Tuesday, November 18, 2008

autumn, and i wanted to return to this wonderful place in kyoto i realized i never wrote about. during my first year, thanks to the magnificent sam and fiona, we saw the cherry blossoms in kyoto and stayed in a traditional merchant house, called machiya. it's one of the coolest places i've ever stayed. the mansion is mazelike and has many cool surprises, usually discovered when crawling around, feeling every corner in search of each room's three or four well-hidden light switches (one will be in a cabinet, one on the ceiling, and one outside the room). there are at least fourteen rooms, too, so turning off the 40 lights is practically a full-time job.
i assembled twelve friends and we gathered at the machiya for a november weekend. brian and i had to take off work early friday (since we live the farthest away) in order to check in on time. in celebration, we bought some beers and had a lovely afternoon drinking and knitting on the train!

when we arrived, a young man who spoke english met us there in order to go over the rules (and where to find the light switches!). when he mentioned he had lived in the US, i asked where and was surprised to hear it was seattle. i told him i had lived just south, in tacoma. he was like, "actually. tacoma is where i lived too." the coincidences got weirder. we both studied painting in tacoma at the same time! we both lived downtown. finally i said, "i lived near the Grand Cinema," and he said, "so you must have known the Kickstand Cafe?" of course i did. suddenly, the six years since folded up like an accordion, and the memory of his face surfaced. i had met him before, just once, in that cafe in tacoma!! he had even given me a japanese fashion magazine, which i still have!

one by one, people arrived on buses and trains, and we took a "family picture" in the dining room.

we scattered through the house, exploring. each room is beautiful, and several of the rooms surround inner gardens open to the sky, separated by only paper shoji doors. the bathrooms each have a cedarwood bathtub, the absolute best material a bath could be made of. the wood is never cold like ceramic or steel, so you settle in with no shock of cold against your skin. it's marvelous. (a picture of that coming soon)
we made futon angels, and then talked late into the night.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


one lucky day in autumn is my school's ensoku or "excursion." each class goes somewhere as a group. last year i enjoyed playing in the park with the third-years, but this year the teachers worked extra hard, and we got to go to a theme park! on a weekday! for free! it was ridiculous! ;D
the only hard part was getting up at 5:30, but the morning was beautiful. we set off in seven buses (one homeroom per bus) for the long drive. it was the only time i've gotten to experience the (uniquely japanese?) feeling of the homeroom as a close-knit family. usually they have the same homeroom all three years of high school, so they really know each other well. the atmosphere was festive and kids moved freely around chatting an joking with each other, taking pictures of their classmates who had fallen asleep, and sharing snacks.
i talked a lot with hiroshi and yukimasa in the seat behind me because i know them pretty well. they sang a cappella songs, some in "english." one such song was Stand By Me, but instead of starting the chorus with 'Darlin' Darlin',' yukimasa burst into song with, "Stalin! Stalin!"

i also told them about Cold Stone Creamery, since they have one at the mall near the theme park. i told them they could choose their own base ice cream flavor, select the ingredients they want inside, and make their very own custom flavor of ice cream. stunned by the breadth of choice, but willing to give it a go, yukimasa pantomimed obama and said with conviction, "Yes we can!"

we pulled up in the shadow of the Steel Dragon, the 1st longest and 5th tallest roller coaster in the world! holy crap! it was amazing. i have never lived anywhere near an amusement park, so it was an awesome sight. even more amazing, i was flirting with the idea of riding it! weird, since i'm the type who would usually flat out refuse and go ride the merry-go-round instead. generally i do not like feeling like i'm going to die. i do not want to know what it's like to fall out of a skyscraper. call me crazy.
the weather was perfect, and the park was virtually empty when we arrived. the kids were given the freedom to do as they pleased, and i set off with two teachers to explore the park. i knew if i didn't grab that faint desire to try a roller coaster quickly, it would disappear and i would feel disappointed in myself. after getting a smashing view of the entire park from the ferris wheel, naoko and i lined up for the White Cyclone, a beautiful wooden coaster. it was my first real roller coaster ever.
i wondered if i would scream; screaming seems to take a lot of energy to muster. we climbed the first hill slowly and passed the ominous "Do Not Stand Up" sign, and the rest is history. we plunged down the clackety wooden hill so quickly and got so much lift that i was sure we were going to rip right off the tracks. my screams came effortlessly. the ride was thrilling to the end because the supports keep you from really seeing what's coming next. several times you cross into the structure itself, and it feels like you're going to lose your head in the beams. my legs were shaking as we headed out of the ride, but it was way exhilarating! the only question was: did i have enough guts left for the big one?

we meandered slowly to the base of the huge Steel Dragon. i needed some time to gather my wits, and i wanted to watch the ride from below first. the first hill is the biggest one. the Steel Dragon drops you more than 30 stories at 95 mph! i was on the brink of just walking away, but i knew it was my only chance to go with my students and not have to wait in any lines, so we took the plunge. the climb is slow enough (almost a minute of suspense) to get a good view and get really scared. naoko kept saying how high it was, and i said nothing at all. they get you to the very top and stop the ride for a few seconds so you have to face the ground before hurling towards it. i think it was one of the most terrifying things i've ever experienced! after the first two drops, i knew the worst part was over, so i enjoyed the rest of the twists without fear. thankfully that was when they snap the picture, so i had a huge smile of relief.

the view from the bottom:

and from the top: (Lewis Boeve's photo)

Monday, November 03, 2008

my 15 minutes of flame

due to the form-fitting and english-only nature of my real halloween costume ("Arms Race," see below), for school i once again donned the lolita garb for a new crop of freshmen. dressing up in this extreme fashion for school always makes me a bit nervous because it requires total commitment, and it's such a production! would the new principal flip? this year i skipped the fake hair since my own hair is long enough to curl, which made my day a little bit easier, but as i clomped down the hill in swishing skirts, be-ribboned within an inch of my life, i felt that familiar shot of adrenaline in preparation for the crazed havoc to come.
the other teachers, at least, must be used to my antics by now because there were only a few curious stares, and after i said "happy halloween" in the staff room, everyone chuckled and went back to their work. i went to class as usual, looking insane (but cute) since halloween isn't celebrated in japan. my third year students, who have had me all three years, weren't shocked, but one boy told me i was a dangerous beauty.
the first years weren't so blasé; they were all open-mouthed and squealing, and as soon as class adjourned, i was surrounded by frantic packs of them, camera phones blazing, shouting my name like the paparazzi to look their way. it spread like wildfire down the hallway as friends dragged other friends over to see what all the commotion was about. one girl was even following me down the hallway taking a video; it was crazy! i tried to capture some candid reactions, but i had some difficulty pointing my camera the right way. here's a short video of the tops of their heads.

later some third year boys came to visit, and i offered to take a picture with them, and they practically dove into the shot. i love the resulting photo; we look so classy!

i just realized i never posted last year's picture, so here it is too.

after school i changed into my other costume and drove up to matsusaka for the halloween party with the other JETs. i was SO surprised people didn't catch on right away, but everyone appreciated the work i put into customizing the dress, sewing the hands, etc. i even won a prize for most original, high five! ;)