Archive for ‘aomori’

October 3, 2013

JET-ting Off: The Epic Conclusion to My 2 Years in Japan

Note 1: Maybe it’s not actually epic, but it was pretty momentous to me.

Note 2: I have been meaning to write this post for months, so I am aware it is very very very late! Sorry about that!

In February 2013 I made the choice NOT to re-new my contract (which ended in July). I was loved at my job and in my little circle of friends, but I also felt homesick. The long winters and short summers of Aomori had worn on me. I missed family and friends back home in Texas. I also felt the need to get back on some sort of a career path, because teaching English/ESL was never my true career goal. Two years on the JET Program felt right. I signed the paperwork with my intent not to re-contract and that was that. Another chapter of my life had been signed and closed. All I had to do was enjoy the last five months in Japan.

The actual leaving preparations and goodbyes took about a month. Slow at first, and then fast & furious at the end. It’s enough to make your head spin and I don’t think I will be doing another international move for a very long time.

I thought I’d write about some of the things I did before leaving Japan.

 

I started teaching an English conversation class in the evenings. Three elementary school teachers came up to me and asked if we could have "English Conversation Time" together at a local coffeeshop. Of course I said yes. I liked all of the ladies a lot. We met three or four times and had a lot of fun together, talking about different subjects. One teacher bought me my first soy latte, which tasted pretty disgusting. I couldn’t even finish the whole thing, although I tried to drink as much as possible to be polite. :P They gave me a really nice send-off when I left.

 

Nishimeya Sports Festival [Sunday, May 26]

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I attended my first and last Sports Festival at my favorite junior high school. This is significant because of my position as a one-shot ALT with 12 different schools. When you have so many schools, you don’t have a "home base" and often don’t receive invitations to special school events like culture and sports festivals. I’d never been to one of my schools’ sports festivals in the two years I’d been there. I rode with a Japanese teacher (JTE) and watched my kids run relay races, do tug-o-war, and other events. I loved that day’s weather. I still remember it clearly because the weather was amazing. It was almost warm enough to wear a short-sleeved shirt (for me).

 

Lecture at the Office [Monday, June 27]
For an entire year and a half my co-workers have been saying that they want me to give them a lecture on something/teach them something. They were just so busy or something that it never got scheduled… It’s true, everyone was so busy and stretched so thin with school visits that it was rare that everyone was in the office at the same time. Well, finally… at the 11th hour… they scheduled me to teach them… something. I decided to make 45 minutes of the 1-hour lecture about conversational English. The last 15 minutes would be a slideshow of my 2 years in Hirosaki, the highlights. I figured they would be pretty interested about how foreigners live in their little city. The turnout for my lecture was pretty awesome. Almost everyone squeezed into the director’s office to hear me speak and I held their interest for an entire hour.

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May 22, 2013

Lake Towada and Akita Adventure

A few weeks ago I received an message from Kimberly. She told me that one of the teachers at her school had invited her and a few ALT friends out to Lake Towada for some sightseeing.

Of course I said yes to that! I’d never really been to Lake Towada (only driven by it) and had always wanted to go. I don’t have a car here, so I am always relying on the kindness of people with cars who go places. Plus, who would turn down an opportunity to be chauffeured around by a Japanese person in Japan?

On Saturday, April 27th, Kimberly and I walked from our houses to her school, where her teacher was waiting for us. She had also invited our friend Evan, a fellow car-less ALT, and he was waiting for us there also.

We got on the road a little after 9am. Kimberly’s co-worker/teacher didn’t speak much English, but he tried very hard. Most times he would speak in Japanese and I would understand him, but other times not at all. That’s the way it goes! He even wrote down vocabulary words on a piece of paper. It was so cute. His name was F-sensei.

F-sensei explained that he likes to do this with ALTs once or twice a year for cultural exchange. He worries that ALTs just stay in Hirosaki (or their respective towns) and never see the sights of Aomori before returning to their home countries. This made sense, because Kimberly’s predecessor had never, according to Tori, done any sightseeing. They just stayed in Hirosaki every weekend and went to their church here. It’s a shame, really, because there are a lot of things to go and see elsewhere in Aomori.

The weather that day was pretty crappy, not going to lie. The rain had stopped for a bit in the morning, but there was no sun in sight. Clouds, clouds, clouds. As we drove up to the mountain, we were actually in a cloud. We walked across a large bridge overlooking a valley below.

We drove along the now-melted snow corridor on Mt. Hakkoda. Some of the walls were half the size they had been when I did the walk and onsen excursion. And yet, still impressive. It was a shame we could not see anything because of the clouds. I didn’t feel like taking too many pictures.

After passing through Mt. Hakkoda, we went down the switchback roads to Towada. We saw some old copper mines along the way. F-sensei told us that lots and lots of miners used to live in those parts. Now, most of the people are gone. But who knew there were so many copper deposits in northern Japan?

The drive through Hachimantai park along the Oirase stream was beautiful and featured many waterfalls. It reminded me so much of the drive along the Columbia River in Oregon.

When we got to Lake Towada, F-sensei asked us if we wanted to go to the other side by car or boat. By boat it would take an hour, by car 15 minutes. Even was really keen on the boat idea, so F-sensei just got out, ran over to the boat crew, and came back. He handed us all tickets for the ferry and told us to hurry since it was leaving soon. We rushed onto the boat and then realized that F-sensei would not be joining us. He would be staying with his car and driving.

We were all kind of amazed that he would pay for all of our tickets and then wait 45 minutes for us to arrive while we had the ferry experience. We felt kind of guilty. Going on the ferry was really fun despite the weather. It was cold and the visibility was terrible, but we were still able to enjoy the cruise very much.

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~My ticket~

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May 19, 2013

My Life Lately: Spring Edition!

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View from the bus on the way to work…

Another edition of things that have happened lately but haven’t had time to write about yet! This might be quite long.

– I was talking to my supervisor about my successor (the person who will replace me in July) and saying to him, “I hope they aren’t vegetarian…” I say this because I always feel like a burden when they order a special vegetarian meal for me whenever we have work parties. I don’t mean to be a bother. But my supervisor totally surprised me by saying, “It’d be find if they were vegetarian. We know what to do now. We’re used to it.” I was really taken aback, but really happy too.

Here is the veggie spread I got at a recent work party:

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– I was at one of my junior high schools and my one (and only) glass that I had to teach got pushed back to the last period of the day, 6th period. The reason? Well, one of the 8th grade boys had confessed his love to a girl classmate. The girl turned him down, because the other boys/girls in the class had pressured her to say no. Well, naturally the boy got pissed and there was a huge rift in the entire 8th grade. My class was pushed back to make time for a meeting with all the students to resolve this issue. And there is where I roll my eyes and say, “… Teenagers.”

– The other Sunday I went to a local café/coffee shop with Tori and Kimberly. I ordered their grilled vegetable sandwich with french fries, no substitutions. It was vegan as-is. I was shocked. And it was absolutely delicious. I had a great time.

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– My supervisor is really on the ball with things. He’s already reserved my flights home and arranged to be my tax representative (so that I can receive my pension refund after I return home. This is a large chunk of change.) By the way, I am leaving Aomori in the morning on Monday, July 1st. Then I will stay in Tokyo for a few days and leave for the U.S. on July 4th. Going home on July 4th had a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

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– I went to watch Tori and Kyle at a snowboarding event last month on Mt. Hakkoda. Although I only lasted out there until lunch, it was fun to watch them (and other people) do awesome tricks. Plus, Tori was wearing her awesome Link (from Legend of Zelda) costume.

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Driving there~

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April 1, 2013

The Snow Corridor: Round 2

After last year’s awesome adventure to the snow corridor, I was really excited to go again this year. This year, the snow walls reached 8.1 meters high!

I remembered that before the road officially opens to road traffic on April 1st, they hold an annual Hakkoda Snow Corridor Walk & Onsen event. On March 30 and 31st, the road opened only to pedestrians for an 8km (5 mi) walk. You book a course from your city that costs 3,900 yen, which covers the coach bus fare (round-trip), the walk entry fee, and hot springs entry fee. This year would be the 23rd annual walk!

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And I did it!

I got up early on Sunday morning and was on the bus by 8am. We bussed up to the mountain and waited for all the other buses to arrive. I asked a couple girls to take my picture against the massive wall of snow. Yeah, it was huge.

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At 9:50am they held the “opening ceremony” where a person on the loudspeaker led everyone in stretches. They all shouted while counting the stretches: “One…Two…Three…Four…Five…Six…Seven…Eight…Hakkoda!” Group stretches/exercises are totally an Asian thing.

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March 3, 2013

March is here

I’m done teaching for the school year. The next school year begins in April. I won’t see my junior high school 3rd-years anymore, but I will see the others again.

Next week I will be heading to my favorite junior high school to watch my students graduate. The entire graduating class is only 8 students. I’ll put on a suit and participate in pictures like a real teacher. I went last year and it really was a lot of fun. There were a lot of tears, but the kids are also really good at singing so there was good music as well. The whole school is only 29 students, but they always do a good job at putting on a ceremony.

The weather these past few weeks has been absolutely horrible. People right and left have been telling me how this is the worst winter they have seen in their entire life. Actually, my supervisor told me that we have received TWICE the amount of snowfall than usual. Last week I had two school visits where it was nearly impossible to get to school. One time I needed to ride the train into the next town, but the trains were stopped and the buses were late. I waited an hour outside in a blizzard for a bus that never came. I ended up taking the train-substitute-bus (sponsored by the railway company) and missed my first class. And then the second time I waited an hour outside… It wasn’t snowing, but the snow clearing crews just couldn’t keep up with the snowfall. The roads were too narrow for the buses. Finally my supervisor came to rescue me in his car.

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This definitely did not happen last winter… This winter is a doozy. Gee, how did I get to be so lucky? I am proud of myself, however, for getting through February without any major depressive episodes. Last year I would get home from work and glue myself to my couch most of the time, but this year I have been able to get myself to the gym regularly. Four or five times a week, actually. Plus, I have been doing yoga with my mom twice a week and that helps a great deal as well. Like the title says: March is here! Wednesday and Thursday were sunny and it did not snow. I hope we can have more weather like that.

Okay, so just to show you that I am not kidding with the whole winter and snow thing… Go to this page on BBC and watch this video about Aomori:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-21625702

And a few random thoughts:

1. I’ve been wondering lately… Why do Japanese people talk to themselves so much? Or is it that Americans talk to themselves just as much and I’ve never noticed? Japanese people seem to have an entire repertoire of sounds and things that they mumble to themselves. Sometimes my co-workers mumble to themselves during work. Most of the time, it is in the gym that I hear the most self-talk. They walk into the locker room and make these “Shhhhhh”, “Oooshhhh” sounds… or mumble to themselves. It’s quite curious.

2. If you ever want to shock or surprise a Japanese person, pull out a raw carrot (peeled or unpeeled) and start eating it like Bugs Bunny. Carrot sticks, the ubiquitous American snack, also work too. Many Japanese people I’ve met (my students and co-workers) can’t fathom the idea of just eating a raw carrot. I get reactions and exclamations of, “I’ve never eaten a raw carrot before!” and “…Is it good?” My students will stare at me with googly eyes when they see me eating my carrot sticks with my lunch. It’s really amusing.

Biting into a whole, raw, unpeeled apple will also produce the same effect. When I first arrived, my co-workers were quite surprised by my apple-eating. Tori told me that her co-workers call her “wild” for eating apples like that. Here in Japan, they peel all of their fruit. I got a free calendar from the school lunch company last year featuring important Aomori food products. One of the months was the apple and there was a little blurb written about how apples are good for you. The blurb talked about how you should just rinse off apples well and eat the entire thing, peels too! What a novel idea!

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February 10, 2013

Year-in-Review: 2012

I’m a little late with this post this year, many apologies!

On the whole, 2012 was not an easy year. I learned a lot and experienced a lot. There were highs and there were lows; and I am ever-so-grateful for the people who were there to share in the highs and catch me in the lows. I couldn’t have done it without you.

I am proud of what I have achieved last year and am very much looking forward to what 2013 has in store.

And now without further ado, I bring you… 2012:

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February 6, 2013

January Gone

– Where did January go? I’m actually not too sad to see it go, because I am still waiting on graduate school admission results. Those will come at the end of February or beginning of March, so I hope February is a short month. I mean, February is already short because of the number of days, but I hope it feels short as well.

– It was hard to get back in the "swing of things" after coming back from Italy. I do seem to have a hard time with transitions. It was cold, there was snow everywhere, my house was messy, and I had a weird lingering jet lag that caused me to not get sleepy until after midnight and then struggle to wake up in the morning. I usually *always* wake up before my alarm.

– I was back to normal after a couple weeks and started back up with yoga with my mom on Wednesday and Friday mornings at 6am. It’s been really good for me emotionally and physically. She has been teaching me via Skype and it has been wonderful. I finally feel like I am making some progress and getting pretty good at a few things. I hope I can make this a regular thing for me. I just have to remember to go to bed early the night before.

– I went skiing in Owani with my co-workers again this year for our annual “ski school” that my office puts on for district teachers.

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It is for teachers to learn how to ski, the techniques of skiing, and how to teach skiing to kids (I think). It wasn’t as fun as last year because I was miserably cold and skied alone for a bunch of the time.

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The “Holizon”

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December 17, 2012

Working, working, working…

It’s been far too long between updates… I keep meaning to write, but things just kept piling up. Two months, though? I am ashamed!

This post is mostly about my job lately and daily things that have happened.

Me in Pictures:

Here is a picture that my student drew of me. Don’t ask me why I am blonde…

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A Weird Conversation

The principal of one of my schools asked me why Americans were so against eating whale meat. That was an interesting conversation. I told him it was because they are endangered and we want to protect the whales we have right now on our planet so that they do not go extinct. He told me that Japanese people don’t eat a lot of whale, just a bit. I countered with: if everyone ate a little bit, wouldn’t that amount to a lot in the end?

Angels and Demons

It really surprises me how some 3rd graders can be sweet little cherubs who hang on my every word and look up at me in awe… and then some 4th graders can be screaming monkeys who don’t give a rat’s you-know-what about what I say. It’s crazy. Needless to say, I prefer the younger ones.

Commuting

The snow came early this December and I had to put up my bike in my storage shed. My only methods of transportation were buses, trains, and my own two feet. Last Thursday I walked 4.6 miles to work and back in the ice and snow. By the time I got home, it was very dark and I honestly cannot say I have ever been as happy to see my couch. But this week the snow has melted a bit and it has been raining… I have been able to use my bike a few times. Carefully, mind you! It only takes me 10 minutes by bike to get to work from my house.

Coloring

I have recently learned that coloring is a godsend. A simple coloring and listening exercise can get even the worse-behaved boys to be quiet and concentrate. The teacher came up to me after class and basically said, “Thank goodness you brought that coloring activity… It would have been bad if we didn’t have that.”

This came to mind… Here, have a meme:

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Mistakes, Attitude, and Discipline

A few weeks ago I was at an elementary school, teaching those little 5th graders. I was telling them how the Japanese language even has some loan words from Spanish (or words that sound like Spanish). I thought I wrote “Spanish Language” on the board in Japanese, but instead I had written “Spine Language.” The kids cracked up and started laughing and kind of mocking my Japanese mistake. Last year I probably wouldn’t have said anything, but I have a bit more of a backbone this year. I spoke up and said, “Hey. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m still learning Japanese and I’m not perfect, so it’s okay to make a mistake. You’re learning English too, aren’t you? It’s better to try and make a mistake than to not try at all.”

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October 17, 2012

Random Observations as of Late #6

Aaaaaaaaaaaand it’s time for another catch-up post. I haven’t posted a “daily life”/random observations blog in a while, so here we go! Warning: This is long.

※ I was wondering…Why is everything I do so interesting? To everyone? For example, every time I come to this one school, the office lady asks me, “Did you bike here again today?” She asks me this and she is amazed when I answer “Yes”. The weather is nice and it only takes 30 minutes. Why is that so interesting? Also, people are amazed when I mention that I like exercise. And that I like to go to the gym after work. You’d think I qualified for the Olympics from the reactions I get. This stuff is normal, but since I am a foreigner in Japan… I guess everything I do is just interesting?

※ At one of my schools, there is a transfer student from another country. His father has already been here for a while, working, so he just recently came to join him. The rest of their family is still in their home country. I think it is interesting, because this kid speaks little Japanese and little English. Man, that must be hard. Plus, his name when put into Japanese katakana means “Ant.” I talked to the teachers about him recently and they said that the kid is being teased a bit and has few friends. The situation kind of makes me sad.

※ For the month of October, Kyle and Tori’s tradition is to watch one Halloween movie per night. So far I have joined them for Nightmare Before Christmas, Slither, Idle Hands, The Witches, and The Ring. The Ring (American version) is one of the scariest movies I have seen. I had horrible nightmares the night after I watched it the first time. I even slept-walked in Sam’s house and woke up on the floor in her bedroom’s entryway with a huge bruise on my foot. Still have no idea what happened there. Since then I’ve gotten a little desensitized by it and was okay to go to bed by myself. After we watched it last week, I went home and got in bed. I reached up to turn my overhead light off, but then froze. My lamp that hangs above my bed is a circle-shaped light, resembling a ring. The line from the movie played in my head: “Before you die, you see the ring.” So I bravely turned off the light, knowing what I would see. The room was completely dark aside from the ring of light, which faded into the dark seconds later. Pretty scary.

※ I’ve been cooking a little more lately. I’ve made a new curry recipe and this one is rocking my taste buds right now: click here for the recipe! And also, I rediscovered some of my Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free baking flour that Tori and Kyle gave me for Christmas last year. I still had some left! So I decided that I was going to try and make carrot cake. I even bought nutmeg and everything. I used this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie and while the results were not as visually “pretty” as a normal carrot cake… The taste was incredible. I hadn’t tasted carrot cake in probably over a year, so it was pure heaven for this carrot cake lover. Plus, it takes 5 minutes and you can make it in the microwave. I don’t have an oven here in Japan, but… This carrot cake can be made anywhere in the world with a microwave! I need to order more gluten-free flour. :)

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Another thing I made was… CHILI. Oh my gosh. I have not had chili in… two years? I can’t remember the last time I ate real chili. I am so looking forward to eating this with a nice ripe avocado on top. I used this recipe from Oh She Glows.

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September 28, 2012

Mutsu Fun in the Sun

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Tori texted me back in July about going to Mutsu with some of her Japanese friends and Kimberly on the weekend of August 17th. They had already gone once, but that was when I was in Texas and couldn’t go. I had never been to that part of the prefecture and wanted to see what it was all about, so I said yes!

When Friday, August 17th came around, both Tori and Kimberly were sick! I wondered if we were going to call off the trip, but we did not. It was still on!

I rushed home after work and threw my stuff in a bag, grabbed my futon pad and pillow, and went down to Tori’s car. We needed to get food before the long drive, so we went to Cocoichiban-ya for some Japanese curry. There we met Mari and Ryota, who were our travel companions (but in a separate car). I had met Mari at a function before, but I hadn’t met her boyfriend Ryota. They are such a fun couple!

After our early dinner, we got on the road. We stopped at Namioka’s Apple Hill rest/shopping area along the way to get some souvenirs and ice cream. It was dark by the time we drove through Aomori City.

We drove like the wind and encountered a snag when the town we were driving through had some roads blocked for a summer evening festival. That was a bit of a hassle, but we eventually got around it.

I can’t recall what time we got in to the little town of Kawauchi, but it was pretty late. Maybe around 10pm. Tori’s friend Kyle (not her husband Kyle, another Kyle who is also awesome) lives there and we stayed at his little cedar house by the beach. Literally, by the beach. It was about a 1-minute walk to the beach from his front door.

Since Tori was sick, Kyle had made some food-for-the-soul miso soup. I also partook of this soup and it was excellent! I love miso soup. I was about ready to go to bed when they roused me from my position curled up on the floor of Kyle’s room. What for? To see the glowing sparkly phosphorescent plankton.

Turns out that when you go in the water at night, even just your feet, and move your feet or hands around, these little dots will start to glow. Kyle explained that they were plankton and the glow is some sort of defense mechanism. It was like seeing little fireflies in the water.

After that, we went back to the house and I unfolded my futon pad to go to sleep in the living room. I was out like a light in no time at all. I didn’t even hear everyone else playing XBox Kinect games right next to me. They played these games well into the night… I am such a good sleeper.

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