travel

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.

Osaka Food Marathon

I went to Osaka for the long weekend and had a great time like I always do. I’ve been to this city so many times and always enjoy myself. It’s big but laid back, with plenty of touristy things to do that never feel overcrowded or unworthy of the hype. I love being able to walk around, eat, chat, and take in the sights. This weekend in particular was full of wonderful company and food. Lots and lots of food.

Day 1: Okonomiyaki in Dotonbori (Fugetsu | 風月)

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Okonomiyaki is one of the most satisfying Japanese foods and an Osaka specialty. It’s chewy and savory in all the right ways. In Dotonbori there are plenty of Okonomiyaki restaurants to choose from. At Fugetsu we ordered four types (I almost remember accurately) from bottom left clockwise – 1) pork, egg, green onion 2) seafood 3) kimchi 4) potato and mochi. All excellent, but there’s something about the spiciness and texture of kimchi in okonomiyaki that I really love. Potato and mochi is also good, it makes it a little sweeter and more chewy.

Day 2: Hokkaido Milk Ice Cream and Takoyaki (Osaka Castle)

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 I went to do hanami at Osaka castle. By “hanami” I mean I went to see if there were actually any flowers. There weren’t but I spent a sunny afternoon sitting outside and trying some of the food vendors nearby. I had some Hokkaido milk ice cream which was very thick and creamy. They served much smaller portions of this than for other ice cream which is good – any more would be too much of a good thing. I also had takoyaki, another Osaka specialty. Usually takoyaki is covered in sauce and mayonnaise but restaurants have a lot of creative toppings to try from. The flavour above is just salt, and skipping the sauces makes it taste entirely different. I really enjoyed it!

 

Kushikatsu (Shinsekai Kushiya | 新世界串や

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It was my first time having kushikatsu and I am hooked. It was also my first time really hanging out in the Shinsekai area which I now know I have to go back to. Kushikatsu is basically just skewers of battered meat and vegetables that you dip into sauce. Generally you can order as you go and try lots of different varieties. We got an all you can drink all you can eat menu (I’m going to miss this) for around 3000 yen. You have an hour and a half to order as much food and drinks as you want! But if you don’t finish the food you have to pay a fee. They also bring continuous raw cabbage that you can munch on while waiting for your next round of food to come. At the place we went we could order up to five different items at a time and they would bring one skewer of each for each person in our group. We tried octopus, lotus root, eggplant, quail egg, chicken, beef, mushrooms, and a few more I can’t remember! The mushrooms and quail egg were my favourite, but they were all good. I left feeling very, very full.

 

Day 3: Pancakes! (Eggs ‘n Things

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… more like whipped cream and things. I was pretty pumped to order pancakes with blueberries and coconut. Little did I know the portions are massive including a tower of whipped cream (aka white cream in Japanese).  I couldn’t finish all of it and got help from other people. At home I  make an effort not to eat any added sugar and this breakfast had me had me on an intense sugar high all day. I have no regrets!! Though if I ever do it again I’ll plan on sharing.

 

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.

Love at Umeda Sky Building

_DSC0003Umeda _DSC0010Umeda _DSC0009Umeda _DSC0007UmedaI don’t know who came up with the idea to turn this into a romantic hot spot or if it evolved naturally, but whatever the origins the Sky Building is doing a good job of it. The top floor of the building is lined with large windows and raised two-person seats looking outward towards a city view. I imagine it’s really romantic at night but we happened to be there on a Friday afternoon so there were mostly families and groups of tourists. There was also this big heart for taking pictures with your date (or by yourself…) with a special little stand positioned perfectly for a smartphone timer photo.
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On the roof of the building there’s a little separate section where couples can go take photos (again, probably more romantic at night). There are thousands of little locks with names and messages hanging here inspired by the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris. There was something that really touched me imagining all the people who had come here together and left a lock.
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