Tuesday, September 2

Kyoto with Jo-Anna

Edited - pictures added!! More posts to come soon...I promise. Darn school takes too much time.

In February, my good friend Jo-Anna booked a flight to come visit me. I was sort of disappointed, because she wasn't comin until August, and that didn't help my lonliness at the time. But time flew, and lo and behold, yesterday, she arrived.

Since I had to finish working, I gave her explicit and detailed directions with colors, maps, and pictures - and we met up at Tsuruhashi. I was super excited to see her and looking forward to spending the week together; she was super happy to be in Japan and see again too. We dropped off her stuff at the dorm, and went for supper to a little place by my house - Akoya. I haven't been yet, so it was to be an adventure. It turned out to be a great one! It's quite small; there was the chef and one patron. The patron spoke some English, and the four of us had the grandest time.

They thought we were pretty awesome (cuz we're foreigners) and kept saying how pretty and good looking we were...but not in a creepy way, more in an amazed way. We laughed and talked and ordered some food. I asked for their recommendation, which was fish and octopus. It came sashimi-style...I didn't realize Jo-Anna doesn't like sushi and has never tried sashimi. But she tried it (kudos for being brave) and liked it! We took some pictures, and then pulled out our money to pay. We misread the bill, and as we were pulling out more money, they both gave all the money back and said it was on the house. I tried to pay them and shove some money in their hands, but they wouldn't take it (bill amounted to just over $30). They just said to come back sometime soon, so we're going to stop by again this week. They also said they had noticed me before (I walk by twice a day).

Today, we visited Kyoto. We wandered a bit and bought some beautiful pottery from a nice couple - took some pictures with them and chatted for a few minutes.

The man who made our beautiful pottery

This week is the Gion festival, so stands are starting to appear in Kyoto - we spent quite a while looking at the infinite and intricite pottery. When we realized we couldn't look at pottery forever, we headed up to Kiyomizu Temple.

Just before going inside, we met Gaku. He is a computer programmer who has been working in Japan for 10 years. He asked if he could join us, which was fine with us. We went into the temple area and looked at all the buildings and the three story pagoda. We also got inside one of the buildings that is normally closed - it is open today for Sen Nichi day; if you make a wish on this day inside the temple, it is as if you came for sen (1000) days! Gaku also showed us the Kiyo Mizu of the temple (kiyo = pure, mizu = water) - which I hadn't known about!

The water was really good, especially since it was so warm out, and we were quite thirsty! Then we visited some of the smaller shrines...there was one shrine especially for love. It is said that if you successfully walk from one Love Rock to the other, with your eyes closed, you will find love soon. I had to try, and I made it! So I shall find love one day soon...

After we left Kiyomizudera, we were getting pretty tired and I was pretty hungry. We walked back down to Shijo Street, and searched for food.... which took a while to find. Jo-Anna was tired and her back was sore. I was hungry. Really hungry. We were at each other's throats a bit.... and we were both a bit annoyed by Gaku. He was really nice, but we wanted to talk to each other, and didn't want to be rude to him. So we had to try and include him, which was awkward sometimes...and he was a pretty clingy walker (you know those people...whenever you turn around they are right. there.). But we did finally find food, yummy food. We relaxed in the AC and ate, and felt much better and less grumpy after.

Finally - dinner! Jo-Anna & Gaku

We did a bit more shopping and exploring, then decided to head home. We were both a bit annoyed by Gaku, but felt bad because he was really nice, and really helpful. He was asking about our plans for the week, and I sort of vaguely told him, but as soon as I sensed he might ask to join in, I changed the subject. I figured that was nicer than having to tell him "No".... On the train ride, we sort of talked to each other a bit more and (unintentionally) ignored him a bit. But he seemed really happy to have met us and gave us his email address, and got promises that we would email (and we will).

On the way home, we stopped at the supermarket and picked up some snacks, and had a party and girl talk in my room. It's been great to catch up with Jo, and we've had lots of giggles and good talks already - and it's only Day 1 of the week!

Monday, September 1

Izu, Izu, Izu (Part III)

After I awoke from the dead, we tidied up and packed up to leave our adorable little Ryokan. Off in search of breakfast.... what did we find? MOS Burger! Mos Burger is sort of like a Japanese version of Burger King or Arby's or Wendy's - and the burgers have buns! Most 'hamburgers' in Japan come without buns. Don't ask me why. After a lovely chili chicken burger, salad, some fries, and an apple pie pocket (yes, I know - super healthy!), we jumped on the bus for Irozaki. Irozaki is a beautiful coastal area that is just barely touristy, but has some gorgeous scenery.

We took a half hour cruise along the coastline...the air was hot and sticky, so being out over the ocean felt nice (still hot and sticky, though). We passed by several rocks that were island-ed in the ocean, but with fishermen on them! Fully clothed, with gear. We figured that either they could walk out at low tide, or someone had dropped them off. But it was still funny to see them sitting on a rocky island with no means of getting off.

We passed by a larger rocky island that was inhabited by monkeys!! People who had bought monkey food before departing threw the snacks out to the monkeys, who scurried around to reach it. Most of the people throwing the snacks were terrible at it - ridiculously so. And not just the kids - several adults threw snacks into rock crevices or didn't even make it to the island (which was 10 feet away). But it was neat to see the monkeys.

When we got back from the cruise, we did a little perusing of the small shops. Most of the shops were inhabited by Obasans (older women) who were delighted to see us and thrilled when we came in to look around. One lady offered us some water; Irozaki water is supposed to be especially good. Given how hot it was, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

While waiting for our bus, we spent some time in one last sparse little shop. The Obasan was delightful! She was wandering around, talking at people out the window, giving directions and instructions to random people, and repeatedly making sure we knew where to go for the bus. She was very friendly and Rumi and I got a picture with her. After we bussed back to Shimoda, we jumped on another bus - this time for the aquarium. But not just any aquarium, no no, a floating one!

There was a small ice cream stand outside the aquarium, and (of course) we got some ice cream! Feeling adventurous, we tried some new flavors... Alex had something random (we don't know what it was) and I had Brown Algae. Surprisingly good, not sure how to describe the taste, though.

We watched the huge turtles in the pool outside before venturing in...we hit up the Sea Lion show right away, followed by the Dolphin performance. It was so much fun! We sat in the first row, and could see both the underwater portion and the above water portion very well. It was both cute and amazing! The Sea Lions did some fabulous tricks, including some kisses and waving, flips, spins, and dives. We also got a 'gun show'....he lifted his flippers and gave them a little kiss, just to how how proud he was of all his muscle and abilities... The dolphin show was equally amazing! I couln't get over how beautiful the dophins were. A couple times they slowly sailed across the glass right in front of us, and I couldn't tear my eyes away. More impressive (super high!) jumps and tricks later, they waved goodbye and the shows were done.

We explored the rest of the aquarium, saw some penguins and sea anemone and a GIANT crab; small sharks and more dolphins. Then we had lunch in the restaurant. Guess what we had? Seafood! I'm not sure if it was a strange or appropriate thing to eat in an aquarium, but it was delicious! Soo yummy.

When we got back to Shimoda, we did a little more shopping and then jumped on the train for Atami...it was already almost 8 o'clock. Rumiko and I were planning on hitting up Moonlight Beach before we started our night adventure back home. We said goodbye the the guys, and decided to check the schedule.

Enter Ridiculous Adventure #2. Yes, there were two in one weekend. You wouldn't think a 2 day trip would have so many adventures and blog posts, would you? Neither did we.

Monday, August 25

Izu, Izu, Izu (Part II)

Having finally arrived at Atami, we briefly celebrated and snapped a photo or two. Then we ran like madwomen (again) down to Atami Sun Beach to meet Alex and Keith. The beach was pretty busy, but when we finally found them, we ran as fast as we could. I was waving my arms and yelling, and Rumiko was running and yelling, "Where, where, I don't see them!!".

Sometimes I wish I had someone snapping random photos of me...that would have been a good one. Rumiko and I running across the hot sand; bags bouncing on our backs, dresses fluttering and coming up to almost inappropriate heights, Rumi yelling, me violently pointing...

Once we got to them, we said the fastest hello ever, and ran straight into the water. The four of us hung out in the water for a while, swam, played with a beach ball, and got audio dame'd for retrieving the beach ball from the no-swimming area. (Story goes like this... Keith threw the ball to Rumi. Rumi missed (don't know if that was a lack of catch or throw). Nice girl gave the ball to Rumi. Rumi wasn't paying attention. Ball swims faster than Rumi. Alex rescues the ball, cutting his finger in the process. Audio dame. End of story.) Finally, stick thin and starving, we went for a late lunch. Some yummy seafood and the discovery of 'Wiener Coffee' (still aren't quite sure what it is) later, we jumped on the train for Shimoda.

The train ride was long, but we enjoyed each other's company and Rumi and I retold our adventures. When we got to Shimoda, we picked up some ice cream (yes, I know, we eat that a lot) and went to find our Ryokan (inn). It was an adorable little home-run inn. It had a natural-spring-fed onsen bathing room with taps and a bucket (hello, shower). There was a western-style toilet and a Japanese-style toilet, a common sink area, and our rooms. Our rooms were adorable! Mine & Rumiko's had a low table, a gorgeous mirror cabinet with small drawers, towels, ryokan yukatta, and a small TV for 100Yen / hour.

Once we got settled, we set out for (guess what?) food. There was surprisingly few places to be found, but we found an Izakaya-style restaurant. We had to wait a half an hour, but we used that to explore the little shops in the area and lining the street. Dinner was delicious, albeit a bit slow...we had sashimi and pizza and meat and vegetables of all kinds. It was late when we left, and since our Ryokan had an 11pm curfew, we stopped at the Family Mart for some snacks for later. When we got back, we hung out for a bit, then decided to try the natural onsen. Natural = Hot. We drained some of the water and added cold, but it was still scalding hot. I got my feet in. Alex got half of one leg in. Keith got some of his legs in. Rumi got in up to her waist (very slowly), but I don't know how she did it! I kept pouring cold water on and around her...hehe. We finally gave up on experiencing this particular onsen, but it was definitely interesting.

Natural fed onsen - HOT HOT HOT!!

We hung out for a while longer, eating our snacks and talking. However, having not slept the night before (at all), I was pretty exhausted. At first, I felt fine, but then I'm pretty sure I just fell over and looked like death until Rumi pulled me to bed. I slept like the dead. When I woke up in the morning, I felt incredibly strange. It was like I had been dead and just popped back into the world and was suddenly aware again. We were up just afer 8:30, and ready to head out by 9am, out into Day 2...

Izu, Izu, Izu (Part I)

Sorry - I posted this yesterday but forgot to change the date, so it went back into the archives....but here it is! Parts 2 and 3 to follow.... I'm also sorry it's jumping around a bit; this happened back on the weekend of August 1st - I'll get back to mine & Jo-Anna's adventures after the Izu adventures...

In the short seven months that I've been in Japan, I have had many adventures. All good, some slightly sketchy (Mt. Fuji . . . a little nerve wracking). But this weekend, I had one that can beat all previous adventues down with a stick...

Warning: It's a long one. A really long one.

Izu Peninsula is about 100km southwest of Tokyo. It's got beaches and onsens and coastlines and views of Mount Fuji... 'twas here that we planned to meet. Myself, Rumiko, Alex, and Keith planned one last hurrah (for me & Keith, anyways) - to Izu.

This time, intead of night-bussing it, Rumi & I decided it would be more efficient to use the Seishun 18 Kippu (Seasonal 18 Ticket). Never again. Never, ever again. Actually - the ticket was great; unlimited rides on JR trains for a few days for a reasonable price. Our problem was when we were travelling.... through the night. Most trains in Japan sleep from around 12:00 to 5:30am. We were fortunate to find a night route to get us to Izu. We planned to arrive at 3:35am and explore a bit, before the guys met us from Tokyo at a more reasonable morning hour. The plan was great, and timed to a tee, with no room for error. We figured that was alright.

I took the train from Osaka to Omihachiman, where Rumi joined me. We were excited and talkative and planning the weekend from the pages of information that Rumi had gathered. We chatted and giggled and tapped our toes, until as the doors swooshed shut on the train, Rumi said, "Is this Maibara?" Oh yes, we missed our stop. Not good. So we got off at Sakata (the next stop) and ran like madwomen (literally) to the other platform, hoping to catch the next train back to our transfer...which...was...in 15 minutes. Normally, this would be fine. But in our case, it meant we would probably miss our next transfer, onto the last train of the evening. Not good - why? If this happened, we would be spending the night in a station. But, not to worry -

I've gotten a lot better at not worrying about things while I've been in Japan. So we decided that since there was really nothing we could do except catch the next train, we (briefly) explored the station we were at, and waited. It was in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by fields. Fortunately, there were some statues willing to pose for pictures. We caught the next train, and transfered from Maibara.

We did indeed-ee miss our next transfer at Ogaki. So we (again) ran like madwomen to catch the last train to Nagoya. We figured we would get as far as we could. Which was Nagoya. When we arrived in Nagoya (at 12:30), we inconvenienced the ticket clerk to help us figure out the next possible trains, until we noticed that they were waiting for us to leave...so they could close the station. Close the station. So much for spending all night inside the station...we'll be spending all night outside the station.

Welcome to Nagoya. We left the station, and decided that what we really needed was nourishment and liquids. We were a bit in shock that we were actually stuck in Nagoya until early the next morning. We picked up some sandwiches and bottled tea, and planted ourselves on some bus stop chairs. We called Keith (who turned out to be the lifesaver of the weekend), who google'd and hyperdia'd us a plan for the morning. We would leave Nagoya at 5:30am, and hopefully get to Izu by 10:20am. Good plan.

Next plan. Sleep. It is important to note that we did not plan on staying in Nagoya, had no maps or information, and also that hotels, ryokans, inns, etc, have curfews and closing times, in Japan. So we really were going to be outside all night.

Now - before you worry, let me assure you that we were in a populated place, staying together, and staying on main roads. And I put on my mean face whenever we passed anyone the least bit suspicious. We interrogated a couple street punks, got an old lady's purse back, roughed up some mafia members, and had quite a reputation - so we were safe. Just kidding. But we were being safe.

In the spirit of safeness, we decided to try and sleep in a clean, lit, public place. Beside the bus stop was a hotel (closed) with a nice parkade area. It fit the bill, so we wandered inside the shallow entrance. We found a bench! A nice, cushioned bench! Rumiko exclaimed, "We're so lucky!", and I agreed, "I know!!" . . .

before we realized that two lucky people would not be stuck in a strange city sleeping outside all night. So we laughed at ourselves, and set up our lucky bench. I also found a smaller bench around the corner, so we made sort of an L shaped bed, against the wall, with our heads together. We wrapped the straps of our bags and purses around our arms, and laid down to try and catch a few Z's.

I have to admit - despite being in a fairly safe area, it was creepy. Once or twice I lifted my head to look around. Then Rumiko said, "Steph...". I lifted my head to see a Dirty and Wrinkled Old Man (DWOM) standing half behind a column, watching us. I promptly sat up, and gave him my most challenging glare. He looked again, and then wandered away. We were completely freaked out, and decided that this was not a good plan. We decided to relocate to the 24hour McD's across the street. When we got to the corner, the DWOM was there too, so we stayed there so he couldn't follow us. He went towards the McD's, so we went the other way - back towards the station.

At the station, there were quite a few people sprawled out on and around the entrance, sleeping. There was also lights and a station security guard. We decided to make the station entrance our alternately napping place for the night. There were also a couple guys a few meters down from us with BMX bikes. They had a little area set up with some snacks and sweaters lying around, and were BMX'ing and sitting around (henceforth called the Bike Boys).

We spent a couple hours talking, giggling, and telling stories about previous adventures, relationships, and experiences. We also tried to work up the courage to ask the cute Bike Boys if we could take a video of them, and then (it's all about starting with the baby step) if they would teach us some bike tricks. Two caucasian men walked by (45 ish), and said, "where ya going...?" before suggesting that we join them in their hotel room. Fortunately, they didn't stop walking while they talked, and I think the looks on our face of disgust and horror kept them from stopping. It was a strange moment, for me. And not pleasant.

We also encountered another Very Strange Man (VSM). The VSM was another little old guy, but dressed in a business suit. He was hanging around an area several meters in front of us. He alternately sat down, walked in circles, and yelled random things. Then he proceeded to pull out some paper towels and wipe his feet and then wander around with those, throwing them in the air. He was indeed very strange. Finally, despite the VSM and the hard pavement, Rumiko fell asleep. I rested and relaxed a bit, but didn't fall asleep - instead, I kept a watchful eye out for DWOM or any other potentially threatening beings. Oh, and I smile-flirted with the Bike Boys. They were showing off for us. It was funny.

When the station doors opened at 4:50, we relocated to another nearby wall for a few more minutes. When we sat down, Rumiko promptly fell back into a deep sleep. I was even more awake than before, so I watched the light grow and the (normal) people start arriving for the day. Presently, another caucasian man walked by. I am generally friendly to caucasian people in Japan, because I know how out of place I felt while I was here. Well, this guy was Russian. He didn't really speak English. But he said hello and kind of asked where I was from. Unfortunately, he was on Rumi's side and speaking to me. When she woke up to the conversation, he was kind of leaning over her towards me ... I think she had a momentary heart attack as she scrambled to sit up. He was nice, but a little strange....he kept saying, "You speak? You speak?" To which Rumiko replied, "Yes, I speak. See, I am speaking right now. I am always speaking." Then she said goodbye to him, but he didn't catch the hint. He mimiced a motorbike, told us where he was from (sort of) and that he didn't speak English (we noticed) and then finally caught the hint. We decided that we had had enough of Nagoya, and went inside the station.

Ready to hit up a new and fun day, we fixed our makeup in the bathroom and caught our train. The only sketchy part of our schedule was that we had two minutes to make one of our transfers. Turned out, it didn't matter.

Partway between Nagoya and Toyohashi, the train was delayed. We didn't quite understand the loudspeaker message, so we asked a couple sitting beside us. They told us that the train would go to Toyohashi, but then would turn around and head back to Nagoya. Why? Rain. "?????" We didn't quite understand how the rain was stopping the train, but figured there must be flooding ... it was raining pretty hard.

We discovered this when we got to Hammamatsu. Trains weren't moving, so we went exploring. We played in the rain for a second, but only a second - I couldn't believe how much it was raining!

We saw the famous Hammamatsu tower, and took a picture in the rain. We missed one train (didn't see it on the board on time), before finally catching another train. After a few more stops and a very quick four-minute-flat-exploration of Shizuoka station (on the way), we finally, finally made it to Atami! We were thrilled, to say the least.

We snapped some photos, jumped into our bathing suits, and took off for the beach to meet Alex and Keith...

Sunday, August 24

Home again!

I apologize for taking soo long to update my blog!

I made it home safely and have been running around like crazy for a week, now - errands, visits, people, stuff. I am moving back down to Vancouver next weekend to continue school...

It's good to be home, but a little strange. Things catch me off guard and surprise me; things that are different here from Japan. I started driving on the left side of the road (just for 100 m, I promise). I look for a tray to put my money in at stores, instead of handing it to the person. I am surprised when the cost of more because of taxes (yuck, taxes). I forget to tip (oops). I can understand all the conversation around me - almost to the point of annoyance (hehe). I miss Japan - a lot, actually. But I will live vicariously through Alex's Blog until May, when he comes back to Canada. But I do wish I was still there!

I have several blog posts written and promise I'll post them soon! I just have to add photos - I am having trouble with my laptop, but plan to buy a new one tomorrow (hopefully)!

I promise that tomorrow night I will start posting the Izu adventure....one of the larger and more sketchy adventures I had in Japan. Look for it tomorrow... :)

Wednesday, August 13

Quick hello...

A quick hello from Mie prefecture! We've had a great (but busy) couple of days... lots of photos to upload and blogging to do - but it will have to wait! Right now we're hanging out in an internet cafe at Ugata station in Mie Prefecture. We've hit the beach, stayed at a beautiful Ryokan (Japanese Inn), biked quite a ways, saw a gorgeous shrine, and found an adorable little hotel to stay in.... tomorrow we're hoping for a cliffside cruise, Spanish-themed rollercoaster park, and another beach.

Time has flown since my friend got here, but we've done a lot. Tomorrow night we'll head home (to the dorm). Friday will be packing and tying up loose ends day, meet a few friends for one last lunch (tear!!). Then Saturday, it's onto the plane and back to Canada...

Friday, August 8


I haven't blogged about my last weekend (in Izu) yet, but I promise it's coming! It was an adventure and sixteen halves. Coming soon... but until then -

Yesterday I gave my final presentation and attended my sayonara (good-bye) dinner. My presentation was 15 minutes, and in Japanese. Yep, Japanese. Surprisingly, I wasn't too nervous. I've sort of stopped getting nervous about presentations because I have a reasonable amount of confidence in myself and my ability to present, and being nervous doesn't help. Just like worrying.

So the presentation went well - but it was half the time it should have been. Oops. It was 7, instead of 15 minutes. But then it ended up taking 25 because it sparked a discussion on the unit of Watt-Hour; an efficiency measurement. So...that was amusing. I explained it, and then they all discussed it and I sat and sort of giggled. It was pretty funny - some people got it, some people didn't, some people just thought it was useless. After my presentation, our manager presented me with a certificate of Internship Completion, and everyone clapped.

After my presentation, I went to sell popcorn. Presentations and popcorn? Why, you ask? Our company has quite a few labs and offices and industrial space in this area, and every year they put on a community festival - I suspect to gain the goodwill of the community and be involved (good ideas, obviously). So I put on my fancy shirt and sold popcorn. I had to teach them how. The method was to pop the popcorn (without oil) then sprinkle it with salt, and wonder why it tasted bland... so I introduced them to the importance of oil, as well as putting the salt in with the oil. Voila - yummy popcorn! Unfortunately, my popcorn time was cut short by my sayonara dinner.

We had sushi and random goodies and some laughs. The two other female members of the team and I had the grandest time, taking silly pictures and laughing and talking. And guess what. I was talking mostly in Japanese. Yay! At the end, after we cleaned off the tables, Takemori-San presented me with a picture (from Mt. Takamiyama) with notes and messages from anyone. I didn't mean to. But I cried. Just a little. I hope no one noticed. But they probably did. Then I whipped out my notes and thanked them all for everything and said I would miss them and Japan. Someone suggested karaoke, so we headed off to karaoke!

On the way, I asked people what their note said (I don't read Japanese / Kanjii). Some were simple, thank you's and good luck's. But others made me smile and cry at the same time. One of the girls said she wrote this..."Stephanie, every time see me, smile. So beautiful! Makes my heart feel warm and happy. I will miss you." Other people told me to come back, and that they had good memories with me. It was touching, to say the least, and made me want to leave even less. (Imagine that...if I could stay longer here, I would. In January I couldn't have imagined wanting to stay.)

We got to karaoke and had a wonderful time! English and Japanese songs...and I even sang one in Japanese (sort of) - they were impressed and thought it was great. It was 2.5 hours of fun and great memories, but it was still a little sad. I kept thinking about how I would probably never get to do this with these people again. I also wished I had gotten to know some of them better. There were also two university students that have just finished a three week internship, and I wish I could hang out with them more! They were a lot of fun, and pretty cute. Especially one of them - and he totally has a crush on me. Hehe. Anyways...it was a great evening, a little bittersweet, but I wouldn't have traded it for anything!

Now I am at work, on my last day...cleaning up, organizing, etc. I'm going to leave some Canadian pins and magnets with everyone and tell them not to forget me, and email me if they will be in Canada. I'm going to miss it here. A lot.

Wednesday, August 6

Forgotten (but not forgotten!) - USJ Adventures

This is a little out of place; I was too excited about my Oita trip and forgot to post this on the tail end of the Okinawa trip!

When we got back from Okinawa on Monday morning, we headed straight to USJ (Universal Studios Japan). Due to an inside joke, I was especially excited to see the Waterworld show.

Me, Keith, Alex, and Thomas met up with Rumiko and her friend Nobu after lunch. We enjoyed the rides and some yummy food. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to see Waterworld. I was crushed. Partially because I love the show, and partially because I needed to go see it to prove a point. Hehe. But we did lots of other fun rides. Rumi and I had some random dance parties to the live music shows... dancing around like wildwomen and (trying) to swingdance in public isn't a very Japanese thing to do. But, we're not Japanese! (Well, okay, Rumiko is. But she's Japanese-Canadian and is pretty culturally Canadian.) The drummer of the one band found us quite amusing, and we had a lot of fun. I should mention, though, that jumping and dancing around in 40 degree weather and ridiculous humidity is exhausting and makes you very warm. But we were already pretty warm.

After Keith, Thomas, and Alex left for Tokyo, me, Rumi, and Nobu watched the Peter Pan production. It was very well done! There was a large stage and beautiful costumes, and Peter and Wendy flew around the sky in harnesses and on wires. It was a great production, and fun to watch. We were hoping to hit up a few more rides afterwards, but the park was closing, so we took some pictures instead.

I got home late, but it was a great end to an already-fun weekend.

More Photos...

Tuesday, August 5

Old Friends (Oita Part III)

No, not people. Hymns.

On Sunday, I woke up on my couch bed (ridiculously comfortable, but I believe I mentioned that). After some breakfast, I went with the Tsujitas to Church. Their Church is small, consisting of their family, Debbie's brother's family, another small family, and Joseph. I think there's a few more people who come, but they weren't there when I was. There were 10 of us sitting in the community center room; a few of the kids were in another room.

I've been to Church in Osaka twice. The first time, I was too homesick to do anything but try not to cry. The second time I felt out of place and out of touch. Everyone I met (both times) was very friendly and kind to me; going out of their way to talk to me and introduce me to more people. But I didn't enjoy either time or get much out of it (except feeling uncomfortable), so I didn't go. And - I have been travelling a lot and am often out of town anyways. So it's been a while since I was at Church.

We spent two hours in the Church room (a rented community center room), in a circle of chairs. I enjoyed every second, and twice found myself wishing it wouldn't end.
We started by singing from a thin book of songs that Debbie had put together. There were old songs and newer songs and Christmas songs. We sang some hymns and a chorus and some other songs. When it ended, I looked at the clock and couldn't believe it had been 45 minutes. I mentioned in my last Oita post that we spent a lot of time singing old hymns the evening before, and I loved it. There's something about the hymns that I didn't realize I remembered, and the tones and the melodies, and the words that have so much meaning that draws me in and captures me. It's a feeling and a desire to sing and listen that newer music never gives me. I wanted us to keep singing forever, but, alas, we sat down and did the Bible Study.

We talked about qualities of God, and I found myself not only listening intently but - learning! Joseph made a point that was obvious and that I was aware of, but the way he explained it hit me in a whole new way. Definitely got me thinking. Again, I looked at the clock and couldn't realize it was already noon - the end. After, I spent a few minutes being happy and friendly (by choice) and talking to Joseph (who is in Japan doing his Masters (I think?) from Ghana). As we left, I found myself wishing I could come back next Sunday. Thoughts were crawling around my head, I was humming hymns and old songs, and I was perfectly content.

It got me to thinking about why I've had such an aversion to Church lately, when I enjoyed it so much on that Sunday morning. I haven't quite figured out why. But I do keep wishing I could go back to Oita for Church. Perhaps it's the atmosphere and the way people view it, or why they go, or how they act when they're there.

After Church we had some lunch, and I relaxed at the Tsujitas until it was time to leave. I watched some of iRobot with Akira and Misa (really liked it... hadn't seen it yet. It was quite different than I was expecting); and wrote some HTML for Debbie to use on her blog (hello, Grade 8 Computer Class - wow, that was a long time ago).

I was quite sad to leave Oita; the weekend went too fast but was full of good things. And there's always more adventures waiting.... but if I come back to Japan, I will definitely be going to Oita again! :-)

Friday, August 1

Bluegrass in Japan (Oita Part II)

*Sorry the pictures are so small...I'm not sure why they're like that! I'll try to fix it, but for now, just click on them to get a bigger version!*

I woke up around 7am on Saturday, had a shower, and lounged on the couch and read cookbooks. I'm not kidding when I say she has shelves and shelves of cookbooks...desserts, chocolate, herbs, pizza, soup, vegetables...yummy.

We had a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, tea, and fruit. After a wonderful lazy morning, we left at 1:30pm for the annual Bluegrass Festival that they attend. We stopped at the convience store for some lunches, and took a long drive up, out of Oita and into the mountains.

Convenience stores in Japan are so much more convenient than those in Canada! At a 'Convi' in Japan, you can get socks, a shirt, toothbrush, drinks, snacks, food, healthy food! Sushi, bananas, pasta, rice, salads. Believe it or not, you could eat quite healthy on a regular basis, just buying at the Convi!

We setup some tarps (in Japan, you don't sit on the grass on blankets, but on tarps) and ate our lunch. The weather was playing games and raining off and on, so we huddled under a cover for a bit while they setup, and for the first few performers. After it finished spitting rain, it got quite hot. One of the bands, that Debbie and Katsunori knew from the year before, had only been able to bring two members. Somehow (I'm not really sure how...they were talking and we were nodding and suddenly - ), we were going to sing with them. Katsunori was playing guitar, and Debbie, Misa and I were singing. We held a little practice session and got ourselves in order to sing Amazing Grace, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, and Power In The Blood.

After our practice, we enjoyed the music until it was our turn to go up. The festival was situated in a grassy field, with a tent set up selling drinks and food, and the small grassy stage on the other side. It was very relaxing to lay on the grass and listen to music, alternately napping and clapping to the beat. Pretty soon, it was our turn...

Taka-San introduced the band, and explained that they were short members and had recruited us - he introduced us as 'The Sweet Poison Chicks'. We got a good laugh, then he changed it to the 'Sweet Potion Chicks'. He also mentioned that I was from Osaka, and had convinced me to say the few words I know that Osaka-ians say....which the audience also found very amusing and got a good laugh from. We sang our songs - in the middle of Power In The Blood, Taka-San said, "Dance, Stephanie, dance!", because I had been dancing while we practiced. So...I did a little jig. Felt kind of silly, but it was super fun!

The festival ended at 10pm, but we hung out until midnight. We grouped under the small shelter, and played and sang... I think there was one of every string instrument! 3 acoustic guitars, a mandolin, a banjo, a bass, a dobro...we sang funny songs (mostly English), and old hymns. It's been a while since I listened to or sang hymns.

There was something about the silence of the night, excepting our voices and the music from the instruments. The breeze, the calm - it was peaceful. I could have sat and sang hymns, listening to the music, forever. I realized how much I love hymns, and how long it has been since I've sang them!

Finally (Akira, Misa, and myself were falling asleep), we wrapped it up at midnight. Got home, crashed immediately...exhausted, but perfectly happy.

Thursday, July 31

Back to T Minus...

Today, I pulled my big green suitcase and my big blue backpack out of the storage cabinets they have been living in for six and a half months. Unzipping them to open them up took me back to January, when I was packing and repacking my suitcase in Kelowna, then repacking a few more time to fit as much as I could before leaving Abbotsford for the airport. The few days between Christmas and leaving for Japan seem as if they were several years ago, not barely several months ago.

If you have read some of my earliest posts from Japan, you probably know that in January and February, I wasn't enjoying my adventures here. I was trying(really hard); and I did have some fun trips and experiences. I was tryig really hard to love it here, but it was difficult, lonely, and frustrating. In all honesty, I just wanted to go home. I considered giving up and going home - but I don't give up, so I didn't. If you had told me in January that I would write the following paragraph before I left, I honestly wouldn't have believed you.

I don't want to leave Japan. Life here still isn't easy, it can be lonely, and it can definitely be frustrating. But I don't want to go. I have managed to build a life. I have things to do, places to go, and people to see. I haven't been to Fukoka or Sapporo; I haven't finished watching Gantz with James; I haven't gotten to hang out with Nobu; I haven't learned to surf; I haven't travelled enough with my coop friends; I haven't had time to really finish my projects at work; I haven't had time to learn enough Japanese; I haven't had time to be the me that I finally found here.

Do I miss Canada? Infinitely. I miss my Dad and my Mom and my brother and my sister - I can't wait to give and get hugs from all of them, and to sit and have a face-to-face conversation, instead of a typed one. I miss my friends in Kelowna - we never have enough time to spend together. I miss my university friends...it's been 16 months, and I am incredibly excited to see them again - and all ready for more adventures. I miss my Elk Valley friends, and job, and life. I miss licorice, driving, and being able to read labels and signs. But despite all the things and people I miss in Canada - (Are you ready for this?) - if I could stay longer in Japan, I would. I almost can't believe I am saying that, when I think back to how I felt when I first got here. But I will miss Japan immensely.

Hours, days, and months pass. And suddenly, it's time to leave. I am torn between my excitement to be back home in Canada, and sadness at leaving Japan. It's actually quite a confusing mindset. I sort of feel a little lost. I am leaving my life in Japan, and going back to Canada. But my Kelowna life is now temporary (as I don't live there anymore), and my Vancouver life is non-existent as I traded it for a Sparwoodian one. So I almost feel like once I leave Japan, I will have no where to belong. (Who would have thought I would ever feel like I belong in Japan?!) Come September, I will move back to Vancouver and start into a new life - and I can't wait for that (this year at school will be awesome, I can already tell.) But for two weeks between Japan and Vancouver, I will get some R&R in Kelowna (which will always truly be 'home', but in a different sort of way), and I will be floating; between here and there.

I suppose this post is a little early, as I still have two weeks left. But the days fly by, and soon, I will be getting on a plane bound for Canada. And I'm feeling a little confused about it.

Tuesday, July 29

Tropical Island Paradise (Part II)

I woke up feeling marvellous. While I enjoyed the great outdoors in Miyajima, I have to admit that a real bed beats all. We discovered a marvellous little restaurant that had great meals (& steak) for super reasonable price. We boarded the ferry... it was paradise already. As we moved out of the harbor, I couldn't get over the deep, dark blue of the ocean, and the pale blue shades of the sky. The shades and hues of blue that I could see were infinite and indescribable. Gorgeous.

We arrived on Zanami island, and found our way to renting 50cc mopeds, then took off to explore the island! I cannot do the beauty of the scenery, or the feeling of freedom justice in words, but I'll try to describe it a bit!

The sun was hot - super sweaty hot. We put sunscreen on every couple hours, but it just melted off right away. Even the breeze was warm. The mountain roads wound back and forth, on cliff edges and through trees. From the edges, we could see ocean, sky, and small islands for miles and miles. The blues and greens were unlike anything man-made, and beyond what a photograph can capture. Riding on the little moped, with the hot sun on my skin and the wind in my hair, surrounded by the most incredible beauty, I felt freedom like I've never felt; joy like I would burst; and as content as I could ever imagine feeling.

Alex and I were moving faster, so we eventually split up into two groups. We made our way up the mountain, on the windy roads. The roads were not that steep, but on our little mopeds, all we could do was open 'em wide and...... chug along slowly. But that gave us lots of time to enjoy the scenery. We came around one bend and saw the most beautiful panoramic view - I hit my brakes, and called to Alex to stop for pictures. I decided to turn my bike around, so I leaned over and turned the front wheel, hit the gas and...drove right into the drainage chute beside the road. Alex found it amusing. I thought of my Dad - and realized that I really should listen to him more often. I could just picture him shaking his head at me and laughing and saying, "Stephanie Ellen, you do everything too fast!" Hehe. He's right. But I wasn't hurt and quickly dragged my bike out to take some pictures. I'll stop trying to describe our tropical paradise, and let the pictures speak for themselves...

After our short two hours was up, Alex and I returned the mopeds, and headed for the beach. We chose a part of the beach that had few people, and wasn't very sandy - instead, it was covered in coral and shell bits! They were all broken and rounded from rolling around in the ocean for so long. We spent the rest of our Zamami time laying in the water, collecting pretty shells, and being washed back and forth with the waves. We had no cares, no problems...just shells, ocean swells, and freedom. I've blogged about some happy places and moments of joy before...but none of them came close to the contentedness I felt on Zamami.

All too soon, we had to head for the ferry - Alex and I made it with only a minute to spare. We met up with Keith and Thomas again, and spent the ferry ride relaxing, napping, and talking on the top deck of the ferry. The ferry ride was much too short, except that we were starving (skipped lunch), and craving steak and ice cream. After a shower and some supper, we explored Kokusaidori a bit more, then headed back to the hostel. We hung out, played some guitar, and had a jolly old time.

Thomas and Keith fell asleep, but Alex and I decided to have an adventure at 1am. We grabbed the guitar, and snuck out of the hostel....sort of quietly, and with some laughter. We spent the next 5 super fun hours hanging out - infinite awesome memories, and a general good time. After a (sort of quiet) sneaking back in, and a few hours of sleep, we were up and to the airport...back to Osaka! But that wasn't the end of the weekend's adventures.

Oh yes - I forgot the ATM saga. I forgot to get money from the ATM before we left Osaka....and I could not find an ATM in Okinawa that would give me money! It was very strange - the Family Mart ATMs wouln't service my card (even though I know I've used my card at Family Mart's before) - and neither would other ATMs! Fortunately for me, Alex had brought extra money, and lent me money for the weekend. Basically, by the end of the weekend, he practically owned me and my empty wallet. Once back in Osaka, I was finally able to find at ATM that worked, and repayed my debt. Extra thanks to Alex....the weekend would have been much less fun if he hadn't rescued me!