Saturday, February 20, 2010

Friday, February 19 & Saturday, February 20, 2010-

Can this really be happening?

On today, six months since I left Minnesota (that’s right a whole half of a year) I had to say my first good-bye. It was to my good friend Min who is returning home to Seoul, Korea this coming Wednesday. I spent the afternoon with her and Max in Utsunomiya. It was fun, we spent the day simply joking around, window shopping, eating all you can eat okonomiyaki (delicious egg, meat and vegetable pancakes with a delicious flavor), taking purikura, and killing time in a café. It was a great way to see her off, but sad to say good-bye at the end. I truly hope to get the opportunity to meet up with Min sometime down the road in her home country of South Korea. But for today it was “take care!” with the hopes that sometime soon we will instead be saying “hey there!”

Travel safely Min-Chan!

Min and Max at Okonomiyaki
Min is a pro! Look at that perfect okonomiyaki =)
Min and I had really cool Tochigi Strawberry Tea. It had real strawberries floating in it. The strawberries here in my region are famous for being bright and red (think of the children's book where the mouse guards the big strawberry under lock and key, just like that...only no rodents...or bears...)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday, February 18, 2010-

As I hunker down for a night of Olympics and books (I am about to finish my first Arthur Conan Doyle's novel - Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles. Very fun reading! I started this morning and haven't been able to put it down all afternoon) I leave you with just a few photos from humble Nakagawa, Japan...
The snow and frost have come and gone, come and gone over the past week. This morning it was coming down so hard I could hardly see across the schoolyard, but by the end of the day it had all melted and reached a high of 55°. Strange weather
A pheasant (the national bird of Japan) slowly picked its way across this open yard. They truly are one of the most beautiful birds. I understand why the Japanese have always held them in such high regard
The setting sun lights a small thicket
A reflection off of the river. That is a short waterfall where the water cuts off, but the ducks and cranes like to rest on this flat sheet of water above. It makes for a perfect mirror of the sky overhead
Anyone who can tell accurately answer how many cats are in this picture will win a prize...
I'll ship one of the furry little fellas over to you!
Ps. That's actually my house in the background
I like the bright flowers in the middle. They look like colorful little microphones for a tiny stone chorus

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tuesday, February 16 & Wednesday, February 17, 2010-

おおい、日本、よくできたよ!! バンクーバー冬季五輪スピードスケート男子500メートルで銀メダル・銅メダルを獲得した

Oi, Japan, well done!! Winning the Vancouver Olympics Men's 500 Meter Speed Skating Silver Medal and Bronze Medal

Photo: Japan's Keiichiro Nagashima, Silver Medalist. Bronze went to Joji Kato

Monday, February 15, 2010

Saturday, February 13 – Monday, February 15, 2010-

Where to begin? I’ve had a full, but very enjoyable Valentine’s Day weekend. Starting Friday night, my family and I went out to dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant called Il Vento. It is run by this Japanese couple who could have pulled one over on a real Italian for how tasty their dishes were! The set menu of five courses, including a scrumptious raspberry dessert (the first time I’ve had real raspberries since last summer! Oh how I miss thee, MN berry season), drinks, and warm bread left us all stuffed. I’ll include some of the photos below, but the snapshot to the right is of my extended family celebrating grandpa’s 70th birthday. To celebrate the milestone, his wife surprised him and bought him that new Mercedes-Benz he’s been eyeing. I also got to meet the Kobayashi’s 19-year-old nephew, Mau, who is back from college on break. A very nice guy, he’s scheduled to study abroad for four months this Fall in British Columbia of all places. Guess he’s getting a pretty good preview via the Olympics.

Which brings me to the Opening Ceremony. I spent Saturday morning curled up on the couch enjoying the show. It was a fun opportunity to experience such an international event through the eyes of a different nation. The Japanese version of the show went much like that back home, adding in the random close-ups of famous Japanese athletes in place of their American rivals.

But what interested me the most was the air of humility, determination, and “child-like-awe” that the Japanese athletes, television, and fans projected. It is a far cry from the domineering, self-confident, “I’ve been here a million times before” mood of the American team. It made me appreciate the many layers of the Olympics, from the overconfident super powers to the humble underdogs. As my mom mentioned over skype this weekend, there are still 79 out of the 205 official Olympic nations that have never won a medal before. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that such nations as Yemen, Honduras, Fiji, or Madagascar don’t have very good odds of snagging one here in Vancouver. I just hope somewhere down the line all countries are able to experience what America has so taken for granted (I’m not saying the athletes, per say, I think they work extremely hard) I’m saying the American people who watch, cheer, smile, and then forget names like today’s bronze medalist, Bryon Wilson, before the games are even over. I will anxiously be cheering along with the rest of Japan as they hope for their 33rd Winter Olympic metal, that’s in comparison to the United State’s 223rd.

Onto Sunday when I spent the day visiting some of the sights of Utsunomiya’s famous Oya temple, Buddhist statue, and mine. The Kobayashi’s aunt, uncle, and cousin took Masahito and I out for the afternoon. The chance to see the oldest remaining Buddhist sculpture in Japan, dating back to the eighth century, was definitely worth the hour-long drive West to the area of Oya. The region is know for it’s pale, slightly green stone that has been used in building all over Japan, and even internationally. Even Frank Lloyd Wright has used Oya rocks in his buildings. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to walk deep underground into the largest underground area I’ve ever visited. The height, width, depth, and maze-like crooks and crannies of the mine blew me away. I hope you’re able to grasp the sheer size by my photos, it really is THAT big, and all of it deep underground.

During the evening we stopped at the onsen (hot spring) and had yet another big Japanese dinner. Last night and today, Monday, have been rainy and cold, but the Olympics have been playing more or less constantly. I had my first real trial of loyalty last night when watching the woman’s downhill ski moguls. The Americans, as many of you probably know, took first and third, but by doing so they bumped off Aiko Uemura, one of Japan’s greatest hopes at a medal, to the worst of all positions: fourth. I was of course glad to see fellow Americans excel at the sport, but it would have been nice (no offense Shannon Bahrke) to see good old Nippon take home a happy bronze.

I also figured I’d share a funny email my cousin, Andrew, and his girlfriend, Elizabeth, sent me yesterday:


The real question is Sam... Who will you be cheering for when it comes down to Japan vs. the USA in the curling championship?

My Response-

Little do you know.
 I forgot to tell you guys, but as soon as the Japanese government got 
wind of a blond, strikingly good looking, Minnesotan in their fair 
nation they immediately signed me to the national team. It seems my 
Minnesotan blood has hidden curling powers and I intend to lead the 
Japanese straight to gold. I have been dividing my time between fishery 
studies and flying back and forth to Vancouver. It is demanding, but 
the reward of spending my days with my two greatest passions (Japanese 
river fish and heavy granite blocks with handles on them) makes it all 
worth while.

As they call me on the team - "The Curling SAMUrai"

The first course: A Whole Braised Scallop from Hokkaido
Second: Bread and Pasta
Third: Taidai fish and mashed potatoes in a citron cause
Fourth: Steak and vegetables in a red wine sauce
Fifth: A round of raspberry ice cream with a burnt sugar top, in a raspberry sauce with mint on top
Mau and Ma at the Oya temple built into the side of the cliff. Inside is the ancient statue, but no photos were allowed
The fancy woodwork of the temple side
The family crest of the Toshogu Family (the same family that built the temples of Nikko I visited back in the Fall)
Masahito mimicking one of the statues =)
The gigantic Buddhist sculpture down the road from the temple. Can you see how the stone is slightly green
Let's take a tour- Beginning through these tiny doors in the middle of a museum'd never guess that they lead...
...far, down these stairs...
-to THIS! That ceiling is at least forty meters high and it runs for several football fields downwards
Fancy pillars toward the bottom. We're not sure, but think that the blue and gold colors are from different types of mold and fungi growing on top
A hole opening high above, casting light onto a strange stone statue situated in the middle of a murky pond
Looking back now to where the spiral staircase lets out
This is actually a view UPWARDS. Believe it or not that patch of light above is at least several hundred feet over our heads, stretching much further than it appears in this snapshot
If this doesn't creep you out I don't know what will. A single lightbulb, feebly casting light over a dark, cold underground lake. That's actually it's reflection on the water below
Another dark set of stairs. I was vaguely reminded of the Egyptian Pyramids or Valley of the Kings
My host aunt pointing to a picture of Frank Lloyd Wright back in the museum lobby
A big bowl of cheese and miso ramen! Tasty. Host uncle and aunt across from me
Only to be followed by a big dinner out on the town with the family back in Nakagawa