Apple Country

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


Let’s enjoy travelling!

The stress of leaving is over and I have started my solo travels of Japan!  My last few days in Aomori were spent getting burnt and having fun on the beach, furiously cleaning and gutting my apartment, meeting the new guy taking over my job and helping him sort out his phone and bank account, trying to sort my own bank account out to send money home, chilling at Lauren’s and trying to savour the time I had left with my friends.

I went to Goshogawara on Saturday to see Tachineputa, and couldn’t really believe it had been two years exactly since I arrived in Aomori and got the train by myself to see it.  The highlight was seeing my favourite student, who graduated to senior high school in April, dancing with his classmates in the parade.  We were on the same train from Goshogawara the day before, and he told me he was going to be in it, and I said I’d keep a look out for him!  During the parade we saw each other and waved like mad, and he kept waving whenever he turned around, then danced away with a huge smile on his face.  Another highlight was seeing Lauren and some other ALTs who were taking part, playing the hand cymbals and getting the crowd hyped up.

My last night in Aomori was spent watching the biggest most spectacular fireworks I’ve ever seen, as in to the point where the fireworks turn into multi-coloured hearts.  I got ready with Yuka at her place, and we wore our yukatas which were maybe a bit louder than most designs, but we thought fireworks were an appropriate occasion to look flashy!


Yuka took me to Shin-Aomori station the next morning, and it was only when we were saying goodbye that I started crying.  I thought I’d cry when I said goodbyes to my other friends, but having them so spread out made it feel less final, until I was actually leaving.  I got on the train all teary-eyed, but then a nice-looking Japanese couple sat in front of me and smiled when we made eye contact.  A few minutes later they turned around and struck up a conversation and it turned out they were visiting from Tokyo to see Nebuta.  The man was from Kanazawa and recommended me his favourite take-out sushi place, and we exchanged emails.  I felt a bit better then.

This is the rough route I’m doing over twelve days with my rail pass until I go to Summer Sonic in Tokyo, then fly home on the 22nd. (Kanazawa – Kobe – Takamatsu – Okayama – Hiroshima – Hamamatsu – Kawasaki – Chiba)


I’m in my hostel in Kanazawa now, and the (foreign!) guy sitting opposite me is eating cup ramen, but kind of quietly lapping the noodles up with his tongue rather than slurping them up in one go and it’s driving me nuts.  Have I turned Japanese?



When people have asked me how I feel about leaving Japan soon, this was a phrase I quickly learned – a tto iu ma – “a blink of time” or literally, “the time it takes to say ‘Ah!'”

Two years feels especially short when I think about how other JETs have stayed as long as five years.  But as I wrote in my last post, the longer I stay here, the harder it will be to return home.  I guess I chose to sacrifice the short term for the long term.  I said goodbye to all my schools last week, and I was surprised how appreciated the students made me feel.  I never thought only seeing them each once a week would have that much of an impact, but when some students gave me lovely personal messages, drawings of me and even asked for my UK address so they could write to me, I realised how close we had actually got during that time and how much I’ll miss them.

On Monday night, the shock of leaving hit me really hard and I couldn’t sleep at all, thinking about how difficult it will be to see the friends I made here again.  It will be relatively easy to see my Japanese friends as I know they’ll always be here, but sooner or later, my JET friends will all move on with their lives and end up scattered around the world.  However this does mean I have a good excuse to go travelling and see them!  When I’d finally managed to get to sleep, about two hours later, the man living across from me decided 5am was a good time to start hammering away at something in his shed for an hour.  I stuck my head out the window and yelled at him, because I didn’t care about being a nice neighbour anymore with only a week left, but he didn’t hear me anyway.

Clearing out my apartment is really tedious and I hate it.  Especially when it’s hot and humid and all I want to do is lie on my sofa and eat watermelon.  I’ve also amazed myself at how much crap I managed to acquire in two years, and the CARDBOARD, oh the cardboard.  But it must be done, and I tell myself everything will come together in the end, because it always does!

Last Saturday we had a taiko performance and then a party afterwards which one of the group leaders organised for me.  I nicknamed him Boss a while ago and he was so chuffed that now he makes everyone call him that.  We decided that the guy who sort of oversees us as a group, but doesn’t really play with us, needed a nickname too, so I suggested Chief, which also turned out to be a big hit.  We got very drunk and I was serenaded at karaoke with a powerful rendition of Queen’s I Was Born To Love You featuring some hilarious backing dancers.  They are all such a fun group of people, I’m sad I only got to know them proplerly in the last six months.  I could see us hanging out together more often outside practice, but obviously that won’t be happening 😦 But I’m glad I did have those six months!  I remember how hard it was to feel like I had a place in the Japanese community, as I just didn’t click with anyone in my own town.  I’ve been so lucky to have Lauren in the next town, who’s not only been an amazing friend to have, but without her I wouldn’t have had met the taiko group and made such good memories.

I met up with my friend in Aomori city on Monday, as I had to change my visa so I can use the JR Pass to go travelling.  We went to the fish market where you buy 10 stamps and can choose whatever seafood you like to put in your ricebowl.  I got all my favourites, including ikura, unagi and a huuuuuuge juicy raw scallop.  Then she took me to an old-fashioned looking ice cream sundae place where she used to go as a teenager.  I had a “B.B.” which was apparently a “big black” sundae, with big scoops of chocolate ice cream, an oreo, chocolate covered cornflakes and sliced banana.  I couldn’t finish it though…  We looked at the UK guidebooks she’d rented from the library because she wants to visit during spring next year.  Looking at all the nice photos of English gardens and pretty shop fronts in London actually made me feel a bit better about coming home, and even more so at the prospect of showing it around to a friend.


Floating on through July

There are currently five abandoned blog posts sitting in my drafts.  Every time I try to write something, my thoughts start drifting in a completely different direction and I can’t focus on what it is I’m trying to say.  I feel bad because I have hardly posted anything in the past few months, and now that the realisation that I have such little time left in Japan is finally hitting me, I’m cycling through feelings of excitement, sadness, relief and regret.  It’s also because I’ve run out of free space for photos, which is a bit boring.

In some ways I wish I had posted more about the little things that happen every day.  Like today when the student who’s a bit of a troublemaker and hates English told me I was good at drawing, in Tsugaru-ben, I replied also in Tsugaru-ben she got really excited and proceeded to teach me more phrases in the dialect.  Or how I tried on a yukata in a shop two months ago and didn’t like it because it was a bit drab and old-fashioned (like the rest of the patterns there) so I didn’t buy it despite the sales assistant really going for the hard sell, then asking me for my phone number and address “just in case I changed my mind”.  Since then she has sent me handwritten letters asking me to come to the store and get a yukata, along with promotional leaflets, and she’s even called me twice asking me if I’m free to come into the store.  Seriously?  I couldn’t believe she was being so persistent.  I was polite the first time she called, and told her I wasn’t interested and not free that weekend anyway so I couldn’t go to the store.  Then I got another call tonight and as soon as she started talking about her effing yukatas I told her to stop harrassing me and calling my personal number, and then hung up.  I actually got a yukata the day after I first went there at a different shop.  It’s cerulean blue, printed pink all over with big slices of oranges, and I got a yellow obi to match!  I may have got the least Japanesey type pattern just to spite annoying Yukata Woman… but I actually got it because it’s so goddamn funky fresh.

When I was finishing university, all the good stuff seemed to happen at once just as my final year was coming to an end, and it feels the same way this time, except a million times better.  I’ve built some amazing friendships here and finally got to the point where I feel like I have a place in the Japanese community and enjoy hanging out with Japanese people instead of just other JETs all the time.  I love the social life I have here, and the fact that there is always some kind of event going on in Aomori that I can go to or join if I want.  I feel like I’m getting better and better at Japanese, still far from fluent, but to the point where I can spend six hours drinking with people from my taiko group and chatting about anything and everything with no struggle, then not being able to sleep because my drunk brain won’t shut up thinking in Japanese.  I am going to miss everyone so badly, and sometimes wonder if I made the right decision to leave when all my friends are staying for another year.  Then I remind myself why I did, and realise that it all comes down to making compromises.

Firstly, I CAN’T HAVE EVERYTHING.  This has been my mantra for the past few days.  I had legitimate reasons to leave, and when I think about them, I know a third year here would have dragged.  I’m ready to move on from being an assistant teacher and I’m ready to leave the remoteness of where I live, even if it is ridiculously beautiful and I’ll never get to live with this kind of scenery again.  I am also extremely ready for a winter where I get to live somewhere with actual insulation and I don’t spend half the year worrying that I’m going to crash my car in the snow.  (How’s that for first world problems?)  Even if it makes me sound like a wuss, I’m looking forward to snuggling with my dog in front of a toasty fire again.

Maintaining friendships from the other side of the world is hard, too.  Tecnology has been amazing for keeping in touch, but it’s not the same and I miss my friends from school.  I know another year away would put a bigger strain on that, and even though most people have moved away from home now, I can’t wait to see everyone again.  At some point my friends in Japan will have to move on too, and it would be just as hard, if not harder, for me to say goodbye a year from now.

Two years doesn’t feel like a long time until I think back to what I did when I first got here, and suddenly it seems like I’ve been here a decade.  I feel like I’ve done a lot during my time here, and sorry for getting a bit clichéed, but I also feel like I’ve changed a lot as a person and really discovered what I’m capable of.  I’m singing and playing bass in a one-off show with three friends tomorrow in a bar… I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have done that two years ago.  I moved halfway across the world at the age of 21 and survived – thrived – for this long.  I admire the ALTs who stay longer, even up to five years, but for me the work would feel stagnant way before then.  I love who I have become and I’m excited to see where my new-found confidence and fresh perspective of the world (I have learned just as much about other cultures as I have Japan, thanks to 99% of my friends here being non-Brits!) takes me.  University was a bit of a disappointment socially; I didn’t make any lasting friendships and I regretted not joining more societies and clubs sooner.  Maybe that’s why I knew I had to make the most of it this time, because I didn’t want to close myself off to good opportunities again.

Next week is my last week at school, so I have to give a farewell speech in front of everyone.  I’m nervous because I hate giving speeches and I’ll probably get a bit teary-eyed, but I have some fun things planned for my final classes and I’m going to make lemon drizzle cake for the teachers.  One teacher has been particularly kind to me since I’ve been here, and hinted that she wanted me to draw a picture of her dog, so I’m going to do that for her too.  She took me to do a glass-blowing workshop with some other teachers, and they paid for me!  I chose to make a small vase with blue and white colouring.  I don’t get to see how mine turned out yet, because she’s making it into a “which teacher made which item?” quiz at my leaving party.

It will be hard to say goodbye, but I still have some more drinking parties,  Nebuta matsuri, then two weeks of travelling and Summer Sonic to look forward to.  I have to keep reminding myself that I won’t be able to go home until I’ve seen Radiohead, and that makes me feel a lot better.  Plus, I might even bump into them at the airport the next day…


Cultural challenges

Occasionally I’ll come across misspelled gems when I’m marking students’ work or looking over their shoulders in the classroom during a writing task.  This week has been particularly amusing, starting with Monday when I was marking writing exercises using the passive tense.  Conjugating verbs into the passive is a pain in the arse for anyone learning English thanks to all the irregularities, so I sympathise.   I asked the students to think of a person or object and write three hints about it so others could guess what or who it is.  I’m glad I put my coffee down when I read the last one from my pile of papers, which said, “He was boned by my mother.”  It took a while until my JTE and I realised he was trying to say “borned by”.  The logic was there at least.  やっぱり英語って難しいな~。

Yesterday we were making sentences like “I (do ~ ) when I’m happy/sad/bored etc”.  One student wrote “I crap when I’m happy.”  Of course I never actually laugh at the students, but I can’t help having a quiet giggle to myself.  I feel for them though, R and L are really hard to distinguish from a Japanese perspective.

There’s one 2nd grader (13 years old?) who is hilarious and will always beckon me over for a chat when I’m walking around the classroom making sure people are getting on ok with the task.  He is so determined to speak English even though most of what he says is one word questions or mostly gestures, but despite this we end up having some pretty interesting conversations that usually just result in him asking in Japanese and me replying in English, so at least he can use his listening skills.  Yesterday he asked me what surprised me most about Japan when I first got here, and I said the level of customer service.  Japanese shop assistants treat you like a VIP, from the precise way they handle your money to the honorific language that they use.  In contrast, I told him that shop assistants in the UK might have a little chat with you and ask about your day or even compliment you on something you’re wearing.  Both countries have their negatives though; in Japan I feel like I’m being served by robots because everyone says the same few set phrases, and in the UK sometimes I just get completely ignored throughout the whole transaction.

I love these little exchanges of culture because it makes me appreciate both sides instead of just taking one for granted.  It still makes me sad though how most Japanese people I’ve met, including the students, have never left the country or just have no interest in going abroad.  We actually did a lesson on opinions the other week, and one question was “Do you think English is important?”.  I was a little disappointed to see that over half the class wrote that they didn’t think so.  The majority of the reasons were along the lines of just not wanting to go abroad, but one student simply wrote 日本人だから。 (because I’m Japanese.)  Cue eye roll.   This lack of open-mindedness does make me realise why foreigners get such bizarre treatment a lot of the time in Japan.  Yes, Japan is a special country full of interesting food and culture, but internationalisation is a thing, even if it happens more in other countries than here.  One thing that stands out is the NEVER ENDING COMMENTS about how amazing it is that foreigners can use chopsticks or eat sushi.  One of my principals spent half the evening at a teacher’s gathering asking me if I could eat such and such Japanese food, then practically wetting himself when I said yes.  He couldn’t believe it when I said we could easily buy soy sauce, noodles and tofu in UK supermarkets.  He leaned over to the other teachers and exclaimed how miraculous it was that I could eat rice.  He brought a bowl of a variety of spinach to school once, slapped me on the shoulder instead of using my name and told me to try it.  He stood behind me as I ate, saying “How crazy is it that foreigners can eat this stuff?!  She probably won’t like it.” while the teacher next to me said, “Actually, I’ve never tried it either.”

Of course not everyone is like this, and this is probably a more extreme case of alienifying foreigners, but even in a subtler form it puts me off staying here long-term.  I love my life here, but I’ll be relieved to be back home when I can blend into the crowd again and not feel like a special snowflake.

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Random Photos from January and February


Frozen river in Ajigasawa


Walking around Aji with Lauren after a day of snowboarding.



View of Iwaki-san from Ajigasawa.


Surprisingly good chips we ordered whilst karaoke-ing after the formal.


Enkai with fave school teachers.


What you get when you go to a doctor’s with a cold.


Earl grey tea waffle and a cafe mocha.


Making healthy Japanese food.



Rice, spinach and tuna, chicken with vegetables, tea, carrot steamed bun, pickled vegetables.


My valentines gift from Lauren.


Dinner and film at my place!




Oden menu.  Some items include: daikon (giant radish), konnyaku (devil’s tongue), boiled egg, Japanese omelette, fried yam, processed fish in a variety of forms, processed sausage, gyoza, burdock root, fried tofu, fish meatball, chicken kebab.


More oden


Cuban music and salsa night



Kimchi nabe


A chocobanana eel gacha toy


Another gacha toy, I have no idea what this is but I love it.


Fish set meal at my local restaurant.



(Tuesday 19th January)

I’ve gone from already counting down the days until I leave Japan to thinking that if every day were like today, I’d probably have decided to stay a third year.  (Edit: Nope, as soon as I go back to the BOE I am immediately grateful for making the decision to leave!!)

Today was the first day back at my favourite school since breaking up for winter holidays. I had such a laugh in all my lessons, mostly because the kids have brilliant senses of humour.  The highlight was probably showing the 2nd years the video for Learn to Fly by Foo Fighters (probably the funniest they made) and everyone thought it was hilarious.  I think we watched it four times after the students realised that all the different characters were being played by the same band members.

I was really excited to see that they’d left me an invitation to their end of year enkai, because they have only invited me to two before.  I put it aside and tidied up the rest of the school newsletters that had accumulated on top of the laptop, and underneath I found a New Year’s postcard from none other than the ikemen (beautiful male) P.E. teacher who sits behind me.

He wrote: “Are you enjoying school? If it’s ok with you, please come and join a P.E. lesson some time. I think the students will be happy.”


So I found myself, not for the first time, reluctantly agreeing to do sports in order to impress a guy (he’s married though, sigh).  I played basketball with the third graders (15 year olds) and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, but more so that I didn’t drop the ball or smack anyone in the face.  I felt a surge of pride as I threw the ball across the court to my team mate and sensei shouted naisu pasu! at me from the other side.  I can’t have been that bad because I’ve been asked to join in again next time…



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.


Japanese apartment tour

I’ve been meaning to upload a tour of my apartment for… nearly ten months now so I finally seized the opportunity when I’d blitzed the place in preparation for friends staying over, and had 15 minutes to spare before going out to meet them!  I might do a video tour of my town as well at some point.  I also took some pictures on my run the other night because the azaleas by the shrine were out, and the rice fields were looking pretty!

(Sorry that you only get to enjoy the bottom half of my face in the first part)

I actually think May has become my favourite month in Japan just because of the rice fields.  Before the rice is planted, the water looks so beautiful and glass-like.  In late May, neat rows of shoots start to appear – some planted with machinery, and some planted the old-fashioned way.  I love watching the farmers in their wellies and headscarves, their backs bent at a permanent right-angle as they tend to each plant.  It’s just something I’ve never seen before and makes me really appreciate how Japanese people care about how their food is made.  It’s a shame that probably one day it will all become mass-produced, although doing everything by hand really can’t be good for the farmers’ backs… I’m not exaggerating when I say permanent right-angle!


Spring catch up

It’s been a month since I last posted anything and the stuff I want to write about has been piling up in my brain, so since I’ve finished all my little jobs and have a free day at the BOE, I’m gonna give y’all an update.

The fact that 99% of my friends here are American means their ways of speaking are sloooowly sinking into my brain.  Our different expressions always make for amusing conversation; one time in particular was when a friend told me about something silly another friend did, and I said “What is she like!” and he replied, “Errrrrm.. she’s kinda tall and got brown hair…?”

I haven’t said it out loud yet, but the amount of times “y’all” pops into my head when I’m thinking is a bit alarming.  It’s just such an easy word.

I didn’t hear anything else from my principal about the American accent either.  He came back to observe one of my lessons but it was with the first years, and they were concentrating so hard on a writing task and taking longer than I expected, so I didn’t have to do much speaking during the time he was there.  I was praying he’d get bored and leave, and finally after like 20 minutes he did.  Mwahaha.

I went to Tokyo Disney Sea with three other JET friends that weekend.  We took the night bus on Friday and the night bus on the way back on Saturday.  I didn’t think I could do 11 hours on a bus for two nights in a row but actually I slept the whole way both times so that was a result.  Disney Sea is supposed to be the more ‘adult’ park out of the two resorts in Tokyo, the other being Disney Land, because the rides aren’t as twee and you can drink alcohol!  The park itself was absolutely stunning and I couldn’t get over the amount of detail that had gone in to making the rides and the park’s aesthetics so magical.  However this did mean that the rides lacked thrill and I found them a bit too tame.  But at least I was never bored when there were so many little things to look at in every corner.

Aomori’s cherry blossoms finally bloomed at the end of April, and the ALTs across the prefecture gathered at Hirosaki Park for a hanami (cherry blossom viewing) party.  Festivals in Japan are so much fun, partly because the food stalls are so GOOD.  Some friends told me about ‘torimochi’, which is a skewer of alternating pieces of squidgy rice cake and fried chicken with a sweet sticky glaze, apparently only sold during hanami period.  It certainly lived up to expectations!



It was a good day.  We laid out a huge blue tarp and spent the day drinking, eating, talking and playing frisbee.  There was an afterparty in the evening which I played piano at but I was so tired, it probably wasn’t my best performance!

The week after that I went to Beijing, so I’ll do that in another post.

Last weekend I had no plans, so I called my Japanese grandparents, Mr and Mrs Matsuura, and we decided to go to Hakkoda mountains for the day.  We drove the two hours there, had lunch and drove to the hiking start point where we drank a cup of tea for longevity.  Mr Matsuura seemed concerned about the oil in his car, so we skipped the hiking and drove all the way back, stopping off at the garage for an hour while it got fixed and we had a chat over a cup of coffee.  I hadn’t planned on spending most of the day driving around, but it was good practice for me to speak so much Japanese.  I invited them in for tea and showed them pictures of my hometown.  We had fun looking up different places on Google maps, which they thought was amazing!  Mr Matsuura is a bit of an Anglophile so he had A LOT of things to talk about.  By the end I was so tired and having difficulty keeping up with his fast Japanese, I think they caught on and decided to head home when my replies got shorter and I just started smiling and nodding…

I’ve also started weekly English/Japanese conversation practices with Bridget’s friend Toshiya, who is a barber with a passion for growing vegetables.  He offered me a space in his garden to plant my own vegetables, so on Sunday I went to the hardware store and picked up some cucumber and watermelon seedlings.  One of my students had just had his hair cut when I arrived, so I made him my garden elf and he helped me do the planting.  When I got to the BOE today, one of the guys asked me if I was a farmer because he saw me when I was buying the seeds.  Yesterday some students said they saw me running the other day as well.  Is this what it’s like to be famous?

So yeah I’ve started running every other day using the 0-5k plan on the Run Keeper app on my phone. My overall fitness and strength is good, but my stamina is rubbish so I really want to work on that.  My fishing village is an absolute delight to run around in the evenings, especially as it’s finally getting warmer, so I’m actually enjoying running for the first time in my life.

Mini updates:

  • It’s 6 months since I broke my arm!
  • I’ve applied to be President or Vice-President of a charity organisation based in Aomori called Everest of Apples, which works closely with a school in Nepal and other communities in South East Asia.  Will update after my interview!
  • I registered to take the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) in July.  I’m taking N3 level which is lower intermediate (N1 is highest and N5 is lowest).  If it goes well I might aim for N2 in December, which is the lowest level most Japanese companies expect from foreign employees.  I’m thinking about possibly getting another job in Japan when I finish JET, but the Japanese work ethic is starting to appeal to me less and less…

Beijing post coming shortly!


Stop! Hakama Time.

March is the end of the school year in Japan, and unlike in the UK, graduation ceremonies are a really big deal. I had three days in a row of JHS graduation ceremonies, which was probably enough.  One of my teacher’s asked me if I was going to wear hakama, which is a kimono with a dark skirt worn over the bottom half.  Hakama are worn by teachers instead of normal kimono so that they don’t draw attention away from the students’ jazzy-looking mothers.  I said I’d think about it, but I don’t think she expected me to actually wear one.

Wrestling with my giant foreign feet

Wrestling with my giant foreign feet

Luckily I know a lovely lady from my English conversation class who used to dress people in kimono for a living, so I asked her if she would kindly lend me one for one of the ceremonies.  She was more than happy to oblige!  She has a room in her house dedicated to her kimonos, and kept saying how much fun she was going to have dressing me as she never gets the chance anymore, and has all these kimonos with no one to wear them.  She and her husband spent about an hour showing me all their old photo albums and telling me about their family, who’ve moved to other parts of Japan so they don’t see them very often.  After I tried on a kimono, they gave me tea and fed me and said they wanted to be my adoptive Japanese grandparents!  She had to buy zori especially for me as my feet are so big, and even then it took a good deal of effort to get them on.  I made her some scones as an apology/thank you.

I tried to get a video of my Japanese granny dressing me up, but it was a bit difficult and this is all I could manage in between her turning me this way and that, and giggling as she gleefully slapped my stomach with some force after putting the different belts on.  I loved the whispery sound the silk fabrics made as she expertly folded, tightened, pulled and wrapped it around me, muttering to herself in Japanese.

It wasn’t easy to breathe once I had everything on, and I suddenly felt great sympathy for women who had (or still have) to wear these every day, especially in the hot Japanese summer.  It slackened a bit and didn’t feel too bad until I tried to eat lunch later on!!  I imagine wearing a corset is even more uncomfortable.  I absolutely loved wearing hakama though!

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It was just me and another teacher wearing hakama for graduation, as everyone else wore business suits, but they seemed to really enjoy seeing me in traditional Japanese clothing!  Japanese ceremonies are very formal and polished so even the way the students march, turn and bow has been rehearsed to perfection.  When the teachers asked me what I thought of the ceremonies, I told them I thought they were very serious, and they were a bit shocked when I said we don’t really have graduation ceremonies for school in the UK.  Then I was shocked when I asked the students if they were going to a party to celebrate, but they said they weren’t doing anything, except one girl who was going to practise table tennis.  We may have not had a ceremony when I graduated, but getting all dressed up for prom and dancing away the last evening with all my classmates was so much fun.  The ceremonies were very emotional and pretty much all the students were crying as they moved down the line of teachers to shake our hands.  I was just thinking… you’ve still got three more years of school!!  But they really are like one big family to each other, so it was sad to think they’re all splitting up to go to different high schools.