24 December 2013 § Leave a comment
Christmas in London, England. It’s not exactly the romantic comedy Richard Curtis led me to believe.
1. It’s not all pretty blue skies and perfectly timed snow.
It’s gusting sheets of cold, liquidy precipitation all the time. Blue skies may peak out from behind clouds now and again, but they quickly retreat as the next wave blows in. Why is it that movies always depict pretty white England Christmases? LIES!
2. There’s no silly, unnecessary drama, designed to pull at my heartstrings.
Thankfully. I can live without it.
3. Christmas shopping isn’t as easy as meeting up with Emma Thompson in front of a Christmas tree.
No, it’s bogged down with getting from place to place on various forms of dysfunctional public transit. It’s giant crowds. It’s ridiculous line ups at all the stores.
It’s not all completely different, though…
1. Staying in watching films on a couch with a loved one (but without the pesky “carol singers”).
The horrible weather forces us to stay in, which really isn’t so bad. I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of movies since I left for Japan nearly three years ago. Lots to catch up on. Lots of old favourites to rewatch. No one knocking at our door trying to confess their undying love for my significant other. It’s nice. (That’s never happened to me, but I can’t imagine it’s great.)
2. Christmas concerts.
I had the pleasure of attending my school’s Christmas concert (sorry, “Christmas Miscellany”). Complete with dramatic sketches, choirs, soloists, dancing, and teachers singing back up. No little Spider Man king at Jesus’ birth, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for next year.
3. Having drinks with dear coworkers.
No staff party with dark corners for dark deeds, but an after school meet up at the local pub for a couple drinks. It was a lovely, laid back way to finish up my first term here.
4. Christmas with family.
With family here, and family in Canada. Flying into Toronto tomorrow, and should arrive in good time to have Christmas dinner with the family. From what I understand, it will also be a white Christmas. I really couldn’t ask for anything more.
Happy Christmas to my family and friends around the world – in England, Japan, America, Canada, and everywhere in between! xx
28 December 2012 § 1 Comment
I had my first Christmas in Japan. It was nice. Certainly I missed my family’s annual traditions: chocolate fondue on Christmas Eve, awesome Christmas breakfast, Christmas dinner with the relatives, cheese fondue with the neighbors, watching my nephew open presents, last minute shopping at Wal-Mart afte midnight, hoping in vain for a white Christmas – all the usual things that make Christmas feel like Christmas. Instead of with my parents, brother, and nephew, my Japanese Christmas was spent with my friends here. Starbucks Christmas drinks and gifts exchanges with the other half-Japanese Morimoto (no relation), card games, pizza, mashed potatoes and gift exchange with housemates and the like. Yes, instead of making a nice Christmas dinner, we opted for Dominoes Pizza delivery, with a side of homemade mashed potatoes. Unconventional and convenient. We tossed around ideas of ordering a Christmas cake and having fried chicken – which is what we’ve sort of gathered is the standard fare for Christmas in Japan – but that didn’t amount to much. It was a relaxing time (Suntory not included).
Christmas day was spent on trains, between 9 AM and 730 PM, making our way as inexpensively as possible from Osaka to Hakuba, which is located in the Japan Alps, in Nagano prefecture, a stone’s throw away from the 1998 Winter Olympic slopes. We went from cold, grey concrete city to cold, white snowy towns – making it feel, for me, more properly like Christmas. As we were two train stations away from our destination, the train had to stop because of too much snow on the train tracks. The railway company (JR) paid for everyone on the train to take a taxi to the stations to which we were headed. I’m now on my fourth full day here in Nagano after having spend three days snowboarding. Today, I’m resting. In a few minutes, I’ll be heading out the door to get lunch, soak in a hot spring, and check out the town. More on snowboarding and various things later!
5 December 2012 § Leave a comment
I am reminded once again of the majority of Japanese buildings’ inability to retain heat. Indeed, the seasons are swiftly changing, and autumn felt barely a day. Between working, going out and sleeping in, and studying, if autumn was any decent length of time, I only saw it briefly. Winter is nice here for at least a few reasons. When passing people passing out flyers on the street, for example, it’s easier to avoid their waving hands in your face when your hands are buried deep in your winter coat pockets. It’s a good way to justify taking a taxi. Popular summer destinations are not so popular.
My most recent adventure was to a small island a short distance south of Okayama, west of Osaka, called Naoshima. It is sometimes referred to as “Art Island” or “that island with all the art on it”. It has a few art museums on it, which while interesting to peruse, all have a certain air of pretentiousness about them. Perhaps art is by nature somewhat lofty, but that doesn’t mean it can’t at least be welcoming. Along with the museums, one part of the island also features a number of “art houses”, which are old houses which have been restored by artists and turned into permanent exhibitions. They’re interesting. I had somewhat high expectations for them, which weren’t met, but it made for a fun afternoon (part of that fun is trying to find the houses using the minimalist map with which we were provided, something akin to a scavenger hunt.. given that houses are quite large objects, not as easy as you’d think!). One of the most well-known structures/places on the island is Benesse House, which is some kind of expensive, popular, artsy hotel about which I know very little. In any case, it wasn’t within our budget, and it got in our way when we were trying to cycle around the island. I’m sure it’s lovely inside, though. We opted for more economical accommodations: yurts (Mongolian tents) on the beach. For under $50/night per person, we had a spacious Mongolian tent furnished with beds, a mini-fridge, a heater, table and four chairs, and shelves to ourselves, with a beautiful view of the beach and sunset. We made a four day, three night trip of it, which included traveling to and from. It was the perfect amount of time. Between sightseeing and cycling around (bicycle rentals for 500 yen a day and quality bikes at that – fantastic!), we also had time to check out some local restaurants (great food), have a nice dinner at our accommodations (seafood nabe), and spend an hour at the local sento (public bath), which is also one of the permanent art exhibitions on the island. While it’s not even all that well known within Japan, it’s a nice destination for anyone, even if you’re only visiting the country.
Our evenings on Naoshima were spent staying warm in the yurt (winter comes quicker to small islands, it seems), studying for our (then) upcoming Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I finally wrote the test this past Sunday. There are 5 levels for the JLPT, 5 being the lowest. I wrote Level 4. I think I passed. I wrote two practice tests the day before and passed those. Fortunately, you only need %50 to pass (with a minimum of %30 in each section), so I think I stand a chance. I’ll find out online in January. The test was held at Osaka University’s Toyonaka Campus, which seemed to be a nice area. I couldn’t guess how many people were writing, but it was certainly a lot. It took about 4 hours to complete, and I was exhausted/bored by the end of it.
I am certain that my Japanese is improving, despite how unsure I am of the JLPT. For the first time since autumn of last year, I went to visit my relatives in Wakayama a couple weeks ago. Two of my cousins, as you dear and faithful readers might remember, are in a taiko drum group and were having an anniversary concert. It was captivating. I didn’t realize how much variation there could be between two hours of songs played purely on the drums (with the occasional flute). Those two cousins who were in the concert are the only two who speak English out of my Japanese relatives, so I ended up spending the whole afternoon forced to make conversation in Japanese. Last year, I was unable to come up with anything other than “Arigatou”, “Hai”, “Sayonara”, “Ohisashiburi!”, and “Wakarimasen” (thank you, yes, goodbye, long time no see, I don’t understand). But this visit. This visit! I was able to sustain conversation. Just barely. But nonetheless! It’s a great feeling, being able to communicate with family. When was getting ready to leave, they sent me off with a large bag full of Japanese oranges and persimmons from their trees.
It was a nice way to start feeling the transition into the Christmas season. The next adventure begins on the 25th as a group of us head north on the train to Hakuba, which is a popular ski resort located in the Japan Alps in Nagano Prefecture (near where the 1998 Winter Olympics were held). Most of us, I think, are going snowboarding. Or at least, trying to go snowboarding. It’ll be my first time. I’m looking forward to a week full of being surrounded by snow. I haven’t seen much of the stuff since before I came to Japan. It will be my first Christmas away from home, away from my family. I’ve got dear friends here to celebrate it with, but it’ll be a new challenge.
It’s an expensive trip traveling between Osaka and Toronto. If I was staying much long, I would’ve thought about coming home for Christmas again, but as it is, I’m coming home in May! That’s right! I’ve got a one-way ticket out of Japan! That one-way ticket, however, is to Heathrow, as I’m going to stop in England for a week or so on my home. BUT AFTER THAT I will be back in the Niagara Region. It’s hard to believe. I know I came here the intention of being here only a year, and so for so long I’d had an end in sight, but I have a home here now and it will be difficult to leave (at the same time, it’s always difficult to stay so long, with my home also being in Niagara). I’ve started talking to people about things I’m going to be trying to get rid of, been thinking about last minute trips that I’d like to take, all that. I’ve been saying goodbye to a lot of good friends here who are on their way home now, and it’s made me realize that I’m not so far off from being in their situation. The countdown begins.
On a less exciting but still awesome note,I submitted some photos to a photography scavenger hunt/exhibition/contest and won best photo in one of the categories (by popular vote). That was kinda cool. Check it out at http://www.kameraoke.com/.
**And as a note to recent commenters, I will try to soon respond to your questions regarding teaching/living in Japan (including my half-Japanese perspective!)**
25 December 2011 § Leave a comment
If I was in Japan right now, I doubt it would feel properly like Christmas for me. I need the chocolate fondue, the visit to an old friend’s house, the nephews, the baking, the family. I don’t think KFC, Christmas cake, and snowless Osaka cold would cut it for me. Mind, it hasn’t snowed here yet while I’ve been home – but I’m hopeful! It was rather mild when I got in on Wednesday night, but it’s gotten progressively colder. The forecast for Christmas day is calling for flurries, albeit mixed with some rain.
Despite struggling with jet lag and a cold, Christmas Eve at home was lovely. The day started with a batch of cookies and an apple pie. A visit to the next door neighbors’. Two naps. Lasagna dinner. I’m just happy to be with my family.
It’s 2:34 AM. It’s Christmas day. To family, friends, and strangers reading, a very happy Christmas. =
17 December 2011 § Leave a comment
Have I mentioned that two staples of Japanese Christmas are KFC and Christmas cake? When asked what they’ll do for Christmas, almost all my students respond: “Eat Christmas cake”. I’m glad to be coming home for a Canadian Christmas.
Between working a ridiculous amount and shopping all the time for everyone I know, I managed to be in my first improv show ever. It was a lot of fun! We were sharing the stage with six members of Improv Boston, and they were fantastic. I had met them the previous night and got to know a couple of them. Everyone in the groups were so encouraging and supportive. The audience was a good size and they responded well. I was nervous whenever I was offstage, thinking about being onstage, but whenever I was up there, I didn’t think about it at all.
We practice once a week. I always look forward to it. I give some credit to a friend of mine in Toronto for getting me thinking about it, because he told me about the improv group here in Osaka, which motivated me to go see their shows, eventually befriend some of them, and then try out for the group. In fact, one of the guys from the Boston group has visited one of the groups in Toronto before, and there are some connections there. Living in Japan for the past ten and a half months, I can say it with confidence – small world.
One of the things I’m looking forward to about being home is the smoke free establishments. It drives me crazy here. A few of us were sitting at a table at some little place last night and this random Japanese guy who decided to sit with us was smoking worse than a chimney. It was brutal. There have been so many nights where I come home smelling like I was smoking. My coat. My hair. My pants. Don’t smoke indoors people, at least in small areas with no air flow, especially when you’re surrounded by a group of non-smokers.
Also looking forward to central heating and well insulated houses. The cold here is a knife.
11 December 2011 § Leave a comment
Last winter when I arrived here, I would often be too cold to sleep at night. I would lie in bed at night, freezing cold, eagerly awaiting warmer weather. Buildings here have terrible insulation, and no central heating. I didn’t have much cash flow for a few months, so I didn’t put out the money on things that would make my life more comfortable. Summer started similarly, lying in bed at night, sweating and hot, eagerly awaiting cooler weather.
This winter will not be the same. I made a trip to the store today and picked up an electric blanket, a space heater, fuzzy slippers, and an electric kettle (my stovetop one is so slow). I am lying in bed writing this, and I am a little too hot with this electric blanket and it’s wonderful. The space heater is nice too, and I have a feeling that I’m going to be spending a lot of time in front of it over the next few months.
Now that this week has started, I can finally say to my friends and family in Canada – see you next week! I am so excited. There’s still a lot of shopping here that I want to do for people back home, and time is limited. I thought it’d be a good idea to be as busy as is humanly possible during the week leading up to my flight home, for some reason.
Last December, I did lots of Christmas things throughout the month to get into the spirit of the season – candlelight carol stroll, a performance of Handel’s Messiah, Christmas movies, Christmas music, Christmas books. It’s hard to do all that here. Today, however, I went to a chamber choir performance and they performed so many Christmas carols and it was lovely. I went alone, but ran into some friends. It was just what I needed to feel more Christmas-y. The choir was all Japanese, but the carols were mostly in English. This will sound terrible, but whenever I think of Christmas carols in Asia, I can only think of the end scene in A Christmas Story, at the Chinese restaurant, Deck the Halls…: “Fa ra ra ra ra…”. But, of course, it was nothing like that. It was beautiful. I’m very grateful to my friend who extended the invite.
4 December 2011 § 1 Comment
It’s December! Despite all the flowers that are still in bloom here and that I was out playing tennis this morning in a t-shirt, the Christmas season is upon us. Even though it’s a celebration foreign to Japan, they’ve jumped on the commercial bandwagon. I find this interesting as a lot of students that I’ve talked to don’t really do anything much for Christmas. All the same, stores are decked out and the Christmas music is playing. In Japan, the really big day is New Years. People go back to their hometowns, get together with family, eat lots of food, visit and pray at shrines.
I had the pleasure of having an American Thanksgiving dinner here with some friends last week. We had a potluck style dinner. I contributed five liters of mashed potatoes. We had turkey and pumpkin pie from Costco. It was lovely. Of course, being a turkey dinner, no one was able to stay very awake for long and the evening didn’t last very long!
The beginning of December here feels something like mid-October in Southern Ontario. This past weekend I made sure to enjoy the autumn leaves before they’re all fallen. On Friday I went to Fushimi Inari Shrine. If you’ve seen Memoirs of a Geisha, you’ve seen part of Fushimi Inari (you know that scene where she’s running through the orange toriis/gates? I don’t, because I’ve never actually seen the movie, but from what I’ve been told…). It was a cool, cloudy day and the leaves were all violent red and yellow. Delightful! On Sunday, I ventured out to Nara on my own to enjoy the leaves there. I was talking to a student on Saturday and he asked where I’ve been in Nara and I said hardly anywhere. He laughed, knowing that I had travelled around the country in August. And yet, I hadn’t even been to Todaiji Temple to see the Big Buddha (note: image search Todaiji). It’s a huge structure – really impressive. Afterwards, went on a walk up a deceptively tall hill. Nara’s known for all their deer, so I also enjoyed feeding them throughout the afternoon.
I have my first improv show coming up in a week and a half. I’m really excited. If it goes well and I don’t horribly embarrass myself in some terrible way and there’s any video of the show, I’ll post a link up here. No promises 😉
On an unrelated note, I was finally shown around a nearby red light district by a friend. I’d heard ages back that there was one near my neighborhood, but I had no idea where it was. It was almost cute, in some way. Girls, sitting under blankets in the front entrance of these Japanese houses, an oba-chan (older woman) sitting with her, and the occasional Hello Kitty pillow or stuffed animal (ex. Stitch from Lilo and Stitch).
Counting down to my Christmas vacation. The days are going by fast!