Saturday, February 6, 2010

Friday, February 5 & and Saturday, February 6, 2010-

Friday was a busy day of trains, walking, doing the whole schmoozy meet-and-greet, and eating lots of free food. Just the way I like it! I got to ride on a shinkansen (bullet train) for only the third and fourth times while in Japan. My host parents and I arrived in Tokyo in the morning so as to spend the afternoon at the 69th Tokyo Gift Show. It was held in the Tokyo Big Sight where many of the city’s largest public conventions take place. We saw stands selling everything from copperware to salt-covered Tai fish to Hawaiian hula dancers to beer made from cactuses to blueberry soba noodles to strange stepping exercise machines. It was exactly what you’d expect from a giant international convention.

Today, Saturday, I spent a fun snowy afternoon visiting Karasuyama, the city where Miki works. We ate at a restaurant called Clover, which looks like a castle from the outside and serves delicious food. I ate escargot for the first time in my life. It was far better than I expected, being mixed with garlic, breadcrumbs, and bacon! Very tasty =)

After that we went to the sake company that Miki works for. We took a tour of their large cave dug into the side of the Karasuyama hills. It was going to be used for a bomb shelter, but is now used as a fermentation location for Nihonshu, or what we call “Sake.” We had to come back early because the snow started to fall so thickly. It wasn’t even in the forecast so everyone was a little surprised to wake up and see it snowing like heck this morning. I am supposed to go to a Rotary orientation tomorrow afternoon on the other side of Tochigi Prefecture so I hope the roads clear up.

The Food Section
Some of the stands at the convention
Sumie trying out the strange stepping ball
A new year's decoration (apparently this one costs somewhere in the thousands)
Oh the Japanese and their candies...
We could even see Mt. Fuji at sunset from the train
A Japanese Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
Miki and I at Clover
That front plate is escargot
We even got free gobo root ice cream (that's burdock root) very strange but mixed with mint and fried gobo strips it was delicious
Would you believe this is all made from layers of washi (Japanese style decorative paper)
The inside of the shop where Miki works
The entrance to the sake company's cave
Follow the light
The Owner's Collection, one bottle from every major batch they've made
Miki actually had to be a tour guide because an extra group of people showed up the same time as we did. Poor her, having to work on her day off

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tuesday, February 2-Thursday, February 4, 2010-

The past three days have flown by so quickly. I don’t understand how I used to have time to update this blog every night. I barely have time to fill out a short entry tonight. In the past three days I have done three things that I would say pretty well encompass a good exchange. School trip, dinner and bowling with friends, and a cultural holiday with my host family. When it comes right down to it these are what fills an exchange students days, adding in Rotary events like Disney Sea, of courses: School, Friends, Family, & Rotary.

The national custom of 節分 “Setsubun” is the day before Spring (yes, believe it or not today was the first official day of Spring here in Japan). We roasted soy beans, threw them out the window and around the house, ate sushi rolls and drank green tea facing the Southwest, and shouted “Demons Out! Fortune In!” It’s supposed to make sure that all the evils leave the house. This is Ma throwing beans out onto the veranda and around the living room. The part about eating a whole roll of sushi facing the SW is a tradition to bring good health for the coming year. A not so quick (in fact I begin to rant) but hopefully interesting note: in olden days Japan I would actually have been born in Autumn (my birthday is July 19th). You see according to the old calendar, Spring actually began in January. Each season was only three months, so Spring was January-March, Summer was April-June, Fall being July-September, and Winter rounding out October-December. Nowadays Japan follows the same calendar as most of the rest of the world.

However, when I first heard this I had a strange moment of overwhelming meaninglessness. Okay, follow my train of thought here: I have placed so much faith and confidence in the current calendars, governments, languages, and other general knowledge. Well obviously the past Japanese nation placed a great deal of faith in their system as well but now it has been completely wiped out. Who is to say that our “knowledge” isn’t simply going to be replaced somewhere down the line? It left me pondering who will be looking back on our era and laughing at what we so confidently assumed as the truth? I had that fleeting moment of weight and pressure, but it was immediately followed by a burning desire. It left me wanting to study and improve something, to leave a mark. I started thinking of the names of people that will be remembered years from now for the things that they have left behind. Names as random as J.K.Rowling, Presidents Obama and Bush, Beyoncé, Ichiro, Angela Merkel, David Beckham, Dan Brown, and even Julia Roberts all floated through my mind. I am left now wanting to join such ranks. I have been asking myself ever since what it takes to be someone who will remembered. I haven’t come up with one solid answer, but of course it will include motivation, talent, luck, and perseverance. If anyone has suggestions on how I can change the world I gladly welcome them ;)

The way I figure it, someone’s got to reinvent the calendar, why shouldn’t it be me?

Tea, Sushi Rolls, and the Southwest (apparently this year's lucky direction)
The cliffs after Monday's snow
My school took a trip to visit two universities in Utsunomiya (the capital city of Tochigi Prefecture). Is it just me or do all charter buses use the same upholstery??
I went out to eat Ramen and go bowling with a couple of the guys from the Kobayashi's store. They've been inviting me out to do stuff with them more and more lately which has been lots of fun. Don't worry, the little kid in the middle is the guy on the left's son, not one of the workers at the shop!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sunday, January 31 & Monday, February 1, 2010-

What a way to mark the milestone halfway point of my exchange year in Japan. Yesterday I woke up at six in the morning in order to visit Tokyo’s exciting Disney Sea with some of my Rotary friends. Think of Disneyland with a big canal running through the middle of it. I enjoyed a full day of rides, food, laughter, and crowds; what more would you expect from perhaps the most well known international business aimed at entertaining the world’s little ones (yet is one that often ends up amusing the rest of us too)?! I marveled in the incredible name that Disney has become. I have been to Disneyland in California once before, but it’s a different experience once you’re a little bit older. I am glad I was able to go with friends who were so fun loving and young at heart (like my good friend Chisaki in the picture on the right!).

Highlights of the day included a myriad of fast and flashy rides and attractions, a fun dinner in Aladdin’s middle-eastern castle, the Japanese word games we played while waiting in line or on the train, and an illuminated nighttime boat ride through the canal. The park is an entirely different place after dark. The place is nearly as well lit as the daytime, but instead there are rainbows of color cast around from all corners of the tiny Disney realm. I got back home around 11 at night, meaning it was definitely a full day.

The fact that it was my halfway point in Japan provoked a whole flurry of emotions. I sat alone on the train ride back home after waving good-bye to the Rotary kids and it was a much needed twenty minutes just to think. I feel as if I’ve learned so much about myself in the past five and a half months. Parts of it have been absolutely unbelievable, but somewhere deep down inside of me I’m happy to have it behind all me. I struggled much more than I thought I would being away from home, learning to swim for myself even when the current was pushing against me, finally realizing that life can feel a lot like the Titanic sometimes, vast and limitless yet indisputably mortal. Luckily there’s plenty of lifejackets here in real life, people like my family, Sam Weaver, Miki, the Rotary students, Oshima-Sensei, the Kobayashi’s, and more and more people who I am still getting to know. I am glad that I still have five and a half months to experience that.

There’s a giant snowstorm outside right now, and by that I mean an inch or two of snow and a strong wind. Apparently I might not have school tomorrow! Haha, oh the life of never going to school. Now on Friday I’m going to a gift show in Tokyo with Sumie and Hiroshi (my host parents who are the bomb) and we’re going to spend a fun day snatching up as many giveaways as possible. I’m hoping for the traditional American versions of free rulers, free meatballs, free coloring books, backscratchers, and especially bumper stickers (something I have been surprised to find very few of in Japan) I’ll try to stop by before then.

Lines, Lines, Lines!
There were eight of us there. Max and I were the only two current exchange students that could go, but the rest were all either Rotex (past exchange students) or Outbounds (next year's exchangers)
Chisaki and Mioto on the Aladdin Merry-Go-Round (don't worry it was a double decker merry-go-round so it was cool enough for old kids to ride it too...kinda)
The Mystery Mountain. Inside is the roller coaster for Journey to the Center of the Earth
This roller coaster (either Rising Spirits or Raging Spirits, can't remember) had a wait time of nearly an hour and a half so we decided to skip it!
Belly dancers in Aladdin's castle (and who said Disney was only PG?!)
The illuminated Globe fountain at the Disney Sea entrance
This is the snow after an hour and a half of blowing...