I think it's time to retire this blog. I like the idea of this blog being the record of my time in Japan. Thanks to those of you that managed to continue to follow even when my posts began decreasing in number. It was nice to have your support while I was away.
If you would like to keep up with where I am and what I am doing, please bookmark my new blog below. (It's half English/half Japanese. That's for me to keep up with Japanese and so people back there can keep up, too.) And you can find my email address in my profile if you'd like to send something besides a comment to a post.
I'm back in town as you probably already know. I'm planning to meet up with some former students tomorrow, Friday the 4th. We're gonna meet at It's a Grind off of exit 14 at 5pm. Come if you wanna join us.
I'm coming home soon! I'm running around crazy trying to see all my friends and go to all the goodbye parties and clean my apartment and pack up.
I'll be leaving Kagawa on August 2nd to travel around Japan a bit. Then, my flight is on August 16th. But I have a layover in New York. I will be back home on the 18th, I believe. I haven't been issued my tickets yet. But assuming they don't change, I think that's the schedule. (I don't have my itinerary right in front of me.)
I can't believe 2 years has come and gone. It's gone by so fast it seems. I'm still not sure if I made the right decision in coming home now, but I hope to make the most of this coming year before heading to grad school. Look forward to seeing everyone.
I just got back from a weekend trip to Hikone. I turned 27 on Friday and thought it would be nice to go on a short trip with Alana. It had been a while since we last saw each other and this may have been our last opportunity to travel together in Japan before we leave.
Hikone is a small castle town located on Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. I took a bus up to Osaka on Friday and we took the train up in the morning. It's fairly close to Osaka. We arrived and decided to stay at a ryokan rather than a hotel. Alana helped make that happen. I tend to be too frugal for my own good. Ryokan are more expensive than hotels but are more traditional. After we made our reservation, we went to the port and took a ferry out to Chikubu Island. It's the largest island on the lake (I think) and has a shrine and a temple. The latter is part of a pilgrimage of temples in the area. I think we were the only foreigners there. Lots of Japanese tourists and pilgrims. It was short but nice. The weather was nice for a boat cruise. Overcast and cool. The mountains around the lake were shrowded in mist and rain. It was nice.
By the time we made it back to shore, the skies had cleared up. We went to take in the castle. Lots of walking and pictures and souvenirs later, we decided to skip the castle gardens since it was starting to drizzle. Instead we went to the New Old Town. It's a section of the town that has been renovated to resemble a street of traditional merchant houses. All for tourists of course. And that's what we were. So we spent a while getting more souvenirs. Then we called and our ryokan sent a London cab to pick us up. Then the night of luxury began. Our room was very spacious. With a large tatami room and an adjoining sitting room. Toilet and shower rooms as well. We scheduled dinner and went for a walk. When we came back, we went to our room where we were served dinner. It came in several courses and was delicious. Of course, it included many of the specialty foods of the area and was beautifully presented as are most Japanese meals.
After dinner, we went down to the onsen while they cleared dinner and set out our futons. The onsen is separate for men and women. About 12 people can fit in each section. But we each had our bath to ourselves. It was so nice. I did several cycles of sitting in the hot bath and then cooling off with a cold shower and then sitting in the jacuzzi section.
After our baths, we relaxed with some sake, music, and a little shodo. (Shodo is Japanese calligraphy.) Well, we had shodo sets. Someone just gave me one as a present and Alana bought one at the castle. They include a mini-stone suzuri and a block of ink. You add a little water to the suzuri and then rub the ink block in it to create black ink. There is also a mini-brush. I think the travel sets are usually used for writing messages and wishes on various papers and boards when traveling as a pilgrim. But we used them to draw pictures. It's fun because you can control the depth of color by adding more or less water.
In the morning, I had another bath in the onsen before they served breakfast, again in our room. It was lovely. Very fresh and tasty. Even the fish with heads and the miso soup with shellfish. Yes, that's breakfast in Japan. ;)
We were taken by the ryokan's cab to the train station where we deposited our bags so we could go see the garden which we had missed the day before. We almost didn't go, but we were both glad when we did. It was so calm and beautiful. We took many, many pictures. We stayed for tea and a sweet in the tea house above the pond. It was delicious. It also gave us an opportunity to write out postcards to each other. See, a teacher gave me a bunch of cool stamps before he left for another school in April. And then I always want to buy post cards when I'm on a trip, but not necessarily to send to other people. So I had the idea that we should send each other the post cards we want. That way we can keep our own post cards and the stamps actually get used and can also be seen later as mementos. And best of all, you get a fun message from your friend. So we spent a good while doing that.
Then we made a stop for a couple more souvenirs before heading down the lake to Otsu. It's the gateway city to the lake from the direction of Kyoto which is only 10 minutes away. Shiga prefecture has a sister state relationship with Michigan. So in addition to some university exchanges and other connections, Michigan gave Shiga a riverboat. Sure, it's on a lake, but still it was so touristy and fun. Guess what! It's called "The Michigan"! We of course had to ride it. It was a nice hour cruise around the lake. This time different, but still, perfect weather for a cruise: sunny and breezy. We enjoyed some sake on the top level of the boat as we went around a bit of the lake. After our ride, we of course bought some Hello Kitty "The Michigan" souvenirs and a picture they took of us as we were boarding the boat.
Next was PURIKURA. Have I mentioned purikura before? It's short for purinto kurabu, which as I'm sure you can tell is the Japanesified version of print club which means those machines where you can go in with friends and take several pictures of yourselves together. The Japanese machines are AMAZING!! After you take the pictures, you can use pens and special software to add pictures, stamps, and messages. They are great.
Then we walked down the lakeshore in the green space. We found the restaurant that the train station information woman told us about. We mentioned vegetarian and she said we might try this place. We thought that meant they would have a couple veggie dishes (which often include fish in Japan; on the whole, they don't really get the idea of not eating any animals). To our surprise, the whole menu was vegetarian. So she could order anything she wanted to. Unfortunately, we ordered foods that apparently took 2 hours to cook. So it ate up a lot of our evening time. But it actually worked out for the most part. We did have to rush a bit, but by the time we left the restaurant it was sundown and one reason we wanted to come to Otsu was to see the fountain at nighttime as was suggested. So we were able to do that on the way back to the station. It was quick but worked out.
At the station, we had to say a really quick goodbye since I misunderstood the ticket agents and they got me tickets for the VERY next train which was literally two minutes from when they handed them to me. That meant I had to run to Alana who was just opening our locker, grab my stuff, hug her goodbye, and then run for the train. But I did get to ride on a Shinkansen for the first time. I didn't get a reserved seat but was lucky enough to get one in the unreserved car. It was amazing to get home after only 2.5 hours of travel rather than the standard 4.5 whenever I go visit Alana in Osaka and I was even further away than that.
Now, I'm back to work and real life, which means school and figuring out the details of my plans for the 2 months between now and getting back to America. 2 months!!!
Summer is almost here. The real heat doesn't start until June when the rains come. For now, the students are all switching over to the summer uniforms, they're cleaning the pools, and I'm starting to sweat in the morning on the way to school. I can say that as I've gotten my body conditioned to biking everywhere, it takes longer for me to start breathing hard and working up a sweat. My first year, I was hopeless, but now it's no problem to get to school and then run around and do errands after school.
I'll be heading home in about 2 and a half months. I'm trying to make the most of my time here. This past weekend I went to the soccer tournament on Awajishima. It was great again. But the backs of my knees are sunburned and my muscles and bones ache. Working on recovering.
As always, it's my intention to update back through Christmas, at least with pictures of what I've been doing. I've been keeping busy though, so there's a lot to tell. We'll see if I ever get to it. This coming weekend is my birthday and I'm planning a trip with Alana. Tonight is shodo (calligraphy) and tomorrow I'm swimming with some elementary students. Never a dull moment here.
Cait if you're reading, you should stop and wait until after the trip.
I never really think of teachers here as really having lives outside of school considering how hard they work and how much time they put into school and club activities let alone that they could possibly have hobbies. It's always a bit shocking to learn that in fact they do make time. Like when I went snowboarding with the PE teacher back in November.
Well today, I learned about O-sensei and M-sensei's hobby. They are online auction fanatics. O-sensei mainly sells things while M-sensei mainly buys things. This little bit of insight into their lives came about because of my procrastination. I didn't start planning in detail my sister's trip to visit me in Japan until just recently. That means that of course sumo tickets are sold out. I actually hadn't really thought about sumo until I went myself last weekend. Somehow my friends and I were able to throw together a day trip. My friend bought the sumo tickets last Tuesday and I got the bus tickets on Wednesday. (I had work Thursday night and had to take a late night train to my friend's apartment because...) We were busy with an English camp Friday and Saturday over night. Then we took the bus Sunday morning. It was a lot of fun, so I thought I might try to do it for my sister. But it happens to be the last day of the tournament. So of course the seats are all sold out.
Anyway, I mentioned this to a teacher. And said that there are general admissions tickets that go on sale the morning of for 2000 yen which is a great price even though the seats are free-seating and not a great angle for watching. But she thinks some people may be waiting overnight and that many will come early in the morning. So it may be difficult. Apparently she mentioned it to another teacher who suggested online auctions. So we searched, and I found some tickets, but my credit card wasn't working on the site. So, some M-sensei was nearby and overheard. He got interested and started talking with us. Lots of talking later, O-sensei comes by. It was decided since he has a better internet connection at home, he will follow the auction. Actually, I just checked. It ends in 4 minutes and he is bidding right now! I hope he wins it for me. I gave him my limit and he will call if he needs to go over. I looks good so far. We will see.
Anyway, it's always funny to find out about my teachers. They always have surprises. Wish me luck!
Just when I think I've gotten things under control and my blogger procrastination managed, I see that another month has gone by with nothing posted. Well, I'm trying to work things out.
I've got a lot of things on my plate at the moment it feels. I'm working on plans for when my little sister comes to visit me in a couple weeks. I'm working on plans for a possible volunteering/work experience in Africa for sometime after August. I'm thinking about starting on the application process to grad school. And of course still working, learning Japanese, and living a fairly full social life. Trying to get in lots of experiences before I go home.
As you have probably guessed, if I haven't already told you, I'm heading back to the states sometime in August. After that, as you can see, my plans are a bit up in the air. Not sure I like that, considering I'm leaving a stable job with a fairly high salary, but I have my reasons and they were deemed logical and intelligent by a trusted friend. So I'm going with it.
I just got back from my trip to Hokkaido. It was amazing. I love snow!!
I went with my friend Angelina who lives on the other side of the prefecture from me. She was part of the Okinawa crew as well. This time it was just us 2. There were 4 others who also went but because we booked our package after them, we ended up at a different hotel. We tended not to be on the same rhythm so we didn't see them very much.
Angelina and I had a great time. Our first night, we took it easy. The other 4 went for all you can eat and drink. Angelina was getting over the flu and I wasn't really feeling the need to go all out drinking on the first night. It's not really a good move for a vacation, especially a short one with limited time. So we went to our hotel and settled in. There just happened to be a shodo shop right next door. (Oh, yeah, I never did get to those updates I mentioned. Shodo is Japanese calligraphy. Well, I guess it's really Chinese since the characters come from China. But it's a hobby that I picked up after the new year. I go to a class at a shrine in my city with a woman from work. It's a lot of fun.)
So, we made a stop in there and bought some stuff to do shodo with. I had brought my kit of shodo stuff with me since I had forgotten back at the mid-year seminar and I was only able to pick it up on the way out of town to Hokkaido. So, I figured we could do some artsy stuff while in the hotel room. The lady was really nice. We of course were polite and spoke in our best Japanese. At the end, she asked where we were from. Angelina, Canada and me, USA. But we mentioned we lived in Kagawa. Then, she ran off and came back with gifts. For some reason, that happens to us a lot. I guess it's what you get for being nice and talking with people and giving communication a try. She gave us these cool stationary sets. Then we walked through the nearby park where we found some snow sculptures. We started to take pictures at one that had 2009 carved into it. But a man said, "Wait, wait, wait!!!" and ran off into a building. We could see through the window that he was picking up a plastic crate of some sort. We were a bit confused. When he returned, he offered us these oddly shaped things. They were costumes of sorts. The 2009 was carved into the bottom of a snowman. The top was the hat that you wear as you stand behind it so it looks like you are a snowman. They had another hat too. It was too funny. We were the first visitors apparently. So he was really excited. On our way out of the park we of course had to make snow angels. You can't pass up that opportunity when it presents itself.
After, we decided to walk around to find a restaurant. I knew the direction of the train station station, so I figured if we walked in that direction, we would start running into busier sections with restaurant choices. But we kept walking and walking and nothing. We finally started heading back towards the hotel and found a place to eat. The next day when we tried to go to the main park, we kept walking and walking down the same street. I knew it would be a good distance away so we kept walking. Angelina just happened to mention some street signs that had numbers and directions. Like West 13, South 4 or something. It made something click from when I read through the Sapporo (Hokkaido's capital city and host of the snow festival) part of the guidebook. They numbered their streets north/south based on the park and east/west based on a river. The numbers didn't match what I thought they should with how long we were walking. I thought maybe I had mistaken the direction of the station. We walked one more block and it changed to West 14. That meant we had been heading parallel to the park the entire time. 14 was the end of the park, but at 0 North/South. So we just had to head 4 blocks north. A bit silly on my part. But with that, we came into the park where there was this old building and a nice secluded feeling area with trees and lots of snow. So we took some pictures and then decided it was time to make snowmen. We did western style ones - 3 balls. In Japan, the yukidaruma only have 2 balls. But after we spent a few hours walking the 14 blocks of the park where the snow festival is held and back, someone had altered our snowmen. My Herbert had inexplicably gone from 3 to 2. And it wasn't an accident, as if the head had just fallen off. The head was there, but the middle section was gone. And it was nowhere to be found. But it was fine, because he matched Franklin's height.
It was an amazing 4 days. Too short though. But I got to play in the snow which was my biggest goal. We sledded and played snow golf and made snowmen and slid down ice slides and ice skated and threw snowballs and icicles and made snow angels and all that. And though it was clear skies on the first and last days of the trip, which was nice for traveling in and out of Hokkaido, it was all kinds of snowy during the middle two days. I could go into detail about the whole trip, but it would probably just get boring. I suggest going to a snow festival if you ever can.
Pictures to be posted when my camera battery gets recharged. I forgot that it and the spare were both used up.
Well, it's been quite a while since I last posted. Gomen. It's been quite busy around here. It's a good thing. But it means that I have lots of stuff to write about and less free time to write about it. I think I'll try to do a few updates over the next week or so about all the different things that have been going on. I had a great Christmas and New Year here in Japan. It was really a lot of fun.
To get things back on track, I'll let you know about this past weekend.
On Thursday and Friday we had our mid-year seminar. Generally, we have a day spent in workshops/demos about how to be a better ALT and team-teacher. The second day we spend doing something cultural. The first day went fine, but it's basically the same as last year. Went out to dinner with some friends that night and then home.
In the morning, I packed for an overnight stay with a friend and went to the cultural class. We learned calligraphy with Japanese characters. It's something I've recently been getting interested in, so I was excited to do it. It was a lot of fun. In the afternoon, we heard a presentation from someone in the government ministry about how to get the most out of JET and how to approach the decision to stay or go. This is something I'm still somewhat on the fence about. I'm leaning towards staying, but I've got a couple of weeks to finalize my decision. We'll see.
After the seminar, I went bowling with about 10 others. It was really fun. I didn't do so well, but had a great time. Then I met up with Angelina and Sam to catch the train. I stayed at Angelina's since we had planned to travel together the next day. The 3 of us went to the great izakaya in their town. The next day Sam ended up coming as well. We headed on the 2.5 hour train ride to Brian's town. (Brian is Angelina's friend from university.) He was having a Ukrainian Christmas dinner. Their orthodox Christian calendar is different from the western Christian calendar so Christmas falls in January.
We got there in time to help a bit with the final set up before dinner started. Then it was a lot of fun eating with a variety of Brian's friends, some ALTs and some Japanese friends. The Japanese ladies were really fun. Then it was clean-up time. I went back to Brian's to wait for my train. I almost decided to stay the night. (I had asked if I could earlier, and we were having a nice time talking and just hanging out, and it would have been so easy to just stay and then go home in the morning.) But I went ahead and got my train home. I wanted to get a lot of stuff done today. One of Brian's friends, Akimoto-san, actually drove me to the station. She decided to leave when I did. We had a nice talk on the way.
This morning, I held to my plan for the most part. I got up fairly early and went on a 2 hour run to get ready for the half-marathon. I ate breakfast and called my family. Then I spent a while tidying up and getting a package together I've been meaning to send for weeks. Then I started feeling the fatigue from the run. I really should be finishing my half-done laundry and organizing my desk, but I think I've done pretty well. And blogging was on my list of things to do, but I had prioritized laundry ahead of it.
Well, I'm gonna watch some more J-TV while I "recover". Perhaps, I'll feel up to laundry after that. Then around 7, I'm going to see my friend play a gig at a nearby bar. He's an ALT that plays the trumpet with a Japanese group. He's really good. It should be nice.
PS. I'm going to Hokkaido for the snow festival!!!!!