in other news….

golden week just started. I am in the midst of my first 3 day weekend of the on and off work week. I thought I’d start the holiday week off with some treasures I’ve been collecting these last few weeks.

A little shout-out to home. I use this picture to explain where in the states I live. After explaining the Rocky Mtns. the typical response is “Oh John Denver, I love Country Rose.”

I’m not certain what this truck is for, my best guess is a plumber. But I love that its a little white boy that’s peeing all over the place.

Notice that “BAD MAN” is written on the bad man’s sweatshirt just to make sure you knew who he was. In fact all criminals in Japan wear jacket’s with such a label to make it easier on the police. Notice that BAD MAN is written in english.

My current favorite snack. Wasabi kaki-pi, rice crackers and peanuts covered in wasabi, mmmm I’ve been known to take convenie detours just to get the stuff. At 100yen / bag can’t go wrong.

This isn’t an advertisement in the red light district of town, its in the drug store. Something about pure makeup…..I still can’t help but the chuckle when I see this.

Japan has various characters, many of which are downright creepy. Of the creep characters this peach thing is my most hated. Yes I know that hate is a strong word, but I save its use for occasions such as this. Andrew has a charm of this guy on his phone, I try to burn the face off whenever I’m in the vicinity of a lighter.

A while back I started my Kit-Kat quest, and I’ve never given the update. I’m up to 15 flavors: original, adult, melty almond, strawberry, strawberry cake, matcha, matcha milk, white, long potato, european cheese, hojicha, orange, pudding, beni imo, mixed citrus.

I knew that smoking in Japan was common but I didn’t know that people wanted to advertise their love of tabacco products.

There’s a beach 10mins away from my house and I often go there after work, and enjoy the sunset. I love being so close to the coast.

I have work again on Monday and then another 3 days off. Andrew, Heather, Miguel and I will be driving to Fukuoka on Kyūshū island. We don’t really have any plans other than going to Costco. Yes there’s a costco there and we have a membership card. Its going to be magic. I can taste the chicken bake already.

Japanese Bluegrass

Two weeks ago while leaving my yoga class, I was invited to a flower festival. I didn’t think too much of it, until my friend Yuko followed up on the invite. I had no idea what the “festival” was for, but it was a beautiful day and I had nothing else to do. It turned out to be a 蘭(ron) or orchid festival hosted by a local green house. There were many beautiful flowers on display and live music all afternoon. A number of flowers were also for sale. However I am struggling to keep my daisies alive, spending money on an orchid was out of the question.

We were invited to sit at a table and share the food that our new friends had brought. There was chicken, fried bamboo shoots or “bamboo baby,” and enough onigiri (rice balls) to satisfy a small army.

While enjoying the delicious food we were entertained by a taiko drum group. If I had any sort of rhythm I would seek out a taiko class to take. But my college tap dance teacher can assure you that I am not being modest.

There were a number of other musical acts. The next was Karaoke, and yes this was considered a musical performance. The “performers” of karaoke had signed up weeks in advance, and came in costumes. This was far from the drunken Karaoke stereotype. Needless to say I didn’t jump on stage.  After 45 mins of prefabricated music, the more traditional musical performances started. As a lovely treat the bands were bluegrass themed and played sets of American songs. Some I knew quite well; Puff the Magic Dragon, This Land is Your Land, Yellow Submarine (w/ banjo solo).

This concert resembled the many concerts my parents dragged me to growing up, but this time I enjoyed it. It was a beautiful day and I just missed getting a serious sunburn thanks to the cowboy hat I was asked to wear..

さくら- cherry blossom attack!!!

every spring, just when you thought you couldn’t take any more of the dead/brown plants all around, something amazing happens, the cherry blossoms bloom. This isn’t just another tree blooming, they are explosions of white all around Japan. Trees that looked dead just days before are a beautiful display of white flowers. Its lovely. I heard it was, but this was so much more than I ever expected.

The opening act for the cherry blossoms, are the plum blossoms. They are more colorful, but there are less flowers on each tree. While beautiful, not as spectacular as the cherry blossoms.

a couple weeks later the sakura comes out to play.

just the beginning of blossoms

Once the trees are in full bloom, the Japanese come out in heards to view the cherry blossoms. They have picnics under the trees in parks.  The act of appreciating sakura is called hanami (flower viewing)

we even got in on the fun

These picnics are serious business, they don’t just pick up a bag of Doritos and beer on the way to the park. There are full bentos (lunch boxes) made, some people even bring grills to the park. It may be the greatest activity ever, camping out under the flowers for an afternoon of just hanging out. People will stay in their “camp sites” for an entire day. And why not? It’s awesome!

Cherry blossoms are an important symbol for the country of Japan, they’re even on the back of the 100 yen coins. They are also featured on just about anything else you can think of. Starbucks in Japan even have a sakura line of beverages that come out in the spring. (didn’t try it tho)

a nice picture for mom...

I can see why the Japanese make such a big deal out of the cherry blossoms. They really are amazing and worth all the hype. Besides who am I to argue with a season devoted to picnics?

岡山 reunion

Just got home from a weekend trip back to Okayama for  Jacob’s last weekend in Japan. Heather and Andrew also came down and we all stayed with Yuki.  It was strange being in Okayama and it not being home, and even stranger that this was the last time I’d see Jacob in Japan. We went to all these new places and thought “how did we miss this for the last 7 months?”

Golden week is in 2 weeks getting ready for some more traveling. I was going to try to visit June in Korea but I have to work on Monday and Friday of that week, so we’ve decided on the  domestic travel option.

Miyajima madness

During an off day in Hiroshima we scampered off to Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima island. The tori of the shrine was one of the first images of Japan that I remember, and it has been on my list of places of see in Japan.

 

We took a boat to the island and it was even more than I expected. On the walk towards the shrine there were cute little street lined with stores and scrumptious food.

Miyajima is also home to the world’s largest wooden spoon. I wasn’t prepared to come across something so stunning. I needed a moment to take it all in.

Deer also inhabit the island, and they are extremely used to people. I was able to have a moment with one and Andrew tried to use his powers of animal communication. Apparently its a power that comes with being a vegetarian. One got a little too close though, and wanted to check out the contents of my purse.

Bonding

I think he smelled my secret snack stash

Then we got to see the famous gate. The gate is part of the Itsukushima Shrine, and was initially built so people could go through the gate before even setting food on the island. The island was once considered too sacred for common people to visit, and all boats had to pass through the gate to get to the island. Over time the purity has been more of a tourist destination. However the inhabitants of the island go to great lengths to prevent deaths and births from occurring on the island and burials are strictly forbidden. During low tide you can walk through the gate for good fortune, but since it was a) high tide b) too cold to swim, we chose to enjoy the beauty of the tori from the shore.

the expression of our excitement, before our heads exploded.

 

Back where I started….

After 7 months of teaching in Japan I am back at the beginning, starting over again. I went through training (again), figuring out a new place, and starting a new schools. Except this time its much much easier, and I don’t feel quite as lost. Its like the last 7 months are serving as a vague roadmap to moving and adjusting to a new location.

I really went back to where I started 2 weeks ago when I went to Hiroshima for training part 2. The 3 people who changed contracts were asked to attend training again because our new contract was considerably different. I hadn’t been to Hiroshima since the first training and it was amazing how much my perspective of traveling and Japan have changed in the last 7 months. The first time I was in Hiroshima I was tired/hot, lost, and completely overwhelmed. This time around I found my own way through the city, and seemed to have my wits about me. Training was almost a breeze because I knew what to expect at the schools, and what it was like to actually teach the classes. Its nice to know that there has been some sort of personal growth in the time that I have been here.

Hiroshima take 2

I’m also back to figuring out a new area and making new friends. I arrived in Kanonji with a car so I was able to wander around and cover a decent amount of ground in the first couple days that I was here. I also had everything I needed for my home so settling into my apartment was a breeze. Making friends however, this has been a little more difficult. Okayama was a much bigger city so there were over 30 ALT’s in public schools alone, Kanonji has 4. I arrived in Okayama with 5 friends from training and made more friends from there. When I got to Kanonji I had to start from scratch.  I have already met some great people and hopefully will develop some new friendships.

my sweet chariot that carried me into Kanonji

The schools have almost been the easiest part. Most elementary schools run on a similar schedule and routine so I knew the basics of each school from the first day. I was still pretty nervous before my first day, but it was nowhere near the complete panic I had back in September. However being in a smaller area, not many of the teachers speak English, but that’s just more motivation to learn Japanese.

leftovers from a school ceremony that I got to take home.

Look out Kanonji the Ellie train just rolled into town!!

 

we’re made to last.

Lately there’s been a lot of change in my life, but through all the chaos one thing has stayed the same, Lipton’s Milk Tea. Even with the relocation, and friends leaving, Milk Tea has remained constantly awesome. I know that I can find it at any convenie and it will always be tasty. Sure there’s other brands of milk tea but there’s also something magical about the carton/straw combo. That may all be in my head, but doesn’t Coke from a glass bottle always taste better? Cartons and straws do the same thing to milk tea. So here’s to you Lipton’s Milk Tea, Thanks for always leaving me satisfied.

changing things up.

Shortly after getting home from Okinawa, I packed up my stuff and moved my place of residence to Kanonji, on Shikoku island. Its just about 1 1/2 hours south of  Okayama (my old place). *before moving I took a week-long detour to Hiroshima for training, but more on that later.

where the heck is Kanonji you ask?

that doesn’t help much…

first impressions of the place: much smaller, less traffic, nice and open, there are a number of wide roads, lots of fields, plenty of mountains to climb, and the coast is nice and close. I have spent today driving around finding the essentials, grocery store, 100yen shop, sushi train, mall, and mcdonalds. Oh yeah I found most of my schools too. I have to leave town to get to some major stores but since there’s much less traffic its just as much time in the car as in Okayama.

My new apartment is pretty much the same as the last, so I won’t post any pictures because you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Moving is so much easier the second time around.

I still have another 3 days to explore before I have to start teaching again. Waking up at 6am everyday is gonna be rough, especially since I haven’t taught since March 1st. But its gonna be pretty great hanging out with kids again, and this time its a whole new batch…