Thursday, November 30, 2006
In Japan, kids use paper, scissors, rock - to solve EVERYTHING! When I told them it wasn't AS popular in America - they wanted to know how kids solve things at home. I asked around since I really couldn't answer that. Remember "I'm thinking of a number 1-10" and the person who was closest won? I completely forgot about that! But - it's true - that was really popular to do as a kid.
So - I need to do a lesson plan on games that kids like to play in America. In Japan, they like to juggle, play marbles and a few other things that I don't know what it is.
What do kids in America like to do?
What are popular elementary kid shows in America? (approximately 4th graders level)
What goes on inside a kid's mind that is like 10 years old?
Next, I need to do a lesson plan on Christmas and I want to incorporate some sort of crafts or something? Does anyone have any easy suggestions? Remember, I teach hundreds of kids in a day - so things like making ornaments will make me broke. HELPPPPP.
I don't understand kids at all..
Please send all suggestions to my email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave comments.
help. help. help!
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
The sun was shining and I drove us back up that really steep hill. The sun revealed all the beautiful fall colors of this park. The weather was much nicer than what I had when I first came here. Additionally, my camera was working. Here are some pictures of the area. To be honest, some of these pictures are some of my favorites of what I have taken in Japan to this date.
Following the park; we went into the city to try to get my tires changed to snow tires. After an unsuccessful trip since they were too busy and it would have taken hours - I took Meghann to my favorite coffee shop in Ishinomaki. I study at this coffee shop every Monday & Tuesday. The women there understand my vegetarianism and I never have to re-explain that I can't eat meat. They always prepare my food perfectly. I love this place. Following the coffee shop visit, we went to get some food for dinner to bring to Katie's. We drove to Katie's and hung out there for the evening. Akira prepared the food we brought into a delicious Minestrone soup . He rented a Japanese comedy movie about Samurai's. It was interesting; but lately - I have become an old woman with these 40 hour work weeks and fell asleep. Katie & Akira have an adorable kitten named tsurara (means icicle in Japanese). We became lovers and it was caught on camera. I am kitty sitting in December - yay!
Sunday morning, we woke up bright and early to begin our day trip South. Saturday we had planned to go to onsen. We drove the few hours South to reach onsen land. However, prior to soaking our bodies in the mineral healing hot waters of Japan - we stopped at this fox farm. We weren't really sure what to expect and to be honest it is quite silly. Akira found it for us. Basically, you pay 700 yen or around $7.00 to enter. You go through the back, into this enclosed area and there are many foxes, just laying lazily all over this area. You can also pay a hyakuen ($1) to feed them pieces of meat. Now, since we are foreign, within minutes of walking through that door - the owner said if he gave us free meat to feed the foxes, would we be willing to have our pictures taken for Marketing purposes. So, here I am on website #2 in Japan simply because of my skin color. Check it out:
Fox Farm Link
Just another one of those random things I've done in Japan. It's not like foxes are uniquely Japanese or anything. Nonetheless, I am glad we did it. Check out the picture below of the foxes eating my feet. I had the camera held over my head trying to get this picture.
After fox fun - we finally headed to onsen. It was located in a town called Togatta near a quasi national park. Meghann, Katie & I are becoming onsen -queens. The town that it was in was quaint and cute. We found cheap fruit in this store - where a man managed a "where from?" - where I promptly responded in Japanese to him. I love these small encounters - it's really what makes this worth it. This onsen was definitely nice - we got to go outdoors where an older Japanese woman was talking to us. I don't think I understood more than a few words of what she said. However, I did understood her body language. There's nothing like a naked Japanese woman grabbing her fat and showing it to us and laughing. Haha. I love it - I absolutely love it.
After onsen, Akira picked out the perfect place to eat dinner. I don't know why - but it reminded me so much of home. It was a Japanese restaurant run by Japanese women but it just seemed so western but Japanese at the same time. I couldn't put my finger on it - the server was an older woman but she had earrings (which is rare here), a western hair style, just a whole western demeanor about her. The place was adorably country -style. It reminded me like a family run restaurant that would be placed in the middle of the Adirondacks or something. Maybe that is why I was so partial towards the restaurant. When we finished our dinners, we headed back up to Ishinomaki to end our weekend. A lovely, little day trip.
The week begins
Another week starts. This week I am trying to live out my new philosophy. I am trying to look at my life in Japan as I did when I first got here. I went into work on Monday - informed that I will be teaching two nineth grade classes by myself with no time to prepare. I quickly throw together some crossword puzzles and other English games. I actually really enjoyed it. I just basically gave them busy work but at the same time - increases their English skills. I practiced my Japanese with the students. I found out my favorite punk kid is a big karate guy. In Japan, they have to choose a high school - how students in America choose a college. Most students stick around their area - and still live at home. Here - I thought this kid was just a punk - just going where the wind blows him and it turns out he has some really cool plans. He is headed two prefectures South of where we are to go to a high school that is special for Karate. I am super impressed! He cut his hair and I asked him why - it's for an interview to get into the school. Good for him. I'm going to miss him in April when they move onto High School. I enjoyed my relaxed day with the nineth graders - certainly my favorite students.
My devil classes that I had with Mitsue were okay. I had one class that did decently - and the other one that was just as bad as ever. But, I'm not taking it personal anymore. I don't care. Mitsue and I are at a mutual understanding and it's all good. I had to leave right away after my 4th class to go to a meeting in Ishinomaki for all Western English teachers in my area. It was nice to get away for the afternoon. After the meeting - Katie, Meghann and I went to an onsen in the city - chatted away for an hour or what not. I then went to my coffee shop to study.
Tuesday brought a similiar day to me as Monday. I was informed I'd be teaching 3 nineth grade classes today by myself. Again - with no preparation. I threw together an "interview bingo" game which is practicing their speaking skills. Worked okay. After that, gave them a word mine. Only had one class with Mitsue - and it went okay. I also had one class with my special ed students at this school. I was pooped by this time and had little energy left in me.
One of my favorite professors from Plattsburgh used to always say to us:
"Proper planning prevents poor performance"
I am taking his famous quote and applying it to my life. Here on out - I am going to have heaps of games stored into my desk - because I keep getting thrown into classes to teach that I shouldn't be - therefore, leaving me with no materials to teach.
Last night I studied more and got my tires changed finally. Preparing for the snowfall I will be getting here. Only to present another challenge of driving MANUAL in the snow - since they don't plow their roads. Wish me luck.
Before I graduated from college - I received the "I think I'm turning Japanese" award at my RA banquet. Recently, a great RA friend of mine - sent me a birthday present - including this song. I think it deserves to be posted up here. "I think I'm turning Japanese" by the Vapors:
No fun, no sin, no you, no wonder it's dark
Everyone around me is a total stranger
Everyone avoids me like a cyclone ranger
That's why I'm turning Japanese
I think I'm turning Japanese
I really think so
I think I'm turning Japanese
I really think so
More Pictures from my Weekend
Friday, November 24, 2006
Thanksgiving Day. Japan style. It was wonderful. I guess I didnt particularly really miss home so much as some people might think. This is my third year in a row missing this holiday at home. While I certainly miss the kids table at Aunt Lynns with my moms delicious homemade applesauce and lemon meringue pie and Aunt Lynns famous pumpkin pie and all the other delicious random foods I eat, and of course being stuffed full of food and watching Airplane with all my cousins - it hasnt been the same since most of us havent been coming home for Thanksgiving anyways. Two years ago I was celebrating Thanksgiving in a hostel in Queenstown, New Zealand with Ferris. I remember driving our little rental car to the grocery store and even though it was a Western country - not finding any of the traditional Turkey Day food we wanted. I remember getting random potatoes and having apple pie and I believe she found chicken. Irregardless, we celebrated together. Last year, I decided to go to Boston to visit an old friend from Australia. I didn't want to drive the 7 hours to go home since I had to stay in Plattsburgh to work right up until the day before Thanksgiving. Instead I drove 3 - 4 hours to Boston to see an old buddy.
This year. Japan. Of course, we celebrated in style. The night before - went to a nice townie bar in Meghann's most eccentric mountain town. In America, everyone gets wasted the night before Thanksgiving, right? While I don't know if this was everyone's intentions - we did it anyways. We walked in the cold along a nice river that is across the street from her apartment. On the way, we could hear and see tons of Salmon in the river - and those Salmon were large - verrry large. It did feel a bit like college; walking through a small town to a bar with no jacket, being cold and wanting to get drinking to be warm already. Meghann's friend, Rie owns the bar. We walk into this quaint bar - where there was a group of older men already there drinking. Immediately they scream to Meghann to go talk. In the meantime, Brian, Akira, Katie and I sit at the bar and order ourselves some drinks. For myself - of course, beer. I am a beer woman. The evening goes smoothly - getting ourselves properly drunk and eating edamame'. I pretty much spent the night chatting with Brian San and getting to know Rie. She is a beautiful woman - that helps her parents run the bar after working all day at her day job.
Two quick stories:
1) When the men found out I live in Monou - they instantly referred to me as the foreigner who did the dance in September. Yet, another example of how that dance will haunt me until the day I die.
2) They told Meghann that since she was a woman she was to pour their sake for them. She quickly informed them that is not how we do it in America and they can pour their own sake. Just a small example of a cultural difference you may encounter in very, rural Japan. Certainly, not all Japanese men believe this. However, I like to point out the few encounters that we do still get - because it is interesting to see cultural differences like that.
When it came time to leave this nice little bar - that group of men footed our entire bill. They wouldn't let us pay for any of our drinks or the food we ordered. Yet again, the hospitality and kindess we receive from Japanese folks as a foreigner. Amazing, absolutely amazing. On the extremely brisk walk home, we stopped at the FamilyMart (Japanese 711) - where we bought some snacks to get a bit of heat before continuing our walk back. We stayed up for a little while before hitting the hay.
Now - our Thanksgiving day fell on a Japanese holiday - which is how we were able to go celebrate Wednesday evening and have a proper Thanksgiving. We all slept until 11 - it was soooooooooo nice to sleep in. When we woke up, we had a nice breakfast that Meg prepared for us and it turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous day.
I went out with Akira because I needed to pick up some sugar. He took me to this really cool fish shop because he wanted some Oysters and stuff as well. They basically have all these shellfish in big blue crates that float around in water that is constantly being circulated. Something completely new and different from anything I've seen before. I love new and unique things.
When we got back to Meg's - I started cooking what I wanted to make. I made my mom's homemade applesauce - which actually turned out wonderful. I then made this sweet potatoe thing that one of my co-workers showed me how to make. You basically boil sweet potatoes and then soften chestnuts by boiling. Then you take out the chestnuts, mash up the potatoes and make mashed sweet potato balls and put the chestnut inside. We started cooking around 1 and finished a little after 5. Katie made stuffing from scratch. Meghann made mashed white potatoes and pumpkin with raisins. I opened a pomegranate. At some point, Dom & Brock joined us as well - and Brock brought a can of cranberry sauce that he ordered from the internet. They had chicken for their meat - and of course bread. We all sat down - Katie, me, Rie from the bar the night before, Meg, Brock, Dom, Brian and Akira. We feasted - we had a pretty American style Turkey Day. For dessert, Katie made an absolutely delicious pumpkin pie and some interesting chocolate thing. Not that I can remember what it was called. It was superb. Thanksgiving was great - it was perfect for an American holiday in Japan.
Moving onto today - Remaining Positive.
I find that Japan has sort of killed my spirit. At college - people used to always ask me why I smile so much. People used to finally meet me and say "you're always smiling." I took it as a compliment. I was definitely a very happy person. For the most part, I'm happy here. Sometimes, I hate it. But I am trying to keep alive the things positive characteristics that made up the Sara that my friends liked about me. I am trying to keep alive the things that I like about me.
Some traits I had before coming to Japan were being positive, being motivated, involved, and one thing I loved about myself was the ability to relate to people. I was a very social person. I knew many people from the various clubs, jobs, and activities I partook in. I think my last year of college - I worked at the computer lab, I was a tour guide, an RA, had an internship, took on a peer educator position with the RA job, was the Marketing club VP, the Student Advisory Committee to the School of Business and Economics VP, and studied all day long in the library and study center. Additionally, it was guaranteed you would see me at the gym nearly daily or every other day. And of course, at the bars nearly 3 nights a week. All these activities, keeping my life hectic and rewarding. At the same time, allowing me to be very motivated and social. I had the best circle of friends and met many more amazing people my last year - some that I don't know how I didn't meet prior to my Senior year of college. My last 1.5 years at Plattsburgh were the best - the happiest time of my life by far. I find that those things that made me feel so alive in Plattsburgh are being smothered in Japan. I think that is why I have been struggling to find that kind of happiness I had before arriving here.
This morning I walked into work. I said my "Ohayooo Gozaimmmassuuuu" which means Good Morning - as I walked into the teacher's room. A few people looked up at me, a few muttered it - but for the most part no one acknowledged me. I sat down next to my co-teacher and she didn't even say anything to me. I hate that. I hate that environment. Then, Mitsue came over and said my first class today would be with her. She told me the classes I had with her today and cringed. My devil kids. I go to the first class, feeling a bit negative that the day is starting off so crappily. I went in and tried doing my typical three questions that I implemented into these devil classes that any 8th grade class kids can answer:
1) What day is today?
2) What is today's date?
3) How is the weather?
Now, my seventh grade kids might struggle with the second question, but the other two are taught in seventh grade, meaning this should just be review for the 8th graders. No one is answering, no one is listening, no one cares. I get a few answers forced out. Moving onto my warming up game that I have also implemented into these classes to try to create motivation and fun into English class. They played it pretty well - the game is called Shiritori - you end up with a lot of English words on the chalkboard in the end. Generally, I make all the students in the class repeat after me to read the new words. No one would repeat or really listened. Moving onto the lesson - a story out of the textbook. I read first, slowly. I am reading, no one is listening, they are talking over me. Next, repeat the new words in the story after me twice. No repeating. Check meaning of the words - they tell us the word in Japanese. No one participates, continue talking over me. Next, read the story again while repeating after me. I am reading and the only one repeating after me is Mitsue. We kind of just looked at eachother and laughed. I think that look we had - that feeling of understanding eachother - that we both are thinking the same thing - only I'm thinking it in English and she's thinking it in Japanese. Here we are a 23 year old American and 24 year old Japanese women - completely different, different cultures - and finally we can understand the same thing, we can look at eachother and know what one another is thinking.
Walking back from that class and going back to the teacher's room with her; I had a small revelation - that I sometimes get - that help me keep going. I remembered that no one is going to make my life better - I have to do it. I have to change my negative attitude, I can do this, if I couldn't they would not have chosen me to come to Japan. They choose me for all the above reasons I wrote out to you. Somewhere in this experience, I have to constantly remind myself I can do this. I have to remotivate myself, I have to give myself all the courage I need, I have to make this worth it. And I will.
I walked into the teacher's room. I sat back down next to Hiromi, the teacher who I teach with that didn't acknowledge me when I came in this morning. I said to her "Good Morning Hiromi!" With the biggest smile I could manage - she said Good Morning. I asked her how her daughter was since she was sick earlier in the week, she said she's not doing any better. I moved on to her weekend plans - where I got a bit more conversation out of her. There - I made things better between us.
Now, back to devil class #2 with Mitsue. We are walking up and I decide I got to be positive again. We walked in, do our greetings with the class. Now all the students stand up, both Mitsue and I will say:
Good morning, class
Good morning, Miss Mitsue
How are you?
I'm fine thank you, and you?
I'm fine, thank you.
Then I do the same thing.
Then we say, ok, please sit down. Usually we lose control of the class as they are sitting, they all turn around as sitting and talk. Well, as they sat, I jumped right into my three questions - to grab their attention. It worked. I got answers pretty quickly. Moved onto my Shiritori game, it went well. Every team did really well - and then when I asked them to read off the board with me - they did, they were in full concentration - all eyes on me, all repeating. I was so happy, that I rewarded every team with a point and the teams that actually did win got two points. *When a team reaches 12 points, I will reward them with something (undecided at this point - but there will be some sort of prize).
So - moving onto the same lesson plan as before - kind of the same results as the first class. However, they did repeat the new words after me, and did answer to the meaning of the words - but when it came to repeat the story - it wasn't that successful. Then when Mitsue went up to explain subject and verb agreement in Japanese - I was walking around the classroom; there is this one kid - who never stops talking in class and never is facing the board. I want to create a relationship with him - where he will respect Mitsue and I. He got a hair cut. I told him in Japanese that I like his hair cut. Well, he was just dumbfounded that I can speak Japanese. Mitsue explained to the students that I am studying and can speak, read, and understand some Japanese now. My coolness and respect points went up from like 0 to 1. Then, they asked me if I knew Japanese anime' in which I said no - then they asked if I knew a certain show. I did because I used a character for an elementary school lesson plan to get the kids interested. I drew the character on the board and wrote his name in Japanese. Of course, the kids laughed at my drawing and laughed at my poor Japanese writing - but it will definitely help with my respect level from them. Class over.
Next class, with Hiromi - my nineth graders - my favorite classes at this school. I only went to one today - and there wasn't much work for me to do. I basically just walked around and chatted with the kids because otherwise I would have been bored. But - I love the kids in this class so I didn't mind. This one boy that sits in the front center - never does his work - but always is trying to speak English. Today, he was practicing a phrase he picked up somewhere that is
"I don't know what you mean". The first twenty minutes of class he is just screaming it out as Hiromi is teaching the difference between "who and which" in Japanese. I walked past his desk and my favorite punk kid sits behind him. As I walk by, Mr. Punk boy says "sexy". Where I respond with, "I don't know what you mean" It was perfect - absolutely perfect - the kids around them were laughing hysterically.
They had to write today. Hiromi wrote on the board "We should study English" and then they had to agree or disagree and state why on paper. One of my other favorite kids - this boy - who always says English greetings to me and is always smiling, just so friendly and kind - really touches my soul. His English phrases that he knows are pretty good pronunciation and he always talks to me in English that you would think he knows a lot of English. In reality - he is just very polite. His response to that statement was he felt he should study English but only a little. I asked what he meant - he said he thinks it is necesarry to learn the basics like greetings to greet others in English to be polite. That is why he always approaches me in English. It's nice to have such wonderful kids in a school full of bad kids. This kid is just so wonderful. Always smiling, always happy. If all my classes were like my nineth graders - I would love this job - I would never want to leave. I guess - that's the real world and that's exactly how a teacher has classes in America, too. Devil kids and model kids. It makes me sad that these students will be moving onto high school in April. I don't know where I will derive my happiness from at this school when my favorite kids are gone. Punk boy showed me a picture of his 18 year old girlfriend in high school. He carved her name into his index finger. I told him he's crazy and he laughed. He always shows me all his "bad boy" things - like his self pierced ears and illegal cell phone. He's great.
Moving onto lunch. I normally sit with the teachers at lunch at Junior High School but no one ever talks to me. Today, as I was sitting down; with all my other aggressive approaches, I figured why stop now? I was warming up my leftovers in the microwave and started up this conversation in Japanese with the cleaner man. It turned into a 5 minute conversation. Of course about 3 minutes for me to get enough of my Japanese right for him to understand what I was trying to say to him. I learned that 15 years ago - he used to take English conversation classes. Very interesting. Next, I sit down at the table of teachers - and immediately make eye contact with one and start right into conversation in Japanese. I told him that yesterday was Thanksgiving, that I cooked all day with my friends because it is an American holiday, informed what we eat, and showed him my leftovers. This turned into the whole table very interested that wow, Sara knows some Japanese now. Soon, people that never even look my way, were trying to speak English to me since I was attempting Japanese. It went very well - it was wonderful. I just talked their ears off in my terrible Japanese and they watched and laughed as I struggled to formulate sentences, remember word names and understand what they were saying to me.
After lunch, I was in the sink room, cleaning my dishes; where I contined to talk to the teachers in there having a cigarette. The Social Studies teacher told me he wanted to teach me Miyagi slang. I got the slang for Let's go! Abain. Wow. Look at what I did - all by reaching out. What an amazing feeling.
After lunch, I was to go to an elementary school that I had not been to before. I get there and the one man explained I was to meet all the teachers today and then I can leave. This school got a treat - because they got to meet me when I was feeling really positive and confident in my Japanese. I had a blast, I was laughing the whole time, they were laughing at me laughing so much. And this man teacher was playing matchmaker for me. He told me that the 5th grade teacher is young and single. I expressed watashi mo! Me too! And certainly, this 5th grade teacher is a very attractive man. He's 28 and I wanted to tell matchmaker to make me a date. We actually almost got there I think. Matchmaker asked me if I like to drink; where I said yes I do! And then we talked about what I like to drink. Then Mr. Miyagi (that's what I'm calling my newfound crush) said we should go to the bar together. I asked where it was and he said near here. I said to him okay! In all seriousnes,s I wanted to. Then, matchmaker became unmatchmaker - he turned to conversation to money. He told me Mr. Miyagi would pay for my drinks because he was a rich man. I said no way, stop, and that I would pay for my own drinks. Then the topic got turned away from our going to the bar and him being rich - and then it just kind of got awkward. So - maybe when I'm there in one week - I can try to work on him and I going somewhere together.
I would invite him over for dinner - but when you invite a person of the opposite sex into your home - it means your relationship is serious. There is nowhere in my town to invite him to go to, and I don' t know about a bar because it is loud. He speaks less English than I do Japanese. That could be a problem. However, he could be my Japanese conversation partner. I actually could barely look him in the eyes because I think he knew they were trying to set us up - which made it kind of awkward. I just need to stun him with my teaching skills next week. If only I could wear a short skirt and blouse hahahahaha.
So, I'm going to court the 5th grade teacher of an Elementary school. It has been decided. Something has to keep me warm this winter. =)
Thanks for reading my entirely long blog of nothingness. It feels good to know people are still interested in what I am doing even after almost 4 months of being here.
Here on out - hopefully the new, positive Sara that people liked from Plattsburgh.
Monday, November 20, 2006
"BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- Six students were trampled to death at a middle school in eastern China and 39 were injured when a sudden panic caused them to swarm into a staircase, state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday.
It was unclear what triggered the panic following an evening class on Saturday at a school in Duchang County in the province of Jiangxi."
This is why America doesn't panic, I suppose. =)
I have a newfound love. I love karaoke. I never was a fan of it before - but we went to a karaoke bar for Dave's 22nd birthday two weekends ago. In case you are unaware; the Japanese LOVE karaoke. I came here knowing that at some point I would have to be a part of the culture and do it. A karaoke bar - I wasn't really sure what it was before going there; I had a rough idea - but since I had actually never been to one - I didn't know what to expect. It turned out to be really cheap since we had so many folks. But basically, you rent out a room per hour that is equipped with a karaoke TV, microphones, and a little remote to input whatever song you wish to sing. There are couches that circle a table and the TV is directly in front of you. You can bring in your own food, alcohol, whatever you want. From there - you just wait until your song comes on and then sing your little heart out. In which, I did. For those of you who knew my summer song - let me tell you; I sang "my hips don't lie" like a champ. So, Sam, Ben, Jon - thanks for putting up with my lame ass summer song.
This past weekend was lovely. Friday - I stayed in - as I am starting to feel a bit old - and after 40 hours - I am tired and not really in the mood to do much anymore. Wierd because I used to put in more than 40 hours of work & studying at college - and play just as hard - but I guess everything was so much more convenient. Saturday, I slept in for the first time in probably two months. Cleaned up my house a bit (anyone want to be a maid in Japan? Free housing...) and headed into Ishinomaki to celebrate Mandy's birthday. We went to the ever - famous nomihodai aka all you can drink and some food for two hours. Following that, we went back to the apartment where we continued drinking since Mandy got 17 litres of alcohol for her birthday. Woke up Sunday and came back home...
Music lesson number 2. I always am asked to do things by people - but never really know exactly what I am doing with the language barrier. So - Sunday, I had agreed to go see a man in my Adult conversation class sing. It was lovely - a great cultural experience. And - since you can't come to Japan - I am bringing Japan to you.
This first video - I don't particularly find the song to great - but I love the ending - ya'all can get some good feeling on what it is like to sit through things that are entirely in Japanese. Enjoy!
This second video - I really enjoy the music. Maybe - you will too.
This third video - again, I find the music pretty intriguing. Maybe by this point, you're sick of hearing this man sing. He isn't the man in my class - but someone else who must have been like the "star of the show" because he sang for about 30 minutes. The man in my class sang one song and then came out in the end to sing with everyone again.
This last video - might make you a bit dizzy. Sorry - I was trying to clap along with them. I want to show it though because the man from my class is in this one. He is the tall man, in the middle wearing the white kimono with black sash.
Again, grateful for the ticket to see this show. Something, I would never be able to find on my own. Following the concert, I still had 1.5 hours of daylight and it wasn't raining. I had been seeing signs for the park that was obviously nearby...so I decided to go on an adventure and find it. I followed the signs, crossed under a torii and drove up an incredibly steep hill. I parked where you could no longer drive anymore. I got out of my car and picked a way to go. I walked and saw a shrine or temple in the distance amongst the trees. It was so quiet and peaceful up there walking amongst the color changing trees all by myself. I finally got to the temple. It was old and decrepid, but so lovely just up in nature like that. I took out a hyakuen (= $1.00) and threw it in and for the first time in years, put my hands together and prayed. I don't know who I prayed to - but I prayed.
Following my brief visit to this holy place - I started backtracking and decided to go up another hill that was a fork in the road. I hiked and hiked and finally reached to where there was a sign and the trail started to become a bit overgrown. Common sense told me to stop here. I will go back - as I took a picture of the sign and am going to have someone translate it to make sure it is okay I will go back. But, it also wasn't too intelligient with the dark setting in less than an hour, in inappropriate clothing, no water, and with a cold nonetheless.
I went back downhill and headed back towards my car. I got to the area and then went up a different way. I found another little torii passed under it and came to a small little prayer box. I checked it out and went back as it was a dead end. I continued up and up a really steep hill. I came to another path - but a big sign in Japanese with the NO sign meaning I probably shouldn't go down it. I took a picture again, to get it translated for me. I headed more and more uphill until I reached a really green, grassy knoll. I walked, walked and walked. I came to another shrine! And many other smaller buildings. At this point, I felt like I was on top of the world. I was the only one in this entire park, with such beautiful surroundings. This is exactly what I have been looking for since I've been here. Something Japanese, peaceful, nature, and while being in solitude, wanting that solitude there. I just stood at the top, for a while, wishing I had paper to write. I had a feeling overcome me. One that I can't describe - but it was a good feeling. The grass was so green, the sky was not raining down on me, I was up there with the birds, I could see the Pacific Ocean, I could see Ishinomaki City, I could see the country, I could see the hills - I was finally eye level with the hills, I could see the way to my house, the way to the gym, it was so rewarding. I am just so stoked to have found this park. On warmer, sunny days, I fully intend on being there all day long. I hope it is as desolate year round as it was on Sunday - and not because it's a bit chilly in November.
I saw a sign that I believe offered a lot of hiking trails. I cant' wait to just put my boots on and go. Oh, a place to explore only 40 minutes from my house. YESSSSS!!!! Can you tell how excited I am?
So, I took a picture so you can see how country I am. This is the best one I've got so far -because to this point - I haven't been this high up near my house. Take a look at all the rice fields - they look pretty ugly since they are all harvested now. However, the green ones you saw a few months ago - do make it pretty before harvest. And - the nice hills that are around my area.
The beautiful green, grassy knoll I found is below. And the hills in the distance.I would have taken more photos but my camera died. Atleast you get an idea! YAY for this park! YAY YAY YAY!
After my park adventure, I made a real American dinner of salad, spaghetti with a homemade sauce and garlic bread for Mitsue. We followed it with tea and a strawberry cake she brought. Yummy! I showed her pictures from Plattsburgh and Tokyo. I showed her the "real" Sara. Atleast the real Sara from college - the crazy, party animal. I don't know who the "real" Sara is at the moment. She enjoyed the pictures and laughed a lot. Mitsue told me it was the same for her at college and she drank alot. Next time, she is going to bring pictures of her college and friends to show me. I can't wait!
Alright, that's all I feel like writing for now because I don't want to bore everyone. I hope all is well at home. HAPPY THANKSGIVING ALL!
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The Japanese fire drill. I experienced the Japanese fire drill last week. I have to share it because it is rather different from the fire drills we have at home. I was laughing. So - this is what happens. Their version of a fire drill goes off and an administrator goes running out of the school with a huge flag. All the students, come running as fast as they can out of the school, across the soccer field. Of course, I was told I needed to participate too, so there I am running with the other teachers as fast as we can away from the fire. I was laughing, hysterically. Just imagine a whole school running!
Following the run out, there were some speeches in Japanese that obviously I couldn't understand. Followed by a fire extinguisher demonstration whereby, students practiced. A few more speeches by the fire department and it ended. The whole ordeal took nearly an hour.
The administration asked me if it is the same in America. I answered No, and tried to explain with my limited Japanese and gestures - just what we do in America. I suppose, even though I laugh at the Japanese fire drill. They probably think our fire drills are wierd too. We walk, single filed, no talking out of a burning building. I understand the reasoning behind this is to ensure no one panics - but to walk, quietly out of a burning building does seem a bit more unreasonable than running as fast as you can, screaming fire, out of a burning building. They also thought it was strange that our students don't practice using fire extinguishers. Which, thinking about it, I agree...it is kind of stupid that our students don't receive demonstrations on how to extinguish a fire.
So, that, my friends and family, is a Japanese fire drill. Run as quickly as you can out the building. I think it's funny, but maybe it's one of those things where you have to be there.
Friday, November 10, 2006
Tim had wanted to see “real Japan”. So – we did. I looked through my bible, the Lonely Planet and asked if he'd be willing to take a long train ride up North to see a place called Nikko. I wasn't really too sure what Nikko was – but it looked like it might be “real Japan.” Here's a bit of the history I'm lifting right out of my Lonely Planet,
“Nikko's history as a sacred site stretches back to the middle of the 8th century, when the Buddhist priest Shodo (735-817) established a hermitage there. For many years it was a famous training center for Buddhist monks, before declining into obscurity. That is, until it was chosen as a site for the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the warlord who took control of all of Japan and established the Shogunate that ruled for over 250 years until the Meiji Restoration ended the feudal era.
Tokugawa was laid to rest among Nikko's towering cedars in 1617, but his grandson Tokugawa Iemitsu, in 1634, commenced work on the shrine that can be seen today. The original shrine, Tosho-gu, was completely rebuilt using an army of som
e 15,000 artisans from across Japan. The work on the shrine and mausoleum took two years to complete and the results continue to receive mixed reviews.
Tosho-gu was constructed as a memorial to a warlord who devoted his life to conquering Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu was a man of considerable determination and wasn't above sacrificing a few scruples in order to achieve his aims. He is attributed with having had his wife and eldest son executed, because at a certain point, it was politically expedient for him to do so. More than anything else the grandeur or Nikko is intended to inspire awe; it is a display of wealth and power by a family that for nearly three centuries was the supreme arbiter of power in Japan.”
Needless to say, that sounded enticing enough to bring Tim to. We woke up bright and early on Monday to get our way there. We navigated our way back to Asakusa – found the train station – after a bit of confusion – got our tickets, had some Starbuck's and was on our way to Nikko. It was going to be a two hour train station from Asakusa.
The train ride was very nice for me since this was Tim's first time seeing Japan as Japan and not as Tokyo. We were riding past small towns, ride paddies all the while seeing hills & mountains in the distance. I was able to relate some of what we were passing to what my town is like. It seemed so normal to me and so foreign to Tim (since it was). It took me a bit to realize that he was experiencing these sites for the first time. I smiled at the thought of that. We had to make a switch – and so we reached the station – saw a train in front of us and just hopped onto it – never really double checking to make sure it goes to Nikko.
Like I said though – we just kind of did our thing without maps and were making it okay to that point. We realized that once we reached Nikko we really had no idea where to go or what to do. Plan A – follow the whitey. There was another Western woman on our train – and we figured – well, she's probably a tourist. At the same time, I was glancing through my Lonely Planet as to find out what to do. Whitey led us right to a bus – which we hopped on. Good thing we didn't follow her completely because she didn't get off where you needed to in order to see the sights. Thank you Lonely Planet.
We got off and just followed the crowd. I read in my lonely planet that you can get a “Combination ticket” that allows you to see many temples & shrines for 1000 Yen or $10.00 USD. We spent about 20 minutes searching for that. We weren't really sure where to go since we didn't have a map of the area (so unprepared!). We walked all over – turned the wrong way a time or two. We kept ascending with stairs and small hills until we came across a huge temple – and with it a little booth selling this combination ticket. Score!
The first temple we visited was called Rinnjo – Ji. It was a large, red temple that was founded 1200 years ago by Shodo Shonin. We walked up some stairs, were greeted by a lady monk whom punched a hole in our ticket – and went on in. We walked around until we came to the “gold” of the temple. The reason so many people come to this temple and are inspired. You turn the corner and right before your eyes are three towering Buddha statues. The name of this area is Sambutsu – do or the Three Buddha Hall. All Buddhas are gold lacquered with special meanings. The Buddha on the far left is named Kannon, the goddess of Mercy and compassion. The central Buddha is Amida Nyorai, a primal God in the Buddhist sect. The Buddha that was to the far right was Bato – a horse – headed Buddha whose special domain is the animal kingdom. On your way out of the temple, there were several Buddha statues lining the wall.
The next area we came to was called Tosho – gu. You enter underneath a huge stone torii (marks the entrance to a Shinto Shrine). As soon as you enter, to your left you see a 5 story Pagoda. According to the lonely planet, That particular Pagoda was originally built in 1650 but rebuilt in 1818. The pagoda has no foundations but is rumored to have a long, suspended pole that swings like a pendulum, which will restore equilibrium when an earthquake hits. Once you cross into this area – you are first overwhelmed by how beautiful your surroundings are. Everywhere you turn, there are old, ancient, gold – lacquered buildings. At this point – you also see how touristy Nikko is. Of course, it is – I mean it is a World Heritage Site. To all sides of you are ancient buildings. My Lonely Planet helped clarify the importance of each building. The one building exhibited a carved elephant made by an artist who had never actually seen an elephant, nor a picture of an elephant. The carving was actually impressive once you learn that. It actually did look like an elephant, after all. The other cool thing we got to view was the original carvings of the monkeys that depict, “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”. You walk around this level of buildings – and then you approach some more stairs. You climb up these stairs, pass through another torii and have a whole new set of buildings to explore.
We entered another building which is famous for their ceiling. On the ceiling, there is a painting of a dragon, known as the Roaring Dragon. Then, there is a monk in there who is probably telling about this place, not that we could understand. However, at the end of the speech, he bangs two wooden sticks together which is supposed to represent the roar of a dragon. It doesn't really sound like that – but it is also used to demonstrate the acoustics of the hall.
You cross through Yomei-mon – a sophisticated gate that has carved leaves, animals, flowers, mythical beasts. Once through the gate, you are again inundated with more divine buildings. The building straight in front of you – you can go inside. You take your shoes off – go in – and can see the worship hall.
After this area, we headed to Futarasan Jinja, another shrine that was founded by Shodo Shonin. This shrine area was dedicated to mountains. You can view the inside of the shrine from the outside, but then you can go into it's “yard” area and see around it. There was a cute, little pond, a little restaurant of some sort, basically, and REALLY old Cedar trees (my favorite!). Right outside of this area was a HUGE torii. See picture.
The last spot we visited in Nikko was called Taiyuin-byo. You climb up many, many stairs to reach it. Once there, you see more buildings. We entered one of the shrines to see the inside – absolutely wonderful. We walked around out back and came to a gate. Just visiting the sites and taking it all in. After that, we left the temple and shrine site and started walking back to look for lunch/dinner. We came back across the famous bridge – an icon of Nikko. The name of the bridge is Shin-kyo. It's a red bridge that crosses the Daiya River. The original one was constructed in the 17th century. It has become famous as the spot where the Buddhist monk – Shodo Shonin – who first established a hermitage in Nikko in 782 was carried across this river on the back of two huge serpents. Believe what you want!
After walking around a bit, we found a place to eat. Following the late lunch, we hopped onto a bus and returned to the train station. We had another 2-3 hours ahead of us. What did we do? We cracked open a beer. Then another, and then another. It was actually quite funny because everyone around us was drinking.
We got back to Shinjuku – a little tipsy. Relaxed a little before headed out for some dinner. I took Tim to this alleyway (shocking, I found it again) that I had gone to my first night in Japan. We ordered some beers and got dinner. This being the last night we would spend in Japan together.
We woke up rather late on Tuesday and went to Denny's for breakfast. Had a bit of a family chat, packed and walked back to the station. We said our goodbye's – but not sadly as I'll see him again at Lisa's wedding.
I got myself back onto the Shinkansen – even though I wasn't entirely sure it was the right one. I have relied on asking numerous people for help. The way back to Sendai – I again admired the landscape, started writing my blog, listened to music. The landscape certainly inspires me to write. It makes me dig deep down inside of me. This whole experience has me questioning who I am. I arrived into Sendai, bought my train ticket back to Ishinomaki, only to learn of a new challenge. There was one train that was going somewhere else at 4:50. My train wasn't coming until 4:59. It was 5:00 when the train arrived – I asked the woman next to me if it was the 4:50 or 4:59 train. She said it was the first and said the next train is the Ishinomaki train. Then, she continued to tell me it wasn't going to Ishinomaki. I asked her when the next one to Ishinomaki was. She kept telling me no train to Ishinomaki. I was really confused, and a little bit lost in translation. We finally got it figured out that due to a typhoon, they were not having any more trains go to Sendai for the rest of the night. Shit. What do I do? I was supposed to go to Japanese class tonight, and I need to work tomorrow.
I call Brian to get my advisor's phone number. I call him and ask if I can crash on his floor tonight. I certainly did not want to pay for a hotel and I was really confused. He said no problem. I waited around for him and finally I see his face looking for me. He asked me if I would take a bus, where I said I didn't care – I really just wanted to get home. Thankfully, he was able to arrange and translate and get me to the bus. He waited with me (cause he's awesome) and I boarded the bus. An hour and some minutes later – I was back into rainy, windy, cold Ishinomaki.
In reflection to my trip, I feel like I understand Tokyo much better and can navigate around it pretty well. I don't know all of Tokyo but for a city that is so big – I surely did get around just fine.
As always - to view more photos from my trip - check out the link "pictures" to the right.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
The journey South
Friday – the day I had been anxiously anticipating for over a week now. The past week, I had felt like a child does on Christmas Eve. Do you remember that feeling when the next day was going to provide you with everything your little heart dreamed of? Barbie, hot wheels, care bears, the coolest new toy, it didn't matter because the surprise of it all is what mattered and how you just couldn't wait any longer. That is how I had been feeling about going to Tokyo and meeting Tim there. I packed really late Thursday night – wasn't completely finished – so I had to continue that when I woke up in the morning. I packed up, hopped in my car and drove into the Ish bright and early. Things were going smoothly and I got into Ishinomaki really early. I have all these tickets from a travel agent to get me to Tokyo. I wasn't really sure which one got me to Sendai – since I can't read.
I went to the ticket booth and said:
watashi wa sendai ni ikimasu demo kore wa wakarimasen.
I go to Sendai but I don't understand this (while pointing to my numerous tickets).
He points to the one I need and tells me the time of the next train. I get on and sit next to two young men. The entire way to Sendai – I studied my Japanese. I was scrunched between my two young men and two older women. Sitting across from me was a couple clearly in love. The young men were chatting away and laughing, the older women were helping each other out, and the young couple was holding hands and smiling at each other. I missed normal social interaction at that point. I reached Sendai really early since I made it to Ishinomaki so quickly. I exited the densha and decided since I had two hours before my scheduled Shinkansen ride; I might as well go reflect in a Sendai Starbucks.
I ordered myself a caramel machiatto and a blueberry scone and sat down. I wrote in my journal, i “people-watched”, listened to my iPod and looked like the typical young backpacker.
I realized that I love traveling – I loved that feeling in Starbuck's. I realized I missed coffee shops. I realized I miss a lot of my friends. At this point – I don't think that I even knew it was my birthday. It was for sure the most bazaar birthday I've had to this age.
The time came when I had to figure out what to do with the rest of those tickets I received from a travel agent. I asked a man how do I get to the Shinkansen? He told me go to the next floor up – I was lazy and took the escalator. It was pretty busy at this point – I was traveling on the national holiday of “Culture Day”. It was like a bumper car game. At all points, I am dodging being knocked out by a busy person. I had to watch all sides of me because it was like pinball – people were flying every which way.
I went to the ticket office upstairs, stood in line. I reached the lady who helps you. I said to her the same thing as I said earlier. I held out my remaining tickets, and said “I am going to Tokyo, but I don't understand these.” She pointed to the correct ticket to use for this train and told me where to go stand. “sweet” I thought, “I'm getting somewhere here.”
I go to platform 13 and randomly choose my next victim to try to understand my Japanese. I choose a woman all dressed up and with a hair updo. I asked her - “here, train goes to Tokyo” I am giving you my literal translation - what I am literally saying to people are these horrible translations demo but enough to get my point across. She thinks about it, confirms with the woman standing behind her and tells me hai, yes. I go stand behind a man. I'm standing, wishing the train would get there sooner because my bags are heavy. I notice the man in front of me is eyeing my ticket that I have in my hand.
He keeps looking, compares it to his ticket, looks at the sign hanging over us, walks around a bit and comes back. The suited up man tells me that I need to stand in this other line – which is literally just standing next to them. I was confused, but thanked him. My train was scheduled to arrive at exactly 1:26pm. A train arrived at 1:20 – I thought it was mine. Everyone boards, including me. However, the suited man that helped me earlier was trying to tell me something. His hand gestures made me think that he was telling me I needed to get off. Yet, it was 1:20 – only 6 minutes early. I thought to myself, “could there possibly be another train only 6 minutes after this one?” My question was answered when the woman next to him said one word to me “next” - where I realized, “ahh, I guess there will be another train only 6 minutes after this one.” I get off and stand back where I was, hoping I am right and they are right. Their train pulls away and I do the standard Japanese bow to the man to thank him for helping me.
1:26pm on the dot and my train arrives. Hmm, no room for error in this country. I board, I lift my overweight bag over my head – just barely knocking out the passengers sitting near me to place it into the storage. I say a few gomen nasai's and sumimasens. ( I'm sorry and excuse me). I plop down in my seat to get comfortable as I have another one hour and fifty minutes before I arrive to Tokyo. I'm sitting next to a man – who ate his bento (lunch box), read the free Shinkansen magazine, and then napped.
I spent my time admiring the landscape, writing in my journal and studying my Japanese. It felt like no time and here the PA system was announcing next stop – Tokyo station. I quickly put away all my mind occupying books and prepare for departure of the train. I get off, realize the beautiful temperature change and that I have no idea what I need to do at this point. I stop, gather myself, take off some layers and get out the directions I printed from the hostel web page and my Lonely Planet guide. Ahh, I need the Yamanote line – okay great. There are like 5 platforms for that line. Hmm. I choose one – get up there and see that it is headed the opposite way I thought I needed to go. This train eki (station) is much more crowded than Sendai. If I thought I was avoiding pinballs in Sendai, I was dodging bullets in Tokyo. I took off my cumbersome bag to re-evaluate my Lonely Planet's map of Tokyo's vast subway system. Here I am crouched in the middle of the platform, sweating bullets, trying to figure out where to go. Suddenly, I hear the heavenly words of “Can I help you?” I look up and there is a young man wanting to help me. I let out a sigh of relief. I tell him I need to get to Asakusa but need to get to Akihabara to get there. He says “okay” - whips out his ketai (cell), does a quick search to tell me that the next train is leaving in two minutes – in the platform straight across from where we are. Two minutes. I thank him a million times over and run. I made it! I hopped onto the train and hoped I really grabbed the right one.
I don't remember how long it took me to get to Akihabara – but I made it. Next, I needed to find the Tsukuba Express train. Hmmm. Followed the signs but they lead me outside. I asked someone where to go – got it worked out. Hopped onto this nice train and bam – into Asakusa!
Next challenge – find the hostel. I look at a map of this city and think I know where I need to head to. There was a festival going on to commemorate the Culture Day holiday. It was certainly crowded – and wow, other foreigners. I was a bit out of my element – other foreigners, weird. I walk around and find my hostel. A hostel!!!! I haven't been to one since last December – when I went to Quebec City. I love hostels. I check in and explain to them that my cousin will be calling if he gets lost – so I'll be hanging around and please find me if he calls.
I go up to our room – drop off the bags, grab my Japanese studying materials and head back down. I realize the time – and that Tim won't be landing for another hour or two. That means I don't need to sit around in case he calls. I venture into Asakusa – extremely excited to be here. Asakusa isn't as crazy as the heart of Tokyo – but very touristy nonetheless. I really couldn't get over the amount of diversity I was encountering. I knew there was a famous temple here – so I went to find it. It didn't take too long to find this holy ground. The temple's name is Senso – ji. While this temple had been standing for a very long time – it was destroyed during the bombings of WW2 and rebuilt in 1950. It was absolutely gorgeous from the outside, but the tourist crowd on the inside seemed to take away from the holy effect. Standing in front of the temple and facing away from it – your eyes can rest upon a red five- story Pagoda. I really liked the pagoda – as it was the first one I've actually seen in Japan. Also looking away from the temple, you see a large incense cauldron. According to my Lonely Planet, the smoke is said to bestow health. I headed away from the temple, towards the entrance. I apparently entered from the side and not the official entrance. I pushed my way through the crowds and reached a street full of vendors. This street is called Nakamise -dori. It is filled of vendors selling souvenirs, food, all sorts of stuff. I was turned off immediately as I couldn't even move. It is always crowded to begin with since this is a tourist spot. However, it was tenfold due to the festival. I pushed myself out of this mobbed street to find a combini (convenient store). I found one, grabbed some dinner and found my way back to the hostel.
I ate dinner and studied at the hostel,
also observing those around me. I talked to some folks. The one that stuck out the most at this point was a Korean boy. He was 24 years old and just came back from Australia. He went there for 6 months to learn English. I was talking to him how I talk to all people who have
English as their second language. I talk not naturally fast, but not really slow. He asked why I was speaking to him so slowly – so then I said okay and talked naturally fast and he couldn't understand me. He was kind of awkward to be around. You could sense he was really nervous but did want the conversation with me . The hostel was holding a traditional Japanese night and I had signed up to participate in the tea ceremony. Thankfully, it was time for that – allowing me to escape the awkward conversation I had started with this guy. There were 7 of us – watching one of the hostel staff demonstrate tea ceremony. She made the first cup and asked the Korean boy to try it first. He continued to be awkward about it – but did it. The next cup went to a European woman –
who was much better at being the taste tester. From there, we were asked to go up to the tatami to make our own tea. I went up there first with Mr. Korea, Miss Europe, and another European man. We were handed our cups and the mixer. We were instructed to whip the tea until it had many small bubbles. From there – we were to taste. Shockingly, the tea was much tastier than any of the other green tea that I had tried to this point.
The second group went up – and I came into conversation with the web designer for the hostel. He was taking our pictures for advertising for the hostel. So, yes, I am now on the hostel web page. To see me on the web page go here
The web designer man whose name is Ryuhei had wonderful English capabilities but allowed me to practice my Japanese with him. We chatted for quite some time and exchanged e-mail addresses. He was a great resource, informing me of random tidbits of information regarding Asakusa – including the correct way to pronounce how to say the name. He had spent time in Hawaii, New Orleans, and Harvard ( I think that was the University he said). Very open – minded and understanding. I certainly enjoyed my conversation with him.
Following the tea ceremony, a girl who worked at the hostel and her sister performed some Noh Drama for us. They were phenomenal! I had seen Noh last week at the talent show I had gone to – not realizing I was viewing Noh. This time – I had a sheet in English explaining it to me. Noh drama usually has a drummer, flutist and a singer/dancer. The singer/dancer reflects a particular person – usually a demon or ghost. Since the
re were only two actors for the hostel – they did different sections representing how the drama would be shown if you saw the real thing. I was so impressed with these girl's voices. The one section where they were demonstrating the drums to us – was great. The one girl was singing, the other girl singing and playing the drum in sync to the whole rhythm. Great job!
After the traditional displays – I was just sitting around and studying. I turned around and there was Tim! I got up and gave him a huge
hug. Finally, the moment I had been waiting for – Tokyo with Tim. We went upstairs and put down his bags, talked a bit and decided that he wanted to eat. All the street vendors had closed at this point and so I took him to the combini that I had gone to earlier to pick out some food. We went back to the hostel, ate his dinner and cracked some beers. We chatted until the rest of the host
el came back from their pub night out in the city. That evening, I chatted away with them Japanese girls in Japanese (to practice of course). It felt good because this trip was starting to reveal just how much I have learned since being in Japan. The other Westerners sitting at the table with us asked me how long I have been studying Japanese – I said 2.5 months. They were shocked that I could say as much as I could – and understand what was being said
to me in such a short amount of time. In reality – it is true – but at the same time – what we were discussing in Japanese was simple and very incorrect and I substituted some words with English. It felt good though – I needed it very much in my life.
Friday night ended, ending my 23rd birthday in Tokyo.
Welcome toooo Tokyoooooo.
8am. We're awake. Check out isn't until 11am at this hostel and check in isn't until 1pm at the next hotel. We decide to go walk around Asakusa and see the sites. First, we wanted breakfast. We went to McDonald's for breakfast.
Why? Well, I never eat a Japanese breakfast anyways. To be honest
, I wouldn't know where to go or where to take Tim to get a Japanese breakfast. I wanted pancakes badly, and McDonald's offered just that. Following that, we walked around Asakusa - saw the temple again, went down the overflowing Nakamise -dori again. Took some photos, saw Asakusa. We went back to the hostel – got directions to where our next hotel would be – located in the heart of Tokyo – Shinjuku. I navigated us there – and bam we're spit out in yet another station chock-full of rushing humans. We check into the Century Hyatt – because Tim can't travel cheaply. Held a small conversation with the man checking us in and we headed to our room. Now, I must mention we had a really cool key because it was. It was a skeleton key – sweeeeet. I also noticed how happy people are when I try to speak Japanese to them. It seems that as long as I try – they are happy. It's nice when people appreciate it even though what I am saying is very horrible Japanese. It's encouraging to keep trying.
We got into our room, unpacked, and decided shit, it's already lunch time. We walked around Shinjuku – allowing Tim to take in Japan and at the same time allowing myself to be shocked at being in such a large, diverse city for the first time in 3 months.
Diversity. Wow. So many foreigners.
I was just as overwhelmed as I am sure Tim was. I took him to Mos Burger – which is a Japanese fast food type place. Laughed at the music being played, while at the same time wishing I knew who was singing cause I liked it. After lunch, we walked around a bit more. We came across a street festival – with all sorts of interesting food. I was a bit bummed that we hadn't come across that first – because it would have been a better Japanese experience for Tim to eat festival food over Mos Burger. It was right around this shrine – the shrine we had found my first three days in Japan. Unfortunately, Tim did not get to see the shrine in the same way I had as it was overflowing with people from the street festival. Nonetheless, the festival was also good for him to see. He particularly like the fishes on a stick. Soon, it started raining – so we ducked for cover since Tim only sees rain like once a year in LA and wasn't a fan of walking in it. Tim noticed a few Japanese things today:
Toilet paper is handed out in the streets or you have to buy it at a toilet paper machine dispenser since public restrooms don't have it
There are no garbage cans in the city (to prevent terrorism)
Women's fashion is skirts and knee high boots (and he loves it)
We went back to the hotel to take a nap cause we had been up early and were both tired. We had big plans to head into Roppongi – the night life district. It was like turning a Republican to believe in Democratic views getting Tim out of bed. He was a bit jetlagged to say the least. Finally – success! I dragged him out and got directions to Roppongi and off we went. We got into this section of the city, walked around. We saw Tokyo tower – which is a spitting image of the Eiffel Tower. It was lit up red and read 2006 across it. Which is interesting since Japanese don't go by Western years but rather the time period of what family is in power. That means right now their year is 19 in the Heisei era. I wanted to take Tim somewhere Japanese to eat for dinner. We decided on this one restaurant which ended up being really interesting. I don't know what they were trying to get at – the waiter came to us and said in English, “I speak Spanish.” Ok, but I don't. They were playing rap music and had a mix of a menu. I wanted to order some stuff “without” the meat. Yet, it couldn't be done so I ended up with pizza. After leaving this restaurant, we wanted to choose our watering hole. We walked around Roppongi – not really sure where to go. To this point, we had been very unprepared with maps, things to do, and places to eat. This not changing in Roppongi.
We finally decided on a place called Motown. We walked in and immediately were surrounded by tourists – not my ideal place to drink – but it was better than nothing. We squeeze our way in to order ourselves Asahi beeru. Eventually, we make our way to the back of the bar and sit at a table with an old man with large glasses and who doesn't stop laughing. He was just this jolly man, laughing and cheering on all the drunkards dancing. He soon left – and we were eventually joined by a Japanese man and woman. The woman knew enough English & I knew enough Japanese that we could talk. I was translating for Tim and she was translating for the man she was there with. The man really wanted Tim to learn some Japanese. He was teaching Tim the word kampai which translates to Cheers! We were kampaiing incessantly – then they called over two University girls to kampai with the one Japanese word that Tim now knows. I don't remember too much after this. According to Tim, I was just singing, drinking & dancing the night away with the University girls.
Some of the original friends we made – had their friend meet us as well. The accountant. Tim got his business card and was experiencing the fun language barrier of trying to meet people. I had a blast at Motown – they played awesome music(including Shakira's – hips don't lie) – and even though it was touristy- we ended up only hanging out with Japanese folks – giving the Japanese experience I wanted Tim to have. I don't remember leaving, but according to Tim, we took a taxi ride home where I constantly told him I was going to throw up, and was basically carried into the hotel. We had a successful night in Roppongi.
The after – effects of Roppongi
If, successful in Roppongi, then, waste the next day. We never saw Sunday morning – we slept straight through it. We woke up past noon. Oops. Tim had wanted to see Tokyo Bay – but we certainly overslept. I broke out my Lonely Planet – found Tokyo Bay and got directions. We navigated ourselves through the Tokyo subway system maze. We ended up on the monorail – which was pretty cool. It kind of brought us up level wit
h some of the higher buildings, allowing us to see down into the cities. We got off at Odaiba – which according to the Lonely Planet is the place to see the bay. It was crowded there – but we walked around, didn't see much of anything except apartment buildings. I'm not really sure exactly what Lonely Planet was talking about – but they were wrong. We saw some groups dancing on the street and entered into a huge building full of cars. There was a ferris wheel and that was about it. Certainly, not what either of us had expected. Bummer. We were losing daylight at this point.
We decided to go to Shibuya – which is the shopping district in Tokyo. The first thing we saw – straight from the train station – was quite possibly one of the busiest intersections in the world. (that's in our opinion, of course). We taped it – and hopefully I will get it up here for you all to see. Imagine hundreds of people, crossing the street all at the same time. After laughing and recovering from the initial shock of that many people – we decided it was our turn to go be a part of the craziness. We walked around the streets of Shibuya – blending in with the hundreds upon hundreds of people walking amongst screaming TVS, blinding neon lights, enormous buildings, overpriced material goods, and numerous eating places. We took it all in, commenting on how Shibuya is even more crazy than Shinjuku. Sat down, on the side walk and just people watched.
After Shibuya – we headed back to Shinjuku to rest a bit before finding a place to eat. I took Tim to a Japanese style restaurant – we ordered many small dishes – including gizzard – which thankfully, never came. Tim was intrigued with the Japanese room – with all the folks having a nomihodaia aka – all you can drink for two hours with lots of food. We made it an early night because we didn't want to waste the next day as we had today.
to be continued...