#Tokyo4Ferguson

A Foreword and a Disclaimer

It’s very difficult for me to write about what is going on in the U.S. right now without getting upset. The same goes for a lot of other people, and they are still finding the strength to write about it. I thought I might try, but I don’t have anything new to add to the conversation that well-spoken people have not said already. And I’m afraid I would make a mistake somewhere along the way, and I don’t want to distract from the real problem with my unintentional ignorance. Let’s focus on the real issues.

So in lieu of trying to explain what is going on and how we should be responding to it myself, I’m going to post a list of links at the bottom of this entry for you to peruse. And I hope you do, because even though I’m not going to talk about the events that led to this protest, it is important to know what is going on.

Inform yourself. Don’t believe everything you read or hear on the news (which is hardly a good resource for truth, regardless of what side of the political spectrum it’s on).

And please, when you see people marching in the streets, have some compassion. They are feeling a pain that you cannot possibly understand.

And the worst thing is, you should.

Tokyo Stands with Ferguson

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On Saturday, I went to a solidarity march for Ferguson. For Mike Brown. For Eric Garner. For all the black children killed by cops in the United States. It’s a goddamn tragedy.

And much of the international community is not going to stand for it.

One of my friends was an organizer for this march. She and a few friends decided that they needed to show their support for the protestors in the United States, like people all over the world are doing. But since this is Japan, they needed it to be legally sanctioned.

So they went to the police. Because you can actually do that here.

They went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department to ask for permission, and according to my friend, the Tokyo police were very supportive and accommodating. They were very excited, she said, to support this march, because apparently even other police are appalled by police actions in the United States. They gave the march a permit and a traffic lane, and they accompanied us all the way around Shibuya with a police car leading us.

I was a little nervous when I arrived, because it was my first protest/political action event ever. I didn’t participate in the protests against tuition hikes in college, because people were angry and scary. But I didn’t get that feeling from these people at all. People are angry, of course, but they are rallying together to fight for justice, and that is something I can believe in.

It was a well-organized protest, and everyone was incredibly nice and friendly. It helped that I knew people there, though there were a few people who showed up alone. We were all there to show our support.

As we were walking, there were a lot of different reactions. Some Japanese people minding their own business just looked confused, but others seemed to know what was going on. I met a guy afterward who just joined us in our march in the middle of Shibuya. There were several other people who stopped as we passed and raised their hands in the “Don’t Shoot” position. It was touching.

I’ve been wanting to do something for Ferguson for a really long time, and with the latest news about Eric Garner’s murderer not getting indicted, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to stand up and help somehow.

Even if “helping” is only being a body in a crowd showing support. We just need to show the world that we are not going to stand for these injustices.

Thank you to everyone who showed up, and to the Tokyo Police, and to everyone around the world who is protesting in solidarity.

#blacklivesmatter #Tokyo4Ferguson

Saying people of color are obsessed with race
is like saying that someone is obsessed with swimming
when they’re drowning.
Hari Kondabolu

Photos and Videos from the March

Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/darcnoodles/sets/72157649218572020/
Youtube doc: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIudaUKJL2k
News Coverage: http://www.newsweek.com/ferguson-eric-garner-protests-sprawl-worldwide-289867

Information on the Injustices

The Rarity of a Federal Grand Jury Not Indicting
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/11/24/the-rarity-of-a-federal-grand-jury-not-indicting-visualized/?Post+generic=%3Ftid%3Dsm_twitter_washingtonpost
What Black Parents Tell Their Sons about the Police
http://gawker.com/what-black-parents-tell-their-sons-about-the-police-1624412625?utm_campaign=socialflow_gawker_facebook&utm_source=gawker_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow
12 Things White People Can Do
http://qz.com/250701/12-things-white-people-can-do-now-because-ferguson/
Eric Garner Case Should Have Gone to Trial
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/12/03/the-eric-garner-case-should-have-gone-to-trial.html
Wikipedia article on Race and the US Justice System
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_in_the_United_States_criminal_justice_system
Black Mothers Talk About the Warnings They Have to Give Their Sons
http://www.uexpress.com/parents-talk-back/2014/9/29/black-moms-tell-white-moms-about/?utm_content=buffer92ae5

Some people on Tumblr Talking the Real Talk

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Tokyo Disney Sea: Culture Shock

The school year ended and Spring Break was upon me, but I had forgotten to plan anything in the chaos that was the last few weeks of school. The class that graduated was an amazing class. It was difficult to say good-bye.

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So as Spring Break neared, I thought I should temper that sadness with something awesome: DISNEYLAND.

Getting there was a little more difficult than I expected, probably because I don’t usually procrastinate. But get there I did.

A Short History of “Tokyo” Disney Sea

Just like in California—with Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure—there are two connected Disney parks in Japan. Japan has Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea (usually abbreviated by my students as TDL and TDS, respectively).

It appears that Tokyo is slowly taking over Japan, because the Tokyo Disney Resorts are in Chiba.

Poor Chiba. Chiba Prefecture is always trying to get tourists to come here—with their michi-no-ekis and their outlet mall built specifically to lure in people from Tokyo—but they have to name everything after Tokyo in order to get anyone to come. Boo.

Tokyo Disney Sea opened in 2001, and surprisingly, it is not owned and operated by Disney. Another company licenses everything from Disney, which I expect is terribly expensive. Why doesn’t Disney run the parks?

The Wikipedia article on TDS is pretty informative about what makes the park special. Briefly: it was made with adults in mind (so you can drink!), and it was modeled after plans to build a second park in Long Beach, California. So it is a Disney park, even though it’s not run by The Walt Disney Company.

How to Get There

The Tokyo Disney Resorts are—surprise, surprise—accessible by train. That is what makes Japan so awesome—you can get almost anywhere by train. Even Disneyland! In California, you pretty much have no choice but to drive.

In Japan, you can take the Musashino Line straight to the front of the park. So convenient.

True to Japanese style, you can buy your tickets at a convenience store machine. It was a little confusing for me, but I just asked the clerks for help, and they knew exactly what to do. The tickets are called “passports.” Make sure you choose the right park!

Since the park is “for adults” (kids can go, too, obviously, but the rides are just more intense—for Disney, anyway), it’s often referred to as a “couples park.” From what I saw, I think that means that the seats are all arranged in two or four seats per row/car. So it’s best to go in even-numbered groups. My group was four people total, and we didn’t run into any problems—it was perfect. (There was a group of seven ahead of us at one point, and that seemed a little crazy, but I’m sure it’s fine.)

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The Cost

Tickets to TDS are 6200 yen (approx. 62 USD) for one day, with discounts for children and seniors (I didn’t see any student discounts). This is a great price, when compared to California Disneyland’s $92. It was especially great for me that the tickets are cheaper, because I have to pay about 4000 yen for the train rides.

Despite all that, I feel like I saved so much money, because I was a thrifty muthafucka.

Here’s how much I spent:

Disney Sea 2014 Mar 26 yen
Train to Maihama 1890
Disney Sea ticket 6200
Lunch 760
Brownie (oops) 300
Train to Tomiura 1890
Total 11040

How did I do that, despite spending 13 hours in the park?

Look, you’re cute, but you are something I will never use again.

Look, Stitch Hat, you’re cute, but you are something I will never use again.

I brought my own food, snacks, and a water bottle. I only bought the smallest lunch available (which was a lot of food, luckily), and I did buy that one brownie. It was the water bottle that really saved me, because the drinks were way overpriced (and impossible to get, but I’ll get to that). I filled up my bottle at some drinking fountains (found only in ride lines) and at the restaurant (which offered free water), and I was fine all day with that.

Besides not buying food, I also didn’t waste money on any of the overpriced merchandise. I mean, sure, Disney hats are cute, but really? Do you really need that? For forty dollars? No. I’ve read that many people borrow hats from their friends or family when they go, so they won’t be tempted to buy any more hats. I just used my superpower of self-control and didn’t buy any useless junk.

There are ways to save money. But there is another cost at Tokyo Disney Sea: Time.

You may have noticed that the title of this entry mentions culture shock. Well, that brings me to…

THE LINES, YOU GUYS, THE LINES

At Disneyland in California, I never waited longer than an hour (maybe an hour and a half) for any ride, even in peak summer times. (Except perhaps Space Mountain, but that’s a very special ride.) Many people refuse to wait longer than an hour—they’ll just not go on that ride. When the Finding Nemo ride first opened, my friends and I were super excited about it. When we got there, we saw that the wait was 90 minutes—90 minutes!—and we said, “SCREW THAT WE’RE GOING TO SPACE MOUNTAIN.”

At Tokyo Disney Sea, on an overcast day in March, on a day that this website predicted would be moderately crowded (granted, also in the middle of Spring Break, and the prediction was wrong), the average wait time for everything—and I mean everything, from kiddie rides to snack stands—was 220 minutes.

220 minutes. For those of you who can’t do math (like me), that’s four hours.

A four hour wait! For a goddamn churro! For a bottle of water! For a kiddie ride! What is this madness?!?!

I was shocked. I was outraged. It was completely unacceptable that the wait times were so long. There was nothing we could do about it, so whatever, but what? What? Really? No. Just no.

That should not happen. If the wait times for your attractions (and snack stands, for crying out loud!) are four hours long, you have a problem that you need to fix.

My friends were apparently shocked by my shock, because they kept insisting that this was normal, that it’s normal to wait for four hours for every ride. How are you supposed to enjoy the park if you’re spending all day waiting in line?! WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?

madness at TDS

My friends said that Japanese people love queuing. Even in MMOs, they are infamous for standing in line. And I have seen people standing outside in the rain in Harajuku for some shop or other. So maybe they just endure it?

I don’t understand it. I’ve always hated standing in line. I can be patient, and standing in line that day was unavoidable, so I accepted it pretty quickly, but if I can avoid it, I do. It’s one of the reasons I always brought my own lunch in high school. I never wanted to stand in line for the cafeteria lunch. Ugh. LINES!

So how do you save time and enjoy the park if you have to spend four hours in line for every goddamn thing?

Well, apparently there’s this nifty little invention called Fast Passes, which I thought you could only get if you got stuck on Splash Mountain for an hour until they finally let you off to give you a Fast Pass onto Indiana Jones. (True story. Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah still haunts me to this day.)

Fast Passes are a must get at Tokyo Disney Sea. I have never used them before, so it was all new to me. My friends had to explain it to me. I felt like a noob. But also a hipster?

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I was going to Disneyland and getting on rides quickly before Fast Passes were cool. (Me and my sister, circa mid-1990s.)

Getting Fast Passes is easy enough, as long as they aren’t sold out (figuratively; they’re free). And they often sell out by noon. BY NOON! Ridiculous!

Just go to the Fast Pass station in front of the ride, scan your passport/ticket, and a Fast Pass pops out. You can’t get more than one Fast Pass at once (per ticket), and it will say on your Fast Pass at what time you can get another one (for another ride). I believe the rule is three per day, so choose wisely.

We got a Fast Pass right away, because by 9:00, the wait times were already 220 minutes. And they stayed that way all day.

Why? Why are the wait times so long?

I have a theory: The park has so few rides, so everyone has to be in the few lines that there are. At Disneyland in California, there are tons of rides besides the big, famous ones, and those take up a lot of space. That way, everyone is spread out. But I’m not sure. Maybe we were just there on a bad day.

Toward the end of the day (after dark), the lines started to dwindle to normal length. We even got to buy snacks! (That’s when the brownie happened.) Even so, we only went on 7 rides the entire day. Seven! I can do three times that at Disneyland in California. Madness.

There is no right order to enjoy the attractions at TDS, but here’s what we did.

Attractions & Feigned Dissatisfactions

Our first stop was Indiana Jones. At 9:00, the line was already over 200 minutes long, so we got a Fast Pass and then went back to Storm Rider, which we had passed on the way and which only had a 20 minute wait. When we got back to it, though, it was a 45 minute wait. That was doable, and it gave us enough time to get back to Indy in time for our Fast Passes, so we hopped into line.

On Storm Rider, you go on a tour of a storm with a large group. You fly into a big storm—it was a level 5—in this helicopter-like ship, and it’s perfectly safe because they have a bomb that diffuses the storm! Totally safe! We were in good hands. Nothing could possibly go wrong…

And then everything went wrong. The ship in front of us got struck by lightning right away, we lost power, the bomb hit us instead, smashing a hole right into the ship, and blew up in front of us, and then we crashed nose-first into the water.

I don’t care how positive the captain was feeling about the success of the flight. I am pretty sure we died.

After we died, we got a second Fast Pass for Raging Spirits. Then we Fast-Passed our way onto Indiana Jones Adventure: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and it thankfully did not feature Shia Lebouf at all. Instead it featured such brand-new, never-before-seen-in-an-Indiana-Jones-ride adventures as: riding in a Jeep, getting attacked by a giant snake, almost getting smushed by a boulder, driving over a bridge, and a giant crystal skull.

After Indy’s archaeological expedition in which something went wrong and many things were familiar (deja vu?), we Fast Passed onto Raging Spirits, which was a “wooden” coaster with a loop and… sort of without a theme. I’m guessing something went wrong though.

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Next, we took a Journey to the Center of the Earth, and boy, was it a long journey.

TokyoDisneySea 029

We lined up for Fast Passes, but there was not much hope: The signs said that the current Fast Pass time was for 9:15 – 10:00 PM. The very last Fast Passes. Unfortunately, just as we reached the Fast Pass machines, they announced that they were out of Fast Passes. The girl in front of us was just about to put her ticket in, too. She looked so upset. She couldn’t believe it. She kept looking at her boyfriend with the saddest eyes saying, “What? No. What? Really? We were so close! Noooo!”

It seemed that all of the Fast Passes were sold out—we checked Tower of Terror before returning to Journey—so there was nothing we could do.

wait time

We stood in line for Journey to the Center of the Earth, just at the 200 minute wait point. The line moved at a torturous pace and stopped for a long time, and then, quite suddenly, we began to move again. We moved so fast, we went from outside to inside, winding around the empty cavernous queuing area. It looked like something had happened inside, and they had cleared everyone out before letting us in. We never found out what happened, so we suspected the worst—that a dinosaur had escaped and killed everyone, and that they cleaned it all up and sent everyone off park grounds for “medical reasons,” where they died, before letting us in.

Because no one dies at Disneyland.

Once we journeyed into the center of the Earth, we saw Gohma!

From http://zeldawiki.org/Gohma

Well, it looked like Gohma anyway. From http://zeldawiki.org/Gohma

The park claims to have a “nautical” theme, but throughout the day, we encountered the same problem. In all of the adventures we went on, something went wrong! On Storm Rider, our ship lost power and the bomb misfired. On Indiana Jones, we got attacked during a simple archaeological expedition. On Raging Spirits, we… were raged at by spirits. On Journey to the Center of the Earth, Gohma attacked us in a place that I thought was supposed to be completely molten.

This park has problems. They really need to fix all their rides. What does it say about us that all these thrill rides always have something go wrong?

We were quite tired, so we headed over to Hightower Hotel—also known as the Tower of Terror—where we hoped to get some rest.

TokyoDisneySea 031

Yeah, that looks like a nice hotel. Nice, peaceful, and not haunted at all.

Unfortunately, the wait for the hotel was also dreadfully long—you guessed it, 220 minutes. It sprinkled a little while we were waiting in line, but it never fully rained on us, so I suppose the hotel had that going for it.

Unfortunately, it had little else to attract hotel guests, and I do not recommend the hotel to anyone. First of all, the garden was a wreck. Harrison Hightower, an explorer and collector (read: colonialist, looter, cultural thief, kleptomaniac), decorated the garden with exotic flowers and statues from all over the world—but unfortunately, it seems that after his death, no one bothered to upkeep the garden.

The painting shows the statue as it was, and in the back you can see that it's lost its head.

The painting shows the statue as it was, and in the back you can see that it’s lost its head.

It appeared that some of the statues broke at some point, but no one fixed them! For this statue, they even just put its head in its hand, instead of reattaching the head!

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This one is being propped up with a stick! Dreadful.

My friends and I were greatly offended by the state of the garden. It was even worse when we got inside and saw what a conceited man Hightower was. There were pictures of him everywhere—portraits in varying styles, paintings of his great conquests (read: stealing cultural artifacts from native peoples). It was ridiculous. We couldn’t wait to just take the elevator up to our rooms and relax…

And then an African god, whose idol Hightower had stolen, attacked our elevator and we plummeted to our deaths. Well, I never! This hotel is getting zero stars on Yelp.

An Aside

…In all seriousness, I had a mild panic attack. I don’t have a phobia, but I’m… uncomfortable with heights (more specifically, falling from them). I’ve avoided rides like Tower of Terror (Supreme Scream at Knotts, etc.), and now I know it was for a good reason. I thought ToT would be okay, because it has a story to build up the ride and it’s inside a building (a very tall building…). But that didn’t make it better. I freaked out right before the elevator dropped, and then I panicked the whole ride through. Afterwards, I stumbled off the ride and huddled against a wall and probably scared everyone around me. It was awful. I’d never had a panic attack before.

I can see why people would like rides like that—I got the adrenaline rush, believe me—but it’s just not for me. And possibly for other people afraid of heights. O____O;;

I must be a masochist, because despite all that, I want to try it again. I don’t want it to beat me. I want to enjoy the ride, like I enjoy all other rollercoasters. Because before the actual ride was amazing. The setup, the scenery… The building was beautifully built, and the details were superb. If you can stand the type of ride, I recommend going on it. I honestly don’t know if I can do it again, and that makes me a little sad. And embarrassed. ^^;

Getting Back on the Rides

When we got out of our hotel (sans souls, probably), it was dark, and there weren’t as many people standing in line. (I would have warned them about how awful our stay was, but I was still shaky lacked a soul.) We decided to try our luck with the last few coasters we missed, even though we only had about two hours left before the park closed.

When we reached 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the line was only 45 minutes long—a perfectly acceptable wait time, thank you very much. We got to go down to the bottom of the ocean in small submarines, to look for new organisms.

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And something went wrong.

An octopus attacked us—but we were saved by… mermaids? Aliens? Gremlins?

You decide.

You decide.

When we resurfaced, we went right back under water again at Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster, which I think he stole from Gadget.

And thus, completely dry and having successfully ridden all the rides we meant to, we ended our day at Disney Sea.

Park Experience: Would I Go Again?

I’m really glad I got to go, and I had an awesome day (in spite of a certain hotel…). I love Disneyland, and being able to go while I was in Japan was wonderful.

But I feel like I didn’t get to experience as much in the Tokyo park as in the Anaheim park. There is so much detail in everything—the walkways, the buildings, the rides—but I was too busy standing in line to be able to really look around. I wish I had time to admire the artistry of the park, because seriously—Imagineers are geniuses. The tiny details really make the magic.

I’m glad I went once, but it’s probably not something I’ll repeat, unless we actually schedule it on an empty, empty day. Otherwise, it’s probably not worth a second visit.

Unless you REALLY like standing in line. If not, wait until you get to California.

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A Winter Wonderland: Sapporo Yuki Matsuri

Last year in January, I saw snow for the first time. As someone who grew up in Southern California and never went to the mountains during winter, I had never really seen snow before. When I was a toddler, my family visited my grandparents in Oregon during winter, and there are pictures of me playing in the snow with my mom, but I don’t remember any of that. So even though I’ve technically seen snow and played it in before, I can’t remember the experience of it. So I usually tell people I’ve never seen it.

That changed last year when in snowed in Chiba. I only saw a little bit of snow then, really, but it was enough to shut down trains and buses all over Chiba.

Last year, I really enjoyed seeing the snow, in spite of the difficulties it caused me. I thought it was something I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

And then I heard about the Yuki Matsuri.

Every year, Sapporo, the biggest city in Hokkaido, holds a Snow Festival, complete with snow and ice sculptures. I really wanted to go last year, but you have to make reservations early, because it’s very popular and there won’t be space left for long.

So back in August, I made all the reservations, all the preparations, for going to Hokkaido in February. And despite all of that, I was totally not prepared…

For all the pretty!

View from LeTao Tower in Otaru

View from LeTao Tower in Otaru

I was, however, prepared for the cold.

But still overwhelmed by all the pretty.

But still overwhelmed by all the pretty.

I had my snow boots that I got in the U.S., my fluffy winter jacket, Heat Tech shirts, and my cupcake hat. I was worried about looking like a silly Southern Californian tourist who had never experience cold before, but I just wanted to be comfortable. And I was quite comfortable.

Early in the morning on February 8th, I left from Haneda airport with a group of friends. We spent four days in Hokkaido, from the 8th to the 11th. Four wonderful, snow-tastic days.

But Hokkaido wasn’t the only place having a snow-tabulous time.

We left on Saturday morning, on the eve of the Great Tokyo Blizzard, apparently. Right after we arrived at Chitose Airport in Hokkaido, people were posting pictures all over Facebook of the crazy snow in Chiba. We might as well have stayed home and played in the snow there. Saved ourselves 700 bucks. And as it was, we might have been stuck in Tokyo, because of the blizzard.

But then we would have missed…

The Odori Snow Sculptures

When we arrived in Hokkaido, we took a train from the airport to Sapporo station. We ate lunch there, and then hopped on a subway train to our hotel, which was very conveniently located.

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After checking in, we played in the snow a little and then headed to the Odori site, where there were hundreds of snow sculptures lining twelve blocks.

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And those are only a few that I chose to show you. Over the entire four days I was in Hokkaido, I took over 400 pictures.

I know, right?

I know, right?

The snow sculptures in Odori were amazing, and it was really fun to walk around in the snow with everyone. I recommend trying to spend a day there; our day was a little short. After spending the afternoon there, it began to get dark.

Sapporo Bier Garden

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We had a reservation at Sapporo Bier Garden. Although we were planning to get the nomi/tabehoudai set, it turned out that the tabehoudai only came with mutton—boring! (Plus, I don’t eat mutton.) So we scratched that and got nomihoudai and just ordered whatever food we wanted.

We all agreed that the food was good, but not spectacular. We had “Genghis Khan,” and that was less exciting than everyone was making it out to be. Before I left school on Friday, all my teachers were telling me I had to try it, but I guess they didn’t know that Mongolian Barbecue is pretty common. (At least in California, I guess.)

Really, the BEST part of the dinner, besides everyone getting drunk and happy, was the garlic cheese they had as part of a bread and cheese plate. You guys. That Cheese. With a capital C. So good.

So if you’re going to Sapporo, maybe walk around the Bier Garden (which we didn’t get to do), but possibly go somewhere else for dinner. The company was good, but the food was a little boring.

Except for that garlic cheese. Oh, the garlic cheese…

Susukino Ice Sculptures

On the second day, we went to the Susukino site to see the ice sculptures. These were my favorite sculptures during the whole weekend. They were gorgeous, and these pictures definitely can’t do them justice. I think this was my favorite site for the Yuki Matsuri.

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Shiroi Koibito Chocolate Factory

After looking at ice sculptures for a while, our toes were getting pretty cold, so we wanted to do something indoors. One of the people I was with mentioned a chocolate factory.

Chocolate factory?! DONE.

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This factory makes the famous Shiroi Koibito cookies. It is definitely worth a visit, if only because there is an ice slide.

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We walked around the factory, which had exhibits about how chocolate is made, the history of chocolate, and racism.

I’m just gonna leave that there.

I’m just gonna leave that there.

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They also had a café with delicious desserts, and we couldn’t help ourselves.

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The café had a gorgeous view, and we were lucky enough to be right next to the window.

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Ramen Yokocho

In Susukino, there is a famous street of ramen shops. We had some trouble finding it—Japan never labels these things properly, nor puts street maps anywhere, even in tourist spots—but we did eventually. You just gotta look for this:

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And don’t be fooled by the “new” Ramen Yokocho. There are some signs on the main street that indicate a Ramen Yokocho, but it’s not the Ramen Yokocho. You have to go down a side street for it.

A lot of the places were full, and one place was even completely empty, because someone had made reservations for the whole thing (and weren’t there yet). We ended up finding a tiny place and had ramen for dinner there. I recommend possibly making reservations, or maybe getting there earlier.

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It was delicious, and the man running the shop was very friendly. I got the spicy ramen, and I was surprised by how much black pepper was in it. I’ve never had ramen that was so peppery. I liked it, though.

Nijo Fish Market

In the morning of the third day, I went to get breakfast at this fish market, just like the internet told me to.

Best idea the internet has ever had.

Besides LOLCats, I guess.

Besides LOLCats, I guess.

We took the train down to Odori station and walked to the fish market, which wasn’t far at all.

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It was a really cool market. I read that the locals shop there all the time, and I could see why. First of all, Hokkaido is known for its fresh seafood, and the seafood there was definitely fresh and relatively cheap. Before I left Tomiura, everyone kept telling me that I had to try all the seafood in Hokkaido, because it was bomb. (Not their words.) They were right; everything tasted so fresh and not fishy. I’m not a big fan of fish, but this stuff—this stuff I could eat every day.

And I basically did.

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This was my breakfast. I’m sure it looks strange, but it was delicious. It was crab, uni (sea urchin), and ikura (fish eggs) over rice. Ikura is usually really salty, and a lot of people I know don’t like it, but this ikura was fresh and sweet, not salty at all. This was my first time eating uni, too, and I figured that this was as good a time as any to try it. Especially since it was probably the best uni out there.

So. Good. I will never forget that breakfast.

The place we ate at was great, too. The owner greeted us outside while we were looking at the menu, and he was so friendly. He spoke English a little, and then he noticed Arisa and asked if Japanese was okay. She said that it was okay for all of us, and he was like, “Ahh! Why didn’t you say something?” Haha!

I recommend the place. It was delicious, and the people were friendly, and there was writing all over the walls by people who had been there before. It’s just around the corner from the fish market. Check it out if you’re there!

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Tsudome Snow Slides

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After breakfast, we took a train and then a bus to the Tsudome site for the snow slides.

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So much fun. Anyone who didn’t go here while they were at the Yuki Matsuri really missed out.

First, we went on the high hill, pictured above. You sit down in an inner tube, and they push you down a hill carved out of the snow. The wait wasn’t too long, and the ride was worth it. Do it.

Next, we got on a raft and a man pulled us on a snow mobile.

snow raft 03

Everyone was so excited about it, and it was awesome. The wind against your face as you slide across the ice is really cold, but there’s a thrill that comes with gliding over the earth like that.

Otaru Light Festival

At around 2 PM, we went to Otaru, a harbor city about 40 minutes by train from Sapporo. I didn’t want to miss what Otaru had, and I’m glad we made the trip there, because it was gorgeous and amazing. A day trip to Otaru is ideal, though, so if you go to the Yuki Matsuri and want to check out Otaru, get up early and go.

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Otaru has many things to see, but we stuck to cheesecake at LeTao (another chocolate company, like Shiroi Koibito) and walking around to see the Light Festival.

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In the Light Festival, they make snow and ice sculptures and put candles in them, which makes for brightly lit snow.

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I really wanted to see the Otaru Canal, too, which was supposed to be lit up as well.

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Otaru was definitely worth the trip, and I wish I could have spent a whole day there.

Because Otaru is a harbor city, its seafood is supposed to be especially good. It’s known for sushi, so we went to the sushi street and found a place there.

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Preparations for Departure

After Otaru, we returned to our hotel in Sapporo and ate pizza at the restaurant there for second dinner. I ate so unhealthily on this trip. I’ll have to jump back in the pool right away. I also spent a lot of money on snack-souvenirs (snacks I can only get in Hokkaido). I may have gone a little overboard.

sapporo omiyage 01

On the last morning, everyone went omiyage shopping at the local Aeon grocery store (for local cheese) and in Sapporo station. I split off from the group to get ramen by myself at a place my friend had recommended.

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This is Keyaki. I didn’t know before I got there and started researching it on my phone, but apparently this ramen shop is very famous. It’s really lucky I went by myself, because Keyaki only seats 10 people, and you have to wait outside in a line until there is room inside. It wasn’t too bad of a wait, because I arrived at 11:30 for lunch. I waited in line for a little while, looking at the menu that was posted outside, and then when there was standing room inside, a woman invited me in to order. She placed my order, and I waited inside in the heated room (that smelled so good) until there was an open seat.

And then, ramen.

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Hokkaido: Impressions

Hokkaido is beautiful and I definitely want to visit it again before I leave. I think I’d like to see the mountains and the lakes (sounds like a camping trip is in my future). There is a lot to see in Hokkaido, and there’s no way to see it all in four days, much less while Yuki Matsuri is going on.

I read that Hokkaido has the most open space out of every island in Japan, so it sounds like it’s my favorite island. The weather in the summer is bearable, even if it’s cold in winter, and there is a lot of beautiful scenery.

The people were very nice, too. Everyone was helpful and friendly—probably because they are accustomed to tourists. A lot of shop owners spoke English readily, too.

Travel Tips

First of all, PLAN YOUR TRIP. I made the mistake of not researching what to do in Hokkaido during the Yuki Matsuri until two days before, and even then I didn’t coordinate with anyone else who was going. That was definitely a mistake. I ended up spending a lot of money on unnecessary trips back and forth across the city, and our group got split up and confused a lot.

Speaking of groups, don’t go with 10 people. The size of the group of people I was with was a surprise to me—I didn’t know that many people we knew were going—and it would have been better if we split up in the first place or at least planned with each other. Either way, there is never enough room for a group that large anywhere, unless you make reservations. And as I said before, we weren’t that prepared. The only reservations we made were for the Sapporo Bier Garden.

On Transportation: The airport is an airport, and the trains are trains. In Hokkaido, they have JR Lines and subway trains, and your rail pass (Suica, etc.) will work on all of them. On the weekend, the subway trains have a nice deal. You can get a day pass on the weekend for 500 yen, and that’s a great deal if you’re traveling a lot on that particular day. We bought it for one day, and it was great. Be careful that you don’t lose it though!

As for your itinerary, I’m going to put two lists here. The first is what we did, and the second is what we should have done. Take the second list as an itinerary suggestion. :)

PLAN 1: Making mistakes

Saturday: Arrive at New Chitose Airport. Take a JR train to Sapporo Station. Check in at the hotel. Take a subway train to Odori Station. See the snow sculptures. Take a subway train to Sapporo Bier Garden. Carry your drunk friends back to the hotel.

Sunday: Have breakfast at the building across from Sapporo Station. Take a subway train to Hosui-Susukino Station. Walk around to see the ice sculptures. Make awed faces. Take too many pictures. Your iPhone shuts down because it’s too cold. Discover that if you keep it in your pocket, it won’t over cool. You didn’t even know overcooling was a problem. Now you do. Take a subway train to Miyanosawa Station and walk to the Shiroi Koibito Chocolate Factory. Walk around the factory and get a snack at the café. Take a subway train back to Susukino and find Ramen Yokocho to have dinner.

Monday: Take a subway train to Odori Station. Walk to Nijo Fish Market and have breakfast. It’s delicious. It ruins all food for you forever. You will never eat again. Walk back to the station and take a subway train to Sakaemachi Station. The station workers direct you to a bus that takes you to the Tsudome site. Ride on the ice slides there and get lunch there. Take a subway train back to Sapporo Station, then transfer to a JR Line and take a train to Otaru. Eat cheesecake at one of the LeTao locations. There are lines at all of them, so don’t think you’ll avoid waiting. See all of the lights, all of the lights. Have sushi in Otaru. Take a JR Line back to Sapporo Station.

Tuesday: Shop for omiyage. Split off from the ginormous group and have ramen by yourself at Keyaki. You have to go back to Susukino to find it. The snow is very bright. Put your sunglasses on, and forget to take them off when you get inside the ramen shop. Oops. Go back to Sapporo Station and catch a train back to the airport. Do more omiyage shopping at the airport. You really could have waited to do all the omiyage shopping until this point. Oops.

PLAN 2: The Better Plan! Hindsight is 20/20

Day 1: Check into your hotel, if you can, or put your things in lockers for the day. Take a subway train to Sakaemachi Station, then a bus to the Tsudome site. Enjoy the ice slides and the snow sculptures! Try to get to the ice slides when it’s still sunny and light out. For dinner, you can try the Sapporo Bier Garden. If you have time, do try to walk around the Bier Garden while it’s still light out.

Day 2: Wake up early and take a subway train to Odori Station. Walk to Nijo Fish Market and have a seafood breakfast. Then walk to the main Odori site and look at the snow sculptures. At around lunch time, take a subway train to Hosui-Susukino Station. Find the ramen shop Keyaki and have lunch. Then, walk around the Susukino site to see the ice sculptures. They are beautiful and sparkle in the sun. For dinner, go to a seafood place! If you have time, try to check out an onsen.

Day 3: After breakfast, take a subway train to Miyanosawa Station and walk to the Shiroi Koibito Chocolate Factory. Around noon, take a subway train to Sapporo Station, and then transfer to a JR Line for Otaru. Walk around Sakai-machi Main Street and have cheesecake at LeTao. The cafes are LeTao Fromage, LeTao Pathos, and the café above the main store. This main street has a lot of neat shops, so take your time! The Light Festival begins at 5:00 PM and ends at 9:00 PM. Walk to the canal and down the main festival street (it’s small and difficult to miss, so watch out!). Otaru is famous for seafood, and especially sushi, so find Sushi Yokocho and eat sushi for dinner. The onsens in Otaru are nice too.

Day 4: Wait to shop for omiyage until you get to the airport. Everything I bought throughout my Hokkaido trip, I could have just bought at Chitose Airport, for around the same price (in some cases, cheaper). I saw it all. You can get the Shiroi Koibito cookies here, and everything else in the picture of my omiyage.

Omiyage you should get: Marusei Butter Cookies, White Thunder cookies, Shiroi Koibito cookies, melon-flavored anything (I got jelly), cheese (they had a really great selection that I haven’t see anywhere else; look in grocery stores and at the airport)

:) Enjoy your trip! I enjoyed mine, even if I think we made some planning errors. It was a lot of fun.

Expenses

Unfortunately, it was also very expensive. Here’s the breakdown:

Hokkaido Trip February 8th to 11th

Cost in JPY

Rakuten booking: plane & hotel (3 nights) 58100
Charge on Suica 4000
Weekend 1-Day train pass 500
The Don — Sapporo station lunch 880
Sapporo Bier Garden — dinner 3550
Japanese breakfast across from Sapporo Station 1155
Shiroi Koibito Park 946
Ramen @ Ramen Yokocho 1150
Nijo Fish Market – breakfast 3300
LeTao cheesecake 420
Sushi @ Otaru 2100
Pizza @ hotel 1150
Keyaki ramen 900
Snacks (combini, street food, bread shops, etc.) 3961
Omiyage for other people: Marusei Butter Cookies (30), chocolate strawberries, chocolates 4399
Mitsukoshi – Cheese omiyage 3089
Daiei – omiyage 2024
Misc (locker, picture) 200
Total 91824

Vocabulary

Hokkaido n. the northernmost main island of Japan
ikura n. “fish eggs.”
kani n. “crab.”
matsuri n. “festival.”
nomihoudai n. “All You Can Drink.”
omiyage n. “souvenir.”
Otaru n. a harbor city in Hokkaido, near Sapporo.
Sapporo n. the biggest city in Hokkaido
Shiroi Koibito n. literally “White Sweetheart,” these are a brand of cookie that are famous in Hokkaido.
tabehoudai n. “All You Can Eat.”
uni n. “sea urchin.”
yuki n. “snow.”

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Stranger Danger! or, Reason #2

Today at school, we had an emergency evacuation drill. This one was for STRANGER DANGER.

Stranger danger! Stranger danger! From Blades of Glory

Stranger danger! Stranger danger! From Blades of Glory

The scenario was that a strange person had entered school grounds. The principal made an announcement over the speakers, and even though everyone knew it was about to happen, all of the students in my class SUDDENLY stood up, looking very scared, all at once. It spooked me. I was like, “WHAT? WHAT IS IT? …Oh, right, the drill.”

Some of the students ran to close the door and began to shove desks and chairs in front of it, while other students opened the doors onto the balcony, which struck me as strange. If they stood on the balcony, weren’t they in plain sight? Couldn’t the stranger see them, and thus—I dunno—get them?

The principal made another announcement—something about the stranger being caught, I think—and the students cleared the door and filed out onto the grounds. On our way down the hall, I saw that one of the teachers had dressed up in a hygiene mask and science goggles, and two other teachers were holding him in place with long poles that forked at the end to go around his torso. It looked really ridiculous, but when I started to laugh and ask “What are they doing?” my JTE shushed me. I guess it was serious business. Oops.

I couldn’t understand much of the speech given to the students out on the grass, but I think they were just warning them to be aware of their surroundings and recognize the signs of someone up to no good.

While they lectured the students, I kept thinking about the differences between the way we do this drill in Japan and the U.S. In the U.S., our version of this drill is to lock all the doors and windows, close the curtains and turn off the lights, and hide under the desks until the all-clear bell. It never occurred to me why we do this. In middle school, the last time I remember doing one of those drills, I always wondered what the point was. In my mind, the stranger was just walking around the apparently dark school, looking menacing. But he obviously knew we were there. Why didn’t someone just stop him, like the teachers with the poles at my Japanese junior high school?

As we walked back to class, I asked Kawana-sensei about the poles, and he explained it to me. Then he said, “We can use these to catch the stranger because he doesn’t have a gun like in America.”

Oh.

Oh.

That’s the reason that the students could run to the balcony for safety. That’s why the teachers could act against the bad guy.

Because Japan doesn’t have a school shooting problem.

2012 ended with a school shooting, and 2013 saw quite a lot—28, according to the Wire. In January alone so far this year, there have been 11.

Source: The Wire

Source: The Wire

No matter was anyone says, the U.S. has a gun problem.

A lot of the conversation last year surrounding gun control laws revolved around the Second Amendment and arguments that we need better mental healthcare, not harsher gun laws. And while I’m always in support of better mental healthcare and think that would be a good step, I’m here to argue that we need to throw out our guns.

BUT FREEDOM! people will say. You guys, guns are killing our children and making us live in fear. Fear isn’t freedom—though it’s an excellent way to control people and take freedom away from them.

So, Why I’m Not Going Back to the U.S., Reason #2

Reason #1 was Healthcare, which I posted about on Facebook.

reason healthcare

The school shootings and gun problems are really just one part of this complex reason, but if I ever decide that I want kids after all, I don’t want to raise them in the U.S. We have shit healthcare, shit gun control laws, and a shit education system.

I don’t mean to offend people who do raise their kids in the U.S. I mean, you live where you live, and home is where home is.

You might be calling me silly and reactionary, but have we really been so desensitized to children dying in a very preventable way that we’re willing to just accept that it happens sometimes, “but it’s not happening where I am, so we’re fine”? Why has the U.S. not fixed this problem? (Why haven’t we accepted socialized healthcare like so many other countries? Why is the U.S. looking more and more like the worst place I could possibly live?)

I mean to write a more in-depth entry about this later, but it comes down to this: Now that I’ve lived in another country and seen that there are other ways to live, I’ve realized that I can choose where I live. I’m at a crossroads.

Being an ex-pat is hard.

Links

The Wire: January’s Epidemic: 11 School Shootings in 19 Days

Non-American reactions to American Healthcare Bills

John Green on Why Are American Healthcare Costs So High?

4 Shocking Facts about US Healthcare

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On the Importance of Taking Vacations

I’m sure you’ve heard the old story: Americans don’t use their vacation days, and it hurts their health and their ability to be good workers. I’m sure there are plenty of problems with this story, but I’m here to tell you this: Use your goddamn vacation days.

I think this isn’t solely an “American” problem either. I don’t think I’ve seen a Japanese coworker take a vacation day yet, and I’ve been here for seventeen months. I’m sure it’s even more difficult for them, whatever problems not taking a vacation causes, because they also do a lot of overtime and are generally overworked. So much so that they invented a word in 1969 for “death from overwork.”

As an ALT in Japan, I am in no danger of being overworked. I’m typing this blog post at work right now, because I literally have nothing else to do. Mind you, I did do some work today: I wrote a sample diary entry about winter vacation, I made some copies, I corrected some papers, and I designed a worksheet for the students’ winter vacation diaries. But I have one class today, and not a lot to do. (Granted, it’s the first day of the new semester.)

Regardless of your workload, it’s just good to take your vacation days for mental health reasons. You need some downtime. You need some “you” time.

I wonder if this is a Western way of considering vacation days, because we sort of view work differently. In Japan, you start out as a student, going to school every day, all day (7 AM to 6 PM, on average), and then when you get a job, you work every day, all day (often 14 hour work days). So for Japanese people, it’s possible that work, like school, is your life.

But seeing as they have the word karoshi, I think that maybe needing to take vacations is a universal, culture-crossing thing.

In the United States, work is often viewed as work. Like, something we don’t really want to do. I think that’s a shame, because I think you should do what you love, but I realize that not everyone has that privilege. (My mom does. I’m pretty sure she thinks she has the best job in the world, but she also has a life outside of it. Still not sure if she ever uses vacation days, though.)

If we could find a balance between the way Japan thinks of work and the U.S. thinks of work, that would be ideal. According to all the articles I read, Europe seems to have it about right. Work shouldn’t be something you hate, and it shouldn’t take up your entire life either.

But no matter what you do, it should be something from which you take a break.

My Vacation

So that was a long, rambling way to get to my point: I took a vacation from Japan this winter, and it was the best idea I’ve ever had. (Okay, I tend toward hyperbole, but you get it.) On December 20th, I got on a plane back to California, where I got to see my friends and family, eat food that I’d missed terribly, and sleep for 12 hours a day (aww yiss) for two weeks.

Unfortunately, I had a sinus problem, so I couldn’t taste anything very well, and my appetite was nonexistent. Despite that, I managed to enjoy ALL THE FOOD. I can’t really complain that I didn’t get to do anything, though there were a few goals I failed to meet.

But what felt most important was the people, in spite of my claim “I’m only here for the food.” Living in Japan has been a lonely, lonely state, and being surrounded by people again was actually rather nice. I never felt like I needed to retreat to the back of the house to escape people. I guess I just really missed being around other… living things. (I don’t think I even have neighbors in Japan… My apartment building is a ghost town.)

And seeing my friends… I can’t describe how awesome that was. It was just awesome. Before I left the U.S. for Japan back in 2012, I was really afraid that I was going to lose all my friends, or that when I finally did come back, things would be so different that we couldn’t even be friends the same way anymore. But it wasn’t like that at all. Everyone I saw this December were people who bothered to keep in touch with me, and it never felt like I couldn’t reach them anymore. We were able to just jump back into things. It was such a relief.

How I Feel Now

I was sad to leave the U.S. again, but I also felt ready. Two weeks was the perfect amount of time. I didn’t get sick of being at home, and I didn’t feel like I wasn’t ready to go back to Japan.

JETs have to decide in February whether they will recontract for another year or not. And in the fall, I really wasn’t sure. I felt so messed up—lonely and frustrated with my job and hella depressed (probably still something I should work on). I didn’t know if I could do a third year of this, even though that was my original plan. The week before I left for the U.S., I made a list of pros and cons for staying in Japan. It wasn’t a reassuring list.

I was really afraid that this vacation would ruin everything. That it would make me want to leave Japan right away, which was scary, because I don’t have any solid plans for after Japan yet. I’m not ready to leave, but I wanted to. I really wanted to.

This vacation had just the opposite effect: I feel ready to tackle another year in Japan. I think I can do it. There are still cons for staying, but they don’t feel as big and overwhelming as they did in the fall.

I think all I needed was a mental break from living and working in Japan. I needed to not be there. I needed a break from my life as it had become.

This vacation made me appreciate a lot of things about California, but also a lot of things about Japan. I had the usual reverse-culture shocks (service is terrible outside of Japan, I can walk into a store and speak English?!, etc.), and I’m sure it will never stop.

I think I now understand the importance of vacations. A vacation from your normal routine, from where you live, from your job—that’s important. It’s good for you. You’ll feel better.

I know I do.

Articles

On Americans not taking vacation days:

Americans not taking vacation, and it hurts

The Best Reason Ever To Take A Two Week Vacation

What Are the Benefits of Taking a Vacation?

Why Taking Vacations is Important for Your Health

4 Reasons to Take a Vacation

On overwork in Japan:

Wikipedia on Karoshi

Death by Overwork in Japan: Jobs for Life

Karoshi: Death by Overwork in Japan

American Karoshi

Work-Life Balance

Vocabulary

karoshi (過労死) n. literally “death from overwork.”

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