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Tuesday, October 31

A License To SHOP!

Happy Halloween! It doesn’t look very Halloween-y around here. I saw one kid dressed as a pirate and that was on a quick run I made onto the base for cash. He didn’t look happy being a pirate either although he was quite fond of the sword.

To celebrate this sacred holiday, I did something I don’t do much of here. SHOP! It isn’t that I don’t want to shop. Oh, man do I want to shop. It is just so hard. And I mean this as beyond finding what I want or need or the right size.

The town I live in is not a hot spot for shopping. There is a small availability that I have access to but mostly those shops hold women’s clothes which are just never going to work. Honestly no matter how much I really would love to patronize, the first problem with shopping – particularly in my town – is that these small mom-and-pop shops are just too expensive. The shops I want to find are those discounted china stores and the BIG 100 Yen store. Our second problem with regards to those stores… is getting there.

I have actually familiarized myself enough with the train system that I no longer tear up at first thought of riding by myself. But there is no way I can SHOP! if I am going to take the train by my lonesome. Nope, in these cases, the JapaCapaBox with an empty trunk is necessary.

Even back home, I was not much for driving on a busy highway. I clench the wheel and my teeth under the stress until my brain feels like it is leaking out of my ears. If you want to SHOP! here though, and you want to carry those handfuls back out, I just have to pull myself together and drive already. Today I left the security of the Route 16 and it’s offshoots that I don’t mind driving on the Miura Peninsula and took the Yoko-Yoko Toll Road north into the big city, all by myself, for the very first time. I was a nervous Nelly the entire way.

The speed limit on the highway is 80 kph, roughly 49.7 miles per hour… and I did not stray much further above that speed. It felt like it was killing me when the road was quiet as I puttered along in the left lane. When the first person flew by my right side at 90 kph (55.9 mph), I thought I was having a seizure. (Good God, what has happened to me and my wild and crazy ways?)

To get to all of these fabulous shopping destinations, the nice people on base provide directions to all of places everyone will insist you visit while you are living or visiting here. Problem number three arises with those directions. They are always wrong. This is not an exaggeration. We have used their directions on five occasions (counting today) and every single time, there were discrepancies. When driving somewhere, I therefore read them several times over and loosely translate what they are saying into memory. This is where a co-pilot would come in very handy. I’ve tried 1-800-RENT-A-FRIEND but they told me I had to speak Japanese to order one.

With my loosely translated directions held tight in my clasp to the wheel, I took a few wrong turns but eventually made it to China Pete’s and a world full of Japanese china opened its doors to me. There are two rooms to this place but it is filled with goods. I spent two hours agonizing over this blue and white bowl or that blue and white bowl. (Exactly the reason I wouldn’t ask KH to SHOP! with me. He hates that I will vacillate for hours over a decision he deems as straightforward. In other words, he just doesn’t understand the value of SHOP!ping.)

With stacks of boxes tied together, the owner kindly helped me carry out my parcels. I barely spent a thing and go so very much. Notably, this store alone today made me feel so jubilant because I bought many Christmas gifts I had been searching vainly for. There have been so many times that I went out in serious need of particular items and came home hours later frustrated and depressed and wishing I was at home where everything was easier. But I didn’t move here for ease and I haven’t let my frustrations stop my efforts.

I had passes a Toys-R-Us on the way to China Pete’s. While it is an American chain, I was certain they would carry Japanese toys and I have a few kids on my list to buy for. Not wanting to ruin with the good thing I had going; I closed my eyes, said a quick prayer for comparative ease and pulled into the parking lot. And the sun just kept on shining for me. Two more people on the list… done with a quick run through. Why isn’t it always this (relatively) simple?

Back on the road to home, the highway traffic wasn’t too bad. I didn’t miss any turns. I didn’t drive into any other vehicles. I made it safely to my door. A much more confident resident of Japan. (One who would still, however, like a co-pilot. Presently accepting applications from anyone who holds a current Visa… and I don’t mean the kind to work in a foreign country.)

Monday, October 30

Beauty Is More Than Petal Deep

At last month’s Ikebana International meeting, there was quite a buzz about the upcoming Ikebana International Ninth World Convention. Being very new to this world, this business initially went quite over my head. The meeting progressed and I had the chance to speak with many different people about it, all very excited and all expressing that I should definitely make sure I attend. Thanks to one of my lovely new and interesting friends from that meeting, I was presented with a ticket to assure that I didn’t miss this special event.

The Convention only comes to Japan every five years, making it even more imperative that I not miss this one. Top Ikebana artists from around the globe are there to display their work and some of the best teachers will also provide workshops. As many schools as possible are represented. By this, I mean that there are hundreds of schools and I won’t even try to describe them to you, not even one. Just know that some more popular than others (I think this horizontal favorite was from the Sogetsu school), some very traditional (pictured above is a traditional favorite) and some are very modern schools where the artistic expression is more like sculpture than floral essence. There were several examples of just that style at the Convention and while I am sure it has its place in the world of Ikebana, I am not getting it.

I am part of the Kofu school which is a newer school that can be simply described as one that uses less of the abstract materials and sticks with the plant varieties. Sadly, there was only one arrangement at the Convention from my school. But you see my work every week so you get an idea. Just please do not take it for GOOD Kofu. I have yet to earn my first certificate but hopefully will in the next month or so. Plus, Kofu in its expertise form like this one replicates an arch and Sensei is no where near ready to teach me that.

Guess what Alpha Male also went and spent his Saturday viewing the over 250 Ikebana floral arrangements with me. While his original motivation is that he wanted to spend the day with me (READ: Attach himself to my leg like he does when I am home with him), I am choosing to think that the reasoning was that he really wanted to take more of an interest in my interests and therefore learn more about this new pursuit of mine. His take on Ikebana and the Convention… “It was nice. But I would have walked faster.”

We had met with my friends who had volunteered their time to work at the Convention. They were able to get away after registration and spend the morning enjoying the displays with us. Yes, we did look at everything very carefully and yes, it could probably be considered agonizingly slowly if you weren’t thoroughly fascinated with this art form, but I was not going to rush myself through something so important. Self-indulgently, I didn’t let KH rush this one.

About the arrangements… well, there were a number that I liked. Even more that I really loved. A handful I didn’t understand. A few weren’t flowers or even plants so I am completely clueless on those. (What’s up with the paper clips? What do they express? A desperate need for a paying desk job?) (The test tube roses… a hankering for a test tube baby?)

(Psst… don’t be embarrassed but I think your leaf is upside down.)

Most importantly, I just seem to have lucked out and fallen into a world embraced by art and philosophy intermingled. If mentioned before that floral design was always an interest but never would I have believed I could have found a part of that world so deeply personal for me to delve myself completely into. I love the history of Ikebana and I soak in anything my friends will share. Even more significantly, I love the idea that Ikebana is a connection almost religious in experience for those who learn it. It’s a way to connect and harmonize your self to nature. It’s the essence of knowing that you are connected so intimately with the world around you. Finding that perfect balance with heaven and earth.

The Convention opened my eyes to just how much of a difference there can be in our individual designs/expressions/intentions and yet we are all working towards the unified goal of being at one with the world around us.

Perhaps too philosophic for a Monday and maybe I lost a few of you by putting you to sleep. I’m just amazed at how this world seems like it was waiting for me to find it. Some days this is one of the only things I like about being here in Japan. Things aren’t always easy as I expected they wouldn’t be. But had I never moved, I would have never found this world. A world which makes me feel in some ways like I have found my home.

Whether you appreciate it for these reasons, or just because Ikebana is pretty or if you don’t even appreciate it at all… there is beauty in it. Doesn’t the world always need a little bit more beauty?

Friday, October 27

Nothing Says Halloween Like Dead Samurai

The night was black and we found ourselves deep in Japanese woods surrounded by mountains on all sides. Around us a misty air swirled through the valley allowing only a handful of stars to shine their light down to us. We pass through the wooden entryway lit only by two torches onto a path that mingled mud and stones and knotty roots that each threatened our every step. The path was illuminated for only ten steps before we were plunged back into the gloom, with the next spot of glowing light more than fifty steps ahead.

The guide begins to weave her tale of samurais long gone who spent their years protecting these lands and their lords. Samurai had been trained to crush their enemy or fight to the death. Many in these precise woods met their fate. Those of special importance were buried in yagura, grave sites hollowed out of the cliff side of the mountains. The exact place in these woods that we found ourselves bound for this eve. We are told that the spirits of these samurai are said to have remained living in the trees, the earth and the black night that surrounds us.

We make our first turn to climb the steps to the site when someone approaches from behind and grabs my shoulder. I scream and clutch the front of KH’s shirt, surely taking a few chest hairs as victims in my grasp. The trees to either side begin to violently rattle and shake and move in on us, blocking our trail. Two girls scream and one falls to the muck beneath her in sheer terror. It takes the other girl dragging her back onto her feet to get her to relative safety.

We enter a bamboo forest, weaving left and right, trying to get through as quickly as possible. We hear movement all around us but can see nothing in the obscurity of the trees. Hands reach out to grab us from the trees and I try desperately to force myself into the middle of our small group, leaving someone else to handle the tail. Screams continue to echo through the woods around us, unbeknownst to us where they come from or who or what they belong to. One of our own group goes missing at the first burial site. A second taken by Samurai spirits at a checkpoint. A man falls from a tree just missing capturing his next victim for the evening. He gives us one last glance and we can see the horrible mask he wears before he runs back into the thick woods to wait for the next unsuspecting group.

It feels like hours since we set out to see the yagura and learn about those that walked these woods long before us. We all breathe a sigh of relief when we see our first car lights piercing the darkness, temporarily blinding us, but we are thankful that we have made it out alive and have returned to modern day civilization. We will live to see another day.

One of the few Halloween activities (at least that we know about here – the Japanese are big on the orange and black decorations but aren’t altogether on the bandwagon for the scary fun yet), we heard about a Haunted Forest in the hills of Ikego and refused to miss this small touch of home. Warmed with hot chocolate and cookies, we set off on a twenty minute guided walk through the woods that gave us a little back-home-like-holiday and tied it in with a little Japanese culture. The effect was perfect. And perhaps the scariest thing I have seen done for Halloween in a very long time. Do you dare enter the Haunted Forest?

Thursday, October 26

Ikebana Arrangement #9

From yesterday's Ikebana class...

What I really wanted to do was to stay at home and be upset but I went to class to keep my mind busy and because it is what I should be doing. Of course, yesterday happened also to be the time for me to switch to a new style again. Sensei warned me that this style was difficult but thought I would be fine with it seeing how I have a job grasp of design. Not the best day for newness but I did what I could. Next week will be better.

Horizontal Style - Arrangement #9

Wednesday, October 25


Received a spot of news yesterday that I didn’t quite care for. I spent the remainder of my day thinking about it constantly in the back of my mind which led to a very important discovery about myself… I cannot think and walk.

Several mishaps occurred as I made my way through the day culminating in one final event. One of those where you really, really wish the day would just end already.

The news had forced a mighty pressure cooker force onto my brain the more I thought about it (constantly) and I decided to just relax and let Kimono Hubby fend for himself for dinner. Not something I do these days as technically my only job is to make one meal a day and clean a house where we don’t even use half of the rooms. Nonetheless, on this day, it was just not going to happen and I opted for chips and salsa while Kimono Hubby went for the more refined Raisin Bran and a handful of Goldfish.

Before bedtime, I realized that since there was no dinner to speak of, there was no lunch for KH either so I would have to come up with something. Seemed easy enough as he seemed to like the Raisin Bran. I’m sure that would keep well until his lunchtime. Seriously, I decided on the ever quick and easy Greek salad. Slicing and dicing went fine and I mixed all into some Rubbermaid. Add the vinegar red vinegar from Greece that we had shipped over when we moved and cannot be replaced). Set the vinegar down and add some olive oil and the vinegar sees its chance and makes a run for it, right off the counter, smashing onto the marble floor. Did you hear? MARBLE! With me of course in bare feet (a strict no shoes in the house policy), I mopped it up as quickly as possible as it ran further across the floor and soaked the rug. After cleaning up tiny bits of glass from practically everywhere including my leg, I rinsed the marble with cold water as quickly as possible. Too late though and I now need to learn how to resurface marble.

I took the rug into the bathroom rinsed it out and threw it into the washing machine. Only when lifting my head, I smacked it into the dryer.

Back to the kitchen, I finished up lunch with some spices, sealed it and placed it into the lunch box with an apple and in the refrigerator. Not fancy but he won’t starve and he likes it. Moving away from the door, I smacked the back of my head on the freeze. While I let the dryer slide, the freezer didn’t get off so easily and I punched it, leaving a black and blue knuckle under my pinky. He asked for it and I gave it to him.

Finishing with lunch, I wanted to try to mop the floor to make sure all glass and vinegar remnants died so I took the bucket into the shower room to turn on the lower nozzle. Instead I accidentally turned on the shower and hosed my entire backside down. Dripping wet, I managed to open the right nozzle to fill my bucket, mopped the floors and called it a day without further mishap.

Do me a favor. If you have news, wait until the end of my day to tell me next time. Things hurt a hell of a lot less in my dreams.

Tuesday, October 24


For years my mother has challenged me with the line, “You’re just like your father!” I never understood that as I was always trying so hard to be more like her.

I have only recently begun to realize the profound sphere of influence that my father has had on who I am. Of course we are products of what are parents instilled in us through their teachings and love. We get the unique opportunity to meld together both mom and dad’s individual characteristics into hopefully a nice, little package that they can be proud of. We also appreciate each of our parent’s for their uniqueness that they have shared with us and at the same time hope that we have managed to rid ourselves of traits that we may find less favorable for our own selves.

My father is a tough man. He has an extremely gentle side which comes through quickly to children and animals but he does his best to never show it to anyone over the age of 12. My dad is extremely intelligent. He’s clever. He’s hard working. He’s reliable. He’ also a little crazy, but in a good way. He’s not someone who wants to have long conversations. But the words he shares are important and should be listened to carefully. I’ve done just that for years but never realized until recently how much those few words sink down deep into me and I find myself working hard without conscious knowledge to please this man and make him proud of me.

He turns 60 today. That number somehow snuck up on me and I didn’t even realize it was here until two short days ago. When did the man I hold in such revere get to be 60 and how did he do it without me noticing?

He hates celebrations especially those in honor of himself. My mother and I once surprised him with a birthday party that he spent the entire time muttering the word ‘bitches’ under his breath and has yet to forgive us for throwing. To have friends and family in one room honoring the remarkable person my father is, that’s just the way it should be. If I could, I would throw a party for him every year to remind him what he means to so many… even if he never wants to hear it. I would be there to mark this decade date with him today.

I can’t fly home every time I want to. But I can tell those that I love, and especially my dad on this very day, that you are so deep in my heart… and in who I am today.

A very happy 6th decade to you, Dad.

Monday, October 23

Eat, Drink And Be Very Merry

And so it was at the 30th Zushi Citizen’s Festival. We walked down to the park on Saturday around 12:30 and only found tents. Humph. Looks like I really need to learn how to read my own calendar.

Again on Sunday, we traipsed through side streets to the park and this time came upon quite a scene. Hundreds of people filled the park. Tents of everything from food to goods to community service information lined the winding paths. In many ways, it was similar to a festival back home. And then again… in many ways, it was so vastly different.

There were many tents selling various wares. Some resembled your average lawn yard sale and others looked a bit more like legitimate side businesses. There were clotheslines hanging from tent tops filled with clothes for all ages, of course nothing that would fit us and not that it mattered greatly anyway. While I am much less of a label whore than I was during my time in DC, I still am not ready to accept used clothing rubbage. I would however purchase used pottery. That is if Kimono Hubby had slowed down long enough to let me do more than glance at what was displayed. He has his reasons; smart ones at that.

In a quieter section of the park, we found tents where people were teaching sign language. Others were certifying participants in Red Cross associated CPR and first aid. Another booth taught people how to play a xylophone-like instrument. Further into the park, there was the one and only ride (if you can call it that) that simulated an accident. It was in an area that taught awareness of fire safety, car safety and protecting yourself from crime. Interesting way to teach people about how not to get into an accident by putting them in one.

Further into the park, we came upon a section that was a lot of fun but not really anything like I have seen before. There were games for children and adults alike beginning with a shooting game where the target was these inch tall plastic critters sitting on a shelf. Shouldn’t there be a target or something? These little critters could go flying off a shelf and take an eye out. There were bamboo stilts to walk around on; coffee cans with string tied to them that you could walk on; a small zip line; a mini rock wall; and a net to climb proving you too can be a member of the militia. Also found was a coloring booth and a woodworking booth. No, they weren’t building anything but just hammering away at blocks of wood. Unbelievably, this was uber popular. Also making an appearance was the duck game where you pick up a duck from the tub and win a price according to what its butt says. But there were no ducks and instead they were all different Japanese characters. KH wouldn’t let me play.

As we walked, I shared what little I knew about this event with Kimono Hubby, including that there was to be traditional music being played. He mocked me mercilessly when the first musical notes he heard came from a speaker pounding out something of the classic American country realm. We did find the booth however with a group playing wind instruments accompanied by various drums and I redeemed some face.

What couldn’t be missed throughout the park, as we kept getting caught walking behind them, were the groups of about twenty people, mostly men but a few women, that carried on their shoulders three Japanese omikoshi, small Shinto shrines on top of two long poles of wood. They were neighbored with people, one with a bullhorn who chants out their homage to the Shinto gods. Omikoshi can be found at most community festivals as they spread good fortune on the people of the town. I have been told they are massively heavy and was shocked to see the omikoshi bobbing dramatically up and down as the carriers jumped and chanted along with their guides.

Not to be missed was the food. This is what I found that you would be able to also find at any festival in the States – candy apples (although in two sizes), cotton candy (in Hello Kitty Bags – cute!), French fries, hot dogs on a stick (not a corndog, a real hot dog with honest too goodness meat and not just innards like those back home) and gyros. I did a double take on the last one but sure enough, it was even roasting on a spit.

What I found not like mom makes it – candied grapes (very large sized and actually mighty good in their purple candy-coated goodness), yakisoba noodles (containing various meat or shrimp mixed in, add some Chinese cabbage and egg and call it a day), some other type of noodle dish with yet more tiny shrimp and egg, yakitori (the succulent meat on a stick), octopus on a stick (couldn’t bring myself to do it – too much chewiness), sausage on a lamb-like bone (never even saw lamb here in this country and wouldn’t dare try this), octopus cooked into dough balls (ummm… yeah), little plain dough balls (yummy – am true, blue and scared American) and lastly dough shaped like fish (which I am guessing are filled with fish).

Unfortunately, Kimono Hubby was under the weather and not wearing a mask to contain his germs so we didn’t stay as long as I would have liked to experience more of the food. I would have needed more time in between each course to let my stomach resettle than we actually had. Guess we will just have to wait until next year for fish dough balls! Darn.

Sunday, October 22

They Do Exist

I was handed my proof when Mickey indeed let me through the gates on Friday morning and didn’t just give me the finger like on our last visit with him. I swear he even waved hello this time.

I still deny the existence of whales but Mickey... I'll give you.

This trip wasn’t like that last. I slept peacefully through the night. I got up and ready and left in my own good time instead of all the rushing. I drove there without any excitement emanating from a single pore. I was solidly sure that we would only be turning around and heading back home so it seemed rather pointlessly. With a vague sense of nausea at the idea of the drive home, we managed to pass through the gates without recourse and found ourselves on the inside, on Disney soil. It took only a few steps for me to realize that I was finally having that childhood experience and nothing stood in my way this time. I grabbed Kimono Hubby’s hand and dragged him to the first ride I saw – Star Tours. Even the fact that the droid driving our vessel spoke only in Japanese did little to deter my excitement. (I don’t remember Japanese being spoken in Star Wars but C3P0 was fluent in over six million forms of communication… he just probably did it off screen.)

From there we got in line for Space Mountain. This gave me an opportunity to look around at the people in line. One thing to point out is that while I appreciate the women here in Japan always look beautiful and dressed in their Sunday best, is it really necessary to wear their kitten heels and skirts to a theme park?! We walked miles and miles throughout the day. How uncomfortable it would have been like that climbing in and out of rides in a mini and high-heeled boots. Ladies! Bring it down a notch when the occasion calls for it.

Very popular in Japan are hats and ears! Yes, ears, I said. Everyone had them. Mickey ears, Minnie ears, Dumbo ears, Stitch ears, Chipmunk ears, Cinderella crowns… all shapes, colors and sizes. I felt so left out. Of course, I bought Minnie ears. I clipped those ears on in fervor and raced out of Tomorrow Land and into Fantasyland. On my way there, and no more than two minutes of wearing my ears, a girl came up and tapped me on the shoulder. I didn’t get it at first until she pointed to my head and said “cute!” She made me blush. Off she ran as we entered Alice’s Teaparty Teacups, by far my favorite. I don’t think Alice ever meant for those cups to spin like that. At points, we honestly thought we would be sick from our own wicked actions. We never let up and had a hard time walking out of the ride. They may not serve alcohol in the park but you wouldn’t know it looking at us.

Then there was the Castle Carousel, Big Thunder Mountain, Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, the Jungle Cruise, and Pirates of the Caribbean. As we went through these rides, one thing got a little old for us… all the Japanese speaking on the rides. Some of them would have been so much more interesting or funny if we could have just understood what was being said. And honestly, Pirates of the Caribbean… they definitely did not speak Japanese! Likely Spanish and possibly English but definitely not Japanese. If so many people speak English here, why not make the Disney rides which originated in America true to themselves and let those little characters speak our native tongue? Selfish, perhaps. But I can’t help it. I guess I see why they don’t though. I counted gaijin (‘not Japanese’ in Japanese) all day. At 5 pm, the count was a total of four – two women and two men. By the time we left at 9 pm, the count was at 16 – eleven women and five men. Several times I was close enough to and hear them speak and it wasn’t English anyway. So maybe I see why Japanese is the language of choice. Although I’m still protesting.

We had gotten Fast Passes earlier in the day for what was to be the highlight – the Haunted Mansion, modeled after the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” We got there right on time and were shuttled in a mass through the mansion entrance only to find, to my huge disappointment, that Jack spoke only Japanese the entire time. It lost all of its meaning and I gave up a bit on rides at this point only to focus on food.

What a disaster meal times were. We were really looking forward to some good old-fashioned burgers and fries at an American theme park in Tokyo. Can you imagine our disappointment at not finding a single burger in the entire park? We did find hotdogs wrapped in tortilla. Ew. Also, some taco like thing which we ate but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. We searched all the different lands several times over and found one American like restaurant with hotdogs in a bun and fries. What you can find aplenty is curry. It really is the Mickey D’s of Japan. We gave in and had it for dinner as we couldn’t stomach the thought of another semblance of a taco or curry popcorn which we seemed to find everywhere.

Another thing hard to find – good old-fashioned bottled water. Plenty of hot and cold tea, coffee and soda but not much water. We found a few stands that carried it and drenched ourselves every opportunity we could. There were lots of fountains but me and all my issues… not taking a chance on a fountain.

The day wound down as we waited for the Electric Parade to begin. We found ourselves a bench that had pretty decent viewing opportunity only to be moved by someone who couldn’t explain why to us but just kept crossing her hands in an “X” shape in our face. We were a bit tired and frustrated but we moved like she was nicely trying to ask us and stood instead, only to watch ten more people fill in the exact same bench we had just vacated. I know I shouldn’t take it personally but it gets so wearisome sometimes. Like only Japanese may sit on this bench and you wretched Americans must stand and watch and be Ms. Miserable Minnie Cranky Pants. I know that isn’t the case, but when you are beat on your feet and cantankerous and just want to watch the show in peace and can’t, this is where my mind wanders to.

This Disneyland is much smaller than that of Florida per Kimono Hubby as he also stated that I should not judge what the Disney name means by what I experienced that day. It was truly a magical Disney day with only a few minor irritations. I can now tell my father that Japan smells like fish and curry. The smell is seriously everywhere. I can say I’ve been to Disney but I didn’t wait in the line to meet Mickey and got shoved out of the way when I tried to meet Roger Rabbit. But I do now have Minnie ears (which I slept in along with my snazzy, new “Nightmare Before Christmas” sweatshirt) and still more importantly, another experience of a lifetime.

Thursday, October 19

Not Your Everyday Boring Arranger

Not at all what I was expecting. Let’s start off by saying that about this month’s Ikebana International meeting, a floral demonstration by Masaru Akai held at the Kamakura Prince Hotel along the ocean. Before you even turn away and think I am going to tell you about traditional Ikebana… this was anything but.

What I was expecting was just that, but what I got was a room that went dark. Hard, driving music began blaring out human-sized speakers. A white curtain hung over a white stage with a white television placed dead center. In the darkened room, light images began swirling about us, first in blue and then to white as the music thumped louder.

Please do not forget that the Ikebana International group is made up of mature ladies who have and are studying a traditional Japanese art form known for understanding the spirit of life. Place these ladies in a hot techno club laden with delicate porcelain on the tables and that was the room I sat in. The table I was at was actually filled with Japanese women as I came with my friend Fumie from class. We sat with her friends rather than the Americans I have only acquainted with once before and not shared more than a handful of words with. Plus, Fumie’s friend gave us much better seats than I would have had if I sat with the women from base. Now back to the scene and please keep that image of those formal ladies in your mind’s eye.

From the TV came blaring static over the already very loud music. Bursting onto the screen was a slide show with the characters of Masaru Akai’s name dancing on the screen. The screen turns white with a man in a black hat, trendy black glass, black shirt, black pants (you getting the picture?) and placing vivid red carnations into a ball on top of a glass vase. One by one he places the flowers into the ball with much speed and consideration as the light show continues overhead and the music plays on. The ball complete, the man on the TV picks it up and walks out of the view of the screen, only to come out from behind holding the ball in front of him and searching the surrounding darkness for a place to present it.

There are five empty vases along the stage and the first ball after an ‘act’ of searching and searching is placed in one of those empty vases. Four more times, Masaru leaves the stage gets another full red flowered ball and searches for its place along the stage edge. Once he even wandered all over the darkened room looking for that spot, weaving in and around tables as he went. As he moved, the TV screen still reflected his every move back at us in larger than life form, even when he stood right in front of it – Masaru on Masaru.

At this point, I am more than a little confused about what is going on. What about a demonstration? Like the Sensei from the other week? Shouldn’t you show us how to create? Only the show continued as it had started and I peaked around to notice that other ladies also wore their own various bemused expressions.

All the red balls are filled and then he brings a bigger one out and places it flat on the stage. No vase. Next he carries out a ball covered in leaves. He places it next to the red flowered ball on the stage. Off he goes again and back, this time with thin twigs which he spreads on the floor, followed by handfuls of loose leaves. Then the ball to end all balls… almost two thirds his size and covered in moss… rolled out and placed over the leaves and twigs.

Keep picturing the ladies, please. I wish I knew what they were really thinking.

More music, more lights, more searching, more act and he comes out with handful after handful of Spanish Moss and drapes it over the red flowered balls.

And that was it. For the act anyway. He stands frozen in front of the TV while the applause begins. I will admit that I am still thoroughly confused but was enjoying this obvious difference to everything I have seen so far of traditional Japan.

Masaru has a surprise for us. Three chairs are brought out and another light show starts, this one reminding me of ‘The Dating Game’ from the 70s. I had to suppress a serious giggle.

My analysis of the next part is going to be sketchy at best. There was a translator but often both translator and artist were talking at the same time and I didn’t get half of what was going on.

Masaru introduces a supporter of his, a Kabuki actor who comes onto the stage. They sit and chat and I miss out. Then a second surprise as he introduces a woman supporter, a model, I think, and she takes the third chair. Then they all chat and I miss out some more. Yes, this is very bad commentating but I haven’t the faintest idea half of what was said. My impression, however, is that they were discussing why Masaru’s floral design, though not traditional Ikebana, it still evokes the spirit of the flower, which is what the traditional art is all about. He has created this new school so people can see that there are differences in his work but it is still in the same spirit of its origins and can still be appreciated for those reasons. I don’t want to lose his message in my ignorance of the language and I do hope I am sharing this correctly. I will also not deny that I continued to play ‘The Dating Game’ in my head the whole time they sat up there and may have missed a few words due to this fact.

This show was something like I would expect some very artistic type wearing a beret and speaking in constant haiku would be showing in New York City to a room full of people wearing black. His arrangements were pretty and I appreciated what I got of his message and I am sure there is more to it. Or should I say, I hope there is more to it. And those ladies that filled the room? Even those that understood the language I felt were a bit mystified at the end of the demonstration. It was a nice day for seeing both sides of a coin.

Lunch was served while Masaru went around the room taking questions. I could have asked a million questions and still not gotten what I just saw. Instead, I focused on the fact that on my salad what I thought was cheese turned out to be tiny whole fish. After half the salad was eaten, I felt pretty committed and just kept on keeping on. Pumpkin soup was served which I must learn how to make, followed by the main course of what was thought to be scallop cake (ground scallop mixed with breading and egg) smothered in a cheesy, creamy sauce. Dessert was strawberry custard with coconut milk on top and fresh fruit of kiwi, berries and pineapple.

We chatted with many women and I met some new women and re-met some others. The Spanish moss that was used in the demonstration was actually a huge point of conversation. I didn’t realize but they do not have it here. I mentioned what we called it in English and opened the door for many more questions about it. I’m no expert on moss but I shared what I could. It was actually nice to feel that I knew something about anything for once and people were learning from me.

The afternoon winded down and my dear friend who had been so kind to pick me up and drive me to the meeting made her way back towards my house. We were turning off the toll road when I saw a sign that pointed towards Zushi. Wouldn’t you know that the sign meant that it was the entrance from Zushi onto another toll road? Who puts a sign with the place where you are at on the sign and not the direction you are in fact heading? We had to go the whole way to the next town, pay more tolls get off and drive the whole way back home. Thankfully Fumie and I laughed about it but I felt so bad for my poor sense of direction. Someone send me a map… please! Or she may never want me to go with her again!

Wednesday, October 18

Ikebana Arrangement #8

This morning I woke up at 7:45. I'm usually up by 7:30 but aware as I was that I was already past my internal alarm time, I decided that I could benefit from another fifteen minutes. Just when I shut my eyes, the third earthquake (that I have felt) hit. It was definitely God's way of rousing me. And it worked. I got dressed, whitened my teeth, wash-and-waxed my JapaCapaBox and then went to class. The excitement in my life just never stops.

I am pretty proud of this one though. I think it's extra special pretty. I think it's the big balls.

Slanting Style - Arrangement #8

Tuesday, October 17

With Mine Own Eyes

I would never have believed it to be true if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes today. Sitting in traffic on Route 16, about to enter into a tunnel and there standing at the edge of archway in plain view was a man urinating. Not even close to the wall or hiding behind a tree! Just standing there in his khakis, dress shirt and tie, pants unzipped and relieving himself for all the passersby to see. I heard that people weren’t shy about doing this but I kind of thought in a land where politeness reigns king today, that this may be one of those past acts long unseen for the common good. How very wrong I was. I seriously hope that I never find a woman here dropping ‘trou’ in a similar fashion.

In other news today, I happened to be on my way to the Hayama Art Museum for the second try. I’ll open the table for bets now on whether or not it was actually open and we actually went in.

Monday, October 16

Moooo… or whatever the Japanese Deer Said

Wouldn’t know what teh Japanese deer said because I couldn’t read the signs. Yet again.

Along with Japanese deer, we also saw something that we guessed to be a breed of panda…

A breed of crocodile with a very skinny snot…

Lots and lots o’ monkeys (like having my family with me again *wa-wa-wa-waaahh*) (Psst - Can anyone explain what they are doing in this picture?)

Peacocks or at least something similar to them…

My fav, the peng-bird species…

All that and more… some marsupial thing, flamingos, lions, tigers and a fake bear – oh, my! Seriously – a fake polar bear behind a heavily locked cage that obviously housed a bear in the distant past. Just buy another one already and dump the silly fake.

Yes, we were at the zoo on Sunday! The Nogeyama Zoo in Yokohama. We actually managed to walk there from the train station twenty minutes away with no directions and didn’t even get lost. There was one very long all uphill stretch where I almost quit and headed right back to the train station. But the thought of going to the zoo kept me going. Or was it my obstinate inner self merely living another bad Nike commercial? Either way, we made it there and the zoo was… mweh. About the size of the Washington Zoo with a lot more hills. They say there were 110 species but I think they might have counted the bugs that happen to live in Yokohama. Why, you are asking, did you get such shoddy descriptions of the animals? That is a mighty fine question! And the mighty fine answer would be that all of the signs were in Japanese (uh… duh) and they had nicely provided an English translation… but guess what the English said... the scientific name! Which did us no good whatsoever. While I really love sharing with you all, I simply refuse to try to learn the scientific names for 110 species on any given day. I have to do that learning stuff soon enough. I can’t be made to do it now in addition!

Once you are all done with looking at the pretty animals, there is a petting zoo! They will let you hold baby chicks, white mice, black mice, tan mice, gerbils and even a small rooster. This was the only place at the zoo that was entirely packed! They were going nuts for this. One girl even wrapped two gerbils in a Barbie blanket to hold them and keep them warm.

After an hour or so, we had seen enough of the zoo and went in search of nourishment. CoCo Curry is the new Mickey D’s! My nose ran; my eyes watered; it was just right.

I do wonder where they get their meat from, what with the zoo being so close and all.

Sunday, October 15

Signs, Signs, Everywhere are Signs

One of my favorite things to do here is to get in my car and take a long drive. Not something the Japanese do much as most are much more reliant on train service. I’m getting better with the trains but I just feel that you miss so much of the experience when you are whisking by areas at top speed and barely seeing those little neighborhoods around you.

While out running errands on Friday, I went to pull out of the Livin parking lot (aka Japanese Wal-sucking-mart) (…of which I found not a single thing on my list) and make my usual right turn back towards home when Jesus seemed to take the wheel and I made a left instead. I drove to the end of the peninsula, laughing at the gas gauge on “E” the whole time. (Hey… you know what… I just realized that they use “E” for “Empty.” Why does my Japanese box car have kanji everywhere else but English on the gauges? Interesting. Anyway…) I knew I was taking a risk that I would run out of gas and be stranded somewhere that I wouldn’t be able to give directions to. My course was a random one at best. But something in me did it anyway. Oh, yeah. Stupidity. Fortunately all panned out and I got to see this.

Now who was the genius that must have experienced something he/she shouldn’t have to deem placing this sign in this worthy place? And they nicely put it in English as well for those of us who would otherwise stand there gaping at the sea.
“When you feel an earthquake move away from the seashore and evacuate to a safe place”

Beautiful rustic beach and town though… called Kannonzaki. Wouldn’t imagine it is an older town if this sign was positioned due to incident however.

Wednesday, October 11

Ikebana Arrangement #7

Another day, another class. This would probably be my favorite arrangement so far. While the picture doesn't entirely show it, I got to do a lot more bending and manipulating of the leaves and vines today. Plus, I really love the yellow gladioluses.

Slanting Style - Arrangement #7

Tuesday, October 10

Ch, Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes

You may or may not have noticed that I have been altering some things on this site. For totally selfish reasons, of course! 1) To make it purr-ty. And 2) to make it easier for you and me. Double bonus, right?

If you haven’t noticed anything specific beyond the look of the page… one of the first things I did was to add a photos link on the side bar. This will give you access to all the pictures I would typically overwhelm your inboxes with. (Bosses everywhere can thank me!) Now you can view at your leisure instead of having to rifle through hundreds of photos of one little shrine I saw and just loved and forced it on you until you wanted to lose your religion. Of course, I am no where near done with the uploading of the actual pictures yet. Oh, no! Didn’t think I would be that on the ball, did you? Be patient. They should all be there by the end of this week.

People also ask occasionally if there is anything I need that I can’t get here. EVERYTHING! is what I want to say. Finding deodorant is a hell of a task in a Japanese drug store. I’ll tell you now… send anything your little heart desires. To help with narrowing the search down a little, I added a link to my wish list in the sidebar for your ease. I’ve had the list for a few years but only few know about it. (Hi, moms!) If you do send a care package and it happens to have chattering teeth in it, I may rank you up there with one of the greatest friends ever... who sent me just that with a note on it that read “I saw this and thought of you. It’s perfect since I miss your chatter.” (Thanks, BB!)

Of course we all know that I can’t get my hands on enough books… ever. Especially here where I can neither read backwards nor read the chicken scratch like etchings of the beautiful Japanese language. I added another little sidebar link showing what I am reading these days. Please take a look and let me know if you have any recommendations. My “to read” list is always able to handle a few more suggestions. I’ll just have to up the amount I read to 25 books a year. Gah. Seriously, I will read all recommendations and just neglect some of my own additions if necessary.

And while we are speaking of recommendations, I’m missing American radio. A lot. And TV. And wings. And football. And shopping. Oh… hi! Sorry I got a little distracted for a second. Is there something that you love to listen to lately and would like to share? All types of music are enjoyed here in the Kimono household. I typically listen to melancholy alternative and indie rock but I will never shun a good new artist. I did happen to come across the new song by Snow Patrol called “Chasing Cars” and can’t stop listening to it on repeat. Somebody stop me and give me a new song before my neighbors do me in with a sashimi knife.

Any other changes you think I need to make? Not that I will do it. But I will take it into consideration, of course.

Monday, October 9

Never Gonna Be A Mouseketeer

Before we moved, there was a commercial on TV that these kids were tucked in their beds and whispering about going to Disneyland when they were supposed to be sleeping. When the mom tells them to go to sleep, the little boy says, “But we’re too excited to sleep!” Only to find out the dad couldn’t sleep for his own share of the excitement either.

I spent all of Saturday night trying hard not to think about Disneyland and just make myself go to sleep… listening for that TV mom to come in to my room and tell me to do so. I woke about every hour and looked at the clock like I was five-years-old again.

I couldn’t pretend anymore so I finally got up out of bed, much earlier than anyone would ever expect for me to, and trudged immediately to the computer. I went directly onto the Tokyo Disneyland website just to make sure all was a go for the day and then bounded down the stairs to get dressed and ready as quickly as possible. We were out the door in no time.

We drove which we normally don’t do but since we were leaving so early, we decided it might be easier than the train. An hour in and we were only 8 km. away. Then something very bad happened. Traffic. Two hours of it to be precise. Guess where it was going? One guess.

We knew that Monday was a Japanese holiday which is precisely why we decided to go on Sunday. We also knew it would still be extra busy but it was a beautiful day and perfect weather for a day at an amusement park.

The traffic jams made us slightly crabby (read: pissed off with one another for the other not suggesting more firmly that we take the train) but we finally arrived. We went through the gate and were pleasantly surprised when they wouldn’t collect our money for parking. Of course she couldn’t speak English and made us read this board about not selling any more tickets for the day but since we had our tickets, it didn’t affect us.

More waiting in traffic lines and we finally get to park and start the long walk to the entrance. The tensions of earlier erased and nothing but excitement for the day ahead of us!

At the gate, we come upon a mob scene. People seem to be shoving themselves in past the first entrance gate to get to the actual main gate and others seem to be standing aimlessly in the way. We politely pushed and shoved and made our way to the gate where the lady looks at our tickets, says something in Japanese and looks at us pointedly. Huh? She says it again… in Japanese… as if I will get it the second time. Nope. She walks us over to a board which says something about not selling any more tickets until maybe 1700 hours. That’s okay we say as we shove our tickets back into her face. Looking helplessly around her for someone’s assistance but no one apparently spoke English working at that gate. A Japanese man who is also trying to enter the park notices the circumstance we seem to have found ourselves in and comes over to help. He says we can’t buy tickets and we again say, practically shouting “yes-but-we-have-tickets-!-SEEEE” Those tickets don’t work he tells us because they don’t have today’s date on it. Now, this is where I get really frustrated with living in a foreign country. Nothing said you had to have tickets with today’s date on it… just tickets already purchased like we did as you couldn’t buy them that day. I’m sure on the Japanese portion of the website, it was clear. But on the English… Lost in Translation. We checked remember! And then drove! And then walked! To a galaxy far, far away!

It became quickly apparent that we weren’t getting in. Dejectedly, we started back to the car. Both back to our earlier miserable angry states and both blaming the other for not doing this or that or whatever the hell would have made everything okay. As we open the doors, I can hear the shouts of joy on the other side of the wall and can just feel the tears welling up so I quickly get in and close the door. Tight. We drive back out of the parking lot and the monorail passes us and I really start to cry. Big, fat, hot, juicy tears streaming down my cheeks and Kimono Hubby getting more uptight with me. I sputter something out about never going to Disneyland and I obviously never will. It’s like whales… it just doesn’t exist… I cry! I’ve been on many whale watching tours and never seen a stupid whale and now I’ve been to Disneyland and never seen Disneyland so therefore it just doesn’t exist... you know?

He promised to try and prove that Disneyland exists in two weeks. We’ll see about that.

This is a picture of how close Kimono Hubby got to proving its existence to me.

Then we drove hours back home. We didn’t even try to recover the day. I just took a nap instead.

Damn Disneyland. And damn the whales too.

My Day Long Demonstration Of A Lack Of Poise

One particularly beautiful, sunny day spent in Tokyo and one wish fulfilled. I have made my very first Japanese friend.

We actually met in Ikebana class but that isn’t really an opportunity for good conversation since the task at hand keeps us focused. She invited me to an Ikebana demonstration in central Tokyo on Saturday. Excited for the experience and knowing how very nice the Japanese dress, I pulled out all the stops and ended up looking very downtown classy and ready for my day out.

On the train ride there, I got the opportunity to really talk to my new friend who brought along her daughter that just happens to be my age and shares many of my interests. (Was her mom intervening and placing us in the same place at the same time for a reason? Probably! And I’m thrilled she did! I just hope she thinks I'm cool enough to hang out with.) They didn’t mind me throwing question after question their way about things I have seen and long pondered since moving here. Actually for the entire day, I bombarded them with questions about their life, Japanese customs and traditions. Each question received the same type of careful response and left nothing yet unanswered.

Arriving at the demonstration early, we took the chance to sit down and have tea and dessert and talk in a better atmosphere than bobbing around on the train. Another American friend of theirs met us there. Once it was time for the demonstration, the four of us made our way to upstairs. My friend was very eager to introduce her daughter and myself to everyone in the room and she knew just about everyone there. We personally met the Sensei who was giving the demonstration and her two nephews, as well as the woman responsible for creating the amazing, modern pottery that filled the rooms. Upon introduction, we maintained the appropriate customary bowing. This actually got to be rather humorous to me as the day went on. I have never before encountered a situation where I was so totally immersed in a room of all Japanese and their customs. Saying hello and goodbye and the constant bowing and graciousness… it is a lot of hard work to keep up with!

Once everyone was seated for the demonstration, there were about fifty people in the room with no more than ten men and a total of four Americans… myself, my host’s friend, a stranger and my host’s daughter who is Japanese American. To say we stood out is an understatement. Each time I looked up and around the room (we were once again in the front row), I would find many eyes running across our little ensemble.

During the Ikebana demonstration, the Sensei described her actions as an interpreter dictated them in English. I had a pretty good grasp of Ikebana prior to this event but my understanding is so much stronger now thanks to my host friend and the sensei. My appreciation of the art I am learning grew immensely over that one very special day spent with them.

Sensei completed two arrangements - the first a very traditional hanging style which I fell in love with although it is much harder than it looks and I doubtfully will be trying it anytime soon - and the second a freestyle, more modern arrangement like the style I am learning, she went on to tell us about the Japanese handwriting prints that filled the room. It seems this woman has spent her life developing traditional Japanese arts and has learned how to write all styles of handwriting including those from thousands of years ago which have long since evolved and are all but forgotten. What an amazing path to take in life… preserving these things so that people today and tomorrow can continue to appreciate their exquisite past arts and therefore their remarkable heritage.

Traditional Japanese dance was also presented to us in the course of the demonstration. To explain the dance… it would be what you would expect a Geisha to perform… but Geisha are not the only people who have mastered the traditional dance. This was one of the highlights of my day actually. I wish I could find the words to describe the fluidity and elegance of her polished moves and how it drew you in even if you didn’t understand the words being sung in the background. I felt myself swaying softly with her as she moved across the floor.

With the demonstration complete, we were ushered into another room for tea and cookies. This was definitely a day for a lady who lunches. I think I could fit in nicely if everyone would stop gawking at me for a few minutes. I did find myself talking with my hands and several times reminded myself to place them calmly in my lap and to try to maintain a bit more poise. It’s so very hard for me when I was just fascinated by what I was seeing and wanted to know every little detail of how and why that very same instant.

After we spent another thirty minutes bowing to show our thanks… our goodbyes… and just how damn good our bow was… we made our way back to the train. I don’t think I stopped talking the whole way home. My host friend was fabulous as I hung on to every word and every bit of knowledge she was willing to share, which was a lot. She has made it her purpose in life to help people experience everything they would like to about Japan. I can’t believe my luck that she ended up taking the same Ikebana class that I do and she has been such a wonderful and patient friend to someone so new and overly eager at times.

I could honestly bow to her all day long to show her just how happy I am that we have become friends.

Friday, October 6

I Got It, I Got It, I Got It!

I’m so excited I can barely breathe right now. After a week’s worth of uploading various programs, opening up portals for hundreds of viruses, running scan after scan to clean our system up… I finally got it!


There were only two things I really, really hated the idea of giving up to move here. Lost and Gilmore Girls. I still don’t have Gilmore Girls but I have Lost, baby! I managed to upload it virus-free less than an hour ago and watched it the second that status changed to “file complete.”

Was Carl a plant? Is the same guy on Jake’s operating table the burly guy in the Others camp? Who the hell are the Others anyway? Ben?… and that look? Sawyer and Kate… still seriously ick. Cannot stand Sarah and her cold-hearted, bitchy self. How dare she dis beautiful Jake. The other guy wasn’t even cute! I honestly think I’m dying here over having just watched what I did. I know I am days late (not for lack of trying remember) but let’s talk. I desperately want to discuss and I’m so missing Thursday lunch chats with Lanie. But I’ve seen it and I’m ready now.

While you are all still sleeping, I’m going to head over and read spoilers and fan sites until I collapse.

And if anyone tapes Gilmore Girls… send it now! Pretty please?

And I promise not to talk about Lost every week. At least not here. Be prepared for emails though.

Thursday, October 5

Completely Unimportant Information That I Felt I Just Had To Share

Back in June, I saw my eye doctor back home for the last time. After a thorough exam, I was handed a new prescription. One that would hopefully stop the headaches that were popping their ugly, little faces up every time I turned around. And what did I do with that prescription? I put it in my purse and didn’t touch the silly paper again. Psssh. I don’t need new glasses when my old ones work perfectly fine. I don’t even mind the piece of tape in the middle. But the headaches… well, them I mind.

So today I broke down and bought some shiny new four eyes. The very best part – red, they are! Yes, I jumped on the bandwagon of trendy googlies and I love them! I have even overlooked the hair fiasco because of my now prettied eyes. (Okay, maybe I made an appointment for next week – but I AM overlooking until then!) And that, folks… that is the end of today’s useless information sharing.

I want to go put these new eye babies to better use than looking up porn.

Wednesday, October 4

Ikebana Arrangement #6… And Some Mushy Stuff

The first thing I have to say is… truly… my cup runneth over. The comments of kindness you wrote and the thoughtful, loving words via email after my last post seriously brought tears to my eyes. If you ever need a boost to your self-esteem, I highly recommend this blogging stuff. I am continually amazed at the reaction I get to my random stringing of words into somewhat coherent sentences. Thank you all for making me feel so very inspired. And more importantly, so very touched.

Other than school stuff and trying to get a substitute teachers job (50 page application – bah!), I have haven’t had much time for fun this week. Tomorrow I even get the joy of getting fingerprinted! So no fun stuff to report so far this week. However, we are trying to get to Disneyland this weekend, weather permitting. A first for me! Yes, what a sad case I am… never went to Disneyland back home and had to come the whole way to Tokyo to do so. I’m going to be such a kid again and pictures with Mickey and Minnie will be a must. I will hunt their butts down, I tell you.

As it is Wednesday, it is Ikebana day in my world… class number six and second in the Slanting style. I only had to move one tiny thing once I had completed the arrangement. Things are starting to appear to me as I am composing and I correct mistakes on my own now. Whomever the first smarty was that sad ‘practice makes perfect’, I commend you.

Today’s lesson was actually a workshop where about ten students from the Yokohama school joined our small class. Workshop I found out also means certificates. Though none for me yet. I need three months of classes to reach my first certificate but I’m plowing away to get there. They were wrapped in a red folder with a golden emblem on them and each student that earned their latest level had their picture taken with Sensei as she presented it. As if I needed more motivation than just really loving floral design, seeing that certificate made me a very greedy girl. Come on November!

I leave you with the latest: a creation of bandanas (the long leaves), wax flowers (the tiny purple ones) and white Sukashi lilies.

Slanting Style – Arrangement #6

Monday, October 2

Well, I'll Be A Terrapin

Jerry: What will you have to do with the university?
Beanie: Legally speaking there will be a loose affiliation. But, we will give nothing back to the academic community. As well as provide no public service of any kind. This much I promise you.

Old School is by far one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. If you haven’t seen it, you must.

I wish it could be that much fun when I give it a go soon but I somehow doubt that my experience will be anything like the experiences of Mitch, Frank and Beanie.

My father recently said that his one regret was that he didn’t encourage his children towards college more. While it probably would have helped (dad’s words still ring so very loudly in my ears), I don’t think anything he said would have changed the way I went about things back then. Or that way my only sibling, a younger brother, did things either. We both graduated from high school and went on to get our Associate’s degrees, me taking a year off first and him right out of high school. It wasn’t that we weren’t motivated to work hard for the ultimate, American ‘good’ life, we just did the best we thought we could with the resources that we had.

My brother went to school, graduated, got a good paying job which he has been at for many years now, married four years ago and has two beautiful kids. Looks like he did pretty well in achieving his hopes and dreams. And he certainly seemed to get his act together well before I did.

After high school, I spent my first year taking off on my earliest solo adventure to a new city only days after turning 18. It was a hard year where I learned a lot and grew even more fiercely independent than I ever was before. As the first year on my own came to an end, I packed up and headed back home to start on an Associate’s degree. I went to school fulltime and worked almost as many hours as a waitress to keep the bills paid. I always knew school was something I had to do to get those good jobs and to be a better person. This is how I knew I could get it. No one ever got the good stuff without a little sweat and a lot of tears.

In two years, I finished a Medical Assisting program, got an internship in an Internal Medicine practice and landed my first ‘career job’ from there. I still planned on going back to get a Bachelor’s degree, even though I always struggled with what it was that I exactly wanted to be when I grew up. I don’t think it matters what you go for as long as you do it. Poor message if you ask me. But that’s the way life is. It took two years to get myself more financially stable and eventually managing to find the time and the cash to get back on track to the next stage of school. While working fulltime as a medical assistant, I started at York College as a part-time student.

It was as grueling as the first time around and I gave a lot of freedoms to do it. During these years, I moved so many times that it got ridiculous to even fill out change of address cards. I went where the rent was cheap so I could do everything I had to – work to pay the bills, go to classes and keep my grades up and still be able to enjoy my 20s the way you are supposed to. Sometimes this meant I had to move back home for a few months where my parents graciously allowed me to come in and out as I chose. Sometimes this meant I had to work more and do less class and sometimes the other way around. I often had to quit jobs and find new ones so classes fit into this frenzied schedule better. It was a time of sporadic bursts of energy and weeks where I just dragged myself along from one task to the next, not even looking towards results anymore. As long as I kept going, no matter how I did it, I was still doing it. I thought that was all that mattered.

From 1993 to 2000, school and work were all that my life was about. And it made me absolutely hate it. I couldn’t stand the long hours and lack of sleep anymore. I was emotionally and physically drained and wanted so much to be free of all of the damn responsibilities and be a kid again.

I went on a white water trip in the summer of 2000. We made our way from Pennsylvania, to meet up with friends in Virginia and then on to the wilds of West Virginia. After a few days spent with them, I got one of those twitches again that it was time for a change. As we drove home from the kind of trip that makes you wish you never had to leave vacation, we all discussed moving to Virginia and starting a new life. I certainly was ready for it. I was the only one that went for it.

I found a great job with a client I had in Pennsylvania, found a roommate and an apartment and three short weeks after my trip, I was a resident of Virginia, looking forward to a complete lifestyle change. I had given up school for the time being and a job back home. I was desperate for something new and challenging but without the pressure I had been putting on myself.

As I settled in to my new area, I decided that it wasn’t time for school just yet. I didn’t feel like rushing back to that old life of too many working hours and not enough life left in me at the end of every day. So I just… didn’t.

You know how life starts to go by so fast… and you love it too much to want to change a thing? I lived in Virginia from July 2000 to July 2006. It seems like a blur. A fabulous blur where I feel like I really made myself who I am today. I found new friends that I can’t live without. I found a husband who loves to experience things with me. But I never found that school was a calling in all that time. To even contemplate taking away what I had then was unfathomable.

And now.

There was a to-do list for Japan. Sitting in its mighty position number one is to finish that degree I have long dreamed about. I’m finally going to finish what I started.

I’m writing all of this because this lack of a Bachelor's is something I have long been truly embarrassed about. I hate being asked where I went to school as if that is the only standard I should be judged on. I am so proud of the amazing family and friends in my life that have their degree or degrees. I’m so proud of those that don’t who are some of the smartest people I have ever known. Yet, it destroys me that I am never going to be worthwhile to anyone in this world until I have the same piece of paper to frame and hang on the wall that others do. What’s even worse is that no one else probably even thinks these things about me but that years of beating myself up for not being like everyone else, for not doing things in the way everyone else did, has forced me to insist to myself that having a degree will somehow make me valuable to my friends and to the world in general. What kind of foolish standards are those that I have given to myself? Shouldn’t it be enough that I am a good, loving, loyal person? And yet, it will just never be. Not for me. I find myself constantly struggling to find my sense of worth.

I finally have the time to – borrowing a highly overused slogan – just do it. I’m registered. I start classes in November. I’m going to be a fulltime student again but this time without the eight hours of regular work on top of class. No distractions. Just the time to finally do this. For everyone who has asked what school I went to. For my dad to be proud that I got what he wanted no matter how or when I got there. But mostly for myself. So I can finally move on with my life and worry about the one hundred other reasons why I’m not good enough that we all struggle with. It’s about damn time.

Sunday, October 1

How Bazaar

This rainy weekend marked our first Yokosuka Bazaar, a massive two day sale. There are actually small sales held almost every weekend with some of the same vendors from this weekend, but this is the mother load with goods coming in from all over the eastern part of the world. It’s a fantastic time to Christmas shop (and just shop in general but don’t tell Kimono Hubby I said that because he thinks I have tamed that down… and I have, mostly). And shop we did. We went Saturday and bought many gifts and threw them on the bed for me to wrap and get ready for shipping. After returning home, I decided I had to go back on Sunday to pick up a few more items that people totally couldn’t live without. Have no doubt that the majority of gifts we have purchased will come from the Bazaar this weekend. So no returning them. Don’t think you could even if you tried. There is always regifting which I would never know about. But you don’t really do that... do you?

Speaking of gifts! KH returned from his carousing with trinkets for me which I made him hand over almost before he took his shoes off to enter the house. There was a pair of Shisha which look like a cross between a dragon and a dog, one with his mouth open and one closed. The legend of the Shisha goes back to the ancient rulers of Okinawa and how they used Shisha to ward off evil spirits. I never knew I needed Shisha to help with this until I had them! I also was given a Ryukyu hand blown glass bowl and hand blown glass necklace. Ryukyu glass is a traditional craft in Okinawa which dates back prior to World War II when Okinawans learned to make glass to create medicine bottles. During World War II, sadly the Okinawa glass industry was nearly destroyed by the bombings and local craftsmen had to rebuild from scratch. American forces had left behind a lot of glass bottle waste which the Okinawans collected and began melting down to make their glassware. The recycled glass had a lot of air bubbles in it which has become a signature of Ryukyu glass but was initially thought to be a defect. Today, these pieces are considered works of art and I am quite certain you have seen Ryukyu glass in the states.

So yes, I’m a bit spoiled. I have a damn good husband who has a knack for picking out meaningful and interesting gifts.

Hopefully you will all the say the same about him and I went you receive your Christmas presents!