The Castle in the Sky

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Last weekend I had the amazing opportunity to go see Takeda Castle (aka the inspiration for “Laputa: The Castle in the Sky”) with friends! We drove all night to Hyogo prefecture and then hiked to the top of a mountain for about an hour (starting from about 4 am I think). It was freezing cold, but I was sweating by the time I reached our destination. In turn, that means I started to get really cold again once I settled into a viewing spot.

We couldn’t have chosen a better time to see the castle. The fog was extremely thick and everything was bathed in a beautiful purple glow. I could vaguely see the light blue shape of the castle peeking above the clouds. As the sun started to rise, the sea of clouds lit up blue around the mountainous “islands” and the golden castle walls.

Josh took some amazing pictures for us which I will be posting later. Until then, here are a few photos from my cellphone and the friends that went with us!

picture courtesy of Tia Braham

picture by Tia Braham

A quick snapshot from my cellphone!

A quick snapshot from my cellphone!

picture courtesy of Joel Reyes.

picture by Joel Reyes.

One of my favorite Ghibli movies.

One of my favorite Ghibli movies.

Nara Student Scholarship Fund!

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Do you remember the t-shirt design contest I entered for Nara AJET (association of JETs)? They have a great scholarship program going for students to study abroad in an English speaking country! I think this is wonderful opportunity for students to experience a new culture and really push their language skills. From the Nara AJET organization: “For the last seven years, Nara AJET has provided 1 to 2 scholarships of up to 100,000 yen per year to students who wish to study abroad in English speaking countries.  Our amazing JET community here in Nara has generously funded all of the Scholarships that we’ve awarded thus far….
One of our past recipients wrote us a letter about his time in Australia, where he stayed with a host family:  ‘I had wonderful days in Australia.  I came into contact with Australian culture.  I learned a lot of things.  For example, Australian people treasures water and animals.  I visited two World Heritages.  They were the Great Barrier Reef and Kuranda tropical rainforest. The best memory is my host family.  I was able to communicate with them in English.  It is a very meaningful thing for me.  I go to other countries and want to learn English and culture. Thank you very much, Raimu’ ”

If you would like to donate to this fund, please do so here!

Nara AJET Scholarship Fund

Osaka “Halloween Rampage” 2015

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We went straight to Osaka from the hiking event in Nara with a suitcase of our costume supplies. We were staying with a group of other ALTs in a swanky airBnB apartment and we stopped there first before having dinner at an awesome Mexican restaurant to celebrate our new friend Rachael’s birthday.

I must admit, it was surreal walking into the restaurant. For one, “authentic” Mexican food is extremely rare in Japan. Secondly, with the mariachi music and decor, it felt just like I was eating out in Jackson again. Even the menu looked really similar to Los Portales or Don Panchos. Ordering in Japanese there felt really strange. I ordered an enchilada which tasted very nostalgic except for a difference in the red sauce.

We went back to the apartment and got dressed in our costumes! Josh went as a very dashing Ezio from Assassin’s Creed, while I opted for Marie Antoinette. I was going to curl my hair but decided against it when none of it would hold. My intention was to slightly match Josh’s costume with the historical figure/time travel theme (I know Ezio is a wholly separate era than Marie, but neither of us liked the French Revolution characters from Unity as much as we liked Ezio!) I knew Josh’s character would be recognizable, but I was shocked that many Japanese people were calling me out by name and asking for pictures!

The party itself was really big and exciting, but I found myself wishing for some dubstep over the bland EDM playing on loop throughout the party. I was wanting to throw down a bit instead of doing the bounce-like dancing I went with most of the night, but I never really felt the music allowed for it. C’est la vie!

I wish I would have taken more pictures of my costume, (.-_-;;) but here are some highlights from the night!

A guy we found dressed as Desmond Miles!

A guy we found dressed as Desmond Miles!

My friend Jenny as Little Red Riding Hood!

My friend Jenny as Little Red Riding Hood!

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A Walk through Time: Hike to Heijo Palace!

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On Halloween day Josh and I volunteered to join in a walk to the ruins of Heijo Palace with the Japanese community. We met early in the morning and did some group stretching before breaking out into teams. We had to come up with a Halloween themed name, but we were rather stumped on what to go with. Josh jokingly said “The Little Snitches” (based on the name of a hacking tool) but we got a kick out of it because of the association with Harry Potter. I discovered that the locals in our team loved Harry Potter just as much as I did so we went with “Team Hogwarts, AKA The Little Snitches”. Haha!

We ate lunch at the palace grounds, and then enjoyed several international games with the participants. Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted by the end of it all and the big Osaka Halloween Party was in just a few hours!

(Photos by Shinichi Yoshioka Sensei)

I apologize for the weird face I make while laughing! I was laughing A LOT on that day for some reason.

Explaining the meaning of various English slang words to a team mate (she was making a list!)

Explaining the meaning of various English slang words to a team mate (she was making a list!)

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More adventures in English slang words. We started having a lot of fun once we got to modern phrases like "I can't even".

More adventures in English slang words. We started having a lot of fun once we got to modern phrases like “I can’t even”.

Josh and I at the site of Heijo Palace!

Josh and I at the site of Heijo Palace!

All of us at the end of a long day of fun!

All of us at the end of a long day of fun!

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Higanbana Festival

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The weekend after the Hasedera Festival, Josh and I got to celebrate the coming of fall at the Higanbana Festival in Asuka (the very first, ancient capital of Japan!). This festival was so special because the residents of Asuka dressed us up in the traditional clothing of the Asuka Era! The sweet ladies in the dressing room even styled our hair for us! We then took part in a re-enactment of royal life and paraded around the town, crying out “Onari!” in reference to the Queen coming through town. Josh was a royal guard, and I felt like a princess in a pink floral colored gown and sash! We ended our parade in a big farmer’s market and music festival happening in a wide opening of land. To my surprise, two talented musicians played the Tennessee Waltz on traditional Japanese instruments. I thought about how interesting it was that I kept encountering that song and I felt a pang of homesickness!

We ate a delicious meal of homemade karaage (fried chicken) and soup with tea. Several people wanted to take pictures of us to the point that I started feeling like a celebrity. Some of the Japanese people I spoke with were glad to see me taking part in traditional Japanese culture and clothing. I was really happy to be a part of this wonderful event and usher in the cooler fall weather.

(Photos courtesy of Shinichi Yoshioka sensei. Thank you so much, sensei!)

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(Pictures courtesy of Tia Braham. Thank you Tia!)

 

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Hasedera Festival

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I had a strenuous yet enjoyable experience with traditional Japanese culture at the Hasedera Festival recently. In this festival, we lifted a huge shrine onto our SHOULDERS and carried it throughout the entire village all day! From my knowledge, the shrine we were carrying is now the spiritual home of a noble who lived during the Heian period. He had a terrible life and endured many struggles, but ascended to the spirit world upon his death. I was a bit confused as to why we were carrying him back and forth so much- I assumed we were taking him to his mountain abode, but instead we ended up back where we started. We did stop by the mystically beautiful Hasedera Temple though- in my mind I imagined it was because the noble wanted to pay his respects to Buddha on his way through town. We stopped for lunch and then I walked up with a few folks to the top of the temple. The amount of steps was just about unbelievable, but it was definitely worth it to see the view from the side of the mountain. The inside of the temple was phenomenal- there was a service currently underway with somber Buddhist chants and ringing bells echoing off of a giant golden Buddha. Needless to say the whole event was rather awe inspiring. I really felt in the moment right then and said a little prayer of thanks to God for seeing me through to this point.

After all was said and done, I got to try ONSEN for the first time! It was radical! However, I was a bit nervous since we all had to get naked first and I’m the type of girl that would duck out of the locker room during gym class and change in a bathroom stall (for those back home, don’t worry! It was obviously separated between girls and guys). Within about 5 minutes though, I realized that no one else cared so there was nothing to be self conscious about. The hot water felt so nice on my aching muscles! There were some elderly Japanese ladies there already and boy they were a HOOT. They spoke a little English to my little Japanese and were just giggling the whole time.One lady was doing the water squirt gun thing with her hand and I was cracking up!

After onsen, we were treated to a huge nomihodai and basically tabehodai with the huge bentos they supplied us with (the taste was definitely something I wasn’t used to however- I believe it was called Kanseki style?). Then we had an exciting round of karaoke! I sang a duet of “Tennessee Waltz” with a random Japanese guy and we had a blast! Then, I sang “Country Road” with another ALT Melissa to much fanfare. John Denver sure is popular in Japan! These are wonderful memories I won’t soon forget.

Wikipedia page for the beautiful Hasedera Temple.

(Photos courtesy of Shinichi Yoshioka-sensei. Thank you so much for these wonderful shots!)

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(photos courtesy of Kelly Primrose- thanks so much my fine friend!)

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