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.
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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.

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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.

One Year On (and then some)

Somehow, I’ve survived an ENTIRE year of living alone without tripping over a stray wire and slamming my head into the corner of some random block of tofu lying around the kitchen and killing myself (this is an actual Japanese saying: go hit your head on the corner of a block of Tofu and die). I’m pretty proud. And to commemorate and celebrate the pride I have in myself, imma post about it! YEAH!!!

So here’s what I’m super happy to have done in this past year:

Taught at a high school and a special needs school.
I’d never done either prior to this. The experience has just been so rewarding and I’m infinately thankful to both my schools which have just been super supportive of me. I’ve never once felt like an idiot working here even though I’ve made numerous mistakes. Despite being the youngest in the English department in both schools, my suggestions and ideas are taken seriously and discussed. They don’t agree with me all the time and I don’t expect or want them to do so, but taking me seriously drives me to give more ideas and suggestions without the worry of failing/sounding like an idiot.

Also, my schools are super kind. When I embark on something outside the school, like the charity show I did, or when I go travelling…they always have something nice to say/ask about what I’m up to and I’m able to communicate how much I truly appreciate being in Japan. It’s super nice.

Met new people from all around the world who had done SO many different things.
Doing theatre in Singapore was great, and the people I met were also very very amazing people. However, I met very few people outside the theatre community and I rarely met people whose countries I couldn’t really place on a map. This sounds terrible, but what I mean to say is that while I DID meet a lot of foreigners, they were usually from very standard countries that I’d always heard/known about. People from other Asian countries, Australia, America, UK….a feeeew Europeans…and that was about it…

I relish meeting/seeing people that I don’t know much about. I enjoy this because, I find the size of the world I live in widening and getting bigger. I enjoy not knowing because this means there’s so much more to see and learn and ask.

Coming here, living in my “foreigner” apartment complex, I’ve learnt SO much and met SO many new people. It’s extremely humbling.

Travelled. This is such a huge thing for me.
1. Toyama:
Tateyama, Gokayama, Kamiichi, Takaoka, Ushidake, Toga Village, Etchuu-Yatsuo, Shogawa, Kureha, Kurobe, Amaharashi Beach, Ikuji, Iwakuraji, Tonami, Shin-Takaoka(AEON Mall), Nyuzen, Namerikawa, Uozu…still counting.

2. Nagano: Kamikochi

3. Ishikawa: Kanazawa

4. Kyoto: Kyoto city, Uji

5. Osaka: Ishinha show place, Osaka Aquarium, Dotonbori, Shitennouji, USJ

6. Tokyo: Ghibli…Akiba…Shibuya…Harajuku…Shinjuku…Shimokitazawa…Meiji Jingu…Asakusa…Nakano-Sakaue…Nerima-Kasugacho…Ikebukuro…Senkawa…Ueno…Ginza…Tokyo’s pretty difficult, cuz I’ve visited at least 5 times…So, I’ve seen quite a bit of it I guess?

7. Chiba: Fukuda Denshi Arena and Disney Land.

8. Nara: Unebigoryomae

9. Gifu: Hida-Takayama, Furukawa

10. Aichi: Nagoya City, Meiji Mura (Inuyama)

11. Mie: Ise City

12. Hokkaido:
Chitose, Sapporo, Furano Winery+Tomita Farm+Furano Cheese Factory (Furano), Biei, Akan (Kushiro City), Shiretoko, Shari, Lake Kussharo, Lake Mashu, Kami no Ko Pond

13. Niigata: Sado Island (this one’s a HUUUUUGE thing off my bucket list)

Along with visiting all these places, I’ve also taken care of booking my own lodging for the first time in my life. I’ve stayed in super cheap business hotels, hostels, spartan tents and even in a car. I’ve also had to arrange my own transportation at times, including busses, trains, flights and ferries. It’s super nerve-wrecking….like I keep panicking…WHAT IF I BOOK WRONGLY, IS THIS REALLY THE CHEAPEST DEAL, WILL MY LEAVE BE APPROVED, WHAT IF EVERYTHING’S BOOKED UP?!?!?!

Buuut, so far, I’ve been fine….in fact, I’ve learnt to go with the flow a lot! Flowing to the point of getting hitch hikes from old people and freinds I meet in carparks while feeling a little desperate to get somewhere.

Seen nature at it’s best and not so best.
Wanted to say worst, but that would definitely be a lie. Before coming here, I heard horror stories about the heavy snow and super hot summers. The winter IS cold…and the summer IS hot….but not unbearable.

Despite the difficulties, nature has shown me some beautiful beautiful sights that will be embedded in my memory. Never had I imagined the world to look so stunning…and every time, I can only think that all the money I spend on travelling is 100% worth it.

Gone for festivals
Many many matsuris and recently, I didn’t just watch one, I even participated in pulling a float at the Tatemon Matsuri.

Started taking photos
It’s not that I’ve never done this before…I was just never very conscious about taking a good one. Recently, after being around so many good photographers *coughKaicough*, it struck me that I wanted to understand framing better.

I’ve begun to experiment with trying to frame what my eyes see with my camera when something catches my eye. I’ve been trying to understand how light works and how the camera captures it…

Mind, I don’t do this professionally at all…It’s just a sort of hobby that I’ve picked up, hoping that it would improve my eye for things onstage.

Theatre.
I’m real glad that coming here wasn’t the end of my theatre work. I’ve managed to watch shows all over the place. I won’t say that I enjoyed EVERYTHING…but experience is always valuable. My year started with my trip to  Toga for the SCOT theatre festival and I’ll be heading there again today…and in between, I’ve directed a local charity show, watched a decent number of performances and attended a lot of festivals that have street performance as a huge element. Some of these street performances really inspire me. 

I’m still reflecting, and more things have started to click for me…So, for the year ahead, I aim to solidify my ideas and aesthetics based on what I’ve seen and learnt.

Improved my Japanese
The photocopying lady at school who I’m close to (and a couple of my students) said my Japanese had gotten a lot better. I cannot express how happy this comment made me.

It’s fairly common for people to tell me that my Japanese is good when they first meet me. While it’s nice to hear that, it’s a totally different thing to hear someone who’s known you for a while, tell you that your skills have improved.

It’s particularly nice to hear this from Photocopy-san who knows how serious Japanese learning is for me.

Hopefully, this is gonna help me in my N3 JLPT test in December. Ugh, the pressure. Stomach ache.

Finding myself and what I stand for.
Maybe living alone makes you stand up for what you believe in a lot more. You have less of a family to fall back to…and I guess my already thick skin grew a little thicker.

From my vegetarianism to my zero tolerance for racism to the way I handle a lot of bs that inevitably comes my way…I’ve learnt how to just be straight about it. I guess it won’t make me Miss Congeniality any time soon, but I get the immense satisfaction for standing my ground on these matters.

A part of me has also come to really really love home. I sometimes catch myself tearing up or outright crying when I think of home. Mind, I’m not a sentimental person who goes about missing laksa or prata on a daily basis…but sometimes, living away really makes me appreciate the small small things I always had at home and took for granted. Sometimes, I see Singapore from afar through a video and feel so proud of what it is and can be and how far it has come.

Simei to Toyama…it always wows me.

Living alone
Like I said at the start, I’m surprised I haven’t killed myself…considering how clumsy I am. I kid not…I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve dropped my knife near my foot.

There’s also the fact that I’m paying for my own utilities and haven’t relied on mum’s driving services in over a year. I’ve also been cooking for myself…and cleaning (let’s use this word in it’s LOOSEST sense)…

Just 2 years ago, I wouldn’t have seen myself doing any of this. In the past, these felt like such ADULT responsibilities, but here I am.

I’v probably done a LOT more than this, but these are the big ones that stand out. Call it blowing my own horn or boasting or whatever. 😛 I just call it reflective documentation for future reference.

ja ne till next time.

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.

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.

 

 

My Most Amazing Vegeteranian Post of All Time…with a heck ton of disclaimers

So here’s my long overdue veg post.
Disclaimer: I’m not here to argue about the pros and cons of vegging. I’m not here to tell people about the benefits of vegging. I’m not here to convert anyone into a plant eater. I’m not here to denounce my meat-loving friends. I’m not gonna give you any recipes cuz i improvise my food a lot on the spot. I’m just talking about my life as a plant grazing herbivore.

I should probably start out with some definitions…I trawled the web for some good explanations and here you go. This is a list of various diets and hopefully it’s helpful.

  • Jain Vegetarian:No meat. No fish. No seafood. No egg. No honey. No to anything that comes from harming an animal. No onion. No garlic. No alcohol.  Strict followers: No root vegetables. No dairy products.
  • Vegan: No meat. No fish. No seafood. No egg. No dairy products. No honey. No to anything that comes off/from an animal.
  •  Lacto vegetarian (my parents): No meat. No fish. No seafood. No eggs. No to anything that comes off/from a dead animal. Yes dairy products.
  • Ovo vegetarian: No meat. No fish. No seafood. No dairy products. No to anything that comes off/from a dead animal. Yes eggs.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian (me): No meat. No fish. No seafood. No to anything that comes off/from a dead animal. Yes eggs. Yes dairy products. 
  • Pollotarian: No red meat. No fish. No seafood. Yes white meat. Yes eggs. Yes dairy products.
  • Pescatarian (Pescetarian): No meat. Yes fish. Yes seafood. Yes eggs. Yes dairy products.
  • Halal: No pork. No alcohol. No meat that is not prepared in proper Halal methods. (I’m not an expert in this but there’s a specific method of ensuring the animal does not feel any pain/panic as it is killed.) Yes fish. Yes seafood. Yes eggs. Yes dairy products.
  • Hindu: No Beef. No cow killing. Yes to the rest.


Ok…so I’m not an expert…and if I’ve made any mistake I’ll be grateful if someone corrects me on this…or if someone wants to add on.

Reasons
I can’t speak for everyone. Everyone has their own reasons for their own diets. For me, I was born into a Vegetarian Hindu family…and no…not ALL Hindus are Vegetarians. But the way I explain it here is that, my family used to be a “monk” family and just like some buddhist monks who eat “shoujin ryouri” or vegetarian Japanese food, a monk’s family in Hindu culture tends to be vegetarian.

….again, this is just MY explanation. I’m not advocating for any caste system…just stating what my family used to be.

Daily Life and Seikatsu-ing.
So after living here for the past 6 months…….here’s how things go most of the time.

(IN JAPANESE)
Yagu walks into restaurant
Yagu looks at menu….
Yagu looks for waiter/waitress
Yagu: Sorry…I’m vegetarian…so I can’t eat fish or meat or fish/meat extracts….do you have anything I can eat? Or is there anything you can MAKE vegetarian?

Waiter/Waitress sucks in breath.
Waiter/Waitress: aaah……give me a moment. let me check!
Waiter/Waitress talks to manager and comes out. 

The above scene usually happens ALL the time. Unless it’s a Veg friendly restaurant. Or it’s in the centre of a big city with many many gaijins who come by all the time.

After that convo I get several outcomes.

Outcome 1:
Waiter/Waitress/Manager-san comes out looking super apologetic.
Waiter/Waitress/ Manager-san: Sorry, we use chicken stock in everything and the rest is Yakiniku. Why did you even walk in? 

That’s a bit of an exaggeration…but I actually had a restaurant in Tokyo tell me that they had chicken bunion in every. single. thing. Including the Italian dressing for their salad.

But…luckily, this usually NEVER happens.

Outcome 2:
Waiter/Waitress/Manager-san comes out looking super panicked.
Waiter/Waitress/Manager-san: em…we can make this…but it has cheese/egg/milk in it…and I think it has garlic…
Yagu: I’m perfectly ok with all that. Just no fish and meat. 😀
Waiter/Waitress/Manager-san: OH! Then ok! How about we take out that bacon and make this for you? Is that ok?
Yagu: Yes please! Thank you!

So this is the most common outcome. The reason for the panic is because Vegging is not really a big thing here. So the only type of Vegging most Japanese know is the more traditional Shoujin Ryouri Vegging which means no egg/dairy/garlic (similar to Jain). As a result, they don’t know if I can eat anything at all.

Luckily, they’re super nice about it once I explain myself to them and they make fantastic stuff for me! 😀

Outcome 3:
Manager-san comes out looking a little nervous
Manager-san: emm, miss…we don’t really have it on the menu…but we can put something together…is that ok?
Yagu: I love you!!! Yes!

This isn’t so common…but this is my favourite reaction. It’s only happened a couple of times but I’ve gotten some amazing food out of them every time…and i feel super extra special for getting the non-menu food.

Iggy in the super market!!!
Jiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii O_O
yea that’s me having staring contests with food labels. I have never missed English more than when I shop for food at the super market.

But there’s the sensation of glorious victory when you realise that the bottle of salsa that you’ve been staring at for the past 5 mins is safe for consumption.

No really…i remember walking into the organic store this one time…and I was staring at stuff…and then i saw this thing called “soy-ham” or something. And I kid you not, this victorious song began playing in the background as I picked it up and realised i’d hit jackpot. The store is like 3 mins from my house and i don’t think i’ve ever been that happy to see mock anything.

Coping
It’s not easy…but it’s also not impossibly difficult. A simple search tells you how to communicate your dietary needs. It’s definitely isn’t like Singapore where most people understand what I can and cannot eat…but it’s not impossible.

I’ve also learnt how to make what I can’t buy. My cooking has gotten amazingly creative.

I use every chance I get to explain Vegetarianism…and I get a lot of “don’t you ever want to try _______ (insert non-veg thing here)?” and “isn’t that a pain in the ass?” or “you mean you can’t have Yakiniku???” aaaaand “but how do you get your ________ (insert nutrients)?” I suppose I could get offended…but what’s the point in that? I just take it as a chance to explain myself. And my choices are usually respected.

I say usually because I HAVE had some not so nice encounters…or uncalled for comments.
BUT this is not unique to Japan as I have faced the same response back home.
That’s just how people are.

But usually, people get that it’s not that I hate Japan or Japanese food…I was (literally) born this way.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Recipes to recommend?
Leave it in the comments below. 😀

The Blur of Leaving

So the following entries will be a little verbatim cuz I really couldn’t bring myself to phrase everything nicely…A lot of it was typed as and when a memory popped into my head on my plane ride to Japan.

At that time, my head was in a bit of a mess…so I just decided to type this out to organise all the events in my mind.

Enjoy…

August 2nd 2014
Last Day

Decided not to go for the NDP preview and this proved to be a good choice. I was emotionally exhausted and wanted nothing more than to be at home.

Day started with going to Mariamman Temple with family and Chitta, Chitti and Nandini.

Chachi came back home around 5pm. We spent some time goofing around, and then I called up Sistic to settle some ticket matters for Amma and Patti and went down to Tampines mall to collect the tickets for them.

End of the day, when everyone had gone off, I sat with Amma, Appa, Patti and Chachi…they gave me some good real life advice. Don’t let ppl into the house w/o knowing who they are…keep safe…don’t give away personal information uncessarily…if you (at anytime) feel like you’re in any danger, get out of that place…never hesitate to call home about anything at all… don’t hesitate to ask home for help (amma was very insistent that if I felt like I needed help at any help at all, I should not feel ashamed to ask for help)….eat well…drink milk…if people can’t respect me for who I am, I shouldn’t give them a time of my life (Sankar’s imput)…

Then I went back to the room and managed to send out last minute e-mails to the school where I’d be conducting a summer camp and to a project that I was doing some documentation work for. Sending these e-mails was like a huge weight off my chest. I didn’t have anything to worry about in Singapore anymore.

August 3rd 2014
Departing Singapore for JET Programme

The day started at 4:40am. Woke up…a kind of blank feeling permeated my mind. I am happy, but at the same time there’s so much apprehension. It already feels so much bigger than how I saw it at the start of the application process. So many responsibilities to shoulder and I wonder every now and then if I’ll be able to shoulder them all.

Mum has already given me the option to call her at anytime about anything…but I didn’t decide to go on the Programme only to depend on my parents for everything that doesn’t go my way in life. It’s something I need for myself and it’s a now or never thing. But it’s scary to decide NOT to depend on them.

So back to my morning… I woke up, checked my hand phone (as usual) and went about getting ready. Had thosai with milagaipodi and thayir for breakfast…it felt so normal…but surreal at the same time because it was gonna be a long time till I saw home again. Seeing my life, all packed up finally hit me like a ton of bricks in the gut.

And then we were off.

Chachi and Appa went by cab with one luggage and Amma, Patti and I went by car with another 2 luggage.
We arrived at Changi Airport, Terminal 1, Counter 9 and checked-in with little problem. I’d been packing for the past 1 month, so I’d have been shocked if there was any weight issue. The lady at the counter spoke to me in Japanese before looking up and realising I was Indian, found that kind of hilarious.

Some of the other JETs had also checked in and I went to report my presence to Chayama-san who was overseeing all the travel bookings for us. She told us to report to the departure gate by 7:10am and I was free to be with family till then.

Sankar and I were joking around about being Kaijuus…and then Abhi (with crutches and bandaged foot) and Atthai arrived. Abhi gave me a cd with a letter (which I didn’t look at until I was in the plane) and then we waited around for Nannan and co to arrive. Amma was stressed. Super stressed. And then chitti, weenie and chitta arrived but said Nannan had slept in. Ok…that kinda sucked for a while and we decided to go to the coffee shop, but chitti stopped us and told us to wait for a while…which was odd…until she said Nannan was just in the washroom and on her way. Waw….this family and surprises…really don’t get along huh… HAHAHAHA, still it made me happy to know she’d come to see me off.

We finally made a move to go to the yakun kaya and starbucks and I saw a couple of the other JETs around. Jane had brought her kawaii dog in a bag…seriously….it’s super kawaii… And saw Serena sitting with her family…

And then as I stood in line for my green tea frappe (seriously, not sure why I wanted this of all things) Makishi-san came down…and we thought we were being called for something…turns out, we weren’t… but I spotted Syaf who’d come down to see me off. There’s something really touching about seeing a friend come to see you off at 6:30am in the morning (granted she lives in Tampines) But, hahaha, thanks syaf!!

So I collected the Syaf Makcik and we went back to the yakun party of people 😛 And somehow Syaf fit right in. Sankar made a comment at me asking who wore scarfs in a tropical country…and Syaf was conveniently between the 2 of us wearing a Tudung…so I pointed at her…and finally got chachi to shut up about pretentious scarfs while he backtracked saying it was ok if it was religious thing. HAHAHAHAHAHA.

All too soon, it was time to fly off…so we took all our many many pictures…and all our many many hugs…mum tried to keep me back saying “everyone else is still here!

Plane ride: typed on 5th October (better known as the Day I FINALLY got internet at home)

and then we were all getting ready to board…the plane ride remains a blur…and i remember eating the oddest plane meal ever. it looked like a cross of indian and western and god knows what…but it was pretty ok…

everyone was super super hyped.

and 7 hours later, we were in Tokyo.

Waw. the feeling of being back…was just….pure…waw.
We were ushered down a different path for JET participants, got our employment cards, and basically skipped ahead of the queues.
….
the rest was basically covered in my previous article….but really, WAW it’s been one hell of a ride. I’ll slowly try to attempt an update.

Operation Herbivore: Okayed

Quick update. I’d heard all too many stories about being vegetarian in Japan and as advised, I promptly voiced my concerns to my supervisor once she contacted me. Here’s her lovely lovely reply.

Dear Yagnya,

Hello!


Thank you for your reply!

I knew you are worried about being a vegetarian.

But I used to work with a vegan ALT,

so, I don’t care it at all.

As for receptions, or “enkai”, it is OK if we let party organizers know about it.

In most cases, restaurants will prepare vegetarian food if informed beforehand.


We‘re glad to hear you use some Japanese.

Probably students will feel close to you if they hear you speak Japanese!

KOCHIRAKOSO YOROSHIKU ONEGAI ITASIMASU!! ( :-D)

I guess this may not seem like a big issue to many people, but I’ve never eaten meat or fish all my life and my whole family has been a herd of herbivores since time immemorial…so throughout the waiting process, I was worried about explaining my vegetarianism to my colleagues.

The net is filled with stories of people being expected to eat school lunches despite their diets, and how nobody in Japan understands the meaning of vegetarianism and how people just became pascatarians (no meat, but fish is fine) for the sake of convenience and harmony…(I’m sure some parts were exaggerations)

Now, I pride myself on my ability to adjust to most situations, but it would be impossible for me to change my diet. So it came as a tremendous relief when I got the above e-mail from my supervisor.

I can sleep well tonight.