The flight home was one of happy anticipation. As a group we had had a wonderful time and this our host city provided an incredible experience for us. We enjoyed meeting all the officials, students, teachers and parents and over all, had good home stay visits. We had been away from our stuff that we left in Tokyo and there was a certain feeling that it was like going home. We also anticipated that tonight and tomorrow night would be our last evenings in Tokyo. The young party animals were deciding what area of Tokyo they would go clubbing in. My age group was more interested in seeing those last few sites or doing that last minute shopping. I didnt land with anyone and decided I would just get checked in, retrieve my bags then see who was hanging out in the lobby of friends who had gone to a different host city. Besides my cell phone is lost at this point and I am hopeful I packed it in the bag that stayed behind. Unfortunately, the cell phone was not there. That meant that I either left it in the hotel room the first time I was there or I lost it in the San Francisco Airport or who knows where else. It had not been used which led me to believe it is somewhere in Japan.
In the lobby, looking for something to do, I found my pal Jean from Memphis. She was going on a mission for fake food and I wanted to find a different 100 Yen Store for another tatami mat. We agreed to go together when Big Buddha showed up and decided to join us. We had THE BEST TIME. We went to a part of the city where we had not been before and it looked like Times Square, only bigger and maybe even brighter.
A parade was going on and we were at the right place at the right time to enjoy it. We never did find out what it was for but it appeared to maybe be a high school parade with a band and athletes.
With 'Big Buddha' with us, young, small Japanese girls were following us everywhere. I threatened to start auctioning off time with him to pay for our evening meal. One group of 'groupies' I did say that I was his mother and I couldn't allow him to go with them tonight. They were so disappointed! laughing....Here he is with some ladies we asked directions from:
Backing up for a minute, we saw some great sites on our way to find the fake food. What was so interesting was how a modern structure sat right next to one with ancient design:
We found the outrageously priced fake food and Jean bought several items for her Japan display. (One plate of food ended up costing her well over $100!) We rode the train all over that night looking for the places on our list. I spotted a McDonalds and had the most wonderful Big Mac I have ever had. The people in this McDonalds were dressed rather funky so we were able to get some fun photos.
We found a large store that was suppose to be an upscale 100 Yen Store. We didnt think so but it was fun to see all the Christmas decorations and American collegiate items.
Big Buddha demanded we go to the 100 Yen Store after that so he could get a few more souvenirs. Every store is a little different with a few different items. Sometimes you find what you are looking for and sometimes you dont. Big Buddha usually does and this night was no different. With all the hunters finding their treasures, we took the long train ride home.
It is now fairly late at night and the trains are less busy but more interesting. We had to stand and Jean is a little short. She had her arm up holding on to the handles when, what appeared to be a lady of the evening began sort of happily ranting and pointing to her arm in Japanese. We had no idea what she was trying to communicate. She finally said, No hairvery beautiful. Hmmm I guess the ladies maybe dont shave in Japan J
October 30, 2007
In the morning, we learn about the Japan-US Collaborative Environmental Education Program. It is not quite as complicated as it sounds and is for teachers who want to do an collaborative study with a Japanese classroom. Each teacher will spend several weeks in the others country. It involves some cool technology but has a couple downsides to it. One is that it is no longer being funded. The other can be the time differences in trying to communicate with the sister class. While it is open to any teacher of any subject, the environment was chosen as a general topic as it is something that both countries have to face whether it is pollution, global warming, lack of resources such as fuel etc. Had this of come at the beginning of the trip, I might have more energy to consider it but realizing the magnitude of my own project, puts a damper on my interest in this one.
Our afternoon session was a debriefing using questions and answers on what we have experienced and had seen and maybe needed more clarification on. This would be the part of the program where those who feel entitled and maybe dont realize what a gift they had been given would embarrass the entire group with some of their questions and comments. For instance, a media specialist thought this would be the time to criticize the libraries in a sarcastic way. So while his presentation was a bit funny, it was very rude as the Japanese dont understand sarcasm. He is obviously very job scared. If the US were to start using the robots in the library that some Japanese schools do, he would be quickly replaced since that is the only part of his job he obviously values.
A couple of Chicago teachers thought this would be a good time to take issue with our Japanese host saying, You can see what long hours the Japanese teachers work and how hard they work They took issue because they feel that they work long hours and hard too and took her comments as disrespecting American teachers. OMG! Get over yourselves! I had not planned to say anything but wanted to counter those two comments and also move the group back to its intended purpose, so I asked some questions about what I saw that I didnt understand. I dont remember what those questions were now. And the rest of the session went well without any international incidents.
Some of us left the session quickly today to go next door to the Buddha Temple Zojoji. It is a large temple with some interesting shrines around it. One is for infants who died envitro. The shrine consists of many, many little concrete statues of children about 18" high. They have pinwheels and are wearing red caps. The thought is the wind from the pinwheels will blow their spirits across the water to Buddha. It is very colorful and if not so eerie, beautiful.
Until now, I have resisted much from the shrines and Buddhist temples. First of all, it kind of creeped me out that the monks had stores to sell items (at first) and second, I hadn't seen too much. But after going through so many temples and shrines, I began to want a couple things. I did end up buying a prayer book that a monk put my name on the front in Japanese and the name and stamps of the temples on the inside. I decided I would keep affirmations and inspirational messages in it. I also purchased a prayer board. I had wanted one from the Shinto Shrine for fishermen but was never able to get there when they were open. The one I purchased has a picture of Zojoji on it. I thought I might list my 'biggest' prayers on the back of it. Then I saw a turtle made out of the lucky 5-yen coins. I thought it would make a nice Xmas ornament to remember Japan by. When I showed my treasures to other JFMF participants, many wanted them also so we made the quick trip to get them.
This temple also has a large 'gong' on the grounds that is kept kind of in a shelter house. A monk goes out when it is time to close and ceremoniously hits the gong with what appears to be a log suspended on chains from the ceiling. It is kind of sacred to watch it.
We will be in presentations all day today with a Sayonara Reception Buffet this evening. That means that we will be standing up for two plus hours in heels. How do these Japanese ladies do it? I am clearly out of practice!
Each host city will present to the group on their host city experience. Our group uses the metaphore of making sake for what happens in the host city. It was pretty clever actually and ended with everyone toasting the host and Japan with sake. Some groups were factual with not much imagination; others sang much of theirs with originally written songs; still others used skits with many props. It was more interesting than I had expected. I was glad we didnt go last however.
Today is Halloween. I am sure it is raining at home and the streets are bustling. I wonder what it will be like here. We are told that the Hard Rock Caf will have a costume party tonight. It is in the area of town we are told that we should avoid at night. So we make a plan to check it out after our classes today and before the buffet reception this evening.
When the meeting was over we bolted like lighting, threw on jeans and headed for town. We had heard this place we were not suppose to visit was within walking distance so we walked this time instead of taking a taxi or train. It wasnt too far; we visited the Hard Rock Caf; another famous multi-level junk store and browsed a couple other shops. I was in the company at this time with some youngsters who planned to party so when we finished checking out the area, we returned to the hotel to get ready for the evening reception.
The reception was fun and the food lavish as usual. Lots of beer, wine and soft drinks available. There were the usual good bye speeches that were sadly lost on tired ears. This was the last photo opportunity so like kids, we were racing around getting pictures in groups of our new friendsboth American and Japanese.
These are some of my closest friends on the trip: Judith, Carol, Big Buddha (now I can't remember his name) Jean and the two Japanese are our guide in Sakai who was always on the bus with us and the man from Sakai who was anywhere we were.
The entertainment for tonight was particularly interesting. A group of martial arts students and their master were brought in to do a demonstration. An area of the floor was cleared and mats put down and the sound of bodies hitting the floor from throws was quite deafening and vicariously painful. The master happened to be one of our hosts a man pushing 70 easily who could hurt any of the young students he decided. There was a signal that they gave when they had had enough. That signal was given regularly by the young males, particularly when he had them in a hold.
I am now tired and ready to quit when someone convinces me we must make one more run to the largest temple in Tokyo that is surrounded by 110 stores. You go to these places and you get what you think you want, then you see what someone else found and they see what you have and then you have to return to get more. With my thrifty mindedness, I have been able to get gifts for around fifty people. The lucky 5-yen coin was a great find and makes it possible for many to get something. This shrine is not close but it has lots of little store fronts and is fun. It is here that I learned what happens when a store is about to close. The owner sets out, a folded down, nice cardboard box; closes the door and locks up. Within minutes, what appear to be homeless people appear and begin to set up their space. I saw this happen over and over. This is a rather closed in area, though still outdoors, so they are somewhat protected from the elements and the shopkeepers obviously know the homeless will come and provide them with a little additional shelter. Interesting, eh? I wondered if in return, the homeless sort of watch the store for them? They say there is very little crime in Japan. We stayed here and shopped until the stores closed. We would of bought some great shoes but just as the literature stated, all our feet were too big for what they had. RATS!
By the way, I saw no signs of Halloween but as shops were closing, we did see several stores putting Christmas decorations up. We decide to head over to Harajuku to see if we can find any of the Harajuku girls all decked out. To our disappointment and surprise, the place was pretty dead. We heard that the place rocks the weekend before Halloween. We missed it.
Near our hotel, right next to Tokyo Tower, Christmas decorations were being put up. My pictures don't capture the flamboyance or beauty of them, but t is so odd to see them on Halloween!
We leave tomorrow and I will probably pull an all-nighter trying to get under weight and figuring out how to get it all in.
November 1, 2007 Good bye Japan
There were many buses taking us to the airport at different times. I was in one of the last third of buses to leave with many others who would be traveling through O'Hare. There is not a lot to be said about a long, long flight with no leg room except, THANK YOU Barbara Moore for sharing your medication to help me sleep, which I did most of the way home.
It has been an amazing opportunity to experience a culture so different from my own. There is not much familiarity in Japan and yet, it is such a pleasant place to be. It is quiet, clean, friendly, socially cultured, and moral. It is quite unthinkable that one could leave their wallet on the subway seat and return the next day to find it. It is a country of high moral values and work ethics that start from a very young age. It is a country where the respected ancient sits right next to the valued modern with little conflict. It is a country not of separatists but a society that operates as a group.
As I write this final entry, three months after I left Japan, I can tell you that I dream about my time in Japan; I wonder how my host family is doing and if I will ever see them again; I remember the sights, sounds and smells and yes, I even think about eating a raw fish now and then. I ponder how I can take what I experienced and share with others--particularly my students and rid them of the anger that fills them and replace it with the quiet, peace of Japan. While the opportunity was unbelieveable and so enriching, it has also left me baffled as to how I can hold on to the experience and use it to improve improve the world I live in.
What I have shared is but the tiniest snapshot of what I actually experienced in Japan. I hope in some small way, I have showed you a side of Japan that you may not have known about and have piqued your interest to discover more about the Land of the Rising Sun. This is a place that I don't believe you can understand or imagine without having been there. And when you do visit Japan, expect to leave a little piece of your heart there--the little piece that longs for peace and beauty. Mine is sitting on the cliffs on the Sea of Japan.
With Kindest thoughts,