Category Archives: Japan

Autumn in Tokyo

As I saunter through my third autumn in Tokyo, I can’t help but wonder if this time of year has crept it’s way to being my favorite time of the year. As I write this, I am sitting on the floor of my living room; my sliding door wide open and the sunshine beaming down on my back, warming me to my core. Simultaneously, the crisp, cool air of this beautiful autumn morning cools me to the state of perfection. Daily walks last just a bit longer as I reflect upon life and all of its pleasures and misgivings. The brilliant red of the maples, the luminescent yellow of the gingkoes and all colors in-between provide a perfect backdrop for these ponderings and although answers are not shouted from the treetops, I somehow find peace with it all.

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Soon, oh so very soon, the biting cold of winter will dominate and life outdoors will be limited to my short journey to and from work and quick jaunts to the local train station…both of which lead to the cozy warmth of the indoors. However, for now, I will continue to immerse myself in nature’s transition; fighting Yumi for the warm patches of sunlight on my back porch, waiting patiently for Rufus to smell every single fallen leaf on our daily walks, laughing and playing in Nogawa park with friends and wandering aimlessly with myself and all the thoughts that incessantly shadow me.

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Happy autumn.

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The Lazy Winter

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I know it has been a while…too long really. I have thought about blogging several times and have many ideas for blogging topics….things I’ve done, my travels, life in Japan, etc. I’ve started them all in my head, but just haven’t quite found the right moment to actually get them down on virtual paper and out to you all. I wish I could chalk it up to my busy schedule and hectic life, but I can’t. What it comes down to really is…well…sheer laziness.

But now spring has arrived and I couldn’t be giddier.  I cannot believe how fast time has gone since I have arrived, but I am so thankful that the horrid winter months have finally come to a close. In all honestly, Japan does not get THAT cold, especially in comparison to Reno.  I would say the winter days averaged in the low-mid thirties…a bit lower at night of course.  However, the difference here is the amount of time spent outside. IMG_4500 In most places that have harsh winters (I’m thinking in the States), modern technology has allowed us to start our cars from our kitchen window to get it nice and toasty before heading off to work in the early mornings.  We also keep our homes at a comfortable temperature throughout the day and night.  Making a quick stop at the grocery store is a mad dash from the parking lot to the warmth of the building and often times, we find ourselves in covered parking lots to protect us from the bite of the winter cold.  IMG_3649 Japan is quite different.  I ride my bike to work every morning, no matter the weather.  Anywhere I need to go, be it the grocery store, out to dinner, or just to pay my bills, I am required to walk or ride my bike.  This winter I did actually use my car to get me to the grocery store at least.   Train stations are quite close to anywhere I would need to go, but that doesn’t alleviate the short distances needed to travel by foot to get to one’s destination.  And why oh why doesn’t Japan have frickin central heating????  I have NO IDEA considering it is supposed to be the leading country in technology.  Our homes are equipped with wall units in each room that do a decent job of warming up, but as soon as you step out of that particular room prepare to freeze your tooshy off!  I think I finally got a routine down in which I didn’t freeze too much.  I had my robe and slipper/boots readily available next to the bed as soon as I woke up in the morning.  I came downstairs and turned on the heat in the living room and turned on the little electric heater in the baIMG_4526throom.  I often would go back up to bed for a “few” more minutes to warm up under the covers while the downstairs warmed up a bit.  It was a pain in the butt, but it worked.  I am truly grateful for one thing….my heated toilet seat!  All hail to the mighty heated toilet seat maker becausIMG_4511e he/she is a fricking genius! Tackling the summer heat will be my next mission, but for now I am going to enjoy the perfect spring weather.  Why did I leave San Diego again?  Oh right, because this is an awesome adventure and it will always be there for me to go back to if I choose!   


The best part of winter is when it ends.  I’m serious!  Here the end of winter signifies the coming of the Sakura trees; my favorite part of the year.  IMG_5009

It isn’t just the blossoms themselves that are so beautiful, it’s that they IMG_5427bring everyone together.  I love observing families, kids, young couples, friends and the elderly all out laughing and sharing the experience together.  People are celebrating the end of a hard winter and the arrival of a new start.  It makes me smile.

A tradition is to have Hanami or a picnic. Everyone lays out their blue tarps side by side and bring their lunches and drinks to view and enjoy the blossoms.  Some stay a little too long and have a hard time walking home…but all in good fun.IMG_5419

 

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If you are ever thinking of visiting Tokyo, spring is the best time.  Timing the blossoming can be unpredictable, but I guarantee that they won’t disappoint.


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The Groan Zone

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One thing is for damn sure…ASIJ knows how to do field trips.  I’m not sure if anything can top sea kayaking, snorkeling and surfing last year on the Izu coast, but this year’s 8th grade trip to Lake Saiko comes in a close second.

The Lake Sai field trip is one designed to challenge students to push themselves to their limit; to get out of their comfort zone and enter into the “groan zone”.  Outward Bound of Japan runs this 2 1/2 day course where students are challenged with tasks such as rock climbing, orienteering, overcoming obstacles such as getting all team members over a 12ft wall and building a raft that they must all be able to float on safety.  The majority of these tasks takes a great deal of teamwork and the ability to work collaboratively.  My team did moderately well…starting off horribly, but learning as they went. It was surprising to observe the girls full on entering their groan zone while my boys stayed nice and cozy in their comfort zone for the most part. If I were to predict beforehand I would have definitely hypothesized the opposite.

Interestingly enough, students reflected mostly on the fact that they were required to cook all their meals themselves.  What a sight to see!!  Some of these kids had never used a pot in their lives and here they were building their own fires to cook meals they had never cooked before.  They were all successful albeit some probably stayed a tad bit more hungry than others.

As for me: sharing a tatami mat cabin with three 8th grade girls and being out in the rain and cold is not my idea of a good time.  However, experiencing the groan zone myself allowed me to empathize with my students and truly encourage them to challenge themselves as much as possible.  I just don’t see why teachers couldn’t stay at the hotel down the street….

 

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Who would’ve ever thought that this song would have such a literal meaning for me at some point in my life? Last weekend, I had the ultimate pleasure of experiencing one of Tokyo’s quirkiest attractions: the themed restaurant.  There are several of these types of restaurants scattered about the popular areas of Tokyo with themes such as “lock-up” where you are treated as an inmate as you are served your food and drinks, some kind of deep sea odyssey where you actually catch you own fish and it’s cooked for you right there, “Alcatraz E.R.” (yes, the emergency room at Alcatraz),  several video game themed places, vampire, ninja, planetarium, Alice in Wonderland…you name it. Several friends and I joined a Meet-up group for Tokyo gaijins (Japanese word for foreigner) and had the opportunity to experience a private event at “Robot Restaurant”.  I’m not sure exactly why it is called a restaurant since they don’t really serve much food; it’s basically a type of cabaret show…one of the cheesiest, highly entertaining shows I’ve seen.  Ok, so I am a musical junkie and have seen some of the world’s greatest shows on the world’s greatest stages and this is really no comparison….but c’mon, cheesy and entertaining is hardly ever a let-down.

I’m thinking there was some kind of story that dated back to the early caveman days since there were dinosaurs and scantily clad cavewomen swinging clubs, but then Kung-fu Panda made an appearance and I was totally thrown off.  There also seemed to be some kind of battle going on between robots and other unrecognizable species (basically more scantily clad women), but everyone seemed to be friends at the end so I’m not quite sure what that was all about either.

Whatever the story…or not…it was good fun.  We continued the evening with our own battle: karaoke.  You haven’t truly experienced Tokyo until you’ve experienced Japanese karaoke!  We all ended up winners that night.

PS: I plan to update my blog more often this year…I know, I know…I’ve said that before.  This time I mean it!

From the ocean to the mountains…

Nostalgia is so bittersweet.  I just got home from our high school music concert and while listening to the choral ensemble a flood of some of my best memories swept over me.  I loved every moment of my high school singing career and am so thankful for those years and all of the wonderful people I met along the way. Image

Onto current day adventures…

Last week I had the pleasure of experiencing the best school field trip of my life!! After last year’s trip to the East Coast with 30 8th graders, the worst bout of anxiety and the most annoying tour guide, I swore off travelling with students once and for all.  Obviously that didn’t last very long.

ASIJ’s end of the year field trip for 7th graders is 3 days on the Izu Peninsula where they get to surf, kayak, explore tide pools, snorkel and simply have a blast.  The good thing is that teachers get to do all of those things too!! Each session had a max of 30 students with about eight teacher chaperones.  I stayed for two sessions, which came out to a full school week.  The weather was absolutely perfect; sunny and in the low-mid 70’s the entire time.  I couldn’t have asked for anything better!  Now before you get extremely jealous keep in mind that I had to share a somewhat rustic cabin with 4-6 teenage girls….

Naw…I’d still be jealous too… J

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The view from my cabin.

Izu is a peninsula located about a 4 hour drive south of Tokyo.  It is known mainly for its onsen/hot springs, which are highly valued all over Japan.  However, it’s pristine beaches and great weather attracts just as many people.  Maybe because it was still May, but the area was not crowded at all.  The beaches were basically empty despite the perfect weather and the town itself was pretty quiet.  I guess my comparison is the beaches in San Diego which are guaranteed to be flooded with people if the weather is nice…and usually even if it isn’t.

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The last hour of the drive to the town of Shimoda (which is where Commodore Perry’s black ships landed in 1854) is winding and somewhat sickening, but the views are amazing with lush green mountains, valleys, springs and waterfalls throughout.  Then, finally, as we came around the last bend, I could see it, our final destination….a 7-11 convenie.  Yes, ok, but beyond that…the blue-green expanse of the great Pacific. YES!  I admit, I may have been a little more excited that the students on the bus were just as distracted by the ocean views as I was and ceased their awful singing than I was about seeing the ocean myself, but hey, I see it as a win-win.

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Awesome winding highway…only in Japan!
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Beautiful mountain views

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The guy on the left is in his early 60’s! He was a professional kayaker (whatever that means) and now runs his own shop in Izu. Not a bad gig…

My favorite part of the trip was the sea kayaking. IMG_1286 The first day was windy and the water was quite rough which made it difficult to get past the breakers, but we all managed.  At one point, as another teacher and I were idly chatting while waiting for some students to catch up, I mysteriously fell out of my kayak! I honestly don’t know what happened, but joked that Kevin flipped my kayak and I pretty much stuck to that story the rest of the week! The second time out on the kayak was much calmer and our guides took us to some caves to explore.  The kids (and teachers) loved this!  It was a perfect day to be on the sea and I kept telling myself, “I’m at work…I’m at work!”, but it just wasn’t registering. IMG_1267

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The tide pool was quite incredible as well.  Starfish, crabs, urchins, sea cucumbers, sea hairs and many more sea creatures littered the tide pool for our entertainment.  Watching the students become excited when they discovered a new creature was a pleasure to see.  I think I was the most excited when we came across the baby octopus!

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OCTOPUS!! He got stuck in the low tide so we had to try to get him to deeper water.
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These are all little hermit crabs. They were everywhere!
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Mr. Crab
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Mrs. Starfish
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Sea Hair…my favorite! Some of these were HUGE. This one is a good size, as you can see compared to my foot, but definitely not the biggest.
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Chittons
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Anemone

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I returned from Izu on Friday night and Saturday morning took off again.  This time in the opposite direction to a lake in the mountains to wish a fellow teacher bon voyage as she is leaving ASIJ to teach in Prague next year.  We had many laughs as we played charades, “tell me about yours” and our version of “catch a phrase”.  After many bottles of wine things started to get somewhat viscous; f-bombs were being thrown around like scat in a monkey pen and mock arguments over the rules got a little heated until we were all reminded time and again that no one was keeping score!  All in good humor though.

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View out my window of the fish ponds.
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My room. Ryokans are traditional Japanese hotels with tatami and futon. A lot have an onsen (like this one) and you can walk around in your yukata during your entire stay if you wish.

Our group was the only inhabitants of the ryokan where we stayed.  It was actually a trout farm/ryokan/onsen all in one.  Our dinner Saturday night and breakfast Sunday morning was amazing.  Fresh sashimi, grilled fish, a variety of local vegetables and even roasted locusts.  Yes, I said locusts.  Now, my rule in Japan has been to try as much as I can and I’ve only refused on a couple of items.  I am proud to say that I did try one of the locusts. I probably won’t eat one again…but I did try it.  Tasted like nothing really, but the crunch was rather disturbing. I wish I would have taken pictures of the meals because it was quite an amazing spread.  Oh well, I just have to go back.

Sunday we went on a nice walk up in the mountain.  My dumbass only brought my sandals since I quickly transferred some items from my Izu bag into an overnight bag and forgot to bring any tennis shoes.  I’m a dumbass because there is still snow in the mountains.  Yes, I hiked in the snow with sandals.  Like the locusts, I can say I did it, but probably don’t need to repeat that experience.

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Mountain stream
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You can’t see them, but the Japanese Alps are in the background
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Our crew. Jane is to my right and I hope to visit her next summer in Prague. She is a lovely person and will be missed…
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Lunch at a pizza shop. I tried a blueberry pizza. It tasted like cheese and blueberries. Go figure.
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Dumb. Ass.
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…but worth it!
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Beautiful!

Needless to say this week back at school was a bit tiring, but all worth it.  I can’t believe that only three weeks of school remain! Wow-this first year went by so fast!  Literally on the last day of school I am off to Thailand and Bali.  I can’t wait!

Thanks for reading and I truly miss you all.  Be on the lookout…I have a few more posts coming.

Xoxox

K