29 February 2012

'Sir' is just fine by me

I ordered room service the other day, and the waiter that brought it up kept calling me "Sir." In Japanese, there is no gender difference for a courtesy title, like there is in English, with our tricksy "Sir" and "Ma'am." Everyone is just -san (e.g. Amos is Amos-san).

After butchering the Japanese language something fierce over the last few weeks, being called "Sir" made me oh so HAPPY.

28 February 2012


Ikebana :: the Japanese art of flower arranging.

Did everyone know about this besides me?
Everyone I've mentioned it to is all, like, "Oh, yeah, I did that in grade school."
Well, we did not do Ikebana in grade school in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Because I went to school in 'Merika.

I did learn Konichiwa at one point, though.
Too bad no one in Japan every says Konnichiwa.

That's disappointing.

But, Ikebana! Yes! Now that's rather wonderful.

It's delicate arrangements, with a focus on stems and leaves; symmetry, minimalism, and balance.

 Taught to us by one of the most welcoming Japanese women I've met yet, Kazumi Sensei.

My friend, E, brought me to the class. It's a lovely group of women, and we grab lunch and Starbucks before the class. It begins at 1, and we always show up at 1:30. 

Usually, one has to be ON TIME in Japan. But for Ikebana, it's okay.

Kazumi orders the flowers for us, and sets up a long workstation in her living room. We sit in a row and work on arrangements.

I did Maribunda, which is the most traditional... and easiest.
Some of the gals were on freestyle arrangements.

Kazumi flits and flies and gently corrects and adjusts our work.
Sensei that she is.

According to Wikipedia, Ikebana should be practiced in complete silence, so that followers can appreciate things in nature that are often overlooked.

Our classes are - decidedly - not silent.
In fact, BYOB: Bring your own baby.
Which is awesome.

At the end of class, we remove the flowers from the vases, package them up in newsprint, and bring them on home.

Because we live in a hotel, mine are now arranged in water glasses.

They add a certain amount of 'homeyness' to our room at the Marriott.

I'm glad they're here.

27 February 2012

Future Tripping

Since I've been here, I've begun to meet a great group of women. Most of them have been here at least two years, some a bit shorter, some quite a bit longer (5 or 7 (!) years). About half of them are leaving Nagoya in the next couple of months. Some are returning home, some for different assignments in China, Thailand, Canada. It's interesting and a little unsettling to confront the end of an expat assignment when I'm so freshly off the plane.

When we initially received our thirteen month assignment, I knew that would be the shortest I'd want to stay, even though some days it sounded like a long time. Two years, in our minds, was ideal.

In the short time that we've been here, I've also noticed my attitude also shifting a bit. I'm finding myself wanting to stay longer than our 13 month assignment. A year just feels so... well, short. I'm scared as soon as I fully settle in, I'll have to pull out. I confess I'm rather jumbled up about things: it was hard to move here, but I'm don't want out time here to be too short. It'd seem like too much of a stop-and-go bit, a tease, a lot of work for nothing. My mind is rolling over and over again: I'm here damn it! I pulled up our entire life and plunked it down here, and I'd rather like to stay awhile!

But here's the catch (and there always is one, isn't there?): it's not up to me. Or Amos. It is completely out of our hands, and a daily exercise in LETTING GO. I worry that it'll be a waste of time to 'only' be here a year, or that we should have come earlier. I have to calm myself and (quite literally) tell myself that what is meant to be will be. Things could change and we'll be here two years. Things could change again and we'll be sent home early. I have no part in what goes on in our time here, save my attitude, outlook, and how much life I can cram into the 13 months that we've got. And today? I'd like them to be serene, grateful, and fucking action packed. No one likes a Worried Wendy, and I'm trying to make some new friends and plan some crazy trips.*

* Which may be why, since I wrote this post, I've booked 3 separate plane tickets. Nothing like a deadline to make you move.

Image source on ffffound, via Pintrest.

24 February 2012

Dummy! Live it up!

Living at the Marriott, Amos and I are have been trying more than our fair share of restaurants in Nagoya. A part of me - the creative, slightly antsy, part of me -  is so ready to dig my hands into a kitchen and cook again; to make coffee and flip open a cookbook to leisurely decide what to make and spend hours strolling the grocery aisles to see what captures my attention. The lazy, and arguably wiser, part of me is arguing against that: Dummy! Live it up! People do your dishes for you! How hard is it to point to something and say "Kore o, kudasai"?! You! With your kvetching and your first world problems! Enough already!

(I occasionally have a running disagreement in my head, and one voice tends to channel an elderly Jewish woman. My little Irish Catholic heart can't help but love Yiddish: It's a language that forces you to speak with your entire body. I dare you to say 'mensch' and tell me it doesn't feel just so satisfying.)

Anyway... enough of the Yiddish (and what IS it with my overuse of italics today?) and baaaack to food. In Nagoya.

I have been pleasantly surprised at the variety of food here. More than sushi and gohan, we've eaten French, Spanish, (mediocre but cheap) Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Brazilian, Romanian, and we've only been here two (!) weeks (!!).

This week, we made our way to an Italian pizza joint that had caught my eye. It was, like most restaurants in Japan, tucked away in an alley, almost nondescript from the outside.The inside was skinny and long, tables at the front, pizza oven in the back, and a bar area shoved between. It felt like a sleeker, more hospitable Italian cafe: lines of wine bottles on wooden shelves against the white subway tile. Tables full of people smooshed in together, friendly arms reaching across for pizza and wine. Servers running back to the wood burning oven in the back, with the Japanese concept of service putting every other nation to shame. I immediately loved it.

Amos and I made use of my new phrase: grasu awain akai, kudusai - which may or may not be quiet correct but seems to get the point across - and we enjoyed some of the best wine we've had since we arrived as we waited for our ensalada caprese and wood fired pizza to arrive. Our pizzas were thin crust with very Japanese toppings: salami, capers, and jalapeños on one, pork, olive oil, and cabbage on the other. Japanese cuisine tends to emphasize extremely fresh flavors, with each dish constructed in a way that several individual flavors and textures shine, yet compliment each other seemlessly. That's why, in traditional Japanese cooking, you'll see several small 'parts' of a plate: a little of this, and a little of that, each with the presentation as important as the taste. There is no 'muddying,' no hodge podge.

I've noticed that this remains present even as the Japanese interpret foreign dishes. Our pizza had bites of the salty capers, then a hint of the rich salami, then the spice of the peppers with just a bit of cheese to compliment the crust and keep everything together. It wasn't sloppy; it wasn't greasy or messy. It was Japanese pizza through and through: a very detailed-oriented and well-executed presentation of a concept thought of by another country (Toyota anyone? This seems to be a running theme around these parts). What the Japanese do, they do well. And thoughtfully. While they might not come up with the idea, by golly, if they are going to do it, they are going to do it right.

My OCD side had reached nirvana.

I might have gotten a teensy bit carried away and announced that New York and Chicago had better watch out; they had some Asian rivalry. Don't fret: Amos pulled me back, and straight away at that. Let's be real.

But here? In Nagoya? It'd be mishegas to pass that up.

23 February 2012

Japanese Advertising :: Sushi

Your Japanese commercial of the day (and note to those at work - I'm looking at you, Morley - you can watch it without sound and its almost just as good...)

22 February 2012


I'm guessing that most of you read Joanna Goddard's blog Cup of Jo. A little while back, she had a great post on authenticity, complete with an email from her mom. (Does everyone email their Moms when stuck or confused? I certainly hope so. The Moms of the world have such collective wisdom.)

I loved her mom's email so much I couldn't help but excerpt a bit of it (and there's even more good stuff here).
"It seems to me that being authentic is being brave enough or just candid enough to be honest about what you are experiencing or who you are, whether it is popular are not. A person gives a gift to other people when they say, 'This is what happened to me or this is how I truly feel, no matter what the popular belief is about what I should feel.' ... You are never alone in what you are feeling."
Lately, I've been thinking about why I'm blogging. A part of it is to keep in touch with those I love. But it would be easier -- and much more personal -- to simply email or call or even use (gasp) Facebook. After all, in the blogging world, I don't get to hear what's going on in those lives back home. In that regard, this blog is a terrible form of communication; it's annoyingly one sided. It's a bit like I am chatting to myself in a hotel room. (Jokes on me because that is EXACTLY my reality these days.)

I write on Jackson Riley because I love writing. I love putting words on paper; I express myself so much better here then I do anywhere else. I feel the most ME with a pen in my hand (Okay, okay. The pen lost to the keyboard a long time ago). I like who I am when I write.

But why write here, I guess? Why write on a blog, especially since 'blog' has to be the silliest word in the English language? (Say it. Say blog. Doesn't it sound like there is a bunch of air in your mouth that just has to escape in a big, round bubble? It's a gross word.) Digression on lexicon aside, I don't really have an answer for why I write here. I wish I did. I certainly hope to one day. It will probably be one of those annoying things where I won't get the answer until much, much later, when the purpose and meaning of so many things is more clear. Fucking hindsight, always so smug.

Something about Jo's post began to bring it to the surface: I write to share my experiences in the most universal way I can muster. I think I've been aware of that, somewhere in the deep, and I'm just now beginning to be able to put words to it. I write to share my experiences, but not quite. I write to share my experiences in a way that you know what I'm talking about, in a way that resonates with you, even if we are totally different people, at totally different stages of our lives, and we don't even really know each other. I think that's why I write here as opposed to strictly in my own journal: I like the connection that writing like this brings, even if I don't get to hear the reverberations (and here's to hoping there are reverberations, even tiny ones). It helps this hotel room feel much bigger than the actual square footage.

All tattoo photos via Pintrest, with no discernable source. If you know where one is from, please help a girl out and I'll update.

21 February 2012


Can someone please explain this "joke" to me? Aspirin between the knees? I (really) don't get the relationship between Bayer and potential babies.

For what it's worth, it's hilarious to hear America's public debates as interpreted by the Japanese media. They think this whole idea - debating and denying women's rights - is more in line with Islamic theocracies than a first world developed nation. Touché, Japan Times. Touché.

20 February 2012

Pho - toes of Kee - yo - toe

Excuse me while I phonetically sound out everything around me. Living in Japan has made me flash back to first grade when my patient mother would say "Sound it out" with alarming regularity.

Amos-san and I had a delightful weekend in Kyoto. The Shinksansen was as amazing as I thought it would be, though it's never cheap to travel in Japan no matter which way you go. The train tickets were over $100 per person - Yeesh! However, shut my mouth: I can't really complain when the 45 minute journey through snowy countryside landed us in a city so central to Japanese history and culture. I've heard Kyoto equated to iconic cities like Paris and Istanbul, and it's so easy for me to now see why. 

There are so many temples and shrines, mashed up against concrete towers and modern city life, but - unlike other cities - these shrines seem in quite active use, with chanting and offering and pilgrim-ing going on right next to the tourists snapping photos. For the first time, I could relate to a non-Christian seeing the Notre Dame Cathedral for the first time, with the choirs, the faithful, the priests: One does not have to be part of a religion to immediately understand sanctity and spirituality.

We visited three temples: the Kinkaku-ji Temple, with it's glittering gold walls (Kinkaku means golden); the zen Ryoan-ji Temple, designated as a world heritage site for its kari-sansui or Japanese rock garden; and the Fushimi Inari-Taisha, with its famous lacquered red gates. Each was beautiful and breathtaking and totally unique.

For accommodations, we took a break from our home-away-from-home Marriott and stayed in a Ryokan -- a traditional Japanese inn -- complete with tatami mat floors, kimono robes, and futons (not to mention a bathhouse and beer vending machine in the basement.) Amoses for the win.

It was such a nice trip - exhausting, yet relaxing - which is fairly apt for our stay so far in Japan. It felt a bit strange to come 'home' and still be in a hotel, complete with room service and no way to call Mom to let her know we were back safe and sound. It makes me realize that weekends away are simply digressions on this much longer (and very exciting) adventure of ours.

17 February 2012

happy friday

Happy Friday, y'all. Since I'm across the international date line and most of you are back in the Western Hemisphere, I get to experience it half a day before you. Take it from me: Friday is coming your way, and it is just what the doctor ordered.

Amos and I are headed to Kyoto this weekend for a little adventuring. It'll be our first time on the Shinkansen (the Japanese bullet trains). I'm so excited; I've heard they are smooth and quiet and quite the way to travel. We'll be staying in a traditional Japanese style hotel room, and I'm already made a list of temples and sights I'd like to see (not to mention food I want to eat and tea I want to drink).

In my mind, we'll look something like this when we travel across Asia:

Truth be told, we'll probably look something more like this:

Bawh! Happy Friday.

Photo 1 Source
Photo 2 Source

16 February 2012

butt down. feet up.

As of last Wednesday, Amos and I are officially living in Japan. We braved the Ward and Immigration Offices to get our Alien Registration Cards and change over my immigration status from Dependent to Dependent with permission to engage in commercial activity for up to 28 hours per week* and, in the process, learned that bureaucratic offices are just as mind-numbingly boring in Asia as they are in North America. They even managed to have the same bland cubicles and filing cabinets. Perhaps there is a conspiracy to have all government offices worldwide decorated in the same shade of faded khaki?

We also did the cell phone thing, and I am now the proud owner of an iPhone 4S. Well, hello, Siri. Fun fact: cell phone contracts are just as much of a rip off in Japan as they are in the US. Sign up fees, cancellation fees, just for the heck of it fees. But the map function, texting, facetime, and the camera made it oh so irresistible. I have rejoined the smart phone masses, and it feels good.

I've also, ever so slowly, been adjusting. Life in Japan is... good. In those small three dots between "is" and "good," there lies a lot of Big Feelings and Adjustment. I am, so far, enjoying my time here. Nagoya is a wonderfully livable city. For the most part, it's laid out as a logical grid, cut through with meandering alleys dotted with tiny resteraunts and shops stacked on top of one another. Small temples and shrines are tucked away between big, shiny office towers. They are cafes all over, coffee can be had from any street vending machine, and cruiser bikes roam the streets. There aren't many tourist attractions and the only other gaijin are fellow expats and immigrants. Which feels kind of nice and homey; like a industrious midwestern city, an Asian counterpart to Kansas City or a pre-collapse Detroit.

In reading another blog (Bridget of the The Illiterate Peanut), she said something that resonated deep within me, and I've though of many times since I landed here a week and a half ago:
I remember one of my sister's friends describing some tenet of Buddhist philosophy that required you to meet each apparent setback or bump in the road of life (even Lesotho-sized potholes) with a disciplined sense of curiosity. When facing potential catastrophe, you were to sit back and muse, "I am so curious about how this will all turn out." I have no idea if this is a legitimate element of Buddhism or not, but the idea has returned to me many times through the years as an ideal reaction to stressful changes. Either that or massive numbers of chocolate chip cookies washed down with red wine, the whole concoction shaken up on the dance floor...
A disciplined sense of curiosity [though the red wine + chocolate chip cookies sound equally enticing]. This what I remember each time I feel a little (or a lot) lost. Japan is exciting, and my time here is a gift. But I left a community back home, one that I cared very much about. I had friends who knew me and had been by my side for years and years; my sister who manages to somehow be both a calming and strengthening touchstone; a job and work environment that, while not perfect, was challenging and fulfilling. I had purpose in Seattle. I was part of a community, and I contributed to a life that made me very happy.

I'm not saying I won't ever have that here. I will. But I am so CURIOUS on how, exactly, it will look. I don't have a job right now, I don't have children, I don't have a gig, or a project, or, really much of anything. I am so curious on how my life will fill up, what my days will look like, and which things are supposed to sink into me while I am here. Right now, I honestly don't know. I've never been so clueless in my life. I am trying to be Zen and accepting of my cluelessness. Some days are better than others.

When I was growing up, I would "swim the rapids," which is one of the biggest misnomers out there. One does not "swim" in Colorado rapids. You throw in a life jacket, your Chacos, synch them both up tight, and hop in. The only thing to do from there is sit butt down, feet up, and go. If you get scared and try to flip over and swim, you'll never win, and you'll be in much more danger. With your feet up, any rocks that come your way are pushed off, and your mouth stays, for the most part, full of air and not water. Flipped over, you're vulnerable and inhaling the river.

I think my life is a lot like that river (not to get too hippy dippy on you). I firmly believe that it is, ofttimes, decidedly out of my control. The only thing I can really do is sit butt down and feet up and trust that I am on the right course. Today, I'm oh so curious on where this river of mine is taking me.

* Oh man, that's another post for another day. But, yes, I can work in Japan! Officially!

a little late on the Valentine's Day love

Aren't these just the best?

14 February 2012

If only I had an iphone...

... I would be dazzling you all with hip (and, let's face it, a bit trite) Instagram iPhotos, but until the day I have an alien registration card and Japanese bank account, I'll be rocking the ol' point-and-shoot, which I might as well call the ol' forget-to-shoot because Amos and I left it in the hotel room the entire weekend. Whoops.

Don't fret - I promise Japan is cool. Here are tips for teens on how you, too, can rock a Japanese weekend like we did:

1. First of all, forget your bitter Ruby Red American grapefruit juice. Grapefruit here is a bit sweeter and whiter - I don't know the name (thanks, Google, for letting me down!) but I do know Whole Foods sometimes stocks it. I have been drinking glasses morning, noon, and night.

2. When grapefruit just doesn't cut it, stick to biiru, or beer. Don't fret, they only have one on tap, and it doesn't matter which one it is because they all taste the same, like a shitty pilsner. I mean, you and I will drink it - we're not that snobby - but the PNW microbrewing culture has nothing to worry about from it's Asian counterparts. Asahi, Kiran... drink a Coors Light and you're pretty much there.

3. Eat. Lots. Of Romanian, Japanese, Brazilian. Mostly meat. All delicious.

4. Get to the gym (see #3 above). Feel a little awkward that, because you are a guest of the hotel and not a member of the athletic club, you the are the only one not in 'uniform,' which is a white shirt and black gym shorts. But you did remember your new inside-only gym shoes, so you're not a total dumb dumb! Ask yourself if it would be weird if you bought a 'uniform' to match everyone elses? This is Japan! You want to fit in!

5. Do a bit more Rosetta Stone, which is still kicking you ass. Note to oneself: Dyslexia sucks now as much as it did back in school.

6. When overwhelmed about Japan, watch Japanese commercials. That shit it crazy.

PS: in the future, I promise clever photo montages! Pictures! Visuals! But, to be real here, I'm just trying to get back writing and that Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book isn't going to read itself.

13 February 2012

we are so middle class

the last time my sister was in town, we found ourselves using the restroom of a rather nice outdoor mall. upon leaving, i couldn't help but comment on the overall cleanliness of it / faux granite countertops. to which, my darling sister, replied:

I know. It's like a Hilton in there!

Ah, we are so middle class; it even creeps into our hotel references.

09 February 2012

Day 3.

chika okazumi  portrait | 11

Today is Day 3 of Life in Japan. I don't know when I'll stop counting the days we've been here, but I know I'm too early to stop now.

Anyway: How did we get here, say you?

Over the last couple years, Amos' work had asked him to apply to open positions in Japan. Same company, similar work, only in Japan instead of the States. He had always said no because -- for a variety of reasons -- it hadn't been the right time. We were seriously dating the first time he was asked. We were engaged the second time it came up. Then the third time they came around, we had been married just over a month. He asked me what I thought about it. I said Go ahead! Sure! Why not?

Within weeks he had applied, was interviewed, and was formally offered to position. They gave us a week to decide. At that point, things got real. We had to (quickly) wrap our heads around actually living in Japan right now, not just hypothetically living abroad at some-ambiguous-and-comfortably-future-point-in-time.

A week. We only had a week to decide if we could move out of Seattle, leave our tight knit community, our friends and family, our humble but homey apartment... and if I could leave my fulfilling (and stressful and actually pretty happy) job.

You bet we could? Wait, I mean: You bet we could! (I did and will continue to vacillate between the punctuation on that sentence.)

On January 3rd, I gave notice to my job.
On February 3rd, we moved out of our first home.
On February 5th, we boarded a plane for Nagoya, Japan.

On February 13th, we'll have our 6 month wedding anniversary.

Yeash. And Yay. And I need a glass of wine, which is where I'm headed right this second.

I'm writing this from our temporary home at the Marriott Nagoya Associa where we will live on the 30th floor until our belongings arrive, which is expected in three to six weeks. I'll be filling you in and keeping you up to speed, and - who are we kidding! - cluttering up the electronic pages of this blog with thoughts and thinking in between.

I'm actually quite excited to be back. A little nervous, truth be told, about many of the new things coming my way, but ready.

Until then,

stepping in, once again.

[ Japanese Fireflies _ images via Colossal ]

Well, let's just step on in, once again. I'll pretend it hasn't almost been a year since I've been posting regularly, and you all can pretend that not much has happened since then.

One day, I promise to catch you up on it all, but until that day, here's a synopsis:

  1. Got married.
  2. Quit my job.
  3. Moved to Nagoya, Japan.

Okay? Ho-kay.

Here we go. Apparently, I'm back. Only this time, I'm unemployed and in Japan.
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