Archive for June, 2010

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


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…can be experienced here.

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Another week of Yoko no Hana (sideways flowers): Kakuriko leaves (1st); Shocking! Pink! Carnations (2nd); and something that I can only translate to Hybrid Cheese (3rd).  End of June here – only three more ikebana classes left!  So sad!

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Chu(gakko) = Junior High

6:43am: Alarm goes off.  Check email on phone, hit snooze.

6:51am: Snooze goes off, drag myself out of bed, wash up, make breakfast and tea, pack up school bag.

7:40am: Leave my house, travel tea mug in hand.  (So not Japanesey.  Everyone has since gotten used to it.  Though it took them months to ask what was in it.  Black tea? With soymilk?  Incredulosity.)

7:42am: Roll into school as the last of the students do, greet kids and teachers with a big smile and a friendly Ohayo-gozaimasu! Change from outdoor to indoor shoes.  Continue to teachers room where I stamp my hanko on the books.  Boot up computer and start making the rounds of email, facebook, and then the daily blogs and NYTimes.

8:00-8:10am: Teacher’s Meeting.  Refrain from typing while others are speaking, and keep my ears perked for anything that might be possibly related to me.  Don’t want to get caught oblivious.  Mostly, scroll quietly and continue reading Jezebel, glancing up occasionally.

8:30am – 12:20pm:  If classes: Discuss morning classes with JTE.  Usually have between 2 and 3 classes.  For especially hard or slow weeks, (and if I get my way), we eschew the daily boring Warm Up game “Criss Cross” with activities with a little more pizazz.  Feel triumphant if kids actually seem to be having a good time.  Pace the room while robot repeating, or use their worksheet time to cruise around, and start small conversations.

If no classes: Wonder what the hell I’m going to do at my desk for four hours.  Expand my internet perusal to some other favorites: McSweeney’s, ApartmentTherapy, HuffPo, NYMagazine, 101 Cookbooks, Salon.  Participate in the modern-day version of clipping articles and sending them by e-mailing links to all my favorite people.  (Likely irritating at times. Sorry, friends!)  When this grows old, update the ol’ blog.  Respond at ridiculous length to emails which weren’t that long to begin with.  After thoroughly exhausting my English, turn to my Japanese text books and study.

12:20pm:  While reheating leftovers in the kitchen, get pulled into a conversation with the school nurse about my lunch.  Always along the lines of What is that?  No, I’ve never heard of pita bread.

12:45pm:  Hear kids getting rowdy out in the halls.  Wash my dishes, and saunter out to the main hall and watch as they play ping-pong.  Thoroughly embarrass myself with my poor ping-pong skills.  If the weather is nice, cruise outside and sit with the 3rd grade girls while they watch their crushes play baseball.  Recent question alone with the young ladies: Do you like pitchers or catchers better?

1:20pm: Back at the desk.  No more excuses.  Start thinking about lesson planning for the Sho (Elementary school) the next day.  Devise a method of attack.  Armed with Kid’s Songs and enthusiasm, I am impenetrable.  Most days.

2:00pm:  Force myself to study.  Intersperse studying with replying to emails.

3:20pm:  Cleaning time!  Go out to the Main Hall and putter around while kids sweep, mop and dust.  During the Cleaning Time end meeting speak English to keep them on their toes.

3:40pm:  Cruise around the school during grade-separated Chorus time and listen to them sing.  Thoroughly enjoy this part of my day.

4:15pm:  Pack up and excuse myself with a polite Osaki-ni Shitsure-shimasu.  Feel slightly guilty to leave so much earlier than the rest of the teachers.  Get over it on the walk home.

4:30 – 9:30pm:  Possible activities could include: making a snack; going on a run followed by stretching overlooking the water; my weekly yoga class; my weekly ikebana class; a trip to the post office, bank, or grocery store; making dinner and lunch for the next day; watching whatever HBO series du jour by streaming illegally on the internet; tidying, studying.

9:30pm: Wash up.  Have turned into a night shower-er since coming to Japan, mostly because it was one of the only ways to get warm during winter.

10:00pm:  Climb in bed.  Skype with loved-ones in the States.  Read a bit.  Unless completely addicted to the Stieg Larson books (like now), hopefully asleep by 11 o’clock.

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While I’m sure much of the fun-loving world is the same, my ability to focus, sit still, pay attention to the people speaking Japanese around me, and study Japanese and/or Economics plummets with each degree the temperature rises and the cloud that makes way for Sunny D sunshine.  This itch to be outside, in conjunction with my looming deadline of departure (July 26th y’all!), and all the things to prepare for it, results in this fierce sense of being untethered, spinning on an axis of minutes and hours I can’t quite halt.

And so: It’s come to my attention that I spend so much time outside of the US idealizing it.  Remembering and missing, of course, my friends and family, the impressive grandeur of our National Park system (unrivaled to any country I’ve visited), the vast genetic variations of the American face, lazy Fridays riding my bike to and from the Oak Street farmer’s market, a good sandwich.  But now that my touchdown on US soil is mere months away, I’m starting to panic a bit.  There’s so much about America I dislike; that frustrates me.  And I’m returning to a place that may be the epitome of cringe-worthy America: car-culture and traffic, suburban sprawl, blatant racism, consumerism, an obstinately divided government, fake boobs and plastic surgery, misuse and abuse of the precious little natural resources we have left.

I’m not saying I don’t want to come home.  Because I do.  I’m ready.  Ready for next steps.  Ready to hold my squirmy Samson in my arms.  Ready to share a bottle of wine – or three – with friends I haven’t seen in years.  Ready to sit in classes again and fill my mind with new ‘stuff.’  Ready to put all my books on one bookcase.  (This sums up my notion of home.) But I am resigning myself to the fact that just because I’m ready to leave Japan now, doesn’t mean I’ve gotten “it” out of my system.  That maybe mine own wanderlust is an affliction, a disease that defines the journey as the goal.  But here I go again, getting ahead of myself, and why worry about returning State-side when there’s always so much stuff to busy myself with now. So on that note, I’m going to study some Japanese grammar and teach yoga poses to eight-year olds, because I know how excited you must be getting for a play-by-play of a typical day in the life of THE Kazamaura ALT.  It’s all sorts of crazy up in here.

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It’s no secret: yesterday was an awful day.  I had slept badly; was anxious; no patience for my kids; taught a lesson that in all regards should have been a hit yet fell flat; it was 40-some degrees and rainy, so I couldn’t run outside; was (am) overwhelmed by my Japanese test cramming studying and feeling guilty that I haven’t yet embarked on my economics online course.  All I wanted to do was read my book, drink tea and be warm.  (Arizona, here I come.)  Instead, I dragged myself to ikebana somewhat grudgingly and pitiful, expecting the further exhaustion that sometimes comes with focusing hard on Japanese and the flowers.

We embarked upon a new style: Yoko no hana (sideways flowers) with Yamashida ferns (1st), Gladiosa flowers (2nd), Baby’s Breathe (3rd), and Futoi stalks (4th) as accents.  My mind was a mess; I couldn’t focus.  The ferns proved to be tricky to maneuver and keep in place.  Where I usually am the last to finish, painstakingly arranging everything just. so. yesterday, I slapbanged my way through and was rewarded with only one change from my Sensei. Just goes to show, no?

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Naname no hana (Diagonal Flowers): Sunflowers (1st); Kurotan leaves (2nd); Tamashida ferns as accent (3rd)

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