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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The chance to learn

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I am on the train going back home after an evening of serving. It is 12:00 am. The restaurant that I work at will be closing soon and I will find myself in a new work environment- Universal Studios Japan.
I had training there last week and was unlike anything else I have ever experienced. From 10:00 AM in the morning to 6:00 PM at night, I was taught how to stand correctly and how to relax your face with smiling exercises.
Thinking about new work scares me. In the start of any new endeavor, I am always afraid of doing things incorrectly. When I first began at the Spanish restaurant, I was nervous and slightly dreaded the pressure of having to answer to my boss if I made a mistake. Confrontation is not my strong point, but the restaurant experience these past five months was the perfect balance and I am thankful I had the chance to work there.

Juggling the house work, studies, multiple jobs, exercise and play I sometimes I feel like I am in over my head. However, at the end of the day after an evening of waitressing, I smile as I walk home because I am so happy to have the chance to learn.

My bosses’ name is Bunny

11220839_10152807117600778_7347434529073034128_nThe restaurant that I currently am working at is an interesting place. Located in the middle of Kita-horie(Osaka, Japan), the upperclass side of the city, it is a little gem on the right-hand corner coming from Yotsubashi Station. It is a Spanish restaurant, with Paella, Tortilla, Pil Pil, all of that great Spanish food that you know and love, cooked by the chef from India that has owned the place for about nine years.

I have only been there for about three months, but I have learned a lot. I remember the first day that I started, Bunny gave me a run-down of the ropes and it freaked me out for a minute because it was a lot more to remember than the previous shop that I had worked at. The challenge was super refreshing though, and coming home yesterday I realized that working there has been a dream come true.

I made a list in my head of what kind of place I would like to work at a couple of years ago.

  1. A place where have a friendly relationship with other staff and the boss
  2. A place that had food that I would really recommend to family and friends
  3. A place that didn’t seat too many people.

I had forgotten about the list I had made in my head, and walking home yesterday it floated back to my memory.

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Bunny was born in India and grew up in Switzerland. His culinary career started in France and after coming to Japan worked in fancy places like the Hyatt before starting his own restaurant. He can speak seven languages, which I am sure is useful in the restaurant business(or any business for that matter) and likes hiking around on his free days with his two adorable children.

It is my favorite out of the three jobs that I have now, and hopefully I can be there for a while. The shop’s name is Poron Poron, and sadly will close at the end of July. Bunny is hoping to decide on a new place and have a different theme for a change. I am sure that anyone after nine years of Spanish food would be tired.

Let me know about the place you work. How is the boss? Is the atmosphere good? How did you remember the menu? Can you take peoples orders without writing it down? How much do you know about your co-workers? What have you learned from your job so far? Where is it? Will you be there a long time? What 10996036_10152723544795778_6108964435379518769_nmakes you a valuable employee there? 

If anyone is in Japan, or is interested in coming please let me know and will treat you to a Paella!

Kind people in my corner of the world

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After a little sketch at my favorite organic restaurant, I feel a little more awake. With all of the terrible news that has been going around in the world, it is nice to know that great people are out there. I am more pleased that some of them happen to live in my area. On my way home from class, I went to go buy Imagawayaki from a shop that I have passed since I was thirteen years old. Though I have known of him for years, I have only started talking to the owner recently. A mistake in my schedule a couple of months back gave me the free time and a chance to break the ice with the nice man. Today, we talked about his feelings on learning a new language and the people that pass his stand. He had such an excited look in his eyes when he was speaking that I could not help but smile along with him. I started to get hungry so before I left I asked to buy one Imagawayaki. They would not take the money and insisted that I just have it because I helped them out with the English on their sign for customers. If any of you happen to be in Kansai, I would highly recommend the cute little street shop in Nara.

I got on the train to Ikoma and I was about to head to my favorite restaurant in the area when Sumi stopped me to say hello. The young train man who stands near the ticket wickets never fails to greet people who leave the station. He noticed that my voice was husker than usual and he ran to get me throat medicine. He didn’t think twice about it and came back with some strawberry-flavored Nodoame(のど飴) for me.

It is true that when a kindness is done to you it makes you want to return the favor somehow.

After finishing my food and a quick sketch, I think about how lucky I am to live in my conner of the world with my pencils, paper, and all of the lovely people in my neighborhood.

Nagano: Catch a snowflake

With the third day, came new challenges. I started to get used to life in the woods, but still felt uneasy. I hoped greatly to be accepted.

Please enjoy the following post. For the first of the series, click Here and for the second click Here.


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It was a relaxing Saturday morning. I felt calm and today I was not doing any work. It was the first morning that I didn’t feel any tension within myself. However, during breakfast my eye started to twitch. It twitched longer than it ever had before and I started to get annoyed and worried that it wouldn’t stop. I looked up the reasons for the vibrations, and among the many possibilities stress was one of them. Was I really that uptight?
Though after looking it up on google, it seemed to stop and it didn’t come back after that.

I was able to get away from the house a bit and took the camera that I borrowed from my sister and set off on a walk. It started to snow from the afternoon, and after an hour it began to pile up slightly and left a thin layer of white on everything around me. I wanted to be a little more professional and shoot photos with the Nikon that my sister let me take for my trip, but I ended up using my Itouch for the most part.

It was a beautiful afternoon, and I took the time to observe what was around me. I looked at the lining of the trees. I saw the water gushing in the river below me. I listened to the sound of the wind. I felt at home for the first time. I had no stress and no one to bother me. I was alone, with my only goal for the evening being to catch a snow flake on my tongue.

The couple that I was staying with surprised me and told me that there would be a local gathering with a potluck party. I was excited and very curious to see what kind of people would be living in this area.
Before we headed off, Yumi-san and I prepared the food for the event. I suggested the previous evening my speciality: 納豆コロッケ(Natto Croquette). It is always a fun party food because it leaves everyone guessing the ingredients.

When we got into the car for the party, my insecurities started to bubble up, and I began to worry about being rejected. Why must my mind always yo-yo back and forth between emotions?

The people were friendly, and were surprised to see me because Yoshida-san had not told them I would be coming. They were polite and asked me a few questions, then slowly went back to the people that they were most comfortable with.

The best part of the evening for me was playing with the children. I love kids because they have no concept of awkwardness. One in particular didn’t seem to be fazed by anything.

I listened to the conversations around me and most of the topics were on gardening and rice fields. I turned to Yoshida-san and he was acting like leader as usual and began explaining things to everyone.
There was a hippie-ish man with a lisp in front of me taking notes on what everyone was saying. I learned later that he is planning on moving to 和合(Wagou) and wanted to learn as much as he could.

As the end of the party started to near, I had become good friends with all three of the children there, exchanging secret handshakes and fun party games. The adults were thanking each other by exchanging rice from their fields. I thought that was an interesting gesture, and was pleased to have gotten some myself, although I had no rice of my own to pass around.

Life is simple here, and in the beginning I told myself that I could never live in a place like this. I would never be able to get used to it. However, after seeing the tight bonds of the community and of the families, my perspective changed. I was starting so slowly see why they love Wagou so much and smiled at the idea of someday moving to the country myself.


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Nagano: Hums of the Homesick

The second day of my trip to the more northern part of Japan: Nukuta, Nagano.

It was only my second morning and I was already battling feelings of home-sickness. If you want to see the first post in this series, check it out here: Click me!


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The next morning I didn’t wake up in my bed. There was a water bottle at my feet, and I heard shuffling and voices coming from the next room. I made sure that they didn’t know I was up. I would take my time.

As I emerged from my futon, I walked into the kitchen. There was no one there and I decided to take a peak outside to see the morning. It was simply beautiful. The fog started to settle on the trees, and the sun was reflecting off of the early dew. It was something that my camera tried hard to capture to no avail. Something like that must be seen with ones own eyes.

He came back home after a few minutes and prepared me some of his wife’s steamed bread. It was light and fluffy. I made a mental note that I would attempt it when I got back home. I noticed that he only called his wife Yumi-san. Because adding -san to the end of a name is a sign of respect used with people you are on polite terms with, I was very surprised that he used it with his wife. I don’t know many people who use it in Kansai to their spouses.

When the afternoon started to roll around, I somehow was getting restless. I had traveled to Singapore and Bali for two weeks earlier in the year, but this trip seemed even longer than the time I had spent outside of Japan. I wanted to go home and I didn’t know why. I decided to combat the feelings as best I can and tried to not show my uneasiness.

Another interesting thing about the both of them is that they did not compliment a lot. It can go to your head with out you realizing it back in Kansai because everyone is on the complimenting wagon. If you do the smallest thing, they say that is great, but this couple from Nukuta didn’t.

My job that day was to help with the garlic. He took me in the morning to see his greenhouse and at my feet he placed a big bag of garlic bulbs that we would work on together for the next three hours. I had no idea that it could be so much fun. I was with Yoshida-san for the whole day, and we talked and talked and talked while the garlic smell started to become imbedded in our fingertips.

We hide the things we want to show to people, and then slowly, we start to forget them ourselves.

When he would say things like the above, I would want to rush to my Itouch. I can say that it is true for me. Growing up here, I think that I suppressed a lot.  Now when I encounter a situation I am not comfortable with, I give myself a hard time about it and I don’t know why.

When you are out in the garden with yourself being the only one keeping you company, you think a lot. He told me in the evening that he was dwelling on a problem for three months before he discovered the answer within himself. Perhaps all of the questions that we ask, if we spend a little more time thinking the answers could be dug up.

I had my first bath at the 和合(Wagou) house the night before. I was actually thankful that it was separate from the main house because I could take my time. I welcomed taking a long bath that evening. When you have so much to do, it distracts you and you can not fully enjoy it. When I was there I had no people to see, and no plans to make.

I think the feelings of home-sickness arose because my body went into shock without me realizing it. Up until that point I was busy everyday, greeting hundreds of people at work. Now I was alone, with no company. I learned to appreciate the sound of the dripping from the faucet, the grumbling of the water heater, the sound of silence, and the smell of garlic that was coming from my hands.


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Closing the day

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I learned the importance of a ten yen today. Every little bit counts. Yesterday I forgot to ask my sister for some extra change, and I found myself standing infront of the ticket machine face-palming myself. I was the only teacher for today’s activity, it would have been really unfortunate had I not had that extra bit of money to get on the train.

Every month the school puts one of the teachers I charge to teach an activity. The theme for each month changes, and this month is all about food.
Though I have been at my present job for a little over three years now, my nerves never fail to take over me and I dread the activity day.
I am happy to report that it all went well as I knew deep down it would. I don’t know why I keep reverting back to worry even though I am familiar with it enough to have confidence. I wonder if I will wake up someday and be fine with it all.

With a book that I recently got in the mail from a friend in my bag, and my hair up and out of my eyes, I am happy. I am happy to look around and breathe in the crisp air. I am closing my day with people watching at the station and dinner with a friend.