Slowly Becoming an Instagram Junkie

I’ve been playing a lot these days with Instagram, the popular photo sharing program recently acquired by Facebook.  I’m usually not one for gimmicky iPhone apps, but I must say that I enjoy exploring what I can do using one of Instagram’s 16 digital filters.  Best of all, the app is free and makes it easy to share pics and follow other photographers.  Here are some of my favorite photos that I have taken with Instagram.  You can follow me on Instagram @lulubellphoto.

Orix Buffaloes baseball game at Kyocera Dome Osaka
Tokyo skyline from Mori Tower
Shibuya, Tokyo just after sunset
Gion District of Kyoto
Sakura in Takaoka
Miyajima deer
Floating torii gate in Miyajima
Namerikawa sunset
The road to my junior high school (Hayatsuki) in Namerikawa

One Year in Japan – A Photo Essay

It goes without saying that 2011 was a difficult year for everyone in Japan.  As the country continues to mend in 2012, I hope the rest of the world does not forget the beauty that is everywhere here.

In 12 months, through four distinct seasons and an emotionally impactful year, it is Japan that taught me how to be strong, persevering and unafraid.  For that, I am forever grateful.

2011年はとても大変でした、でも日本が大好きです。

January

Gyouden Park in Namerikawa on a snowy January morning

February

Hakuba Ski Resort in Nagano, Japan

March

Volunteers in Namerikawa, Japan pack boxes filled with relief items for victims of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami

April

Cherry blossoms in Kojo Park, Takaoka, Japan

May

Bonsai rooftop garden at Bonsai Guesthouse in Osaka, Japan

June

Sea of Japan sunset from Namerikawa

July

Creek in Kamiichi, Japan

August

Nebuta festival in Namerikawa, Japan

September

Owara Kaze no Bon Festival in Yatsuo, Japan

October

A traditional Japanese garden in Toyama, Japan

November

Design Festa in Tokyo

December

Two brothers enjoying candy canes at Namerikawa International Day

All of these photos were taken with my iPhone, Nikon Coolpix S6000 or Lumix G2.

Fukuoka’s Tsukurimon festival

Fukuoka, Toyama Tsukurimon festival

One of the best parts of exploring a new culture and country is seeing things you never thought imaginable.  I encountered this feeling of awe when I took the train to Fukuoka, Toyama in September to see the Tsukurimon festival, an event devoted to creating art out of produce.  Here are some memorable pictures from the festival.

Vegetable cat bus ( ねこバス/nekobasu) from Totoro
Vegetable Chopper (from the anime One Piece)
Vegetable dancers

Japan’s Owara Kaze no Bon Festival

Owara Kaze no Bon Festival in Yatsuo, Toyama

The first Japanese festival I attended was the Owara Kaze no Bon Festival in the quiet mountain town of Yatsuo, in Toyama, Japan.  Last September, I was still very new to Japan, and attending Owara was my first venture in Toyama alone.  I was a little nervous but proud to be discovering a new country and culture.  On a damp Friday evening, I took the train to Yatsuo and slowly strolled around the town, following the flow of the Jinzu River and admiring the beautifully-crafted paper lanterns that lit the streets with a delicate pink-orange hue.  Everything about Yatsuo seemed traditional and tranquil.

I ran into a few fellow Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) and we walked to the main festival area together.  Unlike most festivals in America, a center stage isn’t important for Owara because dancers perform at seemingly random points throughout the town – on small, scattered stages, in the street, and even on the porch of homes or stores.  When reading a little bit more about the history Owara, I learned that it is one of Toyama’s most acclaimed festivals, and the dances that are performed symbolize a 300-year-old tradition of praying for good harvest of rice (and also to keep away typhoons).

This year, I attended the festival for the second time and was pleasantly moved by this tradition once again.  I now seem to associate this special festival with independence and new beginnings.  Some videos of the festival can be viewed on my Vimeo page.  More videos of the festival from others can also be found on YouTube.

Spring in Japan

In Chicago, my favorite time of year was probably Fall, a season I always associated with bright colors on trees and new beginnings.  I always looked forward to the new school year and often thought about goals and the person I wanted to become at the end of the school term.

Now that I am no longer in school and live in Japan, my favorite season is Spring (春).  It has been a challenging and tough few months for everyone in Japan, so the blue skies and sakura (cherry blossoms) of Spring have been a welcome sight. Like all the seasons in Japan, Spring is welcomed with festivals, parties and an appreciation for life.

On a personal note, these past few months have been busy and in some ways I feel like I have become a new person.  I have been in Japan for almost one year, and I feel like I have experienced and felt so much in such a short period of time.  This Spring, I started a new term with new students, competed in my first 5K and have been helping promote a local Charity Show JET members in Toyama are performing in July.  Here are some of my favorite iPhone pictures of Spring.  The rainy season is about to begin, so I won’t be seeing too many blue skies in the next few weeks.

春を大好き。

Cherry blossoms in Kojo Park, Takaoka, Japan
Tulips in Tonami, Japan
Hotaruika (firefly squid) in Namerikawa, Japan