At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Sunday, October 13, 2013


I just want to express how exuberantly happy I've been lately, despite feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work I'm doing right now at both my school and in my non-school life.  And what better way to celebrate that life is beautiful than with an Aki Matsuri.  My season's (and my own) festival.  Of course, it would be even better if Okinawa actually had the season of autumn.  To counter the lack of autumn season, I decided to visit Kamakura and Tokyo in late November (well, I'm going to Tokyo to take the GRE and to attend this festival). I'm hoping to actually see some of the autumn foliage that Japan is famous for that I've only seen in advertisements for tourism since I arrived in Japan.

It's already almost mid-October, which means that I've already celebrated another 365 days on earth.  This year's birthday celebrations were amazing.  I had an unplanned week of festivities, even though I had to work on my birthday (which was a weekend) thanks to my school's festival this year.  But even that proved to be extremely fun.  I've never experienced a school festival before since they happen every 3 years.  The past two years have been sports related 運動会 festivals, so this year's festival was extremely creative, with skits, movies, fashion shows, tea ceremony performances, and even an intricate haunted house.  Plus, the kids at my school are all so super 元気 and happy students, so just walking around the school to the various classrooms during the two day festival energized me.  It's always great to see how contagiously enthusiastic and alive everyone becomes when they're letting go of the daily grind and stress they are always under.  I wish we had festivals like this in our lives every week.

The students has a costume parade around the city
to kick off the festival events.
Advertisements for various events at the festival.

Follow the monster's footprints.

The students designed and built a haunted house.
After the festival, the teachers had the mandatory celebratory 飲み会 that evening.  It was low key, but I did get a few birthday gifts from other teachers while my co-workers sang happy birthday and wished me お誕生日おめでとう。 I wasn't the only person with a birthday that day, so that made it a bit easier to deal with when I was ushered up to the front to give an unplanned speech.  I also had to perform for the teachers to get them excited about the party in true Japanese entertainment form.

It's time to entertain my co-workers.
The next day was a one day holiday that my school gave us to make up for working a long week and the entire weekend.  That day I made my annual list of resolutions for myself and then decided to go for a walk to the Chinese gardens.  I made a few promises to try to have the best year of my life this year (of course, I hope to continue to build on this each year.  No downhill slides are allowed).

At the Chinese Gardens in Naha

The beauty in the mundane
Then, throughout the week, I managed to get little gifts from my students and from teachers. My family sent me lovely birthday cards as well which made me miss them even more than I normally do.   Even my ex-boyfriend sent me a letter to wish me a happy birthday.  (Since we're on good terms, his gesture made me happy).  It was so sweet to feel all this love being sent my way.  I laid out all of these things on my table at home and felt overwhelmed with gratitude for the people in my life whose presence is a gift itself.    I can only hope I play a similar role in theirs and others lives.

My students brought me so many presents this year.
All of the birthday gifts and cards
The end of the workweek culminated in a moon viewing party, which my school hosted at a fancy hotel in Shuri this year.  I decided that it was time to finally wear yukata to a school event, since this is most likely my final year in Okinawa (and probably Japan).  My co-workers were stunned that I was fully dressed up in traditional Japanese style.  I have to admit, putting on a beautiful dress or clothing always changes the way you feel about yourself.  It's a costume and as with any costume, you get to change who you are for a little while.  I think my co-workers really enjoyed the novelty of seeing their ALT dressed up in full Japanese garb. I felt like I have finally fulfilled the role of the gaijin doll.  Wearing the kimono really did add magic to the moon viewing party though.  I realized again how much I love the ornamental and sensual elements of traditional Japanese clothing.  It's very rare that I see anyone wearing kimono or even yukata (outside of the Orion beer festival) and since I've never visited Kyoto, I haven't seen traditional Japanese fashion on display.  I hate to be that foreign geek that romanticizes Japan for its superficial trinkets, but sometimes the sensual is really what is needed to break from the dreariness of the mundane.

I've taken to embracing the aspect of the sensual that I see in Japanese culture.  It's mostly romanticized, especially by westerners, but if you read classic Japanese literature and poetry, you gain a sense of how deeply embedded it is in this culture.  Yet, modern Japan compartmentalizes it (maybe Japan always compartmentalized it though...only the dead know).  Even after several years in Japan, I'm still a beginner in understanding Japanese culture.  I will always be a beginner.  Maybe all of us are even in terms of our own culture or even our own personal identities.  There are just so many layers to grasp and it's easy to just stay close to the surface of things.  Maybe that's why I like the idea of costumes though.  We should all embrace this more often instead of allowing the banal costume we wear on a daily basis to become the "true" version of us.  Because maybe there isn't one "true" version.  I'm sure the cosplayers understand what I mean.  After all, life is just a series of performances.

With love, 秋

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