Apprehensive

6 May

It’s been a long, long time.  And Japan has done a lot to me.

I’ve been here for a year and eight months so far. It’ll be time to leave soon. I decided not to stay a third year. These past few months have been difficult for me. Not because of work, but because of culture and life and dealing with so many things on my own.

I have to constantly remind myself to look at the good things: my Japanese has improved, after persevering at this second school things have really turned around and I love the students and staff, I’ve made lasting relationships with Japanese people and friends from across the globe, I’ve gotten to travel to so many places and I met a truly amazing person.

It’s just that the difficult bits rear up over and over again: I still can’t read any decent amount of Japanese, I have a third school that I now rotate to and the teachers seem a tad unfriendly and openly disappointed in my level of Japanese, I live in a homogeneous society and I yearn for diversity, traveling now makes me ache to escape and the one person I feel I can share all these feelings with uncensored is on a completely different continent in another hemisphere.

Before I came here, a friend told me not to change. I’ve since found that to be an absolute impossibility. Living here has increased my tendency towards anxiety. I don’t want to meet new people, I don’t want to face new situations, I don’t want to be outgoing. New things stress me out on a whole new level than ever before. I just want to hide in a comfort zone.

Sometimes I wish *I* could be a metal man...

It probably sounds like a lot of complaining, or culture shock, or whatever. To be clear, I absolutely appreciate the opportunities I’ve had in Japan, and I don’t regret my decisions at all, but one can’t expect to live in such a different country than their own and not be affected to some extent.

Which is what causes me the most worry: that I will go back home and people will see the changes and not accept them or not like them or won’t be able to deal with them. Of course, I am happy with the person I have become, but to a certain extent it comes at the cost of others’ pride and faith in me. It’s really hard to disappoint so many people you love for the first time ever in life in such a short time, especially when it’s the first time you’ve been truly happy in a long while. How can you explain that?

Despite all of this, I am looking forward to going home. I love my family and I miss my friends. I just hope that everything turns out positively in the end. I’ve got less than four months left over here and though I’ll be more than happy to leave, it will still be with a bit of sadness for all the good experiences and personal growth this stint in Japan has given me.

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上 。。。下 It’s all a Rollercoaster

8 Aug

It’s early in the evening on a Saturday night, yet here I sit… in my apartment… alone.

I woke up this morning feeling sick, sad, and blue. My throat was a little sore, my body was achy and tired, and friends were leaving. It’s that transitional time where some friends visit home, other friends move home and new (potential) friends move in. All of these things overlap over 3 to 4 weeks so there are many goodbyes and many more hellos.

I really didn’t think it would be this difficult… but it is.

I know there is Facebook and Skype and all sorts of things to keep in touch with friends overseas… but there is nothing like being able to hug a friend or hold their hand. Especially when you’re feeling down.

So happy to have forged the friendship. So sad to have to say goodbye to their regular physical presence in your life.

Mt. Fuji is For Learners

13 Jul
Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji

Climbing Mt. Fuji was, hands down, the most physically challenging thing I have ever done in my life. Emotionally, it was pretty high up there, too.

I knew Fuji-san would be demanding of me; I’m not a person that usually goes hiking up hills and mountains just for the fun of it, but I knew if I could accomplish this, I would be so proud of myself, it’d be like a badge of honor. I also knew that by going with the group of friends that I did, I would be supported and motivated the entire way, which is what I needed to keep going.

Before heading up, I’d read a few different sites about the experience of going up the mountain. All the information I’d seen said the terrain was easy enough for walking shoes but the seven-hour climb was what gave me the most apprehension. Well, that and the risk of being blown off the side of the mountain by Fuji’s strong winds. Nevertheless, I was determined to do it; to succeed; to prove it to myself that I could do it. I wanted something to be really proud of.

The bus ride from Osaka took a few hours with some stops along the way but when we finally came in sight of the mountain and the bus slowly ascended to Station 5, where we were to begin our journey, a lump of fear began to form in my stomach: was I really about to do this? A friend’s reassuring eyes told me, Yes.

After putting on our warmer gear, having a nice warm meal and a bit of a safety lecture barely understood by me because it was all in Japanese, we set out to conquer Japan’s highest peak.

From Station 5

From Station 5

Starting up the mountain from Station 5 was easy enough. It was 5:30pm and there was still enough daylight to enjoy the flora and fauna of the lower altitudes with nice cool breezes blowing down the slope.

We got to Station 6 without any problems and not much challenge. The way to Station 7 is where it began to get more difficult. The sun was setting fast, the terrain was getting tougher as the altitude got higher and the lush greenery turned into rust-colored volcanic rock. I begin to take more breaks that are a little longer each time.

After Station 6

After Station 6

I’m not breathing properly on the way up to Station 7. Instead of nice, big breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth slowly and evenly, I’m breathing quickly in and out of my mouth. Soon enough my technique (or lack thereof) coupled with the ever-increasing altitude practically brings me to my knees as I struggle up the last of the stone steps to Station 7.

I’m dizzy. I’m practically hyperventilating. A friend squeezes my hand. A Japanese woman generously offers me some oxygen from a small aeresol can in her pack. Another gives me a caramel. The tourguide bringing up the rear phones ahead to the lead to tell him and most of the others that we’ve stopped for an unexpected rest. I stand up. They ask if I’m alright. If I want to continue. I look at my friend, squeeze back, and tell them I can. I will. 出来るよ‼

I’m ashamed now that I’ve shown so much weakness. That I fell behind. I’m ashamed that I needed help from so many strangers. I was more than appreciative of their kindness and concern, but I hate feeling like the weakest link. Especially so early on in the journey. From this point I know I can’t do this again. I have to do better. I have to make it all the way. From this point I am constantly aware of how I’m breathing: big, deep, even breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth. Every once in awhile I get a comforting squeeze in the hand or an encouraging word.

Before I started, I promised myself that I wouldn’t complain. I wouldn’t talk about how tired I was. How difficult it was. And I would never say that I wanted to quit. I promised this not only for myself, but also for my friends. I didn’t want them to question why I would even come on the trip if I was just going to complain and whine the entire way up. I wanted a noble effort.

Moving Up The Mountain

Moving Up The Mountain

By this time, night had completely fallen. We were now using our headlamps to see the trail ahead of us. The lead and the tourguide flanked both ends of our group carrying flashing blue and white sticks of light. It was extremely helpful seeing as how there were several other tour groups on the mountain following the same trail and in the darkness and growing fatigue it was becoming more and more difficult to determine if the Nihonjin with the dark grey North Face pack belonged to my “Fuji Yama nantoka” group or the “Kyushu nantoka” group. Around 9pm, though, we were heading towards Station 8 which meant a few hours of sleep and a bit of a meal. After almost four hours of climbing and snacking on Calorie Mate, both of those things sounded just heavenly.

Before I could rest, though, I first had to MAKE it to Station 8. I had to keep my head down and my hand in someone’s tight grip because everytime I looked up, that station just seemed further and further away. I was tired. I cried a little. I just wanted a rest. But I refused to complain. I just kept pushing. I went at a slightly slower pace than most of the group but by this time, many others were having their own struggles and I wasn’t the very last person in the group anymore. To me, that alone felt like am accomplishment. I had to help cheer them up, too! 頑張ってしましょう (gambatte shimashou – Let’s do our best)!!

I made it to Station 8 after some time. I got my bed placement (in a hostel-like setup), a small bento of salmon and rice and a much-needed bathroom break. I gobbled down my dinner, popped out my contacts and settled in for just under three hours of sleep.

At 1am we were woken up with lights and a few “Ohayou gozaimasu”‘s (although some really loud gaijin outside who had just arrived thirty minutes earlier woke me up with their loud chattering). We had half an hour to get ready before trekking the last three hours to the summit and the sunrise. While we slept, though, the groups had just kept coming so by the time we were ready to leave, the number of tour groups on the mountain had doubled and there was a literal human traffic jam of people wanting to catch that same sunrise.

Now, generally, I don’t like huge crowds of people, and HUNDREDS of people simultaneously crawling up the same path I am would have normally irritated me; but the sheer number of enthusiastic climbers slowed the pace down to a speed I was very comfortable with keeping while maintaining my breathing and constantly telling myself that I could do this.

That was before the collective pace slowed down to a full stop. The last few hundred meters to the top consisted of a path made up of various-sized volcanic rocks that required much careful climbing and maintaining a sure foot lest you lose your balance and what once was a light breeze now evolved to a full-on gust assists in pushing you onto a part if the mountain you would have much trouble returning from with your life still intact.

These last few hundred meters were so difficult for me. As daylight drew closer and closer and the sun threatened to rise whether or not I made it to the summit, it became a personal race for me. I raced my tired body that kept begging for a rest. I raced my exhausted emotions that kept wondering when this challenge would end and if it would be worth it. I raced my guilt at the worry of holding someone else from their goal when they had so patiently encouraged me, cheered me on, and helped me find the strength to make it when I became so exhausted. I definitely couldn’t hold someone else back so I gritted my teeth to find the strength, bit down on my tongue that wanted to scream out about how difficult it was, how much I hurt, how tired I had become… I forcefully blinked through the tears that I could no longer hold in and I struggled up those last 200 meters without holding anyone’s hand.

The Final Tori Gate

The Final Tori Gate

When I crossed under the final Tori gate and saw my other friends waiting for me, saving me a spot on the summit, cheering because they knew how much I’d wanted to make it, I cried even more because I knew I had done it. I climbed Mt. Fuji and made it to the top to see the sunrise. A cloudy sunrise, but one from the top of a mountain almost 4,000meters tall.

I rewarded myself with a seat on the edge of the summit, facing the hidden sun and trying to eat a candy bar which was pretty much frozen at such an altitude and temperature (7 celsius). As I watched the clouds drift by slowly, thousands of feet below instead of above, I was thankful and blessed that I had come with such supportive people, knowing I may have never made it by myself.

At the Tori Gate, Cold As Ice

At the Tori Gate, Cold As Ice

After 40 minutes or so, we began the descent. That was a completely different ordeal. Somehow 3-4 hours spent coming back down seemed more difficult than the seven it took to get to the summit; but it may have also been because I started my period on the way back down and didn’t have any breakfast or real food before starting the descent an ended up almost passing out in the gift shop. But even then, someone was there to take my hand.

I climbed Mt. Fuji and I learned that I am stronger than I think. Although it was difficult and my body is still sore, I accomplished a goal that I wasn’t sure was possible for me. I can be really tough and I have people who will support me if I just have the confidence in myself first. I learned that I have to give something my absolute best before I can ask someone to have so much patience with me.

I’m proud I did it, as crazy as it may have seemed for me to do.

Fuji Bound and Chotto Frightened

10 Jul

As I type this, I’m sitting on a bus headed for Mt. Fuji with the full intention of hiking to the summit. I am also a little scared of Japan’s most mythical mountain.

For the past few weeks I’ve been wondering if I actually have the guts to do it. I knew I had the gumption, hence, the unhesitant “yes!” to a friend’s invitation. As Fuji drew nearer, though, I began to seriously wonder if I could climb all the way up. Not without a few tears did I confide in a close friend joining in on the adventure. They reassured me I could do it and promised to help me up the mountain should I happen to need it.

I wonder now if the experience will have a great impact on me. My dad said “be careful”, my mom said “oh my goodness”, the teachers I work with said I’m crazy and told me to “頑張れ!” One of the teachers I teach English with told me that Japanese people believe that hiking up Fuji-san is a good thing for couples to do before they get married because the experience and working together as a team are great for strengthening the relationship before marriage. I found that very interesting because I hadn’t seen it on any of the Fuji information sites I read.

Sitting on the bus now with a few good friends and thinking about the challenge I’ll face in about 12 hours I feel like I can do it because of who I’m with. They actually inspire confidence in me for this crazy climb.

I’ll send a postcard from the top!

Wow…

8 Jun

So I did it again, I really feel behind.  I try to find some time to sit down and blog but as of late, I’ve been really exhausted.  Not exactly sure why.  I’ve been eating a lot healthier lately: tons more vegetables, less meat, etc.  I haven’t had fried foods in so long, I don’t snack on junk, most of the time I make my school lunch.  I feel proud of myself.  Plus, I’ve been taking lots of vitamins, too.

Another great thing, my Japanese is getting a lot better.  And I’m not sure how it turned up because it hasn’t always been there, but now on the keyboard drop-down menu on my Mac, I can choose to type in romaji, hiragana, or katakana.  Maybe my computer sensed a need for it since I’ve been using the character palette a lot more.  I can tell you one thing, being able to type in Hiragana on my keyboard is waaaaay better than selecting each kana from the character palette…

I haven’t been truly studying that much because I’ve been busy at work and exhausted at home, but my Japanese is improving because I am talking to more Japanese people and being comfortable with it.  A few weeks back after spending about 6 straight hours trying to hold conversations in Japanese I had gotten really tired – physically and emotionally – and felt like it was really hard for me to be in a situation like that… but the other weekend I went to a BBQ and there was only one other person there that was a native English speaker.  I also had a good amount of Japanese friends around so that may have done it, too… but I truly felt victorious… especially with my Kansai-ben.

To me, the Kansai dialect has much more life and vibrance than the standard Kanto dialect. Standard Japanese sounds boring, to me anyway. I like the verb and grammatical truncation that occurs all throughout the dialect.  I guess describing it would be like… hearing a Caribbean dialect of English spoken against a generic standard North American English dialect.  Different to the point that sometimes you have trouble comprehending the conversation going on in front of you and you’re a native speaker of English.

Anyway, gotta go. I smell.

Oh Geez!!!

15 Apr

Gomen, yo. I feel like my Ozzie boys for not updating in over a month.  Andy’s last update was in January and Damon’s was… yipe. He just updated a few days ago so I’ve really gotta get on it.

In any case, I have survived the last vestiges of Winter to experience my first Japanese Spring and all the Sakura that make the Nihonjin go crazy.  In the past month I’ve switched my phone provider from AU to Softbank (yay for free iPhone deal!!); gotten a PitaPa which is a magical card that gives me quick access to most rail lines in the Kansai area, do quick check-outs at many stores, and is a “credit” card that is directly linked to my Japanese bank account so I can do PayPal transfers (except when I recently checked, PayPal changed their system so you can now link directly to a Japanese account… it wasn’t like that before which is why I got the PitaPa… anyway).

As per the Board of Education I am employed under, I switched schools in the beginning of April and luckily, I am still very close to my apartment, which means I can wake up late… out of ~30 foreign teachers in my neighborhood, I believe I’m the last one to leave my apartment for work.  It’s nice.

I’ve also gone to 3 or 4 teachers parties and 4 Sakura-viewing events. Made hella (bad) short self-intro-type speeches in Japanese… Although my Japanese is rapidly improving, I get nervous at making speeches or reading/reciting prepared stuff.  I’m much better when I’m freely speaking… *sigh*  But I’ve had classes with most of my new students and even though I’m at a bad school where the kids don’t really study and score (maybe?) lowest in the district, I’m having a good time because it’s a lot more laid-back, relaxed, and welcoming than my first school.

So I’ll just leave you with some images of the latest goings on.  I will be more prudent about updating =D Enjoy!

The Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum

The Osamu Tezuka Manga Museumin Takarazuka

You see the camera crew?  Apparently they were filming promo material for the museum and I unwittingly (and a little unwillingly) became an extra while in the manga library. >.<

Damon had a gig at Trinity

Damon had a gig at Trinity

My friend Damon had a music gig at Trinity that turned out pretty well… except for the creepy guy butchering several West Coast (California) dances in lame attempts to game on J-girls.

Ijinkan Foreigner House in Kitano, Kobe, Japan

Beth, Che, and I finally visited one of the turn-of-the-20th century foreigner houses that Kobe brags about…. it was aiight.

Crazy monkeys!  Dont eat me!

Crazy monkeys! Don't eat me!

Went to Monkey Mountain, a park in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto and fed a bunch of crazy monkeys from inside a cage.  The big ones were really fat, so I tried to feed the babies.  They were mecha kawaii!!!

Sakura Viewing in Akashi Castle Park

Sakura Viewing in Akashi Castle Park

Akashi Park was hellllla crowded that day. I’m so glad I got to enjoy a few hours in an emptier area of the park… plus, no stares.

Sakura in Himeji Castle Park

Sakura in Himeji Castle Park

Many people knew this was probably the last weekend to view Sakura before some rain came and knocked them all down (yesterday); so last weekend at Himeji Castle Park was insanely crowded as well.  My friends and I got a nice spot without too much visual interference (people).   When a strong wind blew, petals would rain down from the trees and it was really lovely.  They got into everything, haha.

Hanami Within Himeji

Hanami Within Himeji

I imagine it was nice to be a lady living in the castle come Hanami time… this is beautiful!  More shots:

Himeji Castle with Sakura and Trees

Himeji Castle with Sakura and Trees

Outside the Castle

Outside the Castle

The last month or so has been crazy, but I’m REALLY looking forward to Spring and Summer.  I feel like I have successfully(?) survived my first “real” winter, which must be why I’ve been hearing Beyonce singing in my head all week.

The weather has been nice and warm lately, you might be able to tell from the beautiful clear blue skies (which will turn grayish come the summer humidity).  Yesterday it rained, though, so the raindrops beat the sakura from the trees and now  petals litter the ground like an autumn scene that has been miniaturized and colored a soft pink.

Sunshine and warm weather make me abundantly happy.

耳が痛い!!! (My Ear Hurts!!!)

4 Mar

When I was a young child I had a slight hearing problem. To fix it, doctors removed the adnoids in my nasal cavity and made me wear hearing tubes for about eight years. The upside? I do not snore, except in the rare case that my nostrils get ridiculously blocked. Downside? When my nasal area gets blocked like that, the fluid build-up makes me mad susceptible to ear infections.

Now normally, back home in the States, I’d buy some Sudafed over the counter, take it regularly for about three or four days and case closed. In Japan, though? ちょっと違うよ。Things are a bit different. Here in the land of temperamental weather and crazy sick masks, Sudafed is illegal because it contains epinephrine, a stimulant. Epinephrine is illegal but you can buy what is basically speed at a combini… Go figure.

Anyway, this puts me in a sticky situation because since I can’t really take any preventative measures or properly self-medicate, I am left waiting for the monster incubating in my inner-ear to hatch like an Alien baby and deliver a mighty painful dose of reality in the middle of the night. Take for instance last September. I had only been in Japan for about a month before I got the summer sniffles. I don’t like to take medicine because I like for my white blood cells to train themselves for war every now and again… let me just say, they go down mighty quickly to that inner ear infection. Needless to say, with almost no warning whatsoever (after many years of dealing with this problem, I can feel an infection coming about 3 days before a doctor can even see it on the monitor =/) I am brutally awakened by what feels like someone repeatedly stabbing me in my ear with a knife. Yay.

With no Sudafed I was left writhing in pain and the only things I could immediately think to do were to call my mother in the middle of her workday, and cry. Simultaneously. I searched online for home remedies but I think at that point all I had in my house was a loaf of bread and a carton of milk so many tips were utterly useless. All I found was some advice to chew gum with Xylitol in it, amazingly that stuff is everywhere in this country. Eventually I just resorted to dripping hot water down my ear canal, hoping it would break up that pressure.

As I waited… and cried, I kept thinking one thing- well, two things actually: it sucks to be contractually forbidden from owning a car or scooter; and WHY ON EARTH IS SUDAFED BANNED?!!?!

When I woke up the next morning after somehow being able to fall back to sleep I thought: man, this might happen a lot here… And here we are, starting round two. Tomorrow, I gets drugs; if I can make it through the night because I definitely can’t drive to a hospital at 3am!

My failed arsenal of weapons. =/