Thousands of Miles from Home


Welcome to the Kansai International Airport Posted by Picasa

My final purchase in Japan Posted by Picasa

Sunrise off the wing of a Boeing 747-500 Posted by Picasa


My wonderful mother, who can now read all about herself of my blog Posted by Picasa

Giving my father a hug at the baggage claim of the Pittsburgh Airport Posted by Picasa

Back on the right side of the road Posted by Picasa

And There Shall Be a Triumphant Return

It’s been a while. In fact, exactly two weeks since I stepped into that pressurized Northwest airplane departing from the multi-million dollar Kansai airport. Due to the magical realm created by Time Zones and International Datelines, my arrival in America actually preceded my departure in Japan by almost a full hour, following a twelve hour flight through wispy clouds and timeless sunrises. You would think, what with all the quiet hours of observation provided to me in Japan, that I had become a better observer and analyzer of everyday life. I wanted these two weeks since my departure to represent a time for decent observation into what Japan meant and changed in me. Even still, I realize that my year in Japan cannot be fully comprehended and digested in a measly fortnight, and I would be grateful to ever truly understand Japan as a country. I can produce curt sound clips on street corners to friends I have not met in a full year, but those cursory explanations can’t begin to encompass the experiences, friends, and sense of maturation I found in Japan. Which leads me to wonder, when I realize that…

I have a hard time identifying any specific changes in myself.

To tell the truth, my friends say that I haven’t changed aside from longer sideburns and a slight British accent. I didn’t know quite what to expect from the long awaited reunion with my parents at the airport, but my homecoming was surprising commonplace. Heartwarming, to say the least, and certainly not mundane, but to where, exactly, did that year in Japan disappear? Where are the exchange kids that gain 30 pounds, grow a beard, and have to introduce themselves to their parents at the airport? There was no uncontrollable sobbing, no cries of relief, just warm smiles all around from two people I love. It felt as if I had only left for a week. As far as I can see, the only perceptible change is that of my sleepy Morgantown, whose population jumped after the addition of 20,000 college students in the most recent census (qualifying this town as a city, and gaining four Starbucks locations since I left in August).

I could make a small list of the ways that America has both shocked and awed me following my return to the country, but my recent trip with Rahul (friend and fellow exchange student living in Fukuoka, Japan) to visit his host sister Shizuka (whom he never met) in West Lafayette, Ohio, put some excellent closure on both our experiences in Japan over the last year (Rahul and Shizuka were actually Rotary Exchange partners, Shizuka came to America while Rahul stayed with her family in Fukuoka).

West Lafayette, a “good ‘ol town” with a population topping off at around 2,000, must have been a strikingly different Rotary exchange from what Rahul and I found in Japan. As the two of us rolled up, to Shizuka’s house on the astonishingly broad streets of Coshocton, I couldn’t help but be shocked by the pure, almost palpable American ambiance. You could already smell the BBQs cookin’, past fields of corn stretching toward the unadulterated horizon.

After meeting Shizuka’s first host father (who unlike Japanese men was not working dawn to dusk) fixing his Chevy truck (and not a super small Toyota) in front of his wide lawn (not a miniscule driveway leading to a narrow road), he directed us to the house next door where Shizuka and her friend were preparing for the town’s Homecoming festival. I was excited to be able to speak Japanese with Shizuka, and I’m sure she was anxious for some Japanese flavor before she departs this week for Japan (even though she says she does not want to return home).

The streets of West Lafayette are lined with American flags, porches draped with flowers, and the ever-present bunting. The town has four police officers and two patrol cars, which means that any more than three simultaneous robberies are a guaranteed success. I could relate the whole story of West Lafayette to you in great detail (which would also be a quite interesting read), but a bulleted list will suffice:

Shizuka, her friend Laura, host mother (an older widow who was the most outgoing woman I have ever met) Rahul, and I ate dinner in a town called Baltic, at a restaurant run by the Ohio Amish and serving the most delicious fried chicken west of the Pecos. During the meal we talked of India (Shizuka’s host mother is very well traveled), the drama club at West Lafayette High School, and lemon meringue pie.

On the ride back from the restaurant, and while eating licorice sticks bought from the Baltic Country Store, we passed a group of Amish people in lawn chairs on an open trailer being pulled by a farm tractor, headed to the Homecoming festivities, no doubt.

At the Homecoming festival, there was a show stopping performance by Melvis, an Elvis impersonator with the given name Melvin, who was flanked by a troupe of cloggers wearing sparkly silver jackets. Simply amazing.

I purchased dragon tattoos for $1 from very shady Circus folk.

Aside from having our collective minds blown by West Lafayette, Rahul and I blew most everyone’s mind by being semi-ethnically diverse in an area where demographics can be followed as the rule. Shizuka said she didn’t feel too conspicuous, and appeared very happy in her little county of Coshocton. Strange to say, but this trip to Ohio made me glad to be back in the United States, and even happier that Morgantown is the place that it is. It’s great to be able to communicate and express myself again in English (with an occasional added flare of Japanese) to anyone and everyone I meet.

On the way back to Morgantown, Rahul and I stopped at an ice cream shop and could barely finish half of the smallest cones on the menu.

All jokes aside,

Great to be home.


After waiting most of a year, I finally captured a picture of my favorite building in Okayama (on the left side of the photo) Posted by Picasa

A sneaky photo at Cirque du Soleil Posted by Picasa

Hiroko, me, Kayo, and Shun in Osaka Posted by Picasa

From the DJ booth at Club Jam Posted by Picasa

My hairdressers from PANIC, yet again conforming that hairdressers are awesome Posted by Picasa

Club Jam Posted by Picasa

Jez, as Indiana Jones Posted by Picasa

My DJ equipment, which is not really mine at all, expect for the iPod in the corner Posted by Picasa

Some random Takahashi High School students Posted by Picasa

In the middle of Takahashi High School is a small pond. The school itself resides inside of a National Park Posted by Picasa

Sakaguchi-sensei and I Posted by Picasa

The food layout for my farewell party Posted by Picasa

Nakkan and Endo Posted by Picasa

Nao and Mina, with the amazing bling-bling Posted by Picasa

Nakkan on guitar Posted by Picasa

A downright strange photo Posted by Picasa

Jez, the reindeer, and my host mother Posted by Picasa

Party people in the house Posted by Picasa

Yep, three idiots (stooges was already taken, and was a bit of a misnomer anyway) Posted by Picasa

Franken-Neil Posted by Picasa

In the sunaburo, which is like a sand bath Posted by Picasa

Izawa and I Posted by Picasa

The guys in this picture are making my name in katakana Posted by Picasa

This is called the "Yankee Squat," for reasons really unknown to me (Japanese people often sit like this to rest, and Yankee means a derelect person in Japanese), but I think its a funny moniker either way Posted by Picasa

"The guys" of Tamano High School Posted by Picasa

Nakkan, Yuudai, and Endo cleaning the school Posted by Picasa

The End of an Era

The last few days have been an exercise in “mad-dash Japanese cultural experiences,” which have flown by at breakneck speeds. What happened to my final few lazy weeks in Japan? While I can’t quite recall everything that has occurred in my quest to successfully pack and exit Japan in a proper manner, I’ll try to briefly list some of the highlights:

Frequenting an onsen with Neil and my host mother where sand was shoveled all over our bodies for therapeutic reasons. Recorded great footage of exiting our sandy graves, like proper creatures of the night.

My last day of school was thrilling, almost better than some of the first. Everyone was very eager to talk regardless of how well they actually knew me, and most showered me with requests for cell-phone pictures in outrageous poses. There was a party during the last period, and two kids performed a fully choreographed fight scene in tribute to my time spent at Tamano High School.

The next day some choice friends of mine came to the house (along with Jez and Neil) for a final farewell party with my parents and host sister. My host mom prepared a huge array of succulent foods which were quickly devoured by the crowd of hungry hungry high school students. Jez pulled out a guitar and hosted a small jam session along with Nakkan, which eventually led into full karaoke versions of such eclectic favorites as “Lose Yourself,” by Eminem, “Hanna,” by Orange Range, “We Are the World,” by Michael Jackson, “Country Roads,” by John Denver, and a completely improvised satire by Jez and Neil. In true form, after all my friends left Jez, Neil, and I rode bikes to the Konbini to buy copious amounts of drink, explosive fireworks, and other unmentionables. Mahjong ensued.

Friday morning I took a trip to Takahashi High School to meet Sakaguchi-sensei, perhaps my favorite teacher from Tamano High School (he moved to Takahashi at the beginning of this school year). Sakaguchi-sensei was my former Kendo teacher, and speaks the most fluent English of any Japanese person I have met in Japan. He gave me a tour of the school (which happened to be having its seasonal festival that day) and then we talked about life in Japan before I took a train into Okayama for my final Japanese lesson.

I awoke early on Saturday for a trip to Osaka with Miyu, Shun, and Shoko. Shoko had purchased tickets to see Cirque du Soleil’s “Allegria” shortly after I arrived in Japan, and offered me a ticket. I’d seen Cirque on TV before, but the actual performance was perhaps, I’m almost sad to say, the most amazing and breathtaking thing I have had the good fortune to experience in Japan. It was simply stellar. I’ve seen circuses before, but never anything that even approaches the level of captivation and skill inherent in the performance of Allegria. After the show I met Kayo, last year’s exchange student to Canada (now living in Osaka), and we went to dinner with Hiroko and her mother, friends of Shoko living in Kobe. The dinner was delicious, which is to be expected whenever I travel anywhere with Shoko, and we took Purikura photos following the meal.

In the evening, I finally got the chance to attend a party in Okayama city (my first of the exchange) at a place called Club Jam, which was hosting a Farewell shindig for Okayama JETs. A-JET, which I can only assume is an elite group of regular JETs, rented the club for the evening and provided their own music. When I arrived at the club I met a few surprising people. As usual, most of the Okayama JETs were in attendance, but my hairdressers from PANIC surprised me by showing up, along with a nurse I met at the hospital when I sprained my ankle. There was mingling and madness until about 3 AM when I got the rare chance to DJ the remaining music until the club closed at 5. Some people had already gone home, but a good amount stayed while I played an hour and a half DJ set from a handful of cd’s and my iPod, which I now realize is one of the most convenient appliances I own. It was pretty damn cool to DJ the club, if only for the extensive power trip connected with pumping your favorite tunes into the ears of a crowd of people, and seeing them actually enjoy it.

Neil, Jez, and I had a bowl of beef and rice at Yoshinoya, the 24 hour beef and rice bowl restaurant, and then took the train back to Tamano (where we met John, asleep on a bench in the station, hobo style). Awesome evening, or perhaps, awesome “earlier this morning.” So far my day has been spent on final packing preparations, and canceling my cell phone service. Tonight is a family get-together with mom, dad, grandmother, host sisters, and Ryo, the resident boyfriend.

By this time tomorrow I’ll be somewhere over the Pacific. Strange to see a year go by in such a documented fashion. One last day, a final chalk mark on the proverbial wall. What a trip.


School rumbles, house parties, and trips to Osaka are how this Rotary exchange student finishes out his year. Stay tuned for the gripping end to his crazy story, with guitar accompaniment where available... Posted by Picasa


My captain for the trip and amazing travel partner, Oyaji Posted by Picasa

My host mother standing outside Oyaji's truck at 4AM Posted by Picasa

Sunrise over the hills Posted by Picasa

The rice fields of Okayama Posted by Picasa

The downright astonishing view at the entrance to Tottori Prefecture Posted by Picasa

A bridge under construction in Tottori Prefecture Posted by Picasa

Oyaji on Hakuto beach Posted by Picasa

Unloading our cargo from the bigrig Posted by Picasa

Oyaji, climbing over the dunes Posted by Picasa

My photo on the very windy Sand Dunes of Tottori Posted by Picasa

A small oasis leading to the dunes Posted by Picasa

Surfing on Thursday at this small beach near the ocean Posted by Picasa

Kamemoto-san, my host father for the night Posted by Picasa

Mai, Kamemoto's daughter, and the most outgoing girl I have ever met in Japan Posted by Picasa

This was where I exited the station on Friday after taking the train out of the city. Nothing but miles of rice, mountains, and sky Posted by Picasa

Rice fields of Japan, absolutely breathtaking colors Posted by Picasa

A castle on a hill Posted by Picasa

The amazing view from my own personal mountain in Tottori Posted by Picasa

On my climb up the mountain on Friday, I came across this apparently famous rock Posted by Picasa

This would be Micah, complete with drink, fireworks, and a sandwich in front of the "adult magazine" section at Lawson. Posted by Picasa

What would a beach party be without fireworks! Posted by Picasa

I've never met a vampire, but this comes damn close Posted by Picasa

Sim and Misha, note the "Tottori sweat" shirt Posted by Picasa

A guy spinning poi on friday night Posted by Picasa

Beautiful sunrise at Kozomi in Tottori Prefecture Posted by Picasa

This is just a very very strange photo Posted by Picasa

The party heats up as the sun goes down over Kozomi beach Posted by Picasa

Saturday night featured a 14-piece samba band from Hiroshima playing some crazy beats Posted by Picasa

Tents on the beach, the aftermath of a rough weekend Posted by Picasa

The trademark ice cream photo with a few more friendly faces Posted by Picasa

Claire, me, Misha, and Jez back at the Tottori Sand Dunes Posted by Picasa

This man was wearing the best beach outfit of the day. Rain-splattered suit with rubber waffle stompers completes this tour guide's spicy motif Posted by Picasa

Ting and Carter at a Vietnamese restaurant back in Okayama Posted by Picasa

An Explosive End to My Japanese Judo Career

A week before coming to Japan, I sprained my ankle in a freak gasoline-fight accident (otherwise known as a rock climbing foax pas). It wasn’t much of a pain, but it did keep me from sitting in seiza style for a couple of weeks. Japan being the land of coincidences, it is only appropriate that I therefore sprain my ankle on the way out of the country, which is exactly what I did in a high stakes Judo match with the heaviest kid in my class.

Japanese people being quite reactionary and cautious, after I heard my ankle pop under the weight of Okugami-kun, I was shuttled out of the Judo arena on a small stretcher to be taken immediately to a hospital for processing and diagnosis. The doctor, who reminded me far too much of my father (less than a week, Dad!), bent my foot in a number of ways and examined various x-ray slides before determining I had incurred only slight injury to one of my ligaments/tendons/I didn’t pay enough attention in Human Phys class. In the end I was able to walk out of the hospital on my own accord which was a major relief. Now it’ll be a few days of rest, ice, compression, and elevation while my ankle puts itself back together.

In the meantime, I’ll post pictures of Tottori weekend for your viewing pleasure. When I arrived at the beach party, I was immediately recognized by a group of Tsuyama JETs, and continued to meet just about everyone I have ever known from the Chugoku region of Japan over the course of the next two days. Micah came all the way from Shikoku for the event, and I finally got a chance to meet Carter’s girlfriend Ting. The three of us represented the Rotary Exchange faction well from among the throngs of JETs and Japanese.

Final preparations are being made, and the countdown begins.


Coming to you live from my perch in a secluded cove Posted by Picasa

Sand in My Shoes

I woke up at 1:30 in the PM today, which in my opinion provides a rather good description of the sort of antics that occurred at the beach. Following a lunch of cereal, milk, and a healthy banana, I hit a famous onsen with my host mother and Neil to repair some of the extensive hurt I put on my body over the course of 4 days spent wandering, touring, dancing, and plundering the beach landscape. A more extensive description to follow, but first it’s sleepy time.


Tottori, Palabras Uno

I find myself inside of a Japanese electronics store, which is always guaranteed to provide free internet to anyone willing to brave the terrible Muzak blaring from most electronics store speakers. This computer, amazingly enough, is playing some sort of Paul Oakenfold remix at a high enough level to overcome any less-desirable tunes. And so, with any more ado…

I left Tamano a little before 4 A.M. on a big rig truck bound for Tottori. My driver, Oyaji-san, picked me up in his beast ride and after a few goodbyes to my host mother we were on the open road. The sun rose quickly as we bore into the mountains of Japan, passing field after field of rice paddies scattered among the hills. With fog beginning to rise from the valley, out topic of discussion for the first part of the journey consisted of my detailed analysis of West Virginian Agriculture, where I had traveled in Japan, and if I had ever seen fireflies before. Oyaji, a 20 year veteran of truck driving, told me some of his countless stories of the road as he hauled lumber from Tamano to Nara, Osaka, Tottori, Shikoku, and Osaka.

At a junction in the road Oyaji turned east, directly into the rising sun. We traveled for a while in silence as I kept my eyes glued to the beautiful surroundings in northern Okayama. At another junction we turned north, and into the precarious mountains dividing Okayama and Tottori prefectures. Until my ride with Oyaji I assumed that all traveling in Japan was a very expensive business. Trains, buses, and ferries cost money, but even cars are taxed on the toll roads that crisscross the country. Amazingly, Oyaji avoided every toll road and made it to Tottori for free.

When we reached the top of the mountains dividing the two prefectures, I was told that these roads require chains in the wintertime. Oyaji drives all year round, rain or snow. As we peaked the top of the last mountain, I felt myself take a quick gasp of air. Lying before us, like a hidden secret, was a valley stretching for miles inside a corridor of mountains on either side. Oyaji just smiled, having taken the course a countless number of times, but I could tell that this sight was not something he could easily explain to others. You had to make the trip through the mountains in order to experience the beauty.

Descending the mountains, we were well inside Tottori in no time flat. Stopping at a Lawson, my heart skipped a beat when Etsuko, Janna’s host sister from Tsuyama, recognized me outside the convenient store. She had come from Kurashiki that day on a surfing school tip, and said I could come along if I didn’t have any plans. Of course having none, and never having surfed before, I took her number and promised to call later.

Still feeling slightly shocked, Oyaji took me on a small tour of the area by truck, and then we stopped at the lumber year to unload our cargo. I met one of Oyaji’s colleagues, a chronic chain smoker, who operated the forklift. I never thought I would describe the use of a forklift as a beautiful thing to witness, but this man had some serious talent. A full cargo of wooden beams was unloaded and neatly stacked in well under 5 minutes. After witnessing his seemingly effortless display of skill, Oyaji and I borrowed a company car so we could tour the Tottori area before Oyaji return to Tamano by big rig that evening.

Out first destination was the Tottori sand dunes, which I had viewed on my last trip with Masatoshi but never had the chance to actually walk on the massive desert-like beach. Oyaji and I climbed the dunes, which was a more difficult task than I originally expected, but from our higher vantage point we could see a good distance along the coast in both directions.

We ate ice cream, and then Oyaji dropped me off at a small beach along the coast where Etsuko and her friends were surfing that day. I soon realized that this was the same beach where the San-In Beach Party was to be held the following day. Etsuko and I talked, surfed, and laid in the sun until afternoon, when she left with her surfing school for a different area of Tottori. I stayed at the beach for a while, only to receive a mild sunburn (AKA burned to a crisp), but the sun felt so wonderful I didn’t mind at the time. I took a walk along some craggy rocks to a small inland cove overlooking the sea, and ate my lunch as the waves crashed against large boulders at my feet.

Feeling sleepy, I took a short nap in the shade before returning to the city and wandering around the town. Around 5, I called Oyaji’s friend Kamemoto-san, who was letting me stay at his house for the night. Kamemoto, or Kame for short, wanted to know all about West Virginia and my exchange this year. Back at the house, I met his two kids, a high school sophomore girl and junior high school senior boy, both in the Kendo club. Kame’s wife made a huge meal, which I had a difficult time eating because of the sheer amount of food. Mai, Kame’s daughter, was the most outgoing high school girl I have ever met. I helped her with some math and English homework in exchange for the dinner, and then sat around talking and drinking with Kame. Later that evening Kame’s brother came over and the three of us played Mahjong, where I held my own. Feeling quite sleepy after waking up at the 3 in the morning, I bid the family goodnight and quickly fell asleep on the tatami.

The next morning, I had to be out of the house by 7:30, and was yet again greeted with a massive breakfast. Kame gave me a ride to the station, and said if I ever wanted to stay with him again all I had to do was ask.

Not quite knowing what to do with myself at 7:30 in the morning, I bought a three dollar train ticket and rode it as far as possible into the mountains (getting off at a stop translated as “Flowerland”). I planned on going to an onsen sometime during the day, but have found that onsens feel much more soothing after some type of strenuous workout. I began to walk back into Tottori, starting from literally the middle of nowhere, with a perfect temperature and slightly overcast sky. After about two hours of travel, I came across a large mountain which appeared to be climbable. I walked up into a small forest, and came across a large famous boulder of some kind in the woods. From the top of the mountain I could easy see the plains of Tottori stretching out to the sea. I ate a small lunch on the top of the mountain, then descended by a different path which led me through an “experimental agricultural center” and back to ground level.

Wimping out of the remaining 10Km walk back to the station, I took a bus just as rain began to sprinkle. By the time I got to the station there was a complete downpour with, drum roll please, thunder! That makes it just about 11 months since I had last heard thunder, and my first time experiencing the sound in Japan. I guess I didn’t really miss it enough to ever think about its absence.

From the station I bought a train ticket to a famous onsen, but the rain was so hard the trains stopped for an “indeterminate amount of time.” Slightly disappointed, I decided to leave the famous onsen for another day and walked to an onsen near the station. This onsen was a little different than others I had been to before. Usually you pay a small fee (between $10-12), and get to use the onsen and a variety of shampoos, body washes, and other cleansing items. This onsen has a flat rate of about $3, and you paid for things you wanted such as shampoo and towels. The onsen water was HOT, and didn’t quite agree with my sunburn, but I “chilled” out in the cold part of the onsen and let my skin begin to heal.

And that just about brings me up to now. Let’s party!