Thursday, July 26, 2007

Good Morning...

It's packing break time again.

I realized something today at work. That's what I am going to write about today. I guess this blog is turning from Japanese culture enlightenment to personal thoughts but it's also refreshing to know that people are reading my thoughts. I mean it doesn't seem that important to most people, I bet, but when I can't reflect back on my thoughts cause I don't have the language capabilities, it's nice to know someone somewhere is listening via my sentences.

Some of you might already be aware of this, but I am presenting quite a few presentations in August to the new teachers arriving to my prefecture. I signed up not really know that I would have to be responsible for 4 different topics, I figured 2 maybe 3 at most. It's 4. Anyways, now that it's been summer break for the past week I have been busily working on these responsibilities. For the past month and a half, I have been gathering information from other people, the internet, my own experiences, brochures, etc. I have been slowly working on each handout I will be giving out. I have 3 out of 4 handouts nearly done. I can never really finish the handouts. As soon as I decide it's finished, I think of something new I want to add and go on the hunt to find out that information to pass on. I work, work, work and then it's lunchtime and it feels like I have only been there for an hour. I enjoy the research and creating the documents. I turned my "area guidline" from one page into twelve. I turned things to see and do in Miyagi from about 6 pages to 12.

Then, there's my real job of teaching. When I work for 8 hours a day to teach, the day couldn't go any slower. At the end of the day, I don't feel accomplished and the day takes forever to end. Even the mornings are different. When I woke up this past week, I didn't mind it because I knew my time was going to be useful. Normally, when I wake up for work I struggle to get out of bed and don't want to go to work.

All of this makes me realize that maybe my future real job should include some form of research or creativity. I really enjoy working on these things. The four things I am presenting on are:
1. The Ishinomaki Area guideline
2. How to make Elementary School Curriculum
3. Things to See and Do in Miyagi
4. Self Introduction Classes

This morning I went to my local convenient store, FamilyMart. I go there just about daily, it's probably where a good portion of my paycheck ends up. I was purchasing my breakfast and lunch- a cold coffee, a gatorade, salad and some breakfast cracker things. I go up to the counter, still half asleep and put everything up. The cashier says to me, in English - Good Morning. I look at him, not quite sure I was actually hearing him speak English to me cause that neeeevverrr happens. Then he smiles at me and I realize, yea he just said Good Morning to me in English! I smiled, about to respond back in English that no one speaks to me in English and I wasn't quite sure I heard him right and then realized he wouldnt' understand that...then I didn't feel like trying to explain all that in Japanese because I was half sleeping. Instead of saying Good Morning back to him in English, I said it in Japanese because I was just a bit dumbfounded by it. Seems so stupid, I know, but then driving back to school, I was thinking wow, my life is wierd, that when someone speaks to me in English on an average morning I get speechless. Life will be wierd when I go back to America next year.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Packing Up

As I take a break from packing up my house to move into the city next week, I can't help but to stop and reflect on my past year, my life. Can you believe every year, for the past five years I have moved about two times per year? I guess that seems typical when you go to a college that's 7 hours away from your home. But even when I decided to live in Plattsburgh last summer, I had to still pack away most of my life to send back home with my parents and leave the remaining goods to be packed up later. You know what was great about all those times I've had to move in the past 4 years? I had my mom to help me. And even my last time leaving Plattsburgh, I still had my friends to help me carry all my shit down to my car. And my dad to unpack when I returned home one last time.

Here I sit, wondering how in the world I am going to get all this packing and cleaning in time for the deadline that my Board of Education has given me to evacuate the premises. I had initially intended on slowly bringing stuff to my new apartment as my successor won't be arriving to the end of August. But, no I can't do that, that would be too convenient for me. Next I wonder, how did I accumulate so much stuff? I mean I came here with 2 large suitcases, a carry on and that's it. Now all of that is already packed to the brim and my house is still in shambles. Worse, the place I am moving to is about half the size of where I am living now. Where is it all going to go???? Granted, I sent 3 boxes of winter clothes to myself by boat before leaving America and I am bringing things like a whole box of "school stuff" and intend on taking things that I've bought like a heater and big blankets and stuff, but man.

And my car sucks, it's a cool car but it's not a car to bring my life to the new city in. I need a bigger car, a van! I need friends that can help me. That doesn't work because my friends are all leaving before my move date and the few that are going to be around can't help.

Change is imminent. I'm beginning my move on August 1st - the same day as a festival in the city I'm moving to. That's going to be difficult, too.

Why do I have so many things? It's really not needed. blah.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Olsen Twins speak Japanese!

I guess we all underestimated that beautiful blondes can be smart as well! Who knew that the olsen twins and even Uncle Jesse and Danny Tanner were so intelligient!

I thought this was the funniest thing when watching it so I video'd it onto my camera to show you. hahaha.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Where in the world have I gone to?

Where in the world have I gone to? I haven't blogged about my life since Cambodia! I've decided to tell you about my last two months via a picture blog! Enjoy, sorry I won't get into too much detail! I put it off and put it off because I wanted to be detailed about my experiences but I don't think I'll ever find time to catch up. So, here's my life in brief...

Alright so, I came back from Cambodia and the weather here was finally improving. I spent time playing park golf and hanging out with my friends on the weekends.

Saitoh San, one of my lovely adult students took us out to eat after golf, at a Japanese - Italian Restaurant that looks like a castle.

On a spur of a moment, after learning how to play the Chinese game of Mahjong from Annie; I was asked by her "crew" if I would be interested in joining them to go to see Sumo Wrestling in Tokyo. I said for sure! We headed down really early from Ishinomaki and made it in time to see sumo. It was located at the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Stadium in Tokyo. It was so much fun. I want to go again. It was Dave, Hashmatt, another Sarah and myself. When the pro-wrestler's came on - we started placing bets on who would win. We really got into it, cheering for the guys that were from our area or the foreign wrestlers.

A bit about sumo from the pamphlet they gave me,
"According to Japanese legend the very origin of the Japanese race depended on the outcome of a sumo match . The supremacy of the Japanese people on the islands of Japan was supposedly established when the god, Takemikazuchi, won a sumo bout with the leader of a rival tribe. Apart from this legend, sumo is an ancient sport dating back some 1500 years ago."

As you can see, the origins of sumo matches were mainly religious. However, with time, sumo became more or less a form of national defense. In 1192, a military dictatorship was established and a long period of intense warfare ensued and then sumo wrestlers became soldier-like. After 500 years, in 1603, peace was finally restored. It was around this time that professional sumo groups began organizing. These groups were organized to entertain the rapidly expanding plebian class and it was at this time that sumo became the national sport of Japan.

The other reason we headed down to Tokyo that weekend was for a festival named Sanja. The festival was held in the older part of Tokyo called Asakusa. At this festival, hundreds of mikoshi or portable shrines were being carried by dozens of people. The men were wearing nothing but loin clothes made into thongs and their "happi" coats as they carried the heavy shrine to the main temple in this area.

Read about the Sumo & Festival Trip on Dave's blog here.

This is also the one day in the year that the Yakuza, or the Japanese mafia are allowed to bare their tattoos. These men have more power than the Japanese government. There were women on their float and I was asking Hashmatt if he thought they were Yakuza too, when a Japanese woman overhead me. She simply said to me, "stay away from them, they are very bad." I said, "women, too?" she said, "Yes, all Yakuza are very dangerous and bad". I still think the tattoos are cool.

On our way to our next spot, we passed these guys on the street. I wish these types of people lived near my house.

We went to Yasukuni Jinja, the Shrine for Establishing Peace in the Empire. This is the most controversial shrine in all of Japan. This shrine is a war memorial dedicated to all their Japanese people who have died in wars, that number being 2.4 million since 1853. The Japanese government has also laid to rest war criminals here back in 1979. This makes countries like S. Korea and China very angry that Japan honors the men who tortured their citizens years ago. You can read about it all over the news whenever the Japanese Prime Minister visits here. Usually this outrages the other Asian countries and it's all over the news. This is also known to be the "racist" shrine - a shrine where groups like the Yakuza stand on vans and shout that foreigners should leave the country and stop dirtying the blood of Japanese by marrying them. That was the main reason we went, but we did not see any racism going on.

In the BBC, too - all pretty redundant
In the BBC - explaining why this shrines pisses off S. Korea and China
In CNN's News

To see all the pictures from Sumo, the Asakusa Festival and the controversial shrine, click here.

A week or two later, Katie and Akira arranged for a fun weekend on an island off the coast of Ishinomaki named Tashiro Island(pic below). The three of us got there early and explored. We found beautiful coastlines with waves crashing into the shore of rocky beaches. We walked around all morning enjoying the peacefulness of the island.

But soon, our party started. We invited a lot of people from around our prefecture, and about 30 showed up. The afternoon and evening was filled with a bunch of foreigners taking over a beautiful island eating and drinking all day. We spent the night in cabins that were shaped like cats, as the nickname of this island is Cat Island. The reason? There are a bunch of stray cats that are walking around!

Or in the words of Dave in this blog, he says"i have no idea when it was now, but we made a weekend retreat to a place called cat island, which is, strangely enough, famed for its felines: dogs were banned there long ago; cats roam free. the human population, meanwhile, is small - like the island itself - and consists of aged japanese; the invasion of several tens of foreigners one saturday surely must have been a shock to their system. we stayed in two cottages with cartoony cat paint jobs designed by some semi-notorious manga artist."

OR you can read about it, in Katie's Blog, here- if you dont' want to read - she atleast has good pictures up!

Did you know I have an ex-boyfriend that lives in Japan? He's in the Navy and located near Yokohama City. So, I went down to see him. It was great, it was like going back to America for the weekend. He has everything you could ask for - from Bud Light to Taco Bell to Subway. We had a great time together, drinking at night, hanging out with his friends and doing some sightseeing. It's amazing how different "Japan" is from where I live to the navy base - I mean honestly - I really felt like I was back in America. You could never walk off base and just feel like you live in a small community in America. It reminded me a lot of college - everyone knows everyone's names, they live in barracks that reminded me of dorms, everyone hung out and had BBQ's and was just having a good time. It was very enlightening for me, interesting to hang out with Navy guys for a weekend and learn their views on the world, which is completely different from mine.

Our first full day together, he took me to see a very large Buddha - and I mean very LARGE! It was located in Kamakura. I even was able to walk inside this Buddha for the equivalent of 20 cents! It is called the Kamakura Daibutsu which literally means Big Buddha. It was completed in 1252 and is Kamakura's most famous sight. It used to be in a big hall, but that washed away in a tsunami in 1495. It is cast in Bronze and weighs 850 tonnes. It is nearly 38 feet tall!

He also took me into Yokohama City, which like I said is the 2nd biggest city after Tokyo with a population of around 3,555,000 people. Yokohama is famous for it's Chinatown, so we went there first. We saw a temple and basically just went into shops and walked around, it was cool.

After Chinatown, we just walked around Yokohama for the day. We first went to Yamashita Koen or park. There were boat races that were going on off the sea side of the park. There were about 50 men (maybe women too?) racing in each boat, all manned with a paddle. Three boats at a time. We watched a few races before moving on. We also went to this really old part that had a lot of shopping and ran into a Save the Environment type of exhibit. There were a bunch of really cool cars that were made to be better for the environment. I really enjoyed being there and seeing that Japan, unlike America is taking large steps to decline the rate of environmental destruction. That is one thing I know I will miss when I return to the states, people caring about the state of the world and not only of themselves and how it's easier to toss stuff and not recycle, for example. There was also a guy playing covers of Stevie Wonder, he was sooo good! I really enjoyed Yokohama as it was a young city with a lot to do.

After Yokohama, I spent 3 days in Tokyo at a re-contractor's conference. I got to enjoy Mexican food, becoming better oriented with Tokyo and spending time with people I generally don't because of the distance.

Then, it was the weekend of my cousin Julie's wedding when we all just hung out at Meghann's apartment and area for the day. We made curry for dinner and drank. The next day, we went hiking - this is my lovely 4 and me playing at the summit of the mountain - Kenjo san.

It's become summer here, so the next weekend or two later Meg cut my hair again at Katie's apartment. We watched movies and TV...something that I have grown an addiction to. It's funny to me because before I moved to Japan, I maybe watched one hour of TV per 3 months. Honestly. I'd sometimes watch movies to relieve stress, but not often. Now, I am downloading American TV onto my computer at rates that are catching me up to the rest of the world that watches TV. I guess when I have no one to talk to when I get home at the end of a long day and feel like relaxing, it's the only thing to do. It also helps me to see "normalcy" or American drama and what American life is like. I say "normalcy" because it's all relative. I'm really into The Office and Lost.

And then the next morning Meg and I went hiking in a town near hers. The hike seemed easy at first but the last leg was like going up something that gravity won't let you. Thank God someone put ropes up. We went to onsen afterwards where we were bombarded with questions from old women who were interested in us. I could only half understand them, but I appreciated the effort that they made to talk to us. From there we made a plan to get coffee and do some shopping in a town that we thought would only take us 40 minutes to get to. But we were wrong and got a bit lost. We stopped and asked for directions to find out we were really far, we turned around and just had lunch at a delicious cafe' that overlooked the ocean. It was a wonderful day.

The next morning we went and played on the beach...I got really bad sunburn. We went for sushi and then I went home...

Pictures up to this point

The following weekend, Meg and my hiking crew (Tamo, Bri, Suzuki san and Kimura san's) went hiking on gas-san. The summit is 6509 feet high and at the top is a shrine. It was beautiful at the bottom but full of snow at the top. On this day, I was attacked by papparazzi or random people taking my picture simply cause I'm a foreigner. ha.

Afterwards, we went to onsen, of course.

and then went to another siteseeing spot named Haguro to see the Pagoda named Goju no to, dating back to the 14th century. A 5 story pagoda is built to honor the elements of earth. For example, wind, water, earth, air, etc.

To see all the photos from GasSan mountain and this siteseeing spot, Haguro in Yamagata ken, click here

Since then, my friend Julie has come to visit and I took her to Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara before coming back up to my house...but we'll leave that for another blog!

I hope I still have followers after letting this thing die for nearly two months!