Unfortunately, I didn't start any blogs in the middle of December and save it for later like I did the November ones. Except for this one, on December 31st, minutes before the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011. So I'll use this space here to summarize my December activities.
December is a wonderful month; my favorite month of the year. In December are my favorite holiday, long breaks from school or work, a festive atmosphere, shopping sales at nearly every store, opportunities to spend time with friends and family, and my birthday. There are many reasons to love December. But also many reasons to dislike it: it's probably the most expensive month, it has the shortest day of the year (Winter Solstice), and it's when the cold really starts kicking in. But I like to think the good outweighs the bad, so I still like it. Maybe that's the optimist in me speaking.
Anyway, the month was really fun! For my birthday, some of my coworkers and I went out to Sendai to a really nice restaurant. We ate amazingly delicious food, and they surprised me with a cake! Everyone in the restaurant clapped for me; it was so nice. ^_^ I was surprised to see American-style sushi rolls there, as well. You know, the kind that has the rice outside the seaweed wrapper rather than inside. Because the rice is outside, the roll is usually larger, so you can fit more ingredients in it. Traditional Japanese sushi rolls usually only have one ingredient. The following week, another friend took me out to Sendai (near the nice restaurant) to a cozy American-style diner/deli. The specialty? Burgers. I happily feasted on a large burger and onion rings. And a milk shake. Rock on.
While in Sendai, I saw "光のページェント", or "Pageant of Light." A street in Sendai gets all of its trees completely lit up with white Christmas lights. Looks beautiful! I'll post a picture in an update.
The first snowfall occurred! Not too different from the US. But the scenery is different. Again, pictures later.
A friend and I stuffed ourselves at a kaitenzushi place. 13 plates each! That's 27 pieces (one tray had 3 rather than 2), and a bowl of soup! Insanity.
A co-worker invited me to his house to have lunch. I happily accepted of course! He is the youngest employee at the Junior High. The funny thing is that he had actually invited me over in November, but he never set a date, so I just let it slide until he brought it up again. Sometime earlier in December, he mentioned that his sister kept asking when I was going to come over; I had forgotten that one of my students was his sister. O.o Anyway, when I finally came over, his mother had prepared a wonderful lunch, with which I stuffed myself silly. We played some Mario on their Wii, then went outside to play catch. It had been years since I had last thrown a ball, but despite my lack of practice, it was still really fun. His sister had a wicked throw. (She's on the baseball team!) His other sister couldn't catch (or throw) very well, but it was still fun. Their family gave me quite a bit of food to take home; yummy, delicious, homemade Japanese food. I am drooling just thinking about it.
So in December, because it is the end of the year, there are many "End of the Year Parties," known as 忘年会 「ぼうねんかい」 "bounenkai." Literally, it means "forget year meeting." So I guess you're supposed to party all night and drink until you forget all the bad things that happened that year? Or maybe it's a party so you don't forget? Anyway, every school and every organization and every company seems to hold one. Being involved with so many groups here, I was of course invited to a bunch, but unfortunately due to lack of funds, I could only attend...four, or so.
The first was a very small, private party, with the same people who threw me a birthday party, plus one more person. It was mad fun, and we held it at a restaurant in Sendai that Shoe and I have grown to love (and frequent recently). The next one was held by an international organization in a neighboring town, where I met new friends and ate yummy home-made food. There was so much there that I took food home to last me a couple days!
The biggest 忘年会 that I went to was held by the junior high school. We went to Naruko Onsen, which is a city in the north famous for its hot springs! Naturally, we stayed overnight to eat, drink, and bath in the hot springs. And let me tell you, that water is damn hot. For some reason, even though I was born in the tropics, my body has a tendency to be able to handle colder temperatures much better than hotter temperatures. In any case, I still took a dip, in both the inside bath and the outside bath. The outside bath was amaaaaaaaaazing. Unfortunately, it was so windy, that the steam that rose from the hot bath was quickly blown away. But for the moments that it lingered, it had a wonderful atmosphere. Minus the sulfuric smell of the natural hot spring. And the naked old men.
After the 忘年会 were all over, my vacation started! Winter break was a BLAST. My girlfriend came up from Kyoto to visit me, and seeing her always makes me happy. We did some shopping in Sendai, where she got a vest, and where I had purchased a vest just a couple weeks earlier. We also checked out Sendai's 光のページェント, this time, walking down the entire street rather than driving through it.
Christmas was a good time. My girlfriend got me a much-needed soft, beautiful scarf, and I got her many socks and stockings. And an iPod case. And Utada Hikaru's new album. And a cute leather papillon keychain. And something else, I think, but I can't recall it at the moment. Oh, right, a Christmas Cake for us to share. This brings me to a side note.
For some reason, Christmas is really improperly/incorrectly represented in Japan; it's extremely misunderstood. I thought it was bad enough in the US, but I've grown to accept its commercialization, mainly because I enjoy the atmosphere, the "Santa side," and because I'm not religious. But Japan. Oh, Japan. According to my friend Ken, Christmas in Japan is about love. But not the way it is in the US, where it's about the love shared between families and friends; no, here in Japan, it's about the love between couples, not unlike Valentine's Day. And on Christmas in Japan, the dinner usually includes a big chicken dinner from KFC (lol) and a Christmas Cake. Now conveniently, this way of celebration worked out for my girlfriend and me, where none of our family members are in Japan, so it was best to spend it with one another. But rather than grab KFC, my girlfriend wanted to cook dinner for me.
And boy did she prepare a feast! It included home-made karaage chicken, her specialty home-made macaroni and cheese, and fresh broccoli and asparagus. My contribution was a tray of appetizers, the cake, and a bottle of chardonnay. I have to emphasize "home-made" with my girlfriend's dishes, because it was a much larger endeavor than the easy Kraft Mac 'n Cheese or preparing fried chicken.
Later that evening, we watched Elf. Good times. Later than week, we watched that wretched Tekken movie. And I thought Dragonball: Evolution was bad. Well, okay, both movies are just as bad as the other. Any of the Street Fighter movies can be thrown in with that pile of worthless crap. So, to get enjoyment from the movie? My girlfriend and I turned it into a drinking game: take a drink whenever something non-canonical or nonsensical comes up. I was actually starting to run out of drink, so we had to slow it down (haha).
My friend Nana-chan came to visit before the end of the year. So the three of us had lots of fun, spending time with my friend Shoe or Ken, going to various places to shop, watching tons of movies, going out to karaoke, and even taking a dip in the local onsen for the first time! On New Year's Eve, we went to Shiogama Shrine, which sits at the top of a 220-step staircase, and with hundreds (thousands?) of Japanese people, we participated in the annual bowing and prayers during this time. I was happy to do so. I also bought a couple charms; one for health, and one that was in the shape of a giant arrow. I didn't know charms could be so bad-ass.
December 31: I am at Shiogama Shrine to check out how the New Year celebration is done in Japan!
Phrase of the day: 良いお年を！ 「よいおとしを！」 "Yoi otoshi wo!" It's a phrase said at the end of the year, which literally means, "(Have) a good year!"