Friday, October 30, 2009

Emotional roller coaster

Usually I don't have a lot of highs or lows emotion-wise, but recently things have been really up and down.

I had a great time with Nate in Towada and Tokyo. And when I came back from that the fun continued with Kirita School Festival preparations, an awesome Saturday at the Towada Koma (Horse) Festa, Towada Kyodokan & Nitobe Memorial Museum, and finally the actual Kirita School Festival.

But right after that, things crashed (figuratively and literally) with my car accident. That week was pretty rough, but on Sunday I was able to refresh myself with a morning viewing the fall foliage in Oirase Gorge, an afternoon baking cookies, and dinner at one of my favourite restaurants in Towada.

Then this week I had lots of fun with Halloween parties/lessons at Kirita JHS as well as my top three favourite elementary schools (in chronological order, rather than order of preference): Sanbongi ES (Mon. morning), Shimokirida ES (Wed. morning) and Takashizu ES (today).

But as fun as the days were, the past two nights have been absolute downers.

Thursday night I had practice for the November 3rd Bunka Sai Opening Ceremony. Rika-sensei had asked me to arrive early for practice, so I was there from 6pm until about 8:30pm! I think it was extra tiring because I'm only actually dancing in the very last part (maybe 2-3 minutes?) but of course we had to practice the entire piece so I was just sitting and watching for the most part. And I had to sit in seiza (on my knees) for almost the entire time because that's the proper etiquette. @_@

I do try to have a positive attitude towards most things, but I really regret agreeing to be in the Opening Ceremony of the Bunka Sai.  Because of my schedule I could only make it to three of the practices (tonight was the third) and I'm not naturally graceful/athletic or anything, so it takes me a while to learn a dance and I feel really uncomfortable performing without a lot of practice. And the thing with the Opening Ceremony is that it's a piece with students from many different schools/teachers of dance so there's the added discomfort of performing inadequately in front of/with people who are mostly strangers.

I think I've gained a bit more confidence since coming to Japan, but I'm still pretty self-conscious, so these opening ceremony practices have been more tiring mentally/emotionally than physically. At least once during every opening ceremony practice I think to myself "もう全然やる気がない!" (I don't want to do this at all anymore!) Maybe if I'd started practicing a month earlier I would feel differently, but then again, considering that would've been at the same time as all the preparation/practices for the October performance, maybe not...

One good thing that came out of Thursday night, though, was that I got to see one of my students who graduated in my first year at Kirita. (She's also dancing only in the last part.)

Then today I got an email at 4pm from Rika-sensei saying that 3 of the elementary student girls who were supposed to be in the children's Tachimawari were out with the flu and that she wanted me to come early for practice today so I could learn the part and be in the dance! So I was at the Bunka Center for practice from 5:30pm-8:00pm tonight. = _ =

Again, I HATE going into things feeling unprepared, so doing a performance with only one night of practice before the actual event is the worst! Plus the Tachimawari is a men's style dance, so the movements--the stances, positioning of feet, etc.--are completely different from the type of Nihonbuyo (classical Japanese dance) I usually do.

I suppose it's all a good experience for me, but right now I'm just feeling really put upon, tired and cranky. And the thing is we have a dress rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony on Monday evening (after work) and I'm going to be out for the Bunka Sai from 8:30am until at least 4pm on a day that's supposed to be a "holiday" (with work the next day), so I'm really feeling quite resentful towards Nihonbuyo right now . (もう嫌だ!) I can't wait for the performance to be over and for next weekend to come!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Real Clothes

So I started watching a new J-drama called Real Clothes a few of weeks ago. (It airs every Tuesday at 10pm on Fuji Television.) The basic premise is that a dowdy salesperson, Amano Kinue gets transferred from bedding to the women's clothing section of a major department store, Echizenya. Jinbo Miki is the newly hired supervisor of the women's clothing department and she has big plans for the renewal/revival of the department store. Having no interest in clothing, Kinue struggles to find her place in this world of elite fashion.

I really enjoy the show because I feel like I can relate to Kinue. (She also happens to be 26 in the story!) At the beginning of the first episode, she is traveling in Paris with her boyfriend, Tatsuya. Although he tells her she should buy some nice clothes since they're in France, all she's interested in is eating various foods recommended in her guide book! When she first meets her soon-to-be-new-boss, Jinbo Miki, Miki looks at her with disdain and declares: "If you wear boring clothes, you will have a boring life."

Kinue's attitude towards clothes reminds me of how I was, probably right up until almost the end of university. Even as a child, I rebelled when my mom wanted to put me in pink frilly dresses. I was always more for comfort (those frilly dresses were itchy!) than style. Then I became super self-conscious about my weight/appearance in junior high and high school, so I only wore black clothes. (I did branch into grey towards the end of high school, though.) I lost weight in my first two years of university because I was living in residence and had to cook for myself (i.e. no meal plan), so around that time I started buying more clothes in different colours--mostly reds and various brown/beige tones.

But I was also buying a lot of manga/anime at the time, and moreover had started getting into hockey, so I preferred spending money on those things rather than clothes. Apart from my (very basic and plain) clothing for work--I'd worked summers and part time at Scotiabank since I was 17--I pretty much only had t-shirts and jeans, plus sweatershirts/hoodies for colder weather. When I started work full time I did go on a bit of a clothes shopping spree, but I still stuck with very plain clothes--still predominantly black--and went for practicality/comfort rather than style. Unlike Kinue, I wasn't thinking "I don't like clothing/fashion" but I did feel like I couldn't be bothered with it.

But, just as Kinue has been developing an appreciation for clothing over the past few episodes, I've started to find the fun in being a girl and "dressing up" since coming to Japan. At one point in the first episode, a co-worker of Kinue's tells her that she likes working in the women's clothing department because she enjoys seeing the happiness on customers' faces when they look in the mirror and realize that they've found that perfect article of clothing. In the second episode, when Kinue asks another co-worker what she should do to improve in her job, the co-worker tells her all she needs to do is to like clothing/fashion more. Still yet another co-worker tells her later on that the first step she needs to take is to find one thing (fashion-related) that she likes--a favourite colour, silver accessories, one piece of clothing that makes her feel happy, etc.

As I said, I've never disliked clothing/fashion, but I've never really found clothes shopping enjoyable before. I always thought it was kind of a pain being a girl. I mean, when guys need to "dress up" all they need to do is put on a suit and tie and they're done, but girls have so many more decisions to make/things to consider--dress, skirt, or pants? flats or heels? accessories, hair, make-up, etc. etc. Unless it was for work or a semi-formal event, I generally couldn't be bothered to do more than throw on a t-shirt and jeans.

I think that one of the "one thing"-s that made me feel happy was the yukata I bought in August of my first year. At the time I didn't know how to put it on by myself, but when I was able to wear it during Aki Matsuri (thanks to the help of a nice older Japanese lady), I felt a little different--more feminine, maybe. And this year in particular I've been finding a lot of shoes and clothes that I really like--especially pants. Having lost a fair bit of weight since coming to Japan, I've been noticing that the pants I brought with me are pretty loose now. For example, I used to be able to get away without using a belt, but my pants would sag dangerously low now if I went without one.

I've always had the idea that Japanese pants are designed for super skinny girls only, so I'd never bothered trying on any pants (exccept at the GAP in Sapporo) in Japan. But recently I tried some on at Uniqlo and was pleasantly pleased to discover that I could find ones that fit! I needed to get them shortened, but even in Canada pants were generally too long for me, so that wasn't an issue. Besides, at Uniqlo they can hem pants for you for free (if you don't mind visible seams) in about 15 minutes!

So yes, I went on a second Uniqlo shopping spree (the first one being about a month ago) on the Monday when I had the car accident. (I was driving from Uniqlo to Powers U, in fact, when the accident happened). I bought two pairs of dress/work pants, two pairs of jeans, and three v-neck sweaters. The mother of one of my Kirita first year students was working at Uniqlo that day and actually rang up my sale, so I was a bit embarrassed to be "caught" spending so much in one shot, but oh well... (By the way, this is a picture of me clothed almost entirely in clothing from Uniqlo! In case you're wondering, the socks and necklace are the only things not from Uniqlo. Furthermore, with the exception of the black turtleneck--which I bought last year--it's all stuff I purchased from Uniqlo within the last two months! @_@ I'm crazy, I know--and my budget is completely out of whack now, too...)

I still prefer simple styles, but I'm branching out a bit at least. I still haven't figured out how to wear the "Japanese-type" top I got from Chambre, but I was really happy to discover that the "Sawako-image" one piece dress and parka (hoody) that I ordered simply because it was related to the Kimi ni Todoke anime/manga actually didn't look too bad on me! (Well, I did send a picture of myself in it to a friend to ask her opinion about how it looked on me before I wore it in public, but anyway...)

Apart from the burgeoning interest in clothing, another thing about Kinue I feel I can relate to is her stage in life. In the most recent episode (episode #3), her boss, Miki, asks her about her direction in life: what she intends to be/where she wants to be five years and ten years in the future. Kinue realizes at this point that she hasn't really thought about her future in such terms before and is unable to answer.

Watching the show, I was also thinking "Where do I want to be five years and ten years in the future?" I really have no idea. I know that I want to be working somewhere where I feel challenged by the work and where I feel like I'm making some sort of contribution to society, but I haven't a clue as to what type of job that would be.

Until recently I would've at least been able to say that I definitely planned on living/working in Toronto or Mississauga, but now even that's in question. Maybe it's just my natural dislike for change, but recently I've been thinking about what it'd be like to come back to live in Towada permanently... There's probably only a 2% or less chance of me actually doing so, but the fact that I'm considering it all just goes to show how completely up in the air my plans for the future are.

Another long held "plan" for my future that has come into question since I moved to Japan is my belief that I would never ever get married. I've always thought that the whole relationship thing is just way too much trouble and that I would be much happier staying single, but actually living on my own for the first time I've realized that there are some benefits to being able to share your daily life with someone. I've said it before, but for one thing, moving into my apartment and having to assemble various pieces of furniture--bookshelf, dish cabinet, etc. etc.--on my own really made me think about how handy it would be to have a guy around... Well, assuming said guy happens to be good with such things... =P

I still believe that I'd be perfectly happy staying single, but I'm no longer completely resistant to the idea of possibly getting married in the future. Even just a few months ago if someone asked me about whether I planned/wanted to get married, I'd immediately say "Not for me. NO WAY." But now it's more like, "Most likely not--but you never know."

So yeah, my time in Japan has definitely been a huge learning/growing experience for me so far. I wonder what the next nine months have in store for me...?

[Edit: The Real Clothes theme song "きっと大丈夫" ("Kitto Daijoubu" loosely translates to "definitely all right/OK") is sung by Sakazume Misako and can be found in her "love note" album.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Day to soothe the spirit

Today was a really good day.

I got up early to go to Oirase Gorge to see the fall leaves (I left the house around 6:15am!). Thankfully very few others were up at the time, so driving/parking wasn't a problem, and I could enjoy the gorge in solitude for the most part.

Even though the leaves haven't completely changed colours yet, it was still beautiful. I just wish that my camera could accurately capture the vividness of the splashes of red against yellow/green. Usually when I go through the gorge with people, I only stop at a few big sights--the Kumoi and "Little Niagara" waterfalls, for example--but since I was on my own and had plenty of time today, I actually walked through a good portion of the gorge. (Although I still drove and parked at various places.)

At one point I even broke into song:

Looking at His wondrous works I stand amazed in awe
How could any person doubt that He is God?
Since nature sings out his praises then I ought to join
And share in this grand worship to the Lord!

It was a bit embarrassing because I thought I was alone, but about 30s after I stopped singing, I paused to take a picture and a slightly older couple came from behind and passed me. I'm guessing that they were probably close enough to hear me singing, but I just didn't notice them behind me at the time... ^^;; Ah well, singing from the heart is nothing to be ashamed of, I guess.

And I'm really glad that I went early in the morning--even though it was pretty cold! I don't think I would've enjoyed it so much or been so relaxed if I'd had to contend with all the cars/traffic. I'm also glad I decided to just do the gorge and not to bother with Lake Towada. As it was, I didn't get back home until around 11:45pm--meaning I spent five and a half hours at the gorge (well, minus travel time).

Admittedly coming home was a little bit stressful. The last place I parked was actually near the beginning of the gorge, but I'd parked on the left hand side, so to get out I was forced to drive back into the gorge. I was worried that I'd have to go through the entire gorge (heading towards Lake Towada) before I'd get a chance to pull off/turn around somewhere, but luckily about 10 minutes in I was able to pull over and traffic cleared enough for me to do a 3-point turn and head home!

Once home I had an apple for lunch and made Halloween cards for tomorrow's classes. After that, I baked chocolate chunk cookies to give out as Halloween treats to the elementary school I'm visiting on Friday (only 49 students in the whole school)! Not only does baking relax me, but it helps warm up my apartment and fills it with delicious smells!

After that I decided to go out to Isshin for dinner. Ah, that reminds me, even though I only had an apple for lunch, I guess all the walking around the gorge--or simply the passage of time--helped me to regain my appetite somewhat! So I was actually slightly hungry and felt like eating a proper dinner. And I didn't just eat at Isshin, I also brought my Canadian history textbook (Origins: Canadian History to Confederation, 6th ed.) so I was able to study while waiting for my beef curry and while enjoying almond cocoa afterwards! I spent a little over an hour at Isshin, which is pretty amazing for me, considering that when I eat alone I usually gulp down my food in a mere 10-15minutes.

Such was the state of my mellowness after Isshin that even though I had a bit of a driving scare on my way back, I still felt very relaxed when I got home. (As I was approaching an intersection where I had the right of way, a car started entering the intersection from my left! Talk about déjà vu! Having learned from the accident, however, I had slowed down approaching the intersection, so it was only a bit of a jerky stop for me. Plus the other car--which had a stop sign--did in fact come to a stop, although it was a very abrupt stop after entering the intersection slightly.)

So yeah, I feel like a lot of the stress from the past week was soothed away today. Plus my appetite is returning, which is good. Unfortunately I still have neck/shoulder stiffness, plus headaches, but I decided to stop being so...stoic...about the pain and took a couple of Advil (my first time opening the bottle since coming to Japan!) when I got home. So far it seems to have done the trick for the headaches.

Oh, and you can see a selection of today's photos from Oirase Gorge (a lot of them are pretty similar ^^;;) at

Friday, October 23, 2009

Post Traumatic Stress?

The mind is a funny thing.

I was driving again mere hours after my accident and have been driving to work, etc. every day since without feeling much more than a need to be extra cautious. Well, naturally in the back of my mind I'm nervous, but that nervousness never manifested physically before. But suddenly today--four days after the accident--I could feel myself getting anxious as I was driving to the office. Guess it was the post traumatic stress belatedly kicking in.

Since I'd been totally fine driving up to then, the anxiety took me completely by surprise. It wasn't a panic attack or anything major like that, but I could feel a tightness in my chest and I was a little nauseated. When I reached the office I actually had to just sit and take deep breaths for a while before I left the car.

Maybe it only hit me today because today I started getting more details about what's going on insurance-wise. Even though I knew about the split liability thing in Japan, I never really thought through the implications too carefully. Split liability (in my case, it seems like it's going to be 80%-20%) means not only am I responsible for a portion of the damage to my car, but I'm also responsible for a portion of the damage to the obaachan's car! (Well, turns out she's not actually all that old--around 58, maybe? But she really looked older. Guess the farming life is very hard on a person... But yeah, I'm going to keep referring to her as "the obaachan" because it's easier.)

And since this is my second accident within the same year, if I get the insurance company to pay for the damages, my monthly premiums will jump up to something like 60,000 yen (over $600!) per month!!

I'm trying to stay positive about everything, but really, I can't help but feel that it really sucks that I'm going to end up paying so much--either out of pocket for repair costs or over the long term in insurance costs--because I had the misfortune of getting hit by someone else. But since I can't change the past, there's no point in bemoaning my "luck"--all I can do is try to stay positive as I deal with the consequences as they arise.

On the brighter side, the obaachan's insurance will cover all of my health/medical costs--even compensation for fuel costs for going to the hospital!--so that's one less thing for me to worry about. Even though I was able to walk away from the accident without showing any signs of obvious injury, I have been noticing extra stiffness/pain in my neck and shoulders, and I've been having low grade headaches of some duration/frequency for the past few days. So yeah, I decided to play it safe and went to a clinic today.

Which reminds me of another thing I'm really thankful for: an awesome supervisor and office!! Particularly since the accident occurred outside of working hours, it would totally be within my office's rights to expect me to use my paid holiday days (nenkyu) to go to the doctor. And my supervisor didn't have to make the time to come to the clinic with me this morning, either, but she did. I know she's also spent a ridiculous amount of time on the phone with the insurance companies, and running around various places to file paperwork....

Plus on Tuesday (the day after the accident) I finished my school visit after lunch, so normally I'm supposed to go to the office for the rest of the afternoon, but since I wasn't feeling so great--mostly I felt mentally fatigued--they let me go home after school instead. So yeah, my supervisor/office have really done a lot to make this a lot less of an ordeal than it could be.

But back to the health/"post traumatic stress" stuff...

Since I went to the doctor today I had to submit papers from the insurance company (?) dealing with the medical stuff to the police. Well, actually Mukainakano-sensei took them in this evening and I got a call from her around 6:15pm because it turned out I needed to give a statement in order for the police to be able to accept the form.

The statement covered the basic details of what happened--time, my speed, where I was coming from and going at the time--as well as things I thought I could've done to prevent the accident (slowed down more before entering the intersection). It also clarified when I started feeling pain (the morning after the accident) and why I waited so long before going to the doctor (I was busy at school and didn't want to take time off to go!).

The interesting part was that they also asked me if I wanted the obaachan to have a heavy penalty/fine since the accident was "upgraded" from a mere vehicular accident to a vehicular accident with injuries. I wasn't really seriously injured, so of course I said there was no need for a heavy fine, but I'd like to think that I wouldn't be out to "punish" the obaachan even if I'd been injured worse. I mean, it wasn't like she was drag racing or driving under the influence or anything--it was just an accident. Maybe it could've been avoided if she'd entered the intersection more cautiously, but the same could be said for me--although I believe the onus for extra caution was on her since she was facing a stop sign. And it's not like having her pay a big fine would do anything to help my situation at all.

But yeah, I really hope everything--car repair stuff, insurance, health stuff--gets settled soon.

I've even suffered a loss of appetite since the accident. I eat because I know I should, but I don't really feel like I'm actually hungry anymore. Or, if I do feel hungry, once I start eating I feel full very quickly. As I result, I've been eating even less than usual for dinners--maybe just an apple and/or some yogurt. (Well, last night I had the bread from school lunch that I couldn't eat at the time, but that was because it was there rather than out of hunger.) But I'm pretty sure it's just a "post traumatic stress" thing and not a physical problem. Hopefully once everything is settled I'll also be able to settle down more mentally/emotionally and get back to normal.

*sigh* I really hope that I'm OK driving through Oirase Gorge to Lake Towada on Sunday. But I'm down to my last 9 months in Japan, so I'm not going to let even something like a car accident stop me from seeing the famed autumn foliage! I'm going to sleep early Saturday night and get up early to avoid the crowds, so I think it should be OK... Maybe I should have asked someone to come with me, but I'll do my best to get over my driving jitters on my own.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Driving jitters

As might be expected after a fairly serious car accident, I'm a little nervous about driving now--more so now than after my accident in January. With that accident at least I knew exactly what happened and I knew that it was my own carelessness/stupidity that caused the accident. It made me slow down and drive more cautiously--particularly in poor weather/road conditions, but that was about it.

With this accident, though, I now feel nervous about being on the road with other drivers (which is most of the time). In the back of my mind I keep wondering if they're fully in control, if they see me, if they're going to stop where they're supposed to, etc. etc. It's pretty tiring, mentally.

But I really want to go to Oirase Gorge/Lake Towada to see the autumn leaves this weekend so I'm going to have to suck it up and get over it. (It needs to be this weekend in particular since next weekend I'll be too busy to go, plus Aaron told me the leaves have already mostly changed colour, so if I wait too much longer it might be too late!) Of course the road will probably be packed, so I'm extra nervous about that.

Right now my plan is to try to go early Sunday morning--like 5:30-6:00am so that hopefully it won't be as crowded--of course, with my "luck" everyone else will probably have the same idea.... At the very least, though, I hope I can avoid some of the buses. *sigh* I'm tempted to ask people if they want to come with (in the hopes that they'll offer to do the driving for me) but I'd feel bad inviting people knowing that was partly my motivation.

So yeah, barring any unforeseen circumstances, I should hopefully have some nice fall foliage photos to post by the end of this weekend!

Oh, and I learned today that I misjudged the old lady. Apparently when she was insisting on getting the car repaired, she was actually saying that she would pay for all the repairs--so it wasn't like she was trying to find the cheapest way out of the situation, which is what I thought at the time. Even though I still think her attitude/behaviour was pretty abrupt, at least now I feel like she recognized that she was in the wrong and sincerely wanted to make amends. It doesn't change the situation at all--I'm pretty sure her insurance company will convince her to take only 80-90% of the blame/cost, rather than 100%--but knowing that the offer was made does make me feel better about things.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Second scariest event of my life

I had a couple of drafts for posts on other topics in the works, but they all got trumped by this most recent event.

So Monday (October 19th) I had a day off because I "worked" all day at the Kirita School Festival (which was awesome, by the way!) on the Sunday (October 18th). The day got off to a great start. I woke up around 8am, did some laundry, ate a giant cream puff (a kind of "thanks for your hard work" present for all the teachers after the Kirita School Festival) for breakfast, and did a bit of tidying up around the house.

Around 12:00-12:30pm I decided to go shopping! I completely killed my budget at Uniqlo and did a bit of grocery shopping at Max Value as well. Since I bought pants that needed alterations, I was at the Uniqlo until just before 2:30pm.

From the Uniqlo I decided to go to another grocery store, Powers U, as well as the next door Daiso (100 yen shop). I took a sort of back road that I always take and...

As I was going through an intersection, I saw a flash of white out of the corner of my left eye and heard a horn blaring. I tried to swerve and speed up to avoid a collision, but the car hit the rear passenger side of my car, sending my car sliding/spinning. Because K-cars are really light, it ended up toppling over and finally slid to a stop when it hit a telephone/electricity pole and a short garden wall or something of a house at the corner of the intersection.

Even though I ended up lying against the driver's side window (i.e. against/parallel to the ground), I was basically OK. In fact, the first thing that I said (other than "I'm all right") was "I didn't have a stop sign, right?" Funny how my biggest concern at the moment wasn't being injured, but the possibility that I had been at fault in the accident.

But I did feel a moment's panic when I realized that I couldn't open the passenger side door to climb out from the top. Thankfully, though, 4-5 guys from around the area came out and were able to push my car back upright, so I could get out through the driver's side door.

I guess it all must've looked pretty bad because someone called an ambulance instead of just the police, but when they arrived I was like "I was in the car that was hit, but I'm OK." The paramedics asked me some questions, got me to sign a form saying that I had decided not to go to the hospital and that was that.

Oh, at one point the old lady who had hit my car with her k-truck had come to where my car was and all of sudden she fell to her knees and was holding her head in her hands. The paramedics were all like "Are you OK?" And she was like "It was scary." I know it's uncharitable of me, but at the time I was thinking "Shouldn't I be the one saying that? You're not the one whose car went spinning and flipped over!"

Fire department people also came along with the ambulance. They mopped up the oil/radiator fluid/whatever it was that was leaking from my car, unplugged the battery to stop the engine (the key was jammed so I couldn't just do it the usual way), and picked up some of the larger pieces of debris from my car.

While this was going on, I was calling my office to get in touch with my supervisor. Everyone was out at an elementary school, so one of the office staff, Tomabechi-san, called the school to get in touch with Mukainakano-sensei for me. Thankfully she was able to come because dealing with a multi-car accident is a heck load more complicated than a single-car one. I also remembered to call my dance teacher to cancel the practice I had scheduled for 6pm that night.

Then it was a lot of waiting for the police. By the time they came, most of the people had cleared out. They took my statement, asked me to show them at what point I noticed the other car, where I heard the horn, etc. etc. It was a lot harder to give accurate details this time because it happened so quickly. Plus there were a lot of old skid marks on the road--suggesting that it was a pretty dangerous intersection that has probably had it's fair share of accidents and close misses--so the police officers had a bit of difficulty figuring out which ones were related to this accident and which weren't.

While one officer was taking my statement, another one was taking the old lady's. A couple of times she came over to me and was like "I did stop, right?" And both I and the police officer(s) were like "Well, if you did, I couldn't tell."

The one thing I'm a bit worried about my statement is my speed. The speed limit was 40 but when the officer asked, at first I automatically said I was going 50km. He was like "I don't think you were going that fast." And I was like, "Oh, somewhere between 40 and 50, then? I tried to speed up when I saw the other car coming." With the Japanese liability system, the only time anyone in a multi-car accident is considered at "no fault" is when that car was parked/stationary. I just hope that my confused statement doesn't cause me to get a larger percentage of the fault--people have said it should probably be 90%-10%.

Speaking of oddities of the Japanese legal/police system, I found it incredibly strange that all of the bystanders were allowed to disappear before the police came. There was another car that had stopped on the right side (the K-truck old lady came at me from the left side) of the intersection, so that person would probably have had the clearest view of what actually happened. And since s/he wasn't directly involved, her/his account would probably have been the most accurate. But I'm pretty sure that person was long gone by the time the police came, so even if they had wanted to take a statement from that person (although I got the feeling it wouldn't have occurred to the police to do so) they couldn't have.

To me it was just really bizarre that people didn't know to/weren't expected to stay at the scene of the accident. I mean, in Canada it's a chargeable offense to leave the scene of an accident (even if you weren't involved in it) without leaving your information so you can be contact later if necessary!

The other thing that really bugged me (more so now than at the time) was the old lady's behaviour. I know I should cut her some slack because she was old and probably a bit panicked from the accident, but still... I don't remember if she even asked me if I was all right (although lots of other bystanders did). The first thing she came up to me to say was to ask me to make a call to her insurance company or something. (I couldn't understand what she was saying at all at the time, but she made the same request to Mukainakano-sensei when she came, so I'm guessing that's what it was about.) To me it seemed like her biggest concern was insurance and how much of the liability for the accident she would be assessed with. And after Mukainakano-sensei had made calls to her insurance company, husband, etc. for her, she was just like "Can I leave now?"

Maybe her attitude would have been different if I hadn't looked so healthy/unaffected by the accident, but I know that if I hit another car--even if it was nothing more than a light tap on the rear bumper--the first words out of my mouth would've been "Are you all right? I am SO sorry!"

And I mean, I really could have been seriously injured. Granted, both of the cars were K-cars so I suspect that neither of us was going that fast (although it felt to me like the old lady was), but still, with my car toppling over the way it did,I feel like it was really thanks to God's protection that I wasn't hurt.

She was also insistent that I get the car repaired (instead of having to get a new one). But it's not like that would be a decision I could make on the spot, right? Mukainakano-sensei kept having to tell her that was something that would be decided after discussion with my insurance company.Then too, she really wanted Mukainakano-sensei to get my car towed to a repair place that she knew to get the insurance quote done.

But I was like, isn't that kind of shady? Wouldn't it make more sense to go through the Honda dealership where I got the car? And when Mukainakano-sensei called the Honda dealer I got the car from, Komukai-san, he also said it was more normal to go to a place that I knew rather than following the wishes of the person who hit my car.

Argh. Just thinking about the attitude of that old lady still gets me riled up. Her husband, at least, was much more sensible to deal with. When he came the first thing he did was apologize for the trouble.

But anyway, there are a lot of things I'm really grateful for regarding the accident. First and foremost I feel really blessed to have been able to walk away from the accident without even a bruise (and I bruise easily!). Admittedly I'm a bit sore and have felt like I've had a low-grade headache all day today, but it's about the same severity as the soreness you feel after working out for the first time in a while. And given the way my car toppled over, it really could have been a lot worse.

I'm also thankful that I got my car from Komukai-san at the Honda dealership. The dealership had it's own tow truck, so I didn't even have to deal with calling JAF. Plus they brought a daisha (substitute car) for me at the same time so I could drive again right away. (The Netz people were nice, too, but I've spent some time talking with Komukai-san--when I was buying the car, getting my tires changed, etc. etc., so I feel extra reassured knowing that he's taking care of everything on that end.)

I'm thankful that Mukainakano-sensei was able to leave to come to help me. The first accident I had was pretty straightforward, but having another party involved just made it so much more complicated. I could deal with the police on my own, but handling that old lady was well beyond me.

I'm also really grateful that not only did Mukainakano-sensei come out to the scene of the accident, but that Aaron also came. After getting a bit emotionally battered by the apparent callousness of the old lady, it was really a relief to have someone there to offer sympathy and support. He also invited me to have dinner with him and Sanae and I was really glad to be in the company of friends last night. (The dinner was delicious, too!) If I'd stayed home by myself, I probably would've just kept dwelling on the accident.

Even though I know the old lady was mostly at fault for the accident, I'm a bit of a control freak so I can't help but wonder what I could have/should have done to avoid the accident. I suppose if I'd been driving super cautiously--instead of regularly--I might've seen her in time to stop, but then again...

But anyway, I've realized a few things from this accident:

1) My mind tends to latch onto minor/inconsequential things as a way to avoid dwelling on bigger things. Some of the thoughts that went through my mind during the immediate (and not so immediate) aftermath of the accident:

- I'm glad I didn't get a car wash as planned this morning. It would've been a big waste of money.
- Luckily I decided to wait to buy eggs at Powers U instead of at Max Value; they would've broken during the accident anyway.
- I wish I had brought my camera with me so I wouldn't have to rely on my cell phone to for a photographic record of this event.
- This was the worst possible timing insurance-wise. (My contracts go from Oct-Sep so the new premiums might come into effect immediately if there's an increase.)
- Thankfully this happened just before payday so I won't be strapped for cash if I end up needing to pay for stuff out of pocket.
- It's going to be embarrassing going to the Eneos (I always get my gas at the same gas station) because they'll probably ask about the change in car and I'll "have to" tell them that I was in yet another accident.
- Ditto for explaining the situation to the Kirita teachers.

2) In his reply to the email I sent to a few friends back home informing them about the accident, Alan wrote: "I find it strange and intriguing that you are finding blessings out of so much calamity!" Apparently I'm more optimistic than I thought. I've always believed myself to be a "worst-case scenario", "glass is half-empty" kind of thinker, but that's usually so I can be prepared for the worst. Once "the worst" has actually happened, I guess I try to look on the bright side of things rather than bemoaning my fate or dwelling too much on "If only's."

3) Apart from being more ecologically friendly, riding and bike and walking to places has the additional benefit of being a lot less trouble in the case of an accident-like if I wipe out on my bike or slip while walking, chances are the damage won't be too severe, and I won't have to go through reams of paperwork afterward. I really need to make more of an effort to walk/bike to places that are close by. ^^;;

4) I did learn something very practical from my last accident: make sure to empty out the contents of your car before it gets towed away! I had all of my "indoor shoes," some CDs, maps, and a bunch of random things in the car, so luckily I also had a Jusco shopping basket in the trunk to stick everything into! =P

5) Japanese old ladies (obaachan) scare intimidate the heck out of me. @_@;;

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nate comes to Towada!!

My big brother finally visited me in Japan! ^__^ His plane arrived on time, just ahead of the typhoon (apparently it was a bit turblulent, but that's all) and I was able to pick him up no problem from Misawa Station on Wednesday, October 7. We dropped by Mini-Stop to pick up dinner and then it was back to my place to sleep!

Then we went to Kirita JHS on Thursday (Oct. 8). Due to the oncoming typhoon, afternoon classes were canceled and the schedule was changed. We were supposed to have classes with each grade (1st, 2nd & 3rd) but the class with the 3rd years was canceled for gasshou renshuu (chorus practice--i.e. all the students singing together for the school festival). But the 1st and 2nd year classes were great. At first they were hesitant to ask questions, but once they found out that my brother likes and knows games/anime, they asked a bunch of questions.

The 1st years in particular asked some interesting questions, like:

- "Do you like [your] sister?"
- "Is H--- (one of the male students in the class) handsome?"

^____^ And I later learned from Sasaki-sensei (their homeroom teacher) that many of the (1st year) students had written about how cool they thought my brother was (because he likes anime and has lots of different game systems--Wii, PS3, DS, etc.). =P

He ate school lunch with me and the 3rd years (unfortunately it was a white stew and he's slightly lactose intolerant) and even got to see what our daily cleaning time is like. After the students had left, there was a teachers' meeting where they presented him with a gift (Tsugaru lacquer chopsticks, and cloth made from a local plant with a horse design) and asked him to talk about his experience at the school. Unfortunately I did a poor job of translating what he said (I'm fine in normal conversation, but when I'm put on the spot I get nervous and forget all my Japanese), but hopefully they could get at least the gist of what he said. ^^;;

Oh, and interestingly enough, more than one person at Kirita mentioned that they thought Nathan and I actually looked alike. I know that our way of speaking is pretty similar, but that was probably the first time anyone has ever commented on a physical resemblance! 

After school, we went to the JTB (the travel agency I always use) to get train tickets for Nathan's travels to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Tokyo (again). Then we went to Towada Jusco where we had takoyaki at Gindako and bought snacks for the trip. By the time we left the Jusco, the wind and rain had gotten pretty strong and even just getting to the car we got pretty wet.

We were supposed to go to the Towadako(-machi) Community Center to see a taiko practice that evening, but after checking with a friend from taiko, I learned that the practice had been canceled. So Nate checked email and looked up various things online while I took a rare nap. Then when I woke up, we decided to watch Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. This time, Nate was the one who passed out (during the movie). While he was sleeping I printed out maps to places I wanted to visit in Tokyo, and when he woke up we went for dinner.

Before he came I had gotten a bunch of ideas for good places to eat from my friend, Hide-san, but that night we were so tired and the weather was so miserable we decided to just go for fast and cheap food. So we ended up at Marumatsu. At least he found the call button (push for service) on the table interesting.

The next day (Friday, October 9) I taught the first 3 periods at Kitazono ES then went home. (Nate didn't come to the school with me, this time.) We had lunch at Oirase Soba (across from my office) and then drove through Oirase Gorge to Lake Towada. Even though the weather was kind of gray and occasionally rainy, the scenery of the Gorge/Lake never fails to impress me. I was aiming to be at the office around 5pm, but we finished at the Lake kind of early, so we took a small detour to the Former Kasaishi Residence (designated a "National Important Cultural Property" in 1967). It (along with the Towada Museum of History & Folklore) was already closed, so we just took pictures from the outside.

Then we headed to the office where Nathan was able to meet the Kyoikucho (Superintendent of the Board of Education) and all of the teachers in my section. When I took him down to see the first floor (unfortunately everyone had already left for the day), apparently someone from the other section made a comment/inquiry about my "cool boyfriend" to my supervisor! @_@ Of course, she immediately corrected them and explained that he was my brother. But I was really surprised to hear that someone had thought that! I mean, why would I bring a boyfriend to the office for introductions? Moreover, Nathan can--like me--easily be mistaken for a Japanese person, so it that would make it even stranger for me to bring him with me to the office!

But yeah, after that we went to Sakagami's drinking house. We always start at 6pm, so I assumed we would start at the same time, but apparently that day we were actually supposed to meet at 6:30pm! (I hadn't paid much attention to the email Aaron sent.) But it ended up working out OK. I was able to follow his sister back to her house so she could drop her car off and get a ride back with me. Plus Nate helped to get the fire going, so it was a learning experience as well as an eating one. =P As always it was a lot of food and good fun.

The next morning (Saturday, October 10) we were up early to catch 5:50am local Towada train to Misawa, and that was the end of Nate's visit to Towada.

Oh, and in case you missed it in the earlier post, here's the link to my Facebook album for Nate's visit to Japan!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Busy but happy

It's been a crazy but crazy good few weeks for me!

Oct. 4: Japanese dance performance
Oct.5: "aisatsu" with Rika-sensei (Nihonbuyo teacher)
- baking thank-you cookies for some of the people who gave me flowers (plus a few friends)
Oct. 6: taiko to confirm that I could bring my brother to see a practice on Thursday
Oct. 7: apartment cleaning & Nate's arrival in Japan
Oct. 8: Nate's visit to Kirita JHS
- getting his Kyoto, Hiroshima & Tokyo train tickets at JTB
- trip to Towada Jusco
- movie night at home (Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence) since taiko practice was canceled due to the typhoon - quick dinner at Marumatsu
Oct. 9: Kitazono ES (just me--Nate got to sleep in/lounge around a bit)
- lunch at Oirase Soba
- Oirase Gorge/Lake Towada tour
- quick office visit
- Sakagami's drinking house
- first episode of "My Girl" drama
Oct. 10: TOKYO!! Square Enix Character Goods Shop Show Case
- Edo-Tokyo Museum/Sumo Arena (exterior pictures only!)
- monja-yaki in Tsukishima
- Shibuya (Hachiko statue, shopping at Shibuya 109 and Tower Records)
Oct. 11: Ghibli Museum!!
Odaiba: Miraikan, Fuji Television (exterior pictures only), Aqua City Mall, sushi in Decks Tokyo Beach restaurant
- Tokyo Tower
- National Diet Building
Oct. 12: Asakusa: Kaminari Mon (gate), Sensoji, Asakusa Jinja, Chingodoji
- Ginza: Uniqlo, Sony Building; lunch at Wendy's
- Tokyo Station: Character Street (Shonen Jump Shop, etc.), resting at Cafe Tame, buying omiyage, seeing Nate off to his platform, going home
Oct. 13: early morning omiyage drop-off to office
- Kirita
- dance practice for Nov. 3 performance (it doesn't seem to end...^^;;)
- grocery shopping
- Otomen drama
- first episode of "Real Clothes" drama
Oct. 14: Sawada ES (morning); Kirita JHS (afternoon)
- clothes shopping at Uniqlo
- delivery of the "Sawako-image" one piece and dress & parka!!
- uploading photos of Nate's trip to Japan to FB (see the album here)

And the rest of this week looks to be just as good:
Oct. 15: Kirita JHS (I forgot to mention, but the past two weeks we've been preparing for the school festival, so I've been at school until 6pm or later most nights, but it's so much fun I don't mind at all!)
- taiko practice
Oct. 16: Horanai ES
- dance practice for Nov. 3 performance
- dinner w/ a friend
Oct. 17: dance practice for Nov. 3 performance (4pm ~)
Oct. 18: Kirita JHS School (Culture) Festival!!!!
Oct. 19: Daikyu!! (Substitute day off since I'm "working" on Sunday at Kirita ^__^)

I'll write more details about Nate's visit (and other things) soon. ^___^ For now, off to class! (So glad I finally got added to the school network!)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Metro Passes

Tokyo Metro passes are very useful--much more so than the JR special free area pass I got. Oh well, next time I know. 

More about my Tokyo adventures with my brother later! ^__^

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Typhoon =(

So my brother, Nathan, managed to arrive safely and on time (with only a little more turbulence than usual) in Tokyo on Wednesday afternoon--I'm guessing he just beat out Typhoon #18.

Unfortunately it hit Towada today and messed up our plans a bit. He was supposed to see all three grades for English class, but because school was canceled for the afternoon for all Towada junior high and elementary schools, the schedule was changed and the period scheduled for the sannensei (3rd grade) class became chorus practice (the Kirita Bunka Sai is only about a week away!!). But at least we were able to eat lunch with the sannensei so he was able to talk with some of them.

Since the students didn't have hiru yasumi (afternoon recess/break), we also missed the chance to play with the students (which was really too bad because, unlike me, he can actually play badminton and chess, which the students also enjoy).

But still, we had a good time at the school. Nathan even said that he thought the students were really cute and wished he could take one (or some) home with him! (Surprising considering that he's not really a "kid" person--but I guess it helps that they're preteens and not elementary kids.) The first graders in particular asked some really interesting questions, like: "Do you like [your] sister?" and "Is Hiroki (one of the students) handsome?" =D

After the students left we stayed for the teacher's meeting and I had to fumble my way through translating Nathan's comments about the day. ^^;; It's unfortunate that I'm the type that cracks under pressure and I really couldn't translate properly even though I probably knew most of the words for what he said; I was just too flustered.

The next stop after Kirita was the JTB to get his train tickets to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and back to Tokyo. (I really love the JTB staff--they're so friendly and helpful!) Once we were done there I took him for a quick drive-by tour of Kanchogai Dori--making sure to stop and point out the billion yen public restroom facility. =P

Following that we went to Jusco to look around and to buy some snacks for the train ride to Tokyo. We also had some takoyaki from Gindako. ^__^ It had been raining all day, but the rain and wind were pretty crazy when we were leaving the Jusco.

It was around 5pm when we finally got back to my apartment--very wet and tired. The original plan was for me to take Nathan to see the taiko practice at the Towadako-machi Community Center, but with the weather so bad the practice ended up being canceled. So Nathan checked email and looked up stuff to do in Tokyo while I ended up passing out on the couch.

When I woke up (around 6:30pm? 7:00pm?) we decided to watch "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence." This time Nathan was the one who passed out while watching the movie. After the movie ended and Nathan woke up, we went for a quick dinner at Marumatsu. (Sad that after getting all that advice about good places in Towada to eat, the place I ended up taking him to was a chain family-style restaurant. ^^;;)

Shortly after returning, Nate passed out again. So I guess in a way the typhoon helped a little by disrupting our plans because it forced us to spend more time at home relaxing rather than running around doing things. And since it seems like Nate does/did have a bit of jet lag, I think it's good that he had/has a chance to get over it while in Towada so he can make the most of his time in Tokyo with me (and in Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Tokyo on his own).

Still, I wish the typhoon would hurry up and move past Towada. I really want the weather tobe somewhat decent for tomorrow's trip through Oirase Gorge and to Lake Towada!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

When the Sane Go Marching In

I'm really not a pronunciation Nazi, but after spending a good portion of sixth period today listening to the students practicing their songs for the Culture Festival, I was ready to tear my hair out.

As you can guess, one of the songs they are performing is "When the Saints Go Marching In." But somehow it was never actually "saints" but "sane," "scene" or occasionally even "sea". @_@ If this was at a school that only had ALT visits once in a while I could totally understand, but I've been going to this school three times a week for the past two years and two months! Why not ask me--even just once--for the proper pronunciation?

I really wanted to say something, but didn't really feel that it was my place to do so. (I get along well enough with the music teacher, but we're not close enough for me to feel comfortable "correcting" him.) *sigh* Oh well. Their pronunciation for everything else is pretty good, so I really shouldn't dwell on that one word.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Nihonbuyo Performance

(Note: Nihonbuyo = Classical Japanese Dance)

So for the past year or so many people have been practicing/preparing for the big Nihonbuyo performance that went on at the Bunka Center this past Sunday, October 4th. There were 20 different performances and probably 50 or so performers (from pre-school children to senior citizens).

It was a massive event requiring a heck load of logistical planning, preparations, and manpower. There were professionals from Tokyo to put make-up, kimonos, and wigs on performers. Numerous sets, props, and hair pieces had to be made. It was a completely different experience than last year's November Bunka Sai (which is still/also going on this year--so practices aren't done for me, yet!).

The nice thing was that since we started practicing a year ago, I didn't actually have to go to a lot of extra practices this time around. Last year, I started learning Nihonbuyo in June and the performance was in November, so in the last month or so before the performance I had to go to practices twice a week to feel like I sort of knew what I was doing. This time the only extra practices I really needed were the group practices.

But with a year's experience under my belt and my Japanese (or at least my willingness to speak Japanese) much improved since the last event, I ended up helping out with more stuff this year. For example, I learned how to do the basic make-up for the children and for my own performance so that if the professionals were too busy I could at least help a bit. (In the end, though, I only helped put make-up on the hands of one girl when no professionals were around.) I also came early on the dress rehearsal day to help get things set up (taping up names lists by the "dressing rooms", carting around boxes, etc.).

As a result, I was really tired on Saturday (even though I did leave early--around 4pm) and I think that carried over a bit to the Sunday. It also didn't help that the dress rehearsal for our piece was pretty rough because the Mandolin club that was doing the live music for our performance didn't all show up for the dress rehearsal!  As a result, we couldn't catch our cues (no guitars were there, and some of our cues came solely from the guitars) and I think it made us all a lot more nervous than we needed to be. 

I know that Saturday night I started feeling nauseated--which is what happens when I'm super nervous about something. I was in bed by 10pm, but I was having a fair bit of difficulty actually getting to sleep. Luckily my friend emailed right around then telling me to "relax and enjoy" the next day, and that helped settle my nerves a bit. I also got a call from my dad telling me that he was home! (Unfortunately I couldn't/didn't talk very long with him because I *was* trying to sleep early for the performance and by that point it was past 10:30pm). With that good news I was better able to go to sleep.

I guess I was still pretty nervous, though, because I ended up having really weird dreams. One was that some villains attacked a group returning from an archeological dig and stole some armor that gave them super powers. During the attack/theft, however, they dropped a cup-shaped thing which turned out to extend to be a bell. A friend of mine picked it up and tried ringing it. It turned out to be a sort of control device which forced all the armor pieces (along with the people wearing them) to come running to the bell. Naturally this put my friend and I on the run from the villains. We collapsed the bell again and wrapped it in a towel to prevent it from ringing. We ran into a big warehouse-like building with a festival/exhibition going on to escape, and managed to make it back outside without anyone following us. Just as we were about to flee, however, my friend realized that she had left her wallet inside the bathroom and needed to go back to get it. (Being on the run requires funds, after all.) She handed me the bag with the bell for safekeeping and dashed back inside. That part of the dream ended just as she got/was about to get caught by the villains.

The next dream sequence started off at an airport. I was trying to be a good Samaritan, so I helped a lady catch a taxi that had just dropped off a passenger. It turned out, though, that the woman was the daughter of some really rich/important person and the taxi drivers (why there were two, I don't know) decided to take advantage of the opportunity to kidnap her. I and the person who had been dropped off by the taxi thus became material witnesses to the event. Since we couldn't leave the city until the woman was rescued, the woman's family opened their house to us. It was a gigantic house and inside it actually had farm animals and farm land! There were a bunch of goats running around as they pleased inside the house. On the tour of the house, they took us through a field of corn--but it wasn't corn on a cob, it was just a field of kernels! And there were a bunch of different colours, too--like green and blue! Same thing with the next field: it was all different types of tomatoes--purple, green, yellow, etc. (I expect all the farm imagery came from my having recently seen a picture of a bunch of different tomatoes that my friend got from Black Sheep Farm!) At some point during the tour, this dream sequence actually connected with the previous one and it turned out that the kidnapped woman held a key to stopping the super-powered armor pieces--something involving time travel, I believe--and so we needed to rescue her to stop the villains. 

So yeah, when I woke up on Sunday morning I was in a bit of a bemused state thanks to the strange dreams. Even though I wasn't performing until close to 5pm (it was originally supposed to be closer to 4:00-4:30pm, but after the dress rehearsal they adjusted the times and it ended up being later), I still had to be at the Bunka Center by 9am. When I got there, I found out that I was supposed to have worn a kimono and not a yukata because I needed to go to give aisatsu (formal greetings) to the Japanese dance teacher from Tokyo, Sumiya(?)-sensei--my teacher's teacher. (Apparently that teacher is something like 70 years old, but even for an Asian woman she looked really young! Like in her late 50's/early 60's!) And apparently it's considered rude to give aisatsu in a yukata. There was a kimono there (the one I wore for the dress rehearsal) but I didn't have time to change into it before going to greet Sumiya-sensei.

Luckily I was able to go with my friend Kasumi (who often does dance practice with me) to give aisatsu, because it would've been super awkward for me to have gone alone. As it was, it was plenty awkward because I didn't realize that I was supposed to bring a token of appreciation for Sumiya-sensei. Thank goodness she at least knew that I was from Canada and not Japanese or I would've felt even worse. As it was, I felt pretty embarrassed to have received a handkerchief/towel thing from her even though I hadn't given her anything. @_@ I also got a handkerchief/towel thing from one of the other members of our dance--Oedo Nihonbashi--and felt bad for not having anything to reciprocate with. 

Then too were all the flowers I received--from my friend from taiko (I bought my black and silver yukata from her shop), from my supervisor, from a teacher at my favourite elementary school (she also gave me a beautiful bag made from an old obi), from a teacher at Kirita, from two parents of students at Kirita, and even from the president of the Towada Soroptomist Society (although how she knew about my performing is completely beyond me!). At the time I was just really surprised and happy to receive them, but I learned today that it's customary for performers to prepare small gifts--bento, handkerchiefs, etc.--to give back as a token of appreciation. My dance teacher, Rika-sensei, for example, had something like a hundred things prepared, and even then she ran short! I know that it's OK for me to not know these things because I'm not Japanese, but still, I wish I had known.

Well, I can't go back in time, but I decided to at least bake peanut butter cookies tonight to give out tomorrow as thank you gifts for the people I received flowers from in person. (Well, the elementary school teacher I won't see for a while, so I'm sending her a thank you card through the office's "internal mail." And I'll have to get a card to the Soroptomist president somehow as well.)

But back to the performance. It was really a long day of waiting. I had my hair done first thing in the morning, but after that I had nothing to do. Luckily I was able to kill some of the time watching Kasumi and her dance partner getting their make-up, kimono, and wigs put on. I took a ton of photos of the entire process, as it was really impressive. 

The rest of the time I was wandering around trying to at least not be in the way, if I couldn't be helpful. I felt a bit bad because Erik was there and Kristina came back stage for quite a while, too, but doing nothing but waiting gave me too much time to get nervous, so I didn't really feel like talking/socializing.

It was a relief when I was finally able to get my make-up done (luckily it turned out I didn't have to do my own) and get dressed in the kimono. By then Kasumi and some of the others had finished their bigger performances and we were able to practice together, which helped ease some of my tension. 

After much waiting, it was finally time for the performance! It actually went surprisingly well. During practice I was always looking at Kasumi or someone next to me to match my timing to theirs, but I was able to look at the audience more than usual during the real thing. There were a few mistakes--at one point we made a circle and one-by-one leaned forward and tapped the shoulder of the person in front of us with our fan (kind of like a domino-effect) but I was too close to Kasumi and ended up brushing my face against her obi. @_@ At the very end I also put my right foot forward instead of my left. Thankfully I was in the back row, though, so I was able to quickly change to the proper position before the final pose without drawing much if any attention to my mistake. 

Once we were done we just had to wait for Rika-sensei's piece before going back out to give aisatsu to the audience. (Her dance was the longest, at something like 25 minutes. My eight minutes was more than enough for me, and I was with a bunch of other people, so a 25-minute solo completely boggles my mind.)

After the aisatsu, we took a group shot and then all of the adults in Oedo Nihonbashi had to rush upstairs to take off our rental kimono so the kimono people could get packed up in time to make it to the after party for a short time before heading back to Tokyo. (The after party started around 6:30pm and they had to leave by 7:10pm to catch the train!)

Then it was the after party from 6:30pm to 8:00pm. (Apparently Rika-sensei was out until something like 2am, so I'm glad I decided to leave when I felt like I should head home, rather than trying to wait for the party to die down.)

I was planning on doing nothing but lesson planning and maybe a little more cleaning (in preparation for Nate's arrival on Wednesday!) tonight, but then I got an email from Rika-sensei during the day saying that some people were going to give aisatsu around 5pm and could I make it. Since I got the email in the morning, I didn't really read it or think about it too carefully and just said "sure." I really had no idea what I was going to go do, however. 

Turned out it was just a smaller gathering of people coming to talk about the performance and to exchange thank you's, etc. Again, I felt awkward about a lack of knowledge of Japanese culture when, before leaving, all the other people handed Rika-sensei an envelope clearly decorated as a thank you envelope (i.e. for cash). @_@ Of course, I was the only one who didn't have one because I had no idea about the custom! I guess it was good for me to go just to learn about such things (it was also during this time that I learned the thing about the bringing gifts to reciprocate for gifts/flowers received during the performance), but I really prefer to learn things before making a mistake, rather than through/from errors. 

*sigh* Just goes to show that no matter how well adjusted you think you are to Japanese culture, there are always some small things that you really can't know unless someone tells you about it specifically. In my case, I guess I shouldn't feel too bad because I suspect some of the etiquette is more specific to Nihonbuyo/special performances and thus not something people would normally be expected to know.

Oh, and in case you missed the link earlier, you can check out all my photos in my Facebook album here:

Sunday, October 4, 2009


3 Oct 2009: Dress rehearsal 9am-4pm
4 Oct 2009: Classical Japanese Dance Performance 9am-6pm (actual performance time: 8min around 5pm) + Wrap Party 6:30pm-8pm

Too tired--will write more details tomorrow. For now, you can enjoy my Facebook album at the link below:

Friday, October 2, 2009

The final 10 months

Even though I made this decision almost a year ago, I couldn't help but feel a pang of regret/sadness as I handed in my decision to NOT re-contract with JET for next year. 

In spite of all my worries about being so far away during my father's health crisis and my fear that I'm hitting a plateau in terms of work motivation/initiative, I think that if I went by feelings alone right now, there would be a 50% chance that I would actually change my mind and re-contract. 

Which is why I handed in my decision today. 

(I wonder if I've been telling everyone--my supervisor, co-workers, teachers, students, friends, etc.--this past year that I would be leaving Japan in 2010 because I subconsciously knew that I might waver in my decision when the time came? Like I was trying to make my leaving a "fait accompli"--i.e. since I'd already told everyone I was going, I would have no choice but to follow through...)

It's a very 物の哀れ mono no aware type of feeling I have now. I am keenly aware that my remaining time in Japan is very short and I have bittersweet feelings about the upcoming departure. As much as I am looking forward to being reunited with my family, friends, and church community, I am equally sad to think about leaving my students, friends and co-workers here in Japan. 

At the same time, I've known this day was coming for a while, so I feel a renewed desire to cherish and make the most of the remainder of my time here. Of course, the problem is that there is still so much that I need/want to do before I leave that I wonder how I'm going to find time for it all... (Especially with my laziness and tendency to spend hours doing nothing...)

Anyway, here's a list of local/nearby things that I'd like to attend/see before going back to Canada for good:

- 十和田駒フェスタ (Towada Koma Festa) - Towada Horse Festa: Oct 17-18, 2009 Unfortunately coinciding with the 切中祭 (Kirita School Festival). If I want to go, I'll have to skip out on the 切中祭 preparation day on the Saturday (Oct. 17)... =(

- 奥入瀬渓流紅葉 (Oirase Keiryuu Kouyou) - Oirase Gorge Autumn Foliage: Extremely difficult to catch due to the craziness of my schedule in October and the unpredictability of leaves changing colour...

- 十和田湖冬物語 (Towadako Fuyu Monogatari) - Lake Towada Winter Story: Shouldn't be hard to find a day to go, it's just that I don't like driving in general, so going through the gorge in the winter is something I've been avoiding...

-十和田市郷土館 (Towada Kyoudokan) - Towada Culture Museum: Right above the Towada Library! Just need to pick a day and get myself over there!  I actually stopped by today (and checked out the library at the same time)! It's small, but I remember seeing some of the pottery pieces while they were being fitted together on the third floor of our office during my first year in Towada, so it made me feel slightly nostalgic...

-十和田市立新渡戸記念館 (Towada Nitobe Kinenkan) - Towada Nitobe Memorial Museum: I really should've gone while I was living behind the place, but even now it's still really close to my apartment! Again, just a matter of picking a day and heading over.

-十和田市称徳館 (Towada Shoutokukan) - Towada Horse Culture Museum: Not all that far away. Just need to make the time.

-七戸NonoUe人形の館 (Shichinohe NonoUe Ningyou no Kan) - Shichinohe NonoUe Doll Museum: Not a big fan of dolls--particularly when I think about the Child's Play movies and the various Japanese manga/drama scenes with possessed dolls I've seen--but every time I see the sign for it when passing through Shichinohe I can't help but wonder what it's like inside...


And these are places in Japan I'd like to visit before leaving (although I plan on coming back in March 2011, so I guess I could hit the places up then with my train pass! =P)

- Osaka: I love takoyaki and okonomiyaki, so it's a must-visit place for me! I'm supposed to go with Tomabechi-sensei sometime, but it all depends on her (and my) school schedule(s), so...

- Okinawa: Unless something goes horribly wrong, I should be going with Tomabechi-sensei during spring break!! I can't wait to start planning the trip!

- Kariya City (Aichi Prefecture): It is twinned with my hometown, Mississauga, so I feel like I should visit if only so I can tell people honestly where I'm from (instead of saying Toronto) and have a chance of them actually recognizing the name! =P

- Hiroshima: For a second time!! I LOVE Hiroshima. I especially want to go back to eat okonomiyaki at Sankanou 


As for the things I want to/need to get done for school/work...

- Graduation monkeys for the sannensei: there are 17 students this year, so I need to start working on them now or February will be hellish

- Graduation video: I don't know why I volunteered to make the sannensei's graduation video since I've never made one before in my life, but I did, and now I just hope I can do a decent job of it!

- Farewell speeches/messages: Yes, I'm thinking WAY ahead, but since I want to write meaningful messages in Japanese on my own--to friends, to schools, to the office, etc.--the earlier I start working on them, the better

- Write a year's worth of JHS English newsletters: Since one will most likely be the only one from our office re-contracting, it'd be difficult for him to have to do both the ES and JHS newsletters (and I don't really expect newbies to get used to things fast enough to be able to create newsletters right away). If I can't do a year's worth, I'd like to do at least half a year's worth... I was hoping to get one newsletter done this afternoon at the office, but I started losing focus around 2pm and wasn't able to finish it. *sigh*

So yeah, it's a little depressing to think that I only have 10 months left, and I wish I had more time here. But with my family situation and things being the way they are, the only way I could justify staying longer would be if I was planning on living (more or less permanently) in Japan. Ironically, now that my departure is set, for the first time, I can actually kind of envision making a (permanent) life here.  

Consequently, I've got a bunch of "what if's" running through my head right now:

- What if I hadn't come to Japan with the idea that my time here would only be temporary... 
- What if I had been able to find a satisfactory Christian community nearby...
- What if I had been a more disciplined, mission-minded Christian (i.e. less dependent on having a strong church community around me)...
- What if I had thought about living in Japan permanently before my father's health problems came up...
- What if I had worked a bit less and made more friends early on in second year...

...Might I have decided to go the full five-years with JET and gone for longer in Japan afterwards? 

I guess it's human nature to wonder about the path not taken.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Peanut butter cookies

Who knew they were so easy to make? With rampant peanut allergies in Canada, I would never even think of bringing peanut butter cookies to school/work, much less suggest making them in school!I don't know if it's just Towada or Japan in general, but I have yet to meet a Japanese person with a peanut allergy.

So anyway, I was scheduled to help out today with English club at one of my favourite elementary schools, Sanbongi ES. Since I was at the school on Monday, I had a chance to talk with the teacher in charge, Kawaguchi-sensei about the club activities. She was planning on doing a cooking class and wanted to know easy "Canadian" (/American) snack recipes.

Off the top of my head I could only think of "ants on a log," s'mores, and shakes. Since the club members are all female, Kawaguchi-sensei vetoed the "ants on a log" but went for the s'mores and shakes. I told her I'd let her know if I thought of anything else.

On Tuesday, inspiration struck: peanut butter cookies!! I'd never made them before, but I remembered seeing the recipe on Kraft Peanut Butter jars and thinking how ridiculously easy they sounded.

Well, I looked up the recipe online at Kraft Canada and discovered that it really is super easy:

"Super-Easy Peanut Butter Cookies"

1 cup peanut butter (~260g)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (100g)
1 egg (you can also use just the egg white, if you prefer)

1. Preheat oven to 160°C (325°F). Mix all ingredients until well blended.
2. Roll into ~24 balls and place on baking sheets. Flatten with fork.
3. Bake for ~20min. or until lightly browned. Cool 5min. on baking sheet before transferring to wire rack.

At the same time I found a recipe for peanut butter quares:

"3-Step Peanut Butter Squares"

1 cup peanut butter (~260g)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (100g)
1 egg (you can also use just the egg white, if you prefer)
~56g (2oz.) chopped chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 160°C (325°F). Mix all ingredients until well blended.
2. Spread into 20cm (8-inch) square baking pan; sprinkle with chocolate.
3. Bake 20min. Cool completely before cutting into squares to serve.

I sent both recipes to Kawaguchi-sensei and she said we would use the recipe, but I wasn't sure which one she meant. Since, as I said, I've never actually made peanut butter cookies before, I decided to do a test bake on Wednesday night (i.e. the day before we'd be making it at the school).

I made the squares first, but unfortunately I didn't bake it quite long enough/didn't allow it to cool completely before cutting, so it ended up a somewhat crumbly mess. Edible, but only half of the squares actually retained a square-like shape. ^^;;

Thankfully the cookies were pretty much fool-proof. I was a bit worried because I only found 240g jars of peanut butter at the Jusco, so I reduced the amount of sugar a bit as well to compensate (I didn't bother trying to do a fraction of an egg--although I did try out using just the egg white as Bryan suggested), but they turned out fine. Well, I did overcook the last batch slightly because I had stopped paying careful attention by that point, but they weren't burnt or anything.

I brought the cookies to the office today and gave them out to the hard-workers--i.e. the people who were there after 5:30pm, which is when I went in!  The squares were too ugly for me to give away, so I kept them for self-consumption. (And ended up eating all of the messed up/crumbled pieces after dinner tonight. @_@;;)

Anyway, I was glad that I had practiced making the cookies the day before because I was in charge of the cookie group at the English club while Kawaguchi-sensei took care of the shakes and another teacher helped with the s'mores. Usually when I bake I'm very careful about measuring properly and sticking to the recipe, but having experienced the...flexibility...of the recipe, I was totally fine with eyeballing the peanut butter amount (Kawaguchi-sensei had purchased a 340g jar). I did bring my own measuring cup for the sugar, though, so we didn't have to guess with that.

Unfortunately we weren't able to finish the cookies in time for the students to eat them with the shakes and s'mores, but they were done in time for the students to take them home as they were leaving, so it worked out OK. 
So yeah, if you ever get asked to come up with a recipe for (North) American food for elementary kids, I recommend peanut butter cookies! Not only are they tasty, but everyone is always surprised that it's a cookie recipe with only three ingredients, and no flour!

S'mores are also easy and fun. Plus there's a bit more "culture"you can explain: 1) they're usually camping snacks; and 2) the name comes from "some more". If you've never made s'mores at home, again, the recipe is simple:


graham crackers
chocolate (squares or chocolate chips)

1. Place graham crackers on a microwaveable plate.
2. Top crackers with marshmallows and microwave on high for ~30s. (Be careful to avoid burning the marshallows!)
3. Remove from microwave and put chocolate on top of the marshmallows. Top with another graham cracker and enjoy while hot!

And here's a basic shake recipe:

Fruit Shakes

banana(s) and/or strawberries and/or other fruits

1. Add ingredients to taste and blend in blender. Serve & enjoy!