Apple Country

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


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!


Christmas in Japan 日本のクリスマス

In an attempt to spice up my Japanese studying I’ve decided to write a short blog post in Japanese at least once a week, inspired by another blogger who does the same but with Korean.  Her blog is really interesting even though I can’t read Korean haha but you should check it out anyway even just for the posts in English.  (I hope she doesn’t mind me posting it here!)


Christmas is only 3 days away but it reaaally doesn’t feel like it, even though all the shops have been extravagantly decorated with all things Christmassy in their own adorable Japanese way, and in every supermarket you are followed down the aisles by the hollow sound of Jingle Bells in MIDI-version.  Japan actually does Christmas glitz quite well seeing as it’s not even an official holiday here.  In a way this just makes it seem even more of a sham than it did back home (I really mean the buildup to Christmas – commercialism EVERYWHERE kinda ruins the notion that it’s a day to show some love and be with family and get drunk and collapse into a food coma).  As soon as the 25th comes around, all the decorations are stripped away to be replaced by ones for New Year, which is the REAL time to celebrate for Japanese people.

So why bother with all the effort just to spend the day eating ‘Christmas Cake’? (This is what my colleagues told me when I asked them what they do on Christmas Day.  It’s actually just a vanilla cream cake with strawberries.  When I showed my students a picture of real Christmas cake they didn’t know what to make of it!)

In a way I quite like the fact that Japan has embraced Christmas so much; if they hadn’t I’d definitely be feeling even less festive as I do now.  I miss spending the dark evenings by the fire drinking Baileys, sitting on the staircase and being mesmerised by the fairy lights dancing around the porch windows, watching cheesy Christmas films on TV, lying under the Christmas tree trying to guess who’s giving what to who… although I’d never guess my presents because that would ruin the surprise.

I made mince pies to bring into the BOE today – there are only four of us in the office at the moment so I warmed the pies up in the microwave, we sat at the table together with our cups of tea and had a nice chat about the history of mince pies!!  I was quite pleased with the result seeing as I made the mincemeat and pastry all from scratch… it was my first time making mincemeat and I can’t believe how easy it is; I’ll never buy another jar again!  They all went for seconds which must be a good sign, and I can thank food once again for making me feel less like the office’s extra and helping me feel the Christmas spirit a bit more!  I suppose not really having anyone to share it with makes it difficult to get excited about… but I’m spending Christmas Day with some other ALTs who are staying in Japan, so I’m looking forward to our own day of merrymaking, which will include Secret Santa and hopefully plenty of wine consumption.

For my Japanese sections, I’ll write it up on italki first for a native to correct, then post it here so you don’t get all my horrible mistakes.  This one actually only needed two corrections which made me very happy as my previous entries have all needed drastic changes.  Yay progress!


イギリスにはクリスマスのことは絶対どこでもあります。すべてのデパートはプレゼントを買っている人で混ん でいて、ずっと陽気なクリスマスの歌を聞こえます。実は、クリスマスに至るまでの日は私を少しストレスをさせますから、日本はイギリスのめまぐるしいほど ではなくて嬉しいです。しかし、クリスマスの日は私の家族なしで同じ経験ではないと思います。代わりに、他の本国に帰らない友達と西部のクリスマスパー ティに楽しみしています。

I just got handed a Christmas card… from my anaesthetist!!!  Christmas spirit has now reached 100% capacity.