hafa adai

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Spent the weekend in the USA (lol, Saipan) with my buds~ For the longest time, I never knew that Saipan or Guam were actually part of the United States; it took a Japanese person to let me know how utterly ignorant I am of my own country. The funny thing is, Saipan is almost nothing like what I consider “America,” and the people there, while awesomely nice and hospitable, are more comfortable speaking Japanese than English. Basically, it was a Pacific island nation that I could just show my US Passport and be waved in. Plus, it’s the only area of the US where Chinese can actually enter without going through a convoluted tourist visa process, which is why we picked it. It’s probably the final big trip for GJ, since she goes back to China in April.

It was kind of amazing because there are Japanese, Korean, and Chinese tourists everywhere, and you literally hear just about every different language at every turn. I’ve never been to Hawaii, but for the first time in my life I got to visit an island resort paradise and I loved every second of it!

And I got to scuba dive. There are pictures around here somewhere (I spent an arm and a leg for them, after all) but yeah. How ridiculous is it to breathe underwater!?

What a great start to a new year :)

mount iwate in pictures

Climbed Mount Iwate finally with a bunch of friends.

Right as we started to climb, at about 8 am

Stairway to heaven..

To the left is Mount Himekami, and to the right, hazily in the distance, is Mount Hayachine

Yo, here I am with my Saiyan nimbus cloud

Resting at the mountain cottage before finishing the summit (best cup of ramen ever, or bestest cup of ramen ever??)

Almost there..

“One of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains – Mount Iwate – 2,038 meters (6,686 feet)”

P-san and I – she made sure I got down that mountain before dark

We even found dragon skulls and a shrine in the caldera – how long have they been here, I wonder..?

origin of bears

For Golden Week, I decided to get out of Iwate for just a little bit and visit my bosom buddy Holly in Kumamoto. It was my first time to Kyushu! I’ve been pretty much everywhere else in Japan by now, so I figured I might as well actually go somewhere on vacation for once. Last year’s Golden Week was fun enough, but I didn’t end up doing much and got lucky that all my friends were around. This year they’re all either moved away or traveling so I decided that I would too. I don’t know about you guys, but I figure that I deserve a vacation after all that’s happened. Plus, this is Holly’s last year in Japan so I had to visit her while I still had the chance. After all, Kyushu was my second desired placement after the Kansai area (and of course I got placed on the opposite side of the map!)

Kumamoto was really warm too – probably about a month ahead of Iwate in terms of temperatures. Iwate only last week had its cherry blossoms bloom, while Kumamoto has been long cherried out. We went to a nearby mountain area called Aso and everything was so green. We have Mount Iwate but our highlands aren’t quite as high, I think! This particular mountain looked like a mound of rice piled on flat land. It was kinda weird!

In front of Aso Caldera, the largest caldera in the world. We joked about the volcano erupting while we were there – wouldn’t that just be my luck!

Me eating an ikinari dango, which consists of sweet potato and red bean paste inside a mochi wrapping.

We ate at a German-style sausage place for lunch one of the days, and the food was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten ham (traditional ham steak, not nama ham, or basically prosciutto, which is pretty popular here) in Japan before like this. The manager was of course a Japanese man, and he kept coming out to talk with us and yelled at his workers for not getting our food out quick enough. He even tried to teach me some Kumamoto dialect, which Holly knew some of too. People definitely talk different in Kumamoto compared to Iwate, but I’m so bad at recognizing intonations and accents that I couldn’t tell you how. I got to practice some of my Iwate dialect myself, but it sounded really fake and dumb, haha! しゃべねえべ!They do say that you can take someone from the tippy-top north of Japan and someone from the very south and they will be able to understand each other while the speakers of Tokyo will be totally lost.

I guess the biggest difference between Morioka and Kumamoto, besides sheer size, is that I felt a much more hostile attitude towards foreigners than I’ve ever encountered in Iwate. People here tell me all the time that the Iwate people almost never interact with foreigners and that I might run into some nasty situations because of that, but to be honest I’ve never felt so stared at and on display than my short time in Kumamoto. For a big city that has a sizable foreign population (much more than Iwate), it was just sort of a shock. Groups of foreigners get stared at in Iwate, of course, but I still feel like most of the time it’s just a casual, curious thing, and people stop after a few seconds. Walking down the streets in Kumamoto felt like I was constantly being glared at, and almost every time we passed by a group of boys they would shout at us. It was just jarring and I didn’t really feel welcome. It was just odd because you would expect the opposite, you know?

Best friends since girl scouts! Kinda crazy how it all started with us getting into Pokemon together. She said it best when we were watching some movie trailers and an anime movie came up – that every time she sees something anime-related, she thinks back to those days when that’s all we would do. I don’t think our 15-year-old selves would have believed us if we told them we’d be living in Japan 9 or 10 years down the line. And I think they’d be pretty pissed off once we told them that neither of us give a shit about anime anymore :) (well, alright, confessions time, I do catch up on Pokemon every once in a while, just to see how those characters I grew up with are making out. Whatever, don’t judge me!!)

Suizenji Gardens, near Holly’s apartment.

HAY GUYS

This is a Kumamoto lunch set, with pretty much everything Kumamoto’s known for! The red meat at the top is basashi, or raw horse meat. Yes, I did eat Black Beauty, guys. I’ve had basashi once before and I didn’t think much of it, but this was pretty tasty! Basashi is a delicacy in all of Japan but only in Kumamoto do they eat it with any consistency. Then there’s that yellow and white thing in the center – karashi renkon, or lotus root filled with spicy karashi mustard. It’s kinda like wasabi in that it really gets you in the back of the nose but it’s really quite good as long as you take small bites. The soup in the right lower corner is dago-jiru, which is a miso-based soup with potatoes and mochi-like dumpling skins. It reminded me of hittsumi stew from Iwate. Last in the corner you can see some watermelon, which Kumamoto produces a lot of. Kinda great I could get all this stuff in one shot! I wonder what an Iwate lunch set would look like…?

Kumamoto Castle, one of the top 3 in Japan. The walls are specially designed so that ninjas can’t climb up!

I had a great time in Kumamoto, and it was great to see some other areas of Japan for once. It was unfortunate that I felt such a discriminatory vibe but I guess it just gives me a greater appreciation for how lucky I was to get placed in Morioka. Have to give them credit though – whenever I would talk to shop clerks they would ask me where I was from and when I said I was working in Iwate, they were all like, oh god were you okay?? And I got to party with some other ALTs, soak in a super crowded onsen (called the HELL ONSEN 地獄温泉 !!!), ate horse meat twice, and dance in a funky bar late at night. But I gotta say, the best moments were riding around Kumamoto with Holly, shouting fake Japanese at each other, feeling just like we were back home. That was nice – hard to believe we were on streets 7,000 miles away from the ones we grew up on.

one last call for summer

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

At the beginning of September, I took a journey. I don’t actually travel very often, because I find it a huge pain to plan, and I’ve always been with other people, people who might not enjoy the “let’s just go and see what happens” approach to travel. Travel is also rather expensive in Japan, and I’d rather spend money on parties with friends and, of course, clothes, so I haven’t done much of it. However, the end of summer is the time of special train deals where you can buy 5-day all-you-can-ride train passes for about 120 dollars (10,000 yen). This doesn’t include the high speed shinkansen trains of course, but I decided that since I had about a week off, and had yet to see a lot of places in this land called Tohoku, I’d go on my very first hitoritabi, or one person journey. Of course, travelling to Japan and back all the time was just me by myself, but I think that’s different. In the past I’ve always been travelling to get somewhere. This time I would just be travelling, without any real plan or purpose aside from …. wanting to see stuff, I guess.

A friend of mine said, “It seems like you went on a journey to forget about lost love.” I don’t know if that’s the case, but I can certainly romanticize it that way. I know what I was thinking about the entire trip at any rate.

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