Apple Country

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


Back in the Ken

After a gruelling 28 hours of travelling on the way back from the UK last Sunday, I was relieved to find that the height of summer in Aomori is over. It’s still slightly hotter than London, but the days of writing on the blackboard whilst surreptitiously trying to hide my sweat patches are feared no more. Despite the relentless snow in winter, living in the north does have its benefits when it comes to Japanese summer: no freaky mutant bugs, food stays fresh longer, sleeping at night is easier, students don’t smell as bad. The air is starting to feel purer and cooler in the mornings now, and in a way it’s actually making me look forward to Autumn, despite its inevitable dreaded successor. Really the only reason I hate winter so much here is because I have to drive to work, which is gruelling at best.  Autumn is lovely however, and I’m excited to see the leaves change and welcome the wonderful smells of smoky rice fields and warm chestnut pies back into my life.

So after two weeks of relaxing with friends and family back home for the first time in a year, I began the new school term in a grumpy, jet-lagged state at my favourite place on earth aka the BOE.

I laid out my carefully chosen selection of Twixes, Wagon Wheels and chocolate Hobnobs on the snack table and encouraged people to help themselves. A few said thank you, but not one person asked me how my trip was. A bit rude I thought. Typically the only person who talks to me (apart from Bridget who’s only there once a week), is the guy next to me, Mr. S, as he’s quite keen on English and we usually have one or two short conversations throughout the day. But since the transfers, all my favourite people including my supervisor, got moved to other sections in the town office and no one talks to me anymore. I’ve tried making small talk before, but it’s like they’re amused by the fact I’m trying to talk to them, and I hoped that bringing food in would be a good conversation-starter. However, when no one even uses that to get to know me, I find myself running out of options. It’s not like I can just say “YEAH I HAD A GREAT TIME, THANKS FOR ASKING” then ask them what they got up to over the holidays. This happened when I brought back sweets from China; some managed to thank me but most just ate them without batting an eyelid.

I’m also aware that my supervisor doesn’t like me for some reason. He only talks to me for official purposes, and when he does, his demeanour is so stern even when I’m smiling and doing my best to get him to warm up a bit.  Sometimes it feels like he treats me as if I’m a naughty child.  I think it’s probably because ALTs do have a reputation of doing whatever they want and pissing off their contracting organisations, but it’d be nice if he actually showed some interest in forming a good rapport with me.  I know he’s got a sense of humour somewhere because he spends half the day at the BOE joking with the other workers and giggling like a piglet being tickled to death.

I forgot all about this when I went to my favourite school the next day.  I brought a fancy big bag of Cadbury Eclairs, which went down a treat.  All the teachers were interested to know how my trip went and they seemed to really enjoy the chocolate, which was nice to see!   The day just got better when the JLPT results came out, and I passed with 82%.  Dead chuffed!  I told myself if I did well on N3, then I’d go for N2 in December.  So I’m staying true to my own promise, and have worked out a studying schedule to make sure I cover all the required points by the end of November.  If I can pass it this time around, I’d be able to apply to so many more non-teaching jobs in Japan, otherwise I’d have to wait until August next year to see if I passed the July exam.

This weekend I took the train up to Mutsu to see some good friends.  It was really nice to spend time just catching up, playing video games, eating and walking up the mountain to the observatory, even though it was too misty to see anything.  Alex showed me the road bike he got given recently, which gave me some serious jealousy issues and we ended up looking for one for myself on the internet.  So I managed to get a folding road bike for about £180 half price… the reviews were mixed so we’ll see how it goes, but it looked decent anyway.  We’re already planning biking weekends, and it’s been my dream for a while to spend a week cycling through Hokkaido, so we might do that during Golden Week in May.

4 hour journey to see friends for the weekend?  They're worth it!

5 hour journey (by train) to see friends for the weekend? They’re worth it!

I hate driving long distances anyway so it was nice to sit on the train and read Japanese Matilda.  I’ve just finished the part where Bruce Bogtrotter eats the chocolate cake.  It was great.  I’m really looking forward to this Saturday too, because I finally get to meet all the new JETs who arrived last month.  Can’t believe that was me a year ago!

The photos below are of Loch Tummel in Scotland, my royal Grandfather and me with my four bezzies at home.  I didn’t realise how much I needed to be back home for a while until I got there.  Sitting with my parents and dog on the sofa, watching proper British telly, drinking wine, going for dog walks, biking and going for days out in the city was just the perfect amount of normal.



It’s been just over a year since I abandoned everything I knew and loved in England, and stumbled off the plane into the overwhelming Tokyo heat with no idea what the next year would hold.

Tokyo orientation was an unsettling mix of listening to lectures inside beige conference rooms throughout the day, and getting lost in a crazy electronic colour bubble as I explored the city with other JETs at night.  I remember standing in my bathroom after I’d unpacked my things in my new apartment and wondering what the hell I’d got myself into.  But somehow a year has already passed and I have just one more before I leave Aomori.  What will happen after that, I haven’t yet decided…

It’s hard to tell how much I’ve changed, but I have found myself somehow adopting certain aspects of Japanese life into my own.  When my friend came to visit from the UK, I definitely remembered how different British eating habits are!  Since coming to Japan, I’ve really enjoyed having my meals separated into little dishes tapas-style.  The food doesn’t get soggy from the other food, especially rice, and I love being able to take a little bit from whichever bowl I feel like taking from.  I made her dinner like this when she came to stay, but she scraped everything into the same bowl and ate it like that.  I thought it was weird, but I didn’t say anything.  When we were at a restaurant in Tokyo, she picked up her bowl of miso soup to pour onto her rice.  I saw this and blurted out, “NO.”  I couldn’t help it.  We found it hilarious for ages though.  I don’t usually just shut people down like that; I get that us Brits like to mix everything up, but it would probably be like pouring tomato soup onto your sandwich?  It’s weird, and it makes the sandwich all soggy and difficult to eat!  I might make this story into a comic…  I bought a graphics tablet from a friend so I can draw my comics digitally, but subsequently left it at another friend’s house.  So I might use it at home if I’m not busy eating and appreciating living 45 minutes from central London!!

Last night I played taiko in Tachineputa in Goshogawara city, which was the first festival I saw when I arrived in Aomori last year.  The music brought back memories of getting lost among the food stalls and staring in awe at the beautifully illuminated floats that towered above the streets.  I couldn’t take any pictures of the festival this time as I was busy drumming, but it was great fun, if exhausting!  I have some impressive blisters on my hands to remind me of it.  I hope I can play again next year before I leave!


Pushing the floats back into their stands after the festival ended.