Visiting Tokyo Disney Resort in 2006

While I don’t have much to report during this time which is hopefully leading up to a departure for Japan, I thought I’d try writing about my previous experiences there. The first topic that came to mind was the Tokyo Disney parks, since DisneySea was one of the first places I went after arriving the first time, and also because thanks to my mom who is kind of a Disney nut I know a lot about Disney parks. Some background: I first came to Japan as part of a January term class; we flew into Narita early that month (the New Year’s break had just ended), spent a week in Chiba staying with host families and taking basic Japanese classes, then we used the next week/week and a half to travel around the country on the bullet train before returning to Tokyo and then going home. It was my first trip outside of the U.S. and I was lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship that paid for most of it!

Our group had left together on a Thursday, gotten to Japan when it was Friday, and on Saturday afternoon/evening I came home with my host family, who lived in Shin-Urayasu (one stop on the Keiyō line away from Disneyland, incidentally). The family consisted of a mother, father, and six-year-old daughter; the couple was on the young side and the mom was eager to practice English with me. It sounded like she’d been trying to master English for a while and it just wasn’t coming; she had her daughter enrolled in eikaiwa (English conversation) classes in the hopes that she, at least, could become fluent in it. Most of the time we spoke Japanese, but we did have lots of conversations about the nuances and differences of each language (once–on our way to Disneyland, actually–I recall explaining that while tabun [たぶん] encompassed both “maybe” and “probably,” in English those two words were different. I drew a spectrum between “yes” and “no” in the air to illustrate that one). I’m still not sure what my host dad does for a living (maybe… graphic design?), but he had an office downstairs he spent a lot of time in, and he seemed to make good money, because their house was incredibly nice. It had central air-conditioning and heating and they even had a clothes dryer (used only for certain articles of clothing though!). (Although I should mention that my host mom was not satisfied to just be a housewife and a mom; she also worked 2-3 part-time jobs even though I don’t think she had to for financial reasons or anything. Maybe it was to pay for the eikaiwa lessons! Ha.) They set me up in the house’s one tatami room, with a wonderful futon composed of many super-soft layers:

It’s like sleeping on a cloud.

That night after dinner, I sat down at the table with my host mom to hash out what we would do that week. She asked me where I wanted to go while I was here, and I answered: “Disneyland, and Tokyo Tower.” She wanted to know if I’d been to the original Disneyland, I said yes, and because of that it was decided that we would go to Tokyo DisneySea instead.

I had no idea Tokyo DisneySea even existed before then… but now I know she made the right decision, because Japan’s Disneyland is in many ways a carbon copy of the original, but Tokyo DisneySea is completely its own thing. A little history: the Disneyland park opened in 1983, run by the Oriental Land Company with a license from Disney (Disney doesn’t own it!). But now it’s a resort complex of two parks, three official Disney hotels, a handful of other hotels, and a shopping area, all connected by a monorail line from Maihama Station on the Keiyō line. It’s also not officially in Tokyo, but in Chiba prefecture. It’s about a 20-minute train ride away from Tokyo Station. But it’s also closer to Narita airport than Tokyo is for those who are arriving straight to Disneyland from an international flight.

The next day, Sunday, my host mom, six-year-old host sister, and me (my host dad rarely accompanied us on our excursions–once we all went out to eat together, but that was it) went to Tokyo DisneySea! First impression: it’s gorgeous. And it really, really is. It had only opened five years before at that point (I didn’t notice the “Five Year Anniversary” overlays at the time) and the theme of the park is exploration, adventure, and the sea, and it takes a lot of inspiration from the Jules Verne oeuvre. It’s based on ideas for a Long Beach park that never materialized (meant to be called “DisneySeas” but the plural distinction disappears in Japanese and now even the English branding says “DisneySea” instead) and also some of Disneyland Paris’s Jules Verne-filled Discoveryland. (Incidentally, it’s often referred to as just “Sea” [シー] in Japanese, the way Disneyland gets shortened to “Land” [ランド].) It encompasses a lot of lands that represent things like a Mediterranean/Venetian/Italian harbor, an American waterfront, an Aztec temple, Arabia/Agrabah, and a futuristic “Center for Weather Control.” A giant mountain in the center of the park (surrounded by Jules Verne-themed rides) and a big globe of the world fountain are the symbols of the park. The theming is all so well done and it’s really a beautiful park that it’s a joy just to stroll through.

Host sister and me outside the globe at the front. Yes, please enjoy the star over my face; I haven’t decided how far to take this anonymity thing but no pictures of my face is probably a good place to stay for now.

That day I quickly discovered that my host mom is scared of roller coasters and thrill rides! She bowed out of almost everything more than moderately intense, but encouraged my host sister to go with me anyway, except for the rides she wasn’t tall enough to get on. I love theme parks and water parks so I don’t understand that at all! But I was super thrilled to ride a version of the Indiana Jones ride from Disneyland, one of my personal favorites; this one is called Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (this was before the fourth movie came out, so it was obviously based on an idea they’d had kicking around for a while). Maybe it was because the central room didn’t have flames but instead sort of spooky ghosty smoke, but I didn’t think it was as intense and thrilling and therefore not as good as the California one. Another ride that’s totally cookie-cutter and not worth it is Raging Spirits, which is just an ordinary roller coaster with loops with some Central American theming slapped over it.

Journey to the Center of the Earth was also interesting, because it starts out very slow and then at the end you start zoooooooming through! I also enjoyed Aquatopia, where you twirl and progress across invisible tracks on the water’s surface–so cool. My favorite though was the StormRider show, one of those 4D simulator theater experiences where you pretend to be chasing a storm so water falls on you from the ceiling, wind blows, etc. I fell in love with the voice actor they got to play the lead guy, Captain Davis! And I’m not the only one, I totally found pages online of Japanese girls squealing over him. He’s dreamy!

Since this was the first day I had really been out and about in Japan and moving among crowds, it was my first experience feeling completely and totally–not to mention OBVIOUSLY–out of place as a foreigner in Japan. I could not help but be conscious of how everyone around me looked Asian and I was the only non-Japanese around. But it was also the first time I experienced the high level of Japanese service. I had a pair of pink gloves with me, and at one point while walking around the Mysterious Island area I noticed I had dropped one of them. My host mom quickly flagged down a cast member, who got on her walkie talkie and put out a notice to the other cast members to look for a missing pink glove. Within a minute someone was running up to us with the glove, having picked it up from the ground where it had fallen earlier on our path. It was amazing! I was so impressed. I also noticed the demographics of everyone else there: groups of schoolgirls in matching mouse ears, couples on dates… and realized how differently Disney is perceived here. It’s no wonder there’s a special Christmas Eve price at DisneySea aimed at couples wanting a romantic date!

Mediterranean Harbor/American Waterfront areas

I also had a jarring moment where my Japanese abilities were not up to par; in the Arabian Coast area (sort of inspired by Aladdin) I rode the Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage boat ride with my host mom and sister and I could not understand the vast majority of what the audio-animatronics were saying as we floated by. So much of Disney is in English that until that point my Japanese comprehension had not really been tested, but that definitely made me realize I wasn’t as good as I thought, and it was a little strange to be riding a Disney ride and not understand what was going on. It also didn’t help that I don’t know the story of Sinbad at all. We had lunch in the Arabian area–curry and naan! Yum!

Arabian Coast

We also took in some shows, first something called Mystic Rhythms in the Lost River Delta area that I thought was SERIOUSLY cool, and then The Little Mermaid show, which surprised me in that all the dialogue was Japanese but the songs were English and the actress playing Ariel lip-synched everything. (Later, in the fall, I met the girl who probably played Ariel when I saw the show, just randomly around Shin-Urayasu!) The other thing I noticed about the park was the different popcorn flavor stands (these are at Disneyland too, like honey popcorn by the Winnie the Pooh ride). Each land has its own flavor of popcorn sold from only one stand each: chocolate at Port Discovery, cappuccino at Mediterranean Harbor, strawberry at American Waterfront, coconut (yuck) at Lost River Delta, curry at Arabian Coast, ??? at Mysterious Island (I’ll have to figure this out someday), and sea-salt at Mermaid Lagoon. In the summer you can also get sea-salt ice cream, just like in Kingdom Hearts! It was winter, though, so I didn’t get to try it and I was a little sad. That’s still something I have to do.

Mysterious Island area, looking down into where the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride is, which we did not do that day

My host sister and I outside the harbor on our way out.

I really had a wonderful day with my host mom and sister, and it was a great official second day in Japan for me.

The first Disney experience I had upon my return to Japan the following fall came mid-September, when I went with my former host mom and sister (who I did not stay with that fall, but I had several weekend stays with them) to Ikspiari, the Disney-owned shopping center around the entrances to the parks (it’s kind of like Downtown Disney in California). In some ways it was a little disappointing to be so close to a Disney park but not go in it, but I still liked wandering around the little mall area and eating some Indian curry with naan in the food court. Probably the greatest takeaway from that day was sighting Gothic Lolita Minnie Mouse paraphernalia!

Finally in October I got to try out the real Disneyland, again with my host mom and sister. I came over for a weekend stay and we went to Disneyland on Saturday. It had the Halloween overlay so all of that was incredibly cool to see for the first time, and we took the chance to get some pictures outside the Mickey in Halloween-colored flowers at the front.

Host sister and me.

But right away I was a little confused… the entrance looks completely different!

What is this Victorian-style building???

In contrast, this is what the entrance looks like in California:

So I was really not prepared for how different it was! And it didn’t stop there… we walked through the entrance only to come upon, not Main Street like I was expecting, but a place called World Bazaar instead! Whaaaat?

And the California original for comparison again:

Apparently the décor inside is still supposed to match early 20th-century America, just like Main Street, and the main thoroughfare that goes toward the castle actually is called Main Street, but the land doesn’t have that name. But… there’s that giant Victorian-style conservatory roof over everything. It’s to shield everyone from the elements, which I’m sure is nice on rainy days but it feels super strange to enter Disneyland into an enclosed space that feels like a greenhouse. Seriously.

As I studied my map, other frightening differences emerged. Frontierland is “Westernland.” There is no New Orleans Square, its rides absorbed by neighboring Fantasyland (Haunted Mansion) and Adventureland (Pirates of the Caribbean) instead. (Even though the restaurants and New Orleans backstreets still exist!) But those were pretty minor things. Tokyo Disneyland hovers between big discrepancies with the LA park and being almost a carbon copy of it. It’s hard to decide which it is.

The other interesting thing I noticed is how English is still the default language. Not on the rides, most of those will have Japanese dialogue of course, but for names of things (restaurants, ride names), signs (English in larger font, Japanese translation underneath), and so on. Plus, I realized how steeped in American culture Disneyland is, and how foreign some of that might seem to Japanese visitors. Maybe, to them, Disneyland feels like “American Culture Park”??

The paths have also been hugely widened to accommodate the huge amounts of crowds that often descend on the insanely popular park. It feels super weird to be walking on giant paths when you’re used to smaller ones you have to squeeze through on busy days. Since we went on a Saturday, we definitely dealt with some crazy crowds. My host mom had to plan out and regiment the entire day so we could maximize our time, and we had a jam-packed schedule as full of (Fastpassed) rides and shows and parades as possible, and we still didn’t get to do everything. I was really impressed by she totally took over and plotted out everything though.

Once again my host mom bowed out of most of the roller coasters/thrill rides, and my host sister went on as many as she could with me unless the height restriction kept her out. Rides: Space Mountain (in no way comparable to LA’s which is the absolute best), Gadget’s Go Coaster (kiddie coaster in Toontown), Pirates of the Caribbean (which TERRIFIED my host sister, which I was not expecting!), Tiki Room, Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, Country Bear Jamboree, Mickey Mouse Revue, Castle Carrousel, Splash Mountain (which scared both my host mom and sister), and Haunted Mansion (with the Nightmare before Christmas overlay–my first time to get to see it!). Some of those rides have since been removed from the U.S. park(s) or altered so it’s like going back in time to get to ride on them. In some ways going to Tokyo Disneyland is like going to 1980s U.S. Disneyland. Ah! I just saw they closed Mickey Mouse Revue in 2009 (and it’s now Mickey’s PhilharMagic just like at Disney World). I guess I’m glad I saw it while it was there!

Restaurants/snacks: Café Orleans for lunch, Queen of Hearts (or アリスのところ [Alice’s place] as my host sister kept calling it) for dinner. I love the original Café Orleans so I probably pushed for us to eat there. Sadly, it is horrible here. It focuses on crêpes and pita sandwiches (not exactly the cajun fries and Monte Cristo sandwiches with mint julep that I’m so fond of!), so I tried a sausage-and-cheese crêpe. It was quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever ordered and had to eat. I had to scrape off a ton of sauerkraut (since I don’t like it, which is my own fault) but the crêpe was soggy and the sausage–AKA just a hot dog–and fakey cheddar cheese sauce completely unappetizing. GROSS. Queen of Hearts was a buffeteria-type place with tons of Alice in Wonderland theming, although sadly not much that extended to the food; I got rotisserie chicken, and was impressed by the Alice theming MUCH more so than the food. For a snack, we also had honey-lemon churros at one point! No flavored popcorn though.

Parades: Scream and Shout (Halloween parade); Electrical Parade. Scream and Shout was amazing. The costumes of the dancers between floats were nothing short of eye candy. I took so many pictures, everything looked so cool!

Electrical Parade was not new to me but it’s always a great parade. Some highlights:

Shows: Kooky Spooky Halloween, a light/fireworks show that took place around the castle (more info on the show a little down the page here). During the show a central viewing area with rows of seats is set up, but clearly those are limited so there is a lottery. At some point my host mom left me with my host sister and ran off to try for tickets. And she got them! So we got to sit in the seating area and watch the show, although my host sister was conked out by that point and fell asleep during it! It was a very full and long day, we had been up since 7:30 a.m. and we probably left the park around 10:30 p.m., and she was seven years old, so I do not blame her one bit. So much fun though! But I have not been back to Tokyo Disneyland since.

A month later I managed to make it back to DisneySea, this time with friends. I’d convinced my classmates in my Japanese class to join me, although I’ll admit my reasoning was mostly because I wanted to ride the new Tower of Terror that had just opened. Our classroom was on the fourth floor or so of a building on a university campus, and on nice days we could see Disneyland in the distance from the window at the end of the hallway (I could also see the Disneyland fireworks from the balcony of the apartment I lived in), so that put the thought in my mind a lot. We had a fun day together! It was in November on a Wednesday (which we always had off from school). Finally, after passing by it countless times on the way to Tokyo, I got to get off at Maihama Station! And ride the Disney monorail for the first time! Although I was shocked to learn it cost money, after years of riding Disney monorails for free. It makes sense of course but I was so surprised at the time!

How cuuute is the monorail?! Mickey-shaped windows and straps!

We got in the park around 11 a.m., got Fastpasses for Tower of Terror, and our time wasn’t until 6:30 p.m.–that should tell you how legit Japanese people are about something new opening. Although otherwise the park was pretty empty since it was a weekday. While we were in the area we made reservations to have lunch at the Sailing Day Buffet–excellent choice (not my idea, shockingly!), and great value too. It was absolutely delicious and there was caramel ice cream!

Rides: Indiana Jones, StormRider, Journey to the Center of the Earth (twice), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (kind of claustrophobic since each tiny submarine only holds six people! Okay, I’m not going to lie, I actually did get legitimately freaked out on this ride even though it didn’t feel like we were actually moving around under the water at all), Aladdin carousel, DisneySea Electric Railway (on a whim; it was boring), and finally Tower of Terror. It was cool to see how it had been reimagined and given an entirely new storyline from the previous incarnations, but it was also not as intense even though–hilariously–there were over-the-shoulder restraints in the ride as if it was. For dinner we went to the Planet Hollywood in Ikspiari, which yeah I’m sure was overpriced and tacky, but it was American food we’d been craving for a while so it was really satisfying. I had a turkey sandwich, and I hadn’t had turkey in so long by then! Also a grasshopper cocktail, which was like a minty alcoholic milkshake! Really good!

It was a really fun day! I am so glad we went. Some pictures of the day…

This is what happens when you go with boys.

Tower of Terror lit up at night with fountains outside it.

I also visited the Tokyo Bay Hilton on Disney property a couple times in December since my host sister was part of “Mickey’s Junior Chorus” which performed Christmas songs there. Once we got the buffet while we watched the performance, which included a dessert buffet!!! It was amazing. Another time we picked out pastries and desserts (loading them onto a tray of course, as Asian bakeries do!) from the pâtisserie inside the hotel.

The thing that surprises me now is that I’ve looked into if any new rides have opened at either of the parks, in anticipation of visiting again… and none really have! DisneySea has added Fantasmic! which is cool, and in Disneyland there’s a flying carpets ride and Turtle Talk (don’t care about either of those kiddy things though), plus Toy Story Midway Mania is supposed to open, but the it really looks like the last big ride addition was the Tower of Terror, and that was back in 2006! It seems like Disneyland and Disney World are always changing and adding stuff so I don’t really understand why the same isn’t happening here. DisneySea in particular I feel needs to be fleshed out a bit; on an ordinary day you can complete the park in half a day, easy. It’s beautiful but it suffers from not quite enough to do. Then again, maybe I just need to go by myself when I’m free to linger as much as I please. For one thing I feel like I’ve barely explored the Mediterranean Harbor area. Definitely when I went with my friends (including several hyperactive boys) lingering was not encouraged, and my host mom liked to schedule things out a lot too.

Oh, and another interesting thing is comparing the prices of season passes between the Tokyo resort and the original California parks. It’s an astronomical difference. For the California parks, annual passports start at $200 a year and go up to $500 a year depending on the benefits you want to add. All give you access to both parks. For Tokyo… an annual passport to both parks is a whopping 80,000 yen or $982 according to the current exchange rate. $982!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For one year! My jaw dropped when I first learned that. Unbelievable! Annual passports for just one park or the other are 52,000 yen or $638 in comparison. So in Tokyo, you can buy an annual passport for just ONE park that costs MORE than the highest-level annual passport to BOTH parks in California. Un-freaking-believable. I don’t know how they can get away with charging so much; I definitely don’t think the value is enough to warrant it. You would have to visit one park more than eight times to break even on what you paid for the annual passport (for one park), while in California you’d only have to visit twice (on a park-hopper pass each time) to get back what you paid for an annual passport (to both parks). Once again: I don’t know how they get away with that.

That aside… writing this all out, of course I really want to go again now. There’s so many corners of each park I have yet to explore, so many restaurants yet to dine at, and so many rides to go on again now that my Japanese listening comprehension is better. I’d love to go with my sister sometime and try to go on a weekday so we can maximize our time and hit a lot of stuff. I will get my next Disney fix at the end of the summer when I go to the California parks after the second gate has seen a complete makeover, so I’m really looking forward to that (I will attempt to go to everything new in both parks in one day while also hitting old favorites, possibly with family members in tow. We will see how that goes). The last time I went (to Disneyland in California) was Dec. 2010 with Kirk and we went on one of the busiest days of the entire year since it was the first nice day after Christmas. The park was jam-packed with crowds and we both managed to have a very fun day even though he usually hates waiting in lines (which is usually a big part of theme parks so he’s not super fond of them in general) and all of that was compounded by a thousand that day… and despite all that he told me he had a great day… that’s a Disney miracle right there.

If you have a question to ask me related to Japan, or even Japanese language study, please do! I want to write more of these travel memory-type essays but I think I’d do better if I could have a prompt.

Translating “hanami”

It’s the time of year for hanami in many places–the cherry trees at our local arboretum bloomed last month, but Japan’s are now in full bloom, or will be soon, or just bloomed depending on where in the archipelago–and I am simultaneously happy and deeply jealous of everyone taking advantage of it. Unfortunately, while I know all about it, I have never attended hanami. It is absolutely something I want to do and will do as soon as I can, but I have never been in Japan in the springtime and somehow have always missed opportunities to participate in any of the makeshift hanami events held near me stateside. My senior year of college the Japanese TA and some Japanese students held a faux-hanami under blossoming (not cherry) trees on campus, but it wasn’t quite the same and I didn’t attend it. This year I was planning to go to a combination hanami-3/11 commemorative event under our local cherry trees, but it got rained out. Next year it’s happening though–my first hanami, in Japan, will take place! And it will be great! Because what’s not to love? Hitting up the conveni, then drinking and snacking under a canopy of gorgeous cherry blossoms. Ostensibly contemplating the transience of life, but more just enjoying a fun time with friends (perhaps coworkers). I love the whole idea of hanami and it is sooo frustrating that I haven’t gotten to do it yet.

Since I can’t discuss my personal hanami experiences, I’d like to talk about how we commonly translate the word hanami into English… and, okay, why I think that way is wrong, and my suggestion of an alternative. Also, the other possible -mi events/actions! I find them all pretty fascinating. For example, I may not have ever been to hanami (yet!!) but I have been to tsukimi, many times.

The word “stargaze” first set me off on this path. It’s interesting but there’s no word for “stargaze” in Japanese; apparently everything else can be looked at and get a special term–the moon, cherry blossoms, even plum blossoms–but not the stars. In any case, wouldn’t you say this is our go-to term in English for an activity centered around looking at something? “-gaze”? So why shouldn’t we translate the 見 (mi; look) in 花見 (hanami), 梅見 (umemi), 雪見 (yukimi), and 月見 (tsukimi) as “-gaze” too? Blossomgazing, snowgazing, moongazing? I know it sounds a little strange, but so does “flower viewing” or “snow viewing” or “moon viewing” to me. “Viewing” just seems too much like a dry literal translation. I also don’t like “flowers” instead of “blossoms”; in this context 花 (hana) refers directly to cherry blossoms, not flowers in general. I vastly prefer what I’ve come up with… even if I’m the only one who chooses to use it! Yes, I’m stubborn; see how I chose to write conveni instead of conbini because it’s more accurate to the English word it came from. I do what I want!

There’s also an interesting phrase that applies when it comes to hanami: 花より団子 (hana yori dango). This means “the dango more than the [cherry] blossoms” and refers to when people attending hanami care more about the dango and other snacks and drinks than looking up at the blossoms, the reason the event is happening. (It’s also a figurative metaphor admonishing those who value practicality, the food, over beauty, the blossoms–or, if you prefer, championing practicality over beauty.) I think we’re all probably guilty of enjoying one (or in my case, the thought of one) more than the other. It’s also interesting that the dango is a traditional snack for these sorts of -見 events; there are tsukimi-dango just as there are hanami-dango. Mmm… dango. When I do finally get to attend hanami in Japan, you can bet I am going to buy some hanami-dango and some sort of hanami/cherry/spring-centric-flavored canned chū-hi and do it right!

My little sister is currently an ALT with JET in Kyūshū, and I got to see some of her pictures of her local park covered in drop-dead gorgeous cherry blossoms; she also had a hanami there with friends in a nearby park. I can’t get over how beautiful it looks!

I wrote this as part of the April 2012 J∙Festa!

Strengths and talents

Something I think a lot about is personal strengths and talents–one’s forte (or in Japanese 得意). I believe everyone has at least one, and you should figure out what it is and base your life around it. Ideally it’s something you can build a career on, but in some cases it isn’t, like if your talent is charisma and the ability to manipulate social situations to your benefit (ha, that sounds evil! But I actually do know someone who I feel has this talent). For this reason, I tend to prefer people who have found that strength and are doing what they love, and I’m working hard to be able to say I’m doing the same. (I kind of can now, but not completely.) I’m aware this belief is a little presumptuous and first-world-problems; obviously, not everyone has the means to be able to see their talents through to the fullest. Or some people just can’t find a way to do what they love, career-wise, because they aren’t cut out for anything lucrative. And I get that. But sometimes, there’s a degree of lack of trying that plays into it as well, and that’s what I primarily don’t like. If you’ve tried your hardest to figure out a good way to monetize your natural talents, and you’ve sunk time into research and contemplation and experimentation, and in the end you just can’t find a way–okay. At least you made an attempt. But if you haven’t exhausted every option you have, you owe it to yourself to at least try. Life is so much better–for you, and for everyone around you–when you’re able to live your passion. Again, I know this is all going to sound arrogant, patting myself on the back, and like I think I have it all figured out. I don’t. I’m struggling with this myself, and have for years. But I think this is one way to find happiness, so it’s worth exploring and advocating.

First, talents. It did take me a while to discover my own. After all, sometimes what you love to do is not necessarily what you’re good at. This is the case for me and art. I have given up on art by now and almost never draw or anything, or even do photography which I used to love (although that’s really because I lack the time and a good camera to fully sink into it–someday I want to build my own darkroom though), but in elementary and middle school I really tried to be good at art. I tried so hard in elementary school to get the art teacher to let me into the higher-level after-school “gifted” art classes–which may I point out the majority of my friends were in, which was so frustrating and jealousy-inducing for me–but she rejected me at least two times. LONG TANGENT/RANT TIME: I submitted to her a portfolio of what I thought was my best work, but basically she told me (maybe not in those exact words, but this was her gist) as nicely as possible that it wasn’t creative enough for what she wanted. I applied again and she rejected me again. She also turned down my application to join the newly created after-school “pet patrol” that went around to all the class pets in the school and fed them (she was in charge of it). God. I was like obsessed with every single pet at my school, all the teachers who owned those pets knew me and liked me, a job on that “pet patrol” would have been made for me, two of my close friends were in it, and yet she wouldn’t let me in. It was ridiculous. I think she had something against me, probably dating back to first grade when I would purposely misbehave so she would give me an assigned seat next to the real perpetrator of misbehavior in our class, a boy I had a crush on. I was a really crafty kid. If there was a way to get what I wanted, or a way to be closer to someone I liked, I would do it no matter the personal cost to me, even if it involved tricking people.

Anyway. So that’s what happens when you love to do something but you have no natural talent for it and that makes you too frustrated to put in the hard work it would take to overcome it. But sometimes it’s the case that what you’re good at is not necessarily also what you love to do. This is the case for me and history. I hate it. But it doesn’t hate me. For whatever reason, I seem to be able to do it; I get good grades in it. When we took IB exams at the end of high school, I got my second-highest score not on English but on history. And for some reason teachers have always liked my history research papers, even though I haven’t always enjoyed writing them. Maybe it’s because history is largely essay-based, and I’m a good writer. Who knows.

And sometimes there are things you feel like you might be good at but you’ve never gotten the chance to pursue them. I feel this way about acting. I’ve always been kind of a dramatic person, drawn to theatrics… maybe not a good trait. That should make it obvious why one of my more thoughtful elementary school teachers recommended to my mom that I enroll in some sort of acting/theatre program. So around third or fourth grade, I did–I became part of a summer children’s theatre program that took kids and placed them in a play that could accommodate them. There were maybe 30 kids and we were given different supporting group roles (such as “three cowboys”–I was one of the three–or “crowd of people” and so on) and had choreography rehearsals, etc, before the final performances. It was some sort of wild west story. Adult actors carried the play and then the kids came in with secondary roles; I don’t think any kids had any lines. So I did this summer program–disappointed as I was that 1) I had to crossdress and be a cowBOY; 2) I just walked on, I didn’t have any lines–and then that was it. I never pursued it further, and my mom never pressed me to (since she believed in not forcing kids to do anything they didn’t want to, which I can see, but sometimes kids don’t know what’s best! It’s for this same reason that she let me quit ballet and tap dance after one year, when I think she should have pushed me to give things more of a try before giving up).

I think I was disappointed that I hadn’t gotten to do any real acting that satisfied my dramatic, attention-seeking urges, and maybe also I was scared of what might happen if I really put myself out there, so I didn’t do anything more with acting. Well, actually, in fourth or fifth grade I organized a play for the talent show with some classmates (something about a castle/princess, not sure if it was original or adapted–it was a class project and then it seemed only natural to me that it get performed at the talent show too so I sort of browbeat the people in my group into doing that and did a lot of the work to make it possible (making the scenery, bringing the props, organizing rehearsals and helping with costumes)–funny thing, at least two of the actors went on to join theatre and act in plays). But while I had opportunities to start taking theatre classes in middle school as my elective, and I really should have because I loved going to all the plays (I went to every one from middle school through college) and I idolized a lot of the people in theatre and the teacher seemed fantastic, I didn’t. I wanted to take art instead, but then I was forced to realize I was bad at it, and then I decided to do band to be near a friend and near a crush (stupid reasons). But also I was too scared, and I still am too scared, too afraid I’ll be bad at acting even though I have a feeling I might have some natural talent for it that just needs to be honed. Which is why I should have started it when I was a fearless, fully confident and secure kid (I used to think the world of myself as a child, haha) and now it’s too late. Maybe I’m a frustrated theatre kid.

And, of course, sometimes it’s the case that what you love to do and what you are good at is not something you can turn into a career. Maybe due to timing (of a few years or even of centuries; maybe your abilities would have been better appreciated in a previous time–or a future one), geography, the economy, and other things you can’t help. Maybe due to the fact that all those factors notwithstanding, it’s just not fodder for a career. This is really the worst situation of all. I don’t like thinking about it.

In any case, I did eventually stumble upon my real talents. Finally, at the end of freshman year of high school, I realized that I was–in all vanity, I admit, though it actually was a legitimate surprise to me when I finally noticed other people had a harder time than me–better than most other students at Spanish, my one foreign language at the time, and maybe I should try learning some others. Maybe someday I could turn it into a career. So I added French, then Japanese in college… and the rest is history. Prior to that I knew I was also good at English and writing too, but the pool of competition was bigger there. In any case, I’m lucky–I finally figured it out. Of course, the real test is in turning it into a career.

On that note… my first summer at TOKYOPOP as an editorial intern was actually funded by a program at my school that provided a stipend to 60 successful applicants, allowing them to conduct an internship in a desired career field. I even got a travel allotment too (some people’s internships were in other countries!). (I think the program, a true pre-recession relic, has run out of funding now, which makes my memories of this whole thing take on a tinge of was-I-really-so-lucky did-that-really-happen unbelievability. I mean, needless to say I couldn’t have afforded/justified doing this without the grant.) As part of the program, we went on a retreat at the start of summer to properly prepare us mentally for the internship, ensuring that we’d view this as a true trial career and contemplate whether it fulfilled our abilities as we progressed. (During the summer we had to keep a journal with an entry for every day of work, and upon our return to campus in the fall we had to attend a semester-length course that would have us contemplate our experience, our goals, and our career. Yes, this money came with lots of strings attached!). Prior to the retreat we were asked to take a strengths quiz and bring our results with us, where we’d discuss them. I really love this sort of thing–taking quizzes, discovering my strengths (it’s why I’m such a sucker for Myers-Briggs)–so I was overjoyed and have cherished my results ever since. Here is what it told me were my five strengths.

Excellence, not average, is your measure. Taking something from below average to slightly above average takes a great deal of effort and in your opinion is not very rewarding. Transforming something strong into something superb takes just as much effort but is much more thrilling. Strengths, whether yours or someone else’s, fascinate you. Like a diver after pearls, you search them out, watching for the telltale signs of a strength. A glimpse of untutored excellence, rapid learning, a skill mastered without recourse to steps-all these are clues that a strength may be in play. And having found a strength, you feel compelled to nurture it, refine it, and stretch it toward excellence. You polish the pearl until it shines. This natural sorting of strengths means that others see you as discriminating. You choose to spend time with people who appreciate your particular strengths. Likewise, you are attracted to others who seem to have found and cultivated their own strengths. You tend to avoid those who want to fix you and make you well rounded. You don’t want to spend your life bemoaning what you lack. Rather, you want to capitalize on the gifts with which you are blessed. It’s more fun. It’s more productive. And, counterintuitively, it is more demanding.

You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information-words, facts, books, and quotations-or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives. If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts. These can be acquired and then stored away. Why are they worth storing? At the time of storing it is often hard to say exactly when or why you might need them, but who knows when they might become useful? With all those possible uses in mind, you really don’t feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It’s interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable.

You can sense the emotions of those around you. You can feel what they are feeling as though their feelings are your own. Intuitively, you are able to see the world through their eyes and share their perspective. You do not necessarily agree with each person’s perspective. You do not necessarily feel pity for each person’s predicament-this would be sympathy, not Empathy. You do not necessarily condone the choices each person makes, but you do understand. This instinctive ability to understand is powerful. You hear the unvoiced questions. You anticipate the need. Where others grapple for words, you seem to find the right words and the right tone. You help people find the right phrases to express their feelings-to themselves as well as to others. You help them give voice to their emotional life. For all these reasons other people are drawn to you.

You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered-this is the process that entices you. Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences-yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes. It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one. This Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential. The outcome of the learning is less significant than the “getting there.”

You like to think. You like mental activity. You like exercising the “muscles” of your brain, stretching them in multiple directions. This need for mental activity may be focused; for example, you may be trying to solve a problem or develop an idea or understand another person’s feelings. The exact focus will depend on your other strengths. On the other hand, this mental activity may very well lack focus. The theme of Intellection does not dictate what you are thinking about; it simply describes that you like to think. You are the kind of person who enjoys your time alone because it is your time for musing and reflection. You are introspective. In a sense you are your own best companion, as you pose yourself questions and try out answers on yourself to see how they sound. This introspection may lead you to a slight sense of discontent as you compare what you are actually doing with all the thoughts and ideas that your mind conceives. Or this introspection may tend toward more pragmatic matters such as the events of the day or a conversation that you plan to have later. Wherever it leads you, this mental hum is one of the constants of your life.

I would say… yes. This is all quite accurate. Empathy surprised me at the time, but since then I’ve come to realize it’s really true. I can always sort of sense what someone is feeling. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, as sometimes it’s not a good feeling and if it’s my fault the other person probably wishes I couldn’t pick up on it but I can so it makes me miserable too. Or even if I can pick up on a bad feeling, I may not want to do anything to fix it (if I don’t like the person, etc) so I end up feeling like a terrible person. But I really do rely on my instincts and ability to 空気を読む (KY!) a lot, it’s true. Observing and picking up others’ emotions is like second nature to me.

All the same, I find that the people I’m closest to are also the ones who are maximizing their strengths and talents–who have found them and are putting them to good use. People with day jobs, people who are floundering and won’t put in the time/effort to figure out what they really want from life and then pursue it, people who drift along in life and sort of fall into things, or get pushed into things by others, and then wake up years later and go “What happened?”–those are not my people. I just don’t understand them and moreover I have a hard time feeling sympathy for them. At some point, we have nothing in common. I can’t comprehend why they won’t pursue a career–or something, anything that’s both lucrative and fulfilling, which yes is not easy but I believe attainable for anyone given enough effort, time, and research–and I sense jealousy towards me from them. (I’m sure this all sounds terribly narcissistic and superior.)

But Aro’s dad is always telling us the same thing. He’s so glad that both of us, and a lot of our friends, are pursuing careers that utilize strengths and talents as opposed to soul-sucking day jobs–even if we’re not there yet, just the fact that we’re trying is enough. To this day I don’t understand people who are content to work day jobs and then go home and pursue their “real” interests and hobbies. Follow your passion instead!


Well, I guess I should report some news, even though it just makes me nervous. I did get accepted to the program that had the Japanese screening test I was studying so feverishly for during January and February (only to discover that the exam was quite a bit easier than I’d feared). And if that meant I was going, I’d be thrilled. Unfortunately, it’s very expensive, and I’m not in school–I can’t take out student loans. And I didn’t get the one scholarship I was eligible to apply for as a non-student (even though of course they awarded almost exclusively to people who are grad students anyway–great!). The program does, apparently, apply on your behalf to a host of other scholarships, so fingers crossed that something results from that, even though I won’t know until May/June. I moved home a year ago and managed to get a series of raises so I could save money over the past year for just this purpose, but it won’t be enough to cover everything unfortunately. I am currently nervewracked over funding results, and feeling annoyed that everything seems to favor grad students while leaving me totally out in the cold, even though they can take out loans and I can’t! And isn’t wanting to be a translator and not a professor a good career path, too? Doesn’t that deserve rewarding too? I know, I’m whiny. My apologies if you are an academic grad student reading this; I am just jealous.

Part of my Japanese-study plan from the start was to do a summer program prior to the program in Japan. Of course I wanted to find out if I could do the program in Japan before committing to the summer program, but they were going to take away financial aid awards if we didn’t give an answer by March 30. I was forced to decide and I decided yes. I paid a deposit and I bought plane tickets. But it is nervewracking. I was awarded half of the cost of the program (which includes room and board) in financial aid, and I was waitlisted for the full-ride scholarship, but if I do have to pay the other half it is going to take money away from the program in Japan. So while part of me is excited that I am going to attend this great program and increase my Japanese skills, the other part of me is terrified that I have made a decision that involves quitting my job without solid plans for what will happen after the summer. This is so not how I operate!

The program is also in a very nice location which will be a great place to spend the summer, and it’s close to a city where one of my friends from studying abroad in Japan lives, so I get to spend the week before the program starts visiting her (and exploring two new cities I’ve wanted to visit for a long time–one in Canada, where I haven’t been yet, so I get to check a new country off my list!). I also get to spend the week after it ends visiting some of my favorite relatives in a city I love. Those things are very exciting and I’m looking forward to them, even though the idea of spending money I saved so carefully, after quitting my job, is frankly terrifying.

Not terrifying enough to put the brakes on everything, though. I gotta get out of here. I have a good life and job here, and my boyfriend and I finally live in the same city so our relationship is amazing right now and we’re loving it, but I’ve been saying I’d return to Japan since I graduated college and that was almost four years ago. If I stay too much longer, I’ll never do this. I need to go have adventures and build myself a new career before I’m ready to settle down.

So, accepted to the program, but might not be able to afford to do it. In that case, there’s plan B: I don’t get to do the program in Japan this year, and instead I depart for Japan in the early fall to be an English teacher. I work for a year, saving money, and re-apply for the program and the scholarship the next year and hope it all works out then. Not exactly something I’m dying to do–I have rejected all thought of a teaching career for a long time now, and I turned down JET in 2010 partially because I just didn’t want to teach. Also, this would be an extra year away from my boyfriend (but the idea of staying here and working and saving instead, after I’ve already done that for so long, seems just as soul-sucking–at least there I could be immersed in Japanese too). However, it is the best way to get a job in Japan from the US. At a level where I feel fairly confident I could pass N2, it also feels like my Japanese is good enough to get a legit non-English-teaching job there, but most likely not from outside the country. Anyway, so I don’t want to do it, but it’s the best plan B I have, and who knows, I may end up not hating it. Anyway, I actually already have a job offer on ice from one of the lower-paying schools, and I have an interview with a much better one this weekend. That interview will involve videotaping me giving a demo lesson. Ummmm, yikes. Frightening. I keep hoping I will be awarded a staggering sum of money this week so I can cancel, but… I don’t think that’s likely, so I am going to suck it up and do it. I am naturally on the shy/introverted side, but I call people on the phone and interview them for my job and have for years, so I have gotten better about talking to people. I can probably do this. I just don’t want to!

As for studying Japanese, it’s mostly done through translating these days, though I try to get through a chapter in each grammar book on the weekends and drill at least some vocab daily. Also writing long emails to my Japanese friend Yuuho, although those are intermittent now that she’s getting ready to move to Australia for a year. And get this–she has no job or place to live lined up!! This is just soooo not something most Japanese people do, ha ha. She’s been out of college a couple years, was working in a Chinese restaurant, has a long-distance boyfriend, pretty good English, and I guess just wants a change? And she said Australia is one of the only countries where you can do a “working holiday” visa as a Japanese person (and probably one of the only English-speaking ones too). I am puzzled why she didn’t pursue a legit office job after graduating college, but who knows. Maybe because, as she told me, she loves Chiba more than Tokyo, and maybe she wanted a chance to work abroad like this. Anyway, I’m following my heart in the same way, so I can’t fault her too much. I am really enjoying emailing back and forth with her though, and I just wish she was going to still be in Japan when I got there. I need to try and reconnect with some of my other Japanese friends before I arrive, but how…? (it’s still weird to think of “going to Japan this fall” as a real thing, since I am not yet able to visualize exactly where in it I’ll be headed or under what circumstances, but it is something that needs to happen otherwise quitting my job will have been pointless, so I should start thinking of it as real)

Best/worst of my Okcupid messages

So, I’m happily taken and all, but the other night I was in a group Skype chat with most of my closest local friends (including some who have moved away) and the recent dating escapades of one of them came up. I encouraged him to spruce up his Okcupid profile to improve his chances of finding someone better, and in order to see his profile I had to log in to my account… which is largely dormant but for some reason I enjoy answering those stupid questions… and I thought I’d see what ridiculous messages have accrued in my absence. It says right on my profile “Seeing someone” and under “Contact me if” it says the effect of “I’m taken, so it’s not a good idea” and has for YEARS but I continue to get messaged by dudes who clearly don’t read. If I were on the site to date that would be automatic disqualification. If all you did was look at the pictures, skim the profile, and then send me a generic message? No.

Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to post some of the silliest messages here and mock them! That’s always fun. Typos and weird punctuation, unfortunately, completely retained.

The “So generic it feels custom” faux personalized mass message (but fails because it gives away that you didn’t read that I’m taken)
– “We r so close yet so far!!! Wud u like to have a minimum distance between us?” (whaaa?)
– “Hello beautiful how are you? Just wanted to message you and see how you were doing :)”
– “Bonjour! How’s it going? Having a splendiferous day? :-)”
– “I’m willing to bet that you’ve gotten about 1000 emails from guys saying something like “omg, ur hot..lets sex” or “my name is Steve I love holding hands and cuddling” lol. If that’s what your used to then this email is refreshing. I’ll let you know right off that I’m not your average guy. I’m 27, can make anybody laugh, green eyes, tall, athletic, a business owner, i love to travel, work out, hit up the lake. I’m a nice guy but I know how to be bad. If you are a girl with intelligence, sensuality, and a sense of humor, feel free to message me” (this might work on some girls but nothing about it is customized to me, so you know he’s sent it to at least 10 or 20 others)
– “wow you are really pretty”
– “Hello pretty lady. How u doing with this lovely weather going on lol? By the way my name is [redacted]. I was just broewsing ur profile I see what I like what u putting on ur page. U can review mine but didn’t put lots of thing about me cuz I don’t really like to type all that. But if you intersted of a gentelman like me who is treat u well nad take care of you like an angel you are the right page!!! Well idont want ur eyes getting hurt so if you like what you see get at me inbox and will see where we should fallin into. Anyways thanks for reading and understand what I came from.” (hilarious typos, and again, classic mass message)
– “I’m [name] and I really liked your profile, you seem really sweet and I would love to get to know you better. Home to hear back from you soon!”
– “Hey, how’s the online dating working out?” (is this supposed to be a neg?)

The “let’s riff on Japanese stuff/Japan because you mentioned it in your profile” message
– “We share a lot of our nerdy/geeky interests, and you seem like you’ve got a lot of energy for literature and the like =) I’m also minoring in Japanese here at [local university]! I’d love to hear back from you! You seem really interesting!”
– “First off I must say, being able to work with TOKYOPOP is crazy. I don’t read much manga myself, but I do enjoy animes and other nerdy junk. Anyways I can’t judge you solely on a persons profile, so I was wondering if you would like to talk sometimes. If you aren’t interested let me know,….. if you are cool. Nice to meet you”
– “wow you are sexy!!! r u real? haha mangas and such!!! :)”
– “what mangas would you recomend? im reading Bleach(i know) & Berserk” (“I know” indeed)
– “I think freckles are cute 🙂 Will you teach me Japanese?”
– “What Anime do you like to watch?”
– “So you like anime?”
– “the ice has been broken. yo im [name], apparently we both like anime.” (yo)
– “Konnichiwa, genki desuka? What’s your plan for the weekend? I need to clean my old apartment. How’s your learning Japanese? When you have time, you should practice Japanese with me. We can be fun chat friends too =) Takeshi” (well, apparently this guy was actually Japanese)

The futile message that at least shows you read
– “Ugh you have a boyfriend. You are definitely my kinda geek. Just throwing that out there.”
– “Too bad that you are taken, you seem rather adorable..”
– “Dump your Boyfriend: Who are you kidding? You have a boyfriend? If you got to meet me…you would fall in love and you wouldn’t have to spend your time on the internot.”
– “Dump him, he cant treat you any where as nice as I would.” (after these messages I had to put a thing on my profile saying no, of course I’m not going to dump my boyfriend for you!)

The random
– “Do you watch any TV shows?” (for a while my favorite TV shows was the one thing missing from my profile. But when that’s ALL you say in your message…??)
– “Happy Saturday!”
– “david sedaris” (I mention him as one of my favorite authors in my profile. But that was seriously the entire message)

Ugh. Looking at all this, I can’t help but be reminded of that scene from When Harry Met Sally, after Harry and Sally have a crisis and call their friends (a live-in couple) separately. Carrie Fisher’s character (I remember the important things about one of my favorite movies, obviously) hangs up with Sally and her boyfriend hangs up with Harry, and they turn to each other in their bed and say:

Carrie Fisher’s character: Tell me I’ll never have to be back out there again.
Her live-in boyfriend: You’ll never have to be back out there again.