Monday, December 13, 2010

looking glass girl

after almost half a decade in japan, it feels shocking to wear shoes inside, and i had to call my mom to ask if you really throw light bulbs away in the regular trash. happily i found japanese rice at the store and have had a pot of miso soup in my fridge constantly since i returned.
three weeks! so much has happened. i started a part time job at photo shop, bought a car, moved into my housesitting house, and immediately started having car trouble. i already feel like i’ve been gone for months, which makes me sad. some nights it comes back strong, though…just the simple memory of riding the train home or going to the grocery store…the familiar places that are 6000 miles away.
in many ways i’ve been blessed: the car is fixed enough for now; the house where i’m living gives me the space and financial freedom i need during this transition; the job has been a surprising delight; and i’m still healthy and not totally broke (yet). in spite of all that, it’s hard not to feel aimless and fearful about the future. where am i going? my immediate practical needs have demanded most of my energy and thought, but when i have a little time, a big question mark curls through my head like a black snake.
this morning, a bit too tired, i unexpectedly connected with the feeling of loss that lingers around me like smoke and burst into tears. with virtually all of my possessions still on a ship somewhere, my days have felt robbed of memories; the present is so present. it felt good to cry about it, to miss my friends and the place i carved out there.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

fugue state

i sat down to write this first blog from the other side and the song iTunes chose started, “I'm coming apart at the seams.” that's pretty close to how i feel. what’s wrong with me? the song continues, “Doc, there's a hole where something was. Doc, there’s a hole where something was.” i feel i’ve been stripped of something, a very identity, that’s been part of me for four and a half years, every fiber still raw and painful from having it torn away.

moving back from japan is way hard, guys.

the first day was great. woke up late, hung out with mom, went out with some friends who were in town for thanksgiving, dressed up, had fun. the second day mom and i had a very small conflict which precipitated an hour-long cry as i faced the “what the hell am i doing here/will i ever be happy in america” monster. extreme, i know. but it feels extreme.
going to a country where i was conspicuously different was weird enough, but i expected it to be unfamiliar. no one else expected me to know what was going on either. over time i acclimated and forgot what i was used to before. coming back, everything is familiar but no less strange. i feel the need to preserve a distance from strangers, store clerks, waitresses. people act too familiar and i don’t understand why; i don’t know them. i really feel like an alien who has been on another planet, and while people recognize my face, it feels like there’s a very different person in there.

i thought my hometown would feel safe, not too stressful--a good place to figure out the next step. it still may be, but while i’m overwhelmed by my emotions, i feel totally under-stimulated. this place is beautiful, but it doesn’t have what i need. i need real japanese food, a cheap mobile phone with email, and fit grannies laughing raucously outside the window. i need people speaking in languages i can’t understand, clean subway trains, and conbinis with onigiri. i need unsweetened bottled green tea, karaoke, and onsens.

i do have an awesome housesitting situation, but it’s freezing cold and i don’t have a car. so what do i do? ride my mom’s bicycle until my face falls off? buy a car? that’s kind of a big deal. i don’t know what i really expected, but it’s my practical problem of the moment: how to become independent again ASAP.

it’s not all bad. i did some laundry and used the dryer. things are so soft, unwrinkled, and you know, dry. i had some mexican food and two martinis. the house is warm and so is the water in all the public bathrooms. those things take the edge off.
i’m trying not to lose sight of the things i wanted to do when i came back. i’m trying to hold on to the girl i was there, so i can be her here too and not this mess, but it’ll take a little time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

new life ahead

everything is finally done, and i'm waiting in the airport for my flight to be called. i was sent off by six wonderful friends and made it through security in a flash and then stumbled down the carpeted ramp to the gates with my eyes blurred by tears. i don't know what's ahead, and i'm definitely feeling kinda unsure about it, but i've had an incredible life here in japan for four years and four months. i'll miss it more than i can fathom right now, i know. thank you to everyone who made my time here so incredible and special: students, friends, church members, and polite service people! :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

goodbye kumano

listening to the waves from matsumoto toge one last time.

the sayonara post

my move from japan is coming loud and fast like an express train, leaving me little time to process my departure from this home of four years. i leave in a week! however, i knew i had to see kumano again, so in the midst of my frantic hurricane of getting rid of things and saying goodbyes, i drove down today. kumano is almost like a person to me, someone i need to see and smell and touch before we part for what i can only imagine will be quite a few years. i spent the end of my 20s here, learned how to teach, watched the seasons ripen and fade. it's a place that didn't look like much to me when i arrived but held treasures that sound cliche to list but are no less amazing: the people, the golden evening light, the smell of the air, the dramatic mountains. i'm trying to soak it all up and take it with me, this second home.
thanks for coming on the journey! big spiders, little victories; it's all been exciting. i will certainly continue to write, though i may not get another chance before i'm back on colorado soil, so keep the light on for me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


no comments on my last two posts, i must be getting really boring. i admit i've had something like writer's block since i really started to face moving home. it's like my creative sap has moved inward to protect my heart, like your blood does when exposed to extreme cold. i'm still experiencing everything, i just haven't been able to express much.
tonight smells like snow, but it's only smoky and cool. it feels close and safe like snowy nights, too. in any city, some nights feel dangerous, and you hurry home with the key ready, but when everything is covered in a heavy white shadow, the peace feels inviolable.
i meander to the monthly recycling spot, listening to the crickets gurgling the air. i leave a big bag of clothes i've decided to part with. that's always a hard decision for me because clothes are so personal, they have so much history, but it's time to let go. i hold onto things too diligently, which is a burden when you move as much as i do. i've moved 27 times that i know about. hopefully i can find a place to stay one of these days.

Saturday, October 02, 2010


as my saturday evening classes wound down tonight, i found myself craving katsudon. it was a rabid craving, unwilling to be placated by anything else. i asked my students where i might be able to find katsudon, and they didn't really know, so i headed home with no clue. most restaurants in japan are pretty specialized, and i mentally clicked through the places i already knew: italian...eel...udon...buffet...ramen...chinese...omurice...sushi, nowhere that might carry katsudon. after a peek on the internet, i was happy to find a listing for a katsudon restaurant just blocks from my apartment. i had no idea when i chose this apartment, but it's in a sweet spot with prolific restaurant options. searching for places alone in my car makes me nervous because i have to pay attention to traffic and stoplights and look for the the place, but searching for somewhere on my bike doesn't stress me out at all. if i stop in the middle of the sidewalk suddenly or need to turn around, no harm done. street view maps make it even easier because you can see what the storefront looks like before you even leave your house. so as a blue dusk fell, i headed off on my bike with a mental map and arrived at the katsudon place in like two minutes!
stage two: going into an unfamiliar place alone. this can be intimidating enough in your own country, but in a foreign country it can be even more nerve wracking. from outside the place looked pretty busy for so early in the evening. that's a good sign; the food is probably good, but i wondered how full it was. in japan: you just never know. there are places that look like closets that have hidden upstairs seating, just as there are places that look huge but only seat a few. so i took a deep breath and went inside. there was plenty of room at the counter, and since i already knew what i wanted, i ordered right away. the katsudon was around $9.50, and it came with salad, miso soup, pickled vegetables, and tea. take into account there's no tipping or tax, and that's a good, hearty meal for the price. even better: it was exactly what i wanted. i ate as much as i possibly could and rolled home satisfied.

i'm still stuffed!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

a day with wings

i think sometimes i believe i'm perfectly happy until a dazzling fall day like today, warm and breezy with dotted white clouds, blows the clutter and stuffiness from my mind. the summer haze, the summer heaviness has finally lifted, and i feel light and full of energy. i head to the gym on my bike, taking my time and letting the wind swirl my hair around. i stop to snap yet another picture of the rice field by my house. i don't know why i have such an obsession with this particular field; i'm sure the proximity has something to do with it. the neighbors must think i'm crazy with how much i ogle it. right now the rice heads are growing heavy and beginning to bend as the leaves turn from brilliant green to yellow.

i'm disappointed to realize the sycamores lining the street have been trimmed back to nubs before they could drop their leaves. they still smell faintly like the sweet "honeydew" that coats their leaves, a smell that takes me back to childhood visits to tlaquepaque in arizona, where huge, smooth-barked trees grow slowly through the adobe walls of the courtyard. i'm gawked at by some oldsters on incredibly squeaky one-speeds. it's no wonder they can't hear me coming over their own bicycles. after four years in japan i'm still conspicuous, and i still don't mind. i have to try a lot harder to stand out in the US, but with the lolita dresses i'm bringing back with me, i shouldn't have aaaany problems there. *grin*
as i ride through the shadowy, aging shōtengai (shopping arcade), i smell one of the particular mixes of scents that has come to mean old japan in my mind: mothballs and cigarette smoke. i emerge back into the light in front of masumida shrine and go around the corner past the burning incense to the gym. as i park my bike, i think about skipping the gym. it just seems too nice to go inside, but i need the exercise, so i do. i greet the front desk ladies with, "great weather, huh?" and they say in unison, kimochii! which means, "it feels good!"
the gym has a couple old guys and me, but as i'm stretching, a girl with a long, beautiful ponytail shows up. i smile to myself; i recognize her. i've nicknamed her "Thumper" because she runs like she's trying to wake the whole block with her pounding footfalls. it amuses me to see the old men start to stare as she thumps heedlessly on. after a good run alongside Thumper, i meander down the street and decide to stop for a japanese sweet or two. i've been to this shop a few times, and the owner's son, who's probably in his late 30s, acts like he's about to fall over from excitement when i'm there. he hovers nervously, eager to explain what anything is. i decide to get a black sugar (molasses-ish) sweet and a chestnut one.

finally i ride down the dilapidated alley past rumour burger--a restaurant name i find fascinating but mildly disturbing--and fly home.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

memorize my number; that's why I got a phone!

it's the morning after a typhoon rain which has finally started to weaken this summer's brutal heat. for weeks the temperature has crept up past the predicted high almost every day, so to finally wake to cool, fresh air has changed my frame of mind completely. suddenly i feel the irresistible urge to knit. the craving for autumn foods like pumpkin and chestnuts has also kicked in. the air is washed clear, and the sunlight feels cozy rather than miserable. i'm looking forward to many cups of tea and writing lots of letters. i don't think i've ever been more excited for fall. the smoky, rainy smells make me rapturous.
this fall is bringing big changes, too. after four years of enjoying the rhythm of life here, i've finally decided to move myself back to the lower 48. i don't exactly know where home is, but it's somewhere where i can speak to a doctor in my own language, read a whole menu without using a dictionary, and see my mom without 24 hours of international travel. ultimately i'm leaving for my future, but it doesn't feel like i'm going towards anything yet, which would be a lot easier. i'm not heading to school, i don't have a job lined up, and i don't even really know where i want to live. i do however know that i can't figure those things out from here; i need to be in it.
i already know leaving is going to be heartbreaking; i'm leaving the place where the current me was made. i came knowing only one person and no japanese. i'll be leaving with many dear friends, a place that feels like my hometown, and a language i learned organically from the people around me. i can hardly imagine what it will be like to live in america again; it feels like a barely-remembered dream. in some ways the idea terrifies me. what if i hate it? what if it's annoying to know what people are saying all the time? i'm afraid i'm going to feel lost for awhile, but i'm prepared for that, i guess.
one thing that did get me excited about coming back was an internship offered at etsy; it's literally the only job description i've ever read and thought, "omg! me; that's meant for me!" but...they took down the job link by the time i finished writing my cover letter. i sent it anyway. i felt like i wrote with my own blood, i was so determined to communicate my excitement and suitability. i wasn't about to scrap it for anything. i did a lot of research about etsy while mulling over my cover letter, and it only made me more excited when i found out how it got started by a guy about my age (he makes furniture) who wanted people all over the world to be able to buy and sell from each other and have meaningful interactions via the internet. handmade goods and the internet: two of my favorite things! hopefully i will hear something from them soon.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

going fermental

japan and korea have been playing footsie in the ocean for a long time, so naturally they've had time for some potlucks and shared some recipes. while i had certainly heard of kimchi before i lived here, i didn't know it was korean (hard to believe there was a time i didn't know that!), and i don't think i'd ever tried it. slowly that began to change, first with kimchi nabe, then a few bites of actual kimchi at yakiniku restaurants, and after a very good korean drama in which they were always conspicuously eating it, finally an all-out obsession with the stuff. i've taken to eating it with almost every meal on almost anything...eggs, baked potatoes, avocados, rice, burritos. it doesn't hurt that it's been called one of the world's healthiest foods. i love it so much that i began to worry about being deprived of it on my return to the states. my mom did some reconnaissance and reported it's expensive in my small hometown. the solution seemed obvious: learn to make it myself.
turns out it's even easier than i imagined. i found this recipe and gave it a shot.

raw hakusai. i love that you wash it after you've brined it, 'cuz it's easier.

the wilted, brined hakusai.

adding the red pepper paste. i didn't know if i got the right pepper because there were a baffling number to choose from, and all in japanese.

after adding the green onions, ginger, and garlic. i skipped the fish oil.

i also added brown sugar instead of his apple/pear substitute because i didn't have an apple or a pear (and with the fruit prices in japan, that would have tripled the cost), but i did add a small onion blended in water, which made it liquidy enough. note to self: blend the ginger and garlic with the onion next time so they don't have to be chopped.

finally wrangled into a clean but non-sterile jar with the lid loosely on. notice the height of the liquid.

while i was waiting for it to do its thing, i started wondering if i should be worrying about botulism. i've never done any canning, so i don't know anything about it, but after poring over websites far and wide, i learned that the conditions of lacto-fermentation are totally wrong for botulism bacteria, which helped me breathe easier.

twenty-four hours later, it was bubbling up a storm and had expanded a lot! i was so excited about this obvious sign of fermentation that you'd think i, myself had caused it to ferment! i left it another ten hours or so.

the finished product! not as red as korean kimchi, but a lot spicier and more garlicky than the store bought stuff here.

this foray into fermentation has definitely whet my appetite for more! i'd like to try cucumbers next!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

kuma et ichigo

my friend megan is 9 months pregnant, so as soon as my summer vacation started, i was on a bus to tokyo hoping i could make it there before the baby. four years ago i took a bus to tokyo and swore never again, but with holiday train prices, the bus saved me a lot (plus some other friends were taking the same bus). apparently that meant i was willing to forgo a center armrest, which is key in separating you from your seatmate. as it was a night bus, an hour into the trip they turned off the lights and most people got busy sleeping. i wasn't so lucky as the girl next to me kept sprawling into my seat. i wouldn't really have cared if she had leaned against me if only she had been still. awkward. i did manage to force myself out of consciousness a few times, and finally six hours had passed.
we were supposed to arrive at 6:50 am, and after a coffee shop breakfast i was going to head to megan's. well imagine my surprise when they announced we had 5:30.

if we look cheerful and alive, it's probably just shock. i felt sick and dizzy from so many hours of sitting and not sleeping.

i headed to megan's a little earlier than planned, and we had a nice glass of juice before retiring for a nap! yay for pregnant friends who need a lot of rest. i woke up feeling a lot more human and we continued our day which included a bleeding mountain of shaved ice, cat time, and savory galettes for dinner (sadly no pictures of that because i was a little intimidated by the the hot, young french waiter).

i was a bit baffled by how to eat my galette, which made me feel like an idiot. it was served with salmon (no mystery there), a tiny pitcher of cream ('s pretty hard to pour a liquid over a bite of food and get it in your mouth fast enough to actually taste it, but i did my best) and as many sliced lemons (with peel) as there were sliced tomatoes, leading me to believe they were as much as part of the meal as the tomatoes. were they supposed to be eaten too? pickled and therefore edible? i guess not. after some experimentation i managed to get it all in my stomach. yum.
the next day was crocheting, delivery pizza, and a few priceless family photos. hee hee.

i was super happy to see mrs. limberry and the kuma king and also happy there were no early arrivals other than my own.

Monday, July 26, 2010

invisible fire

japan is on a bullet train to the center of the sun. the heat scalds every inch of your skin, and sweat runs like tears. my shampoo is hot, my towel is hot, everything i touch is hot. the leftover bacon grease in the skillet stays melted, the chicken breasts practically hiss when they hit the air. the soles of my feet are so hot, i just have to stand on something to iron it. the only good thing is that warm eye drops are pretty nice.
in the steamy day-to-day, my long hair was torture. not only did it make my neck about 300 degrees, it also looked like a messy scribble in the humidity. i could only tolerate having it in pigtails, which had to be folded over into loops so the ends wouldn't touch my neck. finally, two minutes from a heat stroke, i decided to cut it. my mom is a hairstylist, so i've watched her spray, comb, part, and cut for as long as i've been alive. perhaps as a result, i'm totally uninhibited about DIY hair.

before: naturally, it looks pretty ok in this picture, much better than any other time.

divide and conquer: the first cut, no going back.



well, once you get started, you might as well go the whole way. after you cut, you've gotta dye. it's been about four months since i last dyed my hair black, and i've been wanting something fresh. after some friends suggested it, i started thinking about red. i'm really loving allison scagliotti's hair lately, so i thought, "why not?"

in my super well-stocked drug store, there was only one box even resembling red at all, so there was no agonizing over what color to buy. i like dramatic color, so i was hoping for a head of flaming dark red hair. turns out the only obstacle was the black dye still at the ends of my hair. in the back i ended up with a lovely two-tone, but in the front, it's all but imperceptible and falls into the category i never aim for when dyeing my hair: natural-looking.
well, there's nothing to do but wait until the black grows off, but on a positive note, mom approves.

in the sunlight. just looks brown...

Monday, July 19, 2010

chickens guard the gate

the monsoon season has abruptly ended, shoving us face-first into that part of summer where you have to peel your legs off plastic seats like tape that's stuck together. in a perverse way, it kinda makes me happy. i also love little dresses, long daylight, and an excuse to eat fruit for dinner.

today was a holiday, so deana and i went to gifu city. i'd been there once before and was impressed by what an interesting, artistic city it seemed. mostly, though, i had a craving for the huge slabs of fish they serve at sennari sushi.

a typical serving vs. sennari's cut.

there you do sushi the real way and order it from the chef, who places it in front of you from behind the sushi bar. then you pick it up with your fingers. usually places like that cost $$ (or ¥¥, rather), but we had all we could eat for under $15 each. next we ambled our way to akawani (red crocodile) for some fresh fruit kakigori (shaved ice). the winter offering was this obscene (and incredible) strawberry concoction, and for july they have fresh peach.

gifu was deserted, but when we turned the corner to akawani, we realized we were going to have to wait in line for this popular treat. there are only about four tables inside, but they were doing a good job of double-seating tables and getting people in pretty quickly. even sharing a table, it still felt like we had our privacy. that's the beauty of being in a place where people speak at a reasonable volume most of the time.

waiting in the heat.

the peach; while i was at first disappointed by the puny amount fresh fruit, the juice they poured over the ice was clearly made from real peaches because it all tasted delicious!

i liked the tiny fork.

after that, we just lost ourselves in the unbelievably quiet streets of gifu. it was amazing how few people were around, and we headed in a direction that tapered off into tiny, more traditional shops and homes. i could smell a lot of the things i remember from the first time i came to japan...smells i can't even define because i don't know what they come from. one was a kind of preserving agent like mothballs, but it didn't smell musty, it smelled well-cared-for. the scents coming from people's doorways and garages seemed aged, but well-used, carefully cleaned and kept in working condition. camera shops, cafes, fabric stores, futon shops, places to buy kimono, tea, incense, prayer beads. i was thoroughly happy looking at the tiny doorstep gardens, faded and rusted signs, and simple old man and old woman shoes lined up by the doors.

a $27 tea cup

airy pajamas.

a cafe/antique store that seemed straight out of a different mine.

an inexplicable sign for salt.

we looked around a group of temples where we didn't see another soul...

guarded by chickens.

finally i bought three paper lanterns (made in japan, not china) with bamboo sticks and candles, and the whole bag of fun cost me $4.

i felt peaceful and refreshed in spite of the heat. without expecting to, i got to see more of my favorite side of japan, not the big city stores and crowds of people, but a real corner with a heartbeat and style of its own. i felt completely happy.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

living with ghosts

my apartment building is only half full. like many residential buildings in japan, it's pretty small: 12 apartments. in the year i've lived here, i've only run into another person inside the building maybe 15 times. i hear doors open and close, locks turn, air conditioners run, but it's like people are slipping in and out, creeping around corners and up stairs, dissolving into wet shoe prints.
i don't mind; i like the quiet, and i can see by the laundry hanging outside that there's someone around, but at times it has drawbacks. i discovered one tonight when i came home from work. as the elevator door yawned open, i came face-to-face with seven hungry spiders who had built a network of webs over the elevator door and into the hall! they must've started this afternoon after i left for work, and clearly no one else had been that way since. i seriously considered taking the elevator back down and coming up the stairs instead.
in mie i became desensitized to spiders, but after a year of not seeing them, my natural disgust has returned. instead of avoiding them, i did a careful sweep of the doorway with my orange juice bottle and then scurried low and fast under the horrible ceiling.

incidentally, the first time i did run into someone was last october, two months i after i had moved in. i was wearing this:

and carrying these:

not really the first impression i was hoping for. halloween isn't celebrated in japan, so...i'm not sure what he thought of me. my costume was after japan's endlessly inventive decorative lunches called "decoben," meaning decorative bento.

thanks to everyone who has started following my blog or who has stopped by! i love to hear your comments. <3

Saturday, June 12, 2010

diamonds in the dark

yesterday evening, weary from the fierce, unpredictable heat of early summer, a persistent cough, and peevish five-year-olds, i slumped into the passenger seat of my car after work, a sweaty, disheveled mess. as night fell, i waited for the kind ladies of my saturday class to whisk me away for our date with fireflies. we drove to a vast park, bright with reflected light from the city sky and walked on a dim path around huge grassy fields cooling in the breeze. it smelled like the summer nights in suburban texas when i used to visit my grandmother.
we reached the appointed place and waited to be led by yellow-clad volunteers (mainly diminutive old gentlemen) down the wooden staircase and into the forest. small groups lined up as they were called (this event required tickets, kindly applied for and shared by one of the class members), and then we were ushered into the darkness. we walked a paved path along a creek lined with tall grasses hushing us in the wind. one at first, and then a few more, we picked out cool sparks flashing in the grass. the gentle flickering of their lights reminded me of a cat purring, relaxed and friendly.
i watched as fifty-year-old women pointed with excited whispers, "there's one! there's one!" we were left behind as we took our time enjoying the silent show. we even cupped a few in our hands until they flew away. at last we entered the forest and were taken to the black silhouette of a small building, a firefly house. inside in complete darkness were thousands of sparks flying and glowing. it was like being inside a campfire when nothing is left but embers: dark shapes revealed by the lights that blanket them.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

neighborhood scenes

laundry shadows.

karaoke sunset.

metal shavings bins.

drowning leaves.

why i miss pizza

everyone loves pizza, right? it has been one of my favorite foods for as long as i can remember, and even though i worked at a pizza restaurant before college and ate pizza twice a day for a year, i never tired of it. they love pizza in japan too, and they even have home delivery...but you might be dismayed (as i was) to see what they'll serve on a crust. i know japan is a little corn-mayonnaise-and-tuna-happy, and those are typical toppings, but it gets even more grim. consider the 'juicy shrimps with mayonnaise flavor' pizza. it has tomato mayonnaise sauce, shrimp, pineapple, parsley, bacon, and herb cheese. not so bad, you say? there's more...

the 'salsa dog pizza' made me chuckle. with onion, peppers, tomatoes, sausage, black pepper, chili powder, salsa, and you guessed it, mayonnaise, it doesn't sound so bad, but for the life of me, i can't see any of the alleged vegetables in the photo. all i see is wieners; japan is wiener-happy too.

moving on to the 'seafoods garden.' it starts off safe with onions and peppers, but at shrimp the scale begins to tip. next we have squid (YUCK), octopus (meh), black olives (UGH), and right again, mayonnaise. throw it all together and it sounds like a nightmare, but the award for most revolting goes to the next one, i think.

meet the pepPEEroni combo: hamburger, scrambled eggs, teriyaki sauce, parsley, and of course mayonnaise. never mind that it doesn't contain pepperoni, it just looks horrible. if you aren't having problems keeping your dinner down by this point, maybe you can stomach dessert.

for dessert we have diarrhea pizza with chunks of pineapple floating in it. and it's overflowing, great. get the plunger.

at the very least they serve sweet potatoes and hagen dazs as side dishes, but i miss the pizza i'm used to: heaps of vegetables and no mayo!