Thoughts from the Summit of Mt. Fuji

Last week I met up with three ALTs from Fukui prefecture and we embarked on the ultimate Japan challenge: watch the sunrise from the summit of Mount Fuji. While I love being outside climbing a mountain was something I was apprehensive to try, but I am so glad I took the chance.

The climb took us 9 hours from the 5th station to the summit on the Fujinomiya trail. When we set off at 6:30 Friday night the sky was quickly growing dark and the mist was thick. We kept climbing up and up in the darkness and the clouds through the night.

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Climbing up to the bright light of station 8.

The sky was already beginning to show the first hint of dawn as we reached the summit at 3:30 in the morning. We had risen above the clouds after station 9 and it was promising to be a spectacular sunrise.

It was spectacular, transformative, and moving to say the least.

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11 Month Update + Summer Plans

Summer is rapidly taking over Shizuoka once again as we are powering through the “rainy season.” (This is a joke because it’s basically always raining.) I finally, after almost an entire year, had an air conditioner/heater unit installed in my living room this weekend. I’m firmly in the AC honeymoon period where I am using it all the time with no regard for my electric bill. Life in my apartment (well, my living room) has never been this comfortable and I’m loving it, even though I didn’t love the $1000 it cost to obtain in the first place.

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A Glimpse of Spring 

Spring is probably the most famous season in Japan given the worldwide love of cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms, or sakura in Japanese, are known for being intensely beautiful, but only for a short while. Typically they are in bloom for about one week before the blossoms turn to green leaves. Here are some of the photos I took with my phone of the cherry blossoms in Shimada and Fujieda, our neighboring city. 

Kanaya Tea Festival, April 2016

It was months ago when a friend asked me if I wanted to go see the dance practice for the Kanaya Cha Matsuri, or Tea Festival, which is held every two years. When I showed up to the freezing elementary school gym that night I had no idea what to expect, but I filled out the sign-up sheet and we were off.

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Keeping things cool at dance practice in winter.

We rehearsed for a few months leading up to April 9th and 10th. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend a few practices, but in the last few weeks leading up to the festival I spent many hours rehearsing the dances with youtube videos on my iphone to try and not entirely embarrass myself at the actual festival.

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Enjoy! SHIMADA: A New Official Guidebook

Back in February I mentioned in a post that I had been asked to model for a new digital guidebook for the area of Japan I currently call home, and I am pleased to announce that after a long wait Enjoy! SHIMADA has been published on the official Shimada City homepage.

A preview of what this guidebook has to offer. Check out the full book for more quality content.

 

You can view the whole book here on the city’s website. In between looking at the great pictures of my face, take some time to learn a little bit about what Shimada has to offer! My blog is naturally so focused on my experience that I end up posting very little about the area of Japan I am in.  I’m very glad to have been placed here, and while I don’t think I’d recommend visiting Japan just to see Shimada, it’s definitely worth a look if you’re seeing Japan anyway or if you’re looking for a new, generally relaxed home.

Be on the lookout soon for a post about dancing at the Kanaya Tea Festival!

Running for Desserts: Numazu Sweets Run

There are not many things that would motivate me to voluntarily wake up before sunrise on a Sunday. Delicious food, however, is probably at the top of that short list.

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Sunrise over Shimada

This weekend I attended the Numazu Sweets Run, an event to inspire fitness by providing participants with desserts to eat within a set time limit.

 

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Look at all these hungry–I mean healthy people.

Alright, so I’m not sure how well it actually promoted fitness, but it was definitely a fun event. Many people showed up to Numazu central park on that sunshine filled and windy morning. Children (and foreigners) took pictures with the cute mascot version of Mt. Fuji and limbered up for a sugar-fueled jaunt along the river. At the very back of the pack, I walked the 2.5km course surrounded by toddlers and eventually the runners on their second (and then third) lap.

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It’s not an event in Japan without a mascot.

 

After one lap of the course most people funneled down the stairs to the river bank where we were allowed to choose 7 sweets from the 20 stalls of local bakeries and other providers of dessert-like food.

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Nothing brings together like desserts. Nothing.

After consuming 5 of my 7 sweets (the point at which I began to feel mostly comprised of sugar) we took a stroll to a group of blooming cherry blossom trees before officially “finishing” the race.

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My delicious haul. It was like Halloween in February. Also, I got the last pudding with a line of people behind me. Suckers.

 

It was a fun event and it’s something I’d definitely like to do again. Maybe next year I’ll walk the course more than once!

Check my Instagram for more pictures from the event and of my life in Japan.

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It’s the beginning of cherry blossom season. You won’t want to miss out on my pictures.

Setsubun, and a Budding Modeling Career?

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The plum blossoms are blooming. Winter is leaving!

The sleepy struggle of January has finally ended and February has begun in Shimada with warmer temperatures, more sunlight, and a new burst of energy from yours truly. Already in the first week of the month I have had many great experiences and done many new things.

 

February 3rd was the Japanese holiday Setsubun. This holiday marks the official beginning of spring, or really the end of winter, in Japan, and is a time for removing the demons from your life and home and welcoming in good luck for the new year. This holiday is one of the most interesting I’ve seen so far in Japan. Most people celebrate by throwing beans outside of their homes (or for children at adults dressed as demons) and saying “Oni wa soto. Fuku wa uchi,” meaning demons are outside, good luck is inside. The process of throwing the beans is supposed to keep the demons outside of your home so that good luck can be brought in.

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Facebook featured a cute demon and people throwing beans to mark the holiday.

 

A more recent tradition involves eating a special kind of sushi roll called eho maki. This roll has specific eating instructions. You must eat the entire roll without speaking and while facing in the lucky direction for the year (this year I believe it was south south-east).

I spent Setsubun with a Japanese family I am close with. After work we drove to Shizuoka City where we attended the Setsubun service at a Buddhist temple. Attending this service for me was just like going to a (good) new church in the US for the first time. Everyone I met was full of smiles and words of welcome. I was taken on a brief tour of the (fairly impressive) building and saw their golden reclining Buddha statue. This modern temple also was able to provide books of the sutras to be chanted in romaji (Japanese sounds written in English lettering) and in English translation. They even had people available to translate the service to English via a wireless headset.

The service itself was a very nice reminder to focus on the good in our lives and to not let our demons control us. It was a great way for me to mark the beginning of the year of the monkey and to focus on bringing more positivity into my life. I look forward to hopefully being able to visit that temple again and speak more with the wonderfully welcoming people there. Especially since I recently bought a book of the teachings of Buddha as my self-improvement book for my 2016 reading challenge (be on the lookout for a post about the reading challenge soon).

I’m now excited for the rest of this year. The year of the monkey is, after all, my year. As I’m just over 6 months out from turning 24, and just under 6 months from completing my first year in Japan, I’ve been trying to really take inventory of my life and focus on the things I want to accomplish in the coming year. I think this year really will be my year. I expect many great things to happen.

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I also expect many interesting new things to eat and drink, including this warm rice beverage which is a byproduct of the sake brewing process.

 

On a slightly related note, yesterday I visited a local shrine and bought a love fortune (a Japanese tradition where you can buy different kinds of fortunes on slips of paper that give advice or warnings and ranks your luck from worst to best) and I got the best luck, so I’m looking at you, attractive people who are either 1 or 2 years older or younger than me and have type A blood. Or, you know, something like that. I don’t think the fortune has to be followed to the letter.

My visit to the local Oi Shrine yesterday was part of a very exciting experience I had as Shimada’s newest local supermodel.

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I now call myself Supermodelmarie.

 

Ok, maybe I’m playing it up JUST A LITTLE, but I was introduced as “Model-san” so I’m going to be riding that ego train for at least two weeks and you can’t stop me.

The real story is that the city of Shimada is trying to promote foreign tourism in the area and contracted the company Marubeni to make an English eBook about sights in the area and how to do things like take the bus and properly dispose of your trash (something that is taken very seriously here). Apparently as the conversation of having foreign models for the book went on my name came up and I was asked if I was willing to participate in a day long photoshoot around Shimada, Kanaya, and Kawane. Of course I said yes.

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This train dresses up as Thomas the Train in summer. It’s a big deal.

 

The photoshoot itself was very fun. We got to visit Shimada’s museum, the steam train in Kanaya, and an onsen (hot spring) in Kawane. It was easily the most beautiful day of the year so far, with blue skies and little wind, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity.

I’m also glad to be slowly becoming more of a part of the community here. With every event I attend, person I meet, and tea festival dance practice I go to, I feel like I am becoming less of a stranger and more of a person who lives here. It’s an exciting feeling, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year has in store.

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Me at dance practice if you didn’t think I was being serious.

5 Thoughts from Home

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The always breathtaking Sedona, Arizona in winter.

 

I recently returned to the US from Japan to celebrate Christmas and New Years. While I was there, I was surprised by many things I noticed both in myself and around me. Here are my five biggest take-aways from my time in Arizona.

1. It sucks trying to get to a different country.

In order to get to the airport in Tokyo, I had to take a taxi and 3 different trains (including a bullet train, which is admittedly kind of cool). Transferring from train to train with my luggage was a sweaty and stressful feat, but I survived. Then I had my two planes and many hours in small seats to overcome. I watched three movies, and eventually passed out on the flight from LAX to Las Vegas. When I finally reached my grandparent’s house, it was 24 hours after I had left my apartment in Japan and I was a tired, stinky mess. On the way back to Tokyo I was on an older plane that didn’t have the fancy individual screen that I have grown so fond of, and it was a real struggle trying to keep it together for the 10 hours in the air.

(You can see video from my travels on the bullet train and through Arizona on my instagram sometimesmaybeme, and be on the lookout for a longer video of driving through northern Arizona soon.)

2. Coming back can be overwhelming.

In Japan I live alone, and sometimes an entire day can go by without me actually speaking to another person face to face. I hadn’t realized how used to the quiet life I had become until suddenly I was surrounded by people and having conversations throughout the day. Even for an extrovert it was exhausting. I realized that Japan has given me a real appreciation for quiet alone time. The time I spend alone in my apartment here in Japan is how I breathe and prepare for whatever is next, and suddenly no longer having that time, even if it was because I was spending time with people I loved and wanted to spend time with, was difficult.

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas

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Obviously Christmas has come and gone, but here is the post I was working on before I left and forgot to publish from the airport.

Last Wednesday I was walking home and thinking about my plans for Christmas and New Years. I considered going to Tokyo to visit Tokyo Disney for the first time, or exploring temples a little closer to Shimada. But that night when I got home and sat down to eat my slightly disappointing dinner, all I could think was that what I wanted to do more than anything was be back in Arizona with my family.

Homesickness is strange. It’s not a constant feeling. It’s not even something I’m aware of most of the time. It’s fleeting thoughts of “I miss laughing with friends,” or “I miss the feeling of being understood.” Until recently I said I was not homesick, and at the time I believed it to be true. But now I realize that in many ways homesickness is the background music fading in and out periodically as I go about my life here.

As soon as I allowed myself to voice the thought that I wanted to go home for Christmas, I was gripped with a combination of excitement and relief so intense I couldn’t fall asleep until midnight.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my life, but my thinking hasn’t formed itself into a cohesive thought well enough for me to write a blog post over the last week.

It started, really, when a teacher told me how shocked he was that I wasn’t exploring the rest of Asia during my Christmas break “like all the other ALTs usually do.” This stuck with me. I felt like somehow I was not using my time here in Japan properly, and that maybe I was missing an opporutiny even though I recognized that I simply did not have the energy to explore a new country.

I shared these concerns with my mom, who in term shared them with her friend, whose reply came back to me via my mom. She said that many other people see this time here as an ALT is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but that what they don’t understand is that I am going to be traveling my entire life. I don’t feel pressure to see everything at this very moment because I know that I am going to spend my entire life going the places I want to go and seeing the places I need to see.

For me, this idea that I will be traveling for my entire life feels inevitable. It is a part of myself that has always been there, just behind my thoughts. It seems terrifying because as I am learning now, moving from place to place is lonely in a way that you can’t really be prepared for. And yet the thought of not seeing the world feels just overwhelmingly wrong.

I shared this train of thought with my best friend and general amazing human being Katie, who sent this in reply:

Everything you just said feels right to me. You’re a nomad. You’ve struggled a lot with the concept of home, but that’s because for you–you are your own home. And that’s a really scary thing. But it’s also beautiful because you’ll always have a home.

It’s true. I have struggled and continue to struggle with the idea of home. I’m not really sure how the concept fits into my life. For many other ALTs, it seems, home is the place they will return to after their time in Japan, but I don’t have that sort of guarantee. I could go anywhere when I leave Japan. There is no limit to the number of paths I could pursue, but somehow I know I will always be looking for new places and new experiences.

Just as deciding to spend Christmas with my family filled with me excitement, this realization that yes, I will always be a traveler brought with it a sense of calm acceptance and, frankly, wonder. There is so much world out there that I am going to see. With each new place I visit I am reminded how many more places there are to go, people to meet, and things to learn.

I still don’t know what direction my life is heading. I am filled with questions that have no answer, but today I realized I do have one answer. I don’t know what I’m going to do for a career, or if what sort of meaningful (or otherwise) relationships I will have, or even what countries I will visit, but I know that in my life I am going to travel, and I am going to learn. Truthfully there is no other direction for my life to go.

So I will be going home for Christmas, and that statement feels correct. Right now what feels like home to me is the Arizona sun and the feeling of shared understanding and shared experience that is family, and I’m excited to be there again.

The Travel Obligation

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I thought there was no way I could find a relevant photo in my library. I was wrong.

As the holidays are approaching, people all around the world are preparing to travel either closer to or farther from their families depending on how they feel about them. Here in Japan, many ALTs are planning on traveling to other countries or returning to their home countries for a few weeks. Whatever the reason, people all over the world are about to get on airplanes.

Anyone who has traveled on an airplane knows that they are probably the worst way to travel in terms of comfort and dignity (unless you are rich and always travel in first class in which case my blog has a contact form please email me I’d like to offer you an investment opportunity (It’s me. Please give me money I have no career goals.)). They are sadly, though, a necessary evil when you want to, for example, move to Japan, or get to L.A. NOW damn it because your time is important and if you drove the 8 hours you’d probably fall asleep behind the wheel and die anyway.

I have been on a respectable number of airplanes in my life, and like most people who have flown I have many stories about airports and airplanes. 

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