First Sights of Aomori 青森の最初に見た景色

I am BACK IN JAPAN!!! I’ve been here now for about 3 weeks. And it’s been so great so far! Never been happier! No snow yet, but I’m sure there will be plenty of that soon enough! I thought I would just share some of my first sights of Hirosaki with you.


Landing in Haneda Airport! Of course, this isn’t Hirosaki yet, but nothing makes me feel like I’m back in Japan than those first sights out the window and inside the airport. It’s only been a year, and yet it felt like it had been quite a while!


The closest store to my apartment is arguably the best / worst named store I’ve ever seen! Happy Drug! Not sure what they put in their medicine, heh heh… Actually, it’s where I buy my milk. Maybe that’s the REAL reason I’ve never been happier! ; )


One of the biggest attractions in Hirosaki is Hirosaki Castle! It is a beautiful park, and supposedly Hirosaki has the most beautiful cherry blossoms in Japan, and honestly, they’re pretty nice to look at and walk through even when it’s not Spring.


Oh, and here’s Hirosaki’s mascot. Japanese city mascots try to embody all of the city’s main attractions and be cute at the same time : )


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A Door Opens ドアが開く

Long time no see! Me posting on my blog for the first time in a while can only mean one thing: I’m going back to Japan! And as always, I’m excited about it. To be honest, though, it was quite unexpected. Due to life circumstances, I thought I would be in the US for another year or two until I could go back to Japan, but through what totally felt like divine intervention, a door opened for a perfect opportunity for me to go back to Japan.


That open door is a chance to work at a Japanese private Christian high school, this time not as an assistant, but as a teacher! Like, the main teacher! As in, I get my own classes! Or at least, so I’m led to believe. But given that I share the faith of the school, and that I will for the first time really have the freedom to teach my own classes, I’m totally looking forward to it!


This school is also in a part of Japan I have never been to before. It will be far away from the places I have been, which will make it hard to visit them, which saddens me a little bit; but it will mean new adventures, new friends, and a fresh start. I feel like in my previous times in Tokyo and in Mie, because they were my first times living in Japan, I made lots of cultural blunders and just, well, normal blunders, I guess. I learned a lot through the whole process, but all that learning from mistakes doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Some people remember those mistakes more than you want them to. And some of those mistakes affect your friendships more than you want them to. I love all the friends I made in Tokyo and Mie, and will definitely go back to those places–and I don’t know how long this chapter in Aomori will be. But either way, I can’t deny that I’m excited to see just what 2018 Stephen will be able to do. Because I know I’m totally different than 2015 Stephen. Thanks to God, truly, I am more sure of his love than ever before, more certain of who I am than ever before, more filled with hope and freedom than ever before, and, even though there’s still a lot I don’t know, I think I can say that, minus one year’s worth of rust, I know Japanese language and culture better than I ever have. I’m ready. It’s gonna be a great adventure!


Enough about me, though! I want to share a little bit about where I’m actually going! The school is in Aomori!!! Translated literally, it means “Blue Forest.” Here it is on the map.


It is the second northernmost prefecture in Japan. It is known for growing apples, and apparently snow. Lots of snow. Like, I kid you not, I found multiple articles saying how Aomori City literally is the highest snowfall place in the world!!! In the whole world! If you don’t believe, click here. 669 cm yearly average! Wow!!!

調べたら、青森県はりんごと雪で有名そうです。雪がたくさんありそうです。めっちゃある。というのは、英語で複数な記事によると、青森市はまじで日本だけでなく、セカイの中で一番のyearly snowfallのところですよ!!!セカイの中で!信じないなら、ここにクリックしてみてください。 669センチyearly average!ワオー!!!

I like the cold. But, as a friend I have who’s living there told me, “You’re about to learn a whole new meaning for the word, cold!”


Anyway, if preparations and visa stuff go well, then I expect to be arriving in this amazing corner of Japan on August 20th! Less than two months to get ready! I better get movin’!


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Last Day as a JET ALT

My last month has been a tornado, with goodbyes and thank yous, packing and cleaning, and all sorts of logistical things, so much so that I’ve had little time to actually reflect and think, “I’m leaving Suzuka.”

And even when I say that, all of the facets of these past two years just won’t seem to fit into those three words. I’ve invested in and been touched by so many lives, students and teachers, friends, babies and grandmothers, Japanese and foreigners. I’ve learned so much about Japan in these two years, things I couldn’t have learned during my study abroad. I’ve grown in my language abilty, learned a new instrument, been to Universal Studios Japan, twice! And in the midst of the busyness of life here, I got used to Suzuka. It feels weird leaving here, as though I can’t imagine a different life.

I’ve certainly had my struggles during my time here as well. I’ve been hurt by people, and I’ve hurt people, Japanese people. And looking back, it breaks my heart to think that I hurt them. But thanks be to God, I really feel I’ve grown through it all. I think that I’ll always have more growing to do, but I think I can say that at the end of these two years, I’ve gotten a little bit better at forgiving, a little bit better at loving, a little bit better at lighting joy like a candle in the night. My soul feels more free now than ever before. I’m so happy to have had this time, and yet so sad to leave. All the students I’ve grown to love, the friendships that I’ve made that I know can’t end now. And yet, unlike the last time when I left Japan before at the end of my study abroad four years ago, something is really different this time. Something is here in my heart that wasn’t there then: Hope. Hope blazes in my heart like a wildfire. Though i don’t know what the next years hold for me exactly, I know that it’s gonna be good! I’m so excited to see my family! So excited to walk into tomorrow! I know that God is good. I know He’s got my back. And I know I’m coming back.


Suzuka, I’m so thankful for you

Suzuka, you’ve made my heart full

Suzuka, you know I love you

So Suzuka, I’ll see you soon.



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和楽器生活 - パート 2   Wagakki Life – Part 2


I’d like to take this time to just brag on my favorite band, Wagakki Band! Wagakki Band is in my opinion one of the coolest bands over here! I’ve never really been one to be a fan of a particular musician or actor or celebrity to the point that I buy a bunch of their merchandise and go to every concert screaming their name, but I’d say Wagakki Band is the closest I’ve ever gotten to that : P I’ve been to two concerts already, bought a hoodie and a few CDs and a few accessories. Oh, and I entered the fan club! I guess that makes me a fan! : P



All goofing aside, though, I really admire this band for the music they’re putting out, and for the cultural path they’re blazing for other artists. In a nation that seems to be increasingly hungry for Western stuff, I feel like this band has found a way to honor and use traditional Japanese culture while at the same time staying in touch with modernity and producing high-quality J-Rock music. They’ve managed to integrate both old Japanese culture and new Japanese culture together, and make it sound good.

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So when I heard that Wagakki Band was starting off the new year playing in the Nihon Budokan (The National Martial Arts Stadium), which I later learned was their biggest venue yet, I just had to go! So off to Tokyo I went! It was about 3-4 hours from where I live. But it was totally worth it! They didn’t allow cameras during the concert, so I didn’t really get pictures of the actual concert itself, but they were so awesome to listen to! And as an aspiring musician aspiring to use a Japanese instrument in modern music, it was really inspiring to see it done, and done well.


For those in the States who are interested, they’re actually having a concert in New York on March 14th! Go Wagakki Band!

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Christmas vs. New Year’s

So being here in Japan over the holidays has brought to my sight something I didn’t realize before. It wasn’t necessarily that I didn’t know this, but I just didn’t know quite how strongly it was this way.

In America, Christmas is a big holiday. Whether if you’re Christian or not, there are all kinds of festivities and traditions and reasons to celebrate. And in terms of decorations, there are Christmas trees, lights, red suits and red hats, Nativity scenes, songs about baby Jesus, and songs about Santa coming to town. In addition to all the decorations, Christmas is usually a day (at least in my experience and from what I’ve heard from others) when families get together and spend quality time together. We may have traditional foods that we like to eat on that day, which, again, in my experience, is usually similar to the Thanksgiving menu. Or, according to the Grinch, hoo pudding and roast beast : P


In Japan though, the family day really does seem to be New Year’s Day. The almost a week of vacation that Japanese receive is centered around not Christmas, but New Year’s. And in place of Christmas decorations, there are new year’s decorations usually made with bamboo, and there is usually osechi, traditional rice cakes made by pounding rice into a goo, essentially. In just the past month I feel like so many Japanese have asked me, “What do you eat for New Year’s in America?” Uhh…am I missing something guys? What do we eat on New Year’s? I told my 6th graders that my family and I eat shrimp on New Year’s Eve, and that was about as much as I could tell them : P


I didn’t notice the complimentary reflection of me in the background in this picture : P


Having said all this, the Japanese are aware of Christmas in that they are very good about putting up Christmas decorations the month leading up to Christmas, including trees, lights, and santa hats of all colors! In the local supermarket, I had to smile at this sign they had up throughout the store.



“Let’s Make a Christmas!” But there’s no question about it; here in Japan, the big family holiday at the end (beginning) of the year is New Year’s.

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Wagakki Life, Part I – Taking Up Shamisen

It’s gotten cold here in Suzuka. I finally broke out my heavy jacket in the past couple weeks. Things have been busy the past couple months. But it’s a good busy : )

Today I want to talk about Wagakki! Wagakki is the word for traditional Japanese instruments. There is a drum called Taiko, A bamboo flute called Shakuhachi, a 13 stringed harp called the Koto, and a three stringed guitar-like instrument called the Shamisen. For a while now, I’ve wanted to learn a Wagakki instrument, so these past few months, I’ve taken up learning the shamisen!


I actually found out that there’s a shamisen teacher next to one of the schools I teach at, so it’s very convenient. She’s an elderly Japanese lady, and very kind and hospitable towards me. About twice a month after teaching I go to her house for lessons. And recently, since finding out that I don’t have a chance to eat dinner because I bike straight to her house and then straight home afterwards, she has prepared rice balls for me when I come. She fondly calls me her grandchild, so I guess that makes her my Japanese Shamisen Grandmother!

And boy, can my Japanese Shamisen Grandmother play some shamisen! I’ve got a lot to learn, but it’s nice to know that one has a quality teacher who’s been playing for most of her life. And yet, even though I’ve only been playing for a couple months, I’ve already had my first shamisen recital! And since shamisen is a traditional instrument, you have to play it in traditional garb as well!


As much as I like traditional Japanese clothing, I’ve always thought it looks better on a Japanese : P I actually didn’t know how to put any of this on, or how to tie any of the stuff, so I had several elderly Japanese men and women fiddling at my clothing for what felt like half an hour, but I suppose the most important part is that it looks right, right?

There were young people there, too. Another woman around my age just started taking lessons recently, and there’s also a young man who has been playing since elementary school. Needless to say, he could play some shamisen, too! I only played 2 songs, but I figure that’s pretty good for 2 months. From here on out, My skill can only go up!



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Silver Week Adventures シルバーウィークの冒険

I originally was going to make my September post about my first experiences teaching English in Japan. But then a five day weekend called Silver Week came along and whisked me away on a string of adventures with lots of Japanese friends! So I thought I’d write about that while it’s still fresh!


First, I went on a short weekend camping trip with some Japanese friends at a nearby mountain. Mie has lots of mountains. Japan in general, actually, is pretty mountainous. The weather was beautiful! And so were the mountains, and everything on them!

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Camping on the mountains wasn’t enough, though. A friend from Tokyo came to visit me, and we decided to hike up one of these things! We went to a mountain called Nyuudougatake, which was only about a kilometer high, but honestly, at times it felt like we were climbing! Thankfully there was tree cover most of the whole time. I don’t know how it is for most American mountains–nor do I really know what’s normal for Japanese mountains really : P but for this mountain at least, there weren’t any guard rails really. With the exception of a few well placed, well tied ropes as an aid for hiking up and down certain parts of the trail, the trail itself, and a little shrine at the top, the nature felt pretty undisturbed. We encountered two snakes and briefly saw a third something at some point(!?) but thankfully, we were okay! The weather was beautiful on this day, too!


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Then, the weekend after Silver week, I was invited by some other Japanese friends to go to Universal Studios Japan! They told me to be ready at 6:30 AM! I suppose the Japanese play as hard as they work! I got to try out lots of different attractions with my Japanese friends, including seeing Hogwarts! Yes! For those of you who didn’t know, Hogwarts is in Japan! And they honestly did an amazing job reproducing so many different aspects of the Harry Potter world. They had the castle, they had a recreation of the Hogwarts town, with a wand shop and several other shops, they had butter beer! And according to my female friends, there was even a Myrtle ghost in the girls’ bathroom! That’s dedication if I ever saw it! (Although, since I’m not a girl, I can’t actually say I saw that last part : P but you know what I mean!)

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It was a hot day, so I got the frozen version!


These were just snippets of some of the adventures I have had over the past couple weeks, but they have all been full of fun and good things! I’m thankful to have found so many Japanese friends so quickly : )

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