The 52 Lists Project: Week 13: Reflection on 2020

2020 has been a difficult one; quite sh*** if we’re being honest. It was stressful and isolating for many people. That said there were some ups and downs outside of COVID-19, even if they were in some way influenced by it and now that were nuzzling into 2021 I want to look back!


1. New Year in Lancaster

Lancaster, UK

2. Farmer’s Cafe Sakuri with Ste

3. 上小学校 Drama Festival

My little primary school in the mountains will always hold a place in my heart. I mean, how could I forget these kids – they made jellyfish costumes with umbrellas!

Asagiri, Japan

4. Seeing Mark in Kagoshima

Kagoshima, Japan

5. Kumamoto City with Ste

6. Exploring the Countryside

The Japanese countryside was so beautiful, so vivid and so fresh that it filled me with life. I can’t wait to get out and explore the countryside of my own country (when we’re allowed).

7. Hitoyoshi Craft Park

8. Trip to Beppu

Beppu, Japan

9. Teaching at Nurseries

Who knew you could combine the Superlambanana with the PPAP song to create a lesson on fruits and animals? Turns out it’s a really good idea- any friends teaching younger kids, I’d recommend it!

No matter what problems I had going on, nursery day was a good day. Switching my mind off to just enjoy the absolute chaos that comes with a class of 2-5 year olds was better than therapy.

10. Sengan-en

Kagoshima, Japan

11. Running in the Mountains

I knew that this would be a part of Japanese life that I was miss and I was completely right! Sweeping views of my rural town, framed by emerald green leaves and a low morning mist… that’s hard to beat.

12. Plum Blossoms

Hitoyoshi, Japan

13. Lunch Break Walks

14. Watching K-Dramas

Some of my favourites of 2020 include Crash Landing on You, My First First Love, It’s Okay Not To Be Okay. Do you have any recommendations? I’m in need of a good, heart-warming, mood-boosting watch!

15. Chasing a Badger

I was out for a run and it was really rainy. The gutters in Asagiri are like big tunnels covered with concrete slabs. They’re big enough for small to medium dogs, cats and, in this case, badgers, to run through.

So there I was teetering along the road, probably huffing my lungs out with a bright red tomato face, when all of a sudden (there shined a shiny demon…) I saw a badger! It hopped down into the gutter next to me and I could see it’s fluffy little body bumbling through the gutter. Badgers are quite rare in this area of Japan and I was extremely excited, so, like a typical tourist I pulled out my phone, hit record and followed this badger right into someone’s garden.

Turns out that the video didn’t record and all I got was one blurry as heck picture, as well as an awesome and humbling memory.

16. Virtual Yoga with ALTs

When COVID-19 hit, we had to improvise. One of the ways we improvised in my area was to do Zoom Yoga! I’d tried a couple of online yoga videos before but this really got me into yoga. Since then, I’ve been keeping up my yoga practice at home and I usually do it as part of my Golden Triangle at least twice or three times a week!

17. The Bread Van

Local bread, brought to your place of work, serving hello kitty sweet buns- how could you forget that!?

Asagiri, Japan

18. Mt Takayama at Sunrise

Mt Takayama, Japan

I always strive for moments of stillness and this was the place for it. Climbing up here before work or on a weekend spent at home, the only sound you’d hear were your own footsteps, breath and the distant crowing of cockerels from the village below.

19. Tomato Plants

These plants were one of the few success stories that I have with plants. Not only did these plants survive, but they also fruited me FOUR WHOLE TOMATOES!

20. Taking Care of Murphy

Asagiri, Japan

Murphy was the three and a half legged cat who would visit me twice a day for food. He would keep his distance, hiss and then hop over to his plastic, makeshift food bowl. He came to trust me so much that he brought his pregnant lady-friend too.

I miss you Murphy! I hope that you’re safe and are getting well fed!

21. Kinako Dango with Seoto

My Japanese Grams is unbelievably talented. She can cook, sew, teach and perform tea ceremony, she’s bilingual AND she’s a great gardener. One of the many lessons that she taught me was to make kinako dango (which I often mispronounced). It’s a Japanese sweet that tastes amazing.

My memory of eating my own hand-made snack, sat in her apartment, looking out at the Kuma River is still very vivid!

Hitoyoshi, Japan

22. D&D in Kagoshima

Towards the end of my life in Japan I came down to Kagoshima and played Dungeons and Dragons with my original D&D group and really good friends. We ordered pizza, had some drinks and a proper laugh. That group is unparalleled. They are so full of warmth and light. I miss you guys a lot and I’m proud of us for keeping up the campaign across multiple time-zones!

23. Spending my Birthday with Friends

Lydia, you were right- my 23rd birthday is one I will never forget. Namely because those Kagoshima friends came up to see me, brought a watermelon and decided that, in tribute to the film Holes, we would carry that watermelon up the mountain.

Asagiri, Japan

25. The Floods

A less happy memory I have is of the Hitoyoshi-Kuma floods that happened quite soon to when I left Japan. There was heavy rain, landslides and, eventually, the Kuma River burst its banks, destroying a lot of small villages in my area and devastating Hitoyoshi city. The internet and mobile signal went down, homes and businesses were completely destroyed and the area still has a lot of recovery to do.

I remember readying my evacuation bag after being told that, because I live on the mountain (and I was in the high alert zone), my house might move or be hit by a landslide in the night. I was absolutely terrified and being unable to contact home made it even worse.

That fear was nothing compared to the loss of friends and family. Even though there wasn’t much I could’ve done, I still feel guilty for leaving Japan so soon after.

24. Stay in Ryokoji Temple

My last trip before leaving Japan was in Minamiaso, in a Buddhist temple. I stayed alone with the monk and his wife (and pets). During my stay, I visited my friend, Sanae, for one last awesome massage at Aso Juniper. I also visited onsen and was treated by my hosts to some amazing vegan meals. It was a lovely way to say goodbye to my life in Japan, but it was definitely bittersweet.

Minamiaso, Japan

26. Leaving Japan

This memory is a hectic one; mainly because my flight was cancelled and the last flight out gave me half a day to get ready to leave. It’s a blur of a lot of memories in one, like high-fiving my nursery kids, packing, crying my eyes out on Zoom as I gave my school leaving speech in Japanese and hauling a massive bag of cat food into my friend’s postbox for Murphy.

My final memory of leaving Japan was waiting outside my house at 5am, sad that I couldn’t watch my last sunrise at Takayama. I left some food out for Murphy and took some deep breaths in the misty morning air before heading to the airport. I was then hastily followed by my host family who insisted on having breakfast with me at the airport and waiting until I got on my flight. So I guess my actual final memory was watching my host kid and student, Miho, wave me off from the airport terrace. I watched and waved until that tiny dot of blue completely disappeared and set off crying all over my blanket and pillow set.

27. Crosby Beach

A little picnic on the beach with Beck and my mum was the perfect welcome back to the UK. We napped, sat and walked on the beach, catching up and just enjoying being in each other’s company again.

Liverpool, UK

28. Seeing Friends and Family

29. That Night in The Vault

The Vault, UK

Oh to sit and drink and talk sh*t with friends again…

30. Ewloe Castle

Connah’s Quay, Wales

Believe it or not, this is one of my favourite castles. I spent a very long time here with Ste, as we acted like proper historians imagining what this castle would’ve looked like back in the day. We then imagined what it would be like if it were to be stormed by Orcs and Urukai.

31. Warton Crag

Warton Crag, UK

Walking off an interview for a job that I didn’t really want turned out to be quite the adventure. I bumped into a friend from undergrad, took a load of pictures of flowers, found myself in a field of cows, became scared of being kicked in the head for trying to pass them, got lost trying to avoid them and made friends with a similarly lost woman and her two dogs.

Needless to say it was eventful! It was also a well-needed reminder that I can have solo-adventures wherever I am.

32. New Job & University

Kicking off my masters around the same time as a new teaching job was quite the task. It’s been tricky trying to find the balance, but after checking in with myself and setting some workload boundaries, I feel like I may be well on my way to getting some harmony.

Uni has been brilliant so far; definitely stressful, but stimulating as heck. Every week I’m met with new trains of thought, new ideas and new stories. It’s the sort of mental exercise I came back for. Likewise, work has kept me on my toes too. I teach second-chance learners who are over 19 and aiming to get into university. My classes are brilliant, full of characters and absolutely lovely people. Even now, over the digital plane, we get to catch-up, have a laugh and build their confidence as learners.

33. The Egg

Liverpool, UK

34. Formby Beach

Formby, UK

35. Moon Hunting

One of the last nights of the year, my mum and I ran out in the dark to get a good look at the beautiful, golden moon. It was the biggest I’d seen it in a long time. On our adventure in the snow, I slipped in mud and couldn’t get up for laughing, my phone (and so torch) died and I laughed with my mum like I’d never been away.

She’s put up with a lot from me since I came back, from slacking with the housework to moaning about missing Japan. I’m happy and lucky to have her in my life. Even though there are times that her armadillo skin makes her hard to read, I know that she loves me to bits and I love her just as much! I’m looking forward to having her in my life more and more for 2021.

Thatto Heath, UK

When I got to thinking, it turns out that there was actually a lot of good this year. I experienced a lot more than I expected and overcame a lot too; from terrifying natural disasters to heartbreaking goodbyes. There are also some memories that I’ve chosen not to share here and I hope you don’t mind! They’re just a little sensitive and a little personal to talk about right now.

2020 taught me that 2021 must be a year for healing. I’m looking forward to taking better care of myself and to continue to try and make a good imprint on the place and people that I can. What are some of your most memorable moments of the infamous 2020? Let me know in the comments!

Stay Positive,


Jess x

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