Tag Archives: Life in Japan

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

Autumn in Aomori

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 rock garden and pagoda at Seiryu-ji outside of Aomori-shi.
The rock garden and pagoda at Seiryu-ji outside of Aomori-shi.
Reds, greens, and golds galore.
Reds, greens, and golds galore.

Continue reading Autumn in Aomori

Otaru’s Winter Lantern Festival

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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.

IMG_0484 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.

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Continue reading Otaru’s Winter Lantern Festival

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

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

Challenging Chokai

With autumn quickly spreading its chilly fingers over northern Japan, I’ve been anxious to spend every last minute outside that I can in a last ditch effort to get some quality vitamin D before winter turns me ghostly pale and I burrow under my kotatsu until April. A few weekends ago, five friends and I made the five-hour drive south to Yamagata prefecture, where we climbed Mount Chokai. Chokai, at 2226m, is the tallest peak in the Tohoku region and straddles the border between Akita and Yamagata prefectures.

The original six, ready and raring to go.
The original six, ready and raring to go.

Continue reading Challenging Chokai