April 2016 – The Lucky Island Events (Cherry Blossom Viewing Locations Included!)

April 2016 – The Lucky Island Events (Cherry Blossom Viewing Locations Included!)

 

Welcome back the spring with new teachers, new students and blooming cherry blossoms! This month cherry blossom events are happening in various locations across the Prefecture. While you can see cherry blossoms just about anywhere, there is something special about gathering under the trees with friends, drinks and festival food.

 

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cherry blossom kaiseizanCherry Blossom Viewing at Kaiseizan Park in Koriyama

Date: Sunday April 3rd – Sunday April 24th

Area: Kaiseizan Park in Koriyama

Time: All day!

 

Address: Kaiseizan Park ( 開成山公園)

963-8851 Fukushima Prefecture, Koriyama, Kaiseizan 1-5

Details: Spread out a blanket, order some Domino’s Pizza from the delivery guy wandering around the park (done it!), and relax under some cherry blossoms! This spacious park boasts 1,300 cherry blossom trees and is considered one of the best places to view cherry blossoms in the prefecture.

 

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tsurugajo cherry blossomsCherry Blossom Viewing in Aizuwakamatsu City

Date: Friday, April 8th – Sunday, May 8th

Area: Tsurugajo Castle, Aizuwakamatsu City

Address: 1-1 Ōtemachi, Aizuwakamatsu-shi, Fukushima-ken 965-0873 (福島県会津若松市追手町1-1)

Details: Enjoy cherry blossoms within the castle grounds and various events throughout the month, including tea ceremonies, sake tasting and more. You also have the unusual opportunity to enjoy the blossoms right next to a castle. It makes for great pictures!

 

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soma cherry blossomsCherry Blossom Festival in Soma City

Date: Friday, April 8th – Sunday, April 17th

Area: Soma City

Time: All day

 

Address: Baryo Park (馬陵公園)

〒976-0042, 福島県相馬市中村北町

Kitamachi Nakamura, Sōma-shi, Fukushima-ken 976-0042

Details: Check out another popular spot to view cherry blossoms in Baryo Park in Soma City with 600 cherry trees that are lit up at night.

 

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date city cherry blossomsCherry Blossom Viewing in Date City

Date: Saturday April 9th – Sunday April 17th

Area: Date City

Time: All day

Address: Yanagawa Kibo-no-Mori Park (やながわ希望の森公園)

Uchiyama-1 Yanagawamachi, Date-shi, Fukushima-ken 960-0600

福島県伊達市梁川町字内山1

Details: In Date City you can enjoy over 2,000 blooming cherry trees, stage events, appetizing food and even an old steam engine that will take you along the trees in the park for 300 yen one way or 500 for round trip. At night, the cherry trees are lit up to give guests a unique nighttime scenery.

 

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ishikawa cherry blossomsCherry Blossom Viewing in Ishikawa City

Date: Saturday April 9th – Sunday April 24th

Area: Ishikawa City

Time: All day

 

 

Address: Asahi Park (あさひ公園)

〒243-0014 Kanagawa Prefecture, Atsugi 旭町1-122 あさひ公園

Details: Enjoy a picnic or a walk in the park under the cherry blossoms. While there will be food stalls available every day, the main stage events are planned for April 16th and 17th. There will also be a free shuttle bus which you can ride around the park and enjoy the blossoms (available only on the weekends).

 

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projection mappingFukushima Projection Mapping Festival

Date: Friday, April 15th – Saturday, April 16th

Area: Shirakawa City

Time: 6:20pm; 7pm; 7:40pm; 8:20pm

Price: Free, but reservation is required

 

Address: In front of the Ishikawa Station

Details: After the huge success of Aizuwakamatsu’s projection mapping, the entertainment has spread to Shirakawa City. Started in an effort to support Fukushima after the 2011 disasters, this projection mapping will now be held in Shirakawa City as well. The images will be orchestrated to three carefully selected songs. You can sign up on the website and get tickets for up to five people.

 

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aizu jyuurakuAizu Juuraku

Date: Every Saturday, Sunday and Holiday from April 16th – May 5th

Area: Aizuwakamatsu City

 

Address: Tsurugajo Castle grounds

1-1 Ōtemachi, Aizuwakamatsu-shi, Fukushima-ken 965-0873

福島県会津若松市追手町1-1

Details: Stepping through this historic market with the castle as a backdrop is not something to miss. Try some new food, buy crafts and enjoy the cherry blossoms over three weeks!

2016 February JET Study Tour

2016 February JET Study Tour
Rows and rows of strawberries at Wada Strawberry Tourism Association
Ripe strawberries at Wada Strawberry Tourism Association

I am happy to report that my second study tour was just as incredible as the first, and high on my list of recommendations for JETs. Who wouldn’t want an opportunity to stuff yourself so full of strawberries you feel sick while learning more about the beautiful prefecture in which you live?

This time, our adventure took place along the coast in Minami Soma which suffered overwhelming damage and loss of lives during the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. While I have visited the coast a few times to volunteer since the earthquake, this was my first time to visit the area with the sole purpose of learning more about the people, culture, and relief efforts. 

What left the biggest impression on me following the study tour was an interaction I had with one of my high school students who had seen us in the newspaper. An article had been written about us and I was interviewed about my experience. My student, who is one of the many people displaced during the disaster five years ago, stopped me in the hallway. She said, “I am from Minami Soma. I am glad you liked it.” Her joy that I had taken interest in her town which has been shrouded in rumors in past few years made me thankful for this opportunity provided by the JET Program.

Armor worn during the Soma Nomaoi Festival
Armor worn during the Soma Nomaoi Festival

So what were some of the things we got to do on this trip? We got to try our hand at generating hydropower with a water pump at the Minami Soma Agripark, try on traditional armor used in one of the two oldest festivals in Japan with over a thousand years of history, and eat strawberries to the point of regret.

We stayed at a hotel directly on the ski slopes, so all we had to do was tumble out of bed and onto the slopes with our rental gear with the option of joining in on free skiing or snowboarding lessons or hitting the slopes on our own. To round out the trip, we stopped by a farmer’s market and the Decontamination Center in Fukushima City.

A memorial at the Solar Agripark to those who lost their lives in the 2011 disaster
A memorial at the Solar Agripark to those who lost their lives in the 2011 disaster

Along the way, we learned about alternative power at the Solar Agripark that had been built over the place where five houses had been swept away in the tsunami. We heard the stories about how Wada Strawberry Tourism was rebuilt after being swept away in the tsunami five years ago and the changes made to appease customers’ concern about radiation (even though the area had proven to be radiation free) and the fight to return back to the number of customers in the aftermath.

The last stop on our one night, two day trip was the decontamination center in Fukushima City. Even though I have lived in Fukushima for almost two years and was living in Japan when the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster incident happened, I had very little knowledge about radiation and its effect on the body. The presentation, conducted in English, was easy to understand and the knowledgeable presenter carefully explained how much radiation is dangerous, what is dangerous about it, and how decontamination is conducted. I found this lecture incredibly useful and good for general knowledge that should be general knowledge considering we are all exposed to radiation in our everyday lives, regardless of where we live in the world.

The biggest reason I recommend these study tours to you is the simple fact that you will be able to participate in events and learn knowledge that otherwise would difficult to coordinate (whether due to language barriers or tours not open to individuals). I think one of the best parts about being a JET is that I am not here only as a teacher, but as student to learn, share, and support Fukushima Prefecture and all the people who are still working hard to recover and move on.

If you have the chance, jump at the next opportunity to sign up for a JET Study Tour!

The gorgeous view from the slopes
The gorgeous view from the slopes

FuJET Sapporo Snow Festival 2016 – Jeni Bloomfield

FuJET Sapporo Snow Festival 2016 – Jeni Bloomfield

IMG_1296In early February, a small group of Fukushima ALTs left from Sendai on an overnight ferry bound for Hokkaido. This was the start of FuJET’s annual trip to the Sapporo Snow Festival. Not being the best at travelling, I was a little unsure about the ferry crossing, but it turned out to be a very fun experience. The ferry had a restaurant, a small arcade and even an onsen!

Teams around the world working on sculptures.
Teams around the world working on sculptures.

Once we had arrived in Sapporo and settled into our hotel, we had a quick look at the nearby snow sculptures before going to Sapporo Beer Hall. I always enjoy yakiniku (where you cook thinly cut pieces of meat on a grill in front of you) and this was a particularly good meal with good beer. We rounded off the evening with a few hours of karaoke before heading back to the hotel, tired but ready to enjoy the next few days.

One of the main highlights of Sapporo is, of course, the snow festival. Due to the unseasonably warm weather this year, we had all been wondering about the state of the sculptures. Luckily, we seemed to have arrived at a perfect moment and it was only toward the last day that some of the smaller ones started to look a little sad and grey. The rest of the time, the sculptures were amazing.

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Australia’s sculpture for the contest.

They ranged from cartoon characters made by local groups (a shout out here to our favourite, Baymax) to entries in the international snow sculpting competition. The eventual winner was Latvia. I had been rooting for Australia. They made a giant frog eating a naked guy and it made me laugh every time. The most impressive sculpture in the festival was giant scene from Attack on Titan. At night, this was illuminated in a light display set to the music from the show.

Sapporo is also famous for its food. On our first full day, we headed to Ramen Alley for lunch. Ramen Alley is a small street filled end to end with ramen shops. Ramen is a perfect cold weather food, as is Sapporo’s soup curry. A word of warning about curry soup: this isn’t Japanese curry so the spice rating should definitely be taken seriously.

Some of the choices at yakiniku
Some of the choices at yakiniku

The area’s most famous dish is crab. To try this, we went to an all-you-can-eat restaurant that served just about everything you could imagine as well as giant crab legs. I’d never eaten crab before so I was a little bit confused about how to tackle it. After a few pointers, I got going. The crab was really good but the ribs here were delicious. I definitely got my money’s worth!

Lit lanterns in Otaru
Lit lanterns in Otaru.

We also ventured out of Sapporo to the nearby port town of Otaru. Otaru is known for its glass blowing and snow lanterns. These were eerily beautiful when they were lit at night. During the day, Otaru was a nice place to explore, filled with cute snowmen and interesting little shops.

Overall I had an amazing time at Sapporo. I would love to go back in the future as there many more places to see, like the chocolate factory and Maruyama zoo. If anyone has the chance to go to this festival, I advise you to go. You won’t regret it.

 

 

A big thanks to Jeni Bloomfield who was the author of this article. Sounds like a great time!

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