The Burning Mountain

1036b68471670aad64d79247ccee84a1Yesterday, the Yamayaki. Once a year people gather in the city of Nara under Wakakusaiyama to watch the mountain burn up in great flames. The reason why the festival started in the beginning is uncertain, but some think that it was to drive the boars away from the city. Those boars just came back every year and kept terrorizing the people I guess.

Being only the second year watching the Yamayaki, I was uncertain of where the best viewing spot would be. Last year I watched from my friends attic with heaters and warm tea, not exactly up for experiencing the elements. What I learned from being in the midst of the people and the atmosphere is this: try to get up the mountain, as high as possible. Not only will you be able to warm yourself up slightly by being close-ish to the flames, but they have a Taiko, the Japanese drum, performance on the edge of the mountain. For those hoping to attend the festival in the future, abide by this.

I went with an Australian friend and a new friend from Malaysia. Unfortunately because of my limited knowledge, we missed out on the the drums by a minute or two, but we were able to watch the mountain burn from afar, also having a good view of the preceding fireworks.

Our hard work of standing in the cold for about an hour paid off with a hot bowl of Oden and the sweet sweet taste of Amazake.96_image

I’d say it was a good night for more than a few reasons, but there are two that stand out. The first one was the lovely pleasure of being in the company of a couple of fantastic humans. The second is that every time I go to these kinds of places I realize and am amazed at how little I know about the area that I live in. I love this place and I find it extremely difficult to talk about its history or even some random facts for even a few minutes. One of my new resolutions (Not New Years resolutions, mind you. Those I managed not to keep within the first week.) is to be able to give tours of my area and be able to know and explain to my friends that are traveling. Cheers to that, and Happy New Years!

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Oh, the things I wanted to be.

Here in Japanland, I’m currently working three different jobs in the Kansai area. I work part-time at Universal Studios, Kindai University, and Kindai Elementary school throughout the week, enjoying the different dynamics of each position. In the past as well, I worked on and off at different restaurants and learned a little more about how to work with customers. Despite the busy schedule, there is one position that I currently have my eye on. This one is different from the work that I have done up until now, and involves working at home from the computer. When I found it online, I instantly started daydreaming about applying for a job there. Yesterday I was challenged to think about why I want the job and be explicit about the reasons as to why this company would be a good match for me.

While I was pondering and doing a bit of writing for this, I got drawn back in time and thought about job aspirations from when I was younger.

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I switched dream jobs a lot, but I enjoyed the idea of each one. Perhaps from reflecting on my younger self, I will be able to have a clearer answer as to my reasons for wanting to work from the computer.


When I was 5 years old, it was my dream to be Minnie Mouse. I don’t know how I planned on transforming into a fictional cartoon character, but I just wanted to become her. I liked the idea of it and had no concrete reasons for my passions.

When I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a banker because the uncle that I admired and aspired to be like was(and currently is)the manager of a bank in La Crosse, Wisconsin. He also told me that my math skills would get much better if I would work there. I liked the idea of being able to improve in something I wasn’t confident in while doing work that I liked.

When I was 10 years old, I wanted to be a baker. My hero at this time was Scooby Doo. I loved to eat and I thought I had finally found the best job for me. The possibility of baking for other people as well made me happy. While enjoying creating cakes that not only looked beautiful but tasted good, the idea of Eat, Drink, and Be Merry appealed to me.1929830_13522065777_2991_n

When I was 13 years old, I wanted to be a singer and pianist. My idols at the time were Hilary Duff, Fefe Dobson, and Avril Lavigne. I was really drawn into the teen idols of the time, and practiced singing until my tone-deaf self somehow managed to improve. I pursued this dream the longest, practicing and doing random concerts and entering competitions.

Now, I am 23. I still love all of these things. I work in merchandise so I do deal with money and my math has gotten better since I was five, though I have to admit I should brush up on my algebra and geometry.

I have classes at my house where I bake every week for students and get the chance to try my best at making creative foods. I also love to check out different cafe’s and restaurants in Japan.

I sing at different places and play live on occasion. I love the technical side of music and enjoy joining different open mikes in Osaka. It’s always in the back of my head to somehow play regularly for events.

1929830_13522080777_3968_nThe only thing that has yet to become a reality is the Minnie Mouse dream. That is one that I will have to keep on the back burner for now, but I am looking forward to what I could be doing in the future. Hopefully improving my writing and helping other customers and people in my life.

Japan Sketch Auction: Friends Curry Shop

I will be posting new artwork regularly and will be up for sale 🙂
If anyone happens to be interested, please bid on the Instagram page!

One last goodbye

I just had a lovely moment. Our eyes met. I blushed and looked down. This happened many times while he was talking to his friends sitting across from him on the train. I wondered at that time what kind of connection they might possibly have.

We were going in the same direction on the train. Would he get off at the same station? Who was this person? Half-asleep, my brain was a tangle of questions and possible answers.

The train slowly pulled up to the platform, and the station’s name was announced. He picked up his bags and the doors opened. I saw him wave to me as he exited the train. With a smile he mouthed a good-bye. From the windows I saw him stretch his hand out for one last wave. I copied his gesture and with a tired grin I also said good-bye.

This is one of the reasons I like to stay awake on the train even after a tiring day of work. Someone can touch your heart when you least expect it.

In that moment no one wanted to use me to practice their English. There were no words or exchange of conversation, but the intense feeling of curiosity and the happiness in the stolen glances.

I felt in love in that moment. I fell in love with that moment.

He wrote a poem

photo-179In my last post, I talked about my first encounter with the artist, Mitsushita. Each time we met up until now has been conversations over two hours, the kinds of talks where you happen to glance at a watch and you jump out of your seat, surprised at how fast the time had gone by.

In the beginning, because I am a cheapskate, I had no intention of buying his art. After speaking to him however, I decided that I wanted a piece of this fantastic person.

He drew me —blue wig and all— but he also wrote me a poem. It was not what I had expected, and I was beaming.. As I read, I knew that during our marathon talks he had been listening with ears as well as heart. It was an amazing feeling to be heard.

I will write the Japanese and try my best to translate it into English.

たくさん泣いてきたね。
涙をこらえて頑張ってきたね。
涙を流せる優しいあなたへ。。。
あなたがもしも恐がってほうならボクはあなたの笑顔になりたい。
もしもあなたが涙を流すなら、ボクはあなたの涙を幸せに変えたい。
あなたの笑顔世界で一番キレイでも。ボクはあなたのキズも愛したい。。。
あなたの笑顔がボクの幸せなんだ。信じたい。。。
You cried a lot coming here didn’t you.
You did your best and held in your tears.
These words I will write are to the kind one that lets her tears fall.
If you are scared, I want to change your fear into smile.
I want to change your tears of sadness into ones of joy.
Because your smile is the most beautiful. I will love all of your faults.
Your smile is my smile. I will always believe this.

The Snake Handler, Mr. Matsushita and a Blue Wig.

These days I have been getting into a funny new habit – selling postcards on the street after work. I haven’t been out this past week because I couldn’t find a place to sleep in the city, but I will get out again next week if the timing works out.

photo-178It all started when I finished a Chai tea and a sandwich at the coffee shop near Shinsaibashi-suji. One by one the shops in the area closed down for the night, leaving only the footsteps of those coming home from the office, or the ones on the way to their questionable midnight jobs. By this time it was around 11:00 PM and against the shutters of the medicine shop, I see the artist Matsushita on the street open for business. There hasn’t been a night that I haven’t seen him sitting there, yet I had never approached him. I didn’t like the idea of making small talk when I had no intention of making a purchase. This particular evening was different however, and I decided to go and ask if it would be okay for myself to start selling postcards along this road. He explained to me that it would be no problem as long as the shops around were not open. I was excited to start laying out my small postcard collection. I admired this artist and the stand that he started packing up after his long day. Matsushita and his snake-handler sidekick Daisuke were about to leave. With a few words of advice about selling and pricing, they reminded me to watch out for old drunk men, and left shortly after.
I was alone and some people actually came up and started a conversation, commenting on my art and the blue wig that I wore, which was an attempt to hide myself from any potential acquaintances that could walk by. I enjoyed meeting these new people of the night, feeling very incognito.
One man who spoke English came up and introduced himself. We talked for a good twenty minutes, and he decided that it was his job to help me get more customers. His business strategy began with trying to lure people to my little chair by practically harassing them in English. His theory was that people walking by would be more interested if I started speaking in English to them and leave out the Japanese. In my experience however, that is 100% not the case. In Japan, people are afraid of things that they are not interested in. I wish I could be as confident as he was, but I don’t think I could fall into that way of selling.photo-177
After a while, and a few postcards lighter, Matsushita comes riding back on his bike. He was worried about me and came back to check on how I was doing. It was so thoughtful of him to go out of his way.
No other customers came to buy postcards after that, but we talked for hours about his life, what I do for a living, and our opinions of the conventional way of approaching work in Japanese society. His family had different expectations of him, but he choose to be a full-time artist. Now around 30, he questions his choices in a positive way and doesn’t regret them. He told me that he loves what he does and is glad even though he struggles doing it sometimes.
He has lead an interesting life, one very much opposite to the usual briefcase carrying salary-man you see all the time.  I admired his relaxed disposition, and desired his lifestyle.
What would your mind be like after meeting different personalities and observing the world all day?
I hope to go back to the shopping street and see my artist friend and his funky art very soon.

In this moment

photo-174Your face will smile, your tongue will dance.

That was what was written on the sign of Papa Jon’s, the cheese cake shop in Kyoto we went to yesterday. The combination of the food and the lovely company did make my face light up, giving me the energy that I needed at the time. I have been working at USJ and it is not exactly the most relaxing position. With the smiling all day, arranging, and the tight-knit Japanese environment, it was not easy in the beginning. I have not been there long, but little by little I am starting to become more comfortable and more confidant in my knowledge with the park. I am excited about getting better and becoming even more familiar.

I also have been reading a lot of blogs and books that are keeping things into perspective. It is easy to think that your life is tiring, and when I am in a normal state of mind I laugh at how moody I can become. I realize how ridiculous it is to pout.

Life is so beautiful. What are some beautiful things that I jotted down this past month? The kids that I teach after school waved from their cars and screamed to me, “Johnna sensei, bye-bye!” My singing teacher, the absolute angel helping me pass a test that would be impossible to do with my own resources. Friends that you can jump on, laugh with… enjoy with. These are the people you don’t feel pressure to impress, and it is so relaxing. Thinking about all of these things made me so happy today. I don’t want to loose this feeling. For those times when I fall I want to remember this beautiful day. I want to remember that in this moment I have everything.