2017

As I did last year, I’ve decided to reflect on the past year on my blog. This time I actually find myself in a bit of a different situation, writing this on New Year’s Eve itself. Last year on December 31 I was frantically sorting out a ton of shit that was going on in my life so the post was quite late. This year I’m sitting in a tropical paradise with no plans for the evening and no plans for tomorrow morning. I feel like that’s generally a good metaphor for how my life has changed in the past 365 days too. To be honest, this past year has gone by so quickly that I have a hard time distinguishing between what happened last year and this year.

Early this year, I went to Hokkaido to see the Sapporo Snow Festival. It was the first time I had seen proper snow in Japan and it was tons of fun! In hindsight this was probably the best Japanese festival that I’ve seen so far. The weather in Hokkaido was also the best possible winter weather I’ve experienced. It fell somewhere between the dry Swedish winter and the creepingly moist bonechills of Kansai. And of course there was real snow.

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I also experienced my first Golden Week. I heard that things are a bit crazy in Japan for Golden Week (the largest holiday week in the country) so I opted to take some budget airline flights to get myself out of the country and into Taiwan and Hong Kong. I also saw Korea for the second time and almost fell off the top of a mountain and died. I also almost died from a meat coma. 😀

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This year was also great for friends. I had some friends from exchange and also my best friend from Canada come to visit. We explored Kansai, partied in Tokyo, and basked in the rays of tropical Okinawa. I also went on (and planned) the annual Hyogo AJET Shikoku Rafting Trip with both old and new friends.

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I’ve also made a lot of new friends at work. There is a group of teachers that invites me to play sports with them during the exam breaks. I haven’t quite improved at tennis (I still miss serves all the time) but it seems I’m the person to beat in badminton. We often go for drinks after too! I have also taken to joining gym classes almost daily so the gym teachers seem to like me more. Some of my teachers are also talking about going on a road trip together in the new year. I feel like it took me a year to work myself into the teacher social circles but I love it now!

2016 was also a good year for new skills and hobbies. With the abundance of spare time at my desk, I’ve taken up a few new things to keep myself busy. I have been practicing card magic mostly. It all started with a bit of inspiration from the most recent Phoenix Wright game but it grew into an idea because I realized that magic transcends language. Even my lower level students who may not understand my English very well can still enjoy magic I do for them after school or even (occasionally) in class.

Recently I also took up salsa dancing every week after a friend brought me along. I’ve only been twice but I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it was. It’s also a great way to use a Wednesday night and to see your friends! I’m really grateful for the invitation since salsa is something I normally never would have tried.

Lastly, this winter has been really amazing. The winter holidays have been really special to me and I have been lucky enough to do so many things with so many great people. I had a Christmas party, I’ve spent lots of time with friends new and old, and I have been in Hawaii with my family for the past week. I am so grateful for everyone and the great vacation my parents have brought me on. Even though I don’t live with them anymore, or even in the same country, I love my family as much as ever! Thanks for being great.

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Even though that’s a rather lame rundown of what I’ve done this year, I feel like the pictures really do present a better story than my words could.


Now on to more important things! Last year I gave myself 7 resolutions. Here’s how I did.

1. Save $200 a month. SUCCESS
Though I did spend most of it on a new computer at the end of the contract year…

2. Go on a run at least once a week. FAILURE
I took up biking to school this year so that was my new form of cardio (40 mins per day) so I quickly gave up running.

3. Reach (or exceed) the level of physical satisfaction that I had on exchange. FAILURE
I’ve definitely made improvements in stamina and strength but I still have more work to do before I’m where I want to be. This year I successfully got a gym membership (despite the difficulties I had last year) and I also took up new physical activities such as salsa dance and cycling.

4. Blog at least once every month. FAILURE
Yeah nah. Not even close.

5. Pass the JLPT N5. PENDING
Results come out in two weeks so we’ll see!

6. Be more positive. SUCCESS
About a third of this year I was in a very dark place because of a certain event that occurred in my social life. Since then, I’ve managed to repair the damage done and also rebound stronger than before. I feel like I am more positive now than I have been in a very long time.

7. Perfect at least 5 new recipes. FAILURE
This year I tried to learn a lot about Japanese cooking and managed to master a few staples such as katsudon, oyakodon, and cream stew. That being said, I didn’t quite make it to 5 new recipes. I find that my social life is driving me away from my kitchen lately as I opt to go for dinner or lunch with friends instead of cooking at home.

With a failing score of 2/7 I should feel horrible, but I really don’t. I did a lot this year and looking back on it like this has forced me to realize that I’m happier now than I have been in about 2 years. Even many of my failed goals were partially completed or replaced with an alternative. This is what I’ve come up with for this year.


New Years Resolutions 2017

  1. Read at least one book per month.
    I want to get back to reading like I did on exchange. Lately I have only been re-reading the same things over and over again.
  2. Limit my spending on video games to one purchase per month.
    I spend too much. That’s it. Those Steam sales break me.
  3. Pass JLPT N4.
    Assuming I have passed N5 of course…
  4. Focus more on meaningful relationships with the people I know.
    This year I think I spent too much time trying to meet new people and I didn’t really nurture the relationships with people I already know.
  5. Reach (or exceed) the level of physical satisfaction that I had on exchange.
    The only goal from last year that I want to carry on to this year.
  6. TOP SECRET.
    This one will be revealed if I succeed.

And that’ll do it. To those of you who helped make the past year of my life great, I owe you a great thanks. To those of you that I may not have made enough time for, I hope we can all have a great 2017. Happy new year!

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June Update

It’s been about 3 months since I’ve published anything and I’m feeling pretty okay about that. Life is moving ahead at a terrifying pace and I’ve already begun to think about my second year on the JET Programme.

Despite the fact that I haven’t even been here for a whole year yet, I feel like I’ve already got all of my second year planned. People are coming to see me, I’m going to see people, I’ll eventually run out of vacation days again, and then I get a new batch of kids to terrify with “good morning”.

The novelty of living in Japan has worn off and under all the luster and shine, I still feel like I’ve got it pretty good. It’s like when you find out your shiny new coins aren’t actually solid gold, but were actually filled with chocolate all along. Everyone loves chocolate anyway.

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The past month has been fairly big for me for a number of reasons. I’ve had visitors and I’ve also been lucky enough to meet a lot of people. One of the big perks of being near Osaka is that people can come visit and not be bored out of their minds. My good friend Jon spent about 10 days here and we were able to find something for him to do every day within 2 hours of my place. It was really great to see him and it kind of reminded me of the days when we lived together in that shitty apartment back in Winnipeg. Jon was my first roommate after I moved out of the university dorms and we went to both elementary and junior high together. He helped keep me connected with the ongoing drama of back home and all the changes that had taken place (read: almost zero).

Next month I expect to meet up with Nikki all the way from Brisbane. The month after that I’m also lucky enough for “The Champion” to bless me with his presence. Jae is coming too. Somehow all these people from Stockholm over 2 years ago still like me. I don’t know what I’ve done or not done to deserve this, but I’m very excited. I’ll actually be visiting the tropical paradise of Okinawa with them.

I also recently took on two more volunteer positions for the JET community. I will be representing my region of Hyogo in the Hyogo Prefectural Association for JETs and I am also taking on the position of Director of Digital Resources for the National Association for JETs. Looks like I’ll be pretty busy from now on so I’ll have even less time to write here.

I know this post is kind of shit and low effort, but I feel like that’s a good way to describe my blog now. I hope some of you still read this in hopes of keeping updated with me.

Daily Life: The Japanese School System

As it’s been nearly a month since I’ve written anything, a small update is in order. Since Australia (the last trip I blogged about), I’ve been to Sapporo and Hakodate in Hokkaido. It was basically Canada. There was snow everywhere and so much open sky. I also have a few trips lined up in the future. I’m heading to Seoul, Korea early next month and Hong Kong/Taiwan at the end of next month.

You may be wondering how I have so much time off and that is because this whole month is Spring break for Japanese schools. I ended classes the last week of February and the new school year begin April 8th. Yes, you read that correctly. In Japan, April marks the start of the new school year as opposed to September in North America. That means that I had to say goodbye to my first year students last month as they moved up in the school (and the world) into second year. Of course they will still be around the school, but I won’t be teaching them again. Next month brings a new batch of first year students for me to teach and other changes to my daily work.

School Transfers

This week is a big week for Japanese teachers because it is the time that they learn what they will be doing next year. Just yesterday, my teachers learned whether they will be staying at our school or transferring elsewhere within the prefecture. They also learned (if they are staying) what classes they will be teaching, what club they will be in charge of, and who will be the homeroom teachers and head teacher of each year. Considering that the new school year starts in just over 2 weeks, that gives the leaving teachers a fairly short time to say their goodbyes to their colleagues and students, pack up their desks, and move to a new job. Sometimes these transfers can be somewhat surprising to the teachers as it appears to be up to the principal and sometimes the teachers are not consulted. I recently had a fairly candid conversation with one of my English teachers and she said that a lot of the time, if teachers do not want to be transferred, they can fight the decision. That being said, more often than not, it appears that the transfer happens. The period that a teacher can stay at one particular school appears to depend on the seniority of the teacher. It appears that many brand new teachers will stay at their first school for 2-3 years then get transferred to a different one for the next 5-6 years. After that, teachers are often allowed to stay for longer.

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The prefecture I call home.

Surprise school transfers may seem cruel and unusual compared to the school system back in Canada where some teachers could stay at a school for upwards of 20 years, but I assure you that there is some (at least mediocre) reasoning behind this system. I have heard a few reasons but the most common one I have heard from my teachers is that it is meant to be a fairness measure. The logic is that since schools in Japan are separated into many different types (academic, industrial, sport school, special needs, etc.) unlike in North America, there are definitely some schools that are more preferred working environments than others. As such, it is simply fair to allow the teachers at the less desirable schools the chance to transfer out into a better working environment and vice versa. For example, one of my closest English teachers told me that the second school he taught at was a farming school where the children were all likely to become farmers and had zero use for or interest in English. His students almost always slept in class and some of them did not have any respect for teachers. He considered that to be one of the worst placements he could have gotten but he was rewarded with a position at my school next. He has worked here for almost 5 years now and he loves it. All of our students are bright and almost all will go on to university. Many have a strong interest in English and he has better job satisfaction here.

In addition to transferring schools, teachers also switch grades. At my school, it seems most teachers are on the same rotation as the students. Many of this year’s first year teachers will teach second year next year and many of this year’s third year teachers will be teaching first year with me next year. This is kind of exciting for me because I am a bit special and I do not rotate. I will still be teaching first year students but now I have new teachers to work with. The prospect of working with new people is exciting.

School Types

As mentioned above, there are many different schools in my area. My school is the highest level academic school in the area but there are also schools that focus on almost anything. I personally know of industrial schools, a baseball school, a science school, an international school, a special needs school, a farming school, and a remedial school. I kind of think this is great. Students are very different in their skills and goals and it doesn’t make sense to simply have one type of school that works for everyone (as seen in Canada). Separating students by academic level helps both the higher and lower ability students. The higher students are able to learn more without the teaching pace being slowed down and the lower students are able to learn at a slower pace without feeling as though they are wasting time because it’s likely other students need the same clarification. Of course someone is likely to say, “But Jordan, in Canada we have separate level classes for high and low ability students so surely that’s the same”. I entirely disagree that it is the same. If you were a low level student, would you like to be in the “stupid class” when your friends aren’t? With Japan’s system, you wouldn’t be. You’d simply be in a normal class. And everyone at the school would be in that same normal class. I am not saying that Japan has a perfect system (see the surprise transfers above), but I am a huge supporter of multiple school types.

Teacher Parties

In Japan, it is common for companies (not only schools) to host parties for the staff. Not everyone will show up but a vast majority do for the major ones. These are called enkai. We appear to have two major enkai each year; one in December and one in April. These parties often have many different dishes of food and all-you-can-drink alcohol (which is very common in Japan) and allow you to talk with your teachers in a setting outside of work. Enkai are a great cultural point of Japan and I often find that many of my best conversations with some of the teachers I am not so close with happen at an enkai over food and drink.

Student Responsibilities

In Japanese high schools, students are responsible for the cleanliness of the school. Students keep their own classrooms clean and in the last 30 minutes of the school day, students clean the common areas, including bathrooms. The sports clubs are also responsible for taking care of the outdoor tennis courts and sports pitch. Not only does this encourage development of good life skills, it also ensures students respect the school and it cuts down on spending. Even when my school has ceremonies in the gym, the students are responsible for setting up all the chairs in a measuring-tape-perfect manner. My school only employs two part-time custodians to do things like gardening and plumbing. Things like these contribute to my massive respect for my students. Sometimes I can’t help but think that North American high schoolers are lazy after seeing things here.

In Closing…

This post may seem overly biased and it may sound as though the Japanese school system is perfect. It’s not. There are other things that I definitely have problems with but I feel as though I cannot appropriately address them in this post for various reasons. Regardless, I hope you find this post informative and an interesting peek into the differences between the Japanese school system and your own.

Straya

About two months ago I began my journey to the southern hemisphere. I can now safely conclude that the rumours are (at least partially) true, for a great deal of beer does flow in the land down under. I can’t really say anything about chundering men.

My journey began with what was probably my worst long haul flight experience. At a step above budget-tier, I flew with Air China. This also afforded me the benefit of having a day-long layover in Beijing. Beijing in general was a pretty mediocre experience. I arrived, it was cold, it was smoggy (this was when Beijing pollution levels hit a red alert), the wall was cool, the toboggan ride down was almost cooler, and after asking for “unique local food I’ve probably never had before”, my guide gave me Kung Pao Chicken. The End.

Arriving in Australia was great. I was immediately welcomed by the warm sun and I could not have been more excited to be wearing a t-shirt again. I had planned this Australia trip for a few reasons. Firstly, I wanted to escape the cold of Japanese winter for the holidays. Additionally, the idea of seeing my Australian friends from exchange made me so excited. It was about time for a mini Mario Party reunion.

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I don’t exactly remember all the minor details of what happened and when but a vast majority of my activities revolved around eating, drinking, or a combination of both. I was rather determined to get my fill of food and beer that I couldn’t get at home in Japan. Other things I did included visiting Taronga Zoo, exploring Sydney’s beaches, and reminiscing about Sweden with friends.

I actually find that lately I love doing solo trips to zoos. If I’m in a city with a relatively well-known zoo, I almost always go. I love taking photos of wildlife, and I’d argue that doing it at zoos is really a bit of a cheat, but some of the pictures do turn out quite nicely. It also gives me a chance to use my long-distance lens in some of the larger enclosures.

The trip wasn’t without its hiccups and somehow I failed to do a few of the things I had really wanted to do, but it was easily my best trip in a very long time and I actually had a lot of surprisingly great moments. My only major disappointment was that I didn’t get to meet Hugh Jackman. I can definitely get down with the idea of a warm Christmas. I may just have to fly south again next winter break.

Sydney itself was fantastic. I’ve never been to a western city that had such strong Asian influences. In everything from food to language to retail goods. It seemed to me that Sydney was a city full of forward-thinking lovers of good food and drink. Even people I met who didn’t consider themselves foodies could talk at length on food and drink recommendations. It seemed such a far cry from my life back in Canada where many people I know would survive on frozen dinners and fast food. Even the craft beer scene in Sydney seems far ahead of what I’m used to back home. I did a beer tour on an afternoon and had the pleasure of visiting several craft beer bars and two breweries. The variety of beers in Sydney blew me away. It wasn’t just quantity, but also styles. There were so many more obscure styles of beer that I’d never expect to see from a brewery at home in Calgary (despite the fact that there are now about a dozen breweries there). In particular, I had a mind-blowing Scotch Ale from Batch Brewery. Perhaps it’s simply because Canadians are set in their ways with what styles they like, or perhaps it’s due to a higher appreciation of beer in Sydney. I shall never know. With its perfect food and drink scene, warm locals, and easy public transport system, I think Sydney may just top my list as the most-livable city I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. After exploring the beautiful city, it made total sense in my mind that this was where my good friend Sam spent her last few years. After living there for so long, I can’t help but think that anyone would develop an insatiable taste for good food.

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In addition to seeing Sam, I also met up with Matt, Patricia, Chris, and Nikki (who flew in all the way from Brisbane). It had been nearly 2 years since I had arrived in Stockholm. It felt great to know that even after so long, we had kept in touch. Nikki flying down for the weekend was especially a great treat as I’ve missed her dearly and we don’t talk nearly enough. It felt as though almost no time had passed since I last saw her in London way back in July two summers ago. I continue to love how I now have friends all over the world and I hope I can meet up with more exchange friends in the coming years in my travels. Here I am singing the praises of exchange once again.

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As the trip wrapped up, I was ready to come home, but I was not quite ready to leave warm Sydney and my friends. I know I’ll see them again so there’s no problem there. I just hope it won’t take two years. I also want to thank everyone who made my Sydney trip possible by hosting me, taking me around, or sharing a meal with me! You’re all beautiful people.

Daily Life : Food

The first of my many “Life in Japan” posts will be about one of the things closest to my heart; my stomach. Well, at least it will cover what I have been putting into my stomach lately. I know that many of you are curious about what food in Japan is like and I’d like to dispel some myths and also provide some insight into my daily food routines here.

When I say, “I live in Japan”, peoples’ minds tend to jump to sushi. This isn’t wrong by any stretch of the imagination but to say that Japanese people only eat sushi or eat sushi all the time is a far cry from the truth. Japanese people do eat a lot of seafood but often it is in fact cooked. A fairly typical Japanese breakfast might be rice, broiled fish, a rolled omelet, and miso soup. Lunch ranges greatly but in my experience, the Japanese seem to have a deep love for anything fried. Their equally as powerful will to control portion sizes sometimes appears to be the only thing stopping the Japanese from balancing the scales with the fat Americans.

There are definitely some minor food-related gripes I have when it comes to home-cooking in my small apartment. Firstly, certain ingredients are extremely hard to find or too expensive to contemplate buying. Major items that tend to be lacking from grocery stores include but are not limited to peanut butter, lamb, turkey, blocks of cheese, unsweetened juice, and bread (other than white bread). If anywhere has these items it’s going to be Costco, and even then they tend to be pricey.

The biggest limitation I find I have is my kitchen. The appliances in Japan are generally smaller and I do not actually have an oven by North American standards. I am lucky enough to have a convection oven/microwave combo but even then, the dishware that fits into the oven is large enough to cook maybe two fillets of salmon at a time. Generally when I am cooking for myself it is not an issue, but cooking for many people is a major pain and cooking something like a turkey for Thanksgiving would be impossible.

Now for a walk through my daily food.

I’ve been very slow to adopt Japanese breakfast habits because I simply can’t be bothered to prepare rice the night before for my breakfast. Every morning I wake up and have one of two things for breakfast. If I have been to Costco recently, I will have a toasted bagel with margarine or melted cheese. Otherwise, I’ll have a fried egg on a piece of white toast. That’s all rather boring but for lunch I have a much greater selection.

For lunches, I eat at the school cafeteria for 90% of my days at school. It’s incredibly cheap to eat there and the food is generally pretty decent for what you pay. They are also kind enough to open an hour and a half before lunchtime so teachers on spare can eat before the students come. There are many options available but the main selling point is the set lunch that changes daily.

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The daily lunch menu.

 

For 350 yen (about 4.15 CAD with the low dollar) I get hot tea, miso soup, a bowl of rice as big as I want, unlimited pickles, and a main plate. The main plate is normally some sort of protein with a couple sides (often cold pasta and a cabbage salad). Sometimes if I am lucky, there will be two mains on offer that day to choose from. Other Japanese staples such as curry rice, ramen, 4 kinds of udon, and karaage are on offer every day if the set lunch does not suit your tastes. I’m generally really satisfied with my lunch options as I’ve heard horror stories from friends teaching English in other parts of Japan who are given the likes of pregnant fish and moldy potatoes for lunch. I’ve actually been preparing this post for some time so I’ve gathered many pictures of the set lunch to share with you.

Generally speaking, my dinners consist of frying pan-based meals with the odd baked protein. I also eat a fair amount of rice as it is cheap and easy to make. When I am feeling lazy or cheap, I’ll make a giant pot of curry with rice to eat over 3-4 days. Other meals I make include fried rice, stir-fries, hot pots, tuna steaks, and baked salmon. These are all relatively easy for me to do with a single pot, single pan, and single element.

This is the first of my daily life posts and I hope you enjoyed it because there will be many more coming! Thanks for reading.

2016

As I start off the new year, I recently looked back on the past one. 2015 was not nearly as great or eventful as my 2014 (the best year of my life), but it was still a year for the records. Here’s why.

The year kicked off with a bang as two of my long-time friends came to Calgary to go skiing. During our ski trip, the conditions on the mountain were not so great and there were many icy patches in addition to the normal holiday hazards (families, children, ski lessons). I managed to have a fairly spectacular fall after swerving to avoid a small child, which resulted in the separation of my collarbone. What I originally thought would be a pretty minor injury turned into 3 months unable to do any sort of physical activity and a massive loss of physical progress that I had made in my last semester of university.

Though that put a damper on my spirits for a while, it’s hard to fully write off that time of the year. A month later, I was finally able to say that I’m a university graduate. Shortly after that, I became a university graduate making minimum wage in retail ($10.50/hour).

Looking back on it, it was really a demoralizing experience. As someone who was regularly told that my degree in environmental sciences and ecology would be perfect for the oil companies of my province, I felt so unwanted. My job search quickly lead me from from applying to big corporate names and multinational conglomerates down to applying to the local pet shop and liquor stores. I once went into an interview for a part-time retail job at a store I used to work at and was straight up told that my resume was intimidating. I felt like the world was telling me I was either overqualified or underqualified for everything it had to offer. After over 35 (I counted) applications, I was only offered two interviews and one job. I began my part-time work at a local board game shop and during that time, I felt as though I had hit the lowest point in my life. Thankfully something soon managed to turn that around.

As many of you likely know, I was accepted into the JET Programme and now live in glorious Japan. In the second half of this year alone, I’ve managed to meet tons of new people, see three new countries, begin learning a new language, and become a claw game enthusiast. As of right now, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time and the start of 2016 couldn’t have been better. I rang in the new year with great friends, delicious food, and a new outlook on my life.


Excuse the vertical video please.

As I write this from Sydney, I can’t help but think that this trip was really what I needed to figure out my life in Japan. I never really thought that so many insights about my new home would come from being away from it, but the world works in mysterious ways. It’s a little bit late for Turkey Day musings but either way, this holiday season has made me realize how thankful I should be for certain aspects of my life. Here’s a shout out to all the special people in my life.

My Family

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This is my first Christmas away from family and although I’d like to think I’m generally a pretty competent adult, I still rely on them. This isn’t the first time I’ve been away from home for so long but it’s never easy for them to see me go. Although my parents and sister continue to amaze me with their general lame-ness and ability to make every picture look like it was taken on a flip phone, I miss them. They manage to message me nearly every day, but sometimes you just really want someone to bother when you get home, or a dog (or 3) to cuddle.

My Friends at Home

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Though time zones are a bitch and there’s now an ocean between us, it really helps me to know that regardless of what country I’m in or how long it takes for me to return, everything will always be just as I left it when I go home. In the past few years, I’ve had friends come and go but I’d hazard a guess that there are a few of them stuck with me for the foreseeable future. If you’ve put up with me since high school, I’m likely not going anywhere, sorry. Even if we don’t talk as often as I’d like, thanks for being around, all you beautiful people.

My Friends in Japan

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After living here for the past 5 months, I can safely say that I haven’t been alone the whole time. In fact, I’ve managed to make some pretty great friends. It’s awesome that the JET Programme brings all of us together from different backgrounds and places. I’ve somehow met people who live all over Japan, and even gone to visit a few of them already. Just by working the same job and having a shared interest in surviving in Japan, it’s pretty easy to find something to talk about with other JETs here. That being said, I’ve met a few people who can tolerate my humour, enjoy doing the same things as me, and will occasionally indulge me in my pursuit of beer. Unfortunately, some of my friends are camera-shy and are absent from the photo above. You guys will just have to deal.

My Friends around the World

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I’m sure you’re all tired of seeing my exchange photos for the millionth time, but the reality is that I’m still extremely grateful for the friendships I made in Sweden. I now have friends all over the world thanks to that experience and it’s comforting knowing that I’ll have people to visit almost anywhere I go in the world. In 2015 I reunited with people in Sydney. Who’s to say what 2016 holds?

With all these great people in my life and my current state of (arguably) putting my career on hold, I feel like I should improve myself in other areas. I’ve never really found New Year’s resolutions to be a useful idea but this year I’ve decided to finally give them a try. Here are my 8 resolutions for the year.

  1. Save $200 a month.

    I’ve more or less been living paycheque to paycheque because all my excess money has been going to travel. I think it’s time to finally start saving a bit.

  2. Go on a run at least once a week.

    I’ve gone for a few runs in Japan so far, but if I make it a consistent commitment, it should help me with 3 and 4.

  3. Reach (or exceed) the level of physical satisfaction that I had on exchange.

    Finding a gym in Japan has been a bit challenging for me for several reasons. The ones I have tried to sign up for so far will not accept my bank card for payment. I believe this to be a problem with my bank which I cannot control. That being said, I have recently been granted a Japanese credit card. This month I’ll see if I can use that for a gym membership.

  4. Blog at least once every month.

    I realized that many of my friends and family who I don’t talk to often are in the dark about my daily life. I’d like to remedy that.

  5. Pass the JLPT N5.

    The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) has 5 levels with N5 being the lowest. I’m currently taking weekly lessons in Japanese and plan to attempt the N5 this summer.

  6. Be more positive.

    This is a big one. I recently had a bit of a wake-up call from a dear friend and realized that I tend to put out a lot of pessimism and negativity. I need to stop comparing myself to others as doing that will only end poorly.

  7. Perfect at least 5 new recipes.

    If I have ever cooked for you, it’s likely that I’ve made one of four things. I don’t consider myself to be a horrible cook but I often find my own meals disappointing. That needs to change. I use my small and ill-equipped Japanese kitchen as an excuse, but from now on, I’ll think of it more as a challenge.

This year looks very promising and I can’t wait to see what it holds. I’ve already got some big things planned so keep an eye open for more posts. Until then, がんばります!

Renewal

So I know it’s been a very long time since I last published anything here. As someone who hates the excuse “I’m busy” I feel like I’m better served by telling the truth. Honestly I haven’t had much to write about or drive to write in the first place. Yes it’s true that I went to Korea last month and I probably could have done a post about that, but after spending a week reviewing the 1000 word post several times, I decided it was utter crap and not worth posting.

A summary of it is as follows: I went to Busan. It was dirty and underwhelming but the food was good. I took the ferry from Busan to Fukuoka and spent too much time in my hotel room embracing the silence and thinking. Travel isn’t always as glamorous as you may think it is.

In fact a lot of my thought has been about that very topic.

Do I still like travel? Why do I travel? Is it worth it anymore? Why did I come to this place?

I used to be able to answer those questions very specifically but now I can’t help but feel they all get the same reply, “I don’t know.”

I originally started travelling because I wanted to get out of Canada. It’s a pretty nice country, but ultimately I didn’t think that it suited me and that I could do much better. As I traveled around from one place to another, I kept one thought in the back of my mind, “Could I live here?” In my mind, I couldn’t settle for less than the best. Even when I found a place that I liked, I thought that I must surely keep going in case there’s something better out there.

After seeing 33 countries, I am just now starting to think that there may not be anything better. My past two trips to Korea and Kyushu have left me unsatisfied. After being away for a few days, I couldn’t help wanting to be back home in my little apartment in Amagasaki. I always knew that my placement in Japan was nice and I must have gotten lucky in the application process, but I never really thought I would like it so much. I now consider myself extremely fortunate to be where I am.

Somehow I’ve managed to find a place that seems to tick almost all of my boxes for now. It’s as safe as Stockholm, as beautiful as Calgary, as cheap as Berlin, and more convenient than any other place I’ve lived in.

I find myself falling into a routine and it scared me at first, but I realize this is what adult life is supposed to be like. The weekdays make my weekends feel special. I look forward to the possibility of what every weekend could hold because they are so precious to me now.

The challenges of living in a foreign country can get to you. The language barrier sometimes frustrates me and it’s hard not to feel isolated and lonely at times. I do have friends in Japan, but I miss having such a large network of people I could rely on. A lot of my everyday interactions in public are conducted in silence with the occasional yes or no. Though all that is true, I recently had a wake-up call of sorts. I realize that I need to get my shit together and stop complaining because it’s really not that bad and I ultimately chose this life myself. I feel like I fell into a slump this past month without even noticing it and in hindsight I feel really stupid.

Although my life isn’t perfect, being in Japan is probably the best thing for me at the moment. For that reason, I’ve decided to renew my contract for another year. I will now be in Japan until August 2017.

Now that Japan will be more of a permanent home for me, I’ll be sure to post more things about my everyday life. I know many of you have been curious about my daily ongoings so I’ll be sure to show you guys more. I hope to make blogging a more regular part of my life once again. Wish me luck.

 

Tokyo Take 2

Earlier this month I took advantage of exam week and took a trip to Tokyo. That city was one of the major deciding factors in my choice to move to Japan. When I found myself there for the first time two summers ago, it captivated me with the stark contrast between its ultramodern architecture and deep respect for tradition.

The trip began as an idea to meet up with a bunch of other Calgary JETs. After all, we had all been in Tokyo for a few days in August for orientation upon arrival in Japan but we didn’t really get the time to fully explore and appreciate it. Although we tried to get a big group together, only two of us flew in to Tokyo for the trip to meet a third who lives there. Most of my time on the trip was spent with Kelsey. As far as travel companions go she’s pretty alright with the exception of not liking karaoke. It’s probably her age showing. She’s pretty ancient; like basically 30.

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Baird makes some mean brews.

On Friday I left for Kobe airport directly from school and began my journey. Of course it wasn’t without problems and my flight was delayed for an hour and a half. With nothing to do in the small 6-gate airport, I found myself rereading old books that were on my kindle. When I arrived in Tokyo, we had a quiet night in and stayed in our cozy rental apartment that was very conveniently located in Yoyogi.

Saturday was much more eventful. We met up with the other Calgary JET, Martina. She took us to a hip area called Shimokitazawa where we were lucky enough to find a hole in the wall Canadian restaurant that served something resembling poutine and several dozen thrift shops. We also found some of the cutest and most expensive kittens and puppies I have ever seen.

That's 5205 Canadian Dollars!
That’s 5205 Canadian Dollars!

That evening, Martina introduced us to some of her Japanese friends who took us around the area of Asakusa which had a very cool sort of feel to it. It felt like we had stepped out of the tourist’s Tokyo for a couple hours as we ate and drank on a streetside table alongside Japanese salarymen and grandmas. From there, we decided to check out the clubbing scene in Tokyo as none of us had ever been before. We headed for Shibuya, which is known as the area where all the Japanese go to party (as opposed to foreigners).

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Asakusa by night.

After recovering the following morning, we eventually ventured out of the apartment for food. We went to Yoyogi Park where a vegetarian food festival was happening and we both enjoyed vegetarian burgers. It was possibly the best one I’ve ever had. From there, we made our way to Harajuku on foot only to be very easily persuaded into buying delicious frozen treats and craft beer. In hindsight, the whole day was basically spent in pursuit of things to put into our stomachs.

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After our adventures in food, we went to the Skytree. It was my second time there, but this time was totally different and in my opinion it was much cooler because we went at night. It’s pretty interesting to see all of Tokyo during the day, but once you actually know the general lay of the land and can identify things in the dark, it’s much more amazing.

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As if the day before was only the beginning, Monday was also spent largely on the hunt for delicious things to eat. For lunch we had a reservation at Edition by Koji Shimamura which I had read about online and came recommended to me from a friend. Edition was a great choice for French food in Roppongi and greatly deserving of its two Michelin stars. We decided to go with the chef’s choice menu which came with many of his specialties. I wish my photos were better but unfortunately the lighting wasn’t great. Both the fish and meat dishes (pictured below) were great and the duck was probably the best I’ve ever had. I wish that I could somehow replicate the coating on the john dory that was made of kadaif noodles. It was crunchy yet light enough that it didn’t overpower the texture of the fish. Overall it was a phenomenal experience and I would definitely go back to Edition.

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Crispy john dory wrapped in kadaïf served with broccoli puree and lemon jam
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Roasted challans duck breast, special style “Bernard Loiseau”

Monday was Kelsey’s last night in Tokyo as she had a 6:30am flight the next day. For our last meal, we went with Martina to an okonomiyaki restaurant in Harajuku called Sakuratei. I felt a bit horrible because although I live in Kansai, I have never had Okonomiyaki before. It was a delicious experience and I absolutely regret not eating it sooner. It’s also a bit of a cool experience as you get to make it yourself with the large bowl of ingredients they give you. We also had monjyayaki but I think I was too busy stuffing my face to get any pictures of it.

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The finished product.

As I was alone for my last day, I spent some time alone reading in one of the beautiful parks of Tokyo and took my time getting to Collage, where I had a lunch reservation. I was immediately impressed with the restaurant. It was situated on the 28th floor of the Conrad Hotel in Ginza and the view was striking. I shouldn’t have been so surprised as this restaurant marketed itself as a place where food is art and dishes are especially aesthetically pleasing. As you walk into the restaurant, you walk through the open kitchen on the way to the dining room and they allow diners to watch as their food is prepared. There isn’t even a window between the dining room and kitchen. The food was definitely as beautiful as I expected and the taste was pretty damn impressive too. I probably had the best salmon I’ve ever had, which means a lot considering how great the salmon was in Sweden.

The view from my table.
The view from my table.
Broiled mackerel amuse.
Broiled mackerel amuse.
Foie gras cube with seasonal mushroom variations.
Foie gras cube with seasonal mushroom variations.
Pavé of wild salmon red caviar and abalone.
Pavé of wild salmon, red caviar and abalone.
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Apple bread pudding ultra-modernistic.

After lunch, I browsed around Ginza for a bit and then headed to Akihabara where I practiced my UFO Catcher skills. I won my first major prize in a machine there. It was quite a satisfying and fitting end to a great trip to Tokyo.

Silver Week

This past week, I had my first encounter with Japanese budget airlines as I flew to Kyushu for Silver Week. Silver Week is the wonderful phenomenon that occurs once in a while in September when three holidays line up directly after a weekend, giving workers 5 days off in a row. It appears I was lucky to move to Japan when I did as the next time this will happen is 2026. There is a wonderful law in Japan that facilitates this, as it says that if there is only a single day between two holidays, that day shall also be a public holiday. There’s another reason to love this country.

Wanting to take advantage of every opportunity to travel that I can, I booked a trip to Kyushu shortly after settling into my new apartment and job. Kyushu is the southernmost main island of Japan and feels pretty much like a tropical island paradise. Kyushu seemed like a cool place to go for multiple reasons. Basically I know people there and there were a couple cool festivals going on that I wanted to see. Also Kumamon.

kumamon

My trip began with me flying into Kumamoto City. Kumamoto is known for its previously pictured bear mascot, tonkotsu ramen, and basashi (horse meat). I managed to find all of that within a day of my time there. I also found many friendly people who made my time in Kumamoto great from start to end. Here’s the tonkotsu ramen I ate when I first arrived in the city.

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As soon as I got off the plane and went to the bus ticket machine in Kumamoto airport, a woman approached me and asked where I was going and if I needed help with the machine. We took the bus to the city together and chatted. Her name was Kaiyo and it turns out she was a nurse who had just recently returned to Japan after volunteering in a hospital in Vietnam. We shared stories of travel and practiced English and Japanese with each other for the duration of the ride. Once we arrived in the city, she even took me on a tour of the area, pointing out famous landmarks and good restaurants. I’m really quite amazed at how warm Japanese people can be. Kaiyo stayed with me until I met up with my friend Liam, who I knew from Calgary. Liam is also a JET and I was staying with him at his apartment for the next few days.

While I was staying with Liam, he took me to see places all over Kumamoto prefecture which included Mt. Aso, Kurokawa Onsen, and the Drunken Horse Festival. After seeing all those places, we took a road trip to a tropical paradise in the Amakusa islands to see Nigel, another Calgary JET. With Nigel, we went to Satsumasendai in Kagoshima prefecture.

Mt. Aso

The smoking volcano on the other side of the vast valley is Mt. Aso. It’s an active volcano that actually erupted 5 days before this photo was taken. Thankfully my flights weren’t cancelled.

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Drunken Horse Festival 

When I booked my trip to Kumamoto, I didn’t actually know that this festival was scheduled to happen when I was there. It’s a bit of a controversial festival for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s believed that the festival was originally a kind of celebration for when Japan defeated Korea in war long ago. Secondly, there’s definitely an argument that could be made that this festival is inhumane to animals.

The festival consists of 60 teams that parade through the streets. Each team consists of a horse (and handlers), a float, and several dozen people. Each float has a guy standing on it who is leading a cheer that the other team members participate in. All in all, it’s a very loud festival and many of the horses seem very terrified to be there. The fact that the horses may or may not be drunk probably doesn’t help them stay calm either. Although the teams are not supposed to get the horses drunk anymore, some of the horses definitely had trouble walking. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera on me at the time so you’ll have to settle for shitty phone videos and pictures.

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Amakusa

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Satsumasendai

So I read about a festival in this city online and thought it would be cool to see since I was planning to visit Liam in Kumamoto anyway and this was only one prefecture away. It didn’t exactly turn out to go as I planned, but it was still cool anyway.

The festival was supposed to be a massive tug of war between about 6000 men. It technically was that, but it was also about 2 hours of standing around and waiting for it start. The two teams gathered and stared each other down for a good 20 minutes and met at the middle of the rope. There was obviously a bit of intimidation going on, as both teams brandished massive banners and began to play music. When it started, we were pretty confused as to what was happening. There was a really massive rush as both teams appeared to charge into each other at full strength. They even appeared to push into the crowds gathered on the side of the road a bit. Luckily there was a line of police between us and the teams. It was pretty intense. Even with the police trying to hold their ground, the crowds on either side were still pushed back a good 2 meters. I wish I captured the anarchy of it all on my camera, but I wasn’t expecting it and had the wrong lens on. Eventually they did appear to do a normal tug of war. Even though we were quite confused, it was still cool to watch. The music that opened the festival was great as well. I got some really great photos and video.

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The Grand Tour

Shortly after starting my new job in Japan, my friend Sam from Canada came to visit me (this is a different Sam from the one in the Sweden posts). Having never been to Asia before, I believe he was sufficiently amazed by the culture and convenience of this land we call Japan. It was my goal to give him the grand tour of my general area of the country and to make him hugely jealous of my decision to live here, and not in Korea (like he is currently doing). I say “general area” because we ventured to 5 different prefectures in as many days. Needless to say, his time in Japan was very much at my travel pace; breakneck speed. Sleep was not a priority that week.

Day 1: Osaka

Wanting to dazzle Sam right off the bat, I took him to the largest city of my general area. We spent the entire day in Osaka with plans to see the Osaka Aquarium and Dotonbori, with a few other side diversions. We managed to get all of them done.

The Osaka Aquarium (also known as KAIYUKAN) was a grand sight indeed. Their main selling feature is a pair of whale sharks, which is pretty awesome to be honest. If I had one, I would put it on all my posters too. The crowds at the aquarium were equally as awesome. We went on a Tuesday morning yet still had wall to wall people in front of us for most of our 3 hours at the aquarium. This was only the second aquarium that he’s seen, but I’ve seen many and still thought it was great! We both felt that it was easily worth our admission price of 2300 yen. I only wish I had bought the tie with seals on it from the gift shop. I guess I have to go again now!

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For anyone who has been to Osaka, Dotonbori was likely on their list of places to see. It’s the quintessential spot for tourists who want to pose like the Glico running man, fill up on takoyaki, and flirt with the idea of death by pufferfish. Unfortunately, by the time Sam and I arrived at Dotonbori, it had begun to rain very heavily. At that point, we were just trying to seek shelter in whatever restaurant we could find that had something Sam would eat. He’s a rather picky eater and won’t eat fish, anything raw or anything “strange”. Later in the trip I pushed him out of that comfort zone for a bit. We settled on a tourist trap that had an English menu and managed to sell us a few skewers of overpriced yakitori before we left to look for something else. At our next stop, Sam ended up burning his mouth on molten takoyaki as I downed a repulsive highball. I’m sure both of us took comfort in the other’s misery.

 

Day 2: Naruto

On the second day, I had the pleasure of figuring out the JR highway bus system for the first time ever and I didn’t get us lost. I’d consider that a major victory. We spent a large portion of the day on said buses to get out to a city called Naruto in Tokushima. Naruto is technically just past the border of my prefecture, on an island called Shikoku, but it is in fact 2 hours away from me. 4 hours of travel is a lot for what we saw. The ride was pretty spectacular regardless of its length.

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The major selling feature of Naruto is actually in the strait between Shikoku and Awaji Island. The currents there get so strong that the water forms whirlpools a few times a day when the tide goes in and out. Supposedly the whirlpools are best during the summer months too! That being said, the particular day that we decided to go was rather calm comparatively. You could definitely see the two opposing currents meeting, but it really only created a few wavy areas of turbulence rather than a full whirlpool. We definitely felt a bit lied to. The picture below is what we saw and this is what we expected.

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Day 3: Kyoto

After the disappointment of Naruto, I decided to take Sam to Kyoto, knowing that he would love it. Everyone loves Kyoto. Once again in true Jordan fashion, we finished what should have been two separate day trips in one day, making it back to my apartment to stay the night.

I took Sam to Fushimi Inari Taisha first. It was my second time going but it’s one of my favourite places so I didn’t mind going again. Actually, I wouldn’t mind going a third time. We made it to the top and back down in about 2 hours, and made our way directly to Arashiyama, which is known for its bamboo forest. Those were both very cool, but the highlight of my day personally was the visit to Yodobashi Kyoto.

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I have loved Yodobashi with fervour ever since I found nanoblocks Pokemon there last summer and decided that Sam should experience it. This time, our visit was very special. We sat for about 15 minutes in massage chairs that cost more than 2 years of my university tuition. Afterwards, we found an all you can eat kushiage restaurant on the top floor and gorged ourselves on fried goodness for a solid hour and a half. None of this would have ever been encouraged in Canada, where there’s clearly a lawsuit waiting to happen if a deep fryer was put at each table. It’s simply another reason for me to love Japan.

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Day 4: Ise

Our biggest trip was a train journey to Ise in Mie prefecture. Ise is arguably the most important Shinto shrine in Japan and houses one of the 3 most precious artifacts to the religion. Sam and I both took a course in university where we wrote papers on those artifacts so we were keen to go check out the shrine. It was nearly a 4 hour trip each way, so of course our efforts were rewarded by torrential downpour as soon as we got off the train. As neither of us had umbrellas, we ran into the only building in sight to find food and refuge from the rain.

After eating lunch, we had to venture out into the rain once again. With eyes peeled for anywhere we could buy umbrellas, we made our way to the Grand Shrine by bus. We didn’t see a single convenience store or drug store on the way. There was an enterprising ramen restaurant that was selling umbrellas at 600 yen a pop, though. Despite the rain, we still enjoyed Ise Grand Shrine. It almost added a mystical element to the day as well, which was kind of cool. As the main shrine is such a sacred place, no cameras are allowed, which is a bit of a shame. It was such a beautiful building and the atmosphere was amazing. Despite the long trip, I’m glad we went.

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Day 5: Fukuchiyama Abandoned Railway

On Sam’s last full day in Japan, we decided to join some of the other local JETs and hike the Fukuchiyama Abandoned Railway. The name is extremely descriptive in that the hike is an abandoned railway line that used to link Osaka and Fukuchiyama. It was originally closed off to the public but people would sneak in to hike it anyway. Their response was to officially open it to the public. It’s definitely a pretty unique experience. Many of the tunnels curve so you can’t see the light at the end as you enter. Some tunnels are even so long that they are pitch black.

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It was great having my first visitor here in Japan. Being able to do so many different things using my apartment as a base really makes me appreciate where I’m located. I feel completely lucky to have such a great placement on the JET Programme.