I’m Alive!

March 30, 2010

Okay, it’s definitely been a while since my last post. Tons have happened since then though! This is just an update on what I’ve been up to.

  • Christmas with Yukari at her church. Met some JETs from Shiojiri and American missionaries.
  • Skiing at Gala Yuzawa with Isaac and friends. Most convenient ski resort I’d ever been to followed by first Onsen experience. Very relaxing.
  • New Years in Tokyo with Megumi and Yuuka. Went to a Shinto shrine for wishes and fortunes. New years shopping in Shibuya and Harajuku (Crazy Madness!). Of course no trip with them is complete without at least one night on the town in Roppongi.
  • Tokyo Disney Land and Disney Sea with Aoyagi-san and her family. Made me feel like a kid again. It was so much fun! I LOVE Disney!
  • Skiing around Nagano-ken with Aoyagi-san and her family. Watching kids ski is the cutest thing ever!
  • Skiing in Niseko, Hokkaido and a bit of the Snow festival. Back country and tree skiing in the best powder ever. Skiing followed by outdoor Onsen is blissful.
  • Skiing in Hakuba. More relaxing, more nice weather.
  • Sake Festival in Niigata. Drank so much sake and met english teachers from Niigata. Partied with them until around 2 in the morning, then woke up and drank more sake the next day. I bought a grape flavoured sake and Amazake infused with Sakura. They are both delicious.
  • More trips to Tokyo, this time with new English teaching friends, Andy and Rachel. Stayed at a strange friend’s place. Went to cool art show where I met a Torontonian who used to draw for Marvel (secretly admired him) and another Torontonian who used to dance on Electric Circus (Who remembers that?). Saw a closed Tsukiji Market (Boo).

Work is chugging along. Only 2 months left and it feels like there’s still so much to do. Not just finishing up things here and taking care of logistic things, but also so many festivals and things to do! My weekends are booked for April and probably May.

  • April 2-3: Onbashira bringing down of the log (Yamadashi). This is where crazy Japanese people ride logs down a mountain. There are reports of people dying and many people getting injured in the past. This festival only happens once every 6 years. So I’m so excited!
  • April 10-17: Osaka, Himeji, and Hiroshima with Jen. It’s going to be fun times and lots of eating.
  • April 24-25: Clam picking in Nagoya with Aoyagi-san, her family, and her family friends. That’s going to be interesting.

As of yet, I have no plans for Golden Week. Not many vacation days, so probably can’t go too far. Maybe Tokyo, or Nagoya. This is also the time for the second part of Onbashira, Satobiki, which is the raising of the pillars at the shrines. Definitely must see the Cherry Blossoms in the Kiso Valley. It’s supposed to be famous. I’m going to try and see if I can arrange to go to Shiga-ken to see Akina (my Japanese exchange partner from high school).

I hope I can survive the rest of the craziness here in Japan. It’s going to be a busy couple of months.


Wine Fest and Halloween

November 6, 2009

I’ve been quite slow on my blog updates.

Shiojiri Wine Festival! It was definitely a good time. Upon arrival We were handed bags. They contained a small wine glass, a map, and a stamp card. Right at the start there were several large kegs. Both the red and the white wine were good. Then we got on a bus that took us to a winery. When we got there, there were sausages, pork chops, and gelato. Went upstairs and sampled all their wines. They were really good. I never thought I would like wine. We visited two other wineries that day and then went back to the city. I feel like I should give the wine a second chance.

After the Wine Fest, I went with people to dinner met lots of cool people. It was the first time I actually went out with people closer to my own age to just have fun. No work formalities, no worries, and they all spoke English. It was great.

Halloween in Shiojiri was interesting. I’ve never been to a City Halloween festival before. I’m quite certain the general tradition in Toronto is to just go trick-or-treating at night. Adults likely have other parties, but that’s about it. Here there was a festival. And no festival is complete without food stalls and stamp card. I have noticed that at most festivals and events, there are stamp cards kind of like a scavenger hunt. So if you fill up your card with stamps, you get a little extra prize. It was fun to run around collecting stamps and candy with my co-worker’s kids. They were also in a parade. Most people dressed up as witches. That seems to be a common costume. There were a few other interesting costumes as well though.

After Halloween celebrations it was off to dinner. My co-worker made plans to attend this class at the community center. They teach you how to cook and you get to eat it afterwards obviously. It’s for families so that the children and husbands are also involved. It was really interseting to me even though I didn’t cook anything. But the meal was roast beef, roast chicken, traditional Japanese Christmas and New Years meal and there were some dessert cakes as well. It was cool to see them prepare the fish cakes. They had instructions on how to make elaborate shapes and designs. They gave me a gift at the end and thanked me for being there, but I think I got more out of it. I got dressed in an apron and bandana to hold my hair back. I felt like a Japanese Housewife. It was nice to see families cooking and learning together. I now know how to make roast beef too! Can’t make roast chicken, but that was good too. If only I had an oven.

Anyways I think that’s the end of this chapter. Japanese festivals and events are fun and interesting. They also always involve food. Yum.

Trip to Tokyo-land!

August 31, 2009

Over the weekend I went to Tokyo to visit some friends. I arrived on Friday night and was met by Megumi at Shinjuku station. we went to a Japanese restaurant to grab a bite to eat and then promptly went home. i was pretty tired from a full day of work followed by a 3 hour bus ride. the next morning we got to wake up at 4:30am! ohh the joy. there was good reason for it though. we were going to Tsukiji (the largest fish market in japan). It was such a busy place even as we arrived at 6am. there were people driving carts of Styrofoam packed goods in every possible direction moving at relatively high speeds. if you weren’t careful to see where you were going you could get run over by one of these carts. outside the main building was a mountain of Styrofoam. Environmentalists of old must have been turning in their graves. as we entered the fish market, we saw two giant tunas. they were bigger than me! we saw two men trying to saw one in half on a trolly and they were having quite a difficult time. walking through the isles of the fish market, there is water everywhere from the vendors trying to keep their seafood fresh. buckets of ice being thrown into vats of water and shellfish. there were salted crabs, dried fish, live fish, live shrimp, live sea urchin (uni), large freezers of tuna. everybody was doing something and just by standing there, you can feel the energy of it all. i found it exhilarating. we didn’t get any fresh fish to eat, but we did buy a whole bag of live sea urchin to eat later.

after wandering the fish market we went outside to the "outside fish market" to find some breakfast. we ate a small shop that served sashimi-don. i had salmon sashimi-don (sake-don) and it was delicious. it was served with egg (tamago-yaki), seaweed (nori), pickled vegetables, and caviar (roe) all on rice with miso soup and cold tea on the side. i love japanese food.

After tsukigi it was around 7:30 when we left and no stores or anything else was open. it wasnt until we got back in the car that i realized how incredibly tired i was. so we went back home to ake a nap. after napping, we went to asakuza. there were SOOOO many people. they had police officers directing traffic IN the subway station. When we got out of the subway, we got some ice cream and headed for the giant lantern that is a landmark of the area. apparently there was some sort of festival happening that day because people we lined up and down the street waiting for the parade. it was near to impossible to walk anywhere. we managed to get to the lantern, wandered down the "indoor/outdoor" market place and went into the shrine. the market place was interesting because it was outdoors, but they had canopies over head to provide shade. thank goodness they did too because it was ridiculously hot that day. the shrine was beautiful with ancie nt artworks painted on the walls and ceilings of dragons and other mythical creatures. it is also customary to give a small donation when you enter and after you pray. some people couldnt get up close to the donation boxes, so they threw their donations at the box. it was a large box and you can hear when they get it in, but you can also hear when they miss. i wouldnt be surprised if people got hit in the process either.

after asakuza, we headed for ginza to see all the high class stores and window shop. there was no way i was going to buy anything on that street full of stores like louis vuitton and donna karren. we did go into a mall that i thought was really nice. the floors were slanted, and the main walkway was a sort of spiral. i wanted to take a picture, but there were distinct signs of "no photos" posted. too bad, it was quite a design.

after having had enough of window shopping, it was time to do real shopping so we headed to harajuku. it was really busy  there as well, but there were many shops having sales. i managed to buy a coupld articles of clothing myself and was very satisfied with the prices. we also got a snack since we didnt have a real lunch. we went to a little pancake cafe that made the cutest little pancakes that smiled back at you. they were really cute.

after harajuku we went back to shinjuku to meet with our other friends for a class reunion. there were only 7 of us in total, but thats ok. it was tons of fun! we went for dinner at a japanese restaurant and ate good food, had good converstation, and had an overall good time. that is, until near the end of dinner when we noticed a cockroach crawling down the wall. a private room full of girls makes a lot of noise when a giant cockroach is spotted. we ended up having our meal compensated (damn straight!) and left shortly after. of course after that we had to go karaoke so we did. 2 hours of japanese and english pop music. it was awesome! after that, we went to an arcade where there were rows and rows of claw grab games and プリクラ (purikura) machines. i hadnt taken a プリクラ photo in ages! it was fun and the girls an noted the pictures afterwards. we also got digital copies sent via email. i think that was the most fun i had since arriving here. being able to spend a night with people my own age doing "young people" things. it was great.

the next day (sunday), we woke up late, so we went to shinjuku to wander before meeting David (one of the other interns this year who works at the Hino branch) we went to lunch with him and then dragged him along shopping in shibuya. we didnt actually buy anything, but i did see a lot of interesting things that i could have bought. and would have been great gifts for people. I also went ot eh disney store. i couldnt resist (i miss being in it all the time). i did notice a large difference though. this disney store carried *useful* products. stationary, bento boxes, clothes, dishes, luggage, and  basically anything you could think of. Thats when i realized why: its because in north america, most people picture disney as a kids place and only for kids. its frowned upon for an adult to wear disney becayse it makes you seem "childish". Here, however, its *OK* for adults to love and embrace disney in everything they do because its "kawaii". i also realized that i know way too much about disney when i saw a Scrump plush doll and instantly wanted it. I had to describe to Megumi and David where it was from (lilos home made doll) and i also noticed a bear sitting on a desk and instantly identified it as michael’s bear from peter pan. after wandering shibyua, we went back to shinjuku, grabbed a coffee, went to the bathroom and just managed to catch my bus. i was really sad to go. i had such a wonderful time in tokyo thanks to Megumi (best tour guide ever)!

Anyways, next time i go, we’re going clubbing and tokyo disney. Yay! I have to say, though, i miss big city life. just being able to wander around and always have something interesting to see, being able to hop on a train or bus at almost any corner, hundreds of restaurants, cafes, karaoke bars, and arcades to choose from. I really had a good time and cant wait til next time!

Matsumoto Bon Bon!

August 6, 2009

No it is not a candy festival.

Last Saturday was the Matsumoto Bon Bon festival. People gather in the streets and dance! It actually all very organized. First all the companies and other groups gather in their respective places in line and get ready to dance and walk for 3 hours. Music plays on a city wide sound system and everyone dances a special coordinated dance. I wish I had learned it too. I should have joined in with the Epson group! We finally found them at the end of the festival. The song was pretty catchy.

Groups of dancers

This is sort of a blurry picture, but it’s hard to capture  people when they’re moving. Anyways another part of the festival is that all the ladies and girls dress up in summer kimonos called ‘yukatas’. Some girls really went all out with hair and make-up and they looked really cute and pretty.

I also managed to get myself a yukata. It was a decent price (Found it at UNIQLO). The ones they had at the other stores had what they call ‘simple’ obi yukatas. Mine happened to be a ‘difficult’ obi yukata. Apparently many women in Japan don’t actually know how to tie an obi themselves. They often get elder women to help them and tie it for them. Me and my friend (who also didn’t know how to tie an obi) went to the internets for help and were successful! Yay! Many thanks to YouTube! This was the result:
All by myself

I think this is going to be probably one of the few Japanese ‘souvenirs’ I’ll acquire. Still it’s fun to dress up!

At the festival there were tons of small stands selling different kinds of food, toys, masks, and even some stalls with carnival-like games. We grabbed some Takoyaki and found an Okanomiyaki stand right next to it.

Takoyaki Okanomiyaki
All in all it was a fun night and the food was delicious! Asian street food is great!

Summer Festival

July 24, 2009

The company had their annual summer festival tonight! It was fun. The evening started off with gathering in the gymnasium where it was being held. Each department was in charge of pre-ordering food from a preset menu. We got sushi, salad, sandwiches, and a platter of other foods (fried chicken, i think there was soemthing either squid or sea urchin which wasn’t bad, some salad, and wieners). We didn’t get any tables or anything, so we sat on tarps on the floor. It was still surprisingly comfortable.

While we ate they had a competition on the stage. First they had a little skit to introduce it. There were maybe 20 men dressed up in uniforms. Apparently they are the company emergency personnel. They marched on stage, did some acrobatics and then demonstrated what the contestants were supposed to do. Of course, no Japanese party would be complete without some comedy. So one of the men were dressed up as…the RED RANGER! I couldn’t stop laughing because 1. I actually knew what was going on 2. he kept doing the ‘classic’ power ranger poses and 3. the guy dressed up as the red ranger turned out to have a big asian afro underneath the mask. The story behind the competition is basically disgruntled workers who’ve had it with their job so they get so angry, they flip over their table. I think it’s a cute idea. Anyways they measured the winning toss by the distance an item on the table lands. The contestants from our department came in last and second last. First place got 20,000 yen, which is roughly $250 and had the emergency guys and Red Ranger lift them up for hoorays!

After that there were lottery draws. There were lots of prizes. The lower end prizes included cases of cup noodles and dinner gift certificates. Among mid range prizes were rice cookers, air purifiers, digital cameras, more gift certificates. Grand prizes were laptops, blue ray player, 32″ tv. Apparently there was over 1M yen in prizes…I got nothing. BUT! Afterwards I did recieve a free bag of chips and a cup noodle from a coworker’s husband which was nice. He gave oneo f the other ladies a full tray of sushi. I’m still happy I got chips and Left over green tea bottles. Yay!

After the festival I went to eat cake and have coffee with some of the ladies in the office. That was fun and delicious. They’re fun to talk to. There was a pianist playing for some of the evening. She played a few songs that I knew and like. She also played some I didn’t know and still liked as well as Happy Birthday. I don’t know if it was actually anyone’s birthday or not.

All in all a fun and memorable night. My one regret – not getting a picture with the Red Ranger.