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Here I am in central Okoyama, a city of roughly 700,000 people between Kyoto and Hiroshima, sitting on the couch in Mark's 15th floor downtown apartment, looking out over skyscrapers and apartment buildings and industrial facilities. I am emotionally all over the map on this hazy Monday morning.

I arrived in Okoyama on Friday night, having been introduced to Mark via email by a mutual friend (thanks Jill!). The original plan had been for me to chill in Mark's apartment while he went snowboarding with coworkers for the weekend, but upon my arrival I was invited to join them. I quickly packed up some warm clothes, delicious chocolate from the US, and my SET deck and on Saturday we awoke at 3:30 to drive up into the mountains. The conditions were AMAZING - almost half a meter of fresh powder on the ground when we arrived, and snow continued to fall throughout the day. I rented skis and gear and we were on the slopes by 10am. We spent a long but glorious day battling knee-high powder drifts, ice-pellet storms and modest hordes of Japanese snowbunnies. Around 1pm the clouds broke and for one brief but glorious hour we could see all the way out to the plains below. I turned to Mark on the chairlift up to the top of a 50% powder run and said "You know what? NOW I am actually on vacation!"

After a day of skiing, me and the boys headed back to the lodge for the night. The lodge, owned by Mark's employer (GORE, as in the company that makes Gore-tex) was at once both palatial and cozy - as the only girl on the trip I got my own dorm room to sleep in, while the 7 guys shared 3 other rooms. After unpacking and changing into comfy clothes, we dined on steamed snow crab, sashimi, and a soup consisting of crab, fish, leeks, mushrooms, tofu and yummy broth. I am proud to say that I bravely tried a bite of crab head mustard (i.e. the stuff in the crab head that isn't soft white meat, but looks instead like something you'd flush down the toilet). Mark, brave trooper that he is, ate an entire half a crab head! The mustard was surprisingly mild and tasty - salty and sweet, like seawater pudding.

After dinner we played round upon round of sake-fueled set and Blokus, and when I took my leave to go upstairs to bed the boys were still going strong at Mah-jong.

Yesterday morning when we awoke it was snowing hard, and the boys spent at least half an hour digging out the two vehicles (one a small Jeep-like mini-SUV, one a Toyota Prius). The drive out to the main road involved a lot of vrooming and reversing and shoveling, but Tomie-san's first experience driving in snow ended well, as he guided the intact Prius home to Okoyama.

Mark and I watched some daily show online, then opted for a dinner of peanut butter and apples with pb&banana&honey sandwiches. Mmmm comfort food. We spent hours talking about the human brain and evolution, zen buddhism, careers and making a difference in the world, relationships, and everything in between. Our conversations really sparked something inside of me - I am, for the first time in a long while, interested in diving in to some non-fiction reading material. Mark's life story for the past decade offers a great deal of food-for-thought: he has taken conscious steps to focus his career in a way that is very meaningful and rewarding, and that focus has brought him halfway around the world to live alone in a foreign country, working with some of the most brilliant people in his industry. It hasn't fallen into his lap - rather he has arrived at this position through a great deal of hard work and dedication. His work is extremely important to him. I see a similar drive in myself, and I know that I want to make significant positive changes in my field of study and work. But at what cost? I want to make a difference, but I also want to be happy and social. As with many things in life, the limiting factor will be the number of hours in a day. You can't do everything, so you have to pick and choose. I have been developing and reconnecting with a strong professional motivation lately, but I also want to allow myself time to enjoy living in San Francisco and being with my friends and loved ones. I am curious to see how things settle out when I arrive in SF and begin my new position at Kleinfelder.

Japan, Japan, Japan. Yes, I'm still in Japan. Instead of sitting in Mark's apartment writing blog entries all day, at some point I should put on my other sock, eat some breakfast, and head out to explore the city. Okoyama is home to some of the most beautiful gardens in the country, as well as historic castles and kickass second-hand clothing shops. So with that, I leave you to your tribe-ing... see you all soon when I return to the land of Big Cars, Big People and Socially Acceptable Hugging!
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Oh lord, oh friends, oh loved ones, how you ever let me grow to the ripe age of TWENTY EIGHT without eating good *fish* sushi is a travesty beyond my comprehension.

Thankfully my darling Levin saw fit to treat me to an amazing meal at umi this evening, followed by my treating him to a symphony performance featuring violinist Joshua Bell performing Corigliano's Red Violin concerto, conducted by Leonard Slatkin. We capped off the night at the wine bar in the Renaissance hotel, enraptured by a glass of fine Tokaji, a creme brulee sampler, and chocolate kahlua cake served by a darling chatty gay man in his 50's who regaled us with stories of walking around San Francisco's financial district when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. Truly, life does not suck.

My mouth is already watering at the thought of more delicious raw salmony tunatastic deliciousness, and conveniently [livejournal.com profile] ziptie and I will be in Tokyo's Tsujiki fish market in just eighteen days. I doubt they'll be able to offer Tokaji in accompaniment, but something tells me we'll find other ways to satiate ourselves.

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