Archive for category The Penpal

November 6, 2006 – Goodbye Pizza and Friends

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.

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October 30, 2006 – Official Farewell Party

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!

It was a fun night, although I could have done without having all of the oshiboris piled on my head

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October 29, 2006 – Ikebana and Murder

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.

Shogo Kariyazaki, picture from nippon.com (click to link article)

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!

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October 24, 2006 – Dollhouse Kimura

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.

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October 23, 2006 – Fuji 5 Lakes

Satellite pic of the Fuji 5 Lakes (thanks Google Maps)

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!

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October 10, 2006 – Overtime day

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!

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October 9, 2006 – Shinto shrine Bingo!

There are around 100,000 Shinto shrines in Japan ranging in size from massive structures like Mishima Taisha down to tiny miniature shrines on the side of the road. The Penpal has a neighbourhood shrine near her house, and today I was invited to the annual festival where her father volunteers.

The neighbourhood shrine was small, but was surrounded by a large courtyard where I found the usual stalls that are found at festivals around the country: yakisoba, yakitori, takoyaki, and some treats for the kids. As I was filling myself full of delicious yakitori, I started to notice that I was the ONLY person at the festival who wasn’t Japanese. Many of the people seemed surprised to see a gaijin at the neighbourhood festival. Even after 3 years in Japan, it’s still fun to surprise people by eating with chopsticks or speaking Japanese, both things that aren’t normally expected from a foreigner.

In addition to the food, there was also a free bingo game with lots of prizes. As people got bingo, they got to choose a prize from the prize table. Eventually it was my turn to get a bingo, and I proudly walked to the prize table at the front of the crowd, smiling as people stared at me. I chose a badminton set, which was probably not ideal considering that I’m moving back to Canada in about a month.

In the evening I got to enjoy a wonderful home cooked meal at The Penpal’s house, a treat for someone who eats convenience store and pub food far too often. After dinner, I was shown the family photo album including pictures of The Penpal as a kid. Japanese people as a rule don’t smile for pictures, but The Penpal took that a step further looking positively annoyed at having her picture taken.

When we had embarrassed my fiancee thoroughly, the Penpal and her mother went to wash the dishes. What came next was the highlight of the evening: I was watching TV with The Penpal’s father, my future father-in-law, when he handed me the remote control for the TV. I think this means that I am now officially accepted into the family! Hooray!

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