oh my saka….

2 weeks ago the OK crew packed our bags and took a weekend trip to Osaka. Osaka is the third largest city in Japan however we didn’t even make a dent on the city and what there is to see. We spent the entire trip in the Dotonbori district, known for shopping, big neon signs and the nightlife. 

an endless sea of people....

Osaka is by far the dirtiest, and oddest city that I have been to in Japan. And I loved it. Most people there dressed up a little more over the top and there were oddities everywhere. Granted I have no desire to move here any time soon.

Although we didn’t manage to see some of the most popular tourist destinations- Osaka Castle and the Kaiyukan Aquarium, the trip wasn’t a total waste we saw the hugely famous Glico man, and I ate my fair share of Osaka’s famous Takoyaki (octopus dumplings- and they are fantastic).

Because of our lack of motivation I will have to come back to Osaka to get a more complete picture of the city. However I’m not complaining about that at all. The weekend was a success in terms of having a great time with some pretty rockin’ people . Until next time Osaka, you left me wanting more!

the travel crew with our weekend hostel buddies from Korea.

so i almost lost my eye….

 

my wednesday morning appearance.

I just want to start out by saying that I am ok. this week has been a ferris wheel, going down for a while and now its  back up again. On tuesday my eyes were especially dry when I took out my contacts, and hurt pretty bad that night. When I woke up on Wednesday morning I couldn’t open my left eye because of the searing pain and it was swollen shut. Needless to say I called in sick from work on account of looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. (if i had gone to work, my appearance would have made a few kids cry).

When I called work I told them that I needed help getting to a doctor, so they sent a lovely lady to take me. She drove me to the eye doctor and translated for me. I got checked out and the Dr. told me that when I took my contacts out I ripped off the top layer of skin on my eye. – yeah it hurt as bad as it sounds. ……….but i would be ok in a couple days and they would give me drops to take care of the pain and make sure my eye doesn’t get infected. -sigh of relief after 30 seconds of panic-

Although the drops made a HUGE difference the rest of my day was pretty miserable. I couldn’t look at my computer screen so watching movies was out of the question, and closing my eyes hurt pretty bad too so that took away sleep as a possibility. -insert pitty party-  I spent the rest of the day knitting and listening to music.

Good new tho: this morning when i woke up my eye was practically as good as new! I’m ok, and tomorrow it will probably be even better! As much as the day sucked, i learned that the eye doctors in Japan are pretty awesome, and so is my health insurance, I only paid $20 for my dr visit and 2 sets of eye drops. annnnnd i’m never sleeping in my contacts, ever again.

here’s to being healthy! and living in a country with good healthcare.

tokyo lovin’

last of the winterbreak posts. there were just so many trips and pics that it took me a while to play catch up. i still have osaka and random weekend pics to get into. good thing life is back to the schedule routine thing so i can try out being productive for a change.

Anyway, tokyo was pretty freaking amazing. I didn’t really think I would like it too much. I thought it would be this crazy overcrowded slap to my senses, but it was much more spread out than I had expected. And there are so many little neighborhoods that there’s a little something for everyone. And as far as Japan goes, Tokyo had the biggest variety of people, most of them were of course Japanese but everyone there seemed to have their own style. I loved discovering the unique personalities of each area, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Asakusa, Ropponji (esh), and Harajuku. Akihabra was a little much for me with the maid cafes and 6 story sex shops that had no problems with advertising exactly what was in there. My personal favorite was Harajuku. There was a number of little unique shops, and some that were just plain weird. I’ll definitely be bad to Tokyo sometime to wander and people watch…

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Back in the saddle…

I just finished my first week back at school since break. Although it was pretty great having 3 weeks off work, it made the return to work a little rough. I had to readjust to hoards of kids on the fringe of my personal space, using broken english to communicate, and waking up at 6 am. My first few classes also seemed to be the most disruptive I have had in a long time, but then again I was also pretty rusty. It was also pretty nice to get school lunch again. After a weeks of eating convenie food and trying to cook for myself a decent hot meal was a great change.

After 4 months of teaching I feel like I have a pretty great grasp of the job. I’m not saying that I’m the greatest teacher these kids have ever had, more like I have an understanding of the good and bad points. The good: the kids still love me and scream my name when they see me, I don’t really do much outside of the classroom, I have real weekends and vacation time, I make enough money to live on and travel, I work w/ some pretty cool people, annnd I’m living in Japan. The bad: the language barrier can cause a few misunderstandings, the language barrier makes it difficult to get past superficial conversations, there’s a lot of down time, and I have to wake up at 6am. Conclusion: this is a pretty sweet gig. Although the job isn’t terribly challenging its great for right now. (there’s no plan for this to turn into a life-long career)

Japanese photobooth magic

But I have decided to sign another contract so that means I will be staying in Japan until March of next year. However there will be a relocation come this spring. Interac’s contract w/ Okayama city won’t be renewed so I have to move along, just don’t know where yet. I love Okayama but a change will be kinda fun, a new experience, nice little move. So back at school and no traveling for a while. But I’m ok with a little down time now and then…

ps- my friend laurel writes for the coloradoan and is pretty much amazing. you should check out her latest article. http://www.coloradoan.com/article/20110116/LIFESTYLE/101160323/Hungry-grad-You-can-come-home-again-and-again-

happy 新年 (new year)

new years in tokyo is a funny thing. In Japan, New Years’ is a big deal the way that Christmas is a big deal in the states. Its a day to spend time with your family. Employees that don’t even get weekends off get a 5 day holiday, and trains throughout the country run on a slower schedule. Around New Years most of the younger people go home to their families in the country. Because of the mass exodus, Tokyo was relatively empty. Relativity. Those that are still in the city go to temples and shrines to bring in the New Year. We decided to start off the night going to Sensoji Temple in the Asakusa area of the city.

It was crazy to say the least. The streets surrounding the temple were completely closed off and the street that lead up to the temple was packed with people waiting to get in.

waiting....and waiting...and waiting....

We got in line around 11:30 but didn’t get to the temple until 1 am. We had the new years countdown in line, but seemed to be the only people that were into the it, perhaps if we started it in Japanese……

 

our in-line midnight celebration

The temple was pretty awesome, huge, red, crowded, and noisy as people celebrated, prayed, and gave their offerings. Andrew made a video of the coin throwing action check out the link: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=724785741633

After hitting up the temple we trampled down to Ropongi, the night club area of Tokyo, to dance the night away. We managed to bring in the new years in  japanese and western ways.

the main event, Sensoji Temple

Tokyo Smash (part ichi)

Less then 24 hours after getting home from Hokkaido I was back on the road to Tokyo for the New Years weekend. (was it a weekend? I lost track of the days once school got out) Anyway Kerrie and I took the overnight bus and arrived at the lovely hour of 6am. We passed the morning by getting tea in Starbucks and sleeping in the comfy chairs, then getting breakfast in McDonald’s and sleeping in the booth. Judge if you want but we weren’t alone in our borderline homeless practice. Once we consumed some caffeine and freshened up we went out to tackle the city and meet our friend Andrew. We wandered into the Imperial Palace.

you almost can't tell i just spent 10 hours on a bus...

Unfortunately the actual grounds were closed off to the public so we wandered around the surrounding park and admired the outer walls.

Later on we found our way to the area of Shibuya to get our shop on. Outside Shibuya Station is the huge famous crossing with 6 different crossing options. Apparently it was a slow day at the crossing, but that could have fooled me.

There’s a starbucks right by the crossing and we spent some time people watching. Since the windows are on the second floor we were able to sit for hours without being total creepers.

 

Shibuya has some of my favorite american stores: H&M and Forever 21. I’ve tried doing the whole Japanese store thing and its too hard finding clothes when I’m 4inches taller than most of the country.

 

shibuya magic at night...

that’s all for now. don’t worry tho there’s more tokyo magic to be had.

tackling Sapporo one plate at a time….

Its safe to say that we ate our way through Sapporo. To be fair food is one of the major attractions of Hokaido. When I asked people what I had to do when I went to Sapporo they said “ski. eat; crab, ramen, sushi, miso, chocolate, and lamb and drink beer.” Judging by that list we were pretty successful. Since it was too cold to spend much time outside and the contents of our wallets would only allow for so much shopping we spent much of our time perfecting our cafe skills. We are basically professional cafe-ers. So enjoy our food journey without the post meal food baby.

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oh yes there’s more….

That’s wasn’t all we did in Sapporo, there was even more winter magic. Since we were so excited to see snow, Heather and I spent a day frolicking in Nakajima park. We made / decorated a snowman, and went sledding with our shiny pants.

who needs a sled when you have slippy pants?

Probably the most famous of Sapporo’s exports is Sapporo Beer, I mean that was the first thing I knew about the city. So of course we had to go to the factory, and take the tour through the museum. The museum was surprisingly short but interesting, with a brief history of the company, explanation of beer making, and a display of cans through the ages. Initially making beer was a government operation. However it was turned over to the private sector shortly after the factory was built and established. The factory and many other buildings in the city were built around the late 1890’s and look very western compared to other old buildings.

Sapporo Factory Building

inside the factory museum

On our last day up north we ventured to the small port town of Otaru. The town is known  for their canal, another area with many brick buildings. It was great to be somewhere with a slower pace and  pristine white snow, rather than the brown sludge we were used to walking through in the city.

All in all the trip was pretty amazing. And definitely worth the massive amount of train/plane/ train/ subway transfers we had to take to get there. After all that travel I feel like Heather and I would be champs on the amazing race. I’m just sayin’…..

 

Going north- sapporo pt 1

Our trip to Sapporo was a winter wonderland. From the moment we landed we were greeted with snow. At the airport we had to take a shuttle to the terminal because there was too much snow for the plane to safely get to the gate. I had to invest in some new galoshes because the snow had destroyed my boots. We went skiing at Niseco  on Christmas Eve and there was so much snow that I couldn’t see more than 5 feet in front of me. -side story on skiing. Heather lost her camera during a spill on the slopes. But since we were in Japan, her camera was at the lost and found by the end of the day. 🙂

We spent our Christmas like some true Japanese, shopping and going out that night. In the morning we got our eat on at the train station bakery then explored the underground malls of Sapporo station. Since the city gets so much snow, it has a HUGE network of underground shopping malls. We spent hours down there and there was still more to explore.

 

7ft hello kitty...amazing

We found a foreigner bar to visit that night and met some other relocated friends to “celebrate” christmas together.

Sapporo really comes alive in February during the winter snow festival. However in december the city puts on the White Illumination. The city decorates 3 blocks of Odori Park with colorful lights, and  become pretty magic when the sun goes down.

We found more Christmas light magic at the Ishiya Chocolate factory. Known for their white chocolate cookies people from all over flock to the factory. We made it too late for the factory tour but the light display was far more exciting. The entire factory was built to look like a German Disney downtown magic land, and on top of that they added some pretty awesome Christmas lights.Theeeen every 2 hours automated robots pop out of the building for a show.

It was like a German Disneyland in Japan. I just about wet myself with excitement.

so.much.christmas.magic.ahhhhhhhh.