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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The “sakura” spirit

My first winter in Japan was a test of survival. Although not exactly comparable to a Jack London short story, I had never been so cold in my life. Taking the old man’s advice, I traveled with friends to one or two snowy places. And, just when I thought I would never thaw, I saw spring at the end of the tunnel.

Spring did not spring upon us. Rather, it came slowly with occasional glimmers of happiness and sunshine followed by pea coats and sadness. However, eventually, after some prolonged begging, spring arrived bringing with it the lovely さくら, “sakura,” Japanese for “cherry blossoms.”

I must state the obvious by saying that the blossoms were absolutely breathtaking. If you have ever been to Washington D.C. in March, then you have seen the beauty of Japanese cherry blossoms. However, in Japan, cherry blossom trees are everywhere. If a super advanced satellite took a picture of Japan on the last day of March, it would depict four island-shaped blobs about the same color as Bubblicious bubblegum.

The cherry blossom trees line the streets and cover the mountains. They surround schools, shrines and castles. They even come in plastic form at the 100-yen store and are used as decoration in train stations, restaurants and cafes. The latter blossoms border on tacky, but the point is that Japan becomes enamored by and in the spirit of sakura season.

This “sakura spirit” is by far the most beautiful aspect of spring. People, even those who are usually too busy working from dawn until dusk or shinking (my official gerund form of taking the shinkansen) from Okayama to Osaka, stop, even if only for a moment, to admire the cherry blossoms. For a solid week, cherry blossoms are the talk of the town. Those who can make time take part in はなみ, “hanami,” which I will translate to “a cherry blossom viewing picnic with numerous foods and beverages.”

Finding myself in the spirit, some friends and I embarked on a two hour walk from Fukuyama to Kannabe in order to enjoy the cherry blossom trees on Yoshino Mountain. After the long walk, we loaded up on snacks and drinks prior to hiking up the mountain. Then, after a lunch of fried chicken, grapefruit and Oreos (I know, weird cravings… whatever) we spent the day chatting, napping and enjoying the beautiful weather.

Although all the cherry blossoms have now fallen, my springtime spirit is still very much intact and I am looking forward to the new Japanese school year which began in April, as well as new experiences in Japan.

Easter hopped to Japan

Taking form of my wonderful mother, the Easter bunny hopped his way to Japan. Even though I did not get to search for an Easter basket, a nice Japanese post man delivered an Easter basket box to my doorstep. He did forget to wear his bunny ears and give me hints as to where he hid my basket. But, if I had been given the task of searching transpacific flights or ships and listening to directions in Japanese, I may not have ever located my box of delicious and dainty Easter goodies.

Delivering Reese’s peanut butter eggs, Starbursts, Cadbury creme eggs and a few spring essentials, he truly out-hopped himself this year. (Thank you Mom–I love you!) I am looking forward to warm weather so I can venture out in my new, ruffly Easter apparel. Unfortunately, this does not exactly correlate with eating a stash of fruity and chocolatey delights. However, somehow, I think I will find a way to manage.

Along with my Easter box, I was able to enjoy the spring holiday under the blooming cherry blossom trees. Cherry blossom trees may not be the palms of Palm Sunday, but they certainly are a beautiful and symbolic representation of spring. The trees began blooming this weekend–just in time for Easter. So, my holiday may have lacked sunrise service, Jello eggs and sausage biscuits, but the pink and white blooms were just what I needed to lift my spirits for spring!