Yamagata's little mascot. Akabe is still better. (^-^)

Hello again, everyone. Have you all missed me? It's been a crazy couple of weeks for me because I've been preparing to finally leave Aizu Wakamatsu and head out on a three week trip around Japan before catching a plane to the United States. My last day as a teacher was actually the day before yesterday, and this whole week, I was mentoring the new teacher to take my place and give all of my students some super duper English teachings.

I'm really going to miss all of my coworkers and students, but I know they'll all make me proud! They are some of the nicest, kindest people I've ever met, and I can't wait to come back to Japan and see them again. I think they all coordinated and were trying to getting me to stay here by giving me so many gifts that I couldn't carry it all to the airport. Seriously, the number of gifts I received from everyone was a little overwhelming, but I truly appreciate how kind they are all.

For the next three weeks (or so), I'll be traveling around Japan to see some of the places I never had the chance to visit. Now, I'm sitting here in a station in a small town called Kaminoyama. It's in Yamagata prefecture, just north of Fukushima prefecture, and I'm planning to see Yamadera, a temple complex in the mountains which I've heard is beautiful and has a great view, Zao Onsen, which has some good hiking trails, and Takahata Winery, a pretty well-reknowned winery in the area. And it's right in the middle of cherry season here in Yamagata, too. ^o^

   One more thing before I go; to prepare for my departure, I shaved my faced entirely for the first time in quite a while yesterday. The reason this post and my trip are graced with the title "Man-O'-Japan" is because I'm going to spend the entire rest of the trip growing a rugged, manly beard. Since a lot of my trip includes hiking, I felt it would be fitting to be one with the nature by going all-natural until I make it back to the States. Pictures to follow.

   Well, that's it everyone. My train is coming soon, so thanks for reading and look out for more posts through the next few weeks. I'll try to do one for each city and give you all the fun details. Later friends!

My face was pretty itchy.
    I'm not sure if I've announced on my blog or not, but my time in Japan is almost over. My last day of working as an English teacher is on June 21st, after which I'll be traveling around Japan for about three weeks and flying back to the United States on July 12th. I arrived in Japan on June 3rd, 2012, so as of tomorrow, I will have been in Japan for an entire two years. Looking back, I'm surprised how fast everything has gone, and as much as I want to see my family in America, I'm really sad to be leaving. I've come to really love Aizu Wakamatsu since I first got here.

   Greetings again wonderful readers. Thanks for the continued support despite a less than stellar record of updating. It's all been very motivating, not just for my Japanese, but for other languages as well. I've actually been listening to some language learning podcasts for Italian, in Japanese of course. I've found that the process is, so far, progressing much faster then when I first picked up Japanese. I'll keep you all updated on things as they continue, but for now, let's put up some more pictures!
    In Japan, this past week was Golden Week, which I think is the biggest tourist season in Japan, likely due to its proximity to cherry blossom season. I've had the week off too, so I took a trip to somewhere I've wanted to go since I got to Japan: Aomori! What, you've never heard of it? It's at the northernmost tip of the main island of Honshu, and it's famous for tsugaru shamisen, apples, and one of the most beautiful sakura viewing spots in Japan, Hirosaki castle. On top of that, Golden Week falls directly on the cherry blossoms' full bloom in Aomori.

    Today was the day! The cherry blossoms are in full bloom here in Aizu, so I spent the day, from about 11:00 this morning until almost 6:00 pm, walking around the city and taking pictures of so many trees it would drive anyone crazy. I started with my map of Aizu, picked a bunch of places I thought looked good, and set off on my journey. I could talk for a long time about all the stuff I did, but I figure it would just be better to post the pictures from the whole day. I took about 160 throughout the day and ended up deleting about 25 crappy ones, but that still leaves a total of 135 pictures for everybody to enjoy. I'm not posting them all here, only because it will take hours for all that stuff to load, and then I'm sure the slideshow would also take a million years to load for anyone to see. However, I'll give you all a list of the areas I went to, though it includes a number of side streets where I saw something interesting and ventured from the beaten path. Let me know what you all think, hit me up with any questions, and maybe I'll provide a little more of the story later on, assuming people want to know. ^_^ Stay classy ladies and gents.

    Hello again everybody. It's wonderful to virtually see you all today. I've missed you for the past few months. But anyway, as you can tell by the name, this update is just a quick heads up on what's going on for sakura season here in my little city of Aizu. Most of the places nearby are pretty colorful, but since Aizu is in the middle of a valley and is significantly colder than other places in Fukushima prefecture, the season arrives a bit later. I have seen one or two blossoms opening on a few trees, though, and I'm thinking within a week or two it's going to be a pink-a-palooza all over this place. I'm really looking forward to going to a hanami (or two) with some friends when the time comes, but for now, I can wait patiently.
    "So, what else has been happening the past few months?" I hear you ask. At least that's what I'm imagining everyone saying, so let's address that. April in Japan means the beginning of the new school year for the children, as well as the fiscal new year, so it's been a little taxing on a lot of people. My kids classes are very different now, which includes many moving to the next preschool, elementary school, and junior high school classes. I have to admit, it's a great feeling to see students that I've been teaching for nearly the past two years improving and growing up. It's kind of bitter-sweet, though, since I know I'm not going to live in Aizu for the rest of my life, and at some point I'm going to have to say goodbye to all of them. And then those mixed feelings are mixed with more mixed feelings since I've missed seeing some of my own cousins getting older and growing up. I've still got time, though, so I'll just enjoy the way things are until I inevitably return to the USA in the future.
    I hope to write again before the end of the month and include heaps of sakura pictures and wonderful goodness for the whole family to enjoy! Until then, please comment and let me know if there's a topic you want me to write or talk about in the future. I'll try to honor as many requests as I can, including video requests, which I'll be sure to post on YouTube. It's been way too long since I made one, and my channel is puny with only two videos on it. ToT Have a good one everybody!

    Happy New Year! I know I'm a month late on that, but it is still a pretty new year. We're on to February already, how weird is that?! I've been enjoying the snow a little bit, as you can see from the picture on the left. I look pretty good in that new gear, huh? It's actually really comfortable and warm, and of course I had to rock that turtle backpack on the way down as well. It not only matches my pants; it's also perfect for holding all my buddies' crap (and a little of mine, I guess).
    Anyway, I figured I'd just make a little quickie today and highlight a few plans and such for the next couple months, and we'll see if I can follow up on them to keep everyone in the loop. The first item on the list is of course to do a little bit of gloating. You see, I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in December before I headed back to the states for a little vacation and my first excursion out of Japan since arriving a year and a half ago. Well, I finally got the results back, and I passed it! (Level 3, just to be clear.)
    Now, my score wasn't so great (100/180), but it at least gave me an idea of which areas I should focus on studying as I get ready to take the N2 at the end of this year. I wasn't surprised about vocabulary being a little low, since I felt it while taking the test, but I was surprised that my listening wasn't as bad as I thought, and instead, I didn't do so well on grammar. I felt pretty good about the grammar and crappy about the listening parts, but it turns out my feelings about it were wrong. Anyway, that just means I'll take a little bit more time for vocabulary each day, and maybe steer myself to a bit more of the grammar points. But my listening practice will not stop or falter! And of course, I still need to speak a bunch more. Unfortunately, the test includes no speaking portion at all, though I'm sure it wouldn't have turned out that well.
    The other thing I'm looking into is planning out a trip in the summer, maybe for a few weeks. I might have a few travel buddies, and I'd like to start up north and take it on down to Tokyo, but it's all very up in the air for now. I have very little desire to see Okinawa, which is in the South and is where everyone always wants to go. My preferences draw me elsewhere. Anyway, I'll keep y'all up to date if there are any new developments.
    Thanks again for the super long wait everyone. I'm a big ol' loserbrain, but I'll try to be better. And you can always feel free to pester me if I'm being too lax, or you just want some entertainment. I'm here to serve. ^_^ Until next time, take it easy.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention these other pictures (not the snowboading ones). They were actually taken not long after my last post, and I've just been holding on to them. ごめんね -_-;
    Don't worry everyone, I've received plenty of goading and pressure from my family for being so quiet, and for that reason, I figured I'd at least post SOMETHING. Not a video, sorry. But during the second week of August, during my Obon Vacation, I went to Nagoya, one of the larger cities in Japan. I stayed there for three days and two nights, and lucky for all my wonderful fans (mostly family, I know), I took bunches of pictures. With an iPhone, but most of them actually turned out okay.
    My itinerary included visiting Nagoya castle the first day, and it was beautiful, if a little hot. It's very clearly rebuilt and modernized (there's an elevator in the castle, for real), and Honmaru Palace was newly reconstructed THIS YEAR. It's so new, it still smells like fresh cut wood. Very nice and clean.
    The next day, I went to the Nagoya Aquarium (probably the low point of the trip, since it was swamped with little children and parents all squished together), a shopping area called Osu, and a nearby city called Inuyama, with its own castle. In Osu, I met a nice Japanese family looking for kimonos, and they were super nice! They helped me get a good size yukata and all the things I needed, meaning that once I came back to Aizu, all I had to get was the traditional shoes. Now I'm ready for the Festival that takes place this September in Aizu. ^ - ^

    Hey again, all! Here's my next speaking video update for this week, this time talking about cooking. It's a little shorter than the last, but it also didn't include an introduction or anything like that. Actually, I got more views on the first video than I thought, and I did manage to get some corrections for later. Hoorah! Thanks again everyone, and here's the video.

    Just a quick little thing today. I started with that whole "conversation practice video" thing today, and I figured I should post it on here for all to see! It's about a five minute video of me introducing me, talking a little about what I'm doing, and giving it a quick shot. I felt like I did a pretty poor job in the actual video, but I figured out how to take and upload and edit videos, and it's just a start anyway. We'll see how it goes from here on out. Cheers y'all!

PictureRockin' that yukata.
    Well, I’ve finally reached the one year point of my stay in Japan. Honestly, the day passed by without me even realizing it, so now it’s about a year and two weeks since I first I arrived in Japan. It’s been a pretty awesome year, if you ask me, minus my freaking family and girlfriend being so far away (talk about a downer). I’ve learned a lot in my year abroad about the Japanese people and culture, being a good teacher and mentor, and being less shy around people.
    But this post is more about another important part of me being in Japanese; learning Japanese. I’ve been studying Japanese for a long time now (four years in November!), and Japanese is now (I’ll say officially) my second language. I studied German in high school, but it was never a serious thing and I never felt like I could (or even tried, really) to speak with people in German. It was just a subject to me, which is why I can understand a bit, but I can’t speak a lick of it. Japanese is the first language outside of my native language where I can have an actual conversation. This is VERY different from sounding like a native, just as a matter of fact for those who haven’t taken a serious stab at language learning.