Thousands of Miles from Home


Keiichiro. Skills include magic tricks, humorous english, and a disarming smile 

On my schedule, this class is listed as "International Human and Social" 

Izawa almost getting the peace sign in place 

Nakkan with juice box 

The Tamano High School girl's uniform. Whatever the weather, always chilly 

Houses are built in very close proximity to the school 

In fact, Tamano High School was designed by the famous mathematician and artist Escher 

A set of posters at school that I consider stealing daily. Random attractive female says, NO Drugs! 

I don't know what this poster is trying to promote...but I will gladly put two fists in the air for any reason Posted by Hello

"Just make it clap..." Posted by Hello

Nakkan and Yuudai after school 

Andee doing his best in a battle of might at his farewell party for the ESS club 

The bottle in front of the girl on the right is wearing a sweater 

And to finish the day, my first chance to play Dance Dance Revolution in Japan 

Alma Mater

With Andee leaving soon, it gives me good reason to take candid, albeit embarassing pictures of kids at school. Here is what I live through daily at Tamano High School.


You should notice the intricate illustration on the silk undershirt, as well as the developing mullet 

Hakama from the back 

Andee in uniform 

Puttin' on the Ritz (Obi) 

All ready for a wedding or similar occasion 

I think you are supposed to look angry in this type of kimono. In fact after taking this photo I dolled out a serious fan beating to the first person I saw (subsequently Andee, who pummeled me with TaeKwon-Do) 

With Kimono teacher and grandmother 

Street samurai 

Can you tell who is japanese? If you said "neither" give yourself two points 

Andee and I with Kimono teacher and host mother 

Hiding in the Japanese wilderness 

The obligatory group photo, Andee and Saeki-san chose "rock" and "paper" over the usual peace sign 

Put On Your Best Kimono

I came home from school today fully intending to sleep, half from exhaustion following Thursday's weekly 2K morning run which left me feeling out of shape and with an acute sense of shame, coupled with the nightly underground mahjong and pinochle games run out of Kawai-san's basement. Just kidding, Japanese houses don't have basements. However the run, much like last week's, left the class with a robust black-lung hack; transforming into a wheeze by the end of the day. Andee, always with a rapier wit, quipped that he will be basking in the sun of Malaysia drinking wine from a coconut (slight exaggeration) before I finish the running unit of gym class. I punched him in the stomach. On the bright side I did shave my time by 20 seconds. When does the rock climbing unit start?

But "Hell Thursday," as I have come to lovingly refer, is not the topic of this post (and to be truthful the running is fun for the first 30 seconds or so. I much prefer exercise at my own pace and with music). But last Saturday, after Andee spent the night, my host mother took us with Saeki-san to their kimono teacher's house for a photo shoot. This time both of us wore "hakama" style kimono, much like the outfit worn for kyudo or kendo but much fancier. The hakama kimono is customarily donned for wedding ceremonies or other such occasions. The kimono-sensei showed us how to wear the kimono, and also how to tie the Obi, or bow/belt/sash around the waist (there are countless methods). Following the dressing both Andee and I posed for numerous pictures beside the teacher's house (with a striking japanese facade) and in her garden.

After the shoot, the teacher explained the complicated process of folding the kimono, hakama, and silk underskirt. We drank tea in her tatami room then took off for home.


Amber, with Scott in the background 

The students 

Saeki family, Andee, and English teachers after a hefty meal 

Shinkansen board game. Now you can run your very own transnational railroad! 

Learn to Play

Last Saturday night was a geetar-playin' brouhaha at the Saeki household. Jirou-sensei indulged me with a lesson, free because I teach him english (and sell his drugs at school). He is a funny guy, and most of the lesson is spent laughing, anyway. He taught me "Furusato" on the guitar, a famous Japanese folk song that my previous english students in Tama taught me to sing. Maybe the people at my next host family will teach me the base line and I'll be set.

After the lesson, two english teachers from the Okayama area, Scott and Amber, came for their first guitar lesson from Jirou. I had met Amber a few weeks ago at my host mother's english lesson and Scott at the Okayama Internation Center on a school field trip. Scott and Amber had never played the guitar before, so Jirou showed them the basics while I helped translate his japanese into english. Using two chords, Jirou taught a crude version of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?" Probably the last tune I expected to hear in Japan, but I'm up for anything these days.

After a finger grinding hour of play, everyone retired for dinner. Oden and Okonomiyaki, with Anko rice balls for dessert. Mmm...mmm...good, just like Campbell's Chunky Chicken Soup. After dinner Tomoya and Takurou played a shinkansen board game that I couldn't quite figure out. Although a whole board game dedicated to a bullet train does sound mighty exciting.

Earlier in the day, Andee and I took a trip to Okayama so he could buy last minute items before returning to Malaysia. We did a whole lot of agressive window shopping (although finding very little), then Jittan met us for Purikura, coffee, and cake. I left around 2:30 to meet my rotary host counselor back at Kawai-san's house to discuss Moday's tour of Mitsui shipyard, my planned trip to Tokyo, skiing on Daisen, and possible journey to EXPO 2005 in Nagoya. That evening Andee came to eat dinner and consequently stayed the night. He purchased a lava lamp in Okayama, so we fired it up but couldn't sleep due to the intense green glow. Although it did look neat (something about that lime green lava lamp in a tatami room). And then the fun began...


Ultraman, wearing a school uniform, at Shoko's house 

That is a tasty burger 

Andee smiling in a stairwell 

A man washing windows in Okayama (I think he spotted me taking the picture) 

Loose Ends

Even making mistakes in Japan usually ends in hilarity. Last week Tomoya informed me that I would be eating dinner at his grandmother's house because my host mother wouldn't be home until late. I had no problem with this because my host grandmother makes the most delicious food in Japan. Tomoya had already eaten before going to juku (cram school), so I made the short walk to my host grandmother's house alone. That would be my ultimate undoing.

While living in Tama, I could find my way around easily because every street looked different. I say "looked" because japanese streets either don't have names, or a lot of energy is spent in keeping them a secret from me. Signs are also kept to an absolute minimum so directions become landmark based, something along the lines of "Go straight after the noodle shop" or "Turn left at the stone statue of a pelican." (No joke, I was given this direction once) Tai, to make matters worse, is a network of crossroads and sidestreets between similar looking japanese-style houses. And I was walking at night. But, being the person I am I told Tomoya, "I can find it."

Within a few minutes I was pretty lost. Actually, I knew exactly where I was but my grandmother's house was nowhere in sight. Luckilly, cell phone always at the ready, I gave Tomoya a call. He had already left for juku. I called my host mother, but couldn't quite explain where I was over her laughing (she laughs very easily). So I finally went to Saeki-san's house where music lessons were being given. I met a third year Konan high school student and had to do my best to refuse dinner with the Saekis. Takurou said he would show me where Tomoya's grandmother lived, so we set out on foot. After a minute walk, Takurou was looking pretty lost as well. By pure chance we ran into my host grandmother who was biking home from the grocery store. She didn't recognize me at first, and even I had to do a double-take. By the time we all stopped laughing I was at my grandmother's house, a mere 3 minute walk from where I started. I had actually walked right by the house twice! But the dinner was delicious, and now I know my way around Tai.

At school unexpected situations are always happening. I am usually the last to be informed about school events, but that doesn't really bother me. It's like a crazy game where I can't read the directions. Last week in gym class I was informed in the morning that we would be running a marathon, something along the lines of the Presidential Fitness Test in America that all middle and high school students come to hate. I'm not a runner, but I'm not a complete lard ass either. I was a little worried about the temperature because we were running outside, but I didn't think it would be that much of a problem. When it came time for the class to begin I got with the first group of runners. It was only 2.1 Km but by the fourth lap my lungs were burning. Combined with the cold, the japanese air is very dry. When I finished the run I noticed that everyone was hacking their lungs out, even the guys who said they run all the time. I was breathing kind of funny for the rest of the day but I could do a great Humphrey Bogart impression.

That day after school, my homeroom teacher stopped me before leaving and said something I didn't catch in japanese. I was about to ask him to repeat himself when he said "lets arm wrestle." I was pretty shocked because he is a BIG guy. But recently my class has been sort of obsessed with arm wrestling, staging matches at lunch and between classes. My teacher gave me a big handicap with his right arm, so I beat him easily. He wanted a rematch with his left, saying he was left handed. "Me too," I replied. I beat him again. Next we tried an even match with the right. He started to put my arm down, then I fought back to the center. It seemed like a 5 minute stalemate, each of us with hilarious strained and laughing faces. I was surprised with how strong he was, much better than any of the kids in my class. We eventually called it a draw before our arms dropped off. I said he could have a rematch anytime.


Neil on the couch 

Neil's humble abode 

John avoiding the camera as usual 

Neil looking quite inviting 


News Flash

Welcome to winter, everyone. Frosty early morning bike rides are now on the menu so make sure to stock the gloves, hats, hand warmers, and scarves.

In a bit of interesting news, this blog is now syndicated and hosted on Japan Brats under the "Gaijin Blogs" section, so feel free to mosey on over and check out the festivities. Also, the glossary section is currently undergoing additions to reflect my second host family. Finally, a new "enjoyables" section has been added to the sidebar where you can visit world-travel related websites as well as those made by my friends here in Japan.

As for recent activities, this weekend is a well-needed reprise from not only the icy blasts of winter but also numerous weekday engagements. The ESS club hosted a "Lost in Translation" after school viewing party, which left me refreshed and in a wonderful mood. I also found the movie considerably more hilarious, understandable, and poignant the second time around. Following the movie I biked home as fast as possible to get ready for a dinner party at Neil's, an english teacher from Boston working at Tamano Commercial High School. He is way into frisbee, and I belive joined the Okayama frisbee team earlier in the year. He is also an avid biker, making the hour trek to Okayama City on a regular basis. Although only a ten minute ride from Tai, his house wasn't the easiest to find and eventually resulted in my calling his house with a cellphone while he yelled off his balcony so I could follow his voice. He did however make a delicious chicken and pasta dish that reminded me of home. John Davey, Tamano High School's english teacher, came over from next door for dinner as well. Jez was feeling sick so couldn't join the fun.

I visited Shoko's house this week with Andee, who is sadly leaving the 5th of February. Jittan will soon follow on the 27th, which will leave me all alone (sort of) in the blustery port town of Tamano. But a large party is in the making, so at least they can go out in style.

Japanese school has been extended until July, which is good news for trips to Okayama. Expect pictures of interesting finds from the city soon.


It's everyone's favorite monster, Domo-kun! 

Here's one made of wood 

Friday all international course students at Tamano High School went to the Tamano Sports Center for a communication day. A man came from Chiba to give a lecture and we started by playing a game where everyone went around putting stickers on each other's face. Good times 

Ichiro giving me his sticker 

I made quite a few friends 

Yuudai acting out his group performace 

Jittan preparing some tasty Chinese treats 

The orchestral performance at Symphony Hall 

The Little Things

Today was exciting for a couple of reasons. One is a little more "out of the ordinary" so I will save it for later.

My host brother, Tomoya, plays the base in the school brass band (the large upright base, although he also plays the electric). A few days ago he traveled with the band to an Ensemble Competition in Kurashiki which I attended with my host mother and father. The performances were rather breathtaking, considering that the students were in junior high school playing difficult arrangements without a conductor. I had never heard Tomoya's band perform before, so I was quite excited to attend the event. When I looked in the program, Uno Chuu (Tomoya's school) was playing 62nd after another local junior high. I also happened to notice that they were both playing the same musical arrangement, some ballad.

I was sort of absorbed by the bands. They were really excellent and easily kept my attention. Finally, a group of girls took their place on the stage. They all took a starting bow in unison and promptly began to play. My mouth dropped around the middle of the performance. I don't have much musical knowledge, but these girls could play. My mind kept flashing back to images of autistic robots. The base player's fingers moved faster than I could see. It was a cacophonous blur of sound. When they finished, all stood in unison, took a bow, and left the stage. It was about the time I turned to my host mom to say "That's going to be impossible to beat" that I saw Tomoya come on stage. Turned out the last band was Tomoya's competition. Uno Chuu gave it their best, but were obviously outplayed by the girls team. Sad, but I guess you can't win 'em all.

So today, Tomoya, Mayumi, and I took a trip to Okayama for the JAS New Year's Concert. JAS, or Japan Automobile Society hosts the concert every year at the Okayama Symphony Hall. It lasted about two hours and featured two very famous flute and cello players, accompanied by various singers and a full orchestra. Now when I think of flute players, the image of a very relaxed individual comes to mind. But for this concert the main flautist was the most agressive member of the orchestra. He would lean all the way over his music stand and raise his eyebrows until you though he was going to fall right off the stage. But boy could he play the flute. The soprano blew me away as well, and I left feeling quite satisfied. And to make it even better the whole concert was free because we attended the competition in Kurashiki for Tomoya's school and found coupons.

But today's really surprising development was on Japanese radio. Usually I refrain from listening due to the relatively short span of music and long span of advertisements. But today I caught KDDI's Prime Time Radio hosted by George Williams, who also hosts a very popular "Teach Yourself English" program on Japanese television. He is half-japanese half-british with superb fluency in both languages. I also find him extremely easy to understand. Some say he is a little annoying but I have to give him the thumbs up for effort. So anyway I am listening to his show and he has a special guest, Jonathan Poneman. I knew I had heard his name somewhere, and then I remember he's the founder/rep of Sub Pop, the label of not only Nirvana and Soundgarden (before A&M) but more recently Hot Hot Heat, Iron and Wine, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Postal Service, The Reverend Horton Heat, The Shins, and Ugly Casanova (to name a few). Any one of those could do me on a desert island for years. So here I am in Japan singing along with The Shins playing "New Slang" while my host mom is wondering what in the world I'm doing. It's a small world I'll tell you. Little things like that make my day.


This undershirt felt great and looks even better 

Sizing me up 

Some final touches 

In kimono mode 

My host mother putting on her obi 

All ready for a day out on the town 

Making some tea 

Japanese garden 

This picture kills me 

At the tea ceremony 

This girl was about my age at the tea ceremony. I forgot her name which is bad (but typical) Posted by Hello

Looks pretty traditional, eh? 

Saeki-san is really talkative, my host mom looks seductive 

Tea ceremony-ing it up 

Outside the house of the man who liked to make wooden items 

I belive this same frog is in my living room in Morgantown 

I really have no idea why there were dog stuffed animals in this picture, Saeki-san just sort of grabbed them 

Seiji no Hi

Yesterday I felt pretty sharp, and rightfully so:

In this outfit I could totally flip out and kill you, and probably not think twice about it. The second Monday of January is designated Coming of Age Day, or "Seiji no hi" in Japan. It is a national holiday dedicated to those who turn 20 years of age that year. In Japan 20 years of age signifies adulthood because it is the legal age of voting (also drinking and smoking). Many young people dress in traditional Japanese kimono and go to local festivals.

But I was not dressed for Seiji no hi. In fact (if you have been paying attention), I'm not even 20 years old. I was going to a tea ceremony with my host mother and her friend, Saeki-san (she was in an earlier picture on the website playing jenga. Her husband is the one playing guitar). I borrowed my host father's kimono which happened to fit perfectly. In the morning one of my host mother's friends came over help dress in the kimono. It is a very difficult process (especially for women) which involves various articles of clothing and intricate fastening methods. The Obi, or bow in the back of a kimono, is especially difficult to tie by oneself.

After we "suited up," I felt pretty dangerous. Especially in the geta, a traditional japanese wooden shoe. Then it was off to the tea ceremony. When we arrived I walked in to find about 15 people stuffed into a very tiny tea room. Everyone looked very surprised to see me, and to tell the truth I was pretty shocked to see that many people in one room. There were two small children, a bunch of middle aged people, and at least one very old woman. After I introduced myself about half the people left the room so the other half could have the first cup of tea. There is a very intricate process involved in the delivery and comsumption of Ocha, or japanese green tea. You also eat a small sweet with the tea. The whole time I was pretty busy thinking about how much my legs hurt in the seiza position. But I didn't fidget or anything, and drank my tea with a smile and some pleasant conversation.

After the first cup of tea, everyone left the room so the other half could have a try. Many of the people at the tea ceremony were students, so they took turns carrying the tea in and out of the room. I was invited to have a second cup of tea with the other half of the group. Afterwards, people came back into the room to eat lunch which was a prepared Obento. People commented as usual on my ability to eat all types of japanese food. In fact I can eat about anything but I could probably do the same in any country. Especially when I'm hungry, and the tea didn't do a great job of satisfying my apetite.

After the tea ceremony and a few pictures, Kawai-san, Saeki-san, and I went to Saeki-san's mother's house. She was very happy to see us and served us some tea and cookies, which made me smile. She was also very good at sewing, with various pieces of her handycraft about the house. After finishing our tea we went to the house of a man who was at the tea ceremony earlier. He had told me that he liked to make things out of wood, such as the fence surrounding the japanese garden at the tea ceremony teacher's house. Inside of his house were more crafted items, including a large wooden table made by hand. We were offered more tea (which I took happily because it was so cold out) and took some pictures in his tea room. He was very nice as was his wife.

Afterwards, the three of us walked home where I changed back into regular clothes. That evening my family and Saeki-san's family went to eat at a nearby restaurant, where tons of fun were had. Jirou-sensei, the man who playes the guitar very well, is rather outgoing and funny when he has a few drinks. I also found out that his full time job is not teaching music, although he does give lessons quite often. He works for a company which makes food for livestock and birds. His company is in turn owned, or somehow related to DIC. You may remember DIC (or at least I did) as the company that used to sponsor children's television shows on PBS and a few other networks. Inspector Gadget was sponsored by DIC.

So a very nice day. The kimono was quite comfortable, aside from the chilly weather outside. I wouldn't mind wearing one again sometime.


Everyone waiting in line to pray at the temple 

New Year gifts for the gods 

The underground passageway 

This is a shrine to the god of hell, I wasn't sure if it was kosher to pray to him or not 

Reverently ringing the temple bell 

View of the Naruto Straits 

Some minor whirlpool action 

I'm standing on a boat!! 

There's the Olde Card (for you Dr. Seitz) 

The small picture in the upper left is in my grandmother's house 

And this one in Darien's house (I used to think his mom painted it) 

Directly following this picture I dove into the sea, and my subsequent demise Posted by Hello

Jirou sensei, my neighbor who has played the guitar forever and loves blues. But I will write an entry about him later 

We played Jenga, but it was called Timberr, with two r's 

Back to Konpira-san

Lets pick this up again. When we last left our hero he had just narrowly escaped the horrors of a Japanese New Year (known to most as JPN, similar to the horrible network television station UPN). No, I'm kidding, Japanese New Year was great and UPN is atrocious, not just terrible.

On January 2nd my host family and I traveled back to Konpira-san, which you may remember as the mountain with all the steps. Mayumi, my host mother, grew up near the mountain and her sister and parents still live in the town. The whole family gave me a huge welcome and after being introducted to everyone we took a short walk to the Sohonzan Zentsuji Temple. The temple is the birthplace of one of the most revered figures of Japanese Buddhism, the high priest Kobo Daishi, also known as "Kukai" (who my host mother referred to as "The Japanese Jesus"). The temple is massive, one of the largest I have visited, but it was also packed with people for the New Year. Numerous hard-to-pronounce national treasures could be seen at the temple including Ichiji-Ichibutsu-Hokekyo-Johon which features Kukai's calligraphy and his mother's drawing of the Buddha, and Sangoku-Denrai-Kondo-Shakusho which looks like a large walking stick and was awarded to Kukai for his appointment as 8th partiarch of the Shingon Buddhist sect. Although my favorite part of the temple was the Kaidan-meguri, a below-ground pitch-black cellar in which "nothing at all can be seen." (oddly ironic for a tourist attraction) You walk with your left hand against a wall, and follow the passage through the darkness until it leads to a chamber dedicated to Kukai's parents.

All that stumbling around in the dark was fun, but the best was yet to come. The next day my host family took me to visit the Otsuka Museum of Art in Naruto City. The museum consists of over 1,000 reproductions of masterpieces in Western Art. In a sense, it's a museum of forgeries. But very precise and accurate forgeries. I'll quote the booklet:

"Masahito Otsuka, Director of the Otsuka Museum, said his group started to make tiles out of the sand of the Naruto straits and thus up to the size of one square meter without blemish or crack. However, after the world oil crisis in 1973 there was no market for its tiles. After a visit in a Moscow cemetery in 1975 where he noticed that attached to many of the tombstones were name-card sized photographs of the beloved which had faded because of ultraviolet rays of the sun, it occurred to Masahito Otsuka that baking the photographs into ceramics would preserve the original color forever. That was how the Otsuka group began making ceramic reproductions of artworks, concentrating at first on Japanese paintings and scenes and that was how the idea for the Otsuka Museum of Art emerged."

Pretty crazy stuff! The musuem was divided into various categories including Antiquity (greek vases, mosaics, murals), Middle Ages, Renaissance (Botticelli, da Vinci), Baroque (Rembrant, Goya), Modern Art (Van Gogh, Gauguin), and 20th Century (Picasso, Dali). On top of the pictures were entire historical reconstructions of wall paintings, ancient ruins, and churches restored to exact replica (these guys are huge copiers). There was even a full sized Sistine Chapel. It took a long time to get through the museum but certainly worth it. I recognized much of the art and had even seen some of the originals in various museums. Or recognized from books, such as the famous portrait of good old Cardional Richelieu, Dr. Seitz's favorite Prime Minister of France.

After the museum we hit another famous spot in Naruto, the Naruto Straits (I listened to Dire Strait's "Money for Nothing" on the iPod to get in the mood). To make a long complicated story short, the Seto Inland Sea (a sea) and Kii Channel (an ocean) meet at the Naruto Straits and create large tidal whirlpools that can be seen from the observational walkway built below the Naruto bridge. In the floor of the walkway are large glass windows that allow visitors to stand directly above the 60 meter plunge to the water below. I gave the experience a big thumbs up, even if it wasn't the best whirlpool season.

After coming home from Konpira-san I caught myself a high fever and upset stomach, spending all day in bed with crazy dreams. My host grandmother took care of me, preparing delicious meals that made me better in no time. So with the sickness out of the way, I'll see what's in store for next week.


Leaving my old room, so sad 

The Joto High School finale 

Leaving the Watanabes 

My new room 

Showing off their firearms 

Host grandmother cooking up some mean soba 

So delicious 

Crazy kids, Tomoya in the back 

"The Game of Life" japan style 

The beginnings of omochi 

Making omochi 

This one's kind of funny, I swear I didn't hit anyone 

At the boat races 

First snow! 

Snowiness around town 

New Year's Eve lunch prepared by host grandmother 

The stairs to the shrine 

Fireworks at midnight, pistols at dawn 

A delicious New Year's breakfast 

The Tamano high school art teacher made this mural, then I found it at the Tai shrine 

Finishing the afternoon with some Mahjong 

Two Thousand Five

I've made the move to my second host family, which in retrospect was fairly painless aside from the tedious act of packing and unpacking clothing, gifts, books, and other japanese booty into suitcases. Also, sorry for the small interruption of service, you junkies need to learn to get your fix elsewhere anyway. But at last, a recount of this past week's activities.

The day before I left the Watanabe's house I went to see my friend Katrin perform in the Joto Koukou symphony orchestra at the Okayama Symphony Hall. I met a bunch of other exchange students at the performance and had an overall enjoyable time. After the orchestral performance the Joto chorus also performed, singing "Seasons of Love" from Rent and some other terrible musicals (just kidding). My favorite was perhaps the Joto brass band, which did a "tribute to anime," playing songs that I was able to recognize (theme from Lapita, Totoro, Sen to Chihiro (Spirited Away), etc). After the performance some kids and I grabbed donuts at the aptly named "Mr. Donut."

The next day I finished stuffing various items into suitcases. It was definitely sad to leave the Watanabe's house; they have been such a great host family. Shoko assured me that I could come back any time I wanted, after they came back from their New Year's trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Kawai-san (my second host mother) along with Aketa-san (my rotary counselor) showed up around 4 o' clock to help with the process of moving. The whole Watanabe family was home for the New Year, so I got to see Shoko, Masatoshi, Shun, Mai, Miyu, and Shoko's mother before I left.

A little background about the Kawai family. There are three people, Osamu (my host father), Mayumi (host mother), and Tomoya (host brother, who is thirteen). The Kawai family lives about 10 minutes away from the Watanabe family, in Tai (The Watanabes live in Tama). Both houses are about 15 minutes by bike from Tamano High school, almost in opposite directions. My new address is

Captain Benjamin Gleitzman III
3-18-39 Tai
Tamano, Okayama 7060001 (I can still get mail at my old address too)

When I arrived at my new house, Mayumi showed me my room. In terms of tatami mats, it is about the same size as my old room. But the ceiling is really high, with what I will call a large "alter" that makes the room look a lot bigger. The rest of the day was spent unpacking, until Tomoya came home from school with a whole pack of his friends. Tomoya is in the band, and all of his friends also happen to play instruments. I showed everyone my pictures from america, the DVD that kostya made (a big hit), and the english project that Rahul made for school last year (Tomoya's friends almost died during the car chase scene, and everyone agreed it looked really professional).

The next day I went to meet my host grandmother who lives very close. I was told that she would be making lunch for me because Mayumi had to go to work. She came to pick me up and we had a long conversation about her trip to Hawaii with a chorus group. She spoke really fast japanese, but it seems to me that I can usually understand everything that old people say. At least if they want me to. We left for her house, where she told me that she was a licensed cook. She prepared yaki soba (a type of noodle) that was the most delicious I've ever had. That afternoon Tomoya's friends came over again and we played with Tomoya's large collection of plastic guns and video games.

The next day, Kawai-san took me to experience mochitsuki (which means making omochi, or sweet rice cakes) at a friend's house. I had wanted to do this for a while. The process involves putting a ton (figuratively) of cooked rice in a stone bowl, and smacking it with long wooden hammers until it turns into a paste-like "goo." The goo is then squeezed into small balls and covered in flour. It can them be eaten in a variety of ways including plain, with soy sauce, with a sweet powder, in soups, etc. After the making of omochi, I went to see a boat race at a nearby arena. It is very similar (I assume) to horseracing, with six racers and a bunch of people betting on certain boats. It looked pretty chilly to me, but if I got the chance I would try it.

The next morning (New Year's Eve), I woke up to find snow on the ground. Dragging myself to the window I got a small shock because this was the first snow of the year yet pretty decent sized. I small snowball fight ensued involving myself, Tomoya, Tomoya's cousin who stayed with us over New Years, and some of the kids next door. After the battle, thoroughly soaked and satisfied, I sat down to a delicious lunch of sushi prepared by my host grandmother. That evening, the whole family went back to the house where we made omochi to wait for the New Year. I had a gratuitous amount of osake which sparked interesting conversation with my host father and left me in a good mood for 2005. About 20 minutes before midnight (14 hours before the ball would drop in Times Square) all of us went to a nearby shrine (a japanese custom) to watch fireworks (not a custom as far as I know). When we reached the top of the shrine steps, the countdown had already begun. We turned around to see fireworks on a hill near a small amusement park to the sound of "ooohs" and "aaahs." I helped myself to more sake at the shrine and wished for a good year.

The next morning I woke up to a traditional japanese New Year's breakfast, consisting of various foods that each have a certain meaning. I drank more osake with some gold foil in it (just being traditional not an alcoholic), and decided that was enough alcohol for a while. That morning Tomoya's friend came over and the three of us went to Tamano's shrine by bike to pay our respects for the new year. We also visited the Tai shrine before returning home for a traditional New Year's lunch consisting of the same foods eaten for breakfast, plus soba. Soba is traditionally eaten during the New Year for reasons I am assuming relate to good luck.

On New Year's Day my host father's brother came to visit as well as his wife and three children. My host grandfather and grandmother also joined us. My host father, father's brother, grandfather, and I played Mahjong which would have made my grandmother very proud. Not only is it a difficult game but in japanese it can be daunting. I really enjoyed it, however, and can't wait to get my next chance to try and best my host grandfather, who cleaned me out.

The rest of the weekend proceeded with more excitement, but I will leave that up to another entry. For now, あけまして おめでとう (akemashite omedetou) and Happy New Year.