Archive for ‘festivals’

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?


– 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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May 1, 2013

Tokyo April 2014 Part 1

My spring vacation! Last year I went to Kyoto with Aunt Jan and this year I decided to take a long, 8-day holiday in Tokyo! Needless to say, I had one of the best weeks ever. I’m going to divide the trip into two parts, but these posts will still be pretty long. :)

Friday, April 5th

I was leaving that very day and I hadn’t really packed yet. I had only set a few things aside and had dragged out my carryon-size suitcase from the closet, but that was it.

So… As you can imagine, I was pretty busy after work. I went to the gym, ate dinner, packed, and still had about 45-60 minutes to kill before it was time to head to the bus stop. Even with luggage, it takes me less than 10 minutes to walk to the Willer Express bus stop in front of the Hirosaki Best Western Hotel.


I was not looking forward to the bus ride down to Tokyo, but it was the cheapest method of transportation. Round trip cost me around 10,000 yen (a little over $100). Compare that to a round trip shinkansen bullet train fare of about $330 or more. Can’t beat the price of the bus, really. And saving money on transportation meant that I could spend more on shopping in Tokyo (for my frugal conscience’s sake).

The more I thought about it, the more I was looking forward to getting a break from Aomori and seeing my Japanese host family and friends. And of course, warmer weather.

The bus ride was… Well… I’d rather not talk about it. I guess I‘ll call it a necessary evil. I bought a neck pillow, ear plugs, and an eye mask for the journey, but it didn’t seem to help much. I tried. I’m just not good with buses.

Saturday, April 6th

We arrived at least 30 minutes ahead of schedule at Shinjuku station. The weather was a little poor and spitting rain a bit. I had my trusty travel hoodie, so it was okay.

I took the Seibu-Shinjuku line from Shinjuku to Nogata, the closest station to my host family’s house. Koenji Station is also close, but Nogata is closer by about 5 minutes. Walking with my luggage, I got too hot along the way and had to peel off my layers. Two sweaters worth! Whew!

My host mom welcomed me with open arms and let me rest for a while. It was so nice to finally see her again after having been away for so long!

We (host mom, brother Shouta, and I) left by car to go to the Setagaya area of Tokyo, where they would be participating in an Awa-Odori event.

Awa-Odori is a traditional dance from Tokushima Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. My friend Zandra actually lives there now. In the neighborhood of Koenji, Awa-odori dance was started in 1956 by migrants from Tokushima prefecture. My host family has been in this “ren” (dance group) for years and years, even when my host mom was a child. She didn’t dance, but played an instrument.


It says “Awa-Odori” on the lanterns.

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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.


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:

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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November 25, 2011

Random Observations As Of Late

This is just a random collection of my thoughts about recent happenings. Each of them is not really enough to make a full post out of, but I thought I might put them all together in one post.


– Yesterday I saw a gaggle of kids playing in the principal’s office during recess. This made me tilt my head and go… “What?” I can count on one hand how many times I have met the principal of my k-12 schools. And those times were for either having good grades or making the honor roll or some other goody-two-shoes reason. ^^;

– So this week I bought a box of tampons here in Japan. I kept hearing from my friends how interesting the experience was, so I was kind of curious about it myself. I went to the register, the gal rang it up, and began to package it in a brown paper sack. Like they do in America when you buy liquor. I knew this was coming, so I told her that no, I didn’t need my tampons gift-wrapped and disguised for me. She kind of looked at me and asked, “It’s not embarrassing?/You’re not embarrassed?” I assured her that yes, I wouldn’t be embarrassed if anyone caught me red-handed carrying a box of tampons. It is store policy here in Japan for the register clerk to wrap your feminine products in a nondescript paper bag or put it inside another dark-colored bag before they go in with your other purchases. This is so amusing. I felt like a bandit with my undisguised purchase. Haha.
Also, a side note: I haven’t bought tampons in many many years, but is it highway robbery to pay over $11 (USD) for a box of 32??

– Trains here in the north are like saunas. They turn on the heaters and the windows fog up entirely! I had to catch the train yesterday morning to get to my visit school. My journey includes a 25 minute walk after the train ride, so I was bundled up pretty well. I got inside the train and immediately started sweating bullets. It was so hot. I even chose a car with open seats and not that many people. I immediately had to strip off my jackets and fan myself. I don’t know how the guys next to me with their full-on jackets, scarves, and hats could handle it. I imagined them silently sweating too.

– I joined the expensive gym. So far the rules have not killed me yet and there are no 30 minute time limits on the cardio machines like at the other place. It just says to “use manners”, I think. But the thing that kills me is that I pay ¥6300 a month for a membership with these restrictions: 1. The club is only open from 10am-11pm on weekdays and 10am-10pm on Saturdays. So that completely ruins any sort of morning exercise plan. 2. I can only use the club for three hours in one day. 3. I cannot use the club on Sundays or national holidays (that is another, more expensive membership.) 4. The club is closed every Wednesday anyways for a staff holiday. I pay that much, but I can only use the club for 5 days a week, three hours at a time. Less if there is a national holiday that week. Man, the price I pay for my sanity. I joined in the hope that it will keep me sane during the winter. The one super plus to this situation is that it is less than 10 minutes walking from my apartment.

-  Speaking of winter, it has been snowing here quite a bit. After seeing the snow here and comparing it to my experience in Minnesota… I think the snow here is just prettier. The scenery is also tons better than “Minne-no-place” scenery. Beautiful Japan for the win! Here, have a photo of my view this morning:

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This is just the beginning.

– I actually might make a separate post about this, but Kimberly and I went to the Kuroishi Apple Festival last weekend. We got to see some awesome shamisen playing, lots of apples, and eat some yummy mochi. Also in the Adventures of Kimberly and Stacy, we went to a little community thing at my work and got to pound some mochi rice into mochi. And we bought huge bags of delicious apples for ¥1000 each. Here is a picture of Kimberly showing that mochi who is boss:

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– Last week was the Skill Development Conference for all JETs in Aomori. I did learn a lot at the workshops I went to, especially the Goal Setting workshop. Why did I not learn or pay attention to goal setting earlier in my life? I’ve always been bad at setting goals because of lack of confidence and fear of failure. It really inspired me to work on setting some concrete goals.

– Lastly, but not least… Lisa (a good friend from Lewis & Clark, my college days) came to visit me! The last time we had seen each other was actually in Japan back in 2009 when I was in Tokyo for my host sister’s wedding. It was awesome to see her and hang out with her again. We both agreed that it was really comforting to get to talk to someone “from the past” who you have history with. We talked of old things, new things, and it looked like she had a great time in Aomori. I was working during the day time, but we had a couple of really nice dinners, watched Pocahontas (she had never seen it!), bummed around Aomori City, tried lots of different kinds of apples, and took some purikura.

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August 15, 2011

Summer of Festivals

Let’s festival! I know it’s summer here because 1. it is hot and 2. festivals (matsuri |祭り|まつり)  everywhere. In Japan in July and August, there are usually many festivals going on.  Some of the summer festivals feature fireworks, music, dancing, flowers, stars, warriors, and/or…floats! I kid you not, I was awoken at 7am Sunday morning by the sound of beating taiko drums and children pulling a float while shouting “Ya-ya-do~!” over and over…and over…

I went to my first summer festival when I stayed with my host family in 2005. We went to a Tanabata matsuri near Ueno (Tokyo), because my host sister and brother’s dance team was participating in the parade. Their type of dancing was (and still is) Awa-odori, a type of dance that comes from Tokushima… where two of my close friends now live, incidentally. I recently stumbled upon pictures from my first festival, so I figured I might share a few I really liked.
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Now… About Neputa!

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