I am now almost two months into my time in Nanae. I have had a lot of ups and downs, plus a little time in between. My ups have been much richer than usual. Some of the connections I’ve experienced here (with people, culture, and myself) have felt very lucid to me – exhilaratingly real at times. They have also felt very normal, which is refreshing – generally, I find normalcy to be frustratingly elusive. My downs have been amplified a bit too – the support structures I am used to (family, long-time friends, and an adjustable environment) are non-existent here. That leaves me as the only one to catch myself if I become unbalanced.
Something that has caught me totally off-guard is how genuinely nice people my age are here. They are unguarded, open, and pro-actively friendly. I am not used to it at all, and don’t know how to react sometimes. I like it though.
Here is a short “Best of Japan” list I’ve started:
“Kurenai no Buta” (directed by Hayao Miyazaki): I have a zero-tolerance policy for giving anything away about good movies, so I’m not going to comment much on this, but it’s a Japanese anime movie I watched last weekend and loved. My only commentary is that I highly recommend it, and I suggest watching it in Japanese with English subtitles. I watched the first 5 minutes in both English and Japanese, and they were noticeably different.
Odango: These are small, sticky spheres of compressed rice – they come on little trays with maybe 12 balls. Different sauces are put onto them (soy, sesame, and pressed red beans), and you eat them by spearing the balls with toothpicks. I consider it to be a very domestic form of hunting. I imagine a lot of cool things could be done with this concept – the balls are like a benign template for tasting the flavors of different sauces, so they could be used to make tasting samples of a really wide variety of sauces or toppings. I think they could be popular as an appetizer in the US if used in a creative way. The toothpick part is also fairly entertaining for at least the first five balls of each tray.
Capsule: Capsule is awesome. It’s a Japanese electronic artist I’ve been listening to a lot. I am pretty sure it is one man (producer, music-writer) and one woman (singer), and it’s one of my new favorites. Some good songs to preview on iTunes: Jumper, E.D.I.T., and Flash Back. These three are among many others.
Miscellaneous things without an obvious category title:
Haircuts: The haircuts in Japan should be used as a model for the rest of the world. I have been to a barber once here. My hair was cut well, but that’s not what is important – it came with an hour’s worth of extra add-ons that I didn’t know I’ve been missing my whole life. For example: head massage, hot towel on the face, straight edge razor shave (which is difficult to find near Concord, MA because the barbers are afraid of the liabilities of using straight edges), and an ear-cleaning. Ben (Nanae’s ALT) apparently gets more elaborate massages where he goes, so I will be exploring this more in the near future. My favorite part was the straight edge razor – I got a slight adrenaline rush out of it, and I left feeling like I survived something dangerous. I’m curious how many casualties there are annually from straight edge razor shaving when earthquakes hit (it requires a steady hand). I probably won’t research this. The ear-cleaning was terrifying – the tools were metal, and no warning was given beforehand. I’m still not sure how I feel about that part. I need more time to reflect.
Sensible things the US should import or recreate:
Heated toilet-seats: At first I didn’t like mine. I was worried it would make my day so easy and comforting that I might lose perspective on my life. My opinion changed very quickly. It has never been unplugged.