Tokyo bound

Today is the day! Soon, I will board a plane and 16 hours later, voilà, I’ll be in Tokyo. Although it may be a while before I have an internet connection, the next blog post will be from Japan! I’ll make sure to keep you all posted. For now enjoy the entertaining thought of me lugging around two 50 pound suitcases, a hiking back pack and a brief case.

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Sayōnara to the states

Sayōnara, adios and annyeong are all words used to express goodbye. Over the next year, not only will I be teaching English in Japan, but two friends (basically my other siblings) will also be teaching English in South Korea and Spain.

I’m sure I can speak on their behalf and say that we are all thrilled to adventure into the unknown, live amongst new cultures and make the best of unique opportunities. What may be less obvious is that we are also thrilled to have the support and encouragement of family and friends (a.k.a.: anyone who cares enough to read this). Your support was obvious at the sayōnara party hosted by my awesome mom. Friends, family and community members gathered at our house to wish the three of us good luck. Oh, and it goes without saying that said party included hot dogs, potato salad, sweet tea and the best chocolate cake in the world (Japanese decorations included).

So, although sayōnara, adios and annyeong may, by definition, mean goodbye–to us, they really mean see you later. Thanks so much for all of your support and f.y.i. we may or may not have some leftover chocolate cake if anyone is interested!

Countdown to takeoff

In exactly 10 days, I will board an airplane and fly to Tokyo, Japan. In Tokyo, I, along with all first-year JET participants will attend workshops and lectures prior to traveling to our placement cities. Along with adjusting to the time difference and playing in the city, Tokyo orientation intends to provide JETs with basic information and assist with cultural preparations.

That being said, it’s high time I pack my bags. Four days ago, I was leaving in two weeks. Somewhere in between those 14 days dwindling down to 10, I’ve realized that I can only procrastinate so much longer. I have a sneaking suspicion that gathering everything I may need over the next year and cramming it into two checked bags, a carry-on and a personal item may, in fact, be much more difficult than anticipated.

Next time you see all this luggage, it will be much bigger, much heavier and ready to accompany me to Japan! Regardless, I think we can confidently predict that I will not be a candidate for TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive show whilst living in Japan…

Book review: 36 Views of Mount Fuji

First things first–I absolutely LOVE this book:

In “36 Views of Mount Fuji: On finding myself in Japan,” author Cathy Davidson reflects on her experiences living, teaching and traveling throughout Japan. Davidson absorbs the mysteries of a foreign culture and strives to understand its complexities. Her ability to immerse herself in Japanese language and customs while reconciling those traditions with personal emotion and perspective is reassuring for anyone preparing to live abroad.

Here are some of excerpts and images from Davidson’s memoir. The images come from a series of woodblock prints created by Katsushika Hokusai in the 17th century. Each image depicts a unique scene and perspective of Japan while also illustrating the unchanging presence of Mt. Fuji, a symbol of Japanese permanence.

“Being a foreigner, especially in a country where you are not fluent in the language, has an odd filtering effect. Ordinary, everyday language all around you becomes a kind of white noise, murmur without meaning, almost soothing in its inconsequentiality. When communication does occur, it seems to have more meaning (even when you can’t figure out exactly what’s going on).”

“One thing I’ve learned to love about Japan is its freedom from the classic Western notion that a person is a stable, unchanging, continuous entity, some essential self. In Japan, behavior and even personality depend partly on context, on the rules of a given situation.”

Lastly, did I mention that Cathy Davidson now lives in North Carolina? I think it’s a sign of good times ahead.

Book review: Under the Osakan Sun

The countdown to the Japan move began shortly after I graduated in May. Since, I have repeated my plans of teaching in Hiroshima countless times–to friends, family and even complete strangers. With each rendition of “the master plan,” I become a little bit more nervous and a lotta bit more excited.

In order to ease my anxieties, I decided to use this three-month period to learn as much about Japanese culture as possible (along with some beach trips and hanging out with friends). Naturally, I began this endeavor with a visit to my beloved campus library–Davis. After learning that I would soon be an unimportant alumna who must pay $40 for a library card, I proceeded to check-out The Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture.

Unsurprisingly, this “companion” proved to be anything but. After painfully completing the first ten-or-so pages, I decided that if I was going to learn anything about Japan, it would have to be via travel memoirs. First up–Under the Osakan Sun by Hamish Beaton.

In Under the Osakan Sun, Hamish recounts his three years of living and teaching in the southeastern part of Osaka prefecture. As a JET Program participant, he not only describes his relationships with his supervisors, students and neighbors, but also his many adventures and experiences as a gaijin, or foreigner.

Whether eating live octopus tentacles (that stick to the roof of his mouth) or participating in town festivals, Hamish certainly succeeds in absorbing Japanese culture. Unlike Hamish, I have not formally studied Japanese language. However, I hope to embody his sense of adventure and capability to adapt to a new culture.

Although Hamish did not significantly reflect on the emotional aspects of living in Japan, his vivid descriptions of the weather, grocery stores, beer gardens, bath houses and even dentist offices have given me a better idea of what to expect upon arrival. In fewer than 30 days–I’ll see if Osaka is anything like Hiroshima!