Friday, June 11, 2010

Wednesday, June 9 – Friday, June 11, 2010-

#1 – Happy World Cup Day

#2 – As you blogspot followers can tell, I changed the background of the blog ( The website has a whole new array of displays and I’ve decided to experiment with some of the new features over the next week or so. If you ever like one of the designs drop me a comment below to let me know what looks best!

#3 – LIFE. If only I were referring to the entertaining board game rather than the ever-elapsing experiences we call “the real world.” But hey, at least LIFE’s no Monopoly!! (I’ll let you decide whether I’m talking about the game or the real deal there.) What I mean by all of this is that I’m having my first real slap in the face of how little time I have left on exchange. As I’ve told many of you before, I am flying home to Minnesota on the 11th of July, meaning one month from today I will be somewhere over the Pacific ocean enjoying an awful chick flick and ginger ale! To me it’s almost unbelievable – almost. What I haven’t told all of you bloggies yet is that I am actually finishing my Rotary Youth Exchange on the 22nd of this month. On that day I will be beginning twenty fun, and jam-packed, days of traveling with my “Japanese brother” Ryota. Ryota is the student from Ishinomaki, Japan who came to Northfield High School last year on Rotary exchange and stayed at my family’s house for four months during the spring. Anyway, he and I will be out causing trouble and experiencing even more incredible adventures during my last couple weeks here in Asia. Our plans are finally beginning to unfold, so as soon as I know exactly where we’ll be visiting I’ll be sure to let you know.

But back to the few days I do have left here in Tochigi. This Wednesday my homeroom class and I actually got to do something very historically Japanese, but which few current Japanese have ever taken part in: 座禅 Zazen – Seated Zen meditation. It involves crossed legged, thoughtless meditation in a temple while a monk walks around behind you, smacking you (hard) on the shoulder with a long wooden pole if your posture is poor or you see fidgety! The figures to the left are actually in the position we had to maintain thought the exercise. It was awesome!! Haha, definitely an experience I am glad to have under my belt, and also one I wouldn’t necessarily want to do again any time soon. We only did a short ten minute meditation session but for those ten minutes I struggled to think of anything other than what the monk’s instructions had been, if I was breathing properly, and if “the boss” was anywhere nearby behind me! Haha, so I don’t think I achieved any deep meditative trance, but I do know that after those ten minutes of deep breathing and stillness, the rush of feeling and relaxation that I received at the end was well worth the time. And yes, for all of you who were wondering, I did get hit by the stick. In fact the monk used it to hit each of us once, because he said he wanted to be fair in teaching us all a lesson! Don’t ask me what the message was supposed to be. If I had to make a guess right now it would have something to do with something along the lines of keeping your back straight ;)

Then last night I went out for dinner with six of the guys from the Kobayashi’s store one final time. We went to a great restaurant/bar in Otawara where we enjoyed an evening full of laughter, stories, food, music, and more. That’s a live pianist in the picture above – yes, she was as talented as you’d expect of a cute little Japanese girl! I’ll hopefully get to see the guys one last time next week, but it was still strange to know that this was a “going away” party. But I guess I better start preparing for them, I already know of four or five more planned during the coming week!

Fujita and the rest of the class getting off our "Magic School Bus" at the temple!
Such a good little monk...
My homeroom class
Inside the room where we did the Zazen meditation
The monk talking to us afterwards
Out to dinner last night
Random but just now when I started writing this blog, Rumi called me hurriedly over to the window and pointed out a nice, meter long snake takin' a snooze on our patio!! Oh joy
haha, don't worry though, it's not poisonous

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Friday, June 4 – Tuesday, June 8, 2010-

Allow me a quick note back to my dear Northfield, Minnesota. Maria & all of you NHS Seniors, congrats on a successful graduation from high school. I wish I could be there for all of your grad parties, but hey, maybe you’ll just have to freeze me a piece of sheet cake and buy me some raspberry ginger ale once I get back home this July!! I mean that’s all I really need =)

Second quick note: Samantha Roma, congratulations to you, mi amor. I can’t believe your Rotary exchange to Spain is already complete. I know how exciting and sad it was for you to be returning home, walking back into your old life but having to loose some of your new one in order to do so. I can’t wait for our epic reunion next month. We’ll have more than just a little bit of catching up to do. And who knows, maybe you’ll even write once more in that blog of yours one of these days. I know my grandma estenson is waiting for another entry ;) Haha (

Samantha and the Grandmas at Maria's Graduation Party
Maria and my Skype graduation photos
I think I was coaching her on appropriate Japanese peace signs to throw up for all of her graduation photographs in this one
Mom, Mia and Pops

But back to Japan for a little bit. I don’t have too much to report from the weekend, but yesterday, Monday, was quite blog worthy if I do say so myself. A full day in Tokyo Disneyland with Yasu and Rumi proved to be just the ticket for keeping my mind off of what I was missing back in Northfield, or at least to make me think, “Haha those suckers back home are missing out on this!” So that was nice.

This was an adventure we’d been planning since the first ten minutes the three of us met back in April. Rumi absolutely loves Disneyland, especially because that is where her all-time favorite character is: Stitch from “Lilo & Stitch”!! Therefore she and Yasu have gone each year for as long as they’ve been together. Besides being a big children’s attraction here in Japan, it is probably also Tokyo’s most popular dating local! Anyone who says Japan’s population is in recession ought to spend a full day at Disneyland, what with a morning full of screaming children and a nighttime rush of Tokyo’s youngest couples, you would never know that Japan’s population is actually beginning to drop off!!

But that’s off topic, so I will return back to my wonderful day at the land of Disney. Yasu, Rumi and I left our house at – get this – 5 am in the morning, driving all the way to Disneyland two and a half hours south of here. That put us at the park right around 7:30, giving us plenty of time to do exactly what Japanese people love to do: wait in lines!! I have never seen such patient, line-loving people as those at Disneyland. I swear sometimes they just got in lines because other people where in line, not even knowing what they were waiting for. The park didn’t open until 9 but by 7 or so there were already people planting tarps and chairs out in front, beginning a line that would prove to file out of the park for hundreds of meters…and there were about a dozen of these lines. Haha, I was in shock, it was a Monday morning in mid-June, hardly a major attraction day, albeit the weather was fantastic. I don’t even want to imagine this place on Christmas, New Years, or Golden Week!! Yikes!!

But it wasn’t over yet. Upon opening the gates, so began the “dash.” It’s exactly what you think it is, everyone sprinting to get into line (again) for their favorite rides. We made a beeline for the Monsters Inc. attraction, opting for the fast pass track rather than the already 90 minute long line!! Basically we spent the whole day, enjoying the great weather, walking around, eating an abundance of Disney-themed fair foods, catching a handful of attractions and roller coasters, watching a handful of parades including the unreal nighttime illuminations, and laughing at how much Japanese people love their Disneyland. What I would call a full, fun, and very Japanese-style way to enjoy the day in an amusement park.

Yasu, Rumi and I in front of the Disney Castle at night

For those of you who can remember back to one of my entries last January, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Well Sam’s already been to Disneyland.” Not quite, that was Disney Sea…and yes there is a difference. 1) They’re separate spaces, albeit adjacent, 2) The attractions are different, and 3) Most importantly for Rumi, Disney Sea does not have any Stitch characters! (Gasp and look of horror inserted here)

Well, I have more than enough photos to fill in any gaps I’ve left out, so I’ll let them do the rest of the talking. As you can tell we were there the whole day, meaning opening at 9am to closing at 10pm. Basically we made as much of the day as we could and I was happy to have experienced the park so fully and especially to have done it with two fun-loving, laid-back friends like Yasu and Rumi. I really lucked out with them, didn’t I? =)

Standing in line for the opening
Our "dash" to get to the Monsters Inc ride as quickly as possible
Yasu in line
It's a Small World
In line at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride
Captain Jack Sparrow
Us being dumb, trying to copy the Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse statue behind us, haha - fail!
Pooh's "Hunny Hunt"
Rumi to the rescue!
The beginning of the nighttime parade!
If you actually look really closely here you can see the first star of the night glowing in the sky behind
Literally millions of lights
The turtle from Finding Nemo
Yasu and I rode Splash Mountain together (Rumi said it was impossible for her)
This is the drop off for Splash Mountain. You can see a little boat about to go overboard in the center
The Disney Castle
Reflected in the lake below
Peace, my friends
Rumi and Yasu on our way out of the park