Monday, February 23, 2015

Tokyo Marathon 2015: Expectations and Reality

So, I finished the Tokyo Marathon... and am now dealing with the disappointment that came with it.

I started off really well. It felt like flying, going at a good pace with steady breath, steady heart rate and powerful legs... except for a twinge in the left knee.

Right after saying hello to my wonderful friends who came to cheer, I started feeling real pain. I tried different ways to stretch it out, and kept on going until the 23km mark, where suddenly my knee locked and I couldn't bend or land on it. I burst into tears of sheer sadness and disappointment. Had the knee not given out, I am pretty sure this would have been my fastest race yet. I had trained very hard, gone to the sports therapist to get my muscles and tendons properly stretched... all for nothing.

I hobbled over to the AED tent, and the kind volunteers stretched me out and taped up my knee. Hoping for the best I started running again. For about 5 steps. Nope. This was not happening. No can do. More tears and general despair.

And this is the interesting part. Until not too long ago I would have given up, since I obviously couldn't reach the 'perfect run' image jealously guarded in my mind. But instead I took a few breaths and re-framed the whole situation.
Okay, so a sub-5 hour marathon is out of the question. What CAN I do?

Oddly enough, walking wasn't all that painful, as long as I kept my knee from bending. Good. So the new goal is to finish the darn race and not get swept  (loaded into a bus that takes you to the end point because you are too slow to finish in the set time). I picked myself up and power-hobbled my way to the end, trying not to be too sad or jealous when my friends passed me (since its not their fault, for crying out loud). I ended up finishing in just under 6 hours, which is not bad for a hobble pace.

While I am proud of myself for finishing and not giving up when my 'ideal' was stripped away, some ambivalence remains. There is medal on my bedside table, and I am not sure I deserved it. I can't help but think 'what if the day had been warmer' (as the doctor said the long wait in the cold might have precipitated it) or 'maybe if I had just stretched it out a bit more'... ugh, annoying.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cultural Fatigue: aka 'Eugh, not this again!'

Yesterday I was scrolling through Tumblr (small life tip: if you haven't got a Tumblr account, don't get one. It is intensively addictive!) when I came across a reference to cultural fatigue ( 

While the author is talking about a very different situation (being constantly overcharged in South America) the whole 'feeling' is so very familiar.

As much as one can enjoy living in a different country, it can get exhausting. Japan may be easier than South America in many aspects, but it still finds ways to make you want to scream.

I spend almost all of my waking hours speaking in Japanese. I like my job, for the most part, but the thickly layered bureaucracy is a slog. Having to speak and write in keigo is exhausting. Not always understanding 100% of things said or jokes can be a bit alienated. Getting spoken to in boo-boo English from shopkeepers. People assuming I am an English teacher or don't know much about Japan.
It is not the end of the world, but these little things do add up. I can't run away from it, so how is one to deal with these feelings of 'doneness' and annoyance?

Well, I have a few ideas of my own, and would love to hear about others:

1- Give Yourself a Break
Spending most of your day in a foreign culture is mentally draining, so give your grey cells a break. Watch shows or read in your native language. Listen to comedians you like. Just space out for a while. Find quiet time to let your mind go blank.

2- Sweat it Out
Cultural fatigue also seems to turn into muscular tension. Get rid of that frustation through exercise. I find that running is a great way to combine idea 1 and 2.

3- Let It Go (Let it go~��)
There is a wonderful Buddhist saying: let go or be dragged. At a certain point you just have to let go of some of these annoyances. Making fun of them (to myself or with an understanding friend) helps me make the recurring annoyances small enough to brush off.

4- Enjoy the Good
While there are downsides to living in a different culture, there are (usually) also lots of good points which are worth remembering and celebrating. For instance, I enjoy celebrating traditional Japanese holidays in a small way (like eating ehomaki for Setsubun, or going to a shrine on New Years). I love that I can run safely even after dark. I love that tofu is dirt cheap. I love the beautiful places one can get to by train. I adore not having to drive or own a car. Making a little mental list of the things you enjoy can perk you up.

5- Eat Your Own Food
No matter how delicious Japanese cuisine can be, sometimes you just need a taste of home, whatever that might be. Super cheap Kraft macaroni and cheese, a plate of lasagna, hummus loaded with tahini... whatever it is, keep a secret stock for when you need it.

I am now going to take my own advice, have a bowl of pasta e ceci and watch terrible trash tv online. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Of Snow, Running and Learning

I hope everyone had a lovely New Year! I spent just under 24 hours in Nagano with Matcha-kun and his family. They seem to have gotten much more used to me, to the point that I actually stayed with him in his grandmother's warm little house (in the same room too, scandalous!).

We did hatsumode at Zenkouji Temple, which was beautifully covered in snow, and bought some omikuji and a blessed arrow (which is supposed to keep bad things out of the house). After a cup of coffee and some apple cake, we jumped back on the shinkansen to Tokyo.

My vacation was very short (ah, the joy of IT and travel-related businesses), but it was lovely to have 4 days away from the computer. 
With Tokyo Marathon coming up (yup, I got a spot!), my weekends are filled with running increasingly ridiculously long distances. Fortunately, thanks to recently finding a lovely long park, 20 km just fly by!

Of course, this means that my time with Matcha-kun is more limited than usual... but we both know it is only a temporary thing. 

It is interesting how since moving in together, our interests have started to interweave more. He has started swimming again (influenced by my running obsession) and I have taken to reading more about history and political affairs (his field of expertise). And we both have gotten into Downton Abbey!

Never stop learning, that's the trick (*^^*)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

良いお年を! Happy New Year!

I love Tokyo during the New Years season. Over a course of days the city slowly assumes an emptiness, with only 3 or 4 people in the space I am usually used to seeing 20. The trains, usually a scene of discreet shoving and lines of people wrapped in thick coats and thicker perfume, today dwindled down to just me. An entire train car to myself, as I make my way to work through the quiet shuttered streets.
At night I can hear the high clap of the wooden blocks, the same sound that announces the start of a kabuki play, as the local volunteers warn the shoutengai inhabitants to watch out for fire. A sound from a different era, which lulls me to sleep, giving a sense of safety and balance to the unusual quiet.

2014 was an odd year, punctuated with a series of highs and lows reminiscent of a jagged heartbeat. Ending on a high is certainly a great blessing, as are all the lessons I learned on the way. Here is hoping for a happy 2015, with more adventures, joys and tranquility.

(And, ladies and gentlemen, if you happen to pass a homeless individual today, be kind and buy them a ticket for a bowl of warm soba, to start the New Year right. I haven't seen the cheery lady I sometimes chat with in front of the station in a couple of weeks, and am worried about her...)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Revisiting the Past: Kitasenju

Recently, spurred by the desire to try a great Thai place which appeared on one of our current drama obsessions (Kodoku no Gurume), Matcha-kun and I ended up at Kitasenju.

To tell the truth, I had tried to ignore this (admittedly blameless) area for a good long while. When passing through the station on my way to my koto lessons, I whisked from one line to the next, and never left the station.

The reason is silly, but not entirely. Several years ago, I actually stayed in Kitasenju for about a week. I was in Japan to job hunt and visit my then-significant other. As Kitasenju is out of the way, and home to a lot of Tokyo's day laborer population, the lodging was really cheap. 

This was not a great time in my life. I was in grad school in London, so doing the long distance thing with my SO, and having absolutely no luck finding a job that would take me back to Japan. 

As the SO was also busy, I ended up spending a lot of time running around for interviews, then walking around alone. My last 2 days in the city were spent rambling about, missing this person who had been 'forbidden' (!!!) to spend the evenings with me... mostly because his parents were afraid he would get plastered right before his first day of work. 

Eventually he did show up on the eve of my departure, after his first day at work. Drunk after a welcome party for new recruits... not a good state. One of my major issues with him was his inability to stop drinking at a reasonable point, so you can imagine how upset this made me.

All in all, the whole mess left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. And I guess it made me irrationally dislike Kitasenju.
How different things are now. Exploring the long shoutengai shopping streets hand in hand with Matcha-kun, I could literally feel my heart lift. This place now has new memories affixed to it, the dark aura it had in my mind is gone.

Perception is a funny thing. The things, places and people we thought were so perfect or pursued so assiduously actually turn out not to be what actually makes us happy.
The total shitamachi-ness of Kitasenju now can actually speak to me. The long street with colorful hand-painted shutters, the cute little cafes and bars, the calls of merchants purveying everything from snacks to futon. During that visit I couldn't even see it.

But now I can. Forgive me Kitasenju, let's be friends.

Friday, December 5, 2014

3 Years On

Due to a friend's question about exactly when Matcha-kun and I started dating, I realized it has now been 3 years... give or take a bit.

That odd 'bit' is due to a couple reasons. The first being that I am terrible at remembering dates and anniversaries. Hence, my mental image and timeline of our dating is a biiiiit fuzzy.

The second is that, being two very different types, we have different concepts of when our relationship started.
Matcha-kun, in typical decisive Matcha-kun fashion, feels that we started our relationship on the first date. I, being more cautious and undecided, think that it was closer to the 7th or 8th. Not that it truly matters, but it does make for an amusing conversation.

My coworkers seem vaguely concerned about this. It is commonly thought that women are the ones that care about anniversaries, special holidays and other 'romantic' dates. But really, I don't mind. I much prefer daily kindness and care to a few expensive dates throughout the year.
And when does a relationship truly start anyway? First kiss? After an explicit agreement? After surviving the first fight? I think there are various stages in any long term relationship, and those transitions are equally worthy of being remembered...even if you can't pinpoint an exact date.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fall in Tokyo(ish): Rikugien, Kawagoe and Mukojima Hyakkaen

All I can say is, I hope ya'll like autumn leaves... because fall foliage is on the menu today! 

As my parents were in town (and due to the persnickety weather) I didn't have quite as much time as usual to run around the various parks and indulge in my love for koyo. However, what parks we did manage to visit were splendid.

I am particularly pleased with several of the shots taken in Rikugien. Matcha-kun, my parents and myself managed to get there during the golden hour, when the setting sun and fog made the whole place magical.
The two pictures below are from the little known Mukojima Hyakken. It is a very small garden, but the combination of the actual trees, lamp posts and Sky Tree is quite lovely.