Friday, July 26, 2013

Haikyo #1: Pachinko Parlor

*Warning: entering abandoned areas can be dangerous. Please be wary of squatters, unstable structures, and hazardous materials. ALWAYS have your phone, and if you are alone, make sure someone knows what area you are in*

A favorite hobby of mine, ever since childhood, has been exploring abandoned places. Something about going through forgotten places has always filled me with a sense of curiosity and wonder. I think it is because I know that I am walking through a discarded piece of the past, a slice of history simply left to rot.

The biggest thing that still strikes me, even after doing this dozens of times, is what people decide to leave behind. Sometimes there's barely anything, the place is merely a shell, but other times, I quite honestly cannot believe what was forgotten. From simple things like clothes and toys, to things that I would never think to leave, like negatives from your wedding day.

Every time that I enter an abandoned place, which in Japan is called a Haikyo (廃墟), I find myself wondering what happened here? What lead this place to becoming forgotten? Because of this, my favorite part of exploring these ruins is trying to find clues as to who the people behind it were and what happened, and I hope that through my photos and stories, I can distill that feeling in a few of you as well. 

So without further ado, here is my first of hopefully many haikyo entries.

For my first entry I am going to start with a small exploration, a closed pachinko parlor. 

I noticed this particular place during my routine drives down Rt 49 from Iwaki to Koriyama, every time I drove by, I wanted to check it out, but every time it somehow happened to be raining. 
This place consists of 3 buildings, the pachinko parlor, managers house and a combo kitchen / apartment. 

The pachinko parlor
The kitchen/workshop and apartment

I began my exploration by, fittingly enough, walking through the houses front door.
The indoor shoes were still waiting patiently for their owners to return and use them again.

The house appeared to be a pretty nice home, but completely empty of important belongings. So I quickly moved onwards to the connecting pachinko lounge.

Believe it or not, I have lived in Japan for 2.5 years, but this was my first time stepping into one of these places...

Everything seemed pretty run of the mill when it comes to haikyos, until I came to the other side of the gaming center and was confronted with a scene I was not too happy to see. A squatter had been here.
And he likes Hello Kitty
I checked the piles of cans lying around, and everything was long expired, so I figured I was safe, but sped up my time in this building just to be safe. You never know what kind of person could be in one of these places, and it is something I try to never discover firsthand.

The last thing that really struck me while going through the parlor was the many dead birds, I spent a long time searching for any opening to help keep it from happening again, but to no avail.

In the next building, I found that this location had also been home to a small restaurant.

It became clear very quickly that whomever had been doing their laundry in the parlor, had been sleeping next door in the bar area. Again though, after checking the dates on the magazines beside the bed, it appeared that whomever this person was, they had moved on a long time ago.

The documents I found lying around both the parlor and bar suggest that this place closed back around 1997/98, and from the stack of unpaid bills that were in the office, I'd say it was because the owners went bankrupt. A true shame.

Please, let me know what you thought of this entry, if there's something it is lacking or if there are too many / too few photos. Any advice and tips are quite welcome.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Glimpse Into Me

I want to take a moment to talk about something that I tend to be fairly quiet about, but is probably the biggest part of who I am today, I have Aspergers.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Aspergers is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized primarily with difficulties in social interaction, as well as repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It’s a bit different from the rest of ASD though due to the lack of cognitive and linguistic difficulties.  
Most people these days think of Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory when they hear mention of Aspergers, and I hate him for that. So many people I’ve talked to think we’re all weird social outcasts and walking punch lines thanks to that show, for the best representation I have seen on television, I recommend Community’s Ahbed. But I digress. Which is actually one of the parts of Aspergers, we tend to get sidetracked easily and just say whatever we think of, but I’ve decided this time to just keep in whatever comes to mind, hoping that it will help show how my train of thought works.

Anyways, back to what I really wanted to talk about. I have Aspergers, and because of that, I see the world a little different from others.

 For starters, it’s usually quite hard for me to read into what other people mean or what their intentions are, because of this I often either mislead people or hurt them. On the reverse side, I often get hurt and taken advantage of due to my misunderstanding of the situation.
This issue is most prevalent for me personally when it comes to guys. I rarely realize when someone is flirting with me until they make a move to kiss me or ask me out, which has lead to many instances of both me hurting people by ‘suddenly’ turning them down, and me just being taken advantage of because I do not often know how to detach myself from the situation. It has gotten much better over the years, but once during high school I was “dating” four guys at once simply because I could not seem to say no.   

Not being able to read into what other people mean has also lead to incredibly awkward situations where I don’t know what to say or do in response to something very emotional, especially grief and anger. I quite often cannot fully understand why the person is saying and doing things and simply get incredibly frustrated and lash out at those near me. The biggest cause of fights with me and my loved ones seems to be that when they show a great deal of emotions towards me, I don’t know how to handle them and as such, I react inappropriately.

Next up, sounds. Anyone who has spent a great deal of time with me knows what my biggest pet peeves are: crunching, slurping and sniffling.  I literally cannot be near those sounds for very long without either becoming angry or so frustrated that I begin to cry.
Obviously (especially since moving to Japan) I have to put up with it in silence most of the time, but I do have a lot of tricks to avoid it as much as possible. Not surprisingly, I avoid noodle shops as much as I can, don’t use the trains without headphones and while traveling I always have earplugs. Every night I even have a white noise machine playing to help me drown out any potential noise. The worst though is going to hang out with friends or going to a party, because you just know that there’s going to be a bunch of crunchy snacks and people chewing on ice. It’s become such a big deal that a few close friends actually avoid chips and ice when I’m around them (thank you. I love you.)

David, amazing, sweet David, even went as far as to buy a non-clicking mouse for his computer and asked his gaming friends not to eat loud things while they skype and I’m around.
I’m really not sure how I would continue functioning without people like him in my life. 

This particular issue, I have noticed really rubs off on people. Namely, my mother and David. I hear at least once a week “I’d never noticed  ~~ sound before” or “I just knew, Jen would hate this!” Now that isn’t to say that they’re now annoyed by these things too, but my issues have made them so acutely aware of these things that they notice sounds they had never known existed before (sorry).

The last thing I want to talk about is why I have been so quiet lately. Those of us with Aspergers know we’re different; we know we don’t quite fit in, and knowing that, often leads to depression. Ever since I quit my job to begin volunteering and traveling, I have also had far too much free time to reflect upon my life and how outside from everyone else I am, and that led me to a very dark place. Now, obviously I KNOW people love me, I KNOW I’m a smart and talented woman who has lots to offer the world, and I KNOW that I will have an amazing life, normal or not. But that doesn’t stop depression. Depression is impervious to logical reasoning. You can’t just wish it away.

So, to close, I may get down a lot in these coming months while I have loads of time to ponder, so please help me to remember that it’s ok. It’s ok to be different from the norm. It’s ok to be ME.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Jumping Through Hoops

A few weeks ago I moved out of my house in Iwaki, Fukushima and loaded the car with every earthly possession I have in this country to start my life as a volunteer and traveler (aka a vagabond). At first things seemed to be going quite well, the new building had been chosen for the shelter, designs were being made on how to convert the place into an amazing animal sanctuary, and the final date had been chosen. Then came the realization that buying property in Japan as a foreigner is no easy task, and is made even worse when trying to do so for a pet shelter.

First we were turned down by our top choice because they did not want to sell to foreigners, then at the next place the local farmers said they were worried the cats would pee in the lake (what?), and lastly, the homeowner decided to ignore us and the agent about finalizing anything. So the move in date came and went, and we are still stuck paying rent every week when we should have been settling in our rescues as I speak.

Sometimes being a foreigner in Japan is just terrible, no one listens to you and every now and then, locals are scared of you. It's as if they think we are some sort of alien life form.

Anyone have any tips on how to raise money for our next few rents and/or how to speed up the contract process in Japan? I am getting sick of mostly living out of my car.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Moving On

I have been quite terrible at keeping this blog running, and really only have myself to blame for that, but felt the need to comment about the life changes that are about to happen for me.
In a little over a week, my job as a kindergarten teacher will come to an end, it breaks my heart to leave these kids, because they've really become my kids over the last 12 months, but I must. The next chapter of my life is waiting to begin, and that chapter is looking to be amazing.

You see, after this I will finally have enough money saved up to volunteer full time in Japan and to also travel the world a little bit. So while I have to leave my children behind, I will finally give the disaster animals the time they deserve and the look at the world I've been dreaming of.

I promise that this blog will be becoming far more active as this new chapter starts.

Monday, September 24, 2012


I deeply apologize for being absent for so long, as those who know me personally are most likely aware, there has been some rather terrible drama in my life as of late, and due to that, I vanished. I was raised to not bad mouth those around me, so instead of writing and possibly doing so, I simply stopped.

But in doing so, I also regrettably did not properly document the kitten from the previous posts socialization process, nor did anyone who reads this get introduced to her 3 siblings and mother who have since joined my household.

So, I give you "1st cat" then and now:
In 2 months, this beautiful girl went from having matted fur, a constant wide eyed terror and fleas, to a calm and loving lady who enjoys laying in your lap and is not shy around people or other animals. She is still unnamed though, as we are waiting till their vet trip next week to 100% confirm everyone's gender before the naming begins. So far, all we have decided is that the food theme shall be continued in honor of our other two fosters, Ham and Egg.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Change of Plans

This weekend I had been torn between finally taking a vacation and helping out at the shelter. After a lot of talking, David and I decided that we deserved a trip to Disneyland to clear our minds and just have a good time, but once again, fate had other plans.
We've had a kitten trap set up outside our house for a few weeks now to try and catch the litter that lives here and to socialize them, then adopt them out (or at least do vaccines and TNR), and we have never had any luck with it, so of course luck decided the weekend we were finally going to go on an adventure would be when a kitten would wander in before I could take down the trap.

To make things even more exciting, I had just stepped out of the house to buy some things for tomorrow's trip, so while out shopping, I got a call from David saying "hey, there's a kitten in our bathroom. What should I do?" Well, I quickly went and bought all the supplies we needed, came home and was met with a tiny wet ball of cuteness hiding behind our toilet.

Poor little thing was quite scared and we could hear it's siblings outside the bathroom window crying to him, and while it was sad to see, we knew we couldn't just release him again, because street cats in this country are often killed, so we know this is his best shot at life.

While setting up the new cage, our new little friend found a strange place to hide, which was nice for us because it made transporting him to the cage quite easy. 
they'll never find me here!
well this is new

Needless to say, now we have no clue when Disneyland will be happening, as we are going to try and socialize this cutie and hopefully capture it's litter mates as well.

Bye bye vacation. Hello cute new roommate.

*Better pictures to follow as soon as he settles in*

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

New arrival

I am still in no mood to write, but the days keep passing by, and things need to be recorded.

heading out to feed
local dog enjoying a treat

On July 1st I went with JCN into Namie again, and while there we filled 34 feeding bins with food, which took an entire van filled with bags to manage, and also made some side stops to check on local animals that owners don’t want taken out, but still need some good food and love.

We also added a new bin that was created by a wonderful volunteer

We had just gotten a phone call that morning about one of the locals JCN helps, saying his dog had had puppies and we wanted to make sure they were alright and once again try and convince him to get his dogs fixed. Instead, it turned out to just be a rumor, which I personally think he started to get us to come visit him since he had a huge amount of prepared home cooked food and treats from Sendai already waiting when we arrived… if that is true, I certainly cannot blame him, he lives alone in an otherwise empty town, with no one to talk to besides his dogs, it must be a very lonely life. After a 2 hour long chat with him, and me getting tricked into eating fish, my least favorite food, we finally headed out around 8pm, which was great since it was still a 90min trip back to the shelter and then another 2 hours home and I had work in the morning, but fate had other plans for us that night. Instead of heading straight back, we stopped to feed a tiny kitten alongside the road, it became clear very quickly that she was not feral, so we trapped her. She turned out to be incredibly friendly, and not a kitten at all, but instead a recent mother. We have no idea where she had been living though, because where she was found there were no houses or feeding bins in the area. She currently has no name, but all of my students have suggested Yuki (snow).

I also got to check on the cat I trapped last month, who I named Kocha (tea) after myself and because he has a big "T" on his forehead. It's still unclear if he's going to be friendly, but Kocha at least seems to be settling in and fattening up a bit.

 The following week I stopped by for just a day to say goodbye to Kuma, who was leaving for his new foster home in Iwate. I will miss that dog dearly, he is just one of the kindest souls imaginable.