Saturday, July 23, 2016

a visit from the li family

May was a fairly unremarkable month, but on one Saturday, I met up with Anqi's family (minus Anqi), who happened to be in Japan for a few days!

The day started off with a bit of confusion as we planned to meet at the entrance of Hamarikyu Gardens,  where my parents had gone crazy over sakura a month before, but they went to another nearby park instead and so it took us a bit too find each other (I probably should have just gone to their hotel). At any rate, we did manage to meet up and had a quick stroll through the park while making our way to the dock to take a sightseeing boat to Asakusa!

I think it was nice to have a suit after they had been wandering all morning, and for some reason I remember waving to people on the bridges haha. After we got off the boat, we had some ice cream before heading to see the famous temple. Everybody got some names engraved on chopsticks as souvenirs too, which I thought was nice.

We had lunch at a restaurant in the area and then went to Akihabara, because Andi wanted to see the store as big as a football field (Yodobashi Camera), as somebody from the hotel had described it. Unfortunately the store is so full of stuff that it didn't look nearly as big as I think he imagined so I think he was a bit disappointed.

Originally the plan was to see some museums in Ueno or the imperial gardens, but everybody was quite tired (especially Andi, who was carrying a gigantic backpack of camera equipment for his dad that didn't get used) so we ended up going back to their hotel for a rest and some more ice cream.

For dinner I looked up some restaurants nearby and suggested we try yakiniku, but unfortunately the most recommended restaurant was full with reservations at both branches, so we settled on somewhere nearby. I don't think it was as nice as the other (they apparently went back another day and it was amazing) and they had no a English menu which was a bit difficult, but we had Japanese beef and it was very, very tasty. :)

I couldn't see them on Sunday because of a yosakoi event, but I was glad to have been able to see them for their first full day in Tokyo! I hope they had a good time too. :)

parents visit!

Aaand finally I am posting this blog post I wrote at over a month ago! -.-' 

When I told my parents that this would be my last year on JET, their first reaction was, "well I guess we need to visit Japan again then!" And true to their words, they came!

After a quiet night for their arrival, the next morning we got up early to visit Nokogiriyama! It's one of the places I always recommend to people in Chiba, and since this time I actually knew about the prefecture (as opposed to last time when they came only three months after I'd arrived), I was determined to take them somewhere in Chiba and not Tokyo. I noticed this time that it seemed like many of the heads of the statues, which had been knocked off in an anti-Buddhist movement in the past, seemed to have been replaced. Sometimes they looked like the proper heads and sometimes... they didn't haha, so I'm very intrigued as to who/what is behind it all. After a mishap on the way home where a train delay tricked me into leading us off the train and subsequently having to wait another hour in a tiny rural station, we got back to Chiba City and had all-you-can-eat shabushabu!

The next day I had yosakoi practice, in which we held a joint practice with the other big team in the prefecture, Maikagura. It was my first time performing in this year's costume and we only just barely came up with a plan for the stage performance, but in any case it was very fortunate timing that my parents happened to be around, so they could see me dance. I think this may end up being both the first and last time they'll get to see it live, and it's a bit of a shame that it wasn't a real event/the dance hadn't been finalized yet, but my dad happily took tons of pictures and I think they both enjoyed it, so it was well worth it. :)

On Monday we began a quest to find cherry blossoms still in bloom, which as it turns out was my mother's main objective for this trip. First we tried Inokashira Park in Kichijoji, but sadly not only were there no sakura, even the little zoo in the park was closed. After a prolonged and maybe unnecessary coffee break, we attempted another park that the internet told me should still have blossoms until mid-April, to no avail. By that time it was almost dark and so we just had dinner, at a Showa-era themed izakaya. We got to sit in a more unique room than usual and I enjoyed sitting in the bartender seat and drinking beer poured out from tea kettles. Hopefully they enjoyed it too!

The next day we went to Hamarikyu Garden, where I had been before with my old supervisor, which - amazingly - still had lots of sakura! So my parents spent a happy hour or two taking lots and lots of photographs, and we also had some tea in the teahouse there (though it was unfortunately not a proper tea ceremony). After that we went to see a small museum in Shiodome that we had passed on the way to the gardens, before having a nice sushi dinner before my interpreting class. After class I found them in a bar nearby and had a drink before heading back home.

I had thought that seeing lots of cherry blossoms at Hamarikyu would be enough to satisfy my mother's desire to see them, but as it turns out it wasn't, and she insisted that we go to Fukushima to see them, thanks to liberal advertising by JR in every train station we passed. So on Wednesday morning we got up bright and early to take a shinkansen to Fukushima! Our first stop was not far from Fukushima Station, a place called Hanamiyama (flower-viewing mountain), which lived up to its name! First on our walk there we saw fields and fields of yellow flowers, followed by lots and lots of cherry trees as we walked up the mountain trail. There were also things like statues and ponds and overall it was just gorgeous views everywhere! Next we had lunch back at the station (ramen, because I knew they would agree) before taking the train to our next stop, Kasumigajou Park. This also involved climbing up a mountain amidst tons of cherry tea in full bloom, and the view at the top was stunning! Even I had to admit it was worth going all the way to Fukushima to see those two sites. :)

The next day I had work in the morning that I couldn't skip, so my parents chilled at home until I came home for lunch and then we headed to Yokohama! I'd taken my mom there in March last year and decided it was worth taking them both, even though actually it took just as long to get to Yokohama as it did to Fukushima the day before. -.-' Anyway, we had a really nice time exploring the passenger pier (and taking selfies while lying on the deck, passing through the red brick warehouse,  and then eating two bowls of ramen each at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum. :3

And that was it! The next day I saw them off to the train station and they left for China, leaving me all alone again. :( But next time they come they can come visit me in Kyoto instead, which is a very exciting thought! :)

Monday, May 9, 2016

what's next

So, recently I've gone through and updated a good portion of what I've been up to so far this year, but I haven't really touched on what has actually been most of what I've been focusing on up until recently: job hunting.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, in December this year officially became my last year on JET, which meant that I had to think about what my next step should be, and in the end I decided to look for a new job in Japan, so once New Year's was over I decided to go ahead and start the job hunt, despite having over six months before the end of my contract. I had heard it would be fine to start looking for jobs with only a few months left on my contract (and maybe easier, since companies wouldn't have to wait), but since most companies hire for jobs starting in April I felt that it was best to keep my options open even though I didn't want to break contract.

Before coming on JET I thought that in the future I might like to be a translator, maybe even for movie subtitles or something, but having actually gotten experience, I've learned that I actually prefer interpreting to translating - it's more nerve-wracking and it's easier to make mistakes, but is more exciting and involves working with people. That said, I've also come to realize that (despite paying lots of money for interpreting classes) I don't want to be a full-time professional interpreter, because honestly I think it's a little bit too demanding. On the other hand, thanks to interpreting at various receptions and other events, I became interested in a job dealing with MICE - meetings, incentives, conventions, events/exhibitions. I've always been interested in event planning and I like being behind-the-scenes, so this was just a more specific area to narrow down my job search.

I think most people probably look for jobs by checking listings to see what's available (or at least that's my impression from fellow CIRs looking for jobs), but since I had a pretty specific set of conditions I was looking for, I decided to just focus on those and only look at listings if that didn't lead to anything. So I started by doing research into places I would want to/consider working for, which included places related to MICE, translation/interpreting (keeping options open), and travel/inbound tourism (another area I am interested in). I made a whole spreadsheet of places I found and in the end narrowed it down to 9 companies that seemed the most promising (in terms of location, job description, and whether or not they were actually hiring).

So around February I had officially begun the process, which included making typical application documents in Japanese, hand-writing them (apparently not really necessary nowadays but I decided it 1) couldn't hurt and 2) might leave a good impression/prove that I can read/write Japanese), and mailing them off (after confirming whether or not they were hiring). I also spoke to a Carleton alum who I knew from Tokyo alumni events and took a tour of his company, who was also kind enough to introduce me to some acquaintances of his.

Long story short, I ended up with three job offers after interviews with 7 companies, and now I have a new job for after JET!! The first job offer was from a company that seemed to mostly focus on audio-visual equipment but also planned events, that made me do two interviews and two written tests (part language, math, and personality test) for over 6 hours and also involved going to work every other Saturday, which was not really ideal, but I was offered a job the day after the interview and it was a huge relief to have it as a backup (also they seemed to really want me and even offered to match any better salary offers from other companies). The second was from Kansai International Airport, as a result of the introduction from my Carleton alumni acquaintance - a completely unexpected opportunity (to be an interpreter/assistant to a French executive for the half-French half-Japanese company that took over the airport starting in April) that I very seriously considered taking. The whole process was very different from the rest, in that I first met with the alum's friend in a cafe in Tokyo, then with his colleague (who would have become my boss), then was taken out for a business lunch by the Japanese HR people in Kansai.

In the end though, I chose to work for a very small event planning company with a branch in Kyoto, mainly dealing with organizing academic conferences (with occasional exhibitions/receptions). There are only 29 employees overall and only 16 in Kyoto, and they told me up front that they don't pay overtime (and I will most certainly work overtime), and it's not quite as international as I was envisioning, but they told me outright that they really wanted me because they know that international things are their weakness (I will be their first non-Japanese employee), which makes me feel like I could maybe make a real difference. They're also completely fine with me having no real experience in the field, will pay me what will end up being more than I make now if I include bonuses, and (most importantly) are located in Kyoto, which was my main goal. I also felt like maybe there was some sort of connection with the company, as I emailed to ask if they were hiring just after they had posted job openings on a job hunting website (that I didn't know about), and on a couple of other occasions also emailed them just as they were about to email me. I have only met the two people who interviewed me, but they seemed very chill and friendly so I'm hoping the rest of the company has a similar vibe. They will also not only wait for my contract to end, but let me start after my final exam for interpreting class, which really means that this is an ideal situation where I can get basically everything I had hoped for: a new job in Kyoto, in a field I am interested in, that doesn't require breaking my current contract and allows me to finish the last course I need to graduate from my interpreting school (and go to our big yosakoi festival in June).

So that will be the next stage of my Japan adventure, scheduled to start in August! I am very very excited about it and honestly kind of just want to fast-forward a few months, haha. Job hunting only lasted about three months for me, but it was very stressful and so I am very glad to be done with that, with what appears to be a happy ending/new beginning. Here's looking to the future! :)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

okinawa once more

At the end of March, I took my third trip to Okinawa! It was less than a year since I had been there last, but my friends were planning another trip and I couldn't resist joining them, haha. Because I was trying to save as much vacation time as possible (I've run quite low this year), I was the last one to arrive and also the first one to leave...but anyway I had a great time as usual!

I arrived late on Thursday night, when everybody was well into the night and already singing karaoke. Having missed out on most of the fun worked out well for me the next morning though, when we got up early to take the ferry to Zamami Island and everybody else was in a very...fragile state haha. The ferry ride was a couple of hours long and surprisingly choppy, and even I started to feel a bit seasick. But by and by we made it to the shore, so we trooped over to our hostel to check in and had some really tasty burgers there for lunch.

Next we ventured up a winding road to see the view from the top of the island, which was quite pretty even though it was cloudy. Then we wandered all the way back down again to see the beach! We only had one night in Zamami and we figured if we wanted to go into the water this was our only chance, so we did, even though actually it was cloudy pretty chilly outside (for Okinawa). The water was super clear and pretty though, and nice after we warmed up a bit (only to get cold again not too long after).

After the beach we went back to the hostel and showered before heading to a local izakaya, as recommended by our CIR friend who lives on the island. The food was very delicious! Afterwards we bought some drinks at the little shop nearby and went to hang out by the port and chat, until everybody got tired and sleepy and we went back.

The next morning we took a quick walk to the little park by the port, which included a giant whale sculpture, a tsubo foot therapy path, and a gazebo with a nice view of the ocean. And then it was back on the ferry, which was much more enjoyable the second time now that nobody was hungover. A few of us also went up to the top of the deck, where there was a great breeze and sometimes splashes of ocean water, plus a pretty much constant beautiful view.

After getting back to Naha we split into a going-home group and a Shuri Castle group, and even though I had been before I chose to go to the castle. This time we went along a path I hadn't been on before, and got to see some great views of the city from above. Then we went back and rejoined with everybody and went to a Turkish restaurant for dinner. It was very tasty but took a very long time because there was only one chef working to serve a whole (little) restaurant of people, and after dinner we took a walk along Kokusai Street to a bar, then walked back and went to another one nearby that had delicious french fries.

I had to get up early(ish) the next morning to catch my flight, so apparently I missed some more tasty food and good times, but I had managed to swim in the ocean, have Okinawan soba, and see everybody so I think it was a successful trip. :)

Monday, May 2, 2016

sparkles and supper

The next two blog-worthy events of 2016 were going to see takarazuka in Takarazuka City and then attending my first Burns Supper!

I had gone to see takarazuka (all-female musical theater, basically) before with my friend Jane in Tokyo, and this time she helped get us tickets in the home of takarazuka itself, Takarazuka City! I took a night bus to Osaka and met up with our other friend Charlie for a quick breakfast before taking the train to Takarazuka and meeting Jane, dropping off their stuff at their hostel, and heading to the theater! The show was the story of William Shakespeare as he became a writer and grew more famous, followed by the usual musical revue. Just like last time, I thoroughly enjoyed it despite not fully understanding everything. Then after the show we relaxed for a bit in a
cafe before heading into Osaka to meet up with other friends for dinner, drinks, and fun. :3

Then, two weeks later was the Burns supper! Apparently this is a common thing in Scotland, to celebrate the Scottish poet Robert Burns, and the St. Andrew's Society of Tokyo and Yokohama hosts one every year in Tokyo. This year, because the ball that they usually held separately didn't happen, they combined the two into a black-tie Burns supper event! I borrowed my sister's prom dress and brought it back to Japan when I came back after Christmas, because I figured I might as well take the opportunity to dress up. :D The dinner featured an open bar with lots of different types of whisky, an absolutely delicious dinner menu including haggis and lamb, the traditional Address to a Haggis, bagpipes, address to the lasses and reply to the laddies (where both sexes poke fun at each other), and my favorite part of the night - a ceilidh of Scottish country dancing! They didn't do a very thorough job of teaching us the steps, but luckily my date was Scottish and knew all the dances so all I had to do was try and follow along. :3 All in all it was a super fun night and I hope we go again next year!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

atami adventures

Whoops, another huge gap in posting. But things have finally calmed down a bit so hopefully I'll be all caught up soon!

So shortly after I returned to Japan, my friend Tomás came to visit on his way back to Thailand! You may recall that he took me all around Thailand last Golden Week, so this time it was my turn to return the favor. We didn't go all over, but we did go to Atami, a place famous for hot springs that neither of us had every been to before.

We set off Saturday morning on a short shinkansen trip (per Tomas's request) and arrived at Atami Station, where one of the first things we saw was a foot bath right outside the station! We didn't use it but saw lots of people enjoying it and little vending machines with commemorative towels. Then, as it was lunchtime, we wandered around the shopping streets looking for a place to eat before deciding on a place with fresh seafood. To be honest I think I have had better but Tomás seemed to enjoy his a lot so that's what mattered, haha.

After lunch we continued wandering and went along the beach, where we found a (supposedly) famous statue that Tomás actually knew from a game he played! We saw lots of early cherry blossoms and also visited a shrine nearby (Kinomiya Shrine), which had some very old and big and impressive trees before visiting the Atami Plum Garden, which was having a festival. Unfortunately we got there just before closing and there wasn't much there in terms of festivities, but there was a cool little waterfall and cave as well as a few plum trees in bloom.

Then we walked up some windy roads to our hotel, which was kind of in the middle of nowhere but had some pretty nice baths. There I discovered that I somehow had forgotten to make sure I had enough cash to pay for the hotel, and they didn't accept credit cards. D: They were kind enough to accept payment on check-out instead though, so we averted a crisis. Then we took s bus back down into town and wandered around before finding a ramen restaurant for dinner, which was delicious, and then returned to the hotel for a soak in the bath and some drinks before going to bed early.

The next day we got a bus pass and went around the Itou Peninsula. First stop:  the Jogasaki coast and bridge, which was probably my favorite part of the trip! The weather was very nice and the trail was beautiful, with stunning views of rocky coasts and ocean everywhere.

Next we went to the Izu Cactus Park, to see capybaras soaking in hot springs! Well it was probably more just like a bath, but anyway they were happily soaking (and pooping?!) in it, along with some citrus fruits. Very cute. :3 There were a lot more animals and exhibits (and cacti), but the capybaras were definitely the highlight.

Our next stop was Mt. Omuro, an extinct volcano covered in grass that reminded me of Stone Mountain back home somehow (maybe just its very round shape). We took a chairlift up and took a walk around the rim of the crater, which had a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji. You could do archery inside the old crater, but we didn't try.

Our final stop of the day was Lake Ippekiko, which frankly wasn't really worth stopping for in the end, but we took a short walk before heading back to wait for the next bus before it got too dark. And then we had dinner at a cute little restaurant and ice cream before heading back to our hotel.

Our last morning in Atami was spent at the Museum of Art, before having a final sushi lunch and heading back to Yokohama! I took Tomás around to all my standard spots, including the passenger terminal, red brick warehouse, and Cup Noodle Museum, which I think he enjoyed. Then we went back to Chiba and had yakiniju to celebrate his birthday!

And that was the end of his trip, since he was going back to Thailand the next day for a conference. It was a short few days, but lots of fun and a great first trip of the new year! :)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

wrapping up 2015, starting off 2016

Well it's been a while, again (sorry parents), but I've finally dug out some time today to try and catch up on blog posts and Facebook photo uploads. This first one will be a bit short, just to catch up on the rest of 2015 and beginning of 2016.

After Kanazawa I:
 - went bowling with the General Affairs Bureau, which was surprisingly fun (I even bowled several strikes!). Our team won a prize for having the lowest total score out of all of them, hahaha. -.-'
 - attended a block event in Narita and Chiba AJET's traditional Thanksgiving dinner, which as usual involved lots of turkey and pumpkin pie from Costco :3
 - went to the CIR mid-year conference, which was probably the most fun one yet, involving a LINE chat that was most active during boring seminars, the traditional meetup at Irish Pub Always on the first night, and lots of good times in general
 - went to Kuroshio Yosakoi, the last yosakoi event of the year
 - helped welcome 100 barangay captains from our sister city in the Philippines
 - finalized that this will be my fourth and final year on JET, which is bittersweet and exciting and scary at the same time. 

And then I went home for Christmas! Since this is my Japan blog I won't go into too many details, but my family and the two other families that were my parents' good friends in grad school (who I basically consider my extended family in the US) all gathered together for Christmas for the first time in apparently over a decade! We rented a little cabin in the mountains of north Georgia a few days before Christmas (with things like a jukebox and a hot tub!) and generally had a wonderful time, including rewatching all three Lord of the Rings movies. :3 The rest of my time was spent eating far too much of my mom's cooking and generally doing nothing at home, which was fabulous.

Then it was time to go back to Japan, which was a bit of an ordeal that turned out all right in the end. I had originally booked flights that would get me back in Japan the day before New Year's Eve, so I could spend it with friends and have some time to adjust to jetlag before work started on the 4th. I had booked with United instead of my usual Delta for cheaper tickets/slightly better travel times, which was fine on the way over.

But then on the day I was supposed to leave, snow in the midwest led to delay in my first flight, which made it impossible for me to transfer to the next flight, so I had to call and reschedule for the next day (luckily we had checked before leaving for the airport). Except that my friend had been planning to stay at my apartment that night after I arrived. :/ But anyway, I booked a new flight for very early the next morning.

And then woke up and found out that flight had been completely cancelled (presumable due to bad weather). D: We decided to go the airport anyway to talk to agents directly about rescheduling (I tried calling on the way there but couldn't connect even after waiting for like half an hour), and after a long, tense wait in line.....the United agent hooked me up with two Delta flights to take instead! Which meant that I got miles, and because I was Silver Medallion last year I even got upgraded to business class - on both flights!! So I got to enjoy free breakfast on a short domestic flight, followed by the most comfortable trans-Pacific flight I've ever had, with a seat that reclined, super cushy blankets and pillows, and lots of tasty food. So all's well that ends well. :)

I got back on the afternoon of New Year's Eve, and a couple of hours later went to go pick up my (very drunk from having spent all day drinking cheap wine in a chain restaurant) friends from the station and brought them back to my apartment! The rest of the new year's adventures (not all in one day) involved watching Japanese NYE TV, (starting and) finishing up a bottle of vodka somebody had given me forever ago, mixing hot chocolate and whisky, playing Set and Bananagrams, and going to Mcdonalds for our first meal of the year. Good times all around. :D