Sunday, July 31, 2011

11 hours left in Japan.

My scheduled departure from Fukuoka to Seoul is 16:45 and it is currently about 5:30 a.m. I am making excellent headway as far as packing and apartment preparation goes - I might even be able to sleep for a couple hours. This is my second all-nighter in a row and I suspect I will sleep like a dead baby most of the flight home.

I don't have feelings obviously but if I had to use emotionally based language to describe what's going on, I'd say it's a kind of deep sadness not dissimilar to how it feels the few days after a breakup. I have been purposely overstimulating myself with booze and lack of rest so that I can hide behind it (and look awful in all the photos).

There's something incredibly moving and awe-inspiring about watching the sun rise. I have grown to associate it with a successful night out, with a tinge of sadness that it's over. I guess the three year long wild night that was my time in Japan is seeing the sun rise.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


That's me. Funemployed. This morning I went to the immigration office and downgraded my visa from a 3 year working visa to "temporary visitor." I packed up my things from my desk at school and at 4:30 this afternoon was escorted out the door by a hodge-podge group of teachers and a few students (there was hardly anyone in the building).

I came home and had a nice big cathartic cry, something I haven't done at all during the entire process of farewells and goodbyes. It's been overwhelming and surreal, and a large part of me is fighting the inevitable huge changes that lie ahead. I still have a couple days left in Japan so I'm going to enjoy myself and look forward and spend my time with the folks I care about.

Above all else I am dreading the loss of my social circle that revolves around Oldies. I went there for dinner last night - Miho made me a chimichanga - and we sat listening to the '80s satellite radio channel, uncomfortably skirting around the issue of me leaving. She is a dear friend, a sister, and possibly the kindest person I've ever met. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't fuck around pretending to care about people. I know of course we will see each other in the future and stay in touch, but it's not the same when I can't walk 20 minutes down the street to say hey.

Two lives, one heart, we all knew it was gonna be hard.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Farewell speech

How are you? I say "I'm fine" but to be perfectly honest, I am very sad. It's been three years and my time here is coming to a close. I cannot fathom that on the 31st of this month, I will be back in New York.

My time here has been interesting and full of unique, one-of-a-kind experiences. I really enjoyed teaching English classes. I also relished the opportunities I had to talk with students and teachers outside of class and work. Everyone here has been so helpful, and I have learned many things. Before I came to Japan, I was nervous at the prospect of living in a foreign country. However, once I got here, everyone welcomed me with great kindness.

I was surprised at how truly generous the people in Japan, particularly Chikuhou, are. I have never experienced this degree of kindness in my life, and this was probably the greatest culture shock of all. I do, however, believe that people across cultures are fundamentally the same. Generosity and selflessness are virtues that anyone can possess. It is simply a choice you make.

You may not have donated a million yen to charity or personally saved a dying man's life, but there are many everyday situations in which human kindness shows. I often see you out and about eschewing selfishness in favor of altruism and helping others. You are helping a blind man find a seat on the train, staying up late consoling a friend who is upset, and bringing vegetables from the family garden to share with your coworkers.

I don't care what your priorities are. Perhaps you love to speak English and are interested in living abroad. Maybe you're not the academic type and prefer sports or music. Whatever. The important thing is that you live your life as a good person and show love and kindness in your own way. I wish you all the best in whatever you choose to do.

Not surprisingly, it will be considerably harder for me to leave Japan than it was to move here. I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to all the students, teachers and staff who looked after me and welcomed me so warmly into my beloved Japanese life. Because of you, I have grown to truly identify as part of the community at school and in town. It will be impossible to walk away without feeling great sorrow. I have two lives, but I only have one heart. I will miss you deeply, but I know we will persevere and keep on living. Life is short so please give it your all. Thank you.

Monday, June 27, 2011

One month of contract left

Life is too short not to eat cold noodle soup on a hot summer day.

I can't believe the end is so near. More on this when I don't feel like the walking dead.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Adventures in pictures

Jinkosai festival in Tagawa, May 21 - Chris got pulled into the river.

Shinsaibashi, Osaka - guy passed out on the floor near a slot machine in a capsule hotel common area.

My high school's culture festival; during the "Fashion Show" component some jock boys put on bunny ears and pleated skirts in homage to AKB48, a festering bedsore of a girl group slowly eating Japan's pop culture world.

Holly and Walter, about to embark on an epic donut eating adventure mere minutes after we all ate a whole pizza each.

The musicians at the last Oldies concert. The finality of having played there for the last time left a big spiderweb crack on the windshield of my heart.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I'm going home!

Bought my one-way ticket home last night. Korean Air via Seoul to JFK, KE085. It was a truly underwhelming experience and I was in a foul mood when I purchased it. July 31st it is, love it, hate it. I naturally feel both emotions at warp level intensity.

Happy reunion with my folks.
Better selection at supermarkets.
Able to start fresh and prepare for the Big Move to Austin.
English everywhere.
Wearing clothes with a "S" in the size tag.
Makeup, daily goods etc are cheaper.
Driving my car.
Hanging out with old friends and rekindling my social life.
Better coffee with free refills.
Delicious salads.
Pleasant summer weather as opposed to oppressive heat and humidity.

Fat unhealthy people with entitlement complexes.
Getting stared at and objectified in public by men.
Crappy and sparse public transit/sidewalks.
Dealing with the rift that 3 years has inevitably placed between me and old friends.
People are spawning and/or have spawned and I hate babies.
Having to deal with the "designated driver" question if I want to go out for drinks.
Gas is $4/gallon and the car only gets 18 mpg.
Sharing living space with people for the foreseeable future.
Looking a bit different as opposed to fitting in 100% lookswise.
Not having a super secure job that pays well.
Missing my Japanese friends, people I've met, and way of life.

Monday, May 16, 2011




I'm talking about citrus fruits in all their Vitamin C-rich glory. Perhaps later there will be an addendum about why Japanese grapes suck, but for now please enjoy my candid reviews of ten citrus fruits you can find here.

#1. DEKOPON デコポン
Dekopon are the best goddamn fruit in the entire world. They look like smallish oranges and usually have a nipple-like protrusion on the top, and are the result of the engineered mating of kiyomi (mikan + orange) and ponkan ("Chinese honey orange," in fact a tangerine relative). Grown almost exclusively in Japan, dekopon are extremely sweet and seedless. Apparently dekopon were introduced to U.S. markets just this year under the name "sumo."

#2. MIKAN みかん
Possibly the most well-known of the J-citrus fruits, mikan are called "satsuma" or "seedless mandarin" in the West. They are sweet and delicate, easy to peel, and while not always seedless it is rare for a mikan to contain more than a couple. Mikan are by far the most popular Japanese domestic citrus fruit, accounting for more than half of the cultivation areas in the country.

#3. IYOKAN いよかん
The iyokan is garbage. The flesh is dry and bears little if any flavor, and it's certainly not sweet. I don't know why it's the second most widely produced citrus fruit in Japan; it's like a crappy grapefruit that wants to be an orange. Oh well, the more you know!

Grown mainly in Kumamoto and Ehime, amanatsu is a step above iyokan but just barely. It peels easily and doesn't make too much of a mess, but each fruit (marginally smaller than a grapefruit) contains ~30 seeds, which makes it a laborious process to eat fresh.

#5. YUZU ゆず
For whatever reason, yuzu skin and juice comprise an extremely popular flavoring agent, but the fruit is almost never eaten fresh. Salad dressing, dipping sauce for stewed meat, hard liquor, dessert sauces, vinegar, hot beverages...few winter foods escape the distinctive, zesty tartness of yuzu. I'm not a proponent but apparently a whole lot of Japanese people would disagree.

#6. JUICY FRUIT ジューシーフルーツ
I have no idea what a "juicy fruit" is called in English. I'd compare it to a large grapefruit with pale yellow flesh. The flavor is slightly sour but overall sweet. When ripe it peels very easily, and it definitely lives up to its name - have a hand towel or napkin handy to clean up the inevitable mess.

#7. BUNTAN 文旦
In English, buntan are "Chinese grapefruit" or "pomelo." In Japan, they are expensive gift fruit. They're big, pale yellow things with thick skin that requires a knife (or really sturdy stiletto nails) to peel. Once you get inside, you are rewarded with dryish flesh chock full of seeds. You've already worked so hard to get in there that you go through the effort to remove the seeds and convince yourself that the bitter tartness is luxurious.

#8. MINNEOLA ミンネオーラ
The minneola is a tangerine hybrid of Floridan descent but has made its way onto the shelves at supermarkets everywhere, replacing the winter staples mikan and dekopon. Like dekopon, minneola have a nub/nipple/bump, but they are thin-skinned and so juicy that it's rare for them to survive peeling without dripping everywhere. The juice is very sweet, but they fall apart too easily and leave you wishing you had a mikan or dekopon instead.

#9. SUN FRUIT/SUN QUEEN サンフルーツ/サンクイーン
Another popular import from Florida, these are referred to as "Seminole fruit" in English. They bear resemblance to Minneola but are much seedier and more expensive. It is an exercise in futility to sit there pulling 5 teeny tiny seeds out of each wedge of a messy little thing barely the size of a Clementine.

As you might expect. Usually California grown. The age old argument/local pride joke is that California oranges are for eatin' and Florida ones are for juicin'.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I'm a Laura!

Today, a sunny Sunday, my talented friend Laura G came over to my house in Tagawa. We ate apples and oatmeal and made joyful noise on violin, ukelele and melodica, practicing our cheeky covers setlist for a Japan tsunami relief concert next month. It was so great to have another person to bounce ideas and harmonies off of. Music and friendship - they add meaning to my life. Noteworthy: today also marked my very first daytime visitor to my house in three years of living here. Three YEARS, one daytime visitor. No one ever wants to come out here since I'm so far removed from the hustle and bustle of "things to do" and "civilization." I'm glad somebody finally did.

Too bad our roads are forking so soon, or else we'd get a ton of shirts printed saying "The Lauras." I refuse to let this go.

Laura blogs at Ichigone, by the by.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Make it so

Walter and I have recently become completely obsessed with Star Trek: The Next Generation. We are planning on attending the world's largest Star Trek convention in Las Vegas in the summer. I want to learn some Klingon.

What is happening?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


The JET application process is a big fat multi-tiered layer cake of bureaucracy and paper pushing, and it all culminates the day results are released. Applicants are placed in one of three categories: (A) Shortlisted aka "Welcome to Japan;" (B) Rejected aka "You fail;" or (C) Alternated aka "We're going to drag out the waiting game indefinitely, welcome to hell." I got a message at a JET-related website (which I may or may not have nearly 26,000 posts on...) a couple days back from someone whose cover letter essay I proofread back in December announcing excitedly that he had been shortlisted. Great job, slugger!

I can't believe it's been three years since I received notice of my applicant status. Like 9/11 or my first clubbing experience in Berlin, that moment is burned into my brain all flashbulb-like. I was at Pizzeria Uno of all places with my best friend and this Chinese dude who was explaining that Shanghai girls uniformly fall all over themselves when he walks into a room (unlikely). Got a phone call from Walter saying JET applicant results were out. He was alternated so I was nearly certain I had either been alternated or rejected, but after having him check my email, it turns out I had been shortlisted! I was beside myself with excitement but naturally had to downplay it so as not to rub salt in his gaping wounds. The minute I hung up the phone I yelled "I'M GOING TO JAPAN, OH MY GOOOODDDDD" in an uncharacteristically girly squeal, and my friends were happy for me.

Walter ended up being upgraded from alternate status a couple weeks before I left the United States. Prior to this great news there had been crying and stressing over the possibility of a future, and it was always lurking there shitting on my parade. Similarly to the "shortlisted!" phone call, I remember it perfectly. I was driving to the bar with a friend and nearly swerved off the road when he broke the news over the phone. Just another excellent notch on my already-charmed life. I celebrated a lot and probably shouldn't have driven home from the bar that night.

It's really fun to think about all this, now that I've got just over three months left in Japan and the next big mystery is imminent. Why is it so much easier to wax nostalgic over the past or to fantasize far into the future than to concentrate on the present?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dead dandelions

There's nothing sadder than when you pick flowers and come home at the end of the day and they're all wilted and sad looking. Still, even dead flowers bring life!