Jul 3, 2014

MEMENTOS: Flowers, Letters, and Horses

Notojima flowers, taken on a beautiful afternoon driving through the island.

Calligraphy at Nanao Art Museum

Letters to America: five of my students have paired up with pen pals in Nanao's sister city, Monterey, California. I am delighted they put so much enthusiasm into their letters, and hope these new friendships grow.

Horseback riding at Uchinada Beach. I only got to ride the horse "Pike Doll" for a half hour, but I got as far as moving up and down on my saddle to a trot. Not bad for a first time, right?

That's $35.49 USD. File under: things I won't miss.


Jun 30, 2014

MEMENTOS: Close to the Sea

The Logos Hope - a world-traveling book fair - docked in Kanazawa. We were disappointed the ship only sold bibles, Christian books, and Amish bodice-busters (they're a bit pent up). Free books about AIDS were piled next to the door and I saw an old Japanese woman grab one and put it in her grandchild's hands, not knowing what it was.

Track & Field Day at Joyama Park. I forgot to wear sports clothing, and was the only one to show up dressed in my everyday work clothes. I spent the day hidden in the back of the cheerleading crowd, goofing off with the school band.

A joshikai (women's party) with the teachers from my favorite elementary school. What a cool bunch of ladies!! Japanese teachers work so hard, often late into the night and on weekends, that they never have downtime to just enjoy themselves. It was a rare treat to hang out with them over dinner and ice cream, especially because they all speak a fair amount of English.

Showing my friend around the Noto with a stop at Anamizu Bay.

The hike around Anamizu Bay. Closer to the open expanse of the ocean, I spotted wooden stairs leading up into the hills. We followed them and discovered a hidden watchtower at the top. I love these little surprises.


Jun 27, 2014

Kanazawa's Biggest Festival: Hyakumangoku

Kanazawa's Hyakumangoku Festival commemorates Lord Maeda Toshiie's entry into Kanazawa Castle in 1583. Hyakumangoku literally means "5,000,000 bushels of rice." It represents Toshiie's immense wealth. While it may have roots in the 16th century, the festival itself began in 1952 to revitalize Japanese pride after World War II.

The festival kicks off with taiko and a parade in front of Kanazawa Station (we arrived by train just in time). Most members of the parade are dressed in period costumes and sporting facial hair they drew on themselves with magic marker.


The parade starts at the station and ends at Kanazawa Castle. As we walked across the city, we inadvertently kept pace with the parade, so we got to see the beginning and the end. We rewarded ourselves after the long walk with a fantastic dinner of Indian food at Spicebox.

While in the Katamachi district, we also saw a long circular procession of people dancing odori. This is a popular dance during Obon festivals. The parade also had the dragon-lions of the shishimae festival. It's as if Hyakumangoku is a one-day celebration of all the Noto festivals combined. Maybe the workers in Kanazawa only have the time for one day off?


Jun 23, 2014

Be True to Your LEGOs

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
– Joseph Campbell
Does a fear of love come from a fear of entrapment? I was discussing with my Aunt Kathy how half the married couples in America end up getting divorced, or they should be but they stay together in mutual misery. The love that was supposed to set you free is instead a shackle around your ankle. How could I keep from making the same mistake someday?

Then Aunt Kathy laid some wisdom on me: we're all LEGOs. Allow me to explain:

Love can start out on a false premise. Some girls will take up the guy's interests or values for her own, even if it's not really what she likes. She becomes the permeable membrane that absorbs the essence of the other person. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about this in her memoir Eat Pray Love:

“Some time after I’d left my husband, I was at a party and a guy I barely knew said to me, 'You know, you seem like a completely different person, now that you’re with this new boyfriend. You even dress like him and talk like him. You know how some people look like their dogs? I think maybe you always look like your men.'"

If you're a LEGO, each brick that you're made up of represents a like, interest, or value. It's what you are and the potential of who you want to be. Each brick makes up the whole; you can't take away any piece without changing the person. It's not written on our skin either; if you don't know, you have to discover them for yourself.

When people go to "find themselves," it's as if they're detaching all the LEGO bricks they tried to force on themselves from other people, and are discovering what they are really made of underneath. Do you know what you're made up of?


Jun 13, 2014

With Great Makeup Comes Great Responsibility

"Is the coast clear?" I asked. Laurén peeked out the bathroom door.

"It's clear. Let's go!" We slipped down the hall and made for the restaurant exit.

Just as we reached the door, we heard, "Hey, wait!" Caught! All through lunch I had tried to avoid this moment. Our waiter - a balding 30-something - rushed after us, his eyes fixed on me.

Rewind to an hour earlier: Laurén and I had attended our friend Christine's wedding. With a few hours before the reception, we decided to get lunch at classy restaurant because, hey, we were already dressed to the nines. It was the first time I'd ever gotten my hair and makeup done professionally, and together we were turning heads all over the place.

I didn't want to eat with my lipstick on, so I kissed the placemat as a joke to take it off. No doubt the waiter thought it was meant for him. As soon as he came to our table, he kept staring at me. I recognized those eyes; they were hungry.

He asked why we were dressed up, and soon learned how far I'd came for the wedding. "You're from Japan?" he said. "Wow! I'll have to come back and pick your brain."

When he left, Laurén gave me the no way look. "What's he going to do, sit at the table with us?"

Yes - that's exactly what he did. He came back with our food and sat in my booth. He asked me questions about Japanese life and teaching, and when I answered he didn't seem to hear. The whole time he never addressed my friend. I was so annoyed. I wanted to say, Excuse me, but you think ignoring my friend and inviting yourself to our lunch is going to get you "lucky?"

After the bill was paid, Laurén and I snuck to the bathroom before trying to make a break for it. When he cornered us at the exit door, he said to me, "You're a very lovely lady."

I know that, I thought. What are your qualifications?

Was I supposed to be flattered by this compliment? I was annoyed because it was superficial. When I caught my reflection in the mirror, I would think, Is that my face? It was like I was impersonating a beauty queen. The waiter was attracted to Bobbi Brown, not me.

Finally, his eyes wet and shiny, he said it: "Can I have your phone number?"

"Ah, you see, my phone number's in Japanese," I said. "And I'm leaving America tomorrow, so..." All this was true, but it sounded like some far-fetched excuse.

He just kept smiling. "When you get back to Michigan, come back to this restaurant. I'll be here."

"Okay," I said. I can never eat here again, I thought.

I guess to him I'll always be the one that got away (as fast as I could).