Annie Proffitt is Catatonic… In Japan

Moving is always stressful. It just is. There is no way around it. Moving across the country from Washington to Virginia was pretty epic but, we had a house already rented and I had a job already lined up to start shortly after our arrival. That just left the coordinating of getting us, the cats and our shit from the upper left to the upper southeast the frustrating and stressful part. Small potatoes in the bigger scheme of things.

Moving to another country on the opposite side of the world without knowing where exactly we would be living, flying 2 cats and getting them through quarantine, no clue on how long it would continue to take to get a job, living out of 2 suitcases for 2+ months, not know exactly when all of our stuff would arrive as well as the normal “holy crap, I need to learn a new language ASAP” anxiety. Basically, this last move to Japan got me feeling like…

Yeah, I’ve pretty much lost my damn mind. I’m pretty sure my “mild anxiety” that a doctor once mentioned “might play a role in your occasional insomnia” has skyrocketed right up to the spotlight playing the role of Fantine miserably singing, “I Dreamed a Dream” while quietly killing me as swiftly as TB took the character out in Les Miserables. Ok, maybe I’m being a little dramatic but, only just a little.

Basically, I no longer feel like I have any control over my life. I’m just a mote of dust floating around in the Tokyo Bay breeze and that breeze is at typhoon levels right now. I’m pretty sure I have developed a tiny bit of OCD (truthfully, that shit started when I moved into a 410 square foot garage studio in Seattle but, I digress…) making the unpacking and organizing of a new house more agonizing that it need be. Basically, EVERYTHING NEEDS TO HAVE A FUCKING PLACE TO GO IMMEDIATELY AND ALL THE ROOMS MUST LOOK LIKE THEY ARE ACTUAL ROOMS NOT STORAGE UNITS FORTHWITH.

Have you met my husband? He has bins of stuff; memorabilia, knick knacks, discontinued uniforms from decades in the Navy, photos, newspaper clippings, belt buckles, hats, mugs, an ET sheet from his twin bed when he was in grade school… I mean, a full on 12′ x 12′ room worth of stuff… and he’s “organizing it” in the guest room…

IMG_0253

I literally can’t even… I will say though, his new project spurred me into finishing unpacking and organizing the other guest room that will be an office/craft space with a pull out bed for visitors. That said, this temporary chaos across the hall from our bedroom glares at me. It literally makes me feel itchy. I want to go in there and divide everything up either to display or into individual small bins, put small silica packets in with the items (hello Japan humidity), label them with meticulous hand lettering then, stack them neatly with all their matching labels facing the same way. Preferably in a closet or, better yet, in our storage unit we have with our apartment. EVERYTHING NEEDS TO HAVE IT’S OWN PLACE. IT’S OWN HOME. But, I can’t just do that. The Sailor has his own ideas on how he wants his beloved things categorized and stored. So I continue to twitch every time I walk by but, I leave him to his project.

This utter loss of control over everything in my life at the moment that has led to this anxiety and obsessive compulsiveness to organize which has led me to create lists. Lists that give me the illusion of “having it under control”. Lists that give me a comforting visual of what needs to be done and a tangible, visual way to show the list getting shorter by checking off completed items. Copious amounts of lists. SO MANY LISTS.  Long term projects like painting my old hutch. Daily to do lists like vacuum and scrub the bathtub. Weekly meal lists, grocery lists, stuff I’d eventually like to get for our new huge apartment, different exercises grouped by what muscle they work, flavor combinations to try in my baking… and they are all in a $0.99 spiral notebook with titles scrawled in fancy fonts that I doodled while I mentally compiled first before I started writing the precise bulleted list, each entry with little page markers for ease of finding it to add or to carefully color in the bullet when a task is complete. Basically that notebook is my $0.99 therapy. And I’ve become obsessed.

I started looking up bullet journals based on a suggestion I found when looking for journals with grids or dot grids instead of lines… Lord have mercy, the beauty that I beheld. It’s like artistic LISTS and CALENDARS. Instantly, I wanted to do that but, spending time to flourish and compile the beauty that is the bullet journal seemed to call for something more substantial or special than a $0.99 spiral special from the school supply section. Really, I wanted to harken my youth and did a search for an old school Traperkeeper. Sadly, unless I want to spend $100 on eBay for the vintage gloriousness of Lisa Frank or a fantasy world rearing unicorn/pegasus combo, that’s not an option. I knew I wanted something that I could refill with pages and remove old pages that were no longer relevant or necessary but, I didn’t want some boring binder. If I was going to embrace my OCD and flourish it with colorful fonts and flowers, I wanted the cover to be cute to reflect the fun madness inside. After copious amounts of searching and pondering, I found this little gem

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and have vowed to buy it off my amazon wish list as soon as I have a job. Yes, one of my financial goals to to have a paycheck to by myself a cute personal organizer. Go ahead and judge me.

Ironically, just a week or two ago my friend Mandy, whom is living in Sicily with her own Sailor, sent me a link to a facebook group that popped up in her “you might be interested in” section called “Yokosuka Planner Addicts” asking me if I knew what that even meant. I had no idea and it was a private group so, you couldn’t snoop and see anything. Much to her amusement I requested to join. I even had to answer 3 questions before they would let me request permission, basically proving that I was in the area and not a troll. They must recognize their own because even though I had no idea what the group was about, they accepted me. Let me tell you… these woman literally take creating personal planners to another level. I’m talking using Cricut Makers to create their own journals, vinyl stickers, and adornments. Collections of spools of Washi Tape and specific journaling decals that I couldn’t even imagine existed. Don’t get me started on their discussions of the different types, brands and models of planners on the market and what each of them prefer and why. THIS IS WHAT THESE GLORIOUS LADIES DISCUSS IN THEIR FACEBOOK FORUM. So now, I’m a creepy lurker in that group secretly reveling in the fact that I’m not the only one that needs to have everything written down and organized but, looks cute so I can claim it’s more fun than OCD.

Three Years

Three years ago, I walked into my doctors office for a follow up visit to make sure I had gotten in to see a breast surgeon specialist to have a bump looked at. He was my primary care physician and all I expected was a 5 to 10 minute chat asking how the appointment was, if I had gotten a mammogram and what else had been discussed. 10 minutes later I walked out with the words, “The initial biopsy results are back. It’s cancer.” Those are literally the only two sentences I remember. I don’t even remember walking out to my car or driving home. My next memory was laying in bed, still fully clothed texting the Sailor, “Biopsy’s back. I have cancer,” then staring at the wall from beneath a down comforter. He immediately text back, “I’m on my way home.” It was August at the Ocean Front in Virginia Beach and I don’t remember why I pulled the down comforter up over me from the foot of the bed. I don’t remember being hot or cold. I remember laying there staring at the wall, numb. I remember the Sailor coming into our bedroom silently taking off his clunky boots and just crawling into bed, full uniform still on, squeezing me to him and laying silently. I don’t remember much else from that day or even that weekend for that matter. August 31st will always stick in my mind as the day cancer changed my life.

Details of what followed for the next 2 years are clear in my mind as if it was just yesterday. The weeks of Kyle running up to the Pub in the middle of my shift to meet me in my car, parked on the street, to stick me in the gut with fertility hormones laughing like idiots at the thought of what it looked like from a passersby. Chemo teaching where a nurse went over ever detail of what my treatment would entail and all the possible side effects and issues. Kyle and I staring dumbfounded at the novella of printouts listing things like, “Loss of hair, loss of nails, mania, vomiting, weight loss, weight gain, neuropathy, bone pain, muscle pain, disorientation, bulging eyes, loss of taste….” Every surgery, every blood draw, every round of chemo; I could recount every detail of each one like it’s happening right now.

People say that there will come a point where it will be your past. You will feel detached from it. I can’t imagine that. I can not even fathom waking up eventually and thinking, “This is just part of my history. The past.” Cancer changed me irrevocably. My scars scream, “YOU ARE NOT THE SAME PERSON! YOU ARE DIFFERENT NOW!” every fucking day of my life. Every time I shower or change my clothes, I am accosted with a visual reminder that I am not the same. I will never be the same. On the bad days, when I’m angry and bitter, I try and tell myself that I stared the possibility of death in the face and said, “Fuck you. Not yet.” Maybe that’s dramatic because when I was actually going through the entire process I never once thought, “This could kill me.” Hindsight, though, it feels like it now.

I could have had it so much worse. I send out a silent thank you to the universe regularly that it wasn’t worse. My treatment was the best case scenario in so many ways. I mean, if you HAVE to have triple negative breast cancer, you can only hope to breeze through chemo with minimal sickness and pain. To be able to still walk in and out of your treatments, even on your bad days, on your own volition. To have textbook surgeries with little to no complications. I know it could have been infinitely worse and I really am thankful it wasn’t but, really? Fuck you cancer.

At this point I have started and stopped and restarted this post several times. That first paragraph was written through a blur of tears because that wound is the deepest and hardest to recall. That first moment in a shit ass process, because I refuse, absolutely REFUSE to call it a journey. Fuck that cliche. It’s not a fucking road trip across the country to visit your great aunt in Iowa who smells like moth balls. It’s a shitty, scary, expensive process and that first really pivotal moment, where you go from fear of the unknown, to the mind numbing truth of cancer is a knife that cuts not just to the core but, through you. There are other dates from 2015 and 2016 that I’ll never forget as well (shout out to getting married, what what!) but, August 31st changed the substance of my existence and who I am. It changed what I want out of the rest of this life I have and how I want to live it. 3 years ago on August 31st, I was told I had cancer, and I will never be the same. I will never be detached from it. I will never forget it. It will be a brick in my backpack that I’ll hoist onto my shoulders everyday until my last. I can only try to make that backpack a really cool Patagonia one that gets filled with fluffy puppies of adventure and buttery pancakes of experience to make that brick seem worth the struggle.

Boo

Welcome to the Sailor’s Nightmare

As previously posted, I’m delving into J-Beauty in the hopes that the Japanese facial culture can clear up the perpetual breakouts that have plagued my face since arriving in here Japan. The Sailor graciously agreed to walk the hour and a half to the Japanese drug store and use what Yen he has stashed so I didn’t have to make a special trip to the bank. See, Japan is still a very paper money country. Basically most place don’t take credit let alone credit cards.

Yesterday was beautiful; sunny, breezy, lovely. After lunch the Sailor asked if I still wanted to walk to the drugstore. I of course answered with an enthusiastic YES! I spent a few minutes slapping some makeup on my face to cover up the reason for the trip, threw on acceptable clothes for walking and my birks and off we went…

As the door to our apartment complex opened with a sucking sound of a vacuum, the hot oven of Japan flamed against us causing both the Sailor and I to groan slightly. My beautiful day was blazing down upon us like the hot breath of hell. We were committed. We soldiered on.

As we approached the gate to leave base the digital welcome board glared at us, “WELCOME ABOARD today’s temperature is 101…

Let me zoom in for you to REALLY appreciate it…

I mean, JUST STOP. Despite this visual evidence of our continued discomfort, we soldiered on. Out the gate we were only 20 minutes into the hour and a half. As we silently trudged down Yokosukakaigan Street we looked at all the tiny Key cars and mini buses compared to the giant SUVs and jacked up 4x4s we had grown accustomed to in Virginia. And we perspired. Rivulets ran down our faces. Just shy of the halfway point on our journey I saw the Sanwa Supermarket that we were about to pass. Hot, sweaty and sensing the Sailor’s shortening patience I suggested that I could check the cosmetic section in there to cut the walk short. With a shrug from him, we turned to cut across the parking lot (note to self, they have free parking if we ever get a car, SCORE!) to enter what would turn out to be the Sailor’s version of a perfect nightmare…

Sunday in a packed grocery store. A grocery store where none of the people speak a language we knew more than “excuse me, hello and thank you”. A grocery store with packed aisles of Japanese food and home goods treasures. If he could have literally turned and ran back home leaving me there he probably would have but, he trudged along behind me. I walked carefully around the hundreds of shoppers with their tiny carts and baskets looking up and down aisles for anything that resembled soaps or cosmetics since I can obviously not read the aisle signage. I came close but, Kyle pointed out that it was a house cleaning products before I had a chance to look closer. Onward we shuffled up and down aisle dodging older Japanese men and mothers carrying their babies in one arm and a basket on the other. Finally, FINALLY I walked down an aisle with an eyelash curler. SCORE. I was in Now let’s talk about how long I stood there staring at bottles, tubs and pumps all colorfully decorated and in Japanese… Sweet baby Jesus help me. If I was by myself it would have been a little anxiety inducing. With the Sailor standing behind me staring at me stare at the bottles… I just wanted to find the shit and run out to spare the Sailor from any further crowd induced torture.

With the help of of the camera feature (barely, it’s sketchy at best) on the google translate app, the screen shots I had taken a few nights back of the products as I had researched them and the brand names on the shelf signs being in Kanji and in the Phoenician alphabet (what we use in the states) I found 3 items from my list.

Hatomugi Skin Conditioner which beauty bloggers rave about being the closest dupe for the more expensive Albion Skin Conditioner and being awesome for acne prone, sensitive or combination skin. Nameraka Sana Isoflavone Facial Milk to use as a light moisturizer and Kumano Deep Cleansing Oil. This wasn’t the cleansing oil I was looking for. I saw the one I wanted (Kose Deep Clean) but grabbed a different one that was next to it not paying attention closely. The oil was the last item and most important one that I wanted and of course it was the one thing that I struggled to find. Sensing the Sailor’s waning patience with our current location and it’s crowded overwhelming situation I made a silly rookie mistake with not making sure that the shelf sign I was reading matched the bottle. UGH. Lastly, I had read over and over that the Japanese cotton squares were far superior to the US cotton rounds for applying toners and cosmetics  as well as being cheaper so, I grabbed a pack of those as well. These aren’t the brand I had hoped for but they were the only ones available in that moment at essentially a grocery store so que sera.

Next trip I’ll do solo and make the entire walk to Matsumoto Kiyoshi. Hopefully there is a day soon where the temp is low enough that I don’t melt and throw in the towel half way there again.

My Throw Pillows

The Sailor and I were watching “The Intern” starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway. There is a scene where the widower, Ben, that De Niro plays takes in a young fellow intern into his home to loan him a room after his parents kick him out while he finds his first apartment. As he gives the young man a tour, the young man sees his perfect made bed with decorative throw pillows and comments, “I like that you do the throw pillow thing” and Ben replies, “I was married for a very long time…” and nods kind of sadly…

Me: *Sitting, cocooned by all my feathery throw pillows…* Babe, after I die will you keep all my throw pillows around?

Sailor: Ha, no.

Me: BABE!!

Sailor: Well I mean maybe as fire starters for my bonfires…

#ShitTheSailorSays

A Pox Upon My Face

I have always struggled with my skin. For as long as I can remember I was always treating one or another break out. When I was 21 it was at its worst and my dermatologist and I both agreed to give Acutane a try. Yeah, the stuff that if you get knocked up while you’re taking it makes your baby have crazy deformities. It’s no joke. At the time there was no generic either. My initial dosage started at $800 a month and by the end of the 6 months I was up to $1200 a month… and I didn’t have insurance. I paid it. Happily. I was desperate. The battle continued after that but, the Actuane helped tremendously. Oral birth control reined in the few break outs that continued after that. Unfortunately good old breast cancer put the ixnay on that since I’m never again allowed to take any oral medication that contains any kind of hormones. So that battle was lost but, the war continues.

Living in southern Virginia, I had found a cleansing and topical treatment routine that was working… mostly. It was good enough I wasn’t self conscious and I was happy with the results. But, everything effects my skin; mood, water intake, diet, exercise, weather, stress, regional allergies, seasonal allergies, washing with city water vs well water, time of the month, time of the year, Zeus coughs on Mount Olympus and I get a cystic volcano on my cheek…  So when we began our journey first up to Ohio, I knew I’d have a new but, temporary battle. My parents’ well water messes with my skin. It used to be naturally SUPER soft and have a bunch of iron in it. It used to wreck my skin. Since those years of me living there though, they have gotten a water softener so, I held out hope that would help. False. Well, it isn’t as bad as it used to be and we were only there for a week so I had come prepared with various washes, scrubs, creams and lotions to combat the inevitable flux. One week of driving in the RV only stopping to sleep in the RV at rest stops was another one. I was prepared for that too. I mean, I did my best using facial wipes and being the crazy lady doing a full face wash routine in the rest stop bathroom that has a push and hold faucet but, whatever. It’s that or look like Acne Amy by the end of the trip. Our month in Tacoma was the final US travel hurdle. Usually my skin mostly likes the WA weather and my allergies are less exhausting there. It’s just a couple reasons I love the Pacific Northwest. So a couple of tweaks to the usual daily facial routine and I was OK.

Japan, I was clueless on. I had no idea on how my skin would react. I assumed the first couple weeks would be a shit show. Unfortunately a shit show on my face is not easy to hide. Using makeup to camouflage the trouble spots gets tricky when it’s 100 degrees with 90% humidity. AKA it melts right the hell off within minutes of walking out of the air conditioning. Le sigh.

We’ve been in Yokosuka now for over a month and a half. 99% of that time I’ve looked like I have chicken pox, no joke. My face and my neck are ANGRY with this place. I’m assuming it’s a combination of sweating ALL THE TIME, changes from AC to heat to AC, base water, stress (hi, have I mentioned I’m still unemployed? I need a job please) and diet changes. Plus lets face it, I never can seem to drink enough dang water. So, I started researching. Digging into how Japanese women (and men) keep their faces looking porcelain. First I found, they are just graced with beautiful skin genetics. Which I’m jealous of frankly because obviously, I am not that blessed. What else I found is that Japanese women don’t mess around when it comes to taking care of their skin and hair. They follow a double cleansing process that has no less than 6 but up to 12 steps. No joke. And their products are geared towards that. Most beauty blogs and articles state that cleansing your face at the end of the day should take approximately the same amount of time as applying your makeup… Dude. Applying a full face of make up, not even a formal event style, just a, “hey we are going out to dinner for some burgers with friends and I want to look fab,” takes at least 30 minutes. I mean, for me longer because I have all my splotches and spots from breakouts to camouflage. This statement alone has left me reeling. OBVIOUSLY I am failing in the eyes of my Japanese sisters when it comes to the first and most crucial aspect of my night-night face routine. This nightly process lead to a simpler less intense morning process not surprisingly.

So, here is what I have gathered the in Japan is the norm for  facial routines.

Morning

  1. Cream Cleanse
  2. Lotion/Essence
  3. Serum
  4. Moisturizer
  5. Eye Gel
  6. SPF

Night

  1. Oil Cleanse
  2. Foaming Cleanse
  3. Exfoliation
  4. Lotion/Essence
  5. Mask
  6. Serum
  7. Massage
  8. Moisturizer
  9. Eye cream
  10. Spot treatments

Yep. If you’re keeping tally, that 3 types of cleansers a day. My Japanese beauty enthusiasts are not. Messing. Around. I can’t say I am surprised though. I mean, I spent 6 months getting to be a certified Esthetician. I used to give people expensive facials for a living. And really, while the order might be ever so slightly different and the US terms are slightly different, it’s conceptually the same. Basically Japanese women give themselves full facials every night.

Armed with this new knowledge I took a little walk over the the Exchange to check out the little beauty section to see what I could find that would be a US equivalent to the descriptions in all the articles on Japanese facial routines. I still have a few products that fit the bill in certain steps like a foam cleanser and a cream cleanser, exfoliation etc. I was basically looking for an oil cleanser, a lotion, a light day moisturizer (I have a neutrogena one that is almost empty) and a pimple patch spot treatment. And I found… not much. Whomp whomp. They had one oil cleanser and it was mostly coconut oil which I already know makes me break out BAD, like possible allergy type rash and pimples. There were no real products that fit the description of the Japanese lotions. Even the traditional US toners were limited. I already have Clinique Lotion 3 which is a clarifying toner. I like it. It works. It’s expensive. I planned to continue to use it after cleansing but, before the lotion. I also hoped to find a nice Japanese alternative since I hadn’t found a decent dupe in the US for it. No pimple patch covers (they sounded so promising in the articles and blogs!) They had my usual Neutrogena day moisturizer but, meh, since they didn’t have the other items I just was over it.

Back home I started an intense search on must try products. I read blogs, reviews and articles. What I found is the beauty of this J-beauty (yeah, that’s what fancy beauty bloggers and writers call it) process is that while there are a lot of products obviously, the process, the ritual itself, was what seemed to be important rather than the fanciest most expensive products. OK, I can really get behind this. I found amazing reviews for products like SK-II Essence and Albion Skin Conditioner Essential but, I certainly don’t have over $100 for one product. So I narrowed my search down to just drugstore products. Thankfully I found that Japan has a plethora of these that are highly rated and most had received coveted Cosme awards which is similar to the Allure and Elle beauty awards that we see on products in the US. I also found that Japan, as a whole, takes regulation of ingredients in their products and claims made on what a product does very seriously. So if a product claims to lighten age spots, you can rest assured that it has really truly proven to do just that. It’s that exact reason why you don’t see a ton of creams and lotions claiming to reverse aging like you do in the states… because they just don’t have products that they feel REALLY actually “reverse” aging.

After several hours of of going down the rabbit hole of J-Beauty blogs, reviews, announcements, reddit boards and lists, I had over 2 pages worth of possible products to try. My lists were nice and organized by type and I had even snapped screen shots of what the packaging looked like since I obviously can’t read Japanese and was concerned the Japanese drugstore might only have kanji signage. I even looked up the best drug stores for beauty products. Basically I am all set to adventure out into town for a little shopping trip. The drug store, Matsumoto Kiyoshi, that I want to try and hit up is about an hour and a half walk which sounds far, but really isn’t.  The Sailor has agreed to walk with me so stay tuned for that adventure!

 

The Last Thing

Looking for a new job is stressful. It’s even more stressful when you are currently unemployed in a foreign country and only have a limited amount of savings to keep you afloat. Let’s not even discuss the chaos of unpacking and trying to organize a lifetime of items in a new space that is over twice the size of any place you’ve ever lived. My skin has broken out. I hardly sleep at all. Or I sleep for 12, 13, 14 plus hours and can barely function. I’ve scratched holes in my scalp without even realizing it. My stomach can decide on a whim to not like whatever I’ve eaten and gurgle in turmoil. It will even out. Things will fall into place in their own time. Everyone says so but, they are saying it to someone with anxiety and probably a little OCD if the truth were to be told. So, I scratch and run to the bathroom and try and take Zzzquil or set alarms for early in the morning to force exhaustion the next day. And I job search online. I fill out web questionnaires that take an hour and supposedly rate my ethics and math skills. I cross my fingers and hope that I’m not too over qualified or too under qualifed.

I found a list of jobs I wouldn’t hate and are within walking distance of my house which really are my only criteria. Some of them needed to have forms printed, filled out in blue ink and scanned back in. No problem. I have a printer. Sadly in the 2 months in transit the brand new black ink cartridge decided to go kaput which with my sweet cheap printer means that it won’t print or do anything. While frustrating, I’m not really surprised. I’m lucky that the store that happens to carry ink on base is right across the street so, I just walked over. I contemplated getting the 4 pack that included the 3 color cartridges as well but, as mentioned before, I have a cash flow problem, so $12 and one black ink cartridge later I was home. By now it was dinner time so I called it good for the day.

After a great night of falling asleep at 4am and waking at 6, 7:30 and finally the last time at 9:30am I just gave up and got up. I made coffee. I checked my email. I skipped breakfast because my stomach felt angry, like it might or might not be filled with napalm. After a few good deep sips of glorious caffeinated beverage, I decided to install my ink. My stellar printer LOVES to struggle with printing when a new cartridge gets swapped in. Two hours later of cleaning the printer heads and check and re checking the vertical and horizontal alignment it was in the last step of cleaning the printer heads one last time when and error message popped up and let me know that all three of the motherfucking color cartridges are empty. Fuck it. It was past lunch time and since I hadn’t eaten in the morning, I was hungry. As I warmed up my left over risotto my stomach gurgled and twisted and sent me running to the bathroom before the 2 minutes on the microwave could even run out.

I ate my risotto at barely above room temperature while staring at our new very disorganized entertainment cabinet with all of our DVDs stacked up next to it and cords hanging out the front doors. Rather than angrily walking in the hot windy  drizzling day to the store for more ink, I set to the task of organizing the entertainment stand. I cleared everything out, reworked wire locations, and organized the DVDs that we still have cases for; organized and neat, stacked and sorted. It helped relieve some of the irritation of the ink being lame. I sat down to re-set up my Echo so I could be super lazy and ask Alexa for the weather especially now during typhoon season. It’s tricky setting up a device for a foreign location where you now live but, you’re address is has a technically US zip code. Some googling, and trial and error I got Alexa connected to the new WiFi and answering “What is the weather?” and telling me the weather close enough to where we actually are and not Norfolk or a random US west coast city.

Pleased with myself, I plopped down on my couch to start the job search back up with a plan to hit up the library later in the day to print out all the necessary forms and make copious copies of them. As I picked up my laptop, I heard a pop and felt my glasses shift… So weird. As I reached up to take my glasses off to look at them, they wobbled strangely and bloop, the lens plopped out into my lap. My black frames miraculously just cracked in half at the side. Not even at the bend or hinge, just a random ass spot popped.  Granted I think I paid a whopping $15 for the frames so they weren’t exactly top of the line but, dang. I just got them maybe 5 months ago. Obviously you really do get what you pay for.

It was one more thing today, just one more thing and it was the last one. The last damn thing. So, now I’m just sitting on the couch eating cheese mindlessly watching whatever happens to be on. I’ll just try again tomorrow but, today? Today is obviously done.

Kamakura Field Trip

During our first full week in Japan, the Sailor and I were required to attend area training. Basically, the first 2 days were basics on the base and the amenities here. The 3rd day was history and culture of Japan. Day 4 was field trip day. This was a day where our we got to take buses around Yokosuka to get to one of the 3 train stations within walking distance. Upon our arrival at the train station, we had to then buy a ticket, get on the correct train and get off at the correct station for our final destination. All this was done under the watchful eyes of 4 or 5 guides that joined us from class. They’d give us a quick walk to possible lunch spots then turn us loose for a couple hours to wander. After lunch we had the choice to join for a guided tour of a shrine. Once those tours were over, we were cut loose to find our own way back to the base. No worries though, we all had little cards that said, “I’m lost! Please help me find my way back to Naval Base Yokosuka. Thank you,” in Japanese. Kyle assured me that the trains were easy to navigate from what he remembered when he was in Japan back in the early 2000’s.

So on that third day, we diligently boarded 3 busses and headed out to Blue street in Yokosuka with a quick “tour” of the area directly around the base ending at the Yokosuka train station. Kyle opted to get us refillable transportation cards. We plan to use the trains as often as possible to go out and about and the transportation cards are universal for almost any form of getting around Japan; trains, buses, even some taxis.

Riding the train in the midmorning on a Wednesday was easy. No real crowds, plenty of seats and it was quiet. We were going to Kamakura which is only about a 20 minute train ride from Yokosuka. I read my book mostly when there wasn’t anything interesting to see.

When we arrived in Kamakura our leads walked us to Komachi Dori, a street filled with with small shops selling everything; clothes, chopsticks, coin purses and candies. There were little walk up food vendors selling street food that you could sit on a bench and eat as well as small sit down restaurants. Kyle and I decided to venture on our own to figure out what to eat. We walked the length of the street and back… twice and couldn’t figure out what we wanted to try. I finally pulled the trigger and suggested we just get steamed buns. Kyle shrugged. He struggles with weird foods so he wasn’t making the choice. So, I bravely approached the young man at the walk up counter and asked if he spoke any English. He smiled and said very little. I asked “What meat is in this?” as I pointed to the bun. With his relief clear that he understood me, he said, “Pork!” So I ordered 2 and Kyle forked over the Yen. We sat quietly on little stools next o the counter to try out what hopefully was actually Pork buns. Kyle called them mystery rolls. They were warm, chewy and delicious. Mystery or not, I enjoyed mine and I didn’t die (assuming there wasn’t any squid or shrimp mixed in) so win win.

 

We spent a a bit more wandering up and down Komachi Dori. I got brave and stopped in a little cafe called Hachi to get a vanilla latte and a “Cheese in the Baum” pastry that turned out to be a light cheese cake pastry with a thick cake like crust. Was not disappointed. I even was able to pick out the right amount of Yen to pay myself. GO ME! By this time is was about time to meet back up with our group to go on the guided tour so, we headed back.

We had a large group, 100 people give or take. Not everyone opted for the tour. We were broken up into 4 groups with each group getting a local volunteer guide to walk us to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is Kamakura’s most important shrine. It’s reached by a long wide walkway on Dankazura Street lined with hundreds of lanterns (electric) and cherry trees from the waterfront down the center of the main street. The walk begins with a red tori (gate) flanked by 2 guardian shishi (lion dogs).

This is not the actual entrance to the shrine but rather the beginning of the approach. At the end of the walk, you approach a main intersection for the heart of the city as well as the San no torii that is the third torii and main entrance to the shrine. It is at this torii that you are expected to stop briefly and bow to show respect and acknowledge you are entering a scared place.

Upon entering you will see an arched stone bridge, called Taikobashi. This literally means “Drum Bridge” and spans a channel that connects two ponds. The main shrine  can be seen straight ahead on the hillside.

Before you reach the main shrine structure you first see Maiden Hall. This is the location of ceremonies and commemorative dances in April as well as various musicians during the summer festivals. I could go into detail about how the ceremonies and dance in April are commemorating the mistress of an important warrior and her being forced to preform for the warriors brother who happened to be the first Shogun of Kamakura… I think I was the only one really intrigued by this part of the tour but, if you’re intrigued google Dancing Maiden Shizuka and read all about the Lower Worship Hall known as Maiden Hall and how it came to be.

Just beyond the Maiden Hall perched up on the hillside is the main hall of the shrine, Hongu.

Before climbing the stairs to ender the Main Hall you first approach the Chozuya. The red structure is where worshippers wash their hands and rinse their mouths to purify themselves before approaching the main shrine.  The basin is carved out of a huge rock from the Bizen region of western Japan and was presented by the wife of Tokugawa Hidetada, the 2nd Tokugawa shogun, in the 17th century, after she saw a dream telling her to do so. It is one of the few officially designated cultural treasures that the public are allowed to touch.

There is a specific order and way of performing this cleansing ritual. First you pick up a ladle with your right hand and scoop water to pour over your left hand washing it. Then transfer the ladle l to the clean hand and do the same for your right. Transfer the ladle back to your right hand and scoop water with it and pour it into your left hand making sure to leave most of the water int he ladle. Take a mouth full of water from your left hand and swish it around. Cover your mouth with your left hand and spit the water our beside the basin (not into it!). Finally tip the ladle forward and let the water wash down one the handle and your hand to cleanse it finally retiring it to the basin where it was resting.

When you approach the deity in the main hall you should gently toss your monetary offering gently into the front trough (if you have one).  Bow twice respectfully then clap your hands at chest level. At this time you can pray or silently show your respect. When finished with your hands still at chest level, bow once more.  We didn’t take pictures at this main hall other than from the outside.

To the left of this hall is the Treasure Hall. For 2 Yen each you can walk though the hall to view various priceless sacred treasures, portable shrines and military equipment. Even the walk into the hall is beautiful; intricate carvings and lacquered designs.

Once out of the Treasure hall of the Main Hall, to the left is the Maruyama Inari Shrine. This shrine is dedicated to the god of business prosperity.

After our visit to the Maruyama Inari Shrine, we wandered a bit along the path which led us to this little bridge over one of the 2 ponds. This little guy didn’t seem to be afraid of us. Then some kids came along and as usual kids ruin everything. (JK don’t lose you’re minds, I like some kids)

On our walk we came to a gold and black lacquered structure. Shirahata Jinja is the guardian shrine of the Genji clan. Apparently, shrines by this name can be found all over Japan.

This one took me a little searching to figure out it’s significance. Apparently this spot was well known for its weeping willow trees. An old poem tells of the young leaves of the willow, which used to announce the coming of spring.

There are two ponds on the property. In the Genji Pond the lotus flowers are white, in honor of the Genji. The lotus in the Heike Pond on the left are red, the color of the Heike-the Taira clan. The Genji Pond has three islands which represent prosperity, while the Heike Pond has four islands, which represent death and destruction. At the time I didn’t know any of this at the time. I had to do a little digging into the significance. All I knew at the time was that they were beautiful full of large koi and carp that for 200 yen you could get a little bag of pellets to feed them. Apparently the turtles that share the pond with the fish know this as well and came right up to the rock shore happily to smile and pose for photos. And if you actually buy the pellets, the pigeons will also have no problem approaching you when they spot that little white bag… or landing on your shoulder…. or head… all at once.

After a day of walking in the heat and drizzle we found our way back to the train station, caught the correct train back AND got off at the correct station. We were even smart enough to get back to the base from the station.

 

Special thanks to Kyle for being the official photographer. I didn’t have any pockets to keep my phone handy walking around in the rain. Besides, we all know he’s the professional cellphone photographer.