Costco

Of all things great about America: grilled meat, Hollywood, shopping malls, Applebees, and credit cards, currently there is nothing I’m more thankful for than wholesale warehouse stores. Really, there are hardly any places outside the country full of such familiarity. For months I have longed for something more than the Walgreen’s style drug stores or the Home Depot home improvement imitations you can find in Japan. Especially now because I have an allowance in my budget, I’ve yearned to walk down the sheen fluorescent floors and red aisles of a Target. In Japan there are some 45,000 convenience stores (colloquially called conbini), but really none are quite as convenient as  the Target (or even Walmart) of America. And it’s funny. Back home I tried to avoid going to such stores, focusing on buying more local and sustainable goods. Here in the land of plastic packages and default organic, I’m not even sure if those values are applicable. Some things I buy already have such a neutral environmental impact compared to American counterparts that I’ve completely lost my awareness of an items impact. (The same is almost as true with my vegetarian values, but I still refrain from cooking with meat.)

The real discovery here are the roots of my American lifestyle. With half a year here I still can’t shed some of the living habits I’ve taken for granted. Probably the first example I noticed was in going out. I’ve finally been to a couple of bars in Japan, but that lifestyle is hardly livable. Where before I’d go on a weekly basis with friends, to meet friends, or to hang with the coolest bartender on earth, now I can only venture out once a full moon (if even) for fear of burning a hole through my  wallet. Then came the lack of an oven and the realization that I’d be without my favorite midnight pastime of making chocolate-chip cookies. And with that of course came all the other complicated dietary choices I’d have to make. The void of cookies, any type of cereal, the smoothies, the soy chorizo from Trader Joe’s, canned beans, macaroni noodles, blocks of cheese and creamy peanut butter. For the past couple of months I’ve been bouncing around a couple of supermarkets: picking up olive oil and ketchup at one; the bulk of my groceries come from another on my way to school; finally the sketchiest one  miles away from my apartment has the cheapest ice cream and frozen fruits. Apart from the lack of any insulation (a condition which my thermostat growing up already trained me well for), I think the shuffling around for errands and groceries was the last straw. I was(am) finally homesick. Or at least, in this sense, culture sick.

That’s how it came to be that after the first paycheck of the year I was literally begging anyone with a car to take me to Costco. Perhaps you’ll be surprised to find out that there are Costcos in Japan. I was pretty shocked back in the fall when I learned it. There are a mess of McDonalds, Seven Elevens, even a few Ikeas, but never would I expect Costco. Even Walmart operates under a subsidiary in this country. Whatever the reason, it existed, and I’d been trying to go for months. So desperately I was getting ready to bribe people, offering to pay not only the way, but also for the first jar of peanut butter, or box of mac and cheese. Luckily, Carmelo took pity on my dismal soul and offered to take me.

See, the biggest problem is the closest Costco is a bit over a two hour drive north in “Historic Kanazawa” (my grandma clipped an article from the Star Tribune around this time so you may have actually read about it in the travel section, but I can’t find a link on the website). On a good day its actually a pretty pleasant drive, but being that Costco alone takes a couple hours to tackle and the whole drive can be around five hours there and back you really have to devote an entire day to it.

So early Saturday morning I went to his apartment and a couple “are you ready?”s later he, his girlfriend Eri, and I jumped in the car to make the trip. As I said, it’s really not a bad trip to make. You pass through multiple cities, valleys, alongside mountain ranges, and a number of love hotels. It went buy quick with the good company and before I knew it were wound up the ramp to Costco’s parking.

I should mention that it’s been more than a few years since I’ve been in any sort of Costco or Sam Club. In college I would really only stop through the Sam Club liquor store because it was incredibly cheap to buy handles there and you don’t need a membership. Before then I think I was still in Junior High when I went, and really the only reason I remember for going was to buy bulk toilet paper. Never had I gone without supervision–not to mention we had just gotten paid. I pulled a couple of ¥10,000 bills from an envelope I’d used to send money home, and then took out a couple extra just in case. After all, this was a rare instance, and I didn’t want to get caught without enough cash to pay for whatever peanut butter came my way.

We walked toward the entrance with a bounce in our step. I was clutching a pocket notebook with a list of everything I was hoping to find when a worker pulled the oversized cart in my direction and we heading down one of those sweet escalators that are made especially for excess. As we slowly descended towards the trove of imported goods I made snarky observations of those returning towards the surface. “Who goes to Costco to buy only muffins and laundry detergent?” I said incredulously looking at the almost empty carts. Waste of a trip.

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As soon as we entered I made the decision to go down every single aisle. I live for the deal, the obscurities, the things I didn’t realize I needed until I realized I needed them. We started with the electronics, the tableware, the luggage. I stopped first for a LED rope light which I tagged for later, continuing the search for some ambiance to my room other than the fluorescent light. Next came hair dryers, batteries, wind shield wipers. I added a pair of running gloves, and then a bulkier pair of winter gloves to the cart. We went down the liquor aisle. I took a bottle of Kaluha, Vodka, Gin, Rum into the cart, made it to the end of the aisle and then put them all back. If I was gonna suffer through the winter then I guess I’d have to do it sober. We crossed past the wine, though, where Carmelo and I both decided to pick up bottles of wine (red and white) for the next time Yukie invited us to dinner. Next was fruits and produce. Not too punny if I say I went bananas for the bananas, but it’s so hard to find a practical fruit in this country. The grapes are often the size of strawberries, while the apples are like grapefruit, watermelons can be found in cubes, and don’t even try to differentiate the variety of oranges they produce. About all of the above goes true for bananas, so I definitely picked up a couple bunches of green ones to last a while.

Then we turned a corner, I was partially distracted by a man demonstrating a blender with a set of empty cups beside him, when it came into view. The Peanut Butter. I could’ve ran into it easily because it was more like a physical wall of Skippy advertisements.

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The jars came wrapped in sets of two, all crunchy. I took a pair, then another, and two more, and one more for Gavin, and then another because, hey, it’s peanut butter and I wouldn’t know how long it’d be until I’d return. We could’ve (and probably should’ve) left then, and my trip would’ve been accomplished, but we had hardly even hit half the shelves, and now we hit a stride. I’m kind of surprised at how packed it became around this time of the day, too. I didn’t expect Costco to be such a destination, but all types of Japanese folk and even some foreigners were perusing or stuffing themselves between the aisles.

I picked up biodegradable laundry soap, and biodegradable dish soap. Another mark in my notepad to pick up cheese by the end of it all. The jars of pasta sauce almost equaled jars of peanut butter. I considered a stack of canned diced tomatoes, but stuck only to the canned corn. Spices went in, sea salt, pepper, a bag of chia seeds, Nutella, triple-bound-bulk bottles of Heinz ketchup, salad dressing, soy sauce, katsudon sauce, and four liters of Kirkland olive oil. Bags of raisins turned out to be one of the best and cheapest options for salad toppings and late night snacks. We wrapped up around health and beauty, but I was disappointed they didn’t have the right type of razor heads that I use. “Hold on, I’m gonna go through the candy and snack aisles” so cleverly stacked in the middle of the warehouse before the registers. Eri came over with a huge box of Nature Valley bars in her arms, and I found the second most prized item on my list: chips and salsa. Apart from chocolate-chip cookies the single best non-meal meal I can survive on are chips and salsa. Granted, that’s mostly because of my grandma’s unbeatable homemade salsa stored in mason jars I would hoard away from my mother at any given chance last year. But still, at any given point from at least the past five years it would be considered a staple in my diet. Except now–trying as hard as I could to stay in view of my budget–I faced the dilemma of figuring out the ratio of bags of chips to salsa jars over the amount of time it would take to return to Costco. I picked up a box of 40 bags of microwaveable popcorn for hardly 25 cents a bag, figuring it was worth it even though I’ve yet to have a microwave.

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By the time I got into line, Carmelo and Eri had already checked out, and I frantically waved for them to notice me because I was using Carmelo’s member card. I made it without a hitch and was grateful to see that the number I’d calculated and the number that appeared on the register were exactly the same. In Japan, perhaps by law, every item will have its cost in small font and then the actual cost with tax as the main price so it’s easy to make sure your stay within whatever limit your spending.

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We celebrated out success by ditching our carts like cars outside a California diner, and getting in line for the classic American grill food they had serving. I opted for a combo slice of pizza and hot dog, almost going overboard with a churro and sundae. The eating space was packed  but I snagged an open bench table with an older woman who’d completely passed out at the end of it. Along with the casual leaving of carts along the eating area it hit me as a classic display of Japanese safety, that a woman could just fall asleep anywhere and feel OK about it. Although, when Carmelo and Eri joined the table she popped her head up with a bit of dismay.

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There was almost no better way to top off the day feeling so content than to eat so downright American made food with a Mexican in Japan. Carmelo and Eri smiled wide, completing the menu with a churro, smoothie, sundae, and bulgogi bake. Well, at least there was a good moment.

There was hardly anything to make us feel better, but there was certainly enough to make us feel worse. As I took another bite out of my hot dog I heard from the end of the table the type of sound that can only make you think, thank god I didn’t get it on my shoes. Eri reacted instantly covering her eyes into Carmelo’s shoulder, while I saw his jaw slump open and the brightness in his eyes burst to a look of total dissatisfaction. I flashed a look to the lady now slumped over the end of the table with a younger woman patting her back. It didn’t take much to figure out that the reason she’d passed out was now splattered over the floor.

“Man, I just can’t get that out of my head,” Carmelo said as he tried to take another bite from his bulgogi bake. “I was having such a good time, too.”

We scuttled like crabs across the table to the furthest open spot, but the mood was already crushed. As I bit into my pizza I was grateful for having missed all the action, but Carmelo was clearly traumatized. Even the churro couldn’t fix the sweetness of the mood.

The drive back was also affected with cloudier skies and tension worrying if my bags of tortilla chips would make it through this stuffed car ride. By the time we made it close to home, after a couple of pit stops, the strength in our accomplishment was back. However, unpacking all the food in my entryway proved to ask the biggest question: “where am I going to put all this?”

After some creativity it all fit. I cracked open the bag of chips, poured out some salsa, and felt good about not wondering (at least for a couple more months) where the staples in my diet would come from.

Tradition

Anyone whose known me long enough knows that I don’t see movies (barring special events like Star Wars) except for on New Years day when I hop around and see four of them. It’s been a tradition of mine for nine years now. Nine whole years! Created off a whim and the realization that movie theaters don’t close on winter holidays. I recruited a crew with my brilliant idea and we went to the theater  back on January 1, 2008 pockets full of gas store snacks to see Valkyrie, Slumdog Millionaire, Yes Man, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  Ever since it’s pretty much become the only annual tradition I have in my life, and certainly up there (if not number one) for the day I look forward to most in the year.

Except now here I was in Japan where most Hollywood movies don’t even get released until six months after their Western dates. I wasn’t only worried about hopping around this time, but just seeing any movie in general. Usually it takes a decent bit of research and planning ahead for a aligning schedule of movies and times, though now I didn’t even have a website to visit. I woke up that day in the afternoon and after much waffling eventually determined that  I had to do it. If I did it this year then next year I’d definitely be able to do it, and that would make it a decade. Unfortunately there isn’t a movie theater in my town, but it’s not too hard to walk to the theater in the city if you take a train. Lucky for me on the first of the month the movie theater has a discounted price, too.

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When I looked at the list of options I didn’t have much to work with. There was Star Wars which I’d seen, and James Bond which was already half an hour in. The Peanuts movie was showing too, but I’d  have to wait over an hour for the next time. That left me to choose between three other viable options, all Japanese movies I didn’t know. I was left staring at the posters for what looked like the typical high school romance drama and what seemed like the Japanese version of Philomena. Honestly I had know clue.

Originally there was system I’d follow to choosing movies. You typically eased into it with some sort of action or comedy movie first, then there is always one kids movie (God forgive me the year I took Steph to see Up in the Air followed by M. Night Shyamalan’s Avatar), then third is the main course which was usually that year’s best picture or at least a nominee. If you’ve made it thus far–a reasonable six hours–without collapsing or depleting your supply of smuggled sandwiches, the finisher would be something light but worthwhile for example True Grit or The Adventures of Tin Tin. (If you noticed the very first time we ended with Benjamin Button as our fourth movie, a mistake never repeated.)

Lately, however, the purpose of me movie hopping on New Years has been to go on an emotional sweep and start the year fresh. In fact it all started after that terrible New Years eve party (mentioned in the last post) when I at the last minute–and for the first time without anyone to join me–decided to go and see Life of Pi and Les Miserables. Both are pretty heart-wrenching movies to watch at any time, but to watch them back to back and then be alone in a movie theater full of people was an experience I had not prepared for.

So with all the above in mind and the time limit of only seeing one movie, I decided on the high school drama. I figured it’d at least be a little more practical. First, it’d be all in Japanese without any subtitles so at least I was more familiar with the vocab, and second, it was a movie targeted to the people I spend everyday with so maybe I’d be able to relate to them with my pop culture knowledge.

Predictably the movie theater was pretty vacant, but I was surprised to find a few clusters–maybe a dozen people–in their seats while I skulked in three minutes past the start time. I got to see a few trailers, and then the movie started. I’m not sure if I had to adjust to the language. Visually it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s happening, and I mean, it only involved high schoolers so it never got too complicated. With that said, it was hardly the typical love story I expected.

In fact, I don’t even think it was a love story. The movie I saw was Orange made on a trend of turning shojo manga into live action movies. Pretty quickly I could understand it was about time travel. The main character gets letters from her future self and in way of the movie Frequency, this present version would have to figure out how to stop a person she cares about from dying. Incredibly, as the movie goes on you figure out it really a story about perpetual suicide and depression and all but the lightest of topics that high school students should have to think about. Needless to say I cried a couple of times, thankfully less than when I saw Life of Pi, but still one of the most unexpected movies I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended. I never quite understood the title, there’s this moment with a juice box, and that’s about the only thing bad about the movie. Granted, I didn’t understand it word for word and there’s a lot of corny Japanese tropes that I was OK overlooking, but really I left the theater lighthearted, emotionally fresh, and ready to start this year.

I think I’ve got a plan (not calling it a resolution). It’s not really anything that’s brewing, but just sort of an idea I’ve finally left out in the open. Something to get me motivated to enjoy my life more, to prod my laziness, and make the most of this time.

 

Yamaguchi

Maybe I’ve said this before, but even if I have it bears repeating:

It’s sometimes unbelievable how much a constant running has been throughout my life.

Out of so many other sports, clubs, interests, religions, hobbies, and places I’ve gone in life, it’s the only thing that’s stayed there. It’s responsible for some of my closest friends, my biggest achievements, and quite entirely my college experience.

So ever before coming to Japan I was doing research on what the running scene was like. My expectations for a low interest and slow field were pretty wiped when I found out that there’s a decent crew of fast runners throughout the nation (though mostly central, like America’s heartland of talent). Especially with the Olympics approaching, the government is encouraging and funding even more programs specifically towards younger people to do well in sports. (For example, this 16 year old track star will likely podium for Japan in Tokyo 2020.)

I was pretty happy to be put in Fukui just out of the fact that it’s got some nature to make long runs through. I’ve been holding off talking about my own running experience for the proper post, but I’ll just add that this is the first time in a while I’ve been running without a direct goal.

Even last year, my first seasons out of college running I still looked forward to my alumni races or the season in the fall. Unfortunately here, the season is less year round and more marathon focused. And I am one to swear against any sort of marathon in the foreseeable future (though Tokyo was tempting).

After busting my foot for a month and then working my way back for another, I was pretty set come October (when it finally started getting cold after I left work) to join the track team at school. It let me do something other than crushing my mind against correcting pages for the last hour of work and deleted the excuses I’d later come up with to convince me not to run. I’d been told how great the school’s track team was, and looked forward to running with a team again. Turns out the rumors were pretty true, or I was just really out of shape (and probably a bit of both). After a 3000 meter time trial where the top time was around 9:40 I decided that at least three of them could be faster than me (the equivalent of an American ninth grader). It intrigued me to find out how fast the actual elite were, and I immediately vocalized my interest in going to the national race at the end of the season.

So, the days go by, and the time I enjoy at school grows exponentially simply because I recognize more students and know more about their lives. I’d been thinking about my counterpart back home, Kelson, who’d signed up for his second season of coaching and get why he enjoys it. At the least it keeps me from getting fat, at the most it keeps me young.

And finally it the week of the race, and I’m psyched. I came in to the teacher’s room after practice on a dark December night to see some of my co-workers huddled in the end of a discussion. “So,” one of the teachers says, “it’ll be about 1 mansen yen, is that OK? That’ll cover everything, transportation and hotel.”

I shrugged, not quite expecting it to be that much, but really can you put a price to anything nowadays. “Sure.”

And we’re off. The end of the week there was no practice because over ten kids were going to this race in Yamaguchi, which included all the long distance side of the team and even a couple soccer players. There was a lot of nostalgia on my part, remembering packing up the St. Olaf vans for the rides to Regionals and Nationals. Thus was the feeling that came to me as I got picked up a little after the afternoon on Saturday to make the eight hour ride to the end of honshu Japan.

Now, a long time ago, I wasn’t really considering how long it would take to get to Yamaguchi. When accounting for the less than three hour trips in each direction to get to Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, and Nagano, I’d always had this skewed image that Japan as an island couldn’t take any time to get to any important point on the map. But whatever, I was committed with a notebook and Clive Cussler novel and ready for the trip.

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As much as I love to go into the menial details, I’ll skip over the drive to wind up the night sitting at the end of a table full of raw meet and drinks. By the time I was at number two, everyone else was telling me it was number three, but the food was delicious so I didn’t care. It was my first time eating this kind of Korean bbq, and I topped off the meal with bibimbop thinking of Stef in San Francisco. One great common thing when getting meals with a group of people in Japan is the evenly split bill at the end of the night. It’s pretty nice for everyone just to take responsibility for the whole, and encourages a pretty good time. It can get a bit awkward if you’re sure someone has been hogging the drinks or food, but then you just deal with it through a bit of moral superior karma. Of course, the 5000 yen bill at the end kind of hurt, but at that point in the month I still had time to live wealthy.

Of course, that wasn’t the end to the night by far, and as we left I quickly got a small glimpse of Japanese social (gender) expectations, as the women of the group headed of in one direction (presumably to the hotel, but I’d have to guess that’s strictly a presumption) while the men stroll in the other direction. I ended up in another bar, somewhat izakaya style, while we brought up another chair to a table and ordered a nomihoudai. It’s times like these, only a few so far I’ve had, that make me feel like I fit in exactly how I should. Even in the presence of two other English teachers, I was shooting out Japanese back at the questions asked to me.

Not too much excitement for the night, but enough contentment for me.

(And I got to sleep in a bed! Always a good time, compared to the futon that I roll out on my floor every night. I hardly feel uncomfortable sleeping on the floor, but sleeping in an actually bed still comes off like a luxury.)

Thus, it came that I woke up within ten minutes of check-out time–luckily before my co-workers messaged me to ask if I was ready to go–as I rushed to put on some athletic clothes and shove the rest of my stuff into my backpack. I scanned the room with the inevitable feeling I was forgetting something, and went to the lobby sheepishly ready to start the day.

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It was beyond impressive to see the extent of how the race was set up. It’s basically in a state park, but the park from what I gleaned is set-up specifically to hold outdoor running events. Now, I know we’ve got shoe companies in America that host these races–this one was sponsored by Mizuno–but even at my college level I never saw such support built in for running teams, let alone for junior high school level. The tents alone were a little over fifty teams, each with a tent the size of my apartment and a decent amount of people there to watch. (Also, take into account that only 6 of the dozen students they brought were racing, but all of them rode the shinkansen and hosted up in a hotel for three nights. Quite frickin’ awesomely unbelieveable.)

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We waited around for a good couple of hours. I took a chance to walk around. It’s weird because back home, I never feel too far out because plenty of my students are mixed race, not to mention a decent amount of my neighbors are Brazilian. Now, at this pretty specific Japanese event, I was quite certain I was not only the only non-Japanese person, but the only dark skinned human over six feet tall. I mean, I certainly have that constant look over your shoulder in America, but here’s it’s a similar feeling for a completely different reason.

Anyway, I ended up running into a couple of my students heading down to the merchandise stall. They helped me in choosing a sweater, and I ended up meeting some of their parents. It was weird because I could hear them talk about me before I turned around to them, and even though I’d never met them, they already clearly knew who I was. Later on, one of the third year’s mothers thanked me so much for joining the team and even a little sister from one of my elementary school visits recognized me with a surprised, “Dillon-sensei?!” We’re talking first graders here that I taught for one hour two weeks ago remembering me by name. It was a crazy realization just to point out how connected I was to the community without even doing anything–or much, at least.

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The boys race went off after the girls, and anxiously I crowded around to saw a mass pile through the first curve of the track hardly distinguishable from one another until they passed beyond the treeline to the 3km trail. Basically over the next hour it was me running back and forth trying to cheer at all the good spots, take times and pictures, and keep warm. The weather started decent, but actually got a bit shady and chilled during the middle. An hour went by, and well, the lead team was dominating and my team, well, was not. We weren’t in last, or too near it, but we definitely weren’t towards the front or, maybe even in a standard deviation of the middle. Oh well, it was inspiring to see everyone try and think about pushing them through the winter to make a better performance for next year.189188

And just like that we were back on the road, literally as the students were bowing in the traditional appreciative thanks my group was shuffling back to our van to make the eight hour return trip. Can’t say it was as much fun as the way up there, but I was satiated on a well spent weekend full of nostalgia and inspiration. As I start to expect snow any time soon I can already say I can’t wait for the spring. I know I’ll keep up running, but really it’s just awful compared to the rest of the year. Luckily I’ve still got a great team to keep me motivated.

Routine

With only a week after speech ending, I’m back on pace for a more relaxing life. Really I’m still not doing anything too exciting, but it’s sometimes mundane that is the most enjoyable. I’ll try not to be vain while I write, but really this is the first time that I’ve had the chance to reflect on everything I’ve done so maybe an ego will peek through here and there.

Thursday last week I finally got the chance to go to the track club. It was something I’d been wanting to do since before I even landed in Japan, but couldn’t join because of the former obligations. It was super hardcore, compared to anything I’d done recently (working on hurdle mobility), and I was so happy to be back in action. For those of you suspicious about why there would be track club in October, don’t think too much of your American timetables. In Japan, most schools make club activities compulsory–in the form of athletic groups, science comps, art clubs–and those clubs go year round. By now, however, most of the third years have ‘retired’ from their groups in order to focus on high school entrance exams. It’s a crazy amount of responsibility, not to mention emotionally heavy perspective on flowing process of life.

So, I’d been practicing with only the first and second year (7th and 8th grade relatively), but was still finding it a bit to keep up. I was coincidentally placed at the school with the best track team in the region. My students are 13 year olds who can run 17:30 5ks, and 8th graders doing 9 minute 3ks. I knew there was a pretty heavy running community in Japan that plenty of people, even Japanese aren’t aware of, but I didn’t think I’d find it so easily.

Joining the practice was one of the better decisions I’ve made so far. There was definitely an urge to just walk home before the sunset, maybe run on my own, or make a quick game and scroll through Last Week Tonight clips on Youtube. I’d just finished Dune (well worth it, but very inconclusive) and started on the next project: A Brief History of Time. Plus, after second practice my legs were not happy with me. It’s being able to recognize students that keeps me going. Getting their names down is becoming easier, but recognizing who they are has been more important. For example, walking to school in the morning, there’s typically one path that everyone takes (meaning me and the students). Yesterday morning, on the turn that converges everyone on the same road with my long legs out pacing everyone else I started noticing things about the people I was passing. The way some of the girls do their hair is completely distinct. And you can always tell a first year boy because his uniform pants and jacket are too long for his limbs. I came by one boy who fit this last description. Out of my periphery I could make out his glasses, and the back of his hair seemed somewhat familiar.

I hesitated between mistaken identity, but decided to call out his name and see what happens. I think the biggest thing against me saying anyone’s name is getting it wrong. Not because I’m embarrassed (although, after two months I wish I could remember everyone), but more because I don’t want them to feel bad about me not knowing their name. Maybe I’m completely wrong, but I get the sense that some of the students will blame their own self esteem for not making a greater impression with me. I’m struggling much with not having favorites already. So, I called out his name, bracing to get it wrong when he turned around and I saw I was correct; it was a first year on the track team.

All the students have a huge test (what I’d compare to school-wide standardized testing) so most of the clubs are on hiatus for the next ten days. We talked about my legs hurting from practice, how he felt about the test, and I encouraged him to keep running in his down time. I think we’ve reached another level on the great teacher ladder.

With ikujyo-bu, track club, cancelled, I was back to running on my own. Walking too and from school everyday, with the nights becoming exponentially colder once the sun sets, is starting to become a hassle, but so far I’ve stayed motivated. I just think of all the wasted time between my steeple injury in May and my beach injury in August to keep me going.

It is becoming the end of the month and I am running lower on funds. I’m thankful now that those types of Silver Week vacations do only come once every five years. I’m already planning a trip to Kyoto, but otherwise I’m going to focus more on saving and doing the things I enjoy that are free. Luckily that includes my biggest hobbies: running, reading, writing. Recently I’ve also been substituting my first favorite expensive past time, Magic the Gathering, with a new faster free MOBA that a fellow teacher recommended to me, League of Legends.

As the days become shorter I’ve been seriously waffling between getting a car. So far, though, there still isn’t a purpose a car would fulfill that I can’t really do on my own. I think I’m done making trips to my favorite store Nitori and soon it’ll be safe enough to buy ice cream from the grocery store and carry it home without fear of it melting. I do really wish I had a bike, but I’m as particular about a bike as a car. The most available thing in Japan are mamachari, which I absolutely refuse to waste money on. It’s pretty difficult to find a decent bike store outside of the city, but if I went to the city I’d be pretty tough to get a bike back. I could make a decent day of it by finding the right bike and cycling the 50km home, but without any training or English map that seems set up for disaster. So it’s just something we’ll keep in the back of our minds.

It hasn’t been much of a problem sleep wise, and I’ve managed a good 8 hours at least while still waking up at 6 in the morning. It’s really absurd that I’ve grown into someone comfortable with this schedule. It’s something a high school me would never allow. But I make a decent breakfast, iron my shirt, try to shave, and even get in a pod cast to pass the time (right now I’ve been keen on the New Yorker Fiction and The Moth). By 7 o’clock I’m out the door with toast and jam in one hand and a book in the other. Back in college I mastered the technique of reading while walking, and it’s come in handy on the way to work. Even the dreaded gaijin traps don’t scare me now. I basically conquered Dune this way and it’s how I’ve gotten halfway through A Brief History of Time (which are pretty ironic books to read back to back).

Weeks ago I wrote about how reading almost seemed a necessity, but I wasn’t quite sure why I felt compelled to read. Emotionally it’s done enough to get my brain thinking and active, but I think even more it’s helped stimulate my own writing. I can think back long ago, to the second grade perhaps before, when my first dream job was to be a writer. Since then I’ve added plenty of tags to that dream, but writer has always been attached and something I’ve always had an affair with. During my last job I had a lot of time working on my own where I could just think. I’d come up with systems to keep track of what I was screen printing by applying characters and plot lines to each process. In my head I’ve got so many different worlds, some that stand out with such defined arcs that I’ve been eager to get them onto paper. It’s been good to set apart some time to actually get that work in, and with NaNoWriMo just around the corner maybe something tangible will come to fruition sooner than planned.

Apart from buying food and cooking it, which I plan on covering at a different time, I’d say the last part of my routine is watching the sunset (if I’m lucky enough to be home by then). When it comes to my apartment I still battle with the layout, not having a permanent bed, distinguished places to eat, relax, and sleep. There are other places in the complex bigger by an entire room that I can see are vacant. But every night (now around 5:30) I stop and stare and am always amazed at the extent of nature’s beauty. There’s no way I’m giving up this room for something without that view.

Autumn Sunset