Stories From The Road

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Technos International Week – Day 10

Tuesday June 15, 2010

The dance class and kimonos

TECHNOS COLLEGE, Japan – After days of traveling around Tokyo and Japan it was time for us to attend classes on the Technos Campus. Since Technos College is a technical college these classes were more like demonstrations.  The curriculum includes traditional college curriculum degree programs law, business, media, engineering, sports and education and information systems and design. The arts curriculum includes music acting and voice but also game creating, concert and event skills such as stage production, audio and lighting. Finally there is a hotel travel specialty program that includes flight attendants and ground hostess, education, hotel and tourism, railroad traffic bridal industry and finally International English program.

We began the day early and had breakfast. Everyone went out to the bus stop to await the city bus to travel to the college. A few of us, including myself, Joe, Vienna, Faylis, Katyann, and Katherine decided to walk to the school. It was hot and humid and when we set off. We walked for a good thirty minutes until we realized that we had completely missed the turn to the College. We stopped and asked for directions but no one had heard of the school. We began walking back the way we had come and realized that we were supposed to take the first left turn after the hotel. This turn was about a hundred yards past the hotel. By the time we made it back and reached the school we were forty-five minutes late.

The master calligrapher’s demonstation of the character for love

Group picture showing examples of japanese characters

We rushed up to the skill-up room where we were rushed to our first class, dance class. The teacher took us in and we began learning a dance with fans. We practiced a few times and then we began performing. At the end of the class we were given the chance to try on kimonos.  I had never realized that men wore kimonos too, so it was interesting to be able to try one. I was given a dark red kimono. I tried it on and then had to perform the dance that we just learned in the kimono. It was tough, but I think I did all right. After I took off the kimono and was taught how fold it correctly.          

When the dance class was finished we went down to lunch. I had ramen in a spicy broth. Lunch was great opportunity to really interact with the Technos students. The students asked us about America and college life in America. We talked with them for about and hour comparing the differences between life in America and Japan. It was all extremely fascinating.

After lunch I had calligraphy class taught by the master calligrapher. We learned how to write our names in Japanese as well the word friend and love. We would take time practicing these symbols and then we would write them on a final poster paper. The master calligrapher was very impressed with our skills. At the end of the lesson she gave each of us a piece of paper with the meaning to our names in Japanese. My name means “I am also watched” and “the order in order and order are defended” as well as the “action that the person should do, it is a person who always controls yourself and can respect people.”

Group photo from the childhood development group

The end of the calligraphy lesson brought an end to the day, or so we thought. Everyone was herded upstairs to take part in the early childhood development program. The kids in this program were working to be teachers for younger kids and they taught us some of the learning games that they play with the kids.  The first game that we played, we were split into small groups of about five people with a pile of cards spread out in between us. We played a game in which some of the Technos students read a hint about an object and then we had to pick up the card off the ground that had a picture of the object that they were describing. At the end of the game, the person with the most cards was the winner. I won the first game for my group. The second game we played was a take on charades. Everyone in the room was split up into four groups. Each group stood in a single file line. The person in the back of the line turned around and was shown a sign with a description. That person then had to act out the description to the person in front of them. At the end the acting of the charades became more and more bizarre but somehow the right answer was always guessed. The final game we played was musical chairs. This game was intense and eventually I was one of four winners.

After this lesson the day was over A few people stayed behind to take a karate lesson with the world champion karate teacher. The rest of us went back to the hotel so that we could go out earlier and have more time in the city to explore. I went out with Emily and Lucas to Shinjuku. We wandered Shinjuku finally realizing how the streets and buildings connected together.

Dr. Fish

Shinjuku at night

We wandered down a side alleyway and Emily found the shop that specialized in Dr. fish. Dr. Fish is a pedicure procedure in which you stand barefoot in a tank with small fish that eat the dead skin off of your feet.  Emily decided to have her feet done. In only 15 minutes she was done. After fifteen minutes of waiting we continued walking again.  We stopped at a sports bar to try and watch the first world cup game of the night. We each ordered a drink and a tower desert. This desert was made of toasted bread and topped with ice cream, honey, and chocolate sauce. It was extremely delicious. The night came to end and eventually we caught the last train home.

Tower desert

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”


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.

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?


“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.

Technos International Week – Day 3

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.

Shinto Arches leading to the peaceful shrine in the middle of the bustling metropolitan

Pillar outside the shrine

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.

Shinjuku Skyscrapers

The restaurant

After dinner we returned to the hotel for an early night for tomorrow we had an early day.

Technos International Week – Day 2

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.

Technos College

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.

The welcome ceremony at Technos College

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.

The stage at the welcome ceremony

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.

Dr. Tanaka

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.

The Airplane Room

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!

After about an hour of walking we found the hotel. The bar was located on the fifty-second floor, one of the highest points in the city. We dressed up knowing that it was a classy restaurant.

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.

The Airline Department

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.