Tag Archives: Toyama

Summer

Summer in Japan is… hot. I have mentioned the heat before.  In fact, I wrote an entire post about the heat and how it makes me stupid. Then I deleted it because upon re-reading it, I realized the post (accurately) portrayed me as a moron.  Despite the heat, there are some really lovely things about summer in Japan.

1) Cicadas:  these little guys create a  love ’em or hate ’em response; I love ’em. Cicadas are everywhere in Japan, especially if you live in a more rural setting.  Unlike some of Japan’s other creepy-crawlies, cicadas are harmless aside from their noise.  Their constant hum reminds me of crickets or frogs at home.   There is something really peacefull about looking out over the rice paddies and listening to the cicadas.

2) Rice paddies:  The Japanese countryside is filled with rice paddies.  Even within Toyama city, there are rice paddies taking up free spaces between homes.  Unlike most of Canada, where the summer heat starts to brown the grass by August, Japan stays lush and green all summer, thanks to the rice fields.

Rice and other greenery in Takayama, Gifu.

3) Festivals:  Every weekend there is some sort of festival going on in Japan.  Last weekend there were at least 3 major festivals in Toyama Prefecture alone.  Festivals in Japan are fun because you can see people of all ages eagerly  engaging in traditional activities.  Also, it is a great excuse to eat festival foods, which are almost always fried and delicious.  (Yakisoba is my favourite.)

Dancers at the Owara Kaze no Bon Festival in Yatsuo, Toyama

4) Fireworks:  I suppose I could have grouped fireworks in with festivals, but I feel like they deserve their own mention.  Fireworks are immensly popular in Japan.  In the last 10 days I can think of at least 3 major fireworks displays in the area.  Sometimes the fireworks are a part of a larger festival, and sometimes they are a stand-alone event.   The japanese word for firewordks is hanabi (花火,) which translates to “fire flower.”  It’s a much nicer and more accurate description than fireworks, don’t you think?

Fireworks fill the sky at Toyama City’s annual Hanabi Festival on August 1st.

5) Seasonal goodies:  Watermelon is really popular in Japan.  In some areas it is common to salt watermelon to bring out the flavour. (Perhaps this is not a Japan-only thing, but I first heard about it here.)  Anyhow, Pepsi has released its summer seasonal flavour and, you guessed it, it’s Salty Watermelon!  Unlike my last seasonal Pepsi adventure, Salty Watermelon was surprisingly delicious.  I will probably buy it again!

Salty Watermelon Pepsi

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the Japanese summer in a nutshell: heat, rice,  festivals,  fireworks, fun food, and crazy insects!

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Méli-Mélo

Right off the bat, I will start by saying this post has no clear goal.  I certainly am not planning it out before I write it,sorry.  What can I say? It is hot.  When the temperature goes above 25 degrees, my brain goes on summer holiday.

So, life in Toyama right now is moving along.  I have been in Japan for almost a year now.  Soon there will be a new crop of people arriving in Toyama and I will be one of the experienced folks, who supposedly know the ropes. Ha!

But anyhow, I have been planning a trip to climb Mount Fuji. The planning has hit a few hurdles, but we seem to be progressing well now. However, when I was talking to a Japanese friend about this trip she looked at me with concern and told me that “Mount Fuji is not safe right now.”  (I am not abusing the quotation marks; those were her exact words.) She proceeded to explain that last year’s earthquake left a large crack in Mount Fuji.  This concerned me.  After all, large cracks in volcanoes are not to be treated lightly.

So I went home and got my Google on and found out that the crack is really no big deal. It is not related to volcanic activity and is really nothing to be stressed about.  (Read the article here if you don’t believe me.)

However, in my research, I also found this article, about the installation of new toilets at the 5th Station on Mount Fuji.  This is great news, as I hear the bathrooms at the 5th station were in serious need of upgrading. However, let’s pay special attention to this part:

The facility, built at the fifth station of the Fuji-Yoshida mountaineering route on the Yamanashi Prefecture side of the mountain, reopened to the public Friday following a ceremony to mark the completion of the work, a Yamanashi prefectural government official said.

Remember how I wrote about the opening ceremony in Japan?  I bet you didn’t believe me when I said that they happen all the time, did you? Well, officials held an opening ceremony for NEW TOILETS.  I do not want to undermine the importance of sanitation, but REALLY?

Anyhow, my school held closing ceremonies for the spring term on Friday.  That means it is summer vacation now. Although, it must be said that it is summer vacation in name only.  My first and second year students will still be at school most days for club activities and my third years will be here studying all summer. That, of course, means that teachers in Japan work all summer as well.  I cannot complain though, I am saving my vacation days for a fantastic adventure in December.  (Spoiler: it involves finding out whether or not Santa can find me in Thailand. I have faith in him.)

Oh, and I wrote a short write-up on my visit to the Space Science Museum in Hakui, Japan.  You can read about the museum at the TRAM, Toyama AJET’s magazine.

Hopefully I will write more often this summer. I will try anyhow.  No promises though.  After all, it is hot and my brain does not know the difference between “summer vacation” in Canada and “summer vacation” in Japan.

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Finally

Sakura

It happened! Spring came!  And it brought the cherry blossoms. Saturday was rainy and cool, but that just meant that the parks were relatively empty. It was actually a nice way to walk around and check out the cherry blossoms.

Spring in Toyama

Flower viewing, done Toyama style

Sunday was beautiful and sunny. However, instead of joining the masses at the parks for hanami, flower viewing, I made ten thousand (rounding up) trips to the home center on my bike and started my garden!

I realise this is a modest start, but after the third trip on my bike to get soil, pots, and plants, I started to get some funny looks from the staff. So, baby steps. I hope you all had a great weekends too!

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Well, they’ve got to keep the fires at bay somehow…

If  you visit the Toyama prefectural website, one of the interesting facts that you will learn about the region is that it has “a low outbreak of fires.”  Of course, what this really means is that Toyama is a wet place. Even in the winter.

This year the snow started on December 24th, just in time for a beautiful, white Christmas. I was thrilled. You see, I love the snow. I grew up in Ottawa, where choosing a Halloween costume meant finding something you could wear with a snowsuit and six-foot tall snowbanks are just a part of life in the winter months.  I can deal with snow.

However, it took me a while to get used to Toyama’s way of dealing with the snow:

Do you see those things in the middle of the road? Yes, they are sprinklers. Instead of using snowplows or salting and sanding the roads, Toyama has an extensive system of sprinklers that spray warm water on the roads, sidewalks, and parking lots when it starts to snow.

No pedestrian is safe from wet feet, or knees, in some cases.  There are so many flaws with this system that I really cannot begin to understand why it exists.  Every time I see the sprinklers at work my mind races with questions.  I have resigned to calling it a cultural difference and am trying to stop thinking about it.  And hey, even if my boots are wet when I get to school, at least in Toyama I don’t have to wait in the hallway while my boot laces thaw enough to change my shoes. One point for Toyama.

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And Schnitzel with Noodles

Oh culture shock, you’re back.  I’ve written about my experiences with culture shock before so I’ll spare you another long, rambling post about my feelings. Basically, my experience this time around has been identical to my first serious bought of culture shock, full of moments in which I HATE EVERYTHING!

I have been trying really hard to stay positive. So, in that spirit, here is a list of things I love about my life right now.

1) Visiting the special needs school  

I like my base school, where I teach four days a week, but at my special needs school I get to play and sing and be goofy and there is no marking!  The kids there are always genki (enthusiastic and lively.)  They love learning English and are not embarrassed to show it. Also, they love me; I am like a rock star.  During one class about prices I made up a little song.  The lyrics are as follows “Shopping, shopping,shopping, shopping, shopping….” (Got it?) Anyhow, the elementary students now ask to sing it whenever I come in the room.  It’s like I am Barry Manilow.

2) My apartment.

No big explanation required. I just lucked out with an awesome apartment.

3) Kotatsu

4) Japanese delivery services.

Hmm… I need a new toaster oven but I don’t want to carry it home from the store and I don’t want to take a taxi.  I’ll just order it online and it will have free shipping and come right to my door! Missed the delivery? No worries, I can reschedule; no need to walk to the post office to pick it up.  So convenient.

5) Google/iphone

I do not know how anyone lived in a foreign country before Google translate.  I have trouble even remembering how I survived in Korea without a smartphone.  My life is approximately a trillion times easier because of my iphone and other internet-based wizardry.

6) Day trips

Sometimes it is so good to get out of Toyama. Don’t get me wrong, I like Toyama and I am happy to be living here. However, a few hours in a different city really recharges the batteries.  Kanazawa, which is in Ishikawa, is my go-to destination. It is a really fantastic city.  Unlike Toyama, Kanazawa was  mostly spared during WWII so there are still some beautiful old-fashioned streets and temples.   After a long work week , a trip to Kanazawa can remind me of how exotic and interesting Japan can feel.

Higashi-Chayamachi district in Kanazawa

7) Funny signs 

Japan is usually pretty good with signage.  However, every now and then you’ll find one that is a little off, even if it is grammatically correct.  Like this, seen at one of the old geisha houses in Kanazawa:

But... It's just SO EXCITING!

8 ) Last, but not least, days that look like this:

Days like this one (last Saturday) make up for the culture shocky, I-hate-everything days.

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Toyama Castle

Toyama Castle

Not pictured: the underground parking garage

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November 15, 2011 · 9:04 pm

Oh, hey there!

Map of Japan with Toyama highlighted

Image via Wikipedia

Oh, hi!

Remember when I used to update my blog? Yeah, me neither. It’s been a while. I guess I never even really wrote about New Zealand or Taiwan or Hong Kong, sorry! (maybe I’ll do that now… but probably I’ll forget once I finish this sentence.)  However, I have some exciting, blogtastic news! I’m moving to Japan!  At the end of the month I’ll be headed to Tokyo for a few days and then to Toyama, on the West coast of Honshu.

As far as “recent events in Japan” are concerned,  I’ll be relatively uneffected by the situation in Fukushima and Tohoku. Toyama is roughly 350 km from the reactors at Fukushima, which means that day-to-day life is basically business as usual.

And what does that daily life look like? Well, I’ll be teaching, but in my downtime I’m hoping to take advantage of the Japanese Alps, which run through the prefecture. (It doesn’t matter that it’s been 10 years; skiing is just like riding a bike, right? RIGHT? No? Well, maybe I’ll start with hiking.) I’ll also be on the ocean; however, the beaches in Toyama are said to be somewhat mediocre.  On the flip side, I’m told the onsen are great. So perhaps I shall embrace public nudity.

According to the prefecture’s website, Toyama also boasts ” a low outbreak of fires.” This is great because it’s not only an optimistic way of saying “we get a lot of rain,”  but it also helps to ease my fears of spontaneous combustion.

If I ever get bored of the mountains, onsen, and not being on fire then I can just hope on a train.  Toyama is about  3-4 hours from Tokyo and Osaka, so there will be plenty of opportunities for weekend adventures.  Hopefully I’ll get my act together and let you guys know about my upcoming adventures! Here we go again!

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