Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The sun sets on 3 years in Japan

Well, this is it! Joe and I are flying out of Japan tomorrow morning, so this will be my final blog post. A lot of mixed feelings right now — sadness that this journey is coming to an end, excitement about moving back, being near family and resuming a life where certain everyday things are less of a challenge.

We've had an incredible three years living and teaching in Japan. During this time I've done so many things I never dreamed I'd do. Standing in front of my first class of Japanese teenagers, I wasn't sure this would turn out so well, but I adapted to teaching and came to appreciate its many challenges. I've studied Japanese and learned it well enough to express what I want to say, albeit simply. I've been to the top of the world — watching the sun rise from the top of Mt. Fuji — to the bottom of the sea — swimming with sea turtles in Okinawa. It still blows my mind to even think about it. And besides traveling throughout Japan, we also spread our wings and went abroad, to Thailand, South Korea, China, Hong Kong and Macau. It's been an exhilarating and mind opening three years, a true adventure. When I came to Japan, I had a precious opportunity to be immersed in Japanese culture. But I also had the chance to see my own country and culture in an entirely new light, and now I'm coming away from this experience with a whole new perspective on America — its wonders as well as its weaknesses. Now, just as I once wished I could combine the best aspects of my ex-boyfriends into the perfect prince charming, I find myself wishing I could somehow combine the best of both these lands into a sort of paradise.

The Japanese have a saying, "Sumeba miyako," which literally translates to "If you live there, it's the capital" — the capital being the best place to be. So wherever you decide to settle, that place becomes home. After three years calling Hiroshima my home, I think this certainly applies. There is much I'll miss about Hiroshima and Japan. Tomorrow morning I'll be leaving a piece of my heart in Hiroshima.

Thanks to all of you who followed me on this journey. I've enjoyed sharing it with you.

さようなら日本、また会う日まで —> Sayounara Japan, until we meet again.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Kato-chan, where everybody knew our names

Kuni-kun and Shin-chan, our favorite okonomiyaki cooks

The past couple weeks have been filled with goodbyes for us. On Friday, after returning our apartment key to our landlord, we headed to our favorite Japanese restaurant, Kato-chan, for one final order of okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki is Hiroshima's biggest specialty, and it's also my favorite Japanese food. How have I managed not to write about this yet? Okonomiyaki translates to something like "As-you-like-it-cooking" and basically consists of a paper thin flour pancake topped with a heap of shredded cabbage, noodles, meat, a layer of egg, some seasonings and a liberal dose of a barbecue-like sauce. There are a number of other ingredients you can add in as well; my usual included green onions, cheese and mochi (glutinous pounded rice cakes — they get warm and gooey on the stove). Top it all off with plenty of mayonnaise and you've got a very satisfying meal:

Joe and I were to Kato-chan what Norm was to Cheers. It was our neighborhood haunt, just a family-owned hole in the wall but a place where everyone knew our names and greeted us with a smile when we walked in the door. The okonomiyaki there was always delicious, and kept us coming back every week or two for three years. We had our own seats at the bar, right in front of the stove — in fact we ate right off the stove (can't do that in America!). That way we could chat up our okonomiyaki cooks, Kuni-kun and Shin-chan. Since they don't speak any English, it was always a good chance for us to practice our Japanese, and over time we became friends. Once, they even took us out to dinner in Iwakuni. Nice guys. Gonna miss them. A lot. And their okonomiyaki.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Nuanced" English

I was looking back through old photos tonight and found some hilarious pictures I took two years ago and meant to blog about but never did. They're from a book meant to teach English slang and colloquial language to Japanese speakers. My Japanese teacher picked this up and loaned it to me to see what I thought of it. Once I started thumbing through the pages I knew I had a gem on my hands. Not only was some of the slang flat-out wrong or inappropriate, but the thought of a Japanese person trying to whip out one of these phrases in the company of foreign friends seemed totally absurd. Exhibit A: (Click any of the following pictures to see larger versions.)

To teach the word "Awesome!":
  • Boy: I'm stiff. I got something for you.
  • Girl: Wow. Awesome!
Below that, to teach the phrase "be a hero":
  • Boy: Even I could give a gift.
  • Girl: Don't be a hero. Show it to me. Quick.

To teach the phrase "Way-out!" (I guess they probably meant "Far out"?):

Guy 1: By the way, my dad will get hitched for the seventh time.
Guy 2 (wearing dog ears and mask for unknown reasons): Way-out! Awesome!

To teach use of the phrase "or something":
  • "I'm starving. Let's munch pizza or something."
Below that, to teach usage of "send...over":
  • Boy 1: If you drop by my crib, I'll send my bro over.
  • Boy 2: Don't worry. We're coming by the store.

To teach the supposed use of the slang "dented":
  • "I don't want to hear the story. It gets me dented."

To teach the exclamation "You bold-faced.":
  • "Don't play it so snotty. You bold-faced."
Below that, to teach the insult "jerk":
  • "You're a same old jerk."
Same old jerk?? OUCH!

To teach the word "lippy":
  • "Yell as much as you like. You lippy asshole."

To teach the word "crap":
  • One guy golfing tells the other guy, "Don't rap the crap and strike it now."

To teach the exclamation "How loud-mouthed you are!":
  • "How loud-mouthed you are! You can say one thing but you can't say the other."
Awfully polite way to confront the offending party, don't you think?

Below that, to teach the word "sassy":
  • "Don't talk sassy. You greenie, you."
What does that even mean?! Haha!

To teach the expression "go wild":
  • Smoking toddler warns, "If you talk strict, I will go wild."
Below that, to teach the word "glued":
  • "Chocolates are glued to your shirt again."
And last, the precious illustration at the back of the book:

My favorite is the panda that says "Alley-oop!"

Perhaps some of this is British or Australian slang I'm not familiar with. Or more likely it's just a really crappily translated book. The funny thing is that Joe has a similar type of book for learning Japanese slang, but when he showed it to a Japanese person he learned that a lot of the slang was really old or had fallen out of use. Lesson learned: Beware of learning slang in a second language. It's a mine field.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The dude in the frilly dress

Over the past three years we've become acquainted with lots of Hiroshima's little quirks. One of them being this guy:

Occasionally we see him walking down the Hondori shopping arcade downtown, always in a very frilly little girl type dress. A few days ago I snapped him wearing this number, which had the lyrics to "Mary Had a Little Lamb" sewn onto one part.

Gonna miss Hiroshima and all its quirky charm.

Monday, August 9, 2010

65 years after the Bomb

Peace cranes hanging around the Children's Peace Monument in Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park.

Friday, August 6, was the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Yanked from slumber by a 5 a.m. alarm, Joe and I rose and got ready to catch the first train downtown to attend the ceremony. Thousands were already milling about the park when we arrived, but luckily we were early enough to grab a seat below the tents so that we could watch the ceremony shielded from the sun's brutal rays.

Friday's ceremony was attended for the first time ever by the U.S. ambassador and officials from the UK and France. Clearly, the mayor of Hiroshima said, the urgency of nuclear weapons abolition is permeating the global consciousness. He pledged to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons by 2020, issuing an impassioned plea at the end of his speech that brought a tear to my eye:

We hereby declare that we cannot force the most patiently enduring people in the world, the hibakusha, to be patient any longer. Now is the time to devote ourselves unreservedly to the most crucial duty facing the human family, to give the hibakusha, within their lifetimes, the nuclear-weapon-free world that will make them blissfully exclaim, "I'm so happy I lived to see this day."

I was glad I went to the ceremony one last time. I feel privileged to have been able to attend and be a part of an event that brings together the citizens of Hiroshima and the international community.

Peace cranes in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome

Friends and relatives sometimes ask me what it's like being an American living in Hiroshima — is there lingering resentment against America for the atomic bombing? The answer, for the most part, is no. To me personally, the Japanese have always been very welcoming. Their sentiments seem to be that the bombing was a long time ago; now, we should look forward with a common purpose to build a more peaceful world. Some of my Japanese students and colleagues have discussed the bombing with me. They are eager to share their feelings about how terrible the bomb was, but they aren't angry — just adamant in their belief that the bombing was wrong and should never be repeated.

Occasionally we do encounter anti-American sentiment, though it's not common. There are some right wing nationalists in Japan that spread their message using vans that drive around neighborhoods spouting right wing propaganda through megaphones at high decibels. Unfortunately some of these guys came to the bomb ceremony this year to spread their hate and bile. As Joe and I walked over the bridge into the park, some Japanese people handed us fliers with a smile. Only later, as we sat waiting for the ceremony to begin, did I read the fliers and discover it was anti-American propaganda with segments like the following:

How do those people sleeping beneath the ground think of Japan today? How do they speak about the present situation that the U.S. has not only refused to apologize for but is also using Japan as a shield to defend their mainland from potential nuclear attacks and thereby draws Japan into another nuclear war? What do they say about the present condition of Japan in which the agriculture, fishery and industries throughout have been devastated, downtowns have declined, Japanese education, scholarship and culture have collapsed under subordination to the U.S.? How do they talk about the actual situation that the history of Japanese people has been broken off and has taken the same course as that of an American Indian? Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and innocent women, children, old people, workers and students were killed as mere worms. The dropping of the atomic bombs by the U.S. was completely unnecessary in order to end the war. It was a brutal act for the purpose of occupying Japan exclusively. Though the defeat of Japan was already obvious, Japanese rulers prolonged the war to maintain their positions against people's resistance, victimizing more than three million, welcoming the atomic bombings and occupation by the U.S. and practically selling the whole nation to the U.S. Such anti-national reactionaries have caused devastation of Japanese society today.

I was angry when I read this. Here thousands were gathered in a display of unity and peace to express the sincere hope for a world free of nuclear weapons, and at the entrance to the park were people still promoting division and hate, and assigning blame.

So to those who ask if we ever encounter resentment in Hiroshima — yes, but rarely. Those who feel this way are a tiny minority. The Hiroshima I know is a vibrant and loving city, looking forward with hope and optimism. While some may disagree about whether the atomic bombing was justified, they all seem to share the feeling that that's not what's important now; now, we just need to come together and work for a more peaceful future.

A woman prays at the Peace Bell in Peace Memorial Park. This is the bell rung at 8:15 a.m. each August 6 to mark the moment the bomb went off.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Hiroshima Carp center fielder...or Spiderman?

Check out this incredible video I saw on JetWit.com. The Hiroshima Carp were playing the Yokohama Bay Stars on August 3 when outfielder Masato Akamatsu robbed the Bay Stars of a home run with this unbelievable catch.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hello Goodbye Enkai

Today was my last day as a JET, and my three-year anniversary in Japan. Goodbye job, goodbye health insurance! I'll miss you.

Joe and I have been replaced by another American couple who arrived in Hiroshima around a week ago. Last Friday I went out with the new JET for my school and the other English teachers for a welcome/farewell party at an izakaya (Japanese bar) downtown. Much Japanese food was consumed and cold drinks imbibed, and all were merry, as you can see in the photo above. I think the students will love the new JET — blond hair and blue eyes? Oh, I can see them swooning now.

My supervisor drove me home after work on my last day and we moved most of our furniture and belongings out to the new couples' apartment. All the teachers gathered at the front of the school to wave goodbye to me as I left, and it made me cry. I remember thinking it felt a bit like I was waving goodbye to family. I wish I could make them understand how good it made me feel. I'll really miss them.

We fly back to America August 18. Lots to say, little time to write.