While it has only been a few very fast days, there have been many powerful friendships and great interactions between the students of Technos College and the international students like myself. On a few of the days, our group of international students traveled for about 40 minutes by train and bus from our hotel to the college. Our experiences at the college and with the students are some of my favorites.
On Wednesday, we were taught by the English department students about Japanese culture. We learned some types of origami and played a traditional Japanese games. We also learned about their star festival, which celebrates the one time a year that two lovers separated from the universe can meet. It is said that the Milky Way turns into a star bridge that carries them together. Japanese children tie wishes that they write onto bamboo and burn it so that their wishes can cross the universe to the stars. That morning, the students also decided the Japanese characters for our names. Mine are hard study-person-bright. Not too bad I think.
The most fun in the morning took place out in the Technos College courtyard/commons area. The students performed an old fisherman’s dance. As soon as I can find out how to post video, it will be up on this blog. The students then taught us the many moves of the dance and tried it with mixed success. However, a good time was had by all.
Throughout the week, we have traveled with the different students within the English, Air Travel, and Hotel Service schools. They are all working on their English for their careers, so they get to work on their English while having fun showing us around. On Wednesday, we really had fun, meeting with students in two very popular shopping/downtown areas, Harajuku and
. We had Harajuku’s famous crepes and saw the crowded bustling intersection of Shibuya. After some shopping and taking pictures at these extremely advanced photo booths, we went to a karaoke club and sang all sorts of songs. We cover every genre from Dean Martin to Lady Gaga to Japanese pop. It was a blast.
The different tour and trips have all been amazing, but the running theme was the bond we formed with the students of Technos and our fellow touring students. We talked about all different aspects of our lives, from sports to music to our dreams of the future. It has truly been a treat. To top it all off, last night, as a few of the international students hung out in the hotel lobby, one of the Technos college students came and brought this large boards filled with personal messages from many of the students. We also received fans with our Japanese names on them. It was quite a blessing and we felt extremely honored.
At breakfast this morning, we gave Mitsunari our gifts. He immediately put on the Cardinals hat and posed for pictures. He has done a wonderful job shepherding us around Tokyo and I am grateful for his help.
Once we had all finished breakfast, we boarded a tour bus for our trip to Kamakura. The roads through the mountains are very narrow with many sharp curves. It was slow going, but our driver navigated them skillfully. Kamakura was very crowded, but the shrines were beautiful. At the first, we saw a traditional wedding being performed in the central elevated shrine. Our tour guide said that he had never seen that before even though he had taken tours there many times. The bride and groom both looked very young, or maybe I’m just getting old!
After a lot of steps, we arrived at the top of the shrine. I got my fortune, which suggested an arranged marriage may be in my future. Not sure how Doug would feel about that. :-) We had a little time to look around and take pictures, then we went back to the bus for the short trip to the restaurant for lunch. We each got a whole fried flounder, miso soup, rice and a few pieces of sashimi. The flounder was delicious, but a little hard to eat–it was difficult to pry pieces off with chopsticks.
After lunch, we walked to another shrine where there was a huge garden of hydrangeas to walk through. Unfortunately, because it was Saturday, many people wanted to see the beautiful flowers. At the gate, Mitsunari told us we had an hour and fifteen minutes at the shrine. It was a ten minute walk up the hill to the entrance to the gardens, where we found out that we couldn’t even line up to get into the garden for an hour and a half. So we contented ourselves with the pictures we could take from the bottom of the hill. Even from a distance, the flowers were beautiful, but I’ll bet the gardens themselves were stunning. While we were on top of the hill, it started to rain, so we trekked down the hill to the cave containing many Buddhas. Part of the cave was so low that even I had to duck! Because of the rain, we left that shrine a little earlier than we had planned and walked over to the great Buddha. It was enormous and looked very serene against the backdrop of the wet woods and gray sky. We took a big group photo at the Buddha’s foot, which I will send out to everyone here.
I would have liked to stay in Kamakura a little longer because there were some very interesting looking shops not far from the great Buddha. I’m sure they were tourist shops, but it would have been fun to look around in them. Instead, we boarded the bus again for the short trip to Yokohama and Chinatown. We ate at a restaurant which featured many small dishes to order and share. Mitsunari told us it was all you can eat, but I think the staff was dismayed at all our table ordered and ate. It was delicious, though, and we got to do a little shopping before we got back on the bus for Tokyo.
All that is left is breakfast with the group tomorrow, checking out of the hotel, a little shopping and then the train to the airport for the trip home. I’m sad to leave this wonderful place, but I will also be glad to see my family and sleep in my own bed.
Our Friday began with meeting Dr. Takada, a Japanese artist and professor who lived in New York for several years. He was our personal tour guide for the National Museum of Modern Art and the Tokyo National Museum.
After a brief train ride and a walk through a gentle rain (this was our first really rainy day, which is rare for this time of year), we arrived at the National Museum of Modern Art. It took a while to get all of our tickets and descriptive headphones arranged. Just when we thought we were ready to go into the museum, we discovered that anyone who wanted to take pictures had to get a sticker for their left shoulders to indicate to the gallery supervisors that we had received a copy of the photography rules. We blocked the elevator for quite a while during the time it took to get us all labelled. Finally, we were ready to load up the elevator for our trip to the fourth floor. The museum is set up for visitors to start at the top and work their way back down to the ground floor. There were many beautiful pieces to be seen, from sculpture and installation art, to paintings that ran the gamut from traditional to impressionism to modern art and some that were not easily categorized. It was a wonderful way to spend a rainy morning.
Our next stop was the Tokyo University of the Arts, where Dr. Tekada had reserved a private room for lunch. We had sushi from his favorite restaurant, including two eel nigiri served Edo style. The eel absolutely melted in your mouth. It was an absolutely delicious lunch, served in beautiful lacquered bowls. Their level of takeout certainly tops pizza boxes!
After lunch, we walked over to the gallery/studio spaces of the university and met some students. We saw some of their work and got a chance to talk to them about their projects. Hearing about their ideas and processes of developing their work was fascinating. After too brief a time, we were off again to the Tokyo National Museum.
The Tokyo National Museum contains all sorts of items from sculpture to ink drawings and woodcuts to kimono and swords. I never knew what treasures each new room would hold. I could have spent hours just looking at the swords, armor, and kimono, but we were pressed for time because we had to get ready for our farewell dinner with Dr. Tanaka and his family.
Dinner was at Ogasawara Hakushaku Tei, a beautiful Spanish restaurant located in a converted manor house. (www.ogasawaratei.com if you would like to take a look) Ben and I were seated between Mrs. Tanaka and one of their daughters. It was wonderful to get a chance to talk to them and we had a lovely conversation throughout dinner. And what a meal! Several courses, each with an accompanying wine selection. There was also delicious bread with the best olive oil I have ever eaten. Before we began the meal, Dr. Tanaka gave a short speech thanking us all for coming. We were each given one more gift from the family. Each of us receive a card with our first names translated into Kanji with the pronounciation, characters, and meanings. Also in the bag was a custom stamp that the Tanaka family had had made of each of our names. We all were very moved by the thoughtfulness of that gift, particularly when they have already given us so much.
When dinner was over, we got a chance to thank Dr. and Mrs. Tanaka personally and present them with the gifts we brought for them. It will be impossible to repay their generosity, but hopefully we were able to communicate our gratitude.
Only one full day left! Today we’re taking a coach to Kamakura to see the second-largest Buddha in Japan. More pictures when I get back!
We got up very early this morning to catch the train out to Technos and hit rush hour. I’ve never seen so many people! The trains were very, very full. We saw the pusher at Tokyo station, but by the time he was doing his job, we were packed into a train car and couldn’t take pictures. It was kind of fun to experience it once, but I definitely wouldn’t like to do that every day!
When we got to Technos, we were driven to the park containing the open air architectural museum. There are about twenty buildings in the woods, most decorated in period-accurate detail. You can go inside, after removing your shoes, and wander around to your heart’s content. Inside one of the older buildings, I met a man who has been to St. Louis. His name is Hiroshi, and he is a volunteer at the museum. Normally, his job is to tell people about the building we were standing in, but our conversation was about the arch, the Cardinals and Busch Stadium, and the Budweiser brewery tour! The homes in the museum were beautiful and I admire the clean lines of the Japanese style. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to declutter enough to emulate that style, but it’s a goal. The highlight of the tour for me was the public baths. Inside was a huge, airy space with two bathing areas and beautiful paintings on the walls.
After our time in the museum gift shop, we hopped back into the cars for the short ride back to Technos where we had lunch in the cafeteria. It was quite an experience trying to figure out the protocol for getting the correct meal, but the food was delicious and the faculty and students were very friendly and helpful.
My next stop was the flight simulator. We learned on a Cessna first. Taking off and flying around were pretty easy, but keeping track of three things (speed, heading, and altitude) was quite a challenge. I’d be focused on my heading and realize that I was in a dive. Then when I got the altitude corrected, I’d be flying in the wrong direction. Landing was even more difficult. I didn’t crash the plane, but it definitely wasn’t a pretty or a smooth landing. Then my instructor told me I should try a 737. I was not very good at flying the jet. It was much faster and the extra mass made control a challenge. That one I crashed on landing. I definitely do not have a second career ahead of me as a pilot!
Our day at Technos ended with a presentation by and reception for Satoshi Nakagawa. He spoke about the earthquake and the work he’s doing with the people in the area and around the world. If you’ve heard of the concept of “universal design”, where things are designed to work for both the disabled and the able-bodied, he’s the man who coined the term and began this movement in design. His talk was fascinating and sobering, as he discussed the devastation in the earthquake and tsunami zones and the way the press coverage stopped when the nuclear danger was gone. We got the chance to speak to him individually and he is a very interesting, passionate, and committed man. At the end of the reception, we all wrote and drew on cards for the victims. Our cards will go to them and be a part of both his foundation’s website (http://hugjapan.jp) and will become part of the exhibits he is putting together for gallery showings around the world. Also at the reception were high school teachers from Tokyo, and we got a chance to talk to a few of them about disaster drills in our schools.
The trains were packed again on the way back to the hotel, which surprised me since it was nearly 9:00 p.m. It was an early night, which I needed! The students went off to find more food-looking for something called “Freshness Burger”, but the faculty all headed up to our rooms for a good night’s sleep.
Wow, the baseball game and tour was simply amazing. It will be easier to tell in order, instead of jumbling it all into one thing. I will start with us hopping off the train at the Tokyo Dome. After crossing the street from the station, we were introduced to a former professional Japanese baseball player, Shigeki Sano. He is famous in Japan for being the first setup relief pitcher to make over a million dollars a year in his contract. He was very nice and stopped and singed autographs for fans as we walked to the back entrance of the Tokyo Dome.
As we entered the Dome we went through a security check and received passes to go on the field. Our guide walked us through many winding passageways until we reached the field. We were positioned behind the sports press and were allowed to take photos of batting practice by the home team, the Yomiuri Giants. After batting practice, we were shown around the dugout, where we met Alex Ramirez, Venezuelan player who came to Japan after finishing his career in Major League Baseball. He talked with us and took us out on the field to take pictures with him. He was extremely friendly, which explains why he has fit in so well with the Giants.
Following warm ups, we were taken to a service elevator to ride up to the outside shopping area to browse before the game. As we began to board, two the Giant’s large mascots squeezed on with us. It was quite the experience.
After some shopping, we were taken to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. In there, we saw Sadahura Oh’s jersey, bat, and samurai sword. For those of you that don’t know, Oh is the all time leader in any league for homeruns. He honed his skills practicing his form with a samurai sword. Other points of interest in the museum was the World Baseball Classic trophies won by Japan and an area recognizing Japanese players in the U.S.
The game itself was unlike any I have seen before. We sat in the upper level between home and third. The stadium was packed with fans from both teams that chanted and cheered loudly the whole game. They even had specific cheers made up that were led by drums and trumpeters. It was closer to a professional soccer game than a professional baseball game.
The game was a close one that went into extra innings. It was a pitcher’s duel that was punctuated by stunning dives in the infield and catches that required the player to scramble halfway up the way. The speed and the number of bunts made for an exciting evening. I must confess, I am still not sure who won. We left after the tenth to go have dessert with Shigeki Sano at the Tokyo Dome Hotel. I admittedly monopolized his time as we discussed the differences in American and Japanese baseball and his own experiences. My favorite line from the discussion was, “Oh, you know Ichiro Suzuki? I pitched against him. I struck him out twice …. with two home runs and many, many hits, ha ha.”
On Wednesday, the students and the faculty had separate tours. Our morning began with a boat trip down the river through downtown Tokyo to the Hama-Rikyu Gardens. The beautiful, green landscape of the park made an interesting contrast to the tall buildings that surround it on most sides. After a leisurely stroll through the beautiful grounds, we stopped for tea in the park’s teahouse. Seated on tatami mats, we drank green tea and ate beautiful little sweets. It was very refreshing. Then we continued our walk. One of the most interesting features of the park is a pine tree that is over 300 years old. Its branches would be resting on the ground if not for a system of supports that keep it more or less upright. The gardens are a beautiful oasis in the midst of the hectic city. I’m finding that there are peaceful pockets like this throughout the city, if you keep an eye out for them.
After the park, we walked past the Tsukiji fish market. It was nearly noon, so the business of fish trading was done for the day. The tuna auctions which begin at 4:00 a.m. are no longer open to the public. We stopped for lunch at a series of counters that snaked their way through a narrow building. No counter had more than five seats, so our group of six had to split up. I had sashimi for lunch-a mixture of toro (tuna), salmon eggs, squid, uni, tamago and a crab claw all on top of a bowl of rice with a bowl of miso soup on the side. I think it is the most delicious meal I’ve had in my life!
When we finished our lunch, we went to the observation decks of the Tokyo Tower. Wonderful views, even though it was a little hazy. We actually could see Mount Fuji from the top deck, which is a very rare sight during the rainy season. After a snack in the cafe (more for a chance to sit down than anything else!) we were off again to Harajuku which is one of the main shopping areas in Tokyo. We walked down a street that caters mostly to the very young and very hip–and it was very, very clear that we were neither. We did stop in to a 100-yen store which was very much like the dollar store of the U.S., except that the store took up five floors of the building. After the 100-yen store, we walked down Harajuku proper and took in the other extreme consumerism. Ralph Lauren, Armani, and a lot of other stores that we couldn’t afford (and which probably wouldn’t let us in anyway.)
We ended the night with a houseboat party with some of the Technos faculty. More delicious sashimi, tempura and assorted other goodies while cruising around near the Rainbow Bridge. Our hosts apologized for the view-apparently the earthquake aftermath has meant less electricity being used to illuminate the city so the Rainbow Bridge was dark. It was still a beautiful view, though. We didn’t stay up on the roof of the boat too long, however, because the karaoke machine was waiting back down in the banquet room. You have not lived until you have heard “Daydream Believer” sung in Japanese. It was a wonderful way to end the day.
The wonderful staff at the hotel have gotten the internet working for my computer, so I will upload a bunch of pictures tonight. No faculty karaoke pictures were taken on pain of death, so you will have to wait for the description.
Still no internet in the hotel room. I will attempt to load pictures in the hotel lobby tonight or tomorrow morning. Other than that, this trip has been wonderful!
Yesterday started with a trip to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, a very impressive structure with many exhibits about the history, culture and people of Tokyo. Many of the exhibits had English explanations as well as the Japanese, which made it a wonderful place to wander around independently. We went with several students from Technos, who seemed to appear as if by magic whenever they were needed to translate or take a picture.
After the museum, we walked past a sumo training gym and had lunch at a restaurant decorated in the style of a sumo ring. The lunch was said to be a traditional sumo training meal, thankfully not in the traditional portion size, though! We each had our own small burner with a bowl containing chicken and vegetables in a delicious broth. When only the broth was left, we dumped in a bowl of rice and an egg and stirred to make something which resembled risotto. The Technos students I was sitting with told me that the combination is Japanese comfort food-something your mother would make you if you were sick.
Our next stop was Asakusa and the shrine. We only had 45 minutes to visit, but we’ll be going back when we have some free time. I’ll post pictures as soon as I can, but I’m not sure they will communicate the grandeur and beauty of the site.
I’m almost out of time before we have to leave for today’s adventure, but the baseball game was an awesome experience. Ben and I went to batting practice and stood on the field with the press while the sluggers took their cuts. We met a retired player and the current cleanup batter for the Giants. There is a lot to say about this part of the tour, but I’ll leave it to Ben as the baseball expert to describe our wonderful tour of the stadium and the baseball museum and hall of fame.
The students have a seperate trip today, but the faculty is going to a garden, boat tour, the Tokyo Tower and a houseboat dinner party with the Technos faculty. Should be another great day!