little sarah Big World

Tag: 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.

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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.

Christmas in Japan

City Sparkles

The beautiful thing about Christmas in Japan is that, in a country where Christians account for only 1% of the population and upwards of 70% of Japanese claim no religious affiliation, they’ve dispensed with the sacred and spiritual altogether, distilling the holiday down to a pure, commercial venture.

In this sense, it’s exactly like in the US, but without any of the pretense, which is equal parts refreshing and disturbing. Blind devotion transcends nationality, but Disney must have signed a deal with the devil for the level of allegiance and sincere enthusiasm it garners from most Japanese.

The Mouse is in the house, friends. So Chad and I went and searched him out.

Lights, Crowds, Chaddo

We began at Tokyo Station, following the crowds through the mid-town shopping district to see what amounted to twinkly lights on busy tree-lined streets, though to surprisingly stunning effect.

Taking Pictures of Picture Takers

From there we were herded from one Disney-themed tree to another. Don’t be fooled by photography–most of these were only slightly bigger than you’d see in someone’s house; for us, the real fascination was following the fervor.

Princess Tree

Also not captured in these photos: policemen with bullhorns corralling throngs of thousands as snap photos of light displays that are easily trumped by many US front lawns at Christmastime.

Roller Coaster...of Love

From Tokyo Station, we caught the subway over to Tokyo Dome City, where the Christmas “Illumination” continued, but with fewer people.

Light Tunnel

Tunnel of Love

We explored a light tunnel, and then rode the Thunder Dolphin, a roller coaster with a drop so long (218 ft) that I ceased feeling fear and accepting that this was my new reality–that I would fall into nothingness, forever. We purchased a commemorative photo, in honor of: best coaster faces, ever.

All the Pretty Little Colors

We ended our night at Wins, nearer to the Tokyo Dome, where we bowled 3 rounds and poured illicit (and cheap) whiskey into our vending machine-bought cans of ginger ale. Then Chad ate a burger at a boardwalk-style eatery, just before closing, and we rode the train home, in bed before midnight.

Tokyo Dome, December, at Night

The next morning (Christmas Day), we traded in Japan’s traditional Christmas Cake (strawberry shortcake) for pancakes with fresh fruit and yogurt. And for Christmas dinner, we opted for soy meat with broccoli in place of fried chicken. (The whole Christmas cake and fried chicken phenomenon in Japan is a prime example of the ways in which advertising has directly and intentionally warped and misconstrued the holiday to glorious, frightening all-American effect. They order buckets of KFC in advance, like we would do with Turkeys for Thanksgiving).

Lights in the City

Then went and saw Gravity in 3D. All in all, a magical, one-of-a-kind Christmas.

Support My Mania, Please

Kobe Colored Sky

The urge to create beautiful things is so strong in me. Letters and words, pictures, postcard, shapes, colors, curves, and praise. I want to leave a beautiful mark. Explode into the sky like a firework blossom, and sparks of light float down everywhere.

Colors & Shapes
Delirious with hangover right now, lack of sleep and too many tears. My eyes are dry and burning swollen. But my heart is set to burst. Pen to paper, and I could go for days, unquestioning. To-dos be damned; I want to FEEL, to taste. I want everything delicious, and beautiful, all art.

Tower of Pocky

Maybe these are my death throes. I’ve considered that. But this is what I must do to stay alive. Send it out of me, everywhere, every which way, and be free.

Transit(ion)

Rain Tunnel Reflection

(Nozomi Shinkansen – Tokyo to Kobe)

*       *       *

What if there was nothing to fix?

What if I didn’t need to be working on anything

or Improving

Accomplishing

What if I am just fine, as is?

What if I have inherent value

even if I’m not productive, useful, helpful

even if I’m not striving to better myself

What if there is a me, a self, that exists beyond my labels, my relationships, my possessions and passions

A fire that burns inside, a small light

that is

in and of itself

Enough. Read the rest of this entry »

Weather Updates

~OR~

Momiji, Mo Problems

Also from Sunday

School is cancelled tomorrow, due to a typhoon. The second one of the season, and a relative rarity, I’m told.

Already it’s raining in earnest.

Hamsa

~OR~

“I Am That”

~OR~

“I Am That Which Repeleth”

I wanted to giggle, we were standing so close

On the train, I sit one seat over from an old man, though I suspect he will likely have that Japanese death-breath that’s become so inescapably familiar as I commute across the island via a series of confined spaces. All sallow skin loosely arranged around a skeletal stance, this one, and I purposefully choose to sit nearer.

I’m trying to expand my sense of self, while simultaneously dismantling my ego. Trying not to see others as separate and different from myself, something foreign. Entertaining the idea that we could be infinite reflections of the same connected consciousness, variations on a theme. So that “other” is not removed from me. It is me. And I am that.

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In a Nutshell

comedic relief

Even in the throes of a panic attack, I can appreciate that Wikipedia has chosen this exact image for this exact page.

I can get up out of bed, even though I’d rather shut my eyes and pray for this feeling to STOP. To GO AWAY. I can get up, instead, and go for a run.

I can stop drinking alcohol (due to hangover-induced anxiety, something I only started experiencing in my late 20s and WTF), stop drinking caffeine (a joke, at best, as I’m so sensitive that I only ever drink the tiniest amount. Still, even the tiniest amount can eff with my already-tremulous mental state), and start adding structure to otherwise nebulous days. I can run in the mornings, and eat Omega-3s at almost every meal.

I can console and comfort myself with the amazingly-well-written and thoughtful Anxiety blogs on the New York Times website.

I can read up on Buddhism, reminding myself for the one hundred millionth time to Just. Breathe. Breathe into the moment. Stop bumming yourself out over the past, or stressing yourself out over the future. You are married to an unbelievably gorgeous man who enjoys talking to you (all the time, about everything) as much as you enjoy talking to him. You live in Japan, where opportunities you could never have imagined practically throw themselves at your feet. Where new friends, sweet neighbors and earnest students show you a sort of quiet kindness, unassuming generosity and simple, silly camaraderie you never knew you needed.

Then, considering all of the above, I can consider, for the first time in my life, that my Anxiety may not be entirely situational. That it just might have some small relation to brain chemistry and genetic predisposition. And I can seek treatment, and help.

*       *       *

I may be in a nutshell, but I refuse to be a nut.

Presently

buildings and wires

We live in an apartment on the fourth floor of a pink building with a dinosaur on the side. He’s a mascot for the laundromat downstairs.

Next door is a “Girl’s Bar,” in a black building so close you could reach out our bedroom window and touch it. Must be a tame locale–we’ve never heard any music, laughter, or shouting.

Just around the corner is a blue building with an Okinawan food restaurant, where we speak Spanish to our Japanese waitress.

There’s a partially-covered highway just down the street, and we use it as a landmark on our long, winding runs. A sort of homing device.

We’re about 2 blocks away from Makuharihongo station, and at night we can hear the trains passing in the near distance, going “shk-shk-shk.”

Spanish meets English meets Japanese meets French

Across the street is a French-style bakery named Elefante, where we get sandwiches for picnics with friends, or sweet buns and pastries on lazy weekend mornings.

There’s a grocery store, a convenience store, a dollar store and a discount liquor mart, all within a one-block radius.

It’s a small, sleepy commuter suburb, but it has everything we need. It’s our little corner of the world, and it’s perfect.

*       *       *

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True Love Means Getting Up Off Your Ass

~OR~

Now That I’ve Got Your Attention

Shinjuku, Tokyo

Sometimes we all need a kick in the pants, and I’ve had nearly nothing but, of late. My ass is sore as hell. Life is kicking me in the pants, so is my job search, so is my husband, so is Japan.

Meaning: there will be no resting on my laurels, no getting comfortable, no easy way out. If you want to be a writer, littlesarah (the world seems to say), then you’d better dig in and make it happen. (But be prepared to go through hell for it, first).

So just as I’m getting back into my writing–prioritizing it (for once)–Cousin Misty nominates me for a Versatile Blogger award. “Put your money where your mouth is, Cuz” (she seems to say).

http://survivinginitaly.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/versatileblogger113.png

And who better to give me the push that I need, than someone who takes writing seriously, who makes it her business. Her blog, Surviving in Italy, is a no-holds-barred, honest look at what it really means to be an expat, to be in love, to make art, to get bruised…with cynicism and humor, in equal parts. She also dedicates herself to beautiful, brutal memoirs and essays (plus the occasional work of fiction) at Dirty Filthy Things. And she makes high-end clothing. And she’s a model/spokeswoman. Probably she has laser eyes, too.

What I’m saying is: it’s a lot to live up to, but I’ll try. Also, thank you for this nomination.

Harajuku Fleurs

Without further ado, Friends, here we go!

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