And They Called Me “Compass:” Japan in Review, Final Post

May 27, 2009
And so it ends...

And so it ends...

Well, the bags are packed. The souvenirs are bought. The camera is out of batteries. The last beers have been drunk. Tomorrow Tokyo, and the amazing country in which it resides, will float gently into the distance below our feet as we return across the Pacific to homes that will be forever changed because of our experiences away from them. I noticed this leaving for college, after being gone for months and coming back, you can never truly “go home” to exactly how things have always been before you left–I feel the same will be true for us tomorrow. The experiences I have had while on this trip, many of which I have been fortunate enough to be able to share with you all, have truly widened my view of who I am as a person, and how I fit into this world.

I thought that this last post would be the fitting place to share a story that happened to me not today as 99% of my posts thus far have, but something I did last Friday night. As many of you know, I was a gymnast for eleven years as a kid, and this experience has been one of the most profound experiences in shaping me into the person I am today. What some of you do not know, however, is that one of my coaches from back then, one whom I remember as being extremely strict, left in 1998 for Tokyo. After ten years of no contact, we might as well have been meeting for the first time, but I felt a desire to take advantage of my situation and see if I couldn’t contact this old friend and see him as long as I was here. Emails were passed, and at 6:30 Friday evening I found myself on an empty subway platform in the middle of Tokyo waiting for Dave, a coach I hadn’t seen since I was about twelve.

Walking through the fray of recent subway departees I was able to recognize him right off as the man I knew way back when I was young. I had to wave wildly since he no doubt expected to see a big-toothed twelve year old in gym shorts and bowl cut of bleach blond hair rather than a twenty-one year old young man in gray dress pants, a silver vest, and black fedora. Surprises aside, we made our way down to Shibuya where Dave had made reservations at this “out-of-the-way” place he knew. As we walked to the restaurant Dave filled me in on a virtual encyclopedia of facts and interesting tidbits of Japanese culture ranging from conducting oneself in business meetings and the nature of the Japanese film industry in which he does work to the hidden strength of Japanese women which is constantly overlooked by the idealizing male western culture and how to correctly pour a beer so you don’t offend your boss. These are things you cannot learn from a guidebook or tourist photo spot, and the information was more valuable than much of the random garbage I had picked up thus far because it helped to further dispel some of my preconceived ideas about the country and its people.

Down a back alley and under the train station he led me through the rapidly darkening Shibuya streets. Not even the florescent chaos of the giant shopping plazas penetrated the darkness of this place. At the end of the alley we came upon what appeared to be nothing more than a tiny wooden back door, no more than 3×3 feet in size, and it was here where Dave stopped, crouched down, and slid the it open. A soft yellow glow was streaming steadily out of the open door as we ducked low to crawl into the Izakaya (I believe was the word for it), a traditional Japanese bar. Immediately my entire perception was warped. Instead of a dilapidated dive bar, groups of well-dressed men and women sat laughing and drinking around a long, semi-circular bar with their food being cooked fresh in front of them. To my right were private booths (with traditional style seating of course) where more people sat cross-legged joking and talking over a pitcher of beer and a cigarette.

We took our shoes off and sat down in our private booth as Dave explained his relationship to me (foreigners were never get into this place he explained) to the waiter in fluent Japanese and got our first round of drinks and food ordered. Our conversation flew between what he had been doing for the last ten years and what I had been doing in the last two and a half weeks as we finished our first pitcher of Yebisu and some raw fish which I received applause for from the whole bar after looking like a “natural” at squeezing the fresh lemon over it as the waiter finished blow-torching the skin for several seconds. The constant lesson on Japanese culture mixed in with random stories from our pasts kept us both laughing and reminiscing well into the second dish. One theme of the conversation that was a prominent motif of the entire night was the impact being gymnasts and then coaches had on each of our lives. Since I have taken some five years of my life coaching kids the same age I was when Dave coached me while he was in his teens, we had a connection on that level and I was able to articulate my feelings towards Dave and our other coach’s motivations for being so strict on us; this conversation gave us both peace of mind and confidence in our approaches to coaching. I told him that this relationship between coach and gymnast and the changes in perspective of value-gained from such an experience over time was one that I have written about in college essays (an essay that can be found in my links for those interested). Being a writer himself, Dave was able to offer some insight to the writing and publishing process as well as communicate with me (in one of his endless attempts to do so all night) his desire to see both myself and all of those kids he coached succeed in whatever we aimed at by offering any assistance he could. I was truly touched by the offer.

As two pitchers of beer emptied and were replaced with a bamboo pitcher of Namazaki then glasses of expensive imo-jochu, and meal turned into purely conversation, we got into talking about how I have been able to get around the cities we have been so far and have successfully been able to lead my group wherever we needed to go with confidence. I mentioned that my group had coined me the nickname of “Compass” for this ability. Hitting on the theme once again he asked me rhetorically, “You know where that comes from?” slurring slightly from the long evening he swiftly answered his own question with simply, “from gymnastics.” He was right, and I knew it. You would think that reminiscing about one’s past with an estranged coach half a world from home would be one of the oddest and most awkward experience out there, but my night with Dave left me with nothing but confidence and assurance in my abilities as a coach, a writer, and a person. At only 28 this man in front of me had accomplished things anyone would be proud to have done by 40, and he owes a lot of it to his history, one he noted multiple times that we shared in some ways. I also felt that someone was extremely proud of me for the way I have turned out so far, someone other than family members, and that more than anything really hit home–half a world away.

I know this post is incredibly long, but I wanted to add one more story into it and a few pictures so you are not nailed with a longer wall of text than you already have been. Last night five of the Bunkyo students with whom we had developed close relationships with during our time here came over to dinner for a goodbye party. We laughed, cooked a ton of food, and all-in-all had a good time.

It was time to do their half of the dishes!

It was time to do their half of the dishes!

After a goodbye time that felt like twenty minutes at least, we waved as our guests reluctantly filed out one-by-one from our building. Three of them we will see in August when they become the exchange students to CSB/SJU for the fall semester, two others we don’t know when or if we will meet again, but the impact these students have had on our experience is immeasurable.

On this note, and with a relatively emotional song playing in my headphones as I type what has been easily my longest post so far, I want to take a minute to thank everyone who has made this trip a once in a lifetime success for me and my group. To all those at CSB/SJU who helped get this program off the ground after a long time of trying, thank you for sticking to it even with such a small turn out. To Steve, you’re a dork but we have had a great time with you leading us around this place for the last two and a half weeks, thank you.

Messing with Trang's computer camera after dinner :-)

Messing with Trang's computer camera after dinner :-)

To the students, faculty, and staff of the Bunkyo University, your hospitality and friendship since the minute we arrived on your campus has been nothing short of amazing. We cannot thank you enough for all you have done to make us feel

The last group shot :-(

welcome in such a new place, and each one of us looks forward to repaying the favor when some of you arrive this fall.

Finally, I would like to thank all of you who have been keeping up with this blog over the last 18 days, especially those who have added comments, emails, and Facebook messages regarding the posts written here; it is your enthusiasm and interest that keeps me writing.

With that, I am off to the bar for one more night of fun before an early trip to the airport tomorrow. This will most likely be my final blog post on Japan. Please return to the site starting June 9th when I will be recording new posts covering my next big adventure–Europe!

Peace to you all,

~Pat

International Relations: Japan in Review, Part One

May 25, 2009

So I felt pretty cool today as I walked up to this titanic concrete building near Omote-Santo in my blue polo and flashing Cross-covered dress shoes, and to my left sat a long row of expensive cars flying a rainbow of colored flags all from different colors. Flashing in the morning Tokyo sun above the center entrance of the building was a giant emblem stating proudly, The United Nations. We had been invited by the vice-president of Bunkyo to participate in the United Nations University annual symposium on Africa. Now, to avoid confusion, the UNU is a series of institutions in which many of the world’s top researchers work on solving the big problems facing mankind. The headquarters of this organization, headed up by UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), is located in Tokyo, and the vice-president of Bunkyo University also happens to be a prominent player in the UNU’s operation and formation.

Outside of the UNU, Tokyo, Japan

Outside of the UNU, Tokyo, Japan

Walking into the building made me feel simultaneously like an important representative of my country in the international community, and sad that from the looks of it, Myself and my group were the only representatives from our country there. As we’ve already seen in previous posts, leaving the U.S. brings out a lot of the shadier parts of the country, especially when one finds his/herself in places such as Hiroshima and our UN Symposium. But anyway, the topic of today’s “Africa Day” symposium was, “The global financial crisis and its impact on Africa: the role of Japan and TICAD.” Without going into too many boring details, the talk included addresses by prominent Japanese and international officials including former Japan Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, and focuses on Japan’s pledge to continue its support towards the crisis in Africa as well as avocations from African ambassadors on various ramifications that have come from this financial crisis “they did not start.” Personally, I felt unbelievably cool not only seeing but participating in such an important event; more than anything though, I got to wear an official UN translator set complete with amazing earpiece!

Yeah...I look official

Yeah...I look official

This morning out on the international scene, however sweet it was, is not the focus of this post though. I am looking to take the next 700 words or so, and  one or two more posts following this one, to make a sweeping reflection on my last 18 days abroad. I hope that you all will find these posts as useful as they will be to me as I write them.  My focus in this first section is to illuminate some of the most stark contrasts I’ve made between the Japan I read about and the Japan I encountered.

As I believe I may have mentioned in previous posts, one of the pieces of writing that we had to go through during our stay was a book that made a firm case for Japanese identity being rooted in the dark, plain, and old things in life which was titled In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. His essay made several claims, all written during the time of Japanese modernization in the 1930’s, which simply are not in line of what my experience of this culture has been like. For instance, he makes an argument that the Japanese, as a culture, do not care for electric lights or products, but one look around “Electric City” or Shibuya will tell a completely different story. Also, the fact that I watched a real robot dance with a geisha on TV last night as if they were the same person makes me feel as though this argument no longer fits Japanese society.

Another one of the contrasts made in his essay has to do with the women of Japan. He claims that they are generally flat, plainly dressed, and don’t draw attention. Then I went to Harajuku…The Japanese by my experience, and especially the women, dress far nicer than the average Joe and Jill in Boston. The women in particular draw absurd amounts of attention to themselves with multi-inch high heels, bright makeup, short skirts, and even anime maid outfits. The guys by no means dress much less outlandishly, paying constant attention to fashion. To give an idea of the sort of clothing I have seen here, that Vest/shirt/hat combo I have been sporting in many of the formal evenings here is considered the bare minimum when it comes to “flashy” outfits I have seen on the streets of places like Takeshita Street.

Several other things I expected from either hearsay or the class readings which were not as they appeared were the idea that “everyone” speaks English here…not even close to true. I have had the most bizarre encounter here given my inability to communicate in even the slightest way with 90% of those we encounter. As I remarked walking home the the Sushi bar tonight, “Being illiterate truly sucks!” And it’s true, every action is dictated by our ability or lack thereof to read and/or speak the language here. Dinner is decided by, “Do they have a picture menu? English menu? Stupid American menu? Smoke signals?” Makes our selection quite limited (especially if they don’t even have smoke signals!). Another myth I would like to quickly dispel is the American-held idea that Japanese people all drive hyped-up Civics and Toyotas with big spoilers and what-have-you. In reality two things come out of this myth: one, in Tokyo, very few people drive because it is just not practical with the extensive mass transport systems available, two, the Toyotas that are actually driven on the streets of Tokyo are Aztec or Honda Element-shaped boxes of ugly. The nicest cars you see riding around a Japanese city are German cars or all things. (Also, side-note, the best “Japanese” beer, Yebisu, is a German beer recipe brewed in Japan).

There are many more that I may remark on later, but for now I should wrap this up because I have already gone on longer than I planned! As always, you can read previous posts that will talk a bit more about some of the specific differences that I have seen that may not have been mentioned here. I will draft my next section to this summation when I wake up tomorrow. Until then, and in the spirit of the UN symposium, PEACE!

Kamakura: A Day at the Beach!

May 25, 2009

Sorry it has been a few days since my last post, but to be honest, I have not been doing anything but buying souvenirs and revisiting places I have already been since arriving back in Tokyo late Thursday night. One major event happened Friday night, but I’m planning on saving that story for my final few posts that will be in a three part series starting tomorrow morning (for you guys) if I can put all my thoughts together before then…I have to actually pre-write some of these ones.

Anywho, Sunday was the last day that we had to use our free JR (Japan Rail) passes which granted us unlimited access to all rails in and out of Tokyo basically for a whole week. As I just said, Sunday was our last day to take advantage of this lovely cheap transportation, and coincidentally it was also a free day :-). After hours of deliberation we finally decided that the ocean side town of Kamakura would be an ideal place to spend the day. We managed to make our way to the city, located about an hour by rail outside of the city, after first missing the stop because we were all reading (I was attempting to learn some Japanese and was completely zoned out), and having to jump train and ride back. Having finally gotten there, I immediately noticed that once again there was a different feel about this city than any other we had seen. Low buildings crowded the aging streets as hordes of buses, not subways, honked and chugged through the giant intersection outside the east station exit. A ring of mountains surrounded the city on three sides covered with lush green forestation, something only seen in the gardens of Tokyo. We started the adventure by walking down, then back up, an extremely busy shopping lane directly outside the station, across the bus-filled intersection. Not much to see here out of the ordinary, though it would appear that this city has a very large French influence considering the prevalence of Crepe shops and French flags waving in the alley as we made our way through an infinite number of souvenir shops, clothing shops, and, to my joy, tea shops. Overall, this street was not what we came for though, and certainly not aligned with my goal of the day, the Pacific Ocean.

Intersection at Kamakura Station. Photo by Trang Pham

Intersection at Kamakura Station. Photo by Trang Pham

Just when you think that would segue into to a story about the beach, I’m going to go in the complete other direction first and tell you all about the one stop we made before hitting the beach. Hopping back on a different, local train, we glided down to the Hase (Haseh I think is how you would say it) station in southeast Kamakura and began walking up the street towards the mountainous border of the city. After about a kilometer or so (if I had to guess), we came upon first, the coolest shop ever (more about that in a minute), and second, the entrance to the park in Kamakura that housed the Daibutsu, The Great Buddha of Kamakura. Now when they say “great” on the ticket stub for entry into the park, they are not kidding–it was huge. The giant praying Buddha statue that rose above the center of a large courtyard area in the center of the park was extremely hard to look at and only feel a, “that is cool” reaction. After washing my hands at the shrine entrance as is customary to do before praying in order to cleanse yourself before entering the area, I slowly crept up the steps leading to the large incense (of course) burner in front of the statues crossed legs. Between the statue’s base and the incense burner stood a magnificent offering table overflowing with fruits and flowers made in offering to the deity. There was also a large wooden box with multiple slots of wood fixed across the top creating a series of vertical lines on the box. I had seen these boxes in shrines before, they are meant for a monetary offering that is given before one prays. Feeling moved by the circumstances I found myself in, and not wanting to miss out on any part of this culture that I came in contact with, I dug out a few coins from my pockets, tossed them clinking down the wooded grate, and made a quick prayer before bowing and moving on with my life. Being that this was really only my second contact with the religion since I have been in Japan, I’m still very fascinated by the workings of it, and have really enjoyed taking part in some of these traditions.

The Daibutsu, meaning literally "large Buhdda"

The Daibutsu, meaning literally "large Buddha"

On the way down the winding, hilly street that led from the Daibutsu to the ocean I made a stop at arguably my favorite store I’ve seen since I’ve been here. Walking into the small corner shop I was instantly floored by the countless weapons that lined the walls and shelves of every nook and cranny in the store. Being that I collect this sort of thing and have been searching for a new addition to my collection since arriving in Tokyo, I knew that this would be the best place to find what I was searching for. Keeping my price range and practicality of bringing something like this home on a plane in mind, I cautiously picked through the deadly swords, throwing stars, axes, you name it, until my eyes finally rested on the gleaming white, sharkskin hilt of a small Katana sword. To make it better, a black and gold dragonfly jewel was encrusted into the sharkskin which made the sword an instant match for me. 32oo Yen later it was wrapped up and protruding proudly from the top of my backpack–off to the beach.

We snaked down the hill until in the distance there were no more buildings, no more mountains, just hazy horizon, and we knew that we had made it to the water. Now, this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to those of you reading this who frequent the oceans in, say, Hampton Beach, but I assure you all that seeing the pacific ocean from the other side of the world was a pretty outstanding experience. The water was freezing. I mentioned a second ago that whole Hampton Beach thing, right? Well, imagine that water in early spring time, and that is the comparable temperature of Kamakura’s beach water. Also not unlike the shores of New Hampshire, the beach held giant stretches of seaweed-covered sand; sand which was so finely granulated that it floated freely in the rough surf and stuck to every part of your body even after a solid toweling off. How do I know these latter facts? Because I jumped the hell in, that’s how. I came halfway across the world to a beach I will probably never see again, and I’ll be damned if I let this opportunity pass me by. So, after finding the most disgusting bathroom/changing room I have ever been in, I threw on my basketball shorts, snapped a picture, and sprinted out into the freezing water. I will say again that the water was probably no more than 65 degrees, but at least now I can say that I have swam in Japanese waters.

Out in the Pacific Ocean at the Beach in Kamakura, Japan

Out in the Pacific Ocean at the Beach in Kamakura, Japan

Jumping for Joy after getting out of the water! Yay!

Jumping for Joy after getting out of the water! Yay!

The day ended with some good conversation around the dinner table (four of us managed to get a giant meal cooked for about 320 Yen a piece, win), a few beers, and some awesome Japanese TV narration. This post ends my official daily record of my trip to Japan. I hope you will all keep reading over the next few days for my concluding thoughts on this life-changing experience. Thank you.

PS: As always, a complete set of pictures can be found on my Photobucket site

Hiroshima, “Exceptionally Moving”

May 22, 2009

Now that I am feeling refreshed from a trip alone back to Akihabara which ended in a fantastic afternoon tea, I feel I am ready to put into writing my reaction to our visit to the city of Hiroshima, target city of the first nuclear weapon used in human history. As the Shinkansen came to a slow crawl outside of Hiroshima station late Wednesday evening I could immediately tell something was different about this city. There were no sketch back alleys, no fallen down buildings or rusted tin roof lean-tos, or even a conglomerate of apartment complexes each with its own unique identity–the city was new, clean, and fairly western. I sat processing the look of this city in comparison to Tokyo and Kyoto, and reminded myself of why the city was build up in this manner; on August 6th 1945 this city and around 200,000 people were wiped off the face of the earth in a flash. Even on the drive into the city we were beginning to feel the weight in the history of a place like Hiroshima. The readings for our “class” all revolved around Atomic Bomb Literature for the last few days. Personally, I took the time on the train to read Hara Tamiki’s Summer Flowers which recounted the author’s experience on the day the bomb fell as well as the days immediately following the disaster. Tamiki’s graphic descriptions followed me like a shadow as we left for Peace Park Thursday morning.

Immediately off of the cable car we were left standing in front of a massive stone (what is left of it anyway) structure known as the A-Bomb Dome. The dome, formally known as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, was destroyed as the first atomic bomb in human history detonated approximately 160 meters southeast and 600 meters above the buildind. All that remains of the once elegant structure is the recognizable metal dome frame on the top of the last standing tower which is where the building now gets its name.

August 6, 8:14 AM

August 6, 8:14 AM

August 6, 8:15AM August 6, 8:15 AM

Since I already had my head in the books for the past few days regarding the Hiroshima disaster, I found it interesting that the other war story, The Catch that I had recently read makes a light reference to the destruction of this building when the main character notes that a delay in a prefecture decision was due to the building being destroyed in “some bombing,” I realized later that he must have been referring to the A-Bomb Dome and its former purpose.  The immediate impression that hit me, and one that kept replaying in my head throughout my several hours in the park was, “Wow, look what we did…”

I made my way from the dome, after taking a copious number of pictures, to a large stone monument known as the Monument to World Peace. Draped on the structure were multiple chains of paper cranes, each strand contained 25 strings of 40 cranes for a total of 1000. Additional info on this tradition can be found here, but in the interest of space, I will be moving on. The highlight of the outdoor monuments for our entire group, and easily the most emotionally moving event of the day came as we crossed the river and came upon the Children’s Peace Monument. Standing atop a rounded bell tower-like structure stood a young girl thrusting a giant paper crane into the air as two more statues of a girl and boy danced around the tower’s smooth sides. The center of the tower housed a large bell under which swung a golden, paper crane shape connected to a long chain that allowed visitors to ring the bell. School children in uniform lined up and bowed towards the structure as we approached, and we all knew something was about to happen. After some speaking by what I could judge as a teacher and a few students, a young girl, about high school age at the oldest, stepped forward from the crowd with a completed set of 1000 cranes. These children had created their own set of cranes and were now about to present them to the monument’s collection to commemorate the children who died as the bomb fell that day–and we were there to witness it. Several of us teared up, one cried, others were less visibly shaken by what we were seeing as the children entered one of the translucent rooms that surrounded the monument, all completely packed to bursting with sets of cranes, and hung their offering up in the last room to have space in it.

Paper cranes being presented at the Children's Peace Monument

Paper cranes being presented at the Children's Peace Monument

After the cranes were hung, a long moment of silence set on the crowd who had gathered to watch the event, and as we all bowed our heads for what seemed like an eternity, the painful feeling of sorrow and guilt for what human beings are capable of washed over all of us. To show my respects, I managed to find myself a piece of scrap paper lying about the area, and went about folding what was not my best crane by any means, but certainly my most important; I said a short prayer and gently rested the plane white crane in a sea of colored birds that hung in the open room, eyes tearing up from the gravity of my action.

At least it stuck out

At least it stuck out

I have one last thing I wanted to tell you about, and it relates once again to the reading we had been doing before arriving in Hiroshima. Summer Flowers describes in horrific detail the death and destruction Hara sees around him as he struggles to get away from the fires left in the bombs aftermath. His description of the bodies, horribly mutilated, burnt, and disfigured were especially captivating. I was horrified yet grateful that the museum that accompanied Peace Park held within it an exhibit that I felt did Hara’s description justice. I turned the corner of a mock version of a destroyed street corridor when I was confronted with this image. (It is graphic, just a warning)

Yes, that is their flesh literally dripping off of their bodies

Yes, that is their flesh literally dripping off of their bodies

What hurt the most is that after walking through all of this history, tragety, and monumental structures all devoted to the abolision of nuclear weapons and honoring the victims of this unspeakable event, I reached the last part of the museum which held documens relating to international policy on nuclear disarmament. The international agreement to greatly reduce the number of functional nuclear weapons was signed by every involved country with the exception of two, one of which was the U.S. Again the words replayed in my head as I thought of this fact the same it had that whole day, “Look what we did…”

Kyoto: Mixing Old with Flu

May 22, 2009

Ok guys I’m back and in one piece after spending three extremely long days away from Tokyo visiting some of Japan’s other famous cities. On that note, I will be doing two separate pieces, one on each city on our trip, so that I do not bombard you all with walls and walls of text at one time. So without further ado, let’s begin.

At the bright and early time of about 6:30AM our group boarded the Shinkansen Super Express (aka the bullet train) bound for Kyoto. The train itself was more like a first class airplane cabin except smoother and with much less danger of falling out of the sky. Giant reclining seats and surplus leg room made the three hour journey across the island a very enjoyable and relaxing experience.

Shinkansen trains are super aerodynamic to allow for smoother, faster rides.

Shinkansen trains are super aerodynamic to allow for smoother, faster rides.

Getting out into Kyoto Station was like walking off a train into the Mall of American only way cooler. Stores and shopping malls 11 stories high lined every inch of the massive building which housed everything from subway lines to a movie theater and hotel! The largest part of the station was in a mix of open air and exposed wire frame roofing that formed a net on the top of the station not unlike the bird’s nest stadium at the last Olympics. But anyway, it was time to make our way to the Annex and off to the temples.

Our first stop of the day was the Kiyomizu temple which is one of the largest and oldest ones in the city. As I washed my hands in the fountain to clean myself off before entering the temple (I have completely given in to the whole Buddhist rituals at these temples for the sake of making the experience authentic as well as broadening my religious horizons) Steve and I made a note of something that just exemplifies the current state of Japan’s health crisis. Standing at the fountain next to me was a young woman dressed in a beautiful red traditional kimono adorned with large white flowery patterns across its silk surface. To finish off this outfit, she had a sterile, ugly blue surgical mask covering what I can only imagine was a gorgeous, youthful face, now obscured by a mask of panicked pandemic paranoia. I found the whole image to be plain sad when I looked at the extent to which this country was trying in vain to protect itself from something that much of the world has now dismissed as nothing. Moving on,  my story with this temple revolves around the end of our walk through the temple grounds when we came upon a huge line of school children and tourist all waiting in front of a very large shrine with three streams of water running from the roof down to a large pool at its base. The fountain was used to purify oneself by drinking the water you would collect from one of the waterfalls using a silver cup attached to a long pole. Being that I think Buddhism is a sweet religion and wanted to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity, I eagerly jumped into line while the others all watched on cameras in hand. Making sure to tuck my silver cross necklace into my shirt (because I thought it was respectful to look less like I was doing it just for a glamor shot, and I also wanted to really step out of the realm of Christianity for just those few minutes) as I took up the silvery cup, I filled it and dumped it out twice as I saw those before me do before retracting the long shaft and taking a drink. In the short sip I felt relief, refreshed, cleansed, and slightly freaked out over the quality of the water (like I would) all at once–needless to say I found it to be a very captivating experience.

Mmmm Tastes like Spirituality :-P

Mmmm Tastes like Spirituality :-P

From Kiyomizu, we headed by bus up near Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, located in the northeast part of the city. Getting to the temple itself included another giant stretch of walking along what is known as the Philosopher’s Walk, a kilometer or so stretch of square rock tiles wide enough for a single person to step on. The path ran along a small creek filled with carp, and we all took the time to think of the larger questions in life in order to get the full experience of the path’s namesake. The Silver Pavilion was under construction…holy disappointment batman. The night ended with an extremely hot bath in the Annex’s community bath (yes, community bath) followed by a walk about in traditional Japanese robes before falling on the straw mat floor and swiftly passing out.

The next morning we awoke to the sweet aroma of fish and rice being cooked below us for a traditional Japanese breakfast. We ate well, packed our things, and walked back to the station to leave the bags with Steve as we students went exploring alone around the western and central areas of Kyoto. In the interest of space I’m going to summarize our second day with two quick stories. First: Do not jump the drainage moats outside the Kyoto Imperial Palace…I was unaware when mocking the wimpiness of a two foot wide moat that separated the gravel covered palace grounds and the enormous palace walls that this wall was monitored via a laser security sensor much like you would see people dodging in Hollywood bank heist movies. With this fact unbeknown to me, I jumped the moat and landed softly on the wall side only to instantly hear what can only be described as a prison break alarm begin to blare in the otherwise quiet palace gardens. Knowing I would surely be shot and killed on sight the way the piercing howl of the siren assaulted my ears, I sprang from the wall and took off in a full-on sprint straight away from the palace. I was so worried of being pursued that I swear I could have run all the way back to Kyoto Station on adrenaline alone. As it turns out, no one came racing after me, and I shortly returned to the group laughing at the whole incident.

The second event of the day is much shorter, and I plan on summing it up via pictures because my descriptive capabilities will simply not do the beauty of these two places justice. Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, located in the extreme northwestern part of Kyoto is home to, you guessed it, a temple covered completely in gold leaf (thin gold material used to cover walls and structures). Here’s the image from the first “photo-opp” with my head ducking under the railing to get the flowers in the foreground :-)

Isn't that special

Isn't that special

The second image is from the inner palace gardens at the Imperial Palace. We managed to score a tour of the area inside the walls I so perilously attempted to come in contact with earlier in the day. Our adventure in Kyoto ended with this tour, and so appropriately I will leave my story from Kyoto with this image as well. Next stop was Hiroshima, home of the World Peace Memorial Park and many emotional moments for our whole group. Stay tuned for more about that later on.

Had to create a giant traffic stop in the tour group to get this shot from the ground looking under the bridge. It is now my desktop background for obvious reasons.

Had to create a giant traffic stop in the tour group to get this shot from the ground looking under the bridge. It is now my desktop background for obvious reasons.

Huge Fun at the Sumo Wrestling Tournament…Get it?!

May 18, 2009

Hey all, I’m going to be extremely brief today because I need to go pack my things for our trip to Kyoto and Hiroshima tomorrow morning! Today we headed down to the eastern part of the city just south of Asakusa to watch an absolutely epic Sumo Wrestling Tournament. Life has really become meaningful once you’ve spent 5 hours of it watching enormously fat men slam into each other with blinding speed and crushing force while their fat rolls jiggle with every step. Jokes aside, the event was actually incredibly exciting to watch. Following a very formal “marching-in” ceremony of sorts, sets of four wrestlers entered the stadium and took seats around the hard sand ring. Once the announcement for the bout was made via a chanting man in a kimono, the two combatants took their places on opposite sides of the ring and began their warmup. The only rule in sumo wrestling is that the match can only begin once both wrestlers have their fists on the ground at the same time, other than that, anything goes. In order to get the upper hand in the match, the wrestlers will use various techniques to psych out his opponent by something like placing a single hand on the ground and hover the other one barely off the ground before standing back up and walking away. Another often used technique was to throw a rice powder aggressively across the ring as what appeared to be a show of dominance.

Wrestlers Gear Up With a Opening Performance

Wrestlers Gear Up With a Opening Performance

The most exciting part of the whole tournament came when a man who was clearly the crowd favorite stepped into the ring for his bout. The crowd was going crazy shouting his name and chanting as he triumphantly pounded his chest and hurled the white powder through the air yelling and making wild arm gestures. Our group was all on the edge of their seats as the wrestlers took their places to begin. With a loud grunt the two behemoths collided in a mix of face-smashing and body blows. The crowd’s champion fought hard, but in a surprise move, was straight-up tossed out of the ring by his opponent to seal his loss.

Two Fighters Locked in Battle

Two Fighters Locked in Battle

The rest of the day was taken up by traveling and getting prepared for our big trip tomorrow which I now muc end my post early to finish getting ready for. Chances are about 95% that I will not have internet for at least tomorrow night, but I’m hoping to have some information to share by Wednesday evening (my time). I’m extremely excited to see the world peace monument at Hiroshima…I can barely imagine how moving it will be to see in person.

Until I return,

~Pat

Harajuku and Shibuya: So Much to See, So Little Time…So Sore!

May 17, 2009

I made a huge mistake this morning readers, and it is something I would like to tell you all about because I feel like it is as fitting place as any to start the tale of my day. Being that I was once again up at 5:00AM (an increasingly steady pattern nowadays) I needed to venture out to find food when few people were awake. Trang and I decided that the best choice for breakfast would be to walk down the hilly street behind our dorm a few blocks to the local Yoshinoya, a famous Japanese fast food chain similar in size to our McDonalds. Before I uncover my fatal error I’ll let you all know that “fast food” is not really the term I would use for this place. The small, one-room building at the base of a tall apartment complex housed a single employee working feverishly running between the kitchen area and two long bar-type counters that snaked through the room. We took our seats at one of these counters, were immediately given a small, ornate cup (because everything here fits that ornate category) of green tea, and began to puzzle over the menu of various pictures and Japanese characters. I decided on what looked like a bowl of beef and rice with maybe some egg and cheese on the top of it. I was right with the egg, rice, and beef, but wrong on the cheese and one more interesting ingredient–heat. Yeah, I accidentally ordered raw beef (though I thought it was pork when I ate it) and raw egg on top of rice. Now, this might not sound like too big of a deal, but if any of you readers know my feelings towards raw meat and the dangers associated with it, please squirm now. After eating all of the rice/egg part and a couple bites of the meant I knew my stomach would be hating me for it later and opted for a check and and hastily return to the dorm to await my fate. Enough on me making dumb decisions though, let’s get on with our day.

Doesnt that look cooked?!

Doesn't that look cooked?!

Harajuku and Shibuya were on the docket for today’s adventure, two large cities in the southwestern portion of Tokyo that are supposedly the largest shopping centers in Tokyo. Being a guy, I wasn’t too thrilled about spending the whole day shopping; being me, I was a little bit excited to check out the Japanese fashions for myself :-). Harajuku was the first stop on the trip and upon leaving the subway station it was instantly apparent how different this place was from the other parts of the city we had seen so far. Perfectly manicured trees lined the large, clean highway running down the center of the city as giant shopping building packed to bursting with designer names and specialty stores ran up and down the street. I made my first stop in the basement of a multilevel mall (I say mall because the Japanese version of a what we could consider a mall is really just a skyscraper with stores on each floor). A specialty tea shop caught my attention and that was the end of the story for me–cherry green tea! Our group of  CSB/SJU students and our Bunkyo student tour guides had planned on splitting up for an hour to cover more ground before meeting for lunch, but when there is a six story toy store across the street from everyone we all knew where we wanted to go. Each level of Kitty Land as it was called for the aptly placed Hello Kitty displays all around the building as well as its clear kid appeal, housed five floors and a basement of “themed” toy stores. The first floor had many of the electronic playthings (though the “humping dog” toy looked oddly PG-13 at least) in addition to a host of cute stuffed Japanese staple characters including the lovable Kapibarasan, a stuffed Kapibara who I was told is a huge hit with the young women of Japan, and the little green and pink puff Mameshibas which are basically soy beans with dog ears and cute eyes. The other notable floors of this giant toy store included a video game floor in the basement, an boyish anime-themed top floor, and entire floors devoted to both Hello Kitty toys and Snoopy…of all things.

Yolanda and I With Kapibarasan in Kittyland

Yolanda and I With Kapibarasan in Kitty land

After a lunch of Ramen (god I love that stuff and here it’s not a poor college kid food) we headed towards the famous Takeshita street (yes, we did realize the cleverness of a letter switch in the name). On the way to the street we came across what was probably my highlight of the day–Condomania (see below). An entire store lovingly dedicated to keeping you safe in the bedroom in as many fun and interesting ways possible. What could be better than that kind of commitment to the greater good, right? The tiny shop had literally anything you could possibly want with a condom on it from designer brand condoms (as they appeared), to novelty items like what looked like a lollipop only with a smiling condom face in the wrapper. They even had the kindness to offer some items for “Solo adventures” out of the goodness of their hearts. Personally, I’m above such childish nonsense and went for something far more mature, a tiny oval plastic bubble in which sits a single yellow condom and Pikachu keeping a watchful eye on your safety in tiny plastic doll form. The whole experience amused and confused me at the same time, but at least now I can say I’ve been there!

Susanna and I coming out of Condomania! I don't look awkward at all...

Susanna and I coming out of Condomania! I don't look awkward at all...

I was feeling a bit energized by the humor of my stop at Condomania, and a long street and winding alleyway later we arrived at Takeshita Street. In a complete reversal from the wide open spaces of our first Harajuku stops, this tiny alleyway was lined with single and two level clothing and jewelry shops that catered mainly to those of us without endlessly deep pockets. In trying to describe the sheer number of people, the thickness of the crowd in the stores and street, and the plain craziness of the whole area I will need to resort to one of my favorite albeit vulgar phrases–“Utter Cluster Fuck.” That phrase describes the situation perfectly, I narrowly wove my way through the crowds and entered every store I could. I saw a number of used cloth stores featuring both western and Japanese styles as well as looked into what must be a Japanese Victoria’s Secret. I also managed to find a store devoted to dressing up your dog in the latest gear…yes, my puppy now has new clothes, and a store that sold exclusively lavish, somewhat fetishistic costumes of all shapes and sizes.

After about an hour and a half we all met up and walked to Shibuya, Japan’s Times Square as Steve called it. There is really not much to say about this place because by thetime we made the 25 minute walk we were all too sore and tired to get much out of the place other than the giant TV that rested atop the enormous building that greeted visitors as they poured out of the subway station as well as some of the tallest “malls” I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time or energy to see much more than what was on the outside, and soon resolved to find our way back to Bunkyo on the subway. I spent the night in the dorm for some quiet time and laundry while Steve (who had not been with us all day) did the same. Everyone else headed back to Shibuya for an all-you-can-eat meat fest at a Shabu-Shabu bar with some ofthe Bunkyo girls.

Now I’m off to find some breakfast that is hopefully not still raw :-)

Until next time,

~Pat

PS: As always, a full list of the photos I’ve taken so far, unsorted, can be found at my photobucket site

Perfect Timing

May 17, 2009

Today was all about luck for our group.

Three of us, up early as usual, headed down to the university bakery for breakfast. Unluckily, it was closed and we didn’t know what to do with our desperate hunger. Luckily, there was a tiny bakery about a half a block up from the university gate that we were able to grab some amazing pastries cheaper than our original destination. Now when you think of a savory breakfast food in the US, the last thing you think about is a pastry shop; however, I ended up eating this fantastic little pastry that looked like a figure-eight of dough with a long sausage, yes sausage, running through it along with melted cheese and ketchup—tasted amazing. Other items recovered on the journey included a small cake stuffed with meat of some sort and garnished with cheese, a small cupcake with a panda face (tehe) on it, and another sausage-based item.

After breakfast and waking everyone else up, our goal for the day was to make it to Asakusa to watch the Sanja Matsuri festival–yet another one of Tokyo’s three largest celebrations. To add to the fun of the day, seven Bunkyo students offered to come with our group for the day, show us around, and all-in-all have a good time. We hopped on the subway from Bunkyo to Asakusa which took about 40 minutes including train changes and whatnot; plenty of time to snap some pictures, mess with Steve a bit, and warm the legs up for another epic day of walking. When the Japanese students all said that this day would be one of huge crowds I thought to myself, sure, but it can’t be thaaat bad, it was. As we got off the subway train (along with literally every other person on the already packed car) it became apparent just what we were in for. The Sanja Matsuri is a festival that occurs annually during May in which thousands of people flock to the Sensoji Temple area to watch as groups of volunteers dressed in traditional costume carry shrines to the gods through the streets in parade fashion. The temple, founded around 628 AD, is said to be the oldest temple in Tokyo–fun fact. What is more impressive than the age, however, is the size the place and the streets surrounding it. I mean, you know a place is important when something called the Thunder Gate is the entrance. The gate houses statues of the gods Fūjin and Raijin, the gods of Wind and Thunder/lighting, respectively, in each side as well as an enormous red lantern that usually hangs down in the center. Because of the unfathomably giant crowds that come during the festival, this giant lantern, in addition to a second one on the inner gate, are lifted up to allow for a higher volume of people to flow in at once.

Pete outside the Thunder Gate

Pete outside the Thunder Gate

From inside the gate (after stopping to take a picture or five of the baby kittens in an old man’s hand) we were instantly met with a chaotic scene and sensory overload in every sense of the word. Overwhelming aromas of the street vendors filled the air as we immersed ourselves in the mass of festival-goers. Shops of every possible taste and type lined the streets of what is known as the Nakamise-dōri. I swear, there was a shop for everything. Samuri swords in one, umbrellas in another, extremely cheap tourist gifts in a third, and a toy store after that. Interspersed among all of the gift shops were a number of food stands that reminded me all too much of the Minnesota State Fair (the only difference being that the state fair has not yet decided to go for the “whole grilled and salted fish” on a stick…yet). I guess in a way the two are fairly (haha…fair) similar in that they both revolve around a well ingrained set of traditions that is characteristic to each city. The way the Sanja differs from the fair though is its religious undertones which brings me to our next stroke of good luck for the day. Just as we reach the temple steps, surrounded by an extremely strong scent of incense being burned all around us, The streets from where we had just come parted and loud yelling began to grow near. Through the courtyard of the temple a golden bird statue began to come into view as the yelling got closer. Luck was definitely on our side since we showed up as soon as the festival began. The men and women under the enormous shrine heaved and yelled as they walked to the sound of wooden blocks being beaten together. Once they reached the center of the courtyard the shrine bearers hoisted the huge golden structure into the air as the crown went crazy! It was very moving to see the power and joy the whole thing brought to everyone around me. Children also got to take part in the festivities by carrying a smaller shrine in the same manner through the streets while a group of two young boys kept time on a giant drum.

As we made our way out of the craziness of Asakusa and back onto a subway bound of the Edo-Tokyo Museum we managed to catch a glimpse of the Asahi Brewery (denoted by the giant, sperm-like ornament on the top of the building) among other things. The Edo-Tokyo museum was fairly interesting though not the best part of the trip by any means. One of those “I’ve seen a museum before” moments, and I spent the whole time walking among the various exhibits chatting with a Bunkyo girl about how we were bored and just wasting some time wandering around. One thing I did find exceptionally interesting though was the WWII exhibit which housed the original copy of the declaration of surrender signed by the Japanese government following the two A-bomb strikes to end the war.

Making our way back onto the train for the ride home brought one of the last interesting notes of the day. There were two different lines at the station we were boarding at; the first was the one we would be getting on, and the second was a separate line that ran to different parts of the city. This second line, as our guides pointed out to us, was closed due to an individual leaping out in front of the train to commit suicide not 30 minutes before we arrived. Apparently, in the economic struggles that are facing the whole world, this phenomenon has been occurring much more frequently as of late.

The day ended with accidentally offering to not only have three of the Bunkyo students back to our dorm, but cook for them as well! I’m just happy me and Peter were able to scramble our cooking abilities fast enough to find something suitable for our guests out of the extremely limited resources available. Luckily, we managed to make everything ok and the day ended like any other; a few beers, a bowl of rice, and an early bed time.

Until tomorrow <3

~Pat

Gunna Walk Down To, Electric Avenue

May 15, 2009

So I’ll start out today’s post with some more short bits of info on Japanese culture as I’ve experienced it in the last week. First, sandals, people love’em. I’m working with three different pairs myself at the moment: one for walking outside, one for when I get inside, and one for the bathroom–serious business. Two, Japanese colleges are my kind of place because they have hot water boiling at every corner. In the Caf alone there were upwards to 10 or so scattered about in the surrounding area ready to refill a tea glass or add water to a cup of Ramen. Thirdly, restaurants are sweet here because you get to sit on the ground and hang out, but at the same time service is extremely slow in the “We are done with our food and need a check” period which can be quite frustrating. Now, I’ll add others as we move through this of course.

Today I got a song stuck in my head because this country is so damn full of Anime Cuteness I just cannot control myself and have already conformed to not only the classic Japanese “Peace Sign” pose, but have succumbed to a growing fondness for all things cute, high pitched, and large eyed. Also today, and appropriate to my current musical and animated dilemma, we made a 45 minute walk from Bunkyo down to Akihabara–Electric City, the Anime capital of the world. I know it doesn’t seem like a huge decision, but if you have ever thought about the phrase, “Sometimes getting there is half the fun” then you will agree that when faced with the vital question “how” our decision was imperative. The choice to walk gave us sore feet, sore legs, and an unparalleled chance to view a large portion of Tokyo unencumbered by the need to find the correct bus or subway stop. On our way to Akihabara we ran into a small souvenir shop outside of a local Shrine. It turned out that this shrine happened to be the location of The Festival of Kanda Matsuri, one of Tokyo’s three most famous festivals held once every odd year. We just happen to show up as it started! Furious shutter clicking from hundreds of cameras rang out amidst a sea of pipes, drums, and loud chanting as men and women dressed from the Heian Period escorted mini shrines about the streets. It was truly a lucky find that we could have only gotten a chance to see while walking. Now that we were feeling energized by our good luck we headed down the sunny road to Akihabara.

Festival

Festival

Imagine about 50 Best Buy Stores 100 pawn shops worth of electronics. Now imagine someone puked all these gadgets across several square miles. Add in every Japanese Anime and every Asian porn title known to man along with a dash of random eateries–presto, Akihabara, the Electric City. Truthfully, this place was intense. Electronics of every imaginable shape, size, and brand overflowed into the streets from the incountable number of vendors along the main road. Among my favorites was a Six story (if I remember correctly) video game store that specialized in old titles. I played games like Megaman One for regular Nintendo, a game I grew up playing wide-eyed in my childhood friend’s basement. Rack after rack of N64, Super Nintendo, and yes, even Sega Genesis and Dreamcast games lined each tiny floor along with the occasional Mario statue–it was awesome. We also managed to find a duty free shop on the 5th floor of one of the stores that had every Japanese suveneire you can think of (yes, even and I <3 Japan one, Care). The whole experience in Akihabara gave our group a chance to not only see one of the most busy centers of this great city, but also exercise our own navigation skills as we made our way through the day since Steve was away in meetings all day. We were on our own and I know that I personally loved being the group’s navigator, unless I were to make a mistake, then it would be bad. Moving on…

Our next stop was Ueno Park, a giant park district located north of Akihabara and east of Bunkyo. In a remarkable contrast to its nearest neighbor, Ueno boasted a multitude of classic Buddhist and Shinto shrines in addition to various museums and an overall peaceful atmosphere. After stopping by the lake for a few pictures, a small shrine for a breather, and a vending machine for my Mountain Dew, we made our second supremely lucky find of the day, A giant Flee market Awwwwwe yeah! First stop, tea pots, cups, and chopsticks of every size and shape! As lovely as they all were, I had to keep my eyes on the long term of the trip and force myself to save money. What I was able to spent a bit of cash on though was a booth at the front of the market which consisted of a woman serving a dozen or so men Sake like it was going out of style. 100 Yen bought us all unlimited tasting and 5-6 mini shots of various flavors later I made my first Sake purchase. Being the incredibly manly-man that I am I opted for a tangerine flavored one as opposed to the dryer, stronger tasting version.

As fun as the market was for us, we were all dead tired and had to start thinking of heading for home. Our last stop on the way out of the park (well, besides the amazing pikachu statue at the kids park) was a monument of an eternal flame brought from the rubble of Hiroshima in the aftermath of the atomic bomb. Moving? Absolutely. The monument consisted of a simple gray, stone structure centered on which was a stone dove of peace with a hollow glass body holding within it a small flickering ember. Adorning the monument were rope after rope of tiny paper cranes made to in remembrance for the horrible loss of life that occurred when that bomb was dropped. The description of the monument is in the picture below.

Memorial Note

Memorial Note

Stone Dove and Paper Cranes

Stone Dove and Paper Cranes

With our bodies aching and our minds full of another crazy day and a bit of Sake we made our way back to the dorm thus successfully making it a full day without getting lost once even though we were all alone in such a strange and giant city.

A few quick stats before I let you all go today:

New foods tried today: Seven

Miles walked today: Upwards to 10 kilometers

Until Tomorrow,

~Pat

Toooo the Ginza–And Beyond!

May 14, 2009

Some things I found out today: The Tokyo subway system can in fact be navigated if one has a PHD, Men at giant fish auctions are a bit ornery at 5:30 AM, every major clothing designer can be found in a three block area of the city, Kabuki Theater = nap time,  and I can totally pull off a vest :-p.

Moving on. The day started at roughly 4AM when a series of alarms shocked me awake just as I was getting over my jet lag. We hastily boarded the first subway of the day over at the Todaimae Station (right outside the university gates) which reminds me that I should make a quick note here that contrary to many of the universities in the U.S., Bunkyo has very few people who actually live on the campus (7AM floods of students out of the station are a daily thing). Anyway, after exchanging trains by illegally hopping the ticket taker thing we managed to make it to the Tsukijishijo Station located near Tokyo Bay. This area is home to The Tsukiji Fish Market, the world’s largest seafood market. Navigating the market was an adventure in itself, we were constantly diving out of the way of swarming forklifts and tiny motorized carts pulling everything from giant ice blocks to gutted Tunas. As we cautiously crept through the never ending warehouse packed, like sardines ironically, with tourist and fishermen alike, we furiously snapped pictures of everything in site. The “finish line,” so to speak, came when we arrived at a third warehouse garage-type  in which sat the largest amount of Tuna I have ever seen! Hordes of American and Japanese tourists huddled against the giant warehouse doors all hoping to get a better look at the live auction that was occurring inside. The auction, I should mention, only happens very early in the morning which is why we wanted to be 40 minutes from our beds at 5:30AM. It was amazing though we only got to take a brief look of it before angry salesmen and workers pushed us out of the way–apparently they don’t enjoy having tourists snap pictures of them at work, who knew? We left the market after a considerable amount of pictures and cart-dodging and made our way towards the Ginza, Tokyo’s wealthier area.

Giant Tuna at the auction

Giant Tuna at the auction

More about the Ginza later as it was all closed, not surprisingly, at 7:00AM. We made our next stop at Hibiya Park where feet were rested, kitties were photographed, and confusing Greek sculptures were seen. Our goal for the morning besides getting to Tsukiji was the Imperial Palace, seat of the Japanese Emperor. Let me just mention quickly for those reading this who are like me and know little about this place that the Emperor is much like an asocial Queen of England with less power. Lately there has been a lot of controversy on whether or not to even keep a royal family in power here because it is a waste of taxpayer money to support the needs of someone who doesn’t do anything (very basic description). We toured the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace Grounds which used to house the lords of the land back in Edo (before it was called Tokyo) times. Nowadays, however, it has been renovated to look much like a giant garden speckled with  small houses of various purposes. Check the picture link in the prior post to see what it looked like.

To save on space I’m going to jump over the whole afternoon because it was mostly us passed out in the dorm from walking what seemed like forever earlier that morning. Tonight was the night we were scheduled to head into the Ginza once again and see some of Japan’s most famous and traditional art form, Kabuki Theater. We all put on our shiny shoes and made our way to the theater which looked like someone dropped a 17th century building in the middle of a 21st century neighborhood to be honest. The show was very “different” as a Minnesotan would code for “Wow get me out of here;” there really was not a lot going on, and I soon found myself fast asleep. We watched two different plays which told the story first of a smuggler who gets busted by another man (again, basic description), and the second was a short play about a man who kidnaps and rapes a woman who as a consequence falls madly in love with him–really wholesome family fun.

We all look very nice outsidethe theater

We all look very nice outside the theater

Our night concluded with a few of our gracious hosts (some of the girls from the university) coming upwards to two hours from home to take us out to dinner. We packed ourselves into a few tiny elevators and proceeded to dumbfound the host at the restaurant when we asked for a table of 12. One more interesting difference here though is that instead of a “wait time” at restaurants, they will just shift existing tables, occupied or not, around to accommodate you. Very cool. Steve and I sipped beers and chatted with two of the students over a collection of various Japanese dishes while everyone else was mingling  on the far end of the table. Good times were had by all :-). After dinner, a subway ride home let us off with only a giant hill up to our dorm as the last challenge, and fitting end, to our immensely long day.

Until tomorrow,

~Pat

PS: Just wanted to say thanks again to everyone who has been following this thus far! You’ve made it that much more satisfying for me to be writing this :-)


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