Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009-

Some parts of being a Rotarian are apparently universal. For example, waking up early in order to pick up garbage along the highway whilst braving on and off wind/rain storms. Maybe it’s just my 70-something year old host dad, but Japanese men seem to be the epitome of litterbugs! They have no hesitation in chucking an empty can, plastic bottle, or candy wrapper right out the window. Personally I find it incredibly lazy and rude, but I guess it’s just part of being an old Japanese man. They seem to have this attitude of, “Oh, someone else will clean up my garbage/dishes/laundry.” So although we only cleaned up a 2-kilometer path, our bags were full! It’s a real shame, and one thing I’m determined NOT to take away from this exchange.

I enjoyed the walk, despite the cold weather, as I chatted with the old wife of one of the Rotarians about differences between Japan and the USA the entire time. She was fascinated by America and wanted to hear more and more about my family, school, job, city, and country. Such random exchanges of culture are what I appreciate most about Rotary. Anyway, as soon as it was all said and done the club President and his wife (the Okawa’s) invited me out for the afternoon. They are the couple who treated me so kindly when I first arrived in Nakagawa while my host dad was in the hospital because of his heart attack. Anyway they had a couple Rotarians and I over for tea and then we went out for soba noodles. After lunch they took me once more to the Museum of Alternative Art where all the art comes from the mentally handicapped. You wouldn’t believe it by looking at the artwork. This month’s exhibit is from a French woman named Niki de Saint Phalle, and the colors and shapes are so vivid and bizarre. I was fascinated. The picture on the right is one of her most famous pieces.

As soon as I got home I headed over to Miki’s house where I just chilled for the rest of the afternoon. It is so fun to simply “chat” in Japenglish with a friend. We went out to eat Tendon (Tempura covered in a delicious sauce, all over hot rice). Afterwards we went to Yaki Niku restaurant and just “chatted” again for a while with the locals there = ) Good times. To top it all off tomorrow my host mom is taking me into TOKYO for the first time. As the Japanese say: “すごく楽しみ!!” Sugoku Tanoshimi!! I am awesomely excited!!

Also, as most of you know, I love restaurants and food to a sometimes unhealthy degree. So I was so happy when within 24 hours I ate out three times!! Haha

Out to eat with Mama Sato (Fri. night)
Out to eat with the Okawa's (Sat. afternoon)
Out to eat with Miki (Sat. night)
At the Okawa's house. They have a traditional Japanese tea room and this is the lamp hanging above our heads and the bamboo ceiling above it.
A family grave site and the autumn trees behind it

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009- (Part I)

I’ve been hearing a lot of people say that they’re enjoying the photographs I've posted recently of the beautiful Japanese Fall. So today instead of writing all that much about my Fishery trip down the Nakagawa River, I’ll post 4 pages of photographs to tell you the story instead. Quick Background Info- I accompanied the third year class and three of my favorite teachers for another day in Ibaraki-Ken. The weather was once more threatening rain all day but it didn’t really begin to fall until we were back in Nakagawa. So that was great news. Please feel free to leave a comment about which picture you liked the best = ) Enjoy
It's as if you could walk straight out of the river and not stop till you reach the top of the mountains behind
The mixture of greens and autumn reds, golds, and browns really makes for a striking layering effect. On top of that, the featureless white sky behind made the day feel somehow surreal
Crawl upstream, back into the bamboo thickets and you never know what you'll discover
At the place we stopped for lunch there were three trees lined up next to one another. The first had dark green leaves and light pink flowers, the second a darker flower yet, and the third looked to be ablaze with autumn colors. It was an unusual idea to see such a combination (also notice the tiny bee on the top light pink flower!)
The fiery leaves of the third tree
When you stop to think about it, this is really quite a unique twist
The three trees together
More photos below...

Friday, November 13, 2009- (Part II)

Isn't this precious. A kindergarten day trip to see the fish.
(It also reminds me of an AT&T commercial: More bars in more places...)
Look at the different layers of color in this picture. I love the bands of autumn colors running through the evergreen forest on the mountains behind
A tiny boat house tucked into the side of the cliff
The water downriver is very clean and a rich green
Again, a tiny house hidden away in the hills. I'd love to wake up to that view every day, wouldn't you?
The term 紅葉 Momiji - Crimson Leaves is perfect for this tree. The mountain rising behind it is just as colorful
More photos below...

Friday, November 13, 2009- (Part III)

A Dog Salmon, the river is absolutely full of them as Fall is their time to spawn
Look closely, can you spot the spotty little fish?
One of my classmates in the river. He is actually reaching down to touch a salmon as another one goes zooming away (that's the cool zigzag in the water!)
Yet the sad truth is that as soon as they're done spawning they die, and therefore the riverbeds, shores, and birds' stomachs are just full of dead fish
A smallmouth bass that we caught today. They're gigantic in the rivers here. In fact the world record bass was caught in Japan
Tiny footprints cross paths in the mud
I imagined a great big Tanuki (Japan's version of a raccoon) and it's little baby scampering along beside it
More photos below...

Friday, November 13, 2009- (Part IV)

One of my teachers who caught a salmon using only that bamboo pole!! Now that's talent. Apparently he smacked the water right above it making it jump onto land where he grabbed it! Cool huh?
This is just a series of the hilarious signs they have telling you not to swim in the river...or turtles will eat you...(these made my day)
So bizarre...
I have no words...
Would you believe that the girl on the left and the man in the purple behind her are my teachers? Don't they look really young?!
Doing chemical tests on the river water

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009-

What do you know? The rain held off all day. This moring was freezing cold yet the low, dark clouds did nothing but menace over my head as I biked to school. As the day went on the wind grew colder and stronger but the clouds cleared out. I’ve been told that this is the way of things for Nakagawa during the wintertime. Wasn't the sky cool though? Anyway, I snapped a couple more pictures of the fall colors today because I can tell that soon they'll be gone. I’m pretty sure they’re still calling for rain tomorrow though, which is a bummer because I’m scheduled to visit Ibaraki Prefecture again with the third year class this time. The fact that I am involved in all three years of the fishery program is really paying off. They are inviting me to all of the fun events and trips without really expecting me to do homework or big projects!

I’ve got soccer again tonight so I’m excited for that. It’s somewhat reassuring (and mind blowing) to think that it’s been a whole week already since I played last. I feel like it was just a couple days ago. I know with full weekends and good Rotary events to look forward to the hard months will be over before I know it. One last highlight of my day: I found out that a couple of the kids in my homeroom class love FRIENDS the TV show and watch it all the time (in Japanese of course). It’s a good thing I’ve seen every episode because we laughed and joked about that for quite a while today. I do feel like I’m become more of a “friend” to them than just an “exchange student.” So that’s got me feeling good as well. This last picture on the right is of a tombstone basically right on the edge of the forest that I bike by everyday. The red color leaves overhang the entrance to a dark cave in front of which the tombstone stands guard!

I also laughed when I realized that the most comments I’ve had on a post lately have been about fried oysters! Now I know what people really want to be reading about = )

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009- (Kaki Furai)

Okay I needed to share one more thing (there's still a real blog entry below...even though I think it might be shorter than this one!).
You know you've just had a great meal out when the first thing you want to do when you get home (after changing back into your sweats of course) is to upload pictures of how delicious it was! Tonight is the monthly Rotary dinner meeting so my host dad wasn't home, therefore my host mom and I went out to eat as well. She took me to this random restaurant in the middle of the city hall building. Anyway we ordered scrumptious カキフライ – Kaki Furai – Fried Oysters! Oh my gosh was it good. The oysters were battered in panko and lightly fried. It came with lemon and tartar sauce (Japanese – “Tarutaru Sousu”) a fresh salad, a pickled cucumber side, a hot cup of miso soup, and a big bowl of rice into which you mixed a soft-boiled egg. The rice was gooey and warm, the soup was steamy, and the oysters were perfectly crispy and warm inside. I am still drooling!
Doesn't it look delicious?
Mama Sato enjoying her Kaki Furai as well. And the best part was she got full before she could finish so I got her extra oysters = )

Wednesday, November 11, 2009-

In one of her past blog entries my best friend Samantha Weaver ( She’s on Rotary to Mahadahonda, Spain) commented that an exchange student’s day is influenced so much by the weather. I couldn’t agree more! The joy of waking up to a sunny sky and warm breeze is just enough of a boost to get me rolling (literally) in the morning.
On the other hand rainy days like today seem so much colder, drearier, and slower. I am thankful that so far Japan has had a majority of the first, but a handful of the latter aren’t bad either. They make you appreciate the nice days. Yet as I sit in my room, wearing sweats and turning the heater up, I am praying that the weather forecast for three more days of rain is somehow mistaken…Probably out of luck though, the Japanese are obsessed with the weather and their Weathermen and women are like TV Celebrities! There’s one guy on the news that wears different colorful stripes suits everyday. That in itself tends to brighten my day = )

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009- (ADELE Music Video)

I’ve been ruined by YouTube. It proved to me far to easy for me to blog with! So today because I really have nothing more to report, I shall instead share one of my favorite songs during my time abroad. Hometown Glory inspires such fantastic imagery in my mind every time I hear it and Adele’s voice is so unique that I could listen to this song on repeat for hours. Plus, the lyrics are perfect for me, a person traveling, living, growing, learning, and “wandering from my hometown.” All of her songs have this same edge and her album “19” (ironicly my lucky number!) is fantastic, check it out if you get the chance!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009-

Okay so I couldn’t get the video to work on Blogger, so instead I uploaded it to YouTube following the advice of blog genius Nick Arvidson ( Be on the look out for his adventures in Newcastle, Australia next spring!). I have included two options. One is the video embedded in this blog, so feel free to watch it here. If that isn't working then simply follow the URL posted right below it. Here's my YouTube description of it:
太鼓 Taiko Drumming- "Harmony" ~~ An awesome five person performance that I had the pleasure of watching. The three different sizes of drums make for a unique combination of sounds. The whole thing is 4 minutes long but two of my favorite parts are around the 2 minute mark when they do this cool jumping thing, and the last three seconds! Fun, fast, and very Japanese! I hope you enjoy it - Sam

The weather today was bizarre, so on my bike rides to and from school I snapped a couple pictures. I edited the last ones of the sun, but they’re way cooler this way! Haha, enjoy

From the top of one of the hills I bike over
The real colors. First one's cooler, don't you agree?
Black and White

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday, November 8, 2009- (Taiko Update W/ VIDEO!!)

I just got back from my first real 太鼓 Taiko Drumming practice. The past week they were performing and the week before that I came back late from Utsunomiya. This was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had yet. The atmosphere was welcoming, encouraging, and yet professional and competitive. My Taiko Sensei’s name is Hoshi-San (it means Star) and his daughter Haru (Spring- so her full name me Spring Star! Haha cool eh?) is 22 years old and was a blast. After setting up they had me introduce myself to the dozen or so people there which ranged from a 13-year-old girl who kicked my butt at drumming to a man in his mid-60’s who played the giant drum in the back like it was nothing! They then handed me the sticks and said Gambatte Kudasai, which basically means, “Okay Sam, we’re throwing right into it, do your best!” Haha They whipped through a Taiko 101 for me and then we started practicing their next piece. It was exhilarating, far more challenging than I expected, and far more of a work out as well. I doubt I’ll make it to their level of performance anytime soon but in the meantime they’ve invited me back every week.
I recorded a video that is absolutely unreal. It is of five of the drummers, one on lead (the tiny drum), three on the middle drums, and one on the big ones in back. It’s 4 minutes long and the blog website basically crashed when I tried to load it. I'm going to try putting it on its own later today, hopefully that will work. Sorry = \

Sunday, November 8, 2009-

There are some experiences that aren’t necessarily fancy or extravagant or impressive, but they can be memories that you will look back on years later and realize that what made a weekend like this so memorable was simply the place and the people. On Saturday morning I hopped into my Rotary counselor’s (okay this part was fancy-pants) shiny new Mercedes-Benz car, and rode westward to the mountains. The tiny mountain village that we finally reached had the perfect name for our trip 秋山 = あきやま Akiyama = Autumn Mountain. The trees were turning a brilliant red and gold as it seems like Fall is lasting forever here in Japan, certainly much longer than back in Minnesota.

To put everything in brief: the current exchanges students in Tochigi, next year’s exchange students from Tochigi, and a mixture of Rotarians and Rotex (students who have been on exchange and are now back) all got together in these fantastic mountain cabins where we did nothing but chat, play games (including Bingo, icebreakers, and a crazy game involving flower and candy- just picture bobbing for apples but with tiny bits of candy in a bucket of flower! It’s not at all pleasant and in fact I think I inhaled flower and almost died, but to see everyone’s faces covered in white powder as they came up for air was absolutely hilarious!). I brought much of the American goodies that my aunt and uncle had sent me last week and it turned out pretty much everyone else had the same idea.

So it was easy for us to stay up WAY to late considering we had blood sugar off the charts and nothing to do but sit, laugh, eat, drink hot chocolate, and finally feel intimate with friends again! It was fantastic. This morning we also gave speeches about our countries in Japanese to next year’s students because soon they have to choose where they want to spend their own years. It’s a good thing a picture speaks a thousand words because I am sure my commentary left them wanting more! And now, with that in mind, enjoy these next several thousand words, because I’m just too wiped out…

Bingo with great prizes at the end. For example, a Hello Kitty hot water pouch, but I didn't win it
The crazy flower and candy game
Our awesome cabin and stash of junk food
Morning exercises. The Japanese love these. Nice scenery too, eh?
Just a cool sun rising in the mountains pic
These are the outsides of the cabins we slept in! Aren't they awesome? I couldn't believe we all fit!
LIE! Haha That was a joke above, these are the cabin we stayed in (as Anaïs and I are demonstrating with our shadows). The previous ones are also open to rent though, if you're up for a challenge!
(I've got even more pictures for you too look at below, see the next entry for today)