Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009-

School Sports Day began this morning in the truest of Japanese fashions.

If I told you that everyone was in neat, orderly lines all dressed in colorful matching jumpsuits, listening to the principle speak you may think, “Okay the jumpsuit thing is kind of weird but that sounds about right.” Well that’s what I thought too until suddenly this strange musical “warm-up” song came on the loud speaker. The lines immediately spread out and in unison the entire school, including all of the teachers, began to stretch. I was so caught off guard that I did the only think I found natural, I immediately started snapping pictures and laughing to myself about how people back home would react when they saw this. Looking back on it now the morning was a good foreshadowing of the rest of the day. A pretty normal, colorful event that was suddenly interrupted and caught us all off guard.

The morning did prove to be a real blast though. My homeroom class had put together a softball team and we took part in school wide competition. My friend Miki took this sweet picture of me at right as I drove one to left field. It was fun to have a team to cheer for again. Unfortunately before long we lost to the third year class, yet the teachers had also formed a team. As they were lacking bodies young enough to fill all the positions they asked me to play for them too. I got to man first base and it was a real laugh as we took on the students.

While the guys played softball out on the fields, the girls made volleyball teams that were competing in the gym. It was funny to see a court so full (I think they had about a dozen girls on the court at one time!), yet a couple of them were pretty good and as I watched, one girl whipped out a wicked serve. Jump with spin and everything, I think it caught the other team off guard too!

The games eventually came to an end and we all broke for lunch. We were excited for the afternoon relays including a 3-Man-4-Leg race and one that involved spinning a whole line of people in a circle as fast as you could. Three of my friends, including Rie (she's the center one in the photo below) were practicing all morning for the three person race.

Sadly, and also very suddenly, the principle came over the loudspeaker and told everyone that there would be no afternoon events. I didn’t understand everything but as he kept talking the kids started buzzing. Finally someone explained to me that just this morning three of the second year students (all in different classes than me; and no this isn't a picture of them on the right. I just realized it's a somewhat misleading choice :\) had come to the Sports Day but became violently ill and were taken away. It turns out they each have H1N1 Swine Flu. So in order to end everything quickly we all had to report to our homerooms before leaving. It was only 2 or so in the afternoon but a day of fun and sports had suddenly taken a very sobering mood. Lately we’ve all been using hand sanitizer when we walk through the doors and the number of masks are on the rise, but it’s still scary when it finally hits.

For my mom (because I know she’s freaking out right now), don’t worry. I’ve felt healthy and I will be sure to wash my hands and take care of myself this weekend. Which speaking of this weekend, I have another Rotary Orientation is Utsunomiya (Capital of Tochigi, one hour away) on Sunday. I think my host mom is bringing me there tomorrow afternoon and Max and Ayano and I are going to hang out for the afternoon. I am excited to see them again and to be able to speak with the Rotarians this weekend. So until Sunday: take care, I’ll being doing just the same!

PS these are some more random, and now photo-shopped, photos of these two hawks that sit on the bridge I cross every day. Back and forth I’ve passed them I don’t know how many times now. They’ve been impossible to get pictures of but I finally did today (sorry the one is cut off in flight). Enjoy:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009-


S: Score. It doesn’t matter if you’re only six years old and shoot your first goal in In-house League, if you’re 15 and finally make that diving header goal, if you’re team captain and sprint for the game winner that sends your team to State, if you’re just starting D1 (maybe in Iowa, perhaps…maybe say at Drake, perhaps) and you net one on a break away, or if you’re playing for Real Madrid and finish to the roaring crowd, Scoring is the Glory.

O: Once. I’ve now been caught up on the 2009 NHS soccer teams' latest games. Guys, I’m cheering for you even from overseas. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed playing with a team like yours and I hope you’re cherishing the blisters, bruises, and pains because before you know it you’re free of cuts and scraps and that’s just boring. So enjoy this season because it will only happen once and although many of you may have more, each one is different and you’ll never see the same game twice (sorry was that mean to say girls? Maria told me about the whole Lakeville North game over Skype yesterday and I couldn’t sit still as she explained each step. I wish I could be seeing these games!). The fact that each season only happens Once is the Novelty .

C: Competition. What more is there to say? You go out onto the field each game and it’s a matter of who has the speed, the touch, the sight, and the cool to last until the end. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned (Insert a picture of Sam Studer heading a goal over the top of Rochester Lourdes’ keeper with mere seconds left on the clock) it’s that in reality if you don’t think "compete" then you ought to think "defeat." Competition is the Thrill.

C: Class. No Adam, not like a textbook or one of your fake online-courses, think of Jorge every time he touches the ball or Simon when he gets all excited and his British accent is revealed. Soccer teaches you how to act, think, react, and improvise. The fact that you’re probably covered in dirt and dripping with sweat may make this hard to see right now, but if you’ve got a good attitude on the pitch people with know you've got class. So don’t swear at the ref, don’t pull someone’s jersey (all the way off), be careful who you hate because they might just end up being your college roommate, and never, never, never slide tackle in the box. Soccer’s all over the world so if you’ve got Class you’ll always find a game. That’s the Reward.

E: Everybody loves DEFENCE (Give me a break, soccer doesn’t have a “d”). While the glory of soccer is the scoring, the real challenge of the sport is in defense. If the other team never gets a chance to score then you're odds of winning are on the rise. That's not to say defenders don't what the glory sometimes. I spent my share of years back there too Cale(b), I know how you’re feelin’ buddy, but just know that a real student of the sport is impressed by both ends of the field. I just hope that the fans (and especially Jeff Wald) realize how vital a shutout is when you’re playing some of the best AA teams in Minnesota. Same goes for a goalie, if you’ve got someone who takes each play as it comes and is able to keep their team clam then you’ve really got it all. Defending is the Challenge.

R: Retrospect. (Cue sappy violin music and picture me with a twinkle in my eye and my hand on my heart!) I just want to thank all of the coaches that I’ve had over the years, I look back on our games together and am happy to have been a member of your teams. And also to my family because more often than I said “thank you” for, they paid, drove, washed, feed, sat, cheered, organized, and encouraged from the sidelines. It meant a lot to always have a fan. And to my teammates, now more than ever I realize how fun it was to do something as simple as ride the bus, either freeze my hinder off on the bench or risk overheating at the summer State games, listen to Nick Wilson sing the National Anthem before every game, do “The Drill,” and of course to sit around laughing at Jorge and Simon’s pre-game speeches! The fact that soccer is something you can enjoy years after you’re knees give out and you’re ankles can be taped no more, is where you'll find the sport's truest Satisfaction.


I was thrilled to be able to join a men’s futsol league here in Nakagawa. They meet once a week and I was shocked at how good a couple of the guys are (not to mention one of them is like 6’5” aka a Japanese Giant!). I would say two of them could have played Semi-Pro, and I'm not exaggerating either. It felt so great to kick the ball around again but I’m ashamed to think how much I’ve lost since last fall!

I also got to play ping-pong with this 50 something year old women that was without a doubt the best player I’ve ever faced! She basically trained me how to volley super fast within just ten minutes. It was awesome, the picture below is blurry because we were moving so fast!! = )

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009-

Two months in Japan! Can you believe it? I’ve been here for two months already. In many ways it’s felt like time has zoomed past, giving me only the slightly chance to take everything in. Yet I do feel like I’ve learned so much during my time here. I’ve discovered what a busy-body I truly am, I’ve learned that absorbing a new language and culture is far more demanding than I expected, and that I will ALWAYS reach out to the international student because I know what I whirlwind of excitement and homesickness they are going through. I am thankful for everything that Rotary has done for me so far and I am anxious for what lies ahead.

Tonight I am happy to report that I was invited to the Rotary meeting. Once a month my sponsoring Rotary club has an evening meeting where they basically eat, laugh, and drink until late in the night. Tonight some of the highlights were me giving a brief speech about what I’d been up to, one of the Rotarians writing a poem about a bottle of sake, we each had individual fires on our trays that roasted pork, and me eating a mouthful a ginger that I thought was tempura! It was quite fun to be honest, and although only one of the members is under 50 years of age I enjoyed the company and atmosphere. I can’t imagine what will come in my next 9 months!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009-

Two very odd words to describe my day: Seaweed and American. The first is because in the fishery class today we had to transfer a batch of catfish out of a gigantic tank filled with seaweed and guck. It was slimy work and by the time we were done my working clothes were covered in dirt, plus my hands still vaguely smell of water plants! And American because my new friend Grace Lee (a recent UNC grad who is teaching English at several schools throughout the area this year) visits Bato High School every Tuesday and today we walked into Bato town after school and simply talked in English for a couple hours as she waited for her bus back home. To be honest it was nice to spend a little time with another English speaker again. Now I’m tired and sore and ready for a hot bath before bed. I’ll dream of American catfish speaking English as they harvest seaweed…sounds about normal for one of my dreams!

PS: I finally found a list of community events with the help of Kevin Blackburn. I am thrilled at the possibility of joining Tuesday/Thursday 7:30 PM soccer in the town gym. Tuesday is teaching elementary students and Thursday is playing with some older guys. AND I may also get to join a traditional Japanese drumming troupe! How cool would that be? It may even entail some competitions and so on = )
PPS: Get this, my host mom yesterday told me that she may have a friend who does tennis clubs in a the city north of here, I told her I would of course love to get involved. She knocked on my door 15 minutes later to tell me in short: No tennis, friend is dead...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009-

Eleven Simple Pleasures In My Day (I first wrote ten but then remembered another one, so I just made it eleven):

1) I woke up early and the family and I Skyped for a bit because we hadn’t talked in quite a while

2) I found a bunch of music on iTunes that I had forgotten about and enjoyed listening to the whole playlist on my way to and from school

3) I read a book in Spanish and realized both how much I miss it and also how far I have to go in Japanese before I reach the point I’m at in Spanish. But I’m okay with it

4) I had a stick of ‘Zebra Gum’ that my family had sent over to me (of course I used the blue tattoos, Maria, duh!)

5) I explained the concept of “the day before yesterday” to someone in my homeroom class. He couldn’t believe we don’t have just one word for it like the Japanese do: Ototoi 一昨日

6) In my fishery course today we canned trout. It was my first experience of the sort, and I laughed as I filled can after can with tiny pinches of salt because I felt like we were working in some sort of Japanese fish-school factory…oh wait, we kind of were!

7) I taught Oshima-Sensei (the librarian) all about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and what on earth a “Methodist” was. It was funny plus I used only Japanese so she was proud of me = )

8) At school my friend Rie (aka the hottest girl in school) told me that my Japanese was coming along well, score!

9) After school instead of going home I biked the opposite direction for a kilometer or two because for weeks now I’ve seen this tower overlooking the town of Bato (the larger of the two villages that joined to make Nakagawa – it’s confusing.) Anyway, I’d really wanted to go see the view from the top and it was well worth the hike. No seriously I had to get off my bike and hike up a mountainside with carved steps and everything just to get to the top. I’ve posted pictures below

10) I made it 24 pedals going “no hands” on my bike. I’m trying to teach myself how to steer with no hands. I’m not so good…

11) When I got home my 43 year-old host brother and I talked for a while because he still hadn’t left for home yet. He said he felt so bad for me because there’s nothing to do in Nakagawa and that I was surrounded by old people…In a small way this made me feel better = )

The salt cans
Over these hills and across the river lies the sleepy little town of Ogawa
The larger town Bato, it is about 20-30 minutes bike ride from my house. If you look closely you can see my school on top of the tiny hill in the middle

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009 (More Photos)-

These are just some extra photos I decided to add after I wrote the blog, they're random but fun:
The ridiculous number of koi in the lake we visited below. It puts my little koi pond on the right to shame!
The moss covered rocks that Japanese people love so much
I could easily lose myself in these forests (I mean that in both the poetic, nice version and the scary Little Red Riding Hood version as well)
竹 たけ Take Bamboo
The making of Devil's Tongue gelatin
Miki's Grandma and Grandpa helping to pour the molds. We decided it looks more like concrete than food!
Miki being Miki, and the giant bowl of simmering Devil's Tongue
Our finished product. It has the consistency of Swedish Fish (a random, but I think accurate comparison) and the flavor of whatever it's soaking in. So in this case Soy Sauce, Vinegar, and Wasabi

Sunday, October 18, 2009-

This weekend was just what I needed.

I was lucky enough to stay at my friend Miki’s house from Friday night until this afternoon. My host parents went to Tokyo for the weekend to some family member’s wedding (I saw pictures, it looked gorgeous. Everyone is black, elaborate kimonos or suits except for the bride who wore all white). Anyway, Miki’s parents own a barbershop and it’s a place where someone is always coming, going, chatting, laughing, cooking, eating, or drinking. The family includes Miki (age 27), a younger brother away at university, her mother, father, and her mother’s two parents. It’s a legitimate hoot, emphasized by a handcrafted ceramic owl overlooking their living/dining/kitchen-room = ) Such rooms are common in Japanese homes and make for cozy family time.

I won’t bore you with every last thing we did, but it was such a relief to finally have someone my generation to interact with while still having grandparents who made jokes, cooked, cleaned, and doted over you. I gave them a few small thank you gifts Friday night at dinner and ever since then the presents just kept piling up. I walked home with: homemade Devil’s Tongue (which I helped make from scratch!), stationary, a hand-carved Japanese bamboo ear cleaning kit (it is so bizarre but it works amazingly well), candy, a CD, Miki wrote out some of the new vocabulary words I learned this weekend on a piece of paper so I wouldn’t forget them, a new Nike sports towel, and to top it all off: a brand-new Yukata (the summer version of a Kimono) from what Miki described as one of the top designers in Japan. I think it’d be like being given a Ralph Lauren jean jacket, but only not so denim-y.

Miki has quite the résumé built up already, as she lived and studied in Tokyo for several years before coming back to Tochigi. She was the announcer for one of the traditional Kabuiki Theaters famous to Tokyo. It is an impressive and demanding job to have. Yet she also managed to teach private Japanese etiquette and Kimono classes to some of the city’s elite including a newspaper editor, a company CEO, and a weatherman, all of whose business cards she keeps proudly in her purse. Her mother also teachers Kimono lessons and I think that is how they were able to give me such a rare Yukata.

I am rambling, I can tell. So I’ll sum up the weekend in just a couple more highlights. I slept in a bed for the first time in 52 days; I looked it up on the calendar. I was allowed to cook again, something I have yet to do at the Sato’s. Her grandpa took us to a tower on top of a hill where we caught an awesome view of the plain below before walking through the surrounding forests. And best of all, the random trips out of the house that Miki and I took on our bikes: to a local market I had never been to before, the 100 Yen store, a cool book/DVD/CD store that I didn’t know existed, a library that turns out to be less than a 10 minute walk from my house, and to her relatives farm out in the countryside where we ate several very country style treats. It was a wonderful, happy, and youthful weekend and I finally felt like I was part of a family rather than just a guest in someone’s house. I have officially been invited back anytime I want (specifically by Miki’s grandma, so I know it was a real offer!) and I hope to return soon.

PS I calculated it out the other night but forgot to tell everyone. I realized that I have now biked over 250 miles since I came to Nakagawa. Crazy, huh? = ) Poor Lance Legstrong, I don’t know how he does it.

One of Miki's relatives working in the countryside
The Tower...and Miki...
Miki and Ojiisan (Grandpa)
The view and me being quite happy
A list of Tochigi Countryside delicacies: Green tea (okay that's normal, right?), pickled cucumber (that's nice), sour pickled plums that make me gag (getting worse), some kind of soy and vinegar soaked garlic roots (woah...), and to top it all of, strings of seaweed soaking in a dark sauce made with the heads of Ayu fish! (GAHH, get me out of here!)
A sweet koi pond and garden Miki and I walked to (that's her on the bridge if you look closely)