Stories From The Road

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Technos International Week – Day 13

Friday June 18, 2010

UENO, Japan – Today marks the final day of our extraordinary journey in Japan. Today began with a late start and about four hours of free time to do whatever we wanted. Vienna and I joined up with Phil to go and see the Sony building.

We boarded the train and traveled to Shinjuku and then transferred trains to travel to Ginza to visit the Sony Building. After all, what would a trip to Japan be if we did not stop at the Sony building?

Sony 3D television ad

Sony Building

When we arrived at the building we walked inside and were greeted with tons of promotional material advertising the World Cup as well as Sony’s new 3D televisions. We walked around the ten floors of the building looking at all of their new products. I tried out a 3D television, which was showing World Cup matches. When I tried on the 3D glasses it felt as though I was actually on the field with the players. I watched the television for a few minutes then continued on my way. My next stop was the music section of the store to try out a few pair of headphones. Then it was off to the cameras. All of the new merchandise was slick and the technology new and exciting. I met back up with Phil and Vienna and we went to the top floor of the building to watch the largest 3D television. The screen was about ten feet tall and had a projection display. This television was also showing soccer matches. All of the technology was amazing and this was definitely a great experience.

Certificate Ceremony

After the Sony store we left and jumped back on the train to head back to Higashi-Fuchu to meet up with everyone else for the closing ceremony of the trip. When we arrived in Fuchu we decided to grab something to eat. We stopped at a fast food restaurant. We ordered burgers and bubble tea, or a least that was the hope because we had a hard time conveying to the waiter what we wanted. The language barrier was tough here. We got our food and ran for the bus. We caught the train just in time and made it back to Higashi-Fuchu. While on the train we ate our meal. We unwrapped the burgers, which turned out to be a little different than burgers. They were more like meat loaf, but they were still really good.
When we arrived at Higashi-Fuchu we discovered that everyone had already left. We caught the next train and arrived at the school just in time. We met up with all of the international students and Technos Students in the cafeteria and we were told to sit down for the ceremony to begin.

Closing Ceremony

Dr. Tanaka walked up to the podium to talk about the trip and thanked us for being such willing participants. Next he called each of us up individually to present us with certificates for successfully completing the program. When his speech was over, the emotions began. The Technos students came around asking for photos. The tears flowed as the goodbyes became more and more real and the realization set in that we would be leaving after two long weeks. It felt as though we had been there forever.

More of the closing Ceremony

We, the twenty-six international students as well as our Technos College counterparts, began this journey in Japan as total strangers. After two short weeks it was though we had known each other our whole lives. This trip afforded me the opportunity to experience Japanese culture but left me memories and friends for a lifetime. There have already been discussions amongst the international students about having a reunion or even gathering together later this summer. Whether or not these plans ever come together, I know that I will one day return to Japan. During the farewell party at the end of Technos International Week, while everyone was hugging, saying their goodbyes and taking photos, Dr. Tanaka sat quietly to the side of the room smiling. From that smile I could tell that we had accomplished his goal for this program in transcending our personal boundaries and the pasts of our countries to become true friends and international allies.

They played a slide show of photos followed by a dance by the second year English students. When the dance ended there were a few more photos, but it was time for us to leave.

Last dinner in Japan

We boarded the bus, saying goodbye to Technos College for the last time and set off for Ueno. Ueno was a city right near the airport. The trip to Ueno lasted about two hours. Everyone exited the bus where we split up for dinner. I went out to dinner with Emily and Vienna. We made our way through the maze of shops looking for a restaurant that served Okonomiyaki. Annie joined us during dinner. We at takoyaki, which were fried balls filled with octopus meat. Emily and Vienna ate the Okonomiyaki while I had stir-fried soba noodles.

Takoyaki – balls stuffed with octopus

When we finished dinner we made out way back to the bus. The bus traveled toward the airport and our hotel. Tonight we were staying at the Narita Port Hotel. This hotel was extremely nice and had much bigger rooms, more like hotel rooms here in the USA. I was again rooming with Lucas, which was great. Everyone spent the night in the hotel hanging out and enjoying our last time here. We watched the USA world cup game and then just socialized. This was the last time that we would be seeing some of our new friends as people were leaving at all different times during the morning to head home. Slowly the night wound down and people went to bed to sleep with wonderful memories.

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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.