Monday, October 12, 2009

Random Unimportant Things

As I am typing right now, four watercolors are drying in the sun on my porch in the chilly Autumn air. I am wearing some new pajamas that I bought yesterday in a shopping spree for warm clothes, and I just finished a bowl of oatmeal. Life is pretty good.

But this week has been a challenging one. When people think of "life abroad" they imagine a romantic life full of new tastes, colors, and sounds. Not to say there isn't plenty of that. It's just that in real life you can't edit out the long hours of solitude or the awkward half conversations or the frustrations of fractured communication. There are many ups and downs to this life. I am living in a country where I am distinctly an outsider and am constantly reminded of that fact. I look and act different than everyone around me, and in a country that at times values the homogeneity of its people and their way of thinking this distinction is, well, a distinct problem.
It's been an odd week, so it's time for an odd blog.

Here are some glimpses of random events that happened this week.

Tuesday: I spent the morning at Kamedake elementary. As I might have previously mentioned, in Japan there are six periods in a day. At the elementary schools at most I will teach two periods. That leaves me with a lot of free periods. So I sat in on the first and second grade PE class one period. Today's lesson? Sumo wresting. It was so cute- their teacher was quite serious about instructing them on REAL sumo- "Start every movement from the right to the left! Show your intention on your face! A straight back looks strong- a curved back looks weak" and so on. Like-sized kids were paired up with each other and were encouraged to wrestle. Soon after the principal came out and joined in the fun. Willing kids battled with him- this man four times their size. He was very good with them; if he thought they were making a worthy effort he let them win but if he felt they were not doing their best he shouted out corrections until they improved.

I made the mistake of wresting with trying this activity- which resulted in a rip in my pants. Right in the crotch. That's right.

So I scurried of to the local convenience store in the hopes of finding a sewing kit. There was none. In my desperation I chose the cheapest stapler I could find and brought it to the counter. What else was I going to do? Even stapling my pants was better than accidentally flashing my afternoon school.
"You don't want this stapler" the lady said. "It's so old." "That's no concern" I tried to tell her. But she wouldn't listen. Finally I told her that what I REALLY wanted was a sewing kit. She immediately ran off to find the other clerk who produced the desired kit. "Can I use your bathroom?" I asked. "Oh, we don't have a bathroom" she responded. "Where is the rip?" Red-faced, I pointed to the ripped region. Her eyes widened in comprehension, and they led me to the back and guarded the door. I fixed the problem and came out quite relieved and no longer a threat to public decency. She started to ring up my stapler. "Oh, I don't need that anymore, now that I used that sewing kit" I said. This time her eyes widened in horror. "You were going to use it for THAT?" she bleated. I laughed and nodded, thanked her for the use of the sewing kit, and ran off before any more could be said.
Upon arriving at my afternoon school that day I was informed that we were going to gather chestnuts instead of having class. Next week the school lunch was to be chestnut rice, so we had to gather enough to make pots and pots of this delicacy. Chestnuts, huh. For any of you who have never seen a raw chestnut before they are certainly a sight to behold. The very outer layer is an angry, prickly, nest of evil. The inner shell is a tough fortress guarding the tiny nugget of meat inside. When chestnuts fall on the ground in a few days the prickly part will open up to reveal the inner shell. I and the third and fourth graders gathered enough chestnuts to feed an army of Japanese youngsters. Ah, the life of a teacher in rural Japan.

Wednesday: Stress. At elementary and middle schools everyone eats the same lunch. And kids are expected to eat it all, no matter whether they are full or don't like what's served or just plain being contrary- a clean plate is the only way. Unfortunately that goes for teachers too. So, being a picky eater, lunch has been hard for me. They don't make me eat any of the meat that is included in the lunch, but unfortunately here when you say you don't eat meat it doesn't register that pork, chicken, and fish are actually meat too (Like the scene from "my big fat greek wedding"- You don't eat meat? No problem. I'll cook lamb!) Not only that, but the servings are pretty big, and fried food is often featured on the menu. This is a problem for me. So lunch is stressful. Plus, I heard this day that my Grandma was very ill and in the hospital, and my poor old dog had also taken a turn from the worse. To top it off I was freezing, lonely, and could not get a hold of my supervisor. Being a blonde, vegetarian in Japan who only speaks enough Japanese to make herself slightly understood can get old after a while. I am sometimes too poignantly an outsider. Slight breakdown. But I've learned that on days like this all you can do is continue, and wait for the storm to blow over. And it did.

Thursday: Typhoon, which was kind of a dissappointment. I was expecting some of the schools to blow away, or at least Japan Car to go flying. But all that happened was some wind and a lot of rain.

Saturday: Kindergarten Sports Day. Imagine a dozen adorable Japanese toddlers running around with their parents doing silly sports such as grabbing bread from a pole with their teeth or putting on a dance where they were dressed as mushrooms. Ridiculously cute. Then add a handful of elementary school kids who were infinitely interested in playing with me, sitting on my lap, feeding me poisonous looking berries (don't worry, I lived) and playing with my hair. Top it off with a certificate of participation hand drawn by the little ones, and you have one very heartwarming morning. In the afternoon I watched Terminator for the first time with the Okuizumo guys. I'm now slightly more American.

Sunday: Went to Izumo to purchase many warm clothes. I trekked off to Uniqlo- the Gap of Japan, except a little more affordable. Most clothes in Japan for girls are definitely not made for curvy blonde girls from America. They would make me look like an escaped hobo with a penchant for glitter and bows. But Uniqlo has a fairly normal selection of clothes, and I happened to arrive on a sale day. I am now a warm, happy lady.

Monday: Today was a holiday- National Feild and Sports day or something. Anyway this morning I helped Mr. and Mrs. Fukuda harvest their rice. When else in my life would I have this chance? Today we were seperating rice from its straw stems. We used a machine to do the seperating. Mr. Fukuda took down bunches of rice from that had been drying (on one of those structures featured in my "Honorable Rice" blog ) and handed them to me. I proceeded to feed them into a machine with monstrous metal teeth that chewed the rice off and spit the unwanted straw on one side, the gross bugs and other organic litter out the other, and poured the clean unhulled rice into bags. Luckily being a 3-D art student I am perfectly accustomed to machines that threaten to mame or kill me, and the Fukudas were impressed by my aptitude. Mrs. Fukuda then tied up the unwanted straw into bushels. We finished quickly and sat down on the straw- "Sofa" Mr. Fukuda said, pointing to the bushels and laughed. The Fukuda's daughter Kyoko brought us onigiri and we ate it in the fresh air. The sun was shining and the sky was a beautiful clear blue. A great day for rice farming, if I do say so myself.

There is a saying taught to me by my very favorite Japanese man- Mr. Motohide. It says:
雪 もつもれば山となる- even snow, when it accumulates, becomes a mountain. I have found this to be true in many ways. If we let the frustrations and loneliness pile up, it becomes disastrous. We have to let such things blow away. But we have to be careful to let the happy moments, the moments of warmth and community pile up then we can really realize how blessed we are.

Life abroad is sometimes very hard. But more than it is hard it is worth it.


  1. ok i have a dumb question - are you living with the fukudas?

  2. Even though it sounds stressful at times, and believe me, Gotsu can be quite stressful too, it seems that the good outweighs the bad. To begin with, you are getting to watercolor (I watercolor too, yay!), you got to gather chestnuts (I only WISH my school would do this), even though you got a rip in your pants, you got to practice sumo (in your case, I would have been even worse off as I wear a lot of skirts). You also got to gather rice! I'm quite jealous of that too.

    But yes, living in Japan has it's ups and downs to be sure, I admit. Somedays you feel like you could do this forever, other days, all you want to do is be somewhere were people understand you. Living out in the country, I think it's even harder too. But chin up! :D

  3. Oh, God, you poor thing! Ripping pants, sick grandma, sick Jakey, Terminator...but yay for sunny days, watercolor, cute children, warm clothes, being ballsy, and wise favorite Japanese man. I really hate it that I can't comfort you except for a postcard here and there. BAH! Hang in there, my friend. Pile up those happies.

  4. Lauren- I don't live with the Fukudas- they just live about two minutes away from me so I can bother them often. They live in a huge house and I live in a small apartment down the street (check out the august blogs, there is a video tour!)
    Lexi- sing it sister. it's nice to have people who understand my bitc. . . errr. . . writing.
    When you come you will see just how abundant the opportunities are for gathering rice. I can't wait- we will have a good time.
    And Sarah your postcards and blogs and kind words are always a lifesaver. You remind me of all the sorts of things I love about Indiana, and in a good way. You are the best.

    Thanks guys!