Click here to check it out at io9.com. “I am a Hero Omnibus: Volume One” coming to stores April 6.
10 Things to Learn after Living in Japan
It’s easy to learn a little bit about a foreign country in a year. In 5 years, any foreign resident will discover the ins and outs of their new home country. For me, I’ve learned about Japanese people, culture, and lifestyles that most foreigners won’t see in a year or two of residence.
10. You’ll be thoroughly surprised by the lack of technology Japan uses on a daily basis. The image of Japan usually includes robots on the streets, high-end luxury cars with races on straightaways, and girls in school uniforms carrying swords in their bags. Um, no, that’s a stereotype. In actuality, Japan maintains close ties with tradition–meaning that some of Japanese technology is lacking. When I wanted a copier to number my pages, my co-worker said, “Sorry. Here are these stamps.” As I sat stamping each page with what I thought were obsolete number stamps, I asked myself if all copiers in teaching places were like this. They were, and I learned to number the pages on my computer first. (I used the same copiers in business offices with the same functions in the States.)
9. You will be asked the same questions from the start of your journey to the very end. When I arrived in Okinawa, everyone asked me typical questions. “Where are you from? What is your favorite food? Do you have a boyfriend?” Along with the questions came the same remarks. “Your Japanese is good. You’re good at using chopsticks.” For fellow expats in Japan, don’t take it personal. They’re icebreakers. Segue the questions into questions about them and see where it takes you.
8. You will always have to show extra paperwork because you’re a foreigner. I don’t know how many times my husband and I had to bring unnecessary copies, documents, and forms to the bank, police station, immigration office, and the airport because people wanted to give us a hard time. My husband had it worse because he looked like a tall white man, so Japanese men thought he had a Japanese wife or girlfriend, which happens a lot when foreign males go to Japan. I solved that issue by making a binder with all the important documents and copies. It also doubled as an emergency binder. In the event of a fire or tsunami, grab the binder!
7. Whether you’re black, white, or purple, you’re in the same boat as every other foreigner. Japan is a homogenous country–you’ll mostly see and hear Japanese. The control freaks who arrive will want to immediately fit into Japanese society. No matter how well you speak, read, write, or think Japanese, Japanese people won’t fully accept you. Even half-Japanese people aren’t fully accepted (check Miss Japan). Though that seems like a dire way of looking at Japan and its people, it’s close to how privileged people in any other country treat the unprivileged populace.
6. You’ll learn how to check your attitude, anger, pessimism, arrogance, and ego if you really want to fit into Japanese society. Japanese people are very humble. You’ll find that as time goes on, Japanese people are reluctant to boast about their differences or what makes each one of them unique.
5. You’ll learn Japanese, but unless you study and maintain what you’ve learned, you’ll just be functional in spoken Japanese. You can learn Japanese without studying after listening and speaking to people for several years. Still, many expats don’t learn and maintain written Japanese without study.
4. You’ll see that options in everything is limited…except in green teas, ramen brands, and seaweed wrappers. After learning that the aisles in San-A are different from your former grocery haunts, food and marketplaces are equally unique in serving a mostly-Japanese populace.
3. You’ll notice that the Japanese lifestyle is really minimal and uncomplicated. When I returned to American life, I was surprised by how everything and everyone were fast, fast, fast, and when something was slow, it was too slow. Commuters behind me would groan at any human delays at the ancient MetroLink ticketing machines.
2. You’ll see how humans are unwilling–and even visibly scared–of change or difference. April in Japan usually meant a changeover in staff, a new school year in a new school, an assurance that you as a human had moved to the next stage in your life. I’ve noticed in between Japan and the States that people like their habits no matter how rigid or unhealthy they are to their lives. It could be eating habits, going outside the city, changing how something is done–people are afraid of change. The lesson to be learned in today’s world is that everything is always changing, always looking to grab you by the ankle and pull you under. Accepting change will keep you and other skeptical Japanese folks from drowning.
1. You’ll notice the real strength of women. Before coming to Japan, I thought that the country boasted unhappy, naive women who reluctantly accepted their roles as mothers and housewives. After watching, talking, and befriending many Japanese women, I realized that these women didn’t only define their lives as mothers and housewives. They were also teachers, workers, budget-balancers, hobbyists, cooks, cleaners, and disciplinarians. No matter how much work came their way because of their jobs or families, they could still smile and laugh and play without much worry or complaint. My problem was looking through the eyes of an American woman who wasn’t expected to do all those things. When I was put in the same positions (outside of motherhood), I couldn’t understand how other women did everything like clockwork while most men looked on. I found myself frowning at the men, especially retiring men who didn’t have any other discernible skills than work. As I looked at the women in my life and in my husband’s life, I noticed that women who worked, balanced and paid bills, cooked, cleaned, and cared and listened to their rambling, ungrateful children were the strong ones.
How I Lost Weight in Japan
It’s the same question from family members, friends, and former co-workers after they see a skinnier me:”How did you lose weight?”
In 2010, I was 138 pounds, still within my BMI for a 63-inch woman.
After I got married (December 2010), I gained around 36 pounds.
Every summer between 2011 and 2014, I yo-yoed between diets and exercise programs. Once winter came, I’d make excuses. “It’s too cold to exercise. I want to eat something hot and heavy. I can start tomorrow.” In the summer of 2014, I hit 2 big roadblocks. My doctor told me I was cruising the line to high blood pressure. The second roadblock came as a surprise to me: I injured my knee, leaving me on crutches for 3 painful weeks (but I still had to drive, grocery shop, cook and clean).
Weight Gain and Weight Loss isn’t about Food or Exercise
At that point, I couldn’t let excuses get in my way. I had to dig deeper than diet and exercise to lose the weight. I looked at why I ate the things I ate and what triggered my snack and chocolate binges.
The first thing that derailed all of my diet or exercise programs was my sweet tooth. Since my childhood, I hid cookies, ate the sweetest ice creams, and regularly chewed gums. I usually ate sweets when I was physically hungry or thirsty. Many times, I mistook hunger for thirst. I started asking myself before I looked for sweets, “Am I actually hungry or thirsty or bored?”
I also had to change my mindset. There really is no shortcut to long-lasting weight management. It’s really a lifestyle change. If I changed my eating habits, I asked myself, “Can I eat like for a whole year?” If I changed my workout regiment, I asked myself, “Can I workout like this for a whole year?” If I answered “no” to these, I would change my diet and exercises to something I could maintain for at least a year. It was about making new healthy habits.
On top of looking at my cravings, I had to recall what didn’t work for me (but they might work for others).
These didn’t work for me:
- Keeping a food diary or journal.
- Counting calories every day.
- Completely cutting out carbs (i.e. rice, breads, sugars).
- Doing circuit training.
- Having a workout buddy.
I changed my work and home lifestyles to lose weight by:
Staying hydrated throughout the day. Most Japanese people reach for teas at the workplace, so when I didn’t have water, I opted for green tea or jasmine tea freely offered in the office. I downed a glass of water before and after my morning workouts and meals to keep my hunger at bay and keep my body and skin hydrated.
Getting rid of all packaged sweets at my desk and home. In most Japanese offices, there are tables I label “the free snack table”. Anything that gets placed on those tables are free for the taking. The only way to not eat them was to avoid the table. I didn’t completely eliminate sweets. At first, I limited my number of sweets until I felt OK replacing them with fruits and homemade oatmeal bars.
Bringing bananas, smoothies, and small salads to work in case I wanted a snack. Instead of reaching for something on the free snack table, I grabbed something I brought. It was easier, and if I didn’t eat it, it would spoil. Did I mention I hate wasting food?
Using Japanese lunchboxes to package all my meals. Most Japanese lunchboxes hold 48.6 fluid ounces (5.7″x 8.1″ x 1.9″ at Daiso) compared to the American reusable lunchboxes, which carry 221.6 fluid ounces (8″x 5″ x 10″ at the Dollar Tree). With smaller lunchboxes and containers, I tricked my brain into believing that I was eating enough.
Using tamagoyaki, or Japanese omelette, pans. Because it stayed non-sticky for a long time, I didn’t use much oil. I limited my daily egg intake to one egg a day while the omelette pan made that one scrambled egg look bigger and cuter in my Japanese lunchboxes.
Studying the Japanese art of making bento. The best lunchboxes are balanced in not just food but color. The reds in tomatoes should balance the greens from broccoli and spinach. White, brown, and yellow complete the lunch, making it visually stimulating (you eat with your eyes before your mouth) and healthy. (I recommend The Just Bento Cookbook: Everyday Lunches To Go by Makiko Itoh for first timers.)
Taking breaks and finding time to breathe. When I lived in Japan, I saw many people walking and chatting with their co-workers. At work, people talked to each other and traded snacks and drank coffee as the clock ticked away working hours. Doing these things, I realized later, helped decrease stress from daily life.
With all of these things, I learned to control my hunger and sweet tooth.
Refining My Food and Willpower
In April 2015, I still looked big even though I had dropped to 148 pounds. I had done 2 months of running 1.2-mile (2 km) hills 3 times a week, making my legs muscular and thick.
By this point, I had stopped eating cheese, chicken, pork, and beef. From other failed diets, I learned that I couldn’t do without fish and eggs. It was hard visiting my family in the Philippines because everything had sugar or meat alongside several cups of rice per meal. Everyone kept asking, “Did you eat?” then turned around and commented on how fat I was. Later on, my mom told me I was “brave” for not eating certain Filipino foods.
Becoming pescatarian made me answer to myself, not to others who felt I was being a spoiled brat for refusing food or those who felt inferior because I had declined society’s meat-eating culture. I didn’t feel trapped because I had eliminated certain foods from my diet. I had more energy for my last days in Japan, and the box of clothes that didn’t fit were suddenly too big for my new body.
Exercise and Research: The Last 20%
As daunting as exercise seems, for me, exercise meant attacking the fat on my stomach, legs, and face. Since I was young, I consider exercise as a tool to accomplish a goal like winning a game, relieving stress, or, in this case, losing weight. I did Billy Blanks’s and Jillian Michaels’s workouts on YouTube, and when I got an Xbox 360, I did Nike+. I have to admit I didn’t like running when I started, but since I saw it as a tool towards my target weight and my therapy through some personal baggage, I ended up enjoying my runs 3 times a week.
The other thing I hadn’t done in the past diets was research. Every day was an opportunity to improve my body, health, and overall well being just by Googling questions. “What are some snacks under 150 calories? What are some vegan recipes for bread? How do I make spaghetti sauce from scratch?” I even started reading the back labels of any packaged foods I bought at the store. This is one thing that I’ve found Japanese folks–and folks in general–are afraid to do: ask! I had to go against that grain and find some answers.
Along with my research, questions, and my degree in sports medicine, I created a workout regiment that I could do anywhere. When I injured my knee from running, I was forced to re-think my exercise program. I have bad knees because I tore my ACL, so designing a knee-sensitive workout was crucial to losing the last 10 pounds. I started doing 10- to 20-minute workouts concentrating on my upper body, abs, and thighs using free YouTube channels like Blogiplates (abs and thighs), POPSUGAR Fitness (full-body workouts), and FitnessBlender (full-body workouts). At nighttime or days between more strenuous workouts, I did yoga and stretches. I picked the mornings to work out because it jump-started my metabolism for the rest of the day.
De-stressing and Getting Enough Sleep
The hardest part of weight loss (and keeping it off) was stress. It affects every aspect of life from sleep cycles and quality to diets and concentration. I would crave sweets when I didn’t get 7 hours of sleep. Even when I caught 8 hours of sleeps, I felt trapped in a cycle that included cleaning, cooking, and babying despite my 9-hour workday, class prep at home, and helping my husband alleviate his asthma troubles. To combat the stress of last-minute lesson plans and meals, I kept a schedule for everything so I would have meals ready for the next day, allocate time at work and home for studies (I was taking Japanese), and stick to an exercise regiment. When my husband’s work contract ended (he worked outside of JET), he returned to the U.S., honestly reducing my stress by half–half the meals, half the driving, half the worries.
Creating a routine also helped deal with stress. It’s something I noticed Japanese have down to a tee and has benefits for weight losers. Also, I didn’t have to think hard about what I was supposed to be doing at certain parts of the day. I woke up at 6AM, exercised at 6:15AM before showering, fixed lunch and ate breakfast at 7AM, and went to work at 8AM. At 11AM, I had a mid-morning snack, and at 1:15PM, I had lunch. I usually at dinner around 5:30 or 6PM, and if I was really hungry, I ate a mid-evening snack at around 7:30PM. 8:30PM meant dance time (yes, I scheduled a time to dance and enjoy my favorite tunes). After dance time came food prep for the next day, cutting veggies, thawing fruits for smoothies, or looking up vegan meals on Allrecipes. If I still felt hungry, I ate low-fat yogurt or a small bowl of granola with low-fat milk. By 10:30PM, I was in bed in my exercise clothes for the next day.
There were also things I didn’t do that Japanese people did such as:
Drinking. I’m not fond of beer or alcohol, but in Japan, drinking is part of the landscape. It hinders fat loss because of its caloric content and its by-products makes our bodies focus on burning those by-products, not stored fat or carbs among other things. Plus, I think it’s expensive compared to the little benefits my body gets out of it (saving money = less stress).
Eating ramen or soba. It’s not that I don’t like noodles–they’re my true loves after my mom’s cooking and pizza–but even a cup of ramen is unhealthy. I traded 100-yen soba for homemade carrot noodles and spinach fettuccine spaghetti.
Using already-made ingredients. Again, I’m not saying Japanese folks don’t use fresh ingredients (that’s more of an American accusation). It’s just that it’s easy to make meals when there are curry blocks, bottled sauces, and canned soups to speed up the cooking process. In getting healthier, I used as little canned and bottled products as possible, adopting something close to a Paleo diet. Even salt and sugar, which were constant reminders of my road to high blood pressure, I traded for lemons and honey.
Eating (white) rice. As most Asian countries eat rice for meal staples, I knew that eating less rice would make me an outsider, even in my culture. In the Philippines, everyone consumed large plates of rice every meal. In Japan, school lunches included big bowls of white rice. By reducing my rice intake to 2 cups a week, I allowed my body to use the stored fat as fuel.
Total Lost, Lots Gained
When I returned to the States in August 2015, I weighed 119 pounds, a total of 55 pounds lost in a year. Between the end of March 2015 to August 2015, I lost 29 pounds by changing my exercise regiments and diet every 6 weeks, cooking most of my meals using fresh ingredients, drinking lots of water, and de-stressing my life.
My Challenge to You
If you want to change how you look or feel, start a new healthy mindful habit. The hardest things to do are only difficult from the outside, but once you get a taste for more energy and a healthier body, you’ll find yourself in a better club.
Kickstart your resolutions by changing just one meal or adopting one of the things that worked for me. Who knows? Maybe you’ll see a new you within the next month.
Every year, I look up my yearly horoscope to see how well the concocters can predict my future. Not that I believe in it–I think they provide a good, unpredictable laugh–but in some cases, I really really want them to be right.
Here’s what my 2015 horoscope said:
For those born under the zodiac sign of Libra, 2015 will be a rewarding year. The 2015 Libra horoscope predicts that this is a year where it feels like anything is possible and that the life’s rewards are endless. Enjoy your good fortune, but remember luck can change in an instant, so don’t get ahead of yourself. –Sun Signs
This overall horoscope was generally…incorrect. 2015 has not been a rewarding year for me unless I count the fact that I’m alive and in decent health despite being a full-time vegetarian living in a fat-packed, sugar-loaded society.
2015 has given me good and bad luck as easily as flipping a coin. In losing 30 pounds this year, my knees have been injured and re-injured multiple times, leaving me skeptical of my legs stability. Though I’ve returned to the States after 5 years expecting reverse cultural shock, nothing prepared me for the reality of the dismal job hunts (3 interviews out of dozens of applications) and misunderstandings from changing languages. In a stroke of luck, I received all my uninsured boxes from being sea-shipped across the Pacific and my Japanese pension without a hitch. On the flip side, the house my husband and I saved up for won’t be available to a couple who doesn’t have residency or military affiliations for another year. My excitement in visiting the Philippines for the first time turned into disappointment as family members constantly poked at my weight and vegetarianism.
This year has been rough, and I’m not afraid to admit that. Between the move from Japan to the States and the readjustment to American life, I’ve had to look at myself and ask, “What do I want to do with my life?” So far, I’ve narrowed down the list to writing and marketing, but both require I go back to school and get papers that say, “Hey, she can do entry level jobs now in so-and-so industry.”
I want to stay positive, but no matter how hard I work, I don’t feel like I’m moving forward. I have to take 2 steps back just to see a future directly in front of me. Part of me wants to lie down and call it a day every day, but the fighter in me says, “Just power through it. You can do it.” I know I can do it. It’s a matter of when, and when feels out of my grasp. Will it be 2016 that’ll see me join a publisher or magazine? Will 2016 be the year I win something, anything, in regards to writing? Or will 2016 be rifled with disappointments and punishments for actually trying?
At least one thing’s already up for 2016–my yearly horoscope:
The Libra horoscope 2016 thus forecasts that this is a year which will be the base for the coming years. So analyze and think well before making important decisions in your life. —Sun Signs
Returning to American Life
Similar to an earlier post, Jade’s Escape from Japan, settling into American life has been a little rough, but there are slivers of silvers sparkling from their edges.
No Stomachaches, Just Stomach Gains. My body’s adjusted to the over-saturated American diet, even gaining 10 pounds in the first 2 weeks. Once I eliminated Del Taco’s bean burritos from my diet and signed up for a gym membership, I lost 5 pounds, putting me only 6 pounds heavier than when I first came back. Even with vegetarian and vegan options at stores and restaurants, I’m still struggling with maintaining my weight. On top of that, I get pressured by my husband and his family’s habits to ditch my diet. “You’re too skinny now,” my husband tells me, but these ideas won’t deter me from declining chicken dishes and sausage links. I worked really hard to get to where I am, and I don’t want all that effort to vanish just because I’m back in my home country. Sometimes I’m fighting a whole culture of fat, sickness, and laziness.
The silver lining: While living with meat-eaters who don’t care about their health or waistlines challenges my willpower, I know I’m improving my life not just now but in the long run. Plus, I’m now at my high school weight, which was my resolution this year.
The Multicultural “Gaijin-ism”. The word gaijin hasn’t disappeared from my brain whenever I see a non-Asian person, but the reaction of seeing different colored people has. My ears perk up at different Lyft drivers’ accents, and when I ask them where they’re from, I learn their stories, their motivations, their needs and wants in life. Whether it’s through broken Spanish or simple English, I’m excited to meet people from all around the world and learn something new.
The silver lining: I can study any language, and there will be people who I can speak with.
The Unemployed and Dependent Adult. Here’s the truth: finding a job after living in a foreign country is dismal, especially in California. Many companies and hiring managers don’t accept working abroad as anything but an experience abroad, leaving one big resume gap for returnees. On top of that, the job-hunting game has changed. If you were a capable player before, you’ll find yourself being benched at every tournament. It’s discouraging, especially when other former expats tell you that you’re not going to get a decent job for at least a year, so hunker down and be patient.
The silver lining: My work ethic and outlook are different, thanks to Japan. Before returning, I updated my resumes and CVs. I’ve maximized my online persona by linking my LinkedIn to my personal website that has my logo from my resume. Also thanks to Japan and my own interests, reading books such as Jay Conrad Levinson’s Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0 and Richard N. Bolles’s The Job-Hunter’s Survival Guide have been indispensable for people in my position.
The Unhomely Home. Since I’m living with my in-laws, things are completely different–and sometimes, nonsensical–compared to what I’m used to. I just have to get used to it, right? In the meantime, I’m similar to the guy who never moves out of his mom’s basement.
The silver lining: I learned patience in Japan. Why not use it? Plus, I don’t have to pay for the basement.
No Fear = New Connections. I thought when I returned to California, I wouldn’t need to use Japanese. In the most random places–Kohl’s in San Diego, Kapsoul in LA, the Amtrak between Union Station and downtown San Diego–I’ve met Japanese people, and I’ve been happy to flex my Japanese tongue. I’m not afraid to jump between English and Japanese when I meet these people. They’re immigrants or second-generation Japanese people, nikkei, making lives for themselves in the States. Aside from meeting Japanese folks, I find I’m not afraid to speak to anyone and everyone. The man who wants my number, the bum looking for an extra dollar, the Cuban Lyft driver, I’m not scared to say what I want. Japan has taught me to appreciate the ability to be heard.
The silver lining: I don’t feel as Japan-sick as I did when I first landed in LAX.
Jade’s Escape from Japan: Desk Partners/Neighbors
Every day I sat at my somewhat-cluttered work desk, I sat next to the gentlest gentlemen I had ever met. He always marched to his desk gripping a black briefcase. When he reached the desk, he’d say cheerfully as if the first greeting in the morning would chase away those dreadful Monday blues, “Good morning!” If he were late, marching into the teacher’s room with his briefcase and huff on his breath, he’d still get out a cheerful, “Good morning!” before tossing his stuff onto his desk and jogging to the meeting room. It didn’t take long for us to become good friends. He was curious about everything and everyone in the same way children asked, “Where do babies come from?” I wanted to laugh and answer as honestly as possible.
The one thing I loved about sitting next to this teacher was the way he spoke. He had a soft voice, and whenever I taught him a new English word, he would weigh the word with his tongue, sounding each syllable out and rolling it around in his mouth. By the time he committed the word to memory, I’d sense his pride in the new vocabulary, and I’d find myself wanting to teach him more words. In exchange, he taught me Japanese, correcting my clumsy sentences and checking my worksheets. He was usually the first person to tell me what was going on, even before my coordinators.
What surprised me the most about him was his devotion to his family. Before returning to teaching, he was essentially a house husband, making meals for his daughter and wife, cleaning the home, and taking care of his child. “I went to a cooking school to make better lunches,” he told me one day. “But I had to learn the cooking words first.” After this admission, I respected him more. As gentle as he seemed, this man did things with resolve, something that many young people didn’t do nowadays.
Soon, I brought my homemade lunches and bagels and healthy sweets with me for him to try. He told me honestly what he liked the most about each item and what I could do to make them better. None of his words discouraged me, only made me smile even if the criticism wasn’t positive. One day, I brought him an oatmeal muffin, and he shyly admitted, “I’ve never had oatmeal. Is it good?” I think my eyebrows lifted to the ceiling because he laughed. “Is that strange?”
“OK, wait right here.” I went to the fridge, put an oatmeal muffin on a paper plate, and warmed it up in the microwave. I watched him eat it slowly, eating in the same way he learned new English words. He took a small bite, chewed it carefully, and this time, his eyebrows went up.
“Mmm, it’s good!” And he went on to finish the rest of the oatmeal muffin with gusto. What I realized about him was that he lacked any concept of ill intentions. Most people I met, they had some desire to be cutthroat, to be uncaring, to be superior to someone else, but not this man. He simply accepted everyone and everything, and if he needed something to happen, he made sure to make it happen in the simplest way possible. He was a man of zero drama.
And when it was one of my last times to sit next to him, he looked at me and asked, “Did you eat lunch?” I told I hadn’t, and he invited me to lunch. I was ecstatic. In the last two weeks of leaving Japan, I had forgotten when to eat, abandoning food for drives to different towns and post offices to mail boxes. I think he saw my body shrink and my energy diminish under the weight of work, and as a good older brother or cousin or father would do, help me regain at least one meal of normality.
So we went to eat Chinese food at a small but clean restaurant near the school where customers took off their shoes next to tatami mats and traditional floor tables. I learned that being away from school and the prying eyes and ears of the staff and students let me and my companion be ourselves. After eating the lunch special, we started telling each other stories. “When I was leaving America,” I told him over a cup of coffee, “some guys told me they liked me. I thought, ‘Why are you telling me now?’ And that’s how I got closer to my husband. He said, ‘If you weren’t going to Japan, I’d ask you to be my girlfriend.’ I was really happy, but nothing was going to stop me from going to Japan. It was my dream, you know?”
Watching his black eyes light up behind his glasses always made me want to say everything I thought. It was one of the reasons why, despite being the gentlest person in my lifetime, he was also the most dangerous. I wanted to say everything I felt at the moment my husband confessed to me, how happy yet unsure I felt about actually leaving the States, how uncertain my future felt without an anchor holding my old habits together. I kept that part out, let my tongue say the tip of my mind, and told him a funny story about a guy who wanted a date to be a date. He, in turn, told me a similar story, his spanning from mainland Okinawa to his time in Miyako, a popular outer islander with an Okinawan dialect completely different from Okinawan dialect.
When we went back to the office, the shells of ourselves folded over us, and we returned to being working neighbors. While I remembered everyone in my English department as people filled with personality, I felt that my neighbor and I fit together as desk partners in our somewhat-cluttered work area.
Creasing Happi Coats
Blue, red, and white happi coats moved through the crowd with “festival ” splashed across their backs and brown printed belts cinching their waists. The bodies inside them sweated and smelled, and the heads perched on the shoulders and necks held smiling faces, yakisoba in their mouths, bandannas around their foreheads. As people walked through Naha City awaiting the start of the big tug of war, their happi coats showed that the festival atmosphere started at home. When the rope, which stretched for three blocks through Naha’s 58 street, was pulled by Okinawans and Americans and cut into strips as good luck charms, the happi coats, the festival bearers, came off at home. Once laundered and pressed, the happi coats must be folded.
I folded happi coats after an event in Los Angeles. One fold here, a flip there, but the creases were the most important part. I wanted to fold them to be stacked the same length and size. When I tried to fold a happi coat without using its preset crease–“let the coat fall over at the crease”–I was inferred, not so much told since that would be too forward, to follow the folding method as everyone else had done before. The precedence was more important than the practical and stackable look of those coats, the same crease blindly to set a path than the person who wore or folded them.
Creases are made when a fabric submits to an iron, and the iron can make creases anywhere the person handling it feels. Why do some people hold the iron or fold past the creases to make a new pattern? Why not make changes instead of submitting to the creases everyone else has made?
While happi coats on bodies are uniforms for festivals and tugs of wars, their creases are traps for those who don’t want to be uniform.