Saturday, April 3, 2010

Friday, April 2 – Saturday, April 3, 2010-

This coming blog is one of the easiest hard-to-write blogs that I’ve done so far. It is hard because it will be my last while staying at the Kobayashi’s home. I am moving tomorrow afternoon to my third host family, the Shiozawa’s, where I will be living until my return on the 11th of July. Yet this blog is simple because I know exactly what I need to say.

The days have flown by and I’m once again packing my bags, waiting with a heart full of gratitude, anxiety, excitement, and awe. I am grateful because I have had two and a half wonderful months at the Kobayashi’s. They have shown me hospitality that I cannot put into words. I will always be indebted to them for what they have so willingly given to me. I am anxious for what my new life will be like; I know hardly anything about the Shiozawa’s. They live on the very opposite side of my region up in the mountain village of Ooyama. They own a soba noodle restaurant and chili spice factory. Besides that I know very little. I am excited because just as this is an ending to one part of my journey, it is the beginning to another. I will be experiencing a different lifestyle with new friends and family. I am in awe because the concept of time is still ever so twisted. I feel like I have just moved into the Kobayashi’s, and yet I can proudly say that I have experienced so very, very much within the short stay that I’ve had here.

I do not want to spoil these last few days spent simply on the computer, so I will bid you all farewell and go have lunch with the family. I hope I have kept you decently up to date on my adventures while at my second host family. I hope that I can do the same at the coming one as well.

Yet as I say that, and as I reiterate what I wrote before, I know next to nothing about the Shiozawa’s home and the truth is that they do live up in the countryside of Nakagawa. With that in mind, there is a real possibility that they may not have internet access, or at least not a wireless one like I have had at the Sato’s and the Kobayashi’s. If that is the case, I will certainly not be able to upload this blog as often as I have been over the past seven months. I will try my very best to keep everyone current, and will try to post a short blog about my new home before too long. I am in what you might call “the home stretch” or my last three months (actually 98 days if you want to count…Mom). I know that I will experience many more life-changing adventures, but just as the first three months of 2010 have flown by, so will the next three. I am determined to make the most of them. I want to thank Rotary for the opportunity they have given me, my host families for many unforgettable Japanese experience, my school for taking me in even though I am far from their normal student, my friends for being friends, each and every one of you as readers for your continued support, and of course a huge thanks to my family for being exactly what a family should be: people you can’t imagine your life without. I will be back home in no time at all!

One last ever so unique Japanese experience that the Kobayashi’s allowed me to take part in: filleting an unagi freshwater eel. It was a thousand times harder than any fish I’ve cleaned back in Minnesota. Trying not to be too graphic, imagine trying to clean a flailing snake…then make it slimy…and then you know how even after you cut off a chicken’s head it still runs around the farm yard? yeah…SUPER difficult. But it was an opportunity that I would absolutely never have had if it weren’t for the Kobayashi’s! Very fun.

My Eel Bucket
Arai makes it look far too easy!!
I somehow hacked my way through the first one...
Progressively improving, bottom to top. My third (and final) eel was actually not too bad. Well, at least when you compare it to the first two!
I got to go all the way from the beginning, first I filleted it, then I got to grill it, tonight I'll get to eat it!
Definitely had a great laugh. Arai and Shima (two of the workers) are always good for a joke
Don't worry, not my blood! Which reminds me, did you all know that Unagi blood is apparently poisonous? If you get it in your eyes you can go blind! Who first thought to eat these things?!?!
My box...and Arai's box. Guess which one is which
Arai and Shima. True Unagi pros. They told me that when it gets really busy during the summer they can clean up to ONE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED unagi in one day!! That's right. These three took me about twenty minutes so I think I'd be doomed. They apparently start work at 3 AM and go until about 6 PM.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thursday, April 1, 2010-

What do you say to a nice outing into Tokyo? Do you have a few minutes? How about we go right now? You know I’m always ready for a good adventure.

We’ll start by taking a nice, comfy, and impressively fast shinkansen bullet train into the heart of the city, exiting at the Tokyo terminal. Another quick ride will take us to the infamous Ueno park where we will spend an unforgettable afternoon marveling at one of Japanese’s most endearing pastimes: the spring cherry blossoms! Ueno is known to be one of the very best parks to walk through and more than once since I first found out that I would be coming to Japan has it been recommended to me to take the time to visit. So there’s another thing to check off on my “Japanese To-Do List!”

We’ll then head over to Harajuku, the young and rather eccentric shopping district near the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Let’s grab a quick coffee at a nearby café and begin to make our way over to the shrine when, AHH, what are the chances?!?

Our dear friend Mai Maruyama who was one of the four Rotex on the August orientation trip last fall runs into us on the crowded streets of Tokyo!! This has to be a joke, we only know about 10 people in the whole city and yet we still end up running into one of them. With a population of over 12 million people, you know our timing had to be perfect!

Still in shock from such a chance meeting, we walk into the impressive Meiji Jingu Shrine park. Taking time to enjoy the area’s sights, we hang around until we can meet up with Noriko-San & friends (those who we went to Gunma Prefecture with last week).

We sit down for a nice ice cream cone, catch up on the events of the past few days, and take a stroll past the Olympic stadium on our way to Shibuya. We’ll window shop past some of Tokyo’s nicest shops and eventually find ourselves in the jam-packed Shibuya square. From there we’ll hop in a comfy Tokyo cab and head to dinner.

You know, it always helps when you’ve got a relative who owns a well-known, yet back street Izakaya pub. In this case it is my host father, Hiroshi-san’s, youngest brother, Daisuke (That's him on the right).

The bar’s name is Houzuki and it is fit into a quiet Ikejiri Neighborhood building, surrounded by tall apartment buildings, simple fruit and vegetable marts, and a tiny temple somehow squeezed in between. Because it is off the beaten path, the small restaurant has become a nice get-away for different celebrities looking for a great meal, quiet atmosphere, and some good drinks. Luckily we’ve come on a Thursday night, so for most of the meal we’ll have the place to ourselves. Still, Daisuke is putting on a great show, whipping up round after round of delicious Japanese-fusion dishes, each more delicious than the last. Before long we’re warm, happy, laughing, and content. It’s evenings like this that one can’t help but sit back and smile, thinking that the next few years at college are most likely going to be filled with cheap pizza and ramen noodles, so thank god for nights like these! It seems like no time at all before we’re climbing back into the cab, waving good-bye to Noriko-San, Al, and the Wang’s, and on a bullet train back home.

So there you go, the days go by pretty fast when they look like this…

Me at Ueno Park
This shot has got us all confused: That pink sky was part of the original shot. I didn't change a thing after uploading it to my computer! Crazy, huh?
Perhaps my favorite shot of the day. We were lucky enough to come while a cute black and white "Neko-chan" was enjoying an afternoon nap. Who could have picked a better place?
If you look close you can even see the tiny silver bell around its neck
People all crowded around for a better picture of our fluffy friend
The sleeping Neko (Cat)
Some people will do anything for a better view!
With a warm breeze off of the bay, the weather was fantastic
Yuki and the crowd
Me, Masahito, Yuki and Hiroshi
Red and White : The colors of a festival
Even within the city you can find beautiful Japanese buildings
Masahito at the southern entrance to the park
The paper laterns displaying different companies and stores that have donated to the temples and shrines of the park
The famous Hachiko dog statue of Ueno and Masahito treating me like a jungle-gym
A pink blossom tree
The park was filled with parties of Japanese friends and co-workers all camping out, drinking far too much, and enjoying the beautiful spring air. You know, just like classic Japan
No but seriously, that is what the Japanese have done for years and years now!!
Blue skies overhead
Yet another type of cherry tree
Copying the figures on the top of the big metal doors, apparently a depiction of the "Gates of Hell." Who would have guessed those were in Tokyo, huh?
Masahito and Yuki both doing their own form of the thinker. Ma's way is a little different, but just as convincing
An extremely normal Japanese street. In fact, this is what all of Japan looks like...
Meiji Jingu Torii gate
Me, Yuki, Hiroshi, and Ma
The beautiful Japanese style of architecture
Masahito and Yuki's "Ema." A placard of wood on which one writes their prayers and wishes, before hanging it among the others in the background
Me standing at the gate of Meiji Jingu Shrine
Tokyo Olympic stadium (Yoyogi Daiichi Taiikukan). The building is well known for its fusion of Japanese and Western achitecture
Another side of the famous stadium
A bright Shibuya street
Houzuki Izakaya
Masahito watching Daisuke prepare the sashimi
Chef Daisuke
The four kids weren't sitting at their table, instead they were all up at the server's window watching Uncle Daisuke make the meal
Super fresh sashimi: Ika (Squid), Toro (Tuna), Shime Saba (Vinegar Mackerel), Sayori (Halfbeak...does anyone know what fish that is??)
Tako no nimono, a pickled roll of octopus
A fried taro dumpling and crab broth soup
A charcoal grilled chicken breast, side of sliced lemon and sweet potatoes
Unagi (you bet it came from the Kobayashi's store)
A soft duck filled with green onion
And finally a delicious Ikura and Uni rice bowl (that's fish row and sea urchin!! So soft and creamy. It was almost like butter it was so fresh. YUM)