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.

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

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.

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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)

JET Program: Interview Do’s and Don’ts (the unofficial guide to success)

Hello again, friends!

Several months ago, I wrote a blog post about Do’s and Don’ts for the JET Program Application and Essay (link here).

With interview notifications just over the horizon, here is my part 2 on tackling the JET Program applications: Do’s and Don’ts for the JET Program Interview!

First of all, if you are selected for an interview, congratulations! You are one step closer to being accepted into the JET Program! But, unfortunately the flip side to that happy news is, “EEK! CRAP! THE INTERVIEW! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?? FIDDLESTICKS!!!” Fear not, friends. You can do it!

I interviewed for the JET Program twice–once in 2015 and once in 2016. The first time, I screwed up terribly and was ultimately rejected from the program. Oh how my heart snapped in two when I got the rejection email.. The second time, I was short-listed! I could just tell you the things to do well that will help you land that coveted short-list spot, but I feel that it would also be beneficial to you to hear what went wrong from my first interview so y’all good folks don’t go messing up the way I did. Unless you’re Mr./Ms./Anything-in-between Smooth, the interview is really not an experience that you’d want to go through twice (probably the most stress-inducing thirty minutes of my life…).

 

Now that I’ve properly terrified you, let’s get started!

**SHORT DISCLAIMER**–> This probably goes without saying, but as mentioned in the title, this is an UNOFFICIAL resource to help you out. Success is not guaranteed. This is just a diary of sorts of MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCES that I figured could help you all out. So please, if any of you follow this guide and ultimately don’t get in, first of all, my condolences, second, it is not my fault. So please don’t throw a law suit my way. Just sayin’.

 

About the interview:

First of all, the interviews typically take place in early February, and you’ll be notified about whether you got the interview maybe 2, 3 weeks beforehand in mid-January. That’s not a whole lot of time to prepare. Also, before I tell you about what to do/not to do, I think it would be in your best interest to know the format of the interview. For some reason, before I did my first interview in 2015, I was under the impression that “panel interview” meant that there would be several interviewers along with several interviewees in the room at the same time. Maybe because I did actually have a job interview like that once, and it was very strange (And one of the questions that they asked was, “If you were a shoe, what kind of shoe would you be and why?”) But alas, it was not like that. The panel interview consists of (usually) three interviewers, in my experience two Japanese people and one former ALT, and you. Just you. No other interviewees in the room. For 25-30 minutes. This idea can be daunting at first, but I promise it’s not quite as bad as it sounds, if you play your cards right. That being said, let’s jump into what not to do.

 

Don’ts for the JET Program Interviews:

  1. Look sloppy. This ain’t some random job. If I were interviewing for my kennel job again, yeah, I probably could’ve gotten away with some khakis and a short sleeve button-up or something. But this is way more important. You need to be dressed to the nines, not looking like you’re going for a Sunday outing to Applebees.
  2. Wear too much perfume/jewelry/makeup. This one’s mostly for ladies. But guys too. Too much of anything is kind of a no-no in Japan, and this interview will be very much Japan-style. If you like to wear lots of makeup, tone it down to the bare minimum. Facial piercings? Definitely take them out. I had four ear piercings at my second interview, and still took out the older ones so I only had one pair in each ear. It’s not worth costing you the position to leave piercings in. And if you have to have piercings, you can always get them after your interview. I got four more piercings after my interview for a grand total of eight and nobody at my school has cared so far…
  3. Have weirdly colored hair. I had to dye a blonde streak in my hair back to brown precisely for my interview. Maybe you could chance it, but I honestly wouldn’t do anything that doesn’t look like a natural color. Not worth the risk, in my opinion. And NO, green is NOT considered a natural color because it’s the color of grass, if any of you were wondering.
  4. Look disoriented. The deer in headlights look isn’t going to assure your interviewers that you’d be good with a group of children or teenagers. How can you handle a classroom of 40 if you can’t even handle an interview panel of three people? Don’t be that person who looks like this:Image result for deer in headlights look
  5. Mumble. I have a habit of doing this, so I had to work extra hard to not do it. They look for people who can speak clearly and confidently, so mumbling won’t help your case either, even if they do know you’re nervous. “My name is mumblemumblemumble and I’m from mumblemumblemumble,” isn’t going to show them anything outstanding about you.
  6. Focus too much on the Japanese portion of the interview and not enough on the actual interview questions. I saw a dude studying his Genki book in the lobby of the consulate after my interview and wish I had stopped to say, “Hey man, it’s too late at this point. Roll with what you’ve got and focus on the interview instead.” I definitely made this mistake the first time around, but it’s really not what you should be focusing on. Remember that you don’t need any Japanese ability at all to participate on the JET program! None whatsoever! DIDDLY DAMN SQUAT! 😀
  7. Forget your interview voucher. I haven’t personally forgotten mine, but word on the street is that they won’t let you interview if you don’t have your interview voucher, so please quadruple check before you leave your city/house/apartment/hotel/friend’s house/box on the corner/dorm room/etc. that you do indeed have it with you.
  8. Be oddly stubborn or defensive. For me, my problem with Interview #1 revolved around my diet. I was vegan at the time and believe me, they asked about it in the interview. Actually, it was the very first thing they asked me, and they spent a good  five precious minutes of my 30 minute interview on this one STUPID question. The two Japanese people were nice about it, but the former ALT was a total b**** which made me want to be really stubborn with my beliefs and answers. Don’t do that. Don’t be like me. They told me something to the effect of, “We see you are a vegan. It is difficult, I’d say pretty much impossible, to be vegetarian, let alone vegan in Japan.” To which my response was, “Well, I plan on only buying fruits and vegetables for myself, and I’m very good at bringing extra food with me and planning ahead in case something unexpected comes up…” To which they replied, “But what if you go to somebody’s house and they offer you food that isn’t vegan? What if your coworkers invited you out after work last minute,” etc., etc. Basically I kept defending my position about how I didn’t want to change no matter what and they kept giving me random scenarios and we kept going in circles over the same thing. It did not work. To top it all off, former ALT already was glaring at me like a demon five minutes into the interview. Don’t incur the wrath of the demon ALT interviewers!!
  9. Don’t over-share information about yourself. I’m not trying to be controversial here, but by this, I mean anything eccentric about you that the JET Program might find off putting. Especially if you are not asked about it. If you are asked about your hobbies or interests, keep in mind that interesting and unique hobbies are fine within reason, but despite the wild atmosphere of Tokyo, many other parts of Japan can still be very conservative. I am not trying to imply that any hobbies or qualities or characteristics are wrong; I think it’s A-OK to be who you are and do whatever makes you happy. But, unless something has shaped or altered you in a significant way and you think that sharing those experiences may help, just be wary of how Japanese natives might perceive you when you interview. Not all people are of the “variety is the spice of life” mindset. For example, if your favorite thing to do in your spare time is to go to the club and get smashed, probably better that you omit that information because they might see you as wild and irresponsible, even if you aren’t. If you adamantly believe that you are an honest-to-goodness vampire, better not to share that either, because they might be concerned about what parents and students would think. Bottom line–if for no better reason not to overshare, you only have 30 minutes at best to shamelessly sell yourself and make yourself seem as appealing as possible. Use those 30 minutes to highlight the most important qualities about yourself. If they don’t ask you about it, odds are it’s not important for them to know for you to get the job, so focus on what they do ask you about and your qualities and experiences that will without a doubt help you. Will telling them about how you are a vampire help your case? No. Will telling them about your outgoing personality, your previous work experience, how you handle difficult situations, and community involvement help? Heck yeah it will.

 

Have a better idea of what not to do now? Were you planning on doing all of these things during your interview? I hope I’ve turned you away from some of those questionable interview scenarios. Now, on a more cheery note, let’s move on the things that you absolutely should do during your JET Program interview. 

 

Do’s for the JET Program Interviews:

    1. Arrive on time/a little early. Many of you will be travelling from different cities to your nearest consulate. I personally advise travelling to your consulate the day before and staying with a friend or at a hotel. This basically guarantees that unless you forget to set your alarm clock, there’s no way you can be late. And if you’re late, you lose your interview slot, end of story. I also recommend getting to the consulate half an hour to an hour early. This gives you time to scope out future friends or competition, get *some* of the nerves out your system, and ask the former ALT in the waiting area about their life on the JET Program.
    2. Wear a suit. ABSOLUTELY WEAR A SUIT. For men, this means full suit, jacket and tie. Preferably a neutral tie and not one with ducks or superman plastered all over it. Nice shoes. Professional look. Beards nicely trimmed. Ladies, you can wear either a skirt and jacket or pants and a jacket. If you go the skirt route, I would advise you to wear pantyhose underneath. Apparently heels look more professional even though they hurt like hell. And whatever shirt you wear, no boobs. No boobs should be showing at all, not even a little bit. And honestly I wouldn’t go too crazy on the colors either, stick with black or navy for the suit and white or some other neutral color for the shirt underneath. The more boring and indistinguishable you look from everyone else, the better. And if you want to wear a business dress instead, I wouldn’t. Made that mistake once already. My Japanese teacher in college, who formerly served as an interviewer for the JET program, failed to inform me during my first interview that I needed to wear a suit. Upon my listing this as a possible reason why I didn’t get in the first time, her response was, “Oh. Didn’t I tell you to wear a suit?” NO, SENSEI. NO YOU DID NOT TELL ME TO WEAR A SUIT.
    3. Wear very little jewelry and makeup. This goes parallel to item number 2 in the first list, but yeah, looking professional means wearing only the bare minimum makeup (sorry ladies who like to go all out every day with bold eyeliner and brightly colored lipsticks), little to no jewelry (the standard ear piercings, maybe a watch is fine), and no weirdly colored hair. A natural color like dyed blonde or red you could get away with, but no greens, blues, or purples. “But grapes are natural and they’re purple!” Just go away. Leave me alone. I don’t want to talk to you anymore.
    4. Prepare beforehand. Prepare, prepare, prepare. I cannot emphasize this enough. For my first interview, I spent way too much time focusing on the Japanese and not enough time focusing on actual content of the interview, so I was asked some questions that I was definitely not prepared for. Of course, you can prepare as much as possible and still be asked questions that you are unprepared for, but the more information you gather now, the better off you’ll be in the long run. Nothing is more satisfying than when they’ve asked you a question you’ve rehearsed a dozen times and you’re like “WAIT!! I KNOW THIS ONE!!”
    5. Practice with another person. You can also prepare as much as you can, feel like you’ve totally got it nailed, and then fumble because you didn’t actually practice speaking for your interview. Unless you’re the most suave, confident, well-spoken interviewee out there and are fantastic at being thrown curveballs and answering in an awesome way, I highly recommend practicing with another human being. YES, a human. Not a monkey, not your dog, not a robot, not the pillow that you make out with at night. Sometimes people phrase questions differently than you expect, or keep some elements of a question but change others, and listening and speaking with a person helps you prepare for that. I practiced my first interview with my dad, and I practiced for my second interview with the kennel supervisor at my job. Practicing with my supervisor helped a lot because although she was also my friend, she wasn’t so biased that she was just going to tell me I did great no matter how bad my answers were. She gave it to me straight and really made my mock interview feel very real, something which absolutely helped prepare me for the real deal and something which I still appreciate even now that I’m in Japan. She didn’t just read the questions exactly as I had written them; she altered the questions to suit her own style of speaking, asked me follow-up questions, and responded in a natural way.  She also threw some questions my way which weren’t even on the list of possible questions that I gave her, which helped me tackle how to handle the “deer in headlights” situation.
    6. Be flexible. This is related to the “Don’t be stubborn/defensive” point in the “don’ts” section above. Even if you have a certain idea in your head, just be flexible with them. When they asked me about being vegan the second time around, my answer was, “Yes, I am aware that being vegan would be very difficult in Japan. Although I still plan on being vegan during my own time, I am willing to be flexible when I am with others. I understand that there will be unexpected situations where I will be offered food, and I would not want to offend anyone by not eating it, especially if I were invited to someone’s home. Additionally, I would feel like I was missing out on a cultural experience if I were to stay vegan while in Japan, so I would definitely be willing to be flexible so that I can experience all that Japan has to offer.” They liked this answer MUCH better than the first year’s answer. Even if it’s not related to dietary restrictions, just work with them if they ask you a question you have strong feelings toward. For example, if they ask you if you’d be heartbroken if you don’t get one of your three placement choices (they asked me this, too), don’t tell them that. Tell them you’d be grateful for the opportunity regardless of where you’re placed, because odds are that you won’t get one of your three choices anyway. Hell, I sure didn’t. I asked for rural Hokkaido or Aomori (north) and got extremely urban south (Kobe) instead (How the JET program does placements is a bit of a mystery).
    7. Be prepared for any question. I know this sounds kind of stupid, like, “How can I be prepared to be unprepared?”, but my point here is just not to expect them to stick to the list of questions that you found on the internet. Those lists are lists like the one I am doing right now–they are the experiences of people who have previously interviewed, nothing more and nothing less and by no means are they all-inclusive of what the interviewers might ask you. They can and they will ask you questions that are not on those lists, so brace yourselves now for the fact that it will happen. If it helps, have your practice interviewer make up some questions on the spot just to practice getting the nerves and jitters out of your system. 
    8. Have a possible game or lesson idea ready to go. There is a myth in the JET program online community that being asked the fabled, “teaching demonstration” question is an indicator of whether they’ll recommend you to Tokyo or not. I was not asked the teaching demonstration question during my first interview, and lo and behold I did not get in. I was (sort of) asked the teaching demonstration question during my second interview and I did get in. They may or may not ask you this no matter how much they do or don’t like you, but in case they do ask you about lessons, have a lesson or game idea ready to go that you can apply to anything. Absolutely anything. Here’s how it went down with me: In my second interview, they first asked me, “If you could teach any one point about American history to your Japanese students, what would it be and why?” My response to this was, “I would teach them about the American Revolution, because I think it was the most important turning point in America’s history that demonstrates how we earned our freedom, and it helped mold us into the country we are today.” To this response, stone-cold b**** former ALT interviewer turns to me and asks, “Okay. HOW WOULD YOU TEACH IT?” (Imagine an angry tone and a smirk on her face that just reeks of the, “MWAHAHAHA!” stereotypical evil laugh) I panicked for about half a second here until I realized, wait! WAIT! WAIT! I do have a game I could use, here! I’ve done it a thousand times with my adult classes! So I told her, “I do this game that my adult students really love where I give them a page of information. I divide them into groups of four. One person is the scribe, and one is the reader who has to scan the article for information and tell the scribe the answer. When I ask a question, the first group to write the correct answer on the plastic plate and hold it up gets a point.” B**** interviewer seemed very taken aback that I had such a detailed answer to her question off the top of my head. The two Japanese people were smiling and looked very impressed.  I know that this was a very lengthy answer, but the takeaway point is to have a lesson idea that you can literally apply to any material ready to go. Whether they ultimately do or don’t ask you this, it is always better to be safe than sorry, and the more detailed, the better. It probably won’t look very good if they ask you how you would teach colors to a group of elementary school students and all you can say is, “Uhhhh *points to board* this is blue. This is yellow. Cool, right?”
    9. Speak clearly. This probably goes without saying, but make sure you are loud and clear, because that’s how you’ll need to be in the classroom. If you’re sick (like I was for round 2), apologize at the beginning of the interview if your voice is a little hoarse/raspy/quiet/whatever.
    10. Inform the interviewers of anything strange that might happen during your interview. Akin to item 9 above, anything that you know about that the interviewers might perceive as you not paying attention, just tell them at the beginning of your interview. I had a nasty cold for interview 2 and had to tell them (A) “I’m sorry, I would normally shake your hand but I’m feeling a little under the weather and I don’t want to spread my illness.” and (B) “My voice is a little hoarse, so please tell me if you need me to repeat anything for you and I’ll speak as loudly as I can.” Aaaand (C) “My ears are a little blocked and I’m having some difficulty hearing today, so I apologize if I ask you to repeat anything.” Ideally, you won’t  be sick, but if you are, better for them to know at the beginning and understand the situation rather than mistake you asking them to repeat something as you not paying attention or a quiet voice for nervousness.
    11. Ask the interviewers questions! At the very end of the interview, the interviewers will ask you if you have any questions for them. PLEASE prepare some questions beforehand!! Pretty please!! If you don’t ask them any questions, it could come off as being either overly confident or uninterested in the program. It could make you seem like JET is just one out of a whole bunch of things you’re applying for just ‘cuz. It makes you boring. Asking good questions could make the difference between an interviewer recommending you to Tokyo or not. My suggestion is to have three questions ready to go (not too many, not too little). These questions can be directed at the former ALT, the Japanese interviewers, or all three. Asking something, at least, will help show your interest and commitment to the program. I think I asked questions to the effect of, “what was the most challenging part about being an ALT for you,” “What was the most rewarding part about being an ALT,” “How did you handle dealing with stress or homesickness,” and “Is there anything that you regret about your time on the JET program/what was your most enjoyable experience while in Japan?” The questions are totally up to you, and try to ask things that will actually impact your life or affect you in some way while you are on the program, should you get in.
    12. Smile! Smile, smile, smile! SMIIIIIILLLLEEEEE!!! Smile until your face falls off and then some! Just keep on smiling. Smiley smiley smile smile smiiiillleeee! 😀
    13. (For people who have interviewed more than once) Tell them what you’ve done to improve yourself since your last interview. They definitely did ask me about my first interview during my second one. I think it was the second question they asked me after they wasted time on my vegan-ness. They asked me how I handled the rejection and how I felt about it then. I told them about how at first, I was devastated, but didn’t just sit around feeling sorry for myself until the second application cycle came around. I told them that I talked to my Japanese teacher about what could have gone wrong the first time, and how we explored together about options for me to improve. And I told them about how I did exactly those things. About how I started volunteer teaching to adults after my full-time job for three hours three nights a week. About how I was invited to be the only teacher for my level the following semester. About how much I loved my students and loved learning about their lives and getting to know them as people. Showing your improvement and personal growth will show them how badly you want the position, how dedicated and resilient you are for trying again in the face of rejection, and the lengths that you are willing to go to get a position as an ALT. It’s about commitment, people! Pretend that you are proposing to the JET program and that you will be happily engaged in limbo until April when you find out your interview results, when you hopefully will tie the knot with JET instead of getting left at the altar!

 

 

 

Well, prospective JET friends, I really hope that this helped you. As someone who both failed and succeeded with the JET Program interviews, I really hope my perspective from both sides of the coin helps you in some way as you prepare for your interviews. If anyone has any questions or wants to talk about interviews some more, hit me up and I’d be glad to chat. I know the interviews aren’t until February, but hey, never hurts to prepare! Good luck!

 

P.S. To those of you who read this whole thing, you are champions. My posts tend to be novels so reward yourself for struggling through seven pages of this nonsense! Huzzah!

P.P.S. After your interview is over, try to find something to occupy yourself. If your current job involves a lot of mental work, great. If you’re in school and that’s distracting enough, great. If your job involves no mental thought whatsoever like mine did, find a hobby to distract you. About two weeks after you will probably start to feel the anxiety. What could I have done differently? Did I do anything wrong? Do they hate me? Do they love me? Did stone-cold b**** remember me? Just do anything that involves concentration. For me, I went around my office asking people if they wanted paintings for their houses. I cranked out six paintings while I was waiting to hear back, and it was very stress relieving. You could start knitting, crocheting, learn an instrument, whatever. Just distract yourself. Friends don’t always work, either because they enjoy asking questions and whether you’ve heard back yet or not.

P.P.P.S. You can do it! Good luck, my friends!

P.P.P.P.S. If you are ultimately not selected for an interview, please do not be discouraged. Maybe it just isn’t the right time. The JET Program gets thousands and thousands of applications each year, of which they take very few. It is extremely competitive. There is always next year, and always room for improvement!

 

-Erin

 

Mind Toot #1

今日はみんなさん!

Hello and good day to you all!

久しぶりですね?(Long time no see) Now that I’m actually starting to remember some Japanese I’m trying to use more of it.

So, today’s post is going to be similar to the last one–in no particular order, I am going to spit out the oh-so-important and oh-so-not-important innermost thoughts that are swirling around all over this random and eclectic brain of mine. That being said, because posts like this will most likely be a series of posts (because I’m dumb and can’t just focus on one thing), I’ve decided to give them a name. I wanted to go with “mind farts” because of the explosive nature of these thoughts exiting my head, but upon further discussion from my lovely 友達 (friends), Niamh and Betsy, we have decided to instead lean in favor of “mind toots.” Inside joke. Don’t ask. I mean you can, but I can’t guarantee that it will make any sense to you. So, without further ado, let’s begin Mind Toot #1!

  1. Election blues
    • I’m sure this one goes without saying. I am sad. Terribly sad and frustrated about what happened with the election. I spent all day on November 9th (yes, 9th, because I’m in the future, remember) parked in front of my computer watching the votes coming in in real time. I told everyone not to expect anything from me that day. Not to bother me with anything extra. And that if they saw me at any point crying and huddled in the fetal position underneath my desk, it was because He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named won the election. I went in to the election thinking, “There’s no way in hell that Trump can win, right?” But then the votes starting trickling in. More and more crimson started flooding across the US map on my computer screen. Everyone in the teacher room was watching. Trump was ahead most of the morning. Then, as I went to class afer lunch during fifth period, I had the election up on the computer monitor, and Clinton had the lead. Then fifth period ended and Trump won Florida. Then I went to English Club, and when I came back to the teacher room, as soon as I walked in everybody looked at me with the “we really pity you” look as everyone had video footage titled “Trump Wins US Election: President Trump” flashed across their computer screens. blehgh *shivers all over* “President Trump.” I hate the sound of it. I hate his stupid little face and beady eyes mocking me every time I see a photo of him in the paper.
    • It really says a lot about Americans if we were willing to vote for the most bigoted person in our country as our leader, one who, to make matters worse, has no political experience whatsoever and can’t even control his own Twitter account, let alone the whole country. I hope that he won’t run our poor country into the ground, but I’m not holding my breath for that.
    • I drew America’s grave on a piece of paper and taped it to my desk. “アメリカは死んだ。”
    • I’m pretty sure all of the American ALTs drank ourselves into oblivion on election night.
    • I was so upset that the next day, my daily chat question for my sannensei was, “Do you think it should be mandatory for people of legal age to vote?”
  2. Cultural “oopsies”
    • I knew that the day would come when I would commit a terrible cultural faux-pas, and what do you know, that day has finally come. And it was in direct relation to a question I was asked during my interviews (both times I interviewed) for the JET Program. The “As a vegan, what would you do when somebody offers you food that you can’t eat” question. Now, at this point, the English department and my whole aisle/section in the teacher room know that I don’t eat meat and really don’t like eating dairy. Particularly meat, given how horrible I felt the last time I accidentally ate something that I didn’t know was made of meat broth and not vegetable broth until after the fact.
    • So, what happened here was that nearly four months ago when I got here, I gave all of the teachers omiyage from America, a.k.a the eighty or so little Tabasco bottles that I brought with me. I had naturally completely forgotten about it because it was ages ago.
    • For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call the teacher involved “Across-from-me-sensei,” because his desk is the one opposite mine in the next aisle, so they face each other.
    • So, a couple of weeks ago after school (keep in mind Across-from-me-sensei had all day to do this), right as I’m leaving, Across-from-me-sensei ambushes me in the hallway. At first I thought I imagined my name as I heard a faint, “Erin-san” ring in the hallway behind me, because it was so quiet. Then he says it again and there he is. I was a little surprised because he’s a chemistry teacher and tends not to talk to me that much. He started talking to me in Japanese, at which point I was like “Oh crap I only understand a little of what you’re saying.” He was saying stuff like, “You give me present.” and I was internally like what? present? When? For what? I easily get confused when people use the present tense and not the past because sometimes that little change really makes all the difference.
    • At that point, an English teacher walked by (who we’ll call Bucket-hat-sensei, because he always wears a bucket hat” walked by. “Bucket-hat-sensei! Help me!” I whispered to him as he walked by. So he translated for me, and got the message across that back in July/August, I gave Across-from-me-sensei a gift, and I was liek Oh yeah, the omiyage! I forgot about it! Bucket-hat-sensei told me that Across-from-me-sensei wanted to give me gift in exchange, but then started reading off all of the ingredients Chicken, pork, shrimp, crab or something like that–all of the things that will make me violently ill if I try to eat it. “Is it ok?” He asked.
    • At that point I was internally combusting and going “uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” because I knew that Bucket-hat-sensei knew from my welcome party that I was a vegetarian. I also didn’t want to waste perfectly good food that I would end up either throwing away or giving to someone else. So I asked him to tell Across-from-me-sensei that this would make me sick. He said something to the effect of, “Oh, I guess I got the wrong thing. But more for me” But then I felt really bad, and I didn’t know how seriously Japanese people take gift-giving until after the fact. So, upon going to Kyoto two days later, I got him an “I’m sorry I’m a stupid, jerk foreigner” omiyage and spent an hour crafting an apology, and I think we’re cool now.
    • Lesson unfortunately learned at the expense of Across-from-me-sensei.
  3. Kyoto Round 2/My friend stalked a Geisha!
    • I went to Kyoto for the second time last Sunday. I went with my friend to see the fall leaves, because Kyoto is supposed to have some of the best fall colors. We didn’t want to wait any longer in case the leaves were gone by this week. Thankfully Kyoto is only about an hour away from downtown.
    • First, we went to Kiyomizudera, a very famous temple in Kyoto. It seemed to have a lot of smaller sub-temples and shrines near it. The building was beautiful and raised up on these stilt-like things. At the top, you could see the pretty mountain fall colors, but if you looked down, you could get an overview of the city. I wish I had gotten more pictures, but unfortunately, both my phone ran out of memory AND the memory card on my point-and-shoot camera (my Nikon coolpix) that I brought SPECIFICALLY in case my phone ran out of memory also decided to crap out on me because the memory card stopped working right. So I didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked. There was this thing in the main temple where you went downstairs into a pitch-black room, and had to feel your away around by holding onto these beads along the wall. Eventually, you ran into a dome-thing that you were supposed to touch and make a wish. The “womb” is what they called it. Pretty weird stuff. I also did something called a “love walk” or something like that, where, with my eyes closed, I had to walk from one stone to another so that my romantic dreams will apparently come true. But because I had assistance ( my friend telling me where to go to not run into people), apparently it means that I can’t find my true love without someone else’s help. We’ll see.
    • We also went to Ginkakuji, a “national treasure” of Japan. It was basically a small-ish temple with a short trail that went up a mountain. We saw some deer in the distance on the mountain!
    • We did the “Philosopher’ s Walk,” a walkway near a canal and we saw CATS!! Lots of cats!!!
    • We finally made our way to Gion, this big main street with a lot of souvenir shops. There was a festival of some sort at the temple/shrine/thing across from it, so I got some taiyaki and a sweet thing with a strawberry on it. Also stopped to get omiyage for my section. It was making our way to this area that my friend essentially decided to chase the Geisha, who I think got creeped out and ended up getting in a cab with the person she was walking with.
  4. School Arts Festival
    • My school had an arts festival a couple of weekends ago! I got to see my students dance with dance club, I saw the chorus club perform, and I bought a ticket for tea ceremony club and learned the proper way to drink tea and appreciate the artwork on tea cups. I also bought some cute handiwork from some of my students in the art club!
    • I got to do an ikebana arrangement for all the students and parents to see and enjoy!
  5. WaniKani level 6!
    • making my way up in the kanji world! Only 44 more levels to go! I will be literate one day!
  6. Recontracting
    • Don’t remember if I mentioned this in my last blog post and I’m too lazy to check. But I signed my contract to stay a second year. Huzzah!
  7. Thanksgiving/Christmas Decorating
    • I started my Christmas decorating early, along with the rest of Japan. Last week I bought my Christmas tree and decorations and put it up. I’m not done decorating yet, though. Never enough Christmas!
    • Thanksgiving is today! My friends and I are going to get thanksgiving dinner after school today!
    • img_1224
      My Sweet little Christmas tree that could. Ignore the fact that two branches fell off during assembly and that I accidentally decapitated it while moving it two days ago. What you get when you only pay $19 for Christmas tree. 
  8. Kansai-ben
    • I’m learning kansai-ben (the kansai-area dialact)! So far I know “sabui,” which is cold (normal word is “samui”) and “wakarahen,” which is normally “wakaranai.” 今日はさぶいね?I also learned “suimasen” instead of “sumimasen” which basically means excuse me/sorry/something to that effect. 
  9. Awaji Conference
    • We had a skill development conference on Thursday and Friday of last week in Awaji (EDIT-several Thursdays ago since it took forever to post this), the island just to the south of my house connected to us by the big pretty bridge. It was sorta useful, I guess. If nothing else, it got me out of school for a couple of days and I got to see a lot of the other ALTs in Hyogo that live farther away. Spent some nice evenings with my neighbor and the other ALTs at his school who stayed at his place.
    • The only downside to Awaji was the bus. We kind of dawdled a bit getting there on Friday morning because we stopped for coffee and missed the bus we were supposed to get on. The next bus ended up being full, so me and two other ALTs (thanks to the graciousness of the bus driver who allowed us to get on the bus anyway because we were desperate) ended up crouching akwardly at the front of the bus. I was contorted into some strange position resembling “the thinker” for a good fifteen minutes until we got there. I couldn’t feel my legs when I got off the bus.
  10. The Quest for Spicy Food
    • I’ve been on the hunt for good spicy food for ages since I got to Japan. Nothing is spicy enough. I miss jambalaya. Curry isn’t spicy enough. We went to a Nepalese restaurant near my house after Awaji day 1 and I finally found spicy food that meets my expectations and makes me want to cry! It was so wonderful! Everyone kept asking me if I can handle spicy food, but they forget that I hail from the land of endless spicy food…
  11. Settlers of Catan: Japanese Edition!
    • It’s the same as regular Settlers of Catan, except the cards are teeny tiny, written in Japanese, and instead of wooden blocks, the pieces are made of plastic and are fancy and realistic looking, so they’re not nearly as much fun  to play with when it’s not your turn and you’re bored. You can’t stack them up and make piles out of them.
    • For those of you who don’t know the game, you basically build settlements and roads and crap and trade sheep, bricks, and rocks and wood, and it looks like this:
  12. No More 雪祭り for Me 😦
    • Yesterday was a sad day for me. I had to tell the people running the trip to the yuki matsuri (snow festival) in Hokkaido that I can’t go. I’ve been dying to go to this festival ever since I saw it in my National Geographic Japan guidebook. But alas, I have no school holidays and I have three ichinensei classes that I can’t get out of, so perhaps next year…
  13. First Japanese Movie Theater Experience
    • Yesterday my friends and I went to a Japanese movie theater (eigakan) for the first time! We saw Kimi no Na wa (君の名は), Your Name. It’s been getting a lot of hype as the only anime movie to earn as much as a Ghibli movie, or something like that, so I really wanted to see it. It was good, but I have a feeling that even if I spoke perfect Japanese or the movie was in English, I still would have been confused by the plot. But the theater itself was really nice! They charge you an arm and a leg for a ticket (aout 18 dollars), but the food is reasonably priced, so I guess it evens out in the end.
  14. I miss my cats. Terribly.
  15. I also miss my Sweet Potato, my Spoiled Spud, my Sack O’ Tatoes, my Tater Tot…
  16. Meeting the “ALT Mom” of 垂水 (Tarumi)
    • Sunday (several Sundays ago) was the birthday of Ryoko-san, the “ALT mom” of my neighborhood, so my neigbor kindly invited me out to finally meet her for her birthday. I don’t know how I went so long without meeting her, but she’s so sweet and I was so happy to meet her at long last!
  17. Costco!
    • ALT Mom took us to Costco, where I realized that I do not have enough space in my Hobbit Hole for anything sold at Costco. I left with a fancy power strip, a gallon of popcorn kernels, and four ears of regular corn. What does that say about me, exactly?
  18. Gotta Catch ‘Em All
    • I found a loophole in the video game buying system. Japanese DS games don’t work on American DSs and vice versa because they are region locked. BUT!!! BUT!!!!!!!!!!!!! I made an amazing discovery! My 3DS connects to the internet. I have the internet. Because I bought my 3DS in America, it connects to ENGLISH internet and is connected to THE ENGLISH Nintendo E-shop. All I have to do to purchase games is (1) Open my 3DS (2) Go to the Nintendo E-shop (3) Add funds with my debit card and (4) download the game of my choice.
    • So I bought the new Pokemon Game that came out last week, Pokemon Sun. And I can’t put it down.
    • It might have been a mistake but I don’t even care. Who cares that I got my Pokemon to level 30 in only four days? I don’t have a problem. I swear I don’t. Not at all.
    • Not.
    • At.
    • All.
  19. Home Improvements, Round….4? 5? I don’t even know any more, man.
    • I gave up counting how many home improvements I’ve made, but I made even more over last weeked. When I went to the furniture store to pick out my El Cheapo Christmas tree on Saturday, I also made off with new bedsheets–a dark red futon cover and a red and black plaid comforter cover to spruce up my otherwise quite boring white bedsheets with a myseterious blood stain on them.  My house is apparently now red and black themed and everything matches quite nicely. I love it so much!!!

      img_1223
      How many red things can you count in this picture?
    • I also bought a floor chair at Cainz today. Yay for back support while sitting at my toasty kotatsu on the floor.
    • AND I played Apartment Tetris. The rolly-cart-thing by the kitchen window got moved behind the mirror. The dresser that was originally in the closet that got moved next to the TV got moved where the rolly-cart-thingy was. The small desk went where the dresser was by the TV. I dismantled my big table and now it’s hanging out in the bathroom. And two downtown trips later, I came home with three bookcases and made this!
      img_1249
      Y’ALL THERE IS SO MUCH MORE SPACE IN MY HOBBIT HOLE NOW I LOVE IT!!

      I really need to be the new mascot for Lowe’s or something when I get back to the states. Really embracing the whole “never stop improving” lifestyle here.

    • I LOVE MY HOBBIT HOLE!!!!
  20. No third year classes??
    • I found out two days ago that I won’t have my third year student classes at all next term. I’ll only have eight classes and will have so much free time and will be bored out of my mind.
    • Addition to point A: since writing Point A, Exams have happened. Because I have no exams, I have nothing to do. Because I have nothing to do, I sit at my desk and lesson plan for next term. Oh wait, I already lesson planned for ALL OF NEXT TERM. So I can print out all of the actual materials for next term. OH WAIT, I DID THAT TOO. There’s gotta be something for poor part-time ALT Ern to do, right? Hahahahahahahahahahaha. Hahaha. Ha…….ha.
  21. So bored at work.
    • See item 20 above.
    • at least when I’m bored out of my mind because I already did all the things, I can stare deeply into the soul of my Japanese textbook as we form a quite intimate relationship. We’re going steady now.
  22. Nobody ever let me do the planning for a trip. Ever. Nuff said.
    • I keep saying I’m going to go on the Great Hokkaido Excursion of 2016-2017, but have I booked plane tickets yet? Nope. Hotel Rooms? Nuh-uh. Planned anything specific? Kinda-sorta? Have any kinds of expectations, hopes or dreams for this trip other than the expectation that snow will in fact be there by simple virtue of the fact that I am going to Hokkaido? Nopity-nope-nope-nope. All that’s come out of this theoretical trip is apparently the development of my amazing skills for creating new words (see nopity-nope-nope above)
    • ADDENDUM TO THE ABOVE STATEMENT: Since originally writing this, I have managed to half-plan a trip! I booked a plane to Hokkaido! I booked hotel rooms! So far my itinerary is Sapporo, Hakodate, and Aomori, but 90% sure I will also add Iwate and Akita prefectures in there as well. Now I just need to figure out how I will get myself home…
  23. I did my Christmas card shopping today and somebody (in America) is getting a hilarious yet mildly inappropriate Christmas card this year.
    • Perhaps I’ll buy a dartboard and throw darts blindfolded to decide who.
    • *insert evil laugh here*
    • Whoever I end up sending it to better appreciate it’s glory.
    • You’ll know when you get it if it’s the inappropriate card.
  24. Host family fun
    • Finally met with my host family again last weekend for the first time in ages! Had a lovely lunch with them last weekend, and spent some time with Shinji-san and Max today!
  25. I may have gone a little overboard with “extensive reading” in my desire to become literate in another language.

    img_1237
    And by extensive reading I mean manga. Lots of manga. 
  26. Kobe Luminarie
    1. We went to the Kobe Luminarie on Saturday! It’s a big light structure memorial for the 1995 earthquake that happened here. img_1239img_1241img_1244img_1245
  27. I’m dumb
    • Last but not least, to anyone that I ever offend with my cultural ignorance or plain stupidity and inability to at times keep my mouth shut, I’m sorry. Sometimes I don’t know when to shut up or how to appropriately respond to things because I am awkward and terrible and socially inept. 本当にごめんなさい。

Well, that’s about all for now, folks. I hope that you enjoyed Mind Toot #1, and I hope even more that you start cracking up laughing whenever you read the phrase “Mind Toot.” I know I do. I’m writing this post at work because I’m done lesson planning and I’m bored out of my mind and I’m snickering to myself as I write this and the other teachers already think I’m weird enough. May someone else think the same of you. Yay for weird!

Until next time,

またね!

エリン (Erin)