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...