Friday, October 28, 2005

Home Sweet Home...

Ah….home sweet home! I have come to the end of my journey and I am exhausted (and a little bit sad!). The trip home was a killer and I think it is going to take a few days to recover. I figure it’s not such a big deal since I have over 1200 pictures to download! Geez!

October 27 has now been named the day that lasted FOREVER! I got up early to get my bags packed all the way and ready to go. Of course, I lost the luggage tags on my suitcases and had to run through the huge hotel to get new ones before our 9:30 luggage pick-up. I made it back at 9:25 so I didn’t have to bring my luggage to the airport myself. Nice! It’s a good thing, too, because my bags were packed!

I met everyone downstairs and headed to breakfast with my friends: Amy, Heather, Janet, Ryan, Dave and Luke. We spent a long time at breakfast because I think we realized we were leaving and wanted to spend as much time as possible with each other. We ate at the Western/Japanese style breakfast and I have to admit that I had rice (who can resist! I love it!). We closed the place down, finally they told us we needed to leave. I said goodbye to most of my new friends since they were leaving on early flights.

Amy, Dave and I (the Ohionese- our cheesy nickname) had the four fifty-five flight. This is the crazy part of it, we were leaving at this time on the 27th, but because of the time zones, we would arrive in Chicago at 3:25….early then when we left! I was traveling back in time! We boarded our bus and headed to the airport around noon (nothing like leaving early to make sure we made it on time!). I slept a little bit and woke up to a delightful photo shoot by Amy or me sleeping with my mouth open. Blah! We all stopped at a rest stop because two other Fulbright buses had gone before us and we were jamming up the airport. Dave, Amy and I each bought a Japanese snack and ate them one last time.

We got our bags at the airport (I’m so spoiled with all this bag delivery!), and I prayed that I wouldn’t have to pay a lot for my overweight bag. Guess what???? I was under! No fair! I would have bought more! Ha! We all went through immigration and waited to board our flight. The three of us found a place that sold American food so we ate there and Amy and I poured over the gossip magazines. We “borrowed” People and US Weekly, since they were imported and cost ten dollars each! We caught up on our gossip (poor Nick and Jessica) and the world was well again.

I wasn’t too thrilled to board the plane, but I prepared myself for the journey. This time the flight was about twelve hours long. We were flying to Chicago, but it was faster b/c of the jet stream. I stayed up and watched Mr. And Mrs. Smith (I did enjoy it, Kathleen) and read and slept for the rest of the trip. I ate lots of junk food, felt really gross and was so happy when we touched down in Chicago! Amy and I almost missed our flight to Cleveland b/c customs took awhile and we had to go to the other side of the airport, but we made it and I was soon HOME!!!!!!!!

My family picked me up, I said a quick hello and then I went home and crashed for a long long time. I woke up at three the next day…shoot! This was a long journey, but it was one of the best of my life!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Farewell Banquet

Prom Photo before the big dinner! I'm not quite sure why we're leaning in!?

Katsuyama group shot...

Ryoken group shot...

Another ryoken group shot...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Last Day...

I woke up today a little sad. I can’t believe this is my last full day in Tokyo. While I am definitely ready to go home, I am going to miss all these people and the amazing journey that I have gone on here. I met Dave, Amy, Ryan, Janet and Luke downstairs at the American/Japanese buffet. I can’t resist those pancakes! We are a quick breakfast and talked about the presentations that day. My group as going towards the end, so I would be able to watch pretty much everyone before we went.

I was excited to see our guide, Aiko, at the presentations! I hadn’t really gotten to say goodbye to her, so this was my chance. The presentations were great (some got a little long because groups were showing ALL their pictures, and I do mean all!), but it was good to see everyone’s adventures. We had lunch in the fancy reception hall again and then I ran with Amy, Dawn, Heather and Anthonette to the Starbucks down the street so we would have some energy for the afternoon. Yes, I know, more Starbucks! I just can’t be away from it! We grabbed our drinks (after getting mildly lost…you’d think my Starbucks radar would have helped us!), and made it back just in time for the last of the presentations.

We were having out last reception that night, The Farewell Banquet. We all dressed up nicely and met before we left and took pictures. How dorky! I felt like we were going to prom our something! It was another dinner where you stand at the little tables and eat. Everything looked and smelled so good! We took a million more pictures, listened to the Fulbright speakers congratulate us and feasted on great great food! Amy and I kept going back to get the seafood. They were sautéing scallops, mussels and clams in a wine sauce. We probably ate six or seven plates between the two of us. Everyone was in a great mood but a little sad to be leaving. I couldn’t believe the time was almost over. Fulbright brought in Judo masters and we watched them perform. After dinner, my group of friends and I decided to go to the restaurant/bar on the top floor (fortieth) of the building. The view was amazing! It was circular and you could see all around Tokyo. We stayed there for awhile talking about our trip and what we would miss. We ended up staying up almost all night just talking and trying to prolong the next day.

I honestly didn’t think that I would make the friendships that I did on this trip. Not only did I learn a lot about a new country, but I also made some great friends from my own country!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Back Home to Tokyo....

I have to admit that this morning, I was so tired out from all the karaoke singing and the buckwheat pillow (it was horrible!) that I didn’t wake up for breakfast. In fact, of the four of us that shared a room, only Renee went down to breakfast. I’m not sure if I didn’t go down to breakfast because I was tired and wanted some extra sleep, or because I was simply becoming sick of everything tasting like fish (I have a feeling it was the latter!). We all took turns sharing the one shower that we had (which surprisingly went more smoothly then one would have thought) and got ready to head back to Tokyo and the last part of our journey.

We boarded the bus a tired but fulfilled group. Our experience in a Japanese Ryokan was defiantly one of a kind! I was eager to get to the airport because I knew something amazing awaited….amazing in the lines of Starbucks! Ha! I got a large Chai Tea, put my I-pod on and relaxed on the flight back. We arrived at Narita airport around eleven, which kind of stunk because we couldn’t check back into the New Otani until three. Luckily, there was a HUGE traffic jam and it took us almost two hours to get back! I still had a lot of time to kill, but when we arrived at the hotel to put our bags away, I ran into Dave and Ryan. We had a mini-reunion and ventured out into the city!

There was no agenda for the day. Some groups had planned to rehearse their presentations, but we had already did that in Katsuyama, so I planned to enjoy my last free day in Tokyo (and perhaps get some sleep!). Dave, Ryan and I ventured to the subways and headed out to the Oriental Market. It was a large building with floors and floors of Japanese goods to buy. However, before we went there, we spotted something even better in the same area….a Wendy’s! Nothing looked better to us then some good fattening American food! We literally went in ready for a feast! When I went up to the register, I pointed at the menu of the French fries and Frosty and made gestured that I hoped would verbalize that I wanted “The biggest one you had!” It was truly heaven! I think I could have eaten a couple more frosties and fries. This was one of my best meals by far! We liked it so much that we made an executive decision about dinner that night. We had planned a “reunion” for all of us who hung out, and we wanted to spend the last of our money. The American food gave us a taste for home so bad that we decided we would not get Japanese, but go to dinner at…TGI Fridays! Ha!

We headed to the Oriental Market full and happy. On the way, I ran into the Gap and bought my sister a shirt. Nothing like shopping in a different country in a store that you can find in the U.S.! It was a special addition Gap Japan shirt, though, celebrating their 20th anniversary. I figured it was worth it, and she was the last one I had to shop for. I moved on to spend some more money at the Oriental Market where I bought a ton of different bowls and dinnerware and some beautiful chopsticks. I told myself that this was it for my spending. Well, I hoped it was! We ran into some other Fulbright friends and Ryan stayed to shop more with them while Dave and I moved on.

I sweet-talked Dave into going to Starbucks with me (my second time in a day…bad!). I got a Frappacino b/c unlike Katsuyama, it was really hot here and I needed something to cool off with. We shopped and explored a little bit long and then headed back to the hotel. Most of us ended up getting our same rooms back, so it felt like we had arrived “home” again.

I took a nap before dinner at Fridays. Our group ended up becoming about ten people for our “farewell” free dinner. We headed out with hungry stomach and a taste for American food! Amy and I pretended that we knew the way (which we did pretty well with, we only led everyone the wrong way off the subway stop). We decided to go all out, which meant appetizers, dinners and dessert (which I shared with Dave and had to put a stop to his excessive eating of the brownie…kidding, Dave!). We all had a great time and headed back happy because some of the groups had to practice their skits. We spent the rest of the evening hanging out in Dave’s room playing cards and talking. It was great to be back in Tokyo! I’m sure going to miss everyone when it comes time to head back home!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Picture of the Ryokan...

Our beds for the night. It may not look really comfortable because they are on mats, but they were so soft and fluffy!

I think I was getting a little too into karaoke! It was so hot that we rolled up our sleeves!

Leading some of us in the locomotion! Just be thankful that I don't have a microphone in my hand!

Singing with my ryokan roommates....

Taking a break from the socks with the big toe spot. I pulled them out of my big toe for a bit; I couldn't handle it!

This is the bowl where we cooked some of our dinner. Isn't that cool?

Here is part of my delicious dinner...hmmm...somehow I think a lot of it taste like fish!

My room buddies!

Renee and I out on the street!

Showing off our new outfits. It felt so strange to have that spot for your big toe!

Our room set up for tea...

Showing off my outfit in the gardens...that was the bridge I was afraid I was going to fall off of!

Showing off the socks and slippers!

Another toe shot...we do love those socks!

Our ryokan room...

Sea of Japan Photos

Our Stay in a Japanese Ryokan...

This morning I was kind of sad to pack up my bags and head away from Katsuyama. I started to grow comfortable with the town and the hotel that I could actually navigate in! I was leaving behind the massage chairs We set out on our bus to go and meet the PTA and some parents. I found this meeting one of the most interesting, because we were able to talk to parents and hear their concerns about their children. The main thing that I learned from this meeting is that a child is a child anyway. That all parents have the same fears, hopes, dreams and concerns for their kids. Instead of just asking questions to the parents, they asked a lot to us, which made us feel like teachers again!

We moved on to another traditional Japanese lunch (just give me American food already!). We stopped at a restaurant and had more food that tasted like fish. Blah! I traded some of mine for extra rice and miso soup, so it wasn’t too bad. We did spot a gas station across the highway, so some of us booked it across the Interstate! Oh, the lengths I go to for food here! We ate our treats as we started on a journey to our ryokan. This was going to be an adventure! On the way, we stopped at the Sea of Japan, which was beautiful. It had cliffs all around and huge rocks with raves crashing on it. We walked through the marketplace that took us to the sea and they were selling things such as squids on sticks (yes, the whole squid!) and purple ice-cream that I learned had squid ink in it! Wow, my culture sure is a lot different!

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. Japanese families often go there on their vacations in Japan and we were lucky enough to get to spend a night there. We chose groups of four to stay in the room and Heather, Renee and Leona were my roommates! Upon entering the room, we had to change into traditional Japanese attire. This was a kimono with an obi (the sash we wrap around us), socks (with separate holes for our big toes so we can wear slippers!) and slippers. As always, there were a ton of different Japanese slippers for us to wear. There was a pair for in our room, in the bathroom, leaving our room and we will learn that there was one for the outside. Whew! I thought I had a lot of shoes to wear! Our room was set up for a meal with a table. The floors were made out of mats and we would eat and sleep in the same room. We sat down at the table and had traditional Japanese tea and ate one of the bean curd cakes.

We had about an hour and a half until dinner so Heather and Renee decided to go to the hot springs (which I still refused to try…again, I’m shy!) and Leona and I went to explore the ryokan. It was so beautiful everywhere! There were flower arrangements, traditional Japanese art and a little stream that ran through the ryokan. We met up with Renee and explored the outdoor gardens. We had to put on special shows to walk around and they were very tall. I had a hard time keeping my balance and I was scared when I crossed over a bridge in the gardens that I would fall in! Renee and I switched to easier shoes and decided to venture out on the town. The area catered to the ryokan and it was okay to wear your kimono around. Renee and I had to try it! It felt so strange to walk around the area dressed in our Japanese attire, but it was a lot of fun. We made sure to take pictures in the middle of the street so everyone could tell we were walking around town!

The dinner that they had prepared for us was more like a feast. We were set up in a horseshoe and all ate on the ground. We had crab legs, tons of fish (surprise!), vegetables and a very cool meat dish. We had little candles that we lit and they cooked the meat and a sort of stew that was above it. It was really good and felt fun to cook your own dinner! I even sampled some plum wine, which was very very interesting. It was a rich syrupy wine with a fermented plum in it! I thought it was too sweet, but I was daring enough to eat the plum!

So what else does one do in Japan….karaoke! Aiko read a letter to us from Fulrbight (again with congratulations) and opened up the curtain on the stage, which held a karaoke machine! The best part of it was that she sang a ton of songs in American! Of course, I had to sing a few songs so my roommates and I did “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and
“Stop in the Name of Love.” It was not a pretty site! I am ashamed to say that after we were done in our banquet room, we moved down to the lounge and did more karaoke! Not just for an hour or so, but for about three or four! We were up until about three in the morning singing! I swear, only in Japan would I do this! Ha! There were three Japanese friends in the lounge, also, and they joined into some of our songs with us. It was so fun! My “roommates” and I went back to our room, which had been set up with beds on the floor (big feather mattresses and buckwheat pillows) and talked for awhile before falling asleep.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Beware of the Hot Baths...

Well, we spent a long night planning our presentation. It took awhile to get everyone to agree, but I think our piece will be good. Since there are twenty groups that went to different sections of Japan, we will all share a bit of our experience with the rest of the groups.

I arrived at the meeting after grabbing some dinner (edemamae and rice). I didn’t have time to finish my edmamae so I put it in a napkin and brought it with me! I am seriously addicted to that stuff! It was decided that we would do our piece as a newscast and our different experiences would be segments. Heather and I both were really interested in the mediation that we did and the Buddhist monastery. We decided we would act out our experience and explain the concept of the Buddhist religion. I have to admit that I really am fascinated with the religion. I love their philosophy of living and way of life. I don’t know how much my mom would like to hear that, after all, I did go to Catholic school for twelve years! I just feel like their ideas are a very good way of living. I’d like to read about it further.

On a side note…I have a funny story to tell.

I raced down to the washing machine after I got dropped off at the hotel. I figured everyone was going to want to do their laundry and since it took forever to dry, I was ready to claim it first! Ha! So I ran down and saw Don coming out of the women’s bath. I’m not sure if I explained the baths, but it is something that is found all over Japan (think of it as a swimming pool with a hotel in the U.S.). There are hot baths all over that the Japanese soak in. You are supposed to rinse off first and then go in them. I believe that everyone in my group has gone in except for me. I guess I’m a little more shy then everyone else!

Anyway, at our hotel there was one for men and one for women. You enter the baths (which have a door on them that are fogged) and the washing machines are in the same room where you change. I was made that Don had taken the women’s and chewed him out for it. He didn’t know that there was one for men, so he went to see if it was open. It was, and the two of us snuck in because he said the bath was empty. I threw my clothes in and we left. I grabbed some soap from my suitcase and ran back in. Well…little did I know, that the bath was not empty! The door started to slide open and I booked it! I have never run that fast in my life! I flew out of the room and hid behind the corner waiting for the coast to clear and cursing Don for telling me it was safe!

To make a long story short, it ended up being someone from our group (phew!) and I didn’t see anything (double phew!). He put the detergent in and all was well with the world. Now that is one big mistake I made in Japan! :)

The Japanese Character for "Happiness"

This picture was taken in my host family's house.

Day Two...Host Family

I said a sad goodbye today to my host family. I did not want to leave, and I don`t think that they wanted to leave me! I had such a great time, and I wish I could have spent more time with them.

I woke up early after sleeping very very well in the apartment. I think it was the best sleep I have had here! I attempted the shower again, made a mess again, and headed across the street for breakfast. There was another feast spread out for me (seriously, I don`t know how they eat this much and stay so tiny!). I had miso soup, rice, seaweed (yum! no, really!), potatoes and an apple. They kept trying to get me to eat more and I thought I was going to explode. You might not be able to recognize me when I come home!

I set out with Matsumura after breakfast to go to Kanwazawa. It is one of the oldest cities in Japan and we had to drive an hour and a half to get there. We stopped at the beach and saw the Japanese Sea. It was very beautiful, even though it was raining. We went into another gas station that smelled like fish and got a snack.

The city is famous for its old castles of the fuedal lords and the gardens. We went through a castle that was hundreds of years old. It had a moat and all this other cool stuff to keep the bad guys out! You read about this, but I never expected to see it! We walked through these amazing gardens that were huge. I guess there are three famous gardens in Japan, and this was one of them.

After walking forever, we went to a swanky mall. They had Gucci and Louis Vuitton and all these other fancy stores. So I bought a lot at each store! Kidding! Ha! We ate lunch at a noodle resturant where I had a hard time telling him I don`t eat meat. When we finally figured it out I ate a giant bowl of Ramen Noodle. In Japan it is okay to slurp, so we slurped away! It was a noisy lunch! We then shopped in the basement where they sold cakes, candy and fancy teas. I bought something for Mrs. Trentenelli, but supposedly, you can`t bring this item into the states, so if I get put in jail after going through customs, you need to come and get me, Allison!

We took the mountain route instead of the sea this time, and I got a little car sick. Maybe it wasn`t the best plan! But, I had some green tea at their house, said my goodbyes and all was better. I was sad to leave them, and I know they felt the same way. We exchanged addresses so I can send picture! I loved my home stay! :)

Now I am about to go plan our group presentation for when we return in Tokyo. With 20 people and lots of ideas, I bet there will be some fighting! Shoot! Four more days and I come home...this trip has flown by! And I am LOVING every minute of it!