Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring ... Break?

In the Japanese school system, teachers often work when everyone else is on vacation. It's a sad state of affairs considering that a major bonus of being a teacher, in the western mind, is getting all of those extended vacations: summer vacation, Christmas vacation, spring break... heaven!

Not so for the Japanese teacher.

This week is, technically speaking, Spring Break. Students of all ages have thrown aside their school uniforms and their heavy backpacks, are sleeping in past 6 a.m. (gasp!), and are enjoying this stunning spring weather on their bikes, in their neighborhoods, on the beach... Meanwhile, I sit at my desk from 9-5 with no energetic students to make my day more bearable, surrounded by busy coworkers rushing about frantically. I can't for the life of me figure out what is keeping them so busy, however. Every day I rack my brain for projects to keep me busy, and still end up with more down time than is physically healthy.
The insane look in my eyes can testify to that fact.
Yesterday, for example, I watched as the old teachers prepared for transfer by packing up their desks, some current teachers moved to a different desk, and a couple new teachers arrived to place their belongings into a empty desk. Feeling left out of all the hubbub without a new desk to move to, I decided to take everything off and out of my desk anyways and clean every nook and cranny, clean out the old archives of lesson plans that I never touch anyway, and start fresh for the year. I even gave the tatami room a quick vacuum. However, those tasks barely lasted me until lunch.

Clean, organized, redecorated, yay!

While technically, I could take nenkyuu (paid leave) and go frolic in the sun with my students, I am a little low on spare days after my Seattle trip (we get 10 per semester) and need to save them for visiting friends. Soooo.. I am finding small ways to make this week feel like spring break, even though it really ... isn't.

On Saturday, my darling friend Neave came to the main island from her little, far-away island and brought a friend along for the adventure. So, on Sunday, I packed the two girls into my car and whisked them away for a day of fun.

First stop: breakfast! There is only one place on the island (outside of the military bases) to get a real, big, American breakfast: the Rose Garden. Yummmmmmmm....  Since it was a Sunday morning, we had to wait about 20 minutes to be seated, but it was totally worth it.

Check out the size of those bacon strips!
We then continued to the middle of the island where drove across the long sea road to a bundle of small islands all connected by bridges. We started with my favorite island, Hamahiga Jima, where we spent most of the day exploring shrines, caves, beaches, and the jungle. It.was.wonderful.

We also drove along two other islands and explored some underground hut-like structures on Ikei Jima where people lived 2000 plus years ago. Awesome.

At the end of the day, the three of us ate a yummy Okinawan meal, drove to my apartment, and snuggled up for a movie, tea, and cookies. Feeling of Spring Break: Achieved.

The next morning, being Monday morning, I had to wake up early and go to work. However, my college roommate, Sarah, and her boyfriend, Ben, were visiting from Chiba, Japan, so I took a half-day and set off for another adventure!  Our first order of business was lunch. On a hunger scale from 1-10, Sarah was a 6 while Ben was about a 7. Time to eat! We tried two cafes, the "pig cafe" and the "cow cafe," which were both closed; so we set off on a slightly longer drive for the "hill cafe" which was, thankfully, open.
You can't tell, but there's a really nice view behind us.

Oh, there it is!
Yama no Chaya is the sister cafe to Hamabe no Chaya, the cafe with the lovely ocean views which I  have posted about on a few occasions. It also boasts delightful views, just from a farther perspective. :) This cafe also serves up some scrumptious Okinawan dishes. Yum!

After a long, leisurely lunch, Sarah, Ben, and I headed for the Peace Park. They toured the museum while I took a relaxing break with a book. Then we all met up and walked around the park. The Peace Park is very extensive, full of sobering shrines and tombs, and boasting numerous uplifting views. We walked from one end to the other and ended up at the locally dubbed "Ghost Beach" for it's less-than-lively occupants. ;)  When dinner time approached, we finished off a lovely day at another favorite local eatery: Paradise Cafe. Cashew nut chicken, for the win!

Sarah showed me around Tokyo when I visited last summer, and I was so glad to return the favor. It was really wonderful to see Sarah again and show her my new home here. I hope that wherever we go in the world, we can always meet up for adventures and a few good laughs.

As you can see, though I may have to work through most of Spring "Break," I am finding little ways to enjoy my spare time. In fact, I am about to enjoy a leisurely, sunny lunch. My stomach says: It's time! Here's to more adventures this week, and a fast approaching weekend!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Happy Friday :)

Ah, the end of the work week and the start of a glorious weekend. In an hour some coworkers and I are heading up to the northernmost tip of the island, staying the night, and then relay-biking from the top to bottom of Okinawa. I am excited. I think it will be just what I need-- a kind of happiness reset button of exercise and great people. :)

I am far from forgetting about the terrible things that have happened--and are still happening--in Japan, and I won't let up on my efforts to spread the word about donation and relief efforts, but I don't have to be sad all the time, right?



To remind myself, and those of you who are feeling heavy-hearted (Sarra), that it's okay to laugh, here's a video that made be explode in giggles this afternoon. 

I just love babies. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I have been addicted to the news these last few days. Every time I sit in front of the computer, I start clicking and reading and, before I know it, hours have passed. The majority of the news is still devastating: rolling blackouts, nuclear meltdown, morality rates rising, huge aftershocks... but, every now and then, there is something positive, something hopeful.

That is what today's blog is about--the good news.

1.  This article about rescuers who found a four month old baby and a seventy year old woman alive after surviving for days. The baby was found under a pile of debris after being swept away from her family, but was joyfully reunited again.

2. This photo of a man who stayed afloat on the roof of his house and was rescued after two days afloat, waiving his red flag in vain. Can you imagine how cold it was, how lonely, and how terrifying? Yet, this sixty-year-old man stayed alive and clung to hope. So, so inspiring. Here's the article.

3. This website, shared by the always pet-conscious Professor Pope. It's easy to forget that there are other creatures affected by this disaster: the animals, but some people are working hard to save as many of those little guys as possible.

4. This video of a California student who found video of her family in a tsunami-wrecked village, still alive, and holding up signs that everyone in their house is okay. Modern technology can be such a blessing.

5. The report from a fellow JET teacher that the Okinawa blood bank is at 100% capacity. That means a TON of people have gotten out and donated. Wonderful! :D

6. A facebook event,  MAN up for Japan. A "man" (pronounced mon) is the yen equivalent of about $100 and this event is put on by a volunteer JET organization and is for people in Japan to easily donate using the machines in family mart. The idea is that everyone who RSVPs will donate 1man on Friday (payday for many of us). Since over 2,500 people RSVP'd "Yes," that's more than $250,000. Not so shabby, ne? Go, JET!

Despite alllll the bad, good things are happening. People are stepping up. Another article that brought some perspective is this one about how much Japan helped American during the Katrina catastrophe. America now has the opportunity to prove that we are a good neighbor, too.

Pray for Japan

On Thursday night, March 10th, around 11:30 p.m. pacific time, I was chatting happily with the then-future-bride Lisa in her family's home in Bremerton, Washington. We were giddy after a day of church decorating and were just about to call it a night, when Lisa's dad rushed into the room. 

"There's been a huge earthquake in Japan."

For the next two hours I was frozen in my seat--watching endless footage of the most horrible devastation I could imagine, desperately emailing everyone I knew on mainland Japan, and praying, fervently, for those in the affected areas. It was a nightmare.

New York Times

It also caused nightmares. When I finally was able to close my eyes, my dreams were riddled with those horrible images. Lisa said I even cried out in my sleep. 

For the next two days I did everything in my power to focus on where I was instead of on the disaster, and I was able to enjoy myself and the wedding preparations. But every break I had from making flower arrangements or decorating the church found me online, seeking an update, holding back tears, and praying even harder than before. 

God, help those people.

I am back in Japan now. Okinawa is far, far from the epicenter and experienced only a miniscule rise in water levels due to the tsunami. Everything is just as I left it, but there is a heaviness in my heart and a hint of sadness in the faces of those around me. During a moment of silence this morning, tears filled the eyes of many of my coworkers. We may be far away, but our hearts are right there with those suffering. 

(Here's a map of the damage. If you go way down southwest, you will find Okinawa and see that there was no damage in this area. )

I need to help. I need to do something, to go somewhere, to give. Especially, to pray. National AJET, a volunteer organization that works in connection with the JET Program, sent an email to all JETs with information about volunteering and donating. I found it incredibly helpful and encouraging. It seems that numerous JETs feel the way I do. That we have to do something. There may even be an opportunity to volunteer. I am hoping to be able to donate my time as well as my money and help in that way, but if nothing else I can give money to Red Cross, donate blood (I hope... last time I tried to donate they turned me away for anemia), and pray. Pray, pray, pray. 
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, please find a way to help. Japan may seem a million miles away, and the people affected may be nameless and faceless to you, but this disaster is real, and everything, anything you do can help those who truly, desperately need it at this time. Don't let your heart be numbed, but let compassion direct your actions.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pre-Departure Sunday

I reserved all of today for cleaning and packing in preparation for my upcoming trip to Seattle. I will only be there for a week so I am taking my super small suitcase. This should make packing easier... but the opposite is true. More about that later. 

Anyhow, I spent the morning cleaning the whole apartment, doing laundry, and setting aside some outfits, but then Sarra came over and the weather was SO lovely (71 and sunny?!) that we just had to go out for awhile. Cafe KUGAFU it is! 

There're few better ways to celebrate sunshine than a leisurely lunch at a favorite cafe. Especially when they have a new sandwich! Tuna fish open-faced bagel sandwich: win! So yummmmyyyy. 

It was also nice to be out with someone who also compulsively photographs her food. :) 
We have so much in common. 

 When we got back from lunch I seriously applied myself to the packing process. I filled almost my entire bag without even packing clothes. Eek! At this point I knew I would have to narrow down my clothing choices pretty drastically so Sarra helped me by watching me model each outfit and giving me advice. What a great friend. :) 

Now, it's only 7 p.m. and my apartment is sparkly, my bag is (tightly) packed, and my To Do list is practically finished. What a perfect way to prepare for a trip! Tomorrow it's off to the airport and 12 hours of flights. Before you know it, I will be in Seattle. Hooray!

Look out, America, I'm coming back. ;)