Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tokyo skyline

(Tokyo Tower behind the Rainbow Bridge, taken from Odaiba a new part of Tokyo build all on "reclaimed" land)

This is now one of my favorite Tokyo pictures, if not one of my favorite moments. Tokyo can be filled with grit and grime and drunk annoying old men, at times, but at other times it is beautiful. strikingly breathtakingly beautiful. And this night, holding hands with Joe as the lights came on across the city and the sun set and lit the clouds, it was.

One of my goals when I first came to Japan was to make Tokyo home. I figured if I could make a place like Tokyo home, I could make anywhere in the world home. Like Sinatra says about New York, New York --If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere. I know that I wrote in November that I felt like I'd failed in that goal, but recently I feel like I've been doing better. My apartment is now organized to a degree that defies what I ever thought possible of myself and feels like home. It's small, but it's kinda cozy too. I have Alison's beautiful quilt on one wall, reminding me of my mom's garden, and a bright yellow curtain letting the sunshine from a window along the the other wall.

At this point, I know the trains and subways much better than the average Japanese commuter (or so modest students tell me, at least). I spend a lot of time going all over greater Tokyo to one school or another and am currently pretty zen with my topsy-turvy commute. I read a lot. I've worn my iPod out and will soon replace it. I enjoy watching people. I can put on mascara despite the jerky train like a pro. I feel like I have untangled the mess of subways and trains and made them my domain. My br'er patch, if you will.

These days, I spend a lot of my free time, if not out and about with friends, in parks. I go out to a park almost every weekend. I walk a lot. Especially now that the days are longer, I walk for hours in the city until it gets dark or I get cold. I'm finally (after a half a year in this neighborhood!) not getting completely lost all the time. I sit in parks and blow bubbles and talk to people. I observe, I wander, I claim this city--this megalopolis--as my own.

I am slowly becoming a city mouse who likes the good food and shiny skyscrapers and doesn't mind the smog and noise. Tokyo always feels so alive with buildings going up every which way and people flowing from one place to the next. It's overwhelming, but it's fun too.

But what made it feel most like home was showing it off. 'sonicllama' came for a long weekend visit and we did lots of cool touristy things, some of which I'd never done--like go up Tokyo Tower. I got to show off my favorite parks and streets, show off some of my favorite restaurants, re-explore some of my favorite places with fresh eyes. I got to say, "look! this is my city!" and that, saying that and feeling a certain pride about it, made everything feel even more like home.

He and I stood, looking out the window as the train crossed Tokyo Bay, holding hands and marveling at the Tokyo skyline, him thinking of how big and marvelous the world is and me thinking of this as my home. It was a beautiful breathtaking moment.

and this was just too cute not to blog:

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The country mouse and the city mouse

One of the most interesting aspects of my position of substitute teacher is going to different schools and parts of Japan. So far, I am always in "Higashi Kanto" which kind of translates to greater western Tokyo area, but also includes many country locations. I generally consider myself a country girl at heart, but have recently fallen in love with living in Tokyo. So here is a comparison of city and country life.

The first thing I always notice when I step off the train at a country station is how flat it seems. Even small towns have their daily hustles and bustles, cars wizz by, people chatter to their friends as they walk down the street. While small towns are indeed quieter, that's not the first thing I notice.

I live in central Tokyo. I live in a part of town where over half the buildings are over 10 stories high. I live in a city of glass and lights and height. The staggering statistic of 13 people/sq meter is achieved through the vertical growth of the city and the honey comb of subways and shopping mazes below the streets. The horizon is barely visible through the skyscrapers, or more likely not at all, once you consider the smog. I smile as I see Tokyo Tower, red and white, rising above the other buildings as I make my way to the subway. (though these pictures are actually taken from Mita, one station down)

In small towns, such as the one I am in now, Kuroiso, and the one where I was in November, Gyoda/Kumagaya, the air is cleaner and the stars are visible at night. Here in Kuroiso, you can see the mountains dusted with snow and the fields waiting to be plowed and planted.
I "teach" in a brand new shiny classroom. Or rather, I wait for visitors to come in and blog and write letters in the meantime.
I stay in the future teacher's apartment, only a 5 minute walk from the school, in a town where everything closes at 10pm. At night, it is dark. The apartment building in the middle of the picture is an average teacher dwelling and is reasonably comfortable.

I live up here, out of a suitcase, during the week and return to Tokyo on the weekends. I return to my tiny apartment situated down a tiny crowded street (one of the buildings on the left)

Living here has been an exercise in organization, at times. My room is 9 by 9 feet, this is where I live, sleep, eat, and cook. The only common areas I share are a bathroom and entry way (no living room, kitchen, hang out area). It's a decent arrangement and I'm usually pretty happy with it. Here's what my room looks like (in the cleanest it will ever be ever ever)

This "organization" involves lots of balancing things, as on the microwave, and stuffing them in bookshelves, like under the bed. *It's amazing that I never lose anything with such an amazing filing system* (that's in my most sarcastic tone)

I go walking a lot on the weekends and am constantly amazed by the shininess of my neighborhood. The people watching is great because it is a particularly foreign friendly part of town and there are many rich embassy people and bankers that live in this neighborhood. Many of the skyscrapers are high end apartments that go for 10 grand a month. I live among rich people with tiny dogs.

The seasons are less apparent in the city, and sometimes the country girl in me feels too detached from the world and the earth. I had a day off in the middle of the week--Spring Equinox is a National Holiday in Japan, and decide to spend the day walking along the river up here in Kuroiso, capturing the winter blues and browns of the countryside.
3/20 2634

While winter has not released it's grasp on the fields and a chill is still in the air, things are beginning to bloom.

Things are blooming in Tokyo too, in their own way.

(two sweethearts in Yoyogi park)