The end of a year

So it has now been a whole year since I moved to Japan, and what a year it has been! I haven’t traveled to so many different places in such a short time before and I have been lucky enough for every trip to be a great one.

It’s probably just because of how different things are here but even everyday things for locals like visiting a shrine, even just walking past one, is still a fun experience. The food is still amazing, and also really cheap compared to back home. Less that one pound for a plate of sushi, almost any sushi. No that’s not a typo.

But I’m not just here to tell you how great Japan is, because even though it is pretty great this is more of a learning experience kind of post. 

So let’s start with things I would do differently.

1. Study a lot more Japanese. Yes you can kind of muddle through with just English and bad acting, but if you want to have a real conversation with anyone you are going to need Japanese. A big jump in success for me was being able to register my new address with the phone company by myself, but I feel this would have happened a lot sooner if I was using the apps and books I am now from day one.

Yomikata is a must use in my opinion, teaching both vocabulary and reading skills it has been invaluable in growing my understanding of that language, second only to just going out and actually speaking with people.

2. Choose my own house (sooner). Moving into a leopalace was easy, but I should have done it by myself and not relied on my work to organise it since it means it was more expensive. Now that I’ve done it by myself it’s nearly half the price and there are no hidden admin fees for moving out!

3. Watch more TV and movies in Japanese. It’s pretty fun and it’s nice to start putting words to reactions together. You will be surprised how much you learn and it’s a talking point with new Japanese friends. 

Luckily it’s only a short list of changes, because as I said before Japan is great! I also get 100 yen every time I say that.

So what is the plan for the next year?

Well I’m going to do some more traveling and certainly keep up my studying. Hopefully by this time next year I’ll be roughly conversational, which would be nice. In the meanwhile watch this space for more Japan updates!

Japan is great.

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Catching up on things

So it’s been a little quite here recently due to the sheer level of awesome things I’ve been doing. I know, you are probably thinking ‘You live in Japan, you are always doing awesome things’. Well you would be mostly correct in thinking that, however I have also finished writing my first ever choose your own adventure book! Since I have finished it, I’m now in the process of getting enough backing to actually publish it. To achieve this I’ve put together a kickstarter project page. If I’m successful then not only will I have a rather nice book to show off, but an all singing and all dancing book at that. In reality that means pictures, narration and a soundtrack. If you fancy checking it out, sharing it with friends or even backing it when it launches I’ll be appreciative for any support I can get. The internet is a big and scary place after all.

I also went back home for a couple of weeks to catch up with everyone back there, which was also great. Hopefully everyone back there also saw enough of me to get them through the long year ahead / are now sufficiently sick of me again. I’ll be adding some more pictures to this of my time back in the morning when I’m using the device with all the pictures on it, so you have that to look forwards to, unless I’ve already done it by the time you read this and then I guess they are just here.

In addition to all this excitement I also watched an opera because I’m classy like that. This time I saw Die Fledermaus, or as I like to call it ‘Batman the Opera’. It was actually really good, both genuinely funny at points and featured some lovely music. Since my father works for the company putting on the performance I might be a little biased, but everyone else seemed to enjoy it too and I didn’t have to threaten anyone this time (Sorry to anyone watching Rosencavalier while being dangled over a balcony).

Since this is a kind of travel blog I thought I’d take a few moments to run down my list of things to do while in Cardiff.

  1. Drinking. Cardiff loves a party and I fear that there are more taps than people in the city. That said there are also some great places to do it, and if you enjoy good music and a wide range of spirits then ‘The Moon‘ is the place to go. If you are more into your beers and conversation then either the ‘City Arms‘, ‘Brewdog‘ or ‘The Urban Tap House‘ will get you through most of the night.
  2. More Drinking  Enjoy a show. With the Millennium Center in the bay and The New Theatre in the town center there is a great range of performances to choose from, plus both places have bars.
  3. Visit the castle. Yeah, we have a castle. Suck it other places that don’t! It’s also quite a nice castle with rooms you can walk through that are not completely ruined because of the nice rich family that first maintained it and then gave it to the people. You can see a few stages of it’s history, from the original (I believe Norman) keep, to the Roman outer walls. If you check their website they also do events, including jousting which is pretty cool. I think the cafe also sells beer.
  4. Visit Bute park. It’s next to the castle and is really rather lovely as well as being huge. It has a river and trees and all the nice things good parks have. You will probably need to bring your own beer.
  5. Last but by no means least, check out all the random shops. It’s sometimes known as the city of arcades. This feels like a bit of an overstatement because there are maybe 7 in total and really only makes up a small amount of the city, but it sounds way better than city of drunks. That said there are some interesting independents trading out of these places. Also if you are a bit of a geek like me then you should check out Firestorm Games. Again I am a little biased since I used to work there, but they are one of the largest gaming venues in the world and also have a great bar. They also run lots of cool events, so worth seeing what is on before you head over.

That’s all from me for now, will catch up with you all again soon with more exciting updates and maybe more things to do in other places!

An even more magical time of year

As promised I have returned with part two of things about trees in Japan, aka the Sakura season.

Today I visited the rather lovely, if not also very rural Kawazu ‘the land of sakura!’. The advertising is actually ‘it’s always beautiful’ but I think mine is better and since it’s not always beautiful (because after the blossom is gone you just have a load of naked trees and sad tourists) if you are going to tell a lie you might as well make it sound a little exciting.

That said, it really was beautiful today with most of the trees in full bloom and there is a recommended trail that starts at the sea and runs for about four kilometers alongside a river which is full of lovely lovely trees.

This is the beach. No there are no trees here, they are behind me. Sneaky trees.

This is the trail, in case you hadn’t guessed. But now the beach is behind me. Sneaky beach.
In addition to all this lovely nature you can also buy a range of sakura themed novelty items and foods. You can also buy a tree if you want to take one home with you to save on traveling next time, but to be honest I’d recommend just traveling as you would need to buy a lot of trees to really compete with Kawazu and your neighbours probably won’t be too pleased when your forest of cherry trees starts growing through their house.

There are of course other things to do and see too, as Kawazu is also home to one of the rare hot natural springs of Japan, and provides water for many onsen (public bath) and foot spas around the area. You can also find some interesting character statues along the way, including these two whom I have named Crazy Eyed Steve and Simon respectively. 

If you do want to follow in the trail that I blazed behind thousands of other people each year, then you can get to Kawazu by train from Atami. Be careful though as there are two types of train and the fancy looking one is nearly twice the price (although also a fair bit faster). The standard train takes a little over an hour, but you get a nice costal view as you go. Also if you don’t want to spend too much on food, as the stalls can be a little pricy, then there is a Family Mart near the beach and a 7/11 by the station.
So even though it’s a little bit out of the way and for me costs about the same as a trip to Tokyo, I really would recommended it if you get the chance and have the time, it’s a very nice way to spend a day.

This has been a review about trees and things from Japan.

That magical time of year

So it has been over half a year since I first moved to Japan and boy how does time fly! 

Since I arrived in summer though it meant that I missed the cherry blossom, or sakura as it’s known in Japanese. As one of the most iconic things about Japan aside perhaps from sushi and schoolgirls I was a little bit sad about that. Fortunately, time has not yet ended which means like all things that follow a cycle, this wonderful season has returned!

This is possibly the most ‘Japan’ photo I have ever taken. The only way it could be more ‘Japan’ is if I had a schoolgirl holding some sushi, but that would be a bit weird and I don’t want to do that.

Anyway, as you can see it’s basically beautiful here and you should all check it out if you visit Japan around this time of year. One of the bonuses of living in Shizuoka is that we arguably get some of the best views this season, along with a much earlier and longer ‘in bloom’ season.

If you do find yourself here, then I would strongly recommend walking alongside any of the rivers in Fuji as they are lined with these amazing looking trees, and since the rivers go on for many miles you can spend most of the day enjoying the wonderful combination of water and cherry blossom. 

A little further east, and then south of Atami you will also find some amazing costal areas which supposedly boast some of the best sakura sites in all of Japan. I will be confirming or denying this tomorrow (because my good readers need to know the facts, and not because I’m a sucker for nature walks) so watch this space for part 2 – the quest for more blossoms.

Things that I have been doing, and the longest title for a blog post that may or may not also be about Japan (it totally is)

Hello once again you strange, wonderful and perhaps terrifying people. I trust that you are all well and enjoying the current disaster that is the state of our world. (except Japan which I love like a tiny animated ball of fluff that’s always smiling and telling excellent jokes and can do no wrong).

As this is kind of a Japan / travel blog I’ll talk a little about some travel and Japan things too. So Shizuoka, or Silent Hill if you go by the kanji, is the prefecture I currently call home. While I have explored to a reasonable extent all the cities within this prefecture there is one thing about Japan which makes it rather hard to grow tired of, and that is that they seem to hide everything up in the sky. Well, obviously not the literal sky but in tall buildings that in the UK would be nothing more than office blocks. This means that for a dirty immigrant like me (correction, expat) it’s very easy to forget to look up and find these hidden gems. I should add here that this goes double for big cities like Tokyo and it wasn’t until my recent return that I realized just how many shops I had missed when I first arrived. And it’s not just shops, but bars and restaurants lurk in nearly every possible space within these cities. You can even find super rare places to eat where you can dine with a native Japanese family, as long as you don’t mind them shouting at you in Japanese while you eat and generally having to help yourself to food. Two thumbs up though, would recommend.

Recently, tucked away in a reasonably public corner of Shizuoka city (okay so in this case I just walked past it a few times and didn’t really pay any attention to what it was) we discovered a honest real ale bar. Even better, it’s only 1200 yen for a pint which is like £8.50… Yea, maybe don’t convert the prices. Compared to regular beer at 800 yen a pint, the extra 400 is completely worth it because the beer is great and they have ten on tap, including an 8% one called Jubilation. It’s also the first place I’ve found cider in Japan, again good cider, which also makes me very happy. If you happen to be in the area you can find more about them here

In addition to all this beer drinking we had a day jaunt back to Tokyo, this time to enjoy the trains. Not in a strange nerd kind of way though (because we all know that having unusual hobbies makes you strange and an easy target for people to gauge their visualized self worth, but I digress) but because there is a yearly event called Tokyo Metro Mysteries . As the name kind of suggests you get to solve mysteries around the different train stations and nearby areas in Tokyo. The puzzles are fun, and solvable for both Japanese and English speakers and require a nice range of puzzle solving skills and processes. You also get to see some interesting places in Tokyo that you might not have gone to on a normal tour of the city, which is a nice plus.

That’s all from me this time, hopefully see you all again soon assuming a certain orange racist hasn’t blown up the world by then.

Another day in Japan

Another month in Japan has brought some new experiences, from new foods to art exhibits. Actually it’s just new foods and art exhibits. If all goes well I’ll be able to add snowboarding to this list too! (But that’s a story for another day)

Recently I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Ghibly art exhibition and as anyone who has seen one of their movies can probably guess, it was amazing.

Not only did it show off hundreds of original sketches and scene layouts, but included some step by step demonstrations of how the movies go from being a rough drawing to a fully hand painted animated masterpiece. It was both educational and enjoyable to see, which was nice. 

On top of this I tried something called omochi, which is a traditional Japanese sweet made from rice. Apparently if you hit rice for long enough it becomes sweet and chewy. There might also be some additional processes to this, and/ or magic. Either way it’s a little strange to eat as the texture is unlike anything we really get back in the UK, the closest I can think of is marzipan but even that doesn’t really quite compare. That said the taste is pretty good and you can get a few different flavours, so it’s well worth a try if you can. It’s also traditional to eat it on new years day.

That’s all from me this time, hope you are all having a good year and haven’t been snowed in somewhere!

Another year passes 

Today marks the last day of my working year, and for most people in Japan the national new year holidays start today too. While Christmas is not really celebrated here, new year is a very important holiday for many. It is a time when people go to the temples to pray for a good new year and watch the first sunrise with their families. It’s also very traditional to clean your home before the end of the year, to start clean and fresh in the next. This makes me glad that my home is not so big here and thus much easier to clean.

Personally this has been one of the most interesting and exciting years of my life, as it’s the first time I have lived in another country (unless you count moving from England to Wales, which I really don’t). The food here is good, the places are interesting and the language is crazy. I’m also still really enjoying my job, and the people I work with are great. It helps that they like to go on little adventures, which leads me to my next point… 

Adventures in Kyoto – a day trip.

As mentioned in my last post, I recently visited Kyoto for the day with the other teachers. 

This day mostly consisted of walking from temple to temple, eating some amazing food, seeing more temples and then going for a rather delightful boat ride before we got to view the city at night.

Kyoto is a city of historical sites, as the former capital of Japan there are a lot of buildings that stand as testament to that fact 

I have never seen so much red in one place before today (it’s a lucky colour here) and as it’s winter even the leaves on the floor are matching the rest of the city in colour. It’s just kind of a shame they were not so attached to the trees.

On the plus side it did give our boat guide the opportunity to ask us to imagine what all the trees will look like in about 4 months, which I promise was much funnier at the time. Mostly because he started by telling us how amazing it is (I’m guessing from a prepared script) before looking at the bare trees and then switched to ‘imagine’.
We also got to see some interesting rocks with names based on the vague shapes they resembled (other than rock shape, although I for one would like to see more rocks named rock rock). Some were more believable than others. Snoopy rock was actually pretty clear while Monkey Jamp, yes Jamp, was more than a little perplexing if only because I have no idea what Jamp looks like.

The city at night is of course also a beautiful thing to behold, made more so by the illuminated bamboo forests

While I was sad to have to go in the end, it’s always nice to know that it’s reasonably easy and not so expensive to visit places like this in my spare time. In the UK while I would go places occasionally, I’ve never traveled as much as I have here. Every month I’m visiting a new city but it doesn’t feel like such an effort. 

Next time I’m visiting Osaka, and then next year I’m going to try for a little further away and visit Hiroshima which will likely be my first time on a bullet train too. 

So until then, have a great new year and I’ll see you all in the future!