Sunday, December 26, 2004

WOW... Thailand

Okay... we had NO idea what we were in for... I mean, absolutely NO idea. As usual, we were totally last minute and didn't plan well enough. We were hoping to meet up with my former student Top, whose family lives in Bangkok. We had no idea that we would be treated like royalty by his entire family for the duration of our trip!

Top greeted us at the airport and drove us to our hotel, picking up his mother along the way. Then, his mother immediately began to make our travel plans for us, fussing over us and worrying because Thailand is so full of tourists this time of year. Yesterday, our first full day, she met us, took us out for breakfast, arranged a tour of the Grand Palace and Wat Pho (a temple) for us, took us on a long-tailed boat ride, out for lunch and then to a market. For dinner, we met Top's whole family at the Emerald Hotel for a buffet. Oh, and did I mention that they wouldn't let us pay for anything all day???

Then, today, Top left to return to Canada. No problem. His sister picked us up and drove us to the most incredible market I have ever been to my entire life. We were there ALL DAY and we didn't even see half of it. We bought so many clothes. I don't think I can ever justify paying full price for anything again! Then, for dinner we were taken out AGAIN to another buffet. The coolest thing is that we met up with Giacomo... a guy I worked with at Brock, and his girlfriend Nancy. They have been living in Japan about the same length of time as us, but we never connected. Well, it just so happens that they told Top they would be in Thailand... so of course, now Top's mother is taking care of them too! So we all met up at a Japanese-style buffet in Bangkok... my gosh, what a small world.

Tomorrow, Top's uncle is driving us south-east to a beach where we will stay for at least two nights. I can't get over the treatment we have been receiving. We have not had to do anything. This is the most amazing vacation we've ever had... and I haven't even begun to tell you about the amazing things we've seen! So I'm off now to get a foot massage and have a drink. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Check out our Photosite. I've updated a few pictures in the "Crazy Japan" and the "Around Ota" sections
I know its common to get Happy Xmas advertising back home, but this tops it. They don't even know what Christmas is about here, and already they've figured out how to shorten it. Happy Xmas indeed - a beer billboard... What's next.
Just outside the doors of the department store. This was the beginning of our journey through the shopping jungle that is Shinjuku.
Kathy and I were standing right in front of one of the many Starbucks in the surrounding area when I noticed these tricycles. They were riding around giving people rides to the Starbucks. Advertising the Japanese way!
This picture is from inside the men's washroom on the 13th floor of the department store overlooking "downtown" Tokyo. The twin towers on the left of the pictures is the infamous Tokyo City Hall - where I tried to make a romantic proposal to Kathy seven years ago!
This is an actual satelite picture of where we went. The big white building just below the train tracks (just left of center of the picture) is one of the main department stores in the area. It has 14 floors of shopping. All the little side streets you see around it are full of multi-floored shopping. It is overwhelming. I'll include some pictures of the side streets.
This past Sunday Kathy and I went to Shinjuku for some shopping. It is quite the crazy shopping district. Stores everywhere. People everywhere. It was really hard to get a good picture that captured the feeling there, but I will leave you with a few attempts. This picture is from the our "break" on the 13th floor of a department store in a garlic restaurant. Good food!!!
This is me on Friday December 17. I taught four classes of grade ones back to back. 100 happy students. 1 tired Santa.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A graveyard directly beside the tracks. These burial grounds are everywhere - none really big, but everywhere around the city.
Just another picture for your enjoyment. I went for a bike ride on Saturday late afternoon. I was getting ready to take a picture on this overpass when along comes a train - right on schedule - like usual in Japan. (Jeff)

Thursday, December 16, 2004

It's been a slow week for blogging. As usual, I am taking pictures of anything that moves .... (or doesn't move...) These are typical phones in Japan. That's weird to me. I don't know how to use them but they look cool. (Jeff)

Monday, December 13, 2004

We Are Going to Thailand!!!

Oh WOW!!! It is really happening! On December 24th we will be boarding a plane and flying to Bangkok!!! Once there, we will be staying with the family of Kantawat Makarasara (AKA "Top"), one of my former students from Brock. Unfortunately, Top leaves to go back to Canada on December 26th... :-(

But we will continue our adventures. Not all is planned yet... heck, if it were, it wouldn't be an Epp excursion... We know that we will fly or bus north to Chiang Rai on December 30th. Once there, we will meet Mr. E, my former supervisor from Matsudo, Japan and a bunch of his old students. Then, Mr. E will drive us to the hilltribe that he and his students support, and we will stay with them until January 2nd. WOW. Bringing in the new year with a Thai hilltribe!

Then, we will fly or bus south, to Phuket, and catch a boat to a nearby island, where we will promptly plop ourselves down on a beach until we have to catch our flight back on January 7th.

And to top it all off, Monday the 10th is yet ANOTHER national holiday, so the 11th will be our first day back... hee hee hee. Enjoy the SNOW in Canada... yayayaya... I know, you don't have any YET... but YOU WILL!!!

And thank you SO MUCH to Beth, Jason, and Jacob Carson for the package of Kraft Pizza and Caramilk bars that arrived today. Mmmmmmm.... neither will last long!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Yes, I believe Tim Horton is rolling over in his grave... This is Japan's idea of "coffee." Yes, my friends, hot (or cold) coffee in a can, or, better yet, a juice box. Bought at your nearest convenience store... and there are SO MANY. If you want a real cup of coffee, you can't generally get it to go, and you're gonna have to pay at least 300 yen (over $3). Yikes.

Kathy's Back (no pun intended!)

Hi everyone... I really got into the blogging and then I disappeared and let Jeff take over. Let me explain... For about three weeks, I was experiencing a LOT of pain. It started with my right calf muscle. I started jogging at the beginning of October, and I had worked myself up to 5km jogs about 3-4 times a week... YES, you are reading that correctly.

So the pain started. Felt like a pulled muscle, but a little weird, because it ran up my leg at the immediate left of my shin. Not your usual calf muscle pain. I gave myself a couple of days off and ran again. Worse pain. I took two weeks off, and the pain never went away. You have no idea how frustrating it is to give up jogging when you have finally achieved some success and are up to 5km.

Even worse, the pain traveled up my leg to my lower back. And stayed there. Some days my leg was totally numb, and other days I felt like all the muscles in my body were out of whack. But mostly I felt really tired and really annoyed.

I spent all of the past weekend in pain and with no energy. All I wanted to do was sleep. Finally, I contacted Ayako Sunday night, thinking she could maybe get me to a doctor on Monday. Well, she took me to a friend's brother that night, at 9pm to get a massage. It turns out he isn't really a masseuse. He practices alternative medicine. He referred to it as "healing touch." It was bizarre, but he literally just touched me lightly... I wouldn't calling it massaging. At the time, I thought, what the heck. I just wanted SOMETHING done. I was in so much pain.

Well, I felt better the next day, and better the next, and today I feel terrific. The back pain was gone immediately, but the weakness is still there. The only pain I still have is in my right calf muscle. And it is much weaker than before. Most noticeable though, is my greatly increased energy. I feel positive again, and I'm not lethargic like I was. Am I a believer? I wouldn't say so. But I do have another appointment on Friday...

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Hi guys. It's Tuesday night here. I am sitting on the computer taking what was a short break, but has turned into a long evening avoiding everything. Kathy on the other hand has managed to keep herself busy. Here is a picture of her masterpiece. She volunteered to create a "Christmas in Canada" display. She told me that she didn't realize how big the board was. Well. She's been at it all evening. Looks good eh! Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Andy. This one is for you. This is a typical toilet for a nice restaurant here in Japan. The dials and stuff on the left side are for the heated seat, the bidet feature, the synthesized flush sound, the bird's chirping sound, and the air freshener. The little black rectangle at the back of the seat is the infra red or motion detector to detect your butt - wouldn't want to turn on the bidet without a butt on the seat. Oh, the comfort!
Kathy on our way into Yorube restaurant tonight. We both loved their little walkway so I thought I'd try out the night mode on my camera phone. Kathy looks pretty good - I guess the phone works!
It was a beautiful clear day today. On my way home from school at 4:30pm I just had to stop and take a picture. I know it doesn't really do them justice, but do you notice the mountains in the background? They turn blue when the sun sets on a clear day. It reminds me a little of Calgary. I always enjoy my days more when it's sunny. (Jeff)
We drove to the top of that mountain you see in that background yesterday. It was an incredible day.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Here's another picture of a big tree, just for good measure.
And of course, I like trees. These trees are big. No one here gets excited about them (except me). Kathy graciously excepted my request to take my picture with him. Wow.
Kathy took this picture standing between the two lamp-like things you saw in the last picture.
On our way up, we came accross a shrine...or temple...I don't know. There were a whole bunch of people lined up to get water from this spring. (Don't ask - we didn't - so we couldn't tell you if you asked). We wandered around the temple grounds and enjoyed the sites. It's remarkable how old things are in Japan. Even stuff they don't get excited about - is pretty exciting for people whose country is less than 150 years old. Kathy took this pic standing in front of the main building, with her back to it.
There are no good pictures yet from our little adventure today. The camera phones are not really good at landscapes, especially mountains and things far away. When we get our pictures from the real camera developed, I'll be sure to update this entry. For now, know that Kathy and enjoyed our beautiful Sunday. It must have been 20 degrees. I woke up a little earlier than her and went down to the river. The air was as clear as it has ever been since we've been here, and I couldn't resist. We decided to pick a mountain (from the peaks we could see around the city) and start driving. We checked the map, and the one we were heading towards was Mount Akagi. So off we went.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Hi guys...Jeff here. Just a silly picture for you today. One of my students gave this to me this afternoon. It's (obviously) a maple leaf - actually a Japanese Maple (aren't they all here?) from the school yard. What you can't see is that it's only about two inches across (5 cm for those too young or not influenced heavily by America to get inches). That's pretty small and pretty much standard. What you can see - assuming you can see the picture, is that it is still mostly green. Not some fancy digital photography trick ;-) the leaf probably only fell off the tree today or yesterday. It's beginning to look a lot like (can you hear the Christmas melody like you were walking through the Pen Center?) Where was I... Yes, it's beginning to look a lot like .... mid October. The leaves are mostly all changed, but not quite. About a third of them are on the ground. Just thought I'd rub it in again - especially Maria - off in the Canadian winter paradise city. How's Winter... I mean Winnepeg? Cold enough for you? I was playing dodgeball outside with the kids at lunch today ... in a T-shirt. Everyday I ask the kids, "How's the weather?" Then I ask them if it's snowing - to which they respond emphatically, "NO!" If I'm in a good mood, I usually go on to tell them that, "today, in Canada, it's snowing." They usually reply with some unintelligible Japanese slang that sounds something like bending over too fast and ripping your pants in the process. It's a lot of fun. (The question - not ripping your pants). On that note, if anyone is around this weekend - we'd love to hear from you - I think it's going to be a little lonely... Email us, or leave a comment here. See ya!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Another shot on my way home - this is the main street in our town. Christmas lights went up yesterday (December 1). It is always really busy around supper time. (Jeff)
The end of my day today. On my way home from school I stopped and took this picture. The sun was pretty much down - it was 5 o'clock. This is our town at night. Notice the flowers growing - they started planting them a couple of weeks ago. A little warmer than Canada.
A quick pic for your enjoyment. My dinner. It's not unusual to find bread in this country stuffed with something. As Kathy and I have said, there is always a surprise inside. This one had some kind of ham or bacon. I don't know. Most of the time it's pretty gross. This one surprisingly tasted good. Maybe I've been here too long! (Jeff)

Monday, November 29, 2004

Of course, on the complete other end of the spectrum from my other post for today.... it's nearly Christmas. And what better way to celebrate the birth of Christ than with a special container of Pringles. The next pic is a close up of the toy on top.... Look closely.
I guess Santa is too fat. They say the Japanese have an inability to get to the point, especially when it may be insulting. I beg to differ....
It's Monday. On monday's I work at Torinogo Elementary school. I was on the third floor looking out when I realized I needed a to take a picture. It is amazing, that even Japan can become normal. It has only been three months and already I walk right on by amazing sites. We get settled and we can get lazy in our perception quickly eh? Life is all around us. Beauty is all around us. We just walk on by....(Jeff)

Sunday, November 28, 2004


Check this out!! It's our new PHOTO ALBUM PAGE.

I thought I'd send a picture of my "church". This is where I've been going lately to "get away and listen". This Sunday and last, and a few days in between this has been my refuge - a place where the water is loud enough that I am no longer distracted by the things around me. In this picture, I am standing at the top of the steps that lead to the water where I normally sit. The weather has been good - next week is December and it was 17 degrees yesterday! I have been getting to my heart slowly, and this is a beautiful place to do it. (Jeff)

Hello to all my friends back home! This is me in a store called Bulldog doing some Christmas shopping. All around the store we found what looks like golden poo. I think its for good luck. There were golden poo "piggy banks", big piles of golden poo, tiny golden poo charm bracelets, and of course, the greatest golden poo hat you've ever seen. Wouldn't you agree? I had to try it on. I am really happy (as shown in the photo) about having poo on my head. Welcome to Japan.....

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Shopping in Omiya

Yesterday, Joanne and I (a friend from Brock who is living in Tokyo) met in Omiya to SHOP. What a great experience. The train station has a department store right in it... then, you walk outside, cross over your choice of overpasses, and enter one of the giant, overwheming 8 or 9 story department stores. We barely made a dint in even ONE of the department stores. But that's okay... gives us a lot of shopping experiences to look forward to. I can't believe I didn't take pictures of all the fu fu clothing we saw. Don't worry, our styles haven't changed too much... YET. Our biggest purchases were still made at the Gap. How boring.
And this pic is just to show you how much the Japanese like their bikes. This is just outside one of the department stores we went to in Omiya... serious bike parking.
Here is Joanne at Starbuck's. Her and I have become very good at sniffing out Starbuck's locations ;-) Hey you crazy Canadians, check it out... it was November 27th, and we were sitting outside very comfortably. We were actually complaining that we were too hot... is it true you have snow now in Canada? hee hee hee (evil laugh)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

This is a picture of the 'children's' temple in Ota we visited today. We saw many young children dressed in kimono. This was to celebrate shichi-go-san (7-5-3), important ages in Japan.
This is one of the beauties we saw today. She is 7 years old.

This is a set of bonsai mums that won a prize. Check out how the roots spread down over the rocks!

There was a whole series of "bonsai mums." This is one that Jeff liked.
I like how this mum has been shaped. Again, just one plant.
This is Kathy with the Urano's. The man beside Kathy is the one she met at the coffee shop! Check out the mums behind them!

We refer to this plant as the "firework mum." Believe it or not, all of those blooms are from ONE mum plant.
This pine tree is over 700 years old. It is at our local Ota temple!

A Very Fine Tuesday

We had ANOTHER national holiday today... yes, life is very rough here...
We spent the afternoon with a retired Japanese couple. Funny story. I actually met the man while I was studying Japanese by myself at Kohikan, a coffee shop. Him and his friend came in, and within minutes he was talking to me, practicing his English, and telling me about how he had just spent the last 3 months travelling around the world on the Peaceboat. Very interesting.

Well, we exchanged phone numbers and addresses. Last night, he gave me a call and invited Jeff and I over to his house. It was a great day. We were served green tea while we ate Japanese snacks (which range from delicious to mildly vomitous). We sat in a small room with our legs under a kotatsu (basically a square 'coffee table' with a blanket under the tabletop and a heater under the table). And then him and his wife showed us pictures from his travels with the Peaceboat. Amazing. They treated us to lunch at a tiny, family-run sushi shop. So fresh and delicious. And then we walked down to the "local temple" together where there was a chrysanthemum festival. Wow. We had never seen anything quite like this. Jeff was in flower heaven. After some more green tea and Japanese snacks, we were driven home in their LL Bean Edition Subaru Legacy. Sweet.

Another fine day in the Japanese life of the Epps.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Two Pictures for Your Sunday Enjoyment

Not the clearest pic, but yes, these are vending machines along Rt. 2, a very main street in Ota. You can buy beer and cigarettes from these. A teacher at my school told me that these are turned off at night, when kids are not in school.... hmmmm.... interesting.

This is a vineyard Jeff found this morning near our place. Check out how thick those vines are!! The little red thing at the bottom of the trunk is actually his bible - just to give you some idea of how big this thing really is!

Quiet Sunday

Yes, it was a quiet day today. We slept in, spent time online catching up with friends and family, did some shopping. Nadine, it was SO good to chat with you online today and tell you about my crazy week. Quiet days sometimes threaten to bring on loneliness, and I feel it tonight. I miss friends and family at home. Christmas is coming, and I'm thinking of so many of you as I plan to buy gifts and send cards. Keep sending us those emails, okay everyone? You're definitely in our thoughts.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Jeff and Mark at the Festival. They don't look really festival-y, but I like the pic, so I just had to post it.... and I know someone else will like it too... hee hee hee... you KNOW who you are!
Jeff and Mark took a walk to the top of the mountain. Jeff got this view of the vineyard with the sun setting and Ashikaga in the distance. Not bad for a cell phone cam!
Kathy supporting a moderately wasted Ayako... yes, she is wearing my *prescription* sunglasses...
Here's Kathy making friends with a beautiful retriever. I love the hat!!!
Here's Jeff at the Harvest Festival.
This is some of the crowd at the Harvest Festival, with Mark in the bottom left corner. Music was performed on the veranda stage on the left, and the crowds sat throughout the vineyard on the right

Ashikaga Wine Festival

Well, we had a beautiful Saturday afternoon for the Harvest Festival. This is a yearly event held in Ashikaga, a small city that borders Ota, our city. The head office of our language company is also in Ashikaga, as well as Mark's apartment! Busloads of people arrive throughout the day. The entrance fee is 1500 yen per person which gives you a bottle of wine, corkscrew, and complementary wine glass. Then, you plunk yourself down in the vineyard, which happens to be on the side of a mountain, listen to live music, and eat and drink to your heart's content. To be honest, it's a bit of a dangerous combination... loads and loads of people drinking alcohol on the mountainside. Needless to say, we saw many hilarious wipeouts. Unfortunately, we also got to witness the results of people drinking far too much wine... enough said. Enjoy the pics!

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Ayako cooking up the yakiniku. She is using the hotplate we just purchased, used to make a gazillion delicious foods. We first cooked a bunch of thinkly sliced meats and vegetables, dipping them in yakiniku sauce, and this is what we finished with: udon. Udon is a thick, delicious noodle. We fried it up with veggies and kimchi, a very spicy pickled Korean cabbage.... wow. So good!
Here I am enjoying the feast. We had a delicious white wine to go with the appetizers, and a red for the yakiniku (Korean BBQ). The white was "Luna Di Luna" from Italy. You MUST try it if you ever have a chance.
This is a sampling of the absolute FEAST we had Saturday night with Mark and Ayako. It was unbelievable. Mark once had a roommate who is a professionally trained French chef. We had nooooooooooooooooo idea.... He made the bruschetta bread and other tomatoey goodies. I can't possibly describe how good the food was... please remember that we haven't eaten fresh basil, fresh garlic, balsamic vinegar and olive oil since we were in Japan.