Connect

This year I wrote about 40 New Year’s cards with Japanese addresses (and roughly 20 to go overseas). It’s a tradition in Japan called nengajo, but like all analog traditions it seems outdated. Whenever I asked friends my age for their address they looked back confused. One Japanese friend told me only old people do that, while another sent me his email address.

For the past year I’ve been working as a digital illustrator. I’ve drawn over 200 images on a pen and tablet, but nothing I can touch and can hang on a wall and almost less that gets seen for more than a day. I keep telling myself I’ll make more art, but in the wrong environment I’m not even sure what that means.

So this year I looked forward to making cards again. Knowing that I had all year to do it you wouldn’t think I’d wait til the last half of December to work on it. But November came with just an image floating around in my head. I finally put it down, finished it off, and printed at three in the morning a week before the deadline. You see, especially in Japan the post tries to get all these nengajo with all their drawings of pigs (according to the Eastern zodiac) delivered exactly on the first day of the year. In order to make their lives easier, you’re asked to drop off your cards by the 27th.

I submitted my order at 3 in the morning December 21st. Immediately after pressing confirm I decided to compare with my card from last year. Frantically I went back to the order page and scanned through the Japanese for the word “cancel.” I had drawn by pig, written my note, and even put 2019, but forgotten the most important part which of course was to write “Happy New Year.” I went back into Photoshop, added the forgotten text, and pressed order, only to feel once again unsatisfied and immediately cancel. I decided these types of decisions were not best to be made at three in the morning.

I received the cards in time, and wrote out all the addresses one by one. Nowadays you can even submit a spreadsheet with all the addresses to be printed on the back, but I don’t see the point. If you’re already gonna be old fashioned enough to send out New Year’s cards, then why not add the personal touch of writing out the names yourself.

I’ve been getting cards for as long as I remember. Birthdays, Thanksgiving, Easter were all made possible by Hallmark. When I was in 4th grade I had a pen pal named Peter Li from Australia. He sent me a picture of him in a school uniform (which of course to me only signified he was Catholic) and his handwriting despite only being 10 years old was written in a beautiful cursive script I’d only seen in British films about the 1800s. (I switched our conversations to email out of shame.) By the time I reached Junior High I started writing letters to a grandfather who until that point I hadn’t even imagined ever existing. Of course I had a Grandma Davis, but I’d never supposed if there even was a Grandpa Davis. Looking back I’d seen pictures of Gramps, my dad’s Grandpa, holding me as a baby and must’ve assumed with scraggly white hair and gold teeth that he’d fit the role of Grandfather well enough. My real Grandpa Davis was in prison. Even back then through all our correspondence, I never thought to ask how he wound up there. I’ll only say there’s nothing like getting a letter from someone who can only escape the place they’re in through words.

How did they do it? We ask ourselves of the previous generation, not realizing that those methods are still available. Even now, for the three plus years I’ve been in Japan I’ve only spoken with one of my best friends from high school through the regular postcard in the mail, and that seems to be enough.

When I graduated college I had this idea of hand printing postcards every month to stay in contact with those I left by going to New York. I made it to August before the dedication faded. As a poor wannabe artist living in the most expensive in America, spending money on materials, postage, and time is a hard squeeze in a budget of food and rent. I think these New Year’s cards are the residual passions of that initial project.

It’s now January 3rd in Japan and only one person has told me they’ve gotten their nengajo. How did they do it? I ask myself, looking at a message on my phone that has been read but getting no reply. How did you send something off to a family member, a lover, a pen pal, trusting that the address was up to date, the postage price correct, and not to be intercepted by a meddling family member or jealous friend. And then of course, you have to rely on them being diligent enough to go through the same proccess in return. I have the Supremes singing through my head, “Wai-aa-aai-ait Mr. Postman.”

If you get a card from me, don’t feel obliged to message me right away. Maybe you weren’t even expecting it. Just know that unlike an email, that card took time. I held it in my hands, shuffled it in my bag, biked it to the post office. You might one day find it in a shoebox and throw it out, barely remebering who I am. But at least for now, it’s a physical connection between you and me.

Stories

It’s been a while since I’ve written. That’s not because I’ve got nothing to write about. Quite the contrary, I find that whenever I’m doing the most in my life is when I’m writing the least. Because of that, I’ve been struggling to figure out what to do with this site. When it started I tried to keep it chronological. I moved to Japan with the idea that I’d only be staying for two years. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, I don’t quite remember but if you’d like to find out you can probably go back and read my first post.

Now it’s three and a half years later and I’m still not positive with what I’m doing. 2018, despite having some really great highlights, was without a doubt the worst year of my life. From sickness, to car crashes, losing apartments, cutting off fingers, and even more sickness, I knew before it was halfway over that I was just ready to move on. But that left me with the direction, but no destination.

Usually at the end of the year I make a few resolutions. Typically they’re concrete goals, something clearly defined and achievable. Last year they were ambitious, but I made it a decent way until 150 cm (60 in) of snow and norovirus knocked me off my feet. This year I don’t have anything so clear. I thought about returning to a vegetarian diet, getting out of debt, journaling everyday. But this year I don’t think I’ll pay any mind to things I should do. This past October I tried to draw everyday and that wound up being a stressful and penultimately incomplete endeavor. If I want to start fresh, I’m going to do it without restrictions, and discover my motivation organically.

With that in mind, I do want to be present this year. I felt like last year I just took what came at me, and went with the flow. Hopefully this year I’ll be proactive, and stay connected with you. Thus, I get to the point of this post. I’m changing the purpose of this site (not that there was much purpose left). I’m not going to use it to keep you updated with what I’m doing, but instead keep you updated with what I’ve done. Sometimes I might write about Japan, but others times I expect I’ll use it to put a record to what’s on my mind. I thought about starting fresh, and changing the whole domain, but then again, that’s just too much of a hassle.

So here’s to a New Year, no resolutions, no destination, but surely better than the last.

 

 

Ps. Tomorrow (technically today) will be the 11th year anniversary of my movie hopping tradition. I plan on going to the theater, so anyone who wants to join me is welcome, even if you’re still an ocean away.

Racing

This comes off of the previous post (Run) but I got so into it that it kind of took on a force of its own. At first I was trying to just briefly describe the difficulty of running to a pace. Maybe it’s an old school way to think, just because I haven’t done anything else in so long, but I think everyone when racing needs to go in with a goal pace. Not only that, but it should probably be something realistic. It should be something that can be attained, but improved upon during the actual event. As such it gets to be really hard to find the spots of a race to stick to the pace, or the times when you have to push a little bit harder. Of course, an even pace would be ideal, but a race is anything but balanced.

I think I’ve figured out the trick, though, to the pace. In college, while running an 8k race, you would instead split it into five miles: relax, run, race, fight, finish. As long as you hit the second step, I always found it a good way to run. For the amateur world of adult road racing, the same system can be used with just a little more organization.

First, you need to run. In a college competition the majority of people are on a similar level. You can go out towards the middle of the pack and know it won’t take long to reach the front. You don’t need to think the moment a gun goes off because you’re only running in a reflective crowd of you on your best and worst days. In the real world, the moment you relax you get sucked up behind all the hobby joggers. If you start out at an easy pace, not near the front, you’ll instantly lose half a minute. On the same line, you have to be careful. There are also a bunch of idiots who think the pace they start will be the pace they finish. If you go out too fast to avoid the regulars, these pace pushers will stick right behind you throwing off your rhythm until you’re both dropping off too soon. No, the beginning of a road race takes you at your most normal level, running like any other tempo workout, ignoring what you’re doing for the first kilo of two.

By the third kilo I think you need to race. It’s necessary to be hitting your goal splits by this point. If you’re falling behind you’ve gotta push it more, if you’re far ahead you’ve gotta start rationing your energy. This is less a physical change than a mental one. If you’re not already in the mood to win, or do your best, then you’ll be screwed. If you’re strategy isn’t already in order you’ve only got another two minutes to figure it out. By this point every behind you has fallen off, and everyone around you is sticking to their pace. You’ve got to figure out a way to pick of the leaders.

This brings us to the most exciting point in a 10k, the relief, the turnaround, the halfway point. Here you fight. It may seem early, but if you can look at the glass half full — the race half over — you can crush your opponents. Any surge or position change will absolutely devastate anyone who can’t keep up. For your own mentality, you’ll be pushed into a new gear. It will be painful, and seem crazy, but your body will maintain it.

So despite your mind screaming, “You know four kilometers is actually a lot farther than you think. That’s a whole thirteen minutes!” your body won’t have the capacity to slow down. Any hint of moving slower means admitting defeat, and  your legs will avoid that at all cost. By this point, six and a half kilometers, you just need to relax. You need to suck in the breath of fresh outdoor air and do the math again. Pretty soon it’ll be ten minutes, and that’s just eight times around a track for most high school students. You can be better than most high school students. Suck in that air, ignore the paranoid sounds of steps approaching behind you, and relax.

But only for like, twenty seconds.

Now you need to focus on the end. It’s finish that comes here because like race you still need a strategy. The end is still to far away to just will yourself into winning. With the remaining kilometers you need to pay attention to your body, the course, and those paranoid steps that might just actually be approaching. Not preparing for an open valley with wind pushing you back five seconds could wipe away the potential energy needed for a final kick. How many water stations are left and will you need to stop at any of them? I always like to use those as moments to gauge the distance between me and the person behind me. More than America, Japanese spectators make sure to cheer for every participant at every moment. So the moment of silence from when you pass by to their next cheers let’s you know how close the next runner is on your tail.

The last leg starts the moment you see that 1k remaining sign. It’s like that scene from the Two Towers when Gandalf shows up on the hillside. Sure, you’ve still got a battle, but at least it seems winnable. This is how you go for the last three minutes, pushing whatever energy is let through your heart into your veins and down your legs. I’ve found the distance that you can kick increases equally with the distance of your race. For a 1500 (where you’re always kicking) it’s the last two hundred. In a two mile, it’s the final lap. For a cross country 5k there’d always seem to be the same guy standing on the side of the path exactly eight hundred meters out yelling at me to go. For a road race its this final sign, the signal to go with all your might and wipe out the distance between you and your goal.

Run. Race. Fight. Relax. Finish. Fight (part II).

Weather

As a Minnesotan, I must say one of my bad habits–especially when stalling out when conversing with a stranger–is talking about the weather. It’s a tad ironic that we tend to diver to weather as the main topic, since Minnesota typically only has two types of weather anyway: bad and worse, but alas, it’s a fundamental social tactic for me. By now I think I’ve been able to fully appreciate the mundane movement of the clouds and the banality of a midsummer’s day. As such, I’ve also come up with plenty of ways to look at weather under a unique lens. Words like: brisk, searing, and tranquil start to crop into my vocabulary, or at the extremes: sultry, blazing, and deluge. I don’t know if I mentioned early on, but the first days settling in Fukui were a torrid mix of sweat infused days and balmy nights.

That type of weather seemed ceaseless, at least in levels of humidity, even when the clouds started blocking out the sun. Now, only a month later and still in the wane of summer, it’s hard to remember those days when wearing anything more than your thinnest t-shirt seemed absurd. After we went to the BBQ a while back, my neighbor and I went scouring around the greater Tannan area to each Book-Off (a used manga, book, and media store). I mark it as the last day I wear a tank top in Japan, or at least until next summer. As the day wore on and the clouds moved in to rain, I felt pretty exposed stuck with bare shoulders (a social rarity) while wishing I had a jacket.

The changing has kept up, despite various assurances that whatever threatening typhoon has either dissipated or passed us by. It’s been pretty nice to have in school, since it’s the only sort of air conditioning we get, though, at home it gets to be a nuisance. As someone who still has no furniture, internet, books, or distinct form of entertainment in their apartment, watching the clouds go by (yes, an occasionally fun pastime) only reminds me that I’m stuck inside. Also, without a car the decision to walk to the grocery gets solved pretty quickly with a potential downpour.

One thing I guess I can say, is Monday morning–the day we had without school–turned into the day I finally figure out how to get my washing machine to work. I woke up habitually pretty early, at least before eight o’clock. The night before I determined that I would do laundry in my place after finally receiving a washing machine from my advisor used in his college days. When we had gotten it in the apartment and tried setting it up, the nozzle wound up spraying water all over whenever it was connected. I had looked around at other people’s machines and figured I needed a new part for my spigot. However, the Home-Depot-esque store that was the closet (half hour) walk away didn’t open until 9:30 like most stores, so I figured I’d putz around to see if I could actually get it to work.

I unscrewed plenty of things, twisted off tubes and nozzles, and after dousing the walls even went over everything with a borrowed hair dryer to make sure I wouldn’t get mold. By the time I planned to start walking to the store, a bit of rain rolled in and I decided it’d be better off on me and my wallet if I spent more time trying to figure it out on my own. In the end, I got a load of laundry going, and after a momentary shutdown and more unscrewing on my part, finally got everything working consistently. I did laundry for most of the day, starting at noon and going into the evening. After repairing the dry-wall in my old apartment from the wholes I drilled to mount my TV, I’d say I’ve probably achieved handy-man skill level 2 by now. Although, let’s hope it stays at that level for a while.

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That picture is actually a bit misleading. It was taken at 7:30 in the morning over the weekend, but by 9:30 all the fog had disappeared and lead to a sunny and almost clear sky. A couple of sun showers and rain pours flocked in throughout the day, but it seems that’s just more for me to talk about.

Fireworks

At some point between Saturday and Sunday my foot felt supremely better. Still slightly limping, but at least able to put pressure down on my foot completely. I decided that today I’d put amends to my lack of excitement for the week and end my holiday with a bang. In the afternoon I got a ride to what I’ve been told are the biggest (and therefore) best fireworks in the prefecture. Honestly, the only bad thing about today is I had to stay on the beach and couldn’t actually get in the water (oh, and it rained a bit, but apparently that isn’t a problem for Japanese fireworks).

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By far the largest fireworks show I’ve seen. It was pretty cool because they went in stages. too, with various announcements and dedications in between each one. One was even set to a Joe Hisaishi medley,and another synced to rad girl j-rock. Makes me wish I had a little bit more time to explore before school actually starts, but  I’m already going into work, so I’ll have to wait a little longer before I have time (and money) to actually adventure.