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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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The name of the hotel: ichinoyu

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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.

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~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.

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~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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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~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.

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~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.

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~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.

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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.

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~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!

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~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.

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~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.

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~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.

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~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.

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~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.

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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).

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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)

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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.

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I think we were at this tiny station for 20 to 30 minutes. Since it’s Japan, it was hot and humid. There are spiders everywhere. It wasn’t a bad wait, but it wasn’t very exciting either. Finally we were able to take the train all the way to Koya Station without much trouble.

Once we arrived at Koya station, we headed to the Cable car. It was pretty busy, surprisingly, so I wasn’t able to get a good picture of the cable car. Here is a pretty crappy shot of outside?

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Once we reached the top, we had to take a local city bus to the temple area. Luckily, this is were everyone is going, so it’s easy to just follow the crowd. Since it is a world heritage site, there were some brochures and maps available.

Unfortunately, the bus is kind of mandatory. It goes on a really winding road that has no shoulders and has a steep drop off on the sides. Although we left fairly early in the morning, with our travel delays, bus to the mountain, and not knowing when things close, we didn’t have much time at the mountain.

Unlike most times we go to a mountain, this was not for hiking. I’m sure you could, but that’s not why we were there. We went there to see this huge grave site and temple. I had actually no idea what we were going to see before we got there haha. Although, I never heard of this place, nor did I have any interest in it, I really enjoyed it.

I don’t have much to say actually. I didn’t know any of the history or meaning behind anything so I am just a tourist. Sorry.It was really interesting to see. There were definitely some newer ones and some significantly older ones.

Pictures!

One thing that wasn’t pictured was the temple. Unfortunately, this was one place that photos were not allowed. There was a huge sign, in a few languages saying so. The temple was pretty standard, but there was something pretty cool underneath. I don’t know if many people knew about it (it was easy to miss. Actually, I didn’t really want to go in, but Pat went in and convinced me), but it was a hidden gem for sure. There was a tiny metal Monk figure representing each monk that has existed at that temple, It was so neat. There were so many of them!

Oh! Also, if you see any of the pictures of the statues with red bibs on them, supposedly, they represent children that have passed away. I heard that they could also be for miscarriages. So, I’m not sure if the statue itself is for the child or if it’s just the bibs that are put on existing statues. Ugh, I’m so uneducated.

Once we were finished, we decided to go get food. Well, we should have known, but nothing was open. Sure, it could have been because of the Obon Festival, OR, it could have been because it was like 5pm and Japan closes everything around that time, haha. I laugh, but I’m not really exaggerating…

We ate some convenience store food and looked at the map. Turned out that there were some other temples and gardens in the area so we decided to check them out. Unfortunately, they were closed. I really wish we had gone earlier in the day, but at the same time, I didn’t know that anything else was there!

Anyways, it was a nice day. Sorry that I don’t have much to say about it. We headed home without any trouble. We left a bit early to ensure that we didn’t get stranded. I was able to take a photo of the cable car this time!

I feel like I’m underselling this.

It was really neat.

I promise.

I actually freaking love the architecture. Can you call it architecture? Hmmm.. It is so weird to talk about though. The entire time, I felt both in awe and incredibly disrespectful. I mean, these are graves! Should I be taking photos of people’s graves?

If you rent a car, this place is worth a visit. If you are patient and brave with the transit. It is worth it. But, if you are only in Kyoto or Osaka for a short time, I don’t think it NEEDS to be on your must-see list. Up to you.

Day 7 – Amanohadishite

We still haven’t taken a day off!

So, what better to do than to go to the beach? Yay~

Okay, I need to put another google picture up. This is another place that I think a lot of people may not know about.

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So, the beach we were heading to isn’t famous because it’s a beach, but because it’s an interesting strip on land. Here, let me zoom in on that area.

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kind of cool right?

It was a pretty easy trip there. We took a shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Amanohashidate Station. It was about a 2 hour trip. Unfortunately, if you have the JR pass, this shinkansen isn’t one of the free ones. I think we were able to take a longer one that was covered…. I don’t remember….

I want to interject with how irritating buying Shinkansen tickets can be. I know, I have already complained about train tickets, but this is a whole different issue. You have a few options when buying tickets. There is the economy class, economy class with reserved seats and first class seats. Obviously, I have never bought the first class seats, haha. The shinkansen is so expensive already, yeah right I’m paying for the first class seats! Now, if you are going to be on the train for a long time, I recommend getting the reserved seats…If you don’t, there is a chance that you will be standing. I am not sure if it costs extra, but we always get them.

The annoying part is if you come from a JR line. So, generally, if you change train companies, you beep out (if you have a train card) or put your ticket in the machine when you leave and you beep in/put new ticket in at the beginning of the new train line. You get used to it. But, if you use the same train line, it is much easier. You don’t have to beep out/put in ticket until you reach your destination. So, going from JR to the Shinkansen (also, run by JR) should be so easy!

It isn’t.

It’s so confusing. When you buy your ticket, you also have to pay for the JR line that you just took. So, just an FYI…

Okay, wow, that was a tangent wasn’t it?

So, we didn’t have any problems this time, haha, so uh, there was no point to this at all… It worked fine. It was busy though. Because it was during Obon, we couldn’t get reserved seats. The family friend was a rebel and went to the first class section, which was empty by the way. Eventually, people got off and we were able to get seats. We had left pretty early in the morning so we arrived around noon or so. It was a super nice day!

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The station was cute. It was pretty easy to navigate to where we wanted to go. It was a cute little town and I could easily have stayed the weekend there.

Before getting to the oh-so-famous strip of land, there is a pretty neat turning bridge. It like physically turns 180 degrees so boats can pass through.

I took better photos of it later in the day:

We found a nice place in the trees to set up a blanket and put our clothes. Since its Japan, we probably could have left our stuff unattended, but just to be safe, one person stayed behind. Luckily, everyone seemed to have books to read?

Swim time!

Not the best beach…. but I still had fun! Unlike Korea, you were allowed to swim out as far as you wanted to. There was a buoy and rope, but no one seemed to stop you if you went past it. The water was pretty warm (well, not warm… but not cold! Like, medium? Luke-warm?) so I stayed out there for quite a while.

There was a point where Pat’s dad got a jellyfish sting (he thinks it may be a loose tentacle or something since we didn’t see any jellyfish…) and I stepped on some spikey thing. I had to put legit spikes out of my toe. So, from that point forward, I went to the deeper water.

I love water~

I love swimming~

Well, as you can imagine, this strip of land looks hella cool from above. Luckily, there was a viewing point. It wasn’t too far of a walk until you find the gondola and chair lift entrance. I can’t remember if there were signs or not… but I’m fairly sure it was on Google Maps. We found it and we were using PokemonGo maps so I think it was fairly straight forward. We took the “chairlift” up. It was a hot hot day, so I got pretty burnt. The chairlift wasn’t long, but long enough that I could snap some photos on the way up.

You know…. I love the sun. I love sunny days. Sure, I was so super sweaty, but I would 100% rather be sweating and burning than shivering in the cold any day.

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I can’t imagine anyone going to this place without going to the view point, but if you go there and are debating on going up or not, go up. It is worth it. The view of the strip of land is so unique.

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After telling my Japanese coworkers about our upcoming trip, they told me an interesting activity that people do there. Supposedly, if you look at the land upside down and through your legs, the land will look like it’s going up to heaven.

Whether or not that is true, I will leave that as a mystery. It made for some funny photos though!

There was another sort of “gimmicky” thing there that we didn’t try. There was a place that you could buy pieces of pottery and throw them at a rock in the distance. If your pottery hits the rock, your wish will come true (or have good luck, I’m not really sure). There are quite a few places in Japan that do something like this actually. Usually you buy a token of some sort (example: a prosperity token) and you try to land it on a rock, hit a target, or get it into a hole that is far away.

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The last thing they had up there was a train thing for kids. Obviously, it was not interesting to us haha.

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Okay, photo time! Yeah, I took the same photo like 0347308 times… haha.

To cool off, we went to the cafe that was up there. We all got floats and it was so refreshing. I got a coffee float (um, can I just say that it is an amazing combo. Like, why is this not a thing?? Ice cream is seriously the BEST creamer for Ice-coffee.) and I think Pat got a Calpis one (Calpis is sort of like cream soda).

Somehow, unlike us, we actually left early that day. We actually had time to just chill and take our time. The last train back to Kyoto left around 5 or 6 pm so we really had to make sure that we went early. We headed back down the chairlift.

Since we had time, we decided to walk along the strip and see if there was anything interesting. When we went swimming, we didn’t really walk down the island (well, it isn’t really an island is it..) and just stayed in one spot.

There wasn’t really anything interesting, but I took the opportunity to try to be a fancy photographer.

That was it for that day. We had lots of time and really were able to have a relaxing day. We had such a nice beach day, got a great photo opportunity and had some great weather. The Shinkansen ride back was easy and we had seats the whole way.

Day 8 – Hiroshima and Miyajima

This was yet another big day of travelling. We did have a relaxing day the day before, but we still had to travel and get up early. So, at this point, I think we were all getting pretty tired. This was one of the destinations that the family friend REALLY wanted to go to. I don’t think it was on mine and Pat’s need-to-see list, but I’m glad that we went.

It was a fairly long shinkansen ride out to Hiroshima. I can’t remember if we were able to take a train straight from Kyoto or if we went to Osaka first and took the train from there. Either way, the train is really fast so it definitely took less than 3 hours (maybe even less than 2 hours) to get there. The shinkansen is super expensive. Pat’s parents and the family friend had the JR Pass so it was free for them as long as they used specific trains(obviously the cheapest ones). As residents in Japan, we were not eligible for the JR Pass so we had to pay for the train. It was over $100 each way, but seeing as 3/5 of us had it for free, it didn’t feel so bad.

 I don’t remember when we left Kyoto or even when we arrived in Hiroshima… It doesn’t really matter I suppose. I think we didn’t leave too late, but I don’t think we had as much time as we wanted. When we arrived in Hiroshima, I was really surprised by how modern it looked. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that.

Obviously, our destination was the infamous dome that remains after the atomic bombing that hit Hiroshima in 1945. I’m sure you know the history of this bomb more than I do, so I won’t go into detail about any of that.

The transit situation was very reminiscent of our time in Jeju. This was a place that Pat and I have never been to, so we had to trust Google 100%. We couldn’t take a cab because there were 5 of us. Luckily, unlike Jeju, the transit system in Japan is great. It is just confusing. So, we needed to take a cable bus thing. I don’t know what they are called….Look at the picture. It’s a bus, but it has a cable thing on top.

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The buses in Japan can be quite a headache actually. Like the trains, the buses are run by different companies. Unfortunately, a lot of the buses wont show up on Google, so you just have to ask locals, find tourist maps, or use the Japanese websites. That was useless information though, because Google did have this bus on there, haha. Sorry.

Anyway, it didn’t take long to get there. It was pretty obvious when it was the right stop since most people got off. Word of warning, pay (or beep your card) as you leave this bus. As I said, every bus is different, but generally if you pay at the entrance it is a flat fee. If you pay at the destination, you are paying for the distance that you travelled.

Visiting the dome gives you a very bitter sweet feeling. It’s incredible, but devastating. The building itself is obviously in rough shape. It is so hard to look at when you know what caused this.

Everywhere except this dome, was the exact opposite. Everything was bright, clean, new and  really beautiful. It’s actually too bad that Hiroshima is know for this tragedy, when it seems like a really nice city. At the same time, it is probably so nice because of all the tourism this event has created.

An old Japanese stopped us while we were admiring this landmark. Before knowing anything about us, he thanked us for coming. He truly felt thankful that people from overseas were coming to pay their respects and educate themselves about what happened. I was a bit worried that there would be the opposite reaction to American-looking people. His English was quite good, he was very curious about why we were in Japan and where we were from. He was actually so happy to hear that Pat and I were English teachers.

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The area around the dome was really beautiful. There were also a lot of memorial type things that were interesting and pretty sad. The family friend separated from us so she could take photos and really take her time with the historical side of things. This was a place that she really wanted to go, so we didn’t want to get in her way or slow her down.

One of the first memorial things that I thought was pretty neat was a whole bunch of paper cranes. There is a pretty deep meaning behind them, but I’d rather just link you to the Wikipedia page since I’m not super educated on most of this stuff. here you go! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_thousand_origami_cranes

Basically, they are made in groups of one thousand to either make a wish or grant good luck.

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They were in a few places around this area, but these were by the dome. Across the river was a pro-peace kind of area. It seems that the main focus wasn’t about the bomb itself, but about promoting peace and a nuclear free world.

You may remember, but Obama went to Hiroshima. Since he was the first president (that I know of) from the States to do this, Japanese people were quite happy.

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This area, in general, was quite beautiful.

There was a giant bell that you could ring. This bell is basically a declaration of peace. What I mean is, you ring the bell to kind of announce, to anyone that can hear, that you want world peace and a bomb-free world. I did it! I guess I didn’t get a picture, but that’s okay.

We walked to the museum, but the line was gigantic! I think that the family friend really wanted to go, so it was a bit unfortunate that the line up was so long.

Our next destination was an island call Miyajima. We were able to take a boat from basically right by the dome that went straight to the island. We were able to ride on the outside until we left the city. As soon as we left the city, we had to go inside since the boat went a lot faster.

It wasn’t a long boat ride. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the price, how long it took, or even how we found this information in the first place.

When we arrived on the island, the first thing we saw was deer. I did not know ahead of time that there were deer there so it was pretty surprising. They are really friendly (maybe too friendly…) and will let you touch them.

I heard that they will be bothersome if you have food on you. Foreshadowing: It is true.

Now, the reason I was excited to go to this island was to see a Tori gate that was in the ocean! It will come later. We walked along the path towards that area. There were quite a few food stalls, tourist shops, and some interesting sculptures along the way.

Okay, the time you have been waiting for. Well, it was they time I was waiting for…. They may all look the same to you, but I don’t care.

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Finished!

 

 

Just kidding~

So, there was an interesting area that I know absolutely nothing about so, uh, photo time?

I like water. I like temples. So, this was really neat.

[Also, side note. there were so many rare Pokemon in Pokemon Go that me and pat did have so I was trying to play PokemonGo, take photos with my Nikon, and take selfies for Instagram with my cell. It was pretty crazy. Pat got so many Pokemon….]

In the distance we saw a pagoda. We actually saw this almost as soon as we landed on the island. So, here are some photos from many angles. I am really digging the bright orange.

After looking at the pagoda, we headed back to the ferry. Luckily, the ferry left quite often so could take our time a bit. Our largest concern was getting the shinkansen back. If I remember correctly, we bought our tickets back as soon as we arrived in Hiroshima. We really didn’t want to be in a situation where would miss the last train or have to stand for the whole ride back.

On the way back to the ferry, we saw a local craft beer place. It was my style (not the beer, just the place). It was like little food stand type things that sold like 2 or 3 types of beer. I don’t remember if I got any or not. I usually don’t like beer (apart from watery beer like Asahi, in Japan, or Cass, in Korea), but atmosphere is pretty important for me. I think Pat, his dad, and the family friend enjoyed their beers though!

On the way to the tori gate, I saw an interesting okonomiyaki stand that I wanted to try on the way back, but either we couldn’t find it or it was finished for the day. It was too bad because it wasn’t the Kansai version that we are so used to so I was really curious. Instead, I bought some ikayaki, which is grilled squid. It is one of my favourite street foods. Pat’s family thought I was weird, but whatever. I think the family friend tried a piece and said it wasn’t bad. It has an odd texture, but the flavour is great.

I made some new friends at this point.

deer.

I had like 3 deer surrounding me. Following me around. It was pretty irritating actually. I like deer, but I also like squid. I sure as heck am not sharing it with them. I doubt it is even good for them. I had to scarf it down pretty quick.

When we arrived at the ferry, we were extremely lucky to get on when we did. We were like legit the last people to get on the one that was leaving. It departed fairly often, but the line was huge. By the time we got up to the gate, it would have been brutal to wait there until the next fairy. So, lucky~ We took a JR ferry back, not whatever one we took there, so I believe the family got on for free with their JR pass. Because of this, the landing point was different than where we departed from.

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We used Google Maps to get back home and that was that.

I enjoyed this trip. I really wish we were there for longer. Seriously, in a weekend, you could see and do a lot in that area.

Moving

After a fun, but long, week, we had a day off. They got time to rest and explore Kyoto on their own. We had to pack and clean. This was the day before we were leaving to move to Yokohama. We had many things packed prior to this day so it wasn’t like we had to pack up everything in one day.

The movers came the next day. They must be tetris experts since they were able to pack everything into their truck. After they were finished, I headed to Yokohama. I had to meet with the real estate company to get our keys to the new place. It was a bit hectic and I was carrying a lot of stuff, but it all worked out. Pat stayed behind and cleaned what was left. He had to meet with the apartment people to give them the key and they did an inspection of the apartment.

He met me later that night at our new home.

Between now and when we saw Pat’s parents next, we were in training for our new job. It sounds like they had an adventure of their own. We tried to teach them Google maps before leaving them and it sounds like they did okay. I think they went to a lot of cool places that we haven’t gone to, so it was interesting to hear their perspective about certain things.

Final adventure – Mt.Fuji

Now. this wasn’t our last day seeing them, it was just our last interesting thing I suppose. They had a hotel booked in Tokyo for a few days, so we decided to meet up at Mt. Fuji and do the hike since they needed to be in the area anyway.

Getting to Fuji from Tokyo isn’t bad, but it’s a long trip. We had to take 3 or 4 trains from where we lived. We met up with them at the Ryokan (Japanese style hostel) that they booked. Five of us shared the room. We each had a single futon on the floor. The family friend loves the cold apparently so I froze to death in the room with like max air con. (I’m basically the opposite. I need warmth… I’m always cold).

We had to leave pretty early in the morning. We took a bus up to the 5th station. I guess you can hike from the bottom, but it seems most people drive or bus it up to the fifth and hike from there.

When we stopped at the station, we got off the bus and they checked out ticket. We needed to get back on the bus for some reason. The bus did a small loop and let us off… Why? What on Earth was the point of that?? So weird. Oh well, just thought it was interesting. At this stop, there was a small shopping area where you could get souvenirs and snacks.

The view of the mountain itself is not as iconic in the summer. When you think of Mt.Fuji, you are probably thinking of it with its white cap. Obviously, we were in the interest of hiking it, not looking at it, anyways. It was about 8:30 when we started the hike.

Before hiking, they recommend that you donate to the mountain. I know it is optional, but it may as well just be a fee. Is anyone really not paying for it? It almost seemed like you had to haha. The trail started out pretty easy. For a bit, you actually had the option of going on horseback. We didn’t, but we saw a few people doing it. It was a fairly cloudy day, which turned out to be more of a positive than a negative.

It was August, in Japan. It was hot. If it weren’t for the cloudiness, I think we would have had a tough time. Soon, the easy gravel/dirt terrain ended. I don’t believe the horses were allowed any further. Also, I’d like to say sorry to Pat’s mom… I usually take many photos of Pat’s behind, but Bridget is the start this time, haha.

In the picture above, you may be able to see Pat. He was so freaking far ahead of us the whole time. I have no idea where he got this athelicism from. Like, I know that he is an athlete and was MVP at his high school, but we haven’t trained for this. We rarely excersice, let alone climb mountains. Yet, here is Pat, like jogging up the steepest mountain I’ve ever been on like he is a pro-hiker. I was huffing and puffing away like waaaay down the mountain.He was seriously playing PokemonGo while hiking…

Since Mt. Fuji is an inactive volcano, the rocks are quite interesting. They are obviously volcanic rocks, but I liked how they were different colours and textures all the way up the mountain.

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This was a tough climb for me guys. The farther you go up, the steeper and more difficult it gets. There was a bit of a breeze and still cloudy so I wasn’t dying.

Yet.

Pretty soon after we started hiking, my sock kept slipping down. This caused my boot to rub my ankle. Pat’s dad is crazy prepared so he gave me his socks and Pat’s mom gave me like a blister preventing thing that looked like a deoderant stick. Goodness, that was lucky.

Looking up the mountain, you could see many rest stops.

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Maybe you can’t tell from the photo, but this was sooo steep.DSC_9445DSC_9446

Too steep! I was like lifting my leg 90 dgrees just to step on the next rock.DSC_9447

Then there’s Pat “This is so easy, I’m going to play video games while you suffer.”DSC_9448

Even though those rest stops looked close together, they were necessary. We stopped at each one. I was dying.

My legs were jello.

I took 2 steps at a time before gasping for air.

Don’t worry though, the trail got steeper. It got more rugged. It got more and more difficult.

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I tried to pretend that I was taking artsy photos every 5 seconds, but in reality, I was resting.

Do you like rocks? Here are pictures of rocks. I took many.

Because I’m so interested in rocks. NOT because I was exhausted… okay, it was because I was resting. What? Have you climbed Mt. Fuji? No? Then you can’t judge. Oh, you have? Oh… k… uh, I took a secret difficult path that you don’t know about….

Soooooo, back to what I was talking about……

At most of these rest stops, there was a sign telling you how far you climbed and how long you had left. A cool thing that you could get done, that we didn’t, was get a stamp thing burned onto your walking stick. So, many climbers bought a hiking stick at the bottom and got a stamp done at every rest stop. Or, alternatively, they could get the stamp from the top of every mountain that they climb.

This is honestly such a Japanese thing. I don’t know why, but they really have a ‘marking’ type of thing in their culture. You can buy fake passports where you put stamps in from different cities, monuments, shrines etc that you have been to. Back when we went to that awesome waterfall, you could get a stamp at every famous waterfall on the way. Interesting.

As we got closer, we could see 2 tori gates on the mountain. They had coins all around them and even IN the wood. I have no idea the reasoning behind it, but I thought it was kind of cool.

The trail started to get easier at this point. The problem was that we were already so exhausted. Even though we didn’t have to deal with the rocks anymore, our legs were like jello (when I say we, I mean basically everyone except Pat. I think he dad was okay, but not as okay as Pat somehow).

When we reached the second tori gate, we were essentially at the top. It was the perfect opportunity for a photo, but Pat was way ahead and I was not ready to climb up there to get him.

Finally, we had made it!

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I don’t know why I didn’t take a celebratory photo on my camera, but I took some from my phone. I should have gotten a photo of the sign at the top, but I was seriously so tired that I wasn’t thinking about it.

We arrived at the top at about 2pm so the hike up took about 5.5hours to make.I think, in general, we are fairly quick climbers (because we need to catch up to speedy Pat haha) so it may take longer than that.

There is a crater at the top since it is a volcano, but it wasn’t so interesting, in my opinion.

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We were quite lucky actually. The skies basically cleared as we made it to the top and we were able to get a nice view from the top. (some of the photos below aren’t from the top)

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We took some nice photos and headed down.

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The hike down was also challenging. It was loose dirt and quite slippery. I almost fell a few times and Pat’s mom fell fairly badly. It was long and difficult to walk on. If I had a toboggan, we could have like sledded down since it was so loose.

Anyways, that’s all for now. Sorry this was so long. There was a lot to cover.

Japan with the Inlaws – Part 1

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Probably my favourite photo~

Wow, finally, the time has come! Strap yourself in, this is going to be a long one. I have to cut it into two halves or else it would be like a novel. Now, it’s just have a novel. A short story, if you will.

In August, Patrick’s parents and family friend came to Japan for about a month. Pat’s brother didn’t make it this time, but there was still five of us again. This trip went a lot smoother, in my opinion, than their trip to Korea. To be fair, Japan is a bit more foreigner friendly (the food and culture is not as crazy-different as Korea was) .

Also, I’m not sure how to really explain this… but… uh… I guess since we weren’t going to an island that I know I would never visit again, I felt more okay with being flexible. So, perhaps it was because last time they visited us, we didn’t know how to be tour guides. It could have also been because we knew that we would probably NEVER go to Jeju ever again. Or, it could have been  because Jeju was actually much more different from mainland Korea than we thought it would be.

What I’m getting at is that when Pat’s family came to see us in Korea, we had an awesome time, but we also had some hiccups along the way. This time, however, it seemed that our excursions went fairly smoothly?

So, if you can remember, we were working for an Eikaiwa (a Japanese private school) and had limited time off. Actually, during this time, we were preparing to move for our new job in Yokohama. Wow, I’m distracted. Do you care about our schedule? Probably not…. Oh well, sucks to be you, I’m going to talk about it anyway….So, I shall continue. We worked until the day that Pat’s parents came to Japan. We figured that this would be perfect! Actually, we were pretty clever with our yearly vacation days and were able to use them at the tail end of our work period. In other words, we only physically worked for one extra week, but we got paid for an additional 10 days of work. We got basically half of our August pay!

Annoyingly, though, this made things so much more difficult. We had to deal with working and preparing for class for one more week, try to pack for our big move, clean the apartment, and plan our expected activities. Oh well, we had some extra money, and we were able to help the school for a bit longer.

Oh, were you waiting for me to talk about what we did?

Ah.

Sorry.

Ok, well it was awhile ago, so my memory is incredibly fuzzy….. I’ll try my best!

Day 1 – Arrival in Kyoto

So, the McAndrews met us at Kyoto Station. I misunderstood where they were waiting and did a lot of wandering. Kyoto Station is pretty big so it is easy to get lost. Once we met up with them, we walked with them to their hostel. Unfortunately for them, they came in a bit of a busy season (who am I kidding, every day of the year is busy season in Kyoto…) so they had a hard time finding hotels. Luckily, Pat’s mom seems to be a hostel-finding genius haha.

The hostels that they were in for most of their trip were Japanese-style, which essentially means the bedding situation is different that any North American would be used to. In Japan, many people sleep on a futon. BUT! A futon in Japan is not what we call a futon in Canada. In Canada, if you hear futon, you are probably thinking of a fold-down bed. In Japan, a futon is a thin down/cotton mattress on the floor. At home, this is what Pat and I use every night, so we are used to it.

Since we met up with them fairly late, after they checked in, we went out for supper right away. Now, this time, I made a conscious effort not to dictate our food choices or to argue. So, I let them lead the way with their food choices (actually, to be honest, I don’t like Japanese food as much as I like Korean food, so I felt less of a desire to have them try specific foods. In Korea, I was so passionate about their amazing food that I wanted them to try everything…. ). They decided on an Italian place. It was obviously marketed towards foreigners, which is fine, but means the price will be higher. It was. It was quite expensive…. The portion sized were also quite small. The food was good though!

I really can’t remember, but I don’t think we did anything after that…. Maybe we went to a small Irish Pub at Kyoto Station… I don’t remember what day that was. But, I think it was that day. The Olympics were on the TV so of course Pat’s dad had to get updated! They got to see the Japanese side of the Olympics, which, I’m sure is a bit of a different point of view.

Day 2 – Fushimi Inari

Our first official day off from work! Yay~

They had to check out of their hostel and check into a different one, so I think they had a bit of a hectic morning. Gosh, I really can’t remember. Oh well. Well whatever the details were, we ended up at Fushimi Inari eventually haha.

Now, you may know this already, but Fushimi is my favourite place in Kyoto. I love it. It is an easy hike and somehow I never get sick of the tori gates. Never.

August in Japan is so freaking hot, by the way, so although this is an easy hike, we were all sweating like crazy. There are vending machines along the way (weird right?), but the drinks were way over priced. Well, even though I had an entire post dedicated to this place, here are some more photos!

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I think I restrained myself this time haha, just because I already have so many photos. The view at the top was quite nice and clear.

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Did you miss pictures of Pat and his Dad’s backs?

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It was a nice day. It was hot like it was in Jeju, but we didn’t do as much unnecessary walking like we had to in Jeju…

So once we reached the “top”, Pat’s family friend stayed at the covered shelter while the rest of us continued up the mountain a bit. There is a trail that loops around from that spot and back. There isn’t a view or anything, so continuing from that point on isn’t really necessary. The loop doesn’t take too long so when we came back I think it was a good amount of break time for the family friend.

If you ever go to Kyoto, I really recommend going here. It is just so interesting. It is a fairly easy hike and doesn’t take too long. It is like the perfect way to spend the day.

I made a schedule for our trip, but I don’t think we followed it very closely so I don’t remember what we did after this. I put on my schedule to check out downtown. So… maybe we went downtown? Ugh, I don’t know.

Day 3 – Fireworks festival in Shiga

The next day, we got to go to an annual Fireworks festival in Shiga, Japan. Shiga is right next to Kyoto. It is an area (I don’t think it’s a prefecture, but it definitely isn’t a city… It’s like a region? I suppose) that surrounds Lake Biwa. Biwa Lake is the largest lake in Japan. The fireworks were over the lake so I knew it would be beautiful.

Well, after talking with my Japanese coworkers, I learned that this is an event that most Japanese people will be wearing yukata. I was soooo excited.

But

I’m an idiot….

A few days earlier (after our last day of work), we dropped off our company uniforms at the dry cleaners. Deciding to take advantage of the situation, I also brought some dresses and my yukata as well. Since this was my first time going to a dry cleaner”s (yeah, I’m a terrific adult…), I really had no idea how long it took to have clothes dry cleaned…. Well, it didn’t take a day like I thought haha. So, I suddenly didn’t have my yukata for the festival. NOoooOoOO~

I decided to buy a cheap one from Uniqlo. The original one I bought was much more expensive and obviously of a higher quality.

Oh well.

I had Pat meet up with them earlier than me as I got ready. I knew that with the hair, makeup and yukata putting-on-ing, that I would take a while. Well, I underestimated how long it would take. Yukata’s are so frustrating to put on and look nice.

Also, short side story:

About a month prior to this time, I got my first haircut in Kyoto. I bleached my hair and trimmed it myself up to that point, but decided it was time for a professional trim. Well, it was a huuuuuge mistake. My hair was like shoulder length and a bit damaged. As I have done many times in the past, I said “I’m not picky about style. Just get rid of the dead ends and give any style.”…. well…. USUALLY, the hair dresser picks a style that suits my face type. I also am 100% okay with short hair, so I told him to cut off as much as he thinks is necessary. Well…. what I’m not okay with is a haircut that is unflattering, difficult to style, or required a lot of work to look proper. That was exactly what he gave me. He cut off a lot, and I was sad, but like, understanding? I knew it was going to be short. I mentally prepared myself for that and let him do what he was doing. In the end, he gave me what is know as a halo haircut. Please, take a break from this post and google it. It is awful. I looked so so so bad. Even now, I am stilll trying to grow this mess of a hairstyle out. The front layers are so incredibly short. I essentially had a mushroom cut mixed with a mullet.

Okay, back to the festival.

My hair was so difficult to style. I could not get it to look flattering. (In my last post at the Gion Festival, I had the same issue). My makeup was okay, but due to my airline incident, I really didn’t own much makeup. My new yukata had an obi (belt) that I had to tie myself, unlike my expensive one that had an easy style obi.

I was so frustrated. It took so long.

I knew the trains were going to be packed and the venue would be so busy. I wanted to leave waaaay earlier than we did.

Well, everyone was very patient with me. We got to the train station and holy moly was I right. The trains were packed! I suppose it was interesting that the McAndrews got to experience the stereotype that Japanese trains are wall-to-wall with people and how people are basically pushed onto the train to fit. Not that that is a good experience, but kind of neat I guess..

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Sorry everyone in this pic. You are now famous.

This was at the festival train stop. So many people! Notice that the going up side is completely empty. Not as many yukatas as I had expected, but still quite few.

Once we piled out of the station we followed the crowds to where the viewing areas were. I had brought a cooler bag along so we were also on the lookout for a place to get some drinks to fill the bag with. Everything was crowded. It was pretty difficult to do anything haha. We split up momentarily. The boys got some drinks and the girls went to scout out places. It was already so busy at this time..

It was like an organized chaos. Japan, unlike Canada, really knows how to handle large crowds AND large crowds know how to handle themselves. Nobody was being crazy, nobody was jumping or climbing over the rails, and nobody was on the opposite side of traffic. People walk together as a group and seem to peacefully find a place to view the fireworks without being rude or pushy.

Me and Pat’s mom found a place to sit on the pavement (on a mat thing…). Pat, his dad, and the family friend didn’t want to sit on the pavement and totally ditched us! I was actually pretty annoyed at Pat since I was so excited for this event and really wanted to spend it with him. Oh well. I suuupoooose his comfort is important…

There were around 10,000 fireworks supposedly. It was the best fireworks display I had ever seen in my life. I can’t even describe how stunning they were. I tried my best to take photos of them, but it’s much easier said than done for a non-photographer like myself.

The fireworks were stunning, so here is a whole bunch of photos:

I had a lot of fun, despite sitting away from Pat. I’m pretty sure I had teary eyes. It was so overwhelming. The fireworks were so impressive. They had a ‘program’ for the fireworks so it was easy to predict when the big shows would start. In Japanese style, they were on time for every segment. Like, to the minute. This made it easy to follow along and have an idea of what was going on.

The fireworks finished quite late, but we were a bit hungry. Since it is a festival, there is always street food around. But, because it’s Japan, everything closes pretty early. We had to get the last servings from some food stalls. We each got a draft beer (which are served at the street food tents) and drank them on our way back to the train station.

The line for the train was MASSIVE! We had to wait quite a while in line and there were even security guards ushering people inside the station. They must know how many people can fit in the train at a time since they seemed to be counting the number of people entering at a time.

It started to get a bit worrying since the trains don’t really run that late and we don’t live in Shiga. If we missed the train, we would have a pretty expensive taxi ride. Luckily, we did make it. It was a lot of fun. If you are ever in the Kyoto area around the beginning of August, I highly recommend checking out the fireworks festival on the lake.

Day 4 – Osaka (baseball)

Before I talk about the day itself, I have to tell you about buying the tickets. We bought the tickets a week or so before they came. Although the stereotype about Japan is that it is super high-tech, in many ways, it is a bit archaic. It’s like they try to be high-tech, but somehow make it more difficult than it needs to be.

So, buying tickets (or like anything) online is either non-existent or for Japanese citizens only. Sometimes, you can get something online, print out the order, bring it to the convenient store, and then pay at the convenient store. WHY? Why make it so complicated?? Why add so many steps?! ahem. sorry.

In this case, it wasn’t quite that easy. So, to order sporting or concert tickets, you need to go to the convenient store and order them there. There will be a machine (in Japanese only….) where you will find and order your ticket. For people that are fluent in Japanese, this probably is quite convenient. For people like me, who suck at learning languages and definitely don’t know the terms needed to buy tickets, it can be quite a headache. To make things worse, it seems that certain tickets need to be bought at certain stores.

We went to Family Mart to get our baseball tickets. We were basically buddies with the employee that worked there and he tried his hardest to help us. We both had our Google translate out and were basically communicating with the apps. After a long time doing this, we figured out that we couldn’t buy what we wanted at that convenient store. He told us to try Lawson.

We headed to Lawson. We fiddled with the machine there and couldn’t find anything…. We headed to 7-11. We headed to the copying/fax/buying ticket machine. We started to have some luck. It was still all in Japanese so we had to use Google translate throughout the process. We were able to find the games, categorized by teams, and get the tickets. We then had to bring the tickets to the cashier to pay for them (because paying at the ticket machine would make too much sense right?). This was like a good hour out of our day, but we did it!

Okay, fast forward to the actual event.

I decided to take a detour from the family and go to the Pokemon Center for Pat’s mom. She wanted to buy a gift for her niece so I decided to go for her. It is a bit out of the was from downtown Osaka. I was hoping that they would go to Osaka Castle while I was buying this, but as always, they didn’t have enough time. It’s too bad, I think they would have really liked it.

We planned to meet in Osaka once I was finished. But, there was a problem…. My phone was dying. Not just that, but the game was going to start soon. I was in a panic. Finding a place to plug in is really difficult. I got scolded when I plugged into the wall at the train station…. so embarrassing.

My other task for the day was to find a bank and take out cash. Have I ever told you how frustrating it can be to take out cash from a Canadian bank card? It seems that some people (okay, probably most people) can easily take out cash from the atm at 7-11 or at a JP Post atm. For some reason, the ONLY bank that has ever accepted our Canadian card was Citibank. So, as I was dealing with trying to meet up with Pat, carrying around a huge Pokemon Center bag, and havin a dead phone, I was also trying to find a Citibank.

Well, it no longer existed….

ugh.

By pure luck it seems, I found Pat, and we rushed to the Stadium. The game was okay. I’m not a big sports fan, so I mostly enjoyed eating and drinking haha.

I personally enjoyed watching the game in Korea so much more. For someone who doesn’t care for the actual game, the games in Korea are so much more interesting. You can get seats with tables where you can eat delicious fried chicken. You can bring in your own alcohol or food. The cheering sections were so so entertaining and it just had a really fun atmosphere.

The one thing that is note-worthy about this game was the balloons that were shot up into the air near the end (the blue balloons in the photos above). They had a very…..interesting…. shape to them. Everyone let them go at the same time, so it was like reverse rain of blue balloons. They made a whistling sound as they shot up into the air. We didn’t have any, so we felt a bit out of the loop. That would have been fun. Pat’s dad picked up a used one from the ground as a souvenir hahahaha, funny guy.

After the game, we headed to Osaka’s famous downtown area: Dotonbori. This area is really nice at night. There is a river that runs through the middle and has an iconic view.

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We were pretty hungry after the game so we went to find some food. I really wanted them to try okonomiyaki as it is a famous dish of Osaka. It is sometimes referred to as a Japanese pancake. It is essentially shredded cabbage, egg and flour that is made into a thick pancake type thing. There are many options for toppings such as squid, pork, kimchi, and apparently tomato… Many places were already closed (did I mention that Japan shuts down early?), but luckily we found a place. This place specialized in a tomato-type of okonomiyaki so I was not too excited haha.

Fortunately for me, they had other special types that were so so good.

Unlike Korea, having a grill at your table doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be cooking anything. The soba and okonomiyaki come to you cooked and are simply on the grill to stay warm and add a bit of crisp if you want it. Man, I haven’t had okonomiyaki in a loooooong time…. it really is a Kansai thing. It doesn’t seem to be so popular here (I live near Yokohama, now).

After we were stuffed, we headed home. We may have gone downtown and watched some Olympics with drinks outside, but I really don’t remember what night that was haha.

Day 5 – Riverboat tour and Arashiyama

We originally planned to have a day of rest on this day seeing as we were being quite active up to this point. We shuffled the days around and decided to go hard and have the day off before our move. This would give us enough time to do the necessary things like returning uniforms to our school, packing, cleaning, and all the last minute details.

This was completely the family’s idea. I was happy that they did some research into what they wanted to see. I felt kind of bad basically dictating our activities. I don’t know what interests them so I just made a pretty generic list of things to do.Which, to be fair, are pretty good things to see in Kansai ( I think…).

So, they found a brochure at the information booth near Kyoto Station. It was for a riverboat tour. Of course it was all in Japanese, but it seemed like a nice way to relax and enjoy some beautiful scenery.

Before we get to that….

You guessed it!

Story time~

Well…. It would be me and Pat if there weren’t hiccups along the way. We actually bought these tickets the day before (of maybe two days before… I don’t remember). They were a bit pricey so we bought them using a credit card (not a common thing in Japan… surprisingly). Since this trip was almost booked, we had to get a strange auxiliary seat on the bus and got a weird special ticket. The auxiliary ticket is much cheaper, but like, not a choice? Meaning, you can’t choose the auxiliary seat to pay a low price. It is only offered to you if the bus is full. The best way of describing what this auxiliary seat is, is to think of a Greyhound style bus and then imagine the arm rest folding out into the aisle for someone to sit on. Wow, comfy….Not so important, but note that we had one weird ticket.

Well we were given a time to meet by the bus. Somehow, we weren’t late. We weren’t very early though either….

As we were about to board, we realized we were missing something. Our freakin’ tickets! Of course nobody had the receipt on them. There was definitely not enough time to go home and get them (we lived like an 8min train ride away so if we had been early, we could have been okay…). We tried talking to the info desk lady and there was really nothing they could do. Unless we had the reciept or tickets we couldn’t go on that trip.

Well, we didn’t really want to abandon our plan at this point. The lady’s only solution was to buy the tickets again and then bring our tickets later to get refunded. What a pain. Well, that’s what we did. Now perhaps someone cancelled last minute, I don’t know, but we had to pay the full price. We didn’t have an auxiliary seat anymore.They also didn’t have ‘real’ tickets for us so we just got on the bus haha…

Okay, so we made it. We got on the bus. It took us to a quaint little train station in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. We then got to go on a ‘scenic’ train. It was really cute.

I apparently didn’t take a picture of the train itself. Trust me, it was cute. The pictures I took from the train were obviously not great…. Oh well, in real life, it was quite nice. On the train, you could pay a person to take your photo with a Polaroid camera in the train. Why? what would the backround be? the old train? Why? Especially when every single person on that train had their very own expensive DSLR camera….. I kind of wanted one…

After our scenic train trip, we arrived at the riverboat station. We were put into groups and shown our boats. Pat’s mom and I were lucky and got front row seats! (I felt bad for the family friend as she is a much better photographer and got stuck behind a pole on the boat…. ). Pat and his dad were somewhere in the back haha.

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I can’t even imagine the amount of work these guys that were rowing the boat were doing. They were dripping sweat. Yet, somehow, they were like cracking jokes (I assume since everyone was laughing, but who knows, I didn’t understand a thing. Maybe I was the butt of his jokes, who knows? He could have been like “look at this white girl in the front. Her skin is hurting my eyes it’s so pale!” but I have no idea. I am pretty sure I fake-laughed along to whatever he was talking about. Anyway, point is, he seemed like a funny guy), was telling stories and pointing out interesting things to look at on the way.

I guess I don’t have much to say really… It was a hot day. The slight breeze and being on the water felt nice.

At one point in  the journey, there was an opportunity to try rowing for yourself. Pat’s mom is not one to pass up an opportunity so she gave it a shot. Not only that, but she surprised the heck out of the guy since she is pretty strong. It seemed like the technique was quite different from a canoe, a kayak or even a rowboat!

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The handles had large grooves in them from being rubbed in the same spot many times over. They had to be constantly made wet to ensure they would glide rather than stick. It was interesting.Okay, here are some more photos!