Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010 – (The Final Entry)

A year abroad as a Rotary Exchange Student is more than a long vacation. It is Risk and Opportunity, together with Triumph, Adversity and Responsibility. Mix all that together and what do you get: a full Year of growth.

I can say now, on my last blog entry while abroad, that the result was well worth the journey. To recognize the vast number of adventures and challenges I've experienced throughout the past ten months is as much of a reward as I could have ever hoped. Last night I had a moment of peace and contentment as I simply lay in bed and reminded myself of some of the many remarkable (and at time ridiculous) things I've accomplished while over here in Japan. 
Thoughts about going to a fishery school, learning a completely foreign language, biking over 1400 kilometers, eating every type of food Japan has to offer, beginning a travel blog, taking whole days just to contemplate...stuff, experiencing yet another Soccer World Cup abroad, painting Japanese calligraphy, and mastering the Tokyo public transit system.
I still remember experiencing the world’s most famous sushi market, learning how to better maneuver an Asian social hierarchy, attending an entire year of school and only being assigned ONE piece of homework (English homework at that!), exploring countless aspects of the Japanese culture and tradition, traveling an incredible amount and discovering more about myself than I’d ever thought there was to uncover.
I had thought that this last blog needed to be perfect and stylish and unique. But now I realize that what will make this entry special is the fact that it truly is my last. The year of growth that I have just completed is one that simply cannot be expressed in words or pictures, but only in gratitude and resolution. I do not mean this to be in any way  self-boastful, but rather one of the many things from my exchange for which I am thankful: feel much older now. My lifestyle has changed, as has my mindset, goals and motivation. It’s an exciting moment when, with billions of people on this planet, you can step back and say, “I can hold my own.”

I don’t see my life as this.

I see it as THIS. 

I now comprehend that there is undeniably an overlapping and intricately connected network of life, diversity and ambition on this planet. It is a limitless combination of where I can go, what I can see, whom I can meet, or most importantly, who I can become. 
That’s the perspective I’ve reached thanks to this exchange. I wouldn’t trade such a year for the world, because that’s exactly what I’ve gained from it. 
I want to express my gratitude to so many individuals, yet I know that the chance to do so will come soon enough once back home. I can’t wait to reconnect with all of you. Hopefully at that time the conversation will be a little less one-sided than it has been for the past ten months! That being said, I do owe each of my blog followers a very sincere thank you. This website has been an outlet for me throughout the year to not only share photos and fun experiences, but also to genuinely concentrate my thoughts by setting them down into writing. I am indebted to your collective continued encouragement and support. Thank you.
To Rotary I also must give great credit. They have established an incredible exchange program that spans the globe and I simply feel so fortunate to have been one of the nearly 9000 students who took part in the 2009-2010 year! I hope I can continue to offer insight and encouragement for future participants both in person and through this blog. It’s the least I can do for all that the program has done for me – お心遣い、どうもありがとうございました!!

And finally, I want to share with you my exciting travel plans for the days leading up to my July 11th return home.  
Tomorrow, June 23rd, I will be meeting Ryota in Tokyo during the afternoon. We have a busy schedule planned for the next few weeks, but in the end we will have visited our friend Min in South Korea, spent a week down in Taiwan, and finally returned to Japan for two more days. During that last stretch in Japan, I will be realizing one of my greatest dreams from the year: climbing Mt. Fuji! Japan's most holy pilgrimage, I will be hiking the nine way stations (spending the night in a small hut at the eighth) in order to watch the sun rise over the entire island below. It is said to be unimaginably beautiful and tranquil - watching light strike the land of the rising sun.  And so with that being my last big hurrah, I will be off to the airport and onto a plane over the Pacific. Before I know it I will once again be hugging my family in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport! 
And so it comes full circle. My first entry from Japan was of having to leave my family at the Minneapolis airport. I used the words, “Today is just the beginning. Before me I have one incredible year in Japan full of adventures, challenges, friends & firsts.” 
And that I did!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010-

Well, there was a little mix up on contact information and scheduling which in the end gave me one extra day here in Tochigi. What I mean to say is that I was going to finish my Rotary exchange tomorrow afternoon, but now instead I will wait one more day in order to meet up with a friend and Ryota in Tokyo on the 23rd instead.
Therefore....I have all day tomorrow to write one final blog entry while abroad before I go on my big trip. But in the meantime, I'm going to be a little bit selfish. I am going to completely stop thinking about packing, phone numbers, hotel bookings, extra emails or (gasp) blogging for the rest of the night and just have fun with the Shiozawa's. Sorry to have backed out on my promise of another entry today, but tomorrow I will definitely write one last time while in Japan =)
Until then - PEACE

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Saturday, June 19 & Sunday, June 20, 2010-

There’s so much I want to say in these last couple blog entries but I know that I will never do them justice if I force something out at 1:00 in the morning. Therefore, I promise you one last, well organized one tomorrow, but tonight all I’ve got the energy for are a few snapshots from my last weekend here in Tochigi – I hope you enjoy it because I sure did!!
Grace Lee, Kris Burridge, and I
My host family treated us to a delicious soba and udon lunch - lots of fresh and tasty tempura and croquettes too!!
Grace and Kris out behind the soba restaurant
Later that evening we went out to a very fun 80's Costume Party that some of the ALT teachers had organized in the area. Quite the get-ups!!
Hayley and Kris were clearly enjoying their (rediscovered) fashions
Part of the costume contest
Vera and Hayley. Between her killer purple visor and her classic dance moves, Vera ended up winning the contest!
Grace and Matt
Very cool night guys, thanks for letting me join in the fun
Then tonight, Sunday, my local Rotary club, a couple school teachers, and my host families had a very classy going-away dinner at the nearby Bonheur Restaurant
The rest of the gathering
The food was so nice I just had to take pictures of it
This was a grilled vegetable gelatin with foamy tomato sauce on top
Basil, fresh cheese and tomato spoonfuls and extremely tender garlic Tai Red Snapper sashimi
Pork Puree, Kobe King Salmon, and "Ice Plant"...if anyone can tell me what "Ice Plant" is that would be very kind of them
Fresh greens truffle salad, with a pumpkin puree dressing drizzled over the top
Beef Tenderloins with various tempura veggies on the side
An AWESOME dessert: Coconut pudding and fresh golden pineapple on top, next to beet and maple syrup sorbet with just a bit of a mint sprig on top
So I ended my meal just like I have my Rotary exchange - in good taste!!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Thursday, June 17 – Saturday, June 19, 2010-

I have been told by countless previous exchange students to enjoy the last few weeks of your exchange because they are by far the quickest of the entire year. Well I’m finding that to be sound advice. The past three days have zoomed by and now I find myself trying to catch my breath once more. The rush to pack so many things into my last week at Japanese high school has meant for long days - well that and the fact that I’m staying up way to late watching World Cup Soccer games too!!

Quick shout out to my AATG Germany Exchange 2006 friends. Can you guys really believe it has been four years since we were in Nürnberg? Parts of it seem like ages ago and others so clear it could be last week!! Well here’s to our awesome exchange, and to Saranya’s suggestion of Reunion World Cup 2014 Brazil =D

But back to my current nation – JAPAN!! I’ve been trying to take in as much as possible and it still feels like my cup is overflowing. It’s all of the little things too, for example a day of fishing and soccer with my homeroom class; a heartfelt collection of photographs and good-bye letters from Oshima-Sensei and my third year friends; and a delicious, but still sad, good-bye dinner with the Kobayashi’s at our favorite sushi restaurant. I really don’t have much time this morning either, I’m meeting Grace and Kris, two of my ALT friends, in order to spend the afternoon and evening with them in Otawara city to the north. And seeing as they’re going to be here in an hour and I’m still lying in bed I really ought to go!! =P So enjoy the photos, I should be able to write once or twice before my trip next Tuesday, but until then “Go Japan!!” Our game against the Netherlands is tonight; hmmm we’ll see how this one turns out!! Haha =\

I consider this "the setting of the rising sun." Kind of like the end to my Japanese exchange at Bato High School
The new fishbone background also ought to symbolize the finishing of Fishery School!! Haha, not to be morbid or anything =P
On Thursday I had my last fishery field trip. We went fishing all day at a river up north. The weather was (as you can see) perfect.
Then once we got back to school we all spent an hour or two playing soccer out on the pitch - GREAT DAY!!
Miki and his classic peace sign
Nasushiobara - the same area where I went skiing with the school back in January
Plenty of fish to be caught!
Tanaka taking a break from fishing. He has the right to as well, he's ranked as one of the top 10 Ayu Fishermen (of any age) in all of Tochigi Prefecture!! And that's saying something
Seiya and Yoshida-Sensei going over the day's catch
Misaki, Yoshida-Sensei (aka Katherine Norrie's twin), and Azu in the art room
Art was my very last period of school, so we had a fun going-away party and played games
Seiya, Miki, and Yoshida-Sensei
Ma and I pretending to use their incredibly generous going away present to me: a lacquer tray and real gilded Kyuushu pottery!!
I realized that the very first time we went out to dinner as a host family we went to this same restaurant. It seems like a long time ago but it was really just last January!! Crazy what six months can do
THIS is the picture from January!! haha, does Ma look older =)
I think they look like brothers more than the same guy seeing as he now wears glasses - funny

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010- (THE JAPANESE TWINS LIST)

First of all, my sister Maria has started her blog for Rotary Youth Exchange to Argentina 2010-2011. It is cleverly named "La Vida Mia" which in Spanish means both "My Life" and "The Life of Mia"(her childhood nickname!) BE SURE TO CHECK IT OUT!! She just posted her first entry: mestenson.blogspot.com

And now for one of the blog entries I've been thinking about for months now.
And it all starts Katherine Norrie...or at least her twin sister, whichever one you want to pick. It was she/they who set me off on a yearlong quest that is finally coming to fruition. You see the art teacher here at my local high school could be the perfect Japanese match for my art teacher and close family friend, Katherine Norrie, back at my alma mater of Northfield High School. It took less than a day at my school here before I started making a list of “Japanese Twins” based on family, friends, and celebrities back at home. Obviously I don’t have pictures of all these people, but for the most part I have found people who look like someone I know. As you’ll see from the following list, it is one of the most random conglomerations of names to ever grace the blog-o-sphere. I would like to say, before we begin, that this doesn’t in any way reflect how I feel towards you. I didn’t even find my own family, so if you aren’t on the list, don’t feel bad, it just means I haven’t found your Japanese clone yet!

  • Katherine Norrie and her sister, Yoshida-Sensei, are both fun and energetic art teachers. In fact, the word for glue in Japanese is even pronounced nori. It’s like it was meant to be! *
  • Yujie Sun has a fellow partner in (fashion) crime with Kikuchi from my homeroom. I’m pretty sure they’ve both at some point or another worn suspenders to school
  • Taylor Lawson served me sushi at a fast food restaurant
  • Miki, my other best friend from school will admit himself that he resembles everyone’s favorite Disney character
  • A woman walking her beagle - PERFECT match to Faye Caskey
  • Tyler Lebens apparently quit college in the US only to attend fishery school
  • Chelsea Koenigs’ kindred spirit is one of my other good friends here
  • Matt Vogel was in a children’s news program on channel 12
  • The quiet and smart kid from the fishery class last year was a mixture of Kyle Smested and Ira Hanson
  • Laurie Brackee was on the news in a story about her elderly mother living independently
  • Calina Hall is a Rotary rebound student who went to France for a year
  • A mixture of Cindy Barrientos and Sarah Behr also spent a year abroad through Rotary
  • My fishing and kayaking teacher Tanaka-Sensei is just like John Daniels*
  • The 45-year-old version of Jonny Bauman was snorkeling for giant salamanders in a sewer
  • Doug Hiza enjoying a nice dip in the local hot springs
  • Arlene Carol passed me while biking
  • My cousin Phil has the same sense of humor and comical facial expressions as Abe from my homeroom class
  • Russell Anway’s voice was on one of those cheesy tapes accompanying the school’s English textbooks
  • The twin of my other cousin, Brian still towered over his fellow soccer players in the men’s local futsol league
  • Steph (of Jeff and Steph fame) quietly read her book on a train to Utsunomiya with me – I was tempted to ask her how she’d been doing lately but didn’t want to disturb her from her novel!
  • Adrian Lazaro’s new name is Shogo, one of the Rotex friends I made
  • Amber Woitalla’s voice came floating (okay screaming) down the hallways of my high school…just like the good old days, minus the Japanese of course!
  • Sonja Norgaard plays the guitar in a bright purple dress, apparently
  • Ashley Reilly was in the background of some political event on TV
  • Brekken, the rambunctious German shorthair dog owned by my cousins, was doing what she loved most – hunting. But this time, instead of pheasants she was chasing stray monkeys through the hills of Nagano!! Turns out monkeys are a bit smarter than birds. I could just see her little mind running though, - I’ll even go through the trouble of translating it for you! - “Awww, man I almost had that one!! Really, really. Jeez, I’d even give my left ear if I could just climb these darn trees!! Then they’d really be stuck. I’m gonn- MONKEY!!!!” and off she would sprint again.
  • Cindy Kramer and Deb Thomforde both have children going abroad next year. I’ll bet you didn’t know that, did you ladies?! =)
  • Siri Thompson is a TV celebrity
  • A third year in my school is Meowth from Pokemon - his hairstyle even looks like cat ears
  • His friend looks like an Orc from Lord of the Rings, or maybe a goblin. I’m not sure which yet, all I know is I feel really bad for that guy…
  • Yosh Soltis was a doctor giving flu shots
  • A duo of third year students remind me a bit too much of lizards. I tend to steer clear of them!*
  • Isaac Tut stood out for obvious reasons in a crowd of short little Japanese people
  • Margaret Colangelo in a convenience store buying juice
  • Donna Paulsen making her way home on the train
  • Katy Shuermann was a teacher leading her class through the castle of Naha, Okinawa
  • Danyelle Fuhrmann in the international street of that same city
  • Jacob Merkle driving his scooter near the beach
  • Pam Vig in a full body wind suit jogging happily with a friend (in an equally flashy outfit) along the sidewalk. I always knew you had a neon pink and yellow flare to you, Pam!
  • Jeanne Tamura outside of a Harajuku 100 Yen store
  • Sam Studer was dressed like Santa Claus in Shinjuku, Tokyo
  • Susan Boyle dropped off her kid at Bato High School
  • Alan Riveros riding a Tokyo train
  • Nick Arvidson in a business suit. Lookin’ spiffy Nick!
  • Katrin Holl, the Austrian exchange student who came to NHS a couple years back, was shopping in a Yokohama mall
  • Bri Lane was also (surprise surprise) power shopping at the mall!
  • Mia Miller was my waitress in a Chinatown restaurant. You looked a little bit upset though, Mia, what happened to you on December 6th, 2009?! You were making your twin angry =P
  • Ellen Mucha boarding a Shinkansen Bullet Train in Tokyo
  • A fortuneteller who looked a lot like a giant toad. Too bad her own fortune didn’t turn out better
  • Mrs. Salisbury owns a books store near my house
  • Maya Rudolph from SNL was waiting at a stoplight
  • Felicia Hansel walking home from school
  • There’s a girl in my cooking class who looks like Allie Lyman did during her self admittedly awkward childhood years. Anyone who’s been to her house, picture the little league button on their fridge!
  • A drawing of a Christmas elf on the side of a chocolate bar looked like Barry Carlson
  • Maren Dvorak was on the side of every cigarette vending machine in Japan for the month of December
  • Casey Watkins in a Sendai department store on Christmas Eve
  • Someone walking the streets with his girlfriend had the same hair and nose as the Crazy Horse statue in South Dakota
  • Sarah Martens on a TV show about savings the cheetahs
  • Kylie Daniels was some school girl making mochi rice cakes on channel 4
  • Rachael Stets was a very fashionable girl on the train who wore a giant fur hat and even had a “Rachael Stets-ian” scarf
  • Angie Tanghe was wearing an expensive kimono in an Utsunomiya department store
  • Vicki Dilley is a singer dressed all in white who sang at the New Year’s television special*
  • Cousin Alisa competed in the Japanese version of Name That Tune.
  • Wendy Smith holding a bouquet of flowers in a crowded train station
  • A mixture of Rachel Sampson and Emily Quinnell (or kind of like the recent, and much improved, version of Miley Cyrus) eating ramen noodles in Sano. Still the best-looking girl I’ve seen all year!!
  • Chisaki Iijima even had a Japanese twin. Max and I were convinced it was her for a minute
  • Frau Winkelman boarding a train in Utsunomiya
  • A fifty-year-old, excessively well groomed Jacob Anderson was standing talking to himself about how cold it was in the station waiting room
  • Gary Carlson gave me a kind nod as I biked to school – very Gary Carlson of him!
  • Tommy VanWylen was touring the Asakusa Shrine
  • Phil Soltis stopped to enjoy a street performance in Ueno Park
  • A 45-year-old version of Neil Wefel near the Japanese National Museum – Neil’s favorite place, of course
  • Hillary Van Wyngeeran had more than just a little bit of sass as she walked down a nearly empty Tokyo sidewalk. It was like she was struttin’ her stuff on the catwalk rather than a dirty city walkway! But good for you, Hill.
  • Cinda Laabs gave me a very Cinda-esque smile and nod a narrow Tokyo street
  • My grandma Estenson was (in my mind) wearing a far too racy and lacy black sequins dress for a nationwide karaoke competition on TV. She even had long black gloves and matching red hair…That one scared me a little bit. I can honestly say I’d never pictured my grandma Asian before!
  • Again, Allie Lyman if she were thirty years older this time, and owned a Chinese restaurant – shoot for the stars Allie =D
  • Bjorn Carlson was an aspiring acapella punk rocker on a competitive music program
  • I found a 12-year-old Cale Steinhoff on my host brother’s soccer team, he played defense and not only was he half as tiny as everyone else, he was twice as crafty
  • Lila Weaver seemed very happy to be spending the day in Tokyo Disney Sea
  • In a Rotary magazine there was a picture of a big, scary foreign man (I’m guessing Ukrainian or Belarusian) who had a flat top and was wearing a black and blue soccer warm up. I was convinced Cohrs had finally seen the light and become a Rotarian!
  • I saw Emma Twito in fifty years. Don’t worry Emma, you’ve still got your same spunk and style =)
  • Céline Dion was driving her van near the supermarket – gotta make that sushi!
  • Amanda Frazier was on a Japanese game show…and failed horribly!
  • Taylor Shroyer (or his dad, seeing as they look the same) reeled in a 20 kilo Giant Sea Bass on a famous fishing program, well done Shroyer, well done.
  • I saw a tall blonde foreigner that looked so much like Solveig Hagen that I was left wondering if it wasn’t really her. Solveig, were you by any chance in rural South-central Japan this February?
  • I found Amberly, my fellow exchange student, waitressing in the Tsutaya Wired café n the top floor of the Shibuya shop. Is that how you afforded all those crazy Harajuku outfits, Amberly??
  • Professor Snape was an Olympic long jump skier*
  • Kristy Wacek and George from Seinfeld were holding hands on an early spring walks through town
  • Sandra Bernhard has moved to tiny Tochigi, Japan. The last place in the world any paparazzi would be looking for her (but then again, when was the last time any were!)
  • Ruth Bauman is a little country farmer
  • Congratulations Kevin Holmsten, you graduated from high school in Japan also.
  • My Aunt Barb and Lois Peterson were a duet at a local music concert. I didn’t know you two could play the Japanese koto!
  • Meanwhile at that same concert Bruce Dalgaard sat with a smile on his face, just like I’m sure the real Bruce would be enjoying a koto recital.
  • Jake Sager was eating at a hamburger restaurant called “The Grab Happiness”
  • Beret Amundson if she were a middle aged Japanese house wife
  • There’s a pair of really dense fellows in the fishery first year class who remind me of Crabbe and Goyle from Harry Potter
  • Imagine Liz Brady in a perpetual state of fear, like when she makes her eyes so big you can see the white all the way around them, and that was the face of a woman trying to park her car in the restaurant parking lot. Very frightening
  • Lindsay Vonn apparently did some post Olympic R&R in Nakagawa, Japan
  • Picture a frog with a big curly Afro like bubble of hair and that’s one of my classmates
  • Abby Stets was one of two people, either the youngest (and as you can see from the picture on the right - cutest) grand-daughter of my first host family or a freshman at my high school who has hair longer than her waist. So you can pick Abby, which do you want to be?!? =)*
  • Liza Rod served me lunch one time
  • Joe Gallagher was really into photographing trees…what’s that all about, Joe?
  • Ron Sommers cruising the countryside roads in his truck
  • Sam Maus out for a jog
  • Aaron Bradley drives a fancy black Nissan
  • A clone of Emily Stets, but with the personality of Dusti Boyum
  • Funny enough, the first find during the trip with my cousin Andrew was none other than our grandma Alice. She was sitting across from us on the train and proceeded to pull random items out of her purse, in true grandma fashion. Her hair was even the same style
  • Heather Scott was the first person I recognized in the Kyoto station
  • A very “Jenny Kram” like girl was checking emails at our Kyoto hotel
  • A nice plump Rosie O’Donnell waiting for the Osaka train
  • Mr. Joyce fell asleep on the metro across from Andrew and I. Andrew wanted to pull a prank on him, but I convinced him it probably wasn’t the real Mr. Joyce
  • If Sam Weaver’s aunt Trish looked a little bit more like an Eskimo I could have sworn that she got on a metro train with us in Osaka
  • The previous Prime Minister Mr. Hatoyama for some reason looks like he could be in the Abdella family*
  • A Japanese mix of my cousin Molly Studer and Katie Nygren on the metro
  • Beyoncé also loves the metro system apparently
  • Stina Nesbit was, of course, a Japanese television drama star
  • Colleen Norton almost hit me in her Jeep. Don’t worry Colleen, I forgive you =)
  • Alan Cox, definitely an Alan Cox, was spotted on my way to school
  • Justin Stets if he wore glasses and were a banker
  • Mary Carlson perusing a Tokyo CD store
  • I served Katie Ingman lunch at our restaurant – she ordered soba noodles and tempura (good choice, Kate, good choice!)
  • 17-year-old Anne Minske passed me in rollerblades
  • Jim Thompson dropping off his daughter at school. But unless Siri or Liv have shrunk by about a foot and dyed their hair black, I don’t think he was dropping off either of them. =P
  • And finally, just a few days ago, I spotted my cousin’s little boy Cole Sommer, frantically trying to escape from his parents at a rest stop. He put up a good fight too, getting out of their grip and halfway across the parking lot before he was recaptured


So there you have it. It’s been a random yet fun task for me over the year, and it’s brought me more than a handful of laughs along the way.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010-

I’m hoping to do two blogs today, but the second one is proving to be quite a task so it might not get posted until tomorrow or later. I’ll keep it a secret for now, just to build the anticipation!!

~ This is the point when you as the reader can excitedly bounce up and down in your chair saying, “Ooooh, I wonder what it might be?!? I’m so excited!” You know, like Sam Weaver does for all of my blogs ;) haha, just kidding ~

Today I had a fun lunch over at the fishery school that we as a homeroom class prepare ourselves. It was curry and rice, salted and grilled ayu fish, chocolate cake and this awesome waterfall method of eating soumen rice noodles involving a garden hose, a metal saw, ladders, chairs, several poles of bamboo, chopsticks and ninja-like reflexes! Haha, if that doesn’t sound like a fun meal I don’t know what does.

Miki helping make the cake
This is when we're happy there's still at least one girl in the fishery class
Koike and Tanaka making the Shioyaki Ayu
Sitting down for lunch, we'd work up a good appetite
And this is it!! It's called 流し素麺 or "Nagashi Soumen"
It involves cutting several pieces of bamboo in half, hallowing out the middle, and creating your own little noodle river!!
Just turn the water on high, send some noodles shooting down and the goal is to grab and eat all of them before they spill off the end!! So funny, I can't believe it took until my last week for us to do this =P