Monday, December 26, 2011

The 3 F`s: 花見@京都

Flower-viewing? Really? People actually do this? You wouldn`t think much of it right? Set up a (usually) blue tarp/mat (or banig for you fellow Filipinos holla), sit, drink , eat nomnoms and, or sakura to be specific. What fun can be had in that?

TONS. (Especially if you add the alcoholic drink part). I can probably say this because I ended up spending hanami at one of *the* places to do it: Kyoto. I went with 2 of my friends who are JETs in Shizuoka-ken.

I think Kyoto and `crowded` should go hand in hand. We were sardined packed tight on the bus on the way to Ginkakuji, right next to an old man who spoke to us with this gross, orange blob on his lips (we`re thinking it was uni) that also made his spit orange and UGH GROSS きもい!

...Anyway. The path towards the Silver Pavilion is beautiful. As if Kyoto`s mash of old and new architecture wasn`t awesome enough, there`s mini forests to boot that made me think I stepped into the forests in Princess Mononoke...

I`m expecting kotodama to come out aaany second now...

And maybe I was so enchanted of the path *to* the temple that when I actually saw the Silver Pavilion my first thought was, `That`s it?`. Seriously. I didn`t even think it was Ginkakuji. I thought it was a random temple before the main attraction, but then I realized it had to be since a lot of people were taking pictures in front of it...well, at least it was a nice walk. After that we walked some more and took a stroll through the Philosopher`s Path, 哲学の道 for more pink awesomeness. And cats.

Cats seem to be everywhere in Japan...

After a brief stop at the Heian Jingu shrine we then headed over to the Gion District and Maruyama Park to get our Hanami on. The park definitely had the party vibe that night. Lots of Japanese people nomnoming, drinking and just letting loose just really set the fun tone. This is when I realized that Japanese will use any excuse, like the changes of the seasons to get their drink on. Sadly all good things must come to an end so we stumbled to the 9h capsule hotel in Gion (which is the most amazing capsule hotel *evaromg*).

Forget the sofa bed, can I have this instead?

The following day we got our hanami on again in Arashiyama, a place I`ve always wanted to visit after seeing pictures of the place during the spring and fall. Beautiful. Although it was packed, it was still pretty relaxing and we were able to snag a spot and nomnom on more delicious matsuri meat-on-a-stick and sakura flavored soft serve ice cream. We only saw a glimpse of what Arashiyama had to offer because sadly we all had a long way to travel back to our part of Japan that we call home.

Hanami in Kyoto is AMAZING and I definitely recommend going to Kyoto during that time, crowds be damned. But of course hanami can be done *anywhere* in Japan. As long as you have the 3 F`s: Food, Flowers, and most important Friends then you too can get your flower power on.

Tasty of the day:
sakura ice cream with actual sakura blossoms

Friday, December 2, 2011

Genki Taisou....GO!

The title more or less translates to happy/energetic exercise....GO!

Today was...interesting.

...guess I better back up a bit. The story starts in October during the Ibara Sports Festival. After parading around the track all the participants gathered in the center of the field and lined up to do a warm-up. What us unsuspecting ALTs didn't know was this wasn't the usual, every-morning-radio-taisou the salarymen do. It was a mix of some warm up karate punches, marching, line dancing and jazz hands (okay the jazz hands were our addition). Of course, we thought the weirdness was AMAZING so we kind of...well, we were *genki*. We started to aim the punches at each other, do jazz hands, make weird faces, etc. Then it was finished; we had a laugh and the sports festival continued. We really didn't think anyone paid attention to our shenanigans.

Man, were we wrong. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago where one of my supervisors comes to me and lets me know that the city saw us do the Genki Taisou so *well* that the local broadcast wants to record us and air it. 5 of 6 pretty much screamed at him to let us do it. And so today, we did just that.

I have to say there was just a teeny, tiny moment where I felt...irked over what the instructor said. While we were practicing and asking questions of 'where does our arm go, which direction,' etc. she tells us that mistakes are okay (funny coming from a Japanese person) and the main point is for people to laugh. At first I thought well, to laugh *at* us? Sure, let's look at the silly foreigners do a taisou, dance, monkey dance! Because there are quite a few moments, both inside and outside the classroom where I do feel like the 'monkey' and perform for the kids/community. And well, let's face it, most of the time, I have no idea what's going most of the time anyway so I just go with the flow and do it. Besides, dancing is fun.

Regardless, the irked feeling went away because well, it was our fault for acting silly at the sports festival in the first place and come ON! We're being taped doing a warm-up exercise that the whole town will see!! How awesome is that?! Of course we all requested copies when it's finished. We ended the day with dinner (and DRINKING) at Champloo aka Champs. Even our supervisors came by for a drink to pat us on the back.

The taisou will air in January for who knows how long. Once I get my copy I'm immediately sending it stateside because otherwise I might end up setting fire to it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

PKOV Much Ado about London and Rome: last day

Oh noes! The last day of my awesome European vacation! Well, we didn't waste it, that's for sure! In the morning we went to the Villa Borghese, which was the gallery that my cousin REALLY wanted to see in Rome. She's already been to Rome, so this was pretty much the only thing on her to-do/see list. The park was nice and nearly empty in the morning. Sadly I couldn't take pictures once inside the gallery, but you're just going to have to take my word that it's pretty awesome. The collection is amazing. This is where I discovered my love for Bernini's work. Apollo and Daphne? The Rape of Proserpina? Wow.

Afterwards, my cousin wasn't feeling well, so it was pretty much me exploring the Colosseum while my cousin sat somewhere. She was well enough to walk around the Palatine/Roman Forums at least. Then, as a spur of the moment, we decided to go to the Bocca della Verita, the Mouth of Truth. Much love to Roman Holiday!! Alas, my cousin has the shot (1 picture per person damnit). We almost didn't get to take a picture because it was almost closing time and there was a pretty long line. After a quick walk around the church (yes, it's more than just a face with a gaping mouth that you stick your hand in. The Mouth is in front of the entrance to a church).

And so, we had our last dinner in Italy. And gelato. Never forget the gelato.

San Crispino's is recommended in Fodor's travel guide and has very good reviews if the several newspaper clippings in the store are to be believed. Anyway, I LOVED this place. The workers were trying to make conversation to some Koreans who were ahead of us. The worker greeted the kid correctly, but then started mixing Japanese phrases which made me giggle inside. It made me realize they must get so many tourists that they pick up various phrases in all these languages. Stingy that they don't allow samples, but I guess if you're the best you could do what you want. My last gelato in Rome was a mix of plum and yogurt. Plum gelato. How awesome is that?!

Well, the next day, my cousin and I parted ways: her to Las Vegas, me back to Japan. I had a short layover in Frankfurt and another one in Beijing that was a close call. For some reason, the worker in the airport sent my luggage to Beijing. But because of my flight times it made it really complicated. I had to figure out how to check-in my luggage, then re-check myself in (security and all) and get into my damn plane. It involved changing terminals, asking dozens of workers where the hell to go, and a lot of running. Damn, I'm getting angry just thinking of that time. Ugh. That airport and I did not get along. Well, obviously I made it in time and made it back to Japan safe and sound. And jet-lagged. I stayed up the whole night after returning home.

That pretty much sums up my trip to London and Rome. If given the chance, I'd like to see other cities in Italy (perhaps the more northern ones like Florence or Venice). I'd go back to London in a heartbeat.

I feel guilty about blogging about Rome and London, in a blog I set up for my experience in Japan, but well, this trip happened *while* living in Japan, so to me it counts. So there. Sayonara Europe-related posts, and welcome back Peachy Keen in *Japan*.

Wait I lied. Goody of the day: 

Hot dog in Frankfurt. Come on, I *had* to. I've been craving a decent hot dog since, forever so this hit the spot. Damn, now I'm hungry.

Okay, *now* back to Japan.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

PKOV Much Ado About London and Rome: Day 12

The highlight of my trip: the day tour of the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii!! Typical American that I am, I am ashamed to admit I didn't know anything about these 2 amazing places. My very generalized summary/thoughts?

-If you ever want that vacation house by the ocean, Amalfi Coast would be the place.
-Amalfi Coast: famous for linen, fashion (the town of Positano), and home of limoncello (the hardest lemonade you'll ever have in your life)
-I want to live in the Amalfi Coast.
-Pompeii: lolz at the penis markers pointing the way to the brothels
-Damn those Pompeiians sure were smart. So many things we use in our everyday lives *they* thought of. That's CRAZY.
-Pompeii was the first party town (suck it Vegas!)

The tour was through Viator and it was one of those small, 10 person tours. We just winded our way through the coast in a little van. Our guide was awesome: funny, nice, and knew his stuff. During the trip through the coast he would point out which star has what villa. He mentioned Bill Gates, Denzel Washington and a couple more stars.

I need to marry a rich man. Right now.

After seeing the coast, I thought Pompeii would be dull in comparison. I mean, it's just ruins now right? Well I think if it weren't for our guide, it would've been, but Gaetano was so awesome (and his accent so epic) that I had a blast. I wanted to hear everything and I became really fascinated with the doomed city. I think what really made the tour work for me was how casual the tour was. Gaetano didn't speak like he was reading off a textbook; he spoke naturally and effortlessly without sounding like he's done this thousand of times (which he has probably did). He made the history come to life. Bravo for Viator for this tour!

Geek Alert!

Okay, there's another reason why Pompeii was so awesome. But I didn't know about this until *after* my trip. So my awesome guide, Gaetano, is apparently so awesome that he was the one who gave David Tennant a tour around Pompeii while he was shooting 'Fires of Pompeii' for Doctor Who. My brain pretty much broke after discovering this. After all, this whole trip started *because* my cousin wanted to see that man in Much Ado About Nothing. What can I say? It was fate.

After returning to Rome, our night was free so we just had dinner (an amazing Caesar salad) and possibly the best gelato ever at St. Crispin Gelato. Seriously if you go to Rome that's the place to go.

And so I leave you with a video of my Pompeii tour guide, Gaetano with David Tennant. He definitely didn't look like that when I met him (for one thing he has hair in this video), but his voice is unmistakable. 

There's a better and longer version which could be found on Youtube as well.

Oh! and tasty of the day: Mocaccino, which I guess can be a cafe mocha for us.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

PKOV Much Ado About London and Rome: Day 11

Today was the day we took the tour of Vatican City. Of course before the long day ahead my cousin and I had to fuel ourselves!

A frappucino in Italy. Can't get any better than that.

The tour we went on wasn't really a tour. It pretty much got us into the city without the long wait. The first thing we did after entering was head straight to the post office to send postcards to friends and family from the smallest country in the world! Unfortunately I didn't prepare and only had my parents' address on hand. I ended up buying postcards for friends to send from Japan >_> Not one of my best moments...

The Vatican museums were interesting. What really fascinated me was how much art the Vatican commissioned. What amazed me even more was that the sections we were able to see is just a tiny portion of what the Vatican holds. And even *then* this is just a small portion of Vatican City itself. The walkthrough of the museums was just a maze of various paintings/sculptures that eventually led us to the main  attraction: The Sistine Chapel.

I was born and raised Catholic (like pretty much all Filipinos out there), but I don't really practice it so I wasn't moved as I should have been when walking around the Vatican museums. That being said, it was when I entered and saw St. Peter's Basilica where I really felt the presence of the divine. I think it would even touch the hardcore non-believers. It's so majestic, so grand that it was unbelievable that I was even standing there and taking this all in with my own eyes. The Pieta, the Basilica are things you see in textbooks and documentaries; to actually BE there was...yeah, unbelievable. I still have a hard time thinking I was actually there. It just made me think how grateful I was for having an opportunity to be able to do this. So I went to one of the altars (this section was actually open to people who wanted to pray, so you couldn't take pictures or be loud or anything), and for the first time in a long time, I prayed and gave thanks.

The Vatican plus the Basilica took up half of our day. With no other set plans my cousin and I decided to head on over to the Pantheon. Afterwards we took a well deserved break near the fountain, then ate dinner at one of the many restaurants in the courtyard facing the Pantheon. As if our feet weren't screaming in pain, we walked some more and took a night stroll through the Monument of Victor Emmanuel, the Forums and the Colosseum.

Random thought: I'm not sure if it was this night or another night, but while walking through a street with small restaurants waiters would be calling out to try and get us to come in. I was greeted in Japanese, Chinese (really?!)...only ONE waiter got it right and called us 'beautiful' in Tagalog. HA.

Non-tasty of the day: Ciambella (Italian donut). I'm thinking maybe I just got one from the wrong place. :/

Next: Day 12, Beaches and Volcanoes...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Castles and Diabetes in a bucket

Today I went with a couple of JETs to Bitchu-Takahashi to see Matsuyama Castle, the highest castle in Japan and one of the original 12 castles in Japan still standing. Although it was raining a bit, it was really warm and the hike made us work up a sweat (which was kind of gross in the rainy, kinda muggy weather). The view from above made it worth it.

As much as I'd like to say that I did this for the sake of seeing more of Japanese culture, I admit my true intention was something totally different. In Bitchu-Takahashi there is a cute little restaurant called Chateau. Although their food is tasty, what makes this place stand out is their parfaits. Now if you have a whole bunch of parfait-loving friends, you can get one of their bucket parfaits. The one we ordered (there was 10 of us in the end, the other 7-8 people bailed out) was the smallest one of their bucket sizes. The larger one has this one in a BIGGER bucket filled with sugary death.

This parfait is NOT a lie

Let's see if I can remember what was in this monstrosity: a whole pineapple, several waffle cones with ice cream, kiwi, oranges, peachespp, sherbet, apples, crepes, chestnut, matcha, chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream, mochi, azuki beans, corn flakes, baumkuchen, oh and of course Pooh-san (which was also ice-cream). Chateau even has a challenge for their parfaits. If you eat one of their less daunting parfaits under a certain time limit you get that parfait for free.

...I made sure to eat light prior to this. The result?

The carnage...

So don't let *anyone* tell you that Japan has *just* small portions and is very healthy. *That* cake is a lie.

Friday, November 4, 2011

PKOV: Much Ado About London and Rome Day 10

Ha, this day was an...interesting day.

Today was the day we decided to take a day trip to Tivoli to see the Villa D'Este. The day we went, August 15 just happened to be a holiday, Ferragosto or Assumption Day. Italians take their vacations seriously, because honestly it was almost a ghost town when walking around Tivoli. Thankfully, the villa was open as were some restaurants so it wasn't like we were stranded or anything.

To think that someone can live in place like Villa D'Este boggles my mind.

Comes with crazy fountains and a water organ! Buy this villa today!

The villa was so awesome we wanted to try and see Villa D'Adriana as well. Little did we know at the time that Adriana is a bit aways from D'Este, let alone Tivoli center, so we walked around the town following signs to Adriana FOR NOTHING. Definitely tiring/frustrating since we had to time our return trip back correctly since apparently almost EVERYTHING closes down on holidays >_>

After heading back (which was a bit of a headache. Kind of happens when the 2 languages you speak aren't the main languages in the country you're visiting), we grabbed dinner and walked around St. Peter's Basilica

This day wasn't a total waste. How can it be: I was in Italy! The lesson I took from this is if you ever plan to do a day trip outside Rome, make sure it's not a holiday.

Tasty of the day: starting off the day Italian style with a  Mocaccino. aww yeaaaah

Sunday, October 16, 2011

PKOV: Much Ado About London & Rome Day 8-9

Day 8 was a sad day indeed. London was so much fun. I loved the history, the shopping, the PLAYS. I would go back to London in a heartbeat. I almost wished, ALMOST, that we spent the whole time in London.

We arrived in Rome in the evening and spent ridiculously stupid amount of time a jolly ol' time lugging our bags around trying to find our hotel. Let me tell you after being in public transportation-friendly places like Japan and London, Rome was a hard pill to swallow. It's a good thing Rome is walkable.

Day 9:

We checked out The Spanish Steps first since it was close by. After our first lunch in Rome (heaaaaaven) we weren't really sure what we wanted to do, so we hopped on those hop on bus tours to get a feel for the city.

I swear after the bus turned and I saw this, my mind was blown away. Has to be one of my favorite landmarks in Rome.

Piazza di Spagna @ night

During the day we discovered there was going to be a huge event at the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps for you non-Italian speaking folk). Apparently our first day in Rome happened to be the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. In that light, it's kind of interesting that unified Italy is younger than America. The event was pretty sweet: opera singers busting out popular(?)/famous pieces and dancers finished with a fireworks display. Not bad for a first night in Rome.

Tasties of the day: Limoncello (holy. crap.)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

PKOV: Much Ado About London and Rome Day 6 & 7

And so here is the wrap-up of my week in London. Day 6 and 7 was more last minute shopping, geek stuff and of course, the reason why we had this trip in the first place: Much Ado About Nothing. Day 6 was spent in the National Portrait Gallery, the Sherlock Holmes Museum and the Beatles Store. Honestly, having the Beatles store next to the Holmes museum was a bad idea. Well for me anyway.

We didn't really have any plans this night, so in the afternoon we bought tickets to Pygmalion. My cousin and I are huge fans of My Fair Lady (AUDREY I LOVE YOU), plus Rupert Everett as Mr. Higgins was too good to pass up. And yes, the play was amazing, though I didn't know about the ending. I suppose I'm happy since Mr. Higgins is a douche and kind of deserves it, but at the same time I did like Eliza and him together.

Day 7 was spent trying to get decent pictures of us crossing Abbey Road and geeking out in the Doctor Who Experience. It was nice to go to the exhibit as someone who used to watch the show. Although after seeing the stuff and getting hints of what I've been missing I have jumped back on the Doctor Who bandwagon. I honestly expected Abbey Road to be a bit wider and I felt bad that there was so many of us tourists trying to get this damn shot while drivers were just trying to go by. In the afternoon my cousin wasn't feeling so well so while she napped I went back to Picadilly Circus and shopped at one of my fav expensive designers: Desigual. At least they were having a sale. Anyway, we met up in West End to what we were waiting for all week: Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant and Catherine Tate. Oh. My. God. I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. I loved how the play was set in the 80's. Drooled a bit with seeing men in uniform (especially Tennant). Oh, and hearing Tennant in his Scottish accent? YES PLEASE. Sadly, at the end we weren't able to get a picture with Tennant or Tate, let alone an autograph. We didn't know where to go to see them ^^;;

And so ends my trip in London. I love London. Money permitting, I would go back in a heartbeat and stuff myself with scones and clotted cream, explore more of England, watch more plays...the list goes on.

Tasty of the day: Fish and chips. Of course.

Next: Rome

Friday, September 23, 2011

PKOV: Much Ado About London and Rome Day 4 & 5

Day 4:
Another jam-packed tourist-y day. I remember my cold being at its worst this day. Anyway, we started off with the Tower of London. Ignorant child that I am, I didn't really know much about the tower, so I found it really cool to see the bloody tower and the places where they tortured and kept prisoners. Seeing the crown jewels was a major plus too. Afterwards we headed over to St. Paul's Cathedral (holy moley the price to get in! Though if you go during mass it's free >_>), crossed the Millennium Bridge to go to the Globe Theater (another slightly expensive thing we cheaped out on. Shopped around the gift store though). Lastly we headed over to Harrod's. The main reason I wanted to go was for the food department. Japan has enough expensive department stores/malls thankyouverymuch.

Day 5:

This was our England-in-one-day trip with Viator. We took a bus from Victoria Station and went to Stonehenge, Bath, a drive through the Cotswolds towards Stratford-upon-Avon. For some reason, in my mind I expected Stonehenge to be bigger, not that it wasn't cool to see, it was. I think my highlight and also regret was Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon. I couldn't tell you how shocked I was to see Bath. One moment we're just driving through the Cotswolds, then after a bend you just see an amazing panoramic view of the town and it was just...magical. When I go back (notice WHEN not IF) to London, I'll definitely do a day trip of just Bath. It would've been nice to explore more of Shakespeare's hometown. We just had time for the Birthplace and a quick walk on the main street. The champagne and scones at the museum was a sweet bonus. When we returned we just had a pub dinner and I had my first fruit-flavored cider. Which was like drinking a chuhai.
The tour was jam-packed, but it was a nice way to see as much of outside London as you can in one day. It just made me want to see MORE.

Tasties of the day(s): afternoon tea. Again. XD

Sunday, August 28, 2011

PKOV: Much Ado about London and Rome - Day 3

Today was the day we decided to hit Kensington Palace for the Enchanted Palace exhibition. Since the District and Circle lines were going under maintenance in that area, we decided to just walk it from Earl's Court.

I liked the Enchanted Palace exhibition. It had that eerie, fantasy setting. It reminded me of Neil Gaiman's Mirror Mask, even the poems in the rooms written by Mercedes Kemp reminded me of one of Gaiman's short stories. Afterwards we went towards the Orangery to have our very first afternoon tea. Let me tell you, it wouldn't be our last.

I will never eat a scone outside London again. It was so good.

Afterwards, my cousin and I indulged our geeky sides and found Forbidden Planet in Soho, then went to Leicester Square and watched the last Harry Potter film. What? I still haven't seen it at the time. DON'T JUDGE ME. I really liked it too!

Man, if it weren't for that whole, watch-your-weight thing, I'd SO have afternoon tea. Every day.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

PKOV: Much Ado about London and Rome - Day 2

The day started with my cousin and I finding this right outside Earl's Court station:

As far as I was concerned, that was it, I could go home happy. 

Of course that wasn't the case, so I continued my adventure by going to Buckingham Palace and seeing the State Rooms. We didn't know the tickets were timed, so we decided to go to the British Museum and kill time there before our scheduled tour at the Palace.

The Rosetta Stone. Pretty much the reason why I wanted to go the museum in the first place.

After eating at a pub on the road to the Palace, we headed over. It started to rain pretty hard while waiting, but we eventually headed in. Damn, the weather in London is as fickle as it is in Japan! Anyhoo, the State Rooms was...amazing. Everything you imagine of royalty and those big fancy rooms? Yeah, that's what the rooms look like. I can't even imagine living in a place like that. And the crazy thing is we were only looking at just a *portion* of the state rooms. I have to say while walking around I kept imagining myself as a princess or something and prancing around in a princess-y dress. DON'T JUDGE ME!

Afterwards we ended up walking past Hyde Park. Since we were sick and had a pretty full day we called it an early night and watched some British TV.

I shall leave you with my fav (one of them anyway) things in the world: FOOD.

Vegetarian Falafel Burger @ Gourmet Burger Kitchen. I thought it would just be a normal dish, but alas it was still a burger. REALLY good though.

Peachy Keen on Vacation: Much Ado About London and Rome

Day 1 August 6:
It started off as a joke.

Cousin FB post: who wants to go to London to watch Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant?
Me reply: I DO!
Cousin reply: ...I was joking
Me reply: I WASN`T
Cousin: you want to?
Me: yeah!
Cousin: ...ok.

And that`s what brought me here...

We didn`t really have a set plan, so today we started off just bumbling around Westminster. We got to see: [pics of parliament, big ben, beiber freaks, rode the london eye (which was really slow) westminster abbey, yorkshire pudding]

 Parliament and Big Ben!

 Rode the London Eye! Which was really slow!

Saw a bunch of Bieber freaks fans try to spell something!

Westminster Abbey!

My first British meal, Yorkshire Pudding! (never again)

Despite London`s summer weather (warmest my Californian ass) and a cold, it wasn`t a bad start to the trip.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Celebrate good times come on! seriously come on!

March is a time of great change in Japan; not only the changing of the seasons, but for the students and teachers as well. Students graduate and some teachers get transfered to another school. I was invited to my high school's graduation since it was on a Saturday. Not really sure what I was expecting, but what I experienced really wasn't what I had in mind for a high school graduation.

First of all, the only people allowed to the graduation is immediate family, teachers, and students of the school. Yes, it is mandatory to see your sempai off (that would kinda suck in my book to HAVE to go to my senior's grad). Students just wear their school uniform (and pretty much look how they would like a normal school day) while teachers/parents wear the awesome celebratory color black. Everyone filed in like it was a military drill: teachers and the lower years were first, then the graduating class, then the teachers from colleges/middle school to show support which I thought was kind of cool. Oddly enough the presentation of the certificates is the FIRST thing; then are the speeches from the officials and student reps. I kept getting antsy in my seat because I couldn't really move: apparently I wasn't allowed to even cross my legs. I was wearing pants too!! Weird. During the speeches the silence was broken by the sniffles of classmates and parents. Mean of me, but I was kind of amused by this. I guess it was because it was so *quiet* that the sniffles were so obvious and *loud*...

It was the most somber graduation I have ever been to. I think I prefer the gaudy loud graduations back home.

That was Saturday. March 3rd was Hina Matsuri so I really wanted to go someplace that displayed a lot of the dolls. Sadly I couldn't go to Katsuyama due to the lameness of the train schedules, but me, Rachel and Jessica decided to see the Bikan district in Kurashiki instead. Totally worth it, despite the rain. I definitely want to see the district on a sunny day and when the flowers are blooming.

The Bikan district is a historical preservation district of what used to be the merchant quarters in that area. Now it has a whole bunch of restaurants and unique boutiques of course, but the architecture really takes you back in time.

Personally it was a Hina Matsuri well spent. Now off to read my Sailor Moon manga.

Also, tried the last burger of the America 2 series in McDonalds, the Manhattan Burger. I really think it's my favorite, next to the Idaho. Burger Challenge complete!

Friday, April 1, 2011

♪I need a change~♪

Argh, apologize in advance on how out of order this blog is. I'll (eventually) blog about my spring vacation, but for now I just wanted to talk about the 'changing of the guards' so to speak that's been happening all over the Japanese workforce. It's called 人事異動 (jin-ji-i-dou) and it's pretty much when new employees come in and the regulars are rotated to a different position, department, or in a teacher's case, a different school altogether. Apparently they do it to keep the employees "on their toes" and gives people to go up the ladder. Or down. >_> For example, the principal from my middle school is now head of the Education department in City Hall.

I knew about this for a while now, but for the past couple of days it was really evident: employees in the education division were cleaning their desks, and today I was bowing to a whole bunch of new people, including a new supervisor (which sucks because I REALLY liked my previous one, she was SO sweet). It felt like the first day all over again when I was greeting and giving self-intros left and right.

Pretty interesting, since well America definitely doesn't do that. The only transfer you do is A) when you specifically request it or B) you're getting transfered home because you're getting FIRED. Man, Japanese employees must be the most well-rounded workers ever. Then again, if they suck in that position then they're kinda stuck there for the next couple of years.

Yay for Japanese work culture shock!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dear Friends

Today I spent the day with Mariko in Okayama City. We wanted to spend a couple of days in Kyoto/Osaka, but because of the last minute hotel booking and the mass exodus to the Kansai area due to the earthquake, we couldn't find a place for the 20th. We ate lunch at The Market, a cute little shop that sells *actual* sandwiches. Not the sandwich stuff you find in the conbini. Like, Panera/deli type sandwiches. Mariko was happy with it so that made me happy.

It was so weird to see her in Japan. To think that over a year ago we were in Panera Bread talking about hopefully meeting up in Japan. I just wish it was under better circumstances. She's going back to the US on Tuesday and it doesn't look like she's coming back. I don't really blame her. These past few weeks has been crazy. I'm just glad she got out of Saitama safely.

I wish I can see the others as well, especially my friends who are studying abroad. I just found out one of them had to leave Yokohoma today! Perfectly understandable of course, but I know how much my friends wanted to come here and the work they put in to doing that. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Move Along

Being in Okayama all this time, I find it surreal at times to know that all the crazy things that have been happening: the quakes, tsunamis, the reactor explosions, all of it is happening in the same country. As much as I feel for the Japanese who are suffering, all I can think of are my fellow JETs; my FRIENDS, who are in the Kantou/Tohoku area going through all the things I can only see in the news.

For some reason I particularly feel emotionally drained today. It breaks my heart to know that while I'm in the clear, I read tweets from friends saying that they felt another quake, or they can't find what they need at the grocery store because of the shortage of supplies. I feel so helpless. I look at the AJET volunteer doc sheet to see if there's anything that can be done here in Okayama, but for now the best thing is to donate or give blood. I have donated, and I plan on donating 1万 (1 man) for relief funds (Man up for Japan!)

I count myself lucky that everyone I know in the affected areas are safe though I know others have experienced otherwise. One of my friends, an exchange student at Yokohama University, actually has to return to the US.

It's so hard to concentrate on work when all this is going on. I don't want to say it's frustrating, but it's just hard to see everything/everyone here in Okayama go on while s*it's hitting the fan elsewhere in the country. I guess it hits closer to home for me since I actually know people in these areas and that it's especially worrisome for me since I'm a foreigner in a country. To have all this happen in a country you just came to is pretty freaky to me. My close friends and family, my support are miles away, although thankfully technology makes it seem closer. It would be nice right now to get a hug from my Dad or to see my girlfriends.

Ugh, this post is so scattered; it's hard to put my feelings down. I guess all I can do is continue to pray for everyone's safety and that all this ends soon and we can start again. Pray For Japan. A little quote I've seen on Twitter from people who're posting art to show their support for the victims: がんばれ日本。必ず明日来る。I watch the #newday_GEISAI to cheer myself up a bit. Here's one of my favs:

Friday, March 11, 2011

March 11 地震

I have a draft on my Hana Matsuri trip, but I just wanted to make a quick post about the earthquake.

This afternoon there was a huge earthquake in the Tohoku region of Japan. I've seen a few numbers, but it looks like it hit 8.8 on the Richter scale. Yeah. It's pretty huge. Enough that even people in Osaka were feeling the aftershocks. Then there's the 10-m tsunamis....and fires in Odaiba. And apparently flooding in Tokyo Disneyland...Geez the footage in Sendai is horrifying. Now there's a nuclear warning in Fukushima due to a cooling malfunction so now people have to evacuate.

Fortunately I live in Okayama-ken which is quite a ways away, but I've been worrying non-stop since I know people in that area. It's times like this where I praise technology because everyone was checking in via FB, or Twitter to let people know how they're doing. Of course, this also meant within the hour my family back in the US started flipping out and asking if I was okay.

As I type this there is a death count of about 60 people from the earthquake. They're still counting bodies being found after the tsunami... I just hope that it ends soon and people get out of this as safely as possible.

Here's a live blog from CNN on the earthquake and tsunami.

Japan earthquake live blog

Monday, February 21, 2011

Saidaiji Hadaka Festival

aka The Naked Man Festival in Saidaiji. Or, The Big One. In my eyes, the festival is about a bunch of dudes wearing nothing but a fundoshi (that white cloth that seems like they're wearing diapers) and beating the crap out of each other to get the 'lucky stick.' Oh the dirty jokes are too many to count...

..and the fight begins! Actually the actual event was short and pretty anti-climactic compared to the preparation for the fight. The men looked like they were grouped with their work, or some other organization (so of course the foreigners were with the foreigners). The ran around the temple several times, screaming わっしょい!and getting purified by water. So not only were they running nearly naked, but running around wet. Ah well, I bet the alcohol (which none of them were not supposed to consume before the fight), was keeping them warm. I think after they threw the stick, they turned off all the lights in the temple because about 5 minutes later the lights were on and they announced the stick was caught. Little did I know that that wasn't the end of it. Now the unlucky guy had to get that stick out of the temple gates. I thought it would be more....violent, but from my view it looked very neat. It was the most organized brawl I've ever seen. But props to the foreigners/JET members who participated! I rooted for you! I'll post more pics and video on my Flickr site soon.

After the event, Jessi and I took the train back into Okayama City to wait for the others who went there via AJET. After meeting up at McDonalds (sadly the only 24 hr place open) Jessi, Caroline, Jessica and I went for karaoke. All. Night. Of course I had a taiko concert to go to the next day and while being sick. >_>

In a short note, the taiko concert was AWESOME. The group was Ura Taiko Dan. I guess the reason I loved it so much was that they were very theatrical in their performance. Their last song, Ura, had half of them dress as priests and the other as oni and the song was more or less their 'battle.' Even the kid group had a piece about Momotaro vs. the oni. And I thought my taiko group was hard! These guys were crazy!

Friday, February 18, 2011

February New Years Post

Funny what you can accomplish when you're sick: a blog post! I think I'll be switching to this blog for my living-in-Japan experience, then going back over to LJ for my otaku tendencies. Hehe~

I won't cover everything I did during my holidays, but to sum it up from Dec. 17-23 I was back in the states for my sister Niki's catillion and spent Christmas weekend in Tokyo and visited friends. I'm so glad I spent a few days in Tokyo with my friends who I haven't seen in FOREVER. I think it helped me adjust to me being in Japan again and helped me lose my homesickness. I guess I didn't feel so alone? Something like that.

I tried to do a stereotypical New Years in Japan. First I spent New Years Eve by going to my first sento with Jessi (another Okayama JET), eating toshikoshi soba (end-of-the-year noodles), and watching Kouhaku Uta Gassen, or the red vs. white singing competition until the countdown.

New Years Day Jessi, Caroline and I spent the day shrine hunting for Hatsumode, or the first shrine visits in the New Year.

We went to 2 major shrines in Okayama: Saijo Inari and Kibitsu Shrine. Above is a pic I took at Kibitsu shrine, but I think I enjoyed Saijo Inari more because A) it was snowing while we were there B) had those awesome inari guardian dogs and C) a LOT more festival food! I was happy because I actually got good fortune this time! 2 years ago on my last trip to Japan I got a neutral one so I tied it up to a tree so I was glad I was able to take this fortune with me.

Next weekend some of the girls headed over to Shikoku to use up the Seishun 18 tickets. I was excited because one of my goals is to visit each island of Japan. I really wanted to go to Megijima Island aka Oni Island where the legend of Momotaro fighting the oni took place. Of course living in the prefecture where Momotaro is pretty much the mascot I wanted to go. Unfortunately we didn't know about the lack of ferries going to the island so we would be cutting it close if we did go. Instead we went to Ritsuin Park.

Man, this park was huge! I don't think we even got through half the park. But we were distracted by 2 things: koi and...

CATS. There were quite a few of them hanging around one of the omiyage shops. These cats were...snarky. They had attitude. There was one we called Voldemort because he had these bright green eyes and when he looked at us it was like the 'avada kedavra' of stares. Crazy cat. 

To be honest this is all I can remember of this trip. Maybe when I have time (or when I get sick again, sadly getting sick is more probable, stupid winter) I could talk about my other past adventures like my first experience in a capsule hotel. Actually that would've been a better thing to blog about, but oh well. 

Next adventure: Naked Man Festival!

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