Friday, June 30, 2006

If you're new to this blog, you need to click on June 2006 to start reading it. If you don't, you'll only get half of the blog for June. This is where the vast majority of the information on Japan can be found. Scroll down to the very bottom and work your way up. Be SURE to click on all the links. Many of them connect to pages of pictures I took and descriptions I wrote during the trip.

I'm back home. Thursday lasted 30 hours for me (that was just the time I was up and conscious - I actually experienced Thursday, June 29 for 37 hours). Bill Murray (whose work in "Lost in Translation" became very real for me, again popped into my head because of his role in "Groundhog Day").

All the hotel staff, including the chefs, came out to see us leave. I was also able to get some pictures of Tokyo Bay and Tokyo Tower on the way to the airport.

On the flight back, I saw Mount Rainier from 35,000 up. I took I pretty cool picture of it. Due to favorable winds, the flight from Tokyo to Chicago only lasted a half-hour longer than the flight from San Francisco to Tokyo. Still, 11 hours on a plane - sitting in one spot for the majority of the time - is just a tad claustrophobic.

My husband and girls met me at the airport with flowers and tears. We all stood there in a huddle crying together. It was a very long time to be away and, as amazing as the trip was, I would not go back and do it again because of the toll my absence had on my family.

I've been asked to apply for the JFMF Master Teacher Program, but I won't be applying. It would mean being away from my family for six weeks over a summer break. There's no way I'm ever leaving my family for that long again (at least not until the girls are in high school or college). However, the Master Teacher Program is a great opportunity for our school and is something we can apply for now that I've gone through the JFMF Teacher Program.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Thursday, June 29, 2006. I got up early to go to breakfast and then a group of us headed out to ride the Tokyo Monorail. It was my idea, so I was the "tour guide." We went into the subway during rush hour and got to finally experience what we had all read about. There were men who worked for the subway wearing white gloves. There were pairs of them and they each stood on the side of the car doors. They allowed everyone to get off the train car, then we loaded into the car. Just when we thought that no one else could possibly fit, the men in white gloves pushed a bunch more people into the train car. We couldn't move and the four of us started laughing and couldn't stop because we had never experienced the like.

After, we got to the monorail without incident and took a nice ride along the Sumida River and Tokyo Bay. We stayed on until the end, continued to stay on the car, and went back the other way. The whole excursion - to the hotel and back - took two hours.

I came back and packed up for my flight. I head out to the airport at 12:55 p.m. Tokyo time. My flight takes off at 4:55 p.m. Tokyo time and I am scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 2:24 p.m. CDT. So, I leave Tokyo on Thursday, June 29 and arrive in Chicago on Thursday, June 29 - two and one half hours before I left Tokyo. It will truly be the longest day of my life.

So, for now I will sign off. This will most likely be the last post from Japan. In the coming days and weeks I plan to put in links to many of the pictures I took during this trip.

I hope this blog has been informative and fun to follow. Thank you for coming along on my virtual field trip.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006. Our group presentations were today. Each of the 10 groups had to get up in front of the other 180 teachers and present what they learned and experienced during the trip - especially their trip to the respective host cities.

We met to rehearse at 7 a.m. and then had breakfast. The presentations started at 9:00 a.m. We broke for lunch, and then finished up the presentations, as well as information on getting home on Thursday, around 2:30 p.m.

We spelled out "Kesennuma City Group." Each person had a letter and talked about the things they learned and experienced that started with that letter. I had "t." I did a whole alliteration thing and talked about temples, tuna, the time difference, etc. Our presentation was very well received.

After, I headed out alone to the Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi (another area of Tokyo) on a mission to get my sister, Laura, a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt. I get her a Hard Rock t-shirt every place I visit - it's a thing we do.

I arrived in Roppongi without incident and found the Hard Rock Cafe with no difficulties. As soon as I walked in, "Super Freak" by Rick James started playing. Buffalo reminders are everywhere! (For those of you who don't know, he grew up in Buffalo and is buried here).

With my mission accomplished, I headed back to the hotel to get ready for our Sayonara Dinner. On the way, students were getting out of school. I saw girls that appeared to be as young as five-years, walking in twos and getting on the Tokyo subways by themselves. It was pretty amazing and something you would never see in the States.

We all had a nice time at the dinner - though it was sad because we knew there was a good chance that we'll never see each other again. Yuki, the man who arranged our visits to the schools and host families in Kesennuma, took the train to Tokyo to come to the farewell dinner. The food was fantastic. They had lots of meat - I think they know Americans well enough that they understood many would be craving meat - not raw fish. We also were fortunate to watch an Aikido demonstration at the dinner.

After the dinner, some of our host city group went out for ice cream. Monica, one of the more adventurous of our group ordered ice cream that had rice and beans in it. I, not feeling so adventurous, ordered chocolate ice cream and enjoyed it immensely. I don't think Monica felt the same about her decision.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006. We left the Ryokan around 9:30 a.m. and headed to Ichinoseki Station to catch the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. The train was the Yamabiko50. It took about two hours to get back to Tokyo. Once we got back, a few of us quickly checked in to our rooms (we all got the exact ones we had before we left for Kesennuma) and then headed out. I went straight for the Meiji Shrine. While there, I bought a safe travel charm for my trip back to Buffalo. You can find out more about the Meiji Shrine by clicking here. After, we did some shopping at the Oriental Bazaar and I had a hamburger for dinner (I just couldn’t eat more fish).

I headed out alone to Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Concert Hall in Ueno Park to see JoAnn Falletta conduct the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. For those of you who don’t know, Maestro Falletta is the conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s an amazing coincidence (synchronicity?) that she is here at the same time I am here. Anyway, I made it to the concert after getting a little lost in Ueno Park (the park is very reminiscent of Central Park in New York City) and watched her conduct a Rossini piece, and Respighi piece, and Stravinsky’s Pulcinella.

After, I was invited to a reception held in her honor. There were several women from Buffalo who traveled to Japan with the Ms. Falletta. I also had a nice talk with them and Ms. Falletta’s husband.

I headed back to the hotel after and got some much needed rest. By the way, I felt perfectly safe walking around and taking the subway in Tokyo at night.

Monday, June 26, 2006. About half of us woke up early for an optional tour of the fish market in Kesennuma. We found out we picked a good day to go because a ship that had been out fishing for 40 days had just come into port. So, there was much more than the usual local catch. The local catch is octopus, sea urchin, eel, and other small fish. The smaller sea creatures were being kept alive in bins of seawater (and I had strong urge to throw them back in the ocean to free them from their date with death). The big catch had hundreds of sharks, hammerhead sharks, swordfish, tuna, etc. They were dead and it was very sad walking around and seeing them lying there dead. It was sobering walking through the blood.

After the fish market, we had breakfast and left our hotel to go to our local industry tour. The local industry was a Sake factory. We saw how sake is made (it's rice wine) and then sampled the product. From there we went to lunch. After lunch, we left Kesennuma and headed to Hiraizumi.
The Golden Hall is located there and it was designated Japan's First National Treasure. We were really lucky because the iris garden was still in bloom. Make sure to check out the website about it by clicking on the name. It was amazing!!! From there, we headed to the Ryokan.

We arrived at the Ryokan around 6:00 p.m. and dinner was set for 7:00 p.m. There was a beautiful view of a stream from our room. We all changed into our yakatas and proceeded to a room reserved just for us. We each had our own tray of food. It was a large meal that included cooked fish, chicken, steak, and lots of sashimi. The sake flowed freely, though being the responsible teachers that we are, no one allowed themselves to get out of control. The group joined in some Karaoke singing. Everyone had a great time, and after we proceeded to the Japanese onsen. An onsen is a public bath. The source of our onsen was natural hot springs. The men and women seperated. The women got completely undressed wetted ourselves down, soaped up, rinsed ourselves again, and then got into the VERY HOT hot springs (we and all the Japanese women had no clothes on). It was ok, but it was so hot that it kind of hurt, so I didn't stay in long. Then the Japanese ladies that were there were pointing at me because my skin was all red from the heat of the water. After, we went back to our rooms and slept four to a room. It was traditional Japanese style - on the floor with a mat on tatami mats. My pillow was filled with rice. It was pretty lumpy.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Saturday, June 24, 2006: This morning we were able to relax for a little bit before we left to stay with our host families. We packed and checked out of the hotel and were then picked up by our families for the weekend.

I am staying with the Saito family this weekend. The father, Hozumi, is a doctor. The mother, Thukako, works at his office. They have three daughters. Nagisa is 19 and a student in college (she is not home this weekend), Kana is 16, and Yoshi is 14.

Thukako and Yoshi picked me up and brought me to see Yoshi’s junior high school. Her school is only nine years old and it is in much better shape than the junior high school I visited earlier in the week. It seemed to have state of the art facilities; including a broadcasting booth.

After, we went back to their house and I showed them a slideshow I put together about Buffalo, my school, and my family. Then, it was time to pick up my 16 year-old host sister, Kana, from Kesennuma High School. We came back to their house for a little while and then headed out to a local national park. The name of the park is the Rikuchu Kaigan National Park. We started out at the tsunami museum. Tsunamis have devastated the Pacific coast of Japan many times. The exhibit was created well before the disaster that hit Asia recently. It consisted of a moving floor, wind, and sound to try and simulate a tsunami. After that, we went out to the Dairiseki Kaigan (Marble Coast) and saw Oreishi. This area was formed some 230 million years ago during the Paleozoic Era. It’s also known as the “saw-tooth coast.”

Oreishi is a 16-meter high, three-meter wide marble pillar jutting out from the other rocks. Oreishi means, “broken stone pillar.” It received that name because a portion of its tip broke off when a tsunami hit the area in 1896.

We then went to the supermarket and I saw things that I’ve never seen before. I’ll include a picture or two. One of them was a “Daikon” radish – the big white things that look like huge white carrots.

Before dinner we watched Yoshi’s favorite movie, “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.”

That night, Thukako made a delicious meal for us. We had what I would call “Japanese Burritos.” We put sashimi (raw fish) and vegetables on dried seaweed that was pressed into rectangles. We then rolled up the seaweed and dipped it into soy sauce before eating it like one would a burrito.

Hozumi got home from a conference in Osaka about 9:15 p.m. We exchanged gifts at that point. His specialty is Kampo
– traditional Chinese/Japanese medicine. He combines it with the latest in technology – lasers, etc.

Later, I took a bath. This was not an option. Every member of the family bathes every night. You go into the bathroom, fully soap up and rinse off and then soak in the tub. The tub water is pretty hot and every member of the family uses the same water.

Sunday, June 25, 2006. The next morning we had breakfast. There was toast, sashimi, salad, and soup (tofu and seaweed). They also had Camembert Cheese. I knew they didn't normally eat this when my host sister almost threw up after trying it. I thought, "now you know what it's like." It's very interesting how one's culture influences what people like to eat or not eat. Once we were done, we had a video iChat conference with my family back home. I was lucky that the Saitos had high speed internet access because most schools and homes do not have it. It's ironic for a society known around the world for technological innovation. Anyway, the reason for the iChat was to celebrate my daughter, Allie's, 7th birthday. It was still June 24 at home and my wonderful husband set the cake up in front of the laptop at home. The Saitos and I in Japan and our family and friends in Buffalo sang "Happy Birthday" to Allie. It was ALMOST as good as being there. We also included Mrs. Saito when we sang since June 25 (which it was in Japan) is her birthday. The Saitos were pretty amazed by the whole thing. After, we headed to Oshima Island. Oshima Island is an island that sits in Kesennuma’s Bay.

We first went to the “squeaky beach” – Kugunarihama. This was very cool. We took some sand back with us. After that we went to the top of Oshima Island – Mt. Kameyama. It was a little cloudy, but there was still a beautiful view of the surrounding area. There was a Shinto Shrine on the top of the mountain, and I received another good fortune! Yea for me!!!

We used a chairlift to get down from the mountain. It was a little nerve wracking as there was no safety bar.

The Saito’s took me to lunch – tempura, soup with seaweed and tofu, and sashimi.

We then left the island and went back to their house. I grabbed my stuff and it was time to head back to the hotel.

I had a great time at their house and I really thank them for making me a part of their family for the weekend.