How I Missed Halloween

Hello everyone,
I write to you today from my desk at work, during the first period of the day, preparing for my next 3 periods, in which I teach the first graders. I have planned a lovely Halloween game for them, which hopefully they enjoy.
I myself, however, did not get to enjoy the wonders of Halloween this year. Although I had a costume prepared, a party to attend, and a floor to crash on, my will to party was defeated by a deathly diseases. It all began on Friday morning, when I awoke to a slight “scratchy” feeling in my throat. I thought to myself, “I hope I am not coming down with something” – I was sure to drink a lot of water that morning, and was feeling okay. Once afternoon hit, however, it was a different story. After lunch Friday afternoon I cycled to an elementary school where I was scheduled to teach two periods. I arrived at the school feeling fine, but during those two hours I went from genki/happy/excited teacher to nauseated/sickly/possibly about to be unconscious teacher. Then, on top of the already sick feeling beginning to grow in my body, I had to cycle home, despite my entire lack of energy and will to live. Fortunately I fought off the urge to pass out on the sidewalk, and managed to make it home, where I immediately texted all my friends about my despair, and the possibility I wouldn’t make it to the party Saturday night. My friends assured me that it was more than 24 hours away, and if I slept now, what appears to be just a head cold could clear up enough for me to still come in and enjoy some of the Halloween festivities of the night. Unfortunately, this would not turn out to be the case. I didn’t sleep much Friday night, which in part had its benefit, since at 7 am I was wide awake, and able to skype with dad. However, as Saturday morning progressed, things went from bad to worse. Suddenly, all my muscles started aching so much that I couldn’t move, my throat was in so much pain that trying to take a sip of water was too much to bear. I will spare you of the other tragically disgusting details that my disease forced me to endure, suffice to say that I did NOT make it to the Halloween party. I had to talk my two friends out of almost missing the party themselves, as they had their minds set on coming out to my apartment that night to bring me food and medicine and company. I insisted that they not, and instead come Sunday if they must. So, I suffered though, tissue-less (eventually blowing your noise with paper towel makes your nose practically bleed), and medicine-less. My friends arrived Sunday morning to feed me food and medicine and tell me stories of their night before, and I was very glad for their company. Unfortunately, here I am at work, despite the fact that I don’t feel much better, and the reason for this is as follows: In order to take a sick day here in Japan, we have to have a doctor’s note. Factor in this: I don’t speak Japanese. I would have to find an English speaking doctor in order to explain what was wrong with me as well as the fact that I needed a note to take a couple days off to get better. We are given websites to help us find English speaking doctors in the area, but most of them are at least a train ride away plus a tram, walk or bus ride because I live outside the city. I also live alone, with no one around to help me, the closest friend being a 25 minute train ride away. If I even COULD get myself to the train station, on a train, off the train, on a tram/bus or manage to walk to the hospital that emplys an English speaking doctor – well I really wouldn’t be that sick at all, would I? There was no way I could have managed that this weekend. Turns out it was easier just to come to work. So here I am. Thanks to my Board of Education’s stupid rules.
On another note, the other day I saw a dog in a wheelchair. It had no back legs just little wheels so it could pull itself along with its front legs. IT WAS SO KAWAII (cute).
On a final note, a teacher in the staffroom just gave me a snack to eat, and then went on google translate to tell me what this snack is. The translation: EEL PIE…
Until next time…

xo R

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YouTube

I got a YouTube account. It kept telling me I was already signed in under my google account every time I went there anyway, so I figured I may as well upload some of my videos that I am accumulating here in Japan; and so my YouTube channel was born.

This first video was taken on October 10th during the festival in my town which I posted about in “My Weekend Part IV: Aki Matsuri”. This video just gives you a feel for the atmosphere – look at how many people are there! – and the throwing of the shrines into the river. In this video, the guys jumped off the shrine before it went in the river, so they had to jump in afterwards to help lift it out.

So that was the scene on the 10th! It was quite a lot of fun, and the man you see at the end of the video who runs up to us and waves us forward was one of the guy who helped carry the shrine. He made sure we were right in the middle of the action the whole day! So kind!

Also, here are some highlights from my day yesterday:

1. I taught all 6 classes yesterday, which meant I had no free period, which meant by class 6 I was exhausted. In 6th period I was teaching the 3rd years of the Junior High School (the oldest kids I teach) and I had to read a paragraph and the students had to repeat after me. One of the words in one of the sentences was a Japanese word and I couldn’t pronounce it properly leading two of the male students in the back to laugh hysterically at me most of the class as I struggled. Although at this point in my day the English words were becoming difficult too. The teacher was trying to get these boys to stop laughing, but honestly, I don’t blame them. It was hilarious, at my expense… but class was awkward.

2. At a restaurant yesterday I had to go to the washroom, so I just got up and wandered to the first door at the back of the restaurant I found. Because everything is written in Japanese I never know if I am walking into the boys washroom or the girls, or if it’s even a washroom at all, which was the case yesterday. I tried to open the door but it was locked.. so I pulled a little harder, before then the waiter came over and pointed to the door beside it, which had a sign on it, in English, which said “WASHROOM”. Duh. Was I embarrassed by this? Nope. I just said “oh thank you” and walked to the proper door. Unfortunately, things such as this occur to me on a daily basis, and I am basically immune to embarrassment now. Another way I have changed since arriving in Japan, I suppose.

Happy Friday!

5 Ways I Have Changed since Arriving in Japan

There is a saying in Japanese that, roughly translated, means “the nail that sticks out eventually gets hammered down”. I feel this expression best introduces this post: 5 Ways I Have Changed since Arriving in Japan.

It has been over two months now that I have been in this country, and I find things about myself beginning to change. For example, although I always considered myself somewhat of a rule abide-r, I am even more so now. When I first arrived in Japan, certain “laws” (or “guidelines” as I saw them then), seemed silly and not worth enforcing. Such guidelines were: never cross a street while the light says “don’t walk”; or, never ride on the back of someone’s bicycle. To me, and many of the other foreigners, these laws just didn’t make sense. I mean, if we are all going somewhere far away, and one person doesn’t have a bicycle, it’s only natural that said person would ride on the back of someone’s bike… harmlessly. Secondly, if there is no one around and it is safe to do so, I am ignoring that “don’t walk” light – because to wait would just be silly. Yet, a few nights ago I found myself sitting on my bike (with no one on the back of it), stopped at a “don’t walk” light… just a short distance from my apartment … at 11:30 at night … on a deserted road … and I really had to pee. Yet I didn’t cross. I waited until that light told me I could before I crossed that road. And it was only yesterday when I found myself being persuaded by a friend to cycle down a “no cycling road,” when only a few short months ago I would have needed no persuading. Who would catch us? No one! Who would even care? Not a soul! But I couldn’t … there was a sign that said not to! (For the record I did end up cycling down this “no cycling road” because we were in a hurry and no bad came of it.) The Japanese are pretty intense about their rule abiding. It is considered fairly badass to cycle past a no cycling sign. All the cool teenagers do it (and that’s pretty much the worst they do…). I felt pretty badass doing it, not going to lie.

Secondly, it is 23 degrees out today (and I just double checked the temperature to be sure that was true) … and I am freezing. I am wearing a long sleeve sweater and a blazer. Why? I am Canadian. This is disgraceful.

Thirdly: In one of my first posts, you may recall, I wrote about a woman who was shocked and appalled that I didn’t take my shoes off upon entering my own home. She gasped and was so startled that I had stepped out of the little shoe removing area and onto my floor with my OUTDOOR shoes on! How dare I!? In my own home!! Well sir, well sir … last week I came home, in a rush, and ran into my house without removing my shoes and I freaked out! I screamed to myself turned around, and ran back to take them off before I realized that I didn’t care! I have become so conditioned to think this is blasphemy that I did end up taking them off. It’s just become habit now…

Also, I bow at everyone. Next time you see me I will probably bow to you. I can’t help it; I do it like 15 times a day. It’s second nature now.

And last, but certainly not least, on my list of behavioral changes (this is perhaps the most profound): I AM ALWAYS EARLY! Yes! It’s true! One wouldn’t have thought this day would come! In fact today I arrived only 5 minutes early to work (at 755 and not 750 like usual) and I apologized profusely! I considered myself late! I stayed until 430 to make up for it!

I am sure I will immediately abandon all of these personality changes the second I step off the plane home (especially the “being early” one, and lets hope I forget the bowing one real quick), but just in case I don’t … you have been forewarned.

A Lazy Sunday

In an effort to show you more what my everyday life is like – which began way back when I snapped some photos around my base school but was then abandoned due to my forgetful nature – here is me on a typical day (this particular day being Sunday the 16th) in my apartment. This is the bed I sleep on, but during the day I shift it upwards so part of it is against the wall, creating a makeshift couch. It is by no means as comfortable as even the most uncomfortable couch, but it does the trick. Catching up on my stories with my two roommates – Hello Kitty and Little Lamb.

lazy sunday with hello kitty and little lambA lazy Sunday on my makeshift couch

Watched the latest Survivor episode, which involved a disgusting challenge. Has anyone else been watching? Then caught up on The Big Bang Theory, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Rachel Zoe Project, and Up All Night. Thank God for the internet! Hope everyone else had a wonderful weekend!

My Weekend Part IV

My Weekend Part IV: Aki Matsuri

I didn’t sleep much Sunday night, despite my residual exhaustion from Hiroshima. My town was in the middle of a 3-day autumn celebration which involved whistles, screaming, drinking, and general shenanigans. I lay in bed but forced to stay awake and listen to the town party. My friends train got in at around 1, Catherine donating a box of KD to my Canadian Thanksgiving feast as well as her takoyaki maker (to make delicious treats!) and Katie donating Pringles. After a quick stop to the grocery store for beers, we were on our way down to watch the festivities! We immediately were greeted by men in these strange patterned robe-type outfits carrying mikoshi’s around summoning the townsfolk to the river for the main event. Upon seeing us, several drunken men brought us over, made us climb the mikoshi (they are quite large – it takes about 16 men to carry one) and put their hilarious robes on us and took our picture. Then we were asked to ‘carry’ the mikoshi around town to partake in the summoning of the locals. We, thankfully, were not relied upon to carry any of the weight of these mikoshi’s, but rather just sort of pretend to, and parade around while locals took our photo. The main event involved throwing the mikoshi in the river (with men atop it) and then dragging it out only to throw it back in again (with different men this time). This went on for a while. There was a huge crowed there, perhaps everyone from my town, old and young alike. The men who were showing us around tried to get us to go in the river, but we managed to escape their grasp. It was a pretty hilarious day to say the least.

Carrying the Mikoshi Through the Crowd!Cheering before the Mikoshi Goes into the River!

Mikoshi thrown in the river!
The mikoshi has been thrown in the river, and will be dragged out and thrown in again!

On The Mikoshi!
Fernn, Katie and I on the mikoshi!

When the main event of the festival was over we went back to my apartment and feasted on KD and Pringles and a bunch of other random foods. It wasn’t the usual turkey dinner, but I made everyone say what they were thankful for, and being with friends made me grateful.

My Weekend Part III

My Weekend Part III: Hiroshima Peace Museum

After an abrupt awakening Sunday morning, and a quick departure from our ryoken, James, Katie, Catherine, and I were off in search of breakfast. Hiroshima main station was close to where we were staying, and upstairs were a ton of restaurants, so we stumbled up there to grab some food. Although we were all craving giant mounds of pancakes, French toast, and greasy bacon, we had to settle for eggs and toast – which was the most Westernized breakfast we could find. After licking our plates clean and still not being satisfied, we went to a kombini (corner store) for some more food before hopping on the tram headed for the Peace Museum and the Peace Memorial Park.

Bomb Dome, Hiroshima, JapanCrane in the Window of the Bomb Dome

We passed the only building to remain standing on our way to the museum, and were fortunate enough to observe three cranes resting on the building. A beautifully symbolic moment, we stopped to photograph before continuing on to the museum. We intended to go through the museum first, as we were informed by other visitors that we will want the time to digest what we have seen and learned in the museum, and walking through the park afterward provides you that time. The museum was only 50¥ to get in (about 75 cents) and well worth more than that. In the entrance to the museum stands a large clock, “The Peace Watch Tower”, which counts the days since the bombing on August 6, 1945. Below is another clock counting the days since the last nuclear testing was done (this clock was reset to 0 on March 11, 2011 due to testing in the United States). The Peace Museum sought not only to recount the stories and lives of those affected by the bombing but also to bring a message of peace and declare a quest for a world without nuclear weapons. The first part of the museum was devoted to the history of the war and the events that led up to the bombing of Hiroshima. This was interesting because Hiroshima was specifically chosen as a target by the United States due to its location – the hills and the water would assist in creating maximum damage. It was also a city large enough that it would create the most amount of human damage. American documents on display at the museum show that the goal of the bombing on a city such as this was to create the greatest psychological damage on all of Japan. Another alarming fact from the bombing was the measuring devices dropped before the bombing. America sent down several devices with the intention of measuring the impact of the bomb before it was dropped. Because these devices floated down on little balloons many came outside to watch them drift to the ground, and therefore were outside when the bomb fell. The information presented in the museum was all-inclusive. It gave detailed accounts of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and did not give the impression that Hiroshima was a victim, nor was anyone to blame, rather portraying every country in this time as a victim of circumstance. The second part of the museum sought to explain the dangers of nuclear testing as it occurs today. It showed pictures of recent times, where, in America, spectators are asked to come watch nuclear testing unaware of the dangers of cancer and afterwards are subject to testing of the effects. It lists countries and the amount of nuclear weapons they possess (Canada has none; America and Russia have the most). It paints a picture of what would happen to the world if nuclear warfare were to occur. A scary idea, but a possibility as long as nuclear weapons exist. On display at the museum is a wall on which a man’s shadow at the time of the bombing is imprinted. Images of victim’s back are displayed where the pattern of their clothes is burned onto their skin. The museum showed personal objects of those who died, most were children’s clothing worn at the time of bombing. It was difficult to see many were listed as ‘Junior High School’ uniforms, and we couldn’t help but imagine our own school kids. Many of the young ones survived long enough to make it home, were they were given aid by family members before dying that night; or, if they survived the night, developed cancer later. Such is the case for Sadako Sasaki, a girl of two when the bombing occurred. She died at 12 after being diagnosed with cancer. Believing she would be cured if she could fold 1,000 paper cranes, Sadako spent her hospital surrounded by origami cranes. Today, thousands of cranes are displayed at her statue, sent from all over the world. On the way out of the museum you can pause to watch video testimony of survivors. There is also a map showing where survivors now live, in Japan. A large population lives in my prefecture of Ehime.

Bomb Dome, Hiroshima, JapanThe Bomb Dome

After the museum we walked through the park, taking it all in. We stopped to observe the dome, the only building that remains standing from the bombing. The experience was heartbreaking and its effects cannot really be put into words.

Although we were saddened by our experience at the museum and the park, we reminded ourselves that we are in what is now a beautiful city, still full of life. There was one more thing we wished to experience during our short time here, and that is ‘okinomyiaki’. The Japanese compare okinomyiakito to pizza, but really the two are only alike in shape. This delicious Japanese dish is famous in Hiroshima so before we caught the ferry home we stopped to try some. I had eaten okinomyiaki once before, in Matsuyama, and really disliked it, but in Hiroshima it was delicious! It was a cheesy, noodley, eggy, delicious feast. It’s difficult to explain what it is (to be honest I am not really sure), but I imagine it is made with love and magic.

okinomyiaki: hiroshima style
Delicious Okinomyiaki!

After our feast we were running a bit late for the ferry, so we hurried to the tram. The tram was taking way too long to get to the port, and we feared missing our ferry, so we got off and caught a taxi. Unfortunately, luck was not on our side and we missed our ferry. We had to upgrade our tickets (which meant shelling out another 40 bucks) to take the fast ferry which was leaving a half hour later. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however, as the fast ferry took half the time of the slow ferry we missed, so we actually returned to Shikoku faster than we had planned originally (if you can call our last minute decisions a ‘plan’). As it was evening, we all continued home, with my friends promising to come visit me tomorrow, a holiday here in Japan (and at home!) for a makeshift Canadian Thanksgiving and to see the Autumn Festival in my local town.

My Weekend Part II

My Weekend Part II: Hiroshima Sake Festival

Saturday morning I awoke at Catherine’s house at 8:30, an early rise to catch the early ferry to Hiroshima! We were so excited we were blasting Whitney Houston and jumped right out of bed and into dancing mode. We got ready and met Katie at the station where we had to take a short train ride to the port. Once at the port, we met up with a few other JETs and we all took the ferry together. We took the slow ferry (half the price of one way on the fast ferry) so it took about 3 hours. But the ride wasn’t bad, it was a beautiful day out!

Ferry to Hiroshima!Me on the ferry to Hiroshima!

We arrived at Hiroshima and took the tram into the main station, where our ryokan was just a short walk away. A ryokan is a Japanese style hotel, and ours in particular consisted of a small tatami room with three futons for us. It had a small TV, and tea was waiting for us upon our arrival! Two old men run the ryokan, and were so sweet. After struggling to help us in English for a while, Catherine says to them “I can speak a little Japanese” and they seemed relieved. The first question they asked her was “how tall are you?” haha (Catherine is taller than me, and Japanese people are always curious about your height.) Then they lead us to our room, where we hang out there for a few minutes and then make our way back to the station to catch the train to Saijo, which is where the sake festival is happening.

ryoken in hiroshima, japan!Katie and Catherine in our room at the ryokan!

Sake festival was already in full swing and we were already receiving texts from JETs who were already there, so we wanted to get there as soon as possible… after a quick stop to McDonald’s of course. Satisfied, after consuming an entire Quarter Pounder Meals with Cheese each, we got on the train to Saijo. Once there we found the Sake Festival quite quickly: follow the trail of drunken people. Saijo was having a large festival which took up many blocks of the town, but the sake tasting was located in a small tent which was hidden away from the rest of the festival. Once inside (a ticket was about 10 dollars), you were given a small sake cup and invited to try any and all of the 900 different kinds of sake that were available. The connoisseurs of the festival were running around with a booklet, trying to get the rarest and the most delicious of the sake, and writing their opinions in their books, while the rest of us just dived right in to whatever sake was closest. You just walk up to one of the many stalls and point at the sake you want and they serve it to you! We asked one of the workers if he liked his job of pouring sake for all the people, and he said “no, I want to be drunk, too!” Love the honesty! It’s actually amazing how different all the sake can taste. We found one that had a distinctly banana taste that was quite delicious. Others were very bitter and less to our liking. We ended up hanging around the “Shikoku” area where all sake from our island was being given out. The place was FULL of foreigners, including JETs from all over, as well as a lot of American Marines from a nearby base (these Marines were best avoided at all cost as they were incredibly obnoxious and annoying). All in all the festival was a blast! And we got to keep the cute little cup.

Hiroshima Sake Festival 2011!Me and Joanie and Catherine

When the festival was over at about 9:30 we all got on a train and headed back to Hiroshima to find a bar. Apparently there was a “foreigner’s bar” somewhere, so we all went there… and it was exactly that: A bar where all the foreigners in Hiroshima hang out. It was actually incredibly strange. Perhaps I am just used to being a minority, but seeing so many people around and understanding them all was overwhelming (haha). Catherine, Katie and I had a midnight curfew (placed on us by the old men who worked at the ryokan – as they usually close up the front door at 12, and go home to bed, we were asked to come back before then, although they told us they would “wait up for us”) so we didn’t stay long at the foreigner’s bar. Having the midnight curfew was actually a blessing though, gave us a reason to get home early and get some solid sleep, as we had plans to go to the Peace Museum on Sunday. Our friend James ended up having no place to stay that night (as he couldn’t find reservations) so he asked if he could come crash in our room. Once we arrived at the ryokan, however, the old men owners were less enthused about having a boy stay in our room (and we couldn’t solve the situation by telling them he was gay, as that would only further complicate and confuse.) He asked “is this one of your brothers?” and thus provided us with an obvious escape route: “why, yes, he is our brother”, and so he was allowed to stay after paying a fee. It was hilarious. I sung lullabies to put everyone to sleep (and by that of course I mean I put on my iPod and song along to Nicki Minaj rather obnoxiously until I fell asleep) and that was our night in Hiroshima! We arose to a phone call at 9 am informing us it was checkout time and we were to immediately leave the ryokan. So begun our Sunday.