bites of goodness

Some tasty treats from life lately.

I found these chocolate straws in Yokohama. They have little chocolate beads in the middle and are half sealed on the top and the bottom so the beads dont fall out. When you drink milk with the straw it goes through the beads and…. MAGIC…… chocolate milk. Sure Jennie and Heather weren’t as excited as I was. But you can take my word that they are awesome.

I’m a big fan of trying snacks at the convenie, and most of the time I’m not let down. This time was different, it wasn’t just ok, it was bad. I had one and was done. After working at Chuao chocolate in college, I’m a fan of strange chocolate combinations. This combo was not a success. The black pepper was just too strong it was just…….. bad.  

Who doesn’t love a truck that loves the power rangers?

With the addition Kyoto cookie, and Mosburger my kit-kat flavor count is up to 27. In case you were wondering the kat was not burger flavored. I was just as disappointed as you are. It was white chocolate and they were selling them as some sort of promo, but still I can say I had a Mosburger kit-kat. As for the Kyoto cookie its probably my favorite flavor so far. It had crunchy cinnamon cookies in the outside coating, the Kyoto travel crew and I may or may not have eaten 3 boxes of them during our travel.

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warning: I’m probably a road liability

Not me, but there are stickers in Japan that basically say the same thing.

In Japan when I person is a newly licensed driver they have to have a magnet like this on their car.

When a person over the age of 75 is still driving they have to have a sticker like this on their car.

Notice how the new driver magnet looks a lot like a spring leaf, and the old one a lot like a fall leaf. As if indicating that old drivers are in the autumn phase of their life. Clearly dying soon, but still holding on. Well the old drivers noticed that too, and got angry that they were labeled as autumn drivers. So, the old people magnets have been changed to look like this.

I quite appreciate these markers. I know to avoid both sets of drivers as they are even worse drivers than they rest of the population. Also the ever popular huge old people cars don’t really exist here in Japan, and how else would I be able to prepare myself to go 20 under the speed limit when approaching a old driver.

マルマル モリモリ 一番です

Behold, one of the current chart toppers of Japan. It started as the theme song of a Japanese drama, but it has grown into a phenomenon all its own. I’ve seen everyone from preschoolers to adults doing the dance. I admit I can do parts of the dance and almost keep up with it at karaoke even though  this was the first time I have seen the video. This jingle and dance is everywhere. Even if you don’t understand Japanese there’s a good chance this will get stuck in your head.

your welcome.

At the temple with 10,000 of my closest friends

As mentioned last year Japan does New Years Eve a little differently. Instead of the countdown parties, champagne, glittery dresses, wild parties, and new years kiss, the traditional Japanese new year is spent praying the the local temple and shrine with your family. Smaller temples/ shrines may have a few families while famous ones in big cities will have several thousand people visit throughout the night.

 

that's 6 car lanes or people, 5 blocks long

 My travel crew and I went to the Yasaka shrine and Cho-in Temple in Kyoto. This complex is one of the more famous and is right in the center of the city, that meant there were lots and lots of people.

 

As with any other outdoor celebration in Japan there was festival food. By now you probably know about my slight obesssion with food sold from stalls. The bacon wrapped, mayo covered, rices balls made another appearance. You better believe I ate myself silly that night.

the magic bacon mayo onigiri stall

We wandered around the shrine before 11 because the shrine is cleared out right before midnight. We then got in line to visit Choin Temple. Buddhist temples in Japan ring a bell 108 times on New Years Eve to cleanse the year of the 108 human sins. Since the temple was larger and famous the bell was huge. After waiting in line for about an hour and a half we were able to see the bell. The ringing device was about as wide as a telephone pole and 15 feet long. It took 7 monks to ring the bell. These guys weren’t just ringing the bell once, there were 108 strokes to be made that night.

I hadn't seen lines like this since Disneyland

I admit it was pretty cool to see. Maybe even worth the 1 1/2 hours of standing in freezing temperatures. The bell was bigger than I could have every imagined and the monks were traditionally dressed and chanting in between each ring. While the monks practiced this thousand year old tradition, it was being captured by iPhones and digital cameras. The juxtaposition of old and new was a great symbol of Japanese culture.

After the temple we enjoyed the Western tradition of Champagne at midnight. And considered visiting the shrine again to get our New years blessing. Then we saw the line. It was another 1 1/2 hour wait, in the cold. We were cold, tiered, and had already seen the shrine, and since non of us practiced Shinto the significance of visiting the shrine on New Years, wasn’t really there.

Although it took me another 2 days to defrost from the cold of New Years it was a pretty awesome experience.

So…..what’s next?

the range of my end of contract emotions (this is normal, right?)

I just lost my safety net. This week I told my company that I wouldn’t be renewing my contract for the next year. That means come April I won’t have a job. There are a few things in the works but nothing is set in stone, and I don’t want to make promises that don’t work out. My future is in the hands of embassies and my ability to get a visa. Its a little scary to let go of one rope before I know where the next one will be. I’ve had to trust that something will work out. I’ve learned to be flexible with my idea of the future. At first I had one idea and started to freak out when that didn’t seem to work out. However I’m learning to embrace the unexpected rather than let it paralyze me with fear. I’ve learned to call it “freedom” rather than “black hole future.” Maybe its ok not to have plans. That doesn’t mean I’m irresponsible, it means I’m flexible. I ready for life to take me where God leads me, I don’t have to have complete control.

Here’s the thing Japan, its me not you. I love you, but I’m not IN love with you. I hope we can still be friends. There’s probably a chance I’ll call you late at night when I’m lonely. You really are great, I’m sure you’ll find the right person in no time.

So why on earth would I leave Japan? I like my job. People treat me like a celebrity. I have plenty of friends, and I’m having a great time. The thing is I never had plans to stay in Japan long term. I always thought of it as something temporary. I didn’t create any deep roots here. Every relationship I’ve formed has had an endpoint in mind. While Japan is great I didn’t find anything worth keeping me here.  That just means its off to the next thing. It may be worse it may be better, but there’s only one way for me to find out. There’s a lot of world to see, and Japan is just the beginning.

PS- My friends Laurel wrote an article which pretty much sums up my feelings in a much more poetic way. I chose to put this link at the bottom so you wouldn’t compare my random thoughts to her great writing. Click HERE to find it.

Giant Eyes and pesky Deer

After far too many hours on the train I met more lovely faces in Kyoto. Heather, her sister Mackenzie, and her friend Katlyn were all eagerly waiting my arrival. We spent the day going to the nearby town of Nara. Nara is an unofficial companion city to Kyoto, as it is close enough to make a day trip while staying in the city. The major sights can be seen in just an afternoon, which was perfect for our group of weary travelers. We were all at the end of multi-stop travels, and our motivation and organization was low.

waking up was rough

 

Nara’s most famous attraction is Todaiji Temple famous for the GIANT wooden Buddha or Daibutsu. I have seen numerous photos and it was on my (revised) bucket list for Japan. The Buddha is 49.1 ft tall, the face is 17.5 ft tall, and the eyes are 3ft across. The temple surrounding the Buddha is the tallest all wood structure in the world. The Daibutsu was completed in the year 751. Parts of the statue have been recast because of damage caused by earthquakes and fires. The structure containing the Daibutsu has been rebuilt 3 times due to destruction from (you guessed it) fire and earthquakes. The current Todaiji Hall was completed in 1709.

 

On the way to Todaiji there are a number of other temples and shrines and deer along the way. In fact Nara is famous for the deer. They have lived in the city for hundreds of years and don’t have any fear of humans. Vendors sell cookies to feed to the deer, and they will fight or whine until you feed them. While kinda cute they were pretty annoying after a few minutes.  They  had no problem digging through your bag to find more treats, or bitting your pants when your snack ran out. I was a victim of both deer crimes.

Heather's hesitation is totally acceptable

 

signs warning that the deer can be a literal pain in the ass

 

Despite the pesky deer Nara is a pretty cool place. Wouldn’t mind going back.

Olympic Skiing

So I didn’t exactly ski in the Olympics, but I probably came as close as I ever will while in Hakuba. Hakuba, what / where is that? Remember the ’98 Nagano Winter Olympics? I sure do. Well that’s where Picabo Street Raced down the hill towards gold, or silver or another chapstick commercial. All of the ski and snowboard events for the Olympics were held in the little ski town of Hakuba.

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After Osaka I trained it over to Hakuba to spend 3 days skiing in the Japanese Alps. My friend Miguel was there with his cousin, so we spent the first couple days together eating and skiing. After Miguel left I was left to my own devices in the friend department, and luckily a group of Kiwi’s adapted me for the remainder of the week. The group was there for a vacation and knew little to no Japanese. For the first time I was the one people were turning to for translation assistance. Luckily most of our time was spent in restaurants and I speak restaurant Japanese, making my Japanese seem far better than it really was.

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The skiing in Hakuba was fantastic, there were 6 ski areas within 15 mins of town and free buses that ran every 20 minutes. By the end of my week there I was ready to find a job at a hostel and stay there for the remainder of the season. But I couldn’t’ do that I had people to meet in Kyoto.

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notice the snow collection on the bottom of my goggles

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After skiing my heart out in Hakuba, I spent more time with the JR trains to Kyoto. Japan is famous for trains running on time, however I have not always had such luck. My shinkansen (bullet train) from Osaka was 2 hours late, causing me to bipass Nagano and head straight for Hakuba. 2 of my trains  en route to Kyoto were also late, causing some creativity in scheduling. I got stuck in a couple random mountain towns where convenies were even hard to find. There’s much worse places to be stuck than a snowy mountain town. I enjoyed the time with a hot canned coffee and took in all the snow I could. (If I’m lucky it will snow once in Kagawa this year.)

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Christmasing in Osaka

During my winter break I took a mini tour of central Japan. Phase one of the holiday tour was christmas in Osaka. This leg of my journey included Yuko and Scott. We bused it to Osaka and our first destination was the Umeda SkyTower. The top of the tower has two floor indoor and outdoor observation areas complete with a cafe and bar.

escalators on Umeda sky tower

We got there just in time to watch the sunset from 173 meters above the earth, and stayed until the city lights came out to play. Since Chirstmas Eve and Christmas are the date holidays in Japan (more on this later) it was couples central. Scott was one lucky guy not to have one but TWO lovely ladies by his side.

Osaka Skyline

At the bottom of the sky tower was a german christmas land. We wandered around with the other foreigners, enjoyed good pretzels and beer.

Yuko took us to a mexican restaurant for Christmas eve dinner. There isn’t much Mexican in Japan. and I love Mexican food. The lack of Mexican food may be one of Japan’s biggest issues. (Ok maybe not for anyone but myself).

Anyway this place was awesome. It wasn’t just good because I haven’t had mexican in 6 months, it was actually good mexican. We spent several hours there enjoying the food, atmosphere, company, and of course magaritas.

For christmas Yuko and I joined the masses of Osaka to go shopping. Compared to the small town I live in, the streets were CRAZY. The shopping arcade was one giant sea of humanity as far as the eye could see, probably even farther since I couldn’t see very far.

Dotonbori's sea of humanity

of course we got takoyaki (octopus dumplings)

I had the  night to myself because Yuko had to go home because for work the next day, and Scott was in an airplane bound for Thailand. I found the Osaka Christmas light display and met some other friends for Christmas beers.

Not your traditional family Christmas, but there were much worse ways I could have spent the holiday.

Cheers to Christmas

2011 you were good to me.

Happy new year all.

In December companies, schools, clubs and groups have parties called Bonenkais, or forget the year parties. But what if I don’t want to forget this year? There were a lot of ups, some downs, but I’ve had a great time this year, and maybe just maybe learned something about myself along the way.

From the last few epic months of Okayama madness, the Okinawa trip, a relocation to a small town, the small town blues, a great trip back to the states, joining my volleyball team Hyper M, loving my small town, Beer fest, sake fest, halloween weekend, Jenny coming back to Japan for the trifecta reunion, bonenkais, and general awesomeness 2011 will be a year worth remembering.

2012 has a lot to live up to.

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