On the Road Again

If anyone out there was taking bets on how long it would take me to get back to Asia, 11 months would be the winner. As I type this I am in the air, traveling from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Honestly, I’m probably more surprised than anyone reading this. When I got back to St. Louis last summer I was convinced it meant the end of my life as a would-be vagabond. I had a job, I adopted a cat, and I moved everything into an apartment I hope to stay in for at least a few years. I made some new friends, built routines, and spent more time with family than I had in years. But despite my desire to put down some roots, it didn’t take long for my passport to start burning a hole in my pocket.

A few months ago my friend Lisa sent out an email to my study abroad group saying she was organizing a project to help Indonesian NGOs and I jumped at the chance. While working in a domestic violence shelter for the past year has been worthwhile, I really missed working with people from outside of the US. I had sort of taken it for granted that my friends live all over the globe, but this past year has shown me what a rarity it is to be exposed to the diversity of experiences I’m lucky enough to have interacted with. When I last wrote in this blog about my desire to help improve the state of our country, I thought what I was doing in Japan was frivolous and a bit silly. Galavanting around the world while the US elected a xenophobic bigot felt irresponsible. But what I’ve come to realize is that what the US needs now, in addition to a governmental facelift and a whole lot more, is more people who see the value in our ties to the rest of the world. Would we be seriously debating the practice of imprisoning children if more of our fellow countrymen knew someone who came from Central America, or had come face to face with real refugees? I’d like to think that we as a nation had more empathy than that, but look where we are today.

Now, I don’t think that me working on an international project is going to solve any of our country’s problems – I’m neither that naive nor that conceited – but I do see more value than ever in bridging the gap between cultures and sowing the seeds of cooperation with other countries. Before I signed up for this project Indonesia was just another country on a map to me, but I know that after this is done I will know and care far more about it, and maybe I’ll be able to convince a few others to care as well. I hope our involvement can help this NGO grow and serve its community, and, on a far less noble note, I’m really looking forward to learning about Indonesia and hanging out with old friends.

As I go into this U.S. – Indonesia Cooperative Work Project, I really don’t know what to expect. My understanding is that our group is made up of American and Indonesian college students and recent-ish grads, among which is a small cohort of alumni from my PacRim trip. We’ll be working with an NGO (non-governmental organization, similar to a nonprofit) called The Floating School. They provide school supplies and mentoring to children and teens on remote islands that have limited access to formal education. Our task is to help them strengthen their operation and present our plans to the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, who is providing funding for the whole thing. Having worked at a nonprofit in the US for the past year, I’m looking forward to applying my experience to this new project, as well as learning from our Indonesian peers.

But before that starts I’ve got four days of vacation in Malaysia! I’ll update when I can, with more pictures and fewer lofty proclamations of purpose, I think. This summer promises lots of new experiences, along with a number of reunions with friends around the world. I can’t wait!

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A Spontaneous Trip to Oita

I have less than two months until I say goodbye to life in Japan and touch back down on US soil, if not for good than certainly for a while. As with most endings this one has left me conflicted. While I’m eager to return home to friends, family and a fridge stocked with all varieties of cheese and reasonably priced fruit, I’ve already begun to miss the home I’ve built for myself here. It’s a strange feeling, missing a place you still inhabit. Every place I go I wonder if it’s for the last time. I catch myself falling back in love with little aspects of Japanese life that had previously faded into the background. I’m both grateful for this hyper-awareness and saddened by it, because of course I’m just that much more aware of what I will miss and how fast the time is going. Continue reading

What’s the Big Deal with Sumo?

Last monthI was asked to write an article of the Miyazaki International Exchange Report. They ask local foreign residents to write about their experiences in Japan and share them with members of the International Association. I wrote a piece about seeing a Sumo tournament last year and thought it would be fun to share it here as well. I’ve included the Japanese translations (provided by Heyne Kim, a Coordinator for International Relations who works in Miyazaki) just for fun. Enjoy!

 

相撲のどこがすごいの?

What’s the Big Deal with Sumo?

外国人として日本のことを考えた時に、いくつかのものが思 い浮かびます。寿司、着物、金閣寺、そしてもちろん相撲が あります。2年前に初めて来日した時、これらの全てを経験 するつもりでした。都城での初めての食事を回転寿司にしま した。京都に旅行に行って、金閣寺は写真に写っているのより輝いていることがわかりました。週末に は鹿児島の出水市に行って初めて着物を着させてもらい(更にその着物をもらい)ました。この他にも 色々な出来事がありましたが、一年目が終わるのに、まだ相撲の試合を見ていませんでした。

When you think about Japan, as a non-Japanese, there are a few things that likely come to mind. Sushi, kimono, Kinkaku-Ji, and of course, sumo. So when I arrived in Japan for the first time two years ago, I had big plans to make sure I experienced all of these things. I ate at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant for my first meal in Miyakonojo. I took a trip to Kyoto and found that Kinkaku-Ji is way shinier than the pictures show, and I spent a weekend in Izumi, Kagoshima, where the organizers helped all participants try on (and keep!) our very own kimono. I did all of these, and more, but by the end of my first year I had still not seen a sumo match.

見ようとしないからではありません。8月に都城に着いて間もなく私は相撲の試合が毎年福岡で行われ ているのがわかりました。何人かの友達と連休に試合を見に福岡に行く計画も立てました。ホテルも予 約し、学校に休みの申請もして、チケットの販売を待ちました。こういった努力にもかかわらず、チケ ットを買いにコンビニに行ったら、手ごろな値段のチケットは既に売り切れてしまいました。誰かがチ ケットを全部買い取って、通常の値段より三倍も高い値段で売っていました。我々はとてもがっかりし ましたが、高くなったチケットが買える余裕がありませんでしたので、計画を変えました。翌年にまた 試みることに決め、自分との約束としてカレンダーにも相撲の試合予定日を書き込みました。

This wasn’t for lack of trying. Soon after I arrived in August I learned about the official tournament held yearly in Fukuoka. I quickly made plans with some friends to go over a long weekend. We booked the hotels, applied for time off from work, and waited for the tickets to go on sale. Despite our best efforts, by the time we went down to the combini to buy tickets, all of the reasonably-priced options were gone. Someone had bought up all of the tickets, and was reselling them at three times the normal price. We were all terribly disappointed, but we couldn’t afford the inflated price and so we changed our plans. I resolved to try again the next year, and I wrote the 2016 tournament dates on my calendar as a promise to myself.

 

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Land of the Yakisugi – Yakushima (Part 3)

Sunday was our last full day on Yakushima, and we were determined to get a long hike in. The weather gods appeared to be on our side, and when we woke up it was sunny and warm. We packed our trail snacks and water bottles and hit the road for Yakisugi Land, one of the most popular hiking spots on the island.

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Yakisugi Land

Yakisugi Land has several trails of varying lengths, all starting and ending in the same spots. It’s basically a big loop, with bridges at various points to take you back to the parking lot. Annin and I were set on a long hike, so we chose the 150 minute path (the longest one) and decided we’d do a second hike after lunch.

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A Rainy Day in Yakushima (Part 2)

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If you ask the locals about the weather, you’ll hear that in Yakushima it rains 35 days a month. This is only partly a joke. Yakushima is one of the wettest parts of Japan, and this near constant rain is what keeps the forests so lusciously green.

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A shrine at the top of Hirauchi Onsen

Having attended college in Tacoma, Washington, Annin and I were sure we could handle the rain. We’d been outdoors in the rain plenty of times before! With such similar scenery to the Pacific Northwest, we assumed the rain in Yakushima would be just like the rain in Washington.

We were wrong.

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Yakushima: Mystical Forest Island (Part 1)

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Tired feet at the top of the trail

It’s finally April, which means a number of big things here in Japan. First, it’s almost cherry blossom (sakura) season, a frantically busy time where everyone does their best to spend as much time under cherry trees as possible. The buds haven’t bloomed just yet, but it’s coming, and everyone is feeling the need to get outside and embrace the warmer weather.

April also means the start of the new school year. Teachers have been transferred, new teachers and staff will arrive soon. The students are all off on spring break, which means most of them are actually at school for club activities or to keep studying… Yes, after two years it’s still hard for me to get over this particular culture shock.

But for me, April signaled the true beginning of the end. I have four months left in Japan, and this will be my last semester teaching. I’ve got a bucket list a mile long, with not nearly enough money or time to get through everything, but that won’t stop me from trying. And one of the biggest items on my list, “visit Yakushima” has just been checked. Continue reading

Ladies’ Weekend at Kurokawa Onsen Village

From the moment I returned to Japan from my winter trip home to the states, I pretty much hit the ground running. I had to work two weekends in a row, co-led a workshop for the annual Miyazaki JET Skills Development Conference, and spent the dreaded inauguration weekend answering questions and playing American-themed games at a the local “World Festa” event, where I was meant to engage families in internationalization. If I had 100yen (roughly a dollar) for every old man who came up and made a joke about Trump over the course of those 5 hours, I’d be able to buy enough alcohol to make the whole thing slightly more bearable. But alas… In a small act of defiance, I wore my “The Future is Female” shirt, and all Americans in charge of decorating our booth refused to use any pictures of the Cheetoh in Chief. All complaining aside, I did manage to have a few thoughtful conversations about the state of the US, and overwhelmingly the Japanese people I spoke with were concerned about the relationship between our countries. It was a long, interesting day.

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Walking down the street in Kurokawa

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