Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sayonara 日本!

**Brief announcements: most (if not all) of these pictures were captured by a friend, so many thanks to Peter's photographic talent! Also, happy (early) birthday to Kamila! So, on we go.**

I was losing sight of him amongst the crowded stalls and colorful attire of the enthusiastic proprietors eagerly seizing opportunities to attract new customers.

“Green tea, black English tea, cheap prices!”

“Delicious shrimp-flavored senbei, only a few bags left!”

“Zunda mochi, a Sendai original!”


(fish loaf)

Say what? I blinked, struggling to focus on the rapidly waving packet held by my friend, who had reappeared out of nowhere. All grins, he continued undeterred by my apparent confusion, repeatedly poking the egg-shaped packets. “It’s perfect for a present! It’s a unique Sendai flavor!”

I nodded slowly, trying to figure how to best convey my appreciation while again attempting to explain that I needed something that, while visibly Japanese in origin, would also be something I could convince my friends/family to try. Not an easy feat, when the word “soy” exhorts notable cringing and mentions of “raw fish” can generally clear a table of people in record time. In the short while that we had wandered the souvenir stands beneath the train station, my friend and I had run through several similar options—shrimp and fruit curry mix (expires in less than 3 days), spicy rice crackers (won’t survive the airport luggage handlers’ tender care), nori-filled lemon candy (even my friend rejected a sample), salami-like strips of dried beef tongue (can you even get that through customs?).

Packing for home turned out to be more complicated than I had expected.

This is not to say that departure preparations curtailed my traveling entirely! I visited Kamila and Peter in Tokyo (twice actually...the last time being my final week in Japan), where they are living for a month so that Kamila can pursue her doctoral research. Amongst other things, this included a visit to the spectacular Yokohama ferris wheel, the beautiful temples at Nikko, and the necessary sojourn to Tokyo’s Akihabara area. Concerning the latter, as I have absolutely no expertise in the world of technology/video games/comics, my major find for the day was a giant gorilla head that adorned the outside of a curry restaurant.

Beautiful Yokohama

The Ferris Wheel! EXCITING!!

Kamila and Peter, who patiently tolerated my overenthusiastic gushing regarding the incredible coolness of the ride.

But you have to admit, it is cool.

Shrines and Temples at Nikko, a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

It was hot. >:\

In another encounter with larger-than-life exotic animal-exhibiting food establishments, I recently found myself face to face with a life-sized ET plushie outside of a taiyaki (remember the waffle fish?) store. Several weeks ago while leaving a coffee shop in town, a friend and I ran into a Japanese individual looking for English language practice; ironically, Yusuke was also a member of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Thank you, karma. Needless to say, what followed was a very interesting afternoon of traversing the Sendai landscape and coffee shop scene (I attempted to limit research-related questions to an un-geekly amount). Our final visit for the day was to the aforementioned taiyaki store, which, in addition to providing employee-taught English, German, and Chinese lessons to desiring customers, also had unusual menu offerings such as Indian curry chicken or German sausage potato taiyaki. (Choose the curry.)

Taiyaki fish (not my photo--credit to Shizuoka Gourmet)

After a whirlwind of packing and crushing all my belongings into an overweight suitcase, I spent a final week in Tokyo, also having the opportunity to attend a Fulbright-sponsored tour of the Japanese Diet Building and Supreme Court. This involved a lecture from one of Japan’s Supreme Court Justices (while standing in his private office—cool.), as well as a Q&A session hosted by a member of the House of Representatives. After attending a Fulbright conference the following day on Japanese “soft power,” the other Fulbrighters and I celebrated one of the Fellow’s birthdays with a dinner at the Tokyo restaurant that inspired a scene in the movie “Kill Bill.”

This is it--ate on the second floor (again not my photo)

Suddenly, after months of navigating Japanese grocery stores, kanji crunching, and research recitations, I found myself staring at Delta’s steamed squash and potato dinner—accompanied by sides of a sourdough roll filled with additional potato paste and a patty of guacamole in salsa (?)—and sitting next to a very kind elderly woman who smelled of mothballs while her screaming grandchild viciously (and quite determinedly) walloped the back of my seat with a stuffed monkey. Flash forward 24-hours, and the Chicago deep-dish pizza I bullied my sister into ordering (from a very readable English menu) was worlds apart from the sushi and onigiri to which I had become accustomed. Surprisingly, I found myself almost eager to duck into one of the many sushi restaurants Chicago offers, just to see if I could find something that I had come to consider good eats. Reverse culture shock is an interesting thing.

Proof of deep dish for ye unbelievers.

With the conclusion of the Fulbright year, it’s a brief summer detour in the States before the next saga abroad continues—this time for a 3-year stint—in Scotland this fall. This is not the end for the Fulbright research, however, nor for my travels in Japan; I hope (with some notable editing) to eventually publish the past year’s work, and perhaps to use some of the collected data in dissertation research. Finally, many thanks to all those who made this opportunity possible for their contributions to what was a truly wonderful and unique experience. Your commitment and ongoing dedication to making such diverse and enriching experiences possible is admirable and very much appreciated.

And so, I’m off to take advantage of one benefit provided by the US-based Starbucks—more coffee for less! For those starting on their own new adventures, either domestic or abroad, がんばって!See you! wanted to see the gorilla curry shop, didn't you. Right, then. Akihabara's Go Go Curry! restaurant:

(photo = still not mine; credit to Adrian Lozano.

My camera is still in the bottom of my suitcase. Somewhere. ...probably.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

French Fries and Seagulls

Grumpy and sulking from the sticky mobile oven that is the night bus, scanning the street desperately for any sign of an establishment able to satisfy my growing need for a shot of caffeine (or, of secondary importance, somewhere to escape the downpour of rain), I again smoothed the crumpled directions to Temple University Japan—which had been inadvertently sat upon and crushed by the snoring gentleman next to whom I had spent the previous six hours—squinting at signs in the hopes that Azabu Hall would, preferably with a subtlety equating flashing neon signs or loud disco music, identify itself from the monotonous grey structures that lined the Tokyo streets. After trekking the same two blocks for 20 minutes—the building was not here, thank you very much—I finally caught two university students, who appeared rather taken aback at being confronted with a soaked, deranged-looking foreign kid dragging a duffle bag and convulsively clutching a shredded scrap of paper (I made a mental note to find a mirror before the interview). Asking if they could point me in the direction of Azabu Hall, I was met with an uncomfortable silence—was there something on my face? had I remembered to comb my hair after the night bus?—followed by a look of pity. The owner of the latter kindly indicated that I should turn around. And behold. Azabu Hall.

Thus began my second research interview trip to Tokyo. Fortunately, the results of the interviews were very, very much worth the trouble inevitably caused by my horrendous sense of direction. The first interview, with the head of Temple University Japan’s Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, was followed by an opportunity to interview Mr. Yoshinori Ohno, a current member of the Japanese Diet and former Minister of Defense (fortunately, the Diet buildings were clearly marked with signs and security guards). I even got a souvenir photo!

Behold the awkwardness:

It was awesome.

In any case, the interview data made a nice supplement to the mass of archival text sources that had been the primary foundation of my research until now.

The month of April was accompanied by the arrival of beautiful weather in Sendai (minus the hailstorm that occurred during the second week). With the sakura trees finally in bloom, a few friends and I traveled to Shiroishi-shi, a country town approximately an hour by train from the city, to see the reconstructed castle, taste the famous umen noodles, visit samurai dwellings and walk under the sakura trees by the riverfront. Although we managed to lose our way several times—an impressive accomplishment, as the town had only one main road—the ventures off the beaten path yielded exciting discoveries. (*Note: all photos in this post, with the exception of the interview photo, were taken by my friend Piotr, as I fail spectacularly at anything that utilizes a camera.)

Shiroishi-shi Castle views


Kamila and I at a restored samurai house

We also spent a day at Matsushima, one of Japan’s “three beautiful views,” where we took a ferry around the islands (you can feed the gulls french fries!) and spent the day moseying around the various shrines, caves, and tourist spots.

Look how close!

Scenes from Matsushima, Buddhist meditation caves, Eric (see below) and I

I also had the opportunity to show off Sendai city to Eric, a friend visiting from Yokohama. We toured the famous Sendai castle site as well as Tomizawa, the site of a 20,000 Paleolithic forest south of the city center that was phenomenal. Eric, who aspires to be a film director, was finishing his graduation film project for a year-long Japanese language program and asked if I would act in one of his scenes. (Stop cringing. I wasn’t that bad. …..forget it, I was that bad.) Agreeing only predicated on the conditions that (1) the scene did not require speech and (2) that my face would be kept out of the film and nobody informed of my horrendous acting skills upon pain of torturous death, we found an unoccupied stretch of riverbank and got to work. Twenty minutes later, crouched by the riverside in a yukata with fish innards sliding down my wrist as I attempted to act out the “fish gutting scene” using a kitchen knife and sea creature acquired from the local supermarket, I began to reevaluate the wisdom of my assent. This concern was magnified after several couples stopped along the river walk to watch the filming; I prayed, as I hacked away ineffectively at my fishy comrade, that none of them were my neighbors, and that they didn’t call the police under the assumption that I was mutilating the river’s wildlife. Needless to say, it was probably the only opportunity I will have to justifiably take part in such activities, and as I have heard no mention of the event within the confines of the apartment complex, the adventure was completed with my dignity almost intact.

No pictures of this event will be posted. Ever.

It was great anyway, and my knowledge of aquatic animal anatomy has markedly improved.

This week was the Aoba Matsuri in Sendai, a festival that dates back to the seventeenth century and includes plenty of festival floats, dances, procession of samurai warriors, etc. It is also site to the famous Suzume Odori, or Sparrow Dance. Check out the pictures below!

Aoba Festival parade with Date Masamune on horseback (the city's famous feudal lord)

The Sparrow Dance! (this type of coordination would not be happening, even if I practiced for years.)

Finally, at the end of this lengthy blog post: the Fulbright research is finished! Final edits were added to the report (“The Intersection of Counter-terrorism and Human Rights Narratives in Post-2001 Japanese Diplomatic Rhetoric Concerning the Overseas Dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces”—those who are interested, please shoot me an e-mail—I won’t bore you with details here) at the end of last week. In the interest of completing prep work for grad school (/relocating to the UK this fall) and ensuring the time to make some long overdue visits to friends, this means that I will return to the States at the end of June. Thus, let the packing and final preparations commence! There are still a few more trips coming up this month, so I will be sure to update with another round of pictures, etc., before the end of June!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dorayaki and Onion Eggs

Two months without posting; I may have surpassed my own record. (Considering my previous blogging attempt lasted three months...yes, I believe this is accurate.) However! Onward to the updates.

My family came to visit Japan for two weeks in February on a whirlwind tour of the sites. Unfortunately, the city of Sendai is not know for its hospitable weather during this time of the year; however, subsequent visits to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Tokyo were much more pleasant (and warm; I indulged in setting the hotel room thermostat to approximately Caribbean-esque temperatures, as I was neither paying the heating bill nor having to make do with only a space heater). As this was my family's first visit to Japan and they were unfamiliar with the Japanese cuisine, etc., I of course attempted to introduce them to the most unique of culinary creations. Regrettably, the beef tongue was a no go (as I was not attempting to cook this time, it probably would have been very tasty). The "American Dog" sold in the local 7-11--an ingenious creation consisting of a hot dog and fried potato croquet in a bun covered in sauerkraut, mayonnaise, corn, bacon bits, fish flakes, and topped with mustard--was likewise rejected. However, they were introduced to Hiroshima okonomiyaki (a pancake-like omelet covered in fried noodles), various types of sushi, Japanese style pizza (the corn and mayonnaise variety was passed over), dango, and other delights.

Kelsey and I attempt to learn origami from a guide in Tokyo...the final product almost resembled a crane. If you squint. From a significant distance.

Another highlight of the visit was the lunch between my former host family (from the previous study abroad at Kansai Gaidai) and family. It occurred to me, as I attempted to mediate three different conversations during the lunch, that sitting two groups of individuals who do not speak each other's language and were already somewhat nervous across from each other and expecting them to communicate independently was perhaps not the most effective way of arranging this meeting. However, both parties did an admirable job (although my dad was confused by my host father's talking electronic dictionary, which would interject English sentences about Japan--Japan has four seasons--randomly throughout the course of the lunch), and it was a rewarding endeavor.


In other news; two friends in Sendai taught me how to dye Easter eggs--WITH ONION PEELS. IT WAS EPIC. Forget boxes of colored dye. This is cool. Peter and Kamila (pictured below during the March celebration of Hina Matsuri, the Japanese doll festival, and dressed in traditional Japanese kimono) taught me how to paint eggs with melted wax and cook them in water with onion peels; the eggs are dyed brown, while the areas under the wax remain white. We may have found our calling--decorative egg painting experts.

Peter and Kamila!


We also attempted to make dorayaki, a Japanese pancake sandwich filled with sweet red beans. These were not quite as masterfully done as the eggs (I believe was some discussion that one resembled Winnie the Pooh, while another shaped itself to resemble a pyramid rather than a circle), but they were tasty nonetheless! For those of you who want to try making these yourself, here is a good recipe: Hit the local Asian foods store and grab a can of anko, and you're ready to go!


On the research front, I have recently been fortunate to gain several interviews from politicians/scholars in Tokyo. I just completed an interview with the former President of Japan's National Defense Academy, and will return to Tokyo in a week to meet with a former Minister of Defense as well as the head of Temple University Japan's Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies. While this is fantastic from a research standpoint...this also means absolute panic over the state of my Japanese skills; particularly the honorific vocabulary. Back to memorizing the paragraph summary of what, exactly, my research topic is, in the hopes of minimizing the number of potential blunders. More on this in the coming weeks!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Waffle Fish?

Hello again! To answer a few recent FAQs I have received; (1), I did not move to the Kansai region; I am, in fact, still living in Sendai (2) Nor was I kidnapped by a motorcycle gang following Thanksgiving vacation and kept in a secret location that lacked WiFi (the creativity of this suggestion, however, was impressive) (3) The suggestion that a secret boyfriend is keeping me from focusing on work is equally invalid (and perhaps even more improbable) (4) Yes, Kelsey, your blogging skills are inevitably superior to mine; I will attempt to rectify this by providing more pictures than you (if a picture is worth a thousand words, this both justifies the fewer number of entries AND means that I win the blogging war. Congrats on your grad school acceptance to DePaul in Chicago; you owe me a pizza).

In actuality, my camera connector cord went MIA for a month or so, after which time I was focusing on final exams and my research project. My apologies for the lack of updates!

I have been asked by several individuals what, exactly, the term "Fulbright student" means; what are the perks/obligations of the Fulbright grant? do I have to attend classes or lectures? what, in plain English, exactly is the topic of my research? What do I do for fun?

The Fulbright experience is different for every grantee due to the variations in language ability, university affiliation, and area of research. The general requirements of the program are relatively unstructured; each grantee is required to submit a monthly progress report, attend a mid-year conference, and submit a final product (e.g. a research paper) at the conclusion of the grant period. Otherwise, the student is free to tailor the program as he or she wishes. Each student is assigned a university affiliation based upon their topic of research, and is given an advisor with whom they correspond regarding their research progress. My advisor at Tohoku University is a professor in international law, and teaches several classes (Japanese language only) on politics and international relations that I am currently auditing. In addition, I have chosen to take several Japanese courses to improve my language skills and knowledge of kanji.

Other than classroom work, the only academic obligation I have is my Fulbright research. Broadly defined, the topic of my research--which has changed slightly since my arrival to better correspond with the university's available resources--is analyzing the rhetorical narrative that underlies Japan's overseas deployment of the Self-Defense Forces for humanitarian reasons (represented by participation in post-2001 UN peacekeeping missions) as opposed to counter-terrorism activities (represented by activities in the Iraq/Afghanistan/the Indian Ocean). Besides presenting at a mid-year conference (held in March), I am free to research at my own pace as well as to ultimately decide the nature of the final product to be submitted in September.

The Fulbright grant is not only an opportunity to conduct research in another country, but also provides funding and time for the student to enjoy and immerse him/herself in the culture and customs of that nation. It is incredibly rewarding to interact with Japanese students and local residents, particularly as one develops a better sense of social expectations and familiarity with the terrain. However, depending on one's placement in the country, this also brings interesting challenges. While Sendai does have a significant foreign population, the majority of exchange students come from nearby countries such as Mongolia, China, or Korea. This means that, perhaps unlike students located in more American/Western Europe-populated such as Kyoto, a tall, fair-skinned American walking to the supermarket attracts an unbelievable amount of attention. Although this brings its own share of opportunities (several of my friendships with Japanese individuals were products of coffee shop encounters with the "local American"), it can alternately be very uncomfortable when one attracts unwanted attention from individuals as well as very isolating.

There are other instances, however, when looking very obviously "foreign" has created fantastic opportunities! The other Fulbright students and I participated in the Kyoto Ekiden marathon (a team relay marathon race) in November, and together comprised the only "international" teams in the race. (Interestingly, this resulted in a lovely picture of our team gracing the pages of a daily Kyoto newspaper). However, the other race participants were very enthusiastic and excited to have an "international relay," and the experience was certainly unforgettable! (we did, however, come in dead last.)

An addition perk of Fulbright is the opportunity to travel around Japan. With Fulbrighters spread all across the country (from Hokkaido to Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima), this means that one quite often benefits from free lodging and a personal tour of the area! There is also an abundance of local sites to visit; below are pictures of Yamadera (a mountain temple located about an hour outside of Sendai), and the Sendai Daikannon statue (an amazing statue/museum combination that overlooks the entire city). Onsen, temples, and local interest sites make perfect daytrips for free weekends!

Look at the size of this rock?!?!

Yamadera...almost at the top after thousands of steps.

But so worth the hike!

The Sendai Daikannon...taller than the local Best Western hotel.

The thing is monstrous. Honestly.

In sum, the Fulbright year is what you make of it, both in terms of travel and cultural experiences as well as research opportunities! The opportunities of a Fulbright year certainly outweigh any uncomfortable experiences one might encounter during the time spent abroad (and Sendai's local anko-filled waffle fish certainly pose a worthy challenge to Nestle Toll House, despite the lack of chocolate).

That's all for now--I'm off to Starbucks (yes, that hasn't changed) to study for finals! More to come later.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Attack of the Killer Pancake

A second blog previous record for blogging has finally been surpassed!

I have received a few requests from people asking to see more of the the city proper. In the interest of capturing scenic views of Sendai, I have thus sacrificed any last shred of dignity (that was not lost when I asked the grocery store attendant where to find yogurt, only to find I was standing in front of the display) and tromped around the city for a few hours trying to find a few good shots. Sendai is the 'green city' of Japan, and accordingly takes great pride in the amount of greenery and parks it has to offer. Supposedly around Christmas, the city lights up the main boulevard of trees with lights (I was assured on several occasions that this is 'very romantic' and 'good for couples').

Downtown Sendai--look at the trees!

The city skyline

A view from the river

This weekend was the 2009 Tohoku University Festival--a campus-wide event with food stands, performances, rock bands, and men wearing French maid outfits.

Oh, yes. There was also a vender wearing a fish hat and wielding a trident, two girls in chipmunk suits, and several individuals sporting rabbit-ear headbands.

The festival was a fantastic introduction to the University clubs, Japanese food, and campus life in general; displays ranged from jazz cafes to battling robots to a room filled end to end with running model trains (the Tohoku Railway Fan Club). One room (I think it was the American Football Club) was running a NE Patriots game on a giant plasma screen.

.....that would be a young man.

The bunny ears are slightly obscured by the white tent, however...

Tohoku University Festival!

As in the States, eating out in Japan is a social activity that requires proper etiquette. Last week a group of Japanese students taught me how to slurp (yes, slurp) ramen; I have to admit, it was perversely thrilling to justify dining behavior that used to earn me lectures at the dinner table (although I did receive complaints that I was not making nearly enough noise while eating the noodles). It was not as thrilling, however, attempting to remove a number of small grease stains from my white shirt after the fact; obviously my technique leaves much to be desired.

These new culinary experiences have even extended to my sad yet determined attempts to cook for myself. My former host family generously provided me with a recipe for Osaka-style okonomiyaki, a dish that somewhat resembles an omelet-pancake (and if made properly, is absolutely delicious). Yesterday, figuring that it was high time I learned to make Japanese dishes, I gamely purchased the necessary ingredients and managed to keep my battle with the gas burner to a minimum; the dish was cooking rather nicely, and in fact almost resembled the picture that was included with the recipe. The final step was simply to flip the pancake, cook for five minutes, and voila! Optimistic at my perceived culinary prowess, I swung the pan down and up, flipping the omelet-like patty into a beautiful arc that gracefully turned and landed…with a melodious squelch.

Smack in the middle of my kitchen wall.

As I watched my would-be dinner slide down the white paint (which now flaunts large patches of beige-brown) it occurred to me that—although the crust of the okonomyaki that was now oozing just past eye-level was a lovely, perfect shade of brown—perhaps the world would be a safer place if I relegated myself to sushi and salads.

On that note! Next week is Thanksgiving in Kyoto with the other Fulbrighters; I will not, of course, be bringing okonomiyaki. More pictures from the Kansai region in the next post!

Take care!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hello from Sendai!

Yes, it has been established from previous attempts that I'm a crummy blogger. However, this time--despite a solid two months of living in Japan without a post--it is actually not my fault.

No, really.

Sendai appears to have very limited internet access, so it was necessary to wait the requisite several weeks before internet could be installed in the apartment. And now--voila! Internet.

...This does not change the fact that I am terrible at keeping up with blogs.

So! I will try to update with a regular post on occasion, but will more importantly use the site to post pictures (If a picture is worth 1000 words, this should legitimize shorter entries, yeah?) If you have any questions/comments (or reminders of my need to update the blog), please feel free to contact me via e-mail! :)

To clarify the title of this blog: Japan apparently does not have cake frosting..? I have now asked approximately 15 people from Tokyo to Kyoto, Osaka, and Sendai after attempting to explain to my host family how we bake cakes in the U.S., and no one has heard of such a thing. Future post: Japanese cake-baking.

The city of Sendai is about 2 hours north of Tokyo by train, and has a climate relatively comparable to the American Midwest. My apartment is a 40-minute walk from the city center, and is perfect for a single occupant.

View from the balcony!

The Fulbright program is very unstructured in that besides conducting my research, there are really no mandatory requirements (although students generally choose to audit related classes or Japanese language courses at their assigned university). As far as cities go, Sendai is easy to navigate in terms of everyday necessities; the coffee shop (yes, a daily necessity) and grocery store are only 2 minutes away, and campus is 20 minutes by bike.

Grocery shopping, however, is another story. At first, you try and be conscientious about what you buy; then you decide that it takes too long to try and translate the kanji with your pocket dictionary, and go ahead and buy the thing anyway--worst case scenario, it can always be thrown into a stirfry and burned to a tasteless crisp. I have made several of such stirfry dishes. Not, per say, because I was averse to the taste of the food--although there was the Cow Tongue Eating Incident last week that will never again be brought to mind (it's a regional specialty)--but because the apartment is equipped with a single burner, rice cooker, and microwave for cooking, and my specialty tends towards baking. Therefore--improvise! Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present to you my rice-cooker pumpkin bread; it is profoundly misshapen, looks relatively unappetizing, but let me tell you, Paula Dean's recipes overcome all obstacles to create some seriously good munchings. least it's orange...ish..

Rather than attempt to recount the past two months---it's picture time! Besides moving to Sendai, I visited my old host family in Osaka, Japan, who took me to visit 天橋立 (Amanohashidate), one of Japan's "three beautiful views."

Picnic time at the rest stop!

This weekend, Sendai was having an Ikebana extravaganza (Japanese flower arrangement). For those of you who were never satisfied with receiving a simple rose on Valentine's day, check out these arrangements:

Living in a foreign country means that you are frequently placed out of your comfort zone--meaning, inevitably, you are going to do something embarrassing. These faux pas will be incredibly helpful and provide you with new and valuable insights. This does not mean, however, that they will be any less cringe-worthy. For instance: after about 2 weeks in Sendai, I was desperate for internet access on account of several approaching deadlines. I finally found a relatively inexpensive--yet very respectable--hotel that offered wireless in the rooms and paid to stay the night, intending to stay up and complete as many online-related tasks as possible. I checked in around 5 that afternoon, bringing only a large red tote bag in which I had my laptop, notebooks, and so forth--I wasn't going to sleep, so why bother hauling a suitcase when my apartment was 20 minutes away? Nervous about speaking to the receptionists only in Japanese, I fidgeted while waiting in line, twisting the ring on my finger, fiddling with my earrings, checking and re-checking to make sure I had everything.

The woman at the desk gave me a rather odd look when I said that there was no other luggage, but presented me with the room key and internet equipment anyway. Tromping up to the hotel room, I proceeded to work relatively uninterrupted for a few hours before running out and grabbing take-out from the 7/11 next door. A friend that I was planning to meet for coffee at noon the next day called as I reentered the lobby with a change of plans; I assured him that 10 would indeed be fine, and not to worry.

My work was finished by 5 am the next morning; as my apartment was so close (and it was already light outside), I decided that since I was already awake, I might as well return to the apartment and shower. I grabbed the jewelry (which I had removed a bout of frustration at my inadequate writing skills the evening before) and crammed it back on before checking out at the desk. I trudged to the desk looking like death warmed over and wishing for a giant cup of coffee, mumbled thanks to the receptionist (the same woman who had checked me in the evening before, who seemed to have an odd fascination with my left hand as I signed the bill--I dismissed this as sleep-deprived paranoia), and slouched off to my apartment.

It wasn't until I had reached the apartment building that I understood exactly why the clerk was staring.

I had dressed in a relatively nice outfit--a skirt and jacket with heels, the sort that one might wear to work.
I had checked into a hotel room for a single night in the city's downtown district with no luggage.

I had not changed clothes since I had checked in the previous evening.

I had walked through the lobby reassuring and unknown someone on the phone not to worry and to meet me at 10, that everything would be fine.

I was checking out long before anyone else was awake, and very obviously looked as though I had not slept.

In my infinite wisdom, I had replaced my ring (a simple gold band) on my left ring finger in my haste to leave, and had given the receptionist plenty of time to notice as I signed the bill before departing; my left hand had held the paper steady on the counter.

Now normally, humiliating (though hilarious) this may have been, it would not be a problem; I could simply avoid the hotel and surrounding block like the plague and not feel like shrinking into the ground.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that the hotel is directly attached to the Starbucks that I frequent everyday.

So, until next time! :)