“Can you cook curry?” and other stories.

It would really be an understatement to say that I originate from a foodie’s paradise. You want it, we got it.

So, when the Singapore JETs were leaving for Japan, many were exchanging recipies and carrying a whole lot of ingredients and spices and lamenting how much they’d be missing the Chicken Rice and Mee Goreng.

For me though, I felt a huge disconnect. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home food just as much as the next person…but I’m a lot less sentimental. As I left Singapore, I never once thought “Damn I’m gonna miss the food”. At most it was a “Damn, I’m gonna have to cook for myself!” I occasionally wonder if there are people who can relate with this (I’m sure there are…I mean, the world is huge).

I came to accept very early on that I was far from being the cook that my mom and grandmother are. So I’d make pasta or bake or find stuff online and try it out…or on some occasions, improvise stuff up. And it’s not like I make BAD food…but I’m far from knowing complicated recipies that take 2 days to prepare, at the tip of my fingers. I’m even further from being able to host parties and prepare everything from scratch. That’s the kind of mom and grandmother I grew up with and I have a HUGE amount of love and respect for these 2 women…but what they do requires SO much time, patience, energy and practice.

The summer before I first arrived in Japan, I actually visited India for a bit and tried to learn how to make some decent Indian food…and I did! I could make Chappatis and a decent Channa Masala (I actually talked about this in a previous post somewhere)…and then I forgot how to make it. :/  I know how this makes me sound like a terrible representative of my own culture, etc…I’ve been chastised enough (being a woman has NOT been helpful in this case)…but just hear me out on this.

Can you make curry?
I’ve lost count the number of times people ask me if I can make curry. What curry? Cuz if you mean the Japanese type that requires me to plop the roux on my veggies, I’m amazing at it. Indian curry tho…I can MAAAYBE manage 2 or 3 out of the HUNDREDS that exist. Indian food is complicated. Till maybe last month, I had no idea you could add cashewnuts into curry and blend it all into a smooth paste. I’d watched mom do it…vaguely…but never really registered it.

There’s a whole world of spices and curry powders. Depending on what is added and when it’s added and the amount added, the resulting curry would be completely different. So can you really blame me for forgetting? I’ve made enough bad curries to be weary of curry making. I miss one step, and suddenly I’m stuck with a watery, overly-spicy, meh-looking…mix of things in a pot. And while I’m all for learning from my failures, it’s also incredibly draining and time-consuming.

Mind: All that cooking’s fine and well, till the cleaning part happens.

If you read my other posts, you’d know that my schedule is just insane. This means, any kind of cooking leads to piled up pots and pans in the sink for a WEEK. Indian cooking requires a lot more than one pot. So the washing and smells add up. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

What Singaporean food do you miss?
And don’t get me started on what I miss about Singaporean food. Because, honestly, the thing I miss the most is the availability of GOOD vegetarian salads, sandwich, wraps and soups. A good salad, sandwich, wrap or soup should be a filling and satisfying meal. A good mix of fresh crunchy vegetables with some tofu or veg patty, topped off with a good dressing….mmm. That or a hot bowl of soup with some bread on the side on a rainy day.  Being vegetarian in Japan isn’t impossible, but it definately decreases all my sammich-on-the-go options.

I’m unsure about the rest of Japan, but where I’ve been posted, there are no vegetarian sandwich options in the conveniences stores  and Starbucks is a hit or miss thing depending on the seasonal offerings. We have Doutor which makes fresh sandwiches but I need to tell them not to put in the non-veg stuff and still pay the same price with no extra veggies to compensate the lack of non-veg.

I want to make it very clear that I’m not complaining when I say all this. I knew what I was getting myself into when I came to Japan. But the point I’m trying to make (long winded as it may be) is that I miss my sandwiches more than any particular Singaporean food and I have problems articulating that to people (both Singaporean and non-Singaporean) because of the reactions I get to that statement. It makes me look like a terrible cultural embassador of both my country AND my culture.

13246259_10154170327039808_2501221272059890480_o

WHAT IS THERE NOT TO LIKE ABOUT A SOY PATTY BURGER?!?

 

What should I eat in Singapore?
And then the famous: What should I eat if I go to Singapore?
I really struggle on this one because truth be told, it’s everything. You can’t possibly understand Singaporean food culture by eating JUST roti prata or laksa. Singapore is complex because of it’s roots in trade and it’s diverse population of about 5.5million people.

How to answer liddat?
(Singaporean English for: How am I to answer in a situation like that?)
I’ve dealt with this by telling people to visit food courts or hawker centers in Singapore. That’s where they’re going to find all that diversity at very cheap prices. I try to explain why it’s not as easy as telling a foreigner in Japan to eat Sushi. So far, the response to that answer has been good.

But, I mean, I TRY…

I can’t however be accused of not trying. I have a lot of love for a South-East Asian flavoring called Pandan. It’s a type of leaf that’s boiled for its’ essence and the essence/extract is added to cakes, jellies, jams, etc. The taste is really unique and whenever people ask me if I want/need anything from Singapore, I usually ask for Pandan essence.

So, recently, when my school asked me to appear on a TV programme in collaboration with the broadcasting club, I was all for it. They asked me if I could do anything “Singaporean”…so I offered to show them how to make Pandan Agar Agar Jelly. Litterally, it’s the ONLY Singaporean dish I can make with confidence because of how easy it is…and it has Pandan.

I’ll add the link in here so you can take a look, but it’s all in Japanese and you’ll have to skip a bunch of other stuff to see me make the jelly (or you could just watch the whole thing!):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBbctAZZMEc

So…
There’s so much pressure to live up to your culture or country’s image…people always want to know about Singapore and Indian food culture. But, as harsh as this sounds, it feels very performative for me. Performative because, in that instant, I’m being expected to be a role-model Singaporean-Indian. In that instant, I’m being expected to be a cultural showcase of food even if there’s no ill-intention behind the questions.

I stand on a fine balance. I don’t want to be rude and tell people that all I need/want in life is some good tea and some sandwich/salad/soup/thing. At the same time, I don’t want to be the Singapore Tourism Board. I don’t enjoy giving model answers that I don’t believe in. So I give lengthy answers that satisfy both parties. I talk about the culture behind the diverse food culture I come from and explain why it’s so hard for me to give travel guide answers to them.

For most part, it’s been good.

 

In Death.

Obon. Hungry Ghost Festival. Pitru Paksha.

Summer happened and Autumn in right around the corner. This time forms a melancholic, yet beatiful transition for me. At the peak of summer, fireworks take to the skies with an air of festivities as people walk about in Yukatas. Then, just as it gets a little too hot, the skies begin to darken rain greets the overheated pavments. The trees begin to yellow. Slowly but surely, Autum arrives like a regal creature with its yellow, red and orange shades. The air, no longer muggy hot, is crisp with a slight smokey smell.

At the peak of it’s blistering heat, Japan remembers it’s dead through Obon. During a 3 day period (13 July to 15 August), people go back to their hometowns and visit thier family graves. Summer is also considered to be a great time to tell ghost stories because as one friend told me, ghost stories make a person shiver (with fear) helping to beat the summer heat. I can’t vouch for the legitimacy of that statement, but it sounded interesting.

Here’s a short write up about Obon:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2286.html

In China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, during the 7th Month of the Lunar calander (this year it was from 03 Aug 2016 to 31 Aug 2016), there’s the Hungry Ghost Festival when Buddhist or Taoist people of Chinese descent would try to appease “Hungry Ghosts” that have left the realm of the dead to visit the world of the living. You can see people buring offerings for thier ancestors (including paper ferraris and Iphones), Getai and Chinese Opera. There are also a list of dos and don’ts during this period, to avoid offending the ghosts. Not surprisingly, there are links between Hungry Ghost and Obon.

Here’s a nice reliable website on how we do this back home in Singapore:
http://www.yoursingapore.com/festivals-events-singapore/cultural-festivals/hungry-ghost-festival.html

In my own Hindu belief, we have Pitru Paksha. A series of rituals are to be followed over a 15 day period following the lunar calender ( this year it was from 16 September 2016 to 30 September 2016) to honor our ancestors every year. The eldest son of the family is usually responsible for doing the prayers.

Here’s good old wiki if you wanna read more on that:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitru_Paksha

 

So why talk about this?
Personally, I’m really interested in finding similarities between different cultures and my own. Often times, I’m enthralled to find how intertwined Asian cultures are despite the differences. The more I read, the more I find the influences and connections. It’s fascinating.

So, recently, I went to Mount Koya in Wakayama  with my mom and stayed in a Shingon Buddhist temple called Fudoin. For anyone interested, this is an actual thing in Japan where you can stay at some Buddhist temple. It’s called Shukubo! You can even choose to have temple cuisine which are strictly vegetarian!

For more info on Shukubo:
http://eng.shukubo.net

Anyway, I stayed at this temple and I found out they did prayers every morning for the deceased. So, I asked my mom if she wanted to do any prayers for my paternal grandfather. Co-incidentally, our travel dates were during Pitru Praksha and the prayer date would also be the date designated specifically for my grandfather’s prayers. It was very emotional for mom.

So we submitted my grandfather’s name, his date of passing and my father’s name (he’s the firstborn son).

The next morning, we reported to the prayer room at 7am.
p1230011

The head priest was already there. Once everyone was gathered, the prayers started. What followed, I find it hard to put it into words because of how mesmerising it was.

The morning prayers sounded like this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VGeZDpaDdg

I really could have gone on and on listening to this. It really was an experience that left me much calmer and relaxed. Then they said a prayer in our name and as a group we read a part of the Hannya Shingyo (Heart Sutra).  Lastly, the head priest said some words about the temple and Mount Koya’s history.

It all lasted for about 50 minutes.

After breakfast, we visited Okunoin where the founder of Mount Koya, Kobo Daishi is enshrined. The lead up to the main shrine houses Japan’s biggest cemetery (More than 200,000 graves!). When we reached the main shrine, morning prayers were underway. We were really lucky because the priests were performing a Goma (fire ritual, Homa, Yajna) in addition to the prayers…which was particularly touching to watch, because that’s what my name, Yagnya, means.

To watch the meaning of a Sanskrit name of a Singaporean Indian Girl being performed in a Shingon Buddhist temple in the mountains of Wakayama. I don’t know if I can ever put that into words for anyone.

We couldn’t take pictures inside, but here’s a video of a Goma being performed at another temple in Mount Koya:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–A-5Dxmf74

And here’s a wiki article about Yajnas and their significance in Hinduism:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yajna

I find myself floundering for last  words here. I could say something like “we’re all equal in death…” but that would cheapen this entire experience.

So instead, I encourage you too to embark on your own journey in Japan to find something here that connects to you across borders and religion…that despite it all you find it sacred. It doesn’t mean you change your religion or become suddenly religious for this, just something that you find something that inexplicably connects to you on a deep personal level even if you are far far from home.

Diversity: 心の扉をひらきましょう!

diversity

Singapore does not equal Merlion. A stereotype I shall fight to death.

 

So on June 17th, I was given the honour of giving an hour-long speech to the students on the school’s library board. They told me I could make the speech in English or Japanese on pretty much any topic I wanted.

Given my experiences within the past few years and the chain of incidents that have been happening in recent times, I decided to speak about diversity and the importance of accepting and appreciating it.

Over a couple of months, I crafted this baby with the help of my amazing Japanese tutor, my super lovely teachers at my school and friends. They dedicated a lot of time and energy to help me and for that I’m so very grateful.

I was dead nervous and I still think it was far from perfect, but I truly learnt a lot through this challenging experience. Now, I have an hour-long Japanese speech/lecture under my belt! Yus!

One thing I feared was that I’d come across as an outsider criticizing Japan, which isn’t the aim of this speech at all. However, reading through the feedback slips the students wrote, that doesn’t seem be be a problem and they got the main message I was trying to communicate to them.

In fact, it seems I had quite the positive impact and several of them have said they would rethink their view of the world. Can’t express how happy this makes me, because I honestly expected some kind of angry response to my speech.

Here’s the script I crafted (with all the help). I used this structure to help me in case I got lost in my speech or forgot what I was taling about. Enjoy.

####################################

Diversity: 

Hi Everyone! Today, before I start my lecture, there’s something I want you all to do. On the sheet of paper I’ve given you all, I’ve written down the name of some countries. 今日の

レクチャーを始める前に、ちょっとやってもらいたいことがあります。 みなさんにくばってある紙にいろんな国の名前が書いてあります。

China

South Africa

France

America

Japan

India

Singapore

Brazil

Australia

I want you to write down the stereotypes you have of all of them. What comes to your mind when you see the names of these countries?

この国々のこと、皆さんが持っているステレオタイプ(こていかんねん)をかみに書いてほしいです。この国々の名前を見る時、パッと出てくるイメージはなんですか? それを、書いてください。

Ok thank you!! I’ll come back to this at the end of this lecture.

はい、ありがとうございます! このレクチャーの終わりごろまたこのステリオタイプを見ましょう。

So I’m sure all of you are wondering what today’s lecture is about.
The topic I shall touch on is “Tayousei”
Eh, what’s “Tayousei”?
“Tayousei” is Diversity.
Let me explain

ところで、皆さんは「今日のレクチャーは何についてか」と疑問に思っていると思います。
今日の話は、多様性です。
え、多様性って何?
多様性is Diversity.
説明します。

As humans, no two of us are the same. We’re all different. And by different, I don’t just mean our faces and our skin tones. We also differ in the way we think and talk. So, no two of us can be absolute carbon copies of each other. Not  even twins.

人間というのは、誰一人として同じではありません。みんなそれぞれ。つまり、顔や肌の色だけじゃなくて考え方や話し方でも、みんなことなります。誰1人全く同じ人はいません。たとえふた子でさえも。

That is “Diversity”.
So, if you really think about it, everyone is diverse.
Right?
However, people who stand out aren’t really liked.
As a result, things like bullying or suicides happen on an everyday basis.

That is Diversity.
だから、よく考えたら、everyone is diverse.
でしょう?
しかし、目立つ人はいやがられる。
それで、いじめや自殺などさまざまなことが毎日起こっています。

Whether it be a child who’s big sized,
Whether it be a child whose skin tone differs from the rest,
Whether it be that child with a slightly louder voice ,
Or the child whose way of thinking is different from the rest…

ちょっと太っている子とか、
肌色が変わった子とか、
声のでかい子とか、
考え方が他の人とちょっと違う子とか。。。

Aren’t they quickly labelled as the “weirdo”?
Therein lies the problem.
The line, “That person is weird!” is used so easily on a daily basis…
But I think those words posses a meaning that isn’t so light.
* The Japanese word “Kawatteiru” literally means “different from others” but in my translation, I’ve used “weird” as the casually used equivalent.

「あ、あの人は変わった人だ!」とぜったいに言われるでしょう?
それは問題です。
「あの人は変わっている」というセリフはみんなよく日常的に使うけど。。。
その言葉の持つ意味はかるくないと思います。

To explain why these words aren’t as light as we imagine them to be, I’ve got 3 videos for you to watch.

こういう言葉はなんでかるくないかと説明するために、
今から3つのビデオを流します。みてください。

(Play Astalift White CM)

So recently, I’ve been seeing this Astalift White CM on Youtube a lot.
What do you all think?
I’m pretty sure you’ve all seen commercials like this right?

最近、このCMをYoutubeでよく見ました。
皆さん、どう思いますか?
こういうCMを見たことがあると思うんですね。。。

(Show video of Trump talking)
All of you might probably know who this person is.
He’s the man running to be the president of the United States of America. Trump.

たぶん、皆さんもこの人は誰と知っていると思います。
今、アメリカのだいとうりょうになろうとしているトランプですね。

(Show video of Hitler talking)
And, this person too, you know him right?
It’s Hitler.

この人も、誰かわかりますね。。。
ヒトラですね。

I’m sure you’d all be a bit taken aback if I were to compare Trump and Hitler’s videos to the skin whitening commercial. Let me explain more.

トランプとヒトラーをこのCMと比べたら、みんなも「えー!!」と思うでしょう?
私はもっと詳しく説明します。

If you listen to Hitler and Trump’s speeches, you’ll realise that they’re doing the same thing. One talks about Jewish people stealing the jobs of German people. The other talks of Mexicans being murderers. In both cases, you have 2 individuals who’re rejecting groups of people who are different to them. This way of talking is extremely dangerous.

ヒトラーとトランプのスピーチをよく聞いたら、二人は同じことをやっているのです。ユダヤの人々はドイツ人の仕事を盗んでいるとかメキシコからくる人は人殺しとか。。。自分と違うグループの人はダメだと言っています。そういう話し方はとてもとても危ない。

This is why I don’t take too kindly to the Astalift commercial (skin whitening commercial).  Sunburns are never pleasant. They hurt and aren’t really good for your dermatological health.

だからこそ、そのAstaliftのCMはあまりよろしくないな、と思います。日焼けするのは誰でも好きじゃないと思います。痛いし、健康にもよくないんです。

However, the message that you get from commercials like Astalift is not one about skin health or anything of that sort. It basically says “You’re gonna turn black”. White skin is good. Black/Dark skin is bad. When darker skin is portrayed in a negative light in commercials like this, how do you think people like me or sporty high schooler feel?

でも、AstaliftみたいなCMに出てくるメッセージは健康とかじゃなくて、「あなたは黒くなる」というメッセージ。白い肌はいい。黒い肌はよくない。
黒色の肌にたいして悪いイメージがあるのではないですか? そういうメッセージをCMの中に入れる時、私やスポーツをよくやる高校生のような肌が白くない人がどう感じると思いますか?

How do you think the Jewish people in Germany felt about Hitler’s speeches?

ドイツにいたユダヤ人はヒトラーのスピーチ聞いてどう感じたと思いますか?

How do you think Mexicans and people of Mexican descent in America, feel about Trump’s speeches?

アメリカにいるメキシコ系の人はトランプのスピーチを聞いて、どう感じると思いますか?

Alriiiight, break time! Turn to the person beside you and discuss the opinions you have regarding white skin and darker skin tones.

はい!じゃーきゅうけいTIME! となりに座っている人と、白肌、黒い肌にたいして持っている意見を話してみてください。

====================================

So, what exactly does it mean to be a “Japanese person”?

ところで、日本人って、なんですか?

Diversity within Japan Even within Japan, there is a lot of diversity. The Ainu, the Ryuukyu, the Chinese and Koreans…but I always hear a lot of you say “Japanese culture this, or Japanese culture that.” What is this generalized “Japanese Culture”?

実は、日本にも多様性があります。 アイヌ、琉球、中国系、韓国系、ハーフの人。。。などが住んでいます。 しかし、日本に来てよく聞くのは「これはJapanese Culture, それはJapanese Culture」。このJapanese Cultureはいったい何ですか?

The truth is, even Toyama has it’s own culture. It’s so different compared to Tokyo or Kyoto and I love it.

富山県にはどくじの文化があります。富山べんがあります。東京や京都、沖縄と比べたら、富山の人や名物や話す表現や祭りはすごく違う!

 

So…
What defines a Japanese person?
What is Japanese culture?
What is Japan?

 

だから。。。
日本人らしさとはなんですか?
日本の文化は何ですか?
日本のイメージはなんですか?

On one hand, you have a Yamato Nadeshiko, good wife and mother, type of person. On the other hand, you have a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu type of person. You have men who look like they work at host clubs. And then, you have men who’re total geeks.

Of course you have your office workers.

They’re all Japanese people!

例えば、日本人の女性と言ったら、やまと・なでしこタイプなりょうさいけんぼを思い出します。。。いっぽう、キャリー・パミュ・パミュみたいな可愛いカルチャーの女の人も思い出します。
男性だったら、ホストクラブで働いている肉食男子もいます。いっぽう、完全なオタクもいます。

もちろん、ザー会社員もいます。

みんなも日本人。

Even if I were to talk about Japan, on one hand, you have high end, fast fashion Tokyo.
On the other you have gorgeously, traditional Kyoto.
And you still have Osaka, Okinawa …
If we went on about how each and every prefecture is different, this conversation wouldn’t end.

日本の話をしても、ファストファッションでハイテクな東京や、
すごいステキでんとうのある京都もあります。
で、大阪とか沖縄の話はまだやってないんです!
それぞれの県の違いの話を始めたら終わらないんです。

If all of Japan were the SAME, I don’t think I’d have travelled to all the places. But, wherever I went in Japan, I felt like I was in a different world. It’s immensely touching. Talking to different people, living in different prefecture, you get to see so many different Japanese faces. It’s AMAZING.

日本全国全く同じだったら、私は今までこんなにいっぱいトラベルしてないと思います。どこいっても、別世界みたい。すごくすごく感動するんですよ。いろんな場所に住んでいるいろんな人に話しかけたら、日本のいちめんを見ることができます。It’s AMAZING.

My question to all of you is, why not embrace it and celebrate these differences?

だから、今私が聞きたいのは、「なんでみんながこの違いを認めて、この違いに持たないんですか?」ということです

“I wanna live in Toyama all my life,
I don’t really want to go anywhere else.
I don’t want to get out of Toyama.
I’m scared of going overseas, it’s dangerous.”

I hear these lines SO many times.

『富山にずっと住みたい、
別にどこへも行きたくない。
富山から出たくない。
海外は怖い、危ない!』

このセリフをなん回も聞いたことがあります。

To tell you the truth, with that thinking, you can’t go anywhere. You can sit in your house and be a hikikomori…but even then, you can’t be 100% safe. I mean, Japan’s literally on the fault line …so IF something happened…there really is nothing much you could do.

そういう考えを持っていては、本当にどこでもいけないですよ。家の中に座っていて、ひきこもっても。。。 そうしても、100%安全と言えないでしょう? だって、日本全体は完全にプレートの上に乗っているでしょう? This is 地震国でしょう? だから、本当に何かあったら、どうしようもないでしょう?

====================================
It’s not just you.

これは、日本だけの問題ではないんです。

I really want you to understand that I’m not blaming you or telling you that you’re horrible people. In fact, this way of talking or thinking is not unique to Japan. I know many Singaporeans who think like that. They hate foreigners. We call this Xenophobia. A fear of foreigners.

わかってもらいたいのは、今私はみんなをこうげきして、あなたたちはひどい人と言っているわけではないんです。実は、これは日本だけに当てはまる話ではありません。私は外国人がきらいというシンガポール人を何人か知っています。こういう人のことを、Xenophobia と呼びます。外国人きょうふしょう

So a little bit about Singapore, we are TINY. We’re just 1/6th the size of Toyama prefecture. Imagine that! SO small.

ちょっと、シンガポールの説明をします。シンガポールはものすごく小さい東南アジアにある島国です。富山県の1/6の面積しかありません。小さいでしょう?

On this tiny island, we have about 6million people.

この小さな島国にろっぴゃく万人の人が住んでいます。

74.1% are Chinese.
13.4% are Malay.
9.2% are Indian.
3.3% are “Others”.
*I have issues with the use of “Others” in Singapore but in the Japanese translation, it translated pretty well into “People of other racial groups”.

74.1%は中国系
13.4%はマレー系
9.2%はインド系
3.3%はその他の民族.

So I don’t look like most other people in Singapore

だから、私は大部分の側にはぞくしていません。

I’m a minority.
To put it nicely, I’m a rare species.
*Wanted to say Unicorn, but whatever.

私はしょうすうはです.
優しくいえばレア物です。

There is so much inter-race unity and I have learnt SO much about other races and cultures and languages just by being Singaporean. Singapore is just so multi-cultural and multi-ethnic and multi-lingual that until very recently, I took this for granted. My friends are so different from each other. I eat different foods from across the world, and hear a multitude of languages on daily basis. Muslim Mosques and Indian Temples stand side by side.

This is the beauty of my country.

I couldn’t explain this to you in just one lecture.

シンガポール人でくらしていただけで、他の民族と文化と言語のことを学べました。
多民族、多言語、多文化。。。こういうのは当たり前と最近までは思いこんでいました
私の友達も多様な人たちたったんです。毎日、色んな民族の料理を考えずに食べたり、
色んな言語を聞きました。イスラーム教のモスクとヒンドゥー教のお寺がとなりどうしにあったりします。

これは、私の国の美しさ。

このレクチャーだけでは、すべてを説明できないんです。

Yet, there is ugliness too.

でも、その美しさの中に、みにくい所もあります。

From my Primary school days, I’ve faced racism. There have been cases when I’ve gotten into a taxi and the taxi driver asks “Oi, where are you from? Are you from India?” When I reply that I’m Singaporean, some people ask “You were born in Singapore or you just come here and get passport?” Then they say horrible things about India and Indian people to me.

小学校の時から私は人種差別を何回か受けたことがあります。 「おい、お前、どこから?インド?」とシンガポールのタクシー運転手さんに聞かれたことがあります。私はシンガポール人ですと答えても、「ここで生まれたシンガポール人か、ここに入ってきてパスポートをもらった人ですか?」と聞かれたことがあります。インド人の悪口を言います。

Let me tell you this.
My Mother is Indian.
My ancestors are Indian.
How am I to respond to harsh words like these?

一つ教えます。
私の母はインド人です。
私のご先祖さんもインド人だったんです。
こういうひどい言葉を聞くと、私はどう言えばいいですか?

Being asked where I’m from, in my own country is very sad for me.
Why must people ask me such a question?
If I am a good person, does it matter where I’m from?
Even if I’m a BAD person, does it matter where I come from?
One person does NOT equal an entire nation.

自分の生まれた国なのに、そんな質問されるなんて。。。言葉で言えないほど悲しいですよ。
なんでそういう質問を聞かなきゃいけないの?
私はいい人だったら、私はどこから来たかって関係がないでしょう?
もし私は悪い人としても。。。それにしても、私はどこから来たかって関係がないでしょう?
人イーコル国とは言えない。

Alriiiight, break time! Living in Japan, have you witnessed any discrimination? Have you faced discrimination? Have you discriminated? You don’t have to just talk about racial discrimination. It can be any form of discrimination. Talk with your partner!

はい!じゃ〜きゅうけい!日本にいて、差別を見たことかありますか?受けたことがありますか?やったことがありますか?人種差別だけじゃなくて、他の差別のことでも大丈夫。

====================================

One Person does NOT equal an entire nation.
Huh? What does that mean?
(Take a deep breath)
The issue I want to talk about from now…is a little difficult.
But, I’d like for all of you to keep an open mind/heart and listen.

人イーコル国とは言えない。
えーそれはどういう意味ですか?

(息吸って)

今から、私が話すことは難しいかもしれませんが、
心をオープンにして、ちょっと聞いてください。

(Show picture of Chinese tourists climbing Sakura tree)
For example, the Chinese tourists who travel to Japan are often highlighted for their bad manners and it’s a small problem here isn’t it? As a result, hasn’t it become a sort of bad image for them that Chinese tourists as a whole have bad manners? Not to worry, even in Singapore and pretty much all over the world, many people have such an image of Chinese tourists. So I’m not just talking about you.

例えば、中国からの観光客のマナーの悪さが日本でたびたび問題になっていますね? そのせいで、中国人はみんなマナーが悪いというイメージになっていませんか?心配しないでください、シンガポールや、世界中でも、同じようなイメージがあります。

The difficult part starts here. I want to say that these Chinese tourists don’t represent ALL Chinese people.

難しい部分はここから始まります。 この中国人の観光客イコール中国の国民みんなにはならないのです。

 

Let me explain. Firstly, the entire Chinese population is about 1.375 BILLION. Number 1 in the entire world. And what percentage of this 1.375 BILLION people, do you think are coming to Japan to travel? According to the Foreign Ministry, it gave about 3.78 million visas to Chinese tourists (coming to Japan) in 2015. It’s a REALLY small percent. About 0.274%!!!

なぜかと言うと、まず中国の人口は13おく7ひゃく5じゅうまん人ぐらいです。
世界第1位です。
その13億人から、観光客として、日本に来る人は、何パーセントだと思いますか?
日本のがいむしょうによると、去年は、3びゃく7じゅう8まん人の中国の観光客にVISAがあげられた。本当に少ないです。0.274%ぐらいしかない!!!

And even within that percentage you’re seeing only a certain group of people act that way. If you think about it, to go on holidays or trips you need money and time. Even if you aren’t filthy rich, you probably aren’t struggling to make ends meet if you are able to travel. I would go so far as to say that we are looking at all the bad habits of small, highly mediatized group of people who belong to a much huger community.

Please don’t stigmatize an entire population of a country based on the actions of a few.

その中のほんの一部の人だけです。
考えてみたら、外国旅行に行けるのは、お金と時間がある人でしょう?
すごいお金持ちではなくても、毎日の生活だけでせいいっぱいの人ではないでしょう?
もっと言えば、私たちが見ているのは、とくていの人たちのその中のほんの一部の人の悪いおこないがメディアに取り上げられているものです。Waw!

一部を見て、それが全部に当てはまると思わないでください。

Even as I say that, I want to point out that it’s not like I’m perfect. I’m not always so kind with my feelings and way of thinking. Last year when I went to the Tateyama snow walls, I encountered some Chinese tourists who spoke with loud voices and were quite a nuisance to the people around them.

と言っても、私もかんぺきじゃありません。いつもこんな優しく考えられるわけではありません。去年、雪の大谷を見に行った時、中国人がすごい大声で話してて、周りの人の迷惑になってて。。。

At that time, I got really irritated and annoyed and would even tut at them. I’d get angry, thinking “What the hell, annoying Chinese!” This has happened several times. But, when I cool down, I always feel like I can’t group them all into one lump. Because, if I were to start thinking like that, how then am I any different from Hitler or Trump? That thought is scarier than anything else.

その時、私はイライラして、腹がたって、したうちもしたりしました。
『なんじゃそりゃ、迷惑な中国人だ』とおこっていました。このようなことは、何回もありました。 でも、そのあと、れいせいになった時、いつも思うのは、その人たちイコール中国人と思ってはいけいけない。もし、そんな風に思ってしまったら、私とヒトラーや、トランプと同じになってしまうでしょう?前、私を差別した人と同じになってしまうでしょう?その考えは何よりも怖いです。

OKAAAAAY, break time again! I’d like for you to discuss with your partner, what do you think about Chinese people? What image do you have of them and why?

はい!またきゅうけい! 皆さんは、中国人のこと、どう思いますか?なんのイメージを持ていますか?なんで、そういうイメージを持っていますか?となりの人に話しかけてください!

====================================

The next thing I want to talk about is ROMNATICISM. It’s sort of the opposite of what we just talked about. Previously, we talked about the dangers of stereotyping an entire race of people based on the wrong doings of ONE. Next, I would like to talk about how even the “positive” stereotypes are bad.

次に話したいのは、ロマンチシズムです。
前の話と反対の話です。
さっきは、一部の人の悪いことを見て、みんなが悪いと思ってしまう話をしました。
今度は、一部の人のいいことを見て、みんなも同じといいイメージを持ちすぎてしまう話をします。

“Half-babies are SO cute!!”
“I want to marry a GAIJIN!”
“Foreign men are such gentlemen!”
“Foreign women are super pretty!!”
“Singapore is SUPER rich isn’t it? Yagnya, are you rich??”
Nope. I’m broke.

「ハーフの赤ちゃんって、かわいいね!」
「外人さんと結婚したい!」
「外人さんって、ジェントルマンでしょう?」
「海外の女の人は美人!」
「シンガポールはお金持ちランドですね、ヤグニャ?ヤグニャはお金持ち?」

違います。I am ビンボーです。

(Show photo of Angelina and Brad Pitt)
When you think of a foreigner, I know many people who think of someone like this! HOWEVER!
(Show my face)
A person like THIS is ALSO a foreigner.
Not every foreigner is a small faced, high-nosed, long legged white person.

外国人というと、こういう外国人しか思い出さない人は多い。
しかーし!
こういう人も外国人でしょう??
みんなが小顔で、鼻高い、足長い、白人ではない。

(Show picture of Arianna Miyamoto)

When you say the mixed-race children are cute, what SORT of mixed-race kids are you talking about? Even though Arianna Miyamoto became Miss Universe Japan last year, many people don’t accept her as a Japanese person. As a young girl too, she was never seen as a “Cute mixed-race kid.”

ハーフの子供は可愛いというけど、どのようなハーフの子をみんな思っていますか?アリアナ宮本は去年のMiss Universe Japanになったんだけど、彼女を日本人と認めてない人は多い。若い頃も「可愛いハーフの子」と呼ばれなかった。

Overseas, there are people who see Japan as the land for Geisha, Ninjas and Samurais. “Asians are obedient and quiet”
“Oriental people are so exotic!”
“I LOVE the Japanese Geisha costume! I’m gonna be a sexy Geisha for Halloween”
There really are sexy geisha costumes like this.

海外では、日本イコールGeisha, Ninja and Samurai と思う人もいます!
「アジアの女の人はおとなしくて、静か。」
「オリエンタルの人はエクゾチックでしょう!」
「あたし、ジャパニース・ゲイシャ・コスチュームは大好き!
今年のハロウィーンはセクシーゲイシャにしたいんです!」
こういうコスチューム本当にゲイシャコスチュームと呼ばれて売っているんですよ。

It’s really strange and weird right?
I mean, you guys aren’t Geishas and Samurais who walk around in Kimonos eating Sushi all day right?

変でしょう?おかしいでしょう?
みんなも、毎日着物を着て寿司を食べているサムライかゲイシャではないでしょう??

These are shallow statements that people sometimes make when they don’t understand the world deeply enough. And, inadvertently, what may seem like praise, may come across as an insult.

この世界はどれぐらいふかいかとよくわかっていないと、こんな風に話してしまうでしょう?だから、ほめ言葉にならずに、ぎゃくにぶれいなことになってしまわないんですか?

Alright! Discussion time! What kind of Romanticized images have you had of foreign countries?

OK, 話しましょう!今まで、海外のこと、どういうロマンチックなイメージを持っていたことがあるんですか?

====================================

So what CAN we do?
『あっちもダメって、こっちもダメって、ヤグニャは何言いたいの?』と思っているでしょう?いったいどうしたらいいですか?

I don’t look like you. This is a fact.

No matter how much I play the Koto, or dance Nihon Buyo or do Tea Ceremony, I’m not going to become a Japanese citizen unless I get a passport change. Even then, my experiences and culture will be different to yours.

私はあなたたちと似てない。

どれだけ箏とか日本舞踊とか茶道をやっても、私のパスポートが変わらないと、日本人にはなれないんです。もしパスポートが変わっても、私の経験や文化はあなたたちと同じくならないんです。

As humans, we all look different and behave different  I would never want these differences to be ignored.  Instead I wish to propose that we acknowledge and appreciate differences.

人間として、私たちはみんな違って見える、違うようにふるまう。その違いをむししてほしくないんです。その代わりに、私は、違いを認めて、楽しいんで、かちをみいだすことをていあんしたいんです。

Before we start deciding that overseas in “this” kind of place or “that” kind of place, I really suggest you step outside with an open mind and heart. And, when you DO step out, the great thing is you don’t just learn about the outside world. You start learning more and more about your own identity too!

海外はこういう場所ですとか、あーいう場所ですとか決める前に、心を開いて、外にちょっと出てください。外に出ることで、外の文化だけじゃなくて、自分の文化と自分のアイデンティティーもはっきりわかってくる。

When I talk to you about Vegetarianism, when I talk to you about my culture and my country, don’t say things like “I’m so happy I’m Japanese!” When you say this to me, I feel hurt.

私は肉と魚が食べられないというとき、私の文化の話をするとき、シンガポールの話をするとき、「日本人に生まれてよかった!」みたいなことを言わないでください。そんな話をすると、私は悲しくなります。

Just like all of you, I like my own country and I love my culture. I also like your country and your culture. However, when you say things like that, you make it sound like Japan is the best country in the world, and other countries are bad. Instead, why not open your hearts?

みんなと一緒で、私は自分の国と自分の文化も大好きです。もちろん、このすてきな日本と日本の文化も大好きです。じゃないと、たぶん2年間もここで住んでないと思うんです! でも、日本だけすごいみたいな話をすると。。。あー残念だな。。。と私が思う。 そうではなくて、みんなが、自分の心を開きませんか?

Ask questions. Ask me questions like “What kind of culture my country has or what fashion trends are like or what Japan-Singapore relations are like or what Singapore law is like.”

I’d be the happiest person to answer those questions.

いっぱい質問をしてください。
「シンガポールってどういう文化ですか?シンガポールでどういうファッションが流行っていますか?日本とシンガポールの間の関係はどうですか?シンガポールのほうりつはどうですか?”

このような質問をさせたら、私は大喜びで答えるんですよ。

Read as much as you can about the world!

もちろん、世界のこといっぱい読んでみてください。

Look at the paper I gave you at the start of this lecture. Look at the stereotypes that you’ve listed. I would like us all to think again about these stereotypes we have of the world around us. It’s just so easy to put things into labeled boxes.

Female. Male. Black person. White person. Asian. European. Gay. Teacher. Muslim.

But, a human being is so much more than a label.

このレクチャーの初めに皆さんにわたした紙をもう一回見てください。皆さんが書いてたステレオタイプをもう一回読んでみてください。もう一回、この世界のこと持っている全てのステレオタイプ(こていかんねん)のことを考えてみましょう。私たちの周りの世界をレッテルはった箱の中に入れるのは本当に簡単です。

女。男。黒人。白人。アジア系。ヨロッパ系。ゲイ。先生。イスラーム教。

しかし、人間はこの種類だけでひとくくりにすることはできません。

There’s a huge danger in putting people in boxes and labeling them. I was actually writing my speech when a horrible thing happened in Orlando, America on Saturday night. A man walked into a gay club and shot about 50 people dead. He said he was an ISIS supporter. People like Trump are saying this is the reason why Muslims should not enter America.

人を箱の中に入れてレッテルをはるのは非常に危険です。このスピーチを書くとき、土曜日の夜、アメリカのオーランドですごくひどいことがおこなわれました。ある男の人は、ゲイクラブの中に入って50人をうって殺したんです。自分がISISのサポーターと言いました。これを理由としてトランプみたいな人が、イスラーム教の人はアメリカに入ってはいけませんと言っています。

This is exactly what happens when you reject diversity.

多様性をこばむと。。。けっかはこんなもんです。

Many people, like the man who shot the people, cannot accept LGBT people.
They want to take away these people’s rights. People like Trump cannot accept religious diversity.
They don’t understand that Islam and religious extremists are two very different things. The world isn’t as simple as that.

その犯罪者みたいにLGBTとかゲイの人を認めない人は多い。
だから、LGBTの人のけんりを取りのぞいてもいいとその人たちが思っています。。
トランプみたいな人はしゅうきょうの多様性を認めずに生きています。
しゅうきょうかげきはのひとは全然違うとわかってない。 この世界はそんなに簡単じゃないんです。

Appreciate differences and diversity.

The world is so big and colourful, don’t you think you make your lives boring by rejecting differences?

だから、違いと多様性にかちを見い出しましょう。

だって、世界はとても広くて、カラフルで。。。違いをきょぜつすると、カラフルなその人生は、つまらないモノクロームになってしまいませんか?

Thank you. 🙂

ありがとうございました。:)

 

Inward Bound, #amazingtoyama

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Credits: Airika Takeguchi, Amaharashi Beach

So, with ALT placements coming out, I thought a Toyama post would be good!
Japan’s an amazing place. Everywhere, there’s something. Well almost everywhere…

If you read some of my earliest blogs, you’d know that I was COMPLETELY clueless when I was first placed in Toyama. One of the first things I reacall reading was of how Toyama was the home to YKK, the zipper company. At that time, zippers did not sound all that exciting to me, and I WAS quite nervous as to what Toyama would have for me. As it turns out YKK is the world’s LARGEST zipper manufacturer! I’m really looking forward to visiting their factory one day.

Luckily, Toyama also has a lot more than just great zippers and I’ll be compiling a non-exhaustive list of things to see and do around Toyama. Even as I publish this, I know there’re a lot of spots that I’ve missed…but I’ll keep updating this one.

I cannot express in words, the wonder I felt when I first came to Toyama. The towering mountains. The vast blue sky. The train tracks that wound on endlessly like a Ghibli movie. Toyama is truly a blessing.

Enjoy…

TOYAMA CITY

Toyama Castle Park
Castles are EVERYWHERE in Japan…and by castle standards, the Toyama one is pretty modest. But hey, you can never really complain about a castle that’s this accessible, can you? Just pop-by when you’re in the city 😀 It’s also good to visit during the Sakura season when all the road-side vendors are out selling street food! 
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Kansui Park, Home to The Most Beautiful Starbucks (of 2008)

Every time someone visits me, I bring them to this place. I mean, who DOESN’T wanna see the MOST BEAUTIFUL Starbucks (of 2008)?

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Credit: Ong Kai Ching

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Suh Romantix

Kureha Hills: Gohyaku Rakan (the 5 hundred buddhas)
From atop Kureha hills, you can see an amazing view of the Tateyama range on a good clear weathered day. Not THAT often, but when it happens, its SO amazing.

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As much as I love this photo, I’d be a liar if I said Toyama looked like this everyday.

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Matsugawa (River in Toyama)
I’m in love with the Sakuras that bloom along this river. The reflection of the trees really made me doubt reality…I’m not even that big a Sakura or flower nut…but this sight is just so dreamy. IMG_2885

YATSUO
Owara Kaze no Bon
Go down to Yatsuo between 1st and 3rd September to catch a glimpse of the Owara festival! It’s so hypnotising to watch, I could have just watched them forever. Yatsuo itself, is just a hidden gem that you’ve GOT to explore.

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NAMERIKAWA
Firefly squid museum
I’m not the biggest fan of this place to be frank. I went in expecting to see the Firefly squids or Hotaru ika as they call them here. Unfortunately, I don’t think they deal with the squids kindly…there are mini shows where they pull them out of water, just to show you how they glow.

All that said, if you REALLY really HAVE to see Hotaru ikas…they’re here.

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Credits: Airika Takeguchi

UOZU
Buried Forest Museum
My friend was visiting me when I went to this museum. It’s so so worth it and under-rated. It’s not at all crowded and the trees form amazing sculptures that look so otherworldly.

This museum preserves and displays Uozu buried forest designated as a national monument. Uozu buried forest is the ruin of the virgin cedar forests buried from about 1500 to 2000 years ago.
http://museums.toyamaken.jp/en_museum/e_uozu_buried_forest_museum/

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Credits: Airika Takeguchi

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Mirages
I’ve never seen any mirages personally, but if you go to the Buried Forest Museum and you happen to be lucky, you could see a Mirage!

KUROBE
Kurobe George(ous)
Take a Torroko, open-air train through the Kurobe George. It’s Japan’s No.1 V-shaped George. I didn’t make it up, it’s on the website and all. It’s breath-taking especially in Autumn when you see the amazing red-orange-golden colours surrounding you and the blue blue blue water below.

Sometimes, AJET excursions book trips in autumn, but if it doesn’t happen, you can always make a booking for yourself! Website to book your tickets, especially if you wanna catch the autumn leaves: http://www.kurotetu.co.jp/en/ 

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TATEYAMA
The Tateyama Mountain Range
Tateyama has a lot to offer and you should definitely visit this beauty more than once. My recommendation is to check it out in all its seasonal glory (although, you might also want to check how the weather’s gonna be up there).

When I first climbed it as part of the Toyama Orientation (Yes, you get to climb it), I cried because, I’d never felt so humbled and overwhelmingly happy to be somewhere in such a long time.

If you want to book your tickets (especially for the autumn leaves and the snow walls), you wanna book them through this website:
http://www.alpen-route.com/ticket/en/index.html

  Oyama Shrine : there are 3 of them in Toyama, one near the mountain peak, one in
Tateyama town and one more in Iwakuraji. They’re said to be power spots!

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   Bijoudaira

Legend of the Beautiful Woman Cedar

1,300 years ago the man who opened up Mt. Tateyama was betrothed to a beautiful princess. However women were forbidden from entering Mt. Tateyama. The princess, sad at being separated from her love, climbed up to Bijodaira and told her sad tale to a beautiful cedar tree. She beseeched the tree “If you have a heart, please listen to my wish”. Later her wish was granted and the couple were happily married. From that day this tree has been called “Bijosugi” or “Beautiful Woman Cedar” and this area has been known as “Bijodaira”.
http://www.alpen-route.com/en/about/highlights/tateyama.html

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Model: My brother

   Midagahara

“Midagahara lies at an altitude of 1900 m and is one of the largest alpine wetlands in Japan. The hiking course is surrounded by a variety of alpine plants. In July 2012, this area was also registered in the Ramsar convention as one of the world’s most valuable wetlands.”
http://www.alpen-route.com/en/about/highlights/tateyama.html

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Credits: Ananthanarayanan Sankar (le bro)

   Murodo
Murodo is the place you want to explore if you want to see the famous, yet elusive Raichou or Rock Ptarmigan. It’s the Toyama bird and its tricky to spot due to its camoflage. Murodo is also the place to be if want to see the snow walls in Spring.

Be sure to drink some of the Oishii Mizu or Delicious Water, straight from the source.
It’s laced with crack by all the terrifyingly fast climbing old ladies who want to ensure you stay in Toyama forever. *this is a joke.

From Murodo, you can either climb the mountain OR you can take a cable car and head towards Kurobe Dam!

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This was the first time I cried since coming to Japan. It was stunning.

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All those WALLS!

Kurobe Dam
Did I hear you say “DAYUM!!”? Suh Punny.
But really, Kurobe Dam is a sight to behold. The power of the water gushing out and the Natural beauty surrounding it is really something.

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Credits: Serena Toh

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TAKAOKA CITY
Takaoka Daibutsu (Big Buddha)
This guy is one of the top 3 in Japan! I only visited him very recently and boy am I glad I did! He’s a real looker and I can see why people wld go Buddhist for him. 😉 Totally my type.

IMG_9738_2 Zuiryuji Temple
Don’t miss out on this National Treasure if you’re in Takaoka. This Buddhist temple is really close to the Takaoka station too, so it’s really quite convenient!

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Kanayamachi
Fancy walking down a traditional shopping street? Well then, Kanayamachi, in Takaoka is just the thing for you. I admit, I haven’t been here much, but the 2 times I visited, it’s really photogenic with some traditional craft stores and even a mini exhibit to explain what Takaoka was like in the past.

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SHINMINATO
Special thanks to Brandon Bewza for this info! I’ve never visited Shinminato, but the photos look SO good, I’ll update this page with photos of my own once I visit!

Kaiwomaru Park

There’s Kaiwomaru Park down in Shinminato. Big bridge, big ship, and a cool seafood market. In October, there’s the best festival in Shinminato and in August an awesome fireworks display.
-Brandon

 

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Toyama Canal

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NANTO-TOGA
Gokayama

Gokayama is a lovely village nestled within the mountains of the Nanto area. The roofing is very unique and you’ll be very charmed by all the mountain food and culture! Access to this area though….I’d suggest getting a ride if you don’t drive. It’s realllllly OUT THERE.

Since the village was registered as a World Heritage site in 1995, the village house’s unique architectural style called Gassho-zukuri has attracted much attention for its appearance and structure. The natural beauty surrounding the villages is also very impressive.

Attraction of Gassho-zukuri, however, does not lie only in its unique appearance. You will be more interested in Gassho-zukuri if you learn about Gokayama more, including climate, people’s life and wisdom, the tradition and culture which people have passed down from generation to generation by their efforts.
http://www.gokayama-info.jp/en/

 

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Shogawa

Travel down Shogawa on a Pleasure Boat. No really, that’s what they’re called. See nature surround you as you boat down for about 30 minutes…

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Toga Village (Suzuki Company of Toga)

Annual summer theatre festival (with free tickets!)
That’s right, every summer, Toga village is the host to quite an internally famous theatre festival! The Suzuki method has be taught around the world, including my school, and to be able to watch these shows free of charge while camping out in a tent in the mountains where Toga is nestled in…So worth it. Also, the people who attend! They’re so different from the people I usually meet.

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KAMIICHI
Oiwa-san, Nisseki-ji
Ever wanted to see the figure of the guardian deity , Fudō-myōō (Acala), carved into a mountain and then proceed to meditate under a waterfall (without dying)? This place is JUST the thing for you then. This one is also quite out there in the boonies, so I recommend hitching a ride or you’ll have to get there from Kamiichi station by bus.

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HIMI
Amaharashi
Know what’s amazing about AMAZING TOYAMA? We got lucky with nature. We have the mountains, we have the gorges, we have the waterfalls, we have the great blue sky, we have the sea of Japan…boom di yada boom di yada.

The majestic view of the Tateyama mountains range looming 3,000m above Toyama Bay changes with each season and is breathtakingly beautiful. This view was much loved by the Manyo poet Otomo No Yakamochi, who wrote many poems about it. The area stretching from the Amarashi coast to Matsudae-no-Nagahama in Himi has been designated as “One of Japan’s Best 100 White-sand and Green-pine Beaches” and “One of Japan’s Best 100 Beaches”. There still exists the Yoshitsune rock, where Minamoto no Yoshitsune waited for a shower to clear up on his way to Oshu. This is also where the name Amaharashi (lit. “rain clearing”) came from.
http://foreign.info-toyama.com/en/spot/?spot_id=48

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The train running by the sea…it’s gorgeous.

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Credits: Airika Takeguchi. Banana Bomb.

TONAMI
Tonami Tulip Fair
Sick of all the Sakura hype? Probably not…buuut, here in Toyama, we have another amazing flower. Every year, Tonami hosts the biggest tulip fair in Japan! My suggestion is to ask a friend in Tonami for tickets to this fair. Tonami locals get free tickets every year and they actually throw them away.

If you can’t get your hands on the free tickets, you can always buy them at the gate.

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Model: My mum. She’s got her flower appreciation thing going well.

I truly hope you enjoy #amazingtoyama as much as I have, if not more.

LINKS:
I stumbled on this great website one day, when the weather was amazing outside and I wanted to do something. It was written by an former Toyama ALT.
https://trinitraveller.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/10-must-do-things-in-toyama-japan/

 

I also found THIS website and it’s categorised really well!
http://foreign.info-toyama.com/en/

When everything froze.

DISCLAIMER (man I love these): This is not in any way a professional article on dealing with clinical anxiety or anything of that sort. If you’re facing that and reading this….I hope this serves as some kind of reflection…but definitely not any sort of solution.

In the months following my move to Japan, a lot of people told me I looked happier.
I looked happier in Facebook photos and sounded more positive on Skype
And, I  really am.
But, I recently started to wonder WHY this was the case.

Even before I left for JET, I knew I wanted to get over some of the issues I had with myself in Singapore. I’d been under my parent’s care for too long. Independence was foreign to me. Responsibility scared the crap out of me despite training to be a director and I was constantly seeking validation or acceptance of some sort.

There was also a lot of unhappiness and dissatisfaction that I had begun to harbour. I had a lot of days when I’d go home after doing theatre and just not feel the happiness I’d felt in the past. That was the scariest part because, falling out of love with theatre felt like a part of me had just gone hollow.

There was a huge part of me that was just an anxious, nervous mess about 80% of the time. I still tend to have a horrible paranoia that I’m doing something wrong. Or that I ought to be doing something more, something better, something more important. I fear that someone with more authority than me is going to swoop down on me and tell me that I’m worthless or that I’m wasting my time.

It was only very recently that I started to see that this way of thinking was not only ridiculously toxic, but also completely unhelpful in accomplising anything. If anything, it prevents a person from moving forward at all.

I got some insight on my trip back home from 31st October- 7th November 2015.

Going back home, I was faced with the question: Have I overstayed in Japan? Will I lose a place to return to? Am I gonna be jobless when I come back?

My imagination runs wild a lot… and it creates the worst situations in my mind. My breathing gets kinda shallow and for a while, I my brain just zeros in on the “problem”. I get a kind of depressing black-hole-esque tunnel vision and I start tuning out the rest of the world. I still harbor a lot of this anxiety.

However, one good thing came out of my trip home. I ended up meeting a lot of my friends and collegues and mentors. As much as possible, I stayed away from the toxic. Again, many were talking about how much less stressed out I looked and how much more carefree and happy I came across. Everything from my attire to my attitude to life came across as positive and I can hazard a guess why.

Recently, I’ve become more aware of what is toxic (to me at least). People, characters, places, topics…all kinds of things that were once faceless demons that weighed me down…I’ve started identifying them.

At the heart of it all, I’m working on not allowing myself to be bullied into things and to relax.

It really takes a lot of work though, coming from a place that values perfection, employment, money and sucess. Despite my firm belief that failures are a great learning platform, I’m so resistant and the world just freezes.

A problem is not a problem once you know it’s a problem.
It’s only a challenge.
It’s when you don’t know that there’s a problem.
That’s a real problem.
-this was on one of those cheezy motivational poster cards my dad gave me years ago.

I wish to make a note that, while I’ve enlarged and zoomed into some of the challenges I face, it’s not like I’ve stopped living. I’m moving forward and I’ve got a generally positive personality that doesn’t allow me to wallow. However, these tiny blips cause unnecessary panic which I would love to be rid of.

End note: As humans, we’re all works-in-progess. Getting over this issue doesn’t mean I become perfect…Just a software update.

 

 

Picking up new skills

2015 was filled with travels and adventures.
I’m immensely glad I did those trips, but I’ve got a goal for 2016.
My aim is to pick up some new art forms for myself.

Picking up new skills, however, can be a little  expensive.
If I do a little math, I spend about 23,000yen-25,000yen a month on learning what I do.
It takes a chunk out of my wallet.

So what have I picked up?
Mondays, I do Nihon Buyo (Traditional Japanese Dance).
Tuesdays, I do Koto (a Japanese string instrument).
Thursdays, I learn Japanese for N2 level.
Fridays, I do Sado (Japanese Tea Ceremony).

Nihon Buyo
This one has been on my mind for a while. I actually picked up a little bit of Nihon Buyo from the Fujima-ryu while on exchange at Toho Gakuen in 2011. So, this year, when I decided to cut down on travelling like a maniac, I chose to learn Nihon Buyo again.

Nihon Buyo has a very beautiful way of story telling through dance and movement using minimal props. It was one of those things that really spoke to me on a personal level despite my complete lack of hand-eye coordination. (I swear I have issues).

The class, this time Hanayagi-ryu, was located very conveniently in Toyama city at the Kitanihonshinbun Building and costs about 16,000yen for 3 months. Pretty damn worth it.

I suppose the only downside in this is that the lessons are conducted completely in Japanese. As is the case for everything else. So without Japanese knowledge, these classes would be tedious…but hey, they really help in getting my Japanese level up!

This class has been so fun. It’s mostly filled with middle aged ladies and one high school girl. When I entered, I only had a few yukata on me and it wasnt very suitable for Nihon Buyo. The people in the class just started to give me stuff. I got 2 sets of Kimonos, the Kimono inner wear, the Obi, the fan…I’m overwhelmed. One of the teachers at my school heard about me learning Nihon Buyo and gave me another Obi (a different styled one) and tied it for me at school.

The high school girl also helps out with translating any difficult Japanese that’s being used in the lessons. It’s a great environment.

Koto
Let me start off by saying that I’m a complete music noob.
To this day, I  haven’t been able to read (western) music scores despite learning them in Primary and secondary school. I never really got around to even playing the school recorder properly.

So, I’m not entirely sure what possesed me to start learning to play the Koto.

Initially, I’d wanted to learn the Shamisen…cuz it was kinda guitar/violin sized and seemed cool. Then I realised…it was made of cat hide…and the strum was made of tortoise shell…and apparently, the cat hide needs to be replaced regularly…so being quite staunchly vegetarian, that just made me go “nope nope nope” real fast.

So then, I was asked if I’d prefer Koto instead…which was made of wood and had synthetic strings. That made me breathe a lot easier. It also seemed a lot easier to play.

…unfortunately, I made one oversight. I didn’t realise that the finger picks used were made of ivory. I was really angry at myself for a long time because I’d assumed they’d be synthetic. I HAD seen sythetic picks sold online…so I hadn’t checked with my teacher in advance until I’d gotten them already. 😦  God damnit.

So people, please please double triple check all the materiels when buying tradtitional instruments. It really sucks to find out the way I did. I figure that all I can do now is speak out about this and move on.

Playing the Koto though has been an amazing experience. The one on one classes are a little pricy at 9,000yen for 4 classes a month but my teacher, Ishida-sensei, is incredibly patient with me. Considering how little I know about music (let alone in Japanese), my teacher has been great at explaining things to me. I’ve already picked up about 3 songs in less than 2 months and I’m enjoying studying music for the first time in forever.

Special mentions to the Eikaiwa I volunteer at every Wedenesday. I first brought up my desire to study a traditional instrument sometime in December. 2 of my students went out of their way to find this teacher for me and one of them also lent me her Koto, so I could practice with it at home.

Japanese Class
Studying for N2 level Japanese felt (and still feels) like a daunting task.

I don’t know if I’ll be ready to take the test at the end of the year.

Previously when I was doing N3, Saeko-sensei had been great with making me do drills and she prepped me really well for the test, so I passed pretty well.

However, she moved to America recently so I had to search for another teacher…and I found Komatsu-sensei!

She’s relatively newer at teaching Japanese and we’ve only used Japanese in all our lessons. At 2000yen per lesson, I’ve begun to enjoy learning the Kanji I once hated and I’m starting to develop my own study method with the help of my teacher.

We address each area of language learning one by one, Kanji, grammar, reading, vocab and listening. I studied about how a Kanji can be identified based on the “root” kanji. Grammar too, has gotter easier to digest…and the ones I have troubles with, Komatsu-sensei breaks it down.

Recently, I also discovered that I’m able to read simple paragraphs in magazines and brochures. So, that was a huge motivator to continue working on Japanese and Kanji in particular.

So, am I ready to go to the next level of Japanese?
Nope. It’s still a long way away…and a steep uphill climb.

Do I think I can achieve it eventually?
It’s most definitely possible with consistant work.

Japanese Tea Ceremony Club (Sado-bu)
I joined this quite early on into my JET stint and I haven’t looked back.

I love maccha.
I love eating wagashi.
I love learning about Japanse culture and I love seiza-ing (lies).

It’s also extremely affordable at about 300yen a month for the wagashi.

When I first joined, I found the teacher, Tsubota-sensei terrifying. He’d say pretty snarky things in extremely formal Japanese or Super-Toyama-dialect. He’s huff and roll his eyes. I had no idea what I was doing wrong and was scared of making mistakes. I also didn’t understand about 70% of what he said.

A lot hasn’t changed, except I’m not so terrified of him anymore. I slowly came to realise that even the Japanese students didn’t understand what he was saying sometimes…so I was completely excused. Now, I seem him as a snarky diva who has started snapping words like “back!” “left!” “right!” and “stand up!” in English. It’s hilarious even as I flubber around.

Teacher aside, Sado-bu has also got me closer to students in the club. When we’re not practising, we talk and chat and poke at each other. The 3rd year students also explain the rules to me very patiently. It’s fun and now that I’ve been at it for a year and a half-ish, I’m starting to understand the rules and reasons a lot more. It’s becoming a lot easier to appreciate the form once it’s mastered and understood.

Final thoughts

Doing all this takes time. I don’t socialise much in terms of partying or drinking (not that I did any prior to this anyway). By the time the weekend rolls around, I want nothing more than to collapse on my bed.

Somehow though, despite all this, I still find time to meet up with friends, and attend festivals and bake as a hobby. I still travel on the weekends or during the holiday periods…a lot less than before, but enough to re-charge.

All in all, it’s been a great experience so far and I’m glad I stepped out of the ALT bubble which is so easy and comfortable for me. I wouldn’t even say that the ALT bubble is a bad place to be, but it would be huge pity if I came all the way here and fail to engage with the local community.

English and Special Needs Education

PHONICS
Recently, I had the privilege of being allowed to teach phonics to some of my students at my special needs school. I can’t express how elated I am now.

One of my students has started reading some of his very first words. ALL BY HIMSELF. Not perfect, but OH GOD does it feel like a miracle.

I also use phonics as a way of oral therapy. Some of my students can’t really speak much, so using phonics is a great way to introduced new sounds to them even if they may be incapable of producing some of the sounds I teach.

Teaching phonics has been so enlightening. I now know how difficult it is to create sounds. I don’t take it for granted anymore and had to go allll the way back to the start and relearn the phonics for myself so that I could teach the material in Japanese.

And then, there are the confusing sounds that I’d long taken for granted. E makes a kind of “eh” sound but at the end of Snake you dont say Snak”eh”. It’s silent. Or the “OO” sound. Moon and book. So different.

How do I teach it to students who study English long after getting used to Japanese which has very standard pronunciations?

I’m coming to terms with all this while teaching at sepcial needs while questioning all I ever learnt as a child. The more I teach, the more I’m in awe of children.

So, at this point, the teachers and I have come up with a phonics dvd. Hardly professional, but better than Katakana English anyday. Honestly, I wish I were more qualified for this… so I try to do research on my end. We’ve called it “Phonics for Life” and it’s meant to have 7 parts to it…with each level teaching a different set of phonics. In between though, we create some “Let’s Read” episodes where I piece together the phonics they’ve learnt, to create words. This way, we feel, the students will start seeing that they have the ability to read more things once they start using phonics!

Slooow and steady.
The risk, at this point, is my desire to teach as much as possible to these students who don’t get much time with me. It’s a risk because, if rushed, students tend to forget the sounds they learnt earlier. So, often times, I have to slow myself down to make sure the basics aren’t forgotten.

All this is increadibly scary. We’re making these 1-take videos filled with my improvisations.  In one “episode” I dropped my pointer and did a little hum to myself. Apparently, this set off a huge outburst of laughter in one of my students who wouldn’t stop trying to imitate it for a LONG time. He asked me about it, the next time he saw me.

“What was THAT all about???” he asked me.
“What was WHAT all about???” I asked, confused.
“That hum thing you did when you dropped the pointer!” he said, accusingly.
“Oh, that! That was all improvised! I mean, come on, give me a break!” I replied to my dissatisfied client.

Sometimes, I try to make-up some funny explanations for the pronunciations. For example, NG. I’ve gone done the unspeakable by introducing toilet humor into pronunciation work with Elementry students. NG, I’ve explained, is the sound one makes when they’re constipated and want to take a dump. Not sure I wanna know how they’ll react after watching it. Apparently, though, some of my students enjoy repeating what I teach them throughout the hallways for an entire week. ._. sorry…it just HAD to be done.

DRAMA
Soon after staging the charity play last year, one of the JTEs at my school approched me and suggested that we could try doing them with some of the Junior High students. The first play we did was fairly simple. The students (2 of them) requested me to write about arm-wrestling and I created a 3 or 4 page drama. Rehearsing it though, took a long time.

Taking things for granted has become a bit of a running theme in my life, these days.

Saying a line should be a quick 5 second job, right?
Wrong.
One of my students battles extreme tiredness in class and has speech difficulties (A-kun) while the other can’t talk verbally and doesn’t have full control of her hands (B-san). Both are also wheelchair users.

So, everything that might take 2 minutes in a professional rehearsal space takes an entire lesson here.

How we tackle this is taking things step by step.
First, we explain the story to the students, line by line.
Then we record my voice and B-san practices selecting the lines on cue.
With A-kun, we practice and try to film him before he sleeps.
Finally, I take the video clips and try to piece them together as nicely as possible. TRY.

‘BUSINESS’ ENGLISH
With the high school devision, we began a new ‘business’ English plan. I was talking to my JTE one day and was asking him about possibly teaching English that was more practical for them. Most will go on to work in factories, convenience stores or small shops.

He seemed to be really interested in this idea, so we embarked on our project to teach students shop/customer service lingo.

Is it a more stressfull lesson for students? Yes.

Is it also more practical? Most definitely.

I see them push themselves a lot more now and in return my JTE and I try to take the lessons slow.

We show them practical usage of what we teach by doing mock-up shop playacting. The JTE and I are customers and the students take on the role of shop staff.

We’re currently in the process of teaching them how to identify ingredients or what a  product is made of. It’s incredibly satisfying.

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Special Needs is not easy. My energy levels shift throughout the day…some Tuesdays are a million times better (or worse) than other Tuesdays. Teaching here however has been most educational and eye-opening and I count myself extremely lucky.

தமிழ், என் தாய்மொழி.

HAPPY NEW YEAR and a HUGE BACKLOG of articles.
September-Jan tends to get particularly busy and between work, travel and falling sick (FOR A MONTH!) I couldn’t update much over here. : (  This article was supposed to go up in November…but things happened. So yea.

So around mid-November, I taught Tamil at a JTE/ALT teaching workshop called TSDS. This happens ever year and all ALTs 2nd year and above are expected to conduct workshops. Personally, I wanted to teach about using theatre in the classroom, cuz that’s my comfort zone. I studied it, I know it, I do it at work…safe, fun and clean.

BUUT, that didn’t go as planned and being the only Tamil ALT around here, I was tasked with teaching what I’d be calling my Mother Tongue all my life. I was told that it would be a great opportunity for people here to experience something new.

When I was told to teach Tamil , I was not too happy about it. In fact, I was petrified, sceptical, annoyed, nervous and all the negative emotions bundled in one. What was I supposed to say? What would they want to know? I had a very self defensive stance…and I was actually trying to shy away from teaching it. I was certain that I was going to become one of those rare showcase creatures.

Didn’t help that I haven’t been ACTIVELY using Tamil for a while.

There are very few brown people here in Toyama and even back home I’m a part of the tiny 9% Indian population…and an even tinier 3% (active)Tamil speaking poplulation. So I’m not a foreigner to some ignorant comments. Do you speak Hindu? How do you say that in Indian? I’ve heard them all. Ignorance has been such a huge part of my life, you could say I’ve started EXPECTING ignorance.

And…don’t even get me started on the number of times people giggle or gawk when I speak Tamil and tell me it must be super difficult and that it sounds impossible. It grates on me a little…Cuz I’m not asking you to speak Tamil right? A little respect, can? Also, there are people out there who speak this “INTAPUTERE” language (some people legit think this is a Tamil word. It is not.) just fine. :/

But then, about a month before the workshop, I got an idea.
One of those Jinius ideas I pride myself on….
I came out from behind my defensive fortress (read: pulled head out of ass) after some of my friends told me how much they were looking forward to the workshop.

I decided to confront the stereotypes head on, and give all my participants a full sensory experience.

So I split my workshop into 3 sections.

Part 1 would address my identity. Singaporean. Indian. Asian (Yes, I’m Asian too). Hindu Family. Tamil-speaker. Maybe a part of me was terrified especially when faced with so many identities to contend with. HOW to explain?

Part 2 would address the language and give people a super brief look into the Tamil language.

Part 3 would be a mini sensory exploration/exhibition. I brought Saris, Spices, Books, Sweets…etc.

And…I was blown away. First we explored stereotypes. Some legitimate…some not so. It was fun. Me giving people the permission to expose whatever stereotypes they had made it easier for me to confront them head on. My one week trip back home (more on that later) let me take a ton of photos and I felt like I was able to give people a tiny peek into my culture. Not the naan, curry, elephant, bollywood culture, but MINE.

Then came the language part. I was just waiting for a giggle to escape…but nothing. Everyone was seriously looking at me. I’d given out a worksheet with the Tamil letters and everyone was looking at it. So I began with a “looks tough right?” and as expected there was a nervous murmer. But, then the more I explained…”Did you know the Japanese pronounciation and the Tamil pronunciation…is actually very similar! As is the grammar!”…”P + A = PA!”…the more people got into it. Eventually, there was an entire class of ALTs and JTEs (people from so many cultures and backgrounds) trying to do their own self-introductions. I had people raising their hands asking if they had gotten their names right, people asking if they’d written the Tamil letter correctly.

I did as much language teaching as I could in about 20minutes.
Of course no one was a Tamil expert by the end of it…but I was satisfied.

Finally finally, came the sensory exhibition section. I gave everyone sweets and snacks by my mom (bless her soul and thank God for my Singapore trip). People crowded around my mini exhibit, smelling and chatting…and the most wonderful part were the questions.

One teacher had waited years to ask someone if Tamil and Japanese were indeed related. He showed me the Japanese word 学ぶ (Manabu, to learn) and the Tamil word மாணவர் (Maanavar, student), asking “Can you tell me if Tamil and Japanese are linked? I read this book so many years ago and have been waiting to ask someone this question!” Of course, both of us didn’t have the answer… I’d read about the similarites and have had similar wonderings…but never expected someone in Toyama to ask me that question.

Another gentleman wrote Hindi on the whiteboard and asked “This isn’t Tamil, but I saw this at the Indian restaurant and memorised it to show you. Can you read it?”

There were also questions about Rangoli and spices and so many more questions other than, “how do you say that in Indian?”

I came out of my own lecture, enlightened. Yes, there’s racism, yes, there’s ignorance. But, perhaps this just indicates the lack of frank head-on education. Education really does teach more than 1+1, afterall.

 

Potato Farming and the Art of Being a Shut-In Old Man.

芋くさい。
Imo kusai or Potato stink is a word I recently learnt from a friend.
I’d been joking about become a potato farming old lady some day when she said I was gonna stink of the countryside…or Imo Kusai. I’ve taken quite a liking to this word so much so that it’s gone and inspired me to post this.

Not sure if I’ve ever said this enough…but I love the countryside (or Inaka as they call it here). Back home, I’d call it ulu pandan. I love being stuck in the middle of nowhere…with nothing but fields, fields and fields as far as the eye can see or deeeeep into the boonies where the houses get more spread out and the magestic mountains appear to be your neighbors. Coming to Toyama, I discovered that these places actually exist.

Perhaps it’s a case of the city mouse/country mouse story…or seeing greener grass on the other side…but, everytime I venture out, I fall in love with Inaka a little bit more. It’s awefully peaceful…and the people seem to get a lot friendlier…mind, I generally find Toyama to be a LOT frindlier compared to Tokyo and Singapore which are huge metropolitan cities (or Tokai as they call it here). Despite living pretty much in the centre of Toyama City, it’s nowhere near as Tokai as home.

Recently, I came across an amazing rice harvesting event in Uozu (another city in Toyama). I signed up without much thought and even roped in my 2 visiting Singaporean ALT buddies…cuz RICE. The event turned out to be SO much fun. I cannot even begin to express how much fun it was.

Yoga in the muddy paddy field. Competing in groups of 4 to hang the rice out to dry. Learning how to cut rice manually and tie them into bunches. Doing a rice harvest dance. Riding on the back of a mini truck driven by an obaa-chan with fellow participants (both Japanese and foreign). Getting an amazing home-cooked lunch with a surprising amount of veggie options that filled me up real good. Listening to Shamisen, World and Minyo music and singing along. WINNING first place of the competition….cuz obaa-chan judges are the BEST. Getting 2kgs of rice as a prize. Immersing myself in nice quaint onsen. Getting some figs before leaving for Toyama.

I can promise you that this won’t be an experience you can get back home in Singapore. My friends who saw photos of me at the event informed me that I looked incredibly happy and the friend who taught me the word Imo Kusai said I just might be cut out for the Imo Kusai life afterall.

Planting rice is not fun. Bent from morn till set of sun. Cannot stand. Cannot sit. Cannot rest a little bit.
But, with friends, it’s heartwarming. The squelching mud under my feet was the most theraputic thing ever.

So, while it’s obvious that a 1 day event does not equate to a lifetime’s labour on the fields…I certainly am considering the field life a lot more than before.

 

Thanks for this one Dom!

                  Thanks for this one Dom!

 

This brings me to my next point that I might actually be a a Shut-In Old Man (or Hikikomori Ojisan as they say here). I was talking to my 2 Singaporean ALT friends from far-away prefectures when I came to this conclusion. We were discussing my tendencies to make middle-aged/old people friends more than young 20-something year old friends. It was odd, we decided for a normal (well as normal as a Vegetarian theatre-girl turned ALT can get i guess) 24 year old to be able to make friends with the old station master and the Matcha shop aunties and yet have issue with attending halloween parties like a normal person without being accused of being a kidnapper (this is a true story).

Odder yet were my tendencies to make terribly lame, freezing-cold, dad jokes and enjoy the comfort of my kotatsu while watching anime and avoiding parties like the plague. I survived on reheating frozen food from months ago and love nothing more than my track pants and t-shirts. It all pointed to one thing. That I was a Hikikomori Ojisan.

Somehow, it all made sense and my world view became a lot clearer.
I could make peace with myself, knowing that somewhere in my 24 year old body, there was a Hikikomori Ojisan who enjoyed farming potatoes and chatting up old ladies. Makes SO much sense doesn’t it? 

Peace out.

Ps: Please take this article with a pinch of salt. I’m quite obviously not a Hikikomori Ojisan and am not planning to become a farmer any time soon. That was a joke.

Sado Island

As I mentioned in my previous post, Sado Island was a huge huge thing off my bucket list. My JET application was actually to Sado and Zeami (founder of Noh) was exiled to this island where he wrote the Kadensho (one of his most influential works). 1/3rd of Japan’s Noh stages are on Sado. This was also THE place to be exiled to back in the days and so a LOT of Japan’s old culture was brought to this island and still survives to this day. Yea… you can probably tell that I love a lot about this island.

It was one of those things that I had to do for myself and I’d fondly named it as My Pilgrimage. Boy, did the trip live up to it’s name. 2 nights at a youth hostel and 3 in a tent. No trains, only irregular (and horribly timed) busses. 80% of what I saw online was in Japanese and timings/schedules were hard to come by in English. All in all, it made for the perfect solo adventure.

AAAND, because I was gonna spartan it out…I mean, REALLY spartan…I even got down to buying a hiking backpack and rain pants and jacket because of this. I told all my loved ones (ok just mum, dad and bro) that I was gonna be MIA for like 90% of the trip. So, to put everyone at ease, I decided to document my days on Sado every night. They turned up pretty nice (if I might say so myself) so I decided to put them together:

 

Day 1: Alive and Safe. 3:30am Woke up 5:15am Train to Tomari station 6:24am Transfer to Echigo TOKImeki railway 7:35am Reach Naoetsu 7:40am Cab to Naoetsu Port 7:50am Reach Naoetsu Port 9:30am Ferry sets sail 11:10am Ferry reaches Ogi Port 11:21 am Catch Ogi Line Bus 12:37pm Alight at Aikawa (bus was early) 12:37pm Catch Hon Line Bus (in the nick of time) 1:00pm Reach Himezu Minami Bus Stop 1:06pm Reach Bellemer Youth Hostel, Alive.

Day 1: Alive and Safe.
3:30am Woke up
5:15am Train to Tomari station
6:24am Transfer to Echigo TOKImeki railway
7:35am Reach Naoetsu
7:40am Cab to Naoetsu Port
7:50am Reach Naoetsu Port
9:30am Ferry sets sail
11:10am Ferry reaches Ogi Port
11:21 am Catch Ogi Line Bus
12:37pm Alight at Aikawa (bus was early)
12:37pm Catch Hon Line Bus (in the nick of time)
1:00pm Reach Himezu Minami Bus Stop
1:06pm Reach Bellemer Youth Hostel, Alive.

 

Day 1 (Part 2): Still alive and safe. 4:00pm-6pm: Woke up around 4pm. Hostel owner offered to drop me off at a nearby mom and pop shop (think mama shop), so I could grab dinner. Grabbed some (overpriced) food, ate at hostel and then went out again to catch the sunset. 6:00pm-7:00pm: The bridge was actually closed off, but a local lady smiled cheekily at me and told me to just sneak through the side anyway. Got a brilliant panorama view of the coast and a very pretty, unobstructed sunset (although a bit cloudy). Line called mum and chitti to show off my awesome lyf. 7:00pm-8:00pm: Came back to the hostel feeling really relaxed. Had a skype interview with Vasantham (Sinagapore Tamil TV channel) about the Singapore Arts scene on my iphone while looking really shifty with terrible Tamil and an unwashed face. Thanks Elakeyaa for opportunity, really appreciate it and I just hope I did SOME justice to the interview! Shameless AD: Ethiroli, Sept 2nd, 9pm. Go watch. 8:00pm-9:00pm: Took a really nice warm shower and realized I didn't have to share my shower or my room with strangers (for ONCE) at this hostel. Omg, joy, money paid so worth it. Now:gonnacrashandsleepagain Wake-up time (plan) : 5am

Day 1 (Part 2): Still alive and safe.
4:00pm-6pm: Woke up around 4pm. Hostel owner offered to drop me off at a nearby mom and pop shop (think mama shop), so I could grab dinner. Grabbed some (overpriced) food, ate at hostel and then went out again to catch the sunset.
6:00pm-7:00pm: The bridge was actually closed off, but a local lady smiled cheekily at me and told me to just sneak through the side anyway.
Got a brilliant panorama view of the coast and a very pretty, unobstructed sunset (although a bit cloudy). Line called mum and chitti to show off my awesome lyf.
7:00pm-8:00pm: Came back to the hostel feeling really relaxed. Had a skype interview with Vasantham (Sinagapore Tamil TV channel) about the Singapore Arts scene on my iphone while looking really shifty with terrible Tamil and an unwashed face. Thanks Elakeyaa for opportunity, really appreciate it and I just hope I did SOME justice to the interview!
Shameless AD:
Ethiroli, Sept 2nd, 9pm. Go watch.
8:00pm-9:00pm: Took a really nice warm shower and realized I didn’t have to share my shower or my room with strangers (for ONCE) at this hostel. Omg, joy, money paid so worth it.
Now:gonnacrashandsleepagain
Wake-up time (plan) : 5am

 

Day 2: MANY buses and 1 taxi later. Happy, Safe and un-Kidnapped. Finally completed my somewhat pilgrimage aim. What a day... Took the 7:28am bus out of Himezu and went to Aikawa, transferred bus and went to this place called Imizu and started my day with a (somewhat wild goose chase) trip to Shohoji Temple. Wasn't able to see a famous Noh mask...BUT got to see a stone bench that Zeami Motokiyo apparently sat on! Then took a bus to Sawata and talked to the tourism info people to come up with a plan. (I accidentally got off thinking sawata wld have more to do) Then took a bus to Kin-zan (gold mountain) where they used to mine for gold in the days. The place was beautiful and surprisingly COLD. Seriously, Sado seems to get a lot colder than Toyama! Anw, went through tunnels and went to the top where you see the mountain cleaved in two. This point is called Doyu no Wareto. THEN, just to feel rich, I ate gold flaked ice-cream. Cuz in Japan, EVERYTHING is made into soft-serve ice-cream. After my gold journey, I hopped on another bus to visit this place called Kitazawa floatation and power plant. It's used to be the biggest gold ore concentrator in East Asia but was shut down after the war... And now it's over-run with weeds, grass and nature... Cuz circle of life. Loved that place. So many possibilities. I then strolled up a bit and saw the Bugyosho (some important building... But I didn't have much interest in it) and an old bell called Jishoro to pass time before I ran to catch my next bus. Ran to my next bus. I thought I'd have to go back to Aikawa but the bus driver informed me that if I wanted to go to the Noh performance that I'd mentioned, I should get off at an earlier stop and walk. And THEN, I bumped into the guy who'd composed the music for part of the performance and he brought me along to the performance area (another member of the team gave us a lift) and I reached about 3 hours early. =_= they were real nice tho and let me watch the rehearsal and let me have the best seat and gave a photo book. Finally watched bonfire Noh. Blown away. Wanted to cry. Taxied back to hostel.

Day 2:
MANY buses and 1 taxi later. Happy, Safe and un-Kidnapped.
Finally completed my somewhat pilgrimage aim. What a day…
Took the 7:28am bus out of Himezu and went to Aikawa, transferred bus and went to this place called Imizu and started my day with a (somewhat wild goose chase) trip to Shohoji Temple. Wasn’t able to see a famous Noh mask…BUT got to see a stone bench that Zeami Motokiyo apparently sat on!
Then took a bus to Sawata and talked to the tourism info people to come up with a plan. (I accidentally got off thinking sawata wld have more to do)
Then took a bus to Kin-zan (gold mountain) where they used to mine for gold in the days. The place was beautiful and surprisingly COLD. Seriously, Sado seems to get a lot colder than Toyama! Anw, went through tunnels and went to the top where you see the mountain cleaved in two. This point is called Doyu no Wareto.
THEN, just to feel rich, I ate gold flaked ice-cream. Cuz in Japan, EVERYTHING is made into soft-serve ice-cream.
After my gold journey, I hopped on another bus to visit this place called Kitazawa floatation and power plant. It’s used to be the biggest gold ore concentrator in East Asia but was shut down after the war… And now it’s over-run with weeds, grass and nature… Cuz circle of life. Loved that place. So many possibilities.
I then strolled up a bit and saw the Bugyosho (some important building… But I didn’t have much interest in it) and an old bell called Jishoro to pass time before I ran to catch my next bus.
Ran to my next bus. I thought I’d have to go back to Aikawa but the bus driver informed me that if I wanted to go to the Noh performance that I’d mentioned, I should get off at an earlier stop and walk.
And THEN, I bumped into the guy who’d composed the music for part of the performance and he brought me along to the performance area (another member of the team gave us a lift) and I reached about 3 hours early. =_= they were real nice tho and let me watch the rehearsal and let me have the best seat and gave a photo book.
Finally watched bonfire Noh. Blown away.
Wanted to cry.
Taxied back to hostel.

More reflection on the Takigi Noh (bonfire noh): the prime time to visit Sado for Takigi Noh is actually June. You have NUMEROUS performances by locals all over the island. Unfortunately, June is also a very busy academic period for me…so I’ll probably have to visit again.

The show I watched had 3 segments. A Kyogen, a Noh and a contemporary ballet/noh mix thing. I personally liked the Noh performance the most. It was a performance of Kakitsubata. I think, Noh can go 2 ways…really good or really really bad. Really really bad because it’s such a slow art form….if the tension isn’t held…it just gets really boring.

This performance however, was mesmerising. At moments, I thought I saw the mouth of the mask move.
The moment when the non-human character revealed herself, gave me goosebumps. Played at night, with the bonfire burning at the sides…it was so magical. I believed it.

For anyone who wants to know more about what I watched:
http://www.the-noh.com/en/plays/data/program_029.html

This was the reason I’d started to love Japan, and I was in the place where the man who developed it to what it is today was exiled. It all felt very right.

Day 3: Alive, Safe and DRENCHED. Temple Hopping and Kodō Concert. Woke up a little later... Left the youth hostel (still on the first bus out). It began to rain. Said rain lasted ALL day. FIRST temple: Daizenji. Old old Noh Stage. They're just EVERYWHERE, these Noh stages. One third of Japan's Noh stages are on Sado. #fact SECOND temple: Myosenji! 5 story pagoda temple devoted to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism. Took 30 years to build and was originally at a tots different site. THIRD temple: Komponji. One of the most important temples dedicated to Nichiren (this guy's pretty famous here, lots of temples for him). It's got a statue of him, a bell tower and a pagoda. FOURTH temple: Seisuiji. This one was preeetty far out. I shamelessly took a hitch hike ride while looking super lost from 2 very kind people on their pick-up trucks. This temple was interesting, it was actually a copy of Kyoto's famous Kiyomizudera and also shares the same Kanji! Unfortunately, can't say it shares the same glory... But it's got such a nice historical background! Note: all this was by bus. Cuz i posses the all you can ride ticket. THEN, I took 2 busses towards Ogi, and Oh Lordy the busses were packed with people like me with HUGE backpacks. Met SO many nice people and made friends grin emoticon I came down to Sobama Campground to settle my tent (staying here for 3 nights, yay) and went back to Ogi for the marketplace and Taiko performance. MET ELIZABETH!!!! and we both enjoyed a VERY rainy but AMAZING taiko performance by Kodō. Now: at campground. Met more people (i cannot begin to say how happy i am to meet young people given my luck with old people). Am finally back in my tent, aaaaand its raining outside. Reflection point: not quite sure abt my shower situation or my food situation. Also, not sure how im gonna get out of this place by 6:15 am (latest tmr). Life. Thank God for Calorie Mate.

Day 3:
Alive, Safe and DRENCHED.
Temple Hopping and Kodō Concert.
Woke up a little later… Left the youth hostel (still on the first bus out). It began to rain. Said rain lasted ALL day.
FIRST temple: Daizenji. Old old Noh Stage. They’re just EVERYWHERE, these Noh stages. One third of Japan’s Noh stages are on Sado. #fact
SECOND temple: Myosenji! 5 story pagoda temple devoted to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism. Took 30 years to build and was originally at a tots different site.
THIRD temple: Komponji. One of the most important temples dedicated to Nichiren (this guy’s pretty famous here, lots of temples for him). It’s got a statue of him, a bell tower and a pagoda.
FOURTH temple: Seisuiji. This one was preeetty far out. I shamelessly took a hitch hike ride while looking super lost from 2 very kind people on their pick-up trucks. This temple was interesting, it was actually a copy of Kyoto’s famous Kiyomizudera and also shares the same Kanji! Unfortunately, can’t say it shares the same glory… But it’s got such a nice historical background!
Note: all this was by bus. Cuz i posses the all you can ride ticket.
THEN, I took 2 busses towards Ogi, and Oh Lordy the busses were packed with people like me with HUGE backpacks. Met SO many nice people and made friends grin emoticon
I came down to Sobama Campground to settle my tent (staying here for 3 nights, yay) and went back to Ogi for the marketplace and Taiko performance.
MET ELIZABETH!!!! and we both enjoyed a VERY rainy but AMAZING taiko performance by Kodō.
Now: at campground. Met more people (i cannot begin to say how happy i am to meet young people given my luck with old people). Am finally back in my tent, aaaaand its raining outside.
Reflection point: not quite sure abt my shower situation or my food situation. Also, not sure how im gonna get out of this place by 6:15 am (latest tmr). Life. Thank God for Calorie Mate.

 

Day 4: Alive and Shameless. A day for hitch-hiking and new friends. Had a terrible sleep. Woke up almost every hour. Woke at 5am, it was POURING. Realized my tent floor was slightly wet. This was not fun. Contemplated staying in my tent all day... But eventually the rain let up and I decided to try my luck in getting a ride out of the camp. Walked out. Tried not to look too suspicious. Saw a lady with a backpack and asked if she was going to Ogi by any chance. Lady's name was Emma. She wasn't going where I needed to but was still driving up north so she told me to hop on. Sooo, hop on I did. She was headed to a guided tour of a cedar forest and asked if i wanted to join. I really wanted to go up north to visit a cave (more on this later) so she said she'd be willing to drive with me up north after the cedar tour. Mind, I literally just met her this morning. We drove to the cedars and stopped at an interesting temple along the way! Cedar forest tour (¥3,500) , turned out to be really worth it. Also met more people (japanese and non) on the tour! The trees were so so interesting, bent and twisted into the most interesting shapes and sizes. Some looked almost human... As if in the midst of a dance. We came back to where Emma's car was parked and, Emma asked another lady, Keiko, to join us! 3 newly met people on Sado embarked on this road trip. Emma freelanced and wrote travel articles (amongst many other things) and Keiko, from Osaka, had just finished working at a factory and was looking for a change. We passed by a lot of very interesting rock formations. The first was a huge rock at the site where a British Dakota military transport plane semi-crash landed in Sado. The second rock formation, Futatsu-game is said to look like two turtles and locals believe that the third, Ono-game, houses a deity. On the path between these two sites, a natural cave has formed and it's called Sai no Kawara which contains hundreds of Jizos protecting dead children on their journey to their afterlife. Went back to festival market, had my dinner, and retired for the night. Not on my iphone, but stars are STUNNING.

Day 4:
Alive and Shameless.
A day for hitch-hiking and new friends.
Had a terrible sleep. Woke up almost every hour. Woke at 5am, it was POURING. Realized my tent floor was slightly wet. This was not fun. Contemplated staying in my tent all day… But eventually the rain let up and I decided to try my luck in getting a ride out of the camp.
Walked out. Tried not to look too suspicious. Saw a lady with a backpack and asked if she was going to Ogi by any chance.
Lady’s name was Emma. She wasn’t going where I needed to but was still driving up north so she told me to hop on. Sooo, hop on I did.
She was headed to a guided tour of a cedar forest and asked if i wanted to join. I really wanted to go up north to visit a cave (more on this later) so she said she’d be willing to drive with me up north after the cedar tour.
Mind, I literally just met her this morning.
We drove to the cedars and stopped at an interesting temple along the way!
Cedar forest tour (¥3,500) , turned out to be really worth it. Also met more people (japanese and non) on the tour! The trees were so so interesting, bent and twisted into the most interesting shapes and sizes. Some looked almost human… As if in the midst of a dance.
We came back to where Emma’s car was parked and, Emma asked another lady, Keiko, to join us!
3 newly met people on Sado embarked on this road trip. Emma freelanced and wrote travel articles (amongst many other things) and Keiko, from Osaka, had just finished working at a factory and was looking for a change.
We passed by a lot of very interesting rock formations. The first was a huge rock at the site where a British Dakota military transport plane semi-crash landed in Sado.
The second rock formation, Futatsu-game is said to look like two turtles and locals believe that the third, Ono-game, houses a deity.
On the path between these two sites, a natural cave has formed and it’s called Sai no Kawara which contains hundreds of Jizos protecting dead children on their journey to their afterlife.
Went back to festival market, had my dinner, and retired for the night. Not on my iphone, but stars are STUNNING.

 

Day 5: Late update, but still alive! I was just so tired yesterday. So the day started out with me hitching a ride with the lovely Emma. We managed to pay Rengebuji a visit before heading for Ogi. It's a HUGE temple complex and is one of the three most important temples in esoteric Shingon Buddhism. Really pretty. After reaching Ogi, Emma and I parted ways. I grabbed some breakfast at the arts market and then went on to watch a Miyake Daiko fringe event at the Ogi Gymnasium for free. It was so amazingly spectacular, the movement work put into the drumming was just SO intense. THEN, after floundering around for an hour, I decided to take the 2:00pm bus to the Gold Park. BUT, I still had an hour-ish of nothing to do...so what better way to spend an hour than to get a GeoParks tour (in English!) by a retired gentleman. My guide, Mr. Sasaki, turned out to be a retired English Teacher/Principal who had an interest in Geography and was trying to learn Chinese. For 200yen, I walked around the Shiroyama Park area where he explained to me that many years ago a volcano had erupted underwater to form the island and that you could still see where the lava had covered the land before it rose above sea levels to form Sado! Ah-mazing. I got SO much information in less than an hour and still managed to have a friendly chat with Mr. Sasaki (he wanted to forget his teacher life and actually didn't wanna speak English.) THEN! Sieved for gold! And got some! SUH rich. Oh, and forgot to mention, I decided to attend another kodo performance at the last minute after i saw someone trying to sell their ticket at ¥3,000 (usually ¥5,500). A cross-cultural concert between Balinese and Taiko music left me so touched on so many levels... So glad I attended. The Balinese music... Even without ANY chanting, I could HEAR the cak cak cak in the way they play and they looked so HAPPY onstage. To wrap it all off, I ended the day by stargazing in the carpark of my campsite with Elizabeth. Saw a shooting star. Made a wish. Life felt so at peace. Couldn't believe I'd have to return to mainland the next day.

Day 5: Late update, but still alive!
I was just so tired yesterday.
So the day started out with me hitching a ride with the lovely Emma.
We managed to pay Rengebuji a visit before heading for Ogi. It’s a HUGE temple complex and is one of the three most important temples in esoteric Shingon Buddhism. Really pretty.
After reaching Ogi, Emma and I parted ways. I grabbed some breakfast at the arts market and then went on to watch a Miyake Daiko fringe event at the Ogi Gymnasium for free. It was so amazingly spectacular, the movement work put into the drumming was just SO intense.
THEN, after floundering around for an hour, I decided to take the 2:00pm bus to the Gold Park. BUT, I still had an hour-ish of nothing to do…so what better way to spend an hour than to get a GeoParks tour (in English!) by a retired gentleman. My guide, Mr. Sasaki, turned out to be a retired English Teacher/Principal who had an interest in Geography and was trying to learn Chinese. For 200yen, I walked around the Shiroyama Park area where he explained to me that many years ago a volcano had erupted underwater to form the island and that you could still see where the lava had covered the land before it rose above sea levels to form Sado! Ah-mazing. I got SO much information in less than an hour and still managed to have a friendly chat with Mr. Sasaki (he wanted to forget his teacher life and actually didn’t wanna speak English.)
THEN! Sieved for gold! And got some! SUH rich.
Oh, and forgot to mention, I decided to attend another kodo performance at the last minute after i saw someone trying to sell their ticket at ¥3,000 (usually ¥5,500). A cross-cultural concert between Balinese and Taiko music left me so touched on so many levels… So glad I attended. The Balinese music… Even without ANY chanting, I could HEAR the cak cak cak in the way they play and they looked so HAPPY onstage.
To wrap it all off, I ended the day by stargazing in the carpark of my campsite with Elizabeth. Saw a shooting star. Made a wish. Life felt so at peace.
Couldn’t believe I’d have to return to mainland the next day.

 

Day 6: Alive and Back (to reality). Final adventures on Hippie Island. Once again freeloaded off the very kind Emma and today we'd decided to explore Ogi which is at the tip of Sado. Got a lovely view from above Sobama beach and shortly after we found an old man painting the road in very cheerful colours although he didn't seem interested in talking to us much. We saw a couple of volcanic rock formations along the coast and then saw the most interesting sight of farmers harvesting rice. The whole process was so interesting and they were very happy to let us take pictures. Then we went to this amazing place called Shukunegi where ships used to be built. This neighborhood had some very uniquely designed homes (people still live in some of them). Very very lovely. Finally, we went for a ride in the local Tarai-bune (¥500) near Yajima and Kyoujima. Mr Sasaki from yesterday's GeoPark tour pointed these islands out to me from Shiroyama and told me some very interesting stories behind them. Tarai-Buneing was SO fun (well at least MY idea of fun). The lady steering even let me have a go at it. I'm surprised the big bucket boat didn't capsize. The traditional fishing boat is mainly found on Sado and you can see the clear clear water up close. After our ride we walked along the 2 islands for a bit before heading for the port. We parted ways and she went to look at some temples I'd already seen and I went omiyage shopping and phone charging. All too soon, I was on the Ferry and as a small group of people waved us off, we shouted back (some waving hankies) as a group that we'd all come back. The ferry docked into Naoetsu Port as the sun set. Emma (really, bless her soul) drove me up to Itoigawa (closer to Toyama) and we said our goodbyes. 6 days felt like a month and I really miss Sado, but as always, I'm glad to be back in #amazingtoyama #tadaima Now: Happy in Starbucks and civilization that has trains and actual convenience stores.

Day 6: Alive and Back (to reality).
Final adventures on Hippie Island.
Once again freeloaded off the very kind Emma and today we’d decided to explore Ogi which is at the tip of Sado.
Got a lovely view from above Sobama beach and shortly after we found an old man painting the road in very cheerful colours although he didn’t seem interested in talking to us much.
We saw a couple of volcanic rock formations along the coast and then saw the most interesting sight of farmers harvesting rice. The whole process was so interesting and they were very happy to let us take pictures.
Then we went to this amazing place called Shukunegi where ships used to be built. This neighborhood had some very uniquely designed homes (people still live in some of them). Very very lovely.
Finally, we went for a ride in the local Tarai-bune (¥500) near Yajima and Kyoujima. Mr Sasaki from yesterday’s GeoPark tour pointed these islands out to me from Shiroyama and told me some very interesting stories behind them. Tarai-Buneing was SO fun (well at least MY idea of fun). The lady steering even let me have a go at it. I’m surprised the big bucket boat didn’t capsize. The traditional fishing boat is mainly found on Sado and you can see the clear clear water up close.
After our ride we walked along the 2 islands for a bit before heading for the port. We parted ways and she went to look at some temples I’d already seen and I went omiyage shopping and phone charging.
All too soon, I was on the Ferry and as a small group of people waved us off, we shouted back (some waving hankies) as a group that we’d all come back.
The ferry docked into Naoetsu Port as the sun set. Emma (really, bless her soul) drove me up to Itoigawa (closer to Toyama) and we said our goodbyes.
6 days felt like a month and I really miss Sado, but as always, I’m glad to be back in #amazingtoyama #tadaima
Now: Happy in Starbucks and civilization that has trains and actual convenience stores.

 

 

So, back in Toyama, Sado feels like a dream. 6 days of adventures and seeing and doing things I’d never usually get the chance to. It’s NOTHING like Tokyo or Osaka or the big cities, and it’s downright inconvenient at times. I did a LOT of glancing at the bus time tables and had borderline breakdowns.  By the end of the trip, I had a whole stack of brochures and maps and schedules in my backpack. =_= Food was also a constant worry (I had NO idea what I was gonna vegetarian it out the next day) but I got by pretty well thanks to the Arts Market (they had AMAZING pastas, tortilla wraps and naans) , random convenience stores (there are only 7 or 8 on the island) and the mom and pop shop.

But I think I grew up a little, thanks to this experience. I took a lot of things into my own hands and because I went there alone, I just took a lot of responsibilities for the choices I made.

All this put together, made Sado the best trip of my life.
So glad I’m alive.

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