Japan, the land of Ellie?

Although I’m not one to deny my own level of awesomeness, this isn’t a post about my domination over the country of Japan. (that would be pretty cool though wouldn’t it?)  But apparently Ellie or Eri is a fairly common Japanese name. In my 24 years of existence I have met 3 other Ellies. Then I came to Japan. In school I have at least 3 students who share this great name, on my volleyball team there are 3 Ellies (including myself), and there’s another ALT named Ellie. In the last 6 months I have met twice as many Ellie’s than the previous 24 years. Look out Japan, I’m pretty sure that Ellie is the new Yuki.

what do we have in common? only the greatest name ever...

11.11.11 – a day for snacks

I know that I am a little late but I couldn’t pass up the chance to share the great holiday celebrated two weeks ago on Nov 11. I’m not talking about Veteran’s day since it is a holiday that Americans already know about and show their respect. I’m gonna take things a little bit lighter to the food  centered variety of holidays. 11.11 is a pretty magical date, especially if you live in Japan. Its not just a lucky day its Pocky day. That’s right a whole day to celebrate the magic that is Pocky.  And since it was 11.11.11 it was extra special. (The pocky tasted especially good)

Wait what’s pocky? You mean you don’t know what Pocky is. Its made its way across the pacific in the last couple years, and can be found in the asian aisle of many grocery stores. But maybe you just haven’t made the leap into chocolate stick goodness. Pocky are thin cookie sticks that are a little sweet and covered in chocolate or another flavor of candy coating. They can be found in many different varieties, chocolate, men’s (dark chocolate), strawberry, mint, orange, almond crunch, panda (chocolate cookie with white chocolate frosting) and salty chocolate. Its pretty much the perfect combination of crunchy and chocolate. I’ve fallen into and recovered from a few Pocky addictions in the last year.

Now back to Pocky day. It started in 1994 in Korea with a snack called Pepero which is pretty much the Korean rip off of Pocky. Girls started giving each other Pepero to wish each other to grow as tall and slender as the snack, over the last 17 years its has transformed to become the cheeper cousin of Valentine’s day where couples buy Pepero for each other.

Pocky v Pepero - look curiously alike don't they?

Glico, the makers of Pocky thought this was a great idea to boost  sales. I’m not sure what its like in Jr high but nobody I’ve seen in Japan thinks of Pocky day as a psuedo romantic holiday. More like the advertising climax of Glico. I was informed of a Jr game called the Pocky game where a boy and girl start at either end of the pocky and eat their way to the center until…..oooops…they kiss! Either way I’ll take a day dedicated to snacking. PS- the date wasn’t chosen by accident. 11.11 is a date that can be written with Pocky snacks. Can’t argue with rock solid logic.

we opted for the non-traditional flavors last year

How do you celebrate Pocky day you ask. Its pretty simple, Step 1: go to a convenie. Sure you can get them other places but it just seems more fitting to get the Pocky in one of Japan’s man-made-wonders. Step 2: purchase Pocky preferably in a variety of flavors. If obesity or lack of money limits the range of flavors work with a couple friends to get the most out of the convenie. Step 3: Share the Pocky. Sure their good enough to eat 4 boxes on your own, but Pocky is a treat that brings people together. There aren’t many people that would turn one down if offered. I once bought 2 boxes of Pocky and shared them with my entire train car, I definitely didn’t know everyone on that train, but you can believe that everybody likes Pocky.  Step 4: Eat and enjoy Pocky. Yes its true that you can eat Pocky on any other day, but its a little more fun when the day is dedicated to the candy and you’ve shared them with everyone around you.

these guys loved the Pocky present

So there ya have it. The ins and outs of Japan’s candy centered holiday.

PS- example of the jr high “pocky game”

Busin’ it

To get to Tokyo from my end of Japan there’s a few options, plane, train, shinkansen, all classy and fairly comfortable. Then there’s the way I go, overnight bus. Compared to the first few options its about 1/2 the price but takes 3-4 times longer. It takes about 8-10 hours to drive to Tokyo, and the buses take advantage of the long distance. They leave late at night and drive through the night. When you arrive in Tokyo at 7am you have the rest of the day to seize. The only problem is its really difficult to sleep on the bus, and if you do there’s a good chance you’ll end up sleeping on the shoulder of the stranger sitting in the next seat. I don’t know how common it is, but its happened to me on more than one occasion. On our way back from Tokyo last year, Kerrie and I had a whole bus to ourselves. It was kinda like having our own limo driving us across Japan.

If you do find yourself on an overnight bus, here’s a few things I have learned. Bring warm fuzzy socks, regardless of the season it always gets cold, and nobody likes cold feet. It also blocks the scent of your stinky feet from spreading around the bus. Bring a warm sweater– like I said its always cold on that bus. Bring movies – I’ve rented movies for my ipod and watched them, makes the time go by sooooo much faster when I have trouble sleeping. If you are somewhat awake for the rest stops get out of the bus and walk around a bit. I found myself getting restless the last couple hours, and getting out of the bus helped this a whole bunch. Never underestimate the power of Tylenol PM. I’m not supporting an addiction, but a couple pills can make sleeping in those little seats a whole lot easier. This may also be why I end up on the shoulders of my neighbors.

Although not the most comfortable way to ride, overnight buses will get you to Tokyo for a whole lot less cash, so you can spend it on important things like sushi and shopping.

Wedding Bells are Ringing

No, not me… Last weekend I had an amazing time sharing in the celebration of my friends Brian and Ayumi’s wedding. Thanks to a holiday, and some time taken off work I spent a long weekend in Yokohama to participate in the festivities. This was something I had been looking forward to for a number of reasons. 1) Jennie was coming back to Japan for the wedding. Brian is Jennie’s brother so clearly she wasn’t going to miss this. 2) I love weddings, especially when they are my friends’ weddings 3) This would be a Japanese wedding, and all the billboards for wedding centers planted the idea in my head that Japan takes weddings to a whole new level.  Number 3 totally delivered.

 

As we tagged along with Brian during the wedding preparations, we got to see the inner workings. Japan loves sets, lunch sets, travel sets, clothing sets, clearly wedding sets would be an option. Maybe set isn’t the right word, I’ll use package. A couple can go to a wedding complex and get everything done in a one stop shopping experience. The couple has a wedding producer and they take care of everything. The dress, venue, decor, flowers, service, reception, MC, food, and photographer. To make things even easier its all in one building. Dresses / Tuxes 2nd floor, hair salon 3rd floor, Reception halls 4-8th floors, chapel 9th floor. There’s even honeymoon suites for the couple to stay that night. This wedding complex was serious business.

 

This complex was one happening place on busy days such as holidays and weekends they can have as many as 7 weddings a day. There were 3 different reception hall options, Bali, New York, or Paris -each with their own cocktail room, kitchen, and banquet hall. Everywhere we went we were escorted, from the hall to the elevator, in the elevator, to the waiting, from the waiting room to the salon, from the salon to the chapel. I suppose they didn’t want cross wedding contamination.

The service was held in the elaborately decorated chapel. The service itself was short and similar to a western wedding since the couple wanted a Christian service. Ayumi’s first dress was amazing, with a long train. There were 2 attendants who’s only job was to make sure the train of the dress was in perfect placement during the service. WIth each step and turn they were there to rearrange. The rest was pretty straightforward wedding practice until the fog rolled in, that’s right there were fog machines going for the first kiss. Best idea ever.

 

From there we were escorted to the cocktail time, when the couple got to mingle for a bit while people had drinks and snacks. Once again the train patrol was behind Ayumi to ensure dress train perfection.

Then we had dinner. Oh it was magical. The room awesome, classy, simple and the tables has more settings than I’ve ever seen before. We had an amazing 6 course meal. Even Heather the vegetarian was taken care of, they created a vegan meal just for her. When the server saw that she had a broken wrist they offered to cut her food for her.

 

There were all the usual wedding activities, all with a twist. The cutting of the cake was done after the second course, and cut with a sword. Toasts, slideshows, and family presentations, were all there too with the guidance of the fabulous MC. She got me excited for things when I didn’t even know what she was saying or what was happening. All I knew was I was excited for…..something. There was even an intro and music change for the opening of the kitchen doors for service.

 

 

Best part, the costume change. Its standard practice for brides to have at least 2 dresses for their wedding. The traditional white dress for the service and the colorful party dress for the reception. These are neon prom dresses on steroids. These dresses even made my prom dress look a little drab. When Ayumi cam out in the new dress, the lights went low, and the upstairs doors flew open. (I really mean flew, I’ve never seen doors open with such enthusiasm.) Ayumi strolled to meet Brian at the middle landing where they were also met by the spot light. I really want a Japanese wedding, just so I can have this kind of costume change and entrance. The rest of the reception was fairly typical minus dancing, there just really isn’t dancing at japanese weddings.

When the reception is done, the festivities aren’t over. There’s an after party thrown for the close friends and younger family of the couple. This is when the couple gets to relax and spend more time with their good friends. We went to a little cafe down the way and had even more food and drink while playing BINGO. Just in case the couple isn’t ready to finish the night, there’s always time for an after after party. Japan is famous for these and its when its time to karaoke. And karaoke we did, until our voices were out and we were practically deaf.

 

I was such a special experience attending Brian and Ayumi’s wedding and we all wish them the best in their future together.

tokyo all to myself

En route to Yokohama last weekend I had a couple hours to kill in Tokyo, thanks to the overnight bus I got into Shinjuku Station at the early hour of 7am. I was expecting to encounter hoards of commuters and insane crowds bustling through the city. HOwever it was quite different. I forgot Thursday was a holiday, (appreciating culture day or something) so the usual commuters were at home. The streets were empty. For a city of  13.2 million it was really strange to have the streets to myself. Scenes from several post apocalyptic movies started running through my head. After a couple minutes of being WIll Smith circa I am Legond, I turned a corner and came face to face with a street full of commuter traffic.

falling for autumn

Its finally fall. I’m aware that the season “officially” started over a month ago, but Kagawa is just a little slow on the season memo. The leaves are just starting to change and its cool enough to wear a sweatshirt at night.  It feels fantastic. It makes me want to curl up and eat / drink pumpkin pie flavored……anything. There’s just one problem. Canned pumpkin just isn’t available in Japan the same way it is in the states. Sure there’s a apple tart latte at starbucks right now, but its just not the same. Besides the nearest starbucks is an hour drive away…

more eye candy

Even more art / projects from my students. One of my students made me business cards. It reads: Onohara Elementary School Eleanowa Sensei. (most of my students know me as Ellie, so the pronunciation of Eleanor has been a little skewed.)

I got this picture as while back, I’m a pretty big fan of it.

 This wreath really is one of my favorites, perfect for fall. My little special ed student Yamato made it for me along with a pinecone Totoro. However the glue failed to hold together Totoro for  the car ride home.

One of my students wrote about me in her writing journal. Something like; I ate lunch with her class,  made one of the boy students laugh really hard, and I have a blue bracelet on my left hand.

A letter asking me to play with a student after lunch. They thought if japanese was written using the romaji (ABC) letters I would understand it more. Not exactly, but its pretty darn cute.

trifecta takes on yokohama

I’m on my way to Yokohama as we speak via overnight bus, to see 2 of my favorite people, Jennie and Heather. Yeah you saw that right Jennie, she’s coming back to Japan. The entire country missed her so much the government insisted that she return. So for the next 2 weeks the trifecta will be bringing our magic around town. Too bad we couldn’t get kerrie and Jacob and it would be a complete sisterwives reunion.