Friday, February 12, 2010

Thursday, February 11 & Friday, February 12, 2010-

THEY WON!! It was a very fun game to watch, as Japan beat Hong Kong three to zero. If it weren’t for the pouring rain I would have chanced at calling it a perfect evening. As it stands I’ll just have to use terrific and exciting. As I see it, there’s always a silver-soccer-balled lining on giant rain clouds that come and rage over the National Stadium in Tokyo for hours on end.

We woke up early Thursday morning and traveled by shinkansen into Tokyo. There were six of us: my host mom, sister and brother, their aunt and cousin, and myself. The picture to the right is me, Masahito (my 12-year-old host brother), Yuki (my 16-year-old host sister), Koushin (their 12-year-old cousin) and Aunt Taiko-San. The boys, myself included, all love soccer, so it was a day we'd all been looking forward to for a while now.

We spent the morning shopping around the city, stopping at a huge soccer store called Kamo (where I took the picture of the soccer balls above), grabbing a tasty lunch at a soccer pub called Estadio, purchasing some new clothes in the famous shopping district of Shibuya, and relaxing in an eight-story bookstore that overlooks the district's main square. Around 6 o’clock we made our way to the National Stadium where we donned soccer jerseys, thick sweatshirts, raincoats, hats and mittens, and finally big, clear ponchos. Our seats were in a great location right between the visitor’s bench and the southern goal. Before the warm-ups were even over the players were absolutely dripping. The rain had started to pour around 4 o’clock and continued to blow all night long. The northern end of the stadium was devoted to the “supporters’ section” which included some of the loudest fans I’ve ever heard. They honestly started chanting as soon as the first team member set foot on the pitch and continued all the way until the last whistle was blown, only stopping during half time to rest their equally bouncing, screaming, clapping, flailing bodies along with the actual players. Halftime found Japan up 1-0, and the second half brought two more goals, one a beautiful header by Japan’s Japanese-Brazilian-Italian defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka. Funny enough, Tulio (as they call him here) is, just like me, only 6’1”, but he looked like a giant out there.

The match ended 3-0 and as soon as possible we were in a warm cab flying back home, followed by a cozy shinkansen back to Tochigi. The rain became sleet as we traveled north and by the time we stopped in Utsunomiya it was a nasty mixture of water, ice, snow, and slush. My host dad actually came all the way to pick us up because my host mom didn’t feel comfortable driving the roads at 11:00 at night. It took us nearly twice as long as normal to get home, meaning I wasn’t back in real dry clothes, warm in bed until 12:40 or 1:00. All I remember is tossing a bunch of dripping coats, hats, gloves, jeans and sweatshirts in the dryer, grabbing my nearest pair of PJs and turning up my heating blanket as high as it would go. I think for a little while there I’d forgotten what it felt like to be dry! I’m just glad the game turned out well! Very fun day and even better story = )

FYI, cherry on top of the cake, snow day today

Singing the national anthem with the support section in the background
Kick Off
The crowds. Apparently over 16,000 people still showed up to support the teams
That's right. No hot dogs or popcorn here in Asia, just cup noodles and chopsticks. But, as it was freezing (look at how wrinkly my fingers are!) this went over much better than an overpriced combo of nachos and beer
This is how close we were to the game. That's Japan in the white, Hong Kong in the red
A glimpse of the rain overhead
The clouds were so low the Tokyo skyscrapers seemed to be tearing them open, emptying even more and more water onto those of us below
My yummy steak lunch
Big Mac, literally
That's right, he's even in Japan: Jesse James! Guess they still haven't caught him =\

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010-

I had one of my favorite dinners tonight, and between a rainy day on the couch reading a book and now watching TV on a full stomach, I’m in a darn good place right now. I have no real pressures in my relaxing life, I am staying with a funny and inclusive family, and I get to go to the international soccer game between Japan and Hong Kong tomorrow in Tokyo! I simply keep asking myself, “Can life get much better than this?”

The book I read this afternoon was The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. It was a free download on my iPod and I finished it all in one sitting. This is the first real book I’ve completely read on a screen, not just on an iPod, but also on a computer. It was a strange, but well written novella and I am glad to have spent the afternoon reading it. In a way it was a fitting book for me to read, more just for the concept of change than the actual plot. In fact it’s almost the opposite of the real storyline- waking up to find your world changed for the worse, you’re exiled by those you love, witnessing them move on without you, and finally dying alone in your room. Yeah, I’d say my experience here in Japan has morphed into something new, but certainly not in a Kafkaesque manner. Now that I’ve finished I wish I had a classroom full of classmates to discuss it with, but for the time being I’ll just have to store my thoughts until (at least I’m crossing my fingers) I have to read it for some college lit. class down the road!

This is Grandma Kobayashi and Masahito as we enjoyed a dinner of Makizushi. Basically you take a roll of seaweed, put a spoonful of sushi rice in the middle and add all your favorite tops. You can mix and match to your heart's content. I love it!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 - I FORGOT!

Three things I wanted to include in the blog below but forgot:
1) Today I had my ancient Japanese fortune read. There is a man who comes to the Kobayashi's store and interprets their fortunes for the year. Today he came and at the end told me that in this coming year: My intelligence would be strong, as would my money, if I got married it would only be normal, and if I had children they would fall below average! Haha, very useful information to remember for 2010. I hope that brightens your days, Mom and Dad. No marriage or kids, just lots of tests and money at college. =)
2) It reached 65 degrees today!! It felt like spring. I went jogging in shorts and a T-shirt and am now thoroughly exhausted. Strange to think we had a blizzard only 4 days ago.
3) By far the funniest moment of Around the World in 80 Days was the part where they needed all the wood they could to keep the steam ship running. They started pulling off siding, and peeling up the deck. Finally one man tried to grab the wooden leg off the sailor standing next to him only to be beaten over the head by everyone gathered around!

Sunday, February 7 – Tuesday, February 9, 2010-

Sunday was another Rotary district orientation. It’s always a treat to see my district friends. We’ve connected extremely well and I wish we were able to see each other more often than just once or twice a month. I credit much of our friendship to the district Rotarians who have done so much to keep us connected. Each month brings one gathering or another. Sunday we all had to give speeches in Japanese about foods we like and dislike and why. There have really only been two foods that I can’t stomach here in Japan (which let me tell you, is saying something!). The first is called Ume boshi. They’re the pickled plums that are so sour that they remind me of bile! I can’t stand them!

The second is called Shiso. It’s a flat, green leaf that is often served with sashimi squid. Again, the taste is what gets me. It’s a combination of sour and grassy flavors. Not one I find very pleasing… After the speeches we all went to see The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Hmmm, if anyone actually does understand that movie, please include me in the loop! Very confused.

The only other real highlights from the past two days have been no school. I spent yesterday sleeping in and I watching Around the World in 80 Days online. The same website that has Friends in Japanese also has movies on it. This movie was English with Japanese subtitles, meaning I completely understood the racism, sexism, and superiority complexes of the storyline!

I can’t believe there was ever a point in time when people held such inaccurate stereotypes of foreign cultures. I am glad I watched it simply to show me how far the world has come in the past several centuries. I just pray no one looks back on our generation and says the same things. From scenes of Indians trying to sacrifice beautiful princesses, to Americans all running nasty brothels, to Native Americans attacking a train with bows and arrows only to try and burn their captive alive, I can easily understand how such fables and inaccuracies could exist in ages when it took 80 days to travel around the world. Stories could be warped and twisted, it’s like a 2½ month long game of Telephone! What is not acceptable is for such prejudices and lies to be spread in an age when an email, video, or press release can circle the globe in about 8.0 seconds, and a flight can make the journey in far less than 80 hours! It makes me want to enter the field of international studies, diplomacy, and education even more. I don’t yet know exactly what job I’m striving for in the future, but I’ve realized that it’s always been a secret desire of mine to work for the United Nations (oops, now I’ve let it slip). I have no idea if that’s where I’ll actually end up, but I hope whatever I do helps to show everyone the mind opening lessons that I am learning here during my Rotary exchange. As you can tell from the pictures below, Japanese, Canadians, French, and Americans, if you spend a bit of time getting to know each other you realize that when it comes down to what’s important, we’re all just the same.

Simon and Amberly
Mioto and Chisaki
Eriko and I making fun of Mioto and Chisaki!