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.

Out and about in Toyama city

It’s been a weird past month and a half, one of the busiest times I’ve had in a while. For a bit I felt like I did in school, starved for sleep and cramming something into every second of the day. I enjoyed it, or at least thrived off of it in University and I still do now, despite the fact that it isn’t healthy. But this past week or so has been more relaxed and I’ve gotten back into the swing of things. Sunday was my school’s first baseball game of the summer tournament. We won, thankfully, although it broke my heart to see the other team walking by us with tears streaming down their faces. Like most baseball games it was held at a baseball stadium in the middle of nowhere (for someone without a car). I was able to take the bus there with my school and then walked from the stadium, took two trains, and finally made it into Toyama city to see a teacher’s orchestra perform. I spent the rest of the sunny afternoon wandering around the city and refilling my water bottle whenever I got the chance. I love Toyama city in all it’s quietness.

Tonami Tulip Fair 2015

Golden week is coming up, and lucky for us this year the string of holidays gives us a five day weekend.  It also gave us a holiday wednesday which we used to go to the Tonami Tulip Fair. Events like this in Japan always impress me; there’s so much planning and detail that go into everything. The park is huge, with different sections like the huge fields of flowers, the river, and a little couple-y photo-op area. It also happened to be really hot yesterday, reminding me to mentally prepare for the upcoming heat of summer.

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I tried tulip ice cream and “deep sea salt” or something ice cream from Uozu. They were both pretty good, the tulip flavour tasted a little like grass but it was sweet and light. They also had a white shrimp flavour. We contemplated buying it just to see what it was like but in the end actually enjoying ice cream won out.

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We also got to see a bit of the dancing. The dancers are divided into groups from different areas of the city and each wear a specific ukata. Like last year we joined in the dancing. Or should I say, tried to dance… we weren’t very good.


Cherry Blossoms in Toyama City

Matsukawa is a big river that runs through Toyama city. It’s pretty all year round, but especially beautiful in spring when the cherry blossoms come. On the weekend, and most weekdays, the riverbed and surrounding park are filled with people eating and drinking together. It’s pretty popular for companies to have an outing and to see large groups of businessmen eating dinner together on big blue tarps. I went during the week this year and it pretty quiet, probably because it was so cold!

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This spring has been really strange. A month ago the weather was flip-flopping, going from warm enough to wear just a shirt to cold enough I was back in my winter coat. My teacher told me it was called “三寒四温” Sankanshion – three days cold, four days warm. Although I took it as more of an expression it seemed to be a pretty accurate description. The cherry blossoms in Toyama Prefecture bloomed about a week and a half ago, and sadly I think all the petals are just about to start falling. Matsukawa river was just as pretty as last year, although definitely colder.

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The Shinkansen comes to Toyama!

In the last year year or so I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the construction around Toyama station every week, the building dark on the inside and surrounded by fences and construction machines. I walked through the station for the first time on Sunday (the day after it opened) and was surprised at how moved I felt. It’s huge and beautiful and it feels like a really important moment for Toyama.


The south entrance


South of the station


This is an image of most of the station. On the left you can see a sign that says “Toyama city” and the gate after that is for local trains and lead to the same tracks that we used before the new station was built. The big gate on the right is for the new Shinkansen.  (*^▽^*)



Facing north: entrance to the local trains


Facing east: entrance to the Shinkansen tracks


The Shinkansen means an increase in tourism and and there is an entire new building attached to the east side of the station full of fancy omiyage. Here’s the new store that is in the station itself, which seems to have more budget friendly omiyage and souvenirs like key chains.


Just one of the new shops


Shinkansen swag!


I know what you’re thinking, why is there a random patch of weird coloured tiles in the middle of the station? It’s actually some sort of holographic(?) tile that has different coloured lights shining on it from above. There’s also faint bird and nature noises playing that I could only hear when I walked through this area.

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On the west side of the station there is a little elevated area with tables where people can eat and study. There’s also this elevator from the future.

Toyamastation0128 Toyamastation0130On the east side of the station is the new terminal for the Toyama tram lines.

And a new bathroom. ( ´ ▽ ` )ノ

Toyamastation0138And after all that excitement I was back to my usual platform waiting for my train back. On the left is one of the older JR trains and on the right is one of the newer trains that have been here for almost a year. They used to only go towards Kanazawa but now they also make the trip east. The company running the main train lines in Toyama has changed. It used to be JR but it is now privately owned.

Toyamastation141While Toyama is not exactly a tourist destination, the Shinkansen means more and more people will be dropping in. There’s been major renovations to the buildings near the station, and even smaller cities have made changes like an increase in English menus and signs. It’s exciting to see Toyama growing and I can’t wait to take the Shinkansen somewhere, even if only the short trip to Kanazawa!