2010 in Review

Well, another year has come and gone and it is hard to believe that it is already the 4th here in Japan. I am back to the half days of sitting at the Board of Education where they put us in a room of mostly windows and we all feel like a bunch of gold fish as people walk by and occasionally peek their heads in to make sure that none of us jumped ship and left early. Anyway, in keeping with tradition, here is my 2010 in review.

January
Jun and I went to Tokyo Disney Sea’s Bridal Preview and starting really thinking about picking a date. Besides looking at all the pretty dresses and seeing two that eventually became the ones I ended up picking, we learned that the Civil Ceremony option was definitely not something we were interested in. Sorry chubby fake Italian man, you can greet people at someone else’s wedding. I’ll stick with a traditional Christian ceremony. Jun turned 21, and we went into Tokyo to see the circus that was in town.

February
First snow of the year and several scary bike rides to work later, I taught my first Valentine’s Day lessons at my elementary schools. It was cute how surprised all my elementary school students were when I told them about how we held Valentine’s Day parties in my elementary schools and were even allowed to eat candy. Feels nice to know that I am teaching them something. Jun and I celebrated our two year anniversary as a couple by, and this is probably obvious, going to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea along with staying at the newly built Tokyo Disneyland Hotel. Starbucks started selling their cherry blossom flavored drinks and Jun got serious about job hunting.

March
In March, we had more snow and I attending my very first Japanese elementary school graduation where I cried. Students at the elementary school that I could not attend their graduation sang to me and I cried even more. My host sister, An, turned 13 and one of my favorite university professors came out for a visit. March also marked my last visit to the Jr. high school with the crazy teacher who drove my absolutely up the wall with his terrible teaching skills, lower than dirt English skills, and his serious lack of social skills.

April
Celebrated the cherry blossom season with friends with the traditional picnic at a local temple under the blossoms. I also began working at a new Jr. high school where I finally had a teacher who spoke decent English and encouraged speaking activities in class. The downside? The school is a 40-50 minute bike ride from my home and the principal probably hates me – but he had decided he didn’t like me before I had even arrived at the school. Buttercup also joined our little family after what was probably a very stressful bike ride back to the apartment in a cardboard box

May
We discovered Buttercup’s dumb side as she tried to stuff way too many things into her mouth at once and that she has a love for sesame sticks. Jun and I went to Tokyo Disney Sea’s Spring Carnival along with Tokyo Disneyland’s new Easter Wonderland theme. I participate in two elementary school Sports Days and Jun and I enjoyed the warm weather.

June
My elementary school won their basketball tournament against another school and I went to cheer on my host brother, Ryu, at his Saitama Prefecture Cup championship match – they lost, unfortunately. I was given my own classroom at elementary school number two and I began making lots and lots of banana slug related decorations.

July
Celebrated the Star Festival at Tokyo Disneyland and all chaos broke out when one of the ALTs left to go home. The city refused to hire a new ALT, so everyone’s schedules were going to be switched around. My favorite elementary school’s students all wrote me letter which, thankfully, ended up not being necessary as my placement did not change and instead was granted one more elementary school bringing the total up to three. Jun and I went down to Yamanashi to their second home where there was a reunion of sorts in their cabin in the woods.
August
Fireworks festivals all over the place, we attended one of the larger ones wearing yukata with friends. I heard about a Harry Potter Countdown event being held in Tokyo and, thinking it was a huge deal, took the day off work to go. Ended up not being all that exciting, so after it was over Jun, my friend Tommy, and I went into Odaiba where we test drove fancy cars. Still, hearing about the event lead me to become the Japan Correspondent to a fantastic Harry Potter website that I am now very active on. I turned 25 and to celebrate we went to Tokyo Disney Sea for their BonFire Dance them that I participated in three times.

September
In September, school started up again and I found myself in elementary school heaven going 4 out of 5 days a week. That one day of the week where I had to go to Jr. high quickly became my hell day as the summer heat and talking only 10 – 15 minutes of an 8 hour work day tied together with a principal who complained that I arrived at work sweaty from my 40 – 50 minute bike ride. I cheered on my host brother, Ryu, in his final sports day as a Jr high school student, and therefore final sports day ever, and Hikari turned two-years-old. Jun and I went with his family down to Kanazawa again where we pretty much only ate and went to an aquarium.

October
My very good friend, Hitomi, got married marking my first wedding in Japan and the first wedding I attended of a friend’s. I went to Kawagoe Matsuri with my friends where I stalked a kitty on a leash and at the end of the month, Jun and I had our first fittings for the wedding. I picked out my dresses after thinking about it for a long time and am very happy with my white fairy tale princess gown and my exotic pink-orange-gold dress to wear to the reception. It only took…4 hours to figure out my dresses.

Novemeber
I cosplayed at Jun’s college’s festival to help sell Sri Lankian curry and I started doing a lot of coaching at my elementary schools in preparation for their soccer tournament. The elementary school I got the most involved with ended up winning, both boys and girls, so that was very exciting for me. Jun and I had a meeting at Tokyo Disney Sea, a 4 hour one, to talk about various wedding things, so we decided to spend the morning at Disneyland to enjoy the Christmas Fantasy theme that included a parade with Mickey and Minnie on ice skates! The definite highlight of the month was heading back to the States to visit my family for the first time in three years. There was much Taco Bell eating done and just enjoying being back in a country where I can walk around outside without having to worry about being stared at for looking different.

December
I arrived back in Japan on the 5th after making the tragic realization that I had left my camera in the States. I am not sure who was more upset about it, myself or my students. We had a really really long meeting of 6 hours where Jun and I made all the decisions about the wedding and began working like crazy on the wedding invitations. At least there are now fewer things to stress about now? For Christmas, Jun and I went to see the musical of Beauty and the Beast which was fantastic and went into Odaiba afterwards. My oldest host brother turned 18. And, to finish off 2010, Jun and I rung in the New Year at a local shrine that is said to have the most spiritual energy in the area. Here’s hoping that things keep looking up in 2011!

♥My Japanese Bestie’s Wedding♥

receiving their rings

Not to be confused with the slightly terrible movie with Julia Robert’s called My Best Friend’s Wedding. Anyway, on Sunday I went into Tokyo for one of my best friends here in Japan’s wedding. We met when she was an exchange student at my university and her room was next to mine for pretty much the entire year. The weather forecast was rain, but right before I was about to head out, the clouds parted and it got all hot and sunny.

fancy envelope for giving money


In Japan, it is customary to give money as a gift, and you put that money in a shugi-bukuro. The envelope is elaborately decorated with gold and silver strings twisted and tied into a decorative knot. Japanese folklore says that the knot is supposed to be impossible to open. A friend may give about $300, and an especially close friend may up the sum to $500. Bosses, uncles and aunts may part with up to $1,000 for their favorite couple. The gift-giver’s name and the grand total of the cash inside is written on the outside of the envelope. The basic rule is “odd numbers” when giving money. “Odd numbers” mean the couple won’t split up, whereas “even” are easily divided. Furthermore, the number “4” is “shi”(connotates “death”) and “9” is “ku”(suffering).

Hitomi enters the chapel with her father


The chapel was decorated with white flowers and ribbons, but the first thing I noticed were the high tech not-so-hidden cameras that we later learned were being used to make a short montage to be shown at the end of the wedding where the guest list and message from the bride and groom.

The ceremony itself didn’t last very long, and I had to contain my giggles as the foreigner minister did most of the ceremony in Japanese except for a very excited, “You may kiss the bride!”

the new married couple!

After the ceremony, Hitomi (the bride) and her now husband (Daisuke) walked down a long staircase outside and we all threw flowers all over them. There was the throwing of the bouquet in which Hitomi more did a light toss and my friend Yu caught it. There was a small little drink and food reception while we all waited for Hitomi and company to come for picture time.

cutting the cake


After all the preparations were done inside, we entered the dining area where there were several speeches done and then a cake cutting ceremony. After the first three courses were served, the bride and groom left the room for their dress change and we got to watch a slide show of their lives up to now. I was featured in several pictures for Hitomi’s side…including me dressed up as Sailormoon.

after the dress change


When they came back, they entered from a staircase and then it was almost immediately time for the candle ceremony. On each table int the center the was a candle that the bride and groom had to light using a very long flame…. torch….thing.

the coolest little water thing ever!


After they had gone around all the tables, Hitomi and Daisuke returned to the front of the room for a really neat ceremony where they poured water into a tower and it began to glow different colors. It was really pretty!

me, Hitomi's adorable father, and Hitomi


After having all our food – including a really rich dessert, it was announced that we could all go outside and receive a piece of cake from either the bride or the groom. It was really cute and Hitomi’s father got all giddy when I got a piece of cake which resulted in me standing next to him and Hitomi for 5 minutes or so while lots of people took pictures.

balloon send off


After we all got cake, each of us was given a balloon with a sunflower seed in it that we all released at the same time. Several drunk people released their balloons a little earlier than was instructed.

during the final flower giving ceremony


During the final part of the party, Hitomi and Daisuke gave flowers to their parents and made some speeches. Hitomi made everyone cry and even Jun started to get teary-eyed when Daisuke’s father was talking.

study abroad friends! back row: me, Ai, Atsushi, Taka, Yu, Minami front: Daisuke (groom), Hitomi, Rie

Kit Kats are BACK!

ew ew and more ew

This is a Yawatayaisogoro Ichimi – Japanese chili pepper – flavored Kit Kat. I have had things that mixed chili pepper with something sweet and actually enjoyed it. The Mexican popsicles that are mango with red chili are surprisingly delicious. However, I have something against putting that in chocolate. Sure, there are dishes that do that. Mole is delicious. But…I am putting my foot down on this one. Jun’s dad seemed to be pretty excited about this particular Kit Kat though…

yep, that is one happy looking man

Nationalism 72

classic

I have been so tempted to buy shirts like this, but I just can’t bring myself to support the clothing (hehe).

Birthday & BONfire Dance at Tokyo Disney Sea

me in front of Mermaid Lagoon

I have a few updates that I need to do, but I thought it would be best to start with the events of yesterday (read: my birthday).

Just like last year, I wanted to go to Disney Sea for my birthday – it is nice to have staff and various people wish you happy birthday. Decided to go without the yukata this year because it was so hot and I wanted to be able to move easier. The park was ridiculously crowded, so we knew that we were not going to have much luck getting on any rides and opted to see all the shows instead.

slightly photoshopped, but still cute

We spent a good portion of the morning in Mermaid Lagoon because it was out of the heat and not very crowded. Once we had cooled down and played around there long enough, we head out and walked around the park a little. We saw Mystic Rhythms, a live theatrical show that takes place in an abandoned hangar that has been reclaimed by the jungle. For those interested, I found a great video on youtube of it:

After the show, we decided to get some lunch at one of our favorite restaurants in the park, the Zambini Brothers’ Ristorante, for some pasta and pizza. Jun picked the restaurant for lunch so that we could watch the summer time special show called Chip & Dale’s Cool Service Delux. In a nutshell, Chip and Dale want to be the pranksters they always have been and built a water-shooting boat. During the show, three boats circle around Mediterranean Harbor and douse the audience with ridiculous amounts of water.

Chin and Dale!


We were sitting in the outside section of the restaurant, but water from the show was still able to find its way to us. We ended up participating in the next show and it took several hours to dry off completely due to the water from Chip & Dale’s ship along with the dancer in our area who literally used a fire-hose to spray the audience.

see, I told you!

Despite my dress becoming what felt like 10 times the weight it was dry, being soaking wet at midday felt pretty damn good…until I ran into one of my Jr. high school students not but 5 minutes after. We decided to take advantage of feeling cool, and walked around the park some more before we watched Big Bang Beat – well, I watched it while Jun slept through it. After, we went back to Mediterranean Harbor to watch the Legend of Mythica. I have seen the show more than 10 times now, but it never gets old. This time we got front row seats to Goofy’s section of the show.

all soaking wet and loving it

After the show, we wanted around some more and road a few of the somewhat unpopular rides. There was no line for the milk tea popcorn, so we got some of that to munch on as we walked. Soon, we decided it was time to get spots for the nighttime event – and the main reason for going to Disney Sea – the BONfire dance.

funny...Aladdin doesn't look Arabian to me...

OH…MY…GOD I LOVE THIS SHOW SOOOOO MUCH! We actually watched all the shows of the day and you can bet that I danced during all of them. To be honest, I actually did a little bit of practicing at home before going to the park. The show was definitely more extravagant this year than last year with the biggest changes being Mickey and Minnie’s costumes and the addition of the Sultan.

Mickey pre-BONfire dance


Mickey and Minnie made their appearance midshow in lovely white and silver costumes. They did a slow dance routine as the bonfire was being lit. After, the music got a little exciting and some dancers pulled off their white robes to reveal there BONfire dance clothes underneath.

Minnie in her BONfire dance clothes


Needless to say, I was totally geeking out during the performance and Jun seemed to have a good time watching me enjoy myself – too shy to do the dance. I found a great video of the BONfire dance that you all should check out…and dance to!

After dancing and enjoying the show, we road on a few more rides and then did some shopping. I always buy a postcard for the theme of that visit, and this time it is pretty fancy if I do say so myself.

postcard


After getting the postcard, we made one more stop before heading home. A few visits to Disney Sea ago, I saw a vintage Minnie doll that I instantly fell in love with. Well, Jun thought it would be an appropriate addition to my birthday if I bought her.

isn't she adorable?!

And that, in quick summary, is how I spent my 25th birthday. I took over 200 pictures and you can find them all at my Dotphoto page.

Japan 47 Prefectures Coin Program

Apparently, Japan started these two years ago…but I didn’t know about them until this year. To mark the 60th Anniversary of Enforcement of the Local Autonomy Law, Japan launched “Japan 47 Prefectures Coin Program” in 2008. In this program, Japan will issue silver coins and bi-color clad coins of 47 prefectures in Japan for several years. I was given the 2010 coins by Jun’s mom, so I thought I would share those with you.

Kochi Prefecture 500 yen coin


Kochi is located in Shikoku Island and facing the Pacific Ocean. This region is known as its mild climate and rich nature.

Sakamoto Ryoma is one of the most famous historical figures in Kochi, and the 175th anniversary of his birth will be celebrated this year, in 2010. He made a great contribution to Japan’s modernization at the end of the samurai period in Japan.

Fukui Prefecture 500 yen coin


Fukui is located to the north of Kyoto and Gifu, and faces the Sea of Japan. Just like Gifu Prefecture, Fukui is often hit by heavy snowfall in winter.

Up to now, more than eighty percent of dinosaur fossils in Japan have been discovered here in Fukui Prefecture. The dinosaur in the foreground is Fukuiraptor and the image in the background is Fukuisaurus whose fossil remains were also discovered in Fukui. Again, this dinosaur was found to be a new species of dinosaur, but unlike Fukuiraptor, it was a plant-eating dinosaur.

Gifu Prefecture 500 yen coin


Gifu is located almost in the center of Japan and out of Japan’s 47 prefectures, is one of only eight prefectures with no access to the sea.

The Chinese milk vetch flower is Gifu’s prefectural flower. The houses in the background are in the “Historic Village of Shirakawa-go,” a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Gifu Prefecture. The traditional style of these houses is adapted to the natural environment in Shirakawa, which is often hit by heavy snowfall in winter.

I wish I had paid attention previous years…I want a Kyoto 500 yen coin…

Squirrel Gluttony

simply amazing

Found this at one of my favorite stores (which is sadly going out of business). For those of you who cannot read the text, here is what it says:

GLUTTONY

squirrel’s speech bubble: This taste has got me! It warms the cockles of the heart…

If the shirt had a better cut (it kind of bellowed out at the bottom) I would have paid the 900 yen to add it to my wardrobe.

fancy text: There is no accounting for taste, so choose your own

text at the bottom: HERE IS A TASTE! which as spread all over the world

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