Many people have woken up in America to find that many sites, such as Reddit and Wikipedia, have gone offline for the day in protest of what could very well become a reality if the two bills SOPA and PIPA pass. However, if you’re reading this it probably means that you are not without some base knowledge of your own regarding the issue.

SOPA is a House bill and PIPA is a senate bill. Apparently the Senate tends to be more older and conservative than the House. We can only hope that they’ve brushed up on information regarding the internet.

You can read more about their differences and even look at a wonderful chart to show you the differences between the two and what they will do if passed here (which is currently dark in protest for January 18th):

You can also watch this awesome video that tells you about PIPA and SOPA:

You can also learn about your senators and what they stand for regarding the bill here:

Please, do not stand idly by and hope that things smooth themselves out. Do not wait until it is too late to act upon this. It is hard to fathom something like this actually happening and it’s hard to imagine censorship to the degree the bill claims it can be enforced but it is real and it can happen. Please let your senator know how you feel.


Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference

Things have been going pretty well lately. I had some bumps in my life early in November. I felt like I was losing a friend–perhaps that friendship is lost. I made some plans and they all slipped through my fingers for one reason or another. It’s been about a month since then but I am still blaming myself for the events that happened–or the events that didn’t end up happening. I guess only time will tell before I learn whether or not the friendship stood the test of that amount of stress and I was worrying and beating myself up for nothing (really, I tend to do that) or if that friendship slipped through my fingers as well. Regardless, the words that were spoken I have taken seriously. As of late I have been finding all the reason in the world to go someplace else and I haven’t been trying nearly as much as I should be. After I returned to Kumamoto I decided to put a little more effort into my time here. I have been trying to hang out with more friends, but honestly I worry that perhaps I am not a person people really want to hang around with. I always feel like I’m the one doing the calling or the texting…

A friend of mine told me not to worry so much about the Japanese language. He tells me most of the people he knows who come here without any prior knowledge of it spend their first year trying to get used to the country and having random fun before they focus on studying and learning the language. He tells me not to beat myself up over not pushing myself more to learn it. Unfortunately I cannot help that. I want to learn more of the language but I don’t have as much motivation as I should. I become discouraged when I get stuck in a sentence or I am not being understood. But I am trying to branch out.

Today I made some new friends and I had a lot of fun. I met them through another friend of mine, the only difference is they do not know English so I am forced to speak and only use Japanese. There is no fall-back language. I hung out with them for about 4-5 hours or so and had a great time. Of course there were bumps in the road when it came to communication, but we were all very patient with one another. We laughed and had fun. I learned some more of the language (though I think it wasn’t committed to memory in terms of use later on… it was more committed to the part of my memory that recognizes it in conversation or when spoken). The friend who introduced us can speak English so when we were all together introducing ourselves I felt nervous to speak Japanese. But when it was just me and the two of them I opened up a little more. Either way, it’s a constant war with language with me.

I joined a kendo group. I have not much to say about it as I haven’t had a lesson yet, but I am looking forward to it. 🙂

Later this month my boyfriend will come to Japan. I am excited about that but I don’t know what I am going to show him. A lot of people have requested to meet him which may create some fun in terms of language barriers.

Eating words has never given me indigestion

Within the last month I have been realitively busy. After my trip to Osaka I went on a trip to Okinawa with my company which was a wonderful experience. The downpoint of the entire trip was that it rained a little every day and there weren’t really any clear skies. However, I did end up scuba diving, swimming in the ocean and even helping a hermit crab change it’s shell.

[Video will be placed here at a later time]

The first day we arrived in Okinawa we ate Okinawa soba which looks a lot more like ramen than soba. The flavor was good and I enjoyed the entire experience. There was so much to eat–I couldn’t finish it. Actually, I had placed myself on a diet prior to going to Okinawa and when I arrived I threw that diet out of the window so I could enjoy the food. Unfortunately we didn’t have Taco Rice (yes, “taco”. No, not “tako”) which is a famous Okinawan food. After that my group went to the man-made cave the Japanese used in defense against the Americans in WW2. It was a very eerie experience. There were rooms with bullet holes in them, scattered holes from suicide grenades, etc. The museum seemed to paint Americans in a negative light (respectfully so, given some of the things that happened) but it made me feel a little out of place. They had some amazing photographs though–like one of the sky that looked as though it was covered in the trails of shooting stars–but it was bullets.

After that we headed to a pretty interesting castle. The thing to keep in mind about castles in Okinawa is that they don’t really look anything like Japanese castles. The culture in Okinawa is more closely resembled to that of China–or a country close to it. The castles and the scenery were beautiful, though. I really enjoyed sightseeing.

The hotel was beautiful. I have never stayed in such a nice hotel. My balcony over looked the ocean and it was beautiful and blue. Sleeping in an actual western style bed was also heaven for me.

I went scuba diving which was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. All I can say is I want to do it again, and again, and again. I hope that I can, even if it isn’t done in Okinawa.

Unfortunately it rained the entire time during my trip so I didn’t get to have nearly as much beach time as I wanted. And of course it was sunny and hot the day we had to leave to go back to Kumamoto.

And that’s all I can write for now because I stupidly put off typing this. 😦

It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.

Kazu's dog, Asuka, who surprisingly remembered me from my last visit.

Last weekend I took a trip to Osaka which I planned basically at the last minute. The result was that I was only able to spend one day with my friend who moved to Thailand early this morning. But I was also able to spend time with another awesome friend.

Last Saturday was a work day like any other day. After an 8 hour work day I headed on over to the bus station and boarded a bus to the location the overnight bus had told me to go to. I bummed around that location for about 2 hours waiting for my bus, but when it finally came it marked the beginning of a 9 hour bus ride across Japan. How did I sleep? I slept… somewhat. It was more like I slept a few hours before I was awakened because my neck got stiff, or the bus stopped at a rest area. Despite the fact I didn’t get much sleep, I was able to function decently the rest of the day. Kazu, on the other hand, took a nap! It gave me time to talk to his family in better, but still broken, Japanese.

Speaking of Japanese… I would say that since I first came to Japan in April that my Japanese has gotten better but the area that it has improved the most has been listening comprehension. As far as speaking goes, I still feel as though it’s an embarrassing broken mess. I really do need to crack down on fixing the simple and stupid mistakes I make in every-day speech. Anyways, digression aside…

With Kazu I went to lunch with his family and had lovely unagi. It was very delicious, but there were very small bones within it. There was no way to pick them out so in the end you were forced to eat them. My only problem with unagi, or that unagi, is that I had to eat it bones and all. After lunch Kazu and I headed to meet up with Byung for some after lunch coffee. It was a really nice get-together. It was easy to think about days that had gone by and it was also easy to forget that time was still moving fleetingly forward. After the after lunch coffee and telling me how to get to the correct stop to meet Byung the following day since Kazu had other plans, Kazu and I bid farewell to Byung for the day and returned to his home to share dinner with Kazu’s family. The dinner was very delicious. It was chicken breast with a very nice salad and some interesting potato dish. This potato dish was something that was served to Mandi and I three years prior. I seemed to remember a lot from my last trip to Japan.

I can't remember what subway stop this was...

The next day Kazu had to leave early for work to clean his office and finish up some paperwork as well as say goodbye to his coworkers and after lunch I was taken to the station where I boarded the subway to go meet Byung. To be honest I was really sad to see Kazu go. I know it’s not goodbye but I knew it would be a long time before I saw him again. It was also an interesting sight to see Kazu in business man attire. I have never seen Kazu wear a suit before and I never once thought about him wearing such a thing whenever I thought about him going into work. I hugged Kazu goodbye at the front door and waved goodbye and he was gone. Goodbyes seem so easy until you are at the moment where you have to give them.

I was able to navigate the subways just dandy in Osaka. I made it to where I was to meet Byung with no difficulty. I met him at the entrance he told me to go to and from there we went to his apartment. I very much enjoyed the view from his apartment. However, we did not spend much time there because we had plans to go to Kobe. Ah, Kobe! It was a very nice city to visit. There is so much to see and I only saw a fraction. I would love to return and I do indeed plan to go back again sometime in the near future. Byung and I visited a lot of foreign homes. I was told that Kobe was a foreigner port at one time so once upon a time only foreigners could live there. It really didn’t feel like Japan. It felt like a place in between countries. I ate delicious Chinese food, as well. My coworker tells me the next time I go I should take one of the wire-cars up the mountain–it’s supposedly very wonderful. That night, after we returned to Osaka, we met up with Diego and went to karaoke. After that I got drunk, which is both stupid and embarrassing, so we will move on from that topic.

One of the many foreign style homes in Kobe.

The next day I was to take the overnight bus back to Kumamoto, but I was stupidly sick from my stupid decision the night prior and I decided to take the shinkansen (bullet train) back to Kumamoto and save myself the possibility of making a more embarrassing mess on the bus back home. I wasted a lot of the day lying on Byung’s couch in the living room and mentally kicking myself. When I finally felt better we had dinner, which was delicious tempura. I really wish I didn’t feel like crap the entire day. There was so much more that we could have done or seen had I not been a log.

The next day I took the shinkansen back early in the morning. I bid Byung farewell and I was very sad to have to go. I really do enjoy the company of others and I was off to my life of solitude back in Kumamoto. The ride back was smooth and quick. Many of my students or parents of my students are always surprised when they ask for my opinion on how long it takes to get from one place to another and I respond with 3-4 hours being such a short time for travel (especially on land!). It took 3 hours alone to get from Canby to Mankato, and that was by car. I hated that ride, but after a while it didn’t seem too long. I look at the map of Japan and think that it took only 3-4 hours by shinkansen and I still find it really interesting. America is a large country and it takes more time to cross it than it does Japan. That difference in size has made travel in Japan for me feel quick and easy. I wonder if this opinion will change.

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.