G’day, my young Bean Sprouts!
It’s been a good month or so since I’ve last posted about what I’ve been up to. The last time I really talked to y’all, I wrote about what I planned to do post-surgery as far as plans for staying in Japan went, and about trying to be optimistic. For the most part, I’ve been pretty successful on that front, I think. I’ve been pushing myself really hard to not crawl back into my comfort zone (though let’s be real, pretty much EVERYTHING in Japan is outside of my comfort zone), and since my return from America, I’ve only allowed myself two weekend days of solitude to just chill, one day being a disgusting rainy mess, and the other being post-mountain-climbing recovery on a three-day weekend.
That being said, I’ve been up to quite a lot, so let’s jump right in.
First, pretty much as soon as I got back from the US, I realized that our school festival, called Seiryosai (my school’s version of the word bunkasai, or 文化祭), was the Friday and Saturday after I got home. My English club had signed up to do the festival ages ago. But because I hadn’t been able to see them until the Tuesday after I returned, we literally had only three days to throw something together when the other clubs had been preparing for several weeks. Three. Days. Thankfully, we had already decided on a theme and a general idea of what we would do before I left, but that still didn’t make throwing it together any easier. Our theme was, “cooking around the world,” and we made a visual display of cooking from all over. Naturally, I put the Louisana food in there, too. We printed pictures of all our foods and wrote descriptions for all of them, and we drew a large world map and put flags from all the countries we talked about on it. We put post-it notes on our table for people to write down their favorite foods. I got a mysterious love note from somebody when I stepped out of the room. And I harassed parents and junior high school students in English when they came in while I was manning the booth.
Some of the other highlights from the festival included two haunted houses (which sadly I did not have time to go in), a fake Starbucks called, “Starita Bucks,” a scavenger hunt that involved the boys dressed up as Disney princesses, among other things, and a variety of food stalls, like takoyaki, ice cream melon bread, regular ice cream, and yakisoba. And two different hot dog stalls for some reason. I personally had a lot of fun visiting all the other culture club rooms, like photography club, Chorus club, calligraphy club, and ikebana. I even made my own flower arrangement for ikebana! Check it out:
My birthday was also very shortly after I returned, so I got some peeps together and we had a fun celebration! The Thursday before my birthday, I had a lovely dinner with Ryoko, the Steves, and Riana. On my actual birthday on the Friday, I was at school, and it was conveniently the first time I started teaching one of my ichinensei classes, so they all wished me a happy birthday. My sannensei JTE also forced our class to sing me happy birthday. Good times.
Friday evening after school, I got together with a few friends to climb Mt. Rokko! Ok, not really. We cheated. We took the cable car, which was more like a train car pulled up the mountain and not really the suspended car that you usually think of when you hear “cable car.” The weather was great, and we got some amazing sunset views of Kobe! Unfortunately, we couldn’t stick around for the million dollar night view, but perhaps next time.
We went to dinner at my favorite vegetarian restaurant after that, and I had some very yummy veggie curry, and my friends naturally had to embarrass me by getting me pecan pie with a candle in it and singing happy birthday to me. They gave me some lovely presents, as well! Thank you everyone for making my 25th, and my first birthday in Japan, awesome!
Fushimi Inari, Round 2
The day after my birthday, I went with a few more friends to Fushimi Inari Taisha. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the famous shrine in Kyoto (the traditional city in Japan) that literally has 10,000 of the red Torii gates climbing up a mountain. My first time in Kyoto, I hadn’t managed to climb it to the top, and out of our group of five, only one of had actually climbed it all the way to the top before, despite one of the people in the group having already been there four times prior. That being said, our group was fully determined to climb all the way to the top this time.
Outside of the entrance to the path with the torii gates, there was a booth selling el cheapo yukata, which is a summer kimono, if you’re not familiar. We must have spent at least half an hour there before we actually started climbing. I wanted to buy a black yukata with multicolor flowers, but the guy said that it would be too short on me, so I went with a purple and gold yukata instead, and bought a matching gold obi (the sash that goes in front) with cute little usagi, or bunnies, on it. I also got a gold and orange cord to wrap around it. The whole set was only 3500￥, which is pretty cheap in my book. I also bought a pretty sensu fan with Mr. Fuji, some cranes, and glitter outside of the shrine.
I think climbing the shrine took about an hour when all was said and done, but we stopped pretty frequently along the way because it was basically all stairs going up. This is where the blog title comes in, I felt like the Chevelle song, “The Red,” from all the red gates. Some of the lyrics are, “seeing red again,” which was very appropriate here. The summit was a little underwhelming because you couldn’t actually see anything from the top except the dozens of mini-shrines in the area. We made our way back down, and then went off to some other shrine whose name I honestly don’t remember, then we went home.
One of the JTEs that I teach with is the head of the wandervogel club, and they invited me to go hiking with them because I mentioned that I had liked hiking. So, I grabbed my dear friend, Betsy, and we climbed Mt. Suma with them! It was a relatively short hike, only two or three hours altogether, but the beginning was absolutely brutal because it was essentially just five flights worth of stairs going straight up the mountain. After that, it was pretty pleasant. We got some awesome views of Awaji Island and Kobe, and I felt like King of the World when we reached one pass in the mountain. My favorite quote of the day: “Be careful–if you fall, you die!” said in the happiest voice imaginable.
Nunobiki Falls （布引滝）
Going Hiking with my school’s club put the hiking/travel bug back in me, so the week after hiking Mt. Suma, I went to Nunobiki falls, a short hike right outside of downtown Kobe. The hike was supposed to lead from Shin-Kobe station to a beautiful herb garden up the mountain, but I started my hike pretty late in the day, around 5:00 pm. I heard it was really short, which is why I didn’t mind going so late. The first waterfall only took about fifteen minutes to get to, and it was beautiful; I almost couldn’t believe something so peaceful was right outside of Kobe. I kept hiking past two more waterfalls, but the fourth I either didn’t get to or missed somewhere along the way. I passed a reservoir and went a little past it, but at that point, the sun was setting, and I hadn’t reached the herb garden yet (my plan was to take the ropeway down), and because I worried that I had made a wrong turn somewhere and didn’t want to get stranded by myself on a mountain in the dark, I ended up just turning back for the day, so hopefully I can go back and attempt it again soon.
Mt. Rokko （六甲山）
A few weeks later, my school invited me to go hiking again to Mt. Rokko, one of the biggest mountains surrounding Kobe. I bought a proper day pack and a trekking pole from the Mont Bel store, and I bought some proper hiking boots from the Columbia store before the Suma hike, so I was good to go. The first hour or so of the hike was mostly literal rock climbing, called the “rock garden.” Pshh. Garden indeed. Some garden it was. After that, it leveled off a bit, but the last hour and a half before the summit were particularly rough; it was mostly uphill with very few breaks in the ascent. Unfortunately I didn’t get to stop to take many pictures because we were following a pretty strict schedule, with breaks only allowed every half an hour. Even though my calves were killing me and a student pushed me for about thirty seconds up the very very last leg, apparently I died less than my predecessor did (I blame my JTE for that because he told her it was an “easy” hike when it took about five hours all said and done), which I guess is good. We stopped for lunch at the summit, and then hiked down to Arima Onsen, where unfortunately we did not stick around to find a foot bath, which would have been nice. How many people can say they’ve travelled to Arima Onsen on foot? And, Bonus of the day: discovering that trekking poles are in fact excellent mukade-murder-death-weapons (mukade=venomous scary centipede of doom).
Last Friday, I was able to go to a yukata festival in Himeji, the next big city to the west in Hyogo. I got to wear that pretty little aforementioned yukata. For the record, yukatas are essentially human origami and it took three foreigners an hour to put on two of them. I had to ghetto safety pin mine to keep it from falling apart, but hey, gotta cut me some slack for my first time. We got stared at a lot because we were really the only foreigners wearing them. But whatever. That is my life now. There were lots and lots of food stalls, and I got what I think was called hashiyaki (chopstick okonomiyaki) and taiyaki with strawberry filling. They were yum yum in my tum. They had the goldfish scoop game that I’ve been dying to do forever, but I couldn’t do it for fear of my yukata coming undone if I squatted down to scoop them -_- It eventually started coming undone anyway. Got a little scandalous up in Himeji. Oopsie daisy.
One of my worst nightmares coming into Japan was thinking of the possibility of one of my animals becoming ill and/or dying while I was in Japan. My cats are like my children. I love them to a degree that most people, especially not people in Japan since they think of their animals more like accessories than living things, understand. I thought I would probably be in the clear on the life-threatening illness front since none of the animals are super old and they have all been mostly healthy prior. Our first two family dogs, Daisy and Ruby, had already passed away within the past couple of years, and everyone else was pretty in the clear. Yuki is a little old and is a diva in terms of her diet, Buddha has some bladder problems that are controlled with a special food, and Dave is dumb and has defective skin, but nothing too serious. Elvis was literally the only 100% healthy baby, and he’s only seven years old, so I never expected anything to happen to him while I was here.
But, after the yearly vet visit for the whole crew, I heard the unfortunate news that my sweet little Elvie Bo has been diagnosed with a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which means that his left ventricle has become thickened and enlarged, causing it to not pump as well as it should. Because of the decreased function, fluid built up in his lungs, causing him to breathe fast and causing the vet to not be able to hear his heart on a stethoscope, which is basically how we found out. After a couple of hospitalizations, I hope that my sweet baby is stable and comfortable now.
Long term prognosis is a little unclear from what I’ve read, and poor baby is on three different medications at the moment, soon to be four, to control his symptoms. I love him so much, and that sweet boy literally does not have a mean bone in his body and wouldn’t even hurt a fly, so I hope that he stays with us at least a little longer. My poor booger. My sweet, sweet little booger kitten, who will always be a kitten to me no matter how old he gets.
That’s about all for now, but I plan on doing a post about that Disney trip eventually, and I also plan on doing a Hobbit Hole House Tour. Also keep your eyes peeled for my new installment, “Green Bean’s Ghetto Kitchen,” where I’ll talk about my ghetto cooking and eats in my tiny, sad, pathetic, worthless Japanese kitchen.
So, I bid you adieu.
Peace out, Bean Sprouts,