Sunday, April 20, 2014

7-Month Recap

I’ve been in Japan a little over seven months now, and it still seems like the time is flying. New classes have finally started settling down, which is really nice, and the weather has been beautiful the last few weeks. I’ve gotten used to a lot of things about Japan, but it always manages to surprise me just when I think I’m getting comfortable. Case in point:

After working late, one of the new teachers and I grabbed dinner together at a favorite little neighborhood restaurant. We were the only ones there save a table of two couples. The other table was drinking, and it wasn’t long before one of the women came over to talk to us. I was surprised by how much of her Japanese I understood, and her slightly more sober companions were able to translate some of the more difficult phrases. They were a lot of fun to talk to and they bought us karaage (Japanese fried chicken), which was incredibly nice. The woman told my friend he was handsome, told me I was cute, told us we were skilled at using chopsticks, and asked us questions about how long we had been in Japan and what we thought so far. The owner apologized to us after they left, but it hadn’t been a bother at all. I felt like a rock star.

A few weeks ago, I spent all day out in Sakae for a friend’s birthday. We had to wait a long time for a table at the little café we went to, but the food was well worth it. We wandered around for a bit after lunch and saw a temple, then went to karaoke. I had never been to karaoke during the day before (it is SO CHEAP!), nor had I ever had a karaoke room with a window, so it a new experience all around. After karaoke, we moved to a different café to chat and have tea. This café was in a fancy hotel that also happened to be hosting a wedding, and we got to watch the parade of guests leave. People get really dressed up for weddings in Japan; it was kind of like seeing a bunch of very stylish people going to prom. After tea, we hit a family restaurant for a quick dinner before going our separate ways. It was a nice relaxing girls’ day with friends both old and new.

That week, I had another rough day at work when I lost two more of my favorite students in the same day. I don’t think I will ever get used to saying goodbye to kids I’ve come to care so much about.

The big event of this month was cherry blossom season! Hanami (literally ‘flower viewing’ but usually used to mean cherry blossom viewing) is a HUGE event in Japan. The cherry blossom forecast is on the news. Stores everywhere stock the ubiquitous blue tarps used for hanami. Thousands upon thousands of people crowd into parks all over the country to sit under the cherry blossoms, drinking and eating. It’s surreal in its all-consuming intensity but having lived through it now, I can understand it. People gather to celebrate the beauty and brevity of the sakura (cherry blossoms), which stay only a week or two before continuing their journey north.

Midori-ku, where I live, literally means “green ward,” and the city tries to play that up with lots of trees and parks every few blocks. They have never succeeded more thoroughly or beautifully in living up to their name than when normal spring flowers meet cherry blossoms. The cherry blossoms in my area were actually more white than pink, but they were still lovely. Try as I might, it was difficult to do justice to the rows upon rows of sakura everywhere with photographs.

A couple Sundays ago, a group of us headed to Tsurumai Park for proper hanami. I got there first and was a little overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the event. The park itself was beautiful, but filled with hundreds—if not thousands—of revelers, creating a sea of blue tarps that covered every available inch of ground near the sakura. There were individual entertainers working the crowds, a main stage with live music, and food booths selling everything from takoyaki to cotton candy to grilled corn on the cob. It was chilly even in the sun that day, and the entire crowd of revelers would hunker down closer to the ground when the wind blew. It got cold fast after the sun set, and we left just as the lanterns hung in among the sakura came on.

Hands-down the most exciting news of the moment is that Golden Week—a long string of Japanese holidays in a row—will be here soon, and with it my mom and sister! I have a little over a week of vacation, and I will be showing them around Nagoya, Osaka, and Kyoto. I’m unbelievably excited to see them, and I can’t wait to share my life here with them. It will be a wonderful way to begin my eighth month in Japan!

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