a married lady

wedding

What a beautiful, crazy, wonderful, exhausting day. I’m so honored to be married to this man. I’m so honored to be part of his life. I’m ecstatic my whole family came over to the wedding, I’m thrilled to have felt the love of all of my friends, and I’m more than a little relieved that the whole thing went off without a hitch. Couldn’t ask for anything more!

Oh, and I performed the taiko at my own wedding :)

taikowedding

I’m not coming back to blogging yet – sorry! – but I’ve never ruled it out. I just am pretty busy with new job, my new husband, and my new apartment. If you like, come and support my activities: I run Rock On Iwate the Iwate Prefecture English Facebook page, and am smack dab in the middle of creating an English resources page for foreign residents. Like, share, etc. Thanks, and see you guys around soon!

what i’ll be doing

only tangentially related :P

only tangentially related :P

So after a wonderful five years as the Coordinator of International Relations for Iwate Prefecture, I’ll be ending my contract on July 25. It’s really been the best few years of my life, because I got to live in this magnificent place surrounded by beautiful mountains and even more beautiful people. I’ve worked on some pretty fascinating stuff – like going on a huge trip to America with high school students, wining and dining foreign dignataries, appeared in ILC promo videos – hell, I even dressed up as a sea urchin diver! Being here so long has been hard in some ways: I was here for the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami and all the tragedy it wrought, but I also got to see how people all over the world stepped in to help my adopted homeland. And I got to “grow up” here, transitioning from an insecure girl to a confident woman. Being in Iwate led to me meeting the love of my life, and friends I can count on for the rest of my life. I really can’t have been more lucky to be placed in Ihatov country.

Which is why I’m thrilled to announce that starting from August, I’ll be the new International Communications Officer for the Public Affairs Division of Iwate Prefecture! A few months back, I was offered a chance to stay with the prefectural government, and I’m absolutely honored that the people of the government have given me this opportunity. It will be an entirely new position, and so I’m not sure what exactly I’ll be doing, though for sure I will be working to beef up Iwate’s English presence online. I’m a little nervous but I’m also super excited to work with everyone to try to raise Iwate’s profile abroad. I’ll also be working with ILC-related initiatives at the prefectural level, and I’m hoping to link it all together to make Iwate a warm and inviting place for scientists, their families, and all future residents of Iwate.

I’m so excited, you guys. Since I’ll be doing a lot more work on the internet, I don’t know if I’ll be inclined to be doing much updating, but that’s not exactly a big change, now is it? :) I’ll let y’all know periodically what kind of work I’ll be doing, and I hope you’ll keep following me on my journey. I can’t wait to see what’s in store with my career – and with my life.

So, as always, yoroshiku to everyone out there, and don’t ever forget: The future can seem like a heaven of opportunity and it can seem like an terrifying abyss, but you never know until you get there.

walking down the road, hand in hand

my ring, yall

my ring, yall

They say there’s 2,000 things to decide when you plan a wedding and marriage to a person, which seems pretty right considering Satoru and I had to decide around 100 things alone when choosing an engagement ring.

(There’s three things happening this year: a) my wedding, b) my move to a new apartment, and c) my new job. Since I can’t talk about b (haven’t started looking lol) or c (top secret, bub), I’ll talk about a) for now.)

We went to about four jewelry stores before we chose one, and each one sat us down and gave us the bridal talk. The wedding industrial complex is HUGE here, and pretty much the only option since it’s unheard of to get married in a park with a picnic lunch or something. So you’re going to be spending big bucks pretty much anywhere you go – and these places want your cash. Every place you go to sits you down for hours, serving free drinks with diamond-shaped ice, gives you a lecture on the 4 C’s of diamonds (hell, one place is even called 4℃), and lets you try on a bunch of jewelry that’s more expensive than your rent. “This is the only engagement ring you’ll be buying in your life, so you need to pick something that you really love,” they gush. Hopefully, something you love costs 400,000 yen!

The reason Satoru and I chose the store we did was because you got a huge discount off of wedding rings if you bought them in a pack with the engagement ring. We even got a questionnaire regarding why we chose that particular store, with reasons given such as, “so many designs to choose from!” “good location.” Where’s the option for “cheaper than anything else out there”? Actually, I love my engagement ring – it’s a sweet little ribbon shape with a diamond in the center – but it was pure luck that it happened to be sold at a shop with a sweet deal. Price is pretty much the only thing we really find important, seeing as neither of us are wedding people and we don’t have a lot of ideas for what we want everything to look like. I want a ceremony and all that jazz, but I just don’t want to spend very much money on it when we’ve got our whole lives ahead of us. …Yeah, okay, I’ll stop humblebragging about being so practical about weddings now.

I’m actually a bit embarrassed about how chill I am about the whole thing, because the expectation is pretty strong that I have been planning my wedding since I was a ten year old. I have no dream dress, hairstyle, color scheme, menu, song, ceremony, nada. It’s not that I don’t care about my wedding – heck yes I wanna marry this amazing dude in front all the people that love us! – it’s just that I wish I could just show up on the day with all the decisions made for me. I just see a vague silhouette of myself in white, eating wedding cake, I guess. Also, he’s standing up at the front smiling in a J. Crew suit or something, hah. I care about my wedding, just not weddings in general.

My one friend introduced me to the Zexy magazine, which is basically a huge promotion booklet for wedding venues/jewelry/services tailored to your area. “Zexy is the engaged woman’s bible!” she said, while researching venues in Morioka for me. I have four months worth of Zexy now, mainly so I can look like I’m being proactive about my wedding plans. (The magazine itself is 75% advertisements for wedding stuff, and 25% pictures of white models in wedding garb talking about how they hope they don’t offend people at their wedding. This white person is pretty sure that if she offends someone, it’ll just be blamed on the fact that she is white, so really, no harm no foul)

After Satoru and I bought the rings, we started visiting weddings venues around Morioka. Early in February, I was at a party for the running club where I announced I was getting married. Well, apparently someone in the Morioka club works in sales at a hotel in town, so he of course tackled me immediately, wondering where we were having the wedding. He even called over a wedding planner from the hotel to show me pictures. “We’ll comp you the cake! You must have it in our hotel. Oh, your birthdays are the same day? How about that? Get married on your birthday! The day is open, after all!”

We’re not getting married on our birthday (neither of us is THAT bad at remembering important events that we have to have them all on the same day), but we will get married in that hotel. It’s nice to have an acquaintance to introduce you to stuff (and to discount stuff for you!) but also, it’s in a convenient location and most importantly the price is right. It’ll be an affordable wedding in a beautiful venue. That’s really all you can ask for!

We didn’t decide right away though. We actually took about 2-3 months to finally put a deposit down. Mainly, the both of us got advice to check out more than one place. Not only would we be able to compare services, but we’d get free dinner at any place we went to (hah!). The first hotel gave us a full course Chinese lunch after all. Neither of us were expecting to be led directly to their top-class Chinese restaurant (this is not noodles in a white cardboard box here), and even then, Satoru and I thought we’d just get a simple sample platter. Nope, we got the full course lunch! So we wanted to experience a little bit more of that while we could.

Many weddings take place in hotels in Japan, but they tend to get crowded, filled with other weddings going on at the same time, and are a bit confusing to get around. Satoru wanted to tour a “guest house” wedding, which is basically just a venue that is dedicated to weddings. There are a cluster of them on the outside of town, a place I like to call the Wedding Factory. Picking one at random, we set aside a Saturday to explore the place.

The place was GORGEOUS. Modern, beautiful, dipped in white and gold. A wedding planner was waiting for us as we parked and asked us immediately what was most important for our wedding. “The food? Or how about the atmosphere? The flowers?”

“The price, and the dates. We need this specific date or else my family can’t come,” I said.

Of course, they couldnt’ tell us the price or the dates before they take us through a long tour of the premises. That arose my suspicions. Let’s face it, they were selling us on the decor and hoping we’d fall in love before we worried about the price or availability. And listen, the place was beautiful. The dinner we got was absolutely delicious. The tour of the chapel was theatrical. I would be so lucky as to hold my wedding there.

“If you look through Zexy,” the woman said, “you’ll see that almost all of the venues in Morioka cost the same amount. So really, you’re just choosing based on what venue speaks to you.”

“True,” I said as I held Satoru’s hand, gazing at the authentic stained-glass window.

At the very end, another attendant came to us with a small box. “This is a present to you from all of the staff here,” she beamed. Satoru opened up the box; it was a beautiful arrangement of flowers. Pasted inside the inner box-lid was a calendar with a single heart mark. “Congratulations,” our wedding planner said. “Six months in advance is really fast so we had almost zero openings, but we had one right around the time you said!”

We grimaced. It was a Monday. “Thank you,” Satoru said.

We still got the hard sell (“This is one of the dates you mentioned, so what’s the problem? You just have to check with your parents, right? But after that you’ll come back tomorrow to put down a deposit, right? I can’t guarantee it will be open for much longer…”) and we were only able to get an actual estimate after Satoru went by himself the next day (so we wouldn’t be pressured into signing right then and there). Yeah, turns out the wedding estimates are NOT the same for every venue in Morioka. Only if you’re inviting hundreds of people will the money work out to be similar – we’re only inviting 50-60, which would have cost us almost THREE MILLION YEN.

I don’t want to spend this period of my life worrying about money if I don’t have to. I want to concentrate on the love I feel, and the sweetness of facing a new life together. I have other things to worry about (lol apartments and jobs lol) so I just knew I couldn’t hack a three million yen wedding (~$30,000). So we picked the other place. It’s much more affordable, and more importantly, they never pressured us into signing anything without confirming all the details first. “We’re not the best choice for people who really have a set idea in mind for their wedding – we’re only able to offer this package because we don’t have a lot of options for decorations and the like. Is that okay?”

“That’s perfect for me,” I said.

So Satoru and I are officially getting married this year, and the venue is booked. Now we have to worry about invitations but the nice thing about Japanese weddings is that everything is taken care of by your venue – I don’t have to contact florists or dressmakers or food vendors or invitation-makers. They have those things set up. Satoru and I just have to go in for a meeting once a month. Sounds good to me!

We’ll probably sign the actual legal papers sooner rather than later, to make it easier for me to apply for a spouse visa in case the job hunt goes bad. When I went to Tokyo recently for work (that whole Ama-chan stuff), I went over to the American Embassy to get some paperwork notarized. Of course, like the idiot I am, I forgot my actual American passport. The officers were nice and said they only needed my foreigner ID so it all worked out, but boy, did I feel like a total loser. Grown up enough to get married and I forgot my actual proof of citizenship!

It sure was nice to swear an oath that all my information was correct so that I could get married to one Satoru Wayama. It felt pretty important!

getting down to business

This is our logo for the ILC Support Committee - I designed it!

This is our logo for the ILC Support Committee – I designed it!

This weekend was packed with ILC-related volunteer work so I headed down to Mizusawa in south Iwate to help out. What a gorgeous weekend, tho! The flowers were in bloom, and the city was quiet and serene as I walked down the streets. Maybe a bit too quiet… I did have a nice stay in a local ryokan, but the “wall” was just a flimsy piece of paper, and the guy staying in the room next to me snored like he was his own logging business. The staff at the ryokan were all super nervous when I checked in too, mainly because I don’t think they’d ever seen a foreigner before, let alone a lady foreigner (this place was obviously geared towards city workers (men) who had missed the last train home). Well, I know I get miffed at that sort of attitude, but that attitude is what I’m here to change, which I can’t ever forget.

I’m a member of the ILC Support Committee, a group of foreign residents who get together to give suggestions to the government regarding how to support the influx of foreign researchers who will come to live in Iwate; I’ve mainly just been going to meetings thus far, but recently I got a chance to cohost a video on the local Hibuse Festival and this weekend I got to talk with Professor Takehiko R. Saito, a Japanese researcher at the University of Mainz. The Committee and Oshu International Association hosted a meeting so that we members could hear his thoughts on how to internationalize the area. It was a pretty cool discussion! I love going to these meetings because they’re filled with smart people who’ve been living in the community for a long time – I’ve been isolated from things because I’ve only ever worked at the prefectural government, I’ve never really needed Japanese support, and I live in the most vibrant city in the prefecture. We need voices from people who are living in the countryside, who don’t speak English or Japanese as a native language, and/or who work in the private sector. It really widens my perspective to hear their stories.

Professor Saito was also pretty adamant that things need to change and there needs to be a LOT more support for foreign residents, or else nobody is going to want to come. It’s true. I do my best to help out the JETs in my part of the woods, but the simple truth is that I’m too far away for them to make use of me. They need someone nearby. They need English speakers at the various services and facilities that they use. Their fellow teachers are supposed to help them, but what if they don’t get along with their supervisor? Even the coolest people have personality clashes. There needs to be more support available, so a person doesn’t get stuck with their only lifeline being an nasty boss, an unreliable friend, or worst of all, an abusive spouse.

There was a lot of talk about what the government can do, but what can we do, as normal citizens of the area? Simple stuff so far – participate in Oshu City Youtube videos, internationalize the local library, talk with local doctors about how they can improve service. I had an idea to visit Chambers of Commerce and give workshops on dealing with foreign clientele, and even creating a dictionary of common Japanese-English phrases and words used for restaurants, tourism, and emergency situations. Logistics would be tough – we’re all doing this for free after all. But I really do believe that our presence at the table is vital. We can invite an international science and research facility to the area, but without the involvement of the community, it’s just not going to be an attractive place to live and work.

Furthermore, all of northern Japan is suffering from the greying of society. This is such a huge chance to revitalize the entire area. Can you imagine these towns, which are currently quite lifeless and barren, when an influx of foreign residents are walking down the street, having fun, living their lives? Can you imagine the hopes and dreams this will give to students in the area? Can you imagine the importance Tohoku will have on the world scale? It excites me everyday to think about it – and I consider it my job to excite others about it too.

(On the other hand, that’s a really Western way of thinking – that we have to come in and save their way of life. I think we can be overidealistic and forget that an influx of foreigners are going to mean a lot of the same social problems we have in the states as a multicultural society. I don’t ever want to forget to include the opinions of people who were born and raised and live in the area. Some people are just not going to want this. I think that even if we disagree, we have to respect their views and figure out ways for everyone to be happy. I just think we have an opportunity to really improve people’s lives)

Professor Saito will be around the entire week visiting schools around Iwate, and he’s lit a fire under my butt to get out there and do more!

i can’t stop staring at it, which is weird

omg

After a four hour finishing frenzy yesterday (knitting up the button facings, sewing in the buttons), I finally finished my first ever garment! Man. That was a lot of work. I wouldn’t have picked this pattern if left to my own devices, but I only had a finite amount of yarn (present from Mom for my birthday) and this was the only pattern I had that would work. It was a Japanese pattern too, so while I had to learn a lot on the fly, it all worked out! If you look at it up close, it looks pretty rough and even nasty in some parts (like the godawful seams), but from far away it looks pretty luxurious. I’m super proud of it! It even fits mostly okay even though I knit exactly what the Japanese pattern said, and Japanese patterns are known for only fitting Japanese women. It’s okay, because knitters are mostly old ladies here, who have just a tiny bit more girth to them :)

I can’t even wear it now because it’s gotten too warm for it, but I just wanted to shout to the world: I finished a sweater! I knitted the whole thing!

I, uh, don’t really want to do this again for a long while!

we changed! – whoops no, we didn’t!

Credit: The Shoze Blog

Credit: The Shoze Blog

Due to the recent vulnerability issues with Internet Explorer, we got an office-wide order to switch our browsers to Google Chrome. Well, that’s pretty cool, I said. I’ve been using Google Chrome since I got here (since, when I got here, I had an ancient computer and Chrome was marginally faster when using the web, and, well, I’m a hipster too). But I guess it turned out to be a grand old Tragedy of the Commons, because as soon as everyone started using Chrome, our internet connection dropped to a snail’s pace. All the fancy things that Chrome does ends up slowing down the internet when everyone on a connection uses it.

They’re telling us we have to go back to IE now that it’s fixed…but I just want to go back to using Chrome? I was using it before it was cool after all.

I was just so amazed that for a short second everyone in a Japanese office was using software OTHER than Microsoft Internet Explorer. Do you know the market share this thing has in Japan? I only just recently got an upgrade to Windows 7 because if we didn’t we’d get attacked by hackers, or whatever is happening to the no-man’s land of Windows XP. In a way, I can understand – it’s not like I need the latest software to do my job – but it’s a little bittersweet to get a new computer with only a few months left to go.

Incidentally, my personal computer is about 5 years old and about to croak, and I really REALLY want a Microsoft Surface Pro for some reason (brainwashing I guess). But I just keep looking at the price and being like, hah, no, thank you, I’m good. I’m sure I’ll just keep procrastinating!

*speaks gibberish to the governor*

Ama-chan, Fujipon, and Rumi-chan ("come again?")

Ama-chan, Fujipon, and Rumi-chan (“come again?”)

This is me in full Ama gear, right before I appeared in the governor’s monthly NicoNico Douga broadcast. “Amanda, again, not all of us are weeaboos. In English, please?” Ama are women who dive to collect things like sea urchin and oysters, without any scuba gear or flippers. In particular, Iwate’s Kuji City has really been put on the map with last year’s “Ama-chan,” an extremely popular drama that starred a young ama. And NicoNico Douga is Japan’s Youtube/internet broadcasting service. The governor goes on once a month with local talent Fujipon (the lady in the middle) to talk about Iwate’s reconstruction and culture. And, finally, the only reason I’ve gotten to participate in these things is that my name just happens to be “Amanda” which is close enough to Ama-chan.

(The PR division asked me to help hold a small skit in English for some foreign officials in Tokyo a couple months ago, and ever since then they keep calling myself and Rumi-chan up there back to put on the costume)

I’m actually going to Tokyo this weekend to the NicoNico convention being held in Makuhari. Iwate’s got a booth set up and is even performing a skit live with the governor. So…I’m going to be Ama-chan again. The only problem is thus far, I’ve only had to act in English. Listen, I’m no actress. I whet my appetite for thespian-ship with my performance in a few school plays a decade ago, and since then, YEAH, I’ve been good. But at least acting in English has a chance of going somewhat well. The NicoNico skit is all in Japanese. And not like, normal Japanese. We’re talking about full-on hardcore Iwate-accented Japanese.

For example, the word “janaika” (isn’t it?) becomes →”deneega” (ain’t it?)

…Me shouting “WAGATTA” while still trying to be “cute” (Ama-chan is supposed to be a 15 year old girl) is entertaining to say the least. All the PR division people are reassuring me, saying it’s “cute” that my accent will be wholly different sort of “country” than their’s, but I dunno. While I was rehearsing with the governor yesterday, he just this severe look on his face. When we came to a scene where I had to call out to him, he was just like, uh, what did you call me? “Eki-cho!” “Gijo?” “Eki-cho!!” “…Hmm.”

So this should be fun. Not even trying to think about all the uh, nerds who watch NicoNico and will be like who is this random foreign girl? How dare she act like she’s even a tenth as cute as the real Ama-chan!

"haters gon hate, amirite?"

“haters gon hate, amirite?”

Cool Kitakami!

Hey! Here’s the promotion video I participated in recently for Iwate Prefecture and the International Linear Collider. Man! I can’t watch myself, and looking at the view count, neither can anyone else! Haha, I kid, I kid. Glad I got a chance to take part in showcasing some of my favorite parts of Iwate. Take a look at the other videos below:

Life in Iwate

The Future

The ILC

baby blue, pikachu

babybluepikachu

Just pretend I’m wearing a dress with a Pikachu pattern on it.

Spring! I can feel it in my bones. I went for a run tonight and the wind had a warmth, had a body to it. Mount Iwate may still be capped with snow, but the buds of the sakura only need a few weeks more until they greet the sun.

The prefectural office is full of people who are starting their new lives, so it certainly is the season of change. But for me, the end of summer still marks the start of a new “year,” just because that’s when school always started…way back when. (Ugh. Next year is my 10 year high school reunion, effff) The only thing I really need to change at the moment is … my phone, my camera, my computer. Unfortunately, I can’t do any of that until I secure my next form of employment (and make a down payment on a wedding. and make a deposit on an apartment. and buy a new suit, etc)… Well, whatevs. I’m still feeling pretty buoyant by all these people changing around me!

Just gotta watch out for gogatsu-byo~

(JPN lesson: gogatsu-byo (五月病);depression in the month of May, because you just spent the last month uprooting yourself to a new job or school and are just now coming down from the adrenaline high)

moving on up

jinjiidothelast

After four years in the same office at work, the NPO, Culture, and International Relations Division has moved three floors up, and folded into another division to become the: Office of Young People, Women, NPO, Culture, and International Relations (I think. I forget the English name we came up with, we should have just called it Office of Miscellaneous Stuff). This “office” is just a small space set aside in an even larger office, which I forget the name of. So! After four years in a cozy little office with my desk in front of a choice window, I’m now surrounded with fifty people and my chair is in a constant war with the back of the secretary’s chair.

Well, I knew I had to experience a true Japanese working environment at some point!

A ton of people in my division are transferring out too, including my two big bosses,the Chinese CIR, and my darling lady supervisor. Ugh! Personnel transfer always sucks, no exception. I will never get used to people moving in and out every April 1st! Yes, usually the new people are pretty chill, and we all become friends eventually, but it’s just this moment of dread I face every year. Who out of all my friends are leaving? Who am I going to miss the most? Who the heck am I going to eat lunch with?

Nothing will compare to the transfer three years ago, when Junya and friends left, and to be honest, there was no one that really ever took their place (or X’s or R’s either, when they left the following year). I still miss them, so badly, if I let myself think about it. But other things changed. You need change, or you can’t grow. Nothing really changed at all for me in 2013, except for having an exceptionally busy August. Everything else (relationship, work, living environment) remained unchanged from 2012 (which was admittedly the Year of Amanda). And I think I suffered from that. I withdrew a bit. Frankly, I withdrew a lot, mostly into my relationship, and into knitting, I guess.  I don’t regret staying a last year as a CIR, but I think I stagnated. No, I know I did.

The thing is, in four months, I will be the one who is leaving. Which is also strange, and weird, and frightening, and…exciting. But mostly stressful. Think about it: In a year’s time I will have ① changed jobs (hopefully lol) ② moved to a new apartment ③ gotten married, hello!!! While these are all pretty awesome things that I am looking forward to, I know myself enough to know that I get weird during these times of change. When I first came to Iwate, I don’t think I like, spoke to anyone at work for two months – and this was a job I had dreamed of for YEARS. This was a place I wanted to be. And yet I still felt so strange and out of place. Don’t even get me started on my personal life at the time. SO I expect there to be growing pains.

But I am so ready for this. In all told, I will have spent five years as the CIR of Iwate Prefecture, five years living in a cozy apartment a hop, skip, and jump away from the main street, five years growing and changing and finding out what it is in this life that might make me happy. Still not sure about all that stuff, but who is? Here’s to the last four months before the next transitional phase in my life – let’s make the best of them!