Saturday, January 2, 2010

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009 & Saturday, January 2, 2010 [COMBO 1]-

I’m back and at it once again after a truly unforgettable week during which I experienced more and more of the country with which I’ve fallen in love. To rewind, let's journey back to the beginning. I’ll have to return to Dec. 23rd, a Wednesday. That morning I met up with Chisaki Iijima’s family for the start of a fantastic day traveling to Miyagi-ken up north, the home of the exchange brother my family hosted last Spring and Summer. Chisaki and Ryota have both gone through Rotary in Minnesota now, and I consider them two of my very best friends here in Japan.

With Chisaki and her two parents we drove three or four hours north until we reached the famous area of 松島 Matsushima.

The name literally means Pine Island, so I got a kick out of thinking of little Pine Island back in Minnesota and thinking about how NOT alike the two towns are. It is one of only three national landmarks considered the most scenic locations in Japan. The scattered islands, ancient shrines, ever-present ocean, and calming sky proved why Matsushima is one of Japan’s treasured gems.

As soon as we had met up with Ryota we grabbed a delicious lunch made from the best oysters in Japan. I absolutely love them now and Matsushima is famous all over the nation for their high quality oysters. Anyway, we ate well, walked the islands, visited shrines, museums, and even got to have traditional Japanese tea well overlooking the harbor.

I was as happy as I had been in months and it was a pleasure to use both a mixtures of English and Japanese when talking with everyone. I am now at a level of Japanese where I can carry on conversations and understand a decent chunk of what is being said. That’s come a long way since when I first arrived back in August.

After Matsushima we made our way into Sendai where the five of us saw the infamous Sendai Christmas Illuminations. The whole main strip of Sendai, called The Loop, is decked out in thousands, if not millions of tiny golden lights. It was crowded, slightly rainy, and filled with lots of cheer. I was thrilled to realize that although I was telling myself, “Oh, I wish my family was here,” I was adding an important change onto the end, “…so that they could see this right now!”

I was truly enjoying the holiday season, and for that and so much more I am ever thankful to Chisaki and her family, and to Ryota and his family. We waved goodbye to Chisaki and her parents after another tasty meal (a second famous food for Sendai- Grilled Cow Tongue!). Ryota and I made our way to his city of Ishinomaki and chilled out at his house with a couple of his friends. What a day it was, and to think Christmas Eve was only hours away and I’d forgotten about any homesickness I’d felt the week before, and instead I was excited to spend time with new friends, knowing that I could talk with my family afterwards. I was happy, just leave it at that.

On a separate note, as for today (Jan. 2nd) I have far less to say, simply that my host mom and I drove around the countryside visiting a couple places and seeing some of her friends. It was slow, but exactly what the Japanese New Years is meant to be about- relaxing and connecting. I have my resolution all set and for one month I will not be on Facebook and I am determined to spend less time on this computer. My laptop has been a blessing and a curse. I love staying connected to the world, checking up on friends (both old and new), sharing my experiences with you, relaxing to new music and videos, watching BBC News daily, and uploading my latest photos, but in many ways that has distracted me from my life here in Japan. So for one month I’m going to try and step back for a little bit, hopefully finding a good balance for the rest of my time here.

Did I tell you Ryota and I are brothers or what?! Do you like our matching flannel plaids? Haha =)
This little ducky was right at home
Fun Fact: Japanese ducks don't say Quack Quack, but rather Gaa Gaa!
The outline of one of Matsushima's many famous shrines
Just one of many photos where Ryota and I act like fools...
Pine Island
From left to right: Chisaki's dad Kyouji, Ryota, Chisaki, and Chisaki's mom Yasuko
The three musketeers
And Harmony
Ryota and I pretending to be master scribes
An unforgettable sunset to top it all off
Chisaki and I enjoying the 茶道 "Sadou" - Green Tea Ceremony
Just some of the tall trees wrapped in lights. Apparently it takes 2 months to place all the strands. Can you imagine?! I can't even manage the knots on our family's three or four cords!
Santas on "The Loop" (pronounced Roopuru) where the illuminations took place
I told you there were a lot of these...
The Sendai train station
Me and Ryota with his two friends- Takaya and Takashi! That's from left to right, fyi. Don't get them confused :)

Quick News -BBC Photo Update-

I'm alive and well after a fantastic week of visiting friends, going to Christmas and New Year's parties, sightseeing, shopping, relaxing, and even skiing! I am currently exhausted but happy and was pleased to learn that a photograph I submitted to the BBC website was chosen as the Have Your Say section "Your Big Picture of the Day." Kind of an exciting way to start off the new year. Check out the photo at: If you scroll down the page there is a close up clip on the middle right, simply double click to see the whole shot. If you see this after the photo has changed then the URL is:

More to come soon, stay tuned =)