Blogging is a lot like cleaning…

My mother has always told me that cleaning isn’t that difficult.  All you have to do is do a little bit, regularly, and all will be well.  It’s when you let it build up that it starts to feel impossible.  She never follows this advice, and neither do I, and we often find ourselves lamenting via skype at the state of our respective homes.

ImageHere is a photo of three monkeys cleaning another monkey, to entertain you all until I get around to putting more photos in this thing. Every time you get bored and want to click away, just come back and look at these monkeys.  I guarantee it will do something emotional with your brain matter. 

Well I have decided that blogging is the exact same way.  And it has gotten to a point now of being so far behind that I’m starting to forget what I even did this year!  Or since I last posted anyway, which, let’s be honest here, is almost the same thing.

So here goes nothing; let’s try and get this thing done!  In three simple sections:

Spring Sprung/”Marge, the rains are here!”/Summer is coming (and now it’s here)

Spring Sprung!

The last few months in Japan have been quite hectic for me, to say the least; hence the lack of posting.  However, for ease of reading, I shall attempt to start this entry as close as possible to where I left off with the last one.

Late March to Early April was the season of the cherry blossoms, and all its associated frivolity.  It is a time when getting drunk in the park is not only socially acceptable; it is an actual requirement if you want to maintain a guise of normalcy in this topsy-turvy country I (currently) call home.

Each weekend, the locals flock to the parks, great and small, to participate in the age old tradition of Hanami; which roughly translates as ‘sitting in a park, getting shitfaced with your friends, old and new, while pretending to look at flowers, and possibly even having a glance or two in between glasses of Shochu/beer/anything containing alcohol.’  A more literal translation is of course ‘flower viewing’; but who would let a little truth and literalness get in the way of a good definition? Especially when there is partying to be done!

During the course of the cherry blossom season I attended a number of these events, and had quite a merry old time.  Unfortunately the perfectly pink petals do not last long, and before we knew it, it was time to roll up the tarps, recycle the drink cans, and hang up our party hats until the next occasion for celebration came along.  (But in all honesty, in Japan, you know it will never be too far around the corner).

After the joyful jolliness of hanami parties, it was only a few short weeks until Golden Week had arrived; and with it, the Parent Army!!  The four of them arrived on a Sunday morning, just as Golden Week was beginning for many, with worn out bodies, and grumpy, tired-looking faces.  Obviously they were overjoyed to see me, which they showed as enthusiastically as one might expect, from those who have travelled half way around the globe, to a strange new land, on little to no sleep.  But still, we were all very excited to be together, and they happily followed my guidance and we made our way, slowly but surely, to my humble abode.

What followed was a 9-day blur of shopping, sightseeing, minor arguments and major injury; or was that major arguments and minor injuries? Who knows.  Anyway, it was a wild ride to be sure.  I managed some quality time with all of them; together and separately, and they got to see first-hand the life I had been living for the past 7 months.  During Golden Week, I not only got to show them Nagoya, the city that I love, but we also visited other little pockets of Japan; some of which I was seeing for the first time too!  I loved Kobe and Awaji Island.  Seeing the night view from the top of Mt Rocco has inspired me to travel to another of Japan’s famous nightscape locations: Hakodate.  I will be going in just over a month!  But more on that later.

The drive around Awaji island was simply breathtaking.  I have so much admiration for the wonderful woman who drove our hire car along the treacherously narrow, winding roads.  (Although I’m assuming that after putting up with my father for some months, it must have seemed a breeze!).  The monkey park at the end of the treacherous accent was definitely worth it though.  There were what seemed like hundreds of the little critters jumping about the place, grooming each other, posing for photos (well that’s how we saw it) and generally not giving a toss about the swarm of tall, almost completely hairless primates invading their home.

I really wish I’d had more time in both Awaji and Kobe, but I am sure I will find my way back there one day.  For now, the happy memories of Kobe beef – absolutely to die for, and well worth the 6,000 – 20,000 yen we paid per person (once in a lifetime sort of experience you see) –  Kitano area’s flower festival ‘Infiorata’ (Italian for laying flowers out) – which we had no idea was even being held until we stumbled upon it during our (my) hunt for Kobe’s infamous ijinkan style Starbucks – and the spectacular views from Roccosan, which may or may not be outdone by Mt Hakodate in less than two weeks.  (See how long this has taken me to write? Time moves differently in blog land).  So after (sadly) saying goodbye to Kobe, we rode the Shinkansen back to Nagoya and all promptly collapsed with exhaustion.

The next day (I think; it’s all starting to get a little fuzzy) we went to Gifu castle as our last little family adventure, and rode the ropeway up the mountain (an experience that dad I’m sure could do without next time, but he was a brave boy).  It was tough saying goodbye to Dad and Suzie, especially seeing as I really would have loved some more time to get to know her!  But it had to be done.  Rod and Mum then continued off on their Japan adventure for a couple more weeks, before returning to Nagoya to say goodbye, and with enough time for mum to come and watch me teach.  That was an interesting experience, but I did my best to pretend she wasn’t there.  I’m glad she got to see me do what I do though, and ensure that I wasn’t traumatizing the children too much (obviously I dialled it down that day).  So that was pretty much all the exciting happenings of spring.  From what I can remember, anyway!

“Marge, the rains are here!”

I really have no idea what happened in May (other than Nat leaving Japan; COME BACK TO JAPAN NAT!!!), but I think I was probably too overwhelmed by all my new classes and students to do much of anything really, except keep on keeping on.  However I do distinctly remember that with June came the first hint of the dreaded heat and humidity that is summer in Nagoya.  Obviously it was nowhere near as hot then as it is now, but it sure didn’t feel cool! Even the skies emptying themselves on a regular basis didn’t do a whole lot to lessen the uncomfortableness of it all. I battled on though, and while I can’t say I ever became comfortable, I at the very least have found ways of dealing with the extreme heat of this city.  Namely: airconditioning at home, a handheld fan in the train stations, and drinking a hell of a lot… of water.  Also Uniqlo has a remarkable line of seasonal clothing, called Airism in summer, and Heat tech in winter, that supposedly helps one deal with the unforgiving temperatures each season brings.  As I have never experienced it, I cannot say for sure, but I heard that this year’s rainy season was particularly short.  I think Japan knew I was here and how much I disliked summer (how could it not know? I went on about it often enough! I had to warn my students I might die, you see), and wanted to force it on me as quickly as possible. How rude.  Oh well, I just had a look through my photos, and much to my delight I discovered I did have at least one interesting day in June!  I went to the Arimatsu fabric fair, and the Okehazama battle re-enactment at Chukyokeibajomae (try saying that, I dare you!).   It was a fun, festivity filled day, and the baby samurai were simply adorable.  I also bought an indigo dyed cloth for my table, which is obviously in a bag under my bed as opposed to actually adorning my table, because as you are all most assuredly aware by now, I am far too lazy to do anything in a timely manner unless I absolutely must.  So that was June, and the rainy season, and I disliked June for the sole reason that it meant that Summer was indeed coming, and I was afraid.

Summer is Coming (and now it’s here)

The most prominent feature of summer in Japan (other than the damn heat and humidity) is the abundance of summer festivals!  Of course Japan being a country quite obsessed with matsuri, there can be something found somewhere in the country pretty much year-round.  However there is no season where they are quite so prolific as in summer.  And luckily enough, Nagoya (and the surrounding areas) has its fair share!  Every weekend from late July, through to the end of August, you can find somewhere that is celebrating something.  Whether it be Tanabata (The Star festival) or just a simple (ahem, sarcasm) fireworks festival, barely a weekend goes past during the summer months when the girls are not donning their yukata and pinning up their hair (false eyelashes abundant, but optional) to celebrate the summer in style.  Festival food in Japan is something certainly to be experienced, but once you’ve had it once or twice, that’s probably enough, because it does get quite repetitive.  However there can often be surprising additions to the regular fare of yakisoba, Okonomiyaki and Karaage.  For example at the Ichinomiya tanabata festival I mistakenly thought that a frozen sweet that looked like something you might find in the dodgier adult entertainment shops, would taste half way decent.   I saw a multitude of festival-goers seemingly enjoying them, and what’s not to like about a frozen pink thing on a hot night? Well, a lot apparently.  Aside from the absurdity of eating something of that particular shape, (I may or may not elect to include an image at some point, we shall see) but the shape turned out to be from the balloon that the whole thing was encased in!  After I handed over my coins (luckily it wasn’t more than a couple of dollars) my sweet treat was plucked from a freezer, the stem was snipped, and it was placed in a plastic bag (I assume to prevent spillage and stickiness) before being handed to me.  Yes, it was cold; yes it was sweet; but after about two minutes I was utterly over it.  The act of sucking the ice out of the balloon alone was enough to put me off soon enough, despite all the high school girls I saw around me, eagerly sucking away at the sugary goodness.  Another sweet treat which I indulged in at a fireworks festival was the shaved ice with flavoured syrup (and in the case of the one I had, also covered in a deliciously decadent serving of condensed milk. Yum), which are basically glorified snow cones.  This was what I was expecting, and from previous frozen treat experience, I decided it was best not to get my hopes too high.  Well, while I know there are less authentic(?) versions of these scattered all about the place, the one I had was absolutely to die for.  The flavour didn’t taste too fake, the ice was freshly shaved from a weird twisty machine thingy that mesmorized me almost as much as my dessert, and the condensed milk just topped it off perfectly.  I finished the whole thing in minutes!! (And they aren’t exactly small!) I highly recommend these magical creations to anyone and everyone; but keep an eye out for the real deal (especially those including the food of the gods: condensed milk).  The stalls selling the ones where you get your own topping from a multitude of options look really cool, but in reality just don’t have the same POP! And you will undoubtedly get sick of the sickly sweet flavours.

So it appears that is all for now, and while at this stage there are either barely any or no photos at all (depending on what happens in the next few moments), I will be sure to add some at some point during the next decade.  Right now, I should be packing, as I am off to Tokyo TOMORROW!!! (Man blog time is WEIRD!! Or maybe blog time is normal, and real time is strange. Is time real? It’s certainly not linear!!) Or is that today? Is it really tomorrow if I haven’t been to bed?  And if I don’t go to bed, does tomorrow never come?  That would be very unfortunate indeed, as that particular Tuesday is some crazy girl’s 24th birthday!!! Well here’s hoping I do get some sleep, because I shall be leaving rather early to catch the Kodama shinkansen.  I got one of those discount tickets I read about all over the interwebs, where if you book a few days in advance, you can get a one-way ticket for the low low price of 7900. Ok, so it’s not super cheap, but it’s better than a full-price ticket, and although originally I was planning on taking the highway bus, that would mean I wouldn’t have these last few hours to do important stuff like watch youtube videos and blog!! Well I suppose I could have done that from the bus, kind of.  But what I really meant to say was pack.  So I’m gunna go do that now.  Cheerio!!

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