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Niigata Noise Winter 2017 Issue


CREDITS Editor-In-Chief Samantha Wolfe Assistant Editor Robert Burns Design And Layouts Robert Burns Jenny Stein Samantha Wolfe

Contributors Robert Burns Sean Callahan Pamela Mendoza Melusine Perrier Mark Ruiz Tiffany Sheen Jenny Stein Samantha Wolfe


Table of Contents Letter From The Editor 4 Niigata Spotlight: Myoko 6 Niigata AJET Charity Musical 8 Interview With Sean Callahan President Of AJET Council 10 The Rocky Road To Being An ALT 12 Places To Go For Day Trips! 18 Current JET Interview Larisa Barannikova 20 Event Review Connecting Through Rice 22 Travel Recommendation: Mount Fuji 26 Interview With A Former JET Alicia Chui 36 Restaurant Review Pigs And 40s Glam 40 Film Review Laugh And Cry With Isao Takahata 44 Game Review SCP Containment Breach 48 Short Story The Real Sea Witch 52 Brownie Recipe 56


Letter From The Editor Dear Readers, My name is Samantha Wolfe, the new Editor-in-Chief of Niigata Noise. I am a secondyear ALT in Niigata Prefecture, working as a high school ALT in Niigata City. I would like to introduce to you Niigata Noise, a magazine dedicated to Niigata Prefecture. Niigata Noise’s last publication was in 2013, and I decided to bring it back. I have gathered writers from the Niigata AJET community to help create this magazine and to show you life around Niigata prefecture. Without these writers, I could not have made Niigata Noise’s revival possible. Winter is soon coming to a close and Spring will be here soon. I hope you will take some time to read the fascinating articles in Niigata Noise and let them inspire you to do new things or go to new places. If you have an interest in writing for Niigata Noise please contact me at niigatanoisemagazine@gmail.com. Stay warm this winter and discover what Niigata has to offer. Samantha Wolfe Niigata Noise Editor-in-Chief


NIIGATA SPOTLIGHT

MYOKO

By Robert Burns

Located on the south end of the prefecture, Myoko is an area with a lot of unique activities and experiences to offer, particularly if you’re a fan of the great outdoors. Nestled at base of five mountains that serve as part of the border between Niigata and Nagano, the current City of Myoko is the result of a merger in between the northern region of Arai, the southern region of Myoko-kogen, and their surrounding areas in 2005. The Arai area offers plenty of food, shopping, parks, hiking trails, onsens, shrines, and other activities, as well as close proximity to the neighboring city of Joetsu and a Shinkansen line located at the very quick and easy to access Joetsu-Myoko Station. Myoko-kogen is your go-to for even more hiking, onsens, and food, as well as golfing, camping, and (perhaps most famously) lots of skiing and snowboarding. Myoko has a long history of winter sports, including one of the oldest established ski areas in the world. With nine main mountain resorts and up to 14 meters of snowfall on average Myoko makes for an excellent winter sport experience. You could spend your winter hiding under your kotatsu and praying for warmer weather, or you could spend this year getting outside and keeping warm with some good old fashioned exercise while experiencing some breathtaking views and spending time with friends. If that still doesn’t warm you up then there are a huge number of onsens available in Myoko to unwind in at the end of the day. If skiing and snowboarding aren’t a strong point of interest for you there are still plenty of other activities to keep you busy, including snowshoeing, sightseeing tours, and winter festivals. If food and drink are more your thing, then Myoko has a great deal to offer. Everywhere you go in Myoko is right beside a restaurant, local market, or shop selling something delicious. I’m currently in the process of exploring the soba restaurants in the area. I have yet to be disappointed, and I don’t see any end to my quest in the near future. If you’re limited on time but want to get a nice snapshot of what Myoko food culture has to offer I would recommend starting at Myoko’s Michi-no-Eki (roadside station). Located right between the Joeshin-etsu Expressway and the Joshin Bypass (Road 18), it has a great range of quality eateries in one convenient location. Want some fresh baked goods and a coffee. Check. Fresh seafood? Check. Some classy pizza and Italian food?


Check. Want to eat ramen until you pass out and your stomach explodes? Triple check. Moyko also has a variety of local sake breweries within its borders, and Myoko-kogen is home to one of the few craft beer breweries I’ve been able to find since coming to Japan. If you’re anything like me and find that trying to locate a beer in Japan that isn’t the standard super light fare is a task as likely to yield positive results as pulling out all of your teeth with dental floss, then these folks are life savers. There are lots of restaurants, hotels, and events in the area that highlight the local sake, and Myoko-kogen beer is always available at the Tatra-ken Beer Hall.

may or may not remind you of something straight off of YouTube. Including multiple coordinated light and music displays, interactive displays, and short films projected in some extremely unique ways this guided one-to-two hour walking experience contains over 1.6 million LED lights (holding the current Guinness World Record) and is well worth the 1,500円 price of admission. There are a variety of food, drink, gift, and omiyage options located at both the base and the summit of the Illumination, so you can focus enjoying the experience without worrying too much about what to bring with you. There is also a convenient shuttle bus that runs from

Check. Want to eat ramen until you pass out and your stomach explodes? Triple check. Moyko also has a variety of local sake breweries within its borders, and Myoko-kogen is home to one of the few craft beer breweries I’ve been able to find since coming to Japan. If you’re anything like me and find that trying to locate a beer in Japan that isn’t the standard super light fare is a task as likely to yield positive results as pulling out all of your teeth with dental floss, then these folks are life savers. There are lots of restaurants, hotels, and events in the area that highlight the local sake, and Myoko-kogen beer is always available at the Tatra-ken Beer Hall. However, my recommendation for those of you looking for a truly unique experience during your time in Myoko would be to visit the one and only Myoko Happiness Illumination. This event, although admittedly ridiculously named, is something you should definitely put on your Japan to-do list. From the beginning of July until mid-November every year the APA Resort Hotel converts part of their golf course into a truly unique display featuring gods, dragons, and some sweet samurai moves that

Joetsu-Myoko Station to the previously mentioned Arai Michi-no-Eki, Sekiyama Station, and finally up to the Happiness Illumination and then back twice per day for only 540円. Or, if you ask one or the locals really nicely, you’ll almost certainly be able to find someone to serve as a tour guide for the event. I’ve already had my life illuminated with happiness twice so far, and could always use a little bit more. Unfortunately, the last date for this year was November 15th, but with the July 2017 start date being only a few months away it’s something you should definitely add to your list for the year (and the warmer weather might encourage you to linger in the happiness that will be illuminating your life for just a little longer). If you’re looking for a shopping and club scene, Myoko probably isn’t the travel destination I would recommend to you. However, if you’re interested in getting outside, having some unique experiences, and meeting some wonderful people then Myoko is definitely worth your time.


Hello everyone, Have you heard of the AJET Niigata Charity Musical yet? Unless you’re a hedgehog living under a pile of fallen leaves, I bet you have! A team of 14 Niigata ALTs are working together to put a free show for you to enjoy between February and March. Our show this year will be Dracula, follow the twisted tale of the nowaday Dracula who became an Otaku and decides to come to Niigata! We’ll have 7 shows all over the prefecture, so there gotta be one close to you! Our shows will be in Joetsu, Tokamachi, Nagaoka, Gosen, Niigata, Murakami and Sado. You’re welcome to come multiple times! Also we will accept donations at the end of each show and all the money we get will go to our AJET charity, which, this year, goes to Itoigawa. So come have fun and be a charitable soul at the same time! Of course, we love performing in front of a magnificent crowd, so be sure to talk about it to those around you and bring all your friends, Japanese and English speakers alike, with you! Don’t hesitate to ask your nearest cast member for a poster! You can also join the Musical’s facebook page to be sure not to miss anything about our latest adventures (https://www.facebook.com/niigatacharitymusical/). The show will have Japanese narration for people who have yet to learn all of the English subtleties. We are looking forward to seeing you there. Mei Perrier Director of Niigata AJET Musical 8


Interview with Sean Callahan, President of AJET Council What does the Niigata AJET Council do? The Niigata AJET Council is mainly responsible for creating a community in the Niigata Prefecture for JETs and their associates. We do this mainly by planning events, running the charity, maintaining social networking tools, and trying to keep involved with the community. What can’t the council do? The council as a whole are community organizers. We aren’t part of the Niigata education system at all, so we can’t do anything like intervene for you at work, get you a transfer, or really help with anything beyond giving advice, though we’re happy to give that!

Interview by Samantha Wolfe Photo provided by Sean Callahan The AJET concil has been responsible for creating many kinds of events for ALTS in Niigata AJET community. To tell you more about the Niigata AJET Council, it’s my pleaseure to introduce Sean Callahan, President of the council. Sean, you are the Niigata AJET Council president this year. Can you tell me what year you are in JET, the grade you teach and what part of Niigata you live in? I’m on my third Year of JET, I primarily teach first year of Senior High School, though I occasionally teach second year as well, and I live in Yoshida, a small town in Tsubame City. 10

So, what kind of events does AJET host? AJET is responsible for a lot of our bigger events. This year, so far, we’ve done the welcome party at Outland, Thanksgiving in Joetsu, the Skills Auction, and the Niigata City Scavenger Hunt. How can people get involved in events or even the council? For events, we are always open to suggestions! All of our events planned were brought to the council as suggestions originally, and so we are always looking for new ideas. If you have a fun event that you’re interested in getting our whole community involved in, contact your regional representative! For the council, we have elections every year. We will make an announcement


about it, but every year, we need people who are willing to work on the council. Look for the announcement toward spring! What big events are coming soon? For Winter, we have a few really fun events! February 18th is the Tokamachi snow festival. We like to get a group together to see the snow sculptures, eat good food, then usually have a dinner afterward. It’s a fun trip that’s well worth it! One event to look forward to is March 11th: Sake no Jin. If you like sake, this is your event. It’s a convention for sake brewers where you can sample their products. Also, later events to watch out for is Hanami, which is the annual celebration to observe cherry blossoms. Niigata has several beautiful parks where we gather and just enjoy the time together. The Sado Tour is a great chance to explore Sado Island and see the sights. There are a lot of places to explore and the locals are there to help. Look for these events as they come up!

and drink good sake! Thanks so much for talking with me today. Is there anything else you want the readers to know about AJET or advice for living in Niigata? Because I’d be remiss to do otherwise, come see the Charity Musical when it’s in your area! We’ve been working hard to make it as good as we can and we want to have everyone there! Audience reactions really get us fired up. While you’re here, get involved, get active, even if it’s not what you usually do. This is a rare chance, and it’s not likely to be one you’ll have again. While I like to talk about AJET events, it’s the community and people that really drives me forward. When someone is looking for travel buddies, or a study partner, or wants to climb that random mountain, give it a shot. You might make a lifelong friend! And finally, remember to reach out if you need help. The JET community asa whole is full of people who are more than willing to lend a hand. We’re all in this together! Let’s get out there and really love our time here in Japan!

What has been your favorite event so far? This year, my favorite event was the welcome party because it was the event that had the best turnout. It was nice watching older and newer JETs breaking the ice, getting to know one another, and generally having a good time. Really, that’s all you can ask for from any event What event are you really looking forward to? Right now, Sake no Jin. We made some changes to how we will be promoting things this year and I think it will be a lot of fun! That, and it’s always a good time to wander around most of the day

Hanami 2016 at Takada Park in Joestsu, Niigata. Photo by Khanh Cept 11


rom the outset we are told that “every situation is different” and so we sometimes forget that thousands of other foreigners around Japan are experiencing many of the same delights and difficulties as us. Four months into her new life here in Niigata-ken, one fresh JET shares her thoughts on being an ALT in Japan. While hers and everyone’s experience of the being a JET is guaranteed to be as unique as they are, there are many things some or even all of us will be able to relate to at some point during our time on the JET Programme. We’ve all been there. You fly into Tokyo, step off the plane, and plunge headfirst into a barrage of new information along with the heat and humidity. Then just as you’re starting to make new friends you’re whisked off to the far-flung corner of the country that from now on you will call home. Ok, I’m living in Joetsu-shi, which is not exactly “far flung”, but irrespective of where you end up, being a foreigner coming to live and work as an ALT in Japan is no trivial matter. You kick off your old life along with your shoes, are given a quick wash and a rinse in the barest essentials of Japanese culture and teaching methods, and then step (or if you’re unlucky, are thrown!) into a hot pool swirling with new language, new places, and new people—people who you can bet your last piece of melted chocolate omiyage have

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new ways of doing things and differing expectations of you and what your place will be in this strange and wonderful new environment. Like your first trip to a Japanese onsen, you have to let go of the fact that you’re stark naked in front of a bunch of random strangers (metaphorically…except of course at a real onsen) and learn to enjoy immersing yourself in the warm and refreshing waters of your new life here in Japan. I count myself extremely lucky. I have been allowed to step quietly into the pool, and mostly at my own pace…an enormous relief given how little information I had to go on prior to my arrival. My predecessor broke contract which, judging by the tense faces and unanimously strained tone of the “Oh…” expressed by ex-JET friends when I


From the hustle and bustle of Tokyo Orientation...to the quiet isolation of semi-rural Japan. told them, was something I could be forgiven for being apprehensive about. But as much as it means I’ve had no one specific person to show me the ropes of my particular placement, the local JET and wider community banded together to help me out with the life essentials, both prior to my arrival and during my first few days “in country” (a big shout out to Nick, Ryan, Richard and Takuma—thanks a million guys!). Unfortunately, no one could really help me find my way at my new workplaces. I have four schools and they are all completely different, from their general approach to work and education, right down to the varied teaching methods of the many different JTEs I get to work with. I’m sure we are all in the same boat in this regard! Having never taught before, it took (and is still taking!) some getting used to. Thankfully my schools have universally shown great concern and consideration in their pains to make sure I settle in and feel welcome, even if they’ve sometimes left out some small but vital pieces of information… For one of my self-introduction lessons I got a bit of a shock when several members of the class began getting up and drifting out the door. Admittedly the lesson hadn’t been going amazingly well, but I hadn't thought it had been quite that bad…. It turned out that the JTE had neglected to tell me that he gives the students a five minute

break in the middle of each lesson. He had been translating some of my English into Japanese for the students all lesson so I thought he was doing the same again...when actually he had told the students they could take a break. Only, he forgot to tell me. So there I was, presenting away, growing rapidly more disturbed by the fact that I was being completely ignored and apparently failing miserably as a teacher. Of course after a moment I stopped and asked what was going on, and finally received the crucial piece of information that this class takes breaks mid-lesson. While I was relieved that I was not perhaps as bad a teacher as I had been beginning to think, it was not the most reassuring or inspiring moment for a beginning ALT in their first week of school! But both the JTE and I learned a valuable lesson from it. There are many things we take for granted in our own cultures and habits that we can inadvertently assume everyone knows about or understands. Fortunately when such things come to light they are most often proving to be amusing rather than unsettling, but even the unsettling ones we can learn from. Moral of the story: assume nothing! Such introductory hurdles aside, at times it’s felt like people have been walking on eggshells around me. I don’t know if this is just the Japanese way or if it’s a reflection of the fact that, as it turns out, not just one but my last two predecessors broke

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contract in their first year. Somewhat understandably then, in my first several weeks, everyone seemed anxious for me—whoever I turned out to be—to not be overwhelmed by anything (even if one or two JTEs weren’t really sure what to do with me at first). The first time I met my new boss, his first words after the formalities of Japanese greetings were completed, were “Please stay as long as possible!” It’s been a great way to start my new job, but does not mean that work hasn’t come without many challenges.

“Feigning enthusiasm for Justin Bieber has possibly been my hardest challenge yet.” Like all the other rookie ALTs, I am trying to develop my own teaching style whilst also adapting it to the needs, wants and sometimes not explicitly stated—but still subtly apparent— requirements of each of my colleagues. Not that it’s bad. I’m mostly really enjoying it. But, it is a challenge, and I’m sure it’s one we will all face throughout our time as ALTs. The one thing I really enjoy about teaching is how the varied interests of the students broaden your own horizons, and sometimes just plain blow your mind. I’ve been having conversations with students that I never even imagined. A bunch of boys got really excited when I—a non-gamer—recognised the game they were playing on their smart phones. One girl is really keen to learn English because she LOVES Justin Bieber and wants to be able to understand his songs (feigning enthusiasm for Justin Bieber has possibly been my hardest challenge yet…). Others want to learn English so they can volunteer at the Tokyo Olympics. Still others don’t want to learn English but want to travel to other non-English speaking countries, like Italy or Switzerland. One wants to leave school and be a chef and serve people tasty food. Another wants to become a doctor and help save the world. I am impressed and sometimes astonished at a student’s confidence and determination. While we may have be warned that Japan is a society where tall or even slightly

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unusual poppies get carefully manicured back into place like leaves on a well-behaved bonsai tree, there are many teenagers here who are unafraid to break the mould and express themselves as individuals. I find this inspiring. It’s taken me nearly thirty years to get to that point myself! Which leads me to the social side of life… besides work, we rookie ALTs must also discover where we, as uprooted and transplanted individuals, fit within our new social environment. We must gradually put down fresh roots in some of the various groups and communities outside of our schools. Of course an obvious starting point is the local ALT community. I actually got quite a shock during my first few days in my new town. Prior to arriving in Japan everyone does their utmost to prepare you for being surrounded by Japanese people doing and saying things you don’t understand. And yet, on my second night in my new city, I found myself in a karaoke bar surrounded by fellow foreigners and only a handful of Japanese. To all intents and purposes I could have been back home in Dunedin, hanging out at the local pub with a multicultural bunch of friends from university. But at the same time these weren’t people I knew at all. Still suffering from latent exhaustion from Tokyo Orientation, and never having been what one could call a “social butterfly” (even on a good day), I experienced something like reverse culture shock. Here I was, mentally prepared to face the onslaught of everything Japanese, and instead I stumbled over the comparatively smaller hurdle of interacting with people whose cultures are very similar to my own! Similar, but still different…I think we sometimes forget that even though we all share “gaijin” status and are united by our ability to speak English, we all do still come from very different countries and cultures in our own right. In some ways, for me, I think this makes moving to Japan easier than it would be to another country with a culture more similar to my own. In Japan you expect everything to be different and people expect you to be different. In another, Englishspeaking country, many things may be the same,


and people may also expect you to be the same as them in many ways. The subtle differences are harder to anticipate and therefore, in some ways, more difficult to cope with—at least for me. I don’t actually know though; while I’ve travelled a lot I’ve never actually lived abroad before except for Australia, and let’s face it, that is very similar to New Zealand…except for the slightly more annoying accent (love you guys!).

“The subtle differences are harder to anticipate and therefore, in some ways, more difficult to cope with…” Beyond the ALT community, I am of course keen to make friends with as many local Japanese people as possible. The problem is, in such a reserved and polite culture it’s difficult to know where to start. But I found somewhere, in the form of a local volleyball team. Through my very first Japanese friend I was put in touch with a local ladies social team and went along to a practice. The women on the team range from 24 to over 60 and were overwhelmingly welcoming. They seemed excited to have a foreigner in their midst. They were surprised when I showed up again the following week, which led to some rapid discussion and clarification of the fact that I wasn’t just passing through but intending to stay in town for the foreseeable future. So now, once a week, I go to volleyball practice and hang out with a bunch of awesome Japanese women who mostly speak next to no English. I speak next to no Japanese so practice involves a lot of pointing and motioning and is always a lot of fun. There was a period however when I felt that, being completely new to the sport (and rubbish at sport in general), my lack of skill was causing some disruption to the flow of practice. It turns out that whilst this is a social team, part of the team does actually play competitively on weekends. Not wanting to hold them back I was able to use Google Translate to haltingly express my concerns, and was astonished at the response I got. Instead of taking the opportunity to rid themselves of a baggage that was hindering the efficiency of their practice, they were alarmed that I might be

thinking of quitting and instead offered overwhelming encouragement (in Googletranslated English) to stay and come to every practice. The words might not have been completely right, but the meaning was clear. If some might accuse Japanese culture of cropping tall poppies, they must also concede that it actively cultivates the slower growing ones. Uniformity works both ways; while no one wants anyone standing out above the crowd, the crowd doesn’t want anyone getting left behind either. In reading some student essays about participating in their school clubs I got an impression of how demanding but also supportive people are within club communities in Japan. Senpais help teach and encourage beginners who, as long as they try hard, are respected and nurtured so that in time they can become “strong”. This is a far cry from my own experience of sports teams back in New Zealand, where the resentment emanating from a junior high school netball team I once tried to join tarnished team sports for me for life. I have actively avoided them ever since. But now I have found not only what I was looking for initially—new friends and a way to get some exercise—but have been able to experience the real meaning of the word “team” in its most basic form. And for the first time in my life I look forward to sport practice. Even if I left Japan tomorrow I am already a changed, and I think, a better person for that (and I’ll always be grateful Sayumi and Natsuki—it’s all thanks to you!).

“The words might not have been completely right, but the meaning was clear.” But I don’t plan on leaving tomorrow, or even next year. I am re-contracting and intend to stay as long as I am enjoying myself and still learning something new every day. With a whole new language to learn the latter is easily accomplished. Admittedly I haven’t been putting much time into studying Japanese yet; I’m a bit of a one-trick pony and can really only concentrate on one big thing at a time. Right now that’s learning how to be a good

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ALT, but once that starts coming more naturally to me I intend to turn my efforts to language study. In the meantime, with my inability to speak or read virtually any Japanese, I’m relying on those around me, particularly my awesome supervisor, and that wonder of modern technology: the Google Translate app. When I first arrived I could not even read hiragana or katakana, so at Kenshin Matsuri I relied heavily on translations from others (thanks again Takuma!) and Google Translate to work out where and when I needed to be in order to see all the main events. Halfway through the day I managed to get my hands on a festival programme and within a few snaps had been able to Google Translate most of it… unfortunately not many of the translations made much sense. One event in particular, something Google decided was called a “buggers festival” caused me to inadvertently raise an eyebrow. Unfortunately I had already missed it so I never found out what that particular event actually was! Language barrier aside, I’m trying to make the most of each and every opportunity to explore my new home. Early on, thanks to an extremely generous kocho-sensei and his family, I found myself dressed in a yukata and being whisked off to watch the Niigata City Fireworks—one of the best displays and certainly the longest I have ever seen! It was one of my dreams while in Japan to at some point be dressed in a traditional Japanese garment by a Japanese person (a.k.a. someone who knew what they were doing), and there I was, within my first week, standing in the middle of a tatami room in a traditional Japanese house, being wrestled into a slightly too small yukata by a determined obaa-san. I just about cried. Not long after that, at Kenshin Matsuri, I got to experience my first ever live taiko-drumming performance. I’ve seen taiko on TV of course, but in person it reverberates through you like a second heartbeat. I can’t wait to see and feel more! Since then I’ve got involved with the Niigata JET Musical (I’ll have my lines learned soon Mei, I promise!) and harvested rice with the Niigata Sake Lovers (I particularly recommend joining their Facebook page if you want to try your

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Mikoshi at Kenshin Matsuri. hand at planting and harvesting rice at some point—and enjoy the obligatory sake tasting session afterward of course!). I’ve also enjoyed a wonderful tour of Joetsu where we got to try our hand at making traditional woven baskets, as well as a tour of Sado Island, where we explored the historic goldmine and made our own traditional mumyoi yaki pottery (I can’t wait until my fired cup arrives in the post…then all I have to do is try and not be my usual clumsy self and break it!). Most recently I used my birthday as an excuse to do something extravagant and took off to climb Mt Fuji. It was magic! But magic has its price. In truth, I’ve been doing and seeing so much that I’m in danger of burning out. I have to remember that I’m here for the long haul and while I intend to continue making the most of every opportunity I can in Japan (and in life), it’s okay to stop and take a breather when you need one. Eventually, one way or another, I know I am bound to experience the culture shock that everyone talks about pre-arrival. The best way I know how to combat this is to have one


place—one space—that is my own; somewhere I can retreat to, to recharge my batteries or take refuge to collect myself if things at work, or just in life, ever get too much. Obviously that space would be my apartment!

whilst also adopting as many aspects of Japanese culture as I care to try. In so doing I like to think that I will find a balance that works for me and be able to enjoy the best of both worlds, both in my apartment and in the world beyond the front door.

On this point having no predecessor has granted me a degree of freedom that I don’t think I might have had otherwise. My base school disposed of all my predecessor’s leftover possessions so although I had important things like a fridge and a washing machine, my apartment was all but bare on arrival. While this was not particularly welcoming (and made it difficult to eat my first meals, having no plates and no cutlery) there has been no hindrance to me kitting the place out as I see fit. Over the past several weeks I have gradually turned my apartment from something resembling a half-way house into a home, and more importantly, it’s my home. This is my advice to any and all JETs who may be finding it hard to settle in here in Japan: make your house your own! Even long term senpais who are becoming a bit restless; if you find yourself looking at stuff you’ve inherited from your predecessor and never liked, get rid of it! Get something you do like. From the sounds of it you never quite fully adjust to the different world that lies beyond your front door, so at the very least, make your home your own. In my limited time here it has made all the difference and makes me much more resilient to the strange and unexpected things I encounter every day. Within my own little place (affectionately dubbed “The Shoebox”) I am free to keep and do things as I would in my own culture,

And that is my final thought. Being an ALT in Japan is no different to anything else we do in life. Sure it might be a bit more unusual or exotic than what some of our family and friends may choose to do, but no matter our choices in life, everything comes down to finding a balance, between old and new, work and play, and in our case, our own culture and Japanese culture. In a way we must also find a balance between the people we were before, and the people we will become through what we experience on the JET Programme. As rookie ALTs we have only just immersed ourselves in the onsen of life in Japan. Each of us will find our preferred spot in the pool and settle in to soak, some for a short time and others longer. Eventually we will emerge from the steadily more familiar waters. Some may choose to stay. Others will shimmy back into their familiar clothes and seek out their old lives along with their shoes. Some may leave the onsen in search of their next adventure in another new place and culture. But no matter what we all do, I hope that we can each find a niche where we can thrive during our time here in Japan. Both we and Japan have so much to offer each other; at least someone on the JET interview panel must have thought so, or else we wouldn’t be here (right?!). So let’s make the most of it! Ganbate everyone!

By Jenny Stein 1st Year ALT, Joetsu-shi, Niigata-ken Watching the sunrise from Mt Fuji (left). In many ways this photo is a good metaphor for life as a new ALT: you’re isolated in a new place, surrounded by unfamiliar things you cannot really make out or understand, but the view is still spectacular. Even though you don’t really know what to expect from the coming day you are looking forward to seeing it and making the most of all that it has to offer. 17


Places to go for day trips! 日帰りパワースポット~

Story and Photos by Tiffany Sheen Lovers’ Point 恋人岬 - Kashiwazaki Tucked behind and beyond a neat row of seafood markets off route 8 just a ways off Kashiwazaki City center, hidden in the Mount Yoneyama & Fukurahakei Prefectural Park, stands a scenic spot gently overreaching into the Sea of Japan. The moment your feeble kei-car makes it to the top of the peak with a content hum, the inexplicable radiance that greets you makes you feel it’s all worth it. A single path parts way for a version of shrine or temple bells. Ring the bell and you ring in happiness. There are more than one and of various heights to accommodate the couple, the single and the child. After all, the visitors are not necessarily eponymic. Beside the pathway is a rustic shop named Seagull, where you can enjoy a treat and buy heart-shaped message boards to lock on the observatory banister. Tying the lock signifies tying the knot - couples who lock their messages there will lead a happy life together. Or so they say. As you continue on the path you reach the observatory deck, adorned with the pink and red joys of visitors past. The refreshingly open space combined with reflections off of the rippling ocean makes the sky we glance dismissively to tell the day’s weather a beautiful sight to behold (But please, don’t stare at the sun). You can lean down (not too much) and marvel at the expanse of a shade of blue that is almost ethereal. In the opposite direction, a flight of monumental-like steps slope towards the sea, where an infinite ribbon of pink and red seem to line the entire coast. Some days the waves crash and whip the stacks. Other days they are as still as your quietest Japanese class – only these make you calm, serene and at peace with the world. Including that weak kei-car engine. It’s a heartwarming place to stroll around anytime from spring to autumn. Lovers’ Point tends to be windy, so remember to bring a jacket if you decide to visit during cooler weather. Or bring your special someone to hug. Whichever works. Location: 〒949-3661 Niigata Prefecture, Kashiwazaki City, Omigawa 133-1 新潟県柏崎市青海川133-1 By car: about 1 hour from Joetsu City, 1.5 hour from Niigata City.

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Places to go for day trips! 日帰りパワースポット~ Continued... Zenkoji 善光寺 – Nagano Summer mist enshrouded the centuries-old temple when I first visited. Regarded as belonging to both the Tendai and Jodoshu sects of Buddhism, Zenkoji Temple is one of the few remaining, functional pilgrimage destinations in Japan. During the Warring States Period it served as the battleground for combat between the famous rival pair, Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen. Now it is famous for the “Key to Pure Land”, a key located on a wall in a dark underground corridor beneath the main hall. At the front of the temple, visitors rub smoke from an enormous incense burner on themselves for health and good fortune. My friends and I took a picture of all of us standing foxily in front of the burner, beneath the whirling smoke, so we looked “smoking hot”. Once you step through the east entrance, you can admire numerous Buddhist images and statues in the main hall. A steep flight with a challengingly low ceiling (watch out, tall people, it continues for the length of the passageway) will lure you into utter darkness where you must search for the “Key to Pure Land” with only your hands and ears. It is believed that touching it ensures salvation in Pure Land. Like many other temples, you can draw your fortune, as well as buy and write a message or prayer on a wooden board or 絵 馬(えま). If you’re into collecting Temple Seals, you can also buy a seal collec-tion book and have a priest or priestess mark your visit in traditional Japanese calligraphy. Then take a stroll in the neighbourhood. After all, the city of Nagano developed and flourished from Zenkoji’s very doorsteps. If you continue straight out the temple, you will find yourself in the quaintest little town or the legacy of 門前町(もんぜんまち). It’s a place that amazes with its pious legacy connecting the past and the present, with just the right amount of ancient delicacy to pull you in for a worthwhile day. Location: 〒380-0851 Nagano Prefecture, Nagano City, Motoyoshicho 491長野県長野市元善町491 By car: 1 hour from Joetsu City, 2.5 hours from Niigata City.

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Larisa Barannikova Current JET Interview

Interview by Samantha Wolfe

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iigata prefecture has so many of us JETs that it is impossible to meet everyone. Thus, let me introduce Larisa, a current JET, who told me about her life in Niigata and gave worldy advice for living in Japan. Hi Larisa, it’s been a while. Thank you for letting me interview you. Can you tell me what year in JET you are in and in what city in Niigata? I am in my second year, in Itoigawa city, the southernmost city in Niigata. What grades do you teach? I teach all levels of junior high and elementary school, as well as pre-school.

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Photo provided by Larisa Barannikova And one more, standard question, where are you from? I was born in Russia but lived in the US since age 6, half the time in Indiana and half in the Chicago suburbs. Have you gone back to Russia? Once, when I was 14. Wow, nice, how was is it? It was really nice! Very nostalgic but felt like a new world at the same time. Awesome! So back to the interview, what was your first impression of Niigata? I was enthralled by the dazzling scenery, but crestfallen shortly afterwards when I realized how little there was to do around me.


Oh no! I’m sorry to hear that. What were some difficulties you had when you first came to Japan? Being bored and lonely and having few friends were some of the big ones. It seems like most other placements in Niigata are pretty near other ALTs, whereas I was alone with no neighbors. Another difficulty was waiting several weeks to get help from coworkers to set up my wifi. And of course, surviving the summer without an air conditioner! What is something that helped you with your tough times? I did some research on the internet, and asked my coworkers and supervisor to find ways to get involved in the community. I found places to do yoga and karate and judo, and that helped me meet a lot of people. On top of that, I made time to get in touch with friends and family back home. Whoa karate and judo! That’s amazing! Thank you! What difficulties did you have teaching? One of my biggest difficulties was that most of my coworkers don’t speak English, and I didn’t speak enough Japanese to easily communicate with them. Likewise, when I had to lead a class with little assistance from the JTE, I felt myself struggling to give instructions and get the children to listen with my insufficient Japanese. Also, remembering names of children and coworkers is really difficult since I have so many schools. How did you overcome these problems? I got better at Japanese, and persevered despite my linguistic deficiency. As for names, I either wrote down names of teachers, or asked for a seating chart. And I got seating charts for the kids, had them use English name plates, and I started learning to read kanji commonly found in names. I’m glad it got better for you!

Thank you! Another hard question, what is your favorite thing to do in Japan? Eating delicious Japanese food while enjoying the scenery! It must be beautiful in Itoigawa. It really is! Did you get culture shock when you first came? What helped you get through it? I think ‘culture shock’ is too broad of a term to describe the varied psychological responses of being in a new setting. There wasn’t really anything about the culture that “shocked” me. I like to think I approached everything with an open heart and a sense of fascination. Of course there are some things I find irritating or difficult to get used to, such as how store clerks shout “irasshaimase!” at you if you come near them, but in cases like that I just shrug and smile because no matter where you are in the world, you`ll encounter things you dislike. Keeping a positive attitude about those things is crucial. And when things get tough, venting about it to your fellow foreign friends is a huge help. That’s great advice! Is there any other advice you want to give current and new ALTs? Thank you! Let’s see. What helped me improve my Japanese a lot in the beginning is writing down words I often heard and looking them up or asking what they mean. Learning even a few commonlyused words can help you out a lot. If you’re looking for things to do or ways to interact with Japanese people, look through your monthly town newsletter to find events to get involved with the community. If you don’t get a newsletter, check out the bulletin board at your local community center. Excellent advice! Thank you so much for your wonderful comments and advice. Thank you!

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Connecting Through Rice An Event Review

By Robert Burns

It’s 6:30 in the morning. My alarm starts screaming with unnecessary enthusiasm for this time in the morning. Nothing should have that much energy this early, animate or otherwise. It’s my Monday off and I’ve had 5 hours of sleep at best. Maybe if I just close my eyes for… Nope, no chance of that. If I let that happen there’s no chance I’m getting up in time for the train. I roll over and nudge the wife to see if I can trick her into getting ready first so I can try and slip in a few more precious minutes of rest. No chance of that either. Time to bite the bullet. A train, a meetup with a friend, a car ride, and a short unintentional detour in rural Kashiwazaki later and we finally arrive at our intended destination. Yata Farming Co-op (矢田営農組合) is located on the northeast side of Kashiwazaki, nestled in the fields between Mt. Dainichi and the city proper. It’s raining then we arrive. A lot. And the skies show no indication of cooperating, regardless of what the weather forecast says. Our hosts from Niigata Sake Lovers, an organization devoted to promoting Niigata sake and the organizers for this event, run us through an overview of the day, put us into our groups for the harvest, and do everything else they

can while under the shelter of the main buildings. The basic itinerary once we get out to the field begins with a demonstration on how to cut, tie, and separate the bundles of rice plants. The bundles are tied together using dried stalks from previous harvests in order to make sure there is as little waste as possible. The technique for securing them involves some intricate hand work and an elaborate flip that takes more coordination than I think I will ever be capable of in order to do successfully. After the explanation each group will be assigned a section of the field to harvest for a few hours until we’ve collected enough bundles for our last activity in the field. Each team will compete to run their bundles from one side of the ankle-deep mud-filled paddies to the other and hang their bundles on poles to dry. After our time in the field we’ll head to the shelter of one of the greenhouses where we’ll be treated to an information session outlining the stages of rice production leading up to the harvest, and finally close out the event with a wonderful homemade meal and sake tasting. We run though the details one more time, introduce ourselves to our new group mates, and do everything else we can think of, but eventually it’s time to move into the fields. Photo Credit to Niigata Sake Lovers


That rain I mentioned earlier ends up being a blessing in disguise. I’ll take light showers and cooler weather over the blazing heat of Japan in the summer any day, and today is definitely no exception. Unsurprisingly, trudging through the mud barefoot with a kama (a small, sharp Japanese harvesting sickle), cutting, tying, and counting bundles of rice stalks, all while trying to keep an eye out for the spiders, earwigs, and various other tiny creatures that make their home in the rice paddies, is hard work. Trying to do this while it’s 37 degrees celsius and at blazing sun is beating down on us seems like a special kind of hell. I’ll take my chances with the rain. After all, it’s basically like getting a free shower while you work, right? The farmers, on the other hand, don’t have that option. Growing any crop takes a ridiculous amount of time, knowhow, and care, in spite of the weather in Japan and its often unpredictable nature. A short information session after the harvest illustrates how rice is definitely no exception. Between germinating and sprouting the seeds, grooving and aerating the paddies, planting, weeding, and the multitude of other steps it takes to bring rice plants to maturity it takes the farmers at Yata Farming Coop eight full months to produce the final grains. And that’s all before the grains are processed for eating, the lengthy process of sake brewing, or the multitude of other uses that rice has in Japan. I only had to get up at 6:30 for one day and put in a fraction of a day’s work, and let’s be honest my efforts for the day will not be providing for the population in any meaningful way. The folks at Yata, on the other hand, are at this every day. This isn’t a novel tourist event for them. This is their reality and livelihood. This was made particularly evident in the wake of the Chūetsu Earthquakes that devastated Niigata in late 2004. The series of quakes left 68 people dead and 4,805 others injured. Over 100,000 people were forced to flee their homes, communities were isolated, and for the first time in history a Shinkansen derailed while in service. Mr. Yoshikazu Ishiguro remembers how Hara Brewery, like many areas in Niigata, was devastated by the earthquakes. “Many of the buildings [were] destroyed and cranes had to be used to pull the sake tanks out of the wreckage” he recalls. “It is without a doubt that that earthquake affected me and the people I worked with, in a large way.” However, despite the obstacles created by the quakes the community found a way

Photo Credit to Niigata Sake Lovers

Photo Credit to Niigata Sake Lovers


to rebound stronger than before. “In times of trouble, people come together, and that’s exactly what happened,” Mr. Ishiguro states. “Yata Farming Co-op was created, we reformed the brewery and everyone was moving at double or triple speed.” Yoshikazu Ishiguro is the Head Representative of the Yata Farming Co-op, and the Touji (sake master) of the Wajo section of the Hara Brewery. He has been involved in rice cultivation since he was a small boy, and in sake brewing since he graduated high school at 18 years old. “My father was in bad health at the time I started looking for work,” he remembers. “I was born and raised in Kashiwazaki and when looking for a job close to home, I looked for something stable. At the time, the sake industry and sake breweries were supported by the government and so couldn’t go bankrupt.” Mr. Ishiguro says that he didn’t ever really consider making sake, and figured that bottling and delivery would be a good fit for him. However, one day a senpai of his quit Hara Brewery and left them with a temporary labour shortage. The brewery needed someone to fill in. “I took the job and started working initially as an office worker, learning about sake sales and related law. From there I did work with kouji1, shubo2, and the rest is history. I became Touji of Hara brewery (Wajo section) when I was 48, just about 10 years ago.” This year marks his 40th year in the sake industry. Matthew Headland of Niigata Sake Lovers emphasizes just how rare Mr. Ishiguro’s path into the industry was. “Most people start at kouji and once they’ve learned everything, then they learn the business side of things,” Mr. Headland states. He discusses how there is a saying in the sake industry that goes “一麹、二酒母、三造り (ichi kouji, ni shubo, san tsukuri).” Roughly translated, it means first is kouji, second is the starter, third is brewing. “This is a saying that is well known among brewers and so any new employee at a sake brewery will first learn about kouji, then how to make the starter, and then about fermentation. They are all equally important but also cannot exist in any different order.”

Yet somehow Mr. Ishiguro not only found a successful path into the industry in a unique way, but he continues to operate outside the norms of the rice and sake world. “I’m perhaps one of the only Touji in Niigata that works closely with both rice and sake,” he mentions, “overseeing the entire sake making process from seed to bottle, and to have created my own original sake rice3 as well.” Expanding on the creation of their own original strain of rice, it becomes clear just how much thought and work Yata Farming Co-op and Hara Brewery put into their products, and how closely the two are intertwined. “The majority of sake breweries use sake rice that has been established in the industry for a long time. They buy the seeds, grow the rice and make sake, but Hara Shuzo is different. We created our own original sake rice, with properties that we wanted to use in our sake. Now we literally make everything from scratch. This is, I think, the most awesome feeling for anyone who works to create something.” I grew up in northern Alberta, Canada surrounded by farms and forests. The amount of work that goes into producing good food is something that I came to appreciate at an early age, whether I wanted to or not. From working in my grandparent’s massive garden to tracking, killing, and cleaning animals during hunting season, I was never granted the luxury of being oblivious to where my meals came from. As a result the ethics of food production and eating are something I take very seriously, perhaps to an absurd degree. I’ve worked with food at at almost every stage of production throughout my life. I spend my free time reading cookbooks, watching television about food, and turning my kitchen into a variety of science experiments (from fermentation projects to drying, roasting and curing almost anything close at hand). So when I say that I am immeasurably impressed by the work, thought, and care that the people at Yata Farming Co-op and Hara Brewery put into their operations and products, you can be assured that I don’t make this statement lightly. I spend a great deal of my time searching for the magical types of operations exactly like what

1 Kouji - The bacteria culture that is a fundamental ingredient in sake production. 2 Shubo - The fermentation starter; a mix of water, rice, kouji, yeast, and (in most cases) a little bit of lactic acid. The shubo will account for about 7% of the total fermentation.

Sake rice (酒米・さかまえ)- Not your average kyushoku or Sukiya donburi rice. The grains are larger and have a concentration of pure starch in the middle of them specifically advantageous for sake brewing.

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Mr. Yoshikazu Ishiguro and his associates have created. People doing something the right way, and doing it insanely well, are by far my favourite kinds of people. Their sincerity, passion, and integrity are infectious, and are things that I’ve found to be much harder to find in most people than they should be. It should probably go without saying that it also results in an insanely good final product. “It ain’t no cake walk,” states Mr. Ishiguro, “but there is really a supreme joy in seeing a grown up rice stock make delicious sake. Teachers, who see their students go through the years, grow and develop, must have a similar feeling as me.” You owe it to yourself to try an event like this at least once during your time in Japan. Yes, you will have to get up early. Yes, you will have to get dirty. Yes, you will work hard for a few hours. But you will also have a lot of fun. It should also be noted that in the end there were fourteen different types of sake for us to sample. You read that right. Fourteen. And we were put in charge of pouring our own samples. If that doesn’t convince you that this event is worth your time and money, I don’t know what will. You will eat some wonderful food, drink some amazing sake, and spend the day with some great people. I sincerely believe that experiences like this bring us closer to the people around us and the world we live in better than almost anything else could. The knowledge you gain will help you appreciate every

meal and glass of sake that comes after. It will help connect you to Japan in a unique and long lasting way, and at the end of everything isn’t that why we’re all here?

I would like to extend a huge thank you to the wonderful people at Yata Farming Co-op (矢田営農組合) and Niigata Sake Lovers for hosting this event, and many others like it. Be sure to check both of them out on Facebook for more information about sake, food, and future events. You can also find out more about Niigata Sake Lovers on their website at http://niigatasakelovers.com/ Special thank yous also go out to Matthew Headland for his immense help in conducting and translating the interview with Mr. Yoshikazu Ishiguro, and to Mr. Ishiguro for taking the time to work with us and for making this article possible.


t Fuji is as synonymous with Japan as “sushi” and “kimono, and you could be forgiven for thinking it is something of a cliché travel destination. But, as is so often the case, such things become icons for a reason.


Mt Fuji is a 3,376m high, 600,000 year old stratovolcano which, although it is classified as active, has not erupted since 1707. Dwarfing its neighbouring peaks, it dominates the horizon for miles in all directions and on a very clear day you can reputedly see the Tokyo Sky Tree from the summit (it must be very, very small, being around 130km distant!). Mt Fuji’s symmetric slopes have inspired authors and artistic works for centuries, most notably Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mt Fuji”. Historically the mountain was a centre for ascetic Buddhist training and later its summit was thought to be the home of the Shinto God Asama, who was responsible for supressing the volcano’s then common and violent outbursts. During the Edo Period eruptions were less frequent and Mt Fuji became an object of worship in its own right, which drew many pilgrims into making the long trek up its slopes to the summit. Several shrines were established around the mountain, many of which remain popular to this day. Affectionately known as “Fujisan”, the mountain was listed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2013, in recognition of it being a sacred place and source of artistic inspiration. Despite being the highest mountain in Japan, the summit of Mt Fuji is extremely accessible. Five different trails scale the mountain from different sides, none of which require any technical skill to traverse. Anyone with a good basic level of fitness and appropriate clothing and footwear should be able to reach the summit, provided they take

care to climb slowly and stay on the alert for any symptoms of altitude sickness. Its combination of fame and accessibility has resulted in some 300,000 people climbing the mountain over the short three month summer hiking season every year. That roughly averages out at 100,000 people per month, 25,000 people per week, and 3,500 people per day! Small wonder then that most of the photos people take during their climb include multi-coloured throngs of people trudging in unbroken lines up and down the mountain. This ‘slogging it with the hoards is not the kind of hiking I’m particularly fond of and so while I had a vague idea that I would like to climb Mt Fuji at some point during my time in Japan, it was not particularly high on my priority list. But, while hunting around from something memorable to do for my birthday, I inevitably came across online advertisements for “Climb Mt Fuji”. Why not? I thought, but was soon disappointed to discover that the end of September had also brought the climbing season to a close. I was resigning myself to having to find something else to do to acknowledge my little milestone when “OffSeason Tour” caught my eye…but the last climb of this short shoulder season was scheduled for the weekend before my birthday when, unfortunately, I was already committed to doing other things. Still, unwilling to let go of the spark of excitement that had been ignited at the thought of climbing Mt Fuji on my birthday, I emailed the company in question to ask if there was any

The view eastward from the upper slopes of Mt Fuji.


chance of doing a trip the following weekend. The next day I received a reply: yes, they could run a trip that weekend but would need a minimum of four people. In fact the eve of my birthday would be the final day of the year that the last hut remaining open would accommodate people before closing for winter. It all seemed too good to be true…and it nearly was. But the week before my birthday I received the email I had been hoping for: they had confirmed three other people for the tour and the trip was on! So on the Friday afternoon I left school a little early (with permission!), stopped off at home to empty my backpack of folders, lesson plans, and other teaching paraphernalia, and re-stuffed it full of warm clothes, snacks and breakfast-type foodstuffs before catching the Shinkansen to Tokyo. I met up with the tour group in Shinjuku on Saturday morning. As it turned out there were six of us: three business travellers, a couple on their honeymoon, and me. Our driver, Richard, loaded us into a comfortable minivan and we set off, bound for Gotemba. We left shortly after 9am and arrived at 5th station on the Subashiri Trail around 12:30pm, including a brief stop to buy lunch and edible supplies for the climb. While it is possible to buy some food and water on the mountain (from the stations, if they’re open), the selection would be limited and very expensive, so we stocked up before we went. At the 5th Station we met our guide, Taishi, and after checking over some equipment (thank you to the kind obaasan at the souvenir shop who proffered a can of something like CRC that was just the thing to loosen my slightly oxidised hiking poles and make them functional again!), we admired the multitude of different mushrooms people were collecting from the nearby forest, before setting out for the trail. Despite my heavy hiking boots I was almost dancing I was so excited to be hiking again. I had not hiked for at least six months, and besides cycling ten minutes two and from school each day, had done no training for this trip whatsoever. I and the others soon had to reign in our enthusiasm however as Taishi set what seemed to

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be an absolute snail’s pace. He warned us about getting altitude sickness if we tried to climb the mountain too quickly, but also, being a regular guide who had climbed Mt Fuji 43 times already this season, he was probably also trying to prevent a bunch of out-of-shape tourists burning all of their energy and not making it to the 7th station, let alone the summit. The 7th Station hut was our destination for the day. There we would sleep, before setting out for the summit in the morning.

“He warned us about getting altitude sickness if we tried to climb the mountain too quickly…” Within an hour or two we were all grateful for Taishi’s slow and steady pace. While the ascent is not steep, it is entirely uphill, slowly climbing in a series of switchbacks that zigzag up the mountainside. The Subashiri Trail is the only one of the five routes to the summit that has a forested section at the start. While I have not tried the other four trails, I feel that it must be quite the nicest for it. The forest is a mix of conifers, deciduous trees and low shrubs, including rhododendrons. It’s completely different to the forest back home in New Zealand and I found it fascinating. At this time of year many leaves have already fallen and still others are turning their autumn colours. But the rhododendrons were already in bud, preparing flowers that must add a lovely splash of colour to the forest in spring. For most of the route there is actually one trail for going up and a separate, steeper one for coming down. These meet up at some of the stations and coincide for a section of trail above 5th Station. We met several people on the way down as we headed up…and by “several” I mean maybe 30 in total. Most of the trail we had entirely to ourselves. Hooray for hiking in the offseason! Most of the people we passed were Japanese and I soon got used to responding to a friendly “Ganbate!” with “Otsukaresama!”, which surprised and seemed to please everyone very much.


The Subashiri Trail begins in forest and it is a slow and steady climb up the mountain. The trees gradually get shorter and shorter as you climb, and soon disappear altogether. None but the hardiest and, at this time of year, crispy dry shrubs and lichens sparsely cling to rocks on upper reaches of the mountain. All the while the trail up is composed of blocky volcanic rocks and boulders. Those with a discerning eye will notice different colours and textures in the rocks reflecting different lava compositions and effusive styles from Fuji’s multitudinous historical eruptions…. Once you leave the forest and gain more height you become more exposed to the wind, which must be fairly ubiquitous here on a mountain towering above everything around it and surrounded by nothing but air. It gets noticeably cooler as you climb, especially once the sun is blocked by the mountain’s summit above. We took regular breaks, but as the afternoon passed our breaks got shorter and shorter, as we quickly became cold once we stopped, especially when exposed to the wind. For much of the hike you can see the various mountain stations above you, many with white tori gates beside them. At times the summit doesn’t

look all that far away, but as you climb the mountain sides get steeper, requiring more switchbacks to keep the trail at its gentle but steady inclination. In a little over three hours we reached 7th Station. I don’t know what I had expected but having been spoilt rotten with some amazing backcountry huts in New Zealand, my first impression of the station hut was that it was a little ramshackle. I cut it some slack for it being the very last day of the season so understandably many preparations were already underway for packing out and locking down the hut for the winter. Despite its outward appearance the building is warm and extremely sturdy. It also has something most huts in NZ don’t have: flush toilets and staff. Not only that, but staff who cook you dinner! Shortly after arriving we sat down to low tables in the dining room and received large dinner trays of hamburgers and miscellaneous Japanese food, as well as tabehoudai steamed rice and tonjiru. Unfortunately the accompanying tea was not nomihoudai, so I savoured it as much as I could. Having come off a hectic week at work I gladly

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crashed into bed at 6pm, and most of the others followed by 7. Everyone was tired, and once it gets dark there’s not a whole lot to do in a mountain hut. There were about eight other people in the bunkroom with us—tiny number compared to the room’s summer capacity—so we each made ourselves comfortable in a sleeping space usually set aside for two people (yet another plus for hiking in the off-season). The hut provides futons and numerous blankets, as well as a kerosene heater, so despite the freezing temperature outside, inside we were toasty, and in fact, far too hot! Unfortunately no food or drink is allowed to be consumed in the bunkroom, not even water. Consequently almost everyone was up at least two or three times in the night to step out and rehydrate…everyone that is except the Japanese couple next to me who blatantly

ignored the rules and spent the whole night carelessly chugging water while tucked up comfortably in their blankets. If you’ve ever been really dehydrated and surrounded by undrinkable water you’ll appreciate the kind of torture this was for me. I wanted nothing more than to grab the man’s bottle and slug him over the head with it, but managed to contain myself and slept fitfully until morning. The girls beside me claimed not to have slept at all due to the faint acrid aroma of the kerosene, but it wasn’t quite strong enough to bother most people. Next morning we got up at 5am and most of us braved the freezing cold and went out to watch the sunrise. It was glorious! We had an hour to get ready and have breakfast so we each fit this in between peeks at the ever changing scenery as


Sunrise from 7th Station on the Subashiri Trail.

the sun rose, and periods of retreating indoors to return the warmth to our finger tips, while we could! At 6am we set off, onward and upward. Though it was cold at first and we all set out bundled up in every layer we possessed, as our muscles warmed up and the sun got higher we were able to begin stripping back to less michelin-style attire. Every time we stopped we admired the view. You gain height pretty fast and on this day we’d already left the clouds behind us before reaching 7th Station. While they were scattered in the morning, enabling us to see the landscape, towns and sea below, the clouds gathered below us as the day passed, so that we became isolated on our giant island in a fluffy white sea, with only passing glimpses of the busy green patchwork world below. We hadn’t been walking that long when one of

our group began to lag behind, suffering from pain in his legs and shortness of breath. After consultation with the guide it was decided not to risk tempting full blown altitude sickness and together he and Taishi made the call for him to turn back. He would take his time going down the mountain and meet us back at 5th Station that afternoon. Meanwhile, the rest of us pushed on to the summit. Three hours after leaving 7th Station we made the final white tori gate, flanked by white dragon statues, and stopped to take the practically requisite group photo. Then we walked the final short distance to the shrine at the top. It was closed, just like everything else on the mountain, but it commands a grand view out to the east. After taking a moment to reflect on the fact that we had made it to the top of Mt Fuji and were standing


3,776m above the sea we could see sparkling in the distance below, we went to check out the crater. It had snowed the week before and while all the snow had melted, the water draining through the rocks had left many long icicles hanging down from overhanging rocks on the crater walls. It was so quiet with so few people around (I could literally see maybe four others outside of our group exploring different parts of the crater rim). Occasionally the growing heat from the sun would melt an icicle free and you could hear it crashing down the side of the crater to the unseen bottom below.

“...we had made it to the top...and were standing 3,776m above the sea we could see sparkling in the distance below…” Unfortunately we did not have enough time to do the hour-long rim walk around the crater, so after taking several photos and having a snack, it was time to head back down. The “down” route of the Subashiri trail is a broader path (wide enough for a vehicle), that zigzags down the mountain in much longer and steeper switchbacks. Unlike the path up which has intermittent boulder outcrops and the occasional

short flight of rocky stairs, the route down is almost entirely loose gravelly sand. You make good time going down. A few stations below the summit the route becomes one long sand run, where those who are confident about their balance (and have faith in their knees and ankles) can literally jog or even run, down the mountain. I was surprised to find I was the only one willing to even attempt to do this, but had a terrific time gallivanting down the mountain—more like a three year old than someone who had just turned 30. I slowed down as I passed an elderly Japanese couple so as not to cover them in dust from the clouds even careful steps unavoidably create in the light breeze. The couple were inching their way down much more carefully and sensibly than I was and were two of several elderly people we encountered on the mountain. In fact the majority of climbers we met must have been at least in their fifties, if not their sixties, and some were definitely older than that. I can only hope that I’m still climbing mountains when I’m their age! I waited at the bottom of the sand run for the others to catch up. We had reached the treeline and the clouds were beginning to waft over and around us like cool white smoke. And with that, Mt Fuji was gone. It had disappeared into the cloud above us.

On top of the world on top of Mt Fuji (nearly). 32

After a short section through the scrub another long sandy stretch brought us to the forest proper. Half-jogging still I got ahead again and stopped to explore some fresh deer tracks on the trail.


The crater at the summit of Mt Fuji. There was no sign of the deer though…or any other wildlife really. During the entire trip I saw a grand total of two birds; a little disappointing for a mountain that is supposed to be home to deer, squirrels, and more than a few other creatures. I wondered if it was a reflection of the season, or the amount of foot traffic the mountain sees over the summer.

“...those who are confident about their balance...can literally jog, or even run down the mountain.” Where the trail plunges into the forest the track becomes rocky once again, zigzagging in short sections down through the trees. Almost before you know it you meet the route heading up. Continuing on down you soon pass a small shrine and, after a short section of broad stairs, emerge through the barrier at the trailhead behind 5th Station. We had done it! We had climbed Mt Fuji!! And we had done it on time, arriving almost exactly at 1 o’clock. After meeting up with Richard and the guy who’d turned back (who was fine, and very excited to have climbed some of Mt Fuji), we had a few minutes spare to buy omiyage and matcha ice cream from the kind obaasan (who also dispenses copious amounts of free mushroom tea!). Then we said a huge thank you and farewell to Taishi before piling into the minivan. Almost everyone had run out of water and was keen to rehydrate from bottles they had left behind.

We drove down the mountain and soon arrived at a local onsen. Unusual for Japanese onsen this one was mixed and you are supposed to wear swimming clothes, but they also have the regular separate pools where you go in starkers. The other three women on the tour were keen to try their first proper Japanese onsen so I offered to show them the appropriate procedure in the women’s pool area. The warm water soon soaked any of our aches and pains away, and after wearing and sweating in the same clothes for two days it was wonderful to be clean and dress in fresh clothes for the drive back to Tokyo. We arrived back in Shinjuku shortly after 5pm, tour complete, and everyone feeling great that they had had a unique and exciting Japanese experience. By 11:30pm I was back home in Joetsu, scarcely able to believe I’d been standing on top of Mt Fuji at 9am that morning. It just goes to show what can be squeezed out of a weekend here in Japan! So in case you missed the overall message, I highly recommend a trip to Mt Fuji, even if it’s just to the 5th Station to take a look at this ionic mountain up close. Anyone even remotely interested in enjoying a bit of the outdoors and getting some exercise should definitely consider doing the climb to the summit. Unless crowds of people are your thing, or you have an irrepressible need to visit the shrine at the top or buy supplies from each hut (these are only open over the summer) I also highly recommend doing it in the off-season!

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      

Sturdy hiking shoes with ankle support (particularly if you want to do the sand run). Thermal base layer (woollen or synthetic) Thermal mid layer Fleece or other similar warm jacket Wind-proof jacket (ESSENTIAL) Rain coat (if one of your other jackets isn’t already waterproof). FOOD and lots of it! Especially if you’re not used to burning lots of energy for long periods of time. Most people only brought a handful of muesli bars for breakfast and few snacks, and they really struggled to get going on the Sunday morning. It’s better to take food more food than you think you’ll need. Foods high in protein are the best. On my trip one dinner was provided, but vegetarians beware—the huts don’t have a vegetarian option.

WATER and lots of it! If the huts are open you can buy water but it’ll cost you. Much better to carry a bit more weight and only buy water if you run out. If you stay in a hut with a kersosene heater you will get very dehydrated overnight. You will also be sweating on the way up so overall you’ll need much more water than you would normally drink in two days. (Most people on the tour drank 2-3L each during our 24 hrs on the mountain).

On my trip everyone we met was climbing privately; we were the only organised tour. There are a number of companies offering guided trips, but the company I went with that put on this extra, late tour is called Fuji Mountain Guides. The trip is expensive at ¥53,612 per person (including tax etc), but this includes a guided hike, transfers to and from the mountain to Tokyo, one night’s accommodation and dinner at 7th Station, and entry to the onsen on the way back. All other meals you have to provide yourself, but you can hire any gear you might need from the company at additional cost (check it to make sure it works before setting off though!). If you’re confident

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about the route and able to book your own accommodation then there should be no need for you to join a tour and you can experience Mt Fuji much more cheaply. But if you want a carefree climb where you are shown the way, looked out for, are given information in English, and are dropped off and delivered from Tokyo, then a tour is definitely the way to go. You can check out the Fuji Mountain Guides’ website at fujimmountainguides.com. Finally, while all the tour operators will tell you what to pack, see my essential gear list for my own tips and recommendations.


Hiking poles; they take a bit of getting used to if you’ve never used them before, but once you get the hang of it they become an extension of your arms that help pull or push yourself uphill and brace and balance yourself on the way back down. Your knees will love you for it! Also, it gives your upper body some exercise and will prevent your hands swelling after several hours swinging by your sides.

Phone/camera. I assume you want to have some tangible memories of your trip, or if necessary, prove you actually made it to the top (this will definitely earn you brownie points in the staffroom!).

External battery and cable to charge your phone, etc. While the huts have electricity (solar), the limited supply means we were not allowed to use it to charge our devices. Reception can be patchy depending on your provider, so you may want to switch your phone to airplane mode to conserve battery. Bear in mind also that the cold can drain batteries a lot faster than normal, so keep your phone in a pocket close to your body to keep it warm. And yes, there are poke-stops at several stations along the route, and even the odd gym, so Pokemon-Go players chewing through their battery will need an extra power source—especially if you are also relying on your phone to take all your photos during your trip!

Cash! To buy souvenirs, food, etc. Also, depending on how hut-keepers feel and whether you are staying with them or not, you may get charged 200 yen each time you want to use a toilet. And while we’re on the subject, if you need a toilet on the mountain and none of them are open, and your need is not of the purely fluid kind, be aware that you are expected to pack out what you, um…let out…and are not allowed to bury it (even if you could find somewhere to do this—there’s no soil, just rocks, and the slopes of the mountain are exposed on all sides and almost always in view of long sections of trail and the people walking along it...you have been warned).

A torch—just in case. There is lighting in the huts but if you need to fossick for something in your bag at night, have a hankering to set out before dawn, or get lost and find yourself roaming the mountain after dark…you’ll wish you’d packed a torch.

So much for the essentials for mountain hiking…but don’t forget to pack your own personal items like

underwear, toiletries, and a change of clothes if you plan to freshen up and stay fresh after a trip to the onsen after your climb. You don’t want to get lovely and clean and then shimmy back into your sweaty thermals again…

And that’s it! I hope you have been inspired to experience Mt Fuji for yourself! But if it’s not really your cup of tea and you’re still reading this, I hope you enjoyed a glimpse into the sorts of things crazy outdoorsy people do for fun, and are content with experiencing Mt Fuji from the comfort of your armchair, or train seat, or wherever this article happens to find you. Either way, have fun in Japan everyone! By Jenny Stein 1st Year ALT, Joetsu-shi, Niigata-ken

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Interview with a Former JET: Alicia Chui

Interview by Samantha Wolfe

Life after JET seems faraway to some of us and

closer to others. It’s also frightening and worrisome. But it can also be excitement for a new adventure in our lives. I spoke with Alicia Chui, a former JET and also my predecessor about her new life after JET and her memories of her time in Niigata. So first thing first, tell me about yourself. Such a broad question! Haha.

Lol, it’s just the opener. 36

Photo provided by Alicia Chui I’m Alicia, and I was a prefectural JET in Niigata City. After teaching for a year, I returned home to the States and I am currently working as a software engineer. I love to cook and draw comics!

Ok, can you tell me more about the software company you work for? What do you do there? I work for HubSpot and our product is an inbound marketing and sales platform. I am part of the engineering team for the Business Enablement Team. We create apps for the rest of the company to help employees work more effortlessly and efficiently.


Oh wow! That’s awesome! So besides working, is there anything you do during your free time? Yes! My main hobby right now is drawing for my comic blog, Flounder Days (flounderdays.com). I started this about a year ago and it has been so fun. I post every Monday and Friday, so it keeps me busy. Flounder Days is about my experiences floundering through adult life and it’s a fun way to share my experiences with my friends.

I’ve seen some of your comics and they are really good! Your art is great and it’s super funny! Aww, thank you! :)

I’m going to go back to your time in Japan, what was the best memory you had teaching? My best memories were from what was called “ACR” or “Alicia’s Chat Room”. Twice a week at my base school, I would hold a “Chat Room” for one of the academically-accelerated home rooms. Basically, the students were free to join me after school to talk about any subject we chose. At first, the students were a bit shy and I was the one prompting most of the conversation. By the end of the year though, they were having their own discussions with each other. ACR gave me the unique opportunity to get to know a group of students very well, which can be hard when you’re teaching 10 different classes of 40 students at 3 different schools. Probably one of the funniest memories was when we played Charades using the smartphone app. The category was Disney and the students really went all out in acting. It was great to see them break out of their “student” personality and to see them just having fun!

That would have been fun to see! Besides teaching, what do you miss most about Japan? I miss how easy it was to travel and explore. It

was so easy to just hop on the train and go places. Because the trains are so punctual, I could plan out extensive trips in advance. Now I have a car, which in a way allows for more flexibility, but everything is farther apart and it requires more energy from me to drive to places. Also, in Japan, I didn’t need to travel far to explore. Everything around me seemed novel - seeing the first snow, sitting by the river, even going to the grocery store. Now that I’m more or less back in my hometown, Boston, most things seem more normal to me.

Speaking of going back home, what was it like transitioning from life in Japan to life in America? Easy in some ways, hard in others. It was nice to be back in a place where I could communicate fully with everyone. It was also great to be back with my family and friends. To be honest, I didn’t miss my family that much while I was in Japan; I think my life was too exciting for me to be homesick. However, when I came back home, I remembered hownice it was to have family dinners, or to hang out with my cousins. Probably what was hard about the transition was trying not to think about all the things I missed about Japan. For the first couple months, I was constantly referencing back to my time in Japan: my students, the food, the great transportation system, the politeness of the people, etc. Some things just seemed better in Japan, and I dwelled a lot on those, making me miss Japan even more. Now I’m a bit better about this, and I’ve discovered a lot around the New England area and my hometown to appreciate.

Were there any other struggles you had going back home? Remembering how to do everyday things the American way and breaking habits I picked up from Japan. I remember on my flight back, I was thinking to myself “...how do I order food in a 37


restaurant in the States??” Some habits I pickedup were doing small bows to everyone, and making excessive reactions during conversations (like saying “えぇ~”).

Haha, what about reverse culture shock? Reverse culture shock started as soon as I boarded my flight home. I flew with Delta, so the flight attendants were American and I remember being taken aback by how friendly they were! Then I got to JFK, and then I was shocked again by how rude some of the other airport workers were. It took me a while to remember what the ‘standard’ was back home. I also remember experiencing reverse culture shock because of the amount of diversity. In Japan, there were only so many gaijin and even I would ogle at them. Then I went back home and I was surrounded by gaijin! Again, it took sometime for me to go from thinking of them as gaijin to just other people on the street. I probably have many more examples, but here are a couple more things I remember noticing: - How many American flags there were everywhere- houses, cars, city buildings. - All the medical commercials on TV. Wouldn’t your doctor know best what drug to give you?

kept talking about Japan all the time helped a lot. They were genuinely interested in my experiences in Japan, so they gave me many opportunities to talk about it. It was still hard for them to relate to me since they hadn’t gone through something similar themselves, so that’s when I found talking to other JETs who had already left Japan to be helpful. Aside from my friends, viewing reverse culture shock as another adventure and learning experience helped to make the transition a more positive experience.

I like that philosophy, everything is an adventure! I remembered that you told me that you liked to travel when you were in Japan, what was your favorite place? I really liked Aomori prefecture. I went during Golden Week and it was perfect. Weather was great and everywhere was lush with green (Aomori lived up to its name!). There was one place called Oirase Gorge that I really liked. We walked on a nature path along the gorge and it was so beautiful and serene. The path eventually leads to Lake Towada, which is equally stunning. Also, I really liked Haguro mountain in Yamagata. The first part of the hike is a hike down into the forest and you get completely surrounded by the trees. It’s a nice place for a day trip from Niigata!

- Having to be careful about safety. In Niigata, I could wander the streets late at night or leave my bike unlocked in a parking lot and it was fine. Here, I am more wary wandering around by myself at night, and I always have to double check that my belongings are secure.

Haha, yeah Niigata is really safe, I do the same thing, I sometimes go out at night to the grocery store or the movies. What helped you cope with the transition and reverse culture shock? Having friends who understood that I was still transitioning back and didn’t get annoyed when I 38

Alicia in Aomori Prefecture. Photo provided by Alicia Chui.


Haha I’ll try it, I still need to explore Niigata. So, what advice would you give exiting JETs? - Soak as much of it in before you leave. - Have faith that something in your next adventure(s) will justify your decision to leave Japan. - Keep in touch with the people you met in Japan. What about current and new JETs, what advice can you give them?

Alicia Chui

1) Don’t be afraid of being you. I think I worried a lot about what the students and teachersthought of me, so I was more reserved than I should have been. If you open up yourself to them, they will do the same to you. 2) Make lessons relatable. Disney and celebrities work wonders. 3) Think about what your priorities are during your time in Japan. Do you want to travel? Do you want to learn the language? When you’ve thought about that, then you can focus your time and energy towards those goals. There will be a lot of excitement in your time in Japan and not enough time to do everything, so you’ll have to decide how you use your time. OK, last question I promise! Do you have any plans to come back and visit Japan? Yes! I want to come back in February/March to attend my base school’s graduation. I want to see my students again before they all disperse for university. They will love that! I hope to see you too! Thank you so much for letting me take some of your time! You’re welcome! Do you have a parting comment? Stay curious! View the world like a newborn baby- like you’re seeing everything for the first time :) 39


Pigs and 40s Glam A Restaurant Review

Review and photos by Pamela Mendoza There are many an izakaya (Japanese pub)

in Niigata, quite a few here in the JoetsuMyoko area, but none have caught my eye quite like Dining Bar Ajito. It was introduced to me by a JTE during my second year on JET. It’s located in Myoko just a brisk walk away from Arai Station. Compared to the other places I had seen before; I was surprised to say the least. For me, the izakaya experience was, until then, pretty standard - loud and cramped with an overabundance of tatami rooms. Sure, there are places out there that go for the international “bar” aesthetic, but Ajito is really in a category all on its own. The name itself roughly translates to “flavor people.” It means the people who run the establishment know what they are doing in terms of food and drink, so fear not. They have you covered. Owned and operated by two brothers, Sa40

toko and Makoto, Ajito is an izakaya that loves to have fun and help people wind down with great food, drinks, and a cool atmosphere. Even before going in, you know there’s something special about this place. The restaurant’s sign is an illustration of a grotesque pig-man dressed in a double button blue suit yelling into open space, “Come on! Drinker’s Sanctuary!” with a bottle of Jim Beam bourbon gripped firmly in its hand. He greets every passerby and customer from its place on the wall. He seems to be yelling at those who have yet to discover the awesome-ness that is Ajito. This sign alone is enough to guess that this izakaya is not for the meek at heart, though they welcome all who come. But, for some amazing reason, there’s a steel decoration


wall that looks like it’d been taken from the set of a post-apocalyptic movie. It faces the adjacent street and is proudly marked with the Ajito label. In complete contrast to these two images is a simple slab of wood with the phrase “やってます” or “we’re working” written vertically sitting peacefully next to the door, letting patrons know that the res taurant is open and welcomes them to join in on a night of good fun. Inside, the low lighting, concrete stools, and wooden tables give off a grunge-chic vibe, but scattered about the walls and across the bar is 1940s paraphernalia as well as a comical amount of pig figurines. The background music is a strangely blissful melody of disco and 80s rock and pop hits. The bartender, Makoto, is a middle aged man that somehow still manages to look cool. He takes care of the bar almost entirely by himself - cocktails, beers, wines, sake, sodas. If you order a drink, the majority of the time, it is this man who has prepared it for you. He studied bartending in Tokyo before returning to Niigata to work with his brother, the owner of Ajito. He likes making the drinks strong, so I strongly ask that you pace yourself and be careful. On the other hand, if the night is slow and you’re feeling brave, you can ask for special drinks off menu. That’s not to say that the drink menu is lacking. Quite the contrary. They have two separate menus, one for drinks and another for food. The drink menu is a good five pages long and is carefully categorized by the types of liquor - rum, tequila, vodka, sake, and many others. My top two favorite drinks have to be their Long Island Iced Tea and Tequila Sunrise. The Long Island Iced Tea is a beautiful blend of flavors without the abrupt sting of liquor. It’s a modest drink that knows how to have a good time. The Tequila Sunrise is not only nice to look at; it is a real pleasure to drink. Instead of using the orange juice and grenadine to mask the flavor of the tequila, this Sunrise uses the bitterness in the tequila to its advantage creating a truly unique experience. Makoto

also makes a killer XYZ and his version of Sex On the Beach is fruit-ily delicious.

Of course, no izakaya would be complete without its food menu, and Mokoto’s elder brother, Satoko, worked hard to build an interesting yet familiar menu. As the owner and chef, he takes pride in the variety of food he delivers. There’s the usual items like kara-age and Caesar salad, but each item has a special Ajito twist that makes them truly unique and delectable. However, it’s the items that you don’t find on an everyday izakaya menu that really hits the spot. It’s things like crazy chicken salad and tarako-mochi cheese bake, that get me excited to eat here. Potato chips, yes, potato chips that he makes in the kitchen and brings to you piping hot and delicious, You’ve never really had potato chips until you’ve had these chips. He also has an interesting take on pizza that differs from most pizzas you see in Japan. No mayonnaise or corn! However, I must admit that my favorite item would have to be the te41


basaki (Japanese style bbq wings). They’re crispy yet juicy. The seasoning he uses takes the flavor of the chicken to a whole new level with a light hint of soy sauce and the crunchy sesame seeds that gently coat the skin. He is also a master of pickled vegetables. I am not usually one to eat pickled anything, but I will eat the vegetables from Ajito any day. Most of the items on the menu, especially the salads, are made for two to three people. Although half sizes are available for salads, you’ll find it a bit trying to order a salad for one. Nevertheless, the atmosphere and people are always a joy to be around.

There are some things about Ajito that although are not complete turn offs, can be a bit cumbersome to new comers. For instance, I’d have to say the biggest con against them would have to be the number of staff. I have never seen more than four people working at any given time, including the brothers, working the hall. Satoko is for the most part stuck in the kitchen mak42

ing and preparing dishes while Makoto is either at the bar mixing drinks or walking about the floor taking orders and serving food. They have one permanent employee who helps in the kitchen and with serving. If you’re are lucky, you’ll come on a night when they have a part-time waiter or waitress who exclusively gets orders, serves food and prepares easy drinks like draft and bottled beer, sake, and wine. Otherwise, on an extremely busy night, expect to wait anywhere from thirty to fourth-five minutes for food and five to ten minutes for drinks. On nights like these, I usually order two easy-to-prepare cocktails and enjoy those until the rush dies down. The peak is usually around six p.m. just after everyone gets off of work, so going early or just after seven are best to avoid a crowd. Another fallback is that the food menu is written entirely in Japanese with no pictures. Of course a Japanese menu is to be expected in Japan, but with the increase in restaurants having English menus available, I feel it’s something that could easily be addressed. The drink menu is mostly comprised of katakana, with some English sprinkled in, so it’s easy enough to figure out with just a basic understanding of katakana. The staff speak no English, well, no conversational English. They are currently working on their curse word vocabulary. Alas, if you want to communicate, you’ll have to use Japanese, but I like to think of it as an opportunity to practice. Aside from that, the food and drinks are divine. The izakaya itself is clean and ready to amaze you. So, if you find yourself in the Joetsu-Myoko area, please take time to come to Arai and visit Dining Bar Ajito. I know they’d be thrilled to have you. Location: 〒944-0043 Niigata Prefecture, Myoko, Asahimachi1Chome7−28 About a 5-minute walk from Arai Station. Phone (Japanese Only): 0255 - 72 - 7272 Hours: 6:00pm to midnight Holidays: every Tuesday


Follow this road from Arai Station and you’ll arrive at Dining Bar Ajito in minutes


Cry and Laugh with Isao Takahata

A review of The Tale of Princess Kaguya and My Neighbors the Yamadas Photo Credit to www.denofgeek.com

by Melusine Perrier

Ever wished that you knew Japanese folk tales better? Ever wanted to have an insight of daily family life? Ever looked for some Japanese movies to watch at home? Well don’t worry because Isao Takahata’s got your back. For this first movie review, I’ve decided to write about two of my favorite movies which also happen to be rich in Japanese culture (we wonder why I love them so much…). The first movie is the tear-jerking Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) and the second is the hilarious My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999). Those two movies are very different and yet, I’ve decided to talk about them both because they share a few things: they’re both Japanese animes produced by the Studio Ghibli and directed by Isao Takahata and both of their aesthetic differs from the usual big eyes manga style. I will first introduce the director and then we’ll talk about those two movies. Isao Takahata was born in 1935 in Japan and has logically lived through the war, its end and the American occupation of Japan. He’s directed 10 movies since 1968 with the most famous one being The Grave of the Fireflies (1988), a movie famous for giving a boost to the tissue industry. Now if you’ve seen The Grave of the Fireflies, I know what you’re thinking: “Mei, it’s hard enough to live away from home, I don’t need to add awfully depressing movies to my bucket list, I’m trying to avoid suicide.” Don’t fear my friends, the movies I’m introducing today are not as demoralizing, but they are both masterpieces on a level comparable to The Grave of the Fireflies. There is the same deep character building, the same attention to small details, the same art of storytelling in these two movies. Isao Takahata loves human beings, and he knows us very well. His movie aren’t about adventures or crazy happenings, they’re about self-development and relationships, especially family relations. But let’s see how you can find those again in the two movies. 44


The Princess Who’d Rather be in the Fields The Tale of Princess Kaguya was released the same year as Hayao Miyazaki’s last (or so he said) movie The Wind is Rising, but unfortunately, most people only saw the latter. Takahata didn’t do any movies between My Neighbors the Yamadas and The Tale of Princess Kaguya. We had to wait 14 years for Isao Takahata to release a new movie, but God, it was worth it. The movie is based on the eponymous traditional tale, and follows it pretty much exactly: An old man without children finds in a baby girl in a bamboo forest. She grows very fast to become a beautiful young woman and her adoptive parents decide that such a beauty must be a princess, the Princess Kaguya. They take her to the capital (Kyoto at that time) and decide to give her a proper education after she’s learned the ways of the countryside. (And you can have a good inside look at the traditional education for noble young ladies back in the time. I’m telling you, you can learn a lot!) But once she’s ready to get married, she clearly shows little interest in the matter, still longing for the countryside and her friends she had to leave. She tries to delay her wedding by outsmarting her suitors (Yay women power!), and slowly loses her desire to live. I’ll be quiet on the final twist so that you can be surprised (even though, any Japanese person knows the end of the story), I’ll just say this: there is no Happy Ending!

The interest of this movie however, isn’t that old tale. It’s the way Takahata makes you go through all of Kaguya’s emotions and inner contradictions. She wants to show respect to her parents and to make them happy by obeying and yet, because of that, she just ends up being miserable. The happy memories of her childhood can’t make up for her tough adult life, making her, on the contrary, even sadder because she can’t help longing for them. And while we’re not all princesses condemned to marry some vain prince, we are all at some point in our life torn between the wish to satisfy our parents, our family, the people we love, and the will to live our own life the way we want to. And if we wait too long to satisfy 45


our own desires, somehow, all possibilities vanish between our hands. Kaguya is each one of us, and even though when reading the tale you might just think it’s a story about a moon princess and how poor old parents manage somehow to have kids (Momotaro was out of a Peach, Kaguya out of a bamboo, I say Japanese people knew about egg freezing way before us), you discover a totally different aspect of the story watching the movie. From the old Japanese tale, Takahata makes an universal story that can touch any person from any culture. The movie is a tad long (2h 17m) and will make you cry, but it’s definitely worth the tears and the time. The art (inspired by traditional painting) is beautiful and the music, by Joe Hisaishi, is great (sometimes very close to Spirited Away’s).

Tale of a Modern Japanese Family

To recover from Princess Kaguya and all the deep questioning it might cause in yourself, you may have a good need for My Neighbors the Yamadas. This animated movie is based on comics published in the Asahi Newspaper (Nono-chan, originally Tonari no Yamada-kun or My Neighbor the Yamadas in English), and respects the comic strip aesthetic (I told you both movies had unusual aesthetics). It tells us the story of a typical modern Japanese family composed with the father, the mother and her mother (the grandmother), the son, the daughter and their dog. And it goes into their daily life to show us all their little disagreements, their flaws, and their efforts to be a good family. The movie is split into small chapters (that bring back the comic strip idea) and could almost be separated into many small episodes. There isn’t a steady storyline even though some themes, like the relationship between the parents or the educational issue they have with their kids, come back many times during the movie. Takahata knows the heart of Japanese people so well, you can’t watch this movie without going “oh, yep, I’ve totally witnessed that” at least 10 times. And what I love with this movie is that once you’ve lived in Japan and you’ve got to know the Japanese culture and language better, you’ll understand new jokes and new references each time you watch the movie (this movie is like a giant private joke). I love to watch it with Japanese friends and to get them to explain to me some jokes I couldn’t get before.

46


However, a lot of the humor in that movie isn’t peculiar to Japanese people, there are a lot of things that concerns us all. Our small imperfections, our weird habits, and whatever makes us ourselves (which is why this movie was also released in Europe and North America). But if you miss all the Japanese inside jokes, the movie can feel a bit long. So if you’ve seen it before coming to Japan and thought it wasn’t for you, you should give it a second chance!! You’ll also notice that this movie isn’t well known. Most Japanese people have never seen it, and you should totally share the love and watch it with them! The reason of its lack of success is probably the disjointed aspect of it, making it hard to explain to someone what that movie is actually about. It also gives the feeling that the movie is much longer than it actually is (1h 47m). You watch it like you read a book of short stories. You might not love all the stories but I can guarantee that some will stay with you for a long time! On top of that, it gives you some keys to better understand the daily life of the people we work with, and live with! A must see for anyone who lives in Japan! To conclude, I can only encourage you to watch those two movies, which will move you and touch you in various ways. They are two movies that can be watched more than once and always gain in depth, and that you can find at your local Japanese DVD rental place (with English subtitles). What more do you need???? (And if you watch The Tale of Princess Kaguya first, you’ll get that reference in My Neighbors the Yamadas !) Enjoy!


Item #: Pending Object Class: Safe Thaumiel Special Containment Procedures: A digital copy of this object, hereafter referred to as SCP: Containment Breach is to be readied for digital distribution, free of charge, at the website www.scpcbgame.com. Logs of anomalous activity are to be recorded. Note that the game is self-correcting and evolving with a series of “updates” codified with version numbers. Current version as of this revision is 1.3.1. Use for training purposes is permissible. SCP: Containment Breach is regarded as a game for entertainment value by the majority of the population, and all efforts should be maintained to perpetuate this view. Description:

By Sean Callahan

Game Review: SCP Containment Breach

SCP: Containment Breach is a free to play computer game for Windows PCs. It details the exploits of D-9341 in an experiment with SCP-173. On ██/██/████, SCP-173 escapes containment. D-9341 must then escape from SCP-173 while avoiding other anomalous objects and entities. No record of this containment breach exist. Those who play the game often experience heightened heartrate, accelerated breathing, contraction of peripheral blood vessels, and [REDACTED]. Various reviews and summaries of the game can be found on the internet. One review of note was written by [DATA EXPUNGED][1] for the publication ███████ █████ magazine, a publication for English speakers in ███████, Japan. The review can be found in Addendum A-1 Addendum A-1: RESTRICTED TO O-5: Seeing as it is Fall, the season of Halloween, I thought I’d do a review of a free horror game that’s near and dear to my heart. SCP: Containment Breach is a game about the SCP universe. The setting takes place where paranormal artifacts, phenomena, and creatures are found throughout the world. The Foundation is an organization which finds such objects and places them in containment using Special Containment Procedures. Their unofficial motto is Secure, Contain, Protect. The universe can be thought of as a bit like the warehouses found at the end of Last Crusade or Warehouse 13 as told by internet horror writers. It’s collected on the SCP-Wiki as a series of containment procedures and descriptions.


The horror elements come from a combination of what they have and what they don’t describe. There is a virus that slowly and painfully turns anyone infected into clockwork, a slew of things that make you unable to remember them, a few things that make you paranoid around cups, spider webs, and insects, and even a homicidal statue that can move incredibly fast, but can’t when directly observed. The latter was written before the Silent Angels. Some folk think Moffat might be a fan... That statue, SCP-173 is where this game starts, actually. You take on the role of D-9341, one of the D-class used for experimentation where humans are needed, usually convicted felons on death row…so hey, dramatic anti-hero… You’re doing well until things go nuts and SCP-173 breaks containment, killing everything along the way. You need to escape, running from a terrifying and implacable foe while also trying to avoid getting killed by the other SCPs on the site. The paranoia the game installs is actually quite impressive. It is, after all, a setting where seemingly ordinary objects can kill you, break your mind, or steal your soul. Further, 173 is constantly chasing you, adding a sense of urgency. When you do manage to escape, you know it’s only temporary, and as the door closes behind you, you can never be quite sure if what is ahead isn’t somehow worse. Mechanically, the game takes a lot of its cues from survival horror like Silent Hill and Resident Evil. You’re not some immortal, unstoppable superman. In fact, you don’t even get weapons. Instead, your valuable inventory space (10 spaces to hold your items!) is taken up by things like key cards and eye drops. The latter is oddly valuable in this game as a fairly unique mechanic: blinking. You have a blink gauge which slowly depletes as you move around. If it ever hits zero, you blink automatically. This might not seem bad, but keep in mind that when SCP-173 crops up, a blink allows it to move ridiculously fast and close the distance between you. Eye drops let you keep your eyes open a bit longer, which helps a great deal. However, the Foundation also sometimes pumps a gas into the rooms to help contain 173. Said gas is an irritant which causes your blink gauge to deplete faster. You can find a gas mask that offsets that, so finding one is usually a high priority. It can also come in handy when you’re dealing with some of the other SCPs. The music is subtle and...evil. I mean this in the nicest possible way. The score hits just the right notes to set you on edge. It’s got a few sharp chords to make you jump, but the loading screen sets the best tone: it just kinda…sits there. It’s got an industrial feel to it, but doesn’t dominate the experience, just complements it. The voice acting is serviceable. The actors do a great job for an independent game, and some of the banter and dialogue is quite enjoyable.


So now to a couple of flaws with the game. First off, it’s an independently developed game, so the graphics as they stand are lower quality. They’re actually quite impressive in terms of modeling, but the engine the game uses is a bit long in the tooth. The human models leave a lot to be desired, though, particularly the soldier models. I tried really, really hard not to laugh when I first saw them. The voice acting is surprisingly good, but is far from professional grade. Jump scares are a thing, and while I really loath them, some of them, particularly encounters with 173, tend to be quite well earned. One last thing would be to keep in mind: this is a fan game, made for and by fans. Knowing in advance the things you might be going against will be a huge advantage and not knowing…might get you killed a few times. Of course, I play the Souls series, so that’s part of the fun for me! Even with that, it’s a good survival horror game and, if you enjoy it, there’s plenty of creepy tales and stories to be found on the SCP Wiki proper. If you want to have a spooky night, give it a look! Just… avoid SCP-1875…that thing still scares the living daylights out of me. END OF DOCUMENT Many such reviews can be found on the internet. title can lead to additional reviews.

Searching for the game


Addendum A-2: Researchers have suggested reclassifying the object to Thaumiel. While the game itself is not a perfect depiction of anomalous objects, it could be useful for training purposes. RECLASSIFICATION APPROVED by O5 Council Footnotes: 1: Investigation into [DATA EXPUNGED] identity has shown that no such individual exists on official records. While the publication and organization are shown to exist, the individual in question is only known to individuals who have been in the prefecture for the last â–ˆ years. Further investigation pending.


The Real Sea Witch Story by Pamela Mendoza

You know how the one who comes out on top can twist the narrative in their favor? Little Ariel did that. She made the world believe that she was the innocent in her grand fairy tale. She had us all fooled, really. Her father, her sisters, and me, her Aunt Ursula. That’s what always happens, and Ariel played us all for fools. But, I am here to set the record straight and give this lowly villain her side of the story. It doesn’t matter much whether you believe my story. It only matters that it’s been told, because I’ve kept silent for far too long and let the words of the real monster go too far. Ariel was a handful as a child. The tiny little girl with eyes and hair blacker than squid’s ink had a temperament that rivaled that of her father on a bad day. Tantrums over anything - food not to her liking, jewels that didn’t fit right, asking for the latest toys yet throwing them away, or teachers not listening to her every whim. It all stemmed from the sadness she felt at being separated from her sisters. She lived with them, ate with them, but couldn’t study with them. Their age difference was one factor, but what Ariel really wanted was to join in their magic studies. She was jealous of her powerful, talented, and well-practiced witch sisters. The eldest, Auburn, who at the time was twenty-one, had a knack for controlling the waves like her father and was training to be the next queen. As such, she studied with me and her father exclusively. The twins, Anne and Anja, were master healers and at only nineteen years old were the best doctors in the seven seas. The triplets Amrita, Aria, and Arietta, who were actually born a year apart but referred to as such because they were always together, performed for the masses and used their skills to create magnificent spectacles for the kingdom. Little Ariel, however, was born without even a smidgen of magic, so she shouted and cried and wailed. I lost count of how many times I told her I could neither make her magical nor change who she was. Reason fell on deaf ears, because in a world full of magic, anything seems possible. She only ever found solace in her sisters’ tales of the surface world, because at sixteen (and every birthday after it) royals were allowed to surface and gaze upon the world of humans as a means to understand those with whom we must interact and respect on a regular basis. With six sisters to give her stories, Ariel would lie still at their fins listening intently of the people and places from near and far, all as different as the shapes of coral in a reef. How could we have known that in her desperation to be unique, Ariel had concocted a plan much darker and crueler than anything I could have imagined?


Ariel’s first visit to the surface world went on without a hitch, and upon her return I saw, what surface people refer to as “a fire” in her eyes. We were all ecstatic over her transformation. She was excited and exclaimed over the wonders of man. She told of a celebration boat, people dancing, and sounds like nothing she’d ever heard before. There were sparks and bright lights shot into the sky that exploded into a thousand stars made of colors she’d never thought possible. Triton was elated, her sisters relieved, and I was happy for little Ariel. She finally found something that was truly hers to enjoy. From then on, she began collecting items from the human world. After classes, she would hungrily grab an empty purse and swim off with her fish friends, in search of sunken ships. We all knew of her self-proclaimed secret cave and its location. She is a princess of the high seas; she never went anywhere alone. She’d bragged about it to her sisters, they’d all giggle in support of their naive baby sister, but all in good fun. Her collection included spy glasses large and small, hundreds of pages of blotted out notes, paintings, cutlery, books, and pictures. Months went by like this, Ariel collecting, sisters learning, and Triton and I doing our best to keep the kingdom in order. However, the time had come for my ambassadorial visit to the surface. As the ambassador for the kingdom of the ocean, it was part of my duties to parley with the closest neighboring kingdom. However, what I wasn’t supposed to do, was fall in love. And fall madly in love, I did. Honestly, it happened so suddenly that to this day I’m not sure who approached the other first. Just like every other visit, I went to the shore and transformed into my human self. I mostly go unchanged. My figure remained slender but with slightly larger hips, my hair became long locks of pristine white hair and deep golden speckled turquoise eyes. As usual, I made my way to the palace noting how much everything had changed. My visits were scarce, a mere once every fifty years, so it is natural that many things change. And this time, I was greeted by Prince Eric. Young, handsome, but more than anything, respectful and smart. He’d studied in the naval academy, was a strong and able fencer, could ride a horse as well as he could swim, which was excellent. Our conversation that evening went on for hours, and before either of us noticed, the sun had already begun to set. From then on, I knew my next visit couldn’t wait another fifty years. I went to see him every day. There were also many times when he would swim down to an underwater cave that had a small patch of beach to meet me. He never cared that I was half octopus or that I was nearly two hundred years old. To him, I was perfect, and he was my everything. A wonderful year had passed between us, and he proposed on the anniversary of our meeting. Life was beautiful. On the very eve I had planned on telling Triton about the human life I wanted with Eric, Ariel let loose her most devious plot. Triton had been suspicious of my actions as of late, but was too busy with the kingdom to


worry over it. The girls could all tell I was happier, and the triplets on a few occasions had helped me sneak away. All in all, especially with my engagement, it was time to break the news. Triton and I were in the throne room when Auburn and the twins swam in screaming, while the triplets lugged an unconscious Ariel in their arms. Auburn had caught her messing about my potion room looking for something to make her human. Right before her sister’s eyes, Ariel dunked her head into the whirling cauldron and drank in whatever nonsense she had created. Anne and Anja’s healing powers were useless against the concoction and Ariel was changing fast. Her black hair was losing its color leaving a wickedly sinister red in its place, and her eyes were bleaching into a ghostly blue. Quickly, I told the twins exactly what I needed and got to work. The entire episode was sadistic and cruel. Although I saved her, she was forever changed, and clever little Ariel played it off as if it were my fault. Why was it that Aunt Ursula could be human whenever she wanted, but the daughter who really loved humans was stuck under the waves? She also revealed that I had been visiting the surface nearlyevery day since my last visit, thereby neglecting my duties towards the ocean kingdom. Triton gave into his rage and banned me from returning to the surface world, and sent all of his daughters away for the night. No one could change Triton’s mind once it has been made. Pleading for true love or personal wants never made a dent in him. He always cared for the kingdom first, and my inability to balance my emotions and responsibilities was my true downfall. So, I was left to spend my days away from my love with no warning, and no way to calm my brother. All the while Ariel’s accident had somehow gifted her with the magic she’d always wanted. In no time at all, she’d mastered many skills and had become especially profound in the art of curses. Ariel skillfully used her growing power to her advantage. She opened a side business that catered to the weak of heart and small of pocket. She would grant wishes in exchange for payment in secrets: cure a mother in exchange for information or kill an opponent for incriminating words against the aunt she would eventually use to grant her own wish. Because for all her power, Ariel couldn’t make herself human. Soon enough, she had discovered my secret from a palace guard. The man had seen Eric and I together in our special cave and knew immediately that we were lovers. This was her weapon, her poison arrow, to use against me and make me do whatever she wanted. Because to control anyone, you need only find the thing they love and threaten to squeeze the life out of it. Ariel was surprisingly adept in this field. One evening, Ariel came to me, a weeping mess. She could no longer stay under the sea, she pleaded. She wanted the freedom to roam the earth and live amongst the people with which she felt so connected. I didn’t believe her. There was a part of me that told me not to believe her, and I toldher so. There and then she revealed her power to me. Awesome and fright-


ful all at once, I feared for my brother, my nieces, the kingdom, but most of all the humans if she was let loose as she was. Still I refused, but she came prepared with the evidence of my lover. We both knew Triton wouldn’t let me have a human for a husband. I love my brother, but he is a man of tradition. Tradition stated that humans and mer-people are never to mix. Let alone marry. Ariel, knowing this, threatened to kill Prince Eric unless I turned her human, permanently. I took that as my chance to make things right. I agreed to make a potion that would make her human for three days. If she could find someone to marry her before the last sunset, she could stay as a human. If not, she would be cursed to live as a mermaid, stripped of her magic, and be my slave until the day she dies. Ariel agreed, perhaps because she knew she’d win. The potion was made, the contract signed, and the price for such magic was her voice. The price was my last trump card against her. Without words or magic, she would be forced to be her true self in front of man. It wasn’t ideal, but it was the best I could do. I sealed her in a bubble, infused it with magic and filled it with the mist from the potion. Ariel’s fin split in two and the beautiful emerald colored appendage changed to human skin covered legs. She floated to the surface and was pushed to sea by some nearby dolphins. Some nearby fisherman rescued her from the water and took her into town. Once she was out of sight, I immediately transformed and ran to the castle. Short of breath, I practically collapsed in Eric’s arms, and cried tears of happiness and fear. I wept in his arms while trying to explain what had transpired just a few moments ago. He was strong and brave while I feebly held onto his warm and comforting frame. There were many questions, and I did my best to answer them. The main thing we both understood was that we needed to save our kingdoms from her. We agreed to meet the next day with clear heads and calm hearts to face the enemy square on. Had I known she could use magic without her voice, I would never have left the castle. Eric was a sitting duck prepped for the final shot. Ariel commanded the fisherman to care, cloth and feed her. The next morning, she had them to take her to castle where she wasted little time meddling about. She had servants lead her directly to his room where she bewitched him to marry her. When I arrived that afternoon, I knew immediately that something was wrong. Eric wouldn’t look me in the eye and was strangely aloof. My words fell on deaf ears and no matter what I did, he never moved from his blank state. As I saw Ariel gracefully glide down the staircase, I felt my heart sink to my stomach. With an unabashed glow of confidence, she linked her arm with Eric’s and leaned her head on his shoulder, her ginger hair cascading down his chest. It was like being stabbed a thousand times over. She’d taken my only happiness in one deadly swoop and I was powerless. As I turned to run away, Ariel simply smiled deviously at her defeated opponent.


Brownie Recipe By Mark Ruiz One thing I missed after living in Japan for a while was the richness of flavor in my desserts. Don’t get me wrong, Japanese sweets are amazing with the use of subtle flavors and their ability to pair with a multitude of teas, but sometimes I want something with a POW! This leads us to one of my favorite recipes. Brownies! Ingredients 220g Brown Sugar or 200g of White Sugar 2 Eggs 1 tsp. (5 mL) Vanilla Extract 100 mL Oil (Canola or Coconut work great!) 64g Flour 40g Cocoa Powder A Pinch of Salt *Feel free to add any other extra ingredients such as chocolate chips, nuts, etc. Directions 1. Start by cracking the eggs and beating them well. You want a more liquid texture. Add the Sugar and Vanilla Extract afterwards. 2.

The Oil is added next but keep in mind that the amount used if up to you. I’ve used the full 100 to nothing at all and the brownies were fine. The brownies will have a much squishier texture with the oil.

3.

In a separate bowl, combine the Flour, Cocoa Powder, and the Salt. Mix into the liquids bowl afterwards.

4.

Set your oven to 175° C and let it warm up before placing the brownies tray into it.

5.

As the oven is heating up, transfer the brownie mix into a baking pan after you have thoroughly mixed everything.

6.

Set the timer for 45 minutes, although it may require less time if you used less oil.

7.

Afterwards, let them cool off for a bit and enjoy.

One of the best things about Brownies is the ease of finding ingredients. Instead of finding overpriced pre made bags from an import store, you can hop down to your local supermarket and find everything you need there. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Make sure to share with all your neighbors!


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