Ahh! Toronto, my home!

July 12, 2010

Ok, so I’ve been home for over a month now. So many things to update anyone who’s interested on.

Leaving Japan was rough.

Saying goodbye to my office and co-workers was so sad! I didn’t expect it to be so emotional, but it was embarrassingly so. Everyone in the office helped make my transition and life there that much easier. Sure, it was difficult to conversate with them at first, but afterwards, I had so much fun. My Japanese is still terrible (and only getting worse), but being able to still have basic conversations makes me really happy.

One week before I left, I shipped two boxes of *stuff* and packed my suitcase full of everything else I could fit. I was rather peeved, when customs opened one of my boxes. I wouldn’t have been if they had managed to re-pack it so that my things were not destroyed, but they could not. I came home one day to find that my box had been opened, and poorly retaped with clothes bursting out of the seems. They managed to bend several of my books ways that they should not be bent! (I like to keep my books in pristine condition, and they were not longer that).

My last days in Matsumoto were great. I finally realized that I truly enjoy being outgoing and meeting new people. One night I managed to encounter a traveller passing through Matsumoto. We talked a lot about his travels and adventures around the world and I offered to try and show him around the city the next day. Apparently I’m a terrible tour guide, since I really didn’t know much of Matsumoto regretably. At any rate, his travels should take him to North America sometime, and perhaps I can show off Toronto a lot better!

Travelling to the airport was rather easy. I shipped my larger luggage to the airport the day before so I wouldn’t have to carry it on the train and around Tokyo with me (why don’t we have services like this in Toronto? If we do, why is it so unknown?) I spent my last weekend in Tokyo with my friends, Megumi and Maya. It was a very relaxing weekend. We went to some nice restaurants, met with Isaac, and went clubbing. No more shopping (I had no space to carry anything else home). At the airport, Maya and I had some farewell sushi and then I left.

I was incredibly excited to go home and eat everything in sight. That is exactly what happened too. Being home now, though, I miss Japan terribly! It was much more relaxing there. This is partly due to my freedom and lack of resposibilities and obligations. Living alone was a big plus as well. There are also so many little things that made living there that much easier.

Everyone asks me if I’ll ever go back to live and I seriously want to, but I’m not sure if I could live and work there forever. Job opportunities and work environment might drive me crazy. I enjoy living in a country of ‘equal’-er opportunities for women.

After seeing friends and family again, I’ve realized how much I’ve changed. Someone once told me that the friendships I make in Japan are only temporary, but I really don’t think so. I intend to make them last and I miss them dearly.

Summer plans:

  • ROM – Terra Cotta Warrior exhibit
  • Summerlicious
  • Luminato
  • AGO
  • Wonderland
  • The Ex – Must go shopping
  • Jersey Boys
  • Rain the Beatles Experience
  • Miss Saigon
  • New York/Boston/California – anywhere really…I want a *real* vacation
  • Taste of the Danforth

Some ongoing things for the summer:

  • Going to the beach
  • Golfing
  • Working out
  • Work (still at EPSON)
  • Summer school – Intro to Psychology
  • Spend time with friends and family
  • Trying new restaurants in and around the city

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.

They’re addicted to the Work-ahol!

December 7, 2009

It’s no surprise that Japanese people are workaholics. They do try to take measures to keep it to a minimum. At my office, they have “no overtime” days. Just two days a week, but I suppose it is something. I happened to be working late one of these nights. At precisely six o’clock they start playing very loud music. I happened to notice they were playing a version of “Mr. Lonely”. I thought this was funny and let out a little chuckle. What is sad, though, is it’s very likely that someone working overtime is not going to be alone…

The music isn’t just something that my office does though. While studying at the library, 10 minutes before they close, they begin playing very loud classical music. It is their way to encourage you to leave without actually telling you to. I took the hint and just packed up to leave. I wonder if they would approach you and tell you to leave if you didn’t.

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.

Thanksgiving Weekend, I am thankful

October 15, 2009

I learn something new everytime I go to Tokyo. This time was no exception.

The weekend started off early saturday. Got to the bus station early with breakfast from the convenience store. Got my friend I’d be staying with a gift and waited for my bus. The ride was uneventful. Arriving in Shinjuku, I met up with my friends Megu and Maya. We grabbed lunch at a restaurant in Shinjuku. It was an american surfer themed place and served burgers and fries and an assortment of other kinds of food. I got myself a cheeseburger since I was starving and hadn’t had one since I left Toronto. I was thrown off when the waitress asked when we wanted our drinks; before, during, or after our meal plates. I didn’t know there were options. I just always thought they came first. So I got mine to come with my meal. Just because. Burger comes and the waitress hands me a paper type baggy. It was like the kinds they wrap Tim Horton’s breakfast sandwiches in. I thought it was for leftovers, so I kind of just put it aside. My other friend got a burger too and I noticed she put her burger IN the baggy to make it easier to eat and handed me a fork. I was kind of confused but decided that I would just eat everything with my hands….Like a north american normally would.

After lunch we headed to Maya’s place where I will be staying. I helped her clean up a few things and then we just chatted. Picked up another friend, Umi, from the station and went grocery shopping for dinner. We were doing cheese fondue. Maya, Umi, and I prepared mostly everything since Megu had some errands to run. Umi made this delicious soup with veggies and weiners. I learned that I should find some japanese spices (consomme) to make my soups taste better. I felt bad because I have a tendency to shed hair everywhere like I’m a dog. This caused Maya to have to sweep up a lot. But that just reminded me that I should probably do the same. The girls did most of the preparations. They made me realize that I am no where near to being a good housewife. I’ve never even pictured myself as one, but watching them in the kitchen making use of all the limited available utensils and producing such good food just made want to learn for some reason. It was kind of strange to me.

After dinner we sat and talked about some other girls in the class. 3 are married, one has a baby. This is in a class of maybe 25. That seems like a large portion to me. In my graduating highschool class of 80, not one is in that situation (that I know about). There seems to be a higher willingness to settle down and become a good housewife in Japan. I must say though, a Japanese Housewife is indeed a full time job. They do laundry almost everyday, constant sweeping/vacuuming/general cleaning, meals are very elaborate and take quite some time to prepare. Let’s also not forget about the little things like making sure guests are comfortable: shoes are positioned correctly upon leaving, and slippers are readily available, there is always tea for drinking, snacks to eat. I have a much greater respect for housewives now. I still couldn’t picture myself as one, but I now understand that it, too, can be difficult.

We went out clubbing that night. It was fun, but kind of a bust in some ways. I had two *much* older men try to dance with me at the same time. I must say it was a little traumatizing. We left that place and went to Muse. The guys there were also very persistent and pushy. Not a fan. When we left though, we stopped at a convenience store to buy some drinks where we were stopped by this really drunk guy and his friend who seemed much less so. The drunk guy was trying to get us to go out with them to the club (at 4:30am). They spoke English, so I responded and told him we were going home. His friend was then intrigued because he noticed that I spoke English fairly well (Well i should, it’s my first language). we chatted for a bit outside the convenience store. he asked where i was from, what i was doing in tokyo. He also spoke english very well. turned out he’s from california, but was also japanese. me and megu talked to him for a bit and they walked with us to the subway. he was very apologetic for his friend’s behaviour who wouldnt leave Maya alone. I thought he was a pretty nice guy all-in-all. He gave us his business card and told us to keep in touch just as friends. He made that clear. Anyways i thought it was interesting. I got to be sarcastic and have the other person know that I was joking. It’s little things like that I miss. Having fluent conversations in english.

We got home at around 6am and slept. Woke up at 12 to have brunch, then slept. Woke up again at 5. Met with another friend who was supposed to have dinner together, but couldn’t decide where to go. We ended up with her BF and her BF’s friends in Ikebukuro. They were interesting people. Of course I didn’t understand much of the conversations, it was still nice to be out with boys my own age. Played a First Impressions Drinking game. I wasn’t drinking so it didn’t mean much to me. It was still fun. After dinner just went home. I looked through a fashion magazine with Maya. I learned that Japanese are so good at putting on make-up because *every* fashion magazine has instructions in it! I felt so jipped since I had looked at tons of In Styles and Cosmos and they NEVER tell you HOW to put on the make up. They just show you the before and after and say “Figure it out”. I also felt inadequate as a girl when my friends knew more about North American Pop Culture than I did. And they would often turn to me for confirmation on what they’ve read about and I would just nod in agreement, not fully understanding what they were talking about. They knew more about music and movies and actresses. I have slowly stopped being interested in those topics, but I feel that it may be necessary to brush up on them. Just so I can at least hold some conversation with my limited friends in this country. Having been around computer scientists for 3 years, I’ve forgotten what other people are interested in and how to interact with girls who have an interest in Pop Culture. And to think, I used to be one of them. I’ve never been really good with the girly stuff, so this didn’t make me feel much better, but I might take some time here to be a better girl I suppose. LoL. That sounds funny. But there’s nothing wrong with being a computer scientist and look good doing it too!

The next morning we woke up a little early. Had a simple breakfast (sidenote: Butter in a tube is WAY easier to use than butter in a tub), and went to Kagurazawa. It’s famous for french foods and meat buns. Those meat buns were so delicious and cheap! Got some gelato, and basically just wandered around. The side streets had some really nice building and walkway designs. There was a european feel to the whole area which was nice. After that we headed to Shinjuku since I had to catch my bus. wasted some time, caught my bus and I was back home in no time. Realized it was Thanksgiving so I gave my parents a call when I got home after I ate my thanksgiving dinner alone (instant cup noodles: spicy beef flavoured). Granny picked up at first and I had to remember my cantonese. I managed okay but I found myself struggling for words sometimes and almost instinctively wanting to reply in Japanese when the right cantonese words didn’t come to me right away. It was hard and took lots of concentration on my part. Told my mom about it, she had a good laugh out of that. Turned out thanksgiving at home wasn’t such a big hit. Kiddies went home early and adults ate by themselves. That made me a little sad. There were a few of us “Kiddies” missing, and all the adults were at the restaurant. I hope christmas will be better.

Stayed up a little late, but that’s basically the end of this long weekend. Good times. Learned a lot.

Last Week’s Trip to Tokyo

September 27, 2009

I seem to be spending lots of time in Tokyo. I just love it so much! I was supposed to go to Osaka, but last minute change of plans landed me back in that big city. No big deal, I’ll see Osaka another time. This was definitely a good food trip. Spent 3 days with my brother’s girlfriend and her sister and slept on their hotel room floor since it was actually a semi-double room and I had to be snuck in. They really love their food, which was a huge benefit to me, since I’m usually too cheap to spend that much on anything (including good food). Did some shopping in Harajuku, Shibuya, and Shinjuku. I think I know the Shinjuku area pretty well now. While they slept in saturday morning, I went wandering the area. Our hotel was north of the station, past the red light district. We got to walk through there everytime we went to or from the hotel. Good times. Brother’s GF bought a typical Harajuku dress: frilly, short, baby-doll-ish. It does have a japanese theme to it and was definitely more tame than the other dresses they had there. There was even a Sailor Moon costume. I’m pretty sure EVERY foreigner that went in there, picked it up and pretended to model it. Me included. I might go there to get a halloween costume before I leave. Just for kicks. The dresses are only around $60, so it’s not so bad.

Also went to Kappabashi Street. It’s about 2 or 3 blocks of wholesale cookware on either side. It was interesting because you could get really nice and cheap japanese style flatware and utensils. There were also an assortment of expensive japanese knives as well. We ended up spending most our time in a little packaging store. My brother’s girlfriend is starting a bakery/pastry business and so she bought all kinds of little cups with lids for her little treats. (Ohh how I miss her cheesecakes…*drool*)

I spent one night with my friends and we went out clubbing in Roppongi! TONS of fun! Don’t know the name of the club, but there were lots of foreigners there and they played really good music. Actually made me forget I was in Japan. Good times. I thought it was especially cool how the club stays open until 5am because when everyone is kicked out, the trains are open again! Score 1 for convenience. I’m supposed to go back in October when a friend of mine will move back to Tokyo from Osaka so let the fun continue.

Went to the Gyoza museum in Namja Town. It’s a theme park with a gyoza and ice cream museum inside. It was definitely interesting. We weren’t quite sure what was going on, but there were people running around looking for ghosts possibly? They had head-phones and “tracking devices”. We were just there for the food and ice cream. I got an ice cream in the shape of Rock Lee’s head. He’s a character from the anime Naruto with really thick eyebrows  for those who don’t know who he is. I thought it was really funny becuase my brother has the same eyebrows…Needless to say we had to take a picture for him.

I really love being in Tokyo. It made me miss big city life and convenient public transit. I was definitely sad to leave. But I’ll be back!

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!