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.
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!
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!