Saturday, March 1, 2014

Understanding Boys/Men (and My Single Mom)

When the edge of spring awakens
A woman needs to build a home
So she tends what's often breaking

In a home with men who run
She flies in dreams
Focused on one

There is a saying so far back
And men refuse to let them know
That everything a woman lacks

A man must learn to grow.

And so, she shouts of what she feels
The names and songs and movie reels
In hopes that he will get a clue

But first he does not understand
That being told ain't for a man
It is the woman's job to do
What only loving women do

She brings her talent to the house
She drapes the windows with her blouse
What things she lacks she must invent
Until the man she does resent.

Because she chooses only warriors
Those who stand and hear what doors hear
Secrets open, worlds of one
The woman speaks and Man is dumb.

© 2014 AYF

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Winter Illumination

We caught the fall colors just in time — and at night, too!
Japan does Christmas lights right. There is a tradition of bedecking public places in amazing light displays in the winter, and one of the most highly recommended displays was in Nabana no Sato, a town in Kuwana city, Mie prefecture. In November, two of my friends and I took a train and then a bus to the big park featuring the illuminations.

We saw some gorgeous displays, like the fall-colored trees above, and two full tunnels with endless fairy lights twinkling overhead. There was even a small-scale Mt. Fuji that changed color schemes and simulated the sunset and sunrise.

There were tons of food stalls selling hot foods as well as crepes and Turkish kebab, but I was on the hunt for yaki imo, a steaming hot sweet potato famously eaten toasty warm when out and about in the Japanese winter. The steep ¥2000 entry to the light festival included two food vouchers, but I jealously guarded my second voucher in hopes of finding that special potato! I kept my eyes peeled but didn't see any within the park itself. I was so disappointed when we made the entire circuit around the displays, only to come to the exit and realize I must have missed it. There was no time to go back, since we needed to catch the bus back to the train station. Instead, I ran to get myself a consolation crepe with the voucher.

I had a stroke of luck as we headed to the bus stop, and we spotted not one but two yaki imo stands! So that's where they'd been hiding! I snapped one up and happily snacked on it. Yaki imo has a soft mild flavor and an earthy purplish skin. That potato was huge though; I couldn't finish it, so when we arrived back in Nagoya, I placed it near one of the sleeping homeless men on Sakura-dori (a main, central road) in hopes they might welcome some Japanese comfort food. I felt guilty that I had already eaten part of it, but I hate to be wasteful, and I would rather just offer it (even if he wasn't going to eat it) than throw it away. The food waste and lack of sustainability in Japan is another topic for another day... just think of how much electricity is wasted by the illumination we enjoyed... yikes.

Despite it being a little excessive, I'm so glad we went to the illumination. It was my friend Iowa's last night in Japan, so Pennsylvania and I kept her company while she packed, and we even made off with some of the possessions she wanted to give away! We still miss her extroverted personality and funny commentary on our adventures, since Pennsylvania and I are both introverts. I hope Iowa had a good last night in Japan!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

japanese dNa

A friend and I decided to create a podcast where we talk about life in Japan. Here is our pilot episode, where we talk about everything from the Japanese middle class to fashion and feeling at home.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Kobe and Kyoto

In October, I was excited to take a few days off work for an English language teaching conference I had heard about in Kobe. It wasn't sponsored by my job at all, but I was getting really tired of my work, and there was rarely any work for me to do anyway (!), so I left Nagoya on a Friday and took a train to Kobe.

My conference badge
I spent a day and a half taking workshops on teaching techniques. I learned some interesting methods for using technology in the EFL classroom, teaching English using comics, and using some new games with very young learners. I browsed the promotional teaching materials area and got a chance to talk with other participants about their working life. Most of them were professors at Japanese universities, and I found out you pretty much need a Master's to get into those kinds of jobs. I took a look at the job board, but nothing seemed to fit my current qualifications. I have thought a bit about getting a Master's to teach in universities, but I don't want to go more in debt while chasing higher pay. Seems counterintuitive!

In Kobe, I Couchsurfed with a Japanese guy my age, who was super kind and had great English, so it was comfortable talking to him. We couldn't spend time together when I was at the conference, but afterward he walked me around Kobe (it's small!) — Chinatown, the port, and an observation tower. Then we went for dinner at Bikkuri Donkey, a place I have no idea how to explain! It was kind of Western, and had interesting "down-home" American-style themed decorations. He was a very genuine guy, and quite relaxed — he's originally from Kyushu, and that's the reputation they get! It was cool to stay with him.

Dressed up for a kimono photoshoot
Kobe is only a short train ride from Kyoto, so next I met my friends (we'll call them Pennsylvania and Iowa) in Kyoto after my time at the conference. We stayed at a really nice hostel together, called K's House. It set a high bar for our hostel standards. We met up with Iowa's friend for lunch, and wandered around town to see Gion, the busy district known for geisha. We didn't see any geisha, but we discovered a Kyoto treat on the street: yatsu-hashi, a doughy triangle pastry filled with chocolate, red beans, or other tasty fillings. On our walk, we saw many traditional buildings along small old streets, and stumbled upon a kimono competition!! At the competition, there was a Miss Kimono, and we took a picture with her.

The competition was being held at a temple ground, and there were some activities in an old-style house onsite. Pennsylvania and I tried our hand at fan-throwing, an old-fashioned game. I won the practice round, but she won the real thing. We had to throw fans at a target to knock it down; the aerodynamics of the fan made it difficult!

After that, we walked around more and shopped for souvenirs. Pennsylvania and I were secretly plotting to make a scrapbook for Iowa, because she was planning to leave in November. But it seemed our plan was suddenly foiled when we were browsing at a stationery store and Iowa had the bright idea to make a scrapbook for herself! Pennsylvania and I exchanged despairing looks but in the end we revised our plan and planned to give Iowa some photo prints instead, to add to her scrapbook.

The next day, the three of us rented bikes from the hostel — a steep $7/day compared to $1/day in Vietnam! — and rode through the fall chill to Fushimi Inari shrine. This shrine is famous for the thousand torii gates lining the path up the hill. The shrine is guarded by foxes, both real and stone, and it was cute to see them dressed warmly for the cold weather. We got to the shrine early enough to miss the tourist crowd on the way up, so we got some good pictures. On the way down, I'm glad Iowa made us stop at a little teahouse; we had a nice cup of green tea with Japanese manjuu and had a nice view of all the gates and trees below.

I really wanted to try tofu in Kyoto, because it's known for that, among other things. But my companions were not as keen, so we had ramen for lunch and biked all through the city, stopping at a scenic garden along the way. Our goal was to get to Arashiyama, a giant beautiful park where you can see monkeys in the mountain and walk through a bamboo forest. But we underestimated the distance and time with our bikes, and it was starting to get dark. So we took the tram and arrived just at twilight. The bamboo forest was too dark to get the best experience, and I have to say I was a little crushed. It was also pretty cold, and the monkey park was already closed. So we wandered around Arashiyama and then just went back to the city, a little disappointed but hardly the worse for wear in terms of adventure. We got lost returning to the hostel but finally made it, and hopped on the train back to Nagoya.

I'm so glad we were able to get to Kyoto for a short time. I'd be happy to go back someday, and Pennsylvania is especially determined to go back and see those monkeys! I have a few things to check off my list, although eating parfaits is not one of them. On our second day in Kyoto, I managed to eat three parfaits and didn't even realize it until we were on the way to Nagoya and Iowa pointed it out to me. I say, you only live once!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Panoramic Picture

Here is a picture of my little studio in Japan! Little is the operative word, but it feels very homey now that I've lived in it for a little more than two months. It gets a lot of light because it's on the corner of the building on the fourth floor. I rearranged things recently because the original layout had the couch in a very random place. I like it now because it feels like I have proper rooms! Kitchen-living area-bedroom. :)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

At the Swimming Pool

One of the many enjoyable memories of our luxuriant two-week summer vacation!
We went a few times to the public pool at Meijo Koen park, and we especially enjoyed seeing the crowds exit the pool once an hour to do calisthenics. At one stage, the pool staff came out wearing costumes and did a fun song for the kids. I was happy to realize I understood the words they were chanting to accompany the moves: crab! shrimp! crab! shrimp! Japan never ceases to be adorable, confounding and principled at the same time.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Big changes!

I have made a huge decision to buy my own domain and house my blogs and projects there from now on. For anyone interested in following my travels and creative/personal pursuits, please check out See you there! :)