Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Happy New Year's!

Happy New Years! I am headed to Seoul, S. Korea and don't know if I will have the opportunity to post from there. So - enjoy - have an awesome new years and I will update when I return on January 4th.

I love my life in Japan. Things are getting better and better by the day. Today I got paid to study Japanese for 3 hours and speak to a teacher in Japanese for 3 hours. I had dinner with Yumie and her family. Her 80 year old grandfather told me he never imagined when he was in high school (during WW2) that he would ever become friends with an American - especially 60 years later. Incredible. These experiences are ineffable.

I don't even want to write or talk about it in worries that something will go wrong. I mean my ipod broke on me on Monday and today - the day before I go traveling it starts working again. Someone up there loves me, afterall. For now - just know - I am at the right place at the right time in my life. I love Japan, I love the people here, I love the feeling of success by getting through all the daily struggles.

"Certainly travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on deep and permanent, in the ideas of living" - Miriam Beard

Monday, December 25, 2006


Ah, Merry Christmas everyone. As I write this, my holiday is coming to an end as little kids all over America are peaking under the tree to see what Santa brought - just waiting until that magical hour mom and dad set when they are allowed to wake up to open presents.

Christmas alone in Japan wasn't hard at all. It doesn't feel like Christmas because it was sunny and fairly warm today. Warm enough that I didn't need a jacket. The kids weren't at school and all the teachers were in a pretty great mood. I spent the day looking over teaching material, having Yasko be my travel agent and studying Japanese. I came home and ran. I watched an absolutely gorgeous sunset while running. I have never witnessed such beautiful sunrises and sunsets as I do in Japan. The best present I received was being happy on Christmas while being so far from all my loved ones.

Last night, I went to Brock's apartment and we had a delicious Christmas dinner. It ended up being a really nice night of chatting between the two of us. Something I desperately needed as he was the first person I'd interacted with that has English as their first language in a week. I stayed pretty late and came home to open the presents people had sent me. (thanks, everyone!) By the way, I'm drinking some wine so if the end of this blog gets a bit sloppy, gomen nasai (I'm sorry).

This weekend was absolutely wonderful. I am probably going to write a book here - so prepare. In Japan, there are parties called bonenkai. This literally translates to Year End Party. I had two this weekend. The first one I went to was with one of my Junior High School's. We drove about 45 minutes to Matsushima. Bonenkai's consist of drinking, games and socializing. The first thing we did was eat dinner. They placed so much vegetarian food in front me - it was all delicious. While eating, we started drinking. We had our kampai which is basically a cheers to drinking together tonight.

After dinner we started the games. The first game that was played was called "top ten news". Basically, there is a hint up on a board and this hint is referring to a certain teacher in the school. For example, "what teacher had a baby? this teacher got something new this year, etc, etc. It was obviously a bit difficult since I couldn't read the hints and really didn't understand much of what was being said. I still got two correct - scoring points for my team. The teams were divided by grades - typically, I sit with the ninth grade teachers in the teacher's room - but they had me sitting with the 7th graders homeroom teachers. Probably because 2 of them speak pretty good English and there is a 3rd one that always tries to talk to me.

After that game, we moved onto the next game which is a beer taste test. One person per team is given 5 cups of beer and then you have to match the taste to the beer names. I was the one selected for my team. I go up - and actually have only tried 3 of the 5 beers. The other two I had never even heard of. I ended up only getting one right. If only they had keystone light, molsons, labatt blues and saranac for the options!

Some more socializing and then we move on to the next game. This one was quite funny. The first team went up and were given tomato juice. In ONE of the cups of tomato juice was tabasco sauce. Each member tried and then each team that wasn't trying had to try to guess which person drank the tobasco sauce. My team had a lot of salt in a coffee. Thankfully, I didn't get it - but poor Mitsue did. Another team had like donuts kind of - and inside one of the donuts was mustard. Nasty, haha.

The last game that was played was gestures. Gestures is nothing more than charades. Since, I don't know the first thing about Japanese pop culture - I was pretty bad at the game - but it was funny watching my co-workers act out some silly things. Some more drinking and then the game and food part of the evening ended. We all went up to our respective rooms. I was sharing a room with 3 teachers that speak English and one teacher that speaks no English (she teaches Japanese, actually). I walked around with Keiko Sensei who is the history teacher at my school (she's the one that tries to speak to me in English - she rocks). We bought ice cream for everyone and came back up to the room and shared it. After that, we joined the other 3 women that were in the room next door. The men were all in the room across the way - they were all smoking and playing mahjong which is a Chinese game. I don't understand it at all - I watched it for a few minutes while really drunk and only confused myself more. I wished that the men and women would have mingled because there was one teacher that is 25 that actually looks pretty damn cute when he's not in his suit & tie teaching Science to a bunch of middle schoolers.

We went to bed at 2 - and they told me that we were waking up at 6am. I thought it was a joke - but it wasn't too far from the truth. 7am was our rising time - and man was I tired. I woke up to Mitsue and Keiko chatting. I went over to sit with Mitsue - where we drew open the shades. There before my eyes was Japan's rated third most beautiful site. My bonenkai was in Matsushima - which I tried to see in August but it was so cloudy I didn't see anything. This area is famous for numerous pine covered islands. I posted this back in August when I tried seeing it for the first time - but I will post again for the newcomer readers and to refresh everyone's memory...
According to my Lonely Planet guide, “Matsushima Bay features around 250 islands covered in pines that have been moulded by wind and rock formations that have been misshapen by the ceaseless slapping of waves, resulting in uncanny monuments to natural forces. This conglomeration is one of Japan's Nihon Sankei (Three Great Sights).”

We opened our blinds and bammo! there was the pine covered islands right before my eyes with the sunrising over them. Basically, I was pretty damn speechless and thinking to myself this is what life is all about - how awesome is this. Sorry for my lack of great words here - but it was ineffable to wake up, a bit hungover, brain fried from speaking so much Japanese and trying to understand others - and to have that right in front of me unexpectedly.

Following that - we all went downstairs to a Japanese breakfast. All I really desired was a bunch of cereal - but of course, only Japanese breakfast - which usually I like but it's still very unappetizing to me after a night of drinking. Over breakfast, I discussed with Keiko and Mitsue about history (Keiko is a history teacher, afterall). We were discussing about how history is basically written by historians and winners of wars. This stemmed from a discussion I tried bringing up the night prior with all the women.

I am trying to discuss Japanese news with the people here - both to show I know what is going on around here and next for their opinions. According to, the Japanese government is trying to enact a few things that are controversial universally. Basically, they want to implement nationalism into the schools and make an amendment to the constitution - allowing them to have an army. In a nutshell, create nationalism to entice people to join their new army. To see the article go here. The controversy is that is will bring back a mindset that is pre-WW2, etc, etc. All I really think is this will make my job even more difficult in convincing students that they need English. However, with international controversy I am really interested in what Japanese people and even moreso - teachers think about this new development.

They all agreed with the government that Japanese people should be more nationalistic. I asked why and they gave an example that I thought was pretty poor. They basically said that during the summer olympics - Japanese people weren't cheering for Japan and people in America cheer for our country. In my opinion; I told them that I feel people in Japan are more proud of Japan than people in America. I also told them that I am speaking for people my age. I don't think most people my age are very nationalistic. At least in the North and the college I attended.

So - the next morning we discussed history. I don't remember exactly the conversation but a few things stuck out. Keiko told me that her professors at college told them that if they really wanted to know the truth about WW2 they need to go to America to study. (by the way, Japanese people call WW2 the Pacific War and they call our civil war The American north/south war.) I thought that was interesting. We finished our food and discussion and went back upstairs to pack. Got back downstairs and met the other women teachers for some coffee and cake (at like 10am, no less). Another conversation ensued - but my brain was a bit fried from all the Japanese and was more or less zoned out for it. The drive home was pretty fun - we discussed the different noises that we make. For example, when a radar detector goes off, in English we say beep beep but in Japanese they say pi pi pi. English is tickle, tickle, tickle and Japanese to tickle someone is kocho, kocho, kocho. We discussed the scariness of Japanese roads - and took me up one of the scariest roads ever. It was hardly a road - barely wide enough for one car - yet, it was a two way road. Thankfully, I didn't have to experience another car coming to see what happens when that does occur. I kept saying why? why? why? why is there a road this silly? Of course, there was a logical explanation - apparently a few years ago, some natural disaster that caused major flooding ( I didn't know whatever Japanese word it was to let you know what kind of natural disaster it actually was). After that, they built this really high up, narrow road so that people could drive out of my town if needed. Of course, everyone would only need one road out and no one would actually trying to go into a flooding city. It turns out- there was actually some reason for such a crazy road.

I got home - took care of some stuff around the house and prepared for Bonenkai #2. This bonenkai was with Yumie and her friends. Yumie picked me up around 3:30 where we headed to Nango town for this bonenkai. We chatted the whole way there -as I hadnt' seen her in a week and a half. She told me we were meeting two of the fellow party goers at the grocery store to buy some ingredients for the dinner. I asked her who was coming and she told me us, one other girl and 6 boys - between the ages of 23 and 32. My stomache churned; I almost felt like I was going to have to give a speech in Japanese in front of 100 people while standing there naked - why I got so nervous about meeting people my age -I don't know, perhaps because...Japanese boys my age - how exciting!

We pull into the parking lot of the grocery store and Yumie pointed out someone - she said there's one of them! Standing before my eyes is a 6'2" Japanese guy with bleached hair wearing pretty trendy clothes. How wonderful! I introduce myself in Japanese - and learn that his name is Toshi. Then, as I'm introducing myself to him, the second guy comes. I do the same intro and learn that this 6' man - probably 30, really cute and polite is named Yoshinori. We go into the grocery store - and do our shopping. We were making nabe tonight. This was my first time having it and so I kind of just followed them around because I didn't know what the heck goes in it. In the store, I realize that Yoshinori san speaks decent English and Toshi doesn't speak too much. Both went to America for farm training about 7 years ago. Yoshinori grows Japan-famous tomatos. Famous because they are so sweet they are practically a fruit.

One funny story from the grocery store...
Toshi showed me something and asked me if I knew what it was. I told him I didn't and asked what it was. He didn't know how to explain in English and I didn't understand any of the Japanese words he was using. We used Yumie's dictionary where the dictionary spitted back that there was no translatable (is that word?) way to show it to me in English. He put in another word and what came back to me was slime. I said, you eat that??? He said yes. I started laughing hysterically. I said there is no way that you eat that. He said, we do! I explained to him that snails and slugs - when they move - leave a trail of slime. Both Toshi and Yoshi were laughing at that. I love lost in translation words.

We went to where this bonenkai was going to be. We were having this one at a really cute cottage place! We started dinner and while cooking the rest of everyone showed up. I first met Chiaki, a 23 year old girl who didn't speak much English - but really cute - she did her training in Germany. Then, Katsu and Taruko - two boys 25 years old - punkish and not too interested in talking to me. Then, Michi and another guy - that were friendly but really into discussion with eachother. Toshi & Yoshi continued to talk to me. All but Katsu and Chiaki had spent atleast a year in America for farmers training. So - some had good enough English to substitute English words into Japanese sentences as I needed. The last thing I wanted was for Yumie to play my translator all night.

Nabe was really delicious. It's a type of soup - that has all sorts of different mushrooms (Japan has so many different types of mushrooms - it is a vegetarians heaven!), mochi - tofu and chinese cabbage. I am lucky in that Yumie is super cool and is actually semi - vegetarian herself. She doesn't eat meat but does still consume fish. Therefore, there were two pots - one had beef and the other was vegetarian. Along with the the nabe - we had onigiri which I usually eat daily, some sukemono (Japanese pickle made with a Daikon I provided). We also had some sarada (salad).

The night was really fun - in that I spoke with Toshi, Yoshi and Michi a lot. Yoshi continued to tell me how cute I was. I was flattered and confused at the same time. I loved the attention because I don't ever meet a Japanese man brave enough to tell a foreigner something like that. While - I am sure it was the beer speaking - I was still eating it up - but remaining very postured at best. He calls me Sara - chan.

Let me explain this a bit to you. In Japan - you always attach something to someone's name. So, generally speaking - you attach the word san. So - a friend - is name + san. Someone with a higher rank receives the appropriate title with the rank. So a teacher is a high rank - therefore, sara sensei or Yasko sensei in place of the san. A college professor receives kyoju - a male can also receive kun. But - chan, chan is for children. I call my elementary school students name + chan . My female middle school students receive name + chan. For Yoshi to be calling me Sara Chan I was a litte bit insulted. I ignored it and for a little bit thought it was kind of cute. But then when he was telling me I am pretty and referring to me as a child - I didn't like it so much. Perhaps, since I he is probably like 8 years older than me - perhaps, that is why I receive the chan - I am not fully sure.

Some more chatting and then Yumie asked me to try these chips. They were Natto flavored. Natto is quite possibly the most foul smelling and nasty tasting food available in Japan. I told them this - after trying a chip. I told them the chip didn't taste too bad but it smelled bad. I didn't know how to say in Japanese that it "smells bad" I am contemplating how to say it and out of nowhere - taruko - the boy who didnt' talk to me one bit the entire time - says "it smells like shit!" . I looked at him - shocked and started dying laughing. I then tried explaining that I hadn't talked natural English with anyone in a week - and for me to hear that phrase is just so funny.

I turned my attention to him - where I said - you know English - people that speak really good English don't even know how to use that metaphor. He said, I don't understand you. I said to him, you're such a liar. In return, he said, I am such a fucking liar! I laughed even harder. I was pretty drunk at this point - but for the rest of the night - we chatted - Japanese but testing his English abilities. This guy was really awesome. He surfs, snowboards, and skateboards in Japan. He dances, he had an awesome personality. We discussed so many things - music, interests, etc. He lived in Washington, California, and Oregon for his farm training. His English slang was so amazing - I asked him exactly, what kind of people he hung out with while in America. His response was mostly - skateboarders - but that he spent most of his time with Americans and not hanging with Japanese people. I totally wanted him. I gave him my phone number - and please, for my sake, pray to whatever God there is that he will call me.

At this point, I was getting really sleepy. I went upstairs around 2 to sleep. I woke back up around 4 and went back downstairs. The only ones left awake was Yumie, Toshi and Yoshi. Quickly, Yoshi went upstairs to sleep. It was just Yumie and Toshi and I. We discussed alot of different things - I was asking a lot about cultural questions. Mainly, why are Japanese men afraid of western women, what's the deal with hugs. Toshi - who to this point barely spoke any English - was drunk enough to try speaking English to me - which was good because at this point my brain was done with trying to speak Japanese.

Interestingly enough, Toshi said Japanese men that have no international experience, are in fact, scared of me (as a foreign woman) since Japanese women are so quiet and shy - and western women are so forward and aggressive. I asked about hugs. You will never see hugs (unless in a big city) being exchanged in Japan. I told them I missed hugs and that I was probably the biggest hugger on my college campus. I told them while I miss hugs - I have become accustomed to no physical interaction and don't know how I will receive it when I get home.

Yumie and Toshi told me that if you were to hug - it basically means that you want to have sex with that person you hugged. So - if you hug in public - people automatically assume you are promiscuous. If you hug a guy at a bar - it means you want to go home with him. They said it's so strict to the point - if Toshi hugged Yumie in front of her parents - her parents would assume they are sleeping together. I showed Toshi and Yumie - how normal a hug is in America - literally - since I am so small - I throw myself up onto guys and just hug them. I used Toshi as an example (and explained to him ahead of time, i'm sorry if I offend you - but you are my example) and jumped up onto his 6'2" body and hugged him. It was a good conversation.

The next thing we discussed was swear words. There are no swear words in Japanese. Nothing to the extend of what we have in English. We discussed things like fuck, shit, ass, damn - how fuck is the worst and damn is probably the most soft swear word. I told them how I am sometimes surprised when people say "oh my god!". They say it to use the phrase - but I said it shouldn't be taught at the schools (because it is taught). I explained that while I am not religious and it doesn't offend me in anyways - it would offend many people in America that are religious. Yumie, told me much to my surprise about her experience in Hawaii. She was there - at a farming school - and her farm boss used to always say to them - "you fucking bitches". I asked why he would say that to them - and she said he would say it to them when they made mistakes. I was shocked - like almost pissed at this man that would degrade these women - just because he can in that manner. She said she didn't care and neither did her co-workers because swear words aren't harmful to them - but to me, that man knew what he was saying - and I am sure he would have said the same thing to American women that would take offense and be belittled by his words. It made me soooooooooo mad. Toshi said the same thing - that if someone were to swear at him - he wouldn't even care - since there is no translation into Japanese - it is barely an insult to him.

We went to bed around 6:30. I woke back up at 8 to Yoshi and Toshi talking. I went downstairs where mostly everyone was awake. I went down - and people were talkin to me - in Japanese - but forget it. After a week straight of only Japanese, and the past two nights being absolutely wasted and getting like 4 hours of sleep - I couldn't process. My morning was me being really quiet and quite useless because I was so tired. I wanted to interact with my slang crush but I could barely do that. We had breakfast, cleaned, packed and headed on our ways. I tried making eyes with my 25 year old rice and flower farmer as a last hope that he will call me.

Yumie and I drove back to Monou and I tried expressing my gratitude to her for taking me and that I really love all of her friends. We came back to my house where we came inside because I wanted to give her a small gift of gratitude. I burned her 6 CDs of music that we have talked about in the past - stuff that she had not heard but that I love. She also had a small present for me - two books of writing two of the Japanese syllabaries and candles. The books were really sentimental to me. My first time meeting her and her family - her dad was helping me write one of the Japanese syllabaries called hiragana. I can read Hiragana but struggle with writing it. The other book was of Katakana - which is the another syllabary - in which I haven't bothered to learn altogether. I have semi tried - but they all seem to look the same to me. The reason why she bought them though - was because her dad was helping me write when last at her house. She told me she went to a store to find them - and couldn't find them - but then asked the cashier - he showed her where to look. Yumie explained this to me laughing - she was looking in the elementary level part but - the cashier brought her to the 3 and 4 year old section. The candles are bamboo and really cute.

We made plans to have dinner at her house later this week. Yumie, even though only hanging out 3 times together and conversing via e-mail - has become one of my favorite Japanese women. I had two lovely bonenkai's this weekend. I had a week of speaking more Japanese than English. I got my score back from my first Japanese language test I took - I received a 92%. Things are feeling really good right now. I leave for Korea Thursday night. I am taking the bullet train to Tokyo - spending the night in a hostel. I am e-mailing a guy I met in Tokyo my last time there - to see if he wants to go to the bar together. The next day, get to the airport and fly to Korea for the New Years. I am staying with my friend Corey - whom, I met in Australia. I anticipate it being heaps of fun.

So, if I don't post prior to New Years Eve - I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas - or holiday whichever one you celebrate and have a great New Years. I hope I receive a call from a cute Japanese boy in the next few days =)

Festivus for the rest of us.

If you read this much - thanks!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!

Festivus for the rest of us.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Writing crazy!

Ok, so this is my 4th post in two days. I am becoming addicted to writing. That and I don't have much work as the students are going on break in a few days.

I wanted to share a short story I had today with two ninth grade girls.

In Japanese,
Student 1 "Sara Sensei, do you have a boyfriend?"
Me "No, but I want one"
Student 1 "awwwweee"
Student 2 "you're not married?"
Me: No
Student 1 "How old are you?"
Me: 23
Student 1 "Do you want to get married"
Me No
Student 2 "Why?"
Me " I am young, still, maybe when I am 30"
Student 1 and 2: "30! wow!"
Student 2 - pointing to a boy - he wants to have babies when he is 18
Me: I interpreted it as he is having a baby because his girlfriend is 18
to the boy student: "you are having a baby?"
Boy Student: I want to
Me: But you're having one, now?
Boy Student: No, when I am 18
Me: Very confused
Student 2: Do you want kids?
Me: no
Student 1: why?
Me: (wishing I could explain that I don't want kids because it is a lifetime commitment - but that is too hard) instead I say "they cry a lot and are annoying"
Student 1 and 2: shocked faces!
Student 2: It is all Japanese girls dreams to be married by 18
Me: 18?
Student 1: Yes, 18!
Me: Why?
Student 2: It is our dream.
Me: But that is only 3 years away
Student 2: yes, but it is our dream
Student 1: We also want babies by 20
Student 2: Yes, our dream is to have babies by 20
Me: That is so young
Student 2: But all Japanese girls want that
Me: Not me!

They think I'm crazy for not wanting to be married yet and I think they are crazy for wanting to be! It was a fun conversation.

Survival Skills

When I was starting to consider my post – college life- I was first considering doing the PeaceCorp. I then decided on Asia and finally Japan to teach since I wasn't sure if I was a strong enough person to survive third world country conditions. I decided Japan would still be a huge challenge and teach me a lot while having all the luxuries that I do back at home.

One thing, and I write about it a lot – is how easy I had it back at home. I know that I had a privileged life back in America. So privileged that I can opt to not eat something because I don't want to. I never had to worry that there might not be food for dinner. Other things included, shelter, running water, a car, Internet, computer, phones, etc. I am still privileged here – but learning how to do other things on my own. In the past, if I needed or wanted something – but didn't know how – I could always ask someone else to help me. A lot of things here – I do ask for help with – but other things I am learning to do for the first time.

One thing that I took for granted at home was heat. There is only one part of Japan that has central heat in their houses. That part is on the same latitude line as New York. My prefecture is equivalent to Washington DC. Meaning – it's not as cold as New York but still not exactly warm in the winter. It has snowed, there is frost on my car windows in the morning, and I wouldn't consider leaving home without my Columbia jacket. However, I do not have heat. As a result, I have to really live a new lifestyle.

At Plattsburgh, the dorms were so hot – I could walk around naked and still sweat. Now, to sit in my house, I am wearing fleece pants, a thermal, a t shirt, and a sweatshirt. I have on socks and slippers and often wear outside hats inside. I sleep in all that – and my sleeping bag that is good to 30 degrees. On top of my bag and me is a down comforter and two more blankets. I also received an electric blanket for Christmas from my adult conversation class.

I set my alarm for 6am so I can turn my space heater on atleast an hour before I have to get out of bed. My space heater only heats one room – the room I have been living out of. If it is below freezing – my room still isn't warm even after an hour of the space heater being on. If it's a bit warmer of a day – the heater does it's job by helping me get out of bed. Usually, the night before I place my space halogen heater into my shower area. After crawling out of bed – I run to the shower area – where I turn on my shower to heat up the shower room for 5 minutes before getting in. I place the clothes I will be wearing after the shower in front of my halogen heater. I shower – usually really cold – even after the hot water has heated up the shower room for 5 minutes. I count to 5 and then force myself to turn the hot water off, and step out of the tub. My bathroom floor is tile – so I bought these rubber squares at a dollar store that allow me to walk on a non freezing tile floor to the small room with my halogen heater warming up my clothes. I quickly change and start drying my hair. After, my hair is dry – I am usually quite warm. However, it is right at that point that I have to walk into my cold kitchen. I carry my halogen heater with me – placing it directly to the side of me. I make either tea or coffee to keep me warm during breakfast. While eating, the side that the heater is on me is very warm and the other side is freezing. Sometimes, I see my breathe when eating breakfast.

After breakfast, I have to walk around my freezing house gathering stuff I will need for the rest of the day. It is usually at this point, that I leave my house and walk outside and realize it's warmer outside than it is inside my house.

Since it gets below freezing at night – I have to take preventive measures to make sure stuff doesn't freeze on me. My contacts and solution, toothpaste, shower gel, olive oil, and anything else that may freeze go into my refrigerator since it is warmer in my fridge than in my house. Additionally, when I cook something in the morning for lunch or make dinner, I don't even bother putting it into my fridge because just leaving it out in my kitchen – will be cold enough. I don't have to dirty Tupperware that way. Last week, after breakfast, I forgot to put away my milk. I didn't throw the milk away because it was cold that day.

There is no insulation in these houses. Additionally, if you recall the tour of my house – you will remember that the entire side of my house is all glass windows. 4 sliding glass doors all on one side of my house. That used to give me an awesome summer breeze; now it steals all the heat out of my room that is being heated by a space heater. I have purchased a lot of bubble wrap and spent an afternoon bubble wrapping my windows. It didn't make much of a difference and it eventually fell down. I haven't bothered to hang it back up since I didn't feel much of a difference. I have really confined myself to my living room. I close all the doors that go to the other parts of my house. I only quickly go into my bedroom to get clothes and other things. My study – i always quickly run in and out to gather materials I need for teaching. But – for the most part – I am live in my living room and spend time in my kitchen. It's like I am camping – every day of my life.

It's not just my house that doesn't have heat – but not many buildings are actually heated. My school – for example, has heat in the classrooms – but not in the hallways. And – sometimes, the classrooms are really cold. The gym where I work out at – does not have heat. I am usually fine because I am running – but after getting sweaty and then trying to do things like sit ups and free weights – I am freezing. The locker room of the gym has no heat – so I am always freezing while changing. You get the idea.

I am told it gets more cold than it is now – that soon, I will have to leave my water running a bit to prevent my pipes from freezing and bursting. I am okay – living out of one room – my electric bill tripled this month so I'm not freezing myself. It's been fine, not exactly comfortable – but I do welcome a challenge to my life. With each new thing here that is more of a challenge than that I had at home – only makes me a more resilient and strong woman. No heat in a freezing winter is the name of the game.

Christmas in Japan

Christmas in Japan

I have received question after question about how Christmas is celebrated in Japan. As a result, I've decided to write a blog entry about just that. There is a Christmas in Japan – but it certainly does not correlate directly with an American Christmas. When people in America are screaming that the meaning of Christmas has become materialistic – they should come to Japan.

One would most certainly walk around the city that is 40 minutes from my house or even shop in any of the stores in my town – and think that possibly – the Japanese do celebrate Christmas. You definitely hear Mariah Carey and Wham's Christmas hits, just like in America. You definitely see Christmas lights, Christmas trees, wreaths, decorations, Santa Clause's, Christmas Cards, etc. But – Christmas doesn't extend much past that.

Only 2% of Japan is Christian – which means that the religious aspect has been removed from Christmas. However, I haven't been to church in nearly 6 years aside from weddings and funerals – so the religious facet of Christmas isn't what makes me miss home at this time of the year. It's certainly the cultural aspect of Christmas that I will miss. I will miss going to my dad's family on Christmas Eve to do gag gifts, I will miss exchanging gifts with my family when we get back from Christmas Eve, I will miss waking up really early to open presents while my dad blares Christmas music through his surround sound that is good enough for a movie theater; I will miss scrambled eggs, strawberries, and tea for breakfast; I will miss fighting over who takes a shower first so we can be ready for when the rest of my entire family arrives; I will miss bread boat, showing my gifts to my family, doing lotto's from Florida from Grandpa, gag gifts with my mom's family, the kid's table, the latest movie blasting on the TV downstairs, being ridiculously immature with all my cousin's. That is what I think Christmas is all about.

I have started asking Japanese people about Christmas on Christmas day. One of the teacher's I work with told me that kids until about age 12 do believe in Santa Clause. They receive presents on Christmas Day. I was really surprised to hear this. I then asked a woman in my English Conversation class since she has children at the age of receiving presents. She said – kids do receive presents in her house, too. But, my question is this - “If everyone has to work on Christmas Day – when do the children open their presents?” She couldn't understand my English and I don't have the Japanese to ask that question. So – to me, it seems silly to celebrate Christmas – by giving your children presents – and have them open their presents while mother and father are at work. I have discussed it with another western teacher – this is her third year here and she cleared it up a bit more for me. Kids get presents – but not like how we do. In America, we get hundreds of dollars worth of gifts (if we are privileged middle class). The kids here will get maybe a few presents that are placed on their pillow while they are asleep.

It seems to me that someone thought it was a cool concept and then brought it here and adapted to how they liked it. With that in mind, I will be celebrating my Christmas the Japanese way - at work. I have saved all the Christmas presents that were mailed to me – to open on Christmas eve. I have piled a bunch of boxes up – placed the mini tree that Dianna & Brian sent to me on it and are putting my presents around it. I am hanging up my Christmas cards on my wall nearby my tree and presents. On Christmas Eve, I will open my presents, drink wine and make a dinner for myself. I will call my family at night. Christmas day, I am going to work and then joining two other teachers in the city for dinner.

That – is Christmas in Japan.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


On Saturday morning, I attempted zazen. What is zazen? I am sure you are asking yourself. Nothing more than the Japanese word for meditation. Suzuki san, who is the man that has previously taken me hiking invited to me to join him in zazen. Friday, after work, I joined him and his friends, along with Tamo & Meghann for dinner, drinks, and companionship. Since drinking was involved and we needed to be at the temple to meditate by 8am - I spent the night.

After a hearty, Japanese breakfast - Tamo & I followed Suzuki san through the city, to the outskirts and drove up a small hill to the temple. This would be my first time trying to meditate. Furthermore, we would be instructed by a monk how to meditate. The first thing you do is remove your socks.

After a brief introduction in Japanese on how to meditate - we got into position. You sit on these black, round pillows. The position that you are supposed to meditate in is very difficult to put your body into unless you incredibly flexible. Ideally, you should place your right foot on your left thigh and then your left foot on your right thigh with the bottoms of your feet facing the ceiling. Your legs should be crossed so that the tips of your toes and the outer edge of your thighs form a single line. This position is called kekkahuza or the full-lotus position.

I could not get my legs that way, so I had to settle for hankahuza or the half-lotus position. Instead of placing both feet on the opposite thigh - you only choose one. I placed my left foot on my right thigh. After assuming position, you should have both knees touching the floor and keep a straight back. This should be supporting the weight of your body.

The rest of the bodys goes as follows: your chin should be in and you should extend your neck. You should keep your ears and shoulders parallel and keep your nose and belly button in line. You should place your left hand palm up into your right hand - palm up. Your thumbs should be in contact with eachother. Your hands should be in front of your belly button and your arms somewhat apart from your body. Your mouth should be closed. Eyes should remain open - but keep them at a 45 degree angle - this is to prevent you from daydreaming or getting drowsy - which would occur if you allowed them to close. Breathing should occur through your nose.

Once in position and before beginning to meditate - you should place your hands palm - up on your knees and sway your upper body from left to right a few times. When you finish doing this a few times, you put your hands back into the original position - thumbs together in front of your belly button. This is when you are to begin meditating.

The purpose of meditation is to empty your mind of all thoughts. This is supposed to help enlighten your mind and create a relaxed body. Most people aren't able to reach this state their first time and actually not for quite a very long time. You stay in this position for about thirty minutes. I don't really have a concept of the time - but I think the first 10 -15 minutes were fine - and I did okay. However, try putting your body into that position and continue reading my blog. It probably won't take you too much longer to finish this and I am sure you will experience some pain in your legs.

After probably 15 minutes - I couldn't clear my mind from the pain that I was experiencing in my left leg. My left leg was the one that was underneath my right foot. At first, it was a scary feeling - but it really scared me when I tried moving my toes and I realized I couldn't feel my entire left leg. While, meditating you should not move. My mind was racing and my body was hurting. I was thinking of things just to take my mind off of the pain. I was trying to move a little bit since it scared me that I couldn't feel anything. Finally, after almost having a panic attack, the monk started talking. I felt relief that maybe it would be over soon. I couldn't understand him. He kept talking and then I started thinking in my mind that I wish he would stop talking and say it was over. Finally, he rang the bell that indicates that we can move.

I quickly got out of position to discover my entire left leg was in a lot of pain. You turn around to face the monk. He started talking about what we needed to do next - but I couldn't concentrate nor watch him because I was too busy massaging my leg. Then, it was time to stand up. I couldn't really stand because I couldn't feel my leg. I finally got up - really only balancing on my left leg and feeling that someone was sticking knives into my right leg. Tamo thankfully whispered to me what the monk said to us while I was busy feeling like someone was trying to amputate my leg.

The next part of meditation is to walk clockwise around the room while holding your hands in the position you had them while meditating. Your footsteps should be in sync with your breathing. You take your first step with your right foot and only move forward by half steps. Only when your feet are together - are you to inhale - when they are a half step apart - you exhale. You are supposed to be quiet and not make much shuffling noises while moving. After walking in a line with the other meditators like this - you stop and bow.

Then - we are to chant a mantra. We are placed back into meditation position - which I was dreading. We were given a book in Japanese on the chant. You have to hold the book a certain way as well. You have it directly in front of your face and held with both hands. Your fingers are also to be in certain position. The mantra was 9 pages long. I was able to read the Japanese quick enough for the first 2 or 3 pages. After that, the speed of the chant gets quicker and I am not able to read Japanese that fast yet. I wish I could because it was very interesting. I also wish I knew what I was reading.

After that, you do a few more formalities such as bowing and fixing the pillow you have been sitting on. Then, it is done. The monk invited us in for some tea. Tamo left but Suzuki san and I had tea with the monk and another man that was meditating with us. It was very nice to have tea with them - although, I wish I could have communicated more with the monk and not need to rely on Suzuki san so much for language.

It was a great experience - and apart from the pain of being in the position - I really felt a difference in my thinking from it. I will go again - in January since my next few weekends have other commitments already. I read a book when I was in high school that explains about Buddhism - I think when I go home in January I will bring it back with me to Japan.

More on Zazen

Pictures from my dinner party on Friday night.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Winter Hiking up Funagatayama

Snow. That word used to make me shiver, make me want to move south, make me hate driving and despise everything about winter. From always having the bottom of my pants being soggy, to having to clean off my car every morning, every time I went anywhere, driving 15 mph when I could be going 45, taking extra long to go places, being cold, having to wear boots and big sweaters to the bars, all the inconveniences of snow.

Yet, now I think of snow and I get excited. As I have written previously, it's almost a comforting feeling to see snow in the land of unfamiliarity. It's only snowed twice since I've been here. Both times - just a short snowfall and nothing sticking to the ground.

On Sunday, I went hiking on a mountain called Funagata. It is in both my prefecture of Miyagi and also looms into my neighboring prefecture called Yamagata Ken. FYI: Yama means mountain in Japanese.

Meg & I crashed at my place before waking up bright and early to meet everyone else in Ishinomaki. There would be 6 of us going today - Meg, Tamo, Brock, Suzuki san & his friend Hide' along with me. We drove approximately two hours to reach the parking area and trailhead. Our plans were to try to reach a mountain hut in which we would eat lunch and then finish it out with a mini summit.

Snow! So much snow! It was like a different world from that of Ishinomaki. I felt like I was at home again - seeing all this snow! The word for today was layers. For my upper body - I came in my long underwear, a thermal, a tshirt, a long sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt and my winter Jacket. I had fleece pants on underneath my Adidas pants. Two pairs of gloves, my hat and two pairs of socks with my new hiking boots I received for my birthday from my Adult conversation class.

It reminded me of being a little kid again. I remember so fondly of getting layered up to go play in the yards with Steph & Dee, perhaps my sisters and their brothers. We'd have snowball fights, make snow tunnels of the piles of snow left behind from Ken's plowing or just run around and jump around in the snow. Usually we always ended back up at Steph's house so Sally could make us hot chocolate. When I got home - I'd place my wet belongings over all the vents in the house - so they would be dry in time for school the next day.

We started up the mountain - no problem - there was a good amount of snow - but nothing my new, warm boots couldn't handle. I was in my bliss - being in nature and being in snow with my friends. We stopped a few times to remove layers, play in the snow and have some photo ops.
I don't know what it is about nature - or being outdoors but there is a part of me that comes alive. There is something spiritual to me about nature - something that makes me long to be out there. I can't really put into words - the way I feel when I reach the summit of a mountain, witness a beautiful sunrise, view a breath-taking sunset, or stumble across waterfalls. It had been way too long since I had last been actively in nature like I was that day.

We were only maybe an hour or less into the hike when the snow suddenly was engulfing our feet and legs and the wind was whistling past us quickly as to prevent us from going much faster. It was decided by our leader - Suzuki - san that we would only hike up a bit more before turning back down. With this new information that we didn't need to worry much about staying dry - Tamo & I kind of just went crazy with the snow. Jumping into it, rolling around in it, the whole ordeal of acting like you're 10 in your first snowfall. I smiled and laughed all day long - and truly being outdoors - being one with nature - does make me feel alive. Love, friendship, laughter, nature, happiness makes me feel alive. I had almost all of the above on my trip to Funagatayama. =)

Of course, afterwards, we went to onsen. I am becoming an onsen queen here. Meghann and I have started a custom of working out at the gyms on Wednesdays and then going straight to onsen after. I spent the rest of the day in my place - doing laundry and cleaning up a bit. It's hard to keep my place clean cause it's so cold in my house. I will certainly take full advantage of "spring cleaning" whenever spring arrives.

That, my friends was my trip to Funagatayama. No summit - but lots of fun and good time spent with those that are becoming good friends. =)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Inspired to write

Here I sit in some random coffee shop. I am the fifth customer to walk in, taking the last table. In front of me, there is the woman who is running it. She informed me I can only order toast, curry & coffee.

There are two women to the right of me, talking quickly - perhaps, they are mother and daughter. There are two more women in here - kind of chatting with one another and with the owner. The owner looks tough. She has a "don't give me any crap" attitude. She looks like she'd be a tough mother, a strict boss and a mean aunt. The customers that are chatting with her are getting nothing return but a few glances and grunts.

As a result of this cold attitude, I didn't try my Japanese to see if I could have meatless curry. So - for lunch today it's buttered toast and my 3rd cup of a hot, caffeinated beverage. The place is interesting - poorly lit, a showcase of seashells to my right and photos lining the walls. They are mostly of flowers, a city that looks like it could be Venice and a large photo of Niagara Falls as you enter. The shop is littered with papers everywhere, the floor - tiled, each with the same beautiful, intricate design. The tables and chairs are dark wood. The tables have bright red felt in the middle covered by glass.

There's one calendar on the wall that hasn't been changed since June - the other one, which is directly besides it - is a bit more up to date - at November. There's a wood box with glass for people to go stand in if someone calls their cell phone.

One woman has since left, since I've begun to write this. The other woman - has started stealing glances at me. The owner has give us all apiricots. It's more of a dessert and very sweet. She asked if it was delicious and I said yes.

This sparked us into a conversation - talking most about me - that I'm from America, near Niagara Falls, the owner's daughter studied somewhere in Canada 20 years ago, I'm an English teacher, what grades I teach, how long I want to stay in Japan for, etc. I can proudly say that all of those questions were asked and answered in Japanese. Simple conversation - but rewarding nonetheless.

Why am I in here? I was supposed to be at a Christmas party today that the International Association I have started going to was holding. I drove into Ishinomaki bright and early - and communicated to a man what town I needed to go to at the train station. He told me my fair was 140 Yen and what platform I catch my train at. I get to the platform, ask a woman if I am at the right spot. She informs me that my stop is the first one. I get to my stop - and get off - in the middle of nowhere.

I knew where I had to go - but only in English. I tried calling a woman that would be there - she didn't answer. I had no coins left - so I went into a liquor/convenient store. I was trying to get my bill broken into coins so I could make a phone call to someone else to ask how to say where I needed to go in Japanese - which was "town hall."

The woman running the store thought I needed a phone number, not change. I, then, looked into my dictionary to see that "town hall" was in there. I showed her town hall - soon, she's showing me the address and phone number. I then expressed I only need directions.

At that moment, a boy walks into the store. The store owner, who was only a bit taller than me, with glasses, grey hair and about my grandparents age - asked him how he got here. He responded that his father brought him. Soon, without my consent or even knowledge - arrangements are being made for me to get a ride with this boy's father. When it was being explained to me, the woman hugged me and said "watashi no friend" or "my friend". I believe most Japanese women have a natural, motherly instinct about them.

So, here I go, into this man's large vehicle, while his son continues to browse the candy section of the store. Something, I'd never in a million years consider doing in America. (sorry, Mom!). On the way, I ask about his son, explain that I'm an English teacher in Monou, etc. We get there and nothing is going on. I double check that I'm in the right town and this is the only "town hall.". My information is all correct. He starts asking/telling/saying something about his house or my house and phone and me & him.

I'm my head, I'm thinking it's not worth this man's trouble to do all this for me - since it's 12:30 at this point and the party ends at 2:00. I can't communicate that to him - so I tell him "I go to Ishinomaki." Meaning I want him to take me back to the stop and I'll just wait until the next train goes to Ishinomaki. Some more confusing conversation and I understand he'll drive me back to Ishinomaki.

I thank him profusively. On the way, I think back to my last blog entry and the quote about doing things for people where they can never repay you. I ask about his job - he builds bridges - I'm feeling blessed and actually am laughing at the situation at this point.

He ends up driving me to my car. Where I realize there's been a misunderstanding - pretty easy to do since we don't speak the same language. It's 1:00 at this point. I thank him and explain to him in Japanese that I was supposed to bring a present to my Christmas party, but now I don't go. Therefore, please take my present. He said no, no - you are still going and some other stuff in Japanese. It's at this point I realize he did all this for me so I could still make it to my party on time. But - I didn't know who else to call, where to go, etc. He looked so disappointed - I can't even explain to you his face. It's like he wanted to save the day and he didn't and he was just so sad. I made him take my gift of assorted teas and hot chocolate. I left with many thank you's to him.

I walked to my car, I got in and actually cried a little bit. I was grateful that I had something to give him as thanks - but I could just tell by the way he looked - he would have been happier if I gave him no gift and he was able to get me to my party. I don't know why it affected me so much.

I got my Japanese study materials and came to this shop because I've always wondered about it when I passed by it. This isn't a conducive study environment and to be honest, I don't feel like studying. I feel like writing and so I did. Pretty soon, it's just 3 of us in here - including the owner. The other customer gave me a yoghurt drink to have - why? I don't know why, but it always seems I am given gifts.

That's my inspiration for today.

It snowed this morning - much more than last week. I loved it. It's a cold, dreary day and I wish I could just go lay on someone's couch - watch a movie, TV, not feel compelled to talk to one another to be comfortable - but to be comfortable just in one another's company. Someday.

I write this sentence as I change my opinion on the owner. I find the shop quite personal afterall. The women are very interested in me - trying to make conversation with me. Perhaps, I will make a habit of coming here to practice speaking Japanese. The mean owner has turned into more of a curious, inquiring, child with many smiles.

Next post: about my snow forest hike - check back in a few days.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Pay it Forward

I can usually best express my emotions and thoughts through other people's words. I often hear my thoughts in quotes, lyrics & movies. I don't have the talent of imagery to reveal all my inner most thoughts, my daily experiences, what I feel deep down inside through writing or even with speech.

With this in mind; I ask you to think of the movie, Pay it Forward. If you have seen it - you don't need this explanation. If you haven't seen it - I will give a brief synopsis. Basically, there is a young boy who starts something called Pay it Forward, You do one nice thing for three people. In turn, you ask those people to do one nice thing to 3 other people. After some time, the niceness people will be doing for others will grow exponentially- and ideally make the world a better place.

Certainly, I could spit out circumstance after situation after problem of ways that Japanese people have gone out of their way to help me out. If you read back into my blog - you will probably see one example per week.

However; it's not always the people that make a difference in my life when I need help. It's also the people that I encounter daily. It's the people that don't even know they are making my day better. It's the people that make me feel less isolated, less introverted, less of a foreigner.

Let me give some examples.

There is the man at the Post Office. At one point, he knew more English than I did Japanese. I imagine now the case is the opposite. When I first arrived here, I went to the post office to send my mail out. I said my few words I needed to send my mail - air mail and to America, please. Later on, I needed money transferred - which you do at the Post Office in Japan - however, I did the form all wrong and encountered a lot of problems. I spent an hour there - taking care of it. Since then, everytime I go into the Post Office, he gets off his desk and comes and says hello to me. When he delivers my packages to school, he comes personally. When a package gets dropped off and I am not there - he asks if I got it okay the next time I am in the Post Office. He is always smiling and it makes my day.

Then there is the gas station lady. In Japan, they have self service and full service. Since you don't have to pay extra or tip to get it full serviced - why struggle trying to read the gas pump? Everytime my car pulls in, I have two high school kids running over to fill my tank, wipe down my car and whatnot. Then, there is the lady - possibly the owner, manager, I'm not sure. What I do know - is she always comes out and talks to me. Granted - I can't really understand half of what she is saying to me - but she is always out there with a huge smile on her face - talking to me. Again, a huge smile - and every time I leave that gas station after seeing her - I feel so grateful to be in Japan. One time she gave me some flowers, which are still alive and beautiful. Yesterday, she gave me a calendar.

Then - there is the school nurse. She doesn't speak any English - but even when I didn't know enough Japanese to speak to her - she always smiled at me. A lot of times, the teachers at my schools are so busy - that I just sit at my desk - with no interaction. Not her - she always smiled at me. She reminds me of my Aunt Lynn. I am so happy I can finally chat with her a bit.

Yesterday, I went Christmas shopping in the city. I went to the big department store in the city. I was looking at some items for my sister for her gift. This woman came over and started chatting to me - I think asking if I was looking for anything in particular. I told her I was Christmas shopping for my family. This turned into a 10 minute conversation about the usual - where I am from, how long I've been in Japan for, how long I want to stay for, about being an English teacher, about her daughter, about her going to Florida for DisneyWorld and that it is much bigger than the one in Tokyo, etc. Shortly after, another girl comes over - and the woman that I was talking to - told her about me. Soon - this girl - two years younger than me - but seemed atleast 5 years older - made my night even better. She asked how much I wanted to spend, about my sister to try to help me find the perfect gift. Her name was Emi- Emi had the best laugh and just so bubbly and smiling. I rarely encounter that in Japan. It was apology after apology that she doesn't know more English - but we were getting by just fine with our broken language conversation. These two women - made Christmas shopping so much more memorable and I want to go back and ask Emi to hang out sometime. She is awesome. I bet they have no idea how I smiled the entire 15 minutes walk back to my car because of their interaction with me.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone at home for the constant encouragement and support I receive. I decorated my first Christmas tree today thanks to my cousins. Thanks for all the cards everyone. I am such a lucky person to have the support when I'm in a valley of my life.

You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.
- John Bunyan

If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room. -Nantucket Nectars Cap

Sunday, December 03, 2006


That is the only word to describe this weekend - perfect.

Last week, I received an invitation from a man to have dinner at his house with his family. He didn't speak any English and arranged for it through another teacher at my school. Friday evening; I went to this house - not really sure how or why I was really invited.

It's 5:00 and my doorbell rings. I open it - and there is the man and his 32 year old granddaughter greeting me with a konbanwa or a Good Evening. I lock the door behind me and get into their car. The woman - whose name is Yumie - speaks English. She spent one year in Hawaii going to a Rose farming school. She also had spent 6 months in Washington state. Their house is only 5 minutes away from my house. I enter their house and meet Yumie's parents and her grandmother. The most cool thing about their house is that it's 250 years old. The roof was amazing. I just can't fathom that I was having dinner in a house older than our country. I loooveee this country.

It turns out I was invited because I had said Ohayo Gozaimasu (good morning) to the man that invited me over. He was at my one Junior High School because he is a Kendo master. (Japanese Martial Art). Ojiisan (grandpa in Japanese) - was teaching the students in their Phys Ed class Kendo. He thought since I greeted him in Japanese that I spoke Japanese.

When I first arrived I spent much of my time chatting with ojiisan, Yumie and otoosan(dad). Her mother and grandmother were in the kitchen preparing dinner for us. Dinner was delicious - seriously like a 10 course meal. From tempura to tofu to spinach, Japanese pickles, miso soup, bread, some wierd white stuff that looked like it was sitting in spit (I had a hard time getting that down), to chesnut rice. Followed by desserts. First, tangerines and apples, then chocolate cake, then ice cream, and coffee and tea in between it all.

I learned her grandfather, the man who is still teaching my students kendo is 80 years old! 80! Insane that he's teaching a martial art still! The family makes their living by farming flowers. I was there for 6 hours! 6 hours and it felt like two. It was spectacular. I was able to practice my Japanese with her parents and grandparents - and have real conversation with Yumie. It was absolutely wonderful. She wants to hang out again - as I do, too. I am so happy and grateful to have met this family.

Saturday morning, I woke up bright and early. I headed into Ishinomaki to check out this International Association's grand opening. I am trying to get involved in the community here and being a part of things. I felt pretty out of place, everyone was there in suits and ties, and I was there in a sweater and corduroys. There were international dancers and it was a huge deal. After the formal ceremony, I approached one of the dancers and told her I liked her dance in Japanese - she was from Russia. Another white man was there. We got chatting and it turns out my job - he was one of the first people to do it. He did it the second year you could. He came back later to become an English professor at a college here. I got to practice my Japanese with him and the other Japanese folks there. It felt so amazing to talk to him - he was so empathetic - but wiser. He sort of reminded me of my Uncle Mark - understanding of my problems I encounter - nonjudgmental and offered realistic advice.

Afterwards, I picked up Katie & Akira, Meg & Brian came over and we all made dinner at my place, listened to Christmas music, chatted, watched Battle Royale. I fell asleep since it was in all Japanese and I had been drinking my infamous Yellow Tail. We squeezed all of us into my living room and had a slumber party.

Which brings me to today. Meg & I woke up bright and early for a race. It was an outdoor cross country race and we would be running 3.3km (approx 2 miles). We got there bright and early and were greeted by our lovely running friend - Mitsuhiro San. He is the man in my conversation class that informs me of these races. We watched the opening ceremony and didn't have to run until 11:00. There was also a 1.4 km race that many of my elementary school students were partaking in. I went out and did my public relations, saying hello to them all, their parents, trying my Japanese with them. They got to see me outside of the classroom, in my scum clothes, hair ruffled, and trying to speak Japanese, not teaching English. It was lovely.

The races are wonderful. The races are split by sex and age. I go into the adult females - meaning some of the women I am racing against are in their 60's. There is a group of older women that are a running club. They remembered Meghann and I from the 10kilo marathon we did in October. They came over and wished us luck and said they remembered us. It was so nice of them. They were awesome.

The race went well - it was a bit difficult. The end, there was a really steep and hard hill that just kicked my butt. I ended up finishing 4th and Meghann san at 5th place. We were about 20-30 second apart. I did it in 17 minutes and some seconds. It's such an amazing feeling to finish a race. It was so great - having all my students cheer me on. They are adorable.

After our race, we cheered Mitshiro san on - he ended up placing 3rd - he's soooooooooo fast! He ran 4.85 kilo in only two minutes longer than me! Since all of us had place - we had to wait around until the awards ceremony. Mitsuhiro san had thought ahead and made us all lunch. So kind. We ate lunch while waiting for the ceremony. We got our awards and then had some coffee and apple pie at a little cafe.
In the evening; Brian San and I went Christmas shopping with some friends from our adult conversation class we teach. Same as our birthday - they spend about $100 on us for Christmas presents. We did some Christmas shopping so that they can give it to us at our Christmas party we will have in two weeks. I got a new battery for my camera since mine is over 2 years old and dies within minutes now a days, an electric blanket and a USB drive. Afterwards we got dinner. A lovely ending to a lovely day.

It snowed today. My first snow fall in Japan. It wasn't a real snowfall as in it stuck - but there was certainly white flakes falling from the heaven. To be honest - it was a comforting feeling. It's one of those things - that as strange as things are in Japan to me - snow is just as normal as anything. I felt pretty excited to see it. Yay=)

Alright, I hope everyone had wonderful weekends themselves. =)