More Kit-Kat! :)

As some of you may know one of my favourite things about living in Japan was discovering new flavours of kit-kat chocolates. Japan has an impressive array of kit-kat flavours. I was actually told that every Prefecture has its own flavour but I only came across a handful of them.

Right before I left Japan I came across 2 new flavours: pomegranate and blueberry cheesecake, neat right? I have tied them both. The pomegranate one has very tangy taste that I have never associated with chocolate, the colour of the chocolate is also yellow and while it was a very new flavour for me, I did enjoy it. The blueberry cheesecake one was just way too sweet for me. It did however taste like cheesecake, but nothing like blueberry. I don’t have a very sweet tooth so I wasn’t a big fan, but I can see someone who enjoys sweet chocolate liking this one.

I’m not sure if the pomegranate flavour kit-kat is from a particular region, but I know the cheesecake blueberry one is famous around the Mt. Fuji area. Even the box is in the shape of Mt. Fuji. If interested in finding different flavour kit-kat one can go to any grocery store in Japan. Every couple of months based on the seasons, flavours will change. Foe example, in the spring you can find sakura (cherry blossom) flavour, or in summer you can find watermelon flavour.

Have you found any other interesting kit-kat flavours? Would love to see how many flavours are out there!

Blueberry Cheesecake flavour Kit-Kat

Blueberry Cheesecake flavour Kit-Kat

The top of the box.

The top of the box.

Japanese presentation at its best. Mt. Fuji shaped box.

Japanese presentation at its best. Mt. Fuji shaped box.

Pomegranate flavour kit-kat.
Pomegranate flavour kit-kat.

Still here!

Still here!

Still here!

Hello everyone!

I know it has been months since I have made any updates and for that I apologize. The truth is that for the last few weeks I haven’t had the inspiration to write. After coming back from Japan, I didn’t even know if I wanted to continue with this blog anymore. After all, my Japan life has come to an end (how melodramatic of me) and I haven’t been feeling too inspired as of late.
However, talking to Thomas and my family I was reminded that just because I am back it doesn’t mean that it is all over, so I plan to change this blog a little bit. It will be more of an informational place where I will try to write about the food, the culture, different cities, festivals, etc. around Japan, that I was able to experience myself. I will write about it from my own experiences and hope it will help others who plan on visiting (or staying) in Japan for a short trip or for a long adventure like the one I experienced. I will also be writing for myself. I boast of having a great memory, but nothing lasts forever and I hope that by writing down what I know and experienced I’ll be able to keep the memories alive for longer.

Just a quick update about my whereabouts and plans: I have been working for a bank in Toronto since May and my contract will end in November. Everything is up in the air as whether or not it will be renewed but either way I am will take on things as they come along. I am also back at school, continuing working towards obtaining my Certificate in Human Resources. My plan is to finish it between Dec 2014-Dec 2015 (it all depends on job opportunities) afterwards we hope to do some more traveling again. I’ve always wanted to live in France for some time and Thomas is interested in learning Spanish so we’re opening up to the idea of maybe teaching in a Spanish speaking country next. Thomas also got a job at a bank (I know what this sounds like, but while one may think that everyone works in banks in Toronto, this is not the case) and will begin his training next week. He’s very excited about getting back to work after enjoying 2.5 months of unemployed time. We have been very very fortunate. Is nice to be back close to our families and my mom has been extremely accommodating. We also were able to visit Montreal and Thomas’ friends 2 weeks ago to celebrate his birthday. Here in Toronto, we’ve been spending time with my friends and family and exploring the city together. We don’t think Toronto is the place for us to settle. Thomas has never been a “big city” kind of person and I really learned to enjoy the easy-going life that we had in Japan. I enjoy spending time outdoors, Japan really taught me that there is a different way to live life.

Fall is upon us and we’re enjoying seeing the change of the leaves colours all around us. I had forgotten how beautiful Canada is in autumn! This coming weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving and we’ll be going to Quebec City to spend the holiday with Thomas’ family. I love going up there!  Will make sure to take lots of pictures to post, ’til then HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

Fall arrives in Montreal!

Fall arrives in Montreal!

Celebrating Thomas' birthday with his friends in Montreal!

Celebrating Thomas’ birthday with his friends in Montreal!

 

Crossing the Seto Inland Sea

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The Shimanami Kaido Bridge

I have always considered myself to have been blessed and fortunate enough to have lived in Shikoku, Japan. When I tell Japanese people that I lived in Shikoku they always say “Shikoku?! I have never been there.” When I tell non-Japanese people that I lived in Shikoku they always say “I have never heard of it, is it near Tokyo?” Actually it is nowhere near Tokyo and very few people make it to Shikoku which is really a pity because Shikoku offers you the beauty of seeing 90 year olds riding their bicycles, cranes flying over rice fields and children stopping and picking up critters at the side of the road. This is rural Japan and Shikoku has been described by many as Japan 50 years ago and never modernized. Now that I am back in Canada and running to get to work, to study to make sure I don’t miss the train, I often find myself thinking about the easy-going life style that I left behind and wonder if I will ever experience that again. I certainly hope so because it gives you the time to appreciate the simple things in life and love them even more.

One of those things that I loved while I lived in Shikoku was the natural beauty of the place. IT really was stunning with mountains on the south, the Seto Inland Sea on the north and rice fields sometimes as far the eye went. One of my favourite places in Ehime Prefecture was the Seto Inland Region. The Seto Sea is the 400km long stretch of water between the islands of Shikoku and Honshu. It is joined by 6 suspended bridges and up until 1999 the only way to go between the islands was either by ferry or via Tokushima Prefecture, which is in the opposite end of the island, so in many ways Shikoku has made some big improvements over the last 15-20 years.

The biggest thing in my bucket list to do while I lived in Shikoku was to cross the Seto Inland Sea by bike… and I did it at the beginning of May! It was by far one of the most amazing experiences in Japan and plan to do it all over again whenever I get the chance to visit again. For those of you who plan to adventure into Shikoku (you should!) I would highly recommend this bike ride. It is 70km from end to end with the most spectacular views the whole way through. I will admit going up on the bridges is not easy on the legs but going down the bridges makes it all worth it.

Our day began early in the morning and we took the train from Niihama (our town) to Imabari City and walked from the train station to the bottom of the Shimanami Kaido (1st bridge). There we rented bicycles for the low price of 1000Yen (approximately $10Cdn). If you decide to return back to the same place, you get a refund of I believe 500Yen  back but if you complete the 70km then you don’t get your refund back because you will need to leave your bike at the other end. So off we went! Thomas has mountain bike with gears and I had a bike with little wheels and 3 speeds that at first I was totally skeptical about, but in the end I loved the bike so much I wanted to steal it (I didn’t).

For those of you wondering how hard of a bike ride it is, let me say that it is relatively speaking easy. After the first bridge things get a little rough and there are a couple of steep hills where I thought I was going to throw up but after stopping a few times for ice cream, lunch, etc. it was nothing I couldn’t handle. People who know me would say that I am not the most physically strong person and I made it without any problems. On the way there are many places to stop by as well, and there are many chances for beautiful photography if interested. The path is well marked the whole way (always follow the blue line) and if you need any more convincing of what an incredible experience this was you should follow Lonely Planet’s advice on the Best in Travel 2013-Top 10 Regions #9. They know what they are talking about!

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/themes/best-in-travel-2013/top-10-regions/

Here are some pictures from our biking adventure:

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The Seto Inland Sea.

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Imazo Shipbuilding. I used to teach in that company. They produce bulk carriers like the one you can see in the background.

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The amazing view!

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The halfway point. Beauty!

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Stopover.

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Party bus!!!

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Random dino on the way.. haha! Gotta love random Japan.

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The view at the end of the 70 km, Hiroshima Prefecture.

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May I comment on the t-shirt? Turning Japanese!

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Art…

Next on Beneath Cherry Blossoms….

I have begun a new job this week, and so have been pretty busy. However, I wanted to give you a sneak preview of my next post. It will be an exciting one that includes 6 bridges, bicycles and the biggest thing I’ve checked off in my bucket list thus far.

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Bridge #6.

The most exciting city: Osaka (大阪)

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People dining in Osaka.

In March we went to Osaka to once again see the Sumo Spring Tournament. As I have mentioned before Thomas is a pretty big sumo fun, which even the Japanese find funny because the popularity of the sport among the general Japanese population is definitely dying. Most people in the crowd at the tournaments are over the age of 60. However, sumo is filled with traditions that date back to centuries and has many ritual elements that can be linked to Shinto Buddhism, such as the use of salt for purification. So, for that reason alone I also have enjoyed learning and following up with the ups and downs of the sumo world.

We went for 4 days as I still had some extra holidays that I needed to take before leaving Japan. On our first day we went to Universal Studios Japan or better known in Japan as USJ. I have never been a big fan of theme parks, maybe because I had never been to one before. In my mind they are places where you can easily waste your money on extremely highly priced food and toys (which they totally are, but they are so fun!). Thomas really wanted to go though and many of our friends said that it really was a fun place. So we went and yes they were right, it was a ton of fun and yes I was right too, we spent way too much money on Hello Kitty merchandise and Spider-Man pencils, but hey when else will we be at USJ again, right?

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At the entrance of USJ.

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About to start our day at USJ.

Our first stop was the Spider-Man ride. It was pretty old school but it was funny to see Thomas mention the names of all the villains… haha! Then we went to the Back to the Future ride and I was feeling pretty sick when we got out of there. Too much up and down movement for my liking. The most fun was the Jurassic Park ride, which included some dinos spraying water at us and a big drop at the end. I have to say though, waiting in those lines really took it out of me. That’s one thing I do not enjoy about theme parks, but people say is part of the experience so I went with it. My favourite part was of course the Snoopy area. I have been a Snoopy fan since my childhood and love the comic strips and the holiday specials, so yes, I was super excited when I got to meet Charlie Brown and Lucy! This area was particularly cute and super fun for the kiddies. We even spotted a famous Japanese singer in the crowd. It was a very fun day and I am glad we went but at the end of the day I was so tired that I fell asleep in the subway like a 3 year-old after a big day at the theme park.

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A Sesame Street themed stall.

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Back to the Future the Ride.

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Got to meet Charlie Brown!

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The doctor is in…

For the sumo tournament we met up with 2 of our friends who came to Osaka from Niihama. Being their first time at the sumo they spent most of their time photographing the event. However, last time I saw the sumo tournament it was also my first time and I spent 2 hours taking pictures, so this time around I sat down, opened my beer, and actually watched the matches. After the tournament we walked around the Dotombori Area of Osaka which is the entertainment district and enjoy the nightlife of Osaka.

Osaka is a very fun city, filled with young people, a lot of shops and lot of restaurants! The locals love their local food which includes Okonomiyaki (a sort of pancake made out of cabbage with different toppings such as shrimp and pork and topped with a sweet sauce and nori, seaweed) and Osaka’s famous Takoyaki (they are balls of dough with pieces of octopus inside, also topped with the sweet sauce of okonomiyaki and eaten with toothpicks. In Japanese the word for octopus is tako, hence takoyaki). I will write more about these 2 delicious dishes in a later post. But I will leave with some pictures from our trip. Enjoy!

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A sumo inspired izakaya (Japanese pub)

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The back windows of restaurants.

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The world goes up in Japan.

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Walking through the streets of Osaka.

 

 

Home…

I have returned to Canada for good (or for the time being).

Last Sunday I came back to Canada after living in beautiful Japan for 4 years. I sometimes can’t believe that it was that long, especially because nothing really changed while I was gone back home. People look and act the same, the landscape looks the same and everything is exactly the same.

Returning to Canada has been an strange experience to say the least. I guess I turned more Japanese than I ever imagined. My expectations of politeness and social decorum are much higher now than they were before, and I find myself often thinking if Canada has always been this way and I never noticed it before, or if things have changed.

I am back at my mom’s house for the time being. 4 years is a long time especially for my mom since I am an only child, so is nice to reconnect and catch-up. Thomas is still in Japan finishing his contract and will be flying back home in about 10 weeks. Distance is not an easy or fun thing to deal with, but we both recognize that is only for a little while and is good to spend some alone time sometimes. He can be a guy’s guy and spend time with the boys in town, while I settle here and catch up with my own friends before he arrives in Canada and we have to get him re-adjusted to living here as well and we go through the process of finding an apartment, getting a car and all those fun things.

So that’s a bit of an update as to what has been happening lately, hence why I just didn’t update the blog lately.

So, what will happen to the blog now that I am home? I will keep it open and update all the things that I wanted to share with you all and never got around to it. I have over 10,000 pictures from hundreds of events and places that we visited. I have so many things I want to share with everyone about the food, the culture, the festivals and most importantly the Japanese people. So there are many things to come for sure. I may be back in Toronto now but that doesn’t mean that is all over, and somehow I have this feeling within me that says that this was not the last  time I will see Japan. Job opportunities have been offered to us and with so many of our friends living over there I wouldn’t be surprised if we go back for another couple of years in the future. That’s the beauty of this whole experience, once you have been there and lived there, and learned the social norms of a country, even when there may be a huge language barrier, you can always go back.

Earthquakes – An inherent part of living in Japan

Last Saturday we were woken up at the unfortunate hour of 5:30am by the town’s earthquake warning alarm system. Let me just say that it is not the kind of thing you want to wake up to.

I actually didn’t even know the town had an earthquake warning alarm system. Thomas said that it was installed after the March 2011  Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster in Fukushima Prefecture. I must remember to ask him how he obtained this information because I certainly didn’t know. This new alarm system is a high-pitched noise and then a man begins speaking in fast Japanese, telling you basically that an earthquake is coming. After that all you got to do is wait.

Oh, but not also were we woken up by the town’s alarm system but also by our cell phones. Japanese cell phone companies have begun providing an emergency service that warns users of earthquakes. This is a very scary and loud alarm that is very high-pitched as well. At first I thought it was Thomas’ morning alarm to go to school, but then realized that his alarm doesn’t sound like that, so I asked him what was happening and then he said an earthquake was coming so we had been double warned and sure enough about 5 seconds later the whole apartment shook for a good 30 seconds. Being a 6.0 in magnitude and relatively speaking not very far, it was the strongest shake I have felt in my time living in Japan.

Being from a country where earthquakes are not common at all, I have to admit that the idea of earthquakes really worried me when I first arrived in Japan, but over the years I have learned a lot  about earthquakes and tsunamis so I thought I’d share some of my knowledge in case you are planning on visiting or living in Japan in the future.

First and foremost know your emergency exits. Even if you can’t read Japanese, follow the drawings and common sense. No elevators, use the stairs and most importantly do not panic.
Earthquakes last a very short period of time. I know in our minds they seem to last forever, but they really don’t. Most Japanese people will tell you that if is not a strong one, just wait for it to pass by. If is strong like the one in March 2011, go under a table, or a desk or a door frame. Also, know where your emergency meeting place is. Every neighbourhood in Japan has an emergency meeting place. If you don’t know, ask your landlord or ask at work and they should be able to tell you. In my neighbourhood, our emergency meeting place is the elementary school a block away.

One most also never forget that if there is one thing Japan is prepared for is earthquakes. In March 2011 the earthquake did relatively speaking very little damage, the tsunami on the other hand was devastating. Japanese buildings are designed to sway a bit if necessary and even sky scrapers in Tokyo are built this way. I saw videos of the earthquake in 2011 and it was very scary, but also incredible to see how much those building swayed around, yet none fell down.

Going back to the subject of tsunamis, the chance of a tsunami varies from place to place. I live in Ehime Prefecture and we don’t directly face the ocean. People have said that Ehime is one of the safest places to live because we have the Seto Inland Sea to the north and across the Seto is Honshu island. With the Seto Sea being so small, the chance of tsunamis are minimal. However, on the other side of Shikoku Island, where Ehime is located is Kochi Prefecture and they face the Pacific Ocean, so they have many more emergency plans in case of tsunamis. Once again depending where you are visiting or living, get informed. Ask your neighbours or co-workers what the emergency plan is and follow it accordingly.

Lastly, have an emergency kit at home. After the March 2011 disasters stores across the country began selling emergency kits with food, water, a flashlight, etc. Buy yourself one of this kits. Hopefully you may never have to use it, but better safe than sorry.

Remember the Japanese have dealt with earthquakes for centuries and from a very early age are trained on what to do in case of an emergency. While we may panic, they don’t. A rule of thumb I have come up with if we ever experience an emergency here is to follow the lead of my neighbours, whatever they do chances are is the right thing to do. Earthquakes are scary, especially if you are not used to them, but be prepared and informed and they will just feel like something that is ingrained in your everyday Japanese lifestyle.

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