A found letter from Japan

I found this today.  It is from last August….  I suppose I sent it out in an e-mail to people… but I might have just considered sending it out, and never actually did it.  I have edited only the name of the town… just ’cause… you know, Japan.  😛

…………………………………………………..

My dearest family (and my friends who are like family),
I write to you from my new home in T—, Japan.  It is a small suburb of Tokyo, with a whopping (supposedly, anyway) 100,000 people.  I am tasked with assisting English language teachers at two different high schools in the town, one of them an art school, with specialties in painting/drawing/arts of that sort and music, and the other school a sort of engineering-for-mechanics-esque school.  My vagueness is purely due to the fact that no one seems to be able to explain to me about the schools.  On that note, no one seems to be able to explain anything to me clearly.  Guess that’s why I’m here in the first place – to help them with English, and to learn Japanese.
Going along with the lack of understanding point, I literally have no idea what’s going on around me a good amount of the time.  I was sort of trapped in my apartment the night I moved into it – I had purchased a futon (Japanese version of  a mattress – not too sure if I’m fond of it yet, ‘cause I miss my bed, but I think I can handle the futon alright) and toilet paper and towels, but that’s it.  No one could give me a map of the area (and didn’t think of it except for when I specifically asked for one); I didn’t have a copy of my address; and I don’t speak Japanese to be able to ask people for directions to get home if I went out and got lost.  Oh, and I had no phone or internet to look up where on earth to go without a paper map.
And, the best part: My predecessor told me that she had a lot of things she was giving me, so I wouldn’t need to buy most things like a fridge, storage, dishes, “that kind of stuff,” she said.  Way-to-be vague… 😛  So I had to eat food from 7/11 until she delivered her stuff to me… three days later.  No way to cook anything, because she has the electric burner for me to use.  No way to keep anything cold, so I couldn’t have fresh food of any kind for lunch at work (slash at all, since 7/11 isn’t entirely in the category of ‘fresh food’).  No way to feel like I’m not just possibly going to die (Yes, I realize the drama here.).
On top of it all, I was super stressed that I kept asking about going at least to get me a phone number, so that I could use the internet to function (map, translation, where to buy what, etc.), and they, unconcerned, mentioned that someone could take me some time next week “probably”, but I had to know exactly what plan I wanted and from which company.  Thanks, dude.  And how exactly do you propose I figure out that information with no internet, no map of the town, and no Japanese skills?
How did I solve the problem?  I went to meet another ALT (Assistant Language Teacher (Terminology for my program)) in Tokyo.  We’d become friends during the brief orientation in Tokyo earlier in the week, and she was up for helping my get a phone, so I didn’t have to stand in the 7/11 parking lot for super slow, choppy internet anymore (which I’d only discovered the night before).  Plus, I just needed some love.(1)
So I spent the day in Tokyo.  After two hours in the phone store, and using a translator (real person) on the phone, I had a new phone and a decent phone plan for the next two years.  We then went to Starbucks for a break and free wifi (for my friend to use), and we each caught up on all of our e-mails, messages, etc. from a million different people.
We then walked around a bit, and visited the Tokyo Tower area.  I had this realization as we passed one part of a temple there, that still hasn’t fully hit me.  Back home (USA), we have houses, etc., designed to look like traditional Japanese architecture, yes?  When I was looking at the temple building, my background, passive thought was the same as when I see such styles back home… and then I realized that this building is not made to ‘look like those buildings in Japan.’  This building IS ‘those buildings in Japan.’  It’s still sinking in.
(1) I can note here that I’d actually gone down to Tokyo that Friday night, just after discovering that I had internet in the 7/11 parking lot, which is down the street from my apartment (so I was able to find it without getting lost or anything – FYI streets don’t exactly have names here).  I was absolutely ready to cry from the stress of sitting around, waiting for people to take forever to accomplish tasks – unfortunately, my supervisor has never done this sort of thing before, so she had to have everything explained to her multiple times – and not knowing how I was even going to get dinner (I only found the 7/11 that night).
A friend who already had a phone (because he speaks Japanese, and so figured it out while we’d all been at orientation), happened to be in Tokyo for a festival with a coworker and the coworker’s friend, and invited me to come down for the evening.  So, I managed to access train schedules (just barely with the internet connection there), screen shotted them, and set up a rescue plan, should things not work out (i.e. I knew 7/11 had internet, so I’d go find any 7/11, and the friend would come find me there), before rushing off to Tokyo.
I walked right into my friend when I arrived in Tokyo, and was given a nice, big hug.  Hugs are really one of the best medicines.  We watched the tail end of the festival (very cool with dancing performances and drums and bells all along this long street), and then all went to dinner.  Turns out I only live a town over from the coworker’s friend, and she and I decided to be friends.  (We’ve been in touch ever since.)
………………………………………………..
Post-a-day 2018
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Asia?  Really?  Really

Who would have thought that I would spend a year of my life living in Asia?  I never even had any real desire to go to Asia, until I met my circus acrobat friends, who are from China.  But the desire that developed out of those friendships was merely a cultural trade among friends – I had shared it of my home with them, and now they wanted to give the same to me.  In essence, I want to go to China to be with my friends, not because I am specifically aiming to see China.  Nothing against China, of course – I just have never had a real desire to see it.

On that note, – let’s roll with the thoughts here – I feel as though I have a rather ability to distinguish between my real desires and my that-would-be-cool desires.  I explain.  When I have what I am currently calling a “real desire”, it is something that I intend to pursue.  With general desires, they are things that would be nice to pursue, but I have no deeper intentions to pursue them.  These are, of course, both to varying degrees.

Being a multi-millionaire would be amazing.  I desire it.  I truly do.  However, it is not something I intend to pursue, as much as I may wish to attain it.  It is a general desire for me.  Returning to German-speaking Europe for Christmas markets is a “real desire”, as I am calling them (Can you tell that I don’t much like my current terminology?).  No, I will not do it this year, most likely, and probably not next year either.  However, it is in my thoughts, and I intend to do it at some point.

This is where the varying degrees comes in for distinguishing.  This is one of my middle-range real desires.  Yes, I want to do it, and yes, I believe I will do it.  No, I am not in a hurry to do it.  Having a frozen margarita in Texas is more of an immediate real desire.  I will not wait for this one to come up somewhat conveniently, and then take action, or casually plan for it in my some time soon future.  My mother is picking me up at the airport when I arrive home to Houston, and she has known for months that I want to go have margaritas the day I arrive.  We are getting margaritas within hours of my arrival to Texas, and are only taking that long, because I want it fresh, customs and immigration and baggage take time, and the airport is a ways away from good margaritas.  Essentially, I am pursuing this desire as soon as it is possible for it to be fulfilled.

One other example, just for clarity (or to confuse you more, if this all doesn’t make sense to you), could be in my desire to bungee jump off a bridge that is over water.  Something a long time ago gave me the desire, but it was more of an unreal desire for me.  I didn’t expect my life to have it ever be an option.  However, once I went small-scale bungee jumping with friends, it began to shift to a real desire.  I was afraid to pursue it, so I left it in the gray area, ready to be pursued, should the opportunity arise.  Now that I have lived somewhere that offers such a thing, – Ibaraki, Japan – I see myself pursuing it.  I notice that it is not huge in my list of desires, but it is a real one.  The opportunity presented itself two weeks ago, and I made arrangements to go jump.  Of course, timing was such that I got dreadfully sick the day beforehand, and so rescheduled with my friend.  I am now scheduled to go with a different friend next week.  If it doesn’t work out, I’ll be okay.  This is a real desire that I have, but it is so much on a non-time limit that I am okay not doing it now – I know I will get around to it at some point, so I don’t have to hassle myself extremely to make it work at this one place.  That being said, I really do want to handle it all now, and bungee off my bridge in Japan, partly because it’s one less thing for me to think about in the future, and partly because it makes for a fun story.  And I used the word “handle,” not because I dislike the situation, but because a lot of things here recently have kind of been a real hassle for me, and so I tend to think more in terms of ‘managing’ things in life for the next two weeks, as opposed to just ‘living’ life and ‘creating’ things, and all that jazz.
Anyway, that was a fun tangent for me.  I could have explained it loads better, but I didn’t.  I hope that’s okay for now.  I’m sitting on a train to go up to my final festival in Japan, and I really need to pee, but don’t want to bother using what might be a gross train toilet (notice that I have no concern for leaving my belongings at my seat – score one big one for Japan on this point), when I know I can make it all the way to the station.  So, I have written this to help me pass the time without wandering thoughts on the discomfort of a filling bladder (the realness of the discomfort can be evidenced by the fact that my shorts haven’t been buttoned for close to an hour already).  I dislike writing on my phone, and for more than one reason (physical slowness of thumb typing and high error rate are two of the main ones).  Therefore, I’ll end with this:

I never expected to end up living in Asia, for any period of time.  I especially did not expect it to be for longer than I had lived in any country other than my own.  I like Europe.  I would have expected my doing a year there long before I even visited Asia.  But here I am, one year through (and very through, I do believe) life in Asia.  It has turned out that Japan is not a very good place for me to live my life, but that I really do appreciate Asia.  I actually have real desire to return to Asia, and to experience more of it.  Japan, Korea, and Singapore have only gotten me started, it seems.

In a way, it is stressful, because there are now even more places I want to visit.  However, I will just roll with what life offers to me, and aim for returning for at least one visit for a start, hopefully within the next few years.  I’d say that this is a middle-range real desire, similar to, and likely above the Christmas Market one.  It’ll happen, I believe, as I have full intentions for it to happen.  It’s a real desire I have.  Life does what it does, though, so we’ll just have to see.  For now, I’m at the end of the train line in the next minute or three, so I’ll go wrangle my baggage – giving away loads of nut butters, smoothie boosters, and spices, as well as my Magic Bullet (c) (Is that right?) – and head for my friend who is meeting me at the station.  Then I’ll use a bathroom either there or at her nearby home.  And then we’ll enjoy fireworks and a festival, possibly in the rain.  Whatever the case, we will enjoy it, which is a main part of what called to mind my thoughts on having lived here in the first place.

Post-a-day 2017

Miniature adventures on trains

It’s 22:11, and I’ve just sat down on my train home for the night… about an hour after originally planned, and a good distance from where I had intended to board the train.  I am covered in sweat (my own, thankfully), and am still breathing a bit heavily.  “That was certainly a fun little adventure,” goes through my mind, and I smile.  It really was.

About an hour ago, I was on the Yamanote line, heading up to Nippori to catch my train home from there.  A group of four Australian life guards boarded the train, and stood in front of me.  Something about them caught my attention immediately, and had me turn off my audiobook, though I couldn’t have said what.  Eventually, I took out my earphones, too, – it really is a great way to spy on a conversation, wearing earphones with no sound actually being produced by them – and listened a bit more closely to their conversation, because they seemed to be going somewhere quite far, and also seemed a bit unsure of how exactly to get there.

Two of them ended up sitting next to me after my precious neighbors exited the train.  The girl who sat down next to me directed at me a strong, “Howdy!” as she sat, thus beginning our conversation.*

We chatted, and it was fun, and their month-long exchange program sounds quite cool.  However, not the point.  I checked with the fabulous Google Maps to see what time their last train home was.  They were going to Onjuku, which is Really far from Tokyo, and the trains headed for it are seldom and end early.  Sure enough, they were cutting it amazingly close.  Plus, that had totally gone in the wrong direction on the Yamanote line.  If they had gone the opposite direction on this loop line, they’d have been to Tokyo station in plenty of time.  But then we wouldn’t have met, I guess.

My stop came and went, despite their entreaties that I just leave them to chance.  No way, I thought.  I’ve been in your place before – I am so not abandoning you to a likely failure to get home for the night.  You’ll all be welcome to stay with me if you miss your train.

They were going to have 7 minutes to catch their train, which was not one of the standard lines.  I realized quickly that they had little idea as to how to find their specific train (and Tokyo station kind of really sucks with its signage and help on finding the right track for trains – my train isn’t even listen as a line that goes through the station in most places, even though it totally does and it doesn’t change names or anything), so I rushed out with them to help find the line (of which I had never heard).

We scrambled down the steps – I had warned them that it wasn’t a small station, even though it wasn’t the largest – and started searching at the platforms for the train line name (I had given them what name to search: Wakashio.).

After 2-3 minutes, someone found a sign.  I checked it, and it was the right line.  We started running toward the extension area of the station, and found a sign declaring the line 400m in that same direction.

I hesitated then, deciding if I needed to go with them.  When I remembered that I want to help them out if they miss the train, I started running, too, empty suitcase in hand (It makes sense, I promise.). The suitcase slowed me down a good bit, and I had a late start, so I was well behind them.  The staircases just kept going downward, and then there’d be a walkway followed by yet another staircase and walkway.  At last, I found the track, saw the sign still showing the 22:01 train, and guessed that they had to be down there already.  I rushed down, and looked back and forth.  I couldn’t see anyone aside from the train guy standing on the platform.

As I looked around the windows, trying to find them, to make sure they hadn’t made a wrong turn somewhere, and totally lost the track, the train worker checked with me if I needed to be on the train.  I told him that it was all right, I was just checking for my friends.

Gosh, I hope they’re on this train, I thought, as the doors began to close. I just wish I could see them to be sure.  A man came sprinting off the steps, and the doors slid back open quickly to admit him.  No one else was around.  They have to be on this train.

My heart felt like a quarter of it was in my stomach as the train pulled away… and then I saw it.  Male gaijin hair blowing in the air vent, while a pair of male gaijin arms stretched in exhaustion next to him.  That’s they. Those are their shirts, their hair, that guy’s arms.  If the two guys made it, the two girls must be with them.

I still lingered a few minutes near the tracks, just to be sure, but I was rather certain: They made their train.  After seven stops and an hour twenty, they’d all be safely to their beach town again, able to go to their own beds for the night.

Phew!

And so I at last went up to catch my own train home, chuckling at how, for once, I was not the one having to rush to catch my last train home.  Someone lives farther than I do this time.  This last time.

I’m not sure if I would have been so tickled by this whole thing had it been any other day.  But tonight is my last night in my apartment, my last night in my little Ibaraki town.  I couldn’t decide earlier if I were going to stay at my place tonight or my friend’s (down in Tokyo).  Helping these guys was an easy decision.  So I get to stay one last night in my apartment, and say a good goodbye in the morning.

I can do this.
*Note: The Howdy, it turned out, was a ‘just ’cause’ greeting, and they were genuinely surprised to find that I am actually from Texas, where Howdy is actually a normal thing.

Post-a-day 2017

Mount Tsukuba

Okay, I hiked another mountain yesterday!

As I was hiking, I realized why I never really had mountain climbing on my list of to-do things in life – I’m really not a mountain-climbing person.  I’m from Houston, Texas, where, in case you didn’t know, everything is flat.  Literally, we have overpasses (for vehicles) on the highways and ditches along roads.  That as much variation to the land gradient as we get.  There’s even a phrase for it: In Houston, an uphill climb is only a figure of speech.  I found that in the HIWI: Houston – It’s Worth It coffee-table book several years ago.  I always remembered it, because it was so beautifully and comically true.  Keep this fact in mind as you read onward here.

 

Our school had their fancy baseball game, where the entire school goes and cheers (mostly the same cheers as the other school) for the team.  We won the game, and it ended around noon.  The best part, though, was that we didn’t have to go back to school afterward.  Even the teachers were free to go home after the game.  So, I decided ahead of time that I would go hike the nearby mountain after the game.  Of course, I didn’t know that we officially had the day off after the game, but I planned to take my last few vacation hours if necessary.  Fortunately, that was not necessary.  So, yay!

As I told kids what I was off to do, they were amazed, concerned, excited, surprised, etc.  REALLY, Hannah-Sensei?!  Yes, really.  After a sandwich snack from a konbini (convenient store), I got some help from a few students and found the right bus to get me to the mountain.  It was about 45 minutes to the middle of nowhere without shade, where I had to wait 25 minutes to take the second bus up to the base of the mountain.  There’s a shrine, and it’s really pretty and nice, and it took me forever to find the path to hike up the mountain.  Eventually, I found a sign by the cable car entry, stating that the hiking trail began in that direction.  Turns out, the trail begins right next to the cable car entrance.

The trail was Miyukigahara Course (御幸ヶ原コース), and the mountain was Mount Tsukuba (筑波山).  The estimated trail time is 90 minutes upward.  With loads of pausing for photos, feeling lost, and sheee-it declarations, I made it in 77 minutes.  I was truly shocked at how quickly I had done it.

 

 

The trail began with some confusion, as it branched off toward the cable cars twice, but going straight got me in the right direction.  The terrain was spidery tree roots and rocks everywhere, and beautiful, green trees all round.  I was delighted.

 

 

Eventually, the gradient increased, and the easy trail became not-so-easy.  Then there were stairs.  I dislike stairs in Japan.  They drive my knees nuts, because they are in no way aligned to the size of my stride.

After what felt like far too much effort on a long series of stairs going what felt like straight upward (I couldn’t even take a good photo of them, without tilting the camera way upward or downward, they were so steep.), I finally reached a pause point in the trail.  At first, I thought the first sign I was seeing after almost half an hour might be informative.  Instead, it told me to take my trash home… so Japan…

 

Now, even though I am from Houston, and going upward is the thing at which I am kind of the worst, I still enjoyed the trek.  For one thing, it was cool seeing all the different cairn-like rock piles.  Some were really complex,

while others were incredibly simple.

Suffice to say, I enjoyed them all.  …as I was practically gasping for air the entire time, of course.

Around halfway, I came across the cable cars.  I heard the cables moving, and so thought the car was approaching.  After at least a five-minute wait, the car finally appeared (both did, actually), and I got a little photo of it, and hurried on my way.

 

As I have discovered to be the case with roads here in Japan, so was this trail: What appears to be a dead end is, in fact, not a dead end.  I actually struggled very briefly to find the path at this point, as it was hidden behind the trees, and the area opened up so nicely to the right.

The first half of the trail is rightly difficult.  It’ll turn around anyone unprepared for the trek within the first twenty minutes, for sure.  I kind of hated how difficult it was (again, remember the Houston factor), and had a sort of running commentary of ‘Uugghh,’ going on in my head, but it was alright.  After the halfway point, things got mostly easier.

Until, of course, I reached a totally sketchy point in the trail, where the guard ropes and steps and all seem to be falling to bits amid the rocks and trees, like giants scrambled through a couple decades ago, and no one has made it back through the area since.  But, I picked my way through the rubble-like terrain, and found myself wondering suddenly, as the trail was leading distinctly downward, if I hadn’t crossed onto another path, and were actually heading down to the base of the mountain again.

 

Eventually, a sign eased my concerns… somewhat.  Then the trail kept going downward.  I went Back to the sign, checking which direction the paths supposedly led, comparing it to a photo I’d taken of a similar sign farther down the mountain.  I even called a friend to check that the path did this – I So did not want to be doing double hiking here, and I was concerned about my timing (I had no idea how long it had been, as I was embarrassed to check, find I had been going super slowly, and risk losing all morale [or most of it, anyway].).

I then reached a bit that didn’t even look like a trail, but rather a big pile of boulders.

However, after climbing over the boulder pile, I came upon what I called the “Man Woman River”, which is really a pathetically-sized stream trickling down the side of the mountain.

 

At the river, however, there was an actual sign indicating that I was, indeed, still on my trail, and had only 600m to go.  A time and a half around a track.  I knew instantly that it wouldn’t be so easy as that, though.

After what felt like about 500m, I came to the stairs.  Honestly, if you ever do this, take the advice relating to fears of heights when up high somewhere, where you are told not to look down.  For these stairs, don’t look up.  They just keep going and going, and they curve and then keep going some more.  And they’re tiny little steps, too, where you have to figure out if it feels better to take two or three at a time, and neither is quite right, so you try doing just one at a time, and it ends up even worse than the two or three.

I knew these steps were like the home stretch, but I was wary.

 

Sure enough, I rounded the final corner of trees after these cutesy, painful, annoying steps, and actually cursed aloud.  This is actually the exact view of where I was spit out from the previous segment of the trail.  Right in the middle of the rocks, with even more, higher up stairs over to the side.

This, I practically cried inside, has Got to be the final stretch… Please.

And, indeed, it was.  At long last, I was at the end of the trail, and up on top of the mountain, on the little hump between the two peaks.

 

Tsukuba Mountain has two peaks on it, Nantai-San and Nyotai-San.  Mt. Nantai is the one whose name in kanji equates to ‘Man Mountain’, and Mt. Nyotai is the ‘Lady Mountain’ in its kanji.  I didn’t have much time before the last cable car down, so I picked the Lady Peak over the Man Peak.  It was a quick and easy 600m up (as opposed to the miserable last 600m of the trail I’d just taken), and the view was quite nice.  I enjoyed the space there, all on my own.

On the entire adventure up the mountain, I think I didn’t even pass ten people total.  It was marvelous.  Though not quiet – bugs are loud.

As I rode the cable car down the mountain at 5pm (the last car of the day), I began checking routes home.  Get this: The next bus out of that area to get me home was Tuesday morning at 9:06am.  Are you kidding me?  Nope.  Not at all.

So, I did some freaking out, even asked a local guy about how to get home, and he even passed concern to himself about whether there was still a bus running.  He told me, however, that buses ran, and just to follow the road until I reached the bus stop.  Suffice to say, there were no more buses running.  Fortunately, I was already mentally prepared by the time I reached the bus stop.

I had been looking around on my Google Maps app (which I love!), and found a bus leaving from a ways away that could get me to somewhere useful.  I then began my half-sprint descent to a nearby town’s bus station, slightly concerned about whether I would make it home that night.  After half an hour of running on a road in the middle of the forest, which is clearly not meant for pedestrians, I climbed aboard my desired bus with two minutes to spare.  I was too exhausted even really to appreciate my fortune in catching the bus.  I promptly sloughed onto the back seat, out of the sun, and relaxed for the upcoming long ride, as soon as I informed my friends that I had made it on the bus, and didn’t need anyone to come way out of the way to get me.

And, just to make the day better for my health, I went directly to ballet class when I got back to my town.  It was my last chance to go, and I hadn’t even known it – I’d just wanted to go to class, because I love the class.  Apparently there’s no class next week.  Even more good fortune.  I had a blast in the class, and it was a really good way to send myself off from the group I’d come to love.

Hmm… this didn’t turn out at all as I had hoped.  Perhaps, I’ll revisit it some time, when I actually feel like writing, as opposed to going home to sleep… or do anything but sit in this warm room at work, with a chair and desk that are too small for me…  We’ll see.

 

Post-a-day 2017