Saturday, October 3, 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009-

ケン - Ken.

It’s a Japanese term I found by chance when looking a different word up in the dictionary. When you pair it with other Chinese characters it is the symbol for seeing, hopes, chances, ideas, and opinions. Yet when it stands alone it means something different: One’s view on life. It’s odd that it took another language for me to understand what that term -“one’s view on life”- is all about.

My is all about my hopes, my ideas, my opinions, and when it comes right down to it, how I look at what I’ve been dealt. Rotary has now proven to be a challenge at times, yet as I sit down tonight I realize that no matter where I spend the year (some of you will get what that means, some of you won’t) I am in JAPAN and I’m not going to let anything ruin that for me.

So if I’ve learned one thing from my time here so far it’s that the chance to live in a foreign country does not necessarily change your opinions or beliefs, but it does allow you to see through the eyes of a different culture. I just hope others realize what a wonderful idea Rotary can truly be. It is certainly changing my .

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009-

The Top Ten Reasons You Know You’re In A Fishery School

1) One of your classmates is ranked in the top 100 Pro-Ayu Fishermen in Japan

2) Within the past two weeks you’ve help net, clean, sort, skewer, grill, box, and freeze nearly 700 Ayu

3) You spent yesterday spawning 300 wild salmon, only to learn that when the eggs from one fish are fertilized (such as we did) that each fish is worth around 9153 Yen or 100 Us Dollars!

4) You regularly come home with your hands smelling fishy

5) One of the first invites you get from your classmates is to go to their favorite fishing holes

6) It’s not unusual for someone to bring their rod and reel to school

7) As a gift your teacher presented you with a large fish skull that you and a partner had to dissect, wash, sort, reassemble, and superglue. See above. Apparently it’s supposed to be a special memory; frankly I think the stench itself lingered far too long…

8) You’ve helped steel wool scour three months worth of fishy poo out of a 20 meter circular Ayu tank

9) One of the few conversations you could maintain in Japanese would be about fish biology and bone structure

10) The way you know that your classmates have finally accepted you is that they allow you to see the inside of their tackle boxes!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thursday, October 1, 2009 (Part I)-

Have I told you lately that I love…my school? Sorry I nearly burst into Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” there. Anyway, I feel like I could write a dozen blogs on today alone. I was lucky enough to take part in an all-day 修学旅行 – Shuugakuryokou, AKA a Field Trip! I accompanied the first year students on a visit to the beautiful mountains of Nikko and Lake Chuzen. The purpose of the trip was to help spawn a batch of mature “Himemasu” Kokanee Salmon. We left the fishery early with our fishery gear, boots, and sack lunches, ready to roll. The class crammed into the same oversized van of a bus I’ve come to associate with fun (and unpredictable) fish/water/mystery adventures. It's like my own fishery version of The Magic School Bus!

Today we drove the two-hour trip to my favorite site of Nikko and beyond. We ventured up the winding mountain roads to the infamous Lake Chuzen in all of its glory. I’m going to get poetic, so join me won’t you? Imagine you too are on the Magic School Bus (I think we all have at one time or another) and we are passing the town of Nikko on our right, preparing to enter the true mountains ahead. As we climb high and higher you can feel your ears popping. The weather is overcast and soon a dark and rolling mist surrounds us, billowing through the dense mountain forest on all sides. Giant pines, leafy foreign trees, and the ever present bamboo draw it in around them and you feel as if you've already lost yourself in the mystery of what lays hidden on these ancient Japanese slopes. It's easy to imagine the inspiration behind the poetry for which this nation is so well known. Not only the graceful, soul-searching haikus, but the infamous tails of dragons and mountain gods as well.

The bus literally sways under its load, making hairpin turns that leave you holding your breath at points. On the left now rises a solid sheet of mossy mountain rock, on the right an ocean of mist and the occasional ghost of a tree rising out of the fog. There is only one color overhead – a glowing white. One risky driver dares to pass the bus, but he’s one of the few you see on the mountain all morning. As if just to defy nature a construction crew is doing roadwork near the top, forcing the bus to skirt even closer to the railing. An observation deck goes unused as the most one would be able to see are the clouds of icy mist wandering the mountainside.

As you climb higher still the temperature drops, the bus windows need wiping ever few seconds, and some of the students begin to stretch their arms out only to bring them back covered in beads of dew. More and more of the trees have started to reflect the season now, 紅葉 – kouyou literally “Crimson Leaf.” A sign jumps out of the sign with only a few seconds warning. On its bright orange frame is a picture telling you to watch out for monkey crossings. Hopefully the monkeys aren’t feeling too adventurous seeing as they’d stand out even less than their well-intended sign. The bamboo thins out to be replaced by thick round mountain trees whose leaves look like random flames burning in the mist. Suddenly you’re there…

The road reaches the motionless lake of Chuzen. As the bus slowly makes its way around the rocky shores of the gigantic mountain lake, the wind picks up and within minutes the mist is rising off the lake in tall spires and the dark outlines of distant shores appear. The breeze clears the skies, rippling the water, and in true mountain fashion, the sun appears. An awe-inspiring blend of reds, golds, and greens climb the mountainside, far more vivid and scenic than can be captured in either words or images. As you can tell I was on cloud 9 today (pun intended) and I’m glad you were able to join me…

Continue below for more stories and photos about Spawning Salmon at the unforgettable





PS. We just had another earthquake as I was writing this, it shook the whole house, crazy!!

Thursday, October 1, 2009 (Part II)-

The day at Chuzen made for an exciting, scenic, and unique day. I joined the 20 or so first year fishery students as we spawned wild Kokansee Salmon. Apparently they’re a type of landlocked fish that live in Chuzen. The fishery that we spent the day at is located right on the shores of the ancient mountain lake and the salmon are caught each year as they try to make their way upstream. The whole process takes place in a series of dams set up by the Tochigi Prefecture version of the DNR. As the students listened to a lecture by one of the employees, Sasaki-Sensei let me have free time so I walked out to the lake and sat on the dock enjoying the lake, the weather, and the autumn colors. I simply cannot imagine a more scenic place than this!

I joined the students for a tour of the Cadillac of all fisheries. It was more like a high-class zoo of fish than anything else. A dozen different lake fish and some foreign species as well, it was quite the set up. We even got a scoop of fish food to throw into the many lakes tucked into the forest above. Apparently the fishery has had visits from the imperial family multiple times and they even have a picture of the princess tossing fish food to a splashing pond of rainbow trout! The fall colors certainly made it a place to remember.

Back at the lake we divided up into four groups in order to take part in the different spawning responsibilities. Before the day was all said and done I had:

Grabbed, clutched, poked, examined, clubbed...

...threw, wiped, hooked, cut, scooped, handled, laughed at, harvested..., de-gilled, stimulated :\, washed, bagged, iced, biked home with, and ate more Kokansee Salmon than I care to count. (To explain the last part, we each got to take home a bag of Salmon at the end of the day, so for dinner Mama Sato made me salted grilled Salmon – WHOLE! I was stuffed)

And this is a nice picture of the lake to give you an idea of how beautiful it was there today = )

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009-

What did I just say yesterday about not knowing what each day would bring? Today I had the pleasant (and slightly nerve-wracking) surprise of speaking in front of the entire school, including all of the teachers. In homeroom, Shimanoki-Sensei (she is the English teacher who helps translate everything for me) explained to me that we would be having a shortened day because an American speaker would be coming to talk to our school about “American High School Culture.” Two thoughts entered my mind: 1) I wouldn’t jump right to “culture” when describing an American high school, and 2) Thank God, I’ll finally be able to understand what someone is talking about!

I spent the morning in art, calligraphy, English, and gym excited to see the speaker. In my mind it was a middle aged, slightly pudgy American woman from Rhode Island named Suzanne (don’t ask me why, I zone out sometimes when I have no idea what is going on – aka often). Nevertheless, I was surprised when half an hour before the speech I was asked to greet the speaker in the principal's office. There, to my great surprise, I found out her name was Lindsay Nelson and not only was Lindsay not a middle-aged, pudgy American woman, but that she was young, absolutely fluent in Japanese, and from WISCONSIN!!! I chose not to bring up the current Vikings-Packers dispute and chose to act like a civilized adult. So instead some of the things we talked about were snowdays, ice fishing, and cheese! I guess you can leave the Midwest, but it won't leave you = )

Lindsay is here with the JET Program that Mr. Blackburn was also working for. She lives in Utsunomiya and today was her first of multiple speeches to high school audiences about life in an American high school. She had a high-tech PowerPoint, all in Japanese, that kept the students laughing at how bizarre high school in the states can really be. They were green with envy when they heard that students often drive their cars to school, they seemed both excited and nervous when the concept of school dances was brought up, and they all agreed that a schedule that didn’t change every day would be far too boring!

As soon as Lindsay had finished her speech, they asked me to join her up front and explain about my school also. I would speak in English and she translated into Japanese. I told them that this week at my school was Homecoming. Lindsay had explained the week of Homecoming (ホームカミング – Hoomu kamingu, haha!) in her speech, but they couldn’t hear enough about it. They loved the idea of Powder Puff. They also wanted to hear about my sports, lunch, and Prom. It was a fun, albeit impromptu, opportunity for me to help share my culture. I only hope that someday soon I’ll be able to do it all by myself!

PS. Happy Birthday to Tom Durkin, my Northfield Rotary Counselor today. I hope you have a great time celebrating, Tom!! =)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009-

++First of all, thanks to everyone who has left a comment to my question yesterday. It is super fun to hear from everyone like that. Makes me feel a little more at home…++

I’ve realized that I’ve reached a point in my exchange where my daily schedule ought to have become a habit. In some ways it has: I wake up for school every day at 7:15 (after hitting the snooze button two times- no more, no less). My host mom has a sack lunch and toast ready for me each morning. My bike ride is spent the same way everyday: trying to avoid traffic while listening to my iPod (probably not a good mix, but I’m willing to risk it). And then I get to school…that’s where it all changes!

I have a homeroom every morning before classes start. It’s usually only after I get to school that I find out what I have in store that day. For example, today I spent the first couple hours studying Japanese, helping teach English, and talking with Grace Lee (the ALT assistant English teacher from North Carolina who helps at Bato High School every Tuesday). Yet during lunch period my entire class was drawn to one of the open windows at the end of the hallway. I joined them only to find the BIGGEST BUG I HAVE EVER SEEN IN REAL LIFE! The praying mantis (カマキリ – Kamakiri) was bigger than my palm and when I got too close taking a picture of it, it lunged out at my camera! Some of the girls screamed, it was pretty funny.

After the bug incident, my second year classmates (equivalent to high school juniors) and I went to the fishery for the rest of the day where we netted, sorted, packaged, and froze the rest of the Ayu in the tanks. That was fun, what we had to do next, not so much. We each climbed down into the giant circular tank the fish had lived in for the past couple months and used steel wool brushes to clean up there slimly little mess. It was just like taking in the dock out at Kandiyohi, only Grandma’s caramel rolls weren’t waiting for me = (

After school I walked around Bato City with Grace Lee and we bought ice cream and kitchen utensils (she needed the latter, I the first). It started to rain as I biked home, but it is still pretty warm here. At least 60’s and 70’s every day. Dinner was delicious sashimi (slices of raw fish) and my host parents were left laughing as we made homemade sushi out of it. Hope all is well back at home, I was so happy to see everyone’s comments below. Keep ‘em coming!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009-

This blog is about you!

サム、今日は何をしたか?Well I’m glad you asked, kind reader. Today I spent 4 hours at the fishery with my classmates cleaning FIVE HUNDRED Ayu! It was quite the production. I helped to cut all of the fish (whole) right down the middle. Other students were in charge of cleaning, rinsing, and marinating the fish. So now I can say I’ve helped clean 500 fish, nice!

I’m happy to report that I skyped with my family (my real family) for the second time last night. It seems weird that I am already 6 weeks in and have only talked with them twice. Yet they told me that this blog has made it easier for us to be apart. They also told me that quite a few people have come up to them saying that they check in on my stories from time to time. I was both happy and surprised to learn so. I have only seen the 14 registered followers listed on the left. So now you’ve got me wondering:

Who all is out there?

So if you have a second, I would love to hear from you, my readers. If you don’t mind, would you just click on the small “Comment” link below. You don’t need to be a registered follower, merely type a few words. Underneath you will see a tab that says “Comment As:” scroll down to Anonymous, be sure to sign it and then click submit! Feel free to tell me what you’ve liked, disliked about the blog so I can improve the page.

Anxious to hear from all of you = )

Thanks again, Sam

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Saturday, September 26-Sunday, September 27, 2009 (part I)-

As I finish this past weekend I am amazed by three things about Rotary:

1) How exciting Rotex students are,

2) How welcoming other Rotary families can be, and

3) How much the Tochigi Rotarians are watching out for me.

The two days I spent visiting Utsunomiya and Tochigi City were a true blast. I mean that in both the fun slang way and in the fact that they absolutely flew by.

On Saturday morning my host mom and I loaded into the car and drove the hour-long trip to the capital city of Tochigi Prefecture, Utsunomiya. Being a city of only about 500,000 people it felt much larger once we arrived. We met Max Beard (the Rotary exchange student from Florida who is staying with a family in downtown Utsunomiya), Ayano Baba (the Rotex girl who studied in Minnesota a few years ago) and Mai Maruyama (a Rotex who went to South Carolina). Together we spent the day exploring the area. Our first stop was to visit a hilltop temple squeezed between a shopping center and a construction site. It was a beautiful location yet the surrounding sounds of horns, sirens, and city life seemed to take away from the peace of the shrines. I couldn’t help but feel that this wasn’t the way that the founders of the temple meant for it to be enjoyed.

Ayano is originally from Utsunomiya, so she was an excellent tour guide taking us to a scenic park, the top of the Utsunomiya Tower, and across a suspension bridge. Afterwards we went out to a fun shopping street where we took pirikura photo-booth pictures, ate gyoza dumplings for which Utsunomiya is famous, and gelato in the basement of a shopping mall.

We finally said good-bye when they dropped us off at Max’s host family’s house. I am incredibly grateful for the fun afternoon that they showed us. I say Max’s host family lives in a house, but in reality they live in a temple. Max’s host dad is the keeper of a GIGANTIC temple that has to be one of the biggest homes in the whole city! If I said that Mr. Inaki and his family were welcoming to me that would be an understatement. I immediately presented them with a small gift of photo-letters that my sister made back in Minnesota. They loved the fall colors and right then and there I was invited back to their house whenever I wanted to come to Utsunomiya. I guess you took some really good pictures, Maria! They then insisted on taking Max and I out for a second dinner at a very chic sushi restaurant where the dishes pass in front of your table and you simply grab the ones that look best. We ate so much I nearly burst. Hey, there are worse ways to die!

The evening was spent watching a Japanese hide-and-go-seek reality TV show on their 75” plasma screen TV, chatting in Japanese, and being feed even more food and ice cream! When Max and I went upstairs to our futons later that night we were both full, exhausted, and laughing at our luck. We realized that we’re in JAPAN, eating Japanese food, meeting Japanese people, and falling asleep in a gigantic temple in the middle of a city! You never know where Rotary is going to take you.

Continue below for Sunday’s story…

Saturday, September 26-Sunday, September 27, 2009 (part II)-

When the temple gongs started ringing at 5:30 this morning I literally sat straight up in bed. I woke up fearing everything from a falling ceiling to Godzilla! Even though Max had warned me this would happen, I was still caught off guard. Luckily I fell right back to sleep and we didn’t leave for the orientation program until about 9am. The Inaki family was so kind to me that I wish I had brought them more than a few letters. They gave me a little gift basket to take with me too, including Japanese paper, chopsticks, and a folding cloth. I definitely hope to be back again.

When we arrived in Tochigi City this morning we walked into the conference center where our favorite Matsuba-San was waiting for us; you may remember her from Yamanakako fame. She is our Rotary governor and her job is to make sure we have an awesome year. And let me say, she does a darn good job! She is youthful, bubbly, and always petting my head saying, “so handsome, so handsome!” Haha =) apparently she told everyone we were married.

The Boat Trip - Above: Amberly, Mioto, and Chisaki

Today all 5 exchange students gave short speeches about there families back home, listened to the rebound students talk about there experiences last year, and enjoyed each other’s company. I was so excited to see Chisaki Iijima again. She was one of the Rotary students to Minnesota this past year with Ryota. She has been so kind, generous, and fun to be with! She helped do a small counseling session with Matsuba-San and I have no idea what I would have done without her fluent English. I hope we’ll be able to get together often while I’m here in her home state of Tochigi.

The history museum we visited included (somewhat scary) wax replicas

We spent the afternoon sightseeing Tochigi. The city is very old and so we walked along a scenic river path, took a ride in a traditional covered boat, and visited a museum housed in buildings dating back to the Edo period. It was a beautiful city with lots to do and even more history to uncover. It is nice to spend time with such understanding, international people as Rotarians. You know they truly grasp why you have taken this year to live in another country. And what I realized today is that one of the main reasons for which I am here is quite simply to meet them! The connections that I make here in Japan are undoubtedly one of the things I will cherish most from my exchange.

Max Beard-Jacksonville, Florida, Amberly Thompson- Ontario, Canada