Friday, May 30

Avoiding Vortexes & Travel Plans

As I often do, I found an interesting and applicable concept through my internet wanderings. I call them wanderings because there are certain places I also go to, on the internet, to read and learn. Every place generally has several links to other places, some of which I visit. And then each of those places has several links to even further places. Before I know it, I am far far away from where I started, but in an interesting place where I am still learning. Today, my wanderings placed me here, reading: "Stress is a myth".

The article in and of itself was interesting, and gave me some things to think about and try to apply to my own thoughts when I am 'stressed'. However - the most applicable idea came from the comments, near the bottom of the page. A commentator, Jennifer, offers up the idea of HALT. It's simple - 'don't try to process emotional pain when you are too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.'

I've blogged a couple times about the rollercoaster of emotions and feelings I've experienced throughout my Japanese adventure, so far. Some of them are moments of pure joy, while others drag me down into the dark depths of my own thoughts and endless circle of negative thoughts and feelings. The thing about tripping into a vortex of negative and emotional darkness is that it keeps sucking you, and pulling you further in - making it harder to get out. Hopefully, I keep in mind that HALT concept, and when I start tripping, 'halt' and realize that I am probably a) hungry, b) angry, c) lonely, or d) tired, or I suppose - d) all of the above; and am not emotionally fit to try to process what I am feeling. Perhaps that will lessen the extent to which I travel into those dark vortexes.

-------- On another note.... --------

I was supposed to go hiking tomorrow, and was looking forward to it - but it's supposed to rain, so it was cancelled. :( June is Japan's rainy season...I've been told that it rains (pretty much steadily) for about 3 weeks or so. I've always liked rain, but we'll see how I feel in a few weeks!

Instead, I may try to track down a temple I've heard about in Kyoto or Nara (I can't remember which). If I do, I'll take some pictures to post! :)

Next weekend I plan to go to Hiroshima & Miyajima with a couple other coop students. I think it will be in interesting weekend. Miyajima is a beautiful island with beaches and jungles and beautiful temples. Hiroshima needs no explanation. We are hoping to camp on Miyajima for the night...I'm looking forward to getting away from the big city again for a bit!

Wednesday, May 28

Infinite Hello Kitty

Some interesting Hello Kitty-ness...


Hello Kitty for Men (more)

"Young men these days grew up with character goods," said a spokesman. "That generation feels no embarrassment about wearing Hello Kitty."

Guess what Dad, Mark, & all my guy friends are getting for Christmas!?


On the other hand, maybe it's not so manly...

Punished by Hello Kitty
The armband is large, bright pink and has a Hello Kitty motif with two hearts embroidered on it.

From today, officers who are late, park in the wrong place or commit other minor transgressions will have to wear it for several days.

The armband is designed to shame the wearer, police officials said.

But at least children like it (or her)...

Hello Kitty Cabs

Tokyo-based taxi firm Kanachu has commissioned 10 cars complete with Hello Kitty seats, blankets and umbrellas. ... "We hope mothers use our service when small children cry because they have to go to hospital or kindergarten," Mr Habu said.

(See first Hello Kitty post.)

Tuesday, May 27


People notice me. They can't help it.

Most of the time, they just notice. Their eyes linger for a second - to notice the differences between me and the people that surround us. But usually, that's it.

Occasionally, I feel someone staring. When I lift my eyes, theirs quickly divert. Until mine lower again. Then I feel the stare again.

Sometimes, it's just curiosity. I don't mind.

Sometimes, it makes me feel like a micro-organism under a high-powered lens. So I stare back, until they stop.

Sometimes, I watch them out of the corner of my eyes; wondering what they are thinking and noticing. My clothes, my hair, my skin, the shape of my face, my height, my shoes. All the things that scream: "I don't belong here."

Sunday, May 25

Party of one, please.

I woke up, and decided that it should be an extraordinary day of pleasure. Why? It's my birthday! And birthdays should always be fun.

In the spirit of pleasure, I laid in bed until I got tired of laying in bed, and wanted some breakfast. And may I say - breakfast was delicious. I had two chocolate swirled crepes, filled with fresh fruit. One fruit was on a bed of smooth and creamy tofu, the other a crunchy bed of sweet Frosted Flakes. I enjoyed breakfast along with a beautiful card and encouraging letter from my Grandma Wilson. I used my birthday money to buy some books I've been wanting...they'll be waiting for me when I get home (I can't wait!)

Fresh Fruit-Filled Chocolate-Swirled Crepes

After breakfast, I relaxed for a couple hours and chatted with family and friends - via MSN and Skype. At 11 o'clock, I headed out for a birthday swim. After my swim, I relaxed in the steam room, had a long shower, and spent 20 wonderful minutes in the massage chair.

I had lunch at a cute little cafe and opened my presents from my Mom & Dad, and Gran & Grandpa. I got a book that I am now dying to read, my favorite scent - in lotion and body wash, new socks (There's absolutely nothing better than new socks. If I could I would never wear socks twice.), and a cute shirt - along with Happy Birthday cards and wishes.

Presents, Birthday Sandwiches and a Milkshake

I sat in the stone square, in the shade beside the fountain and started my book. After a chapter and a chocolate birthday cake snack, I biked back to the dormitory.

Birthday Cake & A Good Book - Nothing could be better!

I'm watching a Nancy Drew movie - just for old times sake. I loved Nancy Drew, growing up - and read all the books I could get my hands on. Supper is in the oven, and may I say - it looks like it will be delicious!

Baked Eggplant & Beans

My birthday was extraordinary, despite the solitude. I connected with lots of family and friends, ate delicious food, and got wonderful presents. I am 21 years old, and I am living on my own in Japan. I have many people who support me in everything I do, and encourage me at every turn. Sometimes, life is tough. But it's also extraordinary.

PS - I was right. Supper was amazingly delicious. Wish I could offer you a taste test on the blog! :)

*Click on any of the photos for a (very much) larger version

Saturday, May 24

Chatterbox - Mind. Won't. Stop.

I'm sure you've been in a situation where someone (or several someones) just won't shut up. Welcome to my life.

I know I generally write about the lack of interaction and communication I get, but today - I'd like to admit that there is someone in my life who chatters incessantly. She won't shut up, won't go away, won't even tone it down to a whisper. Just full-steam-ahead chattering, ranting, raving, and imagining.

I like to talk (that's no secret), and there is an extreme deficiency in my talking in Japan, when compared to my talking in Canada (that whole...other language thing). So, apparently, I have decided to make up for it. Yes, I'm admitting it - I talk to myself. Sometimes outloud, sometimes in my head. It's the 'in my head' stuff that gets me.

What do I talk about, to myself, in my head - you ask? Generally nonesense. For your entertainment purposes, some conversation snapshots are listed below (yes, actual conversations I have had with myself). Nonesense includes...arguing whether or not to do something; talking myself into or out of moods; theoretical conversations in situations such as: new relationships, old relationships, job interviews, meeting the Queen, hanging out at home, school, as a lawyer in a court case, as a student meeting a mentor, in the Amazon, as a wife, as a mother, in class, at the beach, with random people, as an animal; mentally writing: novels, self help books, biographies (as myself or someone else); what I would say if people asked me what I talk to myself; designing and inventing machines or random devices - just to name a few.'s annoying. Sometimes I wish I could turn my mind off, and stop it from thinking or talking. I haven't yet succeeded. If you have any ideas, let me know!

Actual conversations I have had with myself (don't laugh. okay, do. I would.):

*2 inch me hanging out in a flower with an aphid...
"Life is hard, my friend. Really hard."
"Hey - life is hard for us aphids too, you know."
"Really? How is it hard for you?"
...(conversations about the difficulty of life ensue)

*swimming; wondering what I would say if people asked what I talked to myself about...
"What do you talk to yourself about?"
"Everything...but nonesense mostly."
"Well what would you tell someone who asked?"
"Hmm...maybe I could tell them I pretended I was a whale."
"The big blue whale slowly floated through the water, wondering where it should go."
"Hm...where should I go. Oh - Plankton!"

*after work, trying to convince myself to go to the gym...
"No. Yes. No. Yes. I don't want to. I don't care. You have to. Well, you don't. But you're going go! No. You'll feel better. Don't care. Do it. No. Yes."

*my life, narrated (I do this more often than you would think.)...
"She weaved slowly through the people moving down the walkway, feeling mellow and quiet. She wondered how long it would take her to get to the gym, and when she would be home again. She glanced ahead of her, noting the funny old men who often sat by the veranda and waved as she went by."

"It's my life, It's now or never, I ain't gonna live forever, I just want to live while I'm alive, It's my life, My heart is like an open highway, Like Frankie said
I did it my way, I just wanna live while I'm alive, It's my life!"

I'd put more, but I don't want you to think I'm too crazy - its too late, isn't it? Anyways. The point of this post mind talks to me incessantly, and I can't make it shut up! Sigh. And I wonder why people think I'm a little crazy.

A Year In Review

Well, if I wasn't an adult before, I am now. When exactly does the transformation take place? And I'm not certain I ever asked to be in charge of my entire life...well - maybe I did when I was 13 or 14. But I was young and stupid - what can I say. Being in charge of your own life is hard, and I'd like to change my mind now. Dr. Dressup, apples and cheese, please.

A lot changed for me over the past year, and I changed a lot. Thinking back over the year, it went fast - really fast.

Some of it makes me laugh - like random adventures in the Elk Valley, Courtney & I's adventures in Sparlem (HA! That was one for the books), an afternoon with Michelle (one for the photo album...or not), Hynda's birthday (I'm more outgoing than I thought), love confessed in the back of a taxi (what does one say to that?!), EVCC Christmas Parties, last night out in Fernie (hehe, good times) - and infinite more.

Some of it embarasses me a bit, even now - to think of the silly things I said or did, amidst trying to navigate my way through new or difficult situations. Or just being ridiculous, because everyone needs to do that sometimes. But most of the embarassing moments also make me laugh - and I know that the majority of them, no one else would consider embarassing...just a product of the moment. And so I laugh.

Some of it makes me sad, and a bit wistful for days gone by. I said goodbye to some good things, some good memories, and some good people - more than once. Some days, I wish I could go back to any number of times and live there again, in that moment - just for a minute. One of my favorite songs is 'Starts With Goodbye', by Carrie Underwood:

"I guess it's gonna have to hurt,
I guess I'm gonna have to cry,
And let go of some things I've loved,
To get to the other side,
I guess it's gonna break me down,
Like falling when you try to fly,
It's sad, but sometimes moving on with the rest of your life,
Starts with goodbye."

I learned a lot this year about letting go and moving on. It's hard, even when you know its the right thing to do, and even when you don't want to. Fortunately, few of the things I've let go of haven't actually left my life, they've just changed roles - something I am extremely grateful for. Or some of them - like my life in Canada - aren't gone, just sleeping. :)

Some of the year was hurtful; things I or other people did, said, or experienced. But from those moments, I grew stronger and I learned more about myself, life, and how to live.

All the memories and experiences I accumulated over the year - happy, funny, embarassing, sad, difficult, hurtful - now, every single one of them makes me smile, at least a little bit, if not a lot. I've decided to live with no regrets - some decisions I made were good, others bad - but all of them got me to where I am now. I don't regret any of them. And I see that I've changed; a year's worth of change. Must be older and wiser, eh?

I won't try to list the names of all the people I am grateful to for their support and the roles they've played in my life - especially with regards to my time in Japan. But I appreciate it beyond what words can say.

Dr. Dressup, apples and cheese was good. But I suppose, despite the difficulties it sometimes presents, this grown up thing isn't so bad. In fact, I might even be enjoying it. :) This last year has been a rollercoaster of adventures...

Let's see what this year throws at me! Happy Birthday to me...

Tuesday, May 20

Hello Kitty

The other day, I was doing my random internet reading, and I found out that Hello Kitty was named the Japan Tourism Ambassador!

So I thought - since I am in Japan and all - I should find out a bit more about Hello Kitty. I'll admit it - I'm not one for characters or brand names. Hello Kitty, Strawberry Shortcake, Disney...I have never been the person who buys one of everything with a cute little character or name on it. This means I know nothing, about any of them.

Speaking of knowing coworkers often ask me if I know this character or that character, from Japanese anime and comics. Comics are big here. They're everywhere. At any given moment on the train, I'm sure I could find at least 15 people in my car reading a big comic book. Anyways - the point is: I know none of them. Apparently the coop student before me knew all of them, so I'm falling a little short in that arena. Oh well.

I won't be going out and buying a Hello Kitty purse, sandals, headband, pillowcase, umbrella, socks, notebook, binder, or tea mug. (but if you want to, you can find all manor of Hello Kitty items here, or some rather strange Hello Kitty products here (guns just don't seem to fit the Hello Kitty image).

But I am slightly more educated in the Hello Kitty area, now. You can be too! Unless you stop reading!

Hello Kitty is 34 years old and was born on November 1st, 1974 in Tokyo, Japan - to the Sanrio Company. She wasn't registered until 1976 (2 whole wasted years).

At the age of 25 years old, she got her first and only boyfriend - Dear Daniel. She has lots of friends and family - for her 30th birthday, her father (George White) gave her a pet cat named Charmmy Kitty, and Dear Daniel gave her a pet hamster named Sugar.

This isn't Hello Kitty's first serious job - when she was 19 years old, she became the US Children's Ambassador for UNICEF. She's had quite the star life - she's been a fashion statement (for the likes of Mariah Carey, Steven Tyler, Heidi Klum, Miley Cyrus, and Paris Hilton - just to name a few); she has her own guitar; she has an album by Lisa Loeb; adult underwear; online MMORPG game; several TV series; and infinite brand name items (50,000 products in 60 countries).

Currently, Hello Kitty is living with her family in London.

Now that you know all you ever wanted to know about Hello Kitty - and infinitely more....go share your knowledge with the world!

Sunday, May 18

Me vs My Life

I was talking to a friend who also recently moved quite far from home and the life he was used to. I moved across the world and he moved across the country. But we're in similar situations, I think. Mine may be a bit more drastic (what with the language and culture change), but both of us are left in a strange place, knowing few people, and finding ourselves condemned to spend a lot of time alone.

I asked him how he dealt with spending so much time alone...he listed off things he finds to fill his time, ending with:

"I don't mind being alone - it's simple, quiet, easy to manage."

I must admit, I'm a little jealous - but him saying that did help me explain to myself why I have had some difficulty adjusting to life here and spending so much time alone.

Kyle says: its quiet, simple, easy to manage
Steph says: that's good.
Steph says: i think don't do well with quiet, simple, and easy to manage.
Steph says: i need busy, crazy, and somewhat stressful.
Kyle says: well, YOUR NOT
Steph says: lol
Kyle says: and YOU ARE

He says he understands me better than I give him credit for. He's probably right. But I figure that his two phrases in response to my two phrases is a pretty good summary.

My life here is quiet and calm and simple - I am not. Hence why we have trouble working together. But we're adjusting, and learning from each other! :)

Saturday, May 17

Naked Party In The Locker Room

I grabbed my shower basket (you’re not cool in Japan unless you have a shower basket), and my towel and stepped up to place them in the glass cubbies outside the showers. An energetic, wrinkled little 4 foot-something lady bounced up to me - if you had been there, you would have heard something like this.

Her: Pooru? Pooru ni ikimasu ka? (Pool? Are you going to the pool?)
Me: (caught slightly offguard) Uh….yes – pooru!
Her: Oyagu? Pooru – oyagu? (Swim? Pool – swim?)
Me: Hai – oyagimasu. (Yes, I will swim.)
Her: Nan-fun? Dore kurai? San-juu pun?(How long – how many? 30 minutes?)
Me: Uh…hai – san…san-juu kai. (motioning back and forth with my finger)…san…san-juu made. (Yes – 30 times…1, 2, 3, until 30.)

She was quite excited and laughing and bobbing and bouncing, stepping side to side and back and forth. I should probably mention that we were both standing there, completely naked, (that means no towels, either), having this energetic conversation.

Her: Sugoi, na! Na! (Great, isn’t it?!)
Me: (smiling awkwardly, trying to make sure I am a) understanding her correctly, and b) forming understandable Japanese answers)Her: Aruku? Arukimasu? (Walk, will you walk?)
Me: (slightly confused) Uh…ie – oyagimasu (making swimming motions with my arms) ( - swim.)
Her: Ah – hai, hai! Oyagu! (copying swimming motions with her arms) Crawru, crawru?
Me: Hai! Crawl! Hai! (Ha. Mission accomplished – communication successful.)
At this point, two other women came out of the shower area – there are now four of us standing around, completely naked. How often do you see 2, let alone 4, women – in Canada – standing around, completely naked, having a conversation? Never – at least, I haven’t.

Her: Hayai, na! Hayai…
Lady2: Supeedo!
Her: Eh?! Hayai?
Lady2: Hayai niwa eigra wa ‘supeedo’ (‘hayai’ in English is speed)
Me: Hai! Supeedo…wakaru! (Yes – speed, I undersand)

I should also mention that I had left my glasses in my locker – and those of you who know me know that I am practically blind without them. So just when I thought the conversation was finished, the bobbin’ ‘n’ bouncin’ lady would start talking again…but I couldn’t really see her, so without knowing where she was directing her words, I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or the other ladies.

Lady2: Doko kara kimashita ka? (Where are you from?)
Me: (proud of myself for understanding) Canada – Canada kara desu.
Awkward naked silence.
Me: Arigato…sumimasen… (ducking out of the alcove to the scale)
I weighed myself, then went back to get my bathing suit before going into the showers.
Her: (still bobbing and bouncing) Takai, na! Na! (Tall, isn’t she, isn’t she!)
Me: (awkward smile and laugh) Hai…hai. (Yes…yes.)

All three of the ladies are now giggling.

Her: Na! Na! (I don’t really know how to translate this….’I see, I see’ is the closest I can think of. Or maybe ‘wow, wow!’).

Awkward silence, amidst giggling and bobbin’ ‘n’ bouncin’.

Me: Sumimasen…yoroshiku onegaishimasu…arigato! (heading for the showers)
Her: Hai, hai….(somethin, somethin’) – gambatte!! Na, na! (Yes, yes…good luck!)

Smiling and still giggling a bit to myself, I hit the shower. She was pretty funny, and seemed to find me quite a marvel.

After a quick shower, I had to go back through the alcove to head out to the pool. She was still there, as were the other two ladies. I smiled and tried to be polite with my ‘sumimasen’s and ‘yoroshiku onegaishimasu’s…and she wished me good luck again, with a couple of ‘Na, na!’s thrown in for good measure.

She was quite friendly, and I was proud of having had an entire conversation (sort of) in Japanese – I do hope I see her again – we will both be excited to see each other and will probably exchange smiles, giggles, ‘gambatte’s, and ‘sumimasen’s in our lack of clothing. I’ve determined that being naked with other women lends itself to bonding rather quickly – despite the language barrier and short interactions. Perhaps that’s why it still seems to be so popular here.

Friday, May 16

Japanese Candy

Imagine a world without licorice... I know. How would we survive? What would we eat? Okay...slightly overexaggerated. Canada has lots of candy to replace licorice, should it ever become extinct. However, I have made a startling discovery.

They don't know what licorice is. None of my Japanese friends or coworkers know what licorice is! I noticed a lack of gummy and chewy candies here (hence my requests for Swedish Berries shortly after arriving)...but I didn't realize that soft candy doesn't really exist here. (Notice I said "doesn't really", not just "doesn't" - thanks to the miracles of importation and the internet, you can get anything anywhere from anywhere, now... and I have seen soft candy once, at a small candy stand.) But the idea of soft candy doesn't seem to register to my coworkers - one of them told me that they call 'soft candy' a 'caramel'. I assured her that a caramel was different than a soft candy.

Mom brought me (lots :) ) of licorice, so I brought it into work - prompting much explanation and questions about it and Canadian candy in general. I'm sure Japan has more soft candies that I don't know about...but my coworkers seem to also be uneducated as to Japanese soft I can only assume it's not very popular here.

Perhaps I should start a chain of candy stores in Japan...swedish berries, fuzzy peaches, sour cherries, gummy worms, gummy bears, licorice...

What's your favorite soft candy?

Thursday, May 15

Moms Visit - Part III

Tuesday - On Tuesday we got up (again) at the crack of dawn (for me, that meant 7:00, for Mom, that meant 5:30ish) and took off for Kyoto. Kyoto is the previous capital of Japan, and the old architecture has been quite well preserved / copied for tourism's sake. Mom and I visited Nijo Castle - a beautiful castle with amazing artwork.

We were required to take off our shoes to walk the old wooden floors through the castle. The original artwork on the doors and walls was breathtaking - unfortunately, cameras weren't allowed. The shogun who built the castle wanted to be quite sure of his safety - and incorporated two over-the-top safety features (the castle was already surrounded by large stone walls and a moat). The castle is famous for it's 'nightingale floors' - floorboards designed to creak, creating a sound like a nightingale. With the special floor, no one could sneak into a room or around the castle without someone knowing. The shogun also had hidden rooms for his bodyguards, marked by large red tassels. We saw the red tassels in several places.

Above - Nijo Jo and it's garden in the background...

After Nijo-Jo, we walked in the hot weather to Imperial Palace Park. We were quite hungry, so we stopped for a Japanese lunch of udon (thick white noodles) and fried rice. After lunch, we discovered that you can only access the Imperial Palace if you request a special much for that idea! But it was a nice walk through the park, and we had a good lunch there.

We subway'd a ways and walked some more, up to Kyomizu Temple. Since we were pretty tired and it was late in the afternoon, we decided not to go into the temple, and to do some souvenir shopping instead. (Warning: I may rant and ramble in the next paragraph...)

We visited a short but delightful shopping street with all kinds of delightful things...notebooks, art, dishes, incense, dolls, clothing, shoes, umbrellas. I was trying to decide souvenirs I wanted to purchase now to send home with Mom - less stuff for me to bring home in August! I don't remember when it happened - or even how it happened. But near the end of our trip, while I was finally making a decision, we noticed a tag or a label that proudly read, "MADE IN CHINA". Disappointed, we promptly decided that we could not purchase a souvenir from Japan that was made in China. However - this proved more difficult than we thought. Once we started checking, almost everything was made in China! I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was slightly surprised, and disappointed. The shopping street looked so...quaint and realistic. But Kyoto is a tourist district, and let's be honest - it's much cheaper to buy in bulk from China than make it! I was frustrated that I couldn't even buy a true Japanese souvenir. In the end, Mom bought a couple notebooks, and we had some ice cream. Last time I was in Kyoto, I found a beautiful little dolly, and the lady told me she was an antique. She's been on my mind since I first saw her, and I decided that instead of buying several 'Made In China' souvenirs, I would rather have one authentic souvenir. We found the place again, and I bought her. She is handmade with antique fabric - even her face was painted by hand. Purchasing a beautiful and authentic souvenir of my time here took away a bit of my frustration and disappointment in all the China souvenirs.

We left Kyoto with our (few) souvenirs, and went home, with big plans for Wednesday morning.

Wednesday - We got up Wednesday, at the crack of dawn one more time, and had another delicious breakfast. Mom finished packing her (and some of my) stuff up, and we went to the onsen for an early morning soak. We left with plenty of time to get to the airport...

Once we got there, we found out that her flight departure had been delayed by - not 1, not 2, but 4 hours! Didn't need the extra time to get there, after all... So we had a nice lunch, checked her baggage, and then did some airport browsing. We found many of the similar souvenirs we had found before...some seemed more authentic, but you never know. We shopped, then sat, then shopped some more...we explored across the plaza, and into the airport hotel. Sitting in the sunshine on some coin-operated massage chairs, I had a short nap, and Mom had a massage.

We did a little more shopping, and then said our goodbyes. I waited until Mom went through the first security check, and then headed back to the train station. It's difficult to describe what I was thinking and how I felt when I hugged her goodbye.

I felt very small, very alone, and very vulnerable, and somewhat hopeless. I made it this far, by myself - I knew I would survive the rest of my adventure here. But I suppose I had gotten used to spending most of my time alone, and having Mom there for 5 days - someone to talk to, listen to, hug, laugh with, walk with, eat with...I suppose I knew that being alone now would be that much harder than it was a week ago. Part of me wanted to book a flight home for the next day, part of me wanted to go home and curl up and cry myself to sleep, and part of me wanted to not think or feel at all. I chose the latter most one - pulled out a book, and buried my face in it on the train; so no one would ask if I was alright...because I wasn't.

It's been a week since Mom left, now. I've slipped back into my routine, but I still miss having her here. I miss Canada (I never realized how proud I am to be Canadian, but I am!), my family and friends, and the busy and active life that I am used to having. Mom and I talked some about my life here vs my life in Canada, and some of her thoughts, combined with some of my own thinking has helped me understand why I don't feel like myself, and why I am somewhat over-emotional and so up-and-down. It's encouraging to understand some of why I've had a difficult time, but it's still hard to get through those difficult times.

In 86 days, my friend Jo-Anna will come visit for a week, and then I will be home. I'm excited, but I suppose a little nervous. I wonder how much I really have changed, how much the life I had has changed without me, and how everything will fit together in the fall. But - no matter - that's not for 93 days...

Until then, more Japanese adventures to come...

Wednesday, May 14

Moms Visit - Part II

I realized I forgot a VERY important part of the Sunday-day!

When we got back to the dorm, we went to the onsen! I received tickets for the onsen several weeks ago, but didn't want to venture there by myself. So - I brought Mom! The entrance to the mens and ladies rooms are covered by red and blue curtains, respectively. Doorway curtains here are split in the middle, cover the top two thirds of the door, and have fancy writing on them. Inside the pretty curtain is a locker room and a powder room. The locker room has lockers (you didn't know that, didja?), and the powder room has a couple sinks and several counters with blow dryers. A sliding glass door lets you into the shower area. The picture below is from my dorm, but the onsen showers are the same.

This particular onsen had several pools, a sauna, and a steam room. There was a cold pool and 1 hot pool in the shower area. Outside were several more pools...walking outside was like walking into a tropical spa - it was beautiful!

The center pool was made of rock...rock steps, rock sides, rock floor. The water was warm and steaming slightly. On the left side of the pool was a vertical rock wall, with a thin stream of water falling from the top, down across the rock seat, and into the pool. Scattered about the pool were large rocks to rest on or lean against. To the left of the main pool was a horizontal stone area, with taps across the back wall. The taps let hot water flow across the rock platform - laying down on the platform was the perfect spot to rest or cool off, and the hot water ensured you didn't get too cold! Beside the entrance was another pool, with a natural chemical to soften your skin. The pool edge was slightly off the ground, and tiled. To the left of the entrance were the massage pools - two identical pools. Each one consisted of three stalls, with two sets of metal tubes between them - similar to those used as handrails on pool ladders. Leaning against the back wall of the pool awarded you a wonderful and very strong jet massage.

After a long day of being on our feet, the onsen was a perfect way to relax and hopefully prevent some of the ache in our they would be all ready for the next 3 days of adventure!

Monday - Monday morning, Mom woke up at about 5:30, and I was up around 7. We had another delightful fruit and pastry breakfast, and walked to the train. We met my boss and his wife at Kintetsu Nara Station. They took us around Nara park and to a couple popular temples and shrines.

Nara Park is famous for the deer - there are over 1000 of them in the park. Deer are considered sacred, and are well respected by park visitors. If you're brave, you can buy a packet of rice cookies to feed them - but they can get pretty aggressive if they know you have food! After a couple hours of sightseeing, Takemori-San & his wife took us for a very fancy Japanese-style lunch, which was delicious! Next we visited a shrine and a flower garden...'Wisteria' was in bloom, and it was gorgeous!

Takemori-San invited us to have tea at his house, afterwards. The house was quaint and the entrance was surrounded by pretty flowers. The inside of the house was quite small, but beautifully decorated with quilted items! Yoko (Takemori-San's wife) taught herself to quilt and has made some incredible things. She made us tea and coffee and we all chatted - she also gave me & Mom little gifts. I got some delicious green tea, and Mom got a small decorative set. It happened that the day was 'Boys Day', a day to celebrate and bless your sons. The set that Yoko gave Mom was one that a mother would typically set up on the holiday to bless her sons.

We went from Nara straight to Namba to meet my coworkers for a Japanese-style dinner. That was quite the adventure! Everyone was very polite to Mom, and Hisazumi-San brought us both very pretty hankerchiefs. (Sidenote: Bonus to Mom visiting...I get lots of presents, too!) Yamaguchi-San ordered drinks non-stop for Mom, and by the end of the meal she had 5 in front of her. I had to laugh, because usually it's me they do that to! Traditional Japanese dinners come in several small courses, and it was a lot of food...but it was delicious! I was trying to see it from Mom's perspective, since I'm used to being in similar dinner situations. I realized that there is the occasional question or slightly difficult conversation, but for the most part, they talk in Japanese and I (we) watch and try to listen. After dinner, we headed home and watched part of 'Notting Hill'...but Mom was falling asleep, I was tired, and my computer was slow, so we didn't finish it.

It was a very busy day, but full of exercise and good food!

Monday, May 12

Moms Visit - Part I

Okay - so I'm finally posting the Mommy Visit! I'm sorry it took so long to get be honest, I had a sort of blue weekend. It's hard to be lonely, and then when you're not lonely for 5 days, being lonely afterwards sucks that much more!

It was great to have Mom come and visit me. We had a lot of fun - I had someone to talk to, laugh with, show stuff to, hang out with, and someone beside me. She was very encouraging about my adventures here, and a lot of what she said made sense and helped me sort through the difficulties I'm having. It was really hard to let her go at the airport, but we counted - and in (now) 97 days, I will be back in Canada! :)

Here's a brief summary of her trip and our adventures...

Friday - Met her at the airport. Her flight was slightly late (4:15 instead of 3:45), so when people finally started coming out from behind the mysterious 'Arrivals' door, I was psyched! I wasn't going to cry when I saw her, but (you guessed it), I did. But just for a minute. And I got the best hug in the entire world. We headed home (long trip, heavy bags), and made some eggs for dinner. She was pretty tired (it's a long long airplane ride), and we went to bed around be all ready for Saturday!

Saturday - Mom woke up really bright and early, and I woke up bright and early. We had some yummy pastries and fruit for breakfast, and set off to visit Expo '70 Park & the Japanese Garden. It was a hot day. And by hot, I mean 30 degrees at 24% humidity - in APRIL. This summer might kill me. Anyways - we picked up some lunch at the supermarket (once I found it - I don't get lost often, but I'll admit I was a little turned around). We watched a kids dance show and had a snack, the continued on our way. At the park, we walked around and took in the flowers and the foliage (both in the park and the garden), stopping for traditional Japanese tea.

After stopping at Namba for a crepe (yummy) and some photobooth photos (fun!), We got off a station early on the way home (at Yamamoto), and got Okonomiyaki & Yakisoba for dinner. THAT was an adventure.

'Why?' you ask? Well. The stand is inhabited by 6 or 7 (good looking) Japanese guys - early 20 somethings. I don't speak Japanese. After staring at the menu (they're all watching the strange white women out of the corner of their eyes), I realized I couldn't read anything on it. So, I picked the second best method. I pointed. Then they asked me a question in Japanese, to which I responded that I didn't understand. They pointed, and I nodded. Mission accomplished. We did waste some ginger when they showed us a handful to ask if we wanted it (we didn't). Being eager tourists, we leaned in to watch the front-most good-looking guy make our dinner. The other good-looking guys thought that was pretty funny. All-in-all, it was a slightly embarassing, giggle-causing, fun dinner stop.

As it turned out, going to bed at 10 became a habit (as did bright & early), but it had been a full and very hot day, so once we got home, we were pretty tired.

Sunday - Sunday was (fortunately) a little cooler than Saturday, but still incredibly warm! We visited Osaka Jo (Osaka Castle) and Osaka Ko (Osaka Bay). The Bay area was quite a bit cooler due to the breeze coming off the water. After a Giant Wheel ride, some lunch, and a crepe for dessert, we headed home again after a (very) full day. (Note - We figured we walked for at least 6 hours every day.)

Above - Osaka Castle's Beverage Service...

Above - On the Giant Wheel! (Taking pictures of one's self never turns out well. And that one is pretttyy terrible. Mom looks great, though! Now how does that happen. Me too!!)

Since this post is getting long and I'm getting tired, you'll have to wait until tomorrow for the rest! This was the first half of the trip...although, I was trying not to think in terms of time, because then I realized it would end, and that just sucked. Thinking that it would end brought up a whole bunch of negative thoughts and sadness and lonliness, so I just pretended that she could stay forever. I wish she could have!

Mom - feel free to comment if I missed anything!! :)

Friday, May 9

All The Fuss (Added To)

(Addition at the end - I finished the book. First part from the morning, second part the evening.)

I am reading Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. Considering all the controversy that surrounded it when it became popular, I thought I should see what all the fuss was about - and I have! The story draws you in, as most mysteries do (especially to me). The book does have a large amount of historically accurate and historically controversial information weaved into the fictional plot and the information it presents to go along with the plot. It reads as a true story - and it would be easier if it were written as one! I will have to do a lot of other reading and research to figure out what is based on fact and what is included as fiction. It is intriguing, though, and I am thoroughly enjoying the book.

I apologize for not blogging this week - hopefully I'll get some updates up this weekend. Mom left on was really hard to see her go, but we had a great time while she was here. I'll put up some pictures, etc soon.


Edited to Add:
I feel as though I've been handed the answer to the greatest secret in the history of this world. I feel emotionally and mentally strained. All because of a novel - a work of fiction. I don't know if it is that some fact along with controversial 'fact' is so artfully and completely woven in with the fiction. Or if it is the incomprehensible impact that would be made, were the story true. A good book pulls you into the story; intertwines your life and your story with that of the characters. Dan Brown certainly did an incredible job of creating a world and a story that envelopes the reader. I can see what the fuss was all about. Several times I had to force myself to close the book for just a minute and breathe in and out - to avoid exploding with suspense and excitement; my heart racing at the possibility of danger and the taste of an answer to the riddle. When I read a book, I become a part of that world; I am there, and I see, feel, touch, and taste the story surrounding me. Some books are better at drawing the reader in than others. The Da Vinci Code is one of them, and I can understand how so many people took the book as truth and fact. If you haven't read it yet, I would recommend it as an excellent novel. But be may find yourself running from the French police, sweating at gunpoint, and solving mysterious riddles (I believe have found 83 of the 92 anagrams to 'planets'. But the remaining 9 elude me. Grr.).

PS - Sorry - I know this isn't a book review blog, but I got so caught up in the story that I skipped the gym (read while walking home instead), and haven't eaten supper yet (9:30pm now). So the book is what my evening consisted of; therefore, blogged.

Friday, May 2

International Arrival

I met my Mom at the airport this is so good to see her!

The trip out to the airport was interesting because last time I made the trip (when I arrived in Japan), it was dark and 3am and I was just trying to keep my eyes open and keep up with my boss. Kansai Airport is on a (sinking) man-made island - from the train, going across the bridge to the airport, all you can see to the left and right is ocean...rippling, endless shiny ocean. It was beautiful.

While I was waiting for her flight to arrive, my mind took a bit of a trip through a wide range of emotions and thoughts. I remembered how much I like travelling, airports, planes, and hotels. I realized (again) - I am living in Japan. I am across the world from Canada, living in Japan. Wow. Some days, I have to remind myself of that - and how incredible it is! At the same time, I felt homesick. I was excited to see my Mom, and excited to show her around Japan. I was excited to be going home in a couple months, and thought about how it would feel to leave Japan and get on that plane to go home. I think I will miss Japan, when I go. But it will be good to be home again.

When she finally came out the arrival door, I ran to meet her and got a big hug. I told myself I wouldn't cry, but - I did. Just for a second.

We made the long trip back to my dorm, heavy bags and all. It reminded me of my trip back to the dormitory - how strange it all was, how exhausted I was. And look how far I've come; how long I've been here; and how much I've changed.

Now we're back at the dormitory (3am Canada time, 7pm Japan time), and after a nap, we're going out for dinner!