Monday, December 18, 2006

My 2006

It`s that time of year...time to write about the main events from the last 365 days. It seems like every year just goes by faster and faster, and I am never able to realize it until it`s happened. It`ll soon be 2007, but I am still getting used to saying 2006.

I began my 2006 with a New Years party in Tokyo. I had been up in Akita prefecture doing some skiing with friends and had returned to Tokyo for a New Years party held at club Unit in Daikanyama. There was a good vibe in the place, and it was a fun night (minus the nausea trouble I got myself into as a result of drinking too many Heinekens).

I was busy in January, because my band (The Peacemakers) had a gig scheduled for the 22nd. It was at a large concert hall in Yashio, the same venue we had played a year earlier. We had been rehearsing in December and continued that into January right up until the date. The show went off well, with no major malfunctions other than the atrocious weather. It snowed a total of 3 days all winter last year in Yashio, but one of those days was the day of our concert, just my luck! We had a large post-concert party at a local izakaya (Eena) to cap the event off. Little did I know that it would likely be the final time I would play a gig with them.

February and March were spent trying to keep warm in my apartment. As I`ve no doubt mentioned hundreds of times, it is wickedly cold here in the winters. My apartment was also furnished with the world`s worst kerosene heater. It stunk up the place something awful, and didn`t kick out much heat. So instead, I used my aircon/heater despite the horribly expensive price of electricity. To stay warm, I would often spend long hours at the local gym. It was better to be warm and exercising than shivering in my apartment. I was lucky enough to have a decent community gym not far from my apartment. Community gyms are adequately equipped, and 300 yen ($3) per visit was much more reasonable than the 12,000 yen ($120) monthly fees charged by most private clubs.

In April, I was lucky enough to have my sister Natalie and her husband Mats come out to Japan to visit me for a week. It was nice to see them, as I hadn`t seen anyone from home since the previous year at their wedding. We toured many local areas in Tokyo, including Asakusa, Odaiba, Shinjuku, Harajuku, etc
I think it was a little hard for them to adjust to Japan`s climate/culture/food in such a short period of time though. If you are in Japan for a week, it taked a good 2 or 3 days just to get over the jetlag before you can fully comprehend things. They were troopers though, and we went on lots of day trips and tried lots of local Japanese cuisine. I am expecting more visitors from home in 2007 as well. My tour guide skills are top notch! lol

In May I met a wonderful girl named Natsumi. Since we have been together, my experince in Japan has been 100% different. I still do all the same things that I used to, but now I have so much different input and alternate viewpoints on things I thought were pretty obvious. Being with Natsumi has really opened my eyes and unlocked a culture that I have been immersed in for the past 2 years. I am now privy to all the subtle nuances of people`s actions, business strategies, pop culture, and history and as a result, I am really beginning to appreciate my experiences here the way they should be appreciated. Natsumi is a 4th year university student studying Chinese (Mandarin) and she is currently writing her thesis (actually she finished it 2 days ago! Omedetou!). Her English ability is also very high. We generally communicate in English, but I try and use the Japanese I`ve learned, and I am learning much more from her as well.

In early June, I met up with another music friend of mine, Kirk. He is formerly from Regina, Saskatchewan, but has been living here in Tokyo for the last 6 years. He is married to a Japanese woman and plans to spend his life in Japan. We rented a car and decided to go on a weeklong adventure. In Japan, it is very easy to travel almost anywhere by local or bullet train, but not so popular to do a Candian-style raod trip. We looked to buck that trend, so we planned a route through Japan that would take us on a scenic, off the beaten track kind of adventure. After a minor fender-bender in Tokyo (Kirk still wasn`t used to the right-hand drive cars, lol) we were off. We headed east of Tokyo and made our way to Nagano prefecture. We took a few roads through the mountains that were more than treacherous, but eventually ended up in the beautiful mountain village of Iina-shi. We stayed with another frind of mine, Carla, who is also origianlly from Winnipeg. We enjoyed a beautiful mountain onsen before pushing on in the direction of Osaka. Or plan had been to travel about halfway to Osaka that day, but instead we made it all the way there in a day. We stayed in Osaka for a couple of days, soaking in the local atmosphere, food, and excitement. The world cup was on at that time, so we joined the sea of blue Team Japan shirts and watched Japan`s game amongst hundreds of screaming Japanese fans. From there, we carried on to beautiful Kyoto. This was such a change after the madness of Osaka. We saw all of the beautiful temples and castles, and really chilled out for a couple of days.
Lastly, we headed back towards Tokyo. Our plan was to stay on the beach in Shizuoka, do some swimming, and just relax. When we got there though, the beach was a bit subpar, and it wasn`t so beautiful. We thought that maybe we should just head back to Tokyo that day, but we weren`t sure. It became a definite plan when Kirk lost his glasses in the ocean after taking a wave to the face. We arrived safely back in Tokyo, no major incidents in our trip.

At the endo of July, I packed up and moved to a new city, Kasukabe. All of the teachers in my previous city (Yashio) were being replaced by a private company, but I was licky enought to get a transfer to Kasukabe. Natsumi and I rented a moving truck, loaded it up, and drove it the 2 hours to Kasukabe. It was sad to leave Yashio, as it had been my home for 2 years here in Japan, and my base for all the crazy adventures I have been on in that time. It`s also where i met my good friends. I also had to say goodbye to a good buddy, Keith. He was heading back to the UK at that time. I think one of the first posts on this blog is about the beaking up of the YA-JET massive, so have a look if you want to read more. Anyway, I finally got settled in my new apartment (which is waaaaaay nicer and bigger than my previous one). I`ve made many new friends here in Kasukabe, and it is a great place to live.

I`ve made friends in Kasukabe who are from the US, the UK, Australia, NZ, Jamaica, Canada, and the Phillipines. My new school, Midori Junior High School, is also a lot of fun. The job is a lot more challenging here. Also, I have been teaching regularily at an Elementary school that is part of a special pilot program in English language education in Japan. It is one of only 3 schools in the whole country to incorporate a high level of English instruction at the elementary level. It is so influential, in fact, that it is regualrily visited by delegations of principals, superintendants, and other education officials who are interested in similar programs for their schools. Last week, I was part of a demonstration day where 500-600 education-related people, media, etc came to the school to watch us perform our classes and classroom routines. The work is a lot more interesting this year.

In October, Natsumi and I headed down to Okinawa. There is also an extensive post about that trip on this blog, so I will not bore you with the synopsis again. I will say that it was great and just the break I needed after the stress of moving to a new city, meeting new people, and starting a new job. Since then we`ve done many fun things including going to museums and parks around Tokyo, going to art shows, throwing parties (had a housewarming in October as well). In our downtime, we both enjoy going to the gym and are lucky enough to have a fairly inexpensive club near my apartment.

This past weekend, the English teachers from Kasukabe got together and threw a little Xmas shindig. We had to have the party early because it was the last chance that we would all have to be together before Xmas. Most people are leaving Japan to go home or take a vacation over Xmas. It was a fun time, and we even had a Xmas tree! Now I am back at work writing this after a hard weekend recovering from that night.

But all is well! Today is Monday, but this week I only work until Wednesday the 20th. On Thursday, Natsumi and I hop on a plane and will be headed for Shanghai!

I`ve got my Chinese VISA all sorted, and I`m ready to go. I am excited to go, as Shaghai looks and sounds like one of the craziest places. I`m looking forward to the shopping too. I`ll have a big post on here about the trip when we get back.

So...that was an abbreviated version of my 2006. Please write me and tell me all about your year as well. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I hope you all succeed in whatever it is you are doing! Bye.


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