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Time is Running Out

“Our time is running out, you can’t push it underground, you can’t stop it screaming out. How did it come to this?” –Muse, “Time is Running Out”

Today marks one month left in Japan. It is so hard to believe that I’ve been here for almost a year, as I remember leaving SFO like it was yesterday. On the other hand, it feels like I’ve been here for so much longer, and when I think about my life back home I feel a sense of detachment, almost as if it was simply a very vivid dream. I’m sure this life will feel like that soon enough.

Blog updates have been thinning out, I realize, but things have kind of normalized for me here, as I feel that I’ve adapted as much as I will to life in Japan. I am still in school and will not go on break until July 13, which is a bit inconvenient since everyone back home is on summer vacation, but it also means that I get to spend more time here. I plan on taking a trip to Tokyo with a couple of my friends after school lets out, and I will be back in the States on the 24th of July. I actually arrive in San Francisco 15 minutes before I depart from Osaka. What are things like in the Japanese future, you might ask? Maybe you’ll wish you hadn’t. Unfortunately I have no current plans to travel by way of TARDIS.

The train station outside of Universal Studios Japan after the second L’Arc~en~Ciel concert I went to. Yeah, my concept of personal space is gone.

Lately my life consists mostly of schoolwork and pushing through the last stretch of papers and final exams that will consume my life these next few weeks, but I still manage to go out with friends about once a week. I have discovered the miracle that are BBC dramas over the past few months, and needless to say if you’ve had any contact with me since March, I have become a shameless slave to all things Moffat and Cumberbatch. I was occupied for a while with a speech competition, in which I was regrettably chosen at random to write, memorize, and deliver a 5-minute speech in front of a lecture hall full of Japanese people. Being the introvert I am, I can guarantee you that it was not fun, but at least it’s over and I can say I did it.

At some point, and I’m not sure when, I started counting down instead of counting up. It was definitely past the halfway point, but my pattern of thinking gradually has changed from “I’ve been here for 6 months,” and “This is my first time eating okonomiyaki,” to “I only have 2 months left,” and “This is probably my last time going to Kyoto.” It’s not as much depressing as it is interesting to me. Of course there are things I will miss terribly about Japan (karaoke, drinking culture, public transportation), just as there are things I will most definitely not miss (squat toilets, “You’re so skillful at using chopsticks!,” killer Japanese hornets as big as your thumb that will literally kill you with two stings). The same goes for America of course, but I’m trying not to think about that just yet. For some reason I find myself more frustrated with missing the 4th of July than Christmas, perhaps because no one knows what US Independence Day is here. I can’t wait to see my family again, although I know it will be strange for a while, and I am going through clarinet withdrawal, which I plan to resolve as soon as possible upon my return.

Trying to keep a straight face for the camera at an izakaya (a type of Japanese bar) in Sannomiya, Kobe.

The fact that I’m leaving and not coming back anytime in the foreseeable future probably won’t hit me until I am on the plane headed home. Or perhaps even later. I’m guessing it will just feel like a vacation (one that I am ready for regardless) from my “real life” in Japan, and when it comes time to go back to school only a month after returning to America, I can guess that I will be in internal conflict with myself. Reverse culture shock is very real, and many people disregard it completely, only for it to later hurt them and those close to them. Think about it: when you go abroad, you learn to adapt to a different culture, and you are given leeway when it comes to mistakes and misunderstandings. But when you return home, all of a sudden you are expected to immediately reacclimatize to your own culture, even though you have been living in a different one for whatever length of time, and you are not given the same freedoms to make mistakes because “aren’t you an American?” It will be difficult, but at least I am aware of it and have prepared myself as much as possible. I will definitely blog more about this after my study abroad comes to a close, as it is just as much a growing experience as the time spent abroad itself, though often overlooked.

Stay tuned for Japanese baseball, Tokyo, and more as my study abroad comes to a (presently) rather stressful close!

School is boring. So I decided to spice it up a bit.

I’m Afraid of Americans

“I’m afraid of Americans, I’m afraid of the world. I’m afraid I can’t help it, I’m afraid I can’t.” –David Bowie, ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’

ひさしぶり! It’s been a while! I have kept busy over my month long break during March, but I will attempt to catch you up with all I have been doing.

During March, I traveled by shinkansen to Hiroshima with my friend and my grandparents, who were visiting from Washington DC. I felt that since I am an advocate for international nuclear disarmament and have participated with organizations with this agenda, it was sort of like a pilgrimage to go to the site where the first atomic bomb was dropped. It was a surreal experience, and one that I will surely never forget.

The Genbaku Dome, one of the few buildings left standing from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

We left early in the morning to catch the first train from Kobe to Hiroshima. When we arrived a couple of hours later we took the street car to the Genbaku Dome (Atomic Bomb Dome), which is famous for being one of the only buildings left standing after the bombing, a miracle considering its proximity to the drop zone. I felt a mix of emotions while walking around the dome that had been frozen in time, and through the Peace Park with its many memorials, as a calm silence seemed to pervade the entire area like none I have ever experienced in Japan.

As I watched traffic pass over the bridge that had been targeted, I wondered if I should feel guilty. But as I saw the memorials that stood for hope and peace, I decided that all I can do is raise awareness about the horrors of nuclear warfare and hope that such an atrocity will never occur again. I don’t care what a country or government has done; no one deserves that. No one.

I will spare you the disturbing details of the museum we entered and its gut-wrenching exhibits. Even knowing everything I do about Japan, World War II, and the atomic bombing, there were things in the museum–pictures, artifacts, stories–that I do not believe the US government would ever release to its public. I won’t say it was a wake-up call for myself, as I was aware of the atrocities of nuclear warfare, but being there certainly brought it closer to home.

Origami paper cranes folded by people around the world to promote peace.

What I keep going back to, however, is the thought of a case in which the United States had been bombed instead of Japan. I doubt that Americans could forgive and move on so easily, considering how many people suffered and died. I mean, we’re still mourning over 9/11, and the Japanese have lifted their heads and pushed forward only a year after thousands were killed during the March 2011 disaster. I should say that I do not at all mean to completely victimize Japan when discussing this, as anyone who has studied history knows that Japan has dealt out its fair share of wartime atrocities as well. But what I really took from my visit to Hiroshima was how important looking at the bigger picture is, rather than focusing on a single tragedy and allowing it to consume a country (or lead it to war). I realize that my thoughts are controversial, but I stand by them. Peace will never be achieved if revenge is a motivator. Things such as the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima should not be forgotten, but instead taken as a reminder of the lives that were lost and a reminder to nations that hold nuclear weapons of the power they hold.

Well, after that heavy and depressing interlude and a bite of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, we took the street car to the coast, where we hopped on a ferry to Miyajima island, home to Itsukushima Shrine and its iconic Shinto gateway that appears to float on the water during high tide. The island was full of deer similar to those in Nara who would just walk up to you and even let you pet them! We were there at low tide, so I got the opportunity to walk underneath the gate. Backed up against the mountains and lined by the coast, Itsukushima Shrine was beautiful, and the weather held up long enough for us to see most of the island before heading back to the station.

It was a long and emotional day, but well worth the distance and money it took to travel there. I highly suggest Hiroshima to any foreigner visiting Japan, as it is saturated in history and breathtaking scenery.

The large Shinto gate in front of Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island.

Winning Love By Daylight

“月の光に導かれ、何度も巡り会う。” –Moonlight Densetsu (Sailor Moon opening theme)

Yesterday I struck out with two of my friends to find the elusive “Sailor Moon cafe” in the Umeda district near Osaka, Japan. We came across it on the internet, and of course, being the huge Sailor Moon fan that I am, I decided then and there that I would find this cafe at all costs, rain or shine.

Original "Mercury" juice.

Well, it turned out to be rain, or more accurately snow-turned-rain, so after a frantic stop by a drugstore to pick up $2 umbrellas, we set out on our trek. Cafe Talisman ended up being about a 20 minute walk from Hankyu Umeda station, and using our questionable Japanese language and Google Maps skills, we found it after just a slight diversion. The cafe wasn’t in a touristy place at all, and was in fact in a much more residential area, where I wouldn’t expect to see many foreigners.

There were only two other women inside, and we were welcomed and escorted to a nice couch area off to the side. I spent most of the first ten minutes gawking at the adorable (but not gaudy) decorations and touches that had been added to the menu and the cafe to give it a relaxing yet classy atmosphere. I ordered an original “Mercury” juice, and my friends ordered “Healer” and “Jupiter” concoctions. “Mercury” is one of their more popular drinks, and it consisted of pineapple and blue soda flavors. It was the automatic choice for me as Sailor Mercury is my favorite Sailor Scout, and also the one I identify most with (due to her brainy attitude and also because she shares my name). We all ordered the pasta carbonara for lunch, which was surprisingly good and decently priced, and after reminiscing for nearly an hour about Sailor Moon, we ordered desserts and coffee.

I had the cafe’s “Lunatic Blend” (Luna is the name of Sailor Moon’s feline companion), and my friends got lattes. I ordered a strawberry parfait, and my friends got rare cheesecake and star-shaped banana chocolate pancakes. Everything we ordered was exceptionally good, which surprised me, because most themed cafes rely on their atmosphere more than the items they sell. Not that the atmosphere was at all lacking, with Sailor Moon music variations playing and figures strategically placed along shelves. I will definitely be making a return journey at some point during the duration of my time here in Japan.

If you are in Japan and would like to visit this cafe, here are some simplified (English) directions:

  • Take the east exit out of Hankyu Umeda station
  • Pass under the large highway overpass, and find the JR tracks that lead north/northeast
  • Follow the tracks on the right side for quite a ways until you pass a Circle K and a decently sized park
  • Cafe Talisman is just past the park on a corner, directly opposite the JR train tracks

The cafe also has a website and its own employee-run blog. Thank you for the wonderful experience!