December 2012

I am reminded once again of the majority of Japanese buildings’ inability to retain heat. Indeed, the seasons are swiftly changing, and autumn felt barely a day. Between working, going out and sleeping in, and studying, if autumn was any decent length of time, I only saw it briefly. Winter is nice here for at least a few reasons. When passing people passing out flyers on the street, for example, it’s easier to avoid their waving hands in your face when your hands are buried deep in your winter coat pockets. It’s a good way to justify taking a taxi. Popular summer destinations are not so popular. 

My most recent adventure was to a small island a short distance south of Okayama, west of Osaka, called Naoshima. It is sometimes referred to as “Art Island” or “that island with all the art on it”. It has a few art museums on it, which while interesting to peruse, all have a certain air of pretentiousness about them. Perhaps art is by nature somewhat lofty, but that doesn’t mean it can’t at least be welcoming. Along with the museums, one part of the island also features a number of “art houses”, which are old houses which have been restored by artists and turned into permanent exhibitions. They’re interesting. I had somewhat high expectations for them, which weren’t met, but it made for a fun afternoon (part of that fun is trying to find the houses using the minimalist map with which we were provided, something akin to a scavenger hunt.. given that houses are quite large objects, not as easy as you’d think!). One of the most well-known structures/places on the island is Benesse House, which is some kind of expensive, popular, artsy hotel about which I know very little. In any case, it wasn’t within our budget, and it got in our way when we were trying to cycle around the island. I’m sure it’s lovely inside, though. We opted for more economical accommodations: yurts (Mongolian tents) on the beach. For under $50/night per person, we had a spacious Mongolian tent furnished with beds, a mini-fridge, a heater, table and four chairs, and shelves to ourselves, with a beautiful view of the beach and sunset. We made a four day, three night trip of it, which included traveling to and from. It was the perfect amount of time. Between sightseeing and cycling around (bicycle rentals for 500 yen a day and quality bikes at that – fantastic!), we also had time to check out some local restaurants (great food), have a nice dinner at our accommodations (seafood nabe), and spend an hour at the local sento (public bath), which is also one of the permanent art exhibitions on the island. While it’s not even all that well known within Japan, it’s a nice destination for anyone, even if you’re only visiting the country. 

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Our evenings on Naoshima were spent staying warm in the yurt (winter comes quicker to small islands, it seems), studying for our (then) upcoming Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I finally wrote the test this past Sunday. There are 5 levels for the JLPT, 5 being the lowest. I wrote Level 4. I think I passed. I wrote two practice tests the day before and passed those. Fortunately, you only need %50 to pass (with a minimum of %30 in each section), so I think I stand a chance. I’ll find out online in January. The test was held at Osaka University’s Toyonaka Campus, which seemed to be a nice area. I couldn’t guess how many people were writing, but it was certainly a lot. It took about 4 hours to complete, and I was exhausted/bored by the end of it.

I am certain that my Japanese is improving, despite how unsure I am of the JLPT. For the first time since autumn of last year, I went to visit my relatives in Wakayama a couple weeks ago. Two of my cousins, as you dear and faithful readers might remember, are in a taiko drum group and were having an anniversary concert. It was captivating. I didn’t realize how much variation there could be between two hours of songs played purely on the drums (with the occasional flute).  Those two cousins who were in the concert are the only two who speak English out of my Japanese relatives, so I ended up spending the whole afternoon forced to make conversation in Japanese. Last year, I was unable to come up with anything other than “Arigatou”, “Hai”, “Sayonara”, “Ohisashiburi!”, and “Wakarimasen” (thank you, yes, goodbye, long time no see, I don’t understand). But this visit. This visit! I was able to sustain conversation. Just barely. But nonetheless! It’s a great feeling, being able to communicate with family. When was getting ready to leave, they sent me off with a large bag full of Japanese oranges and persimmons from their trees. 

It was a nice way to start feeling the transition into the Christmas season. The next adventure begins on the 25th as a group of us head north on the train to Hakuba, which is a popular ski resort located in the Japan Alps in Nagano Prefecture (near where the 1998 Winter Olympics were held). Most of us, I think, are going snowboarding. Or at least, trying to go snowboarding. It’ll be my first time. I’m looking forward to a week full of being surrounded by snow. I haven’t seen much of the stuff since before I came to Japan. It will be my first Christmas away from home, away from my family. I’ve got dear friends here to celebrate it with, but it’ll be a new challenge. 

It’s an expensive trip traveling between Osaka and Toronto. If I was staying much long, I would’ve thought about coming home for Christmas again, but as it is, I’m coming home in May! That’s right! I’ve got a one-way ticket out of Japan! That one-way ticket, however, is to Heathrow, as I’m going to stop in England for a week or so on my home. BUT AFTER THAT I will be back in the Niagara Region. It’s hard to believe. I know I came here the intention of being here only a year, and so for so long I’d had an end in sight, but I have a home here now and it will be difficult to leave (at the same time, it’s always difficult to stay so long, with my home also being in Niagara). I’ve started talking to people about things I’m going to be trying to get rid of, been thinking about last minute trips that I’d like to take, all that. I’ve been saying goodbye to a lot of good friends here who are on their way home now, and it’s made me realize that I’m not so far off from being in their situation. The countdown begins. 

On a less exciting but still awesome note,I submitted some photos to a photography scavenger hunt/exhibition/contest and won best photo in one of the categories (by popular vote). That was kinda cool. Check it out at http://www.kameraoke.com/.

**And as a note to recent commenters, I will try to soon respond to your questions regarding teaching/living in Japan (including my half-Japanese perspective!)**

 

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rhubarb and marmalade.

“marmalade”

The moon was an orange slice, suspended in the sky,
Peeking from behind concrete and brick, hiding from hungry eyes.
The city sprawled out, (crawled out), full of Johnny’s and
Baby’s, dancing in meringue and green tea ice cream,
Though, sometime after midnight, only in their dreams.

As I biked to your apartment, I feared
It was just my mind playing tricks,
hoping for something to quench my desire, for
Something productive, something colourful, something
I might acquire.

Oh, if it wasn’t really there, if it didn’t really happen,
Where would there be any truth?
If the moon is a sweet fruit, out of reach, but within view,
Then surely there is other whimsy and magic under the sky.
Dreams aren’t in our heads;
They’re hanging far above us while we sleep.
They hide, while we seek them out during the day,
Just beyond the horizon and in our kitchens.

As I approached my destination, it disappeared from my view,
But I pedaled on hopefully, half needing it to be true.
I wondered what I’d do, if it was never really there,
If it was all just my fancy, if the moon was just the moon.
I finally got to yours, and looked out from an elevated view, and
There it was: orange, a semi circle, full of juice and dreams.
And as I told you about it with certainty and excitement,
You said you hadn’t seen it. No, you saw
A sneaky cat’s smile, suspended in the sky.
Maybe I was mistaken, maybe it was all a trick!
Played by some Cheshire Jester, perched up on a cloud.
But then I looked at you and we shared a smile;
Those dreams I held up so high felt suddenly much more near,
And I thought to myself, “Certainly there is some magic here.”

firsts.

For a couple years now I’ve been wondering when I first heard Ryan Adams’ “Come Pick Me Up”, and now that I’m watching Elizabethtown for the first time in a few years, I’ve finally figured it out and am satisfied.

2012.

“New Year”

When the ball drops,
A million particles are displaced.
When the sand settles, nothing can ever be
Exactly the same.

As I’m being driven home for the first time in eleven months,
The new sign over the QEW isn’t as insignificant as I’d like to believe.

Tell me how to start again in a new place
Dreaming, awake, and with music that will move my body,
And not my heart.
It needs to be stationary (though all the more fragile for it).
I’ll commit to these lines,
My blood will be my ink;
Red on red.

Tell me again,
If there is satisfaction in repetition.
I trip over new things, and I
Can’t keep my cool for all my shaking.
I’ve got to shed old skin.

Ten nine eight seven six five four three
Ten nine eight seven six five four three
Ten nine eight seven six five four three

heart.

For the first time during my stay in Japan, someone – another English teacher – actually told me that he wishes he had somewhere to go back to like Canada. As I told him about having been home over the holidays and how it reminded me of all the things I really miss and talked about (most likely) returning for the fall, he actually expressed a hint of jealousy. Finally, I thought. Someone who isn’t going to talk about how they never want to go back home. Oh, it’s such a drag and Japan’s so interesting. Why would you ever want to leave? Someone who could appreciate my sentiment. He doesn’t want to go back to his home because England, he says, is just all terrible weather and zero job prospects. But he’s thought of moving to Canada.

Home is where the heart is, and there’s no place like it.

things I thought I knew.

From October 2005:

“Selfish altruism”. Take for example two altruistics dating each other. They continually do things only for the other person, and in turn, all of their selfish (ego) needs are satisfied. However, an altruistic in a relationship with a non-altruistic results in an unhealthy relationship. The first one gives and gives, getting nothing but companionship in return. The latter gets consistent, whole-hearted attention, but is never aware that s/he needs to give a little as well (or a lot). Neither individual can grow, or change with the other. Both’s weaknesses (if you want to call them that) are emphasized. The altruistic never realizes or accepts the importance of getting something in return and the non-altruistic never realizes the importance of giving back.

green ii.

art that is hurtful, but honest, I think, is far better than art which is sweet, but an utter lie (Emi Morimoto, Twitter, 19 December 2011).

“my friend, the environmentalist”

He was a mentalist, alright.
I mean, picture this:
a person who keeps all  his stuff – his mugs, his t-shirts, his milk, his stale bread, his stale memories, his worn-through socks, his cassette tapes and VCR’s, his past relationships, his old habits – lined up on shelves, stuffed in drawers “just in case”, for “future use” that will never come to fruition.
I’m not describing him, exactly, but it’s how he was with his words – old dusty words, seemingly novel on the basis of their being so unexpected, out of context, out of date. Not completely irrelevant, though, like that old copy of some 1970’s novel that was at a time, highly acclaimed by someone somewhere, with the cardboard-like bounding that’s been passed down through generations of high school students. You’re never too sure why you should care, but you feel obligated to anyway.
I mean, imagine:
a person who tries to cut down so much on what they own in an effort to have less stuff to the point of them actually having not enough. One plate isn’t enough to enjoy a meal in with anyone else. That one pair of jeans quickly develops holes around the knees. The one tablecloth will gradually become an imprecise map of all the meals that have ever graced your table.
I’m not describing him, exactly, but it’s how he was with his relationships.
I mean no disrespect – he’s still a good friend of mine. If you meet him, be kind and forget what I’ve told you. But, be careful, because:
when he listens to you, he’s collecting the best of your thoughts and words to later scatter them about like a flock of wild birds as he puts them to use in his isolation, in his art, and my friends, here’s the worst part: oh, he knows he’s using you and the subtly disguised abuse, it reduces you and when you think you know what’s happening, when you you think you understand, the desire he evokes, it recycles you. Oh, do what I couldn’t, break out of the cycle before he can reduce, reuse, and recycle you too.

(July 2011)