Well, last weekend came and went, and I realized that I did not write a blog post. Oops. This weekend is a long weekend – in honor of “Respect for the Aged Day”- so I really have no excuse.
Work has been normal, but busy. I never seem to have enough time to do everything I want to do, especially Japanese study. But I guess it’s better than being bored.
Last weekend I and the three other Wakakusa teachers participated in the kindergarten “summer” festival. (Originally it was supposed to be held in the summer, but because of the extreme heat this year, it was postponed until September). In keeping with tradition, we offered face painting to the children. Face painting is rather a novelty here, I understand. This year we had a very steady stream of children who wanted to have their faces (or hands) painted. It seemed like there was a lot more interest than last year. In fact, even after we were officially “closed,” some children still kept trickling in.
Since there were only three painting stations, I acted as facilitator, greeting students, keeping my teammates supplied with brushes, and taking photos – as you can see below.
My artistically talented teammate drew this advertisement for our face painting enterprise. She drew each of our faces, along with the four different symbols that we were offering to paint on the children’s faces.
All the students were wearing their yukata (summer kimono), and they were so beautiful!
There were a few lulls, but often we had students lined up waiting for their turn. Two of my coworkers and I also wore our yukata.
Guess who else wore a yukata this year? That’s right, good ol’ Colonel Sanders. This congenial fellow stands beside the KFC counter that’s inside my local grocery store, welcoming the Japanese population of KFC lovers. He seems to have a new outfit every season.
Sadly, yukata season is now coming to an end, and fall is beginning. In fact, I think Mr. Sanders is now sporting a Halloween outfit. It makes me feel melancholy to see summer go, but I shall attempt to look forward to the refreshing fall scenery, more three-day weekends, and the upcoming school events such as English camp and kindergarten Sports Day. I’m sure it will be a good season even if I’m not surrounded with my beloved summer heat…
This has nothing to do with Japan, just something I’ve been thinking about lately in my own life. That deep, deep thirst within us that we try to satisfy with so many other things. It’s true that those things can be satisfying, but only one thing – one Person, rather – can actually touch that underlying craving within us. Why is it so easy for us to be distracted by other things, to ignore something that can so fully complete us? I guess because we’re just so human…
Thirsty, so thirsty
We spend our lives
Lakes, and ponds
Oceans of salt,
Sipping, gulping, each
Making us more
The one living Spring
From a Fountain
That might set us
“Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water…Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” – John 4:10, 13a (NIV)
Well, this year was a first for us. Our boss asked us four American teachers who work at the kindergarten to join the five-year-olds for their annual overnight camping trip, which was held last weekend. Although we weren’t too excited to have nearly a whole weekend taken away (though we did get some mornings off in exchange), it seemed like a good opportunity to spend quality time with some of our students.
On Saturday morning, the kindergarteners boarded buses and we teachers boarded a van, and away went our caravan to Lake Inawashiro. This, I was told, is the fourth largest lake in Japan. The surrounding area is covered with rice paddies, with Mount Bandai in the background. The rice is getting ready to be harvested, so it made for a pretty sight:
The overnight portion of the “camping” trip was to be spend at a hotel near the foot of the mountain, so that was where we all got off. We gathered in a lodge near the hotel (the hotel and surrounding buildings are used as a ski resort in the winter) and played some games led by the P.E. teacher, then sat on mats for a picnic-style lunch. Instead of sandwiches, we had the classic Japanese finger-food meal – onigiri, or triangular rice balls with different fillings (such as salmon flakes, pickled plum, or seaweed) covered in a wrapper of seaweed. Fried chicken provided some protein, which my American taste buds greatly appreciated.
After lunch, it was time for the kids to get in the pool, although the weather had turned overcast and windy. But the activities went ahead as planned, and since the whole idea of me and my coworkers’ going was to be involved with the children, my friend and I put on our swim gear and joined them. The pool time got cut a bit short when it actually started raining, but we still had the chance to get wet and have some fun with the kids.
The pool time was followed by another game time in the lodge. Some of the many adults in attendance (most of them kindergarten teachers and PTA members) dressed up in costumes and were the “judges” in a competition involving the students’ abilities to answer questions about cartoon characters, play hand games, and more. Dinner, which was held at the hotel, was the good old curry-and-rice standby (a favorite here in Japan!), followed by an outdoor campfire.
The campfire time included some children’s songs, a rather mysterious campfire-lighting by white-robed parents who recited wishes for the children (at least as far as I could understand), and some silly songs and dances which the parents and teachers performed.
Oh, and did I mention we had been asked to participate?
At the beginning of the week, my boss had asked my coworkers and I to figure out something to perform for the children. The winning idea was acting out the story of “The Three Little Pigs,” since it’s fairly easy to understand even across language barriers. We spent several hours that week gathering materials, thinking of lines, and running through the play a couple of times. Though it was quite an amateur job, involving a lot of fumbling and mumbling, we did manage to pull it off and I think at least be partially understood. The kids got a kick out of the “wolf,” played by my friend, who pretended to eat the children before turning on us, the three tasty-looking pigs. Instead of ending with a fall into the fireplace, which our flimsy one-dimensional foam “houses” simply would not accommodate, the wolf met her well-deserved end by huffing and puffing herself into a faint, whilst I (the sensible, brick-house-building pig, as decided by my friends) chased her off with a hammer.
Although I enjoy drama in general, performing is not my strong suit, so I was relieved when it was all over. Fortunately, we were able to have some free time after the campfire, so we polished off the evening with gift-shop and vending-machine snacks and a few rounds of Bananagrams.
Day #2 started off with a morning meeting and breakfast at the hotel. I was hoping for a Western-style breakfast, but was not very surprised to find that it was Japanese-style. The breakfast was a simple one – rice, miso soup, a couple of small sausages and pieces of weakly cooked bacon, and a “salad” consisting of dressing-topped lettuce leaves with a cherry tomato. We did get a cup of yogurt, which I was grateful for, and a carton of milk accompanied our standard glass of green tea.
After breakfast we officially left the hotel, although we spent the rest of the morning in the nearby lodge. Due to iffy weather, we did some exercises and games in the lodge in lieu of a hiking trip at the park, which to me was somewhat disappointing. What’s the point of a camping trip if you don’t spend much time outside? Although the view of the lake from the hotel window was gorgeous, I’d been really hoping, since we were so near it, to have some activities that were actually by the lake. Oh well. We did have the opportunity to “paint” (i.e. draw with markers) on some little traditional bobble-head type dolls, which are shaped in such a way as to always bounce back upwards even if they are pushed over. I was happy to have a small souvenir to take away from the trip.
Lunch was another “picnic” indoors, at which onigiri was again the featured staple. Baked egg pieces and fried chicken were also provided, and of course, a bottle of green tea! It never ceases to amaze me at the amount of green tea that even the children drink around here. I guess everyone’s bodies must be loaded with antioxidants, or whatever green tea is known for.
Although it had been a good trip, we were all ready for departure time, which came shortly after lunch. It felt good to arrive home in the early afternoon and to be in my own apartment again, with some mental space to relax and decompress. Even though it was a type of “work,” I am glad that we had the opportunity to attend the trip. Every opportunity like this is a chance to learn new things and spend more time with the kids.
The weekend’s experience provided my coworkers and I with a lot of chances to compare and contrast Japanese and American culture. One thing that is hard to wrap our American minds around is the number of meetings that are held here. For this two-day trip, there was a meeting after lunch the first day, a morning meeting before breakfast on the second day, and a farewell meeting after breakfast that same day. The meetings consisted mostly of speeches, which in my opinion are difficult for five-year-olds to concentrate on. However, the students are taught to sit still and listen, and there are even expressions letting them know how to sit and stand. There’s an expression, often used at schools, which means “Let’s have good posture,” and the kids instantly know that they’re supposed to sit (or stand) up straight. I mean, where in the U.S. do schools place such an emphasis on good posture?
On this trip, I realized anew how important it is for the Japanese to have clear-cut beginnings and endings, and to spend almost as much time talking about activities as they do implementing them (or so it seems to me!). Several times over the weekend, the students were reminded either of the upcoming activities or of the ones they had already participated in. “What are some of the activities you did today? That’s right, you had lunch, you went in the pool, you played some fun games, you had a delicious dinner…We have more fun things to do tomorrow, so let’s get some sleep tonight and participate in them energetically tomorrow!” I’m very loosely paraphrasing and melding together bits of the different speeches I heard, but that’s the basic idea. To us Americans, for whom action and forging ahead with life seem to be the standard, taking time to repeatedly review past and future activities and remind students of correct behaviors can seem a bit superfluous to us.
Looking back, I suppose this trip was just as much a learning experience for me as for the kids. Learning about another culture is so fascinating, and even though it can be frustrating to actually live it out and have to deal with the differences on a day-to-day basis, it’s also a good way to widen my one-dimensional point of view and to think about different ways of doing things. There are probably always things I’ll never quite get used to in this culture, but there is so, so much that I appreciate. I’m thankful for the opportunity to participate in every aspect of this culture, meetings and all!
Hello everyone! Three weeks later (from my last post), I’m finally back in Blog World! It’s been a busy three weeks, stuffed with my all-too-quick trip to the States and my subsequent first week back at work. Time to take a breather!
My trip home was amazing! I got to see my youngest brother get married, and to squeeze in a quick visit to my grandparents who live out of state. I also got to spend quality time with my siblings, and to meet my niece for the first time! Although my visit was a mere seven days, I was thankful for everything I got to experience while I was home. Needless to say, I also ate a fair amount of pizza – my most-missed American food – and blackberry chip and cherry chip ice cream.
The trip out was a bit emotionally stressful, as a typhoon was rolling into Tokyo right around the same date that my flight was supposed to go out. However, when I arrived in Tokyo, it was only a bit rainy and windy, so my flight departed on time and I arrived in the States safe, sound, and on schedule.
On the way back, it appeared to be smooth sailing as well – genial summer weather, with my 5:47 a.m. flight to D.C. making good time and delivering us to the city a bit early. I located my departure gate for Chicago and wandered around, looking for an open spot to sit and charge my laptop. I did some Japanese study online for awhile, then at boarding time got up and made my way to the correct gate – just in time to hear that the flight had been delayed for an hour due to maintenance issues. “Any customers with concerns about missing connecting flights, please go to the service desk,” we were told. Well, I was supposed to have a two-hour layover in Chicago before my Japan flight, so hopefully I’d have time. But still, if I had to switch terminals, it could be a bit tight. I hopped into the customer service line, just in case.
As I was standing in the giant line leading up to the customer service desk (fortunately more toward the front than the back), the gentleman behind me said, “They just delayed the flight by another half hour.” OK, so maybe I WOULD miss my connection. When I got to the desk, the agent told me that he would switch me to the next flight to Japan, which left half an hour later. I agreed and hoped that would be an easy solution. I went back to the gate to wait, snagging some complimentary snacks which the airport personnel kindly put out as an apology for the wait.
At the appointed time to board, there was still no sign of action, and the maintenance workers were still roaming about near our plane. The agents kept announcing that they were waiting to hear what was going on. Finally, about twenty minutes later, we boarded, only to wait for ANOTHER maintenance issue to be dealt with. Finally, we taxiied for a few yards, then stopped for no apparent reason. The pilot announced that there had been another issue they’d had to run by someone or other, and, oh yes, due to weather in Chicago, we might not be allowed to take off. Fortunately, a few minutes later, we began taxiing for real, and finally took off. A crying baby (just a couple of rows behind me) and a jolty landing polished the whole trip off nicely.
Oh, but wait. We were originally supposed to land at 10:50 a.m., and it’s now 3:00 p.m. The airline had already emailed me that I’d been rescheduled for another flight to Japan – at one p.m. THE NEXT DAY. Considering that I had only planned one gap day in between my return to Japan and the start of work, I didn’t really want to waste a full day hanging around in Chicago. I went to the service desk. “Do you have anything earlier?” Well, only the one at 12:40 p.m. tomorrow.
I took the hotel voucher and the one meal voucher that they gave me, and picked up a hamburger and M&M McFlurry from McDonald’s before catching a shuttle to my hotel. Disappointed in the turn of events, but thankful to at least have a free hotel stay, I lounged around until the next day, when I finally got on a Japan-bound flight. After 12 hours in the air and another 5 hours on trains (or waiting for them), I made it back to my little Japanese apartment and soon collapsed into bed.
The next day it was back to work, although all things considered, I didn’t feel as bad as I could have. Now, a week later, my body is finally re-adjusting back to Japanese time, and I think my body and mind are back in the swing of things. I’m a bit emotionally tumultuous every time I return home, trying to remember who I am and to re-adjust from being an American living in Japan to just being an American. It doesn’t take me long to slide back into the routine of American life, although I find myself losing the Japanese part of me, which I don’t want either! I guess that will all be stuff to deal with when I go back to America for good and have to deal with all that re-entry and reverse culture shock business. For now, I’m two people living in two worlds. I think of my little apartment here in Japan as home, and yet my home in America will always be more home than any other home is. At least for now. 🙂
Looking ahead, I’m in the home stretch – the final half-year of my two years here. I never thought I’d say that I’m ready to be back in America after only two years, but oddly, I am. It was really hard for me to leave home (the American one) this time, and I’m already looking forward to things I might do when I get back. However, I know how easy it is to look with longing on past and future lives, and to take for granted the one we’re living now. So my goal for the next seven months is to really capitalize on my time here, learning Japanese, enjoying my friends, and taking advantage of travel and cultural opportunities as they come up.
Here’s to making the most of the now, and to enjoying the next half a year together. Talk to you all next week!
This year, the board of education here in Tamura City asked us to help with a new project – a two-night, three-day English camp. In the past, the English teachers on our team have helped prepare students to stay at British Hills, which is a place here in Japan that has British-style accommodations and activities. For some reason or another, the BOE changed the program this year, and instead chose to send the students to a lodge up on the top of a nearby mountain. They also asked us American teachers to actually participate in the camp, instead of just being trainers like we were before.
After thinking about and planning the camp for weeks, last week was finally “the weekend.” Almost all of us American teachers participated, so there were eight of us, along with some BOE staff members and some students from Waseda University, who run similar programs around the country and who did most of the planning and implementation for our camp. Twenty-three students participated, so there was a very high teacher-to-student ratio!
Even though participating in the camp meant extra work, I’d been looking forward to it, and it turned out to be quite a bit of fun. I had been hoping for a bit more of an outdoor camping experience, but unfortunately most of the activities were inside. However, the facility was very nice, and the views were amazing!!
The weekend was filled with discussions, games, and other activities. On the second day, the students were able to experience tree climbing using ropes, and to watch a drone being flown out over the valley. They also practiced flying small drones inside. On the third and final day, we split into groups and helped the students come up with original skits using a known fairy tale and adding a plot twist. My group chose Cinderella as the main story, and we drew a paper asking us to include an alien in the story. The group of students I worked with was incredibly creative, and ended up coming up with a lot of the skit on their own. They decided that, when the prince went to retrieve Cinderella’s left-behind shoe at midnight, an alien would swoop in and snatch it, and Cinderella would fall in love with him instead of the prince! It was pretty funny!
Here are the groups of students preparing for the play:
One of my favorite parts of our play was when a male student (who had volunteered to play the part of the evil stepmother), brandishing a folding fan, told Cinderella, “Shut up!” (a line he thought of himself!) in response to her question about why she couldn’t go to the ball. The students were even creative with their names. They named the girl who played the stepsister “Blossom,” because her Japanese name is the word for cherry blossom, and the girl who played the prince was “Prince Sky” because her real name includes the word for sky! We didn’t have much in the way of props or costumes, but our “prince” took off her skirt and wore her school shorts instead, and “Cinderella” completed her dress transformation by wearing her jersey over her uniform and taking it off to symbolize her transfiguration by the fairy godmother.
The “alien” also did a good job, although he had a lot of difficulty interacting comfortably with Cinderella. When he put her shoe back on, he couldn’t look her in the face, and he had a hard time pretending to be romantic. When one of the other teachers in my group asked if he would put his hand on Cinderella’s shoulder and waist during the final dance, he freaked out. “Zettai muri!” he said, which basically means, “That’s completely impossible!” So we had to settle for a mere holding of hands. 🙂
Since I generally don’t work with middle school students, it was very interesting for me to get a chance to interact with them. As is customary for middle school students participating in school activities, all the students wore their uniforms to the camp, although on the second day they wore their school athletic wear instead of the formal uniform. Each school also has a different style of uniform, so I really enjoyed learning more about the different schools’ uniforms and how to recognize them.
English camp turned out to be a busy three days, but it was fun and went quickly. On Wednesday, it was back to my regular work at the after-school program, which doesn’t let out until this coming Thursday. I’ve been busy writing term reports, but I finally have that wrapped up, and can now focus on what I’m really excited about – packing for a trip home this week! Next weekend, I’ll be in the States, so there will be a bit of a lull in posting for the next couple of weeks while I take some time off and get to do one of the most important things in life – spend time with family! Talk to you in a few weeks!
Well, this weekend, starting on Sunday, I and six of my co-workers will be participating in an English camp for a couple dozen of the area’s junior high school students. That means this week’s post will be short – another segment of the “Only in Japan” series. But boy, have I got a post for you!
This weekend’s topic is about everybody’s favorite subject…bugs!
If you’re a Japanese child, that is.
Apparently, collecting bugs is a thing here. In the summer, my first and second graders occasionally come in with plastic cases containing various living creatures that they’ve collected. Last year, it was crickets, which made for a somewhat disruptive class when some of them started chirping. This year, one of my students had a lizard.
And the beetles. Always the beetles.
I suppose in other parts of the United States, they probably have giant bugs, but in the cold-winter climate where I come from, our bugs and living creatures stay a reasonable size. Here, though, some of the spiders and beetles are much bigger than what I’m used to, and some of these large creatures are what the students like to tote around in their carrying cases.
Take a few weeks ago, for instance. Before classes had started, I heard some shrieking coming from one of my classrooms. I went in to investigate, and saw that several of my second-grade boys had taken their beetles out of their carrying cases. One of the boys, who was either afraid of the beetles or was pretending to be, was a few feet away, ducking behind a desk and making loud noises. I started a conversation with the boys, reminding them to use quiet voices, and trying to show interest in their bug escapade. One of my boys said something to me, and I looked down to see that he had placed one of the beetles on my sleeve! Luckily, I’m not terrified of bugs, but it did startle me to have one perched on my arm!
I thought those beetles (probably stag or rhinoceros beetles) were big – until I saw the ones my students brought in the week after. I think they were the same kind, but they were like the granddaddy version! Fortunately, I thought to grab my phone so I could take a few pictures!
Here’s a pair of beetles peering out the sides of their plastic bug case:
Below, one of my second grade girls holding a bug. I trimmed the photo to protect her privacy, but you can still see her slightly-weirded-out smile!
And, in case you want to learn about raising your own pet beetle, here’s a link for your reading pleasure: “How to Care for Your Beetle”. (Note to those with weak stomachs; there are a couple pictures of “baby beetles,” which are, yes, grubs.)
Well, that’s all for this week’s “Only in Japan.” If today’s topic grossed you out and you want to read about something different – or if you liked it and want more posts about strange and disgusting topics – leave me a comment with your thoughts and suggestions below! 🙂
Summer is here in Japan, which means humid weather, street festivals, summer vacation, and – homework. Wait, what?
Friday was the last day of school for my elementary and kindergarten students. (Unfortunately, the after-school English program at which I work continues for a couple more weeks!) The students were, as to be expected, a little wound up at the prospect of having time off and doing special things with their families. However, I noticed several of them equipped with cases which apparently contain their summer homework. One sixth grader told me that he was “happy and sad.” Happy, because summer break was here, but sad because he had so much homework! Apparently, the strong work ethic starts early here…
Anyway, on to the continuation of my previous post. Last week, I wrote about our cave adventure, but I didn’t get to the last part of the day. Of course, the caves was the most exciting part, but we also got to see some stars and planets and have dinner at a surprisingly unique pizza place.
First, the stars. I’ve always had a fascination with the night sky; I took basic astronomy at my university and got to visit their observatory and planetarium. This was pretty much the same experience, minus the planetarium. We spent an hour and a half or so on the roof of the observatory, looking through various telescopes and listening to a guide as he pointed out different stars with his super-strong laser pointer. It was interesting, but nothing I hadn’t done before. However, I can say that I’ve never heard the planets’ names in Japanese before!
This was the biggest telescope:
We were able to see about four different planets; if I remember right, they were Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus. Some of them were bright enough to see with the naked eye. I learned that Venus is called the “gold” planet in Japanese. Jupiter is the wood planet, Mars is the fire planet, and Saturn is the dirt planet, according to my trusty electronic dictionary. Not sure why they’re named after these things, though!
The observatory from afar:
Sandwiched in between the cave exploration and the star viewing was dinner. I’d been excited when our guides had told us that we were going to eat at a pizza place, but when we drove up to it, I was rather confused.
This is it?
It turns out, it was. Apparently it’s a former barn that has been converted into a pizza shop. It was small inside, with our group of thirteen maxing out the capacity. A wood fire, with which the pizzas were baked, was burning brightly, which made for a great ambiance but a rather toasty room.
We ordered a variety of different pizzas, most of which I’d never had before. First up was a margarita-style, but after that we delved into more unknown territory. Burdock? Check. Shiitake mushroom? Check. Nattou and kimchi? Why, of course.
We were also served some side dishes as appetizers – potato salad (which has a more mashed consistency here) and fried/glazed soybeans. About halfway through the meal, out came a delightful-looking bowl of jelly. Knowing that jelly is a popular dessert item here, I was pleased that we were being served something so cool and refreshing on such a hot day – until I heard the warning, “It’s not sweet!”
My friends, who agreed to be the subjects of my video, let me record their jelly-tasting adventure:
Trying the nattou and kimchi pizza was also an adventure for us Americans, who have a “difficult” time with nattou (that’s fermented beans). I’ve decided, after several tries, that I really don’t like it that well; it has a rather nasty smell, and a bit of a slimy texture. However, on the pizza, masked by the strong kimchi flavor, it was edible.
We finished off our meal with a couple of dessert pizzas. Some of the group ordered a honey pizza, while our table ordered sweet potato and anko (sweetened red bean paste). Even though it seemed like an unlikely combination, it turned out to be my favorite!
Between the caves, the stars, and the pizza adventure, it turned out to be an experience-filled day, and we were all tired when we got driven back to our apartments at about 9:30. I’m so grateful that I had the chance to visit these places, and explore more of the attractions in our area, especially since the caves was something I had been looking forward to for quite awhile! I can now cross that off my bucket list, and start planning for my next adventure – visiting my family in the wilds of Maine! See you soon, fam!
Well, I finally got to visit a place I’ve been wanting to go for awhile – Abukuma-do, the limestone caves in Tamura! I did have a short, unexpected trip there a couple of weeks ago when my employer asked me to help accompany one of their guests there. However, I knew we had this trip already planned, so I was really looking forward to being able to spend a longer amount of time at the caves, and to be able to take more extensive photo and video footage.
Some of the employees who work for the city were kind enough to arrange this trip, in an effort to promote foreign tourism to the area. They even arranged transportation for nine of us American teachers! The plan was to visit the caves, eat dinner, and then view the night sky from the observatory, which is located near the caves. On Saturday afternoon, a van came to pick us up, and away we went, excited to be visiting an attraction that’s practically in our backyard (technically, it’s located in the town of Takine about half an hour’s car ride away, but it’s still in the same city of Tamura, which is a conglomeration of smaller towns).
The caves were at the top of a hill. It was a beautiful, hot summer day, great for taking pictures of the views!
The purple flowers in the photo above are lavender. There’s a lavender farm on the side of the hill! Although the flowers were past their prime, you can see the bushes in the photo below. The walkway on the hillside is the pathway to the caves. It loops up and goes down the back of the hill, leading into the cave’s interior.
The little guy in the photo below is Orion-chan (yes, that’s the constellation Orion), who is apparently the mascot for the town of Takine. They’re big on mascots here!
It was a 90-degree day with lots of humidity, so we were thrilled when we walked into the caves and experienced the refreshing coolness! Here’s part of the path:
The tickets purchased for our group included entrance on one of the more adventurous portions of the path. Although it wasn’t nearly as adventurous as the courses offered in the neighboring caves, one of which needs a guide, it did require some ducking, crouching, and ladder climbing. The video below starts out with me exclaiming about a small stream that I could see trickling off somewhere deep into the cave’s interior, and ends with me realizing that the path we were on was actually a mini obstacle course.
The main cavern was huge, and the limestone formations were amazing! There is special lighting around that illuminates the features and makes them appear blue and green in the photos.
Here’s a short video clip of the main cavern:
And more formations:
This formation had a strangle speckled surface:
The formation below is called the “Christmas Tree.”
One of the final exhibits along the pathway was a place where special lighting was installed, replicating a sunrise and sunset. Our Japanese guide, an enthusiastic and indomitable elderly woman, explained the various attractions, while one of the city’s employees kindly translated for us.
We spent about an hour or so in the caves, and came out feeling refreshed from the coolness and ready for part two of our adventure – dinner and a trip to the observatory. But since this post is already long enough, that’s a story for next week!
Hello, everyone! Due to busyness and feeling overwhelmed with work and study, it’s been two weeks since my last blog post. So much for getting back on a regular posting schedule!
The last couple of weeks have seemed like a blur. Two weeks ago, one of my co-workers and I found out that we were going to be helping our employers with a guest they had arriving from America. Hospitality is a huge deal here, and because the visitor was someone associated with our employer’s exchange program in America, they wanted to give her the grand tour. My co-worker and I had known about the visit ahead of time, but what we did not know is that it would involve overnight trips to different destinations in the prefecture! The trip I was asked to participate in was on Thursday, and ironically, we went to Hawaiians again – the same place I had visited only a few days before! I was actually really excited to go again, since I had been disappointed about not getting to do everything I’d wanted to the first time. On Thursday night, we also stayed overnight in a hotel with beautiful scenery – Mount Bandai in the back and Lake Inawashiro in the front. Here are a couple of photos!
The next day, I thought I was returning to work by mid-afternoon, but our guests requested to visit the limestone caves near our town, so I was asked to accompany them there as well. I was excited to get to go, since it’s a place I’ve been wanting to visit for awhile. I’ll post more details about the caves in a future post, since another (hopefully longer) trip there is in the works in the near future.
Last Sunday I had my JLPT test, into which I went feeling a bit unprepared, since I haven’t had much study time lately. I felt reasonably confident in vocabulary and writing, but feel like I bombed the listening part, since I mostly guessed on all the questions. My listening skills just aren’t good enough to be able to pick out an answer after listening to a recording only once. Something to work on, I guess!
This past week we received an unexpected visit from our coordinator in America, who had rather suddenly been asked to come meet with our employers. Face-to-face meetings seem to be important here, at least among the people we work with, so he was requested to come in person instead of discussing things over the phone. It worked out well, since the team hadn’t had the opportunity to check in with him for awhile, and it’s always great to see another friendly face from America!
This week, it’s hopefully back to a somewhat normal work and study schedule. Despite the busyness, many of the goings-on have been positive, and there’s much that I’m thankful for. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my time here, and how I’ve changed, and what the future might hold. Last night we had our annual “7th of July” party (since we couldn’t hold it on the 4th of July, which is understandably not a holiday over here!). It got me contemplating about how long and yet short this year has been, and how God has changed me over the course of it. It’s been a year and three months since I’ve moved to Japan, and it seems like so much has happened in my heart and mind. When I look back, it seems like I was so naive, thinking that somehow I would be a different person when I moved to Japan. I knew that I couldn’t expect what to expect, yet somehow I still didn’t expect the unexpected. 🙂 I discovered that I still am myself, even though it doesn’t feel like it when going through a huge transition. I discovered that I can be incredibly weak and fragile, even to the point of regressing into patterns of fear and worry that I had once overcome and thought I would never slip into again. I discovered that I am able to settle back into a routine and a feeling of normality, and that though my external circumstances may change, I’m still just myself, with the same habits, weaknesses, and hang-ups. And I’ve learned (well, re-learned, really) that God is with me, and that He is able to walk with me through discouragement and confusion and get me through to the other side again.
The next nine months (the rest of my contract) seem both long and short. I’m missing my family more intensely this second year than I did my first, and the differences in the culture and tediousness of work sometimes settle in. I’m praying about the next step in my life, as I’ll have to make a decision about whether or not to stay here another year by early fall. When I first arrived, in my joy and eagerness to be here, I thought, “I’m going to be here forever!” I felt like I had properly (mentally) boxed up my old life and could move on with a new chapter, in which ideally I would be pretty much perfectly happy (even though I was trying not to expect that).
What I’ve learned is that life isn’t so easily delineated into neat categories. Yes, I love Japan, but I also love my family and life in America – quite a bit, I am realizing. Before, I felt like I had to be all one thing or all the other. If I was going to love Japan, I had to love everything about Japan. Now I’m seeing that that’s not necessarily true. There are some things that, quite frankly, I’m just plain tired of. And yet I do love Japan. My heart is somehow intertwined with it, and I feel like I want to be involved with it again in the future, that I’ll never quite let it go. But who knows? Because I am also learning that things do change. The things I want to do today, the way I feel today, I may not necessarily feel tomorrow. My main job is to open up my heart and let God lead me where He wants me to go, because He sees things I cannot, and He will lead me to the places where I can be of most service to Him and where He can best do His work in me.
So, if you think of it, please pray for me. Pray that I will have wisdom to make a good decision, with the right priorities, not being swayed by selfish desires, but not ignoring my desires, either. Pray that God will prepare my heart for whatever decision He’d have me make. Because honestly, either decision is going to be hard. Right now I feel a steady tug toward home – enough to make me feel fairly confident that returning to America is the decision I’ll make. And yet leaving a country where a large portion of my heart is, and where I thought I would stay for quite some time, will be difficult as well. I love this program, and the people I’ve met have become like family. It’s always hard to say goodbye, and no matter which path I choose, I will have to say goodbye to something. But I am confident that God will continue leading me in the paths He wants me to be in, and that He’ll give me the joy and energy for the tasks He asks me to do. And so I move onward into the future…
Hello everyone! Long time no post! This month has been busy with meetings, birthday celebrations, and of course just normal work! Since I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, this will be sort of an update post, and I’ll try to get back in the routine of regular posting again!
Although work has seemed especially busy lately – and I have some especially tough classes this year – we’ve been able to have a lot of fun this month. The team this year is all about hanging out and having fun together, which is great! It really means a lot, since we don’t have family around, to have a type of “home away from home” with the team here.
One of the fun activities we were able to enjoy together this past weekend was going to the Hawaiians resort in Iwaki, which our employers generously treated us to again this year. If you didn’t read my post from last year, Hawaiians is a resort built to simulate a Hawaiian experience, with a water park, hula shows, shops, and food stands.
Last year at the Hawaiians, I had my very first onsen experience! Yes, that’s bathing naked with strangers in the hot springs, so it was a landmark “first” for me. This year, I didn’t even end up doing onsen, although I had been planning on it. Instead, I decided to ride the very tall water slide called “Big Aloha,” which had been under construction last year. I waffled a little about my decision, especially since there was a 50-minute wait, but when my friends went, I decided to go too.
I ended up regretting the decision, not only because it cost more money but also because it took an hour away from my afternoon. Perhaps if I had been thinking more clearly, I would have remembered how I felt riding the smaller (but still scary) “Black Wonder” slide in the morning. It’s strange, because last year I rode “Black Wonder” several times, and even though it winds through dark tunnels and made my stomach drop a couple of times, I liked it enough to keep doing it. This time, though, it kind of freaked me out for some reason. So why I decided to ride the really big one, I’m not quite sure.
After waiting for many minutes, and trying not to glare at the quick-pass riders who kept getting waved ahead of us, it was finally my turn to get on the slide. It started out slowly, but after that it was a bit of a traumatizing experience. It kept dropping me, and splashing me, and dropping me again. I was trying to remind myself to breathe, but it’s hard to breathe when you keep getting dropped. Now keep in mind, this is a girl who has never ridden a roller coaster or any “scary” amusement rides, and my sole water slide experiences have been here at Hawaiians. So I had no idea how my body would react. “Am I going to throw up?” I kept thinking as my terrified little self whooshed down the tunnel. Then, in my terror, “Well, if I throw up, I throw up.”
Then, finally, I could see the end in sight, but it came all too quickly for me to prepare, and I plunged into the pool gasping, ingesting the pool water and ungracefully floundering and trying to get my legs under me. The attendant guided my arm toward the exit ladder, and I got out, shaking. “Never again,” I decided. I then had to work at swallowing my disappointment about wasting my afternoon and my hard-earned money on an experience that I hadn’t really enjoyed. But anyway, now I know. No roller coasters or heart-stopping rides for me. Of course, in the future I may forget my terror and get brave again. But for now, once is enough.
Besides visiting Hawaiians, we’ve also had other adventures this month, one of which was attempting to find a Pizza Hut in honor of my teammate’s birthday. We did some research and found out that supposedly there were two different take-out places in Koriyama, the largest city near us. After much searching on Google Maps, walking and riding of buses, and re-calculating after discovering that one of the shops was permanently closed, we finally located the one Pizza Hut in the city! We happily made away with the pile of pizzas we had ordered, excited to have “American-style” pizza again.
Here’s the tiny pizza place, functioning mostly as a take-out place with only a few tables inside. Notice the little delivery scooters out front!
Now that the Hawaiians trip is over and our multiple June birthday celebrations have come and gone, it’s time to put the nose to the grindstone again with work, studying Japanese, and preparing for the extracurricular activities that we help with in the summer. I’m also planning on taking the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test), which is administered next weekend, so that’s definitely motivation to study. Ganbarimasu, as they say here – I’ll put my all into it!