Archive for April, 2012

April 16, 2012

The Snow Corridor




Saturday April 14th was pretty much the most perfect day. The sun was shining, the delicious spring wind was blowing, and the threat of precipitation (rain OR snow) was nonexistent. Kyohei and I had planned to drive up to the mountain that day, so I felt like we were pretty darn lucky.

We had a late lunch at -Waraku- (where I forgot to take a picture of my lovely meal) and started driving around 2:30pm, I believe. We listened to Jimmy Eat World (among other things) along the way… “Bleed American” is one of my favorite albums ever. So we drove for a while to get up there. It took longer than one hour, but not more than two.

So what is the Snow Corridor of Aomori? Well, now that I’ve seen it… I think this thing is definitely a natural wonder. A man-made natural wonder.

National Route 103, also called the “Hakkoda-Towada Gold Line”, is closed during the winter months, but re-opens on April 1st every year. Apparently they plow this two-way road in such a way that when it is open, it feels like you are driving in between two huge walls of snow. They say that these walls can reach up to 9 meters/30 feet in height. They also open this road for walkers (no cars) for just two days every season. I think it might be kinda neat to walk along this road, but driving a car was super fun.


When we got to the infamous road, I began to take a video. The video is a little long, but it was so amazing that I didn’t want to stop filming!

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April 13, 2012

Coats and Bikes on Friday

I’m writing just because I feel like writing. This post doesn’t have a point or focus or anything. It’ll help me get out of my head for a while, at least.

It’s a pretty nice day today. I hear that it is going to rain later, but for now it is partly cloudy with some sun. It’s warm enough for me to go out in just my Columbia sweater. I realized yesterday that I wore my off-white REI all-weather jacket pretty much every day this fall and winter. It was indispensable in my trudges to work in the snow. And blizzards. My parents bought that coat for me in 2007 before I headed off for a year at Waseda because I needed a raincoat for the rainy season. (It’s strange to think that I didn’t buy a raincoat for famously rainy PORTLAND, OREGON, but I bought one for Tokyo…) It really is a rain jacket, but I just wear tons of layers underneath and… presto, winter coat!

Thank you to my parents for this coat. I will continue to wear it until it falls apart. Rainy Season 2012, here we come!

Well, yesterday as I was biking to work, I saw Mt. Iwaki clearly. It was a lot clearer than it has been in a while and the sun was out. I am so lucky to live at the base of such an awesome mountain.

Speaking of biking… The snow is gone and it is SAFE to ride my bike again.

Well. It is safe now, but it wasn’t last week.

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April 10, 2012

Random Observations As Of Late #3

  • Sad news first. My co-worker’s sister died suddenly on a Friday. This was also the last day of the fiscal year. So, naturally he requested some time off to grieve with his family. He was absent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; came back to work on Thursday. During our morning meeting on the first day he was back, he made a speech in front of everyone: he thanked everyone for the monetary gifts and flowers.  And then he thanked everyone for the three days off and promised to work hard because he missed those first three days of the fiscal year. He then bought a huge box of sweets for the whole office. I get the feeling that this is pretty different from what happens in America when an office member has a death in the family.
  • It snowed on April 7th, Saturday… A pretty big storm, actually. Here’s hoping that this one was the last.
  • Japanese people bow constantly. And I mean constantly. At home, at work, at school, at the store, on the streets, in their cars, on bicycles… It is so amusing to watch my co-workers bow while they are on the phone. Just the other minute my co-worker was bowing so low that his forehead nearly touched his desk. Why do they bow on the phone? The other person can’t see them…
  • Ever since I downloaded the free Photoshop CS6 beta for my work PC, I’ve found a new way to pass the time. I made some flyers and a business card for my mom. I made some icons and a banner for Tori, who is the new AJET (Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching) President. Here is what I made:



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April 3, 2012

Working Out (or not) in Japan

Let me preface this by saying that there is a long list of things that Japan does well. However, based on my experience, gyms/fitness centers do not make this list.

Exercise is a part of my daily life, right up there with breathing, eating, sleeping, and working. Gotta move to stay healthy and all that. But it is amazing how many roadblocks I have encountered in my quest to exercise here.

Here we have Exhibit A, my gym in the US:

(photo source)

In the US, I paid (what I considered an expensive) $65 a month for one of the top gyms in my city (with locations nationwide so I could work out when I went to visit my parents). Open 24-hours and only closed on Christmas day. I could take as many group fitness classes as I wanted, the towel service was free (both sweat and shower towels), never had to wait for a machine, broken machines were a rarity, people with tattoos were allowed in, there were indoor and outdoor pools, water slides…

mdmmmost27_t607(photo source)

The whole place was kind of like a resort, actually. I miss going there so much.

I know this may sound silly, but being placed in a super-rural location in Japan and not being able to go to a gym was one of the things I feared most before I accepted my position with JET. I worried about this far more than not being able to maintain my vegan+gluten-free diet. It was kind of a deal-breaker for me, until I finally decided to just go for it and trust that there would be exercise options in whatever city I ended up.

When I first arrived, it was easy to just go outside and run. In August, September, October… the weather was fine enough. When I ran the marathon in the beginning of October, it was getting a little too cold for my wimpy body. The day of the marathon was cold and rainy and I decided that I needed to get inside for my workouts.

During these first few months, I had also been biking to the Aomori-ken Budokan (literally, “martial arts stadium,” but it is more like a community fitness center with gyms and practice rooms for badminton, karate, kendo, etc). It took about 10 or 15 minutes to bike there from my house. They have a little training room that costs 円100 (yen) per hour to use. A few weight machines, some free weights, a stretching mat, a rock-climbing machine, some bikes, a couple Stairmasters, and four treadmills.

However, this became unsustainable for me. When it became cold, I could no longer ride my bike (especially in the snow). I had to depend on Tori and Kyle for a ride. I could have ridden the train, but the Budokan is along the a non-JR railway and thus more expensive/inconvenient. Also, the training room often reached maximum occupancy around 5:30-6pm and there was often an hour-long waiting list to gain entry.

So, in November I finally sucked it up and went to the “fancy” gym by Hirosaki station. It is only a 5-minute walk from my house! They were offering a joining special with some sort of incentive (isn’t that always the case?) and I really needed a close, convenient place to work out at, so… I went ahead and did it as an investment in my emotional and physical well-being. I don’t have any tattoos, so I was allowed to sign up. I was actually pretty proud of myself for getting the membership all by myself.

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