Journals from Kanto Gakuin University
2009-10-28 Homesickness (?) and Zen
As I was brushing my hair this morning, I realized that I was in Japan using a hair brush that I had bought in Ecuador because I had lost my Seattle-bought one in Honduras. Suddenly, I felt simultaneously connected to and hopelessly distant from all the far-flung parts of my life. I guess you could say I got homesick.
Which is odd, because I'm almost never actually "home." I'm not even sure which home I was feeling homesick for " my parents' house in Seattle? My Honduran family's apartment in Seattle? My Honduran family's house in Honduras? My friends in Ecuador, or Boston, or D.C., or Mexico? I don't know.
It might just be time for my usual mid-semester I've-over-committed-myself again realization. It happens wherever I am, even last summer when I was in Seattle, so I'm not sure if you can really call it homesickness. It's just my usual tendency to not only want to do a little bit of everything, but to throw myself 100 percent into whatever I do. Obviously, if I'm trying to do several things at once, the math doesn't add up. I don't have 300 percent to give. But, of course, I try anyway
So at the moment I am enjoying many different aspects of my time here in Japan, but wishing I could devote more time and energy to each one. The challenge of taking level two instead of level three for the JLPT means studying much more outside of class, but I love the feeling of suddenly being able to read a new sign on the way to school. Then again, I have such a wonderful host family that when I'm home I want to give them my full attention rather than hide in my room studying (I'm still not quite at the point where I can multitask and understand Japanese at the same time!). So I get up at six to study before they wake up, eat breakfast with them at seven, go to class, study after class in the library, come home, eat dinner and chat with my host family from about six to nine, and study some more after the girls go to bed. In English or Spanish, the eating dinner and chatting part of the program would constitute a break, but in Japanese it requires concentration, especially since Maho and Ayumi are often either giggling or chewing or both while they talk! Then, of course, I would also like to spend time with the Japanese buddies, going out for food or karaoke or bowling or (more often than not) baseball. So I more or less fit it all in, but I don't have as much time left for sleeping as I might like. A week from Saturday the home stay ends and we move back into the student dorm at Hayama; I will be sad to leave such a sweet and entertaining host family, but it will release a bit of the pressure I feel to make time for everyone.
So, for the most part I'm happy in Japan, but Japan tires me out. As such, during fall break (which starts on Thursday and goes until Tuesday), I am going to actually try to give myself a break! Instead of schlepping across the country somewhere, I'm going to stay home. My host family's kid-filled neighborhood is throwing a Halloween party on Friday, Ayumi's birthday is on Saturday, Monday I'll go play catch with my host dad, and in between I will just relax and sleep and (knowing me) study, but hopefully not too much.
I suppose I should cover some of what has gone on the in the last two weeks. There are the usual small stories, such as the fact that just during the last week I have eaten jellyfish, squid-ink pasta, and fish sausage. The other day, on a small side street, I heard an ambulance that had sirens but also loudspeakers that said politely and calmly, "Please move to the side. Thank you very much." Then there was the time when my host dad (who speaks almost no English at all) wanted to know how to say "sooridaijin" in English. I said, "Prime Minister," and he laughed. "Mini-ster? Like a small 'mister'? Hm, 'president' sounds much bigger" Without realizing it, my host mom thoroughly reminded me the other day that I am definitely not in Latin America: we both sat down with our calendars and wrote out daily plans (which days I would be home for dinner, which days I wouldn't, activities we planned to do with the kids, etc) - two to three weeks in advance!
Sometimes, even though I live with a Japanese family, I'm still surprised when I leave the house in the morning and realize that I really am in Japan. I am so used to being with my Honduran friends, speaking Spanish all day, and then leaving the house to find myself still in Seattle. On sleepy mornings, it's often a bit of an adjustment to remember to say "Ohayou gozaimasu" to people instead of "good morning."
One bigger story I should probably include is that of our trip to a Zen temple, organized by KGU's IPO. I was glad to manage a few quick naps on trains; I'm glad we had the opportunity to go, but it was certainly a tiring trip! It started on a Tuesday morning, when the sixteen of us (ten exchange students, four buddies, and two people from IPO) hopped on several trains, and eventually arrived at Odawara Castle. I love the stark contrast between old Japan and new Japan, existing side by side. I took a picture from the Odawara station, where you could see a modern street with bright lights and tall buildings covered in colorful signs, yet in the background you could see the traditional architecture of Odawara Castle sitting on a tree-covered hill.
After touring the castle, we had some lunch and headed off to Saijoji (the Zen temple), arriving right at 3pm. The path up from the bus to the temple was gorgeous, surrounded by cedar trees and streams. We checked in, dropped off our things, and then took a short tour partway up the mountain. A monk named Aoki-san was our guide, with a Hawaiian monk (whose name I sadly can't remember) providing translations and clarifications. The Hawaiian monk only arrived in Japan a month ago, so he did the best he could, but still had some trouble on the deeper discussions. Still, considering that I hope to become a translator/interpreter, I enjoyed watching the interpretation dynamic!
We then took a bath Japanese-style (the girls split into two shifts, since there were so many of us), and got ready for dinner. Dinner included a detailed lesson on how to eat politely, and an appreciation-oriented pre-dinner chant. I did my best to sit up straight and eat as correctly as possible (although there wasn't much I could do about being left-handed), and I tried not to make faces when I was surprised by certain flavors (temple food is vegetarian, and they get rather creative sometimes with their vegetable preparation). I was frustrated to see, however, that some people did not eat all of the food, even after Aoki-san made several comments about how important it was to eat everything and appreciate what we are given. It is not that hard to eat food you don't like! In the long run, respect is more important than happy taste buds, especially when your hosts are Zen monks.
After dinner we did zazen, which to be honest was not quite as enlightening as I might have hoped. Thanks to my tendonitis, it mostly just hurt. A few people got sleepy, but I was wide awake trying to think about something other than my grumpy knee! If I could have sat with my left leg straight, maybe I could have had a more profound experience, but as it was, I did the best I could to sit still and pretend my knee didn't hurt. It was also a challenge to keep up with the monks sometimes as we walked around the temple buildings; as in many other Japanese public buildings, when we entered the temple we took off our shoes and traded them for slippers provided by the temple. Inside the temple, I did my best to walk quickly, quietly, and dignifiedly in slippers three sizes too small " it was so difficult that I just made up a word to describe the experience!
The next morning we were woken up by the bells at 5, and we were meditating by 5:15. We then watched morning prayers in two different buildings (one a bit further up the hill than the other), had breakfast (very similar to dinner), and did some cleaning. It was funny to see that the monks who were assigned to delegate cleaning tasks seemed just as hesitant and nervous as we did. They giggled! I never thought I would see a monk giggle.
After cleaning, we listened to a sermon by one of the elder monks; to be honest, I didn't understand very much at all, but I did my best to look attentive and interested anyway. Afterwards we thanked Aoki-san and the Hawaiian interpreter, checked out, and ran down the hill to the bus (the sermon ran a bit longer than expected, so it was a rush to catch the bus!).
From there we spent a day experiencing the variety that Japanese public transportation has to offer: buses, trains, a cable car, the Ropeway, the pirate ship, another bus, more trains I do wish I didn't get carsick/trainsick/bussick so easily! I spent most of the day a bit nauseous, trying to be cheerful and enjoy the touristy stops in between buses and trains (we went to the same places I had visited with my host family on our trip to Hakone). We made it home by around 10:30pm that night, ready for a good night's sleep!
Well, that entry ended up completely different from today's Spanish version. Interesting Anyway, take care everyone, see you when I see you!