Reflections on a change of place

The senior job search is one fraught with disaster, despair, and the occasional diaper if you happen to have an interview fumble. This year I have loved and lost with the Watson Fellowship. Until a week ago I was anticipating the not-so-merry merry-go-round of non-profit info sessions that begins in January. At bi-monthly meetings of the former AWST class of 2012, we report on the luck of our job search. One of us is usually in the midst of a 20-step interview process. The rest of us frown, look at our shoes, and whisper quietly that no, we have not heard back from anywhere yet. Up until a week ago I had not been lucky in finding the job/company of my dreams, and I was considering my immediate options in Satellite Beach, Florida. Lovely beach town, not a whole lot of opportunities for a Russian major.

Then, a week ago, the miraculous hand of God reached down to sprinkle my sleeping head with the fairy-dust of fate. Or rather, HuckleKat’s achievements and accolades had come through for him, and my future was decided with a anxious whisper of an excited boyfriend. He had won a prestigious fellowship, and we would be traveling to Japan in September to live for a year.

My first reaction was one of jet-pack joy and pride in my darling’s achievement, but later that day I felt my euphoric balloon slowly deflate. Ой! Я не говорю по–японски! What would I do? Where would I live? Where was I going to learn Japanese? Would I have to eat fish-flavored ice cream?

Over the past week I have panicked, been consoled, apologized for sucking the fun out of Huckle’s victory, been consoled for apologizing, panicked, etc. etc. Job hunting is out of my hands for now, since it seems that the best way for me to get a job is to go through Huckle’s contacts until we find a kindred, American-loving spirit to let me teach their children English. I will worry about apartments later, and I know that if all else fails I can rent a 4’x6’ room in a hostel for $400 per month, legally reside for 90 days without a work visa, and cook rice in a water heater. I am taking Japanese this semester, and I will hopefully continue over the summer so that I can at least say, “thank you, but no fish ice cream for me today.”

With logistical progress halted for the time being, it stands that the only thing I really need to do is discover a purpose for myself––will I write while I’m there? Will I start a new travel blog? Will I photograph, learn the art of kimono, aikido, or rock-garden mowing? The only way I know how to begin an interest in Japan is with what I know already. And what do I know, you ask?



1. Buddhism –– I do find religion interesting, and while I am pretty anti-establishment when it comes to my spirituality, Buddhism is pretty independent and establishment-less. I doubt that I will decide to become a red-throbed monkess, but I can at least learn about the history of Buddhism in Japan. Book: Japanese Buddhism: A Cultural History, by Yoshiro Tamura

2. Rock Gardens –– When I was applying for the Watson Fellowship I read a winning essay by an Amherst Student of Japanese heritage who planned to research Japanese rock gardens in diaspora. I have been to the garden behind Webster a number of times, and each time I found it calming and consoling in times of crisis. My friend Liana had a rock garden behind her house in Florida. I took geology freshman year. Why not study the art of rock raking? Book: Japanese Stone Gardens: Origins, Meaning, Form, by Stephen Mansfield

3. Maneki Neko –– “Neko” means cat in Japanese, and is one of the three words I currently know. When my mother and father traveled to Toronto on a business trip one year, they brought back my sister and I miniature ceramic Maneki Neko statues painted red, white, and gold. The waving cat is good luck, so I should probably equip myself with a dangling bangle of some sort, like this wrap bracelet from

4. Samurai –– I don’t think this is going to be my thing, but I should at least read up on the ancient warriors. Or watch up, rather. On a list of the 10 Best Samurai Movies of All Time, Japanese director and producer Akiri Kurosawa’s name was on 6. Movies: “Ran” (1985), “The Seven Samurai” (1954), and Throne of Blood (1957)

5. Whale Sharks –– I saw my first whale shark two winters ago at the Atlanta aquarium. Since then, I have been lusting for a chance to watch the gentle giants once more, and Japan (at six) has the most Whale Sharks in captivity of any nation. The “Kuroshio Sea” at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is the second largest aquarium tank in the world, and exhibits three whale sharks:

The Osaka aquarium Kayiukan also has two whale sharks on exhibit, and is located much closer to Kyoto, where we will be staying. Though there are hundreds of cultural interests to pursue and learn in Japan, I think that I will make marine biology my grounding focus. Just like math, the ocean is the same in every country. Fish speak fish, and can’t understand a Japanese person speaking to them any more than I will. Fish are also less inclined to desire fish-flavored ice cream, and I think that in their ancient, fluid, delicate movements I can find peace and feel at home. I am also not allergic to fish, as I am to nekos. My plan, though rather foolish, is to begin to write letters to the whale sharks of Japan about my hopes, fears, and yearnings, and to deliver the letters when we travel there over winter break in March. This will thus combine my love of writing with my love of whale sharks, harmonizing them in an imaginative way in my mind and providing a day of great cathartic hope. GET READY WHALES, I WILL WRITE YOU AN OPUS.