Jade’s Escape from 2015: A Year of Un-Rewards

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

Jade’s Escape from Japan: Last Night in Okinawa

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Last Night in Okinawa

Japanese businessmen with too many drinks and skewed neckties watch me walk up a block of squat business plazas and timeworn bars, most with red lanterns swinging in their wooden doorways. This is Naha City, the capitol of Okinawa, three hours by plane from Japan’s famous capitol, three decades behind what people would call Japan when Tokyo comes into a conversation. Even the powerlines, which have no intention of migrating underground, provide background noise to the drunken businessmen and the beckoning shop owners in this expensive drinking sector of Naha. The men enter and exit their doors, some stumbling with tomato faces and smiles into waiting taxis.

This is my last night in Okinawa, and I walk next to my best friend, a Japanese soccer player who became my first friend in Okinawa five years ago. We were both teachers, me in the loose sense as an Assistant Language Teacher and him as my coordinator who spoke fluent English with a New Zealand flare. Though he left English teaching a few months later, we remained brother and sister in the islander sense, and whenever we saw each other’s family members at the mall, we were meeting another relative, an extended vein from our friendship.

Now, even after five years, I notice Japanese men trying to pry me from my place next to him—seeing a tall Japanese man in a casual shirt and chinos next to a black woman walking in this area is rare, unless this American and hondoujin are lost. This is our area, our yen is better here. Your yen is better over there where you turned off International Street. At those guys, I make eye contact, and they quickly turn their eyes elsewhere. Wherever yen was going to be spent, tonight was my night to let someone else do the spending. I, as a returnee to the States, was not allowed to dirty my own farewell party with my own cash.

My friend leads me to a wooden, four-story business building that looks as tan and old as the other buildings we passed. We go up a flight of wooden stairs and duck under a curtain to enter what my friend calls “my brother’s work”. The shop, a small but clean sushi bar, boasts three tatami areas with traditional floor tables and zabuton, or colorful Japanese cushions. Wooden doors, wooden pillars, and wooden countertops provide the aesthetics rather than hanging paintings or woodblock prints. My friend and I sit at the counter, and from an open doorway with a white curtain, his brother emerges in a white sushi chefs outfit. It is my first time to see him in four years, but through my friend, I always know where he is working. He is shorter than my friend by a head, but his small eyes and humor resemble my friend’s. Before they exchange a handshake, he looks surprised to see me. “Long time no see,” he says with a shy smile. Unlike his brother, he is reserved and gracious in his demeanor.

But it’s my friend who teaches me about the life of being a sushi chef. “Being a sushi chef,” he tells me after we have wiped our hands and cheered over a glass of chuuhai, “takes a lot of training. When we were kids, my brother was always shaping rice with his hands.” Only the best traditional sushi, which consists of a select cut of fish, a dab of wasabi, and a thumb-sized amount of formed rice, could lead sushi chefs into stardom in the industry. “Every day, chefs have to make $500 to $700 a night for the shop owners. Once they make a certain amount of money for the owners, the chefs can move on to owning their businesses.” He is proud of his younger brother, watching him deliberate over the rows of sliced fish in front of us, and in a way, I hold that same pride for this young chef.

The sushi looks different than the usual sushi I used to eat from the market or in a restaurant chain like Hamazushi. The fish are colorful and thick, hearty even, but easy to chew while the hint of wasabi lacks the sharpness of typical sushi, emphasizing the flavors of the fish and the shaped rice as a tasty unit. As I chew the second sushi, I suddenly realize why I feel as if I had skipped something: I did not dip it in soy sauce. It is completely unneeded.

My friend’s brother places sushi after sushi in front of us, lapsing into English for the fishes’ names and joking in Japanese with my friend. We get another drink, and it starts to wash away my senses. I laugh a little too hard, smile a little too much, eat the delicious handcrafted sushi a little too fast. I want to remember the warm feeling that both the chuuhai and Okinawa had given me for five years. People here are warm, and even those with cold interiors have no choice but to obey Japanese etiquette. When Okinawan people speak to me, it feels as if I’ve come home after a long absence, and they’re gently easing me into what I forgotten. Five years ago, I was surprised by this feeling, and every year, I renewed my contract to get closer to it, something akin to my Filipino home in the States. Other colleagues remarked their envy when I admitted I hardly felt homesick in years.

Between the second drinks and red snapper sushi, three Japanese people sit at the bar next to me. Immediately, one of the drunk women says, “You look like a famous singer.” For a while, everyone’s stumped. It’s when our last sushi arrives that the lady announces, “Diana Ross!” For the remaining twenty minutes there, she and her two friends address me as the former Supreme vocalist until my friend bids his brother goodnight and pays the bill.

“Goodbye, Diana Ross!” the three drunk birds say before we disappear down the stairs and into the warm summer streets. Now less business suits haunt the plaza doorways, and the taxis line the curbs. This is their time to strip drunken workers of their last yen. We avoid them and walk to a close-by Family Mart to get some cheap alcohol. At 2 o’clock in the morning, the clerk looks at us with an eyebrow quirked above his glasses. “There might by a typhoon tomorrow,” it says, but his thin lips only utter, “259 yen.”

When we get outside, the wind has picked up, flinging lose plastic bags and what little trash adorn the entire city towards the south. My friend and I cheer and drink our alcohol. As the night grows cooler and windier, our conversation—his kids, my husband, our jobs, five years of being an American sister and a Japanese Okinawan brother—turns into something warmer and sadder. Tonight, I think, let’s drink and eat before it gets too sad. As the lights in some stores dim and metallic doors slide over their shops, my friend and I stand up and smile at each other.

My last night allows me to return to a pair of eyes that can see Okinawa’s beautiful islands, see its people in their chinos and suits, and appreciate looking at all of them together in one place.

Lefties in Japan: Do Southpaws Get Little Love Here, Too?

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Happy International Left-handers’ Day!

Did you know I’m left-handed? My father, my grandfather, my aunt, and my husband are also left-handed. Imagine all the smear stains we’ve gotten on our cuffs, how many artful turns of a paper we did to avoid ruined sleeves, how many decisions we’d have to make–throw left or right?–in our entire lives. No matter how many left-handers there are in my family, there aren’t many in the world (only 10 percent!). Left-handers are just as rare in Japan as in the States, but unlike their American counterparts, they don’t have as much trouble dealing with a right-side world.

In Japan, left-handedness isn’t seen as a conspiracy to make do with the Devil as it is in Western and Catholic countries. Sure, there was a time when Japanese viewed southpaws as impractical because of traditional calligraphy writing. Even though Japanese people still write from left to right when they make banners, the taboo of being left-handed, or giccho, is considered old news.

In recent times, Japanese students use regular notebooks or genkou youshi (原稿用紙), a Japanese manuscript paper for writing essays. This kind of paper has little boxes, each box for one character, and they’re read from right to left. Because traditional Japanese is read from the top downwards, essays are written the same way, top to down. It makes it easier for us lefties to write an essay in Japan, even if they’re apology or detention essays (you’ll see it in manga, anime, or in the discipline office in Japanese schools).

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Poor Houtarou from Hyouka has to re-write an essay he forgot at home.

Of course, left-handers in Japan still face problems in the right-hander world. In contrast to manuscript paper, writing calligraphy on horizontal banners is oriented for right-handers.  I wonder if famous calligraphers like Michiko ImaiShinjo Ito, or Shingai Tanaka ever had trouble writing Japanese characters.

Oh, Flanders, you'll only get orders from Japan. Go online!

Oh, Flanders, the Simpsons and the Leftorium are washed up. Get your butt online, man!

Looking for your real Leftorium? Here are some shops that can help you with your left-handed needs on this fine International Left-handers Day:

1. Lefty’s – https://www.leftyslefthanded.com/ (Special discounts on International Left-handers’ Day)

2. Anything Left-Handed – http://www.anythinglefthanded.co.uk/

3. RU-Lefthanded – http://ru-lefthanded.co.uk/ocart/

4. Left-hand N.Z. – http://www.lefthandnz.com/

#6 of 33 Art Projects: Sketches for Writing

I write different stories for contests, and every day, I get stuck. Sometimes, I can’t imagine a character’s clothing or a certain scene. I draw to brainstorm ideas until I get a clear image in my head.CIMG2850

Costume ideas for a story.

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Scene for a science fiction story.

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First scene from a story…and, no, it’s not a manga.

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Studying glass of water for a T-shirt design.

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As William Zinsser says, “[…] look for your material everywhere, not just by reading the obvious sources and interviewing the obvious people” (On Writing Well, p. 58). I usually draw people I see because they provide material for stories. The picture above are two people I saw at the bookstore. Oh, and I do write in Japanese sometimes. Saves space.

The Princess of Tennis: The True Story of an American Manga Assistant

I finally got my copy of The Princess of Tennis from Jamie Lynn Lano!

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There aren’t many stories (if any) about Western manga assistants working in Japan. Jamie Lynn Lano tells all in this book and on her blog, Jamieism.com. You can buy  The Princess of Tennis: The true story of working as a mangaka’s assistant in Japanon Amazon.

Also, you can help Jamie get to San Diego Comic Con through http://www.gofundme.com/9v7x64.

Short Story Contest Finalist

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I got my “2014 Short Story Contest Finalist” certificate for entering the 1st Annual Little Tokyo Historical Society Short Story Contest. It came with a $10.00 gift certificate to Mr. Ramen’s, a ramen restaurant in Los Angeles. Although I didn’t win the top 3 spots, I placed top 16 out of 60 entries. I’m proud of myself! Writing the story, “Smile’s Sonata”, taught me that there’s another layer to myself that can be drawn out through writing.

And, yes, my name on this certificate is misspelled. 28 years later, and my name is still being misspelled. Lovely!

私は1回リトル東京歴史協会の短編小説から「平成26の短編小説決勝戦出場者」の証明書とロサンゼルスでのラーメンレストランの「Mr.Ramen」商品券をもらった。トッポ3番を勝ってないのに、ストリーは16番でした。うれしいです!「笑顔のソナタ」を書いたら、多く自分の層があることを学んだ。

 

Super Saiyin Level 4: My 4 Years Living and Blogging in Japan

I’m at Super Saiyin status! Yup, I’ve reached 4 complete years of living and blogging in Japan!

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I know, I know. Some Americans have reached city-stomping, moon-transforming monkey status in their tenth, twentieth, or even thirtieth years in Japan. Good for them! For me, it’s an awesome thing: I’m still living my dream! And I’ve learned a few things along the way.

Anime and manga does and doesn’t equal culture.

Just as any media doesn’t fully capture a single culture, it also says a lot about that culture. The Japanese population is mostly Japanese. From the time Japanese people are born until they die, there are certain things that’re taught to them. Did you know that Japanese students take Ethics and Morals in junior high school? And did you know Japanese students are punished more for not following the rules than their grades? No, maybe not. In reality, Japanese people aren’t allowed to stand out. Japan is a collective society, and in a country the size of California housing millions, the population can’t afford to be individualistic. But in anime and manga, you’ll see students who are totally different because of their natural talents or super abilities. In a way, these media are reflections of a country where the hammer strikes down the standing nail.

Design and marketing is on a whole different level in Japan.

Wherever you walk in Japan, you’re bound to find billboards upon billboards, posters behind posters, signs above signs of ads, ads, ads. Even if you can’t read them, these ads are successful at embedding colorful and creative images into your brain. Everything has a mascot (ever hear of Hello Kitty, Kumamon, Pikachu, or Luffy?). When I think of American ads, they don’t compare. Then again, the States has it good with creating recognizable brands. Hmm, maybe I’m wrong… Still, Japanese advertising makes me laugh!

Quality of (Insert a Noun) is cities above the American sense of quality

I’m absolutely in love with Japan’s sense of quality. It shows in mundane things: merchandise at thrift stores are clean and cared for; lunches are freshly prepared by mothers and lunchbox pros same day; fast food actually matches the pictures. So, yeah, quality of life is awesome in Japan. There’s the national healthcare that every working person can receive (OMG, Japan is Socialistic ::gasp::), and the older you are, the cheaper your optional car insurance becomes. Don’t get me wrong, I do miss the States, but some things–the crappy secondhand buys, the fat-salt-sugar-saturated processed food, and the bombardment of unhealthy lifestyles–aren’t living up to my quality of life anymore.

I miss the straightforwardness of the West

Japan is the land of beating around the bush. You can’t say anything directly because it’s seen as unfriendly. Instead of saying, “Why aren’t you wearing an undershirt?” you have to opt for a round-about way of saying things. “Aren’t you cold?” The real meaning: you’re not dressed properly for work! Then again, no one will tell you at the very beginning how to dress for work in Japan like in the States. “Do I have to wear suits? What color? How long?” You have to become a really great observer in Japan and answer the questions yourself. In a way, I find it refreshing. As Haruki Murakami wrote in 1Q84, “If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.”