The year abroad adventures of a Scottish otaku in the North of Japan

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As you guys might have worked out by now, I’m not great with words. So as my time at AIU draws to a close, I’ve made this video about my time there. Enjoy and またね!


…Sorry guys m(_ _)m I had exams for two weeks and then I took a little trip, but I’m back (if only for a week – yeah, that soon!).

So, as promised MT. FUJI!!!

Look, we actually did it:

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We’d been planning this trip for ages, and let me tell you – it’s not a trip you take lightly…unfortunately, we decided to do it in a weekend, getting the night bus down, climbing it overnight and then getting the Shinkansen back the next day. This is not a good idea, ladies and gentlemen.

We arrived in Tokyo very early, so we got some rest in a manga cafe (a wonderful invention in my opinion, I can highly recommend the ‘Manaboo’ chain for cheap accomodation). Then early in the evening, we got on the bus to the 5th station of Mt Fuji. I have to say, driving towards the mountain, and seeing it get closer and closer was a fantastic feeling!

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As well as this, when we were on the mountain itself, we ended up driving above the cloud just as the sun was setting, so it looked like a sea of clouds with the smaller mountains as islands.

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While we were dropped off 2305m, and we only had about 1400m further to climb, it was mostly zig-zagging and rock scrambling up a VERY steep slope. It was so tiring! I think our motto ended up being: ‘just to the next corner’.

We had a beautiful view as we got further up, of the city lights and the night sky – I even saw a shooting star at one point! It was beautiful. It was also absolutely freezing. Tokyo was about 35 degrees when we left it, and on Fuji it was 3 degrees.

There were a number of stations on the way up so we had a chance to sit down and rest. Unfortunately, two of us started to get a little altitude sick (and a  little sleep-deprived) so we had to take the walking nice and slow. We were glad we arrived a little early. However as we got further up, our pace definitely slowed.

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As we got further up, we could see the sunrise slowly creeping up on us. So with an hour to go until the summit, we decided to stop at the 8.5th station (the final one before the summit).

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After the sunrise, we scrambled down the descending path – it was all sand and volcanic gravel so it took only 2 hours (as opposed to the 11 hours it took to climb). After many almost falls and sore feet/knees, we arrived back at the 5th station car park. We had a long route to get back to Tokyo (a bus, a train and then another train) and then we found our way to the Shinkansen and home.

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Even though it was my first time on a Shinkansen (bullet train), I was exhausted, so I slept most of the way home…

My next post (probably to be uploaded in an hour or so) will be one of my last so look forward to it! Until then, またね!


I’m still here! It’s definitely been a tricky couple of weeks.

 

First, like many people throughout the country (and the world) on July 6th I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, JLPT. This test is a globally recognised qualification that checks what level your Japanese is at. The levels go from N5 to N1, and I ended up taking N3. It was admittedly not too bad, but the weather was VERY hot, and the exam lasted all afternoon.

 

On a lighter note, we also had a Tanabata (star festival) celebration at the university! Tanabata (for those who don’t know) is a celebration centred about 2 mythical lovers, Vega and Altair, who were seperated. Now, they can only meet once a year as stars either side of the milky way, and only if it doesn’t rain/the sky is clear. Every year (on the 7th of July) everyone dresses up in Yukatas, writes their wish on a piece of paper and hangs it on a tree/bamboo.

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(I helped with the painting of this)

While the weather was ridiculously hot during the day, we were able to take part in a number of fun summer activities, including a balloon battle (which I won), watermelon smashing and nagashi-somen (trying to catch noodles going down a water pipe.

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This is me attempting the watermelon smash 🙂

In the evening, we got to watch various acts perform, including some swing dancing to Banana Phone, a guy doing Rakugo (amusing storytelling) and Yatose (a traditional Akita dance).

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We also got to watch our wonderful Kanto team perform again!

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This has to be my favourite photo I’ve got from this trip!

 

Finally, I also had another school trip with my Intercultural class where we had to talk (in Japanese) with people from Yokote city. Without knowing it, we had actually returned to the place I went to for the Kamakura festival in the winter!

Notice a difference?

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After we were finished talking, we were treated to a piece of cake at one of the strangest cafes I have ever been to! In the middle of nowhere, in the Akita countryside, there was a little cafe that had a garden that looked like it could have been in the UK. There were Hollyhocks, garden furniture, herbs – it was beautiful.

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Well, I’ll leave it at that for now, but I have a rather exciting topic for my next blog post (I’ll try and upload it this evening). Hint: it includes a rather famous Japanese landmark!

Until then, またね!


I’ve been in a thoughtful mood over the weekend, mainly prompted by my impending return to the UK and also by the watching of RENT…
The question posed in this is song is – ‘How do you measure a year?’ so I guess mine would be ‘How can I measure my year abroad?’
In days? So far: 310
In ramen eaten? So far: quite a lot….
In thunderstorms? 14
In the number of times I’ve been stared at on public transport? 7,000,000
In the number of new meals I’ve learned how to cook? 8
In Kanji learnt? several hundred In Kanji not learnt? several thousand
In times I’ve been thankful for my friends being here too? oh, so many
In the letters I’ve recieved from my Grandparents? about 24
In care packages from home? 6

I guess it all comes down to perspective, but what I do know is – by the time this is over, I will be able to count it in memories.


Helloooo! It’s been too long…

It’s certainly been an interesting few weeks!

At the beginning of the month, as part of my Intercultural Class, I got to visit a Primary School in Akita city. We had lunch with one of the classes, then split up to play ‘English games’, tell them about our country’s own Primary Schools (in Japanese) and play with them at lunch time. I had a fab time meeting some of the cute Year 1s, teaching them some really simple English and surprising them with my Japanese!

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ushijima primary school

The unexpected part of the trip was, that on our way into the city (while going through a nearby town) we drove past a bear on the side of the road. It was only about the size of a Saint Bernard Dog, but it was still pretty cool. It was also my first time of seeing a bear like this in the wild!

The weekend after this, I had the opportunity to go to see a Kabuki play (something I have been wanting to do while I’m in Japan). Kabuki is a traditional Japanese play form where the actors (all male) wear elaborate make up and costumes. The plays are often traditional stories and can last for hours because of lengthy set changes. Feminine looking males are prized by the trade because they can play the female characters well. Obviously we weren’t allowed to take photos during the play, this is the poster.

There were 3 plays in total, the first one being two beautiful dances by a wife and a concubine. This one was my favourite, because they were so elegant and feminine (despite both actors being male).

The second play was just a line of people introducing themselves in very lengthy keigo speeches. They were really hard to follow…the only good bit about that one was that one person just lost in and started laughing. It caused a domino effect of the giggles – all the actors had bowed heads, so all you saw was the shoulders going up and down, and then an apologetic bow! The audience loved it.

The final play was the story of a village idiot who wanted to be a sumo wrestler. He was helped out by a prostitute who was drunk, and thought he was funny. 10 years later, he has become a mob boss, and so repays the prostitute and her family(who doesn’t remember who he is until the very end). It ends in typical Japanese style, with the main character regretting that he could not become a sumo wrestler like a promised. It was this play which I understood the most. We were given summaries in English, but the rest of the play was guess work!

During the scene changes, a beautiful curtain was pulled across the stage:

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Lastly, this weekend we revisited the lovely peninsula Oga – where we had a trip to in October. The, rather early, morning took us first to Oga Aquarium where we could see seals, penguins and a polar bear. The funniest part of it happened while I was standing next to an octopus tank – a Japanese couple looked at it and though it looked, and I quote, ‘tasty’…

I also got to see a cute seal, just chilling in his pool, and looking remarkably like me when I go swimming!

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(casual seal selfie)

After this, we went to Cape Nyudozaki (which lies on the 40th Parallel) to have our lunch. I may have done a bit of rock climbing, taken more time than I should, and then run back up the cliff barefoot so that I didn’t miss the bus! Scraped up my legs a bit, but it was pretty good fun!

Next was the return to the Namahage museum (where we went to see the Namahage Sedo Matsuri) to watch a short Namahage performance – it was fun seeing my friends, who didn’t know about Namahage, get scared when they jumped out!

The museum itself takes all of about 5 minutes to walk through, so the hour a half we had there, was mostly spent eating ice-cream out in the sun!

Finally, we headed up the Mount Kanpu (another revisit). This time, the weather was a lot less windy and a lot more sunny! There were loads of paragliders jumping off the top of the mountain, and beautiful scenery everywhere!

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That’s me pretty much up to date for now. It’s slowly becoming more obvious that my year abroad is coming towards its conclusion. Last week I had my ‘End of Semester Orientation’ meeting, letting us know what we have to do before we leave. All quite sad, really!

Well, until next time またね!


I’m back, I’m still here 🙂

The weather’s heating up, the humidity’s rising (I feel like I’m getting into a weather girls song) and the scenery is changing once again. The Sakura has given way to green trees and life is starting to return. I swear, this is why I prefer Spring. It’s been at least 25 degrees for the last two weeks, my apartment is humid as anything and I can’t cope – I’m Scottish. I mean, I’m thankful for the blue skies, and nice days, but the temperature is only going to keep going up. Although, one good thing about these hot days is that it gives you the excuse to enjoy nice cold melon – so yummy! Still, the rainy season’s gonna be upon us soon, so at heavy rain and thunderstorms will be the order of the month. Seriously, a month.

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On the bright side, if you’ll excuse the pun, the changing scenery and weather means that, over the last few weeks, the rice fields have all been flooded and starting to be planted. I think it looks so beautiful (even if it does seem like the entire place looks a bit flooded). Another thing that the rice fields brings out is the frogs – thousands of them! Every evening, all you can hear for miles around is frogs making an utter racket…

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However, all this changing scenery and whatnot is also reminding me of just how little time I have left here – just over 2 months! My flight home is August 11th. My time spent here seems to have passed so quickly and I know that the last little bit will pass just as fast! I also have to start thinking about what I’m bringing back with me and what stays here. Luckily, Japan has this wonderful little choice in their post-office. If you want to send just printed material (in my case that’s mainly books), you can send it really cheaply!

http://www.post.japanpost.jp/int/service/s_printed_matter.html (Japanese)

http://www.post.japanpost.jp/int/service/s_printed_matter_en.html (English)

If you want to send a box to the UK, you can post up to 20kg, and if that’s by surface mail (1-3 months) it only comes to 9000 yen. It does mean you have to carry it all the way to a certain post office, but it’s certainly worth not having to pay the excess luggage fees! I don’t know what the tax is like on the other side, but at the moment it looks like a good deal!

Well, advertising over.

Not much else going on here, I’m afraid…classes are just over half way done. Next weekend I’m going to a Kabuki play, so I guess the next post will be about that! So, until then またね!


By the time I post this, the cherry blossom will be gone. However last week, the cherry blossoms hit Akita in full force! Last year, they were apparently a bit rubbish (knocked off by rain, few flowers, etc.) but my experience of them was pretty good!

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Yes, those are daffodils you see by the side of the road – a nice reminder of home! It always makes me think of the thousands of daffodils that line the main road out of my hometown Aberdeen.

Now, in Akita the best (and probably most famous) spot to see the cherry blossoms is Kakunodate (an old Samurai village – also where the float matsuri took place in October). I went TWICE.

The first visit was with some friends over the weekend – we had aimed to walk to the station and get there nice and early. Things did not quite go to plan…we had to change trains and Omagari where we were forced to wait for 3 hours until the next train. This turned out to be more fun than expected – we found a tiny ramen restaurant to eat lunch in AND got Rick-rolled at a market. Seriously – the last song I would expect to hear in Japan was ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. We didn’t end up in Kakunodate until around 4pm, but there were still plenty of people and, best of all: Festival Food Stands.

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Naturally, we also had to eat cherry blossom ice cream:

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(even as I write this, I’m eating cherry blossom flavoured jelly beans…)

The second time I visited was on the aforementioned Bus Trip. We set off (in 5 buses, seriously there were loads of people) ridiculously early and ended up in Kakunodate by mid-morning. The weather was perfect. It must have been about 17 degrees (ending up at 20 degrees by the afternoon) with clear blue skies, crowds of cherry blossoms viewers and us, the obligatory foreigners.

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After a few hours wandering around Kakunodate, visiting some of the old samurai houses and watching some of the shows of traditional songs/dances.

We then moved on to Lake Tazawa. I had visited it before (on the same trip that took us to the float festival), however it had been a miserable day. So I was looking forward to seeing it in the brilliant sunshine! There were a few people who had planned to go swimming, but were a little more intelligent – it was April, after several months of snow, at the deepest lake in Japan, so the water was going to be freezing. We weren’t disappointed. We did go in for a paddle, but the was quite enough and we had a good laugh at the screams of the swimmers!

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The lake itself was as beautiful as I had hoped – deep, clear blue water, surrounded by snow covered hills.

We also visited the other side of the lake, the drive round it also beautiful. When we got there, it was time for ice cream: round 2! The local hotel had a beautiful rose garden in the summer so, fittingly, it sold rose flavoured ice cream.

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Sadly, now the cherry blossom is slowly becoming just a carpet of petals lining the roads and covering cars, soon to be gone for another year. It’s a little sad, but I guess that’s nature for you!

One thing I’ve realised is just how fast this year has gone – it’s already May! Not long until I go home…a sad thought, but one I’ll have to deal with soon.

On a final note for this post, I’m making a little shout-out to Bonson Lam, one of my blog readers (yes, they’re out there somewhere), whom I met on Sunday at church. It was lovely to meet you and I’m so glad you got to experience Tsuchizaki Gloria Chapel!

As for the rest of you, that’s it for another post. So until next time, またね!


About a week after I got back from Tokyo, it was time for the new arrivals. April is the beginning of term in Japan (much like September is in the UK), so we had a large arrival of new first years who were moving in. There were around 180 new first years (shows how small the University is), and around 80 new International students (including 3 from my university, who had been in Korea for their first term).

I volunteered to be one of the peer supporters, we got some snazzy green t-shirts and were assigned to welcoming new students, carrying luggage, etc.

 

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Don’t we look awesome?

The campus has slowly been filling back up, again, and I have been getting back into the routine of school life – especially hard after a month-long holiday. I’m getting used to seeing new faces everywhere, I have a new roommate, I even have new classes. Even the weather has been nice for a change – 14 degrees, clear blue skies. I don’t expect it to last long, but hopefully it will coax the cherry blossoms into bloom.

I think my next post will concern the cherry blossom trip at the end of the month – hopefully I will have some nice photos to show you! Until then, またね!


Wow it’s been a while, hasn’t it! I’ve been on holiday…

LET’S RECAP!!

So, in a ridiculously random occurrence, it turned out I was going to Hiroshima on the same bus and at the same time as one of my friends. So it turned into a surprise Brit-expedition to Hiroshima!

I can highly recommend NOT doing what we did, i.e. doing a double night bus via Tokyo (10hrs and then 13hrs). It’s a killer…

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However, with a short dally in Tokyo (that included some early cherry blossoms) and a VERY long night journey to Hiroshima, we made it while still mostly sane!

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Since we were in Hiroshima, it was only fitting that we visited the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Peace Museum. Both were horrific and moving…seriously. We came outta there really depressed but by then were able to check into our respective hotels. Also, I think I may have found the worst hotel in Hiroshima, I swear that room just about managed to fit a single bed into it. That was about it. I also had the wondrous (note the sarcasm) experience of having to use a public bath…

The second day was really drizzly, so as Brits we decided it was the perfect day to go to a castle, eat ice cream and okonomiyaki and then a temple walk through the forest. We were slightly soggy when we got back…

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That day (well, technically 2am the next morning) also decided it would a great time for me to experience my first earthquake – and not even a small one. It was M6 when it struck, just off Oita prefecture so that meant it was at least M5 when it hit Hiroshima. It scared the crap outta me, and I didn’t move until it was all over. Ellie, on the other hand, almost managed to sleep through it.

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Regardless, we still managed to be up relatively early, get the tram to the wrong port in Hiroshima, take another hour getting back into the city and getting the tram to the right port, so that we could catch the ferry to Miyajima. All before 12! Miyajima is an island with one of Japan’s ‘famous views’ – its floating shrine.

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We also managed to trek up to the top of the mountain on Miyajima – seriously, it was steps ALL THE WAY! We got a view from the top, though so it was totally worth it! That and the ropeway trip back down the mountain…

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On our last day together in Hiroshima, we decided to do yet another temple walk (cause you can never visit too many temples!), this time in the nearby seaside town of Onomichi. The town itself was very quaint, and had lots of old-looking touristy shops. It also had a ropeway, that led up to an observatory and few temples on top of a hill in the middle of the town.

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It was another beautiful day, so we went up to the observatory, ate lunch looking out at the beautiful scenery and then set off for a couple of hours to see the temples on the walk. To get to the majority of the temples, we had to walk back down the hill, through tiny winding streets – one of which contained an art garden. There were cute little cat statues hidden along the path and, in Japan of all places, ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ by Robert Burns was painted on a wall…

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We also stumbled upon a temple, where there were pigeons ambling around – we could also buy food to give them.

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That night, Ellie carried on with her journey and the following night I headed back to Tokyo – my Mum and younger sister were coming to Tokyo to spend a week with me.

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My week in Tokyo was lovely. For the first few days, we did a lot of toursity things – Tokyo Tower, Tokyo National Museum (the day it rained horrendously), Asakusa.

We went to Asakusa on my birthday (18th March), which also happened to be the day they held the ‘Golden Dragon Dance’ (Kinryuu no Mai). I only found this out through a Japanese website, it wasn’t mentioned in any of the guidebooks, but I can highly recommend it!

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In the evening, we went up Tokyo Tower (I know, again…it must have been my third time there) to see the sunset. Admittedly, the best part of my birthday was being able to eat a Tesco birthday cake!

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We also made a trip out to the famous temple collection at Nikko (about 2 hours from Tokyo by train). Oddly enough, like the previously mentioned Yuzawa City, Nikko also reminded a lot of Aviemore. The town was the home of the famous ‘See no evil, Speak no evil, Hear no evil’ monkeys, as well as a large number of lavishly designed temples and the tomb of one of the Shogunate.

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That Friday was a national holiday and so we had organised to meet up with Mum’s childhood friend Fumiko, and her family. She had organised a wonderful day out at a few touristy places – Roppongi Hills, the Imperial Palace Gardens, a river cruise in Asakusa and finally back to their apartment for a delicious dinner. Alice and Mum tried sushi for the first time (Alice didn’t like it, I think, but Mum seemed to – I will never be a huge fan of it!). They also bought me a lovely birthday cake, which we all shared.

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On our last day in Tokyo, we visited Odaiba (on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge). There was a lovely area full of retro shops, restaurants and gaming arcades which I and my sister enjoyed a lot. We had a go on a retro pinball machine and saw original Street Fighter, Gallaga and Space Invaders games.

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We were hanging about Odaiba because, in the evening, they were going to have the annual ‘Tokyo Gundam Project’ show – an event where they project images onto the giant Gundam robot statue (apparently it moved one year). The show took place in the evening, so all the lights suddenly went out just as it started.

Mum and Alice flew back to the UK the next day and I got the night bus back to Akita, to get ready for the new term….

Well that’s all for now, I’ll try to get a post out during the weekend about our new arrivals. So until then, またね!


I am still alive, honestly! It’s FINALLY the end of term and the chaos of exams are out of the way (not that I can really complain – I only had 2). Since I’ve been a bit busy I’ll recap a couple of the adventures I’ve had in the last few weeks.

First, as I mentioned at the end of my last post, was the Yokote Kamakura festival. Kamakuras are basically igloos, but made by hollowing out a pile of snow:

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We started out at a smaller festival where we helped out with preparation, welcoming people into kamakuras and making amazake/mochi (as seen in the picture).

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We also had to help serve tea and mochi inside a restored old house – we were all led by a very strict obaa-chan who gave us a strict warning if we got anything wrong. I also had to use some of my keigo on the customers. The mochi we were serving people inside the house was some that we had made earlier. Mochi is made by pounding cooked rice into a paste and then you can eat it with sweet red bean paste.

Everyone got to have a go at making the mochi, but it was quite tricky! You had to swing a really heavy mallet and keep in time, so that you didn’t hit the woman’s hand! It was good fun, though. Even the children got to have a go – with the help of an adult.

There also happened to be a giant snow slide for the kids (and possibly a couple of university students) to slide down on fertilizer bags…

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In the evening, we went to the main festival in Yokote – scattered around the city were many different sized Kamakuras. This included the grounds of the primary school being covered with lots of tiny Kamakuras (each with a little candle inside), a Kamakura police station and lots of snow carvings.

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However, the best bit about going to the festival was definitely the festival food: I had some of the best Takoyaki I’ve had in a while, some of Yokote’s Yakisoba and plenty of Amazake!!

The next weekend, we had more “snow-filled fun”…there was a big snowball fight planned for about a month ago, but it ended up raining. We actually had it last week – a nice afternoon full of snow-dodgeball and a snowman competition.

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The snowman competition was great fun – we had 20 minutes to build either the tallest or the best decorated snowman and there were some interesting results…

Ours won the best decorated (due to me running back to my apartment and grabbing my Loki costume from last term):

 

Luckily, the snow is finally starting to melt – there’s even some grass showing and you can see the pavement beneath your feet! The weather was even so mild the other day (10 degrees), I went for a lovely walk to see if I could get some pictures of the mountains in the sunshine. It was really strange, though, because at points it felt like I was either in the Suffolk countryside during winter, or even walking through the country back in Scotland!

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Sadly, it being the end of term meant leaving another class and another lovely teacher behind:

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Now it’s on to a lovely month long holiday! So, until my next update: またね!



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