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hello dolly, hello spring, and hello to all the rest,

I know you all have your own lives, and I respect that.  But allow me to impose upon you one of my last emails from Japan...

The cherry blossoms, aka sakura, are here, and they're all the rage.  They change people.  Japanese business men, lovingly called salarymen (or is that a western term?  perhaps I've encountered so few of them in my American life that I just never knew...), loosen their ties, spread their picnic lunch on traditional blue tarps (circa my very own summer camp, 1997), drink beer, and celebrate the rebirth of the world around them.  Really, these cherry trees are everywhere.  Don't know how they disguised themselves so well all summer, autumn, winter.  In any case, they've crept out from their hiding spots and rooted themselves along major avenues, rivers (and by 'river' I mean a concrete canal with paved paths along each side), train stations, etc.  They remind me of enormous bowls of pink-ish popcorn that some mystic hand tossed into the air and, by the same mystic force, attached to each sprawling branch of each cherry tree.  But enough bad poetry...

In more personal news, I've just accepted the position of assistant director for a child care center near A's job in the national park.  ((Present Day aside: this will become the best job in the world for one year and the WOSRT POSSIBLE JOB IN THE GALAXY for another year.  Wish I could have known that then...)).  So beware all of you West Coasters... Ima gonna come a callin.  That gig starts in mid-May, which gives me enough time between my homecoming (May 1st) and my start date to actually SEE and HEAR and EXPERIENCE your company.

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Oh, here's a retroactive story, if you care to hear it:  A and I celebrated a second honeymoon of sorts when we met up in southern France a few weeks ago.  We stayed at the spectacular and spectacularly old chateau Mas Baumel, owned and operated by  his old family friends (thanks, again, Mr. And Ms. C!).  Per day, we consumed approximately:  one bottle of wine, one baguette, one kilo of fromage (with the explicit goal of tasting a new flavor at every opportunity), and one giant bar of chocolate.  Rough life...  though I'm glad it ended when it did.  There's only so long that indulgence feels indulgent, eh?

In any case, it's been a while since I've heard from some of you.  What's that?  Oh, you're busy and think about tasks other than responding to my emails?  I have one word for you:  selfish.  See you all soon, sake in hand,

-S


 
 
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Well hi there,

Is it really the end of February?  Do you ever feel like one day refuses to end itself and then all of a sudden it’s a few months later?  Or is that just because I was in a coma…  But really folks, it’s almost March, which is rather exciting for a homesick puppy like me.  I keep trying to remind myself that problems exist at ‘home’ (I use quotation marks for ‘home’ because, er, I don’t really have one), but I only half believe it.  Among the activities in which I look forward to engaging:

1.  Reading menus.  Ordering desired item and knowing what to expect upon delivery (though I did once order “fried octopus balls” with my mom, and that menu was in English… come on, we were curious).

2. Shopping for shoes.  And I’m not even a shoe person.  But when one was born with flipper feet, one can only tolerate so many shoe shops marking their sizes by small, medium, and large… large being the equivalent of a U.S. size 7.5 (children’s).

3.  Baking.  I never knew how much I could crave cookies, and with neither an oven nor a Mrs. Fields in sight, I guess I’ll just have to wait.

4.  Talking loudly.  Yes, the Japanese are polite and yes, English-speakers tend to be obnoxiously sonorous, but my big American voice housed in this big American body can only mute itself for so long.

5.  Having friends.  I’m not complaining about my social life here, I’m just saying.  I’m weary of saying:  “since August… until May… a teacher, kind of… Mikage… yes I can use chopsticks… (pause for impressed teeth-sucking breath).”  That’s unfair, actually.  I’ve met quite the group of ex-pats through Sally's school, all of whom I will pressure into hosting me when I visit them in their respective home countries.

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6.  Getting lost in the mountains.  I think A said it best when he explained that he’s not necessarily committed to America, but he could never leave American land.  So Japan may have their Japanese Himalayas, but we have our mountains and I think we win.

To be fair, I KNOW that I will miss things about Japan once I leave.  The short list includes: portion sizes, public transportation, general sanitation, the ubiquitous habit of carrying around a hand cloth/ washcloth so as to make paper towels superfluous, funny engrish, a perpetual view of the foggy mountains, affordable sushi, pocky sticks (chocolate-covered pretzels as only the Japanese can make ‘em), rinkon (it’s a root vegetable… or do they sell that in the states?), etc.

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Anyway, my mom left last week and she was quite the guest.  She didn’t get mad at me when I got us lost on super-rapid trains AND she did the dishes while I was at work.  What a lady.  Amongst the attractions on her forced march, ahem, tour of Japan, were:  Hiroshima, that uplifting city; Miyajima equipped with picturesque floating shrine and sordid urban deer (o! to have had a park ranger it tow); a local Sake museum (mmmm); Nara and the great big Buddha (coming soon to a theater near you); Kyoto’s geisha district, where foreigners go at sundown to feel even less graceful than they felt before (because geisha float, you know); Kobe for a hot-stone spa (where you pay to sweat), etc.  There were dinners and intro-ductions. There was jet-lag and apologies for turning the heat off all night. 

I can’t wait to hear what’s happening in your world.  Tell me what you had for breakfast (my dad had oatmeal, guaranteed), or what you think about global warming (Mom, you’re exempt), or if you’ve seen any good live music (if you live in Austin, no excuses), or if you’ve stayed up all night and regretted it the next morning (students, parents, etc.), or if you’re pregnant, or if you’ve found the job of your dreams etc.  A large formal bow to you,

-S


 
 
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Good Evenink,

First:  thanks, friends, for your friendship.  Thanks for that bolstering spate of supportive emails. Thanks for pointing me north, for making me laugh (monkey cartoons really ARE funny), for reminding that I'm not, er, the most special creature in the solar system. Thanks for not teasing me for practicing my recently-acquired erudite vocabulary.

Second:  I just got back from Korea and boy do I have
some funny stories.  It all started with that pesky little thing called the visa renewal process.  See, I've officially been staying in Japan as a tourist and I've been required to renew my tourist visa every 90 days.  Recently, a family for whom I've been working part-time (their son has an infectious smile and C.P.) has agreed to sponsor me, which all connects to my Korea story, I promise.  In order to stay in Japan as an employee, I had to leave the country and re-enter as an employee.  So off I went to Korea.  And don't ask south or north because you know the answer.

My intention was to get my visa stamped and to immerse
myself in GRE vocabulary and math, period.  Then I got
to thinking, profoundly, "I'm in KOREA."  This bit of
perspicacity motivated me to actually leave my hotel room and enter a museum.  The entrance fee was approximately 70 cents and the artifacts were approximately, er, very old.  Thousands, I would say.  Of years.

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Had you ever thought about how ancient Koreans (or
Seoulites, specifically) decorated their fan handles in the 7th century?  Me neither.  In fact, I hadn't given much thought to anything about Korea or Koreans in any past or present epoch.  So it was all the more exciting to see a display of hats with convenient English placards:  indoor hat for men, hat for state funeral, rice-fields hat, rice-fields hat cover, hat brush (had to clean hats somehow), hat brush handles (had to decorate hat-cleaning utensil somehow, why not with mother of pearl?).  There were lunch boxes (sans cartoon characters) and tobacco boxes and calligraphy brush boxes and altogether pretty boxes.  I suppose Seoulites ate and smoked and wrote and owned STUFF just like we do.

Oh, and I got ripped off for the first time since, well, since India.  It was kind of refreshing.  The Korean wan (pronounced like the Spanish name Juan, but with a W) was new to me and I couldn't do the wan-yen-dollar conversion calculation fast enough.  A little old man ended up charging me ten bucks for two apples and a bag of popcorn.  (Don't panic, though, ladies and gents, I ate proper Korean food later in my visit.)  The next day, as the numbers settled in, I thought, "ten bucks is no big deal," to which I myself responded, "you got RIPPED OFF!"  I went back to the tiny shop where the little old man was now accompanied by his little old wife.  I presented two apples and a bag of popcorn.   The little old wife wrote down 3,000 (about three dollars).  I wrote down 10,000 (ten bucks) and gestured to the little old man and glared and she laughed.  I wrote down 7,000 and held out my hand.  The little old man continued to mop the same spot and didn't look at me.  I barked at them in English and they barked at me in Korean.  I pointed emphatically to 7,000.  This carried on for a few
minutes.  Eventually, she opened the register and gave
me 7,000 wan. 


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 I felt pretty darn good about myself
and proceeded to eat the equivalent of a three course
traditional Korean meal (which, for the record, cost less than the rightful amount returned to me.)

And boy, I thought I spoke zero Japanese but I really
speak negative amounts of Korean.  I tested out "arigato gozimasu" (i.e. "thank you very kindly, oh respected one" in Japanese) thinking Asia is Asia. Then I got to thinking that this would be like a foreigner coming to America and saying "merci" just because he was talking to a white person.  I promptly learned, then forgot, then learned again "gam saha mida," which means "thank you" (I hope).

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Oh goodness and I haven't told you all about the Roots show I saw in Osaka a couple of weeks ago!  Well, if you're interested send me a line.  Until then, I'll send you one of my own:  it was superb, smokin', sublime.  It was not:  sanctimonious, saturnine, salacious.  Now here's a brief tangent: I took the GRE yesterday and these words will surely fade from memory.  This may be the last email wherein I'm capable of such pedantic alliteration.

So do you guys want to see photos of these worldly adventures?  I would love to share them with you, if only my camera weren't on a bus in Korea.  

It all started when I hydrated a bit too eagerly before catching the ninety-minute  airport shuttle (to catch a plane back to Japan).  By the time I boarded the bus, I was doing the five-year-old hold-it-in dance.  I whipped out my camera to distract myself (because, really, who's ever seen a decent picture taken from a moving vehicle?).  Then I sang impromptu songs.  I will paraphrase the lyrics:  "this will be oooooover soon, this will be over soooooon."  Then to the tune of "Beat It," I sang "just hold it, hold it...." 19 kilometers to go, now 12, now 7, now 5, now 3, now 2, and, a, half.  When the driver
braked, I bolted.  To the toilets. I hope the folks in the airport security video monitoring room got a good chuckle.

Later, after check-in, I saw a funny sign that said "cart pool" in English (obviously), Korean, and Japanese.  Cute, right?  Cart pool?  Like a car pool for carts?  Get it? It seemed like a photo worth taking... let me just get my.... where'd it... it was right... oh geez.  Long story longer, I contacted the concierge at the hotel, asked (begged pathetically) for his help, and gave him the important details.  When I called him back 20 minutes later he said that the bus company had, indeed, found a camera.  That was all I needed to hear, and I basically wet myself again.  I'm going to wire this guy some money (to pay for shipping) and hope that he hasn't pirated all of my Pulitzer material and sold it to The New Yorker.  Until then, no pics for you.

Put that in your pipe (from the 6th century) and smoke
it.  I'll be home May 1st.  Can't wait to bore you all in person,

Salubrious S

 
 
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Good evening by me, good morning by you,

Greetings and salutations and apologies.  I have not only been negligent in stuffing your inboxes with many-gigabited photo-attached emails (grammatically incorrect already), but I have also been remiss in responding to individual emails.  You caught me.  I'm a bad friend/ former employee/ niece/ protegee/
student/ pedestrian/ ascetic.  My most humble and contrite apologies.

If you'd like to know what I've been doing instead of staying in touch,  read on.  My recent pastimes include, but are not limited to:

1.  Hanging out with A.  He's intelligent and he teaches me new things about music (who knew DJ Shadow
was white?), geology (the Grand Canyon was not I repeat NOT formed by Noah's flood), ornithology (John Audubon could walk an eight minute mile), politics (but I'm not going to offend Grandma twice today), and computers (you should see our new screen saver).  He's been a really good sport about doing house-y things (I guess I could have said 'domestic') like keeping the fridge stocked with broccoli and folding the perpetually-damp but clean laundry.  He's heading back to the US of A January 10th and he will shortly thereafter start classes in zoology, genetics, and other National-Park-wildlife-job-getting kinds of things.

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2.  Logging on to myspace.  I know, I'm in Japan
and I should be doing Japanese things, but allow me to
offer a cogent argument as to why I no longer consider
that site a sordid pit of the internet's worst:  I like to write.  Letters.  To my friends.  But a letter can be quite an obligation, what with all that punctuation and substantive meat.  Wouldn't it be nice to emulate the fluff of real-life conversations? An email address is the online equivalent of a mailbox, while myspace is the online equivalent to a cafe, follow?  One can drop in, post silly half-sentences on one's friend's spaces, check on who's posted silly half-sentences on one's own space, then leave.  In any case, I'm not defending my urbanity (I've none of that), I'm only defending my nascent proclivity toward that particular social network.

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3.  Enjoying day trips to Kyoto (temples, temples everywhere), Osaka (the aquarium houses otters, dolphins, a whale shark, giant crabs, jelly fish, all of which would be eaten raw, I'm sure, had they not found sanctity in their aqua zoo), and even our local Kobe (where the Musee d'Orsay boasts an exquisite exhibit... the art was French but the style of observation was Japanese:  follow the flow of human traffic, in order, from one painting to the next).

4.  Receiving with joy the few Christmas cards that
have arrived, even those that have been mis-addressed.
(Probably my fault for having written a sloppy return
address on any correspondence in your direction...
sorry!)  It makes me wonder:  what would an American
postman do if he were to receive mail, written not
only in Japanese characters but in misspelled Japanese
characters?  I'm going to take one guess as to what
said postal employee would do, and it involves arson.

5.  Studying for the GRE.  Can't you tell?  There's
allegedly a 'permanent test center' in Osaka, but I'm
afraid I don't know how to say 'where's the permanent
GRE test center?' in Japanese.

6.  Returning with mild dread to work.  No matter how
much one loves one's job, there's always the gut punch
of the first Monday back.  Ugh.

Happy New Santa Sparkles 2007,

Sarah


 
 
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Hi there boys and girls, I know it's been a while since I've written, and that's partly A's fault, seeing as he's HERE. Yippe skippy.  I have a full time cook, house cleaner, internet research assistant, and, my favorite job duty of them all, husband.

Question number one, at least based on data collected from friends here, is:  so, what does he DO during those long days alone?  Answer number one:  he reads, climbs, cooks me dinner (hehe), listens to as much new music as he can get his paws on, washes laundry in the extraordinarily efficient cold water washing machine (with special Japanese detergent suited for such temperatures), explores Kobe while camera snapping (his favorite angle seems to be the incognito from-the-waist shot, where he doesn't have to hold the viewfinder up to his eye), and probably naps (though he never admits it).

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 Within these busy schedules of ours, we certainly find time to do a few things together.  We climb.  We eatandsleep.  We even went to Kyoto last weekend and saw (you guessed it) a temple.  


 Oh, something notable happened to me today.  I heard Japanese people yelling for the first time since my arrival.  My educated guess is that they were soliciting a pachinko parlor (Japanese gambling), but my imaginative guess is that they were saying "wow, my voice actually does work at this volume!  praise the shinto gods!"

Professionally, I'm discovering the ups and downs of working full time with one child.  I'm learning how much there is to learn, especially when your  supervisor is a few continents and an ocean away, and your employers aren't a direct part of your work.  It kind of feels like I'm not accountable to anyone... until I have to turn in all my data.  And really, who relishes in data collection? But my laziness aside...  a recent perk occurred just this evening when I led a workshop on ABA 101 (and we're not talking American Bar Association, we're talking Applied Behavior Analysis).  One teacher hugged me.  Really.  And, though Shakespeare did his part to stimulate my neurons during my college years, it's really nice to have learned something that I can teach to others.  So thanks to those of you who've done good at learning me.


 Anyway, don't mean to bore the non behavior-modificationists in the crowd.  Actually, I don't mean to bore any of you.  Be well.  I insist,

 -S


 
 
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Hey there cowboys,

As I was counting my Japanese savings thus far, I noticed that there is a man's face on the paper bills. Had I noticed such a thing in the 12 weeks I've been here?  Not at all.  Have I done any research since to discover his identity?  Nope.

I'm really writing because I miss my 'f's (friends and family) and wanted to write a social email.  Not to be confused with a traveler's cultural email.  Which mine never are anyway, so enough of this inappropriate apology.

My job(s) keep me busy.  Little Sally is working hard on self-regulation.  Who knew it could be so hard finish a math worksheet? Or spelling? Or hearing the word 'no'?  Early in this line of work, I learned the skill of thinking about my grocery shopping instead of the wailing child on the floor (thanks, ex-supervisors, I owe you one).  And one needs go only so far as my own mother to know the kind of tantrums I myself used to throw (redhead only child of California parents.  You do the math).  So Sally is doing better and better with healthy self-talk.  "I can talk about cows at home," she says when I tell her "no cow talk at school."  You may or may not remember that cows became her favorite animal upon my arrival.  Twelve weeks later, they still are.  In any case, she's 'handling it,' as I remind and congratulate her when she is doing just that.  Ah, life skills.

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This weekend I'm heading to Guam.  The ol' visa renewal would be more of a headache if my employers weren't funding my little getaway.  I'll visit an old buddy from college (Miss M, body-builder extraordinaire) who promises to show me a different beach every day.  I think that adds up to two.  She's also taking me shopping, which sounds less petty than it is.  Japanese feet are the size of french fries, and with winter approaching and my lack of foresight obvious, I need something other than Chacos and Tevas.

So there you have it.  A day in the relatively ordinary life of an American in Japan.  Trick or treat.  I prefer treats,

-S


 
 
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Hello from North Korea's neighbor,

A note on that: not to worry!  The Japanese are not a panicky bunch, so the nuclear test just west of us hasn't really affected the general aura of the place.  (I hear it's a bit different in the states... decapitated chickens for news anchors and whatnot.)  Besides, don't you remember The War?  I don't think this particular Asiatic country was exactly, er, timid, eh?

On a more personal note:  nothin' doin'. Although... I
did get a job as a bartender!  I'll mark a big check on my 'to do in life' list.  The drawback:  Japan is not a tipping society.  So it's more for kicks than for cash.  I'll be working at a little bar called Trinity on Friday nights, serving beer and ginger ale (together.  it's popular here and it has a name that I've already forgotten.  it's all Chinese to me.)

I also received my first Japanese scolding.  Honestly,
I'm surprised it didn't come earlier.  See, I was running late for work on Friday, trash day.  So, instead of walking away from the bus stop (where I meet Sally) and toward the official trash drop-off for my apartment building, I walked toward the bus stop and used a trash drop-off for another apartment.  An old woman saw me and chattered at me in angry Japanese.  I responded in appeasing English "late-o, one time-o, so sorry..."   Later that night, as I trudged home from a long day, my land lady was waiting.  I was re-scolded (or so I assume...) with pointing and crossing forearms (the Japanese sign for NO!).  I responded in apologetic English, but couldn't
help laughing out a particular expletive as I walked away.  Really!  Trash is trash, eh?  It all goes to the same gold-plated incinerator that tourists often confuse for Universal Studios (not kidding).

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I've also seen some funny English.  One bottle in a drug store boasted a product called "Heldass."  I wondered what could it actually be? Cellulite cream?  Rubber gloves?  Panty hose?  I giggled and refrained from actually purchasing said unidentified item.  A woman's shirt said "bologna" in sparkly glitter.  I prefer prosciutto.  Another woman's shirt said something like "an enemy to beauty is a foe to nature."  I thought about it for a moment and realized why it sounded familiar:  I had written the same thing during a poetry exercise in seventh grade.

I'll end this roaming note with an apology for having
been absent from your email inboxes for so long.  I
haven't been anywhere cultural (except for the local
temple through which I jog almost daily... probably
sacrilegious, so I apologize now to the Shinto gods),
so I thought I had nothing to say.  Then I remembered
the lunch-meat-glamour-fashion and I thought "it's
time to write a groupy mail."

Many good glamour sparkle sushi thoughts to the lot of
you trouble-makers,

-S


 
 
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Another day, another yen,

Has it really been so long?  I suppose that's how weeks go:  by. Here's the latest from S's wild perspective on Japan:

I went to Hiroshima last weekend (as in Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, as in I hope I'm not radioactive) and felt
rather pleased with myself.  There are moments in this
era of my young adulthood where I actually feel like
an adult, and last weekend was one of those times.
It's not like I accomplished anything astounding,
really.  But I accomplished something, and that's
adult enough for me.

After reading up on the city from the Rough Guide that
A bought me as a farewell gift (thanks, dear!), I
decided that I would see:  Salvador Dali's 'Dreams of
Venus' (a painting I've always mentally referred to as
the melting clocks painting), the local baseball
stadium (go Carps), the Peace Museum, and a floating
shrine.  I would hike:  Mount Misen, above the floating shrine.  I would eat: okonomiyaki, as hard to explain as it is to pronounce.  I would sleep: at the budget youth hostel, of course.  I would spend:  6 hours on local trains, using up the last of my 5 one-way tickets (purchased in packets, if you're wondering) from my Mt. Fuji trip.

So, in order of impressions:  Mount Misen was, of
course, my favorite part.  One hour of straight uphill hiking (it's always when I get cocky about how athletic I am that I'm humbled by a baby hill like Mount Misen), in the rain (are you surprised?), with not a soul in sight (kindly repeat the last question). What is it about being high up, overlooking the world below?  Perhaps it's the closest thing we humans have to flying...?

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Second on the list of favorites was the okonomiyaki.  Think: two thin pancakes (more like the Indian dosa, actually) with all kinds of goodies, of your choosing, sandwiched in between:  soba noodles eggs, cabbage, ham, bean sauce, etc.  While doing my best to eat such a thing with chopsticks, I kept wishing that I knew how to say "this is spectacularly yummy" in Japanese.

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The Salvador Dali painting was, er, big.  It reminded
me of mediocre college art from the 1960s.  Then I
remembered that it was painted in the late 30s.  Ahead
of his time, I suppose.  I had never noticed the lobster in the lower right hand corner.  Or the tree growing out of the woman, for that matter.  I took a good long gander, left the room, returned.  I found that old analytic English-major in me instantly awake and out of hibernation:  'the only life forms are misplaced or transformed,' and 'the flow of the characters' movement is toward a skeleton, false hope,' and 'jeez they could have preserved the top a bit better.'

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Miyajima (the floating shrine) was a sight and a half,
but I found myself looking, taking photos, then feeling antsy to climb up the mountain (Misen).  There's only so much satisfaction I can pull from a man-made structure based in a religion that doesn't belong to me.  Sorry, Buddhism, don't take it personally.  It's the same with cathedrals in Europe or temples in India.  Not to mention that I always feel like I'm cheating when I get to sight-see without having to work for it.  Ride a ferry, see a shrine. 
Whoopdidoo.  But not to give the wrong impression, it
was certainly gorgeous.  It was between low and high
tide when I passed, which meant that I avoided the high-tide crowds but I didn't get to complain about not seeing the tori gates standing in at least a shallow depth of water. Comme 'see' comme ca.

There's not much to say about the Peace Museum.  War,
bad.  Peace, good.  They didn't complicate the message
much.  I was interested to learn that the U.S. had originally suggested 14 Japanese cities to bomb, and
one of them was Kyoto.  Whew.  That would have been
ugly... not that Hiroshima was a PRETTY thing... but Kyoto, yikes.  Way to go, U.S.! Way to NOT flatten Kyoto!  And did you know that the A bomb is really just a little feller?  It's about the size of a sea lion (well, a fat sea lion).  No wonder they called it 'little boy.'

So that about wraps her up.  This is perhaps the most
conventionally formatted email of mine yet.  A list of places, and their explanations.  No digressions.  No tangents.  How do you like it?  Oh wait, I spoke to soon.  I feel one coming on.

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I was at school with Sally, watching her play during lunch (because when she does play with friends without my intervention, it's a GOOD thing), when a group of 'older' girls (by that I mean 5th or 6th grade) approached me timidly.  The spokesperson of the group ahem'd and asked me "ummm, we were wondering, ummm, are you Lindsay Lohan?"  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.  I didn't want to hurt her feelings by saying "are you kidding me?" so I told her I was flattered by the inquiry but that no, my name was Ms. S.  I hope that little anecdote is just as funny to you as it was to me.  Lindsay Lohan.  Ha ha. Sigh.

Okay, Ms. Ramble is getting tired.  Hope to hear from
the lot of you real soon now, you hear?

-S


 
 
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hello frenz and nay, boars,

I don't mean to be me-centric about this, but:  it was my birthday last week!  I've now survived 25 planetary revolutions!  How did I celebrate, you wonder, sweaty with anticipation...

I hiked Mount Fuji!  

Sally's mom claims that she's been wanting to do it for
years but hasn't had the, how you say? initiation energy.  I have NOT wanted to do it for years, but I certainly had the get-up-and-go that got us up and gone.  

It all started with a series of local trains to a little town south of Tokyo.  Out of my train window I saw:  rice patties, green mountains, pinched corners of homes and offices, then all of that stuff again and again.  It was like a road trip, without having to worry about petrol or falling asleep at the wheel or actually knowing how to get from one place to another.

When we arrived at the closest town from the trail we wanted to climb (the Gotemba trail, for the record), it was about 7 in the evening.  The thing about Mt. Fuji is that it's allegedly least likely to be snuggled by clouds during sunrise.  And the way to see sunrise is to hike all night.  So we started at about 8 pm with fresh headlamp batteries and the pre-climb jitters. (See photo of me straddling entry gate for evidence of energy level.)  We somehow thought a clever song to sing would be "we're hiking fuji, we're hiking fuji."  Four hours and approximately 18 vertical miles later, when we still had half the mountain to scramble up, we did not think that singing was so fun.  

A word on the weather:  it was a clear night, and as we pulled ourselves higher and higher into the sky we seemed to get closer and closer to the stars.  SO there goes the clear-in-the-morning-and-no-other-time theory.  In fact, it ended up raining from 4 am through 6 am, so we missed the sunrise altogether... but by that point, the "we just hiked fuji, we just hiked fuji" song was back in our repertoire and the unseen sunrise became trivial.

We ended up hiking down a different route (the shortest of the five), which was a nice variation.  Whereas the hike up looked like a moonscape, the hike down looked like Hawaii.  Mental note:  learn geology.

I hope this isn't getting boring!  I dread to think that this story resembles those of Marge Simpson's sisters and the accompanying slide shows!  If any of you outdoorsy types would like more details, I'd be happy to explain all about the construction workers who finally took pity on us, the 3-dollar ponchos, the balsa wood hiking sticks (with authentic mt. fuji logo! yours for a mere one thousand yen!), etc.

In other news:  Sally started school today.  She's such a gem!  



But enough about her,  wouldn't you like to steer the spotlight back to ME? (See, Mom, you should have tried to sell me to Hollywood at an early age...)   It's funny what kind of impact a little adult interaction can have on one's international experience.  The teachers are in my age range and they're English-speaking to boot (mostly with slanty accents... some are from New Zealand, many are from England, a few are from the states...). I hope I don't blow too many pay checks on after-work sake parties.

Anyway, I hope all is well in your own worlds.  I'm sure you're having adventures, too, they may just have more common names.  All my best (or at least most of it),

-S


 
 
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well well well look what we have here.... another week passed and, of course, a new email from me,

Where to begin?  I suppose an explanation of the photos is at hand.  Er, actually, they're just photos of my apartment (closet included).  Be on the lookout for more pics... I'm just bound to this 10 kajilla bite limit and I don't know how to make pictures smaller and I'm kind of tired of trying (and failing) to figure it out.

SO, with all that boring tech stuff out of the way, I guess I'm free to talk about Japan!  This week was chalk full of on-the-clock tourism.  On Monday we went to Himeji castle where we sweat a lot and ooohd and aaahd at the views.  Once we got to the top there was a stamp and ink pad waiting because, you know, nobody would believe you actually climbed six flights of stairs if you didn't have a stamp to prove it.  Often, in situations of cultural relevance, I find myself thinking "I should appreciate the history of this place," but instead, I end up thinking "I guess this is where all the white people come when they're in Japan."

There was some swimming involved in the next few days. I actually put on sunscreen this time.  You know, sometimes with skin this fair, the whole concept of taking care of it seems futile.  And I just can't seem to let go of my cultural perspective of TAN IS GOOD... any advice, perhaps from the biologists in the crowd?

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Guess what we did on Thursday.  I'll give you a hint.  It involves too-loud music, a microphone, and a TV screen.  Yes, ladies and gentleman, I went to karaoke, which is, by the way one of the only places/ circumstances in the world where I get shy.  The  whole setup of this particular karaoke studio was new to me:  it looked like a hotel lobby in front and hotel hallways throughout.  We were lead to our private room, bench seats around the perimeter, large table in the middle, and a mountainous television mounted on the far wall.  It felt like a mountain girl's worst nightmare.  When Sally said "I want to leave the room" after gleefully singing California Girls, I couldn't help but empathize.  Hey, at least she was gleeful at some point during the endeavor.

The part of karaoke that I was anticipating with a bit less dread was the free lunch (it's part of the package).  So suffice it to say how taken aback I was when the food was delivered (spaghetti, vegetable rice, pizza for the kids) and NOBODY took anything.  I wondered "are they going to wait for the kids to eat first?"  I soon learned the answer was NO.  They just didn't eat.  So me, the body-conscious-american-slob, helped myself to a half of a dessert plate of noodles.  Even more piggishly, I ate a scoop of rice afterward.  Man, I guess that explains the pervasive size twos.

On Friday I ventured out into the big bad city (of Kobe, which is actually neither large nor mean) for an evening of French conversation.  I had seen an ad for a French bistro that hosted French-speaking gatherings once or twice a week.  Well, surprise surprise, the only French speaker was the owner of the restaurant.  It actually turned out to be kind of like a one-on-one tutoring session.  So now I can add Japan to my list of places I've studied that lovely Romance language, after college and India.

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And here's my favorite experience of the week:  walking home from the train station, where the taxi had dropped me off (because I know enough Japanese to say the name of the train station, but not enough to say "left here, right there"), I saw my first inoshishi (ee no she she)!  I've heard about these wild boars, but it was hard for me to believe that they actually existed in these tidy, paved city streets.  So when I saw it at the end of the small residential avenue, I somehow kicked in to excited park ranger mode.  I ran toward it, stomping loudly, perhaps expecting it to run away like a Yosemite bear.  Instead, it turned around, glared and me,  and sniffed (perhaps to detect whether or not I was a food-carrier or a non-food-carrier).  I was frozen, scared out of my wits, imagining how my guts would be found the next day strewn over the otherwise super clean street.  He snorted and turned the corner, and I was relieved to discover that I hadn't peed myself.  So there's my lesson for the week: pigs are scarier then bears.

Okay then, all of you wonderful people.  Thanks, too, for writing back on occasion!  What can I say?  I love getting email.  Oh, and to those who are interested:  send me one of YOUR favorite pictures of yourself.  Then I'll really feel like I have you around!  

Openly honestly funnily,

-S

p.s.  more pictures on their way!

p.p.s.  if you do write back, could you delete this original email from your text?  I like to save good letters, but I don't need to save my emails and attachments every time.  Thanks,  Management.