New look and growing pains

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mikyan

Ehime Roadster

Jen uses some colorful language in this month’s post, so if you find swearing offensive, look away now. 

I named her Pig, as a joke. I bought her almost a year ago, even going through the pain of raising my credit limit to get her. She is beautiful, in her own way, though I wish she were bigger. Her shiny black coat catches the last of daylight.

The weather is better now, so I can take her out for rides more often. I sweep the dust and spider webs off her. This is the part that I hate the most. My throat dries out and my awareness sharpens. I hope that I don’t find any arachnids hiding near the engine, under the splashguards, or in the wires that connect to the handles. God forbid that one crawls on my bare hands when I’m going almost twice the speed limit and there’s another car less than three feet to my right. As I continue inspecting, I have a flashback to last summer when I found a spider larger than my palm hiding in the cup holder. I peek in, my goose bumps feeling as though they are bulging, and see only an old leaf that fell last winter.

Enough of this. My boyfriend is waiting. I turn her on and roll down the steep hill to the main road. I look both ways and rev the engine twice, not because I need to, but because I like to pretend I’m riding a motorcycle. Instead of the powerful rumble that comes from my friend’s Harley, my scooter lets out a whiny death rattle. How embarrassing.

I zip down 197, still pretending I’m on a motorcycle and going twenty over the scooter limit, but I am soon passed by cars going ten over theirs. My fantasy is ruined. Instead, I pass the time by humming, trying to match pitch with my engine, accelerating to find the higher notes and decelerating to match with the lower ones.

I can feel the moisture in the air; it will rain soon. I can smell the blooming yellow trees higher in the mountain: their disgusting, empty, wet, seminal odor descending into the valley, filling it. I hate this smell. It’s been like this for almost a month.

Then, there it is: the tunnel. The first tunnel I’ve scooted through, almost a year ago. The first time, it was only my third or fourth ride on Pig and I wobbled through it, speeding up and slowing down as my nerves dictated. Every car that gained on me seemed to want to kill me, and I didn’t have the confidence to stay on the edge of the road without losing my balance and getting run over by the van next to me or breaking my spine on the curb. Yes, I was that person. The one everybody hates when they drive their cars. On my 50cc scooter, I took up half of the lane so nobody could pass—and potentially kill me—unless the next lane was empty.

But I’ve long since become accustomed to riding in tunnels. For the most part. I stay in my place, riding along the outer edge of the road while cars pass me, some without their headlights on. But then there is silence. I look behind me. There is something in the distance. Perhaps I could get out of the tunnel before it catches up to me. Then I hear a rumble. A light must have turned green somewhere up the road. Cars come quickly from the other direction. And I realize the thing behind me is a semi.

Holy shit.

It is gaining on me quickly, and I’m not getting to the end of the tunnel at the same rate. It catches up with me, my heart rate peaks, the monster in the dark slows down, its engine scoffing. The combustion of the pistons and cylinders is a hot breath on my neck.

I finally get out, dipping at the seam where road meets tunnel, and ride down the shoulder knowing that if the semi doesn’t pass me quickly enough, the little potholes in the road might throw me off balance. I begin chanting to calm myself:

Don’t shit yourself.

Don’t shit yourself.

Don’t shit yourself.

Don’t shit yourself.

I let off the accelerator and feel relief flood my extremities, getting a little high as the truck slowly passes. That’s the worst of it.

The cold nips at me through the rest of my ride, the tunnels providing a cocoon of polluted warmth. My hand, constantly keeping my speed steady, seems to suddenly become aware of its position on the accelerator and feels uncomfortable. I try to shift it without slowing down too much. My back, I notice, is tense. I lengthen my spine and lower my shoulders. Breathe in, breathe out.

I always intend to meditate while riding. Think about nothing. Clear my head. Cleanse my soul. Instead, I think of silly jokes, try to sing with my engine, and contemplate my next big move while picturing what my CrossFit body would look like if I actually had the time. Would I have a six-pack of even squares, or the kind that zig zags?

Twenty minutes of this ridiculousness if I’m speeding. Twenty-five if I’m not, or if there’s traffic. Finally, I get to his house.

That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.

Jennifer Cerna is an American ALT and personal trainer from the Midwest who has lived in Japan for a total of six and a half years. In her free time, she likes to pursue creative hobbies, watch movies, travel, exercise, cook, and #ridefree.

Disclaimer: The Mikan and Ehime AJET do not condone or encourage breaking the speed limit, in Japan or elsewhere. Stay safe kids.

My Japan Bucket List

I love lists. I write to-do lists every morning detailing what I need to accomplish that day. I write items on the list that I`ve already finished just so I can cross them off. Anyone else do this? No, just me? Okay, good talk.

In any case, lists help me focus and prioritize. And while I think travelling should be a more meaningful experience than simply ticking something off a list, having a travel bucket list can really help, especially in a country as richly varied as Japan. Or if you`re anything like me, by the time you`ve reached the ripe old age of 25, you`re prone to forget things unless you write them down immediately.

Disclaimer: this is my own personal bucket list, including suggestions from friends both within and outside of Japan, as well as from the Facebook group JET-setters (a great group by the way). It`s a combination of nature, culture, food, and activities that, for me, encompass the diverse range of experiences Japan has to offer. There are so many other options! I cannot express this enough – I had to limit myself to 15 because otherwise you would be reading this post forever and I`d be writing several hundred bucket list items. Are there any that you want to add? Let me know – I`d love to hear what other people recommend.

 

So, without further ado, let me introduce Japan`s finest fifteen (in my humble opinion):

 

  1. Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima – Okay, this maybe isn`t very original, but it`s one of the most visited places in Japan for a good reason. It is of such religious significance that no births or deaths are permitted near it, so the shrine retains its purity. The famed floating torii gate is classified as one of Japan`s top 3 views, along with Matsushima Bay and Amanohashidate.
  2. Hiking Yakushima – This came up the most when I appealed to JET setters for bucket list items. Located off the coast of Kagoshima, the island is home to some of Japan`s oldest trees – many over 1000 years old – and is said to be the inspiration for the backdrop of Studio Ghibli`s “Princess Mononoke”.
  3. Shimanami Kaido bike ride – Often cited as one of the best cycle routes in Japan, and even the world. Also, I had to include an Ehime one! My next goal is to cycle there and back over two days. Shameless plug, but looking forward to seeing lots of you at the AJET event later this month!
  4. Climb Mt. Fuji – It is said that there are two types of fools in the world; those who climb Mt. Fuji more than once and those who don`t climb it at all. Whatever you do, don`t be the latter. I climbed Mt. Fuji a few years ago and witnessed the best sunrise I have ever seen in my life. I`m a fool so I may climb it again.
  5. Lake Ashiko, Hakone – If you don`t feel like climbing Mt. Fuji, how about just viewing her instead? Hakone, with its variety of hot springs, museums and views of Fuji-san, is a hugely popular destination – helped by its proximity to Tokyo. Lake Ashiko is one of the best places to view Japan`s tallest mountain, and even if she alludes you, Hakone Shrine, the pirate ships and natural beauty around the lake are sure to make up for it.
  6. Yuki Matsuri, Sapporo – Best booked well in advance before flights and hotels sell out (book now for February 2018), the Yuki Matsuri remains one of my top bucket list items. More than 2 million visitors descend on Hokkaido`s biggest city every year to see the incredible snow and ice sculptures that will put your best snowman-making efforts to shame.
  7. Watch sumo – Another まだ for me. I`ve tried to attend sumo matches twice this year alone, but was unable to get tickets (admittedly, I was trying to go for the cheapest tickets on Saturdays). This year is particularly important as it is the first time a Japanese born wrestler has reached the highest sumo rank of yokozuna since 1998 (the sport has been dominated by Mongolian wrestlers in recent years). If it proves impossible to get tickets for a tournament, another option is to visit a sumo stable and watch morning practices.
  8. Stay in a temple, Mt. Koya – One of Japan`s most sacred places, Koya-san is the start and end point of the Shikoku`s 88-temple pilgrimage. It is the place where Kobo Daishi is said to be in eternal meditation awaiting the arrival of the Buddha of the Future and is also home to Japan`s largest graveyard, which has been described as both solemn and haunting. I can think of no better place to experience a temple stay.
  9. Eat wanko soba, Iwate – The name originating from the small bowls in which the noodles are served (minds out the gutter, people), wanko soba is Japan`s ultimate all-you-can-eat challenge. The aim: consume as many bowls as you can. With 8-15 “wanko” bowls equaling a normal-sized soba serving, women apparently consume an average of 50, and men an average of 60. But why stop there? Some restaurants offer commemorative plaques for those who reach 100.
  10. Tsukiji market, Tokyo – Famous for its live Bluefin tuna auctions every morning, Tsukiji is the biggest fish and seafood market in the world. While witnessing the auctions is often one of the top picks for Tokyo, relations between tourists and buyers/sellers are strained (the market is first and foremost a business, not a tourist attraction). Instead, you`re best off heading to Tsukiji at around 9am to watch the fish being prepared at different shops and restaurants. Indulge in a fresher-than-fresh seafood breakfast – it`ll be the best sushi you ever try. Visit before the inner market is relocated (although the moving date is still uncertain).
  11. Watch Awa Odori, Tokushima – “The dancers are fools / The watchers are fools / Both are fools alike, so / Why not dance?” I personally believe this statement to be 100% true, so the Awa Odori (The Dance of Fools) sounds like my kind of festival. It is said that Tokushima city, descended upon by 1.3 million festival revelers, resounds with the sound of taiko drums and song from August 12th to 15th.
  12. Bathe in onsen, Beppu – Onsen should be an item on any Japan bucket list, and the country is blessed with so many popular hot springs spots and quaint (and not-so-quaint) resort towns. The most famous of these is Beppu, which produces more hot spring water than any other resort – over 83,000 litres a minute! Beppu also boasts sand, steam and mud bathing options in addition to normal hot water baths. Take a tour of Beppu`s “Hells” if you`re feeling brave enough (not scary, just a little tacky?). Keep your eyes on Beppu to see if the mayor comes through on his promise to build the world`s first “Spamusement park”, where – you guessed it – visitors will be able to ride rollercoasters and other attractions while soaking in the best hot spring water Japan has to offer.
  13. Bamboo grove, Arashiyama – Setting foot in Arashiyama`s bamboo grove feels like you`ve fallen right into an old Japanese woodblock painting. It`s one of Kyoto`s top sightseeing spots, but somehow walking through the emerald grove never seems to induce the same stress levels as walking through crowds at some of Kyoto`s other top attractions. Prepare your camera (no selfie sticks, please – don`t be that person) but be warned; photos just can`t capture the magic of the place (or maybe that`s just my poor photography skills).
  14. Lavender fields, Furano – Think about Hokkaido – what springs to mind? Skiing and snowboarding, Yuki Matsuri, winter is coming? But Japan`s northernmost island holds very different charms in summer, when the stark white landscape is transformed into a carpet of colours by lavender fields (other flowers are available). At the very least, summer in Hokkaido provides a welcome respite from the humidity and stickiness that smothers the rest of the country.
  15. Try taiko drumming – There`s something about the beat of drums, the most primitive of instruments, that instantly raises energy and excitement levels. Taiko drumming has not only an infectious beat, but also provides a pretty effective workout. Get those arms you`ve always dreamed of AND make great music? Sounds like a winner to me.

 

Although I`ve fully enjoyed my time in Japan so far, I haven`t experienced all the country has to offer – not by any stretch of the imagination. But you have to save something for the next visit, right? Here`s to whatever adventures the next two months (and beyond) will bring!

 Anna Tattersall is a 3rd year Saijo ALT getting ready to head back to the UK in August. She enjoys travelling, Yosakoi dance and running, and has an unhealthy addiction to Earl Grey tea.

 

Ralph Duffy-McGhie Reviews: Shimanami Kaido

The Shimanami Kaido is undoubtedly one of Ehime Prefecture’s primary attractions. Not just for cyclists, but for any tourist visiting the area. The series of bridges spanning across six islands in the Seto Inland Sea make for a stunning experience by car, but arguably even more so by bike. By cycling the route, you are taken off the expressway and down into the islands themselves. You experience firsthand the beauty of the tree covered mountains and bluffs, the winding local roads through the islands small towns and villages. Continue reading

In Gourds We Trust

In Gourds We Trust

Miriam Hemstock

At age 20, just beginning my final year of university and one of the most tumultuous periods of my life, my mother took me out for a day in London. As usual we visited one of our favorite museums, the Tate Modern, without much thought as to what we would see. At the time, a retrospective of Yayoi Kusama’s work was being exhibited. Her obsessively repetitive and mesmerizing work had a resounding effect on me, immediately hypnotizing me with its back story of her 1970s ‘happenings’ and mental health difficulties. Her narrative and her pumpkins then proceeded to shape my developing interest in Japanese art and culture. Continue reading

Ehime AJET Scholarship 2017

The Ehime AJET Scholarship Committee opened applications for the 2017 Scholarship on 28th November 2016. Any high school student in to prefecture is eligible to apply, and we rely on the help and cooperation of high school ALTs and JTEs to make the project successful. The deadline is 10th February 2017 (Friday).

Please contact the committee if you have any questions: ehimeajetscholarship@gmail.com

Ehime AJET Scholarship 2017

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The Mikan — Mikans and Money: The Ehime AJET Scholarship

Mikans and Money: The Ehime AJET Scholarship

Anna Tattersall

I feel I am very lucky to come from the UK. I have always taken for granted how close I am to other European countries and the ample opportunities to travel and work abroad (not so much anymore — I’m still pissed off about the whole Brexit thing). Since my first journey outside of the UK at the age of 6 months, various family holidays, school trips, and travels with friends have taken me to approximately 20 countries around the world, and I have had the opportunity to encounter festivals, events, languages, cuisines, and cultures that I certainly would not have if I’d stayed home in my quiet corner of the English countryside.  Continue reading

The Mikan — 365 Days in Japan

365 Days in Japan

Bronwyn O’Neill

One of my last memories of England before coming to Japan was sitting quietly with my parents, eating poached eggs at an airport cafe and looking bemusedly at my suitcase. We’d just wrapped the suitcase in clingfilm at an overpriced machine to keep my worldly possessions safe inside. At this point, the centre of the suitcase finally buckled under the pressure of the plastic wrap and contorted into an hourglass shape. The suitcase was red, and I smiled at the thought that I would be lugging around something very Jessica Rabbit-esque to my first graduate job. Maybe I should have interpreted it as a portent of the time trials to come, and not just the Mario Kart variety. Continue reading