Hanami is coming!!! 

So here in Japan as the snow is melting the people are getting ready for Cherry Blossom season! And it’s way more intense than I thought it would be. 

So I know that Hanami(花見)is a huge Japanese cultural event. Hanami means “flower viewing” and it started back in the Nara period around 710-784. And since the cherry blossoms only bloom for about 2 weeks you have to really appreciate them while they are here. 

And you can tell how much the Japanese people love cherry blossoms because if you watch  anime there are cherry blossoms of some kind usually during really dramatic scenes or openings but living here now I really understand.  

Every restaurant, cafe, and konbini I have seen is starting to come out with a “Sakura” line of food and drinks. And I even went to the 100 yen store yesterday and they have Sakura cups and table decorations! It’s everywhere you go! 

So yesterday my friend and I went to Starbucks and tried their new Sakura drinks. 


I got the Sakura Blossom Cream Latte and my friend got the Sakura Blossom Cream Frappuccino. And the toppings are shaved chocolate to look like flower petals and crunchy bits that are made from mochi rice ! The Latte had such a subtle sweet cherry flavor and it was so yummy. 


I also treated myself and bought a cup from the Sakura Starbucks line. It was so pretty I saw it and couldn’t let it go. 

With the way cherry blossom season is starting off I’m sure I’ll have more Sakura adventures to post when they actually start blooming in late March! 

Jaaaaa~~~

To Doughnut or Not to Doughnut…is That Even a Question?

I love Mr. Donut. It is honestly so good. I mean even a bad doughnut is a good doughnut, right? But after eating Dunkin and Krispy Kream…you can easily tell the difference between the quality. Which is a thing that always impresses me about Japan. Even the cheaper option has a decent or even high quality to it. But these doughnuts taste like the bougie mom and pop or hipster indie places that actually care about what they serve, but with Dunkin prices.

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So when I was learning more about this place I saw that it  was actually in America first and 942775_4854059357862_536509458_n.jpgthen it had an international expansion…and I think now the headquarters are in Japan.

So in America my favorite doughnut is chocolate frosted. It took a whole lot for me to get that fancy with my donuts, at first I started out with old fashioned, then glazed, and now finally chocolate frosted…I’ll even get chocolate frosted with sprinkles if I am feeling fancy.

 

But I mention chocolate frosted because I really like the way Mr. Donut does their chocolate frosted doughnuts. In America it always is like really thin chocolate glaze, it’s not bad at all…but Mr. Donut does it’s glaze like a chocolate ganache, it’s got a rich chocolate taste and it’s thick! Having it with warm coffee is one of the most relaxing feelings. The other doughnut pictured is a honey doughnut, it’s like glaze but with honey instead.

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My friend never wants to stay long with me, but I could honestly sit in Mr Donut for a while, especially if I had a book. They will refill your coffee after a while so its a nice experience and who wouldn’t wanna sit in a place that smells like fresh doughnuts!?

Ja~~~

Thinking About Starting a New Book??

So my 7th graders  had a writing assignment where they were they had to recommend  me a book and tell me what the book is about and a few good points to encourage me to read it. Many students know that I like to watch anime so they tended to favor recommending me comic books.

It was interesting to see what they though I’d like and some students did so well drawing pictures from the book. They are very talented. Ignore the grammatical mistakes this was just a fun task for them to recommend a book not a graded assignment.

Maybe it will help you pick the next book to read!!

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Another Day, Another Shrine…

Every where you look in Japan there is a shrine. Sometimes one in front of another. It’s unavoidable  and sometimes once you have seen one you have seen them all. The shrines here are either Shinto or Buddhist so they are are very similar looking. Some are small and are on the corner of business or on the side of houses.

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Some are big with torii gates to let you know that it is a shrine.

But I recently went on a hike with a friend and I think I had my best shrine experience yet. It made me feel like I was really in Japan….and I know that sounds strange but when you live somewhere long enough to tend to just get used to things and see them as normal. I see these toriis all the time so I start to forget them, but this was a really nice experience.

So to get to this hiking trail and shrine you have to walk up a mountain. So when you get near the top you walk up and see two cemeteries and then you keep walking and you see these steps. Th15621767_10207901130714669_4992312086387919809_n.jpgey looked quite magical just sitting there.  The steps look like they are out of a Studio Ghibli movie. Every step I took the more I thought Totoro would come around the corner and greet me. I almost wished he did because man, the incline on mountains is no joke. He could have at least carried me to the top or something. I am going to have the best calves when I return to America. So you have to take these steps for a little ways more up the mountain, and they are kind of tricky to walk on because the distance between them change. So they are short and then they are far apart. I don’t really know how anyone walked on these when they made them especially in Yukatas and Kimonos. Ancient steps are strange here.

But after a good bit of walking you get to a small area that looked like this! And the closer we went up these steps the more I heard the sound of water…and strangely music.

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The music happened to be coming from this older man at the top of this structure. It was one of the most peaceful and the most cultural experience I have had at a shrine. Because when you usually go to a shrine its quite and you see people who come to pray and they do their whole praying routine. Bow, clap clap, bow,clap, pray bow leave. Its pretty much quick and people get in and get out. This time there was a man playing was very traditional Japane15727278_10207901130914674_2626139511338815517_n.jpgse music played on a flute like instrument. And with the waterfall in the background it was so relaxing like one of those sleeping tapes. We went up the stairs to inspect the top of this area and ended up speaking to him after he finished playing one of his songs. He seemed so happy and surprised to see us. That was probably because we are both foreigners (me from the US and my friend is from Australia) and most of the people who climbed this mountain were locals. It’s pretty hidden. We learned that he come up here often to play for the gods. He said its very relaxing for him and he enjoys the view. We also learned that he has been playing for over 50 years! Honestly I was more impressed by his commitment to climb up this mountain everyday and play than anything. He really made this shrine experience wonderful and also made me wonder in the old days how many musicians would just come up the mountain and play for the gods.

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Jaaa~~

 

Winter is Snow Joke!

Living in Matsue has been waaaaaay colder than what I am used to. Being from the south of America (Georgia area) I am not used to this kind of weather. I literally packed like 3 long sleeve shirts and a sweater from GAP thinking I was prepared. Jokes on me because as soon as October hit those things were obsolete.

My coat had me allllll the way messed up. My long sleeves shirts were looking at me like I made a mistake. katt-williams.jpg

So then I went on my Uniqlo shopping spree and got myself together as told in my blog “Winter is Coming”.

And I was scared because on my weather app I check every morning and night I would see the little snow emoji, but then as the day would come it would just be rain. So I was thinking “whew, this year I will get out of experiencing snow”. And then when it did snow it wasn’t even a full inch…so again I thought “I hope this is it”.

Girl let me tell you I played myself. I saw that it was gonna snow over night and since it has only been flurries I wasn’t even worried. But when I woke up and opened my door….bruh why.I don’t even know the first thing about snow! The only time I have  seen snow in real

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Snow outside my door.
life was when I visited
my extended family for Christmas vacation in high school and it wasn’t even snowing anymore they just had piles of it leftover but I found a pile and touched it. Up until then I didn’t even know snow was wet! And I know that sounds strange to the people who have dealt with snow but when you only go off of the TV and movies it looks like powder! When you live in a place where the average temperature is like 60’s for winter you never think about snow and the annoyances of snow.

And I knew that I couldn’t ride my bike to work because even when the snow was lighter it was hard biking in it and with the ice it was so slippery. And I walk past a lot of schools so I didn’t want any JHS students looking at me while I bust my butt trying to get to work. I will have no one talking about how they saw some foreigner trying to bike and go under it, not if I can help it. And walking on it was even less fun, my feet kept slipping on ice and snow. My cute combat boots from Payless were not cut out for this. Who knew I would be calf deep in snow overnight! Walking to work became more of a trek. My usual 20 minute walk was extended to a 40 minute walk simply because you have to walk slow and steady so you don’t accidentally slip and let your legs go under you. I was out here looking a mess. I was slippin and sliding all over like this meme.

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But even though snow is so annoying I think that is is so beautiful. The way it blanketed the whole area was really beautiful and even peaceful….but then I snapped out of that crazy haze and remembered how cold I was. But I withstood it long enough to get some quality photos.

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Tennis Court by my apartment.
If I could just not go to work when it snowed I think I would like it more. Because I could look at this all day with a cup of tea in my hand. When it snows the whole world just feels quiet. Like everything stopped. It’s a moment when you have to step aside and just marvel.

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I also had to make a snow angel because I mean hey, when I leave Japan I am living in the south again, I was not made for this kind of weather so I need to scratch it off my bucket list now.

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Jaaa~~

My addiction is so real…

One of my favorite Japanese foods is Takoyaki! Its soooooooooooo good. If you’ve never had takoyaki, its batter with tempura pieces, green onion and ginger and a pieces of octopus in the middle, and then fried. Its then brushed with takoyaki sauce and mayo often shaved bonito and at some places you can get special toppings that are seasonal. It’s a very typical Japanese snack, many make it at home but you often see it at stands during festivals.

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Takoyaki originated in 1935 in the Osaka area. Today the Kansai area is well known for takoyaki. Many of my students tell me to visit Osaka since I love takoyaki so much. One day I will go and eat my heart out.

There is a stand outside of my grocery store that sells takoyaki for 380¥ and it is truly a blessing when you don’t wanna go too far into town for a craving. But I always end up burning my entire mouth because I am greedy and cant wait for it to cool.

But this adventure took place at Aeon Mall. To get out of my house  and get some fresh air I often visit Aeon. I can shop, eat and even play pachinko next to some old ladies. This time I went and treated my self to takoyaki for lunch.

Now I love the normal takoyaki with the bonito and greed onion on top but you can even get that in the states. Why not try something different? Sometimes I get stuck in ruts where when I am comfortable with something I will often just keep ordering the same thing and lying to myself that I will try something new. I am a creature of habit! So this time I tried to venture out and get something new.I ended up ordering てりたま takoyaki which is takoyaki with the takoyaki sauce, mayo and egg salad on top! It was sooo good.

 

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In a way I still cheated because I knew that I loved egg salad…..but I never had egg salad and takoyaki at the same time soooo…technically it was new type of takoyaki!

When I went to Hiroshima for winter break I redeemed myself. They had a seasonal promotion and it was yuzu flavored! And I HAD to try it. My friend who I stayed with introduced me to yuzu tea and I was on a yuzu kick!! Yuzu is like a lemon…but sweeter. Not as tart. So I tried it!

It was very interesting to say the least. It was sweet and tangy at the same time which was kind of strange for me because takoyaki is so savory.

 

Jaaaaa~~~

 

Back to the Grind….

It was such a nice break but the harsh reality to work had returned. I’m actually a bit happy for it. I missed all my little kiddies and seeing their faces everyday. But I can’t say I don’t miss sleeping in. 

I actually started back on the 11th but I’ve actually been pretty busy. With the end of the semester starting the need for English had grown. My 3rd year JHS students are testing and getting ready to apply to high schools and we have a speech contest called FEPCS coming up so each grade is picking 4 or 5 reps from each class. So I’ve been busy listening to presentations which is fun. It’s interesting to see what the students are interested in. 

But upon returning to work I had this on my desk awaiting me. 

I had an 御年玉(Otoshidama) waiting for me on my desk!! 

Otoshidama is a New Years gift that is given to children by family members. It’s essentially pocket money. Students have told me that sometimes they can get a total of 100-200 dollars every New Years! But mine was filled with chocolate coins. But the gesture really touched me!! 

Jaaaa~~~~

My New Years Experience…..

New Years is by far one of the coolest things I have seen in Japan. Japan is thought to be as very religious and very conservative….and well that’s true to some extent. As someone who grew up in the southern bible belt Japan is not religious…but in America we may say that the Japanese are more spiritual. And I am not talking about all of Japan, I am sure they have some christian churches or catholic ones, this is just from what I’ve seen.

There isn’t really “church” here.  Where I grew up I have seen churches on every street and on every corner, but here I have yet to see a church. So people in Japan don’t go to bible study, or church every Sunday, or do revival or anything like that. And if and when they do go to the shine it isn’t every Sunday, they just go when they need to ask on one of their  hundreds and thousands of gods for something. Like a boyfriend, or health, or money, or blessings for building a new house. So my ramblings about religion actually mean something, I promise.

In America New Years Eve is about going out club hopping with friends! Dressing up in your cutest dress and going out on the town with as many people as you can. And New Years day is for recovering from that night.

But in Japan New Years is for family and is considered the most spiritual time for Japanese people.

So around Christmas time people start putting out pine and bamboo decorations called kadomatsu. Many homes, and stores and shrines all have these. It is believed that the New Year’s gods come down from the spiritual to the earthly realm and it helps guide the gods to the house so you can have good luck and blessings in the New Year. And it is believed that the gods dwell in the kodomatsu until the 7th of January, after the 7th people take these to the shrine to be burnt and it releases the gods back to the spiritual realm.

Another thing that gets put out is Kagami Mochi. My teachers told me back then people would make the mochi, but now many people just buy it from the stores. but in kindergarten my students and some fathers who came to volunteer helped make kagami mochi for the school. Mochi is a food believed to contain the spirit of the gods. It is believed to be a homage to the god Amaterasu, or the god of the sun. So this represents light and renewal into the New Year. And the mikan or orange on top of it represents health and longevity.

So on New Years eve my friend and I went out drinking at a bar! We found a place called Jenny’s Bar near Parco Mall and they had all you can drink for $25! So we stayed for a while and watched the TV they had and played Jenga! The waiter here was also actually really cute, I regret not getting his name at least. He asked us a lot, like where were we from and such, the basics. We were actually like one of the only people in the bar. And when it was almost midnight they made is soba! And soba is eaten on New Years Eve to represent long life in the next years! It was vert nice of them.

So after this my friend and I headed to the castle, we wanted to catch people doing the first of the 5 Hatsu’s of the new Year.

5 発 of the New Year

初詣 (Hatsumode)ーFirst shrine visit
初日の出(Hatsuhinode)- First sunrise of the new year
初夢(Hatsuyume)- First dream of new year
初売り(Hatsuuri)- First sale bargain of new year
書き初め(Kazizome) – First calligraphy of new year

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Its hard to tell but there was a LOOOOOOOONG line at the shrine of the castle. It was all the way out the gates of the castle . People start to get up from dinner, from the bars, from the restaurants and go to the shrine to say their first prayer of the New Year. I came for the food stands!

We only had time to got to one stand since it was almost midnight and the last tram home was at 12:11 so we had to like run to catch it. But we went back the next morning!

And the line was still SOOOOOOOOOOO long, people were even further out of the gates.

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I wonder did people like camp out all night?! They probably didn’t wanna lose their spot in line. Even dogs wait in line to do the first prayer of the year.

 

And its the year of the rooster! So you could pick a rooster and get your fortune. My friend and I actually both got excellent fortunes and impressed a Japanese family beside us. They came up to us and talked to us about their fortunes and what they got. It was a very cool experience to have such a spiritual experience with not just my friend but with other Japanese people.

And again….I visited the food stalls! I finally got the oysters! I was so sad I couldn’t get them before, but I was happy they still had more. These are the famous Hiroshima Oysters from Miyajima island, they are so goooood. They taste better than any other oyster I’ve had before. And then I got some classic Yakitori!

 

It was such a cool thing to experience and be a part of. I really enjoyed my time in Hiroshima!

Ja~~~~~~~