Long Time No See

It's been quite a while since my last post.

Dustin and I went home and saw quite a few of you over the holidays. It was really amazing. We had so much fun. I wanted to stay even longer! I ate so many burritos, got a bunch of wedding planning done, and had many good times with lovely friends. I can't wait to get back to the U.S.A. for the wedding in May!

Since we returned in January, things have been exciting and busy. January flew by filled with lots of work, work, and more work... and a bit of snowboarding for Dustin. February brought even more snowboarding for Dustin, and even more work for both of us. I was busy with wedding planning, but our friend Ian came to visit at the end of the month, and brought a friend, so I took a break.

Ian, and his friend, Austin, joined Dustin and I for a three day weekend in Nagano, a city in the prefecture south of us. You may remember that the Winter Olympics were held there a few years back. We bypassed the tours of the Olympic sites, and headed to the mountain instead.

Dustin and Austin hit the slopes immediately. Ian and I opted to meet some of my friends in Matsumoto city where we saw some amazing art work by Yayoi Kusama. Later, we headed to Matumoto Castle, and climbed some extremely steep and slick stairs in slippers. It was a feat. After the castle, we stopped by a very interesting Ukiyo-E Museum, where we saw famous Japanese wood block prints. We were presented with a strange slide show by the curator of the museum. It included explanations of the patterns of the kimonos, which was understandable, but the show got weird when the curator mentioned that stripes represented the African devils. After that, we mentioned how bad slavery was while referencing an eighteenth century map, and assuring us that Obama would bring world peace through nuclear disarmament. It was... enlightening.

The next morning, Ian, Austin, and I headed to Obuse. We saw some temples, one of which had an amazing painting of a phoenix by Hokusai on the ceiling. Near one of the temples was an incredible tofu restaurant. We enjoyed a decadent five course meal of tofu. We had tofu steak, green tea flavored tofu, tofu salad, and tofu pudding, among other types of tofu. It was delicious. After the tofu fest, we headed to the "edo style town recreation." We kept looking around for it, but just couldn't find it. When I finally asked someone where it was, they let me know that we were in the middle of it. It wasn't exactly authentic. We saw a small Hokusai museum that some of his later brush paintings rather than the wood block prints for which he is famous.

We were staying in Yudanaka, a cute little mountain town that had lots of onsen, including an onsen just for the snow monkeys. Austin, Ian, and I went to a small, secluded onsen at the top of a mountain. It was a cloudy day, so we didn't see the sunset, but the sky was a million colors of blue as it turned to night. Looking out at the mountains, it was the most peaceful thirty minutes of my life.

We met a really interesting girl from Hong Kong via Canada. We went to dinner and played cards with her that night. The next morning, she joined us for a trek to the monkey park. We walked up the mountain and saw the monkeys lounging in the onsen. I expected to see more monkeys and less tourists, but the ratio was more like 5 tourist: one monkey. Everyone was huddled around the tiny onsen with giant camera lens snapping away. Most of the monkeys were searching for food outside of the onsen. I bent down to take an up close and personal shot of one of those monkeys, but he felt threatened and attacked me. It was terrifying. After that, I was ready to go.

We strolled through the cute "onsen town" in Yudanaka. There are nine onsen in this area, and it is said that you get good luck if you visit all nine. We didn't have time to visit any of them, unfortunately, because we had a train to catch.

We caught the train to Nagano city, and headed to the Zenkoji temple. It's famous for housing an ancient golden Buddhist image. The original is never shown, but a recreation is shown every seven years. Amazingly, we happened upon the temple, right before closing time, on the very day that it was shown. Dustin and I followed the crowd of people and sat down on some tatami mats listening to a monk chant. Suddenly, a curtain raised for about 10 seconds. All I saw was a golden blur. I bought a stamp of the image afterwards and discovered what it must have looked like. We assured our place in the pureland by touching a sacred key underneath the golden image in the middle of this dark tunnel underneath the temple. It was supposed to be enlightening, but I suppose my mind was too preoccupied. I almost missed the key. I had to turn back and really search for it, but my hand did graze it eventually.

After trying miso ice cream, miso onigiri, and a lovely rice pudding type drink, we headed back to the station to make our way home from our little vacation. It was a really nice break. I love traveling and I haven't gotten the chance to do it as much as I would have liked since I came to Japan, so it was lovely to get away for a bit.

I'm glad I enjoyed my vacation, because it was immediately followed by 11 straight days of work! AH! Today is my first day off, and I am exhausted. Part of the long week was by choice, however. On Monday, Dustin and I went to Tokyo to interview for some jobs in Nagoya with our company. The interview was terrifying, because the big boss drilled me about non-existant hypothetical conflicts with my coworkers, and had me demonstrate my poor Japanese ability. Somehow, however, we got the jobs! We'll be moving to Nagoya, the fourth biggest city in Japan, literally right before we come home for the wedding. We will most likely move to Nagoya the day before our plane before for the U.S. leaves. Eeeek.

I'm very excited about this new opportunity. We will be Assistant English Teachers in a single Nagoya high school. That means we will be working with one Japanese teacher every day and see the same students a few times a week. We're very excited to be able to form relationships with our students and see their progress with English. I can't wait to get to Nagoya! It will be much warmer than Nagaoka, and there will be a lot of culture. It's going to be a very happy change in our lives!

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