Walking in an Edo Wonderland

Well, this weekend is a three-day weekend, in which National Foundation Day is observed. According to¬†https://study.gaijinpot.com/lesson/holidays/national-foundation-day/, this holiday “mark[s] the foundation of Japan and the accession of Emperor Jimmu.” All I know is that it gave me an extra day off, which I am really grateful for!

Most of my teammates took this opportunity to fly up to Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, to attend the Sapporo Snow Festival. I thought about it, but it wasn’t something I cared about enough to spend the money on. Instead, I and the one other teacher who had decided not to go to Hokkaido took a little day trip to a place called Ouchijuku. It’s a traditional village from the Edo period, and they were having their own snow festival. It turned out to be a fun experience, although it took quite awhile to get there!

Here’s a little picture/video tour of our trip:

I have my geography mixed up a little in the video – apparently the village is located in Shimogo Town, not Yunokami Onsen (that’s the train station), and the video footage is of the entrance to the village.

The village consists of a street lined with traditional thatched houses.

Different snow sculptures, including lamps, lined the street:

There were also beautiful colored balls of ice…

…and snow houses that you could get inside!

Most of the houses served as souvenir shops and/or restaurants. One of the shops specialized in fabric ornaments, like these flowers:

My friend and I were super hungry upon arriving at the village, so we soon decided to have some lunch. Most of the restaurants sold soba and udon (Japanese noodles), so we rather randomly chose one of the shops, and ordered soba with mountain vegetables. It also came with a side of daikon pickles and some sort of fern dish.

This was the restaurant we ate at. It had the cutest old lady sitting outside!

After lunch was when the festivities started, and when we did a little hiking to get some photos of the village from a higher perspective. But that’s a story for next week… ūüôā

Eating on the Go: Japan

Yesterday, my friend and I made our way to the bustling metropolis of Koriyama, which is the place to go if you want to venture from the limited selection of stores and restaurants in our small city. Our mission was to purchase some Japanese study books, but we made a couple of stops for food along the way. I realized how interesting some of these quick food options are – thus I bring you today’s post, Japanese food on the go!

My friend hadn’t yet eaten a proper lunch when we headed out, so when we arrived in Koriyama, we stopped in the station so she could grab a bite to eat. I don’t know if American train stations are the same way or not, but the larger train stations here are full of restaurants, stores, and souvenir shops. The place where we stopped was a little noodle shop, where you order by machine! There is a panel with all the menu options; you press the buttons for the options you want, insert your money, and get a little ticket that states what you’ve chosen. You bring the ticket to the counter, and the ladies behind the counter prepare your food.

Here are the pictures of the menu options, with the buttons down below:

My friend choosing her option: “I think I’ll have the¬†kake-udon…”

This little noodle shop was convenient, but there are also many other restaurants to choose from. One choice that I thought looked interesting was a shop selling roast beef dishes Рwith raw egg on top. YUM.

On the way back from the bookstore, we stopped in the station again for one of Japan’s specialties – crepes! Some of the food options here surprise me, and crepes is one of them. It feels like something I’d find in France, not Japan. Nevertheless, I love crepes, so I’m not complaining.

As is common here in Japan, there are models of the different items on the menu:

I chose the “chocolate parfait” crepe, which was chocolate cake and pudding with whipped cream and two strawberry pieces on the top. My friend chose the berry “layer cheese,” which looked like cream cheese in the model, but that turned out to be basically like whipped cream. We also ordered bubble drinks, which this crepe shop specializes in. They have a wide assortment of drinks with tapioca balls in the bottom. My friend got peach tea, and I got chocolate milk. The tapioca was a lot chewier than I’d expected. For some reason I was expecting the fruit-flavored balls that they have at frozen yogurt bars, or that I’ve had before in iced tea drinks. This was totally different. It wasn’t bad, though. I just sucked up the squishy orbs with my extra-wide straw and chowed them down.

The paper in which the crepe was wrapped was covered with English slogans: “Crepes for all, all for crepes” and “We love crepes! We love crepes!”

Yes, we do:

After our sweet dinner, we caught the next train home. It had turned out to be a pretty good day, we decided, not just because of the great food but also because we each went home with some fresh study material. We both agreed that nothing is better than new books and delicious desserts!

Cost of Eating – Japan (Part 2)

OK, as promised, another look at eating in Japan! Last week I went over the selection and prices of some of the food staples that can be found at grocery stores here. This week, we’ll delve into some fun foods.

Snacks

First and foremost, of course, are…SNACKS. My favorite meal of the day! I tend to eat small meals but snack a lot. I’m trying to learn to minimize the amount of sugary snacks I eat, but it’s a bit difficult, because my sweet tooth is just so…sweet.

Anyway, there is no end to the types of crackers and cookies that you can buy here. These are some of the cookies tucked away in my cupboard right now. YUM.

As in America, it’s the unhealthy snacks that are the cheapest. I suppose sugar and additives are a lot less expensive than real food. I can’t remember how much the strawberry flavored cookies cost – probably around¬†¬•200 or so. I bought the cookies on the left from the¬†¬•100 store, so they cost…you know…¬•100.

There are lots of different crackers here! In addition to American-style chips (potato chips, select kinds of Pringles, and a knock-off brand of Bugles), there are chips/crackers with all sorts of flavors that we don’t have in America. Senbei (rice crackers, usually disk-shaped and lightly flavored) are very popular as well. I have some interesting lemon-flavored senbei right now, and some shrimp-flavored crisps (kind of like Cheetos, but…not). I bought them on sale, so each bag was less than¬†¬•100.

One thing that I was happy to see in the stores here is fruit gummies. Not the huge boxes of serving-size packages that they have in the States, just small pouches containing maybe 2-3 servings (depending on how many you eat at a time!). They have a nice variety of flavors, though. They’re normally around¬†¬•100 a pouch, give or take a few yen. The ones below were part of a promotion, so they were on sale for about half that. The writing on the front says “Delicious collagen,” which was one of the ingredients in this brand and which is apparently good for you. I bought three pouches, so I should be all set on my collagen intake for awhile!

And yes: there is chocolate. Not much American chocolate (no sign of a Reese’s anywhere), but lots of Japanese chocolate. And hey, when it comes to chocolate, I’m not picky. It’s about the same price as in America, too; around¬†¬•100 or so for a bar of cheap chocolate (like the “Black Chocolate,” or dark, in the photo below) and¬†¬•200-400 for a bag of individual chocolates. I’ve found some new favorites here, like the Look chocolates in the picture. These are filled with a creamy mousse-type filling of four different flavors: strawberry, banana, caramel, or chocolate. Although this bag contains individually wrapped pieces, the same type of chocolate is also sold in bar form, with a row of each flavor. SO DELICIOUS…

OK, OK, enough with the snacks! We’ll take a look at the next category of grocery items, which is…

Beverages

There’s lots of variety to be found in this area! Milk is around¬†¬•200 for a liter (no gallon sizes here!), although in my opinion it tastes different than American milk, so I usually add some chocolate powder to mask the flavor. There are different kinds of juice, too; I usually buy a fruit/veggie mix which has added sugars and is not 100% juice, so it tastes pretty sweet. It’s the one standing proud and tall in the photo below:

There are also sodas, although I think the flavors tend to differ from American varieties. Bottled green tea is big here, as green tea seems to be the drink of choice. As far as I know, it’s usually straight-up green tea, without any added sugar. On the other hand, the bottled “lemon tea” and “milk tea,” which are black teas with different¬† flavors, are quite sweet. The milk tea, or “mee-ru-ku tea,” as they call it here, has come to be a favorite of mine.

Condiments

Last but not least, we come to the final food category: condiments. Luckily, there are some of the same condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise, etc.) that we use in the States. In fact, I was surprised to find out how popular mayonnaise is here, and it’s always sold in squeeze bottles. Butter is also available, probably for a price similar to that of American butter.¬† Regrettably, peanut butter is not nearly as popular here as in the U.S. The Skippy brand below is the ONLY kind sold at my local supermarket, and it only comes in that one size. It’s about¬†¬•500.

I was interested to discover that maple syrup is available, albeit in small quantities, and so is honey. Most of the honey I looked at was expensive, but I did find a large jar of honey with added ingredients for about ¥500. Jam is available too, and so are whipped spreads of different flavors.

Not sure if this is technically a condiment, but it’s a seasoning to sprinkle on rice, just like the ones the kindergarteners put on their rice at school (although theirs come in cute single-serving kid-friendly packages). This one is¬†sukiyaki¬†flavor.

One final food item, which probably falls in the snack category but is going to be allowed to hang out awkwardly in the condiments list is…YOGURT. This has always been a favorite of mine, so I buy it no matter what the price, but I do try to keep my eye out for deals. I’ve always eaten sweetened yogurt, but am trying to gradually shift over to unsweetened. The unsweetened yogurt on the left below was around ¬•130 for a box containing about four servings. The flavored yogurt cups on the right are normally around¬†¬•160, but I bought them on sale for¬†¬•118! The yogurt flavors here are generally similar to the ones in America – blueberry, strawberry, mixed fruit, etc. – but there is also aloe flavor (the two green cups in the middle are aloe). I actually really love this kind – it has small gel-like chunks, similar in consistency to the inside of a grape, and it’s quite delicious!

Well, that’s the end of the very long food tour. If you have any questions about food or prices here, leave me a comment below. Or come for a visit, and you can try some of these foods for yourself!

Cost of Eating – Japan

Hello, readers! Today I bring you a post about one of my favorite topics – FOOD!! This trip to Japan is the first time I’ve ever had to come up with and grocery shop for my own meals here, so I thought I might give you a peek into what it is like planning (and paying for!) meals in Japan. I’ve also been trying to incorporate healthier foods into my diet, so we’ll¬† explore what healthy eating here looks like, too.

First, we’ll deflate a couple of common myths that Americans seem to have about food in Japan. One is that food is not NECESSARILY more expensive here than in the States. It really depends on what you are buying. Some things are significantly more expensive, while other things are significantly cheaper. We’ll go into more details about pricing later on.

Second, food is not NECESSARILY more healthy here than in the States. Again, it depends on what your choices are. There is a lot of seafood, and other “healthy” foods such as vegetables, tofu, and fermented foods. But if you’re looking for a lot of the foods that we consider healthy in America – multigrain items, whole wheat flour, low-carb snacks – forget it. There are LOTS of lightweight, nutritionally empty crackers, cookies, breads, and pastries here, but not many good options in the way of healthy snack foods.

Also, one final note: I’ll be writing prices in yen, but for the purpose of comparing them to American prices, 100 yen is ROUGHLY equal to one dollar. That is, 1 yen = 1 dollar. In reality, the yen has been strong compared to the dollar lately (I think that’s how you say it LOL) – for example, the exchange rate today is 100 yen to 90 U.S. cents. But for doing mental calculations, thinking of 100 yen as one dollar is pretty convenient.

So, without further ado, let’s explore some of the food items that you might find at the grocery store (or in my fridge!):

Protein:

  • Eggs. I eat a lot of eggs. Mostly because they’re fairly inexpensive – maybe around¬†¬•160 for a carton of small eggs. They sell them in packs of ten here, though, not twelve!
  • Tuna. Yes, they do have canned tuna here. It’s not very cheap, but sometimes I can catch it on sale.
  • Fish. They have lots of fish varieties here – even more than I want to explore. (“No thanks” to the squid, eel, and fish eggs!) I usually do the easy thing and buy frozen fish that is already coated with bread crumbs. Then all I have to do is fry it up!
  • Beef/chicken. Ground beef and chicken, as well as other cuts of beef and probably pork, are sold here. Honestly, I don’t pay a lot of attention because I don’t eat a ton of meat. It seems a little pricier here to me (and the packages are generally smaller), but if it’s on sale, I buy it.
  • Tofu. I don’t know how much tofu costs in America, but here it is cheap, cheap, cheap! Usually around¬†¬•60 per carton. I don’t normally go for tofu, but I’ve taken to eating it here occasionally just because it is so cost-effective. Plus, I hear it is healthy for you, too. ūüôā

Vegetables/fruits

  • Root vegetables. Like this miniscule bag of potatoes. (No 10-lb. bags of potatoes to be found here!) Root veggies like potatoes, onions, and carrots are about the only types of vegetables I’ve found that seem to be consistently cheap (at least of the types of vegetables that I eat). This bag cost ¬•100.

  • Other vegetables. Sadly, many vegetables here are pricey unless it’s summer and the stores are selling the local produce. I do the best I can to find veggies on sale, but I’ve noticed the prices getting more expensive and the selection becoming more limited as we’ve moved away from the harvest season. I still try to buy a variety, though. Right now I have a package of spinach I bought for¬†¬•200, a yellow pepper which was around ¬•130 yen, and an avocado that was on sale for¬†¬•100. I also have occasionally been finding spaghetti squash, which makes a cheap and healthy meal!
  • Fruit. I can’t really talk about fruit here without feeling rather desolate. Oh for the wide selection of fruit in America, imported from all over the States (and the world), with prices that enable me to indulge my fruit passion! Sadly, here the selection is much more limited, and unless it’s in season, it’s nearly always pricey. Bananas are reasonable, but that’s about it. I do buy apples pretty consistently because I’m so fond of them, and I can usually get a bag of six or so for about¬†¬•500. Citrus fruits are pretty plentiful, at least this time of year, but berries (except for strawberries) are a rare sight. Forget about frozen fruit, too. They have all of two or three varieties – generally options like mangoes, blueberries, and mixed berries. All in packages not much bigger than the palm of my hand. Sad, sad, sad…

Grains

  • Bread. If you like white bread, this is the place you should live. You will have no problem finding regular white bread, as well as all sorts of fluffy and flaky rolls and pastries. But wait! They do sell wheat bread, yes they do! In a package containing three slices:

This package, happily, was on sale for ¥80, ¥20 off from its original price. The slices of bread are quite thick here as you may (or may not) be able to tell from this photo:

In fact, you can actually choose which thickness of bread you want depending on the package you purchase. They sell packages of eight slices (more similar to the thickness of American bread), packages of six slices (probably similar to the piece in this photo), and packages of four slices – which, as you can imagine, are very thick!

  • Flour/oats. They do sell white flour here, but I haven’t seen wheat. Although I admit I haven’t looked for it specifically. I’ve been wanting to eat more oats, so I bought some of those the other day. They had exactly one kind, for a price of about¬†¬•400:

  • Cereal. The cereal varieties here are very limited. They carry cornflakes, and usually frosted flakes as well. Beyond that, most of the cereal is a granola/puffed rice type cereal, with bits of dried fruit and other goodies. These are two in my cabinet right now:

The one on the left contains strawberries, raisins, and sunflower seeds, while the one on the right is maple-flavored and has bits of dried sweet potato, raspberries, raisins, and walnuts. Delicious! They were both on sale, for about ¥600 each, which is about as cheap as you can expect to find cereal in a package that size.

Since this post is getting frightfully long and I still have some food items to share, I’ll cut it short and resume it in the next post. I’ll go over some snack items and I may or may not be talking about chocolate :), so stay tuned!

 

Lunchtime!

So this week’s post is about the best time of day…lunchtime! Actually, it’s about lunchtime at kindergarten. My coworkers and I teach at the local kindergarten about two times a week, and every week or two we stay after our regular class and eat lunch with the students. The students eat in their classrooms, so each of us chooses one class to eat with.

I’m not always in the classrooms for the whole getting-ready-for-lunch process, but from what I have observed, it goes like this: First, the students all go out to the sinks in the hallway and wash their hands. Then, they come back in their classroom and each child takes his or her chair and puts it at one of the low tables in the room. They also each take one of the “bentos,” or lunch sets, from the box that has already been delivered to the room.

This is where the process starts to deviate even more from the typical American lunch. Two of the students stand in front of the tables and “introduce” themselves (I think this is to get practice giving self-introductions?). They lead the other students in a lunchtime song, then in a prayer giving thanks for the food (probably very unusual for Japan, but this is a private school owned by a Christian). The students all fold their hands and chorally repeat the prayer, then unfold their hands and continue a long recitation of something else. I’ve only been able to catch part of it, but from what I can gather it’s some sort of appeal/gratitude-giving to parents and others who prepared the meal.

The process is ended with the word “Itadakimasu,” which literally means “I receive” in a very humble form. This is one of the key phrases used in Japan – if you go to a meal at someone’s house, or if someone gives you a snack, this is a phrase that you should definitely say before you eat!

After all these preliminaries have ended, the students can finally eat. School lunches here are much more uniform than in the States. From what I understand, even at public schools students usually eat the school lunch instead of bringing their own. Here at the kindergarten, each student brings his or her own container of rice, and the school provides the rest of the meal – a small divided box filled with a variety of meat or fish, vegetables, and fruit. The lunch option changes from day to day, but from what I’ve seen it always contains food from these three categories.

Here are a couple of pictures of the school lunch (in the yellow box), with the containers of rice that the students bring themselves. The specks on the rice are from seasoning packets that the students sprinkle on to make their rice more flavorful. They also each have their own fork/spoon/chopstick set (the reason you can’t see the chopsticks in these pictures is because the students have them in their hands!). They also usually have their own packet of wipes, and a bottle containing – what else – green tea! There might be some exceptions, but most of the students whom I ask tell me that there’s green tea in their bottles. They are surprised when I tell them that children in American don’t drink green tea!

One thing that always surprises me is how the children gobble their lunches with gusto. I very rarely hear complaints about the types of food in their bento box. They chow down on their rice, meat, fruit, and veggies until they’re gone. When I think of the picky five-year-old eaters in America, it kind of amazes me.

After polishing off their lunches, the students pick up their dishes and go out in the hallway again to brush their teeth at the sink. Then they pick up their chairs and make rows, choose a book to read, and sit down. The completion of lunchtime is fairly open-ended; as each student finishes, he or she follows the clean-up procedures and then reads, alone or with friends, until all the students are finished. So, all in all, the whole lunchtime process takes about an hour or so. I usually stick around and read with the kids for awhile during this time. Much to my shame, most of them can read the kindergarten-level books faster (and with much better intonation!) than I can. I guess I need to keep practicing my elementary reading skills!

So there you have it – a peek at lunchtime in a Japanese kindergarten. Makes you want a bento box and some chopsticks of your own, doesn’t it? ūüôā

 

 

Happy 2018!

Hello everyone – I’m back! I can’t BELIEVE it’s already a week into the new year! I had a fabulous time spending the holiday with my family in the States, and now it’s back to work!

My visit in America felt way too short, especially considering that I had a long travel time (two layovers) each way. The initial flight from Japan to the U.S. is around 11-12 hours, so my time on the plane is basically filled with watching movies, eating, and sleeping. Luckily I had no super long layovers this time! In any case, the trip was definitely worth it – I got to see my grandmother, spend time with my siblings and parents, and eat some greasy, salty, sugary American food. Yum!

Now that a new year has turned and I’m back to life in Japan, I’m feeling a bit introspective. I’m curious about what the year ahead holds. 2017 was a year of big changes, and I know that 2018 will also hold lots of new experiences and growth. In some ways, the past year was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated, which makes me contemplate how life has a way of turning our expectations on their heads. Life carries a lot of beauty and joy, but due to its frailty and our fallible human natures, there’s also a lot of pain mixed into the joy. The irony is that the pain, as excruciating as it can be, is what makes us better people (if we let it!) and gives God the opportunity to do awesome things in us and to make us more connected to Him.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I’m trying to enter 2018 with fairly open expectations. In a lot of ways, my life here in Japan will be easier than last year, since I’m more familiar with my job and the culture. We’ll also have a turnover of about half our team, so we’ll be getting some new teachers this spring. I don’t have any new year’s resolutions per se, but I definitely want to focus on learning more Japanese and perhaps try to pass one of the levels of the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) that is offered here.

Well, I’ve talked a lot about me, so it’s your turn. Any big plans for 2018? Any great (or small) resolutions, or cool ways that God has been working in your life? Leave me a comment below! And to all my family, friends, and valued readers – I hope you have a wonderful upcoming year. Savor the joyful times, and use the challenges as springboards to develop grit and to grow a thriving relationship with God. Happy 2018!

Merry Christmas, Japanese Style (Part 2)

As I wrote in last week’s post, the kindergarten at which I work recently had their Christmas program – the three- and four-year-olds one week, and the five-year-olds the following week. Today’s post is about the five-year-olds!

One thing that I did not mention in the last post is that the parents, who have to find a seat on the floor of the gym, line up early to get a seat as close to the front as possible. I found this out the hard way, the first week of the program. My apartment is on the first floor, directly beside the driveway that leads into the kindergarten. That means I can hear the employees, parents, and children talking every morning as they walk past my apartment on their way to school – especially in the summer, when I have my window open!

Anyway, early in the morning on the day of the three- and four-year-olds’ program, I heard loud voices outside my apartment as I slept. Only half awake, I kept trying to figure out why there were voices so early in the morning. I slept for awhile, but the first couple of voices were joined by more voices, until I was finally awakened for good around six thirty. Since I can’t look out my window without being seen, I continued to remain baffled about the voices until I saw my coworker later, who told me that all the people outside had been parents waiting for the program to start.

Well. With that knowledge in mind, I decided to go to bed early the next weekend, so I wouldn’t lose sleep from the five-year-olds’ parents chattering. I forgot all about that plan – until I woke up early Saturday morning by voices outside my wall. I looked at the clock, just for the record. Five fifteen. FIVE FIFTEEN! The program doesn’t start until eight forty-five, people! And it’s COLD out there!

Apparently, when you’re a proud parent of a performing five-year-old whose every move MUST be captured on video with no heads obstructing the view, none of that matters. Fortunately, the parents this week were much quieter than last week’s, so I was able to fall right back asleep and not wake up until my alarm went off.

The format for the five-year-olds’ program was very similar to the previous weekend’s. More singing, dancing, frilly and sparkly costumes, and blowing and banging on various musical instruments. The girls, all dressed in white, did a beautiful rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” which my coworker had taught them. Since we were next to the stage getting ready for our own performance, I regrettably didn’t have my camera on hand to capture it.

There was also a performance of Jack and the Beanstalk:

A couple more plays followed, and then the band performance:

I marveled at all the work and the practicing that must have gone into these programs. Do we put that much effort into our performances in America? Since I didn’t go to kindergarten in America, I don’t have anything to compare it to. But I do feel like that’s one thing this country does well – not being afraid to work hard in order to make an event successful.

As a thank you for participating in the program (singing three carols and reading the Christmas story), we got lunch provided for us both weeks. The first week, we also got a Christmas cake. Yes, Christmas CAKE. Forget the sugar cookies and gingerbread men; here in Japan it’s all about a fluffy, white cake with equally fluffy, white frosting, topped with a strawberry (or two or three) and an edible chocolate decoration. There are other varieties besides white cake, too; I’m still hoping to receive a chocolate cake!

Here’s the small cake I got:

And here is the grocery store’s Christmas flyer, advertising the cakes for sale!

On that note, it’s time to say a temporary goodbye. I’ll be going home for Christmas vacation, so I’ll be taking a short break from blogging so I can spend as much time as possible visiting with my family and stuffing my face with my favorite American food! Merry Christmas everyone!

Merry Christmas, Japanese Style (Part 1)

So for the past two weekends, those of us who work at the local kindergarten took part in the school’s Christmas program. Last Saturday morning, the three-year-olds and four-year-olds performed; this past Saturday, it was the five-year-olds’ turn. We American teachers also had to sing several Christmas songs! It was fun, though, and I got some photos and videos of the children’s performances. Hope you enjoy!

The program for all of the age levels followed a similar format. Each involved singing and dancing of some sort, usually part of a play. There were also band performances. I was impressed by how well all of these young children did, although the three- and four-year-olds definitely lacked coordination, which was sometimes amusing!

First up were the three-year-olds. They performed Little Red Riding Hood.

I quickly realized that there are some common movements in the various plays that were performed. Since I’m not very familiar with American children’s drama, I’m not sure if these are unique to Japan or not. First, the dancing involved a lot of swaying forward and backward. It felt like almost every song/dance included that. Why? I wondered. Because it’s easy for young children to do? I also noticed that the “good guys” in the stories often ended up chasing the “bad guys” around in a circle,¬† and usually when the “bad guys” were defeated, they showed their defeat by either lying face down on the floor, or lying on their backs and flailing their legs back and forth.

Next, there were some dancing Santas, and then the story of Momotarou. This is a popular Japanese folk legend in which a boy comes out of a peach, gets adopted by an elderly couple, then grows up to fight and subdue some Japanese-style devils who are terrorizing the village.

Here is the Peach Boy himself:

Another thing I noticed was that, in these plays, there were often doubles of the main characters. Again, I wondered if it was because of the young age of the children. I guess I need to learn more about drama!

Here is a video of two Peach Boys (you can see a couple of the “devils” peeking out from behind the “island”):

After a couple more performances, the parents of the three-year-olds cleared out, and it was time for the four-year-olds to perform.

There were some dancing ninjas:

The story of Hansel and Gretel. The two girls in the front are the crying Gretels. Yes, there are two, and two Hansels as well.

There was another rendition of Little Red Riding Hood. There was also a performance by the school band. I thought they did pretty well for four-year-olds! The band performance was the last one, and then after some final words, the program was over…at least until the following week, when it was the five-year-olds’ turn to perform. Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!

 

Lots of Onsen-ing

This weekend passed remarkably quickly…is it really Sunday evening already? Yes, it is, and it’s back to work tomorrow! Fortunately, the weekend’s events were all good ones. On Saturday morning, the four of us teachers who work at the kindergarten went to the three- and four-year-olds’ Christmas performance. That was fun – but more about that next week!

The main event that we were looking forward to was a weekend trip to Hana-no-yu, an onsen resort in a nearby town. Our employers had promised us this trip after we completed English camp, the special day programs that we held at elementary schools in October. The senior teachers from our team had all been to this resort multiple times, but it was the first time for us new teachers! We’d heard positive things about it, so we were all excited to go.

In the afternoon, the twelve of us piled into two vans for the drive to Hana-no-yu. About an hour later, we arrived at the resort. Well, I’m not sure that resort is the right word, but it’s basically a hotel complex that has hot spring baths. Upon our arrival, we were instructed that the tenth floor baths were open for women before dinner, and the first floor baths were open for men. After that, they switched. We were also shown our rooms and told what time to meet for dinner. Then we were given free reign until dinnertime.

This was only my third time at a public bath, but when in Japan, do as the Japanese do, right? My coworker and I, who were sharing a room, decided to hit the baths right away. We put on the provided yukata and slippers, and shuffled our way upstairs to the tenth-floor bath. We did the mandatory scrub-down, then explored the several baths that were available.

Fortunately, this experience was nothing like my infamous encounter with the sleazy public bath in September. These baths were clean and spacious. Since they were on the top floor, we were able to look out at the surrounding hills and town. It was very relaxing to soak in the piping hot water and gaze at the clear, dusky sky as the day faded away.

Unfortunately, the water at most of these baths is so hot that I can’t stand it for too long. After a few minutes, my heart rate increases, and my mouth starts feeling dry and metallic. It’s perfectly acceptable to sit on the edge of the tub, or get out altogether for awhile to cool off. And that’s what I did – but after soaking in several different tubs, I knew my body just couldn’t take any more heat. I went back down to my room to relax before dinner.

Dinner was wonderful – a buffet with lots of food choices, both Japanese and otherwise, and my favorite part – ice cream! There were even chocolate chips, sprinkles, and chocolate sauce, so I could make a good old-fashioned American sundae. Delicious!

After dinner, we decided to try the first-floor baths, since they were now open to the women. There was an indoor bath, but there was some outdoor air coming in, so the room was very steamy and it was hard to see. There were also outdoor baths, so we decided to give those a try.

That’s when I found my heaven. One of the outdoor baths was a round wooden tub, filled to the brim with warm water – but not too hot. Although it was nighttime, we could still see some of the aspects of the landscaping in front of the tub, including a small tree that still had most of its leaves intact.¬† My friend and I sat there for the longest time, enjoying the delicious contrast of the warm water and the chilly November air. (Before anyone freaks out, yes the outdoor baths are walled in and there is complete privacy!)

I spent quite a while trying all the outdoor baths, and soaking for a long time in the ones that were a comfortable temperature. By the time I headed back to my room, I was toasty warm and a bit dehydrated.

The evening ended with an energetic karaoke party held by some of my teammates in one of the hotel’s four karaoke rooms. I’d never done karaoke before, so I just observed for a while, then decided to get some sleep.

In the morning, breakfast was another buffet. There were a lot of Japanese meal options, but since I like having traditional “American” breakfast foods in the morning, I mostly stuck with those. I found some flaky pastries, including some with a chocolate filling. We were told that the bread was handmade – on the premises, I assume. They were truly amazing – I felt like I was at a French patisserie!

After breakfast, it was time to leave. Our relaxing weekend was over! Still, it was a wonderful experience, and I’m grateful that our employers were kind enough to take us!

 

 

Giving Thanks

In honor of Thanksgiving, I decided to write about some things I’m thankful for in both countries that I’ve lived in. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to experience two different countries, I have a heightened appreciation for the things are that unique to each place. So here we go!

Things I’m thankful for in America:

1. Family. Top of the list, hands down. Because family can’t be replaced, no matter where you live!

2. Central heating. ¬†Yes, I have a wall-mounted heater/air conditioner. And a kerosene space heater (which I haven’t pulled out yet because I really don’t like the fumes). But central heating is not as common over here as in the States. There are heaters in my office at work and in the classrooms, but no heat in the hallways. And let me tell you, when I’m washing the windows with a wet rag in an unheated building in the morning…my fingers get COLD.

3. Real ovens. ¬†I had grand visions of baking wonderful American treats (like pies!) for Thanksgiving. But I gave up, partly due to lack of ingredients, and partly because trying to bake for a crowd in an oven the size of a large microwave is a little daunting. Yes, I can bake one pie at a time, but I’d be in the kitchen for a long time!

Things I’m thankful for in Japan:

1. Efficient public transportation. Having come from a state where there is very little public transportation – at least in the area I live – I really appreciate the fact that I can hop on a train to just about anywhere in Japan, and expect a safe, speedy ride that arrives on time.

2. Heated toilet seats. Because if your house can’t be warm, at least your bum can be.

Oh, and¬†deep tubs. I hardly ever take a bath in America, but I actually do sometimes here, because the tubs are deep enough to take a proper bath in. Meaning that I can sit upright and still have the water come up to about chest level. They’ll make a good Japanese bather out of me yet!

3. Japanese food. I feel like I’m always talking about the food that I miss from America. And it’s true, there are several things I really miss, especially as we come upon Thanksgiving. But I’ve also discovered new favorites here that I know I’ll miss when I return to the States. Persimmons (my new favorite fruit!), plates of 100-yen sushi, and daifuku, a wonderful confection of filled mochi (chewy rice dough). Yum…

So, there you have it…a few of the things I’m thankful for this holiday season. What are YOU thankful for??