In Japan, as I have probably mentioned before, there is a week called Golden Week where three holidays fall in a row (making it a 5-day weekend including the holidays). I often take off the other days and travel somewhere for a week or so. This year I went to visit Makoto in Tokyo.

Makoto started going to school at Tokyo Sushi Academy in April. He will attend for one year where he will learn how to prepare various types of sushi, cut different fish, learn about business abroad, and have english classes among others.

I have been to Tokyo many times, but this was the first time I spent an extended time there for play. I visited Makoto for ten days and did many fun things in Tokyo.

Sushi: The first day I was there Makoto had his last class of the week. I walked him to school in Shinjuku and picked him up. (During the day I went shopping, as well as met up with a friend living in Tokyo for lunch). When I picked him up I got to enter the school and talk to his teachers and classmates (while he sharpened and cleaned his knives). Many of the students there plan to go abroad and were happy to practice their English with me. Some of the teachers have worked many years abroad as well, so the students enjoyed watching their teacher speak fluent English. The students range from 18- in their 50s. As well as eating Makoto’s sushi at home, I also got to spend a day with him and his classmates who wanted to practice during vacation. They rented out a community center kitchen, brought the ingredients and practiced making Horse Mackerel (aji) nigiri and maki (rolled sushi). It was interesting, I didn’t know that the rice portion of a nigiri (rice with sashimi style sushi) is supposed to be 16 grams.

Places: As you may know, Tokyo is a huge, bustling, and crazy city. Although I dont know NYC too well, I feel Tokyo is like 10 New Yorks put together. There are areas of Tokyo known for their different character. For example, Akihabara has all the nerdy things and technology, Harajuku has the crazy dress up people and young bright fashion, Shinjuku and Shibuya are known for shopping and lots of people, Ginza is known for high scale shopping, Roppongi businesses and many foreigners, Asakusa for the big famous temple, etc. Makoto lives within walking distance from Shinjuku and Harajuku so we spent much time around there. But we also got other places like the Ueno Zoo, Shinjuku Gardens, and Yokohama. Yokohama is located about an hour outside of Tokyo. It is another big city known for its night skyline and china town. Tokyo also has a famous theater that often puts on Broadway Musicals. I wanted to see the Lion King, we were lucky and were able to get tickets, I was very happy and enjoyed it greatly!

Friends: While in Tokyo I was able to meet many old and new friends! While there I met a friend who used to be an ALT (like me) here in Aomori who now works at a university translating. I met a friend from Wake Forest who has lived in Tokyo for the past five years in banking. And then some of my Aomori friends were visiting Tokyo and some with their family so met up with them too. I was also able to meet many of Makoto’s sushi school friends and one of his friends from high school.

Food: As the Michelin star food ratings report, Tokyo has come out as the food capital of the world (in terms of stars). So while in Tokyo I took full advantage of what it has to offer. Here in Aomori, although we do have a variety of restaurants there are some I wish I had more of! While in Tokyo, along with sushi, I got to enjoy a German Restaurant, Two Turkish Restaurants, Two Thai Restaurants, an Indian Restaurant, a Mexican restaurant and probably more I am forgetting!

It was a great time, I hope to go back soon.

Soon I will post pictures of Makoto’s sushi, as he is creating delicious and cute sushi. Cute? yes, cute. Recently he made sushi in the shape of a frog’s face!

So, you may be wondering why I have all of a sudden had a surge in blog posts.  It is because I have a lot more free time at my school. I have always had 2 or 3 periods a day free at school. During that time I usually have prepared for classes, read, or study Japanese.  Sometimes my lesson plans require me to prepare a warm up game, a game using the grammar being learned, or talk about something (my weekend, American Christmas, etc. ) However, sometimes they do not ask me to prepare, or now that I have been here long enough I have all the stuff easily at my finger tips.

After three years on JET I contemplated to recontract or not recontract. I was a bit done with teaching and do not intend to be a teacher in the future, but I enjoyed Aomori life, the activities I was involved in and having a job (unlike many friends who returned back to America).  Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching the kids, they are so great, but after 3 years you realized nothing about the job changes very much. So, in order to convince myself to stay, I needed a reason. That reason became getting a masters.

So in August I entered the George Washington University School of Business online program for Hospitality and Tourism Administration.  It has been a great way to spend free time this past semester. I took two classes, Quantitative Applications in Tourism and Hospitality Management (aka Statistics) and Destination Planning. The second class focused on creating tourism plans and how to build up tourism in various types of locations.

This coming semester I will be taking Tourism and Hospitality Management Research and Destination Economies. I look forward to starting up classes again and filling this free time with things other than blog posts, gchat, staring at falling snow and getting excited for going to America!

What? They have names?

Less than one percent of Japan’s population is Christian, so you might wonder why Christmas is such a big holiday here. Well, like any holiday this gives Japan a chance to change/transform Christmas into their own holiday. Christmas decorations go up early, music is heard in all the stores, but something just isn’t the same. (Probably their lacking of how Christmas is really celebrated – not necessarily in the Christian sense either).

Funny lack of knowledge: After getting a good idea from my friend, I started quizzing my students – 1) Where is Santa from? and 2) What does he give bad children? Some funny answers: 1) Finland, Peru, New Zealand, Germany, Aomori Santa Land….  2) Rats, Devils, Home work, Canned Beer, He steals their clothes…

But not only the lack is amusing at times but also they way they celebrate Christmas. Here are a few examples of traditional ways or traditional images of Christmas in Japan.

1) Date Holiday. If you do not have a significant other on this holiday you may feel a bit down. This holiday has been traditionally marketed for couples to spend a romantic night together, whether dinner, seeing light up illuminations or other nice christmassy ways. When asking my students what they will do for Christmas, many of the older junior high students say they want to make a boyfriend or girlfriend by that time.

2) Christmas Cake. No matter who you are, whether with a boyfriend/girlfriend, with your friends, or with your family, you will probably order a christmas cake. Order forms are made available in stores from early November, don’t miss out on your cake! The most popular image of christmas cake is like this cream cake with strawberries but there are many different kinds.

3) KFC. Yes, that is right, Kentucky Fried Chicken is the image of Christmas in Japan. Apparently after the war, foreigners in Japan were unable to get proper sized chickens or turkey for the holiday and would go to KFC. Since then KFC has jumped on this opportunity and marketed like crazy during Christmas and it has become a normal thing to see Colonel Sanders in a Santa suit and a Christmas fried chicken bucket.

4) Disney. Other companies have taken the opportunity to cash in. Disney Land is already viewed as one of the most romantic places in Japan, where you should really go with a date. (odd I know). So why not link the two – romantic disney and a romantic holiday. If you are lucky enough to attend Disney around this time, you will be the envy of all your Japanese girl friends, (especially if you went with a date, wow how more romantic can you GET!) But be careful, its going to be crowded as all get-out!

 

singing

Christmas is in full swing! This past Sunday evening a group of about 15-20 foreigners (and a few Japanese) got together and did some caroling downtown outside of the train station. My friends (a singer and guitarist) planned the event. They picked a song list and we stood in the snow and sang for the people passing by. Some stopped to watch, some took videos/pictures, and even some high school girls joined in with us!

As Buddy the Elf would say, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loud for all to hear!”

The other weekend I had the opportunity to go to the wedding of a math teacher at my base junior high school and a teacher at an elementary school I used to go to.  Japanese weddings are a very interesting experience. I will list a few differences that I have come across (in my opinion)  (these are not pictures from the actual wedding)

Type of Wedding Party - very similar

1) Location: often they are held at hotels or wedding halls. This one was held at a place specifically for wedding parties

2) Ceremony: Guests do not attend the actual marriage, they just participate in the party

3) Video Slide Shows: Often there is a slide show which consists of baby/growing up pictures of the bride and groom and pictures of them after they met.

4) Gift: You do not give a gift to the couple. However you pay a hefty fee often 100-300 dollars to attend the wedding. You are basically paying for the wedding, meal and gift.

5) Gift: Yes, this is on here twice. You don’t give a gift however you receive a gift. There is a goody bag (size of a department store shopping bag) with presents for you. This time I received a cheese cake, a box with nice hand towel and handkerchief  and an aomori apple juice.

6) Office Relations: You invite your entire office and co-workers. It still has a formality in that bosses give speeches and co-workers often put on skits. There was also a skit by friends as well.

7) Mingle: Unlike American weddings there really isn’t any mingling or dancing (or bringing your own date). You are at your table and watch the performances, speeches and talk amongst yourself.

Dress almost exactly like hers!

8) Attire: First the bride usually has a couple of wardrobe changes. First she was wearing traditional Japanese style wedding kimono, next she had on a traditional wedding dress and finally she had on a huge princess type purple dress. It is very over the top, her hair is all done up with long curls and a big butterfly barrette. Those in attendance too often get their hair done and wear cutesy furs and bows.

9) Flash! The wedding is so flashy and extravagant. There were disco balls, streamers, candles, and my favorite, the flower arrangement pieces in the center of the table, when the bride and groom lit a final candle they all went off with big sparklers!

10) After Party: There is usually a planned after party. This one we all got on buses and went to a hotel bar where there was live music (American oldies) and a magician (this was part of the bar not specifically for the wedding). The friends of the bride and groom did a raffle drawing as a fun game as well.

But it is always a great experience and I had a fun time. Especially eating the cheesecake after the wedding 🙂

Enterance to Tsurunoyu village

Winter is a great time to relax in natural hot springs (onsens) of Japan. In fall there are many holidays. The end of November my friend and I decided to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. Originally we thought about traveling abroad, but due to many commitments it was not worth while. Instead, we decided to go to a neighboring prefecture, Akita! She had never been there and I had read about these milky onsens! We took some time off and drove about 4 hours and up into the mountains where snow covered the ground and it looked like a winter wonderland! The old Japanese style inn we stayed at was called Tsurunoyu (click here to see more great pictures and an English description), crane’s bath. Because long ago, in the late 1600s an injured crane was spotted soothing itself in the warm waters. The Inn is set up like a little village. The ryokan is very popular.

Part of dinner

We decided on a big tatami room with a traditional meal served to us. Many local vegetables were included in the meal. We got into our Japanese Inn robes and overcoats and made it to the indoor shower and milky bath one and two. We then ventured into the snow, dipped in the indoor baths but then headed outside. It was so nice in the evening to be outside while it snowed but so warm in the waters. Then we ventured to the mixed bath. The women have two nice private outdoor baths that the men cant go in, but then the biggest bath of all is the mixed. there is an area women can enter the bath before it is mixed, and with it being so milky it does not matter. However, at some mixed onsen, old men don’t mind walking or lounging freely. Luckily, this time we were not exposed to any unwanted sights. After an evening of relaxing we had a very restful sleep on the comfortable futons of the inn.

Across the river were the really nice milky onsens!

The next morning we ate our breakfast and did the loop of onsens again, in the day light. The waters were so milky aqua, it was beautiful and at the base of a mountain side (but up in the mountains). We just stayed one night so soon our onsening was over, but we felt clean and relaxed. However, it is all natural, so we did smell like a fart (the sulfur). We continued to a nearby Samurai village. Unfortunately in November many of the houses are closed to the public, but it was still very fun to see and a neat little city. They are famous for cherry blossoms and we saw pictures, we want to make a trip back! If anyone needs a nice get away, I highly recommend Tsurunoyu! It is such a Japanese experience and great onsen time!

Sorry I don’t have pictures of the milky onsens, but everyone is nakey! If you want to try and see some pictures check out the link posted above (site is in English too).

It has been months since I wrote a blog. So much went on in the summer I want to recap. I will try in coming weeks. I wrote a blog a year or two ago about winter. And I am back to write another one.

You know its becoming winter in Japan when:

Kotatsu

1. You bring out your kotatsu. Kotatsu’s are amazing tables with electric heaters attached under the blanket. A tent of warmth for your lower body.

Take your pick!

2. Haramaki (stomach wraps). Many Japanese people believe that you need to keep your stomach warm in order to stay healthy in the cold seasons. Haramakis are very popular. They are like tube tops for your tummy – but often have a pocket (like a kangaroo) where you can put hand warmers. These days, with their heightened popularity, they are sold in many colors.

warm up!

3. Hokkairo. These are the small heated packets. Often in America we only have them for hands. Here in Japan they sell boxes of these, in all different sizes, some with a sticky backing so you can attach it to your clothes (or the pocket of your haramaki). They also sell cute pouches for you to keep them in too! I want the mameshiba one (bean dog).

A bit similar to my totoro blanket

4. Hizakake (lap cover). This is a blanket for your lap. While driving or in the office, throw this baby over your legs and stay warm. They come in many colors and fabrics, but the most popular ones have characters on them. This is my first year with one – and as I type I have it on my lap – its amazing. Mine is the Giblhi animation character Totoro. As I look around the office I see Minnie Mouse as well as Stitch.