Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Rat In Nihon (日本でのラット)

I am a rat. I have a worsening blurred vision. My interest is short-span. I am often late on my commitments and the best of all; I forget matters and stuff easily.

I want to share a story out of connection. I often get lost, as in literally. In GenPsyc terms, I don't possess quite impressive cognitive mapping skills. I decide by heart over by mind, plus my guassian vision - it all sum up to me being a forever lost rat. I go to concerts alone and getting home safe and sound is always a sigh of miracle to me, oh Lord. Once in a late night, a driver dropped me so especially in service for having passed my classmate's house which I've been to several times before. I am the person who would fight with the bus conductor, me insisting that the bus to Alabang is certainly to pass Crossing Calamba. I bought my recent phone out of the blue. I spend late night thinking of nowhere and then I wake up so late and think of a non-cliché reason, other than LBM in the morning, lels. So these are my traits, and you won't believe it (neither I) - this rat has fled to Japan. What a squeak!

I couldn't even remember how I've heard of the announcement, or what I wrote in the qualification essay of the Kizuna (Bond) Project. My application was sent via courier by my boss in the office (free for me). And it was received by the National Youth Commission a day late, so the rat who randomly prepared the requirements was still a rat to care, it was so freaking okay to me. The first batch of (should the woah I say) Student Ambassadors all set off the country for a ten-winter-day study tour in disaster hit areas in Japan. And yeah please, no bitterness still. It was four months after until the rat's front teeth sparkled. After a long day in Tagaytay, after really having prayed in a Pink convent for a luck in travel, the answer dropped by our door right in the afternoon. Hellyeah, the rat just got a mail from Malacanang! I was really to set to pack my cheese for the Land of the Rising Sun!

And the rat escapes to the Lion country, and let me see if he is still that 'lost-ful' person and if he still brings his awful traits there. Guided by the NYC and the Japan Information and Culture Center, this rat put his shawl on in his first ever ride in an aeroplane. Cut the story of the magical seat and the conversation with the stewardess. I did not try the restroom though in the three-hour boarding. Having landed Narita International Airport, the rat was like an earthworm jazzing in cold. I underestimated the temperature, I forgot my fur, wew. And then suddenly things were getting real, I just thought I was browsing a Manga. The streets was getting actual, the railways, the bicycle, and the school uniforms. The rat was really bound in Nihon (could be a mice a now:).

Glorious landscape and scene of rising sun in Hiraniwa Cottege Village in Kuji-shi Iwate.

As the sun rose from the land, the days got tighter. We walked along the Tokyo streets during the rush hour in the morning. One thing that I noticed, If I was a rat, the Japanese were ants. They walked so fast and so straight, they didn't smile at all. And if in DLSL we practice "Keep Right," the Japanese keep left since the right lane is for people hushing and hurrying. They also have lanes for the blind, for mom's walking their children and or for bikers. I was really proud that my first experience to ride a train was the Shinkansen, a bullet train to North which is also the fastest. FYI, trains in Japan have a late incidence with a total of few seconds a year. On board, the feel was like airplane and bus combined. We had our first bento lunch inside. There was no shaking, just comfort, but our life in one-minute train entry/exit was at stake. Thanks though, I'm a swift rat. Through the windows, the outside got bright and white. From Tokyo station we drop off Shinkansen to Murioka Station, in the snowy Iwate Prefecture.

As for my first time to experience snow, it was actually normal. I saw it like a very compressed crushed ice for halo-halo. :D In some parts, the snow seemed to me like frozen floods. But it was still sosy though, after all. :)) We took a long bus trip to reach the cottages. Through the window pane, I just saw and felt the areas so sadly. I didn't know if it was because of what happened or if it was just winter still. There were only few people outside, and crows were the only bird that I saw. They might not be smiling but kids usually didn't walk or bike alone, they went with their classmates, buddies of friends. Having reached Kuji City at Hiraniwa Cottage Village, I was really stunned by the place we would be staying for a week. Outside the traditional cottages, there were lots of soft snow and there was a wide area for us to sleigh, to run and do snowball fight or even make a snowman. At night I keep myself busy by blowing and watching my breath outside. It was like smoking for free! I also took my time making snow angels by lying on the snow floor; we did really have a good time taking a lot of pictures, too!

The next day, we drove off to the Kuji City proper to experience making an amber necklace in our own hands. Amber is a mineral made from sap of old trees that were buried underground together with the fossils. It takes thousands and millions of years to form this precious gem-like  material. I sincerely admired how the Japanese believe that a person can undoubtedly become very successful  someday if he polished his amber to a very shiny and smooth one.

In the afternoon, each group of four were dropped off to respective Japanese host families, either farmers or fishermen. It was raining when we were running to this big blue house that I never really thought we would stay for a night. I just said to myself, hell yeah Filipino farmers don't really live like this, and Filipino farmers are poor because they don’t sow their own land. While I was looking at the large frames of the aerial shots of family’s vast agricultural land, Okasan (mother) pleasantly greeted us four little rats for the evening and immediately offered the dinner she had been preparing hard when we arrived. We barely understood ourselves, gestures did help while "Hai, Hai" or "Yes, Yes" did the work in making matters seem caught up. Disgrace to much grace I observed while eating the bountiful dinner that would take like another supper to finish. If eating was the highlight of the home stay, the chunks of squid balls, tofu and other seafood stuff in the big punch bowl at the center for certain should not be ignored. The side dishes were choices of deep-fried seafood like tempura and calamari, two kinds of soup and a cup of seafood taho (soya). In the middle of the course, I was keeping myself from bursting into laughs to my buddies in our murmur talks about how we were already explodingly stacked up. I forced myself to finish the "gohan" (rice) for the sake of not offending my farmer host parents. If there was one dish that I did not savor, it was the story that my parents were ready to serve but uncooked for us to understand. I just wished we didn't have to refer to the guide book to get ourselves understood.

Shashin (pictures) are pure stories, and this is what Filipinos love to keep. I was a little surprised when I requested Okasan to borrow a photo book and she showed me instead a single photo frame of her separated daughter Yukari. I could really feel her deep longing for her that's why I was stoned into shock when Okasan dropped and broke the frame. It was really embarrassing and I felt very sorry for it. As we moved on, we took photos of us as a family for a night at least. Mother awakened our very shy Otosan (brother) to be able to take a complete family shot. It was really touching and I finally felt deeply immersed into my Hinata family, from then on. The overnight was totally a great one with the dope bed. I could not say it was a traditional one for it had a little twist, there was a heating device connected to it. That was really ratting awesome! The kerosene heater with a kettle on top of it kept our night warm. The next morning, we were greeted by the snow falling silently outside. It was my first time to witness a snowfall and the experience was a bit saddening for me. We had to pack soon and leave when fetchers come. I confessed to be that dramatic rat watching the quiet soft snow falling outside while taking our breakfast. The sadness of farewell shall always be my remaining memory of Yuki (snow).

I finally knew it why beaches are not really famous in Japan. It was really chilly by the sea, quivers whenever wind blew as we visited Kuji's fish market and company. We went to the extent when we entered a refrigerating room that was minus 35 degree Celsius. I, the not so fury rat did not take it too long. Right beside the exit said "konnichiwa" (hello), the chunks of octopus ready for us to taste. Waddu', who would ever accept that a rat could take a tentacle for its survival? What a shame, I was the only one who spit the octopus out. I guess my cheesy tongue could not take it so the can of chocolate drink did better for me. We also paid a visit to hear stories of inspiration from the company's recovery. The president sharing to us was really like a father to everyone, though he lost many of his employees and fishermen who lost their ships. We admired the outstanding efforts not only of the locals but also of the neighboring cities in support to the victims' physical and morale loss. It has been two years since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami hit those areas, though there were still traces, the massive revival and rebuilding were totally unbelievable. Even during the disaster, people are well-warned and oriented via radio broadcast. Electricity and communication signals were regained by the community two-three days after. The fish market reopened the second day after to cheer up the community and the employees who were almost taken of jobs and lives.

What a shame for the rat to try train for the first time not in his own country. Aside from the Shinkansen I experienced the regular-paced train in Tanohata station, also a disaster-hit area. After the reconstruction of the station, the customers declined in Tanohata that is why its staff are doing the best efforts to regain the memorable train use. I felt really blessed having had the opportunity of a free study ride. Inside we heard the long yet meaningful story of the chief staff. We sliced through the way, the rails that were once mournful debris. The bridge we tracked had actually served as an evacuation for the people, mostly elders. But the surging waters from the valley stroked through the tunnel and washed off the lives of the elders who couldn't run for their lives anymore. The youth were in sorrow and regrets of being helpless during that tough tragedy. Those kinds of situations gave birth to a community lesson and value of "Tsunami Tendenkko," the concept of not running back for valuables left at home, even if those valuables are parents and or relatives. If there could be only one thing that I could pack for customs back to the Philippines it would be the Japanese kind of love for neighbors. "The evacuees share with one bread and one bowl of soup," that was the most beautiful thing I've heard from the stories and one thing that echoes to me until now. We also passed through vast lands washed off by the tsunami. There were pine trees back then but there are grasses now. There are tractors and workers too. There are larger tripods and breakwater being installed at the shore. There is also hope that homes shall be happily standing again once again. I just have learned then that all was through all, like whenever we pass through a tunnel, we people pass through dark flashes of our lives. Those are the times we appreciate the light we approach and reach forward, in a quiet train ride.

Approaching light through the tunnel in Tanohata train ride.
The tour for the day was quite ironic for me. After hearing sad stories from the victims, we dropped off to the Kuji Station in Kuji City proper where we had a very playful lunch in the colorful past in the Retro Hall Restaurant. Inside it is a museum, everything vintage. I witnessed the wide display of vintage toy collection, ranging from 50s to 80s. There were sets of vintage cameras that I was really hooked in, and there was also an old tap down car situated inside. I could say that lunch was the most savory ever. The vintage ambiance made part of it but the food was really delicious, the katsu and lychee. Located at the ground floor is a mini grocery and a gift shop which gleefully offers free gift bags. How special could our relatives’ pasalubong could be. :D The Retro Hall has really roofed surprises for us. We proceeded to a room where there was the display of a giant colorful festival float. The unbelievable fact was that it’s inflatable, made up of light materials yet cost millions and took up almost a year to build. Although it was a mystery for the float to be put inside the small hall, the significance of it to the local culture and tradition and the happiness it brings to people of Kuji is undoubtedly immeasurable. In the afternoon, we visited the relocated aquarium in Machinaka. The courage of its staff, raged by the support of people was really commendable. It wasn’t honestly easy to rebuild an aquarium that lost its precious creatures and species during the disaster and almost the hope of its employees. But just as life is a sailing, the trying waves are rather paddles that lead to a better place.

The new morning was a new wave for the little rat walking early at the snowy yard for a busy day. It was the first time I saw a different kind of bird in our village (aside from the seagulls of the port). I saw a gray dove resting at the hill of snow beside our cottage. It was an inspiring sign for me to start the creative day of making forest boards. After having our endless-routine of heavy breakfast, we then proceeded to designing a bulk piece of wood as a canvas for colorful markers provided to us. Forest boards are actually used in making foot bridges and pavements in the middle of Kuji’s beautiful lush forests (mostly during summer). It was our great help and contribution to the village that we left a single piece of history marked by our dedicated art and sentiment. Our coordinators were quite impressed with the very intricate waves I and my brother rats drew. In the afternoon we started forming our group to discuss about our learning in the past days and from there come out to an effective action plan to be carried out to our home country. I, the rat, and the company of Filipino student ambassadors started creating the individual action plan.

It was the eight day for the rat surviving and adapting to snowy Iwate, yet there was no way for me hibernating since in the evening we would present our finally produced plans. I woke up early to take the long awaited turn of me, in the “holy me if I won’t try” – “Onsen” or community bath, or other so hot spring as common in our country. Almost a week has passed and it was the late that I finally had the courage to take all the shirts off and bare it to shower so openly with other bathers, then quickly run into the hot pool to soak up.  How ridiculous, it was really quiet inside ‘cause we’re only two Filipinos soaking, the rest were Japanese since they usually take it in the morning which is our consequence of taking our last chance to try. As much as I could describe the culturally shocking experience, I guess I better leave the rest of the story to the cheese. :D

There were couples of rehearsals throughout the day, rehearsal of the output presentation and hell yeah rehearsal of our cultural production number. Howdy rat! I belonged to the opening performers. The evening came and each one of us prepared in grooming, costumes and everything else. This mighty rat proudly put his Barong Tagalog on, and I’m telling you, wearing it outside your home country was a dope soulful feeling. It made me feel proud being a Filipino. Since our group was the first, we graced the start and the other two groups followed. Regarding our plan, it is basically an awareness campaign since our main objective was to disseminate proper and accurate information of the disaster. The campaign is structured to talks, orientation, drills training and collateral distribution, viewing and webbing. I was really proud for having proposed our working title, I AM MY FIRST SAVIOR, and I’m really hoping to carry out the campaign in my mother institution for I am really excited to educate my fellow rats in the disaster back home. After all the three presentations, local officials  and families of Kuji City pleasantly commented on our outputs and they expressed their thanks to us for being very compassionate and affectionate of the city. And like any Filipino gathering, the night was celebrated with a bounty buffet dinner. Served were the very authentic Japanese food we’ve been waiting and craving for, SUSSSSSHIIIII. Howdy! Who’s who, and who’s rat when fresh fish and tempuras were served? During the course, cultural presentations were done. What a pressure for me, Okasan was in the audience, in the not so far table. During the dance, I really saw her so proud and cheerful. The little drummer children of Kuji and traditional performers presented too. After the meals, I and my rat siblings interacted with Okasan and made some little dramatic scene just like the others with their beloved host families. Okasan was really sincere and that moment was really heartbreaking for me. She hugged us so tightly and I couldn’t help but shed tears. Okasan prepared a simple gift that I really appreciated for certainly, with it, I would never forget Kuji City and would never get out of track if I ever travel back there. The rest of the moments, everyone was sobbing as each bidded “Sayonnara” to loving host family that has earned a place in heart even in a short moment spent together. From that, I was really sure that the BOND is so unbreakable and the program’s objectives was so fulfilled. We ended the day expressing our gratitude and sending our special farewell to the Kuji staff that carefully assisted us all throughout.

The next day was a mixture of sadness and glee for the rat, for the fact that he was leaving a place that he has learned to embrace in his heart and for also the fact that he could now take the fur off as we invade the springy Tokyo again. We took again the Shinkansen bullet train from Morioka Station to Tokyo, and that was almost a two-hour trip. And as we reached the streets again, I knew my other reasons to celebrate. The cherry blossoms greeted us, and I was sure the feeling of me and my fellow rat in the closet was so “bring-home-some-twigs.” The bliss we were taking was so unexplainable, having experienced the Japan’s best, Yuki and Sakura. In the evening we checked in the same hotel in Iidabashi, Chiyoda, Tokyo. And what the hell were the remaining dollars waiting for, convert galore for we would be shopping in Tokyo at night.

Since Day 2, I was already eyeing for Shibuya, Tokyo’s center of pop culture where you could see people all dressed up like dolls and other Japanese anime characters while it is normal for them. And I was really sure that’s hell a destination to try especially for some rat like me to finally test my mapping and tracking abilities, my doubts to that! After our last dinner in Tokyo which was so good, I have already decided to choose Akihabara, Tokyo’s home of appliances and gadgets at its most available price over 100 Yen Shop since it was the only choice provided to us. I was really surprised when my Japanese coordinator gladly told me personally that she would allow me to go Shibuya. She had given me directions, too, my squeaks to that! And of course that’d be a crazy hell of adventure if I’d be going alone, so I took my best bud who’s also a super JPop fanatic to go with me, but still it might still be risky for us two tiny rats to come out of the cage so we had to recruits other rats to go cheese hunting with us. We ended to a circle of five.  To start the emancipation of the rats, I knew the adventure was really not going to be that easy. It was hell so crazy and ridiculous. We entered the Iidabashi station without knowing where and how we could buy a ticket. We noticed these machines that look like ATM in us, and there was a huge train map overhead. We finally knew that it’s the ticket machine but heck, no one knows how to operate nor the what is our destination's station code. Fortunately, a very generous lady (who might have heard our freak murmurs) offered to help. She taught us how to buy a tight, and dope, I promise it was hell so ratting - the machine knows how to give exact change! We then proceeded to the turnstile in which we had to feed out ticket to enter and retrieve it for our future exit. But having entered the station wasn’t still a sigh of relief for us, we still have to get to right line – Yamanote that would drop us to Yoyogi or Shinjuku. And how kind and helpful were these Japanese, they wouldn’t really let us down and get lost, they would assist us as much as they could. We approached this old guy to ask if we’re on the right line and how do we transfer to another line to Shibuya. Though he spoke English so well, he actually don’t know the proper directions too so he just put out his iPhone 4s (WTH) and showed us a mobile map. That was totally a woah moment to us (HAHA). But the only thing we understood from him was that we just had to transfer to green line since train lines are color coded. When we dropped off Shinjuku, we just did another crazy thing. We thought we had to purchase another ticket so we almost exited the station, but luckily we realized that no, we just had to ride another train in green line. So we went round and round, back and forth in our mistakes and crazy shits. Inside the train, we finally felt that we’re truly tourists, though it was an alienating feel to us, and as much as we could, we should talk in English. The Japanese didn’t really care at all since they were so serious and busy in nature, seated properly and politely, and busy playing with their effing iPhone 4s (yeah I swear, all around people were in iPhones). We finally exited the Shibuya train station, and I’m telling you, the city that I thought was New York wowed us down to our knees. Our laughs were quivering into unexplainable feeling of happiness and amazement. I could not count my OMGs anymore stepping there in the middle of wide and multiple crossing pedestrian lanes, for we didn’t actually know which way our feet could take us. Honestly, the total feel was ecstatic and we just liked to walk each street while the scenes overwhelmingly ate us. We first entered Shibuya 109, the most famous shopping mall, then a cellphone accessory center until we raided H&M on its Spring SALE. I am telling you the price was not New York at all, it was honestly a classy tiangge that you could almost bring home everything you wanted and pay for a painless price. That moment was surreal until it almost ate up all our remaining time to rove the city streets.

In my mind, I quietly realized then a significant thing, the difference of a tiger country to the third world ones. People feel so equal that you could not almost notice the economic classes. There are colors of collars but they highly respect each other, regardless of job since they are all paid right. If in the Philippines you could boss over the jeepney driver or a service crew of a fast food chain, in Japan you have to see them at the same level. Luxuries cost less than food that’s why there are no meriendas, since there is also a thinking that you don’t actually deserve to pamper your stomach when your job is actually sitting in your office, in front of your Facebook account or at the face of your co-lurker chatting about last night’s episode of your favorite teleserye. People wear mask to avoid spread or contamination of disease, since hospital is also costly and they couldn't afford to disturb their jobs and most especially others who are as busy as anyone. Developed countries like Japan I think are well-deserved since its people are productive in every bit, working hard and behaving right not only for himself but for his neighbor and nation, too. 

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