Apple Country

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



(A month late… I will get back into posting, I promise!!)

Last year I spent the evening of my birthday drinking wine in the bath.  This year I sat in a jazz bar eating sushi and being charmed by a drunk Japanese businessman.  Both years were enjoyable, but I think I can look forward to my birthdays again if they all turn out to be as fun as this year’s!

Every Tuesday I meet my barber friend for English/Japanese practice, so I was planning on just going out for some food with him and my friend in the next town over.  At the last minute he suggested we go to his sister’s bar in Hirosaki, I imagine because the restaurant I originally wanted to go to is owned by his wife and he’s probably sick of it!  We picked up Lauren and drove over an hour through a snowy blizzard to get there.

Like a lot of bars in Japanese cities, it was situated down an alley underneath a building full of other bars; the inside was only big enough for a handful of people but didn’t feel cramped at all.  There were five or six bar stools of the worn-out suede variety, surrounding a sunken bar area where the mama in her black crochet shawl and red lipstick stood puffing on a cigarette.  She welcomed us in, chatting away as she poured us some whiskey and the other lady pottered around in the kitchen out back, bringing us little dishes of food one by one.    We had sushi, nabe, pickled vegetables and a little bowl of pork soup, followed by a kind of fruit pastry cake.  I wasn’t expecting any of it, so it was a lovely gesture and truly appreciated!

Toshiya said he wanted to hear me play something on the piano, so I brought some music just in case because I am one of those people who lack the ability to memorise any music worth listening to.  The time came, and I played my failsafe Nocturne No. 9 by Chopin; probably not the kind of thing that they hear in a jazz bar very often, but it was fun to play for people again.  When I finished, I saw that we’d gained an audience member in the form of a rather drunk salaryman, which explained the distant cheering I heard halfway through playing.  He proceeded to entertain us for the rest of the night, despite repeating half the things he’d already said, and gave the other bar mama some money to go out and buy me flowers from him.  Lucky me!

It makes me so happy to have friends like Toshiya; it’s thanks to the hospitality of Japanese people in the community that let me do things like this.  Even though I find it hard to befriend Japanese people in my tiny town, I’m glad to have met the handful of friends I do have.


Language exchange organising success!

(I meant to post this last week, oops!)

I began volunteering as the vice-president for the charity Everest of Apples (run by myself and two other Aomori ALTs) in June, and last week I finally got to host my first event.  Previously I had only contributed to a large-scale event, which was really an AJET event to welcome this year’s new JETs to Aomori.  We set up a bar and made cocktails in exchange for donations at the party, which was fun but meant I had to spend a lot of time making people drinks instead of getting to know the new JETs.

This time my friend Alyssa, who is the president of E of A, and I decided to have a language exchange fundraiser in two separate locations in Aomori.  People paid 1,000 yen entry (500 yen donation plus 500 drink ticket so the kind guys who own the bar get some money) and spent the first hour talking in English, the second hour in Japanese, and the half-time interval tackling a quiz I made.  We wanted to make it like an East vs. West kinda fundraising competition to see who could raise the most money.  (Hirosaki won with about 31,000 yen in donations!)

I hosted the event in Hirosaki on the west side, and Alyssa hosted one in Hachinohe on the east side.  I was anxious that not many people would show up as we only had 20 people RSVP on Facebook, but we had a grand total of 52 attendees!  I was intrigued to find that a lot of the Japanese people who came found the event by searching for it on the internet, as well as one British guy living in Nagasaki who was travelling solo around Aomori.  Some people saw us standing outside the bar having fun and decided to join right then.  I had an interesting conversation with a Japanese professor who found the event online; he had done fundraising in Uganda and was keen to stay in touch.  I didn’t realise the internet had the power to passively advertise such a small event!

Even though I was a little flustered at the beginning, as I didn’t expect so many people to ACTUALLY arrive at the start time, I ended up really enjoying myself and having zero cock-ups.  Hurray!

Our next event is even bigger – the Halloween party in Aomori City.  It’ll be me, Alyssa and our treasurer Kyle working together so I’m looking forward to partying in my spooky vampire threads.

Taking from the rich…


Listening attentively

Quiz time!

Chatting outside the bar

I have no idea




Mt. Iwaki: Yama Rock and Nanohana

Every year there is a small, free-entry rock festival near the base of Mt. Iwaki, and I knew I had to go as soon as someone told me about it.  It had been almost a year since I’d gone to a live show, so I was really looking forward to watching some local Japanese bands out in the sun all day.

I was actually quite surprised at how good the bands were; not really being a fan of Japanese music, I was a little skeptical of what the acts would be like but was mainly just going for the experience, and of course, the food stalls that no Japanese festival is complete without.

The first band was a punk trio featuring two girls dressed in nurse uniforms on bass and guitar/vocals, with a guy on drums in a doctor’s coat.  They were awesome and had a really fun style, saying “odaiji ni!” (get well soon) as they walked off stage after their set.  A very enthusiastic drunk guy appeared at the front of the audience a couple of times, punching the air to the music and encouraging everyone else to join him.  He did manage to get two American ALTs to come up and jump around for a bit, but otherwise he was rocking out solo.

On the way back we stopped off to check out the Jersey cow dairy farm for ice cream.  We couldn’t actually see the cows, although we could smell them, and it seemed like the only thing there was the tiny shop where a grumpy lady was selling fresh dairy products from the farm.  I chose caramel banana ice cream after some intense indecision over that and my all time favourite flavour, mocha, and it was well worth the risk.  I’ll be back for the mocha.

We also drove to see the nanohana, a huge field of beautiful yellow rape blossoms in front of Mt. Iwaki.  It was gorgeous in the hazy late afternoon, and the hundreds of bees seemed to be enjoying the flowers too.


Surviving winter in Aomori

I’d been dreading winter ever since November, when I found out that snowboarding was off the cards for the entire season thanks to my arm, which is how I’d planned to spend every weekend and make the cold weather as fun as I possibly could.  Even though I was gutted about having to wait a whole year until I could actually get on the slopes, I’ve somehow found myself at the point in the year when Spring doesn’t seem so implausible after all.  Having said that, it’s -7 degrees today and I drove to work in a complete whiteout.  But SPRING IS COMING SOON.  SOOOOOOON!!

Anyway, I feel like winter in Aomori gets a bit over-hyped.  Yes it’s very cold and snowy, but when I arrived with the other new JETs in August, the Aomori veterans often liked to remind us of the notoriously harsh winter that would trap the prefecture in an icy cage for half the year.  I heard foreboding tales of frozen toothpaste, ice pools in the shower, and the dangers of living with a kerosene heater; make sure you open a window every hour to let out that pesky carbon monoxide!  Luckily, I haven’t had to deal with any of these things.  Apparently my apartment isn’t that old, so I’ve never had a problem with frozen pipes, and my heater actually has decent ventilation so it’s not so life-threatening.  I keep the heater on pretty much constantly as I’ll happily pay the price for being cosy and warm, so the only time I’m really cold is when I wake up, then I run to the living room and dive under my kotatsu.  If you don’t know what a kotatsu is, it’s one of the more genuinely brilliant Japanese inventions where you put a blanket over a low table with a built-in heater, then sit under it and snuggle.  I spend A LOT of time under mine.

I’ve only had a few incidences where I’ve really got sick of winter, but overall it hasn’t been as bad as I’d expected.  (Although lots of people are saying that this year hasn’t had nearly as much snowfall as usual… eek.)  I do miss sitting by the fire with a glass of Baileys, proper central heating and Sunday roasts, but I’ve learned to love winter and adapt to it in my own way.  It’s easy to be miserable when it’s cold and difficult to get out, but to save my sanity I decided to just embrace the snow as it wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while!  So this is how I’ve beaten the winter blues:

  • Cook new recipes.  This was one of my New Year’s resolutions, and so far I’ve stuck to it.  I’ve learnt a lot of simple recipes that I can cook in a hurry if I’m teaching on Skype after work.  I realised how crap it made me feel to eat the same thing or a variation of the same thing for most of the week.  I never need to make vegetable soup again!
  • Exercise.  As much as I love watching back-to-back episodes of Community under my kotatsu, when I lose feeling in my bum I know it’s time to get up.  I recently acquired an exercise bike and I forgot how much I love cycling, even though it’s nothing compared to riding over Ashtead common.  I hadn’t done any proper cardio since before I broke my arm, and I have no access to a gym (plus the fact I hate running), so it couldn’t have come into my life at a better time really.  On the days where I have no plans, and particularly after work when I haven’t moved around much, 30 minutes of intense cycling or more really saves me.
  • Get out whenever I can.  I learned my lesson from not travelling over the Christmas holidays, so now whenever the opportunity arises, I go to some event or hang out with other people, even if the long drive in the snow makes it a hassle.  It’s even harder where I am to socialise during the months where everyone just wants to stay at home and watch Netflix, but watching Netflix with company beats watching it alone.
  • Keep motivated.  Over the past couple of months, my Japanese studying hit a slump, mostly due to the fact I lost my textbook answer booklet… So I noticed that I really wasn’t making any progress and the booklet didn’t look like it was going to show up, so I got a new fancy textbook.  It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re well past the beginning stages of learning a language, can understand most of what you hear and read, but really struggle to express yourself properly when speaking.  It’s the small achievements that keep me going though; I find that almost always when I learn a new word, I hear or read it at least once that same day, and I get a little burst of happiness when I actually know what it means.  I’m also reading The Little Prince, which is really challenging, but as I go on I spend less time looking up words and more time understanding and enjoying the story.  I’ve also started watercolour painting, for when I’ve got even more downtime at home.
  • Plan trips.  I can’t tell you how excited I am for the end of March: not only will it be Spring, but Lindsey’s coming to Japan to see me!!  It will have been eight months since I’d seen my big sister.  Then a month later, I’ll be off to Beijing!  Having something fun to look forward to is the best way for me to pass time.  I try and have one thing planned after the other, so that when the first one is over I don’t get post-holiday depression!

But until then I have some smaller events planned.  On Friday evening I went to a language exchange in Hirosaki, which was a lot of fun.  Saturday was the first day of the Lantern Festival in Hirosaki, and probably the best day we could’ve gone as the temperature had been slightly warmer than usual, which meant unfortunately some of the snow sculptures looked a bit warped.  It was a shame, but also very amusing seeing sculptures of cartoon characters with their eyes halfway down their faces.  It felt like walking through a creepy winter wonderland setting for a horror film.

Not quite up to Sapporo’s standards, but it was still a lovely evening and the pretty lights did a good job of beautifying the melted sculptures.  Hopefully next year will be a bit colder!!


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!

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Juniko and Matsuri

10:30am is a difficult time for everyone in the office: we’ve passed the halfway point towards lunch, but there still remains an uncomfortable hour and a half of stomach rumbling and procrastinating until the town bells ring at 12 and we flock to the table to pick up our freshly prepared bentos.  It’s especially hard for me as my body isn’t used to being starved for longer than 2 hours at a time.

It was approaching 10:30 on Thursday and I could feel the energy in the office rapidly waning, so I decided it would be a good time to unveil my culinary efforts.  As soon as I produced the tin of cookies, everyone got very excited and I could hear my popularity points 1-up as I handed them round to each person.  They seemed to do the trick as we had a laugh and a nice chat, feeling more relaxed now that hunger had been staved off for a little while longer.  Food is a wonderful thing.  The cheery mood continued into the afternoon, when my supervisor suddenly suggested that we take the afternoon off to visit Lake Juniko.  I had nothing to do so I happily obliged!  Even though I looked a bit strange going to a hiking trail in my work gear.

Juniko translates as 12 ponds, but I think there are actually something like 33.  We were only making a short visit so we just walked to the two main ponds.  The first was the most famous called Aoike, meaning blue pond, and even though the water wasn’t at its clearest that day, it was still remarkably beautiful.  I have never breathed such pure, refreshing air!  Unfortunately the mozzies seemed to like it too, and I spent half the time neurotically swatting the air around my exposed ankles.



We then walked to the next pond, which I actually preferred.  The blue was a lighter shade and I thought you could see under the water a bit better.


Of course it’s quite hard to see what it’s really like from a photo and there are much better photos out there than mine, but it was really magical!  I felt like I was in a Ghibli film.  On the way back we got Aoike flavour ice cream (it was blue and tasted like pear) and stopped off at the other town office for a chat with the other workers.  One lady gave me a carton of juice and said it was a bit suppai (sour), but that was a complete understatement.  I smiled and mmmm-ed politely as I took a couple of sips but it might as well’ve been a carton of vinegar and I did not feel especially great afterwards.  Meanwhile she was happily slurping away through the straw of her own carton.  I’ve noticed a lot of drinks are advertised as “suppai” but I have no idea why people drink them so much as they taste horrible.

So Thursday was a really good day; however today is not such a good day as I’m back after a 3 day weekend, I’ve finished all my lesson plans and cannot face studying anymore Japanese.  I’m starting taiko this week though and there is a sumo tournament at one of my schools on Thursday which I’m really looking forward to.  I think I could really get into sumo!  There was a match on TV which I watched a bit of yesterday.  I don’t know a lot about the rules but when the wrestlers enter the ring, they do this Haka-like performance of clapping and lifting each leg high into the air and slamming it down.  The enthusiasm of the audience’s roar grows with the height and force of the wrestler’s leg lifting.  It’s quite impressive really!  The fights themselves are fierce, with wrestlers often emerging splattered in blood, and I noticed most of them had a cauliflower ear.

On Saturday I went to a squid festival in the next town with another ALT, where there were squid curtains all along the edge of the port and people cooking them over charcoal barbeques.  The fresh squid looked a bit weird flapping in the breeze.  I asked to take a photo of a man cooking some, and he let us have a go and then very kindly gave us the squid as a present!  We bumped into him again later and he insisted on buying us cake.  Foreigner advantages.  On Sunday there was another festival in Hirosaki which was much bigger, and displayed a float from the major festivals in each town in Aomori.  My favourite was Hachinohe’s Sansha festival float, which is huge and covered in colourful ornaments which gradually emerge out of the float during the procession.  The highlight of Japanese festivals for me though is probably the food stalls… There are so many tasty things on offer and it’s hard to be disappointed with what you get, unlike when you go to some kind of outdoor event in the UK and find yourself paying seven quid for a crap hotdog.  Someone recommended that we try ika menchi, which is a kind of minced squid fritter, so we did, and it was heavenly.  Afterwards we decided to check out Hirosaki castle as it was a nice day, and took a stroll towards the park.  The park is huge and famous for its cherry trees which are everywhere, so I can imagine it’ll look really impressive when Spring arrives.

I sent some postcards out the other day, and I just overheard my supervisor on the phone to someone from the post office… apparently I got the wrong stamps (I asked for postcard stamps but the lady in the shop gave me domestic ones instead of overseas, oops) and the post office found all seven of my postcards written in English and obviously knew they were mine!  A bit embarrassing.  Well hopefully they’ll get delivered soon… Anyway I should probably do some work now.  Here is a wee gallery of photos from the weekend:

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I’m also quite scared for the referendum tomorrow.  Obviously I’m completely against the idea of Scotland becoming independent, but if it does happen, it will be very interesting to see how that turns out – but probably not in a good way!  Fukaura reminds me of Broughty Ferry a lot and I’ve actually dreamt about being there a few times since I’ve lived here.  I’m getting quite nostalgic for Dundee!


I miss my piano.

Since leaving home over 5 weeks ago I have played the piano once, which was on the grand in the town office’s ceremony hall and it was SICKENINGLY out of tune so it kinda ruined my reunion with Chopin.  There are pianos in all the junior high schools but I can never use them.  Sigh.  Maybe it’s time to invest in a keyboard? I think I’ve forgotten how to play.  I’m also missing proper coffee when I’m at work… They don’t have it with real milk, only that weird white powdery stuff or the tiny milk capsules that are actually 5ml of cream.  WHERE IS THE MILK.  I’m worried that the teachers I brought teabags for have been unwittingly drinking it without milk and are wondering what the fuss is all about.

I am currently waiting for my chocolate banana cookies to cook in my new oven!  I can’t believe how efficient the postal service in Japan is – I ordered the oven off Amazon on Saturday, but got a missed phone call when I was at work on Monday and came home to a missed delivery notice. Booo.  Thought I was going to have to go through the hassle of arranging redelivery, but then the number rang again and I was like oh god how do I speak Japanese on the phone??  Turns out it was the postman and wanted to know if he could bring my package in half an hour!  What service.  Sure enough I heard a car engine outside my door exactly half an hour later and I opened my front door to the happiest postman in Japan.  He handed me my package, we laughed together for a moment, then he tipped his hat and skipped back to the van.  The joys of internet shopping have been taken to a whole new level.

I’ve just taken the cookies out of the oven and they have been a partial success… there’s not very much space so they’ve all kinda squished together.  And the underneath bits aren’t as cooked as the top… I had a vision of Paul Hollywood flipping one upside down, turning to me with his horrible blue eyes and declaring “That’s under-baked”.  I put them back in the other way round so hopefully they’ll be ok!  My apartment now smells like a delicious warm banana.


Ahhh yeaaaah

Ahhh yeaaaah

Just tried one of the rejects as I’m bringing the good ones into the office tomorrow in an attempt to get the other workers to like me more. I realised no one enjoys having a newbie around and I always like people more if they give me food, so maybe it’ll break the ice a bit better.  Anyway the reject cookie was delicious, even if they are a bit of a splodge shape.  I will tell them it is the true British way.

Mid-sample.  Despite my face I am actually enjoying the cookie. UMAI!

Mid-sample. Despite my face I am actually enjoying the cookie. UMAI!


Last night I went to help Bridget with another English conversation club (eikaiwa), this time in Iwasaki which is about an hour away.  When we got out of the car two of the ladies were just going in, but they stopped when they saw me, linked arms with each other and edged towards me (it was dark) saying “Are? Eh!! Are?” (pronounced like ah-reh, kind of means “huh, what’s this?”) and giggling.  I introduced myself and instantly knew they would be my favourite eikaiwa ladies.  The lesson was very amusing and they asked me lots of funny questions, but the highlight was when they tried to spell my name and one of them ended up with this:

I just... don't know

I just… don’t know

Went to a nomikaiwa in Hachinohe at the weekend, where we had to speak for one hour in English and then one hour in Japanese, but it was SO LOUD it was impossible to hear anybody.  Thank god there was free pizza.  It did take us about 4 hours to get there (we got slightly lost) so probably won’t do it very often!  Had fun though.  It’s a national holiday on Monday so yay for three-day weekends!  There’s a festival on in Hirosaki which I’m gonna go to and then probably do some hiking on Monday.  Aaaand now I need to clean up the pile of bowls in my kitchen sink and get rid of the floury mess on the counter.  But a yoga session is waiting for me afterwards 🙂  Nighty night!


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All is full of love

(Been going through a Bjork phase ♥)

Today marks the end of my 4th week in Japan.  This month has gone by very quickly, especially when I think about the fact that my contract is only 1 year long, so it’s really easy to see why so many JETs stay in Aomori for at least another year.  This time two years ago I was just starting my second year of university… so that does feel like a long time ago.  I miss my lovely friends and family every day but the brilliance of technology means we can talk whenever we want.  Unfortunately I still have no one to cuddle/abuse/lie all over on the sofa while I’m watching TV… Martha get over here.

So this week we had an orientation in Aomori City from Wednesday to Friday.  I gladly welcomed a few days away from the countryside and spend the few days hanging out with the wonderful Aomori ALTs and getting more information about living and working here.  On Wednesday the organisers had arranged a nomihoudai (all you can drink!) at a rooftop beer garden. 

View from the rooftop

View from the rooftop

We paid about 20 quid to drink as much as we liked within two hours, which I seemed to manage with great success.  It got to a point where I decided it would be fun to get an arm-wrestling tournament going, and there were a few unexpected wins!  Afterwards we went to a nice little square of bars and took the opportunity to chat to some locals who taught me Tsugaru-ben, the regional dialect that probably sounds like the Japanese equivalent of a very broad Yorkshire accent.

One of the waitresses challenging Ashleigh haha

One of the waitresses challenging Ashleigh haha

My Tsugaru-ben teachers

My Tsugaru-ben teachers

On Thursday morning I went down for breakfast in the hotel feeling a bit delicate, so when I saw the traditional Japanese breakfast buffet consisting of things like soup, spaghetti, pickled vegetables, meatballs, fish and rice, I decided I probably wasn’t ready for it that morning and played it safe with a delicious bowl of cereal.  I tried the buffet on Friday though and it was actually quite nice!  Like Japanese brinner…?

For lunch on Friday a group of us went to a restaurant which looked very traditional, and we had a big room to ourselves where we sat on cushions on the floor.  It was hard wearing business attire and trying to find a comfortable sitting position!  We only had an hour for lunch however, and the food didn’t arrive until 10 minutes before we were supposed to be back… it was amazing and totally worth the wait though.  I can’t believe how cheap the food is here… this was the set meal of the day – some kind of charred mackerel, rice, miso soup, fried shrimp, pickled vegetables and seared tuna.  In England this would probably have been about £15 maybe?  Here it was 700 yen – £4!! Best lunch ever… even if we had to sneak back into orientation 15 minutes late.  I don’t believe anyone who says food in Japan is expensive anymore!


SO. GOOD. Forgot to take the lids off the rice and soup for le photo.

  I was sad to leave everyone on Friday but we were not parted for long!  It was an older JET’s birthday yesterday so a group of us from the Tsugaru side went out in Hirosaki to a club called Lavish.  It was tiny inside which just made it more fun and at various points during the night there was a row of Japanese guys standing on the raised bit, staring at the group of foreigners tearing up the dance floor.  We were frequently approached by the bouncier ones for mini dance-battles. 


It was such a fun night, made even better this morning by watching Aladdin and eating an AMAZING breakfast of French toast and scrambled eggs by the lovely Kyle and Tori. This week was probably the most socialisation I’ll get for a while!!  Starting calligraphy class tomorrow so maybe I’ll find a nice old lady to make friends with.


Introducing my home for the next year (and possibly beyond…)

I finally got my placement info on Saturday after waiting around for the post all morning, by which point I’d given up and gone for a shower.  Then obviously the doorbell rang as soon as I opened the bathroom door and I had to awkwardly run downstairs to get my package in my towel to the postman’s horror, but it was indeed from the Embassy of Japan AND THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERED.

“Blah blah blah… You have been placed in Fukaura-town, Aomori Prefecture.”

Firstly, I was not expecting to actually get a placement in Aomori (even though I’d placed Hirosaki, Aomori as my first preference) as I’d gathered that it was pretty rare to get your first choice. And I’d also told my interviewers that really I’d be happy living anywhere, so I had imagined getting somewhere totally in the middle of nowhere… turns out that’s what I got!

Having never heard of Fukaura, I did a quick search on Google Maps and squinted at the result.  A mild panic ensued as I realised it was about 2 hours away from the bigger cities and it seemed kind of isolated, right on the edge of the country facing the Sea of Japan.

Here is the general area:


And with the rest of Japan:


So I can probably expect the next winter to be loooong and cold, with snow apparently lasting from December to April.  But I’m okay with this because summers in Japan sound pretty unbearable, and I don’t cope well with the heat! Although I don’t cope brilliantly with the cold either… oh well.

Anyway, my misgivings were vanquished when I discovered a bit more about the area, and couldn’t be more thankful to the lovely people on ITIL ( who told me what an awesome placement it is.  I had actually hoped for quite a rural placement in the first place, because I think it’d be easier to regularly get involved with the community and my Japanese should improve more quickly if none of them can speak English!  Apparently the guy whose place I’m taking over makes frequent trips into the city and hangs out with the other ALTs all the time so the location can’t be too much of a hassle.  Also Hirosaki = the biggest apples and most beautiful cherry blossoms in Japan (mainly why I chose it, ha) so I am reaaaally excited to be nearby.  I think Tokyo is about 1hr30 by plane, 5 hours by Shinkansen, and I’m really keen to explore a load of other places across the country (Kanazawa, Kyoto, Shizuoka etc) so weekend trips should be very doable!  I’ve heard I might be inheriting the Fukaura-mobile, a car provided by the town and reputed for being a pretty sweet ride…

I’m also really happy about living right next to the sea… I’ve always wanted to do that, so there’s another dream to be accomplished!  I imagine it’ll be a bit like living in Broughty Ferry (Dundee), minus the gale-force winds.  Hoping my Scottish blood will see me through the winter nicely.

Ohhh and there are also some UNESCO World Heritage sites in the area, like a group of 33 lakes called Juniko, which were created 300 years ago as a result of an earthquake. Image

Preeeeeetty.  Can’t wait to take my camera out there…

Anyway you can probably tell I’m excited, but equally terrified, so until I leave I’ll be collecting lots of British things to take with me and enjoying my time with everyone at home.  67 days to go!