Stories From The Road

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Technos International Week – Day 7

Saturday June 12, 2010

SAITAMA CITY, Japan – Today was a relatively slow day. I was allowed to have a late start and I took advantage of it and slept in. It was nice to recover from the non-stop movement of the past few days. I awoke and was greeted by a breakfast of eggs and rice. The same breakfast I have had for the past week but even more delicious as it was homemade. During breakfast my host family and I began talking about soccer and the World Cup.

“What team will you be supporting?” they asked me

“The United States”

“How about you?”

My host father points to himself and says, “ I like Argentina, Messi is my favorite player.”

I nod my head in an understanding and acknowledge that they are a strong team. My host family then begins to tell me about their hometown team the Urawa Red Diamonds. They set up a past game and we watch it on television. It was great to see another team play and enjoy the sport with another fan.

After watching the full game we go over the plan for the day.

“Today we will go the train museum, Tigers, their sons, favorite museum. Tomorrow we will go on tour of Saitama Stadium the home of 2002 World Cup and Urawa Red Diamonds. But first we will meet up with our friend.”

“Okay sounds good to me”

I get ready for the day and we leave the house. Outside the house I wait with my host father while my host mother finishes locking up the house. Just outside their house there is a small deck with a sliding door and old woman waves to my host father. She slowly unlocks the door and begins speaking with my host father in Japanese. She turns toward me and waves. I do not understand Japanese but while I am  living me with my host family, I have begun being able to understand few Japanese words. Part of what I understand from their conversation is my host father explaining that ‘I am an American student’ staying with them.

My host father turns to me and says, “this is my mother, but she does not speak any English,” I then formally greet her.

Riki Riki Sports Bar

We are soon joined by my host mother and make our way walking back into Saitama City. Down the same back roads that we took the night before. We arrive back at the train station only to find out that my host father’s friend will be about an hour late. Instead of waiting around my host family takes me on a tour of the city. We walk through a mall and into the heart of the city. We walk past a Tully’s coffee shop and next to a bar called Riki Riki.

“Riki Riki, is a famous sports bar, whenever Japan plays soccer, this place is packed” says my host father.

We continue walking and come upon a fast food restaurant called Yoshinoya

“Do you have Yoshinoya in US?” asks my host mother.

“Not that I know of, but I would not be surprised if they are in the larger cities.”

Finally we arrive at a store called Red Voltage, the official store for the Urawa Red Diamonds soccer team. I go in the store and look around and decide to purchase a jersey. I buy an official Jersey with the number 22, which belongs to Abbe. Abbe is also a player on the Japanese national team currently competing in South Africa.

After I purchase my jersey we walk back and grab some coffee at Tullys, then head back to the train station to meet my host families friend. We enter the station and he is waiting there for us.

“This is our friend Koki,” my host family says

I introduce myself, but afterwards I am silent as he begins speaking Japanese and I now have no idea what is happening.

“Where are you from? Koki asks

At first I am taken aback because his pronunciation was very good “I am from Boston”

“I used to live in the US.

“How long did you live there?”

It turns out that Koki lived in Manhattan from age seven to eleven and then returned there from 2002 -2009 for work. While working in the United States he lived in California and Atlanta. It is then that I learn that he speaks perfect English. At last I was no longer lost in the Japanese conversations. My host father was also shocked to learn that Koki spoke perfect English.

We boarded several trains to reach the railway museum.  On a few of the trains I had to duck to enter the car. My host family laughed at me, as this was unusual in Japan. When we reached the museum we entered using our Suica cards because the museum was part of the railway and built into one of the railway stops.

Train Museum

The Emperors Train

The train doors opened into a large atrium with a restaurant. To the right was dark hanger like room. We proceeded to the hanger, which was painted black and had various full size trains depicting the history and evolution of the train in Japan. This museum is the train equivalent to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in America. While the United States developed the airline industry to connect different parts of the country,  Japan, which is much smaller, developed a railway industry to link its cities and towns. We saw some of the first manually pushed carts as well as the Emperors private train. There were also bullet trains.

After walking around the trains we stopped and had lunch. I had barbeque beef served over white rice. To drink I had melon soda. This soda had a deep green color and strong melon taste. Unlike our soda it was not as sweet. After dinner we walked back into the hanger. At three o’clock they had a demonstration in which they showed how an old steam engine train was turned around on the tracks.

Melon Soda

Once the demonstration ended we left and boarded the train. We traveled to a large technology building because my host family wanted to play with the ipad. Afterwards Koki began telling me about the 2002 World Cup. When the World cup was in Japan, Koki and his friends got together and created a welcoming committee to welcome people to Japan and gave out maps to help them find their way around. At the same time they also began playing futsal together. Tonight they were having a party to celebrate the beginning of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and their continued futsal games.  He invited us to the party and we decided to go.

World Cup Soccer Balls from 1970 – present

After the electronic store we headed to the party.  Before we reached the party we stopped at a sports bar. This bar had soccer balls from all of the World Cups since 1970. We all had a drink and just took a break from the day. The owner of the bar who was eastern European came up and asked me where I was from. I told him and he asked me if would be back at 3 AM to watch the USA versus England game. I told him unfortunately not. After our drinks we again made our way to the party.

The party was at Goodies Café. A few minutes after entering I realized that we would be eating Italian food in Japan. The food was extremely good. To help with introductions  to the many partygoers, my host mother wrote my name in Japanese characters and made me a name tag.  I stood around for a while watching various people and interactions. Many people came up to me and wanted to practice speaking English.  When someone didn’t know how to say something, Koki translated for him or her. The celebrity feeling continued as people wanted to take pictures with me. Two women approached me and stood on either side of me for a photo.

“You have a rose in both hands” says Koki referring to the women on both sides of me.  I laughed.

As the party kept going they put out various prizes on a table and we played bingo. They were giving out the last of the souvenirs from the 2002 World Cup. After needing only one number in every direction I finally won and chose one of the last prizes on the table. I received a dehydrated t-shirt that just needs to be placed in water to open up.

World Cup Party

After bingo I began talking with Koki again and another man I had met, Taka. Two of Taka’s friends came up to me.

“They are very drunk,” says Taka. They converse in Japanese “The want to know the best place to go in the USA so that they can play you in soccer,” says Taka.

“Either Boston or New York” I said

“Okay” they say looking at each other. There is some more Japanese conversing occurring. “But only if you return to Japan for the away match,” says Taka.

“Okay, sounds good to me”

The party began to die down and we went outside to say goodbye to everyone. We walked back to toward downtown Saitama and past the sports bar Riki Riki. The owner began talking to my host father. After conversing with him he turned to me.

“You American, 3 AM, I better see you here”

I laugh knowing full well that it would be too late to go to the bar to watch the United States take on England in the FIFA World Cup

“Well next time” he says in broken English. I laugh and say yes.

We continued on our way and eventually made it back home.