Jade’s Escape from Japan: Creasing Happi Coats

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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.

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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.

Jade’s Escape from Japan: The Ninth Box and Smells of Japan

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The Ninth Box and the Smells of Japan

When the ninth box from Japan arrived at my in-laws’ home, I knew that my lengthy adventures there were done. It was as if closure had filled them to remind me, “You’ve given up that life. Accept it.” How can I accept it? part of me challenges with a hint of stubbornness. Even now, I still feel displaced. My eyes look out at a lake from my past and sees it as mysterious, views the surrounding houses and cars as strangers, and finally, the dread of being on the outside fills my stomach. I open each box to forget that ache. Each box had books, comics, clothes, and knick knacks accumulated from 5 years, some pieces broken but fixable, and smells from Japan. I opened a Starbucks mug and sniffed its inside. With a quizzical look, I held it out to my brother in law. “This is what Japan smells like.” It had a woodsy odor, something akin to cut tree slabs that had been perched on someone’s porch for several years.

Everything in southern Okinawa emitted earthy scents. On a summer day, farmers would burn their rotted excess sugar cane, and the smell of smoke and smoldering fritters would fill the air, usually causing my husband’s nose to clog with allergies. My nose, which I soon found to be sensitive to smells, picked up the faint smells of smoke before I saw them. Between March and May, the clouds carried heavy rain into the region, and my nose picked up the vague smell of earth. For me, dirt filled my nose, and with am exhale, I knew to grab an umbrella on the way out the door. On hot summer days, the heat offered me a new scent–the smell of smoldering tar and a stifling, thick air that said it would not leave this small island until the chilled winter air blew in. All the plants bent and wilted underneath the heat’s reign, indicating that my chiffon clothing wouldn’t be enough to shield me from the penetrating summer day. When the wind changed and Okinawans dawned sweaters, long sleeves, and corduroys, the island smells brought me back to my San Diego home and my Norfolk upbringing and the York house where my grandparents lived—crisp air with the distant aroma of Chrstimas-time pine, warmed breaths challenging white clouds and freezing hands, apple cider and vanilla bean perfumed on knits and wools and blankets.

“What’re those boxes?” a friend’s little boys asked me, and I opened the box for them to look in. For them, they saw lots of dirty notebooks, pictures of Japanese kids, and messages scribbled in an indecipherable language. I showed them the things there, but I held my tongue on everything else. No matter how I tried to explain each memory and each smell to them, they wouldn’t get it either. They were mine.

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.

Okinawa’s Memorial Day

Okinawa has two more holidays than mainland Japan: obon, or the honoring of one’s ancestors, and Irei no Hi, the day to console the dead. This year’s Irei no Hi is today, June 23rd, and while mainland Japan and Hokkaido still commute to work, Okinawans get this extra day off.

It’s not like the Fourth of July or the American equivalent of Memorial Day where there are barbecues and fireworks. Irei no Hi is to remember the lives lost during the Battle of Okinawa during World War II when American forces attacked Okinawa and seized it under bloodshed. Over 240,000 people died in this battle, and Okinawa has been occupied by American bases since then.

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In 1995, a memorial sight in memory of the Battle of Okinawa was built to remember the deaths, pray for peace, pass on the lessons of war, and serve as a place for meditation and learning. The sight hosts the names of the dead facing the sea in Japanese burial fashion.

A Postcard to Obama from Okinawa

Okinawa’s pissed. Why? The Okinawan governor recently sold out for another U.S. base in Henoko, the dangerous Ospreys (planes with a helicopter design) crash into a local university, and the rapes and incidents between American military men and Okinawans have people ready to deport all foreigners off the island.

It wasn’t a big surprise to noticed this little postcard in the back of the teacher’s office this morning.

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In case you can’t read the postcard, it says:

“Dear President Obama,

The U.S. Forces have occupied Okinawa for 68 years. This oppression is unbearable. We demand the following actions for the restoration of our human rights:

1. The withdrawal of deployment of the Osprey aircrafts.

2. The closure of Futenma Air Base for safety reasons and its subsequent return.

3. The cessation of plans to reclaim land in the Henoko areas of Nago and the cessation of construction of Takae helipads.”

I know what you’re thinking: “As an American, why should I care about these brown Asian folks from some nowhere island?”

You’re a human being, right? Well, OK, let’s use something more practical: money. If you’re an American paying taxes, you should know that you’re paying for the stealing of someone else’s land that you won’t be able to go to even if you made it to Okinawa. You’re paying for the crashes and damages done by Ospreys, something that costs over $69.3 million for one aircraft. You’re giving a paycheck to rapists and pillagers.

And, no, I’m not being anti-American. I’m doing my duty as an American and questioning where my money’s going, where the soul of humanity has flown off to.  “Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance.  It is also owed to justice and to humanity.  Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong” (James Bryce).

If you don’t feel a single emotion over this, you’re heartless, soulless, downright suicide material ready for the elevator to 6-Feet Under.

#2 of 33 Art Projects in a Year

#2: The Ryukyu Star Winter 2014 Cover

I’m the visual editor for an online magazine for Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET Programme) teachers in Okinawa. I’ve decided to completely change the design of the magazine to make it more efficient as a magazine. To commemorate this change, I took the skills I learned on Photoshop and used it to color this mediocre inking of a horse.

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This horse was drawn without any preliminary sketches. I wanted to keep it fun and a little messy by just going at it with a Copic multiliner pen.

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Next was tracing it in Illustrator and ignoring the whites.Image

I transferred the image to Photoshop and used many layers underneath the vector to color it.

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Since I was using InDesign for designing the layout of the magazine, I decided to put the final product in InDesign. I always get the cover sizes wrong, so it’s just easier and cleaner.

How Much of the Snake I’ve Eaten

In January, I posted my New Year’s resolution. Now, six months later, I’m doing a check-in.

Gotta get that fat outta here!!

#1: Losing weight: Drop 25 pounds.

In January and February, while my husband did a cleanse, I opted for only eating meat once a day. I don’t know if I dropped weight, but my clothes did fit differently–good for not exercising (my husband did, though). Just when we were going at a good pace, my husband hurt his back and the exercising (for him) and the non-meat meals stopped. It goes to show how much being in a relationship can affect your body.

Three weeks ago, I started doing Tae Bo again. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered (I did it last year for two months), but I decided to do cardio three times a week and strength training once a week. A week ago, I hurt my knee, so I’ll have to stick with strength training and minimum cardio. Injuries are the worst!

Plan: Do 30-45 minutes of exercise every other day. Two times a week include a strength training regiment (12 reps, 3 sets with weights), and work on abs every exercise day.

How to write “learn” in kanji

#2: Learn Japanese: Become a more fluent speaker.

I entered an international speech contest in Japanese, but I wasn’t picked. Maybe next year… Every day, I learn a new Japanese word (today’s word is 野良猫, noraneko, or “stray cat”) to build my vocabulary. I also write in a journal in Japanese, and some of my posts on this blog have a Japanese translation. So far, my reading comprehension has gotten easier as well as my kanji.

Plan for the rest of the year: Sign up for the JET Programme’s free advanced Japanese course and get ready for another speech contest (to get picked this time!).

#3: Save more money

I haven’t saved any money (according to my Mint account), but I have managed to slim our daily expenses. Instead of buying many snacks and going out to eat, we cook at home and avoid sugary products like cookies and fruit juices.

Plan: Send a set amount of money to my American bank account and not touch it except for emergencies and bills.

#4: Travel more.

Because of Item Number 3, traveling is out of the question. Sadness!

Once upon a time, there was a writer…

#5: Get to reading and writing!

I became a part of a creative writing circle. We get a prompt and two weeks to write something, then we post in on Google Plus. It’s very convenient because I never know how people will react to it. Also, it keeps me on my toes in keeping with deadlines!

Plan: Continue with the writing circle. Win at least one writing contest!

Links

1. Scale: http://www.johnstonefitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Weighing-Scales-1.jpg

2. “Learn” kanji gif: http://nihongoichibandotcom.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/5b66.gif

3. Piggy bank: http://sj.sunne.ws/files/2011/09/Piggy-Bank1.jpg

4. Suitcase: http://henricodoctors.com/util/images/TravelMedicineSuitcase.jpg

5. Books: https://jadesescape.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/books.jpg?w=257