Monday, September 30, 2013

Quiet Crows

It was a quiet day in the Danchi, my home sweet home.  The silence of the crows awoke me this morning, this fifth Monday of the month, one of the few days when the sanitation workers take a holiday and have no obligation to pick up our various unwanted items.  Tomorrow I can be assured a more restful sleep accompanied by the cawing of useful and delicious finds and the sweet chiming melody of garbage trucks as they come for the final rounds.

I wonder how well the crows and sanitation workers know one another.  I can only glean an understanding of the desires and defenses that each must exercise towards their respective goals.  Beaks to netting, careful timing, diligent observation.  If only I had another life in Japan to watch such things, but alas, it must seep through the cracks of my being here.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Singing with Kaneko-san

I came prepared for my lesson this week with the tune of the Blue Danube Waltz fresh in my mind.  I hummed it for Kaneko-san and his face lit up, "Sooouu!"  And he told me how he had heard this famous melody in a movie a long time ago when he was a child, and how ten years ago he had gone to Vienna for the first time and seen the Danube River.   "In Japan, we don't have any big rivers."

He went on to ask me if HPAC had ever played this melody. And he asked me what composers HPAC usually plays and then listed some of his favorite composers and some of his favorite pieces–various solo and orchestral works by Beethoven, Johann Strauss, and Schubert.  With his mention of Schubert came a short, excited performance of the first line of Der Lindenbaum.

I wonder what these melodies mean to him.  He seems to hold them very close, seems to have memories of place and time connected to them.  I wonder what the Blue Danube Waltz feels like to him.  A child in Japan years ago, a 60-year-old man expanding his world.

I've forgotten about learning Japanese with Kaneko-san, even though I do.  I think I learn far more now that I've forgotten that it is our task.  Next week, I'll start working through a new book, just to keep the purpose of the lessons alive.  But I may also see if I can find another melody.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mozart life and music

After an all-Mozart program I think most of us were gasping for breath, not least of all our extremely talented soloists of the Ensemble Wien-Berlin.  Before beginning our rehearsal of Mozart's first symphony, composed when he was only 8 years old, our conductor exclaimed, "As you will see, Mozart was already fully formed when he born!  He was born perfect and was perfect his whole life!"  I enjoyed the enthusiasm, but I was actually more impressed with the opposite:  the incredible growth and variety that Mozart developed over the course of his life.  Perhaps more what I came to appreciate this week, was a boy and a man who was given excellent training from an early age and pushed to develop it in such an extreme way.  He seemed to have genius, to be more than human.  But he was extremely human.  To my taste, there is a breath and an excitement to his later works that wasn't yet born in his first symphony, as beautiful as it is.

It's interesting to think of what we are each capable.  We are given a certain set of variables in life–genes, family, circumstances, the people we encounter.  What becomes of this, where is our volition to do the things that we do?  If Mozart had been born to anyone other than his parents, his father, what would he have become?  If he had been given any opportunity to quit music, what would have happened?

What is the ultimate expression of an individual?  Playing this concert, I wondered if Mozart was lucky to have been so strongly directed down this path.  Surely we are lucky to have his music, or at least I feel this way.  But was this his path?  Was this his full expression?  It's a funny thing, growing up.  Becoming differentiated.  But to have done so from such an early age is very unusual.

I wonder how we each find an optimal path of expression.  Perhaps for some it is to achieve extreme mastery of one thing.  Perhaps for others it is to be familiar with many different things.  To be, to experience, to live.  But lives become what they become.  And Mozart has left us with such incredible music, something which keeps living.  It is a gift from his life, a full expression in itself.  How can it be measured?

Friday, September 27, 2013

The no "The" Land

Coming to Japan I had to get used to not tipping, not worrying about plurals, and not accidentally misreading the buttons in the toilet stall and calling the emergency help instead of flushing the toilet.  I also had to get used to the unending patience of the Japanese to accommodate my confusions and accept my transgressions.

In going to America, a Japanese person will have to learn to tip in myriad situations in which it is just understood that you do so, they will have to learn what items can be pluralized and how to do it, and they will be bored with the button possibilities in the toilet stall.  No sounds, no heated seats, no water streams to clean you more fully.  And they will likely at some point have to deal with an impatient American speaking to them loudly.

I think I have the easier of the two exchanges.  I also don't have to learn to use the word, "the."  I had no idea how strange a word this was.  When can it be omitted?  When must it be used?  Being an English speaker, it comes fairly naturally.  I've inherited (the) intuition in my ears.  But if you never had such a word, it would be so difficult to understand (the) situations where it was needed, or appropriate, or natural, and where not.  Imagine a world where things were never singular or plural and never had articles.  A free-floating poetic world, where rules were friendly and easy to follow (once you learned them), and people bowed to say hello.  This is Japan.  Land of (the) Friendly People with no "the."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Windy Day with Fukunari-sensei

I had my first lesson with Fukunari-sensei in over a month.  It was good to be back in her caring teaching embrace, sipping her tea and realizing that the hour was once again passing without eating the treat she had brought me.  We talked about the weather and learning to play music.  It's typhoon season and she's started to learn piano and flute.  She taught me about the lesson's grammar: connecting similar ideas into one sentence.


Another great wind came to the Kansai area, rustling the night and cooling the day.  Fall is teasing summer.  One day it will be winter.  One day I will know more Japanese.  One day I will no longer live in Japan.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Giving and Receiving in New Words

Tomorrow comes a new beginning of Japanese lessons with Fukunari-sensei.  I've been preluding for it today by studying Japanese again.  I can feel my brain plunge deeper into the murky lake, taking in an awareness of what is below the pristine surface of blissful superficial communication.  The possibilities that lie waiting below.  To go a step deeper seems to make treading the surface that much harder.  When I first returned to Japan I was so happy with my understanding and ease of communication.  Compared to knowing nothing, I was doing great.  But with this gradual realization creeping back in, the second-guessing that comes with learning how little one knows has made my pencil hesitate to fill in the missing particles and vocabulary in my two-month-old homework.  I lack the same authority and knowing intuition I might have ignorantly summoned a week ago.  The door is being used as an entrance right now, and no information in my brain seems able to escape.  I remember this feeling from high school, that the more I read, the less I seemed to be able to speak.  Writing was another matter.  That might just be my brain....

What has become more clear to me, though, is a certain particular point concerning giving and receiving verbs that had confused me greatly before I left (and only mildly–like maybe a 6 on a 10 point scale–now).  Three words- ageru (to give), morau (to receive), kureru (to give if I'm the one receiving).  There's a lot of exchanging going on, but the rule is that if someone is giving something to me, kureru is the verb that must be used.  If I'm giving I can use ageru.  For example, "I ageru the chocolate to Kaneko-san." I'm also able to receive the chocolate from Kaneko-san, "I morau the chocolate from Kaneko-san."  The catch though, is that Kaneko-san CANNOT simply ageru the chocolate to me, he must kureru it.  I can receive from him, but it takes a special word for him to give it to me.  So, "Kaneko-san (can) kureru the chocolate to me,"  and, "I (can) morau the chocolate from Kaneko-san," but "Kaneko-san (CANNOT) ageru the chocolate to me."  At least that's my latest understanding of the matter.  

It's just words.  Words that need to find a place in murky meaning.  Feeling my way through the feeling behind this, sculpting the relief of meaning on a very blank slab of marble.  It's an interesting thing to learn a language.  And language, the teaching of it, comes after a culture has intuitively evolved it and individuals absorbed it from their surroundings.  It is such a natural thing to develop and acquire.  May it be so with me....

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Les Miserables in Japan

I saw "Les Miserables" for the second this evening.  The first was in America, in a living room with my mother and brother.  Tonight it was in Japan in a tatami room with 3 American and 4 Japanese friends.  We watched it with Japanese subtitles.

With a name like "Les Miserables,"  there's really no false advertising.  It's a dark movie.  But seeing it in the presence of the sweetness of my Japanese friends was a new and eye-opening experience.  One of them sitting next to me on floor spent the better part of the movie clinging to my arm, disappearing behind my arm at the sound of every gun shot.  I felt the thickness of my shoulder standing in the way of her perception, protecting her from the shadows on the screen.

Luckily there are still puppies in the world.  And these movies have endings.  Once I told her that it would be ok after the last difficult scene (from what I could remember) she departed from my arm with a full and unapologetic trust in my words, no looking back, no additional clinging or acknowledgement of her previous need for comfort and protection.  Such a sincere hold and subsequent release.  What a strange thing it must be to have children.  To create a filter on the world and to be aware of such a need.

I think next time we'll be aiming for a little lighter.  Disney, perhaps, or at least something with flowers and songs in a major key.  Might as well enjoy the time.

Monday, September 23, 2013


It's a dangerous thing to review Japanese flashcards before noon.  Or study any Japanese for that matter.  It endows me (or at least would seem to) with a face that says, "Yes, speak to me in Japanese," which is almost as dangerous as the ensuing attempts to follow-up with a like-language response.  But as hard as it is to have a conversation in Japanese, it is also hard to correct or give guidance in translations and phrases in English.  I swear I'm a native speaker of at least one language.  But maybe not.  Maybe I just think in pictures, communicate in sounds and gestures.  A Japanese friend of mine and I were talking today about the difficulties in translating in one's own language and she suggested that a good translator needs to be even more intimately familiar with their own language–the many subtle inflections of words and the phrases of which it is capable–than the one that is foreign to them.  I appreciated this and I think I can understand.  If I had more linguistic skill and experience from which to draw,  I might even have the audacity to agree.  So many poets and authors are also translators.  Those keepers of communication.  I really appreciate those who seem to find a space between words so as to make them disappear.  I look for this in my bow changes, in my shifting, in my vibrato.  A smoothness, a grace that makes the means vanish.

But it all starts with those awkward chunks of knowledge.  Fingers to the strings, gripping the bow, one flashcard, one word at a time.  If we don't come to it, there will be nothing between which to find any space.  The pillars of communication, the foundation of sharing understanding from one being to another, must at the very least be respected before the artistry can wind its way through them and uphold the structure alone.  To float and be grounded all at once.  To occupy the space the of living with others.  Oh a morning of preparation dawns.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

On the Beautiful Blue Danube (Lesson with Kaneko-san)

Another morning with Kaneko-san.  It was a big week for him; he had only just yesterday returned from his first trip to America, to Hawaii, for his daughter's wedding.  He even brought back some gifts for me:  dried mango and macadamia chocolate cookies.  So now I have some gifts from America, which is pretty cool.

I asked him what he ate there.  The first night, steak, which he described with his hands showing the incredible thickness.  The second day, Chinese for lunch and Italian for dinner, which he said was a little different from Japanese Italian cooking, but mostly the same.  And finally on the last day, Japanese food.  He said "Onakaga ipai deshita!"  and then asked me how to say that in English.  "Your stomach was full," I told him.  And then wondered what that meant to him.  What does it mean when a Japanese person says they are full?  Does it mean they are stuffed?  Or just simply satisfied?  I told him how I had learned about "hachibunme," being 80% full, and how we didn't have such a thing in America.  So maybe being American full and being Japanese full means slightly different things.  It's funny how this sort of thing, as subtle as it is, can effect the way one chooses to translate.  "I was SO full." "I was very full."  "I was full."  "My stomach was full." "It was delicious."   So many ways to explain how one feels.  I'm sorry Kaneko-san, I don't really know how you felt or what you want to express.  But I gave him some options.

We then moved on to something that may or may not have been related to the wedding.  I think it was only related in temporal proximity.  He told me that a day after the wedding, for the first time in 7 years, his opinion was in the newspaper.  We spent of lot of time trying to figure out how to translate this into English, clarifying Japanese and English vocabulary words and word order.  "Putting"  something versus "listing" something, and opinion versus, well, I don't really know what it was that got published in the paper.  But dear Kaneko-san had made several copies and gave one to me.  Maybe someday I'll be able to read it and know what he thinks.

Kaneko-san's opinion
After about 45 minutes, much longer than our usual random chat time, we finally got around to the lesson of the day:  gifts.  I had to read a little snippet about someone receiving a birthday present at a restaurant, an ORUGORU.  I didn't know what that was but it was in katakana implying it was a loan word, and Kaneko-san assumed that it was from English and that I would know it.  I didn't.  He mimed it, explained it.  A music box!  And we looked it up in the dictionary, and there it was, right below ORUGAN (organ).  So it was an organ box.  Very clever.  I feel there is a game show in this somewhere....

Of course, not to be to focused on the topic at hand for too long, Kaneko-san told me that 10 years ago he went to Vienna and bought a music box.  "What did it play?" I asked.  Ohh...something by Johann Strauss....very famous....  He tried to remember the title.  And then, "Ah! Ukkushiku Aoki Donau."  Ah yes, the Blue Danube Waltz.  And I tried to bring the melody to mind.  I envisioned a floating space craft, weightless, timeless, but it just wouldn't come.  The feeling was currently being resided by the third movement of Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony and it would not clear the way for the sake of dear Kaneko-san.  "This week I will look it up on the internet,"  I told him.

I'm already looking forward to next week when I will not only get to present to him my yet unread essay on the differences between biking in America and Japan, but will also get to sing for him.  At a table in the Takarazuka International Friendship Association we will share the Blue Danube Waltz together.  Dadeedadadum.....dundun....dundun.....

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Day Two of Brahms

Another day of Brahms.  Of Piazzolla, of Wagner.  A work of alchemy to bring it to life and realizing a cultivation of over 20 years that it is more than drilling technique, more than fostering a good ear, more than sound and musicality.  It's difficult to bring it back.  How hard would it be to leave it?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Brahms 4 (Tsukimi)

First concert at HPAC this afternoon.  Brahms 4th Symphony.  I remember discovering this piece when I was in high school.  I think in some ways it was the first piece of music I fell in love with–falling asleep to the warm, compassionate opening theme, a yearning and suffering that I understood, the comfort of hearing that another had felt the same thing.  Listening to it late at night took away some sort of loneliness, some existential longing incomprehensible and far from reason for a high school senior.

And this afternoon, we played it.  And I was in a different place.  I'd played it once before, and never when playing it have I had such a feeling of relief as I'd needed in high school.  It'd been my dream to play it.  What happened, what was different?

Now I find myself wishing for something in my execution that isn't there.  How to create what I once heard?  How to ensure that I remember and practice the importance of this throughout life?

I went to the practice room.  What more can one do?  "Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired."  It's a very pragmatic approach, but inspiration doesn't happen if we don't invite it.  I found a strategy, an inkling of a path to follow.  At least a course of action to appease my decade-later form of unrest.

Practice finished for the day, I got on my bike, a list of checkpoints accruing in my head to guide the way.  An evening of productivity towards a long-term if nebulous objective taking shape.

And then there was moon.  It was orange, big and low, peaking out between the buildings of Nishinomiyakitaguchi.  And I remembered that in Japan, which is where I am, there is something called Tsukimi–moon viewing–which is happening now.  Like the flower viewing in spring, it is a simple invitation to enjoy nature, the autumn moon.  What does this do for a person, to have a call for this sort of reflection, this sort of pause to see the world as it is happening?  That we come closer to appreciating the temporal beauty of such things.  Someday, it will not be so.

As I biked home on the night river path, the moon reflected in the water.  A bench ahead was clear–I should stop and sit, it's Tsukimi and I'm in Japan–but my agenda for a happy life was with me, must be on my way.

And then my bike stopped, and I sat on the bench and viewed the moon.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

River Post-Typhoon

Since the typhoon, it seems that fall may be upon us.  In a matter of 24 hours, the weather consumed all its cloud credits for the week and we've been left with nothing ever since.  Blue skies from dawn to dusk.  A crispness in the air begs for the flare of orange trees to grace the sky.  The typhoon also took away many of the banks of the river, swallowing baseball fields, leaving beaches and rocky passes in place of green patches and fields.  Plant debris is everywhere, some of it conveniently covering the "No Golfing" signs which certain early morning Japanese elderly men cannot be expected to imply peaking from behind their new wigs of twigs and leaves.  Nor can they remember the signs that must have disappeared in the wind, a telling act of God in this secular world.  But a sign is a sign.  And an early, beautiful fall morning is a beautiful thing indeed.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


As I was biking home after dark tonight, I saw a child no more than 10 years old on the river path stopped next to his bike, trying to fix the seat.  It still amazes me the independence and trust that children have from their parents in Japan.  I went by him and then looked back.  He was still there, still trying to fix the seat.  I turned around and came up to him slowly.  "Daijoubu deska?"  I asked.  "Ehhh??"  he asked.  Yes, I know it was a formal greeting you're likely not used to hearing as a child, and you're probably also not used to people interfering with you while you're trying to fix something, and it was in my American accent, so I'll say it again: "Daijoubu deska?"  Are you alright?  "Hai," he said and went about his business.  My American overprotective mother in me felt I had done all I could do and returned my bike to its previously planned trajectory.  After two weeks back in Japan, I finally feel settled enough that I want to start practicing my Japanese seriously again.  I was waiting for the bug to hit me.  Regardless, a little can go a long way.

In other news, we had a visitor today from Ehibe television.  I don't really understand a lot of things that go on here, but I understand the general concept of needing to promote to audiences, sometimes in strange ways.  So our friend here conducted us playing the end of the third movement of Brahms 4 (it's such an unusually jovial part of the symphony, there's not really another part of that piece that says, "For a happy time, come to our concert!"  I'm a little concerned that it was false advertising, but one can only be concerned about so many things.)

"Mr.Vivit" or "Bibito"  and the energetic cameraman who captured the action

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

To Have and to Hold

Being in this new land of many things, I have the benefit of sampling quite a number of new foods.  Lots of interesting little sweets and candy, all uniquely and beautifully wrapped, various ways of cooking noodles, different soup broths, different ways of cooking and frying veggies and meats, new combinations food with endless variety and ingenuity.  So many different possibilities.  And yes, in answer to the first question nearly every Japanese person asks me after we've met, I do love Japanese food.  And it's really true.  When I'm not here, I miss it greatly.

This new birth of culinary and confectionary possibilities has brought me to wonder something slightly disturbing: how many delicious foods in the world have I never eaten?  And as sad as this is, it leads quite gracefully into an even sadder question- how many delicious foods in the world will I never eat?    Oddly enough, despite the pleasure that I enjoy in trying a new food, realizing a new mixture of sweet and/or savory, I have come to accept that I rarely yearn for experiences I've never had.  Before I came here, I didn't know that I would miss kinako powder or anko paste, nor did I regularly crave miso.  I knew not the joys of a well-prepared tempura spread, nor the mirth of an okonomiyaki party.  And despite all my new experiential acquisitions, I have not, nor likely will I enjoy some of the more beloved of Japanese foods:  Kobe beef, yakitori (grilled chicken), ramen in its traditional ham outfit.  Such are the sacrifices of a meatless diet.

With all the new experiences I have, I have new desires.  Worlds become possible.  The stars beckon my visitation, a new mochi calls my name.  Enjoy me, they say.  But woe to me should I ever seek one uninvited.  Woe to me should I ever look back upon them with yearning.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Typhoon Weather

Such a steady downpour of rain like I've never experienced before.  A new sound, a new feeling.  Nothing like the storms of the American midwest, so mercurial and often punctuated with lightening and thunder, the spark of their worth.  But no, here the steady promise of more rain to come, a weight in the air that promises it.  And only the sound of tousled leaves  to accompany the pattering sheets falling on the grass, leaves and pavement beyond my balcony.  A faithful storm.

And was there a bluer sky than today?  The air of fall.

Such must be the weather of typhoons, where the ocean rises above the land and comes down upon it.  A feeling of its depth and persistance.  What does it do to a person to have known this their whole lives?  What does it do to a culture to have learned how to weather it?

I could live in the sound.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A New York; Sashiburi Kaneko-san

The rain has been steady for most of the day.  A typhoon comes from the south.  But this morning I saw Kaneko-san again, a bit of sunshine on such a rainy day.  We covered a lesson on writing postcards which was a good starting point for our normal various diversions.  Today we talked about written versus spoken Japanese vocabulary, the many places I'll be going on tour with the HPAC orchestra, and how he had lived in several of them as part of his job transfers which happened every 3 or 4 years as part of being a "salary man" in Japan.

Later in the day, I was invited to go to a new Japanese friend's apartment because her college friend was visiting and wanted to meet foreigners.  I don't think I'm fully aware of what it means to be a foreigner in Japan, what that means to Japanese people.  It seems very special to be able to have that new interaction with someone, for them and for me, so it's a great deal.  She had a nabe dinner, but I came late and brought Reese's cups and York peppermint paddies to share.  This meant that I got to see two Japanese women eat a York for the first time, the surprise and delight on their faces.  They loved it.  I also got to see them carefully unwrap the Reese's cup and set it on the table, likely waiting to nibble on a treat that we Americans just pop into our mouths.

And during the time that I was visiting, my friend turned on the television to a program that they would sometimes watch to help them learn English and English pronunciation.  It was a game show with an announcer from Pakistan or northeast Africa who was giving them games to learn English.  They would have to improvise a conversation that ended up going something like this: "Good?  Bad?"  "So, so.  What's up?"  Later they had to sing two phrases of "Can you feel the love tonight?"  being rated for  their differentiation of l's and r's, v's and b's.  Kind of like a postmodern version of My Fair Lady.

It's exciting to have these cultural exchanges.  To explain that squirrels and chipmunks are two different animals, neither of which live in Japan outside of zoos.  To experience new foods, learns new customs and ways of speaking, writing, listening.  It makes the world from which I come seem new, almost as new as the one I'm just coming to discover.

As I was leaving my lesson this morning, Kaneko-san stopped me to asked a few questions.   He'll be going to Hawaii this week for his daughter's destination wedding (apparently a common thing for Japanese people to do).  It will be his first time in America.   "Eigo de 'kissaten'?"  I told him the word in English for kissaten is "cafe."  "Cahfay?"  I said it a few times.  "Uwhere ees a cahfe?"  He also checked on the words needed to get an ice coffee.  I think he's ready.

I wish that I could see him on his vacation to Hawaii.  I wish I could have an American experience with Kaneko-san.  But I guess I am, every time we meet.  What a beautiful thing.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Until Next Time, Awaji

We've returned from the land of delicious onions, strikingly subtle skies, rolling rice paddies, twice daily onsen, and smiling audiences.  Oh Awaji, a land of happiness with no point of interest.  An ineffable pleasure permeates the air, escapes my knowing but resides there.


We played some clarinet quintets, quartets and (well, others) played a bassoon trio at Itsukushima shrine in Sumoto, Awaji

Me in front of one of the shrine buildings (thanks to Janis for the picture)

Clarinet quintet 

First visit of the year to Awaji

The ride to Awaji is beautiful.  Over a huge bridge, through rice fields overlooking the ocean.  We arrived, played a rehearsal and then took a bus to a hotel for a reception and cultural exchange.  The Japanese know how to entertain.

The ride to Awaji, from the bus

First glimpse of the spread

I saw my friend Christy and as we discovered the wonders of the reception room, we decided to have some fun.  I subsequently showed these picture to our bucho (boss, who is standing in the background of the first picture below) but I'm not sure he understood the irony of the photos.  It's nice that in Japan I can assume that my sense of humor isn't understood because of language or culture.  Otherwise I'd be afraid I didn't have one.

There are a lot of speeches before you can eat

Fish head in the middle of the sashimi

Taiko drumming

The view and a well-positioned piano

But after all the speeches we got to enjoy the food, which included tempura, udon, and noodle stations in addition to the full spread that was endlessly refilling (along with the Asahi).  And then there was taiko drumming and Awa dancing.  Supposedly Awa dancing is based on the premise that it looks stupid and so are you for watching so you might at well dance, too.  They taught it to everyone in the end, but I had to leave to rehearse some chamber music and subsequently enjoy a soak in the onsen.

Young taiko drummers waiting

Awa dancing

Minnasan (everybody!)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

To Awaji

Today to Awaji!  One of my favorite places in Japan for reasons not really known to me.  The island just has a certain feeling, perhaps I'll understand it this time a little better.

Not sure my internet situation in the next few days, but will still be taking it in and will post as able.  It's a funny thing that hotel rooms don't have wireless in Japan, only landline internet.  And rarely, oh so rarely, an internet cafe.  Something taken for granted in America.  But sometimes it's nice to just have a hotel room, maybe a trip to the onsen and some senseless television.  We'll we see what await in Awaji.

Personal Space

When I'm at the river, when I'm on my bike, people come so close to me.  They know I'm there but it's as though it doesn't matter.  I know you see me.  And I see you.  But we don't look at one another.  How does it work?

Today I was lying on my stomach in the grass doing lower back lifts for Tae Kwon Do and a huge van drove right up next to me, with another right behind.  A bunch of the workers got out, took out a tarp and started to set up a lunch picnic in the shade of the tree 20 feet away, right by my parked bike and backpack.  Rather than throw puches and kihop at them I just got on my biked and went down the river for another spot.  Not once did they acknowledge that I was in that space and that they stepped into it.  Maybe they expected me to simply continue.  Maybe that's just the way people understand the space around them.  Perhaps I should be more comfortable with the closeness.  Maybe in the future.

But as for this afternoon, I was looking for larger pastures.  And there are plenty.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Another Okonomiyaki

It was hot.  The okonomiyaki was sizzling.  About a dozen or so of my friends from last year and friends new to HPAC came to my apartment for a very cozy evening.  The two brave Japanese members that came offered to bring over their hot plate (a great addition) and were very sneaky and helpful in their constant help with the making of the okonomiyaki and the clean-up.  It's great to have their example as they helped me host my own party.

A delicious and fun evening.  Great way to spend the time.

Monday, September 9, 2013

5am Wedding

In a foggy 5am haze I watched one of my best friends get married in America this morning.  Another one of my good friends had the duty of holding me, carrying me, pointing me in the direction of interest, talking to me, making sure I was still there.  Thousands of miles away, through choppy reception I saw friends I hadn't seen in years, people I grew up with.  I couldn't talk to them, could just barely hear them and make out their waving hands and those of their significant others that I was meeting for the first time in such a strange manner. And then it was time for the wedding to begin, so everyone sat down, including me by proxy.  And I watched Amy get married.  I couldn't really hear anything that anyone said, but I could feel the significance.  Body language, tone, response of those present–understanding in other ways.  She was crying, they were both excited and nervous, happy and light-hearted.

The ceremony ended and my phone holding friend, my portal to this world, said a few words and some from another friend and then goodbye.  They would be going on to the reception and party.  He thought he'd hung up but something went wrong.  The screen froze I could still hear their voices echoing and continuing our last exchanges.  "Yeah, even I sometimes cry at weddings."

And then it faded out.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


"Sashiburi!"  "It's been a long time!"

Every time I see one of my Japanese friends after our summer break, this is the greeting that they offer and I respond in a like manner.  And each time I feel like I'm operating the strings of a puppet to make my mouth and voice say it.  We don't have this in English.  If it's been awhile since seeing someone, we still likely just say "Hey!!!"  with extra enthusiasm as we open wide our arms for a huge hug.  Maybe we say their name, or "Oh my God!"  Maybe, if it's been years, we'll say, "It's been a long time," but usually this comes a moment later in a voice of reflection on the time that has passed, not in the first greeting.  While I understand the word and its meaning, the semantic place it has in a greeting is foreign to me.  It takes a bit of work to get used to it, in the same way that a new vocabulary word needs time to settle in before I trust that it means what I've learned it means.  Context.  Practicing context.  And this is the first time I've been able to practice this context.  If I'd only been here a year, I'd not have had this opportunity.  Sashiburi!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Another September

Tomorrow is the start of the new year at HPAC.  Some people new, some the same.  But even of those that are returning, most are likely in a different place than they were a year or two years ago.  The cyclical nature of the year, that we can mark personal change through some constant.  Where were you a year ago at this time?  What concerns, what hopes?  Who did you see everyday, who or what was on your mind?  

And now?  What is different?  What has changed?

For me it is comforting to return to this place at this time, an echo of a year before when I first moved to Japan.  A difference in understanding, a difference in belonging.  It is a reaffirmation that challenges need not be the same challenges forever.  Surely there are still aspects of daily life that are and will continue to be difficult.  But in place of last year's concerns over transportation, language, customs, and orchestral protocol there are new challenges with a new color and texture.  In place of the buzz of novelty and uncertainty are the challenge of knowing that people that I care about are continuing life elsewhere.  The challenges of figuring out a language problem or where to buy something I need have been replaced with the challenge of patience and connection.

But this is only this year for me.  Every year, something different for different people and so we grow.  On and on.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Out and About

Ah, the liberty of time....

skies for a bike ride

over the river

rice paddies

yes it is:
a cat bus with a bowing teacher
saying farewell to her students
in front of  liquor store

I wish that my non-native language skills could be this poetic.  
Why don't we say such things in English?
The 100-yen store has so many temptations, and for 100-yen it's hard to say no.
But there are only so many novelty dairies one can have.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Place by the River

It was my first day back on the bike trail.  The river was swollen with yesterday's torrential rains and I passed through several clouds of dragonflies.  Workers on the banks were shaving the long grass, and a group of kids played softball near a middle-aged gentlemen playing traditional songs on a trumpet.  I found my usual space on the river bank facing the water, and as I practiced a group of young men playing American football started playing behind me.   One of them, sporting an arm cast, came next to me to survey the rushing water as I threw punches towards the unkempt grass across the way.   He eventually carried on his way with his friends, his silent presence later augmented in the greeting of a familiar face who often walks his dog along the path.  And with him today was another friend of his with his own canine companion.  And we bowed to one another and smiled fully in recognition.  It's been awhile.

The wind was blowing, the skies were a magical mix of blue and patchy clouds, and the sound of the crows' cawing punctuated the rustling leaves.

A year ago, a year ago, I had not found this place.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Quiet Aloneness in Japan

I think there is a loneliness that colors my life in Japan.  Where is life as usual, the people that I've known for years, the sounds they make in the other room, their assumed breathing?  Even a car ride away, such proximity still allows me to wake with them.  But when I'm here we sleep differently.  Our words only hear one another in certain times of the day, during the rising and setting of the sun when our waking hours briefly overlap, and otherwise they may as well be dreams.  In Japan I can hear people around me speaking, but even if I understand their words I don't really understand.  I was never born in Japan, nor did I attend school here, have a job or a family.  I never learned to be Japanese.  But coming back I feel a little bit closer.  I remember the language learned sometime in the past.  It comes back to me.  I know how to ride the train and the bus, I know how to bow, how to say "excuse me," in deference.  Japan is quiet for me.  Living here is a quiet and perhaps more lonely existence than my life with friends and family in States.  But perhaps that is the nature of being inherently detached from this culture that is not actually my own.  I watch it and listen to it.  I see appreciate it and enjoy it.  And in a quiet sort of way, I feel very happy to be here, again.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Return to Japan

I've returned to the future.  The quiet, patient future.  In my travel weary state I remember that American world of shared car rides, bus rides, conversations, music (on the radio, in the pit, side-by-side), fires in the backyard and on the lake, laughing with old friends, sharing time with family.  Huggable humans will now, once again exist within the framed flat box of my laptop screen.

As I stepped into my apartment this afternoon, I regained a sense of ownership and control of my time, space, eating, practicing, exercising, breathing.  All things that have been put on hiatus, set aside, or compromised in the last month for the sake of being with people.  I allowed them to fill my claimed sense of control that I practice for my own sake in their absence.  Enjoyed being filled with their agendas, moved by their thoughts, touched by them.

Why am I here?  What do I have to learn from this place which is so far from those that I love?  In the return to my place of solitary control, in this moment of vacuum left by the past month, how do I want to fill it?  

It is exciting to return to Japan.  To reawaken my rusty Japanese, to be surrounded by the people and landscape of this country.  But after revisiting my home–and likely the future that encompasses this one in which I live–I wonder how I will start to personally shape this year.  Having returned to America after a year of being severed from its lifelong assumptions, what did I see or feel more clearly?  What does this make me notice about my life in Japan and what can I take from these experiences?  How can I practice them in my life here?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Last night before Japanese return

This is it.  The last night in America.  I don't want to return my library book, or say goodbye to Quaker Oatmeal Squares.  I won't mind returning to the Japanese diet, and I have mixed feelings about returning to a world in which I cannot fully interact.  This has been a month of returning to world of the living. The world to which I will inevitably return in the future.  And now I return to a world that is a hiatus of my continuous existence, which I think is teaching me to understand my American existence--friends, family, library priviledges--by my removal from it.  But that's a few steps away.  We'll see what awaits in Japan Part II, a long flight and a dateline away, in the Land of Tomorrow....