Category Archives: The Mikan

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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Power Stones and Seishin Sekai

If you spend enough time in Japan, you will surely begin to notice the stone bead bracelets that many people seem to own or that are sold in a variety of shops, from second-hand stores to matsuri stalls. There is even a store called M’s Power Stone Shop (パワーストーン専門店エムズ) in the Ōkaidō (大街道) shopping district of Matsuyama. What significance do these little beads hold that they have become so popular? Is it just fashion? If you look more closely, you will see that these bracelets are a sign of a larger spiritual movement bubbling under the surface of Japan.

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M’s Power Stone Shop (パワーストーン専門店エムズ) in Ōkaidō (大街道)

Having studied the sociology of religion at my university in the U.S., I noticed many similarities with practices common among those whose spiritualities fall under the umbrella term of New Age Religions. Though New Age spiritualities consist of many different walks of faith that do not necessarily relate to one another, many of them do have overlapping beliefs and/or practices that are generally tolerated in shared religious spaces. One practice that has gained a lot of popularity in the West is the concept of crystal healing. This is a belief that different gems and various other stones and minerals hold significant properties outside of their material chemistry. Often, this is described as them holding energies or vibrations, attuning to the energies around them, including our own. Beyond healing, these gems can be associated with luck, fortune, fertility, calm moods, protection against harm, and a variety of other purposes.

Knowing this, it is clear that the “power stones” in Japan hold a similar significance. Most places that sell these stones and bracelets also include charts that describe what each stone/color signifies. Anecdotally, there have been stories of people using them as prayer beads, using them to repel negative energies in their lives, etc. Though many may call this simply a placebo effect, this does not delegitimize the spiritual connection these stones are capable of embodying. In fact, many associate these stones with a broad category in Japan known as Seishin Sekai (精神世界) or the Spiritual World, a term very closely approximating the category of New Age religions in the West.

However, one may wonder why people in Japan would turn to Western concepts found in minority religions when Japan has well-established mystic practices in both Shinto and Buddhism. The truth is, Japan has been experimenting with new religions for a while now. Western New Age spirituality, itself heavily influenced by Eastern spirituality and practices such as yoga, chakra, and karma, is just one of many such religious movements.

To start with, Japan has been acquiring new religions (sometimes deemed “cults” by the mainstream media) since the Meiji period and especially since the end of World War II. A quick online search shows over 40 different religious groups that fall under this category. Including small cults with few members and groups that have stayed underground, it is hard to say how many dozens of these faiths there may be in Japan.

Some scholars believe that traditional Japanese religions have not kept up with the needs of modern Japanese society. During the Meiji Period, Shinto was promoted as the national religion of Japan. However, though Shinto was a commonly practiced spirituality, until this point, most Japanese people turned to Buddhism for deeper spiritual meaning and experiences. (This can be seen today in that some religious scholars and many Japanese themselves question whether Shinto counts as a religion or not.) This led to people using Shinto in religious ways they had not before and Buddhism lagging behind society, growing more and more rigid in its traditions. Ultimately, after the Japanese defeat in WWII which included the de-deification of the Japanese emperor, a major tenant of state Shinto, Japanese people searching for spirituality and community identity found a void. This has been compounded by globalization and the use of the internet. As a result, many new religions, often off-shoots of Shinto and/or Buddhism, have formed over the past century.

Why, then, is Seishin Sekai so visible and popular? Put most simply, it’s marketable. Beginning around the 70’s but mostly in the 80’s, the term Seishin Sekai was used in magazines, bookstores, and various other places to refer to a wide variety of spiritual practices including Western forms of yoga, meditation, chakra, reincarnation, karma, and more, which fit very easily into the already heavily Buddhist country of Japan. At this time, interest in the occult, UFOs, extrasensory perception, Western folk practices, and more began to rise as forms of entertainment. These also fit with the cultural association with rituals and mysticism found in Shinto and Japanese folk beliefs. We still see remnants of this in many forms of media, especially anime and manga, including the genre of “magical girls.” Some examples that are popular today are “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” which uses witch-related terms  and “Cardcaptor Sakura,” which references Tarot cards, though neither is an accurate representation of these traditions.

However, this positive relationship with the media was short-lived. On March 20, 1995, a new religious movement known as Aum Shinrikyo (オウム真理教) released sarin nerve gas on five trains in Tokyo, killing 13 people and affecting over 1000 other commuters. This was massively devastating for Japan. After, anti-cult movements formed, and the media took on the role of gatekeepers, presenting cults and new religions in a negative light, regardless of affiliation with the terrorists. Many religious movements were forced to go underground if they wished to survive this cultural pushback.

This is another area where Seishin Sekai has excelled. Despite often receiving negative media attention, Seishin Sekai is not an organized religious movement; it is more of a loose association of spiritual and pseudoscientific practices and beliefs that fall outside of mainstream religions. In this way, individuals’ practices are harder to associate with religious organizations like Aum Shinrikyo with its organized meetings and internal hierarchies of power. Morning yoga and wearing colorful bracelets are not comparable to attending religious services. This allows people to explore their spirituality without fear of associating with dangerous and/or socially deviant cults.

Likewise, New Age religions and the category of “spiritual but not religious” are two of the fastest growing spiritual categories in the US and other parts of the West. Such influence has also added another push to the popularity of Seishin Sekai in Japan. This is especially true recently with the omnipresence of the internet and its globalizing influence.

In summary, many of today’s Japanese population have been left without a solid spiritual foothold. Rigid, traditional Buddhism had not adapted quickly enough to the contemporary needs of Japan, and Shinto, which had only recently been used as a centralized religion, had been severely weakened after WWII. This forced many Japanese people to begin searching for new spiritual outlets. Spiritual practices from the East (especially Buddhism) began to influence Western spirituality, and, in turn, these Western New Age spiritualities began to influence Japan’s Seishin Sekai. After mainstream Japan and the media pushed back against “cults” in the 90’s, the more subtle spiritual practices that are associated with Seishin Sekai allowed it to survive until today where it has become commonplace. Next time you’re in a crowd of people, keep an eye out for colorful gem bracelets; they might just be a fashion statement, but they come with the history of modern Japanese spirituality.

 Photo and words by Michael Haverty, a first year ALT in Iyo City, Chuyo 

Iyo Kasuri – The Calming Dark Blue of Ehime

立秋の紺落ち付くや伊予絣 Risshuu no kon ochitsuku ya Iyo kasuri At the start of fall, dark blue puts my mind at ease – Iyo kasuri – Natsume Soseki 夏目礎石

The famous author and poet Natsume Soseki dedicated one of his renowned haiku to the calming beauty of dark blue Iyo kasuri, a fabric  export carrying the name of Iyo Province, modern day Ehime Prefecture. But what is Iyo kasuri exactly?

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Threads dyed using the kasuri process

Often translated as “ikat,” kasuri (絣) is a fabric dyeing technique that involves tying cotton around threads before submerging them in a vat of fermenting indigo dye. After being dipped in the vat of dye many times and allowed to oxidize into a dark blue color, the cotton is untied from the threads, leaving behind undyed, white areas. Anyone who has experience with tie-dye would be familiar with this. However, unlike tie-dye, individual threads are dyed instead of an already finished cloth. Patterns are painstakingly calculated and mapped out using bamboo rulers so that when weaved together, the white and blue sections of thread create a repeating pattern. If the dyeing on the thread is off even a little, it can ruin the whole product. The resulting pattern often has a slightly hazy outline, called kasure (掠れ), meaning “blurred” in Japanese, a likely source of the name Iyo kasuri.

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Examples of clothing made with Iyo kasuri patterns

This technique came to Japan from India via the Ryukyu islands and spread throughout the country during the Edo and Meiji Periods. However, the Iyo Province version became one of the most well-known with its smooth finish and more lighthearted designs. Matsuyama native Kagiya Kana (1782-1864), considered the mother of kasuri, thought up many of these fanciful designs such as diamonds, 6-pointed star hemp leaves, hexagons, and more. According to legend, she was inspired after watching farmers change the thatching on their roofs. Over time, the bamboo had weathered and aged, but where they had been tied together, the bamboo was its original color. Besides the fun patterns, a few other elements aided in the quick rise of Iyo kasuri’s popularity. The Iyo Province already had a strong textile trade network established by the production of striped cotton fabric. Also, because the dyeing process strengthens the threads used in the fabric, Iyo kasuri was often used as durable but fashionable working clothes, a market that had been largely untapped. Furthermore, traditional hand looms used in Japan were inefficient, taking a lot of time and energy to weave with. However, Shinsuke Kikuya (born in 1773), a merchant with a store in Masakicho who was familiar with textiles, bought a loom from Kyoto and began experimenting with ways to improve it. Eventually, he invented the takabata (高機), an upright, treadle-operated loom which would allow weavers to create fabric much faster and more easily than ever before. Iyo kasuri is alive and well even today. The iconic navy blue and white patterns can be found in everything from kimono to Western-style clothes, hats, coin purses, folding fans, and more. Some dyers have even been inspired by tie-dye and have created a hybrid using Iyo kasuri dying techniques on finished cloth to formtie-dye-like patterns. Other colors outside of dark blue have also been introduced through artificial dyes, expanding Iyo kasuri’s possibilities. One place where Iyo kasuri is alive and well is Mingeiiyokasurikaikan (民芸伊予かすり会館) or the Iyo Kasuri Folk Arts Museum. Located near the Kinuyama Iyotetsu station in Matsuyama, the Iyo Kasuri Folk Arts Museum offers visitors many different experiences for only 100 yen. (You can download their app at the front desk for an English guide to the museum.)

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Iyo Kasuri Folk Arts Museum 民芸伊予かすり会館 in Matsuyama, Ehime

The first part of the museum shows the many steps taken in making Iyo kasuri. Set up like a mix between an old Japanese home (where dying originated) and a modern textile factory, visitors can walk through while seeing examples of thread preparation and design creation, tempering the thread by boiling it, the measuring and tying of the threads, dying, untying, winding the warp threads, weaving, and examples of the final products. There are also historic photos of some of the original dyers and weavers running along the wall along with quilts and clothing made of Iyo kasuri.

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A modern loom with warp threads of various colors

The next section goes over the history of Iyo kasuri, also including many examples of historical pieces including screens, clothes, and decorative panels. The designs range from simple geometric patterns to depictions of nature, such as birds and fish. A few pieces even display religious figures from Japanese mythology . After learning all of this history and walking past the very tempting gift shop, visitors enter a room filled with indigo vats and looms. For around 2000 yen, visitors can try their hand at making their own Iyo kasuri tie-dye handkerchief. Visitors can also take a turn weaving at a loom. The dyeing can take close to an hour to do, and it closes before the rest of the museum (around 2:30 pm), so I would recommend going early or calling in advance  if you want to take part in this. Along with an Ehime-themed dining areaand a gift shop that sells an assortment of Iyo kasuri goods and Ehime-themed omiyage, the  museum also houses an exhibit of Ehime folk art. At the end of the route, which loops back to the entrance, is a room filled with handmade paper, pottery, glassware, and much more including, of course, Iyo kasuri.

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Bolts of Iyo kasuri fabric along with goods made from it, in various patterns

A dark blue fabric for both the workers and the nobility, painstakingly made by inventive minds, Iyo kasuri is a treasure from Ehime’s history  that has spread throughout the country of Japan and into the present.  Smooth, durable, and decorated in fun and playful patterns, it is no wonder Iyo’s style of indigo dyed fabric was such an instant hit. It is also no wonder the sight of it in early autumn made Natsume Soseki pause, relax, and find a bit of peace in the fast-paced and quickly modernizing world of Meiji Japan.

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Iyo Kasuri Folk Arts Museum foyer with Mikyan cut-out

I would like to thank 民芸伊予かすり会館 and its workers for providing information that was used in the writing of this article.

Written by Michael Haverty, a first year JET living in Chuyo, Ehime. Michael also took the photographs that accompany his article. 

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In Shiki’s Honor- A Haiku Celebration, by ALT’s

This year is the 150th anniversary of two of Matsuyama’s most celebrated literary icons, Natsume Soseki and Masaoka Shiki. Michael Haverty has created a series of photos inspired by the late writers, depicting their impact on present day Matsuyama.

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Shiki Statue in Dogo

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Masaoka Shiki was an inspirational human being, for those of you who aren’t familiar with his work, a visit to the Shiki museum in Matsuyama is a must.  Shiki achieved many things within his short life,  despite being plagued with tuberculosis for the majority of this. Not only did he help to revive the art form of haiku and tanka, he also acted as a war correspondent during the First-Sino Japanese War and coined most Japanese baseball terminology. In honor of Masaoka Shiki’s 150th anniversary, the Mikan presents to you a haiku extravaganza featuring poetry from ALTs across Ehime prefecture. Some have been inspired by traditional haiku form, whilst others take on a modern approach, whereas some take a comedic turn, akin to senryu.


Summer Storm

Head bowed against rain

Where do you see the beauty?

Petite flower’s smile.

 

Remembering

How’s the weather?

Too hot, too muggy, too much.

I dream of autumn.

Ada Smith


si won

Si Won Yi


Wild wind whispers while

Summer sun sings sapor songs.

Wayward we wander…

くき


Osamurai-san

Long, beautiful nails;

A yukata and geta;

He arpeggiates.

 

Bugged

Cicadas droning,

Dragonflies flit and flutter.

Mosquitoes stab me.

 

ugh

Woke up late today…

Cannot… Stumbling through fog…

Fire me back to bed.

Ciaran Doyle


A tinge of yellow

on every green growing tree

Fall, what a relief.

 

Cicadas are loud

I can hear them in my dreams

There is no escape.

Kate Flake


Poetry

I envy people

Who put words togetherand

get Perfect poetry.

 

Spring

The ground awakens

“Mushi atsui desu ne.”

Bugs and heavy heat.

 

Summer

Like a sweaty hug

From that one estranged Aunty

Can’t escape summer.

 

Why

Turn the lock firmly

Faceplant in front of aircon

Summer is the worst.

 

The Cyclist

The rain god is pissed,

The heavens open heavy

Unplanned morning swim.  

 

The Cyclist Part 2

The sky has opened

Walls of water spray my bike

Where is my raincoat?

 

Autumn

Fall clings to the trees

Fog erases the mountains

Freezing wind bites bones.

 

Local

Float through cityscape

A common yet foreign sight

You, the A.L.T.

 

Students

Surprise in their eyes

As they see you in the street,

I exist here too.

 

Work

Tall dull white building,

Eerie disjointed singing,

Children’s laugher too.

Kai Dearlove


Off from work early

Still wearing my business suit

They think I’m important

 

Rain at the station

“I’ll leave when it gets better”

It only gets worse

 

Imitation sky

Paint chips off rotting concrete

It’s pacing its cage

 

Lost petals lost in

Bike pedals form a surprise

Bouquet in my spoke

 

A twenty-four hour

Vending machine inside a

Twelve hour grocery store

 

Hit a bump too hard

Groceries jump from my basket

Salt peppers the road

 

Normal, strange people

Saying thanks five times over

To an empty room

 

Hilltop children’s park

Brutalist architecture

Lost in knee-high grass

 

“Under Construction”

Laid against a chipped torii

Taut vines wrap around

 

Evening Ropeway Street

Sun dims and lights tick on

Soft jazz pianos

Tim Alley


黒いマント 星明かりのネックレス あたしのハロウィーン

 夏の夕 セミや鈴虫 ラジオいらない

Kelsey Cooknick


遠くても 潮風に向かい 同じかな

Emily Crichton


 

秋風に 吾がカールの髪を なびかせつ

Hayley Cox


Chuyo’s Top Ten Shrines

misc. Banner 1 (Ten Jinja, Masaki) Anyone in Ehime knows that there is no shortage of nature here, and no shortage of things to find off the beaten path. From the big to the small, the famous and the unknown, after spending the greater part of the last year performing jinja-meguri (神社巡り, “shrine pilgrimage”) I’m proud to announce what I consider to be the top ten shrines in all of the Chuyo region. 10. Koudono #10: Kodono Shrine and the Golden Torii in Kumakogen (久万高原町高殿神社) No. of torii: 4 Access: 300m south from Kodonomiya bus stop (高殿宮), 1 hour from JR Matsuyama. (Location on Google Maps)

Kodono Shrine is famous for its unusual golden torii with its unique design and dimensions. Quite how truly famous it is is up to interpretation, but in conversations with coworkers no one’s told me I’m wrong in calling it “the legendary golden torii of Kumakogen” yet.

The torii gate itself is the myojin style, but looks like it’s stretched vertically. The central gakuzuka plate features a circular, metal emblem of indiscernible meaning where emblems are seldom placed, but the color is its most drawing feature. Where torii are usually either concrete gray, wooden brown, or red to symbolize Japan’s Rising Sun, Kodono’s main torii is a striking gold. Whether this is simply a provocative design choice or representative of a deeper meaning is unclear. 9. Mishima #9: Mishima Shrine in Futami, Iyo (伊予市双海町三島神社) No. of torii: 3 Access: 700m south-west from JR Iyo-Kaminada Station on Route 378. Marked by the concrete torii guarding a long staircase. (Location on Google Maps)

On Route 378 is a stone torii in front of a plain, innocuous staircase that watches over the sea. This is the entrance to Mishima Shrine, but if you blinked for a second you’d miss it.

When you enter Mishima you ascend to a higher plane — in a literal geometric sense. With each step of the grand staircase you climb up the side of the hill you receive a gradually greater and greater view of the sea and valleys that surround you as if you’re no longer bound to the worldly surface. Before the main grounds is one final pole torii inscribed Meiji 13 (1880) with an obsolete, rare style of script carved into each pillar. Hollowed out, twisted and gored husks of dead trees pepper the scene.

The main hall is a standard hirairi-zukuri style building. To the right is a second hall in the nagare-zukuri style, newly constructed in searing white and light brown. The original, dark brown house nearing black, weathered by rainfall of a dozen score of years, used to be this bright color too.

There are two different shrines in Futami called “Mishima Jinja.” Make sure to go to the one near the ocean. 8. Shinonome #8: Shinonome Shrine in Matsuyama (松山市東雲神社) No. of torii: 4 Access: 500m north from Okaido city tram station along Ropeway Street, immediately after the Ropeway platform building. (Location on Google Maps)

Shinonome is located on the Eastern slope of Matsuyama Castle Hill, just north of the Ropeway chairlift. This location is a great example of a shrine immersed in nature despite being inside a major city.

Instead of the normal haiden, heiden, and honden combination of buildings that most shrines comprise, Shinonome Shrine has a unique architectural style I haven’t been able to identify. Fully surrounded by a fence, the front gate is open to poke your head through but you cannot enter. Inside is a wall-less haiden main hall supported only by four pillars with the honden unobstructed in the rear.

Shinonome Shrine is said to house Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun and universe in the Shinto creation myth. 7. Tsubaki #7: Tsubaki Shrine in Matsuyama (松山市椿神社) No. of torii: 3 Access: 2.1km directly east from JR Ichitsubo Station. Contains parking lot. Bus stop Tsubaki Jinja-Mae (椿神社前) also served by Iyotetsu Bus. (Location on Google Maps)

Tsubaki Shrine’s Tsubaki-san Festival in February is a popular attraction throughout Ehime. 1.5km of bustling street fairs, shoulder to shoulder traffic and more varieties of food than you can eat make the affair a must-see for those in Ehime. 2017’s hit debut snack was lightbulb soda.

Tsubaki’s giant, red, domineering torii may be the largest anyone new to Japan will first see. Pass through the three-story grand gate into the plaza, up the short stairs and you are in front of Tsubaki’s grand hall, possibly the largest such structure in Ehime.

The West torii famously appears to be smashing into a neighboring apartment building window. Take a funny picture and surprise your unsuspecting friends.

You can take a virtual tour of one of Tsubaki’s festivals via Google Maps Street View here. 6. Ten-Ichi #6: Ten-Ichi Inari Shrine in Futami, Iyo (伊予市双海町天一稲荷神社) No. of torii: 8 Access: 1km northeast from JR Iyo-Kaminada, just after crossing the Kaminada River. Marked by two torii rising up the hill facing the sea. Contains parking lot. (Location on Google Maps)

Ten-Ichi Inari is the main shrine that serves Futami in Iyo. Its history stretches back to 1330 when Yunami-Honzon Castle was used to garrison soldiers in Kaminada. In 1691, with the castle’s abandonment, the shrine was moved to its current location near the sea.

Despite this shrine’s small and ordinary main hall, it makes up for it with an atmosphere as a testament to its age. Ancient grandfather trees rip up the ground and tear through concrete with their roots. Five red torii guard the final ascent to the raised inner sanctum where at just the right angle they act together as one giant aperture into the sky as if a runway to Heaven.

The view from Ten-Ichi Inari lets you see all of Kaminada Port Town, other side of the river valley to the South, fishing trawlers at sea to the West, and Matsuyama all the way to the North.

You can follow the old path up Honzon Mountain to the former site of Yunami-Honzon Castle where you can still see ruins of the old castle walls. 5. Agari1 #5: Agari Shrine and the Kusu-no-kiin Toon (東温市揚神社とクスノキ) No. of torii: 2 Access: 3.5km east of Iyotetsu Yokogawara Station. Narrow roadside parking only (Location on Google Maps)

Agari Shrine is located in east Toon, past the end of the Iyotetsu line, north of the Kawakami neighborhood.

On an unnamed road in a small hamlet of maybe ten houses stands another old stone torii dated Meiji 13. Follow the path shearing through the rice paddies toward the thick bundling of trees and you enter the shrine.

The main hall is a less common tsumeiri-zukuri style building with a bright green roof, but you can’t avoid seeing the famous Kusu-no-ki, or the Agari camphorwood tree. Legend says that the first man to try to cut down the tree saw blood flowing from the trunk and he fell into a coma for more than ten days. The second man to try to cut down the tree experienced a sudden pain in his stomach and died on the spot. At a height of 36 meters the tree now towers over everything in sight. 4. Iyo #4: Iyo Shrine in Masaki (松前町伊豫神社) No. of torii: 4 Access: Take Route 214 3km east from Emifull until you reach a Y-intersection facing a Family Mart. The shrine is the forested area immediately behind it. Conbini parking lot and roadside shrine parking available. (Location on Google Maps)

A pair of torii, partially hidden by drooping branches, beckon your attention at the side of a small road. Poke your head through the first and Iyo Shrine will come into view. You can only see it at a specific angle on the road, as it will disappear if you don’t look in time.

The shrine building is in the common hirairi-zukuri style with an extra gable projecting from the forward roof face. An elderly tree adorned with Shinto shide paper streamers grows dangerously close to its side, cracking the concrete foundation with its roots. Perhaps it was never taken down for being related to the Kusu-no-ki.

Around the back and to the right is a set of four rough gorintō stone pagodas about a meter tall each, guarded by a weathered pole torii. The third son of Emperor Kōrei, the seventh Emperor of Japan, is said to live in this shrine after achieving godliness.

There are two shrines both called “Iyo Jinja” 2 kilometers north and south of one another. Masaki Iyo Shrine is the one to the North. 3. Iyo Okahachiman #3: Iyo Okahachiman Shrine in Iyo (伊予市伊豫岡八幡神社) No. of torii: 6 Access: 1.2km east from JR Iyoshi Station. Shrine grounds are an elevated, thickly forested hill you can’t miss. Contains parking lot. (Location on Google Maps)

There are bodies in this shrine. The exact number unknown, but it’s not quite as sinister as it sounds. Before the buildings existed, the hill was the site for burial mounds in the late Kofun Period. As you visit the shrines around the plaza you’ll be stepping over bodies beneath you.

In addition to the main hall at least six other shrines dot the grounds, ranging from comically small to standard, standalone size.

Beware of mosquitoes here. As far as nature is concerned you’ll be stung appropriately if not prepared, but getting stung to the point of discomfort is all part of the true Japanese experience, so heed this as you will. 2. Shouichi-i Iyo Inari #2: Shouichi-i Iyo Inari Shrine in Iyo (伊予市正一位伊豫稲荷神社) No. of torii: 43 Access: 2km south from JR Iyoshi. Pass through the giant pink torii and follow the road. You can’t miss it. Contains parking lot (follow the signs). (Location on Google Maps)

Iyo has its own Fushimi Inari in its backyard. Shouichi-i Iyo Inari features possibly the largest and most ornate hirairi-zukuri style hall in all of Chuyo. However, this shrine’s main attraction is its hillside walkway lined by 36 red torii, leading to a small, walk-in shrine at the top. It’s not quite as long as Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine, but Shouichi-i Iyo Inari provides its own simulation for those looking for the experience without the hassle of traveling to Kyoto.

Can you find all 43 torii? There’s one large Taisho 8 torii placed in a strange location most people will overlook. Anyone who manages to find them all can claim not only my highest praise, but a prize as well. 1. Isaniwa #1: Isaniwa Shrine in Matsuyama (松山市伊佐爾波神社) No. of torii: 2 Access: 300m directly east from Dogo Onsen city tram station. Follow the large concrete torii standing over the road. You can see the front of the main hall from the station plaza. (Location on Google Maps)

Matsuyama’s Isaniwa Shrine, located near the famous Dogo Onsen, is striking from the moment you see it. From its old-style stone staircase to its dazzling red and white paint job once you reach the top, Isaniwa doesn’t look like any other shrine on this list.

Isaniwa is constructed in the rare hachiman-zukuri style where the curved roofs of the haiden and honden buildings come together to form a half-pipe shape in the center. Around the central hall is a decorated covered hallway running the perimeter of the complex, filled with Meiji and Edo Period artwork and other historical artifacts.

The entire complex has been designated Important Cultural Properties by the Japanese government.

At the turn of the new year, a massively popular festival is held on the grounds starting at midnight where the line of visitors stretches down the staircase and wraps around the street. Visitors can view sermons, pray to the god Hachiman and receive mochi cakes and fortunes. Festival days or not, Isaniwa Shrine provides not only a snapshot into Japan’s past, but also a prime example of Japan’s traditions as they live today.

Written by Tim Alley, a JET Program ALT living in Iyo-Futami, Ehime from Eugene, Oregon; searching the Japanese countryside for torii gates on his bicycle.


Ehime Roadster

Jen uses some colorful language in this month’s post, so if you find swearing offensive, look away now. 

I named her Pig, as a joke. I bought her almost a year ago, even going through the pain of raising my credit limit to get her. She is beautiful, in her own way, though I wish she were bigger. Her shiny black coat catches the last of daylight.

The weather is better now, so I can take her out for rides more often. I sweep the dust and spider webs off her. This is the part that I hate the most. My throat dries out and my awareness sharpens. I hope that I don’t find any arachnids hiding near the engine, under the splashguards, or in the wires that connect to the handles. God forbid that one crawls on my bare hands when I’m going almost twice the speed limit and there’s another car less than three feet to my right. As I continue inspecting, I have a flashback to last summer when I found a spider larger than my palm hiding in the cup holder. I peek in, my goose bumps feeling as though they are bulging, and see only an old leaf that fell last winter.

Enough of this. My boyfriend is waiting. I turn her on and roll down the steep hill to the main road. I look both ways and rev the engine twice, not because I need to, but because I like to pretend I’m riding a motorcycle. Instead of the powerful rumble that comes from my friend’s Harley, my scooter lets out a whiny death rattle. How embarrassing.

I zip down 197, still pretending I’m on a motorcycle and going twenty over the scooter limit, but I am soon passed by cars going ten over theirs. My fantasy is ruined. Instead, I pass the time by humming, trying to match pitch with my engine, accelerating to find the higher notes and decelerating to match with the lower ones.

I can feel the moisture in the air; it will rain soon. I can smell the blooming yellow trees higher in the mountain: their disgusting, empty, wet, seminal odor descending into the valley, filling it. I hate this smell. It’s been like this for almost a month.

Then, there it is: the tunnel. The first tunnel I’ve scooted through, almost a year ago. The first time, it was only my third or fourth ride on Pig and I wobbled through it, speeding up and slowing down as my nerves dictated. Every car that gained on me seemed to want to kill me, and I didn’t have the confidence to stay on the edge of the road without losing my balance and getting run over by the van next to me or breaking my spine on the curb. Yes, I was that person. The one everybody hates when they drive their cars. On my 50cc scooter, I took up half of the lane so nobody could pass—and potentially kill me—unless the next lane was empty.

But I’ve long since become accustomed to riding in tunnels. For the most part. I stay in my place, riding along the outer edge of the road while cars pass me, some without their headlights on. But then there is silence. I look behind me. There is something in the distance. Perhaps I could get out of the tunnel before it catches up to me. Then I hear a rumble. A light must have turned green somewhere up the road. Cars come quickly from the other direction. And I realize the thing behind me is a semi.

Holy shit.

It is gaining on me quickly, and I’m not getting to the end of the tunnel at the same rate. It catches up with me, my heart rate peaks, the monster in the dark slows down, its engine scoffing. The combustion of the pistons and cylinders is a hot breath on my neck.

I finally get out, dipping at the seam where road meets tunnel, and ride down the shoulder knowing that if the semi doesn’t pass me quickly enough, the little potholes in the road might throw me off balance. I begin chanting to calm myself:

Don’t shit yourself.

Don’t shit yourself.

Don’t shit yourself.

Don’t shit yourself.

I let off the accelerator and feel relief flood my extremities, getting a little high as the truck slowly passes. That’s the worst of it.

The cold nips at me through the rest of my ride, the tunnels providing a cocoon of polluted warmth. My hand, constantly keeping my speed steady, seems to suddenly become aware of its position on the accelerator and feels uncomfortable. I try to shift it without slowing down too much. My back, I notice, is tense. I lengthen my spine and lower my shoulders. Breathe in, breathe out.

I always intend to meditate while riding. Think about nothing. Clear my head. Cleanse my soul. Instead, I think of silly jokes, try to sing with my engine, and contemplate my next big move while picturing what my CrossFit body would look like if I actually had the time. Would I have a six-pack of even squares, or the kind that zig zags?

Twenty minutes of this ridiculousness if I’m speeding. Twenty-five if I’m not, or if there’s traffic. Finally, I get to his house.

That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.

Jennifer Cerna is an American ALT and personal trainer from the Midwest who has lived in Japan for a total of six and a half years. In her free time, she likes to pursue creative hobbies, watch movies, travel, exercise, cook, and #ridefree.

Disclaimer: The Mikan and Ehime AJET do not condone or encourage breaking the speed limit, in Japan or elsewhere. Stay safe kids.