Posted in Japan News, Slice of Life

The Obligatory COVID19 Update

I don’t really know where to start, but I guess the situation changed from “something to keep an eye on” to “really concerned” about mid-February.

I remember when the news feed about the Diamond Princess hit my timelines on Facebook and Twitter at the start of February. My colleagues and I talked about it. We speculated about the quarantine efforts. Were they enough? Too much? How long would they keep people in there?

All these conversations took place between lessons. We drank coffee, complained about this class issue or another. I was having a couple of problem students, one of which involved a kind of serious incident. The homeroom teacher and I were strategically figuring out how to help the kid get through the next few classes.

During that time, I was concerned with actually finishing up my curriculum for the third semester. I was struggling to get my test together, too, because with only two months of subject matter to cover I wasn’t sure how to grade it out of 100 points.

Little did I know, very soon, it wouldn’t matter at all.

As the death toll kept increasing abroad, murmurs and tension started to rise. What tipped the scales from nervous to frightened for us was the news about the teacher who caught it in Chiba. Japanese teachers at my school pushed back against a formal top-down decision from the administration to continue holding the last classes and finals as normal.

I talked about it with co-workers and we all seemed to have the same concerns.

“If one student catches it, then that’s it, right? That’s the whole school?”

“For sure, the kids never wash their hands. They have sports clubs together, and that’s always how the flu gets around. One basketball player gets it and then half a team goes down.”

“So-and-so sensei has a family member with leukemia living at home. He’s terrified of passing it along to them!”

“Did you hear Racist-sensei? He doesn’t want the half kids at school, especially the half-Chinese kids. He thinks I don’t understand Japanese. Should’ve punched him in the face.”

“Don’t bother, he’s old. With any luck he’ll die off like all the other dinosaurs. The school is talking about only parents at the graduation ceremony. That’s a bit half-assing it ain’t it?”

Xenophobia is of course all over the place by this point. Restaurants denying foreigners is a time honored tradition in Japan, so of course in these stressful times it’s best to just swing that racism card harder than ever.

Sign in Nakano taken by Stuart Neilson

The “foreigner seat” effect took a strange turn for me. Up until February 2020, I never really experienced people avoiding to sitting next to me on a train before, but since the start of the pandemic hitting Japanese people would leave extra space around me when going to and from work. It’s of course nothing in comparison to the Asian discrimination that is getting people beaten and thrown out of their homes in other countries. All the same, it’s there, and I’m more pissed off it got thrown around behind my students’ backs than anything else.

When Shinzo Abe made his astounding out of left field announcement that all schools should close by March 2nd, it really hit my school hard. I went in early the next day to catch the morning meeting. The announcement on that Friday was essentially this:

Grades for third semester don’t count. Put in absences. Get out.

Well, get out company employees. Direct hires to the school would still come in, but with an irregular schedule. As most of the Native English teachers were company supplied, we had the weirdest stressful day. We scrambled to find team teachers or class books and get everything in order. I was rushing around trying to get things back to students before they went home (even if it didn’t matter, it was the principle of it).

When we clocked out on February 28th, we were told school wouldn’t start until April. Have fun, see ya, good luck!

The next couple of weeks were…strange. I don’t know how else to put it. Although the Japanese government kept telling people not to gather in groups, people did. Although Icheon and Seol got put on lockdown, I was going out to see friends at a restaurant. I spent days at home, but yes I would make plans to see people.

Some friends took the advice to stay isolated seriously, and others not so much. One of my friends stayed inside for a whole week before going out, too anxious to risk it. Another friend was at high risk, so also stayed at home unless absolutely necessary. He ended up deciding to leave for the UK because he didn’t trust his company after they offered homemade masks and demanded people return to work after only a couple of weeks off. I don’t blame him, as that company in particular is notorious for not caring about employees.

Other friends were taking the opportunity to go around and have a fun vacation. And again, I don’t blame them, either. The government’s lax as hell stance on anything besides shutting down schools prevented no one from going out to bars, restaurants, concerts, and even still traveling abroad. I went to Werq the World, an arguably smaller venue and concert, but I can’t claim I was some kind of quarantine saint.

I noticed the news abroad. I would stay home for a couple or three days at a time. I went over to a friend’s place and played video games with her for three days straight, then went right back home. I stayed off the peak hour times as much as possible, never taking the last train home or morning trains. People were, and are, still going to work and commuting.

I didn’t have a mask for a while. I only had a limited supply in my emergency bag, and the stores were emptied out. Even today, masks are hard to come by, with only a few select drug stores allowing one pack per day and per person. Finally, I found a set of masks in my old backpack. Even though they were the ones only good for keeping out dust and pollen, that’s actually what I desperately needed.

The allergy season hit me hard, so I was coughing and sneezing. I was getting very tired of the glares and whispers. Allegra helped push the symptoms away, but if I missed a single dose then my eyes would water, my nose would run, and the coughing would come back.

Then, I managed to get a sinus infection because I made the mistake of dusting my apartment (I’m highly allergic). No fever involved, just an annoyance with a side of anti-biotics. Coupled with seasonal allergies, I sounded sick, when really it was just bad timing. After about a week on antibiotics the sinus issues went away, but the itchy eyes problem never left and continues to plague me.

Image result for covid 19 symptoms vs flu

The news of Europe getting a few cases, then it hitting Italy seemingly overnight like a hammer really shocked me. The American cases grew and grew, and with the travel restrictions placed on Americans to Europe and visa versa, I decided to just stay at home for days at a time.

I called Delta Airlines around March 11th, as I was very concerned about my plane ticket to the U.S.A. Would I still have a flight? What about coming back? I heard people were getting rejected, flights getting slashed to Japan and other South Asian countries, quarantines, and travel bans.

Delta told me at that time, “Sorry, no changes and no refunds as stated in your receipt. However, if we have to cancel it because of a coronavirus issue, we will refund the ticket price to you.”

Frustrated, I could only accept that answer and move on. My mother, on the other hand, was very worried about me trying to travel over. The panic buying in Japan had taken toilet paper and masks in my Tokyo area, but in Las Vegas it was cold medicine, it was food, it was everything. It was honestly shocking to see the dystopian pictures of shelves emptied out.

I heard other places were wiped clean in Japan. I saw it on Twitter and on the news, but I guess I got lucky. My stores all around me only had the usual instant noodles and water bottles gone, but everything else was fine.

My mother had to drive to California to find toilet paper, though, so going home to America was looking like a grim prospect. Events all over Las Vegas got canceled, until it reached a point where even if I got there, the whole city would’ve been shut down upon my arrival. I would still have to wait and see about the ticket. I held out hope I could make it, but I also hoped I could eventually change it if I bothered Delta enough.

I wish I could claim I didn’t go outside at all anymore, but I would be lying. I did stay away from large crowds, though. I went over to my friend’s place for more video games, and then returned right back home. Plans for other events got canceled, so I stayed home some more. I was careful, washing my hands at every opportunity, using my mask when out and about, taking allergy meds and vitamins to try and keep healthy.

This past Sunday, I noticed my flight with Delta had changed. Due to the changes, I wasn’t sure if I would be making it home to Japan in time for work. The operator informed me that Delta was allowing any changed flight due to the company to then, and I quote, “be allowed to change to any date until December 31st of 2020.” I took the chance and moved my flight to August, because fuck the Olympics.

After the change was made, I told my family and cried. I felt torn between bittersweet relief that I wouldn’t have to go through the health screenings or get thrown in quarantine, but I also was really looking forward to seeing my family. After three years apart, I was so excited to finally be with them. I knew logically it was for the best, but it still hurt.

Nowadays I’m trying to stay good, practice social distancing. I’m staying home for days at a time. If I’m going out, I try to limit it to a few people or a person at any one time. Again, when going out I’m washing my hands at every possible chance (even though Japanese toilets have a 50/50% chance of having soap). But I’m limiting it to hours out and then right back home. Just friends, no one with kids or elderly people.

It’s still crazy to me how little has changed in Japan since the pandemic started. Everyone in general will use their masks, sure, but I still see pictures of bars packed with party people. I see people having hanami parties, bunched in together under the trees. Kids are playing around, free from school but going on play dates. Hell, I saw a child run up to a train partition door and lick it…so fear and panic isn’t really happening here.

Seeing the stories now of people dying from COVID19, people all ages, these kinds of crowds seem almost criminally dangerous? I know I might be throwing stones in a glass house as I haven’t been a perfectly isolated individual, but I also couldn’t imagine surrounding myself with hundreds or thousands of people if I could avoid it right now.

I’m not saying there should be panic. I do think there should be more steps taken to just shut things down. Even for just a week, shut down all non-essential work. Japan, in my opinion, has been lucky. The masks have been possibly helping to keep the numbers down, but it’s not enough. The shortages and the false sense of security could potentially bring on a second wave.

But maybe this country will stay lucky? Maybe it will stay the strange exception? I don’t know what the future holds. All anyone can do is try to be careful, stay home whenever possible, and just keep an eye out on the news. I’m trying to be pragmatic and realistic about my expectations, but it’s tough when everyone knows the government is under-testing these cases and we see pics like the ones in the parks.

For now (knock on wood), I’m healthy. If I catch symptoms similar to COVID19 I know my action plan, I know the hospitals around me, and I know enough Japanese to get help. I’m going to keep being cautious and do what I can to stay unaffected, but I’m a “prepare the worst, hope for the best” kind of person. Avoiding all human contact forever just isn’t feasible, and I’m supposed to go back to work in April.

Here’s hoping the pandemic has hit its peak here, but we’ll see I guess. I’ll update more in the coming months, because I’ve just got a feeling this thing isn’t over.

Posted in Slice of Life

When You Say You’re Bi

Dedicated to all the people who get mad I won’t go home with them because they can’t grasp bisexuality.


Person who claims to be interested in me, “Oh, so which do you prefer?”

“…I’m bisexual, I like anyone who isn’t an asshole.”

“But which do you date more?”

A very long and beleaguered sigh. “I’ve dated all across the spectrum at this point, but more women identifying nowadays.”

“Ok, so you’re more gay than straight.”

“That’s…that’s not how that works. I’m not straight, I’m the B in LGBT.”

“Well, you want to marry a woman right?”

“Marriage really isn’t a priority for me. I’d like to fall in love with someone, but it’s not a big deal.”

“Do you want to marry both?”

“I’m monogamous, so I think the answer you’re looking for is no. By the way, this date is turning into an interrogation which is kind of a turn off-.”

“But when you get married, that’s when you choose, right?”

“What? No, I’m not choosing a side. Just because you get married doesn’t mean you stop being attracted to people. Getting married wouldn’t ‘cure’ me of being bi.”

“Yeah, but wait, are you saying you would cheat?”

“No, but that is a common stereotype thrown at bis and pans, so thanks for assuming that.”

“Still, it sounds like you want everybody, ya know.”

“Yeah, that’s also a common stereotype, and a dangerous one because people think we’re always up for sex and try to force it on us.”

“Well, you should consider maybe being safer and just pick one.”

“Wow, do you tell all your dates to stop being queer for safety reasons or am I just special?”

“Look, if you’re attracted to everyone-.”

“Still not attracted to terrible people, actually, speaking of-.”

“-but I’ve heard that bisexuals aren’t attracted to transgender people?”

I groan and wish I could just punt the date into the sun. “No, transpobes exist across all the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, but I will date a trans person. However, gender identity and expression do affect how I am attracted to some people over others.”

“So, you’re attracted to someone like me, right?”

“Nope. At this point in the conversation I want to go home and be one with blissful silence.”

“Gee, why you gotta be such a bitch?”

“I AM NOT YOUR LIVING PERSONAL GOOGLE, YOU EMPTY POPTART!”


And that’s why I usually end up going home alone. Thank you for your time.

Posted in Slice of Life

2019 was a Wild Ride, Onwards to 2020!

Last year, I accomplished quite a bit of stuff. In both my professional and personal life, things changed all around for the better. I didn’t get every single thing done that I set out to do, but I took on so many new opportunities that I can’t regret a single moment of it.

At the start of the year, I set out to change my job. Two years ago, I really wanted to try getting out of teaching, but I failed the N2. I got set adrift and in panic mode without a good backup plan. In the end, I settled for an eikaiwa job. The job wasn’t great for me, and I ended up doing other part time work on the side to make it through some rough trials and tribulations of 2018.

Luckily, I got back to teaching at a school. It’s not a direct hire position, but the dispatch company I work for is very interested in retaining employees. The school I’m placed in has some great native English staffed teachers as well as multiple Japanese English teachers. It’s great to work in a bigger school with a bigger pool of people I can talk to. I’ve hung out with people after work often, which is a big change from the eikaiwa style of go home and pass out.

During that time, I also managed to complete an online TEFL course. I always pushed a TEFL course aside because I figured why get one if I didn’t intend to teach forever? But now I know better. Having the certificate is better than not, trust me. If you want to keep getting good teaching jobs, you got to get a leg up on the competition. Also, it’s not that expensive and you can work at your own pace for up to six months.

After the new school year started, I basically lost myself in work. I taught a reading literature class for returnees, and they are a joy. I think with this particular school and this particular curriculum, I feel more fulfilled and like a “real” teacher than ever before. I think if nothing else, I could teach at this particular place for more than a few years. Hell, I might’ve actually found a permanent place to stay until retirement, what a thought!

Yet, 2019 wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I encountered some pretty vitriolic transphobic comments on the blog and vlog. A few death threats were sprinkled along in there, but I didn’t let it get me down. I stood up for what I believed was right, and I will continue to support my trans friends no matter what. I am in the “LGB with the T” camp for life.

After the whole Gold Finger mess, I actually ended up taking my comedy hobby to a new level. I was a headliner in Nagoya…to all of like 10 or 12 people, but still, cool right? I never imagined being asked to do a show, and I never thought I would be getting paid to make jokes on a stage.

I also did more drag and other art performances. I did three or four duets, and then I created a dance group that performed in a huge venue! In between those, I was asked to be a part of a indie movie my friends were making. I was actually on sets and acting. Due to that, I got another role in a sci-fi movie! I can’t reveal much information about those projects, but when they’re released I would love to tell all the tales from behind the scenes.

And of course throughout the year I was volunteering with Stonewall Japan. As both Vice President and Kanto East Block Leader I was attending or organizing meetings, setting up agendas, putting out newsletters, and etc. During the summer time I was asked to get interviewed by news organizations, and I assisted in a couple of op ed pieces on marriage equality in Japan.

By the end of 2019, I also managed to basically complete a novel, which has been on the bucketlist for some time. I thought I would get it published before the end of the year, but it didn’t quite work out that way. It’s fine, though, because I think all my time was well spent.

I don’t regret a single part of 2019. I’m glad I did everything, but next year, I will be changing my focus.

This year is the year for my own projects. I want to move house, get the book published, and so much more. I will still do performances and take some opportunities as they come along, but I also want to make time for myself. I want to be able to spend time at home and relax, not constantly thinking about the next thing I got to do.

It’s simple goals, but they are goals worth having. I’m ready to take everything I learned and move forward in life.

I hope 2020 is great for us all!


New Years Eve I climbed a mountain! Click to hear all about it.

Posted in Slice of Life

I Hate Exercise, But Luckily I Live In Japan

When I lived in Kentucky, I was significantly larger than I am now. My weight consistently fluctuated between 155-175 pounds (about 70-79 kilos ish). My issue was during university I would be more active and I’d have regular access to healthier options of food. In the summer, I worked long hours at Papa Johns and drive around delivering pizzas all day long. And yeah, of course, there was an abundance of free or discounted pizza happening all the time.

Couple this with a pretty awesome fact: I didn’t really care about my weight then, and honestly still didn’t really care about weight until maybe the past couple of years. I can say honestly I’ve had many self-esteem issues, but somehow my identity of me as a person/woman never got tied up with whatever the numbers on scale were.

Sometimes I would have phases were I really care. I joined my mom on weight watcher for a bit, then quit because I just stopped caring. My highest priorities in university weren’t exercising but just getting the grades and credits to graduate. I was the first kid in my family to get into university straight out of high school, and I didn’t want to let anyone down. Fuck the damn carbs, I need to stay up all night for a final study cram session, I’ll figure that out later.

When I got to Japan, I didn’t have a car for about a month and half of first living there. Instead, I arrived at the end of July in 2011, just before summer vacation started. I had a rusty bike and a big desire to explore Japan.

And so I biked everywhere, for hours upon hours, just going and going. I always thought the term “shedding pounds” was a weird term coined by protein bar companies, but I found out it was quite possible with the right amount of exercise! I watched as the numbers went down and just thought, “Wow, neat!”

Somehow, once again, my identity didn’t get tied into the numbers on the scale or the pants size. I was me, and I liked to study Japanese in my free time and read books. I didn’t really care about the loss or gains, just because really it didn’t matter to me.

I will admit that lately I’ve started to care. Ever since I moved back up to Tokyo last year, I noticed that even though I’m eating healthier than ever before, I am not losing weight at all. I turned completely vegetarian six months ago because my stomach issues were just unbearable. So now, I eat vegetables with rice or pasta, and that’s like my daily intake of food.

But I know that the main issue is the thing I hate the most: exercise.

I’ve been active before, as in growing up I bounced from a kids soccer team to a t-ball team to a basketball team to a color guard/winter guard year. All the same, I know I should exercise a hell of a lot more than I do.

Luckily, as the title states, I live in Japan.

What does that mean? Well, for one, I walk a lot already every day. It is easy to simply add more walking daily. I’ve already kind of started doing this, just getting up and going for walks if I ever get breaks at work. It also means the odds of me being able to walk around my neighborhood at night without any problems are high. I already have started walking 30 minutes every day when I get home from work.

In addition, even though I live farther out in the suburbs of Tokyo, I can in fact have my choice of gyms. I can just take taiken lessons (like demo lessons or demo weeks) and see which ones I like here and there. If I don’t like the company run ones, there is in fact a small community gym near my station. All in all, the building blocks to a healthier way of life are all around me, I just gotta figure out a path and take it.

I think it in general helps that I know I’m doing the weight loss journey thing as more or less just to stay healthy. I think being obese really isn’t something I want to go back to being, and I’m gaining back into that edge. I want to be able to travel and do things even when I’m old and grey haired, so in order to do that I know that I’ve got to take the exercise initiative seriously starting from now.

Turning 30 for some people means panicking, but for me it means evaluating. I know for a fact, like I can feel in my bones, that I definitely don’t have that old young metabolism anymore. I can’t just eat salads for a few weeks and lose 5 pounds anymore, I’m going to have to really put in effort to maintain/lose weight.

I’ve seen people do vlogs about their weight loss and doing more exercise and things, but I don’t really feel comfortable with the idea of doing a weight loss vlog journey. However, I do feel comfortable writing about it, and I think it’ll help me stay responsible if I talk about it here and there. Accountability is a good thing to have, I think.

I will be honest, I have no idea what my numbers are right now. I don’t own a weight scale anymore. The last one I owned was two years ago, and I never even used it but once in a blue moon. I will be getting a health check at my new place of employment in April, so then maybe I can give some updates. For now though, I just kind of wanted to talk about it.

I think my goal for now is get back down to a healthy 65(ish) kilos, like I was in my first and second Japan years. I felt really good at that weight, and I could go shopping no problem. Also, I feel as if that’s a realistic kilo weight loss goal I could accomplish in a year or so. This is definitely not going to be a crash diet nonsense thing, I’m making a commitment to putting in the work so I can have a healthier life…kind of thing.

I don’t intend to obsess or turn my whole life into the weight loss thing, I’ll just occasionally talk about it. What worked, what didn’t , how this feels, how this sucks, etc.

With any luck, a side benefit will be that I can run to the train station and not feel winded. I’m not saying that’s what inspired this whole journey…but I will say it played a part in the decision. I live fifteen minutes away, I need to be able to book it without dying in the mornings.

Anyways, thanks for reading! Be sure to follow along and check back in soon. I’ll be doing book reviews and such this week.

Posted in Slice of Life

Eight Years Later: Always Remembering 3/11

Today was the eight year anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. Even though I don’t write about it every year, I do still take this as a day of remembrance.

When I saw the news about the tsunami that struck Japan, I panicked. I frantically emailed and Facebook messaged people over in Japan, desperate to hear if everyone was alright. A friend I studied abroad with the year before was right there, but she survived. My host families were alright, but in mourning. People they knew were gone.

The numbers of missing and dead increased. In the end, over 18,000 lives were lost. The after shocks rocked the whole eastern coast for over a year afterwards. I remember vividly just feeling so helpless while watching the news. It broke my heart to see a country I loved so much in such deep pain. I wanted to be there, to somehow help.

Then, I got on the JET Program in 2011, in July. I went into an apartment with problematic water and gas issues. I wasn’t supposed to cook with water from the tap, but go get water from the grocery store every other day. I biked over broken and shifted roads, as in roads shifted all the way over from their original placements.

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I also managed to find more old photos and thought I’d share them. This is a road where the ground just sank underneath this sidewalk.

(Exerpt from 5 Years Later: Reflections on March 11th)

When I arrived in Itako, so many of the roads were cracked, shifted sideways, or in waves. The school across the street from me had a long crack up the side still being repaired. Most of the buildings in the area dropped an inch into the ground after the earthquake hit; due to the rice farming, the entire region was so soft underneath the ground just gave way.

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A sidewalk pushed up by the earthquake. The road used to be a straight line, not a curve. Notice the poles about to fall over.

For a month or so, if I wanted clean water to drink and cook with, I’d have to bike all the way out to the supermarket to get water. I’d fill it up and lug it home with the groceries in a backpack killing my shoulders. The whole time I was doing it, I knew I was lucky because so many others were facing he grief of losing family, friends, and homes. I just had to do some exercise. Nothing I experienced could even come close to that kind of awful.

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The street would go up and down like waves sometimes, too.

I was amazed at how resilient my Japanese co-workers and students were about everything. Even though their country just went through something terribly traumatic, they were still able to work forward towards getting back to normal. My teachers often praised me for coming to Japan after the earthquake, calling me brave, but I feel like my boarding a plane and their surviving a natural disaster weren’t comparable.

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This is supposed to be a sidewalk. On the left the road had rippled, and this side of the road went vertical.
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Basically, the road cracked here in five different places. Once where the white gravel is crossing the road, another in a V shape at the intersection, and again in the middle of the road. Parts of the road to the right were completely gone and swallowed up by displaced rice fields.
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Sorry it’s so dark, but here is a road that just sank down a good foot from where it used to be. That’s why there were water and gas issues and some areas without electricity still. These poles here had loose electrical wiring just dangling this way and that.

My students just rolled with the aftershocks, of which there were many in the year to follow, even if they sometimes needed to hold my hand when a big one struck during class. They’d still move on, go to the next class, keep trucking through. I really admired all of them for being so strong, even if they didn’t think of it.

Over the three years I lived there, I watched as everything slowly transformed. The roads around my apartment were done one at a time, painstakingly thorough in trying to make them straight again. You’d never know that the buildings are two inches shorter with all the stairs and foundations redone. When the construction finally died down, everyone relaxed and got into a groove of normalcy again. The cracks in the buildings and the psyches became faded lines that you had to look for, and if you weren’t looking you wouldn’t even see them at all.


I worked and taught in a place that suffered from many, many aftershocks for the first year and a half, though. There were a lot of earthquake alarms, and the whole apartment would sway back and forth constantly. I eventually grew to just accept it, but it was a wild ride.

In February 17th of 2013, I participated in the Kashima Friendship Association Japanese Speech Contest and talked about the 3/11 tragedy. However, I kind of always regretted how that speech felt a bit self-involved. I wish I could’ve spoken more about how inspiring my teachers and students were for making their lives and their city come back together.

I also wished I had shared the stories of the people who went through everything, too. I got around to it…in March of 2017, but I should’ve done that far earlier.


(Excerpt from Flashback Friday: On March 11th)

My predecessor, L, told me she was playing outside when it hit, and that no one could move, the entire world was shaking too hard. She had to take a taxi back home, but the roads were cracked open in some areas or completely shifted off to one side, like some surreal dystopian painting come to life.

L went home to find many of her things knocked down, the water off, and electricity unavailable. Even up until the day I moved in, I wasn’t supposed to use the water from the tap to drink or cook with. Instead, I had to bike twenty minutes or so to the nearest grocery store to get a huge tub of water in a plastic container.

In this hard time, the neighbors helped her out, and her friend, A, let her stay for a bit since her house wasn’t as affected as the main area of Itako. People pulled resources together to have meals, shared water when others had none, and kept their sense of community throughout the chaos.

The people in Mito weren’t as lucky in terms of damage. The JETs there relayed tales of broken bridges and roads, completely unusable. Only one or two JETs in the area had running water and electricity. Thankfully, they opened their doors to others, so people crammed into those apartments to take showers and essentially live there until things got back up and running again. If not for them, family members wouldn’t have known they were alive, they might’ve not had meals.

For people with diabetes, it was a nightmare scenario, since insulin requires both a doctor and a pharmacy but neither were available (same went for allergy and asthma problems). Luckily, friends helped out, and sometimes also the supervisors and co-workers. Medicine was found and given to the people who needed it most, even if it took all day to bike to one side of a city and back, people were getting the resources where they needed to go.

But sometimes the supervisors were unsympathetic. One Mito JET spoke about his supervisor harassing him into coming to school. Even though the students didn’t come and many other teachers weren’t there, they expected him to show up (for reasons he never really understood). The issue with the demands wasn’t so much that he didn’t want to go to work (he actually did, his school had electricity and internet access) but he couldn’t get there.

“When the earthquake hit, you know how L showed you the roads? Yeah, imagine the same thing for the trains. My station was busted up real bad.” He told me and picked up his smartphone to show me pictures. On his screen were downed power lines, resting over railroad tracks split in half.

“They kept trying to tell me ‘just take a taxi’ or something, but everyone was taking the taxi. It was an impossible thing to ask. They had family and friends, you know? But I just got here! I didn’t know anyone yet.”

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Via the Telegraph | This is the Joban Motorway near Mito, Ibaraki

But I do think there is some merit to collecting and sharing these stories even into today. Putting a spotlight on Tohoku and Fukushima is important, because recovery is very much still ongoing. Many people I know seem to be under the impression it’s all done and over, but for many people in Fukushima they are still living in “temporary” housing. Infrastructure is still lacking in some places in Miyagi as well.

And so going back to the five year anniversary post, I wrote about 3/11 all over again, but this time including fundraisers for Fukushima (as the government was getting called out for not helping the region recover).

Two fundraisers that I mentioned in the previous blog posts are the Taylor Anderson Fundraiser, so named after the JET participant who died in the tsunami, and as always, the Red Cross. (However, note that the Red Cross is giving priority to the Hokkaido 2018 earthquake now.

And also, the Japan Red Cross is everywhere. Giving blood in times when there isn’t a disaster, like say right now, is better than right after a disaster strikes. I used to give blood annually when I was working in schools, but I skipped last year because of health reasons.

However, there are still other organizations out there! Another active group in Tohoku is the JCS Rainbow Project which is dedicated to helping children of Fukushima recover. Every year the Japan Club of Sydney brings over children from Japan to share their stories and they send aid to Japan.

Another organization is the Japan Society Earthquake Relief Fund. They are still taking donations for both the Tohoku Earthquake and the Kumamoto Earthquake from 2016.

A big rebuilding project for Fukushima is Asubito Fukushima, General Incorporated Association. “Asubito” is their own Japanese mixed word that means, “people who create tomorrow, people who clear the path to tomorrow.” It’s a huge project that intends to help both reconstruction and fostering math as well as science skills in local Fukushima schools.

Nowadays, less and less programs have calls for volunteers in the Tohoku and Fukushima areas. At the same time, if you want to volunteer, Peace Boat has volunteering activities all across the country to help with disaster relief. I personally recommend going through Peace Boat if you’re a native English speaker. It is possible to volunteer through the Red Cross as well, but I’ve been told they’re looking for more Japanese speaking volunteers instead of English speakers.

On this day of remembrance, it’s important to reflect and mourn those lost. Then, it’s also important to spotlight those places still affected and give them what aid we can to help. As a teacher, most of the fundraisers here are focusing on how to help kids in schools. Around Christmas time I try to still send gifts to children in Fukushima or Tohoku, because usually it’s the children affected most by the disasters.

Even after eight years or ten or twenty, recovery will still be going on and people will still be remembering this tragedy. Other tragedies have come along as well, so we add them into this cultural narrative of shared mourning. I hope that in time the healing will come, but we’re still not completely done. I’m still here, and I’ll still keep trying to help.


Bonus: This is a really well done documentary style video about after the tsunami. Highly recommend it, but get your tissues prepared.

Posted in Slice of Life

Carrying It Along: On Grief and Loss

My uncle died recently. It was a very sudden cancer diagnosis, and then just like that, he was gone. I would say he was a “distant relative,” but I knew him. I wish I could be there with my family in America for the funeral, but there is no money and no time for grief. I think my company perhaps gives grieving leave (I haven’t checked) but I think that’s only for immediate family and needing to leave the country.

My uncle was a good grandfather to my cousins. He had a sense of humor I really couldn’t quite get, honestly. I chuck it up to a generational gap and non-familiarity, since he lived states away when I was growing up in Kentucky. I’d been to his house in Oklahoma more than once when I got older. We had a big family gathering there once, the typical Southern way of playing games and eating WAY too much food.

I like to respect him by remembering him fondly. Although, it feels wrong of me to grieve, being so far away? Having not seen him in years? But I do feel bad for my aunt and uncle losing someone, along with my mother who will be attending the funeral. I wish I at least had the money to send flowers, somehow.

These kinds of griefs are hard to explain, because I’ve had a few over here. Second year into the JET Program, Gabby -the family dog back home in the U.S.- died. I was very glad I went back home for Christmas so I could see her one last time. Jack, my mom’s cat, died around or before that same time.
It all hurt, but there was nothing I could do except tell my Mom, “I’m so so sorry you’re going through this.” Because she was really there dealing with it all, while I was miles away in a foreign country.

It feels wrong of me to mourn when everyone else is there, actually having to deal with the funerals and arrangements. I know, logically, that’s not the healthy way of thinking about it, and that these feelings are all valid.

I guess though that means my guilt for being abroad when things like deaths in the family happen is also valid, too. I don’t want to make it about me, because I’m not even there. Does that make sense? And I really just want to be there to support the people I love who are hurting more than me, no doubt. So I just don’t say much of anything about my own grief, because it really feels so small and insignificant in comparison to someone who just lost someone right there. What kind of asshole monster would I be if I said anything?

Also, sometimes my grief is a bit ridiculous. When my mom decided to move out to Oklahoma permanently, and the house I lived in for most of my life was put on market. Even though I was only going to visit that place once a year, it cut deep to think I’d never see it again.

I got over it, eventually, but I still have these dreams of being in my old room sometimes. Not all of these dreams are super fantastically detailed, but I wake up feeling like I left something behind. It’s a strange disconnect for a few seconds until I remember, oh right, it’s not there anymore. Well, physically it is, but I can never go back to it.

A lot of grief disconnects, and then has to get reconnected for me. Before my uncle, there was actually another loss I really haven’t processed, and maybe I never will. A friend from high school died, and once again, there was nothing I could do but send Facebook message condolences. I couldn’t believe it, still kind of can’t. I still see her in my mind’s eye as someone alive, smiling, laughing.

Once again, we hadn’t seen each other in years. I liked her a lot in high school, though. She and I had a very similar sense of humor, and she was one of the people I could just talk to easily. It was a small school, a small town, we grew up together. But we weren’t super best friends, too, and I’m not family. Again, this grief feels wrong to have when I am disconnected in so many ways.

But I remember staying after school with her, and we roamed the empty halls just talking and laughing about things. I remember how we both complained about a certain teacher, and we couldn’t wait to get out of high school. There are things I’m going to look back at now and have to remind myself that she’s really gone. It feels impossible, somehow.

In the past, I have lost other people, but these recent ones came right on top of each other without a year’s break in between like the others. I lost another uncle about a year ago, and he was a lovely man who bought me literally the best beer I’d ever beer I’d ever had in my life. An ex-boyfriend from university died in a car crash. I had bought him a Japanese manga version of BLEACH for him. It’s still on my bookshelf.

All of it happened, and they are all gone. Grieving is different for everyone, I know, and for me each grief carries its own set of a different sort of aching when I think about them. My latent Christianity hopes that everyone is alright, blessed and at peace where they belong. I pray that all my family members find their own closure, that everyone gets through it with the support and love they need. I do what I can from far off, but it never feels like much or even near enough.

The best I feel I can do is honor the memories I have and carry them with me. I don’t know what to do with the grief that accompanies them and when it hits me at the strangest times, but I’ll carry it all along anyway. And perhaps if I share a little bit of what I’m feeling maybe that’ll make it a little easier. Maybe one day I’ll be a little more emotionally mature, and I can properly process how I feel.

Until then, I’ll just remember them all fondly, with love.