rainy season

Today was beautifully cool and rainy, humid but without the sauna-like heat. It's much too late at night after a week of little sleep. I have to wake up early tomorrow to call home to commence planning of the family visit to Japan. My parents and brother will be here for a week. I'm really excited! I've been making lists of places to visit, and we're going to Tokyo on the bullet train, so I can't wait for that. I go to Osaka often, but it's just not the same as Tokyo. Not as electric-feeling, but maybe that is just an idea that I impose on the city because of all I have heard about it. Our time in Japan is rapidly coming to a close. I've taught my last classes, already had a farewell party with the English teachers, and have only one final exam left to give. Today I said goodbye to my yoga teacher in Kobe, who is one of the coolest people I have met here. His belief in global peace and the calm and centeredness that radiates from him is inspiring to me. I'm thinking very seriously about working toward becoming a yoga teacher.

It's hard to know how to feel about going back home. It was a very difficult year, but the last few months have become comfortable and in many ways I don't feel ready to leave. I've worked really hard to get that ability to feel at-home here. I hate to give it up so soon. However, even if we didn't want to be close to family right now, I don't know that I would want to commit to another year in a high school, and don't really know what else I would do here. I feel excited to get back into a "job" job, where I will actually be busy doing things that might be more satisfying to me than trying to shove a few words of English down the throats of uninterested youth. And yet I'm also really worried about the low low wages in Montana. Yes, the cost of living is lower, but I really hope to make enough money to have options other than shopping for everything at Walmart. I'm thrilled to be close to family though. We've lived far from home for so long. Last year we spent a lot of time with family before leaving for Japan, and it was really wonderful. It made leaving much harder. So, I'm happy to be going back to that. It feels like now that the big Japan experience is over (for now at least) that I should figure out what I want to do. Full-time yoga teacher? Publishing? Editing? Are any of those possibilities even available in Montana? I have no idea...

And yes, I do know that Portland is a great city. Actually, I would love to live in Portland someday. But now we are needed back in the home state, so to speak. I have a love-hate relationship with Montana, and I know we won't be there forever. There are many many places left to go.


hooray for science

Now, because of the bravery of Mr. Lee, society will no longer automatically assume that I will be the one in our family to bear the children just because I am female. People around the world of all possible genders owe a great debt to him, and to everyone at RYT Hospital and their innovative research programs. And we can even sign up for Genochoice, to be sure that our baby can be exactly the way we design it. Be sure also to check out the personal webjournal of the brilliant Dr. Liu. And you will be cheating yourself if you don't read some of the comments on his posts as well. That mouse with the intelligence of a human being that they developed though? That's just not natural.


vantage point

vantage point
Originally uploaded by M and C.
Yesterday we went hiking on trails that go through the mountains behind our apartment complex. It was incredible to be amongst trees on dirt trails (sometimes it was more like rockclimbing than hiking). We spend so much time here surrounded by buildings and train stations, it was really refreshing for the soul. Actually, the areas we walked through looked very similar to Pacific NW USA trails - parts of it looked just like the arboretum on the WWU campus. It is strange to remember where we were at this point last year, so excited to experience the unknown. And now it feels familiar and comfortable here, even though we are still discovering new things every day.

We are in the middle of Golden Week here. Last Friday, and this Tues - Thurs. are all national holidays, so everyone is off work and the weather has been perfect. The last few weeks have been difficult for people in our area. The terrible train accident recently was a train that connected our town of Takarazuka to Osaka, so many of the people involved were from our area. Both of us have students who lost family members, and neighboring schools lost students. It really shook the communities. It affected so many people directly, and it reminded everyone else that we never really know if or when something like that could happen to us or our families. So, live your life with that awareness, and tell your loved ones that you love them whenever you can. I'm trying to do the same.



Kenshi smiled up at me with a smile that infected me with a grin of my own. The "presento" was a crayon drawing of his English teacher...me. The fellow was standing jauntily near a tree, gigantic multicoloured ice-cream cone clenched in one three fingered hand. He was smiling even though his head was twice the size of his body.

There is something about teaching children that you can never experience when teaching adults. A sense of wonder. Laughter at strange times. Honesty and logic that is both enlightening and downright frightening. Also lots of daydreaming.

Kenshu seemed a little disappointed that his brother beat him to the "presento" giving. Another picture of me, this time I was wearing a multicoloured kimono and eating an even larger ice-cream. I had also evidently decided to go barefoot that day, which seemed nice as I was standing in lush crayola grass.

Kids see the world as an image and do not think in words. Words can be a prison, adults the prisoners.

The boys' mother smiled at me and mouth the word "toilet" when Kenshu started grabbing his trousers and squirming in his chair. I quickly nodded and watched mother and son sprint to the bathroom. Kenshu's brother covered his mouth and pantomimed a wicked laugh.

Several English instructors I have talked to here have told me they hate teaching kids. I listen patiently to horror stories of kids attacking each other, pulling teachers clothing off, throwing things or each other at the instructor. So far I have avoided the chaos that flows around children. I have managed to see through it, even when little hands made a grab from my zipper or when a boy pushed his mother out of her chair, dropping her on the floor like a broken toy. Yes I see it and yes it can be hard. It always is and always will be. But when a little boy hands you a drawing of yourself or a teenage girl shoots you a brief smile that had to find it's way out of the layer of "cool" to get to you...it makes you remember what its like...lets you forgive...to breathe and to heal.
To those who will never read this, Thank you.


An addict

I never know what I might find at the Conbini (convenience store). From Lawson to Asnas, through Sankus and 7-11...inside those small and delightful little closets owned by grumpy Obasans and talkative Ojisans. I am an addict. I buy all the mysterious little individually wrapped, "free cellphone figurine" offering, Obento supplimentatives I come across. If I skip my daily Conbini run I find myself "jonesing" for the packs of Junior high boys reading racy manga or the old men squinting at the "One Cup" sake displays. I even find myself missing the half-hearted "Irashiiiiii" as I walk through the sliding doors. I have been know to stand in the candy isle, doing my best to limit my gaijin bulk from blocking the Meiji choco from view of the other Conbini wayfarers. Standing and feeling the rush of people around me, listening to conversations I can only partially follow. In a Conbini you are just one of many, stopping for an onigiri or a sando. You don't have to be a gaijin if you're lithe enough to slip out of the way when someone reaches for the Pocky behind you. You are just another hungry Conbini addict, enjoying your fix for the day. In a Conbini you can sample all the tasty bits of Pre-Packaged Japan you can afford. Pocky to Pear Soda, pantyhose to TV games, cheap movie tickets to bath beads, whatever you need that you really don't need you can find if you look long enough. But the best part, the tasty centre of the Conbini treat is by far the never-ending swirl of people. Every segment of Japanese society eventually visits a Conbini...the Conbini. A consumer Mecca perhaps but more like a watering hole in the Gobi...every animal must drink. I am an addict and I enjoy my addiction. Perhaps you'll see me picking over the assortment of tsukemono or rummaging through the hyaku-yen snack bin. I'll be the invisible one, or at least the one enjoying his momentary invisibility.


Ballpoint pen marathons and things like that

We are sitting in front of the television, legs under the kotatsu because the temperature is back down into the 30's (4 deg C), and we are watching a ballpoint pen marathon on the show TV Champion. The show pits various experts against each other to determine who is the best at their trade, such as ice sculpting or cooking. Except this week they have 3 people sitting in the back of a truck that is driving back and forth across an airport runway, and they are drawing on a roll of tape that is unwinding to determine whose pen will draw the farthest. They just determined the winner - the pen drew a line for 5.5 kilometers before it ran out of ink. Now they are on to the next competition - how many coins can be stacked on a bridge of graphite mechanical pencil leads before they break. It's the stationery supply championships. They are up to 25 10-yen coins and the bridge of two graphite sticks is still holding. Impressive. Earlier I was watching a show detailing all the best places in Osaka to get fried food on sticks - they were eating tomatoes rolled in batter and deep-fried on a stick. And they said it was Italian. ? Who knows... There was even a place where you could get balls of green tea ice cream deep-fried on a stick. There are always food shows on - people cooking and eating constantly. My partner here is watching the stationery supply championships with a beanbag chair on his head, having had a hard day in which many people gave him angry stares or taunted him for being foreign. Most people are really nice, so don't get the wrong idea. But some days are better than others.


snowfalling on gaikokujin

Snow..."yuki" in japanese. "Yuki neh? Daijobu ka?" Our host, Mikiko asked this of University aged daughter as she came in from a quick dip into the curtain of snow. A literal translation in English: "Snowing isn't it? Ok?" What she meant: "It's snowing out there, are you cold?" My skill with the Japanese language, being only passable at the grocery store, I was excited to understand both what she said and what she meant. Both mother and daughter enjoyed the snow for different reasons. Daughter because of the novelty, the quick dash into the sharp cold and slow whiteness, the mother because the daughter enjoyed it. We are as far from home as we can be but I can still see what makes me love the small things in people.

"Yuki neh? Daijobu ka?"
"I Love you too mom."

Late Hina Matsuri with new friends

Empress Hina
Originally uploaded by M and C.
Tonight we were invited to a friend's house for a late Hina Matsuri celebration. We ate chirashi-zushi, clam soup, fried oysters, and strawberries with cream, as well as some tea sweets and green tea. She also did both of our names in calligraphy. My name when translated into four kanji characters means roughly - beautiful, poem, painting, blue jewels. You can't get much better than that. Our own attempts at calligraphy were not great, but she did some beautiful ones for us. She really enjoys speaking English, which is lucky for us because our Japanese is still rudimentary. It's really wonderful to be invited to someone's home here and to be fed home-cooked food in a house full of nearly grown kids where everything feels comfortable and homey. It snowed the entire time we were there and by the time we were dropped off outside our building, a few inches covered the surfaces of the bushes and parked cars. They say "three days cold, four days warm" here about the spring, so after another day or so and we should be heading back into the warm weather. Oh, I hope so.