Long Journey— Departing Time

I guess since time is winding down and folks are probably expecting a new post, I guess I should provide one… Image

Well, I have six more days left in Japan. I am ecstatic. I am so pumped that I’m completely packed. My bags are sitting right next to the walls, zipped up, and ready to go. 

On Monday (22), I taught my last class in Japan and said farewell to my last school. In Japan, when someone leaves the workplace for good, it’s only appropriate to hold a farewell ceremony. I know at home there are farewell parties/ceremonies but usually for someone who has been with the company for years. Well here, it appears that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with company, you will receive a farewell ceremony and party–which pretty much translates to lots of food, drinks,and speeches.

My July has been full of fun farewell speeches IN JAPANESE ( horrible Japanese but it got the job done), lots of bowing, accepting gifts, and pigging out on amazing food. I still have one more speech to go and it’s the one I’m most nervous about. Mostly because my Japanese pronunciation is pretty bad annnndd it’s in front of the entire CITY HALL (where I go on my office days). My coworker agreed to translate my speech BUT I am a little worried because she doesn’t speak English. I have no idea how she’d do that, but she said she could it. We will see! 

 

Saying farewell to my friends hasn’t been the easiest. While I am excited about returning home, I will truly miss my friends. I built some long lasting friendships and created strong bonds with a few families in the community. I wish I would take them all with me or learn Japanese for a new job , move to Japan to spend more time with them. I don’t think words or gifts can ever fully express how grateful I am to have met them. They truly made my experience in Japan. We didn’t hang out all the time, but when we did, it gave me that extra push I needed to get through my year in Japan. I think what’s most beautiful about these relationships is that my friend manage to make me feel right at home thousands of miles away from my actual home.  I felt apart of their family and loved them as if they were my own mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin, and grandma. My time with my family and friends taught me about the power of love. You don’t have to speak the same language, share the same ethnic background, or have similar beliefs to express and experience genuine love. ( I might have said this is a previous post but it really is something that has stuck with me and it’s how I sum up my experience here–after reflection).

 

Sigh…. if only everyone freely loved and showed kindness to one another, we’d be so much better off.

 

Again, I am beyond blessed. I won’t forget Japan and I WILL be back! 

 

I will end celebrating… woot woot SIX DAYS I’m coming home. 🙂 ……. and will be one busy woman

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It Doesn’t Matter the Size. It’s Meaningful!

085Before I get into my actual blog post, I wanted to share with you why I walked out of my office today like a CHAMPION or what my friends and I like to say, “Like a Boss!”. In most of my middle school English classes, the students have to read a new passage with each unit. Typically, there are follow up questions to check the students’ comprehension. Sounds awesome right? Well, the twist to this is that the follow up questions are in Japanese AND the students often respond in Japanese. This is one thing that bothers me about the activity. I just don’t understand why Japanese is used in the classroom (I do understand but I don’t agree) and why the teachers won’t challenge their students to think in English. Don’t give them the easy way out by asking comprehension questions in Japanese. I say this not to rant but to give you my thought process on this matter. Anyways, today I tried something different. Instead of standing on the side, watching, and thinking how ineffective this activity is, I decided to pull the teacher aside after the activity. I asked him why doesn’t he write the questions in English. Don’t worry, I wasn’t reprimanding the man. I made sure I sounded more curious than accusatory. When I explained to him why it might be a good idea to ask the students these questions in English instead of Japanese he was quite hesitant (as expected). He said it would be very difficult for the students, the usual response I receive from JTE ( Japanese Teachers of English) about why they use Japanese in the English classroom. I gave him a little encouragement and asked him to challenge himself and challenge his students. I encouraged him to just try it out and see what happens ( I’ve found students know a lot more English than their teacher gives them credit for). I left that conversation feeling unsure of whether he was going to heed my advice. Two periods later, the teacher approaches me. What do you know….. he changed everything on the paper to English. He even changed a section that I didn’t talk to him about in English. If you could be inside my body at the time, you would have seen a little person jumping around, doing back flips, and pakouring everywhere. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see how the activity turned out but I really hope that it was fruitful. I felt quite victorious! Yay, me

Now to get to what I really want to talk about…..

In January or February, I remember joking with a couple of friends about how I felt God had already taught me my lesson, so He should let me go home now. As much as I wanted this to be the case, I knew there was a reason the program was until July. There was another lesson or something else that I needed to get out of my time in Japan. After more reflection, and of course more time, I noticed that I have learned something that I didn’t know in January.

One of my major complaints about the JET program was that I didn’t feel like I was being effective. I didn’t feel like there was a point to it and that I wasn’t in any position to make an impact– like I envisioned myself doing April 2012 when I accepted the position. I constantly complained and thought about how pointless my time was here. I think I came across several sermons and scriptures that talked about staying joyful despite the hardship and how whatever God gives you is good. I reflected on the things I heard and read and began to evaluate myself. I noticed that while yes I was enduring this hardship most of the time I was complaining. I don’t think there was a week that passed that I didn’t say something negative about my position or my time in the classroom. I decided that in order for me to really endure these final months (with a spirit of true gratitude), I HAVE TO THINK POSITIVE. I made it my goal for the month of April to think more positive about my position. Of course, I had some rough days but this positive thinking helped me through that day. It helped me push through April, and then May… and now June.

Another thing that positive thinking allowed me to do was realize that I am in fact making an impact. Previously, I had a narrow-minded way of thinking about what it means to make an impact. My vision of an impact was organizing a huge festival, building organizations/youth center, changing the whole English program in Japan….uprooting things like I’m super woman. It was thinking I needed to do something BIG because in my past abroad experiences I did big things and their significance was pretty obvious— not so much in Japan. Well…. until I reevaluated of how I defined “making an impact.”

Many of my students have never seen an African American or a person with dark skin. Many of my students never traveled outside of Japan. Many of my students had no idea that America was rich with diversity. Many of my students didn’t know that America has all kinds of cuisines not just KFC and McDonalds. This might be a little extreme but many of my students might never speak English with another foreigner outside of their English classes. When I think about it this way, I realize that my time in Japan has been meaningful . Yes, it has been a struggle like no other, BUT I’ve introduced my students to cultures, music, and many things that they might not have known was out there. I showed them MY family traditions and how we get down on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I educated students on the origins of hip hop in America. I taught them about black history month in February. I smiled and repeated those boring phrases and passages over and over again with my southern accent. I taught them about how Texans wild out during the rodeo ( don’t worry I didn’t included drunken behaviors). Regardless of whether my students fully understood what I said, they will forever remember that they had a southern, African- American teacher who loved dancing, traveled to different countries, spoke two languages, froze to death in the winter, wore the same red peacoat during winter, performed in front of the class, from Texas and always said she loved to eat. And when they think of these things, then maybe, just maybe, those photos of Christmas lights will pop in their heads or a guy riding a bull at the Houston the rodeo. So while my impact wasn’t as big as starting an organization, it was/is still meaningful. My students will look at some things and be able to associate it right back to Leah-sensei (what they call me in my class). I realized that this experience has been much more than teaching English. Yes, the program needs plenty of improvement but no one can ever argue that this program isn’t impactful. I’m just grateful I’m able to genuinely say this and that I realized this when I did. I have less than 2 month left and I’ve committed to walking into my classroom beaming with the thought that I AM NECESSARY and THIS IS MEANINGFUL

Backbone

Back bone

/ˈbakˌbōn/

Noun

The chief support of a system or organization; the mainstay.

 

 

 

So Morgan, you said you want more, well here you go!

I decided to dedicate this post to my friends, family, and boyfriend who’ve supported me and provided me with so much encouragement while in Japan. As I have told a few of you, this experience has been the most challenging experience for me. I’ve lived in other countries before and each one came with its own challenges. However, during those trips, I never once thought about completely giving up (packing up to head home). Well, that wasn’t the case for Japan. Within the first few months, I was ready to leave. I sent emails home, skyped, cried, and did everything you  can imagine an unhappy person does (minus things that were detrimental to my health). In the moments, there where people who  I wanted to immediately call out to/vent/text but I didn’t have that luxury anymore. This is when I realized how much I took for granted my strong support system back home. This is when I noticed just how much I relied on them to keep me sane, motivated, healthy, and most importantly, happy. I cried so many times because I couldn’t phone mommy and daddy out of the blue or I couldn’t randomly show up at my friends’ dorm rooms just for a chat. But, thank God for technology (iMessage especially)!

Despite the distance, they’ve managed to still show me love and support through encouraging emails, random packages filled with letters and goodies, scriptures, random text, and skype. Although I know it’s just them being them, these random thoughtful things always came at the right time and served as the little voice that says ” just keeps swimming, you’re almost there!” Sometimes, they come right at the end of my crying session/mopping session/horrible week. But, that simple, “hello how are you doing?” gives me life. It gives me that extra kick (I’m imagining a boot kicking my tush when I say this haha)

I don’t really like to be mushy over the internet but I felt this was one way to show all of them my appreciation. I don’t think there’s anything I could give that can perfectly convey my gratitude, love, and appreciation for these important people in my life, but I truly am grateful. God knew exactly what He was doing when He placed these awesome people in my life. Thank you all for always being my backbone even when I failed to acknowledge that in the past. Thank  you!

 

Over and out,

Moe, how’d I do? haha

the Wait

waiting-patientlyHey folks! I haven’t posted for a while because I really don’t have much to say. These past few months have been me just waiting. As lame as this might sound, this is where I’m at. In the process of my waiting out 3.5 more months, I’ve been working on being patience and not getting too anxious. So, I’ll leave you all with some things I’ve considered during my wait.  Enjoy !

 

http://www.joycemeyer.org/articles/ea.aspx?article=when_gods_timing_is_taking_too_long

Oatmeal ( Let’s Enjoy This Together Part 2)

Smile

Smile

As much as I’d like to get all creative on yall and give a poetic explanation of why this post is titled “oatmeal”, I gotta be honest. I just named it this because this has been my go-to meal for the past month. Yes call it lazy or whatever, BUT it’s pretty easy to cook and it’s just way too cold in my apartment to be slaving over the stove. It’s pretty healthy too. Most of the time, I just have it for breakfast. When I’m super tired, I eat it for dinner. The weather has dropped alot here in my city. It’s about 40-50 degrees. I think this is the normal temperature in North Carolina around this time. I might be slightly colder but I remember experiencing chilly falls in NC. However, the buildings are what makes 40 degrees here feel like 20 degrees. THEY AREN’T INSULATED.  Because of this, my apartment feels colder than outside (yikes!).  I never imagined I’d turn on the heater during the fall. It’s insane. As soon as I walk in my house, I blast both of my heaters and jump underneath the covers.  I’m nervous about winter. I’m afraid I might not have enough warm attire–seeing that I’ve already started wearing my winter sweaters.

Anyways, to add on to my awesome week ( last week). My friend, Akina, and I performed at a fighting event in Kazuno. We are starting a hip hop dance class and used this event to advertise for the class. It wasn’t what I expected– the event that is. It was in a secluded area and there were a lot of younger people. When I say younger people, I mean people in their late 20s and early 30s. It’s very rare to see young folks in Kazuno. I find myself having potlucks with women who are my mother’s age or older ( Unbelievable– never thought I’d see the day).  Back to the event, so, the event was intense. I can officially say that violence is just not my thing.  Watching it turns my stomach. After watching about 3 intense fights, it was finally our turn. I didn’t think I’d get butterflies before I performed, BUT I did. I was quite nervous. It still amazes me that after 10 years of dancing, I still get that tinggling feeling every time before a performance. I took a few breaths and took the stage. Well not stage, an uneven mat.  I think for only a month of practicing twice a week, an uneven stage, and my friend’s first time ever hip hop dancing, we did a pretty decent job. I hadn’t choreographed/performed for a year so I felt a little rusty around the edges.

Too bad the video won’t upload

Akina waiting to perform

Akina waiting to perform

We received alot of compliments about our dance. Of course, you all know me, I’m critical. The perfectionist in me wanted to refuse the compliments because I just know my old dance teachers would tear this performance up. But, it was just for fun and we did only practice for about a month. — just had to keep reminding myself that haha.  By the way, that jump suit was so tight around the thighs. Bought it at a store in Japan, I’m officially not fit to wear clothes from any store in Japan haha.

Later that week, I attended one for my school’s festival. I felt like a proud parent–though I did absolutely nothing to help with their performances. It was cool to see my students outside of the classroom setting. They performed a series of plays and sang a song ( this song has been stuck in my head ever since).  Being at the festival brought back many memories from my childhood. When I was younger, we ( my sisters and I ) participated in several plays and performances throughout the year.  Remembering how I felt as a kid after my performance, I could imagine the pride my students had showing off their skills to their parents. It was a different feeling being on the receiving end of the event.  I tried to imagine how my parents must have felt seeing their daughters performing their little hearts out. Because we were some awesome girls, I just know they left each performance gleaming with pride (haha).  My students are so talented. Sometimes, I wish I could speak Japanese to learn more about their interest or talk to them about what kids do back home. They are very curious children and so fun to be around ( well at this one school haha). I enjoy being surrounded by so much talent and bright minds.

As much as I don’t want to say this, I definitely feel like a celebrity in this town. I seriously walk most places and someone says my name or references my upcoming dance class. I’m shocked when some people tell me what they know about me haha. On the weekends–when I am in chill mood and sometimes bummy attire ( depends on if I’m making a quick run)– I run into my students. They gasp and then say my name– that’s the moment I really want to get out of dodge. A woman who I’ve never met or seen told me she knew about my dance class. She told me everything (the date, location, and time). I soon found out she wrote the whole dance schedule down in her agenda. I didn’t even know the word was out! Caught me by surprise BUT I was happy to know that people knew about it. Especially after leaving a discouraging conversation about my cultural dance festival idea.

Overall, I’ve had an amazing two weeks. I’m scheduled to teach a Christmas lesson in December ( Christmas in  America) at the community center and teach a dance at the end. I’m so excited for what lies ahead. I’m so grateful for God’s blessing on my life. Til next time.

So how do you stay warm? Glad you asked :D

Thawing my feet

Thawing my feet

Ha, I don’t!

My definition of ” staying warm” is the ability to walk around in every part of my apartment without seeing my breath. In other words, CENTRAL HEATING.  (Yes that’s a spoiled request BUT I like warmth)  This is only true for ONE room in my apartment. The room I never leave until my stomach growls for food or I need to shower. Oh  Keeping this post short, I’m just going to list the ways I attempt to “stay warm”

Panel heater set to high

Electric Heater

(both options above made my bill sky-rocket so now I only turn on the heat if the cold is super unbearable)

Drink hot tea/water every 3 to 4 hrs ( I don’t do this everyday)

Hoodie

Warm schools

Five blankets

Running across the cold kitchen to step into the steaming shower room

Running the sink water  for 2 minutes before I start to wash dishes

Layer, layer layer

Long johns for pajamas/long fleece dress

Turn on electric heater in kitchen to warm kitchen before I cook. It usually doesn’t help much

Place my hands over the steam that comes out of the electric water heater

Kick off my shoes at the front door ( once I get back from work) and rush to the my room

Thaw my feet in front of the heater

Pray not to wake up shivering once I turn off the electric heater

Blow hot air into my hands before flipping the food on the stove

Make quick and easy meals (ie oatmeal, fruit, eggs,salad) to avoid staying in the kitchen for too long

Always wearing socks on my feet

Creating a small cave with my blankets when I head to bed (pretty cover my whole body including my head so my face isn’t cold)

Well there you have it! It’s been quite an experience staying warm here. I don’t wish this lifestyle on anyone from the south who isn’t used to cold weather. I’d choose my hot and muggy environments over this cold climate any day!

Gimme Gimme summer 😀

 

Tokyo Blues

She's on the youtube video I posted about Blacks in Japan

She’s on the youtube video I posted about Blacks in Japan

After about a 12 hour comfortable bus ride–No, it really was comfortable. It puts the greyhound bus to shame but what bus company can’t put greyhound to shame– I arrive to a train station in Tokyo. Immediately, I became overwhelmed by the large crowds and people walking in all directions to find their train. I stood there for what felt like 10 minutes taking it all it. I realized I’d been locked away in little ole Kazuno for so long that I wasn’t used to the city life anymore.

I think people could tell I wasn’t from around there because first, I had no idea how on earth to get a ticket for the train. I asked the lady at a bread stand for help and she pointed me to the ticket area. There were many touch screen things that meant absolutely nothing to me because I really don’t know what they were for/what they were saying. After waiting in the line to buy a pass,  I stood at the Kiosk wondering what in the world I am supposed to do. There were a list of prices that you choose from. I had no idea which was the correct price and I didn’t want to be the person that gets rejected because their ticket fare is too low.  I ended up purchasing a random number (250 yen) and proceeded to the entrance of the train stations. Ok well not the entrance, I tried to enter through the EXIT. No, I wasn’t trying to get one over, I really thought that was the entrance. A cute little couple saw me struggling trying to figure this train stuff out and guided me to the entrance. Sigh of relief, I made it to entrance–victory dance! I thought this should be a piece of cake now-nope! My next task was to get those little grey doors to the train area to open in front of me. I saw people speeding by swiping something. I wasn’t sure what it was because sometimes it would be a wallet and other times it would be their purse. But, every time this little swipe worked. So, I decided to just rub my little ticket on the pad in front of me and that was an unsuccessful attempt. I tried a few more times looking super confused every time it didn’t work. Eventually, that same little couple, which I’m sure petied me, showed me where I needed to put my ticket. And tah-dah,  I was off to explore more of Tokyo.  Thankfully, I didn’t run into anymore problems with the train machine and was able to get two and from places pretty easily– thanks to the help of my friend’s father!

My girl, Cece, and I grubbing on cold stone!

My girl, Cece, and I grubbing on cold stone!

As I walked around (feet started hurting at some point) and greedily grubbed on some good ole fatty American food in Tokyo, I took note of how different things were from the country side. The city life is quite busier than the country. There are tons of people in the streets and causally greeting each other isn’t the norm in Tokyo. Everyone minds their own business and walk with some sort of swiftness to get to their destination. I also saw alot of different faces–there were a lot of foreigners. Many women were dressed up to the T, decked out! Full hair and make up, heels, and just strutting away. It made me feel like the person who attended a fancy party and came under-dressed haha. I still don’t know how these women do all these walking in heels though. I was struggling with my flats so I can’t imagine walking for hours in heels. Tokyo felt like a Times Squares. Big lights, many shopping areas, food like crazy, and a bunch of people walking with a purpose. There were little to no personal interactions that went on outside of ordering food at a restaurant. This is what I kind of made me miss the country side. Although it can be weird having everyone know who you are in the grocery store, it’s pretty cool to see my students from school and my dance class in the store get super excited when they see me.  Or having the guy at the gas station know your face well enough to ask you where’s your car  when he sees you walking in the snow ( true story but I’d rather not go into details about why I was walking). There’s a personable feel about the countryside that I didn’t get in Tokyo. Everyone is more relaxed and calm. And we take the time to “smell the roses” ( well at least I do haha ). While I love love Tokyo, I do appreciate the chill atmosphere of Kazuno. There’s nowhere to rush to and people actually know, look, and acknowledge you. I think wherever I live next needs to have a good balance of both the fast city life and a chill countryside vibe to it. Overall, I would definitely not turn down another trip to Tokyo! Tokyo, we shall meet again in April!

Looks like Times Square

Looks like Times Square

The famous cross walk in Shibuya,Tokyo

The famous cross walk in Shibuya,Tokyo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, I went to a black history month event while I was there. There are definitely alot of people of color hanging around Tokyo. It was great to just grub on some food and fellowship with one another. It reminded of a family reunion. I think it’s beautiful when folks from different backgrounds come together, like family, in a foreign country and celebrate such an important and meaningful cultural celebration that has affected all of our lives in some way, shape, or form. For the first time, Japan really felt like ‘home’ and NOT because it was all black folks ( it wasn’t). The atmosphere felt warm and peaceful and was full of laughs just like the atmosphere my family creates when we get together.

Food Makes the World Go Round (literally)

Let’s talk about the lean mean Japanese cuisine!

Sukiyaki desu.

Sukiyaki desu.

I’m sure you probably can’t visually tell BUT I do love me some food. While yes I do miss the luxury of having a million food options 5 minutes away from my house in the US, I have enjoyed several Japanese dishes. Unfortunately, I’d much rather drive 45 minutes to get it done the right way versus failing miserably by trying to do it myself. So, here are a free of my favorite Japanese dishes to grub on when I’m not balling on a budget.

The very first meal I feel in love with here was SUKIYAKI

My first love

My first love

I had the pleasure of chowing down on this at my welcome party with the English teachers. Although I didn’t eat the beef and pork ( I imagined how delicious they were) I still ate the veggies and tofu. This dish is prepared on a nabemono ( Japanese hot pot). The pot contains a soy sauce, sugar ( there’s one more thing not sure what is ) mixture.  This mixture is heated up.  Once the pot is hot enough you add the meats, veggies, and tofu. While you wait you can crack an egg in your separate bowl to prepare for the feast once they meat is ready. When they are ready, you grab what looks tasty, dip it in the raw egg, and eat.  I was a little skeptical to eat at first because raw egg isn’t typical on the menu at US restaurants. Now when there’s a party or I’m going out to dinner with friends, I secretly hope sukiyaki is on the menu.

My next favorite dish is OKONOMIYAKI

First time trying okonomiyaki

First time trying okonomiyaki

My friend from home mentioned this tasty omelet/cabbage pancake to me. I googled it and it looked quit disgusting. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a go. The English conversation class that I attend every once and a while planned an okonomiyaki dinner so that I could try it out. It was quite the experience. I enjoyed trying to flip the ‘pancake’ over perfectly without messing up the shape. I have to say okonomiyaki is pretty addictive. Some days I crave it so much I drive 45 minute to an hour to the birth place of my okonomiyaki addiction.

Sushi in Japan

Sushi in Japan

SUSHI ( you know that had to make this list)

I loved sushi before I arrive to Japan. I love it even more now that I’m here! No, it’s not the typical California Rolls and Dragon Rolls we have in the States. It’s a ball of pure awesomeness. Some of my friends here laughed when I told them that the sushi back home has avocado in it. They thought it was odd to put avocado and rice together. Unlike okonomiykai, I CAN  turn down sushi especially when it has wasabi or natto in it. The sushis is definitely  fresher than back home and looks pretty different. It’s not a huge different BUT I can easily point out US sushi from Japanese sushi ( I think).

Notice a difference?

Notice a difference?

SOBA NOODLES

Cold Soba

Cold Soba

These are famous Japanese noodle made from buckwheat. I was first introduced to soba noodles after finishing an intense dance practice at my friend’s, Akina, house. Her mother served it cold with some type of sauce. I remember having to dilute the sauce with water and then dip the noodle in it. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about it. Soba noodles by themselves are quite tasteless but when you add the sauce… BANGING! If you aren’t a fan of cold food, you can eat soba hot. And, they are super easy to make (especially if you are lazy or your kitchen so cold you can’t stand to slave over a meal for hours on end) I learned about these noodles before chowing down on them with Akina but I didn’t try any until dinner at Akina’s.  Fun Fact: There’s an old building where they used to make soba noodles back in the day in my town.

ODEN

Oden in the house

Oden in the house

This is not my favorite dish rather a ‘go to’ meal when I want something hot and when I’m trying to avoid the carbs in ramen. Akina’s mother introduced this to me to this  as well. It’s pretty much a soup served mostly in the winter. It’s really not a soup but I ask them to add extra broth so that I can eat it like a soup. Oden is a food mix. It contains radish, fish cake, tofu, boiled eggs which are stewed in some type of broth. Luckily, it’s found in most convenient  stores.

TONKATSU

'Katsu for short

‘Katsu for short

I think this is ten times better than fried chicken— sorry southerners. Tonkatsu is a breaded, deep fried pork cutlet. I’ve been lucky enough to have a friend who own a restaurant in town how makes a chicken tonkatsu for me 🙂 ( I don’t eat pork). There is this sauce that he serves with the ‘katsu that just puts a little more umph in the meal.  I don’t eat this that often because of course it’s deep fried and I ain’t trying to turn into a piece of tonkatsu. But, on day’s I’m feeling super greedy and healthy stuff won’t suffice, I head on down to the restaurant and order me some tonkatsu.  I think it’s the texture and the sauce that makes me say it’s better than fried chicken. I hope I can find a Japanese restaurant at home that makes this!

RAMEN

Yatzee!

Yatzee!

Let me just say that once you taste ramen here you can never go back to those bags a ramen you grubbed on in college. I don’t think I can describe just how awesome ramen is here. The sauce, seasoning, noodle, and extra veggies and meat they add to ramen makes you wanna just shout! You either just gonna have to taste it or believe me, but the ramen here is POPPIN’.

Am I in heaven?

Am I in heaven?

There are many other Japanese dishes that I’ve tried and absolutely loved. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of the dish/I didn’t have it again. I love Japanese food!  But, don’t get it twisted, it doesn’t replace food back home haha!

Half Way There and No Regrets

DoriWhen I titled this post, I couldn’t help but think about that song that goes ” Oooooooo, we’re half way there. Ooo, Ooo ( and then I’m not sure what is said after that)”  Anyways, this exact day is the half way mark of my journey in Japan. I thought I’d dedicate this post to a little bit of reflection of my time so far here.

As many of you know or probably concluded from previous post, my first few months in Japan were quite rough. I didn’t like much of anything here. For me, leaving home was a bittersweet moment. While I was curious about where Japan would take me, I wasn’t excited about being way from home for an entire year. I make it sound like I was forced to come to Japan but I wasn’t. I am fully aware that it was all my decision. Again, my curiosity brought me here and  a part of me believed it was God’s doing as well. Well, that thought quickly jumped out the window when I encountered several setbacks. Some things did not go the way I expected them to go. I won’t go into detail but point is I wasn’t happy. I sent several messages home claiming I as about to throw in the towel. I didn’t believe living like I was worth it. Thanks to the constant encouragement from my friends and family I stayed and now, I’m quite happy I did.

I realized that it was indeed God who brought me here. I came expecting to impact folks and all that goodness–things I did on my previous trips abroad– but God showed me that this trip was for ME. I needed some personal growth and it took putting me in the most uncomfortable and challenging environment for that to happen. I’ve had to lean on God through some of the toughest moments. There were moments I wasn’t so confident about God’s plan for me and it took a lot of prayer and trusting for me to believe. I look back at Leah on July 2012 and I can say that I’m a different person- spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally.   Now, I’m more spiritually connected to God more than I’ve ever been before. Because of it, I feel a lot stronger and confident. Aside from my spiritual growth I’ve learned a few  other valuable things here.

Dont-Quit-Half-Way-Through-560x3741. Attitude of Gratitude

This is the one that has impacted me most. When I came, my town  immediately showered me with kindness. People didn’t know a thing about me, yet they welcomed me with open arms. People went out of their way and I mean extremely out of their way for a complete stranger. This is something that does not happen in the United States. For all of that, I was truly  grateful and took none of it lightly. In my unhappiness, I realized just how important my family, friends, and boyfriend were to me.  I realized how much meaning they held in my life and how I much I depended on them for support ( I had an idea of this but being here amplified it). I reflected on the last moments I shared with them before I departed and found it was really tough for me to find much because  I took those moments lightly.  I’m a thinker. My mind never shuts off. I can’t even chill without thinking or planning something. For this reason, I’ve never learned how to live  in the moment. When you don’t live in the moment, you miss the things unfolding right in front of your eyes which means that you aren’t fully appreciating that moment. I still haven’t mastered this but I put it in to practice when I returned for Thanksgivings. I just took it all in and when I did I was able to appreciate the moments I shared with my family and friends. That was by far my BEST thanksgiving.

2. Kindness

Almost every Japanese person I’ve met has shown me nothing but kindness (a few other JETs toos). I’m not sure if it was something about me that made them want to shower me with love or if it’s just the thing  to do. I honestly believe it’s the latter. I remember the first week in Kazuno we ate at a restaurant for lunch. I had trouble finding something I liked/could eat on the menu. The owner of the restaurant told me to ask for anything I wanted on my pasta and he’ll make it. He made an awesome meal and then extended an invitation for me to visit anytime. He said I could order anything I wanted ( even if it wasn’t on the menu) from his restaurant. I’ve yet to return but it’s on my list.  But point is, he didn’t know much about me ( just read about me in the newspaper) yet he still treated me like we’d been friends for years.  I’ll share another story with you. I just got home from work and  my neighbor, whom I never met or spoke to ( dont know Japanese), rushes towards me with two big bags of cucumbers grown from her garden.  In my head I thought  ‘What! people just don’t do this at home!’. Til this day, I still receive random gifts from her family and of course I send gifts in return.  I haven’t experienced a moment where someone was rude to me. Yall know folks at home  can just have a nasty attitude for no reason. People at home  have no problem mistreating you in a heart beat. Oh, and don’t let you be a stranger to them because it’s worse for you. Of course this isn’t everyone but I know every American reading this could probably talk about at least one rude experience they had in just this week. Beside on the roads, I can’t say I’ve had a rude experience with a Japanese person. I’m always met with a smile and a bow. I know folks can’t be that happy but they don’t allow their personal feelings to affect the harmonious atmosphere.  Experiencing this gave me a little more faith in humanity. We are indeed cable of living together peacefully.

3. Respect/Honor

Folks respect people here simple as that. Regardless of your rank EVERYONE respects you. Of course others get more respect (special treatment) than others because of their position.  But even then, those high positioned individuals are humble enough to bow to the lower ranked person out of respect. This taught me that regardless of anyone’s ‘rank I should show  appreciation and respect for the person because at the end of the day we are all human.  Back home many people get caught up in their degrees,positions, the money they make etc  and lose all respect for those not on their level. I aint gone lie, I’ve been guilty of  doing this a few times. Mentally I’d say ”umm I can’t hang with this girl because she does not know how to speak properly ( caught up in my Davidson mode).’ But now, I’ve learned that I need to honor and respect everyone from the homeless man on the corner to the President of the United States.

4. Community

I grew up on this so this isn’t really new to me. I just noticed that people in Japan are a lot more considerate of others than back home.  I remember going to school after the first snow fall. The school placed a pillow and a blanket in my chair because they knew Houston is practicially a desert and doesn’t have much snow haha.   People will ask a lot of personal questions about your health and experience out of genuine concern. At first, I was quite annoyed because we just don’t do that. We normally label those people as flat out nosy folks. I had to learn that they weren’t trying to butt in my business they just really cared to know. But, I still have my moments were switch back to my US mode and mentally say, ‘my business and my business so stop nagging me about it.’

optimism

These are just a few things I noted from my experience here. I can honestly say I’m grateful to be here and I don’t regret my decision (this doesn’t mean I don’t have my rough days) I’ve met some incredible people here and many families have opened up their homes and hearts to me. I will definitely miss that.  These families and handful of foreign friends I’ve made here have definitely made my experience worthwhile ( still are making it). That being said, I move forward into the second half of my experience full of optimism and excitement for all the happy moments I’ll share with my friends and new families. 🙂

Happy New Year – ( The Year of the Snake)

In the United States, New Year’s Eve is mostly spent with friends partying it up in places like Times Square, a cozy house/apartment, bars, clubs etc you name it. When I was younger, I used to dread bringing in the New Year at the table praying and talking about our goals for the New Year ( sorry mom and dad).  After hearing about what all my other friends were doing, I would have much rather been chilling out with my buddies than reviewing my goals for the new year. In Japan, New Year’s Eve is a little different than in the United States. It’s a family holiday. Much like Christmas and Thanksgiving in the United States,  New Year’s Eve is spent with family. As you read in my previous post, foreigners tend to be excluded from certain activities. Thankfully, I was blessed to be invited to spend New Year’s Eve with my friend and her family. I had a wonderful time and would like to share a few things I learned about Japanese culture ( still hesitant to label this a  Japanese culture because it might have been something only her family did) during my visit.

Let’s rewind the story back to mid December. One of the teachers at my school mentioned a tradition that most families do before the new year. He said families send new year cards to other family members across Japan. I think he mentioned that the post offices are so busy during that time that high school students help deliver cards in the city. When I walked into stores, I noticed many racks filled with new year cards. I went Christmas cookie shopping with my friend and she also mentioned that she needed to get cards to send her family.

Now fast forward to December 31, 2012.  I decided to arrive early for the ‘party’ because I wanted to help prepare the feast. In her family, they normally eat crab, deep fried shrimp, and sushi ( yum). While my friend and I prepared the crab, her brother and sister fried the shrimp ( the pieces of shrimp where pretty BIG).  Weeks before the new year celebration, I mentioned to my friend that I wanted to learn how to cook a Japanese dish. Well, that night  it was my turn to take a swing at it. Her mother called me in the help her make sushi. Sushi in Japan is NOT like sushi in the United States. Of course it’s fresher but they do not make california rolls, dragon rolls, gorilla rolls and so on– just simple fish on top of rice or sometimes rolled with sea weed. When her mother called me in to make sushi I thought, this is going to be a piece of cake. Man, I was so wrong. There was a certain way I had to handle the rice and fish. Too much rice or too little rice would mess up the flow.  Oh, and it was obvious when you skipped a step because the sushi would look either  lopsided or too small or wasabi would be in the wrong places. After about 3 tries, I finally got the hang of it. Her mother was a pro– knocking out a plate of sushi in less than 5 minutes. I was quite impressed and later learned that her father used to own a sushi restaurant.

Once the everything was ready it was time to feast! Of course we had drinks BUT we didn’t drink like most people in the United States drink on New Year’s Eve. The drink was simply to share a toast and have with the meal. Shocker I know, since most Americans imagine spending their New Year’s Eve throwing back drinks. Once our bellies were fully, we still had a few hours to go before we wished each other a happy new year. My friend’s mother and sister knocked out and I was fighting sleep. I didn’t think it would be appropriate for me to sprawl out on their floor. We spent that time watching a Japanese comedy show that airs every year on New Year’s Eve. Her dad pulled out a deck of cards and you know what that meant!! Yup, I ended up teaching them how to play spades. Once they got the hang of it, I started to feel their competitive side come out. We played up until 11:45pm.  I noticed her mother head back to the kitchen to make us bowls of soba. Soba noodles are a special noodle in Japan. It’s pretty much a buckwheat.  But on New Year’s Eve family eat soba RIGHT before midnight to wish longevity and a prosperous year. Why soba noodles? It’s simple!  Soba noodles are long ( this was the explanation given to me).  Her mother said that we had to eat the noodles before midnight because you’re wishing longevity for that year. It doesn’t make sense to wish longevity when the year has already came. Once we gobbled down the noodles, it was time! We had a minute left. midnight struck and my friend’s mother turns my direction and bows saying ” Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu”(Congratulations for the opening of the year).

After that, we cleaned up and prepared for bed. I stayed the night because it’s illegal to have even an ounce of alcohol in your system while driving. The next morning, her mother cooked  a special meal. My friends told me that families usually eat a special meal (a meal that isn’t normally eaten) to start the year. I honestly can’t say what all we ate but it was delicious. I left with Tupperware full of good food. I hung out a little longer then I headed to my chilly apartment. It felt great not being alone for the new year and bringing it in with a loving family. I got to eat delicious food and learn a few things about Japanese culture.!

Oh, before I forget, this year is the year of the snake. Japan has 12 animals that represent the year. Once they’ve reach the last animal, they start all over. Last year was the dragon and now it’s a snake! Oooooo and people do not kiss their lover when it hits midnight in Japan– womp womp sorry to all those who enjoy PDA.