Golden Week, Round 1; Kitakyushu

I could not wait to get back. With my bag packed and new white sandals strapped securely to my feet, my Golden Week adventures began. Accompanied by the ever-sweet Mr. Cooper, we set off at 7:22 pm, catching the two hour something train to Hakata, Fukuoka. We then added a little sass to our excursion by catching the Shinkansen (aka. The fastest bloody train ever) to our desired destination of Kokura, Kitakyushu. And so, no more than three hours later and feeling oddly refreshed, I was back in my old stomping ground, uncontainable excitement coursing through my veins. And I mean that it was quite literally uncontainable. I spent the entire trip shouting ‘Natsukashiiiiiii’* and ‘Oh my god I’m hereee!’; Poor Chad. Poor anyone who was walking by really. Oops.

With the stress of a few weeks work resting around our shoulders, the first evening was spent curled up in our pleasantly small APA hotel room for two, drinking beer and watching The Great Gatsby. Despite the lack of candles, petals and whatever else one would usually say denotes a romantic evening, it was perfect.

Our Saturday began with a monorail trip to Moritsune, where we made our way to, what I will wager, is the most delicious pancake house in all of Japan, Rusa Ruka. Flanked by palm trees, It was like a little piece of summer in the middle of spring. It was just as I remembered. From the sweet tinkling of the bell when you opened the door, to the rustic feel and various eclectic trinkets on sale. The pancakes were just as mouthwatering too. As someone who hates various fruits and creams, I went with the classic pancake set, taking the free second helping so as to savour the flavour as much as I could. Who knows when I’ll come again! Chad being the more adventurous eater, however, went with the extravagant strawberry dish, coupled with a brown sugar milkshake. It looked out of this world delectable. I wish we’d had the time to sit there all day, but with time nipping at our heels, I took him on a quick trip down memory lane in which I showed him my old apartment and university, before we headed back to Kokura station.

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First point of call, go to the information desk and get instructions on how to get to *Kawachi Fujien*, a beautiful wisteria garden and the entire reason for our coming here. After a short bus ride from Kokura to Nijyou we found ourselves exactly where we wanted to be. If only we knew where exactly where that was. At this point I just decided to done my cool new sunglasses and try and look a little less lost and a little more sassy. Luckily for us, a taxi happened to be passing by, its bright blues and oranges as beautiful as water in the desert. We flagged it down, and after being assured by the kind gentleman that it would cost no more than around 2000 yen to get us to our wisterian utopia, we were off.

With Golden Week infecting everyone with the travel bug, I shouldn’t have been surprised at what lay before us. Like a giant snake, car after car joined together from the foot of the hill to the garden, and what should have been no more than a ten minute taxi ride soon became an hour. With each passing minute I felt the coil inside my chest wind tighter. It didn’t help that people outside were walking faster than us. Had there been a place for the conversational taxi driver to turn around, I probably would have insisted we get out and join them in the far more sensible option. Lucky for us, and true to the mans benevolent nature, he turned the meter off once it reached around 2500 yen.
We reached the garden a little before six and my heart stilled at the sight before me. As beautiful as a Monet, and twice as vivid, an array of pinks and purples hung from the arched frames to which they clung. With the afternoon sun shining down, its gentle rays kissed my skin and showered the flowers with a tenderness that was almost to intimate to watch. The wisteria blossoming under the ever loving gaze. The smell was sweet and fresh, the wind freely dancing upon the hill, running its fingers through the flowers, making them ripple in delight.

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A click brought me back to world around me. Camera out and eyebrows wiggling in a way that suggested he meant business, Chad stood, poised and ready to capture as many moments as he could. Damn him and his snap happy disposition! Refusal was not an option. So I posed, smiled, and burned with embarrassment as he began to solidify our memories. A month later and I’m glad I didn’t fight him on this, as I can look back on our first ever couples trip with a fond clarity. That, and I look pretty damn good in some photographs. Who’d have thought that wisteria would be the ultimate compliment to my complexion? {is currently thinking on replacing half of hair with wisteria so as to always look ones best.}

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The highlight of our excursion, however, was not the beautiful scenery or the sweet smelling flora. No, it was the perfectly serendipitous choice of shirt Chad had gone with that day. There, through the lens of the camera, I noticed the amalgamation of human and nature as his shirt began to blend in with all around him. Never before had someone come up with such a full-proof plan on how to blend in to Japan. The best part about it all? Everyone else seemed to notice this too, sharing in our amusement. With the sun setting and people returning home, we finally made our way back to Kokura, the trip made eventful by a nosy taxi driver who made it his life goal to ask me and Chad every personal question under the sun in the limited time he had with us. Life goal completed sir, life goal completed.

But the day was not over yet! Far from it. Our next point of call was Tenmaru, a small tempura place in Kitagata. It had been one of my favourite places to frequent when I was a student, and I was eager to get my hands back on that greasy heavenly substance. The familiar smell of vegetables filled my nose as we sat at the counter, the warmth from the friers brushing up against my skin. The menu had changed very little, and I assured Chad without any hesitation that this would be the best tempura he had ever tasted in his life; I was right of course. Ah, there truly is nothing more satisfying than being told ‘You’re right’ while your favourite foods sits pleasantly in the bottom of your stomach.

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We ended our evening with a stop off at a small wine bar we passed the night before. compact and tucked in, the second floor bar was dimmed and possessed a rich, earthy smell that overtook my senses. We sat at the far end of the bar, relaxing in the large chairs as we mulled over which wine to choose. Luckily for me, I have a boyfriend who knows a thing or two about wine, and thanks to him and the bartender, I got to enjoy the most delicious of wines. I had never enjoyed a red wine before, and the sense of maturity it inspired in me was astonishing. I mean, here I was on holidays with my boyfriend and drinking red wine, two things I had never done before!

The next morning we were woken up by a new kind of alarm. Instead of the mechanical tinkling that our brains have become programmed to recognise and loath, we were woken up by something else. Screams. The screams of an unruly child across the hall, his parents finding it perfectly okay for their child’s voice to reach unnatural decibels so early in the morning. Seriously though kid, are you even human? I cant decide if it was impressive, or impressively Infuriating. With the rain battering down upon the city of Kokura, we swiftly packed up and made our way to the last point of call before heading back down south. Sandwiches. A food I rarely get to enjoy in Japan. A little bit of advice for my fellow vegetarians and vegans reading this. If you ever want a good ol’ sandwich in Japan, take caution, for Japan likes to show its love of meat by adding it into everything. Everything. After a short wait outside the bustling shop, I was soon sitting across from a very grumpy bear of a boyfriend and the most delicious egg and hash-brown toasted sandwich in the world. Nagasaki needs to step up it’s game, thats all I’m saying.

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With many new wonderful memories attached along side the old ones, I left Kitakyushu with a contentedness in my heart. I was sad to leave of course, but I was glad to get back to Nagasaki. Besides, the adventure was not over yet, not when I was heading to Kumamoto the next day for Golden Week adventures round two!

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Thanks for reading ❤︎❤︎

My life in Japan so far

So, with today being my last full day in work, I am forced to reflect upon my time here. Despite not regretting my choice to come to Japan, and being so thankful I am here, It has not been as easy and smooth as I had expected.

Work ethic in Japan is so shockingly different from back home that it was a little hard to swallow at first, and if it had not been for my part-time Job before JET, I’m not sure I would have been able to keep my head above water – most of the time- as I have been. Having four schools, is honestly a blessing, giving me time to bond with many of my students and teachers. My time as a teacher has been one big loopdy loop roller coaster, and only now am I realising how much I enjoy it. When I started teaching back In September, I was filled with adrenaline, my nerves shot as I stood before my classes for the first time, boring them with a terribly made presentation of me and Wales, and hoping that my too big smile would compensate for the lack of interesting comments and lame jokes. Time continued to pass and I found my confidence fading into nothing, getting lost behind insecurity and home-sickness. If it had not been for my third years at my Inaka school I would have caved, I’m sure. They are, without a doubt, the greatest bunch of kids anyone has ever met! And while I kind of hated the second years in that school, they are slowly becoming the second  best group of kids ever. The children at my base school are a little more tricky to win over, and I’m still doing my best, determined to make them love me and enjoy English, even if it’s just for the days when I am there. My teachers are all pretty great, and I’ve been lucky with all the teachers I get put to sit beside.

At my base school I sit next to a teacher were going to call V Sensei, for the fact that his voice is a little more attractive than it should be. That, and the fact that on my first day he commented on how low and husky my voice was, reassuring me that it was cool when I began to worry I sound like a male when speaking Japanese. I’ve since learned to embrace the huskiness and take it as a compliment after realising that he’s a pretty shy guy and our conversations are rare. That and he is as busy as the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, constantly scurrying around and worrying about the time.

At my Inaka junior high, I sit next to the most wonderful JTE, a woman I have come to love dearly. She’s just so wonderful, and all I can say, is that if she leaves in the march shuffle, I am going to be deeply upset. She’s a great person, and a great person to teach with. I have been super lucky at my elementary schools too, even though I only spend half a day at each! I get to sit beside a funny 4th year teacher in one and a university student trainee-teacher in the other, of which I have become close friends with.

My personal life has not been so clearly mapped out, with bumps in more places than I would have liked. In the space of 5 months, I am facing my 3rd failed romantic relationship?? and It’s honestly destroying all confidence I had in my self. ( And I had very little to begin with). It’s the most romancing I’ve had in a LONG time, and yet, they may as well cease to be, perhaps then I would not be feeling so down.

I have, however, been more than lucky in the friend department. The other JETs of Nagasaki are wonderful, and I love spending my time with them! The people in Nagasaki are pretty friendly, with the Starbucks people always up for a chat, and the women in the niche little art cafe down the road from me knowing my name. Even the crazy-stylish man who works in this crazy-smooth bar near by house recognised me on instagram, and we now follow each-other. It’s something that may seem trivial, but when you are in a new place, miles away from home, even the little things make you feel more connected to everyday life.

That brings me to the topic of Japanese. In 5 months of being here, I have studied maybe twice? How awful is that? As a previous student of Japanese I am appalled with myself. However, as my fatalistic nature entails, I give up before I even begin, ruining any hopes I had at achieving anything out of a fear based on the foundations of years of being pushed aside by those who should have loved me most.

With the new year looming ever closer, and me being a 年女** , I am determined this year will be different. I’m going to look for the strength to make next year even more amazing than last. It will be hard to top getting JET and meeting all the amazing people who I have, But I’m determined to do it.

I can do this.

channeling this face for the new year

年女 (としおんな) Woman of the Year, referring to a woman born in a year with the same Chinese zodiac sign as the current year.