Tuesday June 8, 2010
SHUNJUKU, Tokyo – I awoke early, had breakfast and then left for Technos College. When we arrived we were brought into the gym for an introduction to Japanese Culture. The introduction ceremony included demonstrations in Japanese Calligraphy and Japanese dance; where girls and guys wearing kimonos came out and danced with fans. Later a traditional Japanese drumming group demonstrated their skill along with dancers dressed as lions, people, and foxes. Then the 2005 World Karate Champion did a demonstration. He broke two bats held below him and one bat held above his head. All of the bats were broken with his bare feet. His final act was to break twenty Japanese tiles. His master had only broken fifteen and he had never before broken any tiles. On his first attempt he used his elbow and broke seven, on his second try he broke eight, and finally the last five tiles.
Matt, an English teacher at Technos, did the final demonstration. He was from Canada but has been living in Japan for six years. He played the samisen a traditional string instrument. After the demonstrations we had lunch. I ate udon soup, fried pork, miso soup and rice.
After lunch I checked out the school convenience store. Students that we passed along the way were always approaching us asking to take pictures with them and throwing up the peace sign.
Next ,we had to introduce our colleges to the students and faculty at Technos College. I introduced HWS with AUT, Bates, and McKendree. Then Technos students introduced the airline, hotel, bridal, English, and tourism departments.
After the introductions we went back to Shinjuku for dinner. This part of the city was what I pictured Tokyo to look like. There were bright lights and people hustled about. It reminded me of Times Square in New York only much bigger. Meagan, Bianca, Astrid, Kaad, Annie, and Kenji joined us. Before dinner we did some shopping and exploring of Shinjuku. I went off and explored the eastern area of Shinjuku with Annie. Shinjuku was a massive city, with the bright lights and signs going on forever. While walking we found a small shine buried deep within the skyscrapers.
The restaurant we went to had a very traditional feel to it. The tables were low with an area to put your feet underneath. I had a ginger highball and sake – clear, cold sake. I learned that there are three types of sake, clear sake, brown sake, and sake with clumps of rice left over from the brewing process. Sake is normally supposed to be served cold. Only less purified sake is meant to be served warm. For dinner I ate chicken and rice. The chicken was stir fried in soy sauce with sugar. Round after round of food came with Kenji ordering traditional food for all of us to try. Kenji was one of our Technos student guides for the week.
After dinner we returned to the hotel for an early night for tomorrow we had an early day.
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.