My first Thanksgiving in Japan

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – not only because you get to spend an entire day with the people you love preparing an absurd amount of delicious and terrifyingly fattening dishes, but you get to eat it all afterwards too! And there’s nothing I like more than a plate piled high with buttery, high blood pressure-inducing, marshmallow-y sweet potatoes.

I’ve looked forward to Thanksgiving every year ever since I was a child, for all of the reasons listed above and more, but this year as the holiday approached, I realized that I was dreading it. Because this Thanksgiving would be the first spent away from my family… (and without a turkey.)

Though I tried to ignore it, the thought of Thanksgiving lingered in the back of my mind all throughout November. I still wanted to celebrate my favorite holiday, but I had no idea how I’d possibly manage a proper Thanksgiving celebration in my tiny apartment the size of a walk-in closet, with a kitchenette equipped with little more than a blender, a tea kettle, and a few pots and pans. A 40 pound turkey – which, by the way, are nearly non-existent in Japan – was out of the question.

But luckily, I found a few other fellow JET’s who were willing to give Thanksgiving in Japan a shot, despite the fact that our living arrangements were not conducive to preparing a feast. Though our celebration wouldn’t be as traditional, extravagant, or as gluttonous as we were used to, we decided it couldn’t hurt to make an attempt. We agreed to have our own version of a Thanksgiving luncheon, even without a turkey and canned cranberry sauce.

Since the luncheon was going to be held in my apartment, on Thanksgiving morning I stopped by Daiso and purchased a few fall-themed items, including fake red-orange maple leaves, a plastic wreath, and purple grapes made of wax, to decorate my little coffee table and make the space under my loft bed a bit more festive. With a bit of arranging and the help of a floral-scented candle (also from Daiso), I managed to ready the “dining area” for our Thanksgiving feast.

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Each of us planned to contribute something to the luncheon, kind of like a potluck. So in honor of my adoration of sweet potatoes, I made mashed Japanese sweet potatoes, cooked with ginger and coconut milk. My friend prepared a salad with spinach, walnuts, apples, and fresh persimmons (which are in season in Japan right now). Another brought cheese from the local high-end grocery store, along with a baguette and fancy jam, and another brought bottles of red wine. And in place of a turkey, I roasted a few chicken breasts with a sprig of thyme – which I’d say is close enough, right?

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Though our luncheon looked nothing like the Thanksgiving feasts we’ve grown accustomed to in the States, we had more than enough food to fill the four of us – I’d say that makes for a successful celebration. But above all, on top of the satisfying meal and impressive cheese spread, we got to celebrate it together – which, in the end, is the most important and worthwhile part of Thanksgiving after all.

Of course, I missed my family immensely all throughout the day, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to celebrate it with them next year, but I’m grateful to have been able to enjoy my first Thanksgiving in Japan with lots of good food and with people who have helped make my experience in Japan thus far a positive one.

Where to find nachos in Minoh

The farewell dinner at my final JET orientation in Los Angeles was Mexican food – tacos, chips and salsa, and churros for dessert. Enjoy it now, the coordinator said to us, since you’ll probably be without Mexican cuisine for a while. And she was right; good Mexican food – or any Mexican food at that – is nearly impossible to come by in Japan.

But after feasting on fajitas at the Mexican fiesta in Umeda last month, my fellow JET’s and I made it a goal to find decent Mexican food in the area.

And that we did – with La Costa.

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About a 15 minute walk from my apartment and 3 minutes from the main train station, La Costa is the only restaurant in Minoh serving up authentic Mexican cuisine. Some of the popular menu items include soft tacos with handmade corn tortillas, chicken fajitas with stir-fried bell peppers straight off a grill, and piping hot nachos topped with plenty of jalapenos. I never thought I’d get so excited by the sight of melted cheese.

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The place is run by the owner and one waiter. The owner also happens to be the chef – he cooks every dish himself on order, so the food is always freshly prepared (and with impressive presentation).

And not only is La Costa’s food high in quality, taste, and authenticity, its interior is too. From the tables to the chairs to the posters on the wall, the decorations throughout this tiny establishment make a commendable effort to create an authentic dining experience.

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(We asked if they really do sell tacos for 99 cents on Tuesday – they said no.)

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Honestly, I’d go back to La Costa for the interior alone! (The food is an added plus.)

The prices are a bit expensive for the portion size, but considering that this is the only Mexican restaurant for miles and miles, I don’t mind splurging a bit. And I’m relieved to know that ready-to-use bottles of Cholula hot sauce are only a 15 minute stroll away.

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For directions to La Costa, click here.

To see more photos of La Costa’s food, (since that’s the best part about restaurant reviews right?) here’s the link to their Tabelog site.

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My favorite tiny farm

Everyday on my stroll to and from the bus stop, which is about a 7 minute walk from my apartment, I pass by a random little farm in someone’s backyard.

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And walking past the farm is always the best part of my daily commute.

I don’t know who lives there, and I don’t know what’s being grown – I have no idea what it’s even doing in the middle of the neighborhood. Back in the States, it’s not too common to find random rows of produce growing along the street.

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But I don’t really need to know why it’s there – I’m just happy I stumbled upon it in the first place. No matter how rushed I am in the morning, or how tired I am in the evening after a long day at work, this little garden plot never fails to brighten my mood.

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(Also, can anyone tell me what kind of flower these are?)

English for Japanese 3rd graders: cookies and cola

English education in Japan usually starts in 5th grade, but Minoh – the city where I’ve been assigned to teach – has their students taking English classes as early as 3rd grade. Minoh even created their own English curriculum for 3rd and 4th graders, since there is no official designated textbook for students younger than 5th/6th in Japan.

So, I’m lucky – all of my classes for 3rd through 6th grade are written out in Minoh’s English textbook. Every lesson for the 45 minute period includes the topic/subject, expressions related to the topic, and target vocabulary words. It also includes a detailed schedule for activities, with time estimations and everything.

Every lesson has a similar structure. First, the teacher (either me, the other English teacher I work with, or the homeroom teacher ((yep, there are 3, sometimes 4!, teachers in the class at the same time)) greets the students, asks them the date, what the weather’s like, and how they’re doing. Usually students respond with I’m tired, or I’m hungry, but occasionally we’ll get a response like I am so angry!

Then, it’s phonics time. We’ll review English words that Japanese speakers have trouble pronouncing by saying the words out loud and asking the students to repeat them back to us multiple times. There’s quite a few sounds in English that students don’t know how to pronounce, like r and l and the low i sound, so phonics gives them a chance to improve their pronunciation. And the younger they can get pronunciation down, the better.

After phonics, it’s time for the actual lesson content. We start by either reviewing vocabulary and expressions from the previous week, or we’ll introduce new English words. Topics are drawn out for about 4-5 weeks, so students have an ample amount of time to practice hearing and speaking the target language over a long period of time.

These past several weeks, the 3rd graders have been learning the names of a bunch of desserts, like pudding and cake, as well as drinks. The specific desserts/drinks we’re required to teach are at the top of the lesson plan:

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After reviewing the words and phrases, it’s time for the fun part – games! We play at least one game every class, as a way for students to practice the material, and to keep them active, engaged, and entertained. English isn’t graded in elementary school – it’s more of an elective, like music and home economics. But, it is a graded subject in junior high school, so the intent of elementary English is to ensure students have as high of an opinion of English class as possible. That way, they’ll look forward to continuing their English education after graduating elementary. And playing games is definitely a way to keep their opinion of English high. (Or, neutral, at least.)

This week, we played Lucky Card game. In a nutshell, students get into groups and are given a set of mini vocabulary cards. Each student then picks two cards, shows their neighbor the cards and ask, ‘What do you want? and their neighbor responds, ‘I want_____’ and chooses one of the two cards to take in their own hand. The dialogue continues until the teacher says stop. Then, the teacher picks one card out of the set and calls out the vocab word on that card. Students holding that card get a stamp! (Stamps are a big deal – getting a stamp is probably the highlight of English class for most students.)

IMG_E7387Usually, review and a game or two should take up the 45 minute class. Once the bell rings to mark the end of that period, the students pack up their things, say goodbye, and English is finished for the week.

It isn’t much, but hey as long as the students are learning something – and having fun – I’m happy!

Kitano-Cho: brick houses with fish scales roofs

Kobe is my favorite city that I’ve visited in Japan so far. It’s friendly, approachable, and brimming with an energy I can’t quite describe. One of the things I appreciate most about Kobe is that it not only respects traditional Japanese culture, but pays tribute to its Western cultural influences as well. One of the places in Kobe that is the perfect example of the West/East dynamic in the city is Kitano-cho, which I had the chance to tour on my first trip into the city.

Kitano-cho is a historical district in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, which contains a bunch of foreign residences known as Ijinkan, which were built during the Meiji and early Taishō eras of Japanese history  when foreign merchants and diplomats settled in the district after the Port of Kobe was opened to foreign trade in 1868. Through both exterior and interior design, the Ijinkan provide a beautiful and harmonious display of western and eastern culture by blending the two together.

Originally, there were about 300 houses, but most of them were destroyed or dismantled over time. Today, about 10-20 (the houses open and close sporadically throughout the year) of the former Ijinkan are open to the public as museums. IMG_8967

For its historic and cultural value, in 1980 it was designated under the “Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings” act by the government.

Most of the houses charge an admission fee between 550 to 750 yen, while combination tickets are available to see multiple houses. The houses open to the public include those built for residents from England, France, Italian, and the Netherlands, as well as a house built for the former Chinese Consulate (my favorite by far!).

I wanted to see the insides of several mansions, so I bought a ticket that was about 3000 yen. It seems steep, but I’d say it was well worth the price to see the houses’ interiors, which show how western and eastern culture not only influenced the houses’ architecture, but their residents’ lifestyles too.

Here’s a slideshow of some pictures I took of the district!

 

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And here is the link to another article about the district in case you’re interested in learning more about each of the houses.

When a flower field visited Osaka Station

I still have no idea what the occasion was, but a few weekends ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful, and intricately-organized flower garden above JR Osaka train station. I don’t live in an area where flowers are abundant, so being able walk through fields of fresh flowers in full bloom was a welcome treat. I wanted to share some of the photos I took (though they by no means do the flowers justice). Hope you enjoy! ^_^

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