Sunday, August 20, 2017

Shout it Out!

Not since my first six months in Korea have I lived for the weekend.  Back then, I didn't feel like I had much choice - I didn't know any of my fellow teachers well enough to want to hang out with them, so it was my Mormon friends who kept me going that whole time.  The end of February that year we got an infusion of new blood at GDA, and those teachers - particularly my Missouri homegirl Sara - transformed my expat life.

Ever since then, I've had a pretty good work-life balance, finding friends to play games with or try out new restaurants on weeknights, and not just on the weekends.  Hopefully that will be the case here, too, but until I find my feet socially, I at least have no intention of letting my weekends go to waste.
I've written about how sometimes it is ridiculously difficult to find out about upcoming events in Mongolia.  In Japan, it seems to be the opposite.  Last Monday Savvy Tokyo published a list of events in the area this weekend.  I felt totally spoiled - would I go to a jazz festival?  Dance in the streets of Minami-Koshigaya?  In the end, though, I decided that what I really wanted was to attend a yelling contest in Yokosuka.
Now, in spite of being jam packed with people - or perhaps because of that exact thing - Japan is actually a fairly tranquil, quiet place.  Case in point, practical knowledge gained from watching anime #1: you shouldn't practice music in your apartment.  This came up in orientation and I thought, "Aha, I know that one."  Even talking on your phone on the train is frowned on.  So the kind of crazy screams I used to let loose riding my little dirt bike around the farm in Excelsior are pretty much a no-go...unless you were at Myozoji Temple in Yokosuka yesterday.

In theory Yokohama is a great place to be, and everything is relatively close together.  By American standards, for sure.  However, in practice, the 41km (25 miles) separating me from my first temple this go-round took 1.5 hours to transverse (or they would have, if I'd actually gotten off when Google Maps told me to, instead of deciding that I was fine taking the express train all the way to Shioiri Station.  Dumbass).  When I woke up yesterday, I questioned whether or not I actually wanted to go all that way, but the whole point of living in Japan is that I'm already here for all of these experiences, so I decided I could be lazy another day.

Registration started at 10, but it was almost 11 by the time I got there, thanks to my detour.  To my relief, it actually wasn't as crowded as I'd feared - it may only be two weeks since I got here, but even in that short time I've seen some crowds, man.  I'm not sure if that was because it was off the beaten path or because it was Too Darn Hot...

Actually, I'm beginning to think I have superpowers.  The past week was almost pleasant.  I mean, once you got past the rain, and I didn't actually mind the rain since, you know, vampire...  And then last night, after whinging about how hot it was a huge storm blew in and I was able to open the windows and get by with just the fan.  I'm sure nobody would be surprised if I actually turned out to be a mutant, but there ya go.
There was a tent where participants registered, receiving a number for their turn.  Another tent had chairs set up underneath, although most people were milling around the temple grounds.  My number 1 favorite part of the festival, though, was that they had a booth handing out shaved ice - for free!  Or if it wasn't free, they didn't ask me for money, so hey!  In the last two weeks I have improved my Japanese abilities by 0%, but I already knew the Japanese word for strawberry - thanks again to my anime obsession! - and if it wasn't the most delicious thing I've tasted in the last two weeks, I don't know what was.

There was also a stamp rally for the kids.  They had tiles to paint and crawdads to fish for, and probably one or two other things that I couldn't figure out because I've been living in Japan for two weeks and I still only know 3 kanji.  Suffice it to say that like almost everything in Japan, it was kid friendly.

The main event, though, was the yelling contest.  Participants stood on the front porch of the temple, in front of a microphone, and shouted whatever they wanted, as loud as they wanted.  The temple was surrounded by a cemetery, so no worries about bothering the neighbors.  I recognized "OTOUSAN!" and "OKAASAN!" in a couple of the shouts, and wondered if maybe they were yelling to their deceased parents - this week was the Obon Festival, which welcomes back the souls of departed ancestors.

The microphone wasn't for making sure they were heard, though - most people didn't need any help with that!  They had some kind of measurement going on, I'm guessing decibels, and after each person finished their shout, we all looked at the score to see how loud they were.  My favorites were the macho guys who thought they'd been super loud, only to get beat by an old obaasan (granny).  The crowd responded with laughter, and in spite of being incredibly hot and having everyone yelling their hearts out, and the mood was light and happy, which I needed after spending the week reading about everything going on back home.

If I had chosen to participate in the contest, I would have had plenty to yell about.  As it was, I thought my pent up anger about my batshit crazy countrymen might put me at a distinct advantage.  Instead, I found myself wishing I was home, to counterprotest this insanity and add my voice to everyone else's saying, "This is wrong.  This is not what our country is about."  Instead, I'm half a world away, and I just hope that at some point I'll be able to make a difference.

When I first moved abroad - thinking it was only for a year, hahaha - that was my justification, that when I came home I would be able to share a broader perspective with my students.  I'm not sure anymore if I'll ever go home, and if I do whether I want to deal with the enormous shit-storm that constitutes teaching in the good ol' US of A, but I still hope that all my years as a prodigal will teach someone something, even if it's only the niblings.

Til then, Japan has it's everyday delights to balance out the everyday frustrations.  Walking back from the temple, I came across a little walking path criss-crossing a stream, and instead of hurrying to get on the bus back to the station, I took the stairs down and walked along it.  This is the kind of discovery that speaks to my soul - a little slice of nature hidden between the jumbles of houses.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The World Ahead

It's one week tonight since I stepped through the arrivals door at Haneda Airport and into my next great adventure, here in Japan.  It's been a long time since I dealt with the upheavals that go along with rebooting your life from a new server, so to speak, and over the last week I've been dealing with a dawning realization that goes something like this:  being a tourist may be better than being an expat.

Okay, stick with me for a while and hear me out.  The whole premise of my so-called career is that I'd rather see the world long-term, rather than the snapshots you get breezing by in a week or less.  However, the last seven days have presented some rather compelling evidence that perhaps I would have been better off staying in Mongolia and spending every vacation here instead.
For starters, there's the major issue of not having the internet.  Which is to say that I, in my very humble abode (pictured above, and a lot better looking on the inside, but you should know better than to think I'll show you that until I've got everything the way I want.  Yes, Babysis, I am looking at you), have no hope of getting an internet connection for possibly months.  Apparently the Japanese bureaucrats like to jazz that shit up with red tape.  Now, I dealt with this very issue once, many many moons ago when I moved to the UAE, but it was Ramadan and I had no options but to suck it up.  This time around, I cracked after 3 days and ordered a pocket wifi router, which is why you're getting this blog tonight.  You're welcome.
There's also the fact that I have been in Japan for an entire week and not visited a single temple.  Last fall I think I made it to at least one every day, but no.  Even when I haven't been at work, I've been too busy setting up my apartment and finding my way around Yokohama, particularly to the Ikea...yeaahhhhhh, who am I kidding?  My first excursion was actually to the Animate at Yokohama Station, and it was a glorious experience.  I mean - look at all the Gachapon machines!  Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?
I did manage to stumble on this section of a walking/sightseeing trail my first morning at around 6:30 while looking for someplace open that would break my 10,000 yen note so I could get a coke.  It spit me out onto a street that had a 24 hour cafe called Jonathan's.  I enjoyed both the trail and the "drinks bar" at Jonathan's, which featured free refills of coke, but I haven't seen more of it, because it's Too Darn Hot, and no part of me is interested in sweating that much.  There is only so much a fan and a hankie can do for you.
Working also kind of sucks.  Not the actual job of course - so far, I like everything about my school - but rather, you know, working.  Instead of running around all day seeing cool shit I spent Wednesday and Thursday getting orientated for said job.  And here's the thing: I haven't actually been a newbie in five years, and I forgot how incredibly, painfully awkward it is, not to mention the vast information overload that goes along with it.  Meanwhile, Pikachu Outbreak was happening right over in Minato Mirai while I was sitting in meetings.  Admittedly I had a three-day weekend to check it out, but it was rainy, so the airship didn't take off, and although the Pikachu cruise went when I first got there I was too far away from it to wave to them and they apparently cancelled the next launch - at least the people in the official shirts said some stuff in Japanese and everyone went away so I assume that's what happened, and the big ass carnival parade is tomorrow, and I won't make it down after work in time for it...

What's that?  You feel no sympathy for poor old me?  I suppose you probably shouldn't.

I can NOT overemphasize the fact that adjusting sucks.  It is a ginormous pain in the ass, especially when you're out of practice, but the ability to be in the front seat for all of the wonderful, weird things that happen in Japan - and the Pikachu Outbreak is a quintessential one - is exactly why I gave up working with people I absolutely loved and jumped into the unknown.  And it turns out that the hardest part thus far is not having those people around.  I'm not the most social person by any means, and although my introversion suits me well in my lifestyle of choice, I've been around my family non-stop for the last month, so I feel a little untethered.  What I really want is the chance to chat with Engrish about my impressions of my school, Blondie about the trials and joys of living in Japan, and my little Weebs about all the cool shit I see on a daily basis.

From experience, I know it takes me a while to find my place, and that when I'm patient, I find the people who appreciate me - not in spite of my craziness, but because of it.  Til then, I'm lucky to have extended friends around.
It's funny how when you announce that you're moving somewhere everyone comes out of the woodwork.  I'd already tracked down a family I went to church with in Shanghai, but I learned I have a distant (as in, I'm not sure what ordinal to assign him) cousin in Nagano, that the Evil One's nephew is in Yokosuka, and that a dance sister from Seoul's best friend lives right here in Yokohama.  When I posted a photo on Facebook at Minato Mirai, he replied that he was there too, and I had the chance to meet him and two of his friends.  Even though they weren't Engrish, or Blondie, my Weebs, or the others now scattered to the four winds, they were my kind of people, and it made Japan feel a little more like home.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Con Artist

Next time, pre-register, dumbass.
I had all sorts of great things I was going to write when I got home, but once I finished my farewell to Mongolia posts, reality set in.  I was supposed to be taking an IB MYP training - it was too late to get a refund, and I didn't feel like throwing away that kind of money - and somebody (ahem, me) left some work unfinished at her last job.  The rant that was may still be...we shall see.

Instead, let me tell you about my con.  Last summer I wrote about attending AnimeIowa, the anime convention closest to my permanent address.  In April I found myself seriously considering whether or not I could be a professional nerd.  The positives are that I would be awesome at it - I have tons of ideas, and am enthusiastic, particularly (at the moment) about anime.  I don't have much street cred (at least, not outside of Mongolia), but when I arrived at our moms' Peeps Bunco Night,* Baby Chicken Wing (my aforementioned high school rival) exclaimed, "Oh good, now I'm not the only weird person here!"**  On the negative side, I'd be getting a late start and...oh yeah.  I hate people.

But, you know, it takes all types.  Right?
Last year, as I was walking around the exhibition hall, I found myself thinking, "Maybe when I move to Japan," and realized that, for me at least, this was a realistic thought.  One year onward, that's exactly what I'm doing, and it was hard not to feel a little smug and wonder if I was wasting my time Stateside by coming to AnimeIowa.  Why should I shop the exhibition when I'll actually be an hour from Akiba?  I'll be living the dream, after all.  Well, if you are one of my six faithful readers, you know I've spent the last year honing my skillz for what I personally consider to be the main event - the Mini-Festival.

This event started last year, and was one of the things I most enjoyed about AnimeIowa.  If you are one of those people that finds dolls creepy, you'll probably want to skip it.  There's a lot of lore in Japanese culture about dolls, and if you want to learn more, this video will tell you all about it, but the TL;DR version is this: dolls have souls, which may explain why so many people think they are creepy.  But the Mini-Festival involves more than just dolls.  Gundam model kits are also a pretty big part of Japanese culture, and are also a part of the contest.  Last year, there was just one category, with awards given for first, second, and third place.

This year there were four categories, and with probably three times as many entries, mostly in the doll costume and doll customization categories.  There was also a category for plushies - my specialty.  If you haven't been following my descent into madness, I started sewing because nobody was making the things I wanted to buy...and then it got fun.  But since last year's con, I've also had the goal to create a plushie that was capable of competing with the OP level of some of the entries from last year, while still retaining my kawaii aesthetic.
I decided he had to be a bishie, and have a pretty ornate costume, and who fits that bill better than Sesshoumaru-sama?  (Okay, actually I was a little torn - I came up with another character who would work, but decided I should stick with Sesshoumaru this year).  Almost from the beginning he was a pain in the ass.  He has a pattern on his face, which I first made with Sharpie, which promptly smeared all over his ears and hair, so I had to re-do his entire head, making the stripes with an airbrush instead.  I also decided to make him with only one arm, since early in Inuyasha his brother cuts his arm off - and that threw the body shape off.  During the last year I've made a couple of plushies with kimono, so I knew the basics.  However, Sesshy's has a pattern on the sleeves and shoulder.  I considered painting or printing the pattern, but when I found it on a handkerchief I bought in Kyoto last fall, I decided to applique it on instead.  But the true challenge was his armor.  I had silver Sculpey, and thought that would work perfectly, but I had the hardest time attaching the arm pieces to the breastplate without it breaking, so in the end I had to remake them by needle felting.

It was a huge pain in the ass...but guess who won the plushie category?  And when they announced my win, the judge who was the most supportive a year ago said, "You've really upped your game."  All the prizes were fantastic***, but I think that meant even more - she's next level.
Last year she also encouraged me to offer a plushie panel at this year's con, and sometime this spring I decided to go ahead and do it.  I'm not entirely sure what I was thinking - probably that it would be a good way to build up some of that street cred I'm lacking.  Suffice it to say that by the beginning of July, when I realized that if I ever got finished with my curriculum maps and IB training I still had to put together a presentation, I was a little panicky.  And when I went into the room where my panel would be, I was kind of terrified.  Here's the thing: I'm a teacher, and getting up in front of a bunch of people and showing them how to do something is kind of what I do.  But usually those people are less than half my age, and there are 20 or so of them.  When my panel started, every seat in the room was full - 10 at each of 8 tables, plus some around the sides.  I put together a presentation, and that worked alright, but there were things that I would have done better to demonstrate.  I probably should have taken my document camera when I left Mongolia...next time...  This is not to say that it was a catastrophe - lots of people told me how much they enjoyed it, and it was definitely something different.  But I know I could do better.
Before the Mini-Festival a couple of guys did a presentation on Gunpla (Gundam plastic models - that word-shortening-joining thing is very Japanese).  It was really interesting to hear them talk about the different kinds - AND I got a small kit out of it as a door prize.
This year's theme was the Dark Carnival of Pigs.  After taking my first look at the exhibition hall, I had a little over an hour before I was meeting my mom for dinner...

...yes, my mom took me to an anime convention.  Negative one million adult points.

Anyway, seeing that their haunted house was about to start back up, I decided to wait in line and check it out - I mean, who doesn't love a haunted house?  After an hour I'd made it to the front of the line, and was ushered in.  And was a little disappointed, but I'm still trying to sort out why.  AnimeIowa is a family-friendly con, and I'm sure that they could have made it scarier, but it was okay.  I guess it just wasn't enough, and I think that's my problem more than theirs.  I think my expectation is that a convention should be the most amazing thing ever, but after traveling around Japan, I have pretty high expectations for "the most amazing thing ever."  To make me happy, it would probably take an art show by Akane Yano, special guest seiyuu Kamiya Hiroshi, and an exhibition hall reminiscent of at least Denden Town (although I wouldn't give up all the crafty goods, it would be nice if they at least focused on anime).
Or, you know, these weirdos.  A year after ASU's first anime night, they put on another activity focused on Naruto.  Every Wednesday during their lunch, they met in my classroom to plan it out, calling them "Weeb Meetings."  On the road back to Glenwood, I found myself thinking next year, we'd have to take the best events from AnimeIowa and make a mini-con...and then I realized that my little weebs weren't moving to Japan with me.  I'm incredibly excited for everything I'm going to get to see and do when I get to Yokohama, but it's a little hollow because I know exactly what I left behind - a good school, great admin, and the best damn students in the world.

*Bunco = some kind of fast-paced dice game.  For the Peeps, it's a monthly excuse to one-up each other, showing off their culinary skills and homes.

** Babysis was offended by that statement, as she had been talking to Baby Chicken Wing when I walked in, but she and I have spoken before about where she falls on the acceptable range of normality, and that is firmly in the middle.

***I came home with a new Nendoroid, a Fullmetal Alchemist cup, a Charizard plushie, and a figurine from Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, plus a medal for me and a little one for Sesshoumaru-sama