Archive for category The Penpal
Our wedding ceremony was held at St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Church in West St. Paul, just north of Winnipeg. We picked the location because of the priest, the fantastic Father Mike. The small town prairie church also fit with our modest, sensibly sized wedding. Neither one of us wanted a lavish, fairy tale ceremony with hundreds of people. We ended up with a humble, intimate gathering of about 100.
Father Mike had known me for years, and when he learned that I was engaged, he insisted that he perform our wedding. I was raised Catholic, but I’m not what anyone would consider “active” in the church. The Penpal was not raised anything close to being Catholic. I brought this up with Father Mike, but he was not deterred at all. He even promised to learn Japanese if we asked!
During our marriage prep Father Mike contacted Catholic priests in Japan to get recommended readings and suggestions for a good bilingual bible. BTW – bible translation is a subject big enough for its own blog post. We didn’t end up making him learn Japanese, but we did teach him how to say “stand”, “sit”, “kneel”, and “pray” in Japanese to help The Penpal’s parents through the ceremony.
The ceremony itself was short and meaningful. We had readings in English and Japanese, and then Father Mike gave a brief speech about how The Penpal and I could share love with the world by being a good example for others. A common criticism of Catholic weddings or funerals is that the ceremony can be more about church and not enough about the people. Father Mike is an excellent speaker, and his sermon was just right for the occasion.
Other than being surrounded by family and friends, one of my favourite things about the wedding ceremony is that our photographer managed to capture what is possibly the only picture in existence of my father-in-law smiling. We obviously did something right 🙂
This blog has been the story of my 3 year journey to teach English in Japan.
I originally kept a blog from 2003-2006 to keep my friends and family up to date on what I was doing overseas. Starting in 2013 I began reposting my original blog, but with all of the posts rewritten to add more detail and information that I couldn’t discuss at the time. I had the best intentions of posting everything exactly 10 years after it originally happened. Thanks to a combination of life changes (primarily new job and becoming a parent), the whole process took about an extra year and a half.
My original blog only covered my time teaching in Japan. Since that time The Penpal moved to Canada, we traveled, had some run-ins with immigration, got married, and became parents. Some of these events have already been covered, but I haven’t written about others yet. I’m planning on writing posts on some of the more memorable things that have happened after my original blog ended. Stay tuned – there’s more to the story yet!
After a busy morning, I had lunch with The Penpal and her family at their house. They wanted to come to the airport with me to see me off.
We took the shinkansen from Mishima to Tokyo, switched to Yamanote Line briefly (which is not fun with giant suitcases), and took the Keisei Skyliner from Nippori to the airport. The Skyliner is cheaper than the Narita Express, but the Express is much more convenient if you have large bags.
Check-in went smoothly, leaving enough time to sit and chat before I went through security. Over the past few years, I have gone from being the overseas friend to gaijin boyfriend to gaijin fiancee, and eventually part of the family. I’m really going to miss my future in-laws and I’m excited about showing them around Canada in the future.
I told them that in Canada there is a lot more crying at the airport when someone leaves. The Penpal’s father told me that Japanese people cry too, they just hold it until they get home. He gave me a handshake (not a bow), I hugged The Penpal’s mother, then hugged my wonderful fiancee before going through security. I will always remember seeing them waving goodbye as I took the escalator down to the immigration area.
At immigration, I had to turn in my gaijin card and they cancelled my visas and remaining re-entry stamps. I had dutifully carried my gaijin card everywhere for the past 3 years, so it was strange to leave it behind permanently. My 3 year adventure was over, and it was a fantastic experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Good bye Japan, and thanks for the memories!
Leaving day! I woke up early, ate breakfast, and then realized that despite a few weeks of packing, I still had more stuff to send home than suitcase space. I still had one moving box available, so I speed packed it and took it to the post office with The Penpal. We also stopped at Hard Off to sell any electronics I had left: my stereo, my computer, and my giant monitor that I had bought from Hard Off. Yes, they were going to get a chance to sell the same monitor twice!
I returned to the apartment for one last check of my room. The only remaining items were all big and bulky, including my well worn futons and my floor couch. Disposing of large items in Japan requires you to pay for a special pickup. I left some cash behind with my roommates to cover the costs, and then said by goodbyes.
In my entire time in Japan, I was lucky enough to have some really great roommates that I got along well with. I’m really going to miss Azeroth and Klaxman – they are both good guys. It was sad to leave my keys behind and walk out of Ooka City Plaza for the last time.
(2018 Update) It turns out that I gave my roommates way too much money for garbage disposal. They used the remaining funds to buy a Nintendo Wii.
The Penpal came to visit me after work for a typical date night featuring Pizza-La while watching Friends. With just under 10 days left before I move back to Canada, this might be our last pizza and Friends night. I’m going to miss it!
The Penpal will be joining me in Canada early next year after her visa is approved. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of new traditions we start together.
(2018 Update) For most of The Penpal’s first year in Canada, our date night was Vietnamese take out from Vi-Ann and a movie rental from Movie Village.
When English teachers leave NOVA, there are usually 2 major farewell parties: the “official” party with teachers and staff, and the “unofficial” party with teachers and students.
Tonight was my official farewell party. Most of the teachers from the area showed up, and a few staff joined as well. We enjoyed beer and sushi at Ryoba, the most popular izakaya for teachers. I was happy that The Penpal was able to attend for a few hours. Her parents are extremely strict and didn’t like her out late, especially to hang out at an izakaya with a bunch of rowdy English teachers. I’m happy they were flexible for my farewell party.
After closing out Ryoba, the second party included karaoke and pool (billiards) at one of the new karaoke places near Numazu station. It was a lot of fun and I didn’t have to worry about being in rough shape for work the next day: there is no more work!
The Penpal and I spent the day in Tokyo attending two very different cultural events: ikebana and live theatre.
In the morning we took the shinkansen to Shinagawa and then transferred to Meguro to see an ikebana show. Ikebana is the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging, something that neither the Penpal or I knew anything about. The invitation came from one of the Penpal’s friends, who was a student of Shogo Kariyazaki, one of Japan’s most famous flower arrangers.
We walked through a beautiful old building looking at the intricate displays of flowers and branches set up along the way. I didn’t really understand what we were looking at, but they looked nice. Near the exit there was a table set up where Mr. Kariyazaki himself was signing copies of his new book. He looked like someone right out of Rivendell in Middle Earth! Waiting to see him was a long line filled with middle aged women who were as excited as teenagers meeting a pop idol. It was a truly interesting look into a culture that was totally unfamiliar to both of us.
In the afternoon we went to see The Tokyo International Players perform Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit “And Then There were None”. The TIP is an English language amateur theatre group which was founded in 1896. We came to see my former coworker and Saturday night late shift companion Vivian in her Japanese stage debut as Ethel Rogers, the housekeeper and second victim. The performance was fantastic, and it was a great English challenge for The Penpal to interpret a variety of different British accents from the characters. We had a short visit with Vivian after the show – with only a few weeks left until I moved back to Canada this was my opportunity to say goodbye.
After our cultural day of ikebana and murder, we spent our evening wandering around Shibuya before returning home. It was a very fun day!
One of the many reasons why I like teaching in Numazu is the variety of people different people I get to teach. I have taught English to doctors, students, musicians, Buddhist monks, soldiers, hostesses, and cowboys to name a few. Among the interesting occupations was miniature dollhouse furniture artist, which is not someone you would normally get to meet everyday.
My student and her husband own Dollhouse Kimura, a store in Numazu where they create and sell very detailed, very realistic dollhouse furniture and plants. They occasionally visit model conventions around the world, but especially in America. Speaking English was helpful to interact with the other modellers.
I always enjoyed teaching this student and did my best to help her become more confident with her English abilities. When she heard that I was leaving Japan, she invited me to come and see her shop before I left the country.
After work, The Penpal and I went to the store which is located in the Nakamise shopping area near Numazu station. We got a tour of the store and workshop. I’m not artistic at all, so it was very interesting seeing how they created their very detailed, very tiny furniture. I was in awe of the skill and patience required to create their work. At the end of the tour they gave us a miniature plant as a housewarming gift for our future house in Canada.
As mentioned throughout my blog, NOVA has strict rules against interacting with students outside of the classroom. Going to a student’s business and accepting a gift were both not allowed. Having said that, I am happy that I had the opportunity to interact with some of my students outside of work – these interactions were some of the best and most memorable experiences of my time living in Japan.
With only a few weeks left before I move back to Canada, I spent the whole day with The Penpal and her parents. Our agenda for the day was a drive around Mt. Fuji with stops at all of the Fuji Five Lakes.
The Fuji Five Lakes are, as you might expect, five lakes near Mt. Fuji. All of the lakes are around the north side of the mountain and all were created by previous eruptions when Fuji was an active volcano.
Our first stop was Lake Yamanaka, which is the 3rd highest lake in Japan. The lake was surrounded by boat rentals and all kinds of watersport activities. We fed ducks and giant koi from the docks.
Before our next lake, we took a detour to the Fuji Radar Dome Museum. In the days before the sky was filled with orbiting satellites, the government of Japan wanted to find a way to get better warning of large storms heading towards Japan. The best way to do this was to put a radar station on top of the highest mountain in the country. The museum explained about the challenging construction and the benefits after the radar station came online. I found it really interesting, although I wish there was a little more English explanation. My personal highlight was a room where you could experience -15 degree temperatures (5 degrees F for my American readers). The museum provided warm jackets and mittens to wear in the room. As a proud Winnipegger I went in unjacketed and laughed off the -15 while the rest of the people in the room suffered.
After a delicious curry lunch at Coco Ichibanya, we continued to Lake Kawaguchi, which is by far the most popular of the Fuji 5 Lakes. The surrounding area was built up with docks, hotels, restaurants, and tourist shops. Someday I will need to come back and spend a few days here.
The remaining 3 lakes were further away from cities and much less touristy. For the first time in my 3 years in Japan I saw campgrounds, which combined with trees, rocks, and lakes, reminded me a lot of Canada. Lakes Sai, Motosu, and Shoji are all connected by underground waterways. Shoji is so small that you could probably walk around the entire lake in a couple hours.
During our drive I noticed an interesting difference between English and Japanese. In English, to refer to a lake by name you would say “lake” followed by the name, for example “Lake Blabla”. In Japanese the name comes first, followed by “ko”, for example “Blabla-ko”. I found the sign for Lake Sai funny because it was written in English as “Lake-Saiko”, which would translate as “Lake Sai Lake”. I also had a laugh at the idea of Saiko Lake, which sounds like the setting for an 80’s slasher movie. I was unsuccessful in explaining to The Penpal why I found either of these things amusing.
Our trip back to Numazu took us through Fujinomiya, which I had only been to by train before. We also drove by dairy farms, which again reminded me of Canada. We finished our long day with Chinese food at one of the Penpal’s family’s favourite restaurants. Chinese food in Japan is very different from “Canadian Chinese” food – it’s a lot more authentic, and in my humble opinion, a lot more delicious. We stuffed ourselves silly.
I lived close to Mt. Fuji for a few years, but without a car it would have been difficult to see all of the Fuji 5 Lakes in a day. I’m fortunate that I am marrying into a family that both likes me and wants to take me to interesting places. I’m going to do my best not to screw this up!
Today, by request from management, I worked a rare overtime shift. I really value my 2 day weekend, but this was an early shift and it’s hard to turn down extra money right before I’m move back to Canada.
Work was busy but not terribly difficult. I was fighting a bit of a cold, so my voice was starting to disappear by the end of the day.
After work I went out for dinner with The Penpal and one of her church friends, who is quite possibly the friendliest person in the whole world. Even though I gave up half of my weekend, my day didn’t turn out too badly!