Itako’s First Snow Fall!

Today, I opened my door to beautiful surprise. Snow covered everything as far as the eye could see. My mouth actually dropped open in surprise. My neighbors were outside, too, looking just as shocked as I was.


My street’s trees covered in snow!

In Itako, it maybe snows about two times a year. Usually, it’s only a slight powder that quickly turns into this gross brown mush on the sidewalks and streets. It never gets to the point where it can actually affect anything.

And yet for some strange reason, Jack Frost decided to pay us a visit early this morning, giving Kashima City its first snow day in who knows how long. Where I live, the school decided to have a late start, at 11 a.m, with only three class periods today.

Hinode JHS

My base school’s entrance

Back in Kentucky, this snow fall wouldn’t even be considered for a snow day, but Itako doesn’t have any removal teams. There’s no snowplows that go through the streets, just sometimes poor, unfortunate teachers and/or volunteers that come out with gardening shovels to remove the white stuff. Sidewalk salt is available at the drug store, but nobody actually buys it (until today).

All snow removal done by Hinode JHS teachers.

My school’s front car entrance and street sidewalks.

I love it so much! I wouldn’t want it to last forever, but this kind of snow reminds me of home.  When I went back to the U.S. for Christmas, I got to have snow. When I came back to mainland Japan, I felt instantly a little homesick because of the lack of snow. Not that I’d want to live in Hokkaido, the supposedly ever snowing north lands that could rival the cold of The Wall from Game of Thrones, but I missed the sight of snowflakes falling on the wind. I also found that I missed good ol’ fashioned snowball fights.

Luckily, some of my students were more than happy to hit me with a snowball today. I ended up going outside to welcome the kids for our late start. Some students looked absolutely pissed about the fact they were cheated out of a real snow day. Most kids, however, chose to get in as many snowball fights as humanly possible before they absolutely had to go to class. When I asked students how they were, most said, “Happy!” Some students playfully threw snowballs at me, so I shocked them by retaliating. We ended up having a small fight before they had to leave for class. I felt so, so happy, right before I got a shovel and started helping out my fellow teachers make the sidewalks snow free.

I will look back fondly on this day, but I will admit I won’t be terribly upset to see it go. I’m thankful I got to have a little fun with my students, and that I got a small reminder of home at my second home. Still, I know that just like back home, I would get so sick of the stuff within a week.

So thanks for the lovely present, Jack, but you can go now.

"You're welcome!"

Rise of the Guardians is amazing, by the way. Go see it!

Thrice Damned Flu Season, Hokkaido, and Valentines Day

February was an exciting month for me. I planned on starting it off with this epic adventure to Hokkaido. I’d been excited about this trip for months. I paid for it in December,  and I was all kinds of happy. I was going to be around JET friends I don’t get to see very often, ski and/or snowboard, eat crab, buy a whole bunch of souvenirs, and take too many pictures.

However, a few days before my quest began, my body decided that  was the perfect time to catch the flu. I will admit, the first day I was in complete denial. I went to work, struggling the whole way through, but I could claim it was “just a cold.” The next day, I wanted somebody to shoot me in the face, but I still went to work. My teachers were looking at me like I was insane and there were some polite suggestions about taking ninkyuu and going home. However, I forced myself to keep going.

On Friday, I’m fairly certain I was close to dying. My temperature got over 38 C at one point and I vaguely recall thinking I needed to go to the hospital. Instead of doing that, I went to the clinic and waited patiently for the doctor. Sure enough, I tested positive for the flu. He gave me some inhaling medicine I’d never seen before, and told me to drink fluids and rest. When I got home, I wondered how I could possibly turn this around. I did everything I could possibly do. I drank tea like crazy, took a crazy mixture of medicine that also should’ve probably killed me, and slept for about eleven hours.

The next day, I felt bad, but not awful. I figured that was close enough and I got on board with the vacation plan again. I met a couple of friends at the bus station and we headed off to the airport. I slept on the bus and on the airplane so that I could feel less of a zombie by the time we landed in Hokkaido.

I was all kinds of happy when I saw the vast acres of snow. I was surprised to realize how much I had missed the cold, white stuff. I’m not really a big fan, but I guess in my head it’s just not winter if there’s no snow. I took so many pictures of the landscape.

It's just like the ink paintings!

We went to Niseko, a ski resort. We split into groups and stayed at two cabins that were drowning in snow. It was so cool! Ha, get it? Yeah, I suck at humor. Deal with it.

There were so many bugs...

On arrival day, people went off to go buy stuff at the grocery store. I stayed in reading the Hunger Games (By the way, it was a good read and I recommend it to you all). The next day was spent running around with my friend Jason at various shopping places and discovering an Irish Bar (that I never got to drink in, and I still regret it). I found myself a new pair of boots that are awesome. That night we ate Genghis Khan, a lamb barbeque dish.

We checked out in the morning to move onto Sapporo. I finally got around to skiing. I went ahead and bought two hours with a skiing instructor. It was my first time so I know I wasn’t very good. I fell three times and felt really freakin’ tired by the end of my session. However, my teacher, Gordie, told me that I caught on fast and next time just go. No more instruction needed. I felt proud of myself, but I wonder if he was just being nice.

Gigantic “One Piece” sculptures

After my session, it was time to hop on the bus to Sapporo. At Sapporo, I saw the Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival, in English). Basically, it’s a huge event wherein people compete in a snow sculpting competition. These things can be huge!

There was a miniature size of this one around the corner.

And fantastic!

It’s a recreation of a temple done as an ice sculpture. They put lights in front and behind to create this effect with the ice.

I can’t remember if this was supposed to be Osaka Castle or the Emperor’s Castle, but I believe it was the later.

I really had a good time. However, by the end of it I was completely prepared to go back to Itako and get away from the snow. I can only take this stuff in small doses.

As luck would have it, the snow followed me home! Itako had its second snowfall for the winter when I got back. I grumbled about it, but I lived. Besides, it was time to work on Valentines Day! February 14th was just around the corner. I bought construction paper, pens, and stamps. I was determined to show my love and make a Valentines Day card for every single student at both of my schools.

By the time I was done with the Valentines Day cards, my hand hurt like hell, but I managed to complete my task. I made OVER 300 of those little things! I have vowed to never, ever pull this stunt ever again. Next time, I will buy them all or do something creative after I printed out the message. My hatred for the sight of red and pink has not wavered since that day.

The kids seemed to like them, but the boys kept shouting over and over again, “Why no choco?!” I explained, “That’s a Japanese tradition and I’m not Japanese.” Of course, that’s not entirely the reason. I kind of bought a lot of chocolates for them at Christmas time and that stuff was expensive. Also, I need special permission to bring in food to class. I just decided this time that I would just do cards, and maybe next year I’ll figure something out with my JTE and principal in advance.

I surprised the teachers at both my schools with small cards and Kit Kats. They seemed to like it, and now at random times I’ll find chocolates on my desk. It makes me so happy!

And that’s pretty much the big events of February. I’ll update again pretty soon.