Japan in 12 Photos: a Third Year in Review

At the risk of being repetitive, I still have to say – time has flown. My third year in Japan felt not like another year on an overseas adventure but like another year of life – though still in a beautiful, exciting place. Over time my comfort zone has gotten bigger and bigger – and in the past year I pushed it even more to try new things both in Toyama and beyond. And now in September back in Canada, I have so much to reflect on.

August – Summer Camp


In the summer, many schools have an English summer camp. Students and their teachers go far away into the mountains to these little buildings (I think they are usually used for company bonding retreats?) and have full days of English lessons and activities. I’ve been to over a dozen in my time in Japan and they never fail to be hilarious, fun, and a great chance to get to know students on another level. Not to mention… so. much. food.

September – Silver Week in Seoul

By good fortune, the elusive 5-day Silver Week holiday fell during my time in Japan. My friends and I took a trip to Seoul where we spent a few days eating, walking, eating, going to museums, and eating.

October – No Face in Toyama

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October came and gave me one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. The previous year I had made a No Face costume to wear to some events. This year, I couldn’t let it go to waste and so my friends and I dressed up and took him on a little trip in Toyama city. It was hilarious to see the reactions to his appearance and it felt great to be a little bit of excitement in peoples’ day. You can watch the video we made here.

November – Kyoto leaves


In November I went to Kyoto for the long weekend and saw the fall leaves at Kiyomizudera. I had such a wonderful weekend with friends and loved seeing one of my favourite places in colour. A word to the wise, if you want to see the leaves in Kyoto during that weekend make your bookings months in advance… it gets busy!

December – Tokyo

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In December I went down to Tokyo for Christmas! It was magical going to Disney and seeing the illuminations around Roppongi. Mostly it was special spending time with friends in a city with never-ending adventure.

January – Toyama winter fun


Toyama was COVERED in snow for part of last winter, so much so that the trains were delayed (that’s how you know it’s serious). There were a few weekend days where I didn’t even dare go outside due to wind and snow. The upside was seeing Toyama in this beautiful white blanket and doing some fun things like ice skating!

February – It’s Raining Ramen


February was the return of the Nyuzen Ramen Festival, an event I can honestly say I waited a full year for in anticipation. I chowed down on some delicious ramen and remembered to bring a bottle of water, because oh man, water sells out fast at this event.

March – Solo to Hiroshima

In March I took a solo trip to Hiroshima, stopping in Kobe, Okayama, Naoshima, and Okunoshima along the way. Going by local train was absolutely the slowest way of travelling but it was a wonderful experience that tested my own travel skills and helped me learn new things.

April – Hanami Forever

Cherry blossoms are one of the most characteristic images of Japan, and a tourist magnet… for good reason. Despite my skepticism of anything with so much hype surrounding it, cherry blossoms are just as magical as their reputation would lead you to believe. I spent the beginning of April seeing as many as I could, whether that be in the beautiful daylight of Takaoka park or on a cold evening huddled under the trees.

May – Yosakoi, Yosakoi


I joined a Yosakoi team in October, and every week, two nights a week, went to practice. After months of practice, May was when I first performed with my team and fell completely in love with Yosakoi.

June –  No Rice No Life

June was the second annual International Rice Planting competition, the most fun I have ever had standing in mud. We joined teams and planted a field of rice the old school way (they have machines for that stuff now!) and were judged for accuracy, speed, and overall positivity.

July – Toyama and beyond

July (and June too, really) was the month of sad goodbyes, but more on that later. In July my sister came to Japan and we spent a few weeks in Toyama before embarking on a final hurrah around the country.

Summer Festivals in Toyama-Ken

When I think of summer in Japan I think of two things: heat and festivals. I’m a much bigger fan of the latter but at least I’ve now adjusted a little to the humidity. And frankly, now that it’s started getting cold again I feel myself missing the heat. And I already feel nostalgic for festivals even though I have another season in store for me next year. Festivals vary in their purpose and meaning but there are a few essentials found at almost all of them: beer, food stands, and games. If it’s special it’ll have some sort of fireworks, dancing, or floats being pushed and pulled around. Families come and hang out, fanning themselves with the plastic advertisement fans handed out by companies and kids run around with shaved ice. There’s a sense of occasion but everyone is pretty casual at the same time. I went to a lot of festivals this year but that only comprises a small fraction of the dozens that take place in Toyama.


On August 1st every year, people come to a river in Toyama to watch a big fireworks show. We had to wait in line for shuttle from the station to the river, and the whole area was super crowded, especially in the surrounding streets. After the fireworks we did Purikura and I ran into tons of students.


Tanabata festivals are held all over, but this was my first time being to the one in Takaoka. There wasn’t anything too unique about it, but it was pretty big and I ate some good food.



Honestly I’m still confused about what exactly this festival is, and there seemed to be only about one hundred people there. Some people carry a float around the streets of Uozu and are followed by these costumed demons and a crowd. These demons chase kids around to scare them but it’s considered lucky if you shake their hand. I shook one of their hands and he reached over and stroked my head after. I hope that’s good luck.



My last blog post was about this. This is my favourite festival that I’ve ever been to and so much fun. We got to wear happi and help pull the floats. This year was extra special because we organized for more ALTs from different cities to come and join. In total we had about 20 foreigners pulling together and at the end of the night got interviewed by the local news station. It was really nice to have everyone come to our city and I felt such municipal pride being able to host everyone in such good spirits.



This took place the Sunday after Tatemon and it was a nice way to relax. There was a big parade of dancers down the centre street in Uozu. There were different groups of dancers – some actual organized dance teams but most were local businesses or organizations that joined together. It went on for at least two hours and I saw a few people I knew dancing! I also got to see my school’s brass band play.



This was the first festival I ever went to in Japan! We watched the dance performance and then went to watch the fireworks and fires down by the river.



Kaze no bon is Toyama’s biggest festival and a huge tourist attraction. The images of its dancers are everywhere and have become a symbol of Toyama.

Uozu Tatemon Festival 2015

Last weekend was my second time joining the Uozu Tatemon Festival, the biggest event in Uozu of the year and something I had been looking forward since the first time. There were two nights on the Friday and Saturday. I went on Friday just to watch and while there was a smaller crowd than Saturday, there was still a lot of excitement and energy.

There are 8 floats, all weighing around 5 tonnes that get pushed and pulled along the water. Big groups of people are organized in teams and wear matching happis. Usually the strongest people get put in the centre of the float to push it (there aren’t any wheels!) and everyone else pulls from ropes at the front. After going down the street the Tatemon get pulled into an open area one by one where they are spun in a circle. A few lucky guys get to run with the ropes extended from the top; leaping in the area as they spin the float around. Once this is done the team members visit the shrine.
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The best part of the festival is seeing everyone from the city come together. The floats are all owned and stored by families and the team members are usually relatives of friends. Lots of families and groups of people to come out and watch together, eating food and taking pictures.

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Japan in 12 Photos: A second year in review

Welcome to the second installment of a the year in review, you can see the first here.

Today marks two years that I’ve been in Japan. It’s hard to wrap my head around it. In some ways it feels like I just got here and in others it seems like a lifetime. I think back to my first night in Japan, lying awake in the hotel room and wondering what I was doing. I couldn’t have known what was in store for me and that one day Toyama’s mountain range would become a familiar and comforting sight.

August: Canada

Going home to Canada was a little surreal and also wonderful. We traveled all the way up to Montreal and back, I got to go to New York, and most importantly my aunt was able to visit Canada for the first time. It was an interesting experience to see my home through a new lens after being away for a year.


September: School Stuff

September (and most of October actually) revolved totally around school. There were two big events, the speech contest and the debate tournament. Weekdays were spent staying late at school coaching students through arguments, pronunciation, and gestures. A year later I can probably still recite most of Maya Angelou’s “Still I rise”. Weekends were full of committee meetings and fortunately a million school festivals which only happen once every three years.

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October: Maibara

In October I used the long weekend to go to Maibara and saw their Kabuki festival, one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Not only was I immensely impressed that kids under the age of 12 were able to wake up at 4 and perform traditional theatre all day, the community and spirit were really nice to be a part of.


November: Osaka

In November I went to Osaka and had an awesome long weekend. It was crazy busy in the area because everyone was going to see the fall leaves. I missed out on that, but I did go to see Big Bang and had the time of my life… we were seated right next to one of the stage’s walkways that come down into the audience. We got noticed by two of the members and even caught a towel (but gave it away to the two girls in front of us).


December: Bali

I escaped the cold of Japan’s winter to go to Bali for about a week. I climbed a mountain and went scuba-diving – two things I wasn’t sure I could do but that I ended up loving. I loved the trip and had some wonderful experiences, made even sweeter that when I got back to Toyama I felt like I was coming home.


January: Snowboard Season

I started going snowboarding semi-regularly and thanks to a friend who pushed me (not literally) my abilities and confidence really grew. I stopped being scared of the hill and learned to love powder. I’m lucky that Toyama has some great ski hills relatively close to where I live, and even luckier to have nice people to go with.

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February: … a blur and Ramen

February is always a month that I never remember. The fall is feels so structured, anchored by the season and the same annual events. Then January comes and the winter / spring feels like a blur. But the highlight of February for me was the ramen festival again. It makes me feel like I’m part of the community here while also eating amazing ramen… I can’t think of anything better.


March: Shinkansen comes to Toyama!

I’m nowhere near to being a Train Otaku, but the arrival of the Shinkansen felt like a really big deal. It was exciting to see the construction that had been taking place almost since I arrived to result in this big, beautiful, fancy station. One day I will take it to Tokyo…


April: Nagoya and Sakura

I went to Nagoya to meet the cool people of Asian Pacific Islander AJET and hang out a little. Trips to Nagoya are always so chill and relaxing. I love the bus ride and its view and the laid back atmosphere of the city. I caught the tail end of the cherry blossoms, which are always pretty but are extra special with a castle added in.


May: Tokyo

I went to Tokyo for Golden Week, we were lucky to have 5 days this year. I had great Korean food, slept in the park, and went to Disney Sea (which is maybe better than Disney Land :O).


June: the TRAM

Technically this isn’t a photo – but there are plenty of photos inside! In June I spent a lot of time working on my first project in layout / creative design. It took a lot of time and learning but I’m really happy with the end result especially since it’s created by people in Toyama.

July: Yukata

In July I bought and learned how to put on a Yukata for the first time (I wore it on August 1st, but that’s a technicality…). It was really nice of my teachers to take the time to show me how to do it and let me practice. I’m happy to say I can do it by myself now! I love summer festivals in Japan, they’re so laid back and have great food, but seeing everyone dressed up always makes it feel like a special occasion.