Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saturday, January 30, 2010-

Today I found pieces of peace from my life back home:

1) Spending an afternoon watching Masahito's 12-year-old boys soccer team play on a dusty field with the tall Nasu mountains rising behind them
2) I ate lunch with the people from the Kobayashi's store. Nothing fancy, just soup, salad, and rice, but what I enjoyed most about it was the fact that a dozen random people ranging from ages 19 to 70-something could all share a cramped table in the back kitchen, laughing and chatting away like they do every day, but today they included me as if I'd been sitting down with them for years
3) Dinner tonight was a big, medium rare steak, just like I like it! It's been over five months since I've eaten steak. I've had hamburgers and even rice burgers here in Japan, but I've not had a steak since my going away party last summer. Amazing how many memories I associate with Dad cooking out on the grill
4) I watched a Friends episode before going to bed
5) I am waking up early tomorrow morning to go into Tokyo again! Actually this time it's into Chiba prefecture but I have to take a train through Tokyo to get there. Me, Max, and some of the Rotex are going to Tokyo Disney Sea for the entire day (as in "I'll be gone from 7 am to 10:30 pm" all day! Wish me luck). It's going to be a blast, I can't wait. I'll update everyone on that once I get a chance. Hope all is well back home, it was fun to have a couple little bits America again. As many parts of Japan as I've really grown to enjoy, I am also realizing that deep down I enjoy aspects of my American life much more than I thought I did...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thursday, January 28 & Friday, January 29, 2010-

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!! お誕生日おめでとう!! I hope you’re having a great day =)

I got to skip school again today (another day of ずる休み!For my Japanese followers :] ). This morning I woke up at 4:30 in order to go to Gunma Prefecture with my host dad and Shima, one of the workers at the Hiyashia store, in order to pick up 100,000 fish!! That’s right, we loaded up 100,000 inch-long Ayu fish into their fish-transporting-beast of a truck and drove them back to their new home here in Nakagawa. Although I am not at all a morning person I did find a great deal of peace riding passenger seat in a tall truck driving the deserted Japanese back roads at 5 in the morning, an enormous full moon hovering just off the horizon dead ahead of us. The light from the giant golden globe lit the passing fields, forests, and sleeping houses in a perfect yellow glow. It was a very fun drive and excursion. Well worth missing school! I had never been to Gunma Prefecture either (it’s the region to the West of Tochigi-ken where I’m living), so I am able to cross that off my list as well now. That makes eleven Japanese prefectures (“states”) that I have been to now. I’m very lucky to have seen so much. Hopefully that will continue until I leave in mid-July.

Shima driving with the sunrise in the rearview mirror
Those are all tiny Ayu swarming for breakfast
Shima working on the truck. Each of those three tanks are full of fish, The mountains in the background at the Northwest border of Gunma-ken
The tank that we took them to in the Kobayashi's fishery

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Monday, January 25 – Wednesday, January 27, 2010-

I feel as if I’ve been in the Kobayashi family for months rather than mere days. I have a sense of relaxation and comfort that I haven’t experienced for a long time now and it all has to do with the openness and amicability that they’ve shown to me. I can already picture this becoming a lifelong relationship that we maintain, exactly like I’d been hoping for out of my exchange. In only 7 days they’ve made me feel at home in their kick-a$$ house, taken me out to dinner multiple times, included me in their store shinnenkai, introduced me to their 23 year old nephew who took me out to golf and dinner with his friends, we’ve watched movies and television together until late into the evenings, and they even found episodes of Friends in Japanese for me to watch = ) What more could I ask for?!? Photos below, they always do the best job of highlighting my week…
The outside of the Kobayashi's house. Those big, gold Kanji are from when the store used to be located in the home
Mine are the top windows on the left
Decorative Koi
This is a real Samurai set of armor in their entry way (just fyi there are sets like this in the National Museum that Bruce and I visited last weekend)
Yes, it's true, behind our house is the temple graveyard!
The living room and kitchen
Perfect place to watch some tube!
These are their nephew's friends who I went to play golf with. Lots of fun
Haruka was wearing high heels so we made fun of her when she walked around the driving range barefoot
Mika, Haruka, Sosuke, and Yoshitaka being funny
A sunset, endless rows of telephone wire, and the first star of the evening
The Hiyashia (Kobayashi's store's name) Shinnenkai. It was a great party
That's my host mom, Sumie, in the front left
Today in school, being near the 3rd year's graduation, we got to make Monja (delicious grilled pancakes with different fillings mixed in) in order to celebrate. It will be too bad to see some of these guys go, they've been good friends to me during the school days

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Address

Just so no one happens to send anything to my past host family, please note that my mailing address has changed until the beginning of April:

Attn: Sam Estenson
Kobayashi Hiroshi
Nakagawa-machi, Ogawa 2874-3
Nasu-gun, Tochigi-ken, Japan

=) Thanks

Monday, January 25, 2010

Friday, January 15 – Tuesday, January 19, 2010-

The long weekend that I took with Bruce Dalgaard in Tokyo was, as I mentioned before, absolutely fantastic. I love the city and being with someone like Bruce who knows it so well is always a treat. It makes me excited to think that years from now I will be bringing friends and family to Tokyo with the conviction that it is “my city.”

I made great new friends with Michiyo and her daughter Anna, along with a couple of Bruce’s past students. One being an American from New York named Stefanie Horton and the other Saeko Kojima who is now a professor here in Japan but Bruce calls her “his Japanese Daughter.” The delicious food, stimulating conversation, and long nights out in the city were what I’ve been looking forward to above all else.

I am now far too busy to write a long, detailed report about everywhere I went, but I hope a giant photo collection with suffice for everyone. I’ll attach them below. Enjoy!

These first couple are an overview of the trip, then I have even more below...
Bruce at peace. He has a cappuccino and is relaxing at his favorite cafe in Tokyo, "Ben's"
Bruce and his dear friend Michiyo, from Waseda University, who took me to Ofuna and Kamakura on Sunday. It was one of my favorite places so far. Definitely one I want to see again!
A look over the city from Tochou Towers
Lia, Evan, and Kathy Tegtmeyer Pak in their apartment on Monday night. They were kind enough to host me a second time. We made a feast of a dinner and enjoyed each others company
These five are some of my favorites from the trip
1) Kamakura's Daibutsu Buddha
2) Ofuna's giant Kannon Statue
3) The dragon of Taya caves
4) One of my favorite shots so far in Japan. This is so typical Japanese preschool. I immediately thought of the rhyme
The ants go marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching two by two
The little one stops to tie its shoe
And they all go marching down
5) I find it interesting that the word on the ribbon says, "Untitled"
The bright flags of a Sumo competition. Bruce and I tried to buy a ticket for the Saturday match but they sold out early in the morning
A busy Asakusa row
A view of the Ueno mall seen from the National Museum
The Kannon statue of Ofuna upclose
The second sight we visited was the Taya no Dokutsu, or Taya Caves. Begun all the way back in the 1100's, this cave complex is dug deep within the hills of Ofuna town. This was a real highlight of a highlight filled day
The inside of the cave is so dark that the few, dim light bulbs aren't enough, you must walk with a tiny candle nailed onto the end of a stick. The second reason being that if you walk too fast, the weak flame will be extinguished so it encourages people to take their time and admire the cave itself
The carvings were incredible. I can't believe how old they are, and to think that at the time they were carved it was only done by candle light, spooky!
Bruce and Michiyo admiring some of the caves high vault rooms
Statues of Buddhas. Kathy told me that these usually are placed after the death of a baby or young child. I had no idea at the time, but it is sad to think that the rows and rows of statues that we saw were all for lost children. And that is why the parents want to clothe them and keep them warm
We then made our way to one of the old centers of the nation, Kamakura. It is filled with weeks worth of shrines and temples, but we saw only a couple of the most famous ones. The renown Kamakura Daibutsu is a statue of the Buddha carved completely out of bronze. We even got to go inside it, it's that big!
Bruce and I at the Daibutsu
A bright blue sky to offset the green bronze
So far my favorite "simple" temple (by that I mean opposed to the lavish temples of Nikko) has been without a doubt Houkokuji, which means "Temple of giving back to the nation." It is also known as the bamboo temple because it is famous for it's beautiful bamboo thickets.
A hidden stone lantern, or Ishi doro, within the tall stalks of bamboo
There is a small stream of water pouring off of that cliff that has flown down so long that it has dug a deep crevice into the side of the stone
The plum blossoms are the first to bloom, not too much longer and the infamous cherry blossoms will start to bud as well!
Graves dug into the cliff alongside yellow plum blossoms
Honestly THE most impressive garden I've ever walked through. Can you spot the koi swimming past?
The meticulously well groomed pebble gardens of a Japanese temple
Saeko, Bruce, and Michiyo out at dinner Sunday night
Michiyo's daughter Anna. She was really cool. Although she's only 19 she's studied in Canada, Czech Republic, and now is independently studying back in Japan. She wants to become either a hip-hop or Flamenco professional dancer. Hopefully we will be able to meet up again next time I'm in the city
The colorful streets of Tokyo
The skyscrapers of Shinjyuku
I walked to the Tochou Towers of Shinjyuku on Monday afternoon. They're the government centers of Tokyo City and the elevators to the top of the North and South Towers (pictures above) are completely free. It's a great spot to visit, overlook the city, grab a highly overpriced lunch, and enjoy reading your book!
A Sepia View from the Top
(that sounds like a title to some deep philosophical book...I ought to remember that for my next best seller...)
Okay call me crude, but anyone who puts up a picture like this in their bathrooms is simply asking for a picture to end up on the internet....and I would feel bad not granting them their wish =) haha still laughing
Take a moment to try and figure out what this is....

It's the windows on the side of an opposite building. I love the reflected light from the glass of a nearby tower
A street view of Shinjyuku
The delicious Kinpira that we made at Kathy Tegtmeyer Pak's apartment Monday night
The famous Akamon [Red Gate] of Tokyo University (indisputably Japan's top university). It is where Kathy is doing her Fulbright scholarship studies, so I went to see the campus on Tuesday morning
A glimpse of the campus
Tokyo University (nicknamed Todai) has a ever so peaceful pond in it's tiny center. I simply sat and watched the ducks, walkers, and listened to the odd combination of sounds. A gentle waterfall to my right, the quack of ducks as they're tossed bread from a homeless man (again, a strange concept to think that he might not have much food but he sure wanted to make sure the birds ate breakfast), yells from a nearby Lacrosse team practice, and the constant background whirl of overhead helicopters.
A kind of different snapshot. Can you spot the crying crow?
Birds galore enjoy the rare patch of nature that is Ueno Park nestled into Tokyo's busy streets
The Temple of Benten on an island in the middle of Ueno Park
The colorful bands of incense burned with prayers