Blog post #5

Okinawan Vacay

A few weeks back I travelled to the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa for about five days. It was fantastic. We adventured and indulged and even met some new friends. Luckily, the typhoon didn’t end up being a problem at all. There were a couple short periods of rain but we didn’t mind.

The trip started on Saturday morning, I left Hondo and drove to Kumamoto city (about 2.5 hours) to pick up the others. While time consuming, this drive is breathtakingly pretty, as you’re seaside the whole way, so I don’t mind it at all. There, I met up with my Canadian friend, Clare and her three friends; Caitlin (U.K.) Sheridan (Australia) and a Devin (U.S.A.) I had met all of them briefly up until that point, but we hadn’t really gotten to know each other. We had a couple hours to chat in the car on our way to Fukuoka, where we were to catch our flight.

I meditate every morning and have been in this routine for nearly three years now. Seldom do I miss a day of meditation, because I understand the unfavourable affects it has on me (more on this later) but I missed it that day, since I accidentally overslept and left home in a rush. In addition, I had coffee that morning, another thing I rarely do. (I stopped drinking caffeinated coffee a few years back because I realized I was less anxious and scatter brained without it.) But, I had run out of green tea that morning and needed a lil’ something, so I made a cup with the beans that my predecessor left behind. The lack of meditation combined with the coffee made for a bad combo and the drive to Fukuoka was stressful. Much more so than it would have been had I not done those things.

Fukuoka is a huge city so traffic was intense and roads were difficult to navigate. Finding parking was also a nuisance. The drive included some wrong tollgate entrances and missed turns. Plus, we were pushing time and running the risk of being late for our flight. Normally, I am relatively calm in these sorts of situations, because I realize that allowing myself to get stressed out just makes everything worse, but that day I was full of tension and anxiety. It was a stressful afternoon and I was happy when we finally found parking and made it to our gate. Next time I go to Fukuoka, I reckon I’ll take the train.

It wasn’t all bad though. Just a couple of days prior, I was swiping through Tinder when I saw a photo of a dude (whose profile it was) sitting with my good friend from University, Paul. I immediately took a screen shot of the photo and sent it to Paul, who explained that guy in the profile was an old friend of his from the U.K. and had just moved to Japan. He expressed his love for this dude and urged me to meet up with him. It just so happened that he lives in Fukuoka, so the Tinder dude and I got in touch and decided we’d meet for dinner before I caught my flight to Okinawa. Clare joined us for the dinner while the others went shopping. It was really nice. He was super easy to get along with and we became fast friends. We have tentative plans to go skiing together later on in the winter, actually. He and I took a picture and sent it to our mutual friend, Paul, who loved it and couldn’t believe how quickly we had actually met up. What a small world we live in.

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The picture we sent to Paul

Finally, we arrived in Okinawa. Devin was staying with a friend of his for the week so it was just us four girls for the majority of the trip. We got our rental car and headed to the hostel. It was about 1am by that time so we went straight to bed.

We stayed in Naha, the capital city. Okinawa is a Japanese island about 650km south from the mainland, and north of Taiwan. It’s a relatively small. You can drive from one end to the other in just a few hours, depending on traffic (which, as we learned that week, can add hours to your expected time) As the site of over 30 American trooped bases since WWII, the island hosts about 25,000 American, which obviously has a heavy influence on Okinawan culture. It’s very different from the rest of Japan. While technically Japanese, many people there consider themselves ‘Okinawan’ instead’

There was a noticeable Western influence in Okinawa. It reminded me a lot of Byron Bay, the little surf town where I lived for a couple months in Australia. Island vibes all around. It was much more laid back than what I know of mainland Japan. Many of the seemingly necessary and polite rules and customs that are expected on the mainland, seemed unimportant here. (Bowing, changing into slippers when entering restaurants or bathrooms, apologizing incessantly, etc.) More people spoke English and advertisements used English, too. It was even common to see people with tattoos there, showing them off with pride (this wouldn’t happen on the mainland.) I felt much more at ease in Okinawa. I felt like I fit in better. And I felt like it was acceptable to put back in my lower lip piercing for the week, hehe.

The people that we met were much more laid back, too. And so friendly. They even have a slightly different look to them than mainland Japanese people. They are beautiful people.

The next few days consisted of…

-Visiting several amazing cafes and restaurants. Sheridan loves food (‘People who love food are always the best people- Julia Child’) and she did her research before every meal, scoping out the best eats in the area. She nailed it every time.

One morning, we went to a beautiful coffee shop near the seawall and I immediately felt like I was back in Byron Bay, Australia. The décor was simple and mostly white and wood, with surfboards and plants all around. Come to find out, the two guys running the restaurant actually met in Australia and imported their coffee beans from Byron Bay. And one of them was about to move to Tofino, B.C. We all made friends. They even let me substitute the gluteny pasta salad in my meal for some avocado (I’ve tried making substitutions at Japanese restaurants before, but to no avail, so this was exciting for me.)

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Byronesk Cafe

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Another day, a couple of us went to a beautiful vegetarian restaurant, where we sat in their outdoor patio, which looked like a fairy garden. Their menu actually considered gluten intolerant folks like me, which was such a relief. To be able to explain my condition to the waitress and have her not only understand completely, but have several different options for me to choose from, was such a treat.

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Dessert at the Vegetarian restaurant. yumz.

-Driving to a beach and going swimming, then taking refuge from the rain in the little café we found in the nearby hills, within the sweet potato fields. We had beers with a beautiful view.

-Going Scuba Diving with Clare. I got my Scuba license back in Australia in 2012, but hadn’t used it since. Naturally, I forgot a lot of the rules and procedures and didn’t quite feel comfortable getting back into my gear without a refresher course. So that’s what we did. It was a great experience. There was one point when we were underwater and we encountered a GIANT school of sardines (like millions). They were all around us, and moving together in formation, shifting directions every so often (like on Nemo). It was the coolest thing. Even our instructor told us that she had never seen such a thing before.

-Treating ourselves to massages. I got a one-hour foot massage. It was heavenly.

-Exploring the giant, beautiful market. There was fresh fruit and Hawaiian shirts and free samples galore. I bought myself a cool pencil case made out of a sail and a beautiful handmade necklace as souvenirs. I bought Omiyage, too, for my school and house family. Gift-giving is an important part of Japanese culture, so upon taking a trip, you’re expected to come back with omiyage for your friends and coworkers. (Prior to my arrival in Japan, actually, I had bought several Canadian foods and gifts to give as omiyage when I got here.) It’s usually something sweet and often associated with the specific region you’re in. The market probably had more than a dozen stores that specialized in omiyage, which come in pre-gift wrapped boxes. I bought some Okinawan specialties; salt cookies and little yam-filled tarts.

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– Going the famous Okinawa aquarium, which is the second largest in the world. It had a massive tank full of all kinds of sea creatures, including giant whale sharks. This was really amazing to see. But I felt a bit torn the whole time I was there. I was thoroughly enjoying observing the fish, but at the same time I felt so sorry for them. In my opinion, no animal should be cooped up in a tank or a cage like that. (Have you seen the Documentary ‘Blackfish?’ Watch it.) I much preferred Scuba diving among the wild sea life, who are free, as they should be.

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Outside the aquarium. We clearly weren’t the only tourists around.. hehe
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The girls outside the aquarium

– Visiting a famous castle in Naha. We didn’t end up paying to go inside, but the grounds were super pretty.

-Spending a lot of time in the car in traffic, listening to bad music. We couldn’t get the radio working and the car didn’t have an AUX hookup, so we stopped at a store and Caitlin and Clare ran in to get a few cheap CDs. They came back with ‘R&B Reggae covers’ ‘EDM dance jams’ and some of Beyonce’s older stuff. They were hilariously bad.

One evening, Sheridan and I went for a night walk near our hotel. We were in a busy square in the middle of Naha and met a guy named Sho and a few of his friends. Sho had perfect English. He was born and raised in Okinawa but lived in Ontario and Vancouver for about 5 years as a teenager. We chatted and found out that he’s a rapper! So I (foolishly) spit him a beat (it was actually pitiful) and he free styled for us right there in the middle of the square. He was so good! Before parting ways, we exchanged contact info.

A couple of nights later, the girls and I went to our new favourite Mexican restaurant near our hostel so I invited Sho to come along. We all had a couple of drinks at the Mexican spot and then went elsewhere for some traditional Okinawan food. Sho fit in perfectly with our group and we all got along great. It felt like we had known him for ages. He has quite an interesting life story too, which he recounted to us beautifully. He is as real as they come. We later found out he was only 19, which blew my mind because he was so wise and well spoken for that age. But age, really, is just a number.

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Our fav Okinawan spot. Hi Clare!

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Sho and Sheridan and I ❤

After dinner, the other two gals went off to bed, but Sho and Caitlin and I stayed out and walked around. At about 11pm Sho decided to take us to a bar to meet his friends. We pull up to this small bar in some random alley and Sho’s friend comes outside to greet us. He is also a rapper, and a somewhat famous one at that. He won a freestyle rap competition a few years back and has since been growing in popularity. His name is R’ Kuma (pronounced Ryo-Kuma.. I think) He didn’t speak much English, except for a few words and phrases, which he would throw in from time to time. Much to my surprise, the English he did speak had no detectable Japanese accent, so he sounded like a proper gangster rapper. He looked like a Japanese Bieber, decked out in Louis Vuitton and cool pink and yellow pants. He was also wearing light brown colored contacts, which further enhanced his already-interesting look, given Japanese people all have black eyes. Sho was our translator when we needed him. Despite the language barrier, he and I were totally flirting. Which was too funny.

We went inside the beautiful bar, which was totally empty except for our group. We were introduced to the three other guys, all of whom were also rappers, and their one girl friend. They were great people. We were all sitting around chatting and having a few drinks. At one point we gathered around someone’s iPhone to watch R’Kuma’s latest music video,( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7iqBGO6Jrs) which a couple of the other guys in the room were in too. And at another point their other friend came in, who Sho later told me was a billionaire. (Like what?!) Later, they went around in a circle and all took turns freestyle rapping. It was so impressive. R’Kuma actually rapped about my friend Caitlin and I, lol. The whole experience was somewhat surreal. Needless to say, this is not my usual ‘scene.’ He he. But it was great.. definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

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Caitlin with our new rapper friends. he he

Before we parted ways, R’Kuma took a photo of he, Sho, Caitlin and I and posted it on Instagram, tagging us in it. It ended up getting hundreds of likes and Caitlin and I were actually getting random Japanese fans of his adding us on Instagram. LOL.

Were still in touch with Sho and we plan on meeting him and maybe the others when they come to the mainland at some point to perform.

Side story..

I sit next to this adorable woman at my elementary school that teaches Japanese. She is probably about 65 and she speaks pretty good English. (I actually found out from my Paraglider friends, who are English teachers, that she was a former student of theirs and she actually started re-attending classes after a several year hiatus because of her excitement about sitting next to me. So cute.) I celebrated a birthday on Sept 25th (a Sunday) and she somehow remembered the date and gave me a present the next Friday when I saw her again. She makes and sells jewelry in her off time so she made me a beautiful mother of pearl necklace. I was so surprised and happy.

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I had a funny moment with her when I told her the story about meeting the rappers. It started with me asking ‘do you know rap music?’ and she said ‘I love rap music.’ Ha ha. And it finished with me showing her the photo that R’Kuma had posted on Instagram and having her translate the Japanese caption that he posted under it. (It said something along the lines of ‘We were meant to meet.’) The juxtaposition of the lovely, old Japanese lady reading the rapper’s Instagram post on my smartphone was hilarious.

On our last night in Okinawa, we decided to go to the American Village. Where had been staying in Naha, which is not close to any of the American bases, so while we saw Americans around from time to time, it was mostly Okinawans in the area. The American Village is a large entertainment complex near the beach, located close to many of the American bases. It’s like a big outdoor shopping mall with lots of American style stores and restaurants, clubs, movie theaters, and a big flashy Ferris wheel. At night it’s all lit up and it looks like Miami. It’s easy to totally forget you’re in Japan when you’re there.

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Seawall near the ‘American Village’ (which I unfortunately have no photo of)

It was a Wednesday night so we figured there wouldn’t be many people out at the bars, so we decided to get on Tinder to invite people to join us at some sports bar called ‘Side Lines’. Our plan worked and we ended up at a bar with a few different groups of American Armed Forces dudes from Tinder and their friends. It felt so familiar sitting in a sports bar among English speakers and staff, chatting over beers. It was really fun. There was not a Japanese in sight, which was weird. We had some interesting chats and I learned a lot about what life in the Army/Navy/Marines is like.

We left the next morning, early and headed home. It was a fantastic trip and I made some new Okinawan friends and also grew a lot closer to the three Kumamoto City JETs whom I got to share the experience with. I loved Okinawa. I would love to live there at some point, actually.

Phase 2ing

The days following my trip to Okinawa were different from other days in Japan. I felt a significant shift when I got home. It was as if I felt more settled. Like Amakusa was home, finally. But the shift also came with some feelings of low energy combined with a lack of motivation and inspiration. At first, I attributed this to tiredness from my trip, which was certainly true. But the feelings persisted.

For the first time since moving to Japan I felt low and lonely. I came home from work feeling wasted and was going to bed at 8pm all week. I had no interest in going to art club or running. I noticed a significant shift in my attitude. I was becoming easily annoyed by little things that people said or Japanese customs that I don’t agree with. I was ‘phase two-ing’ (verb I learned and discussed in Blog post 2). I didn’t miss home, per se, but I missed feeling connected, and having easy access to like-minded people to converse with. It was a difficult week, for sure. But maintaining awareness of what was going on and noticing those negative thought patterns kept me from getting too involved with what was going on in my head, and ruminating on silly annoyances. I tried to give me self a break and just surrender to the phase 2. So I took it real easy.

Last Saturday, we had another English Camp, this time in Kumamoto City. We drove up early that morning and spent the whole day working and playing with the kids and them about Canada. This demanded a lot of energy, so when the camp ended at 5pm, I was wiped and feeling like I was going to get sick. I wanted to go home and rest, but had already made plans for dinner with the gals I went to Okinawa with and Clare’s mom, who was visiting from Vancouver.

I spent the few hours between English camp and dinner in the busy streets of Kumamoto City. I love people watching but there really isn’t much of it in Amakusa. So I sat on a busy street bench and just sketched in my sketch book. Relaxing and drawing made me feel a lot better. I later found a hip-hop competition in a square nearby, which was awesome. I’m so used to seeing Japanese people a certain way at work, which is put together and poised and extremely polite. So to see a group of Japanese decked out in crazy makeup and costumes and breaking it down to rap music on stage was a real treat.

I eventually lugged my tired body to Clare’s apartment and was greeted with a glass of sangria and appetizers. I met Clare’s mom, who I immediately took a liking to. The other girls arrived and we all sat around and ate the delicious home cooked food that Clare’s mom, Kim, had prepared. As it turns out, her husband (Clare’s dad) graduated from the same Law School University class as my dad. So we share a few mutual family friends. This, in addition to the fact that Clare (who is from the other side of Canada) was on the same University rowing team as my Halifax roommate last year, was too weird. Again…small world.

Seeing these gals for the first time in Okinawa was so lovely. We laughed and reminisced on our trip. I also got to know two other Kumamoto City JETs who joined us for dinner. We were all like-minded females with plenty to say and the conversations were flowing effortlessly. I felt a surge of rejuvenation, as though all I needed to shake my ‘phase two’ was to feel connection again. The older I get, the more I realize that I am indeed a people person and I live for that kind of human connection.

I stayed in the city that night at Sheridan’s. She and I get along great and I really enjoy her company. We stayed in chatting and I was able to dish some of my week’s grievances to her. I felt so much better than I had all week.

The next morning, Sheridan made us a delicious breaky and we went for a lovely, sunny bike ride. Despite and slight hangover and lack of sleep, I felt great. I was able to see the beauty in everything again. We spent the afternoon shopping and walking around and we even made a new Japanese friend at a restaurant.

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What a good host she was!

We stopped at an onsen (a traditional Japanese hotspring/bath house) on the way home. I chilled out in the outdoor hot spring and sauna and we finished our visit with 15 minutes in the massage chairs. Best $2.00 I ever spent. I arrived home feeling rejuvenated and happy, again.

My Birthday, School Field Trip and the Speech Competition.

School has been going quite well. I’ve gotten into the swing of things and feel pretty settled and happy and my schools. Some of the students remembered that it was my birthday and I received three birthday cards in my mailbox from my Junior High school and some Happy Birthday songs and cards at Elementary, too. One of my grade four classes at elementary made me a big card, each kid signed in Japanese and wrote me a little message, which I later had a friend translate for me. They’re so good to me.

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Card from my grade fours 🙂

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All the ALTs in the area got together again for their annual welcome party at a waterfall. We rented bungalows and stayed the nights in the beautiful forest park. A couple friends from elsewhere in the prefecture came to join the festivities, too.  It was the night before my Birthday so I wanted to celebrate when midnight hit, but sadly, I fell asleep at about 10pm. He he. I was a good time regardless, though. I’m 24 now and I must say, it feels no different. The weird thing is, I don’t feel like I fully identify with my age. For the past few years I’ve felt a bit older than my age. And I tend to connect more easily with people older than me. But like I said before, age is just a number.

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We stumbled upon a ‘foot spa’ on the way to the party

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Last week, all the 7th grade students (over 200 of them) took their annual 7th grade three-day field trip to Matsushima (about an hour from here). They allowed me to join on day two, so instead of going to school I hopped in the car and drove to the field trip venue. It was a big building atop a mountain with a dormitory and gym, used mainly for school field trips and other conferences. We all gathered in the parking lot when I got there. The kids were all in uniform and had to sit, holding their knees on the ground in straight lines. We all stayed in straight line formation and walked the 20 min walk down the hill to the nearby beach. The kids were to find and collect shells, rocks and sea glass, which they would use the next day for an art project. I picked up on the slightly unusual seriousness of this field trip. It was nothing like the trips I remembered being on as a kid, where everyone would take full advantage of the field trip freedom and things would often get crazy. Upon talking to my JTE, she explained to me that this field trip is not for the kids to have fun and enjoy themselves. Quite the contrary, in fact, it was a field trip to teach them discipline and how to behave properly outside of school. I’m not in Kansas anymore..

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After lunch, we went as a group to the top of the mountain to check out the view. And then all gathered in the gym so each class could practice their singing for the upcoming annual corral contest. Each class competes against each other, singing one song of their choice and a second song that everyone must sing. Each class performed what they had prepared so far for their piece. It was interesting because each class has a pianist and a conductor but they weren’t music teachers, they were simply students from that class. So whoever was the best at playing piano and conducting was given that the role. It was a pleasure to watch.

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The three first year students who were participating in the English Speech Recitation contest also got to perform their speech to the rest of the group. My JTE and I, along with the other ALT that works at my school, have been training these kids since August for the contest, which took place on Oct 4th. Every year, 1, 2 or 3 students from each Junior High school grade are chosen to participate in the English Speech Recitation contest, where they must recite a two minute piece from the English textbook. Pronunciation, gestures and volume are all taken into account by the judges. We worked with these students every day after lunch and a few times after school for the couple months leading up to the contest. I only helped with the 1st and 3rd year students as another teacher was coaching the 2nd years. The JTE that I team-coached with takes this competition very seriously, and helped lead all three grades to the prefectural competition Kumamoto City last year. So she was set on winning this year, and worked with the kids before and after school every day as well.

The day of the competition finally came. My JTE and I as well as the performers all had the day of school to attend the competition. We piled in a taxi and drove to another Junior High school were the contest was to take place. Every Junior High in Amakusa participates in this contest (about 21 schools, I believe) so there was a big group of students present as well as all of my fellow Amakusan ALTs.

Before the contest was to begin, everyone was scattered around the parking lot performing his or her speeches. It was quite a site to witness, seeing all of these Junior High students standing around performing in English. I loved seeing all of the different female uniforms, too. They are so beautiful and adorable. I love Japanese fashion. It’s very put-together and refined, for the most part, and the school uniforms are no exception to that. They are all a bit different and come in a variety of colors but most have a similar ‘sailor’ style to them, with a bow in the front and a square collar. (Like Sailor Moon) I hope to do a photography piece on Junior High school uniforms, while I’m here. (I just need to get myself a proper camera.)

It was a long day of listening to speech after speech after speech. Admittedly, I tuned out for a good portion of it and sketched in my sketchbook. Finally, the end of the day came and the results were in. The first and third graders at my school (the two teams I helped coach) got first place in their divisions! I couldn’t believe it. I was so proud of the kids, seeing as they had worked so hard for this. It was very gratifying to see all of their hard work pay off, and to know that I aided in helping them achieve first place. While the other teams get to take a break until next year, my school will continue daily practices for another month since we’ll be headed to the prefectural competition in Kumamoto city next month.

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My sketch of the gal in front of me at the contest

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Typhoon

We had another (our third) typhoon this week. And this one definitely felt more like a typhoon than the others. The high winds and heavy rain kept me up at that night and they continued through the next day. Some schools were cancelled but mine wasn’t. I arrived at school that morning and parked my car, I opened the door and it flew open, hitting the car next to me and getting a line of white paint down the side of the adjacent car’s door. I realized I didn’t have enough space in that spot to get out safely, so I moved to the next open spot and carefully opened the door, leaving it open for a moment to grab my belongings when WHOOSH, another gust of wind, and I hit the car next to me. This resulted in another line of paint down the second car’s door. (-_-)What a way to start my morning. The next twenty minutes were stressful, as I had to explain to my JTE what happened, track down the secretary who helped us to identify the cars, and the track down their owners and have someone translate for me what happened. I then walked back into the typhoon with each owner individually to check out the damage and had to get a translator to help. One man brushed it off and said no worries, as there was no dent, just  paint. The other lady called her mechanic, who came to the school, to wipe off the paint. It ended up being no biggie but I felt so silly for making the same stupid mistake twice. Lesson learned.

I was giggling all day at the ridiculousness of the fierce sound of the wind. Every classroom in my school has full size sliding doors and windows, most of which were kept open that day, for some reason. The intense howling of the wind actually made it difficult to hear people talking in class. Every once in a while a massive gust would come and everyone would just stopped and look out the window. The lampposts on the sports field were shaking fiercely and there were plastic bags flying around. If anyone was outside, you could see their hair and clothes flying all over the place. Most of the students and teachers seemed pretty unphased by all of this typhoon business, but it was all very new to me, so I was looking out the window all day.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for my insensitivity in my last blog post with regards to typhoons. I understand the severity of these potentially extreme weather events and know that people can die in them. By no means do I wish to actually encounter any weather event that has the potential to destroy buildings or hurt people, nor do I wish that on anyone else. Though, the way I wrote it, may have made it seem that way. I guess I was comparing it to the ‘extreme weather events’ of Nova Scotia, like blizzards or ‘tropical storms’ which I always thoroughly enjoy because they generally aren’t dangerous, they bring people together, and they allows for a more-exciting-than-usual day. Anyways, I apologize for the insensitivity and ignorance behind those comments I made. Part of me wanted to go back and erase them, but I figured it was best to leave it and take responsibility for them instead.

Gratitude

This week, I’m grateful for my yoga practice.

A year ago, in my film class, we had to make a five minute documentary surrounding the idea of ‘a change of heart’ So I decided to turn it into a personal documentary about my having discovered yoga. Here is the YouTube link.

https://youtu.be/evtlthEmSoY

I’m a little embarrassed to show this to people, not necessarily because of the personal information I disclose (that still freaks me out a bit, but I’m becoming more comfortable with it) but more so because of my film making skills. The not-great sound quality, out-of-focusness and poor editing upset me a bit every time I watch this. I was up until 5am the night before it was due trying to put something together and this is what I was able to come up with. And sadly, I no longer have access to the software I need in order to fix it up. But, whatever. I’m still proud of it. So take a looksy if you feel so inclined.

My aim with that documentary was to introduce my classmates to the power of yoga and hopefully, get at least one person interested in trying it. (I later found out that I had achieved that, when a friend told me they tried a class after watching my doc :))

Yoga has changed me, for the better, in so many ways. My identity has literally been transformed because of this practice. It infiltrated my entire life in so many positive ways and continues to do so; I am more in touch with my body. I have an increased capacity to love others as well as myself. I have a better relationship with food. I’m able to perceive even negative events in my life as valuable life lessons. I’m more understanding of others. I’m less judgmental. I am less uptight and easily stressed out. I am closer to my family. I care more about animals and the environment. I sleep better. I have more control over my thoughts. I could go on and on…

My exponential growth with yoga has slowed down and breakthroughs are fewer and further between, now. Some mornings I wake up and I really don’t feel like doing it. But I never regret it once I do.. Meditation is undoubtedly the most important part of my practice, though. I sit for 10-20 minutes every morning. Doing this has become integral to my well-being.

The word yoga can have totally different interpretations, depending on who you ask. I think I’m particularly opinionated about this. One interpretation, which is becoming more and more trendy, sees yoga as a type of workout, a saleable product that can help you get a nice butt and toned arms. It’s something you can get good at and competitive about…learn how to headstand, and share a photo of it on Instagram. Despite my slight sass when referencing this type of yoga, I’m genuinely happy that more and more people are discovering the practice. Because whether or not it’s spiritual, any kind of yoga practice is beneficial.

My personal yoga practice, however, references another interpretation of yoga, a more spiritual one. It includes asana (poses), meditation and kapala backti (breathing exercises). To me, my yoga mat is a place that I can come to to connect, recenter, and prepare for my day of attempting to live wisely out in the real world. When practicing asana, it’s not so much about the poses and how they look, in my eyes. It’s more about the breathing, the presence, and tuning into your body.

I am so grateful for my yoga practice. It’s the base that I come back to every morning, or throughout the day if I need it. I can turn to my yoga when I’m feeling stressed or life smacks me in the face. There is peace and divinity behind the layers of craziness in everyone’s mind and it’s incredibly satisfying to tap into that. Yoga helps me do that. What a blessing this practice has been for me. I am so grateful.

Actually, I just got back from my second ever yoga class in Japan and my heart is so full. Here’s how it went…

About a month ago, I went to the bookstore with my ALT friend and he ran into a girl he knew and introduced us. She is a darling Japanese girl, a little older than me, who has lived in Amakusa all her life. She speaks English, too. We only spoke briefly but we exchanged names and she added me on Facebook.

I haven’t heard from or seen her since then until a few days ago when she randomly messaged me inviting me to come to a yoga class with her instead. I happily accepted.

I had searched ‘yoga in Amakusa’ on Google and asked a few friends, neither of which offered me any insight into yoga on this island. So, I simply concluded that finding a class wasn’t going to happen. I have therefore been doing my own personal practice every morning in my apartment. This has been working fine, however, I do find I am not as motivated when doing my own practice. Being the person leading the class, I tend to not hold my poses for as long, or challenge myself as much. And it’s easy to get distracted by my phone or other things I need to do. I much prefer to go to a class where I can follow directions and there is nothing else to do besides be present for the duration of the class.

Class was just a short ten-minute walk from my house. My friend and I met up a half hour before class so she could go over some simple Japanese words used frequently in yoga, (inhale, exhale, sun salutation, etc.) My friend had no idea that I loved yoga so much. She does too and also does it every day. So she was very happy to have me there and vice versa.

We met our teacher and I immediately loved her. She is adorable and gentle and lovely. We, as well as the other two students in the class chatted and got to know each other. They made me feel very welcome.

The class was perfect for me. It was r up my alley. Very slow paced, with focus on breathing and spirit, with frequent shavasanas between poses. The language barrier wasn’t a problem since I could just watch what the teacher was doing, and from time to time she would translate to English. The class was 1.5 hours and I enjoyed every minute of it. It finished with the teacher reading a lovely quote from some yogic philosophy book. She paused after each sentence so my friend could translate it for me. They are so sweet.

After class the teacher confirmed my suspicions and told me that it was Shivananda yoga that she teaches. This particular kind of yoga is not a popular one, per se, but it is one I am familiar with because I spent two weeks at the Shivananda Yoga Ashram in Quebec last year, volunteering and taking classes every day. I loved it there so much, it felt like home to me. There, I took a real liking to this kind of yoga, which was different from what I was used to. Ever since I left Shivananda, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. And for some reason those thoughts intensified in the past few weeks while here in Japan. I hope to go back there to live for a longer period of time when I go back to Canada (whenever that may be) and eventually get my Yoga Teacher Training.

So when she told me she taught Shivananda yoga I knew it was the right fit and that I was meant to be there. I was meant to run into my friend’s friend at the bookstore, so that she could invite me to yoga. Everything lines up, as it often does for me now days. I love when this happens.

My second class was just as great as the first. My friend and our teacher and I met up before hand for tea. We all had a lot in common and plenty to talk about. I really love them. Thanks universe, I am so grateful.

Rainbow Forest Music Fest

I just got back from a Trance Music Festival that was like a Japanese ‘Evolve.’ It was probably the best/most interesting experience I’ve had since being here. I can’t wait to write about it… tune in next time 🙂

XOXO SilverGirl

aka Mary Ellen

aka Ellen

P.S. Please comment if you read this! I’d love to hear from you. And it keeps me motivated to keep writing.

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4 thoughts on “Blog post #5

  1. Absolutely loved your take on Okinawa! I may have stolen a few of those pictures to reminisce over our few seconds living the high life with rappers too. Very much looking forward to the next instalment darling, take care xx

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  2. Ohhhhhh so lovely you found a little slice of Shivananda ❤ happy for you darling. Love reading your updates as always. hugs hugs hugs!

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  3. Well. What to say. Carly told me I should read your blog as I am a bit of a blog addict. And what a treat! You’re a talented writer and keen observer – both important attributes for a great blog. I love it!
    one question- why can’t I see some of your pictures? Feeling very ripped off. Lol.
    Keep it up Mary Ellen. This is good stuff. Will send some snail mail soon.
    HH

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    1. Hi Heath. Oh my gosh, it makes me soo happy that you’re reading! I really appreciate it. And thanks for alerting me to the fact that a significant amount of pics are MISSING! whats up with that? Check back soon, I will replace them. Thanks agian for your kind words… they’re keeping me motivated ot keep writing. all my love to you and Mikey! xox Mare

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