Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Finally to Kyushu

During my 2 years in Japan I never quite made it to Kyushu. So this time round I was determined to get there, even if it was just to visit one city. I had bought myself a Japan Rail Pass so I made sure I was going to use it as much as I could.

I didn't really have a plan. I just knew I wanted to go to Beppu and visit as many onsens as I could. Luckily for me Lisa hooked me up with her host family in Beppu over our okonomiyaki dinner and voila - I had a lovely host family to stay with and show me around their hometown. Thanks so much Lisa - I owe you big time!

Bullets trains are so convenient and before I knew it I was in Beppu - 'the Las Vegas of spa resort towns, a place where bad taste is almost a requisite.' - Lonely Planet.

I arrived at the station and made a call to Michiko who said her son, Roman would meet me at the station. Not knowing what he looked like and him not knowing what I looked like was our small dilemma but fortunately I didn't have to go around asking random strangers and we eventually found each other.

He took me to a nearby hotel for a delicious Japanese bento style lunch followed by a nice soak in the hotel's own onsen. Being in the middle of the day I had the whole hotel onsen to myself (the womens' one). It was massive with lots of different pools and a spacious outdoor one surround by beautifully manicured gardens. It was the perfect way to relax after the train ride.

We then met Michiko at the Beppu Art Museum to pick her up after work and headed to the local grocery store to get ingredients for dinner - homemade gyoza. After being introduced to the family and settling in, I helped Michiko and Obachan prepare dinner. As I rolled out the gyoza skin and made the little dumplings with my hands and face dusted with flour, I understood why homestay is the best way to experience a new culture - the homecooked food, the dynamics between family members, the little touches that make a house into a home in another country.

Michiko's daughter was also visiting from Tokyo so it was a bit of a family reunion. After dinner we headed out to another local onsen and then called it a night.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Eating Appointments

Today I headed back to Maiko High School to catch up properly with some of the teachers. They took me out to Adzuki-an again and it was so nice to be back there in that little shop eating simple but delicious home-style cooking. The gyoza and harumaki were tasty as always.

After school I met up with Kawatobi-sensei at Tarumi station and took her to Malibu for some cherry pie.

You really miss Japan, don't you? She could read me like a book.

That evening was booked out with Makoto and Kiyoko. We met up in Sannomiya and they took me out for chanko nabe (Japanese style steam boat but famous for being sumo wrestlers' choice of food). Perfect for cold nights!

We went to the chanko nabe place in the same building as The Hub. I'd never really noticed it before although I'd been to The Hub heaps of times but I guess that's why it's best to eat out with the locals. The place had picutres of sumo wrestlers printed on the noren and tatami mat style seating. They put a big pot of stock (ours was a tasty gobo stock) in the middle of the table above a gas stove and you cook your noodles, prawns, meats, vegies, mushrooms and what have you in front of you. Needless to say we were so stuffed but not quite sumo status. I was probably 3 months preggers stage I reckon.

It was so good to catch up with them and apparently they were in the news recently. They had gone hiking in the mountains somewhere in Nagano and got lost in the snow and were lost for a few days!!! Fortunately they had their hiking backpacks and survived on biscuits and chocolate and made shelter for themselves. Their parents were crazy worried and even travelled to Nagano to find them and thought they were dead. In true movie style Makoto tried calling the police to tell them they were lost but his phone batteries died. Eventually they stumbled upon some ski lift poles and followed them back to safety. It was so funny having them explain that to me in English and they were so embarrassed for all the worry they had caused.

I couldn't resist kuro goma ice - black sesame icecream

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Friendships in broken English/Japanese

Megumi invited me out to lunch in her neighbourhood. She took me to a small okonomiyaki shop which was run by her friend. I had the 'works' and it was so tasty and filling. I miss eating okonomiyaki.

We then headed to Katsu's house where GUPi were having a practise session. Koichi didn't know I was going to be there and he was so surprised. The look on his face was simply classic. Talking and laughing with them really made me miss their friendship. They were like my adoptive aunties and uncles in Japan and they always took care of me. They reminded me of the simple joys in life that I often overlooked.

Megumi invited me back to her house where I met her husband and their beloved schnauzer. They were so kind enough to drive me back into the city (via the scenic Rokko Island route) so I could meet up with my exchange friends.

Chieko is the best. She had already organised with the gang to meet up for dinner for me. Mecha arigatou Chi-chan! Keita wanted to take us to this Thai place but it was closed that night. Not to be outdone he took us to this awesome little izakaya which specialises in yuzu (a little citrus fruit like a cross between a lime or mandarin or grapefruit). Every dish had yuzu used in it and the was a range of yuzu beer, wine and desserts. It was such a fun night and even though I struggled with my Japanese it was still great just hanging out as mates do, even though we come from different backgrounds. During my time in Japan I found hanging out with Japanese friends was the best way to improve my Japanese.

Keita proving to me that his keitai was waterproof

Yuzu creme brulee

Chocolate berry cake - can't remember if this had yuzu in it

Nanako, Chieko, me, Keita & Gouhei

Domo arigatou! m(_ _)m

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Friendly faces

Today I headed into Sanners and met up with Leigh and Alison. It was great to see them again and catch up with the JET/Gak goss. I didn't have any plans I just wanted to hang out. We went for lunch at what used to be Lois Cafe. I can't remember it's new name but the menu and decor is still pretty much the same.

In the evening I headed back to Tarumi for dinner with my ex-neighbours. Both neighbours have since moved into new apartments.

As always Noriko cooked up a delicious spread. It was also the first time I saw their new baby girl. I was surprised the two little boys Shuhei and Jamie remembered me. I had actually bumped into Kanako and Jamie at the store a few days before and he had recognised me first then told Kanako I was in the store.

This baby rocker is amazing. You can set the speed and let it put your baby to sleep!

Yusuke is a keen fisherman and he makes his own lures. By hand. How awesome do they look!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Catching up

Today I organised to meet up with an English teacher who works part-time at Maiko. Her English is really good and we became good friends while I was in Japan. When I returned to Perth I found out that her husband recently died in a road accident. It was so shocking and I really wanted to see her during my trip.

She took me to a new cafe in the new, green building 'Mint Kobe'. We had tea and dessert while we talked and teared together. She is such a kind-hearted, thoughtful and strong woman. I also found out that a few months before her husband's death, her mum passed away after a long fight with cancer. She also has three teenage boys to raise up. I had met her family once when she invited me over to her house for lunch.

I find the topic of death quite hard to talk about and upsetting but she was very calm and at peace with everything. She told me how she felt, the stages of emotions, what she experienced and how she looked forward to a good future with her sons, knowing that her husband was 'looking down on her'. I really admired her strength.

They looked exactly like the plastic displays ones

In the evening I met up with Noel in Umeda. He moved to Osaka and is working for a private English company. It was good to catch up with him and find what he's been up to after JET and still living in Japan. We went to an izakaya place called Unoya.

Strawberry creme brulee

Strawberry daifuku shaped like a rabbit

Sorry Noel, forgot to take a photo of you. Thanks for taking the time to catch up with me. So glad you're still enjoying life in Japan and it's always a pleasure hanging out with you.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


During my time in Japan I never really had the desire to go to Universal Studios Japan or Tokyo Disneyland. The thought of lining up for ages, crowds and over priced meals and omiyage doesn't quite appeal to me.

So when Cheryl told me she was going to USJ with some teachers for the day, I thought it was the perfect excuse to go. Especially with Cheryl since she's the USJ pro.

Surprisingly I had a really good time. The Spiderman ride was awesome. It was AMAZING! I can't explain it, you just have to try it for yourself.

The Jurassic Park ride was pretty amusing too but I so wasn't ready for the plunge at the end. I didn't think it was going to be such a steep drop.
We also went on the ET ride, saw the Shrek show, Backdraft and the Back to the Future ride.


Cheryl had work and marking to do so I headed to Akashi to the Okonomiyaki Dojo to meet up with Lisa for dinner. Thanks babe - so good to see you again!

Lisa the okonomiyaki master

My okonomiyaki

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Back to School

It was like my first day at Maiko. I was excited but also a little nervous. I caught a taxi to school and this time entered through the visitors' entrance and waved to the office ladies at the front. They were so cute. Kurisu! Hei?? I don't think anyone but a few teachers and the principal knew I was coming. They took me into their office and brought me hot tea. I was so overwhelmed I couldn't help but give them hugs. Especially the lady who always helped me when I came into the office. It was so emotional.

Then I ventured into the staffroom and I could feel the tears again. I was just so happy to be there. Many of the teachers were so surprised and Koucho-sensei made me do a speech. I also finally got to meet Kara, my successor. She's also from Perth and it was so good to chat to her and talk about the good and bad things about our jobs.

The graduations ceremony was like every other graduation ceremony but it was so funny to see all my kids again and she how much they've grown and changed. I took heaps of photos and chatted to the graduating students to see what they were going to do after school. It made me feel so proud when they told me they had passed their exams and were going to study English in college so they could travel abroad and speak English fluently. Some even wanted to be English teachers! I remember before I left Japan I taught a lesson about 'What I want to do after I finish high school' and they had to do an English oral presentation about their goals and future aspirations, and now it was really happening to them.

It was such an amazing feeling. As corny as it sounds, it was so satisfying to know that I had a real positive influence on them and that I was able to do my job and help in the development of these kids. Hearing English coming from their mouths and seeing their smiling faces, being thanked by them and even their parents for helping teach them English and taking the time to tutor them after school was rewarding enough.

I was even given my own special bento lunch!

I nearly spent the whole day at Maiko. Even though my Japanese was appalling, I spent time talking to all the teachers and catching up.
On the way back I dropped by the grocery store to buy some stuff to make dinner. I was so surprised when I bumped into Mika-san! (the lady I would meet on the bus or walking on my way to and from school) It was so lovely to see her and I was so glad I had the change to meet her again because I had forgotten to get her contact details when I left last year.
All my other nights had been more or less booked up and so I decided to cook dinner for Cheryl since she was equally as busy. Chicken and corn soup is one of my comfort foods and hot soup is perfect for Japanese winters. We chatted, we ate, we laughed and then she told me about a new onsen opened up next to Porto Bazar. A new onsen in my own (ex)neighbourhood! It was decided and off we went. It's similar to Tatsu no yu at Asagiri station, as in it has a nice outdoor onsen which has a nice night view of the Akashi Bridge.
*sigh* I miss onsens. Ain't nothing better than getting naked, squeaky clean and then soaking in hot baths under a clear night...then buying a milk drink from the high-tech vending machines and dropping by Mister Donut or the 7/11 for snacks.