Megumi and Me

Last September I made a new friend. I was wanting to find a new student to tutor in order to brush up on my teaching skills to come to Japan. I was introduced to Megumi, a Japanese woman living in Jackson, who's husband was a president at Michigan Automotive Compressor Inc. or MACI. We began meeting once a week for me to help her practice English, but quickly we developed a frienship and were doing more and more things together.
This June, Megumi and her husband moved back to Japan after five years in the USA. When I was talking about living in Japan Megumi was excited to see be there and share her culture with me, just I had shared mine with her.
Our chance to see each other came a lot quicker than I would have thought. She lives in Nagoya, which is a three our drive from my city of Kanazawa. On my first weekend in Japan, Megumi came to visit me! She says she wants to be my Aunt, which is great because of course it difficult having no family here in Japan.
She arrived as scheduled to my apartment around 11 am. We discussed the things we would do that day, as I had a list of things I wanted her to help me with. The list included things as small as setting a clock for me to as large as going in the public hot spring bath house. Let me tell you about our day...
First we grabbed some lunch in a small and traditional restaurant serving okonomiyaki. Since I had her with me, I wanted to try something new so she could help me order. It was so delicous! It is difficult to describe, but all I know is that I love it!
Next took some clothing to a dry cleaner near my apartment. Again, without her help I wouldn't have known what to say here, so it was helpful for her to show me how to do this errand. We walked around my neighborhood and she pointed out different things I may like to try. We also found a post office, where she helped me buy some international stamps. Now I have the language and ability to buy them on my own.
We later hopped in her car so we could tour a bit farthur. I'm not typically one for high end shopping, but we came across a specality honey shop with all products made from honey. It was above my price range for just now, but it was a really fun experience exploring it. We decided we wanted to have Baskin Robbins so she set her GPS to it and we drove in that direction. This was the second time during this day that I had a completely blissful moment with food. I haven't eaten Baskin Robbins in many years so it was a huge treat for me. I got two scoops, one green tea flavor and the other rocky road.
I told Megumi that I was hoping to find a second hand or consignment shop here in Kanazawa. I don't like spending a lot of money on clothes, especially ones that I don't know if I'll keep for too long. She was able to help me with this and we found an incredible consignment shop with very cute clothes, shoes, outer wear, sporting goods, and so much more. I bought a pair of shoes to wear inside my school (we must change out of our street shoes and into indoor shoes when entering school). The price tag said they cost 530 yen or around $5, but when we got to the check out they were half off! Score!! I also walked out with a 500 yen off coupon for next time. We found out this store was only about two miles from my apartment, so on my bicycle it will be easy to frequent for me.
For dinner (though we each were not very hungry) we went to the conveyor belt sushi place closest to my apartment. This is when I had my third food related blissful moment that day. The fresh fish in Kanazawa is nothing less than amazing. The taste and texture is out of this world. We enjoyed some sushi together and left satisfied.
We stopped off at home for a bit and I asked her if she would be interested in going in the public onsen (hot spring bath) in my neighborhood. She was happy to go with me, which pleased me because I would not have had the confidence to go there by myself without a little guidance. Similar to the public bath houses in Morocco I visited, this is a place I can see myself going weekly.
Since Japan is a volcanic country there is hot spring water under ground at any given time. In Japan this water is tapped on the surface and an onsen is made. It is a custom to go in these for relaxation and health. We stopped at the machine and bought our entry ticket for 430 yen or just over $4. We went into the locker room to remove all of our clothes before entering the onsen room. Firstly, you must wash your body and hair. You do this by sitting at the small vanity with a stool and small shower head with a light and mirror in front of you. The entire room is made of tile so you can get water and soap any place you like. Once you are clean you can enter the hot spring water baths. In this room there were four different baths. I think they were all about the same temperature, which felt about like a hot tub. There is one bath of cold water if you need to cool off. Additionally, there is a dry sauna room and showers with massaging heads for your shoulders and back. The water has a brown tint to it, I'm told it is because it is natural spring water.
Having Megumi visit was sush a pleasure. Since she lived in the United States for many years, she understands my culture, so I wasn't nervous about committing a faux pas in front of her. Since I am competely illiterate in Japanese and have little language skills, having her by my side helped me take a few more steps toward independence here in Japan.

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From Japan: Just a Few Thoughts

With just less than one week on the ground here in Japan, my mind is exploding with questions, confusion, thoughts and feelings. I can not exactly produce much of a composed post at this time, but I would like to give a list of random observations from the beginning of this journey in Japan.
1. Every time I see a shiba inu (a daily occurance) I turn into a excited 4-year-old child!
2. The teachers room in my school reminds me of news room, extremely active and always busy. (In Japan students stay stationary in classrooms and the teachers go to them. The teachers room is a large communal space where teachers have desks.)
3. In Japan we not only drive on the left side of the road, we talk on the left side of the sideway. Now I am that idiot walking against the flow of traffic!
4. Japanese people seem to be quite active and physically healthy. Its nice to be able to jog outside without being stared at. For the most part I am not being stared at, at all.
5. Shopping is extremely HARD. Since I cant read anything in Japanese I cant tell the difference between bubble bath and drink mix. Just an extreme example, but I really dont know how to identify much of anything if there is no picture.
I apologize for no photos at this time, but soon I should have a cell phone and Internet connection. I have so much to learn and in turn so much to share. Thank you for taking this journey with me!

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Stuff and Relationships

I don't think you could find one person that enjoys moving. Sure, living in a new city, navigating new streets, and experiencing new challenges has it's draws. But I'm talking about the packing up of belongings, putting them on a truck, and physically taking them someplace else. That part's not fun. 

On this eve of a new adventure I'm thinking about tons of things, but what I just can't get out of my mind is how much I dislike stuff.  People who know me, know I'm not a lover of stuff. I feel bogged down by too much of it and quickly want to weed through what is necessary and what is dead weight. However, there's nothing quite like moving to truly make to stare down all your stuff in the face. Right now, I feel like my stuff is against me, and we just aren't getting along. 

Being the way I am, 30, single, frugal and a free spirit, means that most of my stuff are hand-me-downs. Much of the stuff that I own doesn't have much value and I'm sure I only use about 10% of it on a regular basis. I realize I may be being overly dramatic, but it's all relative. I just filled a 10x5 room with my stuff of a lifetime and the thought of it sitting there gets under my skin. I realize people have entire houses full plus basements and attics and even storage units. For me, though I'm thankful for that room, it's also my own personal hell. 

The way I am feeling about this stuff finally helps me to solidify what I had been trying to solidify for a long time. The stuff you collect in life has such little value, what is valuable is your  numerous relationships. This leads me to the second thing I have been thinking a lot about. I can hardly comprehend the outpouring of love that has come my way by all the people in my life when hearing that I am making this journey. Those are the things I will be missing the most, are the toughest to leave, and will be most eager to get back to when it's time to come home. While I find myself wanting to chuck away almost all of my belongings, I find myself wanting to hold onto those relationships with every fiber of my being.

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Cash's Corner Goes to Japan

For the past 10 months I have been on a road toward moving to Japan. Now, in just days time I will be finally making the leap. 

When I returned from Morocco, settling back into life in Jackson was comfortable and safe. I loved being near family again, I made some incredible new friends, and had a wide range of personal and professional experience to add to my list. Though, something in me always wanted to go abroad again. There were times I thought more seriously about it and others that it seemed like a distant pipe dream. I knew there would be a perpetual voice within that would not quiet until I lived abroad again. Over time, I thought maybe it would diminish, but fear that it would not has been driving me down a path toward Japan. 

In October 2015 I officially applied for the JET Program. Standing for Japanese Exchange and Teaching this  30-year-old program brings native English speakers from 40 countries into Japan to live and work in public schools. They work as assistant language teachers, or ALTs, alongside Japanese born English teachers to teach students in a natural way. 

I will be living and working in a city called Kanazawa in the county or prefecture of Ishikawa. My students will be in high school aged and I am told I will be teaching 3-4 classes per day between the hours of 8:30 and 4:15. I am encouraged to participate in after school English club activities as well. Participants in the JET Program are extremely valued and treated with respect in Japan. I will be enjoying a comfortable lifestyle coupled with a rewarding job. 

Some other perks of the job:
-35 hour work week
-Salary of about $31,000 USD per year (paid in local currency)
-A fully furnished, beautiful apartment with rent subsidized in half by my employer
-Tax free status in Japan for up to 2 years
-Enrollment in nation wide health care plan and teacher pension program, money which may be withdrawn when I return to the US
-A supportive and respected network
-Chance to live without a vehicle again
-Ability to work with teens

I'm excited about the unique experiences that will be coming my way. My contract is for one year and may be renewed for up to five. I have no idea right now how long I will stay, it's only something I can decide once experiencing life in Japan. 

I've grown a lot in the past six months. This decision to go to Japan was not the easiest for me. Over the course of the 10 month waiting period I was put through a few tests that tested my patience, dedication, and commitment. Ultimately, I stuck it out and I think I will be rewarded for that. I had to come to a place that I would be going to Japan for the right reasons. Not to prove to anyone how cool I am, not even to prove something to myself. Really just to feed a desire in me that I would regret if I hadn't. I've been gifted a wonderful opportunity. Japan is a wonderful country and it can't be a bad way to spend a year. 

Be on the lookout for the numerous entries that will come out of Cash's Corner from Japan. Come one, come all, it's going to be an interesting ride! 

Please stay in contact!


Postal address in Japan:
Alex Cash
Grand Heights Yayoi #205
Yayoi 3-7-14
Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa-ken
Japan 921-8036

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John F. Kennedy for President

My final day: Boston. I tried to sleep in as long as I could and enjoy the privacy and quiet of my hostel until check-out at 11 a.m. I wouldn't be catching my flight until 9:10 p.m. so I had a long day ahead of me. I packed my things up, put them in the storage room at the hostel, and set off for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. It was one of those things I decided to do once arriving in Boston and I'm  glad I did. It was a bit of a journey, but well worth the trip. 

This is when my historical journey fast forwards to the 1960s. I have always loved the Kennedy family and the 60s is a decade that I am often obsessed with. Seeing the museum that is dedicated to the short lived presidency of JFK,was extremely intriguing to me. Typically, I go through museums at a pretty quick speed, but not this one. I stopped to watch nearly every video playing and read every bit of information. It filled me with pride and admiration of President Kennedy. I especially enjoyed the Office of the Attorney General exhibit, because it was for Bobby. I love JFK, but at times I love RFK more. I, like many Americans, love to wonder what may have happened in our nation's history if Bobby would have been able to run for president in 1968.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a small journey from downtown Boston, but can be serviced by public transportation. In it, you will go through a short journey in time as JFK campaigned for president, won the election, and served in the White House. The museum sits 1.5 miles from the nearest subway stop and when arriving there I walked that distance to the museum. Later I found out I could have taken a free shuttle, oh well, I did it on the way back.

This blog is not typically very political, but in light of the recent Republican National Convention followed by the Democratic National Convention I want to make one or two comments. I think it's fitting within this post, which looks at a  time that is being mimicked by our current state of international and domestic affairs. Also a president who's energy and sentiment is being channeled by our current democratic leadership.

What is clear to see is that the recent RNC was filled with high amounts of hate, fear, cynicism, and individualism. While the DNC seemed to be a place full of love, hope, and togetherness. Sitting here, just a few shorts weeks before I plan to leave the country for a year or two, my American pride is reinvigorated. I've not been more hopeful about this country for many years. Despite all the hateful acts going on here, and dealing with that embarrassment, the DNC has made me more hopeful than ever. I will be casting my vote for president this year, though from afar, but I can't miss this opportunity to make my mark on this historic election.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. I know many people do not want to engage in political conversation because it happens to be a topic that is very polarized in the United States. Somebody always has to walk away mad. I find this unfortunate, because a democracy is for the people, by the people. It should not be a taboo subject or something you are afraid to bring up. It is our lives. The fact that we have the right to vote for our leadership is a privilege, especially for minorities and women, who have not always been so fortunate. Furthermore, it is a duty. Informed voting is what is most important of all. I do not care what your political views are, I do not care if we disagree, I only care that you have taken the time to research issues and candidates on reputable sources so you are making choices based on facts and unbiased opinions. Be cognizant of what information you are taking in, question things, and never be a slave to media sensationalism. I know politics can be frustrating with the banter, mudslinging, and gridlock. However, lets be thankful that we live in a country where issues can be argued over, scrutinized, and we don't have to accept what we don't agree with without putting up a fight.

Your politicians are working for you. Take time to remind them of that. Write letters, contact them, and realize that at the state and local level is where most of the decisions are being made that will effect your life.

Visit Project Vote Smart online to find a wealth of information on most all elected officials. Hundreds of dedicated individuals put in countless hours gathering information about their political stances, views on issues, and voting records. Also find addresses to write them letters and tell them exactly what you want from them.

If you don't know who represents you in congress, look them up here.

Travel details
What: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Where: Columbia Point, Boston, MA
Cost: $14 for an adult
Why go: If you enjoy learning about the early 1960s and John F. Kennedy.

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