exploring confidence

Astrologically speaking I ought to be among the cockiest of people. Being born in the year of the rooster and under the sign of leo doesn't bode well for modesty or humility. Not that I take any stock in any of it but, the topic has come up in conversations before. This weekend someone told me that I was extremely self confident, but without being cocky. It really sort of stuck in my head. So much so that I found myself acting rather more cocky than usual. [sorry, friends] In any case, 'confident without being cocky', I consider to be quite a high compliment. As such it's been somewhat of a point of reflection as of late.

In honesty, I'm not sure I actually reflect the compliment given. It seems to me that a self-confident person would actually, you know, feel confident. Much of the time I feel just the opposite. Surely, in my domains of expertise (or perceived expertise) I have my feet and can talk at length and make decisions without second thoughts. Outside though, in the realm of the social or unfamiliar I'm constantly second guessing myself. Even more so though in life decisions; love, career, future. It's only been amplified by living in an environment where one is constantly analyzing decisions, options and the reactions of others to them.

Self-confidence is a feeling of trust in one's abilities, qualities and judgement, says the Apple dictionary. I think that's the perfect definition actually. So much ascribed to self-confidence is pride in disguise. Defining it as a feeling of trust in one's abilities, qualities and judgement doesn't presuppose great abilities, desirable qualities or sound judgement. Merely one's feeling of trust in those. I think it's more about knowing who you are and what you're capable of.

The thought that self-confidence and knowing oneself intrigues me the most. I'd always considered self-confidence and cockiness to be merely a step away from each other. It seems now though that self-confidence and cockiness are reached in two very different ways. Self-confidence from reflection, and cockiness from plain ignorance.

The other large disparity between the dictionary definition and my earlier thoughts is that the dictionary definition doesn't mention anything about knowing what direction you're heading or even knowing what you want. It's sort of comforting actually.

I'm still not sure if I'm worth of the compliment given, but I'd like to be. Sounds nice, doesn't it?

butter shortage

For sometime my confidence in my grocery store has been waning. They've continually stopped carrying, stopped restocking, or otherwise messing with my favorite products. This came to a head a few weeks ago when there was suddenly no butter. Naturally I assumed conspiracy. Surely they must want me to stop shopping there, or else they wouldn't keep on taking away my favorite things.

The next week, shopping at another grocery store, I discovered the true reason on a sign where butter ought to have been: butter shortage. This was terrible news. I love butter.

The next day I was talking with my JTE (Ms. Kobayashi), who also had run out of butter. The solution was simple: an alliance. If she saw butter she'd buy it for me, if I saw it I'd buy it for her. It wasn't a few days until we both found butter. I found mine at an import store at the mall (although it was domestic butter... sadly). She found hers in Tokyo.

So now butter abounds in my house, although the shortage still continues. Ms. Kobayashi just came back from Tokyo this weekend where she tried the same store again and met with the same luck. So the alliance will, nay, must continue.

The interesting thing about the butter shortage is that I feel like it could be avoided. The WTO Trade Database lists the import tariffs on butter at 29.8% of value plus 1,203 yen. I don't know about the world price of butter, but buying 1kg of the highest quality butter in Japan off the shelf would run about 1500 yen. At that rate, with import duty applied we're talking about 3150/kg. As far as import tariffs go, expensive... but not outside the range of what other countries apply. Even so, if they reduced it a tad the butter could flow. High tariffs protect Japanese products in the local market, but when there are no Japanese products to be had why keep tariffs high?

I don't know. I'm not an economist. In fact I think I got a B- in the one Economics class I was required to take. Seems like there is a way to satisfy the demand for butter and protect Japanese dairy farmers at the same time.

Aside, I really miss French butter. I've never seen it in Japan ever, and everything from the taste to the packaging is superior. Would that they encouraged the importation of it...

al qaeda

I took some ID photos at the grocery store the other day so I could renew my passport. During my aunt and mothers stay I'd gotten lazy with the shaving, and consequently was wearing a goatee at the time. I sent my passport off, but kept the one huge photo from the set. (It came in 2 passport sizes and one 3x3). With nothing better to do with it, I just put it under my desk mat at work.

A few days ago we got the proofs from the school photo shoot, which coincidentally happened both the day I shaved and the day after I took my passport photos. They too went under the mat, next to my beardy picture.

Yesterday one of the school staff came over and said "Wow, you really look like a terrorist in that picture with a beard. Here you look all young and nice, but over here it looks like Al Qaeda"

running is so hard

I didn't run for a period of about 3 weeks. My ankle was slightly hurt, my mom and aunt were here and I was lazy. Probably mostly the last reason, but I like to pretend that everything else was valid too. In any case, last week I started back up in preparation for the dreaded Samurai Marathon (22k!) coming up in 4 weeks. I'm scared.

This weekend I did 10k with Mindy, but man I was hurting. Of course it didn't help I picked the toughest 10k in Kurabuchi to do, but that's beside the point. We attempted to run from my house up to a hotel/spa called Hamyu Sanso (which is actually 13k from my house... but that enters into the story later). It's a beautiful run, but being that I'd only been there about 3 times and always by car I'd neglected to note the steepness of the hills. They were killer. The first 8k actually weren't so bad. That's from my house to my furthest school, and the run is really pretty right now. Daffodils are everywhere, things are turning green and of course the star of spring - sakura, makes it's appearance more than once.

After the 8k mark though, the hills suddenly turn into mountains. Somewhere around that point an old woman stepped out of her house to cheer us on, commenting on how admirable we were. Little did she know how un-admirable we soon became. Any remaining strength we had was soon sapped on the mountain, and 3k short of our goal we stopped and walked the rest of the way. Sad, sad story.

On the plus side though, it was a beautiful day. The weather was marvelous, and extra appreciated as the previous few days had been rain. I wish every day was like that weather wise. I opened up all the doors and windows in my house for the first time in a very long time, and it was nice to feel the outside air move once again through my sealed box.

Today is another one of those days, but sadly I'm at school. Pity me.

coin slot

UNIQLO is the Japanese equivalent of Old Navy. Their clothes are inexpensive, and relatively hip. I don't shop that often, but if I'm looking for something I'll usually see what they have. They've actually opened a store in New York City, and are likely attempting the same thing that the Gap has been so successful at here. The Gap in Japan is about the equivalent in price to the US's Banana Republic (also owned by Gap). The clothes are about the same, but the prices you have to pay to have the 'latest in American street fashion' are just crazy. I haven't actually been to a Japanese Banana Republic yet, so I can only imagine what their clothes would be priced at. I'd be curious if the clothes at UNIQLO New York are as much raised above the prices of their Japanese counterparts as the Gap Japan's fashions are with their American brothers.

One surprising thing on my first trip to UNIQLO was the tailoring service on certain pants. For many slacks there, only the waist size is different. Conveniently though they offer free (I think, I don't remember paying for it) hemming. It's awesome!

I won't complain too much about the sizes Japanese clothes. Foreigners from time immemorial have whined that things don't fit right and are just different. Even so, allow me to explain a pair of pants I picked up near when I first got here. I liked them, tried them on but was so anxious about my Japanese ability I didn't really pay enough attention in the fitting room. So, I ended up with a pair of pants that are, well, interesting.

First there isn't much room in the crotch. This isn't a slight against Japanese averages, nor promotion of my own endowment (for once). I don't really know much about couture, but there is definitely something odd about that section. Next they feel to me like they ride really low. Enough so that if I'm sitting in a chair leaning forward I feel like if I were wearing a tight shirt I'd be sporting a little coin-slot.

For all this complaining though, they're actually pretty comfortable and serve their purpose well enough. They're just not something you'd find in the US normally.

it's been awhile

Cherry blossoms are blooming in Japan. Everywhere. They're so show-boaty; all pink and in your face. It would be an understatement to say that most Japanese have great love for sakura and springtime. And in the past week I can't even quantify the number of flowers I've seen. It might have even been too much.

The past couple weeks I've spent with my aunt and mother who came to Japan for a visit. What timing! They came at the perfect moment for what many consider to be the most beautiful season. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately the weather wasn't entirely cooperative. I can't say we didn't have quite a mix. During their trip we had everything from snow to beautiful sunny days to freezing wind. Had we experienced but one unbearable hot and humid day we'd have felt a day from each of the seasons. It was very strange.

The entire visit was great, and really too eventful to get too detailed here; school visits, local tourism and rounded off with a 1,000 mile drive (with about 450 of those in one day). We saw temples, shrines, museums. Marveled at the 1000th person with their cell-phone taking a close up picture of a branch of a blooming cherry tree. (Seriously, everyone must take at least one... but then what? Is there a party where they swap photos? Competition?) And even witnessed a cat-napping.

Actually that story needs explanation, because it was so weird.

We were in Nagoya near the castle grounds at a nice little park. Walking around we noticed that there were a surprising number of seemingly wild cats (and homeless people). It was rare the step we took without seeing a new cat as we walked through the park. There were seriously hundreds. After a while we saw an older woman on a bike, which in Japan isn't too terribly interesting, but that she had a pet carrier strapped to the back and was riding on rough terrain was. The pet carrier was bouncing around, and I questioned aloud "Does she have an animal in there?!". Not a few seconds after that, she came to a stop and pulled the carrier off. There was no animal inside. That is, until she walked over to the nearest convenient cat, grabbed it and stuffed it into her pet holder and biked away. My family and I stopped, stunned and not quite sure how to interpret what had happened. I mean, an old lady just stole a wild cat from a park! Why? Or was it theft? Maybe it ran away? Maybe it was her car and she takes it to the park for play-dates during the day while she's at work? Or was it more nefarious? Dinner tonight?

It was very strange.

Spring break is over now, school has started anew and I'm back to my domestic existence. My friends are back, my family is gone, and I've got 22k to run in 5 weeks. Yikes.