When the Universe tries to tell you something…

I like to think that life is filled with unexpected coincidences because it’s more fun that way. Sometimes I can be a bit of a control freak, so it’s nice to let things happen out of my control. It’s especially inviting when things that happen out of my control somehow falls in line or adds to something that defines who I am, or helps me feel connected to things in the world.

Ever since I started to look into Okei-san, I’ve just been thinking about how it makes so much sense that JET sent me to Aizu-Wakamatsu. I really could have been anywhere, but thinking back on my interview, I’d like to think that interviewers really gave it some thought as to where I should go. My interviewers included Gary Mukai, head of SPICE at Stanford, and board member of the JET Alumni Association of Northern California. I definitely felt a connection with him during my interview when I spoke about what I would bring to JET. My experience as a 2nd generation Vietnamese-American immigrant to represent the diversity of America was my main selling point (my unconventional look as a cisgender female is my secondary, though passive, selling point…!).  It’s honestly not much, and probably a broken record by now, but he commented that people would be really interested in my story. I wasn’t really sure what that meant, but here I am, in this town that I had no idea existed until I came here, and slowly uncovering history that really speaks to me as a woman and API.

Today’s discovery came at the right time. Before coming to Aizu-Wakamatsu, I’d never really been interested in the Japanese civil war, and samurai were only in the movies. My arrival was right in the middle of the year’s historical taiga drama, Yae no Sakura. There were posters of a woman, Ayase Haruka, whom I’d seen before in Ichi, wearing colorful samurai/kimono garb, leather gloves, and a rifle. Hot, right? Anyway, this was my gateway drug to the Boshin War, from Aizu’s perspective. A clan devoted to its emperor, and the Tokugawa leadership to the end, Aizu because the primary loser, and the clans-people scattered to the most undesirable places: the northernmost part of Honshu, presently Aomori, Hokkaido, and even America. In the show, a few went overseas to study, but I had no idea that a small group of Aizu clans-people left the country and settled in Gold Hill, in Placerville, CA. Whaaaaaaat!

First of all, as a student who lived in Davis, and part of the Japanese program, why did I not know this? Placerville is only about an hour away, on the way to Lake Tahoe. Why is it that I’d never heard of Wakamatsu Colony from my JA friends, or that it’s a part of Asian American history? Sure it failed, but it was also a model for future Japanese immigrants. I’m just astounded by how this has gone under my radar. Sure, I had no reason to really get into it before, but I think I would have encountered it by happenstance, or something!

I suppose the fact that I’m living in Aizu-Wakamatsu makes this 10x more significant to me. No wait, let me add another multiplier to that. The ramblings about my JET interview is connected to this. The Aizu clan scattered. They were war refugees. They became a diaspora. Like the Vietnamese! Ah! We share a connection. So simple. Much love.

Here’s another multiplier. I’ve already dubbed the nearby Lake Inawashiro as my Lake Tahoe for the next few years while I’m here. The Mt. Bandai is Sierra Nevada. Now that I’ve learned that Wakamatsu Colony is THAT close to Lake Tahoe like Aizu-Wakamatsu being near Lake Inawashiro… Just that comparison… It’s insane!

Aizu in the Bay Area

I invited a couple Japanese JTEs to my place last night for root beer floats because one of them had just come back from New York and gifted me with a bottle of Boylan root beer. After sharing with them my introduction of San Francisco that I gave to the students, one of them mentioned that after the Boshin war, when everyone was poor and even the Aizu clan was basically sent everywhere that no one else wanted to go,  a woman from Aizu came to San Francisco. At age 19, she fell sick and died. Apparently, she is buried somewhere in Sacramento. Her name was Okei.

Found some sites in English! This is a part of Japanese American history that I hope all JAs will come to learn.

1 | 2| 3 | 4

Must write more later.

 

 

 

Cowboys

I went to pick up an áo dài from the owner of the Vietnamese restaurant in town to show some kids at an International Association event tomorrow. She noticed and remarked that my hair was getting longer/higher, and that I should trim it before I’m “cowboy”. I laughed and said, “My parents call me that, too! They even call me ngầu!” She said “Ngầu is like cao bòi, but they’re meaner!” I asked, “Am I mean?” She said, “You’re pretty nice”.

Cat ghé nhà hàng Vietnam để mượn áo dài của bà chủ để khoe cho mấy đứa nhỏ trong buổi họp của hiệp họi quốc tế ngày mai. Bà chủ để ý tóc ra giài ra cao, nói nên cắt chứ không nhìn thấy cao bòi. Cat nói “Ô! Bố mẹ em cũng gọi em là cao bòi, còn gọi em là ngầu đó cô!” Bà chủ nói, “À, ngầu cũng gióng như cao bòi, nhưng dữ hơn!” Cat nói, “Em có dữ không cô?” Bà chủ trã lời, “À, em hiền.”

What Fukushima and Okinawa have in common

The school’s principal came into the office recently to return some maps and learning material. I asked him if he was teaching a class, and he told me that he was showing the junior high students a map of Okinawa for their school trip. I was excited for them, and asked what they were going to do there, since, to me, Okinawa is the Hawaii of Japan, and simply a place to have fun. What exactly will they be learning on this field trip? The principal replied that they will go to Okinawa to consider its similarities with Fukushima: Okinawa has been burdened with the US military bases, and Fukushima has been burdened with the power plant’s nuclear waste. No other prefectures want to step up and help either place with their burden.

From Asahi Shinbun, an editorial on the disappointment of Okinawans feeling disconnected from the mainland.

Singles Awareness Day

This year’s V Day was my first in Japan. I was hoping to receive chocolate gifts from students, but I didn’t get any! My friend says they are just shy. I think they are too busy studying.

The highlights of the day was watching the girls give chocolates to their friends. I knew that there was giri-choco (obligation chocolates), but this time I kept hearing tomo-choco (friend chocolates). A high school student explained to me that giri-choco were more formal, and given to boys or senpai (upperclassmen), while tomo-choco are more informally given to one’s friends.

Underclassmen students would nervously enter homerooms where their receivers would be, or pace around the door, trying to see if the receiver was inside, or trying to get their attention. When the receiver came out, they would humbly/nervously present their homemade chocolates (or store-bought ones), and then leave a-twitter. And then, when they saw me watching, they froze like deer in headlights, and ran away giggling at themselves!

The girl’s volleyball team were a pretty big deal. The kouhai (underclassmen) raced a group down the halls to meet a third-year graduating senpai to give her giri-choco. Whereas a graduating third-year in the track team didn’t get any from her kouhai. I’d thought that perhaps it said something about team spirit, but the school has a pretty strong track team. Perhaps because the track team is co-ed, it’d be weird to just give chocolates to the girls, and not the boys, but if you give chocolates to boys, it would give people the wrong idea. Hm!

Post New Year’s Lull

I had a bit of a lull after New Year’s. It’s been six months since I arrived in Japan, and it still feels just like yesterday that I just got here, though I’ve already experienced summer, fall, and winter. I still keep thinking that I don’t have much time to do very much, even though I’ve been out almost every weekend since I’ve been here, and am already booked for activities through the end of March. My weekdays often feel like how it was back home: go home from work, and veg. In actuality, I think my first 4 months was setting up my place, trying to make it minimally comfortable, and exploring my immediate surroundings with my bike. The last two months was just surviving the cold, eating, and hibernating. My goal for the next year, is to really try to be more a part of the community, and seeing people on a regular basis.

Traveling with friends

My friends visited and we spent an awesome 1.5 weeks checking out Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo together. We had our ups and downs, but I can only remember the ups, and the downs that were intentionally ups.  I’d never really traveled with friends before, and it was great to have them around post-Christmas and New Year’s.

It also made me feel that my biased perception of Japan was further legitimized by being a resident here. While I was living in the states, after having traveled to various parts of  this country almost every time I ever decided to travel abroad, I felt that I knew so much about Japan, that I was somewhat of an expert in Japan among my friends. But because I never actually lived here for a long time, like some people who had for a year or more, I felt like a fraud. I didn’t feel like my words had any power. All I had were my 6 weeks in high school, and whatever I’d learned from the few Japanese people that I was able to interact with in the states.

I suppose that is more than most people.

While traveling to Kyoto, Tokyo, and Osaka, a part of me was, at times, eager to show my friends other parts of Japan that most people don’t get to see. The quieter, more simpler side, one that wasn’t so overwhelming. I think all of these big cities have that side to them, but I’m not familiar with them enough to know exactly where to go. I wanted to show them where I live. I also want to show my friends in Japan where I live, Aizu-Wakamatsu. I don’t think many people get a chance to visit it, let alone really know about it, except for the story of the Byakko-tai.

Teaching

Also, this month, the high school seniors end their classes a month earlier than the rest of the school to prepare for graduation. Their last assignment was to write a story using Story Cubes, and they did such a great job. I did not think to take a picture, since I don’t usually bring my camera to class, and I regret it because it was my only consistent class that I saw 3 times a week, and I want to remember them. Also, the school is discontinuing the Oral Communications class next year to make room for another humanities/liberal arts class. I only hope they have another opportunity for English production for the students. If not, it seems that I’ll have plenty of time to plan a separate sort of program. My JTE has already hinted at doing a pronunciation “clinic”, and I’m up for the challenge!