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.

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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: http://jadesescape.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/books.jpg?w=257

Most Famous Baseball Coach in Okinawa

At 4 PM, all of the office workers watched the tiny box-of-a-TV. “The baseball game is playing. Okinawa is in the championship,” my co-worker told me as our supervisor adjusted the antennas. The team was Konan High School, the last standing Okinawan team in the 2010 National High School Baseball Summer Tournament. They beat out 46 teams, making Coach Masaru Gakiya the most famous baseball coach in Okinawa.

I met him at a private event by the U.S. Consulate, and from all of the Americans present, I think I visibly showed my excitement to be in the same room.

Yaese Town Cherry Blossoms Festival 八重瀬町桜まつり

Image Hanami, or cherry blossoms viewing, is usually seen throughout Japan in March and April. This year, in Okinawa, the cherry blossoms have bloomed early–but their flowers aren’t as bright as the years before. It’s OK, though. Many festivals in honor of these beautiful, pink flowers have cropped up just as early as the cherry blossoms’ blooming. One festival that my husband and I went to was the Yaese Town Cherry Blossoms Festival. 

We arrived in the latter part of the event, but we didn’t miss out on the festivities. After walking up a long hill overlooking Yaese Town and climbing multitudes of stairs (and a kind grandmother commenting loudly, “Mada?” when we encountered another set of stairs), we finally reached the top of the small mountain. The smell of corn dogs, yakisoba (sauteed noodles), and french fries filled the air as music by a local J-rock group sounded from a big stage flanked with large sakura poles. 

One thing about festivals that I absolutely love is the festival food. Fatty, greasy, and cheap, festival food can range from traditional Japanese food (sobaramen, takoyaki) to Western food (tacos, hamburgers, chicken nuggets). This time, there were a few vendors selling cheap vegetables, homemade cookies, and chicken pies. 

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Aside from the food, the Yaese Town festival had a treat for everyone: a tug-of-war contest. The rope was as thick as my body! It took over twenty people to carry one side of the rope in traditional fashion around the festival grounds. After some (quiet) taunting from both sides, we grabbed the ropes and pulled. It was a hard fight, but the other side managed to pull us over the line. The second time was fruitful: we won in less than five minutes. 

We dusted ourselves off, carried the rope again, and then disappeared down the stairs to the cave. It was once used as a medical center for the Okinawans during World War II, and still stands as a historical reminder to all. Many of the elementary school students asked us as we exited the cave area, “Do your pictures have ghosts in them?”

I don’t know if this counts as a ghost; there’s a small circle to the right of my husband. Just so you know, there wasn’t a light inside the cave. We checked.Image

 

My Ninja Cat is Growing Up!

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Ninja at 5 months.

In a post I did three months ago, I put up pictures of my new cat, Ninja “Bear” Galvan. She was only two months old then (according to the vet), but now she’s almost six months. Every time my husband and I pick her up, we say, “重いです,” (or omoi desu) “Heavy.”

Since taking her off the streets of Naha, Ninja has changed in some of her habits but mostly in appearance.

The habits that have changed:

-She sleeps with her eyes closed now. She used to sleep with her eyes open, but we waved our hands over her face, and she didn’t spring to her feet. To me, that’s counter-intuitive.

-She doesn’t eat any kind of food anymore. She only eats Sheba, the most expensive brand of cat food in the cat food aisle. Maybe the black cat on the can swayed her to the Dark Side.

-She doesn’t meow during her baths. She just looks at us with a bored expression. (But she still falls asleep when we towel-dry her.)

-She paws, licks, or bites my face in the morning right before my alarm clock. It’s like she’s saying, “おきて!おきて!食べたい!” (Okite! Okite! Tabetai!) “Wake up! Wake up! I want to eat!” 

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Ninja enjoying her gaming chair.

-She prefers to sit in my husband’s blue gaming chair when he’s not in it–even if it’s only a few seconds after his butt has left the seat.

-She plays tag and fetch with me. 

From all of these things, Ninja has become our precious house cat with a growing stomach and a beautiful coat. I wonder if I’ll turn into one of the crazy Japanese pet owners who give their pets mud baths.

Time to Take a Bite Out of the Year of the Snake

Per New Year’s and weight gain, I made several resolutions to better my life. For 2013, I have a few, but I’m not just going to say what they are. Many people make that mistake. I want to avoid the talk and just get down to the core of the problem and how to realistically solve them.

Gotta get that fat outta here!!

#1: Lose weight.

Last year, I made this a goal, and in July, I could wear clothes that I hadn’t worn in two years because of my weight. By December, I regained most of the weight I lost five months ago. The most realistic approach to losing weight for me is not stressing out, getting enough sleep, eating more vegetables and fruits, and exercising.

My goal in losing weight this year is 25 pounds. Right now, I weigh 155 pounds–30 pounds over my high school weight–and I want to shed it. This fat represents the stress I’ve gone through since getting married, living in a foreign country without being fluent in the language, and becoming inactive in my local community. The fat needs to go.

My plan is to start with moderate cardiovascular exercises that I enjoy (basketball practice, dance, and jogs) and moderate strength-training regiments at home. I just have to watch my knees (two torn ACL injuries from ten years ago). Right now, my eating habits are OK, but they can be better. I’ll add more dairy products, fruits, and vegetables to my diet from now on.

How to write “learn” in kanji

#2: Learn Japanese.

I’ve come a long way since last year when I could vaguely understand what someone said in Japanese. Now, I’m on my way to becoming a more fluent listener. My goal this year is to become a more fluent speaker. It’s harder than it sounds because I have trouble with what I call the linkers, wa, ga, wo, and ni. I want to master them.

My plan is to study with a native speaker weekly and later take the lowest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). Right now, I have a book for passing the JLPT and I have several workbooks for learning the most basic kanji . In the meantime, I’m working on remembering my Japanese speech for a contest.

Bank on the Pig.

#3: Save more money.

That’s all. Just save more money. This past year, I was able to pay off just about all of my credit cards. Now I want to pay off one of two big debts and continue my savings plan for when I return to the U.S. One thing that has kept me in check is a financial planning website called Mint.com, which gives me a pie chart of all of my expenditures and keeps track of my financial goals.

Let’s get to packin’!

#4: Travel more.

My husband and I decided that in 2014, we’ll return the U.S. Before then, I’d like to visit some other nearby countries on holiday breaks. Of course, this could dig into Resolution #3, but we can definitely make it work without having to spend an arm and a leg. Flying between China and Japan starts around $150 dollars. For a new experience in a different land, I’m willing to pay for it.

Once upon a time, there was a writer…

#5: Get to reading and writing!

In August last year, I self-published The Ends Don’t Tie with Bunny Rabbits. Ever since then, I’ve gone on to do a free book-reviewing website by the same name and started to read indie authors’ books. I still have several books on my list, but I’d like to read up to 50 books in 2013. I only read 26 books in 2012 and 24 books in 2011.

With writing, I’d like to start this year with a great Korean comic review for the Manga Bookshelf column. I also want to finish writing another book and get it published this year. It’s possible to do all this if I use my time wisely. No more Youtube time wasters.

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: http://jadesescape.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/books.jpg?w=257

Snake Shoe of the Student Council President

He tapped me on the shoulder after class and pointed at his left loafer with a small smile. “It’s a snake,” the student council president at my Okinawan high school stated, the snake’s tongue slithering happily towards the concrete floor. Although I expected a joke or a chuckle to follow, the student council president ascended the stairs alongside me.

“Can I take a picture of it later?” I asked him, and the English teacher next to me asked him in Japanese. His smile widened, and he replied that it was OK.

Five minutes, I was taking this picture with my cell phone. Even his shoe snake smiled at me.

In my head, I thought, “You’d never see this kind of creativity and loafers on Western shoes.” Of course, there are spikes, but they’re a bit overdone. I’d take these shoes any day.

The Biggest “Domestic” Cat I’ve Ever Seen

When my husband and I shopped in the cat section of a local home improvement shop, this cat caught my eye. Maybe this cat looks like a normal cat in the picture, but he is as tall as my husband’s knee and he weighs 20 pounds–the biggest domestic cat I’ve ever seen in my life! And his asking price was a whopping $2,620!

My Ninja Cat!

When my husband told me drunkenly, “I have a surprise for you,” followed by a slurred set of directions, I didn’t know what to expect one late night. Maybe chocolate or a paper bunny rabbit from his school’s moon-viewing party (kangetsukai, 観月会). But when I picked him up, he pushed a black kitten into my hands. This kitten, as he said before trotting off to the bathroom in Family Mart, was named Ninja. While my husband spoke to his teachers outside of the karaoke building, one of the teachers screamed. The two beady eyes that looked at them belonged to Ninja, and my husband immediately scooped her up and claimed her as his.

Ninja playing in her cat grass. Yes, Japan sells individual plots for our lovely kitty.

Although we had no idea about her background, my husband and I took her into our humble abode. She’s been conquering every space of the apartment since she arrived–and I have no problem with that. Everything about her is black–her fur, her gums, even her button nose–except her bright green eyes. The green disappears the moment she spots me walking barefoot around the apartment before she pounces on my feet like a miniature panther. When I take a nap, I find her napping right next to my head, fast asleep.

The first night with Ninja was pretty exciting for me, and I’m sure, for her as well. I haven’t owned a pet since I was thirteen years old, and I really love them, especially cats. We put her in a box lined with a pink towel, and she curled up in the box and fell asleep. She didn’t meow or seemed scared.  My husband, drunk as he was, fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, but I couldn’t sleep soundly. I was thirteen years old again, feeling the excitement of having a cute little kitten in my home again. Around 5 AM, I heard her disappear out of the box. I couldn’t find her as I went through the house and found where she went to the bathroom. The excitement dampened (she ignored the makeshift kitty litter at the threshold of the bedroom), but I discovered her back in her box. I sat down next to the box, and her first meow came out of her mouth. It was small, almost the sound of a garbled, unused voice. She climbed on me, nuzzling me, until she settled on my lap and promptly fell asleep. That’s when I knew she was going to stick around.

In one weekend, we bought ninja many things: a “cat condo”, a pot of “cat grass”, a cat carrier, a large kitty litter, and various cat toys. The funny thing is she doesn’t need much to stay entertained. She likes a Daiso darts ball with Velcro, a braided draw string from my basketball shorts, and a used Spongebob plushie. And she’s really like a ninja; she’s stealthy and fast–until she attacks.

Filipino Lumpia in Japan

I come from a Filipino family, so lumpia, or eggrolls, are a common item at the dinner. Since I moved to Okinawa, Japan, I haven’t seen any lumpia–or, at least I didn’t think I did. In Okinawa, lumpia is called harumaki (ハルマキ), stuffed with the same fillings (grounded meat, carrots, onions, and seasonings). Despite my twenty-six years of living, I have never made lumpia from start to finish. My nay (“mother” in Tagalog), the master at lumpia in the family, always prepared everything, and my brothers and I would sit down to roll around fifty to a hundred lumpia. Now that I live thousands of miles away, making seemed easier than when my mom had catering deadlines and fundraisers looming over our heads. The lumpia wrappers come in small packs that you can buy at any local store. My husband and I mixed together grounded pork and beef with carrots, onions, green peppers, eggs, pepper, salt, garlic, and basil. I could only go by smell and consistency to make the lumpia before rolled out twenty lumpia and fried them. For our first time making lumpia on our own, they turned out really good.

My First Bingata!

My first bingata!

Bingata is a traditional Okinawan dyed cloth made by using stencils and mixed dyes, and dates back to the Ryukyu Kingdom period. The dyeing process takes influence from Javanese, Indian, and Chinese dyeing.

It’s really fun to make, though it’s a bit time-consuming. When I went to do make this bingata bag, the art teacher at my school already finished putting on the stencil outline of different designs on the bags. The brown rice paste, which had hardened into a wax-like substance, held the design, so I didn’t feel weird about painting outside of the lines. I had a little bit of trouble understanding the process through a short Japanese lecture until she visually showed us.

The hardest part about coloring the bingata, especially for non-artists, is putting down the base layer. The base layer is the lightest layer, and if you put in a dark layer first, there is no way of lightening it. If you want a yellow flower with shading, you’d have to paint in the entire flower in yellow first. Once all of the colors have been painted in, the cloth is dried (we used a hair dryer). After drying the cloth, the second layer of painting is added, and it’s more time-consuming than the base layer. I used two different brushes, a regular painting brush and a flat short-bristle brush specifically for dyeing.

This second layer is fun to do, in my opinion. Using the regular brush, I put a dot of color and quickly rub the color in a circular pattern with the other brush. It’s easy to do, but if you have a lot to shade, it takes a little while. Good thing I picked such a small design! Some teachers had trouble doing this part because putting too much paint down wouldn’t shade in the design but completely cover it. Once all of the shades have been made, the design is ironed, and later, washed under cool water for 30 minutes. The rice paste comes off, revealing the actual design (normally flowers, birds, and animals).

It’s good for me to learn about processes like this because I can use these techniques in different mediums.

Making the Escape 2 Years Later

Now that I’ve completed exactly 2 years in Japan as an English teacher, I feel more accomplished–and less “escaped” from the life in the U.S. I have a great job, a great husband, and an ever-growing confidence in my not-so-new surroundings here in Okinawa.

Looking back on the past year, things have really changed. I earned my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification, which has made me look at teaching completely differently than when I arrived in Japan 2 years ago. My Japanese has gotten better, and I can hold a conversation using easy language. I’ve even gone from my Japanese study books to reading Japanese comics in their native language (not an easy feat, if you ask me). And finally, I still spend every day playing with my husband (that’s something that hasn’t changed and I still enjoy).

Since this year, I’ve been looking at my future more seriously, more squarely. I’m thinking about things that I’ve always wanted to do, things that I wish I could’ve done, and all that good jazz. But you know, I’ve learned that thinking about things isn’t going to take me anywhere except nowhere. So, just like how I got my butt into shape and made my dream of coming to Japan a reality, I have to get other things in order.

I want to:

*buy a house

*publish a short story book

*lose weight

*help out more with school life

*learn how to play the piano and/or guitar

*improve my Japanese

*learn Spanish

I know I can achieve most, if not all, of these things in a year’s time.