Life in Japan

Painful Goodbyes & New Beginnings

Lao Tzu really hit the nail on the head when he said “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” It’s hard to believe, in so many ways, that my time in Fukui is over. I’m sitting back in Canada as I write this blog post and I can’t help but feel that my last two weeks in Japan went by in a blur.

Saying goodbye to the life I made for myself in Japan was inevitable. It was something I had known for a long time, ever since I stepped off that plane 3 years ago at the Tokyo Orientation. It was never my intention to live in Japan forever. Originally I had only meant to stay for one year, yet it flew by in the blink of an eye! So I chose to renew for another year, confident it would be my last… and when that year finished I still had so many things left that I wanted to do…so I promised myself one more year and that would be it!

Well, even though I was mentally prepared to leave this year, and thought I knew what the drill would be, somehow my poor little heart missed the memo. My final month was simultaneously exciting and soul-crushing. I was excited to return home to Canada and see my friends and family. Yet, I was also heartbroken at the thought of saying goodbye to so many close friends, never knowing when (or if!) I would see them again.

There were so many goodbye parties for the leavers of Fukui my liver is still recovering! We were well and truly spoiled!

First was the Tannan Sayonara Party where a smaller community of Fukui rented out 2 log cabins in the wilderness for some quality barbecuing, drinking, board-game-playing, and general mayhem. I splurged a little and bought some champagne which I shared with my bestie Lizzy. The champagne later contributed to terrible blurry selfie demands. tannan sayonara partyScreen Shot 2014-08-02 at 4.18.34 PM

The following weekend was the Fukui-wide Sayonara Party, which is always one of the biggest parties of the entire year. It was really nice getting dressed to the nines for a change! I went out for dinner beforehand with Cian, Lizzy, Stuart and Jill at my favourite restaurant in Fukui, Pizzaria Felice for some to-die-for gorgonzola pizza. After that it was time to drink like fish and dance the night away at Bull’s Bar. I was sure to take time to snap a photo or two with best friends whenever I could snag them away from the bar!IMG_4767

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 4.43.18 PMScreen Shot 2014-08-02 at 4.48.10 PMYes, that is me buried at the bottom of the dog pile. What originally began as a selfie with my friends Shaun and Laura turned into chaos when everyone suddenly wanted into the picture. One by one they piled on top of me and sang, “Caaaaaan you feeeeeel the loooove tonight?“, “Yes,” I wheezed in response, definitely struggling to breathe, “You’ve taken my breath away. LITERALLY!

One of the highlights of this Sayonara Party weekend was that two of my closest Fukui ALT friends who had left one year before returned to Fukui to surprise us all! I was delighted to see Becca and Dan again after so long, and I did my best to see them as much as possible that weekend, whether it was to go karaoke-ing until 5 am in the morning or simply grab a few drinks at Flat Kitchen like old times.Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 4.52.34 PM

My last week in Fukui involved quite a few hours of frantic packing. You never are as prepared as you think you are, are you? Check out my room before and after…my mother would have been appalled at how fast my clean sanctuary was destroyed. Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 5.07.11 PM

With my both my birthday and my departure date fast approaching I invited people to join me for one last day on the beach. I always prefer doing parties outside, as it’s far less confining than an apartment or restaurant. Mingling 100% guaranteed. DSC04495 photo 3-5 photo 2-5

One of the highlights of my day at the beach was my surprise “birthday cake” which was actually a hotdog with a stick of kindling on fire. Everyone sang happy birthday while I laughed so hard I almost cried. Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 6.22.08 PM

And as if I hadn’t already been spoiled enough for my birthday, my friend Tomomi invited me over for a “Not-sayonara-but-rather-see-you-later & Birthday Party” which was so much fun! The word ‘dinner’ doesn’t even come close to describing this meal, it was more of a feast!  IMG_4247 Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 10.16.49 AM

Lizzy found the most amazing birthday present on Etsy, a tiny wooden image of Canada with a tiny heart carved in-between the two cities I call home in Canada (Calgary & Vancouver). Home is where the heart is, and she hopes that I’ll never forget my roots wherever my adventures take me in the future. It was one of the most wonderful and thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.

My final night in Fukui was spent with Lizzy drinking wine in my apartment, talking about life, laughing so hard we cried, and reflecting on our three fabulous years together. It’s amazing how much we did! It was the best way to spend my last night in Fukui, with a best friend, mind full of memories, and a heart full of love and gratitude for how lucky I was in life.

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The next morning my closest friends Tomomi, Lizzy, Cian, Shaun, Ryan, Ken, Hailey & Dean came to the Fukui train station to say goodbye. I insisted that 8:30am was far too early and that it really wasn’t necessary, but they squashed my protests and promised they wanted to be there and would be there come hell or high water. I was so touched because I had never expected it, and the outpouring of love was almost more than my poor piece-of-jello heart could bear.

It was a very emotional goodbye, and hard as I tried not to cry, I ended up doing so. I caved after just one hug, so I was thankful Tomomi was thoughtful enough to have given me a packet of tissues in the car “just in case”. I hugged them all, tried to smile through my tears and waved goodbye when at long last I had no choice but to go through the gate to catch my train.  Knowing I would be feeling blue they took one big, smiley picture to cheer me up after I was gone and messaged it to me just as I sat down in my seat on the train.sayonara 10As I looked out the window of the train, watching sadly as the rice fields of Fukui flew by, I reflected on how truly lucky I was to have made such wonderful friends during my time in Japan.  As amazing as Japan was, it was the people I met and the memories I made with them that meant the most in the end. They were pivotal to my experience abroad, and it was because of their friendship that I enjoyed my life in Fukui as much as I did. As my train sped towards Tokyo I had nothing but a heart full of love for the fabulous people whom I feel truly blessed to have met and called my friends. In the ever-so-eloquent words of Phil Collins:

You’ll be in my heart, yes you’ll be in my heart. From this day on, now and forever more. You’ll be in my heart, no matter what they say. You’ll be here in my heart always.”

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Gypsy Soul and a Pioneer Heart

Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures]I have never wanted a life that is quiet and safe. I and my little pioneer heart seem quite fond of starting over in new places, time and time again (much to the dismay of my friends and family). And the thrill of adventures lying out there in the world, just waiting to be had, calls to my soul. I’m nowhere near ready to settle down because I’m too curious about the world and, as far as I’m concerned, the adventures of my life have only just started!

I think it’s important to remind myself, as the sorrowful reality that my time in Japan is coming to a close begins to truly seep in, that this isn’t the end of my adventures. Rather, it is the end of just one adventure, and that there are many more waiting for me in the future! As the ever-so-cliché saying goes: it’s not the end of the book, merely the end of a chaper.

My book has many chapters already written:

  • A wonderful childhood full of love, laughter, and happiness growing up in Calgary, Canada.
  • Discovering who I was and finding my independence away at univeristy in Vancouver, Canada.
  • Leaving behind everything I had ever know for a 6-month study abroad in New Zealand.
  • Incredible adventures in Japan while working abroad teaching Ennglish that pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to challenge my conceptions of the world.

The next chapter of my life hasn’t been written yet, but I’m trying to be positive and assure myself that it will be equally as exciting as this one!

I don’t regret any of my decisions and I’m proud to be the kind of woman who isn’t afraid to pursue her dreams. To be fearless pursuing one’s dreams is a pretty good goal in life, don’t you agree? Fate Loves The FearlessI taught my final class here in Japan on Friday. I nearly cried, if truth be told. A tiny piece of my self-indentity was lost and no one would know that, or mourn for it, other than me. I am a teacher no more! This week I merely have tests and grading to do. The week after that I pack up and move out!

It’s all happening so fast, and my list of things to do keeps my  head permanently spinning, so time has lost all sense and meaning. Chances are I’m going to arrive home in Canada and feel more than a little lost and wonder where my final 15 days in Japan dissappeared to. At times it’s easy to feel that everything special is ending. So, it’s handy keeping a blog at times like these; it really helps ground me emotionally and allows me to put everything back into perspective.for today I'll just breathe

I realize I’m so lucky to be surrounded by people who love me and will be sad to see me leave. It is living proof that my efforts here in Japan had impact on the world I lived in. So, even though it’s sad to hear so many people say “I’ll miss you!” and my throat tightens painfully every time I say goodbye, I try to keep in mind that it would be worse to not hear that outpouring of kind words.  Luckily for me, there is always Skype and I’ll be able to keep in touch with everyone as we head back to our respective places around the world!

For today my goal is just to breathe, remind myself that everything is going to be ok, and try to be optimistic about the future. Can you hear the siren call of London? I can…

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Whirlwind Of A Day In Kanazawa – Matt’s Trip To Japan

If I did decide to settle permanently in Japan, there is only one city that I could happily live in forever: Kanazawa. Kanazawa City is about 2 hours away from Fukui, and it’s been my little version of paradise these past three years. It’s somewhere I could escape for some quality alone time, and enjoy both modern and traditional Japanese culture.  In my opinion it’s a hidden tourist gem of Japan.

I was over the moon to get to bring my brother here to explore for a day. I took a day off work (so worth it!) and we once again hopped into my tiny car, nicknamed The Snickerdoodle, and headed out on Road Trip #2! I had downloaded the soundtrack from the movie ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ and we really enjoyed cruising down the highway listening to that.

The first thing we did when we got to Kanazawa was meander through the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.

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It’s my all-time favourite museum in the world, and if you ever visit Kanazawa you MUST go there! I never really “got” modern art, and I’m nearly certain I rolled my eyes the first time someone suggested we go. But trust me, this museum really changed my opinion of what modern art can be. It’s very interactive and will make you feel like a little kid at times. It’s full of permanent exhibits (like the awesome Leonardo’s Pool) and also has numerous rooms with rotating shows to spice things up, so every time I’ve gone it’s been different.

This new exhibit was cool! Peek-a-boo Matt!Kanazawa 21st museum2Kanazawa 21st museum

I also really loved this metal capsule you could climb inside, and it felt like you were the the heart of a silver geode! The light shone in through the cones and reflected off everything! Pretty neat, eh?!Kanazawa 21st museum3 Kanazawa 21st museum4

This new elevator exhibit was pretty trippy too!

Kanazawa Modern artMatt, of course, loved my favourite exhibit “Leandro’s Pool” which is a permanent exhibit at the museum and by far THE coolest modern art I’ve ever seen. First you look down on the pool from outside…Leandro's pool exhibit

Then you go down a flight of stairs, and enter the pool from below. Matt’s just a smidgeon taller than the national height average in Japan…poor guy!

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Lucky there’s lots of room inside! Enough he could jump around for joy! Leandro's Pool2 Leandro's Pool3

And when you look up you can see the other museum explorers through the water and glass ceiling. Such an amazing concept in my opinion, a full kudos to Leandro Erlich (the artist) for this idea!leandro's poolAfter the museum we went to the second best thing to do in Kanazawa: Kenrokuen Garden!

Kenrokuen Garden is the 3rd most beautiful garden in Japan and definitely worth walking through. Matt wasn’t the keenest on this but I insisted because I love it so much and the weather was beautiful. Lucky us, the iris flowers were in full bloom and quite spectacular to behold! Ummm, gorgeous much!?!?! kenrokuen garden kenrokeun Kenrokuen Garden Iris 3Kenrokuen is beautiful regardless which season you go. It’s even beautiful in winter! So add it to your list of things to do if you ever visit there.

We also nipped through the Higashi Cha-ya District, which is an old preserved area Kanazawa’s past.  It used to be a street of tea houses and shops, and when you walk there, it’s like you’ve been transported back in time. I love strolling through this scenic neighbourhood with its cute shops and cafes, but unfortunately most shops were closed the day we went.  Having been open for the weekend, I guess they take Mondays and Tuesdays off. Matt still enjoyed our stroll though. Higashichaya Tea District KanazawaAfter that we did a little shopping at the Kanazawa train station and spent our time choosing a nice cake for dessert.  We were headed back to Fukui for dinner at my friend Tomomi’s house and didn’t want to show up empty handed. Tomomi had invited Matt to dinner so she could teach him how to make Sauce Katsudon, another very famous Fukui food. Sauce Katsudon is a thin breaded pork cutlet which is then fried, covered in delicious sauce and plopped on top of a bowl of Fukui rice. Did you know Fukui’s rice is supposedly the best rice in Japan?

After dinner Tomomi’s very kind father-in-law taught Matt a little Japanese calligraphy. It was my first time to try calligraphy too, so I had a blast with him. I learned how to write the kanji 茶, read “cha” which means “tea” (my favourite thing in the world), and Matt learned how to write 山, read “yama” which means “mountain” (his favourite thing in the world).

It was a wonderful whirlwind of a day! Matt’s enormous smile as we drove home from Tomomi’s house made me feel like singing “Happy” by Pharrel Williams. (Because I’m happy! Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof. Because I’m happy! Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. Because I’m happy! Clap along if you know what happiness is to you…)

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Asuwayama Deck Cafe

Asuwayama Deck opened only 4 months ago, and let me let you in on a not-so-secret secret: it has been THE talk of the town. This tiny cafe at the top of Asuwa Mountain in Fukui City has, (I’m pretty certain, judging by the wildfire hype), captured the hearts of every women who has passed through its front doors. IMG_4019 IMG_4020 IMG_4023IMG_4026

About 2 weeks ago, curious as I cat I prowled up Asuwayama for the first time in search of this cafe, just to see what all the buzz was about. I pushed open the door and immediately cursed myself for not bringing my camera. So…here I am, back again two weeks later, happily typing this blog post as I sip on a delicious cup of coffee and enjoy the blissful atmosphere and beautiful view.  It’s a tough life, the life I lead, no? TGIF! IMG_4051

Cute cafes are all the rage in big Japanese cities like Tokyo these days. Japanese women have embraced the cafe culture with wide open arms, and so it’s no surprise that these big cities have opened a plethora cafes with the female clientele very obviously in mind. The secret to success of the best ones? Atmosphere. 

Each cafe strives to create a memorable & comfortable atmosphere that will keep the women chatting happily for hours and want to come back again and again. Also, the interior decorating is impeccable. Although each one strives to be different and unique, they all have one thing in common: they always make my jaw drop. Each one I walk into I instantly become convinced that ‘this’ is how I want my house to look in the future. I’m an incredibly fickle creature indeed, but each one is just so lovely!  Fukui’s new gem Asuwayama Deck is no exception and I love their decorating! 

Asuwayama Deck is what the women of rural Fukui have been waiting and praying for. It takes a long time for modern Japanese culture to infiltrate Fukui; life is slower and quieter here. The younger generation often can’t wait to go to the big cities seeking vibrant lifestyles and glamorous cafes. So, now that a taste of Tokyo has finally opened in our city, and the ladies of Fukui are thrilled! The cafe is full to the brim with little old ladies out for a lunch date, young women looking dressed to kill chatting happily away with their girlfriends over a coffee, and plenty of young couples enjoying a romantic date. 

This cafe’s best feature are the numerous big windows. They let in lots of natural light, and allow the guests to enjoy looking out at the beautiful nature of Asuwayama.  Lush greenery can be seen through the windows on every side of the cafe.  

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The coffee is really good, however the food unfortunately merely mediocre. The menu definitely has room for a little improvement, but I’ll cut them some slack, seeing as they just opened very recently. What is good about the menu is that everything is fairly reasonably priced. 

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I ordered a hazelnut latte, the 4-cheese pasta with proscuitto ham, and the satsuma imo fried potatoes. I would recommend the sweet potato fries, which weren’t really french fries but rather chunks of sweet potato baked to perfect flakiness and served with a honey butter dipping sauce. Very delicious indeed, and I would definitely order them again! 

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Late June is hydrangea season in Fukui, and the road up Asuwayama was full of blooming hydrangea bushes. If you have time and it’s a nice day, try to the explore the beautiful Asuwayama area.  There is a lovely view of Fukui City too! IMG_4014Asuwayama Deck Cafe Hydrangeas

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Asuwayama Deck Cafe Information:

  • Website: click here
  • Open: 10:00 am – 10:00pm
  • Telephone: 0776-36-3733
  • Location: drive or walk to the very top of Asuwayama Mountain, go through the stone torii gate and up the stairs.  (Japanese address – 〒918ー8006 福井県福井市足羽上町111)
  • Reservation recommended for larger groups, or peak hours.
  • Parking available.

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If you’re looking for a place with outdoor patio seating, Asuyama Deck Cafe is one of the only cafes in Fukui offering outdoor dining. The only problem is every time I try to wriggle into those comfortable lounge chairs outside with such tempting scenic views and read a book, someone inevitably starts smoking before I’ve even finished a page, and I am forced to retreat inside.  Fingers crossed one day Japan catches on to the fact secondhand smoke being a major turn off, especially when dining!

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Baking Marathon With Tomomi

Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with my generation. We are terrifyingly obsessed with our technology (yes I am one of those people who checks my Facebook multiple times a day, I confess! Guilty as charged!), and yet it’s like the wild wild west with zero etiquette or common curtesy!

If there is one major pet-peeve I have, it’s when a friend expresses interest in doing something, so we agree on a day, I schedule it into my calendar, and then when I text them just a few days later to confirm the specifics (like oooh time, or location)…..radio silence.  If I text someone in the morning the day we are supposed to meet, and just never hear back from them period, whether it’s to confirm, to cancel, or the next day to apologize, I feel a bit like Godzilla ready to rampage Fukui and stomp on things.

The only thing worse…when I text an entire group of people, and not a single one has the common decency to reply. RAWWWWWR!

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Maybe Calvin was onto something here…excellent anger therapy!

Luckily for me I have my friend Tomomi.  Tomomi understands how frustrating dealing with other ALTs can be and has always known how to cheer me up when I’m having trouble coping with their flakiness. One of Tomomi’s finest qualities, and one of the reasons we are both such good friends, is that we understand the importance of commitments. I can always rely on her, and that’s something invaluable in a friend in my opinion. I don’t know what I’d do without her!

So Sunday we decided to have a baking marathon and challenge ourselves by making some difficult recipes! We’re both very skilled cooks and bakers, so every now and then it’s fun to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, and it’s less stressful trying complicated recipes when you have a partner with baking skills you can trust.

Our last month together is precious, and I want to see her as much as possible before I leave.  We made not only delicious desserts yesterday but special memories that I’ll have forever. Talk about a great way to spend a day!

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 9.33.14 AMOur first challenge was a pie. I was determined to learn how to replicate Tomomi’s incredibly fluffy and flaky pie crust.  One of the best things about this recipe, is that just like my Grandmother’s recipe, it contains no shortening; just good ol’ natural butter.

Tomomi’s pie crust is pretty darn simple as far as ingredients go, just flour, butter, and ice water. The real trick though is in the technique of mixing them together. The secret to making flaky pastry is cold butter and never-ever over-kneading the dough. Always work with the pastry when it’s cool and firm to the touch. That means often having to pop it back into the fridge for a bit, which is a pain, but so very much worth the extra time.

Next we made the filling, which was 2 bags of frozen mixed berries (because fresh berries in Japan cost a small fortune), a pinch of brown sugar, a spoonful of honey, and sprinkling of corn starch. Easy-peasy! Because the berries would release a lot of juice we opted for a lattice-style pie top and got to town making it look gorgeous! What do you think? Pretty snazzy looking eh?IMG_3949 IMG_3958

We were both very pleased with the end result! I hate to torment you any more, but let me just say that is was so good my tastebuds felt like fireworks!

Our next dessert challenge was inspired by my recent wanderlust obsession with the Amalfi Coast. I went to Cinque Terre and Sorrento 4 years ago and adored it. I want very desperately to go back to that magical place, full of colourful houses, kind people and the smell of lemons and the sea lingering in the air….
amalfi coast2Tomomi has been attempting to master the art of chiffon cake making lately, so we decided to try making a lemon chiffon cake. One of the best things to eat in the Amalfi Coast area is lemon desserts, they’ll blow you away!  There’s nothing quite as summery as a little fluffy lemon cake in my opinion, unless it’s pie and we had already made that!

Getting a chiffon cake out of the pan not looking butchered is tough. It takes surgeon hands and nerves of steal, it’s the equivalent of a baking surgery. I chickened out, and let Tomomi do this part because I couldn’t bear the idea of ruining the beauty of our masterpiece.

Tell me that isn’t the fluffiest-looking chiffon cake you ever saw!? Tomomi did a wonderful job, and I thought it looked beautiful! 
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We then drizzled lemon chocolate all over the top and spooned a dollop of homemade lemon jam on each slice. It was like eating a zingy lemon-flavoured cloud. Mmmmmm….

Like the pie crust, Tomomi’s recipe for chiffon cake is very natural. Just eggs (lots and lots of eggs!), flour, sugar, a drizzle of sesame oil, plus lemon juice and zest to add flavour. The secret to success is folding the merengue in oh-so tenderly and softly. You want to mix that merengue in, but you still want fluffy streaks of it throughout the batter. If not, the cake won’t be like eating a cloud.

We drank tea and chatted until it was time her her family’s dinner, at which point I headed home with my heart lighter, mind trouble-free, stomach happily stuffed, and very much ready to unwind, relax, and watch a funny movie (Bridesmaids).

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Sunday Putters Around Fukui – Matt’s Trip To Japan

On Sunday I kidnapped Matt for a day of relaxing puttering around Fukui. I had the whole day pretty much planned out, all he had to do was get in the car.  It’s ok though, I promise I was a nice kidnapper, I fed him and entertained him!

First up, since he was craving veggies (and I’m a thoughtful kidnapper) I took Matt to my favourite lunch spot Veg Yard. He was a pretty happy captive when the 9-dish assortment came out; he really enjoyed his healthy feast.

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After that we drove out to the Echizen Pottery Village where a big festival was going on. All the local potters of Fukui come out to set up a booth and sell their beautiful goods twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. I reeeeeally wanted to go, so I was lucky Matt wanted to go too.

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We ended up having a great time perusing! Matt hunted high and low for a beautiful set of cups for his girlfriend back home. They are both tea fanatics like me. This photo doesn’t do them justice, but it’s the only one I got.  I really liked them too! They were white with gold piping down the sides. photo-3

I resisted temptation when we came to this stall, which I’m still proud about. I loved this white pottery, it was so smooth and the colour reminded me of high quality vanilla ice cream with flecks of real vanilla bean inside. IMG_5051Eventually we felt a bit of pottery-overload and the tarmac was SO unbelievably hot we called it quits. Matt proudly carried out his purchase, I proudly carried out nothing! (Trust me on that being a first in the 3 years I’ve been here…)

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Matt couldn’t come to Fukui without seeing the Echizen Kaigan coast. It’s one of the most beautiful areas of Fukui with its craggy cliffs and beautiful view of the Japan Sea. We nipped into Cafe Mare for a coffee buzz and a little cheesecake pick-me-up (an all-time-favourite dessert on Matt’s part) before exploring some of the cliffs. IMG_5077 IMG_5059 IMG_5058I was the happiest little clam in Fukui that day getting to show my little brother around my favourite stomping grounds! That’s one very genuine, glee-filled smile right there folks, nothing but pure joy and happiness!

Stay tuned! Next post is our adventures in Kanazawa!

 

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Roadtrip To Shirakawago – Matt’s Trip To Japan

Saturday morning I woke up a little sleepy but otherwise ok after our karaoke & drinking adventures the night before. Matt and Tim however, they were a different story…poor things.

Nomihoudai’s are a bit like running marathons. The the more you do in your lifetime the better you are at pacing yourself, knowing your limits, and recovering afterwards.  When you’re new to them though, they just hurt soooooo bad afterwards and you wonder why you ever thought doing one was a good idea. I let them sleep in as long as I could before forcing them to get up, get ready, eat a little toast before we piled back in my tiny car Tim’s bags in tow.

We said our goodbyes to Tim at the Fukui train station, waved goodbye as he walked away, and then hopped back in the car. I took a chug of coffee to fuel up, turned on the tunes to get us excited (and keep Matt awake) and gave Matt a high-five! ADVENTURE TIME! Our mission: get ourselves to Shirakawago!

There’s nothing quite like roadtrips to catch up properly with people. It’s about a 2-hour drive to this tiny gem nestled in the mountains which gave us some quality time to talk things out. Matt and I chatted a lot about things that were new in our lives, future goals, reminiscing about our amazing family holiday in Maui and agreed how exciting it would be to have me back in Canada very soon! I’m really proud of him. We talked a lot about his new job. He snagged himself an incredible engineering job at an amazing company right out of university. He’s such a smart cookie, and a really hard worker, so it’s no surprise that not even 2 years later he got a huge promotion! His trip to Japan was a celebration of sorts with his time off before he starts his big new position.

IMG_5024 IMG_5010 IMG_5011 IMG_5027Matt really, really liked Shirakawago. I knew he would! We big sisters make excellent tour guides, don’t-cha-know! It was super easy to plan Matt’s trip, all I had to do was take him to places in Japan I love. We have pretty similar interests and have traveled together as a family for years, so we operate on the same wavelength.

I love Shirakawago a lot, somehow I never feel bored returning to this quaint village, tiny as it is; so it was nice to come one last time! It’s a nice place to putter, walk around and simply enjoy the atmosphere. The sun was warm…we were having fun…life was good! (For more detailed information about Shirakawago: visit my old post about my snowy winter adventure there here.)

Before we left I insisted we climb to the top of the village hill, so we could enjoy a majestic view. Lovely isn’t it?

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After that it was time to go home. I knew Matt was tired by this point of the trip (traveling non-stop for 2 weeks is tough!), and definitely feeling tuckered out after yesterday’s wild karaoke night. We cancelled our dinner plans in favour of a quiet night at home in my apartment. One of my favourite memories from the whole trip actually ended up being this night, even though all we did was make a healthy salad (aka: veggie-overload) for dinner and watch a mutual all-time-favourite movie How To Train Your Dragon. Classic!

Just goes to show you that being with the right people makes can make even what sounds like a quiet-boring night in *magical* simply because you love their company! how to train your dragon

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For Fukui’s Sake! – Matt’s Trip To Japan

Most Japan travel guide books say there’s little to do in Fukui, the place in Japan that I call home. I disagree and was determined to prove the boys and that Lonely Plant book wrong! I lured my brother and his friend Tim here, to this rural little middle-of-no-where-town, a place definitely off the well-beaten tourist track so they could have a few unique experiences!

Tim could only stay for a day before heading back to Tokyo for his flight, so Matt and I were determined to do all the best and coolest things we could while he was here. To kick things off, after I finished work at noon and picked the boys up from the train station, we met my friend Tomomi. She had kindly arranged for a very fun hands-on activity for the boys: soba making with a national soba master!IMG_0159 IMG_0154

Soba noodles (そば) are a type of Japanese noodle made from buckwheat. It’s served in a variety of ways, my personal favourite being “The Fukui Way” with sauce poured all over and grated daikon radish piled on high.  Fukui’s very famous for its soba noodles and you can immediately distinguish Fukui’s soba noodles apart from other areas’ soba because of it’s purple hue. You’re going to have to trust me they taste a lot better than they look!IMG_0152

The man who taught us is a personal friend of Tomomi’s and it was such an honour to be invited into his own house’s workshop for a private lesson! Making soba is tricky but with patience and lots of hard work the boys were able to transform their soba flour into noodles.IMG_0118 IMG_0119 IMG_0127 IMG_0128 IMG_0125

The coolest part of making soba is getting to use giiiiinormous knives to cut the dough into noodles.  IMG_0140 IMG_0134 IMG_0142 IMG_0143 IMG_0147

Hands down the best part of making soba is the noodle feast afterwards! Matt, Tim and I joked about the adorable duck Mr. Ping from Kung Fu Panda; we all will be having the “noodle dream” for a while, he would be so proud. Tomomi laughed because Matt and Tim couldn’t stop plotting how to open a soba restaurant in Calgary, they were convinced it would be a hit.IMG_0153 IMG_0151 IMG_0149IMG_0156After our soba-making lesson, we nipped over to Tomomi’s house for tea and scones. The boys really enjoyed meeting my infamous friend. Matt’s being hearing me talk about this “Tomomi character” (as he called her) for 3 years and was dying to meet her. I honestly can’t even begin to describe how amazing of a person she is. The only way Matt could know why I love her so much was to meet her in person. Tomomi stuffed us like turkeys on Thanksgiving with her home-made scones and delicious jam.

After tea time with Tomomi it was time for a much needed nap for our 2 heroes (3 if you include me!); they needed to rest up for the main event: Karaoke Fukui-style.

I invited several close friends out for dinner at an izakaya-style restaurant (a place you share lots of little dishes with people). The real reason we went to that restaurant was it has a 680 yen nomihoudai drinking option. The boys were in absolute shock that there was a place in Japan they could drink as much beer/wine/sake/whatever as they wanted for a whole hour and only pay about $7. Matt kept checking and re-checking this fact with me. I don’t blame him, it sounds too good to be true after every bar in Osaka was charging 600 yen for a single beer! Fukui’s the place to live boys, the sushi’s fresh and life’s cheaper out here!Fukui izakayaphoto-2

After dinner we meandered over to my favourite karaoke place: Rent-A-Car Karaoke. A car rental and karaoke centre run together…it sounds strange I know but it’s cheap (we each spent only 700yen for 3 hours of singing!), easy to get reservations for, and right across the street from a kick-ass nomihoudai restaurant. Win-win-win!

We all sang the night away, until about 1:30 in the morning! In my opinion the best songs are always the Disney songs, everybody knows and loves them, so I put plenty in throughout the night. The boys thought it was cheesy at first, but when “Let It Go” from Frozen came on, I noticed that Matt and Tim couldn’t resist howling away like the rest of us ALTs.

Finally it was time for us to head home to my apartment so we stumbled drunkly into a taxi. Both I and the taxi driver chuckled as the boys continued to sing long after the party was over and the Rent-A-Car lights faded from the rear-view mirror into the distance.

The last thing I said before we all passed out was, “And that boys is why Fukui is awesome!”

Categories: Life in Japan, Lifestyle | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Owl Cafes In Osaka Are A Hoot!

Perhaps you’ve heard of Japan’s cat cafes? We’re pretty legendary for our fluffy feline hang out spots these days. I’ve only ever been to one, but enjoyed my time cooing over the cats there immensely. I’ll unabashedly admit that the cat cafe we were merely passing by had me hook, line, and sinker when they promised me a munchkin cat in residence. I have a total soft spot for this breed of short-legged cats like nobody else I know. Funny story though, the munchkin cat refused to so much as sit in my lap, even when I offered him chicken tidbits! SO heartbreaking, I know! Don’t worry, I (and my chicken tidbits) were very well-loved by all the other cats.

In a land where space is limited, and most apartments are not pet friendly it’s a smart business to open cafes where customers can cuddle and hang-out with their favourite animals without the responsibility that comes with ownership. I’ve also heard of dog and bunny cafes in Japan. It’s only logical I supposed that if such cafes existed for cat lovers, dog lovers and bunny lovers deserved cafes too.

Cat Cafe Tokyo Cat Cafe TokyoWhen one of my friends in Japan informed me 2 weeks ago there was such a thing as an owl cafe however, I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat, or two…or three. I was in utter shock and disbelief that there was a place in Japan where you could, um you know…just go chill with a dozen or more owls! It sounded so crazy I thought I was dreaming! I even looked a little like an owl when I found out because my eyes were as wide as saucers I have no doubts.

How,” I asked myself, “have I lived in Japan for 3 years and never heard about such a magical place until only 2 months before I leave!?!” Trust me, I couldn’t find out the location from my friend fast enough! It was bloody brilliant timing too because it was mere days before I was due to meet up with my younger brother in Kyoto and Osaka. We’re both HUGE Harry Potter fans so he jumped at the idea too.

Last Sunday, we went to the cafe my friend recommended called Owl Family. It’s pretty out of the way and a little difficult to find but go hunt it down! (At the end of the blog I posted details how to get there.)IMG_4699At first we were a little nervous about getting super close to live owls, after all those are some pretty serious looking talons!

IMG_4705 IMG_4712But slowly my inner HP nerd won out and I was holding them in no time!IMG_4753 IMG_4746

Tim I think was a little skeptical at first but made a new friend pretty fast!

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This little guy with his big baby black peepers was the absolute life of the party!  It was hard not to laugh at his curious nature and love his happy-go-lucky attitude. He bounced and bobbed all over the place and made everyone in the cafe giggle with how infatuated he was with one lady’s crochet-style sweater choice that day. He looooooved it and its multitude of holes so much he never wanted to let her go! I saw him wistfully look back at her “fun” sweater when he was transferred to a new person’s shoulder too.

I was really interested to see that owls, just like dogs and cats, have distinct personalities too!  IMG_4564One of the hardest things is timing the photo so the birds are actually looking at the camera. “Patience you must have, my young padawan.” (Bonus points to any other nerds out there who immediately got that quote).Owl Cafe

Soon it was just a blur of new feathered friends, Hogwarts-worthy selfies, and squeals of delight (from me not the owls!)…

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We had zero problems with any of the owls until we met this little fellow (who is exactly how I imagined Pigwidgeon from Harry Potter would look like in real life). When he was put on my brother’s head and Tim’s head he was on his best behaviour. When put on mine however, became immediately and absolutely infatuated with my hair.  He took one look at my brother’s camera before he began grabbing chucks of my hair in his beak and tugging at it, happily hooting every time he grabbed and gobbled all over a new chuck of my long hair. It didn’t hurt and was rather cute I have to admit.

The cafe attendants were all smiling, apparently he loves long-haired blonde foreigners the most, but on that particular day was willing to settle for my long brunette locks. The staff tried to coax him to let go of my hair and he simply turned and shook his tail feathers in their face. Eventually he grew board with my hair and hopped back on a staff member’s hand.IMG_4786IMG_4770IMG_4773

All too soon, our time was up. We chugged our drinks (which had been forgotten and neglected up until then), paid, and left with enormous smiles on our faces so the next group of people could come in. All in all it was a total hoot!

 

IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT THE OWL FAMILY CAFE 

So you want to check out an Owl Cafe? Well, if you do, I’d definitely recommend the Owl Family Owl Cafe in Osaka! The cafe’s business card says that they’re open Tues-Fri 12:00 – 20:00 & Sat-Sun 11:00-20:00. (They are closed Mondays). The easiest way to get there is to take a train to either Temma Station or Osaka Temmangu Station. You can find more information and images on their website but it’s all in Japanese. (http://blog.livedoor.jp/owlfamily) On the map the red pin is the owl cafe!

*Also, if you get lost and decide to ask someone in that area “Fukuro cafe wa doko desu ka” they’ll probably be able to help you out.

Owl Family Owl CafephotoHere’s the deal about getting in:

  • It’s 1000yen for the hour ($10) which includes unlimited pictures and a drink which you order from the menu.
  • There are only a few time slots a day which guests can enter. You get to go in for 1 hour and then must leave.  Time really flies by (giggle!) so have that camera ready and get in line for the most popular owls. Each time slot begins on the hour (we went in for the 11am morning slot, we were told to be waiting outside the door there no later that 10:50am).
  • You’ll want to arrive early to put your name on the list for the next session (we arrived almost half an hour before hand). This is because only 15-20 guests can enter the cafe at a time, so if all the spots are booked up you have no choice but to wait for the next hour for the following session.

Overall the cafe is pretty foreigner friendly. They give a run down in Japanese of the rules, with visual demonstrations, but will put a laminated English instruction sheet on the table if you look foreign. Be sure to understand the rules, from what I understand the cafes are very strict about them and have been known to kick out people who don’t follow them. In particular, flash photography is very taboo and will definitely earn you a strong scolding in Japanese.  The rules to me were pretty logical and easy to understand: no camera flashes, only pet the owls gently with the back of your hand, only pet them on their backs not their tummies, etc etc.

The only thing I thought was exceptionally funny was that if an owl poops on you (the owls are real living birds after all!) it’s entirely your responsibility and the cafe isn’t liable. They also stress that if it happens, you “freak out” only mentally as not to startle the poor animal.

 

*Final Note On The Ethics Of Owl Cafes in Japan*

As much as I really enjoyed the opportunity to interact in such an intimate way with so many owls, an opportunity I could never have had in Canada, I do have many reservations about the overall ethics of owl cafes. I think it’s important to remember that there is a reason this isn’t possible in most countries in the world. The question being: Is it really fair to the animals to force them to spend their lives this way?

My brother Matt, his friend Tim, and I upon sitting down in the cafe and seeing the actual setting immediately felt guilty and very sad for the animals. Yes they are kept clean, healthy and fed and it’s obvious to anyone that the birds are very well cared for…..but they are also kept leashed at all times, are never free to fly, spend their days in a tiny little cubicle on a shelf if off-duty, are kept awake during the day when they would rather be sleeping being nocturnal animals, and forced to endure noisy hours being entertainment for camera-happy people. That doesn’t sound like a happy life to me, does it to you?IMG_4515

I sense with the gaining popularity of owl cafes that soon many more will open. I feel a bit guilty adding fuel to a craze that I cannot support whole-heartedly out of concern for the well-being of the owls. It was too late for us to change our minds when we got there as we had invested a lot of time and effort to get there (and I’ll admit we didn’t leave because we were excited)…but a big part of me did want to leave when I first sat down. I wonder now if I had hit the pause button on my excitement when I first found out about the existence of owl cafes, and really stopped to think about the ethics of what I was suggesting to my travel companions, if I would have gone?  I promised myself if I blogged about this experience I would also mention and question the ethics of it too, so as to bring greater awareness to the situation.

Some of my friends asked me, “Ok, then. Why are you ok with cat cafes but not owl cafes?” My answer is simple , cat cafes and owl cafes are like apples and oranges to me. It’s in a cat’s nature to love lounging around inside and sleeping all day. They enjoy being pampered by people and also, in their cat-cafe-homes they have freedom to roam around and do as they like.  Owls on the other hand, at least in my opinion, are not meant to be domesticated. They are wild animals by nature who are being forced to adapt to a very different lifestyle in these cafes than they would naturally choose to lead themselves.

All I’m asking is that you please pause and consider this information before you choose to visit an owl cafe in Japan. Because in hindsight I wish I had.

Categories: Life in Japan, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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!

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

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