Springing into new opportunities

Excuse my absence. I have been soaking up spring.

My last post was on April 15—most likely when the first cherry blossoms began to bloom. Their beauty awed me last year, and would continue to do so every year, even if I spent the rest of my days in this lovely country.

Cherry Blossoms at the Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

However, just as the blossoms come and go, I recently made the decision not to extend my teaching contract for a third year. The (almost) two years I have spent in Japan have been more than I ever expected them to be—full of friendship, opportunity and most importantly—self-awareness and self-empowerment. With all of these experiences and unforgettable memories, I will head home in August.

Although I clearly focused my studying on speaking at izakayas rather than writing kanji,  I did manage to complete my final paperwork.

Although I clearly focused my studying on speaking to strangers in “izakayas” rather than writing kanji, I did manage to complete my final paperwork.

Therefore, although this is certainly not my last encounter with springtime in Japan, this spring was especially special. From Hiroshima City and Fuchu to Onomichi and Fukuyama, I enjoyed the blossoms in every corner of Hiroshima prefecture.

Cherry Blossoms at Fukuyama Castle, Fukuyama

Fukuyama Castle, Fukuyama

Nighttime "Hanami" at Fukuyama Castle, Fukuyama

Fukuyama Castle, Fukuyama

Next spring, I hope to experience “hanami, 花見” Japanese for “relaxing under cherry blossom trees,” in a new city—Washington D.C.  Therefore, tell your friends and professional contacts… (as my students would say)… let’s hiring Katie Ray!

Atsukos's birthday, Fukuyama Castle

Atsukos’s birthday, Fukuyama Castle

Cherry blossoms at school--Kannabe

My school, Kannabe

My daily commute, Kannabe

My daily commute, Kannabe

Fuchu Park, Fuchu

Senkoji Park, Onomichi

Senkoji Park, Onomichi

 

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Fireworks freakout

Most people can sympathize with that irresistible urge to photograph the same thing an inappropriate number of times. For example, that time you took 84 pictures of your fluffy friend with a tennis ball in his mouth. Or, that time you took 37 pictures of olives from various angles at the farmers market. I understand that real photographers do this with real intention and purpose, but–alas–I am not one of them.

I am just your average gal with a point-and-shoot camera who often gets carried away by the utter cuteness, beauty and surreality of people and events surrounding me. Further, I recently purchased a new camera, which I am sure doesn’t play a huge role in eliminating folders such as “Dec 2010 Buddy with Ball” and “Oct 2009 Olives at Market” on my computer.

This time, it was not a woman’s best friend or an infinite array of Mediterranean fruits that caused my inner paparazzo to reveal herself. Rather, it was the fireworks that fill Japan’s summer sky. For the past month, I have been on a blogging hiatus and a fireworks binge. I have been mesmerized by fireworks in Onomichi, Fukuyama, Miyajima, Setoda and Innoshima. And, let me assure y’all… that’s a lot of fireworks.

Japanese summer festivals often end with fireworks shows. These shows are nothing like Fourth of July fireworks in America. Stateside, I would expect 10 minutes of bright booming whilst enjoying a hot dog and a Bud Light–and, in all fairness–that’s not a bad night. However, in Japan, the shows can last one to two hours and include elaborate musical pairings that perfectly accompany the colorful bursts. I’ve also witnessed fireworks shaped like Hello Kitty and a fireworks rope that appeared to be dripping a rainbow of fire.

Although I can capture neither the awe resulting from a sky full of raining color nor the oddly comforting feeling of hearing happy children react excitedly in Japanese, I can show you a few of the photographs I have taken during the last month. Enjoy.

Happy anniversary

Today is my anniversary. However, rather than receiving a bouquet of roses from a dashing gentleman, I’ve received an invaluable opportunity from a country full of patience and charm.

Watching fireworks in Onomichi and wearing a “yukata” was the perfect way to welcome summer in Japan.

A year ago, clueless and terrified, I boarded a plane in Washington D.C. During that 14-hour flight to Tokyo, I started crying above the Midwest, stopped crying above the west coast and felt hints of excitement above the Pacific Ocean.

Since then, I have adjusted to my new life and developed a daily routine. However, most days, that daily routine is a mere outline and the people and situations surrounding me fill in the lines–sometimes neatly and sometimes abstractly–but, without fail–colorfully. Today was no different.

I woke up and went to school. On the train, I kicked it with some third-year students who think I resemble Blake Lively. I won’t tell them that this comparison is completely irrational and unrealistic because I secretly like it–a lot. (And, yes that link will take you to “Betch of the Week.”) Next, I played table tennis with the table tennis team for three hours. Every team member could teach Forrest Gump a thing or two. Then, I discovered that a history teacher speaks amazing English and we chatted about “The Federalist Papers.” After coming home, I concluded the evening by playing volleyball with two friends and a team full of the loveliest and sportiest Japanese women, most of whom are in their 40s or 50s.

Although my anniversary fell on a seemingly normal day, it was full of unexpected happenings. I love the unpredictability of my life in Japan. There are certainly bad days when I would like nothing more than a piece of cornbread and a glass of sweet tea, but for the most part, something or someone always makes me smile. I can only hope to form more relationships and encounter more surprises during my second year in Japan.