Thursday, December 1, 2016

Summer 2016

It's already autumn, nearly winter and I barely wrote anything this year. Sorry to anyone who reads this regularly, because to be quite honest not many interesting things have happened. Japan is an amazing place to visit, but if you live here, it's about the same as anywhere else. Good to work/school, come home, repeat. However, for the few things that did happen to me over the summer season, I will be happy to talk about.

Summer came and went as quickly as it normally does. It's a shame because its the season I enjoy the most, mostly due to the food being the most tasty during the months of June-August.

June is not the best month for doing travel or anything outdoor in general. It's the last month of rainy season in Japan, which is two months of non-stop cloudy days and muggy weather. Everyday there is sun, you appreciate it, otherwise, you need to religiously carry an umbrella with you at all times. So in June, I didn't do much of anything except laboratory work. Maybe this was for the better as in July I was quite busy with academic-related tasks.

July is the end of the school-year so there is a lot of preparation. Final exams, final presentations, scholarship deadlines, and end of the year conferences. I had all of those, so it was hectic. First off, I was thrilled to make it into the first selection of a scholarship...hooray!... but there was in interview, in Tokyo, and it was not specified whether it was in Japanese or English... yep, that was not fun. While it was nice the scholarship foundation paid for transportation costs, it was also extremely nerve-wracking to sit on a bullet train 4 hours trying to guess whether my interview would be in Japanese or English. I had to memorize scripts for both, just in case. To my surprise my interviewer (a representative of the company who provides the scholarship) was really laid-back, and bi-lingual. I could do the interview in English, which was a huge relief. Later, I found out every person who interviewed received the scholarship, so it was more or less just to confirm what kind of person you were. Scholarship achieved for at least six months!

The next week, I was in Kansai in Osaka for a scientific conference. This was my second time in Kansai, but first time in Osaka. I was told it's a unique city in Japan, as the people are more extroverted and outgoing than other places in Japan. However, I think I missed most of this aspect, as I was mostly at the conference center of a University with other conference goers. I did manage to do a little sight-seeing, but that was mostly due to the fact I got lost outside a main train station for about three hours. I will have to go back to Osaka another time and do more than just one day of sight-seeing.

The rest of July and most of August was done doing English Camps at Nokonoshima. I always have a lot of fun at these camps, but at the same time they are exhausting. More or less twelve hour days in the hot sun and high humidity with six energetic kids can be tiresome. If I were a child at these camps I know I would be having the time of my life, but as an instructor, you really have to try your best to keep perky and happy for your kids. Some of the other instructors are amazing at this, but I find myself losing my enthusiasm for playing hide and seek when the heat index is about 98 or 99F. Luckily, the staff at these camps are amazing at accommodating both students and instructors, and always schedule one or two indoor activities in the air-conditioning. Trust me, after being outside all day, 1 hour in an air-conditioned room makes a phenomenal difference in your mood and stamina. This coming summer will be my last time doing these camps. I will really miss these!

September arrived, and my 4-year anniversary in Japan was completed! I could hardly believe I had been here so long, and that I needed to complete so much in just one year. It's building quickly, and I can't seem to slow it down. With camps finished, and the school semester not started yet, I had a little free time to travel. I was able to go visit my family again in Kagoshima, and later I was able to travel with one of my graduated friends from Kyushu University.

Kagoshima is still one of my favorite places to go in Japan. While it not may be as bustling as Tokyo or Kyoto, it is in a unique location with a lot of great history to offer. How many cities do you know of that are next to an active volcano? Where you can visit the houses of samurai? Not many, but Kagoshima has all these things. My relatives were kind enough to take me around to some of the historical places in Kagoshima in the summer heat, including Tsurumaru Castle, and Shiroyama Observatory.

Afterwards, I went to a very famous spot in the Miyazaki prefecture called Takachiho, with my travel buddy. This was a day-trip, but we managed to see a few amazing sights that Takachiho had to offer. The Takachiho Gorge and Manai Falls, are the most popular spots to see. The town is also famous for shrines including Takachiho Shrine, Kunimigaoka, and Amanoiwato Shrine. We went to visit all these places! I even found a shrine-cat or two.

After September school started once again, so there was no more time for fun stuff! I'll be happy to post later about autumn and winter, but not many interesting are planned for this coming year. I only have a few months left, so it's a rush to get as much done as I can with school. Not to mention I need to get all my items and my apartment squared-away before I move back to the USA! Five years sure does go by quickly. Hope to post again soon.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Ainoshima Cat Island

In September, which is in a little less than three months, I will have only one year left in Japan.

Needless to say, things have gone by quickly. Starting in 2016, I am afraid not many interesting things have occurred. January was still winter holiday, but I spent the majority of my time preparing for a scientific conference that occurred in March. So for the first three months in 2016, I mostly did experimental work in order to get sufficient data to present at the conference.

In late March, I unfortunately had another sickness in which I had to be hospitalized overnight, and it took me a week to recover. Luckily, it was spring-break so I did not have any academic obligations at that point in time. However, financially I could not get work hours during this period, so it was difficult.

April brought about a bit of good luck! I received a six-month scholarship which would cover my monthly cost of rent. While this is nothing substantial, it's still much better than having no scholarship! It was also during this time that I found out that the city of Fukuoka offers day-tours at a very reasonable price.

After talking to some of my fellow lab members we decided to participate in one of the tours for Ainoshima. This island is known as 'Cat Heaven Island' and is home to over 100 cats living on a fishermen's village.

The tour was only available in May, and included a full day planned set, including lunch.

In the morning the tour first visited Munakata Shrine, which is one of the oldest shrines in Kyushu. It is often visited by people who are traveling or who are drivers, as the shrine is for a god of travel. We then enjoyed lunch and went to a glass-blower studio where everyone can paint their own summer glass-wind chime.

We were fortunate enough that the glass-blower's cat had recently had kittens, so it was indeed a day full of cats!

 After a short ferry ride from the mainland to Ainoshima, we were immediately greeted by a variety of cats. Most of them are fairly use to people, but rarely came over to visit you. The only exception was an old tuxedo cat that seemed pretty eager to be petted by his adoring fans.

After a few hours on the island, it was time to head back to the mainland. However, we ended up facing a bit of a problem. The second to the last ferry from Ainoshima had reached capacity for people. Our tour group was unable to return, and the next ferry wasn't for another hour and a half. The tour-guide not wanting our bus driver waiting on the mainland to wait for us managed to track-down a water-taxi for us.

The boat was only large enough for four people to fit inside, so since our tour group was eight people, the tour-guide and my lab members and myself sat on the deck of the boat. While it was a fun experience to ride back on the water-taxi, I was completely soaked by the sea-spray on one-side by the time we reached the shoreline.

Overall, it was a good day! Even though I got wet, it was worth it to see a whole island of cats!

Monday, January 4, 2016

The most exciting things I did in 2015!

It's already 2016 and I hardly can believe it. In a little over a year, I will already be coming back to the United States. While it has probably seemed like a long time for my family and friends, it has gone quite quickly for me.

Anyways, I wanted to sum up the two most exciting events that happened to me in 2015. First was my trip to Kagoshima/Yakushima, and secondly was my annual Halloween Party.

In early September I took a short trip down to Kagoshima to see my Japanese family again. I had not seen them in quite some time, which is really a shame, because Kagoshima is only an hour away by shinkansen. Also, since this was the last opportunity for me to travel with one of my Chinese friends, we wanted to do a big trip. The first two days we spent in Kagoshima, with my relatives graciously hosting us. I really would like to thank my Japanese relatives for being so kind. I always have such an amazing time with them, and get to visit some amazing places.

After an amazing two days of sight-seeing, we next took a ferry to the southern island of Yakushima. Originally we wanted to go to Okinawa, but since the travel time was limited we decided for a closer location.

Yakushima by far was the most amazing place I have visited so far in my life. From the ecological, biological, geological, and sociological perspective, this unique island has something for everyone. We were also particularly lucky in that we were there when it did not rain. Yakushima usually has a 90% chance of rain, so we just managed to be there during the best time! One of the coolest things is that the island's fresh water is so pure that it can be drunk straight from the streams and rivers.

We managed to a great tour package with a tourist company called Yes Yakushima ( and our tour guide Mr. Steve was such a great guide! He knew all about the history, culture, and natural beauty of Yakushima. We were able to go to a lot of spots not known to tourists, and with little to no people other than us. It was a really magical experience. We even managed to see some of the natural fauna of the island.

I hope I can go back another time! Overall, it was probably the best vacation I've had since coming to Japan, but I still have another year and a half to have an even better one.

A month later, the summer heat finally subsided and school had started once more. This time of the year I always prepare for my annual Halloween Party, which is one of the few events where I ask both the Japanese students and International students to come and have fun together. Thank you to my parents and family who sent me candy and decorations all the way from the USA to Japan just for this party. It really made a difference, and I know my friends really enjoyed it.

We had some usual games and some new ones to enjoy Halloween Night! While the turn out wasn't nearly as much as last year (thank goodness) we had a really good time. However, I am not sure if I will do it next year or not, as most of my friends will have already graduated! It's a shame, but we will have to see.

Here's hoping 2016 will be an even better year! Happy 2016 everyone!