The Ohio night falls around 9pm in the summertime, and with the darkness comes the fireflies, hoards of them, glowing like stars in the blackness.  So many stars.  In Hawaii there are no fireflies, no dots of light in the trees after the steady sunset.  I’d forgotten how thick the field of fireflies could be back home.

Japan is very big on the appreciation of nature.  In the spring, as the sakura bloom, the parks are flooded with picnickers, settling down with blue tarps and bento boxes to participate in hanami, the flower viewing.  Autumn brings the momiji gari, the viewing of the changing leaves.  (Japan, it should be noted, is also very proud of their “four distinctive seasons”.)  In the summertime, they have the hotaru gari, the viewing of fireflies.

Running through June and most of July, my study abroad in Kobe put me in Japan right during hotaru gari season.  Many of my classmates, having grown up in Hawaii, were thrilled at their first chance to see fireflies.  They planned an excursion into Osaka, to a park known for having fireflies.  I declined the trip.  It was a weekday, I had studying to do, and I’d spent all my childhood chasing lightning bugs.

A few nights later, as my host family sat around the living room before heading to bed, my host father came to us with a suggestion.  It was one that I struggled to understand, because neither of us was fluent in the other’s language, and our communications involved a lot of hand gestures and dictionary referencing with a healthy dose of guessing.  As far as I could tell, he was asking if I’d like to go up the hill and see some worms.  It seemed like an odd thing to do at night, but I agreed, because I’d come to Japan to be adventurous, after all.   So we all threw coats on over our pajamas and headed up the hill towards the park.

My host family lived a few blocks from what could barely be called a river.  We followed the river up the mountain, my host brother bounding ahead with limitless energy as I flagged wheezily at the rear of our little parade.  I hadn’t wandered up this way before, and I’d rarely wandered the city at night.  It was slightly creepy and I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if we encountered the family of wild boars that I was always seeing in the river as I walked to and from school.

We arrived at our destination, a small playground and wooded area bordering the river.  My family immediately began scanning the grass near the water.  I followed suit, unsure of what exactly I was looking for.  My host father was shining a flashlight into the tall grass.  Every once in a while somebody would point, uncertain, and he’d direct the beam that way.  And then something flashed and I knew.  We were hunting fireflies.

Hotaru gari translates directly as “firefly hunting”.   In Japan, there aren’t many fireflies left anymore, and so people travel to the best viewing spots just to catch a glimpse.  We saw a few fireflies that night, and my family was very happy.  I was happy with them, yet it was a strange sort of feeling, when my own memories still play clearly in my head; of running through the yard at nightfall, sweeping fireflies into my hands, letting them glow between my fingers.

Standing on the porch in Ohio as the fireflies glowed like stars in the blackness, I sent a text to my host mother.

夜の時、多いホタルをいます。 At nighttime, there are many fireflies.

Just my way of saying I’m thinking of them.

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The Beauty of Leaving

You never see a place quite the way you do when just arriving and right before leaving.

17 days and counting.  I’ve been in Hawaii four years, give or take.  A few months in Japan.  A few months back in Ohio.  But I have called Hawaii home.  I have lived here, paid rent here, voted, been hospitalized, paid taxes, stood in line at the Hawaii State DMV.  I have made friends here; and lost friends here.  I have fallen in love with the island; and I have gotten sick of this place.   I have gotten sick of the cost of rent, the cost of food, the cost of travel, of shipping, the ever present sun, the vog, being so far away, the lack of air conditioning, the lack of public restrooms, the cockroaches.  When you first arrive, you don’t see these things.

When I first arrived, it was yellow, and warm, and the flowers smelled sweet, and everyone was welcoming.  I loved the sun and the sand and the sea and the constant summer; I loved the culture and the food and the color and the vibrance and these were all I could see.  After a while I stopped seeing these things.  I became used to them, took them for granted.  They would always be there.

There is a shift, where the things you saw become the things you miss and the things you miss become the things you always see.   I think this is part of life, or at least my life; because after a while, in Hawaii, I became aware of all the wonderful things back in Ohio that I had missed out on in all my years living there.

And here lies the ironic beauty of leaving (17 days and counting).   I’ve begun to see Hawaii again, the way I first saw it.  I’m beginning to see the yellow sun, to smile at the flowers, to appreciate the rainbows again.  I’m beginning to remember why I came here, why I stayed here, and why I’m going to miss this place.  I’m even starting to get nostalgic about the cockroaches, which could be a bit overdramatic, but there you are.

But it’s okay.  I’m in a great place right now.  Because I see the beauty of Hawaii, but I also see the beauty of Ohio.   And I’m excited.

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On Graduation

There’s this date that looms in my peripheral vision, steadily approaching, often menacing; graduation.  I try not to think of it it but at the same time it feels foolish to avoid.  I’ve been in college far too long, longer than I ought to have been; and yet as much as I yearn to break free of it all, at the same time I just need more time.   I want a do-over.   Those first few years were just practice rounds.  I’ve realized too late that this isn’t what I want to be…

When you’re in college, you can work a crappy job, and nobody judges you because you’re just working your way through college.

When you’re in college, you can live in a hole in the wall, and nobody judges you because you’re paying your way through college.

When you’re in college, you can be the biggest loser, but you still have potential.  Once you graduate, the potential seeps away from you, like half life draining, until you’re nothing but a loser in a dead end job and a crappy apartment.  And student loans to pay.

What’s my half life?  42 days and counting and I don’t know what I want to be.

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A room of my own

After my parents separated, my dad moved to an apartment complex about 30 minutes away.  Although it was a one bedroom, I had my very own closet in which to keep my toys and books. On those weekends I visited I would sleep on the couch; but my bedtime was earlier than my dad was willing to relinquish the tv, so I would go to sleep in his bed and he’d carry me out to the living room when he’d finished.

I’m not sure when he moved again, whether or not it was before or after the big custody dispute, but eventually it was acknowledged that I needed a room of my own. Before I’d always shared with my half-brother (who has a different father and thus did not now factor into the equation) and so it was a thrill to decorate the room by my own aesthetic. I fancied dogs at the time, and it showed in my bedding and on my bookshelf.  My father is a very neat person and so I kept my own room remarkably tidy, a skill I’ve since lost.

I remember my first television.  It was a birthday present when I was eight or nine, a tiny thing by today’s standards but I was so proud.  On Saturday nights I would stay up late to watch Snick on Nickelodeon; Roundhouse and Are You Afraid of the Dark? and The Secret Life of Alex Mack.  And then the programming would end and I’d switch off the television and go to sleep.

I was eleven when my father moved to Florida, the place he’d spent most his childhood.  I didn’t take it well, in the long run. The first time I came down to visit, I had no bedroom, not even a toy closet.  He’d given all his things, all our things, away to Goodwill.  He’d asked me, before moving, if I’d wanted anything, but I said no.  I think I had assumed he would take it all with him, it would be there for me when I visited.  But my legos were gone, my Littlest Petshop play set, my Beverly Cleary books.  My bed was a mattress in the living room.  My father’s home wasn’t my home anymore. I felt like an unwanted guest.

My father eventually moved to a larger apartment in Florida, and when I visited I would stay in the guest room.  There was my old dresser, my old nightstand, even my old television, looking so much smaller than when I’d first gotten it as a child.  I would put clothes in the dresser, set up my phone to charge on my night stand.  But it was always the guest room, never mine.  Did other people stay there when I was away?  Did other people hang their coat in the closet?

Over a decade after moving to Florida, my father decided it was time to build a house of his own.   It is a two story house, two bedrooms, a long sprawling deck, even a fireplace, reminiscent a bit of our first family home back when my parents were still married.  I stayed over Christmas, in the guest room.  The furniture, my old furniture, had all been replaced.  New bed, new dresser.  Nothing left of me.  I left my clothing in my suitcase for the entire stay.  No use unpacking. The room wasn’t mine. I would be leaving soon.

When I went back to live in Ohio, I stayed in my mother’s guest room. We fixed it up a bit for me, put my posters on the walls, my clothes in the closet, things scattered about.  But there was always dissonance, things that didn’t quite fit to me, relics of a time when I wasn’t there.  The room has since been turned into a nursery for when my brother’s baby comes to stay.

I am an adult now.  I keep my own room, my own home.  It is mine in all aspects; I decorate, I pay the rent, I deal with pests and problems.  And yet, for as long as I’m renting, I’ll always have the feeling that it’s not truly mine.  I can’t paint the walls pink, or hang a hammock from the ceiling.  The bed and nightstand are not mine, pre-furnished.  These are other peoples things, and I have to take care of them, because in a couple of months, in a couple of years, I’ll be leaving.  No matter how many posters I stick to the wall, I’ll always be in the guest room.

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My friendly neighborhood druggists

My preferred pharmacy is slightly inconvenient.  From my old dorm it was just a couple minutes walking, but since I moved on campus it’s become slightly out of my way.  No more picking up scripts on the way to the store– my health has to be scheduled now.

I could easily have switched to several pharmacies that are closer to my new location, but I stick with my old pharmacy not out of laziness (mostly) or fear that the transition would be painful. No, I stick with them because they know me by name.

Maybe they’re on the ball, these pharmacy girls.  Maybe they’ve got such a steady stream of Japanese tourists that I stick out like a sore thumb.  Whatever the case, I barely set foot in the door when the call out to me by name.  “Oh hello, Miss Sophielynette*.  We’ll have your prescription ready in just a minute.”  She doesn’t even have to check to see what I’ve come in for.  She just knows.  Maybe they’re psychic, these pharmacy girls.  These on the ball psychic pharmacy girls.

Or maybe I’m just in there too much.

They like to chat as they’re ringing you up.  How is school going?  I forget when I told them I was in college, but they know.

“Going away for the holidays?” she asks when I stop in toward the end of semester.

“Just a short trip,” I reply awkwardly as she nonchalantly rings up my private life.

“Going to Japan again?”  And I kind of cough a little as I realize, I really do come in here too often.

“No, just visiting family.”  I collect my purchases and rush out, wondering why I feel so suddenly embarrassed.

It’s the strange sort of relationship that you have with these people who know you quite literally inside out and yet you don’t even know their names.

I grew up in a small town, where everyone knows everyone’s business and the cashier chats you up at the grocery store.  I grew up and moved away from all that, to the nameless cities of transient strangers and tourists cycling in and out.   I don’t mind the anonymity.  I don’t pine for the country.  But I still gravitate back to my little pharmacy, where they always greet me by name.  Maybe I’ll learn theirs someday.



* you don’t think I’d tell you my real name, did you?  Psh.

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Awaji Island Excursion

Awaji Island lies between and acts as a connection for the main island of Honshu and the island of Shikoku. The Akashi Kaikyo bridge spanning to Honshu is the largest suspension bridge in the world. Our excursion included the Nojima Fault (where originated the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995) and the Naruto Strait where whirlpools can be observed at high tide.










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Minatogawa Shrine


In my Way of Tea class a few semesters back, as we reviewed the history of Japanese aesthetics, I learned the difference between Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines. I’ve since forgotten, which is perhaps a reflection of the grade I got on my final, but it seems the two have all melded into a single entity in my mind. Don’t they all tie slips of paper on a rope wall, wash their hands from a well, and ring a bell to get the gods’ attention? This happened today at the Shinto shrine, I’m sure, but didn’t it also at the Zojoji Temple on New Years? I’m religiously conflicted.


The study abroad students went to the Minatogawa Shrine in Kobe today. Beforehand we were briefed on the protocol. Then we swarmed the temple, a horde of funny-looking funny-talking college kids with no manners, blocking pathways as we walked side by side. I hate traveling in groups.


We washed our hands at the well, left then right, then a swish of water in our mouths but don’t drink it! Then we lined up at the temple to do our prayers.


Start by throwing 5 yen into the offering. 5 yen in Japanese is said “goen”, which shares the same pronunciation as a phrase for good luck. If you are a horrible thrower and your offering misses, apologize to the gods and try again. Tug the rope to alert the gods of your presence, bow twice, clap twice, say your prayer, then bow a final time.

Of course, I may have gotten it all wrong.


Cameras in hand, the students scattered across the grounds, clustered together in groups and pairs save for the lone girl who would really rather sightsee alone, thank you very much. The students bought trinkets and fortunes, exclaiming over their luck. At another small shrine, the bowing and clapping and offerings were repeated to the god of good studies. Rubbing the head of a stone bull was said to give you good luck.


We gathered on the steps for our final group pictures, the teachers juggling handfuls of cameras so everyone could have their own shot. Finally the security guard shooed us off, and peace fell in the shrine once again.


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