Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sarah vs. the mountain

I've never really considered myself an avid outdoorswoman. Sure I've had my share of camp outs and mini-hikes, but nothing truly substantial. And not because I haven't wanted to. I enjoy being outside, and Nathan has always loved camping and hiking since he was a boy.

We had an opportunity to join some friends who were going to hike Mt. Yotei in Niseko this weekend. I was excited, but also a little nervous. All of them were seasoned hikers, and I had never hiked an entire mountain, yet alone one as big as Mt. Yotei. I doubted I would even be able get halfway before I gave up - I mean, I'm not really in that great of shape, and the extent of my exercise is biking to the subway station and climbing the stairs to my apartment.

Mt. Yotei on Saturday morning. I was at the top of this!!

We drove to Niseko on Friday night and woke up early on Saturday morning to prepare for our 8-hour hike: 4 hours up and 4 hours down. The incline wasn't too bad, and I was feeling pretty confidant in myself. In fact, the hike up was pretty enjoyable - it was tough, but I was keeping up and before I knew it, 2 hours had gone by and we were half way up.

Entrance to the trail

The last few kilometers were tough, mainly because it was a lot of loose rock, and we were all anxious to be at the top. When were finally made it, it was an amazing feeling. I had just hiked 4 hours and was at the top of an active volcano (don't worry mom, it hasn't erupted in almost 3,000 years).

The view from the top

The caldera at the top of Mt. Yotei

We ate lunch at the top and enjoyed the view. Our friends decided to hike around the caldera, but we didn't have enough water for that and the return, so Nate and I decided to go ahead and make the hike down. Which was difficult. Really difficult. You use completely different muscles for the descent than you do for the climb, and I'd be lying if I said it was easy. But we eventually made it, and I've never been so happy to not have to walk on an incline. We laid in the grass next to our tents and waited for our friends to descend. When they did, we broke out the celebratory sake and wine, had a few drinks, and then set out to onsen. For my American friends, onsen is like a Japanese public bath, usually separated male and female. This was my first onsen experience, and I was a little nervous, but my body was tired and achey and the water was so warm and wonderful. The bath was outside, and we were able to see Mt. Yotei in the distance as we soaked. It was the perfect ending to the day.

Some observations from the hike:
  • Hiking a mountain is completely different from hiking Palo Duro Canyon
  • Loose rock and mud are not fun.
  • Japanese like to wear bear bells while hiking, and it sounds like sleigh bells. I kept wanting to sing Christmas songs.
  • Japanese hikers are the most polite people on earth.
  • I still remember some of my geo science (look, Nathan, igneous rocks!!)

So here I am. Sarah Robinson, moutain hiker. Never thought I had it in me!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Norwegian Wood

I'm ashamed to say that it took my moving to Japan to be introduced to the books of Haruki Murakami. I started with "Kafka on the Shore" last year during the long, snowy Sapporo winter, and couldn't put it down. For me, it's in the way he describes the settings in all his books, from the glance of a cat to a blade of grass. It's a shame I can't read them in their original Japanese, because as great as the English translation is, I'm sure some of the richness of the words gets lost in translation. And there's always a tinge of the mystical in all his stories - things that just can't be explained and leaves you thinking about it long after you've finished. Reading a Murakami book is no small feat; to truly appreciate them, you have to take your time and really soak up every word. If you don't, you might miss something.

I've now added "Norwegian Wood" and "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles" to the list. It's hard to say which one is my favorite, although "Norwegian Wood" holds a special place in my heart. There's just something about a story of doomed young lovers that gets me every time. I was excited to hear that it was being released as a movie this past December in Japan, but also a little unsure. Would a movie truly be able to capture Murakami's words? Well, not quite, but the the settings are beautiful, and the actors are beautiful and the story's beautifully sad. What more could you want?

Not to mention the soundtrack by Johnny Greenwood is amazing.

I've just realized that it's been a couple months since I last read a good book. Guess it's time to pick up another Murakami novel from Kinokuniya...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summer days, driftin' away...

Today was mine and Ethan's first day of school after summer vacation - me as a high school teacher and him as a junior high school student. Both of us seem happy with our new experiences - although Ethan's getting at that age where you can't get much out of him other than "fine", or "good". JHS students are so elusive...

I have a good feeling about my current school, Keihoku Commercial High School. I'd visited it this summer a few times to help out the English Club, so I was fairly familiar with the school layout and some of the students. But that didn't stop me from being completely nervous all day yesterday. What happened to that actress part of me that loved speaking in front of people. Remember Sarah Fierce? Well, she decided to show up right as I walked up in front of the Keihoku staff, reciting my usual Japanese self-intro, but with a few additions. Apparently, I spoke my self-intro in Japanese a little too well, because later, the Principal invited me to come to his office to chat, wherein he had a full conversation about JFK in Japanese. I nodded, trying my best to understand what he was saying - who knew my Principal was going to be a Kennedy buff?

Next up, it was the intro in front of the student body, about 730 students. I always do this speech in English, and as I walked up the steps of the stage to the podium, I heard a cacophony of "kawaii" - referring to me I presume - and that took away some of the pressure. The students seem very friendly and eager to speak English. I'm sad that I'll only be working with the 1 nensei, but I'll make it a point to go around and meet the others.

So, just like that, summer is over. It went by way too fast, much as it always does. Ethan and I had a few adventures last week - sort of a last hoorah, you might say.

Goodbye summer, you were fun while you lasted.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

139 days to go...

Day 219: Ethan took this picture of me. It's all fashion blog and stuff.

Day 220: Okonomiyaki with Maggie. Oishii!

Day 221: Japanese embroidery kit given to me by my Japanese teacher. It's been nice doing something crafty again.

Day 222: Zinnias from my garden. I've been fighting a battle with aphids for their survival. So far, so good...

Day 223: Oops, got nothing.

Day 224: Odori Park at sunset.

Day 225: Anpanman bread. He wants me to eat him, really, he does.

Monday, August 8, 2011

146 days to go...

Day 211: Ethan and I visited the chocolate factory to eat, not chocolate, but ice cream. Yummy!

Day 212: Little gnome house in Odori Park.

Day 213: Animal totem at Maruyama Zoo

Day 214: Let the tomato harvest commence!

Day 215: Ethan, Blair Witch style. Anybody remember that movie?

Day 216: Why does this picture freak me out?

Day 217: Glass pyramid at Moerenuma Park.


  • Lately, I've been feeling restless around the house, and I've been trying to get out and about as much as possible. Today, Ethan asked me, "Could we just have a restful day today?" Our restful day consisted of cleaning, grocery shopping, and helping a friend move a couch into her apartment.
  • It's like somebody turned on the hot button here in Sapporo the last few days. All of a sudden it's become very hot and humid, which makes me want to stay in our un-airconditioned house even less.
  • I met some really incredible people this week. On Saturday night, Ethan and I spent the evening sitting in the park and hanging out with all these amazing people from all over the world. They played guitar and we sang - it was just a really great weekend!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Has it been a year?

...That's what I've been saying to myself this past week, as I've realized that it's been a year since I came to Japan.

Me, Tim, Adrienne, and Kele on one of our first nights in Sapporo.

I remember being so nervous on the plane, not knowing what to expect, and feeling totally unprepared for living in a foreign country. I had never even left the US before (not counting the time we went to Chihuahua, Mexico with Nate's dad).

But here we are, still alive and kicking and LOVING where we are and what we're doing. I think a lot of it has to do with Sapporo - this is just such a wonderful city, with amazing people. Of course, I haven't really checked out the other parts of Japan, but anyway...

It's just so funny how things have worked out so well here, in Japan of all place. I have a job that I absolutely enjoy and now I'm going to be teaching high schoolers....again! Nathan's got a great ALT job teaching elementary schoolers, with most of his schools requesting him to come back. And I can't say enough good things about Ethan's experience at Hokkaido International School! Granted, sending him to a private school has been a sacrifice, and we're not able to travel as much as the JETs do because of it, but I think it's worth it for Ethan to love where he goes to school.

This week, Nathan's in the US for his grandmother's funeral, so that's left me and Ethan to vacation this week on our own. We're planning some trips out of the city, but so far, we've been discovering and rediscovering all that Sapporo has to offer - it's such a big city, and there's so many parks, museums, shops (ahem, that's more for me), and a zoo that we haven't seen yet. Sure, we've lived here for a year, but it's OK to be a tourist sometimes.

I think I should also mention all the amazing friends I've met this past year - Japanese and ALT. This year, I've become friends with some of the most wonderful people I've ever met, and sadly, a few of them left this year. They've welcomed me and my family, and in doing so have become part of our family as well. With them I've experienced Japanese karaoke, all night dance parties, 80's movie nights, and good conversation. It just doesn't get any better!

And this past Friday, we met with our friend Natsuki and some of her friends to see a fireworks show along the Toyohira River. It was seriously the most amazing fireworks I had ever seen, and as I was watching them with our new friends and a few thousand other Sapporoians (is that how you say that?), I couldn't help but pretend that these fireworks were just for us, celebrating our first year living here.

So here's to another year in Japan! I'm looking forward to seeing what it has in store for us!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

153 days to go...

Day 199: Kimono ladies on the subway

Day 200: Illustrations on the door of...I don't know

Day 201: Three of my favorite boys from Hitsujigaoka.

Day 202: Went out with the Keihoku English teachers on this night. For the nijikai, we went to this small snack/karaoke bar in which there were only old men. Very fun!

Day 203: Three of my most favorite ladies...and they're all back home now! Nate and I got to hang out with them on one of their last nights in Sapporo.

Day 204: Hamburgers marinated in sweet chili sauce, and a cucumber watermelon salad (with mint from my garden). Very delicious!

Day 205: My last day at Hitsujigaoka. Two of my fav girls.

Day 206: Nathan and Ethan hiked Mt. Moiwa, and they brought me these flowers in their backpacks.

Day 207: Nada

Day 208: This week I helped out with the English Club at Keihoku HS (my new school). On my walk to the school, this house caught my eye.

Day 209: Relaxing in Odori park on a beautiful day.

Day 210: New hairstyle


This weekend, we found out that Nathan's grandmother passed away. It truly was a shock for all of us, and Nate's left for the US this morning to attend the funeral. So Ethan and I are on our own for a week, and we're gonna try to make the most of it. Although Ethan's not too happy about going to the dentist tomorrow!