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.
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…
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→
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→
This post has been a long time coming – more than a month, in fact. The first weekend of November, when snow was merely a worry for the distant future, a few friends and I made the trek out to Hirosaki to pick apples. Growing up in the northeastern part of the United States, I’d always had a few apple orchards within close proximity, but somehow, picking apples was never part of my life.
One of the things that I love most about Japan is the fact that there always seems to be some random festival being held. Whether it’s based around food (like Oma’s annual tuna festival), nature (such as Hirosaki’s autumnal foliage festival), or simply taking to the streets to dance the night away (here’s looking at you, Nebuta), Japan has countless festivals throughout the year.
Though some are about as culturally traditional as you can get, newer festivals still pop up all over the place. This past weekend, I make the trip to one such event: the 8th annual Oirase Salmon (sake, 鮭) Festival. Oirase’s one of the smaller towns in Aomori; anytime I hear the name, I automatically think of “Oirase Gorge,” which is actually about 45 kilometers from the town itself. Continue reading Channeling My Inner Grizzly Bear: おいらせ町 鮭 まつり→