Natalie Goes to Japan

40 year old very married blonde woman having a midlife crisis who heads to Japan alone to follow her dreams. Be careful what you wish for ... you just may get it.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Well, This Is It!

Hey everybody. Thanks for all the kind words about the blog. Wow, this has been some week. So many goodbyes. And as I am a person who has moved a lot, I know the truth is that it is highly unlikely I shall ever return. And the truth is I have spent this week in an emotional coma. Most of the time I couldn't feel anything. I was just numb. I've had a few tears, but they haven't lasted long. I had a Farewell party with Skyland last night. I said goodbye to Hiroyo on Wednesday (she cried). I've been given so many gifts by my students I would need an extra suitcase to fit them all in if I was keeping them all. One of the moms cried yesterday after class. She just kept saying how her son, Jidai, had known me his whole life. Tomorrow the girls from Sony are coming to pick me up to take me to the bus station. And them when I get off the bus I shall be met by Yuma, Yoko and Mikio Suzuki, Yoko's mother Miyoshi, and Miyoshi's boyfriend a.k.a. Puppy. They will have taken an earlier bus (why they aren't driving is beyond me). They are making a day of it to visit the airport. This is not uncommon. Many Japanese head to the airport as a destination in itself and have a spot of dinner. Go figure. But tonight was the biggest goodbyes. After saying goodbye to my last class (which was very difficult) I headed to Foo-Rin for another Going Away Party. Junko, Toshi, Hiromi, Kayo, The Suzukis and O'Goody came for a private party. We laughed and shared our favorite memories. And all to quickly it came to an end. They attempted to start suggesting we do something else after the dinner. And we almost went bowling (even though O'Goody has a broken arm and Mikio has a broken finger), but some of the others nixed the idea. And I decided it was best just to say goodbye. So we took some quick photos, the Foo-Rin folks gave me a t-shirt, we made some jokes and hugged with tears in our eyes. And then I got on my bicycle and rode off into the night. Goodbye.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Blog Going Away Party

Thanks for coming to my Blog Going Away Party. Here, have a drink. Have you met my mother, she makes the most comments on my blog. Or have you met An Englishman in Osaka, he's a blog neighbor.

Okay, all you lurkers, and non-lurkers. This is your last chance to make a comment, as I leave in a few days. I'd love here what your favorite part of my blog was - a picture, a story, my witty descriptions of life? No need to tell me your least favorite bits, as blogging is soon to be a thing of the past for me. Blogging was a real experience for me, and turns out I am not a writer. I always liked doing the photos though, so maybe I'm a photographer. But writing it not easy, nor particularly enjoyable for me. This actually came as a surprise to me. Nonetheless folks, let's here from you. I'm a little on the bummed side, so I could use some uplifting of my spirits.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Meeting Teo

Yesterday I got to meet Teo for the first time. Shosei was kind enough to drive me out to Iwata, where Yukie and the new baby are staying for 6 weeks. It's traditional for a daughter to return to her parents house for a month or two after the birth of a baby. Yukie and Teo got off to a rough start. He made her sick for the entire pregnancy, and he demands more milk than her body can provide, and he came a month early (while her parents were out of the country). But given all these problems, Yukie still beamed the whole time I was there. And her parents were adorable and so sweet, I wanted to take them home with me. Yukie and Shosei are going to try and see me again before I leave, but with Teo now in charge, it's not definite. So, it might have been a hello and good-bye meeting. Who knows?

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Unexpected Invite

Out of the blue the mother of one of my students handed me a note, inviting me to dinner at her house. Her English isn't great, so I think someone else wrote the note. But I was so touched, and her little boy is so adorable and sweet that I couldn't resist. It turned out to rather pleasant. She invited her neighbor, who speaks English quite well, and her husband's English was pretty good. When I arrived at the house her husband was hard at work cooking (another Japanese man who cooks). Shoukei, the 3 year old student of mine, went around pulling out every toy to show me. They cooked 3 times as much food as we could all eat, but it was delicious. Then afterwards we lit some sparklers. The whole night was really sweet.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Odd Combination

The pic above is of an interesting old factory/warehouse that was along my route to work when I first got here. But just over a year ago they started tearing it down. Now the picture below is what has been built in it's place. It's now a pachinko parlor and physical fitness center. Yes now you can lose weight and lose money all in the same location. Only in Japan.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Other Side of the Mountain

I had visited one half of Akiha Shrine a while back, and had hoped to hike to the other half, but I fell quite short on that plan. So this time I just drove to Akiha Part Deux. And it was quite different. The bottom shrine wasn't much, but this was quite lovely. And it gave me a good excuse for taking a billion pictures. After visiting the better half I drove up the "Super Woods Road" to Misakubo. But it wasn't exactly Super, I liked the other drive to Misakubo through the Myojin Gorge better. But, there was a little surprise when rounded one corner. Up on the rocks were some critters. The area is known for antelope, but these didn't look like antelope. At one point I thought they were boar, but I eventually settle on some very stock mountain goats. Then the long drive back. But I'm glad I did it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Five Seasons

I don't quite understand "Rainy Season", when rainy season is just a rainy month - June. That would be like saying that March is the "Windy Season". But here in Japan, they say they have 5 seasons. But I'm used to "Seasons" having to do with the length of the day, and the position of the Earth being in orbit around the sun. And rain has nothing to do with that. But, my confusion not withstanding, the Rainy Season is in full swing. And I can't tell you how many times I've left the windows down in my car during this month, only to go outside and sit on wet upholstery. And when it rains, it's not no nice cleansing 1 hour storm, but minimum 12 hours, and maximum 3 days. But, at least it means it doesn't get hot for too long. As a matter of fact it's kinda chilly today and I'm wearing a sweatshirt to stay warm.

Sunday Brunch

Junko and her new husband invited Hiromi and me over for Sunday Brunch. They were
trying out some recipes of things they ate in Spain on their Honeymoon. And they made Sangria, which was excellent. We just spent the afternoon chatting and laughing. Although I had a wonderful time, I do look forward to the time when I will understand the entire conversation, and not just when people are willing to change languages. The best part was watching Toshi do most of the cooking. I hear that it's highly unusual for men to do anything like that here. Happy to see that Junko caught herself a good catch.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Free Market

Yesterday I harassed Mikio and a mother of one of my students to help me take my stuff down to the flea market to sell. But since the Japanese can't say flea they think it's a free market, and of course nothing about it is free. I had to pay 1500 yen in advance to reserve a space. Mikio came the night before to tell me more about what to expect. We would be given a spot 2 meters by 2 meters. No overflowing the spot. All merchandise must be in place by 9:30, even though it doesn't start until 10. Well, that was gonna be a problem. And be prepared that nobody was going to buy anything, so don't expect to make any money. Mikio was completely freaking out. All my stuff would not fit in that space, we couldn't make it by 9:30, and we couldn't bring anything from the cars if we sold some stuff and we had room for it, and it wouldn't all fit in the cars anyway. I really had to insist he take a chill pill. Okay, this was gonna be a big exercise in futility. So what? We'll just sit around the flea market and drink cokes and make fun of people. Of course his little visit left me really upset, and not a little angry. Stupid Japanese with their weird, inflexible ways. I didn't get to sleep until 2 am, and then woke up at 6 am so that I could start taking everything down stairs, so that when they arrived at 8:30 it would go that much faster. Well, let's just say that Mikio's contageous worry was all for naught. People were digging through the boxes and buying things faster than I could tell them the price. And this is before the market even opened. Mikio kept trying to get me to go down on prices, and I kept saying no, it wasn't even 10 yet. I don't start bartering til I've had a few people pass up on something. Everything was pretty much sold by 12, even though the market was to go on for another two hours. I only made half as much money as I paid for all this crap from my predecessor. But the weight that is off my back makes it worth it.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Clock is Ticking

One month from today I will be getting on a plane and leaving this bizarre and comfortable country. And I doubt I'll be back. I'm not really one of those persons who returns to a place they have left. Not even for visits. So, I'm starting to wrap things up here. Starting to box things up, throw things away and pack other things. That's a situation I'm very used to.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Out and About

Pictures from my camera's first trip outside. Didn't get very far from the house. The camera did me proud.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I Can Tell By the Look in Their Eye...

The newest Community Center class schedule is out. And my name is noticeably absent. So last week the bravest of mothers began to ask me about it. And it's kinda sweet. Their faces get all concerned and confused. They all say such lovely things about me and how much their child will miss me. But this week the less brave mothers are beginning to ask too. And frequently they have very limited English skills, or none at all. But I can tell what they are asking by the look on their faces. But Saturday I had a tough one. One of my 5th graders had that look on her face. She was so serious! And when I told her she looked absolutely heartbroken. And the worst thing is her little sister, darling Kimika, had come up to class to say hello to me. And Kimika is 5 now and just graduated out of my Starter class. So the older sister had to tell her what was happening.

This is Kimika trying to look brave.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Many Faces of Sakiho

Took the new camera to class. I took lots of pictures of all the kids in the class, but the best ones were all of Sakiho. I've only known her since the beginning of the term, but she's so fun. Love her attitude.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Yet Another

I'm not sorry. I know I probably shouldn't have, but I wanted this so bad. I know I have two already, but I wanted a better one. And it wasn't easy. I thought long and hard. But in the end, what the hell is money for if you can't buy what you really want. And I wanted a Nikon D40. I've been looking at SLR for years, but I fell in love with the D40 when I was in Yamada a few weeks ago. And it turns out that I really fell in love with the "extra lens". After a couple of failed attempts at purchasing the camera (language barrier, un-knowledgeable sales people, fluctuating prices, etc.) I finally came away with it at the price I wanted. These pictures were taken the first day without even leaving my apartment. I'm still just practicing with it, but I really love it. The clearness and the colors are exactly what I was hoping for. My only thing I don't love is that the small lens is really the same size as the big lens. Seems wrong somehow. Oh, well, nothing is perfect, but this seems to be close enough.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Invasion of the Internet Snatchers

It's horrible. It has invaded into my life. But nobody believes me. I'm convinced my computer has a virus, but none of the detection devices can find it. It's making my computer go so slow that I can't do many of the things that I want... no need to do to keep me sane. I have 50 gig free, so that's not it. I defragged the computer, so that's not it. I scan my computer daily, and it can't find the ghost virus. I can't Flickr, I can't watch any media clips, I can't listen to NPR, I can't play games. I can get my email and I can watch DVD's. But that's about it. I'm going crazy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Stranger Reminder

No matter how foreign or exotic a place you move to, eventually you get used to it. For the most part, that is. But every so often something reminds you that you are a stranger here, and that you don't really understand what's going on. Of course you get used to not understanding what's going on, too. The other day I was sitting in front of my computer when I heard this strange chanting going on. It took awhile to sink in. But eventually I got up to look out the window. And there were the neighbors, and a Shinto priest and his assistant performing some sort of ceremony. I've seen these once or twice while driving, but only for a brief glance. I assume they are blessing the ground where a new building will be built. But this one was right out my window. I had to grab the camera and start capturing the moment. It also appears that the engineers or architects were also present. Just another of those Stranger Reminders. I think it was pretty cool, they thought it was pretty ordinary.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Another One Bites the Dust

Another neighbor's house has been torn down. The first neighbor's house was ages ago, and I was actually quite happy to see them leave. Frightful screaming and raucous noises coming from there at all hours. But my other neighbors were quite nice. They certainly weren't silent, but it was never a bother. I'm pretty sure it was a grandmother, 2 of her grown children and their respective spouses, and their various children. In a small two story house. Laundry was always present. But they were nice and always smiled warmly and said good morning. And then they were gone, and a wrecking crew demolished the house. The crew were nice, but always in my way when I was coming or going. I think I saw that the family took a temporary place just down the road, so I'm glad to know they are still around. But currently my aparto look out only onto empty lots.

Monday, May 28, 2007

See Turtle

I haven't been able to go to Nakatajima on Thursdays so far this year. The weather had stayed pretty cool way into Spring, and even if we did have nice weather it was never on a Thursday. But last Thursday was different. Finally some nice weather! And after my lousy week I needed it. So there I was shortly before having to get back for my last class, walking along the surf, when I spotted the tiniest little baby turtle. I thought it was kinda early for baby turtles, but what do I know? So I walked over and picked it up, looked at it's tiny little face and then returned to the spot I found it. I continued down the beach when it dawned on me that that wasn't a sea turtle. At least I don't think so. So I turned around to look for it. And it was still there. So I picked it up to look at it again. It definitely had claw feet and now flippers. It looked alot like those pet turtles we all had when we were kids, but I don't know much about turtles. But I was pretty sure this was a fresh water turtle, and it would die in the ocean. So I picked it up and set off for the Nature Center. The guy there had sufficient English to confirm my hunch that this was a pet turtle that someone decided they didn't want after all and abandoned it at the ocean. Once again, I am amazed at the stupidity and callousness of the human species. Am I particularly brilliant in knowing that something that lives in fresh water cannot live in salt water? The Nature Center guy didn't want anything to do with it, and confirmed that it was a Mississippi Red Eared Slider, but said that it was a Japanese turtle, and I could take him to a river. Well, 1) I had to get to class and 2) I don't think anything with Mississippi in it's name is native to Japan. So turtle and I headed to class. O'Goody helped me find something to put him in that was waterproof. The salt had already done some damage to his shell and it was starting to curl up. So I rinsed him thoroughly and kept him in the container where he would stay moist and rest his weary little bones from fighting surf. The kids would all have been happy to take him home, but as MRES really are carriers of salmonella I couldn't do that without explaining it to a child's parents which I can't do (not speaking the language and all). So I took him home and looked them up on the internet. Yes, they have been introduced into Japan and are widely spread. Yes, they are pushing out native turtles. So what was I to do? Finally I decided one more little turtle would not tip the balance, and this little guy had to be getting hungry. God only knows how long he had been out there. So I took him to the river and let him go. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, hopefully this wasn't another brick in that road.

People Suck!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Goodbye TVGold

So, how do I handle stress and depression? TV therapy. So after taking the kitten off and having a bad class, I was looking forward to sitting down at my computer and watching some good old British Classics on TVGold. TVGold let me re-watch some old shows that I hadn't seen in awhile (Red Dwarf, Chef!). It turned me onto some shows I'd never heard of (Brush Strokes). And even showed me how some shows I thought I liked had not aged very well at all (Solo, Butterflies). And then there was "As Time Goes By" which is delightful, but I only ever caught an episode here or there. But, as you can tell, I have been writing this in the past tense. Yes, the Intellectual Property Cops raided the place, and I can no longer be solaced in this way any longer. It depresses me...where shall I turn for help?

People Suck!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Is This the Face of an Angel?

I didn't sleep all that well. Having a tiny kitten next to you makes you a little nervous about rolling over and crushing her. And then every occasionally she wakes up and wishes you were her Mama, and she starts to knead you, with very sharp claws. Or she is just so damn happy to be warm and fed that she starts to purr a rumble so loud as to make you think there are aircraft buzzing your bed. But other than that, the night went smoothly. And then 10 o'clock next morning we were off to a friend's house, so that she could take us to the shelter. The shelter wasn't what I am used to. It was an office on the third floor of a city office building. Where they took her with a begrudging smile and told us that she would, indeed, be put to sleep. Is this the face of an angel? It is now.

We all know that if you don't spay or neuter your animal, that there will be babies. So to not take this precaution is idiocy. Then, to let said animal get pregnant, give birth, and then take said babies and dump them, where they will almost assuredly die of starvation, exposure, disease or be ripped to shreds by another animal is nothing less than cruel.

People Suck!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Overnight Guest

I almost made it out of the country without having to deal with this particular pitfall. I was so close. But today it happened. While riding my bike home I was passing the park when I heard a sound. A sound I know all too well. A sound that sends dread into my heart. The persistent sound of a desperate cry from an abandoned kitten. I stopped my bike and called out, and started to meow back at the bushes where the sound was coming from. And shortly a cute little nose peaked out at me. It took a few steps towards me, but then froze. It only took a couple of minutes, but shortly I had it scruffed and on my shoulder. It was not easy walking my bike back with only one hand, and a crying kitten in the other, but eventually we arrived. Rinako has agreed to help me take it to the shelter tomorrow, but for the moment I am stuck with it. I bought a can of cat food and watered it down. The kitten meowed the whole time it was scarfing down the food. I created a litter box from a pie pan that was left in the apartment and put some dirt in it. The little guy has finally shut up and is sleeping exhaustedly on my bare legs. Each time it curls up it's paws I about go through the roof in pain. But I'm so thankful it's finally asleep.

Monday, May 21, 2007

What Language Do Doggies Speak?

I'm teaching "D is for Dog" this week. In Japanese the sound a dog makes is Wa Wa. Not so far from Bow-Wow. And a puppy is called a wa-chan, even though a dog is called an inu. After teaching them D and then Dog, I point to the cat and say meow, and then point to the dog and start barking. I use more of an "arf" than a "bow-wow". I run around the room, barking and jumping, and then come to the front of the room again and start to wag my hind end and pant like a dog. And repeat. They quite love it, and a few will even imitate me. Then we get back to work, and they get their crayons out and color the "D is for Dog" copy for the day. I then go to each individual child and ask what is this? pointing to the D, and again for the dog. If the child answers in Japanese, I don't tell him that he's wrong, I just ask for the English word. Well, I got to one certain little boy and asked him my questions, and he answered "wa-wa". So I asked him to tell me the English word. Instead of saying dog, he jumped up and said "arf arf" and wagged his little hind end. And sent me and his mother into convulsions of laughter. He looked a little confused and hurt. Wasn't that right? Which only made us laugh harder. I got a grip on myself, and had him repeat the word "dog" a couple of times. I sure hope he gets it, or it could be quite embarrassing for him when he gets older.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

That Time Again

Last week was "C is for Cat" and that means the reappearance of the face paints. It's always interesting to see who is a big yowa-mushi (Japanese for chicken, timid). You just never know. Kids you think would of course want their faces painted, and are outgoing and always the first to try something, will run behind their mothers and beg not to have it done. Then other kids who have never said "boo" to me, will run up and be really gung-ho. People are unpredictable, and I guess kids are people, too. Here's a few photos.