Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009-

The day I spent at the fishery today was more of a festival than a fieldtrip. We were joined by about 15 special ed. high school students from the nearby town of Karasuyama (Crow’s Mountain). It was quite the series of events, let me tell ya!

Both schools made introductions before dividing into four big groups in order to take part in different stations around the complex. My group headed first to Trout Snatching. I have no idea what the Japanese names were for the four different activities so I've made up cool English names to represent them. We basically climbed down into one of the giant 10 by 20-foot tanks that was filled with just four or five inches of water and tried to catch Rainbow Trout with our bare hands. Meanwhile the fish were swimming frantically around our feet and trying their hardest to avoid the (often excessively tight) grips of our visitors. It was a good laugh to say the least. A second station was Fat Little Gold Fish, a challenging little goldfish game that is common at Japanese festivals. The goal is to scoop up as many tiny fish as you can before your rice-paper paddle breaks. I was horrible at it, catching two little fish before I needed another scooper. Again, very entertaining.

We also took the students on a tour of the different tanks, showing them the fish that were swimming inside. They loved the tank with giant gold, white, and red koi fish. Lastly was Fishing in a Tank. Fish can be really stupid. You would think that after two straight hours of having baited hooks dropped in on them they wouldn’t exactly rush to be caught again. Lunch afterwards was grilled Ayu (of course) and heaping servings of Curry Rice. I was fed seconds by Tanaka-Sensei only to bike back to school in time for Food Design!

I learned to make さばのみそ煮 and 豚汁, that’s Saba no Misoni and Tonjiru for those who don’t know, that’s really good pan seared Mackerel in a miso sauce and Pork and vegetable miso soup. It was delicious and I, of course, ate everything. My bike ride home was a rather bloated one to say the least. But I’m definitely not complaining!

This afternoon I'm headed to Utsunomiya for a Rotary Orientation this weekend. Tonight I'll spend the night at Max Beard's host family's temple. That's right, they are the keepers of one of Utsunomiya's largest buddhist complexes. Should be an interesting experience.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wednesday, September 23-Thursday, September 24, 2009-

For the last day of Silver Week I spent a solid five hours out fishing for Ayu with Papa Sato. We returned to the Nakagawa with hopes of a bigger haul, but after a (rather relaxed) afternoon spent angling we still only ended up with one catch. It was my first cast and I had barely let my line out into the rapids before I snagged a fresh river fish! We then spent the rest of the day luckless. Don’t worry, on the way home we stopped off and bought a bucket-full of Ayu to bring back for dinner.

When we got back to the house my two young “host nieces” Saki and Riho were waiting to take me to a BBQ with their parents (my host brother and his wife). We spent the last hour of sunlight grilling fresh fish, laughing, and counting dragonflies. I can’t believe how many of them there are here!

Then, today back at school I spent the majority of my day in the library. This probably seems dull and pathetic to most of you, but I enjoy the company of the third year students who hang out there. Plus Oshima-Sensei now gives me treats whenever I come and visit her =)

I figure because I don’t have much to report the least I can do to satisfy your Japan-cravings (or whatever it is that keeps you coming back to read more each day) is to share a couple of pictures. I stopped off on my bike ride home from school today to snap these two quick shots.

The Nakagawa River near where I spent the past couple days fishing

Ogawa town viewed from a bridge crossing the river. In the distance you can see the mountains of Nikko as the Kanto Plain stretches out to meet it

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

These photos of Nikko speak for themselves. I sat down tonight with the plan of writing a full report on my first trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, yet I’ve realized that in these cases the cliché phrase, “A picture’s worth a thousand words” is an understatement. So instead, for a change, I will leave you to fill in the gaps. It was an absolutely fantastic day enjoying a history far richer and far more grounded than ours. It makes me embarrassed to think that our big “cultural center” for exchange students back in Minnesota might very well be the Mall of America. Just to be clear (besides the crowds) Nikko was nothing like the MOA!


日光 –­ ­­Nikkō – The name Nikkō literally means “Sunlight”


神橋 – Shinky­ō – “God Bridge” – Although built later, this bridge is part of a shrine founded in the year 767!

The mountains behind have since the Yogai Period (500 BCE – 300 CE) been considered sacred because they provide the plains below with water for rice paddies.

東照宮 – Toshogu – The entire complex venerates the Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa who unified Japan before his death in 1616. His son built the shrines of Nikko to honor his contributions to their nation.

五重塔 – 5 Storied Pagoda – 35 meters tall, it was rebuilt in 1818 after the first one burnt down…darn incense! ; )

御水や – Omizu-ya – A Chinese style horse trough, proud to say I drank out of it too!

陽明門 – Yomei-mon – “Sunlight Gate” – One of the grandest of Nikko’s treasures, Yomei-mon makes it clear how the construction of such a complex required 4,533,648 laborers, 17 months of effort, and the current equivalent of 40,000,000,000 Yen or $44 Million. Still the most amazing fact – not a single nail in the whole place!

Because it's a holiday here (Silver Week) the Japanese were out in force appreciating their awe-inspiring culture

Yes, those are all barrels of 日本酒 – Sake.

Me and Mama Sato when it was all said and done. She is one driven tourist, literally cutting in and out of crowds like none other. I guess it helps when you’re only 5’2”

I can say without a doubt, today was a day I will not soon not for hundreds of years if I'm as well taken care of as these temples!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009-

ONE MONTH! At this time one month ago I had landed in Narita Airport, Japan, and was climbing into a car with Ayano Baba and Mr. Aoyama. I can’t understand how time has been so flexible. I skyped with Mackenzie O’Connell yesterday and she said it best when she said, “At times I feel like I have nothing to do and am extremely bored, and at other times I can’t slow life down enough to take it all in.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s a odd sensation to be living with.

That aside, today was absolutely a blast. I went to a sports day with my good friend Miki. She has been extremely fun getting to know. Is it odd that my two best friends in Japan are both named Miki? I find it funny =) To give you an idea of Miki’s personality, for those of you who know her, think of the Japanese version of Chelsea Koenigs. In other words very welcoming, quick to laugh, and patient.

After the sports day, during which I played the most badmitton of my life (over 3 hours of badmittion-ing) Miki took me along with four of her friends to the Ogawa Grand Bowl. It was quite the bowling alley as it came with a game room, karaoke, Pirates of the Caribbean playing overhead, and live video of your pins! I surprised everyone (myself included) when the first ball I threw down the lane ended up with a strike. Miki’s friend Yuka (the girl on the right) studied in New Zealand last year, and her English was excellent so we had a fun time speaking in Japenglish together. She flattered me by saying that she couldn’t believe I’d only been in Japan for one month. I immediately denied the complement (as is the custom in Japan) but on the inside I was beaming.

We walked the river looking at the stars because tonight is the equinox. Dinner afterwards was at my new local hangout “Yakiniku” 焼肉, a grilled meat restaurant where Papa Sato is more than a regular and to which I’ve now been 4 times in the past week. The owner and his right hand man, Ma, offer me a free drink and rice cracker everyday on my ride home from school. The food was delicious and the company was exceedingly Japanese. I am glad I now feel comfortable sitting around a table with practical strangers and can finally make conversation.

When I was dropped back off at the Sato’s I met Mama Sato’s two brother-in-laws who had stopped by for a chat. The one, Yageta-san, had been to Minnesota FIVE times with his work in the feed and agriculture business. His English was excellent and he blew me away with his knowledge of the US and our culture. We hit it off very well. That’s one great thing about the Japanese, they always look for the smallest connection they have with you and then consider you their new best friend because of it.

I hope my ten other months go by as well as this first one.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009-

Three words to describe my day: AYU, WIND, & SUNBURN. I had an awesome afternoon with Papa Sato today. He took me down to the Nakagawa River and the two of us fished for Ayu for over four hours! The typhoon that is currently spiraling off the east coast of Japan, however, made for a gusty day out on the water. That aside, the sun was shining and I managed to develop quite a farmer’s tan before we packed up and headed home. Seems some things about fishing are universal.

The actual practice of catching Ayu, however, is almost 180 degrees different from the type of fishing I am used to back at home. Chuck and Andrew, fyi, Ayu fishing is much more difficult. The rod itself is 9.5 meters long and weighs only a kilo or so. You may ask yourself, well why would they need such a pole? Excellent question, you see: the way in which to catch an Ayu is to use an Ayu. Because they are so small (only 15-30 cm as adults) trying to use bait in a moving river is far too challenging, so instead the Japanese have learned to set Ayu against one another. They are extremely territorial fish and if one Ayu enters another’s water, they attack. The yellow spots along the side of the fish show how aggressive they are feeling. If they are at rest, the yellow subsides, but when they strike the spot blazes neon bright.

So to catch a wild Ayu, we hooked our bait Ayu to a line, attached a barbed hook to drag behind it, and let it chase down other Ayu in the river. This is where the long fishing pole comes in handy. By giving the fish lots of river space to swim through, you have a better chance of hooking another Ayu. Actually putting that theory into practice (especially today in the wind) was quite 難しい (muzukashii – difficult).

Despite that fact I managed to snag ONE whole Ayu before the day was up! It was a real thrill once I had the fish on the line. And so when we headed home I had two fish (one of which we bought). I would feel bad but I know that by this point most of the Ayu are already downstream and the best Ayu season will come around next June and July! Until then, I’ll simply have to savor my double Ayu dinner tonight. I’d say I did a pretty good job of finishing them off, what do you think? : ) Mmmmm おいしい oishii – delicious…