me. This was, of course, no problem ("Just wait for pregnant-fish day!" he says with relish), and still usually isn't. He'll know, though, when pregnantfish day occurs because we have the same food at his school and at mine. All the schools served by the same lunch center will have the same eats. The center delivers the food sometime in the late morning, and in pretty exact amounts from what I understand, with the right amounts of bowls and trays and chopsticks in each class's kit.

It's delivered each day to a special room full of warmers and fridges for holding until serving time. Then, the students assigned to food duty for the day go down in their aprons and masks and cart it on up, and dish it on out. We have to wait until everyone is served before we can begin eating.

I managed to snag a few photos one day when I was in elementary. Anytime I spent the whole day at elementary, they always would assign me to a class with whom to eat lunch. But I would always have to bring my lunch from the staff room (the bowl-counting thing, I guess), and bring the dishes back at the end.

I've been eating lunch with the students at the middle school now, too. I have a new schedule for eating.. it goes Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd years, respectively. Thursdays are make-up days, so if I missed one for some reason (like, they were out for swine flu, I had a cold, we didn't have school, etc.) I will go eat with that grade. Tuesdays are elementary school all day.

I felt really crass even just thinking about photographing my lunch in the staff dining room, and I even feel a bit chagrined at taking pictures in front of students. For some reason, though, it seemed okay in the 4th grade.

The blue thing at the right is the rice container. There is always rice. Okay, well almost always. This one day there wasn't rice, and we had rolls instead, and I was like "OMG this isn't even lunch where is the riiiiice" ... also, please note the cuteness of these 4th graders.

Okay. So here is the layout of every single lunch (excepting that weird no-rice day):
First and most important is the rice. This happens to be rice with pickled plum mixed in, but it's usually just plain rice. Sometimes there is stuff in it, like mushrooms,, or tiny little fish still whole, or little pieces of vegetables (or, let's be honest, I really don't know what's in my rice, I just eat it). Then to the right, there is a bowl. It's always got something.. sometimes, it's soup (today it was some kind of cream of both potato and mushroom at the same time--so good, and with carrots and stuff), sometimes a kind of noodles dish, whatever. It's got something from every food group, pretty sure. In the center at the top is the greens-and-piece of meat. This time it is a chicken wing, but it's more often some kind of fish. The greens are usually some kind of cold vegetable concoction (today's included chicken, so kind of like a chicken salad..?). Usually, the milk is on the right instead of the left, and yeah that's whole milk (aka, "fat milk", haha). The apple down front is an anomaly.. they actually took it away from me after I took the photo when the kid passing out the apples realized I had gotten one already from the staff room. But the piece of fruit is the dessert.

Basically, school lunch is high in calories and sometimes not delicious, but it IS full of all kinds of nutrients (I assume.. it looks and tastes that way, anyhow. Again, all of this is guesswork for me), and I pretty much depend on it as a staple of my existence. Well, that and dinner by Osaki-san on Wednesday nights. And with a few exceptions, I've eaten all of my lunch every day! Big Brother failed on the chicken liver day. Haha.. some of us are from the SOUTH.

I hesitated a bit the day I asked "how do I eat this?" expecting instruction on how to remove the head and tail of the fish.. and the teacher told me to bite the head off, for starters. ...But hell, if they say it's food, it must be! Heads n' all.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


I've had a request to explain the kotatsu. Only too willing to oblige.

Here is the wiki on it, which has some helpful photos. Basically, it's a table with a heater underneath, and a skirt (comforter), and you sit under the skirt so it can keep you warm. In a country with very little central heating and next to no insulation at all, localized heat is very important. Without things like a kotatsu, you are in fact attempting to heat the whole prefecture if you essay to keep your entire homespace warm.

Relatedly, I suddenly feel less like people with heated toilet seats are "spoiled" and more like I seethe with envy when I consider their situation.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


You might have noticed an increase in the frequency of my blog updates since November began. This is not merely because of the fact that October, which was the busiest month of them all, has ended, although that is a contributing factor.

It's also because November has begun. November is, for many, "National Novel Writing Month," or NaNoWriMo for shortsies. I have had a novel lurking around my brain for far too long, and have decided that last year's sad excuse ("but I have to prepare for the GRE!" ... in retrospect, I suppose I did alright at this, as my GRE score helped to employ me through March) will not stand. I am not signed up for any test to take its place (missed the deadling for the Japanese proficiency exam signup.. ohh darn. /sarcasm), so that means November is as open as any month is going to ever be.

When I considered doing NaNoWriMo, I have decided that is it more important to me to "be a writer" this month than it is to finish 50,000 words of a novel. NaNoWriMo urges that quantity, even above quality, which would not be okay with me, considering that my story idea has been cooking for too long now to give it the short shrift on quality. So, my goal is broader: "Be a writer."

How should I consider to do that? Well it's actually pretty easy. A writer writes. So that's what I'll do.

I've made a daily task list, five things, of which doing all five is Awesome, but doing three is Important. Work on the novel, write a blog entry, write a letter (or e-mail of letter length/quality, write a journal entry (this includes any random vignette short story, also), and study Japanese. Of course, the "study Japanese" injunction doesn't fit in perfectly amongst the others, but it too is important, it too should be considered daily, and it too is related to language and will improve my life as a writer as well as in general.

In addition, JET upstairs, JET-M and I are creating a writing circle. I'm not sure what this will mean, except that I suppose I'll produce my novel-to-date and all the silly little vignettes I've written every two weeks at a local coffeeshop for their approval. This is intended to carry on much longer than November, of course.

I looked up NaNoWriMo (to make sure I had it spelled right, mostly) and discovered that it was assigned to November "to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather." On the first of this month, I scoffed, thinking, whoever made up this idea clearly did not live in Japan in the bright beautiful autumn sunshine while the mountains were patching out in bursts of vivid color.

Last night, I was thinking, it must have been invented by someone in Japan who realized that November would best be spent under the warmth of a kotatsu typing than by attempting to venture out into the room, much less outside the house.

November has come and I will probably buy a heater today. Because life without it will only suck more as time goes on. Seriously, I am learning what it's like to live in a castle: drafty, un-insulated, and populated by bugs. Last night, I complained to the JET next door, "But it's only 50!" remebering how in Kansas, when it was only 50, I wasn't complaining so much.

But, she pointed out, it's not only 50 outside, it's 50 in here, too, and that makes all the difference. And indeed it does. In Kansas, where it was 50 outside but still 70 inside (68 when I started winning the energy bill battles against Roommate), well that was a whole different thing.

I am a southerner, which is kind of a different species, and I'm afraid my blood is going to freeze at a distinctly lower temperature than Northern Folk, and the Japanese.

Long story short, I'm going to write more, and I need a kotatsu.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Today was a national holiday, “Culture Day'” .. so I did something cultural. The Other Georgian, Big Brother, Ex-JET, and I all went to Himeji for the Hyogo Prefectural Martial Arts Festival.

The first part was participatory. We rolled in late (thanks, lostness.. you’re an ever-present pal), and asked if we could still join some activity. At this point I didn’t even care what I got to do, because they all sounded cool, and I didn’t really know what half of them were anyway. Nipponkempo? Jukendo? What? But Big Bro had his heart set on Nipponkempo, so that is where we went.

We stretched for approximately 2.5 minutes and then they strapped us in to some sweet chest protectors made of what I think was real solid leather, like in heroic times or like in video games where you have to start with leather armor. Then we all lined up and Other Georgian and I punched each other a few times before they formed a ring and started the practice matches.

Nipponkempo, by the way, is apparently boxing. Only, you can kick. And throw people, too.

I was not sure I would get a moment in the ring, and sparring was never my favorite thing in karate, but I was secretly really really wanting a go. I did get my chance, and tried to do all the ritualistic part right (when to bow, when to touch the ground, touch gloves, etc.).. probably failed. But the dude who totally let me win the match seemed mildly impressed. After this they taught us some moves, many of which I’d learned in a different form in what feels like a different life.

So then we cleared the floor and watched some tiny gymnastic dancers rehearse for a bit, and I did some thinking. Being barefoot on a martial arts mat brings something alive in me. I’m not thinking it’s because I was in any way born for it. I am incredibly clumsy and lack all but the most basic of coordination. I’m small and not especially strong either. I think it has everything to do with the fact that I spent some of those formative years of my life bouncing on the balls of my feet on martial arts mats. I fought tooth and nail for what precious little physical balance or semblance of skill I attained there, and the vestiges of it still have a way of making me feel energized. Somewhere in the hours and hours of practice we put in, my muscles remember something. What they remember makes me feel like I might be a little bit stronger and faster and more capable there than I appear.

It was cool to watch people who are so in touch with their bodies do their various things. And I mean, little tiny gymnastic dancer girls, karate dudes doing kata, and sumo guys stretching… they all had a great understanding of their bodies’ capabilities, and a practiced ease in the things they did. I miss that. I am in Japan and I miss martial arts. So I think I’m going to work a little harder to get involved in one. I really don’t think it will be that hard. If there aren’t classes nearby that mesh with my schedule, I can’t imagine our school Judo coach would refuse me, and the two Kendo teachers are two of my JTEs.

The downside is, I’ve never been good at the more judo-aspects of karate, and I’ve never swung a sword. So I’ll be flailing and bad at both these martial arts, which defeats the whole idea of feeling powerful and capable. Plus, I’ll be flailing in front of students who are supposed to try to respect me. Also, I can’t see it really being okay for me to grapple all over the mats with fourteen-year-old boys.

I’ll have to give it some more thought and research.

The other thing the budokai reminded me was that.. it takes a certain amount of strength to hurt someone. It takes more to not hurt them. And that the ultimate aim of growing stronger within a martial art is to gain not only the power to do harm, but the strength to control that power. It’s honestly true, that green belts are the most dangerous.. they know enough to hurt you, but not enough to perform their techniques both correctly and with just the amount of force that will not harm.

But you have to go through that phase in order to get past it. Sometimes, I feel metaphorically like a green belt in a lot of things in life. More on this later, perhaps. November writing challenge continues!

Monday, November 2, 2009


I got to school today and immediately felt like I’d stumbled into an anthill. Over the weekend, I more or less came to the end of my cold, and got as far over it as one might hope to.. so in my head, hoorah, we’ve come out the other side, sickness is over.

Not so, in all the world. The fever board is repopulated, everyone is masked again, and Mikan-sensei (my 2nd year JTE) just informed me that he is going to the hospital now so we won’t have lessons together.

This worries me a little, personally, because the flu isn’t a big deal except to babies, old people, and people with pre-existing conditions.. but he has an infant at home.

What this also means is that I’ll spend another day just chilling. I was so grateful not to have classes Thursday and Friday, since I was so out of it anyway. Now I’m starting to feel a bit useless. I was supposed to attend Culture Festival practice with the first and second years today.. now I’ve looked up and the first year schedule has literally been erased from the board. I think that means they are sending those kids home after first period? Perhaps the fever board overstepped max capacity in their classes.

Good grief, swine flu!

In other news, it’s November, so the crazy overbooked month of October is ended, and now I can just be a writer for a month or so.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


So on Wednesday, I had a cough. I figured if I coughed and merely covered my mouth, or sneezed into my arm anymore, people would start to be afraid of catching my germs. I always feel like people are judging me when I’m carrying the creeping crud, wondering why I am invading their space with my little germ tagalongs.

So I did a very Japanese thing, and chose to wear a mask.

From what I understand, masks are not usually used here to keep the germies out. Instead, they are more often used to keep all those gross things swirling around in the air just against your face, creating a hot, gross, uncomfortable environment for your nose and mouth which can’t breathe in the first place, thanks to being hosts to all that snot you’re carrying. Right. But I am into new experiences, so I wore a mask to school.

The first thing I discovered was that the airflow was channeled directly up to my eyes. Which is uncomfortable, sure, and while that was a theme I had yet to discover in being masked, it was also problematic in that I wear glasses, and warm/moist air applied to glasses only results in them being fogged.

On the bus, this was no problem. I removed the glasses and shut my eyes and it was fine. I knew I had a different shaped mask in my desk, anyway (they have been handing them out since August and probably before).

The different mask was much easier to keep from fogging my glasses, but the effect of the mask on the perceptions of my co-workers, especially the principal and VP, was phenomenal. I guess they aren’t used to foreigners wearing masks? Or something. They freaked out. They were grilling me in seconds. Do you have a fever? Is it influenza? Are you going to the doctor after school? You have lessons today, but I think you should go directly once they are finished. Here is the name of a clinic near your house.

I really appreciated the concern, but the attention was overwhelming. I had done it to be less visible. Total backfire. And, the mask was really stupid insofar as I had to keep taking it off to blow my nose, and I wasn’t even really coughing or sneezing that much.. that comes in the later stages of having a cold. In class, the kids didn’t seem to care as much. I theorize that they are not surprised when I manage chopsticks/eat fish heads n’ all/wear a mask because they assume people just do these things… they have not yet been persuaded that ‘ferners’ are SOO different and cannot/do not.

Or maybe, and I get insecure about this sometimes, those JETs who came before me just left a legacy of awesomeness that my own personal attempts fill just so.