Tuesday, December 20, 2011

So Long 23: December Means Holiday Season

Last month I celebrated my 24th birthday and my last birthday in Japan. How do I know it’s my last birthday in Japan. In November, I submitted my application to Seattle University and a couple weeks later I heard back from the admissions committee and............I had been accepted to start my MBA program next September! woo hoo! So it is almost official, this will be my last year in Japan teaching English. Now, my brain starts counting down the days left instead of how long I’ve been here.

Japanese Paper Dolls that I MADE!!!

In Japan news. November started off with a bang! From the middle of October to the beginning of November, I helped two high school girls prepare for an English Speech Contest. We had a National Holiday on November 3rd, and I found out that one girl won the contest and would be competing in the National Contest! How cool! Moments like that definitely make being an ALT worth it. Even better, I'll be able to watch her compete in January, downside is a shorten trip to America.

Did someone say it was sushi time?

Also in November, I played in another ALT soccer tournament. Eleven of us from Gifu Prefecture drove 4 hours to Awaji Island just south Kobe/Osaka for seven exciting games. Saturday was met with torrential rain and strong winds, making moats around goals and a very fun day spent slipping and sliding. Sunday was much better with blue skies, but again strong winds. In the end, we took second place and collected our 4th trophy in 5 tournaments!

Visited a Famous Sword/Knife Museum. Could You Imagine Using This?

The last full week of November was only 4 days long, thanks to a National Holiday on the 23rd. I got to play golf with some Japanese people I’ve met and then two other ALTs and I made a modified Thanksgiving Dinner. While we didn’t have turkey, we had stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie! On Saturday of that week, I went to a Thanksgiving Party with about 25 guests. It was great to eat another Thanksgiving meal and this one included turkey!

Our Modified Thanksgiving

So there is was. November came and went more quickly than last year. Overall, I’ve been noticing that my second year is flying by and I’m having a lot of “last moments”, i.e. “last” autumn trees with all of their beautiful colors, “last” birthday in Japan, “last” holiday season far away from my family....

Yum. You grill the food on a bbq like box that's on the table

Well December is one of my favorite months for a few reasons, it’s just after my birthday and Thanksgiving but before the joy of Christmas. I was looking forward to heat in the classrooms but it hasn’t quite hit before 50 degrees inside the schools yet. Once it hits 49 we are “allowed” to turn on the heaters, crazy right. Oh Japan. The first weekend of December found me in Northern Gifu (Takayama-Gero area). It’s famous for onsens and skiing (and really cool English teachers). I had a great time, even had another Thanksgiving celebration with a real turkey from Costco Japan! The second weekend of December found me in the Tokyo area, visiting Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea. I went with 2 other people from Gifu and it was great being able to see the Christmas decorations and zillions of people. For my last Japanese weekend in 2011, I made another Japanese doll, did some Christmas shopping, and played golf (it snowed....). I have onl 4 days until my train-plane journey to the US. I’m very excited!

Another ALT (Takayama) and I enjoying a 1L glass of beer. SO BIG!

Disneyland Golf...of course

Merry Christmas from Japan

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Amanohashidate “The Bridge to the Heavens” : Take 2

This post starts with a story. Almost 10 years ago, I visited Japan for the second time with the Japanese Magnet Program. One of the day trips we took was to a place called Amanohashidate, on the Sea of Japan’s coast. I fondly remembered my trip there and ever since living in Japan I’ve wanted to return. So, this past weekend I got the chance to go back.

Friday night I took the “slow” trains down to Kyoto (only 3 hours and 2500 yen or $35). On Saturday, I got up really early (6am, woo) to catch a train to Amanohashidate. It took 3 hours on the train, so just before 10am, I arrived to a tourist-free sight. I guess 10am is a little too early to sightsee... The area is famous for it’s 2 mile (or so) sandbar/dirt road that connects two sides of a bay.

I rented a bicycle and rode to the other side, where I then took a chair lift to one scenic point. I had the option of taking a bus even higher up, so I did. I stopped by a temple, and it was famous for a bell that was and never will be rung. The story is that during the construction of the bell, a new mother was carrying her baby to see the construction process. She accidentally dropped the baby into the melted iron (or whatever it is made out of). The story says that the bell was rung once and that people could hear a baby’s cry. And that is why the bell will never be rung again.

After the temple, I hiked up to the “panorama” view of Amanohashidate. It was a little over a half of a mile hike to the top and it was a nice little workout. When I got to the top I stopped and had lunch, overlooking the gorgeous ocean. On my way back down I did some shopping and then left in the afternoon.
View from the top

Once back in Kyoto, I had some dinner and struck up a long conversation with a nice gentleman from London, who I met at the hostel I was staying at. Sunday morning came and I was off to Kinkaku-ji or the Golden Pavilion. It is covered in gold and a true sight. I got there early and there were still tons of visitors. After the pavilion I decided to make a detour to look at an MBA campus in Kyoto called Doshisha University. It’s relavtivily new, but I had heard great things about the program. I will say it has a gorgeous campus (it’s also right across the street from the Kyoto Imperial Palace). A few more hours of wandering and sightseeing I found my way back to the train station. Sunday afternoon I took the train back and that was the end of my adventure in Kyoto/Amanohashidate.

However, Sunday evening was another adventure, let’s call it “Amanda takes on Japanese dust mites”. Yes, Japan has some crazy bugs. These little devils are mites that live in tatami and bite you when you sleep. Sounds awesome right? At first I thought it was spiders or perhaps bed bugs, but then a teacher asked me if the bites are in pairs (a tell-tale sign of the dreaded “dani” (dah-knee)). So Sunday, I sprayed the inside of my tatami mates, threw all of my bedding into the dryers at the laundromat (well except the bed, too bad because I wish I could zap it with some high heat). My goal is that by next week I will have no new bites (roughly 30 or so right now on my legs and feet). Yes, Japan never ceases to amaze me. I’m thankful that I will never have to suffer the mites of tatami mats ever again, well, in America at least.
Well, that’s my update for now. Tomorrow is a National Holiday! Culture Day! And my birthday is on Saturday, for which I plan on having dinner in Nagoya with some ALT friends at the one and only Outback Steakhouse!

PS. Note to self.....Don't let bamboo grow through your house....

Friday, September 30, 2011

Tokyo, Typhoons, and Traveling Parents

After being in Japan for 14 months, my parents decided to take a trip over the Pacific Ocean and visit me in Japan. It was a rather quick trip of 8 days, but we had a great time (at least I did). I met my parents at the airport and we spent one day in Tokyo. We went to Meiji-jingu (temple), what it’s famous for I forget.

First Stop with Mom and Dad

Writing our own wish

Gelato Break!

After having lunch, we hopped on a bullet train and headed to Nagoya. On Saturday night, we had a fantastic traditional Japanese steak dinner, where they cook the food in front of you. Oh man, it was delicious.


Sunday was spent exploring what Nagoya has to offer. We went to Atsuta Jingu (shrine). We then headed to get lunch and do some shopping (nothing was bought sadly enough). After a well-deserved lunch break at Outback (seriously, like one of a few places were you can get a salad in Japan), we headed to Nagoya Castle. We walked around the gardens and then called it a day and headed back to the hotel.

Nagoya Castle

Tying our fortunes to the string, hoping they come true

On Monday, since it was a national holiday and I had no work, we got in our rental car and headed north to my prefecture. We first stopped at Inuyama Castle (which I think has one of the best views in Japan). Then, we headed north to the city of Mino. It is famous for it’s paper and paper lanterns. Here is the back story: last Christmas I bought my sister a small paper lantern from this place and at the time, my mother asked me where hers was...so typical of my mom. So I said, if you come to Japan, I will take you to this place. We walked through the old traditional Japanese house lined streets and ended up in the same store I bought Molly’s lantern. My parents settled on a gorgeous lamp for their house and it will be the first lantern to get sent abroad from this shop (I’m a little nervous to ship it). Our final stop was the city of Seki. It is famous for swords and my mother wanted new knives for her kitchen (now I realize that my mother was more interested in shopping than my dad…go figure). Now, I had never been to the cutlery store, so I was just guessing and yet another successful adventure when we found the knife shop! This was truly a miracle because I had no idea where we were going. After a successful day of buying a lantern and some knives, we decided not to test our luck and head to our next hotel.

View from Inuyama Castle


On Tuesday, I had to head to work and leave my parents to explore on their own. Thankfully, they were able to see a few places before a massive typhoon started closing roads and making traffic miserable (trust me, I know). I noticed it rained all day, about 20 inches we figure (for those of you in Portland, Portland gets 52 inches a year)… At about 2pm, my school canceled classes and made parents come pick up their students (something that rarely happens). I was informed that my apartment complex was unsafe (because I live on an island between 2 rivers, yeah, who planned that?). So, with my apartment being evacuated due to risk of flooding, I started my trek to my parents’ hotel. Normally, it is a 15-minute drive, just 8 miles or so. Instead, with all of the road closures, it took me 2 hours to make it there. Tons of fun! Not. Due to the crazy traffic, I took my parents to a traditional American dinner (in the eyes of the Japanese) at KFC, since it was a 5-minute walk from our hotel.

On Wednesday, with classes canceled due to the typhoon, I was not thrilled with the prospect of sitting at my desk all day. Nonetheless, we started the trek to my town. After 45 minutes or so in traffic, I called my school and supervisor and was granted the day off. It was nice to spend a little more time with my parents. Once the typhoon passed with no damage to my apartment, we headed out to dinner at another Japanese steak restaurant. I love these restaurants, where you order raw meat and you get to cook meat and veggies on a burner in the middle of your table. Luckily, there were some Japanese boys/men who could recommend what cuts of beef to order and they even showed my parents what they called a “Japanese hamburger”, which was a piece of steak, a little sauce, wrapped in a lettuce leaf. They even spoke a little English, which was a relief for both my parents and I.

Just outside of my apartment (road closed)

Introducing my parents to a "Japanese Hamburger"

Thursday it was back to school and my parents came with me. Once again, the roads were still closed so a normal 15-minute commute took 2 hours. I’m not a fan of typhoons. I made it to school a mere 5 minutes before my one and only class of the day was supposed to start. That is winning. My parents got to watch about 15 minutes of a JHS 3rd grade class (9th grade). Since we were doing an interview activity, some brave students interviewed my parents on their “interests”. Once 3pm rolled around, I had had enough of resting at my desk, so I met my parents at my apartment (I think they found it decent. Needless enough, my father didn’t like the black mold growing in one room and he instructed me to tape off that room). Oh well, I guess parents will never stop being parents. We then headed to Nagoya to take a train up to Tokyo were we would spend the last 2-3 nights in Tokyo.

On Friday, we went to the Tokyo National Museum, which had ancient artifacts from Japan, China, Korea, India, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We got some goodies at the museum shop (some of which are heading to the Lady Vandal golf tournament in Seattle in 2 weeks!). After the museum, we went to Akiharaba, which is the electronic district of the world (well, actually Tokyo). We wandered through a few stores, but it was quite overwhelming! On Friday night, we had a truly fantastic dinner at a restaurant in the hotel we stayed at. My mom and I had a course menu, which brings you salad, soup, main course, dessert, and coffee. My dad had the best steak I’d ever tasted in my life!

Tokyo National Museum


Best Dinner Ever

Saturday was my parents’ last day in Japan. So we made the most of it by seeing the Yasukuni Shrine and Museum. The shrine is dedicated to the soldiers and others who died fighting on behalf of the Emperor of Japan. The museum related to the history of Japan through its wars. It was quite interesting to read the WWII part. In my 14 months in this country, I’ve noted some cultural differences and the museum accurately reflected how the Japanese perceive the numerous wars they’ve fought in. My interpretation of the Japanese belief is that the Japanese believe that they are always attacked (which would happen when you invade and take over some other country…at least that’s what I thought). Anyway, it was a good learning experience and I know my father enjoyed the museum because he is a history buff. After a quick bite to eat for lunch and we were off to the Imperial Palace. It was a bummer because you can only go onto the grounds two days every year. So instead, we walked up to the moat and took pictures, just like the other tourists. One more stop to Tokyo Tower, Japan’s version of the Eiffel Tower (13 meters taller than the actual thing). Finally it was Saturday night and I had to see my parents off to the airport. I can’t lie, I was really sad to see them go. I can’t wait for my next visitors (hint hint anyone).

Outside the Imperial Palace

Tokyo Tower

On Sunday, I did some shopping at Forever 21, H&M, and the Gap before heading back to my Japanese home. It was tough to leave the comforts of my Tokyo hotel, but I guess it had to be done. This week has flown by with only one more day left until the weekend. I’m looking forward to the weekend because we are playing in another soccer tournament in Nagano Prefecture! Go

Gifu Pirates.

Until next time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Typhoons and Traveling

Let me start out by saying how much I have experienced with Mother Nature during the past year. I started my Japanese journey in the hottest summer ever recorded, followed by a bitterly cold (but typical) winter, then came the most powerful known earthquake to hit Japan (and then there were the tsunamis and radiation), and just last week Japan had another encounter with Mother Nature with Typhoon 12, the largest typhoon to hit Japan in the last 25 plus years (26 inches of rain in one day in some areas). I have come to respect Mother Nature a lot more, because Typhoon 12 which struck hundreds of miles south of me, earlier in the week was on a direct course for my prefecture. Needless to say, I’m thankful that I live in a landlocked prefecture now more than ever.

But, on with the travel story!

I’ve recently come up with the idea that I will try and travel to as many prefectures that Japan has to offer (47). However, due to the earthquake, if I make it to 40 of those prefectures I will be quite pleased. So, for the next 10.5 months, I will make my way through Japan. Am I excited? Yes. Am I excited to be spending more money than I should be (oh graduate school)? No, but I figure this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. So, my goal to 40 prefectures is up and running. I’m taking into account the prefectures I’ve visited in 5th, 8th, and while in college, so I’ve knocked off about 10 or 15 prefectures already.

Two weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk and I was thinking of my weekend plans. So, I got out my Japan guide and realized that Ishikawa Prefecture is right above me. It was settled. On Friday (mid typhoon rains and strong winds), I started my 4 hour train ride, first west into the typhoon and then north-east. I settled into my Ryokan (Japanese style hotel/hostel) and woke up bright and early Saturday hoping to beat some of the rain that was forecasted for the day. My first stop was the famed Kenrokuen Garden. It is designated as Cultural Property and a National Site of Special Scenic Beauty, plus it is consider one of the three “Great Gardens” in Japan. It was first built in 1676 and did some moving and design changes through the years until 1874, when it was first open to the public. It has the oldest fountain in Japan and the fountain actually works by natural pressure. It was gorgeous, even if I spent most of the time under my umbrella. The leaves were just starting to turn reddish-orange, and I would love to go back in a few weeks when they are all autumn colors.

After the garden, I walked across the street to the ruins of Kanazawa Castle. It has been rebuilt and looks nice, but I opted not to go inside from the recommendations I read online.

From the Castle, I went to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s deisgned to be like a “museum open to the city like a park”, which is cool until they tack on admission fees for all sorts of exhibitions. I opted not to do the major exhibition because only about 1/3 of it was open on the day I went. Instead I wandered into a local artists room, where these two ladies try to give me free admission when I asked them what it was about (I finally managed to give them my $5 coin).

After the museum, I ate a quick bite to eat and I was off to Myoryuji Temple (aka Ninja Temple). It has nothing to do with ninjas, but when it was built, houses were only allowed to have two stories (and even now, they never build three storey houses). So from the outside it looks like it has two stories, but in reality, it has 7 stories that fit into a normal two-storey house. I wish I could’ve taken pictures, but that wasn’t allowed. After the ninja temple, I walked around and visited the open market where loads of fresh seafood (we are 20 miles from the ocean) were being sold. After a quick peak at the market I took a bus back to the main station where I met a lovely professor who teaches animal science, who spoke great English. He was visiting the area to escape the typhoon (I thought it was odd that only him and his buddies went, not his wife or daughters…).

I headed to the mall which was right next to the station and looked at the movie schedule and decided Transformers 3 sounded like a great way to end my Saturday night. I saw the movie, walked 3 minutes to my hotel, and enjoyed a nice beer and Catcher in the Rye. Tough life.

Sunday morning was spent at Starbucks and then catching a train to Fukui City (of Fukui Prefecture). They have a famous landmark called Tojinbo. It is a massive collection of rock formations on the coast. It was a great sight and it made me miss the Oregon Coast dearly! It took about 1.5 hours from Fukui City to get there, and then another 1.5 back, so at that point I was ready to start my journey back home.

It was a great trip and I was able to wipe off two prefectures from my list. Once I figure out how many I actually visited during my previous trips to Japan, I’ll post a list of what I have left.