Week 2 – Heat Waves

(すみません、写真を撮ってもいいですか?Translation – May I please take your photo? Use this phrase when taking pictures anywhere that might include locals or other people. More often than not, you will get an enthusiastic “yes!” In return, and they will allow you to take their photo)

Japan in the summer is hot: full stop. There is no real way around this fact, and unless you live in or nearby a building with regular A/C, you’re on your own with how you cope with the temperature. I’m still teaching myself how to translate from Fahrenheit to Celsius so I can understand what the other artists here are referring to in terms of temperature, but both are just numerical ways to say that it feels like you’re melting into the floor on a daily basis. We have fans placed all around the house to help with the heat, but after a certain temperature they just push warm air around and do little to actually cool down the house itself. As a result, work has been slow. As in actually slow to complete due to not wanting to exert ourselves more than is required – baking into your laptop keyboard is not conducive to productivity – but the inevitability of running the workshop we hosted this Sunday meant that we had to go out and get things done ourselves lest we be behind schedule.

The ceramics workshop is our first step in the Anagama kiln firing project we are assisting with during our internship. The workshop allows for locals to come in and sculpt a small piece with some clay for a price of ¥3000 per person. We ran it for about six hours on Sunday, from 9AM to 3PM. And the warehouse that we hosted the workshop in? You guessed it – No air conditioning. It isn’t hard to tell from the photos we took during the first four hours, but aside from the requests for cold tea and the towels around people’s necks, the participants seemed like they couldn’t care less. The entire time we were there, the room was filled with friendly chatter, laughter, the sounds of wet clay being molded into balls for distributing, childish squeals and cheers of excitement, and the clicking of camera shutters to preserve the moments happening there.

The turnout was larger than we expected, especially during the morning hours. By the time my partner and I arrived, the building was already full, and there were guests waiting by the check-in desk for spots to open up so they could participate. It was a very encouraging sight to see after all the prep we put into making sure the workshop ran smoothly. And run it did – there were people coming and going constantly for the first three hours we were there!

And then the rain started.

Right now, there’s a typhoon forming to the southwest of us – plenty far away for us to be out of danger, but the bands of rain coming off of it are forecasted to hit us intermittently for the next three days until the storm itself arrives on the sixth of July. By that time, the surrounding mountains will have likely taken most of the wind out of its sails, leaving us relatively unscathed. But don’t be fooled, dear readers: These thunderstorms still pack a punch.

We had to pull the large wooden doors to the warehouse shut after we realized that the wind was blowing sheets of rain right into the work area and putting the guests and the clay at risk of being drenched. Without the reprieve of the breeze from outside and the fields for the younger kids to run around in, we were left with not much else to do but occupy toddlers and take photos. So we got to work.

The workshop was hot, sweaty, full of residual clay and muggy from the rain. Add that to the myriad of children running around and lack of any true respite from the heat, and you’d have a day that most would consider to be unpleasant enough to avoid. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Besides – where else are you going to get smiles like those?

Week 1 – Cash Only

(カードでいいですか? – Translation: Can I pay with card here? Always ask this before buying anything if you’re not sure what payment type is accepted. In small towns, it’s safer to assume that it’s always cash only).

The current exchange rate from U.S. dollars to Japanese yen is 135.21, so grocery shopping here has been a delight compared to back home. The labels are tough to understand, yes, and many products I’d expect to see on the shelves are not commonly found here. But that aside, grocery stores are still grocery stores, and even a small sense of familiarity in a place where everything is all so different is far more reassuring than I thought it’d be (I may not know all the different types of produce yet, but I know peanut butter!).

I do plan on cooking for the group eventually, once I know everyone’s food preferences, allergies, and where I can find everything. My mom has been a great help in that regard, responding to my less-than-timely messages with the recipes she makes back home and then some. I don’t fancy myself an awesome cook, but I used to bake for my residents every Wednesday night back at the dorms. To be fair, cookies are quite different from gyoza. But even then I challenged myself to try new recipes every week with different ingredients, and anything is easier than cooking in a dorm kitchenette.

On our days off however, we try to explore the surrounding area and find other places to eat. It’s a small town, but there is no shortage of restaurants. Additionally, the house has a book containing all the menus (with translations) of the places in town. Our first outing- while still charged with nervous energy at making a good impression -took us to a small restaurant that had possibly the best torisosu katsudon (fried chicken cutlets over rice) I have or will ever try.

(This, my dear readers, is where the title of the post becomes relevant)

We were fortunate enough to find an ATM just next door to the restaurant and saved ourselves from any extra stress. Still, I do not recommend scrambling to get cash before you pay for your food. It’s not worth the anxiety, nor is it worth the fear of disappointment. But let this be a lesson, both to my readers and to my future self; Expect that something will go wrong, and when it does, you won’t be caught off guard. Take stock of your surroundings. What do you have with you/on your person? Who is with you? And what can you do with those things combined?

Nine times out of ten you’ll find what you need to get yourself through any predicament you may be in, whether that’s getting train tickets, directions, or, in our case, cash. You can thank my mom for that bit of advice, by the way. It’s come in handy more than once, and thus far, it has yet to let me down. Panicking is never your friend, and more often than not, the solution you need is easier to find than you think- you just need a clear head to find it

Winner winner chicken dinner.

Preface 01: The Garden

I have just under twenty three days left until I depart for my internship. Twenty three days into which my family has packed as many doctors appointments, get-togethers, work hours, weekend outings and schedule-able emergencies as humanly possible. Surprisingly, I seem to be the least nervous about my situation within our household. I’ve been biding my time with podcast episodes, planting flowers and trimming the grass in the formal gardens of my old high school in preparation for their graduation ceremony – which took place today.

It was strange to watch as it took place, if I’m being perfectly honest. I’ve only ever experienced it via participating, when I walked down that same neatly trimmed grass walkway three years ago in ill fitting wedge sandals and a white romper to receive my diploma. And for the first time since that ceremony three years ago, I watched another class graduate – albeit from a safe distance with the rest of the grounds and maintenance crew (we put a lot of hard work into making that ceremony possible, we certainly weren’t going to miss it).

As I suspected, many things were the same; The orange rose corsages and boutonnieres, the student orchestra making their best attempt at pomp and circumstance as names were called out, and the shrill sound of bagpipes to announce the arrival of the senior class in the gardens. I watched as every student waited the allotted time to begin their procession so as not to walk faster than the one in front of them, and then I watched as they took their seats and tried to stay still for the hour and a half ceremony that was just about to begin. Then, my father stepped up to the podium to begin his commencement speech, and I stopped watching in favor of listening.

The commencement speech is a source of unparalleled stress for my father. Every year, around this same time, he grinds away at his laptop through the evening, often times coming to dinner later than usual or with a little more prompting from my brother and I. Afterwards, we offer to listen to him read it to quell his worries of making some mistake he’s certain will happen when he addresses the graduating class. There never are any, it’s a wonderful speech, and we tell him this every year.

(I often feel like he doesn’t really believe that).

Yet when I heard him give his speech this afternoon – despite knowing and remembering almost every word he read to us from it last night – I was struck with an odd sense of finality. Not in a negative way, but in the way that you feel when you finally close the cover of a book, or put the lid back onto a box full of freshly separated puzzle pieces. Despite my love for my job, my crazy family, and my wonderful dog, I’d finally accepted that I would be entirely cut off from them for six weeks. And that was okay. Was it scary to think about? Of course it was. But for the first time since I got home, I truly felt like I was starting to get ready for the next phase.

I have just under twenty three days left until I depart for my internship. In that time I still have questions that need answering and anxieties that need soothing. But I am ready, and I’m excited to see how this will change me.

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