Japan in 12 Photos: a Third Year in Review

At the risk of being repetitive, I still have to say – time has flown. My third year in Japan felt not like another year on an overseas adventure but like another year of life – though still in a beautiful, exciting place. Over time my comfort zone has gotten bigger and bigger – and in the past year I pushed it even more to try new things both in Toyama and beyond. And now in September back in Canada, I have so much to reflect on.

August – Summer Camp

11898676_10156133325480727_1077846256776061135_n

In the summer, many schools have an English summer camp. Students and their teachers go far away into the mountains to these little buildings (I think they are usually used for company bonding retreats?) and have full days of English lessons and activities. I’ve been to over a dozen in my time in Japan and they never fail to be hilarious, fun, and a great chance to get to know students on another level. Not to mention… so. much. food.

September – Silver Week in Seoul

By good fortune, the elusive 5-day Silver Week holiday fell during my time in Japan. My friends and I took a trip to Seoul where we spent a few days eating, walking, eating, going to museums, and eating.

October – No Face in Toyama

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

October came and gave me one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. The previous year I had made a No Face costume to wear to some events. This year, I couldn’t let it go to waste and so my friends and I dressed up and took him on a little trip in Toyama city. It was hilarious to see the reactions to his appearance and it felt great to be a little bit of excitement in peoples’ day. You can watch the video we made here.

November – Kyoto leaves

_DSC0031

In November I went to Kyoto for the long weekend and saw the fall leaves at Kiyomizudera. I had such a wonderful weekend with friends and loved seeing one of my favourite places in colour. A word to the wise, if you want to see the leaves in Kyoto during that weekend make your bookings months in advance… it gets busy!

December – Tokyo

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset

In December I went down to Tokyo for Christmas! It was magical going to Disney and seeing the illuminations around Roppongi. Mostly it was special spending time with friends in a city with never-ending adventure.

January – Toyama winter fun

久しぶり⛸

A post shared by Melody [秋] (@melody_aki) on

 

Toyama was COVERED in snow for part of last winter, so much so that the trains were delayed (that’s how you know it’s serious). There were a few weekend days where I didn’t even dare go outside due to wind and snow. The upside was seeing Toyama in this beautiful white blanket and doing some fun things like ice skating!

February – It’s Raining Ramen

12806144_10156767545665727_9218909633353146302_n

February was the return of the Nyuzen Ramen Festival, an event I can honestly say I waited a full year for in anticipation. I chowed down on some delicious ramen and remembered to bring a bottle of water, because oh man, water sells out fast at this event.

March – Solo to Hiroshima

In March I took a solo trip to Hiroshima, stopping in Kobe, Okayama, Naoshima, and Okunoshima along the way. Going by local train was absolutely the slowest way of travelling but it was a wonderful experience that tested my own travel skills and helped me learn new things.

April – Hanami Forever

Cherry blossoms are one of the most characteristic images of Japan, and a tourist magnet… for good reason. Despite my skepticism of anything with so much hype surrounding it, cherry blossoms are just as magical as their reputation would lead you to believe. I spent the beginning of April seeing as many as I could, whether that be in the beautiful daylight of Takaoka park or on a cold evening huddled under the trees.

May – Yosakoi, Yosakoi

13260235_10157140086220727_917230070236191070_n

I joined a Yosakoi team in October, and every week, two nights a week, went to practice. After months of practice, May was when I first performed with my team and fell completely in love with Yosakoi.

June –  No Rice No Life

June was the second annual International Rice Planting competition, the most fun I have ever had standing in mud. We joined teams and planted a field of rice the old school way (they have machines for that stuff now!) and were judged for accuracy, speed, and overall positivity.

July – Toyama and beyond

July (and June too, really) was the month of sad goodbyes, but more on that later. In July my sister came to Japan and we spent a few weeks in Toyama before embarking on a final hurrah around the country.

Adventure 18 Day Six | Himeji Hanami

Friday

We woke up to grey skies and rain. The hostel I stayed at had put me in a small female building that almost felt like an apartment – with a big open space with bunkbeds, a second story and a small living room area and kitchen. I chatted with the two girls that were there, both who were doing working holidays in Japan. They were very sweet and it was great to meet them!

I got the castle around nine, umbrella in hand. The grounds were full of food and game stands being set up but the mood was a little dampened due to the rain. The castle itself is usually the main attraction, but during cherry blossom season the approach itself was half of the excitement. As I got closer through a series of small buildings and long walls more and more blossoms appeared, making the castle prettier with each step. Forgive me for gushing, but it was nothing short of magical.  It feels like a dream world to walk around the white castle in a sea of pink blossoms.

It’s no wonder that Himeji castle gets so much attention – it really is beautiful. It’s tall and majestic looking with bright white walls, a dark roof, and a large expanse of smaller buildings and walls around it. It’s really nice to walk around inside too – the huge rooms let in light and the dark wood feels nice to walk on in socks. Himeji castle plus the connected buildings also has the most amount of information on display that I’ve seen in a castle – you could easily spend an hour just wandering around and reading.

I left the castle around 11:30 went looking for the restaurant I wanted to try – Menme (Tripadvisor, you did not disappoint!). I got there just as they were opening and was able to sit right at the counter to watch them process. The staff is so friendly and a seamless noodle making team. When my noodles arrived they were just as great as I hoped they’d be – fresh, thick, and the perfect texture.

Went to Menme for lunch! So good. Sat at the counter and and saw them making the noodles. 👌👌

A post shared by Melody [秋] (@melody_aki) on

After the meal I headed over to the station which was my final tourist stop on my Seishun 18 trip. I had been really strict with spending during my trip but I shelled out for some really nice omiyage. Everyone always appreciates any type of omiyage but it feels good to give something really nice (and probably better tasting). So with my omiyage and luggage I caught yet another local train to spend a few days in Shiga.

Adventure 18 Day Five | Naoshima Now

Thursday

I woke up really early (apologies once again, hostel buddies) and caught the 7:37 train from Hiroshima, using my trusty Seishun 18 Kippu. I stopped at Hiro station and left my luggage there, running to catch the next local train to the ferry port.

Naoshima is an island so sleepily inaka you would never guess it plays host to such big name works and museums. The streets of the town around the edge of the island are quiet except for visitors and volunteer guides. The streets that cut across the island are empty and lined by trees and rice paddies.  I rented a bike for 500 yen to make my way across the island. It was a wonderful day biking through the streets and seeing the water – both exhilarating and calming.

My favourite place I visited was Minamidera, part of the Art House Project. People are allowed to enter in fifteen minutes intervals and I waited in line watching the group ahead of me leave the building looking dazed. When it was our group’s turn to enter the guide gave us some brief instructions, telling us that it is dark inside and we wouldn’t be able to see anything. We followed her voice, our hands running against the wall to our left. After entering the building we took a few turns until eventually we were in complete blackness. Eventually we were instructed to sit down on a bench and slide until we reached a wall.  The group had been giggly and talkative before at first but everyone fell silent as our eyes struggled to see. I’ve never experienced so much darkness, being able to see absolutely nothing. After about five minutes of searching my eyes started to pick up some light at the end of the room. My brain strained to process the shape and make it clear. Slowly my eyes adjusted to the light and I could see the vague presence of my hands. Not what they looked like, but that they were slightly different looking than the area around them. After a few minutes the guide asked us if we could see a light and everyone said YES practically yelling. Ok, you can stand up she said, and we all stood up excitedly and shuffled towards the light. I still couldn’t see well but I could see the forms of people around me, feel their movement and hear them talking excitedly to each other. It was a really unique sensory experience and unlike anything I’ve done before. After a few minutes I made my way out of the building, blinking in a daze just like the people before me.

I finished the day off at I ♥ Yu (you can see pictures here!) which combines three of my favourite things – puns, onsen, and art. The pun is that in Japanese, yu means hot water – a joke I wish I had coined. After biking and walking all day it felt wonderful to shower and sit in the hot water of the onsen. Bonus was the giant elephant statue above my head. I called it a day in the late afternoon, catching a ferry around 5:00 and making the trek from Tadanoumi to Hiro station, and eventually all the way to Himeji at 10:00.

Adventure 18 Day Four | Hiroshima

Wednesday

Day four of my trip was dedicated to Hiroshima city. The first thing I did in the morning, and the most important of the trip, was going to the Peace Memorial Museum. Going there by myself was a big factor of why I took this trip alone, and I’m glad I did. The museum is currently under renovation (due to be finished this summer) so I was able to see the permanent area but not the other exhibitions. I got an audio guide which I would definitely advise doing if you go.

In a University course I took, we talked about how pictures of tragedies (current or historical) put distance between the viewer and the event. The internal response feels like that’s sad, I’m sad that happened but because it’s a picture the contents are framed as something separate from our own realities. Films, documentaries, and even news reports are similar – they can invoke an emotional response but the story exists on a screen.

Museums can do what pictures and films cannot. As you walk through the Peace Museum you can reach out and touch the texture of roof tiles that were changed by the explosion. You see the burns in the clothing worn by someone who lost their life laid out before you. You see the actual steps of a building where a dark mark was left by someone sitting during the explosion. You listen to stories from survivors who lost their children – their despair and regrets. A woman tells you how she sent her young son into the city on the day of the bombing even though he told her he was sick that day – “I killed him” she says, she blames herself for his death. In their intimacy these stories show the magnitude of what happened that day.

The exhibition also presents the science behind the atomic bomb. It shows long-lasting effects of that day – survivors who lived with debilitating health and psychological problems. It shows the details of the environmental impacts in the city. The reality is straightforward, and it is sobering.

I’m not sure what else can be said. I left the museum into the large park and just sat on a bench for a while. I felt hyper-aware of all my senses – how bright the sunlight was, the sound of the trees, of how people in groups were walking in differently than people alone, the coldness of the bench under me, the sounds of traffic out of sight. I was acutely aware of the humanness of myself and those around me. The thoughts, emotions, feelings, and concerns that comprise my own personal and self-centered universe also exist in every other human. The sheer volume of this is unfathomable and I felt it full force as I was sitting in the park.

I did other things that day – I walked through the peace park, to the castle, to the museum of modern art and then back. Being alone in the bustle of cities always makes me feel connected to other people and the world. And that day the same feeling was there but in a new way – with an overwhelming awareness of the significance in everyday normalcy.

A display of paper cranes sent from schools around the world at the Children’s Peace Monument.

Adventure 18 Day Three | Miyajima Magic

Tuesday

I love hostels but getting up early is always so awkward knowing you’re bothering people. Climbing down from the top bunk on a noisy ladder is going to wake someone up, no matter how hard you try. Luckily I’m a really deep sleeper so this never bothers me, but for others all I can do is be as quiet as possible.

I walked to the station and caught the 7:50 train from that got me to Iwakuni station at 8:43. I didn’t use my Seishun 18 Kippu this day because it the fare to these places was pretty cheap and I needed to save my days on the ticket for later. From there I took a bus and got to the Kintai bridge around 9:15 or so. The bridge is really cool! The big wooden arches look beautiful against the river. It’s actually really hard to walk across, because the steps get bigger and smaller and all blend into each other.

Iwakuni itself was absolutely beautiful! I was there just on the verge of the cherry blossoms opening, so I didn’t get to see them in all their glory. But the half-opened buds were still pretty. The gardens are large and peaceful, particularly so because early in the morning there was hardly anyone there. I walked around for a little, feeling very calm and at ease in my surroundings.

I took the tiny lift up that brought us to a forest walkway and the castle on the top of the mountain. The top of the castle looks out over the bridge, river, and town. I walked around the castle a little bit and ate some breakfast sitting at one of the little stone picnic tables.

Instead of putting effort into figuring out the return buses to Iwakuni station, I just walked about fifteen minutes to a tiny closer station that was oddly positioned on the top of steep hill. I got the 10:50 and arrived in at Miyajimaguchi station at 11:33. I wasn’t sure if I would have to wait long in line for the ferry but since Miyajima is such a popular destination the ferries are huge and run every ten or fifteen minutes. I just bought my ticket and walked on! Easier than catching any bus I’ve ever caught, haha. I got there at the perfect time to see Itsukushima shrine at high tide, around 12:30!

I walked around taking pictures, offering to take pictures of other people, and asking people to take pictures of me. At one point I was taking a picture of something and an older man came up to me and told me I was in the wrong spot to take pictures and that he had a better spot to take pictures from. So he brought me over to another area and took my picture, which is the photo below.

I wandered around a bit up towards the gardens where I found a nice little spot by the river to eat the food I brought. I didn’t realize Miyajima had so many deer, but there were a bunch winding their way around tourists and looking for food. As I was eating a deer came up to me and started nudging me trying to get food, but all I had left was a banana. I wasn’t sure if deer like banana but I broke off a piece and held it out, which the deer picked up and then dropped on the ground. So there was my answer.

I wandered up through the trees and ended up at the lift to the top of Mount Misen. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go all way to the top but I figured it was a good way to spend the afternoon. There’s two lifts, the first is like a ski lift but much smaller and the second was a standing lift with windows all around that lets you see the mountains and sea as it ascends.

At the top of the lift it was a half hour climb to the very top of the mountain. The climb itself wasn’t difficult but a little tricky because of the uneven ground and trying to pass people in tight spaces as they came down the mountain. There’s an observation building at the top that I hung out for in a bit, sitting on big raised platform on the first level contemplating a nap. Afterwards when I made my way back down to the lift I was really tired, partly because of the climb but mostly from not sleeping. I had planned to walk down but I realized that although it was doable it would take almost two hours and I decided to just take the lift back.

When I reached the bottom it was around 5:00 and I searched around to find somewhere to eat. Sadly this is apparently the time when everything is closed, but I found an open Okonomiyaki shop that looked good. I’d like to say I loved the okonomiyaki but it pales in comparison to the night before. But, all in all, a nice restaurant and a nice break from the day.

I took the ferry and then the train back to Hiroshima station, getting back to my hostel around 8:00. I attempted some studying which did not go well, and finally went to bed.