Sunday, 2 August 2015

Closing Time

Yo said bye before the BBQ
Ayaka and I at the beach bbq!
Wow! Time has flown by and this is really it. Tomorrow is my last day at work, but I have to leave for part of it to close down my bank account, the new ALT has arrived to so I am also showing her the ropes. My is a strange feeling. My bags are packed,  and I just have cleaning left to do. By Tuesday night I will be in Beijing eating something weird on a stick in unbearable heat. I am pretty excited!! 
I have had so many goodbyes and received more gifts than I knew was possible. Last weekend some students from my favorite class, 3-6, threw me a beach bbq. It was a sweltering 37 degrees and while sweat dripped down our backs we ate squid yaki soba and enjoyed some shabu shabu. Yo-san couldn't be there herself, even though she planned it and her parents organized it, but she had even created a fun questions game for us all to play. She wrote adorable questions in Japanese and English so we could all understand. It was so heartwarming, and it was my last time at Higashihama beach, one of the most beautiful places.
Some of 3-6 and younger siblings too, a fantastic memory of my time.

That week I made three speeches in Japanese and two in English and burst into tears in  one. I had dinner at my old supervisor's house and chilled out with his son Sousuke, running around with cars and balls and anpanman :) 
Hamahashi Sensei was the first teacher to meet me in Tottori.
 He took me for udon. I'll miss him!
 A friend from church made me maki sushi and we fellowshipped together with another church couple. 
Yohei, Etsuko and Anon enjoying dinner at Yoshida's     

My 2nd grade students took me out to LaBar for a coffee date and gave me some cool gifts that included a owl shaped wind chime!! I met up with Ayumi, a graduate of Nishi and an old member of English club. I also had a final coffee date with Ayaka san at Daura, the awesome tea shop literally on Nishi's property.
Ayaka at Daura, she is like my little sis.

The 2nd Graders were the best!!
Ayumi, a Nishi graduate
 I went to the going away English teachers party (which is where I cried) and the sweet thing was that at the moment I was crying I was looking down and when I looked up and caught my breathe all of the teachers (except my lame supervisor) had tears in their eyes too. It was pretty touching.
English Teachers! (sans men, plus tears)
Baseball boys who always made me laugh!!
 I went to the summer teachers enkai where I was given a cash gift (woot $50) and the principal came and told me I was the best ALT he had ever worked with. Yesterday I met up with Hannah and Sarah and we reminisced over mochi waffles for a few hours at Source and then ambled down the main street taking in the summer festival. Everywhere I turned I saw students, and one of my favorites, Endo kun, shook my hand and said thanks. I will never forget the joy I had with some the Nishi kids. This morning I had coffee with my other friend, Ayaka, a young teacher at a different school. Then Ayaka and I headed to church together and after the service I made a short thank you speech and took photos with literally the whole congregation it seemed like.
Endo kun! I love him
My church family, including Pastor Yoshida (L) and my blind friend, Mr. Onishi (R)
The goodbyes have really begun to blur together. The amount of gifts, the amount of hugs and promised emails. In the end it is the memories that I will never forget. The genuine kindness I felt is a beautiful thing. When I left Canada I was fearful and excited, a mix of emotions at the unknown. I am leaving Tottori as a 27 year old. I have a new perspective on Asian education (which was one of my goals), I literally travelled the world, and I survived in a completely foreign culture. In some ways I even thrived. I went for a run the other night and started crying looking at the house around me. I will really miss my life here. In some ways it is so simple and perfect. I have a wonderful job, a disposable income and the freedom to travel on a regular basis. However one of the hardest things in Japan is the lack of spirituality. The culture here is more worried about being polite and making money than it is in the spiritual aspect of life. It is so much more than bowing quickly at a shrine or seeing your family at Obon. For me it is an everyday, tangible, and ever changing relationship with God. I have struggled with it a lot here, but through it all I have seen how God has carried me. He never let me go. God is every faithful and never changing.
 I am looking forward to a fresh start at home, and to go to a church with drums and guitars again. :)

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Sunflower Sayanaras

This past weekend was busy with goodbye parties, coffee dates and trips to some favorite spots in Tottori. On Friday a major typhoon was set to strike Tottori directly and school was cancelled at every school in the prefecture. While a friend of mine in Tokushima was terrified by the way her apartment was shaking, here in Tottori it was almost completely rain and wind free. It was a total false alarm that proved nice for all the students who got a four day holiday! (because Monday was Sea Day as well) In Japan teachers always come into the work, no matter what. So typhoon or not I was at my desk for the 8:10 start of my work day. The morning was boring because there were no students and no classes, so in the afternoon I went downstairs to visit Kiyosue for a cup of tea. She ended up taking me to the prefectural museum for dessert and coffee. Her hubby works there so she knows the museum restaurant well, and we enjoyed watermelon cheesecake and matcha ice cream. All in all, not a bad typhoon Friday!!

On Saturday morning I met up with friends for one last trip to cat café Kitty Blue. The cats were in their usual charming form and I just enjoyed relaxing with them running over my legs in search of treats that Meru was doling out.
 After our cat fix we headed to Kannon in garden. This is possibly one of my favorite places in all of Japan. It is a quaint garden and Buddhist temple tucked away on the base of Mt. Kyusho. It is about \500 to enter, and it includes some matcha tea and okashi. The feeling of calm is unmatched anywhere else in the city. It also happens to look exceptional in each season. Particularly the fall when the leaves on the trees are changing.

That evening we walked down Wakasakaido and enjoyed the summer festival that runs every Saturday night from July through August. Sarah and Meru went fishing for baby koi and we split some cotton candy with JM and Dave. We finished our night with a nomi and dinner at Doma Doma, by far one of my most favorite haunts.
Sunday morning I met up with my Japanese tutor and was really surprised when she showered me with gifts, photos, a letter in simple Japanese and even a bag of fresh produce. I was her student for about a year and a half before I quit to focus on my last month’s here. I sort of felt a little animosity about quitting from her, but at this final coffee meeting she was genki as ever. It was fun, and as usual she tried to convert me to SGI Buddhism, an occult type sect of traditional Buddhism. I just smiled.

That evening was another goodbye event, this time the last bijinkai for Yamashita and Kiyosue and I. Kiyosue’s husband joined us again, and we enjoyed the ladies plan at Cucina, a fabulous Italian place, where I got to drink a mimosa!! Yamashita presented me with a beautiful hard cover address book as a going away gift. The cover has a picture of a koi fish and it is truly one of the most beautiful gifts I have received here. It is also something I can easily use for years to come, so it is a nice lasting memory. I was definitely on the verge of tears thinking about how much I am going to miss those two. Yamashita is jetting off to Bangkok this Friday so I have even less time with her. I never would have guessed my two best friends at work would be 20 and 30 years older than me, but they turned out to become like older sisters to me.

Monday was Sea Day, another excuse for a holiday in Japan. Literally the Japanese instituted this day because there was no holiday in the sweltering July heat. Supposedly it is to honour the sea. In the morning Toshie and Toshimi, the aunt and niece I tutor, took me to Shikano. I have tutored the two of them for the past year, and every Wednesday night has been so relaxing, sitting under the kotatsu and enjoying chatting. Plus they always give me food to take home!! Shikano is a small onsen town about 1 hour drive from Tottori. We stopped at a small restaurant inside a traditional house where we ate the most delicious bento off of wooden umbrellas. It was adorable, and in addition to being aesthetically pleasing was the most delicious meal I have had in the two years I have been here. Everything had a unique and exquisite flavor, including the local flower that was pickled!! Of course Toshie treated us because she is a doll, and after lunch she even took us to a local handmade ice cream shop. We were stuffed from lunch but she got me two take away flavors to try, sakura ice cream and umeshu sorbet. The ice cream shop happened to be in the middle of the countryside, opposite to a sunflower field, so a completely picturesque finish to the morning. 
That afternoon the sun was still shining brightly so Meru and I trained to Higashihama beach and soaked up the rays. I got a little burnt, but enjoyed one last time in the Japanese sea, and plowed through my book, Tokyo Vice, about an American who began reporting on the Yakuzas activity for the Yomuiri Shinbun. This past weekend was stuffed with events and parties and coffees. The fuller my heart gets the more I wonder how I will adjust to being back home. I am definitely ready to leave and really excited to readjust to Canada, but Tottori has become my second home now for so many reasons.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Bijinkais and Mt. Mitoku

Two of my best friends
We had one of our last bijinkais on Friday and Kiysues husband joined the four of us this time. As usual we met at Mama’s again, because literally everything there costs 300¥, and it is delicious. It was a ton of fun, and as usual left me feeling natsukashi for the people in my life here. It is hard to imagine that in a few weeks everything will be a distant memory, with thousands of miles and an ocean in between us. It is really hard to wonder when, or if, I will see some of these folks again. Kiyosue, Yamashita and I are pretty tight, so I am really hopeful that the two of them will end up in Vancouver as they have been talking about now for a few months. It would be amazing!!
The next day Sarah, Meru and I decided to hike up Mt. Mitoku. I decided to hike up for two reasons. The first being to check out the 1300 year old Buddhist temple built into the almost vertical rock face. The second was to clear my head. Leaving Japan has become a difficult task. It involves a lot of emotional interactions and conversations, a lot of money and more stress than is preferable. So I woke up on Saturday and despite the chance of rain I hopped on a train bound for Kurayoshi. After a soft cream stop we taxied over to the base of the mountain, and we made it just in time for the last group of hikers to be admitted up. The hike is kind of grueling and also dangerous, as a few hikers die each year on the route. The guides checked our footwear twice for tread, and if you fail that inspection you are forced to wear their traditional sandals to go up. Sarah, Meru and I all passed the inspection and headed up. I am a runner so cardio is fine for me, but the vertical incline we were heading up and the rocky bottom below frightened me almost immediately. Luckily Sarah and Meru encouraged me to continue and I am so glad I did. This hike was probably one of the most breathtaking sights I have experienced in Tottori.
To imagine that the well word rocks have been grappled with for over a 1000 years, but tourists, locals and Buddhist monks. By the time we made it to the temple we were muddy and exhausted, but the exhilaration of realizing we had reached such an incredible piece of history made it well worth it. I would say it is a must climb for anyone in the area. The views were gorgeous and it was an amazing feeling to experience that kind of history.
1300 years later

Earl Grey Beer and Tiger Mosquitos

A few weeks ago, before typhoon and crazy humudity hit, I headed for Mt. Daisen to enjoy the local Beer Fest. Every year the mountain in Yonago is the host for a craft beer festival. The event features close to 75 craft beers from all over Japan, and a nomihoudai ticket for $45, which includes a limited edition beer glass. If you are cheap like me you can just buy a 5 drink ticket (or 2) for around $16, which is more than enough considering this is real beer and not the watered down stuff they normally serve at izakayas. Anyways the beer of the day was definitely the Earl Grey beer. Seems like a strange combination but it was the most refreshing beer I have ever tried!! I made the mistake of trying the banana beer, not good. I love fruit beers, but banana was a bust. The location was superb, as the festival was just at the mountain base. In addition to all the beer there was handmade food being sold and performances throughout the day. Camping is also free for people attending the event, so if you are a Tottori resident it is a must do summer event! One major downside was the allergic reaction I had to the tiger mosquitos at the event. Yes, tiger mosquitos, they are a bug found mostly within Asian countries. My foot swelled up and was itchy in a way I had never experienced before. After two trips to the doctor and the ophthalmologist (my vision became blurry!!) I slowly began to recover. Also the eye doctor is insane in Japan. It felt like a twilight zone episode as I was led into a dusty old room filled with books and told to press my face into a giant round machine while clinic staff watched, all in the same matching pale teal colour uniform. It was so outdated and I felt like a specimen. The appointment ending with them laughing at me because ‘my eyes were fine’. It was bizzare and I definitely can’t wait to be able to go to an appointment next year and actually communicate effectively.
Later that week I stopped at a friend’s Juku (cram school) at her request. She teaches two students from my school and she wanted me to drop in and have some English conversation. The two students were shy, but the boy in particular was quite sweet and tried his best to chat. Overall it was awkward but I walked away with a bunch of gifts including a fan, chopsticks, furoshiki and some natural pressed juices. I made my friend happy, and I probably brightened up some otherwise tiresome lessons.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Watermelon Race

Team Watermelon! 
Weight lifting pre-game!
I spent a few months in training for a 10km Watermelon race in a nearby town, Hokuei. The race was free for all foreigners(!!) and included a new running shirt- woohoo!! I managed to talk a friend into training with me and kudos to her for starting at square one (no running, ever) to completing the whole 10km!! On race day I was anticipating a small town race but was pleasantly surprised to see the large crowds turning up for the race, with a beautiful course that wound its way up and back through watermelon fields.  I managed to run my best time for a 10km race, and about a week later I hit 3001kms on the Nike Running application I have been using for years. It is an unreal feeling to have been a runner for so long now. It has been one of the best ways for me to get out all my negative energy here too. When I am running my mind and body are free, and for the most part, runners etiquette dictates that a runner is a runner, regardless of race. I am always the foreigner here, but when I am running I am just another runner.
watermelon graveyard
woo!! Done and Done!

Friday, 29 May 2015


As the half year I had left quickly become the 8 weeks I have left I find myself getting busier and busier. Talent shows, dinners out, church's already looking like a full summer.
Recently one event I had the opportunity to help out at was a local charity event, Cheer 4 Fukushima.
This event was designed to raise money for an orphanage that was damaged in the great Japan earthquake on March 11, 2011. Before coming to Japan I remember on March 12 sitting in a geography class at my university and watching a clip of the devestation. To this day hundreds of people remain missing. Swept away at sea with no sense of closure for their family

My sweet student, Nozomi, made this collage!
Represent Canada!
Another teacher in my building decided to volunteer at Iwaki Ikeuisha, an orphanage in Fukushima, and was touched. So much so that he decided to organize a giant fundraiser and community event. Designed to connect the international community with our local community here in Tottori. I volunteered to head up the Canadian cultural booth. I helped kids make handprint Canadian flags, which were super adorable. It was an amazing event, with local magicians, belly dancers and a flash mob choir as a few of the performers. Additionally at least 10 members of the local international community volunteered to cook and sell food, or run cultural booths. Thanks to those cooking I was able to stuff my face with Jamaican curry and an American brownie. Nomnomnom!
The next day at school a bunch of teachers commented that they saw me in the newspaper and lo and behold the sweet office lady presented me with a copy of my picture and the following article. It was a really cool event to participate in, and it definitely strengthened relationships between the international community and the local community.

Newspaper Fame!!
Last weekend I also had the chance to catch up with two old friends. One, Hikari, was a teacher with me last year who was transferred to a new school this year. She is in her early twenties and she joined my eikaiwa last year so we always have fun togethor. In the afternoon I had the chance to meet up with my friend Etsuko. When I first came to Japan I prayed that I would meet christian, English speaking, Japanese friends. I met Etsuko almost immediately and she told me that had been her prayer too! She is about 15 years older than me, but we hit it off and she always has good advice.
The last, and possibly most imporatant (just kidding) event of the weekend was the grand opening of STARBUCKS! The famed chain finally made it to our little slice of Japan and it is about a ten minute walk from my flat. On the opening morning there were over 1000 people lined up. That was a bit crazy, even for me, so I waited until the second day it was open to enjoy a cookie frappe on the gorgeous outdoor patio. Japan has few options for eating outdoors, so to have access to a giant wrap around patio is going to make this summer fly by! Only a few weeks left, hard to believe. In less than three months I will be starting a new job(!!!), pressing play again on my old life. It is a strange feeling. The longer I spend here the fonder I grow of Japan and my life here. On the other hand, I miss so many things about Canada and I know that coming home might be hard, but it is the right choice. The Japanese word 懐かしい (natsukashi) has been running through my head. It translates as a fond feeling for past times. I have been feeling it for Tottori already.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Sunshine weekends

This past weekend I decided to spend time experiencing life in Tottori. A lot of weekends I spend at cafes or with friends, or travelling to other prefectures. Since this adventure is nearing the end I thought it would be fun to see a little more of what there is to offer here.
Kimono girls at the festival
On Saturday morning a group of us caught the train to a town an hour away, Chizu. Deep in the mountains Chizu only has trains come through once an hour, and it feels a bit like a ghost town. It is a beautiful town to visit, even if it feels a little empty. We walked across the river and came across the local festival. It was super small, and super sweet too. Lots of obaachans, little ones running around and plants and flowers for sale all over the place. We ate our weight in Japanese fair food, from soft cream and beer to cake bites and taiyaki. Ryan even took home a koi fish for his apartment, since he is staying next year.
Ryan's new roommate
Custard filled taiyaki!
New friends
Grilled Fish
Misty beauty
Enjoying the walk
Last night a group of us headed for Korean BBQ at Ton Ton, a really fun place in downtown Tottori. We celebrated a fellow JETs birthday and enjoyed all you can eat meat, kimchi and veggies, plus all you can drink too! Was a great night, and when I woke up this morning with the sun streaming in I decided it was a good chance to see some more of Tottori. So Mercedes and I headed up Mt.Kyusho to see the city in all it's glory. I am so glad this has been my home for the past two years, it has been lovely.
View from the top