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

Books

For the past nine, almost ten months, I’ve been living without internet. Now that’s not to say I’ve been totally devoid of internet, I think this website makes that obvious, but as far as in the place that I’m living I’ve gone without. Perhaps you’ve noticed by the sporadic way I post here. And until recently, I was enjoying not having internet. Due to the fact I had other things to fill my time: I had a college of friends to hang out with; I had a TV and plenty of movies; I had enough art supplies to make due; I had a bike (a near perfect orange and pearl 80s Peugeot) to take me places–mostly the library–where I could use the internet for free, but then, even better, when I left the library I could take something with me: books. Since arriving in Japan I’ve purchased many books–mostly manga–at irresistibly low prices (I once bought 20 volumes of Air Gear at a Book-Off for ¥600), but in the end pretty much exaggerated the amount of kanji I thought I would remember. I suppose I knew when buying it that it’d be an investment, maybe even motivation, for something I’d be able to read in two or three months. Still, all of that means that I’m left without one of my favorite activities: reading. Not to mention that since about two weeks ago my external hard drive crashed(/was dropped on the floor) and I’ve basically lost access to all music, TV shows, and movies. (No more binge watching Friends episodes.)

Basically, I’ve had cabin fever which is why, as I prepare for my trip to Tokyo, receiving a package of books is one of the best things that could happen to me. I recently read an article the announced digital book sales were waning and printed books were back on the rise. I can very much see why. When I first popped over here, I decided not to pack any books due to the weight and size they would take in luggage, and I figured with an iPad I’d be able to download anything I really wanted to read. I used to criticize the cynics who bashed digital reading for not having the “right feel of a book.” Especially since some incredible percentage of our media is consumed digitally, I always figured words are words no matter where they’re placed. I guess I still believe in that last part, but I’m closer to the ‘real thing’ band wagon than I am to liking digital. I think it’s most due to the habit of me reading at night and the science behind staring at screens before you go to sleep. Although, maybe it’s the same reason I favor compact phones over smart phones; you can bash them around as much as you’d like and never worry about it breaking.

Anyway, I found this fantastic book cafe based out of Tokyo (www.infinitybooksjapan.com) which sells used books online for amazing value. After opening what could add to a billion tabs on my phone I finally narrowed it down to a diverse selection of renowned books that I wanted but had never gotten a chance to read. I think they’ll soon be getting a lot of my service, and it’s just another place for me to checkout this weekend.

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As far as the trip goes, I think winging it will be the easiest. I have yet to pack, nor do I think I’ll need anything more than a shirt and pants, I think I can rely on people I know living there for a place to stay, and I’m not quite sure how to get there apart from going to the train station. The fact that I get paid on Friday kind of helps this process, being that if I do land in deep udon than I’ll at least be able to pay for my way back, get any extra clothes, or at least afford a hotel. But at least if anything, I’ll have a book to read along the way.

Functional

This week was pretty unremarkable in the long run, and it’s actually to the point where I can’t remember what I did for the first half of it. On Monday I finally got my refrigerator from a second hand shop, a bit sketchy a bit wonky–and that’s after spending almost a month without one–but it didn’t smell and after plugging it in and slapping it a couple times it doesn’t make too much noise either. Alas, I don’t really have an efficient way of hauling groceries around yet. I’m in the market for one of those collapsible rolling carts that I’d always see elderly women use to haul groceries around when I was working in New York, but even those seem a rarity at the most basic daizo. Instead, I’ve been relying on the kindness of my neighbors and trying to make my trips to the grocery store line up with theirs. Everyone likes to carpool right?

Needless to say I’m finally in the market for a car. I can’t really afford it with all the credit card debt I charged getting over here, and the continual student loans I’ll be paying off (for the rest of my life), but I think I’ll be able to save up enough by the time snow falls and I really want one. The thing about Japanese cars is they’re dirt cheap on a whole. The thing about those kei cars, is that they’re made out of cellophane and dirt bike motors. It doesn’t help that I’ve got dreams of grandeur and a lust for the Fast & Furious franchise, meaning I’m only in the market for something that will boost my pride. Luckily enough, without a car I’m not going to be going out and spending money as much, and my salary has enough of a contingency where I think I can set enough aside for multiple savings.

One thing I did learn this week was how to send money over to my American bank account. Because of the aforementioned loans (and probably heavily on the fact that Japan is a cash based economy so my cash card is almost entirely limited to ATMs) I still have to keep my bank account open in America. Unfortunately, through living alone, paying off loans, and making the move to Japan, I wasn’t able to save… well, let’s just say I did the opposite of saving and now that American bank account is pretty low. Thus, I have to send over money from my salary every month to keep up with those payments. Really, it’s something I could have fixed with a little more planning ahead (i.e. starting a savings back in November when I first applied), but alas is still a habit that I haven’t quite figured out yet. Thankfully I’m great at making a budget, and have only recently started becoming good at adhering to it. Anyway, enough of the Pity Party.

The point of the above story, is that I tried to figure out how to send money home. The easiest and cheapest (although by cheap I mean ¥2500) way to send money home I’ve found is through the post office. In the grand scheme (now that I’ve done it) it really isn’t too hard, but being I went to the post office alone twice (to get the form, and return it) my confusion rate got double the dosage. Eventually I figured it out–with some help from my advisor–but really it’s starting to wear me out. It’s the same thing that happened when I was in the hospital getting stitches. Then I was lost when they were asking me if I had any allergies, and here at the post when I was sending ¥80,000* (a meager $572 due to an American economy that just doesn’t want to give in to a crumbling China) I was running in and out of understanding if I could confirm my bank account number. Between my health and wealth, a small misunderstanding could have really screwed me over and I think it’s really the best motivation for me to start studying Japanese.

(*back in 2012 when I first visited the exchange rate would’ve put that at $912…)

And that’s actually what I’ve started doing. I almost lost sleep over it, one night not being able to fall asleep, scanning Amazon,jp for the books that I used in college, and almost walking to the nearest conbini to pick up a gift card so I could order them by the end of the week. Ironically, after finally making the debate to ignore the impulse buy I randomly found that I had a complete set of my first and second year textbooks and workbooks downloaded onto my hard drive. Thank goodness, I’ll only be spending my Amazon points on hedonistic materialism.

Speaking of which, perhaps the highlight of my week was not getting a refrigerator, nor was it spending another hour at Nitori (my second favorite place in Japan), or even making my plans for the end of September holiday to go to Tokyo. No, the actual highlight of my week was Wednesday evening and the arrival of my Amazon wishlist. I think I mentioned before how (along with peanut butter) I’ve been longing for some emotional stability through playing high quality music loud. Well, wishes fulfilled as I unwrapped: audio technica headphones (because I left my last ones at home, not even near my suitcase), a bluetooth speaker, and among other things, a desk clock, an iPhone wall charger (previously left at the airport), and unbelievably itchy scalp relieving shampoo.

The first thing I did was put on the headphones and cook dinner from dry goods. They stayed on the rest of the night and I could physically feel my dopamine levels increase.016

Origins

This is something I’ve been waiting months for, but it is such a weird concept for it to finally be here. People–and by people I literally mean everyone: family, friends, co-workers, strangers– would constantly ask me one question first: “Are you nervous yet?” And despite the time already coming and going, I can honestly say at no point was I ever nervous to be here. Over the past couple of days I’ve certainly had moments where I’ve felt unsure of the moment, or felt uncomfortable about sitting next to someone who’s sharing the same experience as me but ultimately someone I would never see again, but  I never once felt weird about finally being back in Japan. I definitely wasn’t ready for the path I would take, didn’t prepare to the extent I should have, and procrastinated to the point that it’s uncanny I was able to get on a plane out here without fate stopping me and telling me to head back. Nevertheless, I made it to Japan, albeit am still a bit away from my final destination.

I feel a bit like I’m walking in an unreality. It’s hard, since in the past week I’ve spent more than 24 hours in transit, and another 24+ working inside hotels. Slowly I’m working my way towards the life that will be my life for at least (or most) the next year, and I guess the start of this blog is a good distinction to the end of my transition. At this point I may just want more to be able to wear whatever I want without having to dig to the bottom of my suitcase and repack my bags everyday, but I think truly I’m ready to unwind. Fukui prefecture seems to hold itself up to its reputation of the happiest life in Japan, and I hope I can do it justice as I keep track of what goes on in my life. Tomorrow I’ll be heading to the city where I’ll be permanently based (though temporarily without an apartment, and indefinitely without a bed), and I suppose then I’ll finally be ready for it all.

No matter what happens, I have to remind myself of what I was left with just a week ago. Almost incredibly I moved out of my Northfield aprtment of ten months, flew to Fargo and Boston, and spent a week without sleeping in my own bed. In fact, since leaving my apartment I didn’t actually get a real nights rest and that may be one of the things later on that I regret most. To the point though, I started off the night before I left with my room (and my life) in the truest sense of bedlam. Through the night I didn’t panic–well, barely at most– and was able to tidy it up by the time the morning came. Truly, the fact that I took the room in this picture from shambles to liveable gives me at least some security going into whatever chaos becomes this next future.