This winter I decided to stay in Japan. For one, I don't have a lot of money to travel, and I already have plans for golden week. Secondly, New Years is one of the most important holidays in Japan, and I wanted to experience it as much as I could. I ended up not doing much traditional, but I did have a fun time and did a lot!
First up was Christmas. Christmas isn't really a thing here like it is back in Canada or America or any other western country - I actually worked on Christmas Day as schools are still in session. Rather, its a big date night. My boyfriend was (and still is) working a lot, but he was able to get off work a little earlier than normal that day and come to my place for a dinner. It was small, but it was nice. He enjoyed the "Canadian" dinner I made. It wasn't really a traditional Christmas dinner, but it was about as close as I could get with a tiny oven (and not wanting to attempt a full turkey/chicken). After dinner we exchanged gifts - I got him a scarf and he got me a leather case for my transit passes! It was perfect, as I was just using my phone case before and I was worried they were going to fall out one day...
The next day I flew to Chiba!
I went to Chiba to meet up with my good friend, the same one as during silver week. She had organized an onsen trip with her, her boyfriend, three of her good friends, and me. I went there a few days before the scheduled trip to visit, and one of her girlfriends arrived the day after me.
In Chiba we went out for dinner with my friends parents and grandfather. We went to a really nice sushi/donburi place. I had a type of fried tuna set (like karage but maguro not chicken) which was delicious!!
The trip itself was short, but packed full of fun stuff. The first morning we meet with two others at the train station, one of which had a car, and we drove to Tochigi.
On the way we went to an "Animal Kingdom" in Nasu. It's similar to a zoo, but the animals weren't really all caged, and it wasn't like lions or elephants, but almost like a petting zoo with more exotic animals. Hard to explain really.
Capybara's enjoying a nice hot bath.
Red Pandas! I wanted to touch their tail so bad... but I was too short...
After we finished there we drove to the hotel. It was a massive hotel/onsen resort in Tochigi - everything was in the building, including an arcade, karaoke rooms, shops, a buffet hall, and of course a huge selection of onsen and spa rooms.
We went to the onsen, then had dinner at the buffet. After we played games and had some drinks in the room. After midnight we decided to go do some Karaoke, making it about three in the morning before we finally went to bed.
The next morning we were going to go to a theme park, but it had started to snow. Instead we just went to an outlet mall and hung around there for a few hours before driving back to Chiba.
I went back to Kobe the next evening, just in time for New Years.
New Years itself was pretty boring for me, but it was also relaxing. I spend NYE at home, just watching Kohaku. The next day I hit up Ikuta Shrine for Hatsumode (the first shrine visit of the year) and pulled a super lucky fortune! Then I did some shopping - new years sales are like black Friday back home.
I started work again the Monday after New Years, and work has been gradually getting busier since - I've actually been working overtime the past week or so helping prepare students for High School entrance examinations. Once those are over this coming week we will move right into graduation and plans for the new school year.The weather finally turned really cold about mid-January and has stayed that way. Some days aren't too bad, but some days are really cold. The news is starting to update with forecasting for Sakura though, which most recently are projected to 'arrive' in Kobe around March 25th or so. Still over a month away, but it means spring is coming! Limited Sakura items are starting to hit stores, every time I go shopping there is more and more coming out. I'm really looking forward to my first Hanami season in Japan!