Christmas Actually is All Around: A Comparison

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


December 2012

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

**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. =

all the latest (except all the boring details that you really don’t need to know about).

31 October 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s a few minutes into November.

A couple weeks ago, I had a ninja day with some friends for Dan’s birthday. We went to Iga in Mie prefecture to a ninja residence where we got a tour of a ninja house, watched a weapon demonstration, and then played with some of the weapons. After wandering around and finding a pretty castle, we made the journey to Kyoto, which took around 2.5 hours on the train. Once there, we ate at a ninja themed restaurant. Having just received a brief education on ninjas, however, we were a little disappointed to see all the servers dressed in black “ninja” wear – silly people, ninjas actually wore dark blue clothing because it contrasted less against a night sky, and was less obvious as they disguised themselves as commoners. The restaurant was overpriced, but still fun. Anyway, we had a ninja day, and that’s awesome.

Halloween has passed now. I spent the entire week leading up to it dressed as Sailor Moon. I had three different shifts for my kindergarden visiting job for which I dressed up, and any day that I had kid classes at my normal work, I dressed up. Though most of my kids didn’t know who I was, they were still amused by my appearance, and their parents were able to fill them in. I’ve sort of secretly been hoping since I was 10 years old that I would one day have a talking cat approach me to tell me about some forgotten past and identity and then I would be so cool as I fight crime and fall in love with some dreamy guy who’s probably too old for me. As I got older, I realized that fighting crime at age 14 in a skimpy skirt, while falling for a guy who’s probably in university probably isn’t thing that could happen to me. All the same, I enjoyed pretending this past week.

They don’t do the Halloween thing in Japan. Or England. Or Australia. Or most places, I guess. But downtown Osaka was still the place to be on Saturday night to see everyone out in their best costumes. A couple friends and I biked downtown together – Sailor Moon, Charlie Brown from “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, and a banana (but not fully banana-ed at that point – the only give away being the creepy face paint, as the banana costume was too difficult to bike in). Once we met up with some other people on the Dotombori Bridge, we were virtual celebrities. People gathered around us to take pictures of us and with us. As I biked there, I would hear whispers as I went by – “Sailor Moon! Sailor Moon!”. Occasionally, I humoured people with a cute, “Oshioki yo!” (Her “punch line” from the series in Japanese – I will punish you!) – evoking small bursts of laughter and clapping. We made our way to Ame-mura (America Town, or something) to Triangle Park where it seemed everyone was (not true, though. there were other events happening in other places – like a foreigner’s bar where three of my friends collectively won 60 000 yen – over $700 – for their costumes). All in all, a fun, albeit exhausting night.

This morning I had the pleasure of meeting up with my cousins from the prefecture south of here as their taiko group (Tennon Daiko) performed at a nearby elementary school. It was really cool. I hadn’t actually seen a taiko performance, aside from when my two cousins played briefly for me and our Canadian family back in May. I sat off to the side and enjoyed the show. It was great watching them perform – my cousins looked so happy to be sharing what they love to do. Kids in the audience played air drums, and jumped at the opportunity to try out the real taiko drums at the end.

Into November. I’ve been planning out day trips and weekend trips between now and next August. I have a list of things to buy for friends and family for December. I have a growing list of things I want to do in my short time home. Amazing to think I’ll be back in less than two months. While I’m excited to see what November and December hold, a part of me is always thinking of that moment when I see my family for the first time in nearly 11 months. And that first cup of Tim Horton’s coffee (I’m not that in love with it, but in a strange way, I do miss it). And, of course, my ever dear friends.

I’m still here!

16 October 2011 § Leave a comment

I am, in fact, alive. My lack of updates would suggest otherwise, but here I am! I’ll get back to more posts on the two week adventure with Dan, but if I wait to update about anything current until I’m done with that, I might not post again til 2012 (which actually isn’t that far from now..). All in good time. (If it gets to be too long, do send me a message nagging me about it. Nagging me about updating my blog is effective, as proven by this post, in response to Deanna).

Time is flying by, no surprise. The past month and a half seem in recollection the length of two weeks. I’m not even too sure what I’ve been keeping busy with. Here are a few things that I can remember:

Improv workshop.
There’s this improv group in Osaka called The Pirates of the Dotombori. I think I’ve mentioned them on here before. Anyway, they perform around here around once a month or so, and I try to make it to their shows whenever I can. It’s nice to go see a live comedy performance (as opposed to a live non-comedy performance or non-live comedy performance, y’know?). I’ve gone alone a few times now because I  decide I’ll go last minute, and there are always great people there to talk to, acquaintances and strangers alike. A few times a year, they hold an improv workshop. I’d already missed two – one due to a hanami (cherry blossom viewing party), the other because of work or something. But then a couple weeks ago, I finally made it. It was a lot of fun. Mostly foreigners, from a few different countries, as well as a few Japanese people. I don’t really have much (any?) experience with this sort of thing, but it was a great way to spend a Sunday evening.

I posted about Koya-san back in April, I think. I went for a day trip with my friend, Ciaran. The place that reminded me of places I’d dreamed of when I was 14.  I’d been looking forward to going back sometime to check it out more thoroughly, and I finally did last weekend with my friends Laura, Fionna, and Raynor. We checked out a number of the temples there, taking our time, enjoying the fall trees and fall air. Fionna and Raynor headed back to Osaka in the late afternoon, and Laura and I checked into the temple that we were going to be staying at overnight. Our dinner at the temple was vegan and delicious. Same with breakfast. We were up at 6 for meditation. We walked around Koya-san until we felt we could walk no more. It’s a beautiful place – definitely in my top five in Japan.

I went for another visit with my relatives in Wakayama. Went down on a Sunday afternoon, and came back Monday afternoon. They’re so welcoming. I don’t think everyone’s so fortunate when they meet their distant relatives. We had a barbecue and ate outside  under the stars. My cousin Aya’s grandfather (who’s also my cousin, I just don’t know how to refer to them to distinguish between them..) was apparently unusually talkative, which I found sort of amusing, given that I couldn’t understand anything. But Aya translated for me, which was so helpful. I’m so grateful to live close to family, regardless of how distantly related we are.

Justin Bieber.
I taught a group of five year olds about the Biebs when I was teaching them the word beaver. Japanese people have some difficulty with v’s because it’s not in their alphabet (or whatever the right term is for it… syllabary?), so my kids kept saying beaber. I drew a picture on the board for them of a Canadian flag and a person singing and gave them a brief, simple explanation. I think they understood. They’re bright kids.

It’s coming up soon and they encourage us to wear costumes to our job. Finally, my 13-year old dream is coming true. I will be Sailor Moon. Or some brunette variation, anyway. Not many of my students will have watched it, but the Japanese staff that I work with have assured me that they at least know who she is. I am excited. The first time I tried the outfit on, though, I was at a friend’s playing Zelda: Ocarina of Time on N64, and I could only bear to stand there in my costume so long before I felt way too nerdy and needed to change out of it. The nerdiness continued though, as we made our way through Jabu-Jabu to collect Zora’s Amulet from Ruto…

Planning for the next poetry event is underway! I was so surprised when at the last one, I said that the next one probably wouldn’t be until early 2012 and people insisted on it being sooner. I can’t wait. One friend suggested that I get people more involved by having some kind of writing contest. I’m thinking something to do with limericks. I think this one’ll be that much better.. the last two, I held it on a weekday because I thought it’d be easiest to find a venue then, and people won’t have plans they’re rather go to than a poetry reading. This time, though, it’ll be on a Sunday.

..That’s about it for now. The next couple months are going to fly by, and before I know it, it’ll be Christmas. Incredible.


I can’t remember everything I want to share with you!

28 May 2011 § Leave a comment

I don’t know where to begin. There are so many little things I want to tell you about, and a couple of really big things too. The past couple weeks have flown by.

To start, the little things:

They’ve borrowed this word from English in Japanese, just like they’ve borrowed a lot of other words (video, coffee, toilet, digital camera, supermarket, etc.). A lot of the borrowed words retain their meaning. Naive, however, in Japanese, refers to sensitivity – particularly of the skin. I had found it unusual the way that soaps and moisturizers are named here, with words like “Naive” and the like. But then it came up in a lesson last week and a student explained it to me. Who knew!

What is true love?
One of the lessons I taught yesterday to my group classes was about true love. Two of the four students didn’t show up because of work, so it was just me and two woman. As much as I try to pretend to not be any kind of romantic, I really enjoy talking about it,  so it was fun. There’s nothing much more to say about this, actually. There were no apparent major cultural differences of opinion on the subject. I think that’s what I found most interesting. On the other side of the world, notions of true love are very similar. I guess when you consider the popularity of western movies in Japan, this might not be surprising, though.

What’s polite?
I will go into more detail about my visit to my family later, but when I was visiting my distant cousins this past weekend for the first time,  it happened that they brought me and my family visiting from Canada some coffee and these lovely slices of cake. And then they left the room for a good while because that’s what you do here. The cousin closest to my age, who is quite fluent in English, tried to stay to chat with us, but her mother called her out of the room. The idea is that if you have gone to visit someone’s house, you might want some downtime alone or something. So they bring you some light refreshments and leave you alone. We told our cousin that whenever she comes to visit us in Canada, we are going to be quite rude and stay with her the whole time.

I’m half-Japanese.
Obviously. I think we all know this by now. But I enjoy those moments in my lessons when my students tell me that I’m acting Japanese.  I was getting sort of flustered trying to explain the difference between special and specific to a student yesterday, and going into a lot of detail and he stopped me saying to not worry, and that I was being very Japanese. It’s happened a few times before as well. I like it!

Work love.
I’m trying hard to not worry or stress over my job. I think there are a lot of things I could complain about if I wanted to, but I actually am learning to like being there. Now that it’s a couple months into my contract, I’ve started to have regular students coming in for my lessons, giving me an opportunity to get to know them better. When I have different students all the time, and no consistency there, it’s hard to feel like I have any impact at all. But when I’m meeting the same students every week, I can see where they’re improving and see their confidence in speaking a second language increasing. I’m not particularly happy when I’m not doing anything for other people, and my job is a great opportunity to do that. Sometimes I even look forward to it. This is good.

I tried nato at my family’s. It’s basically fermented soy beans. Most people I’d talked to prior to trying it said it smells awful and doesn’t taste that good either. But my cousin urged me to try it and so I did. It wasn’t that good, but it wasn’t that bad. Maybe google this one, just to read what people say about it, and maybe see a picture, because it kind of looks gross too.

A woman fell asleep on me last week on my way to work on the train. I could see her nodding off, and then her head was on my shoulder. No one else was looking or noticed, so I sat there, trying to act like it was nothing when I really just wanted to laugh.  I’d heard that that happens, and it now it finally has!

And now, the bigger thing:

What a comfort it is knowing that I have family here, only a short train ride away (well, short relative to a long flight over the ocean, anyway). Meeting family for the first time, especially family in a different culture and country and language, I had no idea what to expect. Given that my aunt and cousins from Canada who I was going with  had met them before, I wasn’t too concerned about them being welcoming, but their welcome was warmer and greater than I had anticipated! A few of them met us at the train station and were so kind. We were driven back to one of their houses where we spent the day.  I learned that my one cousin and his daughter (the one close to may age) perform with a Taiko drum group (if you google “Tennon Daiko Wakayama”, you’ll find at least numerous references to them). They took us to where they practice and we all got to play on the Taiko drums, which was really, really cool. Of the family there, only two out of seven of them speak English, only one of them fluently. I need to learn more Japanese to talk with them! I am hoping to go to visit again in the next few months.

It’s hard to articulate the experience of meeting distant family for the first time. There is so much, I think, that can only be felt and not spoken.

It’s not that family didn’t mean much before I came to Japan, but it’s become that much more important now that I’m on my own in Japan. One of my aunts and her two daughters were in Japan for the past two weeks and I was able to spend some time with them. It was so nice. The idea of a year (and then some!) without seeing my family – aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, parents, and brother – was daunting.

That being said, I think of you all often, dear family. To all of you reading where ever you are – Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Indiana, Illinois, and anywhere  else I might have missed – I think of you all. I’m so grateful for the Internet and being able to keep in touch with everyone. I can’t imagine doing something like this twenty years ago! (Especially considering I was only four…)

gaming, chipmunk on a leash, family.

13 May 2011 § 1 Comment

I sometimes find it disturbing the effect that gaming – the minimal amount I’ve done in my life – sometimes has on my perspective. As I was walking home today after a swell day out and about, I imagined myself in a game somewhat similar to the Sims. I was walking home with a smile on my face because I’d just had a great lunch and afternoon with a friend downtown and then purchased a Brita jug and new toilet bowl brush. We’d had some good conversation. Lunch was good. The weather was perfect, especially after the last couple days of rain and humidity. A blue sky. A light breeze. Birds and stuff.

I got the feeling like I had just upgraded myself somehow. Until now, I’ve been using one of the cheapest toilet bowl brushes I could find – it sort of resembles a sponge on a plastic stick. It’s kind of gross, really, but I won’t go into detail. So I bought a nice, new brush. It’s not a sponge on a stick. And it matches my shower curtains. Until now, I’ve been drinking tap water. For awhile, I honestly thought that the reason I hadn’t been drinking much water was because of the silly little glass I had, so I bought a taller glass and tried to drink more water. I’m not consciously against drinking tap water. But I just wasn’t feeling motivated. Having bought a filter today, though, my water no longer has an aftertaste and it’s wonderful.

And I kept thinking of the Sims. Because you start off with the cheapest items you can buy, and they aren’t very comfortable, y’know? The cheapest chair or the cheapest bed might be satisfactory, but it doesn’t contribute to your Sim’s sense of well-being. It gets you by. And then, once your Sim gets a job, makes some more money, you gradually upgrade and get nicer things that make life more comfortable for your Sim – it makes him/her noticeably happier.

Isn’t the Sims something that used to remind people of life? Simulated? And now it’s the other way around, where my life, living on my own for the first time, reminded me of the Sims? Ridiculous!

I wouldn’t find it so ridiculous if I hadn’t also spent part of my time in Shirahama a couple weeks ago feeling like my friends and I were in an RPG.

In other news, I saw a man walking a chipmunk on a leash today.

And unless their flight was delayed, I’ve got some family from Canada in Osaka right now. I probably won’t visit them until next week, but it’s nice knowing they’re here.

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