when deer attack

23 05 2008

I’ve reached a point of stagnation with my cultural adaptation.  I think it’s mostly a language thing, but I basically spent the last four hours in a car on the way to eat with the other junior high school teachers, sitting quietly and zoning out to different things that we drove past.  Maybe it’s just one of those nights where nothing makes sense, but I didn’t understand any of what was said except a few sentences here and there.

In the past Japanese people I was at parties with would make a special effort to ensure that I felt included, and while I still get the occasional question about life in America (which I usually don’t understand and thus can’t answer), it’s more likely that they just assume that my Japanese has somehow gone from piecemeal to fluency overnight, are taken aback when I don’t understand something, and then give up.

Someone pointed out that it’s actually a skill in itself, speaking to foreign people in your own language too.  I try not to change my English too much in the classroom, but in day-to-day conversations, I certainly do.  I’m also almost positive that the Japanese people that I understand the easiest, speak to me differently than they do to their friends.

Anyway, this recent feeling of exclusion topped with the other events of the night—ditching taiko to go with the junior high teachers, being in a car that hits a deer on the way to restaurant and the two-hour aftermath thereof, finally getting to the restaurant and being stared at by people at another table—hasn’t left me in the best of moods.

I’m sure this’ll pass, just like every other funk I get into.  It’s just a pain in the ass that as the capstone of an otherwise great week, I once again feel like the black sheep.  Well, I am, but that’s beside the point.

Did other people who have spent time abroad in equally homogenous cultures (do they exist?) find themselves feeling this way?  Like tired of always being the odd one out?  Or have any other points of view on the matter?  Do share.


the last night

7 01 2008

Just as an FYI, I didn’t have much to say about Osaka. It seemed a little different than the other Japanese cities I’ve visited—it’s dirtier, and the people are a little more in your face, but still nice, I guess. I don’t think Zach and I were there long enough to get a good feel for it. The pictures say enough-ish.

There are also a couple of pictures of Himeji Castle, another UNESCO World Heritage site (three in two days!) near Osaka. It’s big and castle-y. And a couple from the Ghibli museum in Mitaka, Tokyo. Ghibli produced Hayao Miyazaki masterpieces such as Princess Mononoke, Sprited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle.

Moving on. If you want to talk about fitting endings to our excursions around Japan, I don’t think there could be one better than tonight. After another day of shinkansen-ing around the Kanto and Kansai regions, we ended in Tokyo eating bad ramen and doing last minute capsule-hotel reservations. We saw a kabuki performance, had another dinner (remember that post I made about eating all the time?) and drank at the most surreal bar I’ve ever visited (Mysterious Bar in Shinjiku). Girls in weird, neon, futuristic lingerie in a black-lit room serve multi-straw drinks with flashing ice cubes where each straw produces a different color liquid.

Now, I’m laying in my capsule that is about one foot too short for my lanky ass, going to bed at the end of a long, long journey through the country. My feet might literally kick someone walking by my pod.
Read on there are pictures!

the real phoenix

5 01 2008

Even after reading up on Hiroshima, I still expected it to be a shadow of a city. And the prevalence of JET stories of terrifying interviews with questions like, “What would you do if a student blamed you, as an American, for the atomic bombing in Hiroshima?” had also made me worry that the citizens are still angry and hostile towards Americans. It’s not like that at all. The city thrives, and while there probably are some survivors, or relatives thereof, who are still angry, in general the city chooses to present itself to the world as a symbol for peace and regrowth.
Read on, there are pictures too!

i am not japanese

3 01 2008

I’m writing this just after Zach and I have visited practically every major shrine in Kyoto and major neighborhood in Tokyo.

I had thought the cultural explosion of Kyoto would be the thing that would most affect me—probably from Lost in Translation, yet again. I almost regret watching the movie so recently before traveling; it’s done horrors for my usual policy of not having expectations. Anyway, the most poignant thing about Kyoto wasn’t the culture of this cultural hub of Japan (I forget more English every day), but the tourist-y-ness. It bothered me that the strongest emotion produced by going to all of these shrines and parks was irritation that there were four visitors for every resident (an actual statistic). Then again, when I lived in Philly how often did I see the Liberty Bell or Constitution Center?
Read on, there are pictures too!

something about kyoto and tokyo

31 12 2007

You can read to no end about all the places I visited during winter vacation. Go on google or wikitravel or just about any other website and you’re bound to stumble upon account after account of what each temple, shrine and festival is like. If you’re looking for that information, not to be rude, go somewhere else.

I started to write about all these places, and even about my impressions of them, but it was really boring, to be honest. Boring to write, boring to read, boring to think about. I’m not a talented enough writer to truly capture even the most fascinating places Zach and I visited. My pictures can only go so far. So. If you really want to know details about a place, your best bet is to read other people’s works, or even better, visit them yourself. If you want to know about the thoughts they inspired in me, this is your cup of tea. Or maybe a pot of tea. I’m wordy.
Read on, there are pictures too!

a visitor

26 12 2007

There’s something about riding on a train that reminds me of a zoo. You only get these quick little glimpses of life between the backs of buildings. Kids playing soccer in a park; people walking their dogs; shop owners peddling their wares. And in the train are a bunch of people who are entirely unaware of the world outside themselves. Virtually everyone is talking, or writing, or playing on their cell phone. I read an article about the internet/connectivity obsession of the youth in Japan (and honestly, America too) and how the more engaged people are with their connected life, the more isolated they are from the world. Even now, I’m sitting on a train writing, but I’m essentially connected—I’m sharing my thoughts with you, aren’t I? I don’t feel particularly isolated, but since all this writing is so introspective, I suppose, de facto, I am.

I forgot about how different life is in a city compared to the inaka. I had the same sudden realization (and subsequently forgot it) when I arrived in Tokyo to head home for my sister’s wedding. All of a sudden instead of 6,000 people in my entire town, there are that many people in one city block. The weirdest thing about it though is that the people here are just as lonely as those of us that are hours from a large city. How does that make sense? Why can people feel alone when they’re in a crowded room? (I admittedly stole that from someone’s away message, which means it’s probably from a song.)

My thoughts immediately jump to Lost in Translation again: the idea that people are generally unable to convey all their feelings and thoughts. How do you translate yourself in a way that other people understand? How can other people translate themselves so that you understand?

I think that’s enough introspection for now. My head hurts.

Find out what else hurts…AND pictures!

going home

1 11 2007

This will be long. And that is an actual prediction, not one of my usual tack-on-a-disclaimer-after-I-finish-writing introductions (although with the amount of time this ended up taking me to write and edit, it doesn’t really matter). I suppose it makes sense to be lengthy given the weight of my first trip home, but it still surprises me the extent to which spending only five days in America so radically changed my thoughts on my experiences abroad.

Before I actually write anything substantial, I want to note that I’m sitting at JFK and there’s a woman plucking and shaving her face in the waiting area. I thought it was awkward when my bosses cut their toenails in the office, but this really takes the cake.
1829 more words…