When I got to the karaoke place, I was actually ahead of schedule for the rest of the crew. They were all still trying to gather up and throw things away from the hanami party. It was getting dark and cold, so no way could they stay out there. The idea was to head to a cheap af karaoke place across from Shinjuku City Hall.
Since I ended up arriving so early, I decided to take a long walk for a few blocks. I’m going on a bit of a weight loss journey and so I’ve started walking more. I started down the main street, where I saw Louie Vitton and a whole bunch of super expensive designer clothes shops.
A gaggle of Korean ladies exited from one place with big smiles and chatting before calling a taxi for all of them and their bags. I figured they might’ve been models or higher income bracket of some kind people, because your normal tourists generally never get taxis. They’re just so expensive here. Case in point, a couple of Chinese tourists passed by with a guide book and bickering between the two of them (probably about which way to go, probably married because it’s an older gentlemen and lady). They could’ve gotten a taxi to get to their destination, but opted to walk.
Shinjuku is a melting pot, both in terms of tourists and actual residents. I knew people in the area who lived in Japan for over ten or fifteen years. The majority were from Southeast Asian countries, but there were the odd American or Canadian in the mix. As I walked, I wondered if I was going to end up here in two years. A lot of my friends loved Shinjuku, especially Ni-chome the Gay District.
As I was on my way back to the karaoke box, I turned right to the Shinjuku Shrine. I didn’t do the New Year’s tradition of visiting a shrine and getting my fortune read. I figured now was as good a time as any. I purified my hands at the entrance and walked over to the omikuji box. For 100 yen I discovered this year I might have a little luck, but not really in a lot of areas. I decided to wrap the fortune around a tree and try again some other time. I’m not overly religious or superstitious; I believe in making my own luck. Still, can’t hurt to pray and try, right?
By the time I walked into the karaoke box lobby, my people were there, all nine or ten of us. They all shouted in surprise to see me because I’d told them I’d been sick on the Facebook event.
My good friend Mr. D hugged me and said, “Yeah, when L____ told us you were coming, M______ and I both figured, ‘She’s probably bored!'”
I laughed and nodded. “You are correct! I hated the idea of just being sick and lonely. I didn’t wanna miss out on congratulating L______ for getting a job!”
L______ originally made this event because he thought he might have to leave the country. He couldn’t manage to land a job that would give him visa support. Luckily, at the last possible second, a school hired him! So a sayonara party turned into a congrats party. All’s well that ends well!
We all marched up to the karaoke room and discovered we were given a big ol’ party room! I walked in and froze, feeling a sense of deja vu. I turned around to look at another friend in the group.
“Did we have this room before?” I asked. “I feel like…I’ve been drunk in this room before.”
People paused, looked around, and then my friend Le____ laughed. “Yeah! I think we have in fact been in this room before!”
I made a bad joke no one heard about us needing to just reserve this party room for us every weekend then. People all immediately started inputting songs. “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers came on first, setting the mood for all of us to scream the notes out at the top of our lungs. I thought my throat would hate the singing because of my illness, but nope! I managed to sing without hurting. Man, those meds were something else. I made a mental note to ask for that same medicine next time.
We mixed up some Japanese songs. I put in “Face My Fears” by Utada Hikaru in English, even though I meant to put in Japanese better. I could sing both just fine, I just preferred the Japanese vowels for singing. Someone else put in the Japanese version of the Digimon song, to wit everyone lost their goddamn minds because we’re all a bunch of queer nerds.
And so of course, Disney had to happen, because as I said Queer Nerds. Mr. D and I did a duet of “I Can Show You The World.”
Le_____ proclaimed at the end, “That was so beautiful! You two just got married!”
And everyone laughed their asses off. Mr. D is a definitely gay man, so that was never gonna happen, but I appreciated the sentiment. I think we would’ve made a good couple in the 1950’s with me as his beard, but those old fashioned days are gone (thank God and activists).
We changed our tune to some epic “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, because we all have ex’s that screwed with our heads and we sometimes need to vent about that trauma through some therapeutic screaming into microphones. Then we got hit by Ariana Grands’ “7 Rings,” and even though we all complained about it, we all still knew the damn song.
I don’t think she’s a bastion of LGBTQIA+ representation, personally, but straight people for some reason really, really want her to be so there she is leading the charge in the UK Pride. And to be fair, she’s fine. She has been a very strong ally, no doubt about that, but I still think it’s stupid that a country that birthed Elton John, The Goddamn Spice Girls, Sam Smith, Lady Sovereign, Boy George, David Bowie (Rest in Peace, love), and many others chose Ariana Grande because…I don’t even know.
Again, to be fair Japan chose Ayumi Hamasaki to perform for Tokyo Rainbow Pride, so there’s also that. She’s also one of the few strong allies to LGBTQIA+ people in Japan, so I get why she was chosen. Also, she asked to perform, supposedly, so there’s that.
Anyways, we sang our hearts out and talked in between about new jobs coming in April or changes in current jobs. In Japan, schools and businesses do a lot of internal transfers. Some people lost their favorite Principal or Vice Principal to a better school, or alternatively celebrated the loss of a terrible teacher to lower level schools. Getting fired in Japan usually only happens when someone gets arrested, otherwise they’re just shuffled around. We all told L_______ congrats on his new job!
After about two hours, we packed up and headed off for Cafe Lavendaria in Ni-Chome for a Lazy Moon Party. Lazy Moon Parties are just gatherings where people can come in dance, and it’s open to all of the LGBTQIA+ people. It’s also generally earlier than most parties, starting at 8:00 p.m. When we got there not a lot of people were hanging out. Cafe Lavendaria is a staple in the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s a great place where in the daytime you can chill and read a book from the huge wall length bookcase, and at night there’s usually some kind of event going on that’s interesting.
The D.J. was already putting on some sick beats, so we all started dancing. I stayed good like I did at the karaoke box and didn’t drink alcohol. Fun fact: If you’re on antibiotics, you’re not supposed to drink. If you drink, you’re basically making it harder for the antibiotics to do their job. I managed to dance and run into some old friends. We all had a good time and caught up on things.
I thought being responsible would put a damper on things, but actually I still had a lot of fun. Also, bonus points to my friends since none of them put any pressure on me to drink. I figured, I don’t know, I would look like the weird one out not drinking, but actually no one cared. I realized that also, I’m pushing into my 30’s. Why the hell would it even matter if someone tried? I know I would just tell them to leave me alone, if it happened.
And then something else kind of clicked in my head: We’re all mature adults, that’s why no one is being pushy.
I know it’s a weird realization to have on a dance floor, but I had it all the same. Gone are the days of the nonsense where there were always those assholes in the group who had to demand, “Why aren’t you drinking, huh?! You want me to buy you a beer?” Because the concept of fun without beer was alien to them.
I used to be a little bit of an ass like that in university, but I realized when I got to Japan that kind of stuff was rude as all hell. I got the memo, but a lot of people didn’t get that notice well through their 20 something’s. Nowadays, no one feels the need to prove anything, I think. We’re all a little bit older and wiser, and that’s good.
I hit a wall at about 10:00 p.m. I could feel my body being mad at me for going out while sick, demanding the sleep I refused it earlier. I hugged people goodbye and headed off for home. I felt pleasantly happy, because I managed to have fun and make a decision that made me happy. I was still responsible, but I had fun.
And the next day promised some more excitement, because I had a birthday party to attend.
My last day of the old job was Wednesday. About halfway through the day, right before starting my kindergarten classes, I felt a fever hit me. I quickly diagnosed myself with hay-fever, so I took a bunch of allergy and ibuprofen pills before starting classes again. Spring time and I are mortal enemies, even though I adore the flowers and the hanami parties.
On Thursday, I was out for a good twelve hours. I recently went to Yokosuka Base and asked a friend to buy some generic NyQuil and DayQuil (and Taco Bell and Pizza and etc). I forgot that NyQuil really just knocks me right the hell out. I spent that day and some of Friday recuperating, but also managing to do errands and such.
On Saturday, I woke up knowing something was wrong. I was sick, and not the I can just get over it kind. I coughed up green mucus and chucks of white stuff. I felt like an idiot and kicked myself the whole way to the doctor’s office. I was supposed to head off to a hanami party, but instead there I was in the lobby with a thermometer under my arm (Yes, Americans, you read that right. Japan does the under the arm method.).
I got a bit irritated with the receptionist. She told me to take my temperature, but she gave me a thermometer with a low battery. It died twice, and I tried to show her. But she just told me to sit down and do it again. Finally, after the third try, she asked if it was done, and it wasn’t, but I stomped up to her receptionist’s desk without a word and SLAMMED the thing down. I walked back to my seat. She did not ask me to take my temperature again.
I have a three strikes rule. I am polite the first two times someone is an ass to me, especially if they’re in customer service or related. After strike three, I don’t feel much obliged to be polite anymore. Also, I’m sick, so she could get over it.
The doctor talked to me in English. I like this guy. He’s got a direct and no-nonsense attitude that reminds me of my old pediatrician I had back in Kentucky. I came in and said immediately, “I think I made a mistake. I thought I had hay-fever, but I think it was actually a sinus infection.” I told him about coughing up stuff.
He asked me, “Did you have allergies in the states?”
“Yeah, I did. I’ve always had pollen allergies, and asthma.”
He did a small suck of air between his teeth, the Japanese sound of “Well, that’s not good,” and then check my lungs and throat. He felt my neck, I’m assuming to rule out other issues like strep and tonsillitis. He nodded and started typing into the computer on his right.
“I’m going to give you antibiotics for the sinus infection, and I think you might have a little bronchitis…like before.” His disapproving tone was noted.
I’d had a pneumonia scare back in November, which had turned out to just be bad bronchitis. He decided to switch the antibiotics this time. He didn’t really tell me that, I discovered this when I went to the pharmacy. I always check my antibiotics because I’m allergic to certain kinds.
I hate being sick while on vacation. It feels like a cosmic joke. Oh, you thought that you’d get time to enjoy yourself?! Mwahahahaha! Here’s a fever and a horrible time. Technically I guess I’m not on “vacation,” I’m more or less on call in case my new job has some kind of orientation or meeting. Until I got that email or call though, I was collecting papers for a new visa or tax papers, or HAVING FUN! At least, that was the plan.
Instead I was miserable and bored for a good twenty to thirty minutes while my prescription got filled. As I sat there, I thought about on the way home, getting comfort foods, and just spending time cooped up at home. The thought filled me with absolutely no happiness. There are days I love staying at home with nothing to do, but not this day. This day was supposed to be for frivolity and good times, dammit.
I got to the counter and as per usual, the medicine was the most “expensive” part of the doctor’s visit. I paid about 1,500 yen to see the doctor and then about 4,000 yen for the medicine. I got antibiotics, fever reducers, cough medicine, stronger allergy medicine, and an inhaler. I think the inhaler probably is why the medicine was 4,000, because last time the other meds were just 2,500.
Whenever I see people in America get up in arms about socialized medicine, I take my cheap af pills and laugh at them. Ambulances are free, not over a thousand ridiculous dollars. Flu shots are free at most clinics, but you still have to pay the doctor’s fee. Sure, the dosages can be smaller than what I’m used to in America, but then I can just go buy some cheap fever reducers or something at the store. The antibiotics are the same doses.
As I get to the train platform to go home, it’s well into the afternoon or early evening. I had stopped to grab a drink and take my first meds of the day. Already the fever was going away and I could breathe through my nose. The coughing had stopped along with my itchy eyes. Basically, once they kicked in and went to work, I felt a whole new person. I thought about going home, all alone, to my tiny apartment and just…relaxing…all day….
Without even thinking about it, I messaged my friend, “Hey! Are you guys still out and about?”
Screw it, I was heading out.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.