little sarah Big World

Category: Japan

The Promise of a New Season

Election Season 2015, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo

Election season. Female voices drift in through my morning windows, from loudspeakers attached to vans, crawling the city night and day, gently imploring its citizens to lend their votes. Sometimes not so subtly: in Kanda, they’ve been frantic, competing voices trying to match or raise each other’s intensity.

I can’t understand what they’re saying, but it sounds desperate: “Please! Please choose me! I’ll do a good job! I swear! I’ll keep all my promises! I’ll do my best! Listen to me! Pick me!”

And the neighborhood scorecards fill up with faces, though I don’t know if they’re winners or just candidates.

*       *       *

Much of Japan remains a mystery to me. At times I feel possessive, territorial, hissing and arching my back at the gaijin tourists in Shibuya. “What are you doing here?” I wonder, eyes narrowed. “Go home. This is my place.”

But I feel equally ever the outsider, socially isolated, searching in vain for my tribe, longing for a place called “home” that I know I’ll never return to. I’ve spent too much time sitting in bed, eyes fixed on the screen in my lap.

*       *       *

Friends and visitors come from the States, and they marvel at this city, ask unanswerable questions for a malcontent navel-gazer like me. I try to understand my adoptive home, but it often feels impenetrable, and I’m still wary of diving in completely, not yet certain I want drink the Kool-Aid.

Tokyo, as Seen from the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, April 2015

The best explanation I can offer is that for everything that’s true of Tokyo, its opposite is also true. People are charmingly polite and will go out of their way to help, and you might be refused service flat-out for being a foreigner. Someone on the train will move over seats without hesitation, wordlessly, so you and your friend can sit together, and someone else will push past you, damned if they’re going to miss their train to work.

The food is healthy and light and fresh, and it is more fried meat and greasy noodles than you could ever imagine. School girls titter like little birds, hands cupped to their mouths, and they lug lacrosse bags slung over tanned, toned arms. People are very friendly and welcoming, and you will feel that you can never belong. People are shy and reserved, and strangers will introduce themselves to you, ask you where you’re from, tell you their stories.

Nobody speaks English, but also everybody speaks English. People visit temples and shrines daily, and they frequent girls bars and love hotels. Highways weave in and out of skyscrapers, every inch of your vision filled with signs and shops and throngs of people, more than a million passing through Shinjuku station each day, and on weekend nights the streets are slick with vomit, teeming with boisterous drunkards, over-served salary men teetering precariously on the subway platforms.

Tokyo Dome City, April 2015

And yet, I have never lived anywhere so clean and quiet and safe, with parks in every single neighborhood where old men gather to talk and women bring their children to laugh and play in the sunshine. Business people take mid-day strolls, stretching and doing calisthenics in their uniform suits. Kind citizens feed stray cats. Strangers exchange smiles and nods.

*       *       *

And now the elections. Candidates cruising for constituents, barking promises through megaphones, up and down residential streets for weeks. Equal parts foreign and familiar, for me. This morning the amplified voice is serene, a woman’s voice, in a language I still don’t understand. She calls to me, in bed my bed, I wake, clear morning sunlight kissing my legs. An invitation, welcoming me back to the world, enticing me to join.

“Come outside,” she seems to say. “Come out and be a part of this.”

Trees in Bloom, Nagano, April 2015

Today, I believe all the promises.

Advertisements

The Year That Was

Funabashi, Chiba, 2014

~OR~

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You a Far More Easy-Going Person

*       *       *

2014 was the year I stopped feeling homesick. The year I ran my first marathon and fell in love with Japan.

Nagano, Japan, April 2014

The year my best friend rushed home from work to spoon me on her couch while I fell apart, crying in her exhausted arms.

The year I was held together by so many, from so far, in so may ways that it is unbe-fucking-lievable.

The year I learned you can’t always reciprocate, you just have to pay it forward, and be better than you were. Sometimes you have to live the “thank you” or “I’m sorry,” because saying it isn’t enough.

The year I was brave enough to say no, not ready, not yet (even if later I wailed and wished I’d said yes).

The year I got dumped, for the first time in my life.

Broken Glass, Japan, 2014

The year I realized that I had a choice, about whether to fall apart or not.

The year I flushed a fistful of pills down the toilet, breaking plans for a very dark date with myself.

The year I tried head meds, saved my own life, and then stopped them, quit counseling, and followed my own advice.

The year I realized that I know better than anyone else, when it comes to my own life.

The year I started making my own damn decisions, without endless debate or consultation.

The year I held my own hand, small in my bed, and knew that it was enough.

Daffodils, 2014

I almost didn’t make it through 2014. I had to learn to live for others first, then for my own self second. If I could say one thing to the whole wide world, I would say: it’s okay. Everyone is doing their best.

Shibuya Crossing on a Rainy Day, Tokyo, 2014

I want to dedicate 2014 to all of my many many loves, but especially to these people, for these reasons:

To Erin, for bringing me a cookie and sitting with me while I hid in a stairwell at work and cried.

To my mom, for patiently having the same conversation with me, over and over.

To my dad, for being my soulmate, and my friend.

To Scott, who talked me down off of a couple ledges, even if he didn’t know it at the time.

To the folks at Tokyo English Life Line, for obvious reasons.

Meguro, Tokyo, 2014

To Daniel, who told me his story, bought me pizza, and helped me plan a trip that I didn’t take.

To Nicole, who gave me a book like a friend, when I needed exactly that.

To Eric and Izzy, who shared their bed with me and rubbed my shoulders until I fell asleep.

To Granny, for telling me it wasn’t so bad, that we all have to kiss a few frogs.

To Gramps, for the necklace I wore like an amulet, a charm to protect against evils.

To Paul, and Felix, and Cha and Kobe, for reminding me that I could make friends.

To Nami, for putting it simply; to Nozomi, for Halloween.

Flowers, Kyoto, 2014

To Espy, for the letters; to Griggs, for the laughs; to Sperry, for the pep-talk; to Sydney, for the sunshine; to Havilah for the flowers; to Melissa for listening; to Nikki, for trying to understand; and to Natalie, for fighting with me and still loving me, even after I threw a temper tantrum.

To Sammy, for making time to see me and create the world’s saltiest nachos.

To Kendra, for that time by the pool.

To Kristin, who stopped me in my tracks, made me repeat myself, when I said: “I stopped writing in my diary, because I couldn’t write without hearing that voice, judging what I said.”

To Darcie, who gave me a new diary.

Letter from Havilah, 2014

To Kasey and Rosie and Sydney and Carol, for being brave enough to tell the truth.

To Manu, who sat with me at my hollowest moment, and knew that I would get better.

To Marcos, for a well-timed hug.

To Nanako, for being just like me, and for all of the smiles and food.

To Adrienne and Luca, my divoster parents. You bore the brunt of this.

Nagano, Japan, April 2014

To Cammi, for being proud of me, because I followed my heart, and “aint nothing wrong with that”

To Adam, for giving me back to myself.

To Melanie, for giving me permission to move on.

To Betsy, for the SkyMiles (!), but also for listening and sharing and wishing me the best.

And to Whitney, for everything, for giving me everything you had, and then giving some more.

Showa Kinen Koen, November 2014

To everyone who sat with me, when I was a husk of myself, thin and brittle and shaking and dull—for listening, for waiting, for explaining, for understanding, for that quiet small space where there was nothing to say, where you held me tight as the waves crashed overhead. Thank you for letting your hearts break open a bit, just for me.

2014 was a hell of a year; you made it unforgettable.

Yokohama, 2014

And 2015?

Oh, my friends.

My friends!

Palmer, AK, August 2014

2015 is The Year of Fuck Yes

Good Morning, Hikarigaoka!

Crane-y Cronies

These guys watch over me at work. I made them for one of our students, for his birthday–left them on his desk in the Learning Support room with a note and a book. Then came in a couple weeks later to find them rearranged above my own desk.

A happy surprise.

Necesitate Wilderness

~OR~

Seventh Day Recreation

For the Trees

“We need the tonic of wildness…

Fascination

At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things,

Sisters

we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable,

Fearless

that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable.

Savoring "Nature"

We can never have enough of nature.”

Momiji

-Henry David Thoreau

More to Come

“Do not burn yourself out. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there.

Rooted & Free

So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks.

Chaddo in the Wild

Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space.

Irridescent Fun Guys

Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators.

Japan Anew

I promise you this: You will outlive the bastards.”

Edward Abbey

The View from Today

Judge Not

Lunch was tahini on cracker bread with tuna. Plus apples, which I added about halfway through.

Before that was housework, and writing, and the internet. After was more of the same, plus a walk.

Enter Exit Mouth

There was a long-distance phone call, and linguistic explorations, frozen grapes and home-made ice cream.

Laundry, blogging, music, and dinner for two.

*       *       *

Took the IUD out; took the edge off. Now my Mondays are Mondays, and I’m fine with that.

What We Write (part 2)

Sunny Days

“He woke up every morning, thinking that today would be a new and distinctly different day, that somehow newness was possible, as long as he didn’t remember what had come before.

Which is why he tried to remember only his dreams, as if they were the one solid truth in a sea of memory.

Sweepin the Clouds Away

People, thoughts, indignities, shouts, caresses, sincerity and faking it. Ebbing and flowing. Each wave new and just like the one before it. Each night’s dreams an unremarkable revelation, which is why–after a time spent chronicling them with sincere devotion and optimism into a blue suede journal purchased for that express purpose–he eventually gave it up, leaving both dreams and memories to others more sturdy or more creative than himself.

He left the journal to bleach in the sun.

On My Way

Like sun leaking through the shutters of the window, he felt warmth in small, straight, disconnected lines. There was no, he realized, grand narrative into which it all fit. No satisfying, complete story to tell. His dreams were lies that somebody else whispered into his mind while he lay helpless. Creativity, true creativity, lie in thinking about himself as a thin, straight line of warm humanity touching others while they lay trapped in their dreams.”

*       *       *

(Written Saturday, May 25th, 2013 on the semi-enclosed outdoor patio at Design Festa Cafe & Bar, Harajuku, Tokyo. It was around 10 o’clock, after karaoke. Chad suggested we play exquisite corpse, passing a notebook back and forth, each writing a sentence, a thought or paragraph. And this is what we made 🙂

Balancing Act

thanks, Starbucks dude!

Guys, it is not all doom and gloom here. It may FEEL like all doom and gloom, but it’s not. I guess that’s what’s so maddening–knowing that things are, in reality, quite pleasant and interesting but feeling increasingly like a twirly-out-of-control-stress-bomb-crying-anxiety-mess.

Still, I wanted to balance out ALL ANXIETY, ALL THE TIME with some sweet and silly tidbits from everyday life. Like my baristo excitedly running from the register to the espresso machine, in the middle of ringing me up, to write something on my cup, which turned out to be kind English well-wishings. Thank you, mystery Japanese baristo at Shinjuku station!

And thank you to all my dear and precious friends, who keep in touch with me through the ups and downs and give me an outlet to say things like:

“I’ll try to take some stealth fashion photos of strangers, though that may be difficult, as all Japanese-designated smartphones work in such a way that you CAN NEVER TURN OFF THE CAMERA SHUTTER SOUND. Not even in silent mode. This is due to rampant up-the-skirt photos. Thanks, Japan!”

Thanks Japan, indeed, and thank you, friendships, and thank YOU, Friends. More to come.

 

A Breath of Fresh Air

Chad and Sarah = Jack and Rose

Sometimes I can’t go straight from things being broken to things being fixed, because I need to make a rest-stop in a place where things are okay. Like a waiting period between identifying the problem and tackling it.

I remember a camping trip, age 19, summer after freshman year of college. I had taken ecstasy for the first time (heavily cut with speed) and spent a wild night talking and emoting at full blast with my best-friend and roommate in the front seats of my boyfriend’s parent’s Subaru. Despite what I’d heard about gnarly emotional come-downs, the next morning I mostly felt tired and newly opened, or pleasantly vulnerable. I got dropped off back at my Mom’s place, where my older sisters were bustling about, cooking and gossiping with Mom, taking care of baby Bashy. The air seemed abuzz with a sort of hectic femininity, with childcare and recipes and house work and strong female bonds. I felt so susceptible to all that womanly grace, and also very overwhelmed.

Because…how could I ever express to my mother and sisters what they meant to me, and how much I admired and needed them? How could I gracefully make the transition from sullen, solitary teenage angst to warm, giving, jovial womanhood? Most importantly, how could I share this new-found love and appreciation without revealing the fact that I’d taken illegal, mind-altering substances the night before?

Ha! Then I remembered I didn’t have to do it all at once. That I didn’t need to make any grand proclamations or sudden life-altering turns to affect the change I wished to see in my life. I could do it little by little. I could start by just being there, spending quality time with my beloved female family. So I sat down on the bed where Natalie was changing Bashie’s diaper, and we talked.

Read the rest of this entry »

Things I Have Not Been Telling You

On a Windy Day

It’s not just adjusting to a new life, Friends. It is everything all at once. It is a new life, new country, new apartment, new job(s), new marriage and new definition of myself. Who is littlesarah, after all, without her friends? Without her family, or her coffee shop job, or her perfect apartment in the Avenues? Who am I in this Big World?

Better question: how am I coping? (Answer: not perfectly. Not as well as I had thought/hoped).

Historically, I have not dealt particularly well with Changes.Yet, as my mom so astutely pointed out, “I don’t know anyone who places themselves at the epicenter of change more than you.” (And I did appreciate that little earthquake reference).

So. What I’m trying to say is there are many reasons I’ve been distant, silent, cryptic, etc. But I’m back, and I want to let you know why I was gone and what’s been going on.

Read the rest of this entry »