Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In Memory of the Lettuce Cat

The Veggie Cat
c. 5th grade

The cat stalks his prey all through the night.
His dark fur cloak is pulled on tight.
Suddenly his victim comes in sight.
He pounces on it with all his might.

But what is that thing that hangs from his teeth?
What is it now that dangles beneath?
What innocent creature was given no grief?
That poor, helpless lettuce leaf.

I'm going to miss you, Tsar.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Facebook Photos of Japan

From that dastardly site of incalculable procrastination:

Flying and Orientation
Kyoto Tour
More Kyoto and Yawatashi
Nijo Castle 1 and 2
Sport's Day
Yukata Fitting
Fushimi Inari Shrine 1 and 2
Gaidai Festival
Yawatashi Cultural Festival
Nara 1, 2, and 3
Actually Autumn 1 and 2
Philosopher's Path and Ginkakuji 1 and 2
Tokyo 1, 2, and 3
Autumn Leaves 1 and 2
Kyoto Gyoen and Kinkakuji 1 and 2

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Well, then

this was definitely a failed project, wasn't it? I must say I somewhat expected that from the beginning; I've never been good at keeping a journal, and although there are certainly exciting experiences to be had abroad, I didn't think a new location would automatically transfer to a new habit.

I have been writing a bit in my paper journal, noting thoughts and taking down a few events in minimal detail. I have a fair number of pictures (thought not as many as I might like) to document my travels, and I shall link to all of those albums here. Overall, however, I suppose I shall just have to attempt to write down my experiences at a later date.

Right now, I'm procrastinating on studying for finals and writing a few papers, so I don't have time to describe anything.

Only a week left in Japan. I shall be taking the night bus to Hiroshima Wednesday night, and it'll probably all be downhill from there. I'm very ready to be back in the states. There are many things I haven't seen, but I'm honestly exhausted and terribly missing snow. Temperatures have been in the 50s and 60s here. It's hard to get in the Christmas spirit.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Public Baths

are not like those in ancient Rome, but that's what I kept thinking when I visited them with my host mother last night. I kept expecting there to be carved stone reliefs and tiled mosaics depicting sexual acts above the clothes cubbies. There were, of course, none.

The baths weren't very crowded, likely due to the downpour of rain. Upon entering, you place your shoes in a cubby on either the male or female side of the wall. The doors are marked with the characters for "male" and "female", so as long as you have a very basic kanji knowledge, you're fine. =) And after you walk in the door, you hand your 1oo yen to the woman at the desk, and I'm sure she'd let you know if you were being an ignorant foreigner and direct you to the right side.

The first room is a changing room with what looked like tatami flooring. I was a little surprise by this, since I'd heard you're not supposed to get tatami too wet, but I guess it's okay. There were benches and numerous cubbies with plastic baskets to store your clothes, purse, etc. If you wanted, you could pay to use a locked cubby, but I didn't see anyone bothering with them. Once you're sufficiently naked, you can take your various soaps, wash cloth, and requisite plastic tub into the bath room. (Between the changing room and the bath room there is another narrow room with sinks--I'm not sure what goes on here, as we didn't use it.)

Upon entering the bath, you sit yourself on a plastic stool facing the wall and use the various faucets to wash, lather, rinse, etc., yourself. There are three faucets--one hot water, one cold water, and one hot water shower. This is where your plastic tub becomes a necessity: although you could wash yourself entirely under the shower, the usual way to clean yourself is by filling your tub with water and dousing yourself with it. You can use the tub to wet or rinse out your wash cloth (these are much longer than American wash cloths, and are therefore much easier to use in scrubbing your back), or to splash water on your face, etc. I found the shower very useful in rinsing my hair, though--thus far I've found it rather difficult to get all the suds out with bucketfuls of water.

Once you're sufficiently clean--no suds!--you can enter the ofuro proper. This is essentially a very large American-style hot tub, but without all that noxious chlorine. If you're used to those, the temperature is perfect--nice and steamy, just enough to make your toes tingle. You can soak there as long as you like, though we didn't stay more than five minutes.

Following your happy soak, you shower once again in one of the stalls against the wall. I'm not entirely sure why, but it was nice and warm, so I wasn't about to complain. Then we returned to the changing room, where we dried ourselves, redressed, and packed up our things.

All in all, a very relaxing experience, if you can get past the whole "I'm a foreigner standing naked in a room of other naked women" thing. I found that taking off my glasses made the process much easier.


After a long deliberation, a post!

Why, you ask, do I bother keeping this blog if I insist on not posting messages to it? Funny you should ask! I haven't the slightest idea!

Since my last post, I have spent over a month in Japan traversing the border between Osaka and Kyoto prefectures. My homestay family lives in Yawatashi, three-to-five stations away from the Kansai Gaidai campus (depending on how far and which way you want to walk). My commute consists of 12-20 minutes of walking to the train station, about 15-20 minutes waiting for/on the train, and another 12-20 minute walk to campus/home. Generally, I assume it's going to take an hour and plan my departure accordingly. I thought I'd hate walking so long every day, but I'm already getting used to it. We'll see how long I hold that opinion once the temperature actually drops.

My first few weeks in Japan were definitely filled with the last dregs of summer. After the comparatively cool late-August weather in Minnesota, the hot and humid coastal climate of Kansai was quite a shock, and I determined on the spot that I would not plan to live in Japan for any extended period of time--not in this climate, anyway. As soon as we hit the autumnal equinox two weeks ago, the temperature took a happy drop to a slightly warm, but comfortable fall temperature. The leaves have been changing colors on the sly; I've been seeing more and more fallen leaves, but barely any trees have tinges of color.

I've visited various places and attempted various things--though I have not yet been to karaoke or drank sake--but none have been so ridiculously exciting as to warrant a post here. Perhaps when I'm feeling more ambitious, I'll transfer more notes from my notebook to this blog. For now, let me leave you with a list of various Japan observations.

  • Don't expect to do much baking while in Japan. Very few people have ovens, and the traditional American baking supplies are difficult to find. When you do find them, they are often sold in small packets, which makes sense if you only intend to bake one thing, but which may make avid bakers rather frustrated.
  • None of the Japanese people I've spoken to so far have ever heard of putting peanut butter and jam together in the same sandwich. I have seen peanut butter sandwiches and jam-and-margarine sandwiches sold in convenience stores, but apparently peanut butter AND jelly is somewhat ridiculous. You CAN find peanut butter, though, if you look. I bought a small jar of Skippy Extra Crunchy, which looks ridiculously American save for a small bit of Japanese on the side of the label. The Ingredients are also listed in English.
  • Japanese light switches do not switch up and down, like American switches, but side-to-side. In my homestay, they also have little lights in them so as to aid in finding them in the dark, as well as to indicated whether or not that particular switch is turned "on" or not. Very convenient.
  • When there are sidewalks (I miss lots of sidewalks!) there are often raised lines and bumps to guide the blind down the sidewalk safely. Crosswalks also often make noise to indicate when it is safe to cross. They get a bit annoying if you've got your windows open at night, but it seems like a very considerate thing to do.
  • Bicycles are all over the place and can be almost as dangerous as cars. All the same, it seems rather dangerous to be a bicyclist due to all the pedestrian and vehicular traffic. . . . Actually, commuting in general is a little treacherous.
  • I am ridiculously glad I can't drive here.
  • It is nearly impossible to find wheat bread. White bread abounds, but as yet I have only seen one sort of wheat-like bread sold. Bread is also sliced very thickly, between two and three times as thick as the usual American slices. This makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches difficult unless one can either find the rare thin-sliced bread or is rather good at slicing large pieces in half.
  • I have yet to find cilantro. This makes me sad, for the tomatoes are delicious and richly deserve to become salsa.
  • Everyone and their dog has a cell phone. (Actually, this is not at all true, but it appears so as you glance down the seats in the train. At least a third of the passengers at any given time will have their cell phones out and their thumbs in use. All of these people will also have charms of some sort dangling off of their phones--yes, the sort of charms that people generally mock in the States--whether they are male, female, young, or old.)
  • Very few people have dryers to accompany their washing machines. Instead, they hang-dry their clothes--not on a clothes line, but on hangers clipped to racks.
  • I found a gecko in my room, and he was adorable.
Ja, matta!

Monday, September 1, 2008


We'll see how coherent this is. I don't think I'd experienced jet-lag before, but I think I get it now. It's a cloud around your mind, a faint headache and exhaustion, but more of an aura of numbness, as though your brain isn't getting enough oxygen or something. I was fine until about an hour after I woke up, and then it attacked.

But! Some things I've noticed so far.

The charter bus we rode from the airport had seatbelts. I'd always wondered why American buses don't ever have seat belts. I was also strangely surprised by the fact that the bus door was on the opposite side as back home. I should have expected it, since the traffic flow is backwards here, but it was immediately startling.

The showers in the dorms make a ridiculous amount of sense. Rather than turning on a continual spray, pressing the handle produces a strong shower for about 30 seconds, then turns off, giving you time to lather or shave or whatever you need to do. It's a great way to save water--I'd at times considered doing that sort of thing at home, but there you feel awkward about turning off the shower--it's not normal for it to start and stop--but now it's expected.

I tried out a vending machine this morning, and I was surprised to receive my grapefruit drink, via the machine's slot, in an un-topped paper cup and filled with crushed ice. Amazing! It's like a fountain drink, filled by a machine.

It was also quite delicious.

More to come later!

Friday, January 12, 2007


This story was written for my fall Creative Writing class and has recently been published in the GAC Firethorne! Yay! Now I just have to get my hands on a copy of it. =)

Denyl's grandfather's hands enclose his, and he imagines he can feel the heavy callouses despite the leather of the gloves between them. He wonders why Grandfather wears them at all; the callouses now protect far better than the gloves ever could. Beyond the constricting leather, the man's skin is bronzed and sun-wrinkled and stands dark against the child-tan of Denyl's skin. Denyl tries not to think about how trapped he feels by his grandfather's grasp. It's been years since they stood like this, hand over hand, aiming to send a kite to the sky. Though his hands have grown since he first learned to fly his festival kite, they still feel swallowed by the enormity of Grandfather's experienced fingers. He wonders if this is what a dust moth feels like, still cocooned: all tiny and trapped and desperate for flight.

Today, they're fishing, grandfather and grandchild, because Denyl can use all his fingers when counting his age. Today, he can finally use the mottled lure-kite his sister fashioned for him. In the morning sun, the magnificence of its existence can almost outshine the uneven stitches and unstable framework, because today the kite, trailing two knotless lines, is his and his alone. In his mind, he can hear Syra's tight-lipped amusement at his near-forgotten criticism of the kite's construction. “Really, Denyl,” she chides, “you could have made it yourself for all the trouble you give me.” But he never wanted to be a kite-stitcher like she did. He is going to be a windfisher, and that means he flies.

“And—gently . . . hup!” Grandfather's voice rises easily over the hiss of wind, talking Denyl through the motions of pulling the lure-kite to a tail-stand in the sand and letting the wind catch it full on. Denyl wants to tell him that he knows how to get it flying, that he's know it for years, that lift-off with two lines can't be so different from lift-off with one, but he keeps quiet. He's ten and an adult now, or close to it, and he's too old to complain.

The kite takes to the air in a quick breath, gliding over endless dunes and contrasting against the dark outcrops that mark the village. It sags briefly as the two lend out the line, faltering in a brief lull, then leaps up again as the wind rebounds. Soon, it wafts high above them, a bright set of patchwork wings against the pale clouds. Its hooks flash silver in the sunlight, mimicking scales glistening beneath a fish's feathers. Gazing up at it, Denyl squishes sand between bare toes and focuses on the coarse, familiar heat to avoid grinning like the child he is no longer.

“Isn't she a beauty?” his grandfather says, showing sand-worn teeth in a smile and making it alright to show a little pride. Denyl's own lips tug upward, too. From this distance, all the flaws he'd seen before seem to have blown away with the wind.

Grandfather lets him hold the lines steady while he double-checks that they've tied the kite securely to the rocks behind them. Though the kite itself is small, the wind surges in their ears, and the fish will do its best to tear the lure free before it plunges to the dunes. Denyl slowly lets out the line.

His grandfather relieves his hands of the controls, satisfied with the anchors and the height. Denyl doesn't want to let him—the kite feels alive under his gloved hands, like a true fish leashed on a string—but he reluctantly hands over the lines. For a moment, Grandfather wiggles the lines, testing the control. “She's a little warrior, this one,” he tells him, dry lips laughing. “Watch careful, now—let's see what she can do.”

Denyl's eyes somehow manage to balance between the movements of Grandfather's gloved hands and the kite above. Grandfather's fingers are magic, as though through the lines he has gained another body, one that flies and dances instead of creaking. Under his guidance, the kite dips and spins, side to side and end over end without losing altitude, and Denyl is reminded of why his grandfather still leads the windfishers on hunt days. He wonders how he could have thought the kite lived with his rough movements when he now expects it to burst into fish-song.

It isn't long before the colorful display attracts one of the smaller fish from above the thin layer of clouds. On a clear day, the sky seems to writhe with the faceted scales and glossy feathers of the windfish, their occasional swarms acting as intermittent sunspots above the desert expanse. The stories say that before the sun grew hot, fish lived in valleys filled with rain and deserts with tears for sand. When the water rose to the sky, so left the fish, fleeing after their fleeing home and adopting the feathers and wings that let them survive it. Denyl is ten today, and doesn't believe in stories anymore, but somehow the way the fish moves reminds him of water moving from jar to jar, and suddenly he's no longer so certain of his doubt.

“Alright, Denyl,” Grandfather calls, handing off the lines once more. “Why don't you give it a try?” Denyl returns his gloved hands to the lines, but somehow after watching his grandfather work the kite seems riotous. He is suddenly clumsy, and all the confidence he'd had with his one-stringed festival kite vanishes into the wind. The chin-length child-cut of his hair foils him, distracting him as Grandfather's windfisher crop cannot when it darts over his eyes. He tries to make the kite dance like Grandfather had, tries to keep the attention of the now indifferent fish above, but he lure moves jerkily, wildly, and finally plunges earthward to bury itself in the sand. Startled, the fish vanishes back above the clouds.

“Whoa, there—she's a feisty one, isn't she?” They spend precious minutes retrieving the fallen lure and untangling the lines in preparation for another attempt. Grandfather speaks cheerfully about how he knows Denyl will get it next time, and darn those skittish little devils, hardly worth a dinner's meal, scrawny as they are, but Denyl can't bring himself to talk. He is ten, and he going to be a windfisher, but what good is a windfisher who can't even keep his kite in the air?

Twenty tries later the sky is turning from clouded gray to deep sun-red, and Denyl has only just managed to keep the lure flying long enough to draw out another fish. Grandfather encourages him with suggestions and smiles, but they both know there won't be time to refly the lure before dark if Denyl lets it fall again. “We can always come back tomorrow,” Grandfather reassures, catching his grandchild's forlorn glances toward the darkening horizon. All Denyl can consider is the thought of returning home empty-handed. Without a fish, without a catch, everyone will see how he failed to learn the most basic windfishing.

The fish, a dimwitted blue streamer with an elegant feathered tail, seems to regard the lure with a skeptical hunger. Denyl does his best to make the lure dance enticingly, but it's almost all he can do to keep the kite steady in the uneven dusk gales. Inevitably, the mottled kite falters and plummets, and nothing Denyl tries can rescue it from its fall. He backpedals, dancing frantically to bring the kite back aloft, and a line snags on something, catching the kite in mid-fall. Before Denyl can realize his fortune, the streamer decides its meal is fleeing and snatches the lure into a toothless mouth, and he's too busy fighting the captured fish to consider the saving move. He's suddenly grateful for the secure anchor of rock and the steadying grasp of his grandfather behind him, for he can feel his light frame almost lifted from the ground by the flailing streamer. The taunt line almost digs through his gloves before a final snap brings the fish lifelessly to the sand.

They race to retrieve it, the two generations, Grandfather's practiced sand-steady steps matching Denyl's young energy stride for stride. “Look at that, Denyl,” his grandfather exclaims, hefting the dead streamer around his neck like a morbid, glistening scarf. “And it's all yours.” He smiles broadly, setting sun glinting in steel-blue eyes. Denyl helps him reel up the line again, untie it from the anchor rock, pry the crushed kite from the streamer's jaws, but he can't bring himself to share in his elder's enthusiasm. The fish isn't his. It isn't his catch, isn't the result of his skill. No matter how hard he might have tried, he knew only sheer luck and folly had saved him.

They return to the village just as the last light of day vanishes below the western horizon. Denyl's grandfather lets him drape the streamer over his shoulders as they reach the top of the rock plateau, and it's all he can do to keep walking under its weight. Neighbors call out cheers from mud-brick homes as the two pass by, and Denyl wants to tell them all to stop, that it isn't really his catch, that he hasn't really done anything, but the weight of the fish and the fear of their pity keep him silent. He is a fraud on parade, and though the villagers smile, he can feel a jab of deserved ridicule from the unknowing well-wishers.

When they reach home, Syra steals the drapery from Denyl's neck and twirls it around the room. “It's gorgeous, Denyl,” she cries, stroking the lush plumage of its tail. “I'll make you a beautiful vest with it! Some of the feathers—can I keep some of the feathers?” She is dismayed by the state of her painstakingly-sewn lure-kite, but their mother shoos her away. “Let him get some food into him before you go tormenting him like that! My little man has brought home dinner—he should get some time to taste it.”

While she cooks, Father brings out the shears and trims Denyl's hair close to the scalp in an apprentice's shave. He watches my childhood haircut fall to the floor in dark clumps and does his best not to cry. Crying wastes water, and even if he is a fraud, he is still ten, and nearly an adult, and adults don't cry.

The evening passes in a quick series of eternities, and before he knows it, Denyl is lying in the dark of his room, expected to sleep. The streamer meat squirms in his stomach as though to rectify the accident of its death, and his mangled lure stares down at him from a peg of honor on the clay-formed wall. Its reproving gaze keeps him awake long after he can hear the pattered breathing of his family throughout the house. Finally, he can stand it no longer. Standing on his tiptoes, he takes the kite down from its peg and sneaks toward the door, intent on at least hiding his shame where it cannot watch him writhe. On his way, he catches sight of Syra's thread and needles, forgotten, as they ofter were, near the oil-fire where she sews at night. Seized by an idea, he snatches the tools and steals away into the cool of the night.

The clouds have dispersed, revealing a dazzle of stars and a half-full moon. The fires of the village have faded to embers in the deep of night, but the moon glows faithfully, its light refracting off the scales and feathers of the fish above. By its light Denyl sets to work, mending the tears and retying the bracings of his once beautiful lure. He is grimly pleased to see that his stitches are evener than his sister's, even in his haste. Even so, it is a shoddier lure that he finally holds. But it will fly, he knows, and this time he will manage what he'd failed so terribly that day. Tucking the thread and needle in his pocket, he sets off for the sands.

It is an unspoken rule that fishing is only to be done during the day, when the light spreads evenly and the fiercer fish keep to the higher altitudes, but Denyl is determined to prove his worth as a windfisher, if only to himself. Out on the sands, he quickly ties his lines to an anchor rock and, with the only practice motion he has, sets the lure-kite into the blue-black of the sky. He wants to hurry, to attract a fish and catch it before someone realizes he's gone, but he forces himself to carefully learn the kit's new limits. It falls several times that night, but with repetition he finds himself slowly growing confident with its quirks. He finally begins trying some of the elegant maneuvers his grandfather had employed so easily and is delighted to find that his awkward turns and dips have grown less awkward.

A lesser drake-fish, impressively winged, begins courting the lure. Denyl's movements are still jerky, but he manages to put on a small show for the slow-witted fish, dancing away from it until he's sure it will lunge for the lure. Cautiously, Denyl courts the drake: closer, closer, dip, twirl. Closer. Finally, in a surge of motion, the drake-fish bites. The action nearly vaults Denyl into the air, and he clings to the dual-lines instinctively. A windfisher never lets go, he tells himself senselessly, suddenly only aware of the wind screaming in his ears as the ground flutters away from his feet. It occurs to him, as he finds the ground too far away to consider a too-late release, that only his anchor rock keeps him from being carried away by the panicking creature. As the catcher and the caught rise above the rock, Denyl sees the line slip, and is hurled into the sky. He is ten, he realizes, and he is still a child.

Terrified, he flails his legs to entwine them in the lines dangling beneath him, already feeling his abused hands slip on their tentative hold. Dampness slaps him in the face, windfish blood, and he tries to comfort himself with the knowledge that the drake-fish will be unable to fly for much longer. He tries to watch the ground beneath him, but it seems unnaturally far away, and his ill-gotten meal churns more violently in his stomach. Everything below him looks the same, so he closes his eyes and concentrates on avoiding falling from the hijacked lines.

He loses track of time before the drake-fish finally sinks desert-ward, sending him tumbling lengthwise into the dunes. The impact scrapes at his skin, knocking the breath from his lungs and burying him in a wave of sand. Exhausted, he fights for the surface and gasps for air, then chokes on the dust that comes with it. He can hear the drake's death cries a way off, strangled by sand.

Once he regains his senses, Denyl scours the horizon for some sight of the village and it's familiar plateau. Nothing is recognizable. Already the sky is turning pink again, heralding morning, and he desperately tries to remember how close dawn had been when the drake had made off with him. The detail eludes him, as does any direction change he might have made in his flight. He will not cry, he reminds himself, because crying wastes water, and he has to be an adult or else he'll never get home.

His body feels the wrong size, stretched too loose and swelled too tight as he trudges toward the fallen drake-fish, trailing his lure-kite's lines behind him. By the time he reaches it, it lies in a lifeless lump, half-covered by blood-sticky sand. He forces reasonable thoughts through his head. If he flies his kite high, the village will see it. They'll look for it. The first thing a child learns is how to fly a rescue kite.

The fallen husk of the drake terrifies him, but he pries its jaws open and tries to retrieve the lure-kite from within. Its state hits him with another gust of hopelessness, though he secretly expected it; the lure is mangled beyond repair. Large gouges mar its stitched face. The frame is fully snapped. Were he in the village, he'd never expect it to fly again.

A few minutes pass motionless, pinned under the weight of his ten year old despair. The new-risen sun sears at the back of his neck where his hair once covered and wakes him, and he wipes the beginning of tears from his eyes and licks them from his arm. The drake's wing catches his eye, spread haphazardly alongside the fish and already beginning to seize up under the fresh sun. A possibility prods itself at the back of his mind.

He snaps one of the loose hooks free from his now useless kite and begins slashing at the flesh securing the drake's wing. It doesn't want to come free, but adrenaline goads him on, and finally it separates from the body. It seems impossibly light, and he finds himself grinning desperately as the wind tries to steal it away from him.

The line separates easily from the remains of his lure, and he deftly secures it to the freed wing with a four-lined brindle. The makeshift kite seems to leap in his hands, laking on some of the life its previous owner had so recently forgone. Before he dared release it, he tied the far end of the line to the drake itself, letting the beast act as anchor stone. Finally the kite is soaring high above him, and he stumbles his way beneath the drake's remaining wing to escape the growing sunlight.

He awakens to a deeply parched throat and voices shouting his name. Crawling out from under the drake's wing, he squints blearily across the desert. The sun hangs low in the sky, brushed with clouds, and he looks up, amazed to see his wing-kite still dancing in the wind. “Denyl! Denyl!” The seconds pass like mirages and he finds himself scooped into his father's arms.

The rest of the search party sets to work on the fallen beast, unwilling to let the catch go to the sands. Someone hands Denyl a skin of water and he swishes the first taste around in his mouth before swallowing it.

“Well, would you look at that?” Grandfather laughs, concealing his newly-relieved worry, and winks at his grandchild as though he'd expected to find the boy like this all along. “The man wasn't satisfied with a mere streamer. Now what will Syra choose for your vest, I wonder?” Denyl catches his grandfather's gaze and looks at him with blank confusion, finally find the voice to rasp, “Why didn't you tell--”

Another laugh, another smile, and he takes away the water so the boy doesn't over-drink it. “Sometimes being a windfisher is more than a little luck. But let me tell you a secret, he adds, leaning in to whisper in Denyl's ear. “My line snagged too, on my first catch.”

Denyl watches his grandfather for a while as the party begins trudging back to the village, then gives up on thinking and huddles in his father's embrace, letting himself enjoy being, for just a little while longer, ten, and still a child.