The Things that Happen In-Between

Today I met with a friend of mine who I haven’t seen in 7 years.  Back in 2005, I was an exchange student in Shizuoka, Japan through the American Field Service.  I was a high school senior, and having won a 6 week study abroad to Japan the previous summer, my parents decided it was a good investment to send me for a gap year.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life yet (what to study, where to go to university, etc), so a gap year seemed appropriate.  I would have to say that both my stays in Atsugi and Shizuoka were major milestones in my life.  I know a gap year is common in Europe, but it really isn’t in the States.  I think it gives young people a chance to really grow (living in a completely different culture doesn’t necessarily come easy) and to figure out what the next major decision might be.

I went to Shizuoka Johoku High School, which was originally a “Joshiko” or “All girls school.”  When I was an exchange student there they were transitioning to co-ed, which was most likely due to a decline in popularity of same-sex schools.  At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about attending a same-sex school, but as time went on I realized it was actually a really good thing (and it makes a lot of sense in Japan, where young men and young women rarely even eat lunch together in the same group; it’s much more gender-segregated here).  I have spent time in two universities; one all-female, the other predominantly male.  While my second university was larger, more prestigious, and landed me my current job, my first year at the all-female university had its own positives.  Women feel more comfortable engaging in dialogue with teachers and asking questions in all or predominantly female classes.  

Columbia University points out some key issues in co-ed classes–> HERE.

Anyway, my friend S and I talked about our lives, where we’ve gone and what has happened to us in the years that have passed.  It’s funny, I don’t feel like we’ve aged, except now our hair and clothes are styled much, much better and we’ve outgrown that certain teenage-awkwardness.  We both discussed careers, relationships, family, travel, mutual friends.  It was wonderful and I go back and think how lucky I was to have been able to study abroad and to have made friends with people who I can still talk to today from that experience.  When all comfortable barriers are taken away and suddenly you find yourself at a loss both linguistically and culturally, I think you are presented with the opportunity to truly see yourself–and to have others see you–without the rose-colored glasses of your own culture.

199466_502707813159_4541_n

Shizuoka, 2005.

mesakkun

With S, 2013

purikura

Advertisements

Harajuku + Asakusa

Although it has been cold here, it was sunny all weekend, and so the perfect time to do a little sightseeing. To be quite honest, we’re running out of places to go in Kanagawa, so once work permits I think we’ll try and take some trips down to Western Japan.

Saturday I went up to Harajuku for a little shopping, but before that I made a stop at Meiji-Jingu. Built in 1915 to honor the Emperor Meiji and his wife, it is located in Yoyogi Park and is a pleasant break from the surrounding city.

317942_569944550199_951019987_n

sake

meiji

ema

ema1

Just as I was about to leave the main complex a wedding procession entered:

wedding

After leaving Meiji Jingu I headed into downtown Harajuku for some sightseeing and shopping. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Japan, Harajuku is a quite fashionable–yet highly eccentric–area in Tokyo. On Sundays (and I still have yet to go) many young men and women who are into the quirky fashions get together and hang out near the station, readily providing eager sightseers and onlookers photographs.

guys

takeshita

clothes

colors

Today we headed up to Asakusa to visit Kappabashi-dori, aka “Kitchen Town.” It’s an area in Tokyo where one can buy restaurant items wholesale. From the famous plastic food items found in Japanese display cases to the hanging red lanterns outside ramen shops and izakaya, if it’s for the food business, chances are you can find it on Kappabashi-dori. All over Kappabashi-dori are images and figurines of Kappa, water nymphs of Japanese folklore. Kappa are creatures which can have natures ranging from innocently mischievous to outright cruel.

kappa

kappa2

Famous plastic food found in display windows:
food

Taiyaki maker
taiyaki

All the ketchup and mustard bottles you could ever need!
ketchup

dishes

With the Tokyo Skytree and Asahi Beer Hall behind me
me2

Until next time!

This New Year’s Post brought to you by David Bowie

tumblr_mffs0fHIn41qz4d4bo1_500

I’ve been listening to David Bowie’s “Heroes” recently and have been inspired by its daring declaration of love amidst war. So I’m declaring love amidst war and happiness amidst chaos.

I recently returned home for my long anticipated holiday vacation. The plane ride across the pacific was easily the worst flight that I have ever experienced, with what seemed like hours of clear air turbulence violently shaking the aircraft. I have made that flight about 16 times, and none have been as terrifying as that one. And even though I was sandwiched in between two people but had previously selected an aisle seat when I purchased the tickets, even though things had just seemed to continuously be going wrong that day, I was elated when the plane landed in Chicago and I realized that all the things bothering me were so incredibly trivial.

2012 has been a very difficult year. It started off on a very bad note personally, and blows were thrown repeatedly at work. There were some very low moments where I just wanted to completely give up, but I muscled through and I realized something incredibly simple: my life is very, very good.

2012 started on a bad note because of a hurtful personal experience, but from that experience I started distance running. I also learned what I would accept in terms of treatment by others. Instead of dismissing poor behavior as being too picky, I now know to see what something is for what it presents itself as.

I experienced blow after blow at work. We passed every challenge handed to us, and more importantly, I HAVE A JOB–WITH A GOOD SALARY! I own my own home, travel as I please, and have never worried about anything financially. My job isn’t glamorous, it’s a constant headache, but it provides me with an incredibly good life for a 20-something college graduate.

The only thing I was looking forward to at the end of the year was coming home to see my family. The fact that I have a family who is so incredibly supportive of me and is constant in my life is perhaps the greatest thing of all. Because I could be nothing, I could fall, and they would still be there ready to receive me as is.

So my resolution for this year is to write more, because I’ve been denying myself the thing that has been with me all along. Seeing life and color and experiencing it all, happiness, sadness, boredom, anger, elation. It’s all there, and I’ve been living it all. This is what I am, for better or for worse. I have my problems and my issues (hey, who doesn’t?), but I know that truthfully they aren’t so bad. I’m worse off than some, luckier than most. I can’t remember the exact quote, but I read in a magazine recently something along the lines of, “Happiness is being able to do what you please in the evenings.” And I have that luxury; I can go out to dinner with friends or lounge around in my apartment reading or giving in to my Pinterest addiction (no shame). I’ve gotten my share of heartaches and embarrassments and frustrations, but right now, this New Year’s Eve, I’m doing okay. In fact, I’m doing better than that.

I’m doing pretty well.

memayumiyu
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from us!

Sankei-en Garden

It has FINALLY cooled down here!  In fact, the weather has been ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS!  On Monday I woke up and went for a run before heading up to Yokohama to go visit the Sankei-en Garden.  It was built in 1906 by a silk trader named Tomitaro Hara who went by the pseudonym Sankei Hara.  He purchased an extensive collection of historically significant buildings from all over Japan and brought them to his garden, which he largely designed himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above photo was taken inside the Former Yanohara House, a home originally from Gifu prefecture dating back to the Edo Period.  The house was HUGE!  There are a few original areas still intact–the hearth above is one of them.  It was definitely an interesting structure.

 

 

The Tomyo-ji three story pagoda was originally constructed in Kyoto in 1457 and relocated in 1916 to the garden.

 

Wooden carvings of the goddess, Kannon, on the doors of Tenzui-ji’s former Jutō Ōi-dō, built in 1591 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi as the final resting place for his mother.  He’s one of the major historical figures for Japan, playing a large role in the country’s unification.

 

The Rinshunkaku pictured above originally belonged to the Kii House of Tokugawa (the Tokugawa clan had three “branches,” Kii, Owari, and Mito).

 

 

The Chōshūkaku is another structure associated with the Tokugawa clan.

The entire garden is very Nihon-rashii, or “Japanese-like,” and even some of the Japanese tourists walking around commented, “It feels like Kyoto, doesn’t it?”  I recommend checking Sankei-en out if you’re in the area, and it’s especially great for locals who want the “Kyoto feel” but can’t necessarily devote an entire weekend traveling 4+ hours away by Shinkansen.

Hopefully as the leaves turn I’ll be able to get some more shots, maybe a Sankei-en round 2 trip is in store…

Scenes from a Home

One of my favorite hobbies is interior decorating.  My dream house would definitely be a beach cottage somewhere with a mixture of coastal vintage, shabby chic, bohemian, and chinoiserie.  Of course, that’s a long ways down the line.  The image shown above is of my kitchen table.  Yellow seems to be a common color that makes an appearance throughout my apartment, especially my living room.  If used correctly, I find it can be appropriate for any season.  For example with autumn, I have opted to highlight the brighter of the fall colors: yellow, orange, red, as opposed to brown.  I won’t lie; it was actually a bit accidental; the curtains in the apartment are unchangeable (I would have loved to have gotten different ones) so I had to work with what I was given.

I’ve been decorating for fall for a few weeks and below are two shots of the living room:

I love natural sunlight and so having many windows is an absolute must for me.

I use Bohemian accessories to create a relaxing atmosphere (especially after working 12+ hours).  A few of my favorite colors to use are purple, magenta, and fuschia.

I found this elephant wall tapestry at a boutique in one of the local department stores by chance.  I liked the color scheme and thought it would be a nice addition for a room.

I bought this Chinese antique at a bazaar held on the Naval Base.  Using jewelry as decorative adornments can add character and brighten up a piece.

Close up of the doors with Chinese carvings, accessorized by my favorite pair of earrings.