Pain Day

Tomorrow is pain day.

Tomorrow is work my legs so hard I actually can’t tell if I’ve broken something or not day.

Tomorrow is curse the world and myself internally (hopefully only internally) day.

Tomorrow is race day.

And the day after that is our anniversary. (Someone come feed us in bed, we won’t be able to move).

Why are we doing this? I still don’t know. I wish I did. But I do know I am ready to get this beast over with. It will be our first half marathon, marathon, and ultra marathon all in one. With only one race under my belt, and a 10K at that, I’m feeling oddly confident. The trick for me is to actually not look at this like it’s a race. I’m going to try to convince myself that I’m just out for a really long run, and lots of other crazy running enthusiasts just happened to run in the same place at the same time.

Good day for a run, eh?!

50K through the mountains, eh?!

80-ish degrees, 93% humidity, and rain, eh?

(ノಥДಥ)ノ︵┻━┻

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I’ve actually run more than this but those miles are not recorded. Also, 100 of these miles were in April and May.

After all of our training (which honestly isn’t that much- we didn’t stick to our run-5-or-7K-everyday plan at all), injuries, dealing with injuries, sulking, eating ludicrous amounts of cake, groaning and moaning, and reading about 59,985.3 articles about how to run in general, I’m ready to get this party started. I think.

My gut will likely betray me tomorrow morning.

One thing I am feeling certain of: we can do it.

Many people are setting time goals, but Aaron and I know ourselves and have come up with our race day plan on our own.

Pace: snail in a mud pit.

Goal: finish.

Sub-goal: no stress fractures or other injuries.

Drinking: anything but the terrible red shiso juice that makes it feel like the devil is squeezing my thoat.

Food: eat everything handed to us. Except turban shells and other shell fish. Never eat those. Ever.

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ALSO! If you want to show your support, don’t forget we are running for a cause! RICE is a charity to help cure and care for the elderly with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Please check it out! Everything helps!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/theo-jones2

Just got my running vest today!

 

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Pain and Fame

Ultra marathon training has now been in full swing for a couple weeks, and as if that doesn’t already fill my schedule, throw in Japanese lessons every week, nine taiko performances, being filmed by NHK, and the start of a new school year. It’s also cherry blossom season so any free time Aaron and I have had has been dedicated to hiking, flower viewing with friends, reading novels, and reading Attack On Titan in Japanese. We’ve also begun watching Hannibal, so there goes any chance of sound sleep.

Aside from annoying joint pains, our running is going quite well. We haven’t stuck to our original plan one bit, but we’ve still made a lot of progress. Last weekend Aaron and I went out for a 20K run through the roughest part of the course with two of our taiko friends and our neighbor. 10K up and down the two tallest mountains on the 50K part of the course, and then turning around to run it again.

The shrieking muscles and frozen joints are nowhere near pleasant, but the worst part was actually turning around to run the mountains we had just come out of. It felt like an insult.

The second worst part was when I realized my stomach was on empty. And considering my habit of getting light-headed if I haven’t eaten enough, it was  a bit concerning.  I had to stop to walk up the last mountain when it hit, but I managed to run all the flats and downhills until the finish (props to Aaron for being amazing and not leaving me behind).

We also didn’t bring water with us, or salt to replenish what we’d lost, and so someone mentioned that runners sometimes lick their skin for the salt. I got one lick in before Aaron banned me from doing so. It weirded him out.

All in all, Aaron and I ran about 19K and walked probably under 1K. First ever 20K down, and in two hours, forty-five minutes. Ba boom. And we haven’t even lost any toenails yet!

Now hold onto your butts, I’m moving onto taiko.

Over the past four weeks, we performed nine times for something called Haruoki. This is when tourists from all over Japan (usually above 300 years of age. Heh.) come to Oki to watch traditional drumming (that would be us) and a traditional dance called Renge-e- mai,  a dance that  is said to have been preserved since before AD 800. But don’t quote me on that. We performed for about one hundred to two hundred tourists each time, and we were even visited by NHK during one of our practices.

They came in cameras rolling while we were in a warm up drill, and we all suddenly clammed up and clambered ungracefully to a halt. Our leader was, of course, great on camera, but the rest of us scurried as far away from the camera as possible when it wasn’t pointed at us. The minute one of us was selected, we offered them up as sacrifice and scrambled away to a different corner. The result was a kind of awkward shuffle around the practice building between the scary cameramen and the terrified taiko drummers.

Of course, Aaron and I were the second to be singled out because, well, we’re foreign. And obviously so. At least we had warning that they were coming our way as one of the camera men was waving and pointing wildly over in our direction. It said plainly, “Get the foreigners! Our viewers love that stuff!” Aaron and I casually tossed all of our Japanese out the door and charmed them with our awkward, jittery laughs and hysterical glances in every direction but the camera.

When it came to playing for them, we obviously froze up and messed up the beginning of the same song we’d been performing for at least half a year. And when the reporter decided to try to play along with us, they placed her next to me. I am one hundred percent certain they filmed me whacking myself in the head with my drumstick, in what was supposed to be a cool, around the head trick. Instead it looks like I, of my own choosing, simply decided to hit myself in the forehead at that moment, and then continue drumming. I’m struggling to see how they will be able to salvage any good parts with me in it for their broadcast.

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Reporter and cameraman. You can even see the giant, looming microphone up top.

Anyway, to be continued.

“Couch” to 50K

Well, it’s official. Yesterday we signed up for the Oki Ultramarathon. Nearly killed me to pay about $110 per person simply to run 50 kilometers through Oki’s mountains. At midday. In the middle of summer. When I’ve never run more than 10K (that was once). I’d better get a reeeally cool towel out of this.

Us 50K-ers have exactly eight hours to complete the course, which covers half of the island. It actually seems do-able, until I think about the check points we have to meet. If anyone is a little behind reaching the check point, they will not be allowed to finish, and will have to ride the bus to the finish line.

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Running from sea level, up to the airport, and around. 

 

Experienced Ultra runners have said this is one of the hardest races they’ve done.

Good thing I’m doing it when I’m not even a runner. *whimpers*

After looking everywhere online for information on how to run a 50K, when I don’t even run normally, I decided that I would have to figure it out on my own. I see so many “Couch to 5K” or “Couch to 10K” articles but there’s nothing for “Couch to 50K,” which is a bit terrifying. Even if I find a training plan to get to 50K, it’s a 24 week program for trying to go from a half or full marathon to an ultra. I am nowhere in that category. Also, we only have 12 weeks to train.

So, yeah. We’re making it up as we go.

Aaron and I figure if we start running about 5K a day, bumping up the distance every week, plus long runs on the weekends, we might be able to do it. I already ran 9K yesterday (2K through a mountain on lunch break, and 7K back home with Aaron and Theo). I lost feeling in my back side and cramped all up my shins during the second run, but worse things have happened. At least I could breathe.

I’m feeling quite encouraged actually. I used to think 5K was daunting.

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Running through Saigo will be our final step before the last hill.

Also, I’ve found another reason to finish the race: to prove the head of the BOE wrong.

First thing at work on Thursday my co-workers asked Theo and I if we were doing the 100K. Noooo no no nope not a chance. Oh, you’re doing the 50K? Yes. *feels heart break more than a little*

The head of the BOE then looked at me. “Rachael, isn’t that impossible for you?”

“Heeeeeyyy!!!”

“T-chan has run it twice now, but she hasn’t been able to finish it. I’ll buy you dinner if you can finish it.”

“What about Theo?” (who was right next to us).

“No, Theo’s fine.”

At this point my supervisor, laughing at the spectacle of me sputtering in indignation at the head honcho, walks over to me, leans in just a tiny bit, and says, “You’d better tell him you want yakiniku.” Yakiniku just happens to be the most expensive choice for dinner.

What they don’t know is that, contrary to popular belief, I have been running. I just don’t like people seeing me look like a beached whale, so I run through the back roads and the rice fields where I occasionally startle a granny or two. Theo runs through the city, therefore everyone knows he runs.

We also don’t have a car, so we’ve been walking everywhere for the past year. A half-hour to hour walk means our destination is close.

Hah! Gonna get me some free dinner!

Feeling extra motivated, Theo and I rode home with another co-worker. Guess what we talked about? Yup.

Once again, we were asked if we were doing the 50K. Yup. “Theo will do great! …Rachael, will you be OK??”

“Why does everyone keep asking me that?!”

He laughed but didn’t give an answer.

(ノಠ ∩ಠ)ノ彡( o°o)

Time to prove them all wrong. I hope.

P.S. – I say “‘Couch’ to 50K” because we’re in Japan and we don’t actually have a couch. We sit on the floor. Like cave people. Aaron and I are so refined that we’ve even put a blanket on our floor for cushioning. Aw, yiss.

Oki Ultramarathon website: http://oki-dougo.info/ultra.html

Trolls

Pulling pranks on unsuspecting students has become my new pastime. They are always small things, but even the smallest prank, timed well enough, is sure to throw kids for a loop.

The best is when there is only one other student who saw me prank someone. So, when a student can’t find something of theirs, or figure out who tapped their shoulder, or who moved their desk, I get to watch the one witness sputter and blubber, swearing to no avail that it was me. I usually let the single witness take the blame.

They are the lamest pranks in the world, really. But that’s exactly why it’s so great. My students actually, miraculously, see me as an adult.

That’s their own fault. It’s also how I get away with such elementary pranks.

I particularly love picking on the loudest students in the class. I actually have one student who will scream “WHY!!” and run away from me every time I mention purple converse shoes. His pen case, until recently, had been one purple converse. Naturally, I asked him where the other one was. And then again about 20 times. Complete with fast English and stalking him around the room relentlessly. He had no clue what I was saying, as was expected.  Needless to say, I’ve probably scarred him. But I’m also fairly certain he will miss me when he graduates.

Another student recently trapped himself by thinking that he could make a deal with me during class. This particular student didn’t want to do the worksheet during class. He casually plopped down next to me, crossed his legs and arms, and said, “Rachael, let’s talking.”

After I told him several times to do his worksheet, a friend of his scooted up to the heater to watch the encounter. This trouble student ended up proposing, in quite atrocious English, that he really ought to speak English with me rather than do the worksheet, because, “No worksheet. I not like.” He then suggested that we play rock, paper, scissors to see if he had to do the worksheet.

Needless to say, I changed the deal. “If I win, you do your worksheet. If you win, you do your worksheet. OK?”

“Ohh, yes! OK, yes. C’mon!”

The friend standing nearby happened to understand what I did, and settled in to watch the show.

I lost, the kid rejoiced, I told him to do his worksheet, he claimed he won, his friend told him what I had done. He clutched his head and screamed, “NOOOO!” (I should mention this is at my rowdy school where I’m lucky if I have five boys in their chairs and their voices are somewhere below 90 decibels). I was quite satisfied, as was his friend.

 

My most recent experiment is placing things on students heads when either I or my JTE are conversing with them. So far, all of the students I pick end up walking around the room like a princess (even the boys) with a book on their head. That or they completely freeze up, eyes wide in confusion. Interestingly enough, they never ask why I put it on their head, nor do they try to remove it. The majority seems to embrace their inner princess.

Today, however, my own trolling came back to bite me in the butt. I entered my sixth grade class, readying myself to energetically greet the students, but when I opened the door I saw one of my lazier (and popular) students with her head down on her desk, seemingly napping.

At this point, my body must have naturally responded to the opening (I don’t even remember thinking anything), and I tiptoed into the class feeling quite thrilled. I have no clue what my facial expression was, but it must have let them know my intentions because the entire class refrained from saying the ritual “hello”, and held silence to avoid giving me away. I crouched a couple of inches away from my student and bellowed a heavy, “HELLOOOOO!” directly into her right ear.

She didn’t even flinch.

It took me a second to realize that my JTE was talking to me. Turning to look up at him from my crouch, I finally understood what he had said. “Umm… Rachael. She is sick.”

Horror struck, and I looked back at my student, who now had her head up inches away from mine, staring at me with glazed eyes, sniffling under a mask enveloping half of her face.

She spent a good  ten minutes rubbing her temples after that.

Okidaiko

 

Goodness knows Aaron and I have been extremely busy ever since getting home, and to remedy that exhaustion we have been devoting our weekends to moving as little as we possibly can. I actually managed to wear the same shirt three and a half days in a row last week. I was sick at the time, but still. I thought it was quite the feat and am actually a kind of proud of myself. Also more than a little disgusted.

After getting home, it was back to the grind with Taiko (Japanese drumming). Our group’s 35th anniversary was coming up on Valentine’s day, so we had less than a month to prepare, and before going home I found out that I was expected to perform a song I had never learned.

Me looking at my name under a song title: “What song is this?”

“Oh, that’s Jodogaura!”

Me: “Huh?”

“Oh, that’s right. You’ve never seen it before!”

Me: *hrrnk of terror*

By the time we got around to learning the song, it was about two weeks before the performance. By the by, the whole song is between 14 and 18 minutes long depending on how sentimental the soloists are feeling at the time. Luckily, the song is quite repetitive and full of different solos, so it was rather easy to learn. On the other hand, it was sideways drumming so we were in low lunges the entire time (activate buns of definitely-not-steel), and we spend the solos sitting in an elevated seiza (think of the most uncomfortable kneeling/sitting position you can imagine and that’s probably it), so my legs took quite the beating.

Taiko practices changed from our usual twice a week to four times a week, and my stress built every day we got closer to the week before Valentine’s Day.

I should mention that I also had a demonstration class two days before the performance. So, add in several meetings, and demo rehearsals, and that was my week leading up to the the performance. My JTE and I nailed our demo class with hardly any negative crits. Aw, yiss. (Negative crits can be anything from “this kid didn’t have a partner” to “You didn’t erase everything off the board before you wrote something else” to “You said ‘change’ partners and it should be ‘exchange'”. And yes, those are actual crits.)

Saturday was essentially our dress rehearsal, and it went on for about 8-9 hours. After setting the elementary students in their places, organizing the set up and removal of drums between songs, doing full songs multiple times to get the stage lights right, we finally made it to practice for Jodogaura, my surprise song.

We were able to play it the whole way through, this time with the shamisen and flute solos. I had been desperately hoping for this because during practice we hum their parts, skip parts, and then have to recognize cues in the music to know when to jump to our feet and start playing. And let me just say that when the person mimicking the solos sounds like chan chan chakachaka chan chan chanchanchan chakachaka chan, it can get a bit confusing.

Now, during practice, my drum was in the front row on the far right, perfectly in line with the other two drums that were also in the front row with me. Upon setting up our drums and the bench for the shamisen players on the stage, we were informed that there wasn’t enough space for that set up. The solution? To put both the front row and back row in diagonal lines. With my drum being the one in front. Panic. My drum was just about two feet from the edge of the stage; I might as well have been sitting in the audience’s lap.

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A Japanese Shamisen Player. We had three sitting on a bench near me playing together.

This new development, along with the facts that my legs couldn’t hold a lunge for ten seconds without shaking fiercely (due to practicing so much the previous weeks) and that I had to grandma my way up to my feet after kneeling for fourish minutes, meant that I didn’t sleep at all that night.

By the time 3 a.m. puttered around, my brain was on its five millionth loop of Jodogaura, and I was convinced I would never sleep again.

On top of said lack of sleep, I was very painfully sick the next morning. Thankfully my awesome predecessor (who introduced us to this group, and who came back to perform with us) bought me large heating pads. I wore four the entire performance.

Aaron and I nailed our first joint song with the kids, and slowly the thought of performing became less and less scary until we got to Jodogaura.

Out on the stage, my drum was so far forward that I was unable to see any of the other drummers in my periphery. I knew the cues in the song to let me know when I needed to leap to my lunge and play, but the fact that I hadn’t managed to get one clean run of the song the day before was basically eating my soul. I was terrified that I would hop up too early and start playing on my own, have no idea that I was playing it all alone, and thus spend the entire song very outwardly confident and in my own world. Thankfully, I got the right timing, and was able to confirm it due to certain flares in the song when we had to lunge, look, and point our sticks in the opposite direction. I got to see one other person doing the same thing as me for a quarter of a second.

I also managed to just barely hop to my feet after kneeling for so long. I couldn’t quite manage to stay in a 90-degree-knee lunge due to how I hopped up but I still was able to pull off something close.

After Jodogaura finished with no mistakes, my nerves finally settled. We only had one song left, and it was the song I was most confident about. The only song I hadn’t worried about at all the previous weeks. I messed it up twice.

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The Grand Finale. 

 

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I will put up more photos when Boss says it’s OK to do so. 

 

Heard You Like Fish

I have a ton of blog catching up to do, but I really just can’t bring myself to actually write about recent happenings quite yet.

Instead, I wanted to make a quick post about a ground breaking sticker I saw recently. Yes. That’s right. A sticker.

This sticker is not like other stickers. It’s extraordinary. It’s game changing. It’s the perfect description of our our island, Oki.

But, before revealing said sticker, I want provide some important background information. All of these have happened on Oki.

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Enjoy this lovely photo of Oki! This is a decoy photo so the sticker remains a surprise until the end.

First, I want to bring up the fact that we were literally stopped in the middle of a run by a random woman who wanted to give us onions and potatoes. We got bags full.

Second, my Friday taxi man actually ordered me apples from an apple prefecture (strangely worded, I know. I can’t be bothered with it.) simply because I said I was raised on an orchard and loved apples.

Third, I was finishing up at an onsen when an old lady waves me over, incorrectly asked if I was a high schooler, said I was pretty, and gave me a sweet. Also, yes, I had spent the entire previous hour bathing naked with this old woman and not saying a word. Thankfully she waited until I was dressed before talking to me. (This was technically on the mainland. But it was in the ferry port so I can still claim it.)

Fourth, I once mentioned that I liked sake to my taxi man. He gave me sake the next week.

Fifth, I told a taxi lady that her dash charm was cute and she immediately took it off the dash and gave it to me. I am very careful about what I say is cute now. Or what I like. Now it’s generally large, immovable objects.

Last (but not actually last because there’s so many more) is coming home with bags full of food after eating at literally any house ever. Even occasionally when coming home from work.

Moral of the story is, everyone here is incredibly giving. Aaron and I get more than we could ever need. Sometimes it’s a week later from a conversation I don’t remember. Sometimes it’s instantaneous.

Anyway, this picture is pure Oki. I’m the guy in the red.

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“Heard you like fish!”

The Return of The Jet Lag

Well we made it back to Oki and boy did we have a heck of a time.

Our trip started off with my right thigh randomly setting off the security detectors so I had to be pat down (“One hand on the outer thigh, one hand on the inner thigh, I’m going to go up until I meet resistance and then I’ll go down” was how the lady prepped me), and have my hands swabbed for residue of explosives. I found myself thinking of how to pose myself in the least threatening manner. I ended up standing completely still with my hands twitching in front of my chest like a frightened bunny.

Lucky for me, I’m not a terrorist. I passed the exams.

After our short flight to Chicago, Aaron and I had approximately 25 minutes (originally 41 minutes) to get off of our airplane and make it to our international flight. Cue olympic power walking. We made it to our gate with about 3-5 minutes to spare.

Once on the plane , the first thing I noticed was the fact that the seats I thought we had were actually one row farther back so we didn’t have the extra leg room like I’d anticipated, but we did have an empty seat next to us so we can’t complain.

Next I noticed that we had a double-decker airplane. Finally. I had always secretly, or not-so-secretly, wanted to ride a double-decker, mostly because I’d seen it in movies, and I thought it meant I could walk around the cozy upper deck. My fantasies were reigned in when I realized it wasn’t like the movies. It was just more seating. But still. Kinda awesome, right?

Aaron then pointed out that our chairs didn’t have any T.V.s or even areas to charge our electronics. I was so shocked that I actually wasn’t even capable of emotions. What are we even supposed to do on the flight, then? Oh, how spoiled I’ve been.

Once we were settled, all strapped in and ready for departure, we waited to taxi for take off. And waited. And waited. And waited. No departure. Apparently one of the doors to the airplane wouldn’t close and so we sat on the tarmac for just over two hours while maintenance did all they could to get the door closed. Once it was fixed, we took off and I found myself riddled with images of the doors flying open mid flight. It was a 12 hour flight, that was a lot of time for something to go wrong, and based on the fact that there were no T.V.s or electronics, it was a rather old aircraft.

I finished reading Dark Places on the flight and spent the majority of my time trying to get comfortable, staring at the wall, or staring at the tiny T.V. monitor perched on the wall next to the bathrooms for all passengers to see.

I’m quite curious as to how they selected the movies to play. The first movie was about sheep (and was restarted three times due to technical difficulties), and the last one was The Fantastic Four. At one point Aaron saw me staring at the T.V. with glazed eyes and asked if I would at least like headphones to watch it properly. I said I thought it was probably more entertaining without them. We both agreed that I was probably right.

Before landing, we were told that our connecting flight that we missed due to the two hours on the tarmac was rescheduled for us and we would all get to where we needed to go.

Just before picking up our baggage, the lady gave us our new boarding passes, saying, “Yes,” when I asked her if it was going to Osaka Itami airport. We then waited for our late evening flight.

Upon arriving in Osaka around 10:30 at night, we searched for the monorail that we rode last time, knowing that the apartment we were staying at was just one stop away from the airport. We had maybe another 15 minutes of travel before we could sit back and relax.

Only problem was we couldn’t find the monorail. Aaron and I must have wandered out of the wrong side of the airport because we were smack dab in the middle of the train station and nothing looked familiar. After trying (and failing) to figure out how to get to the monorail, I asked a train station attendant.

He asked where we wanted to go and I told him the city name and pointed to it on a map, to which he looked at me in surprise and said, “Isn’t that impossible?”

We both looked at each other in confusion.

“It’s only one stop away.” I said. “Did we miss the last train?”

He told me to wait and he looked up directions on an Ipad. He then said that we could make it but we had four different trains to ride for a total of two hours.

My beaten mind tried to process that, thinking that somehow trains must have a crazy round about way and the monorails were there to fill the seemingly ludicrously large gaps.

I mentioned again that it was one stop away, and pointed to the city and then the airport on the map.

The train attendant looked me in the eye and slowly said, “But we’re not at that airport. We’re at Kansai Airport.” And trailed his finger back to the bottom of the map.

My blood began to boil as I realized what had happened and repeated it to Aaron. The airlines rescheduled our connecting flight for us and sent us on a late flight to the wrong airport. Whether our American flight didn’t realize that there are three airports in Osaka (because it’s so. stinking. massive.) or whether they thought that simply sending us anywhere in Osaka was simply good enough, I have no clue, but I wanted to rip into someone.

I was in the middle of deciding if we should march back in and demand another flight or hotel (but it was an American airline that messed it up, and we were in Japan with only Japanese airlines now, thus they probably couldn’t do anything) when the train attendant told us that the last train of the night left in three minutes.

We grabbed all of our luggage (2 checked bags between 40-50 lb, 2 back packs, a purse, and a carry on about 25 lb) and ran after the train attendant who bobbed up and down impatiently at the ticket booth, and pointed repeatedly at the buttons we needed to press while we dropped our luggage and tried to come up with the money (we just happened to have enough yen from before we went home).

Once we got the tickets, the attendant ran ahead of us to the check-in booth and herded us through the gates without stamping our tickets.

And we were off again. I’ll spare the details, but basically, there were four trains we needed to ride. Three of which were final trains of the night. We missed one of them when we got lost in the subway, but blessedly that happened to be the one train that ran later.

Finally at our last station, we found a taxi stand and watched as the last taxi drove off. I ended up calling their phone number to order one and, hysterical with exhaustion and our situation, Aaron and I giggled endlessly when I was asked for our current location.

“Umm.. we’re right outside your office. Yes, that’s right. We’re right outside. Please come get us.” Giggle, giggle, cackle.

We finally arrived after 1:30 a.m. and Aaron and I promptly stuffed sushi and donuts in our faces and slept fabulously.

The next day, we got to Itami Airport, and hopped our flight to Oki.

The jet lag kicks in randomly and forcefully, but aside from dropping tonkatsu in my lap three times, squirting water in my hair and on my face three times, dribbling toothpaste down my front, dropping saucy hamburger in my lap, getting egg in my lap and hair, spraying an old man with boiled crab, and otherwise leaving crumb trails everywhere (yes, all within the past three and a half days), I’d say the jet lag isn’t that bad this time!