Posts tagged ‘tokyo’

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 17, 2013

Tokyo April 2014 Part 2

And here is the second installment of my spring vacation in Tokyo!

Wednesday, April 10

No run this morning for me, as I was already pretty tired from yesterday’s travels. But I was looking forward to meeting Kanako for breakfast!

I left the house early so I would have time to walk to Omotesando from Harajuku. It’s not far at all and the streets were relatively quiet/empty because none of the shops were open that early. It’s quite different in Japan because most businesses don’t open until 9am or 10am. I waited in front of an Omotesando station exit for a while. Kanako was running a little late and I was still pretty early.

When she arrived, we went to the vegan café which was just around the corner: PURE Café. It all made sense when I saw that it was adjacent to an AVEDA beauty salon. A vegan/natural foods café would be perfect next to a salon.

The meal was one of the best I’d ever had in Tokyo. The atmosphere was awesome as well. There wasn’t any Japanese written on the walls or the huge menu board above the cash register counter. Everything was written in English. I sort of forgot that I was in Japan. It was a strange feeling indeed.

The food:

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Yes, I ordered 2 desserts because they were small and I couldn’t decide between the two. I loved the carrot cake (best I’d had in a very long time) and the chickpea Mont Blanc parfait was interesting. Don’t think I will be ordering it again, but I enjoyed it.

Truth to be told, I wanted to live in that café and eat there for every meal of every day. And spend some serious time in the salon next door, of course. However, my employer and my wallet would not have liked that very much.

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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.

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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.

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It says “Awa-Odori” on the lanterns.

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April 15, 2013

Disney Sea with Maiko

A long time ago, in a land far away from Japan, two roommates traveled by plane from Oregon to California. It was my first year of college and my roommate Maiko’s study abroad year at Lewis & Clark.

Together we went to visit my aunt and grandmother in Los Angeles and San Diego! It was April 2006, Spring Break. Needless to say, we had a blast! We went to Universal Studios, San Diego Wild Animal Park, and Disney Land. An amazingly fun weekend with family and theme parks!

Looking at these pictures makes me feel all nostalgic! We were 18 and 19 years old back then!

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So in continuation of these adventures…

When I went to Tokyo last week, Maiko offered to take the day off of work on Thursday (4/11/2013) so we could go to…

 

Tokyo Disney Sea!

 

It turned out that she had to be in a meeting that morning, but was able to take the afternoon off! I was so excited to be going to a theme park with her again! Plus, she had two free tickets that she had won at a raffle at a wedding. We were set!

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January 31, 2013

Conclusion: Firenze to Rome to Milan to Tokyo to Hirosaki

Our trip destinations sound kind of like a Pitbull song, don’t they? (American pop culture reference!) We were just hopping everywhere to all these famous places… A whirlwind of international adventure. I felt like a real jet-setter.

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

We had a leisurely breakfast at our hostel in Firenze before we checked out. We had lucked out and found a super cheap train from Firenze to Rome at 19.45 euros apiece. It took 3 hours instead of 1.5, but was 25 euros cheaper. We decided to save the money and take the cheap train, which turned out to be an awesome idea.

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Excited to go back to Rome! And save money!

The slow train went through some amazing scenic places. I saw a glimpse of the beauty of Tuscany—rolling hills, lakes, wine grape fields, farms, a few castles on hills… It was so fun to watch how the scenery changed from northern to southern Italy. We were also very lucky to have gotten on the train at the first station, because as the train went on, there were no seats left. People were standing by the time we got to Rome Termini.

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January 9, 2013

Italy Day 0, 1: Aomori to Italy

Day 0

We (Kimberly, Tori, and I) left Hirosaki via Willer Express nightbus at 10pm on Friday, December 21st. We were all on the same bus because all of our flights were leaving from Tokyo the next day. Tori was headed home to Vancouver/Portland to see family and Kimberly and I were going to Italy. We were headed off in completely different directions, but we had to Narita Airport first.

I had been running around all day and battling nerves, so I was exhausted by the time we boarded the bus. Kyle drove us all to the bus stop, so it was nice that we didn’t have to haul our luggage in the snow. Kimberly and I, having bought our tickets on the same day, ended up in one row of two seats. Tori was right behind us. The trip actually went better than I expected; I actually slept (but in 2-hour intervals because the bus had no bathrooms and regularly stopped at service areas). It was sleep nonetheless. I finally found a comfy position on the bus and it worked pretty well! Thank God for that.

We arrived in front of Tokyo station around 8am and made our way there. They redesigned the station building recently and it is just gorgeous inside and out. We took a picture in front of it.

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Look how pretty we look after 10 hours on the nightbus! ;)

After that we took the Yamanote line to Ueno, bought Keisei express tickets to Narita, and were on our merry way. Keisei is a private, non-JR railway company and their limited express costs 1,000 yen from Ueno. It takes a little over an hour, whereas the JR Narita Express costs about 2,900 yen from Tokyo and takes 53 minutes. I think I’d rather take the cheaper option, thanks. The Keisei station is quite separated from the JR station in Ueno, so you have to walk a while. Note to self: Always change trains from Keisei to JR at Nippori Station. In Nippori, the Keisei and JR lines are in the same building.

When we got to the airport, we checked in and got boarding passes. Then we walked around the Narita shopping area for while. Tori and Kimberly got Starbucks for breakfast and I munched on food that I had brought. I didn’t want to buy any souvenirs or anything at the airport mall because then it would be just another thing for me to carry. Kimberly and I went through security after that because the line was really long. It went by reasonably fast, though. Didn’t even have to take off my shoes, ha. Immigration was even easier. The guy hardly looked at my passport and form before waving me on. It’s like he was almost saying, “Get outta this country already!”

I was really exhausted at this point and just wanted to chill out at the gate, so that’s exactly what I did. Charged my iDevices too. Tori and Kimberly went to walk around the duty-free area and get food while I manned the fort and guarded the bags.

The time until we were called to board the plane neared and I asked Tori to snap a pic of Kimberly and I as we waited in line. It marked the beginning of the second leg of our journey.

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Goodbye, Tori! See you in 2013!

We got to our seats, savored our last precious minutes of unlimited data on our iPhones (most with Facebook) and waited to take off. Kimberly told me that takeoff is her favorite part. She was super excited! I had kind of wasted all my nervous energy at that point, but I was excited too. I remembered how my dad would give me a piece of Wrigley’s gum at takeoffs and/or landings to help with cabin air pressure in my young ears. That was when we would fly together a lot as a family.

The weather outside was the “pouring cats and dogs” kind of rain, but our plane left without any delays. VROOOOM!

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