Friday, September 22, 2017


6am YNYC

Yesterday started out ordinarily enough. We had class during the typhoon and the afternoon was reserved for sleeping. I've never seen rain and wind like I saw yesterday. It looked like tons of hoses all just dumping water on Tokyo. Walking felt like swimming. The wind bent the trees over and it was very difficult to hold on to umbrellas. G ran outside in him swimsuit to play in the storm. I took a nap.

Later in the afternoon the rain stopped and the clouds broke apart, so G and I hopped a subway train back to the American Embassy to get his passport. They had just closed, unfortunately, and told us to come back the next day.

We took the subway to Shinjuku to try again to tour that area. We went out a different exit and found Oh Lord shopping center. We saw a live radio broadcast in a courtyard, and lots of hippie-looking shops. Through that mall we found a little technology district. We decided to look for an internet cafe (which we never found). We walked all over that few block area, and then crossed a big street into more of a game district. There were tons of little restaurants with people in the street advertising for them. At one point we stopped to ask one of the men where an internet cafe is. But- as we asked in Japanese- he answered in Japanese, and we didn't understand him at all.

We just kept walking and soon realized that we had stopped seeing foreigners, and started seeing strip clubs and 10-minute massage parlors. We just kept walking. Soon it was dark and most of the people we passed were sleeping on the street and they were the only people we saw. We turned right around and found our way back into the subway. We were actually one stop farther North than we started. But it was nice to be in a bright station after being so lost in an obviously bad part of town. We rode our way back and walked to everyone's favorite noodle shop for dinner. The meal was so-so. We were so relieved to not be lost that we just decided to go home and go to bed. As far as I can remember, that's all I did aside from shower and bathe (with newcomers to the communal bath system who were about 12 years old and very funny). At about midnight G came into our room and woke me up. I don't remember much about it except that he talked loud enough to wake up my roommates and say we all had to go to the television. He said two airplanes hit the World Trade Center, one hit the Pentagon and another was "unaccounted for" and perhaps was going to be shot down. He also told us they were passenger jets.

I won't go into detail about the incident- by the time I reread this it will probably be well-rehearsed news. G and I ran to the 4th floor lounge where a loud group of Japanese had gathered around the TV. They made room for us right in front so we could watch the pictures close up. After a few minutes, I composed myself enough to go downstairs where the rest of the group was listening to CNN on US military radio. Many people were crying, some just sat shocked. We were all packed into the lounge hearing everything we could and listening totally silently. People began trying to call home but the phone lines filled very quickly. Everyone, it seemed, knew of someone who could have been in the airplanes or in New York or worked in Washington or Chicago, or for United or American Airlines. Our first concern was for our friends and family who could or could not have been there.

Maybe it happened when Prof. Winship came in or maybe we just needed to find something else to think about, but soon we began worrying about our position in Japan. Would we be safe here? Are we going to go home? What parts of the program will be affected. When he came downstairs from contacting school he assured us that we are totally safe. Safer here, in fact, than probably at home. At the Youth Center we are unexpected guests. It's a Japanese Government run house so we're not in any danger of being targeted. The breakfast scheduled for this morning a the Tokyo-America Club with members of the American Chamber of Commerce was canceled. We heard that the American Embassy was closed, so G's passport would have to wait another day. Prof. Winship offered to help call home if we needed it and said he'd stay up to date on everything. He suggested we watch the news and listen to the radio as long as we wanted, but that class would resume as normal in the morning. Dr. Prescott came down and translated some of the Japanese for us, but we just listened to the radio so she left after a while.

Some Japanese walked by or joined our group once in a while, but they stayed silent and watched us and the news. Eventually we all dispersed, and, around 2-2:30am most people decided to try to sleep. I tried too, but nightmares kept me awake for most of it.

Now we're told we have class this morning and will probably not go to the Geriatric Center this afternoon. G and I plan on going to the embassy Thursday before our Friday flight to Kyoto.


7:10am YNYC
Yesterday was an unusual day. We had a typhoon so it rained very hard on and off all day. They held classes even though the teachers were running all over with G and Lynn. After lunch G and Prof. Winship and I all trekked down to the American Embassy. It was really interesting to finally learn what Ambassadors do and who they are. Security was very heavy. We first had our bags searched, then x-rayed. My two water bottles were taken away and my camera was held at the security check-point. Most of the security men were Japanese, but there was one American serviceman behind a glass wall. We got in and G began filling out forms. A few hours later we were all done. The rain let up a little bit and we walked back to the station.

We headed for the Tokyo subway station where we heard a big mall existed. We wandered around the station for a while but never found it. Se we hopped back on the subway and headed for Shinjuku station. We've never been there so we were excited. However, once we got out onto the street we were somewhere in the middle of high rises. And it was pouring. We found a diner-looking place that had a "blooming onion" in the window. Unfortunately, they did not have it on the menu. Instead we ordered soup, fried dumplings, some Spanish rice and corn omelet, and a club sandwich. It reminded me of a little nicer version of IHOP or Denny's (they did have pancakes, but they were expensive). When we were done there it was still pouring so we just went back to Yoyogi. After a great shower and long bath we went back out to Romi with some other people. Our businessman friend, whose name we found out was Mycheio Tarama, was there also. The rest of the bar was empty. The bartender was happy to see us and the 7 other people ordered lots of drinks. We brought a lot of business into his bar on a Monday night. Mycheio was very interested in our views on advertising, corporate mergers, and kabuki theater. We talked for a few hours and noticed the other Americans got very loud after they toasted with their first ever glasses of sake. But we were told that the bartender enjoys that type of atmosphere so I didn't feel so bad. He gave us free glasses of red wine and G drank a lot. We left at 11pm (early for that bar) and went to sleep after stopping at the convenience store for custard, sushi, and more sandwiches.


Midnight YNYC

First thing this morning we went back to International House for a presentation on Kabuki. Matazo Nakamura is a 68 year old professional Kabuki actor. I took tons of notes and pictures during the presentation so I don't forget anything. We sat right in front so we didn't miss anything. He was such a cute little man with his "boss" wife in kimono. We all had a good time learning and playing with him. For lunch, G and I went back to Mitsukoshi (the huge Ginza department store). We walked around Ginza for a while, but it felt just like the first time- things were too expensive to even look at. But we looked around anyway until it was time for the show. G bought a sushi box, spring roll, and pastry for dinner.

Kabuki was really fun. We sat kinda far away so we couldn't see facial expressions. The costumes were very ornate sometimes. The music was traditional Japanese. Sometimes they (the musicians) were seated in front on stage, but usually they were hidden. We had radio sets to hear explanations (not translations) in English. We saw the stagehands dressed all in black- with cloth covering their faces as well. Unusual for an American performance- their hands were not covered. There was also a separate type of helper that was dressed in brown formal robes and stayed on stage for most of the performance. These sometimes faced the audience but the almost always moved with their back to us. The scenery was interesting- mostly 2 dimensional painted flats for background and foreground. There was a huge turntable in the middle of the stage so I suspect the next scene was prepared as we looked at the current one. Scene changes were pretty quick but always totally covered by a curtain pulled across the stage by the stagehand.

I was a little disappointed by the lighting involved. Most was completely static and even, though some effects were used (lightening bugs and strobes). They mostly had tons of huge Japanese flood lights. Some had color changers on them. I was surprised that the lighting was so traditional, though now I think it makes sense. I wonder if the roofs of the houses were open so that down-light could be used as area light. Despite the sometimes lagging pace of action, I was really fascinated by the performance and only got a little uncomfortable at the end.

Quick note: other American students appeared not as interested in the performance as their postcards home and journal entries. Enough of that. G and I left and found a passport picture booth in the Shinjuku station (the closest we've been to Shinjuku yet). We got a little lost but four subway transfers later we arrived in time to see the bath close.

11:00am YNYC Classroom
While we're sitting here together, taking shelter from the storm and waiting for people to come back from hospitals and passport offices, I thought I'd jot some notes about density. Housing: stacked housing, windows, plants, thin buildings. Subway: quiet, look down, Mycheio Tarama says it's only a few minutes so they know they can handle it. Restaurants: sit close, eat fast, no dawdling.


Noon, YNYC

We left without a hitch yesterday morning and arrived at Gunma Prefecture Institute of Agriculture a little early. They had cushioned "inside slippers" all ready for us and signs of welcome. First was an opening ceremony with kind words from the president, then Prof. Winship made up a speech, then the president presented our group with good luck dolls that are produced in Gunma. Fill in one eye when you make a wish or start a project and fill in the other when you're done. We gave them soil. The principal gave a lecture on Japanese Agriculture and local production of items in Gunma. It was a little dry and sometimes it was hard to connect thoughts because the whole lecture had to be translated. Then a narrated video about the school itself. We had a nice lunch with ham and pineapple, then toured the gardens, outsides of dorms, museum, and (the highlight) the cow barn.

Back on the bus and three hours later we were back in Yoyogi, in quads, then showered and bathed and back to Romi to meet our friends from last Friday: Eri and Shiori. When the bartender opened the bar at 7pm he told us that Shiori called and said she wouldn't be able to meet until 10pm. He gave us "No Pay Beer" and we drank it. There were two new girls in the corner, but they didn't say much. The bartender (whose name sounded like Master so I'll call him that) told us that Bob and a few others from our group had visited during the week. He had written down their names and what they had ordered to drink. We ran out to Mi Rei Te for a good meal and got lost on the way back to the bar. Finally we made it and Shiori, Eri and a few more friends were happy to see us.

It was an exciting night- and I made two new friends: Emika and Ayamei. Most of the night they practiced their English on my by crying about recent breakups. I taught them the words to Aretha Franklin's "I Will Survive" and we learned such beloved American phrases as "You Go Girl!" and "I can live without him!" also "CHEEEEEEEEEERS!" In return they taught me some strange one-liners a popular comedian uses. One was to put my hand palm down under my chin and say, "Aie!" They thought it was really funny and promised it had no meaning. Kowa'i means afraid- something we agreed we wouldn't be toward the future. "Hey baka!" means "you fool!" and can be easily used to imitate American personalities as seen to the Japanese. We talked about Americans being shy to bathe together and I learned that "Su ppon ppon" is the rough translation of "buck naked". Somehow that led to a discussion about Denny's and they drew me a map with the phrase "Denny's wa dokodesuka?" meaning "where is the Denny's?" Before we knew it, it was 2:00am and we were exhausted. We took pictures and hugged a lot- exchanged "I love you"s and finally we left. Of course, I started crying. We became so close so quickly and had such a fun time teaching each other (Emika was training to be a kindergarden teacher and Ayamie works at Sunska drug store) new things. Leaving that place where everybody knows your name (even if they can't pronounce it correctly) was heartbreaking for me. It made me realize how short our stay in Tokyo (and Asia) really is- and that darn concept of ichigo ichie caught me again.

So, three hours later I was on my way to the Tsukiji fish market. It was very early but there was still a fairly large crowd. We took the subway there and walked to the end of the pier. It was very crowded and there were tons of little trucks zooming around with huge tuna on them. Past rows and rows of little fish buyers and sellers with every type of fish imaginable- live and/or dead. Eels, squid, octopus, everything. Eventually we reached the auction area at the end of the pier. The auctioneer stood in the middle of dozens of frozen tuna. Huge, enormous, gutted carcasses. He sounded more like he was chanting or singing than the standard fast-talking American guys. The pace was very even and not too fast. Apparently fish buyers get tuna, then it is driven over to the stall where they cut it up with saws and sell it to restaurants and other people.

On my way out I also saw unusual looking vegetables for sale next to stationary, high heels, and live crab. I stopped with some people and ate a sinfully delicious pancake and sausage McDonald's breakfast. I brought Lazy G back an Egg McMuffin and now I'm watching clothes spin in the dryer.

11:30pm YNYC
So after laundry we went to the sword museum in Yoyogi. I never thought I'd get into it- but they handed us English pamphlets about the history and art of sword-making. Once we got in I noticed the patterns on the blades and could match them up with the time period they were made in. I kept the pamphlets, so I guess I can look back at them and remember the details when I want to. G and E wanted to go to the sword store, so Emily and I went on ahead to the Ota Ukiyoe Hakubutsukan museum to complete our Culture assignment. We had to get special slippers right away and noticed right away the unusual environment there. It was a relatively small building, only 2 small floors. There was tatami in front of 3 ukiyoe and we took off our slippers to kneel in front of them. There was a small rock garden in the center of the first floor with a water fountain and benches. Upstairs was before-and-after type sketches of ukiyoe. Lots of these were of women and comical figures. Some were definitely caricatures. I related it back to information in the book about ukiyoe art being more of an art "of the people". We spent a long time there studying the prints and taking notes. It was very peaceful and wonderfully different from the information overload on the streets of Tokyo.

After a quick stop at the toy store (again), we searched for gym shoes for G and funny t-shirts for me. G got bowling-looking shoes for about Y9600, but the designer t-shirts and resale ones were VERY expensive. We eventually gave up and sought refuge in TGIFridays for cold drinks. There were so many Americans there! The menu was totally in English and the decorations were exactly the same as at home.

We headed back to Yoyogi and had vending machine soba for dinner. The end of today!

Sunday, September 10, 2017


7:15am ANYC
Our first full day in Akagi was very peaceful. It felt the opposite of any day in Tokyo. After class we just did our own thing for a few hours (for me that meant sleeping) until getting ready for dinner. We marched around for a while, getting food from the kitchen, drinks from vending machines, etc. We walked up to a camp ground that had big picnic tables. I got silverware and cooking utensils, some of our group got the grill, Greg got charcoal and we built a fire. We were the first group to finish our fire- by a really long time. Then, our new friend Katsu gave instructions on how to cook the food. We put a large metal top on the grill and he gave us orders- sometimes in Japanese, sometimes in English when he knew it. First was oil, then meat ("GO GET THE MEAT!!!!!") then cabbage, sprouts, then yakisoba ("YAKISOBA!!! YAKISOBA!!!") sauce. We fried all the food together (I got burned by oil on my hand) and step  #6 was finished. The food was terrific! The soba noodles tasted so good after all the rice we've eaten. As we were finishing our first course, most of the groups finally got their fires going. We had some vegetables left over so we grabbed more meat and yakisoba sauce and cooked another course for ourselves. It was so fun to cook with each other and hear Katsu trying to give us directions in Japanese. After dinner, Eric, Erik, and Jeremy washed the dishes because they didn't get to help cook.

It was startling for me to hear an American do something nice for a change and not expect "someone else" to pick up the slack. We waited for the coals to go out and then came back to our rooms for hanging out and studying time. The leisurely day was a nice change from the crazy pace of living in Tokyo.

Wow! I've never been so happy to be clean. Today after class we hiked/climbed up to the top of Mt. Akagi. The first part, 1-1/2 miles or so, maybe more, was all uphill pretty steeply along a road. I was out of breath from the very beginning. Some people shot ahead, but I tried to pace myself. The road was very curvy and there were cars that occasionally passed us. The whole group of 80 started out, and we made quite a sight attacking the mountain. After a long time of street walking we turned onto the path. There were lots of rocks and vertical climbing. Some rocks were slippery and there was a good bit of mud. At the beginning there were wooden posts with string and rope tied between to help us (that was more useful coming down). It felt very difficult because I was so out of breath and already sweating, tired, and sore. So many times I thought of turning back. Soon I was by myself and not trying to keep up with anyone. Those times it was completely silent. I usually didn't even hear insects. Once in a while people passed me or I passed them, but it really became a journey between me and the mountain. I've never felt such a sense of peace, solitude, and excruciating pain. I just kept going- my goal was the Buddha at the top of the mountain. There came a flatter part, with beautiful views of the countryside below. We could see golf courses, the road, and miles and miles of trees and landscape. There was tons of mist, though, and it obscured the top so we didn't know how much longer it would be. Soon we got to the log stairs we were told about. I think it was half a mile of stairs until, finally, covered in sweat and aching from head to toe, I reached the top of the mountain. There were already a dozen or so students there so I yelled out, "I come seeking the meaning of life!" I just got a few chuckles but that was it. After a brief rest we started down. It felt great to get so far doing so little work. My legs were shaky and wobbling, but gravity was on our side. We got back in one piece and breathing much easier.

After a great dinner of more yakisoba and fried pot stickers we saw the West Dance Preservation Society perform a local traditional dance. It was really rousing. Loud drums (like 8-10 of them) and dancers with props. A man playing a sake barrel was singing to the music and there was a flute player. They played the one song, and then has us make 2 big circles while they taught us a dance with clapping. The dance was pretty simple and we learned it quickly. After that we took a big group picture and played the drums and looked at the props. The dancers were all women and they were very friendly. They dressed up some of the girls in their costumes and we took lots of pictures. That brings me to my wonderful and much-needed shower and bath. After so much activity today it felt wonderful. I can't wait to go to sleep and relax my sore muscles. Tomorrow we pick up to leave our camp in the mountains. I hope I don't have to fold sheets again.


9:45pm Akagi National Youth Center
We spent most of today on the bus. I was very thankful to give my feet a much deserved rest. Nikko- a city containing a shrine to Tokagowa (the first shogun.... see field notes). That was very interesting, however, shrines are beginning to all look alike to me. What I noticed most during the day was the behavior of my fellow travelers. In one way they were a little Japanese: following our group and behaving according to their immediately perceived social conditions. Unfortunately, those behaviors mostly included being loud and complaining. Also, people seemed to think that the most important goal was to get themselves as individuals where they wanted to be. This manifested itself in students leaving their luggage in the courtyard and going to the bus. Also, despite warnings that sheets should be folded as neatly as possible, many were little more than balled up. We refolded many sheets because of this. Later, I heard students complaining about the time it took for "them" to sort out sheets. This, to me, reminded me that as respectful as the country we are living in is- some chose to remain simply Americans visiting a strange and often inconvenient society. People do not have the attitude that they are living in this country- but that the daily events of eating food and sleeping in unusual situations are getting in the way of their fun in another country.

Once we arrived here in Akagi I noticed the Japanese did not want to tolerate our fundamental American-ness. I felt unwelcome when the main security guard yelled at us to wear inside shoes. He looked more than aggravated at the fact that none of us brought inside shoes. We were rushed through our dinner- feeling the consequences for our bus arriving late. Students realized quickly that we are "not in Kansas" anymore at the NYC orientation. We have specific bed-making instructions, a lights out time, and a quiet time. The "rooms" are no more than partitions in a larger hallway. One girl said, "Oh my God, we're in hell." Unfortunately, I think many students feel this way tonight. Every time I hear an American voice rise above our incoherent noisiness I feel embarrassed and understand why Japanese often think we are noisy and rude: It's because we often are.

Thursday, September 7, 2017


3:15pm Cafe de F.O.B. Tokyo
I got lost. All by myself, outside the museum that supposedly houses woodblock prints. Our group was split up, and, luckily, we established a 3:45 meeting place. I'm just waiting to go. I'm the only gaijin here- I pointed to order what turned out to be a delicious banana (or baname) smoothie. People are staring at me. It doesn't help that I'm soaking wet from the rain. Actually, I'm starting to get the feeling that I've sat here too long. But one story first: going to the bank to change money. We walked into a bank. No words were in romanji. People took tickets and sat down. But where did they get them? Finally a Japanese woman pointed them out. I took one and waited. Then I saw a counter with the exchange rate. I walked over, checks and passport in hand. A man rushed over to the counter waving his hands across his chest. That meant they don't change money. It was frustrating.

So we walked several blocks (about 20 minutes) and found an international office of some sort that, aside from providing international documents, changed my travelers checks into Yen. Horray! or, rather, Saikoh!

9:45pm Scruffy Murphy's
Yes- an Irish pub in Tokyo.To top it all off, there's a live jazz band playing "Summertime". They're really good. It's a keyboard, bass and drum player. The drum player is singing in English! When the 5 of us walked in he announced that he was going to play some music for us. This is an unexpected piece of home in such a far away place. We keep clapping after the songs, but no one else is. I hope we're not contributing to any stereotypes. Then again, we've all started writing in our journals now so I'm sure we look unusual.

The drummer's name is Charlie. I didn't catch who the other two were. New subject- we met new friends today. In Asakusa some other people we were with met Isabel and Yugo. Yugo is from Japan and ate dinner with us. Isabel is visiting Yugo and lives in Taiwan. After dinner (which was fun because we finally learned the correct way to order and eat) Greg and I spoke at length with Yugo. She was very interested in us and our funny stories of mistakes made in Japan. Her English got better the longer she spoke with us. She eventually became very comfortable and shared some jokes with us. On the subway Isabel gave us all some chocolate covered Chinese noodles. They were delicious. I took out my unwrapped quarters and explained collecting them. Isabel was thankful but Yugo looked like she was going to cry. Now I think I did something bad because she did not have a gift for us. Although, she showed us around and that was a great service. When they left us a bit later I almost cried. In only a few hours we became so close. She told me that there are lots of questions she has there are lots of things she wants to talk about but time was too short. Today I learned both the scholarly definition of Ichigo Ichie, and the emotional one.