More things about Japan, because there is still more to write

Posted on 18.05.2011

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I’m still having trouble acclimating to the idea that I am back here, in my ‘normal’ life (I’m such a brat: my ‘normal life’ is living in my dream land), and that Japan was a mere 50 hours ago. There were a lot of things that I meant to write in my last Japan blog, and rather than edit that, I’m just making a new entry for the things that I forgot to write about there. These will also be bits and pieces, and there may be more coming. So, sorry about that.

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As it turns out, I am fricking IN LOVE with asian babies.

I didn’t think much of it when the first few times passed: every little thing that I saw, even before leaving the airport, was so fricking adorable that I wanted to run up and squeeze it. I can only say that this is a good thing, as it seemed before this trip that there may have been no hope for me in the realm of parenting. Now I know that my issue is obvious: I’m just a fan of asian babies. Which is, I think I can say, all the more reason to adopt a chinese child (which was, in fact, the original plan from day one), since René and I can’t make one of those on our own.

I could never be angry at those faces, ever. They are just so fricking cute. Even when one of them near me was screaming on the plane for the last hour of my flight, all I could think was: ‘that baby is so cute, even crying’. I wasn’t even annoyed.

So apparently, my heart is not made of ice.

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I could live on onigiri rice ‘sandwiches’.

I’m calling them that (sandwiches) because I don’t know what else to call them. You can get them anywhere, for less than 100-Yen (that’s about $1) in most places. They come with marinated fish on the inside (my favorite was the salmon) or fruits and veggies. I liked them so much that I ate them at least once a day while there, and even bought some cute little onigiri-shaped tupperware in order to use it as a form to make my own.

And last night, I made some. And they were mostly successful, I need to tweak the rice recipe and maybe not use so much rice next time, but overall they were a WIN, and René liked them also. We’ll be marinating some smoked salmon in a few days to make more after I eat the ones I’ve made already, which have cucumber and avocado or pineapple and coconut jam inside. YAY!!! Fast and healthy!!

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Although we were in an area far from Fukushima, in the neighborhood of Tokyo, there was still evidence of earthquake damage… some houses had minimal structural damage and there were many cracks in the streets where there (apparently) weren’t before. Overall, the people in our area seemed to be handling it well and not TOO effected, but it was still interesting to see.

At the shrines we visited, Sensei was sure to point out the things that had been damaged by the earthquake.

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After learning more about the shinto ‘religion’, I feel the need to do more research on the subject. It might be my favorite so far.

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I now understand what a ‘Six Tatami Mat Room’ is. And they aren’t small, in fact, the one I was in was about the size of my old bedroom in Bel Air, and is just a bit smaller than my current bedroom here in Germany. I slept rather well on the floor with my little mats, and that’s saying a lot for simplicity since I often sleep terribly in actual beds.

That being said, my bed feels much more comfortable after Japan.

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Riding the bikes everywhere in Noda has given me a new inspiration to really try to ride my bike to the office, or at least the bus stop, as often as possible. It was very flat where we were, and where I live is rather hilly, but I am planning to have a go at it this weekend to see how ‘doable’ it is. But it really felt great to be riding every day, even after 2 hours of training and angry knees.

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I’ve decided that I need to learn more about Japanese etiquette. I feel that it is very different from German etiquette. So I’ve made a plan to read about both of them together, and about English/American etiquette as well, to find the major differences.

One major thing that struck me, that I know is wholly Japanese and not a part of the other two, is the idea of ‘bringing shame or disgrace upon oneself’. An example of this: in the Japan guidebook that lives at the Honbu, there is a part about ‘Japanese culture and life’. In this, there is a spot that mentions the groping issue on the trains. Basically (and this was further explained by a really awesome Japanese woman a few days later), any man putting the palm of his hand between your legs or on your ass is considered a ‘grope’. If it is the back of the person’s hand, then it is most likely accidental.

As an American (and a strong woman, and a fighter), if someone were to do this to me, I’d most likely at the very least sprain his wrist, if not fully break it or punch the man squarely in the face. But in the guidebook, it says that ‘causing a scene will only bring disgrace upon you and is generally not done, so it is best to give the attacker a quick jab in the ribs or stomp on the foot and move away without anyone seeing you’.

In the same token, we saw a man puking on the floor of the subway one afternoon, and everyone was moving away or trying their best to ignore him, so as to not shame him. In America, a few people might have come to him to help or give water, if they had it. So we stood there discussing what to do without bringing further shame on the man (as approaching him might have done), and in the end I took out my two full packs of tissues (I’m so German) and gave them to Lisa, who went to him and gave him a small tap on the shoulder, and put the tissues next to him on the seat. As we left the train, we saw him take the tissues and begin to wipe up the mess. I think that we managed to break the rules but still help him, without further shaming him. I hope.

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In a country like Japan especially, it is really important to follow the rules of etiquette. Maybe in a place like Amsterdam or Cabo it’s ok to ‘be American’, but in places where the culture is vastly different from our own, it is, to me, much more important to try to follow their rules and experience their lives, than to just run around being an outsider and showing it. We’ll never be able to blend in in Japan, so we might as well be as polite as possible.

In this aspect, Japan for me was exceptionally lovely, because the Germans are decidedly ‘colder’ than the Americans. And while the Americans aren’t nearly as polite or respectful as the Japanese, it made me feel a lot more comfortable being there, although I was obviously a foreigner. It made me WANT to be more polite, whereas in Germany, I often take on the German way of doing things even though the inner American wants to be nice and helpful. The way in which we were treated, by everyone, made me want to be better. And even though there are obvious downsides to this lifestyle (such as conformity, undue pressure to please, etc), I rather like it and want to learn more. I am determined to speak at least basic Japanese by the time I return next year, in order to not only function, but show my respect for the culture.

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We saw Sensei a lot more than most do, apparently. Amanda mentioned that on most trips to Japan, the people only see Sensei every other day or so, and we got to see him EVERY day. That was really awesome, and it was nice to have so much time outside of training to really get to talk to Sensei about things not related to Budo. It was, apparently, new to him as well. He mentioned that most people who come to train weren’t asking the questions that we were, and I kind of like that he appreciated that. It makes him a human. We obviously knew this already, but it was nice anyway to talk about actual life.

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I didn’t really have the time or chance to draw, as we were often so busy, but I think that the drawings might come later. I was really inspired, even by boring Noda, to make more art. So that might come later, after I sort through all of the photos and find the ones I took in order to do more work with.

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I learned a lot about myself and my training on this trip. It came from all angles: from training with the others to just casually walking around eating ice cream and talking. I’ve learned that I have expectations that still might be too high. I learned that I’m moving at the best pace for me. I learned that I CAN take control of the training I do with others, which is something I often forget when training with people of a higher rank or strength than my own. I’ve also been reminded that above all else, I don’t need to be strong to do this art. I need to be me, I need to be fast, I need to be correct. When you have these three, strength is no longer required. And while stronger or larger people may be able to get through this art and their rank tests by just being stronger than their uke or opponent, I’ll most likely never have that option, so it’s best that instead, I am perfect.

And I’d rather be perfect (in my form/technique/movements) than strong. A lot of our special training was based on this principle, and it’s something that I plan to put into practice and train as often as I can.

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I decided while in Japan that I should really be training every day once I get back. So far that has been a moot point, as I was mostly sleep deprived until today, but starting tonight with budo, I’m planning to do a minimum of one hour of training every day. Even if that training is Shiho Giri or the Kihon Toho, I’ve proven to myself that even in higher temperatures, I can survive and my body will not shut down on me. I owe it to myself to train as hard as I can. I feel so good doing it, knowing that I haven’t found my personal limit yet. I’ve come close, and I came very close in Japan a few times, but I didn’t go over the edge. And that, to me, is really exciting.

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That might be about it for now. I’ve got to get ready for work! Lovely day:)

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Posted in: budo, travel