Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009-


I’m feelin’ like Friday, October 9th is more of a photojournalism day. And besides, pictures are way more fun, aren’t they?

PS. Yay Obama. I don’t think it matters how you voted last year (can you believe it’s almost November again?!), as an American you’ve got to feel proud that the world appreciates the efforts our President is making. I can tell you first hand from overseas that the worldview of America is definitely on the rise once more, and much of that is thanks to him.

Papa Sato at his finest...

Nakagawa River and our mountains to the West

He's so happy when he's fishing

The Salmon Fishermen

Tell me this spider doesn't both creep you out and draw you in?!

Biking back from school today I spotted three of these on the bridge I cross. I of course, stopped on a dime and the first two thoughts I had were, "Woahhh," and, "I have to put this on my blog"

トンボ - Tonbo - Dragonfly. This one happens to be resting on a gravestone

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009-

The first typhoon to make Japanese landfall in two years finally hit today!

The incredibly powerful storm, which has killed two people already, is still making its way North tonight and won’t be completely gone until tomorrow. However where I am living in central Honshu (the main island) the typhoon had moved on before lunchtime. The crazy thing about a typhoon this size is that although it is astonishingly intense (so dangerous I woke up to find school canceled today!), as soon as it passes the change in pressure leaves only blue skies and a gentle breeze. By about noon it had finished raining here and the world that is Nakagawa stepped out onto their front step to inspect the damage for the storm had certainly left behind missing shingles, downed branches, and what looked like a crime scene of massacred Skittles surrounding each home’s garden bed.

As the sun began to shine and the skies cleared we watched as the gigantic thunderheads and swirling angry blue clouds of the typhoon made their way North and over the mountains toward the Pacific. I do have to hand it to the Japanese though, they’ve built their homes to withstand nearly anything: Earthquake, Flood, Typhoon, you name it.

I was happy to learn that my two “host-nieces” (Riho - left, st grade; Saki - right, 6th grade) were coming over for the day because just like me their school had been canceled. Once they’d arrived, Papa Sato, the two girls and I loaded into the van to drive up the mountain once more to visit the keeper of the Owl Shrine I wrote about only last weekend. It was the girls’ first time to the site and I felt kind of odd being the one pointing out statues and showing them around. They were absolutely in love with the gigantic golden owl. We ended up spending the rest of the time playing with a Praying Mantis making its way across the path. If you look close you can see it on the handrail that Saki is looking at. And that is Riho imitating it. Did I mention she was cute??

On the way back from the shrine Dr. Sato drove us past the place where he grew up about 15 minutes south of Nakagawa. It’s up in the mountains and he said he had to bike 12 kilometers both ways to get to school each day because there were no buses. I now feel bad for thinking I had to bike far… Anyway he took us to his hometown of Karasuyama. It has a population of about 26,000 people and is also along the Nakagawa River.

He drove us to a local Ayu bamboo trap/dam that had been built there. You can just see it in the distance on the photo to the right. As you can tell, the river proved to be absolutely surging today following the high rains (apparently some places in the mountains got over a foot of rainfall or 300+ millimeters!!!). The current was hurtling debris downstream so fast that just to keep the trap cleared it was taking a full crew of men and a happy, barking, and soaking wet Irish Setter. I realized how much I’ve missed my pups back home. It’s odd not having any pets in the house.

I spent the afternoon trying to download piano sheet music online only to find it WAY over my head. But I think we’re having sushi for dinner again tonight, so I’m happy. Yet another slow and empty night…but below are some more pictures of the day:

The incredible view from the top of the mountain. This is a view Southeast to the mountains of Ibaraki-ken
Prayer and offering tied tightly around this tree's branches seem to have made it through the storm
Ri-Chan (chan=little girl) shakes the cord of a temple bell
The infamous Praying Mantis AND Golden Owl, what a formidable duo!
At work on the Ayu trap. It did not look to be an easy job
Just look at how happy that dog is!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 (Twins Update)-

Okay I know I missed a hell of a match-up between the Twins and the Tigers when the game is highlighted in the JAPANESE NATIONAL NEWS!!!
I couldn't believe it when I saw the video of a packed Metrodome and the Twins winning it in extra innings. I literally started pointing and jumping up and down because I couldn't come up with words in Japanese. I think what I finally shouted out was "Minnesota, Minnesota. It's Minnesota! Awesome!"
I then immediately rushed back to my laptop where I've been watching high light reels ever since. What an exciting game!
For now the ESPN coverage has been fun to read. I'm just laughing to myself because I think I've gotta be about the only Twins fan in all of Tochigi Prefecture right now. The good news is that because Matsui is on the Yankees there will be nightly news updates on the series.
Ok that's all for now, just thought I'd give a shout out to the twins. Read below for my update on the day in Nakagawa...much less exciting than the Twins though, sorry = (

Wednesday, October 7, 2009-

Apparently there is one advantage to me not knowing Japanese at this point and that would be getting out of all the midterm tests! I was willing to take the subjects of English, Gym, and the Arts but I was told very clearly by Shimanoki Sensei, “Please don’t make me grade another exam!!” And so I again made my way to the library where Oshima Sensei and I spent nearly the entire time talking in Japanese about my schedule for the year, some of the places we have visited, her daughters Tokyo education, and (to her great shock) the price of college textbooks in the US. Yesterday when she ordered me the Japanese textbook I was looking for she was worried that it was far too expensive - about $35 US Dollars. I laughed and told her that most of my friends are spending multiple, multiple times that as the school year unfolds. To add a cherry on top of my sweet schedule, school gets out at noon for the next three days (early if the typhoon hits).

So at noon Dr. Sato came to pick me up and we went together to the Bato-Ogawa Rotary club meeting. They apparently expected me to speak again, something that I hadn’t planned on by any means. I think my four sentences were, “My first month was very fun. The fishery school is very, very fun. I like the school. Thank you very much.” Looking back on it, I think I used the words “fun” and “very” a little too much = ) But hey at least they were complete sentences for a change!

"One Year Foreign Exchange Student: Samuel Estenson"

Nonetheless they were happy to hear that I was doing well. I enjoyed a lunch of tempura, rice, grilled chicken, and mackerel before heading back to the Sato’s. So now here I sit and it’s started to pour outside. I’ve already had a snack, watched a YouTube video, checked email and Facebook, played the piano, went for a walk to pick up someone’s umbrella, upset Mrs. Sato because apparently I took my shoes off too early when walking into the house (oops…), and watched TV. Yet it’s only 4:15!! The Japanese have a great word for this right now: Hima – . It basically means time spent sitting around doing nothing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009-

You know you’ve made good friends with a librarian when she offers to special order a textbook for you…ponder that for a while won’t you? (No seriously, you’re going to have to. I don’t have anything better to blog about today!) At Right: Mrs. Oshima-Sensei

Yet tomorrow is already the beginning of midterm exams here at Bato High School. I can't believe how quickly my first six weeks of school have flown by. Once again that crazy character Time is playing tricks on me. I could have sworn I only landed in Narita Airport last night, arrived to Nakagawa moments later, and just now moved into my host family's house. The clock of an exchange student is a hard one to follow.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday, October 5, 2009-

My highlights of the day:

1) Teaching my English teacher strange Yiddish phrases that we use such as Smidge, Schmooze, and Schlep (I could honestly only think of ones that started with S-, what other ones am I forgetting?),

2) I got to tie-dye in art class,

3) And I biked home in 18 minutes!! It had started to rain, there’s another typhoon coming, and along the way I made the rather ironic realization that Lance Armstrong’s name should really be Lance Legstrong…It inspired me to pedal faster.

I figured I also ought to point out a new feature that I added to the right. It’s a search tool that will let you filter through all of the blogs by entering a key word. If you want to look back at my trip to Nikko Forest simply type it in and click search.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009 (Part I)-

I have had yet another exciting day sightseeing with my host mom today. She and I took the afternoon to visit the nearby prefecture of Ibaraki. All you Northfield people out there, this is the region that Yosh Soltis was born in and it is literally 15 minutes East of my town. Yosh you’ll be happy to know that I thought it was beautiful. The map on the right is of the Northwest corner of the prefecture. I’ve circled my town of Nakagawa in yellow, Fukuroda Falls in blue, and the Owl Shinto Shrine in red. Just so you know that took me like twenty minutes on Adobe Photoshop!

The weather today couldn't have been better. 70 or so with a nice breeze and just the right amount of clouds. It is finally feeling like Fall. Anyway, our day consisted of us visiting the beautiful Fukoroda Falls of Daigo. I couldn’t fit all of the images on one blog entry, so I posted some snapshots of the falls, the mountains, the autumn colors, a snug little restaurant we ate an Ibaraki-ken specialty and an awesome suspension bridge we got to cross (albeit three 60 year old men were standing in the middle shaking it from side to side!) below.

After Fukuroda we headed to an ancient (1552 CE) Shinto Shrine that is dedicated to birds, or more specifically to Owls. The keeper of the Torinoko Shrine is a Rotarian and although he was away his wife helped show us the place. The shrine is literally split right down the middle between Tochigi Prefecture and Ibaraki Prefecture. To prove the point there is a long white line running up the steps. So as I climbed to the top I was in Ibaraki, but coming back down I had returned to Tochigi.

The shrine is pretty unique. There were dozens of statues of owls all around: some of stone, several of wood, one to put your umbrellas into, one of fancy blue china, a jade owl, and to top it all of, a gigantic owl painted gold that overlooked the parking lot!
It was a beautiful mountain escape and to give you an idea of how remote it was I included a picture below of the forests and countryside we had to drive through to get there! It makes me appreciate how quickly one year can pass when I stand next to a temple keeper who is seventy something, under a temple that is 400 and something, and amongst trees that are 1000 and something. I just hope I get to experience more before my one year is up.

The mountains and forests that run between Tochigi and Ibaraki Prefectures

Sunday, October 4, 2009 (Part II)-

袋田の滝 - Fukuroda Falls
Above: A view of the upper falls as they drain rice paddies from the mountains behind
Looking up from the bottom it's just over 120 meters to the top
The incredible autumn colors set the stage perfectly. It was impossible to take a bad picture!
Look closely, there's a quaint little Japanese restaurant tucked into the hillside where Mama Sato and I ate Devil's Tongue skewers with Miso Paste. Yeah, it was...interesting...
The 60-year-old-men-shaken draw bridge as it crosses the bottom of the falls
A view of the cliffs and mountains from which Fukuroda falls - accidental pun there = )