Per my blogging tradition, below is a collection of 12 photos representing my 2012. In general, it was a good year, but also a challenging and emotional one, where I said many goodbyes, changed jobs and moved to a different part of Japan. I wish everyone a very prosperous and healthy 2013. あけましておめでとうございます！
Toyama is a part of Japan’s 雪国(snow country) and the winter brings days and nights of endless snow. This is a picture of a frozen window at Hayatsuki Junior High School, where I worked as an ALT for two years until July. I love the imprints from my students’ fingerprints.
One of my favorite places in the Toyama region is Gokayama, a small village tucked away in the mountains full of “gassho” style homes. These traditional houses are all built with a steep thatched roof said to resemble clasping praying hands (and protecting the homes from the heavy snowfall). On certain nights in the winter, the village is lit up with candles, creating a mystical winter wonderland for everyone to walk around and appreciate the beauty winter brings.
Now I know what it feels like to get married! (Sort of). 雛祭り, or hinamatsuri/Doll’s Festival, is celebrated every year in Japan on March 3. On this day, people pray for young girls’ growth and happiness. Several dolls dressed in traditional Heian period clothing, representing the emperor, empress and their court, are often put on display. I was asked to dress up like a doll with my friend Jon, a fellow ALT in Toyama-ken. We walked around the festival greeting people and taking pictures as if we were the emperor and empress! 楽しかったですよ！
No year in Japan is complete without seeing sakura, or cherry blossom trees. In late April, my friend Jenson and I biked to a park bordering Uozu and Namerikawa for the first time just as dusk was approaching. The blossoming sakuras and lit lanterns created a magical, very peaceful, atmosphere – a welcome gift after a long winter.
My sister and two friends came to Japan during Golden Week, so I spent my spring vacation showing them around several “must-see” areas of Japan, including Tokyo, Kyoto and of course, my former stomping ground Toyama. My sister and I both snapped a picture of this young boy running gleefully through Kyoto’s Fushimi-Inari Shrine, one of my favorite places in Kyoto. かわいいですね。
I finally saw a geisha (or a woman dressed as a geisha). I love the stare this woman is giving to the person next to her. I saw her at the Kanazawa Hyakumangoku festival.
I spent my July saying goodbye to Namerikawa, the seaside town I lived in for two years. I took this picture while biking home from one of my elementary schools, likely teary-eyed at the thought of leaving the view of the Tateyama Mountain Range and open freedom of seeing rice fields upon rice fields.
I spent most of my August in Hiroshima, studying at Hiroshima City University as part of the Hiroshima & Peace Program. On August 6, the 67th anniversary of the atomic bombing, thousands of people gathered along the riverfront and set afloat paper lanterns in memory of ancestors, friends, and other loved ones lost – not only on that fateful day, but in wars and tragedies across many nations. I lit one in honor of all those who lost their lives in war, as well as my paternal grandmother, whose life story inspired me to apply for the program.
I moved to Matsuyama on Japan’s Shikoku Island in late August for a new job. Matsuyama is the largest city in the otherwise rural Ehime Prefecture, and like Toyama, a kind of hidden gem in Japan. This is a view of the city from the top of a hill in Dogo Park.
Mt. Ishizuchi, in Ehime, is the tallest mountain in western Japan. I climbed it with a group of my adult students on a lovely October day. The rugged landscape from the top was awe-inspiring, and made me want to climb many more mountains before I leave Japan.
Shimonada Station in Iyo City, Ehime, is the said to be the closest train station to the ocean in Japan. One of my adult students, who told me this is his favorite place in Japan, took me here on a fall day to photograph the sunset.
The holidays are sometimes the times when I feel homesick the most. I haven’t been home for a family Christmas in three years, and I miss my mother’s home-cooking and all the other comfort that comes with being around family. Thankfully, this year, I spent a day with my summer host family in Hiroshima. We walked around Hiroshima Dreamination, a spectacular collection of illuminations that recreates a fairytale world for children and adults.