A long needed update..

It’s been a while since I last updated this blog! The last couple of months in Japan have just been a blur. Believe it or not, but I’m actually typing this on the plane bound for Amsterdam right now. My Japanese adventure has officially come to an end.

How do I feel? I can’t even explain it myself. I have said so many goodbyes over the past few weeks to people who I may not ever see again. Japan has really taught me the true meaning of goodbye. The hardest goodbyes have been with my students. Over the year I connected with them so much, and I felt so loved and welcomed by them. I knew that saying goodbye to them would be hard, but never would I have been able to prepare myself for it. To some people you will become a memory, so make sure you’re a good one!

The last week of school was tough. A lot of my classes had prepared many farewell songs and gifts for me, and there were a lot of tears involved! The appreciation Japanese students show to their teachers is very admirable. They really do know how to make you feel loved!

I attended my last ever staff party last Tuesday, and said goodbye to all of the teachers and staff I had worked with over the year. It was a mix of emotions. I was happy to be there with all of my teachers, talking, drinking and singing karaoke. However, deep down there was also a lot of sadness as I knew it would be the last ever time. The idea that I would not see some of these people ever again was too overwhelming for it to sink in.

Even now, it still hasn’t sunk in. I refuse to believe that my adventure is over. But at the same time, I have to look forward to what the future brings. Saying goodbye is hard, but it also brings new adventures. Things can never stay the same.

So the exciting part about going back to England, is that my parents have no idea that I will be back so early. I told my dad that I would be back on the 10th, but I thought it would be nice to come home a week early to give them a surprise. I’m not sure what kind of reaction I will get, but I will be sure to film it! Haha! I’m also looking forward to seeing my friends and family, and also eating good old British food! How I’ve missed it!

Yesterday I spent the day in Tokyo with a few friends, and we managed to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom at Ueno park. Ueno station was insanely busy, and we had to shuffle our way through the crowd out of the station to head to the park.

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The crowds at Ueno Station

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Seeing all cherry blossoms made me quite nostalgic, as it reminded me of when I first arrived in Japan. It reminded me that my year in Japan was up, and that my time here had done a full circle. It’s crazy how time flies. I miss Japan so much.

Thank you Japan for an unforgettable year. You’ve changed me as a person in so many ways. It’s been the most incredible year of my life. Never did I imagine that I would have an opportunity like this. I’ve seen so much and learned so much from this past year. Can’t believe the journey has come to an end, but I will carry it with me for the rest of my life.

A new year to remember..

Happy New Year everyone!! Hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and hope this year is a great year for us all!

What did everyone get up to over the holidays? My original plan for Christmas Day was to stay at home and make a huge meal for myself since the majority of my friends had gone home for the holidays. On Christmas Eve, I was suddenly asked to go to an onsen hotel right up in the mountains of Nasu. Of course I couldn’t say no to an onsen, plus it included a huge buffet! The onsen was beautiful, with outdoor sulphur baths. I ended up smelling like a boiled egg for a couple of days due to the strong smell of sulphur. But I felt so relaxed afterwards, and my skin felt amazing! It was just pretty bizarre lying in a steamy outdoor onsen up in the mountains of Japan on Christmas Day, definitely a huge change to my usual Christmases. I remember lying in the onsen thinking to myself, how life has changed!

After Christmas, I was counting down the days for my girlfriend to arrive in Japan. I couldn’t believe she was visiting again, and I had planned a trip around Kansai area. That meant visiting Kyoto again, which I was excited about because it’s probably one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to. I crammed quite a lot in our travel plan, because I wanted to make sure that my girlfriend could visit as many places possible as she was only going to be in Japan for a week. We planned on visiting Kawaguchiko, Kyoto, Osaka and Nara. My only worry was that we were travelling during the most busiest period of the year. New Year is pretty chaotic in terms of travel, as many Japanese people travel back to their hometowns to visit friends and family. Japanese people also visit temples and shrines to pray and make wishes for the New Year. That meant that the trains and shinkansen would be bombarded with people, so I was dreading the travelling.

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Travelling is really fun though, I always get super excited when I’m about to embark on a mini adventure. I’m getting better at travelling light too, and above are my must need items when travelling.

11/29 Tochigi>Tokyo>Kawaguchiko
I woke up really early to take the 7am train to Ueno to meet my girlfriend. The train journey was around two and a half hours, so I was really hoping I would be able to get a seat. I spent the first 45 minutes standing until we reached Utsunomiya where I was lucky enough to find a seat. The train eventually got more and more crammed, to the point where people were wedging themselves through the door. I have never been so thankful for a train seat before! Haha!

After arriving in Ueno, I took the train to Nippori to meet my girlfriend. We checked into our hotel and then made our way to Tokyo station to take a bus to Lake Kawaguchiko. After living in Japan for more than 10 months, I still hadn’t seen Mount Fuji, so I was really excited to visit Kawaguchiko to get an amazing view. Kawaguchiko is one of the five famous lakes known for viewing Mount Fuji. It’s also well known for the famous painting of Mount Fuji by Hokusai. It was a 2 hour bus journey from Tokyo station. I fell asleep for most of the bus journey, but towards the end I could see Mount Fuji in the distance and it was awe strikingly beautiful.

When we arrived at Kawaguchiko station, even the view from the station was incredible as Mount Fuji was in perfect view in the background. We made our way down to Lake Kawaguchiko, but from there we couldn’t get a view of Mount Fuji. After doing a little bit of walking, we found a trail and decided to follow it uphill. It was really tiring, but we managed to make it to the observatory deck, and the view was stunning!

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Trail to the observatory deck

Unfortunately, we had arrived at Kawaguchiko quite late in the afternoon, so we didn’t really have much time before sunset. Thankfully I managed to get some nice shots from the observatory deck, and it was one of those scenes which I needed a moment to take in. After taking photos, we made our way back to the station. I was slightly disappointed that we weren’t able to explore Kawaguchiko more, and we weren’t able to see Mount Fuji from the lake view. But the view from the observatory deck still made it worthwhile. For those who are planning on visiting Kawaguchiko over the winter, I suggest taking the morning bus to allow yourself time to see everything before the sunsets.

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Kawaguchiko station

We soon took the bus back to Tokyo, and headed to Shibuya to have dinner. We were ready to call it a night. A pretty exhausting first day, but I could finally say that I had seen Mount Fuji! Another thing to tick off my bucket list.

12/30 Tokyo>Kyoto
The second day we were ready to head to Kyoto! I was ready for the shinkansen chaos. We checked out of our hotel very early and headed straight to Tokyo station. The station was packed with people, with long queues at the ticket offices. As we were boarding the shinkansen, the queues were insanely long. I was pretty sure that we would have to stand for the duration of the journey as we had booked non-reserved seats. I told my girlfriend to go in front of me and to go straight to a seat if she found one. Luckily, we managed to find two seats together. It was seriously a dream come true! We managed to sleep most of the two and a half hour journey to Kyoto. It felt really nice to be back in Kyoto!

The first thing we did was check into our Air bnb which was located in Arashiyama. I didn’t have enough time to visit Arashiyama on my last visit, so I was really looking forward to it. The walk to central Arashiyama was really nice, and we had a luscious view of the river as we crossed Togetsukyo bridge. We were lucky enough to spot a few geishas walking along the river. I was so excited as I wasn’t lucky enough to see any on my last visit to Kyoto. I’ve heard that spotting geishas in Kyoto is very rare, and Kyoto is the only place in Japan where geishas still remain. Their kimonos were so beautiful!

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The view from Togetsukyo Bridge

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Central Arashiyama was filled with tiny stores, cafes and restaurants bustling with people. Arashiyama is most famous for its bamboo grove and Tenryuji Temple, but because it was already getting quite late, we decided to come again on a different day. Walking through the streets of Arashiyama was enough to keep us occupied. The souvenir shops were really worth going into, and there were plenty matcha cafes and food stalls to try out!

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12/31 Kyoto
New Year’s Eve, I made sure that we were not doing any travelling on the train or shinkansen. I could only imagine it to be absolute mayhem! Instead, we started the day off by visiting Kinkakuji, probably the most famous and well known historical site in Kyoto. I visited this place on my last visit to Kyoto in October, and it was interesting to visit again during winter as the autumn leaves had all disappeared. The amount of tourists who visit Kinkakuji is insane, which can get quite frustrating when you are wanting to take a photo. You literally have to fight for a spot to squeeze into, and even when you manage to find one, some people will push you out of the way.

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After we visited Kinkakuji, we made our way to Kiyomizu dera. I love this place. The cobbled streets surrounding Kiyomizu dera have a very traditional Japanese feel to it. It’s this charm which makes me love Kyoto. We made sure to try out the matcha ice cream there, and also the famously known dango!

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We spent most of the afternoon walking through the streets of Higashiyama. We then visited Kiyomizu dera as the sun was setting, and I managed to get some really nice shots of the skyline.

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Kiyomizu dera

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With it being New Year’s Eve, we decided to visit Yasaka shrine which is just a few minutes walk from Kiyomizu dera. The place was filled with people, and there were many festival stalls! I love festival food, and my girlfriend has been wanting to try it for a long time, so the timing was perfect! We spent so much money on festival food alone. Yakitori, grilled squid, karaage, daifuku, taiyaki etc. But it was worth it!

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Festival stalls at Yasaka shrine
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Karaage
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Taiyaki
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Grilled squid

I also noticed a lot of people buying some rope and setting the ends on fire.

We didn’t really have much planned for the countdown, as I read that the Japanese usually queue up at shrines and temples to pray rather than holding firework displays. At around 9pm, massive queues were already forming outside of temples. I had never seen anything like it!

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Queue to the shrine

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It was still around 9pm, and I couldn’t really imagine waiting around at Yasaka shrine until midnight. So we decided to head back to our air bnb near Arashiyama. When we got off at our station, Matsuotaisha, there was a huge crowd outside the shrine by the station. We decided to follow the crowd into the shrine, and again there were many festival stalls! The atmosphere was great, with crowds queueing up to enter the temple for midnight, and also food stalls as far as the eye could see. With it being quite a local shrine, there were hardly any foreigners around, so we really got the local experience. We tried chicken skin gyoza which was delicious, and also castella cake balls. We also bought roasted satsuma-imo (Japanese sweet potato), which was even more enjoyable on such a cold night. We managed to stay at the shrine for the countdown. As we were queueing up for food, we could just about make out people shouting the countdown in the distance followed by a few cheers.

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Matsuotaisha shrine

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People waiting to queue up for the shrine

1/1 Kyoto
First day of 2017, we made a visit back to Arashiyama to visit the bamboo grove and Tenryuji temple. I wasn’t expecting the entrance to the bamboo grove to literally be through a side street. We followed the signs and made our way up. It was a really nice walk, and the tall bamboo put me in total zen mode.

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Bamboo grove

After strolling around Arashiyama, we took the bus to Ginkakuji. It was still pretty early in the day, but the bus journey from Arashiyama to Ginkakuji seemed to take forever. When we arrived at the stop, the roads soon became familiar to me and we made our way up to Ginkakuji. The path leading up to Ginkakuji is filled with tiny food stalls selling matcha desserts, steamed buns, dango etc. I had visited Ginkakuji on my previous trip to Kyoto, and it’s also a very famous must see attraction if you plan on visiting Kyoto. You can read about it in my previous post on Kyoto.

After visiting Ginkakuji we spent our evening in Sanjo. Sanjo is the shopping district of Kyoto, and I stayed at this place on my last trip. For those who are planning a trip to Kyoto, I recommend staying in Sanjo as the location is convenient. It has a huge selection of shops and restaurants, and it is literally in the centre of Kyoto. Arashiyama was a nice location to stay in, as it was close to the bamboo grove and also the small quirky stores around the station. However it was quite a distance from a lot of the attractions.

The thing with Kyoto is that most of the attractions are very spaced out, so quite a bit of time is needed to travel from location to location. I was really surprised that bus services and train services were running until quite late over the New Year, I think some buses and trains were operating until 3am. With the number of people heading to shrines and temples, it made sense! I was worried prior to my trip that a lot of places would be closed over the New Year and transportation would be really inconvenient, but it was completely wrong. I was really impressed at how efficient the services were everywhere. You would never have thought that it was the holidays. There were many local stores and restaurants which had closed over the New Year, but finding a place to eat did not seem like too much of a problem.

1/2 Kyoto>Osaka
We were due to head to Osaka in the morning but we decided to make another visit to Hirashiyama to rent yukatas! I didn’t originally plan on doing this, but my girlfriend really wanted to try so I thought why not!

Admittedly, the service we received at the rental store was pretty bad. I was quite appalled at how rude the staff were to me. They just assumed that I spoke Chinese, so spoke to me using Mandarin Chinese. When I told them that I didn’t understand, they were very blunt and rude to me in English. Also upon entering the store, we wanted to check the yukatas before renting them. But the staff took us in to get changed first before choosing our yukatas, which gave us no option but to rent them from their store. It was like a trap! And there was a lot of sitting and waiting around, and altogether it took 2 hours for us to choose and get changed into our yukatas when we were told it would take 30 minutes.

With all the negatives aside, I was quite happy overall with how the yukatas looked. It was an experience getting dressed, and it took a lot longer than I thought. I was surprised at the number of layers needed, and also the number of pins. The lady who was dressing me warned me that it would be very tight around the stomach, and boy was she right! She pulled the fabric so tight that I had to take a deep breath! My girlfriend’s yukata had even more layers, and we both left the store hobbling and struggling to breathe, haha!

Higashiyama seemed like the perfect spot to rent our yukatas from as the streets have a very picturesque, traditional Japanese style to it. It was probably my favourite part of the entire trip, walking along the narrow cobbled streets wearing a yukata. We got stares from a lot of people, and tourists were taking photos of us. The yukatas were so tight that I joked to my girlfriend saying it was probably best for us to skip lunch! We ended up going to a tiny soba restaurant, and it was a restaurant which had Japanese style seating. It was a challenge having to take off our clogs (getas) and step on to the platform where the seating was. Then we had to bend down and kneel for the duration of the meal. I’m still not use to the whole kneeling position, but I’ve found that I can endure a lot longer than when I first came to Japan!

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We were also super lucky to spot more geishas!

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Geishas in Higashiyama

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After spending the whole day with our yukatas on and taking as many photos as we could, we returned them to the rental store and made our way back to Arashiyama to collect our things from the air bnb. We were setting off to Osaka later than planned, but the good thing about staying in Arashiyama was that we could take the train straight from our station. It was an hour train journey with one change in between, so we ended up arriving in Osaka at around 8pm. I was pretty excited, as I’ve never been to Osaka before and I was excited to try the takoyaki there!

Once we arrived at Osaka, we made our way to our air bnb apartment. We had trouble with accessing the apartment as there was some miscommunication regarding the key. This meant that by the time we entered the apartment, it was already too late to head out to the city centre to get dinner. We decided to eat local and have an early night, ready for a busy day!

1/3 Osaka>Nara
 We were contemplating whether to head to Nara for a day trip, since we wouldn’t have much time to see Osaka. In the end we decided to go, as we thought it would be best to see as many places as we could and Nara is so close to Osaka (an hour train journey). We woke up early and took the train to Nara. Nara is famous for its wild deer, and they’re not shy when approaching humans. I was told by a lot of my colleagues at work to be careful when approaching them as there is a chance they could attack you. I was told stories of people being bitten, and one of my teachers at school recalled being charged at by one.

Arriving at Nara, we took the bus to Todaiji Temple. This is the most famous temple in Nara, and it holds the world’s biggest bronze Buddha statue known as Daibutsu. It served as one of the seven great temples of Japan. It’s a must see if you visit Nara! The area surrounding the temple was incredibly busy, and we had to cross Ueno Park in order to reach Todaiji. There were so many deer roaming the grounds freely. I made sure to keep a distance from them! Many people were still queuing up to visit the temples in the area to pray. There were plenty festival stalls for us to try as well.

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Festival stalls

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As we approached the entrance gate to Todaiji Temple, I was really impressed by the two structures on each side of the gate resembling the Nio Guardian Kings. They were huge, and the detail on each statue was unbelievable. The gate itself was a beautiful, faded wooden structure, a complete contrast to some of the brightly painted shrines and pagodas in Kyoto.

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Entrance to Todaiji
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Nio Guardian
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Nio Guardian

Nara really gives a feeling of nature, which makes it a place worth visiting. I was pleasantly surprised by Todaiji Temple. I honestly did not know what to expect, as I have visited many shrines and temples during my time in Japan. In all honesty, shrines and temples all seem very similar to me, so admittedly there are times when I’m not entirely sure how to appreciate them. But Todaiji Temple was enchanting, and I did not expect it to be so big! The air was filled the smell of burning incense sticks, and I was stood there gaping at how beautiful the temple was. We made our way inside, and saw the huge bronze Buddha statue inside.

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Todaiji temple
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Daibutsu

We spent a total of around 3 hours in Nara, then decided to head back to Osaka. There really isn’t much to do in Nara besides visiting the park and its famous temples, so if anyone is planning a trip to Nara I recommend making it an afternoon trip.

Arriving back in Osaka, we took the train to the famous Dontonbori. This street is famous for its food! It reminded me a lot of Tokyo, but a lot busier. There were many restaurants along this street, and also many takoyaki restaurants! Some with insane queues. We decided to have lunch at a sushi restaurant, the sushi was so good!

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Dotonbori, Osaka
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Dontonbori

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Takoyaki stalls

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We spent the rest of the day wondering around Nanba and doing some shopping. I managed to find the famous Glico man! It’s seen as the icon of Osaka, and the display was installed in 1935 and advertises Glico candy, a Japanese confectionary company.

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Famous Glico advertisement

We ate a lot of ramen during our trip, but the best ramen were the ones we ate at local ramen bars. There was one particular ramen bar on the main street of Dontonbori which we queued up for a while to try. The tonkotsu ramen was delicious! I’m really going to miss this when I go back home!

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1/4 Osaka>Tokyo>Tochigi
This was the day I was dreading the most. Our task was to travel back to Tochigi from Osaka. I was not looking forward to carrying our heavy suitcase from station to station, and also fighting for a shinkansen seat! We visited Osaka Castle before starting our journey back home. There was no way we could leave Osaka without seeing the castle!

Since we had very little time, we didn’t spend much time at the castle. We literally went there, took a few photos then went straight back to the station to take the shinkansen to Tokyo. We didn’t have time to go inside the castle, but seeing it from outside was already impressive.

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Osaka Castle

We then made our way to Osaka station to take the shinkansen to Tokyo. We were lucky enough to get a seat again, and we bought bento to eat! Again, I felt like we were very lucky being able to sit for the duration of the journey as the shinkansen started to fill up quick. A lot of people were standing with their suitcases. After arriving at Tokyo station, we took the next shinkansen back to Tochigi. Altogether, it took us around 4 hours to head back home.

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Bento on the shinkansen

As soon as we arrived back in my town, we went to a yakiniku restaurant with my Japanese friend. The food was great, yakiniku has to be one of my favourite Japanese foods ever! I mentioned to my friend that I like to eat melon pan, so she ordered melon pan ice cream. I had no idea that they served it at the restaurant, and it was so cool placing the melon pan on the yakiniku grill to heat it up. Not only that, but it tasted amazing!

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Melon pan ice cream

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1/5 Tochigi One thing I wasn’t able to do with my girlfriend the last time she visited Japan was to take her to an onsen. I love onsens, and after such a busy trip I felt that it would be perfect to spend the last day relaxing in an onsen pool. We ended up going to an onsen hotel up in Nasu. We took the morning shuttle bus up to the hotel, and it was snowing on the way there. It was the same onsen I went to on Christmas Day. It was nice to have a change in scene and spend time in the countryside. Japan has a lot more to offer than just the big cities like Tokyo, Osaka etc. The countryside is beautiful, and for those travelling to Tochigi, I really recommend visiting Nikko or Nasu.

We really couldn’t have planned our trip any better, as we were feeling fresh and fully recharged after the onsen. My whole body was aching from all the travelling and carrying our luggage, but the onsen really does wonders in relaxing your muscles and helping your skin. We took it easy for the rest of the day, and then I took my girlfriend to the train station for her to head to Haneda airport. The trip went by so fast, but I had a lot of fun. It was fun cramming as much stuff as we could into one week, and travelling and seeing so many different places. I have to say that we were incredibly lucky with travelling. I mentioned that I was dreading travelling during winter break, but all in all it wasn’t bad at all.

I honestly never thought that I would be able to spend 2017 travelling Japan with my girlfriend. It is such a big difference to my usual New Year celebrations at home. Every year I would spend my New Year working at my parent’s takeaway, and then hurrying home to catch the countdown on TV before heading to bed. All I can say is that I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to live and work in Japan. It took a lot of courage to make the decision to come here, but taking that first step can really change your life completely. I really hope that 2017 is a great year for you all. Don’t be afraid of taking chances and going for opportunities which may never arise again. Life is too short, so we need to make the most of it! All the best guys!

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A busy month..

It’s been a while! I’m so happy that September is finally over! Not only has my work schedule calmed down, but the weather has finally started to cool down too. No more humid and sweaty days at work! Hooray!

I’m currently sat in one of my favourite cafes updating this. This coffee shop not only does great coffee, but it also has a cool market at the front which sells a lot of local produce. The staff here are great too, and one waitress offered to help me with my Japanese too since I spend a lot of my days off here to study Japanese. Yesterday I signed up for the JLPT test in December, which is a Japanese language exam. Another goal to set myself before the end of the year! Ganbatte!

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This month has been by far one of the busiest since being in Japan. I’ve had a lot to prepare for at work, including a huge demonstration lesson which I just got finished with last week, and a pretty hectic teaching schedule on top of that.

I was told about my demonstration lesson a few months back so had quite some time to prepare for it. I had to have quite a lot of meetings with the staff to discuss my proposed lesson. I was told that people from the Board of Education would be coming to watch my lesson, and also many teachers from across the area. I didn’t really know what to expect, but my manager kept emphasising that it was ‘important’. As the day got closer, I started to get really nervous. I went to an onsen the night before to try and calm my nerves! But as expected, I got very little sleep that night. I kept dreaming about my lesson!

When the day came, I was in my classroom pacing up and down trying to calm myself. It was quite funny as a lot of teachers would pop their heads through the door to check if I was okay, because my face looked extremely worried. I ran through my lesson a few times with one of the Japanese teachers. Just before 1pm, the people from the Board of Education started arriving at the school, and my classroom gradually filled up. I was pretty surprised at the number of people observing my lesson (there were over 50 people watching!). Since space was quite restricted, a few teachers were stood outside in the rain watching my lesson through the window.

Overall, I think my lesson went very well. The small mistakes I made, I turned into jokes and laughed about them. It was strange as all those nerves I had prior to my lesson seemed to disappear once the school bell rang and I was to start my lesson. My students could not have been better, extremely high spirited and not fazed by the number of people watching them. It was such a relief to finish my lesson knowing that I gave it my all. The feedback I got really made my day, and all the staff were shaking my hand and saying I did a great job.

After my lesson was over, I had to do a mini press conference with all the people who observed my lesson. I had no idea that the observation was going to be that serious! But it was nice gathering with all the staff in the staff room and clapping to celebrate that we had finally done it! I feel a lot more respected by the staff at my school after my demonstration lesson. I am by no means an amazing teacher, but just having people recognising your hard work is always a nice reward!

3rd September 

So amidst all of the chaos that has been work last month, I did still get a chance to travel and see a few things. At the beginning of September I went to Tokyo with my boss and a few colleagues to see a baseball game! It was my first ever baseball game so I was really excited!

We started off the trip by having lunch on a Yakata bune, which is like an izikaya styled boat. The boat had hot plate tables for us to cook our food on like okinomiyaki and other dishes. The idea of it sounded fun, which it was, but sitting by a hot plate in the scorching hot weather was quite torturous!

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Cooking okinomiyaki on the yakata boat

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It was hilarious watching my colleagues trying to cook on this hot plate, and burning their arms from splashing hot oil around. We also burned out the surface of the hot plate and had to have the workers scrape it clean for us again. We caused such a scene, whilst all the other Japanese people on the boat seemed calm and knew what they were doing.

The boat trip was definitely worth it though. The skyline of Tokyo was beautiful!

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After the boat trip, we made our way to the stadium to watch the baseball game. We watched the Yakult Swallows against the Hiroshima Carps. The atmosphere was incredible. Japanese people are definitely passionate when it comes to baseball!

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As with any game, a lot of chanting was involved! We were cheering for the Yakult Swallows, and whenever they managed to win a round, people celebrated by opening mini umbrellas whilst chanting. It was pretty cool seeing half of the stadium suddenly filled with thousands of tiny umbrellas!

The game at first was really fun to watch, but then it started to drag. With it being my first ever baseball game, I wasn’t sure how long it would last for. The game in total lasted for around 4 hours. I was ready to call it a day! We made it for the first 3 hours of the game, then decided to leave to take the last train back home. Overall it was a fun day trip! Finally got to watch my first ever baseball game, although I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to watch another one! Haha!

September 11th

I was told by a few friends one Sunday that there were two festivals being held in Kuroiso and Shiobara. It’s always tough when you want to stay in your apartment and chill on a Sunday afternoon, but at the same time you don’t want to miss out on all the events happening around you. Festivals happen all year round, but its tough because you don’t want to miss out the good ones!

I decided to go to both festivals with my friend. We went to Kuroiso first, which as holding a Jazz festival. I had no idea what to expect!

The festival was a lot smaller than I imagined, and it wasn’t your typical Japanese festival. The venue was in a small park, and the food stalls were all from local businesses in Kuroiso. It was small and intimate.

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It was a really nice way to spend my Sunday afternoon. Sitting at the park with my friends and listening to live jazz, which was insanely good! Some very talented musicians went on stage to perform.

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Local food stores

Of course I made sure not to leave without trying the food! It was not your typical festival food. I bought a huge barbequed pork yakitori which was a challenge to eat because it was so big! But it tasted soooo good!

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Sweet chilli chicken wings

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After enjoying the food and live music for a few hours, we then made our way to Shiobara for the onsen festival. By the time we arrived at Shiobara, the sky had already started to turn black. But we made it just in time to see the main events!

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Walking towards to festival in Shiobara

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The festival in Shiobara was word of mouth, so we weren’t entirely sure where it was. After exploring the streets with my friend, we managed to see the food stalls lit up in the distance. We knew we were close!

The further we walked, the more people we saw. We could hear taiko drums being played in the distance, and we were greeted by huge mikoshi floats! The first one I noticed was a huge Pikachu mikoshi float.

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As we walked further we saw even more mikoshi floats. The designs were all different, and I saw a lot of familiar looking anime characters.

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Then there was one mikoshi float which really took my breath away! It was so beautifully designed that it almost did not look real.

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Shiobara is very famous for its beautiful onsens, so they hold an onsen festival once a year. I was told that many of the onsens in the area were free of charge on this particular day. Too bad I didn’t bring a change of clothes and a towel, or I would have loved to have gone to one!

The people in Shiobara are very friendly too! A lot of the people were not shy in approaching me and my friend for a conversation. They also had really good English, which was a nice surprise! I recognised a few students from summer school, and they came up to me to say hello and they told me how tired they were from pushing the floats around. It was nice that they still recognised me, and were very confident in speaking English with me! That’s what makes being an English teacher here so rewarding!

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After watching taiko performances performed by Shiobara elementary and junior high  school children, we made our way back home. It was such an eventful day. Two completely different festivals, both amazing in their own ways!

Hope you guys are having a wonderful weekend!

Home, sweet home!

This summer has been a busy one! July was all about summer school and kids clubs which was really hard work. Summer school involved taking care of hundreds of elementary kids and being responsible for running the same activity around 3-4 times a day. Playing games like cat cat dog, musical chairs, fruit basket for an entire day was exhausting! But it was nice to spend time with the kids, and I saw a lot of students from my school.

Kids club was insane! I had to go to a small kindergarten right beside my school and was greeted by many students from my school. Before I had even entered the building there were kids shouting through the windows ‘Tim Sensei!!!!!’ and before I knew it, I found myself with a kid hanging from each of my arms, and kids hugging my legs. I knew from that moment that kids club was going to be hard work! I spent most of kids club on edge as I was constantly being chased by kids holding huge rhino beetles. I still have not warmed up to insects in Japan, and it has come to the point that if a kid is stood behind me my immediate reaction is to scream and run. This really doesn’t help things, as this kind of reaction only motivates them to keep doing it. I’m hoping once winter is over these bugs are harder to find so I can go to work at ease!

Once we completed summer school and kids club, we had to take part in an exchange program with a group of junior high school students. These students will be making a trip to Austria as part of a cultural exchange program, so our job was to help them with conversation practise. It was really nice as we got to go to a little campsite, and we had a barbecue. It was nice getting to know the junior high school students a bit more, a relationship which is harder to form when working in an elementary school.

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The campsite

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This month has been hectic to say the least! After a few weeks of sweaty hard work in the intense humidity of Japan, it was finally time to enjoy summer break. With just over 2 weeks of summer holidays, I decided to go back to England to visit my family. I did so much travelling within those 2 weeks with constant time changes and recovering from jetlag.

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The journey back home was quite a task! I had to fly from Japan to Hong Kong as my return flight back to England was from Hong Kong. With there only being morning flights from Narita, I had no choice but to stay the night prior to my flight at Narita airport. The journey from my apartment to the airport takes over 2 hours (and that is using the fast speed bullet train!). I decided to stay in a capsule hotel, something I had no idea what to expect.

The capsule hotel was quite an experience. Conveniently located in the airport and very clean! I’ve only really seen these places on TV, and I wasn’t really sure how I would feel sleeping in what seemed like such a confined space. But the experience overall was quite pleasant. The beds were a lot more spacious than I imagined. I did find it slightly strange being given a grey coloured gown to wear. Wearing this gown whilst brushing my teeth in a huge white room, and seeing other men wearing the same gowns, made it seem almost like I was in prison! It was pretty bizarre!

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The capsule hotel in Narita airport

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So I took the morning flight to Hong Kong the next day and stayed with my cousin for the night. I had a list of things to eat whilst in Hong Kong as I had not eaten any Chinese food whilst being in Japan. On the top of my list was dim sum. I’m not sure what it is, but whenever I land in Hong Kong my tongue always craves some good dim sum! So my cousin did some research and took us to a michelin star dim sum restaurant in Yau Ma Tei called Tim Ho Wan (添好運). The crispy char sui pork buns were soooooo good!

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Crispy char sui buns

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Another thing I couldn’t leave Hong Kong without eating was of course… an egg tart!

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After spending a really nice day in Hong Kong, I took a flight back to England the following day. I flew from Hong Kong to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam back to Newcastle. It was a really long journey. But I felt really excited inside as I knew I was getting a step closer to home. Getting on the flight from Amsterdam to Newcastle was very exciting, and I knew the tiring journey would be all worth it soon!

It was nice arriving back home and seeing my family. If I could describe how I felt during my time back in England, I would say it felt like I had suddenly woken up from a dream and was back to living my old life in England (but everyone seemed to be treating me extra nice…haha). From the first day I arrived to the moment I left, it was non-stop. I was constantly out travelling and seeing family and old friends. It was nice but very exhausting!

It was really nice to spend time with my family, and we organised a small trip to the Lakes (the birthplace of Peter Rabbit!) for a few days which was really nice. I think moving to Japan has really made me cherish my time with loved ones, and you really learn to appreciate your family and friends when you’re placed in a position where you can’t see them often. I could also feel that my parents were very happy to see me again, especially my dad. It’s strange how distance can set people further apart, but at the same time bring people closer together.

Spending time in Keswick with my family was really like a dream come true. There were times when I felt like a little boy again. I visited Keswick around 3 years ago when I was studying my Master’s degree. Everyone has their own story which builds them into the person they are today, and that particular time was a really difficult time for me and my family. I remember hiking in Keswick 3 years ago and seeing such a beautiful view from the place I was standing. I remember at the time thinking to myself, how great would it be to take my parents here some day to see what I’m seeing. But it seemed impossible in the midst of everything which was happening at the time. Sometimes when you see your parents work so hard everyday, you do wish that they could just travel and enjoy life a bit more. Life shouldn’t always be about working, its all about balance.

With me moving away to Japan, my parents were quite eager to go away somewhere with me when I returned to England. I was quite surprised by this. I took them on the exact same route I walked three years ago, and I could recall all the narrow and steep paths I took. It’s amazing how we change as human beings, and time and experience really changes the way we see things. Walking those same steps made me realise how much I had grown up. Standing at that exact same spot I stood at 3 years ago with my parents, it was such a satisfying experience. It was almost as though I had achieved something incredible. To see my parents in total awe of the view, was something which made me extremely happy.

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The view overlooking Keswick
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The scenery during our hike

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Peter Rabbit store

The weather wasn’t that great during our time in the Lakes, but this didn’t stop us from having a good time. Me, my dad and brother went for a little drive during the evening. We drove to a nearby town called Buttersmere, the weather was pretty bad and the roads were so narrow! We found ourselves on a long windy road, and whenever a car approached from the opposite direction, it was so difficult to make way for us both to get past.

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You can see just how narrow the roads were from this photo. My dad was terrified, and had to find an alternative route to get us back to our bed and breakfast!

I spent the rest of my time in the UK visiting friends and family. It was really nice to see everyone, and I made some surprise visits to people I hadn’t seen in a while.  I also organised a surprise 60th birthday meal for my mum’s birthday since I won’t be there next month to celebrate with her.

I travelled down to Leeds to see my girlfriend, and spent an entire weekend with her cooking in her apartment and relaxing. I brought a grill machine from Japan to have yakiniku in her apartment. Once we had prepared all of our food, we realised that the machine wouldn’t work! Good job we had a spare one to use!

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My attempt to bring a taste of Japan back to the UK
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My homemade cooking! Pan fried salmon with vegetables

Living in Japan has also made me find my love for melon pan. It’s a Japanese sweet bread bun which is so delicious! It’s similar to the HK style pineapple buns. I usually buy it from the bakery beside my apartment in Japan. It’s crispy on the outside, and soft in the inside. Anyways, I attempted to make some myself back home since I have an oven. They came out surprisingly well and tasted so good straight out of the oven!

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They were pretty difficult to make as it involved a lot of time letting the bread ferment, but it was fun smacking the bread dough repeatedly to form its soft and moist shape!

I also made sure to binge on copious amounts of good old British food! Fish and chips, pies, steaks and roasts! I had to make the most of my time in the UK, and these were the foods I had been craving for a while!

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There’s a very famous fish and chips restaurant around 20 minutes drive from where I live. It was probably the nicest fish and chips I’ve had in a while!

My time back home went by really fast, and the next thing I knew, I was already sat in the airport awaiting my flight back to Japan. My trip really taught me that home will always be home. I’m so glad that I made the decision to step out of my comfort zone and experience life in a faraway place. I really do encourage people not to be afraid to reach for their goals, no matter how scary the initial thought of it may be. I feel so blessed to have such a supportive group of friends and family. Another 8 months till my contract finishes. Who knows what will happen after that!