Thursday June 17, 2010
TECHNOS COLLEGE, Japan – Today was another day of on campus programs at Technos College. We awoke early and decided to walk again. This time we made it on time and avoided getting lost.
When we arrived at the college we were brought up to the skill up room where we were split up into our groups for the day. My group was brought to the hotel department. In this department the students train to be bartenders, waiters and waitresses and learn about the management of running a hotel. We entered the room, which was set up with two tables decorated with table cloths covered with many different size origami cranes. Everyone was seated at one of the two tables and then the students proceeded to serve us. First the students in the wait-staff program brought out green tea followed by ice cream topped with fruits. The service was excellent and extremely professional. After our meal the top three-bartending students came out and did a demonstration of their own uniquely creative drinks. They then taught us how to make these drinks. The drink that I made was called Umi and is made with Blue Curacao, orange juice and grapefruit juice. These drinks were non-alcoholic but still very good. It was recommended that either vodka or gin be added for a cocktail party.
After the demonstration of the hotel department it was time for lunch in the cafeteria again. It was another great meal. I had rice and curry with miso soup.
Our afternoon activity today was with the concert department. We met the concert department students in the tea salon where they had set up a big screen to play Wii. They also had costumes to dress up in, as well as picture frame decorating. After taking part in all of these activities, some more of the students ran into the room and led us in large group dance, which was extremely fun.
With the end of the group dance we were free to leave. Today we would have a lot of time to go out into the city and explore. I decided to travel out to Asakusa. Asakusa is a city that is out near Akihabara. My reason for traveling here was to buy something samurai related. The trip took about an hour. We exited the subway and walked toward the temple, which was where the shopping area was. There were vendors that lined the pathway to the temple. We walked all the way to the temple but it was closed and under construction. We walked back exploring the shops. Within a few minutes I found the store I was looking for. This store sold samurai swords and sword guards. I was going to buy a sword but then decided not too considering that I would probably have a hard time getting it through customs. Instead I purchased the sword guard which are collectibles and highly ornate. The one I bought shows two cranes fighting.
We walked around this area some more and eventually found a sushi go round. Emily and I had been a looking for a sushi go round a couple days earlier but were unable to find one. We decided to try it out. There are sushi go-rounds in the US, but I had never eaten at one. We walked in to the small restaurant, in the center there was a man standing surrounded by a conveyor belt that traveled in a circle transporting the sushi. We each sampled several delicious plates before heading back to the train station. We had earlier made a plan to meet everyone in Shinjuku for our last night in the city. We got on the train and made our way an hour back toward Shinjuku.
When we arrived in Shinjuku we about an hour and half early and decided to get some dinner. I had mentioned trying okonomiyaki and both Annie and Emily wanted to try it. We found a small restaurant and made some okonomiyaki, which was still just as good as the first place that I had eaten it with my host family.
When dinner was over we walked down through Shinjuku taking in the city’s nightlife. We stopped at an arcade to take pictures at a photo booth. These photo booths are nothing like the ones in the US. They are much more advanced and over the top. The booth has different lighting and once the pictures are developed you can add borders, writing and other decorations before they are published. After our pictures were done we went back to the trains station to meet up with Phil and Vienna.
After about a half an hour wait, Phil and Vienna had arrived. Phil wanted to get dinner so I went with him. Vienna had met up with her cousin who was working in Tokyo. Annie and Emily decided to wander around the city some more. Vienna, Phil, and Vienna’s cousin and myself went to a 270-yen restaurant. Everything in this restaurant costs only 270 yen. As with all other restaurants we were required to take our shoes off before being seated. Every table was in its own private room. We were led to ours and we sat down. There was little computer at one end of the room, which was where we ordered our food. Everything on the menu was in Japanese so we just pushed random buttons and hoped for the best. We all got a round of drinks and Phil got a meal. After eating Phil wanted to try another beer, however, instead of ordering beer we accidently ordered Shochu. Shochu is an alcoholic beverage that has no real flavor but is very potent. Because it has no real flavor you do not realize that it is starting to affect you. We all tried it, and enjoyed it. When we finished the Shochu, we pushed the button for the waiter. When the waiter arrived I placed my two index fingers in an “x,” which is the international sign for check. We paid our check and then left. We walked around the city and then headed back to the hotel. We took our time getting back as we wanted to be sure that our senses drank in all the sights and sounds of this wonderful place as our time in Tokyo is coming to an end.
Friday June 11, 2010
SAITAMA CITY, Japan – Today marks the end of the first week of this incredible journey, which has been marked with extraordinary memories. We began the day early again, awaking to prepare for our departure from Midori no Mura and return to Tokyo. Tonight would also include the introduction of my host family whom I would spend Saturday and Sunday with.
I began my day my taking my final Japanese style bath, an onsen. I packed my bag and enjoyed a nice breakfast of eggs, sausages, salad, and yogurt. At quarter to nine everyone gathered at the front steps of Midori no Mura for a group picture.
Then we boarded the bus. While on the bus a new friend of mine named Joe from SUNY Purchase College in New York City showed me a card trick that one of the Japanese kids had shown him. The way the trick worked is that you count out the first seven cards in a randomly shuffled deck. You flip over the first card, for example a five of hearts. Then you put the card you drew at the bottom of the seven cards. You count out each of the cards in the seven by spelling out each of the letters of the card you drew, e.g. “five of hearts” the last card you turn over should be the first card you drew, in this case the five of hearts.
On our way back we visited the Shiraito No Taki waterfalls. We hiked a small path through woods surrounding the falls and up a steep set of stairs. The waterfall was beautiful and the hike was amazing. However, our hike up the stairs did not afford us a spectacular view and we turned around.
After thoroughly enjoying this outdoor scene, we once again boarded the bus, this time headed for lunch. Lunch today was flavored rice. The rice was served in a stone pot and topped with meat, a small egg, shitake mushrooms, an apricot, a sweet potato and a few other vegetables. The sides that went along with this meal included a cup of miso soup and various pickled vegetables. For desert there was a rice dumpling filled with a sweet paste that had a consistency close to chocolate.
Below the restaurant was a small market selling various Japanese foods and goods. Some of these goods were sweets, of which I purchased sweet bean gummy’s. There was also sake and even dried crickets. We shopped for about fifteen minutes then boarded the bus. However, before we boarded the bus many of us purchased soft serve ice cream. I bought some blueberry ice cream, which I was told by Sho to be famous in the area. It had an extremely rich flavor, nothing compared to the blueberry ice cream in the states.
We traveled on the bus for another two hours arriving back at our hotel, the Marroad Inn Tokyo. We arrived at four and those who were partaking in a home stay were given one hour to pack their bag and come to the lobby. Those who were not doing the home stay checked into their room and had free time. I repacked my backpack quickly, but need to withdraw more yen before I left for the weekend. Luckily for me, Sho, is very eager to help out and he brought me to the local bank and then to the Seven-eleven to get money.
When I returned to the hotel I talked with some of the students not doing the home stay to see what they would be doing in their free time. Emily mentioned that when she was in Shinjuku the other night she wandered down a side street and stumbled upon a shop that used fish to eat the dead skin off your feet. She was interested in trying this. Not long after talking with the other international students, Erika’s father, the girl who was leading International Week 2010, introduced me to my home stay mother. She was one of the teachers at Technos College. Once we were introduced we left and weekend had begun.
“I speak little English, I am learning, so please speak slow and clearly” she said
“That’s okay” I said, I figured we would find some way to communicate.
“I live in Saitama City, about one hour outside of Tokyo, so we will get on the train. I will pay for your ticket”
“That’s okay I have a Suica card”
We scanned ourselves in and found the platform for our train.
“Do you like Japanese food?”
“Yes, very much”
“What kind have you had?
“Udon, Soba, Miso, flavored rice, Katsu, and of course Sushi”
“Tonight for dinner we have Shabu Shabu, boiled meat. Have you had shabu shabu before?
“No” I say
“Shabu Shabu, you boil water and run the raw meat through the water until it is boiled.”
She motions with her hands the meat in chopsticks running through the water.
“Then you dip in sauce and eat”
I nod my head to show that I understand. We stand quietly for a moment or two as both of us get to know one another and become used to each other’s presence.
“What do you study? Your major?”
“I am a double major. I am studying English, creative writing and literature, and International Relations, how to build better bonds between countries.”
I know that she is a teacher at Technos College but I have no idea what she teaches so I ask her.
“What do you teach?”
“I teach word, excel, PowerPoint, business”
“Do you live in a dormitory at school?”
“Is your dormitory close to the school”
“Yes it is on campus so I have to only walk a few minutes to reach my classes. Do the students at Technos live in dormitories or do they live at home?”
“Some live in dormitories and some live at home”
“Are the dormitories close?”
“About fifteen minute walk. One of my students lives at home and lives just behind the school. He gets up at 8:30 for a 9:00 class.”
“That is very lucky I say”
“Yes she says”
The train arrives. We board the train and travel to the next station where we switch trains. We travel another two stops and transfer again. Travel one more stop and transfer one last time. This time we remain on the train for thirty minutes.
Thirty minutes later we arrive in Saitama City. From first glance the city is small and not nearly as big as Shinjuku. The streets at as busy as Higashi-Fuchu but there are many more high rises.
“First we pick up my son”
I follow her taking in the different sights and sounds of this new city. We weave down small streets and ally ways.
While on our way she begins to talk to me again
“Do you drink alcohol?”
“Yes I say”
“Good, we will have drinks with dinner. How old are you?
“Drinking age in USA is twenty-one, correct?”
“Yes, but when I am abroad it is legal, so I indulge”
We arrive at a door located between two buildings. She pushes the buzzer and waits for someone to answer the door. They open the door undoing multiple locks. While we wait she talks in Japanese to the owners of the daycare. While one of the other workers readies her son. About five minutes pass and he is secured in his stroller.
“This is Tiger” she says introducing him.
We exit the nursery.
“It is about a ten minute walk from here to my house. Again we set off down small streets zigzagging through the city. We arrive at the main road and walk under a bridge. There is a loud rumbling and when we come out on the other side I see that it is a part of the railway system. She stops and not realizing this, I continued walking a few feet then stopped and turned around.
“Sorry she says, Tiger like trains.”
I see that her son had turned his head, peaking out of the carriage to see the train pass by. Once it is out of site we continue walking. We veer off of the main street and back onto more side streets. As we turn onto another street she waves to a man in a yellow shirt and green plaid pants. He approaches us.”
“This is my husband”
He is young with spiked hair. He extends his hand and introduces himself
“Welcome to Japan” he says
The talk to each other in Japanese, and from what I gather he asks her where I am from. She tells him Boston. He nods his head in understanding.
“Boston Red Sox he says. Dice-K Matsuzaka’s, home town is Saitama City.”
Out of all of Japan I end up in the city of one of the pitchers of the Boston Red Sox.
“Saitama City was also the home of the 2002 World Cup” he says in broken English. We walk for another five minutes and turn into a gated off drive way. A car is parked there. One thing that I have noticed in Japan is the lack of full size cars. Many of the cars are compact and are often boxy in shape. This probably has to do with the narrowness of the streets. Just past the drive way was their house. The house is tall and similar to an apartment, but has three floors. The house is very compact and tightly packed. The house is beautifully decorated with dark wood floors and matching doors. Thin metal bars cross the door horizontally. When I enter the house I notice that there is about three feet of space then the floor rises. This is where I take off my shoes. My host family has provided me with slippers to walk around the house in.
I follow my host mother up the stairs to the second floor. This floor is the main living area. We turn to the right and ascend another flight of stairs to the top floor. She opens the first door on the left.
“This is your room”
There is a small round table in the center of the room, with small cushion on the ground. In one corner is a television. On the opposite side of room is two closets. She lays out a futon, that sits about two inches off of the ground. This bed is similar to the one I slept on while I was at Midori no Mura; only there was a little more cushioning here.
I drop my stuff off and she shows me around the house.
“In a traditional Japanese house the bathroom and the showers are separate.
To the right of the main staircase of the house there is a door that leads to the bathroom. I was amazed to find out that, as with the public bathrooms the toilets in a private home are all automatic. There is also an additional pair of slippers in the bathroom. When you use the bathroom in a house you take off your house slippers and wear the bathroom slippers.
We leave the hallway and make our way into the main part of the house. The living room of the house is connected to the kitchen. There is a raised stage-like area on which the television sits. The main floor of the living area has been changed into a play area for their son. A small four-person table sits against a bar, which divides the kitchen from the living area. On the far side of the living area there is a sliding door, which leads to the laundry room and shower room. The shower is made up of a modern onsen. There is small sink for washing and a modern bathtub. The floor is equipped with a drain for the water.
Once the tour is concluded, dinner was started. I sat at the table drinking with my host father and enjoying fish sausage as a snack. A small pot was placed on the table, which was then heated until it boiled. Thin slices of raw beef and pork were placed next to the pot along with sushi and maki rolls. Once the water reached a boil, the vegetables were added in. The vegetables included bean sprouts, cabbage, and carrots. After the vegetables were added the water was brought to a boil again. Each person takes a piece of meat and runs it through the water. The meat turns from its raw red color to a dull gray indicating that it had been cooked thoroughly. Once you have cooked a piece of meat you dip it into a sesame sauce and eat it along with some vegetables. The meat along with the sushi made for a delicious meal.
When dinner was ended I proceeded to give gifts to my host family. Japan is very gift oriented society it is proper and common to give and receive gifts to and from friends. I gave my host father a Red Sox’s baseball hat, my host mother some stationary, and my host families son, a complete set of the fifty states quarters as well as a Hobart and William Smith car medallion. In return my host family gave me a ticket holder from the soccer team of their hometown, the Urawa Red Diamonds. This ticket holder is only available to supporters of the team, its not available in stores.
The end of dinner and gifts brought the end to a long day. I showered and went to bed.
Monday June 7, 2010
TECHNOS COLLEGE, Higashi Fuchu, Japan – The red carpet stretched across the outdoor courtyard, throngs of students stood on either side screaming…
Today we had a late start, which was great, because all of us really needed to sleep off the jet lag. When I arrived downstairs I was greeted by a traditional Japanese breakfast. There were small egg omelets’ that had a rather sweet taste, Japanese yogurt that was more like a drink, bread, and all the rice you could ever eat.
After breakfast, I went for a walk through Higashi Fuchu with a few fellow International students. Higashi Fuchu is the part of Tokyo where Technos College and our lodging is located. We traveled down some residential roads and arrived at a park and took a break. The park had a few baseball fields and tennis courts as well as walking paths and playgrounds. Numerous sculptures dotted the park as well as the many fountains. We found an open area and began tossing a ball as a way to learn everyone’s names. After about a half hour of walking around the park we returned to the hotel.
At noon we boarded the bus using our prepaid Suica cards and traveled ten minutes to Technos College for the first day.
Upon our arrival we were greeted by a few students and brought up to the 2F (second floor) skill up room. This room was used as a quiet study room by the English department. After dropping off our belongings we were brought down to the courtyard for the grand opening of Technos International Week 2010.
The design of Technos College is rather interesting. It is a single building, with an open-air courtyard in the center. Four floors rise above it with open-air hallways on three sides creating a triangle. There are another four floors above the hallways that surround the courtyard. At the top point of the triangle is a glassed in elevator. The entire building as a modern style to it and reminds me more of a business building than a school.
As we left the skill-up room we were lined up for the introduction. Music boomed over the loud speakers, with each school being introduced to a different song. The emcee announced once in English and once in Japanese. Each schools flag lined the courtyard. A couple of schools went before us and but finally it was our turn.
“Please welcome Hobart and William Smith Colleges”
The other emcee repeats the announcement in Japanese.
The red carpet stretched across the outdoor courtyard, throngs of students stood on either side screaming. Hands were thrown out into the walkway looking for high-fives and handshakes. I felt as though I was famous. We walked down the red carpet and came to the steps that ascended out of the courtyard. I turned around and took one last look at the crowd. They were screaming and shouting and clapping for us and I remember thinking that this is what it must feel like to be famous. These were my fifteen minutes of fame or rather two weeks, surrounded by adoring fans. They handed us a microphone and we each thanked Technos College and the students for our welcome. When we had finished we turned and walked up the stairs to Meet Dr. Kenji Tanaka the man whose vision and generous philanthropy made this trip possible.
Dr Tanaka and I faced each other and shook hands first in a western greeting and then slowly bowed to one another, showing respect in the eastern tradition.
“Arigatoo Goziamsu” which means ‘thank you very much’. I slowly stumbled through this having only rehearsed this a few time before I actually met him. I also had embarked on this journey and trip without any knowledge in the Japanese language.
He returned the bow shaking my hand. I then greeted his wife who knew me as the kid who liked soccer. This was because I had listed soccer as one of my interests on a questionnaire that I had handed in before leaving the United States.
Once all of the schools had been introduced and had processed down the red carpet. The students looked up to us as we stood on the floor above. They threw out the rock-on hand and the hang-ten hand. As the crowed died down we were led into the tea salon for the welcoming party. Dr. Tanaka approached the microphone to deliver some opening remarks about the trip and what his hopes are for the outcome of this trip. After, Professor Brian Rogers from Pembroke College, Oxford gave the opening remarks for the international faculty. Mitsunari translated both of the speeches into English and Japanese. Blair who was a part of Technos International Week 2009 gave the final speech. He returned to Tokyo this year to do community service.
After the speeches the party began where we ate lunch and met the Technos Students. They were so happy to see and meet us. They took pictures with us and sometimes their eagerness overwhelmed them. Yet they were also extremely courteous and always had a compliment for each person. A couple of girls came up to me and said:
“You cool” or “your eyes are beautiful.” One girl even asked me out.
After the party we were given a tour of the Technos College facility. Technos College is an interesting school, which can be equivocated to a technical school in the United States. Some train to work in hotels, others in the airline industry as flight attendants, or in the bridal industry as well as many others. They have flight simulators that look like a full cockpit. Some recent graduates are even working on mainstream video games such as Final Fantasy.
I was given the opportunity to try the flight simulator. I flew over Japan and Tokyo and was told to eventually land the plane in the middle of the city. Piece of cake!
After the tour of the campus we left with a few of the students on a tour of Fuchu. We walked past shops and into a shrine that was located in the heart of modernity. We stepped from the modern world into the ancient world. We washed our hands with ladles of water in front of the shrine. The water is extremely soft. When we entered the shrine the students showed us how to pray for good luck. First you throw in a coin, then bow twice, clap twice, and bow again. After our visit in the shrine, we walked down into the center of Fuchu for dinner. I had cold udon noodles and tuna sashimi with rice. I was surprised how delicious cold noodles could be. After dinner I returned to the hotel.
In the evening, a few of us gathered in the lobby for our first chance to explore the city. I went out with the students from Pembroke, Amanda from Hope and Vienna. We took a train to Shinjuku. Our mission was to find the Park Hyatt Hotel and go to the New York Bar, which had a famous scene in the movie Lost in Translation with Bill Murray.
However, when we arrived in Shinjuku it was not what we expected. We exited the station and found ourselves in the business district. However, other exits bring you to a more metropolitan area. The business district was relatively quiet and full of corporate buildings. Shinjuku station is the busiest train station in the world!
Upon our arrival we were greeted and told that there is a 2200-yen ($22 on a 1 to 100 conversion rate) cover fee for live music. Although we were dressed up it seemed as though the staff did not want us there. Yet, they let us in anyway. Everyone was older and formally dressed. This was a one-drink place on our budget. We thought about leaving but we indulged ourselves because this was a once in a lifetime experience and we had walked about an hour to find this place.
It was odd that they scrutinized our appearance when after a while they let people in who were only wearing t-shirts.
Drinks ranged from 1100 yen ($11) for beer to 2800 ($28) for a mixed drink. I ordered a New York mixed drink, which had bourbon, limejuice and grenadine. The most amazing part about this restaurant was the view. The bright lights of Tokyo beamed from below stretching in every direction as far as the eye could see. We took our time, savoring our drinks and admiring the view.
After leaving the restaurant we wandered Shinjuku looking for the train station. We got a little lost but ended up finding station that was one stop ahead of where we needed to go. Eventually we arrived back at the hotel around midnight and went to bed.
Saturday June 5, 2010 – Sunday June 6, 2010
HIGASHI FUCHU, Tokyo, Japan – I awoke in the early morning to catch my flight to Tokyo, traveling over fifteen hours. The first leg was a hop from Boston to Newark and the second was a 13 hour 55 minute flight from Newark to Tokyo direct. We flew from the night’s encompassing darkness in constant sunlight losing a full day without notice. When I was first selected to attend Technos International Week 2010, the idea of visiting a country such as Japan seemed to be impossible for me at this point in my life and what I might experience was a complete mystery to me. Sure, I had heard stories and seen photographs and had studied some of the history of Japan in my Foundations of Asian Civilizations course in the fall. Yet, not even anything that I learned or witnessed could have prepared me for the life altering experience that being a participant in Technos International Week 2010 would afford me. Even upon our arrival at Narita International Airport after the culmination of a fourteen-hour flight and weeks of planning and packing, and it was hard to believe that I was in fact halfway around the world, finally in Japan.
The plane touched down in dry sweltering heat of Tokyo at Narita Airport. People milled about, hustling to and fro, in massive crowds making their way through customs. For the second time in my life I was the minority and I stood out plain as day. While I felt different, I was not afraid. After clearing customs and claiming our baggage we made our way into the main hallway of Terminal One. Here the smiling and cheering faces of Technos students wearing bright orange shirts greeted us. They jumped up and down cheering for us.
We hand over our bags to the Technos students who organize and collect them while we wait to board the bus. I exchange my money for the Japanese Yen and prepare myself for what I am told is to be a rather expensive trip. While I stand around waiting, I am tapped on the shoulder by a man dressed in a suit, he introduces himself as Sho our travel agent. He has organized most of our trips outside of Tokyo. He is twenty-five and works at conversing with me in English.
“What is your name?” he asks me
“Ah Colin, how do you like Japan”
I found this question particularly hard to answer after having only been in the country for a few minutes. All I had seen of Japan was the airport, from which it is hard to gauge anything about a country. I tell him that I like what I see and that I am eager to see more. Our conversation jumps around.
“Do you like to shop?” he asks
“Yes” I say
When he is unable to figure out a word, he thinks, and you can see his mind racing as his eyes dart back and forth and as he gestures with his hands to try and describe what he is thinking. He tries to ask me about swords by motioning with his hands as if unsheathing a sword. This intrigues me because it would be great if I could purchase a samurai sword.
After all of the schools from the first group of arrive we are ready to leave, we head out of the airport and board our bus to the hotel. Vienna, the other delegate from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Kaad and Astrid from Bates College in Maine, Annie and Morgan from McKendree University in Illinois, and Emily and Kylie from Illinois Wesleyan University join me. Once on the bus we are introduced to the leader of our trip, Mitsunari. Mitsunari was our bridge to the Japanese language and culture. He had studied in the United States and was fluent in English as well as Japanese.
After about an hours ride from Narita Airport we reach Tokyo, yet we still have an hour to go until reach our hotel. Tokyo is bigger than I would have ever imagined. Metropolitan Tokyo is home to 36 million people in a land mass smaller than metropolitan New York which is home to 19 million people.
We finally reach our hotel, the Marroad Inn and are given our keys for our rooms. Upon first opening the door to room 917 I am immediately struck by how small everything is. The room had two single beds squeezed into a space that is about ten feet by ten feet. The bathroom had a shower, a sink, and toilet in an area that was about four feet by four feet.
Once I was settled in it was time for dinner. It is funny to think that our first meal in Japan was actually going to be Chinese food. Dinner was in the dining room off of the lobby. It is here that I meet some more of the other international students and get to know those I have already met. I am introduced to Phil, Michelle, Sebastian, and Claire from Pembroke College at Oxford University. They had arrived earlier that morning and had already had a full day in Japan. As we finish dinner the second group of students arrives including Lucas and Amanda from Hope College, Joe and Katyann from SUNY Purchase College, Meagan, Bianca, Mariaa, and Natalie from Auckland University of Technology from New Zealand (AUT), Ross and Laura from Carlton College, Catherine and Feliz from Trinity College, as well as Shun-liang and Lee from the China Institute of Technology. My roommate for the trip is Lucas from Hope College. I leave him the key to move into the room and I meet up with a few other people to go out and explore the area in which we are staying, Higashi Fuchu.
Higashi Fuchu has several Seven-Eleven convenience stores, a Pachinko Arcade (a gambling arcade), a few restaurants and store that sold everything (this was a Walmart meets Building 19, Costco and Market Basket and then some) store, as well as a few car dealerships. What was most amazing was the cleanliness of the city. There was no garbage or graffiti anywhere. This part of the city was also very quiet, which was not what I was expecting from Tokyo, Japan. We finish our walk and return to the hotel. I turn in for the night after an extremely long day.