Taking Stock Part I

It’s almost June. The sakura have bloomed and fallen, teachers and colleagues have transferred, the new school year has begun and the weather is gearing up for monsoon season. A lot of things have changed, but my life remains largely the same. However, now that my final semester is beginning to pick up, I’m starting to have that “fluid” feeling – the feeling that I’m neither here nor there, have one foot out the door, etc. In other words, soro soro, it’s time to go. But before I actually leave, I thought I’d make a few lists to remind me of what I’m leaving, and what I’m going back to:

Five Things I Won’t Miss About Japan

1. Summer. It starts with monsoon season and then rapidly deteriorates into something hot, humid and eczema-producing. Your clothes never dry, you never dry and you still have to teach and sometimes ::shudders:: play in it. (Best way to combat Summer: Moisture-wicking clothes and baby powder.)

2. Taking off my shoes whenever I enter a building. Don’t get me wrong, it is cleaner. And I don’t mind it when I’m entering my home or somebody else’s. But sometimes it can be a total hassle. Like when you just need to run inside real quick, or when you’re wearing ankle socks and pulling off your shoes pulls off your socks as well. Or worst of all, when you’re wearing socks with holes in them or white socks with black pants. Clearly taking off my shoes all the time really only bothers me because I need better socks =P. (Sometimes when I forget something (every time I leave my house), I take off one shoe and hop on the shoeless foot while I grab my keys, wallet, whatever. It probably takes just as long as to remove both shoes and walk, but it’s what dunks my cookies.)

3. Lack of counter space. I hardly ever cook, or even venture into my kitchen unless I’m on my way to the shower, and it totally drives me crazy that I have to half squat by my table to chop vegetables/prepare food. You see, I’m too tall to stand by table and too short to sit by it and work comfortably.

4. Automatic doors that don’t open until the last second. At first I thought it was kind of cool because I felt like I was on the set of Star Trek – you know, you walk up to the door, pause a bit, then it opens. Now it’s just annoying. But that might just be because I’ve run into doors that haven’t opened in time.

5. Tatami. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, it’s traditional. But it’s also completely impractical. You can’t wear shoes on it. You can’t get it wet. If you spill on it, whatever you spilled inevitably gets caught in the weave. It holds allergens like nobody’s business and it’s slippery as hell. Oh and when you vacuum it, you have to make sure you’re not going against the grain (and by the way, they NEVER position tatami mats so that they all face the same way in any given room).

Five Things I’ll Miss About Japan:

1. Genkan. A genkan is where you take off your shoes before entering a house. There is almost always a step delineating the shoes-permitted vs. shoes restricted areas and the step height varies. Mine is about the height of a step-aerobics block, which is what I use it for. This means that I sometimes wear my shoes in the shoes restricted area, but it’s only in that one spot and it’s got hardwood flooring there anyway. When I’m not using it to get my 80’s on, it’s the perfect place to leave people waiting without feeling guilty for not inviting them in (good for deliveries). One downside to the genkan is that it’s considered “public space.” So if your door is unlocked and someone comes a-calling, they will let themselves in as far as your genkan while bellowing out a greeting.

2. Four distinct seasons. When I lived in Oregon, the joke was that Portland had two seasons: rainy and August. California isn’t much better, but I’m not complaining because we have awesome produce year-round. I hate half the seasons I’ve experienced here in Japan, but at least they’re all different, which makes life interesting (and occasionally intolerable). Ask around though, and you’ll find that most people like autumn. My former chauffeur and I once mused that it would be great if it could be fall all the time. This idea was quickly squelched when we realized that spring and summer were necessary evils if we were going to be able to reap the benefits of the fall harvest.

3. Kotatsu. I’ve already written haiku about it, but allow me to reiterate that kotatsu is Japan’s greatest invention. In the warmer months it’s just a regular table, but in the winter it transforms into a little cocoon of warmth that you never want to leave. Sometimes I worry that I’m slowly baking my insides when I’m underneath it, but like a cat on a heating pad, I don’t really care.

4. Giant apples. Generally speaking, Japanese things are smaller than their American equivalents (houses, dogs, cars, people, personal space, etc). The exceptions are insects and apples. The apples here are so ginormous that they constitute an entire meal.

5. Onigiri. I might have an addiction to these simple, yet awesome snacks. They’re rice wrapped in nori, usually with some kind of filling (my favorites being ume and salmon). They’re satisfying, extremely convenient and cost only 105 yen. Sometimes when they’re out of ume or salmon and I can’t tell what the other fillings are, it’s kind of fun to play roulette, pick an onigiri at random and hope that it doesn’t contain something like natto (fermented soy bean) or azuki (those sweet red beans that everybody here is so crazy about, but which kind of make me gag a little). Thankfully E got me an onigiri mold, so I can make them like a pro when I get back to America.

My next set of lists will be “Five Things I Will/Won’t Miss About Tanegashima.”

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