Looking back 振り返ってみた (Part 6, my life in Japan 日本での生活)

When we arrived in Japan in March of 2008, the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom, signaling new beginnings. Plans for the first Tokyo Youtube Hanami (2008 2009 2010) were also underway. We still had some important things to do before we could party, however. We needed to find a place to live and jobs, and I had to get my visa to live and work legally in Japan for the next year, and beyond.

Yasushi and I stayed with his grandparents in Ibaraki while going to Tokyo looking for a room. We visited several realtors but ran into some hurdles. Because Yasushi's father had passed away, we didn't have a guarantor. Also, in most parts of Japan, it is still not illegal for landlords to openly discriminate when renting. It was common to see "No foreigners" written alongside "No pets", as if we belonged in the same category. It was discouraging, but we finally found our dream place near Ekoda station. The building was old, brick red, and sturdy-looking. The inside halls were dark and caked with dust and dirt, but when we got to the room, the inside was big and had lots of sunlight streaming in from windows on 3 sides of the room. We met the landlord, a lovely old man who said he had no problems with us and trusted that we would do just fine. We went back to the realtor, a nasty older man who talked down to us as if we were preschoolers, and also talked the landlord out of lowering the rent for us so his commission would be bigger. We moved into our room and bought a bunch of used furniture and appliances from Yahoo! Auction and Craigslist, and looked for jobs. 

Yasushi found a job that was close to home and paid well. We went to an immigration lawyer and applied for my visa. The paperwork went through surprisingly fast, and I had a 3 year visa in just one week. However, it was already April, and all the good full-time teaching jobs were taken.
I sent my resume out to companies that were still looking for part-time teachers, and got a few replies...mostly from daycares, preschools, and kids' classes. Because I had almost no experience with smaller children, professional or personal, I felt some trepidation when I took a job teaching 2-3 year olds at a school in Saitama. But actually, this kind of job suited me more than I could have imagined! I wore a bright red apron and spent the days playing with toys, singing, dancing, and most importantly, I had students who were eager to learn and grew before my eyes. Of course, there were tantrums, accidents, and challenges, but I still looked forward to teaching every day. However, this was still not ideal for me, I had 3 or 4 part time jobs and spent hours commuting from one to the other each day, including trips out to various kindergardens arranged by the company in Saitama to do super-energetic English demonstrations. Come next spring, I was looking for a stable full-time job teaching the same kids in the same place every day. I asked the company in Saitama for a position at their kindergarten program, and was assured that I had the job. However, their story changed a few times and I applied at similar schools in the area instead. There was a school in Akabane that seemed great, but when I called, the position had been filled. But, a couple days later, I got a call early in the morning as I was rolling out my bed. It was the boss from that kindergarten...there was an issue with the new teacher's visa, and she wanted me to meet her that morning for an interview before work. I got dressed and was on the train. I met the heavyset British woman and her Japanese business partner at a cafe. It was a great match and I got the job. I fell truly blessed to have found that school. The staff are like family, we really connect with the children, and every day we did 20 minutes of singing with my boss on guitar. I wanted to play music with the kids too, but can't play guitar, so this is when I bought my little red accordion and taught myself to play and sing. 

My job at the kindergarten was comfortable, full-time with a fixed salary, but still lots of free time to take other jobs. I taught English by telephone, did private lessons in cafes and homes with lovely students and families, and worked at a juku where the owner's wife had a baby every year! I also pursued my interest in music, both at karaoke and outside with my little red accordion. I went to small karaoke cafes where older customers would buy me drinks and song tickets after I sang some enka, and huge karaoke events where entire floors of karaoke boxes were rented out for 100+ people. I sang on TV, got to the final round of a karaoke contest that was judged by Fujimoto Miki and Horiuchi Takao, and even did some recordings in a studio. I performed at a few parties. I also discovered jam sessions in the park, a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I remember how my mother used to say that I have "no singing talent" and that all of my interests in performing and theatre would be "over" after high school, and I'm glad that I decided not to believe her. In my last year in Japan I even did pronunciation coaching for a production of RENT put on by Japanese people in English. They did wonderfully and I had a great time with them.

Yasushi and I were always busy with our jobs and hobbies. Yasushi took up tropical fish, building computers, and riding his motorcycle, a Royalstar 1300 he had had for some time and decided to start riding again. We made accounts on mixi, a Japanese social networking site, and were able to make many friends who shared our interests. And eventually we started to lead the events rather than merely participating. He planned out trips and routes to go with his friends, and I led karaoke marathons for fans of Hello! Project or people who liked to sing in English. We also had a few house parties in our modest apartment, with great food and lots of fun. 

My parents came to Japan once, for our first wedding anniversary. It was a week of awkward culture shock and fun. We took professional Japanese wedding pictures, went to Nikko, and I did my best to show my parents the best spots in Tokyo. The summers after that Yasushi took a short holiday and we went to Jeju Island in Korea one summer, and Hong Kong after that. And with all of the trips we took by motorcycle, I continued to see a lot of Japan. 

There were lots of good times, but there were bad times too. My panic attacks weren't getting better. I became anxious and depressed from them, it was a vicious cycle of having a panic attack, feeling ashamed, getting depressed, and becoming anxious about having another one until it inevitably happened. I would be so happy when able to forget about them that I would often to too far at parties, drinking too much, staying out too late, just hoping the happy feelings would stay a little longer before I fell back into the cycle. I would get so deeply depressed that I would cut myself, the pain on the outside distracting me from my despair inside. It was so hard for Yasushi. He didn't know what to do. He would get frustrated and angry. He took me to a doctor and I was prescribed Paxil and anti-anxiety meds that if taken at the first sign of a panic attack, would turn me into a mellow, sleepy zombie. I hated being sick, I hated being on medication, and I hated myself and the burden I was forcing on Yasushi. It finally got to be too much. After another party and a fight, I took about 20 doses of Paxil and called Yasushi to say goodbye. He called an ambulance and I was in the hospital for 2 days. Yasushi begged me to get help and overcome my problems. I doubted anyone could help me or make me better. After all, I was a "nut" and a "mental patient", I was never normal and it was always my fault. I was on another prescription of Paxil and Yasushi and I tried therapy, but it would usually center around marital tensions or the stress of living in another country as the main reason for my problems. I had told Yasushi a little bit about things my mother had done and said to me growing up, and he wondered if I was having trauma issues, but I didn't pursue it. Whatever happened is in the past now, and I'm an adult and independent, I thought. But I still hated taking Paxil although it did stabilize my mood, so I tried to go off it cold turkey, and got dizzy spells, so had to taper my doses until I could stop. I started on non-hormonal birth control from India, and St. John's Wort. I watched my alcohol intake (although I still slipped sometimes, and now cigarettes were starting to enter the mix) I tried yoga, long walks, and music to lift my mood. I started to be able to "hold in" a panic attack or relax myself with breathing techniques. Sometimes these things worked, sometimes they didn't. I wondered if I would ever be able to have a normal life, or even a family someday. 

It had always been my dream to eventually move back to Hawaii and raise children there, in a place where they wouldn't be "different", and play with many other children who were bilingual and mixed-race. Yasushi said it would be better for him to move sooner than later, because he needed to adjust to living in a different country just as I had, so around the end of 2010 we decided to leave in fall of 2011. 

As we entered 2011, my last year of living in Japan, my illness still loomed over me like a dark cloud. My work and the little souls I taught always brought me joy and helped me forget about the bad things. I woke up every morning hoping today would be a "good" day for me. Then, something happened on March 11, 2011 that changed my whole outlook on life. At 2:51 pm, my coworker said "Earthquake" and the 5 of us sprung into action, leading the children under the table in the classroom as the slight shaking started to escalate. This was it. The "big one". We were scared, but keeping the kids safe was our first priority, and after each child was returned to their shaken and relieved parents, we all wished each other a safe return home. My apartment had a few things toppled over, and I knew I had been lucky. However, nothing could have prepared me for the images I saw when I turned on the TV. For one week, all we knew about was the devastation up North, how entire towns had literally been washed away, and about how there was now a possibility that radioactive contamination in the air, food, and water had reached us in Tokyo. Foreigners were boarding planes back to their countries, my parents also begged me to join them, but I felt I couldn't leave this country I loved at a time like this, when so many people were in need. My parents could not understand this concept. It seems typical that my mother would only think of her own family, and not the millions devastated. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed the lives of all those people in Louisiana, she said it was "preventable" and they could have evacuated if they had trains like Philadelphia or NY. I stayed in Japan and took my accordion to charity benefits and raised money for those left with no food, water, shelter, or clothing up North. Yasushi and I cut back on our hobbies and sent that money to the Red Cross. I couldn't donate blood so I volunteered for the blood bank. As everyone was in such distress and sorrow, the cherry blossoms bloomed again. Some people thought having a hanami in light of the situation would be insensitive to the victims, but for me those flowers held more meaning than ever this year. 

Cherry blossoms symbolize rebirth but also brevity of life. This year it was more important than ever to stop and ponder how powerful, beautiful and precious nature-and life- is. Whatever problems I was having felt insignificant, and I felt guilty for having them. 

Summer came and went, this year more comfortable for me because people were using their air conditioners less. Up North they had build temporary housing, but people still had no supplies or possessions. When Fall came, Yasushi and I were starting to give away and get rid of anything  that wouldn't fit in our suitcases. We sent all of our usable winter clothes, non-perishable extra food and toiletries, toys for children, and things like our electric blankets and carpets. The gov't was not helping them, so everything I did was by myself, but I didn't mind making arrangements or paying the shipping, as long as I could help someone. In November of 2011, everything was gone from that apartment in Ekoda where we had spent 3 1/2 years. We had 4 suitcases and 4 carryons. After a lot of goodbyes, we boarded a plane to JFK on November 20th. 

2008年3月に日本に着いた頃、新しい始まりを表現する桜の花が咲こうとしていました。第一回のユーチューブ花見集会の計画も立てられてました。(2008 2009 2010)しかしパーティーの前はやらなきゃいけないことがいっぱいありました。住むところや仕事を探して、そして私のビザの手続きもしかきゃいけなかったんです。

茨城に行って、靖の祖父母の所に少し泊まって、部屋探しなどはじめました。しかしハードルがいくつかありました。靖のお父さんがなくなったため私達の保証人がいなかったんです。そして、日本はアメリカと違って、大家が部屋を貸す時に差別することは禁止されてないところはまだ殆どです。不動産で部屋を見れば、まるで一緒と思われてるかのように「ペット不可」と「外国人不可」よく見ました。少し思わしくないことだったが、探し続ければやっと江古田駅の近くにいい部屋にたどり着きました。ビルが古くて、がっちりしてて、レンガ色してました。中に入ると廊下が暗くて、何年分のほこりが溜まってて汚かったんです。しかし、部屋に入ると広くて、日当たりもよくて素敵な部屋がありました。そして下に住んでた大家さんの優しいおじいさんに直接話しをしてみれば、親切に私達を信用していると言ってくれました。不動産屋さんに戻って部屋を借りる手続きをしましたが、不動産のおじさんが感じ悪くて、何度も私達をバカにするようないいかたしたり、大家さんに家賃を下げないように説得したり(自分のもらうお金が減るから)本当にムカついてたが、何とか契約して 部屋に引っ越しました。 。中古の家具や電化製品などをオークションなどで買って、仕事探しもしました。


幼稚園での仕事は月給のある安定した仕事でしたが、それでも空いてる時間もあったので他のアルバイトもしてみました。電話で英語教えたり、カフェやお宅などでマンツーマンで教えたり、そして毎年赤ちゃんが産まれてきた夫婦の塾で教えました。そして趣味で音楽もやってました。 カラオケ喫茶 で演歌歌って、たまには他のお客さんに飲み物や歌を奢ってもらいました。そして新宿などで若者ばかりの100人以上の 大カラオケオフ会 なども楽しんでいました。そして テレビ に出たり、藤本美貴と堀内孝雄の カラオケ大会の決戦まで行ったり、友達のスタジオで歌のレコーディングすることもありました。そしてアコーディオン弾けるようになったらパーティー  演奏したり、 フリーセッション などにもはまりました。よく母に歌の才能がないとか、高校卒業したら舞台などに興味なくなるとか言ってたけど、信じなくてよかったと思ってます。去年日本人の英語劇グループのRENTの舞台の発音指導させてもらえて、凄くいい思い出になりました。


両親は一回結婚一周年の時に日本に来ました。日本の結婚記念写真 取ったり、日光行ったり、色んなことをしました。両親は文化ショックが激しくて面白かったです。それから夏にやすしが連休を取れたら、 チェジュ 、  などの海外旅行も味わえました。そしていつもバイク色んなところ行けました 。




桜の花は復活という意味と、命の短さを持ってます。今年は少し毎日の生活から離れ、自然の力、 美しさ 、と大切さを考えるべきだと思いました。自分の中の問題はもうそれほどのものじゃない、と今までこんなことで悩むのが悪いと思いました。



Looking Back 振り返ってみた (Part 5, UH Graduation and Marriage 大学卒業と結婚)

When I came back to Hawaii in August 2006, there were many things to do. First, I had to find a place to live. Next, I had to ensure I would be able to get all the credits I needed to graduate. And also, I had to start working again.

I decided to rent a place near campus with 3 other people, 2 of them being Japanese majors and friends of mine. It sounded like a really good idea, until one of them, an upperclassman 2 classes away from graduation, did a complete 180 from how I knew him. Upon moving in, he got some credit cards and spent thousands of dollars buying new appliances and furniture. He worked 20 hours a week or so at Starbucks and made more than enough to cover his share of the rent, but would buy video games or get a haircut and not have enough, almost every month. His low wage Starbucks job became his main focus in life and he started to study coffee in his spare time so he could have a black apron (which would not give him a pay raise). He neglected to study for or even go to the 2 classes he was taking, and failed them both--three times. Whenever he cooked or ate, the resulting mess would sit there for days, even weeks, and we had roaches and even a mouse. When I complained, the other Japanese major would side with me, but our other roommate started to become threatening and hostile. After the year lease was up, we all went our separate ways--leaving him to wallow in the mess he chose to make by not listening to any of us, with thousands of dollars in unpaid bills, wasted tuition he owed, rent he owed, cleaning costs, with his black apron and no college degree and little chance of getting one with such a big blemish on his transcript.

As for my plans for graduation, they were going smoothly. I found out that my year in Japan had counted for 2 years of language classes instead of 1, so I only had to take some advanced classes in my major in addition to a few more Arts and Sciences courses. I also took some classes that I was interested in such as Okinawan sanshin, koto, Tahitian Dance, and Korean, up to Intermediate level. Each semester I kept a steady course load of about 16 credits, or 5-6 classes, and enjoyed the last of my university career to the fullest.

I started working at Yokozuna again, and took up a better-paying, skill-building second job tutoring children at a juku near the University. I also completed a 100 hour internship at the Sheraton Waikiki in conjunction with a keigo lecture at the University. As it was my senior year, I took a job doing campus tours in the mornings before class, showing prospective students around. I also did tours for Japanese students going around popular tourist spots in Waikiki and Honolulu on some days. This job was fun because I could go to the zoo, aquarium, arcade, etc. I climbed Diamond Head 3 times! I enjoyed all of my different jobs, but it was very tiring and busy working an average 30 hours per week in addition to 30-40 hours of class and study time per week. Eating and sleeping became things I did if I had time. I was so busy! I had one day off that I can remember, it was October 16th, 2006. A magnitude 4 earthquake happened on Oahu and knocked out power for most of the island until nighttime.

But, I enjoyed everything, and somehow I would still find time to do some really interesting things, like go to see Morning Musume's Hawaii concert from outside the Waikiki shell, and get my letter  read by Fujimoto Miki on her radio show , I went to a fancy banquet for the Japanese-American Society and met the governor of Hawaii, was a guest MC for a Japanese speech contest, and met Murakami Haruki when he came to my Japanese literature class as well.

And of course, when winter and summer holiday came, I bought a plane ticket to Japan. Seeing Yasushi was great, but I got worried when I saw how he had been living. He had changed jobs and his new boss was cruel. It extended to me as well, on the day when I was going back to Hawaii after winter holiday, they had promised him he would get off work early that day to take me to the airport, but as I was waiting for him in the train station he called and said they just told him he couldn't go to see me. After I left, Yasushi's health started to deteriorate as well. He was having stomach pains and passing blood. He kept working until one day he could hardly stand from the pain, and asked to go to the doctor, but his boss refused to let him go, and that night Yasushi packed his bags and went far away from that place. When he finally saw a doctor, he was told that if he had continued to work in this condition he might have needed to have his stomach removed. So, by summertime Yasushi was living in a small room working at an izakaya, and I stayed over the summer and did some teaching for fun and experience.
When I went back to Hawaii in Fall of 2007, I rented a small room outside of Chinatown and resumed my schedule as usual. One day I was getting ready for work and suddenly my left abdomen started to hurt very severely. I asked my boss what I should do, and she advised me to go to a hospital. I took a taxi and went to the emergency room, after many tests including a CT scan, they found an 11cm cyst on my left ovary that had somehow gone undetected until now. I enrolled in Hawaii state insurance and had a minor surgery to remove it on a Friday and was back at school on Monday.

Then, finally in December I graduated University of Hawaii with a BA in Japanese. My parents and Yasushi came to attend the ceremony, and Yasushi stayed through Christmas and New Year's, this time in a small house we were renting temporarily in Manoa Valley. In January we went to Pennsylvania to prepare for our wedding.

We had our honeymoon before the wedding, staying in my parent's vacation condo in the Caribbean, and on our 3rd anniversary we got married. I had designed my own wedding dress, buying it cheap, getting a corset, and modifying it. My mother had planned the wedding, and of course had to make it the event of her year, inviting all of her friends and acquaintances, some people she hardly knew and I never met, just to "fill tables". The best man and matron of honor were her friends, the ring bearers were a student of hers and her hairdresser's daughter, etc. I was satisfied because I had what was important: My husband, family, and friends from high school, and after the ceremony and performances by her friends, I could dance with my friends to the music I picked.

After the wedding we got our marriage license, and went to New York to visit the Japanese embassy before going back to Japan. It was March, and in Japan the cherry blossoms were just preparing to bloom...