Wednesday, January 23, 2013

One more year...

It's recontracting season here in Sapporo, which means all JET Program ALT's must choose if they'll leave in July, or stay another year.

Nathan and I have decided that we want to stay one more year in Japan.  There's a few reasons for this: Ethan's doing so well in school, we want a little more time to pay off some of our credit card debt so we can tackle student loans, Nathan would like to run some more races here in Japan.

But perhaps the most important factor for us is that we are just so fulfilled in our jobs right now.  For one of the first times in my life, I feel like my personality is perfectly suited for my job.  So many years I was told that I was too nice, or "smiled too much."  As an ALT, these things are assets in helping students learn and become interested in English.  Nathan has also found his niche as an elementary school English teacher.  The students LOVE him, and he receives glowing compliments from every school he goes to.

Our 5 years in New Jersey while Nathan was in graduate school was a difficult time for all of us.  It stretched us to the limit both financially and emotionally.  I think Nathan and I both left there feeling a bit defeated.  But living and teaching in Japan has given us our confidence back, as well as that "spark" that had kind of gone out for both of us.

We feel like we need one more year to get our ducks in a row, pay off some more bills, and figure out what we really want to do when we return to the States.

A year is so fast, and 2014 will be here before we know it.  But for now, we'll savor the year and a half we still have.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Weekenders: Yokohama and Tokyo

If our trip had been only the one day of Kamakura, I would've been a happy girl.  But oh no, our trip wasn't over yet.  On Sunday morning, we left Fujisawa to first visit Yokohama.  Yokohama was one of the first pors town to open to foreign trade back in the day, so it felt to me like there was a really cool international vibe to the place.  First up in Yokohama was China Town.

We hadn't eaten breakfast yet, so we grabbed some niku man and went to a restaurant that Kazunari said made a really good rice porridge.  When we got there, there was a line out the door, so I believed him.

The shops mascot is Santa.  Because, why not?

I always love China Towns in large cities.  They're always so bright and gaudy - in a good way.  And I love Chinese food markets.

While there, we went to the Guan Di Miao Temple.  Quite impressive.

Afterward, we walked to the pier.  It was such a beautiful day - another "wanna take your jacket off" kind of day.

Next, it was time to make our way to Tokyo.  Once there, we went to Asakusa, one of the oldest districts of Tokyo to see one last temple, the Kaminarimon Gate.

Man, there were LOTS of people there, everybody wanting to say a prayer and get their fortune for the year.  And look at the size of that lantern behind us!

But perhaps the highlight of the day was going to see Sumo Wrestling.  We were lucky enough to be in Tokyo on the one time of the year they have a 15-day tournament in the city.  I was expecting it to be a little bit boring - I mean, most of the match time is spent squatting, then standing, throwing more salt, before finally pushing each other for a few seconds.  But was I wrong.

It's very stylized and traditional, but once you understand the rules and what each movement and gesture means, it's really interesting.  And the crowd is really passionate during sumo.  Lots of cheering on for their favorite wrestler.  The exciting energy from the other viewers and just being there live made it so exciting.  I found myself cheering them on.  Ethan loved it as well, and he and Nathan were even placing bets on who would win.  Lots of fun.

Then we went to eat with Kazunari and some of his friends.  Ethan even made some okonomiyaki!

The four of us stayed the night in Tokyo, planning to get up early the next day and see some more Tokyo sights before our flight Monday afternoon, but the weather had other plans.  The morning started with rain, so we decided to go to the National Museum of Nature and Science.  It was fun, and despite not being able to read the explanations, it was still a good time.  I especially like being able to see Hachiko.

By the time we left the museum, it was really snowing!  So we ate some lunch and made our way to Narita airport, hoping our flight wouldn't be delayed as the snow kept falling.  We entered the airplane, and then they told us that we couldn't take off for an hour.  Then two hours.  Then they had to de-ice the airplane, but we were third in line, so it should be another hour.

Then they ran our of de-ice.  So another hour.

After about 4 hours inside the plane, we were finally off to Sapporo.  And after that, boy was I glad to be home!  But it really was such a wonderful time, and we are so happy to have such a good friend like Kazunari.  He truly is our Japan ambassador!

Thanks for the great time, Kazunari.  It was awesome!!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Weekenders: Enoshima and Kamakura

Last weekend was a long weekend, so we went with on a little trip with our friend Kazunari.  His hometown is Fujisawa, just outside Tokyo, and he invited us along to come visit his family and see the sights.  We aren't often able to take trips, and we've actually never left Hokkaido since we moved here, so we were excited to see another part of Japan.

On Saturday, we got up bright and early to go to a Hawaiian pancake shop called Eggs 'n Things.  We arrived before they opened, and good thing we did, because there was already a line outside.

It was totally worth it.

Stuffed with pancakes and whipped cream, we made our way to Enoshima, a small island just off the mainland.  So close in fact, that you walk a bridge to get there.  Lots of people were out and about - runner, surfers, kids with their babies strapped to them.  It was awesome just not having to walk on ice!

Enoshima was beautiful, with lots of temples and a tower that gave you a great view of Mt. Fuji.  There were also stairs.  Lots of stairs.

After Enoshima, it was a quick train ride to Kamakura.  We grabbed lunch at a little cafe (where supposedly President Obama had eaten macha ice as a child), and were on our way to Daibutsu, or Big Buddha.  I believe this statue is about 900 years old.  As an American, it's strange to be around things that are just so old.  Imagine all that it's seen.

We finally found shoes Nathan's size.  Ha!

Next, we walked to the Zeniarai Temple.  This temple is most famous for money blessing.  You wash any amount of money in the water there, and it's supposed to double.  I even saw some people washing 10,000 yen (about $100) there!

Because it was a holiday weekend and so close to the new year, there were lots of people praying and lighting incense and whatnot.  It was a very peaceful place, despite all the people.   I could've stayed there all day.

But the afternoon was young and there was lots more to see, so next up was the Hachiman-gu Shrine.

Lots more people, lots more stairs.

Hachiman-gu Shrine is quite old as well, although the buildings are usually replicas built more recently.  When things are made of mostly wood, they fall, or are burnt or are decimated by war, and then rebuilt again.  So temporal.

By this time, the sun was starting to go down, so we made our way to Kazunari's family's house.  I'll admit, I was a little nervous about meeting them and speaking Japanese.  But it really was a great time and they were all so nice.

They immediately made us feel like we were a part of their family, and said we could come visit them anytime.  Oh, the wonderful people we've met while living in Japan.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Let's do this

After getting hit with sickness the last week of 2012 and the first week of 2013, I hope that means I won't be sick for the rest of the year!

2012 was a mixed bag of emotions.  It was another great year in Japan, working at a school that I love. I had some wonderful moments with friends and Takuya and I did a lot of singing and met some cool people in the process.  My sister visited us for two months!!  I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (twice!), and I feel like my Japanese is - ever so slowly - improving.  

Then in June, I found out my mom had stage 4 cancer.  That was a rough one, and it was hard being so far from home.  It was good to see her when I went back to the US in August, and although she was taking some pretty intense chemo therapy, I could tell she was in good hands with her wonderful doctors.  Then in December, my mother had a PET scan to see where the cancer still was and if the chemo was doing its job.  And the cancer is gone!!  As in, they can't find it anywhere on the PET scan. Of course, she'll have to continue to see doctors and take medication, but it won't be so intense.  I'm so thankful for this, and it truly was the best Christmas present for all of us.

I'm wanting to take that spirit of thankfulness with me into this new year.  I don't want to take anything for granted.  Yes, of course I wanna exercise more and be healthy (this year I am all about dental care, thank you Rachel!), but I think the graphic above explains my feelings perfectly.  I want more of the good stuff.  I'm tired of being so hard on myself, thinking about what could have been or what I should have done.

Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.  Easier said than done, I'm sure, but dang it I'm gonna try!!!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Ringing in the New Year!

It's always fun celebrating the New Year in Japan.  This year, we visited three families on three different days, each one of them serving us amazing food.  I'm pretty sure I've gained some holiday weight!  We did our annual visit to the Hokkaido shrine and hung our fortunes on the tree.  We also fit in some karaoke on New Year's day!  Perhaps you're wondering about the cat on Ethan's shoulders?  He belongs to our friends who used to live in New York City.  They found this cat there, and brought it with them to Japan when they came back.  Definitely the friendliest New Yorker we've ever met (I kid, I kid).

...And then yesterday, Nate and I got hit with a nasty stomach bug, and all New Year's activities came to a screeching halt.  It's forced us to stay inside and take it easy for a few days.  When I have the energy, I'll do some deep cleaning around the house, as is my tradition in the new year.

I'm sure I'll post about my goals for the new year soon, but for now, I don't really have the energy for it.  Right now, I'm happy with my boys and resting, and no makeup and my hair a mess.  Sometimes, you just gotta take things slow.