A new chapter: life in the big city

Hello!

A number of changes are currently underway within my life! Wanderlust has kicked in again.

I spent July wrapping up my job as a barista, spending time with friends, dancing, swimming, having old friends visit from out of town, enjoying bonfires, and preparing for a new chapter in my life.

Back at the end of June, I applied for a position with Planned Parenthood. I was interviewed. A week or so later, I found out I was accepted to the position! I will be working as a Call Center Receptionist in the Twin Cities.

After finding out the good news, I had a few weeks to find a new place to live and wrap up my life in Wisconsin for the moment. I took a tour of two apartments in Minneapolis in July. I decided to move in with a roommate in a two-bedroom condo not too far from my workplace. So far, I’m really enjoying it! My roommate Alex and I spoke several times before moving in together. We are quite compatible in terms of cleanliness, sleep schedules, hobbies, etc. I feel as though I made the right decision to live with a roommate. I lived alone in Japan for nearly four months and I felt as though it was too isolating for me.

My job will be starting mid-next week! I plan to bike or walk to work up until the Minnesota winter creeps in and I don’t want to slog through piles of snow, at which point I will navigate city driving (which honestly terrifies me a fair bit, it’s taking some getting used to, all though so far I’ve been avoiding it).

Now that I have unpacked and settled a bit, I am looking forward to exploring the Uptown area and seeing what the Twin Cities has to offer! I miss my friends from back home, but I know they are only a few hours away by car, and I can go back and visit on a weekend sometime.

20292665_10154751245172727_1840970567637818566_n.jpg

Until next time,

Sarah

 

Life gives just as much as she takes

Just when you think you have everything figured out, life comes by with a stick to whack you. I figure life is keeping me and my ego in check. I am young, and I still have much learning and growing to do.

I’ve been dealing with some heartbreak. I’ve lost a few friends lately. I’ve hurt people. I’ve cycled through old thought patterns and habits. I’ve eaten too much junk food and fallen out of my workout routine.

But I have also hiked, swam in Lake Superior, had many bonfires with friends, danced, sat in a tiny house, and looked to the future and possible upcoming travels.

Summer is here and I am breathing in the sweet scent of lilacs. I will continue searching for meaning and finding comfort within myself. Remembering to tackle life and its challenges one day at a time.

-Sarah

April entry (on being outgoing and active)

Back at the start of the year, I set goals to be more outgoing and active. For once in my life, I’ve been following through on my new year’s resolutions surprisingly well. My overall health has been better from building and strengthening my relationships and from working out.

For about two months now, I’ve made it a habit to go to the gym once or twice a week with a few of my friends. We help keep each other motivated to do cardio, yoga, and some weight lifting. The gym we go to currently doesn’t charge any fees- score!

There have been a few setbacks in the process of being active, however. On April 8th, I got off of work after a stressful day and began having some troubling pains on my right side. The pain began worsening as I tried to nap, with a shooting, almost stabbing pain. I thought it might be my appendix at first. My mom decided it was best to drive me to the emergency room as the pain kept increasing. An ultrasound revealed a large stone in my gallbladder, and thus I was admitted overnight to the hospital. We decided to schedule surgery to remove my gallbladder on Sunday the 9th. Surgery went well, and I am now living a normal life without my gallbladder (it’s one of those organs humans don’t really need, though it helps with the digestion of fatty foods).

I stayed one more night after surgery and left the hospital on the afternoon of the 10th. I have to tell you though, the C02 that was used to inflate my stomach for surgery created some horrible pain when it pushed into my shoulder area as my body was getting rid of the C02, causing pain worse than my gallbladder had even been. I literally began screaming in pain as my shoulder pain spiked up. The pain subsided within about another day, and I’ve been healing up well since surgery. I have four scars on my stomach that make for some cool battle scars.

Despite surgery, I haven’t been slowing down a whole lot. I was off work for a week immediately following surgery. I’ve gone back to my schedule of working six days on, one day off. I danced for four hours only a week and a half after my surgery, actually. This was from attending yoga/salsa, and running into a friend at the store who invited me out for further dancing on the same day. We had a low-key girl’s dance night where we threw on Beyoncé and other hip-hop, pop, and Latin artists and danced the evening away. I had a blast! I’ve been back to the gym only once since surgery, so I’m slightly behind schedule there. I’m back into the grove of my weekly yoga/salsa fusion class. I haven’t had enough energy to get back into daily yoga either, but I don’t want to push myself too hard. I’ve been overdoing it slightly as it is, I think. I caught up on much needed sleep yesterday and napped for several hours.

Lately I’ve been growing close to my dancer friends. Here’s a shout-out to Yaz, Becca, Nic, Gene, and Jodi! Thanks for being awesome. I’ve been spending a lot of time with Nic and Yaz lately in particular. Thank you for being excellent friends through thick and thin. To my gamer friends in Duluth, I don’t get to see you as much, but you are all wonderful as well- stay nerdy, my friends (Kaelt, Jeff, Ty, and crew!) Dancing and gaming have earned me many friends, and I’m grateful to all of you!

The weather keeps flipping between warm and cold, but I have had about three bonfires so far this spring. The most memorable fire involved Yazmin, Becca, Gene, Nic, and I. We burned mementos from the past to help heal from past relationships, to leave behind old habits, and so forth. It was quite cathartic and a good bonding experience; more plans for future fires are in the works. Plus, we ended the night with a spontaneous kitchen dance party, which is the best kind, if you wanted to know my opinion!

17861551_10154440842642727_2893122194581271141_n.jpg

One of the first bonfires of the year

17759994_10154442436567727_392123688210444989_n.jpg

Hiking at Houghton Falls recently with Yaz

I’m looking forward to warmer weather so I can exercise outdoors. Once summer is here, I have set goals of walking/jogging three miles around twice a week, on top of going to the gym, doing yoga, and dancing each week. I also want to bike ride occasionally. If I plan it right, I will be exercising about six days a week with one day of rest. For anyone who is interested I can post a schedule of what exercises I do on which day of the week in a future blog post- just let me know!

I am continuing to become happier, healthier, and more confident in myself in many ways, shapes, and forms. Self-improvement is a continual process. It’s nice knowing that I’m a work in progress. Life would be stagnant if we were already in our best condition emotionally/physically/mentally/spiritually/etc.

Here’s to more dancing and warmer weather!

-Sarah

Winter update

Hello!

It’s about time for another update.

Winter is here, though spring is getting closer each day. The days are gradually growing longer. When I leave work at 5:30 pm it’s not completely pitch black outside. I can usually catch the sunset- it’s a great feeling after having the sun set at 4 pm in the dead of winter.

My new year’s resolutions were to stay active and to be more outgoing. So far I’ve been doing both. I attend a weekly D&D group on Sundays or Mondays that meets for about four hours at a time (we take gaming seriously I suppose). I do yoga on an almost daily basis (with occasional rest days, or I’ll skip if I’m doing another physical activity.) I dance every so often (I’ve taken a few different classes). I also have meet a group of friends in the Twin Ports area who I’m getting to know (new D&D/gaming friends!)

My best friend Mari visited recently. I saw her at the end of February when she landed in the states and hung out with her that day. She spent a week or so visiting college friends. During the last four days of her stay, she spent time at my house with my family and I. We had a blast catching up. While we didn’t go out (neither of us are big fans of outdoor winter activities), we passed the time watching movies, funny videos, having drinks, and chatting away the hours.

16683911_10154304252562727_3106903156016305931_n.jpg

I am thinking more long term about where I want to live and where I might want to move, but nothing is clear yet. I have been kicking around some ideas in my head, but I don’t think I’m ready to move anywhere just yet. I’m considering Minneapolis, and more longer term moving out to the West Coast. The soonest I would move is this summer or fall. We shall see what happens.

Until next time,

Sarah

On the loss of a pet

Yesterday I lost my dog, Cosmo. She deteriorated very rapidly with almost no warning. Within four days of becoming sick, she was gone.

Cosmo wasn’t the first pet I’ve lost. At age 6, my orange cat Rosehips was hit by a car. I came to know death at that young age, though I couldn’t fully process or understand death the same way an adult might be able to. At about age 10, my family had to put our old dog Easter to sleep as her health was failing. I’ve also lost guinea pigs and a few goldfish over the years as well. None of these deaths has compared to losing Cosmo.

When I see her dog bed or dog bowl, I find myself crying. Throughout my house, there seems to be a noticeable absence in the places where she once lingered – on her dog bed, on the kitchen floor, on the living room couch (Cosmo’s spot was on the left side of our leather couch). Sometimes she would sit near my dad’s chair in the living room, or on the floor. I can’t find her there either. My clothing still has black and white fur clinging to it.

Every time I come into my house, I expect to hear Cosmo barking, running to the door, tail wagging, tongue out ready to greet me. When I look at her water dish, I think I’ll see her there drinking from it. Now, my other dog, a pug named Spike, sits in her bed. It’s a little comical as the bed is rather large for a dog his size. Spike is typically too preoccupied with food to notice much else around him, but I think even he has marked Cosmo’s absence in our house to a small degree.

I’ve been crying a lot since we put Cosmo down yesterday. My chest physically hurts. I feel a chunk of my life is missing without her here. Even though I worked today, it’s been hard to distract myself from thinking about her. My work day drug on and I couldn’t stop thinking about her.

On Saturday Cosmo started to get sick. I figured she would be fine within a few days. Sunday she was worse, to the point where she almost didn’t make it through the day. The vet came to our house and gave some medicine to her, which seemed to help. Cosmo had been unable to eat, drink, or get out of her bed and to relieve her bladder. IV fluids helped her get up, and I was able to hand feed her some food that evening and she drank some water. My mom brought her to the vet two days ago, and the blood work showed she had pancreatitis, her urine had a lot of broken down red blood cells in it (indicative that something else was going on besides the pancreatitis), and she had a fever. Yesterday morning, her fever was extremely high – 104. She went into the vet’s office with my mom. She was under a lot of pain, and we had the vet take x-rays. 

I went into see the vet with my mom and brother yesterday to see the x-ray results. Cosmo’s pancreas was huge, and her organs were pushed to one side of her body. It was likely a huge pancreas and possibly a large tumor inside her causing this to happen.

Given the information we had, we made the decision to put Cosmo down. Surgery to see what was wrong with her would be expensive, and would only give a more conclusive answer to what was wrong, it wouldn’t treat the problem. If it was cancer like we thought, we wouldn’t be able to do much other than buy maybe a few months for Cosmo at best. After the vet administered anesthesia, they did a necropsy (like an autopsy) afterward. We were with Cosmo as she was sedated, and got to spend quite a bit of time with her to cry and say our goodbyes, and then they gave her the final shot.

The vet called back yesterday evening to announce Cosmo had pancreatic cancer and a tumor inside of her like we thought. While she deteroriated rapidly and we only had Cosmo for about ten months, we gave her a good life here as a happy farm dog. She loved taking long walks through the woods with my dad, running around in the summer, seeing what the chickens were doing, and get attention from her humans (my family).

Her absence has been greatly marked in my household.

While I only had about six months to spend with Cosmo, I can say without a doubt she was the best dog we’ve ever had. She was kind, gentle, intelligent, loyal, and sweet. She picked up a few bad habits from our other dog, (begging) but in general she was an absolute sweetheart and everyone loved her to pieces.

Cosmo, I hope you are running through the woods on a warm summer day, chasing rodents to your heart’s content. We miss you, sweetheart.

16105680_10154207658337727_1080108632701178728_n

Cosmo on a warm October day last year

R.I.P. Cosmo 

2006/07- January 17, 2017

 

 

Reflections on 2016

A quick mention- Today is the 2nd anniversary of my WordPress page. Two years ago I found myself wishing to document my study abroad experience in Oaxaca, Mexico. Last year I was making my way to the East Coast on a road trip with my boyfriend. This year, I’m in my hometown, with no plans currently to travel anywhere for a while *sigh.* I’m saving up money, but I don’t know where I’ll be heading to next.

     2016 has been an interesting year in all senses of the word. I won’t get into the politics, social issues, and other events of the year- that’s too broad and lengthy to cover (and would be exhausting and depressing to be honest). (I am still in mourning over the loss of musicians such as David Bowie, too, but that’s another post for another time.) I will try but fail to keep this a brief post. It’s more of a way for me to remember what happened this past year, and for those I haven’t spoken to much in the past year.

     2016  was the year of the monkey, and the monkey is my zodiac sign. I went into 2016 after a fulfilling 2015, fully expecting a great year ahead. I wanted seize the day (carpe diem) and make the most of the year. In some ways, I did. The universe did pull some strings and make things possible for me, as did hard work (I fulfilled my dream of visiting and working in Japan!)

At the beginning of the year, I spent two weeks on the East Coast with my boyfriend in upstate New York and Maryland visiting his friends. It was my first time on the East Coast. We visited Washington D.C. and played tourist during the off season of snowy January. I attended a Bernie Sanders rally at the end of January. I didn’t have a job for a couple of months after graduating in Dec. 2015. I allowed myself some time to relax and recover after burnout at the end of my undergraduate career. I began job hunting online in February. At first, I looked for work in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but then I branched out and looked for jobs teaching English in Japan. I tutored English online briefly at this time.

In the spring, I harvested maple syrup from the trees on our property (I live with my parents and brother on 22 and a half acres of land in rural Wisconsin). I purchased a Nikon d3300 and began figuring out how to use a proper camera. My family adopted a very sweet old dog, who is half German shepherd, half Australian shepherd. By March, I was accepted to a position teaching English overseas. Within about a month, I was on a big jet plane headed for Tokyo.

I spent three and a half months teaching English in Japan. I grew a lot as a person, and began to mature, learn life lessons, and adjust to living on my own.

Kyoto 379.JPG

My best friend and I. Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan. Aug. 16′

Kyoto 213.JPG

A shrine in Kyoto, Japan. Aug. 16′

It had been my dream for nearly ten years to visit Japan. I was fortunate to receive the opportunity to teach overseas. I enjoyed my experience and learned many life lessons, had the chance to experience a new culture and way of live, and had the chance to learn a new language. I networked and made several friends and strengthened existing friendships in Japan. On the weekends, I took advantage of my time to travel and sightsee in Yokohama and Tokyo. However, my time didn’t go quite as I had expected. I was scheduled to work for one year, but due to job stress and unforeseen health issues, I returned home to Wisconsin.

I made my way back to the states feeling like a complete failure at first. I felt good for about the first day, (I was excited to see family and friends) but I was mentally struggling after that. My extreme highs turned to extreme lows. I didn’t know what to do with myself after my lifelong dream had been fulfilled/shattered (depending on how you want to look at it). I didn’t know what I would do for work, where I wanted to live, and so forth. I was having an existential crisis (an ongoing on, if that’s possible) about what I wanted to do with my life, and what my true purpose is. I walked a lot when I came home from Japan, as a way to both be with my thoughts and to escape them. I would walk for three miles at a time, once or twice a week. While I still don’t have the answers to purpose in life, I can assure you I am better today than I was when I returned home.

Two weeks after returning to the US, I applied to a barista position at a local coffee shop in my hometown. I was hired and began working shortly thereafter. Working shortly after my return home helped me readjust to American life and reconnect, or create new connections with people in the area. It took a while, but I began to make new friends and create new bonds. I enjoy having a moderately fast paced job that keeps me busy, but allows for a good work-life balance and isn’t too stressful (it’s the least stressful job I’ve had to date, actually).

The future is uncertain, but I’m not necessarily scared for what lies in 2017. Well, maybe a little bit. The rise of a bigoted, xenophobic, racist, homphobic president scares me (okay, this is my one political blurb of this post, I’m done now). I will continue to do my best to grow as a person, help others, learn new languages, visit new countries and states, and make new friends. If one thing is certain, it’s that there is no certainty in life (I sound like a cliché).

I hope 2016 was kind to you. If it wasn’t, (I’m guessing it may not have been) I look forward to a different 2017 with you. See you next year.

13925276_10153771052427727_575839494761126155_n

Best,

Sarah

Luna llena / full moon

14947678_10154018028087727_6865142836052604595_n

Luna llena

Traer claridad al mundo turbulento.

Protegernos y lléname con fuerza

Para luchar las próximas batallas.

//

Full moon

Bring clarity to a troubled world.

Protect us and fill me with strength

To fight the upcoming battles.

I am too tired to write more. I may flesh this into more of a poem later. It’s just a start for now.

This election has me thinking about the state of the world, and especially the state of the US. I am worried about my friends of color, my LGBTQ+ friends, and other minority groups. On a personal level, I am worried I will not have access to insurance and won’t have access to birth control and other services offered by women’s health care clinics. But there is so much at stake right now. I have been crying and angry and filled with anxiety; I’ve been depressed and ready to fight and everything in between.

I may write more later. For now, I need sleep. I haven’t been getting enough rest this past week.

Stay safe.

-Sarah

 

 

Back in the states

I’ve been back in the US for just over a month now.

I made the decision to leave Japan about two weeks before departing. I returned home on August 23rd. I left for personal reasons: namely, I was over-stressed and experiencing some health problems. I left my teaching job and my best friend behind.

I returned to the US 3.5 months after having arrived in Japan. I was stressed, in need of a doctor and dentist appointment, a general emotional mess, and 17 pounds lighter (not a bad thing).

Around 3 weeks after returning to Wisconsin, I was hired on the spot to a barista position at a local coffee shop. I’m glad I started working shortly after coming home as it’s helped ease my transition back into my local community and US society. Outside of work I don’t really have much of a social group outside of my family, whom I live with (my parents and brother). At work, I can see acquaintances and people from the area that I know. It’s a good thing. without it, I would never be social at all.

I am trying to reconnect with old friends, but after being in Japan, and even before then, I’ve drawn away from a lot of my old high school friends to some extent. It would be nice to make new friends or to reconnect more with old friends. For now though, I am fairly content. I’ve developed the habit of a taking a 3 miles walk on the country roads near my home at least twice a week to keep up with the walking habit I developed while in Japan. I used to walk everywhere. The weather has been spectacular this September- warmer than usual, which makes for wonderful walking.

016.JPG

A corn field I see on my walk near my house each week.

There are times where I really miss my life in Japan. I miss my best friend, the train announcements, little phrases in Japanese, the snacks, the city bustle (sometimes). I’ve gained back 5 pounds I lost. But for now, the comforts of mom’s home cooking, inside jokes with my brother, hugs from dad, and so forth keep me going.

I don’t know what’s next, but for now, I know it’s good to be home in Wisconsin.

 

A journey to Kyoto

If I had to boil down my Kyoto experience into just a few favorite moments: I would remember the incredibly friendly shopkeepers we met, the beauty of ancient temples and shrines, and singing while walking through Fushimi-inari with my best friend. Mari and I hummed/sang the Princess Mononoke song while walking from the top of Mt. Inari through the beautiful forest-covered mountain lined with orange, fading torii gates.

My best friend Mari and I sat down on her bedroom floor with her laptop in front of us.

“Where should we go over Obon week?” Mari asked me.

“I’d love to see Kyoto. It’s been a dream of mine for almost ten years. It’s gonna be a bit expensive though, as well as hot and crowded” I told her.

We started to do some research and make a list of pros and cons. We discussed a few options aside from Kyoto; such as Hokkaido, Okinawa, and even Nagano. We almost selected Nagano Prefecture as our destination. I wanted to see mountains and have a quiet getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. How my heart has been longing for nature recently and missing my quiet hometown in Wisconsin.

Mari and I finally selected Kyoto, and I am happy we did. Mari sorted out all of our travel details (it would have been more difficult for me as I don’t speak Japanese fluently) as I finished up a hectic week of teaching. I asked that Mari find us the cheapest way to enjoy Kyoto. Mari booked a night bus for around ¥18,000 round trip (about 180 USD) and found us an Air B&B motel located near Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto. Her senpai’s friend owns this apartment and rents it out for about ¥2000 yen a night ($20).

The bus departed Yokohama Station at around 11:50 pm on Wednesday, August 9th. We arrived at around 8 or 9 am on the 11th, tired from a lack of sleep on the bus. The seats weren’t the most comfortable, but we couldn’t argue with the price. With tired eyes, we hopped off the bus, carrying our luggage with us to Kyoto Station.

The first priority was to find a coin locker to store our bags in for the day. We also picked up some snacks, bought water, and so forth.After some searching (the station was filled with people jostling to find a locker to store their bags), we found one for about 500 yen. It is a great idea to put your bag in a coin locker, you will end up regretting carrying a heavy bag with you all day. Tuck your suitcase away from just a few hundred yen until you can check into your hotel or wherever you stay. You can thank me later.

On our first day, we visited Tenryu-ji, (the name means “Heavenly Dragon Garden,” which is pretty neat) a temple with a Zen Garden and spectacular views. According to my research, the garden dates back to the 14th century. There weren’t a ton of people, so it was possible to sit and enjoy the view, relatively undisturbed.

Kyoto 041.JPG

Tenryu-ji

After visiting Tenryu-ji, we took a bus to Arashiyama. This area has a beautiful bamboo forest, with lots of opportunity for taking pictures of the scenery. I found it to be very peaceful despite other people being there. Seeing women wearing yukata brought back to mind old Kyoto, catching a glimpse of the past, if only for a moment. Glimpses of the past could be seen whenever we ran across a stunning natural backdrop, an old temple or shrine, or when left to wander traditional streets near Gion, the area famous for geisha.

Kyoto 068.JPG

The serene Arashiyama bamboo grove

Mari and I walked around and did some shopping in the Tenryu-ji area on our first day as well. There are many opportunities for buying omiyage, or souvenirs from Japan. Many shops sell ice cream, traditional candies, and other delicacies that should be tried while in Kyoto. Mari and I stopped for ice cream at a shop overlooking Tenryu-ji midway through the day to recharge and escape the heat for a while. Later in the day, we visited Togetsukyo Bridge and stopped to take in the scenery. This bridge is iconic and has appeared in the media. It is stunning and best seen in person. I wanted to live in this area- it was so beautiful and postcard-picture worthy!

Kyoto 109.JPG

Breathtaking view from the Togetsukyo Bridge

At around 3 or 4 o’ clock, we returned to Kyoto Station to pick up our luggage and check into our apartment where we would be staying for two nights. We were pretty beat after not sleeping well the previous night and having walked around a lot, so we decided against doing too much more sightseeing the rest of the afternoon. After resting up for a bit, we walked around the area where we stayed near Kinkaku-ji to find dinner. We settled on a restaurant that serves okonomiyaki (Japanese style “pancake” that varies, but is made of flour, cabbage, sometimes meat and various veggies) and yakisoba (buckwheat noodles, ours came with meat, veggies, and ginger). The restaurant owner, an older woman, chatted our ear off as we ate our delicious supper. We  were happy to consume calories we had burnt off during the day and to have made a new friend.

Mari and I woke up bright and early our second day. We headed to Kiyomizu-dera, which has breathtaking views of Kyoto. Kiyomizu-dera is one of the most famous places in all of Kyoto (it is a UNESCO World Heritage site). Enough has been written elsewhere on this spectacular Buddhist temple. Let the photos speak for themselves.

Kyoto 182.JPG

Kyoto 170.JPG

After visiting the temple, Mari and I shopped on one of the streets near the temple. I got caught up in buying omiyage for friends, as well as myself. We met many kind shopkeepers and clerks as we shopped. One of the shopkeepers we met was the 6th generation to be in the same shop in Kyoto. The shopkeeper, a man in his 60’s or 70’s, was very kind and talked with us for a long time. He’s met a few famous people, and has been in a TV commercial (back in 1993 it was an advertisement promoting Kyoto tourism). A singer (I don’t recall who) from the famous group EXILE featured a photo of himself taken in front of this store because he loved the shop so much – that was before he became famous, but it was put into their first album artwork. The shop has been featured in guidebooks, photos, and even in children’s manga. As we were leaving, the shopkeeper gave me a 5 yen coin necklace. “For attracting money,” he said. He also gave me a small charm, and a postcard, and did the same for Mari as well. I feel I made a grandpa and a good friend after talking with him.

Our next stop of the day was a smaller temple we stumbled upon while exploring. We also wandered the streets, poking our heads in other shops along the way. I visited a store selling Studio Ghibli items. We went out for lunch in the late afternoon. At the end of the day, we decided to visit a public onsen, which was more of a bathhouse than actual hot springs as it was indoors. This was my first time at an onsen, so it was quite the experience for me. I actually enjoyed it, and felt no shame being naked with other Japanese women. We’re all human, and in this case, all sweaty and ready to bathe. At onsen, you rinse off at a shower first before getting into a pool/tub area. Some onsen might have a locker to store items. We brought our own towels and shampoo.

Kyoto 221.JPG

Mari in the streets of Kyoto

For the third and final day, we had a packed itinerary we tried our best to get through. We didn’t get to Ryoan-ji or other places we’d hoped for, but we still managed to visit several places. Our first stop was a short walk from the place we were staying in- Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavillion/Golden Temple! It was beautiful to see. There’s not a lot of walking to be had as the Golden Temple is the only thing to really see here, aside from the pond and garden area, which is fairly small. It’s still worth the entrance fee. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to see the inside of the temple, which is unfortunate as each floor has a different architectural style.

Kyoto 261.JPG

Kinkaku-ji

The stop at Kinkaku-ji didn’t take long at all. We had time to go back and check out of our apartment, and put our bags in a coin locker again at Kyoto Station. From there, we made our way to the place I’d been looking forward to the most: Fushimi-inari Taisha! I had dreamed of walking through the bright orange torii gates of Fushimi-inari for nearly ten years, and that dream finally came true. Fushimi-inari is actually on Mt. Inari, which being a mountain takes some time to climb. I believe it took us about an hour and a half to make it to the top. I was surprised there wasn’t a view from the top, but the walk is still well worth it. Crowds thin out the higher you climb, and the torii gates are older and weathered, and the woods on the mountain are beautiful. The writing inscribed upon the gates are actually the names of businesses and people who have donated money to the shrine, which I wasn’t expecting. Kitsune, or fox spirits kept an ever watchful eye over Inari.

Kyoto 386.JPG

Kitsune at the top of Mt. Inari

Climbing Fushimi-inari is a very peaceful, and even spiritual experience, albeit a sweaty one (wear good hiking shoes). This was definitely my favorite place I saw in Kyoto. On the descent, Mari and I hummed the theme songs from several Studio Ghibli songs. The woods here felt like something out of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. I was expecting forest spirits to be just around the corner, watching, waiting. Spirits were around I am sure as it was obon week. Ancestors were likely making their way back to their homes as we hiked the mountain.

Kyoto 364

Fushimi-inari took over 3 hours in total. The later afternoon was upon us, and we had time to kill before the day was over. Most shrines and temples close around 5 or 6 pm and we had until midnight before the night bus would leave. Mari did a bit of research and found a boat near Togetsukyo Bridge that would take us out to watch fisherman who would catch fish via the assistance of fire torches. We waited an hour as the sun went down, sipping a drink and taking photos before the boat cruise went out. It was enjoyable to sit on the boat and watch the fishermen use birds and torches to catch fish out of the water. They would reach into the bird’s throats as they caught fish and pull them out. It was quite a spectacle.

Kyoto 449.JPG

View from Togetsukyo Bridge around sunset

The last thing we did before leaving was to visit a public bathhouse near Kyoto Station to clean off before hopping on a bus for eight hours. I was thinking about the five yen necklace I received as I was spending money in Kyoto and definitely not attracting money my way. At the bathhouse, however, I went to use the vending machine. I wanted to grab a lemon water before catching the night bus back to Yokohama. When I pushed the little lever to get my change back from the money I just put in, it gave me an extra 400 yen!

I will treasure the photos and memories of my Kyoto trip for years to come. I hope to make a trip back again within the next few years.

Growing pains

     I do a lot of things on my own in Japan. I make my own activities on my days off, (most people work on Mondays, but I don’t, hence I’m usually alone). I’m learning to enjoy my own company. I cry alone, I go through struggles, I explore on my own, I laugh by myself, and I learn on my own. But lately, I have been having some problems I can’t handle on my own.
You need to reach out to others for help, even if it scares you.
     I have been filled with anxiety and self doubt recently, particularly after my hajimete (3 and 4 year old students) class this past Saturday. During the class and immediately after, my thoughts wavered to a panicked, “I want to go home, now. I can’t handle teaching,” “I’ve made a big mistake,” etc. The students were running in every direction, all of my games and toys were thrown off the shelves, the class was a total disaster (or so it felt like to me). The students didn’t repeat the vocab, some were sitting while others were standing, they tried crawling on the table, they hid under the table. My class looked like a war zone as it came to a finish with Jenga blocks scattered across the floor and letter pieces strewn about.
     Recently, I’ve thought to myself “am I the best teacher, is this what the students deserve? Is there someone else who is more energetic and has more to offer than me? I bet other teachers are more fun and would do a better job than me,” etc. etc. My mind keeps racing with these sorts of thoughts. This past weekend was really fun, but I still couldn’t enjoy it fully as my mind has been cluttered with worries and negativity. I’ve also been juggling the stress of trying to please the parents of my students by having their kids learn English, while also ensuring the kids have fun and are engaged in their lesson. There are also cultural differences to take into consideration.
     Another stressor in my life has been my bills. Not only is this worrisome financially, but it’s also been a problem because 1. I can’t read kanji, and can only  read hiragana and katakana, and 2. I don’t know how to pay bills. I am now learning how to do that finally (thank you Japanese convenience stores). I still can’t read my mail, and I have troubles distinguishing between junk mail and legitimately important documents on occasion. On an almost daily basis, I send a photo of my mail to my best friend (she’s Japanese) and ask for her assistance. Where would I be without her help? I’m not always alone, my best friend has been very helpful in my transition to Japan. But even your friends can’t be there 24/7 to assist you.
     After speaking with my coworker, and reaching out to one of my supervisors over the phone today, I’m feeling a little better and less likely to book the next flight home. My supervisor gave me some good teaching advice, and they both gave me good encouragement. As my supervisor noted, I set my goals too high, so I am filled with stress when I miss the stars. But when you aim for the tops of the trees, metaphorically speaking, you’ll be pleased and less stressed when you find you’ve made that goal. I think I’ve been trying too hard and wishing for too much to happen all at once. Teaching is a process, and it will take a while for rules and boundaries and routines to be established and understood.
     It took the encouragement from both of these people, but it’s helped me see my own self-worth a bit more. Young children can’t be expected to sit still. It’s okay if the class didn’t go perfectly. They had fun, my coworker mentioned to me. She spoke with one of the parents and their kid said they enjoyed the class. That is the main point. It was out of control a bit, but the biggest goal is for the students to have fun while learning English. My coworker said to me today “I’ve seen many young teachers, and you are the best one I’ve met.”
     It takes difficult experiences like the ones I’ve been having in order for a person to truly grow. Sometimes I wish I could repress my negative emotions and avoid experiencing them, but that would only make the problem worse, and it would come up later. Sometimes I wish I was just a tourist and could see the fun, sparkling side of Japan and not have to deal with the harder side Japan and figuring out the not so candy coded parts of society. But that’s a different conversation. My thoughts boil down to this: we must deal with the emotions that come to us, even if they’re ugly or unwanted. It’s important to filter through them, realize they serve a purpose for use, and then let them go.
Until next time,
Sarah
“Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.”
-Harvey MacKay