Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009-

I am home. I am safe. I am still flying high after what was hands down the best week of my exchange. I am exhausted. I am headed to bed.
Much more soon...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009-

Three important things I need to share with everyone-
1) Today my friend Chisaki Iijima who was an exchange student from Tochigi to Minnesota last year came with her family to Nakagawa. It’s a national holiday (again) so we spent the day together. We had tea at my house and along with my host mom discussed the idea of a trip up north during winter break! I am pumped, it is the 23rd-24th of December and we would visit beautiful Sendai city in order to meet up with my Rotary brother Ryota who stayed at my house this past April-July. It will be great. After tea the Iijima-ke (Iijima family) took me out to soba noodles, bowling in Ogawa and over to Sakura city’s public onsen. What a fantastic day spent with a young and fun family. Chisaki’s mom’s name is Yasuko and she is always patient and encouraging to talk to, and her dad, Kyouji, is such a calm, happy-go-lucky guy. It will be a fun trip, I can already tell. Not too much longer to wait.
Chisaki visiting the Nakagawa sights...
2) You know what? I am determined to make this the best week of my exchange so far! It has gotten off to a great start; first Nasu town, now today with Chisaki. I’ve come to the difficult decision that in order to enjoy this week to the fullest I am not going to use my computer at all. The computer can be an exchange student’s best friend, but also their greatest weakness. I feel that I am far too attached to being online and am set on breaking my habit this week. I am very sad about Thanksgiving and not talking to everyone, it will certainly be difficult. Sorry everyone, but when you read number three I hope you’ll understand why…
3) You know what would make this week perfect? Some nice weather. I'd love a trip! A big trip…but where? I think I’m just gonna get up and go. Well surprise! Starting tomorrow morning at 4:30AM I’m headed to tropical Okinawa Island! If you look on the map on the left, it is in the bottom left corner. It was formerly a separate country called Ryukyu, but is now a prefecture of the nation. I am absolutely ecstatic. High schools here in Japan plan one big trip for their students. It usually takes place during the second year (lucky how that worked out) and range from Kyoto to Tokyo, Sendai to Okinawa! I am so fortunate to be included in this opportunity and my host Rotary club is abundantly generous to me in paying for it. They have paid for all the expenses (I won’t tell you a number, but it’s not cheap, that’s for sure) and on top of that have given me a ¥30,000 allowance! That’s the equivalent of $330 US.They are definitely going to get a nice thank you gift out of this!!! On top of that, as if four days in Okinawa isn’t enough, I am also set to spend Friday night and Saturday in Tokyo.

I will first visit St. Olaf’s Kathy Tegtmeyer Pak and then spend Saturday sight seeing with the other Rotary exchange students. KTP (as they call her at Olaf) has been the most welcoming, cooperative, and insightful host to work with. I cannot wait for what lies ahead! I know it will be a week I remember for the rest of my life…

So until next Sunday- Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and be sure to take a satisfying turkey-induced nap for me! All my best, Sam.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009-

It’s always a good day when your ears pop! Because here in Tochigi that means you went to the mountains and who doesn’t love the mountains?? That's the Nasu mountain range on the right, the view from Nakagawa is distant but still reassuring. I have discovered that I take comfort in mountains, they're something that doesn't change on you. I was invited by the Rotary Club President Mr. Okawa and his wife for another fun day of sightseeing in beautiful Nasu-Machi, an hour north of my town. It is a large mountainside town that is bustling with tourists from the cities. We chatted about this and that while making our way up into the foothills, then into the forest, only to emerge in quaint Nasu village. It is now a major Ski resort area, so there are in fact several gigantic hotels set overlooking the Kanto plain below. Along the main street are tiny shops and cafés.

I spent over an hour sitting in the warm, eclectic, and intriguing antique store of Mrs. Okawa’s friend. It was filled with odds and ends from around the world, and yet had many beautiful Japanese items as well. The Okawa’s were so generous and gave me a special little something that I in turn plan on gifting to my antique-loving parents. So I won’t tell you what it is just yet, but it was so kind of them. We also stopped off at a pottery and glass store just to peak inside. The crafts here are so unique.

After the antiques shop we headed to a petting zoo. Yes you heard me right, a petting zoo. There is a funny little “ranch” on one of the slopes that is basically a child’s heaven. It has sheep, goats, rabbits, donkeys, ponies, horses, cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, fish, dogs and cats. I laughed when I realized that at some point or another my family has actually owned every single one of those animals! Although those animals are all common farm critters here, I am reminded that to the Japanese moose, raccoons, coyotes, and porcupines are foreign and bizarre. Just like monkeys, tanukis, and koi are different to me. It's sometimes strange to realize that zoos around the world have animals you see in your own backyard (not implying that I have moose or porcupines in my backyard...)

Next came lunch at a very famous bakery and restaurant called Penny Lane. It is entirely modeled after the Beatles and people come from far and wide to have lunch in the cozy English living rooms, sip coffee in the garden gazebo, or just grab a quick loaf of blueberry swirl bread for which they are nationally famous (I of course bought a loaf, I miss blueberries more than I expected). Lunch was gigantic. I ordered a mozzarella cheeseburger, as it was one of the cheaper things on the menu. I can’t imagine how a poor Japanese child could ever have finished this beast of a patty, (real!) sesame seed bun, veggies, ham, and cheese that they unloaded before me. It even came with a side order of mashed potatoes to boot! But it was truly delicious.

One our way back home they stopped off at a busy little store devoted to candles and Christmas decorations. I looked so hard for a good Japanese Santa, Mom, but they love American and European Christmas decorations so there really isn’t anything L Hopefully you’ll find something back home for this year’s ornament. It did make me yearn for Christmas though! They had music, burning candles, decorations, Christmas trees, and even stockings hung up. It’s going to be so difficult to be away from home this holiday season, I’m choosing not to think about it too much. One last stop at an art gallery to visit their friend and we were on our way back to Nakagawa. Amazing how a day can either zoom by or drag on yet it’s exactly the same number of seconds…

Some Japanese pottery in the Antique shop
And the new craft store, just to compare
Minamigaoka Farm
Bababa (oops, I meant to laugh and say Hahaha)
The Nasu foothills