メリークリスマス!

Merry Christmas!

I sit at one of my three Junior High Schools in Kudamatsu City, Yamaguchi, Japan. This one happens to be the hillside school of Kubo, my furthest commute of the three, all of 25 minutes on a pedal bike – one with three swift gears and a comforting front-end basket. Back home, it would be considered a girlie bike. Here, it is of the norm. I like it.

It is the second Tuesday of December (been in Japan for over four months now!) and my fellow teachers are bustling around the teacher’s office readying the day’s tasks: copiers frantically spitting out paper, sliding doors opening and closing, the vice principal gingerly pacing the room. This is a typical setting for a Japanese Junior High School, as I guess it would be for any Junior High School around the globe.

I have just one class today (3rd period, 8th graders) along with a lunch date with the one of the 7th grade classes. The students eat lunch in their homeroom classes in Japan – cafeterias do not exist in the schools here. I enjoy the 7th graders the best as they are eager to speak English and are always a joyful bunch to share in some lunch with.

This is my first Christmas season away from a country that does not acknowledge Christmas as more than just a Black Friday event. There are lights here and there and most of the people are highly interested in how we celebrate the holiday in the West.

“You must eat turkey with lots of cranberry sauce,” one of my JTE’s (Japanese Teacher of English) exclaims as we go over a brief Christmas lesson with one of my 48 classes.

A fairly accurate stereotype if you ask me. But, my reply is met with a sort of heartbreak – “My family does not eat turkey on Christmas, we eat fish!”

My mind begins to wade through memories of Christmas on my Grandmother’s farm in Hubbard, Minnesota: Candle-lit Christmas Eve church service, dancing around the tree, discovering the nut in a bowl of rice, rolling the perfectly crafted homemade lefse, catching up with family, and sharing in a fellowship found in no other place on Earth. Nostalgic, to say the least.

Christmas on the farm is magical, perhaps even romantic – an ideal setting, even a fireplace crackles amidst the pleasant chatter.

Being across the sea, in a land where the only precipitation in December is rain, I find myself missing my family’s Christmas traditions, the snow, seeing your breath as you shudder to keep warm, starting the car ten minutes before departure – the simple things. However, a welcoming card from my Grandmother reminds me what Christmas is all about. As I read her gentle words, I look out across the Japanese landscape and feel a sense of calm come across me. I can take comfort in knowing that family and friends all over the world will be celebrating Christmas this year. Together. I picture the joy on everyone’s face as they arrive from far-off destinations and greet each other with a heartwarming embrace – stories of turbulent flights, surprise visits, less-than-desirable roads, all followed by a big sigh and a “Gosh, it sure is nice to be home!”

I also think of next year’s Christmas, and how the traditions will carry on, and new ones will begin. How there will be a togetherness like none other, and how stories will continue to be shared.

Merry Christmas Everyone! Love and Peace to you all!

A Christmas Album:

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Home Is Where The Heart Is

I lived in a four-bedroom + 1 and ½ bathroom (detached garage with a detached basketball hoop) house in Lindstrom, Minnesota between the ages of 14 and 18, a critical age for any adolescent, one full of many changes, apprehensions, hopes, decisions, and memories. We often mowed the front lawn in a diagonal fashion, as per the realtor’s suggestion: really just a fine selling point, but for some reason it stuck. And for some reason, I remember that bearded salesman with John Lennon-like spectacles telling us mowing the front lawn in such a fashion was a positive thing.

“All the neighbors are doing it! Look!”

Anyhow, in the basement bathroom, which was adjacent to the laundry room, read a saying my mother has always been fond of:

Home is Where the Heart Is

It was a cute little memento likely crocheted by someone from our Church, and one that has always stuck with me, especially since leaving the comforts of that home, a home ever so difficult to process as a place that would no longer be as such. The nest, as you will.

I have always sort of cherished these five simple words, especially after reading it for roughly five years straight as I entered and exited that basement ½ bathroom. I can, and never will, forget it, and a recent event has made me ponder this saying again and again, solidifying its significance in my long-term memory — bringing a newfound reality to this significant proverb.

The subtle event (as it unfolded):

The television projected a peripheral program as we dined under the kotatsu one Saturday night in early December – the kotatsu being perhaps the only Japanese thing about our evening, besides the fact that we were, well, in Japan (on a tiny remote island, no less). A homemade dinner had been prepared, complete with the Hawaii-by-way-of-Minnesota SPAM product garnishing the edges, adding that distinguished comfort to salt the taste buds. The conversation was convivial, pleasant. The island quiet, unpresuming.

At some point, which my memory recalls being somewhere halfway through the meal, I turned my head slightly to the right and looked at you – our eyes met for longer than a gaze, shorter than a stare – and I felt it. No words were exchanged, adding to the incredibly beautiful silence that in turn tuned out everything this world possibly could decipher as sound. And there was only us, at home, with each other.

No Japan. No America. No Canada. No maps.

The feeling of home has the power to transcend geography, supplant time, all the while wrapping you up in its powerful cocoon-like embrace.

Home can be anywhere. Home is where the heart is.

Hostel Review: 長崎かがみや (Nagasaki Kagamiya)

Location:

Nagasaki City, Nagasaki, Japan

Review:

Kagamiya guesthouse, located just minutes from Hotarujaya Station (Nagasaki Tram Line) in an old school Nagasaki neighborhood, is run by the well-travelled Ms. Yukari Nadeshiko and her husband.

The guesthouse is relatively small, which enables an intimate atmosphere not often found at other accommodations that attract your budget-conscious backpacker. It houses a couple private rooms, a mixed dorm, and a Victorian-feeling common room, complete with Wi-Fi, hot tea, and all the information one could ever possibly need on Nagasaki.

Ms. Nadeshiko is as neighborly as they come, offering up recommendations for sightseeing, local delicacies, and nightlife in and around Nagasaki.

Not surprisingly, this guesthouse is immaculately clean and the common washroom and shower will make you feel right at home. It actually does feel like your staying at someone’s house, or exactly that: a guesthouse. The owners live just across the way and are there in the morning to get your day started on the right foot.

This place cannot be beat for the price. The only small hiccough is that the directions from the tram station are a bit ambiguous, making it a bit difficult to navigate to, especially after dark. Trust your judgment, and worst-case scenario, the owners will meet you by the main road should you happen to saunter off into some mysterious hillside graveyard. Not that we did that or anything.

Recommendations:

Mount Inasa at night → Beautiful panoramic view of Nagasaki (Ropeway Station).
長崎のちゃんぽん → Deliciousness found all over Nagasaki.
Glover Gardens → Soaring views from the European side of Nagasaki.
¥500 tram pass → easily worthwhile if you ride the tram more than 4 times per day, which is very, very easy to accomplish.

Price: ¥2,500 – ¥3,000

To Book:

長崎かがみや

Picture It: