Friday, December 4, 2009

Thursday, December 3-Friday, December 4, 2009-

The fact that we are now finishing the first trimester here at Bato High School is a bit of a wakeup call for me. I’m one third done with classes here in Japan. I’ll admit that at times it has felt like much longer than just three months, but in other ways I can still picture myself stepping through security at Minneapolis Airport, stopping to slip on my shoes, grab my backpack and wave back to my family one last time before heading to gate G4. See what I mean? Time is flat out twisted for me still.

Anyway, because all the students were taking finals yesterday, today, and will again on Monday, I’ve been spending my days in the library. Yesterday was downright chilly! The rain didn’t stop all day and the view of the mountains from the library’s third floor windows tell it all (photo to the right). Once at home, I happily curled up with a huge down comforter, watched a movie on my laptop again, and snacked on the big package of delicious thanksgiving treats Chuck, Cindy, Andrew, and Kaitlin (cousins) sent me!! Today was much better weather, and I decided I’d explore the library a bit while I sat and studied. So here are some of the cool shots I snapped = )

PS. I just went out to dinner with the Kobayashi family (my next host family) and had the most delicious Unagi (fried and marinated fresh water eel) I've ever eaten in my life! Yummmmm

PPS. I added red イルミネーションライト to my Christmas Tree! 10 Points if you can figure out what that means = )

The sun poking over the top of this shelf of Japanese Encyclopedias
I have NO idea what this says, but I admire the Asian languages that use characters so much more now. It's truly a lifetime of studying in order to understand the written language. I can't imagine having to do that with English!
Quick Cultural Note: Back in the USA I finished taking spelling tests around grade 6. I was never very good at spelling (I know you just scoffed at that understatement, Weaver!) and could probably have used some more. But here in Japan "Kanji Tests" (or tests on the Chinese characters) happen two or three times each trimester and are considerably challenging for students here. It takes years to become proficient in them. I will hardly scratch the surface during my year!
These ones win the coolest binding contest!
A look inside another Encyclopedia
Falling in different directions
I'm reading a copy of "The Japanese History with Simple English." It's meant for native Japanese people, but I just reverse translate the things they translate. It's confusing, but I like it. I also found the set of textbooks used in English courses at Tokyo University (think Oxford or Harvard for Japan) and I am self studying. It should be good practice for University of Denver next year...
I stopped off for a gelato at the Bato Town Highway Rest Stop. It seems like the last kind of place that would have good gelato, but it was rather yum yum. I had Pumpkin and Italian Vanilla for only 300 Yen. Score!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tuesday, December 1-Wednesday, December 2, 2009-

It seems that no one really wants to return to real life after our incredible Okinawa school trip last week. The teachers are just as reluctant to get anything done this week as the students are. Yet the fact of the matter is that life goes on. It’s already December and I know that in just the blink of an eye Christmas and New Years will be come and gone.

Four highlights of the past couple days:

1) I had another Rotary meeting today where I gave them their Okinawa souvenirs and thanked them a thousand, billion times for giving me such a wonderful week. I also met a very interesting woman named Ra at today’s meeting. She is from Taiwan and is teaching at a university in Taipei. My Rotary club gave her a scholarship of some sort so she was awarded that today. Her English was great (just like her Japanese) and we hit it off right away. In true Asian fashion gave me complete contact information on how to get a hold of her if I ever visit Taiwan. She was serious too. It’s so fun to make one-day connections that you won’t feel guilty about reviving even a few years down the road.

2) Grace Lee and I went to the famous Bato Art Museum featuring works by a famous woodblock artist named Hiroshige. Grace is the Bato High School ALT English teacher, and an American who recently graduated from UNC. The artwork above and below is from the museum. I love the first piece because of the waves, colors, and Mt. Fuji in the background.

3) I watched the movie Mr. & Mrs. Smith on my computer because I was feeling homesick yesterday. It made me better

4) The reason I was homesick was because I had never set up a Christmas tree without my family before. Yesterday my host mom surprised me by digging out her sons’ old artificial tree with a big bag of ornaments. It made my day to have some Christmas cheer in the house, but it was a strange/lonely kind of happiness.

100 Views From Edo is Hiroshige's great collection of woodblocks from Tokyo (originally named Edo) all with Mt. Fuji in the background
I wish you could see the details in this one. The tiny birds, rice stalks, and even the mens' hats. It's all so incredible to see
This one was even gilded!

So now that you've seen these impressive pieces of artwork I'll explain how a woodblock is made for those of you who don't know. It is entirely based off of stamping ink onto a piece of parchment. The artists works in layers, carving out detail after detail of a block of wood. When they have their image complete, they then work on coloring it. They will paint a thin layer of ink into the right place onto the wooden block, then stamp the piece of parchment, transferring a gentle hue with a faintly wooden grain designs underneath. Darker colors take more and more stamps, and many woodblocks have been stamped dozens of times. It's truly incredible to see them up close.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009-

And on the seventh day he rested...
No blog for today, just enjoy last week's posts

Tuesday, November 24-Sunday, November 29, 2009-

Introduction written Sunday Afternoon, November 29th -

On this my 100th day in Japan, how do I begin to blog about what has turned out to be hands down the best week of my exchange?! I have enough stories and pictures to fill a book, and I know that if I don’t condense everything down I’ll leave you with pages and pages of blog to read. So for everyone’s sake (and for my sanity) I will simply upload “the album” of 95 photos from the trip, plus one short video of the beautiful Okinawa sunset. I’ll break them into days and add any stories or comments I have to share, going in reverse chronological order. Thank you to everyone who is following my adventures, I hope that I’m able to share even a fraction of the excitement and joy that I felt these past couple days. Although I was away from family and friends on Thanksgiving, I know that I will have wonderful stories for years to come. I’ll be able to say that I spent the Thanksgiving of 09 in beautiful Okinawa. The memories I made this week will always be something for which I will always give thanks. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009-

Tuesday morning started early- very early. Up by 3:45, to school by 4:30. On the bus by 5:00 as we drove to the airport. I stayed awake the whole bus ride but many of my friends crashed. I did catch a snooze on the plane, but it was still a full, full day! Check it out...
The whole school lined up in Tokyo's Haneda International Airport. It was so funny to see all of us dressed alike marching through the crowd. That's my math teacher with the surprised expression on the lower right
What do you know, everyone fell asleep (masks still on) during the plane ride
The beautiful Shurijou Castle of Okinawa
Before 1947, Okinawa was actually its own country. It was known as the Ryukyu nation and its king was appointed by the emperor of China. The king's extravagant, bright red palace is what we visited Tuesday afternoon
Me standing in front of the king's throne. Everything was so ornate and RED
A model of the Shurijou as the Ryukyu king is appointed by the Chinese emperor
After the Shurijou tour, we loaded back onto the buses where we drove a couple hours north to the city of Nago, Okinawa. As we drove along the coast it absolutely down poured. One highlight of the ride though was seeing a large brown island bird spiral above the rough sea, only to stop in mid-flight, plummet straight at the water, correct course at the last second before diving straight in. It came up a second later and flew off. I have no idea if it caught its fish, but in my mind it caught one "this big" (wings stretched out as far as the poor bird can reach).
Luckily, as you can tell from above, just as we rode into Nago city the skies cleared and one of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever seen unfolded. The colors were even more vivid in real life.
A video from our first hotel room
An Okinawan sunset
The incredible sky
Certainly a day to remember

Wednesday, November 25, 2009-

Day Two: My favorite of the entire trip! First Snorkeling with 12 of my classmates then the Churaumi Aquarium; I'll never forget this day:
Snorkeling on Mission Beach! It was certainly one of the highlights of my entire trip!
I had been snorkeling once before when visiting the Florida Keys for my cousin Julie's wedding. Okinawa was just as spectacular and the coral, fish, and our guide were fantastic. I was surprised to find several puffer fish swimming around beneath us. I was thrilled when our guide dove down, grabbed one of the fish from behind only to bring it up to float on his surfboard. It completed one of my life goals: to see a puffer fish puffed up in real life! It was great, we even got to "pet" its spikes. We all laughed when it burped only to spit up a little mouthful of water!
Other encounters included nemos, angel fish, parrot fish, many tiny blue fish, sea slugs, sea urchins, and sea anemones. A tiny fish that had cool black and gold stripes like a bee, a spear fish, a gang of leopard spotted mini-parrot fish, and more clown fish that thought my white fingers were the bits of food we fed them.
The view from the Snorkeling beach. We ended up sitting on the beach, searching for cool shells and coral, and playing beach volleyball for an hour or so after we finished snorkeling
Friends and I all set to go snorkeling. PS I had never though of putting on a wetsuit as a skill I possessed until then. I have learned from years of experience tubing out at Kandiyohi Lake. It took me a few seconds but it took my classmates quite a while! They were shocked by me. Haha, thanks cold Minnesota lakes = )
Coral, Sand, Foam, Waves, Ocean, Island, Clouds, Sky
Just keep walking
I won't ruin this picture with words. Enjoy!
So nice to have a break from Tochigi's cool weather!
I could have sat there all day
Awww, so tiny...
Picnic on the beach anyone?
The ocean, mountains, and sky. What more can I say about Okinawa?
シーサー Shiisaa or in English "Shisa Guardian Lions"
The island is famous for them as they adorn every gate, home, and shop. They are meant to protect from evil. Now they're one of Okinawa's most famous souvenirs. I certainly came home with a case full
If the shisa has an open mouth it means that it's a male, closed is a female
Blue and Red
沖縄美ら海水族館 Okinawa Churaumi Suizokan
Okay, bonus points if you can make out the two lion fish swimming in this picture.
After snorkeling my group visited the Churaumi Aquarium. Internationally renown, it was incredible. Just check out some of the fish we were able to see. As you can imagine, my fishery friends were flying (or should I say swimming) high as we spent an entire afternoon enjoying the mysteries of the ocean
My snorkeling was a little less vivid than this, yet still fantastic!
This was INCREDIBLE!! The kuroshio tank is the most famous in Japan and the viewing window you see before you is the second largest in the world. The tank holds three fully grown Whale Sharks (9-10 meters long, yet records are near 14 meters long. That's 46 ft!). They were so peaceful and unusual
Seiya, Me, and Miki (if you look closely you'll see one of the whale sharks passing right behind my head)
Two of the three whale sharks crossing paths
The manta rays were also enormous!
It's the Giant Squid!! I can't believe they stole it from the Black Lake at Hogwarts!! Poor Harry...
珊瑚 - Sango - Coral
Feeding time for the whale sharks. Just like a great whale, they feed off of plankton
Everyone taking pictures of feeding time! It was packed
The Shiisa lion statues guarding the aquarium park. That is a separate island straight ahead, the only way to get there is by boat. It looked fantastic sitting across the water
The dolphin show by the ocean side
The island again
and again...
I really wanted to go visit it!! Oh well, that just leaves me a good reason to visit again
The fountain that the Aquarium with the Island in the background
Incredible beaches again
Okinawa Nov. 24-27, 2009
Seaweed floating on the waves. In some parts of the island they actually cultivate the seaweed for cooking and medicine
Some of the coral and seaweed found on the beach
What I would give to sail around these islands! Oh wait, that's right cousin Julie. I can just visit your fam in Saint Croix! I'm seriously going to plan a trip sometime next year!! I specifically took this picture for you = )