Posts tagged ‘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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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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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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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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June 17, 2012

Random Observations as of Late #5

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A stack of essays waiting for me to grade them..

– So, every week I do these reports about my school visits. These reports include a cultural observation section that can be anything I want to write about. Last week’s report was about the sempai-kouhai system in Japan. I wrote the following:

Basically, age hierarchy is an essential element of Japanese society. It really has to do with how you relate to people older or younger than you, especially at schools and in the workplace. If someone has more experience or is older than you, they are your sempai. If someone is younger than you or has less experience in an area, they are your kouhai. Because I am a foreigner, new to Hirosaki, and 24 years old, I am pretty much a kouhai in every situation. I guess I am the “low man on the totem pole (下っ端).”

Well, this report was translated by my supervisor and distributed for everyone else to read, as always. When the report reached my section manager, he turned to me and said, “ステイシー、Low Man On The Totem Poleじゃない。” Which is basically, “You’re not the ‘low man on the totem pole’.” I felt pretty validated at that point.

– I so very much wish that I could listen to music at work. My iPod would make things go by so much faster, I think. And maybe it would help me tune out all the other noise and concentrate too.

– I need a haircut. The ends are crazy and need to be cleaned up. I still want to keep my hair long for now. I quite like it long.

– Recently, I discovered something very wonderful in the bathrooms of my office building. You all know my irritation with the women who flush the toilet several times in order to mask the sound of them going to the bathroom. Well, they installed the Oto-Hime machines in the bathrooms! This means that I no longer have to listen to the Japanese women in my office building waste gallons and gallons of water just because they are embarrassed to use the bathroom at the same time as another person. Thank GOODNESS!

– Last week there was an 8-day stretch where I did not go into the office because I was teaching every single day. So I hadn’t been to the office or seen my co-workers for 8 days! When I finally returned, I was welcomed back warmly with smiles. I sat down, organized my things, and ate my lunch (since it was 12pm and I had just come from a school visit). But then my supervisor told me that all of my co-workers would be leaving in the afternoon on official business. “No!” I said. “Don’t leave me alone!” Then they asked me if I wanted to come with them. Of course I said yes. So that is the story of how I was able to escape from the office one Thursday afternoon in order to go organize textbooks at an elementary school a couple towns over.

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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.

April 16, 2012

The Snow Corridor

雪の回廊

 

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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.

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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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