Fabulous February!!!

Hey guys!  So, I know you’ve been waiting, but man getting ones self to sit down and sort photos is a task not easy to take on.   But here it is at last!  The Long awaited FEBRUARY!!!

I know, I know… Its march.  But not as late as the last post!!  To be honest March feels like its almost over, but maybe thats just the pace of things here.

So February was a busy month and thats why I didn’t want to actually combine it with January once I saw how many photos I’d already taken by the 21st.  Firstly Its been a month of preparation for the graduation of my third year students.  As I may have explained in an earlier month, the schools here work like this; Preschool, Shogakou (elementary school) – 6 years, Chugakou (junior high school)- 3 years and Koukou (high school) – 3 years.  So all the ALT’s have been preparing for the departure of their 6th, and 3rd years.  Graduation is actually in March, but a lot of the prep work gets done in February, like final tests and interview preparation for those students getting work and those going into trade or University.  Many students will leave the island at the beginning on April so theres a lot to do.  I stop teaching the 3rd years in February.  My last lesson with them was a jeopardy game reviewing Christmas lessons before their listening tests.  I record the tests with the teachers.  I’m basically uncharge of the listening part of the English test for the 2nd and 3rd years, so I write up the dialogue, we record it, and then i write up the multiple choice picture questions.  The questions are recorded and they have to choose the answer.  Then I do some quick vocal tests at the end and ask them the meaning of a certain few words in English that were highlighted in our lessons.   I make copies of the CD’s and we test them all before the tests start which is kinda fun and I’m so quick at it.  I feel really good when I can take some of the work load off my teachers hands and take care of something like that!

Other than tests, February had many exciting things.  First, my ALT friends and I had a spa weekend in Fukuoka!  Rachel, Yui and I met up in Fukuoka and caught a bus to the Tiara spa resort!  Well, actually, we got on a train cuz we missed the express bus, and then realized the train was the wrong one… So we got off that and then got on another train back to a different bus stop… but we still made it!!  We were staying the night!  It was so fun!  We went into all kinds of Saunas, may favourite was the purple room with amethyst walls and lavender scents!  They had a manga library!  TV chairs! and Onsen!!  The hot water was the best!  I love Onsen so much!  Then we read books till about midnight and went to bed.  The beds were like super small rooms, like a bed locker!!  I felt like it was similar to the capsule hotel I’ve heard about in Tokyo.  And the only downside to them was you couldn’t control your own heating so they were really warm!  We also had an amazing dinner there and shared many side dishes!! So Delish!  The next day we returned to Fukuoka and had breakfast in a cafe near the Hakatta station shopping centre.  The breakfast was really good but really small… So we ended up buying more food.  We were planning on doing some shopping around Fukuoka.  I was looking for a winter coat for my next trip to Hokkaido and we had a hair appointment too.  If there was time, we were also planning on seeing a movie before heading back to Iki!  Well, before we could get out of the station we got stopped by these camera dudes who held up a sign in English saying why are you in Fukuoka.  Or something like that.  All of a sudden we were surrounded by a camera crew and being asked questions and Rachel and I were talking about birthday spa weekend and shopping and Iki and how were from Canada and America and Wow!  Turns out they were from a show that airs on TNS called memoirs of Goripo and they go around Japan and ask people what they’re doing to show people all the things you can do!  Well we got hooked and our friend Yui was super camera shy.  At first they wanted to follow us to the hair appointment but that was in 3 hours!  So they decided to take us to a traditional spot in Fukuoka and showed us this guy who made Fukuoka style obis for a living!  It was like going to a pioneer village in Canada and watching them weave blankets except it was Japan and Obis!  So cool!  Then we went to a gift shop and they said we want to buy each of you a present, 3000 Yen each!  So we looked around and picked some traditional gifts!   So Fun!   I’ll get a copy of the full video on DVD soon, but my friend caught it on TV on the 28th of February and I posted a clip of it on Instagram and Facebook.

The following week I took 3 days of nenkyuu holiday to go to Hokkaido!  I signed up for a JET led Snow Tour of Hokkaido.  A groups of about 14 JETs from across Japan met up at Sapporo Station on the 8th of February.  I got there a bit early so I dumped my luggage in a coin locker at the station and walked over to the Sapporo beer factory!  OMG SO AWESOME!!  Not only did they have the history of how the beer came to be in Japan and what made it so unique, but they also had the original recipe which you could order and drink!!  It was too good!  I ended up running into 2 JETs there also on the snow tour so we taxi’d back to the station where I met with the rest of them for dinner.  We went across the street for this amazing design your own curry.  Wow, so yum!  Then we had Ice-cream with Hokkaido Dairy and met back at the station to pick up our rented bus!  Yessss we rented a whole bus!  We took a 2 hour bus trip out to Niseko where we were booked at the Freedom Inn.  This mountain had amazing Ski hills and was next to Ezo Fuji, like mini fuji, because the mountains really big and iconic like fuji but it was in Hokkaido, which apparently used to be its own country for about a week until Japan said – uhhh no, bad idea –  and took it back.

So be prepared for a looooong post about Hokkaido!

We checked in late at the Inn and basically went to bed.  The next day we all rented skis at the hill so we walked from the inn and got some amazing pictures!  It felt like Canada!  There was too much snow and trees that looked so familiar!  It was great!  Turns out, I was way to warm still… not Canada so much that way.  Definitely  could have gotten away without the extra winter layer.  I sweated more than I shivered.  Lol.  after taking for ever to set up the skies we finally got out there and me and a few girls looked for the basic run.  I’ve only ever skied with Mike, so I was more than a little nervous to do this on my own.  All my other trips with Mike began to play in my head, flipping, sliding, screaming going down, crying… yea, Mike was so supportive with ever blunder I made on the hill… what would happen today…. I wasn’t sure, but I was trying to be brave. So Easy hill it was!!  We take this looooooong rid cup the hill and finally get off and bam… the easy run starts with a narrow steep start… not liking the look of things… Jen was also a beginner with me so I thought id try to stick close to her.  Ir flattened out a bit so it got better, funner, easier.  Then the hill of nightmares fell before us… it was freaking steep! soon not beginner… After staring at it for 10 minutes… I decided to try.  Fell… got up. not so bad!  Fell… got up!  I can do this!!  Gulp… fell…. uggghh will i ever get down this??  got up… Ahhhhh  Scream!  Turn!!  Crunch…. what?  Fall…. Pain…….  WARNING!  I DIDN’T BREAK ANYTHING!  Certainly felt like I did, but don’t worry too much.  This is more for effect… cuz this was how it all played in my head too….  LOL

So i basically lay face first in the snow for what seemed like 5 minutes scared that I might have broken something and to scared to try moving it cuz my leg still hurt.  I was also a little surprised no one was stopping to help me out…  But I was mainly focused on not cursing, but grunting like a friend told me to do to release tension… and I was hoping the pain would go away with it too.  Finally a couple with a cool accent speaking English came by and asked if I was ok.  They were worried because I hadn’t moved and wanted to know if they should call the patrol.  I followed their coaxes to move and stand and then they miraculously got me back on the skiis…  however, I tried making one regular turn and my ankle did’t feel right so I told them I’d walk down… I did not know that the walk would take 45 minutes…. pause for effect… 45 minutes!!!  It took forever!!  I slid for a bit but limping down a hill with skiis in hand is not easy!!!  took my time, the leader of the snow tour stopped by to see if I was ok and helped me out by taking the skiis and I was left with the polls.  finally got down and with a few others, managed to get some lunch.  We split an awesome crab raman!!  I went to the ski patrol desk and got this super cool Japanese guy to take a look at my ankle.  Will say it wasn’t easy or painless getting the ski boot off, but I didn’t sprain or break anything.  I think I just really badly pulled a muscle all the way up my calf and felt it in my Ankle.  I defiantly displaced the ankle bones a bit and was wondering how I was going to set them back without my chiropractor.  The guy and I spoke in Japanese, me trying my best, him speaking slowly. Lol.  And he said that if it still hurt in the morning I should go to the hospital.  I bought some of that taping stuff since they didn’t have a tension band thing and got some advice from the ski people on how to tape and treat it.  Walking still kinda hurt, more so the pointing of my toes rather then the standing on it.  After that I hung out in the lodge while others went back on the hill.  I didn’t even really make it down the hill once… so i felt kinda bummed and like Id wasted some money.  But i was still having fun!  The good news was they said I should still be able to snow shoe the next day so I was crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.

The day ended with a trip to the local onsen and chatting at the Inn, having some really great food for dinner!  The Inn prepared a dinner for our enkai and man there was so much to eat!  We had salad and Karaage and sushi and a hot pot and rice and dessert which was like a matcha crepe pie!!  and yeaaaaa. So yum.

The next day we went snow shoeing and I taped up my ankle so that I could try to navigate the snows precipes of Ezo Fuji!  Actually we drove out to the place and hiked through a forest that was like 5 feet deep in snow, we followed this trail down to a half moon lake that was frozen over and had brownies and tea on the ice!  So fun!  It was actually quite scary cuz the trail was a little narrow and I didn’t fully trust my ankle, even in the snow shoes. But it was a blast!

Then a group of us went to a raman shop to have Hokkaido raman!  I had a butter miso Raman and it was fantastic!  We also got these awesome stuffed chicken wings, expensive for one, so we each only bought one.  But too good!  Then we caught a bus back to the ski hill and walked back to the Inn!  I think we played some scrabble, a couple guys and myself, then a group of us went out on the train to Omura.  We wanted to catch the mini snow lantern festival there, so we shopped around a bit and then walked around the town checking out shops and food and waiting till night fell to see the lights.  We walked a lot, trying to get to the music box museum.  We found some hot spiced wine, so good, but then the shops wouldn’t let us walk through them with the small cup… a little frustrating… not like I can chug a paper cup of hot wine… Turns out the museum was closed.. and my ankle was bothering me from all the walking.  Finally stopped at this place for dinner where we got some local fish and split an uni!  Thats a raw sea urchin.  It was soon sweet and soft!  Like eating cream!  I was a little scared at first but you know what?  It was AMAZING!!!  ECHO echo echo….  Sorry, need the effect!!  after that we took a cab to the Onsen in Omura and took a short soak. ahh so fun!!  We got back to the festival and walked through a but before they ended… the walking took much longer then we thought.  Got some pics, it was beautiful!

Managed to catch the train back to the inn and got a cab back from the station.  It was late and we were too tired!!  The next day we packed up and headed to the airbnb in Sapporo.  There we left out things and then hiked it to the main event of the snow tour!  THE SAPPORO YUKI MATSURI!  It was fantastic!!  They had sculptures of snow 3 stories high and stages with events, trick ski jumping and food everywhere!!  Theres really no point trying to explain everything when I can show you the pictures!!

I met up with a friend whom I met at the airport in Tokyo when I first came to Japan!  He was there with a group from Fukushima.  We walked the festival together and sow some great stuff.  Then we all headed to the buttered rum stand and our friend Katie got her King crab!  We were all having a huge JET enkai at this amazing all you can eat and drink place.  It was huge and I don’t think I knew anyone there that I hadn’t already met that day.  I sat next to the Unicorn of JET, the legendary SEA.  Thats a sports education assistant I think.  theres not that many of them and there happened to be one from Germany in Hokkaido.  He was hilarious!  After enkai we tried to get a group together for karaoke.  I would’ve liked to go see the lights at the festival again but walking wasn’t a thing I was keen on… And then there was the walk home too…  Got up super early, like 4am and walked out to a bus stop in the freshly falling snow, just me and my luggage.  Caught a bus to the airport, and despite leaving an hour late because of some passengers security check, I managed to make a connecting flight in Haneda an hour later and still got home at the same time.  Now, the funny thing about this day was the only thing I ate was at 6am at the airport, a cheesy bun; which was really good by the way.  And an apple.  Then I didn’t eat lunch or something like lunch but in Middle Earth it would probably classify as dinner, till 3:30 when I got to the ferry port in Fukuoka.  While I was waiting for the Jetfoil back home I grabbed some expensive lunch at a new kids restraint upstairs in the station.  Annnnd then a mascot of a pig in underwear came out dancing in a show about pants, which in Japan means underwear and not the pants you wear in public….  so yea!

Hokkaido was pretty fun and despite ruining all the work I’d put into getting the seiza sitting position down being ruined by my ankle injury all was fantastic!

In February I went to a few shrines in places where I normally drive by but don’t get the opportunity to stop.  Being alone is kind of fun because you feel less weird about taking pictures of everything and if you make a mistake leaving an offering at the shrine no one can tell you lol.  I got another fortune at the shrine here and collected my third charm!  I can’t wait to get more!  I kept my fortune at one shrine because I couldn’t read it and felt it was a good one so I took it home, but this one I tied to the blooming plum tree.  Normally if you have a normal luck or bad luck fortune you leave it to the tree so it doesn’t follow you but if its good you keep the paper and take it with you!  Makes sense yea??!  I also stopped at on of the barrow down tombs on Iki, so fun!  The original inhabitants on Iki had these hill like tombs lined with stone sort of like those they show pictures of in Europe!  I also went to the mini Village on Iki and had fun talking with a local couple who wanted their picture taken.  This village felt like the Japanese version of Black Creek Pioneer Village or something.  Really funny.  I also walked to a shrine behind my house, maybe half an hour away called Kotohira shrine.  The walk was hilly but the view was superb!  I was looking for the front of the shrines entrance and came across these crazy stone steps and wondered to myself… if I fall and die… no one knows where I am and all the ALTs are away today…  Be very careful.  Lol  So I carefully one step per 5 seconds climbed the crazy steps tot he top.  Wow the view was breath taking.  And then I wondered inside and took some pics only to discover that there was a safer.. much safer back path…. UGG.  Then I walked down the hill towards the water hoping for a path to the beach but instead it led to a view of the cliffs below from a field.  The hills going back was defiantly a workout and I was so sore!!  I met this older man on the way home walking, and we stopped to chat.  It was very exciting because I understood about 40 or 45 percent of what he was saying and I was able to answer most of his questions!  Its really fun when you can talk to the locals!

We had a tampanyaki party, which is like cook-as-you-like-it pancake Japanese style with toppings!  We also met this really cool french visitor on Iki who was staying for 3 weeks at a hostel in Ashibe!  He was from France and got on really well with al the ATLs!  We had him for curry nights and Taiko rehearsals and even the party at Chips!  His last day here was also the day he was leaving so we went to his birthday leaving party!  So fun!

I went to the Onsen one night after school because I was really sore, and after I found this awesome kids slide just down the hill from the Onsen hotel! It was really funny trying to slide down and take pictures at the same time!  The bottom of the slide was like those beer bottle tables or the sliding tables you see at grocery stores!  We had a retirement party for one of the teachers turning 60 this year.  It was interesting learning about his teaching career and taking with him about life working on islands.  One of my Taiko group members was having an Odori concert – which is Japanese style dancing.  So I went into Gounoura to watch her dance.  I had no idea events like this on Iki run for 5 hours…  The first half of the show was overtime, 2 and a half hours and it wasn’t scheduled to finish till 3 or 3:30pm… so I stayed for half of it.  Turns out 2 of my high school students were also in the show!  I found out later.

After all this it was Graduation preparation because the 1st of March was Grad!  So I’ll get to that when I start the March blog!  Hope you enjoyed!  Cheers!

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