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!

 

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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.

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.

Plum Blossoms

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My friend Noriko walking under the plum blossoms.

Finally Spring has arrived! Winter is by far my least favourite season in Japan. I know the whole thing of me being Canadian and how can I possibly be cold in a place that rarely goes below 0 Degrees Celsius in winter, but as I always tell my friends back at home “You got to experience it at least once to know what I am talking about.”

Japanese houses are designed to be nice and cool in summer and to let as much air into them as possible. However that air doesn’t stop coming into our homes in winter and it turns out that in winter the air is actually quite cold. To make it even worse and to my great horror, Japanese homes do not have central heating! Unless you live in Hokkaido you have to make do with what you’ve got; that includes a lot of teeny tiny electric heaters and kerosene heaters. I had never seen one before I lived here and I simply do not like them. I have been told time and again that they are not dangerous, but somehow seeing the open flame and just knowing that kerosene is in there scares me. Plus the smell is quite unpleasant and you need to open the windows every hour or so to let the fumes out, thus letting the cold wind back into your home. To me the whole thing doesn’t make any sense.

I always remember my first winter and how I thought that spring would never come, but then ever so slowly it does and the first sign that spring is on its way is the plum blossoms. The first time I ever saw a plum blossom was here in Japan and when I first saw it, I thought it was a cherry blossom and got very excited but I still had to wait another month to see what everyone kept telling me was the most beautiful sight in Japan.

I really like plum blossoms because they come in some amazing colours! My personal favourites are the bright pink ones and there are also light pink and white plum blossoms. The white ones are very similar to the cherry blossoms.

One thing I learned in Japan is to take the time to literally “smell the flowers.” Japanese people have seen plum blossoms every year of their lives, however they never stop appreciating the beauty around them. They love their blossoms and they love seeing them and showing them to you. They go for walks and they take pictures of something they see year after year. They never take what they’ve got for granted and that’s one of the biggest lessons I will take back with me.

These are some of the plum blossoms I saw earlier this month. Enjoy!

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Plum Blossoms, March 2013, Ehime, Japan.

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Plum Blossoms.

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Different colours of plum blossoms.

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My friend Noriko and I enjoying the plum blossoms.

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Would have been a great picture…

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Full bloom!

Japan at its Cutest: Yuru-Kyara

Last month Thomas and I went over to Imabari to take part of a very strange but very cute Japanese phenomenon: Yuru-kyara.

Yuru-kyara are mascots created by local governments, companies and campaigns. The country has over 1, 000 Yuru-kyara and they have maintained huge popularity in the country.

In the event we went to in Imabari there were many of these mascots but we only got to see a handful of them. Most of the ones present at the event represented different cities throughout Japan. Every year the country hosts the Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix in which hundreds of mascots compete for the chance to be #1 in the country. Last year over 800 mascots entered the competition and the winner was the mascot from our neighbouring city of Imabari! His name is Bary-san and he is a very cute looking chicken. He is a chicken because the city of Imabari is well-known for Yakitori which is a popular type of Japanese cuisine. His crown is shaped like the Shimanami-Kaido bridge which joins the island of Shikoku to Honshu island. He is also wearing a towel and is holding a ship because those are the main industries of the city. Imazo is the largest shipbuilding company in the country and 4th in the world and its headquarters are in Imabari.

We got to see quite a few of the mascots and got to take pictures with as many as possible. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

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Thomas with a samurai.

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A doggy.

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I believe this is the mascot for Tokushima, but I’m unsure.

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Chicchai Ossan represents Amagasaki City near Osaka. Thomas’ favourite.

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The most adorable children in the world!

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Ro-Ra (Lola) repressents Fukuyama.

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Yachinyan of Yonbancho Square shopping street.

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This guy was SO big, no one could touch him or he would have fallen over.

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This guy’s name I believe is Mikan-Maru, but I don’t know where he is from.

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This is the creepiest! He represents Nara and is a mixture between a buddha and a deer.

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Some type of chicken man.

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We had too much fun!

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Tochimaru-kun represents Tochigi Prefecture.

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She looked like a pixie, but I have no clue where she is from.

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The man of the hour Bary-san!

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He’s so popular I couldn’t get a picture with just him, so we had to improvise.

I will finish with the story of the Guinness World Record. At the beginning of this year 141 of the yuru-kyara set the world record for synchronized mascot dancing. Of the 141 participants, 134 continuously danced in unison for 5 minutes. Here is the link: Mascots set World Guinness Record

 

Jr. High School Speech Contest

Back in the summer of 2012, Thomas spent most of his days helping students throughout our city of Niihama prepare for the annual English Speech Contest. Every year our town sends students to the prefectural contest and those students who win go on to the national contest.

After months of preparation, the prefectural speech contest took place in October of 2012. That weekend happened to be the Sake Festival in Hiroshima Prefecture a pretty fun event that we were hoping to go to, but Thomas felt that it was important to see his students perform at the contest and me not knowing the difference between one sake and another, didn’t mind not going to Hiroshima after all.

The contest took place in Matsuyama and we made our way early in the morning. I don’t teach children anymore and this is one of the few events in which I got to see some of what Thomas does at his work. The children were excited to see him there and there were a lot of children from Niihama participating, which was very encouraging. Unfortunately none of his students won, but we were glad to have gone.

There was one girl in particular who really touched my heart. She has a stuttering speech disorder and Thomas worked with her very hard throughout the summer. The day of the contest she got up there and talked about her stutter disorder while growing up and how it has affected her life, but also how it encouraged her to try out for the contest and talk about an issue that affects her so much personally. She stopped a few times for long periods of time, but she completed her speech and by the time she got off the stage, I was in tears. She did SO incredibly well!

Thomas took a couple of pictures with his students, but due to privacy concerns I won’t be able to upload those pictures. Overall, it was great experience for the students. After the contest Thomas and I walked around Dogo Onsen which is the oldest onsen in Japan (and it also inspired the movie Spirited Away) and ended the day by having dinner at my favourite french restaurant in Matsuyama.

I am posting a few pictures of Dogo Onsen since I don’t think I have done so before.

Dogo Onsen.

Dogo Onsen.

The film Spirited Away was modeled after Dogo Onsen.

The film Spirited Away was modeled after Dogo Onsen.

A man relaxing outside Dogo Onsen.

A man relaxing outside Dogo Onsen.

Dogo Onsen, Japan's oldest hot spring.

Dogo Onsen, Japan’s oldest hot spring.

 

Outside Dogo Onsen on a lovely fall day.

Outside Dogo Onsen on a lovely fall day.

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