Hobbit Hole House Tour

What’s about, Bean Sprouts?

Today, because I am at work and am bored and literally have nothing to do (because summer in Japan, yay), I want to present to you: Apartment tour–Hobbit Hole edition! Many of you have probably never seen a Hobbit Hole before, and I don’t blame you. It’s hard to venture out into Hobbit Hole Central (ahem I mean Japan) to see these majestic abodes for yourself!

Don’t let the name fool you–anyone can dwell inside of a Hobbit Hole, big or small! Short or tall! Hobbit Holes have got it all!

For anyone moving to Japan, knowing what to expect in terms of your humble abode is a must, so let’s take a look at my Hobbit Hole in good ‘ole Hoshiga-oka (literally means “Star Hill”).

Let’s start with the door and entry hallway! Take note of the other doors on the floor, for a grand total of four. These are the other Hobbit Holes! Downstairs on the second and third floor are family Hobbit Holes, which are twice the size of regular Hobbit Holes. Wowza!

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Enter the lair, if you dare
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Legasp? What is this spy device to the left?

Notice the small black thing to the left of the door. This is the creeper doorbell. Fear not, for if someone ever rings the doorbell and tries to break into your dwelling to steal your things or assault you, the creeper doorbell has got you covered! The creeper doorbell takes video in real time and then takes photos of your guests so you can remember them for all eternity! Quite handy in case of the aforementioned potential break-ins, plus you get souvenirs of your friends whenever they come to visit you!

 

Now, let’s open the door, and take our first look inside of the Hobbit Hole! The entryway is called the genkan, and is where you must absolutely put your shoes, because the world will literally crumble into a pile of nothing if you don’t remove your shoes upon entering your home. This is why to the left of the genkan, a shoe rack has conveniently been provided to place all your difficult-to-put-on shoes, which apparently are much better placed on your feet while standing up, despite how many times you stumble and fall on your face. Above the sliding doors, if you will, is a portrait of a Hobbit Hole in the wild. I really like to pretend that my Hobbit Hole actually looks like that.

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Welcome to the shoe pile. Gaijin Style. 
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Doors Galore!
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What’s better than some cute cats as you walk in the door?
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Shhh. That painting is what my Hobbit Hole actually looks like.
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So organized! 😀

But wait…what is the door to the left, you ask? That’s a surprise for later, silly! Now, onto the main (ahem…only) room! Upon entering the main room, one must remember to fully shut the sliding doors, otherwise all the warm/cold air will escape. The Hobbit Hole has no insulation and is essentially cold blooded, meaning that it is largely dependent on external heating and cooling devices in order to maintain a comfortable, stable temperature.

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The Hobbit Hole in its natural state
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Are those…shoes…I see on the floor??
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Snacks and stuff on the table! At least you know I’m keeping it real. 
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The spare closet. Because the first wasn’t good enough. 

The main room of the Hobbit Hole consists of a kotatsu (a heated table), a sofa bed, some bookshelves, a lonely TV, and a wardrobe. The wardrobe exists because the closet did not come with any shelving or hanging units. Literally just an empty, tall, rectangular box. There is no real bed because the Hobbit Hole does not have adequate space for both somewhere to sit and somewhere to sleep.

There are two large windows in the Hobbit Hole, with frosted glass. This gives you the convenience of being able to be naked with the curtains open without anyone knowing, but has the added drawback of also not being able to see out of the windows, either. It’s a little inconvenient when you want to check the weather without actually going outside.

The smaller window in the Hobbit Hole lies along a diagonal wall with an awkward support column jutting out from it. This support column both reduces space and makes it virtually impossible to fit any piece of furniture against it in a normal way! It also causes the overall apartment to be shaped in what I like to call an “awkward trapezoid.”

If we open the closet, you’ll notice that shelves were added to give the illusion of space in the main room. But…the closet is a hot mess so we’re not going to open it. There is such a thing as too real. Sometimes, these shelves fall down, causing me to wake up in terror in the middle of the night when I think an axe-murderer is in my apartment Hobbit Hole!

Next, let’s move to the left, into what we will refer to as, “The Hallway of Shame.” Shame? Why is it shameful, you ask? Let’s take a look! 

shame

 

Inside the Hallway of Shame, you will notice that there was originally no built-in counter space. This is where the “kitchen” is. An additional cart was purchased to provide some slight extra kitchen utility space. Across form the support counter space is the washing machine, which is the least shameful thing in the Hallway of Shame. Other than entangling my clothes in a bear trap of impossible ensnarement, it does its job.

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Keeping it extra real with all those used dishes on the counter. 
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At least I can trust my washing machine. 

Moving deeper into the Hallway of Shame, we will reach the “functional” part of the “kitchen.” First, take a peek on the right, where you will notice a refrigerator, a microwave oven, and a toaster oven, all stacked on top of one another because Hobbit Holes only have vertical, not horizontal, storage space. Also note the lack of a real oven–we can’t overheat the Hobbit Hole with that! Looking to the left of Appliance Mountain,  here lies a sink and a hot plate. A single hot plate. There is only one burner in the Hallway of Shame, which is the first reason why it is so shameful! After all, why would you ever need to cook more than one thing at once?

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Someone enlighten me. Is this safe?
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My dad’s camping stove is better than this sad excuse for a kitchen. 

If you look across from the kitchen, you will find reason number two for the shame in the Hallway of Shame–the Claustrophobic’s Nightmare Shower, which is approximately two feet away from the kitchen. There is no window in the Claustrophobic’s Nightmare Shower, making it extra cozy. It makes taking long showers very uncomfortable, but there is the added convenience of being able to make a snack while you’re in the shower should your tummy get rumbly!

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The Claustrophobic’s Nightmare Shower. So windowless. So small. 
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Snacks are never far out of reach.

Looking more into the Claustrophobic’s Nightmare Shower, you will find the Hobbit Bathtub, which is just the perfect size to cry yourself into relaxation in the fetal position, because normal humans can’t properly extend inside of it.

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Perfect for a Hobbit!

Finally, we will come across the Hallway of Shame’s most shameful point–the Twin Sinks of Shame! The kitchen sink and Bathroom Sink are literally right next to each other, because God forbid you use the same sink for more than one purpose. How dare you even think it. How dare you!

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WHAT. IS. THE POINT???

But wait…we’ve seen the shower and bathroom sink, you say…So where’s the toilet? Do you even have one?

Psh. Don’t be silly, of course there’s one! Let’s go back to that secret door in the entryway! Here, on the complete opposite side of the apartment from the rest of the bathroom, is the toilet, which doubles as extra closet space!!! Note the water conserving sink attached to the top. Gotta love how eco-friendly it is!

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I pick Door #2!
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Congratulations! It’s a toilet! (That thankfully is somewhere between the stone age toilets and futuristic Jetsons toilets…)

Finally, we’ll go to the star of the Hobbit Hole, which is the balcony. While small, the balcony is just large enough to dry a few days worth of laundry, and has stunning ocean views of Osaka Bay and the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. When it rains, it gets cloudy and the bridge and ocean become invisible, making you feel like you live on the edge of oblivion! Neato!

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I hope you all enjoyed my little tour of my humble abode.

Maybe one day you can live in your very own Hobbit Hole!

Until next time.

When I live in a hopefully bigger apartment.

Until next time.

Peace out, Bean Sprouts,

-Erin

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Preparing for JET: Packing, Expectations, and More

Hello, dear Green Beans!

Oh wait. I’m the Green Bean. Well, from now on, so are you!

I realize that I’ve been slacking a little terribly on my blog posting schedule. Every time I say I’m going to be more regular about blog posting, I’m not. BUT, in my own defense, I’ve been a little preoccupied with grading over 300 speeches, so….sorry, but also not really. ちょっとごめんなさい。

Today, I’d like to address all my new peeps who have been accepted into the JET Program and are heading over here in just about a month! Congrats! おめでとうございます!Pull out your poppers and party hats and kazoos, because an awesome journey (figuratively, not literally–ain’t gonna lie, airplane is terribly not muy bien) lies ahead.

For those of you heading over here, I’m sure you’ve got a thousand things running through your heads right now. When should I pack? What should I pack? What do I do once I get there? What if my bag is too heavy? What will my placement be like? Can I move into my house as soon as I get to my placement? So, let’s chat about it. Hopefully, y’all have got good predecessors who don’t leave everything to your imagination. But, for those of you who don’t, hopefully I can shed some light on the situation for you.

Let’s chat about:

Packing

Departure day

Orientation

The first few days at your placement

By the way, am I annoying you by not getting to the point, like those food bloggers who write their life stories before the recipe when all you really care about is the recipe? Sorry ‘bout that no I’m really not. Let’s get started!

Packing   

When to pack: Honestly, now. A month before departure might sound like all eternity, but it’s really not for such a big move. You’ll be busy hanging with people, saying goodbyes, visiting relatives, figuring out what to do with your stuff that you’re not taking with you…Save yourself the suffering and some of the stress and start early, and just pack little by little, or sort your things into take/don’t take piles, or make a shopping list for what you need later.

What to pack your stuff inYou are allowed two checked bags under 50 pounds (I think 23 kilograms, if you’re not in the US), a carry-on, and a personal item. I recommend that you get quality, lightweight bags that are somewhere between carry-on size and gargantuan. The bigger the bag, the more likely it is to be overweight, so take that into consideration when choosing a bag. If you don’t already have suitcases, start looking now!

Be one of those crazy shoppers who who murders the other customers at bargain sales. Scope out the Sunday sale ads in the newspapers. Quality doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. For fear of my old suitcases falling part (they were too big, anyhow), I went to Macy’s, Dillard’s, Sears, and JC Penny in the great luggage quest of 2016. Do your research! Brands, best price, warranty, you name it. I ended up finding the best deal at Macy’s during two separate 1-day sales–60% off one suitcase, 70% off for the other, for two different, similarly sized Samsonite soft shell suitcases. I also recommend that one your bags is NOT a garment bag. You can only fit one or two outfits in a garment bag, and it’s just so much wasted space. If you’re worried about your suits, just fold them neatly and steam them in the shower at orientation (there’s also an ironing room at the hotel).

How to packUse one suitcase for your orientation things and pack enough clothes/necessities to get you through at least a week after orientation. Use another big suitcase for clothes and things you don’t need immediately, and your carry on for other assorted things, like books or shoes, that won’t contribute to your weight limits (because there are no weight limits on the carry-ons). Your personal item (probably a backpack) should be used for important documents, entertainment, and your laptop. For the big suitcases, pack things inside of things. Socks inside of shoes, shoes inside of purses, you get the idea. Vacuum bags are also great for things like t-shirts that you don’t need right away and that can easily be steamed or ironed later. I also recommend buying a luggage scale. They’re maybe 20 bucks at Target, and just clip onto your suitcase so you can painfully give yourself an unintentional leg workout as you lift your suitcase to weigh it. Very handy for last minute suitcase weighing.

What to pack:

(1) What you should pack

  • 1 or 2 suits
  • passport (duh)
  • phone, laptop, chargers
  • deodorant (Japanese deodorant is not very strong)
  • OTC medicine (Japanese medicines are much weaker than American ones–after a visit, I brought back Tylenol, Ibuprofen, special dandruff shampoo, magnesium supplements, and the brand of vitamins I like.  
  • Feminine hygiene products (If you’re a woman; they are very hit or miss here, and tampons are virtually impossible to find)
  • Bras (again, if you’re a woman; Japanese women and foreign women are simply not built the same, plus their sizes are much smaller.
  • shoes (for women larger than a size 8, men with larger than average feet, sorry for not knowing the actual sizes but I’m not a dude and I have pipsqueak tiny feet, so I don’t know)
  • clothes (If you’re a larger woman or man. Tall and larger men have difficulties here, larger women have issues. I’m about a size 12 in US women’s sizes, and I can’t really fit into any women’s clothes here, but can fit men’s large or XL clothes. Bring plenty if you’re worried about whether you will be able to find clothes, if you’re smaller, it probably won’t be much of an issue)
  • things to use in the classroom (flags, stickers, pictures, anything to get them interested. Use your own discretion on this one, I brought a small mountain of stickers with me and only just got a chance to use them now, nearly a year later)
  • Omiyage (something small from home that you can give to the other teachers upon arrival)
  • Photos from home (for both decoration and self-introduction purposes)

(2) What you SHOULD NOT pack

  • Bicycles
  • Pasta (one ALT once brought a whole suitcase of nothing but pasta)
  • Art supplies
  • Books (unless there’s a certain book you’re married to)
  • Your PS4 (do you really want to spend your time in Japan just playing video games?)
  • TVs
  • Things that you rarely use
  • Bedding
  • Other foods that aren’t pasta
  • Pianos/guitars
  • Your best friend smuggled in your suitcase
  • Your cats or dogs
  • All however many seasons of your favorite TV show on DVD
  • Rocks
  • School supplies (notebooks, pencils, etc–you can buy that here, and invariably a much cuter version of it, too)
  • Adapters (most small electronics like cell phones and laptops will work fine; I brought an adapter which resulted in me frying all of the electricity in my apartment for a day about a week after I moved in)

 

Departure Day

Ah, the day of reckoning! The day your life will change forever as you head off to Japan, AKA Land of the Rising Sun, AKA these people were not joking why the heck is the sun fully up at 4 a.m.??

Start your day by waking up early. Eat a good breakfast. Enjoy the last remnants of American food goodness before you head off to washoku land. Triple check your packing list. If your consulate already gave you your passport back, don’t forget it. Get yourself to the airport and you’re good to go.

I highly suggest bringing at least one family member of friend with you because (A), it’s a very emotional day and you’ll probably want to say goodbye unless you’re just totally cold and heartless, and (B), you’ll need someone to take back your luggage scale, if you brought one, or someone to take back all the crap that’s making your bag too heavy. You will have the opportunity to weigh your bags on the airport scale while you’re waiting in line at group check-in, so take advantage of that opportunity to avoid the overweight fees, which you are responsible for should your bags be overweight.

After you check in, you should just be allowed to go straight through security. If any of your bags have locks on them, keep the keys handy, because they might ask you to open them (they were suspicious of my oddly heavy book, mardi gras bead,  and video game filled carry-on, and asked me to open mine). You can then just go wait at the terminal. Even though I arrived at the airport three hours early, after group check in, I only ended up waiting about an hour to board the plane when all was said and done. Make friends while you’re waiting! Even if these people aren’t going to the same prefecture as you, they will be your roommates at orientation, plus it’s nice to have people to talk to on the plane. I still talk to one of my orientation roomies!

Also as a side note, you do NOT have to wear your suit on the plane. You can wear whatever the heck you want, so get comfortable. I wore sweatpants, a t-shirt, and my Super Mario Bros. Vans slip ons.

Orientation

When you land, you will immediately be herded into the JET group. If you need to pee, do it before you get off the plane, because there won’t be time later. You will then go straight into the special JET immigration line, where you get your residence card, AKA the most important piece of plastic you will have in Japan. Then, you will get your bags (you will have to carry them ALL by yourself, so keep that in mind when packing), go through customs, go through a tunnel of people with JET signs who will direct you to the buses, give the bags you’re not taking with you to the JET people outside of the buses, actually board the bus, and off you go to the hotel. It takes about 1 ½ hours to get to the hotel. When you get to the hotel, you will check in , drop off your stuff, and you will be free to explore Tokyo as you please. **side note 1: you will have at least one, if not two roommates, during Tokyo orientation (I had two) 

Real orientation starts the next day, and you MUST wear your suit, otherwise they reserve the right to not let you into orientation. They take attendance, which they pass on to your BOE so they know you were there, so you can’t skip anything. You will be fed breakfast and lunch each day, and dinner on one day, but the vegan/vegetarian options are a little slim pickings, so bring protein bars with you if you need to. I found that the orientation panels were pretty useless, but you still have to go. The first day is panels for everyone, the second day splits you into ES/JHS/SHS and you get to meet your prefecture people as well. You will depart for your placement on the third day. DON’T BE LATE or face the wrath of your CIR and BOE. Apparently the year before me, people were late, people were throwing up on the bus from partying too hard the night before…don’t be one of those people.

How you get to your placement largely depends on where you’re going. You might take the train, shinkansen, or even another plane depending on how far away you’re going. Hokkaido or Okinawa? Probably another plane. Main island (Honshu)? probably shinkansen or bus. Shikoku or Kyuushu? Could be either. Hyogo took us by shinkansen to Osaka, then from Osaka we took a bus to Middle ‘O Nowhere Hyogo, where go-betweens and vice principals from ALL the SHS schools were waiting for their ALTs. My predecessor came as an added bonus. We had to drive another hour or so after that to get to Kobe, where I’m placed.

 

First Few Days of Placement

After you get picked up by your school, you will probably immediately go to your base school. On this day, if not a suit, then you should at least wear something nice. I wore a suit, and I died a little from the heat, and then my school people were like, “Why are you wearing a suit? It’s so hot!” When I got to my school, we temporarily brought my bags to the office, and I met the office staff, then I went upstairs and met the teachers who weren’t on summer vacation and my principal. Be prepared to do a short self introduction in Japanese immediately upon entry into the teacher room. My predecessor stayed with me for a little while to help get me settled and gave me a tour of the school. She then gave me the solid advice of, “It’s okay to have nothing to do.” I was at least able to email home to tell them I arrived safely at my placement. I got picked up around 5 to go to my host family’s house, because I couldn’t move in to my apartment immediately due to overlap from me and my predecessor. Don’t be surprised if you can’t immediately move in, either. Boy, I sure do like the word “immediately.” The first week was rather uneventful since my predecessor was packing and I was getting settled, but at least on one afternoon my predecessor and neighbor were able to take me out of school for the afternoon to show my around my neighborhood.

By the end of the first week or two, hopefully someone will have taken you to the ward office to get your documents and health insurance stuff, to your rental agency to sign your apartment lease and pay for the house insurance and the like (I didn’t have to pay key money, but I did have to pay for fire insurance), and to get your bank, phone and internet set up. If they haven’t, then just ask.  Your school might want you to go with a certain bank, but do your research for internet and phone, especially. The three main providers are Docomo, AU, and Softbank, but I went with the lesser known Y! Mobile because it was literally a tenth of the cost of the other providers.

Final Words of Wisdom

Just don’t have any expectations. If you do have super high expectations, you will probably be severely disappointed. To keep an element of surprise, my predecessor didn’t send me any pictures of the apartment as a whole, so I was sorely disappointed by its hobbit hole size upon arrival. Better to have no expectations and be pleasantly surprised rather than all the expectations and be unpleasantly surprised. And prepare to be unprepared. You can think you’re doing everything right and still not know how to tackle a certain situation once you get here. Just breathe, and take it one day at a time.

I hope that this helped! If anyone has any questions, or if anyone is actually coming to Hyogo, please hit me up! Can’t wait to hopefully meet some of you, and good luck as you prepare for the next chapter of your life!

Peace Out,

-Erin

The End is Where I Begin

Howdy, Sprouts,

 

The past year has been an incredible journey. Just over a year ago, I  packed up my life into two and a half suitcases and a sushi-roll-stuffed backpack, hugged my mom goodbye at home,  tried to say goodbye to my angry possessed demon-cat, hugged my dad goodbye at the airport, and then hopped on a plane, and left. I’ve just passed the one year mark of being in Japan. I’ve seen a lot of things. Experienced a lot of things. Some which were incredible, others, not so much.

 

From trying natto (don’t ever try it by the way, unless you like the taste and consistency of boogers), wearing a yukata, fumbling my way through a crazy difficult language barrier, and literally stopping a dog in its tracks because of my foreignness, I feel like I’ve done it all.

 

A few years ago, I never imagined I’d do something this crazy. If you’d asked anyone, they’d probably say that me moving across the world to a country completely opposite of the US was crazy. For me, anyway. I was always a homebody and liked my simple life.

 

I won’t lie; I’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the past year. I had an AMAZING first five months, and good times smattered in between the other 7 months. I’ve seen so many different cities. I finally achieved my lifelong dream of going to DisneyLand (and in Tokyo, to boot!). Got to teach some amazing kids. Got to try pastries shaped like fish.

 

But then there were the bad times. The beginnings of what I would later learn would be (up until the point of writing this, at least) seven months of chronic pain. An organ removal. The sudden deaths of two cats.

 

So basically, it was life. Just in a foreign country.

 

Given my personality, it took a lot of courage for me to come over here in the first place. After two times of applying for JET, sometimes I’m not really sure how I even got this job in the first place. I’m terribly shy, and definitely not the genki-est of ALTs. I don’t make friends easily, although the ones I do make usually stick around for life, and I like having time to myself. And my Japanese vocabulary is more or less limited to the words atsui (hot), mushiatsui (hot and humid), and samui (cold). I must have done some impressive acting to fool the interviewers in Houston.

 

But I’m glad that I did muster up that courage to apply. I’m glad that my friend (thanks, Celeste!) told me about the program. I’m glad that I challenged myself to try something new and have a once in a lifetime experience. Going into this once in a lifetime experience, I was positive that I wanted it to last for at least two years.

 

Like I said, it took a lot of courage to hop on that plane and abandon everything that was familiar to me, essentially having to build a new life from scratch. New country. New language. New job. New house. New friends. I love the life that I’ve created here, and everyone that I’ve met, and everything that I’ve done are so incredibly special to me.

 

That is why it took even more courage for me to decide that after only one year, it is time for me to leave.

 

I am fully aware that I am willingly giving up something very, very good.

 

This was probably the most difficult decision I have ever had to make. Honestly, I think it was. I love Japan so much. SO so much. SOOOOO MUCH!!! I love my students. And wandering around the halls seeing their smiling faces chatting with them about band performances and club activities and Pokemon makes me realize how much I love working with them, even if they were little pieces of annoying snot sometimes who somehow learned English swear words from a source other than me and had the audacity to use them in class. I love the environment (well…the environment that isn’t Kobe). I love that saying things like, “Want to go to Kyoto next weekend?” and “Want to go see a concert in Tokyo next month?” became the new normal, like I ever thought that I’d be able to go to Tokyo at all. I love being able to adult on my own without assistance from anyone else. My apartment in Japan was the first house I’ve ever lived in on my own, small as it is. But it was mine.  

 

And yet, I feel that now is the right time to give it all up, to literally sacrifice everything I have made for myself here and go right back to square one. Not kidding, right back to where I started after college graduation, except I’m older and I guess a little more cultured and worldly now.

 

Some people have told me that if I leave now, I’ll regret it. I’ll always wonder “what if.” “What if” I had stayed another year? “What if” I was able to save more money? “What if” there was more I wanted to experience, and would be sad later on if I didn’t experience it? “What if” I missed my friends too much?

 

But see, the thing is, no matter how long I hypothetically stayed in Japan, believe you me, the “what ifs” would ALWAYS be there. ALWAYS. I definitely was not planning on ever doing more than two years on JET, and I’m sure the “what if” would be there, too. Same if I had stayed for three years. Or four. Or five.

 

For me, the most important “what if” is what would happen if I stay. “What if” the chronic pains that I’ve experienced for the past seven months don’t go away? “What if” the doctors here still can’t fix it, no matter how much I plead with them to look again and look from a different angle? “What if” I keep waking up every morning terrified because my chest hurts? “What if” something happens that prevents me from getting home? “What if” I die here?

 

These are thoughts that have been plaguing me each and every single day since the mystery chest pains started around Christmas. The mystery chest pains that morphed into mystery headaches, which morphed into chest pains and headaches, which morphed into mystery pins and needles feelings, which morphed into the great migrating burning feeling, which morphed into eye pain, which morphed into back pain…This is what I have been dealing with for seven months, which might not sound that long when you read it on paper, but feels like an eternity when you have been experiencing some degree of pain for every last day of it. Pain that has only been increasing in intensity, range, and occurrence. I would give anything for just one pain free day.

 

There’s really only two ways that I can describe the pain in a way the average healthy person would understand.

 

  1. Like bees. Dozens and dozens of bees, like I am constantly getting stung in different places around my body throughout the day.
  2. Like a cat bite. Sort of. Story time. The summer that I turned 21 years old, I worked as a veterinary assistant at an animal hospital. There was a cat named Wolf who I wasn’t handling correctly. Wolf bit my middle finger (which I really wanted to flash his way after he bit me). He got my finger so bad that it pinched a nerve. For weeks after that, every time I touched something, pain would go shooting through my fingertip into my hand. Took weeks before the pain subsided into numbness and then eventually went away forever. My fingers and toes are starting to feel like that. Except I also feel it in other places. Like my chest. And face. And shins.

 

Then there are the other “what ifs.” “What if” something else totally unexpected happens to one of my two remaining cats? “What if” I stay in Japan and screw myself over in the long run by making my life stand still?

 

I love Japan. So much. SO SO MUCH. I cannot reiterate that enough. And I’m sure that I will continue to miss it for a very long time after I leave, just how I missed Boston immensely for many, many months after I returned to New Orleans. I still miss Boston, and I can genuinely say that Boston is the only place that I would be perfectly happy settling down for the rest of my life in, if I were unable to ever move anywhere else again.

 

Yes, I will have regrets about leaving.

 

But for me, I feel like I would regret staying more than I would regret going home. I would regret waking up and going to sleep every day with dread over the pains. I would regret it terribly if something did happen to my remaining two cats; hell, I already do, given that my otherwise seemingly healthy seven year old cat died very unexpectedly and that our older cat also died very suddenly two days later. I was, and still am, utterly heartbroken that I will never see my sweet little baby Elvis again. He was my baby. Buddha is even more of my baby. And after losing Elvis and Yuki, losing him while here, and Dave of course, because I love my dum-dum, is no longer a gamble that I’m willing to continue making.

 

The only true regrets I would have about Japan would be if I never got on the plane to begin with. That would be the big “what if” that would haunt me for the rest of my life. Or, if I was one of those people who get accepted to JET, accept their placement, get to Japan, only to go running back home two days later without really giving it a shot. Staying for a few days is not giving it a shot. But sticking out the whole year is. Plenty of ALTs only stay for one year. And I gave it my shot. I wanted to go home so many times while I was here, but I stuck it out the full year. I didn’t go home early. I stayed. I made it.

 

I came. I saw. Maybe I did not conquer, but I sure as hell did try.

 

Do I feel guilty about leaving? Absolutely. I’m putting my school in a difficult spot. I am making a lot of people at my school and the BOE angry. To that, yes, I am sorry, but I gotta do what I gotta do, so sorry school, but suck it if you can’t understand my position. Because I couldn’t make up my mind soon enough, they’re not going to be able to find a new ALT until September, despite there being an alternate candidate list (granted, they’re being a little picky about who the next person is, and let me just say I’ve learned some new insights into how it is decided which ALTs get sent to which schools), and there were quite a few projects and plans that we anticipated doing. I’ve been working with two students on the speech contest, and it breaks my heart that I won’t be there to help them after they’re done writing their speeches, or that I won’t be there to see if they can achieve their dream of getting a prize this year. It breaks my heart that my school isn’t letting me say goodbye to the students that I’m close with because it will make them upset. Ugh I hate that I can’t say goodbye. But at the end of the day, this is just another job, and I have every right to leave if I deem it necessary.

 

Breaking contract (yes, technically I am a few days into the new contract) comes without many of the luxuries that the other leaving ALTs have. I won’t be able to say proper goodbyes to my students. I won’t get the free flight home (or most of the way home at least, since they would have only paid for me to get to Houston anyway). I won’t have contact with my successor or be able to sell them my things. I have to somehow find a way to get everything out of my apartment despite the fact that I have no car to deliver it and don’t speak Japanese well enough to find other arrangements. I really don’t have any time to physically prepare, so far as packing up and wrapping up my life goes, or emotionally prepare, because I was expecting to have another 30 days left at school, and I’ll only have a couple weeks. Heck, I was expecting to have another year here, but life happens. This was such a difficult decision to make, and I will probably be praying that I made the right choice for weeks and weeks after this. After all, I am giving up a huge new part of my life. Great friends, a great, well-paying job, great experiences. But there’s no answer key to life, so I’ll never really know.

 

As soon as I gave my school the official notice of my resignation, all the feels started happening. “Oh God what have I done?” “Why am throwing away such a great opportunity that I worked so hard to get?” “Am I sure this is the right move?” As guilty as I feel, and as sad as I feel about having to abandon this nice little life that I’ve built for myself, at the end of the day, my mental and physical health have to take priority, and between daily stresses of living in a foreign country, stresses of things that happened back home, and doctors not being able to give me an answer here, I feel like I am not able to prioritize my health as long as I stay in Japan. As long as I stay in Japan, I feel like I am always going to feel uncomfortable about my health. Maybe whatever’s wrong with me is something simple and easily fixable; maybe it’s not. Maybe it really is just “stress.” Even if it is something simple, if I go home, I’ll know that at least I’ll be listened to and have the potential to finally start feeling well again, which I don’t feel like I have here.

 

I know that a lot of ALTs who move to Japan and stay more than one year that say the second half of year one is always the hardest. If what I was feeling was strictly emotional, I think I could live with that and stay. That I could handle. But those ALTs are not living with the physical. I took a gamble on Japan. But whether imaginary or real problems, my health is not something that I am willing to gamble on.

 

Additionally, from the beginning, I also told myself that if anything ever happened to the cats, I would head back home. My animals are without a doubt the most important thing in my life. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that animals are basically my identity. They are all I know. And I left them behind to come here. And I paid the price for that. In hindsight, I should have only planned to stay here for one year anyway, because my animals are not young, and while Japan will always be here, whether I live here or just visit, my animals won’t be. Losing Elvis and Yuki so abruptly made me realize that I’d rather cherish whatever time I have left with Buddha and Dave. Maybe that time is a year. Maybe it’s eight years. Who knows. Now I truly understand that I will never know, because I honestly expected to have Elvis for at least another decade, and look what happened. What I do know is that I want to love my babies while I can. What I do know is that if I ever move back to Japan in the future, my animals are coming with me next time.

 

And hey, not like Japan was a total waste. In addition to all of the things I’ve already mentioned, I’ve realized that I really don’t want to teach again. Nope. I thought I did when I came into Japan, and not that I don’t like teaching,  but not working with animals for the first time in my life, and for so long, has made me realize how much I miss working with them. I’m not really sure how I want to work with them, but I’ll find a way. Also, I hate being bored out of mind for half the day sitting at a desk inside having nothing to do. I would much prefer to have a job where I can be outside to some degree and move around.

 

I’m a worrier. Yes, you read that right. Not a warrior, nope, not at all, but a worrier. I’ve never really considered myself an anxious person before now, but I definitely did worry a lot about the future before. Thing is, because I am a worrier by nature, I will always have regrets about my life. What if I had studied a little harder in college? What if I had followed my life plan exactly and had been in my fourth year of vet school by now? What if I had bought the red 3DS instead of the blue one? (yes, that actually haunted me for months) No matter how important or how, frankly, stupid, the decisions I make are, I always worry.

 

But, if I focus too much on those what-ifs, if those “what ifs” had actually played out, I remind myself that that a lot of great things in my life never would have happened. Had I gone to vet school right away, I never would have worked at the animal hospital, made such great friends in New Orleans, or gotten my sweet little Potato, or fallen in love with Sad Lilly, the canine love of my life who does not belong to me (I am a strange person). And, I never would have come to Japan in the first place. I wouldn’t have done all these incredible things that come with living in a foreign country, and honestly, I probably never would have in the future.

 

Yes, I will always have worries, I will always have regrets, it’s just a matter of what I want to regret. Ten years down the road, I will be glad that I sacrificed my life in Japan in order to prioritize my well-being and be reunited with my babies.

 

And the year is still young–during New Year’s, I drew two fortunes that both said I would have “big fortune” this year. And yesterday, I drew a third fortune that also said I would have good luck! So maybe the first half of the year hasn’t been so fortunate. Surely, that means that whatever choices I make for the rest of the year, my “big fortune” is yet to come, right? Those fortunes also said I would have great luck while traveling! Maybe they meant traveling home? Maybe I’ll stumble not into a series of unfortunate events like I have here in Japan for the past seven months, but a series of fortunate events. Come to me, fortune, come to me!

 

And it’s not like my Japan life will disappear completely because I’m going home. I will always cherish the friends that I’ve made, the things I’ve accomplished, and the memories I’ve created. I will always be grateful for being able to come. So, SO grateful, because I know that there are so many people back in their home countries who wanted to come on JET but didn’t get accepted. And believe me, you people, I know that pain because I, myself, was rejected the first time. I know that there are some people who love Japan who will never be able to come here, and I am so blessed to have been able to live out my dream, at least for a little while. I will always feel proud for having done something so wild and out of character. I will always appreciate the fact that I can now speak in front of groups of at least 40 people without blinking an eye, whereas the very thought of doing that used to give me panic attacks. A year ago I could barely teach a class of 10 people. I also never thought that I would give a speech in front of over 1,000 people, but I did that. Never thought that I would jump off a small cliff into a river, but I did that, too. Never thought that I would couchsurf my way through another country, but I’m going to do that in a couple of weeks as well.

 

It’s weird thinking that life in Japan is going to move on without me, but it also moved on without me before I even got here. I don’t want to think about what I’m giving up by leaving Japan, but about all of things I’ve accomplished, all the things I’ve gained (and I’m not just talking about cute souvenirs), and all the ways I’ve changed. Because I am not the same person that I was one year ago when I left, and I’m proud of that. I’m very proud. Is it weird to say that you’re proud of yourself?

 

I MADE IT, I SURVIVED IN BASICALLY AN ALIEN ENVIRONMENT FOR A WHOLE FREAKING YEAR!!! I WANT TO SCREAM IT FROM THE IMAGINARY ROOFTOPS!!

 

The thing is, Japan was always meant to be just a memory. One big, crazy, wonderful memory. But my health, my sanity, and my life back in the US, are not just a memory. They are the foundation for all the years to come.

 

And maybe I don’t know where I’m going yet, but I know that it’s all part of the game. I will tackle life one boss battle at a time. College? Defeated. New country? Not defeated. But there will always be a second chance to try again.  Bring it on, life, BRING. IT. ON!!

 

So here was to an amazing year in Japan. Yes, it ended much earlier than I had anticipated. Yes, I had a lot of roadblocks along the way. More than most, I would like to argue. I mean, how many people sacrificed an organ after they came to Japan? No one? Really? Nobody turned to the Black Market of organ selling to get here? But I’ve made my choices. And I’m going to live with them. I’m going to choose my regrets wisely.

 

This isn’t just the end of one adventure, but the start of the one that will last for the rest of my life.

 

The end is where I begin.

 

And I’m just getting started.

 

Peace out, Bean Sprouts.

 

-Erin

Dear Anxiety

Dear Anxiety,

You are not a welcome guest in my life.
You’re not even a guest, more like an unannounced visitor.

A party crasher.

That guy that makes a scene and ruins what would have been beautiful.
That person who thinks that no one will notice him, he’s just passing through, after all.

But they do.

Maybe just one person will notice him, but it’s one person too many, one is enough.
It only takes one person for him to spread his disease, wheedle his way into fragile hearts.

And he succeeds.

It’s only a small acknowledgement, at first, maybe some longing here, some tears there.  
He lies in wait in the inner depths of your mind, studying every insecurity and vulnerability.

And then he EXPLODES.

Or maybe implodes would be better diction, for he expands yet stays contained in a single mind.
He’s no longer just studying your weakness, oh no, no siree, he’s preying on them, feeding.

But he’s never satisfied.

He always comes back for more, because there are other parties, but he only wants to be at yours.
Why should he waste his time with someone else when he’s successfully infected you?

You are the only one.

That’s what he’ll tell you, anyway, he’ll tell you that he loves you, he needs you, he craves you.
You are his one and only, his soul mate, but you suspect he’s been seeing mistresses on the side.

And you’re not wrong.

But he doesn’t want you to focus on that, no no no, focus on the time we’ve shared, he says.
Focus on what I do to you, what I do for you, what I do with you, because we’re always together.

Always and forever.

And what he says frightens you, startles you, when you open your eyes and realize, he’s right.
He is always with me, always haunting me, always following me, chipping away.

Chip, chip, chip.

He takes a little more away with each passing day, and maybe it wasn’t noticeable at first.
But now that he’s been around a while, those little tiny bits and pieces have started to add up.

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.

Do you remember that from what, middle school? Because I sure do, very well, in fact.
Those little pieces are so numerous that I need mnemonics to help me calculate how many.

Multiply here, carry the one…

But I can’t, seeing that it’s one of those unanswerable questions in life, you know what I mean?
Like how when you  calculate the answer to life, the universe, and everything, the answer is…

Forty-two.

Forty-two important people, forty-two chance encounters, forty-two memorable occurrences?
Forty-two good movies, forty-two states you can remember, forty-two stories, forty-two friends?

Forty-two what, exactly?

Forty-two, can you help me figure out how to expel this trespasser, this vermin, this plague?
Forty-two, can you help me figure out what my life means without this parasite upon my life?

Who are you, forty-two?

What are you, other than a number, when did you get here, from where, and better yet, why?
Clearly you’re here for a reason, forty-two, so can you help me? Can you fix me? Mend me?

…maybe you can.

Because, forty-two, if only for but a brief moment, you helped me forget, helped me erase.
Forty-two, you are the hero in my life who approaches the party crasher and distracts him.

You take him away.

You take him and smack him just hard enough for him to realize what a fool he’s been.
You take him, and in exchange give back the life that used to belong to me, and me alone.

Forty-two.

Fix me a fire, forty-two, because you’ve helped me put that little spark back in my eye.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a flame yet, oh no, not even close, it’s just a beginning.

A humble beginning.

Maybe it will rise from the ashes, like a phoenix, to be born again in full glory.
Maybe one day the wind will pick it up, and it will set the world aflame.

But it’s not ready yet.

Right now, it’s just picking up the pieces of kindling beneath it, hoping to grab onto something.
Any twig or fleck of hope that will help it burn just a little bit stronger, a little bit brighter.

A little bit anything.

And one day, it will get there, but maybe not quite tonight, not even tomorrow.
Maybe not even the day after tomorrow, because picking up the pieces is hard, you know?

You do know.

Maybe that spark will start out in pieces, but one day–mark my words, one day–
He’ll come to me, he’ll plead, and he’ll ask to be made whole.

And I’ll oblige.

Because I can’t be whole myself until I make that spark whole and let it burn.
Burn with everything it’s got until it is magnificent, sparkling red blaze.

An inferno.

I will be an inferno. I will set my heart on fire so the party crasher can’t even get close.
Can’t even get a little bit of the way close, a fraction of the way close to my heart.

Never again.

Will he wrap his arms around my neck, absorbing each and every gasp and breath.
Never again will he kick me down and not let me up, even when things are patchy and rough.

I’ve had enough.

Enough, enough, enough, I am not weak, I am tough, you will not be my drug.
Enough madness, I’m not crazy, I swear, but I guess you hear that everywhere.

Give me a chance.

Maybe you’ve collected your kingdom of hearts, but mine will not take part.
Mine will not become a hollow, heartless shell, with only shadows left to tell.

Give me opportunity.

To stand on my own two feet, and simply be…me. Me, and only me.
Without you. That’s all I want, all I know, all I need. And now I see.

Give me belief.

That one day, all will be right, all will be clear, and I’ll have nothing to fear.
That I will fight, raise my mighty spear, and scream for all to hear. 

I am no warrior.

But I believe. In the strength of myself. In the strength within me.
The strength of knowing that I will find peace, that I will find serenity.

And I want only to be free.

The Red

G’day, my young Bean Sprouts!

It’s been a good month or so since I’ve last posted about what I’ve been up to. The last time I really talked to y’all, I wrote about what I planned to do post-surgery as far as plans for staying in Japan went, and about trying to be optimistic. For the most part, I’ve been pretty successful on that front, I think. I’ve been pushing myself really hard to not crawl back into my comfort zone (though let’s be real, pretty much EVERYTHING in Japan is outside of my comfort zone), and since my return from America, I’ve only allowed myself two weekend days of solitude to just chill, one day being a disgusting rainy mess, and the other being post-mountain-climbing recovery on a three-day weekend.

That being said, I’ve been up to quite a lot, so let’s jump right in.

Culture Festival

First, pretty much as soon as I got back from the US, I realized that our school festival, called Seiryosai (my school’s version of the word bunkasai, or 文化祭), was the Friday and Saturday after I got home. My English club had signed up to do the festival ages ago. But because I hadn’t been able to see them until the Tuesday after I returned, we literally had only three days to throw something together when the other clubs had been preparing for several weeks. Three. Days. Thankfully, we had already decided on a theme and a general idea of what we would do before I left, but that still didn’t make throwing it together any easier. Our theme was, “cooking around the world,” and we made a visual display of cooking from all over. Naturally, I put the Louisana food in there, too. We printed pictures of all our foods and wrote descriptions for all of them, and we drew a large world map and put flags from all the countries we talked about on it. We put post-it notes on our table for people to write down their favorite foods. I got a mysterious love note from somebody when I stepped out of the room. And I harassed parents and junior high school students in English when they came in while I was manning the booth.

Some of the other highlights from the festival included two haunted houses (which sadly I did not have time to go in), a fake Starbucks called, “Starita Bucks,” a scavenger hunt that involved the boys dressed up as Disney princesses, among other things, and a variety of food stalls, like takoyaki, ice cream melon bread, regular ice cream, and yakisoba. And two different hot dog stalls for some reason. I personally had a lot of fun visiting all the other culture club rooms, like photography club, Chorus club, calligraphy club, and ikebana. I even made my own flower arrangement for ikebana! Check it out:

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Birthday Shenanigans

My birthday was also very shortly after I returned, so I got some peeps together and we had a fun celebration! The Thursday before my birthday, I had a lovely dinner with Ryoko, the Steves, and Riana. On my actual birthday on the Friday, I was at school, and it was conveniently the first time I started teaching one of my ichinensei classes, so they all wished me a happy birthday. My sannensei JTE also forced our class to sing me happy birthday. Good times.

Friday evening after school, I got together with a few friends to climb Mt. Rokko! Ok, not really. We cheated. We took the cable car, which was more like a train car pulled up the mountain and not really the suspended car that you usually think of when you hear “cable car.” The weather was great, and we got some amazing sunset views of Kobe! Unfortunately, we couldn’t stick around for the million dollar night view, but perhaps next time.

We went to dinner at my favorite vegetarian restaurant after that, and I had some very yummy veggie curry, and my friends naturally had to embarrass me by getting me pecan pie with a candle in it and singing happy birthday to me. They gave me some lovely presents, as well! Thank you everyone for making my 25th, and my first birthday in Japan, awesome!

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Do I look cute in the conductor’s hat??

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From the cable car viewpoint on Mt. Rokko
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Thanks for the lovely assortment of birthday stuff, friends 🙂
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Birthday pecan pie!!!

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Fushimi Inari, Round 2

The day after my birthday, I went with a few more friends to Fushimi Inari Taisha. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the famous shrine in Kyoto (the traditional city in Japan) that literally has 10,000 of the red Torii gates climbing up a mountain. My first time in Kyoto, I hadn’t managed to climb it to the top, and out of our group of five, only one of had actually climbed it all the way to the top before, despite one of the people in the group having already been there four times prior. That being said, our group was fully determined to climb all the way to the top this time.

Outside of the entrance to the path with the torii gates, there was a booth selling el cheapo yukata, which is a summer kimono, if you’re not familiar. We must have spent at least half an hour there before we actually started climbing. I wanted to buy a black yukata with multicolor flowers, but the guy said that it would be too short on me, so I went with a purple and gold yukata instead, and bought a matching gold obi (the sash that goes in front) with cute little usagi, or bunnies, on it. I also got a gold and orange cord to wrap around it. The whole set was only 3500¥, which is pretty cheap in my book. I also bought a pretty sensu fan with Mr. Fuji, some cranes, and glitter outside of the shrine.

I think climbing the shrine took about an hour when all was said and done, but we stopped pretty frequently along the way because it was basically all stairs going up. This is where the blog title comes in, I felt like the Chevelle song, “The Red,” from all the red gates. Some of the lyrics are, “seeing red again,” which was very appropriate here. The summit was a little underwhelming because you couldn’t actually see anything from the top except the dozens of mini-shrines in the area. We made our way back down, and then went off to some other shrine whose name I honestly don’t remember, then we went home.

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Mt. Suma

One of the JTEs that I teach with is the head of the wandervogel club, and they invited me to go hiking with them because I mentioned that I had liked hiking. So, I grabbed my dear friend, Betsy, and we climbed Mt. Suma with them! It was a relatively short hike, only two or three hours altogether, but the beginning was absolutely brutal because it was essentially just five flights worth of stairs going straight up the mountain. After that, it was pretty pleasant. We got some awesome views of Awaji Island and Kobe, and I felt like King of the World when we reached one pass in the mountain. My favorite quote of the day: “Be careful–if you fall, you die!” said in the happiest voice imaginable.

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Nunobiki Falls (布引滝)

Going Hiking with my school’s club put the hiking/travel bug back in me, so the week after hiking Mt. Suma, I went to Nunobiki falls, a short hike right outside of downtown Kobe. The hike was supposed to lead from Shin-Kobe station to a beautiful herb garden up the mountain, but I started my hike pretty late in the day, around 5:00 pm. I heard it was really short, which is why I didn’t mind going so late. The first waterfall only took about fifteen minutes to get to, and it was beautiful; I almost couldn’t believe something so peaceful was right outside of Kobe. I kept hiking past two more waterfalls, but the fourth I either didn’t get to or missed somewhere along the way. I passed a reservoir and went a little past it, but at that point, the sun was setting, and I hadn’t reached the herb garden yet (my plan was to take the ropeway down), and because I worried that I had made a wrong turn somewhere and didn’t want to get stranded by myself on a mountain in the dark, I ended up just turning back for the day, so hopefully I can go back and attempt it again soon.

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Mt. Rokko (六甲山)

A few weeks later, my school invited me to go hiking again to Mt. Rokko, one of the biggest mountains surrounding Kobe. I bought a proper day pack and a trekking pole from the Mont Bel store, and I bought some proper hiking boots from the Columbia store before the Suma hike, so I was good to go. The first hour or so of the hike was mostly literal rock climbing, called the “rock garden.” Pshh. Garden indeed. Some garden it was. After that, it leveled off a bit, but the last hour and a half before the summit were particularly rough; it was mostly uphill with very few breaks in the ascent. Unfortunately I didn’t get to stop to take many pictures because we were following a pretty strict schedule, with breaks only allowed every half an hour. Even though my calves were killing me and a student pushed me for about thirty seconds up the very very last leg, apparently I died less than my predecessor did (I blame my JTE for that because he told her it was an “easy” hike when it took about five hours all said and done), which I guess is good. We stopped for lunch at the summit, and then hiked down to Arima Onsen, where unfortunately we did not stick around to find a foot bath, which would have been nice. How many people can say they’ve travelled to Arima Onsen on foot? And, Bonus of the day: discovering that trekking poles are in fact excellent mukade-murder-death-weapons (mukade=venomous scary centipede of doom).

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Yukata Festival

Last Friday, I was able to go to a yukata festival in Himeji, the next big city to the west in Hyogo. I got to wear that pretty little aforementioned yukata. For the record, yukatas are essentially human origami and it took three foreigners an hour to put on two of them. I had to ghetto safety pin mine to keep it from falling apart, but hey, gotta cut me some slack for my first time. We got stared at a lot because we were really the only foreigners wearing them. But whatever. That is my life now. There were lots and lots of food stalls, and I got what I think was called hashiyaki (chopstick okonomiyaki) and taiyaki with strawberry filling. They were yum yum in my tum. They had the goldfish scoop game that I’ve been dying to do forever, but I couldn’t do it for fear of my yukata coming undone if I squatted down to scoop them -_- It eventually started coming undone anyway. Got a little scandalous up in Himeji. Oopsie daisy.

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Elvis

One of my worst nightmares coming into Japan was thinking of the possibility of one of my animals becoming ill and/or dying while I was in Japan. My cats are like my children. I love them to a degree that most people, especially not people in Japan since they think of their animals more like accessories than living things, understand. I thought I would probably be in the clear on the life-threatening illness front since none of the animals are super old and they have all been mostly healthy prior. Our first two family dogs, Daisy and Ruby, had already passed away within the past couple of years, and everyone else was pretty in the clear. Yuki is a little old and is a diva in terms of her diet, Buddha has some bladder problems that are controlled with a special food, and Dave is dumb and has defective skin, but nothing too serious. Elvis was literally the only 100% healthy baby, and he’s only seven years old, so I never expected anything to happen to him while I was here.

But, after the yearly vet visit for the whole crew, I heard the unfortunate news that my sweet little Elvie Bo has been diagnosed with a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which means that his left ventricle has become thickened and enlarged, causing it to not pump as well as it should. Because of the decreased function, fluid built up in his lungs, causing him to breathe fast and causing the vet to not be able to hear his heart on a stethoscope, which is basically how we found out. After a couple of hospitalizations, I hope that my sweet baby is stable and comfortable now.

Long term prognosis is a little unclear from what I’ve read, and poor baby is on three different medications at the moment, soon to be four, to control his symptoms. I love him so much, and that sweet boy literally does not have a mean bone in his body and wouldn’t even hurt a fly, so I hope that he stays with us at least a little longer. My poor booger. My sweet, sweet little booger kitten, who will always be a kitten to me no matter how old he gets.

19399613_10155266453196221_6418556702508093674_n
Made a portrait of my booger with his mama, Ruby.

That’s about all for now, but I plan on doing a post about that Disney trip eventually, and I also plan on doing a Hobbit Hole House Tour. Also keep your eyes peeled for my new installment, “Green Bean’s Ghetto Kitchen,” where I’ll talk about my ghetto cooking and eats in my tiny, sad, pathetic, worthless Japanese kitchen.

So, I bid you adieu.

Peace out, Bean Sprouts,

-Erin

 

 

The Bad and the Better

Hola amigos,

‘Tis Ern, your Greenest of Beans, here once again. Today I’d like to discuss some the feels I’ve been having lately. All the feels.

Four days ago or so, I was in a very pessimistic mood and wrote the most cynical, anger-infused piece of writing that has ever been spawned from my fingertips. I titled it, “Dear Japan.” It was essentially a four page letter detailing everything that I hate about living in Japan with not a speck of positively shining through. I was angry. I had a breakdown at school revolving some royal garbage that my Board of Education is throwing at me. I wanted to vent my feelings about how frustrating life is when everything you do is micromanaged by your workplace to an absurd level of nitpicky-ness. Is that a word? Probably not. I don’t care.

Of course, I am not going to post that entry onto this site. It was written in a severe moment of weakness. I don’t want to focus on the bad, but on the better.

When I first got to Japan, I did not experience culture shock the same way that most people do. Most people have a honeymoon phase that lasts a few weeks, couple months at best. Then when seasonal affective disorder kicks in around winter, that’s when the culture shock and bad feels start creepin’ up on ya. I was kind of…prolonged with my culture shock.

I experienced five months of heaven, followed by five months of hell. Five months of day, five months of night. It is my sincere hope that perhaps my culture shock just occurs in five month intervals and that soon I will be back in the upswing and all will be right with the world. Like a sine wave that oscillates up and down, down and up. Except I was never very good at math after Algebra II in high school so I could be spitting out total BS about sine waves right now, but frankly I’m too lazy to bother looking it up.

I’ve had a rough time since Christmas. Not going home made me experience a lot of sadness and a lot of homesickness. It was the first Christmas I’d ever missed, and I was jealous that so many people I knew were going home to see their families and I wasn’t. I started having  chest pains, which made me feel very withdrawn. I didn’t want to do anything or see anyone for a really long time. Then I got sick. Then I went home for my surgery, and I had lots of time to see my family, friends who visited me when I was too weak to move around, and my animals. My Sweet Potato, Buddha, Elvis, Dave, even Yuki was actually sort of nice to me. But getting a taste of home made it really difficult for me to  force myself to get on the plane back, in addition to the probably irrational fear of blood clots.

Between not feeling 100% better and getting harassed by my school so much about not having appropriate documentation for my surgery, I’ve been feeling even more down in the dumps. Being scolded by your workplace on a near daily basis for something that truly is not your fault, that they approved in the first place, is extremely soul-crushing. But, I want to do everything I can to make my experience better. Focus on the positive instead of the negative. I want to make my night become day.

I want to remind myself about the reasons why I came here in the first place. I wanted to get Japanese students out of their small bubble and remind them that a whole other world out there exists. I wanted to show them something new. Help them improve their English so maybe they can see the rest of the world. I wanted to experience what Japan has to offer. I wanted to broaden my personal horizons, to push myself to do something that not many people can say they’ve done in their lifetimes. This is my one shot, my one opportunity to truly immerse myself in another culture (I can’t say I’ll be moving abroad again based on how homesick I’ve gotten), and I want to embrace it while I can. When you’re in a whole other world on the opposite end of the earth, sometimes it’s easy to be pessimistic instead of embracing the reality that’s right in front of you.

So, off come my blinders. I’m going to open my eyes to the good things all around me. It won’t be easy. I may want to give up at times. But I am going to do my best to push through it til the end.

I want to remind myself of how I felt two years ago and one year ago. Two years ago, I received my first notification from JET after my first time applying. I had just wrapped up work at the kennel where I was working, and opened the email before I went home. It was a rejection letter. Not even alternate-listed. And I was so upset. I kind of stared blankly at the screen of my phone, trembled a little, and tears started flowing everywhere. It was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. I felt so worthless. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, I did what I could to improve myself and try again. Then, one year ago, at the end of last April, I had just received news that I’d be going to Japan after my two years of work trying to get here. I was driving to my volunteer ESL classes, and checked my phone at a stoplight for the time, and saw that I had an email notification from JET. Then the light turned green, and I had to wait until I pulled into the parking lot to read the email. I didn’t know if I wanted to read it in case it was bad news because we were having a party in class that night. My heart was about to pound of my chest. But I took the plunge. I opened it. And it was good news. I cried again, but that time, it was happy tears that were cascading down my face. I called my dad. I called my sisters. I think I called another friend, if I’m not mistaken. That whole night was filled with euphoric calls and text messages to friends that I’d be going to Japan in a few months’ time. I didn’t even have to say the words to bosses at work the next day. A “guess what?” coming from my lips was all it took for one of them to day, “damn it.”

I was so happy, and so excited, and I don’t want to forget that feeling just because I’ve been experiencing some turbulence, some bumps in the road. If you know me, you’ll know that I think that literal turbulence is the most terrifying thing in the world. I freeze. I panic. I pray to God to let me live even for the smallest bump as I think the plane will come crashing down. There’s just something about airplanes, probably the fact that giant metal tubes are not meant to be soaring through the air, that always freaks me out. But it always turns out okay. That’s all my recent experiences have been: a little bit of turbulence. It’s scary in the moment, and it leaves me frightened and on edge for a while after it stops, but that’s just it. It always stops. It always gets better.

So here is to hopefully smoothing out my turbulence. I need to remind myself that I’m not the only one feeling frustrated. A few days ago, I posted on Facebook that I didn’t know the secret to happiness here because I’ve been unhappy for so long. I got a flood of comments and messages from other people saying that they were in the exact same boat right along with me, and even managed to arrange a few meetups out of it. I don’t regret that post. I like my choices. I didn’t post it for attention, but literally just to get advice for how to make my situation better. Even if it was posted in an extreme moment of weakness, it helped me understand that I’m really not alone. It helped me get suggestions for how to take life by the reins and make the most out of it.

I want to try to think of something positive, no matter how big or how small, every day until I leave. Whether it’s being able to see the mountains across the ocean on a really clear day. Whether it’s the beautiful sunset behind Awaji Island. Whether it’s buying a shark house for my hamster. Whether it’s simply acknowledging that I’m not doing too shabby since I am living in a foreign country, living by myself, paying my own rent, my own cell phone bill, my own electricity bills, water bills, gym fees, and truly adulting without outside assistance. I’m doing the thing. It might not be the same thing as everyone else, and it might mean that all my peers have a head start on me when I get back to the states. But for now, I’m doing what I can.

On that note, I also want to find an outlet for whenever I’m feeling down. At home, I always painted, so I want to do that more. Some people turn to YouTube, but I’ve always hated cameras in any form, so I won’t do that. Writing is my medium. It’s therapeutic for me, and I think I’m good at it and that I truly have a voice (or so I’ve been told by many people) when I write, so I really want to start posting more regularly on this site whenever I feel like something is bottled up. Given that I have a small following of strangers who read this blog, I’d say my writing must not be too shabby. Hi, strangers! If you’re reading this right now, I’m very grateful for your presence and readership! Spread the word to any friends who might like my blog! I’ve also had a life epiphany in the last few days that really should have been more obvious to me.

Animals. Animals are the one thing in my life that have always been there and have always given me comfort, which is why I think that I’ve been having a particularly difficult time. Missing my own animals is a huge part of it for sure, but I miss working with animals, being around them all the time. I miss Sad Lilly, the dog I fell in love with and fixed at my old job. Sad Lilly, who even though I haven’t seen for well over a year now, I still love like my own. I miss my Whalerus Bear, also at my old job. Whalerus Bear is part Whale, part Walrus, and part Polar Bear, if you’re wondering where the name came from. I miss seeing dogs, helping dogs, making them feel better. I want to actually go down to ARK, Animal Refuge Kansai, sometime soon, to volunteer my services.

As for my future career, it’s definitely something that’s been on my mind. The JET program is not a career; it’s an experience. And while I’ve flip-flopped on my career many times, I hate to say I’m still uncertain. I’ve had a very hard time making a decision as the most indecisive person in the world. So the two options I’ve come up with are (A) Attempt to get a master’s degree, possibly a second bachelor’s first because my undergraduate grades don’t appear to be good enough to get into any grad programs, and then continue to study English. Option (B) Go to vet tech school in Louisiana where it would be dirt cheap, and start a career in that field before half of my life has been wasted. 

So, I think I have a plan. Sort of. It helps me have even a vague end in sight that will make this experience less miserable. It gives me perfectly viable career options that I can start working toward as soon as I get back to US. It won’t be easy either, but I want to try. Having a plan has already made me feel much happier.

Apologies. This was very long-winded. But I am starting to feel okay. And I think things will be okay. And I wanted to let you know that everything will be okay.

The bad will become better.

Until next time,

またね!

-Erin 「エリン」

Green Bean’s Great Adventure: Surgery Time

Bonjour, mon amies!

As I mentioned in my last post, due to some unfortunate things happening inside my body, it was discovered that I needed surgery to have my uncooperative gallbladder delicately ripped out of my insides.

In part due to language barriers, in part due to failure to previously disclose the nature of medical procedures I was receiving in Japan, and in part due to simply wanting my mommy, I decided to reject the advice of the Japanese surgeon, much to his shock, and high-tail it back home to the US to have my surgery done there.

The Japanese hospital wanted to keep me for SIX DAYS in that cesspool of disease. One day before, five after. No, thank you. First of all, I would be much more comfortable in my own home, and second, again–breeding ground for something worse. I went home with a cold the first time I was hospitalized for my gallbladder.

So, after my Tokyo trip, I made a third trip back to Tokyo within the span of a single week, caught a plane, and went back to the great American homeland, beating my visiting American friends back home.

I had a pre-op visit the first Monday when I went back, and then had to get an ultrasound and bloodwork done the next day to confirm the diagnosis, which of course I already knew, but the American surgeon didn’t. He was very nice about it though. The nurse who did my ultrasound, in her words, “Oh yeah, you have gallstones alright, but you didn’t hear it from me.”

My actual surgery wasn’t for another week after my first visit, and the surgeon was kind enough to squeeze me in ASAP because of my situation.

Given that I hadn’t had surgery for about fifteen years prior, naturally I was pretty nervous about going under anesthesia. But on the day of, the anesthesiologist was very kind and very reassuring. It took the nurses three tries and a fancy doctor toy to find a good vein for my IV. Then I said temporary goodbye to my parents and was wheeled into the OR.

The last thing I remember was being moved from my bed onto what I guess was the operating table. Then nothing. Don’t even remember them putting the mask on my face and asking me to count backwards.

Next thing I knew, I was groggily waking up and a nurse was trying to get me to swallow some huge pill even though I kept trying to tell her that I didn’t think I could.

I did.

Another hour of grogginess passed by, and I was semi-consciously wheeled back into one of the little rooms where I started off.

 

There was an older dude next to me on the other side of the curtain who just would not wake up.

“MR. (I forgot his name, let’s call him Jones) JONES, WAKE UP.”

“Uhnhhhh.”

“MR JONES. Your procedure is done. Time to wake up.”

“Arghhhnnnnnnn.”

I overheard the nurses saying that his procedure was only five minutes.

Then my mom and dad came back. Or maybe they came back before that. I was really out of it. I also had to pee really bad, so a nurse and my mom helped me out. Holy crap did it hurt to get up.

I think about an hour or so later they set me free. The drive back home was very painful. Then I got home and slept thanks to my happy meds (a.k.a. percocet). I slept a lot.

The first two days were probably the worst; I was taking my pain meds pretty much every four hours on the dot. Moving in any direction or any which way hurt like crazy. The worst was standing up. I couldn’t even sleep horizontally or do anything horizontally, so I sat in a recliner chair on our couch and built a pillow fort around myself to keep Miz Potato from jumping on me, or the cats from stepping on me. And by the cats, I really mean just Dave. Because he is a turd. It mostly worked, except little Tater Tot thought she was oh so sneaky when I’d get up to go to the bathroom, only to come back and find her parked in my spot.

I also had to use a large umbrella like a makeshift cane the first several days to help me get leverage to get up by myself and then walk around since I walked at the pace of a sad shuffling turtle for at least the first three or four days.

Oh, I almost forgot the great cockroach fiasco of 2017! On night 2, not one, not two, but THREE cockroaches crept through the gaps in the fireplace and made their way into the living room, after another cockroach had already crawled on my poor mom’s face in the wee hours of the morning. Two were killed. One went free. So with my mom’s help, I made my way upstairs and propped myself upright on my pillows to go to sleep.

I didn’t go outside until about six days after, when I went on a walk around the block, but apparently that was a bad idea since I hurt much worse the next day. Of my four surgical incisions, the one on my navel (where they actually pull out the gallbladder) hurt the worst, and that incision stayed unhappy for several days after that walk.

The rest of the time was very uneventful. I watched a LOT of HGTV. I know I’m getting older when HGTV is now my preferred television channel of choice. Or maybe it just has something to do with the fact that I apparently really like interior decoration, given that I’ve literally spent months fixing up my teeny tiny fixer-upper apartment into a pleasant, habitable space.

I had my follow-up visit two weeks after surgery and was cleared to travel, even though I was deathly afraid of getting on the plane thanks to my mom instilling the fear of blood clots into my brain. Then I hurt like crazy on the actual plane ride; legs hurt, arms hurt, back hurt, hand hurt, chest hurt…way too much hurt.

I had the weekend to recuperate from the flight, then went back to school to find out that my team teaching for my new ichinensei won’t even start until May 25. And to find out that my Board of Education is royally peeved at me. My doctor’s note was not up to their standards and I got yelled at for not giving them two notes instead of one. Then I got yelled at for being gone too long and “not reading my contract” (JERKFACES I DID READ IT AND I SAW THAT I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE GONE FOR 20 CONSECUTIVE DAYS AND YOU’RE THE ONES WHO TOLD ME NO IT WAS REALLY 20 SCHOOL DAYS), got yelled at more for not following directions, and got threatened with receiving a bad teacher evaluation. Because. I. got. Sick. BECAUSE I GOT FREAKING SICK!!!! I WOULD REALLY REALLY LIKE TO USE A MORE COLORFUL WORD HERE BUT FOR THE SAKE OF FUTURE EMPLOYERS EVER FINDING THIS BLOG I WILL NOT!!! Also what the hell?? I wouldn’t be at school on weekends anyway, so why in bloody hell should weekends count?!

Japanese logic:  “She’s been out sick for more than 20 days, therefore she’s a bad teacher.” “Illness is for the weak, fools!”

So. Stupid. My brain cannot handle the level of stupidity. Yeah, surgery took longer in the US, but first of all, y’all said it was okay, and second, put yourselves in my shoes, jerks, and you probably wouldn’t want a foreigner cutting into you without knowing what was going on, either.

The BOE disaster still hasn’t been sorted out, but I’m praying that it does. And if not, screw it.

Living abroad has been much more taxing on my mental health (and physical health, too) than I had originally anticipated.

That is the end of my surgical adventure. Perhaps I’ll make a shorter post with mostly just Disney trip photos/Tokyo trip photos in the days to come. But until next time,

またね!
-Erin 「エリン」

Mind Toot #2

Good day, y’all!

 

As I mentioned in my previous albeit slightly less happy post, I’ve been up to a whole smorgasbord of whatnots and going-ons during the past few months or so. In no particular order, I will regurgitate my life for you in Mind Toot #2. Let’s hop to it!

 

    1. I read English Karuta cards for all of the Ichinensei over the loudspeaker
      1. It was kind of a last minute decision. “Karuta,” and the version that I played, called hyakuni-isshu, is a card game commonly played in Japan. The students are expected to memorize a hundred old Japanese haikus.  In the game, a moderator will read the whole poem, but the cards in front of them will have only the second half printed on them. If they have memorized the whole poem, they can scope out the card based on the second half of the poem and claim it for keeps.
      2. Because it was too cold in the gym to do regular Karuta on the scheduled day, we instead used that time, for a reason still unbeknownst to me, to do English Karuta. I was given about fifty of these poems translated into English and read each one three times over the intercom. I was downstairs reading the cards and not in the rooms with the students, but I heard that the kiddos really seemed to enjoy the challenge.

 

  • I also read Japanese Karuta cards.

 

      1. To be more accurate I read a single Karuta card. The classical Japanese teacher was kind enough to dig out a pretty simple card for me to read, and I read it in the weird sing-songy voice without fail!
      2. Unfortunately the kids were a little distracted because at the same time, a teacher decided to jump off of the stage in the gym instead of going down the stairs after he handed me the microphone and fell on his behind. Oops.

 

  • I bought a hamster!

 

      1. I’m a bad ALT. I’ve technically broken my contract by buying an animal that I’m not allowed to have. Contract states that ALTs are not allowed to have pets. I say it’s a stupid rule.
      2. I got sad after Christmas and realized I was not designed to live without a pet. And I’ve already taken care of hamsters before, so I know what I’m doing, more or less.
      3. So I bought one. I went to a store that takes very good care of it’s animals. Housed properly, lots of toys in their cages, lots of quality merchandise available, complete with store recommended products.
      4. Kudos to the staff for not letting me actually buy the hamster until they explained everything to me about how to take care of it. A lot of American stores would not do the same.
      5. Of course, because my Japanese is so abysmal, the staff had to hunt down the single employee in the store who (hallelujah!) spoke fluent English.
      6. And so I bought the necessities the day before, and bought the hamster the next day, on New Year’s Eve.
      7. I named him Deku after the main character of Boku no Hero Academia. I told my students about him and they thought it was hilarious.IMG_1349IMG_1357IMG_1347

 

  • I built the most bomb house for my hamster ever.

 

      1. Just look at it. Beautiful, ain’t it?IMG_1346
      2. I had to make several trips to the hardware store because I kept buying the wrong crap. (Trip 1-bought drill and realized that the el cheapo drill I bought did not come with drill bits or that it needed a drill bit. Trip 2–bought bolts and screws but didn’t get the right size because apparently I can’t measure. Trip 3–bought right size screws, wire cutters, and wire mesh because I somehow forgot all that too. #winning #notreally #whyIamIusinghashtagsIreallyhatethem)
      3. I know not only know what a drill bit is, I also know how to attach it to my power drill and use it!
      4. Yes I own a power drill now.
      5. I also own lots of other tools that I needed that I will probably never use again. Maybe I’ll use the hammer and screwdriver, but probably not much else.
      6. Hamster house is complete with three levels. The main cage is built out of clear plastic storage bins that I bought for 400 yen each. Screwed the lids of the bins to the bottom of the bin above it. Cut holes and installed plastic hamster tubes for travel from bin to bin. Complete with litter box, food bowl and water bottle, built-in shelves for climbing, a suspended acorn toy, and several tiny huts for him to sleep in. Oh, and I attached a separate tunnel box on the left for added enjoyment.

 

  • I sliced my middle finger open while building the hamster house and bled everywhere!

 

      1. The stupid part is that it wasn’t even when I was building the actual cage. It was when I used my excruciatingly sharp utility knife to smartly cut open the plastic on a piece of decorative tape because I was too lazy to get up and walk TWO FEET across the room to get a pair of much safer scissors.
      2. I bled for about twenty minutes and it looked relatively deep, so for a sec there I thought I would have to go back to the hospital even though I had just been there two days before.
      3. Even though it had difficulty closing up, it did eventually heal. All’s well that ends well, right? Maybe?

 

  • I taught my students how to play Settlers of Catan.

 

      1. Because who doesn’t love Catan? It’s my new favorite board game. It truly brings out the worst in people.

 

  • Bought a cool bookshelf unit.

 

      1. Spices up the place, I think. And I put it together ALL BY MYSELF. Really digging this whole DIY thing.IMG_1249

 

  • Also bought a wardrobe.

 

      1. Thanks to Ryoko for helping me buy it and Yoshi for waiting for it in my apartment while I was still trapped in the hospital against my will.

 

  • Did some Hobbit Hole fung-shui.

 

      1. You know, moved things here and there. I am trying to solve all my storage solutions with the wardrobe and using the closet for actual storage. Gotta get rid of the stupid table in my bathroom first, though…

 

  • I did get rid of the table in my bathroom and the desk I never use!

 

      1. Thanks again, Ryoko and Yoshi for helping me out with that! Got a whopping 200 yen for my bathroom table when I sold it at the secondhand store. But then had to pay 600 yen to get rid of my other table they wouldn’t take? Oh well. Useless tables are gone now.

 

  • Saw a totally random Kabuki street performance.

 

      1. On my way back from the hardware store I took a shortcut through the shopping mall to get to the station. And what was there but random Kabuki? Oh Japan. Gotta love the random street performances.

 

  • Saw a graduation.

 

      1. My first group of third year students graduated last week. Scratch that. a long time ago. I wrote this post months ago.
      2. I was terribly sad about it and almost cried because I liked them and actually knew ALL of their names, not just the troublemakers.
      3. It was very different from an American graduation. The underclassmen were forced to attend as well. Parents sat in the back with the absolute worst view. Teachers sat at the sides. Students wore their normal school uniforms, which I guess is kinda special for my school since my high school is one of those fabled “uniform optional” schools that most of the time you only see in manga. Students didn’t individually get the diplomas. A representative collected a symbolic one. Nor did they walk across the stage. Just said “hai” when their names were called. They did a little tribute to their teachers at the end which was actually pretty sweet.
      4. And I forgot to bring my hiragana copy of the school song even though I really wanted to sing it.
      5. And I desperately had to pee the whole time even though I specifically took measures beforehand knowing that it would probably happen to prevent myself from having to desperately pee the whole time. So I was a little distracted and instead of enjoying the moment, spent every second thinking, “DEAR GOD WHEN WILL THIS END I NEED TO PEE SO BAD!!”
      6. Next year, I just won’t be allowed to drink a single drop of anything before graduation. Maybe even the day before. YAYYYY DEHYDRATION!!!
  • Went to Himeji Castle with a math teacher in my section
    1. Kunimasa-sensei was kind enough to drive me there and back. We saw the castle (which has a lot of stairs?), the gardens, and even went to a tea ceremony after!IMG_1323IMG_1321

 

  • I painted some stuff.

 

      1. These are the products of my week long social media leave of absence. Enjoy.
      2. IMG_1341IMG_1336IMG_1339

 

  • I killed myself off in a lesson for the second time this year for the sake of entertaining my students.

 

      1. I wanted to end the school year with a bang, so I concocted a “murder mystery” style game for my last lesson with my first year students. I took some elements from the internet, some from the CLUE game, and adapted the rest to fit my needs for a 40 students class.
      2. I killed myself off and told the students that they had to solve my murder.
      3. They had even more fun because I gave them really goofy character names. For example, Hello Kitty, Pikachu, PikoTaro, Taylor Swift, Izuku Midoriya, Ciel Phantomhive, Doraemon, Michael Jackson, Anpanman, and Morty Smith, among others.
      4. They had fun because I wore a Japanese-style ghost headband the whole time.
      5. In one class, when they found out that “Peter Pan” had killed me, “Peter Pan” came up to me and bowed to me in apology for his character’s actions.

 

  • I joined a gym!

 

      1. I’ve finally managed to drag my lazy self out from under my kotatsu and exercise.
      2. I also think it’s hilarious that joining a gym is more difficult that going to the doctor. I am now fully capable of going to the doctor by myself as I have gone three times now sans assistance. Yet how many attempts did it take to sign up for my gym membership?
      3. THREE. THREE FRIGGIN’ TIMES. Let me explain how.
        1. On day one, I was told to come back on Friday because they were having a promotion starting on Friday. Three months at half off, which is a significant discount given the hefty price tag of Japanese gyms. Full price is $100/month. I figured heck, I could wait two days for such a great discount. I like saving money. I’m stingy.
        2. So I went back on Friday. I tried to communicate that I wanted to join. But between my Japanglish the Japanglish of 4 different Japanese staff members, they couldn’t explain everything to me. They said they wouldn’t let me sign the contract unless I understood EVERYTHING. And then told me to come back with a Japanese friend. Come on man, what if I didn’t have any Japanese friends? Would I have been royally screwed?
        3. So I then semi-desperately asked my friend/first-week Japanese host, Junko, to help me out. Thankfully, we had already had plans that weekend, so she took me to the gym afterward.
        4. Junko went with me on Saturday. Even with her assistance, it still took about two hours to sign up. TWO HOURS!! First they had to explain. Then we filled out the form. Then we didn’t press the pen on the carbon copy and had to do it again.
        5. THEN finally I got a tour of the gym, but had to wait to use it until Monday when I had an introductory course/orientation.
        6. After all the struggle, at least it was worth it, because this gym is ritzy y’all. Onsen in the bathing area. Hair dryers provided. A pool. A sauna. Massage chairs. Three studios for classes. Lockers with bracelet keys so you never have to worry about bringing a lock. Fancy key things that you put into the machines that log all the calories you’ve burned for the day. Swanky I tell you. So swanky.
        7. Only downsides are that I stick out like a sore thumb because to my knowledge I am one of only two foreigners and that because Japan, you have to take off your shoes every three seconds. No shoes in the locker room. No shoes in the stretching area. No shoes at the massage chairs. Where am I allowed to wear my shoes???

 

  • I got a new air-conditioner.

 

      1. My old aircon died about three or four weeks ago a while ago. I went a week without doing anything hoping the cold wouldn’t be a big deal. It was. So I told my school about it. A guy came a week later. All I understood from said repair guy was that something was old and needed replacing. Repair people came back two weeks later. Little did I know, they ended up replacing the whole thing. I was worried that it would cost me a small fortune. Turns out the landlord is covering the entire cost! So now I have a magical aircon that is I swear ten times more powerful than the old one and TALKS when you turn it on and press the buttons and I didn’t have to pay a single yen for it. Hahahahaha.
      2. IMG_1368
        The most amazing thing ever

 

  • Bought a ton of different KitKat flavors to mail to my friends back home.

 

      1. Pumpkin, strawberry, ginger, green tea (matcha), raspberry nut, regular raspberry, sake, Kobe pudding, strawberry cheesecake, purple sweet potato…it goes on and on and on.

 

  • Remembered what would have been Ruby’s birthday and death day.

 

      1. I got sad. I loved my baby. Why did those days have to be only five days apart??

 

  • Celebrated a Potato-versary.

 

      1. One year of having a little Potato in our lives! Such a wonderful little spud she is!IMG_1258

 

  • Tried the Sakura frappuccino at starbucks.

 

      1. It was sooooo good y’all. You don’t know what you’re missing. Next on the list: the American cherry pie frappuccino when I get back to Japan. 

        IMG_1352
        Yummy sugar overload

 

  • Visited a cat cafe.

 

      1. It was about time. My favorite was named Momiji. He reminded me of Buddha. Kept licking my hand the whole time. Pretty tuxedo cat.
      2. The rest of the cats pretty much ignored my until I purchased a cup of treats. Then they were all suddenly my best friend, except for the grumpus munchkin cat who was apparently having a bad day.
        IMG_1329
        Grumpy on the bottom level wouldn’t come out

        IMG_1328
        My buddy Momiji!

 

  • Went to Sapporo.

 

      1. I wish I had been able to continue my whole trip and go to Hakodate and Aomori as well. But it was a pretty snowy and magical three days in Sapporo, at least. I saw the Sapporo Clock Tower which was more like an old church than anything else, the old Sapporo government building, the TV tower, Hokkaido Shrine…It was my magical winter wonderland.
      2. IMG_1297
        The Sapporo beer museum
        IMG_1296
        Random American style diner
        IMG_1295
        Torii gate at Hokkaido Shrine
        IMG_1294
        Don’t know what this was, but it was pretty
        IMG_1292
        Odori-koen at night
        IMG_1291
        Snow for daysssss
        IMG_1290
        The old Sapporo government building

        IMG_1289

        IMG_1288
        The Sapporo Clock Tower

        IMG_1287

 

  • Helped an old man who had fallen and couldn’t get up.

 

      1. Like in those commercials, you know? Life Alert? Something like that? I didn’t realize he was a person at first. Then a car came and the headlights revealed that he was. Did the car stop? No. When I asked a stranger for help, did she stop? No. Jerk. After a few minutes of trying to communicate with this old man, a man and his young son came along and responded to my pleas for help. This kind stranger helped me get the old man back on his feet, and then walked him home. Thank you kind stranger!

 

  • I had to take out the two cartilage ear piercings that I loved so much.

 

      1. Because I became a semi frequent flyer at the hospital, I ended up back there because I had a suspected sinus infection. To diagnose what ended up only being an ear infection and not a sinus infection, they did a CT scan of my head, and I had to take ALL of my earrings out. I managed to salvage five. But one of the ear lobe ones was terribly not in the right direction, so I decided to let that heal up and pierce it again later even though I could get it back in. But the cartilage ones, I couldn’t even find the holes because the angles were so messed up.
      2. Now I have bumps from the scar tissue on my ear.
      3. At least the bright side is that I can now sleep comfortably on my left side for the first time in a year? But there goes about $140 in piercing costs and a lot of pain, time and effort trying to get them to heal.

 

  • MADE IT INTO THE DOUBLE DIGITS ON WANIKANI!!

 

      1. Level 12, fools!! Out of the “pleasant” levels and into the “painful” ones!! THE NEXT STEP TO LITERACY!!!

 

  • Had a lovely time in Tokyo with Sara and Marco!

 

      1. My lovely American friends came for a two week visit to ye ole land of the rising sun for a two week vacation, and I got to spend about a week with them in Tokyo. Due to some unfortunate communication issues, I ended up doing a lot of back and forth travelling to and from Tokyo (my school told me I could have a whole week off for spring bring, then when I went to confirm with them they changed their minds and said I had to be there for the Monday and Friday of that week even though I literally did nothing and there was no reason for me to be there). SO I took a night bus on a Thursday and I went to Tokyo for a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and took the shinkansen back to Kobe on Sunday night, then the next day took another night bus back to Tokyo to spend two days in Disneyland and Disney Sea.
      2. I was a Disney virgin and it was just as magical as I was hoping it would be. I wish I could have done the Tower of Terror but I was worried that it would upset my ailing gallbladder.
      3. I had to sneak food in on day 2 because I basically just ate a salad and a couple of fruit cups on Day 1.
      4. People at Disneyland are really into popcorn? Like lots of flavors of popcorn? Tomato herb, caramel, white chocolate, curry…kinda weird given that the only place I’ve been able to find popcorn at is Costco.
      5. They had an ENTIRE STORE dedicated to Winnie the Pooh, which I love, and it took every ounce of self restraint and reminding myself that I’m poor and have no money now between airplane tickets and hospital bills to only come out with some Winnie the Pooh ears and a new cell phone strap.

 

  • I came home to the US of A for surgery, but more on that later…

Finally, enjoy some random pictures.

IMG_1274IMG_1269IMG_1391IMG_1390IMG_1387IMG_1385IMG_1383IMG_1371IMG_1350IMG_1331IMG_1332IMG_1327IMG_1326IMG_1325

 

 

I think that’s about it? Hopefully I’ve gotten you all up to speed now. If you care. Maybe you don’t. I dunno. But until next time,

 

またね!
エリン (Erin)

Hospitalized in Japan

Hiya, friends,

While I assure you that Mind Toot #2 is written and on it’s way, I want to address the most current happenings (A) while they are fresh in my mind and (B) because uploading the pictures to Mind Toot #2 is going to take forever and a half and this is easier at the moment because I have all of two pictures to share with you.

As you can tell by the title of this post, yes, I had me a little hospital stay in Japan. After months of phantom pains/illnesses, something very much real happened to my poor gaijin body!

So…what happened, you ask?

Oooohhhhh I shall tell you what happened.

On the late evening of one Tuesday, March 21st 2017, around 11 pm or so, I began to have some of the most excruciating stomach pains of my life. At the time, I thought I knew the cause–in attempt to be able to allow myself to experience Japanese cuisine to the fullest, I ate a small piece of meat. Le gasp! Naturally, seeing that I never eat meat, I assumed that this started wreaking havoc on my digestive system.

Then I threw up. A lot. I mean a lot a lot. Like nine or ten times. With each time providing little to no relief. After a while I tried to force myself to keep throwing up, because sick logic dictated that if keep throwing up, eventually I will feel better.

That was not the case. Eventually I threw up all that there was to throw up and ended up just dry heaving.

Then I tried everything else. I tried camping out in a sad huddle on my tiny bathroom floor in case I needed to puke my guts out again. I tried a heat pack. I tried an ice pack. I tried contorting myself into every position imaginable trying to find just an ounce of relief. I found one very bizarre position that ever so slightly alleviated the pain and managed to doze off. When I woke up, I thought a couple of hours had passed. When I glanced at the clock, however, I was rudely informed that only 20 minutes had passed.

20 MINUTES??? THAT’S ALL??? NO FREAKING WAY!!!!!!! Were the only thoughts ringing throughout my head.

It was about one or two in the morning at this point, and I desperately tried to contort myself into some more weird positions. I tried drinking ginger tea. With permission from my neighbor I broke into his apartment to steal some of his Tums. Threw all that up, too. At approximately 3 a.m. Japan time, I texted my wonderful mommy (Hi, Mom!) for Dr. Mom’s medical consultation, and due to my severe pain, she suggested I go to the hospital. So I gathered my crap and left.

I live between two hospitals. I usually go to the one down the hill because I already have an info card with them and it’s easier. But in my agony I wasn’t sure if I could make it down the very steep hill, so I instead went in the other direction down the less steep hill. Upon arrival, I couldn’t figure out how to get in because the doors were locked, lights off, and I couldn’t find an emergency entrance. So I ended up backtracking and walking another fifteen minutes or so to the other hospital. In hindsight, I really should’ve called an ambulance in case I passed out or something but….eh. It worked out.

Upon arriving that hospital #2, I also couldn’t figure out how to get in. I found an ambulance entrance that had no other signs. Couldn’t see a doorbell. Sat down on the curb and cried for a few minutes while I texted my mom again. Then I called the hospital. Had to call twice because the first time the guy didn’t really understand what I wanted. The second time, I just plainly said in Japanese, “I am sorry, I am a foreigner. MY JAPANESE IS NOT GOOD. MY STOMACH REALLY, REALLY HURTS! I AM OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW. YES, RIGHT NOW. PLEASE OPEN THE DOOR.”

Thank God this actually worked, as a guy came, opened the door, let me in, gave me paperwork and then ended up filling it out for me because I was in too much pain to fill it out myself plus I couldn’t read most of it.

Thankfully nobody else was actually at the emergency room in that moment either and they were immediately able to do a CT scan on my stomach.

Not thankfully the nurses (two of them) literally took over an hour to find a vein that was good enough for an IV, and after many painful attempts and much yelling of “PLEASE STOP IT HURTS.” on my end, they FINALLY found one in my left hand. Then they had a very large needle attached to a very large syringe that I had to make them explain to me because they were about to jam it into my shoulder without telling me what it was. It was pain medicine. It didn’t help.

After about another hour or so of waiting and the nurses probably thinking I was crazy from all the rolling around I was doing on my bed, the doctor, Takeuchi-sensei, brought me to a consultation room, showed me the CT scan pictures, and (in English, thankfully) informed me that no, my stomachache was not from eating meat, but was from the presence of gallstones in my gallbladder!

Gallstones! Freaking gallstones!

I am only 24 years old! I am too young for this crap!

 

He also informed me that my spleen, for whatever reason, was slightly enlarged, and I proceeded to tell him that I had family history of this since my mom had had her gallbladder out when I was a kid.

He then told me that I needed to be hospitalized for a few days because I might need surgery but he wasn’t sure yet.

UGHghghhghUghhghghghgghghghghghghggh is really the only thing I was thinking at that point due to my annoyance at this diagnosis, lack of sleep, and pain.

It was approximately 7 a.m. at this point, and they took me upstairs to bring me to a room. First they brought me to a room with lots of SUPER old people (I mean looked like they were dead old), and maybe the obviously uncomfortable look on my face made them change my room, but they came back about five minutes later and moved me to a slightly smaller room with only two other occupants, who while also old, didn’t look catatonic like the other people did.

I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to call on my cell phone, so I ended up emailing two of the English teachers at my school, and thank God one of them found my email. I apparently managed to doze off for at least a little while, and at 8:20 a.m., one of the teachers and my vice principal came to see what was going on. They spoke with the doctor, explained everything to my poor confused self, and I gave them my key to get some stuff from my house for me. Thankfully my house has a combination lock on the mailbox so I can just leave the key there and anyone who needs to get in can just enter the code and grab the key, so I had them leave they key since my friend Ryoko (thank you Ryoko!!) also needed to break in there to feed my hamster for me.

They left, I went back to sleep, and a couple hours later, one of the other English teachers that I work with popped in to visit. It made me very happy that he cared enough to come visit.

All I really wanted to do on Wednesday was sleep, but unfortunately I kept getting interrupted. First they took me to do an MRI of my gallbladder. Then they took me to have the most insane looking IV put into my arm, called a PICC line apparently. I didn’t take a picture of my actual arm, but it looked something like this:

PICC line

Essentially, they injected my arm with local anesthetic, put this tube in my vein that I later found out went all the way from the entry point mid-arm all the way into my chest, and then sutured it into my skin.

Then my co-teacher and vice principal came back, then another friend…it was quite exhausting. I was hooked up to an IV and a steady stream of antibiotics for the majority of my stay. Thursday was not quite as eventful…No testing that I remember, but I had a lot of trouble staying awake that day. I affectionately (or not so affectionately) named my IV pole Naruto. Partly because it spins around in circles like a whirlpool, partly because Naruto has fighting spirit, which I needed at the time.

Friday was by far the least eventful day. I finally was able to stay awake for the whole day, so I just read more of my book. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that I literally did not eat for two days. They needed to fast me for something or another, so I did not eat from Tuesday night until Thursday night. When I did finally get fed, it was very soupy, simple food–rice porridge, miso, and the like. Sometimes some vegetable mash. It honestly resembled baby food. But maybe because of my stupid gallbladder, maybe because my stomach had shrunk, that was really all I had the appetite for anyway. Bland is good right now.

Good ‘ol Naruto was supposed to get removed on Saturday morning, but ended up coming out on Friday night instead. I thought that maybe it was leaking fluid into my arm because I noticed that my right hand was starting to look kind of bruised and swollen and felt kind of funny. When I told the nurse, they found a different doctor that was not my doctor and removed it. I made the mistake of looking before it was completely out when I thought they were done and it was not pretty. The next day though, Dr. Mom so kindly informed me that it was probably just restricted blood flow from the IV line…oops. Either way, I was glad to be rid of Naruto. It’s annoying being attached to a pole.

IMG_1398
The end damage to my right arm–lots of little suture marks
IMG_1403
My right hand is turning into a giant bruise. Looks like I punched something. My knuckles on my index and middle finger are turning the most interesting shade of reddish-purple.

So on Saturday, discharge day finally arrived. They did a second MRI on my head since I was complaining of headaches, but nothing sinister showed up (Even though it doesn’t answer the questions of why I’m getting them or how I can fix them 😦  ) . Then we waited for a very long time. Did not end up leaving until about three in the afternoon. The school people who waited with me were very patient.

Takeuchi-sensei told me that they’re just going to dissolve the stones with oral medication for now, but should it happen again, I’ll probably need surgery, so I have to see a surgeon in two days for a consultation. And when all was said and done, I was out about $650 of un-budgeted expenses. Yikes.

While the hospital stay was slightly traumatic (it’s beyond frustrating being trapped inside a hospital and having your blood pressure checked and skin poked every few hours when you can’t communicate well and have no clue what’s going on), I am glad to have a diagnosis and glad that for the moment, I am feeling much better. Minus the mystery headaches.

I finally came back to work today, and of course, since news spreads through the grapevine like wildfire, everyone who has seen me today has asked how I am now. One of the teachers who drove me home on Saturday, who is knowledgeable about anime, was kind enough to bring me a Naruto figurine to replace the “Naruto” that I left behind at the hospital.

Other than getting weird looks when I try to choke down my nasty Chinese herb medicine crap every four hours or so (tastes like a weird combo of mugicha and black coffee and berries), it has been okay so far. And hopefully it will continue to be okay, and hopefully I can still go to Tokyo to see Sara and Marco (!!!) in a few days as planned.

So….if anyone was ever wondering what it’s like to be trapped in a hospital in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language…ain’t gonna lie, kinda frightening. But I am alive, well enough, and that’s all that really matters.

Until next time, friends,

またね!

エリン (Erin)

My Demons

Good day, friends. Good day.

For the first time in a long time, I can honestly say “good day” and mean it, for the most part. I got a beautiful new air conditioning unit installed today to warm up my frozen, icy soul that had frosted over during the past four weeks when my old crusty A/C unit died, so that alone makes it a pretty darn good day in my book.

As I sit under my toasty, cozy kotatsu writing this, in a newly feng-shuid room with only a little bit of mess on the floor instead of a lot of mess on the floor, I realize that it has been an absurd amount of time since I have posted anything bearing any resemblance to what constitutes a normal blog post. Yeah, sure, I’ve written a handful of JET program stuff for all of the JET hopefuls out there (hang on, little sprouts, you’ve only got a month or less of waiting to go–hard to believe that was me one year ago. Soon you can be a fully fledged Green Bean like me! Do green beans sprout? Is that how it works? I don’t even know, man.), but have you noticed that since pre-Christmas, I haven’t written a single damned thing about my personal life and the other happenings and bygones of my life? No? You haven’t, you say? Well, if you answered yes, (A) that makes my poor, fragile soul Oh So Sad, but (B) I really don’t blame you because I have more or less for the past two and half months become a hermit-otaku-shut-in who hides in the inner recesses of my Hobbit Hole and only emerges for daily responsibilities (you know, like my job. Kinda sorta just a little important ) and to go on the hunt for sustenance (gotta eat, you know).  

A series of unfortunate events is, unfortunately (yes, I did that on purpose, 5 points [to Gryffindor!] for anyone who got that reference), the root behind why I have gone off the radar, off the grid, under my rock, whichever label you choose to slap onto my leave of absence from blogging. That Series of Unfortunate Events that unfortunately happened right around the Yuletide season put a damper on my mood and left me in a rather unpleasant state, both physically and emotionally, which has lasted right around until this point. So, for a few minutes, let me take you back to the beginning  to fully explain what happened, since I’m sure you’re dying to know. If you’re not dying to know, and don’t really care, then you can just skip a little bit until the happy stuff comes along. I promise there will be happy stuff. This isn’t a sad, depressed rambling. There is a point, my friends! A grand point! A wonderful message awaits! But, first I have to walk you through the dark before the dawn. That’s just how it goes.

JET PROSPECTS–I DON’T KNOW YOU, BUT IF YOU WANT A REALISTIC PERSPECTIVE ON CULTURE SHOCK AND WHAT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU WHEN YOU ARE IN A LAND THAT IS FAR, FAR AWAY, A PERSPECTIVE THAT SHOWS SOMETHING THAT IS OTHER THAN UNICORNS AND RAINBOWS AND PONIES AND SUNSHINE, IT MAY BE IN YOUR BEST INTEREST TO READ THIS NOW AND TO BRACE YOURSELVES FOR THE POSSIBILITY. NOBODY WANTS TO TELL YOU ABOUT THE UNPLEASANTRIES ASSOCIATED WITH THE MAGICAL MARSHMALLOW SNOWFLAKE WONDERLAND THAT IS JAPAN, BUT BELIEVE YOU ME, IT IS NOT ALL HUNKY DORY DANDY ALL THE TIME.

Ahem. So, let’s begin, shall we?

In the beginning, there was a naive twenty-something named Erin/Green Bean/Ern/Bob/Eob/Snowflake who lived in the previously unknown circle of hell known as “New Orleans, Louisiana.” This naive twenty-something decided to semi-foolishly, semi-not, do something drastically outside her comfort zone. Erin was but a young Bean Sprout at the time. Full of optimism, full of a desire to experience life to the fullest and go somewhere different, do something different. In her epic quest to make a change, the young Bean Sprout decided to apply for the JET program, and upon her second trial of the epic quest, finally succeeded in slaying the Boss Monster called Interviews and it’s minion, Application. Erin’s Health Points had been drastically drained from her long, turbulent battle with the Boss Monster, but upon victory, she claimed the Heart Piece left behind upon the Boss Monster’s defeat, recovered her life force, and happily watched the Ending Credits of the game roll along the screen as the naturally happy ending was displayed in the background.

Oh, wait a sec–was that how it went?

NOOOOOPPPPEEEEE.

*Ahem*, Sorry for that little misunderstanding folks, let’s get back to the real story.

Upon the slaying of the Boss Monster, Erin did in fact recover her life force and temporarily have a happy ending. But, when the ending credits finally finished rolling, a premonition of something sinister flashed, a warning of what was yet to come. It was–le gasp–a preview of the sequel game! The preview showed hints of things even more dire, even more sinister than the original Boss Monster! The young Bean Sprout quivered in fear at the idea of having even more monsters to slay, even more battles to be won! But, she unsheathed her mighty blade and trudged along, bracing herself for the journey ahead.

Like all quest games, at first, the journey was easy. No task was too far out of reach. The Bean Sprout completed mini-quest after mini-quest, slaying the smaller monsters, gathering items, and achieving tiny win after tiny win. Slay the beast known as buying furniture? Check. Slay the monster called “giving a speech in front of a thousand people?” Check. Slay the beast called, “navigating the wonky train system/why in the freaking hell are there four different train lines/companies in one city?” Check. The Bean Sprout gained a false sense of confidence. The Bean Sprout felt invincible.

However, unbeknownst to the Bean Sprout, this newfound confidence would not last. The confidence lulled the Bean Sprout into a false sense of security that would ultimately shatter into a billion teensy tiny itty bitty little pieces, only for a monster to swallow them, regurgitate them, and drop them into the sea, where they would then be eaten by many microorganisms, never to be seen again. Ah, the circle of life.

All is going well, so the Bean Sprout thought. I can best any challenge that comes my way! With that false sense of security and optimism, the Bean Sprout gathered her tools and mustered her courage, ready to face the first Boss: Christmas Alone In A Foreign Country.

Being the first Boss, the first real trial since coming to the foreign land far, far away, the Bean Sprout believed that Christmas Alone In A Foreign Country wouldn’t be all that difficult to conquer. Christmas Alone In A Foreign Country’s minion, Homesickness, hadn’t reared it’s ugly head yet, so the Bean Sprout thought that surely this Boss would be eliminated at her own hand. And so the Bean Sprout thought, Why use a strategy guide when you’ve already got all the tools for survival, right?

WRONG AGAIN.

Because she believed that she didn’t need a strategy guide, that she could just wing it, the Bean Sprout went into battle horrendously unprepared. She had no support members. Nobody to cast recovery magic. No melee fighters or distance fighters to aid her. She was all alone. Oh so alone. She had no company, nor did she bring enough potions to adequately restore her life force. Christmas Alone In A Foreign Country relentlessly attacked, again and again, until alas, the Sprout could take it no more. The Sprout ran out of moves. Then the Sprout fainted. The Sprout failed.  The sad sounds of failure played in the background as “Start Again?” displayed on the screen.

Dismayed by her own failure, the Sprout decided she wouldn’t dwell on her failure and her sadness. The Sprout decided to take a vacation. So, going solo, plans made, the Sprout set off for the even farther away land called, “Hokkaido,” the great wintry North beyond the invisible hypothetical wall (the ocean) that lay between the mainland and the great beyond. The Sprout set off, ready to start a new side quest to take her mind off of her humiliating defeat! For nine days, the Sprout hoped to find relief for her sad heart and enjoy the frosty wonderland that she had so dreamed of visiting.

Little did she know before, however, the Sprout’s new side quest would not go as planned. The Sprout’s heart physically ached hour after hour, day by day. Was her heart broken? Had Christmas Alone In A Foreign Country wounded her more than she had initially thought? Had Christmas Alone In A Foreign Country cast a time magic spell that was destined to slowly drain away her life force? Sadly, the answer was yes.

Now, the Sprout, wounded and alone, found herself in an even more foreign, foreign land. She knew no one. She knew nothing. She had no knowledge of her new surroundings, and all alone, she was frightened. She knew not what to do, so in a worried fit, she sought consult with the nearest healer who was able to speak her mother tongue.

The Sprout explained the situation to the healer, who then subjected the Sprout to a series of tests. The Sprout felt alone and afraid. However, many hours later, the healer divulged to the Sprout that he did not understand her plight. He could see nothing wrong with the Sprout’s fragile heart.

Dismayed upon hearing no real answers, and concerned that her heart ached in a place where she knew nothing and no one, the Sprout sadly packed her bags, cancelled the remaining six days of her vacation, and with her head hung low, returned to her Hobbit Hole.

Upon her return, the Sprout sought counsel with another healer, who agreed with the first; he could find nothing wrong.

Discouraged, and dismayed, the Sprout withered. Each passing day felt like her heart was literally breaking. No matter what she did, her ailing heart never ceased to ache. Her aching heart made her grow weary. Things she once enjoyed now seemed unpleasant. People she once routinely spoke to grew distant at her own hand. Life as she knew it had changed.

The change was gradual. First days would go by. Then weeks, all the while she hadn’t noticed how much time had truly passed. She spent more and more time in her Hobbit Hole instead of enjoying the land far, far away which she had originally sought to experience.

One day, her heart suddenly stopped aching. Could this be the end?  The Sprout thought. Sadly, it wasn’t. The monster had transformed into an even more formidable foe, and a new monster, a demon in the form of Headaches gripped the young Sprout’s soul in it’s place. Every day, it clung tighter and tighter, slowly driving the Sprout mad by her own thoughts. Her mind became toxic; the once safe haven was teeming with the venom of the demon. The Sprout’s thoughts gradually became darker and darker, and life was not as enjoyable as it had previously been.

However, weeks later, the Sprout had epiphany. She was letting her demons control her, letting them wrap their arms around her neck. She couldn’t let these demons control her. Why should she? She set out to a land far, far away to enjoy that land far, far away. To learn about new things. To experience new things. None of which she was doing at the moment. So, the Sprout brandished all of her greatest weapons, mustered up every ounce of courage she had left–and began to fight the demons that were controlling her. Let me go, I’m not finished yet! The Sprout thought.

To this day, the Sprout’s enemy has still not been vanquished–fight as she may, the demons still cling on, though their grasp loosens a little with each second that passes her by.

The Sprout may not have her Happy Ending Without A Sequel Of Bad Things To Come yet, but it is in her future. One day, she will vanquish her demons once and for all. And their will be no sequel game where the demons come back.

Finis.

I hope you enjoyed that little tale, folks. Writing is someone of a coping mechanism for me. I like it. And I like to believe that I’m a little bit good at it. Meh, maybe I’m not, but even if I’m not just let me live in my fantasy world, dang nabbit!

So, if you’re super dense and for some reason could not follow my story and all of video game references: In a nutshell, I got super sad around Christmas because Christmas is my holiday, yo, and usually I get super pumped about Christmas but I foolishly decided to tough out the winter season because I’m too big of a wuss to get back on the friggin’ airplane to America. To distract myself from my sadness of not being home, I went to Hokkaido because (A) who doesn’t love Hokkaido? It’s a magical winter wonderland? And (B) it’s the place I originally wanted to live before I was placed in Kobe against my will and I wanted to visit it at least once. BUT…my chest started hurting the day before Chrismas, maybe even the day before that, and continued to hurt even when I was in Hokkaido, and granted I was not in the best shape, so I got very concerned because a lot of really important things are in your chest, you know? I didn’t know which important thing it was or if it was important at all, so I landed myself in the hospital in Sapporo, a city where I know literally zero people. And going to the hospital is stressful enough without adding foreign country and language barrier to the mix. Sooooo the doctors did all these tests and everything came back negative and they chalked it up to anxiety even though I didn’t consciously feel that anxious at the time, so confused and with no answers and with a chest that was still hurting, I didn’t feel comfortable staying in Sapporo alone and packed up my crap, bought some souvenirs from the train station and went back home. And by home I mean Kobe. Not home home.

I had a relatively decent new year all things considered, but the aching chest literally went on for ALL OF JANUARY until it magically and suddenly stopped right smack at the beginning of February only for headaches to rear their ugly head in the place of the chest pains. And I don’t mean your generic dull achey headaches where you can pop a couple of ibuprofen and be good. I mean the most crippling headaches of my life. It literally felt like someone was jabbing my eye socket with an icepick. Repeat this about six times a day, with headaches switching sides frequently. Every little ache or pain started to set my anxiety meter through the roof and panic attacks became a regular occurrence. If you’ve never had a panic attack before, you literally feel like you are going to die right then and there. I have never more frequently  convinced myself of the fact that I was dying than I have in the past two months. 

It’s not like I consciously feel stressed or anxious all the time. On most days it’s more of a homesickness that anything else. I miss being able to see my family, and  nothing can replace being able to hug my cats and my Tater Tot. I feel like I am betraying Buddha, my favorite (yes, I am a bad mom and I have a very clear favorite among my babies) by being away from him. And from what I hear from my family, he’s not terribly happy about this arrangement. I keep hearing stories about how he pees in front of the fireplace when he doesn’t get enough attention, and him not getting enough attention is a foreign concept to me since I smothered him with attention when I was home. And I hear about how terrible and how stupid my dumb little Dave is, and terrible as he is, I miss his dumb face. My poor Dave’s sweet, dumb face. And I miss my sweet, innocent little Elvis Bo who can do wrong. Really I feel like missing my animals is the biggest problem. I was not designed to live without them!

A couple of weeks ago, I had finally had enough. I realized that I needed to do something about this to stop myself from spiraling completely out of control. So I started cutting the junk food out of my diet. I finally joined the gym. I am trying to consciously rid myself of toxic thoughts and I have banned myself from looking at WebMD. For the record, unless you just have a physical thing like a sprain and just want to know how to take care of it, don’t ever look at WebMD. Because WebMD’s answer to everything is cancer. And I’m pretty sure that I don’t have that. Just a hunch. Needless to say when you’re constantly in a state of agitation and panic, believing that you might have cancer isn’t so hard.

Slowly but surely, things have started to be looking up. My chest pains, while still present, are much less frequent than they were before. Just in a few days this week, the headaches have been reduced as well. I am trying to put myself on a positive path and do what I set out to do when I came here–enjoy Japan.

In Japanese, there is a word called “Akuma” which essentially means a demon or a devil. It is a trope that is frequently found throughout anime and manga. But it applies here. I let my akuma, my demons, get the better of me. I let myself get into a very toxic, negative spiral, and I am trying my damnedest to dig myself out of it. The thing about anxiety, or stress, or panic, or whatever I have, is that you don’t always realize what exactly is happening. Stuff just happens, it goes on, and you feel miserable. For me my breaking point happened when my head was hurting so much that I was popping ibuprofen and aspirin like candy.

I think I am feeling better. And I want to make it my mission to see the beauty even in the most negative of situations. At the end of the day, I am in Japan. Japan, y’all!!! It has been a turbulent, crazy ride, but it’s a ride that I want to enjoy to the fullest. I don’t want to be holding on to the safety bars like a terrified child the whole time; I want to let my hands fly free in the breeze and make a super goofy face that gets captured for all to see on the ride photos at the end of the trip.

From here on out, no more living my life in black and white, hiding in the shadows of my own mind. I want to live my life in SCREAMING COLOR. I want to be FREE. I want to feel liberated, energized, crazy, and euphoric! I want every second, and every day to count. I want to experience as much as I can, see as much as I can, and learn as much as I can while I am here. Because as great as it would be to stay here forever, I know that I can’t. I already know that I’m not one of those people that is going to live in Japan forever, even after JET. I love Japan, but it’s not my home. It will always hold a special place in my heart, but my heart tells me that eventually, I need to go back to America. I have cats to retrieve from my parents. A Potato to hug. An education to get. So I need to make every second count while I am here.

On that note, I’m sorry if this post was kind of a downer. I hope that the story at least made the atmosphere a little brighter up in here.

While I have been hermiting for a large chunk of the past couple of months, I haven’t exclusively been hermiting, so I will write another post within the next couple of days or so chronicling what I’ve been up to. Let Mind Toot #2 happen. 

But, in the meantime, have a good evening/day/morning whatever time it is where you are, everyone. 

Peace out, my little Bean Sprouts.

またね。
-Erin