Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Izu Life: My Last Day at School

Today is my last day of school. My apartment has been inspected, accounts closed, and tearful goodbyes bid. It's time for this proverbial (and perhaps literal as it is my middle name) "Alice" to come back up out of the rabbithole and return to the place where everything makes sense (even if they walk up-side-down there). 

Emails have been exchanged with my successor. She is at the beginning of her journey now, and I am at the closing of mine. will soon be the one living in a place that makes little sense, and (supposing that our positions are to be reversed metaphorically), that means I am the one headed back to the "blue yonder."

It's weird how things have come full circle like that. I found some leftover omiyage from Australia which I had brought as a gift for my colleagues on my very first day of school. Now, on my last day, I will give them away to the people who have helped me most in these past few hectic weeks. Weird. 

On Monday, I gave my farewell speech at the closing ceremony in full yukata. Whilst choking back tears, I implored my students to consider living in a foreign country. I know from first hand experience that doing so is one of the most challenging and rewarding things you can do with your life. 

Me in a yukata which the school actually bought for me as a leaving present!

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be travelling around Japan with my mum. Then, its home to Australia. And then what? A job? More travel? I'm still not sure. I guess I just gotta get back out there. Out into the great blue yonder...


Thank you to everyone who read, commented and hopefully found some useful information on this blog! I'll still be posted bits here and there over the next few weeks and months...

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Some Site News

As you may have noticed, posts are starting to dwindle on this blog and this is largely due to my busy work schedule what with my students heading into exam week. I only have one month left in Japan and a lot of my time is being taking up with exam marking, and when I am not doing that, preparing to return home. Due to my busy schedule, I have had to halt regular posting on this blog. I will probably be posting in drips and drabs when I have time  over the next month but after that and when I return to Australia, this blog will officially cease to be. Let this day mark the beginning of the end for AussieOnTheIzu.blogspot. 

Picking green tea back in June.

Japan has been an amazing experience for me and I hope you have enjoyed and found use in my posts as much as I have enjoyed writing them. I'm sure I will continue to blog or write in some capacity elsewhere after I have settled in Australia so stay tuned. Thank you so for all of your support over the past couple of years! 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Cats doing people things...

I found this series of photos from Japan of cats doing adorable people things... Enjoy!

Continue reading after the jump for more!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Tops Tuesdays: The Japan Wrap

While searching for videos on Youtube which perfectly encapsulate the experience of Japan's culture, media and lifestyle, I stumbled across the following videos and couldn't choose just one for my Tops Tuesdays post. Enjoy some funny videos from Japan...

See more after the jump!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Travel Log: Getting my nerd on in Odaiba and Akiba

I headed out to Tokyo during the week to doing some shopping before I leave Japan. My calendar is filling fast with farewell parties and summer barbecues so I wanted to take advantage of my free time now to tick some of the things off the pre-returning-home-shopping-list. First stop was Odaiba in Tokyo Bay...

The Izu Life: My final Sports Day in Japan

Before I get all emotional about how my time in Japan is dwindling from months to mere days too quickly for my liking, let me just get on with it and share with you some of my favourite pictures of this year's Sports Festival at the high school where I teach. Check them out after the jump. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before I Came to Japan

My first few months in Japan were a whirlwind. Most new JETs get a few days to recoup from their jet lag, participate in orientation and training, and make some new friends before they begin teaching. I hit the ground running. Straight from the airport, I was shuttled to my new workplace and, bleary-eyed, introduced to my new colleagues. I was expected to start work the next day bright and early. No orientation for me. I could see my jet lag was going to become very drawn out and turn into JET lag so to speak. 

It took a long time to adjust emotionally after that. I took even longer to make friends because I just didn't know where any other ALTs were. Looking back, there are many things I would try to do different. It was a difficult set of circumstances, but there were options to make that period in time more bearable. 2011 turned out to be one of the worst years of my life. But luckily, in 2012 I figured a lot of things out, and 2012 turned into one of the best years of my life. If only I had known in 2011 what I know now, things could have gone much more smoothly...

The Izu Life: My Very Last Culture Festival

Last weekend was my final chance to experience a Japanese high school culture festival. The kids put in a lot of effort and produced a lovely cultural festival for the public to enjoy. Many seemed to sense that this was one of their last chances to interact with me freely outside of a classroom and were very courteous and kind. So I would like to say thank you to my students for making my final cultural festival a memorable experience. Check out some of my favourite pics of the cultural festival after the jump...

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Sleeping with a Ghibli Character

There's no denying the Studio Ghibli films are a huge international success. That means there is a lot of Ghibli merchandise on the market. I spotted this adorable Totoro sleeping bag on Pinterest and decided to share here. There are various options on ebay if you want to buy one for yourself. Enjoy!

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Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Izu Life: Attending a Goukon in Japan

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Friday night found me standing outside a train station waiting for my ever-late friend and host of that evening's "goukon." A goukon is a kind of mass date that is popular in Japan where a group of (mostly) strangers meet up for some beer and laughs and then afterwards the couples that clicked call each other for follow-up dates. Such practices are becoming increasingly common and important in a country with a declining birth rate and where working individuals are finding less time to build meaningful relationships. Goukons provide a relaxed atmosphere to essentially date several people all in one evening. I myself had been asked to join this goukon after a couple of the host's friends pulled out. I shifted nervously, hoping my outfit was appropriate; heels, cigarette pants, and a boyfriend blazer. A group of boys standing nearby were jostling each other and giggling; obviously at the start of a big night out themselves and less nervous about it than me. 

"How late is she now?" my friend I had roped into doing this with me asked.

"8 minutes."

But just then we spotted her brilliantly bright pink coat weaving through the crowds of dull salary-men suits towards us. Surrendering her ticket at the gate, she jogged over to us, all apologies for being late. Another couple of women who had been standing nearby shuffled over and introduced themselves. To my embarrassment, we had been standing next to some fellow attendees for the same goukon for the past 10 minutes without realizing it. Only our host knew all of the guests. She introduced us all then quickly bobbed away to hug one of the boys who had been jostling with his friends earlier. Oh, God. They were the guys we were here to meet? It was going to be a long night...

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Dance Dance Revolution

I took a week off last week but now I'm back with today's Tops Tuesdays post. This week during my Internet travels I found this video on YouTube and decided to share it here. There are plenty of DDR videos out there but this is by far the most mind-blowing in my opinion. Enjoy!

YAMI: Inside that building are the answers to questions I've been asking myself ever since the series began. Finally, I'll know the truth about my past.
TÉA: Do you think they'll have DDR in there too?
YAMI: Téa, it's Japan. Of course they will.

Friday, 10 May 2013

T.G.I.F.: Black Sabbath in Tokyo and May Sumo Tournaments

Not only does Japan celebrate Mother's Day (母の日) on May 12th this weekend (Happy Mother's Day, mum!), but also Ozzfest is coming to Tokyo. Ozzfest is a rock concert featuring Slipnot, Tool, Slash, AND Black Sabbath held at the premium rocking-out venue, Makuhari Messe

If that is not your cup of tea, why not check out the May sumo tournament at the Sumida sumo stadium? It starts May 12th and continues until the 26th. Click the image below for  more information and ticketing details!

Art of SUMO15 Art of SUMO
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Happy Mother's Day!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Giant Robots

I'm a little unsure of the origins of this video but I spotted it during my travels of the interwebs and thought it was awesome. In it, a girl test runs a "Kid's Walker Cyclops" constructed by Sakakibara Kikai. Will the Japanese love of robots ever cease to be? I hope not. 

Here's some music to listen to simultaneously with the video above...

Friday, 3 May 2013

T.G.I.F.: Free Yoga Session in Roppongi

Happy Golden Week! For those who don't know, Golden Week (starting today) is a series of four national holidays in close succession which people in Japan usually use for travelling around and out of Japan. Unfortunately, that means this is NOT a recommended time to travel  in Japan due to the high density of crowds around popular tourist destinations. It can be impossible to get a seat on trains and hotels often hike their prices up anticipating the competition for accommodation. So what to do?

If you are stuck for ideas and are in the mood for something quirky and relaxing, I recommend skipping Golden week altogether, sticking around, and trying the free yoga sessions being put on today through May 12th at Tokyo Mid Town in Roppongi, Tokyo. Escape the frantic pace of the Golden Week rush and take a moment to slow down and smell the roses. There are two sessions a day; the morning session (9am) and afternoon session (7pm). Enjoy!

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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Tops Tuesdays: My Top 5 Most Pin-able Posts

Make a Giant Confetti Wall by Beci Orpin
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This week I thought I'd take a look back at some of my most useful posts for daily life in Japan. Things that you should be pinning right now for later reference. Continue reading to find out what I'm talking about...

Friday, 26 April 2013

T.G.I.F.: Tokyo Gay Pride Rally

This weekend, Tokyo has gay pride! Last year, I wrote about the event and how this even needs your support. To check out that post, click here. For more details about the celebrations, click the image below...

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Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Hadoken

Move over twerking and planking, the "Hadoken" craze is sweeping Japanese high schools. Believed to have started in celebration of the Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods movie released March 30, this new photographic trick of the eye is named after a special attack move from Street Fighter. This is trend is "tops" this week!

Continue reading after the jump for more images!


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The Izu Life: Happy Birthday to me!

Today I turn 27! Happy Birthday to me!

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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Make Japanese Fast Food at Home!

Make your own Yoshinoya beef bowl at home7
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Yoshinoya is a Japan-based, more than 100-year-old, fast food company which is famous for its low-cost "beef bowl." Now, you can make your own beef bowl at home (via RocketNews24). This recipe makes the Tops Tuesdays post this week. 

Monday, 15 April 2013

Travel Log: Fuji Five Lakes

Fuji Five Lakes is one of the few places left in Central Japan where you can still see cherry blossoms. The cherry blossom season is over in the greater Tokyo area for this year but  in other, more cooler parts of Japan (such as Fuji Five Lakes), the season is now hitting its peak. Continue reading to see some pictures of the blossoms along Kawaguchi Lake's photogenic northern shore. 

Friday, 12 April 2013

The Izu Life: Start of Term and New Beginnings

This week, I began my final semester teaching English in a Japanese High School. It has filled me with a sense of nostalgia. In a little over 3 months I will return to Australia. It's mind boggling to think how quickly the end of my contract is approaching. At this point, I have been living in Japan for a little over 2 years. It honestly feels more like 6 months have passed since I have arrived. Everything feels like it is happening so fast, just as I was told it would. 

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T.G.I.F.: Last Minute Sakura Festivals

Missed out on this year's early cherry blossom season in Japan? Don't worry; there's still a few opportunities to take in the cherry blossoms in colder regions of Japan such as Fujigoko and Nagano. Of particular note, this weekend in Kaga, Ishikawa the Taishoji Sakura Festival  is being held. In addition to hanami in the park, lion dances will be performed and you can take boat trips down the river to take in the beautiful sakura blossoms. At night, a sakura illumination event will begin, lighting up the beautiful trees and setting the scene for a romantic evening stroll. Click the image below for more details...

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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Happy Kitchen

YouTube sensation, RRcherrypie's videos of mini culinary masterpieces have gone viral in Japan and internationally. Working in silence, Kracie recreates various foods in miniature using only water and powder. Her "happy kitchen" series are fascinating...

Happy Tuesday!

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Izu Life: Japan's Obsession with Blood-Types

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One of my co-workers approached me yesterday and asked for some help making an English dialogue for a first year English class. The topic of the lesson was blood-types. She gave me the textbook to read. It detailed the way Japanese people like to judge a person's personality based on their blood type (A, B, AB, or O). The idea is that certain personality traits occur commonly in different blood types. She asked me what my blood type was and was surprised when I didn't know. The textbook explained Japan's interest in blood types as an innocuous pastime that Japanese people used as a conversation starter. But part of me couldn't help feeling a sense of suspicion of the origins of this obsession.

T.G.I.F.: Kanamara Matsuri, Kawasaki

The Kanamara Matsuri (かなまら祭り or "Festival of the Steel Phallus") is being held in Kawasaki, Japan this Sunday 7th April. If you are looking for something unique to do this weekend, this could be an interesting little excursion. The festival, colloquially known as "Penis Festival," has become popular among locals and tourists. It's exactly what it sounds like. Without going into too much detail, click the image below for more details and history behind the event. Apologies for the crude imagery.

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Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Tops Tuesdays Throwback: Top 5 Posts for Spring

Continue reading to find out what you need to know this spring to survive staff parties (enkais), hay fever and cherry blossom season!

Friday, 29 March 2013

T.G.I.F: HSBS Sevens World Series, Tokyo

In 2016, Rugby will officially become an Olympic sport. What better way to familiarize yourself with this ancient and hallowed sport than to check out the HSBS Sevens World Series Round 7 taking place in Tokyo this weekend? Rugby teams representing nations from all over the world will compete for the title of World Champion. Click the image below for more details and ticketing information!

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The Izu Life: The Best of Cherry Blossom Season #2

On the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture, there is a little picnic area called Sakura Koen near Izunagaoka Station on the Izu Hakone Line. It is a a little known but fantastic hanami (cherry blossom viewing) location for locals. Check out some of my favourite snaps of the park below...

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Sh*t Gaijin Say

In my opinion, these videos are tops this week...

That last line had me rolling on the floor. If you teach English in Japan, you'll get these videos.

Friday, 22 March 2013

T.G.I.F.: Tokyo International Anime Fair

©T-ARTS/syn Sophia/テレビ東京/PRR製作委員会. Image Source.
This weekend at Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba, the Tokyo International Anime Fair will be held. So get your nerd on in Tokyo and enjoy some of Japan's most famous export! Click the image below for more details...

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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Izu Life: 2 Year Anniversary

March 23rd marks the 2nd year anniversary of my arrival in Japan. I have decided to commemorate the occasion in kind with the following video. Enjoy! (You can read about my experiences post-arrival in Japan here and here.)

Only 4 months to go!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Maru the Cat

I recently became obsessed with feline Japanese Internet celebrity, Maru. Maru's owner makes delightful YouTube videos of Maru's adventures available with both Japanese and English subtitles. With more than 300,000 subscribers and more than 16,000,000 views on his first video, Maru's antics need to be seen to be believed.

Happy Tuesday!

Friday, 15 March 2013

T.G.I.F.: St. Paddy's Day and Fashion Week

This Sunday 17th, St. Patrick's Day celebrations will be taking place nationwide. Many events have been planned, included the Tokyo Saint Patrick's Day Parade. Of particular note is the Fujinishiki Sake Festival in Fujinomiya which I wrote about last year and falls on the same day as St. Patrick's Day. While not necessarily an official St. Patrick's Day celebration per se, drinking free locally-made sake from morning 'til night seems a good a way as any to spend this holiday. From as early as 9am, you can enjoy unlimited free sake samples and spectacular views of Mt. Fuji. The event is outdoors so bring a picnic blanket (and rubber boots if it is going to rain). To get there, get off at Fujinomiya station and take the free shuttle bus which leaves every 10 minutes (30 mins). 
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In addition, the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo kicks off this weekend across Tokyo. While most events are invite only, there are some free and open to the public events which you can check out at this link. Click the image below for more details.

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Happy Friday! What will you be doing this weekend?

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Travel Log: Cat Cafes, Mucha and Disney Sea...

Last weekend I went to Tokyo to visit some friends and a particular art exhibition that I have been anticipating. Check out some pictures after the jump!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Top 5 Hay Fever Cures

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The days are heating up and Japan's weather is returning to a more bearable temperature for my Australian sensibilities. Unfortunately with agreeable whether comes an inevitable downside; allergies. Every year in spring time the cedar trees release an intense nasal assault of pollen which sends Japan's citizens into a frenzy of sneezing and coughing unlike anything you have probably seen in any other country. If you, like me, are caught in the midst of all this, what can you do to combat the effects of hay fever? Read on to find out...

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Izu Life: March 11 Anniversary

Today is a day of remembrance for all who suffered on March 11, 2011 when the Tohoku quake caused a devastating tsunami and placed the country at the mercy of the Fukushima Power Plant. I wrote about my experiences in post "3/11" Japan one year ago on the first anniversary. You can about read it here. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sympathy for all who suffered as a result of the Tohoku Earthquake. 

Emperor Prays, Trains Stop as Japan Remembers March 11
Memorial at the front of an elementary school in Miyagi Prefecture. Image Source

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Izu Life: So You're Leaving Japan?

Having attended the After JET Conference in Yokohama last week, I learnt some great tips about preparing to leave Japan and looking for work after a tenure on the JET Programme. I'd like to share some of this information with you...

The first members of Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers leaving Japan from Haneda Airport (Photo: JICA)
"The first JETs to leave Japan were closely watched by security to ensure they really left the country"
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T.G.I.F: Alphonse Mucha comes to Roppongi Hills

Design for The Moon and the Stars: The MoonThe paintings ofrenowned Czech Art Nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha, will be on display at the Mori Arts Center Gallery (Roppongi Hills Mori Tower 52F) starting this Saturday and continuing through until 19th May.The exhibition, "Alphonse Mucha: An Insight into the Artist," is a unique retrospective look at Mucha's beautiful Art Nouveau style. Many works that have never been seen in Japan before will be on display. The various artworks will be divided into six sections: "Mucha the Czech," "Sarah Bernhardt & the Theatre World," "Le Style Mucha & Art Nouveau," "The Message of Beauty," "Paris 1900," and "Visions for Humanity." The exhibition will include over 240 works, including rare works such as the satin-silk edition of "The Arts" series. Click the image below for more details...

(Above) "Rêverie" - 1897 Colour lithograph - (C) Mucha Trust 2013
(Top Right) "Design for The Moon and the Stars: The Moon" - 1902 Ink and watercolour on paper - (C) Mucha Trust 2013

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Top 5 Hanami Spots in Japan

Cherry blossom season is upon us and the days are warming up. Join me for my top 5 hanami spots in Japan as you decide where to stake out for your own cherry blossom-viewing itinerary...

Friday, 1 March 2013

T.G.I.F.: Omizutori, Nara

This weekend in Nara, the priests of the famous Todai-ji which houses the largest Buddha statue in Japan will be partaking in a festival called 'Omizutori.' This festival involves a ritual of prayer, asking Buddha to absolve the priests of their sins and deliver a rich harvest. Of particular note is the 'Otaimatsu' event; priests run about the Nigatsu-do (nearby to Todai-ji) bearing pine torches. To be showered in sparks from  these torches is said to protect you from evil. Click the image below for more details...

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Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Izu Life: After JET Conference

This past Tuesday you may have noticed there was no "Top Tuesdays" post. That's because I was attending the After JET Conference in Yokohama Monday ~ Wednesday. The conference was fantastic for preparing JETs for their return to their home country and I learnt a LOT! Stay tuned because over the next few weeks I'm going to share some of the wisdom I acquired for those of you who are interested and/or were unable to attend yourselves.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Travel Log: Bohemian Shimokitazawa and School Marathons

So last week was the school marathon. All the kids gathered at the front of the school and set off running on a 8 km course. This is an annual event at many high schools around Japan. Competition is high so many students will push themselves to their absolute limits, often collapsing at the finish line. That is how seriously this event is taken...

Check out some pictures after the jump!

T.G.I.F: Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival

As I reported last year, once again Kawazu on the Izu Peninsula will be hosting the annual Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival this weekend to welcome the arrival of spring and celebrate a spectacular local phenomenon. Every year between February and March, a breed of early blooming cherry blossom called the "Kawazu" can be seen blossoming around town. At night, the blossoms are lit up for a night-time illumination event and a fireworks display begins at 7.30pm. Why not visit Kawazu and see for yourself? Kawazu can be reached from Atami (accessible from Tokyo on the Tokaido Line) on the Ito Line. Click the image below for more information (Japanese)...

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You can click here for more details in English.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Kawazu Cherry Blossoms

It's a drab and dreary day here on the Izu Peninsula. Its been raining non stop for the past 36 hours or so. That in mind, this week marks the beginning of the blooming period for a breed of cherry tree here in Japan that blooms earlier than any other kind of cherry blossom. The cherry blossom season, though varies around the country, normally falls in April but the Kawazu Cherry Blossom begins to bloom a vibrant pink in mid to late February when the weather is still frosty. The blooms have made a community right here on the Izu Peninsula--Kawazu, for which the blossom is named--famous for its Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival (stay tuned this Friday for more on this festival). A beautiful preview of what spring holds for us this year. 

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Happy Tuesday!

Friday, 15 February 2013

The Izu Life: Ten DIYs for Life in Japan

Some of us more than others have arrived in Japan full of optimism but upon opening the front door to our new dwelling felt that optimism drown amidst drab chipped paint, daggy décor, and (worst of all) mould. Living in a clean, comfortable environment is crucial to mental well-being (for obvious reasons). So, aside from paint and elbow-grease, what other quick and easy ways are there to make your living space more colourful and welcoming? I’m here to share 10 nifty DIYs to help your apartment go from tragic to très chic !

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T.G.I.F.: Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival, Akita

This weekend (15th~16th February) is the Kamakura Snow Festival in Yokote City, Akita Prefecture. A kamakura is a small snow igloo which is usually filled with candles to create a soft glow and a romantic winter atmosphere. Over 100 of these kamakuras will be set up in Doro Koen Park in front of Yokote City Hall and its sure to make a memorable experience. From Akita Station, take the JR Ou Line to Yokote Station then jump on the free shuttle bus service. Click the image below for more details...

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Happy Friday!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Valentine's Day

Japan is ready for Valentine's Day! (Follow me on Instagram!)

Better late than never eh?

Today's Tops Tuesdays post is dedicated to everyone's favourite time of the year... St. Valentine's Day.

Here in Japan, Valentine's Day is celebrated with the practise of girls giving small chocolates to their male friends. As opposed to Western customs surrounding Valentine's Day, the giving of chocolate to associates other than one's boyfriend is called "giri-choco" (obligatory chocolate) as most girls feel obliged to extend the act of giving beyond their current love interest. 

The boys' turn comes on White Day in March, when receivers of Valentine's Day chocolates are expected to reciprocate in kind to the girls in their lives. 

Happy Valentine's Day! (Bah, humbug!)

Friday, 8 February 2013

T.G.I.F.: Yuki Matsuri

Hokkaido's famous tourism draw-card is drawing to a close this Monday the 11th of February. The annual Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival) is famous in Hokkaido's capital, Sapporo, for its gigantic ice sculptures that stand several storeys tall. Click the image below for more details.

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Are you going to the Snow Festival this weekend? Happy Long Weekend!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Izu Life: Top Five Pinners and Tumblrs about Japan

Continue reading to find out my top 5 favourite pinners and tumblrs on the topic of Japanese fashion, culture and much more...

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Setsubun

Setsubun Eho-maki, Mame-maki and Grilled Sardine 恵方巻き
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Setsubun falls on the day before the first day of spring in Japan. This year, Setsubun occurred on February 3rd. The people of Japan usually eat dried soy beans and try to eat the same number of beans as their age. This makes it difficult for the elderly members of the community to keep up with the Setsubun tradition. Eating soy beans is said to attract health and happiness to the lives of the consumer over the course of the following year. The soy beans also serve another purpose, because as it turns out, local demons called "oni" are terrified of soy beans. Who'd have thought? Children are encouraged to pelt someone dressed in an oni costume with soy beans while shouting, "Demons out! Luck in!" to scare demons away from the house. The idea is to force bad luck out, and encourage good luck into the home. Entrance-ways are sometimes decorated with sardines and holly to prevent evil spirits from entering the dwelling. 

Additionally, it is tradition to eat a makizushi (a giant sushi roll) in silence while facing the year's lucky direction as determined by the zodiac (2013 is the year of the snake) on this day. You may have noticed an abundance of huge uncut makizushi rolls in the sushi section of many Japanese supermarkets last Sunday. Ginger sake is also customarily drunk on Setsubun. 

These days, the people of Japan usually visit a shrine on Setsubun where various sweets and treats are handed out to the visitors. Some shrine's invite celebrities and sumo wrestlers to visit on Setsubun and these events are usually televised nationally. 

Friday, 1 February 2013

T.G.I.F: Lantern Festival, Nara

At the oft photographed Kasuga Taisha shrine in Nara, more than three thousands stone lanterns in the surrounding temple grounds will be lit up for a truly stunning festival. This is definitely going to be one for all the amateur photographers out there so why not set a course for Nara this February the 3rd? For more details, click the image below...

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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Izu Life: A Frank Discussion about Mt. Fuji's Impending Explosion

For many ALTs living in Japan (specifically the areas around Mt. Fuji and the Tokai area), it is common knowledge that we are currently overdue for a giant earthquake and the subsequent eruption of Mt. Fuji on a catastrophic scale. Maybe some of you have seen the figures (5,900 people are expected to die). A lot of information is available online about volcanic eruptions in Japan, the anticipation of the Tokai Earthquake, and predictions of what will happen in the event of a major natural disaster in the Tokai area, however, much of it is scattered and in various languages. I would like to try and bring that information together. What are some of the things you should expect when the eruption happens? What steps can you take to ensure your safety and survival? And what are additional resources you can turn to for help? 

Please join me for this special edition of "The Izu Life" to find out...

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Tops Tuesdays: When to Stand

Living in Japan, you get used to not being able to understand many of the Japanese language signs and labels you encounter in your daily life. So, you begin to rely heavily on the accompanying illustrations to help you understand. Well, take a look at the following picture for a priority seat on Tokyo's subway. Before you read the article, just take a look and try to have a guess about what each picture is alluding to...

Japan's priority seating sign
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Did you guess correctly? Next time you find yourself on the subway and unsure whether you should be giving up your seat, rule of thumb: just stand up. 

Happy Tuesday!

Friday, 25 January 2013

T.G.I.F: Australia Day

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This year, Australia Day falls on a Saturday--this Saturday January 26th in fact! Despite the lack of hot, sunny weather, we will be celebrating with an Australia Day party at the Taproom in Numazu from 12pm until 2pm. The party, of course, will continue after 2pm (2pm is the point where the Taproom opens to the public). So if you are a Shizuoka resident, why not come join us and enjoy some Tim Tams, Vegemite, beer and ANZAC bikkies with your Aussie brethren this weekend? Happy Australia Day!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Travel Log: Roaming in Southeast Asia (Part 5)

This has been a long time coming... Now is time for the final installment of the "Roaming in Southeast Asia" series.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Final Exams

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The school year is winding down for a lot of 3rd years who at my school are only required to attend a half day of school from now on. Last weekend, many students took their final entrance exam for university. Despite the fact that a few have already confirmed their attendance at certain colleges around the country, a large portion of the student body is still relying on the outcome of this exam to shape their future. All the stress of end-of-year exams (which can for some teens drive them to the edge of reason) has finally abated and students are beginning to relax before their first university classes begin in April. 

It also means I have to say goodbye to a great bunch of girls that I have gotten to know over the past couple of years. Every day for the past year, I have eaten my lunch with a small group of 3rd year students who wanted to improve their English speaking ability. These girls will be moving on to bigger and better things after the school year ends. I was able to get to know each of them a little better and I appreciate the small about of insight into the Japanese teenage experience I managed to glean from them. 

Now that this small "lunch club" is breaking up (because the 3rd year students usually leave school before lunch time now), I want to wish all of my students good luck on their final exam result, and to my girls: I hope we will have a chance to meet again one day.

Friday, 18 January 2013

T.G.I.F.: Bonden Festival

Throughout Akita Prefecture, the Bonden Festival is being celebrated with parades of colourful "wands" through local townships. Of particular interest is the celebration at the shrine on Mount Taiheizan near Akita Station. Men race up the mountain to be the first to offer their Bonden prayer at the shrine, often with violent physical altercations resulting from the frenzy to be first, known as "Bonden fighting."

Click the image below to find out more. 

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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Dondoyaki

On the weekend nearest January 15th, the people of Japan like to gather around bonfires in rural areas to burn their New Year's decorations (usually constructed of reads, paper and fruit) in a kind of religious sacrifice to welcome in the New Year. This custom is called 'Dondoyaki' and daruma dolls are usually sacrificed to the flames simultaneously as symbols of endurance and luck. Attendees and also permitted to make wishes at the bonfire and partake of amazaki (a kind of sake) and mochi (chewy rice cakes). This ritual marks the end of all New Years celebrations.

This is a picture of the bonfire setup the day before the burning. The red decorations are daruma dolls. My local township set up several of these bonfires along the nearby river. 

Wishing you a happy and productive 2013!
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