Breaking News from the Capital

It’s been a while since my last post.  Despite my best intentions to try to post once a month, life has been…well, life.  There are some exciting developments to discuss, which I’ll get to at the end (finally ok with posting about them), but first, I’ve managed to knock 2 things off of my 30 before 30 list.  The first one I did on my birthday.  A friend from work helped to organize a group to go to one of the Escape Rooms in town.  After sushi for dinner, we all went over to the Escape Room to see if we could beat it.  It was a Monday evening, so I was pretty tired by the time we got to the room, but it was fun.  I’m looking forward to trying another one sometime.

The second thing I can cross off my list is snowboarding.  I’ve now been not once, but twice.  Neither were particularly impressive, but they were both successful in that I didn’t break anything in the process.

Both times I went with my friend, Kaitlyn, from work.  She’s been snowboarding since she was a kid and has been a excellent teacher.  We ended up accidentally taking the lift all the way to the top of the mountain during my first trip which resulted in me hiking down the mountain with my snowboard in hand.  I was up there for about an hour, trying my best, but eventually my ankle called it quits and I had to trek back down.  Despite that, I still had a great time.  On our second trip, we found the little learning area at the base of the mountain which has a free magic carpet.  I spent a lot more time on my butt during the second trip because I was actually trying to turn and not just go in a straight line, gaining speed until I freaked out and bailed.

Now that that’s out of the way and we’re past what the Facebook preview will show, here’s the really big stuff.  The reason I even have time and energy to write a post is that I’m currently sitting in a hotel room in DC.  I think the last time I was here I was 14 and came on a camp trip.  I don’t know why, but I was actually a little nervous about getting to my hotel room.  I’ve traveled to plenty of other cities in Japan, but the this is really my first solo trip in the States.  I’ve gone from point A to B by myself plenty of times in the US, but there has always been someone I knew waiting on the other end.  I grabbed a Lyft from the airport and couldn’t help taking a few touristy photos on the ride.

However, I’m not really here to sightsee. I’m here to attend an Admitted Students’ Day at American University.  I’ll be attending American University starting this fall to get my Master’s Degree in International Training and Education.  I was accepted to two other universities, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and Lesley University.  Both have great programs, but after receiving my Lesley acceptance letter I started to second-guess my decision and applied to American on whim.  I never thought I would be accepted.  I am thrilled to be attending and I think that American will provide me with both the education as well as the networking opportunities that will help me succeed in my future career.  If nothing else, I’ve never lived in DC before and why not check off another thing from my pre-30 bucket list?

I recieved my acceptance letter in January and have been freaking out ever since about the prospect of moving to DC.  This move definitely scares me more than moving to Japan.  When I moved to Japan I had a job and an apartment already lined up.  I have purpose line up, for sure, but this feels like one of the most adult steps I have made so far.  There has been some extra stress because I can’t announce my plans at work and work is where most of my friends in this state are.  A lot of them do know already, but I try to keep the news kind of quiet because I don’t anyone at work to think I’m not giving it my all.

So, that’s the big news I’ve been alluding to for a while.  I GOT INTO NOT ONE, BUT THREE GRAD SCHOOLS.  I knew one school would want me, for sure, but I never expected to get into all three.  I’m so excited to start the next phase.

On a totally unrelated note, if anyone has heard of any 100% legitimate get rich quick schemes.  Let me know.  I’m asking for a friend.

Until next time…


Returning to the US

With my contract finished and my tourist visa/extension quickly running out, it was time to move back to the US.  I prepared for the move for months, but I still felt like I was running around putting out fires at the end.  I shipped box after box (and had a few panic attacks/ breakdowns when I thought I wouldn’t be able to get it all shipped or pay for the shipping), but eventually all my preparations led to this: waking up in my empty apartment on August 9th.  The only things left in there were my suitcases and my futon.

The plan was originally for Chris to take the futon and give it to my successor, Tahirah, but when he showed up to say goodbye to me that morning he said there was no space in his car.  So I said goodbye and tried not to panic as I waited for my supervisor to come get me.  At this point, I had no phone, no internet, and no time to walk to the nearest convenience store for their wifi.  When my supervisor showed up, I asked her to put the futon in her car, but she said there would not be room with my suitcases.  It just so happened at that very moment the teacher who lives across the street from me was pulling out of his driveway.  We flagged him down and asked him to take the futon.  Thankfully, he was happy to and we were on our way.

At the airport we met up with a friend of mine named Panda.  Panda and I spent the time before I could check in for my flight teaching my supervisor American card games.  Eventually it was time to go.  I said goodbye to my supervisor and thanked her again for taking the day to see me off.  Then Panda and I walked through security.  I held it together until I saw the line to go through passport control.

Thankfully, I had Panda there for a much needed last hug to get me through.  With that, I waited in line behind the bunch of Korean and Chinese tourists on their way home.  It just so happened that the passport control agent for my line was the same man who helped me at the immigration office in downtown Miyazaki when I was changing my visa a few weeks beforehand.

Seeing him there was a nice final goodbye to my second hometown.  I waited in the tiny gate for a few minutes before it was time to board the plane and head to Seoul.

In Incheon Airport

In Seoul, I had about 6 hours to kill.  At first, I thought I would get a room at the transit hotel in the airport, or at least take a shower, but I decided it wasn’t really worth it.  Instead, I bought an adapter for my computer and found a place to hunker down and waste time.

The flight was hands-down one of the worst international flights I’ve been on.  I was seated next to a guy who could not keep his elbows inside the designated area, the seats were so close together that even I felt cramped, and the entertainment system didn’t even have a USB for my to charge my iPad.  The upside was a) the entertainment system wasn’t a touchscreen (which meant no one was jabbing me in the back) and b) I remembered to bring a small pillow so I could sleep leaning forward.  It was probably one of the best sleeps I’ve had on a flight.  I ended up sleeping more than watching movies, which is definitely a first.

Once I touched down in Chicago, I waited about 20 minutes for my luggage, but eventually got it.  From there I made my way to the taxis and got a ride to my hotel.  Even though I was only in the room for about 8 hours, getting the room was so worth it.  I showered, slept on a comfy bed, and managed to rearrange my suitcases enough to make my backpack a bit more comfortable.

Back at the Chicago airport, I had to deal with three different desk workers trying to convince me to rearrange my suitcases to avoid an overweight luggage charge.  I explained that I knew it was going to be expensive, but it was literally all I had.  There was no amount of rearranging I could do.  Finally, they gave in.

My first glimpse of Denver in a while.

The flight to Denver was not bad.  I swapped seats with a family to make it easier on them and ended up getting kicked in the back by a toddler the whole flight as a result.  Thankfully, the flight was not very long.  I made it to Denver and to my parents.  That evening I had a nice dinner with my parents, great-aunt, and grandma (who happened to be visiting).

Tokyo Disney

We had a really great time the next day at Disney.  We rode a lot of rides and ate a lot of really delicious things.  And I was finally able to check Tokyo Disney off of my Japanese bucket list.

That evening, we met up with my former supervisor, Tamiya, for dinner.  She was doing a training program in Tokyo as well, so it was really luck that put us all in Tokyo the same time.  I had a small moment of frustration when, despite the fact that I had been speaking Japanese all day with very minimal English, the waiter of the restaurant brought over an English menu for me.  He hadn’t heard me speak English at all (just Japanese), but assumed I needed it.  I simply said, “I don’t need it,” pushed it to the edge of the table, and ignored it.

The rest of the dinner was spent in Japanese, eating good food, and trying to find the hidden Mickeys on the gift bags we had brought back from Disney.  Apparently there’s a hidden Mickey in each picture and the location changes depending on the size of the bag, even if they’re the same design.  Fun fact.

I originally had plans to visit another prefecture on my last day, but I was out of energy and out of money.  Instead, I had a lazy morning in the hotel, checked out, and hung out at the airport.

I stopped by the Mercedes-Benz cafe/ area in the airport and got what has to be the most expensive-looking donut I’ll probably ever eat.

Then hopped on my flight and headed home.


The Trip Where Everything Went Wrong and It Was Exactly What I Needed

My last full week in Japan I decided the only smart and responsible thing to do when I should be cleaning my apartment was run away for a bit to Tokyo.  Originally my plan was to make it a solo trip and do my normal “one prefecture a day” schedule.  However, one of my co-workers ended up being able to come for the second day, so I had to change plans a bit.

First up, I got to the airport and checked in using my super cool watch.  I do feel pretty awesome when everyone else has to pull out their phones to check in and I can just use my wrist.  I still had a few hours to kill and it was almost dinner time, so I decided to stop by one of the restaurants that I always forget exist on the top floor of the airport.  I got myself some really good chicken nanban (the prefectural dish) and soba.  As I was loudly slurping my noodles and mentally patting my back for getting so skilled at it (I rarely end up splattering my glasses anymore!), I realized that that was one of the skills and habits I am really going to have to unlearn.

I made it through security without any issues.  I was a little worried when I received a notification that my seat had been changed due to a change in aircrafts, but I was happy to see that we had been upgraded to a bigger plane.  That meant that a lot of people (myself included) were able to get our own rows.

I got to Tokyo, grabbed my bag, and found the right train.

Then the trouble started.  First, I couldn’t find my hotel.  I tried to ask someone on the street for help, but he pretended he didn’t hear me and then actually took a few steps away from me.  I was livid, but there was nothing I could do really.  It took a little more wandering but I did eventually find it.  I checked in, excited to just shower and sleep.

But then I got to the room.

It was disgusting.  Apparently the hotel’s policy did not have room cleaning services.  Guests were supposed to be responsible for that and I can tell you no one took that seriously.  Everything in the room was stained (sheets and couch included) or had mold on it.  It was almost midnight by this point and all I wanted was to sleep, but there was no way I was sleeping in there.  I marched myself right back downstairs to the front desk.  I politely asked if there were any other rooms I could switch to because my room was unacceptable.

The front desk worker’s response was that this hotel was old and that all of the rooms were like that. It was ridiculous.  After making sure I would get a refund for at least the next two nights, I returned the disgusting room to book a new hotel (and to call my mom for emotional support).  After I had a new room and my refund in hand, I spread out one of my shirts on the pillow and tried to curl up in the cleanest part of the bed.  The room was making my allergies go crazy so it was still another hour before I could sleep.  I will say this: as awful as the room was, the front desk staff was very polite and helpful.

I woke up after only three and half hours to my alarm.  I had to go check in to my next hotel.  When I arrived, there were two men berating the front desk staff.  After waiting about ten minutes listening to the conversation and catching such highlights as, “Sir, please stop pounding on the bell,” and “Do you want me to call the police?”  one of the men started talking to me while we were waiting for the staff to come back out after escaping to the back room.  Apparently, the worker was a new employee who kept making a lot of mistakes.  The latest mistake involved cancelling the other man’s reservation in the middle of his stay.

Eventually someone else came out and I was able to get my bag put away in their storage, even if check-in didn’t start for another 10 hours.  I headed out to find the train station and made my way to Tokyo Station to meet up with my tour.

I made it on my tour just fine, but I was so groggy that I did not really enjoy it as much as I thought I would.  The first place we visited was crowded and it was rainy which made things so much worse.  Besides, all I could think while I was walking around the temple was think, “I’ve seen a lot of these.”

However, I ended up reflecting on what seemed to separate me from the other tourists on the tour: I had seen a lot of those.  And I had navigated them myself without the aid of a tour guide or a translated audio tour.  The reason there was nothing new or wonderful about visiting this temple was that to me, this was just home.  My home happened to be filled with temples and shrines, but it was home all the same.  And though seeing shrines had become mundane and ordinary, they also felt comfortable.  I knew I would make none of common mistakes when washing my hands before entering or stepping through the gates and that made me happy.  Even though it was raining and crowded, I slipped away to take a few pictures by myself and found myself smiling.

I was having another moment of saying goodbye.  Moving out of the country has been such an enormous event that I could never process it all at once time.  Processing and saying goodbye came in bits and waves.  Because, truthfully, I am dealing with a loss (the loss of my current life) and with it comes the various stages of grief required for processing what is happening.  The trip really helped me come to terms with the fact that this was actually happening.  I was actually moving.

The second half of the tour was self guided.  I took a free shuttle bus from the temple to the historical theme park.  If I was on a date or with kids, I would have had a lot more fun at the theme park.  After wandering around and taking some pictures, I decided to catch an earlier bus to the train station and see if I couldn’t get back to Tokyo early.

A reserved seat on a train was part of my tour, but the train I was supposed to take wasn’t for another three hours.  I walked into the ticket office, explained that I wasn’t feeling well (true) and needed to get back to Tokyo early.  I paid a small ticket change fee and was all set.  I picked up a really good ekiben (station bento/ prepacked lunch box) with some of the local beef for my ride back.

The three hour train ride back to Tokyo was incredibly peaceful.  I passed the time taking pictures out the window and enjoying my lunch.  It was just what I needed.

It also put me in a really good mindset for my next day at Disney with my friend from work / Japanese older sister.


After the Wedding

My flight out the next morning was not super early, which gave me time to find a Starbucks café for some breakfast.  I was not feeling 100%, so I was really grateful that Past Jodi had thought to put me on a later flight.  I made it to the airport with only minimal confusion (and getting off the train at the wrong time when I should have waited), but I made it all the same.  From there I checked my back at the self-service machines.  For those of you who have never had the fun of using the self-service baggage machines at Haneda, I should explain.  First, you put your suitcase in this little cubby.  Then you go through the normal questions on the screen next to the cubby:

No, nothing will blow up.

No, nothing is too sharp.

No, I did not pack my dog.

Or whatever.  After that, the machine prints out your baggage tag and you secure it on the handle.  You don’t even have to remove a sticker backing on the tags or anything! They are just sticky in the right part, eliminating that sticker backing that lives in your pocket until you remember it’s there and see a trashcan.  Then a mesh door descends and seals your luggage into the cubby.  The machine weighs the bag.  Then, if it finds the bag acceptable, the back wall of the cubby surprises you and turns into a door.  Not only that, but it’s also actually a conveyor belt or something and your bag is whisked away.  The machine prints a small baggage claim ticket and you are on your way.  Pair that with automatic check-in and you don’t have to interact with another human until security.

Before going through security, though, I headed upstairs to a small café I visited with Aunt Marty during her visit.  I had a filling lunch and managed to eat by myself without feeling the need to stare at my phone the whole time.  Then, as I went to leave, I had a small moment of panic.  Where is my suitcase?!  This is what happens if you are used to traveling with only carry-on luggage. After a moment of laughing at myself for what just happened, I was off to security.

Once through the security check-point, I went in search of my gate since there isn’t much else to do past security in a Japanese airport.  I am not sure why, but Japanese airports have always confused me a bit.  Most of the restaurants and shops are outside of security.  However, there is almost no extra seating outside of security.  Past security, there is plenty of seating, but not much else.  Typically, you’ll find an ANA Café with one remaining bento that no one else wanted to buy, ice cream, and gum.  If you’re really lucky, there might be a tiny Starbucks somewhere.  In the end, you can’t do much but find yourself an outlet, set up your electronic entertainment of choice, and pretend the rest of the airport does not exist.

As the plane’s boarding time approached, I started to notice more and more familiar faces at the gate with me.  Apparently, that was the weekend that all Hyuga-ites made their pilgrimages to Tokyo.  I even ran into a friend who I had not seen in a while.  We ended up hanging out at one of the cafes in the Miyazaki Airport while we waited for our trains.  By the time, I made it home it was a little past 7, which left me just enough time to unpack and shower.  I try to unpack as soon as I get home, even if I would rather go straight to sleep or shower.  I have found that if I don’t unpack immediately (even if it’s just a day or two later), it can take months for me to unpack completely.   So far, the method works for me.  I hope I can keep it up in the future.

Cherri`s Wedding

The wedding was not until the afternoon on Saturday, so I had some time to kill in the morning.  I decided to head out in search of Starbucks some kind of cardigan or shawl for the dress I was wearing to the wedding.  When I was packing I thought that I would be fine with the dress, but I was starting to get a little worried I would be chilly.  Shopping proved unsuccessful, but I was able to waste a few hours.  I headed back to my hotel to get ready.  The wedding was a bit of a train-transfer-train ride away, but one I was prepared for.  I brought wore my Toms on the way and brought my heels in my bag.  By the time I made it to the wedding hall, I was a little sweaty, but that is sort of the expected state for one existing in Tokyo in late May.

I had made a point of being a little later to arrive than I normally would be and my plan more or less worked. I was definitely not the first person there.  After checking my big bag (and shoes) at the coat check, I scanned the room for anyone I knew.  I knew one person.  I locked on and went straight for her.  And that was the start of the day of Surprisingly Social Jodi.  I chatted, I joked, I made new Facebook friends.  All in all, a social success.  I even struck up a conversation with a few people waiting in the same lines as me.

The ceremony was sweet, short, and to the point.  Cherri is first generation American and her husband, Eric, is Korean, so I was expecting an interesting mix of cultures throughout the event.  I was definitely not disappointed.  The ceremony was conducted in English and Japanese and was beautiful.  Probably one of the highlights was Eric going to kiss Cherri but Cherri was laughing too hard for it to work.  I am not normally one to get emotional at things like weddings, but as I get older I’m noticing it happens more and more often.  I couldn’t help but get a little teary eyed at how happy Cherri and Eric looked.

After the ceremony, we moved upstairs to the reception hall.  I was seated at a table with the other people from our university, including our former Japanese native speaker (kind of like an assistant teacher) and my JET/ Drake University Japanese senpai (senior student) who I had connected with on Facebook but never actually met.  I did not have much to eat, but I had a great time talking with everyone.

During the reception, Cherri had the traditional bouquet toss, but with a slight twist.  Instead of actually throwing the bouquet, she threw a small teddy bear.  I believe her sister caught it.  After that, it was the guys’ turn.  Eric, the groom, threw a head of broccoli to them, but it took three tries for anyone to catch it.  The first time, one of guys intercepted the broccoli and smacked it to the ground.  The second time, it ended up going across the room (somehow) and the M.C. picked it up.  Finally, on the third try, one of the guys actually grabbed it.

Between the reception and the after party, we had a few hours to kill, so I suggested heading to a café (like Starbucks) to waste the time and sit for a bit.  While we were all milling about outside on the sidewalk trying to organize ourselves enough to go, I noticed another woman just standing around, clearly unsure where to go.  So, I invited her along.  In our, now smaller (because most people from our table couldn’t attend the after party), group, we headed off to Starbucks.  It turns out that the new non-Drake addition to our group is also a JET and she knew Cherri from high school.  We had a good time getting to know each other before it was time to find the karaoke location.

By that point in the evening, however, I decided that it was time to make some new friends.  So I slipped away from the group I had been hanging out with and, instead, spent some time with one of the people I knew from earlier.  In the end, I spent most of the karaoke party with a bunch of people from Iowa who knew Cherri from high school.

When the party finally ended, I knew I needed to get some food in me or face the consequences come the next morning.  My friend, Ayaka, kindly offered to help me find both the train station and some food.  After the first McDonalds she swore was just around the corner, wasn’t, we were desperate.  We were talking loudly (I was loudly complaining about how hungry I was and she was laughing at my plight) as we wandered around the area.  We were speaking mostly in English, probably attracting a lot of attention in the process.  I saw one man listening to our conversation as he walked towards a taxi.  At some point, I switched into Japanese and complained loudly about how hungry I was (in Japanese).  The man listening was so surprised he ended up walking into the side of the taxi.

We finally found a burger place through dumb luck.  The sign boasted 100% beef, so I was more than happy to eat there.  We spent a while just chatting and eating, which was nice.  Ayaka had been an exchange student at Drake my sophomore year of college, when I was just starting to study Japanese, but we had never really hung out.  This was the first time I had a chance to get to know her one on one.  Eventually we made our way to the train station, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways.

I got back to the hotel sometime after midnight.  Happy, full of burgers, and exhausted.

To Tokyo

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of being invited to my university friend’s, Cherri’s, wedding in Tokyo.  As I have almost no vacation time left, I had to make the trip to Tokyo a short one, but I knew it would be worth it.  I left for Tokyo almost immediately after work.  I had agonized over what to pack and how I was going to fit it all into a carry-on when I remembered one important point: I’m an adult and the airline I was flying had free checked luggage.  There was absolutely no reason to try and shove it all into a carry-on.  With that in mind, I packed a small suitcase, checked in it, and was able to fly with just my messenger bag.  It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve been able to travel with so little on me.

As soon as I got through security, I had my first little excitement of the trip.  My school’s entire baseball team was there, waiting for their flight.  They were also on their way to Tokyo, but thankfully on an earlier flight than me.  The flight to Tokyo would have been amusing with all of them on the same flight, I’m sure.  However, as I’ve always struggled with motion sickness, getting sick on the airplane is a very real possibility.  A possibility I definitely don’t need all of my students seeing and then messaging their friends about.  We chatted before their flight.  At one point I had about 12 of them standing around me in a semi-circle, wanting to talk to me but unsure what questions to ask.  Those are the kinds of moments I’ll miss.

After they boarded their plane, I had a little time to kill in the airport before my flight.  Unfortunately, Miyazaki airport is probably one of the worst airports to kill time in inside of security.  My flight to Tokyo was uneventful other than a bit of turbulence and I managed to make it to the airport without using the airsick bag.  Once I picked up my suitcase, I decided to try my luck navigating the trains to my hotel, but I allowed myself the option of a taxi if I couldn’t do it.  I made it through two of the three train transfers, but by the second train station, my ankle was about ready to give out.  I decided a taxi ride was in order.

That was my second adventure of the trip.  The taxi driver had no idea where I needed to go so I ended up navigating for us using Google Maps on my phone.  We had a nice chat, but the taxi ended up being much more expensive (though not outrageously so for a 20-minute drive in Tokyo) than I was hoping.  I made it to the hotel in once piece, checked in, and retired to my room.  The room was lovely, if small.  It had a card-key lock, which is common enough in bigger cities, but it difficult to find in Miyazaki.  After a quick run to the nearest convenience store for supplies, I was done for the day.


The Route Back to Miyazaki

After our island adventure, it was time for me to head back to Miyazaki.  By this point, the route back from Jen’s is a familiar one.  I know what I need to do to make it as painless as possible.  After a quick snack for breakfast, Jen drove me to the port.  We hugged and tried to part without thinking about the fact that we might not see each other for another year or more.  She’s heading back to America for sure, her Japanese adventure finished, but I have no idea where I am going to be come September.  I might be in Colorado, I might be in Japan, I might be in a third, not yet considered place.

Placing those thoughts firmly out of my mind, I boarded the ferry and found myself a patch of carpet near one of the windows.  I have discovered that a combination of reading, motion sickness medicine, and lying on my stomach is the best way to avoid getting seasick on these ferry rides.  I was doing just that when I felt a tap on my shoulder.  A group of old men and women were basically having a little picnic nearby and they offered me some food.  Thus conforming to one of the old axioms of life in Japan: if an old person sees you, they will eventually offer you food.  It might be a few days, but sooner or later, you will get food.  Said food often comes in forms you would not expect (and sometimes cannot identify), but it is (almost) always edible.

I thanked them and joined their picnic for a little bit, doing my best to make polite conversation.  Normally, I should have offered them something in return, but I had no snacks or food to share with me.  I also was having a very difficult time understanding their “old people Japanese”, and mostly just ended up nodding and making listening noises.  Eventually I excused myself to return to my stomach-lying and book reading.  Sometime during the trip I got up and walked a few laps around the boat, but the trip was otherwise uninteresting.

When I arrived on Kyushu, I went to grab a taxi, only to discover there were none waiting.  I hesitated for a moment, hoping one would show up, but when none did, I did the (for old Jodi) unthinkable: I called a taxi.  In Japanese and everything.  There were a few communication issues (namely my pronunciation of the word “ferry”) but eventually we reached an understanding.  I hung up, feeling very accomplished.

Then a taxi showed up.  The taxi was from a separate company and the driver ended up just staring at my awkwardly for a few moments like, “So….taxi?”  I had an internal debate as to whether I should hop in this cab or wait for mine, but eventually my desire to avoid the guilt of the other taxi showing up and not finding me there won out.  I waited.  It wasn’t much longer until the taxi I requested showed up to whisk me away to the train station.

After a short wait there, I hopped on the train and settled in for a long ride.  The ride was boring, but I was able to watch a few TV shows on my iPad to pass the time.  I managed to get home around 3 pm, do some laundry, and vegetate for the rest of the evening.  It was just the small break I needed.

Now, Naoshima

The next morning we were at the train station bright and early.  We had a very long train ride between us and the ferry we would need to catch, so we had plenty of time to chat and catch up.  Jen is the kind of friend I might go weeks without talking to, but whenever we are together we click back into our old routine.  We finally arrived in the port city of Takamatsu in Kagawa Prefecture.  Since it was lunch time, Jen suggested we stop at one of Kagawa’s famous Sanuki Udon restaurants.  Before that, though, we had to make a brief stop at a kind of nearby Gap store because I had completely forgotten to pack a jacket or sweater of any kind and I thought the boat was going to be chilly.

I found something on sale and we headed off to lunch.  Lunch was delicious, even though Jen and I had been a bit over-ambitious when we ordered medium sized servings instead of small.  I should have taken a picture, but the place was so crowded and we were so hungry that it would have been very difficult.

Now armed with an extra layer of insulation (from the lunch as well as the Gap), we boarded the ferry to Naoshima.  The ferry was decorated with the iconic polka dots of one of the artists whose work is featured on Naoshima, Yayoi Kusama.

I recently saw an exhibit of hers at the art museum in her hometown of Matsumoto, Nagano.  My eyes have trouble with sharply contrasting patterns (like black and white stripes, or the really thin stripes/ checkered pattern on my students’ uniforms), so I was not a huge fan, but she does have some interesting pieces.

For example, her pumpkins on Naoshima have become rather iconic and they are the most popular place to take selfies on the island.

Jen wanted to rent bikes, so we did.  We rented two mamacharis (read: Japanese street bikes from hell) for our island adventure.  Mamacharis have no gears and for some ungodly reason the handle bars are basically up at your shoulders.  After riding mine for ten seconds I started to understand why people on the mamacharis in front of me always seem to have trouble riding in a straight line.  I also started to understand why my students ride so slowly on them.  It’s impossible to be fast and keep your balance on those things.

The benefit of the bikes was that my ranting and creative cursing about the bikes (I hope) provided endless entertainment for Jen, who seemed to have significantly less trouble than I did.  I would like to chalk that up to the fact that I ride a mountain bike every day, whereas she is more used to road bikes.  I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s what I’m going to say.

We did not go inside any of the museums on the island (because money, but also because I was pretty sure I smelled like I had been rolling around in the grass due to how much I was sweating.  The sweater I had gotten sat forgotten in the bike’s basket as I sweated more than I thought physically possible) but we did have fun biking around the tiny place and taking pictures of the area.

We eventually called it a day and headed back to the port.  After a brief moment of panic when Jen couldn’t find her phone (we found it in the basket of the bikes we had returned a few minutes prior), we ran into one of Jen’s friends we had seen earlier.  The three of us grabbed a snack and boarded the ferry back.

A giant green tea macaroon. More sugar than I have ever needed. I regretted it afterwards on the boat, but it was delicious at the time.

When we got back to Takamatsu, we parted ways with Jen’s friend.  Now two of us again, we went to Tully’s for coffee and a place to relax until it was time to get on the train.  I really missed just hanging out with Jen and having coffee.  Considering she used to live about 10 minutes apart, it has been strange being separated by a 5-ish hour journey these past four years.  And it is going to be stranger still to be a 12-hour drive away once we leave Japan.

Eventually it was time to get on the train.  I think we were both regretting eating those macaroons earlier, because we both ended up slouching in our seats, begging the train to stop moving.  The journey was made worse by the fact that we had to make a transfer in Matsuyama.  The first train we were on was probably the newest in the fleet.  There were outlets EVERYWHERE.  I charged my phone by plugging it into my seat’s armrest!  Even out by the bathrooms there were outlets and little ledges on the windows so people who couldn’t get a seat could still charge their phones.

And then we transferred to what was probably the oldest train still running in Japan, perhaps the world.  The thing still had smoking and non-smoking signs on the cars.  By the time we reached Yawatahama, near where Jen lives, we were both pretty groggy.  Still, doing Naoshima as a daytrip from Ehime is no easy feat, so I am impressed we even made it.  It was a little expensive, but worth it as our potential last trip in Japan together.

The Trip to Ehime

Japan is famous for its loosely themed islands.  From the Bunny Island, to Ghost Island, to Cat Island, Japan has a wide variety of interesting islands that many people never see.  As I am no fan of furry things (I enjoy breathing and not having itchy eyes), Naoshima, or the Art Island, seemed like the only one I could visit.  As such, when I reached out to Jen about our bi-annual get together, we decided that a trip to Naoshima would be the perfect thing.  As an added benefit, Naoshima also happens to be in Kagawa, a prefecture I had yet to visit.  Before we went to Naoshima, I had to make to Jen’s prefecture, Ehime.

After work on Friday, I hopped on a train up to Usuki, the port to the north of me.  The train ride was uneventful, but I did finally see “Star Wars: Rogue One” on the way up, which was nice.  I can’t let myself become too disconnected from Western Pop culture.

I arrived at the port, grabbed some udon for dinner, and waited to board the ferry.  Japanese ferries can be set up very differently from one another depending on how long they take to get where they are going.  Under an hour and they’ll probably look like the kinds of ferries we see in America: the kinds of seats you would find on a bus, or wooden benches.  Two hours and you get the kind of ferry I rode to get to Ehime.

There are a few seats for people willing to pay for an upgraded seat.  There is also a hotel-like room or two for people who for some reason can’t stand to not be in a bed, or those who are on the last ride of the evening.  People can spend the night on the last ferry of the day so they don’t have to pay for a night in a hotel.  For the people who want the absolute cheapest ticket, your ticket allows you to basically sit wherever you can find space.  That might mean camping out in the café area, sitting on a bench outside, or, more likely, finding your own bit of carpet in the lowest class passenger area.  This area is divided into what can best be described as “pens.”  Ten people could probably lay flat in a pen.  Each pen is surrounded by a waist-high wall of cabinets containing life jackets and foam blocks covered in pleather that count as pillows.

I always make sure to grab a bit of carpet by the window.  I also rarely get sick on the boat (except for the one time I rode it during a typhoon), which is nice, because it means I can pass the time reading.  I arrived at the port, disembarked with the other three passengers who didn’t bring their cars along, and was picked up by Jen.  On the way back to Jen’s place, we stopped at her boyfriend’s apartment so I could drop off some puzzles and things I’ve been meaning to ship to him and Jen and kept forgetting.

Then we headed to Jen’s.  The next morning we were going to be out bright and early, so we tried to get to bed as soon as possible.