Tokushima Adventure

Last weekend, I had one of the most exciting cultural experiences in Japan. I attended and participated in a huge festival called “Awa Odori”.

For months, I had been going to the dance practices, meeting new faces, going to their fun dinner parties. I was invited by a friend, and when he offered me the opportunity to join this event, I curiously accepted. Sometimes the best answer is “yes”.

Without knowing what this festival was really about, I did my research. It is the biggest festival in Japan. Millions of tourists come to the city of Tokushima to see and participate in this 4-day dancing fest. “Awa” is the historical name of this lovely city, and “odori” means “dance”. From about 5pm-11pm, dancing is what you’ll see down the main boulevard and various streets that extend from the city’s transportation station. To be a part of a group, groups come from different regions across Japan, one must pay a daily fee and purchase the correct attire (a happi, white shorts, and specific tabi shoes for dancing). I must say, I really like the feeling of being a part of a group and kind of miss uniforms.

It was towards the end of my summer break when I left for Tokushima. It takes a little over 6 hours to get there. I am not one to rush, so I left a day early and traveled most of the way, to the city of Okayama, just 2 hours from my destination. The hotel was very nice, near the station, and near a huge mall. That was a nice visit.

In the morning, I traveled the rest of the way to Tokushima, quickly purchased my shorts and other accessories needed at a nearby store, and then made my way to a more rural area, to the house I had reserved for the night. The place: Nodokeya. It rests in the middle of an old neighborhood, and the view is pretty great.

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I could only attend Awa Odori for two days. On the first day, I made it just in time to get my wristband. My group practiced the dancing a few more times and we had a group meeting with very fun introductions of the leaders. Afterwards, we began moving down the streets, stopping every little bit to dance. We even danced as we made our way down the various streets. It was hot, but people were happy. Whenever we stopped, we drank wine and beers, and cocktails. My kind of festival!

I left early that night, because of the last train, but I planned to stay longer the next day.

I arrived later the next day, but had gone to get my wristband earlier. I took my time moving myself from the house to my next hotel all the way in the Naruto region, which turned out to be a resort! I had an ocean view! It was quite the contrast to the house.

When I arrived back in Tokushima all dressed and ready, I walked calmly through the streets, and quickly found my group drinking and dancing on a bridge. On this night, because I stayed later, I joined in the main event, dancing down a street with onlookers sitting on bleachers, enjoying the dances.

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(pictured: the Tokyo group)

I was so sweaty from the lights and the humidity. Since I was dancing on a side, people tried to fan me and I could see them cheer us on, giving us high fives. It was very fun! Go, Tokyo! The announcers even said that we were impressive.

After our big performance, we went to a quieter location to drink, dance once again together, and listen to one of the leaders congratulate everyone for the day. Everyone then went to different directions. I went with one group to an after-party at a club. I let loose and danced my booty off! We even had a popular dancing group join us and give us a special performance! It was so much fun dancing with these people. They are really good people.

Early in the morning, everyone went back to their hotels and I decided to hang out by the train station for the first train. To kill the time, I bought food, and rested on a bench, watching the clean-up crews come and go (elder residents and families came out to help clean, too).

About an hour before my train was to arrive, a man, who I had seen earlier that evening, approached me and asked if I was from Tokyo upon seeing my happi (jacket, it says Tokyo University). He doesn’t speak English, but luckily I know enough Japanese that we were able to communicate a little. He has one of my favorite personalities that I have seen come from a Japanese man, gentle, innocent and humble. He had asked me to have a drink with him, but I told him that I had to leave, and I was leaving for Tokyo. Then he asked if we could get a drink if he comes to Tokyo, and I said that we could. In that moment after my response, he was so happy and in disbelief, as if no one had shown him such kindness before. He shyly asked for my number. He’s been sending me kind messages every day since, saying he’s looking forward to visiting me in Tokyo. He’s planning to come the second weekend of September.

Anyway, it’s the weekend. I’m seeing big fireworks tomorrow. I’m feeling an earthquake right now. I made a new friend. It’s a best friend’s birthday. And I had a great time at the Awa Odori festival.

In this moment, life is looking pretty good.

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Summer Break Update

It’s time for a long overdue update! I finally have the willpower, and I also am in the middle of a two week summer break. The feeling of being able to sleep in for days in a row will be missed.

August 1st was my 2 year anniversary of living in Japan. Thinking back on all that’s happened, which I do often, I still count myself blessed. God was with me along the way, all of the time.

I accomplished my personal dream within a month of moving to Japan, and I have photos around my apartment that are proof of that. Being a fan of such a sweet and thoughtful bunch of guys has its perks.

Finding my apartment was another quick provision, and I was led to a kind friend who helped me get my place without hassle, and within walking distance from work. Great for my lazy self. He was one of the many friends I can count now. I have friends from my time at the share house, friends from work, friends from church, friends from my English group, friends from this new Awa-Odori dance practice group that I’ve joined a couple of months ago, friends from Tinder (not a total waste of time it turns out), and friends that I’ve met through other friends. Everyone has been so kind and welcoming.

I’ve learned a lot about myself, too. I’ve learned how to be more open and casual quickly when meeting new people, and how to let go of people if necessary.

Right at the beginning of summer, I felt it necessary to let go of two people I had grown close to, J and T. Both men I consider my friends, and in some crazy way of mine, I still do. Now, I have friends that are men, however, we aren’t really all that close, in all honesty. So, it’s alright when we don’t talk for a long time, or we don’t see each other for long periods of time. But with J and T, our friendships were close. I dare say they were strong. Yet, time changes people, and sometimes that change causes people to grow apart. When I knew we were growing apart, I essentially bailed.

I had met both of them again, since my last posts about them. Both meetings felt like something out of a romantic drama; words like “stay close to me” were said by J, meetings in the rain late at night when T was depressed, holding hands, long talks…then came “we are just friends to the end, I decided” when I never brought up the idea of dating (basically deciding things all by himself), no time to meet, meetings with other women, and my messages never answered.  I felt like I was going crazy, being ignored, feeling left out, feeling like I was investing too much, and I couldn’t back out slowly to let things settle. And I’m not a crazy person, texting all the time. I sometimes wonder if I didn’t show I cared enough. In the end, I backed out altogether. Of course, I left them with positive words about them, but then deleted their contacts.

I may be hasty, but I don’t regret it. I wish I didn’t have to do it, but I feel like my emotional stability depended on it. I hang onto things and people for too long. It’s better for me to have them out of sight, then we can all move on. Crazy me will also have those wonderful memories and moments to appreciate.

I am happy with the real friends that I have now. I have my tiny turtle. I have God’s never-ending care and love. I have my family. I’m making the most of my summer break from work, going out with friends, seeing events and places, and trying great food. See my Instagram for photos of the things I do and see each day!

I also have 2 more years in Tokyo. Please pray for safety and God’s guidance. I’ll return with a fun update soon enough, from one of the biggest festivals in Japan, and I’ll be a dancer! For now, I’ll enjoy my last week of summer break!

An ending

Around two weeks ago, on a Friday, I was so excited to meet T spontaneously. He had sent me a message during my English language group, asking if we could meet up. I told him I could meet him after my group meeting, and he said he would wait for me.

As quickly as I could, I made my way to the station he was waiting, but the way was longer than I expected, so I was late. To make matters worse, I couldn’t find where he was waiting. In the end, he told me that we would meet another time. I really felt heartbroken.

Later that night, he asked me if we could talk on the phone, to help us to feel better about the way the night turned out. We both apologized for the unsuccessful night, but we talked and laughed for 4 hours on the phone, quite happily, I thought. It really did make me feel much better to at least talk with him in that way.

In our conversation, I let him know how I felt about him, that I really liked him, and he brought up the idea of us starting to date. To that, I told him that I thought it was too soon. That we had only met 3 times, and I believe being friends first is important. He was happy to hear that, and agreed, that we can be friends, and that we can talk more about dating in the near future.

However, things are changing on his end. After that night, he’s very slow to read or message me. It takes him days, which is okay, if only he hadn’t quickly read and replied to my messages in the weeks before. I’m losing him, if I even had him interested at all. The sudden change is worrisome, and could be argued that he’s just busy and needs space, but I’m unfortunately very familiar with this pattern since the last eight months. It doesn’t end well.

This brings us to Tinder. I deleted it. It was a great way to quickly meet people, but I have come to terms with the fact that the majority of people on it use it for exactly it’s purpose: a quick hook-up. Unfortunately, that’s not what I’m looking for, and as a result, I’m left more heartbroken than anything. I meet these guys who are really fun, interesting, and kind, and I continue to think I’ll see them again. “When would you like to go see that movie?” “Do you have time this month?” But I’m either ignored, or get a “Sorry” as a reply. To face the truth, they didn’t get what they wanted, so why waste time with me. That’s a harsh reality for me.

On the plus side, I have made a few friends, and those guys I do see again. I feel like I have to date 30 guys to find just one that will want to get to know me, though. It keeps me busy, but it’s not something healthy for me to be doing anymore. I tried it, I know how it works.
It’s time to finish this chapter.

April 19th

Three days after asking T out and feeling that it was too soon to meet again, he asked me out…for lunch. Obviously, it didn’t work out because I was, well, at work. But the thought was kind, and I thanked him for asking. The very next day, he asked me out again. This time, it was in the evening and I was able to meet him.

We went out for drinks at a fancy bar near where I live, and we talked for hours. I can easily laugh with him and we both are starting to feel more comfortable with each other. I find it easy to express my thoughts and feelings on things to him. He made me really happy by saying that he wants to be more open with me. He had something important to tell me, but he was hesitant, and I told him he can tell me when he’s ready. That kind of thing, I really appreciate. Trust and honesty are so valuable in any relationship, and I hope he can grow to trust me more.

I also deleted my Tinder account and told him. He had asked me many personal questions about it, and shared his reasons for using it, which are the same as mine: language exchange. I’m choosing to trust him. He still has his account, and I worry he’ll find someone else and not need to see me anymore, but I’ll hang in there until it’s clear that I need to move on. I have this bad feeling…a feeling that I need to be prepared…

Life so far…

Life in Japan is very exciting. I know I don’t post enough about my experiences of the city, and I’m sorry about that. Really, I go to work, teach, laugh, and play with my young students, and then have a good dinner with a movie to relax before bed. If I go out after work, it’s with one of my dear friends, also foreigners like myself. We either go out to a restaurant, bar, shopping, or some fun event. The weekends can be exciting, too. Lots of going out about the city, shopping, eating, concerts…normal things a person living in a big city would do.

The desserts are not as sweet, and more enjoyable than in America. I walk everywhere, or take the train, or take a taxi (but only if I’m very tired from all the walking). I watch American movies, with Japanese subtitles, and the theaters are more comfortable. I often visit an izakaya (Japanese bar) for drinks and food with friends. Convenience stores (or “conbini”) are my oasis if I need food quick, or just a snack. They also are mainly the only locations people can throw away their trash, since they have trash bins out in front. Other than that, there are no garbage cans.

I meet new people every week. I have a few language exchange partners now, and on Fridays, I normally take part in an English learners language group. I am normally the only native English speaker, so it is a good opportunity to meet people who want to talk with me.

My circle of friends gradually increases, which I am thankful for. I feel like I have had a fresh start here, to be more than I was turning out to be back in Chicago. I felt lazy, too comfortable, and kind of stuck while in Chicago. This move was the best decision I’ve made recently. And I know that God is still leading me, taking care of me, guiding me, every day. For that, I feel like I need not worry about anything. Well, maybe I do worry about how I’m going to ever manage leaving this place, and all my friends.

Life is exciting. Life is good. Taking it a day at a time slows down the time for the better.

 

April 10th

Last Sunday, I had my second date with this man who makes me feel excited. We shall call him T. It was a spontaneous date and a bit short, but even more special than the first, amazingly enough. It was a perfect end to my weekend.

The day started off with a visit from Jenny and Catie, which was lovely. I was lazy around my place for a few hours after they left, deciding where I wanted to spend my time. Eventually, I made my way to the nearest station, planning to head out to a wine tasting event that afternoon. Two hours later, I find myself instead at a Korean pop concert with my other dear friend Jenny, holding a free ticket! Those tickets are not cheap! It was such an exciting surprise.

It was about an hour before the end of the concert when I sort of lost focus of the show. I had received a text from T, that he wanted to see me…the man who I was excited about wanted to see ME.  Immediately, and with the help of Jenny, I sent a reply. Because I was so far in the outskirts of Tokyo, it would take me a while to return home, so I very regretfully told him that the night would not be convenient. However, he considered the time I gave him, and he said he could wait!

A few hours later, I was in the area where he was waiting. And, as only normal for me, I was lost. It was horrible…plus my phone had died. I asked a few people for directions, some of whom had no idea where I was talking about. Time was passing so fast. It was almost midnight when I finally found the restaurant and saw him sitting nervously alone in one of those private rooms/dining tables that Japanese restaurants can tend to have. His eyes were wide with surprise upon seeing me. I think he was as worried as I was that I wouldn’t make it. Seeing him there, I felt so thankful that he had waited.

I drank one beer that he had ordered for me during the last order, which I missed, and we talked for about an hour before the restaurant practically kicked us out. Since the trains were not running at the time and we wanted to talk some more, I invited him over to my home. I felt I could trust him. My judgement wasn’t misplaced. We talked until 3 am until I told him I had to rest a few hours before work. So, we rested together. It was nice not to be alone.

I had wanted to see him again tonight, but he said he is so tired, that he would be sleeping and I would be bored, and since we just saw each other on Monday, it might be too soon. Understandable. He said he will talk with me later about meeting another time.

Japanese people are like this. They need their space, and it’s typically not little space, it can be months worth of “space”. I’m very serious when I say that they are distant people. I’ll save the details and proof for another entry.

I’m the total opposite. If I am excited about someone, I want to see them often. It’s disheartening. But I will try for as long as I can, to not rush into things as I tend to do.