Monthly Archives: May 2014

Kyoto & Osaka Adventures – Matt’s Trip To Japan

Just wait until I tell you about my weekend! It was positively, absolutely incredible!

My brother Matt and his friend Tim came to Japan for a holiday. I couldn’t unfortunately take a lot of time off from work as it’s a really busy season for Japanese schools, but I was able to pop down to Osaka and Kyoto this weekend to play local tour guide. I was so excited to see my little brother I could hardly sleep the days leading up to our adventure!

Saturday we toured around Kyoto and I brought the boys to some of my favourite places and temples. I knew it would be my last trip to Kyoto, so it was really nice to see my favourite temples one last time and share them with my brother.

First stop was Kinkakuji Temple. The boys were delighted to get to ring the enormous bell inside the temple grounds.
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Then we meandered over, through the throngs of school kiddies out on their annual school trip, to the actual pavilion. I had never seen Kinkakuji look so beautiful! The temple was magnificent to behold with a robins egg blue sky in the background and the brilliant sunshine making it really sparkle. Also, the iris flowers around the temple pond were in full bloom much to my delight! (For more info in Kinkakuji click here)

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We arrived in downtown Kyoto, it was a scorcher of a hot day so we grabbed some matcha ice cream and took a shameless selfie. IMG_4472Our tongues turned thoroughly green and our stomachs happy, we skipped down the street to relax and putter around my favourite zen temple Kennin-ji. Matt and Tim both said that it was their favourite temple in Japan so far. Or perhaps I was simply so enthusiastic about being there, and singing it’s numerous praises, they dared not break my bubble of happiness…

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My favourite part of that whole day was walking around Kennin-ji and finally sitting down for a ‘quiet’ moment to contemplate the beautiful rock garden! Matt and Tim made friends with some of the cute girls wearing kimono and these photos were the highlight of their day.IMG_4631 IMG_4698

Truly tuckered out I retreated to my favourite cafe Malebranche in Kyoto Station to relax a little while the boys went shopping for Japanese goodies.  This was a  bittersweet and nostalgic moment, Malebranche’s cafe is one of my favourite cafes in the world and it would be my last time ever sitting there in it’s tranquility and comfort.IMG_4500

It’s a good thing I rested up because that night we went out on the town! Osaka’s big city lights lured the boys out of the hostel for a few beers and good times. I had to call it quits at 2 am little party pooper that I am eventhough the boys were ready to stay out till the sun came up; what can I say, these old bones of mine just couldn’t keep up! IMG_4503

 

We woke up tired but excited Sunday morning. Today was the day we were off to see some owls! A new and big trend in Japan is Owl Cafes which is basically a place where you go to hang out with live owls! Matt and I are die-hard Harry Potter fans, so this interaction with live owls was a dream come true.

Osaka today, Hogwarts tomorrow! Oh how I wish! Owl Cafe Osaka IMG_4753 IMG_4746We had a hoot at the Owl Cafe in Osaka (*wink wink*) and we all agreed it was a really memorable experience.

It’s pretty hard to beat that experience but I was determined to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine with the boys. They were so templed-out by this point (a common affliction in Kyoto) that I had to promise them this was the grand finale and insist that they couldn’t leave Japan without seeing this magical place.

IMG_4809 IMG_4834 IMG_4843I normally hate to say, “I told you so!” but this was one of those times I couldn’t resist. The boys even admitted afterwards that they definitely would have regretted not going! I’m a pretty good tour guide, if I do say so myself. (For more info on the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto click here)

All too soon we had to say our goodbyes. I to go back to work in Fukui, and the boys to go on to have more crazy Japan adventures. Luckily it wouldn’t be long until we saw each other again. On Friday they will be coming to Fukui and I can’t wait to show them around my stomping grounds!

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A Bittersweet Moment In Time

Well…that’s it…I did it folks.  I bought my one-way ticket back to Canada just a few minutes ago. The reality is still sinking in and everything about this monumental moment seems so surreal. I can only begin to scratch the surface of describing how difficult it is to wrap my brain around the fact that my time in Japan is officially coming to an end.

It seems so silly now, how I waited so anxiously for my flight request to receive approval from my higher-ups, counting the hours down until I could purchase the ticket for real.  But now…now that it’s done it’s time for a moment of reflection. As excited as I am to return home to see my wonderful friends, family and country, I will also be very sad that this wonderful adventure is coming to an end. It’s both thrilling and terrifying!

Here’s a little sneak peak into my life at this moment. What you see before you is my impromptu mini-celebration at work right now.  In an attempt to cheer myself up, on my way back to work from the bank where I made the transfer, I stopped at my favourite little bakery and bought myself a tiny mont blanc cake (my favourite!) and brewed a cup of piping hot & strong earl grey tea (such a classic!).

Something sweet and something bitter.  A perfect fit for my bittersweet little celebration. photo-3Wish me luck! I may not know what the future has in store for me when I go home, but I’ll figure everything out in due time. Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 1.50.34 PM

 

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Adventure Is Out There!

Friday was a pretty big day for those of us in Fukui who are leaving Japan this summer. It was “The Big Leavers Conference” that explained in great detail everything we needed to do before leaving the JET Program to return home. I thought I was pretty on the ball, after all I’m an organization madwoman superwoman by nature…boy was I wrong!

After a 4-hour long information overload at this conference, where I actually developed a headache because my brain felt so overwhelmed, my list of things to do is almost a page long and my stress level made cracking open a whole bottle of wine (with my friends!) absolutely necessary. I’m slowly coming to terms with this stress now, but it’s easy to understand why ALTs can just feel so spent, have their last months go by in a blur and constantly feel they just want to be home already.

Saturday was completely unexpected but exactly what the doctor ordered. Heather mentioned there was a great craft festival in Fukui and I was so desperately in need of something to distract me from my stress that I practically begged her to take me with her.  She laughed, because she understood exactly what I meant as she is a fellow “leaver” herself, and we agreed to meet up and drive out there together.

The craft market festival was held at the Kanazu Forest of Creation (金津創作の森 in Japanese) which was a location I had only been to once but always meant to visit again one day.   Kanazu Forest of Creation I love this pond with it’s Howl’s-Moving-Castle-esque structure. The wide open field below the museum was a perfect place for the visiting artists to set up tents with plenty of space and lots green grass for the kiddies to run around. Kanazu Forest of Creation festival Kanazu Craft Festival 2 The weather was glorious and Heather and I spent a good hour happily pursuing the handmade goods. Oh silly me, despite the fact I know I’m leaving in only 2 months and already have faaaar too many things to easily transport home, I fell in love with a lovely set of green pottery mugs. I tried in vain to resist their siren call, but they won me over and I emerged from the market delighted with my new treasure. They’ll make their debut photo a little later in the post, don’t you worry!

After that we deliberated entering the modern art museum itself. We were a little tired and I had just been to the fabulous 21st Century Museum of Modern Art in Kanazawa the weekend before. We peeked our noses in and decided “What the hell, why not!” so we handed over the 500yen entrance fee and went to snoop around. We were so glad we did! We both loved the exhibit by Risa Fukui who specializes in works of art created from paper using x-acto knives. I was blown away with the scope of her talent. You can check out more of her work here.Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 9.59.01 AM Lisa Fukui I loved the exhibit of suspended faces. The white side was creepy but when you walked to the back of the room and turned around, surprise it was a rainbow! I couldn’t believe the various art she could create with only paper! At the very end of the exhibit Heather and I let our inner child out as we played with a projector and various images we could choose from to create our own masterpiece. After seeing the whole exhibit I can say with confidence that my favourite piece was this one, isn’t it neat?Lisa FukuiAfter a bite to eat, Heather and I hopped back into the car prepared to drive off home. Just as we were about to hit the highway Heather mentioned offhand how much she had been wanting to see a sunset at Tojinbo (Tojinbo is a famous set of cliffs in northern Fukui). We figured since we were already up in that neck of the woods (which was pretty far from where we both live) we might as well journey out to the coast and watch the sunset together! Make a real day of it if you will!Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 11.02.52 AM

We went walking, adventuring, scampering, and finally sat down for a little relaxing in the sunshine. It was fun to frolic and live in the moment, forgetting our all our worries and our stress. I was very bummed to not have my camera. Luckily Heather sent me a few of hers so I could write this post. Doesn’t her camera take the best panorama shots? I definitely have a little camera-envy. DSC02973DSC02997Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 3.47.46 PMThe sunset was spectacular and Heather even introduced me to a nice walking path that I’m certainly going to show my brother when he comes to Fukui. Our girls date ended in a spectacular discovery of a new coffee shop Presso. I haven’t had a coffee this good since I stepped foot back in Japan. かわいいですね!Presso Coffee Awara Fukui I’ll be back! That’s for sure! They also sold very yummy bagels. Heather and I each picked up one for Sunday’s breakfast.  We arrived back in Fukui very late and I waited up to Skype with my mom and dad because my day was so amazing I simply had to tell someone about it!

With all the stress that comes with moving home it’s easy to overlook that I’m still in Japan, and that living here is awesome! I still can spontaneously just hop in my car, whenever I want, and drive out to have an incredible adventure! I just have to not be so worried about the future I forget to love the present moment. This day was proof that life is what we make of it, and I choose to be happy. People love to quote that in your life at any given moment you have the power to say, “This is not how the story is going to end.” As these next 2 months fly by and I close this chapter in my life I’m determined that it shall not end in stress but with a smile. photo2I started my new resolution off with a great start the next morning. You could say I woke up on the right side of the bed! I made the best cup of coffee that I think I have ever whipped up (complete with a pumpkin spice heart, please note!), poured it onto one of my new mugs from the craft festival, toasted up my very special cheese bagel and basked in the sunshine streaming through my kitchen. Turn your face to the sun

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Golden Week Adventures

Golden Week is one of the biggest and craziest holidays in Japan as it’s the longest vacation period of the year for many Japanese jobs. The result is chaos and meyhem nationwide across Japan. It seems everyone in Japan is traveling at the same time, which they pretty much are! Even tiny little rural prefectures like my beloved Fukui aren’t safe!  People are everywhere, the lineups go out the doors, restaurants flat out turn you down if you don’t have a reservation, and everything is expensive. 

I planned to do what I do best: hermit. I had such grand Golden Week plans of doing nothing more than lounging around in bed, baking and cleaning my apartment before my brother’s big visit. Very quiet and boring I know. But that’s exactly why Golden Week is awesome; it’s the one time of the year in Japan where I have a lot of time off work and zero desire to do anything outside of my apartment other than merely enjoy the beautiful weather. It’s nice to have an excuse to do nothing!

Fate had other things in store for me, and I never ever saw it coming.

DAY 1  – SOCIAL BUTTERFLY BY DAY, WILD THING BY NIGHT 

Golden Week kicked off for me with a trip to the Echizen Washi Festival. Fukui’s famous for it’s handmade paper and this craft diva couldn’t wait for the market area full of exquisite paper at dirt cheap prices. Sooooomebody was a happy little shopper by the end! Best part, my 800yen ($8) shopping spree definitely didn’t break the bank! Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 1.34.59 PMAfter that I went and had a lovely barbecue down by the river with my friends because Lizzy’s dad was in town and we all wanted to say hello. It was a little chilly, but it’s amazing what good friends and company do to warm you up! Time flew by and next thing we knew it was almost 11pm and we were yawning with almost every sentence. We said our goodbyes and I drove off to my bed…or so I thought.

It turns out there’s this tiny little club called Salsa Lab where the Fukui locals go to salsa! I had never been before, but had heard it was a lot of fun. A group of people from the barbecue were going and convinced me it was the perfect time to try it out. I will be perfectly honest, I was a horrific dancer!  My friends should consider themselves very lucky to still have all their toes, but despite having no idea what I was doing it was a blast! Crazy cats that we are, things got a little tipsy so after that and we decided to head to Fukui’s most popular club Church until about 4am. (Isn’t that just the most ironic name ever for a club? I still can’t get over the irony.) I still am in shock at my inner wild child drinking that night and definitely paid the price the following morning.

DAY 2 – TURKEY DINNER EXTRAVAGANZA

Fate once again had other plans, this time in the form of a surprise visit from a faraway friend. My friend Tomomi had asked me to teach her how to cook a turkey, and although I thought it was a little strange to have a turkey dinner in May I figured it was a weekend I would have lots of time on my hands so why not?  Plus this is turkey we’re talking about, no one says no to turkey!

I was so nervous walking out the door that morning, the destiny of two turkeys (and therefore the entire turkey dinner!) was resting on my rather inexperienced shoulders. When the window of Tomomi’s car rolled down, I was running through my mental checklist for the day frantically making sure I had everything I’d need so it took me a few seconds to process what I was seeing. There was already someone in the passenger seat, my seat! Wait a second..I knew that person…but how? Sweet holy macaroni! REBECCA!?!hey bex!

My friend Bex lives in Shizuoka, about a 6-hour train ride away from Fukui, but had decided to come to Fukui for Golden Week and surprise me. Mission accomplished, I was stunned beyond belief! That second turkey suddenly made a lot more sense because damn can that little lady eat! 
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I’d only cooked one baby turkey before this weekend and I was no expert, yet everyone looked to me for directions so I put on a tough face. The only time my “big-girl face” faltered was at the thought of shoving my hand inside that turkey to get the gizzards, BLEH! I’m still squeamish about stuff like that, but can you really blame me? I redeemed myself however, when I made everyone laugh with my hilarious turkey dance and yoga demonstration.

Thank heavens Zach showed up after we put them in the oven. He’s a total pro at cooking and unlike me never succumbs to pressure. While the turkeys were roasting away we busy bees made mashed potatoes, bacon-zucchini-mushroom risotto, pumpkin cheesecake and strawberry rhubarb pie.  Once all the goodies were finished and the turkeys golden brown and cooked to near perfection we sat down to our feast. It was a night full of laughter, good food and ever greater company. Zach’s pumpkin cheesecake was simply divine and don’t worry I’ll be begging for his secret recipe very soon!
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We left Tomomi’s stuffed as turkeys and I fell into a turkey-coma not long after getting home.

 

DAY 3 – SPONTANEOUS TRIP TO KANAZAWA

Thank heavens I hadn’t made any plans for Golden Week. Bex’s visit came as a huge shock, but luckily I was free the next day to go with her up to Kanazawa. So much for cleaning my apartment! We hopped on the train at far too early an hour for my taste and were soon strolling down the higashichaya district. We decided to try our hand at gold leaf application as it’s one of Kanazawa’s local craft specialties. I decorated a pair of chopsticks and Bex chose a small plate. The end result was pretty neat if I do say so myself! I’ll definitely be taking my brother here it was so much fun!

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 3.00.28 PMThe heavy rain eventually got to us, and we were feeling a little sorry for ourselves, so we decided to hit up the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s my favourite place it Kanazawa but I had been hoping to avoid it if possible as I knew the Golden Week crowds would be nuts. It was insanely busy but Bex and her crazy antics kept me in a good mood. One of my favourite photos of the whole day was our “rebel selfie” in the no-camera zone. 
modern art museum2selfie We had a blast checking out the new exhibits along with a few of our favourite old exhibits too. My favourite new exhibit was this metal structure you waked inside and felt like you were inside a geode or a silver kaleidoscope. The real winner of this modern art museum though, unequivocally is the Leandro’s Pool exhibit.21st century museum of contemporary artkanazawa modern art museum leandro's pool

It’s always so amazing to be inside this exhibit looking up at the sky through the water, feeling like you’re inside a giant swimming pool! I’ve seen it at least 5 times now and I still think it’s the bees knees.

We hurried back to Fukui in time to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode with my GOT group. My apartment complex friends and I are all obsessed with the series, and always rally together Monday evening so Bex had to take part. It’s a good thing she’s an even bigger fan than us.

DAY 4 – SEEKING OUT SUNSHINE

I dropped Bex off the next morning and drove up to Sabae for the Azalea Festival at Nishiyama Park. I had heard a lot of hype about this festival, but had always avoided it as Sabae is insanely busy to drive to during this time and parking is a legendary nightmare. Golden Week strikes again.

As it was my last year though I was determined to see it. After seeing the azalea flowers in all their glory I can testify that it really is worthy of all the hype. The whole park was a sea of purple, pink and white flowers. I lathered up on sunscreen and wandered around happily.IMG_3792 Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 10.25.11 AM IMG_3806 IMG_3826photo 2-2After the Azalea Festival I drove out to the coast for a few hours on the beach. I’m trying to get a head start on a tan seeing as summer’s coming whether I want it to or not. I was the only person there and it was wonderful listening to nothing other than the sound of waves and with only my book for company. Peace and relaxation!photo 1-3A little peckish I decided to brave Cafe Mare. It was really busy, but because the restaurant was prepared for the hoards of people flocking to their beautiful cafe, and because I missed the lunch time rush by showing up around 3:30 I didn’t have to wait too long! It was a lovely end to an unexpectedly busy holiday weekend.Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 4.27.11 PM

Categories: Life in Japan, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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