Friday, August 10, 2007

I'm baaaaaaack...

And it seems I have been here for a while... I'm having a hard time a) believing I'm back in Canada, b) that I've already been here a week and c) that I'll be moving to Quebec (more specifically Trois-Rivieres) in less than a week.

So yeah. It's been a bit of a whirlwind tour here. I flew into Vancouver last week with my sister*, met up with my boyfriend, and we all drove to Victoria to get my things out of storage. We were in Victoria for all of a day moving, so if I missed meeting up with people -- well, that's what happened. We were busy.

Hoping to get a good start on the day, we caught the 6am ferry back to the mainland (getting up at 4am to do so!) and started the trek over the mountains. We made it as far as Revelstoke before we were too tired to go any further.

We did make it to Calgary eventually, just in time to drive north to Edmonton for my cousin's wedding. It was lovely, though a bit of a headtrip seeing so much family at once. I was really glad that it worked out that I was able to go to the wedding and see some people before I move away again.

So, the last few days in Calgary have been spent mostly at the dentist it feels like. That's not really true. I also took the boy to Drumheller to see the dinosaurs.

* But not really with her. I flew directly to Vancouver while the sister flew via London. England. Nothing says fun like a 12 hour flight followed by a 9 hour flight.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

meet the sister

Yay! My sister is here to visit! Yay!

Tonight it's off to meet the old men in my town at my goodbye party with the dudes. I love that when I had a conflict for this evening, they were like "yeah, you should see if you can change your thing". When they heard the sister would be coming, they immediately shifted the party so that she could come too.

In other news, things are slowly getting finished. I shipped a bunch of boxes yesterday, sorted sending money home, cancelling bills, booking hotels for the trek home... Now all that's left is actually packing the suitcases and the endless goodbyes... Tonight is one, tomorrow another one with the teachers, and again next Wednesday. If my liver makes it, I'll be overjoyed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

neither typhoon nor rain nor poor sense of direction nor earthquake ...

... could stop an excellent weekend in Nagoya and Kyoto.

I flew down to Nagoya on Friday (a city I went to as a junior high student) to meet up with my little sister, who is returning from a European tour by way of Japan. Not the most direct route, but certainly an interesting one.

We spent the evening eating miso katsu (pork cutlet in miso sauce), watching a movie and catching up. It was a good, albeit quiet evening.

The next day we set off for Inuyama (犬山, literally dog mountain), a castle town featuring the oldest castle in Japan and just a little ways out of Nagoya. The town itself seemed kind of run down, which wasn't helped by the torrential downpour that followed us all day. Lucky us had managed to coincide with one of the strongest typhoons to make landfall in the last 50 years. So it poured the whole day. On the plus side, it kept most of the other tourists away. I was a little worried about that, seeing as this weekend was a long weekend.

The castle was lovely though, even in the rain. Conveniently, Inuyama is also an onsen town. So to warm up and relax after all the rain, we soaked in what turned out to be a very swanky onsen. We wrapped up with another Japan top three, and saw one of the most famous tea houses in Japan, Joan. It would have been a nicer stroll without all the rain, but whatever.

We made our way back into the city to find the Aichi Prefectural Gym to watch some sumo action. We only got a little lost, which extra sucked in the rain. I'm telling you, this was a serious typhoon. But we did make it.
And it was awesome. If a picture says a thousand words, here's three thousand for you.

Not knowing much about what was going on didn't hamper us too much. The energy generated by the crowd was exciting and we had a great time.
We caught the shinkansen into Kyoto, narrowly missing closures due to the typhoon. In all, we were pretty lucky. One thing we hadn't anticipated was half of Kyoto being closed to traffic due to the Gion Matsuri. We had caught a cab to get to our hotel, because I didn't want to get lost in the rain and have to wander around lugging our bags through the storm. That didn't work though, as most of the roads were closed to traffic for Gion festivities. So we got dropped... somewere, and ended up wandering around looking for the place we were staying. It was an experience. Not helping was the worlds smallest sign on the place we stayed. Which turned out to be awesome. I booked us into what is basically a family run series of apartments throughout Kyoto. So basically, we were staying in a private apartment in the middle of Kyoto. And in the middle of the Gion Festival -- one of the largest and oldest in Japan.
The next day it had stopped raining -- the typhoon had blown itself out to sea, but we took it fairly easy, visiting Kiyomizu-dera (one of my favorite temples) and shopping in the markets near our apartment. In the evening, the party was in full swing. On our way home, we watched as the streets were flooded with people. Several major roads were shut to car traffic, and the streets were packed. It was incredible to see. After some chill out time, we went out into the streets to enjoy Japanese festival food: barbequed squid, meat on sticks, takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki ("It looks like a pizza, but tastes different") and beer. Eat your heart out Stampede!
Despite being two days before the main festival, Gion was packed with people, no doubt making up for being rained out the previous night. The main feature is the floats, which are massive and ornate, complete with musicians performing traditional music from the tops. We wandered around, looking at floats until late.
The next day it was back to Hokkaido for me, via shinkansen, train, plane, and bus. I ended up missing the big festival here in my own town, which was too bad. Ah well. I also missed out on the big earthquake -- we were further south, and I didn't feel anything.
The sister arrives here in inaka on Thurday, in time for several farewell parties, and to help me clean my apartment before I go. Whee!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

busy bee

Things have been a bit hectic around here. With only two weeks (!) left in Hokkaido, I've been getting ready to leave: packing, sorting, trashing, cleaning, goodbye-ing, planning, booking, and all the other assorted things that go along with leaving the country I've lived in for the last two years.

And then there's the eikaiwas.

My office asked me in May or so if I wouldn't mind teaching an adult English conversation class in my last month here*. At the time, it seemed reasonable. How much extra work could a few eikaiwa sessions be? HA! True, it is only four, two hour classes. But that involves a lot of preparation work. And beginners require a lot more preparation than advanced learners. And those extra 4-5 hours a week of teaching (plus prep time) are hours that I could better use for other things.

That's in addition to my regular eikaiwa at the high school. And even my JTE, who is generally loathe to give me anything to do outside of explaining obscure grammar and usage points at random is having me "teach" conversation at the Junior High.

So, the moral of the story is I'm really ready to go to meet up with the sister in Nagoya and Kyoto this weekend. Even if it's a super short trip and I'll be spending more time in transit than anything else.

*Do they want the new ALT to teach eikaiwa? Nope. It's a "last chance to talk to the current ALT before she leaves" kind of thing. I've been getting a lot of that lately. Quick! Quick! We've only got this one for another few weeks! Let's invite her to do things! Surely she can't be busy?

Monday, July 02, 2007

you can touch the stars from the top of the hill

Apparently, the name of our campsite had something to do with that. Other campsite features included a beautiful view, a great sunset and a whole lot of mosquitos. With a taste for my beltline. And as always happens when you camp, it didn't get warm until everyone had to leave.

That was the HAJET annual Summer Meeting. It's the meeting I don't like. With only a month to go on the JET year, you have to say goodbye to everybody that's leaving, and it's not terribly fun. Well, the barbeque, the camping, the trivia contest and champagne* are fun. Realizing that this is probably the last time you will ever talk to a lot of people is kind of a downer. This year it seems everybody is leaving too. Including me. Which changes the perspective. I'm really excited about the prospect of going home. I know where I'll be living, and what I'll be doing for at least 4 months. Both good things.

Bad things? A lot of pictures that look like this:

And those are just MY bad pictures... yikes! To be fair, that last one is after two days of camping...

*After getting so many bottles of champagne for my birthday this year, I've taken up drinking champagne. It makes everything more festive! And camping mimosas are a wonderful thing.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


It seems the end of the school term is the same the world over.

The last day of school before summer break may not be until the end of July, but that doesn't mean things haven't started to wind down here (and keep in mind there are still two more terms to go in the Japanese school year). Yesterday I was treated to movie day at the local elementary school along with all of the other children in town. And I mean ALL of them. Kindergartens and nursery schools included. It was amazing to see how well a group of about 250 children from ages 4 - 12 behaved.

The movie itself wasn't the greatest, but thanks to it's being a kiddie film and majestically overacted I could pretty much follow along. Much more fun than sitting in the teachers room (or the office for that matter -- the screening took place in the same building where the Board of Education is located).

The movie, 子ぎつねヘレ (ko gitsune Helen, aka Helen the baby fox), is about a solitary boy who lives in Hokkaido and finds a fox cub. Who happens to be deaf and blind. So he names it Helen (in honour of Helen Keller, a mainstay of English textbooks in Japan), and takes care of it. My favorite bits were the parts where they make middle-of-nowhere Hokkaido look vibrant and not like it's slowly being abandoned. Don't get me wrong -- there's lots of pretty bits here, most of them also happen to feature abandoned houses and crumbling infrastructure.

The ending is sad, and had all of the teachers around me crying. And most of the kids. Okay, and maybe me too. A little. It was the music I tell you!

It was my last class with the Grade 5's and 6's. The older kids all wrote me cards, played me a special song, and we played one last game of Bingo together. Awww.... The Grade 5 class gave me an elementary school send off, making an archway to crawl through like they do at elementary graduation. It's vaguely like being reborn, but that feeling probably had more to do with me being a big gaijin and they being small Japanese children.

Next week? Swimming lessons with Grades 3 and 4! Don't forget your swim cap and goggles!

Monday, June 25, 2007

さよならだけが人生だ * ・ the first of the last

The first in a long line of goodbyes came today. I'm still here another month and they've already started. Today's goodbye came at the high school. It doesn't really count though, seeing as I'll be back a few more times at least for conversation classes with the students who are heading off to Canada in the fall. And I haven't even given my official goodbye speech to the teachers. But it's started. I hate this part.
* sayonara dake ga jinsei da = life is only goodbye

Saturday, June 23, 2007

cooking with the obachans

Thursday night I was at a barbeque with some friends and got an invite from one of the local old ladies to come to a cooking class on Friday. Not being one to turn down free food, I went along.

Cooking with Japanese old ladies certainly is a different beast from cooking with other old ladies I know. I'm used to reading recipes from my grandmother's cookbooks where the instructions can literally be: Add flour until right. Bake.

These ladies are much more precise in their cooking. Especially when if comes to chopping vegetables. I got in trouble for cutting my carrots slightly longer than the prescribed 1.5 centimeters. They were a little too close to 2 centimeters. Seriously.

The other challenge came with the language. My cooking Japanese being pretty crap and little old ladies not being much for bilingualism. But we muddled along, mostly by them demonstrating and me following along. I felt better because there were some Junior High school students there as well who looked just as lost as I did.

Thankfully, my lack of skills didn't hurt the finished product. Delicious pork and beans, spinach and egg salad, and daikon rice. Yum, yum and yum.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

working from home

Thanks to my supremely cool office, I'm working from home today. Which means that I shouldn't really be updating my blog and adding pictures to my flickr, but that's way more fun than sorting through clothes/ papers/ books/ etc and packing. Besides, it's more work than I would be doing at the office anyways...

Since last weekend's birthday madness, things have slowed down a bit. I've been trying really hard to catch up on sleep, and there hasn't been much else. Last night I had a shodo class so I stayed up late (until 10!) clearing out my bedroom closet. Why is there so much crap in my apartment?

So that's what I'll be up to today. With a jaunt to the high school later for some English conversation and a barbecue this evening with some friends. I hope it doesn't rain -- I'm looking forward to eating outside.

ps --Thanks to everyone who called/ emailed/ sent presents. Especially the unexpected ones. Boo sucks to everyone that didn't. Yes, I'm very immature, and not old enough yet to start forgetting about my own birthday.

Monday, June 18, 2007

how old are you?

I heard that one a lot today at school, seeing as it's my birthday.
Happy Birthday to me!

Plans for the evening? Watching "The Wizard of Oz". Sleep. I used up all my exciting plans on the weekend. I had a party. Which was awesome by the way. If you weren't there, you're lame. Especially if you actually live in Hokkaido. You know who you are.

Delicious food was eaten, excessive alcohol was drunk, and costumes were worn. I sang isth my band, and everybody had cake. And then the next day I made delicious breakfast instead of going to the elementary school sports day.

And now I'm sleepy.

Friday, June 15, 2007

unscheduled fun

It's days like this that make me remember what I like about this job...

I only had one class scheduled for today seeing as there is only one grade in school today, so I was (not) looking forward to a slow day spent sitting at my desk. Class itself was fun -- this year's first grade class is a lot better now that they've had the shit scared out of them by the scary* Junior High teachers. They haven't once had a classroom brawl since they've been in Junior High.

The rest of the morning, the students had calligraphy class. I had my stuff (brushes, ink, etc.) with me so I sat in and learned me some calligraphy. It still cracks me up to hear people say that I'm just as good at writing as a Japanese person. One of the kids said he couldn't tell it wasn't done be a nihonjin. I decided to take it as a compliment, but it's kind of insulting. And I hear it more than I like to think about. A little sad... believe it or not, non-Japanese people can do Japanese things too!

Anyways. Class was fun, and way better than desk jockeying.

After lunch, I tagged along to go pick up one of the second grade students who was doing a job shadow with a group of young women from China who are here to learn agricultural techniques. I guess so he too can someday be a foreign agricultural student**.

What a genki group of girls! It was raining so they were stuck inside. When we got there, they were all playing cards. Then the teacher*** suggested I teach them some English. It was amazing. In a split-second, they had all run back to their rooms to get pens, pencils and notebooks so they could learn some English. If only all of my students were so keen to learn!

We practiced some easy stuff, which was kind of difficult. I didn't realize how much I rely on understanding Japanese to teach English here until I met these girls who only understood Chinese. We had a lot of fun (or at least I did) and I hope I can meet up with them again. They even taught me a little Chinese, which I am hopeless at. Wo jiao Maryna.

So yeah. Today, fun.

Tomorrow is my birthday party, which should also be fun. Sunday is the Elementary School Sports day, which will probably be fun too, if I'm not too tired and/or futsukayoi. Which I'm pretty sure I will be.

*They aren't really that scary. Except for their homeroom teacher. I'd hate to be yelled at by him... he's the baseball coach too. Even scarier.

** Which is only slightly less funny than my ALT friend who every year has a student who shadows him. The requirements of being a JET Programme ALT being that you are foreign and fluent in English, preferably as your first language. So basically, it would be impossible for any Japanese person to hold my friend's job. Seeing as they're Japanese.

*** This guy is awesome. He and his wife are my neighbors and they both rock. They travel, like new things and are just fun overall. This is the same teacher who invited me to eat lunch with his students who are going to Canada so they can practice their English. You'd think the English teacher would be doing things like that... and you'd be wrong.

Friday, June 08, 2007

pork sweat

The rest of the school spent the afternoon picking weeds from the garden at a local old folks' home. I spent it here in the office writing a welcome letter to my successor. And I only had to ineptly answer the phone once, to tell the caller that I couldn't understand what he was saying. To be fair, the receptionist later said that nobody can understand what that guy says.

Anyways, everyone else in the staff room was rewarded for their hard work in the hot sun with a tasty cold beverage. I was rewarded for my unwavering determination to sit at my desk with the same tasty cold beverage -- a Pocari Sweat.

Now, I've always thought that this was a pretty ridiclous name for a beverage - tasty, cold or otherwise. Keep in mind that this is an English name for a Japanese beverage. Which is supposed to make it sound cool and appealing. You would have thought that they'd look up the word sweat before naming a drink after it.

So one of the teachers is passing my desk, and noticing the drink next to my computer, blurts out "pork sweat". I'm glad I'm not the only one around here who thinks that naming your soft drink "sweat" is a poor choice. I'm extra glad that he pointed out that it could also be sweat of the porcine variety.

Happy weekend.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

reduce, reuse, recycle

Since it's my first weekend home in a long, long, long time I really have to do some spring cleaning. That, and it's recycling weekend. This will mark the very first time I have recycled anything in my town. When recycling day is only once a month on a Sunday morning, it doesn't make the priority list very often when I'm either out of town or just not functional enough to get it together to go to the recycling depot before 10am.

Two years of recycling isn't nearly as much as you think it would be. One of the super cool guys in my office drove over with his wife and baby daughter to take away all of my crap. There was too much for me to walk over, so he offered to drive it to the recycling station for me. So he showed up in his minicar, and we filled it with a two year accumulation of garbage. Plastic bottles, cans, magazines, cardboard... everything but glass bottles. Which inexplicably don't go to the recycling station, but into the empty bottle post. While I may have gotten rid of many bags of other recycling, I will still have to do something with three large garbage bags of glass bottles. Two years of wine consumption is a lot of wine bottles.
Today's other housekeeping goals include cleaning out my office room (formerly known as recycling and HAJET Publications purgatory) and the bathroom so I can reward myself at the end of the day with a nice hot bath, a glass of wine and only four more rooms to deal with tomorrow.

Friday, June 01, 2007

demonstration lesson

Instead of the standard boring textbook lesson we usually have, today we had a demonstration standard boring textbook lesson. It was a big change. If by big change you mean that other teachers were also watching.

This morning we had a little meeting about our planned lesson, which involved my team teaching partner explaining to me very slowly and carefully today's reading -- a beautiful monologue by Akiko Ono (better known as Aki), the hero of One World about the plight of Japanese cranes.

"These are Japanese cranes. Ainu people call them the gods of the wetlands.

Cranes used to live in many parts of Japan. However, people hunted them and little by little destroyed the wetlands. Because of that, the cranes almost disappeared.

Then in 1924, some Japanese cranes were found in the Kushiro wetlands. The discovery made people happy."

Her speech made me happy. As did my team teacher very slowly explaining to me what the reading was about, as though I were one of the students and not a native English speaker. With lots of pictures. I was asked to explain "almost" and "discovery".

Completely shockingly, the lesson was less than enthusiastically recieved. The students didn't care about Aki's moving speech, and weren't moved to start speaking English after reading her words in their textbooks. They refused to answer basic questions about the content and read in monotone voices when asked to recite Aki's powerful words for themselves. I think it was their form of protesting the destruction of the wetlands.

We racked our brains trying to understand why listening to Aki talks about cranes and wetlands for 25 minutes failed to spark enthusiasm in the students. Why they were not touched by such poetry. Why it seems that reciting textbooks for two years has not made them able to speak English. Whether we should focus more on pronounciation or intonation or stress. What techniques we can use to make recitation better for the students. It was a rousing discussion in Japanese, and so of course I was able to follow and contribute fully. All in all, I felt that our discussion will change the way we teach, and give the students more tools with which to speak, read, write and listen to English with confidence and skill.

Okay, so I had a crappy day at school, and needed a whinge. It seems to be happening more and more frequently, probably due to a combination of feeling underutilized at work, having a lot of time sitting around with nothing to do, and knowing that the next two months are something I just have to finish before I can go home.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

our house, in the middle of our street

Note to self: I totally need to sing that song at karaoke, even if I think it breaks most of my karaoke rules. I'll have to check.

Got some pictures of the new apartment today. Looks nice from the outside! The inside looks full of boxes. The balcony door on the right belongs to the office. There are two balconies, so according to the landlord if we have a fight, we can cool off in separate corners. I was thinking more along the lines of enjoying coffee/sangria/cold beer when the mood strikes. Did I mention the view of the river*?

*THE river. The St. Lawrence. Yeah.

Monday, May 28, 2007

no more musical, no more books

And lo, a great sigh of relief went throughout the land, as the 2007 edition of the Hokkaido Players musical finished at last. Three performances, rehearsals since October? November? Who can remember so long ago? Way too much time driving across Hokkaido. For those of you who think Japan is a small country, think again. It really isn't. It only looks small because it's next to Russia, China and the Pacific Ocean.

The performances went well, and it was a lot of fun being on stage. At least for me. Then again, I got to be a pirate. And pirates are cool.

If you want to see pictures, I didn't take any. But a lot of other people did. You can see some of those pictures here, at our group flickr site.

Our last performance was only two hours from me (yay!) so that my friends in town could come, and even my boss! He brought his three daughters and totally shocked me that he made it. I hope they all had fun. His youngest daughter is still terrified of me. At least she didn't cry this time... to be fair, she is only three.

This weekend was also the end of my tenure as the HAJET Publications Coordinator. Friday night I finished binding my last book (it's really depressing being the last person at work on a Friday when you're the ALT and your job consists mainly of sitting at your desk looking foreign), packed the whole lot up and brought them to our final performance to pawn them off on the new Pubs Coordinator. But not before taking care of the shipping for the first set of meetings. Hooray for packing. Now I can finally focus on doing some of my own.

Now that I no longer have to make books or travel ridiculous distances on weekends, I will probably have more time to update this thing, when I'm not packing my house or preparing for a new ALT to take over my job. I'll be leaving Japan in a short nine weeks...

Friday, May 25, 2007

crabby patty

I'm crabby today.

Maybe it's the one, count 'em, ONE class today. Or that everyone else is busy with sports day.* Or that I still seem to be doing an awful lot of work for HAJET Publications, despite no longer actually being the publisher. ** Or that I'm really tired. And hungry. Or that I'm really tired of sitting at my desk doing nothing when I should be packing, cleaning my apartment, arranging travel plans, etc.

It's probably that last one. Really sucks when you have to be at a desk not doing anything when you have a lot of other things you could and should be doing.

* Sports day where the students get to decide what sports they do -- maybe I'm just getting to that stage in life where I've started saying things like "In my day, we didn't have any of that "choice" nonsense! We had to do every sport! Even if we didn't want to! And we were bad at it! And we liked it!" I was, suffice it to say, surprised that Japanese school kids are offered a choice of what sports to do. Then again, the most important event seems to be the group choreographed cheering. In my day, we had none of that...

** Despite all evidence to the contrary.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

wherein I attempt to be better about updating my online presence...

Really, it's just because I'd like to point out how much I love my office. I hear all of these people bitch about how their BoE doesn't care about them, doesn't help them out with anything, doesn't invite them to parties...

Well, this afternoon I came back from classes at the elementary school to find that my office had taken it upon themselves to collate the rest of the book I was collating (last one! ever! really!) so I wouldn't have to worry about it. They even had a camera at the ready to capture my expression of surprise.

And then we had our hanami (flower viewing) party tonight. I had a surprisingly good time. Work parties can be difficult -- especially in Japanese. But tonight was lots of fun, lots of food, lots of drink. No flowers to be seen, but whatever. Stop being so literal!

And now to bed.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

golden week tour 2007

Just got in tonight from an awesome, awesome, awesome (did I mention how awesome it was?) trip down to Honshu for ゴールデンウイーク - aka Golden Week.

I went with my good friend Judy (who is living in Muroran) and saw a huge chunk of Japan, all on the power of the mighty thumb. Yes people, I went hitch-hiking. Now before you freak out about it, I went with a friend and constant keitai contact with other people doing the same thing. What can I say -- Japan is the only country I would ever do this in, and even then I would never do it by myself. When the opportunity presented itself I couldn't say no. And it was, as I may have mentioned, awesome.

We not only made it to Kyoto in good time, but we stopped at a lot of places that I never would have considered going to as a one-off trip. Except maybe now that I've already been there.

The Golden Week Hitch-hike is a great Hokkaido tradition. Every year, people pair up and rely on the kindness of strangers to get around Japan. In the past, it has *technically* been a race from the Sapporo TV tower to Kyoto Station. This year, there were lots of other teams doing the hitch as well, but nobody seemed too interested in racing. Which was good, since neither were we. I'm only here for another three months so I wanted to see more of Japan than I already have. And having been to Kyoto once already and knowing I'll be back briefly this summer... yeah. Japan's got lots of other places outside of Kyoto.

We started off on Friday night. I caught the train into Tomakomai, met up with Judy, and we cabbed over to the ferry terminal to catch a boat to Hachinohe, a port city on the east coast of Aomori prefecture. From there we caught a ride to the burial place of Jesus Christ (bet you didn't know Jesus was an early JET participant. He apparently came to Japan during those unaccounted for years between 12 and 33, skipped out on that whole crucifiction thing, travelled around a bit and settled in Aomori where he lived to the ripe old age of 106), saw the lovely Lake Towada, and ended up in Hirosaki.

Hirosaki is a gorgeous castle town, even more lovely in the spring time when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Which was conveniently the day we were there. Us and 10,000 other people. But since the sakura wouldn't be in full bloom until the next day (when they were expecting 25,000 people), we got a hostel room no problem. A place to sleep secured, we went to the castle to enjoy the sights and the hanami parties.

We ended up getting invited to the hanami party next to us. A group of travel agents, crabs (of the edible variety) and beer. What more invitation do you need? We were even offered a ride back to Aomori on their party bus, and if Aomori wasn't the wrong way, we totally would have gone for it. We settled for an invitation to a homestay and a night at the bar, which we gracefully turned down in favour of dinner and sleep.

The next day, we had an excellent breakfast at the Aomori Youth Hostel, which was packed with Japan's answer to youth: oba-chans. The little old ladies who secretly run everything and have plenty of time on their hands for gallavanting off to far flung parts of Japan and scoping out the best onsen and sakura viewing places. The oba-chan we had breakfast with had been to more places in Hokkaido than either of us, and recommended we go to Kanazawa. In fact, she said it was even better than Kyoto -- the city touted in the guidebooks as the cultural soul of Japan. This twigged the memory of the same recommendation from a past hitch-hiker, and sealed the deal. Kanazawa was on the list.

However, Kanazawa was on the opposite side of Japan from Matsushima, the city we had picked to stop at next on our tour. Oh well, we would have to cross over at some point to get to Kyoto anyways. And we had already ended up further to north and west than when we had started.

After breakfast we headed to the outskirts of the city to work on getting a lift. We set up relatively close to an expressway exit, put the kanji character for the next expressway stop on our trusty white board, and held out our thumbs. After a short wait, a local couple stopped for up. He had an impeneratable Aomori-ken accent and talked the whole way. His wife barely spoke. After what would become the standard set of questions (where are you from? are you students? how long have you been in Japan? don't you know that hitch-hiking is dangerous? where are you going?) it became apparent that we didn't really want to go to whatever small town had been on our sign. They felt sorry for us for not knowing that we had written the equivalent of "please drop us in the middle of nowhere" on our board. And since they had nothing better to do, they decided to take us two hours out of their way to Morioka, where they had a son in the SDF. And we could try the local noodle specialty: reimen. A cold version of ramen.

Once in Morioka, we found a restaurant, and our ride treated us to reimen and gyoza, refusing to let us pay for anything. They dropped us at the expressway junction and went back to Hirosaki, where they had just been out doing some puttering around town beore deciding to pick us up.

Thrilled with our success, we changed our sign to Matsushima and waited. We saw lots of trucks and cars with single riders, but after not too long a wait, were picked up by a couple from Tokyo. It turned out they were heading to Sendai, just a short jaunt past Matsushima. But there was a problem. They were going to be stopping at a temple complex called Chuson-ji for some sightseeing of their own. Would that be okay?

An unexpected stop at a big famous temple? With a ride to just outside of our destination afterwards? Well, I guess it was okay.

The temple was beautiful, and very much unknown to us. It was one of many "Basho" spots on our tour -- places where the poet Basho had stopped to write. It seemed like a good way to live. Travel, stay at beautiful temples and gardens and write poetry. Which was pretty much what we were doing. Except for the poetry part. To remedy that, we decided to send a series of postcards back to the polestar: the HAJET magazine.

After a lovely afternoon strolling through the temple complex and gawking at the beautiful gold plated (okay, gold leafed) temple, we get back in the car with the couple from Tokyo. The guy doing the driving has serious lead-foot, and we make it to Matsushima in record time. Not that I know what that record is, but whatever. He was speedy.

We were still a ways out from our destination, but after all of the good luck we'd had that day, we were unfazed by the need for another ride. And after 5 minutes, a local boy heading into Matsushima to visit his family picked us up. He was really quiet, and kind of freaked me out, but I think he was just quiet. And busy watching his DVD player. And talking on his two cell phones. I was quite happy the car ride was short, but he was nice enough. He told us Mastushima, being a tourist town, shut down at 8pm. So we were quick about getting a room for the night in a local ryokan. Nothing flashy, but lovely service, clean, and a kotatsu. I *NEED* one of those. It's basically a table with an electric blanket on top. Great for cool weather. On Honshu, it's the primary source of heat in winter. I'm not so keen on that, but it was great for a cool spring evening on the coast.

That evening, after a walk with all of the romantic couples, we plonked ourselves down for dinner. Much to our surprise, who should walk in but another pair of Hokkaido hitch-hikers! They had definitely not had the same luck as us, and had ended up on a train after two and a half hours stuck in Aomori. Well, we had it on the authority of our first ride of the day that we were definitely not scary (or so he told his son on the phone).

We chatted a bit over a few beers, and then split up -- they for their tents in the park, we for our ryokan. We wished them luck on their tour and planned to meet up in Kyoto.

To be continued...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

what, again?

Another weekend, another musical rehearsal.
Didn't I just do this? Yup.
Ugh. I'm tired of driving all over Hokkaido. Do I have to go?

Monday, April 16, 2007

namara omoshiroi

Well, the school year has begun again here.

New students, new teachers, new colleagues. And at my high school, a new principal. Today was my first day for the year at high school (the first of only seven official visits I might add), so the other ALT and myself were brought to his office to introduce ourselves. It was an interesting experience for me. I haven't done this kind of thing since I first moved to Japan and couldn't understand a word of Japanese, or even what we were doing sitting in some random office meeting some random person. So this time around, I knew what was going on. What I hadn't done was these kind of introductions with another ALT. Especially not with an ALT of the male persuasion.

So, the idea is to go in and meet the head of whatever instution you're visiting. You introduce yourself and chat a little bit, maybe over tea and then leave. When I moved here, I met the mayor, the vice-mayor because the mayor wasn't available the first time I went, principals at three or four schools, and the superintendent of schools. The head doesn't have many more responsibilities other than greeting guests, handing out certificates, speaking at ceremonies and acting as the figurehead (incidentally, I've had a lot of really good talks with the new principal at the junior high because he usually has even less to do than I do).
That part all went well, but it was interesting to see the change in dynamics that bringing in a another ALT created. Although my Japanese is better than the other ALT, the principal was much more interested in talking to him than to me. As in he only spoke to him once we had finshed our pleasantaries. It may have been because I am too straightforward in Japanese, or maybe it was because I introduced myself as the town ALT (there are a lot of bizarre politics going on, and my presence is not necessarily welcome because I work for a different board of education). It may also have been because the other ALT shares an interest in geography with the guy. It may just have been that I'm used to being fawned over as the only ALT at the school. But coming out of the meeting, the overwhelming feeling I got was that it was because I was a woman.
Is that a fair judgement? Probably not. But being a western woman living in Japan makes for a vastly different experience than being here as a man. Which is true of anywhere. But here, there are experiences that my male friends have had that I will never be privy to. And I'm not just talking about the ease of picking up Japanese girls... Although western women are treated differently from Japanese women, there are times when I am definitely treated as a lower class of person. And it's not something I like.
Bah. I think I'm reading too much into things. Must be the crappy weather getting me down. Stupid never ending winter.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Musical Montage

Hamanaka-cho Rehearsal April 7—8, 2007

Cue Music: 桜んぼう

Our protagonist finishes work.
Walks home to get ready to go out again.
Clothes are changed, bags are thrown together.
Set out on foot for a local restaurant.
Meet up with the office for a farewell/welcome party.
Eating, drinking, talking, spilling drinks.
Her ride meets her near the restaurant.
They pick up a box of papers at her office.
Stop at her house to get her bags – finish packing first!
Drive through the mountains.
Meet the next leg of the carpool in a parking lot.
Follow their clown car to the driver’s house.
Meet the final member of the carpool.
Arrange people and stuff in the car – multiple trips back into the house/trunk/backseat.
On the road!
The backseat shares a bottle of wine.
Stop at a conbini for a pee and snack break.
Make some new friends from Tokyo – pictures and introductions outside the conbini.
Stop at an outside onsen on the lake.
Back on the road.
As the sun is rising, the car reaches the ocean.
Stop at the beach to watch the sunrise.
Lost in Kiritappu – where is the kominkan??
Make a phone call to find out, and discover it is directly in front of them.
Morning preview of the big show for the people in town.
More rehearsal.
Light sticks are produced, karaoke attempted.
Drinking and fun until everyone goes to.
Morning ride to the conbini for breakfast.
Run through.
Finish up – notes, cleaning and packing up.
Back in the car.
Driving in Nemuro – signs are in Russian, telling the Russians they aren’t so welcome.
Lunch at a ramen shop. More making friends.
Stop at a conbini in Shari, decide to make it to Abashiri.
Drive some more to Tanno.
Parting of the ways.
More driving, this time through the mountains.
Meet a cop car, and have to drive slow.
Cop car pulls over, top speed again!
Finally make it home.
Pass out in bed.

Estimated time from my home to the rehearsal: 6 hours one way.
Total time in a car with four other people: 20 hours
Time spent sleeping: 10 hours
Number of conbinis stopped at in transit: 4
Number of new friends who live in Tokyo: 2
Hours spent listening to a CBC Radio podcast: 2
Hours spent discussing the contents of the podcast: numerous
Amount of alcohol drunk on Friday night: 2 bottles of wine, one bottle of gin
Number of people in the car: 5
Time spent rehearsing: 10 hours
Number of completed runs: 0

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

End of Term

Well, it's only Tuesday, and I've already had my last class for the week. My last class for this school year, in fact. Yes, it's a busy time for the ALT with no responsibilities. I'm attempting to put it to good use -- studying a little Japanese here, surfing the internet there, updating my resume and applying for jobs in Canada. Yeah, it's starting to sink in that I might want to have something to do when I get home. Starting to anyways...
Tomorrow is a holiday for the vernal equinox -- a holiday I think is designed to make people living in the north feel crappy about the fact that spring won't really be here for another month and a half. So in the best of snowbound traditions, I'm going skiing in a nearby town.
Speaking of which, I should go pack.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

white out

Contrary to the fact that next week marks the beginning of spring, it has been snowing here for the last two days. Looking out the window today, all I can see is white. Ah, Hokkaido.

Even funnier, this week is graduation time at school. Yesterday was the Junior High School graduation ceremony -- a very serious occasion with long speeches and precision marching. And group singing. My favorite class graduated this year, and many of them are going on to high schools out of town. I'm really excited for them that many of them are moving on, but at the same time, I'll miss that crazy genki class. Things will be really different around here next semester. For one thing, nobody will be making me fake nipples.

"sotsugyou" graduation

Anyways, graduation time in Japan is associated with cherry blossoms and spring. And because people like to do things the same way everywhere in Japan, here in Hokkaido cherry blossoms are popular decoration for graduation ceremonies. Even if there's still a meter of snow on the ground, and we won't see sakura for at least another month and a half. If the calendar says it's spring, then it's spring dammit!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

complain, complain, complain

Thank god February is just about over. I'm sick of it. It may be the shortest month, but it certainly does take it's time about moving on. Maybe it's just because I've had a crappy month: I was sick, my car died, my shower stopped working, nobody will take over my job as the publisher, my classes keep getting cancelled, and it rained.

I'm thinking about forming a complaints choir in time for the annual HAJET talent show. Hey -- they have them in

Birmingham (the first complaints choir)

Helsinki (far funnier and a bigger choir)

the children of Poikkilaakso Elementary School

and there's even a CBC radio version (hooray CANCON!)

Overpaid, underworked English teachers need a complaints choir too. If you aren't familiar with the concept the complaints choir website explains:

In the Finnish vocabulary there is an expression "Valituskuoro". It means "Complaints Choir" and it is used to describe situations where a lot of people are complaining simultaneously. Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen thought: "Wouldn´t it be fantastic to take this expression literally and organise a real Complaints Choir!"

What a great idea. Now all I need is a choir.

It's not fair!

Monday, February 26, 2007

best. office. day. EVER.

I didn't have classes today. That usually means that I go to the Board of Education office and sit at my desk, trying very hard not to stab my eyes out with a pen.
But not today. Last week I was at the Junior High later than usual, and it came up that the whole school would be going to a local ski hill. On a day when I had no school to go to. So I was invited to tag along with the school for a ski day.
I rode along with my supervisor, Takahata, and another guy who works in the school affairs section, Dojo, in the ski transport truck. We bumped along behind the buses full of students with all of their skis.
Once at the hill we were presented with Ski Instructor badges for the lifts and left to our own devices. We only had about four hours on the hill, but it was good times. And definitely better than sitting on my butt at the office.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

onomatopoeia and me

Teaching at the elementary school today, I was reminded of how onomatopoeia can be applied to everything in Japan.

I had just wrapped up class with the second graders – a rowdy group to be sure. There are a couple of kids in that class who are a little excessively grabby for my liking, but they’re generally harmless. Anyways, after class a few of the girls come up to me to see what else I have in my teaching goodie bag. There are always a few things left over, as I like to try and have extra stuff on hand in case the planned activities run short or don’t work or whatever. Once they were satisfied that all I had was more boring alphabet cards, they turned their attentions to me.

Byong byong!

Just guess what that is the sound for in Japanese…

Wan wan is the sound a dog makes.
Tsuru tsuru is the sound for something slippery.
Giri giri is the sound for cutting it close.
Betsu betsu is the sound for separate.
Bara bara is the sound for scattered.

Apparently byong byong is the sound that happens when second graders feel you up.

It must be the new bras…

Monday, February 19, 2007

RIP Dierdre

Well, I said I was planning on driving my little car into the ground.

Too bad I did it a little ahead of schedule.

This morning on the way to work, my Mitsubishi Minica died on me. As in, made horrible squealing noises and stopped running. I got it to the side of the road, and couldn't get it started again. So I called my supervisor (reason #8032802 why being a town JET rocks: any problems you run into can be handled by your supervisor) who came out with a BoE-mobile to give my car a boost. I was pretty sure the battery was fine. This sounded engine related to me.

After a while (during which time I realized my supervisor isn't so car savvy as I might have hoped) and a number of helpful suggestions from passerby, we called a mechanic. He came and took a look, and decided it must be the timing belt. That sounded expensive, but feasible. I went off to school and was too busy to give it much thought for the rest of the day. Until I finished my classes and remembered I would have to walk back to the office (not such a big trial -- my town is pretty small).

At my office, I found a note from my boss*.

"The engine of your car.
Crank shaft is broiling (sic).
Can't be repaired engine.
Can't be used engine.

1) second hand engine exchange
2) can be looked for a used car.

1), 2) Both a large amount of money.

What do you do?"

First, I muttered a lot of curses under my breath. Nobody in my office speaks English, but everyone knows all the most useful swears. Then I figured out how much longer I will be in Japan, and guesstimated what it would cost to buy a new car. Five months and not cheap.

My current thinking is that I will just suck it up and go without car for the rest of my stay here. I'm guessing I will already have to pay a large sum of money to get rid of the car, and buying a car that I will only use for 5 months just doesn't seem worth it. Especially when I'm not guaranteed to be able to sell it to whoever replaces me. It just doesn't seem worth the expense. However, I also enjoy the freedom that having a car affords me. Without a car, I won't be able to take off for the nearby onsen/ski hill/ foreign food store/ friend's house whenever I want. But people do it. I'm sure I can too. I just won't be very happy about it, that's all.

And it certainly will put a damper on the rest of the ski season.

Mutter, mutter, mutter.

* I get a lot of notes from my supervisor. He doesn't speak a lot of English, and he's embarrased to speak what English he has. So we spend a lot of time writing each other notes. It's been great for my Japanese, not so great for his English. Sorry about that, future successor! That being said, his notes are usually very entertaining. And at least he's writing them without resorting to a computer translation.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Well, here I am at home and in bed, trying my best to get over the disease that I started getting last week. That's right. I've been sick for the better part of the week. I'm sure I didn't help the recovery process by going to Abashiri for the long weekend, but in my defence it was a long weekend. How could I have spent a whole three days in bed when I had an offer to go to Abashiri, see sea ice, ride a boat, go to three different ice-related festivals, stay at an onsen hotel, and go snowshoeing -- and these were just the advertised highlights!

It seems the whole town is sick. I'm convinced I picked this up from my elementary school kids. Highly likely, considering the school has been closed for the last two days because a third of the students are home sick with "i n fu ru e n za". Better known as the flu.

That has made it very easy to take the last day and a half off to sleep and recover. We'll see how I'm feeling tomorrow. I should be going to work, and then driving to Setana (really really really far away) for musical rehearsal. Which I'm sure will be very restful...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Abashiri: Home of Sea Ice

Another long weekend, another excursion.

This weekend, instead of following the crowd out to Sapporo for the annual Yuki Matsuri (snow festival) I joined a smaller group headed up to Abashiri for numerous snow and ice festivals on the sea of Ohotsk.

The goal of the weekend was to see the famous drift ice that is supposed to dominate the coast during the coldest months of the year. This year and last, however, it hasn't been much to see. It's just been too warm for good sea ice conditions. Undaunted by naysayers who were convinced there would be no ice worth viewing, our party of three set out early Saturday morning for the coast. We were lucky with the weather (always a concern) and had gorgeous clear skies to see us over the seihoku pass between my place and Kitami.

I wasn't feeling so well, but it was a long weekend. Staying home is just not an option. Besides -- I wouldn't be driving. We started the weekend at the Abashiri-ko Matsuri. They had all sorts of fun things to do. Ice slides, hot air balloon rides, snowmobiles, rubber rafts attached to the back of snowmobiles, snow and ice sculptures just to name a few. We let loose our inner elementary schoolers and took on the ice slides, freaking out more than a few small children. Then it was time for snowmobiles. We took a ride on a raft being pulled behind a snowmobile, and then decided we needed to drive our own. I discovered I am a complete scaredy-cat when it comes to snowmobiles. I was worried I would flip the thing if I went too fast. In spite of this, it was really a lot of fun. But I won't be buying a snowmobile anytime soon.

We stopped in town for some lunch (well, Jude and John von Muroran had lunch. I drank tea and ignored my chills) before our next stop. We ended up too far down the coast from where we wanted to be, so Jude pulled into a random parking lot to turn around. We pulled in and found a helicopter, ready and waiting to go. So Jude and I ponied up the 4800yen (about 50CDN) required, and took a 4 minute ride over the sea ice. It was seriously cool. If I had enough cash on me, I probably would have taken the 15minute ride option for 20,000 yen (roughly 200CDN) to go see Cape Notoro. It's probably a good thing I didn't have the cash.

We had a dinner reservation at five, so we drove the long way back into town and enjoyed some Abashiri sunset. Dinner was at an onsen hotel with the rest of our group. We were early, so there was time for a quick onsen before dinner. And I was finally able to get warm.

Dinner was amazing, and it was a shame I had no appetite. I did my best, but I just had no urge to eat food. Halfway through dinner, I had such a terrible coughing fit, that I lost my voice. You have no idea how difficult it is for me not to be able to talk. Especially when there were so many interesting people to talk to at dinner! Everyone else seemed to get a kick out of it though -- unsympathetic bastards!

That evening we made our way back to the festival on the shore of Lake Abashiri where we had spent the afternoon. They had some night illumination set up and there were supposed to be fireworks. I was more than ready for bed -- I couldn't talk, I was having fever and chills and ached everywhere. But the house we were staying at and the festival were in opposite directions. I went back to the festival and ganbatted through my sickness to watch the fireworks (which where undrwhelming to say the least) until we got back, whereupon I immediately passed out.

The next morning we were up bright and early to catch a boat to go see the sea ice. Unfortunately it was too warm, and the ice had all moved away from the shore. So we opted not to pay for the boat ride. Jude and I gloated that we had seen the ice the day before, from a helicopter no less.

That afternoon, our amazing host James had a snowshoeing excursion planned for us. I spent the afternoon curled up in front of a fire instead of braving the elements, which was what I needed. We then convoyed out to our hotel, with a stop at the most amazing rotenburo (outdoor bath). It was next to a lake populated with wild swans, so you could look out from the bath and see the swans doing what swans do in the lake. The water was hot, the snow was falling, the swans were swimming and the rotenburo was all ours. It was the best part of the weekend. As the sun was setting we returned to our hotel for more onsen action before dinner. I had more of an appetite that night, which was good because we were eating steak. Tender, juicy steak. Mmmmm.

There was time for one more quick dip in the onsen before it was off to the Diamond Dust party in town. Kawayu town hosts an annual Diamond Dust party. They hoist balloons full of dry ice into the air which turns the water vapour coming off the warm waters of the lake (川湯 or Kawayu means "hot water lake") into ice crystals. It was a little too warm and a little too snowy for the effect to work properly, but it was still beautiful. Or maybe it was more beautiful because my brain was a little cooked by one too many dips in the onsen...

The next morning, after (of course) one last soak in the onsen, it was time to head for home. The weather wasn't nearly as pleasant on the way back, and it snowed for much of the way. But was conveniently clear through the pass. So I was safely delivered to my door after a great weekend. Probably not the best way to spend the weekend if you're sick, but fun nonetheless.

And I even got to see the sea ice!

Friday, February 09, 2007

fifth period sekuhara!

Today I woke up feeling awful. But for some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to drag myself to school to attend my one class. Mostly out of solidarity with my JTE, who was left to teach the 9th grade class alone. These kids are great fun, but they can be a bit of a handful. The other JTE that usually teaches half of the class is chaperoning a couple of other students who are in Nagano-ken competing in a national ski jump championship. Which sounds like it would be great – you should have heard the JTE bellyaching about having to go. He whines about how he will have to go to Canada this summer too. Tough life…

Anyways. No classes today until last period of the day. I focused on not passing out, and worked on a translation for the big report on the Canadian exchange program. (I just can’t believe I offered to help.)

Class was fun – we played an easy review game and then the students got worksheets to practice various grammar points. Thankfully it wasn’t too taxing. Thinking up easy English questions damn near killed me. During the worksheet portion of the class, I was wandering around checking answers when a student called me over, telling me she had a present for me.

And what a present…

She gave me a pair of what looked like cufflinks, made of paper and tape.

“These are for you. For nipp…”, she said, gesturing (in)appropriately towards her chest.

" ... "

"You should wear them now!"

" ... "

"Put them here!"

That's right. One of my female, Grade 9 students gave me a set of fake nipples. Made out of paper. I actually thought it was hilarious, but you just can't tell a 15 year old that the fake nipples she's made for you are the funniest thing you've ever seen. All I could think to say was "セクハラ!" "sekuhara!". Which just made it funnier.

Futher reasons Japan is a very different place from home.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I just got my notice from the big bad Japanese exam I wrote last December. Apparently I passed! Wheeee!

I have apparently mastered grammar to a limited level, know around 300 kanji, 1500 words, and have the ability to take part in everyday conversation not to mention reading and writing simple sentences.

Take that, JLPT!

Monday, February 05, 2007

uses for snow: #208

Build a scale replica of a building that has been designated a "national treasure". Preferably have the "army" do the work.

Friday, February 02, 2007

it's the little things

When I left work this evening, not only was there still a hint of sunlight, but I found that someone had taken care of shoveling my driveway. Which was covered in quite a bit of snow.
Tonight I have a chance to take it easy to build up to what looks to be a busy weekend -- cross-country skiing Saturday morning, then to Sapporo in the afternoon for dinner with friends and a peek at the snow festival.

How lovely.

It's official.

Well, the deed has been done.
I have officially handed in my notice that I will NOT be staying here in Hokkaido another year.

It was a really tough decision for me. There has been a lot of pressure for me to stay on another year from many corners -- my kyoto-sensei sent me a new year's card with a hand written note hoping that I would stay another year, my office made it very clear that they really wanted me to stay, my friends in town want me to stay, and even my ALT friends (at least the ones who are staying on another year) keep asking me to stay.

But in the end, the decision is mine to make. And I think that staying on another year isn't going to bring me any new insights to living in Japan or to myself. I've had some incredible times here, and I will miss it terribly. I know I will. But it's time to move on and do something a little more related to the real world. It's time to get out of the bubble.

My contract finishes in six months, and so I'm starting the long goodbye to the life I have known here in Japan. Last chance to see the snow festival in Sapporo (this weekend), last chance to see the sea ice up north (next weekend). Last chance to see... lots of things.

Everything seems more immediate now that I know I'll be leaving. I have thoughts like -- I should be doing something exciting tonight/this weekend because I don't have an infinite number of evenings and weekends left in Japan to use. Which I guess is how one should approach life anyways. None of us has an infinite number of evenings, so we'd better make the most of what we've got.

Reading this over again, it seems a little sad. Well, I'm sad that I'm leaving. I'll admit it. And it's tough, because I'm not really sure what I'll be doing after this. But in the end, I really do think it's time to leave here and end my illustrious career as a human tape recorder. A job I've done okay with, but I need to go back to using my brain before it turns completely to mush.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I had to actually go to work for a whole day today. No sleeping in, no reading newspapers, no lingering over breakfast and coffee, no deciding what to do today.

How boring.

Next thing you know I'll actually have to go to a class and teach.

Real updates to come soon. Really. As soon as I stop waking up at 3 in the morning and wanting to go to sleep at 7pm.

Monday, January 15, 2007

now here we have snow

I finally returned to my house this evening, only to be more than pleasantly surprised that my neighbors have taken pity on me and cleared my driveway. Wow. Good thing, because there seems to be a lot of the white stuff. It's nearly hip deep on the stairs up to my house.

This is just a short update to let people know I made it back okay. I did miss my flight back to Hokkaido, but I had already pre-determined to take today off of work for jetlag recovery, so it was not a big deal.

It was a great trip home. My one complaint? Too short. Really. I barely had time to acclimatise to hearing so many people speaking English (and then there was all that French) and then it was time to go back to barely comprehending Japanese. I guess that's what happens when you visit five cities in three weeks. Things pass quickly.

Okay -- one more complaint. I lost the majority of my pictures in a freak SD card erasing incident. So I have no proof of my travels to Calgary, Edmonton and parts of Washington, DC. Too bad -- I had some nice pictures of Christmas.

More later. I'm tired and I have to get up and go to work tomorrow.