Year +

Everything lives on and builds upon itself, stalagmite-like, in the belly of the internets. 

I was creeped out amazed to Google myself this morning, and to see Sailforth pop up at the top of the screen.  If ever I believed I was a static creature, the first page of Google Results is enough to remind me that nothing stays the same, that all definitions of ‘self’ are relative in time and place and space.  Hah.

As if these reminders all hit at once, just yesterday someone asked me:  “Oh, have you ever been to Asia?” And how to describe the weight and effect of not only spending a year of my life in some rural corner of the globe, but one in which I probably spent a little too much time alone with my thoughts, working towards that pesky little euphemism “self-aware.”  Couple this with all that’s happened in the last year – new (old) country, new focus (school), new relationships, new goals – and how to even discern which building blocks really compose this version of ks8.10?

This current/next chapter can’t fit quite so neatly in a tagline. Or a finite space of time.  Yet, if there’s one thing that gives me solace as I wade through all this ambiguity of full-time grad school (a holding cell of a life stage), is that no one I’ve spoken with has seemed to have a firm plan, but rather way opens, as it only can.


23 July

I’ve been carrying anxiety around with me in my belly for the last couple weeks.  Unrestful sleep.  Too hot. The noise of storms at night.  It settles like a hard knot, dissolves, coagulates again.  No longer do I feel untethered, drowning in responsibilities and lists, but rather robotic, on cruise control.  The emotions well up, overflow, are gone.  Are replaced with over-structure and resolve.  My anxiety has not been all for naught.  But mostly it’s surreal: watching myself go through the motions.  All these complicated motions to tie up loose ends and move myself across the seas.  Well, I’m not there yet.

24 July

I’m bad with finality.  Ending relationships, all sorts, is hard.  Especially difficult when there’s little chance of ever seeing these people again.  America is always there.  My friends in America are always there.  But will I ever be in Kazamaura, Aomori-ken again?  Likely not.  Japan- yes, Kazama – no.  And here live people who I lived alongside for a year.  Who touched and changed my life, somehow.  Am I a changed woman?  I don’t know.

— —

I’m beginning to think that I need this sense of displacement, in a way.  My desires for deep settling and roots conflict mightily with my wanderlust.  I believed that one year outside of my own country was enough.  It’s not good enough to visit places.  I want to learn and live them thoroughly, deeply, widely.

Am I Una or Ahab?

26 July

There is ease and comfort in the traveling.  What will it feel like when I’m there, for good?  Real? Weighty?  Will there be substance?  In transit, I am weightless.  Suspended between the realities of my life.  The responsibilities, plans, next steps.  There is a delightful sense of uncontrollability on the move.  In limbo, I am exempt from the figuring.  But landed, arrived – it’s all fair game.  Here comes America.  Or rather, here I have come, America.

— —

I didn’t expect leaving to be so sad.  It blindsided me.  Handing in my gaijin card was like closing a door on my life.  Or a chapter.  America so far is harsh, loud noisy, fat.  First thoughts.

On Thursday, I had my last ikebana class/Going Away Party with my ladies.  Although it was just one of the many “goodbye” parties I’ve had in the past few weeks, it was definitely the hardest.  We arrived early to do our flower arranging (Lilies, Okureruka leaves, and Kemurisomething-or-other, which translates to “smoke something or other”) and then cleared the way for a veritable feast.

Two kinds of tempura, three different cuts of maguro (tuna), hand rolls, fried squid!, tamago yaki (sweet egg omelet), chawan mushi (steamed, eggy custard), pickled veggies, and seaweed salad

My Sensei made the kanpai speech, and we ate for awhile, and then I was asked to say a few words.  Normally nervous in situations where I have to speak Japanese in front of a rapt audience, this case was different.  I spoke about how I had always wanted to learn ikebana, and how it was one of my main desires and goals this year in coming to Japan.  How I told this to as many people as possible, until someone finally took pity on me and introduced me to this group of ladies.  I talked about how, at first, I was hesitant to commit to a weekly class because of time constraints and prices, but how gradually, it became one of my favorite events of the week.  How on days that I was down or anxious (like Thursday), coming to class, working with the flowers, but more so, just being in the company of such women was a relief, and a respite.  How they welcomed me into their group, fed me tea and taught me bad Japanese.

Often, in Japan, I have felt a need to act a certain way; play a certain role.  This was exhausting, and sometimes resulted in an intense desire to hide from “Japan.”  Ikebana, however, was the one place where I felt completely at ease.  That there were no preconceived expectations of me, and that I was free and accepted to, in fact, be myself.  And in doing so, I weaseled my way into the hearts of these older Japanese ladies – my obateria.  Safe to say, they’d never met anyone like me ever before, and as strange and foreign a creature as I am, they accepted me.  And I think they even liked me, too.  There were tears when I said goodbye and drove away.  That next week, they will be meeting same time, same place without me, feels wrong and sad and lonely.  But so it goes.

The mango was placed there for express, comedic value

Ikebana: Week 24

For my second to last ikebana class, we did flower arrangements rather than ikebana.  All the flowers, instead of being purchased from a flower shop, were donated by my ikebana ladies, grown in their gardens or “borrowed” from who-knows-where.  Very colorful and a nice change of pace from regular classes, as there are no set rules for flower arranging!  Also, the hydrangeas are off the hook in bloom up here, which I remember from my arrival last year.  It’s nice to see them indoors now, too, brightening up my genkan.

I had so much fun I got to make two arrangements!

Beko Mochi

July hasn’t been the most blog friendly month, and for that, I’m sorry!  Turns out that getting ready to leave the country to return home, at the busiest time of the school year, has made for less time waxing poetic on the internets.  Please forgive.  I’ll try to get in some last interesting tidbits of Japanese culture and thoughts on leaving within the next couple weeks.  Stay tuned.


Japan, as you might know, is big into sweets.  In addition, Japanese people enjoy several textures otherwise not valued in the Western world.  That of mochi-mochi, hoku-hoku, and neba-neba. (Oh! How I love Japanese onomatopoeia!)  These texture descriptors roughly translate respectively to: springy and chewy (like omochi); technically “not soggy” but I consider it more fluffy (like a baked sweet potato eaten hot with butter); and slimey and gooey (like natto – fermented soybeans – or overcooked okra).  This mochi-mochi aesthetic is very apparent, as almost every region in Japan has their own form or preferred style of making omochi.  Here in Aomori’s Shimokita, they make Beko mochi which is, more than anything, just a way to make something mediocre tasting look pretty!

Mixing the Mochi

Creating the design, part by part

I’ve been given countless gifts of beko mochi in the past year, but I had yet to make it.  Turned out, though, that one of my ikebana ladies is a beko mochi master, and offered to give me a crash course in the production.  Instead of making beko mochi from cooked mochi rice (a sweeter, smaller grain of white rice), it’s made with equal parts mochi flour, regular flour, and then some white sugar.  These ingredients are then mixed together by adding hot water until they form a sticky, heavy lump – not unlike play-dough.  Then small amounts of colored powder are mixed in to create different colors.  These colors are rolled out into logs or snakes (think sculpy) and by way of good memory, mind expansion, and magic are twisted, combined, flattened, and smushed into a cohesive design.  These examples are mostly cherry blossom flowers, but I’ve seen everything from irises, daisies, and cartoon characters.  The final log is then sliced thinly and steamed before being eaten.

Move over best gfs in America - my soulmate might just be this loudmouthed, 60+, Japanese dance teacher with 4 dogs

Wait for it...almost there...

Truth be told, it’s not the most delicious sweet. (A little beko mochi goes a long way in sitting in your belly.) But it’s a pretty cool process and very particular to my region.  I doubt that anyone outside of the prefecture has even heard of it, except now of course, my loyal American audience.

Ta Da!

Ikebana: Week 23

One of my last few ikebana classes.  We continue to work on Sideways flowers – yesterday we focused on the angular lines of the Futoi stalk (1st), Leaves whose name escapes me right now (2nd), and Sunflowers (3rd).

Race Day!

On Sunday, I ran a race.  A 10k.  Which to many people is not a very far distance to run, but given that before the past six months of my life, I’d never run four miles straight, I’d say is pretty awesome.  I could focus on the fact that I wish I had been a minute faster, or the fact that I didn’t beat as many people as I wanted to, but I won’t.  I’d rather focus on the fact that I didn’t walk once, no matter how slow I decreased my speed to, and the fact that I worked through a significant amount of pain in my knee and kept my shit together.  (Running, as in climbing mountains, I have found, is as much about physical endurance as it is about mental toughness.)

Half-way through (okay, in the first 10 minutes), I started questioning why on earth I would sign myself up for this sort of torture.  But maybe akin to what I know about a bikini wax or what I’ve heard about childbirth (all those clever tricks your brain plays to make you forget the pain), even hours after the race was over I had this overwhelming sense of wanting to do it again.  But better!  Even my swollen knee, stiff muscles, and blistered feet aren’t discouraging me.

The race was held in a town a few hours south of Shimokita called Oirase, known Japan-, and now world-wide, for being the home to the Tallest Statue of Liberty in Japan!!  Hear that New York?  You have competition.  It was a small race, with only a couple hundred people (if that) in the 10k.  The route took us through some small neighborhoods, past rice paddies and farms, a couple kilometers of rolling woodland, and then back into town.  Having never ran a race back home, I don’t have much to compare it to, but I’m pretty sure that it was in classic Japanese fashion that we received a box of barley tea in our Registration Packet and a voucher for a free bowl of dumpling/noodle soup post race, which really hit the spot.  Yum.

So, on the same topic of running, here is a funny and spot-on post written by my friend, John.  While dated, and in a completely different part of the world, makes me realize that just because this Japan race is over, doesn’t mean that running – and training – for another one, elsewhere, is off the table.  Although a tempura lunch and an onsen soak might not be in the cards, I could always make due with a swim in the Dead Sea and some falafel – or a hot tub and a juicy burger and a beer.

Post-race gangstas