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


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.
Kathy with Pooh-san. Yes, we all posed with him that night.
Jeff with Pooh-san.
Ayako...my best girlfriend here. She is technically our coordinator, and has helped us out with a TON of things. Although she says she is "traditional Japanese," that's a joke. She is VERY western... and loves to share sake with me.
This is Kevin, from Calgary. He spent the last two years in Korea and just recently arrived in Japan. He shares Jeff's love of computer technology.
This is Mark Krabousanous, our Tennesseean/Greek friend.

In Awe of My Life Here...by Kathy

Well, it's Sunday night, the close of another fantastic weekend. I've just been posting some pictures, and realizing that there is no way to really convey the feelings I have been having this weekend. Life here is incredible. It is one amazing experience after another. I keep being blown away by how many great people we meet every day, and how many unique experiences we get to encouter. Let me give you a sense of this by describing the weekend that is just now closing.

Friday night: We went to Ikkyuu, our Friday night hangout. It is a traditional Japanese izakaya, or pub. Every week, something new and crazy seems to happen there. The staff knows us now, and treats us extremely well. Usually Jeff and I meet Mark and Ayako there at 9 and stay till after 1. This week, Jeff invited Ed (from England) and Bea (from Iceland). Kevin (from Calgary) joined us as well. After a while, we noticed we were being watched by a large group of guys from another table. They soon started using their broken English to try to connect with us. It turns out they were a soccer team. Soon they joined us, shared some food, armwrestled Kevin, and practiced their English! After they left, Bea noticed a group of guys speaking Danish, so she invited them to join us. Turns out they were from Denmark on a two week business trip. Incredible night.

Saturday night: This is probably the best experience we've had so far. We invited Ayako and Mark over for a yakiniku dinner on our new hotplate. We had no idea how well they would spoil us that night. Mark made us amazing appetizers and shared his Baci chocolate with us for dessert. And they each brought a bottle of wine... one to complement the appetizer, and one for the main dish. We feasted that night. The pictures I posted reveal a bit of that feast. But the more significant part of the night was the company and the conversation. Mark shared his pictures of Greece (his home) and Thailand (a recent trip) with us. We talked all night, and I just kept thinking about how lucky I am to be having these experiences. I felt like my heart was going to explode. We keep meeting terrific people, and we have so many opportunities to travel and explore the gorgeous world we live in. I can't really put into words what I felt that night, but it was sheer joy and contentment. I am so glad we came here. I am so glad we sold and gave away everything. I am so glad we left the status quo. We are now living the life I have been dreaming of since I first started traveling, and the freedom is amazing. The cost of this freedom? Loneliness. But it's always bitter sweet. I miss you all so much, but I've also had great talks and email exchanges with you since we've been here. And no matter how much this gypsy travels, Canada will always be home, and I am so glad you will all be there to welcome us back when that time comes...

Sunday: we went to a place recommended by Mark to get our hair cut. Turns out there is a guy there who spent two years in California and speaks very good English: Masataka Otsuka. This was another amazing experience. Our hair was washed, our scalps massaged, our hair was cut, then washed and conditioned AGAIN, we each received a pressure point massage along our necks and backs, and our hair was styled. But the thing is, it wasn't just all the things they did for us, it was HOW they did it! I told Jeff after that they must spend months just learning how to wash someone's hair! Masa held my neck up so I didn't have to, covered my face with a tissue so I wouldn't be splashed by water... even the way he dabbed water away from my forehead and wrapped the towel around my head was amazing! So much attention to detail... they even had special wooden cases for us to put our glasses in. Everything was done with style... Masa's whole body was into the movement of him combing and cutting my hair... all very fluid motions. We will definitely go there again!

The Awesome Haircut Experience!

This is Masataka cutting Kathy's hair!

Here's the hair salon: CRESC. Might as well give them some free advertising. In case you want to come to Ashikaga, Japan to get your hair cut. But I guarantee: you will get a mighty fine haircut, and the massage is great too!

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Just don't ask what this is about! It is some sort of mini van. Unfortunately, this is not the only van like this around town. It seems to be pretty popular to "pimp-out" these things. I just don't understand!! And yes, it does say stripper on the front!
This is the back of the same van. What are they thinking!!!!!
This pic is for Scott. The Acura still going?....Check out this painter van. I see this guy everywhere around Ota. He is actually a painter.
Kathy showing off the K car. Doesn't she look wonderful. She wants a bigger car though - says this one makes her look big. (I think its the car).
This is me IN my K car. Geez it is small in there!!
This is our 'K' car. The back seat has no where to put your legs. In case you couldn't tell, it's a little small ;-)
On the left, a parent's car at one of my schools. On the the right, my bike. Not only is my bike a little bigger than the car, but I can probably carry more AND go faster! (The yellow plate means that this is a 'K'-car in case you couldn't tell.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Weird car from Toyota. Don't know anything about it.
Check this one out. It's pimped.
Heres a close up of the Subaru car, it fits four. Barely. The sign on the window is the price. 121 10,000s. or 1,210,000 yen - that's about 12 grand.
Check this one out from Subaru.
This one is a Toyota I think. It is like a really small minivan.
This is the Nissan CUBE. My favourite car in japan. I will get more pics of this soon.
This car is called MOVE.
The car on the right is a Honda Spike. Very cool.
This is just a funny little honda.
This car is called the midget. It only holds one person. and there is room in the back like a truck.