Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's at Kobe for three

Happy chocolate consumer day everyone! My Valentine's this year will most likely be kicking back, watching an action flick while chowing down on a mug cake, so I'll just talk about my trip to Kobe in 2011 for the Mt. Rokko Ice Festival.

A little back story: my friends and I wanted to go to the Sapporo Snow Festival which is held in the beginning of February, however with Japan's school schedule it requires you to take 年休, nenkyuu, or vacation time on one or more school days. Depending on your schools that would be okay, but since it was my first year as an ALT, plus already asking for days off during Christmas I decided it would be bad form to ask for more. While several Okayama JETs were able to go, my friends and I felt bummed that we couldn't/didn't, so we decided to screw Sapporo and go somewhere more local: Kobe! We discovered that on Mt. Rokko they have an ice festival of their own so we had our own little snow adventure.

After we arrived in Kobe, we took a brief detour and went to Ikuta Shrine in the Sannomiya area. The shrine is apparently connected to the god of matrimony so we went in honor of Ikuta Toma Valentine's Day.

Lots of couples & women buying charms that day...
We also hit Kobe's Chinatown and went to a Kpop store. Yes. A kpop store. In Chinatown. In Japan. Awesome.

Dude where's my Epik High?

We then made our way to the Rokko cable car and made our way up the mountain. Mt. Rokko is one of the 3大夜景, sandaiyakei, or 3 great night views of Japan so we spent the day looking at ice sculptures then waiting for sunset to see the view. Sadly I was freezing my butt off and couldn't stay out too long so I was lazy in my photo taking of the night view. I guess that's why there's Flickr.

This was pretty much my first time seeing ice sculptures like these and despite not feeling my body, I was really impressed with the art. They even sculpted games so people were ring tossing and kids were sliding on ice slides, it was crazy!

Ice purikura!

The next day we ended our exploration of Kobe with a trip to other iconic landmarks: the Mosaic shopping center and Kobe Tower.

Oh Kobe Tower, Skytree you are not
Within the tower there were trees set up where you can write and hang up a Valentine's message.

After going to the Sapporo Festival the following year, I have to say the Sapporo Snow Festival blows this one out of the water, but if anyone down south can't make it up to Hokkaido, and can stand the cold, then I would give Rokko-san a try. Even if you don't go for the ice festival there are other places you can visit on the mountain, like a botanical garden and museums of music boxes and cheese (separate museums).

Snow, mountains, towers...definitely wasn't a bad way to spend a Valentine's day. 

And now I leave you with this:

Monday, February 11, 2013

JET Adventures Stateside: Visit Japan @ SF

This weekend was the Visit Japan Campaign hosted by the Japanese Consulate of San Francisco. This was also my first time volunteering as a JET Alumni and I have to say I had so much fun I wouldn't mind doing it again.

The weather was perfect on both days for the event. Visit Japan was held in San Francisco's Union Square and was comprised of Japanese tourism agencies, food, tech and fashion companies. In the main tent there were performances and presentations, from taiko (including San Jose Taiko yeaaaa) to ikebana and traditional Japanese dancing. There was also a food sampling area where you can taste Japanese food and a cup of sake for $1. The event was relatively small, but it was a pretty good turn out and I was able to talk to a lot of people who were interested in the JET Program or were supporters of it. It was really awesome to see parents and other alumni members coming by and showing their support. Not only was I able to see my fellow Okayama JET girlfriends, but I was able to talk to people who can more or less relate to the experience I had in Japan.

Not bad for a trial run for this Visit Japan event. I think if there were more things for sale, even if it's just food would make the event even more popular. I had a few people ask me if there was food for sale and I was really surprised there wasn't any.

As a bonus, here's a clip of one of San Jose Taiko's piece. I can't believe I auditioned for this group. These guys are amazing.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sunday Flashbacks: Kobe Luminarie

Japan looooves pretty bright twinkling lights. In the US, families light up their own homes with outside lights for the holidays, but in Japan cities tend to make it an event (Honestly, I think its just another reason for them to make a festival and eat awesome festival food!). Some of the more famous ones are in the Tokyo area, like Shinjuku and Ginza which I've seen during my first trip to Japan in college. Last year, my fellow Peach girls decided to see what the 'west' side was up to and went to Kobe's Luminarie.

Ever wanted to know how being in a herd feels like?

Man, I think we were literally herded around central Kobe for nearly the whole time, but it spread out a bit once you saw the illuminations.

So, is it worth going to see? Sure, why not. I probably wouldn't go twice though. If you're not a fan of herd-like crowds and the cold, then maybe you might want to just catch some pictures on Flickr, but despite that I think it's nice to see at least once.

Until next time!

Would *I* be the FOB in this case...?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Flashbacks: Turkey Day aka that is not a biscuit damnit! day

Thursday was my first Thanksgiving back in the US. For my family, Thanksgiving is just another family gathering for us to pig out, but with a few differences. We dress up a bit and add a turkey and other classic Thanksgiving must-haves. It's also tradition to share at least one thing we are grateful for this year. Mine was pretty simple: I was grateful that I can spend Thanksgiving with my family again and able to eat an *actual* turkey.

Looking at the turkey was like this:

Thanksgiving in Japan pretty much marked the beginning of the holiday blues for me. I loved living in Japan, love it and miss it, but November onward was when the homesickness hit. Maybe its because the winter holidays are celebrated so differently in Japan (or don't exist at all, turkeys rejoice) that it really emphasizes the foreignness. At least Japan has a word for turkey(七面鳥、しちめんちょう、or seven-faced bird. lolz). A plus side was that it gave me plenty of lesson ideas/culture sharing time.

My first year in Okayama I had 2 Thanksgivings. The first was a potluck in Yakage, the next town over from Ibara. Awesome food, awesome people, lovely times. The second one was with closer friends. We decided that we wanted to celebrate on the actual day, despite the fact we all had work the next day and some of us had to travel over an hour to commute to and from the city (*ahem* me). Ordering turkey from The Meat Guy and/or the Flying Pig was pretty pricey, so we had KFC instead. I know. Looking back now I'm wondering what the hell were we thinking, but I think it was along the lines of hey, KFC is as American as you can get and its a kind of play on Japan's odd custom of eating KFC/friend chicken on Christmas. We did make homemade mashed potatoes and dessert though! And despite the near brawl of the Americans and British on what a biscuit REALLY is, fun was had by all. Not so much for me when I woke up 5 in the morning to take the first train back to my town and head straight to work. Never. Again.

KFC, hobnobs. Internationalization at its finest

The second time around we took the holiday more seriously. Sort of. Lots more homemade stuff including an awesome chicken bake (our turkey substitute) and homemade apple cider. Oh, and pazookie, can't forget that.  The day can be summed up into 2 words: food and Zelda.

So yes, I was very, *very* happy to celebrate Thanksgiving stateside. But, I am grateful that I was able to celebrate Thanksgiving in Japan with an amazing second family.



Sunday, November 11, 2012

Summer(?) Sonic Osaka 2012

I recently bought tickets for Muse's concert (myfavoritebandofalltimesooooexcited) in Oakland, and it reminded me of one of my concert adventures in Japan. It was definitely a concert event I will never forget. So let me tell you about my Summer Sonic experience.

Besides Fuji Rock, Summer Sonic is one of the biggest summer music festivals in Japan and with a line-up like Rihanna, Gym Class Heroes, and Perfume, I definitely wanted to go before I left Japan. So I did.

A hot, summer concert? Oho, little did we know...

My friends and I went on Saturday and although I was sad to miss out on Green Day and Franz Ferdinand, I ended up seeing artists I like such as Gym Class Heroes and Perfume, and even old school favs like Garbage, The Cardigans, and New Order (all of them, were *amazing* by the way). 

So here my friends and I were, sweating and enjoying Perfume's performance, when clouds started creeping over the sky. I didn't think *too* much of it. After all, summer time in Japan is usually caught between nasty humidity and nasty humidity + rain. A little rain couldn't hurt a concert right?

WRONG. First came the thunder. It was so close and very very loud. It was freaking people out, including me. It didn't help that Perfume stopped performing, apologized and said they would be "right back", then left (they *left* us). Then came the downpour. Honestly Japan, of all the days to rain...

Seeking refuge

Despite the torrent, the *second* we saw it stop, the crowd *rushed* back to the stage areas. So in the end I stayed out all night wet and muddy. I didn't exactly feel my finest, but thinking back on it now I'm definitely glad I went even though I lost a good pair of flats. *sigh*

All in all, not bad for my first summer music festival. Don't let Japan's random fickle weather stop you from going to any of Japan's music summer festivals. I definitely recommend going if you can get the chance.

And I leave you with the foodie pic of the day!

Okay I lied. The Meiji Chocolate building seen from the shinkansen.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 Jur--Mt. Takatsuma Park

I never considered myself a hiking kind of girl. Sure, when I was a kid my family went camping over the summer, but I never did anything more than that especially when I got older and discovered the internet. Then, I climbed Mt. Fuji and I thought it was *awesome*. I guess it also helped that Japan is just a beautiful country and would inspire anyone to go for walks and take in the scenery. So, I was happy when I was invited to go with some of the Ibara English conversation students and hike a small mountain in Yakage, the next big town over. 

It really was a fun hike and the weather was beautiful for it. There was a clearing where we busted out the bento lunches (man did they pack a lot of food! I think us foreigners just packed onigiri/sandwiches from the conbini!). During the hike we looked down on a camping area and thought we even spotted a farm (well we heard the cows).

Not at the top, but whatever

Ah, I loooove 紅葉 (kouyou)

We all went our separate ways in Ibara, though some of the students came to my apartment and dropped off some Japanese sweet potatoes (さつまいも) and konnyaku (こんにゃく, a jelly made from devil's tongue) that they had at home. Man, the perks of living in the inaka!

Yummy shot of the day:


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Blast from the Past: The Melody of Hamamatsu

I know. It's been a while. So much of a while, in fact that now this post is about what I did *last* October.

2 of my friends were placed in Hamamatsu (浜松) in Shizuoka prefecture. Most know the prefecture for some random volcano, mountain thing called Fuji, but for any classical music buff Hamamatsu happens to be known for music: Yamaha is stamped everywhere (its headquarters is based there) and there are music motifs  *everywhere*, including a statue to one of the great composers (a personal fav or mine), Frederic Chopin.

Even their manhole covers! *Manhole covers!* 

Such an emo

As much as I love being an Okayama JET, I have to say the music lover in me was so jealous that my friends were placed here! I remember there would be music everywhere we went whether its from some hopeful band jamming outside, or even the little classic jingles they play on the bus. I was also surprised there was a  pretty big Brazilian community. 

To kill some time we also went to the Museum of Musical Instruments where, well, they showcase musical instruments from around the world.

My friends loved being placed there. I'm glad I had a chance to see why.

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