The Last Samurai

I just watched the film “The Last Samurai”, and it was the first time I’d seen it all the way through, as well as the first time I’d seen any of it post-Japan (remember that I lived in Japan for a while).

I balled my eyes out over and over and over again, and mostly for things I never would have considered before having lived in Japan.

As Katsumoto-San says, ‘There are many of our customs/traditions that seem strange to you… Yours are the same for us.’

And now I see both sides of it all, and I wonder at how anyone could consider that only one side to anything in life is good enough, satisfactory enough, adequate… for anything beneficial to anyone or anything.

It can be terrifying, but seeing through the eyes of ones we don’t understand creates a solution to any problem, because, as Ender Wiggin said, once we understand our enemies, we can’t help but to love them.

Post-a-day 2018

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the outsider view of a culture, viewed by an insider

Walking around the Japanese garden, I stop when I come to the take.  I stop of just a moment, envisioning myself in Japan, in the real Japanese gardens of the world.  Tears come to my eyes, and I wonder Why?  What’s going on?  Why am I suddenly crying?  Why am I shaking inside from my sternum, as though panic is coming up?

And I realize: I miss Japan.  Not so much for the whole experience, but for some of the experience, and, especially, for the part where I fit in appropriately, in the right way.  I was expected to stand out and not to do exactly as others did.  I was expected to turn heads and to surprise and shock those around me.  And I did.  And I was comforted by the feeling of ‘fitting in’ in that odd sense of it, fitting into the expectations my surroundings had of me.

But it is different being here, where I am expected to fit in one way, but I don’t fit in that way.  I am American, but I am multi-cultural.  I used to think those two a little more synonymous with one another.  But, based on how I look on the outside, – my skin and hair and eyes – I am expected to be on a similar ground with those around me here.  Perhaps we have visited other countries, but that was for vacation.  Living there, being truly part of the culture, is not in the books for most of those around me, unless they specifically came from that country directly, through their heritage, and moved here after having lived there in the earliest years of their lives (as is the case with one in four people in Houston, actually).  However, I am not expected to know how to dress someone in a kimono or yukata better than someone my own age back in Japan.  I’m not even expected to know the difference, unless I am what would be considered a sort of geek of Anime and Manga (at which point one still might not know the difference between them, but it is less surprising for them to know such things).  I don’t fit into that category, and yet I know so much about Japanese culture and life in Japan, and I have experienced so much of it, that I often find no need to talk about it – it’s become so a part of me and my life, it is similar to putting on shoes or brushing teeth.  Sure, we do them both all the time, but hardly ever do we consciously ponder on them and share about them with others.  They’re just part of our subconscious and our mostly-daily lives.

Anyway, that was what I was feeling today at the festival in town celebrating Japan and Japanese culture.  When I ran into a friend who had spent even more time than I had in Japan, I mentioned to him how I wasn’t quite sure what I was feeling, but I felt as though I was about to cry.  Something about feeling like I belong, but then not belonging after all.  ‘It’s your first “Japanese culture” experience post-Japan.’  I confirmed his questioning declaration.  It was, in fact, the first time I had experienced something that was all about Japan from this country’s perspective since I had actually spent time in Japan.  If I had attended the same festival before going, I likely would have felt quite wonderfully walking around the festival.  I had a different view of Japanese culture in Japan back then.

This was something like seeing a “Mexican Restaurant” in northern France that time, and feeling a giddy sense of hilarity at what kind of food could possibly be served in there.  Or the “American Restaurant” (that was it’s name) in northern Spain, where the “american hamburgers” were nothing like our actual hamburgers.  (Think meatloaf, with a slice of thin ham, on fluffy, dense bread.)  But now, instead of it being Texas and US culture, it is Japanese culture.  And so it was also weird to be relating to Japanese culture – a culture with which I struggled greatly at times, and still do – in the same sort of protective way as I traditionally have related to my original home culture.  It kind of added this whole extra layer to my identity semi-crisis.  And all that just because I went to a festival.

Post-a-day 2018

Getting ready to time-travel

And so one thing ends, and, with anxiety, something new begins.  Tonight, I complete my life here in Japan, and dream one last dream before I move forward to my next step.  I felt like I was in “What About Bob?” today, taking my mother’s guidance to do whatever needs to be done next – aka baby steps.  I took my baby steps all day long today, and finally got it all finished.  I even accomplished a few things I expected not to be able to do.

One of those things being seeing the guitarist I’d seen a couple weeks ago at the nearby train station, who had greeted me in English one night as I was moving my stuff to my friend’s place.  He greeted me and asked how I was doing tonight, as I was walking in Shibuya, and ended up accompanying me, with my comfortable acquiescence, to the phone shop to disconnect my phone (It was closed.), and then buying me a Japan-only Yuzu frappucino from Starbucks, and sitting with me as I finally watched the Shibuya Crossing from the Starbucks window (It wasn’t actually very impressive, but I think I never really expected it to be, anyway.), at which point, we finally discovered that we had, in fact, seen one another those two or three weeks back.  He was a nice guy, Ryo.

I ended my evening with my last gaiten zushi (conveyor belt sushi), on which I spent ¥680 (just over $6 US), and which I didn’t even finish eating.  I’ll miss such affordable sushi, but I’ll survive quite well back in Houston, I do believe.  Green smoothies and colorful veggie-based juices are calling me.

And now, at long last, I shall sleep.  Rest, anyway.  We’ll see if it really is sleep tomorrow morning, when my alarm wakes me just before 5am.  I hope I wake rested well.

Anyway, this is it, I guess.  Tomorrow morning, I say goodbye to Japan, and then I time-travel (departing 11:10am on Saturday, 12 August, and arriving 9:30am on Saturday, 12 August).

Goodnight!

Post-a-day 2017

The Body Talks

Let’s talk about sex, baby.

Well, sort of… That’s what my body kept saying to me today.

Today was a day in which my body felt like it was in a state of panic.  In a way, it was in a state of panic (or bordering on panic, anyway).  To my body, this panic was expressed as a painful desire, né need to procreate.  

“Hannah, I need to reproduce – it is what I am designed so well to do, and I’ve waited so long already… let me go!!”  

Sigh.

Such was the sort of conversation my body and I had today.  It complained and begged and reasoned, and I sighed and just accepted the complaints.

Now, the kicker to all of this is that I am almost entirely comfortable and at ease now (despite being quite sleepy).  Why is that?  The same reason (-ish) that my body has been panicky lately – I need physical contact in my life.  Good, real, physical contact, corporal contact, person-to-person skin-to-skin touch is an absolute necessity for me.

And living in Japan has given me almost none of that.  It has quite truly driven my body into a state of panic, in fact.  

How did I go from freak-out to calm?  I hung out with friends and went dancing with them.  In this time, I leaned on them, they leaned on me, we rubbed backs, hugged (the real kind), held hands, stood with our arms draped on one another’s shoulders or around the waist or hips, touched this or that spot on someone to get his/her attention.  In short, we had a nice amount of physical contact with one another.  No, it was not anything compared to what I am accustomed to having back in the US, – we are So touchy-touchy in Texas, and especially at dance there – however it was tremendous when compared to my average day and week of zero physical contact here in Japan.

I went to a dance event in Korea just a couple weekends ago.  I danced like crazy there, and I hugged people and had lots of physical contact with people who love me and whom I love.  I think that going from a weekend jammed full of corporal contact and love, back to the solitude and non-touching life I have here right now, my body had a sort of shock.  After having gone so many months with only a bit of physical contact here and there in a month, I was accustomed to it.  But, after spending a weekend filled with physical contact, it has been difficult to go back to the zero-touching lifestyle.

And so my body cried for a while, until it at last had some loving physical contact this afternoon and tonight, at which point it is ready to take on this next week (until I head to the beach next weekend, at which point the physical contact occasions will resume). 

So, instead of listening to the crybaby body make excuses about its evolution and its original design for existence, I just get myself some physical contact, some hugs and snuggles and such, and things work out beautifully.

Cheers to loving physical contact! ❤

Post-a-day 2017

Sick at work, and no one cares

Today, I woke up around 2:30am, throat sick.  Lots and lots of pain, a desire for water that could not be satisfied due to extreme pain when drinking, and total exhaustion.  I woke up once (or was it twice) more before my actual alarm, needing to rush to the bathroom from all the water I was drinking.  I contemplated just going to the doctor’s office instead, and getting a sick leave day, but my mother, who is visiting, convinced me that it was best to go to school, since I hadn’t been there much lately and would be gone the rest of this week, too.

And I discovered more of the Japanese views on work and illness while I was at work today.  Almost no one seemed concerned that I was sick and at work (and could barely talk).   Having to sit around at work after I finished all my classes was even more rough than the start to the day.  And finding compassion for being ill and stuck at work was rather impossible from a people who practically would work on their deathbeds.  (For those who don’t know, Japanese teachers don’t take off work for almost anything, including illness.  Only the flu gets them all ruffled up into a panic, where they force you to stay home for a week.) 

It was an odd day for sure…
Post-a-day 2017 

Umbrellas at Night

People look at me like I’m crazy as I walk down the street.  I know I get looks a lot of the time, and oftentimes for good reason, but today/tonight has been particularly ridiculous.

Sure, I’m using an umbrella when it’s not raining, but all it takes is a little logic (or perhaps I’m just a bit too creative and/or crazy for the average Japanese person?).

So, it isn’t raining.  What other reasons might someone use an umbrella?  To block the sun.  Okay, but it’s a clear umbrella.  And sometimes it’s even nighttime when I’m using it.  So, the sun thing doesn’t make too much sense.  Okay, why else might someone use an umbrella?  It is usually for some sort of protection from the elements, right?  So, what elements are at play right now?  Ridiculously cold temperatures.  Wind.  Hmm… I wonder if those have anything to do with it?

As my hair rests calmly halfway beneath and halfway behind the umbrella, you’d think people would grasp the fact that I am using the umbrella to block this frigid wind.  But no, they really don’t seem to get it.  They just stare at me like I’m totally nuts.  Which, by the way, is quite a different look from the usual one I get as a foreigner.  Just saying.  😛

 

Post-a-day 2017

A glimpse of Japanese culture

Tonight, I stopped in at an udon restaurant that is a similar style to Luby’s (pick up a tray, grab side dishes as you will, and order the main hot dish fresh when you get to that section, pay at the end of the sliding bar line) for dinner.  I initially hesitate, figuring out what I want to eat. As I decide upon something, I realize that I don’t know how to say what I want, because the first half of the name is written in kanji.  If it had been reversed, with hiragana first and kanji second, I could have faked my way through.  However, how does one start a word/name with only the end of it?

So, I figured I’d just stumble through verbally, and eventually get someone to lean over the counter a bit to see which picture I was indicating.  As I arrive at the ordering section, and attempt to do just as I had planned, explaining that I can’t read Japanese, but I want this one, please, the man in line behind me does me a solid, and reads aloud the name of the dish for me.

Now he totally didn’t need to do this, as the restaurant worker easily leaned forward to see the  picture anyway, but he, for whatever reason – and I word it this way, because this has not often been my experience here, having people be oh-so-willing to help out the foreign girl – decided to help me.  Therefore, despite my terror of getting caught in a language mess of trying to explain and risking not getting my way, I told the lady at the register to put mine and the man’s meals together.  She seemed a bit caught off guard, but accepted my request, likely assuming that I was actually here with the guy after all.

I paid, accepted my change, thanked the cashier, thanked the man once again as he walked up next to me in line once again, and walked off to my seat around the corner.

A minute later, I went to get some tea from the water and hot green tea dispenser, and saw the man there getting water for himself.  When he saw me, he did the Japanese “Oh!”, though a bit subdued, and thanked me in a very fumbly sort of way (I imagine he isn’t quite accustomed to such a scenario, based on his general appearance and fumbliness.), opting to use the version of thank you that literally means “excuse me”, and bowing as best he could holding his tray and water.  I told him that it was nothing, and thanked him again for the help.

Still sitting at my seat a while later, watching a small spider tiddle across the countertop, I notice the man coming over to me, and I look up at him.  He thanks me again (and again in a very fumbly way), looking a bit embarrassed, and bows a couple more times (which I return with a smile and bow) before leaving the restaurant.

It was quite simple, but I found so much culture in the situation, I wanted to share it.  Plus, this older guy was, in a grandpa sort of way, so cute, I wanted the memory to live on somehow in others.

So, thank you, again, old man.  Really, I appreciated your help, and gave you your meal easily and with delight – it was almost an honor for me to have provided you this token of my gratitude.  Thanks.  🙂
Post-a-day 2017