Stories From The Road

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Technos International Week – Day 8

Sunday June 13, 2010

Sun Dried Fish Breakfast

SAITAMA CITY, Japan – Today was my last day with my host family. I awoke early and was greeted with a different breakfast. Today’s breakfast was sundried fish served with rice and nato. This meal is served with a raw egg, which you beat and mix with a few drops of soy sauce. This mixture is then poured over the rice. You pick the fish meat off of the bones and body then take some nato and rice to eat it. Nato are fermented soybeans and they have an extremely salty taste. The meal was extremely good and I was glad to try something new.

After breakfast my host father turned on the television and put on a soccer game. What a surprise! It turns out that he recorded the United States versus England game just so I could watch. It was a great game with the game ending in draw of 1-1. My host family remained neutral in their support.

Okonomiyaki

When the game finished we left and headed toward Saitama Stadium for our tour. However, before we got there we stopped for lunch and had Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a tradition Japanese pancake from western Japan. Okonomiyaki means “as you like it” and it  can be served in a variety of ways. A traditional Okonomiyaki is beef, pork and vegetables. The meal comes in a bowl with vegetables, meat, seafood (shrimp, squid, octopus), flour, and an egg. The entire bowl is mixed together; this mixture is then poured onto a hot grill (such as a teppanyaki grill) with oil on it. When it is finished cooking it looks like a pancake. We split three Okonomiyaki as well as soba noodles and rice balls with fish eggs on top.  To drink I had Calpis soda. This is soda with a milky white color. It contains a type of bacteria that helps clean your intestines and as such the soda is extremely healthy and refreshing.

Calpis soda

The meal was great and afterwards we left and continued to stadium. We stopped for gas. All gas in Japan is full service and when you are finished the attendants walk out into the road and stop traffic so that you are able to pull out and continue on your way.  Now that is service!
After about an hour of driving we arrived at the stadium. We waited in the lobby for the tour to start. While I waited my host father bought me a set of stickers with my name in Japanese written on them. It was pretty cool.

Vinage Urawa Red Diamond Jerseys

The tour began we walked through the team room, which had autographed jerseys hanging in it. The jerseys chronicled the changes in the uniform over the years. After the team room we went into the team lounge where the tour guide talked about the players signing a banner in which they agreed to play fair. Then it was off to the outside of the stadium. Part of the tour, brought us into the practice room, where everyone was given the chance to kick a ball. Tiger played around with a soccer ball, and it was here that I learned that my host family’s goal for him was to learn English so that he could play soccer for Manchester United. There were plaques depicting the various games of the 2002 World Cup and their outcomes. Then we walked out onto the field for while. The roof of the stadium was modeled after a flying heron. The tour guide led us up the stairs to the Emperors private box. In the Emperors box he is the only one who sits down and he sits low to the ground to avoid assassinations. While Japan still has an emperor, he is more of figurehead similar to the Queen of England.

2002 World Cup Poster

Saitama Stadium

When the tour concluded we left the stadium and began making out way back to Higashi-Fuchu where I would meet up with the Technos group for the rest of the week. When we arrived in Higashi-Fuchu we drove past the hotel and into Fuchu for dinner. We went into a mall-like building and had dinner at a food court.  This food court served food from Japan, Korea, and China. I went with a Korean dish called bi-bim-bop. I was curious to see if it was the same as what I had in America. Bi-bim-bop is a dish of rice, vegetables, egg, and meat served in a hot stone bowl, which has been warmed in an oven.  The bowl is so hot that it cooks everything you mix it.  There is also a hot sauce that is poured over the top of the dish. To drink I had mango beer. The mango was infused in the beer such that it was both sweet and refreshing. You couldn’t even tell that it was beer let alone an alcoholic drink. I would bet drinking too many of these can creep up on you.

Saitama Stadium from another view

When dinner was over I returned to the hotel where I said my farewell to my family. It was an absolutely amazing weekend and I had a ton of fun. I was glad that I had the opportunity to take part in a home stay, which is something that not everyone in our group was able to do. This opportunity afforded me the chance to see what life is like in a modern Japanese family. Language aside, a Japanese family was not much different than an American one.  It was also a chance to thrown straight into the Japanese culture, where people are extremely open and welcoming to strangers. Just being able to speak English was an opening for me into this culture. I left my host family and gathered my baggage and returned to my room for the night.


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.


Technos International Week – Day 6

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.

Shiraito No Taki Falls

Another View of Shiraito No Taki Falls

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.

Flavored Rice Meal

The hike up the steps into the woods

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”

“Ohh”

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?”

“Yes”

“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.

Mascot for Saitama City, which stands outside the train station – Unagi the Eel

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.

A street in Saitama City

“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?

“Nineteen”

“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.

Ground medallion in the city celebrating the 2002 World Cup

“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.”

Flag of the Urawa Reds – the soccer team of Saitama City

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.