Monday, December 13, 2010

The Norm for Me, A Chuckle for You

I was talking to a friend the other day telling them about my day and they started laughing. I have been here so long that I’ve forgotten that what may seem completely normal to me at this stage in the game, is still very foreign for most. Here are few stories that sum up my day to day life.


I am a girl who jogs. This is big news here in Japan. I figured this one out when I did my self-introduction for the first time.

Hello, my name is Kate.

I am 23 years old.

I am from California in America.

My hobbies are jogging and playing soccer. 
Not a total lie, but it should be noted that the fact that I could pronounce those words had a great deal to do with while they were chosen to describe me.

Then it was usually time for questions from the audience. The first question was almost always, what do I want to see or do while in Japan. Valid question. I always answered with, I want to hike Fuji. Valid answer.

A stifled gasp followed by a slight head tilt would inevitably spread throughout the audience.

It took a while to figure out why I was getting such a reaction of shock from my little brunetted audience. So I took my question to where I take all my Japan related questions. Ian.
“Big Bro, why do these people look perplexed when I say that I like soccer and running?”

He explained that he thinks it’s rare for girls to say they like sports, and then to say that I enjoy two, AND want to hike Fuji, was basically too much activity for them to handle. I envisioned them pondering whether or not they could somehow sneak me on to the Japanese Olympic team.

I kept that thought in the back of my mind as I gave my self-introduction over and over again. I watched for reactions, it was a mix of shock and awe. I deduced that Ian’s theory was correct. To add to the confusion, during these self intros I would usually be dressed in a suit with pearl earnings and make up. I could see a few of them trying to picture what I would look like in shorts and ponytail, accented with a few beads of sweat. By look on their faces, they just couldn't conjure up such an image.

As time passed, it became accepted at Gochuu that I was in fact, athletic. So much so, that the sentence Kate likes soccer, appears on average, in about one English lesson a month. As the students and faculty at Gochuu made their peace with the fact that I enjoy outdoor activities, the uniqueness factor began to die down. What I failed to realize was that the rest of Kamagaya had yet to join them.

I have taken to jogging up and down one the main roads here in my little hometown of Kamagaya. I usually jog at night, though the road is familiar, the one I take to go to the grocery store in fact, it’s well lit and there are usually other pedestrians. It’s completely safe. Hear that mom and dad…COMPLETELY. SAFE. Occasionally as I jog I’ll see other joggers, usually men, who almost do a double take as I run by, but I just smile and they simile back. End of story.

Except one time.

I had recently added Bon Jovi’s greatest hits to my ipod which by default lead me to run a little too fast around the Pachinko casino. I was stopping at the corner to stretch and catch my breath. I was stretching under a light…hear that mom and dad, UNDER. A. LIGHT., when I saw an older couple walking toward me. I glanced up and saw them, unintentionally making eye contact with the man. He smiled, I smirked back and continued stretching. They continued walking toward me. He a few steps in front of her. As I stretched my hamstring I wondered if he had ill intentions. It’s Kamagaya, so it was a safe bet that wasn’t the case, though if it was, he was doing a hell of a job hiding it behind a smile and a wife. He came closer. Still on the defense from living in San Francisco, I stood and took out one of my head phones. He was only getting one of my ears, Bon Jovi had made previous reservations.

I let out a, Konbanwa.

He replied with the same. We had established it was a good evening, what the hell did he want?

He smiled and I skeptically did the same. The man was 50 plus and had a limp. 
I had a feeling I was going to make it.

Joggingu?! He asked, mixed with the slight gasp and head tilt that had become all too familiar.

Hai. I said as sincere as possible, while trying to hide the, Is this seriously a real conversation? thought that was running though my head. Evidently he needed clarification for what he thought he was seeing.

With the raise of an eye brow, he let out a satisfied, hump, and asked if I was from America.

Hai, Amerikajin desu. California kara kimashita. 
If he was already surprised to see me running, I might as well just push him over the edge with the fact that I was from the movie screen state.

I watched his face as he looked me up and down, checking off the stereo types he knew from both the small and silver screen.
High pony tail...yup
Big no.

I felt like he was looking at something he’d only seen in movies. And in fact he probably was. Kind of like when you go to the zoo as a kid and you happen to visit the elephants the day one of them is giving birth, and even tour guide Judy is excited. “You all are here on a VERY special day,” she explains, “Brenda has been due for some time now and… OOOOO there she comes! Even I’ve only seen pictures of this! I’m sure you will all be telling you friends and family about this when you get home!” Why yes Judy, yes we will.

So there I was. The equivalent of Brenda the pregnant elephant. Exactly what he had seen in the movies, but never in real life, let alone in his own backyard. He knew we Californian girls at the ripe age of 23 worked out, and he had seen a real live one. I`m sure his friends were going to hear about this. I could only hope that one of them works at Gochuu and could causally add, “Ya, and she plays soccer too.”

Kate “The Novelty” Sensei.

The title is strictly objective. I swear.

Upon arriving here in little Kamagaya, more specifically my middle school, Gochuu, I became the fascination of most of the students, and even some of the teachers. I was tallerish than most, though only 5`4``, I wore clothes that were different from what they had seen, I can run and get dirty yet be girly during the day, I wear nail polish and have pierced ears. I wear three rings on my fingers though I am not married, a concept that is still difficult for them to grasp. Mind you, none of my rings are on my left ring finger. My hair is a lighter color, so much so that I often get asked what color it is. They aren`t quite sure how to classify something that isn`t as dark as theirs or obviously blonde.

When I answer simply with brown or light brown, they looked shocked. By the looks on their faces, brown just doesn`t seem to be a sufficient enough answer for what they were looking for. I think they were expecting some crazy crayola color that is overly descriptive. Instead of brown I should be more thorough next time with, `Naturally brown, but went to Costa Rica last summer where it turned slightly blonde and has yet to grow out completely.` Try that one on for size kiddos.

But as time went by, all my nail polish, rings and unique hair color became quite normal to them. The amount of time I got called cute or kawaiiiiii in a day, was beginning to dwindle from 5,489,574,876 to only 1,000. Bummer. But I thought it was probably about time for my head to deflate anyway. I began to become less of a big deal, allowing me to talk a little more with both the teachers and students, and having them get to know me, Kate, not red nail polish girl from America. All was going smoothly until, day by day, they began to discover something new about me.

The realization: I can type…fast.

`SOOOOOOOOOOOOO fast Keito!! Sugoy!` they would say as I wrote an email or was Gchatting with 6 friends. Clearly working hard. I would smile, and do my best to dismiss it. But they wouldn`t let it go. Everytime I type anything, I get a few glances and they smile and shake their head in awe. Sometimes Keima will stand and applaud me. Just as that factoid was coming to a close I made the poor decision to respond to a text on my iphone (completely acceptable here, as is clipping your toe nails in the teacher`s room but thats another story) and that just about sent them over the edge. They were seriously in awe and now speechless. I had no explanation for this one and was tired of telling them what a big deal it wasn`t, so I just smiled and said, `Arigato.`

The truth: I type no faster than any of you. Promise.

The realization: I can drink…a lot.

It was time for an enkai. Drinking party, remember. We arrived, beers were set in front of us. We clinked glasses and took a sip. I, unlike my coworkers remained sober after that sip. They were instantly buzzed and completely hammered after the beer. After one I was feeling good, though still completely composed. My volume level had not gone up, nor were things as funny as everyone else seemed to think they were, and the biggest shocker of them all...I wasn`t bright red. I was continually asked if I was ok, worried that I wasn`t having fun. When in fact, the exact opposite was true, I was having a grand time! I ordered another beer. By now I was on number 3. More giggly, but still very much in control. Realizing that I was on number 3 and not acting much different than I was after one, word got out that I can drink. Which simply meant that I wasn`t as out of control as they were after having equally as many beverages.

I was immediately drilled with questions. I had no idea how I was supposed to answer them. Why do I not turn bright red  after a sip of alcohol? Well that would be because I`m not Japanese folks. But I couldn`t say that. So I went the other direction. `I`m half Irish,` I offered and shrugged. `HONTOOOO?!!!` three people said in unison. Yes, really I am. Word spread down the pillow seats like wild fire. She`s Irish, She`s Irish, She`s Irish, Hai Keito Sensei Irish. Hai honto! It was a modern day version of telephone. Only the alcohol had allowed the rules to be altered and instead of whispering to the person next to you, the game became to make sure the person two down from you knows. Hai, Irish, that`s why she can drink! I heard again. Another beer was placed in front of me. And some sake. They were doing their best to meet my Irish needs. Maybe this little realization isn`t so bad.  My Irish needs were leading to free drinks.

Did I mention, I`m German?

The truth: I am half Irish, German and Slovenian for that matter. Though I am not any stronger of a drinker than any of you reading this…except you Japanese people. You I have beat.

The realization: I have green eyes.

Since I have been here, I have discussed with students the visible differences in our appearance. As I stand in front of them every day, they have had plenty of time to take this all in. Yes, I have light brown hair, Yes, I have lighter and rounder eyes, Yes, my clothes are different, No, I am not a fashion model, Thank You for saying I`m cute.
Recently, a few girls learned the word beautiful, and upped the ante. 

As the months wore on in to winter, the compliments on my physical features dwindled, but those in the clothing arena were just gearing up. The girls clearly have my wardrobe down, and anytime I wear anything new, usually sent from home (THANKS MOM!) I receive complements all day. This also comes in the form of a great inhale and ooooos and ahhhs when I walk into the classroom in the morning. It`s great.

The other day I was helping a little girl the best I could with her 1 minute speech. She had written it in Japanese and we were trying to translate her simple sentences into English. It was going to be awhile so I pulled up a chair next to her. She had chosen the topic option of Respectable Person. On the worksheet, Keima had made, were pictures of Ghandi, Einstein and even Obama as examples. She chose Miley Cyrus.

I was trying to figure out what she was telling me so I could tell her what to write in English, when she literally put down her pencil and started at me. She said something to her friend in front of her who was also trying to help us translate. You should know that any conversation I attempt to have with any of these kids generally takes the assistance of anyone within earshot.

Now they were both staring. `Nani?!` I said with a chuckle. Neither of them new the word for eye so girl number two opted for plan B. Charades. She pointed to her eye. Unintentionally poking herself which diverted our attention, only for a moment, to check she was ok. The minute we determined she was fine, their heads immediately shot back to my face. `Nani?!` I said again a little more genuine. While they stared I was racking my brain trying to think of what was different about me today. Other than my scarf which we had previously discussed the moment I hit campus, nothing else was new.  

One of them was able to mutter the word color, and I laughed. `Ahhh, green?!` I guessed in English, then offering the Japanese, simply because I knew it, `midori?!` That`s right ladies and gentlemen, my eye color in Japanese is the same as my favorite cocktail, Midori sour. Coincidence? I think not.

They both nodded vigorously. I`ve been here 3 months, surely this would have been covered by now. Then I realized that all the time I`ve been here, they haven`t really seen me up close, evidently not close enough to notice my eye color. I am usually up at the board or kneeling next to them helping with a worksheet, rarely are we face to face.

The girls were now trying to tell me something. After a brief pow wow with each other, Eye Poker screamed, Chinese angles! I looked to the Miley Fan for assistance. She nodded in agreement. No help there. I didn`t have a clue. `Chineeeeeseeee angles?!` I said again, `Chinese?!` She nodded. This couldn`t be right. My mind shot to any Chinese movie I could think of, which was none. I tried to connect the green eyes to anything Chinese and came up empty handed. I was about to get up and get a map when she said it again. This time I heard, Charlie`s Angles. `OHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!` I let out. I couldn`t help it. We all laughed and I high fived them for good communication and the fact that we did this without Keima.

Eye Poker said something again in Japanese and I figured she wanted me to name the actresses that played in the movie. All I could think of was Cameron Diaz. Not even knowing if that was what she wanted me to do, I offered Cameron`s name. Eye Poker and Miley Fan were VERY excited. `Hai, Hai!` they pointed to their face then mine and said, Cameron Diaz. For clarification, I pointed to my own face and said, `Cameron to Keito, onagi?! Honto?!` Which literally translates to, Cameron and Kate, same. Really?! I didn`t know the word for face so that significant part of the sentence came in the form of pointing. And see you thought my Japanese was getting good.

They give a firm nod to expresses that was exactly what they ment. They were overjoyed and completely satisfied with themselves. It was official, I look like Cameron Diaz.

The Truth: I look nothing like Cameron Diaz. Oh, and my eyes are actually hazel.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Culture Shock…In My Own Culture

This past weekend I grabbed the only semi fancy dress I brought and headed to Fussa with my friend Nicola, to attend the US Air Force`s Christmas party. Random I know.

The previous weekend, I went out with a few friends in the Roopongi area of Tokyo, and every time we go out there are always new people added to the group. Friends of friends, former exchange students, new neighbors etc. That was where I met Nicola. She...well to be honest I am not quite sure how she got into the group, but it didn`t matter in the slightest. We hit it off, and when R.J., also part of our going out crew that night, and a logistics Lt. in the U.S. Air Force, invited us the following day to his squadron`s Christmas party the following weekend we were in. At the same time having no idea what we had signed up for.

Nicola and I met up in Tokyo and took the remaining hour long train to Fussa where R.J. kindly retrieved us from the station, and we headed to get checked in so we would be allowed on base. Those working at the check-in point obviously spoke English, though I am proud to say that I understood what they told me in Japanese. Or at least the gist, which at this point is good enough for me.

As soon as we were in, we headed straight for the food. The base is essentially mini America, a concept I struggled with the entire time we were there. We ate at Burger King, Nicola`s favorite. I didn`t get anything and held out for Taco Bell, WITH cinnamon twists and Starbucks. I was curious to see if they would take my American gift card, turns out no.

Then it was off to the commissary, where they have anything and everything you could want. We spent a solid 3 hours in the grocery store, buying as much as we figured we could carry back on the train the following day. I was shocked to see things I hadn`t seen in so long, yet looked so familiar. I was even more shocked to be able to read everything in the store. I left spending only 50 bucks and took home pop tarts, s`mores ingredients, (something the other non American ALTs haven`t had either), mac & cheese, pretzels, vitamins, lotion (way cheep), oatmeal in individual packets, Gatorade (also learned that it`s illegal in NZ, made me slightly nervous), brownie with walnut mix, my favorite peanut butter granola bars, my favorite marinade, an Oprah magazine, and so much more. I also took 3 packets of gravy mix to give to my teachers at school. I had been doing Thanksgiving Lessons all week, and by then they had all heard it mentioned but never experienced it. I also gave Namiko a box of mac & cheese for her kids to try. I can`t wait to hear what they think!

We legitimately spent 15 minutes deciding Pop Tart flavors.

Tourists? I think so.

For all your American needs.

View of Fuji from the parking lot.
Then it was off to R.J.`s to get ready! He ran Ksenia, a now mutual friendJ, to the train station while Nicola and I transformed ourselves. Then we were off!

Merry Christmas!
We arrived, got some drinks, ate some food, watched the raffle which gave away AMAZING gifts, and had a generally good time until it was 12pm and we had to get out. We all headed for another bar, a few more actually, our little group had grown by then and we were quite loud as we made our way to each bar. I was slightly embarrassed for us. The night was great, met some new people and had a great time. Japan needs to get up to speed on the no smoking indoors, it kills me every time. Other than that we had so much fun!

R.J., Nicola & I

We were out until about 5 am, which meant that the better part of the next day was spent sleeping and lounging. Though Nicola and I did rise to eat the breakfast R.J. made us, poached eggs with cheese on an English muffin, AND his first time poaching an egg. We`re so proud J

We ate Subway (Amazing!) and Nicola and I bagged and double bagged our loot and trekked home, where I promptly washed the dress I`d worn the night before and anything it touched in my bag during transport. I want that smoke nowhere near me.  

Culture Shock

I really did have an amazing weekend, but I also was legitimately in culture shock the entire time. This was not Japan. Not even close. There were white people (seriously weird for me to see), blonde kids, people speaking English, overweight people, dogs that don`t fit in your purse, people cussing, tattoos, and everyone seemed to talk about a decibel louder than they needed to. The portions at the fast food restaurants were larger than those of fast food restaurants in Japan, people didn`t seem to be as polite, and everyone seemed to be all about themselves and exuded a sense of entitlement. And I didn`t like it. At all.

Again, this was not Japan. By then I had come to terms with that. But this was also not the America I knew either.

I was just being shocked from all angles! I am surprised to see how much Japan had become my home, how comfortable I have become here. Being on base was almost "too easy". I have come to accept that on a daily basis I will not understand 100% of what is going on around me, nor will people fully understand what I am saying. And I have kind of learned to enjoy the challenge.

Mata ne!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jovi. Bon. Jovi.

It`s my lifeeeeeeeeeeeee, it`s now or neverrrrrrr, I ain`t gonna live foreverrrrrrr...
                                                                                                                                      -Bon Jovi

He really has a way with words doesn`t he, that Bon? Not only is this one of my favorite songs, it also has become my motto lately. I am doing everything and anything I can in the time I have in this lovely country of the rising sun. I have made the conscious decision to say yes to just about anything I am invited to do as well as be proactive in experiencing as much as possible. That being said, when Jessica, my good friend and fellow resident of Japan, invited me to a Bon Jovi concert at Tokyo Dome, it went without saying that I would be there December 1 screaming at the top of my lungs.

And I was.

Last Wednesday, Jessica took the 3 hour bullet train from Aomori to Tokyo, with one of her co-workers and her husband. I took the train to Tokyo Dome with Sinapi and we all met each other with hugs, bows and handshakes. Then it was off to find food and somewhere to store Jessica`s bag.

Welcome to Tokyo Dome City!

Yasuo, Keiko, Jesshka & Keito
We easily found a spot for Jessica`s bag in a large locker, and opting to eat inside the venue due to the waits at the surrounding restaurants, we headed to get in a large line that would allow us to then get in smaller lines to buy specific merchandise. It was incredibly organized and went buy faster than I thought it would. Well done Japan.

Proud owner of Bon Jovi tickets!

Jessica, Kate & Snapz
Once inside, we grabbed a hot dog and a beer. Upon checkout I made a last minute decision to buy the most expensive pack of oreo`s I had ever seen. I hadn`t seen them since I`ve been here and I LOVE Oreo`s. Best decision I made all night.

You don't want to know how much they cost...
We split from Jessica`s co-worker and her husband. They were there celebrating their anniversary, and headed to the floor to watch the show. We headed to the ceiling.

If we stretch enough we can touch the ceiling
The concert was AMAZING!! Mr. Jovi is going on 50 and goin strong I must say. We stood the large majority of the time, unlike most of those around us, which blew my mind. How do you not stand when he sings, Livin on a Prayer?! I mean really. We sang/screamed along to all the songs we knew, and even some we didn`t. We left with sore throats and matching T-shirts, all in all we had a blast!

Jessica was spending the night at my little apartment and taking the bullet train back the following afternoon. We hit up McDonald`s for her on our walk home, as she doesn`t have one in her town. Then it was a late night talk as we synced up our latest life stories, needn`t worry we`re now on the same page again.

We had big plans the following day to go in to Tokyo and play before sending Jessica on her way. I had taken the day off Thursday to stay and hangout and max out my Jesshka-san time, but the late night talk led to a late morning. By the time we arrived in Tokyo we only had a few hours to hangout before parting ways. We ate lunch in Tokyo main station at Dean & Deluca, the only one in Japan I believe. God I love that place. So expensive, but such a treat. Then we were on a mission to find a purikura booth, one of those very Japanese photo booths to take pictures. We have both done it a few times, but never with each other and we were determined to change that. We looked high and low, even asking the information desk. Evidently there were none to be found in the station, and we finally determined that we would put it on the list for next time, so Jessica would not miss her train.

We hugged goodbye and I was left to wander Tokyo. I love the city. I love all cities. I am a city girl to the core for sure. I put on my ipod, of course to Bon Jovi, and literally walked circles around Tokyo. I was careful to keep an eye on Tokyo main station, so I wouldn`t get too lost, a skill that comes quite naturally to me. I took pictures of anything and everything I thought was beautiful. I have always wanted to take up photography, to be honest I feel like I have a pretty good eye, but I am just not sure how to make my pictures look as amazing as others I see. I heard once, that it`s not the camera that takes the pictures, it`s the photographer, but I don`t really think that`s entirely true. 

Here are a few shots of Tokyo in all its fall glory.

I ended up at a bookstore I had been to before. They had English books on the top floor, so that is exactly where I headed. I found a reasonably priced TIME magazine, listing the 100 most fascinating people of 2010. I have been feeling quite out of touch with the world so I thought this would be the perfect way to remedy that. Though when I glanced at the date, I saw that it was from May. Maybe I won`t be as up to date as I had hoped. Oops. Whatever, it`s still 2010, they`re still fascinating. Either way it made my hour train ride home significantly more enjoyable.

I also left with a simple Japanese to English, and vice versa, crossword book. I needed some sort of activity book to keep up my Japanese ability, and this seemed to be just that. I headed to Starbucks to try it out. It took me about 35 min but I completed one! There is a glossary in the back, but I am proud to say I knew most of the words, just checking to see how the sounds were divided up.

Well lookie what I can do!

It was a great mid-week break. So fun!

Livin' on a prayer,

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Off to India

So, as I have mentioned in a few past blogs, I will be going to India this Christmas break to build homes for the Dalits in the state of Andhra Pradesh. I thought I would finally fill you in on the details.

I will be traveling with about 10 other wonderful members of the Japan Exchange and Teaching program (JET) who currently work as English teachers and coordinators for international relations all over Japan. The project we are taking part in is called Building Communities, a partnership between the U.S.-based non-profit organization Longitude and the Association of Relief Volunteers (ARV), an Indian human rights organization.

The people we will be working with in India are the Dalits otherwise known as the “Untouchables” caste. The Dalits are the lowest members of the legally abolished but still socially practiced Hindu caste system. They also comprise 90% of the poorest of the poor in India. The reason why their poverty situation is particularly difficult to get out of is that although caste-based discrimination has been abolished since 1947, more than 170 million people are still victims of daily prejudice.

Indians of other castes can climb the social and financial ladder to become prosperous and can improve their situation if they wanted to. However, being born a Dalit means that even if you wanted and worked hard, you are restricted to menial jobs, usually of the lowest salary range. Jobs allotted to Dalits include unclogging sewers, making bricks in scorching heat and working as meagerly paid field hands. In many cases they still have to make sure that they never come into physical contact with higher caste people and may even have to ensure that they do not touch anything which is going to be touched by higher caste people. This means that they cannot go near eating places or water sources to not pollute it with their presence.

Because of their poverty and low social status, Dalits do not have adequate access to food, housing, clothing, education or health care. This creates a vicious circle that prevents many Dalits from getting themselves out of poverty.

Association of Relief Volunteers is working to empower them by providing adequate housing, medical necessities, food and water security and the skills necessary to improve their own means through education. Our work and the funds we raise will go towards building family homes and assisting with education programs that aim to improve health and sanitation, food security and proper nutrition, women’s empowerment, Dalit empowerment and helping children complete their educations so they have better chances for progress and upward mobility in their lives and in the lives of future generations.

The group I am going with is accepting donations so when we get there we can make that much more of a difference. I am fully aware of how often I ask for money for all of these little projects I decide to take on, so please don't fee obligated to donate. As we are gearing up for this winter’s trip, we are working hard to raise as much as possible. Any support you can provide is very much appreciated. Please remember that any amount helps- especially in India where $12 can feed a child a glass of milk and an egg everyday for an entire month and $375 can build an entire family a home.

Despite their situation, the Dalit people of Chevuru Village are always smiling and are very hard working people. If we can help provide them with support and an education, I know they can rise against the social discrimination they face everyday and will be able to thrive and stand on their own.

Donations can be made in two ways. The easiest and fastest way is through credit card payment on our group page JET Winter Work Camp

If you are uncomfortable with making a donation online please send your donations to the following address and be sure to specify that they are for the Winter 2010 volunteer crew. Please include your email address in the check memo to receive your tax receipt via email.

21 Crescent St.
Providence, RI 02907

Your donations are 100% tax deductible and you will receive an acknowledgement of your gift for your tax records. Additionally, your name will be listed on our homepage! Feel free to contact me at if you have any questions. For more information, please visit our group page at:

Longitude Winter Trip 2010

Thank you all for taking the time to read this and for all your love and support in all the endeavors I decide to take on.

Lots of love,

Be the change you want to see in the world.-Ghandi

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thursday of Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
This year marks my first Thanksgiving, and major holiday for that matter, away from my loving and familiar comfort blanket of family and friends.

My Thanksgiving has been the same for as long as I can remember. Church in the morning, Macy`s Thanksgiving Day parade, followed by assisting my mom with dinner while she drills me every year with, `Now Kate, do you think you could make this meal if I wasn`t here?` The answer is always no, no Mom, no I could not. At which point I receive an exhaled, `Kaaaateeee`. Let`s be real, if Thanksgiving was on me I would most likely pick something up from The Honey Baked Ham store. Then, guests arrive for dinner, Carol, Beth, the Namimoto`s and the Salinas`, all or any combination of the above, and we have a lovely meal! Saying grace, which is mandatory when eating in the dining room, followed by a table poll of what we`re thankful for. Thanksgiving conversations are always fun. Inevitably including a discussion of where we are all going to be in 5 years lead by my mom, and then somehow on to marriage and relationships in general. Tori and I steer that discussion when we say very clearly that we are NOT getting married anytime soon, followed by our mothers` head nod of approved relief.

Makin mashed potatoes...clearly focused

Fam Bam

For our little crew of Thanksgiving guests, no one is really related to each other, aside from the immediate family members they showed up with. So we don`t have any of the ordinary Thanksgiving family drama. It is just a group of people, a man made family if you will, enjoying an amazing meal that we all pulled together to create. Everyone appreciates everyone else and we are all thankful to have each other to share in this pleasant holiday.

So this year, while I am over here in Japan thinking about how everything is going on as usual over in California, I am working on creating my own memorable Thanksgiving.

Last night the other 4 JETs that live in Kamagaya, as well as my apartment complex, had our own Thanksgiving! Dinner consisted of a chicken that was cooked in a crock pot, mashed potatoes, frozen peas and carrots, English muffins and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. It was amazing! We even said grace beforehand and combined any and all of our Thanksgiving traditions. Kim and I are the only 2 Americans in our self named, JET Village, so for some of the other ALTs this was their first Thanksgiving as well. It was so nice to just hangout and chat. Tim, Sinapi`s husband, was also there. He is from Chicago and is in the US Navy, stationed at the base here. The pumpkin pie was courtesy of him and his access to mini America. He had brought over the ads for the Black Friday sales the base was having. And yes, he was set to wake up at 5am to get some shopping done. How very American of him.

Thanksgiving Japan style 2010

Sinapi (from NZ) and I


From my Turkey Day lesson at school...any questions?

This Saturday I went to another part of Chiba to have yet another Thanksgiving dinner, this time with about 40 other Chiba JETs. It was an amazing event and such a good time!

Trey and Mike carving 2 or the 4 turkeys, courtesy of Costco

Nicola and I with our HEAPING plates of food

Arts and crafts time led to some excellent decorations


While of course I wish I could share this special day the way I usually do with the people I love, I am still enjoying it all the way over here. Last night after Thanksgiving in JET Village, I went back to my apartment happy and satisfied. With not an ounce of homesickness, no offense anyone, and I started to wonder why. How did I get here? Here, to this place in my life where I am content celebrating a major holiday with people I met 3 months ago.

I was thinking about this last night as I was falling asleep, listening to rain and praying it would stop before my AM bike ride to work. And this is what I came up with. The reason I decided I am not homesick and longing to be back in the States today, is, well…you.

I have such a solid foundation of people supporting me and routing for me to succeed. If you are reading this you obviously know me in some way and thus have shaped my life in one way or another, some more than others. It could be as small as a conversation we had once, to helping me through a rough time, to attending high school or college with me, or as big as, well, raising me.

I want to sincerely thank you all for that. You have contributed to me. Shaping me as I grow, making me who I am. And I have to say, I`m pretty proud of the way I turned out.:) So thanks!

Thanks to my parents whose love and support has never faltered. Cheering for me at my 575,478,957 soccer games, backing me up when I didn`t understand my homework, putting up with my KUMON temper tantrums knowing that it would benefit me in the long run, and of course supporting me financially to my first choice university. Your support behind me being in Japan has been unbelievable. The fact that you understand why I want to be here and back me in my decision to move half way around the world, no matter how hard it is for you, is simply amazing. Love you both so much!

Thank you to my extended family, who I see all to rarely. Thank you for the memories and the support both, financial and otherwise, when I decide to take on such tasks as run a half marathon while raising money for Leukemia or go to Belize to teach. Thank you, thank you! You made those experiences possible for me, experiences that I count as some of the most important in my life.

Thank you to my family friends. A category that I feel like gets skipped over all too often. I am so lucky to have such an amazing group of adults looking out for me. Thank you to Carol, Beth, the Namimoto`s, the Salinas`, the Dawidziak`s, the Kirk`s and the Storer`s thank you all so much for supporting me as if I was your own. From including me on the email chain when you email your other 3 children, to taking me on trip with you, to treating me to countless meals. And always, always, always cheering for my success. Thank you.

Thank you to my friends. I don`t even know where to begin with this one. I love my friends more than I can say and I have been so lucky to have such a solid group. Thank you to my high school friends, a group of people who are seemingly able to pick up right where we left off 5 years ago at 18. (Oh my god is that right?! 5 years?!) That is the mark of true friendship. Thank you for the visits all over the world, thanks to the travel buddies, the nights we needed a place to crash, the visits to each other`s colleges, while they may not always be 100% memorable ;) those memories are irreplaceable. Love you guys!

I have always loved the quote, `Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.` I believe it wholeheartedly, especially when it comes to my college friends. Thank you all for helping me to create a new home in San Francisco. Thank you to my roommates over the years, which includes about 12 different girls with whom together we created some of the best days of our lives. Thank you, thank you, thank you girls for making my college experience what it was.

Finally, thank you to all those I have met in Japan. The reasons I love it so much, the reasons I want to stay. The friends I made at orientation, who I have known all of 3 months but it feels like so much longer. Thanks to the other ALTs in JET Village for supporting me through my move here and not slamming the door in my face when I ask for the 47,839 time, What does this say?, What did he say?, What bill this is?, How do I do such and such? Thank you guys, I am thankful everyday we have each other to lean on if we need.

Thanks to Jessica and Kellyne. The only other friends from home I have in this time zone. Knowing you are just a skype call away and on the same sleep schedule as me is unbelievably comforting.

And thank you to the amazing teachers I work with. I have said it before, but Taka, Namiko and Keima have really made my experience here. To the teachers who cause me to laugh all day long, thank you for making work so fun. Thank you for your patience with me as I learn Japanese, thanks for making sure I know if the schedule is changed, and when to pay my lunch bill, thanks for generally looking out for me. You have made this move to Japan a smoother transition than I ever thought it could be.

Being so far away this year has allowed to be even more thankful, and feel closer to my loved ones than ever before. I am so thankful to have you all in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone and Thank you!
Arigato Gozaimashita!

Gobble, Gobble

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fall Festivals

Culture Festival and Teacher’s Trip

With fall comes cooler weather and many school festivals. Most recently we had our culture festival, which consisted of each club and grade coming up with a something to sell as a way to raise money. Some clubs sold food or drinks, others sold things they had made. Needless to say I shelled out way more money than I wanted as I was cornered every few seconds and begged to buy either something plastic or something edible. Our culture festival was followed by another enkai, and we all know how much I like those! 

Our Principal in the background looks at this
super cool street performer!
The performer was like that for hours.
This time it was an over night enkai, the idea being that we eat dinner and have a drinking party and sleep where we eat. That way, no one has to take the train or drive afterwards. The drinking and driving laws here are much stricter than in the US. There is absolutely zero tolerance. If you have one drink, you do not drive. No exceptions. That being said, these drinking/sleeping places have come about to fill this niche.

Asakusa in Tokyo
So our little weekend trip consisted of quite the agenda! We meet at the local train station on a Sunday around noon. There was a chartered bus waiting for us, and we drove to a neat little part of Tokyo that I had yet to visit, so I for one was quite excited! Upon arriving we had amazing sushi for lunch, and my ability to use chopsticks was again discussed. My fondness of wasabi was also added to the list of discussion topics that swirl around me. Then we had a few hours to walk around and explore. Saw some temples and amazinggggg shops. Then it was back to the bus and off to see Blue Man Group. I was SO excited! I had wanted to see the show in Vegas, but we didn’t get tickets in time, so I was really excited to see it here! And being that there is such a language barrier, it was the perfect show to me to watch with them.
We got fortunes!
My was the best one possible, hers was the worst.
If you receive one that is not good you tie it to designated area, so as to leave the bad luck behind.

Namiko, one of my fave JTEs and I,
at the temple.

Temple in Asakusa
VP on the far left, next to him is
the teacher who was selected to
During the show I scoped it out, and it was official, I was the only non-Japanese person, which surprised be being that we were right in Tokyo. When the blue men made their way into the audience I saw them do a double take when they got to be. Namiko was next to me, and we both wondered if they were going to play off that fact, but they didn’t. Though they did select one of our teachers to join them on stage, she was perfect for the role. We called her Blue Woman for the rest of the evening. Oh! And we even got take a picture with them at the end!
A Blue Man!

Then it was off to the enkai place where dinner was UNBELIEVEABLE and we continued to drink and laugh into night. I’ve said it before but I really, really love the teachers I work with. It is so fun to have them in this setting where they can just be themselves, and we can enjoy each others company without the stress and traditional rules of the work place. 

The following morning, Monday, we headed back to little Kamagaya and enjoyed a day off. We had off that Monday to compensate for working on the previous Saturday at the culture festival.

Chorus Festival
Each class in the school, for a total of 13, have been practicing songs to sing at this years chorus festival. They are competing against each other for one of four trophies, best class per grade and best overall. I have been hearing them practice after school as they have been staying late and coming early to squeeze in extra practice. All the students were very excited about it, so I was eager to hear what they had prepared!

Last Friday we all gathered into the FREEZING cold gym. Evidently Japan does not believe in insulation, so the temp inside mirrors the outside temperatures year round. All the students were seated in their class rows and each class went up to sing two songs. Parents were gathered in the background and teachers were seated along the sides to keep order.

The first class went up and began singing. It was the song I had been hearing throughout the halls. Oh, so this is the class I’ve been hearing, I thought! I bopped along, watching the piano player and conductor, each class had appointed someone for the jobs. The first class then switched to their second song, which was lovely, and finally were off the stage. Time for the next class, which opened with the same song the first class had started with, the one I had been hearing throughout the halls. No. Way. I thought. No way is each class going to sing this same song. That means we would hear it a total of 13 times. You’ve got to be kidding me.

I starred at my program more intensely, looking for patterns with the Kanji and deduced that that was exactly what was going to happened. And indeed it was. I heard that song a total of 15 times that day, as they sang it together as a school twice at the end. Wow. I get the logic behind it, having some type of base line for the judges to judge them off of, but WOW.

Students wait for their turn, parents look on and
we all listen to the same song 15 times.
Just like on sports day in the beginning of the year, there were tears from just about everyone when the winners were announced. Boys, girls, parents and teachers. I was too perplexed to cry. It seemed the kids who won cried harder then those that lost. It was a few minutes before the groups went up to get their trophies and in that time I was trying to gage what type of tears I was looking at.

All in all everyone had a great day! And it was a nice change of pace. The kids loved it, and sounded amazing I must say!!

Guide Dog Assembly

This was in no way a festival but I had to add it in, it was just too cute. Yesterday we had a unique assembly where a blind man and his guide dog, Romeo, came to GoChuu to talk to the kids basically about what his day to day life is like. We watched a short video and he demonstrated how he communicates with Romeo, the yellow lab.

I know how crazy this is going to sound, but when the dog walked in, I felt an odd bond toward him, as we were the only two in about a 10 miles radius, with hair that could be classified as dirty blonde. And as I would soon find out, we both understood English! All Romeos commands were in English as the Japanese words for sit, down and come are about twice as long. A few times I had to chuckle when the man told Romeo to sit, and he just looked at him, or at one point went completely down. I have no idea if anyone else picked up on it, but it made me smile.

The students also got a chance to put on a blind fold and walk, guided by another student in an L shape, just to get a taste of what it is like to be blind. I served as guide for a few students, talking to them mostly in English with a little Japanese, and being that I recently added left and right to my Japanese vocabulary, I was eager to let them know that it was time to turn hidari.

Things are still going great! I am loving it here, and cannot believe how fast these three and a half months have gone by. It’s unbelievable! I get really sad when I think about my time here being over, leading me to believe that I will most likely be here at least 2 years. We don’t re-contract until the spring, so I have until then to make my final decision.

This past weekend, I went to Tokyo to meet up with some other JETs who were town just for the weekend and captured this lovely photo while at a random zoo. I also have to add that this zoo had squirrels and guinea pigs in captivity, what rare creatures! Just wanted to share. 

I love fall.
Up Next:

A trip to India for Christmas! I am officially going! I will be building houses in a small town for a about a week and traveling for a few days after. I have my flight and my visa such a relief.  I am getting excited!! More details to come!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Trip to the North

This past Monday we didn’t have school or work as it was, Health and Sports Day...God I love this country. I have not a clue what that means but I used my free Monday as an opportunity to go and visit my good friend Jessica up in the northern part of Japan, in Aomori Prefecture. 

While Japan is not that large of a country, especially compared to the US, travel within Japan can be quite expensive and require all kinds of vehicles. My trip to Jessica consisted of an hour train ride to get to Tokyo where I purchased my Shinkansen, bullet train, ticket. Once I got to the stop in Jessica’s town it was another 40 minute drive to Jessica’s apartment.

The Shinkansen alone was about $300. To add to the fun, there were no seats left and it was standing room only. So I bought myself a bento box, which I ate in the designated waiting zone, then headed to find my assigned train car and wait in the designated paint area until the train arrived. Everything in Japan is `designated` so really there should be no question as to where you need to be at any given moment.  

When I got on the train it was very clear where the standing room area was. I settled up against the far wall, plopped by bag down, then plopped down on top of it and opened my book. There was no way I was standing for the 3 hr ride. I really wanted nothing more than to sit for the next three hours and read, Eat.Pray.Love. But, no. There was a lady who was also in the standing room only section who kept smiling at me. I was exhausted and still don’t speak Japanese well enough to have a conversation, so every conversation I do have is exhausting in itself. Then at the next stop a young guy, about my age, came in the back area to join the awkward silence. He smiled when he saw me and asked in Japanese if it was okay that he sat next to me. I, shockingly, understood and said sure. I knew as soon as I answered that was a mistake. He then started talking to me in Japanese and I went to my next go to phrase, which is, ‘I don’t understand.’ He then reverted to perfect English. He cracked open a beer and told me he was from Nepal, but his parents lived in Sendai, which was his stop on this train. I explained my story a bit and then we turned to get the other lady involved. She spoke only Japanese and some English she learned in school. I found out she was 60, though she didn’t look it, and had just come from visiting her grandkids in Tokyo. She was sweet and so excited to talk to us. Meanwhile, I was still exhausted and finding it hard to be my usual `genki` self. I asked when the little food cart was to come around as I wanted, needed, a coffee. They both told me soon.

A lovely fall morning
We’re now about 45min into the ride and it dawns on me that this lady is still standing, while I and my other same aged friend have made ourselves quite comfortable on our bags. The conductor came up to her and told her that there now is in fact an available seat if she would like it, she must have asked when she got on. She politely said no, and looked at us so sweetly and said that she was having fun. Awwwww:) A few minutes later the coffee thing came around and she bought us all coffee. So sweet! Then she too plopped on the ground, smiling while she did it. This may have been one of the more rebellious things she’s done in her life. I can envision her going back to her friends and saying, `They were just sitting on the floor! So I bought them coffee and joined them.` Both my new friends got off at Sendai, two hours in to my 3 hr ride, and I had a seat for the remaining hour, which was lovely indeed.

I arrived in Jessica’s town with her waiting for me in the car with one of her lovely co-workers. Jessica lives in a small town about 40min from the train station. She also doesn’t have a car, so any time she has visitors or she herself wants to go anywhere, she needs to arrange a ride to and from the station. Her co-workers were so sweet and more than happy to take us. When we finally arrived at Jessica’s apartment, we caught up for a bit and then passed out, we were both so tired. God we’re old.

The next morning Jessica and I enjoyed our convenient store coffee, which was starbucks thank you very much, as we watched the only high school in town perform a traditional Japanese dance all the way down 
Main Street
. Apparently learning this dance is a part of their graduation requirement. They danced for about 2 hours and then were headed back to the high school to set up for a festival the next day, which Jessica and I would be attending.

High Schoolers Dancin
Jessica is working in Takko-Machi as both an English teacher and a liaison between this little Japanese town and her home town of Gilroy, CA. Gilroy and Takko are sister cities and garlic capitals of there respective countries. Fun fact: The two towns are located on the same latitude, the latitude where garlic grows best. Learned that little tid bit at the Gilroy Garlic Festival pretty cool huh?! Takko too holds a garlic festival in the Fall.  

Being that she is here as a liaison, foreign, and the only blonde in a 10 mile radius, Jessica is also a celebrity/diplomat. She is invited to just about every event in town and given prime seating. Then makes her rounds and has some chit chat with the officials. She too is all smiles all the time, saying hello to just about every single person that crosses her path.

Over the course of that weekend we were invited to the high school festival and parade along with the elementary school pageant. As for the rest of the weekend we simply ate our way through it, hung out in sweats, watched TV online and caught up. I, having no internet, was more than eager to get in touch with my American side, aka my American shows and movies that I have been missing out on. We had pancakes for breakfast, ate at the Garlic Center for lunch, and had a lovely dinner at Ikeda Farms which had the best beef I think I have ever had. It was SO good and went down so easy.

It was at that dinner that someone exclaimed, “Kate! You’re a real person!!” Indeed I am! Both Jessica and I are famous in each others towns as we constantly mention that we have another friend living in Japan. So when I arrived I think they were surprised to see that I was real!

All in all it was a great weekend! Getting to see a new part of this country and catching up with her was great!

Also, I have officially been accepted to go to India this Christmas! I will be going for a week, Dec 25-Jan 1 and can’t wait! I will be volunteering and building houses. It will be an experience like no other. I’m now off to fill out my visa info and work on Halloween lesson plans!

Until next time…mata ne!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...