Nagasaki, Okinawa, Fukushima, Yasukuni Shrine and Hiroshima: Reflections

Disclaimer: I’m going to try and be as sensitive as possible in this entry…because the topics discussed could be a bit sensitive. This time, I’ll be talking about the March 11 disaster in Fukushima and also about WWII. As much as possible, I hope to keep this post/discussion non-agressive even as I share my opinions (and these are mine alone).
Still, if I step on any toes, I ask for forgiveness and I’m more than happy to engage in respectful debates/discussions.

As a student, learning about Singapore’s history in class, one of the things we learn is how Japan invaded Singapore and how the British surrendered us to the Japanese. The years that followed under Japanese rule, weren’t pleasant according to the books.

This ended when Fat Boy and Little Man were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This led to the end of the war in Asia and this was one of the factors that led to Singapore’s eventual independence. So the bombs were good in my young mind’s eye. I really didn’t think of them as any more than bombs that were “bigger than usual”. Good bombs that helped end the war.

I thought nothing more about this topic and to this day, I don’t hold any major grudge against modern day Japan. Over the years, I read news about the Yasukuni Shrine, Japan’s tensions with China and Korea and a little more about the Atomic Bombs.

Then just before my final year in college, when my college and I were in talks about allowing me to go on an exchange cum “internship” at Toho Gakuen College of Drama and Music, March 11th happened. March 11th 2011 was the date of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Soon after, the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini Nuclear Power plants had meltdowns. Many lost their lives or were reported missing. Others had to be evacuated.

That was probably when I first started reading articles condemning the usage of nuclear power. Some of these articles described how it was absurd that Japan used nuclear power when it was the first and only country to experience the horrors of it being used in war. It made me stop…and maybe realize that the bomb could have been a sad thing. I read things online. Somewhere in my mind, I might have realized “Ah, how sad…” but that was it.

Then I went to Tokyo for my exchange between June and July 2011.

I remember watching a protest march against nuclear power plants. There was also a curious incident when I was walking back to my place from Shinjuku station when a lady sitting under a flight of stairs, called out to me. She asked me to fold paper cranes with her, telling me she was from a group that was from Hiroshima. She told me that, she too, like many people from Hiroshima and Nagasaki were against the Nuclear Power Stations and that she was folding paper cranes in protest. She told me that the group believed that all victims of the atomic bombs had become cranes and even invited me to a gathering.

At that time, I was more scared of what she said to me…but her words stuck in my mind. Prior to this, I never even thought much of nuclear power or weapons. Singapore has none of that, so I never had reason to think about it or care about it. Now, I started to have some form of an opinion…still nothing solid took form; just the idea that nuclear power must be scary. I also slowly developed a vague idea that the dropping of the atom bombs had caused a great deal of devastation by reading articles and watching shows about it. It shocked me a little.

Coming back to Japan on JET, I flippantly thought of visiting the historical landmarks from World War II and Fukushima. I wanted to see things with my own eyes. I really didn’t expect what ended up actually seeing.

The first place I visited was Nagasaki. The silver week break was upon us, and the weather was projected to be fantastic. One of the ALTs wanted to visit, and I grabbed at the opportunity. “Great, the first one off my check list”, I thought to myself. Nagasaki shocked me in a way that I’d never been shocked before. I’d never seen that extent of damage and destruction anywhere. I walked through the Peace museum, my heart getting heavier by the second. Things affected by the blast, bottles melted and molded into something alien and grotesque, personal artifacts burnt beyond recognition, descriptions of the after effects of the blast that carried on far beyond the war itself. Learning about victims suffering days, months and years later, learning about children being born with defects or deformities as a result of the bomb, all this was completely beyond me. It was beyond what I had expected.

I visited the Urakami Cathedral. It had been incredibly close to the epicenter and since Mother Mary’s birthday was around the corner, the mass that morning had been in full attendance. Everybody died and of the few things that survived the blast was the head of a Mother Mary statue with its eyes hallowed out by the blast. Visiting the Cathedral, I was shown into a small room where the original head was kept. I’m not Catholic or even very religious, but that moment of being alone in the room with the blank eyes of Mother Mary on me gave me the chills. I couldn’t stay in the room for long and felt I didn’t deserve to be in her presence. I later read an article of how the atomic bombs and their crew had actually been blessed by a priest prior to their launch. It’s a shock to the senses.

Nagasaki 2

Nagasaki had had the largest Christian population in Asia at that time and many of these Christians had survived incredible amounts of persecution over the years when Christianity had been considered illegal in Japan. The atom bomb did something in a moment that even Japan hadn’t managed over hundreds of years. Those implications were completely and totally horrifying. Walking through Nagasaki seeing areas affected by the war, was a punch in the gut. Still a part of me felt, “But they did something to deserve this. They attacked countries, killed people. A part of this is on them.” I want to be clear that this was something that I THOUGHT at that time and not my current opinion. However, I want to try as much as possible to document my thought process through this.

It was around that time that I also started talking to an artist friend of mine. She’d been doing some works about Hiroshima and Fukushima. Originating from Niigata prefecture, her family home is incredibly close to the Kashiwazaki Nuclear Power Plant. She told me about her experiences in interviewing Hibakusha (atomic bomb victims) and her anti-nuclear power stance which she decried as nonsensical. She related to me the political motivations behind building the power plants in Japan and showed me pictures and articles that detailed accidents and fatalities caused by nuclear power plants even before the infamous meltdown at Fukushima. She showed me a photo book the documented cases of nuclear power plant worker who had developed various lethal diseases like cancer as a result of mistakes made at the nuclear power plants. She questioned at the manner in which the nation was remembering the atomic bombs and Fukushima.

At the same time, a colleague at work mentioned the Himeyuri Peace Museaum when I mentioned wanted to visit Okinawa. She told me how Okinawa had been one of the few parts of Japan that had engaged in land battle and that the Himeyuri Peace Museum would surely interest me if I wanted to learn about the war history.

So in the January of 2016, when I went on a trip to Okinawa, I decided to visit the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum and the Himeyuri Museum. Both museums were located quite out of the way and I needed a cab to reach there. The experience I had there was yet again, completely devastating. Okinawa is a lot more vocal about the war that most other prefectures, they were a lot more open about admitting Japan’s participation in the war and were also very descriptive about the atrocities commited by and against them.

I visited the Okinawa Peace Memorial Museum first. Something that surprised me was a display of history textbooks teaching the pacific theatre section of WWII. Singapore’s textbook was there too. I’d never seen anything like it and for the first time, I physically saw how the same story could be told from multiple perspectives. Something in me clicked.

Later I went to the Himeyuri Museum. The Himeyuri Museum is dedicated mainly to the female students of the girl schools who had to become nurses when Okinawa was under attack. The museum itself is built over one of the Gamas or caves that wounded soldiers and the student nurses often hid in to stay safe. These girls were mostly high school students, who were one day told that they had to pause to education to serve the country. The girls believed they would be “helping” for a couple of weeks before the country won and they would return to their normal lives. That’s what they were taught to believe.

Most of them died. Due to enemy fire, due to diseases, due to starvation…due to multiple reasons, many of these girls died.

Okinawa

For me, that was unbelievable. I teach high schoolers. I was a high schooler myself, not too long ago. It’s impossible to imagine my girls doing anything described in the museum. I cannot imagine something like that becoming my reality and although I’ve said this multiple times now, it made me feel sick.

Why didn’t I know of this? Why had I only known about the a-bombs that “saved” Singapore? Why had I been so happy for it to have happened? These thoughts ran through my mind.

In the summer of 2016, another friend told me she wanted to visit Fukushima and so, naturally, I had to go with her. When she asked me what I wanted to see there, I really had nothing in mind other than wanting to understand more about the March 11th Earthquake/Tsunami and the nuclear disaster that happened after.

I was on the internet reading for a long time. I wasn’t interested to be a tourist or visit places that I wasn’t supposed to. I wasn’t interested in disrespecting the lives of people who had been affected. But, how do you get any information online without searching incredibly invasive sounding search phrases like “How to go into Fukushima danger zone”?

We were already in Fukushima, and I still hadn’t gotten any information and I found a keyword that people use here to describe visiting places struck by disaster/war/death. They call it “Black Tourism” (terrible term). There are licensed companies that organize tours into the exclusion zone to educate people…I honestly don’t know what or how to think about this. In any case, I discovered that another option was to just take the regular train out to Tatsuta station (the last stop before the exclusion zone) and then take a bus through to Haranomachi. There are only 2 buses that run to Haranomachi from Tatsuta and 2 that go back every day.

So I did that. Reaching Tatsuta, the sky was grey. The station had device to display the radiation levels in the area. Nobody was really there. The Tatsuta neighborhood looked deserted. Suddenly, the radio calisthenics music began playing on the speakers. The cheerful music clashed with the lack of people around. I had no idea what was going on.

Fukushima 5

On the way to Tatsuta, I’d seen the ocean. This side of Japan faced the Pacific Ocean. Toyama faces the Sea of Japan which is a MUCH smaller body of water. The Pacific Ocean, on this cloudy day, looked kind of angry. I walked around Tatsuta for about an hour.

Then the bus arrived. Reading things on the newspaper and going through the place yourself is always different. Passing through the exclusion zone reminded me of disaster/end of the world/zombie movie sets. Except it was real. Everywhere, there were rice fields over grown with weeds. Homes, 100 yen shops, pachinko parlors, eateries, all kind of fenced off. I saw a boat in the middle of an over grown field. It looked like a dime a dozen neighborhood in rural Japan, except things had gone so very wrong. It scared me because, that’s the kind of neighborhood I live in in Toyama.

Fukushima 3

Fukushima 4

Fukushima

It shocked me at how close the nuclear plants were to the people’s homes. It hit me that more than 5 years had passed since then…and life was still not “back to normal”. Some people would never regain their “normal” back.

Fukushima 2

As I sat in a library in Haranomachi, reading about the disaster, the thought that ran through my mind in the moment was how fragile “normal” was and how quickly it could be destroyed. I was confused at this horribly ironic situation that Japan was in and its confusing relationship to nuclear power. I left with no answers and just more questions and thoughts and maybe a strong dislike for nuclear power plants.

Shortly after my trip to Fukushima, I joined my school on its school trip to Tokyo. We had a lot of fun, but on one of the days when I had time to myself, I visited the Yasukuni Shrine and Museum. As mentioned before, history has many points of view. I’d heard of the numerous controversies surrounding this building and decided to go take a look for myself. I’d heard that Class A War criminals had been enshrined and the Abe and many other former prime ministers had visited this shrine. It’s also incredibly close to the Imperial Palace, although the imperial family has stopped supporting it. I had a feeling of dread. I was worried because, I didn’t know what to expect but surely it couldn’t be THAT bad or it would be censored/disallowed.

Yasukuni

The shrine itself was less offensive to me in comparison to the museum. And while I couldn’t bring myself to bow down before the main shrine, it really wasn’t all that bad in comparison to the museum.

The museum made statements about its attack on Asia like it was attempting to save us from our colonial masters. The military strength of the war-time military is presented as awe inspiring and powerful. China is insulted. I couldn’t stomach the museum.  I literally got a headache about half-way though because I honestly couldn’t believe people bought into this. Again, these are my opinions and if people want to disagree or if you have different views on this, I’m happy to engange with you.

Yasukuni 3

The worst part was watching a teacher bring a group of students through the exhibitions of planes while talking about the strength of Japan and then walking to the final segment where the guest books are. A man had written in it that he’d served Hitler and that he regretted nothing and that this museum was a great example for people to follow. It made me sick.

Yasukuni 2

I walked out with a massive headache and a craving for something sweet and some therapeutic rides at Disney Sea.

My trips to these spots stopped for a while until spring 2017. I finally got a chance to visit Hiroshima, my last stop. I was already exhausted by this point. Obviously, I’ve never experienced this level of violence or death in my life, but going to these places left me feeling very drained. So, by the time I reached Hiroshima, I really wasn’t all that shocked anymore. I’d seen similar things in Nagasaki. Hiroshima seemed louder about its opinions of the war though. There was evidence everywhere of the blast. And people were not happy at all about the nuclear power plants.

Hiroshima

It was a vocal city, a contrast to the quiet tranquility that I experienced in Nagasaki.  I visited the bomb dome…and walked along the river through memorial after memorial till I reached the one where Obama had given his iconic speech of “71 years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed…” Again, I’d really run out of things to FEEL at this point. I was just walking around, kind of on auto-piolet.

I walked through the peace museum. There’s a big exhibit on JHS students who’d perished because of the work they had to do outside on that day. There are left over finger nails and skin. A young boy’s tricycle. Hair. The paper cranes folded by Sadako, the girl who developed cancer well after the bomb had been dropped. Shadows of people left over on stone steps as a result of the radiation. A lunchbox with its charred, uneaten contents.  “What’s there to say anymore?”, I thought as I snapped pictures. It was really crowded and I had to stand in line to see each exhibit. What’s there to think anymore? Hiroshima was stark. Ugly.

Hiroshima 2

I talked to some people at a mini lecture and it was then I came to a sort of answer for my conflict. Yes, what Japan had done to SO many countries, was very very wrong. There’s no excuse for the lives that had been lost. But that didn’t mean the country deserved the a-bombs. That was not the answer.

This still happens. Syria is being bombed for ISIS. People, who once had their normal, don’t have it anymore. It happens in a flash. I obviously don’t have any peace-keeping solutions or suggestions on me or I’d be working for UN, but I couldn’t, in good conscience, feel that the a-bombs were justified after all that.

The other question that ran through my mind was what I thought of nuclear power and it being harnessed as a form of clean energy. I’m still in conflict. On one hand, I wonder if things would have worked out better without human error. On the other hand, human error will never truly cease to exist. I remembered passing the Kashiwazaki power plant, the closest one to Toyama. People played on the beach nearby. I recalled hearing the words of Oppenheimer in a play I’d worked on as a subtitle operator a few years back. It too had been about the war. Oppenheimer had said, after the bombs had been dropped:

I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

I leave you with that thought.

 

 

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“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.

 

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 talking 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 1/2 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1/2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/

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.

Race against Racism

I began typing this article before Singapore officially turned 50 after I expericed some not so nice situations. I’ve glazed over most of my experiences as I don’t believe in naming and shaming and also because I don’t need the details to get my points across.

Disclaimer (because these are dead handy when I speak from personal experience): The article is going to touch on race, language, religion, skin colour and then some more. If you’re not up to it, by all means avoid reading this article because I think it IS a heavy topic. Also, because I speak from personal experciences, I will try not to sound like a know all and see all and will also try not to make sweeping statements. However, I ask for your forgiveness and understanding if I do.

Sometimes, being a brown person can be difficult. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been aware that being brown was not the best thing to be in the world. At some point in primary (elementary) school, a part of me wanted to be Chinese so much, I cut my eyelashes short. Obviously that didn’t work out well and thankfully my lashes also grew back.

I’m pretty sure most people don’t go about trying to be Chinese the way I did and people might ask me why I did that. At that age though, I’d already been the butt of more than one anti-Indian slur and I’d faced my fair share of bullying just because of what I was born as. Now, imagine having your presence ignored, being told you had worms in your brains, offering help but being kicked away, be in a group discussion and suddenly have the meeting conducted in a language you don’t know and have people whisper behind your back in another language from the age of 4. Pretty sure that’s not very fun.

By Junior College (high school) though, people seemed to have gotten better (at least in the sensitivity department) and I had a wonderful time and made some great friends who were some of the least judgemental people I’d met to that point. The topic of racism (we studied it in class) seemed like a distant concept of the past…or something only seen in history books when the Holocaust was mentioned.

Then of course, Arts College happened and I really had the best days of my life there. People were broad minded and accepting, I had a lot of freedom to question and debate on a whole ton of issues…the world felt like it had opened up and people who met me after that told me that I’d become a better person. Prejudices or judgemental views I never knew I had came to light and I had to deal with them. All in all, Arts College was the best thing that happened to my soul.

So you can imagine the shock I had when I came out.

To give a little context, Singapore had begun facing a spike in the number of new citizens, permenant residents and foreign talents. This included people from Europe, America, Australia and of course other Asian countries. Suddenly, I’d be riding the cab, and I’d be asked if I was really Singaporean. Even if I said yes, they’d ask WHEN I had come to Singapore. I’d have to put on an exaggerated Singlish accent and laugh it off to get some people off my back.

Somedays, it can be very painful. My maternal grandparents are Indians living in India. My paternal grandmother has been a Singaporean PR with an Indian citizenship since she got married to my paternal grandfather who came to Singapore from India and got his Singapore citizenship. My Dad is Singaporean (born in Singapore, did his NS) and my Mum’s a Singaporean PR with an Indian citizenship. My brother was born in Germany, but he’s a Singaporean (did his NS!). 4 years of my early childhood was spent in Germany where I learnt phonetics and phonics. So, I learnt Singlish a lot later in life and it still doesn’t come to me very naturally. SORRY!

Do people need to know all this?
Will people leave me alone if I told them all this?
Why am I expected to prove myself?
So WHAT if I were Indian?
What must I do to be Singaporean?
What IS Singaporean?
How are some of these Singaporeans better than my PR Mum who’s done so much for the country in her 26 years here?

Then to make matters worse, the Little India Riots happened.

I don’t even know where to begin with that one. I started to see statements like “All the AH NEH (anna in tamil means brother) go back home lah!!” appeared on the net. Suddenly, there was talk of keeping foreign workers in a ghetto like place. Suddenly, these workers were being used as volunteers for anti-rioting practice.

Then I started to see racism popping out more and more and not just against Indians.
Maybe it had increased, maybe it was always there and I had learnt not to see it…

In any case, it made me nauseous.
It was like Primary school all over again, except it was on a national level.
Still, the country uses it’s multi-racialism/culturalism as a selling point.
Sometimes, it looks like a bad joke…and I’m guilty of selling it too.

Then of course, I applied for my job on the JET programme and got in.
I don’t think I’ve had a clearer view of racism…

Racism in Japan definately exists. I’ve had people compare skin tones with me and comment on my darker skin tone while applying entire bottles of sunblock lotion. Many people assume I’m from India when they first meet me. People have asked if I can speak English. I have been told very bluntly that people of some countries are ALL smelly and disgusting.

Japan is an (almost) mono-ethnic society.
I also live in a relatively unexposed rural part of Japan.
I don’t think this should defend their actions/statements but it isn’t my home.

At the same time, I was hearing very similar racist comments being made by fellow Singaporens.
These were Singaporeans who were by no means uneducated or underexposed.
Neither were they from terrible underpriviledged backgrounds.

I find it extremely hard to wrap my mind around this.

Singapore is a very very dear place to me.
I believe it has so much potential.
When I was still in school, we used to recite the pledge before the Sigapore flag every morning:

We, the citizens of Singapore,
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language, or religion
to build a democratic society
based on justice and equality
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and
progress for our nation.

Perhaps I’m an overly patriotic fool to some, but I truly believed every word I spoke and I still do.
So for SG50, amongst many many things that are being done, I wish people could take a look within.
You don’t need to walk on eggshells. You don’t have to go the extra mile.
Just treat people equally.
If something wrong is done by a person who isn’t a majority, don’t use race against them.

It’s really not that difficult. Is it?

Extra reading:
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2015/08/02/issues/claiming-right-japanese/#.VcFkJrdO7IV

Charity Show: Red Shoes and Raichos

When I began blogging, I discribed mysef as a theatre girl amongst other things…never thought I’d actually address that aspect of myself in a blog post….yet here I am.

I probably shouldnt be saying this, but when I first hopped onboard this project, I didnt think it was going to happen for real. I thought it was a nice idea, but that there was no way we’d execute it with all the Japanese paperwork while holding on to our ALT jobs.

I just wondered: Who on earth is gonna commit to something like this???

Yet, amazingly, each step happened. It was undeniably PAINFUL, but it happened. Somewhere along the road, I took on the Japanese paperwork including communicating with the sponsors, venue and potential charity. It’s nerve wrecking work I tell you…

I cannot express how exhausted this project has made in the past couple of months. Of course, I took it on myself, and really, I have no regrets about doing this at all. But boy does it drain the life force out of you.

SOOO about the SHOW:
Red Shoes and Raichos (Wizard of Oz in Toyama) was a charity show in English. Loosely based on the Wizard of Oz we likened Toyama to Oz, a foreign land with many oddities and challenges. Just like Dorothy, we all feel the need to belong in this newly adopted home.

I particularly liked having to dramatise some everyday challenges that we ALTs face upon arriving in Toyama. Sometimes, something as small as sorting the garbage or having a communication can really get a person down in the dumps. You’d probably brush it off usually, but being alone in a foreign country (possibly for the first time in your life) can do things to you.

Just like the magic of OZ though, Toyama’s charm and nature seeps it’s way into our hearts eventually…which was done amazingly well with multimedia. I had huge huge reservations about multimedia use….but it turned out really really well.

At the end of it all, I was incredibly pleased with how many audience members turned up for the show. Considering the number of clashes this show faced, I was so so worried that we’d have an empty theatre…but that didn’t happen and as I ushered people to their seats (yea, i took that job too), I felt so much more optimistic than I had in weeks. And, the people who turned up weren’t just foreigners, we also had a good number of Japanese people in attendence. It was very very hearwarming.

As the show progressed, as the audience members laughed at the jokes….I felt so incredibly touched and relieved and just overall happy. It had worked out in the end.

So yea, we’re now waiting to decide on a charity…and I’m just glad that I’ve been able to give back to the society that’s been taking care of me for the past year. 🙂

Peace.

卒業Graduation and other happenings of March and April 2015: MAY UPDATE

 

CRAZY BACKLOG WARNING!!!
I had a really bad writer’s block for this one.


March is the time for teary farewells apparently….and unlike the farewells I remember from my JC days (which I can’t really), it seems like a bigger affair here. All the teachers wear formal black clothes and the women teachers add a little something (white flower brooches)…some male teachers, who I thought lived in their track suits, suddenly came in formal clothes…very surreal.

First there was the rehearsal. The students had to practice standing, sitting and bowing in unison without extra/unwanted fidgeting. Then, they rehearsed the National Anthem (Kimi Ga Yo), the School Song and the bye bye farewell song, which I’ve attached below (NOT the Vitamin C song).

My school’s graduation was held on March 3rd, which was also the day of Hinamatsuri (doll’s festival) which is the Girls’ festival here in Japan. I love this festival and I enjoy telling people about how similar it is to Navarathri Golu that South Indians keep.

I got this really pretty doll set at the tea shop I frequent...and if you don't put them back in at the end of the festival....you'll never get married and will have to be content with cats.

I got this really pretty set at the tea shop I frequent…and if you don’t put them back in at the end of the festival….you’ll never get married and will have to be content with cats.

Anw, back to the topic of Grad, it really was quite a touching ceremony…you could see some of the parents and students sniffling and after the main ceremony was over, the students had a goodbye thing with their homeroom teachers and then they went outside where they were sent off by the entire school. Complete with brass band. wao.

There was much hugging and flower giving and presents and selfies.

And even though I never really taught this bunch of students, I found myself missing them quite a bit as one of them yelled “Hey! Yagu! I WON’T remember you! Yea! hahahahahahah!”

TAT “I’ll miss you too kiddo!”

I also found out that the first (and only) kid that I coached for Eiken (a private English proficiency test like TOEFL) passed his Level 2.5 test!!!!! Yay!!!!!!!! I turned some heads when I screamed “yattaaaa!!!” in the staffroom. 😛 But really, I’m super proud of the boy.

At my special needs school too, we had the grad ceremony for the elementary, junior high and high school students. It was a very emotional event especially for a number of parents. I saw them crying as their children went up to reciece their certificates one by one (this was a difference from my base school where only one representitive got a cert). They also got a grand send off at the school hall. Going outside would have been waay too cold especially for some of the wheelchair bound students.

I found myself extremely happy and proud of these kids.

Also, end of March, staff changes were announced.
Teachers who were retiring…
Teachers who were moving schools…
Goodbye parties…

Amidst this, the founding PM of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew also passed away.
I have so much to say on this topic, but when I try to type it out…I realise there’s really nothing to say about this because SO MUCH has already been said and done. But I remember that late March day being particulary cold and it snowed unexpectedly as my Singaporean friend and I went out for a quiet dinner.

And, as if I wasn’t busy enough, I’d also planned my trip to Osaka, Uji (Kyoto) and Nara.

It was mad.

Don’t get me wrong, I had an AMAZING trip. I visited USJ, met friends, ticked things off my bucket list and had a ton of fun.  But, it was overwhelming.

And there really was no rest to things.

Just as suddenly, when I returned to Toyama, the new teachers arrived.
I found out who I’d be teaching with.
New students filed into the school.
I got a new schedule.
Sakuras burst into existance.
And not even a week later, my parents and cousin landed in Toyama.
We did Hanami at the castle park.
We visited Gokaya and Shirakawa-go.
Sakuras fluttered away giving way to fresh green leaves.
Dad and Cousin left Toyama
Mum and I visited Takayama and Furukawa (Gifu Prefecture) where we watched the Furukawa Matsuri.
We hosted my teachers and some of my friends at home…AMAZING indian veg food for all.
We went to to the Tonami Tulip Fair.
Then, Mum left (right after the Tulip Fair)
Golden Week happened and I went  to Nagoya, Inuyama (Aichi Prefecture) and Ise (Mie Prefecture).
……
Yesterday was Mothers’ Day…I visited SOL, a vegetarian restaurant, with some of my new friends…
Bought some plants for a balcony garden that I’m trying to start…Lavenders, Tomatos and Basil…
And I’m here now.

It’s hard to believe that just a little more 2 months have passed between now and then.
Now being May, then being March.
Which is why I guess this post was particularly hard to update on.
Everytime I came to it, something else happened.

But that’s what life is like here. Something always happens.
That’s also one reason why I’m so glad to be staying on for another year…
How could I possibly digest everything in a year?

So yea….I just take a deep breath and stare at the sky a lot.

Shinkansen in Toyama and perspectives I never had before.

The Hokuriku Shinkansen arrived in Toyama.
3.14.15
Pi Day.

The station exploded with action,  like I never thought was possible.
All the people wearing fancy clothes…So did not look like the Toyama I came to.

So with this high-speed arrival, a lot of other things followed.
Everything’s got a lot more Chic.
We got a foreign foods store called Jupiter which sells NUTELLA and MTR stuff ,
We got a Matsumoto Kiyoshi…
Most importantly, we got FRESH fruit juice (at an exorbitant price).

And I started thinking or realising about stuff I’d never really thought or cared about before.

Time.
Sunrise.
Sunset.
Sunlight.
Geography.
Transportation and travelling.
Diet and availability.
The sky.
Price of everyday goods.
Weather.
Temperature.
Flahwers.

Living with my parents, I never payed for a lot of things.
Living in Singapore meant many things were constant.
I never worried about calculating my travel costs or tried to cycle to shave a couple of dollers off.
The sun rose and set around the same time all year round.
The weather was mostly consistant.
It was sunny or rainy.
I never worried if it would snow on a spring day.
Singapore is so small, I never thought to think about it’s Geography.
Also, I hated flowers (don’t ask. just don’t. i don’t have any reason.)

I lived a very consistant life.
And to a certain degree, I’m growing to appreciate that life which Singapore offers.
I didn’t need to worry about the everyday.

But, I recently met a Japanese lady at the main station, who said she’d lived in Singapore for 5 years. And we were talking about how a person can only gain this type of awareness with living abroad.

Which made me wonder about myself and other Singaporeans.
Sometimes I read about people complaining about the MRT system…but on the day I met the lady, the train was delayed for almost an hour because of strong winds. The train would not move without the winds slowing down. And even after it arrived, it almost CRAWLED to the next stop. Also, I pay a good SGD$2 to reach a station 2 stops away. That’s like paying SGD$2 to go to Bedok from Simei. OAO no joke ok.

In Singapore, I would have cursed the government and all other entities….but after coming here, I’ve just come to see that some things can’t be helped. I reached work about 30 mins late and my fellow teachers congratulated me for braving the strong winds. So surreal.

Also, nobody complained. There’s a strong strong attitude of: it can’t be helped.
Of course, there are pros and cons to this attitude. The con is that it can lead to total APATHY. But sometimes, I think it’s good to balance this with the political awareness that Singaporeans are developing. Like really, it would be nice if I could stop seeing comments by people blaming the GAH-MEN for the lack of rain (really, there are people who do this. I kid not.)

Also Sakuras and flowers…
After living in a kind of grayscale world from December till now….there’s something magical about seeing bursts of colours here and there. I waited with bated breath for the Sakuras to bloom. I’d cycle by the Sakura trees, pause, gaze up and note the changes.

I’m surprised how much I love these flowers. No really, I quite litterally hated flowers when I was back home…with very few exceptions. They were too…colourful for my taste and I remember distinctly NEVER wanting to paint flowers.

But Sakuras….man…I don’t think I’ve ever been in so much awe. Sitting at the riverside, at night, with the Sakuras in full bloom, reflecting off the surface of the river. It’s enchanting. For a while, I could believe that there was another world if i jumped into the river (obviously, I didn’t do that though)

…boy…what a whole new world….

Yaguzilla and Late realizations

So, this is gonna be a bit of a 2 in 1 post.
It’s a mix of a request from my brother and something that hit a nerve in me recently.

PART 1

Back in 2014, I watched and participated in Zeitgeber, which was a performance about caregiving for people with severe disabilities.
I was asked to play a woman who could only move her eyes. Throughout the play, the actor playing the caregiver would move me around the “house”. In one scene, he had to “change” my clothes and I remember being rolled to my side. Of course, this was just mimed onstage.
At that time, I had a lot of thoughts about the play. The way this caregiver spoke to the person…telling this person what he was doing at every point. “Tanaka-san, I’m changing your clothes”. “Tanaka-san, I’m lifting your leg a little”.
I wondered, why. This person would never respond. Could only move her eyes. What was the point?
.
.
.
Fastforward to the present.
As mentioned several times now, I work at a special needs school every Tuesday.
I particularly like the Elementary divison. So, even though I don’t get many classes with them, I try to pay them a visit and help out every now and then. The students in this particualar class need help with everyday activities and need wheelchair assistance.

And, this Tuesday, when I went for my weekly visit, the teacher was in the middle of helping one of the boys change into his gym clothes. And the teacher was informing the boy of whatever she was doing and I was struck by the action. I really wonder if the students understand us. And does whatever we inform them…register?

I don’t say this in any mocking sense.
I don’t look down on or pity these lovely children.
I’m not even agaisnt the action.
If anything, I feel like informing the student of what you’re doing for them, is profoundly respectful.

But I genuinely wonder…How is this perceived in thier minds?
What’s happening in their world?
What do they hear?
What do they see?

And I thought back to the performance. And back to the students.
I still don’t have answers and am in fact left with more questions.

So, I’m leaving this up here as a kind of reflection of mine.
Life really does seem to run in spirals though…and sometimes, something echoing your past experiences seems to pop-up out of nowhere like a weird deja vu.


PART 2
FOR CHACHI BOI:

Yaguzilla is probably how most of my students view me sometimes….
Some fire-breathing  English monster out to force everyone to speak English….
Yaguzilla gives weird class assignments and comes up with embaressing penalty games.
Yaguzilla tries to bribe kids with chocolates and hankos.

Sometimes students wonder if Yaguzilla has a social life.
Does Yaguzilla have any friends?
Yaguzilla has a family??!
What does Yaguzilla do for food?
Yaguzilla cooks??
What?? Yaguzilla is VEGETARIAN??? NO meat or fish???

And Yaguzilla has never seen snow??
Yaguzilla wears UNIQLO???
Yaguzilla also has a weird whale shark hanging off her bag and obsesses over Macha.
This odd creature tries to talk to everyone randomly with apparently no shame whatsoever.

So of course, the natural reaction for most students, when they see Yaguzilla is to run the other way.

But then, gradually, Yaguzilla is accepted by the general school community…
And students stop trying to run away.
Every now and then, Yaguzilla gets “hallo!” or “good morning!” on the way to school.
And, if Yaguzilla is lucky, her students have a chat with her.
This makes Yaguzilla’s day.

In the staffroom, Yaguzilla reads works by her students and laughs out loud.
But Yaguzilla isn’t mocking them.
Yaguzilla just loves reading the creative things that her students give her.
Although, by doing this, Yaguzilla is convinced that her collegues think she might be slightly crazy.

Yaguzilla is happy.

The End.

 

 

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