Tag Archives: expat life

My Head’s in the Clouds

I should probably be writing about life in Korea at this point, having lived here for four months at this point. And I will, sooner rather than later. Today, though, my head is firmly in the clouds.

Or at least the memories I made above them. Before I left Japan, there were a few places that I was bound and determined to see. Unkai Terrace in Tomamu in Hokkaido was at the very top of that list.  In the winter months, Tomamu is a well-known and popular ski resort, but in the summer, the attraction is all about the clouds. Unkai (雲海) is a nifty Japanese word that translates to “sea of clouds, and it’s a phenomenon best seen from mountaintops, where you’re above the cloud cover. The most famous example of unkai in Japan is most certainly the sunrise view from Mt. Fuji…which I had already sought out and then spectacularly failed at seeing a few years prior.

 

Unkai Terrace, for all its glory, is not a destination for those who like to sleep in. During the summer months, when the terrace is open to the public (and not, you know, covered with several meters of fine Hokkaido powder), the gondola’s first ride departs at four or five in the morning, with the final ride to the top leaving at seven or eight, depending on the month. There’s a reason for that ungodly hour; once the sun rises, that bright summer light burns off the damp, chilly cloud cover. It’s not exactly the best activity if you’re planning on hitting the snooze alarm a few times, but for the early birds, Unkai Terrace is wonderful, and it remains as one of my favorite spots in Hokkaido. Continue reading My Head’s in the Clouds

The Cliffs of Hotokegaura

The craggy white cliffs of Hotokegaura in Aomori
The craggy white cliffs of Hotokegaura in Aomori

Even though I’ve lived here for nearly three full years now, Aomori still manages to surprise me in the best possible ways. There’s always some naturally gorgeous spot to stumble upon for the first time and make me fall in love with Aomori all over again.

See Exhibit A: the cliffs of Hotokegaura (仏ヶ浦), which now reign supreme as my absolute favorite place in Aomori.

Sapphire water, white stone, and verdant trees set the scene.
Sapphire water, white stone, and verdant trees set the scene.

Continue reading The Cliffs of Hotokegaura

Aomorian Graffiti

Of the many reasons I love my placement on JET, one of the most practical stems from the proximity of my school to my apartment. While a lot of other JETs have to take the bus, drive, or bike to their schools, my morning commute clocks in at a quick four minutes on foot. (And if I’m particularly in a hurry, I just duck through one of the chain-link fenced gaps near the back of school grounds and shave that down to two minutes.)

Being so close to the field also means that I get a front row seat to the team-building practices that go past 9 p.m. and involve, of all things, taiko drums.
Being so close to the field also means that I get a front row seat to the team-building practices that go past 9 p.m. and involve, of all things, taiko drums.

Anytime one of my students asks me where I live, I just point out the window of the classroom. From my apartment’s balcony to the school’s baseball field, it is a literal stone’s throw. It’s incredibly convenient and has made my life pretty stress-free when it comes to getting to work…

…but it does have one minor drawback. Continue reading Aomorian Graffiti

It’s the Little Things

It’s no secret that I really, genuinely, totally love my job. I look forward to going to work every single day, and so many of my fondest memories of my time in Japan are from time spent in the classroom. Being a JET, especially at a school like mine, carries a whole lot of perks. And for me, the greatest perk of all is getting to work with kids who are motivated, intelligent, and energetic. (Though that last one doesn’t always apply when I have lessons with them during Monday’s first period…)

It’s the little things, like how one of the baseball players whom I thought didn’t really care for my lessons yelled “Alex-sensei’s lesson today?! YES!” when I came into class last week, that really make me love my job even more, because it makes me feel like the attachment and fondness I feel for the kids I teach goes the other way, too. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, that manifests concretely.

Case in point: in the next month and a half, 青森高校 will have its annual sports day and school festival. As you might have seen in these posts from last year, each of the homerooms – both students and teachers – get their own T-shirts. Even though I’m part of the first-year teachers, I’m not linked to any specific homeroom, so I’ve never managed to wrangle a jersey for myself. Continue reading It’s the Little Things

Kappabashi-dori’s Kitchen Mecca

Kappabashi-dori
Kappabashi-dori

The longer I live in Japan, the more convinced I become that there’s nothing you can’t get in Tokyo. Need anything electronic? Akihabara is your haven. Want some cool, counterculture hippie clothes? Kichijoji’s your best bet. Just want to goggle at some of the trendiest (and sometimes most bizarre) street fashion in the world? Go to Harajuku and prepare to feel like you’re ten years and twenty trends behind.

And if you’re looking to stock your kitchen? Look no further than Kappabashi-dori (合羽橋鶏) near Ueno and Asakusa. If you’re looking for some obscure kitchen tool and can’t find it in Tokyo’s Kitchen Town, then, frankly, you’re probably just not looking hard enough.

Need any bowls? Kappbashi-dori has you covered, whether you just need one...or you're feeding an army.
Need any bowls? Kappbashi-dori has you covered, whether you just need one…or you’re feeding an army.

合羽橋 (kappabashi) means “kappa bridge” in English, and there are a few theories as to the origin of the name, both of which deal with the history of the local area. One of them comes from fisherman drying their raincoats (or kappa) off of a nearby bridge when the weather allowed it. Alternatively, the name could have come from a merchant named Kihachi Kappaya, who started a ditch-building project to divert water from the flooding Mikane River. (At least, that’s what I think that’s what this site says. No promises regarding the accuracy of my translation.)

A kappa peeking out from one of the shops.
A kappa peeking out from one of the shops.

Now, though, the official mascot of the street is a different sort of kappa: the Japanese water demon that’s like a long-legged turtle with a bowl on its head. Naturally, the ones adorning Kappbashi-dori are adorable, but the kappa in Japanese legend are decidedly less so.

Keep your eyes peeled, and you'll see kappa everywhere.
Keep your eyes peeled, and you’ll see kappa everywhere.

Continue reading Kappabashi-dori’s Kitchen Mecca

Throwback Thursday: 2013 in Review

And so another winter vacation ends. A full twenty-four hours later than expected, I arrived back in Aomori late last night from a two-week journey across northern India and Nepal. It was nothing short of amazing and I’m sure I’ll be spamming you, dear readers, with tales of my adventures for at least a month or two to come. (A giant middle finger to China Southern, though, for canceling my first flight without any sort of explanation, which made me miss my flight back to Japan. Were I part of the Targaryen clan, I would lay siege to you with my dragons in grim satisfaction.)

Between jetlag and sheer laziness, I almost let this Thursday slip by without a throwback post…until I read an awesome post by one of my favorite fellow travel bloggers, Sally, who runs A Breath of Foreign Air. Her post about the defining moments of her 2013 made me think of my own highlights of this past year. So without further ado, here are the experiences that made 2013 a year to remember. Continue reading Throwback Thursday: 2013 in Review

Throwback Thursday – Lamma Island

Lamma Island in Hong Kong is one of my absolute favorite spots that I’ve visited on my travels. I know that it seems like I say that about every place I been, but if you asked me right now where I’d want to retire and lounge for the rest of my days, it’d be a difficult choice between Lamma Island and Kuta on Lombok.

The harbor of Yung Shue Wan
The harbor of Yung Shue Wan

A bare half-hour ferry ride away from the hustling, bustling chaos that is the main metropolis of Hong Kong, Lamma is a tiny little island where a far simpler way of life reigns supreme. Aside from a few ATVs that are used to haul around supplies, there are absolutely no motorized vehicles. In addition, none of the buildings are allowed to have more than seven hundred square feet per floor. To put it lightly, the people of Lamma aren’t yearning for the city life. Continue reading Throwback Thursday – Lamma Island