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tokyo (6)

Sunburnt in Sapporo

It’s the end of a long day as I sit down to write this post. The day started in Tokyo at 4:00am, where I checked out of my hotel and made my way to Haneda Airport for the flight to Sapporo. Haneda is essentially Tokyo’s domestic airport, and while it’s much smaller than Narita, it felt busier. The 777 we took had a nose-mounted camera to give us a first-person view of the liftoff and landing. Is this common? I haven’t seen it before.

I landed in New Chitose airport south of Sapporo and took the bus into town. After grabbing lunch and dropping my bags I train-hopped north to the HUE Sapporo campus. I also got to take a taxi part of the way, which was a great chance to practice my Japanese, and I’d rather mention that than my conversation with the ticket agent where I mixed up “my older sister” and “that platform over there.” You know, because those are super close together (they’re not).

Once I got to campus I met with the international team, including the TAB liaisons and their Director. One of their English instructors is fairly new to campus, so we went on a tour of campus together and chatted about HUE and UofC, and some quirks about life in Canada. I also visited a Year 1 teacher ed class and chatted with the students, one of which is hoping to come to Canada next year as part of one of HUE’s other exchange programs.

After some more meetings and introductions it was time for dinner. The folks at HUE invited me to join them at Yakitori, a pub-like restaurant that mostly serves skewered meats (tori means bird/chicken) and sake. Tokyo was good for learning about what Japan values as a country, but tonight’s dinner was great for learning about the HUE team as people. They introduced me to new dishes, showed me a drink made from sweet potatoes that wasn’t orange (witchcraft, I think), and chatted about their lives, their families, and the work they do. They’re a kind and generous bunch and I’m looking forward to the next few days getting to know them and the city a little better.

A quick aside – Although there has been a significant earthquake in Osaka I’m quite far from there and so haven’t been affected by it.

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In Search of Ramen

It’s my last full day in Tokyo and the sun has finally come out! To start the day off I walked north to Tokyo Tower. While it’s not as tall as the Tokyo Skytree, it’s also much closer to get to on foot, and unlike certain other yeah-sure-that’s-a-tower, this one is big enough to outpace the buildings around. So points for that.

Right next to the tower is Shiba Park. It’s another green space in Tokyo, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover it’s also neighbours with Zojo-Ji, a large Buddhist temple that’s open to the public. The temple runs free guided tours in English that give some context to the site, its history, and its significance for the city. While most of the temple has been destroyed and rebuilt over the years, it still boasts its original gate, one original building, and a black pine planted by Ulysses S. Grant during his visit to Japan. The tour guide was funny and welcoming and definitely makes the temple worth a visit.

 

After the temple I went north to one of Tokyo’s theatre districts to check things out and take an obligatory photo with one of the many Godzilla statues scattered around town. On my way I passed through a small park with a fishing pond. While I was there a mother and father were teaching their son how to catch lobsters. Always something new to see! From there I went east to the Hama-rikyu Gardens, an enclosed green space also dating from the Edo period. The stonework is reminiscent of the imperial palace grounds and the gardens are fairly large for the $3 admission fee.

I’m off to Sapporo tomorrow but first I’ve got to track down the ramen restaurant I’ve been trying to find. Until then!

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Over Hill and Under Hill

A few miles east of my hotel is Tokyo harbour, a sprawling cargo complex that also has some good sightseeing points that are worth checking out. True to form I got lost twice along the way, but had some help from security guards who understood my broken Japanese and pointed me in the right direction.

One of the detours I didn’t expect Google to take me on was a tunnel under a dozen or so train lines. The tunnel – think Harry Potter 5 but with less headroom – gives cars, bikes, and pedestrians a way past the rail lines without a lengthy detour. The concrete roof comes down to about 5 feet at its lowest point, and the passage is only just wide enough for a walker, biker, and car to go abreast, but it makes for a good photo, especially if you can get one at the end of the tunnel when a car is coming through.

After the tunnel comes the Rainbow Bridge. It is, in a word, big. The bridge connects several man-made islands on the west side of the port with Odaiba Park, a historical site turned beachfront, and spans nearly twice the length of Niagara Falls’ bridge with the same name. It’s a double-decker bridge, with 4 lanes on top and 4 underneath, plus 2 train tracks in the middle and pedestrian paths on either side. In good weather you can see Mt. Fuji on the south promenade, but failing that the bridge lights up at night and gives you a great view of downtown and the rest of the harbour.

 

Odaiba Park is what remains of several cannon batteries that were build to defend the harbour from the Americans in the 1850s. Most of the defenses are gone now, and in their place is a large park that some kids were playing soccer in as I walked by. There’s also a beach and recreation area, plus a marina for boat tours if you’re looking for a different view. And of course, I also ran into someone you might know (she's shorter in person).

After the beach I went to the Trick Art Museum, home to all sorts of optical illusions and photo opportunities. This is a great place to go if you’re with friends or have kids. If you’re travelling solo the museum staff will also help take photos as well – most of the pieces are interactive and it helps to have someone to hold the camera.

My final stop for the day was at Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. This is a must-see, especially for families or science teachers. The museum is built around asking interesting questions about the world and sharing how scientists tackle these questions across all sorts of fields. Robotics, astrophysics, environmental science, forensics, and several other disciplines all have a home here. 2 dozen Nobel Laureates have also visited the museum, and each of them have posed a question for guests to reflect on as they tour the exhibits. A very interactive museum that filled nearly 3 hours of my day – well worth it.

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My first full day in Tokyo! Things got started nice and early, which was great for getting to see the city before rush hour hit but not so great for finding a restaurant that was open for breakfast. I settled on a small western café called Dean & DeLuca, whose menu was mostly in Japanese but which catered to more English speaking guests than I’d seen so far anywhere else. I had their tuna sandwich on “pecan bread” out in a small courtyard that sits between some of the underground pedestrian tunnels folks were using to get to work. That’s one thing I didn’t expect to find here: lots of green spaces that you can sneak away to for some quiet in the middle of the day.

Today marked my first day taking the subway. Tokyo’s transit system is a bit confusing, but not nearly as confusing as it should be given the city’s size, the number of companies that run trains, subways, and buses, and the number of people who all know where they’re going when you do not. Instead it’s very well organized: there are colour-coded signs in Japanese and English all over the place, and the info maps are close enough together that if you get lost (like I did in JR’s Tokyo Station), you’ll get un-lost quickly enough.

As a history teacher, I couldn’t pass up a chance to tour the Imperial Palace downtown. The palace, built where Edo castle once stood, has some stellar gardens and a handful of 17th century watchtowers that you can get pretty close to. Tours are free and offered in Japanese and English, and if you plan ahead of time you can download an audio guidebook for some extra tidbits as you walk around the grounds.

After the palace I walked down to the National Diet (Japan’s legislature), which is also surrounded by a wide range of government buildings. It didn’t look like I could tour inside most of these, which was a shame, but they were nice to wander by and gave me a better sense of what the city feels like on a Friday afternoon.

I stopped in for lunch at CoCo Ichibanya Curry House not too far from a Shinto shrine I wanted to visit. Most of the other guests were office workers on their lunch breaks. Mostly regulars, it seemed, but the waitress was very helpful and the menu had loads of options. I went with a seafood curry that had shrimp, octopus, and a couple other I-don’t-know-what-those-were-but-they-were-tasty.

The Hie shrine sits at the top of a hill with a staircase (and escalator) leading down to the city below. Out front there are a number of lanterns set up for the Sanno Matsuri Festival, which is on until the 17th. I didn’t stick around for the festivities but the shrine itself was peaceful and worth visiting if you’re interested in history and culture.

On the train back to the hotel I found out that my route was ending 1 station short of my hotel. Not a huge problem, save that this other station A) had 4 different exits and B) my phone has decided it does not like loading maps anymore because it takes joy in watching me struggle. Again Tokyo’s organization came to the rescue. Every few blocks there are info maps that outline where you are, where subway stations are, and where to find nearby landmarks (like that hotel you want to get back to).

That’s all for today! Next is dinner and a walk down to the park I can see from my room. See you tomorrow!

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Off to Tokyo!

As part of TAB, Werklund has a longstanding relationship with the Hokkaido University of Education (HUE) in northern Japan. For nearly 3 decades, students from Werklund and HUE have been travelling overseas to learn about how teaching and learning happen in other places. As part of that partnership, this year I have the opportunity to visit HUE and learn about their programs and the work they do.

For the next two weeks, I’ll be visiting 3 cities in Japan. First, to bustling Tokyo, then, to HUE’s main campus in Sapporo, and finally, to Hakodate, home to one of HUE’s many satellite campuses and their Regional Education program. Today I’m writing from a 767, on my first trans-Pacific flight. It’s a smooth ride – direct from YYC to Narita Airport in Tokyo, with some stellar views along the way (get a window seat on the right if you can, or all you’ll be looking at is ocean).

We left Calgary around 1:00pm; then made our way northwest toward BC and the Rockies. A couple of hours into the flight I got a photo of some snow-capped mountains south of Watson Lake. There’s deep snow farther north – especially as you get closer to Skagway – but you can also make out plenty of mountain peaks, valleys, and the occasional glacier.

From there we hugged the coast of Alaska, passing just south of Anchorage before heading back inland. Once we were over the Bearing Strait we curved south, staying east of Russia until we passed east of Hokkaido and the other northern islands. We had a cloudy landing, and it’s overcast now at Narita. Baggage and customs were a breeze. I’ve loaded up my Passmo card for getting around town (thanks Dr. Dressler!), and I’ll be headed to the hotel in 20 minutes. Stay tuned for more news from here in Japan!

 

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こんにちは (Konnichiwa) Hello TAB Japan

It is currently 1:20 pm in Sapporo, Hokkaido. 

Teaching Across Borders officially starts today and I feel excited, nervous and grateful for what is to come. 

I am excited to explore a new city, eat amazing food and continue practicing photography. I am excited to continue learning Japanese and practice speaking it with my host family who only speaks basic English. 

I am nervous about meeting my host family, their expectations and how I should act around them.

I am grateful for this opportunity to be in a new city on the other side of the world, learning more about my teaching style, strengths, weaknesses and what I value most as a teacher. I hope to grasp another perspective on education, make new friends, and continue to step outside my comfort zone. 

I have been in Japan for a week already but I miss my family and friends. I know they're worried about me but I will be okay. Solo traveling in Tokyo has been an amazing experience. Even though I have been to Tokyo before, I was able to delve more into the culture of Japanese people such as their mannerisms and their lifestyle. I was able to skip the major tourist spots and explore the small underground things that make Tokyo a spectacular city. Yesterday, all 6 of us went to Tokyo Disney Sea together and it was a magical day. I'm also excited to share this experience with these girls who I feel comfortable with already. 

Some cool experiences so far:

Going to the Cup Noodle Museum and being inspired by Momofuku Ando, who invented precooked chicken ramen instant noodles at age 48, reminding us it's never to late to follow our dreams and do something new

Seeing Tokyo lit up at night from the observatory on the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Eating conveyor belt sushi, eating in single person stalls for ramen and having fresh sashmi in a don-buri which is a rice bowl

Sitting on the second floor of a cafe eating creme brulee while watching the madness of Shibuya Crossing on a Sunday Night

Being crammed into a train during the evening rush hour like a pack of sardines

Waking up early and going to a beautiful, nearby park to read because Tokyo is a late rising city and things don't open until 10 or 11 am!

Walking until my feet hurt but seeing the coolest things on the way

Taking photo booth pictures and editing them on those crazy, cute, Japanese systems

The closer I get to graduation, the more I want to teach overseas in Japan or Korea. This experience will be an asset in helping me decide what I want to do. 

I will take it easy, do my best, and have lots of fun!

I'm ready for you Sapporo, Hokkaido.

またね

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