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22 September 2018 @ 11:34 pm

Hello everyone!

This time I just wanted to share some pictures.

So this is where I'm living temporarily:


I looked on a map and saw a lake and a mountain, so on my day off I tried and failed to visit both.  Here's why:
Lake: http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000HHlake.jpg
Mountain: http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000Kagamiyama.jpg

And finally, IT STOPPED RAINING for a day and I was able to take some pictures with the morning light of the area directly around my apartment:



I'm writing from my tiny apartment in Higashi Hiroshima City.

The apartment has a "walk-in-closet" and a "bed."

Basically, they put a box in the room with a door, and the box is the closet, and the top of the box is the bed.  I prefer not to have to climb up there every day or bend down to use the hobbit box door, so I don't use half the space in the room.

If you open the door to go out, you're greeted by bamboo trees rustling in the wind.  Little birds hop over the trees day and night.  When the lights go on after dark, insects come out to play.  I brought a flashlight on a whim, and I'm so glad - every night I explore what kind of wildlife the lamps have brought in.  The flashlight is useful for another reason, too.  There are very little street lights, and the walk from the bus stop to my place is 30 minutes.  The bus comes only once an hour.

I'm not used to the Country Lifestyle yet.  I walked 30 minutes to the bus stop on my first day, to learn the latest bus had just gone by 5 minutes ago, and I had the choice to wait an hour for the next one.  I'm not good at waiting, so I just walked to work.  It took the full hour.  I was wearing sandals and they were making blisters on my toes by the time I reached the shopping center.  On one side of the street they were selling bikes, and on the other side was a shoe store.  I debated in my head for a minute, then decided crossing the street was too much trouble and I bought a pair of nice running shoes.

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Hello all.

The subject was written on a little girl's shirt.  Profound.

So I have some news for everyone.  Let's go with the fun stuff first.

Yossi and I went house hunting.  The last time we were house hunting was when we'd just gotten engaged.  He'd told me he didn't care at all what kind of place, so I could make up the conditions for the realtor.  After finding a couple places I liked, Yossi became concerned that none of them were close enough to the station, or near any restaurants.  It turns out I care about the inside, and he cares about the outside.  We ended up having to compromise.

This time, we both went in with our conditions. Yossi's were - it needs a parking space, and to be near a station.  Mine was - It needs large windows that let in the sun, a balcony big enough to put chairs out, and next to a mountain.

The realtor gave me an odd look, went to go through his files of apartments, then came back a bit hesitantly and did that Japanese beating-around-the-bush way of bringing up his burning question.  "So uh... you said... next to a mountain..?  And that would be because.. well..."

"I like hiking!" I said.

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Hello all.

Subject is from a little boy's T-shirt.

Two stories today.
This first one I wrote in February but couldn't bring myself to look at it again until now:
Today a little boy broke my heart.

I've been going to a certain school once a week because no one else was
willing to take a 2.5 hour commute at 7am on a Saturday.  At first it was
going to be a temporary thing, but a replacement was never found.  Then I
became the manager and realized how hard it is to get a replacement for
that area.  I ended up going there for 2 years.

Very suddenly, last week, a replacement was found and I had the hard task
of breaking the news to my students.

I told this little boy I wouldn't be able to be his teacher anymore.  I
told him I had to go back to Kobe where I live.  He rolled his eyes and
didn't seem to care.  After the lesson started, though, he kept looking at
the clock and saying things under his breath like - 30 minutes left.. Only
20 minutes...  10 more minutes...  Was he that eager to leave?

After the class finished, his Dad came to pick him up.  I gave them both a
card.  I asked the boy if I could hug him and he seemed embarrassed so I
didn't.  Dad bowed and thanked me.  Then he forced his kid to say some
embarrassing goodbye words.  Finally they left the building and got in to
their car....

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Subject was found on someone's handbag.

I haven't written in too long...

I'll just share a story here from New Year's and get back to updating you guys on my life later.


So it's the last day in Albuquerque and I need to do laundry.
I woke up early, but it wasn't early enough.  Nat-chan was waiting for me.  
'Do you remember what you promised?'  5-year-olds are big on keeping
promises.  She has tissues laid out all over the floor and blue and purple
gel paints at the ready.  'Manicure!'

I let her paint my nails, and then my toenails while I write addresses on
belated Christmas cards.  I'm able to get hers done quickly, and then she's
not allowed to touch anything until they dry.  But 5-year-olds like to
touch things.  I let her at the coloring books while I get on with the
laundry.  I put all my things in the wash, but I'm not sure which of
Yossi's is dirty or not.  I look around for Yossi and get distracted
translating something for Oto-san, explaining to Mommy-in-law for the
hundredth time that she doesn't need to clean the sheets, bringing out some
things to the garage that I'll be leaving behind until I go to the USA
again....  But I can't seem to run in to Yossi.  Where is he?

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28 November 2017 @ 01:02 am

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year's Thanksgiving coincided with Japan's Labor Day, which means I to go home early.  I spent my extra bit of free time making cookies for my mountain friends to thank them for their support for me during the Rokko Juso hike.

There is a rumor going around that I've moved already and I just want to say that that is not the case!  I was giving you guys a year's warning, in case you'd like to come visit me and stay at my house.  I won't go anywhere until next summer.

One of my ways to say goodbye to Kobe was to do the Rokko Juso Hike.  As I mentioned in my last email, the hike covers the Rokko mountain range from Suma to Takarazuka.  It's 56km (34.7 miles).  The start time is 5am, and there are timed checkpoints similar to a marathon.  You must be off the mountain by 10pm.  The first time I heard of this, I thought the whole idea was ridiculous.  The whole point of hiking is to enjoy the mountains, right?  And you can't do that if you're rushing yourself trying to go as far and fast as possible to reach certain checkpoints.  However as I joined my hiking club and met so many people who'd done it (often multiple times) I started to think of it as a milestone that I'd have to accomplish at some point.  And when I realized I'd be leaving Kobe and my beloved mountains here, it became something I had to do.

Well, November 12th rolled around and the day was upon me.

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14 October 2017 @ 09:09 pm

Hello everyone.

The subject above is written on my map of the Rokko Mountain Range, next to an add for outdoor wear.  Actually, it doesn't just leave off in the middle of the sentence.  The whole sentence is "For those who don't let a little rain or common sense get in the way."  Which may be the actual legitimate English ad campaign.  However, in the Japanese ad, the first five words are in a huge bold font, and the second half of the sentence is in tiny print you need to squint to read.  I'm pretty sure it was the Japanese design section who made that decision, and so I consider it worthy of one of my Engrish subject titles.

But let's get on with this, shall we?  So I've been carrying around this map of the Rokko Mountain Range.  Why?  I'm planning on hiking all of it.  Haven't you already done that, Jen?  Yes.  But this time it's going to be in one day.  With a huge group of people.  It's almost a race.  56 kilometers, with checkpoints you have to get to on time.  17 hours is the absolute maximum you are allowed to spend on the trail.

The date is November 12th and it's called the Rokko Juso.  I was accepted as one of the participants last month, and they've recently sent me a lot of maps and info in the mail.

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12 September 2017 @ 11:08 am

 Hello everyone.

I just wanted to say,

this is my last year in Kobe.

It took me a year to come to that conclusion.

Next year, I'm moving to Okayama.

Kobe, sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, home to 1.5 million people, with transportation access to anywhere in Japan - it's hard to think of a more ideal place to live.  A long time ago I stood on top of a mountain with a friend, spread my arms to the buildings, the skyscrapers, and the harbor, and thought to myself, "I am Kobe!"  That thought's stuck with me since then.  Kobe is something in me.

If you want to come visit me in Japan, doing so in the next year will probably be best, before I move to less accessible places.

I could have lived here forever.

At first, it was things like how close everything is.  On my day off, I could go to Kyoto and visit an ancient temple, or see a musical in Takarazuka, or have a barbecue on top of a mountain.  I can make Tokyo a day trip.  I can fly to Okinawa in a couple hours.

Then, it was how easy it was to meet new people.  A big city of people all densely packed together creates amazing networks to get you in touch with people like yourself.  I met Takiko at the international community center, the Japanese lessons led me to find my husband, my network during the CELTA course led me to become a part of the artist community.

And finally, I began putting down roots.

It's the little things every day that water those.

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14 May 2017 @ 10:18 pm
Mount Aso:

Long, long ago around the time when Homo Sapiens first came in to existence, a massive volcano erupted in Japan, forming a wide plateau of rich farmland and sensual hot springs. This hot spot of seismic activity had been erupting for thousands of year before, and the earth there now is like an infested wound that has broken the skin so many times, and healed over, and broken again. Is Mt. Aso just one mountain or a conglomeration of 12? There are stratovolcanos, pumice hills, cinder cones, ridges of past volcanic rims, standing like mountains over here, destroyed and crumbled there. The end result is endless, breathtaking beauty.

And danger. It's theorized that the recent earthquakes in Kumamoto didn't do as much damage as they could have, because of the magma chamber absorbing some of the shock waves. (Making the volcano much less predictable.) But that doesn't mean that the roads we took there were smooth sailing. You could see big rifts on the sides of hills where the topsoil literally just fell off the mountain, baring the rock. Crumbled roads are still impassible. Hiking trails are closed off with ropes. They've re-opened the major tourist route (meaning everyone takes the same route resulting in terrible traffic) but the ropeway gondolas are out of operation.

Which makes me wonder....
When I volunteered in Tohoku after the earthquake/tsunami combination that killed 15,900 people, I felt like this was IT: the one big terrible disaster that happens in your lifetime. The thing you tell your grandchildren about and they stare at you and wonder at the suffering of man that they will never know for themselves. But with global interconnectivity, now problems happening halfway around the world can become your problem too. I was talking to some friends in Kobe who told me about how they moved here before "The Disaster." They're talking about the Hanshin earthquake in 1995. For me, "The Disaster" is the one in 2011. For people in Kumamoto, it was last year. For people in Japan who haven't lived through any of these, I wonder which disaster they think is "The Disaster". . .


I went to Mt. Aso for sightseeing.
Which is the best we can do after a disaster. Go there. Spend money. Support the economy. Smile. Learn. Share a story with someone.

My favorite story is this. Like I said before, long long ago, there was a chamber of molten rock that rose up from the center of the earth and as the earth cracked and parted before it, hot liquid moved in to the fissures. These tendrils of magma cooled and hardened there, even harder and stronger than the earth around them. As the thousands of years brought rain and wind to tear in to the soil and slowly wash it away, these spires of rock stood strong and tall. Now ridges of hills sport towering dikes in the Aso area, creating a stunning landscape. Walking among them inspired feelings of some ancient time and brought to mind the frailty of mankind in comparison with these geological forces. Certainly I'm not the only one who was thinking of this, as I found a Buddhist stupa on the side of the hill near some formations. The weathering the stupa withstood from the earthquake only augmented the feeling.

I'd like to go there again and explore some more.
Here's an unrelated picture of some karst formations and a cave:


P.S. Subject is the same of a bar in Osaka. Sounds depressing.
Japanese Aesthetic and Maiko


The guests file in to the theater on a walkway under which water flows and koi meander silently. This is not the kind of great hall that you'd find in the U.S. where all modern methods of acoustics are built in to a matching style of architecture. This is something traditional. Not traditional in the way of old, ornate opera houses where the rich sat on lacy cushions, but traditional in the way of Japan where cleanliness equaled purity, where the rich could afford moments of silence and tranquility. One didn't show off a garment by strutting through marble halls, but by that one sleeve edged in purple that stood out among the weathered wood and dark stones and drew the eye to the wearer much more effectively.

In this theater, everything is art.
The guests are offered a refreshment of tea before taking their seats. The lady serving the tea is in the center of the tea room and every motion of her hands has been practiced over and over to perfection. Her graceful motions betray her education, her intelligence, and the heritage that she bears by choosing to continue the traditions of the tea ceremony.

We are allowed to keep the plates that our sweets are served on.

My friends and I pass through the garden on the way to the hall where we have secured seats in the middle rows. I noticed how often Japanese architecture is often like an assortment of containers arranged around gardens with raised walkways traversing between them. And high walls. Always those high walls containing it all. I feel something obsessive about it. Someone's compulsive need to tame the wild of the outside world and only let it what is safe to be seen. Manicured versions of native plants. The engineering of the water system. The wood of the walkways all chosen for their perfect grain. Each stone on the path carefully chosen. It's nature, natural in the sense that nothing stands to augment it, and yet somehow nothing is natural about it. Again,art.

And then we are sitting in the darkened theater. Musicians pluck at instruments based on a five tone scale. It isn't something you could sing to or remember afterward, but augments the mood of what's happening on the stage like a background voice that hums, screams, trembles, sighs. The lack of a consistent beat or melody awes me. How much practice must you have to be able to bring such sounds together to fit with voices on a stage?

And the Maiko come on to the stage. Their faces are painted white, their lips red, and red tints the corners of their eyes so that every glance in every direction is framed perfectly. The makeup coats them like a mask and they move their heads like dolls, transcending humanity. The story is a melodrama, but the actresses don't make a single facial expression with anything more than their painted eyebrows. Instead, all expression is through the hands. Each gesture is representing an emotion or a desire. Easier to see from the back of the theater than turning lips or sparkling eyes, the hands give life and emotion to the stage.

I found this really fascinating!
All the lines are in an older, Shakespearean version of Japanese, so I expected to understand very little. However the gestures and movements of the eyes made the meaning of the words so clear, much clearer than if I'd been a Japanese person trying to make sense of a Western musical. It makes me wonder more on how much of gesture is language and where that line is. As in sign language, one particular symbol has one particular meaning, and just as there are people with terrible handwriting or speech impediments, there are people new to sign language or amateurs at the fine art of Japanese theatrical movements. It's a lot different from the haphazard gestures we use while speaking or the scripted motions of a play. Motion and meaning aren't necessarily combined, but the movements I saw on the stage that day spoke to me like words.

The shamisen player was a cousin of a friend, which was how I was able to procure tickets. After the show, we went out with her to have tea and she told me a little about her experience.

It was a great day out.