I start pretty much all of my blog entries with a reflection on how my life is continually changing whilst living here. And it is true, it is. It is impossible to go through life and not change. Being in Japan has no real bearing on that fact but it does seem to have impacted on the type and the speed of that change. When I go back to my very first blog that I wrote in April 2014, as I was preparing for the ‘big move’ it is clear just how much and how quickly I have changed.
Thinking back to the very start. The moment I decided to apply for my teaching post here, I was happy. I loved my job in Oldham, we had a new house, good jobs, we had really close family and friends. The prospect of moving abroad was, quite frankly, absurd and yet that’s what we did. Why? Honestly it is a question I have asked myself over and over again. Why?
Some of the whys I can answer. Why did I start searching for jobs abroad in the first place? Well that was for my husband. He was trapped in a job that he did not enjoy but was dedicated to, for the mortgage payments and loyalty to friends. It was getting harder and harder to watch him do a job he disliked whilst I got to do a job I loved. Shouldn’t we both have that luxury?
Why Japan? Well that one was easy, it has always been a fascinating country to me and my ‘Dream’ place to go. Holidaying there was never an option so what better way to get there?
So why then? Why October 2013? I still don’t know the answer. None of it makes sense. We had a mortgage to pay, friends and family we deeply cared about and ultimately the move would be expensive and difficult in many ways but we did it. Without a single thought, we did it. If you are anything like my mum (and in many ways I am) then she would say, “Things happen for a reason.” To some extent I do believe that we chose to move to Japan for a reason but what that reason is, I have no idea! The decision we made to move here was HUGE yet it was the easiest decision we ever made. The choice should have required some serious thought and time and yet we made it without any hesitation. Something drove us here and it may sound cheesy to say it but I do believe that. After all, we dealt with all the issues, no matter how difficult and we said some pretty painful goodbyes to set off on this adventure. We had all the intentions of fulfilling the empty ‘travelling’ void for a few years and simply return home and carry on as normal, once finished. But the reason why? I am hoping that I will still find that out one day!
However that was the plan. Now I realise that, that plan could only have been made out of stupidity or naivety. Nobody can make such a life changing move and then just return home to carry on as normal. Physicalities may appear unchanged but emotionally…Wow! We could no anticipate how much!
Unexpectedly our three years of fun and adventure has flown by and are due to end August this year and yet the thought of moving back home did not fill us with the longing that everyone thought it should. Honestly we don’t feel ready to move back yet, we don’t feel that we have achieved everything that we have wanted to achieve. There is still so much left for us to do before we return home to our families and our friends and attempt to settle back into things, so, we have chosen to extend our stay. From this point on we have two years to achieve everything that we want to achieve on this side of the world and so a chance to start planning some more stories in our Asian adventures. There are so many things I want to do and limited holiday time to do it in (and I know I get more than most!). I’m not complaining but it is the first time in my life that I feel like I am on a timer.
Luckily March and April was our latest holiday period which saw the arrival of our last two visitors- a great opportunity to start achieving some of those things we want to achieve. First was Rob’s family who arrived at the end of March for around eight days. We spent time doing a lot of the usual things but being a party of 6 adults made it the perfect opportunity for us to try something I had always wanted to do, stay in a capsule hotel or a cabin hotel. There are a range of them across Tokyo, with their own theme or style but we chose one located in Tsukiji, the home of the famous fish market. It was part of the ‘First Cabin’ group that has numerous locations across Japan and appear to be quite new. Unfortunately our new experience did not start as smoothly as one would hope. We had forgotten our guest’s passports, which normally is not a problem as we are residents and our residence cards are usually enough. However this was not your average hotel and because each cabin is booked individually, official documentation was required and this caused big problems. After some quite repetitive and awkward exchanges they agreed to let us stay on the condition that we fax copies of the passports once we got home.
Each guest is given a lanyard with a security card attached and a wristband with a key on it. The female’s security key allows you to get onto the female floors and into the sleeping dorms as well. It was extremely secure and clearly designed to keep female guests safe. The key on the wristband was for the security box in your cabin. A place to keep valuables.
The rooms were quite big but instead of a door there was what can only be described as a giant kitchen window blind. Sitting on my bed looking at the door/blind, I tried to work out how this thin piece of material would keep out the noise of the other guests. It turns out the blind was as useful as an open window and I had the pleasure of having a late night arrival neighbour with an unnaturally loud snore. Luckily I had remembered to pack ear plugs and so had quite an uninterrupted night’s sleep once my neighbour had stopped banging her stuff on my side of her room. Unfortunately for the other five member’s of our party, they were not so lucky and collectively got very few hours sleep! Needless to say it was a unique experience but I will not be in a rush to stay in one again. I am a light sleeper and I like sleeping next to my husband. However, I can see their use for solo travellers seeking a cheap and clean place to stay, especially for female guests. It is extremely safe, much more than I imagine a hostel would be and practical.
Another new experience would be when we decided to spend the full day at Tokyo Disneyland. Living so close, we usually get the ‘After 6 pass’ allowing us to visit at much quieter times after school but when the family arrived we decided to make a day of it. Especially with it being in the school holidays so we knew it was going to be pretty busy. We weren’t wrong! I’m sure I have mentioned this before but the Japanese people like to queue. They are like the British in their love for queuing but their cut off time is much longer than ours. Much longer. What would you say is an acceptable time to wait in line for popcorn? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? I might even push to 15 minutes if it is a particularly good flavour but in Japan, 40 minutes is more than reasonable! That pretty much summed up the queue sizes in Disney that day. Thank goodness for the fast pass system which allowed us to get on at least two rides. Add to that a photo session with Donald Duck, a classic turkey leg and an impressive light parade and fireworks, it was an all round awesome day.
We did many interesting things with the family, especially for Les’s birthday but it was simply nice to spend some quality time with them. We barely got to see them on our last visit home and so after nearly three years apart it was great to rekindle and have some much needed family bonding time.
Once the family had departed, we had two days to get ready for our next arrival; Rob’s close friend from University, Greg. He was going to be staying with us for around two and half weeks which made it a little easier to plan. The boys were able to fit in some adventures further afield but in between Greg was happy to just go for a run and chill out with us which was a bit of relief since I had started back at work. Our first trip away with him was a place high on my list of things to do for a quite a while- Nikko. It comes highly recommended by everyone, native or foreign and I finally got to see why. It is a national park around two hours north of Tokyo. Travel there is covered by the Tokyo wide pass, making the journey easy and reasonably cheap when the three of you are willing to share a room. The day we arrived was wet and quite cold. By the time our train pulled into Tobu-Nikko station the rain had stopped but the clouds were low and a constant threat all day. We headed up the main street to the the famous temple complex at the top which is also a world heritage site. My travel companions were not temple enthusiasts so knowing that we would only be visiting one, I chose Toshogu Shrine.
Walking up to the entrance you can’t help but notice the enormity of the trees. Tall, powerful yet amazingly calm structures of nature shrouding this particular shrine with a spiritual feel, even when full of tourists.
It has an expense entrance fee, but it was worth it. It is one of the most elaborate, detailed and naturally beautiful shrines I have ever visited so far. The wood partnered with gold leaf and intricate designs is an impressive sight, even on a cloudy day.
There is so much to see here so make sure you give yourself plenty of time. There are many buildings to look in and see including the main hall. To the right there is a number of stairs which leads to a smaller temple building and an courtyard with a clear structure of importance in the middle. It wasn’t until we came back down that I realised what it was, the resting place of Tokugawa Leyasu- a famous Shogun during the Edo period. Once we explored the shrine’s grounds we decided to find our hotel and settle in for the evening. A typical ryokan but with one small difference… a robot!
Unfortunately that was all I got to see of Nikko. The rain that was threatening to hit all of Saturday, finally attacked on Sunday with a vengeance. There was no point visiting Lake Chuzenji with all that cloud so we headed back early to Tokyo to see if we could catch the cherry blossoms in their last flowering weekend. We had spent a whole week with Rob’s family chasing Japan’s world famous sakura but with very little success. The cold weather had pushed back the blooming time making it a late ‘Hanami’ this year. Luckily we managed to get a beautiful glimpse of them this time, even if it was from under an umbrella.
Even the boys enjoyed it a little bit…
Although I got to see a limited part of Nikko, it gives us a great opportunity to go back just the two of us at a warmer and drier time of year.
For me, that was the end of this particular holiday but for the boys they have some more adventuring to do. This weekend they have flown down to Hiroshima to explore a little bit of history before taking on the Shimanami cycling route from Onomichi to Imabari. I am eagerly anticipating their stories on their return in two days. I am especially interested to hear how Rob has survived the 60km journey without padded shorts!! Maybe he used a banana skin recommended by Mrs. F?
Until next time.