Monday, February 28, 2005

A Saturday in Haruna

Well, Jeff is really really sick with the flu, so it's up to me to post our latest adventure. Saturday was a beautiful day, so we hopped in the car and went exploring. Ended up in the mountains, in an onsen town (these hot springs are everywhere!) called Haruna. There was a lake at the top of the mountains. Was at one time an active volcano. It was really cool. You could see it by looking around at the circle of mountains.

We walked on the lake for a (short) time. It was very cold. Lots of people were out enjoying the beautiful day. Most of them were icefishing. But we came across a guy who had cleared the snow off of a ring of ice and was offering go-kart rides. We couldn't resist. It was a blast!

Other than that, things are quiet. Jeff got the flu Sunday and has been ordered to stay home all week. I'm hoping I won't get it. I haven't seen him this miserable for a very long time.

Take care and catch you all later!
The go-karts were waaaaaaaaaaaay too much fun. We got to skid around on the ice for seven laps. Yeeeeeeeehaaaaaaaa!
There's Jeff getting away from me!
Smarter people icefishing in little huts! You can rent these tents, and you get charcoal in a can to keep you warm.
Jeff loves this one. I don't. Why does he love it? Look closely at my sunglasses...ah, the mountains... he's becoming quite artistic!
Jeff would want you to see this, I think. The valley below...

Monday, February 21, 2005

I went snowboarding at Hakuba 47 this weekend while Kathy was on her own onsen/ski adventure. Hakuba is the town where the olympic skiing happened in 98 (it wasn't actually Nagano - although that is pretty close by. The mountain next to this one is where the GS and ski jumping occurred. Here are a couple of pictures for your enjoyment. Make sure you read Kathy's entries too - they are actually more exciting than mine! (Jeff)
A view down the valley.
Proof that I was there. Actually I wimped out and took the gondola down the hill (there were no easy runs and I had unsuccessfully attempted it the day before). I had nothing to do while I was riding down so I took pictures of myself!
That run sucked big time for a beginner snowboarder (me). First time since grade 9 that I've been scared coming down a run.

Kathy's Weekend

So, I went to Kusatsu with the 2nd grade teachers I work with. The trip mostly good, but I found all the Japanese exhausting. Kusatsu is the most famous onsen (hot spring) town in Gunma. Yes, it was my first onsen (communal nude bathing) experience. And oh, it sure was interesting. (before you ask... don't worry... the male and female areas are kept separate at this particular onsen!) I went with Takagi sensei, who showed me all the proper bathing etiquette... you have to sit on a stool first and shower yourself nice and clean, then you hold a miniscule towel over your privates and get into the water... oh, but don't put the towel in the water! That really goes against the bathing rules. Apparently the water in Kusatsu is particularly hot and strong, so we had to remove all jewelery and make sure we didn't stay in the water more than about 4 minutes. Takagi sensei kept telling me to be careful about this. Well, we enjoyed the indoor bath for a couple minutes and then went to the outdoor bath. I liked that the best. It was so refreshing to feel the cold air breeze across my face.

After a few minutes, we decided to go inside. As Takagi sensei was opening the glass door, she fell in a faint!! It took me a second to figure out what happened because first she seemed to be just leaning against the glass, and then she slumped down. I hate to admit that my first thought was, "Oh my goodness! We're both naked! I don't want to have to carry her! How do I carry her and cover my privates at the same time!!!" Luckily she came to quickly. I helped her inside where she lay down on a bench. She was fine... just scraped a couple of fingers. But she was really pale and shaky for about 20 minutes. And she was QUITE embarrassed after the fact. I simply thanked her for giving me such a memorable first onsen experience.

Later that night, after our parties, Koyama sensei decided to make a quick trip to the onsen before going to sleep. It was around 1am. She went by herself and said there were about 3 other women in the bathing area with her. They were all very shocked when suddenly, a drunk man entered the bathing area! I lost most of the rest of the story in the translation, but needless to say, we all had pretty exciting bathing experiences this weekend. My Japanese friends assure me this is not the norm.

Anyhow, Kusatsu was absolutely gorgeous. Amazing skiing, great onsen, cute little town. I'm glad I went, even if my head hurt a little from all the Japanese!
My favorite picture of the group of us. Unfortunately, Koyama sensei and Kakinuma sensei are not in the picture. Koyama sensei had to leave the trip early, and Kakinuma sensei was taking the picture.
Another picture of the hot spring and the pipes, with the town in the background.
This is where the hot spring water actually bubbles up to the surface. The wooden boxes are a traditional way to pipe the water away to the various hotels.
These are the ni nensei (2nd grade) teachers. We stayed in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. This is in the men's room, after dinner.
Takagi sensei and I in our yukatas before we hit the onsen. This is what you wear when you go to the onsen. In onsen town, it is perfectly acceptable to walk around in these. We had dinner and drank together wearing these. I found the whole experience very amusing.
This is Kimura sensei. He was my skiing parnter, as we are both not exactly fantastic skiiers. He was a lot of fun to hang out with. We're the same age, and he has a great sense of humour

Friday, February 18, 2005

Our Weekend

Hi all,
Well, Jeff and I are taking our own exciting trips this weekend. Jeff already left tonight with another English teacher. They are driving together to Nagano, a neighbouring prefecture, where they will be joining the JET ski trip. JET is the program I came with the first time I came to Japan. Jeff went all out this week, deciding he would become a snowboarder. He bought the boots, the board, the bindings. He is set, and looking forward to a good weekend with a bunch of English teachers.

I am going on a different sort of trip. I am going on the ni nensei (2nd grade) trip to Kusatsu, a hot spring town a couple of hours away. At school, I sit with the ni nensei teachers. Every year, each grade of teachers goes on a trip together. There will be just 9 of us teachers out together. We leave tomorrow morning. We'll be going skiing, and then hanging out in the hot springs (my first go at this strange form of communal nudity). Sunday we'll visit some strawberry fields and slowly make our way back. While I'm looking forward to the trip, I expect I'll be exhausted by the end of it due to all the Japanese I'll be expected to speak.

So no pics for now, but I'm sure there will be a ton after the weekend is through... kath

Monday, February 14, 2005

Dagmar's Art Show - Surprise from Japan!
Yup, I think she's surprised!

Back at Home in Japan

Hi Everyone!
It's Monday night here. Just wanted to let you all know that I am back in Japan, safe and sound. It was amazing to come home for a week. Dagmar was most definitely surprised, as shown in the picture. It was surreal to be in Canada, especially without Jeff. It felt so cold, although all of you kept telling me it was warmer than usual. I thought and felt a lot last week. I had so many good conversations with so many different people... friends and family. Many of you were a part of my thought process regarding the job at Asia University - the job that ended up never panning out. Thank you for all of your input in that. As it turns out, that whole process was HUGE... a bit of a turning point for me. It made me really think about what is important to me, what I'm willing to sacrifice and what I'm not. So I figure it was all meant to be, sans job offer.

The other thing I really came away from Canada with is a deep thankfulness for the strong relationships I have with all of you. So many meaningful talks, so many thoughtful words of advice, so many of you willing to take a break from your regular, hectic schedules to spend a bit of time with little me. Wow. Thank you. Jeff and I have some very rich relationships that we can look forward to coming home to.

Finally, thank you mom and dad for all you did. The warm bed, the good food, the abundant fruit, nicely cut up for me... ;-) and the good wine. Thanks for letting me interrupt your lives, use the beautiful Jeep any time I wanted to. Thanks for setting up appointments for me, and buying me and Jeff nice things. I know you were really happy to see me. I could feel it every day. I hope that happiness can last for a little while.

Goodnight everyone... love you lots...kath

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The next two pictures are both from this picture. Remarkably this is the actual picture. That is the sun. It was just a little round dot through the fog. Very surreal.

This one was taken with a little help from the digital camera, which really only messed up the effect of the sun.

And of course this is my creation. Well, God's creation with a little twist from me and my Adobe Photoshop. Kinda freaky. So there are a couple more. I case you are wondering, these pictures were taken at a little graveyard in the middle of a small farmer's field really close to our apartment. Please check out the rest of the pictures. Just FOLLOW THIS LINK and you'll find that I have added an album on our photo page with just the "newest" pictures. I just recently acquired a digital camera (under somewhat shady circumstances) and I've been enjoying the options. Enjoy. (Jeff)

This was the scene on the way to work this morning. No digital hanky-panky - this is the real thing. I did not mess with this picture. Some of the other ones I did, but not this one. It was both cold (everything was covered with frost) and foggy - like I've only seen out on Ephingham Road.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Kathy is away. I'm by myself here for the week. I think that's the longest we've been apart since Kathy was in Japan seven years ago. Wow. So I'm keeping myself busy. Last weekend Kathy and I hung out with that Japanese couple that she met in the coffee shop. They took us to the top of the small mountain in the north end of our city. The mountain is called Kanayama - or Kana Mountain. Well, I really enjoyed myself and noticed there were a lot of hiking trails as we walked around. At the top was another shrine and the ruins of a very old Samurai castle that are being restored. Yesterday Mark and I hiked the mountain. Nothing too difficult, although I was out of breath a few times. We made it to the top and took in the view. I didn't have a camera with me, so today I went back by myself. This time I drove to the top, just as the sun was setting. Here is a picture from near the top of Kanayama looking over at Asama yama, or Asama mountain - which is in fact - if I've heard correctly, a volcano. Pretty cool.
Akagi Mountain. The one Kathy and I drove up to a few months back. It is pretty dominant in our surroundings here. A little cloud covered today.
A trail at the top of the mountain takes you to the ruins of an old Samurai Castle. Pretty cool eh! No pics of the castle today, buy I'm hoping to get some soon.
These trees should look familiar to anyone out in the Pelham area. Just like back home, but here, they are much taller, and cover the base of a lot of the foothills around the city.
This is a close up of one of the trees on the hills around Ota. Just like those trees I planted in our back yard back home in Canada.