My April 2017: Kimono, Missiles, and a Potato Crisis

Logically, it would make sense to pick up where I last left off—at the airport, flying off to Middle Earth, ready to go hiking in the Misty Mountains… wait, no, no. I’ve got it all wrong. The last part about the Misty Mountains didn’t happen. And… this blog post isn’t about New Zealand. (Sorry! I’ll get around to it eventually!)

Life ever since returning home from NZ has been quite crazy and there is too much to write, too much to say. I’ve been overwhelmed whenever I’ve thought of this blog recently, hence I’ve said absolutely nothing. Where to start, where to start?

Well, let’s begin on a happy note with KIMONO. My competition is over! Here’s a rundown of the hectic week leading up to that big day:

Monday, April 3rd: after 17 hours stuck on airplanes and a day of walking around Hong Kong (due to a long layover), we landed in Haneda Airport at 10:45 PM. Haneda officials decided to individually scan all arriving passengers for fevers—with only ONE machine— so J and I missed the last train to our Tokyo hostel. We took a very expensive taxi to said hostel, arrived around 1:00 in morning, and immediately went to bed.

Tuesday, April 4th: after a solid 3 hours of sleep, J and I awoke at 4:30, checked out of the hostel, and caught the 5:06 AM first train back to Ibaraki. I arrived at my apartment around 7:15, showered, scavenged a breakfast from my empty fridge, and then went to work. Luckily, it was still “spring break” for students, so no classes. I spent the day practicing kimono.

Wednesday, April 5th: this was the Goodbye Ceremony, where all the teachers who officially switched to new schools on April 1st came back and gave goodbye speeches to all the students who didn’t know that these teachers were leaving. Switching schools is a huge annual secret in Japan. Rumors about who is leaving start circulating between coworkers in the beginning of March, but students are kept clueless until the teacher has actually started working at their new school. I lost a lot of good coworkers that day, although for the most part, it wasn’t a surprise for me. Wednesday night, there was the big Goodbye / Welcome enkai, where everyone gets together to celebrate the leaving teachers and say hello to the new teachers. For me, this meant listening to endless speeches that I couldn’t understand, eating good food, and finally getting the hang of pouring drinks for everyone to socialize with them. A merry gathering, but exhausting.

Thursday, April 6th: the Opening Ceremony for the 2nd and 3rd grade students, plus more hours of kimono practice for me.

Friday, April 7th: the Entrance Ceremony for the new 1st grade students. This one is almost as formal as graduation—the gym is decorated with the same red and white banners, the parents are all dressed up in suits offset by flowery house slippers, and important people from the City Hall come to give interminable speeches. After work, I packed up all my kimono things into a big suitcase and took the train(s) to Tokyo to meet my parents, who had flown in from the U.S. a few days earlier.

Saturday, April 8th: the day was spent with my parents (we went to Oedo-Onsen Monogatari!) and the evening was spent sitting in my hotel room, getting my hair twisted, pulled, hair-sprayed, and styled into a gigantic poof. Then, my parents and I went out to dinner. My very traditional Japanese hairstyle earned me more curious stares than normal.

Yep, I rocked this fancy hairdo in an udon shop.

Sunday, April 9th: THE 2017 WORLD KIMONO COMPETITION!

And~ that’s enough about kimono. Cliffhanger! Kind of sort of not really.

Next, MISSILES.

I don’t usually talk about world events here, but this topic is a little closer to home for me. News is buzzing that North Korea is planning to launch some missiles, and everywhere within radius is a little wary. Japan, included. Especially after what happened last month: North Korea launched four missiles in early March, three of which landed just 200 miles off Japan’s coast.

Aside from provoking conflict and killing civilians, I’m not sure that North Korea would gain much from launching a missile at Japan. Nonetheless, at today’s teacher’s meeting, we were given handouts advising what to do in case a missile is fired in our direction. The advice was mostly useless—protect your head (because that will stop a missile) and get underground (sure, where’s our closest cave?)—or it was common sense—get away from windows, evacuate the area if a missile does strike, etc. To be honest, my coworkers didn’t seem terribly concerned at the meeting, but I’ve overheard a few mentions of missiles today. So it’s been fluttering around on peoples’ minds.

Personally, I’m wondering if I should be more worried than I am actually feeling right now. I suppose if North Korea aims for Tokyo and miscalculates, then missiles have a chance of landing in Ibaraki? I feel very safe, though, so no worries here!

Last, I want to talk about THE GREAT HOKKAIDO POTATO CRISIS (not the official name).

You see, Hokkaido Prefecture grows about 70% of Japan’s potatoes. It’s a huge, peaceful agricultural prefecture, way up north, safe from all typhoons. Well, except last year. In August 2016, three typhoons hit Hokkaido in quick succession, causing extensive flooding and damaging many crops.

Potatoes seem to have been hit the hardest, which recently prompted Calbee Inc. and Koike-Ya Inc.—two major Japanese potato chip brands—to halt sales of 49 potato chip products starting mid-April of this year, aka a week ago. If you believe the internet, people apparently panicked and started mass-buying all the chips, even at insanely inflated prices. However, as someone who has been to the local supermarkets recently, I can assure you that it isn’t a total crisis. You can still buy potato chips, although it is true that the variety is lower than normal and that there are empty spaces on some of the shelves.

Even if the crisis worsens and potatoes chips are completely wiped from Japanese stores over the next few months, I remain unconcerned. If I am, for some unlikely reason, in desperate need of potato chips, I will turn to J, since J was one of the people who panicked and bought a bunch of chips a few days ago!

If you are confused about the point behind this post, well… so was I, when I started writing it. Halfway through, I decided that this was just a little update about life in my tiny corner of the world, a friendly “Hello!” and “How’s it going?” from Ibaraki. Especially since missiles and potato shortages have made Ibaraki a slightly more interesting place than normal!

In the coming weeks, I plan to write more seriously about the 2017 Kimono Competition and my New Zealand trip, so check back in every once in a while if you are interested in that!

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