Archive | January, 2013

Snow days!

18 Jan

ImageI’ve been told about a million times since coming to Kiryu that the winters are cold and windy but there isn’t much snow.  This has mostly held true (much like Delaware, minus the winds, since Delaware is relatively flat)… up until last weekend, when I woke up and was alarmed to find that everything outside my window was white.  Once I got past the shock (and annoyance that I would have to go out in the snow to run errands), the view was actually quite nice.  The mountains were completely obscured from view by the snow, but watching it fall on the buildings and things around me was quite pleasant.  

ImageOf course, as I learned having a car in college, snow is a huge pain in the rear, and while now, I don’t have a car to have to shovel out, like Delaware, Kiryu has an ice problem. Usually, after it snows, the weather is warm enough that the snow partially melts, and then at night, it freezes again, freezing the roads and sidewalks in a layer of ice.  This makes it basically impossible to bike anywhere without skidding and wiping out on the sidewalk, so on Tuesday morning, I was forced to walk my bike the majority of the way to school.  Additionally, salting the roads doesn’t seem to happen very thoroughly here, so all in all, the snow was, as always, a pain.  But at least it looked nice while it lasted. 

Tokyo Tower

18 Jan

ImageAnyone who has ever watched the popular anime Sailor Moon might be familiar with the large, red, Eiffel Tower-esque structure that stands in Minato, Tokyo, Japan.  Or at least, this was my experience as a child; I was unsure why Sailor Moon and the other characters in the show visited a red, Japanese Eiffel Tower in the series, but at age six, I didn’t ask too many questions.  But Tokyo Tower continued to appear in many of the anime shows I liked as a child, and so as time went on, I became more and more interested in this broadcast tower in my youth.  

ImageTen plus years later, Tokyo Tower is fondly nostalgic to me.  As the second-tallest man-made structure in Japan, second only to the much more recently constructed Sky Tree, which was created to replace Tokyo Tower in its function as a broadcast tower, Tokyo Tower is a popular landmark and tourist destination in Tokyo.  It reminds me of my childhood, and so, when I studied abroad in Tokyo in 2010, it was one of the first places I chose to go.  ImageIt’s usually packed with tourists and can get quite hot when the sun shines in the windows on the observatory deck, but really, the view makes up for it.  It’s not the tallest point you can look out in Tokyo, but it’s still a pretty nice view.  You can see across multiple prefecture, include into Tokyo Bay/out to Chiba, as well as to Yokohama and even Mount Fuji, on a clear day.  The view of Mount Fuji, in particular, is quite spectacular, but unfortunately, it doesn’t photograph well.   However, I highly recommend it for anyone who’s planning to take a trip to Japan in the near future!

ImageAnother really fun feature of Tokyo Tower is the look-down windows on the first floor of the observatory deck.  These are simply small glass windows made so that one can look directly down inside of Tokyo Tower, but they’re pretty effective at showing off how high one is when one is in Tokyo Tower.  Unfortunately, they’re also a popular attraction for small children with a death wish to jump on, so it’s almost impossible to get a photo without the feet of small children in it.  Oh well.  

ImageAnother fun thing about this trip to Tokyo Tower was that it was decorated for New Year’s!  Last time I went, it was August, so there were no major holidays for which to decorate.  But this year, the place was decked out for the New Year, and the first floor of the observatory deck was decorated with a kadomatsu!  These popular New Year’s decorations are basically all over the place as soon as Christmas is over, but the one in Tokyo Tower was particularly fancy!  Usually the bamboo is green and unpainted and the decorations are not quite so elaborate, so I particularly liked the Tokyo Tower kadomatsu.  

ImageTokyo Tower was only one stop on my trip to Tokyo with my sister, who I was showing around.  We had a great visit, but after two days looking around the city, we headed out to Yokohama for the final event of our weekend: seeing the Sexy Zone New Year’s Concert!  My sister had never been to a large concert before, so I was excited to be able to take her to one, especially when going to concerts is essentially my hobby right now.  I think she enjoyed it, so I’m really glad I was able to take her!

And then, after our exciting trip to Tokyo… I came back and almost immediately got really sick.  Alas.  

Turning over a new leaf (or something)

18 Jan

New Year, or お正月 (oshogatsu) in Japanese, is basically the biggest holiday in the Japanese year.  New Year’s is a time when people spend time with their families, eat traditional New Year’s foods like ozoni and play traditional New Year’s games like karuta, and go to temples for the special New Year’s visit, or hatsumode. New Year’s is the only time that I simply get time off from school without having to take paid leave or else sit in the school building despite not teaching any classes.  All of my coworkers spent the time busily cleaning their houses, writing and sending the all-important nengajo or New Year’s cards, and preparing for relatives to visit.  I spent the time relaxing and enjoying the time off from work.

ImageThat’s not completely true actually; I spent the time cleaning and preparing for my little sister to visit, so in essence, I did some of the same things.  But unfortunately, when it comes to
ozonikaruta,
hatsumode, and nengajo, I don’t know where to start, so we spent New Year’s the American way, eating, drinking, and being merry on New Year’s eve, and sleeping it off the next day.  We watched the Japanese New Year’s broadcast, Kohaku, a music show where popular artists compete on the red or white (New Year’s colours) teams and at the end of the show, audience vote determines the winner, as well as a countdown right at midnight produced by Johnny’s, and thus was mostly idols singing and prancing around with a countdown to midnight.  All in all, it might not have been very Japanese, but it was fun.

ImageI was very excited that my little sister was coming to visit me in Japan for New Year’s; it was her first time to Japan, and we hadn’t seen one another in a long time.  Because I was so excited, I planned a big New Year’s dinner– S made latkes, and I tried to recreate some delicious fried sausage dumplings I had had at an izakaya once, as well as making pork, mushroom, and  onion gyoza.  My sister helped, and this made us feel very in touch with our Chinese heritage!

ImageThe meal was delicious, and afterwards, we had more cake and sparkling wine!  We bought two bottles, so that we could drink one while watching Kohaku and use another to toast at midnight.  It was still fairly cheap stuff, but it wouldn’t be New Year’s eve without sparkling wine!  For the roll cakes, we got one white cake with strawberries that I though would be like strawberry shortcake but turned out to be a bit too sweet for me, and a matcha cake.  I really love matcha, and I was excited to introduce my sister to the flavor!  I was afraid she might not like it, because she can sometimes be a bit picky, but luckily, she did, and so a good time was had all around… even if my sister was so jet lagged that she ended up taking a nap around 9 pm so that she could stay up until midnight!

ImageNext year, I would like to find someone who will take me to hatsumode, and perhaps let me wear a kimono or something of the like.  But I was really glad that my sister came to visit me this year, and I had a really good time with her, too.  Part of being a foreigner is mixing a little bit of your own traditions with the traditions of where you’re staying, right?  Still, hopefully next year I’ll be able to have a little more Japanese in my oshogatsu.

(Belated) Christmas post!

18 Jan

I’m so sorry for how long it’s been since my last post.  Perhaps it’s because of the new environment or perhaps being around small kids all day doesn’t agree with me, but for whatever reason, I’ve been sick a lot this winter.  I came down with a bad virus that kept me in bed with a 39.4º C fever and intense vertigo, so I’ve been basically trapped in bed laying completely horizontal for a while now.  But now I’m finally back at work, attempting to catch up on things like my blog.  I apologize for the long break!

While it was almost a month ago, I’ve been meaning to write here about my Christmas in Japan! In Japan, Christmas essentially has two varieties: a celebration with kids and parents where the family eats fried chicken from KFC together and the kids get presents from their parents and from “Santa Claus,” and a romantic date night for couples to go to fancy restaurants and see illuminations together.  Since Japan is one of the few countries where Christianity never caught on despite the best efforts of European missionaries, and so Christmas has sort of come in parts through foreigners living in Japan, and today’s Christmas in Japan in the result.

ImageWhile I consider myself areligious, my mother’s family has always celebrated Christmas with the
Scandinavian
tradition, so I enjoy doing Christmas festivities on December 24th, and while I’m not a someone who’s obsessively in love with Christmas, I enjoy the opportunity to make fancy food, dress up, and consider the day a “special occasion.”  So, since December 24th was a national holiday this year (December 23rd is the emperor’s birthday, but since that was a Sunday this year, the holiday was moved to Monday), S and I decided to have our own small Christmas celebration.

ImageWhile we weren’t planning on going to see illuminations and hadn’t bought gifts for one another, we decided one thing we needed to do to make it a Japanese Christmas was eat chicken!  Unfortunately, S forgot to reserve KFC for that day (yes, people make reservations to have KFC ready to be picked up on Christmas), so we were forced to eat chicken from a different place.  It was still delicious, however, and to round out the meal, I made a pasta salad and hors d’oeuvre crackers with garlic cream cheese and tomato and cucumber.

ImageWe also got Christmas cake!  Another food Japanese people associate with Christmas is cake, and since the Japanese take pastries and baked goods very seriously, there are some very beautifully decorated cakes available for Christmas.  But… seeing as our Christmas was already sort of thrown together, we settled with roll cake and slices of cake from the convenience store.  Still, they were quite delicious, and we finished off with some sparkling wine, which, cheap as it was, was a nice way to end a nice evening.

Perhaps next year, we’ll get our act together and actually get KFC and order a real cake from a bakery.  Maybe I’ll even have a party rather than just a quiet evening with my bff.  But this year was fun, too, so maybe, next year, we’ll do it the same, after all.