Apple Country

Stories of rural life as an ALT in a northern Japanese fishing town.


I do love questions

I think someone nominated me for this ages ago but I seem to have forgotten to do it, so now here it is!  Sadly I don’t think the Liebster Award is a real award but I appreciate it nonetheless, thanks Hayley!

Reblogged from The Only Award I’ve Ever Received?.

The Liebster Award:

  • Thank the person who nominated you (by tagging their original post to yours)
  • Answer 11 questions
  • Nominate other bloggers who deserve the award
  • Ask them 11 questions
  • Put these rules in your post
  • Inform the bloggers you have nominated

1. What inspired you to start your blog?

I wanted to write about my time on the JET Programme so I could read it again in the future, and it was the easiest way of letting friends and family know what I’m up to.  I’ve never been able to keep diaries and writing by hand is just effort really.

2. Your three favourite posts?

Maybe “I live here now?” because I remember how weird it felt (and still does) to be living in a foreign country.  Everything was still new and shiny then.  I still have to remind myself that I’m actually living my lifelong dream though!

First 24 Hours in Tokyo because it was like, WHAT is happening to my life everythingissobigandscary.  Excited to go back with Lindsey and see it again!

Climbing Shirakami-dake because it was the most extreme thing I’ve done so far and definitely won’t be a day I’ll forget!

3. If you could achieve one thing in 2015 what would it be?

I want to make more of an effort to get involved with the Japanese community. It’s so easy to live inside my little ex-pat bubble and continue to hang out with other foreigners and do the stuff I’m used to because certain things about living here can get really frustrating and overwhelming at times, so it’s nice just to forget about it all. I won’t be here for that long though so I want to make the most of what’s around me!  It’s just hard when 90% of my town’s population is over the age of 60.

4. Do you have a role model, someone you look up to?

James Rhodes – he stopped playing the piano when he was about 20 because he felt he was wasting his time with it, then picked it up again after 10 years to train as a performer. He also suffered from depression and spent time in a mental institute but despite all this he became an amazing classical pianist who probably could do equally well as a stand-up comedian. He’s written some brilliant articles in the past and is a strong supporter of gender equality, particularly in the music industry, so basically he’s my hero.

5. What was your favourite subject at school?

Either music, English or French, depending on when I took it and who my teacher was.  But music has always been slightly ahead.

6. Three films you want to see this year?

Wild (the Reese Witherspoon one), Star Wars VII, I don’t actually know what else is coming out… just looked, apparently Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon sequel is being released! So yeah, that.

7. Is there a band/musician you want to see, but have never had the chance to? Currently performing or otherwise.

Yes like a million whose various members have died so will never happen. But if I had to choose one, probably Rage Against the Machine because it would be so much fun, AND they’re all still alive so it might happen!

8. Three things that make you happy?

Playing the piano, generally being with friends, eating good food.

9. If you could be an animal what would you be?

An otter.  Or a fruit bat…

10. Ideal blog reader?

Friends, family, anyone that cares about my life!!

11. Your plans for the rest of the day?

I finish work in half an hour so I’ll go home, teach English on Skype for an hour, make dinner and then I’ll probably watch like 8 episodes of Community while on my exercise bike (or not) before going to bed.

I would post my own questions now but A) I have no idea who to choose and B) I’m lazy.  But I enjoyed answering these anyway!


Blue Monday

No, not the New Order record, the other one: the third Monday of January, aka the most depressing day of the year.  It seems fitting; Christmas is long gone, it’s bleak, it’s STILL January, everyone’s given up their resolutions and Spring feels like it’ll never come.  I didn’t actually find out Blue Monday was a thing until the evening of, which made me realise why I’d had a bit of a crap day.

I had to take another day of holiday to go for a hospital checkup, but I got there early enough so that I could go back to work in the afternoon and would only need to take half a day.  (I’ve spent 7 days out of 20 at hospital so far, so I’ve come to appreciate any time I can save…)  Last time I went, my supervisor said if I got back in time I could come back to work, but it took forever so I couldn’t.  However this time I was done by 11 and could’ve easily made it back for 1.  So I rang my supervisor and told him I was coming back to work, and he basically said he’d already stamped the whole day as holiday leave so no-can-do.  He asked me if that was ok, and I was like “ermmm not really?!” but he clearly wasn’t going to do anything about it.  What annoyed me most was that he told me to “just go home and study”.  Well that’s the only thing I do at the BOE so why on earth would I do it at home on my supposed “holiday”??  I told my neighbour/colleague about it afterwards and she said she goes in and just crosses the stamp out if she decides to come back for half a day.  I was so annoyed.  Normally I wouldn’t care so much but I only have 4 days of holiday left and I kinda want to use them for doing things other than spending 3 hours waiting for someone to tell me that my arm has improved since last time.  My next appointment isn’t for another month thankfully so I really hope it’s the last one.

I’m usually terrible at holding grudges and it may seem silly to get worked up about losing half a day’s holiday, but it’s more the fact he could’ve done something about it and really just couldn’t be bothered to make a mess of his stamp book.  I’ve made sure my genki levels are lower than their usual standard/verging on bitch face.  But that’s probably more to do with the fact that my relationship with winter is beginning to suffer.  I finally felt like I was comfortable driving on the snow and ice, until I was coming back from hospital on Monday and somehow completely lost control of my car.  I’d learned when to recognise when my car was going to skid and before I’d always managed to control it, but this took me off guard (probably because I was mad about having to go home) and I veered over to the other side of the road, yanked the wheel so I could get back onto the left side, started hurtling towards a snow pole, yanked the wheel to avoid it and ended up hitting it with my rear fender before gliding into a snowy bank so I could actually come to a stop.  THANKFULLY there were no cars on the other side otherwise the situation would’ve been a lot worse… I got out of the car with a groan and gingerly prodded the area around my back wheel.  The fender was slightly loose but not enough for me to care or tell anyone.  I drove to the video rental place in a slight daze and treated myself to two of my favourite films in Japanese… Disney’s Hercules and Inglourious Basterds.

So now I hate the roads again.  They are particularly treacherous the day after a snowfall, and it takes me 50% longer to get anywhere because I now drive like an obaa-chan in fear of skidding again.  I’ve stopped caring about my loyal following of tailgaters; as long as the road feels like someone hacked up an ice rink with an axe, I’d prefer to drive slow enough that I don’t risk crashing into the side of the cliff.  Counting down the days until the snow melts at the end of March!!


Can you touch your toes?

This time last year, I could just about reach past my knees if I tried hard enough.  I’d just got back to university after three lazy weeks at home, ready to face the onslaught of writing 24,000 words that would mark the end of my formal education.  The next semester would be spent at my desk, writing.  I never liked going to the library; there was never anywhere to sit, it was too hot and I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable tapping away at my computer in my dressing gown.  It was the first time I’d ever been faced with so much “free” time – I could’ve opted to spend my six uni-free days a week having fun and living the ultimate student life like most other people, but I decided to use that as my incentive to finish everything first.  This meant spending the majority of the week sitting sedentary at my desk for hours each day, staring at my computer screen, surrounded by a tangle of papers and books, and it suddenly made me think: is this what having a job is like?!

I can now confirm that yes, it is exactly like that.  Well, when I’m at the Board of Education anyway.  I hated (and still hate) the way it makes me feel when I’m sitting in one place all day.  Even at lunch, no one goes for a walk or gets up from their desk to do something else.  I usually go to the top floor and do some yoga because there’s never anyone there, and I can enjoy the sea view at the same time!

I started doing yoga a year ago when I realised I needed a way to take a break from work, refresh my mind and body without the hassle of changing into workout gear or going outside (the surrounding area of my house was a run-down high street and not exactly ideal for a stroll).  I downloaded a free yoga app on my phone and began the first 10-minute routine for beginners.  The poses didn’t look very challenging; it just seemed like a bit of stretching your arms out in various directions, getting down on all fours and sticking your bum in the air.  The video began with the foundation of all standing poses: Mountain Pose.  I listened to the instructions and allowed my weight to spread across the balls of my feet, my big toes touching.  I aligned and lifted my body from my ankles, up through my spine to the crown of my head, pressing my shoulder blades into my back and releasing my shoulders down.  All the while, I concentrated on breathing easily and relaxing my whole body, simply from standing in this position.  The moves that followed were definitely more of a challenge, and Downward Dog made me realise just how rusty my hamstrings were.

Downward dog: it looks easy…

I’m by no means a professional and I’ve never even been to a yoga class, so you’re probably wondering whether I actually know what I’m talking about.  I imagine it’s like teaching yourself to play the piano – if you follow instructions properly, understand the fundamentals and listen out for mistakes (in this case, your body will tell you if something’s not right) it shouldn’t be any trouble.  You learn to know when a stretch is working, and how to shift your body slightly to make it more comfortable and effective, which helps if you practise in front of a mirror.  If you get a mobile app, I’d recommend getting one with a real video of the poses, rather than an animation.  The best one I’ve tried is called Yoga Studio (by Modern Lotus) and costs about £2.50, which seems like a lot for an app but is cheaper than going to just one class.   The narration is calming and gives detailed instructions of the poses, not just how to do them but ways to make them easier or harder, and what you should be feeling during the pose.  Classes range from ten minutes to an hour, so you can get a short practice in before bed after a busy day, or spend a lazy Sunday morning waking up in the loveliest way.

Half-moon: one of my favourites!

Yoga’s not only good for the body, but good for the mind, especially when the dreariness of winter starts to weigh on you and you need a little lift.  The more obvious changes you’ll probably notice after regular practice are an increase in strength and flexibility, but there are a surprising amount of other benefits like getting better sleep, lowered stress levels and blood pressure, improved circulation and preventing joint breakdown.

So if you’re wondering what to do during your break at work today, print out some beginner’s poses or find a YouTube video, escape to an empty room and try it out for ten minutes. (Basic sequence here.)  If your New Year’s resolution was to have a healthier lifestyle, this is it.  Listen to your body!  If a pose feels too difficult, don’t overdo it.  I don’t really want to be responsible for any injuries.  It usually takes me four or five practices to get good at a new or difficult pose and it took me a few months to be able to fully touch my toes.  I’ve gone from being the least flexible person in the world to being able to press both palms onto the ground with straight legs.  It can be done!!

I hope you enjoy it!  If it’s your first time, let me know what you thought of it.  If you have practised before, I’d love to know why you like it and what your favourite pose is.

If you want to read more about the basics, here is a useful link.


Enter the Sheep

Chinese astrology predicts that the harmonious and yielding nature of the sheep will make 2015 a year of healing and improving the balance in the world.  Seeing as I can’t remember a day last year where I read the news and didn’t read about some kind of tragedy or ongoing turmoil, and even now with the horrendous attack that just happened in Paris, it seems like we could all do with a bit of sheep in our lives!

I know I’m not someone who takes horoscopes and superstition seriously, but it’s quite comforting to read about all the nice things that are supposedly going to happen to me and thinking about how I could make them work.  And if they’re not nice things… well, I don’t believe in horoscopes anyway.

My first Christmas in Japan was a quiet one.  I took the day off on Christmas Day because I could think of nothing worse than frittering away the hours in the office when everyone else would be spending it being all cosy and opening presents and binge-eating.  I managed to do all these in the company of some good friends who were also confined to Aomori’s snowy limits, but obviously it just wasn’t the same as being at home!  I did however get to spend the day in my pyjamas, watching TV (even if it was 3 hours of Dr Who specials…) eating cake and exchanging Secret Santa presents.  On New Year’s Eve I played Cards Against Humanity and ate pizza with some other ALTs which was a lot of fun.  I started the New Year in Japanese fashion by driving with a friend to a shrine near Hirosaki where we prayed for a healthy and happy 2015.  It was lovely to see so many families out and enjoying the first day of the year together, which is probably the Japanese equivalent of Christmas Day.

When I first arrived in Japan I’d wanted to spend Christmas and New Year abroad, but a combination of poor communication, breaking my arm and time creeping up on me meant that this never happened.  I had a train ticket that gave me five days of travelling around Japan only on local trains, but it was only after I’d bought it that I realised what a pain in the arse it would be.  It would’ve taken 18 hours to get to Tokyo compared to 3 if I’d got the Shinkansen… I decided not to use it but regretted my decision when the snow got bad and made going out a less than enjoyable experience.

However I’ve learned from my mistakes and booked myself a week in Beijing at the beginning of May!  I also have a week off when Lindsey comes to visit at the end of March, travelling around Tokyo, Nara, Osaka and Kyoto.  I’m planning to go to Vietnam at the end of July to meet up with a friend from home, and then in August I’ve decided to go home for two weeks as waiting until next Christmas no longer appealed to me very much!  So I’m not suffering too much from lack of travelling.  I’ve already started thinking about next year’s holidays…  It’s helping me get through a very cold and rather miserable January anyway.

On my first day back at work, a mighty storm did rage…  My drive to work is thirty minutes along a single winding road, pretty much along the edge of the cliff that meets the Sea of Japan.  So when it’s pitch black, I can’t see five feet in front of me for snowflakes falling the size of my fist, I’m driving on an ice rink and the wind keeps buffeting me so that I take a little slippery detour every now and then, it doesn’t half stress me out.  It also doesn’t help when idiots keep tailgating me the whole way.  And I know it’s not just me because I see other drivers being tailgated too, which really infuriates me, especially when I clearly can’t see where the road is going in these horrendous conditions and some prat is up my arse telling me to get a move on.  Thankfully the weather hasn’t been that bad since then!

This isn’t my picture but close enough. The snow was a lot heavier!

While some JETs are still enjoying their winter holidays, I have been spending the past week at the BOE doing very little, unless you count researching holidays and reading as being productive.  I bought my first novel in Japanese the other day  and I saw my first film in Japanese with no subtitles last week!  It was only Baymax (or Big Hero 6 as you English people call it) so it was pretty easy to understand being a Disney film, but it was one of the best I’ve seen in a while.  It had me and Alex cracking up into fits of laughter the whole way through and drawing icy glares from the people sitting nearby who clearly didn’t find it nearly as funny as we did.  Obviously we couldn’t understand every detail, but it was still hilarious, heart-warming and heart-breaking all at once in that classic Disney way.  Would recommend!

Hoshi no Ouji-sama

Hoshi no ouji-sama (the star prince)

My next endeavor is to read a whole book in Japanese.  It’s a struggle and I spend more time writing down new vocab than I do actual reading, but it’s worth the happy feeling I get when I understand what’s happening, even if I have to read one sentence 10 times over before I finally get it.  I can’t do too much at once though because my brain actually starts to hurt after a few pages!

While I’m trying hard not to count down the days until the snow melts and I get to see my very first cherry blossoms poking their heads out, waking up in a room where I can see my breath every morning and never seeing the light of day does make me long for a bit of sun and warmth.  A healthy dose of cod liver oil, fluffy blankets and giant mugs of hot chocolate is seeing me through nicely so far though.  I won’t despair too much yet as I still have another two months of this to go…

Happy new year!