Chasing Cherry Blossoms
about mearchive

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Birthday Weekend!

The good weekends are continuing to roll here in Japan! The Friday just passed was my birthday, so in characteristic low-key fashion, I decided to settle for a weekend-long celebration. First, on Friday, I threw a geek-themed house party!

My friends called it an "otaku" theme, which means an obsessive fan (of whatever), hence the baseball outfits. I just interpreted it as straight up "loser". Either way, it was criminally fun.

I also got baked TWO cakes... in addition to the two my tea-lady at school baked me, that's FOUR homemade cakes in total. Wow. Shiho baked me this adorable Totoro cake!

And Kei-chan baked me this one!

As if that wasn't kindness enough, I was also overwhelmed with a huge bag of presents. I've got a bit of a thing for the One Piece character, Tony Tony Chopper, and the bag was stuffed with Chopper goodies! YESSS.

There was only one way it was going to end. With me passing out. I cannot even begin to say how much I laughed when I woke up to this note...

"GO SNORKELLING!" it ordered. So that's what we did. But first, there was a little more partying that needed doing. Yup, not happy stopping there, Saturday saw the arrival in Ainan of three of my Matsuyama-based BFFs. Rachel and Katie, who I've been getting down with since WAY BACK in Tokyo, and Yasu! Yasu packed his mum's nurse outfit "just in case". And, well, we weren't going to let him get away with not wearing it. So, that's just what he did. When meeting all of my Ainan friends for the first time. Absolute hero.

AND THE CAKES CONTINUED. Cake number 5. An ice-cream cake!

The owner of the restaurant was even kind enough to gift me with a framed photograph of me and all my friends!

Like, all the love I have been shown is beyond humbling. It's amazing. I feel so, so undeserving of it. All I've been able to do is express my thanks again and again to my Japanese friends to let them know how grateful I am! Back at mine afterwards, we may have got a little too carried away dancing to "Big in Japan". A ring of the doorbell gave me a second's worry that someone had called the cops. But luckily (or not, I guess?) it was just a neighbour asking us to keep the noise down. Whoops.

So having partied ourselves out of house and home (my house is currently a complete disaster), we headed to Kashima Island just south of Ainan for some snorkelling!

It was my first time snorkelling and it was awesome! There were a scary number of jellyfish out in the sea, but luckily they were all pretty small and didn't seem to be the stinging type, they just floated by like gooey shopping bags in the water. WE ALSO FOUND NEMO. Or rather, Rachel did. There we were, doing our snorkelling thing, when Rachel screams "I FOUND NEMO". We all swim over to where she's frantically pointing and, sure enough, three clown fish are weaving in-and-out of a coral reef. Amazing.

Back on shore, we looked out to sea and spotted a puffed-up puffer-fish floating not too far out. It was a pretty pathetic sight. Poor thing. We presumed it'd just puffed up and was having problems de-puffing (none of us know how puffer-fish work). Next thing we know, Yasu's grabbed a stick, leapt into the sea, and brought it back to us. Turns out it had puffed its last puff. The puffer-fish was dead. We said a few words, wrote "RIP" in the sand... and moved on in silence.

But that wasn't our last memorable encounter with wildlife. Oh no. We also saw...



This monkey was literally sent by Satan himself to torture us. The picture may not do it justice, but it was really huge. It saw us coming and didn't budge. Awkwardly, we had no choice to try and walk past it. And it was having NONE OF IT. It charged at us. Yasu screamed like a girl and ran away and off it darted into the bush. "I don't know why you were so scared", Rachel shrugged afterwards, "I would've just kicked it in the face".

And with that, my birthday weekend - probably the best one ever - came to an end. Ah, life.

Image Hosted by

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hello, Kochi!

This weekend was a long one here in Japan! Today (Monday) is a national holiday for Seamen! In the past, the holiday actually fell on my birthday (July 20th!), but some years ago the Japanese government switched a bunch of national holidays to Mondays to increase the annual number of three-day weekends. I guess that's a good thing, even if it does mean sacrificing my birthday as a holiday... Anyways, having an extra day to play with, I headed off to Kochi City for the first time with Rebecca and Heather!

First , we checked out Kochi Castle, one of the few remaining original castles in Japan. The sceptic says that once you've seen one, you've seen them all, but it still had a certain charm of its own to behold.

At the bottom of the castle, we did our best at imitating the pose of the statute. Apparently, this is quite a popular Japanese pasttime, as - on the climb up - I counted at least three Japanese couples adorably doing the same. Or perhaps we're just trend-setters.

This was us at the top!

After climbing all the way to the top of the castle in the summer heat, there was only one thing on our collective mind: LUNCH. For this particular lunch, we ate some katuso no tataki, the local speciality. It's katsuo sashimi which has been seared around the edges, so it's cooked on the outside and raw on the inside... delicious! The restaurant where we lunched was pretty hip, too: they had an old record player, and stacks of old Boney M and Earth, Wind and Fire LPs.


We also made time for everyone's favourite holiday souvenir... a bit of puri-kura. I didn't input my name quickly enough, so for this one, I'm "Ji". A year on and seeing yourself with artificially flawless skin still hasn't gotten old.

In the evening we headed to a Jamaican club, where we danced with some of the locals! They must have taken almost a hundred photos of us on their phones ("CUTE CUTE", "IKEMEN IKEMEN"). We were too busy dancing to take any of our own, so we just texted Yuki (above) the next day and asked him to send us some of his snaps. Et voila!


The morning after, we also found this really cute little coffee shop...!

This cake was called "The Sound of Music". Cue identical foody pose:

Taking my first bite was something akin to taking the cinnamon challenge, as I inhaled a mouthful of chocolate powder and spluttered everywhere. A messy end to a perfect weekend!
Image Hosted by

Monday, July 9, 2012

Go go Tigers! ゴーゴータイガース!!

Last Wednesday, I took the day off work to go and watch my very first baseball game with Megu, Kei and co. in Matsuyama! It was Hyogo's Hanshin Tigers versus the Hiroshima Carps! Can you work out who we were supporting?

Megu, me and Kei!

Like it'd be if we were spectating school sports, being part of the audience wasn't a simple matter of watching wordlessly. Nope, every different player and situation (a nice hit, a bad hit, a home run... anything) demands its own personalised chant, which of course everybody knows and is able to yell out, word perfect, at a second's notice. That is, everybody but me, who is able only to pick up the odd occasional word.... still, what I lacked in precision, I made up for in sheer obnoxious volume.

Halfway through the game, it was time to show our support beyond chanting in the form of a mass balloon display! Simultaneously, everyone in the audience whipped out their pre-purchased Hanshin Tigers balloons, blew them up and sent them spiralling into the night sky. It was quite the sight to see!

Ready, set...


We may have walked out of the stadium defeated, but that didn't really matter to me... it was my first baseball game and I had a blast!

Image Hosted by

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cutting a rug in Ainan.

Sunday morning in Ainan. Clearing up my house after another party. After dinner at my favourite local izakaya, Ramante, we came back to mine to carry the night on. (Somehow mine always ends up as the venue for the after party). We cleared my living room floor – moved out all the rugs and my coffee table – and turned it into a dancefloor! It was so much fun!

Cutting a rug at Chez Moi.

We like to partyyyyy.

Walking my friend Emma back to the bus stop this morning, we decided to take a detour via my base school. Even though it was a Sunday, the kids were all there doing their club activities. And, well, you can imagine their faces when Jim-sensei rocks up with a white, blonde girl in tow (“YOU ARE CUTE. GIRLFRIEND?”). Me explaining that Emma’s just a “friend” obviously carried no currency. When a guy and a girl are together in Japan, they have to be dating. I’m used to that by now, so it was no sweat. Plus, let’s be honest, I kind of love the attention. It’ll certainly give them something new to talk to me about tomorrow!

Speaking of my kids, I feel like I’ve come to a place where I’m really happy with my relationship with them. When you first come on JET, all of the pre-departure material you’re exposed to shows you these Super JETs who effortlessly command the adoration and respect of all their kids. Then you get here, walk into your first classroom and find not present-bearing angels, but, in some cases, indifferent little devils. “Is it just me?”, you think. “WHY AM I NOT COOL”. For a few months, I became kind of disillusioned with the whole thing. Now, I see that all it took was time. And more realistic expectations. Now that I’ve been here almost a year, I’ve been able to build the kind of relationships with some of my students that I’d written off as advertising propaganda. I mean, part of my reconciliation has been realising that, with a lot of kids, that’s just never going to happen. Universal deification is impossible, whatever walk of life you’re in. That’s okay. For me it’s been about finding the Good Ones and doing my best to get closer to them, which has been so, so rewarding. Now I’ve got a strong bunch of really good kids who I absolutely adore.  Kids who run up to me when the lesson is over and in response to me saying “See you!”, say “NO SEE YOU” and block the door so they can chat to me; kids who corner me in the corridor and chant “SING. SING. SING” after our lesson on John Lennon, then themselves launch into a confused verse of “Imagine”; kids who grab my necktie and say “NICE. HOW MUCH?” and that one kid who, whenever he sees me, says “Jim-Sensei, have a nice day, you too!” Perfect.

Also, BIG NEWS from back home! On Saturday morning I woke up to the news that my older brother, Matt, had just become a dad for the first time! It'll be a little while before I get to meet the New One in the flesh, but here she is! Faye Elisabeth!

Got a busy few weeks coming up, actually! Taken the day off work on Wednesday to go watch a baseball game with my friends in the ctiy, then I'm off camping on an island near Matsuyama this weekend, visiting Kochi City with Rebecca and Heather the weekend after, then it's my birthday, then I'm off to Tokyo for two weeks, where I'll meet Ainan's new arrivals! Phew! Busy busy busy!

Image Hosted by
Layout adapted from a creation by tuesdaynight / Click here to go home.