Reminder to self: studying doesn’t have to take hours

I’m guilty of looking at a textbook and going, “Whoo boy that seems like a lot of work. I’d better save it for when I have a few hours free,” more than I care to admit. I’ve mentioned my “good enough” weak point before, and that every much comes into play when it comes to studying something.

The thing is, you don’t have to settle in and commit to hours of studying at a time. I know that’s the impression people give you, but if you find that sort of thing intimidating, it can help to remember that anything you do is better than nothing.

Maybe you have fifteen minutes. Cool, read a page or two of the book you’re doing. Maybe you have five minutes. Pull up the vocabulary practice app of your choice on your phone. Maybe you can’t really focus on studying while commuting- that’s fine, just put some music on or a podcast in your target language.

Whatever the case, promising yourself just that bit can lead to something more- a half hour when you planned for ten minutes, tops.

But even if it doesn’t? 

At least you got those ten minutes in.

What about you guys, do you find it easy to get started? If it’s tough for you to study, what do you do to help yourself?

“Itsumo arigatou”

When I think of “coffee shops”, the first thing that often comes to mind is a certain chain store that is everywhere in the world and serves frappucinos. The next thing that comes to mind is the sheer number of those and other cafes right here in Kyoto.

Did you know that as of right now, Kyoto has the largest number of Starbucks in Japan, and that’s including Tokyo? How unbelievable is that? To add to that, Kyoto is well-known for its’ incredible amount of little cafes littered throughout the city. You can’t go more than a block without finding at least one little hole-in-the-wall brick building with a sign for coffee outside it.

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It’s a small world…

I’m so excited about being back on a computer and not on a tablet. As much as I love tablets for their portability, there are some things that I have yet to master on them… like making my posts look exactly the way I want them to.


So as stated in previous posts, I went to Hokkaido for this summer vacation. If you’re in Japan in the summer I recommend it as a fantastic way to get away from the heat of the larger cities like Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto.

My second day in Sapporo City, I was in a cafe in the main station, poking at my breakfast, when I heard a familiar voice from across the cafe call my name. My head snapped up, and lo and behold there was a coworker! We hadn’t had a chance to share our summer plans, but there we were, staring each other down several prefectures from home.

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Language issues while hiking in Japan

So you’re a nature person- someone who has done some form of camping and enjoyed it, for example- and want the chance to enjoy some natural scenery in Japan. That’s understandable; there are plenty of places to explore! There are lakes, rivers, mountains, bears, snakes… Wait.

Killer bees, too, according to the sign on this tree on Onuma Park.

There are a couple things a hiker needs to be aware of while in Japan. Not only the wildlife (there are actually bears) but how easily you can find the path and where to look out for things that can hurt you. Here’s what I’ve taken away from my time wandering around the most accessible hiking points- not only in the more accessible hiking areas in Hakodate and Sapporo, but also on the main island of Honshu.

1. There will be very little English, if any. Yes there are websites in English recommending various paths, but when it comes time to hop on a bus to get to the trailhead, or once you’re on the trail itself? Make sure you have a copy of the name of where you’re going, not only in English but with the Japanese characters (kanji) and, if it’s helpful for you, spelled out in hiragana too.

Why it’s helpful: you’ll come up across post signs that will be ALL in kanji. You can use your handy dandy copy to compare characters to ensure you’re on the right path or, if needed, stop another hiker to make sure you’re going the right way.

2. Watch what the other hikers are doing. Also, what they have on them. Do they have bells to scare away bears? Are they wearing jeans and heels? Compare it to what you’ve got.

Why it’s helpful: websites can’t tell you everything. Sometimes locals will be aware of something and your resources will not be up to date. Upon seeing what they’re up to, reevaluate your situation if needed.

3. Look out for trail maps. These are normally at the trailhead, but sometimes when there are multiple paths you’ll find them along the hiking trails too. They often will tell you the elevation you’re at and, if you’re following a scenic path, will point you in the right direction for where to go next.

Why it’s helpful: Especially for scenic trails, paths can go in a loop or connect with other trails multiple times. You don’t want to walk in circles for hours without getting anywhere, do you? Hopefully if you’re doing any substantial hiking you have a map with you, but if not… these can point you in the right direction in a pinch.

Speaking of knowing characters/kanji that are helpful to you, here’s a word that you should definitely look out for: 注意 (ちゅうい、 or “caution”). If you see this, pay attention to whatever has it written. You could be dealing with wildlife, falling rocks, slippery roads, or any other number of things when you see those.

If you go exploring in a foreign country, what do you want to know about beforehand? What words or signs do you think someone should know?

Onuma Quasi National Park

So, you`ve done Hakodate. Seen the morning market, checked out the night view, etc etc. Now you`re ready for some time out in nature. Right?

Luckily, there`s a park not too far from Hakodate called Onuma Quasi National Park that can scratch that itch.

The train used to reach it is actually one and the same with the train bound for Sapporo, so if you want to make it a stopover on your way to or from Hakodate that is definitely an option. In my case, I took the train to and from JR Hakodate station. You can take the Super Hokuto Ltd. Express for 1,160 yen one way or you can go for the cheaper local train for 540. You can also go nuts and get a reserved seat on that Ltd. Express train for an additional few hundred yen, but really, why waste your money unless you are super worried about getting a seat? Besides, if you choose to ride the Express train you`ll be there in like thirty minutes anyway.
Once there, exit the station and turn immediately to your right. You will see some toilets and, beyond that, the Tourist Center. They have English speakers who can help you with whatever you may need, like… a map.

Very handy when you`re wandering around in nature.

The main attraction is in the very center of the map: two walking paths (15 and 50 minute leisurely walks respectively) that show off the main highlights of the park. These are pretty easy but if you have.difficulty with climbing anything steep, you may have trouble with the bridges.

Bridge in Onuma Park

In addition to the walking paths, there are also bike rentals available. While you can`t ride them on the same path the walkers use, you can use them to loop around lake Onuma. It`s mostly by the road rather than on a separate path, but it still makes for a pleasant ride. If biking is not your thing, there are boats you can rent instead, or a tour boat you can ride.
There are other local things you can do- camping, horseback riding lessons, and what have you- but many of these things require reservations (or a car). Take a look a few days ahead of your trip, if you can, to see what appeals to you.

For me, just having a quiet park to walk in was plenty. The views were lovely and going on a weekday ensures there won`t be too many people.

One thing to look out for is the Suzumebachi- the wasps, or “killer bees” that everyone likes to bring up when discussing scary bugs in Japan. There are signs (in Japanese only for some reason) in a couple places in the park. I don’t think it’s a major concern as I didn’t run into any- if you stay on the main paths, you should be fine. Just be cautious if you opt to wander off said paths!

It reads, “Be careful of Suzumebachi!”

I spent about half a day in Onuma Park, so if you want to take it easy I would recommend you budget about the same amount of time.
Have you been to any parks in Japan that you enjoyed?

Hakodate in one day?

Can you see the third largest city in Hokkaido and all it has to offer in just one day?

Short answer: yeah, probably.

Long answer: yeah, probably, but you’ll be tired and grumpy by the end of it.

During my stay in Hakodate, I had two main in-city goals: hit up Goryokaku Park, and check out the night view on Mount Hakodate. Everything after would be icing on the proverbial cake.

I got up bright and early…. at eight. Hey don’t judge me, it’s my vacation and eight is early for me! Anyway, after having breakfast at my hotel, I headed down to JR Hakodate Station in order to find the Morning Market ( 朝市). It was reasonably close to the station, and I soon found myself surrounded by local seafood and produce.

The most notable of which was the crabs. They were everywhere, in all sizes, starting from about 4,000 yen per entire critter. The corn was more reasonable at about 100 yen per ear, with claims of having been brought in from the fields just that morning.
After that, I hopped on one of the trams. Streetcars basically run two routes throughout Hakodate and while I potentially could have walked, I opted to take it easy and use public transportation to get to Goryokaku Koen (roughly a ten minute ride from Hakodate Station).

Goryokaku is free to enter and a very pleasant, albeit sunny, walk. If you want to get a proper view of the former citadel, however, the nearby tower is there to help! It does cost to go up, but the view is lovely. Also, more importantly, there are restaurants and sweet shops inside- a great option for those hoping to get lunch in (like me).

When that was done, it was back off to Hakodate Station – because haha planning? What’s that?

I decided to check out the Bay Area for goodies, snacks, and overall ambience, and was not disappointed. The brick buildings, the calm water, the bustling souvenir shops, it’s all there.

If you head uphill from there (literally) you’ll find the foreign district, where you can see some really beautiful churches and take in the quiet neighborhood.

That was what I was expecting, anyway, until I heard cheering and music. Curious, I investigated and…

Surprise! It turned out I chose the right week to come to town. There was a week long festival happening with music and performers from around the world. As while a week pass was 3,000 yen, it was only 1,000 yen for one day!

The derailment from plans was very enjoyable, albeit mildly irksome in the sense that I’d been thinking of having local food for dinner and the main food stands at said festival had Indian and Korean dishes. Delicious at least!

But finally, finally, in the evening I got my chance and went up to see the night view from Mount Hakodate. And it was…!

…well, it was great once the fog cleared, but as you can see in the photo I was already in line to head back down the mountain.

By the time I was done with my day it was ten PM and my feet were ready for a break!
Are there other things to do in Hakodate? Of course! There are restaurants, shops, museums.. and that’s not even getting into what’s just outside of Hakodate. Onuma Koen comes to mind… but that’s a post for another day.

So yes, if you want to see Hakodate but can only spare a day, you can likely see everything then. Just be prepared for lines and getting distracted by sudden music festivals.

Keep an eye out- I’ll be posting more on Hokkaido soon!

Obon vacation~

It’s summer, it’s August, and it feels like I’m swimming through soup every time I step outside. It can only mean one thing: Obon–and summer vacation–is coming with it.

Why am I excited? Because I’m going to be running away to Hokkaido for several days!

I have been there before, but this time I will not only be revisiting a place I’ve been to but also hitting up new spots.

This post is mostly to let you know that you can expect several posts in the near future that will be Hokkaido and Obon-related, so keep an eye out! See you on the flip side!

Doing scary things in another language: the phone call edition

The other day, I received a flyer in my mailbox. This is not unusual as I get all kinds of ads in there all the time–usually for pizza places, the occasional “adult” venue, about condos I will never be able to afford in my life–that kind of thing. But this time I spotted the gas company logo at the top and figured it was important, so I had a second look.

First thing I noticed: the flyer mentioned a mandatory visit from the gas rep.

Second thing I noticed: the flyer listed a date and time I was not available.

In vain, I searched for an option to go online and reschedule. However, I eventually came to the realization that I would have to call and talk to a real, live person to change my appointment time, and it would all have to be in Japanese.

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