Monday, 27 May 2013

Our New Flat

This post is entirely an excuse to show off our lovely new flat. It's the first time since Uni that we've ever been able to properly choose our own place to live. It's also the first time we've had somewhere big enough for us to have space for all our stuff, and one of only 2 places (the other being our tiny apartment in Japan) where we're not sharing with someone else. In the last 4 years we've lived in 8 different places, and it's been 7 years since I lived in one place for longer than a year. It feels amazing to know we're going to be settled here for probably 2 years, and we can actually make it feel properly like home.

View across Birmingham

Main living area

We have a SOFA. For the first time in 4 years. It's amazing. 

It also has a table big enough to easily feed 4. I can't wait for dinner parties! 

Our kitchen has an OVEN, SURFACE SPACE and a FULL SIZED FREEZER. I am in heaven. 

John's Mum bought us a beautiful silk bonsai tree

Our bedroom

It's so lovely and light

Thanks to both sets of parents for helping us move in!!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Appreciating England

Living in Japan last year taught me a lot of things. I learnt what an earthquake feels like, how to behave in an onsen to avoid obasans' disapproval and the right way to pitch a squeal of 'kawaiiiiii' so it almost shatters eardrums. I also learnt some slightly more serious stuff like how to survive in a very small apartment without much stuff, how to make a home for yourself somewhere totally unfamiliar and that good friends remain good friends wherever you both live. 

However, the biggest life lesson I think I learnt in Japan was an appreciation for the world I live in. This is partly because the Japanese (even those in cities) generally seem to be more in tune with the world around them than most Westerners. The way people celebrate the arrival of cherry blossoms and spring, and the delight they take in the autumn colours are both fantastic. I know the English traditionally love talking about both the weather and their gardens, but there isn't the same appreciation of nature. 

However, the main reason I've gained an appreciation for the world around me has nothing to do with the Japanese themselves. Its because of England. It's easy to forget how much people all over the world love England. It's easy to forget how lucky one is to be English. We can travel to almost anywhere in the world and be understood and gain work (and work visas) due to our language. We have historic buildings and an amazing history and beautiful countryside. In spite of people who vote UKIP, those who committed the horrible act in Woolwich this week and the bigoted idiots acting the way they are in response, we are still a country that welcomes people from all cultures, religions and walks of life. We're a diverse and vibrant country, where people can be whoever they want to, and be whatever they want to be. It's easy and cheap to travel to anywhere else in the world, especially all the amazing places in Europe. England is wonderful, both because of its innate Englishness, and because of how well that Englishness is adapting to suit the multicultural world we now live in. 

England isn't alone in being like this, and it certainly isn't perfect, but living in Japan reminded me how many people would love to visit, or even live, here. Since coming back, I have tried to keep this view fresh in my mind. I sometimes try and look at England through a Japanese lens. Some things are scary. I miss walking alone at night unafraid, cheap restaurants and mountains. But a lot is great. 

I guess this is all a very roundabout way of saying that I'm trying not to take anything for granted any more.

London Bridge by night

Traditional Parish Church near my parents' house.

Suffolk fields

York Minster

Swans on the Waveney

Birmingham's canals

My favourite London view, from Millenium Bridge. Globe Theatre and the Shard. 

Friday, 17 May 2013

Hello there!

Long time no see, blogging world! How are you all? Life has been a mix of lovely, depressing, busy, boring and relaxing since I got back, with a big chunk of frustrating thrown in there too! But now, after spending a couple of months with our parents and dashing about to interviews, John and I are living in Birmingham (in the UK, obviously, not the one in Alabama!).  We both have places at the University of Birmingham to start a Social Work MA in September, and in the mean time are working in care. Well, John is working, and I will be working as soon as people (various) start actually doing their jobs properly! This is mostly where the frustrating comes in, but hopefully its pretty much sorted now. We've been living in a shared flat for the last 2 months since we moved here, but are moving this weekend to a new flat and then we should actually be able to settle down for a couple of years at least. I haven't lived in one house for longer than a year for 7 years, so I can't wait to actually make somewhere home!

I haven't been very inspired to blog much since I got back, I think it's probably due to not feeling settled enough myself to want to share anything with the world. I have done one or two posts over on my other blog, which, as the name suggests, is a solely food related blog. I've been enjoying having a worthwhile sized kitchen and an OVEN so much that food has taken over my life far too much recently.

However, the spring is finally here, the days are warming up and I'm starting to find new places and do new things that I want to share. I'm not promising to blog as much as I did in Japan; Birmingham just isn't as interesting, but I am attempting to make a vague comeback!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Last few weeks in Sendai

I'm safely snuggled back at home, with central heating, brown bread, language I can understand, parents to look after me and cheese. I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and New Year. I certainly did; it was lovely to relax with friends and family. Now the busy laziness of Christmas is over, I'm hoping to catch up with myself. The next few months are a mixture of Social Work interviews, learning to sew, baking, catching up with friends, learning to drive, eating far more than is good for me and hopefully getting back into my blogging swing. 

For the time being, here are a few photos from my last few weeks in Japan

My origami Christmas cards

John desperately wanted this, but wasn't sure he'd get away with wearing it in England! 

One of my favourite students made this in our last lesson!

Only in Japan would businessmen sit and play this game while drinking at a bar.

Warning: Evil snowmen have set traps to trip you up

John and Eric get involved with kareoke at our leaving party!

The girls were obviously much more tuneful though!

Snows over Rikuzen Ochiai

Cross-stitch made to say thank you to my Japanese tutor. I was very impressed that I managed to embroider readable kanji and hiragana!

A sweet snowman decoration in Sendai

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Matsushima Light Up

I'm a million years behind on my blog, autumn is long past, John and I have now left Japan (sob, sob) and are currently holidaying in Korea before heading home next week, but I still wanted to share these lovely photos. For pretty much the whole time the leaves look pretty, Matsushima Bay holds a light up event. Every evening, a few of the islands, and all the trees inside the Entsu-in Temple are lit up. 

We managed to accidentally time it to pretty much the perfect day to go. By this point, all the leaves near our house were already down, but Matsushima is fairly sheltered, and the leaves were pretty much at their peak. The result was truly beautiful, even on the drizzly and very very cold night we went. Despite the rain, it was very busy and a lot of patience was required to get people free photos from the best spots, but we still really enjoyed ourselves. Obviously it's too late to go this year, but I'd definitely recommend it if you're in the area next year (assuming they hold it again, but it seems to be an annual thing). 

I wasn't a fan of the green islands. They look like somewhere the Wicked Witch from a fairytale might live. Too scary! 

But this was the view that greeted you as you went into Entsu-in Temple. Reds and yellows and oranges and greens everywhere! 

More scary witch stuff behind the main temple building...

...but the lanterns were lovely, especially when falling leaves got caught in them.

Due to a combination of different trees and different lighting, there were so many different colours and shades throughout the garden.

Trees reflected perfectly in the pond

Looking at those leaves makes me feel like it's autumn!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

7.3 Earthquake and John's 15 Minutes of Fame

There was an earthquake yesterday, a 7.3 that was in almost exactly the same place as the much larger one in March last year. I was at home at the time, and I will admit to clinging onto the nearest door, but it was never that strong, it just went on for a long time.

John wasn't quite as lucky as me, he was at school in Tagajo, near the coast, and following a tsunami warning he had to evacuate to a local elementary school. He was never actually in any danger at all, it was a case of better being safe than sorry.

I was at home, hoping he was OK, and I saw a BBC news article about it which was trying to stir up panic. After all, if a 7.3 earthquake ever hit England all hell would break loose. I commented on the article, and within a minute I had an email asking for my phone number. I had nothing to tell them, but I sent them John's phone number, and a little while later he was being interviewed live on the BBC!!

So, here's the link to John's 15 minutes of fame...

Following that, all the trains, except the one from our house to Sendai, were cancelled. I got the train in, and started walking to meet John. It was a pretty long way (about 13km), but I met up with him halfway and we got some dinner before finishing our walk.

Not the day either of us expected, but it was all very exciting!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Momiji Walks

I've been a bit useless on my blog recently, mostly because I'd run out of space in my picasa album, and I had to delete all the photos I didn't need before I could upload any more. But I finally got round to doing that, so now I can spam you all with our gorgeous autumn leaves photos!

We've been hiking a lot recently, making the most of our last bit of time in Japan, and admiring the beautiful colours of autumn. It really was beautiful around here from the end of October until the middle of November. Unfortunately, last weekend we had a really windy couple of days, and all the leaves disappeared overnight. Now, it's cold and wintery, but these photos really bring back the lovely weather of autumn!

View from Mount Izumi, over towards our house

John bullying small children!

It was a little early for the lovely colours just yet, but I love how the colours change as you get down the mountain.

I went on an early morning hike up the mountain behind our house, and although it was a bit hazy, the hills around were gorgeous.

This amazing tree and adorable little shrine are hidden away in someone's back garden!

Japanese maples are the most beautiful trees ever!
Our apartment is snuggled up in these beautiful hills

I've been to this reservoir in Spring and Summer, and we went back to enjoy the autumn leaves around its shores. There were so many beautiful trees, and John was saying continuously "I think autumn is my favourite season in Japan, I love autumn"! 

The trees that are all colours at once are the best!

We found a lovely little riverside spot near our house that I wish we'd found earlier!

This was after the wind storm that blew most of the leaves off, but these ones retained a few!

This amazing tree is in a tiny little children's park, next to our supermarket. It still has some leaves, and is continuing to make me happy every day!