Thousands of Miles from Home


My friend at the bus-stop 

A poster I found in the city 

Everytime I put on this jacket I feel like I've won the Masters 

My art teacher's car 

A cool T-shirt I bought 

A neat caption at the bottom 

I found this in my dresser drawer... 

So I disposed of it in the proper way 

The students in my thursday English class 

For Lack of a Better Name

This week was chock full o' nuts. Enough so that I couldn't find the time to post an entry for a few days. However, I did resort to scribbling incomprehensible notes into a journal so here's the best stab at putting them into some sort of logical order. Although I'm here to learn japanese, take in the culture, and be laughed at from time to time, japanese TV is certainly worth watching, mostly for it's comedic value. I usually sit with Shun and Shoko so they can explain what I can't understand by general deduction and cursory knowledge of japanese. So far I have two favorite programs aside from the daily news in the morning which has it's own array of wacky humor (I may have mentioned this before but one morning on the news a woman was run over by a bakery truck in Kobe and the news station make an elderly-woman-being-hit-by-a-truck scenatio with 3D animation which left me half chuckling/sick to my stomach).

But regardless one of my favorite shows is called "Toribia no Izumi" (Well of Trivia) and involves two hosts and a panel of famous japanese actors, singers, magicians, etc. The hosts present the panel with useless but interesting knowldge (the more hilarious the better; examples "until 1995 Japan's Meteorological Agency measured the intensity of earthquakes on how strong its staff members felt they were," "spiders can't create webs properly if they drink coffee", or "there is a bronze statue of a group of 1980s heartthrobs on an uninhabited island in Okinawa"). The panel then responds to the level of humor or shock by pressing a button in front of them which makes a very nasal "hee" sound. The hosts talk some more and ask questions to the panel, then all of the "hee"s are tabulated to give an overall rating of humor. I hear that the ratings on this show surpassed the very popular "SMAP X SMAP" (which i have not had the pleasure of viewing yet) The show I watched the other night was also a riot. I was not sure of the name, but yet again it featured a panel of famous japanese people. Their challenge was to perform various traditional japanese activities ranging from giving and receiving gifts to viewing a dead body. A panel of apparently knowledgable japanese would rate each of the contestants on form and execution to the amusement of everyone watching at home. It was reassuring to know that most of the contestants didn't know much more than I did when it came to most of the "traditional" japanese activities. One particularly hilarious part of the program came when the contestants watched a video of a boss offering to pay for his staff's lunches. Something was done incorrectly on the video and the contestants had to come up to a giant head of a cat with a camera inside, stick their own head into it's mouth, and whisper their answer. But enough about TV. Yesterday at school all of my classes ended 10 minutes early for a "special presentation" to the school after lunch. At the appropriate time the whole school filed into the gym where a man was waiting with a powerpoint presentation. After deciphering the first line of text I discerned that he was from the Okayama Women's Studies Institute to give us a little talk about the "birds and the bees." His whole presentation ended up being about STDs, prophylactics, and general sex ed. I thought it was very informative, even in japanese. The kids also didn't laugh very much throughout the whole presentation which was impressive.

On Friday after school Sakaguchi-sensei came to Kendo practice (which is very uncommon because he is very busy with school meetings and had not been to practice in a few weeks). I had been practicing everyday, however, and he said my improvement was "astonishing." He had Asama, the captain, dress in the Kendo armor and I got to take some swings at him. This was the first time I had hit anything with the sword and it was amazing. You make this growl/yell sound before you swing, and when you hit your opponent you yell "men!" or "do!" depending on where your strike lands. This is especially awesome because I am not a very agressive person and hitting people with sticks feels really good. I can't wait to put the armor on myself and go at it for real.

Last night I went to eat dinner with Andee's host family. There are five people, but the oldest host daughter, "Keiko," is in America. His host family is very nice, and we had a delicious dinner of tempura and teriyaki. Andee's other host sister goes to college in Okayama and loves the Strokes. She speaks english well so we had a talk about college in japan among other things. Then I had a really long japanese conversation with Andee's family about america and japan. After dinner (around 11 PM) Andee and I took advantage of the safety of japan to take a bikeride to the beach (about 20 mins away). We stayed till about 12:30 taking some photos and admiring the night sea. Wonderful.

There is a whole lot more that happened this week but I want to post this before it gets too long. More to come soon...


At the end of the street, the entrance to Izumo city 

and a matching gate at the entrane to Izumo Taisha 

If you get a bad fortune, you tie it to something in the shrine for good luck 

In front of Izumo shrine 

Massive Shimenawa 

A man throwing his money into the wheat 

Izumo is here, Tamano is to the south on the Inland Sea 

It's not Maine, but quite a lighthouse 

Flashing the V1 lighthouse (climbers only) 

Cori, Janna, myself, and Kayo 

Long way down from the lighthouse 

Korea's out there somewhere 

Rocks by the sea 

Taiko drum performance 

The dome was full of rotarians 

All of the Kagura on stage, the cloud in the background is Japan's rotary symbol 

With the Kagura 

Long Road to Izumo

A letter came in the mail saying that I would attend a rotary meeting in Izumo, but I wasn't sure of it's exact location or the purpose of the meeting. The function ended up being Rotary International District 2690's Regional Conference, one of 500 being held all over the world. Although usually a large scale event (says my host father, a rotarian) this year was special because it is the 100th year of rotary. The other exchange students traveled by train but I went with my host father and a fellow rotarian on the 3 hour drive to Izumo in Shimane prefecture.

The morning drive was a little long, but not without it's rewards. As we passed through the mountains, clouds hung low in the valleys casting thick patches of fog to the left and right of the car. At one point we went over a huge bridge and no land could be seen in any direction except for a small patch of road drifting off into the clouds. Also, about two hours into the drive we got an excellent view of Daisen, a very famous mountain in japan. Snow could be seen on the top and we circled the mountain on the expressway for about 15 minutes. Another interesting feature of the expressway is it's many tunnels, which pass right through various mountains (some are much too long to hold your breath).

When we arrived in Izumo the conference had already started so I found my seat in a large conference hall in the front (my host father frowned when he saw his seat was towards the back). Janna and Cori were already in their seats and they said that I missed the main speaker's entrance which was accompanied by music and smoke machine. Pretty fancy for a rotary meeting. I sat catching pieces of a few speeches until the opening ceremony ended and we went to another conference room for lunch. Kayo, the exchange student to Canada last year, was also at the conference so we chatted with her for a while over lunch.

After eating, some rotary members (including Tomosue-san and Aketa-san) who were in charge of inbound students held a small meeting where they asked us how we were enjoying japan. We all got a chance to talk about school, friends, and japanese school. Fujiwara-san, the head of the Izumo rotary club led the meeting and spoke excellent english if we got stuck speaking Japanese. We were also informed that the rotary members would be paying for us to go see Sumo on the 31st in Okayama. After the meeting we all piled into small busses for some Izumo sightseeing while the other rotary members held meetings.

First we went to Izumo Taisha, a famous shrine. There were many rotary members sightseeing in business suits, and the weather was perfect despite being farther north than Okayama. Statues and very old trees lined a walkway to the main attraction, a giant japanese style Yashiro Zukuri (sort of a large shrine). We spent some time walking around the grounds and I was especially interested in a building where all the gods of Japan are said to come and meet to discuss the affairs of various religions. There was also a huge Shimenawa (braided wheat is probably the best description) adorning the door of the shrine. People come to throw money up into the wheat where coins stick. I tried a few times with no success until I finally jumped and shoved a coin into place (another man tried this and knocked a whole bunch of coins to the ground, but people just laughed). Stopping in front of the shrine, you are supposed to bow and clap four times.

After visiting the shrine, we piled back into the busses to go to the sea (the real sea, much more rough than the calm inland sea near Tamano). We stopped at a lighthouse and climbed to the top up some very steep steps. From the top you could almost see Korea (sort of). The view was nonetheless wonderful I took a ton of pictures. On the way back from the lighthouse we stopped to eat squid, eel, fish, and ice cream. mmmmm.

After sightseeing we went to the Izumo Dome, a large structure resembling Morgantown's colliseum but made of wood imported from canada. Tons of rotarians were inside watching a taiko drum performance. When I walked through the door many rotarians stopped to speak, and I got to talk with the district governor again (who you may remember I met at the welcome party. He is 90 years old but I wouldn't put him a day over 60). He was extremely nice and instantly likable. After the drum performance we were lead into the center of the Dome where food was waiting on many tables. Everyone stood while eating and mingled in the crowd. Izumo is known for it's Soba noodles so that was the main course, but sushi and meat were also served along with copious amount of alcohol (the japanese like a good party). There were no non-alcoolic drinks on the table, so I had to wander over to the drink table to get an orange juice.
A large orchestra performed on stage, the dictrict governor spoke, and Kagura appeared at the end. Kagura (a picture is better than words) are scary figures who will chase away bad thoughts (there is also something about them fighting a dragon, but I didn't catch that part of the explaination). Following plenty of eating and socializing, Oosan (what the family calls Masatoshi) and I got back in the car for the long drive home. He put on Enya and I instantly fell asleep.


Slightly Lazy or Just Tired

Today I went to a Rotary District Conference, one of 500 held all over the world, which was amazing and certainly deserves it's own entry. But I also received my camera back today which had a ton of pictures so I'll do a large picture post today and describe the trip to Izumo at a later date. (^_^)

Yamashita-san's 6 year old dog, named Parsley 

Yamashita-san knows how to throw a crazy party 

Just Sam and I, no comment 

Minami-chan and I 

Crazy parties + alcohol = 

To get an idea of cellphone size (the one in the middle is crazy small) 

When children attack!!! 

And the view's not too shabby 

Tomosue-san's house number 1 

This is truly a massive yard for japan 

The view from Tomosue-san's house 

Yakiniku in a millstone 

The bowl contained the delightful combo of chocolate and salami which made it impossible to grab a handful without feeling weird 

Tomosue-san, Cori, Hikasa-san, and Janna 

A few of the rotary members including Hikasa-san 

Clouds in japan amaze me 

View from the north field 

Tomosue-san's houses number 2 and 3 

"The complex," as it will be called 

The whole crew in Tomosue-san's house 


Shoko vs. swan round 1 

Good sign I found in a park reading "Restaurant and Sweetness" 

My mom will like this. Our next door neighbor is caulking his windows. Posted by Hello

Some of the damage from the typhoon, a landslide near my house 

Nobuko is using karaoke's "song finder," an electronic device which will find songs in tons of different languages Posted by Hello

Katrin and Cori 

Billy from New Zealand 

Nobuko and Katrin in 99 Luftballoons 

Nobuko at the karaoke parlor 

Better Dress Incognito

This last typhoon was very strong, the worst most people have seen in a while. Our house was fine but some houses close by were damaged from landslides. There were also some very strong earthquakes in the north part of japan today, but I did not feel anything.

Today I took the bus to Okayama to meet a friend of last year's outbound rotary student. Her name is Nobuko which is about all I knew before I met her next to the Okayama fountain (I guess I was easy to spot being the only foreign looking guy in a bright red jacket). We had sent a few e-mails back and forth so I knew she spoke some english, so in a japanese/english goulash we introduced ourselves and she led the way to a restaurant for lunch. We met with one of her friends and his mom at a coffee shop where I had a chicken sandwich and iced milk tea. Nobuko is 17 and has been to a bunch of concerts in japan; her friend is 18 and really likes the Strokes and The White Stripes.

After lunch we went to a huge game arena (the largest in Okayama, I belive). There were a ton of games and lights and sounds and the whole place seemed to have this energy to it. And it was loud. We took some purikura pictures (the fun japanese photo booths) and then played a game with tyco drums that reminded me of dance dance revolution except with sticks. It was pretty difficult and fun, but then I was completely baffled by a game that a guy was playing which involved a small keyboard next to a turntable. You play a few notes according to the pictures on the screen and then scratch with the turntable, sometimes executing both at the same time. I didn't bother to waste money on this one.

After laughing over the games and purikura, we left the arena to do some shopping (one of my new favorite activities). Nobuko bought a cd and I found a great shirt with a picture of a lightbulb that says "Please turn over the light." She also took me to a "spencers" type shop where I bought some pins and had to fight really hard no to purchase a ton of other stuff. We stopped in a store that was in the shape of OH-kun, one of the mascots of the local television station OHK, where you could buy all things cute-japanese-cartoon related.

Now I will have to mention the crazy coincidences that occur in Japan. Although I know relatively few people, and the cities are rather large, I usually see someone I know when I go to Okayama. In this case, Nobuko took me to a shopping area and in one of the cd stores we ran into Cori, the exchange student from Canada, and two of her friends from school. Nobuku and I had thought about going to karaoke but we weren't sure because it was only the two of us. But five people was plenty, so we all decided to go to a local karaoke parlor (deus ex machina?).

One of Cori's friends was named Billy from New Zealand (although he looks japanese and i introduced myself in japanese to which he replied "i can speak english."). He speaks both chinese and english, and has also studied japanese for 5 years. Her other friend is Katrin, or maybe Katrina (to be determined), from Germany. So at the karaoke shop Nobuko sang in japanese, Katrin in german, Billy in chinese, and Cori and I in english. After some pretty exciting songs, including lots of Avril Lavigne (japan's infatuation), "We Will Rock You," and "99 Luftballoons (99 Red Balloons in german)," Cori had to be home so we all went to Okayama station to go our separate ways. We are going to try and meet again at a japanese cooking class that is going to be held in Okayama.

Andee is in Hiroshima and Yamashita-san is also out of town so Shoko and I didn't go to Kyudo. Instead we talked for a while over dinner then a man came over to talk with Shun who is from the college entrance test preparation center. He was very funny and talkative and I could understand most of what he said in japanese even thought it was really fast. I can now make jokes in japanese, sometimes accidentally.



This is a glossary that will be added to in the future and is no way complete, but I thought I would give it a trial post in case you were scratching your head about something.

Andee Lim - Exchange student from Malaysia who goes to my school (not in Rotary)
Bizen - A type of traditional Japanese pottery (Also a city about an hour from my house)
Cori Reed - Exchange student from Canada
Doe - A deer, a female deer
Hiragana - Syllabic writing system for Japanese words
Janna Hall - Exchange student from Virginia
John Davey - English teacher at my school from Canada
Judo - Japanese martial art involved in throwing your opponent
Kanji - System of Japanese writing based on Chinese characters
Katakana - Syllabic writing system for borrowed or foreign words
Kendo - Japanese martial art involving the sword
Kyudo - Japanese martial art involving the bow
Mai Watanabe - My host sister, 21, who is studying Dentistry in Chiba
Masatoshi Watanabe - My host father, a children's physician, who enjoys going to lectures and collecting all things dog-related
Miyu Watanabe - My host sister, 18, who is studying English in Kobe
Okayama - The Prefecture in Japan that I live in
Okayama City - About an hour away by train or bus, lots of entertainment
Purikura - Shortened form of "Print Club" translated into Japanese, sort of an awesome photo booth
Sensei - Title given to doctors, teachers, and various other professional positions
Shinkansen - High speed bullet train
Shoko Watanabe - My host mother, enjoys painting
Shun Watanabe - My host brother, 16 years old
Tamano - My town in Japan
Tamano High School - Also known as Tamako, about 15 minutes away by bike
Tanaka-san - A man who lives close to my house and has traveled the world, picking up many languages. He teaches english for free and sometimes I help in the evenings




Sort of blurry after-picture (but I'm wearing my new banana Andy Warhol shirt) 

The playground near my house 

Some houses very close to the sea (the water is unusually high) 

Very high waters by the sea 

Rainy days in japan 

Written on my friend's bag at school 

A japanese seafood bouillabaisse for dinner the other night 

Shoko and her mother 

From the steak restaurant in Hiroshima 

Raining Nekko and Inu -OR- Why I am not a Comedian

No school today because of a superlarge typhoon. This also means no japanese language school and no Kyudo. Bollocks. There are actually two typhoons comming, which will crisscross somewhere in japan. This whole scenario reminds me of the movie "Twister" with Helen Hunt where the two twisters merge into one large twister, which subsequently picks up a cow or some nonsense. But can't let a little typhoon spoil your day right? After a late breakfast I decided to venture out into the storm to "see what it was made of." Actually it just sounded exciting, I had no argument with the storm.

I didn't think an umbrella could do much against the wind and sideways rain, but Shun let me borrow his raincoat (which subsequently came down to my knees; looks like a job for rolled up jeans and Chaco's). Shoko took some pictures so we could get a good before and after comparison (I won't get my camera back until saturday, but no worries because not only does everyone's phone take 2.0 megapixel photos, but the Watanabes also have a digital camera). I was suprised that the rain wasn't too cold. Aside from not being able to see very well, it wasn't very distracting at all. I ran to the sea (laughing at times because of the wind) to get some pictures of the storm and also noticed some people in cars with the same idea. I had seen the sea water higher, but the weather forecast said that the typhoon had not really reached Tamano yet so I expect it to rise a little more. The roadside ditches, however, were filled with water and lined with sandbags.

I walked to a nearby playground and hid under the slide watching the rain. After a while I ran back home where Shoko and Shun laughed while I changed back into dry clothes.


Getting the Special Treatment

Aside from feeling a little homesick, I really don't have any complaints about japan. This is further bolstered by the fact that I get treated very well wherever I go (and everyone is so nice). I had known for a while that a trip to Hiroshima was planned, but I wasn't sure what we would be doing in the prefecture. Yesterday Shoko, Masatoshi, Shoko's mother (Kiyoko-san), and I left around 10 in the morning, but all I was told was that we would be going to a "steak restaurant." The drive was plesant through the mountains (although slightly windey at times until we got onto the expressway) and the weather was nice. We drove for about an hour and half until we reached the restuarant and were immediately greeted by two chefs and a man dressed in a tux waiting outside who directed Masatoshi where to park. Striding through a small japanese garden we reached the entrance of the restuarant decorated in marble. Inside the building was even more impressive with fountains and luxorious furniture scattered throughout the waiting area. The hostess led us to a room with a japanese hibatchi and windows overlooking the japanese garden.

This place could best be described at Morgantown's Habatchi meets Martha Stewart (sans jail sentence) meets "Great Chefs of the World" (which I frequently watched as a kid). A chef came to prepare the food in front of us who was very entertaining and had traveled a bit in the US. He didn't flip the food around quite as much as Hibatchi but the food quality was by far superior. Our appetizer of roast duck, salmon, and caviar was a good example of the food quality to come. Shoko and I ordered steak, while Masatoshi and Shoko's mother ate crab legs. The steak was delicious (and from japan too) served with salt from the andies and a bunch of other side dishes which I cannot remember. The crab legs would have made my mom jealous (they were huge).

After the main part of the lunch was concluded, we were moved to another room for dessert. It's furnishings were a little more cosy and I suppose intended for relaxing. I had rasberry chocolate cake with tea, and felt very very full. Shoko's mother paid for the lunch, to which I am very grateful and will write a very generous letter in addition to thanking her personally.

After lunch we drove back to Okayama (sight seeing in Hiroshima will have to wait for another day) to try and find a Kendo gee (traditional kendo dress). Amazingly (in JAPAN no less), no stores carried any sort of Kendo outfits. Shoko says that there might be a store in Okayama where I can order one, but I am sure that there must be a store that she doesn't know about (Later Sam told me that his friend knows a place in Okayama). I guess traditional sports just aren't as popular as baseball, soccer, volleyball, etc. We did stop in UNI QLO, a cheap but high quality clothing store where I found some very cool (pun?) winter clothing. One section was dedicated to Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Harring, and Andy Warhol so I picked up some super-rad hoodies and long sleve shirts (Japanese people, and most people I guess, like Keith Harring). I also found a pair of slippers for walking around in the house because I hear in the winter you can see your breath inside.

The other night at Kyudo we moved to the main dojo with very small targets. There is a certain process for entering the dojo area involving various bows, but after a few tries I got all the moves right. I took a bunch of shots at the target, and after a very very close miss finally hit the outside ring on my last try (no serious arrow related injuries yet!)


Largest car I've seen in japan 

On the way to school 

I really want to steal this shirt 

Awesome chair and "screw" coffee table 

Don't forget your "Life Jacketc" 

Keep Up to Date

Seems like every day around here is full of surprises. For the next few weeks I have something planned everyday so that always leaves something to look forward to (and makes these entries longer and longer (^_^) Yesterday's trip to Tsuyama (alone) started around 8 in the morning when I took the train from Uno station to Okayama. I met a few kids from school and sat with them on the way; one was joing to Kyoto for a japanese conversation contest or something of the sort. It's a little easier to relax on the bus to Okayama rather than the train, but I have to give the prize for best sights along the way to the train route. Especially when we got into the mountains rice fields stretch out into the horizon and bamboo forests can be seen from almost any window on the train.

In Okayama I met with Cori, the exchange student from Canada, and we both took the train to Tsuyama. Yet again some awesome scenery on our trip, including a whole settlement of wooden houses to which I could not discern a purpose. It didn't look like people were living there but I couldn't be certain. The train also went through various tunnels which was sort of spooky but also very cool. When we arrived in Tsuyama Janna, the exchange student from Virginia, and her host councellor met us at the train station. We were quickly shuttled away with another rotarian to a nearby hotel where I has some red orange juice (oishii) and we talked about the journey.

After being properly refreshed we walked outside into the beautiful autumn day and across the street to the Tsuyama Wonder Musuem, which was owned by Janna's host councellor. The place could only be described as one of the coolest museums I have ever been to, and probably the scariest at night. Apparently the owner's grandfather began collecting rare insects, animals, and various odds and ends about 40 years ago, and before his death massed a collection of (disclaimer: this is from memory) over 800 birds and animals, as well as countless butterflies, spiders, bugs, and other creepy crawlers (totalling 24,000 pieces). Of course everything is dead, but the sheer size of the collection is amazing. And the collection was completed before the 1975 Washington Treaty (banning the trade of rare animals), so all the rare animals were legally obtained (making this probably one of the best and only places to see this kind of collection). Some of the animals in a long list included the Snub-Nosed Monkey, Bongo, Indian Lion, Griffin Vulture, White Owl, Siberian Tiger, and Polar Bear. And belive me the list goes on. For most of these animals if was the first time I had ever seen them period, let alone TV. But for me, the kicker came when the owner of the museum (his name will be included once I remember it) told me that when his grandfather died he wanted his organs put on display in the museum. So sure enough in one room was the man's heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, etc. PRETTY CREEPY! But also awesome. I won't describe it but there were also fossils, shells, various fishes, japanese stones, and "nostalgic science and engineering parts," which included amatuer TV broadcast equipment, a starlab, and portable radio from 1935.

After the Tsuyama Wonder Museum we all piled into cars to head to Tomosue-san's house, the rotary member who was hosting the party. We rode through the countryside of Tsuyama for about 20 minutes until we turned to head up a hill into the mountains. When we came near the top we were confronted with a huge house, one of the largest in Japan. It even had a front yard of decent size, which I had never seen in japan. Feeling very taken care of I exited the car with Cori and Janna and went to the front gate which opened automatically. We walked through a small courtyard where I discovered the large house was actually three houses side by side, and into the main building where we were greeted by various rotary members. The interior of the house was strikingly american, a constast from most of the japanese style houses I haven been inside. We sat down in large recliners and chatted for a while in Japanese and Enlish until were we told the barbeque was to begin. On the back porch of the house about 10 people met for lunch (exchange students, rotary members, and wives) of Yakiniku and Hambergers. The Yakiniku was cooked on an old millstone with a fire in the middle, and featured meat and some vegetables. The hamburgers were cooked on a large propane grill along with some potatoes.

The whole afternoon was wonderful, with perfect autumn weather and delicious food. I found out that Janna got to be on a TV program for school which much have been exciting. After we ate and took a bunch of pictures, Cori, Janna, and I walked around the grounds to get a feel for the area. Up a small hill were a few shrines and a great view of Tsuyama below. Around 5 o' clock we headed back to Tsuyama station for the ride back to Okayama.

I am sure that I am leaving some parts out, but I will have a refreshed memory when Janna returns my camera on Wednesday which I left at Tomosue-san's house (oops). Today I took a trip to Hiroshima with Masatoshi, Shoko, and her mother, but I think that deserves it's own entry.


From Unexpected Places

Today was the usual type of Autumn day in japan. Except exciting for me because I haven't experienced many before. I went to school with the crisp cool air whipping through my hair as I passed the sea. The day was equally pleasant, with bright sun and slight breezes.

After school was when things got interesting. Shoko, Andee, Sam, and a ton of other people went to a party at Yamashita-san's house. Josh was also there, the guy who is visiting Tamano but lives in China. We talked about what he does in china, and I was really captivated about his life. After we talked about his restaurant which seems to be very unique in China (serving bagels, ice cream, and other hard to get items). He also mentioned that he has been studying tai chi (which blows me away), and I think I might try to get together with him in the next couple of weeks. Overall a very nice guy to talk with, and his wife brought a video tape of their wedding in China which was shown at the party.

On my bikeride home from school today I stopped by the sea because the scenery is just too beautiful. Some night I want to climb up to the top of a mountain and watch the sunset. For now I am very sleepy and would be content some sleep before a big day tomorrow in Tsuyama.


Historical Himeji castle 

The moat and wall of the castle 

Himeji castle as seen from a distance 

One of the roof adornments on Himeji castle 

The town of Himeji as seen from Himeji castle 

Great view of the castle 

A Sumarai and I under Himeji castle 

I was just thinking about it when I saw this sign 

This is the section of Himeji castle where the samurai came for ritual suicide, or Seppuku (typically cutting the belly with simultaneous beheading) 

At Koko-en in Himeji 

This is in the middle of a city, really amazing 

Masatoshi blending in well with the Koko-en garden 

Samurai mannequin (I had an impulse to put my arm around him or something similar) 

Masatoshi and I in the antique musuem 

Some (big) fish in a pond of Koko-en 

To the City Alone

I have somehow managed to keep unusually busy. Yesterday I went to school even thought I had to leave at 11:00 for the Okayama Language Institute. But I did get to go to art class, which was the main reason for attending school at all. I gave the art teacher one of the "blackbear" bumper stickers for his car which is covered in them. He gave me a little plastic rice ball because it's customary to give someone a gift who has just given one to you. Wish we did that in america.

At the bus stop on the way to Okayama a whole troupe of elementary school kids in bright yellow hats said hi to me in english. I asked one boy how he was and he went into this little running fit then said he was "fine, thank you." In Okayama I had some time before the language class so I browsed the winter clothes section of the Credo building, as well as grabbed a bite to eat. I also bought a few books which I had been meaning to read because The Source (a beast at 1084 pages) was drawing to a close. Language class was again very fun, although we are still at a pretty early level. I can read and write quickly now so soon it will all fall into place. Or at least I can study in japanese rather than english which makes me feel like I have accomplsihed something.

After language class Janna, Cori, and I discussed attending a sumo match on the 31st that is going to be held in Okayama. The language shool can get us discounted tickets (in the back, mind you) but it would still be awesome to go. Shoko says that she met a Sumo wrestler in a train station once but Masatoshi doesn't seem to like the sport. Back at the bus station we stopped to eat sweet beans, ice cream, and fruit in one of the numerous underground restaurants. We talked about some of our observations concerning japan which quickly digressed into laughter, and we all agreed that we are enjoying ourselves.

I rode the bus home but as soon as I walked in the door at 6:40 it was off to Kyudo practive at 7:00. We had our last practice with the "large" targets, and next week we will be in the main arena shooting at tiny targets only 1\2 meter across. There was also an american visiting the Kyudo Jo from Colorado who now lives in China. He and his wife practice chinese medecine and also run a small restaurant (acupuncture while you eat). He was a climber in Colorado but has lives in China since 1998. I think he will be at a party we're going to tomorrow.

Today I wore my dress jacket to school because it was a little chilly. But by noon the sun was blazing so it was perfect autumn weather. There was no kendo after school which was a relief because I was feeling pretty busy as it is. There will be no kendo until the 26th when testing is over (apparently there can be no club activities while preparing for the finals). But at 8:00 I went to Tanaka-san's house to help teach some local junior high students english (two girls and their mother, who were shy but smart). I suppose in the back on my mind I have always wanted to be a teacher so the experience was fun. The lesson lasted about 45 minutes and Tanaka-san said he would take me out to lunch for helping him teach. He has been teaching for about a year (for free); his previous profession working for the japanese government sent him to the US, South America, Europe, Asia, and maybe Africa, so he knows many many languages. He spent his time in California so he says he speaks west coast english but I don't think so. And he talks nonstop so he is fun to be around.

We went to the video store and I only wanted one movie but Shoko picked three. Then we found out if was cheap if you got 5 so we're going to watch Donnie Darko (in japanese!) What a thrill (Shoko really liked eXistenZ, surprisingly, and I enjoyed Mystic River)


The head priest of the Autumn festival (the golden cart is in the background) 

Andee and I with some people we don't know at the Kojima festival 

In Monkey World on Shodoshima island 

Feeding the fish 

Huge shoes 

With one of the statues from "12 Children 24 eyes" 

Inside a bathing pot 

Stilts in the old village 

Awesome hats 

With a pond full of turtles in Ivy Square 

In Kojima with Shun, So-chan, Sam, Tom, and I 

Typical picture of me in the car 

Playing Shogi with Andee and So-chan 

At Ocha, the tea ceremony with Tom 

Shoko's party with some Australian kids and kids from school 

At the climbing wall with Andee 

Samurai House

Yesterday I got to spend some quality time with my host father, Masatoshi. First I would like to repeat that he works all the time, but seems to enjoy what he does. I enjoy talking/being with him because he always has good things to say and he and Shoko make a funny couple. When Tom Conroy (from australia) was here Masatoshi asked him "Are you a hobbit?" (he meant "what are your hobbies").

But, we left early yesterday to go to Himeji (the prefecture next to okayama) to visit some historical places. Driving in japan is a little different than what I was used to, especially Masatoshi's driving. He tells me that he does everything fast. Later in the day we stopped to get ice cream and before I had much of a bite he had gobbled up the whole thing. Also, most of the roads in japan are very very tiny until you get on the expressways, which are toll roads and cost money. But Masatoshi averaged about 120 Km/h which is quite a quick pace if you ask me. But we were rockin' out to Billy Joel on minidisc so it was all okay.

Our first stop was Himeji castle, one of the World Cultural Heritages of Japan (as of 1992). Himeji castle looks much like Okayama castle (and if you have been paying attention you will remember that Okayama castle is one of three castles in Japan with seawater moats) except Himeji is black and Okayama is white. It's construction began in the 16th century, but a previous fort existed on the spot in 1333. The final castle was completed in 1618, and to my knowledge was never taken by seige (or attacked at all for that matter). It has undergone many restorations throughout the centuries, and the family crests of lords who built or repaired the castle can be seen adorning the stone walls.

One of the main attractions of Himeji castle is climbing to the top, which provides a great view of the surrounding city from all four sides. There are also numerous ghost stories surrounding Himeji castle, including "Okiku's Well or Banshu Sara-Yashiki" which I found particularly interesting:

A long time ago, a servant named "Okiku" who served the lord of the castle discovered the lord retainer's plot to kill the lord and serve in his place. She warned the lord and the assasination attempt failed, but when the lord retainer discovered Okiku had interfered with his plot he purposely stole one of the ten treasure dishes that were under her custody. She was tourtured to death on the charge of missing the dish, and the chief retainer threw her body into the well. From then on, her voice could be heard from the well counting "one dish...two dishes...three dishes..." until the retainer's scheme was discovered and she was absolved of the crime. And her voice was never heard from the well again. Oooooo! Much better than the stories we told at Assateague.

Another exciting aspect of Himeji castle is the Oil Wall. While most walls are built with white plaster, this "abura-kabe" was made of clay and sand mixed with boiled rice water, and has stood for over 400 years. After further exploring the grounds of Himeji castle and taking plenty of pictures, we moved on to Koko-en which was built in 1992 to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the Himeji municipality. It's composed of nine separate gardens on the site where old samurai houses once existed. It was beautiful to walk around the grounds.

After Himeji castle we has some lunch, then moved on to the town of Bizen which lends it's name to the famous Bizen pottery. I could tell we were in a pottery town because almost every house had a large smokestack for baking the pots. We stopped in some galleries which had pots as expensive as 800,000 Yen ($8000). I did end up purchasing some pottery, but at a much cheaper price.

After Bizen we drove back to Okayama to the city of Takahachi, which has various historical locations. The town is very small so walking around is quite easy. Many of the houses are very old and were sites where Samurai used to live. First we stopped in a preserved Samurai house, complete with various tatami rooms and some creepy mannequins that reminded me of the Bible walk (although in better condition). You should be careful not to confuse "Samurai House" with "Ninja House," which is sort of what I expected. Himeji castle had some secret rooms, but where weren't any special enclaves inside the Samurai houses. But nonetheless it was neat to see how people used to live, and see some very awesome armor and weapons (which were very small, I doubt I could have fit into most of the outfits).

Next we stopped in another Shoyu (soysauce) factory, much like the one on Shodoshima island (except in Shodoshima the soybeans were dried on grass sheets, which is very unique, while in Takahachi it was customary to use wood). But my favorite was our next stop, a collection of farming and daily tools used during the Meiji Era. The museum is in the old Takahachi elementary school and contains old clocks, telephones, flatware, books, fans, lamps, playing cards, shogi boards, boats, plows, looms, and anything else that might have been used by people during the town's history.

When Masatoshi and I came home I was pretty tired, but he was still ready to go. Shoko, Masatoshi, and I went to eat at a cafe which had very interesting seating. There was one of those egg-shaped chairs that reminds me of the 70's, chairs from Italy, stools, benches, and a table in the shape of a screw. We sat at one of the more traditional tables, but I couldn't help but try out the egg-shaped chair for myself. After dinner we went to another cafe for dessert with a great view of the Seto-Ohashi bridge at night. We came home and Masatoshi's father stopped by to give us some mushrooms that he had picked on a nearby mountain (supposedly very rare and therefore expensive). We talked about the stock market (off all things) in which he is very interested, and then he told me about a time he was in Italy and some gypsies tried to take his camera and he unleashed the "Samurai spirit," driving them away. He is old now but I don't doubt that he was telling the truth.



Good lord who knew the taco yaki would get such a huge response. And yes it is made of octopus, which I knew but mistyped because squid should be the same as octopus anyway. And in a weird twist of fate my haircut was only 20$; they actually called our house to tell us we had overpaid. Where else in the world would that ever happen?

But I have some new videos for ya'

The crowd and cart entering the shrine

Taking the cart up and down the steps (which were covered in sand to make it easier)

Running back and forth with the ropes

Picking up the cart

Yeah it was a very cool festival


One of the cart-riders in the festival 

Some characters I met on the street 

Pulling the carts through the crowded streets 

The wagon, complete with riders and bamboo 

Getting ready to pull the cart up the hill 

Everyone was colorfully dressed 

People also ride on the tops of the wagons 

Taking the cart up the hill 

Inside the wagons were various instruments 

Some people at the festival (Andee always looks like a clothes model) 

Inside were tasty bread balls 

The gold plated cart that was carried up the hill at the end 

The Kannushi, or Shrine Priest 

Looking like a supercool guy with my headband that says "festival" 

This girl was wearing bunny ears 

Where I got my haircut, "Panic" 

Kojima and Haircuts

I'm getting worried because I do too much everyday to write about. Oh no! Yesterday I went to get my first japanese haircut, not knowing quite what to expect (other than Rahul's rather unorthodox tale). I was further confused by the name of the hair salon, "Panic," an apt name for my feelings. But Shun and Sam had both gone there and didn't have bald patches or weird dye jobs so I wasn't too worried. The first thing I noticed about Panic, other than the atmosphere, were the awesome hair styles worn by the guys and girls cutting hair. Mohawks, long hair, ponytails, you name it someone probably had it. This was reassuring because I figured if they could have these crazy cuts giving me a baisc haircut couldn't be too hard.

First the stylist brought me to the back room where I was put into a reclining seat and washed my hair not once but three times (I think this was normal and not a reflection of lack of cleanliness). This felt really awesome and my head smelled good. Then in japanese I explained to the guy cutting my hair how I usually wore it (I refused to bring a picture with me, instead relying on his artistic ability) and he got to work. He only used scissors, no electric razors, and spent a good deal of time on each section of my head. While he cut my hair I looked around the room and saw a bunch of people getting their hair dyed, and one guy in the corner was having his hair dried by some huge revolving machine while drinking alcohol and smoking. I couldn't help but laugh to myself.

After the cut my hair was washed again and I didn't even get any hair down the back on my neck as is customary with every former haircut I have ever received. In total three people worked on my hair, one for the first wash, and two for cutting/second washing. I think the total came to about $35, so not a bad deal for the good treatment.

After the haircut Shoko and I went to the supermarket where I was feeling so good after the haircut I decided to cook dinner that night. I thought chili would be easy enough so picked out some chili-related items and some fruit for a salad. I certainly wouldn't consider myself a good cook, just inexperienced, but I think any idiot can make chili so the preparation wan't too hard. I also made cheese potatoes, a salad, and fruit salad for dessert (complete with powdered sugar). The chili was pretty spicy but I think everyone enjoyed it, and Shoko was probably happy that she didn't have to cook. I promised her a pie or cake next time.

After dinner Shoko, Andee, and I went to kyudo where we are all getting better but Andee and I hit our arms with the bow string a bunch of times so that wasn't too cool. My arrows usually go straight but I'm still working on hitting the target. Shooting with my right hand forward makes it difficult to aim.

Today was also action packed, to say the least. We went to Kojima for the "Kohatchi Mangou Reitai Sai," a festival where tons of people dressed in colorful outfits and facepaint haul giant decorated wagons through the town then up a steep hill to a shrine. This is a huge affair and tons of people came to watch the festivities, lining the streets as well as the path to the shrine. I took a ton of pictures and video because describing the whole event would be difficult without a visual reference. So I will let them speak for themselves. The gist of the activity is taking the wagons which have children inside playing drums and bells surrounded by people playing flutes and singing up and down a steep incline. There are also people on the top of the wagons with bamboo fronds shouting and singing. There is also a part where the people carrying the ropes run back and forth making a "wave" effect. The whole scene was very cool to watch.

After watching a bunch of wagons go up and down the hill, as well as walking up and down the hill myself, I ate some taco yaki (fried squid balls, tastier than they sound) and went to Onishi-san's mothers house for lunch. She lives on a hiil overlooking the town and sea, and we were able to watch the rest of the festival on TV while she served an excellent lunch of sushi, chicken tofu soup, grapes, and apples. Toward the end of lunch it started to rain and I was glad that we left the festival or we would have been soaked.

When we came home Shoko got a call from Yamashita-san saying that there was going to be a display of kimonos at the house where we went for the tea ceremony the other night. It was raining a bit when we arrived so the four of us ran through the narrow japanese alleys until we came to the tea ceremony teacher's house. Inside were about 10 people looking at handbags, dresses, skirts, and jackets that had all been made from pieces of kimonos. Everything was very beautiful and I couldn't help but buy some placemats and bags made from the old kinomos. We stayed for some tea and sweets then came back to the house where I am now thoroughly sleepy, even thought it's early evening. Shoko rented Mystic River so we might watch that later tonite.



More Observations

I watched eXistenZ with my host family tonite after a trip to the video shop because a typhoon is coming. There was a cool rain all day which wasn't too uncomfortable compared to the usual hot and humid weather. I have been studing hiragana pretty heavily for the past two days, so as far as that is concerned I consider myself literate and can read at a decent pace. The books from the Okayama language school are very good and I think internationally known for japanese instruction, so I suppose I can't really go wrong.

In school during "International Social and Human Being (that was the only description on my schedule)" which is usually a class about world cultures, there was a section where we split into groups and played charades about topics in the news (I think). A student from each team went to the front of the room and the teacher showed them a picture which they had to convey to their team without using words. Some examples were a picture of Ichiro and another of a japanese film star. Then, during my turn, I was completely confused when my picture showed two cartoon cats riding a unicycle. I was so dumbfounded that I sort of stared at the photo for a minute trying to figure out what to do. I got my team to guess unicycle but the teacher said they had to guess the entire picture so one of the other kids just drew the picture on the board. I still don't know the signifigance of unicycling cats.

Also, in case the picture was unclear, the photo of the blue car with something sticking out of it was taken last night after our drive home from the AET party. All the way home Shoko and I heard stratching noises coming from outside the car, but we just assumed it was a tree branch or something. We get home, step out of the car, and start to go inside when I spot what I guess is a sun visor stuck in Shoko's door which we dragged outside the car in the rain for about 3 miles. It was dark so I guess she didn't see it when she stepped out of the car. I really hope someone saw the car while we were driving home and it made their day.


Party Party

Today I went to school late because the first few periods were off which was very nice because I could sleep in. After school there was no kendo so I got thrown around in judo for a little while until I decided to bike home.

Around 6 Shoko and I went to an AET (english teacher's) party thrown by the city of Tamano. As usual Jes, John Davey and Sam were there, as well as Neil from Boston and a bunch of locals who could speak english well. It was held above Jacasse, an excellent italian restaurant which provided the catering. I introduced myself in japanese then ate a ton of food (delicious), and mingled. I got to meet my second host mother again, as well as some kids that live near her house. I also met Miwako Tateishi who works for Tamano city and as I found out later knew quite a bit about me. She was educated in England (which I only discerned after she spelled the word "colour") and her english was excellent. It was her job to translate my five page rotary paper describing myself into japanese for the Mayor of Tamano, whom I will be meeting later this month. So consequently she probably knows more about me than anyone in Tamano. And was very nice too! I don't know if I would have the patience for a task like that.

There is a picture of me on Tamano High School's website, the fifth picture down on the left side (see if you can tell which one is me). It says I joined the "folk song" club, but I don't think I would consider Blink-182 a folk song.

In japanese staplers are called "Hotchkiss," after Benjamin Hotchkiss who invented the stapler.

This restaurant in Okayama was awesome 

Beautiful lunch setting, and each dish contains tofu 

You can see Okayama castle, a forest in the middle of the city 

View from the tofu restaurant in Okayama; this sky is amazing 

The view from lunch in Okayama 

This is Miwako Tateishi (she translated my five page rotary paper for the mayor and was wonderful to talk to) 

Jes, Shoko, and some other people at the AET welcome party 

The scratchy noises coming from outside the car ended up being this piece of mesh and plastic stuck in the door 


Keep Yourself Busy

What a day. There was no school for me because 3rd year students were taking tests so all my 3rd year classes were cancelled. However, today was my first class at the Okayama Institute of Languages in Okayama city. I got to sleep in, then took the 10:09 bus with Shoko to Okayama because she needed to buy a few items "in town." For lunch she surprised me with reservations at Umeno Hana which means "cherry blossom," a fancy restaurant 21st floor of the Credo building in Okayama. She told me that it is her mother's favorite restaurant, and specializes in tofu dishes. The restaurant could be easily described as beautiful, with private tatami tea rooms overlooking the bulk of Okayama city, Asahi river, and surrounding mountains. The food was also outstanding, with tofu incorporated into every dish. I am not a very adimate tofu eater, but this would convert even the most staunch gastronome. About five courses were served, including a tofu salad, tofu and salmon, tofu soup, fried rice tofu, and other dishes which I could not define. The meal finished with some tea and mango sorbet.

After lunch we had a few minutes before my language class started, but as we went up the escalator one of Shoko's friends spotted us so we talked for a while then went to a nearby coffee shop. They would not accept that I was full so Shoko and I split a piece of rasberry cake. We chatted for a bit then I left for my lesson.

The Okayama Institute of Languages is located close to the bus station and as it's name suggests provides instruction in various languages including japanese. When I entered the building I was greeted by a crowd of japanese students and the secretary directed me to one of the couches in the room where Cori, the exchange student from Canada, was sitting with who was to become our japanese teacher. Janna, the exchange student from Virginia showed up with her host councellor and the three of us went with Kimura sensei to another building. We got our own personal classroom and for the next few hours introducted ourselves to our new teacher and started with some basic japanese lessons. I had already become familiar with some of the basic concepts of japanese, as well as hiragana and katakana, so I got a good chance to test my "skillz." We were also provided with many textbooks which look like they will be very helpful in learning japanese. Our teacher is also very nice so I will look forward to the weekly classes.

After the lesson Janna's councellor invited the three of us to another welcome party October 16th in Tsuyama. Tomorrow I am also going to some sort of welcome party so the parties abound in japan. After the councellor left I talked with Cori and Janna about school and we all seem to be having a good time and also agreed that Rotary takes excellent care of us both physically and financially.

Janna mentioned her lack of access to new music in Japan and I agreed, but she also has an iPod so she gave hers to me so we could swap some songs. She had also heard of the weakerthans and the postal service which I suppose isn't surprising because everyone seems to like them now. But it is good to get a new influx of music into my collection because listen to it everyday on the way to school.

I took the 5:08 bus home to Tamano (which should really be described in more detail because the sky was a deep pink with a good evening song playing in the background among sea, clouds, and mountains), and had just enough time to eat before it was off the Kyudo practice with Shoko, Yamashita-san, and Andee. We got to shoot again at real targets again, and Andee and I both cut our hands in the exact same place. Now I am very tired but get to sleep in again tomorrow because I don't have to go to school until 3rd period.

Also if you find my (a) grammar or (b) spelling to be poor you are both observant and correct, but I feel no impulse to respond to either of these problems :D


In Case You Were Wondering...

School ends every day around 3:45, so I have been going to the Kendo Jo until about 5-5:30. I can easily swing the sword, but I can tell that the footwork will be rather difficult. There are usually about three of us, Asama, the captain, and Ueno. There were some other people but one kid hurt his hand so has not been coming to practice recently. Sometimes Sakaguchi-sensei comes to practice also, and gives excellent lessons, but in the past few days he has been very busy with school meetings so does not always get a chance to come everyday. However, Asama and Ueno can give me good instruction, and I pretty much practice repetative momements every day so I doesn't take a brain surgeon to tell me what to do. From what I can tell there are three types of swords that are used: the bamboo sword for Kendo matches, a light wooden sword for presentations, and a really heavy wooden sword for swinging excercises (you could row a boat with this thing). My arms do hurt a bit, but the blisters are starting to go away leaving respectable caluses.

I also found out that on Mondays and Wednesdays some students from the local Uno junior high will come and practice with us. Their captain looks pretty good, and I have this odd urge to fight him because he is short, quick, and experienced where I am tall (that's about it). This monday all the kids looked at me weird for a little while but then I introducted myself and they were eager to talk. I talked with the two teachers who came with the students in a complete japanese conversation, and understood most of what was being said. And even if I didn't japanese people are very nice and would tell me my japanese was good (which means I sort of have to judge my own progression by seeing if I can understand what is going on in everyday situations).

It's starting to get a little colder, but when the sun sets brilliant rays of light burst through powder blue clouds which don't appear familiar to me. I appreciate my bike ride to an from school everyday, and usually get a chance to talk with kids along the way. I forgot my Judo belt at home today and remembered about two minutes into my ride so turned into the stream of blue-pants moving in the opposite direction to retrieve the lost item.

The Watanabes have a classical guitar which nobody really plays and sits unsued in my room so I have started to play it in the evenings (quietly). The school band, as well as rock bands, practice after school so I can always play an electric guitar if I get the urge. Andee and I went to a little improvised concert in one of the classrooms yesterday where Nakkan (the guitarist and singer, who has a mowhawk) played "My Friends Over You," "What's My Age Again," and a song by a japanese band which I recognized.

I saw on the news today that the Emperor of Japan visited Shodoshima on Monday, so I missed him by a day. I also read that Martha Stewart will be doing her time in a WV jail (our school gets an english language newspaper "The Daily Yomiyuri").


For some reason this statue of H.C. Anderson has all these cherubs playing violin at a 45 degree angle, so I decided to join in 

The ferris whell at Tivoli park 

An old-timey car, suitable for an old-timey hat 

Shun and I at a fountain 

Under a statue at Tivoli Park 

Shoko was a little more brave 

I might be smiling but am also a little worried about the 200 monkeys behind me 

Monkey World! I was dreading attack the whole time 


I also realized today that all cars with GPS (which is a lot) also have TV. Amazing eh?

Some videos for you:

Tom and I on stilts

Large boulders are no match for me

Masatoshi going through the small exit door from the Soy Sauce factory. When I asked him why it was so small he said "Japanese people used to be shorter" 

Next to an ocean-waterfall 

Tom and I in matching dress 

Wearing a kimono with a bunch of kites in the background 

Me in front of an old bus 

Shun looking through the camera using for the filming of "12 Children 24 Eyes" 

The old town 

An old school house in Shodoshima 

An old abacus from the set of "12 Children 24 Eyes" 


Today was so packed that I don't think I can accurately describe it in one entry. Tom, Shoko, Shun, Masatoshi and I woke up very early to drive to Okayama and catch a ferry to Shodoshima island. Shun was a little late getting up so we left without him and he took a ferry from Uno port to meet us in Shodoshima later. I was very tired so I slept through most of the car ride, but when we got on the ferry the view was very nice so I stood on deck for a while. It wasn't too hot or humid which was fortunate because the weather can be very punishing in the summer. We drove our car onto the ferry so we would have a ride when we got to the island.

Shodoshima island, whose name means "Island of Small Beans," is the second largest in the Seto Inland Sea, and is located 28Km off the coast of Shikoku. It is famous for it's olives, wild monkeys, and, sticking with the japanese theme of "smaller is better", the narrowest canal in the world, connecting the Seto Inland Sea. After we got off the ferry we shopped for a little while in some nearby stores, then headed out for the day's journey.

There is a famous movie in Japan called "Twelve Students and Twenty-Four Eyes" which has been remade twice throughout the years and was shot on location on Shodoshima Island. Since the movie is based in "the old days," an old Japanese town had been constructed on the island so we toured the schoolhouse and grounds. I saw a very old abacus as well as some original schoolbooks. In the reconstructed town Tom and I tried on Kimonos and walked around the grounds and aside from looking Australian and American we would have fit right in.

Next we went to a Somen noodle factory, which was closed, but we peeked in through the windows and saw a bunch of noodles being made. We also went to a Shouyu (soysauce) factory. First we walked into the main factory area, and as soon as Shoko opened the door we were blasted in the face with an overpowering salt mist. All I could think of was Kenley's mom's report of the buttered popcorn flavoring factory, and how I really wanted a glass of water. The main tour was not in the factory, however, so we weren't a-salt-ed for too long (haha a pun!) But the factory was really neat and we had the opportunity to eat soy sauce ice cream but decided to leave that for another day. We did however get souvenier Kinkoman soy sauce.

After the factory we drove up the large mountains surrounding the town to an overlook that was breathtaking, with low clouds hanging around green mountains and blue sea. Shoko, Tom, Shun, and I (Masatoshi didn't want to go) then went to "Monkey world," which as the name describes is a place to see the wild monkeys of Shodoshima. When we arrived on the side of a mountain and walked along the forest path I didn't expect to see too many monkeys, because they aren't kept in cages but roam free over the countryside. As we came to a ridge I saw a bunch of low fences and as we approached about 200 monkeys running over rock and playing in trees. It was amazing. My mind shot back to the movie "congo" and I was a bit worried that somehow the monkeys had laser beams. I also remembered Mrs. Yakim's recount of her trip to The Congo (or amazon I can't remember) and how all the monkeys threw poop at her. However, sadly, none of these things happened, and in fact I got a monkey to sit on my lap (it was trained to do this).

We drove around the island for a little longer, looking at more sights, then drove back to the ferry. I yet again slept for most of the car ride as I am rather inclined to do. We had a wonderful dinner for Tom's last evening and now I am very full and sleepy.


Some of Shoko's friends and I at the party 

At the party all the adults sat around the TV while The Beastie Boys played a live show in the background. I belive that is MCA 

Some kids at our house for a party 

At school when kids rearrange seats they don't just move, they take their desks with them (this is rare and very funny to watch in action) 

Shoko's delicious tempura 

Dance competition 

A fountain that I thought looked pretty 

Tom, Shun, Andee, and I on the water ride at Tivoli park 

"Hell Blaster" (I am ready to blast some hell with that smile) 

Swings amusement ride at Tivoli park 

Andee under a tree looking happy 

Soichiro, better known as So-chan 

Me and my new hat at a bridge near the Kurashiki shopping area 

(Japanese) Turtles in Kurashiki Ivy Square 

Shun, So-chan, Sam, Me, and Tom 

Andee, Tom, Me, So-chan, and Shun in Kurashiki 

Shop with glass animals that I liked as a kid (no i did not buy any) 

Tivoli Party

Last night Shoko threw a party for about 20 people, most of whom were kids. Some of Tom's friends from australia came, as well as Shun's friends from school. Andee and I watched the presidential debates before the party started, so I was glad to get to see that. At the party I was able to speak a good amount of japanese, and after we ate the kids played goldeneye, mario smash brothers, and a soccer game. Japanese people also really like magic tricks so Andee and I did a few to please the crowd. Shoko also had delicious sushi which was my favoritie. mmmm.

Today Tom, Shoko, Andee, Yamashita-san, Soichiro (Yamashita-san's grandson, everyone calls him So-chan), and I went to kurashiki for some shopping and evening excitement. I had been to kurashiki before so I knew my way around, and bought myself some items. While we were shopping we ran into Sam, Tom's friend who was at the party last night. We shopped for a little while and then said goodbye in the evening to go to Tivoli park, a danish (edit) themed amusement park in Kurashiki. Apparently 10 years ago relations between Kurashiki and Denmark were very good so the park was built. It's sort of a garden/amusement park, with some roller coasters (small), a water rie, ferris wheel, and other rides that could be found in a general park.
The park happened to be having a large dance competition in the evening, so we got to catch some of the dancers performing. As usual, since most people in japan seem to know how to dance, the dancing was quite good, and the music selection was familiar. The park rides were also very fun. There was a "cage battle" game called "HELL BLASTER" where one driver and one shooter get into bumper car type vehicles and shoot high speed balls at each other. There was also a danish themed haunted mansion that wasn't that scary but did provide for a ton of laughs.

I fell asleep in the car on the way home, of course.


The Songs

Here you will find music from Japan. Famous bands, not so famous, english, japanese, anything goes. Updated as I see fit. Thanks to Panda[] for music references!

TLTC (toughluck, trashcan) - I absolutely love the vocals on this song. And who can beat a name like "toughluck, trashcan?"
Neon Soda - Bubbly goodness for you to enjoy.

Muffin - Another great mellow band with nice guitar work
Rain - Sleepy time is right around the corner

The Bad Spellers - This band certainly has the indie edge, so I hope you dig the electric keyboard riffs
Girls Say Moshii - It's true!
In The Event We Are Rescued - From the album "Girls Say Moshii"

Hyontan - A little Japanese epic rock for you to enjoy
"宇宙の傍らで" - Hyotan means "gourd," so that makes this the Gourd song!

StereoVision - One of my friend's favorite bands in Japan. Singing in english
Seventeen - Something about these lyrics make me laugh. But I like their cd.

HOOP - One of the bands at my school. Members are Wataru (guitar), Yasu (drums), and Kiyoto (bass) Singing in english, GREAT lyrics if you can understand them :D
Take My Hand - If the band released a single this would be it

The Videos

Hello! On this page you will find a wide assortment of videos from Japan. Most are in AVI format, so enjoy...

Hadaka Matsuri "Naked Festival" in Saidaiji

Through the streets of Saidaiji
Running to the temple
Drum ceremony before the shingi are thrown

Guitar Zamurai

I am Guitar Zamurai

Tamano High School Festival and Sports Day

The opening ceremony of the school festival
Relay Race
Singing Blink 182's "The Rock Show" at the school festival
Rock Show part II
The winning group demonstration at the sports day (only a piece of the action but still stunning)
Karaoke at the school festival

Festival in Kurashiki

The crowd and cart entering the shrine
Taking the cart up and down the steps (which were covered in sand to make it easier)
Running back and forth with the ropes
Picking up the cart

Various Other Videos

Tom and I on stilts
Large boulders are no match for me
Park-san at Karaoke
Video of the typhoon's effect on a flooded street (featuring Yuudai)
The AC/DC jazz song at Shun's school festival
Hey Ho, Let's Go
Wataru on guitar

The Glossary

Hello Sports Fans! Welcome to the unofficial non spell-checked Glossary of Japan. Hopefully this list of people, places, and general knowledge will aid you in your reading of my blog. If not, send me some suggestions at Enjoy!

Andee Lim - Exchange student from Malaysia who goes to my school (not in Rotary)
Bizen - A type of traditional Japanese pottery (Also a city about an hour from my house)
Cori Reed - Exchange student from Canada
Doe - A deer, a female deer
ESS - The "English Speaking Society," a not-so-secret club at school where kids with an interest in English speaking come to have fun
Hakama - skirt-like pants worn during various japanese matrial arts, including kendo and kyudo. In kendo, used to obscure foot movements from opponents
Hashi - Chopsticks, sometimes referred to as O-hashi. Materials vary from wood and plastic to ivory and bone
Hiragana - Syllabic writing system for Japanese words
Janna Hall - Exchange student from Virginia
John Davey - English teacher at my school from Canada
Judo - Japanese martial art involved in throwing your opponent
Kanji - System of Japanese writing based on Chinese characters
Katakana - Syllabic writing system for borrowed or foreign words
Koji - My friend at high school who happens to have a nice website full of poetry
Konan High School - A very difficult High School attended by my first Host brother, Shun
Kendo - Japanese martial art involving the sword (shinai)
Kyudo - Japanese martial art involving the bow (yumi)
Mai Watanabe - My host sister, 21, who is studying Dentistry in Chiba
Masatoshi Watanabe - My host father, a children's physician, who enjoys going to lectures and collecting all things dog-related
Miyu Watanabe - My host sister, 18, who is studying English in Kobe
Mayumi Kawai - My second host mother, who works as a pharmacist. Is always laughing (hopefully not a result of the drugs)
MES - My second host father's place of work, Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co., Ltd. Check it out on the web
Okayama - The Prefecture of Japan in which I live
Okayama City - About an hour away by train or bus, lots of entertainment
Osamu Kawai - My second host father. Oversees the chemical plant of the the MES shipbuilding corporation
Purikura - Shortened form of "Print Club" translated into Japanese, sort of an awesome photo booth
Saeki-san - My next door neighbors in Tai. The father, Jirou, is an excellent guitar player. The mother, Harumi, is a good cook. The son, Takurou, goes to Konan, the same school as my first host brother, Shun
Sensei - Title given to doctors, teachers, and various other professional positions
Shinkansen - High speed bullet train
Shoko Watanabe - My host mother, enjoys painting
Shun Watanabe - My host brother, 16 years old
Sumo - Japan's traditional form of wrestling. Competitors enter the ring (dohyo) wearing only the waistband-loincloth (mawashi)
Tai - The part of Tamano where my second host family, Kawai-san, lives
Tamano - My town in Japan
Tamano High School - Also known as Tamako, about 15 minutes away by bike
Tanaka-san - A man who lives close to my house and has traveled the world, picking up many languages. He teaches english for free and sometimes I help in the evenings
Tomoya Kawai - My second host brother. Plays the base and attends Uno Middle School
Wataru - My friend who is a 3rd year student at Tamano High School. Plays in a band called HOOP with three other Tamano High School students

Would You Like Some Tea?

In school all of the windows can be easily opened, unlike the harsh heavy wooden-frames portals of MHS. And the curtains blow in the wind, fanning out over the classroom. I can imagine Kenley would enjoy that, for I can easily picture her in a house by the sea with wind from open windows teasing white curtains and a summer dress.

There is one building at school which has four floors, while the others can boast only three. It houses courses like science, english, and art, but I find it particularly perplexing that the computer lab is located on the fourth floor. It must have been tough to get all those computers and monitors up four flights of stairs. However, this multi-tiered building provides the best view of the town, and on a clear day from the highest balcony you can see Tamano nestled between rocky ridges before the sea.

In school the art teacher is perhaps the most recognizable character, and although I only have his class once a week, and lack general artistic ability, it remains one of my favorites. The art teacher bears a striking resembelence to my idea of the "typical art teacher," reminiscent of Mr. Green. He also drives a large jeep of some kind with numerous stickers and logos, and wears jeans and a t-shirt with a sort of workbelt where most teachers prefer slacks and a tie. His room is filled with the typical art class adornments such as posters, sculpture, paintings, photographs, and an impressive set of Helanistic plaster busts of various figures.

Last night after sushi dinner Shoko, Tom, and I went to a neighbor's house for a traditional japanese tea ceremony. I will describe it in more detail later, once I can get some pictures, but it was very peaceful. I found it difficult to sit in the "japanese style" for an extended period of time, but managed to make it through two cups of tea and some sweets. There were two women at the ceremony, an older lady who was the instructor, and her student who performed the actualy ceremony. They invited me to come on Thursday evenings and perhaps I will learn the ceremony myself.