You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2011.

So this morning was fun. NOT.

I woke up at 7:42.  That’s right my friends.  And work starts at 8:00. In Japan a good rule of thumb is to be at work 15 minutes before you begin, so unless I could get ready in 3 minutes, I would be late by Japanese standards.   I have never been late to work in Japan.

I am not sure what happened exactly, maybe my alarm froze, it is after all a FREEZER in my house, (thank you Blue Forest snow and house that was built sometime last century=lack of proper insulation…) Anyway, my hair was a crazy mess so I ran downstairs into the cold and washed my hair quickly.

I was all disoriented and couldn’t find my things.  I had been staying at the Shinsetsu’s over the weekend, so I had no idea where anything was since I hadn’t unpacked all my things from the night before.

I scrambled to put on some decent work clothes and blow dried my bangs leaving the rest of my hair wet. 

Running outside (forget breakfast) I ran to my car dismayed to see that the window was of course, frosted over.  I placed my car keys to start the car and ran back to the house to look for a hairbrush, since I realized my hairbrush wasn’t in my laptop case,  but in my purse.

I ran inside grabbed my hair brush came outside to see that my window still hadn’t defrosted, in a desperate attempt, I scrapped the window with the hairbrush bristles to try and clear away some of the ice.  Surprisingly, it actually worked.

I hopped into the car and undid the break and the parking gear, stepped on the gas and—nothing happened.  My engine was running fine, I opened the door to my car and heard a grinding noise.  Either my tires were frozen in place or I was still in some weird gear.  I moved the 4WD gears around, and somehow freed my car to start moving. Yokatta!

Finally, I was able to drive out of my driveway I think it was sometime around 7:56.  Good thing I live like 2 minutes away from school.  I braided my wet hair at the stoplight.

So, I get to school run out of my car, which of course I have to park in the parking lot far from where the normal spots are, due to construction, and I run into the school’s genkan to change my shoes into inside shoes.

I managed to run down the hall where I encounter the school nurse who for some unknown reason feels she needs to race me to the staff room (I have no idea what spurred her to do this, since she obviously wasn’t late and doesn’t have to enter the staff room except for the morning meeting). So I found myself racing neck and neck by speedwalking against her to get to the staffroom down the long hall since of course there is also construction going on inside the school as well preventing me from using the normal way to get to the staffroom. Yeesh.   

Anyway, finally I make it into the staff room at probably exactly 8:00.  UGH.

Never AGAIN.

So for English class I had the students write what they want from Santa. 

The lists so far have included, amongst the normal items:

”free time and a best friend”
”a tennis racket and a tennis court”
”a sofa and a baby”
”stitch” 
”a hamburger”
”peace, a car, and a sofa”
”tank, a wooden horse, and a wild beast” (my personal favorite)
 ”peace and honor”
 ”a magic wand” to go along with ”her own place and doraemon”
”land, house, and furniture”
two people asked for a friend
 
 

This week the second-year students came back from their trip to my favorite city in Japan, Kyoto.  They came back bearing many gifts, these are called omiyage, and usually are some kind of edible thing. 

List of items given:

Box of chocolate chip cookies

An azuki bean filled pastry of an Autumn leaf

A chocolate dipped waffle cookie

Spiderman Ramen

As I am writing this, I am currently eating the Spiderman Ramen, which I must say is filled with little red faces and big eyes, like a bunch of tiny Spiderman masks.  Tastes like regular ramen, despite the neon red faces gazing back at me. But about halfway through it now, I keep taking the metphor too far and started imagining the noodles as Spiderman webs,–appeal has consequently gone down considerably, but still an interesting omiyage.

Yesterday, I had a visitation at a school about 13 kilometers away from my town.  I really love school visitations, I have them about every month, they are always fun.  This particular day, I only had two classes with the juniors and seniors. The man who I taught with, is an interesting character.  He wanted to use me as a tape recorder that day, which was fine, reading an article about a figure skater.  Afterwards, we got to the topic of injuries and I asked any of the students if they had ever been injured skating or otherwise.  One of the shy boys in the front of the class offered one word in Japanese only, and subsequently his word became translated as, ”I was riding a bike, and I ran into a pole.” I’m not sure how they could figure all of that out from one word, but it was rather funny to me and somewhat reminded me of my own injury last night when I was about to walk downstairs.  I came out of my room and tripped on a cord, and banged my knee into the wall.  Although it was very painful, I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous I looked tripping alone by myself in my own house. FAIL.

Anyway, the male teacher then proceeded to draw a stick figure on the chalkboard of a woman with incredibly long legs and drew an arrow with a line to indicate a rather frenzied pathway, the line went straight under her legs and out the back.  He said that he was at Appi, a popular ski/snowboarding resort where he lost control of his skis crashed and then and slid right under ” the uman’s (woman)  legs.”

This story was well received by the entire class including myself, who could not refrain from giggling in front of the seniors.  Good teaching times.

To do list:

-buy presents for family.

-make sure to not buy presents for myself this time.

So some of you may know, others may not, that the Blue Forest, where I live, is a part of the Tohoku Region of Japan. (Yes, it is actually a real place.)  Aomori (青森県) is its real name, ‘Ao’ 青 means ‘blue’, and ‘mori’ 森 means ‘forest’, thus the Blue Forest in English.

Aomori was one of the prefectures that became affected by the earthquake that hit in March of this year.  I happened to be living here when the 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck.  The earthquake was one of five of the most powerful earthquakes to occur since record keeping began. It claimed the lives of 15,480 people, about 6,000 were injured, and 3,600 were missing.  It was the most expensive natural disaster on record.  The earthquake shifted the Earth’s axis by 10 cm and sped up the Earth’s rotation by a few seconds.  

I was at work. The day was about to end and I was thinking of my plans for that weekend, when suddenly the building started to shake.  At first, I wasn’t greatly alarmed, since earthquakes are rather common in Japan and happen frequently throughout the year, I had become quite used to them.  However, suddenly this earthquake’s intensity magnified and the building began to move like liquid jello, swaying back and forth with ease. The Nihonjin (Japanese) senseis around me seemed to be astounded but most of them ran out of the staffroom to go check on their students.

It felt as though the earth was angry and was throwing a massive tantrum that none of us could escape.  I found myself at some point crouched under my desk, too stunned to even wonder if I was going to die.  Those thoughts came later, with the subsequent radiation disaster at Fukushima, frequent aftershocks, and tsunami warnings.

The earthquake continued for 5 minutes, I couldn’t believe how long it was, it felt as though it would never end. There was no one directly around me when the most intense part of the earthquake it. Japanese teachers on the other side of the staffroom kept yelling, “Ahh!  Sugoi!”  Sugoi means amazing or incredible- apparently, they also could not believe how long it was lasting either.  I heard glass breaking and items thrown around by the earthquake’s power. 

Finally, when the first tremor stopped, I emerged from under my desk. There were papers and computers everywhere, strewn all over the place in disarray.  The principal made everyone go to the gym for a head count and to give instructions.  Then 300 students poured out of wherever classroom they were in to go to the gym and then teachers lined up their classes and made them sit down in a very organized fashion.  The teachers convened briefly and the principal told the students to gather their items from their classrooms and return back to the gym.  The kids ran back to their classrooms, but as they were going there was a huge aftershock that made the building tremble.  Some students were screaming and frightened, but still bravely ran to their classes to get their things.  We were supposed to go back to the gym, but as the trembling continued, the principal ordered everyone to get outside.  We waited outside and the students then huddled together in freezing cold weather to wait for their parents to come.  There were still a few more aftershocks while we were waiting outside and we could see the building shake while parents came to pick up their kids. My supervisor asked me if I wanted to go back in the building after the trembles, I said no.  She asked me if I wanted to go home, I said no to that as well. One of the ALTs came to pick me up and we rounded up the other JETS in town to stick together for the new few days, we were without power and water. It snowed the next day.  Eventually, the Shinsetsu’s (my surrogate parents) came to get me and I stayed with them for that week.

The Monday after the earthquake, teachers came to school, so I came into work.  We cleaned the school together and classes resumed quickly after.  The next few days were very emotional and there were moments where my body would shake uncontrollably, my mind would try to make it stop, but it seemed that was the only way my body could cope with the situation.  We experienced many aftershocks, over 1000, and each time my heart would fly into my chest as the alarms on our cell phones would warn us, though eventually I got used to them.

I am a Christian, and my faith was the only real source of peace for me during that time.  I was reading the Bible and came across this Scripture, Psalm 57:1, “BE MERCIFUL and gracious to me, O God, be merciful and gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge and finds shelter and confidence in You; yes, in the shadow of Your wings will I take refuge and be confident until calamities and destructive storms are passed.”   Two days later a friend of my father’s sent me an email telling me God had given him this verse for me during his prayer time: Psalm 57:1.  I started to cry, because then I knew God was with me.  I know this whole experience made me stronger as a person. 

We are survivors but we do not take it lightly, we are grateful to be alive and continually pray and think about the people in Sendai and Fukushima who were affected much more than us.

The response of the Japanese government and American Military Base during that time was absolutely incredible.  If there is any group of people that could handle that mess, it was the Japanese.  They are such a resilient people, and I was very impressed with their endurance throughout the earthquake aftermath and their spirit to rebuild. 

There are times when I still cry privately, remembering that day and the lives that were lost, the families that were broken apart, and the people left homeless, but also I remember the many people from all over the world came to help us and Operation Tomodachi (Friend). Here is a video that depicts our gratitude to our friends all over the world that helped us during that time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SS-sWdAQsYg&sns=fb

Minna-san Arigatou!

So, in my past posts, I have sort of touched upon this, though just barely, and I would like to launch in depth about it at least once.

There are so many moments to choose from, but I will just highlight a few of the moments I’ve had here where Japan has left me baffled (by generosity or just simply baffled, as my title infers).

There is a quality of generosity that I’m afraid many Americans do not understand that is displayed by the people of Japan.  This is not to say that Americans are not generous, because they are, but the Japanese bring generosity to such an astounding level. I suppose the best way to describe this, is with a couple stories, so lets have at it. 

I can’t recall, how many times I have been somewhere and someone, even strangers, just hand me something, a bag of fruit, a bouquet of flowers, or even a homecooked meal (I am not even kidding about this one, I have had people show up at my door with dinner). 

One of my Japanese friends, when she found out I had no car to drive during the sumer, and that I had hurt my foot, so I couldn’t walk, came over to my house unannounced and dropped off bags of groceries and insisted I not pay her.  Here I was, wondering how in the world I was going to eat this month, when a local townsperson came over and dropped off a plethora of produce without me ever asking.  These moments always astound me, and suffice it to say these types of things happen rather frequently.

When my mother came to Japan in October, she got a bit confused at one of the train stations about which line to take to come to the Blue Forest.  She told me a Japanese man, who spoke a little English, saw that she was in distress, stopped what he was doing and told his wife to wait at that station while he took my mom to the next station so so he could take her to the correct line.  Generous Japan strikes again, leaving the gaijins dumbfounded and humbled by our own selfishness.   

Now, there are other reasons for being dumbfounded here, and while they are not bad reasons, they emanate the strange.  I suppose these are what you would call ”cultural differences” and what usually leave us foreigners a bit confused, and sometimes even mildly amused.

For example, last year I had a friend who was a teacher here in the Blue Forest who’s school made her go to the hospital to take a test to make sure she had not gotten the swine flu, or influenza as they say here.  She was reluctant to go because she felt that she didn’t exhibit the symptoms that those with the swine flu get, and was certain she just had a regular cold.  Her school insisted, so she found herself coerced into waiting in a room filled with a pool of sick people, mostly elderly people, for hours until the test could be administered.  

When it was her turn the doctor took a cotton swab and right before he shoved it up her nasal cavity, went, ”This test is only 50% accurate.”

Needless to say this story had my friends in stitches, during which one of them offered up the advice, ”Why didn’t they just flip a coin?” 

While I call this a random act, perhaps it wasn’t quite one since as I reflect on it more, it comes to mind that Japan is a very bureaucratic society, and I think she may have needed to take the test just for the sake of taking the test. Luckily, she didn’t get sick from anyone. (Also, Japanese people make you go to the hospital for almost anything.)

I suppose if I were to pick of one of the more geniune random events, it would probably be when my friends and I were at a party being thrown on the streets of Hirosaki in front of a tattoo parlor.  And one of the Japanese boys we met there decides in the middle of the party to pull his pants down with no warning to moon us and yell proudly in a booming voice, ”I AM JAPAAAAN!”

This, of course, was met with reams of laughter, from both Americans and the Nihonjins present, the American laughter tinged with confusion. 

It’s random moments like when the elementary kids in my town ask the second Princess, with her big blue eyes, if she is Japanese, or when one of my high school girls yelled out the window if she could date me please in Japanese in a loud voice that echoed down four floors and across the parking lot to this baffled American woman teacher.

It’s moments like these, these embodiments of the bizarre and the strange that to me make Japan such a delightful, and the same time mysterious place.

So this weekend was filled with high highs and low lows, ever since I have come to Japan it has been an amalgamation of the two, no exceptions.

In my last post, I wrote that I was going to the eye doctor, and it would be the highlight of my week, but what I failed to mention is that I have been almost blind for the past month. 

Low point. Since the end of October, I have been battling an eye infection, which has somehow morphed into two different eye infections, thus, not allowing me to wear contacts, in addition to this (sasuga) my glasses are broken.  Anyway, I had to go to the eye doctor here in Japan, which as you know, unless you have not lived in Japan, includes waiting in a hospital, surrounded by a pool of sick people, for at least a few hours, until the doctor is ready to see you. 

Basically, it is a pain in the butt. But for me, I was super excited to see the doc again so he could tell me what was wrong with my eye this time, since it had been hurting and filled with these unbecoming red veins (yuck). 

Anyway, I get in my car that icy Saturday morning, feeling chipper, and turn my car key and my car won’t start (Sasuga or as the First Princess likes to say ”Sausage.”).  I sit there in disbelief and try again a few more times, but to no avail.  I end up calling a taxi to go to the hospital. Next low point.

High Point. The second Princess came to rescue me in her car after my exam.  She picked me up outside the hospital, where I was now holding two bottles of megusuri (eye medicine).  She took me to the conbini where I bought a cup of coffee to cry into and then home to wait for the car company to come over and fix my car.

Two guys came over, in the rain to fix my car, I felt kind of bad about this, so gave them three bags of microwave American popcorn to take home and enjoy.

 The second Princess came by later on and we went to my ”Uncle and Aunt’s” house in Misawa, the American military base.  This house is otherwise known by my friends as my second home, or my weekend house.  (My ”uncle and aunt” are not really related to me, but in Hawaii, where I am from we call people who are our parents age ”aunty” and ”uncle” out of respect, instead of ”mr.” or ”mrs.”)  For sake of this blog, we shall refer to them as the Shinsetsunahitos (the very kind people, in Japanese, even though they are American).  

That night I made dinner for the Shinsetsu and their neighbors who came over, Ms. Really-Young-Looking-Mom and her daughter Mini-Me. The Second Princess made dessert, broiled apples in cinnamon over vanilla ice cream, topped with caramel sauce.  The sauce was my idea, I made Mini-Me go over to her house to get it.  Definite high point.

The next morning the Shinsetsu’s took us to American brunch where we gorged ourselves on bacon, strawberry waffles and whipped cream, eggs benedict, etc… The second Princess and I also brought two Japanese friends with us.  High points increasing.

Afterwards, we went to church and listened to a message about how God is love. After that, we went to back to my weekend house with the Japanese friends. The Shinsetus  went out for a walk on the beach since the weather cleared. High points for all of us.

 This is when the dramatic event occured. I love to play piano, and since they have one at their house we all inevitably found ourselves in the music/computer room.  After finding out one of the Japanese girls could play the guitar, I reached over for a guitar so that she could show us her skills.  What I didn’t realize is that there was another guitar behind that one, whose weight had been leaning on it and consequently it fell over with a loud BAM! 

Low low low low low point.

After staring in shock for a few moments, we picked it up and scrambled to see if there was anything we could do.The neck had broken, and the strings were all askew and tangled.  There was no way this was going to be an easy repair. I immediately called the Shinsetsus who were enjoying their morning walk, and told them with a sad voice that ”Something kind of bad happened,” and proceeded to tell them about how I had broke their guitar. 

Mrs. Shinsetsu responded in an almost strangely amusing tone, ”Don’t worry about it.”

”I am so sorry!” I bemoaned into the phone.

Then to my amazement she chuckled, ”Don’t even think about replacing it, it was like, 5 dollars from Korea.” (High point.)

My heart started to feel life again, and relief, but I was still shaken and feeling bad about it anyway. I mean, it was after all, a broken guitar. 

At the end of the night, I gave Mr. Shinsetsu my raspberry sorbet, that was at least 3 dollars, to begin to make up for breaking their guitar.   

Our Japanese friends and the Princesses said our goodbyes to the Shinsetsus and drove back to their relative towns, the Princesses back to the Third Gate of the Blue Forest.

Its that time of year again!  I suppose if I were in America, I would be a little nervous, but let me share my experience of last year’s Performance Review given by my old supervisor. Anyway, here is the story.

My supervisor pranced over to my desk with a few sheets of paper telling me that my Performance Review was that day. 

”We need to evaluate your goals for this year, but you can make it up now.” She smiled at me, unconcerned. I realized that I was supposed to have recieved these papers when I had first come to Japan, but somehow in the mix of things, it had been forgotten.

I was a little surprised, but pleased, for I then knew the outcome of my Performance Review would be great, since I could just write about all the things I was currently doing as goals that I was supposed to write down last year.  (Haha, yes, I am a genius…) My other friends and I found this vastly amusing, but I dutifully filled out the Performance Review spreadsheet goals and wrote about how I had achieved them.

Anyway, here comes the strange.  The Meeting.  After I filled out the papers we were going over my goals for this year, (which I had already fulfilled bc. I am awesome) and I don’t know WHERE the heck she came up with this random idea but here’s how the conversation went:

”In America some teachers sit on desks.”

”Oh yeah, I guess in some schools that does happen, not at my high school.”

Okay, so far so good, though I am a bit confused why she is talking about this, since I have never sat on a desk during our lessons to teach…and I am pretty sure none of the English teachers before did either, plus they were Australian anyway.

”It’s like how some Japanese cartoons have drawings of girl in bunnies costumes popping out of a cake.”
 
WHAT?…Errr…my brain tried to process this…but to no avail…Huh? Also having a VERY difficult time:
 
Must. control. laughter. 

Somehow, I managed to hold it in…It was torture refraining from the ripples of laughter that wanted to ooze out of my being.

So, how did the conversation turned to women popping out of cakes dressed in bunny outfits? Well, lucky for me there actually was a reason for this statement.  The rest of the conversation:

 ”Japanese people have a idea that this happens all the time in America, like teachers sitting on desks…”

Okay, so I sort of pieced it together…basically the correlation revolves around common misconceptions of other cultures, in this case both teachers sitting on desks in America, as well as women popping out of cakes. 

Lessons are: 1. not in all American schools do teachers sit on desks 2. nor do we have girls that pop out of cakes at parties (at least not any parties that I’ve gone to)    3.Japanese cartoons about Americans can be misleading.

So, this years Performance Review will be a little different than last years, but no way will it be as entertaining. Zannen.

Do you ever have one of those mornings when you look at the clock and time has passed faster than you realized?  That was my morning, except for

1. I couldn’t see clearly (eye infection=no contacts and glasses broken ((of course))=no clear vision).

2. My wallet is missing…I don’t remember not having it all day yesterday, so it must have gotten lost sometime between last night and this morning. Still don’t know where it is, as I had to go to work and had no time to look for it with my eyes that can’t see.

3. Lost my eyeliner, had to scramble to buy new one at the convenience store, good thing I staff a bunch of yen in coins in my car for occasions such as this.

4. Am surfing the crimson wave, as Cher so poignantly put it, if you don’t know what that means watch Clueless.

5. Didn’t eat breakfast, am sneaking eating a Piza-man at my desk no, not a man, pronounced piza-mon, and no not a Jamacian either..if you are Hawaii you will know this as a manapua, if you are Chinese it is a bao, if you are a mainland American…well there is nothing really like it ((maybe a calzone?)) but is a softbread thingy stuffed with meat and other things.

6. Was almost late to work- NOT a good thing in Japan…well not a good thing anywhere..but if you show up 5 min. before you are supposed to be here, let’s just say you ARE late…so I guess I was in fact late by those standards…ugh…but in American or Hawaiian time I am just fine, in fact by Hawaiian time I am too early.

I hope the rest of the day is a little less crazy than this morning but I do have a bunch of classes today, so we will see how that goes-at least it is with the well behaved classes and not the classes that BlueForestPrincess-sensei is not allowed to teach because, ”They are misbehaving so they are not allowed to have English classes taught by the ALT at present.” In place of English class, they are being given lectures on moral education…this has lasted a year…I am uncertain if I will ever see them again. I think they may hate me, even though this was not my decision…though I imagine they probably don’t hate me as much as the last ALT, of whose windshield they decided to christen with gum.   

Can I just say though, I am looking forward to going to the eye doctor on Saturday…it will be the highlight of my week.

The days in the Blue Forest are full of snow now. The descent of the four plus months of winter has finally arrived, as though we live in a fictional world like Narnia. I spend my days mostly inside curled up with my cat (who’s name ironically means ”snow” in English) trying to keep warm, eating ramen and oden. I sleep with an electric blanket and two space heaters.

This situation I am reminds me of conversations I had before I moved to Japan. I would occasionally meet a Japanese person who asked me where I was moving to.

”Aomori.”

”Aomori?” They would respond with incredulous faces, the last syllable of the prefecture would always slide upwards before they would suck in a rush of surprised air back into their lungs.

I would inevitable get two responses after this, either:

Response 1: ”It is very cold in Aomori.”

Response 2: ”Aomori is very beautiful.”

Sometimes, I would recieve a combination of both. But after living here for over a year now, I have come to see that both statements are equally true.

My students could never understand why I loved stormy weather, or the winter season.  In America, storms are fun, you sit with your friends and bake brownies and scream when lightening hits and then laugh at your own silliness.  When it storms here, houses go under water, people evacuate, and you watch out for mudslides. No wonder my students were confused with my answer.

There is just something about Christmas in America.  I don’t know how to say it, except for that it really is something special, after living in three different countries, I see it now so clearly.  You waltz from party to party, and eat your way through the holidays cookies and desserts galore.  You buy a tree, hang up ornaments with family, wrap presents for friends and family, and still sneak a peek to count your presents under the Christmas tree, even though you are past the age of childhood.  In Aomori, winter is harsh, Christmas trees are not a common commodity, houses don’t have an oven to bake anything related to Christmas food, and presents are mailed back home, hopefully your family will send you some. This is not to say that Christmas here is not fun, its just that the more celebrated holiday is Oshogatsu, that is, New Year and Christmas is more of a couples holiday here.

While I love living in the beautiful, but icy, Blue Forest, I have to say that I must be home for Christmas.