Girl’s day

June has been good to me. Though it’s now rainy season and sunlight has been rare, I am definitely enjoying my final months here with my lovely friends.

I was invited out to Miyakonojo for lunch and a rock bath/sauna trip with two of the coolest ladies I know. We went to a restaurant called SLF and had an amazing four course meal. The salad was covered in local veggies and a perfectly paired blueberry dressing. For the main, I went with margarita pizza and it also did not disappoint. I ate the soup too quickly to take a picture. I’m sorry, it was pumpkin and delicious. Finally, I had a cappuccino and coconut gelato. Ahh, it was the perfect lunch.

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After we headed to Miyakonojo Green Hotel for their stone sauna (岩盤浴). I had never been to a place like this before, and I am so glad the girls invited me. You change into a provided cover-up, drink some water, then lie down on the hot slab of rocks in a dark room that’s about 40 C (104 F). First you lie on your stomach for five minutes, then switch to your back for ten. They play light instrumental music, so it’s extremely relaxing, but staying in past 15 minutes isn’t recommended this time of year because you can easily overheat. In-between sessions, you can a break in an air-conditioned room and rehydrate. We did three times total and each time there was more and more sweat. But each time I felt lighter and lighter, like all the impurities and tension were leaving me. Afterwards you can shower, and they have necessary products like shampoo and body wash available. It’s said to have a lot of health benefits, and there were quite a few positive testimonials displayed in the lobby. It was an amazing experience, I highly recommend it if you feel like you need a detox or just want to relax.

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I’m trying so hard to save money for my future move, but I can’t pass up opportunities to see my friends and experience new things. I’m considering this day justifiable because of its therapeutic nature. I feel amazing! Make sure to check out these spots if you’re ever in the area!

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Netherlands neverland part one

I’ve grown a lot in the past couple of years and found a lot of confidence along the way. So while 20 year old me would have dreaded a solo trip, 24 year old me was so ready for it. I have a friend living in the Netherlands now, and I’ve always wanted to visit, so I took the opportunity to go visit her during spring break.

I met her where she lives in a small city called Leiden. We mostly walked around, and I soaked it all in. We passed by the house Rembrandt was raised in, ate some delicious fries, and took a few pictures.

After my little trip to Leiden, I took the train to Amsterdam to find my hotel. I got there around 10PM and had to lug my huge suitcase through the cobblestone streets while staring at Google maps and keeping an eye my dwindling phone battery. I turned a corner onto a narrow alley and was welcomed by many red lights. Much to my surprise, my hotel was nestled quite snugly in the middle of the famous red light district. How I didn’t know that when booking, I do not know. It wasn’t so bad though. The area had plenty of interesting shops to keep me entertained on my solo trip.

I took a tour of the city on a canal boat, saw some amazing art exhibits, ate my weight in cheese and falafel (definitely not dutch, but I missed it), and got in quite a bit of shopping.

Down to (Little) Texas

This summer, my best friend was kind enough to come to Japan and keep me company for 10 days. It was a much needed vacation and escape from Osumi, and we had so much fun.

We headed to Tokyo from Kagoshima on Friday, and that night we decided to check out Meguro’s Little Texas on a recommendation from some friends. I had heard it was a nice little place to grab some imported beer and chicken-fried steak and listen to country music, but I had no idea how much it would really look like a small-town Texas honky tonk. For those of you non-Texans out there, a honky tonk is a bar where one can two-step to local country music and do some beer-in-hand boot scootin’. That description didn’t help at all did it? No, why don’t I show you…Little Texas is surprisingly accurate, if not  little over the top.

 

 

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Barbed wire, road signs, and empty chewing tobacco cans? Check, check, and CHECK!

 

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The night we went was Bluegrass Night, and we were very lucky to hear the beautiful sounds of the talented musicians playing there. It was magical. We also had some nachos complete with jalepenos and a few frozen margaritas to wash it down. We later chatted a bit with the owner and he gave us onion rings free of charge. I definitely know where I’m going when I get homesick from now on!

 

If you’re ever in Tokyo and have a free night, check out Little Texas. Even if you aren’t from Texas. There is a music fee (I think it was about 2000 yen when we went), but the food and drinks are pretty standard. And the music is worth it.

 

To get to Little Texas and check it out for yourself, check out their webpage! The bar is about a five minute walk from Meguro Station.

Taking it Easy and Traveling Alone

The end of April/beginning of May is a wonderful time in Japan known as Golden Week, because of the many public holidays.  Half of the holidays are on weekends though, and there are working days in between holidays, so it’s only so exciting. I didn’t take any additional time off, but I did have a nice four day weekend to do whatever in Japan.  I decided to be completely uncharacteristic of my shy and needy self and went alone. Oh yes, I took a four day vacay all by my lonesome, and it was amazing.

 

Okay, so I did spend one night at a friends house watching trashy dating shows, but for the next three nights, it was just me, myself, and I…

I took a 4-hour bus ride to Fukuoka Prefecture and eventually made it all the way to Kitakyushu, a city in the northern tip of the island I live on. I didn’t have much planned, so I just wondered around the city for a few hours. If you’re going alone, slow walks through popular areas are actually really nice. When you’re alone and not in a rush, you notice so much more of what is going on around you. I did feel like people were judging me for aimlessly walking around alone, but after a while I JUST DID NOT CARE. I was on a date with myself and was completely absorbed in my own world.

 

 

Krispy Kreme!

 

One night I stayed in my hotel to watch a movie, eat Krispy Kreme donuts, and have a bubble bath. I learned that I need more bubble baths, but I probably could do without Krispy Kreme.

 

 

I do think it’s a good idea to see the city and what other people do there and then pamper yourself. But it’s also nice to get away from it all.  I left Sunday morning for the Yahata district of Kitakyushu and later got on a bus leading to the Kawachi Fuji-en  (wisteria park) tucked into a mountain side. The bus stopped earlier than I thought it would, and long story short, I was left to walk 4 kilometers with a woman older than my grandmother. I asked if she was okay, but she kept her pace better than I did.

on the way...

on the way…

We talked a bit through our tired breathing, and once there, she offered me tea, food, and her photography skills. Her kindness nearly brought a tear to my eye, and I am still thankful that we could spend an hour or so together.

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We lost each other after a while, and I spent more time wondering through the wisteria taking tons of pictures (including shameless selfies) and smelling those sweet sweet flowers for quite a long time. The park is up a hill and from the edge you can see a lake. Despite the crying babies and giggling couples, it was totally peaceful. And stunningly beautiful. And none of the couples walking under the hanging flowers made me want to vomit. Instead I was happy, that in that moment, they all seemed happy. Maybe some of them would get what we’re promised: a life of eternal love and happiness. I was just happy thinking of that possibility. Which is sappy and dramatic, but I guess that’s who I am now. Oh, Japan, how you’ve changed me.

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After the marathon trek down the mountain and back to the train station, I headed back to the city and shopped. And then shopped some more. Boy, did I shop. I think I got all my therapy sessions in. Natural relaxation, retail, sugar…yup all there. How many times can I say amazing before it loses its emphasis?

mini treat-yo-self haul!

 

 

BUT you know me…I won’t lie to you. I did experience of few moments just short of existential meltdown. Being alone did make me realize that a lot of times I am alone in Japan, and though I do appreciate solitude, it is nice having someone you like around for the times you want to hear another person’s voice. I did experience moments of intolerable longing, moments where I thought I could collapse from all the injustice of the universe. But, I didn’t. If there was only one thing I could take away from that weekend it’s that I do like myself…I love myself, and though I wish there were times I didn’t have to be away from certain people, I know I can do it because I love and appreciate myself just as much as I love and appreciate them. Or more. I’m pretty alright, you know? I don’t think that’s conceited or narcissistic. I think it’s sort of necessary to being sane in a foreign country when you so often feel alone. Beyond that, it’s so so necessary for me right now. I’m glad I could spend a few days alone to help discover myself and notice all those things that have slipped by before. I highly recommend you do the same sometime. It’ll change your outlook. And, of course, it’s amazing.

 

Thanks for reading! Enjoy the warmer weather all you Northern-Hemispherians. That’s a word right? See you soon!

To America and back

Happy New Year!

I’m officially the worst blogger ever and haven’t posted in nearly two months, because I’m an idiot who dropped her computer and shattered the screen. But don’t worry, it’s been fixed. We are back in business.

So let’s catch up. December was pretty good. I went to a huge end of the year party with my BOE and though some people I’ve never met before neglected to ask me if I understand Japanese and just assumed I don’t, it was pretty fun. As soon as you say something sassy in Japanese, people will compliment your language skills until they’re too drunk to talk.

I also got closer to some of my teachers and students. My 9th graders were practicing speeches about Mother Teresa until the last day of classes, and it was really rewarding to be able to teach them about one of the world’s most loved women. A lot of the lower scoring kids even showed some motivation and surprised me with their improved English. It was a good month for English teaching. Well, it was good until a group of 9th graders decided borderline sexual harassment was a good idea. Fifteen year olds are gross in any country I’m sure, but when they don’t think you understand what they’re saying (or they don’t understand what they’re saying), things get a bit more complicated. Good thing I know enough Japanese to temporarily transform into a real teacher and tell them off. If you ever teach in a foreign country and don’t speak the language–or do and are afraid to speak it–don’t indulge your kids, and please ask their teachers what they’re saying. Kids are rude and gross and as an educator, it’s your responsibility to discipline them and teach them what’s right.

Apart from that one class, my kids are mostly great. Or at least mild enough for me to fix their problems quickly.

Towards the end of December I got a little lonely and anxious. See, I would be visiting home and I was honestly a bit freaked out about it. But most of my friends were out of town and boyfriend was busy, so I spent a few days packing and lounging around. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to America and see my friends and family, but I always get so afraid that people will change. People do change. I was afraid that that change would lead them away from me and our relationships. Or that that change would be enough to think differently about those people. Or that I had changed enough for them to think differently of me. I can happily report, though, that nothing has changed! Everyone was just as I remembered. Hanging out with my friends and talking like we hadn’t just spent a year and a half apart was a relief. And my mom is just as emotional and supportive as always.

I really did miss my family, and I’m glad that the first four days I was in America I spent with them. I tried not to go to crazy on the food, but I was completely satisfied with the amount of visiting I got to do. I finally met my new aunt, though I’ve known her for years. I’m still sorry I couldn’t attend their wedding. One of my cousins got married to a beautiful woman who is really nice, and his little brother is getting married this year (also to an awesome and beautiful woman). My best friend is dating someone I super approve of. They complement each other so well, and I’m happy for them both! I’m happy for everyone.

My friends joked that my heart “grew three sizes,” not unlike the Grinch, and that I seem much more in tune with my emotions. So I guess I did change enough, but in a good way. That is what I’m most thankful for in 2013.

I realized on my trip that America and Japan are very different (duh). So many people in America feel entitled to everything. Nothing is a privilege, but a right. A lot of people are openly rude. And America makes me feel really unsafe. Also, what’s with the food, seriously? More times than necessary, I felt like my ribs would violently separate due to the rabidly expanding stomach beneath them. I promise I don’t eat that much. All of these negatives remind me what’s great about Japan. However, America wins in so many other contests. I don’t have to listen to my elders. I probably should, but there’s no deep running cultural rule that tells me I can’t talk to my grandpa like my best friend. I can argue with people who are supposed to “know better.” That’s how change happens. That’s how state after state this year was able to pass laws allowing gay marriage. Or legal marijuana consumption. This trip has allowed me to clearly see what I like about America, without hating Japan in the process. Both places are great, and though I don’t know where I’ll live in the future, I know I’ll likely be able to live happily in either. I wasn’t sure six months ago where’d I’d be living at the end of this year, but I’m fairly certain I’m staying in Shibushi another year. According to Chinese zodiac this year,  the year of the horse, is my year. So bring it on, 2014. I’m not afraid of you anymore.

So in closing, America was fun, though I wish my parents hadn’t moved to the middle of nowhere. I did get a lot of shopping in though. Not sure how I fit everything back into my suitcases…

Japan Adventure: PART TWO

Boy, has this been a crazy two weeks months! Sorry about the lateness. So, where did I leave off? Kyoto. Right. After Kyoto/Osaka, we flew to Fukuoka via the ever-cheap Peach Airlines. We actually got in pretty late, and we were staying in a new hostel that closes its front desk at 9, so we got our keys from a little pouch waiting for us at the front desk. This place, part of the Khaosan chain of hostels, was super nice. Our room was a private double bunk complete with a shower and toilet! And it was well air-conditioned! I definitely recommend it if you’re staying in Fukuoka.

Anyway, we were really hungry, so we walked to Hakata Station and went to eat at the only Mexican food restaurant I know of in Kyushu. It is so good. We had some drinks and tacos and even chatted with the employees a bit. Despite the fact my brother knows zero Japanese, he managed to impress the waiter with his height and Spanish skills. Man, people here are awesome. If some weird giant who didn’t speak English went to America and try to do the same thing, he’d probably be greeted by squint-eyed stares and a few cold shoulders. Japan, guys. Japan.

After parting with our new friends, we headed back to the hostel and went to sleep. The next day, we took the bus to Dazaifu. Dazaifu is a pretty well know town in Fukuoka that has some nice historical sites and really delicious grilled mochi (umegaemochi 梅ヶ枝餅). We did get a bit lost trying to find some ruins, but overall I think it was a nice morning!

After Dazaifu, we went back to the city and headed to the beach! Fukuoka has quite a few beaches, but as we were without a car, we chose the most convenient rather than the most beautiful. Momochi Seaside Park is where we ended up, and it wasn’t actually that bad. But oh, is the beach scene in Japan different. Most girls were either fully clothed or wearing shirts over their swimsuits. The guys mostly looked normal I suppose, but most people were huddle under tents or drinking under canopies. That I can relate to. I will never understand going to the beach to tan, and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do that here! It’s expected, but definitely different from what I’m used to. We hung out in the sand for a while, then decided to get out of the sun and get some food. As we were sitting down, a reggae-ish group came up to the stage and played a short set. With the food, the booze, the sound of the waves, and the music playing, it felt like a beach back home in Texas. I definitely got sunburned, but the nostalgia made it worthwhile.

After two days in Fukuoka, we headed home to Kagoshima. I was probably more excited to be in Kagoshima with my brother than in any other place. We got in on a Friday evening and met some of my friends in the city for dinner. I was actually a bit worried about getting back to Shibushi though, because I couldn’t drive and my car was at a shop getting inspected. My previous arrangements fell through, but luckily a very amazing person offered to give my brother and me a ride. We had to take the ferry from Kagoshima to the Osumi side, and the ferry terminal is not exactly convenient to get to from this person’s home. Not to mention it was getting really late. However, this particular person is pretty awesome and insisted it was no problem.

My brother and I made it back home, I set up his futon, I worried about him sleeping on the floor, he said a place to sleep is a place to sleep, he lied down, he said, “This is nice,” and we were out. The next day we picked up my car from the shop and went on a mini drive through Kagoshima and Miyazaki. I thought my brother would think the south was boring, but he loved it. He told me he wished we had just come here for the whole time. Kyushu is quite beautiful, but you never know what a 20-year-old boy will like.

After our drive, we headed to a city called Tarumizu to see my host family and go to a summer festival. We met at mom’s house and were greeted by many friends and a full temakizushi spread. They had unagi, y’all. Both my brother and I were in heaven. He did say it was hard for him to hear so much Japanese and not understand anything, but with good food and a lot of smiling, you don’t really need words.

Following dinner, we headed to the festival. The fireworks were shot from a platform in the bay, and the display over the water was perfect. I’m really glad he got to see Japanese fireworks and experience Japanese hospitality. I think I scored a few points on that one.

The next day, we headed north to Kirishima to visit the Open Air Art Museum. For a museum in the mountains of rural Japan, it was awesome. Just look at the pictures (coming soon).

I wasn’t able to take pictures of the gallery works, but they too were great.

It was so so hot that day, so we decided to spend the afternoon at a swimming hole/waterfall. I enjoyed it, but I think my brother felt awkward. He had experienced his first real encounter with “the stare” and it got to him. I can talk about this later, but it has never really bothered me. When it happens, my first thought is always, “is there something on my face?!” But for some people, “the stare” is soul crushing.

Anyway, we cleaned up and met my host family again for sushi! Again, my brother was pleased both with the food and the kindness of my friends. Afterwards, Yumi gave me a bag of small traditional gifts for my brother to send home. She’s a dream, I’m telling you. Perfect.

I don’t know what my brother did on Monday because I was gone at the prefectural driving center all day getting grilled about my seemingly fake Texas license (more on that later). That night we stayed a friend’s house near the airport and got up early for his departure.

My brother tends to be reserved in his emotions, but I feel like he had a good time. I know I made some planning mistakes and the trip could have been so much better, but my brother got to see a piece of my new life and that felt really good. Helping him out and getting us around Japan gave me more confidence in my language and communication abilities as well. And him being here somehow solidified that I do live here, and I could live here for quite a while.

After his trip, he told me he is dying to travel again and that he may soon be studying abroad. I’m just really proud of him, I guess. Not everyone has the means to go abroad, but at the same time, not everyone wants to. There are plenty of people completely content with staying at home forever. For me, traveling and living outside of America has taught me so much about myself and the world. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

If you have the chance to travel, to visit a family member in another country, do it. Forget about the money, and just do it. There’s nothing better you can do for yourself, I think.

OMG HEY

Okay, this is going to be a really quick update, but I’ve been thinking about some things lately, and I wanted to share them!

First of all, it is officially summer vacation….for the students. I, on the other hand, have to go to the Board of Education everyday unless I want to use my 年休 (nenkyu=paid leave). Which brings me to number 2:

MY BROTHER IS COMING TO VISIT ME! OMG! I can’t contain my excitement. I’m flying to Tokyo to meet him, then we’re stopping over in Osaka/Kyoto and Fukuoka before coming here for some country fun. I did have to take vacation time, because I don’t get an actual summer vacation like American teachers do, but it’s so worth it. I’ve been here almost a year now, and I’ve really started to miss my friends and family back home. It’s going to be really nice to see my baby bro after so long away.

That is if I don’t die first. Japan is hot, man. It’s a lot better now that I’m in an office with actual air conditioning, but before school let out I was sweating my butt off everyday. I have almost no appetite, and at the start of summer I took a 2 hour nap every day after work. We aren’t friends heat exhaustion. But at least I’m (probably) getting thinner!

Lastly, I will soon be procuring my official Japanese driver’s license. You may think it’ll be easy since I’ve been driving for 7 years with a clean record, but you’d be wrong. Foreigners in Japan have to go through this long, ridiculous process that involves translating your current license, practicing a very specific course for the driving test, being interviewed about god know’s what, and taking both written and practical driving tests. I know maybe 2 people who passed on the first try. It’s scary. My friend, Anya, who is unfortunately leaving me for America very soon, wrote about her experience. Check it out to see how crazy this truly is.

I lied, that wasn’t the last one. This is the last one: this is JET contracting season, so new people are coming and lots of people are leaving me. Okay, two people, but I don’t actually know that many ALTs so that’s a lot for me. One is returning home, and the other is moving to the city! The later is actually pretty sweet because I can still see her and eat good food and go shopping and stuff.

That’s about it for now! I’ve got some videos of random stuff in the editing process, and I’ll definitely let you know how my brother’s trip goes! See you soon!