Livin’ La Vida London! (Europe Adventure Part 1)

Hello everyone! What a long time it’s been.

First thing’s first. I’m home!

I’ve been home for three months now, but haven’t posted anything because I went traveling with my family for a month and thought I might as well wait for an update for after I got back. So here we are.

I know I said I’d do a long post about my overall thoughts about Japan and the future. I will, but I’m going to save that for next time. That will probably be the last post to this blog (can’t believe it!). For now, I’ll tell you a little bit about my recent adventure.

It was while I was still in Japan that my parents told me about their plans to go to Italy when I got home and I would stay to watch the house and pets. I said f that noise, I’m coming with you. So, we changed the plans and I decided to add on a few days before in England to visit my friend Susannah who would be at Cambridge. Europe was never a place I imagined myself visiting on my own because I thought it to be expensive, so in my mind, this was my only chance. I’m so glad I went. It was such a great trip and I got to enjoy traveling with friends/family as well as alone. The best of both worlds. So let’s start with the lovely U.K.

I really didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to do when I got to England. I was visiting with Susannah for a few days, we’d do a few walking tours together and then I’d have to figure out what to do the rest of my time as she would be in class. I would love to sound cultured and say that I spent time learning about the riveting history of medieval Cambridge and London (I did a little bit), but I mostly came to do nerdy things. I’ll get to that in a little bit. My first day was a loooooooong day. Very long. I didn’t sleep much on the flight, try as I might and immediately upon landing at Heathrow, I had to make my way to the bus. The ride was a couple of hours to Cambridge and after arriving, I had 15 minutes to run to Susannah’s apartment, drop my things off, and run back so we could join a free Cambridge walking tour. The tour was very good. Our guide was very funny, never missing a beat with his dry, sarcastic humor. It was so refreshing from the seemingly sarcastic-less Japan. We hit most of the major sites in town and our guide explained a lot of the history, a lot of which went over my head as I’ve never really studied European history (not counting high school and if I’m being honest, I try to block out a lot of the high school memories). I learned a lot about the university as well, which was nice. I imagine Susannah is going to have a great time there. After the tour ended, we walked around a little bit and then went to get dinner at a pub. I got a huge beer and a HUGE meat pie with mashed potatoes. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but for some reason I was under the impression that the portion sizes would be on the smaller side. I guess I equated Europe with small fancy shmancy dinners. BOY WAS I WRONG. I felt so guilty leaving half of it left over, but I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t feeling great either as the “Up for over 48 hour” shakes were setting in. I made my way to my airbnb, a really nice place close to the river, and rested up for the next day.

Since Susannah only really had one free day, we decided to do something really fun and head to London. I knew before I left, the one thing I absolutely, unapologetically wanted to do was something to do with Harry Potter. I had tried to get tickets to go to the Universal Lot, but they had sold out. That turned out to work well because I found a London walking tour with Tours for Muggles and we joined a group of 20 people and our wonderful guide Luke Lestrange for a 2.5 hour tour. The tour was so much fun. We visited places that were actually in the movies or served as inspiration for the locations/sets in the movies. Not only did we get some really great movie trivia, but we got a lot of history about London as well, which was a nice bonus. We even walked past the New and Old Scotland Yard, which made me nerd out a bit. I would definitely recommend this tour for any Harry Potter fan. I will warn that the tour does not include going to Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross, but we had enough time in the morning to do that, so I fulfilled all my fantasies that day. We also got to stop into the British Museum before our tour and stopped by the Etruscan exhibit. This would be a good introduction for what was to come later in my trip.

After the tour was over, we met at Kings Cross to meet our mutual friend Tanya, whom we’d met while in Japan. She was also an ALT, but in Ashikita. Unfortunately, our other friend Nick (also an ex-JET) couldn’t join us for our little reunion. We had a nice little (there was nothing little about it) dinner at a pizza joint close by. Sadly, it was a short reunion, but it was really cool seeing my friend in her hometown. It was also a little weird because it felt like we should have been in Japan because that’s how we knew each other, but at the same time that would have felt wrong because we’d all finished JET. That pretty much sums up how I’ve been feeling the past couple of months. ANYWAY, we headed back to Cambridge on the train for a good night’s sleep because my feet were on FIRE. They would be for the entire duration of my stay in England.

The next morning was a Monday so it meant I had to trip around by myself. As I said before, I didn’t really do much research for this trip. Luckily, trusty Google was with me and I was able to find a few things that sounded interesting. The first stop was the Botanical Gardens. It was about a 2 mile walk from my Airbnb to the gardens. I didn’t really want to try figuring out the bus schedules/routes. I suppose I should mention that I had also walked to the train station (also a 2 mile journey) the day before. It was a BEAUTIFUL walk into town along the river. There were tons of little houseboats that I’m assuming people lived in and plenty of rowers coming up and down the river. The weather, while gray, was at least clear of rain. The gardens were lovely when I finally arrived (the entrance fee is also reasonable — I’m looking at you UC). I walked around for a couple of hours, stopping to get a nice hot soup in the cafeteria before making my way back toward the center of town and trying to pop into some museums. There were a few that I’d wanted to see like the anthropology museum, but they were unfortunately closed. I wound up going to the Whipple Museum, recommended to me by my Airbnb host, which was a museum on the history of science. It was little, but had some interesting things inside like old globes, calculators, and other tools. After that, I headed to the famous Kings College Chapel. The campus itself is closed to visitors with the exception of the Chapel. It was pretty amazing. The stained glass windows lined the entirety of the walls and a HUGE organ took up the middle of the chapel. Don’t get me started on the ceiling. The idea was to make it look like waterfalls falling from top to bottom, which I think they got pretty close. It is a magnificent piece of architecture. After spending a good amount of time in the chapel, I met with Susannah for dinner. We went to the Regal Witherspoon (what a great name) and had fish n’ chips. We both ordered the “small” plate, which was a huge piece of fish and fries. I don’t know how someone could have eaten the regular plate. Sadly, this was my last day in Cambridge and I had to say goodbye. I left early the next morning and made my way back to London.

Again, I didn’t have a solid plan for London, so I spent the night before making a list of all the places I definitely wanted to see/sounded interesting. It turned out to be a pretty long list. There was no way there was going to be enough hours in the day to do everything unless I really hauled ass. So haul ass I did. I made my way to Paddington Station as quickly as I could and checked my bags there as it was the closest station with lockers to my Airbnb. I made a decision to do things close to the apartment because I promised to check in by 6. First on my list, was a “must see” for me: The Sherlock Holmes Museum. Not only am I a huge fan of the newest BBC Sherlock, I’ve read the books and I promised a friend I’d go so they could live vicariously through me. Also, they talked about Baker Street in our English textbooks in Japan. I thought it’d be fun to go to the actual place. So I get to the Baker Street tube station and walk to the museum. Right next door, what do I find, but a Beatles Store. I made a note to pop in after the museum to get a gift for my family, since they like the Beatles. Anyway, there was some confusion with which line was for buying tickets, so I had to wait a little longer, but the museum was GREAT. It was smaller than I expected, so they could only let up 10 or so people at a time (and there was a long line). All of the pieces in the museum are actually Victorian-era pieces, which is awesome and you are allowed to sit in chair and take a picture. Mine didn’t come out that great (thank you museum guide for trying though!) There were cool figures on the top level and letters to Mr. Holmes that people have sent from all over the world. It was a lot of fun and I got to nerd out hard. The gift shop is also great and so cute. I got a gift for my friend, but nothing for myself even though I was tempted to. Believe me, I wanted something, but I don’t have space for tchotchkes. However, that doesn’t mean my parents don’t (even though I live in the same house SHHHH IT DOESN’T HAVE TO MAKE SENSE), so I stopped in the Beatles store and got some cool coasters to keep our tables water-stain free. By the time I was done, it was lunch time, but I didn’t want to stop in a restaurant because I had places to be. I wound up grabbing a package of sushi and eating on a corner bench real quick before making my way toward the Victory & Albert Museum. This is important: If you are visiting London, YOU MUST GO HERE. It’s an AMAZING museum with tooooooons to see and FREE (for those on a budget). Had I had more time, I would have spent hours upon hours in there. As it was, it was 2 pm and most museums closed around 5 or 5:30. Plus, the Natural History Museum was right next door and I wanted to visit that as well. I had to get a move on. The museum is HUGE with rooms upon rooms of stuff to see. I saw a lot of gorgeous clothes, furniture, instruments, and statues. Funnily enough, I wandered into one of the cast rooms that featured a life size cast of The David. Good thing too, because we didn’t go to Florence. I also saw a really neat little exhibition on plywood. I know that sounds a bit strange, but it was very informative and made me appreciate what plywood does for us more. They also had a Pink Floyd exhibit, which another friend told me was spectacular. I’m not so familiar with Pink Floyd though, so I skipped that one. Before I knew it, an hour and a half passed by and I despite wanting to stay more, I wanted to go to the Natural History Museum so I could compare it with the one in New York. Now to be fair, it has been quite some time since I’ve visited the one in New York, but…if memory serves correctly, the one in New York is much better in my opinion. London’s is certainly impressive when you first walk in with the giant skeleton of a whale and the building itself is beautiful, but some exhibits were under construction and they didn’t have the same displays for the animals. I mean, the animals were displayed, but there were no backgrounds for them. There was a lot to see (though the sea invertebrate exhibition felt severely lacking), but it just wasn’t as impressive. I don’t know. Go and judge for yourselves.

After (almost literally) running through the entire museum, I made my way back to Paddington to get my bags and then headed over to my Airbnb. It was 1 minute from Queensway Station, which seemed like a nice area and the room itself was alright. It was a good bargain for London I think. My host was very nice and she gave me a good recommendation for an Indian restaurant just a few blocks away. LET. ME. TELL. YOU. ABOUT. IT. First off, it was a jazzy place, more jazzy than I usually go to, although maybe I just felt out of place because I looked like a lonely teenager wandering around, not an adult. Anyway, it wasn’t busy at all and I had the nicest servers who could give me their full attention all night. I got a curry plus naan. It was reaaaaaaally good curry. Really good, but the best part was hands down, the lassi. I think this was the best mango lassi I’ve ever had in my life. THERE WERE FLOWERS IN IT. So not only did it look fancy, but the flavor was so rich and creamy. Best meal of my London trip.

Full and happy, I went back and got a nice long good night’s sleep. Just kidding. That’s not what happened. I couldn’t sleep at all. It might be because I was busy thinking about the plans for the next day, I don’t know. I was awake at 4:30, tried to go back to sleep, couldn’t, so by 5:30 I said screw this, got ready, and was out the door by 6. Obviously nothing is open at that time, but the place I was staying was one block from Hyde Park so I decided to take a very early morning stroll. It was cold and the park was empty, and I definitely thought this wasn’t a shining moment of brilliance on my part as I sat on a bench in the dark, but luckily for me it turned out all right. I sat for a while and then made my way through the park looking for Kensington Palace. I found it, but it was still too dark, so I took a walk around the little lake nearby and took lots of pictures of all the sleeping swans. That’s right. I was awake before the birds. Amazing. After it finally got light out enough, I wandered in the gardens outside of Kensington Palace before deciding to head to Buckingham Palace. I live on Buckingham Blvd so I needed to see the real deal. Unfortunately, I misread the website and tours were no longer happening, but I still got plenty of pictures outside. I even saw some people pull up in fancy cars and go inside, for what I don’t know. After hanging around for a bit, I went nearby to the Royal Mews. This is where all the horses, carriages, and cars for the royal family are kept (they still use them). I took a nice little audio tour and got to see some horses. From there, I made my way to Tower Bridge and walked halfway across. I only went halfway because I wanted to go to the Tower of London and my feet were killing me. So I bought my ticket and got in just in time to take a Yeoman guided tour. Our guide was super hilarious and told us all the history of the tower. I got to inside the Church of St. Peter ad Vincula, which I believe you can’t see unless you’re on a tour and saw Ann Boleyn’s burial site. The tour was a little under an hour and then I got to explore everywhere else on my own. Of course I went to see the Crown Jewels. Talk about bling, they really are spectacular. It’s too bad you can’t take pictures, although, mine probably couldn’t do them justice. It is difficult to see them in one go because you’re on these moving belts that whisk you by fairly quickly, but you can easily backtrack and be whisked by as many times as you please. I spent a good amount of time walking around before heading out for a late meal as I was starving by this point. I hadn’t had lunch yet and I was scheduled to meet up with my parents. I grabbed some pretty good fish n’ chips and ate looking out on the river and the Tower Bridge. Once done, I headed over to Westminster and met up with my parents and we walked around a bit before I headed back to the apartment to get my things and meet them back at the airport hotel. We had an early flight the next day and didn’t want to be too far from the airport.

Originally this post was supposed to encompass all of my trip, but I realize I’m over 3,000 words, so I shall update (hopefully soon) with Part 2.

Until next time!

To be continued…

 

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Termite Terrors and Rainy Day Ramblings

Hello all!

It’s been a while since I last posted. Again.

It’s almost the end of June and I was lucky to enjoy beautiful weather for a good 2 weeks before rainy season FINALLY hit. It’s been raining (at least for part of the day) every day for the past couple of days. It doesn’t look like it will let up for a while. This, of course, means wonderful things for my hair and for my laundry, which I now have to dry inside. The tatami mats smell due to lack of fresh air because I can’t open the windows in fear of getting them wet and having mold grow. But, this is par for the course.

What I DIDN’T expect was the massive swarm of flying termites to breach the cracks of my doors and windows and cause me to have a panic attack at 10 p.m. at night. So, fun story time. It was Monday night, I’d just finished eating dinner (thank god) and was finishing washing up the dishes, when I noticed something crawling on the floor. Bugs are nothing new here as I get little spiders, beetles, moths, and other crawlies all the time. No big deal. I squished it and continued my evening. Then I started noticing more. There’d be a few more crawling by the window, a couple on the floor. I started really looking and they were on the walls in my bedroom, the closets, were flying near the lamps, and were plastered up against the screens of my windows desperately trying to get inside. It was disgusting. I could see little wings had fallen off here and there, so I knew the flying ones and the crawling ones were the same. I had a suspicion, and after looking them up on the Internet, confirmed that they were indeed flying termites. In Japanese, they are called “flying ants,” while regular termites are called “white ants.”

Minus spiders, and really big bugs, I’m not squeamish about squashing insects, but this was really gross. I think the sheer number of them was freaking me out. I also didn’t know if it meant my apartment had been infested and I would have to prepare for fumigation if it was indeed a problem. I was/am already stressed out the moving out process, so it really didn’t take much to push me over. Plus, you know, big crawly bugs when I want to sleep soon….not so chill. Over the next couple of hours, I proceeded to look in every nook and cranny I could and killed a lot of them. Still, I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from or if they had all come in from outside. I messaged Libby, and she too, was having an invasion taking place in her bathroom. She however, has a deathly fear of ants, and was suffering a far worse panic attack than I since these guys looked a lot like ants. I made to go next door to discuss a plan of attack and walked straight into a storm cloud of termites outside. It was really nasty. Clearly (hopefully), all the ones inside had somehow gotten in from outside. Anyway, we talked about what to do and decided to go to our landlords the next day to see if they felt it was a major concern and what should be done. Still, I had to survive the rest of the night and knowing that all these bugs were crawling around made me not want to stay in my apartment. I wound up messaging Rie and she came by at 11:30 to give me bug spray and moral support, bless her heart. I managed to fall asleep and had to kill some stragglers in the morning, but they seemed to have disappeared. That or I killed them all. It’s Saturday here now, and I’ve still had to kill a few more stragglers and I still occasionally find some corpses, but they seemed to have disappeared. What an ordeal. Apparently that day was the day they all come up out of the ground and swarm to mate or something. I don’t know. I’m glad I won’t have to deal with it again. I’ve heard other people in town also had the same problem, so it gives me comfort knowing it’s not just my apartment. It also probably means they haven’t infiltrated the walls. I’m still keeping an eye out every day, but I have hope.

The moral of the story is this. One, if you live in Japan and in the inaka, bugs are going to be a part of everyday life whether you like it or not. And two, get yourself a friend who will drive to your house in the dead of night with bug spray and kind words.

Other than that, I have been very busy with preparations for coming home. There’s so much to do, half of it is bureaucracy (also a wonderful not really it’s awful experience here), and I’m already stressing out about everything. The good thing is, I do have my one way ticket home booked and I’ve managed to ship a lot of stuff home already. I can’t believe I only have 6 weeks left. SIX WEEKS. It seems crazy that it’s already been 3 years. On one hand, it feels like I’ve been here for 10 years because of all the things I’ve experience, but at the same time, it feels like I’ve just gotten here.

It’s hard knowing that I’m going to have to say goodbye to all these great people that I’ve met. I’m really really awful at drawn out goodbyes. I’ll just cry and won’t be able to speak. Lucky me that Japan is all about the over-the-top goodbye parties and making speeches. Maybe I can just cry my way out of everything.

I’m also really excited to go home. I miss Berkeley, my family, and my friends. I miss cheese, like actual real cheese. I miss ethnic food. Y’all think I’m being funny, but this is serious. 3 years without real cheese and Thai food. I went to the JET Leaver’s Meeting yesterday and this was the actual consensus. 100% of the people in attendance said they missed cheese. The struggle is real.

I’ve also gotten in touch with my successor (Hey girl!), who I will get to meet the day before I leave. I’m excited to impart all of my knowledge about Minamata to her and continue on with the next chapter of my life.

And that’s all for now, I’ll definitely try to get one more post on here before I leave with some more pictures. I’ll absolutely post again once I’m home and talk about adjusting back to Berkeley life.

It’s the final countdown!

Until next time!

The Great Golden Week

Hello everyone! I’m back and fresh from a great vacation! The weather is finally warming up, and everything is kicking into high gear now that my time here is starting to come to an end.

Anyway, on to the vacation!

First, things kicked off with the big festival in Kagoshima where our Southern Kyushu team had our debut. And what a debut it was. I’m surprised I survived, it was quite a day. We had 6 performances total, 3 for S. Kyushu and 3 for Minamata. We had to change into our different uniforms between each performance, which wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, but it definitely wasn’t easy. I messed up a lot in all of the S. Kyushu performances, but I was in back so you probably couldn’t tell that much. Our teacher said he knew I tried really hard when we got to talk to him at the end, so that made me really happy. I don’t know if I’ll get to perform with them again, but I really hope I do. There’s something really special about this team and dance. I’m so lucky to be a part of it.

Here are two videos of our performance. The first is our final performance with everyone in the group. The second is with some people missing because they had to work as staff at the festival. You can see me a little better in the second video. I’m in the back on the left side of the video on the end. If you look closely, I have a black knee supporter on. You can see me a little bit in the first video, too.

 

Here are some pictures, too:

Needless to say, I was very tired at the end of the day and my knee has been messed up ever since, but it was so worth it.

However, I couldn’t be tired because the very next day I had to get on a plane so I could fly down to Ishigaki Island in Okinawa! I went to Naha last year and knew I wanted to go back to Okinawa, but to a place with better beaches. I wasn’t disappointed. Ishigaki is BEAUTIFUL. It’s a lot like Hawaii with some mountains, tropical temperatures, and lots of green. I met up with my friend Sarah who I haven’t seen in a year. The first day we arrived in the afternoon, so there wasn’t a whole lot we could do. We wound up being taken to the beach by our Airbnb host. She dropped us off and we just walked around for a bit taking pictures and got some ice cream before deciding to get dinner. We didn’t really know what was around, but our host’s husband showed us his restaurant and said it was traditional Okinawan food. We were both down for that, so we walked there as it wasn’t too far and the bus wouldn’t have come for another hour. Once we found the place, we asked someone if there was room for two. The woman said we had to have a reservation, but that we were very lucky because they did have space. The place was very nice, all beautiful wood, and there were a lot of families. We had to wait quite a while for anyone to serve us, but it was okay as a man and a woman came in to do a live performance of dancing and shamisen. We wound up eating unagi (grilled eel), beef (Ishigaki is famous for beef of all things), pork, and sea grapes. Everything was really delicious. I also got the local beer, which had three different flavors. I wound up having one each night.

The second day was the highlight for me. I had arranged a day tour that including visiting some tourist spots on the island and snorkeling. They picked us up at our place in the morning and the two guides (who were very nice) drove us to our first destination, Kabira Bay. It was rainy, or I should say “rainy” as it barely rained, and it was quite cloudy so the water wasn’t as colorful, but it was still beautiful. The area to walk around Kabira Bay isn’t that big, but you can take glass boat tours if the weather permits. They also farm for pearls in the area. After taking some pictures, we drove out to the snorkeling spot. When I booked the tour, I had chosen this particular place because it looked and sounded cool. It’s called the “Blue Cave.” It’s supposed to look like this: 

And it was beautiful, but not AS beautiful in the picture because it wasn’t a sunny, clear day. Still, it was really fun. First we changed into our gear, and our guides had us practice a little bit in the shallows to make sure we were okay. Then we took off into the sea. I was basically blind because I couldn’t wear my glasses, but I was surprised at how much I could see. Even with clouds in the sky, the water was incredibly clear. I saw a lot of rainbow colored parrot fish. They were gorgeous. There were a lot of other fish, too. Our guides pointed out some anemone and clown fish. It was really cool. Then we made our way to the cave and climbed around in there for a bit. After that, we went back out to some of the deeper parts of the ocean. There was a point where  I saw something that looked like a flower in the water. I thought maybe it was some sort of sea plant, but when I got closer, realized it was a lionfish! Obviously, I backed away because those things are venomous, but it was super amazing to see one up close in the wild. I’d only ever seen them in aquariums. Sarah said she saw an eel swimming around towards the bottom. I wish I’d seen it, but I was too blind. Not long after that, we made our way back to shore and continued to tour at an observation point and lighthouse. The observation point was nice, but the lighthouse was amazing. The structure itself wasn’t impressive, but the location was stunning. We overlooked this gorgeous section of beach and in the parts where the sun was trying to peek through, you could see the water was such a beautiful blue. We took a TON of pictures. The tour overall was really great. We were driven everywhere and took some very nice scenic routes all along the coast of the island. I was really excited because I saw a Ruddy Kingfisher on the drive, if only for a second. Anyone who knows me knows I love birds, so to see this little guy in a flash of red was pretty cool.

The guides didn’t speak much English at all, but that was fine because Sarah and I are okay at speaking Japanese. It was fun talking about the fish we saw while snorkeling and learning the different names for them in Japanese.

Once we were dropped off at our place again, we showered and headed back out to see the downtown shopping area and to maybe scope out a place for dinner. I wound up buying some gifts for my co-workers and we ended up at a Yaeyama Soba place. Yaeyama is the name of the set of islands Ishigaki is a part of. They are the southern islands of Okinawa. The Ryuku Islands are the northern ones. The soba wound up being like ramen, but a little different. It was all very delicious.

Our third and final full day was gorgeous out. We really lucked out because Ishigaki had already started it’s rainy season, but apparently it doesn’t really rain even in rainy season. So, we had a beautiful, sunny, clear day. We decided to go back to Kabira Bay for some pictures because it was so gorgeous. We were able to take the bus. We spent some time there just walking, putting our feet in the water, and taking one million pictures. I was tempted to do a glass boat tour, but we were unsure about the bus timing, so we didn’t. But it was okay. I was content to just look because it was so gorgeous. I know I keep saying that but seriously:

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#nofilter. ‘Nuff said.

After Kabira Bay, we went back to downtown for lunch. I had seen a steak burger place and knew I wanted that. It was very delicious, especially with the fresh mango juice to accompany everything. After lunch was more shopping. I had a lot of gifts to buy and I’m super excited to give them to people.

And that was our trip to Ishigaki. There’s not a lot happening in terms of variety of things to do, but it’s the perfect place if you like snorkeling, diving, or relaxing on the beach. I would definitely go back and even check out some of the other small islands in the Yaeyama area.

But Golden Week isn’t quite over yet. I came back to Minamata on Thursday and the next day, Renryu had a local performance at one of the department/supermarkets. We were joined by our friends from Hitoyoshi and got to see the local musical/comedy act, the Yauchi Brothers. I can’t quite explain the humor as a lot it, I can’t understand, but I know they sing songs about Minamata and do some slapstick comedy. It was a fun day.

Then, yesterday, I went to see my friend Marika in Fukuoka. She had stayed at our house for 2 weeks, like, 10 years ago when we were both in high school as part of a sister city exchange. I’m sure I’ve mentioned her before because I saw her maybe last year, or two years ago during winter break. Well, she was back in Fukuoka for a quick minute, so I went up there to visit. We went to the aquarium, which was nice (and super crowded, my goodness) and spent time catching up. It’s still amazing to me that we’ve known each other for so long, but haven’t really seen each other because of distance. I hope she can make it back to the U.S. some day and visit. At the end of the day, we went to dinner with her parents, which was little awkward because I’d never met them and they were unsure of who to speak to even though they knew I could speak some Japanese. But it was nice and they were friendly. They thanked me and said to thank my parents for taking care of Marika all those years ago and even gave me a gift for it. So Japanese.

All in all, it was a great, last Golden Week for me. It’s a little sad to think it’s my last, but I know there’ll be some more great adventures in the next coming months and then the adventure of readjusting to America. But enough of about that! You came not just for my rambles, but for the pictures. So, here they are (no snorkeling pictures, sorry)!

Hope you all enjoyed. Until next time!

Start of Spring

Hello everyone!

We meet yet again. If it appears that I’ve been slowing down in the writing department on this blog, you’d be right. I’m finding it a little hard to keep you entertained when every other weekend is another festival and that’s all I seem to do in my spare time and I’m sure they’re all starting to look the same to you.

And now that we’ve gotten that out of the way: update time!

Let’s start with the weather. Spring is officially tomorrow and yet we’re still in the 40s in the early morning and night. The days have been pretty nice getting up into the 60s which is perfect weather by my standards. I still yearn for the foggy semi-cool days of Berkeley. Soon.

Along with the weather warming up, the bugs have started to come back to life (I’m thrilled) and the air is saturated to the brim with pollen. I don’t know if it’s like this in other places around the world, but it seems to be worse this year. Even I, not having allergies in my life EVER, seem to be suffering from hay fever. I say suffering, but I’m really just ever so slightly uncomfortable. To those out there really suffering with allergies, I see you. Fight on.

School is winding down as the year ends. The third years have graduated and are off preparing for high school. I did wind up going to my first graduation ceremony this year. It was really nice. I kind of just showed up unannounced, but was welcomed warmly even if I hadn’t been at the school for 4 months. I really wanted to see off the kids who I’d grown close with. The ceremony itself was nice. There were a lot of speeches that I didn’t understand fully and the 3rd year representative started bawling in the middle of his. I’ll admit I teared up because they PLAYED SAD MUSIC WHILE HE GAVE HIS SPEECH. It was like a movie. The kids also had to sing songs to each other, and by that I mean the 1st and 2nd years sang a song for the 3rd years.Then the 3rd years sang a song for everyone. One that had “don’t cry” in the lyrics. Of course, there were many tears. I got to say goodbye to a few students who were very special to me and they gave me big hugs, which was really nice.

After the ceremony I immediately drove to Kagoshima with Rie and we went to our special 5 hour dance practice. I don’t know if I mentioned this or not, but I joined a second team. It’s a southern Kyushu team and while Kumamoto isn’t really considered “south,” Minamata is far enough south that we were invited. The dance we practice is SUPER cool and EXTREMELY hard. The team leaders are also like drill sergeants. It’s really nerve wracking when they watch us practice and continually yell “More movement!” and “You’re not giving it you’re all!” It’s like, “I thought I was giving it my all because I CAN’T BREATHE, but I guess you’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll try harder.” Our first performance as  a team is at the end of April and I’m incredibly nervous about it. Misaki, who didn’t join said she would film us, so I’m hoping to get a copy of that and share with you all.

Other than that, it’s been fairly quiet. I went to see the migrating cranes again in Izumi and Erika, Libby and I went with our friend to Hitoyoshi for Hina Matsuri. It’s a festival where you put out these gorgeous displays of dolls for girls. They are supposed to be for good luck and fortune, although I can’t say I know a whole lot about it. The dolls are small and they are in the likeness of noble courts from ancient days. We got all dressed up in kimonos and had a spectacular lunch at a fancy hotel. I’ll have pictures down below.

There has been a little bit of drama. I don’t want to get into too much detail because it’s not really my place to tell, but it all ended up with me helping a friend return some things to her now ex-boyfriend. This was another movie-moment in my life. We were both at a function with the now ex and my friend knew he’d be in a meeting after the event. She told me all of this and asked me to help her return the stuff while he was in a meeting because she was afraid things would get really ugly if he was there while she did it. So we drove to his house and made like a couple of thieves and sneaked in (obviously we aren’t thieves, but it sure felt like it) to return all his stuff. I was nervous because while the chances of him coming back at that moment were slim, I didn’t know what would happen if he DID. Was I going to have to fight someone? Were were in danger at all? If things did get ugly, what would happen to my job? In the end, we got in and out no problem, but it was still a tense experience. I did think it wasn’t the greatest situation to put myself into, but I also wasn’t going to turn down my friend and leave her alone in that kind of situation. On a lighter note, she has lots of support from those around her, so I’m sure it’ll all be fine in the end.

The rest of the month will just be finishing the school year and waiting to find out the annual teacher shuffle, a system that still is confusing to me. I hope to do a few more updates here, but I have a feeling it’ll really slow down as I will be making all the preparations to come home. Moving sucks, guys. I salute those who have had do it before or more than once. I’m only one person and the amount of useless junk (useless junk that I love and  will continue to hoard, thank you very much) I’ve accumulated over the past 3 years is amazing. I can’t imagine having to move after living in a place for 10+ years.

Hopefully, the process won’t be too stressful. At the very least, I think the excitement will overshadow everything. T-5 months!

And as always, please enjoy the photos.

Until next time!

 

Winter Vacation

Well, hello everyone. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted anything.

A lot has happened in 2 months. I’ll start by saying I’ve had a lot of time to process everything that happened in October and I’m in a better place emotionally. I know in the past years, the winter months have been especially hard, but luckily it has been pretty mild this year (it’s still cold, mind you).

I think a lot of my good mood is down to the fact that (and I’ll make it official) I’m coming home in 8 months. I decided with everything going on and my desire to move on from this job, that my time as a JET needs to come to an end. Probably the hardest part will be leaving dance. It’s become such a huge part of my life and the members of my group have become so special to me. It will be hard to say goodbye. HOWEVER, I’ve got a fire in me now to bring what I’ve learned back to the States and hopefully make yosakoi as popular as taiko has become. That and I’ll get to be with my friends and (most importantly) family again.

So with that said, what have I been up to for the past couple of months?

First, school has been going on as usual. I just recently had to say goodbye to some of my third years who I’ve now know since they first started junior high. I felt really sad about it because they were such good kids. They were the kids I bonded with most and it sucks knowing that I won’t see many of them ever again. A couple of the kids said a few words and it made me really happy to hear that they appreciated the help I gave them. I was sad to say goodbye to some of my second year students, too. Luckily, I’ll be able to see them again one more time before I leave. I don’t know what I’ll do when I go back to the States, but I’d like to continue teaching in some way. My favorite part of this teaching experience has been seeing my kids go off into the world or to high school as better, more mature versions of themselves. Watching them learn and be successful is wonderful.

Other than school, we had the end of the year drinking party season. I usually have a good time at these things, but this year was the best so far. I sat with a group of people I don’t really know all that well, but they got so drunk and one man started to teach the others how to pick up women. I got to join in on the fun and we made up a few catch phrases with hand motions that we tried to get everyone else to do, but to no avail. I suppose that’s for the best though. What happens at these parties tends to stay at these parties.

After the drinking party season, Christmas hit and I made Christmas cookies with a bunch of people from town. Libby had organized everything with one of the librarians at school who we see sometimes. Some students came too and we decorated so many cookies that I wouldn’t care if I never saw a Christmas cookie ever again.

I had a few days of work (doing nothing), which was fine as I had plenty of books to read and then winter vacation came. Rie (my yosakoi group leader) had been wanting to get together with everyone and do something fun while people had time off. She’s a very active person, so she decided we should all challenge ourselves to climb the longest staircase in Japan. Now, when I was 12 I climbed around 800 steps to a temple in Bali. I remember it not being that difficult (for me) and I even climbed in flip flops. I’m 25 now and don’t have that young energy I did back then. Now before you get all huffy at me and say, “Jenna…you’re only 25. You’re still so young! I’m xx years old, so you don’t know what you’re talking about,” believe me when I say my bones didn’t get the memo and decided they didn’t need to work as well anymore. My knees ache when it’s cold people. I’m a 25 year old grandma. Anyway, I digress. So 800 steps. That’s a lot right? WRONG. The number of stairs our challenge entailed reached a grand total of three thousand three hundred thirty three steps. That’s 3,333 steps (it looked more impressive actually writing it out). The weather said it was supposed to be nice, but of course it was raining when we got there. And of course as we climbed higher, it started snowing. We started out as a group, but I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to keep a fast pace because I couldn’t breathe. I’ve always had a problem while exercising that my heart rate gets too high too quickly and I can’t breathe properly. It’s not asthma, but I think I just have wimpy lungs. Rie and I discovered we have the same problem, so we bonded and went up slowly with some breaks. I think it took us about 2.5 hours to climb to the top. We spent a little time up at the time, but then decided to return because it was cold and we were soaking wet from the rain and snow. Going down was easy-peasy. Then I woke up the next day and found my calves decided to abandon ship and I couldn’t move without sounding like a dying animal. I could only take comfort in the fact that Rie and Misaki also felt the same way and we just laughed about how we had to waddle like penguins for the next few days. What’s really amazing is not the fact that I did this. It’s the fact that there many club teams also climbing the same day we were and not only did they have to climb, but they had to go up and down THREE OR FOUR TIMES. I barely made it once. These kids were zooming up and down. I couldn’t believe it. They sure do make ’em different here.

The next day or so I spent mostly in bed or on the floor before we went on our annual New Year’s trip. This year, the taiko teacher took Erika, Libby, and I to Miyazaki Jingu. We left around 1 in the morning and got there around 4. We did our prayers and went to another little shrine before driving to Aoshima to see the sunrise. There were so many people. I mean, it’s a gorgeous spot, but it’s still surprising that so many people will stay up all night just to see the first sunrise. It’s definitely worth it though. I did the fortunes as always and got 2 daikichi. Daikichi means big luck and is the best fortune you can draw. I’m hopeful that means I’ll be extremely lucky this year. We’ll see.

After New Year’s, I had a couple of days rest before Erika, Libby and I headed out again to Beppu City in Oita. We planned to stay for a few days and enjoy the sights. Beppu is famous for onsen, which I enjoy. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t so great and I couldn’t go into the baths until the last day we were there. I got to do plenty of other fun things though. We went to the famous 7 Hells, which are onsen so hot that you can only look at them. Each has a specific aesthetic or purpose to it. The 7 Hells are: Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell), Oniishibouzu Jigoku (Demon Stone Priest Hell? Not sure how to translate this one), Kamado Jigoku (Oven Hell), Oniyama Jigoku (Demon Mountain Hell), Shiraike Jigoku (White Pond Hell), Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Pond Hell), and Tatsumaki Jigoku (Geyser Hell). There is technically an 8th hell, but it’s not officially part of this group anymore so we didn’t go there. Some of the hells you can do things like eat eggs cooked in the water, or taste the water, but many of them you just walked around and looked at. It was still pretty cool. I have a lot of pictures down below. The colors don’t stand out as much in the photo as in real life (especially with Blood Pond Hell), but they still look pretty cool.

We also went to a bamboo crafts center which was very pretty and displayed beautiful handcrafted baskets. The interior was mostly made of bamboo and it was everything I’d ever want in a house if I was rich and had the acreage. We also went to a monkey park nearby. There were TONS of cute baby monkeys. We got to see feeding time and learn a little bit about monkey politics in the area. The monkeys were pretty calm for the most part and didn’t seem too interested in interacting with any of the people. I had one little monkey try to grab at my camera when I was taking a picture, but I quickly backed off and he lost interest. I have a ton of monkey pictures, too. I think I got some good ones.

The best part (for me) was the last night when we went to an onsen. We went to Takegawara Onsen, which was built in 1879. It was a gorgeous old building in a tiny nook in the middle of the city. We decided to do the sand baths. We were given robes and went into this room where the attendants carved out a little space for us to lie down in the sand. Then they started shoveling sand on top of us. It was really hot and very heavy. I don’t recommend it for anyone who is claustrophobic. It was a really strange feeling because it was so hot and the sand squeezed your body so you could feel your blood pumping all over your body. We got 10 minutes (which was more than enough time) before getting out and rinsing off and getting into another onsen. I would definitely do the sand baths again.

We got back from Beppu on Friday and I turned around to back to Miyazaki on Saturday, this time, for a yosakoi workshop. There’s a festival coming up on the 22nd, so the team hosting held this workshop to teach the dance to people who wanted to learn. It was a lot of fun and there were a lot of people from different teams, some who I knew and some who I didn’t. We spent about 3 hours learning and practicing. Apparently the guy teaching is a big name in the yosakoi community and is a very talented dancer with his own dance studio (not yosakoi). It was a really good experience and I’ll get to go a different one next week. They tell me it’s really hard, but I think it will be a lot of fun, too.

And that brings you up to speed with everything. Hopefully I’ll get to post more sooner rather than later. The winter months are always a bit slow. I hope everyone had a great holiday season. Here’s to a great 2017! Until next time!

An Uncertain Future

Hello everyone.

Well, here we are again, just a couple of days after my last post. I wasn’t going to post anything for a while, but I can’t wait. There’s been too much going on and now this last event is the straw that has broken the camel’s back.

Before I start on my rant, I want to say that it has been a very long month for me and I’ve experienced every emotion on the spectrum, most of which has been sadness and fear.

I’ll start off by saying that things are not all okay at home. I do not have permission to speak about details here, but it’s something very serious and is the reason why I must return home. It’s something I worry about every day, bringing back fears that I’ve held since a very young age. The second thing that happened was my dog of 15 years passed away. It’s something I have a lot of guilt over. It’s been a few weeks, but I still have trouble thinking and talking about it without tearing up. My dog, Klu, meant so much to me. We grew up together and I felt so strongly that the least I could do for him was be there when the time came for him to leave this life. I was not. The last time I saw him, I hugged him and whispered in his ear to hold on until I came home. He could not. It’s always painful to lose a loved one. I think I could deal with it better if it had been an accident or unexpected. Over the past years, I could see him deteriorating little by little. I knew it was coming. I had just hoped with everything I had that it wouldn’t be now.

Grief is not something I’ve had to deal with a lot. Being thousands of miles away from home doesn’t make anything easier. I thought a lot about what I was going to write in this post. I had it planned out. I was going to talk about mental health in Japan and how I could understand why so many people feel alone here. How I feel alone here. How I often wonder what other JETs experiences are like. Are they very close with the friends they make? Can they talk about their deepest, darkest secrets and feelings? Now, I’ve never been one to wear my heart on my sleeve, but even I need someone to talk to about these things and the people I do share with aren’t here. The only thing I can do now, that I choose to do now, is tell you here on the internet, one of the most uplifting communities, and one of the most destructive.

I’ve gone a little bit on a tangent. I could talk a lot more about these things, but I’ll leave you with this: I feel alone, yes, but I also feel strong. This life I lead here has been hard — a road paved with triumphs, defeats, soaring achievements, happy memories, and devastating blows. Through all of it, I have learned more and more about myself. I feel like I’ve come to know myself so well. I know why I feel sad, I know why I feel angry, and I know that it’s okay to feel these things. I feel these things because something mattered to me so much and that makes it worth it. It’s okay to be sad. Sad makes us human. Sad makes happy that much better. I don’t need anyone to tell me that it’s going to be okay. I already know that it will be.

This brings me to the final blow of this month: the 2016 election. I have found today that the country I was proud to be a citizen of, despite all the problems that it had, has elected a man who threatens so much of the progress America has made. I have NEVER been interested in politics. I will not deny that I had an indifferent attitude toward it. We have had many presidents, some good, some bad, but I feel like progress was still always being made, however little. I’ve only been able to have a say in who I want as my leader in the past couple of elections, so it wouldn’t have made a difference before anyway, but never in a million years would I have believed that people, Republican or not, could vote for a candidate like this. People believe what they will. I can’t force you not to be racist or misogynistic, but to publicly declare it to the world as a presidential candidate and WIN? I’m having a hard time writing this because I can’t even begin to describe all the emotions I’m feeling now. There’s disbelief, anger, disgust, the list goes on. Again, maybe it’s because I’m overly emotional now because of all the things I mentioned before, but when I saw the news on my phone at school this afternoon, I teared up. I felt like crying. With all the violence and hatred that is happening in this world, I felt like…I feel like this man will do nothing but spread that hatred. I was always cautious at home. In the world we live in, I made sure never to have valuables on display while out, I didn’t stay out alone after dark, I made sure to look at every single man in the street so I could be aware of potential attackers. We’ve all heard the stories, maybe you know someone who was raped or assaulted. Maybe you know someone who’s been brutalized by the police or some stranger because of the color of their skin. As a woman, and a person of color, I am now afraid to return home. I am afraid for my friends who are women, POCs, part of the LGBTQ community, and/or are Muslim. All of the risks we take by just existing have now been magnified.

I can sit here and pretend that because nothing has happened to me personally, that it will be okay. It’s true I live in California, a wonderful state, and it’s true that my family and I have been fortunate enough never to experience the hardships that many others face every day. But that’s all it is. Fortune. Any day, that could change, even in as liberal a place as California.

Really, what I want to say is this: These are scary times that could change our reality as we know it. If you know people who fit into any of the categories above, they are most likely scared as well. Our future is uncertain. Stand with them. Stand together. Don’t tell them it will be okay. Tell them their fears are valid, that they are valid as individuals no matter what others say. Tell them you love and support them. Even more importantly, let your anger, sadness, or whatever you feel about this outcome be felt, but do not let it consume you. Feel it, accept it, and use it to move forward. Whatever setbacks America will face (and I expect there to be quite a few) we WILL move forward. We will do so with love, compassion, and respect for each other. We will do it together.

Again, thanks for sticking with me through this mess of a post.

Stay safe, stay strong, and until next time.

Hey, look. I’m actually in a photo.

Hello everyone!

It’s been a little while since my Osaka adventure and I thought I’d check in.

A lot has happened, not all of it good, and I have a lot of thoughts that I’d like to share, as they are a part of this journey, but I’m not quite ready to talk about them yet. They will come though.

So, this will be a happier post with few words and (hopefully) a bunch of pictures.

First things first. My cousin, who I love dearly though we don’t get to see each other often, just had her first child. I’m very excited for her and he is a tiny little bundle of cute that I hope I get to meet someday. The children here are so fashionable, so I’m always tempted to see what’s in the baby section now. (Cousin, you let me know! I will hook you up!) I was also introduced to this website called Tinybeans. It’s basically a photo website that gives daily (or weekly, whatever you set it to) updates from the person who’s invited you to “share their memories.” It’s a great idea for families who don’t live near each other (and much easier than sending a thousand emails with a thousand attachments).

Another fun thing was that my birthday was today. I had the day off, but was invited to go to one of the elementary schools for their harvest festival. All the students do a little show and we all eat lunch together. The students make everything with the help of the teachers. I got to help them make baked sweet potatoes and rice balls. They all made me a birthday card and gave me a few handmade gifts that they made from acorns. It was very sweet.

Other than that, it’s been festival season. I always say this though. I should stop. Really, almost the entire year is festival season. Anyway, it’s been especially busy. Two weeks ago we went to Sasebo, Nagasaki. I got to eat delicious lemon steak and a Sasebo Burger. This town is known for their variety of burgers that they sell all over the cities in different burger shops. They are proper, American-sized burgers filled with everything from fried egg to chicken katsu. I was super happy. Last week was Tarumizu, Kagoshima. I got to dance many times and introduced everybody Reese’s peanut butter cups. I had found some in Kumamoto City a few days before and wanted to share. Then, yesterday we went to Oita City. Initially, 3 of us were supposed to go, but it wound up being just me and Rie, our leader. We had a lot of fun and she challenged herself to speak English for almost the entire day. I got to take pictures with a lot of people, even with a few members of one of the really great teams (I’ve posted a video of them here before).

It was really fun to just spend a day alone together and we got to talk about a lot of things. The topic of me going home finally came up and she asked how long I could stay. She said she’d been talking with one of the other members and they were hoping that I could stay a long time. They weren’t sure what I’d be doing after JET, but they were apparently discussing ways to introduce me to people/companies they know in town to get me a job. Unfortunately, (I guess I’ll make this official) it’s my last year and I’ll be going home in August, but I was really touched to know how much they want me to stay. They have become my family away from home and I know it’s going to break my heart when I have to say goodbye.

SO, to celebrate my family away from home (and because Mom and Dad sometimes complain that I take a lot of pictures of places and people, but not myself), here’s a bunch of photos that I’m actually in from recent times. Many of them are blurry because camera phone, so I apologize for that.

Enjoy  and until next time!

Oh So Awesome Osaka

Hello everyone!

I have just returned from a very fun trip and for once, I’ll tell you about it right away.

As you can see from the title, I just got back from Osaka. It was a short trip: 3 nights, 2.5 days. I say 2.5 because I got there late afternoon on Wednesday and had to leave Saturday morning. Thursday and Friday were the main event days.

I will start by saying that traveling anywhere from Minamata is ridiculous. The flight to Osaka was about an hour and half, maybe? We (Libby went too) left from Kagoshima airport, which was a 2 hour bus ride. It’s always amusing when getting to the airport takes longer than the actual trip.

Anyway, we got in around 4 pm, checked into the Airbnb and decided to go to Dotonbori. Dotonbori is a famous tourist spot, which I can only describe as a strip of shops and restaurants. There’s a lot of nightlife, clubs, etc. It’s really similar to a lot of shopping strips all over Japan. I think what makes it different is the food. There were a lot more restaurants with seafood here. They also had huge octopus and crab signs all over the place. Osaka, to my knowledge, is famous for two things (food wise): takoyaki and okonomiyaki. We decided to go for Okonomiyaki because Libby doesn’t eat seafood. I found a place on Google with good reviews and decided to give it a try. The restaurant was called Ajinoya and there was a line out the door when we arrived. I took that as a good sign and we decided to wait. We ordered while waiting in line and when we were called in, we got to sit at the counter. This was nice because we could watch the chefs prepare everything. The food was really good. I got the Mixed Okonomiyaki, which had ground beef, bacon, octopus, squid, and shrimp in it. It was really tasty and a pretty good sized portion. I also tried the Hiyashiame (lit. cold candy) Chuhai. It had an interesting taste. Almost like ginger ale, but mixed with candy…I don’t really know how to describe it, but it was really good. I would definitely recommend this place to everyone. They also get a Bib Gourmand rating in the Michelin Guide-Osaka 2016. Yeah, look at me. I’m a real foodie now!

So that was Wednesday night. Thursday was the real reason that I went to Osaka: USJ, or Universal Studios Japan. I have always wanted to go to Universal Studios, but never really wanted to go down to L.A. (Sorry, L.A. folk–Norcal all the way!) I heard that you have to get to the park early, especially if you want to go into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which I most certainly did. We ended up getting there around 7:30 in the morning (the park opened at 8:30) and it was JAMMED. People were already being let inside and there were even people on rides! It was crazy. After a long wait in line to even get in, we rushed over to Harry Potter so we could get the timed tickets. Turns out it was early enough and we didn’t even need those. So we got in right away and were able to get in line for the 3D ride. It was really fun. Hogwarts looked pretty cool and the inside was exactly as you’d expect: dark, cool, and magical. There were a TON of people dressed in wizard robes. I did buy one, but didn’t wear it. I was wearing a Goku (Dragonball Z) shirt and so many of the staff around the park were telling me how cool I was. I didn’t want to take away from that, haha. We spent a good amount of time in the Harry Potter section. We bought a lot of things, tried some Butterbeer (which is really good, everyone should try it), and tried to find some of the shows that were supposed to be going on. We wound up not finding them and decided we’d try to come back later for the Deatheaters. Let me just take a moment and apologize to those who don’t know what I’m talking about. I won’t explain, but I will say that the Harry Potter books are really quite good and you should read them if you have the chance.

So we left to go around the other areas of the park. Since they were doing Halloween things, they had set up a couple of mazes that you could walk through. They had several ones like Nightmare on Elm Street, Chucky, The Exorcist, and J-Horror. We went to the J-Horror one and waited in line for almost 2 hours. Probably most of the day was spent waiting in line, but that’s just what happens when you go to these places. It did storm a bit, but luckily we planned ahead and brought umbrellas, so it was okay. The actual maze was less maze and more walk through adventure. The total time: 5 minutes. I kid you not. We waited almost 2 hours for a 5 minute ride. That’s just the truth of Japanese theme parks……probably any theme park really, but I haven’t been in a long time so  I don’t remember. Anyway, the actual maze thing was fun. We had to hold on to this rope in a group of 6 and were led into a building. It was pitch black and I tripped a few times on props and wall corners because we were so close we had to shuffle. People popped out of dark corners all dressed up as ghosts and there were creepy Japanese dolls everywhere. I think the name of the ride was “The Cursed Dolls” or something. There was a story, but I didn’t understand enough to know what it was. The people we were with screamed and jumped so much, so it was kind of comical for me. It was still fun. After J-Horror, we went on a Jurassic Park ride, and a show that was based on Sadako from the Grudge. That was fun, too. We did try to get tickets to get back into Harry Potter, but it didn’t work out. We were too late. The park was pretty cool at night though. One of the Halloween Specials was Street Zombies. Creepy music was playing over the loud speakers and mobs of zombies were released onto the streets. It was cool, but also annoying because girls would scream and run away from the zombies. They would bump into people as they were running and I really thought it was a little bit of a safety hazard. I saw one girl eat dirt because she was running away so fast. The best part about the zombies was definitely the Thriller rendition they did. Overall it was a good, but very tiring day.

On Friday, I arranged to meet up with a friend from college. We went far out of the city to ExpoCity. It was a mall type place next to this great big park that was commemorative of the World’s Fair that was held in Osaka. Or…at least I’m pretty sure that’s what it was. We went to this Hawaiian place that was really good and caught up with each other. After that, Libby and I headed into this Pokemon Gym that was a part of ExpoCity. There were a couple of games and shows in there, so we did that and wound up spending much more time inside than anticipated. We didn’t get to explore the park because I wanted to head back to see Osaka Castle. By the time we got there, the inside was already closed, so we couldn’t go into the museum part, but I still got to take some pictures from around the grounds.

After the castle comes my favorite part of the trip, probably more than USJ. I knew that coming to Osaka would give me the chance to go to a place I’ve always wanted to go to: an owl cafe. You hear about cat cafes and maid cafes all around Japan where you can go in and play with cats or get a cute girl to serve you, but more and more, different kinds of cafes are popping up. I’ve heard of lizard and hedgehog cafes, but the one I wanted to go to was definitely the owl cafe. We got to the place and had to sign up for the last slot. Once finally inside, we ordered our drink and the staff went over owl safety for a few minutes and explained the rules of the meet-n-greet. After that, it was a free for all with the owls and you could take as many pictures as you desired. IT.WAS.SO.COOL. Anyone who knows me knows that I am an animal lover and bird enthusiast. It was so cool to see these creatures up close and personal. They were GORGEOUS with fluffy, velvety feathers and their big unblinking trademark eyes. They didn’t peck at anyone or poop on anyone, so it was a good experience. We had a good 40 minutes to handle them. I would go back in an instant. I know these places can stress out the animals, but they seemed to take good care of their owls and had a whole bunch sitting in the “break area”. These guys you could take pictures of, but couldn’t handle. I could gush on all day, but I won’t. 10/10. Highly recommend.

And that was my trip. The last day our flight was in the morning, so we didn’t really have time to do anything. So, without further ado—here are the pictures! Don’t be surprised that it’s mostly owl pictures.

Until next time!