Monthly Archives: May 2013

My New Mantra: I Love My Job, I Love Japan, I Love My Life…

There are times in Japan when I have the urge to run to the top of a mountain and scream “I LOVE MY JOB! I LOVE JAPAN! I LOVE MY LIFE! THANK YOU WORLD! Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!” at the top of my lungs. For fear of being mistaken as an insane lunatic I shall have to make do, alas, with a mere blog post.  *I apologize in advance for only showing a few photos, for legal reasons I can not post any photos of my students*

Last Friday was my absolute favorite day of the school term; it was ensoku day! Ensoku is a school field trip. It’s the day when all the teachers and students take the day off from classes and learning/teaching to go do something fun together, enjoy the beautiful weather and deepen their class bond.  It’s a day of magic, unicorns, rainbows, and no grading test papers! Yahoooo!

Last year, I went with 2 classes to the famous mountain in Fukui Ski Jam to have a BBQ and go kayaking.  It was a blast, and I honestly can say I don’t think I’ve ever giggled and laughed that much in one single day in my whole life. I attribute this glee to being surrounded by 35 adorable Japanese school girls determined to ensure everyone had a wonderful time. I love my students! Working at an all-girls school means that I work with some of the sweetest young ladies in Fukui. I’m a lucky and very thankful ALT. I was expecting an expedition of a similar sort this year…

About a month ago I had a conversation with the homeroom teachers of the special group of girls I teach who study in NZ for a year, and therefore the students whom I work with most closely. (I work closely with 3 grades of the NZ exchange program students however, the 2nd year students are currently in NZ, so for ensoku it’s only the 1st graders and 3rd graders.) Our conversation went a little something like this:

Homeroom Teachers: Hello Jessica! Do you have a minute?

Me: Hello Ms. Y and Mrs. X! Of course! How can I help you?

Ms. Y: Jessica, have you heard about the class ensoku this year?

Me: No, I haven’t heard anything yet.  Have the students decided where they would like to go?

Mrs. X: Yes they have! This year we’re going to the Higashiyama Zoo!

Me: OH!…..Ummmm……I didn’t know that Fukui had a zoo……

Ms. Y: Oh, the Higashiyama Zoo is a famous place in Nagoya.

Me: Oh, it’s in Nagoya *nodding in agreement*….wait a second!…..NAGOYA!?  REALLY!?! (Nagoya is very far away from Fukui, about 3 hours by bus!)

Mrs. X: Yes! It’s exciting isn’t it! Would you like to come this year?

Me: I can come….with you…to Nagoya!

Ms. Y: Haha of course! We’d love for you to join us!

Me: Oh my gosh, I’m so excited! YES! Are you kidding, of course! I’d love to join you!

Ms. Y & Mrs. X: Ok, we’ll bring you more information soon. See you later!

After they left the office I put my hands to my head in disbelief, my mind was blown at how awesome my job was.  I then proceeded to do a little jig at my desk. Was it a little crazy to bus 40 students 3 hours to Nagoya and back in one day? Probably, but it was going to be one hella-fun-whirlwind of a trip! I was getting paid to hang out with my favorite students at a zoo; I love my job!

Friday morning “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba!!!!!” blaring from my iPhone I awoke with “The Circle of Life” from the Lion King (can you tell I was excited for this trip?). I bounded like a gazelle out of bed, attempted to brush my mane of humidity-frizzed hair into order so my students wouldn’t mistake me for a lion and headed out for my adventure.

Every teacher has moments when they are about ready to burst with pride. Two of my most adorable and sweet students came up to me while I was waiting outside the combini (convenience store) for the bus to depart and in very serious, uncharacteristically deep voices with crossed arms informed me of something very serious. “Jessica,” they said solemnly in perfect English “we must inform you there is a snack-toll for this bus.” I gasped in mock-horror and played along, asking my favorite little gansters, “Oh no,  what’s a snack-toll?! Is it a snack that I must share with everyone?” They smiled identical little grins of mischief, high-fived each other and said “Yep! You got it! Preferably something with chocolate!” They scampered off quickly and left me laughing in their wake. Walking into the combini to buy some chocolate cookies for them I gave myself a little pat on the back. I’ve succesfullly taught my students enough English they can extort chocolate from their teachers, my job here is done!

First, we rode a bus for 3 hours playing games, chatting in English and Japanese (it was an excellent opportunity to practice my skills before I take the JLPT in July!) and enjoyed eating snacks.

In what felt like no time at all, we arrived at the zoo!IMG_9516

As with any major tourist attraction in Japan there is inevitably a famous food that is a must try.  Do I ever need an excuse to eat ice cream ? Nevaaah! This one was super adorable ice cream and my students and I simply couldn’t resist eating it as soon as we walked through the gate.IMG_9521

It was strawberry flavoured ice cream in the design of a koala in honor of the baby koala that had been born recently. IMG_9525 IMG_9527

My other coworker bought the vanilla ice cream in the shape of an elephant in honor of the baby elephant.  めちゃかわいい!!!!! (Mecha kawaii = hella cute!)

IMG_9530For many of my students and fellow Japanese coworkers it was their very first time to ever see some of the animals.  I was spoiled rotten by my parents visiting the Calgary Zoo which is the second largest zoo in Canada.  I took great pleasure in watching the students’ faces when they saw the animals for the first time.

My personal favorites at the zoo were the baby koala and baby elephant! IMG_9547 IMG_9552 IMG_9582

These little guys were really difficult to get a photo of because they were still really shy and there were a LOT of people trying to do the exact same thing.

Other notable favourite animals were:

The polar bears – I loved their names, Aurora for the girl and Sasquatch for the boy. So Canadian!IMG_9557

Capybara – The largest rodent in the world and the basis for a very famous little Japanese character.   Pretty cute indeed! 
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The seals – They were happily sunbathing and frolicking in the sun…and let me tell you, it was HOT! I was about ready to jump over the railings into their pool and join them it looked so refreshing! IMG_9568 IMG_9567

After a happy time spent wandering around the zoo oooooh-ing and exclaiming “Kawaii!!!” at the many animals it was time to hop back on the bus. We were all a little sunburned and tired but happy as clams the lot of us.  After that I can’t tell you too much because I fell asleep the instant they turned off the lights to watch a DVD.

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Categories: Life in Japan | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Munch-worthy Maple Scones: For the true Canadian at heart!

I am a tea-junkie….that’s just something that I’ve come to accept about myself.

  • Do most of my friends think I’m a little nuts when they see my tea shopping splurges? Yep
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Shopping spree at the Lupicia Tea festival in Kanazawa 2012

  • Do they think it’s laughable that I get cranky when I don’t get my daily tea time? Definitely.
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Tea in The Tiffin Room of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore

  • Question my sanity for spending crazy sums of money to enjoy high tea at famous places? Absolutely!
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My mom and I enjoying high tea at The Ritz Hotel in London. I treated her for mother’s day, we know which side of the family my love of tea comes from!

  • Do people think my tea collection is insane? Yep to that question too.

    The saddest thing is that's only half of it, the other half is at school!

    The saddest thing is that’s only half of it, the other half is at school!

I’m cool with it though, when people tease me now it’s like water rolling off my back. After all, in my opinion there are definitely other things much, much worse that I could suffer an addiction for.  Tea is pretty harmless in the great scheme of things, not to mention really delicious!

I’ve always loved the quote “Tea is like a hug, but on the inside.” Drinking tea always soothes away my stress; it’s my way of putting aside a little “me-time” in my busy days and always feels like the equivalent of pampering my soul.

As many parents, especially my own, have discovered it’s easy to get children to do what you want when you dangle a tempting enough carrot. I always had my nose in a book when I was little and for my parents getting me to put my beloved books away and interact with real people was a bit of a challenge. When I was very young the reason I, not so secretly, always joined my nana for tea was for the sweets, the tea was more of an afterthought.  No one ever forced me to have tea in the garden every day….the carrot was dangled and I came quite willingly. For me I viewed it as a win-win situation; I got to hang out with my loving Nana AND I got to eat cookies! The same could not be said for my little brother who often plotted various ways to get in, get his allotment of cookies and hightail it out of there. His excuses, let me tell you, were hilarious and my nana saw through them in a heartbeat. Nevertheless though, she’d allow him to flee the table, content in the knowledge she had at least one very willing tea partner.  Maybe it’s the nostalgia of those memories and love for my Nana (who passed away very sadly when I was far too young) that brought on this tea obsession? I often reflect on those perfect tea parties with her in the garden when I drink a proper British tea.

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But ooooh how the times have changed.  These days, I have tea time for the simple pleasure of drinking tea, and the sweet has become an afterthought.  Or it least is was, until I met Tomomi.  My passion for tea time sweets appears to have come back with a vengeance, especially my love of scones, since coming to Japan.  Scones are undeniably my favourite tea sweet of all time; preferably served warm and  topped with clotted cream and fresh jam….Now you know why I was so eager to help my friend Tomomi make over 26 various types of jam!

For Tomomi’s jam party I combined two things I’m passionate about, scones and maple syrup, into one amazing recipe. Are you chuckling over how very Canadian this was of me? It’s ok, I laugh at how incredibly Canadian I am at times too. I’ll confess it wasn’t the first time I’ve made this recipe, I made it for the first time about a year ago and loved it so much it’s been on my “must re-bake list” for far too long.

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I love my maple syrup!

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Om nom nom!

What I love most about these scones is that despite the maple syrup they aren’t overly sweet. The whole wheat flour and oatmeal make them relatively healthy for a scone too, while contributing to a nice crumbly consistency.

What You’ll Need:

  • 60 mL high quality maple syrup  [1/4 cup]
  • 90 mL milk [6 tbsp]
  • 130 g pastry flour [1 cup]
  • 160 g whole wheat pastry flour [1 1/4 cup]
  • 40 g rolled oats (aka: oatmeal) [1/3 cup]
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
  • 130g butter (should be cold) [11 tbsps]
  • 1 egg

What You’ll Need To Do:

  • Heat your oven to 190°C (400°F).
  • In a large bowl mix together all dry ingredients (pastry flour, whole wheat pastry flour, rolled oats, salt, baking powder)
  • Add cold butter to dry ingredients. Using a cold knife cut the butter into the dry ingredients to mix until butter is in very, very small pieces.
  • Add milk and maple syrup to the bowl. Mix well.
  • On a baking tray lay down a piece of parchment paper (or wax paper) and press the scone dough down evenly into a large rectangle.  Continue to shape until the dough is very thin, about 3cm deep.
  • Now, using a sharp knife, cut the dough into even squares. (I cut mine into squares about the same size as my pinky finger.)
  • Rearrange the scones on the parchment paper so there is at least 5cm between each scone. This is so they have room to expand when they bake.
  • Using a fork whisk your egg in a small bowl until a little frothy.  Using a pastry brush lightly brush a little egg on the top of the scones. If you like you can also sprinkle with coarse raw sugar at this time, I personally opted not to this time to keep them a little healthier. 
  • Place the baking tray in the oven and cook scones for approximately 20 minutes, or until the top of the scones turns a light gold color.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

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Categories: Dessert Recipes, Lifestyle | Leave a comment

Missing The Mountains: Journey to Aobayama

Back in Canada I used to do quite a bit of hiking. What can I say, I was a lucky child! I had an outdoors enthusiast for a father and lived only an hour away from some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. When I was growing up the fresh air of the Rocky Mountains was like mother’s milk and every weekend I was excited to scamper around in the vast wild yonder. I was a real wild-ling of a child, my poor parents.

Since moving to Japan I’ve been on several noteworthy hikes, such as Mt. Fuji, but that’s a nightmare I’d rather not reflect on (I may or may not have been caught in a typhoon on top of the mountain with no shelter).  Yet, despite my efforts last year, the hikes I did were few and far to infrequent to keep a Canadian-blooded girl content.  After being spoiled for the majority of my childhood, with amazing hikes that were practically at my fingertips, I will be the first to admit that it took FAR to long to get my butt in gear and get out to some of Fukui’s hiking spots.  A constant nagging at my heart recently however, made me long for a mountain adventure.

Golden Week with it’s 4-day holiday weekend to the rescue! This weekend’s adventure to Mt. Aoba 青葉山 (In Japanese: Aobayama, “yama” means mountain) was definitely one of my favourite hikes in Japan so far. Aobayama straddles the border between the prefectures Fukui and Kyoto.  The summit of Aobayama offers a sweeping view of the Wakasa coastline which makes the climb well worth your trouble.  With its gentle slopes and resemblance to Japan’s most famous mountain, the locals have nicknamed Mt. Aoba “Wakasa’s Mt. Fuji.”

The day dawned sunny and full of the promise for good weather, I awoke from my slumber super early, guzzled some much-needed coffee and headed out to pick up my friends. By 7:30am my friends Lizzy, Kenny, Francisco and I were nestled in my tiny car and on our way to the southern-most area of Fukui where we were rewarded with a spectacular hike. It was challenging, exciting, and had not just one but TWO beautiful lookout points!

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Peace and serenity in the mountains

I was as giddy as a kid on Christmas and had a pretty big smile for the majority of our outing.  Lizzy couldn’t stop laughing because it seemed like being in the mountains brought out my inner-Canadian and practically every sentence I said seemed to end with the classic Canadian “eh”!

One of the coolest parts of this hike were the ropes.  At the tricky & steep parts there were these enormous ropes to help you scale that mountain. IMG_9318

We all felt pretty intense using these ropes until we stumbled upon the most pathetic little rope of all….It was about 2 feet long and really wasn’t good for very much…IMG_9324

Up to the top of the first lookout was a pretty steady incline with bits of intermittent scrambling up over rocks and tree roots. So, for anyone hoping to do this hike, I would definitely recommend proper hiking shoes. It’s possible to do it in sneakers, but I was very grateful for a little extra ankle support. IMG_9335

Poor Lizzy, I am always grateful for my long legs when I see what short people have to put up with when hiking. She was such a trooper, even though some of the “stairs” were almost half her height!

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Japanese hikes are so considerate! This one even had REAL stairs lol!

As we neared the top of the first peak the sea started to play peek-a-boo with us.  With a budding sense of excitement we raced the final bit excited for the lookout. We weren’t disappointed… IMG_9350 This is always my favourite part of hiking…I get to the view point, shut my eyes for a second, take a deep breath and open them. I then let that moment of perfect awe wash over me as I admire the view.  I have to say, it feels pretty good! IMG_9357

BREATHTAKING! 

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Group Shot! Don’t tumble backwards….it’s a long looong drop…

IMG_9351Isn’t this just the bees knees!

Now, let me explain something. I’m not a competitive person. I’ve always been the “I want everyone to have fun” type, but when I see little Japanese grandmas being more kick-ass awesome than me, I feel a wee bit jealous…. surprisingly enough, it happens quite often in Japan. The obaa-chans of Japan are tiny little old women who look delicate as flowers but are actually fierce as sabertooth tigers. This little old lady takes the cake! We opted to climb down the stairs from the view point…she decided to scale the wall down using a rope we didn’t know existed! She is my hero, I want to be like her when I’m 70!

IMG_9361After the first peak we decided to tramp over to the second peak for lunch. Nothing like a little bit more adventure to get that appetite  going!

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First came the cave of wonders…

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Next came the ridge of doom. Plummeting death to the left, plummeting death to the right makes walking a thin line no problem….right?

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I definitely recommend this hike in Fukui! It’s a blast!  After lunch we headed back the way we came with lots of fun rope scaling going down.

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Looking out over this panorama I knew with absolute certainty that I couldn’t be happier in that moment than I was.  For the first time in ages I was living in the moment.  I didn’t want to be anywhere else, with anyone else, doing anything else or seeing anything else. I belonged in that exact moment in time to that place.

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I always feel the most at peace when hiking, something many people whom I know don’t really seem to understand.  After all, how can pulsing adrenaline in your system, being all sweaty, feeling tired and pushing your body to the limits bring on a sense of calm? It seems like it would do the exact opposite, ne?

I think the closest answer I can come to articulating however, is that it’s on the mountain that I feel like I’m the person I want to be. I like this side of myself. I like the girl who challenges herself, who’s optimistic about what lies ahead, who pushes her body to its physical limits and actually enjoys that physical pain. I like being the kind of girl who spends quality bonding time with her friends, who gives her undivided attention to what she’s doing, who loves natures, who takes joy in the little things in life, and (perhaps most importantly) who isn’t afraid to take risks in the name of adventure. She is the person I wish I could be all the time. Thus, it’s when I hike that I come the closest to who I truly am and finding inner peace “hanging out” with that girl.

As Lucille Ball once said “It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.” Cheers, and here’s hoping for more hiking adventures in the near future!

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DIRECTIONS (from Fukui City):

  • Take the Hokuriku Express Highway south from Fukui City to Tsuruga.
  • Transfer off the highway at this point to Route 27. 
  • Take Route 27 south through Obama and Wakasa.  Once you reach Wakasa Bay start paying attention for signs to “Matsuno-dera temple”.
  • At Route 564 take a right and drive until you reach Matsuno Temple.
  • There is a small parking lot there which you can park at for 400yen.
  • Walk up the stairs to the temple, behind the temple to the right hand side is the start of the hike.

Approximate driving time: 2.5-3 hours

Cost: For my k-car it took a full tank of gas (3,000 yen) plus a (950 yen) toll both ways on the Hokuriku highway (Sabae-Tsuruga).

I hope this information helps hikers in Fukui in the future! Enjoy!

 

Categories: Life in Japan | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Rainbow of Jam

It’s often said that the sense of smell is the strongest of the 5 senses.  This probably has something to do with the fact that odor information is stored in the long-term memory section of our brain and has an incredibly strong connection to emotional memory.

Today was a walk down memory lane for my nose and I.  Over the past year I’ve been helping my friend Tomomi to accomplish her dream of publishing a jam recipe book.  For me this has been a spectacular way to spend my free weekends, I’ve loved simply puttering away in a cooking studio while hanging out with friends.  My time spent with Tomomi has always felt like a small bit of serenity squeezed into my often far-too-busy weeks. Every time we’ve made jam together Tomomi has been putting aside a small jar for the very end.  This is the result of the past year:

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WOW! Is that not the prettiest food pyramid you’ve ever seen or what?! It’s like a big bright rainbow of flavours!

My personal favourites were: white peach, chai-spiced fig, tangy rhubarb, rose petal, yuzu (Japanese citrus), sweet lemon, golden ume and pineapple & pink pepper jam (that cute little one at the top with the pink polka-dots)!

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With every jar that I helped Tomomi to open for our tea & jam celebration party, a flood of sweet memories overwhelmed me as I inhaled their sweet fragrances.   I was feeling more than a little nostalgic and sad that our project was coming to a close.  Thank heavens a lot of our friends were there to distract me! Not to mention all the super yummy food that everyone brought for the party! One friend of Tomomi’s made 6 chiffon cakes in various flavours! WOW!

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I contributed some very yummy maple syrup scones to the party. How Canadian am I, eh! My friend Maki and I made them that morning in the cooking studio so they were piping hot and fresh when everyone arrived.  Don’t they look fantastic!

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And no jam party would be complete without Tomomi’s infamously delicious sourdough bread!

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Someone else brought homemade madeleines, never found out who, but whoever it was, I love you (and them)!

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Sundried tomato and olive focaccia bread

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Orange loaf that was a perfect match for all our citrus jams and marmalades

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Lunch was a yummy pasta accompanied by a savoury mustard-flavour grilled piece of chiffon cake. My mind was blown, whoever knew savoury cakes existed!

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Gooey rare cheesecake with a dollop of lemon jam and a wildberry.

After a quick photo shoot of all the delicious foods and lunch it was time for the main event: jam tasting time! Tomomi opened up a jar of every type of jam we had made this past year and everyone was free to sample away! Such a cute idea!IMG_9424

Choosing was just too difficult so I decided to try a little of every type! Many people said it looked like I was off to paint a picture because my plate resembled a painter’s palette. What can I say, I didn’t want to miss a bite!

IMG_9435Finger’s crossed that the meeting with the publisher went well! I’ll be sure to post more information about where to buy the book soon!

Categories: Life in Japan | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

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