Monday, July 10, 2017

When you think about Seuss!

My last semester of college, I was in the BYU Young Company production of Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse. The Young Company is a Theatre for Young Audiences production group that has an initial run on the BYU campus and then tours to local elementary schools for the rest of the semester. I loved being part of it and it was a great capstone to my time in college.

My friend Summer was also part of this group. I think we'd had a few other classes together over our time at BYU, as she was a Theatre Education major and I'd started as one (though ultimately dropped the Education half). After Lilly's, I graduated, Summer left on her mission for the church, and we lost touch.

Until, fascinatingly, I found out we were moving to Japan. She had moved here several years ago with her husband, a teacher at the high school on base, and her kids. A mutual friend who knew that helped us reconnect once Blake and I announced our move! Immediately, she suggested that I'd be able to help with the Drama Club she and her husband (who is also the bishop of our ward/congregation) run at the high school.

So, this spring, about one year after we reconnected, I helped the high school mount a production of Seussical, Jr.! Summer directed, her husband (Ben) produced, and I choreographed - something they could do, but don't feel super confident in doing.

We all had a great time working together and I am already looking forward to our next production this fall!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sing with me, sing for the years

Karaoke in Japanese is a clipped compound word combining empty (kara) and oukesutora (orchestra). It's wildly popular throughout the world, but it was developed in Japan where it has long been common to have musical entertainment at dinner or a party. What seems to be popular here now is renting a private room with a group of friends, which Blake and I have enjoyed once and look forward to doing again!

It's no secret that I love to sing and perform and karaoke is, for me, a really chill way to get to do this. When I was in college, I spent many a Friday night at a theater in Pleasant Grove, Utah, singing karaoke with several of my theater friends. In Virginia, I went to Rock It Grill in Alexandria and other karaoke nights. But somehow, Blake and I had never been together until we moved to Japan. 

We have now more than made up for this, since I have found a new job and it couldn't be more perfect for my new life in Japan - karaoke host by the name of Amanda Darling!

Contracted through the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation office on our base, I alternate hosting duties on Saturday nights at one of the bars on our base. It's my job to announce singers, program the karaoke machine, and sing in the downtime. I was "discovered" by answering a survey sent out by the MWR looking for local entertainment.  I'm still figuring it all out, but I'm two months into this job now and I like it!

I'm getting to know some people in my neighborhood, practice singing, and working on my hosting/MC skills. I certainly didn't anticipate this opportunity, but I really do enjoy it. One of my favorite moments so far was being profiled by Aspiring Mormon Women on Facebook for embracing my "and" - all the things I am in addition to a wife, (one day future hopefully) mother, and LDS woman. I'm looking forward to seeing to where this goes and you can follow my adventures on Amanda Darling's Facebook page

Friday, June 9, 2017

Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now

Recently, my aunt asked Blake and me a few questions about our time in Japan so far, so I thought I'd turn it into a blog post!

With permission, I've included Blake's answers as well.

Q1:  What's the most interesting discovery you've made in or about Japan thus far?

Blake: For a high-tech society with automation everywhere, there's a lot of very simple jobs that are done by people. Cleaning, assisting, etc. 

Amanda: How respectful everyone is - of each other, of their traditions, of everything. It's particularly an aspect of the concept of "wa" or harmony, which suggests a peaceful unity and conformity. Yes, it can imply a subjugation of ones personal preferences or character, but I do find people can still be individuals while respecting others.  

Q2: the most weird?

Blake:  Seeing western celebrities hawking Japanese stuff. Like Tommy Lee Jones crying, while listening to an iPod, in order to sell Japanese vending machine coffee. 

Amanda: Japanese advertising in general. Sometimes it make sense; sometimes it's a bunch of kids who seem to be dressed as water bottles singing about their product. In fact, about half of them were Americans (or at least Westerners)! It's very common for children of families stationed here to get modeling and acting jobs. I couldn't find a video of this particular ad (probably because I don't remember the name of the product), but I did find an old Buzzfeed listicle about American celebrities who have appeared in Japanese commercials.

Q3: the most disturbing?

Blake:  Google "Japan loneliness." 

Amanda: One evening heading home on the train, I grabbed an open seat. To my left was a man dressed all in yellow. Bright yellow. Bright yellow tank top, booty shorts, and yellow thigh socks or leggings. He was eccentrically accessorized as well. And a few minutes into our ride together, he started crying - not just a few tears and light sniffles, but completely and loudly sobbing. I don't know what what was going on with him, but I hope he was okay!

Q4: the most Beautiful?

Blake: Nature, and how it permeates so much of society here.

Amanda: Japan embraces a concept called "borrowed scenery" - shakkei in Japanese. Instead of tearing everything down to build a garden, they incorporate a lot of what is already there. So, even a well planned out and landscaped garden feels like it was always supposed to be there and makes the view even more spectacular.
A shrine garden in Kyoto that uses the mountain in its design

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Oppa Gangnam Style!

We are fortunate that Blake's current assignment is shore duty, which means he will be home most of the time, instead of sea duty, which means he would be assigned to a ship and gone a lot more. He may have sea duty in the future, and we'll make it work, but for now his trips away should be relatively minimal. However! In March of this year, Blake received a temporary assignment in South Korea for a few weeks. We missed each other, but he really enjoyed the work and experience.

Of course, one of the best things about some military assignments away from home are port calls - usually when a ship pulls into a foreign port and the sailor's family gets to meet them. In this case, I flew to Seoul, South Korea, with one of Blake's fellow JAGs (Caitlyn) to meet up with our husbands (hers is Jacob) who both had been on the temporary assignment. It was a super quick weekend, but still an incredible adventure!
Seoul, as seen from a cab

For the most part, travel to and around Seoul was quite simple - we mostly took cabs and walked. Caitlyn and I did have a bit of trouble getting from the airport to the hotel though. After struggling to find a way to get Korean won out to pay for the subway, and buying a train card we never ended up using, we decided to just take a cab. Our first cab driver was possibly a victim of some sort of extortion right in front of us and another older man was trying to chat us up, but also recording us in some manner. We eventually got out of the situation and found a different cab. The rest of the weekend was uneventful in the travel department, which we were quite relieved by. We stayed at the Dragon Hill Lodge, an American hotel on a military base, right in the heart of Seoul, and it was quite nice and familiar in a very unfamiliar city.

Friday afternoon, we spent the time wandering the grounds of two palaces in Seoul - Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung. I'd told our cab driver to go to one of them, she took us to the other, but this happy accident gave us a chance to check out both! Changdeokgung was constructed in 1405! and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

All this painted wood was so beautiful!

We found out too late that you can rent hanbok to wear around these palaces. So many lovely traditional clothes being worn by both men and women. If we ever visit again, I want to do this!

In the evening, I was hoping for a promising trip to a night market alongside the Han River, but we underestimated its popularity. With LONG lines for food trucks and booths of goods we weren't particularly intrigued by, we ended up at a restaurant where we got to cook our own meal at our table. We probably did it wrong, but it was tasty!

The biggest adventure of the trip was Saturday, which we spent touring the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Joint Security Area (JSA) between South Korea and North Korea. We all learned quite a lot about the history of the region. And! We crossed the border into North Korea for a few minutes. It is as far into North Korea as we will likely ever get, so even without a new stamp in our passports, we are definitely counting it on the list of countries we've been to.
Line of demarcation - North Korea is on the right.

Overlooking North Korea

Inside the room where the two sides meet occasionally. The microphones on the tables mark the border and we are solidly on the North Korean side. Those are South Korean guides behind us, so that there is always someone between the tourists and the North Koreans.

Looking into the North Korean side. We were inside the blue building on the left in the previous photo.

Our lunch break was in the sad, odd amusement park and shopping area of the DMZ. We had some seafood pizza and sausage for lunch. J-shaped ice cream cones? Why not!

For dinner, we found ourselves at another Korean barbecue joint, but this was far less upscale and actually more fun. We tried a few different foods and had a blast, though not as much as the loudly drunk party next to us.

We then tried to find some more shopping, but our ability to find much in the way to traditional Korean crafts or goods was lacking. We did, however, enjoy wandering through an outdoor food market and some more modern shopping venues.

Sunday was filled with more history as we visited the Korean War Memorial museum. There was plenty of information about the Korean War, of course, but also a great deal about the overall history of Korea. Since so much of the identity of Korea is wrapped up in the last century since the Japanese occupation and the Korean War, it was interesting to learn more about the previous centuries.
Replica boat of one that had been shot up in a conflict, the red throughout marked bullet holes.

I wanted to play this drum!

We did a little more wandering in search of lunch and culture, and were pleasantly surprised by the tacos we found.
Also delighted by fresh churros in warm chocolate pudding and vanilla ice cream.

Caitlyn, Blake, and I flew back to Japan on Sunday night (Jacob had a few more days of his assignment). I had been feeling a little overwhelmed with all the new newness of Seoul and the inability to speak the language and was afraid I was experiencing the homesickness for America that so many other transplants to Japan had suggested I would feel. Fortunately, as soon as we arrived in Japan, which I have grown so accustomed to, the homesickness dissipated. It's strange to be calling Japan home now, but it is really is!
Maybe we will come back for the Olympics!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Oboeyou Nihongo (GO!) Nihongo(GO!)

My mom and all of her siblings served Spanish-speaking missions for the LDS church. My aunt married a man she met on her mission in the Dominican Republic. Between the family connections and growing up in Texas and Utah, and it made sense to start learning Spanish in school, which I started doing in 7th grade. I advanced to Spanish AP by junior year in high school and passed the AP test at the end of the year. I loved learning a new language and culture. With one year left in high school, I wanted to start learning a new language. My school also offered German (which didn't appeal to me), French (seemed to similar to Spanish to interest me), and Japanese. I also had the opportunity to apply for a Sterling Scholar award as a senior, and I thought my best shot would be in Foreign Languages. Committees look favorably on multi-lingual applicants, and I knew Japanese was different enough from Spanish to be interesting to me and look good on my award application (and future college applications).

So, for my senior year of high school, I took Japanese I and absolutely loved it - the language, culture, food, and everything. I did well in the class (until I got to learning katakana and was suffering from senioritis) and won the school level Foreign Language Sterling Scholar award. (It goes on to region and state level, but my Japanese wasn't good enough for that, which was totally fine.) I was amused that I would come out of class thinking in Spanish, but I still managed to retain some Japanese. 

It was because of this class that when the Navy said we were moving to Japan that I was thrilled! Unfortunately, not having practiced it for more than a decade, I had lost a lot of it. I could remember how to pronounce it, a handful of vocabulary and grammar, and a little bit of hiragana. I started reviewing it before our move, but it wasn't until we arrived here that I really started diving in. 

Now, I'm using Mango Languages through my library in Virginia. I do a lesson every day, and I participated in their 31 Days of Language challenge in January for extra enrichment. Of course, I'm practicing any time I'm out in town, listening to train announcements, conversing when I can, and reviewing hiragana on signs. I also recently took a 10 week course through our Fleet and Family Services office with classes held once a week. I also just ordered a few new workbooks, but I haven't started them yet. All of these methods have their strengths and weaknesses, but, for me, they're working very well together and I'm able to use things I have learned from all of them.

I'm happy to say that it's getting better everyday! I'm gaining vocabulary and grammar and, most importantly, confidence. I love knowing what's going on around me and solving language mysteries. Sometimes it's nice to not know what's going on - it's hard to get overwhelmed with information overload if you can't read or hear the language. That is still possible, since I can't understand everything, but when I can understand, it's a win! I sound a little bit like a primary school kid when I try to read and sound things out, but it's progress! For example, I may not understand what time it is when a train is announced, but at least I know it's a time!

Recently, we had a regional conference for church and everything was translated into both languages. The meetings were wonderful, of course, but I spent a lot of time listening to the language. If the talk or announcement was in Japanese first, then I tested myself. I also tried to sing the hymns in Japanese by reading the hiragana in the hymnbook. I also learned that the construction for words like "Nephite" - Nefijin - is the same as the word for American - Amerikajin. Basically, people of _______. Makes sense!

A few things are just automatic now - Good morning (ohayo gozaimasu), Thank you (arigatou gozaimasu), Excuse me (sumimasen). I'll even say "Sumimasen" on base or to an American. It's just what comes out now.

My new goal, as of yesterday, is to be able to read this book that I found wandering through a honya (bookstore). It's about pandas going to an onsen (a Japanese public bath using natural hot springs) and I about died when I started peeking through the pages and landed on the one below.

Of course, I bought it. It will be awhile, if ever, that I can read novels in Japanese, but I should be able to handle picture books!

My biggest win recently was ordering dessert on Monday for a Relief Society (women's ministry) dinner on Tuesday. I went to a cream puff shop that I just found and asked if they spoke English. They said no in the Japanese way (by saying "Uhhh" and looking concerned, not by directly saying "no"). And then, using Google Translate, I asked if I could order 40 in advance. They said yes and the rest of the conversation happened with the vocabulary I knew!

"Yonjyu. Ashita. Gojihan?"  "40? Tomorrow? 5:30?"

And then she wrote down the order and 17:30. And I said "Onamae - Amanda" "Name - Amanda"

So it wasn't complete sentences, but it worked! I went back yesterday and they were ready for me, as arranged. 

And they were delicious. I had the chocolate one - it was cookies and cream filled! 

The lyric title comes from this amusing video that I understand better every time I watch it, and it's just adorable.  Maybe soon I'll be able to understand all of it!

The key for me is just to keep practicing and, eventually, when my brain starts searching for a word in Japanese, maybe it won't give me the Spanish one first. It's nice to know I haven't totally lost my Spanish yet though!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Who run the world? Girls!

Hinamatsuri is also called a Girls' Day or Doll's Day in Japan and is celebrated on March 3. It seems to mostly be a day to celebrate the young girls in a Japanese family with food and drink and a special display of dolls. I don't have a young daughter or dolls to display, so instead I went to the Meguro Gajoen, a historical hotel in Tokyo, where they had an exhibition of historical dolls.

I couldn't take photos of the lovely exhibits (the above is on the way in), but the hotel itself is amazing too!

For lunch, I wandered into a promising alley and was rewarded with a delicious bowl of ramen, which was perfect on a cold, rainy day.

I am looking forward to learning more about Japanese holidays while we are here!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lost in a February song

While our big February adventure was to Sapporo, we still made sure to have several small adventures throughout the month as well.

Went to a local temple for Setsubun and enjoyed watching some traditional dancing

Setsubun is a February holiday before lunar spring and involves lots of throwing of beans

My haul from the Setsubun throwing

It's good luck to let the shishi bite  your child's head!

Batting cages for a friend's wetting down - instead just of a machine, they project a pitcher throwing at you!

Found my new home in Yokohama's Chinatwon

Panda cafe!

It was all just too cute!

There is an early blossoming variety of cherry blossoms (kawazu) - we took advantage of President's Day to view them!

So much good food!

Love train around Valentine's Day!

I joined a friendship tour of Japanese and American people to a local art museum to see the work of local artists, especially Koya Nakamura's yuzen dyeing. I couldn't take any photos of the artwork, but it was amazing!

We also crafted these card wallets together!

And did origami!

Yokosuka naval base was first owned by the Japanese, who dug out many caves by hand for use during World War II. Blake and I each got to tour them on separate occasions.

For fish stock! Slowly building up my cooking skills of the local cuisine.

8 layers of ice cream! So good! From top to bottom - strawberry, soda pop/lemonade, coffee, vanilla, chocolate, sweet potato, sesame, and matcha (green tea)

Malcolm's BFF Virginia comes and hangs out with us sometimes, and sometimes he hangs out at her house.

Mochi pounding!
Basically, every day around here is an adventure!