Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Earth is a Grumpy Old Man: Evacuation

It is lunchtime and my co-workers are standing, crowded, around the teacher's room TV. A steady prattle of Japanese presses around me, and I strain to pick out words I understand.

Someone translates and tells me, "They've evacuated Ojima." (The nearest outer island, connected to our area by a small bridge)

A tsunami is coming. It won't cause near the devastation that it's source (the earthquake in Chile) has caused, but the necessary precautions are being taken: people are moving to higher ground, barricading their homes, locking down schools, standing nervously in front of TV screens and soaking in the news.

But please, please don't worry. There is a natural amount of fear associated with natural disasters, but we have it easy compared to many places in the year.

Yesterday morning Okinawa was shaken by an earthquake. A 7.0 at the epicenter, but significantly weaker on the island itself. I know of very little damage outside of broken dishes and increased crumbling on some castle ruins, despite its being the worst earthquake here in one hundred words. It was terrifying for the time it lasted, but that wasn't long, and it was soon easy to forget. Then a real, dangerous, devastating earthquake hit Chile and I realized just how real the dangerous of the earth is.

I just learned that this area is being evacuated. The school will be closed, students moved to higher ground, and everyone who lives near by is encouraged to do the same.

It's time to pack up and decide where to go. I think I will drive myself and my two coworkers somewhere safer. This is still not cause to worry, (MOM! :)) people are just being safe, and I promise to be just as safe as possible.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Something Scratching in the Night

A few nights ago I was settling down and preparing to crawl under the covers when I heard a different kind of crawling. Something was going scratch, scratch, scurry in the next room. Once I gathered my courage to peer around the sliding door, I found a strange shell scooting across my tatami. Apparently, it was occupied.

Lest you think this is just some tiny little hermit crab that snuck in with my prolific shell collection, I took a picture to give some perspective:
That ain't no baby!

The first question is, naturally: HOW did it get in my house?!?

I suppose it's possible he just crawled right into my apartment, but I live on the third floor!

And my door is rarely left open, and never long enough to admit a crab of this stature.

Such a mystery.

My friends and I have come up with a few theories:
-I brought his shell home, thought it was empty, and forgot about it.

-Somebody else brought it over and didn't mention it.

-It crawled up three flights of stairs, snuck in the front door, and jumped from the entry way into the house. ??

-The poor guy was snatched up by a bird which flew the mile or so from the beach before dropping the shell onto my front patio, hoping to crack the shell open (which would account for the damage to the shell... but still... how did it get IN my house?!?).

-It is a spirit crab, come to warn me of danger to come. Or something.

What do you think?

He didn't really scare me (except when he was marching straight toward the camera like this with those spider-like legs a-scurryin') but I was so shocked that I immediately called my neighbor-JET, Kim.

"The weirdest thing just happened to me," I whispered, trying not to scare the crab back into it's shell.

"What happened?!? Are you okay?!"

"Yeah, yeah. I am fine, but... there's a.... a crab... a giant crab... in my house!"

"I'll be right there. Boil some water."

So I scratched my head, left the hermit crab to scurry about the tatami room, put a pot of water on the stove, and waited for Kim. She was there in no time and marched right in, blue cone in hand, prepared to take on the crab intruder.

"Where is it?" she demanded, all full of courage and crab cravings.

I pointed and she dropped her purse, held up her cone, and charged.

She stopped short. "You mean that??" She shook her head.

Apparently, Kim didn't realize I was talking about a hermit crab--which is not so prime for eating. I guess I should have specified. :P

So, instead of boiling the lil guy to death and serving him with butter,

we stuck him in the cone,
drove him to the beach,

and set him free.

I like to think of him out there right now, enjoying this fantastic spring weather (70 degrees!), and searching for a new, less damaged shell to call home.

Crawl free, Hermie. Crawl free.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Konpa Craziness!

I've been in Japan only a short time, and have been single in Japan for an even shorter time, but I have already collected a few interesting dating stories in this new country. In the interest of protecting the innocent (namely, me).

I won't tell you all of those stories, but there is one story I cannot keep to myself, a date of such strange cultural significance that I feel it my duty to divulge the tiniest details of the evening to you, my avid reader (namely, Tasha).


It all starts with a Facebook, as do most things in this modern age, and a message from a JET acquaintance, the first line of which immediately catches my attention: "Hi ReBekha, this might be the weirdest messages ever since we don't really know each other, but do you want to go on a Japanese group date that me and my boyfriend are arranging?" (slight rephrase)

The Details: A group "social networking party" in traditional Japanese style with a carefully fixed ratio of men to women: five female foreign English teachers, five male Japanese chefs. This style of meeting is called "konpa" and started with Japanese University students in order to develop their social circles. It is not always mixed gender nor it is it only geared toward dating--sometimes a konpa is arranged with all people from a certain major, degree, career field, interest group.

My contact promises the evening will be, if nothing else, "entertaining."

I, already weary of those close-shaven, muscular types some call "Marines" and looking for a change of scene, agree to attend.

As the date approaches, I--for certain reasons (namely, T)--become less eager to meet these men, but I maintain my promise none-the-less. If nothing, this will serve as an interesting cultural anecdote, I reassure myself.

Finally, on the night of January 16th, I throw on a carefully planned outfit (casual, cute, but not too cute) and stride off to meet my fellow English teachers/future konpa victims. We twitter nervously as we walk, all in jeans and heels as if planned, toward the small izakaya (restaurant). This is when we commit our first faux-paux: we arrive early.

Now, I did some research about these konpa things before hand, but it's not until after the date that I read about the expected male-female roles: gals arrive late (oops), we sit interspersed (oops), all make formal introductions (oops), men provide entertainment (ok... sorta), and women make sure the drinks are filled (oops).

The izakaya is just opening and it is completely abandoned. A server greets us in Japanese and seats us at a long, thin table with three small burners down the center. A couple of us try to space ourselves out so that the guys will sit amongst us when they arrive, but that plan soon dissolves and we all end up huddled to one side of the table.

Gradually, the guys arrive. At first there are just two of them, who sit at the other far end of the table quietly. I, ever so bold, greet them with a "Hello!" and their eyes grow wide, "Do you speak Japanese?" they ask, in Japanese. We answer our heads yes, no, or sort-of as per our individual levels, and the boys seem surprised that about half us are less than proficient.

I take it they don't speak English, either.

As the evening progresses, the language barrier continues to be a problem. The nabe pots full of broth, veggies, and meat cook and are eaten: drinks are ordered, downed, and re-ordered (thanks to the guys who kept a steady eye on our drink levels): and conversation... goes. It halts, drops, flows for awhile, loops, and dies.

Nabe for One, originally uploaded by bananagranola.
This is what nabe looks like. I didn't take many photos.

Finally, after almost two hours, the guys take the initiative and break up our awkward seating arrangement. Once we are spaced out in a roughly guy-girl format, the conversation begins to pick up, and soon all of us are laughing at some ridiculous joke, gesture, or mistranslation.

A lot of the conversation was centered on questions to get to know each other. Important questions such as: where are you from? where do you work? in a relationship, do you dominate or do you like to be dominated?


Not quite typical date conversation in my world, but apparently it is here. Or at least on these kindsa dates.

One of my favorite moments of the night came when one of the guys tried to tell us more about his job. He didn't know the English so he did his best, with the accompaniment of a hand gesture. What followed became known (for eternity?) as the "sushi playa dance." I wish the video I took on my cell phone worked. Just trust me when I say: it was epic.

The final tale of my konpa date will reveal to you just how successful it was as a matchmaking endeavor (as far as I am concerned):

The gentleman who sat next to me was one of the oldest in the group. He, through another girl who knows MUCH more Japanese than me, asked all of us, "what are you looking for in a guy?" When it came my turn to respond I, half-teasingly, said I wanted to be able to communicate with him. At this comment, the guy next to me started speaking passionately in Japanese. I watched him as he talked, trying to guess his meaning through his gestures and expressions. The other JET translated some and apparently he said something along the lines of, "our love can surpass language barriers," which made me laugh. A lot. Then he continued, passionately gesturing and speaking in English.
I watched his face, only about a foot away, and was desperately trying to guess at his meaning when he turned toward me,
leaned forward,
pursed his lips,
and kissed at me.

I screamed.

I nearly fell out of my chair, and I screamed.

I screamed like a scared little girl with a rat in her room.

When everyone at the table realized what had happened, they didn't leave me alone for the rest of the evening. It didn't help that my face involuntarily turned the color of my scarlet sweater every time he looked at me. And my ears. My poor ears were on fire. This encouragement prompted my seat buddy to kiss at me innumerable times, and caused me to try and climb out the window. Literally.

This guy. He is wearing an earring in this photo.

At the end of the night, I waved (from a safe distance) goodbye and left the rest of the group to move on to karaoke. I had work in the morning, and a phone call to make. ;)

So, despite the awkward, the language barrier, and the embarrassment, I am glad I went. If only for the sushi dance and the bonding with my fellow lady JETs.

If some day in the future I am single and am asked, I might consider going to another one of these konpa things again... maybe.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lovely Morning

As I was snoozing my alarm clock this morning, I noticed that it was ringing ten minutes before it was supposed to.

I programmed my first alarm for 7:30 but it went off at 7:20,

7:45 buzzed at 7:35,

8:00 : 7:50.

I thought to myself, "It's like my alarm is trying to get me out of bed early," hit the snooze button again, and crawled back under my down comforter.

When I finally did wake up (8:03) I kicked myself for being such a sleep glutton and ignoring the message from my alarm clock. This is the sight that greeted my sleepy eyes:


Fog is by far my favorite type of weather, and this is one of the only times I have encountered it here. Combined with the light of the just-risen sun, it was magical.

I rushed through my morning routine even more than I would normally have to after waking up at 8:03, hopped in my bat mobile and rushed down to the local beach to try and snatch a photo of the fog rolling in over the water. On the way, I stole a photo of this lady sweeping. She caught me and gave me a dirty look, but it would have been worth it if the photo had been any good. ;P

Despite my best efforts, I had no luck. By the time I got to the beach, the sun had burned off what was left of the fog.

I still enjoyed a couple lovely minutes at the beach, snapping off photos from my car (lazy girl that I am) before rushing off to work.

The final straw in my lovely hat of a morning was opening my mail. I haven't checked my personal mail box in awhile (sick of campaign junk mail) but am glad I did this morning.

My parents sent me two beautiful cards and my best bud Tristan sent me a book. :)

All in all, this Monday morning has turned out to be a great start to my week.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cherry Blossom Festival : Part Two

It's Friday afternoon.
I have fifteen minutes left of work.
The weather is gray and gloomy.

Who am I kidding? I am not going to get anything done!

Instead: here is my final cherry blossom festival blog! (Don't sigh with relief! How can you get sick of cherry blossoms?!)

Last Sunday, my sweet guy, T (a story for another time, perhaps), took me to the biggest cherry blossom festival in Okinawa, The Nago Cherry Blossom Festival.

Apparently, this event takes place in many locations and there is some sort of festival, but T and I just checked out the main festival at Nago central park.

There were, of course, enough cherry blossoms to attract a small army of bees, but they didn't bother us at all.

There were also numerous concessions stands (YAY more festival food)

and some game booths. T played the dart-balloon game and won me the Care Bear blanket I had been eyeing. :)

Then wore it as a cape.

At the Nago Festival, the cherry trees are planted so that they scale up a hill.

It created a lovely effect, and hundreds of people climbed up and down the stairs on this hill taking in the lovely view.

T and I joined the swarm of people climbing, and about half way up, I started to regret my shoe choice. Heels are not recommended.

We made the most of the day, though, despite my aching toes and our mutual exhaustion. We even hiked past the main staircase and up through the jungley part of the hill.

T loves to explore.

As the afternoon wore on, the heat grew more oppressive despite the clouds, and my toes started to loose feeling, we settled down on a bench for a refreshing treat:

Sakura Ice Cream. Mmmmm

{oops. I just published this post without finishing it. Sorry blog-email-readers!}

At the end of the day we settled under these trees for a photo or two.
We smiled happily, at first, but this is how we really felt:

Even I can only take so much cherry blossom viewing. We both should have gotten more sleep first.

All in all, it was a lovely day, and I am glad we went. :)

Aaah! Work has been over for fifteen minutes!
See what you made me do. :)

Sorry this isn't as put together or articulate as I usually try to make my blogs,
but it will have to do.

Let the weekend begin!

Cherry Blossom Festival : Part One

Rice is cooking, cocoa is steaming (complete with marshmallows and candy cane, of course), the laundry is spinning, and the wind is beating at my door. The mood is set for a peaceful Monday evening: the perfect atmosphere for blogging. Ahhh.

As promised, here is the blog of cherry blossoms (sakura, in Japanese): my experience with the time-honored Japanese tradition of hanami, or sakura viewing.

Spring has arrived in Okinawa!

Traditionally, --mmm... rice is done, just a moment...


Traditionally, small parties would gather beneath the trees to feast, drink, and soak up the beauty of the transient little flowers. These parties have developed into large festivals where hundreds of people gather to drink, enjoy live music and entertainment, and eat wonderful festival food. I am obsessed with festival food.


Speaking of festival food, take a gander at this beaut! Chocolate-covered sprinkled banana (which would have been even better frozen). Yummy! I picked up this delectable snack at the first festival of the weekend.

The Yaese Town Festival!

This is definitely not the biggest festival on the island, but it is the most local. :) The drive up to the festival site was only about five minutes from my apartment, but parking took another ten or so, and then we had to shuttle from the parking lot.

I want to name my future daughter "Sakura" :P

I attended the festival with my beautiful friends and fellow JETs, A and K. It was K's birthday, too, so we had even more cause to celebrate. Our first stop of the afternoon was, of course, the concession stands. Have I mentioned that I love festival food? I immediately ordered some yakitori (grilled chicken on a stick), but devoured it too quickly to take a photo.

Instead, I took a picture of A eating her food. :)

Next, K and I faced off in a little shooting game. We didn't keep track of who hit the cans the most, but we definitely got quite a few good shots in, despite K's claims that she didn't know how to hold a gun!

She is a natural gunswoman. ;)

I just look awkward.
And dangerous.
Dangerously awkward.

We walked away with some pretty exciting prizes: two pink panther inflatable toy/weapons!

They came attached to long rubber bands which we held on to while ruthlessly beating each other. Everywhere we went, children giggled and adults groaned. We totally act our ages!

Speaking of children, four little girls approached us while we were photographing some blossoms and practiced their English with us. :) They were surprisingly good for such young girls. Later, they approached us again as we were playing more games and winning more toys, and they were so cute and big-eyed that we gave each of them an inflatable toy.

Then, I attacked them!

I chased them around with one of the toys and they had to use their toys as self-defense.
It was a blast. :)

Don't they look terrified?

My best photos of the day were taken after I spotted a gorgeous butterfly on the blossoms.

This is one of about thirty photos I took of that little guy. :P

The three of us all snapped away at about 10 photos a second. So lucky to catch such a beautiful sight.

We only stayed an hour or so, but fit in a lot of adventure and laughs. We had a few moments of beautiful blue sky, and the temperature was comfortable. Pretty great conditions for the first hanami festival of the weekend!

Oi, I was going to blog both festivals in this post, but this has already taken me two days! (On and off).

Stay tuned for the Nago festival, if you are still interested by then. :)