Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hiroshima, my love.

Everyone kept telling me how special Hiroshima is, and well, there are no words for it. It was heartbreaking... and wonderful. The city is so warm and lively, and small enough to easily navigate. I fell in love immediately.

My first sight was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (A-Bomb Dome), pretty much the only thing that remained after the nuclear attack. The nearby Aioi bridge was the original target, but it was slightly missed and instead the bomb detonated almost directly above the dome. Being there in the midst of reliving history made my heart sink. The museum was quite tragic (and graphic), and it gave me chills to think about the events that took place on the exact same spot I was standing.

It was such a beautiful, sunny day, and the cherry blossoms were in bloom, so it made everything look a bit brighter. I also ran into my friend Danny from Takamatsu, who was sightseeing with his family from home. It was lovely to see a familiar face, and to just have a nice afternoon chat by the river and walk around the Peace Park.

They invited me to join them for dinner, and we tried the local dish, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake containing various ingredients such as seafood, meat, vegetables. The Hirohima style is famous for layering the ingredients instead of mixing them, and adding soba noodles in the mix. They grill it right on a hot plate, and serve it with a sauce on top. I know it does not look too appetizing in the pictures, but it was so delightful!! I actually had it twice!

We then headed out for drinks and dessert (found some nice apple crumble and shortbread cookies), then to karaoke with his family. It was so much fun! It was their first time, and they really got into it. We sang everything ranging from The Beatles to Dinosaur Jr. I then headed to my youth hostel (and caught a lovely night view of the lit up Memorial on my way), and shared a cute tatami room with some nice girls. Reminder: never wash my face again with hand soap.

On the second day I took a day trip to Miyajima, famous for the red floating tori gate, and for the wild deer roaming about. The deers are surprisingly very tame, and honestly I got more excited from the deer than from the gate.

The island was just so touristy, and it was a bit chaotic, so I just walked around, pet the deer, and got the local sweet, called momiji manju. It's shaped like a maple leaf, and filled with different pastes, such as the red bean one. They're so delicious! I bought a box to give to friends, and the deer almost ate it. I did not feed them!

It was such a nice little escape, and I also took a lot of time to wander around the streets, people-watch at Starbucks, study Japanese, and do some shopping.

It was a fantastic, eye-opening experience. I also did a lot of thinking, and just relaxed and explored Hiroshima. I realized that I feel so much at home in Japan, I really don't feel like a tourist. I can speak and understand the language a little bit, and it makes such a big difference. I actually got to practice my skills a lot, since I was on my own most of the time.

Hiroshima, I love you.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Getaway

April is almost here, the cherry blossoms are blooming, and hello Spring Break. It started with a relaxing weekend in Takamatsu: sleep sleep sleep, delightful udon (our local specialty), the best Italian food on Shikoku island (my first Italian food in five months!), a heart-print silk top, red wine, friends, and banana muffins... and will continue on to...

Hiroshima. I've been dreaming about visiting that city for so long, and I'll spend a few days there this week. Just myself and Hiroshima, should be a lovely time... so much history, so tragic, but I've only heard great and positive things about this wonderful place. I'm looking forward to seeing the Peace Memorial Park, Miyajima Island (beautiful shrine in the water and tons of wild deer to pet!), the museum and castle... and hopefully I'll eat the famous Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and find some local tasty delights. Everything about this trip is quite exciting, including the long train rides and the youth hotels... yes, it doesn't take me much.

{I heart spring}

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rain, rain

My kindergarten students have the CUTEST rain boots. So tiny!! I forgive them for giving me germs.

{Guess which ones are mine...}

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Karaoke Best

Karaoke has become an important part of my social life here. I like being in a private room, with a small group of friends, and just go a little crazy. Here is my Top 5 Karaoke songs to belt out:

1. "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey (obvious choice)
2. "1979" by The Smashing Pumpkins (surprisingly difficult to sing actually, everyone just ends up out of tune)
3. "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga (just so much fun)
4. "Wonderwall" by Oasis (such a classic, and brings drunk people together)
5. "How Soon is Now" by The Smiths (the mere thought of singing The Smiths at karaoke in Japan is appealing to me).

I recently learned two very popular Japanese songs, which I love!

A punk-rock classic, "Linda Linda" by the Blue Hearts. It's very easy, you just repeat "Rinda Rinda" throughout the chorus:

And a sappy love song by J Pop band GReeeeN, "Ai Uta":

What are your karaoke favourites?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Late March and early spring days

Early spring days in Japan! Brought me a wonderful weekend filled with sunshine, afternoon strolls in the park, seaside drinks in Takamatsu, an early cherry blossom party at the castle, and... kindergarten germs. I think working with small (touchy) children can be dangerous for one's health... so I'm taking it easy this week, getting some rest and lots of tea, watching bad flicks and getting warmth from tall Canadians. I'm a bit of a sniffly disaster, but it's perfect for this kind of rainy weather that just appeared this morning.

The Central Park of Takamatsu on a Saturday afternoon...

Having drinks and talks seaside, with the warm wind of the inland sea

Having to run inside an underpass because of a sudden rainfall.. and continue the party there. Canadians like writing on each other's feet, apparently.

The nice weather was back again in time for the pre-cherry blossom party at the castle. It actually got pretty cold once the sun set, and we finished the party at a friend's house, snuggled under the kotatsu table (a low wooden table covered with a futon, to keep warm in the winter.... brilliant)!

My lovely friends and co-workers! I heart those girls!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Things I found this week:

1. Hiragana and Katakana practice book. I feel like a kindergarten student, but practicing my reading skills and strokes is very helpful. I know almost all of my kana by now, and I'm planning on mastering it within a few weeks! And oh, a fantastic chicken + spinach sandwich recipe I copied from my boy... friend. (unfortunately mine wasn't as delicious).

2. Uniqlo. One of the best things about Japan is Uniqlo. To us Westerners, Uniqlo is this trendy Japanese shop. In truth, Uniqlo in Japan is like Wal Mart for us back home. You can even find them in the countryside... my town has a Uniqlo in the midst of rice fields! They do have the BEST jeans. Very very cheap, and better fitting than any 240$ pair I've ever tried on. Skinny jeans, anyone?

3. Apple pie. I did not find it, but three of my closest friends and I got together for a night of baking apple pie. I love how a boring Wednesday night turned into an impromptu fĂȘte, complete with dirty martinis, tequila shots, and a dance party in the tatami room.

4. Birthday parcel. One of my dearest friends from home sent me the most amazing birthday parcel, containing enough Nars + Smashbox to make a girl's head spin, a darling charm bracelet, banana-scented hair products, and Mac 'n Cheese. Lova ya K!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sundays and Mondays

Why I love Sundays...

{Long bike rides in the countryside. Sunny spring days. Hanging out with this boy and eating his food. Fun train rides. Sleeping in. Homemade pancakes, baked apples and coffee. Japanese lessons.}

And yes, the sign on the bike says 'Marugame'... as my visiting friends said, "Everything in Japan is so cute and tiny"! The bike ride was so nice and picturesque, until my bike got a flat tire... right in the middle of nowhere. It literally got fixed within twenty minutes thanks to the generosity of Japanese country folks (and the Japanese language skills of my companion... not mine!). Although I can now proudly make a full sentence in Japanese, I still cannot say too much beyond "I like coffee" , "Vivian's cat likes cheese", and "Does this train stop at Marugame station?". Working on it!

Why I love Mondays...

{Takamatsu. Big city day trips. My weekly Starbucks and Muji fix. Cooking dinner with friends. Running at the castle. Studying Japanese. Hanging my laundry outside.}

Mondays are usually off for me, which is nice... even though it's raining every single Monday! I usually take a day trip, but lately I've been saving up for a bigger weekend trip to Hiroshima or Osaka during spring break. And perhaps some shopping... I know I rarely talk about fashion anymore, and for obvious reasons... living in the Japanese countryside has exposed me to some of the most horrible styles I've ever seen! But in a way, I think it's good, because I don't really feel 'pressured' to always look trendy (not that I'm giving up on style... oh no... never!).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Snow in Japan

Just when I thought (and declared) winter was over, Shikoku experienced a little snowfall for the first (and only) time this winter. A little snow does not bother me... but it got so cold, and when it's cold in Japan, it's VERY cold... thanks for the lack of insulation in buildings. Stormy weather combined with longer-than-usual commutes to other parts of the island made me want to hide in my futon all week. Here are some things that made my week a little bit better:

*Sakura (cherry blossom) flavoured cakes from MUJI (I ate quite a few...)
*Tea and talk with my loveliest Marugame girl, Isabel
*Girls brunch at my place, complete with pancakes, strawberries, and baked apples
*Watching Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club in the middle of the night
*Riding the express trains to the other side of Shikoku, and a gorgeous landscape
*Epic bike ride this morning, in the sun
*Reading books... again
*Brownies and wine on a Tuesday night with the boys
*Early morning text messages
*Sunday coming soon... Sunday fun day.
*FINALLY having the real internet and being able to catch up on blog reading
*My summer futon... a luxurious down feather duvet.
*Teaching my favourite students, and playing baseball in the classroom.
*Salmon and ginger salads at the izakaya
*Minus the Bear

The sun is out again, and cherry blossoms will be here soon. Hello, spring!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Just another Saturday night in Japan

One of my favourite things to do in Montreal was going to see concerts, and it's something I've been missing a bit since coming to Japan. Needless to say, I was really psyched when I got an invitation to go see a concert on Saturday, in Takamatsu. Most international bands travel to Tokyo and Osaka, but I never actually made it to an actual live venue there. I thought it would be a fun experience to see some local Japanese acts... and what an experience it was! Probably the weirdest night I've had in ages. The concert featured around seven or eight acts, and the show actually started at 5:30 pm- such an odd time! It went on until about probably midnight, but I wouldn't know because we had to catch our last train a bit before that (oh, early Japanese trains!). I saw everything from costumes to choreographed moves, and the audience really got into it. It was one of those 'only in Japan' moments.

The rest of the weekend consisted of the laziest Sunday I've had in ages- just lounging about, watching movies, playing video games, and eating the most delicious brunch I've had in a long time. Sometimes being isolated in the countryside does have its perks... it's so peaceful and quiet, and it's nice to just hibernate on a cold, rainy day. It was much, much needed after teaching a zoo-like class the day before!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Late night creativity

I did it.

I baked cupcakes in my tiny toaster oven.

My friend and neighbour has a real oven, but my late night vanilla cupcake craving needed to be fixed right away. It worked pretty well! I found all the ingredients I needed for the cupcakes, including baking powder, creamy butter, and (priceeeey) icing sugar for the buttercream frosting.

I bought individual cupcake tins, they're so easy to find in Japan. I think they really enjoy baking here! I was worried about the temperature of my toaster oven, but I just used the lowest heat setting and kept an eye on them. I could only bake six at a time, but it was all worth it.

I won't lie, I ate most of them. MOST. I did share a few...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Winter, plums, love, and Japanese gardens

Winter in Japan has come to an end, and beautiful plum blossoms are adorning the trees at Ritsurin Park, my favourite Japanese garden, located right in Takamatsu. Wandering around this peaceful, wonderful garden is so soothing. I was excited to show it to Claire and Jaclyn, and they loved it. My friends met us there, and we all had a nice, late afternoon stroll in one of my favourite spots in Japan.

Cheers to the end of winter, friends I love, and Japanese natural beauty. And PS, plum flowers taste quite delightful!

{Ritsurin Park, Takamatsu}

{Friends, friends, friends... and... Vivian likes a boy!!}

{Morning bike riding at the Marugame castle}

{I miss those girls}

{On top of the world... er, Marugame}

{Is it a J Crew ad? Or possibly Zara?!}

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

When Korea meets Japan

Last week was the most fun, girlie talk and coffee-filled time I've had in a long time. Claire and Jaclyn, two of my closest Seoul friends, came to spend a few days with me in Japan. It was fun to show them my new life here, and to reminisce about our best memories of Korea. It was so lovely to hang out with both, so much laughter, gossip, and hours spent getting ready in my tiny apartment. My little room was filled with futons, bags, makeup, clothes, hairbrushes, and perfume, and it was just the best. We stayed up late chatting, and had long, lazy mornings having tea and pancakes. I showed them the wonderful castle and Ritsurin garden, we went shopping in Takamatsu, and we ate loads of udon and rice cakes. My Japan friends all came over for wine and my two worlds met. Sometimes Korea seems like ages away, even though it was just last year, but so much has changed in my life.

It was such a wonderful past couple of days, and my apartment feels empty since they left!

{My lovely girls}


{How cute is this little boy?}

{Indulging in spicy Korean ramen... oh I had missed it!!}

{Another party in my tiny tiny flat!}