When I first got to Yakumo, I heard about Obokodake and its fantastic view of the ocean and the sea. We don’t have mountains near my hometown, and hiking is one of my favourite activities, so I was excited to give Obokodake a shot. Despite several warnings of bugs and bears, a couple of friends and I decided do the hike. I mentioned in passing to some coworkers that I was planning on tackling Obokodake, and the office exploded. Everyone had bear whistles and bug spray at the ready in their desk drawers. I’ve never seen such enthusiasm for hiking and hiking safety before. It was spectacular. The hike was very exciting and beautiful.
I realized a short while into the hike that a lot of the hiking would be through the river. Until then, I had been trying to avoid getting my boots wet, and it was becoming increasingly difficult. Eventually, I resigned to having soakers in both boots, and it made my experience considerably easier.
We saw a pile of rocks that reminded me of Canadian inuksuks, which are often used as landmarks for trails.
The view at the top was a little cloudy, but definitely still worthwhile.
We sat down for some coffee and lunch before making our way down the slippery, steep descent through picturesque mist, and beautiful foliage.
We survived the hike without seeing any bears.
A few weeks ago, Yakumo held its annual Milk Road Race. I participated in the half-marathon. It was a challenging course, but I enjoyed the run. The post-run cup of milk was much appreciated. It was a very exciting event! I was lucky enough to win a prize in bingo, which made me feel great, despite being very tired. Next year I want to participate again.
The following weekend, I went to Otaru with some friends to run the Otaru Canal Road Race. It was much easier than the Yakumo race, as it was a mostly flat course. There were a lot of people in the Otaru race! The start line was very crowded.
As Yakumo town prepares for its annual Lantern Festival (Dashi Matsuri), I’ve had the chance to try many Japanese cultural things. I tried a yukata for the first time, and learned to tie an obi. There are so many steps! I think yukatas are very beautiful, so it was very exciting for me to participate in this class. I also got to try playing the Japanese flute, fue, which is much more difficult than I expected. By the end of the class, I could play a few notes. I also made a headdress. It has been fun meeting some of the staff of the Town Office. All these activities have kept me quite busy, and are getting me excited about the upcoming festival.
Spring is here, and festival season is upon us. I recently made it out to a few Yakumo festivals, and I’m glad I did!
First on the list is Kumaishi’s Abalone Festival (Awabi Matsuri). Unfortunately I was only able to make it out for the end of the festival, but it was definitely worth it. We ate barbecued abalone. It was delicious. Next year I hope I can come for the whole thing.
The Sports Festivals (undokai) have been going on for the last few weeks, and I’ve enjoyed every minute. We don’t have sports festivals in Canada, so it was very interesting for me. I enjoyed the sport where each team had three people hold one teammate up, and they try to grab the hat off of their opponent’s head.
At Yamasaki Elementary school, my favourite event was where the students put on a giant pair of shorts with their parents and rolled a giant ball in a relay race.
The school club relay race was also very exciting.
Most recently, I went to the Azalea Festival (Tsutsuji Matsuri) in Otoshibe. The sun was blazing and the azaleas were blooming, the weather was perfect. The Yakumo Junior High School brass band put on a good show including some enka and dancing. The ground fish soup (surimiziru) was delicious and the shade of the trees was more than welcome.
I’m looking forward to the upcoming events in town, as the ones so far have been very interesting.
Fukushima-cho recently hosted its annual women’s sumo tournament. This year, there were three ALTs participating in the tournament, so I went to cheer on my fellow ALTs and enjoy watching some sumo. It was my first time watching sumo, and I found it very exciting! Anybody could sign up, so there was a real smorgasbord of competitors.
This is Daneille (Jama-yama), a Mori town ALT facing up against this year’s champion, Odebu-yama.
Laura, a Hokuto ALT put up a strong fight against some fierce competition. Dori, a Mori town ALT demonstrated her remarkable strength and brought home 5th place this year.
I’m looking forward to watching sumo again next year!
This Hanami season, I visited Tokyo and the Kansai Region. In Tokyo, I ate at a famous restaurant called Yakumo. The food was very delicious.
I arrived in Tokyo and Kansai just as the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom, and just as the crowds were starting to thicken. I was amazed at how many cherry blossom trees are growing in the parks! We had a picnic in the park, took a rowboat through the Chidoriga-fuchi Moat, and toured many shrines and parks in Kansai. This included Kiyomizudera, Philosopher’s walk, and Gion. I also visited Nara where I got to feed the deer. One of them tried to eat my shirt, so I decided to take look at them instead of feeding them after that.
My favourite activity was watching Kabuki. I had an English translation playing at the same time, so I could understand the dialogue. The story was very funny and the actors were very expressive. While we were in the area, we stopped at Tsukiji fish market for some delicious seafood.
While I was in Osaka, I found an owl café and I went in to see what it was. Owls are one of my favourite animals, so it was very interesting for me. It was the middle of the day, so most of them were napping. I later watched the Hanshin Tigers play baseball at Osaka Dome, which was the most exciting event of the trip. The Tigers won, so the fans were very enthusiastic. I enjoyed releasing balloons into the air.
Back in January, I was given the chance to play with an orchestra in Hakodate for a Christmas concert. It was my first foray into performing violin in Japan, and I was immediately hooked. The orchestra is filled with a group of wonderful, welcoming people who always show up ready and excited to play. This coming September, I hope to have the opportunity to join them again for their next concert of the season.
My next musical adventure was to be this past February when I had the opportunity to play violin with Yukie, one of the best pianists I’ve ever worked with, and a group of excellent musicians from the Hiyama area. We performed the fiery and passionate Grieg Sonata no. 3, 1st movement for Violin and Piano. It’s one of my favourites to play. It was exciting to be a part of a bridge between Japanese and western musicians, something that has recently been developing traction both in Japan and in the west. Everyone put on a good performance, and I look forward to taking part in more concerts like this in the future.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to enjoy my first Samui Beya Matsuri, Yakumo’s winter festival. It was a wonderful experience! On Saturday evening, I played violin with a couple of excellent musicians, and later watched some traditional Japanese music. That night, we went down the famous ice slide that outdoes all other ice slides in Hokkaido for length, after which we watched some fireworks and lit some sparklers. It was great!
The next day, I watched the brass band from Yakumo Junior High School perform. They were outstanding, as usual, and it was rewarding to watch them play. The rest of my relaxing afternoon included eating delicious local fare, watching the costumed relay races which I didn’t fully understand, and the usual necessary stop at the ice cream shop for some of my favourite dessert. As there was a little more daylight on Sunday, I took the opportunity to pick out my favourite snow sculpture, the upside-down snowman. The experience was all in all a success, and I enjoyed every minute.
I recently got back from a trip to the south in Japan. It was a fun and relaxing trip full of delicious food and new experiences.
Our first stop was Okinawa. It was very warm, and the people were remarkably friendly. Although it was the cold season there, we still took the opportunity to go swimming in the ocean. It was a little chilly, but definitely worth it.
We visited the famous Churaumi Aquarium where we enjoyed a dolphin show, and saw the most magnificent whale sharks. I especially enjoyed watching the manatees. After the aquarium, we visited Pineapple Park where we learned many things while riding in a pineapple shaped car. We ate so much pineapple.
We learned a bit about the history of Okinawa at Nakijin Castle with a wonderful volunteer guide that we were very lucky to meet.
The next stop was Tokyo. We stayed in Asakusa, near Sensoji temple and the Sky Tree. Because it was around New Years, Sensoji temple was packed with people every day.
We made a couple of day trips to Odaiba where we visited Mega Web to see some concept cars, Oedo Onsen Monogatari to relax, and Joypolis to experience the super scary haunted story in the Room of Living Dolls, and some rides.
The third stop on our trip was Osaka. True to Osakan culture, we ate our way through the city, spending most of our time restaurant hopping. We made our own Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, and Kinako for Warabimochi. Everything was delicious.
We took a day trip to Kyoto, guided by a wonderful new friend from Osaka, Nozomi. We started at Fushimi Inari Shrine, where we decorated foxes and wrote our wishes on the back. The thousands of torii gates were awe-inspiring. Next, Nozomi surprised us with her favourite temple, Sanjusangen-do, followed by the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shimogamo shrine.
I had a very wonderful and culturally enriching two weeks! Though after all the excitement, I look forward resting my head in Yakumo, at least for the next short while.
Hello! This is Alma. I’m excited to join you as the new Junior High Assistant Language Teacher for Yakumo! In the short time that I have been here, I have grown to cherish this town for all the wonderful things it has to offer. The beauty of the surrounding mountains and seas are only overshadowed by the welcoming kindness expressed by the residents of this town. I look forward to spending the next year, or more of my life in Yakumo.
I come from the vast country of Canada, affectionately known as “The Great White North”, in reference to its size, at approximately 26 times the size of Japan, and glacial climate. My hometown of Winnipeg is a prairie city famous for giving its name to the famous fictional bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, and its long, frigid winters, often dipping below -40°C due to the wind chill. I have taken to warming up the winter months with snowshoeing, skiing, tobogganing, and other winter activities of the like. In short, I’m a seasoned veteran at relishing the cold months and look forward to the famous Hokkaido winter!
One of my most significant interests in Japan lies in the arts. I’ve been playing violin since the tender age of two, and it will always be one of the biggest parts of my identity. Whilst in Japan, I hope to be able to discover and explore the musical community, bringing some cultural learning with me back to Canada.
My time in Yakumo town has just begun, and already it seems that I have a wonderful year in store for me. I look forward to getting to know the community of people that really make Yakumo town a beautiful and charming place. I speak very little Japanese, but I’ve been doing my best to study hard and would love to practice, so don’t hesitate to come and say hello!
My year in Japan has gone by so fast! I will never forget the people I met in Yakumo, the places I traveled, or the things I learned about Japanese culture.
Over the last two weeks I have been saying many goodbyes: to the Yakumo English circle, town staff, friends, and every junior high school.
I want to say thank you and I will miss you to everyone I met in Yakumo! Thank you for speaking English with me, too.
I will return to Minnesota on August 1st. I hope to visit Yakumo again someday, and I hope that you'll visit me in America!
Thank you very much!