Thursday, December 31, 2009

i really think so: airing my clean laundry

happy new year! check it out: it's 1:01 pm on 01/01/10. it feels so...binary.

when i was a senior in high school, my AP english teacher brought his guitar to class one day and did an unexpected rendition of that Vapors song "Turning Japanese" for us. i had never heard it before, and i think most of us believed he had written it himself. ordinarily a slow-speaking, deliberate man (imagine a non-evil, rounder-featured version of alan rickman's severus snape), he put a lot of energy into his performance, leaving us overly-conscious highschoolers feeling a bit awkward. i mean, what was it supposed to mean? years later i realized he was only covering a song that had been out since 1980.
though i later discovered some less-than-savory things about this man (look at me being mature...i decided not to air them publicly), he was a creative and intelligent educator. i was in the theater troupe at my school, and during performances, we could always hear him laughing from the audience at the highbrow jokes no one else caught. anyway, this is all by way of introduction to this morning's pretty much couldn't have been more japanese; homemade miso soup, rice with pickled plums, genmaicha (toasted rice tea), and black beans with a chestnut. delicious!

snow has been falling steadily since yesterday. i met a friend in nagoya before it began...i hit the town in ruby red...

...and when i returned, i had to unbury my bicycle at the station. brrr!

back at home i faced the dilemma of a japanese winter: trying to get laundry dry...when it's freezing.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

date 2: the sequel

hey everyone. thanks for pestering (er, asking) me to write; it's nice to know people want to hear what happens. *grin* time flies like crazy math, doesn't it? a few days after our date, shin said he had a friend who was jealous we had gone out, and did i have a girlfriend who might be interested in having a drink with us? i liked the idea because i could get a friend's perspective on shin and... we would be far less likely to get abducted. hey, bonus.
fern agreed to come with me, mainly out of curiosity, i think. were they trying to get girlfriends before the romance-heavy Christmas Eve? did they just like the idea of foreign women? i still don't know. when the night rolled around, we agreed to meet in the main train station, and i spotted fern first. i didn't know what shin's friend looked like or what direction they'd be coming from, so the two of us stood restlessly among the coming and going like big, foreign targets. at last they showed up, and we made quick introductions and headed off for some food.
shin's friend, youichi, made a valiant effort at conversation, but the bottom line was he seemed nervous (and unused to talking in english), and the rest of us weren't. he made a lot of old man jokes and we had the Interviewing a Foreigner 101 conversation. i don't really mind those, but that was one of the reasons i liked shin in the first place, we could skip to things that are actually interesting. the friend was also interested in western bands from way before our time, so he seemed older than his age. poor guy. i wasn't having a bad time, not really. it just lacked those things i would hope for in a date: excitement, connection, um, fun.
naturally karaoke was suggested, and fern and i shrugged "why not?" i wanted to check out one of the fancy places near my house, so we headed that direction in the back of youichi's car. i stood in awe inside the karaoke palace. so unlike the dark, lumpy-seated places of the countryside, there was a huge reception area, nice wallpaper, and chandeliers. the sound was GREAT too; i've never sounded better. that's not saying much; i don't exactly have the voice of an angel, but i can sing on key when the planets align correctly.
surprisingly, i wasn't really that nervous, and we all had some good songs to sing. shin and i did a duet of the song he had asked me to interpret during our first meeting. fern told me later he said "it has special meaning to us." excuse me? is that the sound of someone getting sentimental about something that i'm not? it doesn't seem possible.
shin's on the right. his friend doesn't normally look so much like a zombie.

karaoke was by far the best part of the night, truly fun. it was over a bit too quickly, but we had to get fern to the train station. i headed home content, but i felt like perhaps i could see the problem with the idea of dating shin: there doesn't seem to be enough conviction, fire, passion, intensity, gravity (whatever you want to call it) in him, and that is definitely something i need in order to be attracted to someone. i don't need a tough guy, but i do need strength. it could be hiding, true, but i suspect we are passionate about very different things, and that would also be pointless.
for days i didn't hear from shin, and i figured he also felt the lack of something and was dropping the ball. i couldn't get up the motivation to care, but then he picked that ball back up and started throwing it again. so i'm hearing from him again every day, but we have no plans to hang out. i'm not opposed to being his gal pal, but that's about it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

the date dress

last year i bought a dress i thought seemed like the perfect date dress: interesting and attractive but comfortable. considering my dating history (i can definitely count the number of "real" dates i've had on one hand) i had no reason to believe it would ever be used for its designated purpose. however, the dress and i went on a First Date saturday.
rewind to the halloween party. i met a cute (english-speaking) japanese guy who had attended a short-term class at the other branch of our school. my first thought was, "how soon before this guy tells me he's married," but he never did. we talked for a few minutes and then caught up again later when some of us headed to a bar to wind down. he was thoughtful enough to refill my water when he got up for a new drink, and he didn't touch a cigarette the whole night. now that i think of it, my last--i'll call it an entanglement--began when a guy brought me water... anyway, his next question was solid laurenbait, "what do these lyrics mean...'she acts like summer and walks like rain?'"
he asked me to sing a song (perhaps i should mention that every party in japan becomes a karaoke party by the end of the night), but i had been sick that week and was barely squeaking out a conversation. he sang, though, and he did a fine job! thank goodness he isn't one of those singers you have to endure.
at the end of the night he seemed interested in talking some more, but i think a guy should have enough guts to ask for my info if he wants to hang out again, so i waited to see what would happen. after talking about going to karaoke sometime when i could actually sing, he did get around to asking, so i gave him my text address and headed home. when i hadn't heard from him by the end of the night, i figured i never would.
i was wrong.
for the next few weeks we exchanged several messages each day. i doubted that he would actually suggest doing anything concrete, but once again i was wrong. one evening he replied to my email with, "let's go out for drinks." we set a time, and i didn't really think about it much until the day before. that's when i got down to the business of freaking out and being paranoid. in western dating culture, you can fall back on some assumptions: we will do the "how-much-do-i-owe-you-for-dinner-oh-thank-you dance" and the "how-will-we-negotiate-the-kiss/no-kiss-goodnight-thing dance." i wasn't sure what to expect, but that was soon overshadowed by another fear. let's just say i've watched too many episodes of Law and Order, and visions of murder were dancing through my head. had i misread him completely? was he a psycho? i got so nervous i was wearing my shoulders as earrings.
the next day i got a grip and made an effort to look forward to it.
as i tried not to look awkward waiting in front of the grocery store where we were meeting, i wondered if i would still find him attractive (i did only see him once) and if it would be weird that we talked only in text messages for several weeks. i also typed out a "save me; i've been kidnapped" message on my phone and memorized how to send it without looking. seriously.
when shin (pronounced "sheen") walked up, my first thought was, "i'm going out with that hot guy??"
attraction: check.
we walked down to a kushiyaki (food on skewers) shop and spent the next several hours (ok, it was four hours) talking and joking. it was really fun. i tried not to be too distracted by his sexy mouth. we walked back to his car and i got all flighty, so i gave him a preemptive hug, bid him goodnight, and flew away on my bicycle. a few minutes later i got a text saying he had fun talking with me and would like to do it again. the date dress and i high-fived and went to sleep.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sunday, November 08, 2009

i'm a slocker: using english as a weapon of hilarity

the invisible pen: bright orange and enormous. i guess they're redefining "invisible."

shirts for your children: my favorite is the one on the left. next to the peeing chimpanzee, "give a sigh of relief. i think i'll visit the restroom before i leave." (thank you for telling me about it) "if you're too hasty, you'll get into trouble." (i suppose that's true).

seriously!? a kitchen knife for kids?

an interesting place for the word tape to be clipped...

fall falls slowly to the electronic billboard.

Friday, November 06, 2009

connecting the dots

gaah; it's already been a month! it's hard to remember to update since i'm no longer sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours every day. i have some pumpkin muffins in the oven, so instead of washing the dishes, i'll write.
it's been over three months since i left my old life in kumano for my new life here, a fourth of the year gone in a flash. in that time i've been settling in but also feeling a bit untethered. new city, new home, new job, new friends (since, for the time being, i've been too poor to see my old friends). most days it doesn't really bother me...i like exploring japan and this IS what i wanted for so long--to really experience city life.
however, i'm also a familiarity junkie. i like to know my environment: where to find every little thing, how to get everywhere, where to eat; i like to have a history with the places i inhabit. it's in my pack rat personality to also file away information, and i spent three years in kumano memorizing the places i could buy american sweet potatoes (only in november), tortillas (random liquor store), a light-bulb socket that plugs into an outlet (yes, i've needed several), watch batteries... now i have to start over from the beginning.
with nothing familiar, i have felt completely cut off from the last three years of my life, though i am a negligible distance from where they took place. my heart has been aching a bit, mourning the sudden separation from hundreds of important, life-changing, sometimes warm, sometimes frustrating memories and the people i shared them with. there hasn't been much i could do about it until last weekend, when i finally had free time and enough money to get me back to kumano.

[Long Aside: the main reason i've been so poor, aside from the thousands of dollars it cost to move and get my apartment secured, is because i transitioned to paying my own health insurance premiums. you're required to enroll if you live in japan. if you weren't enrolled and then decide to, you have to pay for all the payments you "missed," even though you weren't covered. kinda bonkers. i knew i was covered before and would have to begin paying, but i didn't know how much, and i also had ZERO extra money. i have only recently gotten some of my clothes out of the boxes i've been using as drawers. so i didn't pay. then they found me...and sent me a payment plan of $350 per month for the next four months! gulp. i felt completely deflated. not only do i simply not have that much money, but it looked as though my regular monthly payment would be $270 (it's based on your previous year's salary...i was making more then). maybe i couldn't make things work here after all! after all i've invested to stay. it doesn't help that i can't read anything but the amount. i knew right away i'd probably have to borrow money to cover the health insurance payments, but would i ever really catch up!? the good news is that (thanks to the school secretary asking for me), my monthly payments are actually $180 per month, and they'll go down a bit in april. so, though i thought i was almost caught up financially, it looks like it might take a while. the good news is i'm healthy and my car and computer are working; those things make me really grateful!]

in spite of all this (or because of it), i felt i had to visit kumano while i had the chance. not only would it be a beautiful time (and my only long weekend for months), i've felt stranded here because i didn't know how to get anywhere by car. if i finally drove down to mie, i wouldn't feel so trapped.
sunday i packed up my car, and feeling jittery about finding the way alone, i set off. i was tempted to tell the toll booth operator it was my first time on that road just for an encouraging smile, but i didn't. :) the road was clear, and soon i relaxed as i found each junction easy enough to understand. i crossed a wide, green bridge and was back in mie without fanfare. the clean, new cars of aichi were replaced with cars like mine: old, tiny, dusty. the landscape opened up and the late morning light lit up fields and trees. i took a deep, happy breath. finally i began to connect my old life with my new one.
in just over an hour, i passed the landmark i had been holding my breath for: tsu city. everything after tsu i've driven many times, and it all feels like the home stretch. when the expressway ended, i pulled off at a familiar convenience store to stretch my legs. what can i say? still an hour from kumano, i already felt home. a grin took over my face. i smelled the fresh air scented with leaf smoke and damp.
i got back in the car and the rest of the journey sped by in a blur of sunlight and green mountains. a trip i had expected to feel like a long, exhausting journey didn't seem to take any time at all. i pulled into town with my heart beating loudly and my hands shaking. i didn't really want to see any students i knew yet; i wasn't quite ready for reunions with people, i just wanted to see the town i belonged to and enjoy it. i was staying with katie, but she was busy in another town until that night, so i let myself into her apartment and unpacked while i got my bearings. then i headed off to my friend etsuko's house for a visit.
everything made me happy: fields of dripping satsuma oranges, the spiders stretched across eaves (maybe the first time spiders have ever made me smile), the wet pavement. etsuko's house was warm and she had scones baking, so we settled down over coffee and caught up comfortably.

i hobbled out two hours later, almost sick on sweets but happy all the same. i drove to the gym where i finally learned how to love running and just sat in the car while the rain dripped down the windshield. i would have liked to go inside, but i didn't bring my gear (next time). it was getting dark, so i moved on to the grocery store to see if they had those elusive american sweet potatoes in stock yet, and you know what? they did! i glowed with success. the only thing in my basket was $18 worth of sweet potatoes, so the old lady behind me in line asked if they were any good (they're pretty different from the japanese kind). she was nice, so i told her about them and then drove to the cheap sushi restaurant for dinner. it was perfect.
the next day was a work day for katie, so i was left to my own devices. some things never change, eh? the day was gorgeous and sunny, so i went back to the gym to hang out in the park where i used to read and write letters. i think that is what i've been needing more than anything: sun, the smell of the ground, empty hours. i watched the clouds dissolving and reforming across the sky and got some vitamin D. just before heading off to visit my old school, i tried some exuberant photos.

i tried not to get my hopes up about going back to school. i knew no one was waiting expectantly for me to visit, but i did end up having some good talks with teachers, and though the students seemed happy to see me, they were in the thick of preparing for entrance exams. i did find out there is a baby sugar due in february, so all my best to mr. sugar and his sweet.
i popped up to see my 80-something-year-old neighbor, and she, more than anyone, looked happy to see me. she just stood in her doorway looking up at me, grinning, her gold tooth gleaming in the afternoon light. she sent me off with a bag of potatoes and onions from her garden and told me to come back at christmas for some fresh daikon.

the next morning i bought a bag of satsumas from the neighborhood honor box for a dollar.

i hadn't had a chance to visit my favorite onsen, so katie and i went the next day, though i was running out of time and still had to drive back. the drive back is a little more complicated as there is a perpetual traffic jam heading north, but i put it out of my mind and enjoyed the brilliant weather and the view in the daytime.

relaxed and energized, i left my kumano as night fell and ate satsumas in the dark car all the way home.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

ichigo-es to ichinomiya

what happened to my sad mac? a friend who used to work for apple suggested replacing my own hard drive. the apple store was going to charge me $400 to do it, so i figured it was worth a shot. after some texted counsel on which kind to buy, i galvanized myself for the trip to pc depot (having no clue what hard drives cost and very little money with which to find a solution). i felt certain of my choice to risk the repair when i saw a hard drive with twice the capacity of my previous one cost $60! i have always loved messing with machines, so i was actually pretty excited to give it a shot. pulling out the old one was cake...(i even had the right tiny screwdrivers), and i could see how much corrosion my little soup spill caused on the exterior. i guess it's amazing it lasted this long. i unscrewed the case and voilĂ --my computer brain laid bare.

here's the new one on the left and broken hard drive version 2.0 on the right...good thing i got serious about backing stuff last year. after more texted counsel on formatting the hard drive and reinstalling everything, i was up and running a few hours later. gerry, thanks a BILLION! dear reader, if you have a macbook too, consider printing out these instructions in case the worst happens to you.

so after returning to my regularly scheduled life of googling knitting patterns and recipes, facebooking, skype, and downloaded tv, the thing i was looking forward to for over a month (or two?) was my friend megan visiting from tokyo. we had a short holidate planned for september, and i was super excited to see her familiar face after nearly 9 months! the night she arrived, i came down with a sore throat, but i was determined to squeeze as much fun as possible from our visit. like any good vacation, it pretty much revolved around food.
so in japan there is a popular dish called omurice (from omelette rice), and the ubiquitous version is a football-shaped omelette on flavored rice with a dab of ketchup. the idea never really thrilled me, and i had certainly never ordered it in a restaurant. however, there is an omurice restaurant a few blocks from my house, and anything that close is worth a shot, right? when our first choice restaurant was closed, megan and i meandered over, having no idea what we were in for at Bill's Cafe. first of all, the sheer number of choices was staggering: white sauce, demi glace sauce, tomato sauce, chili, ketchup... there was an array of meats or vegetables that could be mixed in, and you could choose the typical style or torotoro, which is defined as "sticky, oily, or brimming with melted fat," but as you'll see if you watch the prep video on Bill's Cafe's page, should be defined as "shiny yellow barf on a plate."
i ordered tomato sauce over fresh mozzarella cheese, and like most things with those two ingredients, it was divine. i could almost forget my aching throat.

we both ordered the dessert set, and things just kept getting better. not only did we get a scoop of homemade ice cream, a tiny carafe of pudding, but we also got to select from the daily cakes, and my melty bitter chocolate cake did not disappoint.

that same night we met my adult student ichiro, a fun, friendly clothing line owner with whom i spend class time talking about motorcycles and clothes (man, my job sucks ;p ) and his girlfriend (younger than me!) in nagoya for one of nagoya's famous foods: tebasaki, or chicken wings. by that point the evil sore throat phlegm had all but paralyzed my vocal cords, and i spent the night honking out my amazement, like a pubescent donkey, over the raucous din of yama-chan's packed five-story chicken wing palace.

spicy with salt and pepper, cooled with beers, and made perfect by learning the perfect technique to strip the meat cleanly from the bones in one bite, the tebasaki really were that good. ichiro treated us, and i felt blessed to have so much fun and good food in one day.
megan and i had more great meals with friends, lots of good talks, knitting, and some shopping, but finally we had to say goodbye, a shame since she was a perfect house guest. "old friend" time has been extremely rare in my new city, and it was like a big dose of home having her here.

we waved goodbye in nagoya, and i headed home alone on the 80s-riffic seats of my local train.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


hello from my mobile 2nd hard drive croaked yesterday (beware! chicken soup for the mac should only be a figurative expression, but seriously, it lasted at least 5 months after my lunch spill so it cant have been my fault right?)so i am cut off again and taking in the low-tech joys like cleaning and staring at the wall.would love to tell you all about it but my thumb is getting tired.will post a photo instead.

Monday, September 07, 2009

malls on mondays

hey all. i'm feeling kinda craptacular right now for some reason, but i had a good day. it's monday, my "sunday," and i rolled out of bed at 8:30 and made myself some walnut chocolate chip pancakes for...maybe the first time since i moved in?? they were delicious. too bad i had to eat them all myself!
my world has been expanding a little at a time as i figure out where things are, and i've been trying to reach my chore destinations via different routes so i can see more of the city. today i discovered a cheap sushi restaurant and possibly a shorter route to work and also what looked like a huge second hand store. i keep reminding myself, "these places are near you! you can actually take advantage of them!" it's so hard to believe after three (hundred) years of living in the Brigadoon of japan.
i then meandered to the grocery store/mall i mentioned before. it was marvelously clean and free of people. mondays are the best days to visit malls. it's like the whole place exists just for you (the fantasy of an only child, huh?). i got to really see what the mall had, and it's a pretty unique place for japan (imho). there are window seats by the library (!?), an outdoor terrace by the food court, and some strawberry rilakkuma paraphernalia (megan we must go back when you visit). if i can't find a grassy place to read (my eternal quest), maybe i'll just adjourn to the mall on my days off and read there over some tapioca tea...or starbucks pumpkin lattes...or baskin robbins ice cream...
in the grocery store i love (hereafter referred to as apita), i got offered a kimchee cucumber by the kimchee bar man. yes, they have a whole table of different kinds of kimchee, and a man who just waits there to help you with it. it just so happens cucumber kimchee is my favorite, so i was pretty happy. the guy was truly engaging and started the, " where are you from?" line of questioning, but after that he asked more interesting questions than most people do, and he also told me he worked for mitsukoshi department store in nagoya (he was a loaner for the day, maybe?) and enjoyed talking to all the foreign people who came in. i liked him. we had a good old chat (it always helps when they only ask you questions you understand), and i left thinking, "that's why i freaking love this store."
my weekends are getting good. saturday night i went up to nagoya to stay with fern and meet some of her friends, which was sooo wonderful. i've desperately needed some quality laughing and chatting time with other christian women. it's been forever. even better, we're going to do it every week! i feel honored to have been included so naturally in their group. also incredible was the salmon salad with yogurt and hummus for dressing (i was more than a little skeptical) with roasted pumpkin all mixing together into a gorgeous meal. we caught the last train to nagoya station and took a looong walk through the dark city streets to get to fern's apartment. seriously, a 1 am walk through underpasses and along abandoned roads. nowhere but japan would someone like me be doing something like that.
after church the next day, we had a stunning meal at sora, where soy banana shakes taste like this

and then happened across a store with soft, big, beautiful BAGELS. i could have eaten four on the spot.
so, that's the best update i can do feeling the way i do, but i'll put up some more pictures of my apartment like i said i would.
here's the front of the building.

the view from my front window.

the new, improved laundry room with a cover for the hideous washing machine.

and my friendly neighborhood rice field. seriously. in the middle of the city. i love it; it makes the most wonderful sound when the wind blows and is so GREEN.

Friday, August 28, 2009

making it home

naturally, i can't keep up on all the things i want to show and tell you, but i need to start somewhere, so i guess i'll start with my apartment. i absolutely l~o~v~e it. when i had the this is it feeling the first time i saw it online, i absolutely didn't think it would be possible for me to actually live here. too many variables, too great a place. i was sure it'd disappear, be too expensive (jury's still out on that one), or they wouldn't rent to foreigners. but here i am, sitting on the floor with the key in my purse and my mail showing up downstairs.
it is absolutely perfect for me: i'm on the corner of the top floor, i have a good view of what's goin' on, but no one can see in. there is abundant natural light and air and everything is beautiful! the doors glide smoothly on their tracks; there are outlets in the right places; it feels safe and secure. and don't get me started on the bathtub that you can program to fill itself on schedule to your desired depth and temperature (not to mention that it tells you when it's ready)! but you know what i enjoy most every moment of the day? see that giant spider lurking on the wall of the balcony?

yeah, me neither!
bye bye big bugs. that was the only spider web i could even find. i haven't seen a mukade, an ant, a termite, a mouse, a snake, a cockroach, or a cricket since i moved in here. oh, i did see a mosquito, one. it is marvelous walking around barefoot without worrying about where my toes are going, what could be lurking in any crevice.
i was worried moving my stuff from a small house to a smaller apartment would mean crap everywhere, but if there's one thing i know how to do, it's organize things into submission. i still have great space that feels comfortable and open. too bad i don't have money for any drawers right now, but i'm not hating the boxes too much.
my kitchen:

the bedroom/living room:

the view from the side window of the bedroom:

ok, more pictures soon, including the outside of the building, but it's bedtime and i have to work saturdays, so goodnight!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

boom boom pow

so here i am...sitting on my third-story balcony in the dark, sipping ice water and trying to catch a breeze. it has been unseasonably "cool" (only 81 degrees at 10:00 tonight) and "dry" since i returned to japan, a seriously wonderful thing, because i probably won't have enough money for an air conditioner for at least another month. it's far beyond miserable trying to escape your own sweaty carcass for hours on end. when you can get no relief in your home, it feels like torture. i know roxie understands--when we lived together in tacoma's Sauna of the Sun, the heat literally brought her to tears.
right now i can hear crickets (the cicadas only rev their engines in the daytime), light traffic, my fridge humming, an occasional train going by a few blocks away, and the quiet click of a bicycle down below. that is one of the best things about my apartment: it's quiet. i can't hear my next-door neighbor AT ALL unless she is on balcony hanging laundry, but i don't have to hear phone conversations, blenders, stereos, or babies crying. that's because there is a concrete wall between us. in japan, good walls make good neighbors! reinforced concrete construction, you have my vote!
so i've been back for four days, and there have already been some highs and lows. keep in mind: this is the first time in my life i've moved to a city i'd only been to once before. the only person i know a teeny bit is out of town, and here i am...plunked down in a new place with no idea where anything is or what to expect. i'm already a sensitive person, but put me in a totally new situation, and sensitivity blows up like peeps in the microwave.
yesterday was the low point. for one thing i was already lethargic, but i was feeling so lonely and discouraged, you could have crumpled me with one wrong look. the people at the nearest grocery store didn't seem friendly, the fruit looked crappy and was way overpriced (even for japan), and i felt trapped. i didn't know what lies in any direction from my house, so where could i go? finally, as the evening began to cool down a little, i memorized part of a city map and made myself ride my bicycle to the main train station. just going down the road made me feel better, and i discovered a lot along the way; a post office, the brightest, cleanest drug store i've ever seen, a shopping arcade, the city gym...oh, and a piece of my sanity. i chatted with a nice old lady in a fabric store and then rode back feeling like a new person. i cheerfully bought some beer and edamame at the drug store, i made myself some mexican food, and i fell asleep perfectly content (but a little bit hot).
i know new situations require patience and faith that a Turning Point will come. i think yesterday was a turning point. i got over feeling like a cowardly lion and actually figured some stuff out. today was even better. today i decided to find the mall i saw when passing on a train, so i drove there without incident (ooh, passed an onsen. note to self: visit onsen) and went inside.

! ! whoaaaaa...

i have clearly been in the countryside for too long, friend. a two-floor carpeted mall unfolded before me. i just took it all in. the attached super market was SO much nicer than the one near my house and it had several key things that indicated, "lauren, you have arrived." some of those things were: tortillas, boursin cheese, marshmallows, salsa. these are the things it's hard to find at regular stores in japan, so you know a really well-stocked grocery when you can find them. plus it had the stuff i'm used to at normal prices.

next i ventured into chococro (a chocolate croissant chain). um WOW. i had to have a 2nd one.

just when i thought it couldn't get any better, i came around the corner to a starbucks. now, starbucks isn't my cup of tea (har har) when i'm home. there are so many good, independent coffee shops, but in japan, starbucks is a guaranteed good cup of whatever. and it feels like home. in a place that's not quite home yet, that's even more precious.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

begin the begin

it's the beginning of the end: the last week in what has become my japanese hometown. my classes are finished (anticlimactically), so i will spend the rest of my work days cleaning out my desk, trying to say goodbye to people, and turning my pepsi nex bearbrick into emo bear.

From i eat dirt

sunday i will drive up to my new home. crazy! i don't even know how to get there.

yesterday i returned from a momentous and miraculous journey to nagoya--to get my new visa and re-entry permit!!--which means i actually DO get to go home for the summer and won't be stuck in japan due to a bureaucratic detail. the turnaround was a record 2 weeks (it's supposed to take 1-3 months). everyone i know was praying about this, and i feel so blessed to have these prayers answered. thanks everyone! after i got them, i just sat and pored over those two stamps in my passport, scarcely believing it was true.
i think i was SO relieved that i had a ridiculously clumsy rest of the day: i spaced out and almost missed getting off the train at the right place, i got home and went to the hardware store and couldn't find my wallet (left it on the table at home), forgot to take a picture of the gorgeous green rice fields that i drove by four times, thought i didn't have enough money for my purchase at the convenience store until i found the money in my pocket, and then got home and realized i had bought the wrong thing! phew. i was glad to call it a night.

i'm going to work at a small private eikaiwa (english conversation school), where i will teach people of all ages. i got the apartment i wanted; i found a used washer, fridge, and stove for a good price; and though i've yet to find an air conditioner, i probably won't die of sweatloss.
right now i feel like i'm just waiting for it all to begin. my house is half-packed, i have about 265 things i need to remember to do, in a certain order, or the moving process will screech to a halt and i'll be stuck somewhere without something important like electricity or clothes or money.
as is typical for a big move like this, i've been so busy planning it, i haven't had time to actually absorb it. my first year here, just after i had decided to stay for a second, i had the strong conviction i would feel nostalgic for this place. i got to enjoy two more years after that realization, and i often took the time to enjoy that honey-sweetness in the summer air, the incredible lushness and variety of the flowers, the smoky fires of plant clippings, the ever-changing face of the ocean, the fresh vegetables from my neighbor. i know there are so many people and things i will miss, but since i have tried to enjoy them all along, i hope i won't regret my sudden departure too much.
however, there are some things i certainly won't miss, and here are a few:
the smell of my neighbor's very ripe outhouse (yes, they still have them in the countryside),
accidentally walking through one of the spiderwebs built across the path to school overnight,
having to drive two and a half hours to get tortillas,
killing mukade,
avoiding wearing high heels lest i break my neck walking up or down the steep path to my car,
paying $50 for a one-way ticket to civilization,
wondering where my youth has gone (aka: In-Bed-by-10-On-Weekends Syndrome).

Saturday, July 04, 2009

thegirl and the self-timer: old friends

i've been doing weird self-portraits for years, usually only for lack of a companion. this set of photos was particularly challenging, and i have plenty of shots of just my butt in the camera to prove it. ten seconds just isn't quite enough to hurl yourself down some steps and into a balanced handstand, but i did get one good shot.

my facial expressions are positively tragic with visible effort. i don't think many breakdancers aspire to look like hungry jackals.

and later in the locker room of my gym, i decided to try some tricks in a dress.

i've been packing all day. i have a mere two weeks left in my dear little bug-infested paradise. i've lived here longer than i've lived anywhere alone, so it will be strange, strange to leave it in someone else's hands.

the lushness makes a leafy cave on the path up to my house. goodbye falling-down house.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

in the eye of the flea

i'm going home for a visit in exactly a month (yaHOO!), but before that i have to move! i can't believe it! my contract is finally coming to an end (that three years evaporated fast), and i've felt the growing urge to leave small-town japan for a big city (where i can wear my wacky clothes and lolita dresses!) my future home is called ichinomiya, a mere ten minutes from nagoya by train. ichinomiya is an interesting city in its own right: a hub of textile-making and home to the noro yarn factory, but i'm equally thrilled to be in such close proximity to nagoya. i like nagoya partly because it's underrated. while tokyo, kyoto, and osaka are constantly entertaining strangers, nagoya gets on with living. it feels normal there. don't get me wrong, i still adore osaka, but i think as far as places to live go, nagoya is much more my speed.
not only will i be changing towns, i'll be trading mie prefecture's hang-ten hand for aichi, which is more, well, flea-shaped!

last weekend i got to do something i've been dying to do since i started thinking about moving: apartment hunting! i love seeing inside empty houses and imagining my life in each one, and it's even more interesting in japan. i scoured the online listings for hours, scrutinizing every floor plan, decoding what the abbreviations meant, determining where they were located. i found a good sampling within my estimated price range, and finally i got to visit the real estate office.
i had tiptoed around actually contacting them for months. it's totally legal here to discriminate against foreigners for housing, and especially if your japanese is poor (like mine), some people are flat-out refused. i was quaking in my boots that this would happen. while my employer has some housing available, it shares a kitchen and a bathroom, and people, i am 30 years old. i want my own space! i have had so many undesirable situations where i was the only person cleaning the bathrooms or kitchen, and i'm so over that.
i decided the best course of action would be to email minimini (the real estate company) the online form for the places i liked. i was able to communicate through email for a bit, hopefully laying down a foundation for our business relationship. i convinced my friend sam to go with me to help with communication, as his japanese is hot stuff. i was sweating bullets over all the details: how much money would i need to move in? (a lot, i was sure), when could i move in?, what kind of guarantor would i need? etc. i was totally blessed, therefore, when the secretary of my new employer offered to go with me to look at apartments. she's japanese. she knows about all those details. pheeww.
she and i met for the first time and headed straight to minimini to look for some good apartments. the agent was helpful and pulled a bunch of apartments with my specifications. most important: a nice kitchen! who knew i would turn into someone who loves cooking so much? i don't want to be cooking in the hallway just inside the front door, a typical layout. i also don't want a single burner stove and no counters. i wanted a good size kitchen with some natural light.

so typical. :) an apartment i considered, but decided against. you walk in the front door and there's a bathroom sink, followed by a kitchen sink and small stove (see the floor plan). no hallway cookin' for me!

this even smaller place is purely unacceptable unless you have kitchen phobia.

then we headed out to see some places. i thought we'd be visiting at least, you know, six places, but we only went to three! the first one was do you say?...a dump. dinky windows on the first floor and facing a rusted brown corrugated wall (possibly artistic, but not good for reflecting light); i was not thrilled. the space was ok, three tiny rooms and a window in the kitchen, but i knew i couldn't live there.
the second place was like paradise after the first: new, gorgeous, and with many perks! we all ambled around in wonder. it had a great stove already, an air conditioner (most places don't and they're Expensive), beautiful storage, nice fixtures! the drawbacks were important, though. again it was on the first floor, not good for single women living alone. i want to be able to leave my windows open when i sleep, but the only other "windows" besides the tiny one in the kitchen was the two very nice, huge sliding glass doors--not a good way to keep prowlers out. that means i would always have to sleep with the windows closed. hmm. also, the sliding glass doors face cedar bushes. it may be private, but it's boring. if there's one thing i know about myself, it's that i need a view. i need to be able to see other people or cars or something. it helps me feel connected. there were no windows in the laundry room, bathroom, or toilet either...a tiny bit depressing. lastly, the first floor is the bug floor. i've had my fill of huge, ugly bugs. i'm ready to go up a level.
Apartment Two:
fancy toilet, and a mirror so you can look at yourself while sitting on the fancy toilet?

the face washing sink (this seems to be an important feature in Japanese apartments), and a place for the washing machine.

ooh, nice stove. i've never seen a place with a "real" oven. my convection oven is wonderful, though.

seriously great storage, a huge plus.

the view of the cedar bushes.

the last place we looked at was the one i had picked as my online favorite. when i had seen it, i had a "that's the one" moment. i didn't think it was going to be possible since it was near my upper price limit and i thought i'd have to pay extra for parking, but the parking is included.
inside the top floor corner apartment, it was a festival of sunlight. the view was marvelous; windows in all the rooms, away from the bugs and street noise and peeping eyes. an aerie. granted, it didn't have the appliances the other place had, but it felt so much more like me. we exclaimed over the view; i exclaimed over the spotless stainless steel under the kitchen sink (you could eat off it), and i snapped pictures helter-skelter. we returned to the office utterly exhausted. i wanted to get on with drawing up the contract for Door Number 3, but i guess they have to formally ask the landlord and do all sorts of credit checks, so i headed home to wait it out.

Door Number 3:
the plan.

inside the front door. nice cabinet for shoes.

the first left is the face washing/laundry room, which leads into the bathing room. a window in each!

a close-up of the face washing station.

the 2nd left is the toilet. it's not a "washlet," but i do think the toilet seat is heated, which is pretty much the ultimate luxury.

standing in the kitchen looking back at the front door.

the kitchen! so clean, so pretty!

the other side of the kitchen where the balcony is.

in the room adjacent to the kitchen (the corner room), there is a glass window so you can see onto your balcony without going out on it. handy?

a wider view of that room with the front window.

and finally, the corner window and closet.

other benefits of this building include an air conditioned elevator, hey! and its close proximity to mos burger, baskin robbins, and at least 3 conbinis.

the funny part was that after we had all parted ways, i didn't feel the incredible relief i expected to feel after finding a possible home; i felt terrified! if i was sweating bullets before, i was sweating cannonballs now. for three days i was under the most choking, sweating, persecutin' fear. what if i couldn't afford that place with my new job? what if i didn't get the apartment? what if i did? how on earth was i going to pay for all the appliances? an air conditioner alone is over 500 bucks here! how was i going to live on the money i have left from this job for the next two months until i get my next real paycheck? finally after going to bed exhausted (and sometimes waking up in worry) every night, i finally had a breakthrough. i remembered what i learned from Biggest Loser: fear is a doorway. i'm so close to getting something i've wanted to experience for at least 5 years--city living in japan--and i'm ready to turn away at the opportunity because it's hard and scary. i can either go towards fear and through it, or i can keep retreating and never get past it. it takes being uncomfortable to grow, and i want to grow!
i still don't have any answers, but i know God's going to provide for me. it doesn't mean it's going to be perfect but that i'm not alone in dealing with it. those are odds i think i can live with. so unless things take another turn, i will be moving into this lovely apartment in the high heat and humidity of summer with no air conditioning! i wil probably lose five pounds of sweat! i think i see a silver lining?