Archive for May, 2012

May 26, 2012

Kyoto Spring 2012: Day 5, Uzuki Cooking Class

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Last Day.

When we woke up, it was raining. It rained and rained. I thought to myself, “Well, at least the weather held out while we got our most important sightseeing done.” And actually, it was a perfect day for rain. Any other day would have been disastrous, but it was actually okay on this day. It was our “do anything we didn’t get to do, etcetera” and Uzuki Cooking Class day.

So we lazed about our room at the guesthouse for a while (omg I watched the new Batman Rises trailer on my iPhone) and organized our things that morning.  It would save us time packing later.

Aunt Jan wrote her last few postcards and then we were ready to go. We asked where the nearest deposit box was and found one at the nearest Lawson. It was kind of funny because even the mail carrier did not know if he was supposed to pick up international mail from that location. He had to call someone and make sure it was okay.

From there we were off to the bank. We stopped at the huge Mitsubishi-UFJ on the corner of Karasuma and Shijo. The experience was painless! They didn’t even make us fill out where she was staying in Japan, phone numbers, etc, etc. She just showed her passport, filled out how much she wanted, and that was it.

I wanted to stop by Takashimaya since we were in the area and I love Takashimaya (also reminds me of my Singapore days). On the way to Takashimaya, Aunt Jan noticed a counter that was selling tickets and stuff. I read that they were selling theatre tickets, bus tickets, sports game tickets… and bus passes. We were planning to buy the 500 yen one-day unlimited bus pass anyway, so this was quite fortuitous. Good eye! And the passes even ended up being 490 yen each. Yay, 10 yen discount. ^^;;

We didn’t spend too long in Takashimaya, but decided to have a quick lunch in the downstairs deli area. It was, of course, absolutely delicious. Aunt Jan said that it was one of her favorite meals in Kyoto!

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May 25, 2012

Kyoto Spring 2012: Day 4, Kyomizu, Kinkaku, Bicycles

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Tuesday, May 2, 2012

Aunt Jan and I left the guesthouse around 9:30am via… bicycle. Despite the fact that she had not ridden a bicycle with any regularity for 10 years (am I remembering that right?), I wanted to try it. I had always wanted to bicycle in Kyoto! I have my bike here in Hirosaki and even though it is a simple 1-speed bike, I feel free whenever I ride it. I was convinced that it would be faster to get places if we rented bikes, so Aunt Jan relented.

We started off slow and made our way to Kyomizu-dera (清水寺, Kyomizu Temple). We mistakenly walked our bikes all the way up the hill and then asked where the bicycle parking was once we got to the top. It turned out that there was no designated bicycle parking near the temple complex, but the guard told me where to stash our bikes (off to the side near some public bathrooms in the shade).

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As we were walking up to the temple, we noticed a procession of workers and monks carrying a huge THING wrapped in white sheet-like cloth. TV cameras, crew, reporters, the whole nine yards. Apparently it was a new buddha statue that was being installed in one of the halls. It was a bit of a mess, so it was probably a good thing that we did not enter at that time.

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Instead… I suggested we go down the road a bit and look at shops. I was actually feeling a little hungry from our bike ride and was craving some mochi samples. If you ever want to sample some famous Kyoto Yatsuhashi, Kyomizu Temple is the place to go. There is this one particular shop not far down from the temple that will give you a cup of tea and beckon you inside to try every single thing they sell. And I did. Multiple times. Ahem.

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May 22, 2012

Random Observations as of Late #4

– Being a foreigner in northern Japan, I am stared at every day. But on this day, I was stared at even more so than usual. And it was more obvious than usual.
One morning I got on my bike and started to go to work. I passed the trash collection area and realized that the day was plastic bottle day. I had my plastic bottles all bagged up in my storage area, so it would be no problem to double back and grab them. I also noticed an old man standing there pretty much in the middle of the road, having just put his own trash down or something. I think he lived in the house across from apartment building B. He watched me ride up and continued to watch me, just standing there. It was awkward.
Anyway, I doubled back with my bike to my shed, picked up my bags of plastic bottles, and went back to the trash area.
The old man was still there, staring at me from the middle of the road. He watched me put down my trash and continue to ride along to work. It completely weirded me out that he had stayed there to watch what I was doing. What the heck.
At least I got those bottles disposed of properly.

– Spring is officially here. I can bike to work without wearing a jacket and it is glorious. Golden Week in Hirosaki was rainy, but we are seeing sun a lot more now and it is much warmer. I am beginning to feel alive again!

– Speaking of feeling alive—On May 20th (Sunday), we went to a music festival called Mountain Rock (Yama Rock) up on Mt. Iwaki. Kyle and his band were playing, along with a particular artist I’ve wanted to see: Tatetakako. Tori drove us up in the morning (11ish) and we didn’t leave till around 5pm. The sky was clear and basically cloudless. I was in heaven. We all parked ourselves on the huge tarp at the small event and hung out, listening to music. The sun made me feel warm and fuzzy. I even took a nap on the tarp at around 3 when I got tired. The music was really good and I always love seeing Kyle and the College Try play. And Tatetakako was unreal… Her voice is amazing.

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– I watched The Avengers movie and I have to say that I have not liked a movie this much in a very long time. Not since Inception or Avatar. Avengers doesn’t come out here in Japan until August 17th (which is a crime against humanity… how can anyone wait that long?), so… I got my hands on a copy online. I’ve watched it 3 times already. If you are looking for a good movie (and it is out in your country!), go see it.

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– Kimberly taught me how to do something really neat the other week. She taught me how to put my hair up into a sock bun! You take a sock, cut off the toe, and roll it up so that it resembles a donut. Then you put your hair into a high ponytail with a regular hair tie. You take your ponytail (works best with long ponytails like mine) and roll it around (into?) the sock until the shape resembles a bun on the top of your head. I love this new hairstyle and it is so popular in Japan.

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– I can’t believe I will be in Austin, Texas in less than 2 months. I’m going HOME! I will take the nightbus from Hirosaki to Tokyo on the evening of July 10th and fly out the next day on the 11th. 19 consecutive days of NO work! I am using up a bunch of my paid vacation on this trip (I get 20 days per year). And I can’t hardly wait! It will have been just about one year since my mom and I put Austin in my rearview mirror…

– My supervisor put together my schedule for the next year. All the schools have applied for my school visits from now until next March. I’ll be going to 12 different schools over the course of the year, 4 junior high schools and 8 elementary. I have 118 school visits this year… I am going to be pretty busy!

The Day of the Vegetable: This week I don’t have any school visits, so I’m in the office all week. Reminds me of those long March weeks when I did not teach… But anyway, I was sitting at my desk, ready to chew my arm off because I was so hungry. I had gone through all of my snacks and was seriously considering going downstairs to the co-op to buy some rice crackers. But just then, the director walked in and presented the girls in the office with a present. He gave each of us three farmer-grown carrots from the town he had just come from. ^^ I promptly ate two of them, which kept me satiated until it was time to go. …But wait, there’s more! When I was about to leave, my co-worker came in with a huge box of fresh asparagus that his farmer friend had grown! All the office members received a bag of beautiful asparagus from this box… It is making an appearance in my lunch today.

– Speaking of veggies… I would just like to say that I am extremely happy that I can now eat a salad without freezing my butt off. I am one of those people who gets extremely cold after eating (all my energy is going to digesting, I guess), so eating fresh veggies normally makes me feel quite cold. But now that it is warmer, I can eat all the salads I want! I missed salad season.

– Lastly… About life in general… I was feeling pretty low and lonely after my aunt left on the 9th. I felt homesick (among other things) and really just wanted to go back to the US. I even started questioning whether my decision to stay another year was the best one. HOWEVER, I am happy to report that this week I am doing much better and starting to get back on track. Life goes on! As much as I miss Texas, I have to remember that my life here is pretty great too. I’m young, I’m supposed to be having adventures.

May 19, 2012

Kyoto Spring 2012, Day 3, Fushimi-inari, Uji

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Monday, April 30, 2012

For this trip, both my aunt and I prepared for cooler weather because we had assumed that it would be spring. Well, it was spring in Aomori but definitely more like summer in Kyoto for those first couple days. It was a bit cooler on Day 3 in Kyoto, so I was able to wear one of the long-sleeve shirts I had brought.

We were both sore and tired from the first two days of walking all over tarnation, so we got to a later start in the morning. We walked from Yahata to Kyoto station and found the right train to go to Fushimi-inari Shrine.

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The first time I went to the Fushimi-inari Shrine, it was snowing. The white was a stark contrast against the thousands of red torii gates. It was a sight that just about took my breath away. I went again that summer and it was blazing hot. After walking around a while, my friend and I had taken solace inside a inari-zushi restaurant for inari-zushi and noodles.

This time, in spring, the temperature was nice. It was a little overcast, but that was a good thing since we were walking around. I even had to roll up my sleeves after climbing a bit. The shrine is at the base of a little mountain covered with torii gates, one after another.

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May 16, 2012

Kyoto Spring 2012, Day 2: Arashiyama, Obanzai

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Much to my surprise, I slept through the night on that futon at the Yahata Guesthouse. I think I woke up sometime around 6am. I never sleep in till 6am. I guess it was just a testament to how tired I was from the previous day’s travel. Aunt Jan was still sleeping, so I snuck downstairs as quietly as I could to get myself some breakfast.

We left Yahata around 8am and thought we might catch some of the action around Nishiki Market in the morning. Usually it would have been open and bustling around that time, but I remembered when we arrived that it was Sunday and a national holiday. Only a few shops were open and busy, so it was a bit of a letdown.

But we had bigger plans that day! We walked to the Nijo JR train station from Nishiki Market. Since my aunt had the magical JR rail pass, I wanted to make as much use of it as we could. So that meant using JR transportation as much as possible, which was not hard to do.

We took the train from Nijo station to Sagano-Arashiyama station. Arashiyama (嵐山) means “Storm Mountain” and is a district on the western outskirts of Tokyo. My roommate Asako took me there for the first time in 2008 and I fell in love with the area. My aunt had never been there before and I was anxious to go again, so it was a plan!

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May 14, 2012

About Today

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Today was a mixed day. I was happy, frustrated, relieved, proud, stressed, anxious… and a bunch of others. The whole gamut.

I woke up with the sun at 4am, feeling pretty energetic. I probably owed that to the 8 hours of sleep I got Saturday night. I did random stuff, had breakfast, called my mom, got ready for work, made my lunch… Before I knew it, it was time to go to work.

My train to go to my school visit wasn’t until 10am, but I had to go into the office. They don’t let me just chill at home, so I went in before my school visit for a while, from about 8:15-9:20am. A little over an hour. My friends’ schools don’t require them to show their faces before or after their school visits, but my office is a little strict. I can ride my bike there now, so it isn’t that big of a deal to ride up to the office and then back to the station (my home is right near the station). It was, however, a bigger inconvenience when I had to trudge in the snow.

I felt a little overwhelmed returning to my busy office. I said my “Good Morning!” greeting as I walked in and no sooner did I set my backpack down did my supervisor turn to talk to me. I hadn’t even sat down! He gave me my new teaching schedule for the next year (until December). I think the total school visits came out to 88. Then he had to talk to me about the abolishment of the Japan Alien Registration System and how he was going to take care of my new resident card for me. And then he asked me to write my term goals (to be reviewed in June). All employees in my office are required to do a job evaluation/goal sheet that is reviewed with the big boss later on in the year. I think this is pretty normal for most jobs. My office takes it very seriously.

At around 9:20am I packed up my things and biked back to the train station. I got there early, so I chatted with friends on my phone for a while. Thank goodness for instant messaging apps. They make me feel like I have my friends in my pocket wherever I go.

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May 12, 2012

Kyoto, Spring 2012: Days 0, 1

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The Golden Week is a collection of four national holidays within seven days. For many Japanese people, it is longest vacation period of the year. I have never traveled in Japan during Golden Week before, but I decided to take advantage of the national holidays and… my Aunt Jan came to visit! We had quite the adventure.

Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture: April 28-May 3
Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture: May 3-May 9

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