Pikachu Outbreak in Yokohama

I am going to interrupt my series for a sec here. To be fair, summer is not over yet, so I can’t start the summer blog yet anyways. I kind of thought that I wouldn’t get around to it until after summer. Which, is probably still true.

Sorry family, I highly doubt you’ll get anything from this blog. I was like a freakin’ child for this, I still can’t get over it. This was one of the most exciting events I’ve ever been to ^-^~

Okay, so this is the most amazing thing ever. Apparently, every year, Yokohama has something called a Pikachu Outbreak. Essentially, it is a week long event where you can do/see Pokemon related things. It is mostly performances, but there are some interesting details that they put around the city.

This year, they also included events that had to do with Pokemon Go. It was convenient that the release date for Japan was around the same time so they kind of lumped their anniversary with the already annual Pikachu event. This event was about a week long and ran from August 8th to 14th this year.

20170820_222503

So from left to right, here is what the events are:

  1. Stage show at Queen’s  Square
  2. Stage show at Landmark Plaza
  3. Stomp show at Nippon Maru Memorial Park
  4. Stage show at Yokohama World Porters
  5. Splash show at Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse
  6. Pikachu carnival parade at Nippon Odori

Events 1 to 5 happened four times a day from the 8th to 13th and the parade was the only event on the 14th.

20170820_221748

All the events basically took place in the Minato Mirai area in Yokohama. If you get off at minatomirai or sakuragicho station, you will easily be able to walk towards each event.

Both stations had Pikachu related signs and stuff.

Here is the entry to Sakuragicho:

DSC_1154

This was the first thing I saw when I got off at nipponodori:

DSC_1018

So, personally, I did go to every event, but I only went for 2 days instead of all 5. As soon as I arrived, I saw the giant pikachu and and people were handing out maps (the ones shown above) and cardboard pikachu hats. I went alone since Pokemon isn’t really Pat’s thing. This worked out well because I was able to time myself so I could see everything (Pat takes forever to do anything, so I don’t know if we could have seen every event…)

As you can see from the schedule I put above, the events run back-to-back four times a day. I came around noon so the order I did things was 3,4,2,1,5. Before I show you each event, let me just say that the events seem to be purposely fit that you can’t see all events in a row unless you only see each one for 5-10min. That’s what I did because I didn’t want to be there all day. It was in the low 30’s outside so it was way too hot haha.

Okay, so the first event I saw was on a stationary boat in Yokohama. This boat is there every day all day, so I think it’s just a display.

 

Stomp show at Nippon Maru Memorial Park

This was my favourite event, but it could be because I could actually see what was going on. Thank goodness my camera has a massive zoom.

DSC_1030

My actual view….

DSC_1039DSC_1040DSC_1048

DSC_1050

My zoomed in view

Gosh, they are sooooo freakin’ cute~

 

Stage show at Yokohama World Porters

From this point forward, you will notice that the view gets worse and worse… This event was on the 2nd floor of a mall so the space was extremely limited.

DSC_1060

Hula girls/guys were out for quite a while

DSC_1063

finally pikachu came out!

DSC_1064

DSC_1067

Lucky shot… I couldn’t see this well since I’m short…

 

Stage show at Landmark Plaza

The time difference between the last show and this one was 25 min, but it was a good 10min walk or so between locations. I didn’t get to see much  of the show above, but I wasn’t too disappointed. I rushed over to Landmark tower, which looks like this from the outside:DSC_1028

This event shooouuld have been easy to see, but it was not. It was on the ground floor so you’d think that going to the 2nd or 3rd floor would give you a great view. Nope. Not only was it probably the busiest event, but where the stage was, was incredibly inconvenient. I barely saw this event at all. All the pictures I’m going to show you are essentially a fluke…

Seriously though, there were a lot of shoving my camera through small spaces between people and pillars… I feel like my naked eye didn’t see the pikachu at all..

DSC_1079

Very cool pikachu ballon filled pikachu balloon

DSC_1080

real view

DSC_1081

zoomed in camera mode

DSC_1085

DSC_1090

tried to get a better angle

DSC_1091

…and I tried again

DSC_1093DSC_1094

 

Stage show at Queen’s  Square

Again, the time I had between this event and the next was small. I had to once again walk briskly to Queen’s square. Luckily, Queen’s square is the mall right next to Landmark tower. This was the worst of all the events for what you could see. This event was sooo crowded, just like the above event, but it had the amount of space as the one in the mall with the hula pikachu’s.

This event was kind of in between floors. The viewing area on the same floor seemed like you had to pay for entry and it was mostly for kids. The second floor was where most people were. It was impossible to see anything or even get my camera close enough to take a photo. Like, you had to look down at a 45 degree angle and there were like 5 people between between me and the edge. I walked until I found a corner where I could actually see ANYTHING… Not great, but it was something…

DSC_1098

Impossible to see the stage….

DSC_1100

the best view I could get

DSC_1101DSC_1102DSC_1104DSC_1108

 

Splash show at Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse

The last event I actually didn’t care too much about. It was a water show, so I couldn’t even take photos if I wanted to. Pat decided to come down to Yokohama at this time.

DSC_1131

Pretty busy, but at least there was space

DSC_1133

 

Pikachu carnival parade at Nippon Odori

This was the big event! It was on a different day and it was not nearly as hot, thankfully. It seemed like it was going to rain and it had definitely rained overnight. I went alone again, but that was probably for the best.I came about an hour before it started and was able to get an okay spot. I wasn’t at the front, but I was in the second row.

Before the parade started, you could start to see and hear them getting ready.

DSC_1165DSC_1167DSC_1170

Once there was some commotion, the crowd got a lot tighter. There was even a little boy that tried to get to the front, but people are so freaking selfish and didn’t let him in front. Like seriously? He is so small, you could see over him…. just let him through! Not gonna lie, but tourists are seriously the worst people. Like, if you travel to a different country, just use some common fucking sense. As a foreigner, you represent ALL foreigners. So, for you to not let this kid in because you want to see Pikachu (which you could still see over him since he is like 8 years old…), makes ALL foreigners look like selfish assholes. Thanks.

Sorry…. let’s continue.

In true Japanese fashion, the parade started just on time. I believe it was supposed to start at 4pm and it started at 4:02 or something. We weren’t right at the beginning so it took a few minutes before we saw anything.

The first thing in the parade was the bus that you see above. Once they got closer, you could see that in front of the vehicle there were quite a few people dressed in pikachu-inspired clothing doing some interesting dances and singing along.

Once the bus got closer, you could see the Pikachu’s waving at the crowd!

Not gunna lie, at this point, I felt like crying. I was unnecessarily happy about this. So cuuuuuuute~

At this point, I was pretty surprised at the people to Pikachu ratio.

This was a kind of funny point in the parade. I don’t know if this section was super fast, or the next was really slow, but for about 7 minutes there was nothing. at all….. It was 4:15 and since I knew that the parade was an hour long, I knew that there was a lot more left. Actually, a man standing in front of me left. The two girls that were with him were gathering up there stuff. The kid that was able to get to the front from earlier had left.

People are so impatient haha.

I suppose this was the main event because this was when the Pikachu’s came.A lady was directing them in a line while blowing a whistle. It was so cuuute!

They periodically stopped for photo opportunities. I got pretty close to one and I was able to touch him. The Pikachu’s seemed to have a bit of a personality. There were a few that did some funny things like dancing when it wasn’t supposed to or running into each other. It was really cute. It really made me wonder who is in those costumes. They are no taller than I am, so are they children? If so, it’s amazing that there were able to be so creative and interesting…. I dunno… just made me wonder.

The costumed Pikachu’s hung around for about 15 min so there were many opportunities for everyone to get a picture and perhaps interact with them. I think they did a good job at getting to each part of the crowd.

The parade ended the way it started. I think it was the same bus and dancers that come back.

As the dancers came back, the police started taking the ropes away behind them and opening the road again. It was crazy to see how many people were there. I could barely move so I went to a high place and just waited until the crowd thinned out.

DSC_1266.JPG

And that was it for the parade!

 

Random Pikachu sightings

DSC_1112

I was lucky enough to see a whole bunch of them exiting Queen’s Square

DSC_1113DSC_1119DSC_1121

 

That’s all. I hope you liked this, because I sure did!

Advertisements

The 4 Seasons of Japan – Spring

If you were to ask anyone when the best time to visit Japan, I bet you anything that many people will say spring. Spring is probably the best know for the cherry blossoms.

I’m kind of torn on what I think about spring. As you probably know, I love love love cherry blossoms. Each year, I take way too many photos of these flowers. I also love the festivals that happen around this time. I also loooove festivals. I love food tents, I love eating outside, I love looking at all the different foods that are offered, and I love that I can just walk around with a beer and it’s no big deal…. hmmm I only named things to do with food didn’t I? Festivals are more than just food! … Or are they….?

Okay, as I said, I’m a bit torn. The biggest reason I think spring is a bit overrated is just because of the weather.

Now, this is totally perspective.

I like being warm. Spring is just not warm enough for me. For a normal Canadian, yeah, it’s warm. I think it was in the teens or low twenties. The biggest issue for me was the huge drop in temperature at night. If you know me and Pat at all, you’d know that we are night owls. I love festivals and would 100% prefer to go to them in the evening. Problem is, not only does the temperature drop as soon as the sun goes down, but the sun goes down so freaking early! I don’t know if a mistake was made when deciding what time zone Japan belongs to, but the sun goes down way too early (and comes up way too early in the morning).

Goodness, that was a heck of a tangent. Let’s just get on with it.  I’ll try to separate this like I did with the other blogs in this ‘series’.

Tokyo

Koishikawa Botanical Garden (小石川植物園 //  こいしかわ しょくぶつえん)

On one of our days off, we headed up to Tokyo since I heard that the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom. Well, I guess the key word was “starting” haha. Oh well, the botanical garden was still quite beautiful. It was a bit out of the way, but it wasn’t too bad.We walked from Hakusan station on the meguro line.

It cost about 400 yen I believe so it was actually quite cheap. I’m not sure if the prices change in different seasons. We were kind of in an off-season. I think that going while the blossoms are out would be absolutely stunning. Even going in the summer would be nice when all the trees and grass would be green. When we went, it was a bit grey haha.

Not too much to really say about our day. I really tried to take artsy photos of flowers haha. Enjoy~

I was a bit disappointed, but I swear that I heard the cherry blossoms were blooming in Tokyo. Since we were already in Tokyo, we decided to walk to Ueno from the garden. Ueno is known for its cherry blossoms. It’s a pretty long walk already, but we made it even longer. On the way, we noticed quite a few tourists heading in the same direction. we decided to check out whatever they were headed to. It was a pretty neat cemetery called Yanaka Cemetery.

Yanaka Cemetery (谷中霊園 // やなかれいえん)

It was actually pretty cool. I’m glad that we took this detour, even if it added another 20 min to our already long walk. It probably took us over an hour to get from the gardens to Ueno. Pat seems to love walking….

Ueno Park (上野公園 // うえのこえん)

Anyways, we had been to Ueno once before, but only at night. It was really cool to see it in the daylight. I’d looooove to see it during the full bloom of the cherry blossoms. Anyways, again, not too much to say.

It was a nice little day trip. So, if you’re in Tokyo in the spring, especially during the cherry blossom season, I think these 3 places would be absolutely breathtaking. My only issue with Ueno is how crowded it is. I can’t even imagine how it would be during peak season.

 

~Cherry Blossoms (sakura // 桜 // さくら)~

So, like I mentioned earlier, I really really like the cherry blossoms. Unlike last year at the private school, we actually had time off to go places. We were actually in the middle of our spring break. We had basically all of March off. I was so upset last year because of our awful time off schedule. We were in a place known for cherry blossoms and could barely see any of it! This time, we had a lot more time to look around. Although I wouldn’t say Kawasaki and Yokohama are necessarily famous for cherry blossoms, I knew I would be able to find some hidden gems. Tokyo, on the other hand, does have some pretty well-known places.

Unfortunately, this year was a bit weird. The cherry blossoms almost did things in 2 parts. They seemed to blossom about halfway and then we got some bad weather. The wind and cold weather seemed to halt the blossoms. After a couple of days they rest of the blossoms started, but the other half was dying or had fallen off from the wind. Ultimately, the trees never seemed to be 100% in bloom at any time. They were still really great, just not their best I suppose. Also because of the weird timing, we weren’t able to see much during our spring break, but we had to see a lot of them during our weekends off. Oh well, still better than last year!

If you want to see the posts I’ve made in the past, check them out: 2016 Kansai, 2015 Korea festival, 2015 Korea random

Koganecho Sakura Festival

Pat and I don’t live in Yokohama, but that’s where all the great stuff happens. To be fair, Yokohama is like the 2nd largest city in Japan or something crazy. Kawasaki, where we live, is not too high up on that list. Where was I going with this?

During cherry blossom season, there are sooooo many cherry blossom festivals. Of course. They are scattered in every season at varying times. I highly recommend attending at least one if you are in Japan at the right time. We decided to go to this one in particular was just because our friends lived in that area. Luckily, this area has a large river running through it, so it is so beautiful during the spring. There are cherry blossoms along this almost the entire river and is absolutely stunning. From Hinodecho to Gumyoji is a fantastic walk if you happened to be in the area.

The festival itself was close to hindecho and koganecho station. (I know this means nothing to most of you…. it’s mostly just in case people are on my blog for potential cherry blossom spots).

As I mentioned before, the cherry blossoms this year were a bit strange.

DSC_0340

As you can see, they aren’t too impressive. Like, at all….We did find ONE fully bloomed tree, though! (so, I took 234039843 photos of that single tree….)

The first thing I personally like to do at a festival is seek out festival food. I have a soft spot for food tents, eating and drinking outside, and just eating interesting things. It is definitely a thing I will immensely miss when we go back home to Canada. Here is some food we got!

DSC_0342

yakiika (grilled squid)

DSC_0383

yakiika (grilled squid) // left is the body, right is the legs

DSC_0344

dango (rice cakes with red bean paste)

DSC_0356

sakura umeshu and sake

We got other types of food as well, but it was too hard is to photograph and eat at the same thing. I’d say the most common types of food at any Japanese festivals are takoyaki (deep fried octopus balls), okonomiyaki (cabbage pancake with different sauces), yakisoba (grilled soba noodles), and assorted meat on sticks. They are all so good. None of them are healthy. I highly recommend.

It was pretty hard to get around, so I really didn’t get many photos. It was pretty busy:

This area was an interesting location for a festival. There were tents along the river so there wasn’t anywhere to sit. The roads on either side of the river were closed for traffic, and absolutely packed with people. On the other side of the road were a whole bunch of small izakayas (Japanese pub). Our fiends happen to go to a few of those izakayas on a regular basis, so we have met some of the shop owners. It is a pretty neat experience to be able to drink with the locals and support their businesses. If we didn’t know them, we may have not gone to any of the izakayas. We probably would have not even noticed that they were open.

DSC_0364DSC_0365

As you can see, these izakayas are really tiny. It is a pretty neat experience.

Looking through my photos, it is just us drinking haha. Well, here are the few cherry blossom photos that I managed to take.

 

Mitsuike Park (三ッ池公園 // みついけこうえん)

Not too long after this festival, the cherry blossoms were really starting to bloom. I have always wanted to have a hanami (flower viewing) since I heard about it. I mentioned in my last year’s spring blog how I wanted to go, but Pat didn’t know what I wanted and we didn’t really get to have one. Even if we did, since we didn’t have friends in Kyoto, it might not have been that fun.

Well, this year, we have friends!!

Can you believe it?!

Haha, okay, that is a bit dramatic. Well, anyways, we were lucky enough to have a hanami. We went to a park that is kind of in the middle of Kawasaki and Yokohama. We are the only ones that live in Kawasaki, so usually we have to travel to Yokohama if we want to do anything with them. When I was looking for the best place to have a hanami, the results I got were mostly in Tokyo. Tokyo has too many tourists so I try to avoid going there if possible haha.

I really couldn’t find a good place. The best place for a hanami is usually a park. So, I looked at parks in the area that had a lot of cherry blossoms. I decided to check out this park that is near my workplace. I was doing research like 2 weeks before cherry blossom season. Luckily, this was the first place I checked out and instantly thought that it would be perfect.

Here is where the park is on Google Maps:

InkedFullscreen capture 2017-08-19 14115 AM_LI

It obviously much closer to Kawasaki, but it’s technically part of Yokohama…. so….. I was able to convince some people to come ^-^.

I packed a bag with beer, umeshu and chips and we set off to our hanami. If you want to go to this park, unfortunately it is only accessible by bus. It isn’t near any train stations. You could walk, but it’s an uphill walk. We took a bus at Tsurumi station (near the JR side, not the keikyu side). The park wasn’t too busy

InkedFullscreen capture 2017-08-19 21315 AM_LI

There are actually quite a few buses that go there. They are all on the same side of the bus depot. Google maps is pretty useful in Japan, so you can just google the bus routes and numbers. (Google was useless in Korea so I always want to give the bus numbers haha).

We were able to find a spot fairly easily. We set up our picnic as soon as we arrived and took turns going out for photos and such.

The weather was …okay… I personally prefer to be warm so a nice spring day is still too cold for me haha. Luckily for us, it wasn’t too crowded. Unluckily for us, we were still a few days too early. I think if we had gone 2 days later, it would have been perfect. I’d say the trees were at 75% bloomed. I think they only had the potential to bloom to 90% because of the strange weather this year.

There isn’t really much to talk about. We just hung out, talked, drank and enjoyed our day. It’s so nice to be able to drink outside. Another thing I will miss when we go back to Canada haha.

There were quite a few different types of sakura at this park. I could only tell the difference between the dark ones and light ones haha.

DSC_0470

Okay, photo time. As always, there are a lot.

The nice thing about this park is the nice lake in the middle. It really add to the cherry blossom photos, in my opinion. There were also a whole bunch of ducks there!

Maybe I just like water, haha, I don’t know…

It started to get really windy, which was a pain. It kept blowing our food and empty drink cans all over the place. Our picnic mat also had to be held down. The wind was frustrating and also made the weather a lot colder than it already was (it wasn’t cold… I’m just a wuss).

It was a really nice day and I’m glad that I can check hanami off of my Japan bucket list.

 

Meguro River, Tokyo (目黒川, 東京 // めぐろがわ, とうきょう)

So, because I obviously have an unhealthy obsession, I needed to venture out on my own so I could take 2034983 photos and not annoy everyone. Once the sakura were basically a full bloom, I ventured out to Tokyo once again. I know, I just said that I hate it because of all the tourists….. but….. I really wanted to see this place.

Meguro river essentially runs from shimbamba station to naka-meguro station, but the cherry blossoms are the most heavily concentrated between meguro shinbashi and nakameguro.

I got off at gotanda station and walked along the river and was pretty dissapointed until I got to meguro shinbashi. As soon as I saw the sakura, I started a trail save thing on google maps on my phone.

Screenshot_2017-08-19-02-45-20

So, if you are planning on visiting this famous river, just be aware that the entire river is not as fabulous as it is between the two points shown above.

It’s not a bad walk by any means. From above, you can see that there weren’t many people so I was able to get some nice shots without people in them.

Hmmm… how do I wanna do this…? Do I wanna just spam you with 2304983098 photos? Do I want to separate them a bit? Ugh, the decisions I have to make for this blog.

I’ll separate them a bit.

As soon as I got to Meguro-shinbashi, I knew that I was where I wanted to be. I have seen so many photos from this exact spot. I wiiiish that I could photograph them as well, but I’m not so skilled haha. Sorry. I took four of the same photo with different camera settings, but they all kind of look the same haha.

Surprisingly, there aren’t too many bridges along this river so there aren’t too many chances to get photos from this angle. For the majority of the walk (which was stunning by the way), I was walking along the river on a road or sidewalk.

Recently, I bought a small tripod and a remote timer for my camera so I was happy to test them out~

DSC_0515DSC_0516

I definitely got some funny looks while taking those photos. I had to put my camera across the street and zoom in, so I don’t think people even saw my camera. Just me standing by myself haha.

Since I suck at waking up, I had actually gone to Tokyo around 4pm or so. I wish I went earlier so that I could see the sun shining on all the sakura. oh well. I think I missed the rush a bit and I was able to get some nice close-up photos of the blossoms.

Companies definitely take advantage of touristy spots though. I mean, the lanterns do look really cool, but each lantern has a different advertiser on it.

As soon as I arrived at the next bridge, I did the same thing as last time: take 012349238 photos of the same thing with different settings.

As I mentioned earlier, I had left pretty late. The one advantage was that I was able to get some day and night shots. The lanterns looked really cool in the darkness, but it was pretty hard to capture it. I swear, I played with my camera’s settings like crazy. I suck.

On that note, does anyone else notice that cameras tend to make it look a lot lighter than it actually is? I mean, those were taken at dusk I’m fairly sure and it looks like the afternoon….

Oh, hey! Did I ever talk about my second obsession: tree caves? I’m 100% positive I have. I love them sooooo much. I wish so badly that I could photograph them and show the depth. They are so freaking cool. Here are my attempts:

It went on for quite a while. Around this time, it started getting really busy. I quickly found out why. My guess is that people come either in midday or at night. Both times are beautiful and have their own charm.

DSC_0558.jpg

Once I got to the last bridge (basically), I was stunned. It was actually sooooo beautiful. I stayed there for about 45 minutes waiting for the sun to completely set. Here is, again, 24-30943 photos of the same thing!

Both sides of the bride had a great view. I really enjoyed it. I took some photos here and there on my way back.

DSC_0584DSC_0585I left feeling satisfied about my day trip. If you are a sakura fanatic like I am, I highly recommend this river. Even if you just go to the first and last bridge on the route I shared.

Nikaryo Yosui Canal, Kawasaki ( 二ヶ領用水と大石橋, 川崎  // にかりょうようすい, かわさき)

This is a bit of a weird one… It is in the middle of a residential area of Kawasaki. It isn’t close to where I live, at all. How did I learn of this place, you ask? Well, I take Japanese lessons in that area and they gave me a guide book of things to do/see in Kawasaki. When I saw the photo of the sakura hanging over the water, I knew I had to go. They listed some other spots that looked amazing as well, but I just didn’t have the time.

I went to this place AFTER the prime bloom time. I was hoping that it wouldn’t have been too late, but it was. Most of the blossoms are wilted. But, at least I know that if I went in prime season, it would be absolutely beautiful.

The blossoms were pretty unique. They were the type that hang down, and they were also very pink! It was really pretty. If I am still in Japan during next sakura season, I would definitely go again.

Phew, finally done with the cherry blossoms.

Almost done, guys, almost done. One last activity that we did in spring.

 

Ashikaga Flower Park (あしかがフラワーパーク)

I hope this one doesn’t get too long. This could probably have its own blog post, but I figured it would fit in this series….

Every once in a while, I look up what festivals and events are happening around me. I figure that since I’ll probably only be in Asia once, I should do/see as much as I can. So, while I was looking around, I found a pretty cool ‘event’. It isn’t a festival or event really, but a flower park that is famous for a flower called wysteria (the Japanese name is fuji // 藤 // ふじ). Wysteria have a bit of a longer blooming period than cherry blossoms. They basically start to bloom as the cherry blossoms start to wilt. I have never heard of this flower until I found this post. As far as I know, they aren’t native to Canada.

I really want to improve my photography skills, and for some reason, I’m really into flower photography. You may think I only like cherry blossoms, but I swear I like other flowers as well.

Now, as soon as I knew about these cool flowers, I naturally looked at where is the best place to see them. They bloom in various places in Tokyo, but I found a flower park that is kinda infamous for them. It is a place called Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi prefecture (NNW of Tokyo). Here is the website if your interested: https://www.ashikaga.co.jp/english/index.html .

As soon as you leave the main metropolis areas, the trains become infinitely more difficult to use. You may have noticed from all my navigation problems we seem to have haha. So, it’s my fault for always wanting to explore outside of Tokyo, but Japan has a LOT to see that is outside Tokyo. I wish more people talked about them. That’s why I do these blogs ^^.

Okay, so lets start with how to get there.

I’ve mentioned before that the best way to find directions in Japan is to go to the website and find a tab that says “access”. They don’t always provide times and such, but it is a good place to start. For example, this website gives this information:

Fullscreen capture 2017-08-20 42143 PM

The access pages aren’t necessarily in English, but this one was, luckily. I mostly used Google Maps to get us there, but it was nice to have this as a reference. I especially like to use these pages when Google maps suggests taking the shinkansen. It took us probably 9 months of being in Japan to realize that there is usually a way to get somewhere without the shinkansen (which is way too expensive…). Here is what Google map suggests:

Fullscreen capture 2017-08-20 42857 PM

Unfortunately, I don’t remember what route we actually took, but we definitely didn’t take the shinkansen. We had a weird situation at, I assume, kitasenju station (I really don’t remember where we were, but that must have been it….). There were actually signs for what train to take to get to this flower park, but the train was full! It must be that nikko-kinugawa line. It seemed that you couldn’t use your rail pass (the card that you beep in and out with) and had to buy tickets for this particular train separately. I was a bit confused as to what we were supposed to do, so I asked, in Japanese, “Does this train go to Tochigi?” and he dismissed me by saying in broken English “ticket first” over and over. Like, fuck, what the hell dude? So does it or not? like, you want me to buy a ticket for a train that may not even go where I want to go??

Annoyed, I went to the ticketing area and asked a different train attendant the same question and he luckily answered (nicely) that it was full. Again, fuck you first guy. So, the new attendant showed us which train we could take instead and said that it is cheaper, but next one comes in 40 min. So, we waited. The next train was pretty full, but we got a seat. It took a bit longer than the sold out train, and added that 40 min of waiting time onto our trip. That meant that the already long (almost 3hrs) ride up there was extended by an hour.

Ugh.

Oh well, we got there. It was just a long journey. The local train from Tochigi to the park was crazy packed. Everyone was going to the flower park! It was so packed that I got off before Pat and had to wait like 5 min until he came out as well. We were not standing together and people just push and shove their way off the trains (whoever says that Japanese people are oh so polite have never had to navigate the trains during rush hour or an event….). I tried to take a photo of how many people there were, but it was kinda hard…

As that website mentions, there is a bit of a walk from the station to the park. It was easy to find just by how many people were walking in that direction. We basically just followed the crowds.

This was another place that changed their price depending on what is in season and how fully bloomed the flowers are. We went at prime time for their most famous flower so it was the most expensive price that it could’ve been. It was like 1300 yen (~$15) each or something like that.

Despite how busy it was, this park is actually really big so it was easy to walk around and take photos without it feeling to crowded. Well, once you got out of the entrance way that is…

DSC_0697

[Edit: I forgot that I kept the pamphlet just for the blog! I have been trying to do that lately, but I always forget.]

20170820_22170520170820_221654

 

Surprisingly, this park had more than just wysteria. It was a really diverse flower park!

Another thing that I didn’t expect was there is more than one type of wysteria. Not only are there essentially 2 distinct colours, but different type of trees. Some hang it bunches, some are separated. They did some interesting things with them for sure. Here are the white ones in tree form:

They had some in hanging-above form:

They also had some sparsely on a wall:

DSC_0744

I have a feeling the wall one is fairly new, since the ones in the pink/purple variety were much fuller:

Of course, these ones came in regular tree form:

And lastly, the star attraction, the hanging above form:

DSC_0719DSC_0720DSC_0721DSC_0722DSC_0723

DSC_0724

Do you see the tree?

DSC_0725

It’s hiding in there

DSC_0727DSC_0728

Sorry, I couldn’t capture how cool the ones that hang from above look…. We noticed later, that those ones that are hanging down all come from one tree! Isn’t that crazy? So, there is one tree in the middle (if you look closely, you might be able to see it) and the bamboo structure supports the branches above you so it can continue to grow. There were actually 2 overhead ones in the purple variety.

I’ll be honest guys, I actually think the white ones are so much prettier.

Anyways, this was a really great place to go if you love flowers. The whole park smelled amaaazing. They sold flower flavoured ice-cream that we didn’t try. One random thing I noticed, this place was very mobility-impaired friendly. I saw a few people in wheelchairs that were able to enjoy the flowers. I think that as a mobile person, I often forget how difficult it would be to go to some of these places.

Okay, with that, I think I’m done talking about spring.

This is definitely the longest post in this series. Part of it is because I have an obsession with flowers, and part of it is that we had a lot of time off during spring and were able to do more things.

 

The 4 seasons of Japan – Winter

Hello again!

So, to continue where I left off, the next season I want to showcase is winter. Winter is a lot shorter here than in Canada and it starts a lot later as well. As you may have noticed, my last blog was talking about Fall and it went into December. Maybe my memory is terrible, but I’m fairly sure that there are no Autumn leaves in December, back in Canada.

Okay, side note: Let’s talk about Canada’s winter (well, like northern BC and Alberta since I haven’t lived in the rest of the gigantic country I’m from. It’s freaking huge! The weather in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are probably 20394848x better than it is where I’m from, but let me vent for a sec).

I swear that winter goes from October to May. By winter, I mean that there is a presence of snow. When I was a kid, it often snowed on my birthday. My birthday is at the end of September. Usually, it would melt right away, then it would warm up again and it would snowy again by the time Halloween rolled around. Also, I remember mid-November being the time of year when the ski hills open. So, that basically means that you can expect the snow to be there to stay from that point forward.

However, In the last couple of years, the snow comes and goes basically starting in November and we don’t get consistent snowy weather until Christmas or early January. The ski hills now seem to open in mid-December. So, uh, to all those that don’t think global warming is a thing, you are wrong. My Northern Canadian life is proof enough, in my opinion.

That being said, I don’t think the Autumn leaves stick around until December. That just seems absurd. Well… I also feel like the weather where I’m from is incredibly volatile and sporadic. I mean, it literally will go from 20C and sunny, to 10C and rainy, to -10C and snowy, and back to 20C within a 2 day span. I’m not kidding. So, if I was a leaf on a tree, I’d jump ship early on in the year, too.

Okay, okay, you aren’t here for crazy Canadian weather…

Back to Japan!

So, Japan is pretty diverse, just like Canada, surprisingly. I think I had a misconception about the size of Japan before coming here. So, because of that, remember that everything I say about weather is not really about the entire country. I can only speak about our experience in Kyoto, Kanagawa aaaaaand, Nagano!

Winter in Kyoto, Tokyo, and Kanagawa is pretty tame. I’d say it snows once or twice throughout the year and doesn’t stick. In the Kyoto area, it seemed to stay a little bit longer, especially in Northern Shiga (where me and Pat used to work).

Okay, the moment I’ve wanted to talk about since we went there.

Nagano Prefecture (長野県)

In mid-February, we headed Northwest to Nagano prefecture. It is not that far from Tokyo, yet it has quite a different climate. It is a pretty mountainous prefecture with many ski hills.

Okay, let’s get out the good old Google Maps screen shot!

Fullscreen capture 2017-06-08 90733 PM

As you can see, it is a pretty big prefecture. As you can probably also see, I have starred the area that we went to.

Since this area is pretty rural, for the most part, the options for getting out there are a bit limited. I think going to Nagano city first is the best option, depending on your destination I suppose. Basically, from Tokyo, you have 2 options (unless you can drive of course). You can take a shinkansen, which is the high speed bullet train, or a highway bus.

The Hokuriku-Shinkansen takes about 2 hours and costs about 8,000 yen. My coworker told me that this shinkansen line is fairly new, so not too long ago this wasn’t even an option. Interesting.

As for bus, this is where there is a lot of discrepancy with times and price. We went through a company called Willer Express. I used this website: http://japanbuslines.com/en/ to find all the buses that went from Tokyo to Nagano and picked the best option for us. It was significantly cheaper. I think it was like 3,000 yen or something. The downside was that it took twice as long. I believe it was about 4 hours.

For us, we took the Shinkansen to Nagano on our way there and took the bus from Nagano on our way back.

So, we decided to have a pretty late night when we left. We decided to make the most of a regular 2-day weekend. I sorta based the timing of going on the activities I wanted to do, rather than wait for a long weekend. I wanted to go skiing and I wanted to go to a monkey park. I had to figure out the best timing for both the ski season and if the monkeys would be out. If the weather was too warm, the monkeys wouldn’t be out in the onsen (I’ll get into this more, later) and if it was too cold, the skiing experience wouldn’t be as fun.

**Also, sorry for the lack of photos, I didn’t take as many as usual. You’re just going to have to take my word for it.**

We requested to leave work a bit early and we were able to take the shinkansen out to Nagano around 6pm or so. We had a bit of a hectic time at the shinkansen gates (which I have ranted about enough times on this blog…) and barely got onto the train we paid for. Since we didn’t book ahead, there wasn’t too many options for sitting together.

It was actually a bit frustrating because it seemed like many business men were taking this train (seems to be the norm from 5:00 -7:00), and they all book the window seat. So, basically, every pair of seats was taking by one business man. Like, c’mon man, by you single travellers wanting to sit alone, you make it incredibly irritating for anyone that is travelling with someone. It just seems selfish. If you are a single f’ing person, you shouldn’t have reserved seats. You should just be put with all the other business men. Ugh.

So, it wasn’t terrible, but a bit frustrating. The ride was only about 2 hours so it wasn’t too bad. When we left Tokyo, it was actually one of the warmer days that it had been in awhile. It was pretty crazy how different the weather was when we arrived in Nagano city. I found the temperature on the accuweather website. For reference, we left Tokyo on Friday, February 17th.

Tokyo:

Fullscreen capture 2017-06-11 105240 PM

Nagano:Fullscreen capture 2017-06-11 105426 PM

So, not only was the temperature much colder, but it was also one of the nicest days in a long period of time in Tokyo.

Darn.

We arrived pretty late so it was even colder. Also, it was raining (well, like wet snowing) when we arrived so it was pretty chilly.

So, unfortunately for us, our final destination was not Nagano city. As soon as you get off the beaten path, transit becomes sooo difficult and confusing. I did a lot of research on ski resort websites to get as much information as I could. I found that there was a bus that went basically to our hotel. For some reason, the times for this bus were really bizarre. Luckily, I was able to get the following bus schedule, to confirm what I read online.

For whatever reason, the bus times out to where we needed to go ran every hour until 5pm and then nothing until 9pm, which is the last one of the night. It was a little bit stressful. Knowing that we had to get the one and only bus out there was not comforting. We had an hour and a bit to spare when we arrived in Nagano, but my first priority was to find out where on Earth the bus stop was. I was so stressed about missing this bus. I swear that the internet just said “go to East exit. finished”…. ugh, not helpful. I don’t think I can make it any more helpful, though, to be honest.

So, when you get out of the East exit, we went down a small escalator, and down the stairs. There was 2 bus stop areas. One looked like it was for city buses, and the other looked like it was for highway buses. I assumed we would need the highway bus, but I really had no idea. I gave up and asked the gift shop lady. The bus stop was basically right by the gift shop. So, I guess it was a city bus?

InkedFullscreen capture 2017-06-12 120056 AM_LI

Don’t trust me… I think this is the stop, but my memory is not great and I didn’t take any photographs… That’s what I use to trigger my memory.

I think it was even more stressful since it was so dark and cold outside. Like, not only could we be stranded, but nobody is outside, things are starting to close and I still wasn’t 100% sure where to catch the bus. Thank goodness for the bus stop lady. Having this bus schedule helped as well because I could just show it to her and she knew what I wanted.

Once we knew the bus stop, we went to eat and get some starbucks. We took the bus without any problems. We had to tell the driver what stop we were going to and pay for our ticket before going on. Since it was so late, there were maybe 10 or less people on the bus. It was a pretty quiet busride. We were on the bus for a little over an hour.

When we got off, we then had to walk to our hotel. This particular hotel had a pickup service but I really didn’t want to bother them so late at night. (Actually, at this point I was emailing them back and forth letting them know our arrival time and such since it was such a late check in.

InkedFullscreen capture 2017-06-12 121822 AM_LI

The bus stop seemed to be in the middle of a ski lodge town. The place we chose was pretty far away actually. We started walking. It really isn’t a long walk, but remember, it was like 10:30pm.  It was so rural that there were no street lights. It was also in the mountains so the roads were just like they are back home: icy and snowed over.  And, we were dragging our suitcases behind us.

Well, after about 5 minutes or so, a vehicle passed us, which was weird since it was so dead. Well, that vehicle turned around and it was the owner of the hotel! I don’t know if he was driving up and down this road, or if we had lucky timing since I was emailing him our ETA. So, he picked us up and drove us to the hotel.  He was so sweet.

We checked in and got ready for our big ski day the next morning.

 

Shiga Kogen mount yakebitai Ski (志賀高原焼額山スキー場)

We woke up pretty early to make sure we would get to the mountain and have enough time to get our ski rentals. Since our ryokan provided breakfast we decided to grab some before we left. We had the choice of a Japanese style breakfast or an American/Western style one. We opted for the Japanese option just to take in the culture.

Well, to be fair, I don’t really like any western breakfast items. I hate bread, muffins,cereal, oatmeal and yoghurt with fruit in it. The only breakfeast food I like is bacon and eggs. We didn’t know what the western breakfast would include so not worth the risk for me, the picky eater. That being said, for most people, that is definitely the safest option haha. Who knows what will be in the Japanese breakfast!

It was quite nice to have a Japanese style breakfast. When we had a home-cooked breakfast in Korea, it was an experience that I think will always be with me (if you can’t remember, we had freaking bulgogi for breakfast and it was the best bulgogi I have ever had, ever).

So, to our relief, the one breakfast item that I definitely did NOT want (natto, ie, fermented soy beans) were not part of it. Lucky! We had a fish, miso soup, some tofu, some fruit, salad and rice. To drink, we had tea! Not exactly what we would eat for breakfast in North America. It was pretty good. It was really filling and really well-rounded.

After breakfast, we saw that many other guests were getting ready to head out. Since this ryokan is just ran by a couple, they would only be driving one vehicle out to the bus stop. Me and Pat were impatient, and a bit anti-social, so we just walked. It wasn’t a long walk. It was slightly uphill, but it wasn’t bad. We were wearing our jackets, and brought our toques and gloves. We were going to rent the rest of our gear so we didn’t need to carry much at all.

Since we arrived in the dark the night before, we really had no idea how much snow there was. It felt like we were back in Canada! It wasn’t too cold out and was actually a pretty nice walk to the bus.

The bus stop was pretty easy to find. The busses out to the ski hill was actually free since it was a shuttle bus. I was pretty surprised. You cooouuuld take a fancy highway bus, but it wasn’t free. It didn’t run too often, so we ended up leaving a lot later than we had expected. Using that bus timetable from before, everything under the pink was free.

Inked20170611_232429_LI

We missed the first bus, but made the second one. As you can see, they don’t really run too often so we had to wait for a bit. Luckily, there was a little bus stop shack that was heated and had benches and a vending machine. So, it was not terrible.

Once the bus came, the lady that worked at the bus station let us know and we got on. Since we were only the third stop, the bus wasn’t full yet. It filled up really quickly. We were so lucky that we got to sit down the whole time (although, I felt kinda bad since we didn’t have any gear and we got to sit, yet some people had their skis, helmets, boots, etc. and had to stand…).

20170218_092058

The first thing we did when we got to the ski hill was go to the rental shop. Since this ski hill has a fair amount of foreign guests, they carried a pretty good range in sizes. We were able to rent ski pants, board/ski and boots and jackets. We didn’t rent jackets since we had our own. I was hoping that they would have goggles, but they didn’t. I could have bought a pair, but they were soooo expensive. This was the first time in my life that I went skiing without goggles.

20170218_095541

Now, back in Canada, I have my own gear. I haven’t had to rent anything in a loooong time. But! Every time that I have been to a rental shop has been a terrible and long process. This guy was super quick. There wasn’t a line at all, which is surprising since I can’t imagine many Japanese people have their own stuff. I mean, unless you live in Nagano, where are they going to go skiing?? Maybe we went early/late enough? Who knows.  I don’t remember how much the rentals cost… I wonder if I can find that out.

http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/shigakogen/rentals.html

Found it! Looks like its about $30 for the board/ski and boot set. Since the only snow gear we rented was the snow pants, I don’t think he charged us $40… I really don’t think we paid that much. At that point in time, we were thinking of doing a night ski. This made it a bit complicated about returning out rentals. They shop closed basically at the time of the last chairlift, which was hours before the night ski started.

The rental guy was pretty understanding, and perhaps too nice/trusting. He said we could return them in the morning OR just leave the stuff outside the shop. What the heck? Just leave it there? That is way too trusting, Japan! We weren’t sure what we wanted to do, so told him we would return it in the morning (Even though this is the most inconvenient option for us, especially since our hotel is so far from the ski hill and now we would have to lug all of our stuff back to the hotel and back).

After we got all the stuff we needed, we bought some tickets.The full day pass costs $50. I wish we had arrived a bit earlier to make that cost worth it, but it wasn’t a terrible price. We also got our night ski tickets for about $20 at the same time. Our passes were really interesting. They were like hard plastic cards (they reminded me of our train cards) that were used to beep into the chairlifts/gondolas. Isn’t that cool?

20170218_144141

I tried to take a photo, but the line was moving pretty quickly. So, I have a fancy ski pass holder in my jacket’s arm so it was really easy for me to beep in. Pat took the card out every time.

Y’know, sometimes Japan really is high tech. Usually it isn’t, but sometimes unnecessary technology pops up where you’d least expect it. We were given two cards that look the exact same so we had to put our night ski cards separately from our day lift cards. Finally, we were off to the slopes!

I didn’t take my fancy camera with me skiing, obviously, so I don’t have many photos. I took a few photos on my phone, so let’s go with what I got….

20170218_104626

As you can see, they mountain isn’t really that big, but it has decent amount of runs with an okay variety. Me and Pat tried (and I thiiiiink we succeeded) to go down every single run.

The snow was nice and powdery at the top, but a bit icy near the bottom. There was a good mix of groomed runs and natural. The runs that weren’t groomed had some pretty fun naturally formed moguls. As a boarder, moguls are pretty difficult, but I personally think they are a lot of fun. The trees were different that I’m used to back home so that was kind of an interesting difference that I never even thought of.

We were pretty lucky with the weather. It wasn’t too cold, there wasn’t much wind chill and the sun came out quite a bit. I had a hard time without goggles, though. I could barely keep my eyes open because of the sun reflecting off the snow and having the wind go into my eyes. I decided to wear my glasses and that seemed to help a little bit. Sunglasses would have been much better. Oh well!

20170218_10095620170218_101001

It wouldn’t be a Pat and Kaitlin adventure without a mishap…

So, it you are going to this mountain (yakebitai) be aware that it connects to another ski hill (OkuShiga).

Fullscreen capture 2017-06-20 61837 PM

Now, I was under the impression that the ShigaKogen ski hills were all covered by the day pass, so I actually wasn’t too concerned when we ended up over there. Well, I  must have read something wrong or misunderstood something…

When we arrived at the chairlift at the other ski hill, our cards wouldn’t beep in.

sigh….

Luckily, right by the chairlift was a small rest stop where you could by the ski pass for this hill. When I talked to the front desk lady, we were hit with dissapointing news. She said to get back to the other hill we had two options: take that bus that we took on the way up (but, remember, it runs like once an hour…) or buy a pass to go back up the chairlift. Before talking to her, I thought the only option was the full day pass, which would have been another $50, or a half-day pass, which was around $30…

That’s an expensive mistake!

I’m pretty glad that the lady at the front counter spoke English and understood our situation. We were able to get a one lift pass. She told up how to properly beep in and what to do with the card when we were done. Phew!

I can’t remember how much they cost, but they were significantly cheaper. It was kind of an interesting idea, especially if you were staying near the hill. I dunno, I kind of liked the idea of just paying for a few runs. Probably not worth the cost, but interesting…

It was one of those situations that really sucked at the time, but was easily rectified and didn’t really cause too many issues. It was a small blip in an otherwise nice ski day.

When we were at the chalet for lunch, I started looking at information on how to get back to the hotel. It wasn’t until then that I noticed that it might actually be in a bit of trouble. Let’s look at the bus timetable again:

Inked20170621_225556_LI

Do you see the problem?

Well, just to remind you, we were planning on going night skiing. Night skiing started at 6:30.

…..

Lame.

So, the LAST bus back to our hotel leaves at 5:10. The last run is over at 4:30, so it actually doesn’t give you much time. It was kind of disappointing because we don’t really like taking the last bus because it is so risky, but the bus before left so early!So, I guess night skiing is only available to the people that are either staying at the Prince Hotel or driving. Oh well.

Luckily, we were able to return the passes and get our money back. I’m sure that we weren’t the only ones to make this mistake so it was a fairly easy process.

I feel like we did take the last bus since we wanted to stay as long as possible. We were able to return our rentals, so that saved us some trouble. We waited at the bus stop near the hotel and got back safely. We were pretty hungry at this point. For whatever reason, the restaurants at the ski hill ALL closed before the last run. Isn’t that strange? The ski hill and all the amenities turned into a ghost town as soon as 4pm hit.

Once we got back to the bus stop, we realized that were no places to eat. Seriously, there was nothing! It seems that every person out there ate at their hotel? There wasn’t even a convenient store (they are literally everywhere in Japan, so it was pretty strange).

We headed back to the hotel and hoped that we would be able to get something to eat there. As I mentioned before, these hotel owners were just a sweet old couple. We could have arranged for them to pick us up at the bus stop, but we just walked back. It wasn’t really a long walk.

20170218_174848

They were really accommodating and it wasn’t a big deal.

I got a pasta and Pat got an udon (a Japanese noodle soup). Of course we had beer!~

After dinner, I really wanted to go into the onsen. I’m usually not allowed in one because I have tattoos. I thought that I booked a room with a private hot spring bath, but the website was a bit misleading. The Ryokan itself had a “private” onsen, but it was for the entire hotel… This wasn’t a very big hotel and didn’t seem to be full of people or anything.

I decided to risk it. Pat was not interested and stayed in the room. They were separated by gender so we couldn’t be in the bath together anyways. I was pretty lucky and nobody was in there and no one came the entire time. So, I guess I did have a private bath after all! If you didn’t know, you go into an onsen naked. If anyone came in, not only would I be embarrassed about my tattoo, but also that they would see me naked!

In this onsen, you put your clothes in the pink basket, shower yourself off (not shown) and finally you can relax in the natural hot spring. It felt really great after a ski day.

We had a pretty early night and didn’t really do too much. We didn’t have to wake up so early the next day, but we did so we could get the breakfast.

20170219_08415420170219_085516

The breakfast was similar in some ways, but obviously had different types of food. The one kind shocking/strange things were the fish that you can see at the bottom. I initially took a bite from the stomach area and it was FILLED with fish eggs. I googled it to figure out what the heck I was eating. I found out we were to eat the whole thing, except the head and tail. I ripped of those parts and ate it. It was… ok… It definitely wasn’t my favourite dish. I would never order it.

We went back to our room and packed up all of our stuff. We only went skiing for the one day so we were off to a new adventure!

 

Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公)

The next day, we headed to a monkey park in Nagano. It was actually only 3 bus stops away from the hotel. I don’t want to show that freaking bus timetable again, so just trust me. The monkey park isn’t part of the free bus section so we had to pay at the bus stop before we left.

As soon as I found out about this place, I have wanted to go. When we lived in Kyoto, I was willing to travel all the way there. To put that in perspective, here’s another Google Map image!

Fullscreen capture 2017-06-24 91308 PM

Here’s a tip if you ever want to go somewhere sort of rural in Japan: Look at directions to the nearest train station and go from there. When I tried to find out how to get to this Monkey Park, I couldn’t find anything! To be fair, I couldn’t find directions to the park from Nagano using Google Maps either. There was a lot of extra Googling from there on and finding local bus stop timesheets that needs to be done

Japan: The Future….

Anyways, as you can see, the average trip from Kyoto would have been almost 4 hours just to get to Nagano. If our jobs weren’t so crappy and we actually had time of like real people, I may have made Pat make this trek with me.

Luckily for us, I suppose, we moved to Kanagawa and were able to make it there in a much shorter trip. Since we were already in the area to go skiing, it was a pretty quick trip to the monkey park.

We had already checked out of our hotel and had to bring our luggage to the monkey park. The bus stop had “Monkey Park” in the name so it was hard to miss. When we arrived, it seemed that everyone was going the same way. Not only that, but there were signs along the way. I think it took about 15 min or so to get to the entrance.

I looked up details beforehand so I knew that we were able to store our luggage at the office/gift shop area. It wasn’t too expensive to store our stuff so we were happy to do that instead of finding a locker or anything.

I really didn’t know what to expect going into this park. I was reading online that in order to see the monkeys, the temperature should be pretty cold. Before we left Kawasaki, the forecast was supposed to be super cold. I was sad that skiing would be terrible, I was excited that the monkeys would be awesome.

 

Regardless of the forecast, we actually experienced the opposite. The weather was quite nice and skiing was definitely more pleasurable (especially since I didn’t have any goggles), but I was worried about not being able to see the monkeys.  From the entrance, we had to do a bit of a hike until we hit the park. I did not know that. I thought that the ‘entrance’ was the monkey park ‘entrance’….

hmm…

Seems like it was falsely advertised OR falsely assumed by me.

There were quite a few foreigners on the trail, which is always so surprising. I mean, we are in rural Japan. Foreigners are about 1% of the population, so to see another foreign person is always shocking. To be fair, the amount of foreign tourists that are in Japan is sooooo mush higher than the foreigners that actually live here. Sorry, that was a tangent.  What I wanted to mention was a small, blonde haired girl that was with her family, was talking about how disappointing she was. I remember saying to Patrick that I didn’t think we would see any monkeys…

It was a pretty nice hike so I wasn’t too disappointed at this point. The weather was nice and the scenery was actually really nice. I don’t think you can tell, but the sun was shining through the trees and gave such an amazing view. At this point, I was wishing I would have seen the monkeys, but I was enjoying the hike regardless.

Until….

… A freaking monkey walked by us!!!

I was so excited, but I was actually a bit scared. I didn’t think I would be, but, like, I have no idea what these guys are capable of! He didn’t seem to care. He walked on by like nothing.

DSC_0059

I really didn’t know what to expect so I thought that THIS was the monkey park. I thought that we were already in the area to see the monkeys. I’m glad that I was wrong. There was a little office at the end of the hike where you could buy tickets into the monkey park and get souvenirs. The tickets weren’t too expensive. I believe they were under $10.

We actually hesitated about buying the tickets. That little girl that I eavesdropped on really faltered my confidence. Also, when I read about this place online, I heard that if the weather is warm, the monkeys won’t be in the hot spring. Since the weather was actually really nice, I really thought that buying those tickets could be a waste of time.

Man, I must have misunderstood what I read. I also think that poor little girl’s family didn’t pay to go in. Because, there were definitely monkeys! At first, we just saw some playing on the mountain. They were soooo cute!

DSC_0070DSC_0076

Yaaaay~

I was pretty excited. They were actually playing around together like human children. It was really adorable. We ventured our way down to the hot spring (the main attraction) and continued to see monkeys scattered around.

There were a lot of ups and downs and quite icy. At one point, Pat almost wiped out really bad. He slipped down this huge hill and it was like a cartoon. Luckily he was able to gain his balance and a man at the bottom was ready to catch him if he was to wipe out. Point is: if you go here, wear boots.

Once we got to the hot spring area safely, we got to see so many monkeys!! Photo time ^^!

And finally, the main attraction~ The hot spring!

DSC_0099DSC_0103DSC_0104DSC_0106

DSC_0110DSC_0112

Like I said earlier, the weather was fairly warm so the monkeys weren’t really interested in hanging out in the hot springs. It was just the mama and her baby, but I was so happy to see ANY monkeys in there!

It was pretty amazing how close you could get to them. They weren’t scared or curious. They just walked around and didn’t mind the people at all. It was a pretty cool experience.

DSC_0115

We headed back home after we finished at the monkey park. We had a really great weekend and were pretty happy to be able to experience a “true” Japanese winter. It was nice to see snow again, believe it or not.

The 4 seasons of Japan – Autumn

Well, I have really failed at writing this blog. I feel like the more stuff that there is to write about, the less I want to write. I don’t know if it’s because I’m overwhelmed, if I’m not that inspired, or our activities haven’t been that interesting… (K, I know it’s not that last one. We have definitely been up to some really fun stuff). There is a lot of cultural quirks in Japan that I really want to talk about, but I feel guilty that I haven’t written anything here. Oh well. I’ll try, eventually…

Did you know that Japan has 4 seasons? Well, you may be thinking “uhh, Kaitlin, everywhere has 4 seasons”. Well you aren’t wrong. Japanese people are very proud of their 4 seasons and it can be kind of an awkward conversation. Like, how do you respond? “Oh, really? Wow! That’s amazing! I have no idea what that could be like~”. What I think they mean is that they have festivals, events, food and traditions associated with each season. They seem to have a meaning behind each of them.

Spring is when everything is new. Students start school in April, the cherry blossoms start to bloom, and the weather starts to warm up. It is their chance to start over (sort of how we view new year’s). People are getting new bosses, changing schools, starting University, etc.

Summer is incredibly hot here. It is very humid and people are basically sweating the entire day. I’d say that most of the festivals in Japan take place in the summer. The students have nearly an entire month off for summer holidays and about 3 weeks in the winter and 2-3 weeks in the spring. Fireworks are especially popular in the summer here.

Fall is almost the opposite. Again, it’s a change. The new trimester of school starts in September. The leaves change colour and eventually fall, which I’ve heard some people think represents life. This is a big time for vegetables to be in season. There are many festivals and food stands that are selling sweet potatoes and chestnuts.

Winter is seen as a time with family. Insulation is not so great here, especially in older buildings. Because of that, families gather under the kotatsu (a heated table with a heavy blanket on top) and eat nabe (a very delicious soup with many vegetables). They have many events around New Year’s. Then, they celebrate all of their “firsts” of the year. They have their first temple visit, first sunrise, first dream, etc. They look back at the year that had just passed. Unlike in the west, were we tend to forget the last year and plan the next year, they seem to think about and reminisce about what happened in the previous year.

Well, anyway, that’s what I’ve gathered by just observing, I could be way off.

Okay, maybe you remember where I left off. Last summer, Pat’s parents came to visit us. (Yes, I’m THAT far behind… I know, I know). So, let’s start with Fall!

Fall

At this point in time, we were out of Kyoto and living in our new place in Kawasaki. We weren’t here for too long before we started exploring. I think that the summer weather lasts a bit longer here than it does back home. I don’t think that the leaves started changing colours until mid-November or so… The first place we went to was Takao Mountain. It wasn’t too difficult to get to from where we live.

So, I learned some interesting Japanese words for fall.

Autumn – aki (秋)

Autumn leaves – kouyou (紅葉)

 

Mt. Takao (高尾山)

When we were in Korea, we did a fair amount of hiking. I don’t know why, but we really haven’t done any in Japan (other than Fuji…). There are definitely many mountains to climb, so we have no excuse. I guess in Kyoto, we didn’t have time. Now, we do have time, but it has been winter the whole time we have lived here. Those are my excuses.

For our first climb, we really didn’t give it much of a chance. When you go hiking, even if it’s a small mountain, you should go early. We left pretty late in the day. I’m fairly sure that we arrived to Takao station around 2:30. That’s right. 2:30 in the afternoon.  [Also, before you start thinking that my memory is so amazing, don’t be fooled. My camera and my phone puts a time stamp on the photos so I just look at the photos to figure out when we arrived and such.]

The mountain wasn’t too far from the station and was clearly marked. It was really muddy when we arrived, so we were a bit worried. Anyways, when we got there, we saw that they had a chairlift and a gondola that went up a good portion of the mountain. Since it was so late, we decided that it would be a good idea. We took the chairlift so that we could have a nice view on our way up.

Once we got off the chairlift, we started our hike. I think we started around 3pm. It was incredibly busy in that area, but seemed to clear out the further up we climbed. It was quite muddy for a while, but there were some stones that you could stay on that were much better. The problem was that people seem to hate moving over? Like a group of 5 people would seriously walk together, side-by-side and take up the entire path. Me and Pat would be forced onto the muddy path (single file, might I add) so they didn’t run into us. Rude right?

Goodness, this place had a lot of stairs. I don’t know why, but I love photographing stairs. My photos never turn out how I want them to, but I still love them. Stairs and tree caves are my weaknesses.

Spoiler: These are all the stair photos from the entire hike.

Okay, sorry, let’s continue. So, the hike was really easy. Not really a hike at all, to be honest. Other than the muddy parts that people essentially drove us into, the path was paved for the most part. There were lanterns up the path, so I think that hiking at night would also be a fun option.

The mountain was a bit colder than the temperature at the bottom, obviously, so as we ascended, we saw more and more snow. The air was a bit chilly, but it wasn’t bad.

DSC_9709

To our surprise, there were temples not too far from the chairlift. I suppose that most people were going to see these, since the crowds thinned out past this point. But, to be fair, it was pretty late haha.

Temples and shrines do start to all look the same after awhile, but they are still stunning. There were also some souvenir shops and food stands.

One of the stands was selling something called ‘dango’, which is essentially three rice cakes on a stick. These dango were interesting because they are slow roasted over coals. It was kind of funny because about a week before that, my students were writing about different places in Japan and a few of them mentioned these interesting dango-cooking method! So random. They weren’t talking about this mountain, so it was pretty surprising to see this food that they were talking about.

We weren’t hungry yet, so we didn’t stop. I was just excited.

This temple and shrine area was pretty big so we explored around there for awhile before continuing up.

It was quite nice and worth checking out. Since it wasn’t too far from the chairlift, it would be an easy day (or evening, haha) trip. I believe this area also had an onsen (hot spring) and I wish we could’ve went into that. We decided to continue up the mountain. From that point forward the roads were not really paved and pristine. There also weren’t any lanterns or anything like that.

The further we went up, the more snow there was and the colder it got. It was kind of nice because we didn’t get heated up from hiking.

We reached the top at 4:30 so it was obviously not a difficult or long hike. There wasn’t much at the top actually. There was a nice view of the town and if you’re lucky you could see Mt. Fuji on the opposite side. It was a bit late and foggy so we couldn’t see Mt. Fuji, unfortunately.

I think we were kind of lucky with our timing actually. We were able to see the day view and the night view.

The way down was a bit more difficult than the way up, but only because it was dark. I got my dango treat (luckily they were still selling them), but I didn’t take a photo. Sorry. They don’t look that interesting. The way down was sooo dark. We didn’t take the chairlift since it was soooo busy. They line up was huuuuge. We decided to just walk down. Well, warning, the path from the chairlift to the bottom is not lit up. It was so freakin’ dark. We had to use the flashlights on our phones haha.

DSC_9769

I don’t remember if this was before or after the dark path… sorry!

We didn’t take the chairlift since it was soooo busy. They line up was huuuuge. We decided to just walk down. Well, warning, the path from the chairlift to the bottom is not lit up. It was so freakin’ dark. We had to use the flashlights on our phones haha.

Okay, the next Fall adventure I want to talk about was a guided tour that we went on in a town called Hakone.

Hakone/Odawara (箱根 / 小田原市)

So, our work sometimes gives us opportunities to go to events, go on tours, or get packages that are English friendly. It is quite nice since usually many events are in Japanese only. Personally, I think it isn’t really worth paying extra money to go on a tour or attend an event in a language you don’t understand. Like, I could go on my own. I would get the same experience essentially.

Okay, that’s not always true. I think that guided tours/tour groups are especially great when the destination is hard to get to or would be a hassle to book in Japanese.

In this case, the tour we took was definitely unnecessary, haha. Well, for the most, I’ll get into it later. It cost us 2,100 yen each. The cost included the tour guide, lunch and a map.

According to the invitation, we went on Dec 4, and met the tour group at 10:30. We met at a really small train station in the middle of nowhere, so it was kind of an interesting start to our journey.

DSC_9773

To get to this station (if you want to replicate our journey) wasn’t too difficult, but since not necessarily easy either.

Odawara Station is pretty easy to get to. You can take the Tokaido line all the way there. Honestly, I have no idea if that line goes through Tokyo or not, but I’d imagine so. From there, we had to locate the local train out to Hakone.

Fullscreen capture 2017-06-05 74953 PMDSC_9772

It wasn’t bad. I swear the biggest difficulties with transit in Japan is whether or not you need to take the local, express, limited express, etc. My tip to you, is follow the times on Google maps. For example, if the time says 10:24, look for the signs that say 10:24 next to the destination. It isn’t too common for there to be multiple trains leaving at the same time.

Okay, back to our tour.

DSC_9781

There weren’t too many of us in the group. They split us up into a few groups. Our first stop was a small shrine across the railroad tracks. You can’t see in the photo above, but to the right, there is a set of stairs that goes over the tracks.

It was pretty small, but pretty cute. The tour group lady told us a whole bunch of stuff that I can’t remember (see what I mean about it not being worth the cost? I don’t even pay attention!). We washed some money, which is supposed to bring good fortune. So far, it hasn’t worked.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but it was a beautiful day. It wasn’t hot by any means, it was still December, but it was sunny.

DSC_9787

After the small shrine, we crossed back over the tracks.

Because of the sunshine, the coloured leaves looked absolutely breathtaking. I took about 2039483098 photos, but none of them look like they did in real life. Isn’t that the way it always goes? sigh.

Again, the tour lady told us a lot of stuff while I was off taking photos and ignoring her, apparently. oops~

It’s not my fault! The beauty!

DSC_9805DSC_9807

Anyways, our next destination was a traditional style Japanese hotel (called a ryokan in Japanese). I can’t remember much, but I do remember that it was super old. It was almost like a museum in some ways. We had to walk along a road without a sidewalk to get there. The scenery around this hotel was so beautiful.

The one redeeming factor of paying for the tour guide was that we were allowed in the hotel and were able to look into the rooms, check out the onsen, and we got to eat the hotel’s food.

DSC_9845

The name of the hotel: ichinoyu

DSC_9846

Their website:  http://www.ichinoyu.co.jp/honkan/eng/

So, by a quick look at their website, this hotel was founded in 1630! Holy moly! It was pretty cool to see the old style. The rooms were pretty nice. Some had an onsen/hot tub on the deck outside of the hotel room. When I asked about the price, I think it ended up being around $120/night. Maybe next fall or winter we will stay there.

The meal we had was quite traditional and really delicious. Traditional Japanese food can be kind of hit or miss, but this one was really good. I feel like the fee we paid was worth it just for the meal.

After we finished eating, we walked along the narrow road to a place called Kannreidoumonn. On the way there, we had some pretty great scenery.

It was a tunnel that I don’t think is in use anymore. I can’t remember if the guide said it was built to protect from landslides or if it isn’t in use because of that or what…. She did mention a big earthquake. This is why I should write these closer to the time that I go.

Sorry.

Although, are any of you here to learn anything? If so, man, you came to the wrong blog.

Our next destination was another hotel. This time, it wasn’t to look at the hotel, but it was to look at it’s garden. The hotel’s name was Yoshiike Ryokan. If you want to check it out, here’s the website: http://www.yoshiikeryokan.com/ .I don’t know if this is open to the public or not. If it isn’t, then I take back everything I said about the cost.

We walked through the town, that was also known as onsen town. This area of Hakone has a lot of onsen. Well, actually, I believe there are only a few sources that many hotels feed the hot water from. I’m no expert…. obviously…. so, who know?

Okay, so the garden at this hotel was so beautiful. I am going to just spam you with pictures:

After the garden, the tour guide let us on our way. In other words, the tour was over and we were left to find our own way home haha. It was fine because we actually wanted to explore on our own anyway.

That was all for our Autumn adventures. I’ll talk to you in 0239483 years to talk about winter!

Until then, here are some more photos!

Teaching English in Japan vs. Korea

Hello friends and family! This post isn’t for you haha. Sorry.  I suppose you can read it, but I really wanted to give information to people applying to teach in Asia; specifically, Japan and Korea.

Before Pat and I applied anywhere, I couldn’t find any information on which country would suit us better. So, before I continue, this is entirely my own experience. Take what I write in here with a grain of salt. The smallest things can not only change your experience, but what I value may drastically differ from what you might find important.

I’ll try to break it down into the following categories so skip ahead to the points that interest you if you don’t want to read this whole thing haha. (You can press the link in the table of contents to jump to that point.)

  1. Teaching English – Our Experience
    1. Qualifications  (general)
    2. Application
    3. Schedule
    4. Teaching style
    5. Holidays and days off
    6. Pay
  2. Daily life
    1. Cost of Living
    2. Food
    3. Toilets
    4. Language
    5. English
    6. Fashion
    7. Attitude towards foreigners
    8. Travel

Teaching English

This entire post is mostly catered to those that will be coming over to teach English. It is the most common way that people are able to live over here. I have no knowledge about other ways to get a job in either country, so I can’t really comment on that.

There are essentially 2 different paths you can take for each country; you can teach at a private school or public school. We have taught at a private school in both countries and for a public school in Japan. We are currently applying for a public school in Korea.

The common public school options for Korea are EPIK and GEPIK. For Japan, it’s Interac or JET. The JET programme is the highest paying, but the most difficult to get.

https://www.epik.go.kr:8080/index.do

http://gepik-tek.weebly.com/

http://www.interacnetwork.com/recruit/global.html

http://jetprogramme.ca/ (Canada), https://jetprogramusa.org/ (USA)

 

Qualifications and Applying

To teach in Korea or Japan, it was necessary that you have a 4 year bachelor’s degree in anything. I took an Applied Business Degree with a major in accounting. Patrick took a Bachelor of Arts with a major in history. The reason it is mandatory has to do with the Visa requirements. If you come on a holiday visa or spousal visa, you may be able to get a job at a private school, but it is quite rare (personally, I haven’t heard of anyone doing this so it may not even be possible.)

If you are looking to teach at a public school, it is most definitely a requirement. The 4 year degree can be in anything. You don’t have to major in Asian studies, teaching, or anything like that. Some places will pay higher if you have your teaching license or a master’s in education.

Secondly, you should take a TEFL/TESL/TESOL course. They are all the same thing. There is no official requirement for this certificate, but it helps. Some schools do require it, so you may as well get it. Again, some places will pay higher if you have it.

We took the 100 hour TESL course with Oxford Seminars. 60hours of it was classroom time and 40 hours was an online grammar component. The course was really good. We had class for 10hours on Saturday and Sunday for 3 weeks. Our teacher was someone who had taught ESL, so she was able to give us a lot of useful information and was able to answer any questions or concerns we had about the process.

Lastly, there are some documents that you will need to get once you have started your application process. You will most likely send in an application form along with picture ID and a resume. When we applied to EPIK, we needed 2 reference letters at this time. At other places, they were needed later. If you are worried about not getting the correct documents, I recommend going through a recruiter. We used Oxford (the school we took our TEFL certificate with) to help us find our private school positions.

Once you have been accepted for the job most schools, or recruiting agencies, will require a notarized copy/apostille of your degree, your TEFL certificate, your passport, and your criminal record check. FYI, the criminal record check needs to be the national one (it sounds like common sense, but trust me, it’s easy to make the mistake…) and it can take a long time. You cannot travel without it, so get it done quickly. It needs to be less than 6 months old, so don’t get it too early either. You will also need to send in your original transcripts, your signed contract with the school and any additional documents they request.

Okay, that’s about all I’m going to talk about for the general stuff. From here on it is what I experienced at each step of the way. As you will see, I can’t speak about the JET Programme or any of the Korean Public school system.

↑↑Link to Top↑↑

~Our Application~

The first place we applied to was JET. Unfortunately, my husband got on the waiting list, but I didn’t even make it to the interview. So, I really can’t give much information on the JET programme except that it is a lot of paperwork and starts really early. You start the process in October to start in the following September. So, nearly a year early!

*Warning* Applications for the September start are basically over by March. So, if you apply for the JET program, apply for other places as well. You don’t get your results until late February or early March.

Around the time we were aware that we weren’t going to be part of the JET programme, our choices were extremely limited. We utilized the career search option that Oxford Seminars offered. We were able to get a position in Korea at a hagwon (a private school).

As for applying for Korea, the process is not too bad. We had a phone interview with the director of the school. We had an awkward 3-way call, but it went alright. When we found out we received the job, we were sent our contract and had a chance to review it, sign it and send it back. From there, the visa process took place. We needed to send our TESL certificates, bachelor’s degrees, criminal record checks, transcripts, passport copies, and the hagwon contracts to the Korean embassy in Vancouver. Since we are pretty far from Vancouver, we had to send notarized copies of all our documents by mail with the visa application form.

Once the visa application was accepted, we had to send our passports to the embassy. They put the visa in the passport and sent it back. Once that is all settled, you will organize when they want you to arrive. Depending on your school or agency, you may pay for the flight and they will reimburse you OR they will purchase the flight for you. The schools in Korea usually pay for the flight (and return flight when you finish) and your accommodation. Schools in Japan, apart from JET, usually don’t.

While we were finishing our contract at the hagwon, we needed to decide what we were doing for the next school year. We planned on staying at our school, but certain circumstances prevented that from happening. Once again, we were in a time crunch. We didn’t know that we weren’t staying until around April. We really weren’t interested in working for another private school (they can be kind of risky… I’ll talk about that later). Desperate, we contacted Oxford to help us out to find a position in a public school in Japan or Korea.

We tried to apply to GEPIK, but due to the fact that we were applying as a married couple AND we were applying late (applications open in February), we were told that we probably wouldn’t get placed together. That obviously would not have been ideal so we cancelled our application. At this point, it was around June or so. We asked our recruiter at Oxford to find anything in Japan for us, even private school.

Japan is quite difficult to apply to and they are very specific and picky. Most companies would only interview you, in person, in your home country or in Japan. If you weren’t living in Japan, you couldn’t interview in Japan. We obviously weren’t going to fly all the way back to Canada to do an interview. There was one company willing to do a skype interview. One. Again, if we applied earlier this wouldn’t have been such an issue, maybe.

We gave our application form, an essay about why we wanted to teach in Japan and a resume to the recruiter. For some reason, we didn’t need a criminal record check or notarized copies. I had scanned versions of our degrees, TEFL certificate and passports. That seemed to be sufficient for this company. It took a while to get our visas finalized.  We had a skype interview with a representative first and then once that was successful, we had an interview with the company. We were working in Korea at the time so the paperwork was absolutely awful. There were a lot of documents that had to be mailed, filled out, signed, and mailed back. The process took a long time. I think if you were applying from Canada, you would have an easier time honestly.

To make matters worse, we had to leave our home at the end of August. We took a 1 month vacation in Thailand while we waited for everything to get sorted out. Once the visa documents came in, we flew back to Korea and went to the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. It was difficult and frustrating because of the language barrier and such, but we made it. This company was one of the few that pays for your flight so that was nice.

Now, again, I think we had a unique experience so I doubt anyone will have quite the same experience. But I’ll talk about it anyways. The first thing I did when we applied was look up the company on Google. Now, of course, there will always be more bad reviews than positive, but don’t take them lightly. Really see what people are complaining about and it will help you with the interview process. For example, this particular company had many negative reviews regarding travel, so I was able to ask about the travel. Some things are more important to some people and may not be important to you, so do your research.

Okay, sorry, that was a tangent. But, both of these private schools had some pretty negative comments online and we experienced a lot of the same negative situations, so just be aware.
After 8 months at this school, we changed again. This time, because we really didn’t enjoy where we worked. I’ll talk about that in more detail later as well. We applied to Interac; a public school company in Japan. It isn’t run by the government, but placements are in public schools. Since we already had a Japanese visa, we really didn’t have to do a lot of paperwork at all. We needed to give an application form and our scanned copies of our documents. Before we could work, we had to change our visa type. This was a simple process of bringing the required documents from Interac to the immigration office with our residence card. It was annoying, but easily doable.

Lastly, this brings us to present day. We are currently applying to EPIK. We miss Korea and would love to go back before we head back to Canada. Applications open in February and they take applications on a first come first serve basis. When you apply, you need to fill out an application form, attach a passport photo and 2 recommendation letters from past employers or professors. If you are a student, one of the letters needs to be from a professor. That’s as far as we got with that. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the interview stage, so I can’t comment much on EPIK. Sorry.

↑↑Link to Top↑↑

~Schedule~

Private schools will be different at every school. Everyone will have a different story to tell.

Our first private school in Korea is what’s known as a Kindy-hagwon. This basically means that a good portion of your day will be with kindergarteners. Now, the reason that this is different than the majority of hagwons is because of the hours. Our school was was from 9:30am – 6:30 pm. We taught the kindergarteners (aged 4, 5, and 6 years old) from 9:20 to 2:30. Then, from 2:20 to 6:30 we had the elementary and young junior high school students (aged 7 -13 years old). Most hagwons are after school hours (So from around 2pm-10pm or so). Students go to the hagwons in the evening when they are done public school and their other after school clubs or activities. They are also known as cram schools.

Our schedule was the same every week, which was nice. It was a busy schedule and we were truly exhausted. I can’t remember what it looked like exactly, but here is a rendition of what it kind of looked like.

Fullscreen capture 2017-04-03 112910 PM

But! I do know that there were 5 or 6 blocks in the morning and we usually had one or two of those blocks free. We had 2 different kindergarten classes. We didn’t just teach English, we taught normal kindergarten classes in English. For example, we would have an arts and craft or easy science project taught in English.

In the afternoon, the classes were strictly English classes. I mostly taught the intro level classes, but my husband taught more of the medium level classes and our other foreign co-worker taught the higher level students.

As you could see, we didn’t have that much time off in the day. I guess, by law, the hagwons can’t have you teach more than 30hours a week. We worked around 28-29 hours a week. The extra 10 hours in the week were spent doing lesson planning and paperwork for the company. We were required to plan out the entire month for every class. The kindergarten classes were the hardest since there were so many classes and books that we needed to plan out. These schedules needed to be made carefully because they were given to the parents. The parents needed to be able to see what their kid would be learning and when.

I would say that private schools in Japan aren’t as prevalent as they are in Korea. I mean, there are a lot here, but in Korea there are so so many. There are probably 3 on every block. It’s crazy.

We were once again placed at a school that taught preschool and elementary school students. But, we had the additional class of babies, so that was interesting. The first class of the day was usually the baby class. We had students from age 0-3 years old alongside with their parent. This school, and many eikaiwa’s, are not as frequent of a thing for the students as they are in Korea. In Korea we saw the kindergarteners every day. We saw the elementary students 2 or 3 times a week. We were really able to get to know the kids. Here, however, we saw the students every two weeks. It was quite difficult to create a relationship with them at all. In addition, their English level was much lower. It was difficult for them to remember what was taught to them 2 weeks prior.

The schedule at our particular company was quite odd. We didn’t go to the same school every day. Actually, we basically had a 2 week repeating schedule in which we would go to a different school each day. The hours were 10am – 7pm. Again, since we are teaching the babies and preschoolers, the classes are much earlier. If you are placed in an eikaiwa that teaches elementary, junior high, or high school (or even adult classes are popular in Japan), you will likely have the afternoon shift.

We didn’t have weekends off. Actually, weekends were our busiest days. Saturdays were mandatory working days since they had the most classes and students. We didn’t get national holidays off. If the classes were cancelled, we were required to do some marketing (handing out flyers or balloons) in the malls that the classes were located in or attend meetings.

As for regular days off, since we didn’t get weekends off, as long as we had 8 days off within the month and didn’t work more than 14 days in a row, our days off were scattered throughout the month and rarely regular. This meant that there were multiple times were I needed to work something like this: 7-9 days in a row, get one day off, work another 5 days, get one day off, work 1 day and get another day off. It was incredibly frustrating and exhausting. As a single person, this may be great as you can do stuff during the day when most people are at work.  As a married couple, this was the worst type of place to work. We rarely had days off together and essentially never had 2 consecutive days off. We couldn’t explore Japan and felt exhausted.

Okay, so I can’t quite make the same type of schedule as the other school since it’s so bizarre, but I’ll try. They don’t have blocks like our other school did. The Japanese teacher at the school chooses times for each class and every classroom has a different teacher so this is just an example.

Fullscreen capture 2017-04-03 113632 PM

The free time is to be used for preparing for class or learning Japanese. The disadvantage at this particular school was that it was placed in a Mall. People could easily peer through the window so you needed to always act professionally and appear to be working. We weren’t given a computer or any machines to help make materials. If you needed to print, laminate, or photocopy things, it needed to be done on your own time outside of working hours.

For the most part, the public schools aren’t going to change much. They are generally Monday to Friday and have an 8:30 – 4:30 schedule. You can teach anywhere from 10 to 25 classes per week. Currently, at Interac, I have 11 classes a week. Patrick works at a Junior high school and has about 16 every week. For both of us, our classes are 50 min long. If you teach elementary or preschool, I believe the class times are shorter. This schedule is based from Interac’s website, so it has 20 classes. I think many of the junior high schools have about 20 classes or so.

Fullscreen capture 2017-04-03 114643 PM

There is a lot of free time that can be utilized to learn Japanese or prepare materials for class. You will likely have a desk in the teacher’s room with a computer and a printer. It is easy to make worksheets and talk to your fellow coworkers.

↑↑Link to Top↑↑

~Teaching Style~

At the hagwon in Korea, we taught our classes on our own. It was quite rare that the Korean teacher would join us in the classroom, except for the really young class (the 3 and 4 year olds) where the Korean teacher was with them the entire time. There were definitely a lot of difficulties without a Korean teacher there to help, but I think it was beneficial for the students. It really forced them to use English for any question they had and simple tasks like going to the bathroom or needing tissue/pencils/erasers etc. Since this was our first time teaching, it was a bit overwhelming, but I think we have become much better teachers because of it.

The way this school was set up was that the students had half of their classes with the foreign teacher and the other half with their Korean teacher. For the afternoon classes, the Korean teacher time was used to talk about complex English grammar in Korean. Then, when they came to the foreign teachers’ class, they would be practising speaking, listening, or writing using those grammar concepts. We used a textbook that they were required to finish by the end of the year. How we taught the material was up to us. We could use any additional materials such as songs, worksheets, or games to reinforce the concept that they needed in order to fill in their workbook.

As long as their workbooks were filled out and the kids had fun, the parents were happy. If the parents were happy, the director was happy.

This brings me to the interesting situation of private schools. The parents are the customers and the private school is a business. Before it is a school, it is a business. This means that the teachers have to be very careful about what happens in and outside of the classroom. As a foreign teacher, you will never deal with the parents directly (well, you shouldn’t), so it’s not really something you have to worry about. Just be aware.

When we went to the private school in Japan, we had a very different experience. The school we were at was extremely structured. In training, we were told exactly how they wanted their class ran. Basically every minute was accounted for. For example, for a 45 minute preschool class:

  1. Sign their attendance book and give a sticker.
  2. Sing a song
  3. Do basic questions. Ask students in a circle for their name, age, favourite colour, etc.
  4. Sing another song
  5. Show and repeat flashcards for month’s topic.
  6. Play a small game
  7. Do some tracing or colouring in their workbook
  8. Sing a song
  9. Say goodbye.

The only freedom we had was what game we wanted to play. Even the songs were based around their monthly topic. You would do the exact same thing for every preschool class you had for the 2 weeks. The last 2 weeks would be a different game because you don’t want to play the same game twice. As you can imagine, this was quite tiring and boring after the 10th time you have taught it. That being said, this would have been a perfect starting job.

These classes utilized what’s known as team-teaching. This means that you and the Japanese are teaching the class together. She may do some translating for the students and help with behaviour. This made it easy for the kids to only communicate in Japanese and really didn’t give them the motivation to speak English at all.

In the public school, it will vary at every school. Generally, there will be a textbook to follow. The lesson plans are usually completely up to you, but some schools use their foreign teachers as tape recorders. What I mean is that some teachers literally don’t teach at all. They are used for pronunciation and grammar checks. At my high school, we follow a textbook quite loosely. We use the topic and key words and grammar points, but don’t necessarily use the book itself. I am in charge of the lesson plan and how I want to teach the concept. Generally, we have a worksheet and a speaking activity. Our school focuses on public speaking and using English for communication. In other words, we show them how to use things in real life situations in addition to giving them the confidence to speak English with their peers.

Patrick teaches at a Junior High school so the focus is a bit different. They are trying to teach vocabulary, easy grammar and have fun with English. Pat plays a lot more games with his students than I do.

↑↑Link to Top↑↑

~Holidays and Days Off~

Okay, I think the last thing that I want to cover is holidays.

I don’t think I mention it earlier, but at the private school in Korea, we had a regular schedule from Monday to Friday and we had every Korean public holiday off. We had 10 days holiday for the year. We weren’t able to choose when those 10 days would be. We had 5 days off around Christmas and 5 days off in the summer. Luckily, they were paid days off so we didn’t have to worry about having a smaller pay check the next month.

We had 3 sick days for the year. They were pretty strict and needed a pretty good reason to miss work. Actually, fun story, our foreign co-worker was so sick one day and had to go the bathroom to barf like every 30 minutes. Everyone knew what was happening. Everyone could hear him. Everyone could see the paleness in his face, yet nobody said anything. If he wanted to go home, he would have had to go to the doctor, get checked out, get a doctor’s note, come back and they he could leave. So, instead he just toughed it out. So, it was a bit of a culture shock for us.

Also, we didn’t have any additional days off for the year, so we had to be aware of that when our family wanted to visit. They had to plan around OUR schedule. We had no wiggle room. At all.  Since hagwons are private schools, the parents are paying money for their kids to go to this school. If the foreign teacher isn’t there, they would complain. Seriously.

A similar situation happened for us at the private school in Japan. We had 10 days of holidays that were predetermined. Since we didn’t get weekends or public holidays off, we really did get 5 days off at a time. At the hagwon, we would have the weekend, 5 day, then weekend again. This gave us 9 days in a row that we had off. At this private school in Japan, it felt like we had less time off because of that.

We also had 10 days of paid holiday that we could take. It sounds like it would be basically impossible to get those all at once. Many people would use them to get stat holidays off with their family or to make their predetermined holiday a bit longer. Since we saw the students every 2 weeks, it was a bit easier for the company to juggle us around and not shock the parents. They were able to change which school you went to since the curriculum was the same for every single class. So, if someone took a day off, I might fill in for them at their school and vice versa.

We also had sick days that we could use a lot easier. I think we had 6 or something? I don’t remember. We didn’t have to get a doctor’s note or anything. I do have a horror story, if you will, about this as well. I had the stomach flu. I taught the baby class in the morning and started to not feel well. My stomach was in a lot of pain. It got worse as the day went on. I had 4 hours before my next class, but I didn’t know if I could make it. I emailed my boss. Well, the response was not what I expected.

He said “Well, the school needs to have XX amount of classes with a foreign teacher for the year and if you aren’t there, than we can’t fulfill that promise. It is too late of notice to have someone fill in for you.” So, because they didn’t have enough classes with foreign teachers earlier in the year, I have to stay? When I said I would tough it out, but I didn’t know if I could go in the next day he said “well, Friday is one of our busier days. If you miss tomorrow, no one can cover you. The parents are expecting a foreign teacher tomorrow.” I was obviously not happy. My stomach flu did not get better. It got worse. I worked for 4 days before I was able to go to the doctor. He said that my intestines were very inflamed and I should have come in earlier. So, once again, the business is more important that a person’s health.

Okay, so now at Interac, the situation is much better. Not only do I have weekends and public holidays off, but I also have a good amount of vacation days. They are fixed because it is a regular school… We follow the school system’s days off. Currently, it is spring break. I have 2 weeks off. In the summer, we have 3 weeks off. In the winter we have 2 weeks off. We have 5 days for paid personal leave that can be used to cover sick days. If you don’t use your personal day, you just don’t get paid for your sick day.

It is really nice to have so much time off, but unfortunately, most of this is unpaid. This means that In September, you have a very small pay check. In the winter, we had 1 week of our holiday paid, and I believe it will be the same for August.

↑↑Link to Top↑↑

~Pay and Benefits~

The general rule is that private schools pay higher than public school. Except for JET, this is true.

In Korea, we got paid 2.1 million won (~$2500) per month. We also received health benefits, but I don’t know what was included in that. I only ever used our health insurance once and it was to go to the dentist.

In addition, your flight to and from Korea is paid for. Housing is also provided. Our housing was furnished and we didn’t have to pay for anything except gas and electricity I think. When we left, we were given a severance pay of around one month’s salary.

The starting wage if you work for EPIK is 1.8 million (~$2150) per month if you don’t have TEFL and 2.0 million (~$2400) per month if you do.  The EPIK website says that medical insurance is provided and 50% is paid by the employer.

Similarly, they pay for your flight there and back, provide housing and give a severance pay at the end of the contract. In addition, you receive a renewal allowance of one month’s salary if you stay for an additional year.

The salary we received at the Eikaiwa was 250,000yen (~$3000) per month.

Our private school in Japan paid for our flight, but I heard that is quite rare. Housing was not included. Actually, housing was quite expensive here. You have to pay one month’s rent worth for a deposit and some places require key money. Key money is a gift to the landlord that you do not get back.

This company did provide medical insurance. Again, I don’t know the details. I used it for when I went to the hospital for my stomach flu. Since I’m used to paying nothing in Canada, I can’t even comment on if it was cheap or not…

The salary we receive at Interac is a bit lower, at 230,000yen (~$2750) per month.

I’m fairly certain that Interac does not pay for your flight. We were already living in Japan, so it wasn’t an issue for us. Since this company is not technically a full-time position, health insurance is not included. We were required to get that on our own with the government. Also, it is required. It isn’t an optional thing. If you don’t get it, they will eventually just take it out of your pay check. It happened to a friend of mine.

I think that’s all I wanted to say about teaching English. There are some things I’d like to talk about in regards to just living in both countries.

↑↑Link to Top↑↑

Living in Japan vs. Korea

I want to give you an idea of what it is like to live in the country regardless of why you come here. I keep thinking of new things to add, so this may be an ever-changing blog. There are of course a lot of interesting cultural differences from North America, but there are also differences between the two countries. I think that there is a misconception that all Eastern Asian countries are very similar, but I think that isn’t really fair. They are their own countries with their own history and unique way of living.

~Cost of living~

Well, since I was just talking about money, why not continue?

On the surface, you may think that Japan is where you will make more money. You would be quite wrong. Not only will you have to pay for the flight and housing fees before you even see your first pay check, most things in Japan are pricier than in Korea.

Don’t just believe me, please look at this website!

https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/compare_cities.jsp?country1=Japan&country2=South+Korea&city1=Tokyo&city2=Seoul&tracking=getDispatchComparison

First, is rent. As I mentioned before, rent is covered for both public and private schools. If you are in a situation where you need to find your own housing, I’ve heard it is around $400 – $500 per month in a rural part of, well, not Seoul. In Kyoto, we paid about $800. In Kawasaki, we pay about $950. We pay more because we are foreigners and don’t have a guarantor. Most apartments in Japan require a guarantor.

If your company won’t act as a guarantor, your rent will likely be much higher. If you can, go to a realtor. They will help negotiate and communicate in Japanese. I wish we had done that, but both times we looked for housing we were so far. For example, when we looked for a place to live in Kyoto, we were living and working in Nagoya. When we looked for a place in Kawasaki, we were living and working in Kyoto. Trying to find housing while away is a bit more difficult. You don’t have the option of looking at the place or going to a realtor in person.

Next, is the cost of food. For someone like me, food cost is very important. I don’t like cooking so I eat out often. For lunch food like kimbab or bibimbap, it usually costs around 5,000 won ($5). For dinner, it ranges from 5,000 to 12,000 won. Even something like bbq is not badly priced. I think it was like 8,000 won for 200g of meat. We were able to justify going for bbq once a week or once every 2 weeks.

In Japan, there isn’t much for less than 1,000yen ($10). You can get gyodon (meat and rice bowl) for fairly cheap, but it is definitely not healthy or the best quality. Prices in Japan seem very similar to those in Canada. I’d say most people cook at home here. That being said, you can eat for cheap here, but there aren’t as many options.

That brings me to an interesting point. Buying groceries in Japan is slightly cheaper than eating out. In Korea, I felt like groceries were more expensive. Unless you went to a market, it wasn’t worth buying groceries.

Drinking is the next important thing on my list. Drinking domestically is much much cheaper in Korea. Buying domestic beer and Soju is incredibly cheap. If you want any imported drinks, it was much more expensive. In Japan, domestic stuff is slightly cheaper than imported, but not by a significant amount.

Those are the costs to matter to me, so please do your own research for things that you find important.

↑↑Link to Top↑↑

~Food~

As I said before, I eat out a lot. This will obviously be a preference thing so I’ll try not to be bias. I already talked about the price, but let’s look at they types of food available. Also, remember that if you are in Seoul or Tokyo, these things will probably not apply.

In Korea, they have a very large variety of Korean foods (duh!). Foreign food, however, is harder to find and not as well done as it is in Japan. So, if you like Korean food, you will love eating in Korea (sounds obvious, but I don’t know how else to explain this). If you are someone that needs American, Mexican, Italian, etc food, you will prefer living in Japan. Korean food is generally quite spicy. If you aren’t good with spice, don’t let that deter you. Before I left for Korea, I honestly thought that I’d starve. I didn’t. I actually loooved the food.

Korea has a few more “interesting” types of food. Since Korea was a third world country not so long ago, there are a few things that may seem really shocking. The first that I can think of is called bundangi. It is a silkworm pupae. Not my thing. This is often served as a side dish or sometimes you can see it as a street food. The second is chicken feet. They are crazy spicy and are full of bones and cartilage. I didn’t mind the texture, but the spice was death worthy. It was seriously the spiciest thing I’ve ever tried.  Third, is my favourite food. It’s called makchang. Makchang is pig intestine that you would grill, just like samgyeopsal. It is chewy and fatty, but I like it!

How about eating culture?

In Korea, there are many restaurants that are meant for groups. It is not as common to do things by yourself in Korea. Of course you can, but it isn’t really that common. People drink and eat in groups. Also, a lot of restaurants require you to cook your food at the table. It is cooked at the table in a single pot and you share from that pot. Double dipping is really not a thing there. Because of this, sometimes it can be difficult to find a place to eat if you’re on your own. For example, if you love dalkgalbi, you may not be able to find a restaurant that will have a single order of it.

I love Korean food and, when we were thee, we rarely felt the need to eat foreign food. There was enough that we could eat something different every day. The price point made it easier to try many things without feeling like you were wasting money. I could be wrong, but I feel like Koreans eat out more often so there are more options. There are definitely more restaurants physically available. Their culture is a bit more social, so it could just be that there are more places to meet with each other.

Also, Korea has a lot of street food. I love street food in Korea. It’s so great. It is also everywhere.

I hope that makes sense…

Food is very much a personal opinion so I can’t really convey what I mean.

Personally, I only really like a few types of Japanese food (like sushi, ramen and curry) and find the variety to be lacking. Since everything is a bit pricier, I am not as willing to try as many different types of food. I often crave foreign foods here. Also, it seems that there are fewer healthy food options. If you want to eat healthy, you eat at home (it’s the same in Canada, tbh.)

Japanese food is a bit more recognized world wide so there are definitely the foods that you will recognize. Sushi is amazing here and is not so expensive. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. You CAN get it for cheap, but you can also find expensive places as well. Also, I’m not sure if this is accurate for everyone, but it seems that the serving sizes are smaller here than in Korea. It’s fine for me, but sometimes Pat needs to get a snack later. It depends where you go.

As for weird foods, there aren’t as many. You can find intestine as well, but generally in soup. Some yakiniku places have it. It is good here, too, but not as good as Korean style (in my opinion). Another weird thing we like is beef tongue. It is a bit tough and salty. It’s good. There is also a lot of seafood here. So, you can find squid, octopus, and even jellyfish.

As for street food, it is really good, but you don’t see it as often. I have really only seen street food at festivals.

Lastly, opposite from Korea, a lot of places cater to single people. It is easy to do things on your own and not feel weird. There are a few “standing” restaurants where you can go in, eat and leave in less than 10 minutes. Now, that’s what I call fast food. You will often see business men go into a ramen shop, udon/soba place, or gyudon place and finish their meal in less than 10 minutes. It’s crazy. They will inhale boiling hot ramen like air.

Here are some food pictures! ( I have apparently taken less food photos in Japan… I don’t know why… sorry about that!

↑↑Link to Top↑↑

~Toilets~

I’m only talking about toilets because they are different than in North America. You may not think this is a place you would experience culture shock, but you would be wrong.

In Korea, the toilets are hit or miss and everything in between. They range from what I call a squatty potty to Japanese style ones with bidets and seat warmers. Now, what makes them so interesting is that you never know what you’re going to get. It’s always a surprise.

I remember at one pub we went to, you opened the door to the bathroom and had to climb a set up stairs to a squatty potty. There was no girls or boys toilet. It was a urinal and a squatty potty in a stall. I could literally pee at the same time as Pat. So weird.

Another time, we were eating in a fairly fancy Vietnamese restaurant. You go through the toilet door and suddenly, you are outside. Outside! You walk along this outside path to essentially an outhouse.

Another place was like a strip mall? There were many restaurants lined up together. You go to the toilet exit and you were in a secret hallway that ALL the restaurants were connected to. You walk along this hallway to a regular public toilet.

Lastly, one time I went to the toilet when we were partying outside. A building that was part of the university was open. After getting lost in this closed University building (that was obviously only opened for the toilet) you gind the toilet. The toilets were heated, played music, and even had a bidet.

Japan is also interesting, but there are really only 2 types. Fancy or squatty potty. But, unlike Korea, it was pretty easy to guess what you were going to get. Restaurant, bar, mall, etc will definitely have a fancy toilet. If you are in a park or train station there will definitely be a squatty potty. Sometimes, there is a very basic American style toilet, but even with those, there will always be a squatty potty as well.

~Language~

Obviously, the two countries have their own languages. This may seem like a silly thing, but before deciding where you want to go, listen to the languages. If you find one to be irritating or bothersome, don’t come. Seriously. You will hear it constantly around you. Also, be a cool guy and learn at least how to say hello and thank you. The locals will appreciate it and you won’t give foreigners image of being ignorant.

Secondly, you may be interested in learning the language. Well, in that case, I want to give you some pointers I suppose.

The Korean writing system is quite easy to learn and will help with your daily life a lot. It is a phonetic alphabet. This means that even if you don’t know the meaning, you can sound out the word. If you can read it, you can read all signs and menus without a problem. If you want to learn Korea, I recommend Talk to Me in Korean. They are a (mostly) free resource with a TON of information. http://talktomeinkorean.com/

Hangul:

Fullscreen capture 2017-04-04 21922 AM

(Hangul is like building blocks. Each piece represents one sound. You put them together in a block to make a syllable. Example: ㄱ=g ,ㅏ=a ,ㅁ=m, so 감 = gam. Pretty easy. My name = 캐이틀린 = Kae-i-teul-lin)

The Japanese writing system consists of two phonetic alphabets and one with Chinese characters. The two phonetic alphabets aren’t too difficult, but will take some practice. Kanji, the Chinese characters, on the other hand are very very difficult. They have many meanings and pronunciations associated with each of them. There are kanji you will see on a daily basis (there are about 2000 basic ones.) All three are used on signs and on menus.

Katakana:

Fullscreen capture 2017-04-04 22026 AM

Hiragana:

Fullscreen capture 2017-04-04 22101 AM

(Both of these writing systems have one symbol that represents a consonant and a vowel together. n and the vowels are the only exception. This makes writing foreign words really strange since vowels are often added in the middle of words. My name = ケイトリン = Ke-i-to-ri-n)

Kanji:

Fullscreen capture 2017-04-04 22337 AM

(this is just a sample. There are thousands of kanji. In use, sometimes their meaning don’t really mean anything. Example: 金曜日= Friday. 金=gold, 曜= day of the week,日=day)

I recommend taking classes once you come over. I took a Korean class after living there for 8 months and I regretted not taking them sooner. I would have taken Japanese classes, but the hours that I worked at the private school were horrible. Now that I’m at the public school, I am taking classes. It helps a lot. It really makes getting around easier and it makes you not feel so alienated. It’s easy to feel lonely when coming abroad. If you have even a little bit of the language, it will be easier to make friends and feel more connected with the community.

Also, I hate to be this person, but if you don’t learn any of the language, you really give ALL foreigners a bad image. Remember, you may be the only foreigner that a local has interacted with. If you don’t even try to speak the language, you give ALL foreigners living there a bad image. They will make assumptions about how we are lazy, ignorant, or don’t care about their culture. Just, try. Even just the basics. Hello, thank you. That’s all.

↑↑Link to Top↑↑

~English usage~

Speaking of language…

If you live in Seoul or Tokyo, language probably won’t be an issue. There is English everywhere. The farther you get from the big city, the less English you will see and hear. When I go to Tokyo, I’m always surprised that the staff will speak to me in English or that English menus are available. I didn’t go to Seoul too often, but it seemed to also have a lot more English than anywhere else.

This sort of brings me back to teaching. The English education system is quite different in both countries. It seems to be taken much more seriously in Korea than in Japan. At the private school in Korea, my students were basically in a English-Immersion type of environment. I could have conversations with these children and they would answer fairly well. They would of course miss articles like “the, a, an” etc, but they could form the majority of their sentence on their own.

In the private school in Japan, they memorized words or phrases, but had no concept on how to make a sentence of their own. If I asked them any variation of the phrase they memorized, they had no idea what I was saying. At my high school, it isn’t too much better. They can communicate, but usually the sentence structure needs to be given to them. Their writing is quite good, but their spoken language is quite broken and difficult to understand. My 4 year olds in Korea spoke better English that the 16 year olds at my high school in Japan.

↑↑Link to Top↑↑

~Fashion~

This may not be important to most people, but I figured I should add it in. Fashion in both countries is quite different. I’m going to generalize, so you know, this doesn’t apply to EVERYONE… okay?

Okay, so from pure observation, I would say that Koreans care about their appearance much more that Japanese people. But, like, almost too much. Even the men in Korea are generally very stylish and look put together. They don’t wear makeup like the internet would like you to believe. Some men MIGHT wear bb cream, but it isn’t common.

Unless you are in Seoul, the entire stereotype about Koreans all having plastic surgery is also false. The most common procedure is to get an eyelid surgery so they can have what is known as a double-eyelid, but I would not say the majority of people are getting procedures. This one in particular is a very small procedure with a short healing time, so it isn’t as crazy as people think. The problem with this fabricated statistic is that cosmetic things like mole removal or laser hair removal are also considered plastic surgery and up that stat. Anyways, Seoul does not represent the entire country, so please don’t think that everyone is getting these procedures done. While living in Daegu, I didn’t meet anyone that got any plastic surgery.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way…

Fashion in Korea really follows trends. If something is trendy, I swear, everyone is doing it. When we lived there, overall style skirts were popular. So many girls wore them. Even hairstyles follow trends. I can seriously spot a Korean man in Japan just by his haircut. The last trendy thing is makeup. Their makeup style is all very similar. They go for a fairly pale skin tone with a gradient lip that is bright red or pink. They have subtle eye makeup that is really supposed to just enhance their natural look.

Speaking of makeup, in Korea, makeup brands each have their own store. In Canada or Japan, you buy makeup at a drug store and all brands of makeup are there. In Korea, you go to the brand that you like. For example, if I want an Etude House lipstick, I need to go to Etude House. I can’t just go to the drugstore. The same is true for skin care. Also, A lot of makeup and skin care in Korea is Korean. You will rarely see foreign make up brands. I mean, how could they when they don’t have makeup in one store?

Japan is a bit more like Canada. It varies a lot. People wear what they want. Usually you see business men in suits and they are the majority. Dyed hair is really uncommon here. You will see many girls with a brown hair colour but that’s about it. It is so rare to see blonde, red, or any funky colours. I haven’t noticed a trend with clothing, but there are some makeup trends. It is quite trendy with young girls/high school girls to have very bright blush right under their eye. Even though it is a trend, you would never see a woman rocking that on her way to work.

I would say that both countries are very well dressed and care about their appearance. Japan seems to be a bit more conservative with their style, and Korea seems to follow trends a lot more. Nobody is leaving the house in sweats or pjs like I used to do in Canada.

↑↑Link to Top↑↑

~Attitudes towards foreigners~

This may be a bit of a sensitive topic because I don’t really want to generalize an entire country of people. That really isn’t fair.

Hmm..

Well, let’s just say that there is a bit a spectrum of how people react to foreigners.

  1. Used to foreigners – usually a positive outlook
  2. Had a bad experience – have a reason to hate foreigners
  3. Oblivious – No interaction or predisposed reaction towards foreigners

You will see number one in the bigger cities, especially in Japan. You will see number 3 in the smaller towns. In this case, you may literally be the first foreigner they have interacted with. It is you that will change them into a one or two, so you know, be nice. Number 2 seems to be in certain touristy places or military run areas. They deal with foreigners that don’t care about their culture at all. They have met or interacted with rude, loud, and disrespectful foreigners. Unfortunately, I think Seoul has many of these types of people. The only rudeness me and Pat ever experienced was in Seoul. Daegu was mostly number 3. People were so excited to see us. They called me cute, or Pat handsome. They were genuinely so excited that I could speak some Korean. If I spoke Korean at a small restaurant, I would get free things, like pop or side dishes. I haven’t experienced that in Japan really.

The smaller the area, the more you will find the oblivious people. Most people are very friendly, regardless of what their experience with foreigners is. I think that people in Korea and Japan are so friendly and helpful.

Also, I want to let you know, I am a white Canadian. I have the advantage of being Caucasian and being from “basically America”. People of colour, LGBTQ people, Muslims, or any other “visible minority” (for N.American standards) may have a different experience that I have no idea about.

↑↑Link to Top↑↑

~Travel~

Travelling in both countries have their own set of advantages and challenges.

Let’s start with Korea. Korea is a pretty small country. There aren’t too many places to visit. In addition, there really isn’t much information in English. That being said, you have a lot more money to travel and transportation is much cheaper. The KTX (the high speed bullet train) is not badly priced and hits the major cities in Korea. To go anywhere else, you need to figure out how to use the highway busses. Word of warning, if you need to get around, I recommend using Naver. It is the Korean version of google. Google in Korea, other than Seoul, doesn’t allow street view and is sometimes inaccurate. Naver is great, but is only in Korean. Learn your hangul and use Naver instead of Google. Trust me, it is so much better.

Japan is actually a lot bigger than I thought. There is a lot to see. There are so many touristy things that you can see across the entire country. The problem is that you will likely have less money and travelling costs more. The shinkansen (the high speed bullet train) can reach most places in Japan, but is quite expensive. It can be around the same price as flying!

Since Japan is quite used to having foreigners, it is easy to find travel information. It is usually fairly easy to find what bus to take or what you can expect to see. Once you get there, though, it will likely be crowded. You will see foreigners at all the famous spots. Personally, it bothered me because tourists generally don’t know how to act appropriately. They don’t respect the culture and really give foreigners a bad name (haha, do you see a theme? I’m obviously bitter about this… seriously though. I hate that I’m judged because of what ignorant tourists do.. ugh). This can turn a number 1 into a number 2 (from above) pretty fast. This means that in these heavily touristy areas, service staff isn’t as chipper and accommodating as they usually are. But, Japanese people have incredible service so it usually isn’t an issue.

Lastly, this sort of has to do with travel. Festivals. Festivals in both countries are great. They are so interesting and I really recommend attending one. In Korea, we went to a cherry blossom festival and a chicken and beer festival. In Japan, we have been to cherry blossom festivals and some parades. I recommend just googling “Festivals in Korea/Japan 2017” and see what interests you.

↑↑Link to Top↑↑

Well, whichever country you choose to go to, both are great. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. They are also quite close to each other so it is quite easy to visit both.

Basically, if you are looking to make money, go to Korea.

If you are looking to  see a lot of different places and things, go to Japan.

If you love eating out and drinking alcohol on a budget, go to Korea.

If you need variety in the food and drinks available, regardless of the cost, go to Japan.

**If you have been to either country and think that I have misrepresented anything, let me know! This was my experience, but I want to be as accurate as possible**

Japan with the Inlaws – Part 2

Hello again~

“The second half will be up in a week or two” I said. Hahahaha, did you believe me? I didn’t.

Alright, let’s continue. This half is basically things we did outside of Kansai. I didn’t plan it that way. I just noticed that it was at 5000 words and decided to stop.

Day 6 – Mt. Koya

This was our first “big” trip that required some planning. Everything else we had done before this point was close and easy to get to. The next place on our list was something I had never heard of. It was a World Heritage Site called Mt. Koya.

This was quite the headache travel-wise. We used Google Maps to find our way to this remote mountain. Google Maps is great, buuuuut it can also be such a pain in the butt. It is especially frustrating when you need to transfer trains a few times.  For some reason, when this is the case, the times suggested get a little messed up.

I’ll just tell you about it. It will make more sense.

Okay, so when we mapped out the journey, we had to get to Osaka and change to a different train. When we arrived, the station was absolutely PACKED. I believe that it was about this time when the Obon Festival started. This is a week or so period of time in which many people take time off work to see their families. So, because of this, Osaka was incredibly busy.

Well, we knew what train to take, and we would have made it, but I don’t think we could physically fit on the train. We decided to wait for the next one. Well….. Google did not like our decision….. it told us to wait for an hour and a half before taking the next train. What? Why? We are at Osaka Station. There is a train coming in 5 minutes, but you want us to wait for 1.5 hours??!! Ugh.

So, we didn’t listen to Google.

The biggest problem with that is the annoyingly difficult to understand train system in Japan. It’s great, for sure, but it is so complicated. Most trains have a local line, which will stop at every stop, an express, a limited express and a semi-express. As someone who can’t read Japanese, it is incredibly complicated. It’s almost impossible to figure out which express train you need.

In addition to that, there are different train companies as well. If you have a train card (like a pasmo, icoca, or suica card), it isn’t too bad. You just have to beep out when you leave one train company and beep in when you enter a new train company. If you are a tourist, or prefer using the single-use tickets, this is where problems occur. I think I talked about this when we went to Tokyo for the first time, but I want to mention it again because I love complaining, haha. Well, for now, the issue is for visitors with the JR Pass. It only covers the JR train line. As soon as you get out of any major city, the chances that you’ll be using a different company increases. Because of this, single-use tickets need to be used from that point forward. When you buy one of these tickets, you need to know your destination, so you can know the price of the ticket. If you pay the wrong price (whether its higher or lower), the ticket machine when you try to leave beeps loudly and won’t let you through. You then have to go to another machine (or worker) to either pay the balance or have them adjust the ticket. You will never get a refund if you pay too much. If you are in a hurry to change trains, this can be a problem. Luckily, we seemed to get by okay and didn’t run into any issues. Like I said, I just like to complain.

Before I continue, here is an idea of where we were going (ignore the stars…. most of those were our different work places or places we have been. We started in Kyoto and were going to the red arrow at the bottom).

Fullscreen capture 2017-03-09 92132 PM.bmp.jpg

So, it doesn’t look too far, but like any country, the transit gets less frequent and more sparse as you get away from the city.

Okay, let’s see what Google maps suggests (Should be the same every day, so I’m just going to do a quick google map search now with an estimated time of when I think we left)

Fullscreen capture 2017-03-09 93916 PM

Alright, not the easiest treck to begin with. As you can see, we had to take 4 trains (It was really more like 4 because the last one is just a cable car up the mountain…) .We had to take a train to Osaka, which was easy. Then, we ran into the busy train station and took a that same loop line 5 min later. That 5 min caused us problems at that green line area. The next express train wouldn’t be there for like an hour. There was a local train that would leave in a few minutes though. So, we took that one.

Well, that line didn’t go as far as we thought it did and we ended up in the boonies waiting for that same train, but one that went farther.

DSC_9141