Thursday, August 19, 2010
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Konnichiwa, and welcome to the first installation of Mitzi does Japan. First, thank you for taking the time to visit, and I hope you find that reading will be an enjoyable and perhaps consistent use of your time. Here you will find the musings and probably complaints of yours truly, mostly in Iiyama (for those of you who know some Japanese, this Iiyama is not ‘good mountain’ but ‘rice mountain’ (not only ‘rice,’ but ‘prepared rice,’ or even a ‘rice-heavy meal’), as every uninhabited square area is ripe rice growin’ space here), but also the vicinity, which may be as far as Korea someday (girl can dream). Given the introduction, I pray you will be at least mildly entertained if not enlightened through reading this, and might even be so blog-hungry after this you will extend your eyes to previous entries which log my adventures at sea. (The second half has gone mostly unread due to my own negligence, so while you owe me nothing, well – sometimes it’s not about owing people things.)
Now that I’ve flattered myself beyond Japanese allowance (‘tis limiting, indeed), I will proceed by inserting some more culture-appropriate comments.
The Weather: is lovely, isn’t it? (If you enjoy the feeling of your insides being percolated, steamed until your fluids display themselves on the outside – the heat, humidity has endowed me with the appearance of an oil-glazed fish just in the oven, the sensation much like that the fish feels post-bake before the metal lid is removed from the dish – ‘tis lovely, indeed!) The days are bright and sunny (as the coils on the stove), and the nights are cool (ed to a chilling 85 degrees) and inviting (if you like to play with anonymous many-legged flying things). We anticipate this weather will continue to bless us and lead us in abundant harvest into the autumn months.
To be truthful, yes, the heat is pure misery, but, boy, is it pretty. After a wholly exhausting week of all-night goodbyes, inter-country/inter-prefecture travel, days long orientation, no-sleep, constant meet-and-greet(-and-drink), I was happy to pass another half an hour (which I could have spent sleeping) just standing outside my door and gawking at the awesome mountain surrounds. And I’d forgotten about these cicadas who follow you everywhere but are never so intrusive as to show themselves – they just let you hear their pretty abdomens vibrating.
Your Family: is well, I hope. (This is true.) Mine is, I think, doing well. I had the pleasure of dining with Papa, Uncle Toshio, Aunt Michiko and Cousin Kaori at a Korean BBQ establishment at the top of a narrow Shinjuku corridor but a few days ago ; I was so happy to get to see Corey (a friend, technically, but I say it feels as good as family in this strange place) who has remained the same wonderful person in the three years since I met him a great many hours south of where I am now ; Mama and Brother are, I imagine, still together in Hawaii, though I haven’t yet had the pleasure of speaking with them directly since arriving here in Iiyama ; Daphne, the silly thing, is surely thriving in our currently empty (but messy – sorry, Mom!) Monterey mansion.
Let the formality cease here.
Imagine: being in a large round bowl - a fish bowl, if you will. Against the glass are thick mountains creeping up all sides, covered with bushy trees packed with the density of wool on an arctic sheep. In the sunken center, an almost-grid with basic necessity shops – restaurants, grocery stores, government office buildings – and one or two lane roads that function as speedways in a mile-or-so radius. In the space between the wall-to-wall ranges and the hollow, sprouting from the rounded base, buildings no taller than four upright vending machines stacked one atop another, with roads, the widths of which are comparable to Yao Ming’s wingspan, passing quietly between. And everywhere, bugs. Bugs of all kinds, little jumping things, gargantuan crawling brutes, large-winged little-bodied buzzing trespassers, baby orange juice swimmers. Luckily I have yet to find any more than the little jumping things in my own sanctum, but word to the wise, this is not a place to bike about with your mouth open.
And then, there is me. Somewhere in the ridge between ground-level ‘city’ and its budding relatives just up the hill, where the town begins to scale the gradual slope toward the curtain of mountain ranges, I sit in the hardwood floored living room of my sizable for Japanese standards home, surrounded by the clutter of school documents and peanut shells. The setup is recognizable, if not familiar, to most – a small, square entryway where shoes are deposited; a four-tatami bedroom with a western style double bed, nightstand, closet, the usual; a toilet like any other you’d see, though this one is equipped with the power of bidet; a shower/bath/washing machine room separate from but more or less adjacent to the toilet room; a kitchen complete with refrigerator and stove, but lacking oven and microwave; and lastly, the living room, which is like any other temporary college house living room save for its small stature, where the chairs are legless and the table is too low to fit even a microwave beneath it. I am lucky enough to have for my recreation a garage and an outdoor chilling area (at least that’s the purpose it’s served thus far) accessible by sliding glass door from the living room. That which might irk some people is the lack of central temperature control, by which I mean no air conditioning or heating. One must be adaptive to survive, or one must locate an air-conditioned establishment open to the public as I have not yet done.
Since arriving here, I have had little free time until today. Upon landing, I was greeted by my supervisor by the name of Fujiki, and by a local JET employee who works in the government office named Alaina. Together, Alaina, Fujiki and I have been winding about town by government car-of-the-day, completing errands vital for my success here. Thus far, I have: opened a bank account at the local JA bank, the JA of which, as it turns out, stands for Japan Agriculture (this is the kind of place I’m in); registered as an alien, as such a title is, for whatever reason, more favorable than ‘foreigner’ or ‘American’; purchased a lovely little used Miyata road bike with such personality the salesman was confused by my attraction to it (the bike can’t quite decide what color it wants to be – silver, white, or grey? Let’s use them all); met those important people employed with the Board of Education; seen the school at which I will be teaching for the next year, as well as the people I will be teaching alongside; been asked to date the single male teachers, all of whom are within my age range so I can’t tell if everyone’s joking; met some of the junior high school students who have finally done the work of getting me really excited about being here to teach – I could get used to being called beautiful every day; sweated a lot; eaten lots of cucumbers (tis the season, you know).
Oh, the simple life. Last evening I put myself to bed at 8pm to wake up this morning at 8am. Still adjusting. An hour for leisurely phone calls and breakfast, then a walk down the street for picture taking on my cell phone so I have something to show you all when it comes time to finally post this monster. I notice that the heat fluctuates a bit – at times it is bearable, sun spreading itself evenly over the plain, others its vendetta against me is more apparent. Oddly, I have yet to be sunburned, though I do expect to develop a pretty flattering farmers’ tan in no time at all. If that’s the closest I can get to assimilating here – everyone is a farmer to some degree – I’ll take it. Boy, is it beautiful. The scenery is, to me at least, much like the backdrop in some of Super Mario’s worlds, with various shades of blue outlining the mountains that get lighter as they blend into the sky. There was a moment of grey yesterday, a peculiar moment, indeed. I had just finally, after days of searching, found the Iiyama train station, and also a fixie bike shop a bit out of place that I am now curious to explore across from said station. As I am waiting for the cars coming from both directions to slow so I may pedal across and give the station a good look, it begins to hail. At this point it is barely past noon, though because I had read something of rain coming around 6pm, without looking at the time, I raced back into the shelter of my home content to spend the evening by my window watching the little pellets tickle the ground. Alas, ‘twas but 2, and shortly thereafter, the storm ceased. And there I was, back in this floor-level chair, testing the limits of its recline for entertainment.
Although the days pass slowly, sometimes so slow I can feel some loneliness creeping into my limbs, it has yet to take hold completely. With the other JETs out of town, knowing I would have all this time to pass alone, I expected it to seize me much as a snake suffocates anything that has any warmth left in it. When the novelty of this place will subside and make way for overwhelming bad feelings, I have yet to know. If it is something that never has to come, well, that would be new for me, but as long as I can sustain the fascination – nay, peace - I’ll try not to live with apprehension.
In a couple of hours, I will be on my way to Nagano city for a festival, ‘Binzuru.’ I’m sorry to say I don’t know what it’s a celebration of, exactly, but I wouldn’t be surprised with how much the Japanese love to celebrate that it is about nothing at all. This is when I say the cliché thing about hoping I will meet some new people who I will want to maintain friendships with over the next at-least year, and that I will ‘make great memories’ and ‘catch the dream’ (so says one Japanese boy). As detached as I am by nature, I don’t want to make this another shallow ‘here’s something that happened to me’ experience. Who’s to say when it started, but one day I decided it wasn’t cool to be sentimental, safer to never be taken by anything, and the attitude I have projected and impressed upon myself all this time often leaves me feeling like I am missing something. With all the time I’ll have to myself over the next year, I hope I can make some advancements in that field. The opportunities I’ve allowed to pass as a result of this disillusioned thinking are too great. The balance, though, a healthy balance will be difficult to determine. While I at once scoff at those romantics who call every rose beautiful, I envy them their vulnerability. Maybe the first step is to stop putting so much thought into it. My ego. It weighs me down.
In conclusion, I don’t really know what I’m here for, but this is what I’m doing. It’s relieving, in a way, to finally realize I don’t know why I’m here. Read my application and you’d be fooled. For now, I’ll just keep sweating; first step to enlightenment is opening your pores.