Flying High Over Fukushima

We found our helicopter in the car park. It had its own fenced-off space, but the barrier was so low that anyone could see it. In fact, as we put on our headsets and the blades began to spin, a few people stopped to watch. I felt like a true VIP in the back of that helicopter, watched by passersby. The best part? I hadn’t paid a single yen. Continue reading Flying High Over Fukushima

Japan’s Lapland

Japan’s Lapland

In the second weekend of February, as yet another snow storm blew across the prefecture, three friends and I loaded up a rental car with skis and a shovel (for the snow, not for our enemies) and drove through the night. Our destination: the deep mountains of Nagano and Gifu. Our goals: see snow monkeys, go skiing, enjoy the onsen, and wander around the UNESCO village of Shirakawa-go. In three exhausting days. Continue reading Japan’s Lapland

Land of the Rising Sun

Land of the Rising Sun

I’m not a morning person. So when my alarm went off at 4am, and I dragged myself into warm layers and out into the pitch-black morning, I wondered why on earth I was doing this to myself. Even so, my fellow ALT Marc picked me up and up we drove to the Bandai Skyline. Continue reading Land of the Rising Sun

Day One: The Japanese Alps

Day One: The Japanese Alps

Five days, two prefectures, 1400km in my little pink car. Accompanied by two Canadians, I spent Golden Week exploring the Western coast and experiencing many of Japan’s no.1s: the highest onsen, the tallest waterfall, and the most delicious gold leaf ice cream (might’ve made that last one up.) Continue reading Day One: The Japanese Alps

Aizu’s Candle Festival

Aizu’s Candle Festival

The nights in Japan feel especially long this winter, with regular -7 temperatures, cold starry skies and a mountain wind that sweeps over the rice fields and buffets my rickety apartment. But there is an upside to the long, dark nights: snow festivals. In particular, Aizu’s annual candle festival. Continue reading Aizu’s Candle Festival

Nihonmatsu’s Many Gods

Nihonmatsu’s Many Gods

One of the best things about living in the Japanese countryside is the abundance of temples and shrines. Rather than praying in churches or cathedrals, Japanese people make pilgrimages to little wooden shrines that are often buried deep in a forest or hidden on a distant mountaintop. Nihonmatsu has some of my favourites. Continue reading Nihonmatsu’s Many Gods

Manga and Mountains

Manga and Mountains

It was a miserable day. We’d driven two hours through the sleet and snow, and now I was in a city on the west coast with hail driving into my face. It was the perfect day to visit a museum. And not just any museum – Niigata Manga Museum. Continue reading Manga and Mountains

Lake Inawashiro

Lake Inawashiro

My childhood was spent camping on windy cliff tops and under Welsh mountains, building fires with nothing but twigs and flint and steel – no matches allowed. And yet the BBQ, with its fresh coal and easy lighter fluid, refused to start. Continue reading Lake Inawashiro

Searching for Monsters in Zao

Searching for Monsters in Zao

I think people around the world can agree that 2020 has started with some strange weather, and Japan is no exception. My colleagues told me this was the warmest winter they’d had, but I wouldn’t let this crush my dreams of spending every weekend hurtling down mountains. So a group of us woke before dawn, ski gear stuffed into our bags, and boarded a series of local trains to Zao Onsen ski resort in Yamagata prefecture. Continue reading Searching for Monsters in Zao

Drums in the Night ft. THAT Typhoon

Drums in the Night ft. THAT Typhoon

Autumn has finally arrived in Japan, but it came on so quickly that it seemed like the entire season had been condensed into October. In the space of a month, the temperature dropped from 26 to 6, we had Japan’s worst typhoon for 60 years (plus other smaller typhoons), and meanwhile the trees turned red and my town held one of Japan’s largest lantern festivals. This is where I attempt to cover it all in one post! Continue reading Drums in the Night ft. THAT Typhoon

Going with the Flow

Going with the Flow

I’ve always loved thrills. However, as I dangled by a single rope on the lip of a 20-metre waterfall, water crashing down around me and a dark plunge pool looming under my red-booted feet, I was truly beginning to question my life choices. Continue reading Going with the Flow

Time Travel and Falling Ninjas

Time Travel and Falling Ninjas

The scenes I witnessed this weekend could have been taken straight from feudal Japan, when the country was closed off to most of the world and split into warring lords and samurai. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d looked over the castle wall to find ninjas climbing towards me, or found women in elaborate kimono navigating the diagonal stairs. I’d stepped back in time to Fukushima’s samurai past. Continue reading Time Travel and Falling Ninjas

The Joys of Stairs

The Joys of Stairs

I’d forgotten how much Japan loves stairs. You can’t avoid them – at the train station, in shops, at every shrine or temple you visit – and there are often hundreds. On this particular weekend, my senpai and I found ourselves climbing the ‘1000-step staircase to paradise.’ We didn’t exactly feel paradisiacal. Continue reading The Joys of Stairs

Cupid is a Carp

Cupid is a Carp

A fish with heart-shaped markings swims in the Bishamon-numa, one of the five-coloured lakes that lie beneath Mount Bandai. If you catch sight of this elusive fish, you will find true love. Or at least, that’s how the legend goes. Continue reading Cupid is a Carp

When Lightning Strikes

When Lightning Strikes

Our senpais joked with us new JETs that we’d brought bad luck with us. First, a strong earthquake hit as soon as we landed in Japan, then a village nearby caught on fire, and finally our first weekend plans were thwarted by a lightning strike. Continue reading When Lightning Strikes