Friends Are The Spice Of Life – Cheers to new beginnings!


Recently my life has been full of intriguing developments, exotic adventures, sensory overload and a flood of new experiences.  That is to be expected, one would at least hopefully and rationally anticipate, when an everyday, average, Canadian girl decides to uproot her life and move to Japan.

Teaching English in Japan is something I have dreamt of doing since I first discovered that I could.  It has been my life’s dream up until July 31, 2011 when it transformed from a dream into an exciting reality.  From the moment this bleary-eyed girl, her joyful heart pumping blood filled with wanderlust and adrenaline through her trembling limbs, stepped off the plane and into the Japanese version of “Wonderland”, life has and never will be the same.

A dream come true is exactly what teaching English overseas is for me. It has exceeded my expectations regarding how much I would enjoy it and in other ways blown my expectations out of the water.  During the past five months in Japan I have learned so much, both about myself and I feel about what it means to travel.  Yes there is a difference between touring and traveling….I will save that can of worms for another day though.  There is one truth in my life that I am certain of however, and it is that traveling has helped me to grow as a person and mature as a human being.

I have always loved the saying “Friends are the spice of life”.  It’s a saying full of truth in my eyes.  Just as good spices help to make a dish more delicious, good friends help you to become a better person and they encourage you to try new things even if they scare you.  Writing a blog, the thought of sharing my thoughts with the world, is always something I’ve contemplated doing but been too afraid to truly pursue.  The fear of rejection, the fear of my musings being read and then disregarded as mere trash, has held me back.  That is until quite recently, one of my closest friends in the whole world came to visit me…

My friend’s decision to travel to Japan, with her major intention being to see me, helped me to see myself in a different light. To her, my decision to move overseas, and not merely overseas but also to a country as incredibly foreign as Japan, is incredibly brave, possibly bordering on insanity.  It is something that she would, “never in one hundred years be able to do”.  For the purposes of this story it is important to understand that my friend and I are as close as two friends can be, she is the macaroni to my cheese, and I swear there are times when we can have an entire conversation with our eyes. No, sadly we are not telepathic, as cool as that would be but, we run on two such similar brain waves that it was shocking to me that for the first time in my recollection I was doing something she would never want to do.  We have spent six wonderful years together spilling secrets, laughing, crying and occasionally and very secretively indulging in the sexy performance of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean (much to my embarrassment, multiple times). I have often been heard saying that she understands me better than I understand myself.  Needless to say I was baffled, shocked even, by this unexpected development in our friendship.

In my friend’s eyes Japan is about as different from Canada as a country possibly could be, yet I somehow survive. Also, not only do I merely survive, it is obvious to anyone who sees me, I am thriving!  For ten wonderful days we traveled Japan, and I shared my new life with her, trying to help her see why it was I loved Japan.  She thanked me profusely during these travels saying over and over again how she would never have been able to do this without me and that I was the perfect Japan tour guide.  I had organized the entire itinerary filling our days with the very best each city had to offer, happily answering her cultural questions to the best of my ability, insisting she try famous Japanese foods that she never in her wildest dreams would have eaten (and sometimes discovered that she liked), and all the meanwhile being able to enthusiastically regale her with the history of famous sites.

One of the major conversation topics that cropped up, time and time again on those long train rides however was: why was I able to do what I do and be happy?  I had left the life I had known, my friends, my loving family, familiar places and yes even my language, behind for a country where I knew no one, spoke only a beginners-level amount of Japanese and couldn’t even read the labels in the supermarkets!  It was craziness to her, the adventure of a lifetime for me.

I had never thought of myself as remarkable, sure I loved traveling but who would want to read my travel blog when so many other blogs exist out there on the web? Plus, not only that, I’m a Commerce major not an English major, I am not a writer! Then there’s also the fact to consider that I’m just so damn busy… The list I can assure you went on and on in that fashion for quite some time; one excuse after another.  One day however before we separated, my friend looked me in the eye and said the words that have inspired this blog:

J you are the most well-traveled person I know.  You clearly don’t see yourself the way I, and other people do, we see as a truly remarkable traveler whom we wish we could be like! You planned a tour that most people would pay thousands of dollars for and feel they had truly just experienced the very best that country had to offer. Listening to you talk about traveling is fascinating, and I would love you to plan the rest of my travels.

It is these words that have finally convinced me to crawl out from that proverbial hole which has kept me from writing on the web.  With time, and great patience from readers, I hope to share the lessons I have learned from traveling, my love for discovering new and wonderful things, what it means to be a true traveler and advice for places to see when you visit the same cities this wanderlust-filled individual has visited.



P.S. Also, if you’re a foodie like me, this is the travel blog for you!

My First Sakura Season in Japan

Sakura is the Japanese word for “cherry blossom”.  Sakura is the most famous flower in Japan and considered by many to be Japan’s unofficial national flower. It’s annual blossoming has been celebrated for many centuries and holds a very prominent position in Japanese culture.

In Japan there is a wide variety of cherry blossoms but there is something all these trees share: the ephemeral beauty of their blossoms. Most sakura trees bloom in early spring and their blossoms last for only a week before in evanescent fashion they fall away making room for the leafs to come out.  The most popular variety of cherry blossom in Japan is the Somei Yoshino, its flowers are nearly pure white, tinged with the palest pink near the center of the blossom. Therefore, the trees look nearly white from top to bottom. The brief blooming period of the sakura trees and the fragility of their blossoms, has led to a strong association in Japanese society with the transience of life. Even as the sakura petals fall to ground they are breathtaking to behold as they visually appear to transform into snow falling around you at the breath of even the slightest breeze.

I’ve been told that the sakura blossoms first began to be revered in the Heian Era which began in 794 and lasted until 1185. This is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height.  The Heian period is also considered to be the peak of the Japanese imperial court and noted for its art, poetry and literature.  It was during this period that cherry blossom viewing, in the form of special parties that took place outside so that the beauty of the sakura could be observed called Hanami, first gained popularity.

A drawing given to me by one of my students that illustrates the extent to which sake is a very popular hanami drink 😉

Many hundreds of years later, Japanese people continue the tradition of hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties held under the blooming sakura trees is still celebrated. Thousands of people gather wherever the flowering sakura trees can be found and the festivities fill the parks as people hold feasts under the flowering trees, occasionally indulging in one too many drinks of sake, and sometimes these parties go on until late at night.

These parties are so popular in Japan that a sort of cherry-blossom-craze sweeps across the country. There are even cherry blossom forecasts on Tv!!! If I have learned one thing it is never underestimate the Japan love for sakura season! Therefore my advice to travellers wishing to visit Japan during cherry blossom season is book very far in advance.

Hanami Viewing Party in Osaka Park