Elv Café; The Hidden Gem of Nagasaki

(Original article can be found here: http://en.japantravel.com/view/elv-cafe )

A quaint café located in the heart of Nagasaki City, Elv will capture your heart and remind you why you fell in love with cafes in the first place.

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My need for small, unique cafés could be perceived as something of an addiction. Without them, I feel myself growing anxious, laying in bed in the mornings wondering what I will do with my life, staring at my simple, hand-me-down kettle with a sigh of bitter disappointment. Considering the fact that I grew up in Britain, my love of cafés honestly comes as no surprise. Upon moving to Nagasaki, I made it my goal to find a café in which I could enjoy the peacefulness of my own thoughts and scribble away in my diary. I was worried at first that I would be doomed to spend my days in the ever-crowded Starbucks, unable to think a coherent thought that deviated from the path of ‘Damn, there are a lot of foreigners in here’.

That was when I discovered Elv.

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A small café, situated alongside Megane-Bashi and its ever-flowing koi-filled river, Elv can be spotted by its small sign and myriad of plants that guard the doorway. With its smooth music and earthy tones, you will feel at home the moment your foot steps through the doorway. For a vegetarian, opening the door to a café you know you are bound to fall in love with is always daunting, faced with the horrid truth that there’s a huge chance you may not be able to eat there. Thankfully, that was not the case with Elv.

Despite the menu being small, its various options are bound to tickle the fancy of anyone who decides to stop by for a bite to eat. And for those of you who appreciate the sweets over the savouries, the chocolate cake will most certainly hit the spot.

With the cold weather still nipping at your nose, Elv has a delicious and very effective way of warming you up. Hot wine! Appealing to the eye and taste buds, it’s a drink for all your senses. Coming in a glass that will bring the warmth back to your hands, this delicious beverage will slide down your throat with an ease that is welcomed. Just be prepared for the moment you look at your bill and realise you had four too many glasses than previously intended. “Just a taste,” my friends said.

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“But I’m not really a coffee kind of person, I would much rather a nice beer,” I hear you say? Well fear not, for Elv caters for everyone. Besides the usual staples, this wonderfully diverse café also has a small range of alcoholic beverages, its most notorious being Belle-Vue Kreik. Having heard many a good word about this cherry flavoured liqueur, I decided to give it a go. The tangy and unmistakable flavour of cherry danced along the sides of my tongue before sliding down with ease. Like an unsweetened cider, this drink is the perfect balance between sweet and tart.

With its eclectic art, smooth music and delicious food, this unique café run by the ever-welcoming George Nakamura will make you fall in love with cafés all over again.

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A lot has changed

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皆さん、久しぶり!

Hello my lovelies, how are you all? Long-time no see, I hope you are doing well.

First, let me just say thank you for all your support up until now, it’s truly been motivational! I’m super lucky to have such cool people reading my blog. I promise to be a better blogger from here on out. ( I bought a ‘blog’ diary and everything! See, super motivated.)

So,  a lot has changed since the last time I was around. I’m pretty much still the same old seriously inept 23 year old, trying to be sassy while procrastinating 98% of the time. A few add-one and upgrades have been installed but I’m still kind of useless.

It all started on what was promising to be a typical valentine’s day, with a distinct lack of romance and far too much booze. Fate (aka, said alcohol), however, had other things in store for me. Having broken things off with the guy I was dating only a month or so ago, my heart was bruised and  naturally, I was feeling particularly fed up and frustrated with my luck. It was then, in a drunken haze that I suddenly thought to myself, ‘Why not make your own luck?’

And so, with a decent about of cocktails churning around in my stomach and seeping into my bloodstream, creating a chemical imbalance that resulted in something akin to courage, I confessed to  guy I had been crushing on for a while. 10 weeks have passed since then and this tiny act of bravery has led me to a cool guy with whom I can laugh, cry and just be a general tit with. It’s been so long since I’ve been in  a real relationship with anyone, and it’s still really scary. I still can’t get used to having  boyfriend, it’s just so weird. Weird, but good. Really good. And I guess ever since then, things have been getting better.

It’s not that my happiness relies on men and romance etc. It’s more to do with the fact that I’ve managed to make my own happiness, which is something I was always too afraid to do. It sounds simple, making your own happiness, but oftentimes it’s the simplest things that are the hardest. I’ve gained a grain of confidence and positivity and its left me wanting more.

Another changed that’s occurred, is my hair. For years I’ve harboured a secret love of short hair, always wanting to take the plunge, but never being able to follow through. The one thing I’m always complimented on is my hair, and for a long time I felt that cutting it short would directly cut its appeal. Like Samson, I found strength in my hair, like Rapunzel, I felt my hair defined me. However, she cut it short and it worked for her! And so, one Friday after a lovely lunch along Dejima Warf, I decided to pull a Rapunzel.

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Thanks to the wonderful and Talented Tajima-san, at Pandemic (a hairdressers I highly recommend for those of you in Nagasaki City), the transition from long to short was painless. I was hooked after the first chop! “Oh well, can’t stop now, or you’d look like a tit” was the actual thought I had. But for the first time in a long time, I smiled even mid cut, knowing I was going to love It. I was relieved when he came to cut my hair, and when I told him this he told me (with a sort of nervous but happy smile) that he had requested me when he saw my name. I was pretty much ecstatic. He’s talented, cute and it just gave me a sense of home for a moment, a feeling that can be hard to come by when you live in a country so vastly different from your own. For the first time in maybe seven years, I have short hair, and I’ve never felt better. Getting my hair cut is one of the best decisions I’ve made in a while. Yay for spontaneity.

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Work Is also going better. During the spring holidays I was more productive than ever and have found great joy in my new position in the staff room after the annual teachers shuffle. I feel good, and when I look up I can see blue skies, tall buildings and a clear view of two cute teachers. Windows always calm and inspire me and I feel more relaxed for it. My supervisor became the new 1-2 home room teacher in the whole shuffle and has asked me to help out with her class on occasions as a sort of unofficial sub-sub homeroom teacher, which is something I am so ready to do! I love those students so much, they are adorable. In fact the entire first year at that junior high are adorable! It really helps teaching in the elementary school that most of them come from. I’m pretty sure the amount of students I don’t know, I can count on my hand. I’m also starting to gain confidence and a better relationship with my colleagues! …I think…

I’m also writing articles now! I’ve been so happy getting back into writing, and taking it seriously this time around. I’ve been writing for a Japan travel sight and was even featured on one of the weekly news letters, which was amazing! I’ve even recently submitted something for a paper back in Britain. They gave me a feature and will even include pictures! This is all for free of course, but that really doesn’t matter to me. I am so insanely excited! I’m still nowhere near the level I want to be, but I’m determined to try hard every day until I get there. I’ve decided to take my blog and diary more seriously, and my hobonichi is getting fatter by the day!

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I’m still the same mess I was, just slightly improved. A newer model if you will; the same old vessel, just functioning a little more efficiently. I know that with the guidance of my amazing friends and the continuous inspiration my fellow amazing bloggers and other outside sources *cough*pintrest*cough* that I can finally, slowly start down the road that will lead me to the person I’v always wanted to be.

 Next Goal: Be tidy, trendy and trim.

Epiphany

Epiphany.
While looking through http://shichijyuuni.com ‘s amazing blog, I found myself wondering why my life wasn’t as exciting as hers. Why wasn’t I as stylish? why couldn’t I keep up my blog so efficiently? With all these questions and more, I read on, jealous. I realised In that moment, that I do this a lot. I look at pictures and read stories of other peoples lives and wonder why my life isn’t as fun filled and romance riddled. I kept wondering what the hell was wrong with my life.
Then it hit me. I’ts me.
I’m what’s wrong with my life.
And no, I don’t mean this in a, ‘Oh gosh, I suck, my life sucks’ kind of way, I just mean that I stand in my own way. There is only one person who can give you the life you want and that’s you. I think I’d forgotten this somewhere along the way. Perhaps it was last year, when I took a bit of a tumble and must have dropped it somewhere. Maybe I just never bothered looking for it again.
I over analyze everything and make things so complicated in my head that I make myself dizzy.
I tell myself over and over again that I’m an underachiever, that I can’t do anything and I will never be as good as (Insert name here). So I scare myself out of doing things I want to, out of trying hard for things I really want.  It’s idiotic really.
I used to study hard and show dedication for things I loved, but in recently years I’ve forgotten how.  I really want to learn again.
These last six months of living in Japan have really stripped me bare, and have revealed the worst parts of myself to me, and while I don’t enjoy seeing these parts of myself, I think it is ultimately a good thing. As Albert Einstein once said ‘Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.’ and I believe this to be true.

I’m back!

皆さん、久しぶり!
明けましておめでとうござます!今年もよろしくお願いします!
元気ですか?クリスマスはどうでしたか?
Long time no see!
Happy New Year!
how are you all my lovelies? Were all your Christmas’s alright?
I’m sorry I’ve been so inactive, I’ve had a lot of things going on and I’ve been worried. Like a fishbowl filled with far too many energetic goldfish (if goldfish can even be energetic that is), all fighting for food, my brain has been full of worries and thoughts, and my blog has had to be put on the back-burner. Despite writing for my on amusement, I’ve been almost scared to go near my blog, unable to even open the tab. But, I’m back! and more determined than ever to turn my blog into something I can be proud of!
I’m still debating on how much of my personal life I want to share, especially when it comes to things such as my love life and my trials and errors. What do you guys think? When it comes to a blog, is less more? Or is more better?
I’m still trying to find my ‘blog voice’ or whatever the more educated term for it would be, so bare with me while I stumble along this bumpy road of self discovery!
I will say, however, I have re-contracted! Another year in the wonderfully eclectic city of Nagasaki! While I do feel a lot of anxiety towards my decision for reasons that call me home, I’m very excited to spend more time with my friends, visit the rest of Japan, get to know my students better and drink tea at my favourite cafes.
Well, that’s all I’m going to say for this post, I plan to get out a few more today, perhaps!
またね!

Ganbaranba! Part 1#

Every year in Japan, a national premier sporting event known as the, National Sports Festival of Japan or the 国民体育大会 (Kokumin Taiiku Taikai) In Japanese, (or often abbreviated as 国体(Kokutai) is held. It is a competition in which anyone over the age of third year junior high student can enter. Even foreigners are now able to enter the competition if they are permanent residents of Japan (Although the final decision still comes down to the chairman of each sport). The competition started in 1946, hosted by Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka, and is held in a different prefecture every year. It is an event which is much looked forward to and in which many participate and attend. The hosting prefecture that year is even left in charge of choosing a name for the competition. The first time Nagasaki ever hosted the Kokutai was in 1969, during its 24th years running. They called it the創造国体 (Souzou Kokutai) and gave it the slogan あすをひらく創造国体 (Asu wo Hiraku Souzou Kokutai).

24 1969 Nagasaki 創造国体 (Souzou Kokutai) あすをひらく創造国体 (Asu wo Hiraku Souzou Kokutai)

More than 40 years has passed since Nagasaki hosted this National event, and be it fate or just dumb luck, I happen to move here the year we are hosting it again. Ever since I arrived, the pictures of the mascots have been plastered on every surface possible, the name written on every buildbord, and everyone just going crazy about it. A few weeks ago, the athletes’ started arriving, and let me tell you, it is not unpleasant. Everywhere I look there are people dressed up in their sports outfit, the name of their prefecture plastered across their back or arms. I always feel energized when I see them, and then a little jealous. Why didn’t I try harder at anything when I was younger. Oh well, too late to dwell on that now; that’s a post for another time.

With time ticking on, I was a little worried that I would not be able to see any matches, and I began to wonder how I could go about getting tickets. I then found out that the first and second years of my base school were going to watch a basketball match. This was my chance! With only one class on that day anyway, I went to one of my JTE’s and asked if I could join. They would be leaving during second period and my only class was first period anyway! She agreed it would be a good experience and convinced the Kouchou Sensei to let me go! YES! I was in, and about to experience Nagasaki’s second time holding the kokutai.

This year, the event is called 長崎がんばらんば国体 (Nagasaki Ganbaranba Kokutai), Ganbaranba being the Nagasaki Dialect for “Ganbatte”. It will be the 69th year of the competition and I am sooo stoked to be apart of it.

Ganba-kun and Ranba-chan

I had never seen a Basketball game before, seeing as its not a national sport in Britain, so I was really excited to be able to see something new for me. There were two games in the hall in which we were sitting, but we got seated right in-front of the Okinawa v. Yamagata game. Despite their height, they were in fact High schoolers, which I think made the girls a little more eager to watch the sports. At the start I really wanted Yamagata to win, deciding I liked the simple white of their uniform. That is, however, until I was told that Okinawa was a part of Kyushu. Up until then, for some reason, I had always disassociated Okinawa with Kyushu, seeing it as its own area, but this new piece of information changed things for me. I suddenly wanted Okinawa to win with a burning passion, and soon I was sucked into the world of Basketball. My heart was pounding the entire time, my butt precariously situated on the edge of my seat. I wanted nothing more than for Okinawa to win, and I felt I would die if they didn’t. Sadly they didn’t win, but luckily, I didn’t die. The game was close until the very end, and it  made me realize just how precious each second was in the world of sports. I guess that applies for other areas of life too, but that’s getting o deep for a post about sports. Both teams played amazingly, and I wish both could have one.

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The day was also a great chance for me to speak with Teachers I had not yet had much change to speak to, bond better with some, and have a more of a casual chat with my students. I found that some of them actually spoke to me more. I had been hopeful that this would make them more confident to speak to me during school time, but sadly that’s not the case. Its as if the grounds of the school contain a confidence draining property, that leaves my students shy- for the most part.

Why the constant questions?

Why can’t be brain just be at ease? Why can’t I just look at my life in the here and now and be satisfied enough to live in it free of future worries. I have only been in this job for around three months, and already am I thinking about what the future holds. Before coming to Japan on JET, I had been so sure that I would do the full five years, living it up in Nagasaki like a pro teacher, satisfied and pro active everyday. Maybe I had my expectations raised too high. After just a couple of months I realized that I was only in this for the mid way hall, thinking I’m going to do around 2 or 3 years, depending on various factors of course, one being future job prospects. Knowing that teaching is now off the cards as a permanent job, I’m left with the bone crushing question ‘So, what are you going to do then?’.

I can’t stop thinking about it, it’s almost become obsessive. Like a cat chasing a lazer light, sometimes I feel like I’ve almost got the answer, my hands hovering over the key to my future happiness, when it evades me once more. It’s frustrating, and results in a messy apartment that reflects my currently disorganization state of mind. I long for a job where I am jumping for joy most mornings, excited for the day ahead. Don’t get me wrong, I do love my job, and I especially love my students. I must admit though, on the days where I go to my Inaka school, I do have that twinge of excitement, the mental image of all my favorite students easing me into a state of complacency which is almost enjoyable.

Perhaps it’s the environment? Confined to wearing certain clothes, I find it impossible to express myself in the way I wish I could,  my creativity stamped out by the rules and regulations of the education system. After finishing my work sheets for the next lesson or so, I’m always left with time spare. My hands are always itching to write or draw. Even now, when I’m sure my teachers think I’m working hard on this lovely Tuesday morning, all I’m really doing is writing up a blog about how their job is just not right for me. I do feel guilty, looking for a job while at another. The teachers here work so hard and admirably for their students that my feelings, if known, would be somewhat of an insult I’m sure.

There are so many paths I want to take, so many things I want to do with my life and I foolishly feel, at twenty-three, like I’m running out of time. If I told my mother or grandparents this I’m sure they would laugh and tell me to ‘Shut up’ and not to ‘be so silly’, but the truth is, I honestly feel the sands of time are flowing far too quickly in the wrong direction.

In my desperation for some sort of direction in which to head, my head uncomfortably full of the endless possibilities, like too many goldfish crammed in a bowl, I searched for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator quiz. Sadly, I can’t remember which version I took, and I did only take the one quiz, but the results were so outstandingly accurate ( to a certain degree of course) that I felt no need to search elsewhere.

My result was INFJ, a role categorized as the Counselor, by David Keirsey in his Keirsey Temperament sorter. It’s all very interesting and I may make a more detailed post about it later if you’re interested!

It shocks me how human beings feel the need to categorize ourselves. Be in by gender, sexuality, or personality type, we as human beings more often than not, in my opinion, enjoy belonging somewhere, even if its just a simple category that means next to nothing at all.

I promise more posts about actual Japan soon!

The infurating rigidity of the Japanese Education System

The rigidity to which JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) stick to their English textbooks is sometimes frightening. With the second years away on their annual trip to Kyoto – a trip which I really would have loved to go on- the school is quiet, and the desks around me empty. The JTE who sits to my right has left me to stew in silence, with no second years to teach, and no third year classes to speak of, I am left with the first years. Ah, darling middle school first years. Children who are trying so hard to fit into adult clothing and bearing the weight of a uniform for the first time. I find the attitude of the first years to have the largest variation, in this school anyway. Despite my initial fear of teaching them, I always feel happy after my classes, especially now that I can recall some of them by their faces, knowing who they outside of the classroom. With no classes yesterday afternoon and just two classes today in 5th and 6th period, I decided to plan a fun sort of game for them which practices ‘he/she/I/we/they’ etc. So the task goes like this; they all write their names on a scrap of paper, mix them together and then pull a name out of a hat, and by hat, I mean the tote bag I use to carry my lunch and files to school. Once they have a name of a classmate, they write three things about them; a descriptive fact, a like of theirs and a random fact to finish. When their name is called, the student will stand and present these facts while rest of the class do their best to guess who the person is describing. It’s a pretty simple task, exercising their writing, speaking and listening skills. I even put a cute little clip art on their worksheet. I always take their level into consideration, not wanting to stress them out by doing tasks  that are far so out of their reach they loose confidence. And so, considering they are already half way through their first year, I felt like this was a nice,easy task which I could help with if they hit a snag.

The JTE who teaches the first years, however, makes me nervous. During one of our recently classes together she would repeat words after me in a more american accent when we were going over vocabulary, like my accent wasn’t valid, before stopping me form participating in the task all together. I wanted to cry and leave the room I was so angry. Not only was she silently telling me that my accent was neither desirable nor correct, but it also made me look like an idiot in front of the students, and I’m worried its lowered their confidence in me as someone who can help them with English. I want to be seen as a strong role model, as someone who can travel to a new country and find a job, making them feel like its something they could do to. That, and it kicked me right in my Welsh pride, which is something I am not okay with. So undermining me in front of the students was not something I was happy about. Anyway, back to topic.

So, as we were printing out the worksheets out for the students, my teacher gave a nervous laugh and said, “Oh, this may be a little hard though, when using like.”

I blinked over at her “They can’t use like? I’m sure they’ve used it before?”.

“Oh yes, they know ‘I like’ but not ‘He likes.”

Now, for one, they don’t really need to use ‘He/She likes’ for this one, but the conversation was spinning me out.

“They don’t learn that until next week” she laughed lightly, but I could only stare.

If they are learning it next week, isn’t this the perfect opportunity to introduce this grammar point? Even if they don’t feel confident enough to use it, we could briefly explain that when ‘he’ or ‘she’ is used, then ‘like’ because ‘likes’. I watched her walk away with an expression that could only be described as befuddlement, my body racked with frustration. Following the textbook can be important, the chapters acting as a good checklist. However, within the chapters, the work is all interchangeable, so what difference would it make to introduce something a class earlier than its ‘scheduled’. I have a lot of good things to say about the Japanese education system, but also a lot of bad.

There’s a running ‘stubbornness’ in Japanese culture that I’ve seen not only within the education system, but in other areas of life too, such as Japanese transportation. For example, During the Christmas break when I was doing my year abroad in Japan, I booked my night bus for the wrong day, so when I turned up at 11pm with my friends to go to Osaka and the middle aged, stoic faces bus driver told me I had to wait until tomorrow, thus travelling the full nine hours alone, I was near tears. With the bus looking empty, I asked “Is there no way I could go today?” You know, since I’ve paid already and everything. He just shook his head regrettably. Even the young bus driver, clearly fairly new to his job,  looked at me with pity in his eyes, whispering something similar to his co-worker, saying there was room. “No, there is no room, you will have to come back tomorrow.” The night resulted in me dragging my suitcase back to my apartment and getting drunk on leftover Christmas wine, only to find out that my debit card had been blocked and watching half of atonement. My friends told me the next day that the bus had been practically empty the entire way from Kyushu to Osaka.

Now, I’m not a person who likes to judge or pass comments on the cultures of others, knowing I would not like others to do so to mine, but in these instances, the rigidity and lack of give that Japanese people oversize in certain situations really makes me want to punch a biscuit.