Saturday, April 18, 2009

Easter Weekend

Last weekend was Easter, but we didn't celebrate too much because Easter isn't very big in Japan. The stores weren't stocked weeks in advance with pastel decorations and chocolate bunnies the way they are in the U.S. Christians are so rare in Japan, so this holiday is overlooked and people still go to work and stores are still open. I was missing my Easter basket, but my mom assured me that I have one waiting for me when I get home. I hope that is still true and it is still full of candy!

Saturday was very relaxing, hot and sunny. I biked into town and bought fabric and some souvenirs. My mom makes beautiful quilts and she offered to make me a Japan quilt when I get back. I picked out a couple different styles, a few just floral and others with popular Japanese cartoon characters on it. It's going to be so cute! When I came back to the school, I took my iPod and some blankets up to the roof of the school and laid in the sun for a while.

For dinner, we were asked to go to Planet Hollywood with Katsuko-sensei (Minako and Keiko's aunt who works at the school) and her family. Katsuko's daughter, Satoko, works at the restaurant but it is closing down this week so it would be the family's last time going. We took the train into Tokyo and met Satoko their and had a big old fatty American feast! The family decided to get some of everything so everyone could try samples of different dishes, so there was a ton of food. Satoko ordered the works; appetizers of all sorts, hamburgers, fries, baby back ribs, salad, and ice cream sundaes for dessert. I'd forgotten how huge American portions are!

Spider-man was sneaking around and came over to shake our hands!

Here's the whole group: Mike, Lori, Satoko's friend Mai, Katsuko, Satoko, Katsuko's husband, me, and Satoko's sister-in-law and brother.
I wanted the children at church to be able to get a taste of Easter so I made three little Easter baskets for the Nishimura grandchildren, Naomi, Yui, and Nozomu.

I bought a bag of chocolates and gave them each a few and filled three baskets with that grass stuff and made little tags. I had some gifts I brought from home that I still hadn't given away so I gave them each a different one; a dry eraser clock for Naomi, flash cards for Nozomu, and markers for Yui. I thought the kids would be really excited to get them but their response was a little anti-climatic. One was asleep, one dumped everything out of the basket and started pulling the grass apart, and the other handed it to her mother and walked away. They all are under three years old, so I guess this was probably appropriate. At least I had fun making them!
Minako and Keiko had promised to make one trip to Tokyo with us, so we headed to an area called Roppongi after church let out. It was nice going with them because we didn't have to worry about asking for directions or studying a map for the whole trip! We first went to an art museum.

This tree outside the museum was filled with pink frisbees! I think it was part of the contemporary art exhibit.

The museum was beautiful on the inside. I went to both of the exhibits on this poster. I really enjoyed the Artist File because it was contemporary art. It had photography, paintings, sculptures, and even movies.

After the museum, we headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. My mom collects their pins, so I promised to pick her up one from Tokyo. We had a yummy dinner of fajitas and talked about American rock music with Keiko and Minako.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Fun times near Mt. Fuji!

This weekend, Mike, Lori and I got a little break from the kindergarten and traveled down to Shizuoka to see Mt. Fuji. We planned to stay with Brianna Danese, a former Spring Arbor student who now teaches English in Japan. Before meeting her on Saturday night, we stopped by the Imperial Palace in Tokyo for a day trip. The grounds inside the Palace were open free of charge to the public and most of what we saw were gardens. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom and looked b-e-autiful!

Here's the view of the Palace from the sidewalk. On our way there, we were passed by a bunch of sweaty runners- I think there was a race going on through the downtown.

Japanese maples and sakura (cherry blossoms)! I'm not sure if this was a church or a temple, but it sure looked cool.

Nijubashi Bridge

After looking around the Palace gardens, we headed out to find lunch. We found Dear Soup, which sounded so perfect to me because soup is a food so dear to my heart! We had to order right away before sitting down and I pointed to a red soup with lots of vegetables in it. The waiter told me it was Minestrone, and I was a little disappointed because I was hoping to be adventurous and try something else, especially when Lori told me she had ordered squash curry. But it turned out to be wonderful and my tummy was completely satisfied.

We had to leave for Shizuoka mid-afternoon because it took us three hours to get there by bus. I actually really enjoyed the long bus ride. I finished reading Pride and Prejudice (there was a copy of it in our room at the school) and listened to music and watched the scenery of Japan roll past.
We met Brianna in Shizuoka and had to take a train to her town of Fujieda. Brianna and I have only talked through e-mail, so none of us had met her before meeting her at the station. She turned out to be a wonderful host and we had a great time talking to her about her job and experience in Japan. She went on the same trip we did when she was at Spring Arbor, so she knows the Nishimura family and the school and some of the things we are experiencing each day. It was fun talking about weird quirks of the Japanese culture, random English words around Japan, and things we miss about home.
Her apartment in Fujieda was tiny-typical Japanese style- so we all had to squish inside. The place was about the size of a dorm room and fit a shower, bathroom, kitchen with a sink and stove top, and a loft for sleeping. It was actually really cute and I was trying to picture myself living in one if I happened to come back to teach in Japan in the future. Brianna hasn't eaten dinner, so she took us to a Mexican restaurant (hooray! my favorite!) in downtown Fujieda. I was in heaven as I ate my burrito. We've eaten great food while being here, but I miss Mexican food so much!
On Sunday morning, we went to Brianna's church after a delicious french toast and bacon (basically ham in Japan) breakfast, which was in both English and Japanese. It was nice being able to sing and understand a sermon again! I had forgotten that it was Palm Sunday and Easter in next Sunday! Easter and Christmas are not big in Japan since such a small percentage of the people practice Christianity (Minako told us that people work on Christmas. What?!?) The congregation of her church was pretty big and very friendly. I was able to talk with some people and explain what we were doing here.
After church, we met two of Brianna's students, Youske and Kanichi, who drove us to Mt. Fuji. Brianna teaches English for a company called Aeon, rather than a school. She has students ranging from kids to an elderly woman. Youske and Kanichi (both men) were in their twenties and spoke English very well. Mike and I rode in Youske's car. It was fun getting to know him and probably especially nice for Mike because he's around girls ALL the time. On our way, we picked up Michiko, Brianna's manager. She was a riot. She kept laughing at me because I usually get sleepy on long car rides and would laugh when I closed my eyes for a minute or two.
We drove to a special lookout point for Mt. Fuji, but it was overcast on Sunday so we didn't see it until later and even then we only saw the snowy peak of it. It was a bummer, but we decided to have fun anyway!!! We all got tasty treats at the gift shop across from the lookout. I order Milk flavored ice cream (I think that's what the Japanese consider Vanilla) and Lori and Youske got these yummy looking crepes. Lori kept calling it a "splurge" but it was only a little bit more expensive and not that big, so Mike and I made fun of her.

I liked this cow.

The "Splurge"
Michiko knew of a park with the Shiraito Falls so we checked that out since Mt. Fuji was a bust!

The water was so clear and blue. Too chilly to swim though! Youske told me the water isn't from a lake, but from the snow that melts from Mt. Fuji.

Lori, Mike and I with Michiko, Youske, and Kanichi

Our wonderful host, Brianna!

Mike with a creepy mannequin.
Lori, Mike and I have been wanting to try Japanese karaoke since it is so popular, so we ended up going with our new friends. Michiko told us she was a VIP member of a karaoke place (HA!) so we went there. Japanese karaoke is quite different from karaoke in the U.S. because you don't sing to a bar full of people. Instead, you get a private room for your party compete with the karaoke machine and a big screen TV and huge books full of songs (English and Japanese songs). Michiko got us going with by singing first, but then I think everyone else was a bit shy. In the end, we sang together for most of the songs as loud and obnoxiously as we could. It was great. Our best was probably either our love ballad of "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion, our back-to-back singings of "L-O-V-E" by Nat King Cole (Mike accidentally pushed some button to make it play twice) or Michiko's demanding choice of "Womanizer" by Britney Spears.

After karaoke, we headed over to a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant and feasted on raw fish. Yum! Kanichi sat with Lori, Mike, and I and kept picking out things that I probably wouldn't think to order on my own, like eel. Salmon and tuna are still my favorites though. We said goodbye to Michko, Youske, and Kanichi after dinner and driving back to Fujieda. It was great to meet them and we had such a fun time getting to know them too!
On Monday morning, we left Brianna's apartment and headed back to school. It took us most of the day to get back home because we had the long bus ride and then the train ride from Tokyo to the local station. The skies were a lot clearer on Monday, but we passed Mt. Fuji and still could only see the very top. I guess it has to be very very clear to be able to see it from where we were. Once we got to Tokyo, we had to ride the subway a few stations to get on the line that would take us back to school. It was around rush hour time and it was so packed in the subway! The three of us took up a little extra space because we had our bags from the weekend, but I was practically hugging the woman next to me. My friend John showed me this video of subway "pushers" in Tokyo who pushed people onto the subway during rush hour. I didn't believe it when I saw it because it looked so ridiculous, but now I'm sure the pushers exist! This weekend was so fun for so many reasons and may have been my favorite of our trips so far!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


On Friday night, the teachers from the kindergarten took us bowling after work. We don't really get to hang out with them outside of school, so I was pretty excited to go. We first had dinner at the food court at the Big Hop before going. The three new teachers for this coming school year were all very eager to help us. They asked us tons of questions to practice their English and helped us order our food. I'm not sure if they knew that we've been here for 2 1/2 months already and have been getting our own food this whole time! They were so helpful that they wouldn't even let us carry out own trays or and got us plenty of water refills. It was nice, but a little overwhelming. I ordered a bowl of noodles with some vegetables and broth and a side of tempura. One of the teachers got a box of taco yaki (octopus balls- remember way back at the beginning of the trip when we helped make these?) so I had a few of those too.
The only noticeable thing about bowling in Japan is the shoes! We had to put a little bit of money into a vending machine and pushed to the button for our shoe size and then they fell out the bottom! They were actually cute and I was hoping we could keep them, but sadly we had to give them back when we were done.
I'm not a very good bowler, but the teachers weren't either so the scores were pretty low across the board. We had four teams of 4 teachers and played two games. I started off ok, but I did terrible my second game. My parents play in a bowling league and I think they'd be embarrassed of me if I wrote my scores, so I'll just say that they weren't that great! My team ended up in third place overall, so we bought the second place team ice cream. It was lots of fun though and everyone got really into in; we were all cheering loud and being obnoxious-totally different from what the teachers are like at school! Here's my team looking really fierce!

Kyoto-Day 2

Our second day in Kyoto had been pretty much planned for us; we were scheduled for a tour (in English) of some of the major sites the city had to offer. We headed down to the lobby and met two other families from our hotel. I thought this was going to be the whole tour group, but then we ended up picking up a bus load of people as we headed over to Nijo Castle. Our tour guide was this tiny little woman who was so cute! I can't remember her name now though. Like with Yoko when I went to Kamakura, it was nice having this woman with us to explain the history of what we were seeing especially in Kyoto because history is such a big part of the city. Our first stop was Nijo Castle. We had gone there the night before to see the trees lit up, but today we were able to inside the buildings and walk around the grounds a little bit more.
Most of what we saw inside the buildings were living quarters for the Shogun who lived there so many years ago. The floors were squeaky and sounded like birds chirping. They were built this way to prevent sneak attacks on the Shogun living inside from enemies. How clever! We couldn't take pictures of the inside, but there were several large rooms for sleeping, meeting, and and storing weapons.
The Castle had areas of pretty gardens and ponds all around it.

Here's the moat that I just had to get a picture of! We had just a couple miuntes to walk around the outside of the castle after the tour of the inside, so we ran over here to see if the trees and blossomed overnight, but they hadn't.

Our next stop was the Golden Pavilion. It was a shirne and sure was golden! It was really the only major thing to take pictures of at this stop, so I took about ten pictures of the shrine at every angle! I took some others too of the flowers and trees around it, and of this crane we saw in the water.

Our final stop of the tour was the Imperial Palace. It used to be the home of the emperor before he moved his Palace over to Tokyo.

These were the doors that were inside some of the rooms in the Palace. I think I heard that they're the originals and have been keep in such good condition all these years.

More orange! It did look a little out of place here with all of the brown and gray of the other buildings.

Here's a tree with pretty blossoms!
Our tour ended around noon so we had lunch on our own. We had about an hour and a half until we could take a shuttle bus back to our hotel, so we search for a little while before finding this little cafe. The waiter saw us looking and the menu and ran outside to tell us about a great lunch deal he had for us, all for just 500 yen (like $5)!

It actually did turn out to be a really good deal. We each got a small cup of either coffee or tea with a muffin on one plate and then another plate with squash soup, bananas, a croissant, raisin bread, a hard boiled egg, and a pickled plum. It was delicious! We talked to the waiter for a while and learned that he had lived in Ann Arbor a few years ago! Crazy!
After lunch we walked around the area before catching the bus back. I had to go to the bathroom but nothing seemed to be open or looked like they would have one for public use. Finally, we found this run-down looking building that was huge and would for sure have a bathroom. My first guess was that the building was a homeless shelter or some kind of disaster relief shelter. It was in pretty bad shape and there were piles of clothes and garbage everywhere and posters all over the walls. A girl about our age saw us come in and showed Lori and I where a bathroom was. Mike talked to her while he waited for us and learned that she had lived in Grand Rapids for a year and had gone to Calvin College during that time. Another crazy coincidence!
We took the shuttle bus back to our hotel and grabbed our bags to head back to school. Coming back, we took the Shinkansen again. I stayed awake for most of the trip and we saw this great view of Mt. Fuji! It's huge!