Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Things I Learned in Japan: Why Sakura are so special...

Hello all, I originally was going to post about my trip, but I've decided not to. So many others have posted their stories, experiences, and ways that you can help that I feel it would just be redundant to post the same kind of story. It's a positive story (I'm still alive, obv.), but I feel like we need something even more positive to talk about. So here it is: Sakura.

Some vocab for this post:
花見 - hanami - flower viewing
花見酒 - hamami-zake - drinking while viewing flowers
桜 - sakura - cherry blossoms
桜が咲く - sakura ga saku - cherry blossoms bloom
桜が散る - sakura ga chiru - cherry blossoms fall
桜の開花予想 - sakura no kaika-yosou - estimation of bloom for cherry blossoms
桜の名所 - sakura no meisho - famous places for viewing cherry blossoms

For more vocabulary (and other Japanese lessons), visit this page from Japanese Lessons with Maggie. (Do you like the vocab part? Should I keep it for all future "things I learned in Japan" posts? let me know!)
Sakura, or cherry blossoms as they’re called in English, are a predominant part of Japanese life in the spring. If you’ve never been to Japan, are not Japanese, or are just learning what cherry blossoms are, chances are you have no idea what the heck I’m talking about.
Sakura in Tokyo last year. Some place near Otemachi, but everywhere in Tokyo is close to there.

To be honest, when I was living in Japan and saw how much “sakura” was plastered everywhere, I just didn’t get it. I mean, I had seen pictures, thought they were pretty, but I never really was told what was so special about them (uchi/soto much?). So, I did the very American and un-Japanese thing and asked my host brother to explain why they’re so special to Japanese people.

Sakura only bloom once a year. It starts in the south and spreads upwards, bringing with it a seemingly endless amount of hanami parties, sakura-themed festivals/events, food, drinks from Starbuck’s, TV programs, news stories, singles released by every semi-popular band/boy-band/girl-group and an over-all positive attitude. For any unaware non-Japanese, you’d probably think “…….it’s just a flower….”. But that will probably end as soon as you experience hanami season in Japan.
Sakura from a park I visited with my 4th host mother.
I think that the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi(see here for a good explanation) also applies to their view of sakura. Sakura are special because they teach a valuable lesson about the impermanence of youth, beauty and life itself.

Every spring, sakura bloom. At the height of their beauty, they fall. Once they have fallen, they soon disappear. Quoting this post from zencrafting, “How do we reconcile the beauty and the destruction? Buddhists have a certain way of viewing the cherry blossoms. They enjoy the beauty of the blossoms but recognize that at the height of their beauty they are about to fall. Death resides in their flowering, and their beauty is all the more poignant because it is so fleeting. The sakura teach us about life's impermanence even as we are celebrating this season of rebirth.”

My host brother explained that it is because they are only around once a year and will soon disappear that they are so beautiful. With sakura comes a time of renewal in Japan: the school year is just beginning, winter has (hopefully) just loosened it’s grip, and most people are happy to finally be able to picnic with their friends. (And lets face it, Japanese people love any excuse to kampai and drink until their plastered and fall asleep, especially under beautiful sakura trees)

This year's sakura, in light of the recent (and seemingly unending) earthquakes, will also teach another lesson: recovery. Sakura, no matter how much people adore them, will face defeat against perhaps a late frost, too much wind, or just whither away, but they will return, just as beautiful as before.

And so will Japan. Quoting this post from Geisha, Interrupted(awesome blog, btw): “…In the week after the first quake and tsunami, a friend told me, half-joking, that we really don’t need to see the cherry blossoms bloom and fall this year. We get it. Life is impermanent. We don't need to be reminded yet again.

But maybe we do.

The cherry blossoms teach us that nothing lasts forever, still this concept is not necessarily limited to beauty. Pain and anxiety cannot possibly endure forever either. Rebirth and recovery are just as inevitable. 

That said, the cherry blossoms may be just what we need right now.”

I know I am not alone in thinking that Japan, which has survived for thousands of years, through many unfortunate events, will eventually return to it’s usual beautiful self, given time. It may not happen before next year’s sakura, but it will happen, and I am sure of that.

Until then, we can rejoice in the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossoms and the lessons they teach us.

This and the following two pictures are the sakura that blossomed at my school.
Taken during lunch from the balcony of my homeroom.
My host mother took these pictures when we visited the park to see sakura.

Articles about sakura, containing pictures of sakura, or the like: (if you find any more, let me know!)
Japanese Lessons with Maggie: Hana Yori Dango
zencrafting: Cherry Blossom Time
Geisha, Interrupted: On Time
「日本語」ワシントンDCパーティーガール社長日記: 桜とわびさび
Caroline Josephine: Sakura Perspective Mixed with Egoist Inspiration
Sushi-cat: Cherry Blossoms
Tokyo fashion-HOLIC: Early cherry blossoms
Shanjae: Sakura 2007
Lost In Translation: Hanami at Osaka Castle
Moments Like Diamonds: Sakura photos from Ichinoe
Tokyo Moe: Sakura song provides winsome melancholy
Agepoyo: Back In Beautiful Japan
1000 Things About Japan: Will Miss #216 - cherry blossoms (the good)

Originally, I was going to make a collection of youtube videos about sakura, but I've decided that would take too much time, so instead I'm going to embed a video that was posted above at Tokyo Moe, but I feel really sums up sakura and all of its beauty.

May this post find you happy, healthy and enjoying every day as it comes♥

Friday, April 08, 2011

That one time in Japan..... when I got hit by a car.

***New series*** "That one time in Japan..."!  I figured creating something like this will allow me to make up humorous titles and give me a way to categorize those random "Well I went to this one festival.." or "I traveled to Kyoto and Hiroshima in three days" or "That one time I got hit by a car" kind of posts. Hope you enjoy!

This post is about that one time in Japan when I got hit by a car. Yes, you read correctly. If you know me IRL, you probably know that I was hit by a car, but may not have heard the story. So, today, you can sit back and laugh at my bad luck [once again].

You may be wondering what made me decide to post this today. Well, recently I was injured at work.  Now begins the struggle for the getting my treatment paid for and all that fun stuff. Word to the wise: Do not ever get injured at work; it is way too much hassle and not fun and can result in many headaches not even associated with any real injury.

Now, onto the fun part... 
This is copied from my short-lived exchange blog that I had for part of my year abroad. I've added some things, which are noted by the "[" and "]" around them. Please enjoy and comment with any thoughts!

"So, I can tell everyone about my latest experience - being hit by a car!

Friday, the 23rd
[of October], was a pretty typical day at school. I left a little earlier than usual, and was riding my bike home when I came to the dangerous road that freaks me out and I always take my time crossing. It’s not big at all, but you can’t see if cars are coming so it’s scary.[I ususally avoided this road but I was staring at some hot Japanese schoolboys and missed my light to go to the other side so I just went straight, onto the "death path" as I've now dubbed it.]

Paint/Gimp 2 Created Map, lol
I stopped my bike, paused my iPod, made sure I couldn’t hear anything and that I didn’t see anything, and braced myself. Then I started to cross. Suddenly I hear this engine, so I look and there’s this smaller VW Van lookalike only about three inches from me, not speeding but not slowing down either. All I could think was, “Oh crap.. That’s a car, isn't it?” before boom! My left side hit the car and then boom! My right side hit the ground.
Like this, but orange.
It really wasn’t that bad. I got right up afterwards and thought “Ah, this is gonna be a little complicated.” The lady got out and kept asking if I was okay, and I said yes and then she asked for my address but after just being hit by a car, my head was not recalling much English, let alone Japanese. Luckily, a group of people were picking up trash nearby and one spoke a little English. I managed to give her my host mom’s card with her cell phone number and rode my bike home.

I came home and tried communicating it to my host mom. I said, "Car... Bike... BOOM!" Anything. I tried looking it up. Eventually she just said she got it and said, "Okay, well now get ready for the party." I just thought, "Uh.... okay then..." and then told her the lady would call her the next day. Then I got ready.

That night was a Rotary party at the hotel, but it was on the 15th floor of the hotel. I was put next to Ishizu-san, whose son goes to Seishin and he had me check his English homework. It was so cute. We ate dinner, and played a few games. One was writing a haiku. Yeah, like I can accomplish that. But, the drunk guy sitting across from me wrote two and put my name on one of them and it won a prize. Probably just because it had my name on it, though.

Saturday, I went shopping. And then when my host mom came home, she told me the lady that hit me called her (just like I told her she would.....) and my host mom fussed over me for a long time, checking all over my body for bruises and asking me why I didn't tell her. I kept repeating, "I DID tell you... I DID tell you..." but she still doesn't think I did.
[I eventually talked about it again in January with her and we laughed about our miscommunication. If only I could have had THAT level of Japanese in October!]

Sunday was I told not to go anywhere. Yeah, it was really fun. Not. I talked to JoAnna on Skype for awhile and studied. That was it.

Monday, I didn’t go to school and I went to the hospital, watched something about fireworks on the hospital TVs, had x-rays and waited around, a lot.. Note about Japanese x-rays: You have to get completely naked for them. Of course, you have a kimono-style robe, but you still gotta be naked. Awkward much? When they were trying to tell my to take off all my clothes, I was like…. “uh… you want me to WHAT?”

Tuesday was another day of being condemned to the house. Not fun. And from then on, I’ve started going to the hospital every day. I have to go to this massage place close to my school and have them massaged for around an hour every day. It’s kinda cool, but sometimes it hurts. They hook these suction-cup thingers to my legs and then it sends like electric shocks or something that feels like tiny little needles puncturing my skin. And lack of knowing how to say, "uh.. can you turn it down juuuust a tad?" is really making me have to learn to deal with the awkward slightly painfulness of it. The only doctor says, "Okay" about 100 times every time he massages me, but the other one is kind of hot. I guess I get to stop at the end of the week, which will be nice because it’ll free up some more time to study."

Unfortunately, after that week, it didn't stop. I had to continue going for two months. I would complain about it, but my host mom said it would look better to the insurance company.(Always looking out for me, Okaasan, haha) I would say I didn't care, I just wanted more time. I would get home from school at 5, have to leave by 5:30, and wouldn't get home until 7:30. I felt like I couldn't do anything, and I had to stop going to Tea Ceremony club because of it.

Looking back, I really wish I had fought a little more for tea ceremony club because I didn't make many friends that I could hang out with outside of school. I had my good friends (whom I love to death) but the people I actually hung out with were all college students.

In December we finally went to the police. I'm not sure why we waited so long, but we did. The police didn't even talk to me except to say that in the future we should contact the police as soon as something happens, like I knew how to do that!  The lady told them that I had actually hit her (which totally explains why I landed in front of her car, uh-huh) but because I was not Japanese, they didn't feel the need to talk to me. I tried to protest and say she was wrong, but my words became all jumbled and no one would listen! When we came home, I was so pissed and upset, I started yelling at my host dad and he told me that the police are stupid and didn't really want to listen to him, either.

I learned later on, that in Japan, if you are found to be the cause of an accident (ie: that you hit someone on their bike with your car), you will more than likely be highly fined and will have your license revoked. For how long, I forget but it's not taken lightly in Japan. But lying to save your own ass? How American of you, Nihonjin no obaachan. Honestly, I'd expect it out of CEOs, but not a sweet Japanese lady, but I guess those people are everywhere.

At the end of February I received about $900 in cash from the insurance company. I'll admit it, I had fun blowing some of it on a mini-shopping spree. But I came home with many items that I love a lot and wear often. So it wasn't all bad!

And besides, how many exchange students can say that a month and a half into exchange they got hit by a car?

Hope you enjoyed this post. I'm currently in the process of recovering, packing to move, and writing three different blog posts so please keep an eye out for more! You can always follow me on Twitter or add me on Facebook. Please also feel free to email me at x.sap09.x@gmail.com (for more quick replies).