“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

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This past weekend I went to Yamaga to be an extra in the new Rurouni Kenshin sequel. I started the application process in the middle of July because they had posted they needed foreigners for a scene — I had my fingers crossed and kept silent in fear that I may jinx the possibility of getting the role. I know that it wouldn’t have helped or lessened my chances of getting the role, but I didn’t want to get anybody’s hopes up. I requested a Saturday off from work, which my boss was none too happy about, but he reluctantly gave in.

So Friday the 9th after work my friend and I drove to Yamaga and checked into our ryokan hotel (which the owner was completely against allowing us to stay because we were foreigners). I was able to talk him into allowing us to keep our reservation because he tried to get us to cancel a few days before we left to go and there was no room left because it was a busy weekend for the staff working on the film and the fans coming to stake out the area for a chance to catch a glimpse of their favorite actor. I brought the owner of the hotel some donuts in attempt to buy over some trust, and I think it worked. We had a good experience at the hotel, so I can’t complain!

Saturday morning, bright and early, my friend and I got up at 4:30am and wandered down to Yachiyo-za where they were going to film the movie. It was a long process, but we got in for wardrobe, hair and makeup. They fitted me into a long 1870’s style gold dress, and underneath I wore a long petticoat. Those fluffy things are like ovens, by the way. After that I got into line for makeup. We weren’t supposed to wear makeup before hand, but the lady there thought I had put some on. She was surprised how nice my skin looked. What can I say? When ya got it, ya got it. She covered up my freckles and smoothed out some blemishes. She said she liked the color of my lips so we didn’t put any lipstick on. On to hair — now I had hoped that they would do something with my own hair, but they slapped a dorag on my head and slid on a very funny-looking wig. I couldn’t hold in my laughter when I looked into the mirror and saw my new “do”. I looked like something out of Little House on the Prairie or Goldilocks.

The first day on set we spent the whole day outside recording one scene. It wasn’t that there were any mistakes that needed to be corrected, it’s that they had to refilm the same scene from many different angles. I had absolutely no idea the amount of work and care that goes into making a movie. This scene can’t take up much more than maybe 4-5 minutes total, but it took 5-6 hours to film! First we began with the camera behind me and a few others looking into the “marketplace”. Along the way there was a camera in the marketplace filming. I didn’t realize it was there until I was walking so one time I did accidentally look at it. The next time they moved the camera from behind us to in front and above us, re-positioning some cameras throughout the marketplace for a different look. Next they completely moved the camera to the back, and above. Then there was another scene where we had to weave through it as though it was a person while taking care to continue acting our parts and ignoring the camera, and then there was another scene where the camera was on something motorized and would “drive” through the marketplace. There was probably more than that, and I lost count as to how many times we did that scene. There was a band there playing music and we were told that when the band stopped playing, we were supposed to stop speaking — but we were supposed to continue moving our mouths as though we were speaking.

Can you find Green Hat creeping in the background between Takeru and Aoki?

Can you find Green Hat creeping in the background between Takeru and Aoki?

The second day we were inside Yachiyo-za for another full day of scene shooting. The same scene, of course. But we were inside and they air conditioned the room when we weren’t filming. As I said before, we did the same scene many times with the cameras in different places. It’s hard to go into this scene without potentially giving it away and whereas it isn’t a huge plot piece, I still feel it was a rather important part of the movie. I believe this is when Kenshin will make his reappearance in the movie. How they will introduce him and the others within the movie.

Which brings me to the next bit — the actors were there. Munetaka Aoki (Sanosuke), Satou Takeru (Kenshin), Takei Emi (Kaoru) and Tanaka Taketo (Yahiko). The creator of the manga Kenshin (Nobuhiro Watsuki) was also there as well as the director (Otomo). I always thought that they would look different in person. Either their height would be not as I imagined or the screen told lies about how they looked, but no. They looked exactly like they did in the first movie. The only thing I was surprised about was how tall Munetaka Aoki (Sanosuke). I nearly walked into him leaving the theatre and I remember looking up and thinking, “Wow, you are tall.” Satou Takeru came off a bit cold, but I like to think it’s because he was working. Perhaps he was making sure he kept himself in character. While he’s on set perhaps he just doesn’t like to interact with anyone or anything. A friend of mine said he saw him balancing on the beams in the theatre, which he said seemed like a “Kenshin” thing to do. I’m not quite sure if it was a “Kenshin” thing to do or not, but I like to think he was just keeping his mind in character and avoiding all outward distractions. Munetaka Aoki (Sanosuke) was very vocal. He’d play with the kids and make all the extras on set laugh. I thoroughly enjoyed his presence. He and I kept making eye contact but I was rather nervous and I felt shy everytime our eyes met so I never actually reacted outwardly other than quickly looking away.

All in all it was a great experience and I loved every moment of it, even when I felt the drops of sweat dripping down my back. Even when the staff would come over and dab the sweat off my face before a take so the camera wouldn’t catch the beads of sweat dripping off my nose and chin. I don’t think everyone can say they were in a movie — a Warner Bros. movie! It’ll be out in theatres Summer 2014 in Japan. Unfortunately I won’t be here to see it. 😦 Yep, I’ll be here to see it!

What? No DDR? WTF Konami?!

A Konami Sports Club located in Ibaraki.

I mentioned before that I have been exercising pretty frequently, which brings me to now. I never thought that going to a gym in Japan would be so significantly different from having a gym membership in America. In some aspects it’s not–it’s more like they actually enforce the rules rather than give guidelines (at least in America it felt like the rules were more like guidelines…).

So when you go to a gym to sign up for a membership you’ll want to have all your information on you. Most likely, if you’re a gaijin, you won’t have a Japanese credit card because we’re not cool enough for that. Long story short on that one is I’m pretty sure Japan feels as though foreigners can’t be trusted, though I’m not sure if the new alien registration card (which isn’t actually called an alien registration card anymore) that they are releasing in July will allow for more “rights” for foreigners because it’s pretty much the same card as a Japanese citizen. Except you’re a foreigner–and you’ll probably still be treated like an alien…

(e.g. “So in America… do you eat rice at all?”)

Anyways, signing up for a gym membership is way more time consuming than it is in America. They want a whole slew of information that in America they really don’t seem to care much about. In America I’m pretty sure I gave them my address and phone number, handed her my credit card and then went on my merry way. In Japan you give the same information but like any contract of any kind they want a part of your soul… They want your health status, if you have any illnesses, if you’ve had surgery, if you have any weaknesses… how many partners you’ve been with–okay, maybe not that bit of information.

However, in Japan they do payments a little differently from how they do it in America. I think it’s safe to say that most Japanese people have bank accounts but it’s also safe to say that most Japanese people do not have credit cards or debit cards that they can use to buy items at stores. In fact, when I signed up for my bank account the closest thing they have to a credit card was the nifty Tsuruya credit card that you can only use at Tsuruya. Most banks do not offer online banking, either. When you pay a bill it usually comes to you in the mail  and you then take it to the nearest convenience store and pay it. For the gym membership, however, I had a choice of paying it in cash every month or allowing them to take it directly out of my bank account. To do that I needed to bring my bank book (which has the same information as an American checkbook would in regards to bank number and account number) in with me and they would take my account information down so they could pull the money directly.

Afterwards it takes about 2-4 months for their system to accept your information and proceed to take the money out of your account every month. For me, by the third month it still hadn’t verified my bank information yet and I found myself having to pay in cash while being reassured that it will probably go through by the fourth month. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Other than that, it follows pretty normal Japanese rules. When you check in you get your locker number and before you can move on to the locker area you have to take off your shoes. After that point your outside shoes are not allowed on the floor. In the locker room no shoes are allowed, but once you leave you can put on your gym shoes which are shoes that are basically inside shoes… but for the gym. I’m sure there may be people who wear outside shoes in, but I was told they wanted me to use shoes that were not used outdoors. It reminded me of when I was in high school and I had “gym shoes”! Except we all wore them outside.

Depending on your plan you can have access to the pool, the studio (basically workout classes), etc. I enjoy the workout classes (specifically body combat). There are always a bunch of staff on duty and they are always wandering around to make sure people are okay. In America I don’t think the staff really batted an eye at me once. Most just stayed behind their desk and texted or… zoned out?

Konami DDR game.

Long story short: it’s a lot of fun and I kind of like being part of the gym community in Japan over America. The people and staff are really nice (even if they’re supposed to be) and I feel welcome. Now other members are slowly warming up to me and chatting with me time to time. It’s a nice feeling. 🙂

Also, despite the fact my gym is called Konami, and pretty much has the same logo as the game company, I’m a little disappointed I can’t workout and play games at the same time using their machines. 😦

Fugu? Not So Bad! Just Another Day!

So Tuesday was Valentine’s Day. I didn’t do much on Tuesday though I must say I was pretty productive. I slept in, got up and cleaned my apartment. You know, you never really realize how much hair you shed until you’re living in a space about 14×11 feet. Nevertheless, I cleaned up the main room, did some laundry and then headed off to the gym and arrived about 5PM.

Usually my gym workouts consist of 30 minutes of running and 30 minutes of weights, but I was away over the weekend in Ube seeing a friend from my home town, Jake, and the gym is closed on Wednesdays so I figured it was time to make up for lost time. So Tuesday I ran until I hit 3 miles (it’s my usual distance, but I took my time today), lifted weights and did sit-ups for 30 minutes, took a short break and then power-walked a mile or more for about a half hour until it was time to take some taebo-ish class. I must say I don’t think I have sweat that much in my life.

One thing I don’t think I’ll ever get used to is how exercise classes are in Japan. I don’t know much of the language so some of what the instructor is saying is lost on me. Before the class begins the instructor introduces himself and says some inspiring things and then everyone bows to one another and claps. But Kai insisted that I’ll probably be all right. I am not the most coordinated person so I’m sure regardless of language I would have ended up making some backwards mistakes. However, after a while I was able to pick up right from left and was able to perform the kicks and punches as he instructed. I was dripping sweat and didn’t realize it until I began hearing my shoes squeaking on the wooden floor. That 30 minute class was a workout and next Tuesday I hope I can do it all over again. All in all I had fun and Kai was a great instructor. He’s one of the few workers who has attempted to chat with me which helps me feel a little more welcome–though there was another gaijin at the gym that day! The guy didn’t even smile or wave even though we made eye contact.

Now about my trip to Ube! It was a lot of fun and I ate many interesting things, such as iidako (飯蛸). There isn’t an easy way to explain it other than it’s a small octopus that is boiled in a soy sauce-type broth. It doesn’t have to be hot when served to you–in fact Jake and I ate ours cold. In retrospect I believe this is what was given to Mandi and I when we had gone to Tokyo. We never ate them, though. We passed the bag on to one of Kazu’s brothers. At first glance, I will admit I felt a little intimidated by it. I could see it’s brains–inside its head–so I wasn’t sure if I could “stomach” it. I was pleasantly surprised! Jake just grabbed it and went to town, but I hesitated a bit. If there is one thing I can learn from it’s taking more initiative and just trying more things instead of being so standoffish about food. I could have missed out on eating this just by being too afraid to bite into it. The texture didn’t even give off the fact that I was eating octopus innards. Very flavorful, and very delicious.

Among other things I ate was fugu (河豚). Fugu is the renowned blowfish that if not prepared correctly can take your life. I was a little apprehensive to eat it, but Jake was pretty adamant about me trying it. I ended up giving it a try and I came to the realization that it was pretty tasty. Our chef is a friend of Jake’s and also has a license to prepare fugu–I realize that accidents happen, but as everyone can see I am still alive and well. Some chefs even place a little put of blowfish’s poison on the sashimi (raw fish) to add a slight tingling sensation to the tongue and lips and there is usually where the problem arises because the poison is so potent. As far as I know the chef did not do that. I did not feel any tingling. The food was amazing and I am very glad I followed Jake’s lead and tried fugu.

Before all of the delightful food eating we went to Yamaguchi to see the pagoda. I’m afraid I don’t know much about the building besides it being the only one (or one of the few) that is made completely from wood. Wood nails, wood everything. There were a few other people enjoying the view–most of them were bird watchers trying to capture images of a kingfisher (kawasemi). I got a little caught up in the excitement, as well. I’ve never seen one before. It’s things like this (not so much the bird watchers) that make you realize the beauty of small town, more rural cities in Japan. Jake, someone who pretty much lives for the big cities, told me enjoyed small town Ube and was thankful that he was able to experience it. That there was so much to see and a lot of culture to be had. Kumamoto maybe big in comparison, but it’s still considered inaka (rural); however, it cannot even compete with how rural Ube is.

And now I will leave you with this:

Protect Your Home by Throwing Soybeans out Windows and Doors

鬼は外!福は内!
Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!
Evil/Demons out! Good luck, in!

Last week was 節分 (setsubun). It’s a tradition held every year on February 3rd, the day before Spring, according to the lunar calendar. Now-a-days families will have someone (usually the person who was born in the current zodiac year: e.g. It’s the year of the dragon this year, so someone born in the year of the dragon should play the demon) put on a demon mask and the children will throw soy beans at them yelling “oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!” This is done to cleanse the house of any evil that may have been hiding within your home over the winter months. The ritual of throwing soy beans is called mamemaki.

During this day of work I had one student come in wearing a demon mask with a bag of peanuts. Now, it wasn’t the time or place to take part in Setsubun, but among kids it’s pretty popular and it looks fairly fun. Along with throwing soybeans out of windows and doors chanting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” people also eat something called makizushi (which is an uncut sushi roll) which they call eho-maki. It means “lucky direction roll”. When eating an eho-maki on Setsubun (well, it’s really the only time you’re able to buy one) you do so in silence while facing the “yearly lucky compass direction” determined by the zodiac symbol of the current year. Some people put sardine heads and holly leaves on their door entrances to ward off any bad spirits. Apparently even ghosts cannot stand sardine heads and holly leaves. I honestly didn’t have the pleasure of seeing any sardine heads or holly leaves above doorways but I suppose it doesn’t mean people don’t do it.

Anyhoo. On Sunday I met up with Keiko and the family to have dinner with them. We had a great time eating yakiniku, which is placing thinly cut pieces of meet on an open grill in the middle of a table. I have noticed that the Japanese enjoy eating their meat cooked rather rare. I normally like my meat cooked all the way through so I tend to wait what they would consider to be a long time. A few times they told me it was getting burned–which it wasn’t! I love yakiniku–it’s a great way to spend time together with friends. The meat comes already cut so you don’t have to spend a lot of time fighting with your meal or cutting it into small pieces. The down side is you have to wait for it to cook and if you have a bunch of people around you who don’t mind eating it on the rare side it might be a little difficult to make sure you get to eat your share. But you know–it’s not just meat they eat. They also put vegetables on there as well. I love Japanese pumpkin. 🙂

On the left: Noboru, Keiko, and ME! On the right: obaachan, Misako, and Naomi!

All in all it was a good weekend. I even practiced kendo again for about two hours. It was a lot of fun. This time I was able to get into hitting things. I learned how to hit the head (men) and the arm/wrist (kote). My problem seems to be in yelling. I have a hard time screaming at the top of my lungs and yelling MEN or KOTE depending on what I strike. That and it can be a little embarrassing. I was a rowdy, loud kid when I was younger but as I got older I became quieter. Many people ask me to repeat things when we’re just chatting because I talk quietly. I wouldn’t say I mumble at all, but I can be pretty quiet. Here is basically what I did my last session. I didn’t strike my teacher’s kote or torso. I mainly focused on the men (head strike). But that sort of yelling is what you are supposed to do. It’s safe to say afterward my throat feels pretty raw.

Tomorrow’s battle is won during today’s practice.

Pretty much how I trained today--in front of a mirror.

Today I had kendo training. This time it was with an actual kendo sensei and also with a friend of mine who I met on my trek up (technically it was down) 3,333 stairs to a very old temple. It was a lot of fun and very difficult. There was a lot of multitasking; but unlike the multitasking I am used to it was much more physically challenging. There are so many things to pay attention to when it comes to the basics of kendo. Your feet positioning, how you move your feet, how quickly you move one foot compared to the other, where your center is, making sure you’re moving your hips correctly along with the movement of your body, how you strike with your shinai (bamboo sword) and how you hold the sword in your hands. All of this must be done correctly otherwise you will begin to create habits–bad habits–that will be hard to break.

Full kendo gear. The armor is called "bogu". I don't have that yet.

Today was difficult for me. As I was training the basics–the foundation of learning kendo–in the background were high school students sparring and practicing and one couldn’t help but notice that they were way out of my league in terms of skill. But honestly, are you surprised? Most of them begin training at a young age and just continue on through high school. The crack of the shinai, the bellowing yells to express their ki, the quick and fluid motions that look almost effortless as they move to block a hit… it made me covet their skill. Sure, they aren’t 8dan or even close to it, I’m sure. But they have skill and they have the spirit… and I’m still finding it hard to do all the things I stated above and still yell out as I do them each time I swing my sword.

However, I am lucky. My sensei is a 7dan. The highest is supposedly 8dan. He tells me it will take years before he is able to test for it and the tests one must go through for it sound excruciating. The levels of kendo are on a 1-8dan system. To teach kendo legally you must be at least a 5dan; but if you want to have your own dojo or lead one you must be at least 7dan. I am told if I work hard I can probably achieve 1kyu which is one of the few levels that exist before one can get 1dan. As an example, it could take about 2 years just to get 1dan… pretty long time.

Until tomorrow!

Nagasaki is not just a few hazy images. I remember it as a real chunk of my life.

This past weekend some of my coworkers and I planned a trip to Nagasaki. It was a wonderful trip and I wish we could have had more time instead of just one day. There was so much we wanted to do, but just didn’t have the chance to do.

This was my first time traveling by train for an extended period of time–well, a train that wasn’t the shinkansen. We rode just an average train for about an hour and then switched onto an express line the rest of the way to Nagasaki. It’s really unfortunate. I enjoy traveling by train but the price can be a pretty penny depending on where you go. The landscapes fly by and you get to see snippets of Japanese life as they fly past your window. I caught myself wondering if some of the villages I watched from my window had changed much over the past couple of decades. How the Japanese build rice fields into their hills always amazes me no matter how many times I see it.

We arrived in Nagasaki at about 10AM in the morning and rushed to get our daily tram passes so we could be sure to get around the town. We first went to eat champon which was very tasty. Though I think I prefer just normal ramen. What is champon? Champon is a dish I assume was adapted from a Chinese dish. It has noodles inside which are nothing like those used with ramen, soba or udon. They are completely round and smaller than both ramen and udon but bigger than soba. In the dish there are a variety of things. Many different kinds of vegetables (leaks, sprigs, mushrooms) and seafood (little octopus or squid, some shellfish, etc).

Afterwards we went towards Suwa Shrine, which was lovely.  From the top you could look out over a nice chunk of Nagasaki. It allowed you to imagine what it would have looked like about a hundred years ago. The shrine was very nice and I think there was a small bird zoo nearby because we could hear the calls of peacocks.

Afterward we went to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb museum. I have never been to the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Museum, but I have heard that it is much more “in your face” in regards to what exacltly happened before, during and after the bomb was dropped. We slowly walked into the gallery where there were pieces of buildings and other items that survived the atomic blast–well, barely. As we continued forward we reached the gallery which housed familiar items to many people that had been exposed. Melted coins and bottles, burnt and bloody pieces of clothing. There was even a large glob of melted glass with the bones of a hand encased within. A young school girl’s obento (lunch box) with the rice still in tact within from being burned so fast and quickly. There were also items you could touch, which I touched. I took one picture inside, but I couldn’t take more than that. Even though it was allowed (or perhaps even encouraged) I felt as though it was rude.

There was a wall that had the shadows of items and a person etched into it. A ladder with the shadow of a man standing next to it, almost as though time there stood still and the shadow was still looking up toward the sky unknowing about what horror was going to shortly occur. The testimonies from people who survived the blast were also horrifying. A young kid who had to cremate his mother in the backyard of his school and that whenever he went to where she was cremated and scratched a stick into the dirt he could see the face of his mother in the black ash.

Afterward we went to Peace Park, which was very nice, but still indeed looming. There was a large statue with one hand pointing up towards the bomb that fell and the other stretched out in peace. The Hypocenter was also very dreary. I feel like I learned a lot despite how depressing the entire subject is.

Afterward we went to buy some omiyage (souvenirs) for the people we work with and went hunting for some yakiniku. We found a lovely grill, albeit expensive, but we were able to eat a lot of food and we couldn’t even finish all of it! We had beef, chicken, special cuts from pigs and even whale! I know many people do not agree with eating whale, but truth be told we didn’t know it was part of the course we ordered and since it was ordered and the money already paid for we found no reason to allow it to go into the garbage–which is exactly where it would have gone. Whether I ate it or not, the outcome would have still been the same–it would have still been purchased whale.

Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.

"They dance around the horse..."

Man, I have been busy. Let me tell you! On September 18th there was a huge event in Kumamoto called the Fujisaki Hachimangu Festival (藤崎八旛宮秋季例大祭) where there is a parade of horses numbered up to 67. The people dance and yell, “dookai, dookai! (How’s this?! How’s this?!)” around the horse, following it, and playing instruments–the entire festival is full of energy. At one time they would give the horses alcohol and get them completely drunk, and I have also heard that they would cut off the horses head at the end, but I’m not sure how true that statement is.

The fact of the matter is it was a blast. Despite the detest for the festival some of my coworkers had due to the previous mistreatment of the animals, I had a great time. I can’t say without a doubt that they were not given alcohol and that they were all treated well, but not a single one of them was forced into running or forcibly spooked in front of me. There were a few times that a horse got a little agitated and uncomfortable with it’s surroundings but there was no one there beside or around the horse trying to instigate a situation where the horse might get out of control. I wasn’t the only one enjoying my time at the festival–many people were there enjoying the entertainment and every person in the parade was dancing and singing/yelling and having a wonderful time.

"Dookai! Dookai!"

Many of the people who took part in the festival were very friendly, came up to my video camera and waved, or struck a pose. The horses may not have been given alcohol (at least the times when I saw them give the horses anything it was water, but the people of age in the festival were enjoying theirs. They would pour the remainder of the water on the horse when the horse had it’s fill and none of it smelled of sake or any sort of alcohol.

Each number (there were 67) had different colors, lead by a horse and a man on a moving cart with a megaphone/speakers cheering on their group and filling them with energy. So many people dressed up in costume or strange makeup. Even the children took part in the event, even if by the end someone was carrying them. The festival took up the entire day. There was still a portion of the parade left by 10pm that night; and to think I wanted to stick it out until the end desperately. I didn’t have that kind of time. I threw in the towel around the 30th horse or so.

"The trees toward Kumamoto Castle were littered with lanterns..."

On the 22nd a friend from Osaka came to visit me and it was great fun. My only regret is that we didn’t have the time to show him everything he would have preferred to see. Hopefully I will have another shot at showing him more of Kumamoto and the surrounding area in the future. On the second and last day of his stay here we began by going to Kumamoto Castle. On our way up, the trees by the sidewalk leading up to Kumamoto Castle were littered with lanterns. I don’t believe I have ever seen them lit up at night, so I wonder if they are only lit for certain events or if they are just for show and have no candle/light inside. The road was narrow so walking side by side to talk to one another was very difficult to do as many people were on their way down.

Afterward we went to a wonderful ramen shop where we tasted the deliciousness of Kumamoto ramen, which was very good. I’m sure there are better and more expensive shops out there, but I must say that I did really enjoy what I ordered. A little recent fact about me is that I have been dieting recently in attempt to lose some weight that I have put on over the years, and the past few days I allowed my diet to be thrown out the window for a while so that I could enjoy and partake in many delicious food. For example, the previous night, I ate cooked horse meat and heart! It was delicious–both of it. I was skeptical about the horse heart at first but I faced my worries and ate it. It was soft and delectable. It practically melted in your mouth.

"Both Byung and I took part in drinking the water at Suizenji..."

From the ramen shop Byung and I quickly made a break for Suizenji Koen. This was a first time visit for me as well. I have been in Kumamoto for about half a year and it’s one of the places in this city I had yet to go to. I’m glad I finally went. The park was beautiful. I was expecting it to be a little more barren and with a lot less people–so many people made it out to sound as though it was some boring experience; but it was far from that. There were children down by the pond feeding the koi fish who were trying to shove themselves up onto the shallow rocks in attempt to gulp up some pieces of bread people were tossing down. I have never seen such a mob of koi fish before. There was a crane standing upon a rock, looking at me with hollow eyes as though he knew I was not even remotely a threat–or perhaps he thought he could beat me up if I tried. The shrines (神社) were amazing. There was an area where you could drink the water of Suizenji which was said to help give you a long life. Both Byung and I took part in drinking the water and I was again reminded how delicious Kumamoto water is.

Before we knew it the time had already passed and it was time to get Byung back to Kumamoto Station so he could catch a bus to the airport to head back home to Osaka. I had a great time and I’m really happy I was able to see him. The silly, but fortunate, part is that this coming weekend I will be going to Osaka. At first I was a little hesitant about the idea and I wasn’t sure how much I liked the idea of going, but after I booked my overnight bus there and back I began feeling a little more excited about it. I can’t wait to go and see Kazu and Byung again. It’s really been a long time since I have been to Osaka and I feel a little giddy about seeing the city again. It’s what showed me how much I loved Japan in the first place. I guess a part of me is hoping that it still is the same.

The only journey is the journey within.

"At 11AM they brought in my means for food and hydration for the remainder of the day..."

Last week was spent in the hospital. In Japanese they call it 入院 (nyuin). Last Monday, on the 5th, I went to the hospital in Kumamoto and checked myself in. It was 10:30 am in the morning and I didn’t have surgery planned until the next day. I was unhappy and a little short-fused because instead of working I had to sit in a hospital the entire day–a hospital I could not leave after checking in; and what would I do?

I checked myself in and they brought me to the 7th floor of the hospital. At that point they took me to my room which I shared with 7 other people with their own ailments. I thought, “Great–no privacy either…” I expected to have a roommate, but I guess I never thought, in my wildest imagination, that I would be sharing a room with 7 other people. Astonishingly, every person who came to visit me was surprised as well. However, it was a big hospital, and popular. I suppose, because of that, it is to be expected.

Throughout my first day I was visited by random people who began scared out of their wits to attempt to speak to me. I’m a foreigner, remember? Their assumption is that I don’t speak a lick of Japanese, let alone understand a word of it. I may not be fluent, but I know enough to get myself through the day and survive until the next without little to no help. They had me come in early, I found out, to explain to my what the following day would entail. I was visited by three people: a nurse, the surgeons assistant and my doctor; so you could say that I was waiting to be visited by the three ghosts of Surgery and Hospitalization.

The day of my surgery they woke everyone up at 6am. They took my blood pressure and my temperature–I was in tiptop shape. My student nurse was concerned about my bowel movements as I admitted that I did not know when the last time I did #2 (she asked!). I tried to explain to her that, for me, it’s totally normal and typical, but she still asked me once every hour or so when she had to check up on me.

"When I asked why there was a tube sticking out of my hand they told me it was placed under the tendon so it wouldn't stick again..."

At 7:30am I ate before everyone else in my room because at 8 I was to stop drinking fluids or eating food. Afterward I putzed around for a few hours until 11:00am when the nurse came in with my scheduled IV (点滴 [tenteki]). My surgery was scheduled at 3:30pm, so there was plenty of time for me to contemplate my fears and lament for the events to come. My neighbor told me not to worry and insisted it didn’t hurt. She explained to me that they play music during the surgery to help relax you and that it’ll be over before I know it. I appreciated her support, but it didn’t ease my tension at all. It was hard to forget or push out the thoughts going through my head when I had the IV sticking in my hand. A constant reminder of what was to come.

3:20 rolled around and everyone came into my room to prep me. It felt like a huge ritual–so many people surrounding me and my bed as though I was going to make a break for it. They had me lay down on my bed and they wheeled me out of the room. The wait for the elevator felt like forever, and when we made it to the 3rd floor. They pushed my bed in front of a door that read 手術室 (shujutsushitsu) and I knew it was the operating room. They waved us in and I was switched to the operating table which was much more narrow than my bed–which I might add I thought was also a little narrow).

The shots were the worst part. There were many shots for the local anesthesia. It took forever for my hand to take it as well. The original 2 shots turned into 5 or so. Eventually I couldn’t feel my hand anymore and the surgery could begin. But while they were waiting, I remember feeling sick to my stomach because my hand was tingling and it felt disgusting as it was losing sensation. My doctor rubbed it and massaged the muscle to spread out the solution from the shot, which was made me feel sick. I almost thought I was going to throw up. I could feel it, but I couldn’t feel it.

After they reached the tendon they asked me to make a fist with my hand. I tried to make a fist, unknowing if I was actually doing it. I couldn’t feel my hand so I had no idea if I was succeeding in my attempt. I heard responses of happiness from behind the little curtain they put up so I couldn’t see the surgery happen. But at that moment my doctor told me he wanted me to look at my hand, to which I replied I didn’t want to (見たくない). He told me to bare with it because I had to look to verify there was movement. So yes, I saw my own tendon. It wasn’t until the following day that they took the bandages off and I was able to see my hand after the surgery. There was a black train-track-like drawing on my hand to help with the stitches and a tube. When I asked why there was a tube (管) sticking out of my hand they explained so that blood could leak. It was placed under the tendon so that it couldn’t stick itself back to the bone, causing the surgery to be pointless.

"It always feels tired and exhausted from all of the physical therapy..."

All said and done, I can move my finger again and I’m regaining movement in my ring finger as well since I couldn’t move that to the degree it normally could because the pinkie wouldn’t move. I have to go to Physical Therapy (the Japanese say “rehab”) every day to help regain more movement. I have to be careful because soon the tendon will try to stick again.

At home I must practice using my hand a lot–I was also given permission to ride my bike in my current condition because it is good for physical therapy (the squeezing for the break). The truth is, my hand is weak. I cannot squeeze as hard as my other hand and my hand constantly feels like it’s tired from all the “working out” it’s been doing. I haven’t used my tendon since late May, to be honest, and it’s only natural that it feel tired and exhausted after using it. I will say that I enjoy my physical therapy. It may hurt, but it helps loosen the muscles that tense up throughout the day. I don’t have enough hands to do what the people at physical therapy do, so it’s really helpful. I always walk away with more mobility than I walk in with–of course until the tendon gains it’s strength back it’ll be hard for that mobility to stick around.

I will never be able to curl my pinkie as much as my right hand. My first doctor who I saw when I first broke my hand really didn’t handle the situation well. He did not listen to my concerns when I stated that I felt something else was wrong with my hand, besides the broken bone. He did not refer me to another doctor and, ultimately, in the end, he did not even correctly set the bone. He buddy-taped it to my ring finger and added some hard thing to the palm of my hand to support my pinkie but he never set the bone–as a result I have a 30 degree bend in my pinkie finger which will always cause the defect you see in the above picture.

In the end I met a lot of wonderful people. The room of 7 people turned out to be a great match for me despite the fact I didn’t k now squat for Kumamoto-ben. My Japanese was very limited compared to everyone else in the room, but I understood much more than I was able to articulate. The nurses and workers were taken aback and pleased when they found out I knew enough Japanese to work with them. I also found out I seem to speak better Japanese when drugged up/really tired. Perhaps it’s because I am not second guessing what I am about to say. The food was delicious even though there was one meal I couldn’t finish out of not having the patience or skill to eat the food in front of me. I will miss Fujimoto-obaachama. I hope I have an opportunity to see her again…

When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.

So it seems as though I have become ill once more. At least I am beating the record to how often I used to get sick when I lived in the dorms while attending college. I think I got sick once a month… But then again, dealing with children is bound to catch you a few colds, or in some teacher’s cases… chicken pox! Thankfully I had my share of chicken pox as a child, but I always have a nagging in the back of my head that worries, “maybe it wasn’t bad enough and I can get it again!” A few of my students have come in with what seems to be the end of chicken pox; I wonder why they don’t vaccinate for it.

Vaccinations are done differently in Japan. A lot of my students have these grid-like patterns on their upper arms from the vaccines they were given as children. These patterns end up usually turning into scars that last for the rest of their lives. I have tried to figure out what the vaccines are for, but it seems the majority of them are for TB. Apparently the way they do vaccines here are from some sort of “shot” guns. Stab and squeeze… I guess.

It kind of makes me happy I never had that happen to me. My mother, actually, was diagnosed with being positive with TB when I was a child. The doctor was so very worried because my mother was working at an old folks home and if she was contagious it could mean a pandemic. I took the test and I came up negative so everything ended up alright. But the test I had to take required there to be something (liquid) placed just under my skin. My friend says she had some sort of liquid placed under her skin as well, so maybe her scar is from TB. I just don’t remember there being that many shots for the vaccine… Either way, when I received my TB vaccine, it was just one shot. Both times.

Anyways, I’m going to call that quits for now. I’M SICK.

Be where you are; otherwise you will miss your life.

It has now it the three month marker that I have been living here in Japan and I must say it’s had some major ups and downs. I never thought that my first experiences living in Japan would be as crazy and drastic as they have been but hopefully when all is said and done they will be nice conversational pieces.

As of now I notice that Japan has been losing that magical glow that I once gave it. Now that I have been here for three months I have grown accustomed to the shrine outside of my apartment, the view of the white dome on top of Mt. Hanaoka which houses Buddha’s remains, the wooshing sound of the shinkansen coming into the station or leaving, the view of Mt. Aso in the distance from my balcony, the suffocating sound of cicadas in the morning that can be heard over my air conditioner. I’ve gotten used to sleeping on the floor as well–so much so that when my coworker and I went to Fukuoka and stayed at a hotel I realized that it was my first time sleeping in an actual bed with a mattress in almost three months!

Yes, this area of Japan has lost it’s “oomph”. There is still much left to be seen, but the same paths and roads I take no longer have that special feel to them. I don’t have that, “Yes… I am here. I finally made it. Look! Look at everything so unbelievably Japanese!” feeling anymore. Perhaps it was naive of me, but I remember being a teenager and then throughout college, and even after my first trip to Japan back in 2008, looking back on pictures I took or images I found while searching and thinking that everything looked so incredibly interesting and so well balanced. Now being here I look around and I realize how I have just become used to everything that is around me.

Is this bad? No. I think it means that I have finally settled in. That I am finally able to look at my surroundings as my current home.

As strange as it may sound I think what sealed the deal on these thoughts is what I did today: I rearranged my apartment. After moving all my things around and putting them in a new spot I realized that this apartment, though small, is finally feeling like MINE. Now if I could only get some stuff to put on the walls. I need to find some scenery photography from magazines or something.

Other than that I went to therapy today at the Kumamoto hospital and while I was waiting to be called in so I could be shipped up to therapy some old lady began talking to me. I always dread those moments because I am so afraid of what they may say. What kind of conversation do they want? Can I keep up with it? She expressed how hot it was today and I agreed. Then she took out her fan and explained to me that she was going “do this for me.” I gave her a puzzled look and she opened the fan and began fanning me. It felt nice and I thanked her but she continued doing it. I almost felt awkward. What do I say? I only know thank you in these moments! I said, “Ah, it feels nice! Thank you!” but she just continued… until my name was called. I forgot to thank her in all my confusion but she was a very nice lady.