Tokyo

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Magical Winter Illumination in Roppongi

This winter break I did a bit of traveling around Japan – to Tokyo, Osaka, and then Maibara. I spent Christmas Eve in Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills witnessing a magical illumination. Earlier in the day we went to the Takashi Murakami Exhibit at the Mori Art Museum, and then spent the evening wandering around the lights, eating crepes, and listening to a concert by a Swedish singing group. Definitely the most unique Christmas I’ve ever had, but a perfect because of wonderful company.

Japan in Twelve Photos: A year in review

Twelve months have gone by faster than I thought could be possible (time flies, and all that). Looking back at all the pictures I’ve accumulated brings me back to so many great memories and experiences I know could only be possible in Japan.  I’ve pulled some of my favourites in a sort of visual memory of the past year.


August: Obon, Kamiichi

I left from Toronto arrived in Tokyo // sweat alot // drank 2L bottles of water sitting on my tatami floor. Obon happened and the office was empty. I went to a  festival in Kamiichi Town, went to a beach party and (sortof) climbed Tateyama.

 

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September: Osu Kannon, Nagoya

I started to figure everything out a bit more. I started teaching and meeting students. I took my first trip, going to Nagoya. I have this very distinct memory of being half awake and watching the Japanese Alps from the bus window as we drove through. I spent a lot time after school helping students prepare for a speech competition.

 

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October: Fushimi Inari, Kyoto

While my family was eating Thanksgiving dinner I was in Kyoto for the first time, eating burnt Ramen and visiting a cat cafe. I went to a Halloween party and to the speech competition. I learned that Kit-Kats are given for good luck.


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November: Kurobe Gorge 

The seasons changed later than I expected. I went up to the Kurobe Gorge in a rainy, cold, and fantastic train ride up the mountain. One of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in Japan.

 

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December: Maki-Chan in Japan

In December my sister visited Japan. We went to as many places as we could from an English camp in Toyama to Nagoya, Tokyo, all over Kansai (Nara, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe), and finally Maibara. It was strange to suddenly have a piece of home in Japan. I went about 4 weeks without classes and missed it a lot.

 

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January: Hakuba, Nagano

I shivered at work and shivered in my apartment.  I went to Nagano to go snowboarding and loved every minute of the breathtaking mountains.

 

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February: Kenrokuen Gardens, Kanazawa

It was cold. The third years finished classes. I went to Kanazawa21 and and saw an amazingly cool exhibition and ate lots of ramen to keep warm.

 

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March: Dohtonbori Osaka

The school year ended, and it was really sad. My first fully-fledged trip to Osaka was incredibly fun, I ate a lot, walked a lot, and saw a lot. Omiyage was weirdly difficult to find. I saw sumo. I lost a contact lens. It was great.

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April: Sakura at Matsukawa River

Cherry Blossoms lived up to their hype and more. Outside my school, around the river, in Osaka, and in backyards, these trees were so soft and pretty I felt like I was in a dreamland.

 

May: YG Concert in Tokyo 

Golden week was four days of pure awesomeness, the most “Tokyo” experience I’ve had, by going to a concert, the robot restaurant, and getting swept up in the energy of the city.

 

June: Uozu Port 

It became summer, like fully summer with high humidity and blue skies. I spent a lot of time getting sunburned and riding my bike around. I don’t mind the cold winter, but summer is the best for exploring  the city and feeling re-energized.
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July: Tatemon Festival 

TECHNICALLY this photo is from August but I’m using for July for the sake of relevance. I participated in the Tatemon festival, which was an absolute blast. High energy, lots of people, and a really wonderful culmination to the long season of festivals and fireworks of the summer and to the year in Japan.

Golden Tokyo

Last weekend was Golden Week in Japan, aptly named for the string of public holidays that make it the busiest time of the year to travel. Travel and lodging are booked months in advance as people take advantage of this time off. I went to Tokyo for the four day weekend, and despite preparing well ahead we weren’t able to get reserved train tickets for the journey there. That meant standing in the centre aisle practicing my snowboarding stance and thinking enviously of those sitting around me. Lucky for us though, the train ride is actually pretty fast and we got to Tokyo in about four hours.

The weekend itself was a lot of fun, and maybe the most random assortment of activities I’ve experienced in a weekend. Saturday we traveled, checked out some shopping, and explored Shinjuku area. We ate dinner at a pretty great Thai place that made me realize how much I miss Thai/Vietnamese/Cambodian food that used to be a staple in my week.

Sunday we strolled around Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, which was free since it was “Greenery Day” holiday, and went to “Happy Cakes”, which is a make-your-own pancakes restaurant. You pick your batter and toppings and cook everything at your own personal grill, exactly like okonomiyaki.

Then Harajuku for some fun which was insanely crowded. Around two in the afternoon we made our way over to Tokyo Dome, for the main event of the weekend, the YG Family concert. YG Family is an entertainment company from South Korea that parents many pop music groups, most famously PSY (though he was not at the concert). Without being too dramatic, I have to say this was one of the best experiences of my life, but I’ll save that for later.

Monday was very rainy, so we went to Ueno park to the Metropolitan Art Gallery. This was a great decision and we spent about 4 hours there. We happened to be there during the Shinkseiki Art Exhibition, which has since left the museum. It was cool to see contemporary art from so many Japanese artists.  In the park we also ran into an awesome guy who was celebrating his 20th birthday (legally adulthood in Japan) who was asking for strangers to write messages all over his white clothing.

 

Panda Mania: A day in Ueno Park

Leaving behind a snowy wonderland in Toyama, Tokyo greeted us with open arms of warm sun and crisp breezes. After a midnight bus ride through the Japanese mountain ranges we arrived, slightly groggy but with giddy excitement. Fearing the imminent death of my phone low on power, we braved the crowded basement of a McDonalds. Amidst the travellers asleep on their suitcases and the late night adventurers changing clothes in the bathroom for work, we stealthily snagged at a much coveted power outlet and recharged over orange juice and greasy hash browns.

After dropping off our bags at our hostel we took a leisurely walk to Ueno Park, marvelling out the stillness of the morning. Tokyo, despite it’s reputation as a city of epic energy was unexpectedly tranquil in the morning. Our path led us through the Taito district, which is home to countless industrial kitchen suppliers.

Before entering the park’s interior we stopped at C’s Cafe where we enjoyed some truly mouthwatering sandwiches, mine with herbed salmon and Ebany’s with copious amounts of gooey cheese.

Ueno Park was bustling (given that it was a long weekend) and we marvelled at the sheer size and quantity of museums in the park. If you so chose, I’m sure this sprawling cultural hub would provide several days of enjoyment, at least.

To our Ueno Zoo was currently home to two giant pandas, Ueno and Shinshin, who were being treated like the celebrities they are with a pretty sizeable crowd. Pandas are by far the strangest creatures I have ever seen, their plump bodies covered in fluffy white and black fur, casually munching on vegetation lain at their feet. In a way it really was like seeing a celebrity, in the sense that I was seeing something in the flesh that I had previously only seen in pictures or video. I half expected their furry arms to reach up and lift their heads of their bodies, revealing an animatronic interior or sweaty mascot worker. In the Panda (and Christmas) spirit, we snapped a quick picture with a pretty adorable backdrop. This led to a day of strolling through the zoo- enjoying the beautiful grounds.

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Intent on making the most of the day, we spent a leisurely afternoon enjoying Ueno Park, taking in the sculptures and Monet exhibit at the Western Art Museum. This was another reminder of how English-friendly Tokyo is, as there were explanations in English throughout the exhibits. Perhaps it was the break from my daily grind (oh, I’ve become so cliché) or the change in weather. Tokyo felt at once peaceful, with its quiet streets and sunlight filtering overhead, and ripe yet with opportunity for adventure from the density of people and events in your immediate surroundings.

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