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HEY! Sorry it's been ages... I guess I've been too busy living my life to have time to write about it :)

The last time I wrote I was anxiously awaiting Tom's arrival. Well, May 16 rolled around, and I had a full day ahead of me: first a taikusai, or sports day, at my school, then catching a train to Niigata, then catching the night bus to Tokyo, then catching a train to the airport. Night buses aren't so bad, but the quality of sleep on them is definitely lackluster. But first, let me back up... the taikusai was HILARIOUS! My favorite events were the boy's giant chicken/hat stealing fight, and the girl's tire-grabbing extravaganza. Both were pretty violent, which was sort of odd since my students are mostly shy and well-behaved. The tire thing was hilarious... girls were literally dragging each other on the ground. Haha, I'm sad Americans don't do things like that.

Anyway, I got to Narita Airport on the 17th and at 9.56 Tom strolled through the gates. I felt like I could explode, I was so happy. We whisked ourselves off to the baggage shipping place, then bought some train tickets, and we were off!! Tokyo is a HUGE city and every area of it is different, so exploring it was awesome. I feel like I ony caught a glimpse of the city, even though we were there for 3 days. We stayed in Asakusa, which is a district famous for its small streets and old feeling. While we were there, there happened to be a matsuri going on in the temple-area of the district. It was way awesome, and I even got to see some Edo-style happi... ass cheeks and all. Hah...

We also hit up Akihabara, Harajuku, Ueno Park, the Imperial Palace, Ginza, Shinjuku, Shinjuku Station at rush hour (hahaha that was an adventure!), and the Tsujiki (?) Fish Market area. I saw a cat chewing on some ribs there, which reinforced my opinion that eating meat is mostly a bad idea. I really liked Tokyo... it had leafy streets and so much character that it didn't seem like the biggest city on the planet, but more like a collection of neighborhoods. I liked passing through and getting so many different tastes, if only for an hour or two.

Next, we caught a night-bus to Osaka. Having arrived and gotten some food, we then set off to see the city. My impression of Osaka was that it's more faceless and commercial, as in the only things to do there are eat and shop. However, we did see Osaka Castle, and being in old places like that always makes me wonder. We also went up in this immensely tall building, complete with the Japanese kitsch that I have grown to love. My favorite was the heart-shaped padlocks that you could engrave with you and your beau's name, then clip to a fence on top of the observation deck. How cheesy is that? I didn't do it, though part of me wanted to. Haha, I think I've been here too long...

My favorite place was DEFINITELY Kyoto!! I had a lot of tasty food, plus the feeling of a place as old as that is hard to wander around in without getting some sort of intense set of feelings. My favorite area was Gion. There's something about small alleyways festooned with paper lanterns that appeals to me. There were SO many temples and things that I started to feel a bit burnt out. I'm afraid that my interest in religion is fairly small to begin with, so before long it was completely overwhelmed. The good news is that my excitement from just looking at buildings, crafted with so much love and attention to detail, takes a lot longer to wear off.

After our big trip, we returned to Niigata, and then Murakami. The first thing we did was catch up on sleep. The following week, Tom attended school with me. My students LOVED him. I think Tom might have been a bit creeped out by how much people loved him. Even high school boys would stare at him.

That weekend we went to Haguro-san, a famous mountain in Yamagata. We also saw a mummy up there, which was pretty creepy, but REALLY interesting. I can't imagine the amount of faith and willpower someone would have to have to mummify themselves. It's sort of like... a crazy case of anorexia and poisoning yourself. I really enjoyed that day, despite the misty weather and feeling sort of cold and exhausted after 1000 stone steps through the fog. My pictures turned out really well, too.

The last bit of time that Tom was here, he explored the town while I was at work. It was nice just having him around, and now I feel really lonely. Just coming home and having no one to talk to yesterday was really sad... but I went out to dinner with Naomi and her eikaiwa class, which was a ridiculous amount of fun. I think Japanese women take longer to warm up to me, but once they do they're so full of love and kindness that it's hard not to feel completely at ease.

So... now I guess I'm in a bit of a waiting game. I'm trying to keep busy, one because I don't have much time left to waste, and two because time moves by quickly when you're spending it well. This weekend I'm going to a fighting kite festival and visiting my friend Hina. Next weekend I'm picking cherries in Yamagata with my kaiwa partner. The weekend after that, Anna from WM is coming to visit me from Tokyo. That leaves 5 more weekends to fill, the 6th being filled with a flight from Tokyo to Sydney. WOW.

Well, I should probably get going to work. I'll post pictures up on Picasa shortly, but until then, they're already up on Facebook. Ciao...

2 days...

DUDE! Tom will be here in 2 days. I'm nearly peeing my pants. Good thing I've got 2 more days at work to temper my excitement. Temper isn't the right word, I think "beat into oblivion" is more appropriate. The past week I've read 2 books, studied Spanish and French and Japanese (a little), written love-letters, found a haircut, AND done all the work I was supposed to do (and then some). I'm NOT that efficient, I'm just under-utilized. I'm glad I didn't sign on for another year because I'm ready to put my mind to use!!

So I'll be incommunicado for the next week or so. Starting tomorrow night, I'll be gallyvanting across Japan! First stop, Niigata, to catch a night-bus to Ikebukuro. Then, somehow, I have to find my way to the airport, and then, somehow, I have to figure out where it will spit out Tom. Then, somehow, we'll find our way to Asakusa, and venture forth from there once we're braced by caffeine. After a few days of Tokyo, we'll blast off in the middle of the night for Osaka on another night bus, and then from there we'll train it to Kyoto. By next Sunday, if all goes well, we'll be back in Niigata, perhaps in time to catch a baseball game :)

OH MAN! It's ridiculous how excited I am! I've been waiting SO LONG for this, and now that it's here it doesn't seem real. Eee!

addendum: photos

As per request, here's some photos..... If you like what you see, check out the link to the left that says something about Picasa.

2 Prince Stream
A stream taking the meltwater off the top of 2 Prince Mountain, near Shibata.

Monkey!
A monkey! He was near the road on the way home from the hike.

Sakura
Sakura from Salmon Park... this is from April.

Fields and Mountains
This is what it's like when the weather is nice :) This photo is also from April. It was taken near Sakamachi.

Mountains and Monkeys!

Yesterday was AWESOME!!

Jess and I had an itch to go explore some more mountains, so we just drove towards some in the hopes we'd find a trail. It was an adventure! We headed towards Tainai, a local ski spot, which adjoins a National Forest type area. We discovered two things: one, WILD MONKEYS! I'd never seen wild monkeys before, so that was really cool! We also saw snakes and lizards later on, so that was cool too. Not so cool was the fact that the road into the National Forest was closed for some mysterious reason! Despite this we trooped on south to try and find another likely hiking spot. Remembering the massive snow-veined hunks of topography that are visible from Shibata station, we had high hopes. With that mountain looming in the windscreen, well, sometimes looming, as the road was a bit twisty and narrow, we ganbare'd on until we discovered we'd taken quite a few wrong turns and were headed to who-knows-where. A kindly family drew us a map and sent us on our way, and then we were off!!

We found the trail head poking out of the cryptomerium forest right next to a giant shrine. Inside the shrine I could see taiko drums, big paper lanterns, and an attendant reading a book, sipping hot tea, and listening to J-Pop. Into the forest we went! At first the trail was just my speed- mildly uphill, following a mountain stream, full of looming old trees covered in moss and lichen, gullies of ferns, and all sorts of interesting bugs to stop and peer at. I love mountain streams! I love hiking in spring too because there are endless shades of green. It's so hard to describe how at peace being in a forest makes me feel.

My peaceful feelings didn't last too long, though. Soon the trail headed seemingly straight up the mountain with no switchbacks and no efforts to skirt especially steep parts. Maybe the trail DID skirt the steep parts, but the mountain was just that steep. It wasn't quite scrambling, but I was beat after about 30 minutes. We asked someone how much longer to the top and they shrugged and said 2 or 3 hours. Oh dear.

So up we went, unprepared for how intense this mountain was. I had enough water, maybe, though I wasn't dressed well enough. We eventually had to stop when we ran into piles of snow that my running shoes wouldn't have handled too well. I guess we could have kept going, but I didn't think it was a good idea. Going back down the mountain was all kinds of fun, and took maybe 1/6 as long as it did to go up. I think I was just bouncing down the mountain like a loud, cloddish deer.

Eventually we came back down, reeking and happy, and then got some kaiten-zushi to reward our efforts. After that we went back to Jess's and watched "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly", which made me realize how many movies pull references from it! It was awesome. Sadly, we're all out of Clint Eastwood films now.

After that I came home and passed out. It was a good day :)

Say WHAT?!

Today is Saturday, and in one week I'll be working at my school's Taikusai, or sports day. It should prove hilarious. I hope I don't get sunburnt.

Today I'm going hiking w/ Jess somewhere near Tainai, maybe, which will probably be good. The weather is AWESOME... cool, not too hot, and sunny, with a slight breeze. Oh Murakami, if I didn't know better I'd almost regret leaving you! Why couldn't the weather be nice all the time?! Or at least more than 5% of the time?

I had a point, I swear... OH! Right! I was looking at recipes and I found one for this ridiculously delicious looking mango salsa stuff. It looked SO GOOD!! But, like most things that appeal to my Western sensibilities, the ingredients would be nigh impossible to find in Japan, and if I could find them, would be ridiculously expensive. This is another reason why I can't wait to skedaddle! One of these days I'm going to post a list of things I'll miss about Japan and things I can't wait to experience once I get out of here. Not yet though, not yet.

I feel like I've changed a lot since I've been here, more so even than when I went to Australia for a year. I guess I had to rely on myself A LOT, and pretty much live continuously outside my comfort zone. There's been superficial things that have changed about me too... like I tried (and liked) coffee, I read The Fellowship of the Ring without giving up in boredom after the first 100 pages, I'm way more conscious of how I present myself (often to my despair because there's not much I can do about clothes, shoes, hair, or makeup here!). I feel like my core has been tested and enriched as well, and that's what really matters.

Off to wander in the hills....

Golden Week has come and gone...

This past half-week was what the Japanese call Golden Week. It's a string of National Holidays, 3 in a row, that pretty much everybody has off. Because of this, it seems that nearly everyone in Japan gets in their car, hops a plane, or hops a train to go somewhere during this period. I had a few adventures myself, none too far from home, but still pretty good!

Saturday Jess needed to change his tires down in Sanjo, so I agreed to ride with him. It was a whole lot of sitting in the car and commenting on the usual notable things you see while sitting in a car: horrible drivers, outlandish Pachinko parlour designs, hilarious Engrish signs, and sudden awesome mountain scenery. We got down to Sanjo, changed the tires, looked for something to do but couldn't find it, and headed back north along the coast. We stopped here and there to check things out, nearly got sidetracked into Maki, and climbed a 40m Buddha statue. Upon returning to our neck of the woods and still having half a day to kill, I took Jess up Oshiroyama since he had never been. After approximately 600 pictures of various ferns and irises, we climbed back down and took note of some temples and things on the way home that seemed interesting. Jess is a religion major, so he's way more into the temple things than I am. I always feel a bit like I'm trespassing or shouldn't be nosing about places like that.

The following day, I pretty much sat on my bum and read all day. I was feeling the urge for a lazy day, so there you go. I did manage to get out for a short run, and I think something else happened too, but it wasn't too remarkable.

Monday I borrowed Naomi's car and drove out to Asahi to go for a swim. On the way back I made a wrong turn and found myself driving through the old samurai-house part of town, the part of the town that would purposefully built to be as confusing as possible, so that was fun. Also, the roads are often ridiculously narrow and twisty, so driving a car down them is a test of courage. I was thankful I didn't meet anyone coming the other direction! I also cleaned my house on Monday, like REALLY cleaned my house, but that's not interesting.

Tuesday the weather was gorgeous! I just walked around. That's what I do. When I came back, I read some Lord of the Rings, then headed to Toyosaka to meet a couple other ALT's... we were heading out for a road trip early the next morning!

Yesterday, the last day of Golden Week, I spent road tripping down to Fukushima Prefecture on the hunt for Bandai-Asahi National Park. I THINK we found it, though I'm not sure. The whole thing was sort of ill-planned, which always gums up the works, and I guess I shouldn't have trusted the driver or the person who thought of the trip to do all the planning... anyhow, we were roughly in the right area, and we found the right mountain, but I don't think we drove far enough into the park. We did climb the mountain, but there wasn't always a good trail, and it didn't seem quite right to me. Anyhow, it was still an adventure, and it was still gorgeous scenery all the way down and all they way back, so there's no complaining. Well, it was sort of spitting rain, hazy, and cloudy, so I guess I could have asked for clearer weather so I could have taken some pictures of the gorgeous scenery.

That's been my life for the past little while. I feel a bit lame because other people went to Hokkaido or Hiroshima or Tokyo for Golden Week, but I keep reminding myself that I'm going on a big hot-spot tour in just over 10 days with Mr. T, so that makes me feel a bit less lame. Traveling in Japan is ridiculously expensive, so I didn't feel like I could justify two big trips in one month. I also feel a bit lame because people of a similar situation as mine managed to pull off way cooler adventures than me, but they had a car at their disposal so that probably gave them a leg-up. Well, I had a good Golden Week, even if it was slow-paced and somewhat befuddled, and that's all that matters.

pop!

The leaves have all come out! I wish I could hear them. I imagine they'd sound like popcorn. A billion tiny popcorn pops happen every minute during springtime, but we make too much racket to hear them. ...I guess if it wasn't us, it'd be the songbirds.

Yesterday I served my time at school. It was frustrating and dumb and I don't want to talk about it. I don't think I work well with people I don't like. I wish I could get over that. It's not that I'm not civil, but I just don't have as much patience wholly predictable and preventable nonsense. I guess nobody does, but I think it might be a key life skill to pick up.

After work I cleaned my apartment (yaaay!), took a nap, went for a run, and then met Naomi and Jess at Himalaya. We hadn't been there in a while, and I think the hostess missed us, because she gave us heaps of free food. My favorite by far was the salad :)

The run was pretty good! I had to stop once cos my hair fell out of my pony tail, but other than that it was hitch-free and pain-free. YES! I'm not in the clear yet though, now I have to go about the process of building back up slowly and respectfully. That means not running too much, which is hard... especially when there's so many new leaves around.

Dilemmas!

Today was lame, then awesome, then normal.

First, I got to work and had a great 1st period... but then NO CLASSES FOR THE REST OF THE DAY. I was SO bored!! I read an entire book today. Thank goodness I had a book to read! I didn't even start reading it until about 10 or 11 am, and I finished it at 3... so I STILL had 2 hours to waste after I finished my book! Jeeeeeze this job kills me sometimes!

After work though, I went swimming with Naomi. She critiqued my sloppy technique (it's gotten sloppy because I'm so pathetically out of shape at the moment, I guess), and I totally felt a difference! I'm really pleased! She is going to let me borrow her car next week while she's in Hokkaido, and I think I'll go swimming and running and hiking and bouldering and ahhhh! The possibilities are endless! I almost don't want to hang out with anyone else because those prospects sound so good to me, but I know I'd get lonely. When did I become so needy for social interaction!? Guess I'm not a loner after all.

I was THINKING.... that I miiiight see if I can rent a car for the last little bit of May thru the rainy season... cos I think having a car while Tom is here would be a bonus, and also the last little bit of truly free time I have... but then again I think having a car is almost completely unnecessary for my living situation, and it's dreadfully expensive as well. Hmm.... but it would be nice to be able to explore more........... dilemmas!!

Mountains!

Today I went on a bit of a hike with Jess and Naomi! We started out at Jess's, walked to the foot of a mountain, and then hoofed it! It was fantastic! We ran into some youngun baseball games, got sidetracked many a-time, but not in a literal way, and drank in the sunshine. It was glorious!! :) I really needed that. It was rough going, pretty steep and relentless, or maybe I'm just incredibly out of shape. I think it was a bit of both, to be fair.

So often I feel torn, like I want to be in 1513 places at once, or at least 3. I want to be here, I want to be there, and I want to be where everyone else wants me to be. I think that last one I need to get over, because I can't make everyone happy!! That's a sure way to leave yourself out to dry.

Tomorrow is my last day at Chutou until next Thursday. YES! Not like I hate my job, but I thought it had gotten better, only to find myself reading 'The Hobbit' in 2.5 days because of a lack of things to do at work. I find Tolkein really hard to wade through sometimes, too. We'll know I'm in trouble when I turn to Dostoevsky or Hawthorne...

rain and cold

So... the rain and cold are bad, but not as bad as sitting around in my apartment is, so I ventured out today. I actually hopped on a train to go watch 'Hang 'em High', starring none other than Clint Eastwood, with Jess. OH MAN! It was awesome!! Haha I have a soft spot for Westerns because they're ridiculous and good at the same time. I dug it. Next time it's rainy and disgusting out, we're going to watch 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly'. I'm never sure whether to capitalize articles or not... but anyway. At least now I won't want to die next time it's 3 days straight of crappy weather. Clint will save me! Yay!

After that I came home and went swimming with Naomi! We did a bit of a challenging workout and I totally felt like I was dragging ass. I wish there was an interval clock at the pool, cos intervals are a good way to get fast again. I just slack off too much :( I guess I'm still pretty wiped after that workout, though, so... maybe I'm just being too hard on myself.

Tomorrow we have school, then I have an enkai. We have Wednesday off, and weather allowing, I'm going hiking w/ Naomi and Jess. Thursday and Friday round out the week, next week is Golden Week (still donno what I'm doing), and the week after that I'll be less than 6 days away from seeing Tom. WOOT! I'm diggin' the pace of my life right now!!