Conquering the Lake

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After the adventure that was my venture to the Great White North of Japan, a friend of mine from training came up to visit for a weekend.

We had a lovely food filled day, in addition to exploring the caves of Ryugashido (which I have now been to five times, and can now be considered their resident expert). And I got to hang out with my friends Megan and Mark, both who I hadn’t seen in months, in addition to Melissa – who I saw the last time I was in Kyoto.

Apparently, I also have an overabundance of friends whose name begins with M.

Adding to the M pattern, we hung out with my Tsuda big sister, Minako, and her boyfriend, who I refer to as Tamura-san, the following day for a bike ride. We rode around Lake Hamana,and it took us a little under six hours to complete the feat. It was a gorgeous day to have done so, and though my butt was in pain the day after, I felt super accomplished. (Though my students tried to make me feel less so, claiming their fathers could do it in under an hour. Little brats.)

I’m planning on giving it another go around, this time without gears, in March. Fingers crossed I won’t die.

Anyway, it was a superb weekend. It was weekends like these that makes me sad that I’ll be leaving Japan, but I know it’s right for me.

A Vacation to Remember

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Up until this past month, I’d been pretty lucky travel-wise. Whenever I had a traveling disaster, I always had company, and even then it was only a delay. Once, flying back from Kauai, Hawaii, our plane was delayed then rerouted from LA to Denver, and we ended up traveling an extra day. That was about my worst travel experience to date.

And then I booked my ticket to Sapporo from February 9th to the 12th.

What was supposed to be a trip that went off without a hitch, turned into an experience to remember. I chose to fly out of Narita airport, rather than opting for a closer airport like Chubu in Nagoya, or even Shizuoka or Haneda; both which I could’ve easily made it to. There were a couple of reasons for this, 1) I’ve only ever flown out of Narita from Japan, so I am pretty comfortable with the airport layout, and 2) I was going to a concert in Tokyo on Saturday anyway, so I’d already be in the area.

On February 8th, Tokyo got the biggest snowfall in like 20 years, the news were saying. By the time I got to Tokyo, around 4pm, there was already about three centimeters on the ground, and it just kept on falling. A friend of mine had said earlier that they were expecting about 10cm, but I was doubtful at the time, by the time I left my concert around 8pm, I was proven wrong.

Anyway, I got to my hostel at 4pm. This is my reliable hostel, I’ve stayed there countless times and never had a problem. I showed up to check in, and the whole building was dark. How odd, I thought, but didn’t think anything else of it. Then I realized the power was out. It had apparently gone out that afternoon around 1pm, and there was no sign that it would be restored until the next morning. I was told that I could still stay, but it’d be really cold. I didn’t really mind, and handed over my 1000 yen note, a reduced fare since due to the power.

I had a concert to catch, so I put my stuff away and left for Shibuya. I worried that the concert would be cancelled due to the weather, but I knew the band had made it up to Tokyo, so off I went, and it was amazing. I had a great time, a couple of my friends ended up going to the show as well. We left the live house promptly around 8pm, and then I went back to my hostel.

Whereupon I immediately realized that since the power was out, the water was also off because they were worried that the pipes would freeze. Never have I been so thankful that neither I, nor my fellow bunk-mates, had to poop. I got a few good hours of sleep, and left early the next morning to make it to the airport before my plane took off at 2:45 that afternoon.

Upon making it to Nippori Station, I noticed that there was a huge X across the line on the electronic boards. Going up to exit the station, there was a huge crowd of people just waiting. Apparently the Keisei line had stopped going inbound and outbound to Narita. So back onto the train I went, first to Ueno (to the same situation), then to Tokyo – where I tried to catch a bus. The bus wouldn’t be running until 3pm at the earliest, I was told.

By some miracle, the trains ended up running and I was able to get to the airport by 2pm, but I arrived at JAL check in to find a large crowd of people just waiting. “Check-in Suspended” was written across all electronic boards, which had everyone confused. I’ve learned my lesson now, that essentially means that my flight was cancelled but they didn’t want to let everyone know yet, and I should’ve immediately gone on stand-by, but I didn’t and I waited until 6pm that night until they finally cancelled the flight, after which I ended up gong on stand-by. I was Z64, meaning of the people on standby I was one of the last since they ordered it from A-Z.

Apparently crew couldn’t make it into the airport, so JAL was hurting for people to man the flights. And any crew that did show up would be immediately put onto a departing international flight, which makes sense. Flights had also been cancelled the day before, so there was an over abundance of people just hanging around the airport.

Thankfully, I was in Japan, and JAL provided sleeping bags, sleeping pads, crackers, and water for everyone. I made a nice little nook upstairs close to a plug-in, and settled in for the night. I woke up early, and immediately got in line to get on the earliest flight out to Sapporo. And I told myself that if I didn’t get on a flight Monday, I was just going to go home since I was flying back on Wednesday. I met some cool people whilst waiting in line, and we all commiserated together, but in this situation there isn’t a whole lot you can do. I found it more ridiculous or hilarious than anything else.

I ended up getting on the 10:20am out of Narita to New Chitose airport, and landed at around 12pm. After the strangest two nights of my life, with little sleep, I had finally made it. And once I was in Sapporo, everything went off without a hitch.

I immediately went to the Snow Festival and checked out part of the snow sculptures, which were amazing! These were no dinky snow sculptures, these were serious business! The buildings made of snow were replicas, maybe not exact, but definitely made to scale. And every bit of them was made of snow.

I went to check in to my hostel so I could drop my things off, and I immediately fell in love with the place. It was adorable, and the staff was so nice and friendly! I hung around there for a little bit, and then went to meet my old Hamamatsu friends, Chris and Ken. Ken is from Seattle, and Chris is from the U.K. Ken moved out to Sapporo this past summer, and Chris moved in March of 2012. They took me to a soup curry place, and it was amazing! After dinner, the three of us met up with my two friends visiting from other parts of Japan, and their girlfriends. We walked around in Susukino, and saw the ice sculptures there. Then we went to a bar called Rad’s, and we had fun asking the bartender to make us interesting drinks. I asked him for a blue, green, and fruity drink, and promptly referred to it as my Seahawks drink all night.

The next day, I went back to the festival and strolled around, before going back to my hostel to drop some stuff off, went to lunch at a seafood and sushi place my hostel recommended, and met Ken back at the festival to see his friend, also named Ken, perform. We met up with dancer Ken’s girlfriend, Honami, and the three of us watched the performance which was a mash-up of yosakoi and soran-bushi dancing. I was familiar with soran-bushi, from all the years involved with the Asia University America Programme at Western Washington University (my alma mater), but was a little less familiar with yosakoi – despite having a huge festival dedicated to it in Hamamatsu. Soran-bushi originated in Hokkaido, the fisherman sang a sea shanty and eventually a dance was added to it. The dance imitates the waves, and the fishermen dragging nets and hefting them over their shoulders.

Anyway, we were super impressed with Ken’s dancing, and afterwards Ken and I walked the remainder of the festival (and grabbed a snack) before going back to his apartment to warm up. There we met up with his girlfriend again, who had a stomach bug all day but was feeling much better, and Honami and we went to meet up with dancer Ken for dinner. We ate yakiniku, and played around with our iPhones, filming in slo-motion. I had so much fun hanging out with all of them. I went to a bar that my hostel swore by, just to grab a beer and ended up hanging out there until early in the morning!

My final day, I went out to the Sapporo Winter Olympics museum and ski jump on recommendation by my hostel. The museum was super fun, you could do simulators to try out various events in the Olympics, and the view from the ski jump was superb! You could see across all of Sapporo.

Immediately after I got back from the ski jump, it started snowing. I decided to get to the airport as soon as possible, and the flight went by without a hitch. Upon landing, I hurried back into Tokyo as quickly as possible to meet up with my friend who I hadn’t seen since I studied abroad four-five years ago, and we caught up, skyped our friend, and I rushed to get my last train.

I had an amazing time in Sapporo, and will definitely make a point to go there again! I wasn’t able to hit the slopes, like I was so dying to do, so returning is a definite must! And now, I’ve definitely learnt some very important travel lessons. And a big shout out to my hostel, Time Peace Apartment, I highly suggest you book there if your journeys should ever take you to Sapporo.

From October to the New Year

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First off, Happy New Year!  Hope 2014 is off to a good start!  Since I have a test day today, I figured now would be a good time to update my blog.

After two years of the same fall schedule, I’ll avoid posting pictures of the Sports Day festival and the Chorus Contest.  The events were just like any other year, fun, but nothing new.

The beginning of October, I went up to Tokyo for a day to see some of my best buddies get married!  It was a beautiful ceremony, I was a couple hours late, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  I saw some people I hadn’t seen in years, and I couldn’t be happier for the two of them!  It was especially interesting to see how different a Japanese wedding is from an American wedding.  For instance, they have a ceremony foreign style, then a reception.  At the reception, the bride and groom will leave the hall a couple of times to change.  Guests will give speeches to the couple, but also perform or sing for them too.  After the formal reception, there’s an informal reception with only close friends.  People don’t normally give the newlyweds gifts, instead they’ll give them money (the amount differs based on your relationship with the couple) to pay for the reception (which is serious money in Japan).  In return, the guests get an amazing course meal, a catalog to choose a gift from, and other gifts from the couple.  A wedding in Japan is serious business.
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I also had to say goodbye to two of my good friends Marc and Nemu in October.  Marc and I were in the same training group, and Nemu, his girlfriend moved to Japan after she graduated. (Ignore my face, it’s terrible)
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In October I went with a group of friends up to a temple nestled in the hills (I wouldn’t exactly call them mountains) to see autumn leaves.
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The beginning of December/end of November, I went to Osaka to see my old friend Fujiko (finally!).  Before Osaka, I stopped for a few hours in Kyoto, and saw that Kiyomizu Temple was open that night.  I went in, amid thousands of people, and wandered the park, catching a train into Osaka just in time to meet up!  I had a lovely weekend with her!
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Next up was Christmas, and I went to Nagoya with a couple of my British friends still around Hamamatsu for an authentic enough Christmas dinner.  After, I met up with some friends to say goodbye to a friend of mine, and drink a bunch of Mansynth.  I wouldn’t suggest it.
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After Christmas, I left for Hakuba, Nagano for a few days to snowboard.  The first day, the weather was lovely!  After that, it snowed a lot and was pretty windy, but still a good few days on the slopes.  New Years Eve was spent in the snow, we watched like four fireworks shoot off right at midnight, and then walked home.  My friend, Ashish, saw snow and snowboarded for the first time.
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After I got back from snowboarding, I ended my winter break by going up to Tokyo to celebrate the new year with my old AUAP friends, from my second IPA cycle.  It was great seeing them all.  I met up with my friend, Shana, the night before and she came along for the party on Saturday.
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London calling to the far away towns

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London calling to the far away towns

One of my good friends, Tanyisha, got married in June of 2012 (Wow!  Crazy to think when you put it in context…).  I was asked to be a bridesmaid and was so excited to get the chance to go to England for the first time, to see one of my dear friends get married on top of it!  HOWEVER, that didn’t work out, so when I informed her that I would have to back out, I promised her that I’d come and visit over the summer.

I booked my ticket for July 26th to August 8th, and anxiously counted down the days at work till I was set to depart for the land that I had only read about over the course of the years.  Even though two weeks seemed like a long time when I initially booked my flight, upon arriving and then flying back to Japan, two weeks was like nothing.

In the two weeks I was over there, I experienced fantastic summer weather, good company, amazing home cooked meals, and developed an intense fondness for Tanyisha and Thomas’ couch (which I named Couchie).  The first few days I spent with not only Tanyisha and Thomas, but our friends Connor, Nick, and Diana (also living in Japan).

We had a fun three days together wandering around both Southend-on-sea and London, eating pub fare and fish and chips, going to see The World’s End, dealing with Houdini house cats…Highlights of our London adventure on Sunday, minus Tanyisha who was dealing with finding an escaped cat, were Forbidden Planet, a geek’s paradise, and Five Guys both in Covent Garden; and the London Dungeon.  The dungeon was quite touristy, but in a great way.  The actors were entertaining, and the sets were awesome.  It was a good mix of scary, interesting, and fun.  I enjoyed it a lot.

After Nick, Diana and Connor left to go back to Warminster and Frome. the flat found immensely quiet.  I spent most of my days going into London and exploring.  Borough Market was probably the highlight of places I managed to stumble across.  I had delicious Indian street food, but before I decided upon that I was hard pressed to decide due to all the food stalls that smelled so amazing.

I also was able to explore a bit of Southend-on-sea, highlights being Hadleigh Castle ruins and Priory Park.  The park, in addition to Prittlewell Priory on the acreage, was gorgeous, with gardens and ponds.

I managed to meet up with Russ a couple of times during my visit, the first time was a rare during my visit (but quite common by London standards) rainy day.  Tanyisha, Russ and I grabbed a late breakfast around Liverpool station, and then we strolled about in the rain for a while just looking at all the famous touristy sites.  It was nice to catch up, since it’d been a little under a year since last we’d met up.  It was a nice tour of the city.

We also met up during the day before I headed out to Frome with Tanyisha and Thomas.  We went to Camden Market, and then walked along the canal for a while.  I also got the opportunity to ride a Boris bike (Barclays Cycle Hire) for the first time, and they’re pretty slow, heavy things.  We grabbed some coffee and then hung out in Green Park until it was time to head off to Frome.

We were intending on meeting Diana and Nick, possibly Connor, during our trip to Frome but that didn’t work out.  It turned out okay, because I got to spend time with Tanyisha’s in-laws, Thomas’s parents, and meet his sister.  Thomas’s family are amazing, Tanyisha really married into a fantastic family.  They were so hospitable and kind.  The first day of our few days in Frome, we went to Bath.  What a gorgeous town, we went around the abbey together, did a bit of window shopping, and had lunch at a great buffet, and then I went to the baths and they went off and meandered around town.  The baths were so grand, it would have been amazing to see back in the day.  And Bath was a really nice area, the architecture around the city was gorgeous.

The next day, Thomas showed me around Frome, a small town, though not as small as I expected, it was quite endearing.  We had fantastic fish and chips, and then I went for a walk with the dogs and Thomas’s mum.  Thomas’s parents had a barbecue that night, which was delicious.

And then, the next thing I knew it was time to go back to London, where we all had one last meal together, before the next day Tanyisha and I went to the pub for a meal, and then went to Heathrow.

It was a life changing trip, but not without a few takeaways: London is a very expensive city, on average – going to see the sites cost between 12 pounds to 20 pounds; there’s such a thing as being too flexible, I should’ve really had an idea of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see; and next time I go, I need to actually try some English food.  I DID have cream tea, and it was divine!  I cannot wait to return, what a lovely country, and there’s so much more to see, especially more of the UK, which I unfortunately didn’t have the chance or time to get to.  Next time!

10 days in Washington

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I’ve decided to backtrack a little, and make a post dedicated to the city that raised me, or rather, the state that raised me.

I don’t have the honor of being born and raised in Washington, I was born in California and raised in both Washington and Hawaii.  I feel a deep connection to all three states, and I know I would be happy to see out the end of my days (if I had to end my semi-nomadic lifestyle right here and now) in any of the three.  But deep down, I think that I will always go back to Seattle, I’ll always have hometown pride for anyone that reps Washington that I don’t get with California or Hawaii, I’ll always be a Seahawks and Mariners fan (NEVER a Raiders, 49ers, Athletics or Dodgers fan).

It had been a year and a half since I had been back.  In that span of time I had taught two school years, one half year and one full year; seen two graduations, two sports days, and two chorus contests; my brother graduated college, found a job, and bought a car; friends had moved away from Seattle, changed jobs.  It goes without saying that my Seattle meter was low, and I needed a good refill of the places and people I loved and had been away from in a year and a half.  A lot can happen in a year and a half, obviously, and it was odd but a good reminder seeing it right before my eyes upon my visit.   First on my list was visiting my old place of work, the city that adopted me after I left my beloved college town of Bellingham, Fremont.  More specifically Pel’meni Dumpling Tzar, or more fondly referred to as The Tzar.  For a year and a half, I had been dreaming about the noodle pockets full of potato or beef goodness.  Tangy, spicy, delicious goodness.  That first night was the first of many visits that I made during my 10 day stay.

Due to my father using his miles to get me a ticket back home, I had to fly from Japan to Chicago O’hare to Seattle, making me fly over my final destination and eventually reaching it at 10pm.  My layover in O’hare was not ideal, but even more so because O’hare is probably the least helpful and welcoming airport I’ve been in.  Everyone seemed miserable, and nobody looked like they wanted to be there – staff and travelers alike.

Snow in Edmonds

But anyway, since I had been up for more than 24 hours traveling, I got my food, collapsed in front of the TV to cuddle with my cat for a few hours and then had no trouble falling asleep only to wake up at 7am the next morning to snow.   Snow and I have a tumultuous relationship.  I’m happy to see it when I’m expecting it – like going snowboarding, or when I don’t have anything pressing to do, and as a student I have to appreciate it because if it’s bad enough I don’t have to go to school!  But after never experiencing a white Christmas and then experiencing it, and then having to hibernate in the house for about five days after without power thanks to it, I’d say I’m warranted to say that snow can be awesome but only if it stays for a few days, like that friend who is just way too over the top and has way too much energy and completely drains you after two hours in their company.  This time, however, snow was completely welcomed.  I ha

dn’t seen it for a little under a year, and there wasn’t enough to build a snowman, but I’d forgotten how pretty the rooftops and the evergreens are with a white frosting.

Since I was only back for 10 days, I had a list of places I for sure wanted to visit in order to refill my Seattle meter to the fullest (and I also had to do some not so fun things like go to the eye doctor, dentist and regular doctor).

Dick’s Drive In was first on my list.  Months before I left, it was announced that they would finally be opening up a new location.  And said new location opened up a couple months after I left right up the street from where I live.  For anyone who has never heard of Dick’s, much less visited one – it’s a Seattle institution.  It’s a Seattle only burger joint, and maintains the old school feel in that it’s a drive-in and it’s dirt cheap.  While I was living up north in Bellingham, my Dick’s replacement was known as Boomers – same shtick, drive-in with burgers and milkshakes to die for.  Not to mention, for those of us who still are 12-years-old at heart (like me), it provides cheap laughs.

In addition to Dick’s, I made sure to stop in at Walnut Street Cafe, my favorite coffee shop in my area.  Their chai is amazing, I dream about it and crave it.  It’s their fault I’ve become such a chai snob, because upon drinking theirs I’m pretty sure nothing but the real thing from India will compare.  In the short span I was back, I probably visited Walnut Street Cafe every day.

Now it may seem as though my trek back was only for food, and any American living in Japan for longer than six months can tell you while their food is stupendous, after that mark or even earlier you start craving American food, any American food.  I’m lucky that I can get halfway decent Mexican (which was the food that I missed the most when I studied abroad in 2007), and wonderful pizza and pasta close by.

But I’ll assure you that my visit included activities not relating to food as well – visiting the Cinebarre for $5 Tuesdays ($5 movies at the movie theater where you can order food and beer/spirits), going to a show at any of the many music venues in Seattle, seeing as many friends as I could in the short span of time, bike riding, playing rugby, Golden Gardens (my favorite beach), and seeing a Mariners game.

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I did all of them, though admittedly I wish I could have seen more people.  I saw Silver Linings Playbook at the Cinebarre (the movie selection while I was back was horrendous, and while I had already seen SLP, my friends hadn’t), went to see Jon Russell of The Head and the Heart play a show at Neumos with Tomo Nakayama and Damien Jurado, saw as many friends as I could, went slacklining with a pal at Golden Gardens; and even though the Mariners were out of town at the start of their season, they had an open house at Safeco the night before I left to go back to Japan.

During my trip back, I enjoyed the food and drink and all that, but what I enjoyed most was catching up with all my friends who I missed dearly during my year and a half away (of course my family too, but I speak to them or about them weekly).  I’ve missed the connections that I have with my friends back home.  I have a decent friend circle out here in the east, but nothing like my friends from home.  I mean, I sat on the beach all day long with my friend and his dogs just talking and slacklining and messing around.  I got bubble tea with a friend of mine, and we sat and chatted on his car while waiting for another friend to arrive, and then the three of us went into Seattle, caught drinks at my Irish pub in Fremont with my coworker and then ended up staying late playing Sexy Bingo.  I went to the zoo, then hit up PIE (personal pie shop around the corner from my dumpling shop) AND Pel’meni, before going back to my friend’s apartment and just reminiscing and talking and watching random youtube videos.  I went to a bookstore to grab coffee with a friend of mine, and then we ended up at a dive around the street shooting pool, listening to good music (including the Spice Girls), and drinking beer from a brewery up in Bellingham and then ended up sitting in my car till early in the morning just talking about life and stuff.  I went to a fantastic concert with a good friend, then ended up in Pel’meni till late in the morning talking with people and ended up getting “married” and divorced within five minutes, and danced with a random dude in the alley.  I met up with my best friend in the world for a picnic at the beach in March, it turned out to be freezing (no duh), and we ended up back at my favorite coffee shop where I got a call from one of my other best friends who came to the coffee shop, then in turn called our other mutual friend and his girlfriend and we ended up catching up there after my best friend had to drive back to Canada.

These are things that only happen to me when I’m with these people.  It’s probably also a testament to my lack of time management as well, but that’s neither here nor there.  I really have surrounded myself with amazing people in Seattle, and everything I listed about my experiences back home sounds normal to me.  Were I to be working in Seattle now, I know this would be a frequent occurrence.

So this is my ode to the city that raised me, and treats me right.  The city that knows what I like.  The city full of hipsters, and hippies but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The city full of people who congregate to celebrate our shotty baseball team, cried and are still fighting to get back the basketball team that was ripped away from us, and who are celebrating not an incredible football season beginning but are celebrating because all of our support over all the years is finally paying off (now if it would only happen to the M’s again, and after the Superbowl appearance we’ve been dying to prove ourselves again).  Everyone now knows that we’re a loyal, loud fanbase, enough to distract players and get called out for it.  We may have to deal with rain more than half of the year, but for the two months that it’s sunny, it more than compensates for the days that it’s rainy and gloomy.  And rain or shine, Washington is gorgeous.  I cannot wait to see what adventures I next have in store when I return in March/April.  I’m thinking climbing Rainier is a must.

Below are the other highlights (photography wise) of my trip back.

February ~ July 2013

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A quick summary of my beginning of 2013:

  • I spent the beginning of the new year on the slopes.  This past winter, I only got the chance to hit up the mountains a couple of times.  Originally, I was going to go to Nagano again, but my teacher had to cancel due to car trouble.  It was just as well, since I got my first translation job and spent most of the time I would’ve been in Nagano translating.  February saw me hitting up the slopes for the second time during the season, we went to a mountain in Nagano about three hours away for the day.  My PE teacher pal took my teacher in charge of the staff, two of my friends and me.  It was fun to see how much I had improved since last season, and though there was only one run really, it gave me the chance to work on perfecting my style – and even futz around on the jumps.
  • My buddy Anthony, who visited in October, came back for work in January and stayed until early April.  In February he asked if I wanted to go to Ise, which had been on my list to go to since I took my Japanese Literature and History course my senior year of college.  It was a dream come true, the Grand Ise Shrine was gorgeous – from what little I could see of the actual shrine, only the priests and pri are allowed to enter the actual shrine.  The high priest or priestess must come from the Imperial Family.  After a visit to the shrine, and making a wish for the new year for hatsumode (the first visit to the shrine come the new year), we went off to The Wedded Rocks, a famous sight in the Mie prefecture.  We got sushi with the three friends who took us out to Mie, and then Anthony and I went back to Nagoya.
  • In March, my neighbor Gabby and I went to the city for a punk show.  Turned out to be a little too hardcore for me, but it was still a lot of fun.
  • Later in March, right before spring vacation started, my friends and I took a weekend trip to Kamakura and Yokohama.  I have been to Kamakura before, but I wanted to visit again.  In Kamakura, we met up with my friend Diana, and walked around the city all day.  I would suggest seeing the Buddha, and just walking around the city.  There are plenty of temples to visit.  As for Yokohama, other than the China Town, and going shopping, there isn’t much to do in the city.  In China Town, there is a Trick Eye Museum that I would recommend visiting if you are in the area.
  • Then it was spring vacation and I was back to Seattle for the first time since I got to Japan (a year and a half had gone by).  My first full day back, it snowed.  And I finally got to visit the Dicks in Edmonds (my hometown).  I saw many of my friends, went to an amazing show at Neumos, ate at The Tzar pretty much every night and it still wasn’t enough (sometimes multiple times in one day), fell asleep at $5 movie night at the Cinebarre, had a chai at Maple Street Cafe pretty much every day and it still wasn’t enough, went to Safeco Field, and had an all around amazing trip.  I fell in love with my home state all over again.
  • Next thing I knew, I had new neighbors – a couple from Florida took over for Gabby – also from Florida.  And I started my third school year here.  My current 9th graders are my babies, I taught them as 7th graders when I first arrived in August 2011, and my current 7th graders are the youngest elementary students I taught when I first arrived (they were 5th graders in August 2011).  Thus far, having a good relationship with my 8th and 9th graders and knowing half of my 7th graders has been really awesome.
  • Hamamatsu Matsuri came around again, and I was at first not intending on going at all, but I went both days and ended up having a blast – even though all of my friends were off participating in the festival.
  • Went and visited the other caves out where I live with my new neighbors, we spent the day out spelunking and chasing windmills.
  • And then summer vacation was nigh.  Went to a couple of fireworks festivals – the Hiryuu Matsuri with the huge dragon firework, and Bentenjima Fireworks show with a couple of my English teachers and their friends.  Bentenjima was so overcast that day, it was hard to see much of anything other than a cloud of color, but both were quite fun.
  • Went to the festival right at my doorstep, and then it was summer vacation.  I stopped in Atami to see a friend of mine, we went to the beach and had a lovely afternoon.  Atami is a lovely beach resort town with a bunch of ryokans.  There are also a bunch of onsens there.  I only managed to visit the beach, but would love time to explore the city further.  As far as the beach was concerned, it was nice and sandy and seemed a lovely place to go for a swim.  Then it was up to Tokyo for a sleep and then I took off for London the next morning, which should have a blog post dedicated all to itself.

Kyoto – October 2012

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When my ALT training best friend left Japan after only two months on the job, I was crushed.  In that short span of time, we had gotten to be good friends, and as when anyone leaves I was, of course, upset.  But we stayed in touch even upon his return to the UK and began planning our next adventure.  The both of us quickly realized, though his plan of seeing the world is closer to completion than mine is, that we’re at that point in our lives where we don’t want to settle down.  I consider myself living a semi-nomadic life.  I can’t settle down yet, I have too much of the world to see before I have to find that ACTUAL job.  So until then, I look for work that will allow me either the freedom to travel or the ability to live where I want to go.

But I digress.  Russ, my ALT training bestie, informed me that he hadn’t had the opportunity to go to Kyoto in his short span here.  We had discussed going anyway, and Kyoto is one of my favorite places in Japan (Miyajima/Hiroshima is probably my favorite thus far) so we began planning a trip.  In October, Russ made his return to the Land of the Rising Sun.  We quickly met up with a few people for food in Hamamatsu, and then the next day were off to Kyoto.

We stayed at Khaosan Hostel, which I highly recommend if you find yourself in Tokyo, Kyoto or Fukuoka.  It’s a great chain of hostels (having only stayed at one in Tokyo and the Kyoto one).  We hit up most of the famous sites – Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, Arashiyama, Heian Shrine, Fushimi Inari but missed out on Kiyomizu Temple, which is probably my favorite other than Ginkakuji.

I had never been to Heian Shrine, Fushimi Inari or Arashiyama so it was awesome to go.  Russ is a huge fan of Lost in Translation, which was partly filmed at Heian Shrine for the wedding scene.  It was a beautiful shrine with a gorgeous garden.  We also managed to meet up with a couple of our training group members who are based about an hour away from Kyoto in Maizuru.  After a short three days together, Russ and I separated, me back to work and him off to continue his journey all over Japan.

This summer I met up with him again in London for a couple of days (Kyoto 2: Revenge on the cobblestones of London), and we of course got into crazy shenanigans together as we are wont to do.  We’re in the process of planning our next adventure, Kyoto 3: Hokkaido – Conquering the Ice and Snow.  Can’t wait for what’s in store.

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