New look and growing pains

With our revolutionary basic WordPress technology knowledge we have brought our site into a new era where we can actually edit, maintain and access it on mobile. HOWEVER this means there might be mistakes, and we may need to update and edit content and formatting to suit the new style. We would appreciate if you could keep an eye out for any mistakes or updates, and if you find any please let us know through the comment functions.

Thank you for bearing with us!

mikyan

Stonewall Shikoku on Ice

On Saturday, February 3rd, Stonewall Shikoku held an ice skating event in Ehime’s very own Matsuyama. Stonewall Shikoku is the Shikoku branch of the national Stonewall group, a place for LGBTQIA+ people to interact with each other while in Japan to share their experiences, help each other with queer-specific problems, and make connections with other people within the community. Stonewall Shikoku is currently headed by CIR Micah Rabinowitz who is based in Kochi prefecture. Some of his duties include putting out a regular newsletter about regional and national LGBTQIA+ related issues and organizing island-wide events for people across the region to meet up. One such event was a camping trip held at the end of summer last year.

However, one person cannot take on all the responsibilities of a community spread across four prefectures. As such, prefectural leaders have also taken charge in dealing with local issues and organizing small events for people in the area to meet with each other more regularly. The Stonewall Ehime leader is Matsuyama ALT Kai Dearlove, who has helped bring many local ALTs from the LGBTQIA+ community together through events such as ‘Beers for Queers’. Kai is hoping to reprise their role as the Stonewall Ehime leader next year as well.

This latest event was another region-wide one led by Micah Rabinowitz, and we were lucky enough to have it held in our own backyard in Matsuyama. The event was given the title ‘Ehime Ice Queens,’ and marks the first of its kind held in Ehime under the leadership of Mr. Rabinowitz. This event has been in the works for some time, involving cooperation between Micah, Kai, and other local members.

At around 1 P.M., people from across the island gathered in front of Matsuyama City Station. After some brief introductions, we made our way towards Everest, an Indian curry restaurant, for lunch and a chance for people to get to know each other. Though our group only represented a small fraction of the queer Shikoku ALT community, we still had to be broken into two groups to be seated. Getting to know people that you have only spoken with digitally over platters of cheese naan is an experience I personally recommend.

curry

Meals at Everest

After a fun and filling lunch, our group made a short trip to Dogo so the travelers could check into their hostel and the locals could drink Starbucks coffee while watching the Botchan Clock. We soon hopped on a tram and made our way back to Matsuyama City Station to begin the next leg of our journey, making our way to Fukuonji Station on the Iyotetsu Line.

From there, we made our way to the Iyotetsu Sports Center for the main event, ice skating. There were various levels of experience amongst the group, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves with their new acquaintances. Even those who opted to not skate got involved by taking pictures as people struck dynamic poses while skating past. I am happy to report that there were no major accidents or injuries, besides some scrapes and sore ankles.

animals

ice rink

Iyotetsu Sports Center ice rink (No one in the background of the images are members of or associated with Stonewall Shikoku or Stonewall Ehime.)

After several laps, some jokes, and even a race, many in the group had worked up an appetite, so we made our way back to Okaido for dinner. After much convincing on the part of a few local members, we ended up at Hanbey. Hanbey’s is a Showa-themed izakaya that is known for serving a few oddities such as frog legs, crickets, various innards, high quality cat food, and ice cream shaped like breasts. It was here in a private room that the afterparty began. Much cheese wrapped in bacon, ice cream, and alcohol was consumed while games such as ‘Two Truths and a Lie’ were played.

Afterwards, we decided to keep the party rolling and visited a local gay bar called Flock Cafe, the only mixed gender gay bar in the area. The atmosphere was jovial as drinking games were played and boisterous discussions were had. A few shots of Tequila Rose, some sake, beer, and a number of other drinks later, it was time for the evening to wind down. Half of the group returned to their lodgings and the other half visited a club for a few more drinks before, too, returning home.

Drinks at Haneby and Bibiros Nightclub

Drinks at Hanbey and Bibiros Nightclub


As people who are already slightly out of place as foreigners in this land, being queer on top of it can be an alienating experience. Though allies do exist, and there is more to forming friendships besides sexuality and gender, it can be difficult to find people who can understand and relate to one’s life experiences. Surrounded by people I could genuinely be myself with and who would understand my perspective, references, and even my jokes for a day was a refreshing and much needed departure from the mundanity of life as an ALT. I strongly encourage others within the LGBTQIA+ community to reach out to Stonewall Shikoku and/or Stonewall Ehime and access the well of information and opportunities they can provide.

Stonewall Japan, Stonewall Shikoku, and Stonewall Ehime can all be found on Facebook. Both Stonewall Shikoku and Stonewall Ehime are closed groups. This is so only members of the community are able to access information on who has joined in consideration of those who are not able to or do not wish to be be open about their gender and/or sexuality for whatever reason.

The following is a brief interview conducted with Micah Rabinowitz, current Stonewall Shikoku Block Leader who organized and took part in ‘Ehime Ice Queens’ on Saturday.

Hello. Please introduce yourself and what it is you do as Stonewall Shikoku Block Leader.

Micah: My name is Micah Rabinowitz, an American CIR living in East Kochi. I am the Shikoku Block Leader for Stonewall Japan, and my main jobs are writing the Shikoku Stonewall newsletter, managing prefectural leaders, and organizing LGBTQIAoriented events. A personal goal of mine as Shikoku Block Leader is to foster regional communities that are as much organic friend groups as they are official branches of the Stonewall Community.

That’s fantastic. Could you explain why you think this is important?

Stonewall is important because it provides a community for LGBTQIA+ people. This is especially crucial in rural places like Shikoku. Because our community encompasses so many different types of people, I think we still have a lot of work to do to live up to our mission, but I’m also very proud of the grass-root growth we have made in my short time as Shikoku Block Leader.

And how do you feel about the latest event, ‘Ehime Ice Queens?’

I love ice skating so my opinion is a bit biased, but I thought that the ‘Ehime Ice Queens’ event was amazing. Everyone hit it off from the start, and those of us from outside of Ehime felt like we got a real tour of Matsuyama. Ehime in particular has been good about creating Stonewall events organically, and I was glad to finally get to meet everyone.

Are there other ways to connect with Stonewall Shikoku outside of Facebook?

It’s a closed community, so, no, not really. And I don’t have authority to openly publish what I write (the newsletter). However, Stonewall Japan does have a website.

http://stonewalljapan.org/ 

It is also possible to contact your PAs and/or RAs for information on local resources and events.

If the group is closed, can only LGBTQIA+ JETs join?

Stonewall Japan is affiliated with the JET Programme, but it doesn’t belong to JET in terms of authority or censor. So we accept people from in and out of JET, foreign and Japanese. Anyone who self-identifies as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, preferably who lives in or is visiting Japan, is welcome to join.

Do you have any final words or advice for LGBTQIA+ people reading this?

This is hard. Basically, I just want people to know that they are good enough already.

And anything for readers outside of the community?

I feel very lucky to have grown up with as much love and acceptance as I did. It helped me become the person I am today. With rare exceptions, LGBTQIA+ people all come from conventional families and communities. And we are, for the most part, invisible minorities. Even if you don’t know it, your feelings about LGBTQIA+ people have shaped how someone in your life sees themself. By being understanding, you can make someone’s life immensely easier. So please be kind, understanding, and open to learning.

I would like to thank both Micah Rabinowitz and Kai Dearlove for the work they do for our community through Stonewall. I would also like to thank Micah for his time in answering my questions and for driving all the way from rural Kochi to hold an event here.

This article was written by Michael Haverty, a first-year Iyo-City ALT from the US and member of Stonewall Shikoku and Stonewall Ehime. All photos used were also taken by Michael.

 

 

Post-JET Diaries- Part Five

December

One of the main reasons why I went to Japan was because I wanted to find myself. I grew up jumping from place to place, but when it came time for my identity to solidify during my adolescent years, I found myself in Kansas. Suffice to say, I didn’t know anybody other than my sister who shared my heritage. I didn’t know what it meant to be Japanese or Mexican. I definitely didn’t know what it meant to be both of those while also being an American. I had a long, drawn-out identity crisis when I was in university. So I thought that I might be able to find some answers in Japan. Long story short, I realized that identity is something that we create for ourselves, rather than something we find. It’s a constant process of reshaping and tweaking.

Coming back to the U.S., I realized that though I became better at socializing, I still felt like an outsider, as I did before coming to Japan. Somehow, Japan has been the only place where I truly felt like I belonged–both as a child and as an adult. It was strange, because I had been more of an outsider in Japan, but there was something that always drew me in that made me feel more comfortable. Maybe it was because as an American, I was not expected to fit in, and not being able to fit in was normal. Whereas being in the U.S., I felt as though I was supposed to fit in and yet I didn’t. Maybe that incongruence made me feel like I didn’t belong there. I liked Fort Worth and what it had to offer. I just didn’t feel the same sense of belonging that I did in Japan. Maybe it was because people in the JET community all arrived at the same time, knowing nobody, and that created a sense of camaraderie? I considered the possibility, but even when I was a new student in Japanese school during the fifth grade, I felt like I belonged. I have not been able to figure out what it is about Japan that feels so right. It just does.

In December, I found myself going out more often. I had been able to form positive relationships at work, and some of those relationships went beyond the restaurant. I went to a coworker’s drag show a couple of times, I went to watch movies, and went out to bars all with different people.

I enjoyed making friends, but I found that making friends with guys tended to be more complicated than I had expected. Last time I formed friendships in the U.S. was when I was in college. Everybody seemed to be fair game. But now, I found it difficult to become friends with males. I got asked out by two different people whom I thought I was forming a friendship with, and a couple other guys had girlfriends, which made me uncomfortable (I don’t want to be perceived as a homewrecker). I just wanted to hang out with people, but it seemed to be a difficult situation. I also tried to hang out with more women, but something always seemed to come up, or they were less enthusiastic about going out and doing something. I began to feel very isolated. Though I went out more often than I had before, December was an isolating experience in many ways.

I began to feel burnt out. I had a lot of logistical things taken care of: I had my driver’s license, a job, a place to live, I signed up for health insurance, I was a member of the ultimate frisbee league (I even became a team captain), I finally started CrossFit. I was mostly finished with taking care of a ticket I received for causing a car accident. I had met scores, if not hundreds, of people. I was almost finished with the 30-page police department application. I had a few Christmas presents to make. I was working at a job that I still wasn’t particularly good at, and my general manager’s mood suddenly became foul for a few weeks. He was constantly picking at the things I did and didn’t do. I started to become homesick for Japan. And all the emotional turmoil that I had pushed aside from July and August was starting to bubble back up. I’ll be honest: I ended up crying at work on more than one occasion.

December was a month full of reflection. I looked back a lot, and there was a strong pull to fall back into thinking about Japan, really reminiscing, but I didn’t like it because it made me feel sad. I didn’t know if I should let it run its course. I felt like it might be healthy. But I also didn’t want to get stuck there. I preferred to shove it all away and power into a new life. That’s what I had been trying to do, but I felt like I might have to deal with the rough parts of missing Japan first. I had been finding myself thinking about the past a lot.

I felt really homesick for Japan. It was such a strange feeling, knowing that there are flavors and smells that I might never experience again–certainly not while I am still in “gaikoku.” And they’re not flavors and smells that are necessarily Japanese–they are uniquely the ones that made my little corner of Japan mine. It’s the smell of the shotengai at two hours past midnight, accompanied by the echoing shouts of drunk salarymen. It’s my favorite fabric softener that I used, or the slightly moldy smell of my apartment, despite my constant airing it. It’s the smell of the office at work, or the stink of my pubescent students right after gym class during sixth hour on a hot summer day. I missed my cold and barren kitchen that I tried so desperately to give warmth to. I missed the weird, stuffy smell of my ex-boyfriend’s apartment, the grocery store jingles, the tiny shops in alleyways, the ugly, gray, disorganized outside and infrastructure, my hairstylist’s charming salon hiding at the foot of a mountain. I missed Japan so much, I forgot all the reasons I wanted to leave in the first place. All of the negativity I felt towards the end of my time in Japan was forgotten or diminished, replaced only by the good memories that I managed to keep.

Here, the infrastructure is ugly too, but in a totally different way. All the buildings are the same shape, as if they were built by the same, unimaginative architect. The zoning laws put everything far away from each other, but in clusters. It takes twenty to thirty minutes to get anywhere by car. The only things I care about within walking distance are the supermarket and the bank, both a mile away.

There’s just too much space here in Texas. When I first went to Japan, I felt very claustrophobic. I lived in a valley, where there was a strip of a main road with tiny roads branching off of it. Everything was squished together. Here, everyone has their large lawns, their enormous cars. Everything is spread out. I didn’t know anybody. It was almost surreal. Like a bad dream. But it wasn’t.

I didn’t have anybody to talk to. I didn’t want to talk to my parents. I didn’t feel as though I could talk to my sister. It didn’t even occur to me to talk to my boyfriend, Erik, since we only texted a handful of times each day and almost never spoke on the phone. I felt extremely alone in December. Though I was hanging out with more people, I wasn’t close enough with anybody to express the way I felt. Being surrounded by people I didn’t feel I could talk to made me feel worse and more alone than if I had truly been alone. I only found solace in my journal. There, I wrote about how much I missed Japan and wanted to go back. I missed everything: the little cars, the narrow roads, the sky and the ocean and the mountains, the smell of rotting mikans. I wrote about how much I just wanted to be alone. I was at the end of my wits, being harrassed by my mother about small things. I became depressed. In the midst of it, Erik was due to arrive for the holidays.

In short, the time Erik spent with me in Texas was a nightmare. Because of my emotional state and my unwillingness to talk about it, we fought nearly every day. In hindsight, I should have talked to him about my difficulties much sooner, but that happened too late. A couple days after a nice trip to Austin, we decided to split up again due to the incompatibilities which have always existed between us.

But looking back, I had only moved to Fort Worth two months ago. During the summer, I uprooted my life, and in October, I finally chose a place to live and dove headfirst into everything. It was no wonder that I felt worn out. I had work, writing, money troubles, my living situation, and my traffic citation to look after. I was experiencing a lot of pressure to look a certain way, and my acne wasn’t getting much better. Work wasn’t going well. I constantly felt that I needed a good cry. Of course I was burnt out. I guess that was what reverse culture shock felt like to me. It didn’t present itself in an obvious way: I didn’t hate my country and the mannerisms of the people there. But I was exhausted, depressed, and just missed my old life in general. One time, something triggered a memory from my time in Japan and I found myself almost crying at work while filling a drink.

But December wasn’t all bad. I finally found a solution to the bathing problem I ran into back in August. I would shower, rinse out the tub, and stand there while I let it fill. I’d sprinkle salts or essential oils or both into the water and place a vinyl suction cup that I bought online over the overflow drain to maximize the amount of water my bath can hold. I also finally got around to decorating my room in a way that reflected myself better.

It’s the small things that count.

Jennifer Cerna

Jennifer is a JET alumna currently living in Texas. She is the published author of novelette My Imagined Pregnancy: A Daydream Gone Wild and several flash fiction and narrative non-fiction pieces. In her free time she enjoys exercise, food, and movies

Discover Magical Realism in Japanese Literature

Magical realism is defined as ‘an amalgamation of realism and fantasy.’ It originated in literature from Latin America, yet numerous novels from and about Japan have drawn on elements of this genre. Japan often appears fantastical and duplicitous, especially to outsiders. Western media often exacerbates this notion, and though it is frequently true, it can sideline the presence of everyday life. Magical realism both represents and overcomes this problem by presenting multiple realities and using tangled narratives. Authors introduce reality as paradoxical, often with an underlying darkness at play. Magical realism allows characters plagued by trauma to comprehend events that have affected them, their ancestors and even society as a whole. Elements of science fiction and fantasy, dreams intertwined within narratives and prose that verges on poetic are all characteristics of magical realism.  Below is a succinct, and by no means definitive, introduction to magical realist Japanese and Western authors’ who write about Japan.

Yasunari Kawabata

Yasunari Kawabata was Japan’s first Nobel Prize for Literature winner and highly influential writer. His short novella ‘The House of the Sleeping Beauties’ is a disturbing tale which would later inspire the acclaimed Colombian magical realist and Nobel prize winner Gabriel Garcia-Marquez to write ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores’. In Kawabata’s story, an elderly gentleman named Eguchi pays to sleep with women drugged into unconsciousness. Although no intercourse or inappropriate touch of any sort are permitted in the establishment, the concept of such control and fetishisation is perturbing. Kawabata uses this as a vehicle to question notions of morality, sexuality, aging and memory. Through the dreams Eguchi has whilst lying next to the women and the memories of past lovers they unearth, an exploration of existentialism is undertaken via Kawabata’s haiku inspired prose.

Kenzaburo Oe

In ‘The Game of Contemporaneity’, Kenzaburo Oe creates an entirely alternate universe set  in a rural Shikoku village. He tells his revisioned history through the story of a dissident samurai turned into a demon. It is a novel of great complexity and importance, having inspired a wave of political authors such as Hisashi Inoue. Oe’s exploration of ‘natsukashisa’ (nostalgia) is perhaps the aspect of the novel that stands out the most. Oe extols the allure and danger of this in equal measure. Oe stated that his novel was inspired by the intricacy of  a work by mural painter Diego Rivera, and the author has received comparisons to the works of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, making him one of the front runners of Japanese magical realism.

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is perhaps the most famous and certainly the most popular contemporary Japanese author in both Japan and the West. His novels blur the lines between the everyday and a pseudo-magical world, peppered with contemporary figures and culture. A cameo by Colonel Sanders in ‘Kafka on the Shore’ turns the eponymous Capitalist figure into a dark, malicious force. Popular music profoundly affects characters, often transporting them to different emotional states and time frames. It acts as the driving force of the narratives at play. ‘Norwegian Wood’, whose title comes from The Beatles song of the same name, was  his breakthrough novel. Norwegian Wood is a song about loss and loneliness, as is Murakami’s novel. Murakami’s style marked a stark departure from his contemporaries. It even lead to criticism of his work by other writers, including Kenzaburo Oe. But the popularity of his work, both in Japan and abroad, speaks for itself. Murakami tackles issues of personal identity and modern life via a complex web of illusory worlds, bohemian characters and mystical happenings.

David Mitchell

David Mitchell is an author from the UK who spent many years living in Japan. He has spoken extensively in articles and interviews of the impact that Japan has had on his writing. In his novel,  ‘Number9dream’ the reader is taken on a rip-roaring ride through Tokyo where multiple realities exist at any one time. The narrative flits between dreams, daydreams, video game storylines and mundane accounts of main protagonist Eiji’s life in such a way to blur the boundary between what is real and what isn’t. The novel also transcends time by including diary entries from a World War Two ‘kaiten’ pilot, who steers an underwater missile into an American carrier ship, resulting in his untimely death that he hopes will bring glory to his family name. Like so much magical realism, the inclusion of real, harrowing historical anecdotes allows for a cathartic vehicle for understanding collective and individual trauma. The novel was heavily inspired by ‘Norwegian Wood’, and although Mitchell’s imaginative power means his merit as an author is not diminished, it can at times feel like a strong  imitation of Murakami’s work.

Hideo Furukawa

Hideo Furukawa has been touted as the next Murakami due to his magical realist style. However, Furukawa’s style is arguably more energetic, with nuances not found in Murakami’s work. Only a handful of his many writings have been translated to English, but those that have crackle with the spark of his talent. His novella ‘Slow Boat’ is in fact a reworking of Murakami’s short story ‘A Slow Boat to China’. In another of his novels, ‘The Book of 300 Treacherous Women’, he reworks ‘The Tale of Genji’, written in the 11th Century. He twists classic tales with a mastery and sensitivity that renders them completely transformed. He writes with the intention to provide ‘a way for people to re-experience other worlds’. His often mythical or science fiction inspired style opens a gate to re-imagined histories.

Banana Yoshimoto

Banana Yoshimoto’s writing questions what it means to be a woman. Her choice of pen name is both ‘cute’ and ‘purposefully androgynous’. Yoshimoto is keen to explore themes of sexuality and gender in her writing. Her novella ‘Kitchen’ includes a transsexual character, and many of her characters are androgynous or outside conventional views of outward gender expression. Her novels are also nonchalant exposés into trauma and grief. In ‘Kitchen’ the main protagonist is trying to overcome the death of her  grandmother. In ‘The Lake’ the main character is grieving for her mother when she meets a man with a dark past and links to the cult of Aum Shinrikyo. All of Yoshimoto’s characters exist in a kind of waking dream. The reader is often left unsure as to what is real and what is fantasy, yet these dreamlike occurrences are the driving force behind Yoshimoto’s narratives. Novels such as ‘Amrita’ feature sci-fi and fantasy tropes, including spirits, UFO’s and psychics. Like Murakami and other contemporaries, Yoshimoto explores ideas of identity crisis within Japanese youth, which has earned her a cult following.

Hiromi Kawakami

Hiromi Kawakami is a prize winning author and important literary essayist. ‘Strange Weather in Tokyo’  won her the Tanizaki Prize and is a humorous tale of romance between a young woman and an elderly man. Her characters float through the novel in a dreamlike state. A friend of Tsukiko, the main character, states, ‘Being in love makes people uncertain’. Kawakami’s protagonists are defined by their struggle to maintain relationships and to  find meaning and certainty within their lives. The novel’s accounts of food are perhaps its most distinctive feature. Kawakami, like Yoshimoto, is conscious of the importance of food to both collective and individual memory and lovingly describes the fine points of every meal featured. It is this attention to detail along with her lyrical style that make her writing an ethereal yet submersive experience.

As a genre, magical realism allows readers flights of fancy that challenge the status quo. The above authors offer an insight into multiple perspectives coming out of Japan.  Each retains an acknowledgement of the complexities of living within Japanese society whilst melding this with the fantastical and absurd. For anyone that has lived in Japan, aspects of these novels will certainly ring true. They are also a fascinating read for those that haven’t, an insight into a complex and rich culture. They offer an enlightened understanding into the human psyche in general. Their observations of dreams often define the novels and the characters within them. The dream narratives allow the writing a freedom not afforded in reality.  Besides, as John Lennon once said, ‘Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?’

Miriam Hemstock

Miriam is a second year ALT from the UK living in Hojo. Once succinctly and correctly described as, ‘A cheerful idiot. Miriam can ride a bike and whistles well.’ Miriam writes about travel and literature, her two great loves. Oh, and crisps, the greatest love of all.

Notes and References

Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community’, Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris

Currently, the only English translation of Hideo Furakawa’s ‘The Book of 300 Treacherous Women’ is an excerpt printed in ‘Monkey Business: Vol. 5’, a highly recommended creative, artistic literary journal

‘An Interview with Banana Yoshimoto’, Rowan Riley www.bookslut.com

‘Novelist Hideo Furukawa views the Fukushima disaster through nonhuman eyes’, Kris Kosaka for The Japan Times

‘Strange Weather in Tokyo’,  Hiromi Kawakami

 

Post-JET Diaries- Part Four

November

My first day of work as a server was on November first. I trained for the first two weeks, learning the ins and outs of my role. To be honest, it was the last thing I wanted to do as a college graduate and JET alumna. But the truth was that I needed a temporary job that brought in a decent income. Many of my close friends are or have been servers and they recommended the job to me, so I decided to go for it.

I didn’t really think that I would enjoy my new role. A few years ago, I was a hostess at a breakfast chain restaurant and the servers always seemed to be in a foul mood. Yet here, I always found myself looking forward to the next day that I had to work, and most of all, I looked forward to seeing and chatting with my co-workers (not just because some of them are crazy attractive).

It was quite fun, finding myself in this new environment, trying to figure out how to fit in. As is my custom, I was quite shy at first. But as I got to know my trainers, I felt myself coming out of my shell.

One thing I worried about in regards to returning to the U.S. was my social skills. I had never really been social or outgoing, but somehow being on JET changed that in me. I was worried that if I returned to the United States, part of my personality would be left in Japan, but I managed to bring it with me, and I am so happy that I was able to. It brings me so much joy to be able to interact with my co-workers, guests, and ultimate frisbee counterparts and have a good time with them, feeling the human connections forming.

Another cool thing about working at a restaurant is that many of the cooks hail from Mexico. Many of them started speaking to me in Spanish before they realized that I understood none of what they said. I felt bad, being half Mexican but being unable to communicate at all. It was a stark contrast to my near fluency in Japanese. I felt ashamed, a failure, as though I neglected half of myself.

I tried online language programs for a while and was about to enroll in a beginner’s Spanish class at a community college before I realized that it probably wouldn’t help me much. I read about language acquisition online and found that the best way to learn a language is just to go for it. Carry a pocket dictionary and actually talk to the people who speak your target language. So with that knowledge, I decided to do my best and try making friends with the chefs.

Trying to learn Spanish also made me think about Japanese. I almost passed the JLPT N1, but I didn’t register for the December test before the deadline. Unfortunately, the test is only offered in the U.S. once a year. Did I really want to spend a year studying for a language that I didn’t even use anymore? A language that had nothing to do with my career plan? It was difficult, but eventually I decided not to pursue Japanese anymore. In doing so, I felt that I closed one of the doors to one of the most important chapters in my life.

With every day that passed, Japan seemed further and further away. I spent four years there and four months back but the memories from my life in Japan were fading really quickly. I found that I tended to feel uncomfortable when my life in Japan came up in conversation.

Many times, people ask me if I’m from around “here.” I reply with no, that I just moved here and then they ask where I was before. I know I could lie, but that always makes me feel uncomfortable, so I tell them I was in Japan. So they ask for how long and what was I doing there and it feels so strange to tell them. In a weird way, I feel like a fake telling them. I don’t know why. It’s not that I don’t believe I was there–I know that I was. I also feel as though I am shoving my privilege in the faces of the people who asked. “Oh, look at me! I could afford to just drop everything and move to a new country for four years. I had a college education. I got to travel and see more of the world.”

I have also never wanted to be that annoying “Well, when I was in Japan…” person that people are sick of hearing speak. So when people start asking me questions I try to answer concisely and segue into a different direction, preferably one that shines the spotlight on my conversational partner.

Another thing that I noticed in myself was that I started to miss traveling. I wanted to travel like I used to: just for the day, for the weekend, or for a week or two. I always felt that traveling would be difficult in the U.S., but I never really considered why. One day while cleaning my bathroom, I realized that there was no reason for me not to travel. Sure, it might be more expensive, but with my student loans, it’s not like I was ever drowning in yen while I lived in Japan. And sure, it would probably be harder to find LCCs around here and the trains are less reliable, and the country is much larger, but there is also a heck of a lot of variety. We have deserts, canyons, rivers, mountains, mountain ranges, really cold places up north which are full of snow and countries that share our borders. We have pueblos and skyscapers and tiny homes and converted vans. The possibilities are endless! With a serving job, it’s not hard to take time off as long as I have the money saved up. The thought that I could probably start traveling again next year if I play it smart excited me.

I didn’t realize how much time had been passing until talk of Thanksgiving began. I found my father in the house on a Monday and it turned out that he had the whole week off for Thanksgiving break. How could I have forgotten! Thanksgiving has always been my second favorite holiday and it had completely blindsided me this year. I think that having lived in Japan for four years, I had come to rely on Japanese markers of the season: sports day, culture day, school culture day. Not to mention, it didn’t really look like fall outside.

The Thanksgiving that I was craving was slightly different from the one that I experienced. I was hoping for something more intimate and family-oriented with the traditional foods: turkey, stuffing, cornbread, mashed potatoes, gravy, casserole and cranberry jelly. I wanted my sister to come visit with Chaney but she didn’t, so I wasn’t sure what we were going to do. The thought of Thanksgiving between my parents and I seemed small and a little depressing, so I was relieved when my father announced that his former students’ parents had invited us to their homes.

We went to two separate houses, and it was quite nice. At our first stop, we joined a party which included an extended family. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, and tamales (a traditional steamed Mexican dish that usually includes pork inside dough, wrapped in a corn husk). At first, I thought that the tamales were there because we were at a Mexican family’s home. I later found out from one of my coworkers that his white girlfriend also had tamales on Thanksgiving– so I guess it’s a Texas thing. The second house had a much more jovial atmosphere. People were taking shots, playing Loteria (basically Mexican Bingo), and eating Mexican food. It was nice, but I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t understand the primary language spoken there. So I sat with my parents, trying to pick up what Spanish words I could until some of the guests asked me to do shots with them (would I ever say no?).

Later, someone from ultimate frisbee invited me to his Fakesgiving party on Thanksgiving weekend. I had a lot of fun there eating more “traditional” Thanksgiving food, drinking a little, making gingerbread houses, and learning about the app that he helped develop.

My pension refund came towards the middle of November. I had been fantasizing about that chunk of money since I learned that we would get it four years ago. I had daydreamed that I would immediately put everything into my savings account and watch it grow, like a child, over the years. Instead, I immediately put a considerable portion of it into student loans, beginning my CrossFit membership (finally!), paying for a ticket (car accident–oops!), and, I’m ashamed to say, beauty products!

Because of a stew of circumstances, I began to obsess over beauty, style, and general lifestyle cultivation. I soaked up endless information and bought so much–new shoes, the new iPhone X, updated my wardrobe, and bought name-brand makeup products. Did I feel better about my appearance and gain confidence? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is yes. We are taught that those sorts of things won’t make us any happier, that they won’t add value to our lives. That they will make us poor and miserable. I found the opposite to be true. Having grown up in Kansas, the standard of beauty isn’t very high. One of the bigger aspects of culture shock when I came to Fort Worth was that the standard of beauty was much higher–perhaps because the population is larger, and there is more socio-economic diversity. Living in rural Ehime, I wouldn’t say that I experienced anything resembling pressure to look good, unless I ventured into Ozu or Matsuyama or attended some party.

The pressure to look my best was strongest at work, where many of our clients come from an affluent background, meaning that they have the time and money to exercise, get regular haircuts and colors, manicures, and piece together an attractive, up-to-date wardrobe. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I jumped head-first into credit card debt. I took stock of what I had, kept what I could that would fit into my new look, and rounded it out with stylish but classic and durable pieces. I do feel as though I have made a good investment. I feel better about myself and I look better, and I expect most of the things I bought to last for five years at the very least.

So now, as I write this less than a month after I received my pension refund, I only have about two thirds of it left. Oops.

Though I enjoyed working at the restaurant, I soon began to realize that I would not be making as much money as I thought I would. Some of my co-workers managed to pull off four to six hundred dollars in a week because they were more experienced and got scheduled into busier time slots. As a brand new server, most of my shifts were in the mornings or in the dining area, so I could only manage one to three hundred dollars a week: not enough to pay anything but my CrossFit membership and for the gas to get to work. Maybe some drinks on the weekend. So the job hunt started again.

There was one unexpected good from the situation, though. My restaurant offers fifty percent off for employees within an hour before or after their shift. So I decided to try the miso soup and sushi from the sushi bar. OH MY GOD, you guys. It tasted authentic. Fresh. Amazing. Tears flooded my eyes when I tried the tuna nigiri for the first time. I ordered quite a bit of food and was amazed to find that my bill was over twenty dollars after the discount. Wow! I sure do miss those Hamazushi prices.

 

 

Jennifer Cerna

Jennifer is a JET alumna currently living in Texas. She is the published author of novelette My Imagined Pregnancy: A Daydream Gone Wild and several flash fiction and narrative non-fiction pieces. In her free time she enjoys exercise, food, and movies.

Post-JET Diaries- Part Three

October

“Failing is just as sweet as success. I’ve tried them both and have no preference. So open your eyes and scan the horizon. Pick a direction and don’t stop driving.” -From Autumn to Ashes

I actually do have a preference, and that’s success. But seriously, for much of my life, I have felt almost limitless. I scan the horizon, consider my options, and zoomed in, I can see only a few prospects as someone with a degree in psychology: social work, graduate school, or a monotonous office job that I would probably hate. Zoomed out, I can choose from a variety of jobs, go back to school, and do literally anything I want. It’s never too late. I’m lucky enough to have my groceries, utilities, and rent covered so if I get a job, it would be relatively easy to find a new direction. Zoomed out even more, I could apply to schools and jobs abroad, travel, anything. Whatever I decide to do, though, the most important thing is to pick something and follow through. That’s what I do when I find myself floundering. Just pick something and stick to it.

In the beginning of October, I finally finished watching the Game of Thrones series (how could I not have seen it until now?!). I had also established a routine with Erik and Shane. On the days when Erik went to work, I would watch Game of Thrones for a few hours, take a break to clean and cook, and then watch for a few more hours. When Erik came back, we all drank and smoked and watched whatever we found interesting. On Mondays, though, Shane and I always sat down to watch Dancing with the Stars. Those moments with Shane were always so nice. Then, later in the night, Erik would come home after stopping by at a store on his way back from work and he’d give Shane and I our favorite snacks: cheese/cracker/prosciutto sets or hot cheetos for me and gummy and chewy candies for Shane. I felt as though I were a part of a family, and I felt happy and at home. During those weeks in Kansas, I experienced profound feelings of contentment. I had never felt so at peace.

By the end of September, I had already been craving Japanese food. I desperately wanted to eat salted yakitori, edamame, and drink an ice-cold Asahi Super Dry. All we had in the house were various types of IPAs. So in the beginning of October, the three of us decided to try the Japanese restaurant in the next city over. I had high hopes for it, since the restaurant was popular enough to have two stores and succeed in the college town of Lawrence.

After driving for about an hour, we stepped into the restaurant. The vibe was pretty authentic; there were booths with wooden pallets on the wall, dividers, a water fountain and a bar come sushi area. But upon closer inspection, I found the wallpaper to bear some strange combination of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean characters. I was excited anyway.

We sat down and I immediately ordered an Asahi, which the server and host (there was only one guy working in the front) misheard as “sake.” I told him I wanted Asahi, the beer, and he repeated, “Oh! Asahi,” with too much stress on the first “a,” and I nearly shook my head. I ordered tuna nigiri, tempura udon, and gyoza. The nigiri was mediocre at best. The flavor was about as good as Hamazushi nigiri, except it cost five times as much, the tuna obviously had color added to it, it was cut poorly, and the rice was dry. The gyoza was pretty good, but the sauce was wrong. Worst of all, the udon was old. It was clear that the noodles had been sitting in the soup for hours as they had turned gray, and the kamaboko was dried up. I was so disappointed, and my tempura got handed to the wrong person (and was battered with the wrong ingredients). Not only did the food fall very far short of my expectations, but it took almost an hour for our food to arrive. However, all was good when the attractive cook came out, apologized for the wait, and gave us free beers.

I’ve always hated when people get snobbish about these things, but I finally began to understand what would drive someone to be that way. Of course, I can’t expect a restaurant in the middle of Kansas to produce Japanese food as good as real Japanese food, so I didn’t say anything, but I was definitely disappointed.
I stayed for another week after our visit to the Japanese restaurant, and then on the 10th of October, I headed back to Texas. The drive was okay. It was long, as usual. I felt fine when I got home, and I had an ultimate frisbee game on Wednesday. But I found myself having difficulty breathing at the game thanks to either all my chain smoking, my allergy to Erik’s cat, or both. And I was getting acid reflux.
Quitting smoking and drinking after over a month of indulging in both was quite difficult and I found myself feeling very irritable and anxious. To add to the anxiety, Erik and I were still at a loss as to what to do, though we had discussed some ideas. I felt that we were sort of floating in limbo, neither of us knowing what to do about our relationship, but we continued to speak to each other every day.
After about a week and a half of feeling generally irritable, anxious, and blue, I began to regain my energy. My respiratory system was clearing up, I was exercising again, and I began to be more productive with my time: I studied Spanish, joined the Fort Worth Japan Society, applied to the Texas Search and Rescue, attended community seminars, read through three books, began the enrollment process to the community college, and applied to dozens of jobs. I had the rest of my money in Japanese bank account wired to me, paid my bills, and hoped that my pension refund would come by the end of November. I dug myself into my community as deeply as I could.

I was generally feeling better, but the anxiety of being unemployed and not knowing what to do with Erik still weighed on me a bit. I also found myself having difficulty getting along with my mother. Though I understood that she was coming from a place of love, I couldn’t help but feel irritated, as though she felt she needed to help me with literally everything, and I felt bad for feeling that way.

I stopped missing Japan as much as I did in September. Of course, there are some things that I’ll always miss, such as the fall leaves (fall barely exists in Texas), seasonal foods like nabe, and friends.

For the majority of the month, I thought about what I wanted out of my life. What would I want my life to look like a year from now? I had a pretty clear idea, and several options on how to get there, but there was still so much uncertainty. Not having an actual job for three months, I began to feel almost like a failure. I knew what I wanted, but I still felt directionless as police applications still hadn’t opened. None of the jobs I had applied for in the last three months had accepted me.
But then, at the end of October, I finally got a job as a server at a really nice restaurant in one of the most expensive areas of the city (can somebody say TIPS?!). At first, I felt nervous, almost trapped. Would my social skills be good enough? What if I’m not cut out to be a server and I get fired? Would I be able to make enough money to pay my bills? What if I end up being a server for the rest of my life? Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I just really wanted to be a police officer.
After I got the job, I went home and thought about how I felt. I was anxious because the restaurant was so trendy and everybody working there seemed so much cooler than me. It reminded me of when I worked at a clothing store in college. I felt that I wasn’t cool enough, or fashionable enough for the job, and the customers often intimidated or ignored me. I really disliked that job, and I was starting to wonder if I would start to feel the same way about my new job. I journaled, and the more I wrote, the better I felt. I really needed a job and was not in a position to turn it down. And there was no reason for me to feel so trapped. Everybody I met working at the restaurant was really nice, and Texans in general have been really friendly. I could also still keep applying to jobs, maybe get a full-time office job and work as a part-time server. I could definitely use the money. I reviewed my goals. I would apply to the police department as soon as I could, though getting into police academy would take almost a year. There was no need to feel trapped. I’m just doing what I have to do.

I began to feel relieved, and then I began to feel really excited. How amazing it would be to work a job or two in this open part of my life before police academy! I began to think of all the things I could finally start buying now that I would have an income again: a new phone (my current phone is from 2012), clothes, makeup, shoes, that amazing $400 Dyson hair dryer (yeah, in my dreams!), a fireproof safe for important documents, CrossFit classes, Spanish classes, Japanese classes, the list goes on! I began to look forward to my first day of work.

That week was a good week for me: I felt as though everything was starting to come together. I got a job and was invited to a Stranger Things Binge-watching party at a lake with several other ultimate frisbee folks. I also volunteered at a Japanese festival and met some people at both events, and I had a few more events scheduled.
So I have a few directions now, and I’m not about to stop driving.

Jennifer Cerna

Jennifer is a JET alumna currently living in Texas. She is the published author of novelette My Imagined Pregnancy: A Daydream Gone Wild and several flash fiction and narrative non-fiction pieces. In her free time she enjoys exercise, food, and movies.

Post JET Diaries- Part Two

September

“People tell me slow my roll, I’m screamin’ out ‘Fuck that!’ Imma do just what I want, lookin’ ahead, no turnin’ back.” – Kid Cudi

I guess this period of time straight out of JET–no job, no school–was the first time I’d been truly free as an adult. The only responsibilities I had are the ones I made for myself and chose to recognize. They consisted of my family, my health, educating myself, and eventually getting a job. Other than that, my life felt open, uncomplicated. I felt like a recently emptied house, all the windows wide open. Life passed through me, unhindered.

During the last few weeks with JET, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should do. What is appropriate? How am I expected to act? Is this socially acceptable? And every time, I realized that the best course of action would be to follow my gut. Just do what I wanted to do. So when I came upon a problem that I couldn’t solve with “What should I do?” I changed it to “What do I want to do?” This change in thinking freed me in many ways.

In the end of August, I had decided, with my new-found freedom, that I would go visit Erik for a few weeks. I got to his house on a Monday night. He was still at work, and I spent time with his roommate, Shane. Though I hadn’t spent a lot of time with Shane before that point, it was a nice opportunity for us to bond. I asked about the video games he had, and I watched as he played through a few and explained their story lines.

During the month of September, I did very little that I would boast about. I woke up in the afternoons, cleaned the house, and watched a popular HBO series or worked out. When the sun went down, Erik, Shane, and I would drink and smoke cigarettes.

But we did other things, too. We cooked food. We went shopping. We worked out and played sports. I got two auricle piercings. I visited my sister and her partner. It was a nice, relaxed, and hedonistic month. Sometimes I felt as though my life lacked purpose. Other times, I felt that it was okay because this was a break that I had wanted. This was my extended vacation.

The thing about having nearly nothing going on was that it gave me a lot of time to reflect. I thought about two things. The first was about what I wanted to do with my life and what direction I wanted to take to get there. Though my long-term and mid-term goals were pretty much the same, I found myself unsure of my short-term goals and whether I wanted to stick with the plan that I had thought out a year earlier. The second was that I found cracks within my psyche that I had been trying to deny. With nothing taking up my time, no worries or stresses, I felt as though they were large, glaring at me. So I took mental note of the things about me that I wanted to improve on and wondered about how to go about improving them.

In addition to this new space for introspection, my mindset towards my transition to the U.S. had changed. I am not sure of whether this change had been brought on by a lack of work or by the passing of time, or both.

I still found myself enamored by the friendly general public while waiting for a seat at a restaurant, buying food from the convenience store, seeing the alcoholic neighbor walk out his door. They were all willing to talk and joke, even for a little bit, and that’s something that I absolutely love about the culture here. I still found the beauty of rural Kansas breathtaking–something that I had missed since I left for college in Des Moines. This was my first September in Kansas in nine years.

But sadness had also begun creeping in. More and more often, I found myself looking at my Facebook feed, feeling as though the friends I had made in Japan had forgotten about me. I grew up a military brat, and the coming and going of friends became normal to me. So, when my friends left JET before I did, I felt sad, but I quickly stopped thinking of them. I didn’t know if that’s just me, or if everybody is like that. I began to think that it may be the latter.

I looked at photos of my friends making new friends and wondered how often they thought of me. Did I leave an emptiness or did my successor fill it seamlessly? During my more dramatic moments, I felt as though I was watching, through photos and status updates, people slowly forget about me.

I had also been having some difficulty with a few things. First, I had been applying to jobs but got nothing in return. Part of me began urging myself to actually move to Kansas, rather than visit, because I know more people there who can get me hired just so I can keep my head above water. Then, I could apply to more jobs and wait for police officer applications to open.

Second, I often found myself behind in culture. They’re very small things: a movie here, a song there. Celebrity mishaps. New words and nuances. I had no idea what had been going on in the Game of Thrones universe while I was in Japan. But other people, despite not having watched it, knew exactly what had been happening and what the spoilers were. That made binge-watching the entire series a very lonely experience. And apparently there’s a new kid on the block–basically the next Justin Bieber, I was told.

Third, I was beginning to feel the small frustrations of reverse culture shock: I couldn’t buy liquor whenever I wanted. It’s funny how the land of the free has such strict limits on when a person can buy alcohol as well as where it’s sold. Just let me drink and leave me be! Tipping was also a bit annoying. I’ve always tried to tip well, but I found that it began to really add up when I went out to eat. But it hasn’t been all bad. Parking had always been a headache of an issue in Japan. In rural America, there was so much parking available, and not all of it had to be clearly marked! I felt timid at first, constantly asking paranoid questions like, “Can I park here?” Eventually, after being told “yes” enough times, I became excited. Look at all the places where I can put my car!

That’s how September went. It was nice, but by the end of the month, I had realized that all of this freedom that at first seemed like a blessing was now beginning to feel like a burden. I had no money, no job, and no structure. I hoped that October will bring something that I needed: direction, work, my pension refund. Any two of those would be great.

Jen Cerna

Jennifer is a JET alumna currently living in Texas. She is the published author of novelette My Imagined Pregnancy: A Daydream Gone Wild and several flash fiction and narrative non-fiction pieces. In her free time she enjoys exercise, food, and movies.

 

Asian Horror: The Women-Centric Cinema We’ve All Been Waiting For

There is often a push for more women-centric films on social media platforms these days. Films that pass the Bechdel test, films where women are the central characters, and especially films where women aren’t on display simply for the pleasure of a heterosexual, cisgendered male audience.

We strive for female characters who are strong in the sense of character depth, rather than physical strength. In other words, she should have presence. She should be someone with a personality, someone whose presence goes beyond the female sidekick, the male gaze, and the stereotypical kickass-woman type. Unfortunately, it is this ‘kickass-woman’ who many filmmakers seem to think ticks the box of having a female character who will ‘appease the feminists’, Western cinema makes a couple efforts to include one or two films featuring female protagonists (amongst hundreds of films per year with the usual male protagonists), and then they sit back expecting a pat on the back. The fact of the matter, however, is that there has always been women-centric cinema, it just doesn’t really exist in Hollywood. Instead, it exists — thrives even — in Asian horror. Most specifically, Japanese and South Korean films.

Let me break it down real quick: modern Asian horror films almost always feature female protagonists. There is rarely a male love interest and most, if not all, of the relationships explored in the films are those between women. Asian horror raises many questions about how women are treated in society, but also in the film industry. If there’s a genre that succeeds so well with women as protagonists in nearly every film, why is there such a lack of females in other genres? In the West, the film and acting industry (including the theatre) has always had more females than males who audition for roles, and yet speaking parts for males outnumber speaking parts for females by almost 70%. This means that only 30% of women get speaking roles in cinema, even though there are 2.25 male actors to every one female actor. And it doesn’t get easier. Roles begin to drop off for women over the age of twenty-nine. After the age of forty, 80% of leading roles are given to men (also over the age of 40). These statistics persist, even though women purchase half of movie tickets in the United States. Suffice to say, there is an audience for female speaking roles — it’s at least half of the demographic. And in case anyone’s still on the fence about misogyny in the film industry, consider this: Western horror is “the only film genre where women appear and speak as often as men.” It appears that horror gives women a platform, regardless of its origin, and yet the women in Asian horror still come out on top.

Asian horror has risen as a genre that is almost entirely female, persisting in its femininity in a blatantly misogynistic world, both in the West and in Asia itself. More and more women are speaking out against this misogyny, and unfair working conditions in both societies. Women in the West are refusing to answer dieting questions, and female idols in Asia are calling out the love ban, which is a contractual prohibition from having romantic relationships, lest their male fans ‘feel betrayed.’ They are rebelling against the notion that they are the property of their fanbase. These are feminist issues, and the questions is, really: what are we going to do with the issues that arise from outdated societal practices which are affecting women today? Asian horror films don’t necessarily provide answers to society’s problems but, like the ghosts they feature, they make us uncomfortable. They show us that something is wrong, and they make it difficult for us to forget.

East Asian horror films, unlike many of their Western horror equivalents, explore far deeper issues than how to end up as the (often desired) “Final Girl” trope: the virginal brunette who has kept all her clothes on throughout the film and, as a reward, is the last character left alive at the end of a slasher film. While female protagonists in Asian horror do, often, represent many qualities of the Final Girl, Asian horror still manages to explore different, more engaging themes. The Asian horror protagonist is not virginal to offset the sexually objectified blonde woman who is often the first to die; she is not brunette to express intelligence, rather than sex (two often-seen extremes of a female character that often seem to have no in-between); she simply has bigger issues to be concerned about. Asian horror explores these ‘bigger issues’ in themes such as shame, suicide and homosexuality to name only a few, and what happens to women in East Asian societies — especially women who fall outside the norm of societal expectations: a husband, a family, children — or a career. A family or a career are often mutually exclusive.

In Dark Water, the entire film revolves around a mother’s relationship with her daughter, and her attempts to keep custody of her throughout a messy divorce. This movie features only two prominent male side character: her ex-husband and a man who comes to her aid when no one else will. This rare male/female relationship never tips over into the sexual and, therefore, smashes the ridiculous assumption that men and women cannot just be friends. There is no indication that he does this for any reason other than kindness. There are no sexual undertones, and there never needs to be. The mother and daughter in this film and the female ghosts are enough to keep the viewer’s attention without the aid of these male characters. Despite its lack of male protagonist, it is one of the most popular Asian horror films to date. Dark Water’s mother-daughter relationship is one of the most realistic and touching I have ever experienced in horror, or in any film. This film does not shy away from unusual or difficult family situations, and the fact that the mother must fight impossible odds to stay with her daughter despite being the best parental candidate shows how repressive society is to women. Despite the emotional abuse and harassment her ex-husband displays towards the mother throughout the film, the overruling law is almost never on her side. No one questions when women are ‘acting crazy’, because society expects them to. Society makes it easy to look away from feminist issues.

So, what happens to those women who have found themselves, for whatever reason, overlooked, or on the outside? Asian horror rarely shies away from the harsh answer to this question, whereas other Asian films and dramas would rather treat these issues lightly, or even sweep these issues under the rug.

Asian horror focusses on these women who fall outside of the expected ‘norm’. Often, there are themes, such as homosexuality, which are not exploited the way they are in Western horror. In the Whispering Corridors series, Wishing Stairs, the most prominent relationship is between Yun Jin-sung and Kim So-hee. The film explores the rather one-sided love between the two. “All I want is you,” So-hee says to Jin-sung, only to pass it off, afterwards as a joke. The film explores how that tenuous relationship holds up (or doesn’t) under the pressures of jealousy and a love that must be repressed. The Whispering Corridors central plot points are often homosexual or homoerotic relationships in all-girls schools, and how they are viewed within that female environment. They don’t shy away from how society often pits girls and women against one another, which is unfortunately a very prevalent issue, not only in films and in books, but in real life as well. We never want to be ‘like other girls’.

The women in these films should theoretically fit into the female-centric environments depicted in these films, but they don’t, because they somehow deviate from the ‘norm’. It is this alienation that makes this character the perfect candidate for the Asian horror film, rather than — as in Western horror — her body, or her willingness to be explorative, sexually. So-called ‘deviance’ in Western horror tends to involve lesbian scenes that do not further the plot, nor do they have any purpose other than as a lure. That is why these scenes are often depicted in the trailers of Western horror films — to attract the (incorrectly) imagined male audience. The fact is that horror movies audiences are mostly female, despite the stereotype of horror fans being white, cis-gendered males. Karyn Kusama, American director of the Western horror film Jennifer’s Body says that this film was “designed with both feminists and 15-year-old boys in mind [which] may be one of the best ways for a young male audience to experience a female story without feeling like they have been limited by a female perspective.” See the problem here? Yeah, me too. Kusama makes the gross assumption that 15-year-old boys can’t (and shouldn’t) be feminists, but also that all male viewers are heterosexual. Asian horror creates films where the story is assumed to be good enough to engage people of all genders.

Many believe that women are often in horror films because they are more emotive than men. This makes them either more emotive as a ‘victim’ or “more likely [than men] to experience the deep emotion needed to become such a vengeful spirit”. But of course men can experience deep emotions, and of course they can experience fear and be victims, but it is women who are allowed to display these emotions in our society — one of the many regrettable components of our patriarchal world.

The better question, then, might be: why do ghosts in Asian horror only ever come to women? The answer seems clear: women are often the only ones who notice. They are so many parallels between the East Asian ghost, and their living, female counterparts — the protagonist (who represents all women in society — East Asian, Western, and everywhere). After over a decade of contemporary Asian horror, it is safe to say that these ghost/woman parallels are not accidental. This is because women and ghosts in Asian horror share the same plight of being misunderstood and being, somehow, ‘on the outside’, whether it is on the outside of society, or on the outside of human understanding, or even the physical world. Ghosts in Asian horror seek out women because they are both in the same position: overlooked, and ignored when they make people uncomfortable. Just the wind, just faulty plumbing… just a woman. At least until they become too big, too vengeful, too horrifying to be ignored.

In films like Shutter, the ghost seeks the help of the female protagonist in order to exact her revenge on the man that wronged her. Without the protagonist Jane’s help, it is unlikely that the ghost’s tragic story would have ever been heard. The ending is devastating not only because of the trauma the living characters undergo, but also because the ghost’s revenge is never exacted, because she, in many ways, is still in love with the man who destroyed her. This is not typical ‘strong female character’ material, but the ghost, Natre, is one of the strongest female characters in terms of who she is. She is a lot more memorable and devastating, both in the feelings of horror and empathy she pulls from the audience, than any kickass woman type who is supposed to tick the box.

Asian horror realises that a woman’s deviance is not the core ‘oddity’ of her personality, but rather an aspect of it that is both her deepest self, as well as the thing which causes society to cast her out. She cannot separate herself from it. Coinciding with this entrapment, the ghosts in these films are often rape victims, girls who died from a botched abortion because of the shame her pregnancy would have brought on her family, or they committed suicide because of one or many societal pressures placed upon her. These societal pressures are often in place because of patriarchal ideas and rules. Abortion is legal now, in most East Asian countries, but it wasn’t always. It is, however, still very expensive, and not all women can afford it. Rape is often kept quiet. Both the women and the ghosts have been repressed by rules made in a patriarchal society, and they suffer for it.

Ultimately, there are no solutions yet, and East Asian horror films do not re-invent the LGBT genre. They, like their Western counterparts, suffer from the fact that they often end in heartbreak, even in 2017. It is unfortunate but, as stated, Asian horror doesn’t provide the answers. Instead, it offers exposure to these issues in a world where homosexuality is sometimes still treated as a joke or a caricature or, worse, a disease — something to be cured or eradicated. The girls in these films are anything but jokes or caricatures, and the audience is urged to take them seriously, and to hurt for them, because they are designed to break our hearts. These films portray strong, realistic female characters who do not need (and in fact, often could not even use) physical strength against the things that oppresses them. They do not even need the ghost in the film to be ‘the enemy.’ In many cases, they either slip into the ether with their incorporeal counterparts, or they never fully escape the ghost’s oppressive presence. The difference between Asian and Western horror, however, is that the Western ghost rarely has a purpose at all. It’s just there for the jump-scares and so, Western horror is rarely frightening. Asian horror is, because the ghost represents something that is very real, for women everywhere. Here, the ghost represents the pressures and obscurity that society forces on women. The truth is this: women-centric cinema is going strong, and it exists right here, in Asian Horror films. And if they make us frightened and uncomfortable, maybe that’s something to consider outside of the safe belief that ‘it’s just a movie’. After all, if we’ve learned anything from horror films, it’s usually the people that deny the existence of the oppressive forces who don’t see it coming for them. Right?

Sleep tight.

Kaleigh Fleming 

Kaleigh is a current JET from Canada, currently living in the beautiful prefecture of Ehime. She spends most of her time watching short horror on YouTube, trying to make friends with stray cats, and reading pretty much anything she can get her hands on.

References

1) Younger, Beth. “Equal Frights: Horror is the only film genre where women appear and speak as often as men.” Quartz Media. Jun 29, 2017
2) Orange, Michelle. “Taking Back the Knife: Girls Gone Gory.” The New York Times 3 Sept. 2009

3) Yūrei “Andrew Black and the Mask of Reason”

Post-JET Diaries- Part One

August

This is the first installation in a series intended to chronicle my first six months as a JET alum. My goal is to present a condensed, honest, and uninhibited account of my life post-JET.

“You must do the things you think you cannot do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

I sat against the wall at O’Hare Airport, my phone plugged into an outlet far away from the others. It was July 27, 2013. I called my father, crying. “I can’t do this.” I felt that Japan was a huge mistake. My heart was racing. My idea of life in Japan at that point was that I would go out into a shallow world, not being able to feel it, nor it me. I would hear and see, experience things. But I would be stuck in a surreal, kawaii hell.

    I didn’t have the confidence. I had just graduated from university. At least half of that previous year had been spent in a deep, dangerous depression. I had only escaped four months prior and my self-confidence and self-efficacy were still being rebuilt. To say that I was terrified was a terrible understatement. I was not ready.

    I looked at the other JETs. All seemed excited. Why was I the only one crying? What was wrong with me?

    I called my old roommate, Joe. Thanked him for the millionth time for being patient with and accepting me during those days I couldn’t get out of bed, eat, or speak. Those days when he heard me crying in the shower for no reason whatsoever. He had made us dinner, held me, and told me that everything would be okay. I felt that in a way, I owed my life to him.

    I called my boyfriend, Erik. “I can’t do this,” I said again, seeking his reassurance that I was one of the most capable, intelligent people he knew. I wondered why I had chosen to come here instead of following the post-graduation plan that I had previously crafted: move back to my home state, go to grad school, and live with my boyfriend’s family so I could see him more often. Eventually I had wanted to get married to him and settle down.

    But I had always known: I am restless. I knew the moment I was shortlisted that I would go to Japan.

    That was the first time I did something life-altering that I thought I could not do–and I did it well. I came to love Japan. I spent four years there. Since that day, I did many things I thought I could not do- start a band, write a book, become a personal trainer, pass the N2 (I failed the most recent N1 by nine painful points), date new people, fall in love again, climb Mt. Fuji, become a translator. And I met many people who touched my life in incredible ways.

    The four years I spent in Japan was a rollercoaster of sorts. So much happened to me, and I grew and changed in ways that I did not anticipate. But at the same time, I stayed the same. One of the biggest changes I have noticed in myself is that my sense of self became very strong: I grew to become more self-assured. I began to understand who I am and what I want out of life. The last four years were eventful. And that’s life. I experienced life during that time, as we all do.

    I knew that it would be important to be ready–emotionally, financially, and mentally–for the adjustment to life in the United States. When I came back to Japan after three weeks spent in Texas during winter vacation, I already felt as though I had left Japan for good. It felt wrong that I had come back, and I found myself feeling detached from my friends, wanting to keep to myself. I suppose that was how I began the process of moving back. Over the next several months, I gave my things away to friends and acquaintances. I wrote a guidebook for my successor. I got rid of the things that I did not use. I looked into jobs that I could apply for and worked on my career plan. I read a lot and though I could not study every subject that I needed to due to a lack of English books at the library, I made a list of things I would need to understand better: investment, 401K and retirement, American government, law, and so much more. I studied hard and earned my personal trainer’s certification so that I would have something to fall back on if I couldn’t find a job. I educated myself on the paperwork and processes I would have to go through in order to move my life back to the United States.

    I lived it up as much as I could during the last few months in Ehime. I tried to reconnect with my friends, I went out and drank, I explored the beauty that Japan had to offer. When July came around, I was ready. Mentally, I had been detached from Japan for a while. I prepared my luggage and packages and paperwork. Yet as much as I thought I prepared myself, July and August turned out to be difficult, emotionally draining months.

    I had been having difficulty in one of my friendships as well as my relationship with my partner. Eventually, he and I went our separate ways and I cut off communication with my friend. The next day I climbed Mt. Fuji, and it felt like a cleansing, spiritual journey. I came back to Ehime a few days later and tried to keep my head down, desperate to leave that place where so many things had memories attached to them. I went to work, came back home, and grounded myself in my relationships with my friends, who stepped up like heroes in my time of need. Less than two weeks later, I woke up to a text message: “aunt passed.” It was a while before I was told more information: my Aunty Yoshi, whom I felt closest to, had fallen and hit her head for a second time. I was relieved to learn that she was surrounded by her children and their families when she departed, but it was a strange sadness that I had not experienced until that point. What really hurt was that she had planned to come see me after I returned from Japan. That would have been ten days after her passing.

But mostly, I felt numb. Between her passing and my ending a relationship, I had also witnessed a young woman attempt suicide and heard worrying news about one of my parents’ health on top of the countless goodbye parties, ceremonies, and informal dinners. Emotionally, I was not able to process very much until a few weeks after I returned to the U.S.

When I landed in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, I was greeted by my family: my father, my mother, my visiting younger sister, and her partner. I was so relieved to finally be home. I had no more paperwork to worry about, my luggage was all together, and I felt as though I had come back ready to start a new life.

My plan for my transition back into the United States was to stay with my parents for a while, apply to the Fort Worth Police Department, and find a job during the lengthy application process. I would pay off my student loans, save a comfy sum of money, and make a down payment on my very first fixer-upper. I would go back to school. This was my five-to-seven-year plan.

Living with my parents did not prove to be as difficult as I had anticipated. Though my mother and I have opposing personalities, we still get along fine. My parents, much to my relief, treat me not as an over-grown and maladaptive teenager, but as an adult. I am not a patient person by nature so sometimes I need to remember what enormous act of love and kindness my parents are showing me by letting me live with them to put things back into perspective when I disagree with the way things are done at home.

I was jetlagged for at least a week and a half, and I dealt with a drawn-out cold for longer. Coming home did not feel weird in the slightest. I would later get on Facebook to find that other returnees were feeling strange about the lack of Japanese, the lower quality of customer service, anything. But I never felt that initial shock of returning. I didn’t feel as though I needed to adjust anything more than my sleep schedule. I was glad to be away from the things, people, and places that had in the last few months caused me a lot of pain. I could finally relax and do what I had been wanting to do: eat healthily without spending too much money, exercise a lot, and learn endlessly about everything I wanted to know. At least, that’s how I thought I would spend the first few weeks.

I found myself feeling lazy. It took me three days to unpack, sort through the life I brought back from Japan, and put all of those memories away in boxes. I slept a lot. I only put on my running shoes twice. I ate when I could. I accompanied my parents to soccer games and grocery runs.

Exactly a week after I returned from the U.S., my parents and I started our trip to California. It was strange. I had always liked road trips, and I cheered as we pulled out of our driveway before I realized that the reason why we were making this trip was to go to my aunt’s memorial service.

I had never been to a memorial service, and I didn’t know what to expect. It took me a while to realize that the box surrounded by the innumerable bouquets contained the incinerated remains of my aunt. I cried a lot that day: more than I had in a long time. My aunt was present in my first memory. She was the one who quieted me in my days of cholicky infancy. She was sweet and generous and strong. She had overcome so much in her life, and I could not believe that all of her fit into a small box. An image of her tiny, lifeless body being consumed by flames, becoming a shriveled, unidentifiable black crisp, and turning to ashes burned in my mind’s eye, and it made me feel sick.

I was heartbroken to be where I was, but what hurt me the most was seeing my mother cry. We all cried, but for some reason, seeing and hearing her sob was unbearable to me.

I was relieved when the service was over and my parents, other aunt, her daughter and her partner, and I went off separately to have a late lunch. We talked fondly of Aunty and reconnected. It had been years since I last spoke with my Aunt Suzie, and over a decade, if not two, since I last saw my cousin, Cecilia.

After lunch, we went our separate ways and my parents and I began making our way back to Texas. That night, we stopped in Arizona, where, by coincidence, one of my good friends from my time on JET lived. I sent him a message and within an hour I was meeting him and his Japanese girlfriend for a drink at Starbucks. It was so crazy, how we had only known each other in Japan and yet, here we were, having a drink at Starbucks as if nothing were different. I hadn’t seen him in a year by that point, and I was so grateful to be able to see and speak with someone who was a testament to the existence of my life in Japan.

After we returned to Texas, I spent the rest of the week with my family. I tried out the nearby YMCA, which I decided I did not like, so I signed up for a CrossFit class instead. I accompanied my father to his school and helped him decorate his classroom door to accommodate the school’s theme this year: Dr. Suess. I went grocery shopping with my mother and had my family try eating clean for an unsuccessful week. I went on a Tinder date with someone who ended up being a little too clingy. I spent my birthday with my parents, and went to a concert with my dad. The next day, I packed up a carry-on sized bag and drove nine hours to see my sister, Justine, and her long-time partner, Chaney, in Kansas.

I had planned on having an uneventful, relaxing week with Justine and Chaney. We were going to hang out, watch movies, and drink when they were not working. When they were, I was going to play with their cat, Gypsy, work on writing and translations, submit things I’ve written to journals, and study Spanish. At some point, I wanted to reconnect with my high school best friend, Kiersten and my other friend, Ryan, and get my things back from Erik.

The week was not uneventful. Justine, Chaney, and I drank a lot my first night there. We had a great time and I finally presented to them the EP I had recorded two years in ago in Matsuyama with my bandmate, Scott, and his friend, Chris. A couple days later, I drove an hour to the city where Erik lives, just to “catch up” on the last four years and (covertly) butter him up so I could get all of my things back and be done with it.

Ever since Erik and I ended our relationship three and a half years ago, I had always wondered what seeing him would be like, if it ever happened. Would I be hit by nostalgia? Would I instantly fall back in love? Would I feel disgusted? Glad that we split? Would I feel nothing? I have heard of people saying that when they see someone they knew a long time ago, they are instantly taken back to that time when they were younger.

We agreed to meet at a local cafe, but I ended up arriving quite late. I didn’t feel any of the anxiety that I thought I would, but I drew in a deep breath before opening the door. I scanned the room. I was shocked and at a loss for words when he turned around and we made eye contact. I tried really hard not to let it show on my face because last time I saw him, he was wearing his hair down to his shoulders. Now his head was shaved, save for the top, where it was pushed back in a pouf. I never took Erik to be someone who was interested in style. But I guess we all change. We sat down, ordered our drinks, and recounted the past four years. What had we done? Whom had we met? What did we experience and how did it change us? As Erik and I spoke, I realized that he was no longer the young college student that I had left behind. He had become a man.

After the initial shock and awkwardness, relating to one another felt as though nothing had changed. Interacting with each other felt as though we were seeing each other after an extended holiday. But our experiences over the last four years took their toll on us, how we grew, our worldviews, and drew fine lines on our faces. And somehow, watching him speak was just as mesmerizing as it had been four years ago, and I had to remind myself to pay attention to the things he was saying.

I ended up visiting him regularly during the week I spent in Kansas, dividing my time between him and my sister. During that time, Erik and I fought quite a bit; we often realized that the person we thought we were talking to had changed. My sister and I also fought. And there were strange silences between her, Chaney, and I for no reason that made me very uncomfortable. Towards the end of my stay, after seeing some of my old friends one night, I realized I didn’t want to be friends with them anymore.

    I headed back to Texas on a Tuesday. On the way, I stopped in the small town of Durham, Kansas, where I used the bathroom. I was nervous. In small, midwestern towns, I am sometimes looked at with curiosity and suspicion, and occasionally treated with a little more hostility than my lighter-skinned countrymen. This was the only gas station for miles, and it tripled as a car repair shop and run-down convenience store. I figured that since I wasn’t getting gas, I should buy something. So I picked up a bottle of water and made my way nervously to the cashier, trying to act normal, friendly, and confident. I was met by an attractive young man who was very courteous to me, and I felt joyful walking out of the store. It’s a strange thing, to sort of hold your breath in some parts of the country, but I always feel relieved when an interaction with a Caucasian person in the countryside goes well. I remembered the time in Iowa where the entire store openly stared at me as I made my way through the aisles. And the time in Oklahoma where the clerk who seemed nice and friendly suddenly became silent and cold when I approached the counter.

    The rest of the month was quite slow-paced. I watched Wonder Woman and absolutely loved it. I went to my first CrossFit class and was sore and tight for days. I started watching Game of Thrones and Westworld. I somehow managed to pull off a translation job worth half of my monthly student loan payment. I started reading again, applied to more jobs, and studied Spanish more intensely. I rented books from the library (six whole books in English!) and watched the news with great sadness as Hurricane Harvey spread its devastation.

    I played my first game of Ultimate Frisbee in four years on the thirtieth of the month and had the time of my life, and an added blood blister as a bonus. I was worried that four years of (relative) inactivity would make me a dispensable part of the team, but I was wrong. I scored a few points and made some good assists. My sprinting is still on point, though now I realize that I am, in fact, getting old because I definitely felt something pop in my calf. Afterwards, I went home and took a bath. That’s where reverse-culture shock finally dug its nails into me.

    Bathing was one of my favorite rituals in Japan. I love the onsen, and during the colder months, the bath was my only respite from the constant chill of winter. It was the activity I looked forward to most, several times a week. I didn’t realize how much I was taking it for granted. I filled up the bath tub with hot water and epsom salts to soothe my tired muscles and realized: I am still dirty. Was I supposed to shower first, and then wait, naked, while the tub filled up? That seemed silly. So, then, was I just supposed to soak in my own filth? That also didn’t make sense to me. It frustrated me that I couldn’t shower and bathe in two different spaces. I decided to soak in filth.

    As I soaked, I realized that the water only came to waist level. I pushed myself down as far as I could and was mostly submerged. Until I started breathing and my stomach exposed itself to the air. I was frustrated and disappointed. How is one supposed to relax and actually soak their bodies if they can’t even fit it in the water? I’m fairly petite compared to most other American individuals. How do they bathe? The water wasn’t even high enough to cover my 23.5-centimeter foot! I struggled to soak, and remembered the good old days when I could sit in my Japanese bathtub and be up to my chin in water. To make matters worse, there was a drain half way up the bathtub to ensure that the water did not get too high. I realize why this is important: to prevent children and drunk idiots (like I almost did once) from drowning in their bath, and to ensure that the water does not spill over in case somebody forgot that they were drawing a bath. The latter could be solved by installing a Japanese-style shower/bath area. As for the former, well, I don’t have kids so that doesn’t concern my particular home. And if I drunkenly drown myself? Natural selection, I guess.

I sat, half-submerged and half-exposed, fuming and promising myself to get rich so that I could have a custom built Japanese-style bath in my future home. Afterwards, I exited the tub and waited, cold and naked, for the tub to drain so I could actually clean myself in the shower.

    During that week and a half back in Texas, I had a lot to think about. As I left Erik’s house towards the end of my stay in Kansas, he promised me that we would figure something out this time around. So after a lot of back and forth, we decided to give us another shot. I don’t have a job, and I don’t have commitments right now. I’m the youngest I’ll ever be and I’m free. So, why not just do something crazy? Just drop everything, go back to Kansas, and spend some time together to see how things go, if we could really make this work. Better to know now and move on if it doesn’t work out than to do nothing.

    I was nervous about telling my parents what I was planning. A lot of my family and friends saw the toll it took on me after Erik and I broke up over three years ago, and I would understand how they might react negatively to the news. But they were supportive. It’s one of those things. I have to know. I have to try. The only thing I could regret would be not trying.

Jen Cerna

Jennifer is a JET alumna currently living in Texas. She is the published author of novelette My Imagined Pregnancy: A Daydream Gone Wild and several flash fiction and narrative non-fiction pieces. In her free time she enjoys exercise, food, and movies.

 

Hyphenated-American

I am Vietnamese-American.

I’m not Vietnamese. I wasn’t born in Vietnam. I speak the language, but only just. I’ve never been in the country of my ancestors for more than three months at a time. It’s been over 15 years since I’ve been there.

My papers say I am American; they say I was born and raised near Los Angeles, California, and I am a citizen of the United States of America. Despite that, I was taught nothing about meatloaf and hamburgers, about how to throw a football or catch a baseball. Much of what I know about “American life” was learned from TV or learned secondhand.

I am Vietnamese-American. Not Vietnamese. Not American. Not both. I am in-between, balancing two incomplete cultural experiences. To acknowledge both sides of that little line between my ethnicity and my nationality is to acknowledge and accept who I am. That line looks back at my past that makes me who I am and it looks forward to the experiences that shape who I will be. That line bridges the incomplete experiences and makes them whole. Without that line, I am a Vietnamese person without a home and country, or I am an American without a background and culture.

For me, America didn’t penetrate beyond the front porch – the moment I took off my shoes and stepped beyond the threshold, I stepped back into “Vietnam”. I spoke Vietnamese, and I ate Vietnamese food. Before I was taught to say “please” and “thank you”, I was taught to cross my arms and bow, and in order to thrive, I’ve had to become proficient in both.

However, my eastern values didn’t just exist within the vacuum of those four walls. My culture, my values, my upbringing didn’t match up with the outside world. I often find myself confused by elements of “typical mainstream American culture” because it was simply not how I was raised. Fortunately for myself, I grew up in diverse Southern California, where similarly minded friends were widely available. Despite that, there is always a sense of living between two worlds, floating between an insulated inner bubble of eastern culture and a western environment.

I am a Vietnamese-American in Japan. Being in Japan brings some comfort in a way, as if I were coming home to a home I’ve never known. It feels as if there is a resolution to the competing identities. For once in my life, my inside world more closely matches the outside. Stepping outside doesn’t mean having to don a different identity or personality. Just as my Asian skin blends more naturally in a Japanese crowd, my Asian self can blend more naturally in a Japanese society. The way I always felt things “should be” are just the way things are.

Funnily enough, it’s my American self that is sometimes at odds with my surroundings now. My most passive moments are still considered too forward, my tactful moments still too blunt. You expect to become a bit lonely when everybody is communicating in a different language, but no one tells you how absolutely crushing it can feel to instinctively reach out for a hug and receive a terse bow instead; Japanese isn’t the only language that doesn’t translate well.

Perhaps I’ll always be a bit too Asian for America. Perhaps I’ll always be a little too American for Asia. Perhaps there will never be a place I will be perfectly suited for. For certain, though, is that within me, just like within the word itself, exists a bridge between Vietnamese and American. That bridge, that hyphen, makes me… me.

By Michael Nguyen, a second year ALT and RA currently residing in Niihama

Urban Flora

As someone who has come from a very rural part of the US where plant-life can be found no matter how deep into a city one goes, the lack of grass and yards in Japan was a cause of some minor culture shock. Dirt-only parks and the playgrounds at my schools only added to this. It is almost as if Japanese urban planning is a thorough rejection of nature, even in small towns like Iyo.

However, this does not mean that  Japanese people as a whole have also come to reject the natural world. Walking down a side street will inevitably lead one past a house that has been covered in potted plants. This set of photos was inspired by these houses with their potted gardens and flowers that have been cultivated in unlikely spots, such as roses and zinnia growing along train tracks.

Words and Photo Story by Michael Haverty, a first year JET living in Iyo City, Chuyo

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