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an american near tokyo

adventures and thoughts of an English teacher in Narita

The Iron Fairies

It’s been about four weeks since I got back, and it’s still surreal. I starting working and will start classes in about a week, but a lot of things still seem up in the air. Every once in a while I get hit with missing Japan and wishing I was still there or that things here were more like the way they are in Japan. Reverse culture shock my friends is no joke. I might write a more detailed post about reverse culture shock experiences, but today I will write about a happier topic.

So I wanted to explore as many cool bars and restaurants in Tokyo as possible, and my last week in Japan a friend told me about this fairy themed bar. After seeing her pictures I immediately I knew I had to go.

Welcome to the Iron Fairies, in Ginza.

It’s a basement bar so the entrance isn’t super noticeable. But it was so so worth the wandering around! It reminded me a of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in a way, with all the little figurines and bottles of glitter lining the walls. It is definitely more of a bar bar, and while there are some food options the main attraction is the drinks. I wish I had wrote down the drink names because they were all very cute, but these pictures will have to suffice.They were all delicious! and unique, which is something I like when trying out different places, because it’s not as much fun if the drinks are the same everywhere.

The website doesn’t offer much info apart from their address and hours, but I will link it here anyways: http://www.ironfairiesjapan.com/

I wish I had found out about this place much earlier, but I am glad I was able to go before I came back to the states. I will definitely be going again when I go back to Japan!

Singapore

About a week before I left Japan I had the chance to go to Singapore for a long weekend. It was pretty spontaneous but I am so happy I went through with it and just went. I had the image that Singapore would be similar to Hong Kong, and not so far away from Japan. While there are some remnants of the same British Empire that you can see in Hong Kong, Singapore is a totally different place. And it is a 7 hour direct flight from Tokyo, much further away than I thought.

I only had three days in Singapore which was enough to see quite a bit but I wish I had five or six days to try all the cool restaurants and bars Singapore has to offer. There are definitely touristy things to do but the atmosphere is much more laid back than I expected. There are a ton of parks and trees and even wide roads. I was told that the government keeps a very tight hold on what kinds of buildings are allowed to be built as well as an insane tax on cars. While this might not be the best for business and real estate, it makes the city much nicer I think. Hong Kong and even Tokyo are incredibly built up and you never forget you are in a major global hub.While walking around Singapore sometimes I forgot I was in a metropolis.

The first day I went to the Singapore Zoo, River Safari, and Night Safari. My phone’s battery did not last through to the Nigh Safari so sadly I don’t have many pictures from that. But it was amazing! I got to see a tiger up close (with a glass wall between us), have otters chatter at me, and even see a month old baby elephant. If you ever go to Singapore and have a few hours to spare, I highly recommend any of the parts of the Singapore Zoo.

The second day I started off my day with brunch then I walked from my hotel to Chinatown and saw a bunch of different temples and mosques. It was so interesting to see so many religions so close to each other. I am sure there are some tensions due to this, it was really heartening to see such a blend of culture. After that I went back to my hotel to shower and recharge (walking in 90+ heat and 90% humidity is no joke) before heading to Gardens by the Bay with a friend. I had seen so many photos online about this place and it was just as beautiful as it was in pictures. True it would have been more picturesque if the sun had been out, but it still was breathtaking. After Gardens by the Bay we went to the bar at the top of Marina Bay Sands Hotel. This is one of Singapore’s most famous landmarks, and the home of that amazing infinity pool that is on most people’s bucket lists. Sadly only hotel quests can use the pool, but anyone can go to the restaurant and bar. My friend and I had a drink up there, then headed to another bar I found online that I wanted to try out. It was a late night but it was so much fun.

The last day I went to Merlion Park and Orchard Road. The morning was sunny and crazy hot while in the afternoon it poured. I ended up buying new shoes because mine were totally soaked and it was not the most comfortable way to walk around. After being dazzled by all the shops in the Orchard Road complex I headed back to the airport and caught my red-eye flight back to Narita. I was exhausted by the time I got back due to very little sleep on the planes, but it meant more time in Singapore so it was worth it ๐Ÿ™‚

Back home

And just like that, my year in Japan is up.

I’m currently writing this from my parents house (home for the next few months), on the same day I got back. The last few days were so busy and a bit emotional that I didn’t get around to writing much before I left. I still have a lot of pictures and places to write about so I will continue writing on this blog until I don’t have anything else to write! ๐Ÿ™‚

I could probably write a book taking about all my experiences, which in a way I did through this blog. It wasn’t always easy or a fun experience living in Japan the past year. Yet I will take the bad with the good and I wouldn’t change anything about it for the world. The past few months in particular have been so rewarding and I wish I had taken advantage of living in Japan more during my first few months. But everything is always clearer in hindsight, and in the beginning I thought I would be in Japan for longer.

As this door closes, another one opens and I am excited to start graduate school next month. I have some job interviews to set up here, but I am looking forward to getting things moving back in the US. One of the things that stressed me out the most was not being busy (strange right?), so I am excited to fill my time with more things than I could in Japan.

I play on traveling a lot in this next year, and not just back to Japan. My trips to other places in Asia were amazing and I want to travel to places I haven’t studied about. My sights at the moment are set on Europe or Dubai ๐Ÿ™‚ Since this blog already exists I will probably just post about my future travels here! I’ve gotten used to blogging and in the past I have stopped once I got back to the states but I kind of want to keep this one going.

It is sad to end my year in Japan as an ALT and I may feel torn about whether I did the right decision to do so for a while. But in the long run I think it will be better that I chose to end it on a high note and will continue to think fondly about the whole experience. I have grown so much in the past year, and that is something I would never give up.

To next year and all the new adventures it will (hopefully) bring ~~

Hedgehog Cafe

I was beyond excited to try this out when I heard about it opening earlier this year. In Roppongi (of all places), there is a hedgehog cafe which actually doubles as a pet store because all the resident hedgehogs are available to be bought! The store/cafe also has all the necessary things you would need to have a hedgehog and the staff is very knowledgeable about them.

Like most animal cafes, you pay for the amount of time you are there.ย  It’s 2,000yen for an hour and you get a complimentary drink. You then chose which hedgehog you would like to hold or play with and them can coo at them to your hearts content. You can change your hedgehog as much as you would like, but you can only have one at a time. Some of the hedgehogs are quite energetic and do not want to be held at all, while others are completely content to curl up in your hands and sleep. IT IS SO SO CUTE. I died a little inside at the cuteness. It definitely makes me want a pet hedgehog.

The cafe is called Harry Hedgehog Cafe which is a pretty cute play on words because harinezumi is (or hairy mouse) is hedgehog in Japanese!

You have to make a reservation due to the popularity, but the website has an English version and so it’s super easy to do! It’s a bit more than your usual cafe, but the hedgehogs are just too freaking cute, so just go.

Top : english

 

Iwakuni

The past month has been full of traveling, and one of the places I went was Iwakuni. Where is Iwakuni you ask? It’s a city about 40 minutes south of Hiroshima. I went there to visit a friend stationed at the Marine Air Base there. It was my first time being on a military base and it was definitely surreal. It was like being back in the US but not. Seeing families with young children, speaking English, was definitely a bit of a shock for me after living in Japan for the past year.

Southern Japan is a lot different from Central Japan. I haven’t been to Northern Japan, but I would imagine it’s different as well. The Kanto area is actually quite flat compared to the rest of the country. The reason why a massive airport like Narita could be built here is because it’s so flat. Hiroshima and Iwakuni are surrounded by mountains and the ocean, which feels opposite from Narita. From my couple of trips to Shikoku and the Hiroshima area, I definitely get more of the feeling I am in a Studio Ghibli movie. The more rural areasย  of Japan might not be at the top of any tourists list, but they really are beautiful. The feeling is so different from Tokyo.

I took the Shinkansen down to Iwakuni as well as part way back. But for the majority of the way back I took the Sunrise Seto overnight train! It’s the last operating overnight train in Japan. There used to be a lot more overnight trains around the country, but with the rise of LCC flights and overnight buses the demand has dropped significantly. I had never been on an overnight train before, so even though it didn’t guarantee a lot of sleep, it was a really cool experience. I took the Shinkansen to Himeji and the got on the Sunrise Seto there. From Himeji station you could see just a little bit of Himeji Castle! I added the photo I took below but it isn’t the best quality. It was still a bit surreal to see it in person, even from far away!

I had a solo berth on the Sunrise Seto, which isn’t the cheapest one, but it is your wn private suite. There are two levels and I had an upper berth, so closer to the top of the train. You climb up these narrow stairs and the have a twin sized bed next to the window. Much more spacious and much more comfortable than a usual train. Even more than a Shinkansen I would say because you can lie down. They give you a yukata and pillow and blanket too! I tried to get as much sleep as possible because I had work the next day but it was mesmerizing to watch Japan go by at night. This is literally the only train running at this time so you feel a little alone. While Tokyo may be a city that never sleeps the rest of Japan definitely does. It was a very cool experience to see Japan in the middle of the night. I definitely recommend the Sunrise Seto if you happen to be traveling along it’s route, it is not the cheapest option but it was really worth it.

Goodbyes

As my days left in Japan dwindle down to the single digits, I have had to say a lot of goodbyes. Not necessarily for good of course, but goodbyes for now nonetheless.

I know I will see my friends again whether in the US or in Japan again so it isn’t as sad as it could be. Saying goodbye does get easier the more you do it I think. Kind of a sad thing to get used to though. But I wouldn’t trade my friendships I have made throughout the years for the world ๐Ÿ™‚

Saying goodbye to all the students was a bit harder, because there is no guarantee I will see them again. While I do plan on visiting Japan frequently, it is hard to keep in contact with all my students. The French ALT (who is also leaving) and I had to give speeches in front of the school during their summer vacation assembly, and it was hard to know what to say to fully express myself. I even got a giant bouquet of flowers! Which was sweet. Some students asked to take pictures with me, and some of the current 3rd year students who I had last year came to say goodbye. I was really touched by their sincerity, especially since I was here for only one year. I hope I did make a difference and that my students will remember me, but it is completely understandable if they don’t. Is this what teachers always feel like? It must be exhausting to do this year after year after year.

The remaining week is a lot more goodbyes and preparing to leave. I still need to fully pack and clean. Ahhhh so much cleaning to do. I like to think my apartment is in pretty good shape, but since I have been traveling almost every weekend for the past month or so, my apartment has suffered a bit. But it’s ok! I only have to go in to the office for a few hours on weekdays so I still have plenty of time. Although I might be totally underestimating how long it will take me to clean and pack . . . .

 

Hakone

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to get to travel with my freshman year roommate to Hakone! I had never been before, and it was great to travel with such a dear friend. We only stayed for one night, but Hakone is pretty close to Tokyo so it’s and easy day trip to make.

Hakone is literally up in the mountains and is famous for onsen, or hot springs. There are so so so many ryokan or traditional style hotels to stay at with onsen. Some of them get quite pricey. But you can definitely travel there on a budget too! One of the cool thing about Hakone I think is that you can make it really extravagant and feel like you are at a mountain resort, or you can budget it and feel like it’s a visit to small town Japan. With as versatile as it is and being so close to Tokyo, its a very popular tourist spot for Tokyoites. Even though it’s a couple hour train ride away it really feels like a totally different world from Tokyo. It was like being somewhere in Totoro or Mononoke Hime. Ghibli movies based in Japan don’t show Tokyo, but if you travel to the countryside you can really see the basis for the landscapes featured in Miyazaki’s movies.

My friend and I were on a bit of a budget so we took the normal train from Tokyo. You can take the Shinkansen, it’s only a 40 minute ride then, but we had time so we decided to go more cheaply. We stayed at a hotel in Gora, a village/area up on the top of the mountain. The hotel we stayed at looked a lot better in photos than real life, but the room was big, the food was beautifully prepared, and we got to wear Yukata around!

We also went to another onsen at a different ryokan, and that was truely amazing. It was an outdoor one and almost empty at the time we went. It was one of those moments where you are like “OMG this is Japan”. If you ever go to Hakone, I high recommend Tenzan Tohiji-kyo, even if you just do the onsen. I wish I could have taken pictures, but obviously being an onsen you can’t.

The next day we went to the Hakone Open Air Museum, which is more of a park on the side of the mountain with a ton of outdoor sculptures. It was super hot that day but sunny and clear, so the view of the mountains was really spectacular. There are a lot more museums in Hakone, but they are kind of spaced out so we only had time for one.

Hakone is definitely more of a laid back kind of place, there isn’t a lot to do besides parks and onsen. I am not sure I could do a week there, but for a relaxing weekend it was perfect!

Some of the pictures really don’t do the mountains justice. It was probably one of the most picturesque places I have been, if you are into nature photography, Hakone is definitely the place to go!

Gion Festival

Summer is the time of festivals in Japan, and one huge festival right here in Narita is Gion Festival. The original one is in Kyoto, but Narita does a much smaller version of it for some reason. For three days the whole area around the temple and station are full of street food, games, floats, and everything traditional. I could only go for one night because the next day I was going to Hakone (next post), but I still really enjoyed watching everything.

I saw a lot of my students and coworkers, which was a bit awkward/funny because I had changed into more normal summer attire and was a lot more causal than I would be at work. Many of them asked for pictures so I am sure there are dozens photos of a slightly embarrassed me floating around the internet. But it was nice to interact with students outside the classroom.

The whole atmosphere was super festive, and I only went on the first night! It would have been cool to see the rest of the festival. I am kind of thinking of trying to visit Japan every year and if I come back in summer I will definitely go to Gion Festival again.

14 days

I can’t believe how fast time has flown by. It’s July 19th, which means I have two weeks left in Japan. Two weeks. Even though the past couple of weeks have been full of lasts, last class, last time having to do this, etc. etc., it finally hit me today.

I am leaving.

This past year has been an experience to say the least. There have been a lot of downs to be honest. Change is a difficult thing for most people, and I do not usually deal well with change. This year was full of changes. Change in my lifestyle, change in the language I would hear, change in how I prepared food, change from full time student to working full time, change in my relationship status. It’s been a lot. I would like to think a lot of it has been for the better.

The past couple months though have been amazing. I have met lots of new people, met with old friends, traveled, went and experienced the things I wanted to in Tokyo, and met someone. It makes me happy that I am leaving on a high note, but part of me wonders if I made the right decision all those months ago. I could never have known my situation that I find myself in now, but part of me is forlorn at the loss of opportunities. It’s at times like this that I envy those who are religious and can turn to something else for guidance or understanding.I feel almost more lost that I did a year ago. In a lot of ways I am in the same situation; I know where I am going and have an idea of what to expect, but a lot of it is unknown and I will be leaving a life I am used to for a totally new one.

I guess the most I can do is cherish the memories I have made and keep the people I have met as close as possible even though there will be an ocean separating us. I am so happy that my time here changed so much from this past winter, even if that means that I am also sad to leave.

Ugh. I am getting too sentimental and sappy.

I will leave this post just at this, and start my endless uploads of photos with my next post.

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