written by Ruthie @ 10:18 PM   2 comments
I made two origami flower arrangements shortly after I came to Japan. I was bored and my apartment was very sparsely decorated. Give me a break. Anyway, I need to make new ones, because with the ever-present humidity in the air my stems are starting to sag and the flowers are slightly faded from the sun.


written by Ruthie @ 5:12 AM   0 comments
Violets outside of the church.

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written by Ruthie @ 2:42 AM   0 comments
It was lightly raining this morning as I waited for my ride to church. I love how gentle spring rains make the green pop off the trees and the colors of the flowers deeper and more important. I whipped out my camera and got some really pretty pictures:
Irises are my favorite flower. These irises are in my favorite color. Thus they bring me such joy when I come in from a long day of school and see that more have bloomed since I left in the morning.

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written by Ruthie @ 2:39 AM   1 comments
Field Trip
The school took a field trip to a park that's a 2-minute walk from my apartment. Bummer. I wanted to go to the aquarium or something. It was a fun day, however, of snacking and laying on tarps chatting with students.
The 2E Class, the equivalent of juniors in high school. From Top Left: Saki, Yuriko, Satomi, Chihiro (actually, a 3E), Asuka. Bottom Left: Nozomi, Nana, Mai, Yuki, Kazumi, Nozomi, Marina, and Chiaki. I have two classes a week with these students: conversation and writing.
Most of the 3E students (seniors): From left: Saharu, me, Ayana, Chihiro, Megumi, Mina. I no longer teach a class with these guys-- Rachel gets to teach them. But I see Mina at church, and Chihiro regularly comes to the English Lounge to chat. I see the other students occasionally when they have to come to the office for something.


written by Ruthie @ 3:08 AM   0 comments
You know how in the 90s blue raspberry all of a sudden became the best thing ever and every candy came out with a blue raspberry-flavored Skittle/Starburst/Slushie, and then more recently (say, the past few years) how the big chocolate makers finally caught on to why everyone loves Thin Mints more than all the other Girl Scout cookies and why people choose to go to restaurants that give out free Andes Mints instead of those stupid read and white Starlite mints and then every Hershey bar/Hershey's Kisses/Oreo had a mint/chocolate flavor? Turns out America isn't the only country to have in-vogue flavors. I think tiramisu is the new hot flavor in Japan. This is AWESOME news for me because I LOVE TIRAMISU MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF. To wit:
First, Etsuko-san made a tiramisu for dessert at the house meeting the day after I said to myself, "Boy, I've really got a hankering for some tiramisu." I got SO EXCITED when she said dessert was tiramisu. You have no idea. I think I actually scared some Japanese because I was giggling and jumping up and down and rapidly repeating the word, "tiramisu" in a sing-songy way. In short, was flipping out.

Then, in the Tokyo airport on my way home a girl in a small convenience store was giving out free samples of some kind of wafer-type cookie and there was a tiramisu-flavored kind that I got to sample. Then, at the grocery store a few weeks ago I saw a single-serving cup of tiramisu ice cream (left)! Layers of chocolate espresso in creamy vanilla ice cream! Then three days ago I was shopping with my friend, Jenn, and I saw tiramisu Pocky (right). How awesome is that?! TIRAMISU ON A STICK. Life is now complete.

Still... none of these products can compete to homemade tiramisu with fresh-brewed espresso, stale ladyfingers, mascarpone cheese, whipped cream, and cocoa powder. And licking the plate (or bowl, as we do in my family) clean after a third helping. When Mom makes tiramisu everyone in the house gains 10 pounds.
written by Ruthie @ 7:56 AM   2 comments
This is a karaoke joint. There are five floors, each with its own theme (for example, one floor is decorated in an Indian style, another is like a confectionery, I think one is supposed to be in a rock-n-roll style, whatever that is). You go into a little room with a table, a few chairs, and a big TV. You can order food and drinks with a phone in the room that connects you to the front desk. It's about five dollars for an hour of singing. And they have a lot of American music. They even had "Love Shack" and "Pinball Wizard." Not bad, I'd say.


written by Ruthie @ 8:33 AM   0 comments
Gimme a Break
My father and I have this ongoing joke with KitKats in Japan. It started when Dad mentioned that there was a new Oreo flavor he and Mom fell in love with-- Dulce de Leche. I wanted to share a cool flavor story, too, so I told them about how Japan has different KitKat flavors than just chocolate (don't get me wrong-- regular KitKats are the bomb. I love nibbling the chocolate off the sides and pulling the wafers apart to eat one by one. It gets a little messy if you're unexperienced). So then Dad said, "Well, I'll send you some Dulce de Leche Oreos if you send me some weird KitKats." So I did. And when I went home a couple weeks ago I brought some more weird KitKats. So far I have seen the following flavors:
  • green tea
  • strawberry and nuts
  • banana
  • cherry
  • peach
  • white chocolate
  • brandy and orange
  • blueberry
I think my favorite so far has been the blueberry. The green tea ones were nasty. I haven't actually tried the banana, peach, or brandy and orange ones, but they sure do look good.

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written by Ruthie @ 8:26 AM   0 comments
Grocery Shopping
On a hazy spring afternoon
the tiny wooden voices of several grandmas
mixes with dead cherry blossom petals
as I walk home from the store.


written by Ruthie @ 8:51 PM   0 comments

I went to a flower festival last night and again today. Like I mentioned before, it is sakura season in Japan, and it's only logical that there is a festival to celebrate it (Japan has an awful lot of festivals). Like festivals and major holidays in the States, festivals in Japan are usually reasons to get drunk and eat lots of fatty food. Actually, when I was in China there was a festival where similar events took place, i.e., lots of drinking and partying into the night for no reason but that it was a festival. Funny how things like that are seemingly in every culture.

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written by Ruthie @ 8:45 PM   1 comments
Everywhere sakura! It's cherry blossom (sakura) season here in the land of the rising sun. The weeklong blooming period started while I was in America. I have been shocked again and again at just how many sakura trees there are in Japan. I had no idea all these trees would bloom so beautifully in the spring! The sakura season is highly celebrated in Japan. There are seasonal gift items, cakes, and candies available with a cherry or cherry blossom theme. People flock to parks to view flowers. I read a book recently that said that when Buddhism was adopted by the Japanese, flower viewing was incorporated as another form of meditation. I have always believed in the restorative quality of reflecting on the beauty of nature, so I tend to think there's some truth to the philosophy of viewing nature as a type of meditation. Anyway, the photo is of a sakura tree near my apartment.

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written by Ruthie @ 6:13 AM   1 comments
To America and Back
After a long period of silence I finally got enough complaints that I haven't sent an update email in awhile, and since I have had a very eventful month I figured I had enough pithy stories to satisfy my update email expectations. So here goes.

I spent my spring break in Iowa. I decided to come back to the States on a whim a week before break started. I was talking to my coworker, Rachel, about how homesick I was and how drained I felt and how I just wanted to forget about school for awhile. As we talked we both figured that a trip home would be just what I needed. So we hopped on the internet and found a reasonable ticket for me. Then I realized how much crap I had to get done before I left. I had to go to a city office to get a multiple re-entry visa that cost about USD $60. I had to tie up some loose ends at school (which proved to be difficult. Apparently I needed permission to go home during my vacation time. I was more than a little annoyed). I had to pack. I had to figure out how to get to the Fukuoka airport, then how to switch from one airport to another in Tokyo. Most of all, I wanted to surprise my family and just show up in Des Moines on Saturday. Well, that didn't work out so well. The airline had to call my listed emergency contact number, which happened to be my family's home number. The conversation between my father and an airline representative a few days before my flight probably went something like this:

"Hello, Mr. Oooompthum?"
"This is Northwest Airlines. I'd like to speak to Ruthann Oooompthum regarding her flight from Fukuoka, Japan on March 24th."
"Oh really. This is the first I've heard of it. If she's flying from Japan, why are you calling the United States to find her?"

From that phone call my dad figured out (wily fox that he is) that I was coming home for a vacation. So he told everyone. Well, ALMOST everyone. He kept it a secret from my grandma Wood and the dog, he said. Although, that didn't stop my mother from trying to pretend like she didn't know I was coming when I called. She tried so hard to convince me she was clueless. It was cute.

So I came home. And the first meal I had in the States was...... takeout Chinese food. How hilarious is that? I surprised my grandmother at her retirement home and I was afraid for a moment that the shock was going to kill her. It was great. I also got to surprise her friends there. My grandma was the proudest lady in the joint that evening. She was showing me off like a prize-winning poodle. "Look who came all the way from Japan to visit me?!" she said, her face glowing. She was kidding, of course.

Here are some things that surprised me as I re-acquainted myself with the United States:
  • Americans are rude. Seriously. The difference in decorum between the flight attendants on my Japan flight and the international flight was STAGGERING. The Japanese flight attendants are the epitome of grace. They always look like they're in control. They are always smiling. Their body language is fluid and calming to watch. In contrast, American flight attendants often look busy and annoyed. Sometimes they don't even use polite language. For example, instead of, "Excuse me, could you please put your seat back up for the landing?" I often heard "Sir, could you put your seat up? Just put it up." In the Minneapolis airport the difference in the attitude of the store clerks and restaurant workers was glaring as well. At Subway the two workers I encountered weren't paying attention to what I asked for, talking with their friends, didn't use "please" or "thank you," didn't smile. Before I went to Japan this stuff bothered me a little, since I've worked in the service industry and I know what I like to see in a clerk. But after living in Japan for nine months their behavior seemed so rude.
  • We have a lot of space in America. I don't think people realize how good they have it to have a huge front and back lawn, let alone a huge house. Most Japanese houses have a tiny walled-in garden that may or may not contain a small patch of grass. If you have any kind of grass in front or behind your house that resembles a lawn, you are sitting pretty. Seriously.
  • Americans hug a lot. This is one thing I noticed that I really missed while living in Japan. Americans are just more touchy-feely. When I went up to Northwestern I was hugging twenty people a day or more. People I hardly knew were coming up to me for a hug. It was great. In Japan the personal bubble is not necessarily bigger than in the US, but it is definitely kept personal for most people.
Since being to Japan and China and Eastern Europe I have grown to dread international travel. I'll tell you why: it is a headache and a half. Here's the schedule I had on my journey back to Japan:

10:00 AM depart from Des Moines Airport.
(1 hour time change)
1:00 arrive in Detroit Airport. Go through customs and baggage check and eat lunch.
2:20 PM depart from Detroit Airport. Don't sleep on the plane at all (because for some reason you are physically unable). Watch three movies and read a little for 13 hours.
(14 hour time change)
4:00 PM Arrive at Tokyo Narita Airport. Go through customs and baggage claim and buy snacks for a very unhealthy supper.
4:45 PM take a bus from Tokyo Narita Airport to Tokyo Haneda Airport. Be forced to listen to American Navy guys talk about all the Japanese women they want to have sex with. Ugh.
6:00 PM arrive at Tokyo Haneda Airport. Go through customs and baggage check. Sit in the airport for two hours watching Japanese TV ads that loop over and over again.
8:00 PM depart from Tokyo Haneda Airport. Actually sleep a little!
9:50 PM arrive at Fukuoka Airport. Go through baggage claim.
10:05 PM board a subway for Nakasukawabata.
10:18 PM frantically run from the subway to the bus stop, because if you don't make this bus, you're probably stuck on this island until morning. Hail a taxi and make him drive you a block and a half because your bag is too heavy to pull behind you.
10:28 PM board a bus from Shimonoseki. Sit, relax, and wipe all the sweat off your face.
11:54 PM finally arrive in Shimonoseki. Hail a cab to take you to your apartment, because you're just too tired to walk 10 minutes from the bus station to your apartment.
12:00 AM Collapse. But remember to set your alarm for 6:30 AM because you have to go to school tomorrow.

So now I'm at school. I don't really feel so tired yet. It'll probably hit me tonight. I dunno. But I'm back safe in Japan. I made all my flights and subways and buses. And I can't take credit for that. It was all a God-thing. In fact, it always has been, hasn't it?


written by Ruthie @ 9:27 PM   0 comments

Name: Ruthie
Home: Japan
About Me: I want to know who God is and what his truth is. I love getting lost in beautiful music and cloudless star-filled skies, especially in the fall. I hate being bored. I like big cities. I want to travel the world.
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