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Wednesday, November 29

Ikebana Arrangement #13

Yesterday was to be my last Ikebana class for the next month. I trimmed a flower too short to make this arrangement universally appealing but I indeed finally mastered the Horizontal style.

Moribana Horizontal – Arrangement #13

For the next few weeks before I hop a plane back to the states to get in some quality family time, it is all about reading, writing and arithmetic. The latter only in the case when I am teaching it thankfully. I have been substituting more days than I care to recently due to the fact that I will never, ever learn to say that simple word ‘no’. Because all I can say are affirming statements, I am forced to squeeze in evening hours with the my seven own school books in the evening hours.

Being honestly with you though… the problem isn’t really even that fact that I am so busy. The problem is how I deal with things in my own high-strung, slightly neurotic, antithesis of a procrastinating way. I insist on finishing all reading assignments the week before they are due to be discussed. I insist on handing in all papers at least one week prior to the due date. And I insist on being the first to respond in all conferences so it looks like everyone that answers similarly to me afterwards has just blatantly copied off of me. It makes me feel smart but also be so very stupid. I know most of you recall how I said I was going for this zen kind of life where I spent my time of the virtual tide of happy, peaceful cohesion with the world at large. I haven’t given up on that goal but I think the goal gave up on me and I have only fallen deeper into a pattern of doing it now, now, NOW! No matter. New Year’s is fast approaching and those resolutions that I vowed for this past year will be wiped clean off my slate and I will be able to once again start on those very same goals I didn’t accomplish last year. If you’re the betting kind, tell me… will I do it next year?

As I am going away for the weekend, it is time for me to continue with the reading due two weeks from now. You know… uhhh… just in case… uhhh… next week I don’t have the time.

Tuesday, November 28

All These Things That I've Done

Japanese festivals are held in the fall and spring and are a good opportunity to experience a lot of culture all at one time and place. Fumie told me of one such festival this past weekend and Sunday found me with even more experience under that ever widening belt of encounters.

Upon entering, we went straight to the Ikebana section where another friend was showing the Ikenobu style of Ikebana. Of course we took a lesson! It never hurts to experience every school when there is an opportunity. I personally loved this as it was very much a free style, and indeed what it was called even.

Leaving there, we strolled by the origami table for a glance but I had other missions in my mind. Japanese Tea Ceremony. Prior to entering the tatami room, we removed our shoes and quietly entered the room to a few spots in the corner. Sitting Japanese style with our legs tucked underneath us, it only took five minutes before my toes were entirely numbed. Sweets are served prior to tea by a woman who sits directly in front of you. There is a ceremonial way of doing everything, even eating this artfully painted cookie filled with green, gooey goodness that she has placed in front of you. The cookie is placed on a position in between you and the woman but not on the mat you are sitting. You bow to the woman who serves and they bow back and then you move the cookie towards you and then slowly proceed to pick it up and eat it. It is served on a napkin and you do not place the napkin back on the mat but instead in a pocket or the folds of a kimono.

Then tea is made and served to you. Same procedure for placement and bowing but when it is set down, the nice side of the cup will be facing you. You pick it up, turn it two times so that the nice side is now facing out and then using both hands to hold the tea, you drink. The container is less like a tea cup and more like a bowl but that could have just been the location with which we were at. The tea itself is a grassy green shade and thick from the ground tea leaves. Placing the cup carefully down, they collect them and move to the next step.

A woman will again seat herself in front of you, this time with a container in her hands filled with scent. I completely forget what she said but it could be a few different things. I think this one was sandalwood. Cupping your hands in a very particular manner to capture the scent, you bend your head to smell from each side of you nose and then once from the whole nose. The scent is meant to calm you.

And then you are done!

We took an extra step and went to another room to learn how to prepare the tea. Pretty simple but of course done with reverence, you put the hot water in the cup, add the tea leaves and then use the wooden brush in a quick flicking motion back and forth to the front and back of the cup to mix it. You have to mix it some time to get the tea leaves to dissolve. Of course, a sweet before you drink it which in this case was a little cookie shaped like a dove and yet another napkin in my pocket (later was actually beneficial when I couldn’t find TP but that is totally not noteworthy to share) and then you drink your self-made cup of tea. You drink it quickly or the tea leaves start to separate again. Or perhaps it was just that I didn’t flick hard enough to start.

Filled with green tea and cookies, we headed to our next destination and the exact thing I have been waiting to do since I arrived… Kimono dressing! Yes, Kimono Karen can finally fully assume that title.

I knew this was quite a procedure but I have an even more profound respect for this beautiful costume now. It took two women tugging and pulling about fifteen minutes to get the under layers and kimono on me. This part included straps that I didn’t quite understand what they were for and towels tied high above my waist to make a clean, straight line followed by the kimono itself. Then another fifteen minutes for the various pieces of the obi to be placed on me. The obi is the gold part high on my waist and it is the piece that makes the kimono. These ladies fluffed and tugged and tucked and pulled until I was cinched within an inch of my breathing well being. Once this is all done, I had to sit for another ten minutes while they did my hair. Of course, you can’t bend anymore so I sat entirely straight with perhaps the best posture I have ever exhibited in my life! I should wear this thing every day. The final picture… I think it came out pretty well. I’m no Japanese empress as I only wore three layers (well, two and one that was made to look like a third) and the empress wears up to twelve, but I think I did pretty well. Most importantly, I really experienced the part I was waiting for during my time living here. There is only one other time in my life that I have honestly felt so pretty and that was on my wedding day. If I could wear a kimono every day just to boost my self-image, I totally would. Of course I would need to hire a staff to dress me which I am guessing would be out of the question with Kimono Hubby.

I pranced around for some time while Fumie snapped pictures and I really never wanted to take it off. Alas, it was getting late so I reluctantly let them peel off the layers of my new self, back to regular breathing, boring little me.

But, the day was not to be completed yet! There was one more thing I wanted to try. Japanese Shodo… a form of calligraphy. Out of three words to learn, I choose the word “tomo,” or friend if you want the plain English of it. They help you through the first and second and then let you practice on a third and then give you an art board with which Japanese Shodo artists use to paint their art on. This white board is tipped in gold and as elegantly as I could, I wrote tomo down in Japanese character. For a first attempt, it wasn’t actually bad. The last step was a paper wall calendar that you again write your word on. Who knows, someone may get lucky and earn this little gem as a Christmas present! Who wants to get lucky?
There were so many other events at the festival and other things to try. The afternoon was dwindling down and it was time to go home, however, and leave the rest for another day and another festival. I grinned the whole way home and pronounced upon entering through the door that this may have been my very best day yet here in this foreign home of mine.

Sunday, November 26

Holiday Times In The Land Of The Rising Sun

Clearly indicating that we have finally crossed into the fall season, the trees have begun to change color. Back home, this is the first indication of fall holidays and the quickly approaching Christmas season. With the leaves just now changing here and only in the subtlest of golden ways, nothing compared to the prism of colors in the Northeast region that I call home, I feel like I am behind in my holiday spirit.

Halloween came and went with barely a notice. It was still shorts and T-shirts weather during the day hours and did nothing for my imagination of ghosts and ghouls that hide in dark, damp and cold places.

Thanksgiving was yet another flash holiday. The week prior, you could already find the 7-11 down the street with the tackiest array of flashing lights on and off of an overwhelmed Christmas tree. We did our best to keep the thanks flowing in our humble abode.

The weekend saw me completing my grocery list for the big meal. My very first turkey. What an experience. Mom had given me all the directions for the turkey preparation and cooking and also the recipe to make her special stuffing (a family recipe). My other Mom (KH’s) gave me the recipe for her special stuffing (another family recipe). I made pumpkin pie two days before. I cut up three loaves of bread the night before and arose early to get things underway on the big day. Following tiny torn sheets of paper that I had written the recipes on, I cleaned the turkey, prepared the stuffings and mangled the bird pan to make it fit in my small oven. Time for the stuffing of the bird and, consequently, wretching. I am one who loves to cook but this is by far the most horrible thing I have ever had to prepare. I can handle cooking poultry if it doesn’t look like its original form. As fast as I could go, I squeezed what I could into the cavity and then practically threw the whole damn thing in the oven. Then I had to take a fifteen minute break to wash my hands, clean under my nails, wash my hands again, rinse, lather, repeat.

For the next five hours, I prepared the rest of the dishes, straightened the house and waited for our guests to arrive. One all-American Detroit man and his date, a lovely and wonderful Japanese girl. Upon their arrival, I reminded both again that this was a first attempt and therefore I was not responsible for any delays, disgusts or subsequent illnesses. The turkey came late to the party but when he finally did join us, he was looking and tasting mighty fine. Of course, that is until an inexperienced Kimono Hubby took what we only guessed was the carving knife to him.

With the pristine white table cloth completely covered in dishes, it was time to sit down and give up that thanks and enjoy.

One thing your momma never told you about making this meal… you will spend all day preparing it and then the minute it is ready, you don’t want to eat a damn thing. It’s entirely wrong to do to a woman but that is exactly what happened. I filled up on red wine and cranberry sauce instead, and only the cranberry sauce because I didn’t make it and only spent time pouring it from a can. (Thank you, Ocean Spray!)

Honestly, it was a lovely meal and everyone seemed to enjoy their second plate fulls. We played some Trivial Pursuit just like we were back home and my whole family was sitting around the table trying yet again to prove they are the smartest of them all.

When our guests were completely full of meal and pie, we kicked them out the door into the rain and told them to walk it off on their way to the train. Not really. What really happened was that KH drove them down to the station and I collapsed onto the floor in a heap of exhaustion vowing never to try that again. (I’ll be home next year, Moms, so get them cooking fingers ready!)

Other than our guest for the day, it seems that the Japanese really care nothing for our Thanksgiving holiday… but they do love to tacky up Christmas!

We did not bring any of our decorations with us. They sadly are housed in storage somewhere in northern Virginia. The only and only piece I cared about was the tree. I was bound and determined to have one here. We had gone to Daiei (mall chain here in Japan) last weekend and found ourselves the perfect specimen. Only 3,900 Yen (about $32 bucks at the exchange rate that day) and it came with all its own fixin’s. At the counter to pay, the woman opened the box to show us inside and we honestly laughed out loud to see lights, tinsel, red ornaments, gold pinecones and one very large plastic “Merry Christmas” just waiting inside for us. They certainly don’t sell them like that back home! Japan is one very strange place, in case I haven’t mentioned it before.

The day after Thanksgiving, we spent the evening putting up our plastic tree. We had a handful of ornaments we bought at a bazaar a few months ago to add to the array. Behold the glory that is the Kimono Christmas Tree! (For ornament close-ups, check out the Flickr link on the sidebar.)

We placed it on a box to make it look a wee bigger. I really think they make them that short because most Japanese people barely even reach that height and I just don’t think they care for the whole ladder to put the star on top idea. Or maybe it is just that short because we bought the cheapest one instead of the one that cost 6,900 Yen and was a full foot taller. That tree didn’t come with guts though so it only got two big tongues stuck out at it as we walked away with the wee one.

This tree would be the entire extent of our decorating. Well, unless you qualify the candle that I just bought that has some snowflakes on it and looks rather wintery.

So, it may not even look like Halloween outside but Christmas has warmed our hearts inside.

Really though, despite the plane trip, I cannot wait to arrive back at home for the holidays and take in all the spirit that embodies our hometowns. Mom and Dads – get those home fires burning because it is only a few short weeks away!

Oh, and one more thing… would it be too much to ask for a White Christmas? Just checking.

Wednesday, November 22

On a Cold and Dreary Day, Yabusame Promises to Warm Your Heart

Sunday was cold. And wet. The pouring down kind of wet. What better thing could there be to do on a day like that than to head to the beach! Zushi City had advertised a costume parade and Yabusame event that peaked Kimono Hubby’s interest. Starting at the Kamegaoka Shrine in Zushi, men, women and children dressed in period samurai clothes and parade through the streets to the beach, culminating in the Yabusame. I keep saying that word and you are probably wondering what I am talking about. So let me explain.

Yabusame is a traditional martial art form which basically is a mounted archery. A man on a horse at full gallop will charge down the beach and draw and shoot three consecutive arrows at three consecutive targets. The first time they do this, the object is just to hit the target in the center. The second time was so that they could split a block of wood. The third… I don’t know. My fingers had honestly entered stage one of frostbite from the icy rain and brawny winds and we just couldn’t hold out any longer.

The announcement we had read had given a rain date and we honestly drove down to the beach expecting to find it empty. We had purposefully skipped the starting point of the parade because surely there wouldn’t even BE a parade in this rain. The Japanese however are tougher than I. We found them huddled under a few tents on the beach serving warm miso and more wieners on sticks and lining the roped edges where the event would happen. The horses were walked in great circles to keep them warm and ready for their bolt. The men in their flimsy costume… well, I felt for them but they seemed unflinching to the elements that barraged them. The most amazing scene of all for the day had absolutely nothing to do with the event. There in the background, gliding over the small ocean waves, were about thirty windsurfers. I completely understand that wetsuits offer quite a bit of warmth and protection. But there is no way on this sweet earth that those men’s hands were not frozen to their poles. Japanese windsurfers are hardcore!

The rain did unfortunately delay the event unawares to us. We stood in the crowd giving glaring looks to the handful of people who stood next to the targets. When three men stood to give speeches, Kimono Hubby and I were not the only people to completely ignore what they were saying (like we would have understood anyway) and grumble under our breaths for them to just get it started already. One Japanese man kept tapping KH in the shoulder, laughing and telling him “look! No listen!” which I couldn’t help to smile when KH responded and the man laughed one of those laughs that said “I have no idea what you just said.” We get those laughs a lot.

When the time had come for the start, it first took a long, slow walk up and down the beach of the small samurai parade. If only they could have read minds and heard the crowd urging them to hasten the pace.

Of course, there was no warning when the start did happen. Perhaps someone had announced something in Japanese on the loud speaker but we had long since tuned that noise out. And of course the horses are going at a speed where just grabbing a camera and snapping a shot is absolutely not possible. I did my best none-the-less and only came up with a few shots like this. Needless to say, I am definitely no action photographer. No worries about the three small boys that sit next to the target. From what I hear, these archers do not miss which is absolutely amazing given the speed of the event.

There were extended intervals between horses. With only three horses running, they would leisurely all line up and walk back down the beach to the starting point. This would be where we drew the line with waiting and made a mad dash to the car.

I heard whispers from another English speaking group (turns out they were Tasmanian) there that these events happen in the spring and fall at beaches around the Zushi area. We will just wait to catch one when the weather returns to above 13 degrees.

No – I still have no idea what that translates to – other than cold.

Monday, November 20

Add Muslim Model To The Long List Of Jobs I’ve Held

Our Ikebana International Ensemble was invited to the Algerian Embassy last week for a bit of Muslim culture, food and tea ceremony. Everything seemed to be going according to plan when the day took a quick digression... and then this…

Once lunch was served (with Algerian wine which may be a factor in my agreement to this) and we had filled ourselves from a spread of 15 or so dishes, including a dessert table and treats that left our fingers smothered in sticky goodness, the Algerian Ambassador’s wife asked us if she could get a few volunteers for the fashion show that was to take place next. With my lovely model friend at my side, almost waving my hand into the air for me, I found myself in a situation where a man was trying to pry my dessert plate out of my fingers while another pushed me towards a back door leading deeper into the Embassy. I managed to shove one more large, gooey piece of pastry into my mouth before they got me into the elevator.

Ten had volunteered with about half being Japanese and the other half American, or in my friend’s case, Russian. We were ushered into a bedroom on an upper floor where a rolling bar held many glittering costumes. Some dripped with beading and gold threading and some were adorned with bright colors from all over the spectrum. We were told to choose and quickly change. My first concern was fitting into anything which need not have been a worry. There were several costumes with a flowing style to them. As women were grabbing for the glittering gowns, I said… Humph. I like orange. Perhaps next time I will be slightly more concerned with my style of dress? Then again… probably not. Two layers later and I am wearing an orange burka that would even have made Claudia Schiffer look like the Great Pumpkin. It took my friend three different outfits before she settled on a cream colored silk pants set with an embroidered top. Sometimes it pays to be choosier.

Then the orange sash-y piece that I am swirling into the air… just what does one do with it? An Algerian girl approaches me and starts tying it around my head pulling little wisps of my hair out to frame my face. I am a full two feet taller than this girl and she has to wrap and rewrap it, with me finally getting down on my knees so she can wrap it properly.

So there I was in all my orange-y glory. An overripe piece of fruit in a room with women dressed in the queen’s clothes. And I’m their maid.

I do kid. The outfit I wore was a very traditional style of dress perhaps not for the rich of Muslim society but many women have worn and do currently wear. And I wore it well. Back downstairs and one by one we entered the room and did some twirls down the little pathway. I twirled only to make myself look wider in pictures, because isn’t that what every girl wants? To look as big as possible in a picture that will last and last and be out there for the entire world to see because she placed it on the internet? I totally wish somebody would have taken a shot of my butt.

My dear friend was the very first and we all sadly paled in comparison after her expert poses and catwalk stances. She used to do this stuff for a living! I call a foal! One my trip down the aisle, I didn’t understand it as it was said in Japanese and only later revealed by the Ambassador’s wife that the description of me was… that I looked like an angel. Oh, that’s what everyone tells me, I quipped back! I received many praises though after the show, when we were asked to sit and have tea in a traditional setting which reminded me much of a harem.

I can tell you one thing about a burka. It’s hot. Seriously… how do women in the desert wear this? While the fabric is quite breathable, multiple layers of it do nothing for a breeze. And then wrap my head and neck tightly and yet more fabric? At least you are allowed to have your face uncovered. Just imagine that catwalk if I had been wearing the sheet in front of my face.

Here I came the whole way to Japan only to learn more about Muslim culture, religion and life than I have ever known before. This country… these experiences… it all just keeps surprising me.

Friday, November 17

There Just Has To Be Something Fundamentally Wrong With Me

While driving home from some errands this afternoon, a mature Japanese man on a bike wearing faded jeans that could quite easily be describes as floods pulled up on his motorbike in front of me. As I took in his profile, the thought came to mind that he looked really hot in those Wranglers. Seriously. The man was in his early 50s wearing floods and I found him attractive? Please send help! And wine!

Teaser: I have a good story to share from yesterday’s Ikebana International meeting. Unfortunately, I also have two papers that aren’t writing themselves and 384 pages of history text that won’t read themselves either, all of which need to be done before Sunday night so the story will have to wait for a day or so. In the meantime, anyone want to guess what new profession I found myself partaking in at the meeting? And I was a hit at it too!

Wednesday, November 15

Ikebana Arrangement #12

Today was a rather strange day for class. One person had returned after being out of the country for some time. Two new students had started and sensei had her hands full getting every one in their rightful place in study. Considering the materials, it was not entirely possible to make a good horizontal arrangement. Which left me with a choice for what I wanted to do with the materials. I went with Moribana Upright, the first style I had ever learned and it has been months since then that I had created one.

Moribana Upright - Arrangement #12

Tuesday, November 14

And So It Began With One Unexpected Ring

Yesterday morning the phone rang to reveal that the secretary was planning the following weeks substitute schedule. She asked me if I was available on Wednesday because I teacher is planning a longer Thanksgiving holiday. While I was planning to cook myself that day, I accepted because it would be my first day of subbing and the subject… World History! Perfect for me. I asked her what time calls come if someone calls out for a day but she explained that it rarely happens that they call in the morning but it would be around 6. A.M., I ask? All was set for the following week and I hung up with full knowledge that I had a little over a week before I needed to panic.

This morning the phone rang at 6:15 and I kicked Kimono Hubby in the back, mumbled something about getting that because it was surely for him. He was back upstairs in a matter of seconds with an evil grin on his face and the announcement, “It’s the school.”

Down the stairs and to the phone, in my cheeriest morning voice I answer. "You need me today? A day after you said this doesn’t happen? Yes, yes, I’ll be there."

Face washed, teeth brushed, half ironed clothes on and I am on my way. Only once I am behind the wheel does that moment of panic happen. I break the law and pick up my cell phone to call home to engage in the freak out.

Calm again, I finish my breakfast of champions, a Nutty Bar and Diet Coke, as I pull into the parking lot. In the office I hear for the first time that I am teaching freshmen Physics. I do everything I can to squelch the laughter that boils up. Me… Physics. Ha. Haha.

Typically one has more time to prepare when you know you are going to be subbing, especially in a subject you frankly hated when you were in school and now barely recall. I get exactly one tiny minute in the classroom reading the material before the students pour in.

So introductions went well – check. Roster – check check. Lesson plan – Newton’s Law of Motion and Centripetal Force. Again a bit of laughter threatens to materialize. For an hour and a half, I struggle through the lecture with activities, reading and the worst… they asked questions. My own nervousness probably prevented the best of answers but I gave it all I could. However, the blank looks of a few faces probably is a clear indicator that I didn’t quite succeed. Or maybe just that teenagers have learned to sleep with their eyes open.

Class two is a free period which sends me back to the office and gives me a chance to regroup and study the material.

My favorite period followed – lunch. Which I may add that I was quite successful at least in that task.

Back to another class and this time, I swear I nailed it. The nervousness was (mostly) gone and I knew exactly what I was trying to say and said so (mostly) that they understood.

Last class was partly an assembly which we had to group up and walk to only to regroup and head back to class. How am I supposed to regroup 15 students that I only had met for five minutes before we left the classroom? Interesting but they all managed to get back to that last period in my room for seminar.

Best line of the day was from a rather precocious, headstrong girl who when asked if I could help her with something on her assignment asked me if I could help make her interested in Physics. No, I cannot. But I did get her to finish the assignment which she fought at the beginning to do.

All classes challenged me but I didn’t let them get away with it which was probably my number one fear in working with high school kids. Two boys switched names on the role call and I called them by the wrong name for an entire class. I don’t necessarily care as long as they were both indeed there and were doing their work.

I even got to give them homework. That is one powerful feeling, my friends. I almost told them to write a 2-3 page paper on the US Sedition Act of 1918 and whether it limited civil liberties or not. Somehow I knew I would get caught on that though.

Today was a day of ripping off Band-aids and I think I did pretty well. I have two classes scheduled in the next two weeks, the first being World History and the second Japanese. Pray they don’t ask me to speak it! What do I know about it? I’m just a pseudo teacher.

Monday, November 13

Finding Zen at the Hokokuji Temple

Like church after church in Greece that I took pictures of on our honeymoon, I just cannot get enough of the temples and shrines that dot the landscape here in Japan.

This past weekend the goal was to find yet another temple - the Hokokuji Temple located in Kamakura.

Nestled in a bamboo forest, the Hokokuji Temple is a Zen temple that originated in the year 1334 and commemorates the grandfather of the Ashikaga shoguns. Shoguns were high ranking military equivalent to a general of the army and held great power in Japan for centuries. It seems hard to imagine that this temple was built to commemorate a man that established one of many military dictatorships through bloody struggles or that any temple would be built to honor such a principle. But during the period of the shogun, Zen and Buddhism had a growing number of followers and so people of the shogun period saw that this leader, this shogun, epitomized the Zen way of life: a life of humility, labor, service, gratitude and meditation.

And Zen meditation is not necessarily a solitary pursuit. Zen temples such as Hokokuji are places where meticulous daily practice is emphasized and practicing with others is encouraged because it helps the individual avoid the traps of ego.

Laid out behind the temple, the grounds allow you to walk through almost 2,000 Moso-bamboos, the largest of the bamboo species, which is where the founding priest’s own retreat used to be found. The area alone inspires peace and mindfulness to me and I didn’t even have the opportunity to enter the temple.

Hidden in the bamboo forest is a small building offering warm tea in the cool, late afternoon and a chance to reflect on the gardens and the quiet that surround you. More of that same Zen meditation. Every inch of the grounds brings the visitor back to that initial purpose.

Bordering the temple grounds on one side is a cliff in which yagura (caves) are seen. These yagura are the tombs and ashes of several Ashikagas and are found and reflected on over a stone garden typical of a Zen temple. The temple built there also serves to console the souls of the departed family who often died in tragic circumstances.

I did discover that this temple holds a zazen (Zen meditation) every Sunday morning and I am tempted to go. Visiting these places in Japan is just like it was in Greece with Kimono Hubby… short and sweet. His interest ends once he has seen it and feels no need to stand around waxing philosophic for hours like I wish to. Zazen would definitely have to be experienced on my own. Hence, it looks as if I will have to conquer yet another of my fears of going it along for that future Sunday morning visit. Until then, I will say my own prayers that meditation is more like a universal language and doesn’t require the written or spoken word. Some day soon, I’m certain to be there…

Thursday, November 9

To Teach Or Not To Teach

Now just what would someone like me who just started a full course load at the beginning of this very week, who goes to an Ikebana class once a week, who has signed up as a Red Cross volunteer even if they don’t call her enough, who has been so happy to have her evenings free to make a good dinner every night for her and her husband to sit down to and talk about their days, who has been making new friends and spending time with them, who has been accepting every invite that sounds even remotely cultural… what would this person do with her so-called free time? She would accept a job. A teaching one at that. If you have your children in base schooling, I suggest you pull them out for private study as soon as possible. Because this person who makes absolutely no sense to anyone, particularly to herself, will be their substitute one of these days.

The application process had actually been completed some time ago. This all did not come about because I have unfulfilled dreams of being a teacher. That may be the one profession I have feared more than any in my life. I’m struggling with managing my own life and really shouldn’t be responsible for helping to warp younger minds, even if for only a hours of one day. It was really more of a matter of both a vague interest and a small need that I accepted the position today. You see, DC decided to create a glut of condos on the market and not one of you has decided yet to rent our pretty little gem. And those bank people are just truly unhelpful and actually expect you to pay them this dirty thing called mortgage every month. If we are to continue enjoying the lifestyle of the rich and the famous like we have become accustomed to, it was time for me to step up to the plate and do my fair share.

This isn’t a bad thing. It will look nice on a resume and fill a three year black hole that potential employers were bound to raise an eye at. It’s only parttime and I get to choose which days I say yea or nay to. It’s very close to my house. Close enough that I could walk to it but far enough away that walking would kill that exercise bird with just one stone. I will meet more people and hopefully make them like me and want to call me friend. And one of my favorites… I get to try an occupation on for size that I never would have tried any other way. If the lessons are boring? Not my fault. I didn’t write the lesson plan. Wouldn’t you say this is all very win-win?
I start next week. No date set yet but they will call me. That gives me three whole days left to plan an outfit better than the one I wore for the start of online classes this week. I’m pretty sure mismatched PJs and the unbrushed hair/teeth combo are not going to be acceptable teacher looks.

Wednesday, November 8

Ikebana Arrangement #11

There isn't anything very interesting to tell today. I went to class. I struggled. I did the very best I could. Honestly, I have not quite mastered this horizontal business yet. Still trying though. After I finished, I played choo-choo with a little Japanese girl whose mommy is in the class. Most fun I had all week.

Horizontal Style - Arrangement #11

Tuesday, November 7

The Yen Stuff Adds Up

Bolstered by the success of my earlier expedition in the week, I decided it would be a good time to attempt a second mission to the big city last Thursday. This time to the 100 Yen Shop I have heard such wonderful things about. Five glorious stories of products that roughly cost one American dollar. Those who show similar problems with reckless abandonment in shopping as I do would probably refer to this place as heaven.

It wasn’t located far from where I had been the other day, just a bit deeper into a busier section of Tokyo called Machida. I knew this mega Dollar Store I was looking for lay somewhere close to another store I have been wanting to try called Tokyu Hands so my hopes were that I would see at least one without difficulty. I really need to stop expecting so much. After staring confusedly at the split in the road in front of me, I sighed and rolled down my window to ask a man on a motorbike waiting for the light with me. He pointed me in the exact direction I was not leaning towards. Left I went.

Only another block down and I found a large sign for Tokyu Hands exclaiming that I had made it. Parking was to be located at that store and not the 100 Yen Shop. I drove up and down that street looking for a way into a parking lot for the building, maneuvering down numerous tiny side streets. Determined to find that lot, I refused to get off the street even though I received several quizzical looks. I was more than willing to smile pretty tell the police that I am just some dumb American who didn’t know that I was driving down the sidewalk and am pretty sure I could have gotten out of an arrest using that poor of a line.

When it became obvious that no lot would be found, I ended up circling the area looking for any place to jam my box car into. Around one corner, a giant green “P” illustrated the way. Upon entering, I grabbed my ticket which meant I was totally going to get raked over the coals for parking there. This didn’t matter – I was just pleased to have survived the drive and be safely out of the car. Down the elevator and onto the street and of course I am not on the side I came in on or even recognize. My fabulous sense of direction *cough* kicked in and I went left to find myself right around the corner from the main street and Tokyu Hands. I made my way there and looked at the signs hanging on all the corners. Not a single one indicates 100 Yen. I walk up a block. Nothing. Back down two blocks. Nothing. No worries… I’ll just ask a young Japanese girl in her school girl uniform complete with tall socks glued to her knees to help.

Using my most perfect Japanese (okay, the word for 100 Yen is only one word, but even that requires great effort on my part) I tell her what I am looking for. She immediately started rambling back in Japanese the directions. My blank look and furrowed brow must have caused her concern because she motions for me to follow, leading me up a flight of stairs and says the word “green” while she points. Ahhh… so the green sign written only in Japanese on the second level, not even street level, is where I find the 100 Yen Shop? Now why couldn’t I figure that out?

Thrilled to be inside, I spent two hours taking escalator up and steps down, back up and back down I went until my basket became too heavy for me to carry. I had everything from wrapping paper to toys to incense. That place seriously did have everything! And I was determined to get it all into my basket.

I had set out that morning with about 7,000 yen. I spent 800 on the toll there and had 800 reserved in my pocket to get home. Parking was going to cost but I wasn’t sure how much. I counted my items and thought that I would still have about 1,500 yen for the parking, probably a little more than I even needed.

At the registers, the cashier rang me up and ooops! I possibly am a candidate for remedial math. I handed over 5,000 yen and she gave me 630 back. Trying not to panic but I was quite sure I couldn’t make her understand a squeal of “Take some of this shit back!!”

There is something I am not sure I mentioned about Japan. Our American ATM cards do not work in Japanese machines. In fact, few places even accept credit cards as a form of payment unless you are at a larger, more established store. I was pretty sure that I had screwed up and would have to live in my car in a parking garage in Machida because I didn’t have enough cash to get myself out and then still pay the toll home.

Only running to cut off that costly minute or two could help me now. And so I did. I ran to the foot of the elevators and straight to the ticket machine. I said a quick prayer to God to get me home without having to call and fess up to Kimono Hubby how incredibly stupid I was for not carrying more cash on me, the exact thing I had been chided about only a week before… and I stuck the ticket into the feeder.

“600” in bright green glowed back at me.

Thank you heavens and God and bunnies and rainbows! With the equivalent of 25 cents left in my pocket, I drove myself directly home and did not pass Go.

And I will never be so stupid again. The End.

Monday, November 6

Knock, Knock, Knocking On Our Chamber Door

If you recall, when we first moved we had visitors from the Jehovah’s Witness establishment. Well… they’re still coming.

The second time, Kimono Hubby answered the door, chatted with them for a few minutes but only at the door. We know that to invite them in would mean long hours of discussion. We just don’t have that kind of time, what with all of our television schedule planned out for the day.

A group returned this weekend. I was upstairs studying and heard the door bell. Calling down to KH to make sure he was answering the door, no response was returned. I called again slightly louder only to find him crawling up the steps. Near the top he whispers to me, “It’s your Jehovah’s friends again.” He declined to answer the door.

Not to be dissuaded by our heartlessness, when KH checked the door later, he found two new magazines and a book for our reading enjoyment. On them was a post it note:

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Kimono,

I’m T. K., one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

(something unreadable that looks like Hertoith)

I brought the magazines and a new book entitled “What Does the Bible Really Teach?” just for your reference.

Will visit again in a few weeks.

Let’s be honest, I am not now or ever going to be a Jehovah’s Witness. However, I do particularly like reading the magazines and now I have a book too!

So a question - do I tell them not to come around anymore because there is just no possibility that I will ever convert? Or do I continue to smile and take the materials and read for my own knowledge and glean what I would like from the spiritual publications? What kind of prayer does one say to ensure not going to the dark side because of a fondness for accepting literature on religion, particularly when it is associated with the word ‘free?’

Oh, Lord. Please have mercy on me.

Thursday, November 2

The Exact Present You Never Knew You Wanted

The mailing system to Japan is a pretty fickle one. Often packages come weeks after they are suspected to have been lost or stolen and I am already being sent a replacement for whatever it was that I had ordered. Knowing how contrary the system is, I spent this morning wrapping Christmas presents so they could be sent out this week to the States in an effort for them to possibly arrive in time. It’s worth a shot.

While in the midst of wrapping, I came across some Japanese incense I had purchased for a friend which I later changed my mind about and purchased something different instead. When I had made the purchase, there was a small collection of incense in this one area of the store. In that corner I found these tiny decorative tubes, about the length of incense but as I couldn’t open them due to a seal, I asked the cashier if they were indeed incense. She said yes and I paid 600 yen and moved on.

Today I pulled the tube out and decided that this would be a little gift to myself since the original person is already being treated to something similar but nicer. I opened the tube to smell its contents, only to find… toothpicks. A tiny pretty tube of eight little toothpicks. Looks like once again, a cashier didn’t understand a single word I had said and just smiled and nodded to get me to leave. Quickly.

Anyone want six buck worth of toothpicks for Christmas? I’ll leave them in the pretty, little tube. AND I’ll even mail them today so I’m sure you will get in time for next Christmas.

Wednesday, November 1

Ikebana Arrangement #10

Every week on Wednesday, I get all dressed up and go to my Ikebana class. It gives me at least one opportunity every week to look more stellar than my usual yoga pants and Ralph Lauren sweatshirt that I wear more days in a row than I should. I make an extra effort also because the Japanese women in my class typically can be found in a jacket and skirt ensemble. While I don't go that far, I do my share to keep up and usually plan my outfit by Monday morning so all can be laid out and ironed and ready for me to hop into as I am always running late. Nothing new to most of you. This hitch of mine has quite improved as I really only have one set commitment a week and don't have a single excuse why then to be late. Except to say that maybe it's my mother's fault. This is all very beside the point.

Today, I had plans to eat lunch with a friend prior to class. Ramen. I have no idea how the Japanese do it... but slurping noodles automatically means that the juice will splash all over my face and clothes. Today was no exception. The perfect outfit I planned? Ruined when I had to ditch the jacket for the spots of red and brown kimchi/beef juice it now shamefully wore.

And I spent class cold. Time to initiate a new campaign... Just say no to noodles.

Horizontal Style - Arrangement #10