Once upon a time, I used my winter vacations to escape to places like Thailand, India, New Zealand, and Nepal; places that, while my own home was buried under snow, enjoyed mild temperatures and dependable sunshine.
Now I seek out the snow during winter; I’ve gone full chionophile. Last year, I scrapped a three-week vacation to Laos and Cambodia to head to Hokkaido to snowboard. This year followed suit; going back to Japan to board had always been my plan. (Korea has many, many things going for it….powder is not one of them.) And while I was excited to return to Niseko, the mega-resort in Hokkaido, for a week, I was even more thrilled to go back to Hakkoda, my home mountain while I lived in Aomori. Continue reading Querencia→
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→
I know that winter doesn’t technically start for another three weeks, but seeing as it’s the first of December today, I started perusing through all the pictures I’d taken in the past few months. My overwhelming reaction: good god, this place is beautiful in the fall.. I’ve always loved autumn. Between the copious amounts of pumpkin (which I maintain that I loved before Starbucks turned pumpkin spice into a total cash cow) and apple foods, the colorful leaves, and the brisk weather, what’s not to love?
Living in Aomori has only strengthened that love. To put it lightly, autumn in Aomori spoils the hell out of me. The pristine mountain snow in winter and the cherry blossoms in spring are gorgeous, to be sure, but for me, nothing beats what autumn offers. After more than three years here, I’m convinced that nowhere does autumn more beautifully than northern Japan. And here’s the proof.
The only thing that compares to the adventure of leaving home is the sweetness of coming back to it.
My summer vacation has finally come to a close. After spending the past three weeks cavorting around Turkey, I’m back at my desk at Aomori High School, surrounded by exams to grade, lessons to plan, and grad school enrolment (!) to complete. And oh, how good it feels to be home again.
I feel like I say it after every trip abroad I take, but this one may have been my best yet. Turkey, to put it simply, was good to me. Its sun turned my skin a few shades tanner and my hair a few tints blonder. I perused its bazaars, climbed a few of its mountains, and dove into its Mediterranean waters. I descended to new depths underground and reached new heights above it. I consumed as much of its delicious lamb, baklava, hummus, and halloumi as my stomach could handle. And I made a whole host of new friends and even reunited with an old one. The next month or two of blog posts will undoubtedly be dedicated to all of those memories, and I already can’t wait to relive them again…
…but for now, I’m just happy to be home.
Anyone who’s left home for any substantial chunk of time knows how much of a relief it is to come back again. Last night, when I staggered through my shabby, cozy apartment’s front door, weighted down by a backpack substantially heavier than when I left, I think that I was just as happy as I had been when watching the sun rise over the otherworldly rock formations in Cappadocia a few weeks prior.
Adventures abroad are all good and fun, don’t get me wrong. I know that I’m ridiculously lucky in the life that I’ve ended up with, but I love both sides of that life; I love the comfort and contentedness I feel at home as much as the foreign adventures I enjoy away from it. My feet love to tread over as much new ground as possible, but after a while, I can’t help but crave familiar surroundings and the routine that I left behind.
After a few weeks of changing hotels every night or two, the only bed I want to sleep in is my own. After a few weeks of eating out for every meal (delicious though they all were), the only food I want is what’s been made in my kitchen with my own hands. After a few weeks filled with a go, go, go! mentality, all I want to do is stop, sleep, and watch the new episode of Doctor Who. In my soul, there reside both an ambitious dromomaniac and a Netflix-worshiping homebody. Too much time spent patronizing one means that the other rears its head with a needy vengeance.
What I would do for a bit of a cold snap…It’s currently about 90 degrees Fahrenheit with a heavy blanket of clouds to ratchet up the humidity, and basically the only thing I have enough energy to do is splay myself out in beached whale mode on my bed with my fan pointed directly at me. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for a healthy dose of vitamin D, but I’m finding myself wishing for cooler weather.
Cooler, mind you. Not colder. Not cold, like Otaru in winter.
Otaru’s a little seaside town about a thirty-minute train ride from Sapporo, and I went there for a daytrip during the weekend I trekked up north for Sapporo’s annual Snow Festival. I hadn’t blogged about it before because, frankly, I didn’t really want to think about snow until December…Today, though, I wouldn’t be too opposed to seeing just a few flakes.
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.
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.)
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…
Okay, maybe it’s not the best, seeing as how every time you turn down a new street in Tokyo, you’re presented with something surprising and/or beautiful…but it’s definitely a top contender.
Tokyo’s got its fair share of gorgeous views, but in my book, this one – from the Tokyo Metropolitan Building in Shinjuku (AKA, the skyscraper district of Tokyo) – reigns supreme. Each of the towers houses an observatory at 202 meters, and on clear days, you can catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji in the distance. And the capper? Admission is totally free!
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 thesepostsfrom 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→
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.
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.)
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.