Inward Bound, #amazingtoyama

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Credits: Airika Takeguchi, Amaharashi Beach

So, with ALT placements coming out, I thought a Toyama post would be good!
Japan’s an amazing place. Everywhere, there’s something. Well almost everywhere…

If you read some of my earliest blogs, you’d know that I was COMPLETELY clueless when I was first placed in Toyama. One of the first things I reacall reading was of how Toyama was the home to YKK, the zipper company. At that time, zippers did not sound all that exciting to me, and I WAS quite nervous as to what Toyama would have for me. As it turns out YKK is the world’s LARGEST zipper manufacturer! I’m really looking forward to visiting their factory one day.

Luckily, Toyama also has a lot more than just great zippers and I’ll be compiling a non-exhaustive list of things to see and do around Toyama. Even as I publish this, I know there’re a lot of spots that I’ve missed…but I’ll keep updating this one.

I cannot express in words, the wonder I felt when I first came to Toyama. The towering mountains. The vast blue sky. The train tracks that wound on endlessly like a Ghibli movie. Toyama is truly a blessing.

Enjoy…

TOYAMA CITY

Toyama Castle Park
Castles are EVERYWHERE in Japan…and by castle standards, the Toyama one is pretty modest. But hey, you can never really complain about a castle that’s this accessible, can you? Just pop-by when you’re in the city 😀 It’s also good to visit during the Sakura season when all the road-side vendors are out selling street food! 
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Kansui Park, Home to The Most Beautiful Starbucks (of 2008)

Every time someone visits me, I bring them to this place. I mean, who DOESN’T wanna see the MOST BEAUTIFUL Starbucks (of 2008)?

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Credit: Ong Kai Ching

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Suh Romantix

Kureha Hills: Gohyaku Rakan (the 5 hundred buddhas)
From atop Kureha hills, you can see an amazing view of the Tateyama range on a good clear weathered day. Not THAT often, but when it happens, its SO amazing.

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As much as I love this photo, I’d be a liar if I said Toyama looked like this everyday.

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Matsugawa (River in Toyama)
I’m in love with the Sakuras that bloom along this river. The reflection of the trees really made me doubt reality…I’m not even that big a Sakura or flower nut…but this sight is just so dreamy. IMG_2885

YATSUO
Owara Kaze no Bon
Go down to Yatsuo between 1st and 3rd September to catch a glimpse of the Owara festival! It’s so hypnotising to watch, I could have just watched them forever. Yatsuo itself, is just a hidden gem that you’ve GOT to explore.

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NAMERIKAWA
Firefly squid museum
I’m not the biggest fan of this place to be frank. I went in expecting to see the Firefly squids or Hotaru ika as they call them here. Unfortunately, I don’t think they deal with the squids kindly…there are mini shows where they pull them out of water, just to show you how they glow.

All that said, if you REALLY really HAVE to see Hotaru ikas…they’re here.

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Credits: Airika Takeguchi

UOZU
Buried Forest Museum
My friend was visiting me when I went to this museum. It’s so so worth it and under-rated. It’s not at all crowded and the trees form amazing sculptures that look so otherworldly.

This museum preserves and displays Uozu buried forest designated as a national monument. Uozu buried forest is the ruin of the virgin cedar forests buried from about 1500 to 2000 years ago.
http://museums.toyamaken.jp/en_museum/e_uozu_buried_forest_museum/

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Credits: Airika Takeguchi

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Mirages
I’ve never seen any mirages personally, but if you go to the Buried Forest Museum and you happen to be lucky, you could see a Mirage!

KUROBE
Kurobe George(ous)
Take a Torroko, open-air train through the Kurobe George. It’s Japan’s No.1 V-shaped George. I didn’t make it up, it’s on the website and all. It’s breath-taking especially in Autumn when you see the amazing red-orange-golden colours surrounding you and the blue blue blue water below.

Sometimes, AJET excursions book trips in autumn, but if it doesn’t happen, you can always make a booking for yourself! Website to book your tickets, especially if you wanna catch the autumn leaves: http://www.kurotetu.co.jp/en/ 

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TATEYAMA
The Tateyama Mountain Range
Tateyama has a lot to offer and you should definitely visit this beauty more than once. My recommendation is to check it out in all its seasonal glory (although, you might also want to check how the weather’s gonna be up there).

When I first climbed it as part of the Toyama Orientation (Yes, you get to climb it), I cried because, I’d never felt so humbled and overwhelmingly happy to be somewhere in such a long time.

If you want to book your tickets (especially for the autumn leaves and the snow walls), you wanna book them through this website:
http://www.alpen-route.com/ticket/en/index.html

  Oyama Shrine : there are 3 of them in Toyama, one near the mountain peak, one in
Tateyama town and one more in Iwakuraji. They’re said to be power spots!

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   Bijoudaira

Legend of the Beautiful Woman Cedar

1,300 years ago the man who opened up Mt. Tateyama was betrothed to a beautiful princess. However women were forbidden from entering Mt. Tateyama. The princess, sad at being separated from her love, climbed up to Bijodaira and told her sad tale to a beautiful cedar tree. She beseeched the tree “If you have a heart, please listen to my wish”. Later her wish was granted and the couple were happily married. From that day this tree has been called “Bijosugi” or “Beautiful Woman Cedar” and this area has been known as “Bijodaira”.
http://www.alpen-route.com/en/about/highlights/tateyama.html

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Model: My brother

   Midagahara

“Midagahara lies at an altitude of 1900 m and is one of the largest alpine wetlands in Japan. The hiking course is surrounded by a variety of alpine plants. In July 2012, this area was also registered in the Ramsar convention as one of the world’s most valuable wetlands.”
http://www.alpen-route.com/en/about/highlights/tateyama.html

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Credits: Ananthanarayanan Sankar (le bro)

   Murodo
Murodo is the place you want to explore if you want to see the famous, yet elusive Raichou or Rock Ptarmigan. It’s the Toyama bird and its tricky to spot due to its camoflage. Murodo is also the place to be if want to see the snow walls in Spring.

Be sure to drink some of the Oishii Mizu or Delicious Water, straight from the source.
It’s laced with crack by all the terrifyingly fast climbing old ladies who want to ensure you stay in Toyama forever. *this is a joke.

From Murodo, you can either climb the mountain OR you can take a cable car and head towards Kurobe Dam!

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This was the first time I cried since coming to Japan. It was stunning.

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All those WALLS!

Kurobe Dam
Did I hear you say “DAYUM!!”? Suh Punny.
But really, Kurobe Dam is a sight to behold. The power of the water gushing out and the Natural beauty surrounding it is really something.

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Credits: Serena Toh

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TAKAOKA CITY
Takaoka Daibutsu (Big Buddha)
This guy is one of the top 3 in Japan! I only visited him very recently and boy am I glad I did! He’s a real looker and I can see why people wld go Buddhist for him. 😉 Totally my type.

IMG_9738_2 Zuiryuji Temple
Don’t miss out on this National Treasure if you’re in Takaoka. This Buddhist temple is really close to the Takaoka station too, so it’s really quite convenient!

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Kanayamachi
Fancy walking down a traditional shopping street? Well then, Kanayamachi, in Takaoka is just the thing for you. I admit, I haven’t been here much, but the 2 times I visited, it’s really photogenic with some traditional craft stores and even a mini exhibit to explain what Takaoka was like in the past.

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SHINMINATO
Special thanks to Brandon Bewza for this info! I’ve never visited Shinminato, but the photos look SO good, I’ll update this page with photos of my own once I visit!

Kaiwomaru Park

There’s Kaiwomaru Park down in Shinminato. Big bridge, big ship, and a cool seafood market. In October, there’s the best festival in Shinminato and in August an awesome fireworks display.
-Brandon

 

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Toyama Canal

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NANTO-TOGA
Gokayama

Gokayama is a lovely village nestled within the mountains of the Nanto area. The roofing is very unique and you’ll be very charmed by all the mountain food and culture! Access to this area though….I’d suggest getting a ride if you don’t drive. It’s realllllly OUT THERE.

Since the village was registered as a World Heritage site in 1995, the village house’s unique architectural style called Gassho-zukuri has attracted much attention for its appearance and structure. The natural beauty surrounding the villages is also very impressive.

Attraction of Gassho-zukuri, however, does not lie only in its unique appearance. You will be more interested in Gassho-zukuri if you learn about Gokayama more, including climate, people’s life and wisdom, the tradition and culture which people have passed down from generation to generation by their efforts.
http://www.gokayama-info.jp/en/

 

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Shogawa

Travel down Shogawa on a Pleasure Boat. No really, that’s what they’re called. See nature surround you as you boat down for about 30 minutes…

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Toga Village (Suzuki Company of Toga)

Annual summer theatre festival (with free tickets!)
That’s right, every summer, Toga village is the host to quite an internally famous theatre festival! The Suzuki method has be taught around the world, including my school, and to be able to watch these shows free of charge while camping out in a tent in the mountains where Toga is nestled in…So worth it. Also, the people who attend! They’re so different from the people I usually meet.

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KAMIICHI
Oiwa-san, Nisseki-ji
Ever wanted to see the figure of the guardian deity , Fudō-myōō (Acala), carved into a mountain and then proceed to meditate under a waterfall (without dying)? This place is JUST the thing for you then. This one is also quite out there in the boonies, so I recommend hitching a ride or you’ll have to get there from Kamiichi station by bus.

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HIMI
Amaharashi
Know what’s amazing about AMAZING TOYAMA? We got lucky with nature. We have the mountains, we have the gorges, we have the waterfalls, we have the great blue sky, we have the sea of Japan…boom di yada boom di yada.

The majestic view of the Tateyama mountains range looming 3,000m above Toyama Bay changes with each season and is breathtakingly beautiful. This view was much loved by the Manyo poet Otomo No Yakamochi, who wrote many poems about it. The area stretching from the Amarashi coast to Matsudae-no-Nagahama in Himi has been designated as “One of Japan’s Best 100 White-sand and Green-pine Beaches” and “One of Japan’s Best 100 Beaches”. There still exists the Yoshitsune rock, where Minamoto no Yoshitsune waited for a shower to clear up on his way to Oshu. This is also where the name Amaharashi (lit. “rain clearing”) came from.
http://foreign.info-toyama.com/en/spot/?spot_id=48

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The train running by the sea…it’s gorgeous.

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Credits: Airika Takeguchi. Banana Bomb.

TONAMI
Tonami Tulip Fair
Sick of all the Sakura hype? Probably not…buuut, here in Toyama, we have another amazing flower. Every year, Tonami hosts the biggest tulip fair in Japan! My suggestion is to ask a friend in Tonami for tickets to this fair. Tonami locals get free tickets every year and they actually throw them away.

If you can’t get your hands on the free tickets, you can always buy them at the gate.

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Model: My mum. She’s got her flower appreciation thing going well.

I truly hope you enjoy #amazingtoyama as much as I have, if not more.

LINKS:
I stumbled on this great website one day, when the weather was amazing outside and I wanted to do something. It was written by an former Toyama ALT.
https://trinitraveller.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/10-must-do-things-in-toyama-japan/

 

I also found THIS website and it’s categorised really well!
http://foreign.info-toyama.com/en/

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One Year On (and then some)

Somehow, I’ve survived an ENTIRE year of living alone without tripping over a stray wire and slamming my head into the corner of some random block of tofu lying around the kitchen and killing myself (this is an actual Japanese saying: go hit your head on the corner of a block of Tofu and die). I’m pretty proud. And to commemorate and celebrate the pride I have in myself, imma post about it! YEAH!!!

So here’s what I’m super happy to have done in this past year:

Taught at a high school and a special needs school.
I’d never done either prior to this. The experience has just been so rewarding and I’m infinately thankful to both my schools which have just been super supportive of me. I’ve never once felt like an idiot working here even though I’ve made numerous mistakes. Despite being the youngest in the English department in both schools, my suggestions and ideas are taken seriously and discussed. They don’t agree with me all the time and I don’t expect or want them to do so, but taking me seriously drives me to give more ideas and suggestions without the worry of failing/sounding like an idiot.

Also, my schools are super kind. When I embark on something outside the school, like the charity show I did, or when I go travelling…they always have something nice to say/ask about what I’m up to and I’m able to communicate how much I truly appreciate being in Japan. It’s super nice.

Met new people from all around the world who had done SO many different things.
Doing theatre in Singapore was great, and the people I met were also very very amazing people. However, I met very few people outside the theatre community and I rarely met people whose countries I couldn’t really place on a map. This sounds terrible, but what I mean to say is that while I DID meet a lot of foreigners, they were usually from very standard countries that I’d always heard/known about. People from other Asian countries, Australia, America, UK….a feeeew Europeans…and that was about it…

I relish meeting/seeing people that I don’t know much about. I enjoy this because, I find the size of the world I live in widening and getting bigger. I enjoy not knowing because this means there’s so much more to see and learn and ask.

Coming here, living in my “foreigner” apartment complex, I’ve learnt SO much and met SO many new people. It’s extremely humbling.

Travelled. This is such a huge thing for me.
1. Toyama:
Tateyama, Gokayama, Kamiichi, Takaoka, Ushidake, Toga Village, Etchuu-Yatsuo, Shogawa, Kureha, Kurobe, Amaharashi Beach, Ikuji, Iwakuraji, Tonami, Shin-Takaoka(AEON Mall), Nyuzen, Namerikawa, Uozu…still counting.

2. Nagano: Kamikochi

3. Ishikawa: Kanazawa

4. Kyoto: Kyoto city, Uji

5. Osaka: Ishinha show place, Osaka Aquarium, Dotonbori, Shitennouji, USJ

6. Tokyo: Ghibli…Akiba…Shibuya…Harajuku…Shinjuku…Shimokitazawa…Meiji Jingu…Asakusa…Nakano-Sakaue…Nerima-Kasugacho…Ikebukuro…Senkawa…Ueno…Ginza…Tokyo’s pretty difficult, cuz I’ve visited at least 5 times…So, I’ve seen quite a bit of it I guess?

7. Chiba: Fukuda Denshi Arena and Disney Land.

8. Nara: Unebigoryomae

9. Gifu: Hida-Takayama, Furukawa

10. Aichi: Nagoya City, Meiji Mura (Inuyama)

11. Mie: Ise City

12. Hokkaido:
Chitose, Sapporo, Furano Winery+Tomita Farm+Furano Cheese Factory (Furano), Biei, Akan (Kushiro City), Shiretoko, Shari, Lake Kussharo, Lake Mashu, Kami no Ko Pond

13. Niigata: Sado Island (this one’s a HUUUUUGE thing off my bucket list)

Along with visiting all these places, I’ve also taken care of booking my own lodging for the first time in my life. I’ve stayed in super cheap business hotels, hostels, spartan tents and even in a car. I’ve also had to arrange my own transportation at times, including busses, trains, flights and ferries. It’s super nerve-wrecking….like I keep panicking…WHAT IF I BOOK WRONGLY, IS THIS REALLY THE CHEAPEST DEAL, WILL MY LEAVE BE APPROVED, WHAT IF EVERYTHING’S BOOKED UP?!?!?!

Buuut, so far, I’ve been fine….in fact, I’ve learnt to go with the flow a lot! Flowing to the point of getting hitch hikes from old people and freinds I meet in carparks while feeling a little desperate to get somewhere.

Seen nature at it’s best and not so best.
Wanted to say worst, but that would definitely be a lie. Before coming here, I heard horror stories about the heavy snow and super hot summers. The winter IS cold…and the summer IS hot….but not unbearable.

Despite the difficulties, nature has shown me some beautiful beautiful sights that will be embedded in my memory. Never had I imagined the world to look so stunning…and every time, I can only think that all the money I spend on travelling is 100% worth it.

Gone for festivals
Many many matsuris and recently, I didn’t just watch one, I even participated in pulling a float at the Tatemon Matsuri.

Started taking photos
It’s not that I’ve never done this before…I was just never very conscious about taking a good one. Recently, after being around so many good photographers *coughKaicough*, it struck me that I wanted to understand framing better.

I’ve begun to experiment with trying to frame what my eyes see with my camera when something catches my eye. I’ve been trying to understand how light works and how the camera captures it…

Mind, I don’t do this professionally at all…It’s just a sort of hobby that I’ve picked up, hoping that it would improve my eye for things onstage.

Theatre.
I’m real glad that coming here wasn’t the end of my theatre work. I’ve managed to watch shows all over the place. I won’t say that I enjoyed EVERYTHING…but experience is always valuable. My year started with my trip to  Toga for the SCOT theatre festival and I’ll be heading there again today…and in between, I’ve directed a local charity show, watched a decent number of performances and attended a lot of festivals that have street performance as a huge element. Some of these street performances really inspire me. 

I’m still reflecting, and more things have started to click for me…So, for the year ahead, I aim to solidify my ideas and aesthetics based on what I’ve seen and learnt.

Improved my Japanese
The photocopying lady at school who I’m close to (and a couple of my students) said my Japanese had gotten a lot better. I cannot express how happy this comment made me.

It’s fairly common for people to tell me that my Japanese is good when they first meet me. While it’s nice to hear that, it’s a totally different thing to hear someone who’s known you for a while, tell you that your skills have improved.

It’s particularly nice to hear this from Photocopy-san who knows how serious Japanese learning is for me.

Hopefully, this is gonna help me in my N3 JLPT test in December. Ugh, the pressure. Stomach ache.

Finding myself and what I stand for.
Maybe living alone makes you stand up for what you believe in a lot more. You have less of a family to fall back to…and I guess my already thick skin grew a little thicker.

From my vegetarianism to my zero tolerance for racism to the way I handle a lot of bs that inevitably comes my way…I’ve learnt how to just be straight about it. I guess it won’t make me Miss Congeniality any time soon, but I get the immense satisfaction for standing my ground on these matters.

A part of me has also come to really really love home. I sometimes catch myself tearing up or outright crying when I think of home. Mind, I’m not a sentimental person who goes about missing laksa or prata on a daily basis…but sometimes, living away really makes me appreciate the small small things I always had at home and took for granted. Sometimes, I see Singapore from afar through a video and feel so proud of what it is and can be and how far it has come.

Simei to Toyama…it always wows me.

Living alone
Like I said at the start, I’m surprised I haven’t killed myself…considering how clumsy I am. I kid not…I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve dropped my knife near my foot.

There’s also the fact that I’m paying for my own utilities and haven’t relied on mum’s driving services in over a year. I’ve also been cooking for myself…and cleaning (let’s use this word in it’s LOOSEST sense)…

Just 2 years ago, I wouldn’t have seen myself doing any of this. In the past, these felt like such ADULT responsibilities, but here I am.

I’v probably done a LOT more than this, but these are the big ones that stand out. Call it blowing my own horn or boasting or whatever. 😛 I just call it reflective documentation for future reference.

ja ne till next time.

Charity Show: Red Shoes and Raichos

When I began blogging, I discribed mysef as a theatre girl amongst other things…never thought I’d actually address that aspect of myself in a blog post….yet here I am.

I probably shouldnt be saying this, but when I first hopped onboard this project, I didnt think it was going to happen for real. I thought it was a nice idea, but that there was no way we’d execute it with all the Japanese paperwork while holding on to our ALT jobs.

I just wondered: Who on earth is gonna commit to something like this???

Yet, amazingly, each step happened. It was undeniably PAINFUL, but it happened. Somewhere along the road, I took on the Japanese paperwork including communicating with the sponsors, venue and potential charity. It’s nerve wrecking work I tell you…

I cannot express how exhausted this project has made in the past couple of months. Of course, I took it on myself, and really, I have no regrets about doing this at all. But boy does it drain the life force out of you.

SOOO about the SHOW:
Red Shoes and Raichos (Wizard of Oz in Toyama) was a charity show in English. Loosely based on the Wizard of Oz we likened Toyama to Oz, a foreign land with many oddities and challenges. Just like Dorothy, we all feel the need to belong in this newly adopted home.

I particularly liked having to dramatise some everyday challenges that we ALTs face upon arriving in Toyama. Sometimes, something as small as sorting the garbage or having a communication can really get a person down in the dumps. You’d probably brush it off usually, but being alone in a foreign country (possibly for the first time in your life) can do things to you.

Just like the magic of OZ though, Toyama’s charm and nature seeps it’s way into our hearts eventually…which was done amazingly well with multimedia. I had huge huge reservations about multimedia use….but it turned out really really well.

At the end of it all, I was incredibly pleased with how many audience members turned up for the show. Considering the number of clashes this show faced, I was so so worried that we’d have an empty theatre…but that didn’t happen and as I ushered people to their seats (yea, i took that job too), I felt so much more optimistic than I had in weeks. And, the people who turned up weren’t just foreigners, we also had a good number of Japanese people in attendence. It was very very hearwarming.

As the show progressed, as the audience members laughed at the jokes….I felt so incredibly touched and relieved and just overall happy. It had worked out in the end.

So yea, we’re now waiting to decide on a charity…and I’m just glad that I’ve been able to give back to the society that’s been taking care of me for the past year. 🙂

Peace.

The Sorting Hat Chooses…….TOYAMA!

The fateful email finally arrived on 21st May, a sleepy Wednesday afternoon.
And it felt like the Sorting Hat was being placed over my head, deciding on where to put me.

I’d requested Niigata prefecture (Sado Island), Kyoto Prefecture and Gifu Prefecture as my 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice. Well, I didn’t get any of them and I suppose I should have felt some disappointment. But I’m a strong believer of “going with the flow” and “letting things take it’s natural course”.

Better be…….TOYAMA-KEN!

I won’t lie, I still don’t know enough about Toyama and if anyone reading this has any information at all, I’d be most grateful….BUT I made it a point to find at least 3 things that I’d look forward to about Toyama. And I am pretty excited to find out more.

3 awesome things about Toyama:

  • It’s got firefly squids that wash up on the beaches. Who doesn’t wanna see glowing sotongs?
  • Toyama is where Toga Village is, which is the home of Suzuki Tadashi’s Theatre Company. ERMAHGAH.
  • lots of snow. LOTS AND LOTS of snow. This is a muchly exciting thing for a person who’s been stuck in a tropical humid-land all her life.

UPDATE: http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/06/10/places-you-simply-must-visit-toyama-edition/

So the great thing is there IS theatre in Toyama although most blogs/websites don’t mention this at all. In fact, I had no idea until I told an actress friend of mine (Steph-chan). She cursed me with a few choice words and then promptly informed me that that’s where Suzuki’s Theatre Company was based. Welll……what do you know…..going with the flow indeed. 🙂

To add on to this, I discovered that my Dad’s friend’s hometown is also in Toyama. So at least I can discuss Toyama with SOMEONE.

There also seems to be a heck ton of nature, surrounded by mountains, and facing the Sea of Japan. It’s also bordered by Niigata and Gifu, so I think they DID take my requests into account. Which means taking a day trip to Sado won’t be impossible.

So all in all, I guess I did get quite a good deal. And the more I find out about Toyama, the more I’m starting to look forward to the adventure ahead of me.

I don’t mean to say that it’s going to be perfect (cuz nothing is perfect)….but there’s something to be positive about. 😀

Online blogs have also been super useful in giving me tons of information from first hand experience. ESID (every situation is different) but some some are more different than others.  So I’ve got a good idea of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which is great.

Update on 25th May:
I got my package consisting of insurance, Japanese for JETs, JET Handbook and Placement Letter in the mail!
Will probably spend some time picking everything apart.

Now I’m waiting for my CO/BOE/Predecessor to contact me with more information about where I’ll live, where I’ll teach, etc. I’m also attempting to get in contact with more Singapore JETs and Toyama JETs…

Till then, I’ll go back to my world of theatre and translation. Cheers.