May 23, 2013 by amanda
May 20, 2013 by amanda
I was excited for the Umineko Half Marathon in Hachinohe mid-way through May, but a combination of a cold and lack of training had me a little worried that perhaps this would be the first race I would have to bow out of. But, hah! I said. I’ve felt this way before, and I’ve crushed all those puny kilometers (in this case, crush means that I finished, barely). I’m not scared of the distance any more either – 21 kilometers?! Child’s play! I figured as long as I went slowly I’d be fine.
It was a gorgeous race too; the course ran by the famed Kabushima Shrine on the water, surrounded by umineko seagulls, and then proceeded down a coastal road, with the sea and the wind a few meters away to the left. I don’t mind running when I’m surrounded by a beautiful coastal vista, you know? So I knew I would be alright if I just took it slow. Besides, with all the seagulls flying around, you didn’t want to stand in one place for too long, if you know I mean.
So I ran slowly but surely. So slowly, in fact, that I ended up running out of time around the 18km mark. Three kilometers left to go! Three! That’s like…a mile. That’s it. They couldn’t just let me go? It wasn’t even that I was any slower than running Sendai last year – I think they were just actually enforcing the time limit. So I had to take the bus back, sweaty and upset and gross. It kind of sucked, and I was pretty humbled by my first non-finish. I know I’m not a fast runner, and I don’t think I’ll ever be. I just wasn’t too cool about being the slowest runner. And it just really burned that I didn’t get to finish. However slow I lumber along, I pride myself on always lumbering past that finish line.
But I regrouped – even if I had made a poor showing, my friend had run his best half marathon ever, which is pretty awesome. That’s the joy of running – the only person you’re competing against is yourself. Everyone else is just smiles and encouragement. (The other joy would be those fleeting glimpses of the Most Beautiful Man). Running is a pretty cool way to spend your time, as long as you don’t go down the rabbit hole and post a status update after every single practice run. (“YEAH! I ran 2 kilometers in 20 minutes tonight!”)
The only person beating myself up for not finishing was myself. I realized that I hadn’t really failed at running before, but that’s because I haven’t really let myself fail. I’ve made such a slow progression in distance because I don’t want to have to give up halfway. But it’s gotta happen once in a while – failing, I mean. In fact, getting upset about it would just prevent me from trying again – it would be a defense against the pain of failing, of growth. This is getting pretty deep for a blog about running, but hating myself for running 18 kilometers on a beautiful course is just plain dumb. I mean, so what? Am I going to give up on running now? Ridiculous. That was a thought I actually had, too, for a few seconds on the bus. That’s how ridiculous I am, as a human.
So, yesterday, I ran a 10k, and though I was humbled by my recent defeat in Hachinohe, I knew I could use this to get back on the proverbial horse. It was a course I’d run before, it was a distance that I was very comfortable with, and I was feeling damn good. And I ended up shaving ten seconds off my best 10k time. I may yet fail again, but that’s just another opportunity to grow. I guess you just have to lose against yourself time and again.
And, anyway. Even if you reached a state of perfection, you’d have no where else to go but down.
May 16, 2013 by amanda
One chilly night after English conversation club was over, I was off to meet Satoru for a drink when I noticed I had a missed call. It was from Y-kun. My heart fluttered just a tiny bit. Huh. I hadn’t seen him in a while. I hadn’t seen most of those boys in a while. I pulled my jacket tightly around me and called him back as I walked into town.
“Hey, Amanda, how are you?”
“I’m fine, how about you? Are things busy in Miyako?”
“Yeah, same as ever,” he replied. “So, actually, Junya and Sasaken and I are meeting in Morioka this weekend.”
“Yeah, we’re planning on going on a trip together for Golden Week, so we wanted to meet and hash out the details.”
“Whoah, are you going outside the country?”
“Haha, no. Just outside the prefecture. But I figured since we were going to be in town that we should call you along too.”
“Little old me?”
“Yeah, are you free?”
I paused, for all the reasons and excuses you’d expect me to pause. Deep breath. Heart pounding, I said, “Yeah, I’m free. When are you meeting?”
April 11, 2013 by amanda
Recently, I’ve been trying to fit in training for another half-marathon before my mom and step-dad come for a visit (and a trip to Fukuoka to see E for Golden Week after that). This is in between manically cleaning my room and getting super busy at work, etc. etc. I’m certainly doing better than last year’s Sendai Marathon, where the longest I had run was like, 12km before trying to run a half-marathon. “If I can run 12km, I can somehow…run double that distance when it comes down to it!!”
This year I can tell I’m a bit stronger of a runner. This weekend I was running on a course of my own design, planning to go up the mountain road behind my apartment and then over to a pond to the north of the city and back. 17km on hills, flat trails, and roads. Girl, yeah! You can do this! You certainly have nothing else to do today!
Incidentally, there are occasional bear sightings within Iwate, which is why you have to carry a bell with you when you go hiking, to alert them of your presence so they don’t eat you (?). I’ve run this mountain course before, which is surrounded by houses and business and a zoo (!) so there’s enough human civilization around to limit bear maulings. But I always wonder while I am wandering – dude, what if I did get eaten by a bear? People would just be like, that girl was a dang idiot.
So I’m running the first like, kilometer of my course. I’m part way up the hill, running through a forested road, and I come out by a rickety old business and a small farmfield. Nothing out of the ordinary. All of a sudden I see a grey shadow moving about 50 feet to my right, and I stopped short. CRAP what the hell is that-
It wasn’t big enough to be a bear so I thought it might be even worse – a wild boar. But no, it was just one of these guys:
It was a kamoshika, or Japanese serow. It’s kind like a deer or a goat, ie., a herbivore ie., phew. Pretty much harmless. It stopped padding along as soon as I did, and we both stared at each other for a good minute. Uh okay. I’m just going to walk slowly up the road out of sight… I stepped gingerly forward, making my way up the road, and keeping eye contact with the kamoshika. Her eyes followed mine as she watched me walk up the path and she stayed in that spot until I couldn’t see her any longer.
And that was the extent of my encounter with nature this time around. I won’t lie, it was pretty beautiful. I had a moment there, locking eyes with this majestic beast – but seriously, that is some Princess Mononoke-type shit right there.
Well, Ashitaka is from Michinoku, no?
April 2, 2013 by amanda
It’s April again, and I had to say another round of goodbyes. There’s another empty space now in the division. I-san has been transferred to the Tokyo office, meaning that my oldest friend here is now gone. Meaning I’m now the only one left from 2009, which is kind of weird. There was a time when I was the lowest “kohai” underling in the ranks. And now, timewise, I’m the big sempai. They aren’t going to let me near the big boss’ chair anytime soon though, of course.
But I’m heading towards the start of my fifth, and final, year as a CIR. Yes, I recontracted – and I didn’t say much about it, just like I haven’t said much about anything at all lately. I’ve been busy, and all that, but I’ve managed to blog fairly regularly during busy periods before. No, I just find myself not really being excited about writing, and not having exciting things to write about. I’m happy, tremendously so, but the funny thing is, I’m not a talented enough writer to make “happy” into something interesting.
I’m just kind of bored about writing about myself. But I think that’s okay.
Lest you think that I’m only staying around because I found a man, that is only eighty percent of the reason. I’m actually going to be working on something awesome for my last year here – something that’s going to be using all the skills I’ve gained here, and I know it’s going to be a great experience. I finally get to do something major, and I’m thrilled – I really wanted to get some more responsibility. It’s a risk, and it’s scary, but I know I’m ready for it. And yea, that’s about all the info I can give you for now.
Compared to the decision to stay a fourth year, staying a fifth year was a relative no-brainer (which many JETs say who make it Unicorn status), and there are a lot of reasons for that. But mostly, the moment I realized I might not be able to stay another year was when I was sure I wanted to. It was made clear to me from the beginning that Iwate doesn’t normally recontract CIRs for even four years. I’m a special case already, and there were a couple weeks last year when I was sure they weren’t going to give me the opportunity. For someone who was sure she was going to leave after the fourth year when she recontracted for it, I was in tears when I found out it probably wasn’t going to be a possibility. Be it from a love of Iwate, a desire not to mess up my fairly new relationship, or even just the inertia of being here for four years, the news hit me like a ton of bricks.
I remember at the time talking to I-san, wiping tears away from my face, that I didn’t know who would make the final decision, but whoever it was, I wanted them to know that I wanted to stay a final year to do all I could for Iwate. “I know. I’ll tell them,” he nodded.
A couple weeks later, my bosses suddenly took me aside for a meeting. “As you know,” the director said, “Iwate Prefecture usually only contracts CIRs for three years. You were a special case, because we thought it best to keep you seeing as the other two left last year.”
“Yes,” I said, looking down. Here it comes. My heart sank, but hey. At least they were taking me aside to tell me personally. My hands clenched into fists on top of my skirt. Brace yourself, honey.
“But,” the director continued, “this year we have some special projects going on between Iwate and America.” He looked me in the eye, hesitantly, and said, “We want you to stay and help us complete them to the best of our ability.”
“What?” I straightened up in my chair. “What, really? Of course! Yes! Leave it to me!”
So that was that. It took a combination of my experience and a whole lot of luck, but I was guaranteed a fifth year. I certainly wasn’t going to mosey off to Tokyo now.
I had hoped that I would be working on this project with I-san, the friend that had been by my side for four years now. But, 2012-2013 was his fourth year. Iwate Prefectural employees don’t usually stay in one spot for three years, let alone four. But I think I hoped that maybe, just this once, they’d grant an exception. Just like they had granted me one.
A few weeks ago we heard the results of the personnel transfer for April 2013. “I-san,” our director called him up to the front of the room. He bowed, and handed him a piece of paper with both hands.
“You’ve been transferred to…the Tokyo office.”
So, I-san, who I’m pretty sure fought for me to stay my fifth year, is the one going off to Tokyo – and I’m the one staying here. That’s just the way life is, I guess.
We’ve gone on shopping trips to Sendai, drove through the famed Corridor of Snow, done a camping trip in Akita and watched the setting sun on the west coast, drank like fish on Main Street, listened to each other’s worries and fears. There’s about 20 years between us, and two different cultures – but he always treated me, and R, and X, and everyone else as an equal.
I’m going to miss working with him a whole lot. But this was going to happen sooner or later, so all I can do is accept it with open arms. Life changes so rapidly and indiscriminately, but it’s only through that change that you can appreciate what you had, I think.
“I really did want to work on that project,” sighed I-san.
“I really wanted to work on it with you,” I agreed. “I don’t really know what I’m going to do – I’m going to have to do this with a person I don’t even know.”
“You’ll be fine,” he smiled. “All I know is that everything is going to go fine as long as you’re at the helm.”
I smiled. “Yeah, but without you, I never would have been able to come this far.”
His desk is no longer his desk now, just as K-san, and T-san, and R, and X have all left their desks to someone new.
And next year, in August, I’ll be leaving my desk too. And you know what?
It’s kind of exciting.
March 11, 2013 by amanda
東日本大震災。Higashi Nihon Daishinsai.
The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.
I write those words often when I translate, in either language. Iwate Prefecture still sends out letters, produces reconstruction chronicles, thanks the world for its support during such a tragedy. Every time, it’s like a mantra: Higashi Nihon Daishinsai. Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Tohoku Disaster. Iwate’s Reconstruction. 未曾有な大震災から半年、1年、2年。これからの復興。
I write these terrible words, and I don’t think about the meaning behind those letters, behind those strokes. They’re just words to me, to all of us, if we don’t think about what they really mean.
How else could I live?
Just like September 11th, the Twin Towers, the terrorist attacks. I said those words, I heard those words so many times that I got used to them. I got used to them, and then I could distance myself from them. The words lost their power as I decoupled their sounds from the memories. I didn’t forget. But I could compartmentalize it away so that I could move on.
It’s so selfish. But time keeps flowing onwards, and you either let yourself flow with it, or you get stuck and drown.
Then something reminds me. Because I didn’t forget. I could never forget. And as that horrible day and that horrible month and that horrible year come back to me, the tears well up.
All I can do is sit there, and remember, until it passes. And vow to do more…but there’s nothing more to be done.
Two years feels like so much time, and yet, the memories remain etched in stone.
兵庫県西宮市 松浦 末子
今 夜空の星に言います ありがとう 」
Can You Hear It?
Even when you did the shopping
Even when you changed a lightbulb
Even though everyday there were so many things I should have thanked you for
When we were together
It just seemed so obvious
And we never said it
Now I look at the stars in the midnight sky and say,
by Matsuura Sueko (Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture)
March 4, 2013 by amanda
Adventures in Tokyo with E!
(E, as in the person, not the drug)
February 20, 2013 by amanda
I am an absolute crazy person about knitting right now. I really am on my way to being a “knitter” – hoarding balls of yarn, casting on five projects at a time, obsessing over different stitch options, making yarn out of stray dog hair, etc. Luckily, my apartment is too small to hoard yarn so I have to contain it to this adorable wicker container I bought. Yeah, I bought a wicker container, and then got really excited about containers and then thought about actually cleaning and organizing my living space in disarray. THEN I got to work and cleaned out my whole desk, with some parts that hadn’t been touched since I got here. There was a big tray of floppy discs wedged in the back, to give you an idea of the last time it was cleaned out. I’m writing down organizing systems on stray pieces of paper. WHAT’S GOING ON?
Occasional cooking and cleaning → sudden urgent need to start Pinterest → taking up knitting → obsession with organizing and cleaning → ? (Beyonce level of perfection?)
Anyway, there really isn’t much to write home about. I had a wicked temper tantrum last night when I ran to catch up with a bus, thought he was going to stop for me, and then the bus rolled off just as I got to the door. I was so angry that I dropped the f-bomb and kicked the concrete bus stop post. I had just finished a work out so steam literally was coming out of my ears. Then I proceeded to delete a long email I had been working on by accident, and got home and almost ruined my lace project when stitches started slipping off the needle. I just had to give up and go to bed early.
It’s stupid, because I have nothing to be stressed about (and to beat you to it, it’s not that time of the month either). I think it’s my annual February Freakout. A lot of things broil up and bubble up before the month of February is done.
①It’s been winter for three months now
②The lack of sunlight and the chore of trudging to the gym twice or more times a week
③Ice, ice, everywhere, so I can’t bike or run anywhere. So I have to take a bus.
④The fact that I ALWAYS have to wait a half hour for a bus that’s completely crowded, and there’s always a woman who elbows me, and the old people who rush to get in front yet take the most time to get anywhere, and it always takes me twice or even three times as long to get home
= a lot less solitude.
I know it’s all very much First-World Problems, but for however much I enjoy being around people, I’m an introvert in that I need time alone to recharge. I just get irritable and hateful without it. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will change, but I do understand that I have limits and I have to have those days where I do nothing and I don’t talk to people and I ignore my phone. I get less of that time in the winter, and that’s how the February Freakout happens. Last year I started crying after I slipped for the 1000th time on the incredibly icy path home. I think I spent all of February 2011 being mad at T-san. It’s just not a good month.
And that’s why I over-scheduled every weekend this month!! …sigh. BUT I am going to Tokyo this weekend so I’ll get to knit on the shinkansen :)
February 12, 2013 by amanda
I couldn’t remember a time I had slept so little on a plane back home.
I had taken the night bus to Tokyo again, thinking it would tire me enough to force me asleep in the dry confined space of the airplane, but I slept in the dry confined space of the bus instead. The plane was full of young Japanese cosmetology students (judging from their hair and attire), American service men and women, and young families with young babies. Just like most flights home to America during Christmas. I had ridden enough now to know.
I snuggled into the soft, black scarf Satoru had given me for my (our) birthday, and busied myself with movies I didn’t want to watch. (Not surprising coming from a reality tv show lover like myself but: Katy Perry’s Part of Me is actually entertaining.)
Mom was waiting for me in Philadelphia, with my stepdad and stepbrother. We drove home, the familiar grey skies of winter in the tri-state area above us. Mom had work that night, so she went to bed early. I had a drink with my stepbrother to get myself sleepy, and we talked about gun control rather diplomatically until I was ready for bed. I slept for 11 hours.
The next night I woke up at 3 in the morning and never got back to bed.