Snow Adventures

Super belated post! Gomen nasai from the bottom of my heart 😦 this post is about a snow trekking field trip I attended at Asamushi Onsen area on January 18th (with little tangents to other snow adventures!) 1月のスキートレッキングの旅行についてレポートします!-^__^- おそくなってごめんなさいね。。。>.<

Just to give some background – Aomori prefecture has one of the heaviest snowfalls in the world. Though the amount of snowfall varies a lot across the prefecture (Towada to Hachinohe getting less, Hirosaki/Aomori/the Japan sea side getting more), it is, undeniably, A LOT OF SNOW. And this isn’t just the Texan in me speaking… Anyways, thanks to Aomori, I have learned to not withdraw from snow, but to embrace and have fun with it. 青森で毎年すごい雪が降るなのど、私が青森に来たらちょっと雪に対して気持ちをかわりたいと思っていました。今雪が嫌なことじゃないと思って、雪で楽しく過ごせることになっています。テキサス出身の人なのに、青森のおかげで、雪とか寒い天気はちょっと気に入ったと思います。(\^w^/)

With this mindset in tow, I jumped at the opportunity to snow trek with the Aomori International Exchange Association. We started off the day getting fitted with skis, jackets and snow gear. It was my first time wearing skis!!! These were special sets – they had a better grip and were a bit wider than normal skis. スキーを履くのは初めてだったので楽しみにしていました!特別なスキーだったから結構歩きやすかったです。

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Ready to go! よしいくぞ!!

We then trekked up a mountain. そして、山を上りました。ImageGood views were viewed. The name of that awesome, mysterious island in the bay is Yunoshima. 素敵な景色をみながら、スキートレッキングができてうれしいでした ^^

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At the top especially. 特に山上で。。。

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Can see clear out to Mutsu from there :) むつまで見える!すごーい!超きれい!

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Me crashing the view

Then we walked down and returned to take a rest and do some crafts, namely some traditional basketmaking. 後は手作りかごを編みました。I just learned that this practice is called  つる細工, or tsuruzaiku, in Japanese.上手に作りたかったけど、ちょっと失敗になりました。。。私のせいだったかもね。。。。>.<

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I had such high hopes for this basket! It was going so well, but then it started to get splintery and the slightest bit misshapen! 😦

And that was the field trip! It was a great chance to meet new friends, have awesome new experiences and see and feel beautiful parts of Aomori 🙂 I’ll leave you with a picture or two of snow from Hakodate and Sapporo this last weekend (just because my post is titled Snow Adventures and they would certainly be relevant!) じゃ、以上です!この青森国際交流経験で新しい友達を作ることが出来て、すばらしい新しい経験をもらって、美しい青森を感じられるので素敵な体験でした。函館と札幌雪祭りの写真でこのレポートを終了します :))

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Goryokaku in the winter is real pretty 🙂

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Yoyoooo and I had fun at Hakodateeee

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So impressive

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The snow festival display from India! It was amazing!

And that’s all folks! Belated apologies for not being a good, consistent blogger… I’ll keep trying my hardest…

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Little pleasures

Hello friends,

The first payday has come and gone and school has already started! As us Group A JETs near the four week mark of our stay in Japan,  I wanted to share some thoughts on how I’m personally liking this new life. Here are a couple of lists, for easy writing and easy reading!

Highlights:

1) Meeting and getting to know my supervisor: the excellent and adorable Tachizaki sensei!

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An afternoon in the cafe – never dull with Tachizaki sensei!

I have a bunch of other photos of her making similarly hilarious faces… absolutely ❤ her! She has helped me with EVERYTHING, including setting up internet and wifi, taking me all over town on shopping trips, answering all my questions, enabling my matcha addiction, and just being so supportive, willing to help, and fun at all times. We’ve found we have share quite a few things in common, which include: a dislike of bell peppers and dried fruit, giggly natures, love for dogs and many other things that are not coming to mind now… Needless to say, I’m happy about being able to work with her!

2) Spending obon time with my co-worker, Okuse-sensei, and her family in Hachinohe. 🙂 What a fantastic two days those were. It was too wonderful to describe simply through bullets, so here we go…

We’ll do a story through pictures instead. Coming in from Towada, we walked around the  Hasshoku Center (kind of like a gourmet, fresh goods store filled with fishermen and women selling their goods and racks and racks of local fare). We took advantage of my tourist status by sampling everything .

Including a 立ち食いかき(a stand-and-eat-oyster)!

Including a 立ち食いかき (a stand-and-eat-oyster)!

Nom! おいしかった!

Nom! おいしかった!

Then, I ate a chirashi zushi -esque bowl of fresh fish for lunch, while Okuse sensei dug into some sushi.

いただきます!

いただきます!

Uni, ika, toro... oh my!

Uni, ika, toro… oh my!

This was followed by a visit to the Hachinohe coast: Tanesashi Kaidan, and Shirakami beach. It was absolutely gorgeous.

We enjoyed some ice-cream in the cool sea breeze.

Yup, this is the life. :)

Yup, matcha aisu and beautiful scenery… in my opinion, life can’t possibly get any better!

Feeling carefree :)

Feeling carefree 🙂

Afterward, we got caught in a sunshower (and narrowly missed a thunderstorm, phew). The coastlands were still gorgeous, despite the rain.

I then got the chance to meet Okuse sensei’s wonderful sister, her adorable, quirky and slightly aloof nephew, hilarious dad, and her caring and funny mom 🙂 Such wonderful people! They own a bakery named Chapati – I was really quite surprised to hear that they had named it after the traditional, Indian flatbread. Her father explained that they want the future of their shop to extend as far forward as the history of the chapati extends in the past. Amazing 🙂

Observed obon rites with them (cleaning, purifying and praying at the grave of their ancestors), and joined them in the evening for food and reunion-ing with the relatives.

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A delicious home-made feast!

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A delicious homemade feast 🙂 Okuse sensei was so kind to invite me to take part in it with her family.

Okuse sensei also took me sightseeing! I creeped on a display float for one of the major area festivals – Sansha Taisai (three shrine festival)

Meehee!

Meehee! Yay gaijin

And we also visited Kabushima Jinja 🙂 It’s located on a special seagull nesting spot… apparently, if the seagull droppings land on you, it’s a sign that wealth is coming your way? Double check me on this, but I think that the shrine attracts lots of banker and investor visitors for that reason. What a funny image… business people getting pooped on by seagulls for the sake of good fortune.

Okuse sensei's sister and me!

Okuse sensei’s sister and me!

Baby seagull

Baby seagull!

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View from the top

View from the top

Alas, I had to return home afterward. All in all, it was a blissful time. Her family gifted me with a ton of bread when I left their home… I don’t know how it’s possible such unimaginably wonderful people exist in the world! I won’t go hungry, thanks to them 🙂

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Can’t wait to visit them again and shower them with gifts!

I’ve been enjoying many other aspects of life and summertime as well… including 3) fireworks!

At the Towada firework exhibition! 花火大会

At the Towada firework exhibition! 花火大会

4) My first time, ever watching sumo wrestling…!

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5) All things matcha flavored! I must make a matcha roll cake sometime soon…

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I enjoy matcha lattes like these every other day. The cost just over a dollar - this girl's dream come true. Can even make instant matcha lattes too!

I enjoy matcha lattes like these every other day. They cost just over a dollar – this girl’s dream come true. Can even make instant matcha lattes too!

6) Tourou nagashi – an end of Obon event, where people send lanterns down rivers, bidding farewell to the spirits of their ancestors. You can send your ancestor back to the afterworld with a wish by writing it on the lantern. Sadly, my lantern drowned in the water… hopefully that doesn’t mean my ancestors are stuck here or that my dreams can’t be realized…:'(

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7) And biking past places like this…

This is a remarkably composed photo. Almost laughably so.

This is a remarkably composed photo. Almost laughably so, since I won’t even pretend that I’m a photographer.

Towada feels like the suburbs, the country, and a slightly big town, all at the same time.

I’ve been enjoying all sorts of little things, and steadily finding things about life I do not enjoy as well, but I’ll save that for my next post at the risk of boring you all with this already lengthy post. After the next post (where I might talk about first experiences teaching), I’ll try to keep things shorter. I’m also toying with the idea of using this blog as an outlet to practice newly acquired Japanese grammatical points and as a cooking blog. We’ll see how it turns out.

Anyways, thanks for reading! Any Yalies who might be reading this, good luck with the beginning of the new school year! I’m definitely feeling a nostalgia for New Haven that one might expect from a recent alum… Missing shopping period, the excitement of a new start and the summertime New Haven nights!

Hope you’re having all sorts  of fun Stateside, too!

Sohini

Festival CRAZE

CELEBRATION!!! I finally have internet in my apartment! I now understand the elation. I wanted share with y’all some updates and photos from my last week and a half settling down in Towada City, Aomori prefecture!

Firstly, I’m now an official citizen of Towada City, registered and all! Here’s a picture of me and a couple of Towada mascots. They are official members of the city too! The one I am posing with is a long, green onion (her name is Negin chan), the photobomber is a burdock named Gombo, and the square on the right is Nebatchi (I think he’s a mountain potato/yam).

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This photo makes me happy

Secondly, I’ve moved into my apartment and have started to make it my own! It’s cozy (read: small) but filled with all that one could ask for (kitchen, bathroom, extra things). No pictures for now, but perhaps later! Thanks to the kindness of my delightful supervisor, Tachizaki-sensei, my co-worker Takamura-sensei, Mel, and the ever wonderful Mukainakano-sensei, I’ve been settling into my new life slowly and steadily. The slowness is mostly because life has been busy with work and “extracurricular” activities, the main ones recently being…

OMATSURI!!!

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August is the month of summer nebuta festivals in Aomori, which I’m so glad that I’ve had the chance to observe and be part of. You probably are wondering, what exactly is a neb(p)uta festival? From my observations, the main components of a neb(p)uta festival are: parade floats depicting mythological characters from Chinese/Japanese legends, flutes sounding a distinctive tune, taiko drumming, a chant, special costumes that the parade participants wear, and dances that they do. The history and origins of the festival are hazy to me. The other Towada ALTs and I went to THREE(!!) major nebuta/neputa festivals in Aomori this last week. Each of the festivals had a different iteration of the components I listed.

First was Hirosaki neputa matsuri:

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Big ol’ taiko drum! Super cool

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Yes, you saw right, the last picture depicts a woman holding a severed “Hun”-a-la-DisneyMulan head. (Obvs it’s not actually a Disney hun, lolz). As you can see, the floats are fan shaped and carried by people. As you can’t see, the floats also spin! They usually depict a battle scene on the front, and a woman from the legends on the back. I found these women to be absolutely FASCINATING, if somewhat morbid. Hirosaki neputa was my favorite because it has an especially local feel – each neighborhood of Hirosaki creates and exhibits its own float in the procession. It was also really, really fun to scream/growl the chant, “YOOOOOOOOOOOIIIIII YADOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” with the parade members.

Also, because it was incredible, I want to mention the rice art we saw on the way to Hirosaki. The different colors are actually multi-colored rice stalks that were individually planted to create the pattern, NOT rice stalks that were simply painted (which is what I thought)! This was in Inakadate:

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Tuks, you want to analyze this a-la WGS? 🙂

The next festival was the main event, Aomori nebuta!

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I “jumped” (haneta) in this one! This included wearing a fantastic costume with bells and sashes. Unfortunately, the day we went it was raining, and the paper floats were covered with plastic wrap so they wouldn’t fall apart. It’s worth mentioning that all of these floats in all of these festivals are made out of paper – amazing, ne? Japanese people do amazing things with paper. The chant: “Rassera, rassera, rasse-rasse-rasse-ra!”

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Fellow jumpers and ALTs! Two Australians, two classmates from Sendai and me!

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The costume! I loved it – the bells were super fun! Felt like a reindeer. 😀

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I thought nebuta had a more corporate feel than Hirosaki neputa, with major companies sponsoring floats and recruiting people to jump behind them and shout their slogans. However, it was definitely the most energetic and exciting festival! Fond memories were made.

Last but not least, there was Tachineputa in Goshogawara city! This one was super cool. Tachi means standing, hinting at the height of the floats – the floats go up for stories and stories in narrow streets. Despite the mind-blowing floats, the festival still felt intimate. It was awesome. The chant: Yattemare, yattemare, yattemare!!!

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Observe the sheer height of these things. Amazing, no?!

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I think that’s enough of an update for now – what a glamorous post! I’m planning my next post at the moment, and it will likely touch on some less glamorous things, like culture shock and adjusting to the workplace. And what??!?? I’ve barely talked about food so far!? Will make sure to include that in the next post too 🙂

With much love from Towada,

Sohini

Disorienting Orientation

Hey y’all from Tokyo!

I suppose I’ll start by saying “whew.” These last couple of days have been a complete whirlwind of workshops, panels, receptions and meeting people. Now I’m catching a bit of a breath and taking some time to reflect. In some ways, as the title of this post suggests, the orientation can’t possibly accomplish the goal it sets out to achieve. I feel like I’ve been hit in the face with so much information that, in some ways, I’ve lost touch with the fact that I’m actually overseas and in Japan. Being sequestered indoors all day long probably doesn’t help that much either! However, I think the opportunity to hear from experienced JET program participants is motivating me to be a proactive presence in the classroom, office and the community. I have a clearer sense of my goals for the progress I want to make in learning Japanese (JLPT N2 this winter???! those of you who study the language, what are your thoughts about that? Doable for somebody who studied Japanese for a year, two years ago?), and what activities I want to be a part of in my school (tea ceremony, English conversation club, maybe a science club?) and the community (yoga, Judo, taiko perhaps??). Lesson-planning and teaching still remains a daunting task on the horizon – I think that dealing with that will have to wait until I hit the ground running in my school. I’ll probably have to get a feel of the office environment, my students’ abilities, my relationship with my Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) before stressing about details. Also, my Japanese speaking abilities have deteriorated horribly… I’m sure that launching myself into independent Japanese study will help bring it back.

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Highlights so far:

1) Meeting my Aomori/Towada City big brother, David! Yay David! He’s definitely inspiring me to take an energetic role in the community. He assures me that my placement in Aomori is wonderful and that the environment in Towada City is supremely supportive of JET participants. It also helps that he has an intimate knowledge of the local hangouts and where to practice yoga!

2) Finding out that Sabra, my summer of 2011 Hakodate bus-riding buddy, is also doing the JET program in Aomori prefecture! すごいいい具然 (crazy coincidence)!I’m so excited to visit Hakodate and our host families, who lived literally 3 blocks away from each other, together!

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3) Eating a delicious tuna-mayo onigiri from the downstairs konbini. I. Love. Onigiri. Best snack ever. Also, ramen.

4)  Spending time in the vibrant city of Tokyo. Miriam, who was making a short transit through Tokyo before heading home to the U.S., Emilie and I had a little Yalie get-together and karaoked together in a Shinjuku joint. We belted out anthems until the three of us (or maybe it was just me, I have very little vocal power) were hoarse. Good times were had 🙂 I’ll miss you all!

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5) Finally, and most epically, I SAW MUMFORD & SONS LIVE IN CONCERT TODAY!!! They were incredible. Like, chills down your spine, jaw-droppingly, eargasmically good. The crowd was overwhelmingly foreign, but I think that M&S were really trying to target the Japanese fans. This is probably an experience that I’ll carry with me through my life – I’m glad I decided to do it. Thanks, Nick and Meredith for coming with me!

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I’m feeling fortunate to have these excellent experiences so far. Here’s to more opportunities and more excitement in the upcoming months! Now, off to Towada City to meet my supervisor, Tachizaki-sensei, and all the people who’ll be important in my life for the next year!

Until next time!

Sohini

Bye ‘Merica!

Hello trusty readers (if there are some of you out there)!

 

I leave the States this Saturday for a year in Japan! These last couple weeks have been a whirlwind of packing, running errands, to-do lists, saying goodbye, baking bread, Breaking Bad, and Bollywood. For those of you who I haven’t gotten a chance to talk about my upcoming plans – I’ll be departing to teach English in Japan for a year through the JET program. I’ll be stationed in the southeastern part of Aomori prefecture, near Lake Towada. I’m excited to start my new life in the land of apples, garlic, snow sports, beautiful scenery, and summer Nebuta festivals.

 

Fittingly, I’m restarting my blog from a couple years ago, when I spent a summer in Hakodate, Hokkaido learning Japanese. Looking back at my (now private, sorry!) posts, I already see a change in my writing style and my vantage point. I promise to keep my blog posts succinct and hopefully thoughtful. I hope in a year’s time I’ll transition from being a recent graduate and a just-launched member of the “real world”, to a fully-fledged and functioning adult :)! I think I’ve chosen a great place to make that jump. I hope it’ll be a memorable journey for y’all too!

 

 My sentiments about saying goodbye to my family and the United States are all over the place. Some moments I feel waves of terror wash through me when I think about living alone and braving the harsh Aomori winters. Other moments I’m at peace with the thought of being so far away. Other moments I feel like tearing my hair out, agonizing about how to fit everything I want and need to bring to Japan in two fifty pound suitcases (a HUGE challenge for a person like me; I struggle to throw anything out). And there are moments of excitement, nervousness, guilt, hope, wonder, and more unadulterated excitement.

 

Alright, I don’t have any photos for now, but I promise there will be many to come! Tomorrow I’ll be driving from Austin to Houston for a pre-departure orientation and a goodbye reception hosted by the Houston Japanese Consulate. I’ll be flying with my fellow Texoma JETs to Tokyo for our JET orientation and a blizzard of new information. I’ll post little tidbits of insight from there. For now, do you think I should try to go to the Mumford & Sons concert in Tokyo on the 30th? I love their music, but is it worth the price, disorientation, and the loss of sleep? Need your thoughts!

 

Sohini