Shingomura 

The place where Jesus and his brother died, according to local popular legend, is Shingo Village.

Or as a Jewish friend of mine once put it: “I’m not religious so I don’t know.”

Ebisuya Ramen features Christ Ramen as a specialty on their menu. I love the slightly tangy taste of umeboshi flavored soup and the fried nagaimo topping. According to Kouchan, however, it tasted like soap.

I am well aware that my taste buds are off. No one else seems to think rice has its own unique flavor, but if I had to compare it to something, steamed rice tastes like a chord in A flat.

Cheers.

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Yuki Akari: Snow Light Festival in Otaru, Hokkaido

Many travel to Hokkaido in February for the sole purpose of visiting Sapporo during Yuki Matsuri season. The grandiose ice sculptures of famous film scenes and historic buildings are phenomenal. It’s not an exaggeration to say that they are quite literally known world-wide.

Otaru. It’s a seaside city about half an hour’s train ride north of Sapporo and known for its thriving music box and Venetian-style glass works industry. It’s well-known if not widely known, but once a year, running at the same time as Sapporo’s Yuki Matsuri, Otaru comes alive with a beautiful celebration of the four seasons, of light, and of snow.

Walking through snow mazes barely wide enough to admit two, the white paths are lit only by the muted glow of candles burning inside holders made of flowers and maple leaves frozen in ice. They hang from trees like stars or glow in the hollows of carved alcoves within the snow maze’s walls. Everywhere the brightness of light shines as a reminder that the same cycles of birth, life, death, and rebirth will soon be mirrored yet again in the four seasons.

The music box crafting and the Venetian glass exhibits were all pleasant ways to spend a day about the city while waiting for nightfall. But… spend a single night in Otaru and you’ll have wished you had taken your entire Yuki Matsuri experience and traded it in for more time in the Snow Light Festival. By a stroke of pure accident, Siri was unable to direct me to the main Snow Light show by the Otaru Unga (Otaru Canal). Instead I found myself meandering along snowlit mazes, descending giant snow slides (twice), and really feeling the spirit of the festival with the locals. The whole experience felt as surreal as accidentally stumbling upon a the land of spirits, imps, and demons. It’s a very fantastical atmosphere, one that I would take a whole week to experience if given the chance again.

Yuki Matsuri Day 1

Began the adventure bright and early from Hachinohe Station bound for Sapporo with a backpack full of 5 days worth of clothes and an iPad brimming with reading material.

Most people take the night train to Sapporo to save some serious cash on transport – this is the smart option, the one you should take if you have a chance – but I opted for the slightly more expensive take-the-Shink route for the experience and because some odds and ends cropped up for that Friday night.

It’s not a very straightforward trip as it requires two to three transfers but there are very helpful station attendants along the way if you are in need of assistance. You can opt for reserved or non-reserved seats. For the cost of an extra 200 yen (a small sacrifice, in my opinion, but up to each person to decide) you get a specific seat reservation. Otherwise you may end up in a carriage standing in the back throughout the duration of your trip.

I get motion sickness so having my own seat where I can curl up on the seat desk is non-negotiable. But it’s doable if you don’t mind sitting on the floor or standing for longer periods of time. Approximately a six hour forty minute ride from start to finish.

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Arrived, grabbed refreshments with two friends who had been in the area since six in the morning, dropped of unnecessary items at hostel where I checked in. Before hitting the streets to check out the festival. It’s quite amazing to see these giant, life size statues of buildings and famous characters (everything from Darth Vadar to Alive in Snowland to Kagusa Taisho).

Finished off the evening with a massive enkai at the Kirin Beer Hall. All you can eat meat and famous beer! More pictures and stories to come later. For now… Sleeeeeep!

Yuki Matsuri Predeparture

TO DO
1. Laundry
2. Wash dishes
3. Pay bills
4. Take out money for a couple days of adventuring
5. Shut off water
6. Submit D&D character bio to GM
7. Pack clothes
8. Charge all electronic devices
9. Passport!
10. Coffee

Too much to do and not enough time but half the fun is in the undertaking! Just one more day and three more classes. Then I’m off for another adventure in Sapporo. What is this life?! Never in a million years did I see myself doing something like this on a regular basis. If it’s a dream, no one wake me. If I’m in the matrix, leave me behind and don’t come back for me.

Still, it’s been a rather stressful two weeks. A minor car accident on an icy road just last week, a snow writing challenge that needs to be finished before D&D eats up my every other weekend, D&D bio that had to be written and submitted ages ago, phonics lesson plans and prepping, and potentially snowboarding trip over Valentine’s Day weekend.

And somewhere between all that I forgot about ballet and kendo. Whoops… T.T The fault, however, lies not in my stars but in myself for being an underling.

Cinnamon Tea and The Great Snow Writing Challenge

Image Source: Wallpapers AM

Image Source: Wallpapers AM

INGREDIENTS:

2-3 sticks of cinnamon

Pot full of water

1-2 cups of ice cold water

Loving friends

Optional: yuzu or lemon; honey

DIRECTIONS:

1. Fill a pot with water and add 2-3 sticks of cinnamon. Do not cover. Turn on heat to medium high.

2. Bring water to boil. Water should have a bit of foam as it rises to the top of the pot. Add 1-2 cups of ice cold water and lower temperature to medium. Allow contents to brew until water begins to boil again. Shut off heat right away. Serve cinnamon tea with lemon or yuzu and a teaspoon of honey.

3. Drink with loving friends who were kind enough to stay with you through the worst and best parts of your sickness ❤

 I’ve been catching colds on and off since October but this past weekend I had a cold that hit me harder than the others. I was achy, my head hurt, my throat didn’t feel that great either, and my nose was running like a fountain. Lots of love to the friends who helped me get over the worst of my first really bad cold, for running out to the super market to get me some groceries, for keeping me company, and letting me veg on episodes of Angel.

Thank you!!!!

😀

The great snow writing challenge of 2014: write a short story that takes place in the snow!

Snow being in abundance in this ken (prefecture), the travelling guild of writers decided to create a special snow writing challenge for the month of December. A couple other caveats that we considered: a scene with a romantic overture, development of a pre-existing character or world, dangerous things that could happen in the snow…

Ultimately the main challenge is to write a story in and around snow but best of luck with writing and any other imaginative add-ons you can think of for a delightful winter story!

Winter Kindness

Every Tuesday night at the local grocery store in Gonohe, Mister Donut comes to set up shop for us poor inaka folks. Like clockwork, every Tuesday before kendo, I’m lined up for groceries and a doughnut (or three). By now my internal clock has a Misdo switch; also it’s the only time I seem to talk to adults outside of work hours. Chatting up the lovely people at Yokomachi is my favorite Monday through Friday activity, most of them are the parents of my lovely pupils… because, you know, inaka Japan. Everyone is related to everyone… or knows everyone. But I digress. In any case, I also chat up the lovely lady from Misdo, too. By slow degrees, we’ve come to expect each other at Yokomachi every Tuesday at a given time. Pleasantries exchanged, money handled, donut (or three) delivered.

Except, this Tuesday we deviated from the usual how-do-you-dos. She asked me, for the first time, about my hometown and if I was going back for the winter.

I am not.

She expressed her regret, especially since I was from such a warm place (SoCal, for the win!), and happened to glance over at the sole remainder of that day’s special sale: a single Misdo Christmas doughnut. She glances around, slips it into the bag, and in true Japanese fashion makes a single comment:

“You may not like it, but by all means please have this.”

The tears just about started to pool around my eyes. A Christmas doughnut. A Misdo Christmas doughnut. With sprinkles and a cute paper character. On the house.

I have never 感動ed as much as I did that day. I can’t even remember how many formal thank yous I said, just that I was really touched by her winter kindness.

Misdo lady, you are my hero *salute*.

And for the winter part of this Winter Kindness post… SNOW! In all it’s glory! That sad looking snow blob you see is a snow bear. And he’s not sad! He’s just… derpy 😛 Made him with my students and we had a three person snowball fight with no clear winner.

~*Hatsuyuki*~

初雪:はつゆき:hatsuyuki: the first snowfall of winter

目覚まして、

何処も雪だね。

美しい。

I opened my eyes,

And everywhere, there is snow:

Beautiful and white.

 -Page One Adventures

snow

Aomori City for a Skills and Development conference last week and the first snowfall of winter with friends over that same weekend \O/ It’s beginning to feel like a real winter wonderland… though perhaps I shouldn’t be celebrating too early, seeing as I still have to cold proof the house. Suddenly the small Yamazen electric heater and electric blanket aren’t enough. I’ve been practically living out of one room to conserve energy as well as to keep the heat consistently concentrated to at least one area of the house. Note to self: buy a tank of kerosene ASAP.

Enjoy the haiku/translation fail 😉 Somethings will never translate perfectly but I captured it as close as possible. For the syllabic sticklers and joy suckers of the world: I do pronounce everywhere as ‘ev-rywhere’ instead of ‘e-ver-y-where. Might be a SoCal thing.

The Aomori Blues, Part II

Summer time in Japan is unlike any other in the world. This is a time for hanabi (fireworks) and yukata (summer version of the kimono)… and of course matsuri!

Matsuri can occur at any time of the year (for example, Hokkaidou is famous for its winter Yuki Matsuri, or Snow Festival) but for Aomori, the time to come is generally in the summer. The best part: anyone can participate in matsuri! So long as you have the appropriate wear, of course.

Up above you’ll find two example of matsuri-wear, both known as yukata although they serve different functions. The first two are a front and backside shot of summer yukata, which I borrowed from Mina who was also kind enough to help me into it. Yukata can be put on in one of two ways: alone and with great difficulty or with friends who will help you get the job done faster but with more fun! If you don’t want to participate in the local matsuri but would like to experience wearing the traditional Japanese summer wear, there are a stores in larger cities that rent out yukata for a couple of hours at a time. They also help with the dressing and undressing but yukata can be quite cheap to purchase plus make great souvenirs from a trip abroad. Ultimately it’s up to you though they are by no means mandatory to wear if your plan is just to attend as a bystander.

The third picture, however, is of a shorter yukata that is mandatory for participation in the Nebuta Matsuri. Dressed participants will join in, jumping and dancing rhythmically to the chant of: ‘Rasse-ra! Rasse-ra!” Although it’s difficult to see in the third picture, there are small bells attached to the costume. According to popular legend, if all your bells fall off during the dancing then that is very lucky. The only way to make the bells fall? Dancing even harder, of course! Frenzied dancers are oftentimes encircled by their peers as the chant climaxes ever louder and more excited until it finally dwindles down. One of the new JETs had the honor of experiencing this and we were surprised at the extent to which her energy infected the group. Japanese people are almost always excited to find that foreigners love and are more than willing to participate in their culture if only given a chance.

So what goes down at a matsuri? Pretty much the same eat, drink, and party-esque atmosphere that you can find the world over. Amazing street food stalls line the roads, Nebuta floats are dragged through the blood/sweat/tears of children and adults alike, and of course where there’s a party, there will be alcohol.

I apologize for the video. My phone wasn’t sending the important files so you only really get a concise sense of the crazy-ness of matsuri time. It’s actually a quite vibrant and exciting time to be in Japan. Not going to lie though: it’s as humid as the first eight circles of Hell and no joke about it. The further north you go, the shorter the amount of time that the region remains humid. In Tokyo, the humidity levels begin to kick in around late May to early June and only dissipate with the autumn season, which begins around mid October. According to my boss, Shinbori-san, Aomori only really experiences three weeks worth of humidity. On the downside, it gets cold fast… in late September. From there the inevitable but sure progression of autumn to winter commences at an alarming rate. The fact that I’m from California seems to have gone around town at 299,792,458 m/s. It seems as if the first thing people ask me, after inquiring how well I like the region, is this: “So for winter… will you be okay?”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the nice way of saying: “You are oh so very screwed, my friend.” Because in Aomori, winter isn’t coming… it’s arrived before you know it! Take that George R.R. Martin! 😉

Finally we have the absolute most adorable airport mascot in the world: IGUBE THE SEA CUCUMBER! I think he might a bit of a celebrity (similar to Little Sebastian from Parks and Recreation) because my JET colleagues freaked out in the same way the citizens of Pawnee flipped a table over their favorite miniature horse ❤ To be fair, he is this pudgy little sea cucumber with tiny arms and no legs: what’s not to love?! ^-^