Posts Tagged With: 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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Categories: Life in Japan, Lifestyle | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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!

Leandro's

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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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!

Tim OwlIMG_4728

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.

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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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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

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Exploring Legends in Takachiho – Kyushu Road Trip Part IV

Mother nature never ceases to amaze me. There is so much raw beauty in the world that sometimes it’s easy to see where fantasy writers come up with their inspiration for magical lands. Certain places on this earth that feel like they’ve been plucked right out of some far away mythical land; Takachiho Gorge is one such place.

Takachiho Gorge (高千穂峡, Takachiho-kyō) is a narrow chasm cut through the rock by the Gokase River. The nearly sheer cliffs lining the gorge are made of slow forming volcanic basalt columns which resemble the scales of a dragon. IMG_3038

Do you know the scene in from The Lord of the Rings where the fellowship is paddling down a beautiful river with steep cliffs on either side? Remember that moment of utter awe at the grandeur as they float through the entryway guarded by 2 statues? That is what entering Takachiho Gorge in our little rowboat felt like. IMG_2966 IMG_2901

But before I get carried away singing the praises of Takachiho, let’s backtrack to the beginning.

We awoke very early that morning, gobbled up the delicious and beautiful breakfast our hostel provided, and made a beeline to the boats at Takachiho Gorge. We parked our car in the small parking lot next to the boat rental company for 500yen. Over time I have learned that one of the keys to enjoying traveling in Japan is to figure out the most popular tourist activity (or the place you are the most excited about) and get there eeeearly, before the hoards of tourists descend and transform a tranquil environment into a chaotic pandemonium.

For us the activity we were the most excited about was the row boat experience through the gorge. I knew that if we didn’t get there early we would spend our precious 30-minute time allotment fighting to manoeuvre through throngs of boats. Not appealing in the least. I wanted to feel the magic of that gorge, and appreciate its splendour without stress. The boat rental, if you go early, is definitely something I would recommend.

Boat Rental Information:

  • Hours of operation: 8:30-5:00pm (last boat rental time 4:30pm)
  • Cost: 2000 yen per boat for 30-minutes (maximum of 3 people per boat)
  • Open every day (unless water levels are dangerous)

The company is pretty strict, we were made to don dorky life jackets, only one person could man the oars they explained, they also made us promise to not switch seats, told us what time to return and because we were 4 people we had to rent 2 boats (1000 per person is still a steal in my opinion for the experience).  I personally appreciated this no-nonsense experience as it made getting on the boat a very quick process, 5 minutes tops! If you don’t speak Japanese don’t worry you’ll be fine.

We saw packets of duck food for sale and each boat decided to purchase some. I have no shame in admitting I love feeding ducks now as much as I did as a small child. It’s the little things in life right? Lizzy and I climbed into the boat after debating who would row; we ultimately decided, although I felt guilty she’d do all the work, that because my camera was nicer I should be the one to take the pictures.

We hopped into the boat and instead of heading straight to the gorge, we got a little distracted by our new feathered friends who swam over like miniature greased lightnings to quack ‘good morning’ to us. They knew where breakfast was to be found the smart things. I won’t lie that at the beginning our attention was solely focused on feeding those adorable ducks.

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Once the food was gone, with identical gleeful grins on our face, Lizzy paddled us off to have our adventure. “Captain Lizzy” did a great job navigating. IMG_2908 IMG_2947 IMG_2906 IMG_2955When our 30-minutes was up far too soon I felt very sad to leave Takachiho Gorge behind. Luckily there was lots more to be excited about that day. Next we walked the length of the river up to the Takachiho Shrine which was a really nice 15-20 minute walk.

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That big tree got us pretty excited for Yakushima. What can I say I like big trees and I cannot lie….sorry that was a really terrible joke, I just couldn’t resist.

After a quick exploration of the temple grounds we walked back the way we came (we needed to get back to our car) and hunted down the #2 recommended viewpoint of the Takachiho Gorge (#1 is inside the gorge on the boats). It’s from up above which is really nice. IMG_2978

After the Takachiho Gorge, we went to explore the birthplace of my favourite legend and a very famous “power spot” in Japan.

According to legend, the sun goddess Amaterasu was upset by her brother’s cruel pranks. So she decided to hide herself away in a cave, she refused to come out, thereby denying sunlight to the world.  Worried for the sake of the world, the other gods and goddesses searched high and low to find her hiding spot. Eventually they found her cave, but she refused to come out. The gods and goddesses tried everything they could think of to lure her out, it was to no avail, until one of the goddesses decided to dance in a ridiculous way which made all the other deities laugh. Amaterasu grew curious about what they found so funny and at long last decided to come out, thereby returning her light to the world.

About ten kilometers outside of central Takachiho, the Amano Iwato Shrine (天岩戸神社, Amano Iwato Jinja) was built near the cave where legend says the sun goddess tried to hide. Although tourists cannot enter the cave there is a nice pathway along the river leading to a shrine built nearby this cave into the rocks.IMG_3088 IMG_3125 IMG_3128I can say without a doubt that the Amano Iwato Shrine is one of my absolute all-time favourite shrines in Japan. The reason why is that it was like no other shrine I have ever seen in this country. Also, I had read that this shrine is one of the strongest “power spots” in Japan, but it wasn’t until I was there that I understood what people meant.  I’m normally not superstitious…and I can’t describe the feeling properly, but what I will say is that a visitor cannot help but feel a strong aura of power.

Perhaps this feeling came from the awe looking at the thousands of tiny stones stacked upon one another (called “iwasaka”) by worshippers that were everywhere you looked. An iwasaka was made in ancient times during worship to invoke the presence of a deity.IMG_3078 IMG_3112 IMG_3103 IMG_3123

Heather and I had a real blast scampering around the river taking pictures of these tiny stones. Eventually though, there are only so many photos you can take, we hopped back in the car to return for dinner at our hostel. We all packed our bags for Yakushima as we were leaving early the next morning, and then I napped a little while my friends relaxed as I had come down with a bad cold by this point after Nagasaki’s rain. I really have terrible luck when it comes to planning major hikes.

That evening, I had read on Japan-guide.com that there was a special dance performance held every night at the Takachiho Shrine from 20:00 to 21:00 for 700 yen.  The dance performance done by masked dancers reenacts the legend of the sun goddess, and is about 1 hour long. It’s purely instrumental so don’t worry if you can’t speak Japanese! If you’re a foreigner the people at the front door also will give you a sheet of paper explaining the story in English.  It is held at the Yokagura performance hall, just a few steps from the shrine’s main building. If you drive to the shrine, there’s a large parking lot from which all you have to do is follow the tiki torches. Be sure to get there about half an hour early as it’s a small venue that fills up fast, and you definitely want to be close to the front! We got there at 7:30 and got great seats.

Here are a few shots from the performance! I had a serious obsession with those masks; aren’t they just incredible?!

IMG_3133 IMG_3135 IMG_3136 IMG_3154 IMG_3146 IMG_3155The final scene of the play was by far my favourite as it was interactive with the audience. The story is about a man and wife who decide to enjoy drinking sake one night, things get a little tipsy and they approach people in the audience with a wiggle of their eyebrow (if you know what I mean *wink wink*) to the shock and anger of their partner.

The wife approached a really cool dude in the audience who made everyone laugh playing along. He was such a good sport, even smiling as I took his picture and he gave me a wink! I’m not kidding when I say I’ve never laughed that hard at a play in my life. It really helped that the guy was directly in front of me so I had the perfect front row seat to the hilarity. 
IMG_3161IMG_3162 IMG_3163Uh oh! And there came the husband to whisk his naughty wife away back to their bed.We left the performance in high spirits with huge smiles.

I really recommend Takachiho because as you can see on the map everything is relatively close together so it’s easy to see the major highlights in one day. Plus while you’re here it really does feel like you’ve stepped into a page straight out of a Japanese legend. I hope everyone who visits Takachiho can enjoy exploring the legends of the area as much as I did!  Takachiho Map

 

 

 

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Sailing in Sasebo: Kyushu Road Trip Part I

I have learned 3 things about road trips: (1) Good music is essential (2) Fun mates make the hours fly by and (3) logistics can be your worst nightmare. My good friend Lizzy and I had been planning this trip for nearly a year, a last hurrah for our time here in Japan if you will. It’s hard to believe sometimes that it’s only 4 months until I fly home to Canada!

So when the Japanese school term’s spring break finally dawned it was exciting to ditch the research & planning stage and hit the open road. It was time! “Let the adventure begin!” I exclaimed to myself as I scuttled out of school as fast as my long legs could take me. We packed up the car, crammed the 4 partners in crime inside (myself, Lizzy, Heather and Nicole) and took off in Lizzy’s famous little car “The Green Gatsby” for a 12 hour drive.

Our first stop on our 10-day road trip was Sasebo, home to the famous 99 Islands (Kujuku Islands).IMG_2746

Interestingly enough, although the name would imply there are 99 Islands, there are actually 208 tiny islands in this area. A long time ago in Japan, the number 99 was used to express something large and uncountable. Sailing through the islands is a popular tourist attraction and the entire reason we traveled to Sasebo.

You can ride the leisure boat The Pearl Queen that tours the Kujuku Islands from Saikai Pearl Sea Resort. The journey takes 50 minutes. As your magnificent ship zigzags through the islands, you can observe the islands up close and daydream about life as a pirate. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact I watched Pirates of the Caribbean 5 bazillion times (when I was younger!), but I would love to have a ship of my own one day, a life on the open sea would be amazing. After weeks spent in the office working on paperwork the wind blowing through our hair and sunshine on our faces felt pretty damn nice!

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After our adventures on the high sea we grabbed a cup of jo from the Badass Coffee Company. It was pretty badass indeed!Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 1.08.58 PM

Happily caffeinated we trundled off in the Green Gatsby to the Ishidake Observatory for a 360° panoramic view of the islands. It’s a spectacular view and a great place to take a few pictures. It’s only about a 8-minute drive from the harbour; you can reach there by driving up from the side of the parking lot of the Sasebo Zoological and Tropical Botanical Garden, and walking up the mountain path for a few minutes. Easy peasy!

IMG_2750IMG_2754IMG_2758I was pretty surprised to discover that Sasebo was such a big city! I honestly was imagining a small town in my head when we did the planning….oops! Being adventurous certainly worked up my appetite and we all agreed we were starving. One of these days I’ll learn I am not a robot who can survive on only coffee…one day…perhaps. We decided to try and find a supermarket and grab supplies for a picnic.  Heather found a perfect place to hanami (cherry blossom party) it up and we lounged around in the sunshine relaxing and eating for hours. Hanami Hanami2 photo3 photo4

Just as I dozed off for a wee nap the cutest little boy came to chat to us in English. We were more than a little startled (where was his family?! How did he speak English so well?!) but ended up having an adorable conversation with him about all sorts of things. He said some pretty profound things for a 5-year old, I was impressed. IMG_2760 IMG_2773It was a wonderful end to a wonderful first day!

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I’m One Lucky Duck: 2013 in Reflection

2013 was unbelievable! Possibly even one of my best years yet, so let me just begin this post by saying I am one very, very lucky duck!

I’m stealing this idea from a good friend of mine’s blog. It may be almost February, but it just seemed like such a fabulous chance to look back at the past year and feel grateful for all the wonderful things that did happen I couldn’t resist! It was guaranteed to put a spring in my step as I prepare to put my best foot forward in 2014!

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2013 began with an amazing two-week vacation to Cambodia and Singapore. Which, for a girl who loved pretending to be Indiana Jones when she was little, was a dream come true. Also, speaking of dreams, my stomach is still dreaming of the amazing cuisine of Singapore (a.k.a. The Land of Foodies). Dearest Singapore, I’ll be back one day, to eat more of your delicious food, that is a promise! cambodia singaporeAt the end of January, right in time for Valentine’s Day, my friend Tomomi and I traveled to Kyoto to attend Salon du chocolat which is an international chocolate festival. I basically died and went to heaven because I ate some of the most delicious chocolate my stomach will ever taste, I was surrounded by the most beautiful chocolate my eyes had ever beheld and I even had the honor of meeting both Jean-Charles Rochoux and Pascal Le Gac (2 very famous luxury chocolate makers!)salon du chocolateIn February I released my inner snow queen and went on 2 fun winter adventures: a 3-day snowboarding trip to Hakuba, Nagano and a weekend getaway to the quaint & picturesque town of Shirakawago.nagano shirakawago 1 shirakawago 2

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As the snow melted, the best adventure was waiting right around the corner. My parents came to Japan, and I couldn’t have loved our time together more! We 3 musketeers spent two weeks traveling around Japan creating beautiful memories to last us a lifetime. I will forever remember our good fortune that the cherry blossoms decided to say “konnichiwa!” to my parents too by blooming an uncharacteristic, never before heard of, 2 full weeks early!!! So my parents actually got to experience the most beautiful side of Japanese spring season! It was a once in a lifetime trip!

momanddad2 momdad6 momdad7You would think life would calm down after such a whirlwind vacation, but it just never seemed to. Adventures waited every time I tried to stop and catch my breath! Life just got better and better!

A beautiful hike up Mt. Aoba with good friends…aobayama1 …I walked across burning hot coals with my bare feet in a firewalking ritual at a Fukui temple…walking on fire…and participated in a day long prefectural-wide scavenger hunt with a KarRally team dressed up as Madonna throughout the ages! (That’s me second in on the left if you can believe it!)Kar RallySoon after this, came the unfortunate and busy time when good-byes had to be said to old friends as they left Fukui to pursue their dreams, and say hello in greeting to the new ALTs who came into my town to take their place. There’s never a dull moment in my life and this was my last summer in Japan so I lived every day with a carpe diem mindset.

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Two weeks road-tripping throughout Hokkaido lived up to my 2013 New Years Resolution to be more adventurous. I had never undertaken such a large holiday initiative before and I had my hands full juggling all the necessary research, planning and budgeting all by myself. It was also a personal test of sorts, designed to push me out of my traveling comfort zone because I had never done such a long trip, alone, in a foreign country before.  I learned a lot about myself during those long scenic drives and saw many breathtaking views that made me wonder if I had somehow wandered out of Japan and into a fairytale!

Such as at the Furano Lavender Farm, with purple blossoms stretching as far as the eye could see…hokkaido1…The mysterious turquoise waters of Lake Biei…hokkaido2….the wild splendors of Shiretoko which stole my heart. Seriously everyone, you’re lucky I decided to return to civilization after this place. I was sorely tempted to become a modern day Japanese Tarzan living in the wild…hokkaido3 hokkaido5 hokkaido6Reflecting on my photos of Mt. Rausu which I summited in the heat of summer – with a messed-up knee no less! – I couldn’t help but smile and think to myself “Damn, I am pretty badass!” I’m very proud of that hike in reflection! hokkaido 7And finally I went up to the beautiful Rebun Island which no one I know has ever done before, for 4 memorable days of hiking in wild flower paradise!
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I returned home to Fukui exhausted but happy as a clam. In need of rest and relaxation I traveled with my friends to the Earth Celebration at Sado Island. There is nothing quite like good friends, good food and summer music festivals in my opinion. Our inner hippies rejoiced as we let our inhibitions go, camped on a beach, went swimming in the ocean every morning to wake-up, and lay out every night gazing wistfully up at the constellations that were clear as diamonds. The pounding taiko drums at the Kodo music festival made my blood pound along in harmony and my soul soar as traditional Japanese music echoed across the field under a starry summer sky. I felt in that moment ready to take on the world. Sado Island is my personal paradise and I simply know I’ll remember that trip until I’m old, with grey hair and many more years under my belt. sado island

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My favorite season Autumn was lovely and relaxing with plenty of hikes, include a hike up the famous Mt. Hakusan which is one of Japan’s 3 most holy mountains. Watching sunrise dawn at the summit of this mountain with a best friend on each arm, I knew that right then and there was exactly where I was supposed to be. Choosing to stay a 3rd and final year in Japan had been the right choice!hakusanIn November, I was spoiled absolutely rotten when my friends Robin, Denea and Kim came all the way from Canada to visit me! (*Insert here the appropriate and necessary squeal of joy!*) Robin has insisted that 3 years is much too long for me to be gone, and insists I return home as promptly as possible. In the meantime, much to my delight, she couldn’t resist visiting! We had so much fun and I haven’t laughed so hard in years! Especially the maiko dress-up experience, none of us are going to forget that any time soon!i08cUQWmDSC_0001

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As Christmas drew near I was blessed with the ability to pop down to Kobe to see the Kobe Luminarie, an extraordinary Christmas light display which filled me with Christmas cheer…IMG_2323…before jetting off to be reunited with my amazing family and spend our first Christmas together in 2 years! I was glowing with happiness, and radiated perpetual joy every single day I was able to bask in their love and the tropical Hawaiian sun!1522230_10100844383650401_413116668_n 1486826_10100846565128701_1229695093_n 1504063_10100846565153651_800997576_n

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Finally, let me end this post by saying that I am grateful for the opportunity in 2013 to have been living my dream. I am still stunned sometimes when I remember the fact that I am living in Japan. I live in JAPAN and that is awesome!

Living here is so much more than simply amazing, it’s one of my biggest dreams come true. Thank you to all the amazing people in my life, you mean the world to me, which is funny because quite incidentally you do happen to live all around the world!

japan living in japanAs 2014 starts my heart is full to the brim with love and I’m eagerly awaiting whatever wonderful adventures this year has hidden in store!

XOXO, Jessie

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

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