Posted on June 29th, 2012 at 2:04 AM by admin
The second stop of our Japan-in-10 days-trip was Toyota. What better place to see daily life in a smaller city than the automobile capital of Japan. On our way to Toyota we stopped at a beautiful hotel to eat lunch. The lunch was delicious and the description of it was even better (see picture below). As soon as we arrived in Toyota we did a fairly extensive tour of the plant which was certainly cleaner and more efficient than the US plants I’ve seen. Afterwards we hit the Toyota museum as well. I was disappointed that they didn’t have a Celica (my car) but the Japanese were very appreciative when they heard that I own a Toyota Celica and a Suzuki motorcycle. During my short stay in Japan thus far I’ve noticed that the cost of living is very high but it is interesting to note that the Japanese cars here are still cheaper than the ones in the US. Hmmmm…

Some very entertaining grammar mistakes on the lunch menu...

We were admittedly all a little scared of what staying with a host family was going to be like but we were pleasantly surprised. Both my and Naomi’s host family were very friendly, funny and hospitable. They were friends with each other and members of an international group that enjoys doing international exchanges via home-stays in order to learn other languages. How perfect I thought!! There were two 30-year old daughters in my family and both of them had done exchanges in the US in their teenage years. My host mom and I exchanged words in at least 3 different languages albeit mostly greetings and expressions relating to food. She also liked to laugh especially at herself–a characteristic to which I am always drawn.

The next day we spent the entire day visiting schools again. It was interesting to see some subtle differences between Tokyo schools and Toyota schools but I was pretty schooled out well before the day was over. I also set a personal oolong tea drinking record as it was the only beverage we were offered all day. That night I went to Naomi’s host family’s house as we were to have a barbeque together that night. The first thing her mom offered me was oolong tea and I promptly refused with explanation. We hung out a while, playing some card games with Naomi’s 13 year-old host brother Yushi until the guests arrived. In the end there were many people who came to this party and we were of course a main attraction. Communication was labored at times but still possible and even enjoyable!

Naomi and her host mom

Me and my host mom

The next day our host families met again and we all went to a look out point of Toyota city together. Afterwards we grabbed lunch and headed to meet our group again. My host mom gave Naomi and I gift (even though she had already given me some neat Japanese coasters that morning) and we said our goodbyes. The two days that we were all somewhat dreading turned out to go by much too fast. I was very impressed with the Japanese culture and hope some day I will be able to be a host to them as they have been to me.

Saying good bye to our host families


Posted on June 27th, 2012 at 12:01 AM by admin
After an unfortunately long hiatus I have finally had the opportunity to travel again. This time I was lucky to be able to accompany my girlfriend on a business exchange to Japan. I long thought I would never make it to this distant island of a country but I am so glad the opportunity presented itself because I am really enjoying this beautiful and clean country as well as it’s polite and super friendly culture. And I’ll be honest–I don’t mind the sushi either!

Our first stop was the country’s capital–Tokyo. The evening we arrived was pretty much lost as most of us had hardly slept on the 13-hour flight over and the 13 hour time difference had our bodies thoroughly confused. I was so exhausted and dizzy upon arrival that I left my suitcase in the hotel lobby and had to have my girlfriend get it for me as I passed out around 8pm local time.

After a good night’s sleep we were slightly less exhausted and became very energized by the amazing hotel breakfast buffet. The hotel served the biggest selection I’ve ever seen including Japanese-, European- and American-style buffet all in one. We gorged ourselves with several plates of food and then headed to our program orientation. Afterwards we went on a city tour of Tokyo. Still tired we were glad to be hauled around from site to site on a bus and then after we had our own time to explore the various Shinto temples in Asakusa. Once night time hit we wandered the streets in search of a unique yet delicious dinners. Many places looked empty but then we saw a group of Japanese people headed to a very tall building called “Cheers!” It was a building that had a different cuisine on every floor. The food of each floor was highlighted at the bottom of the building and we promptly decided to head to the floor with Korean food. They had no English menu so we pointed to what we recognized and/or what looked edible. Alongside some beers of unknown brand we thoroughly enjoyed the Korean food and authentic atmosphere.

Wine rack at the breakfast buffet at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel

On day 2 I visited an elementary school and my girlfriend visited a combo junior high-high school. I observed several lessons in Japanese ranging from writing Kanji to table manners. I was even able to teach an ESL lesson myself to a group of 5th and a group of 6th graders. Although the Japanese are typically not at the level of many countries in Europe, I was impressed with how much English they knew already at such a young age. This group of children was the most enthusiastic group of learners I’ve ever seen, especially when it  came to learning English. Culturally, it was interesting to note that the classrooms were much louder than is typical in the US but they weren’t misbehaving. Also the students carried out nearly all of their routines without any guidance from the teacher. They even solved disputes on their own with the use of “paper, rock scissors.” Perhaps most interesting was their sense of ownership of their community’s school. By this I am referring to the fact that there is no need in Japan for school janitors as the kids–yes the kids–clean the schools themselves. Wow, wow and wow! We Americans could certainly learn a thing or two from this culture.

On the third day we were finally starting to overcome the jetlag, but were still waking up about 4:30 in the morning each day. My girlfriend and I decided we would take advantage of this situation and head to the biggest fish market in the world which opens early in the morning. Unfortunately we realized once we got there that they close every other Wednesday and unfortunately it was one of those Wednesdays. We soon forgot about our disappointment though since the day’s excursion was trying on kimonos. First we watched a Japanese woman show us how to put them on and then we watched them again as they put them on us. It is certainly a process that one must spend a lot of time learning and perfecting! I was surprised at how much I liked the kimono I tried on! They really were absolutely stunning. After our kimono experience we walked around town for a bit of shopping, had a tour of a museum of historic Tokyo from a very cute old Japanese man, and walked through a lovely park. For dinner we went to one of many Ramen noodle restaurants near our hotel where we had a unique (at least for an American) ordering experience. We ordered our dinners from a machine and simply handed the waiter the receipt that the machine printed for us. Talk about efficiency!

Pastry hotdog?!?!


Japanese Snacks!

Nightlife in Tokyo

It is now day 4 and we are sitting on a spacious train on our way to Toyota. There we will visit Toyota Motor Company and meet our host families where we will be for the next couple of days. Stay tuned!