Tuesday, November 21, 2017


10:30pm JYAC bedroom
Yesterday was a lazy day. We all slept in after our crazy night at the snake place. Our first job was to get a cab to TGI Friday's. It was great. We ate tons of food. Jalapeño poppers, hamburgers, mudslides, the list goes on and on. We finished that (it was relatively cheap) and went exploring. We didn't know where we were on the map, just that we were North. There were lots of little shops along the side walk. I tried on some shoes but nothing fit. Instead I bought perfume at The Body Shop and film. The streets very very difficult to walk on. They were all broken apart, flooded out, and many pipes in the street were being dug up and replaced. It smelled very bad in many places.

G and I went to a coffee shop to try to get away from the crowded dirty streets, but it was just as crowded and dirty there- but the bathroom was nice.

We took a cab back here and spent the rest of the evening hanging out like college students. We ordered pizza, watched movies and played games.

(Monday) Today was more interesting. After class and a nap we walked North. We went to the Taipei Astronomical Museum. On our way I noticed a different Taipei. The sun was shining, it was drier, it smelled better (in places) and it was cooler with a nice breeze. There wasn't too much of a difference in the crowd, except as we got near Taiwan Sea World. There were tons of families and children all running around. At the museum there were more families.

It was an ok place. Nothing was in English so it was a fast visit. There were three floors covering space flights, the history of astronomy (East and West), the solar system, and many other topics relating to space. Most of the exhibits were about America, and the NASA space program. It made me think a lot about how much we take our science for granted. There's no way Taiwan could build a rocket or a shuttle. They just have to learn about ours. The museum did have much more of a global perspective about things though. Russian missions, French and Chinese and Indian rocketry were all included with American developments. The history of astronomy also had interesting sections about Chinese astronomers and their tools and models of the universe. Unfortunately, the explanations were all in Chinese so I may never know what the "Quarter Model" was. They also have an IMAX and 3D theater. It was $100NT so I didn't go.

We walked from there to the Shih Lin night market and Jungle City. Jungle City reminded me of Navy Pier with the carts that sell jewelry. We ate at the McDonalds (again- we really need to stop doing that. Perhaps we could ask for recommendations of good local restaurants to supplement our steadily degrading diet). We walked around the side streets for a while, watching the vendors set up their stalls and blankets on the street. This market looked smaller, but with fewer kitsch and more clothing and accessories. It was more crowded and more uncomfortable. We ducked into a CD shop to see wha the prices were like. They were a little better than at home. I got a CD of popular American music for $320NT. G heard a good song playing and bought the CD. The chorus was "ichi ni san she" or "1 2 3 4" in Japanese. But I think it's a Chinese group.

We walked back and did out share of hanging out.When it got dark enough we made an excursion to the roof. It was creepy up there until we looked at the view. We could see the entire city. Right next to us the big hotel was all lit up. We could see the bright top of the tallest building in Taipei. Airplanes flew low over the city to land nearby. The city looked beautiful from where we were. Overhead a thin later of textured clouds veiled the full moon. It was very bright. Some Germans came up and Jeremy, to my surprise, spoke fluent German to them. When Emily came up some fireworks started. They looked like just someone lighting them off by themselves, but it made the Moon Viewing night really great. We stated out there for a long time.It was hard to imagine that the city below was cracked and muddy, that people often wear face masks to avoid breathing the fumes of cars and scooters. Today I finally began to see Taipei like it probably was before the typhoon. The physical damage to the city must have changed it a lot. I would love to have seen it a few weeks before now, before the flooding.


9:00am Jiantan YAC
Friday was just a travel day. G and I were on the later flight with only 300 people so things went pretty smoothly. We took a bus to the airport. Before we left, Mama Asai climbed on the bus to wish us a good trip and all the staff members waved to us until we were out of sight. Kansai airport was almost empty. It took no time at all for us to get through security and customs and immigration. We had a really long time to wait so we just sat and relaxed. There was a Coke machine that only took US dollars so we had a little fun and spent American money. Of course, it was $1.00 for a regular can, so it wasn't all that great.

The airplane was empty too, so once we all got on we switched seats. G and I had a row to ourselves but we just both read books. The flight was crazy bumpy and a flight attendant spilled a drink on me. We also got a meal on the plane. From the plane we got another bus. Actually, we could tell we were in a different country from the minute we got off the plane. There were huge signs that told us that the punishment for bringing drugs into Taiwan is death. That was fun. Plus there was a disinfectant carpet. Another round of immigration, baggage check, customs, and then bus. There was a great guy on the bus who told us interesting facts about Taiwan and himself and was pretty funny. He said his name was either Mr. Nee, Mr. Gui, Mr. Gnai, or Mr. Gay. This weekend begins the mid-autumn festival when people visit their native homes away from the city. This meant that the roads were all jammed up. It took almost 2 hours to go 35 miles.

But during that time we all felt so much at home. Drivers drive on the right side of the road here. The cars are all normal size. Looking out the bus window it looked like we were driving from O'Hare to Schaumburg. When we got here, Prof. Winship was ready with our $NT allowance ($2000NT, or just about US $58). We got room assignments that were different from what we signed up for, but that was ok because Emily and I got to room together with Giordana (who I actually don't know that well). We surveyed the snack shop, then went upstairs to unpack.

This place is wonderful! 3 of us in a 4 person room gives us so much space. The beds are on one wall, there's a desk on the other with a TV and water boiler. There's benches and plenty of floor space for our suitcases. In our room is a bathroom with two sinks and a shower and a toilet. The beds don't have mattresses, and the pillows are tiny, but the comforters are great. It does seem a little dirtier than other places. We've been warned about geckos and bugs, though I haven't seen either.

Anyway, after admiring our suite G and I went exploring for dinner. We walked out of the Center and it hit home again that we were not in Japan anymore. Motor bikes everywhere! Like a bicycle race packed together but motorized and faster. We were warned that traffic rules were merely suggestions and to be careful. In places there weren't even crosswalk signs near big intersections. People pretty much just did whatever they wanted. Scooters sometimes even drove on the sidewalk. They usually park their bikes there.

There were no other pedestrians, the sidewalk wasn't even all that great- it was cracked and uneven all the time. Things were just really dirty. The air was humid, there was a rotten egg smell in the air combined with scooter smoke. As we walked it felt like we were walking through a slum almost. Stores were tiny and messy, people were dirty and dressed in dirty old clothes. There was garbage mixed into puddles on the sidewalk. We walked past the 7-11 (big landmark) and down the street. We didn't see anywhere to eat really. Just more of the same. There were cars parked on the side of the street so we had to walk in the street. Once we realized there were no more lights we turned around. We explored the 7-11 for dinner. G got a hot dog. I got some light bread, noodles, and custard. We came back to the YAC and ate while watching Austin Powers 2 in English on HBO.

So, yesterday was unbelievable. It started with a lecture by an Ecological Demographer. I took notes. Then lunch of whole fish, shrimp, some BBQ meat with bones in it, octopus, rice (thank God) and a miso soup with unidentifiable meat in it. I got cookies (really rice cakes with sugar on them) to supplement that meal. We all took a few hour break to nap, read, watch movies, so we could have more energy for the fabulous night we were about to have.

We left here at about 3:30pm and went to the subway station. It was wet outside, but no rain. Humid like Tokyo where standing makes you sweat. The subway was easy, but the cars were not like Tokyo. They were more like Chicago with hard plastic benches in groups of 2. There were no sleeping businessmen and we were just as loud as other Taiwanese. The car only went two stops because the rest of the line is flooded. When we got out it took us a long time to orient ourselves. We wanted to go South through the city and end up at Snake Alley after dark to experience it.

That's what we did. Again the sidewalks were uneven but there were more crosswalk signs here, and bridges over the intersections in many places. There really wasn't much to stop and see. Many food stalls, shoe stores, and tons of men sitting on boxes playing cards. We passed dozens of stray dogs. The goal temporarily became to find TGI Friday's. We got hungry before that and split up. Jen, Jeremy, G, Eric and Eric went to a buffet. Meghan, Emily and I went to McDonalds. It was wonderful  to know exactly what I was eating and get full on it. Plus we talked about being annoyed at people, and that's always cleansing.

After dinner we went shopping at NET which resembled GAP in many ways. We all found clothes we liked that fit. I was still looking for shorts- the closest I came was a pair of capris that were too small. The boys all bought matching Back Street Boys white zipper shirts, and we girls bought Team 1 sleeveless shirts (only $99NT). We continued walking in search of the night market. At one point we passed 3-4 blocks of what looked like pet shops- birds in cages mostly but also mice, gerbils, baby rabbits, cats and dogs. It smelled disgusting and I just had a feeling that this was not really a pet store.

We finally got out of that area at another big street. As we were waiting to cross, a Taiwanese woman in dirty clothes started yelling at us in perfect English. Despite that it was in English we really couldn't hear what she was saying. Something about the "Chinese dirty Americans, why are you here scum of the Earth?" So we walked quickly away. Very quickly. We kept walking until the boys saw a dirty alley and assumed snake alley would be down there. Nope. Just people selling old clothes and probably stolen electronics.

Someone asked directions and we kept walking. Eventually we found a temple. It looked open so we went inside. It was absolutely beautiful. The colors were great, the decoration was great, there were rows of decorated columns all lit up (lots of lighting, very flashy). People were praying and bowing with incense in their hands. The pots were overflowing with the smell. There were tons of people at different areas of the complex. Around every corner seemed another place to pray. Incense pots were everywhere. There were lots of tables with food on them and flowers. We saw people kneeling and bowing, offering food to the gods. Every inch of wall, ceiling and pillar was beautifully decorated. There was music coming from somewhere, but I don't know where. Along one side of the temple was what looked like an office with people sitting behind desks. This surprised me because it was already 8:00 at night. Outside the temple but inside the gate were 3 waterfalls. I don't think they were natural, but I couldn't really tell. There was moss and trees and rocks and a koi pond at the bottom. There were lights in the water also and it was beautiful. We stood there for quite a while and took pictures. We looked at the map and saw that we were very close to the snakes.

We found the sign that said Tourist Night Market and walked in. It was a lot like Asakusa in Tokyo. Clothing shops, little souvenir shops, electronics shops, all on either side of the aisle. There were also many food stalls selling food I've never seen before. There were foot massage places (real ones where you could see people getting massages), fish market stores and "adult" stores. The adult stores were pretty numerous. Plus, they weren't hidden. I thought a lot about the stores in relation to the population speech we got in the morning. Anyway, as we walked we started hearing men speaking in Chinese over microphones. We found a man speaking at a table with a snake and a headset mic. He was playing with the snake, petting it, cleaning it, coiling it up and uncoiling it, making loud noises to scare it, showing it a rabbit.

After quite a while of his constant stream of Chinese, he put the snake on the ground and hit his head with a hammer. Then he hung the snake by the head and it wriggled a little. He took a small pair of scissors and slit the skin about halfway up the snake. He pulled the skin off and snipped an artery. The blood drained into a mug of whisky. He lifted the tail and folded it to squeeze it all out. Then he cut the heart out and dipped it in something that looked like alcohol. The heart kept beating on the table for about 5 minutes all by itself. He skinned the snake farther down and cut out a little black organ. He pinched the organ and drained the black liquid into a clear liquid. He poured those two into separate shot glasses and then two more different liquids into two more shot glasses. These he placed onto a tray with some soup and gestured back to the restaurant. That was great- just wonderful. I felt extremely uncomfortable. G got excited and ran to find the boys. They watched another snake get the same treatment (without the knock on the head), and went back to the first guy whose stall looked cleaner. Jeremy, G and Eric all took shots of the blood (which included a fairly large pill of perhaps antibiotic). We walked a little farther and got to a game stall. There were little BB guns and balloons. You won a beer if you shot 5 balloons. Of course they were very deflated and the BB's were light plastic. Despite that (or because of it) G's BB's kept bouncing off and one hit me in the face. It hurt and I ducked down to the floor for the rest of the game. Eric won a beer. I was ok, it hit my glasses. We took the long walk home after I stopped at McDonalds for a pit stop (poop on the squatter). I crashed after that but everyone else stayed up and hung out.

Monday, November 6, 2017


4pm Flight to Taipei
After that I went back to get G from the internet cafe. We left on our way to Gion to try to see some geisha. On our way we saw Meghan and Menka. They were going to the Temple with the 1000 Buddhas. We really didn't have much else to do so we went with. It was a pretty long walk South along the river. We arrived a little before 4:30pm so we had to hurry. It was almost empty inside- after the school groups left. There were indeed, hundreds of Buddhas. It was easy to assume that they were just stamped out at a factory. But these were all hand made. Each by itself was beautiful, 36 arms each! Each hand was different, either in a different position or holding a different object. We had to go quickly through the temple to see it all and make sure they didn't lock us in. We weren't allowed to take pictures, so I kept the pamphlet. It took a good bit of time to walk all the way back. But we walked through Gion, hoping to see some geisha. We walked slowly and probably stared at every woman wearing a kimono. I thought I saw one, but she didn't have any make-up on and didn't look at all that impressive.

When we got back it was almost time for Skiaki. The grills- or burners really- were set out. As we say down there was pork cooking with some noodles, mushrooms, and leafy something. We got bowls and eggs. We were told to put the egg (raw) in the bowl and mix it with soy sauce. Then we took the very hot meat and vegetables and dipped them in the egg mixture. We discussed the possibility of salmonella versus the effectiveness of hot food touching eggs. We ate it anyway. It was really a fun meal. Eric and Emily were eating with us. We started just using our own chopsticks to eat right out of the pot. We had one bottle of beer to share between the four of us and it resulted in a tiny glass per person. At the end of the meal, Norio and his staff poured saki for anyone who wanted it. It was pretty sweet and not strong at all.

After dinner I worked on writing my Population paper and Culture response to Ryoanji. I felt so productive I read a few pages of the Population textbook and fell asleep.

At breakfast, G's host mom called him. They made plans to meet at the subway station and go to the monkey park, then meet for dinner. Wait. We met Kristy's host mom and sister to go to the park. Anyway, after class we ran to exchange a little money (to ship our boxes home) and eat at McDonalds. As we were waiting for Kristy's mom I had to go to the bathroom. While I was back at Hagashiama YH I found her and Akina (her 3 year old daughter) and took them back to meet G. Kristy, Hannah and Katie were down in the subway station. We all got together and found the bus that would take us up to the monkey park. The other girls entertained Akira and were really good at figuring out the bus thing. Unfortunately, I think we were supposed to press a button at our stop, but we didn't so we accidentally went one stop too far. That was ok. We took a really nice walk. It seemed very un-touristy and more authenticly Kyoto-like. Lots of fishermen in boats, little old people walking around.

We followed the signs to the entrance. We paid, left the stroller and started climbing stairs. We'd heard from other people that it was quite a journey but that it was well worth it. Well, it was. The mountains were beautiful and we climbed up them. It wasn't as bad/difficult as Akagi, but I still broke a good sweat and regretted wearing a skirt and open-toed shoes. The drop-off along the stairs was pretty much just straight down to a ravine. We didn't see any monkeys until we got to the top of the mountain (about 30 minutes later). We saw 1 or 2 and took tons of pictures. They were just sitting on trees waiting for us.

We got to the top of the mountain and were amazed. The scenery was unbelievable. To our right and left were mist-covered mountains and below us stretched Kyoto-City. We could see to the other side of the city- it was all laid out in front of us. The clouds pretty much covered the sun so there was a kind of haze over everything- making it look even more romantic. Plus, there were little brown monkeys everywhere.

I took tons of pictures and bought postcards, so I won't go into a physical description of the monkeys. There was a house-looking thing at the top of the hill and a man told us to go rest inside. Inside had a counter that sold monkey food! Bags of peanuts and of apples for Y100 each. We fed the monkeys through the windows of the house. They (the windows) were covered with fence material so the monkeys could reach their hands in. There were maybe 50 monkeys or so in the immediate area. They came up to the windows and stuck in their hands. The best way to feed the was to put the food in the palm of my hand and have the monkey reach out and pick up the food from my hand. Their hands were like baby hands. Usually the monkeys were polite and just delicately took the food and ate it. Other monkeys fought each other to be at the windows. There were also tiny baby monkeys the size of mid-sized kittens. They crawled and jumped around and got food when the bigger monkeys let them. Their tiny teeth had a hard time biting through peanut shells- it was so cute. If you stood too close with food in your hand, sometimes a big monkey snapped it right out of your hand. That was scary. We stayed there for a long time and spent lots of money feeding the monkeys. We also took tons of pictures.

When we were all broke, we sat outside and looked at the landscape. The monkeys were all around us sitting on benches, laying on the ground, picking at each other. Many of the baby monkeys were breastfeeding. A park ranger guy helped us take a group picture. When we were all together he said, "Don't touch the monkeys!!" and threw monkey food at us. Then the monkeys came and sat with us in the picture. That was also fun.

We walked back down the mountain (stopping to watch the monkeys slide down a slide and play on a swing set). Caught a bus home and I and Akino and Hannah all fell asleep on the bus.

We met Hiromi (G's host mom) in front of the Book-Off. She looked very happy to see him and said that she and her husband cried over dinner when they looked at pictures of G. She was just about as small as Marino, but she looked much more traditional. She wasn't as cute. She was also very quiet. It took us a while to form plans and then translate them into Japlish. We stopped at HYH to try to take an imminent quiz early, but without good results. So we walked to what can only be considered a Japanese dive, or greasy spoon. Maybe a greasy chopstick, where we met Massa- Hiromi's 22-year-old husband (she's 28). Their English wasn't too good so there wasn't much conversation. We had to run back and soon as we finished eating to take the quiz. When it was over we left to meet them all again too sing karaoke...........

6pm Taiwan- bus to Jiantan YAC
So. We went to sing karaoke. We went to the basement of a pachinko parlor. We rented a private room for the 7 of us. It was pretty tiny, but the music was loud. We paid Y1500 each for all-we-could-drink and eat and sing. We first had a round of beer and some cheese that Kristy's mom brought. Hiromi wanted to start off with Hero by Mariah Carey. As it started playing, the words came up in English over a background of New York City. The World Trade Center was in most of the pictures (before the attacks) and there were also American flags. It was really hard to watch and sing those words. We just kinda looked down and mumbled- glancing at each other once in a while. We didn't want to tell them because we didn't want them to feel bad.

We sang songs that the Japanese knew (mostly ABBA and Mariah Carey) and songs that we knew (Beatles, Simon & Garfunkle). G bolted out Stairway to Heaven before I could stop him. We girls had 2 more rounds of drinks and G had 3. We ended around 10:15pm with a popular and rousing version of YMCA. It was so much fun. We left to try to make it to the Hostel before lights out. We were pretty drunk. When Hiromi was saying good-bye to G she burst out crying. We left quickly so she wouldn't be put through too much pain. Oh, and Kristy's mom gave us 4 girls bottles of Yakisoba sauce because earlier in the day we said we liked Yakisoba. Oh, and at some point G bought Japanese porn, but that doesn't have to do with anything.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Yesterday was another normal day. After class we went walking around the covered mall again. We ate at a nice Chinese food restaurant. After that we found Cafe Asprine so G could type his papers. I wandered around by myself for a while and did a little shopping. I found the holy grail of T-shirts finally! A Bathing Ape! I bought one for myself and one for G. Then I cruised around some side streets for a while. I saw a shop with some cheap looking clothes and thought I might find a pair of shorts in there. Inside it was all underwear but I remembered that G said he needed a few extra pairs. I was looking at the aisle with the mens' underwear when a sales woman came by. I was looking for small but all I saw was medium. So I asked if she had S size. She opened the package and spread out the contents. Then she took another type off the shelf and opened that one. One style had the flap in the front and the other didn't. I tried to ask for a smaller size but they didn't appear to understand me. They got another sales person to come to my aid as I fished out my Japanese phrase book.

The new woman came out to me and said, "mens." I was getting frustrated and really just wanted to leave so I found the word for husband. Their next English phrase was, "What color?" They pointed to a pair of Y1300 shorts and I tried to say that they were too expensive. My phrasebook wasn't helping. I couldn't find the words I needed. They took out more pairs of shorts and I tried to explain that I wanted to find my "husband" so he could decide. They just kept asking me "What color?" I found the word for "lost/forgot" and continued with "husband". At that, someone nodded and indicated that she understood. I said that I'd be right back. Repeated Arigato several dozen times and walked away. I walked back and forth in front of the shop a few times to pretend I was lost.


12:00am HYH Lounge
Quick journal from a boring day... got up, had class, ate at Shakey's pizza again. G went to find a little remote control car he heard about and I went to an internet cafe. After a while there I went shopping in search of a pair of shorts. They do not sell any type of shorts in Japan. They sell skirts of all materials, shapes, lengths, and sizes. They sell pants, jeans, capris, pants in size -4 - 2, dozens of shirts with millions of designs on them, socks of every design and pattern, and leg warmers for popular people. But they don't sell shorts in Japan. So I got a crepe filled with whipped cream, ice cream, strawberries and chocolate instead. It was ok, but not terrific. I found G and left him to write his papers at the cafe. I came back to the hostel expecting to get homework done, but I slept for two hours instead. G woke me up and we ate dinner. After dinner we attended a dinner by a Noh mask maker. He was a lot of fun and we took pictures of the various finishes and unfinished masks. Some of the finished ones were painted with gold and worth thousands of dollars. He was very funny and interesting. He also makes recorders for himself and invented one that plays harmony and melody.

When that was over we sat in the lounge downstairs and he sat with us for a while. We spoke Japanese with him and his wife (who translated a little). He was very friendly and gave Jocelyn his card. His wife dragged him away and I spent the rest of the night finding anything to do except writing the remaining two papers that I have to write.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


8:30am Shinkansen train
When I woke up, Marino told me that American people shower in the morning so I will shower now. And I did! She made me a great breakfast with bread, scrambled eggs, fried pork (not bacon), and cabbage. We talked a little and she told me about Lake Biwa. I showed interest so we went. Unfortunately, Taku was having a huge fit, hitting his mother on the head while she was driving and screaming at the top of his lungs. We parked the car at the lake and looked around for a little while. The lake didn't look too wide, maybe 2x as wide as the Mississippi, but it was long. There was a lot of industry and a city across from us. There were some wind surfers and kite flyers on the small rock beach and Marino asked them to take pictures of us. She wouldn't let me take pictures with my own camera ever. She kept saying she will mail the pictures to me. We left quickly because Taku was hungry.

We went to a sort-of mall and ate McDonalds for lunch. Taku ordered a very big bowl of ramen and Marino got a teriyaki set which she shared with Yuki. They also got toys. We went from there to the third floor of a Y100 shop. I got stickers of Japanese words for guys in the office. The kids got toys. We walked through a kimono section and she showed me pictures of 20 year olds at their "coming out" party. They were all very beautiful. Then I saw the prices and WOW! Y20,000 minimum for accessories. On our way out we passed an arcade. Of course the kids went nuts. They got money from their mom to play games. Marino told me to get in a tiny bus with the kids. She put money in it and it started rocking back and forth. At the end it took our picture and printed up stickers.... We went down there and Marino told me that I was going to make an easy American dish for the Hippo Family Club potluck that night. I found spaghetti noodles and tomato paste and parmesan cheese.

When we got home I gave the family their quarter-set gift. They were in awe of it. They kept saying it was a treasure. I taught them about the quarter program and they said they would keep it forever. We made the spaghetti and there was TONS of it, at least, Marino thought so. It was about 1lb. I added the tomato paste, some basil from her herb garden, some garlic, and a lot of salt. It didn't taste good. But we packed it up in the traditional Japanese "tupperware" box stacking thing and wrapped it in a scarf. We drove somewhere to what looked like a family community center. We took our shoes off and got rubber slippers. Upstairs were a lot of families and Robin and Lindsay. We tried to talk to each other but the families wanted to show us off. When all the families (about 15) arrived we played games (1-2-3-4-5-6-7, London Bridges, and an unusual version of duck-duck-goose). Many of the games were in foreign languages because the Hippo Club learns more than 12 languages at once. After game and song time we played "put up the tables and chairs and set up food". Someone put a beer in front of me, and I filled a tiny plate with many different types of foods. By far, there was the most pasta left untouched. Marino introduced me to a 26 year old mother of a 9 month old. The baby was really cute but the mother seemed tired and distracted. She also breast-fed the baby right at the table. The baby drank tea and ate tiny pieces of food from the mother's plate. It seemed unusual to me, but I don't know that much about American babies so I didn't say anything.

The three American girls had to give a speech. Marino taught me to say, "Nagano, wakolohim!" which translates somehow as "I don't know Japanese language." After the speeches (which no one could hear because the kids were so loud). We had cake and sang Happy Birthday. Apparently, it was the fourth anniversary of this particular Hippo Family club. Then we went home.

We talked around the kitchen table for a long time. We talked about New York, my job, and the female reproductive system. Fuminori is an OB/GYN who specializes in in-vitro fertilization. A paper of his just got accepted into a journal and he wanted me to read it. It was about the presence of messenger ribonucleic acids in the fetuses of in-vitro fertilized mice. The words were very big. I complimented him many times on his knowledge of English. Marino asked me to translate, or at least explain an email she got from a friend. It was a chain letter from a Canadian Essayist who was defending America against people who say that we deserved what we got. It was very political and took a long time. They looked awe-struck when I finished. It was again past midnight- so we went to sleep.

6:30pm Shinkansen train
So, I woke up Sunday and went back to bed. I finally left my room at about 10am. The kids were sleeping and Marino sent me to the shower. I decided to use her shampoo and soap. But when I got wet and looked at the bottles, there was no English. So I washed my hair with both. Bad idea. I think I used the soap last. Out of the shower we had pancakes for breakfast. Glorious, sweet, crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside pancakes. I grabbed the butter before Yuki could eat it all and put what turned out to be honey on them. It as a beautiful thing. When Taku finally woke up we drove to a "festival," really a fair. 

There were rows of "white houses" (or tents as we say) that shop owners set up. Most were restaurants. In the center was a large stage. There was some costumed Power Ranger show going on that Taku really got into. It was hot, so we left the middle as soon as it was over. The next few hours is easy to explain: cotton candy, soda, candy, ice cream, games, toys, and train. One of the games was a ring toss. Marino paid and told me to win something for Taku. But when the guy saw me they moved the sticks really far away, and I lost. I felt really badly and apologized a lot. They gave Taku a prize anyway. 

Marino got us all yakisoba and we ate it while watching Taku ride a Thomas the Train ride a dozen times or so. It was a little golf-cart thing with benches attached. Fuminori got there from work and sat with us for a while. Marino left with the kids and came back with more candy and a book of postcards with pictures of Lake Biwa and Mount M-something that's the second tallest in Japan. It was beautiful! We left there to go to a museum about bronze bells. I have a lot of brochures about it, so I'll look at them to remember what exactly the museum was about. Fuminori walked with me and explained a lot of the exhibits. Before we left we dressed up like traditional rice farmers in robes and funny hats and took a picture in front of a big bell. They also bought me some beautiful prints of sutras. 

We stopped back at the apartment and I got my bag. Taku complained a lot, threw things and kicked toys. They decided to drive back to Kyoto in the hopes that the kids would sleep. Taku yelled most of the way there. Marino gave me a set with a mirror and coin purse made of kimono material. She told me I am her younger sister ad she made me promise to come back to Japan and visit. I tried to tell her how special her family is to me, since they are the only family I stay with in Japan. They're my Japanese family. But I started getting choked up so I stopped. When we got back to Higashiyama, Marino and I and Yaku got out of the car and Fuminori went to look for parking. Inside we waited for G so she could meet him. We talked for a while over cookies and coffee. It started getting to be time for dinner so we waited outside for the car. When he pulled up he said hi to G and I said bye to Marino. We hugged, my eyes teared up, they waved to me until the car was out of sight. Ichie Ichigo. I miss them and can't wait to send them a post card or email.

We ate dinner, had a seminar about Hiroshima, went for a walk, and watched F get drunk on his gift-bottle of sake.

10:00pm HYH
This morning started out very early on the subway and then we took a bullet train- Shinkansen- to Hiroshima. The train was the second fastest in Japan, not the first. Still it went really fast. Scenery went whipping by. We passed whole mountains in a minute or two. It did feel smoother than a normal train but it swayed a lot. It's like being in an airplane with turbulence for two hours. I did get a little motion sickness when I looked out the windows, but once I stared at the inside of the train for a while I was ok.

We arrived in the bustling Hiroshima metropolis and took a trolley to the Peace Park. The first thing we saw was the A-Bomb dome. The building is just a brick and concrete shell. We walked quickly through the park to the museum. We walked past the Peace Flame that will only go out when all the nuclear weapons have been destroyed. At the museum we first had a speech by the president of the park. Then we had two hours to walk around. It started pretty tame: videos of mushroom clouds and airplanes, photos of the destroyed city. All through this I was struck by the timeliness of of our visit here. We, the US, did this terrible thing to other human beings. We created this living hell of fire and blood. What happened in New York was devastating, but we have produced so much worse. The death toll from the bomb was hundreds of thousands.

Anyway, the next session was about nuclear weapons. It was scary to think that not only can today's missiles cause so much more damage, there are so many of them. There was a video about nuclear winter. There it first hit me tat any use of nuclear weapons would kill everyone. I started changing my mind about war. Before today I considered joining the Reserves to fight for our country.

The next section detailed the effects on human beings. The first part was a diorama showing a mother and son running from the burning city with their skin falling off and bleeding. There were photos of victims' skin, faces, arms. Actual clothing that had to be cut away from the bodies of burning children. Fingernails, hair, scar-tissue, a watch stopped at 8:15am, pieces of glass found in the bodies of victims after they were cremated. It turned my stomach in the most unbelievable way. To see what we did to human beings, children. War is such a terrible thing. There could never be any reason to create this hell on Earth.

We left and went to eat our box lunches in the park. While I ate I started thinking of the people who died right where I was sitting. I looked over towards the sky where the hypocenter was and imagined how it must have felt to watch that bomb fall through the air and realize a split second before that you were going to die.

Wow. I'm way off subject. Ok. After lunch we walked around the basement of the museum. It was an exhibit dedicated to a girl who folded 1,000 paper cranes while praying to get better from the leukemia she had. She died when she was, maybe 12. I folded a crane myself and wrote on the wings: For Peace in USA and World.

Our next event was to attend a presentation by a bomb survivor. I didn't really catch her name but she looked a little like a Jewish mother. It was a translated speech so it began a little slow. Many of us were crying by the end of it, especially as she described the death of her mother. I took notes as she spoke so I would always remember her story. This woman and other people like her are the most vivid reasons for Peace I can imagine. When it was over I had G take a picture of me with her and told her I thought she looked beautiful. We gave her a standing ovation.

We next took a walking tour of the park. There were many big and small monuments. One to Korean victims, children, the students who were working on the roads and died, and many many others. We (G) placed our paper cranes at the memorial to the children and the girl with leukemia. We ended back at the A-Bomb dome, and this time it meant so much more to me. The inscription on the memorial to those who died keeps sticking in my mind: we will not let this evil happen again. We can't have a war. It's the worst possible event humans can produce.


10:20pm Kimura House
I'm frustrated with my lack of journalling. Yesterday it was hard for me to sit in class because I was so excited. When class was over, G and I ran to a bookstore and bought books for our families. We got lunch at McDonalds- thinking it would be the last time for a while. When we got back, there were people everywhere. G grabbed his stuff and headed for Osaka. I ate my lunch and sat in the classroom with the others who were meeting families in Kyoto. There were tons of mothers and a few children. There were maybe 2 or 3 men. We were trying to guess which ones were ours. I guessed right! I recognized my host mother from her picture. She looked just as cute and tiny in person. We played some games and at the end we left.

Marino- my host mother- is a little shorter than 5' tall. She is so sweet! We took the subway to the train station. The whole trip we were with Lindsay and her host mother Madu, and Robin who was meeting hers later. Marino helped carry Madu's children. Marino and I spoke on the train a little and I showed her my pictures. She thinks G is cute and Jimmy is VERY cute! She was very honest and speaks good English. Her family is moving to San Francisco next year and she wants Taku and Yuki to learn English so they can go to school. Marino is to tiny, like a little stick figure. I bet she'd be a child's size 14 at the biggest. She reminds me of my tiny Aunt Lynn. Anyway, at Robin's stop her host mother wasn't there so we got off the train and waited only a few minutes. The other mother was very sorry. We got on the next train and went one stop, I had no idea where I was, so I stayed close to Marino.

We got off the train and took a cab to their apartment. She kept saying they live in the country, but it looked like the same size as my hometown. They even have a few Pachinko parlors. She said a lot that her house was small. When we got there and walked to the door I noticed that many of the doors were very close together. The doors were all metal and there were decorative bars over all the windows. It really didn't look on the outside like a place for a doctor to live. She opened the door and let me walk into the genkan first. Right away I turned around and took my shoes off, carefully stepping out of them.

She stared at me with her mouth wide open. "So polite! Such good manner!" She kicked off her shoes and walked in. No inside slippers. She said she was first going to show me around. The first room on the left was my room. By my standards it's huge with a queen size bed, desk on the floor, and vanity table made of wood. It's about half the size of my brother's room but the fact that this large amount of space (and enormous bed) almost made me cry. Across from my room was the bath/laundry room- although the washing machine was covered in stuff, implying that it wasn't used very often. I didn't get a good look at the tub and shower but there was a sink with a mirror next to the washing machine. Next on the right was a tiny toilet room. The toilet was the type that as a sink on top that runs water when you flush. The light's on the outside of the room and I keep forgetting to turn it on.

Through a slitted curtain was the rest of the house. A small, but very nice kitchen, a kitchen table, and a complete desk. To the left are two tatami rooms. One serves only as the children's bedroom, and the other is a TV room with a long closet/dresser and a low table. I think they might have given me their bedroom!

Marino offered me something to drink and I took some orange juice. We sat in the tatami room and she showed me her wedding pictures. She had a traditional Japanese wedding. Both her husband and she were in traditional kimono, and she had an enormous Star Wars hat on with a Japanese wig. Her face, neck, and hands were painted white. Her husband was wearing the same outfit G had on at the kimono demonstration. All the family members were there- the men wore suits and the women all wore kimono. There were a few pictures of the actual ceremony, and many posed pictures of Marino and her husband. She did not smile in any of them and she said that was ok. There were a few pictures in a white wedding kimono, then a huge blue evening dress- Western style, then a red kimono with a really heavy head piece, and a white Western-style wedding dress.

After looking at photos we went to pick up the children from nursery school. We went in the car- a Toyota station wagon. It as weird to sit on the opposite side. Once we got there we saw the teachers all standing in the rain with umbrellas saying hello to mothers and goodbye to the children. I had to wear a blue ribbon because I was a guest. There was a playground with sand and gravel that kids were using to get dirty. All the children stopped and stared at me when I was near. I usually smiled, but then they ran away. Inside were more children (we had taken our shoes off outside) and tatami mat play areas. Marino looked for her children. They popped up right in front of us. Taku was very "active" though in America we'd say hyper-active. Yuki was very quiet and just stared and smiled. We walked around the school a little. The classrooms did look like American classrooms. I met someone who I think was the principal. I'm not sure though.

Marino collected Japanese lunch boxes and bed rolls. She said on Friday she always takes home the furniture. We got back into the car- the kids both sat/stood/played in the front seat and I in the back. I don't remember if we stopped home at first, but we went to the video store. There was an American movie section and Marino told me to pick something out. I chose something with Meg Ryan, Lisa Kudro and some other famous people. None of the words on the box were in English, but Marino said the movie was called, "Hug on the Phone". Taku chose a Japanese action cartoon. When we started to leave, Marino realized she forgot the video rental card. She tried talking the clerk into letting her rent anyway but the clerk wouldn't let her. We left and went to buy food for Sunday's lunch. I told her I like yakisoba so we bought that. It looked exactly like an American grocery store except for all the Japanese people, and the labels on the food. The kids ran first to the candy aisle. She let them pick out some sweets. Taku chose a tiny plastic gun that popped out white balls of candy. Essentially you have to put the front of the gun in your mouth to eat the candy. It didn't seem to bother anyone else, so I didn't say anything. Marino pressured me into picking a sweet that I liked but since I didn't know what anything was I asked her to recommend something good.

After that we got the yakisoba ingredients and went home. Marino said she was going to make tempura for dinner and I asked if I could help. She said yes but when the time came she told me to go rest. I told her I was ok, but she insisted I go rest, so I laid down in my room. This bed is so comfortable! First, it's huge! Then, it's got a real pillow and a very heavy thick comforter.

Taku came and got me to play. We kinda just stared at each other then we watched TV together. Marino's husband came home (I really need to learn his name) and we sat down for dinner. He's a bigger guy than most Japanese men. He's gained some weight, Marino told me. Dinner was good, but there were some things I didn't finish. Marino said if I don't like something I could just leave it. So I left the fish and tofu and mushroom pudding. But the rice was good. They told me that after dinner we were going to go to the public bath. Marino said I should bring a change of clothes, hairbrush, and facial soap. So, I packed up those things and we all got back into the car. Fuminori (husband) drove and Marino sat in back with Yuki and Taku. The kids weren't in seat belts or anything. Once we got there I fully understood why it's called a "public bath". It was as big as a YMCA and as crowded with as many people. Both children bathed with Marino. Everyone stared at me. I was probably the first American to ever bathe there. I was embarrassed for the first 10 minutes but after that I guess I just got used to walking around naked. The facility was huge. There was a small cold-spring, a big swimming pool-sized shallow hot part, jacuzzi part with 5-6 individual spa sections- all three inside. We went outside (it had tall walls) and there was a rock pool (I stubbed my toes a few times), waterfall, cave area, and Chinese scented pool. There were also what looked like two faucets about 10 feet in the air that shot down water onto women's backs. I don't know how long we stayed there, but Marino noticed that my face was very red and we got out. Once we got dressed there was a room with mirrors and hair dryers. Marino dried Yuki's and her own hair. Again, women were staring. Once in a while they would talk to Marino about me but I never knew what she was saying.

Back in the main area, Fuminori had bought the kids ice cream and they were filthy again. In the main area was a restaurant, a snack bar, video games and a bar. The atmosphere was very social. We left there and stopped at the video store to get the videos we picked out earlier. A last stop at Lawson for bottles of water and more ice cream for the children, then we went home. Fuminori left again for the hospital, Marino started doing laundry, the kids fell asleep soon and I watched my movie by myself. Marino folded laundry and watched the end of the movie with me. The girl's father dies. So I cried a little bit and she didn't understand why the movie made me sad. It was after midnight when the movie was over- so then I just went to bed and had the best night sleep ever.

Friday, October 6, 2017


7pm Kimura House
There is so much I want to write about today- but first I have to try to remember yesterday! After class G went to change money (again) and we went out for lunch. We were hungry for sushi and found a place with nice-looking plastic sushi. We went in and were greeted by a hostess in kimono. Immediately we knew we were in trouble. Hostesses usually mean expensive. The sushi wasn't on the menu and it didn't look like the type of place where we could take the waiter outside. So G ordered what was a whole lot of raw fish (no with rice, just the fish) and I ordered something that looked very much like fried something. I assumed beef, pork, or chicken- worst case scenario fish. But I took one bite and it wasn't any of those. I choked down 3 of the 5 and made G eat the other 2. After lunch our goal was to find "Ray's" and experience Kyoto pottery.

We only got a little lost, but we did eventually find it. We had a very nice teacher whose name I don't have with me. She showed me how to make sake cups and G how to make a vase. G went to town and made a nice vase. I ended up with a huge scrap pile of clay under a wet towel. My sake cups were always too big, the clay too thin, and the mouth too big. I tried to say it was wabi/sabi but she just shook her head and said that only tea cups can be wabi/sabi. She compared the rim of my cups to a beautiful mountain range, and started laughing. G made 1 vase and put some feet on my sake cups. I made 2 sake cups and a bowl, maybe it's a tea bowl. By the end I was pretty frustrated.

Then came the bill. As the man who I assume was Ray came out, a woman brought out some cups with Calpis and little chocolates. For both of us instructions and shipping home pottery to my house it was Y9700. It seems a lot to me, but Dr. Prescott said it's pretty cheap.

We came back and indulged in hand lotion, then ate dinner. After dinner we found out there was a 7pm meeting. We went to that and I took a shower. Soon after, Meghan had a french fry emergency so we went to McDonalds. We got there just as they were closing but got food anyway.

When we got back to the Hostel there were tables set up with snacks and the dining room floor was cleared. Apparently, Norio wanted us to have a party with his staff members. At about 9:30pm he made an announcement, "It is now time for dancing. Please come down and dance now." The lights turned off and the music started. I didn't really know any of it, but we all danced anyway. The Australians came down and we all had a great time. It was just the experience we all needed to get over the bad stuff that's been going on.

Someone even took out the Emergency Only flashlights and we played with those for a while. I felt right at home making patterns on the ceiling with flashlights.


5pm HYH
I really don't remember anything about the temple. Maybe it was closed. We walked from there backwards through the covered mall and near the subway station to meet the rest of the group. We all got back ok, ate dinner, and showered (we didn't all shower together). G and I then went out to find The Hub- a supposedly great and cheap bar close to the Hostel. It took us a while to find it and it wasn't all that impressive once we did. A few scattered tables of Australians, some Y500 mixed drinks, and we were bored by 9pm. We stopped to buy some CD's for G's new CD player and came back. We had and 10:30pm meeting about E and H going home and that was it.


4:15pm Train from Nara to Kyoto
Today seemed longer than it really was. First thing we all boarded subway cars, then a train to Nara. We went first thing through the Deer Park and on to Todai-ji Temple. It is the biggest wooden structure in the world- and really looks like it too. We really took tons of photos, even with the temple horns on G's head. We purified our hands before lighting some incense. Inside was a huge Buddha. The dimensions are on the ticket we got and says it's the Virocana Buddha. There were other statues equally as massive on each side of the Buddha. Behind those were big- I think wooden- warrior statues guarding the middle three. We walked behind the statues and found the holy nostril pole. There's this support beam that's huge and in the bottom is a tiny little hole. This hole is supposed to be the same size as the nostril of the Great Buddha. If you can fit through it you are supposed to be able to reach enlightenment. Lots of people reached enlightenment. The most enlightening fact is that you have to go through with both hands first. It honestly looked as wide as a toaster. Despite its apparent small size, lots of people fit through, though many needed help. Sula, this tall guy (bigger than Jimmy) had a really hard time getting through. He got exactly halfway through with a lot of pushing and pulling, and then took a break. Eventually they did get him out. G went through with little effort, and so did I. As we were watching people try to get through we saw tons of little children with matching hats all walking together.

They were maybe three years old. They were knee-high and not too stable on their little legs. They were in groups of maybe 20, each group with a matching bonnet color. They were paired up, one boy and one girl, holding hands at all times. The boys all had identical blue backpacks and the girls had red. They pulled each other down the stairs and walked away- the three groups led by leaders past the door.

We stopped, bought deer cookies for the crazy, biting, slobbering deer. They were nuts! The tiny ones were cute but it was hard to get food to them because the bigger deer were so pushy. The cookies were really thin, cookie shaped wafer things. The deer knew as soon as you bought them and flocked to where you were. And they attacked! Head-butting, chewing on clothes, jumping. They were like puppies but bigger. I got some really funny pictures of G and Eric being attacked and trying to make the deer line up in some sort of order.

We tried to find people-food after that for lunch. Actually we stopped at an ice cream shop and had sno-cones before we walked near the covered mall in Nara (as opposed to the covered mall in Kyoto). We chose a restaurant by the plastic food outside and went in. It turned out to be an okonomiyaki restaurant with grills in the tables. The waitress again cooked the pancakes, but this time there wasn't as much fish in them and they were less gooey. Regardless, I had yakisoba. It was really good.

After lunch, G and I went to the National Museum in Nara. It was about halfway between the train station and the Todaiji Temple. Admission was only Y170 for students. Inside was a beautiful collection of Buddhist statues, some wood, some bronze, and most from the 7th or 8th century. They were really impressive. I don't think I've ever seen anything so old in person (except perhaps dinosaur bones). Some of the signs were in English but about 90% of the information was only in Japanese. We walked around there for a while (see pamphlets in English for more information) and found the gift shop. From there we went to the other part of the museum, the East and West wings. There were more temple and shrine artifacts, this time many bells, scrolls, paintings, and archeological pieces of statues. Almost none of this information was in English so it was hard to fully understand what we were looking at. We took our time walking out.

To go to different areas of the museum we had to use our original ticket. It had a bar code on the back and we had to scan it to get through the gates.

We sat down in front of a pond to relax in the shade. While we were looking over the map (G's map) a deer came over and started eating it. G tried to put it away but the deer kept at it. They were playing tug-of-war for a while. Once he got the deer away from the map he went to buy more cookies. Obviously the deer was hungry. When he left, the deer opened his backpack and started sucking on his museum pamphlet. We fed the deer for a while- another scary deer experience- I ended up being chased through a pile of deer poop. Then headed to another temple (the name of which we don't know since the deer ate G's map). There wasn't anything outstanding about it -except that we were approached by junior high English students on our way there. They had some pre-written questions to ask us like, "do you like tempura best or sushi?" We answered as best we could. Then they took our picture and asked us to write down our addresses. They are going to send us the picture and a letter.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


7:15pm HYH
The officially broken air conditioner is now officially fixed. Yesterday was a very casual day. After our first midterm we (and many other Augie students) went to Shakey's Pizza for all-you-can-eat (but not all-you-can-drink) lunches. Most types of pizza had sauce, but some were just dough and vegetables. Yes, there was corn on almost everything, and fried potatoes too. To add some flavor we put tabasco sauce on everything and it ended up being great. It was a pretty good meal for about Y800 each. We stayed in the shopping area for the rest of the afternoon. It was kinda nice to just stroll around, not looking at anything historical, for a while. I stopped and bought new dress shoes- the largest size the store had- and G... wait.... G didn't buy anything at that point. Later he bought some sweet Golden Graham things, but that was much later.

We decided to walk up to the Kyoto version of the Oriental Bazaar. It took a while to get there, and my new shoes turned out slightly less comfortable than I thought. There were tour busses parked out front, and inside it was filled with tourists, usually Westerners. I went up to a counter to look at jewelry and the Japanese woman said, "Hello. How are you?" in perfect English. I stood totally still for a full 20 seconds. I couldn't really understand that she spoke English. I'm so used to hearing "Shamimasen" or whatever it is they shout at you when you get near a store. I stammered back, "You speak English!" and she smiled and gestured down the line of counter-women. "We all do!" I backed away slowly and found G.

We spent a long time there, and a lot of money. G bought two kimono for his sisters. He had me try them on first and the sales lady dressed me all up with the special white tying thing and all. It was kinda fun. Then we went upstairs and G bought a CD player. I bought a (gulp) Kittens of Japan book and some postcards. They filled out tax-free forms, but I'm not sure what to do with them now. They said something about the airport, but I don't really have a clue. On our way down we got to try our luck and get free prizes. G got a fan. I got a bookmark. They probably cost Y25 each.

We passed the Heian Shrine on our way back, but it had already closed. Dinner, shower, studying. Except for a half-hour mission to find CD's at the Book Off (which netted exactly 0 CD's) our night was boring. I fell asleep very early and did not like waking up.

Today was much more interesting. After our second midterm, G and I hopped on bikes and headed West. He finally got the CD's he wanted at a CD store in a covered mall.While he was inside I tried to park my bike. As I was doing so a security guard came up. I looked around and saw a sign that had a picture of a bike with a green line through it. I looked at the man and tried to convey a sense of confusion. He spoke at length with me in Japanese. So I left my bike there and went into the store. Once inside I watched the man through the window. He turned both bikes around so they were facing out and ready to ride. He did the same for another guy who parked his bike there. When G was finished we walked out together and the bike guy moved the other bike out of the way so we could get out. This "security guard"'s job was to be a sort of bike valet. Later on in the day I saw several such bike valets.

It was a rough bike ride up to the Ryoanji Temple. The map doesn't have all the street names so we tried to just count side streets. A nice lady on a bike tried to help us but the only word she knew in English was "straight". G claimed to have understood every word, so he led the way. We found it eventually after a 2 hour trek. Parked the bikes, paid admission to a UN historical place, and walked towards what was supposed to be the ultimate rock garden in the world... I thought it would be bigger. I took a lot of notes in my field journal, and got a pamphlet, so I don't really want to get into it again. Plus, I have to write a 3 page paper for the Culture class.

We left there and found the Golden Pavilion or Rokuon-Ji to the North. Again an admission charge, but the Golden Pavilion was very impressive. The gardens were more extensive, and the pond surrounding the pavilion reflected the light back onto it, making the gold sparkle. There were many tourists there, but not as many as at Ryoanji. We walked around for a long time, passing a waterfall and other small shrines. I stood downwind of a pile of incense for a while, just to feel more sacred. We took lots of pictures here and bought huge amounts of postcards. Something felt different here than at Ryoanji. Here, we didn't have the pressure of being moved on purpose. We weren't looking for enlightenment at Rokuonji. It made the whole experience more of an experience than an assignment.

I'll take a few minutes to describe bike-riding in Kyoto. It's like a driver's ed video from hell. There's other bikes coming at you from all directions, and cars, and people who don't get out of your way, and other cars and bikes parked on the sidewalk and streets. Little old ladies with walkers that look like strollers, mothers with babies, and sidewalks that are 3 feet wide at the most- not including the lampposts so often blocking the way. My handlebars glanced off a scooter's rearview mirror, and I hit another biker once also. She stayed on the bike so I assume she's ok. I fell off dozens of times, lost my balance and narrowly avoided crashing into fruit several times. But overall it was a great experience. I could never have made that walk, and this way I got to see more of the city, while learning about bicycle riding in Japan.

Density: Kyoto must be less-dense than Tokyo. People drive faster and crazier, bike crazier, and generally do things faster. There aren't so many high-rise buildings for apartments and parking garages. The bank had very high ceilings and was bigger than those in Tokyo. Maybe space is more available here, cheaper maybe?


8:15am HYH
Density observations: walking, people raise umbrellas when they walk past people, wait at crosswalks even when its a side street and there are no cars coming. "Sumimasen" is always heard.


1:20pm restaurant in Higashioji-dori
I feel like I've had a full day already! First thing I headed out to see some temples and shrines. G was on a bike but he kept pace with me until we got to Chion-in Temple. It wasn't open yet (it was 8:15am and said it opened at 9) so we walked around it for a while. There were many buildings and one main temple. I waited for it to open (although there were already people going in and out) while G looked for a big Buddha he said he saw. I waited about 20 minutes for him, but when I heard bells from inside the temple I went in. Two monks were chanting and using percussion instruments (bells and sticks). People in the inner part took turns walking up and doing something at a side shrine. I watched for a while and went out to find G. He still wasn't back and when I looked for his bike it was gone. So I took off. I got a little lost but eventually was able to identify Ryozen Kannon and go in. The admission was Y200 and I got an English pamphlet (yea!) and a stick of lit incense to put by the temple. I have extensive field notes about what was going on there, but it turned out to be a festival day! I learned a lot from a group of fortune-tellers, one of whom spoke decent English.

After explaining that it was a flower festival from 11am-3pm with karaoke, the fortune teller man convinced me to have a reading for Y700. I didn't learn too much because his English wasn't THAT good, but I took notes and got a bag of salt for my luck. I'm supposed to spread it around- I think.

After I left I got lost again before working my way up to Kiyomizu Temple. By the time I got there I was so exhausted I walked around, but didn't pay any admissions or look too closely. I took some pictures though. Now I think I'm on the right track to get back to Higashiamya YH, but I'm not sure. I haven't found G yet. But this ham, egg and mushroom rice is pretty good. I'm waiting for my Oshibori to cool down so I can use it (it's hot!).

10:15pm HYH
That was pretty much it for today. I walked slowly back to the hostel and slept once I got here. The rest of the day was a combination of studying, sleeping, and avoiding studying. Now it's time for more sleeping in this very hot room with an officially broken air conditioner.

Monday, September 25, 2017


5:45pm HYH
We started yesterday by packing up, turning in sheets and keys, and having a little class. After class G and I hunted for my towel and through our lacking use of the Japanese language found it in the cafeteria. On the bus to Haneda Airport, then on a plane to Osaka. The plane ride was very short. It was too cloudy to see Mt. Fuji so I worked on homework. Back on the ground we boarded buses for Hagashiama Youth Hostel. Right away we sat down in the dining room to a great dinner with cream of corn soup, chicken nuggets (hot, not lukewarm), and grapes. The grapes were a real treat. We brought our luggage up the stairs (no elevator). My room on the fourth floor (ugh!) is a quad with bunk beds, a sink and mirror, a hot plate and TV. I'm on the top bunk right under the air conditioner. It's not very effective. We had a quick orientation session about curfew and meals. I took a bath in the tiny bathroom right after that. It had four showers and a little tub. I couldn't get the water in the shower hot enough, but the bath was great. It seemed a little grimier than the last two places we have been, but much more homy.

After the bath G convinced me to explore with him. We turned left out of the hostel and walked into "town". We passed tons of closed stores and restaurants. And decided this would be much more fun when things are open. After 20 minutes we turned around so we would be back in time for curfew. We got in around 10pm and went to sleep.

We did a whole lot today. After breakfast (yogurt and toast!) G and I again turned left out of the hostel. We turned left again and took an early morning walk through the "red light" district in search of a theater. We found one but it was Kabuki and nothing was playing this month. We continued West over the river and walked through the empty shopping streets. It was just after 9am so nothing was open yet. We did notice that people drive a lot faster here and somewhat more recklessly, probably because the streets are a lot less crowded than Tokyo.

We headed North and ended up at the Noji Castle. Admission was only Y600 so we went in. It was pretty crowded with tourists, mostly American and Australian. We went inside one of the main buildings and joined up with a group of older adult men on a tour. This was where the Shogun lived and the absolutely coolest thing about the building was the floorboards. They actually sounded like birds chirping when you walked on them. The guide said that why ninja always walk on the roof- to avoid the protective nightingale sound. There were also many beautiful paintings on every wall and sliding panel. They were all different subjects depending on what went on in the room they were in. We walked around the gardens for a while and noticed the huge fish in both of the two moats. The inner castle was also open for viewing, but we didn't want to pay the additional Y300 each.

After relaxing in the air-treated lounge we headed out. We immediately found a sword shop, and G almost immediately bought a Tokugowa sword (katana). The woman who sold it to him was very nice. After she warmed up to us she asked about New York, then asked if we were happy. She eventually got out the word honeymoon and we told her we were students. She was very impressed with our itinerary and more impressed with the Sword Museum information I showed her. When we left she walked us out the door and waved until we were down the block. Ichigo Ichie. Sigh.

We walked back South, again looking for a Noh theater. We didn't find it but we found a few shopping malls. We walked around for a while until we got really hungry. We stopped at a tiny Tempura place where we were quickly sat at the same table as two other Japanese people. We didn't talk to them because they didn't look like they wanted to talk. The meal was good- breaded and fried pork with rice, cabbage and potato salad with noodles instead of potatoes.

As we walked through the malls we came across a small girly store and I found a great t-shirt. It says SALAMANDER UNIVERSITY in USA. Later we found a movie theater and decided to see a Japanese movie. We walked to the third floor and bought Y1800 tickets for Red Shadow out of a vending machine. It was all in Japanese so we were a little worried about what we were doing. We handed the tickets to a ticket man who looked at them for a while, then ripped them and gave us the stubs. We followed everyone else into the only theater and took some seats. People stared, but we were ok. The only foreigners in the place.

I think the movie was very good. It was about a comical trio of ninjas fighting an evil shogun and some samurai. One of the trio died (the girl) and it got very sad very fast. Then there was another girl whose father or husband died and she fought with the remaining two ninjas. That's just about as much as I understood. Maybe when I get home I'll try to find a subtitled version.

We hurried back to be in time for a 5:00 dinner- but realized dinner isn't until 6pm. So we swapped suitcases to kill time. Dinner was pretty good- breaded fish fried, cream of potato soup (really good) and other things. Now I'm trying hard to study and get stuff done so I can wake up early and hear the temple bells chime first thing in the morning.


1:00pm Bus to Hanida Airport
Wednesday was an unusual day. We had class in the morning and a little discussion about how we were going to proceed with the trip. We were told that grieving and fear is a natural process, but to continue on as normally as possible. The terrorists want America to change. We were all very tired, but we sat through class. When it was over, G and I went to Roppongi and ate at the Pot Pot- creat curry, rice and fried cream dough. Then we checked email and wrote home to tell everyone that we were okay. It was hard to write a coherent letter with all that was going on.

Then we went to some almond cookie store to buy gifts for Yuko and Prof. Winship. We walked to International House to give Yuko her gift and she was very grateful. She asked how we were doing and was very concerned about our group. We left and tried to find an English newspaper to take home- kind of just as a record that this is where we were when it happened. There weren't any left in English so we picked up a Japanese paper. As we looked through it on the subway home we saw that it had naked women on all the inside pages.

The subway was an experience all its own. The people on the subway usually just stare straight down. They day, I saw people obviously staring at us. We were the only westerners around. People either hid their newspapers from us or deliberately held up the pictures. We didn't know how to react to that. We were trying to act normally but with all these people staring at us we felt like we should look sad on purpose. I'm sure we naturally looked kinda bad since we'd been awake all night.

When we got back we went out to dinner along the road towards Romi. It was a really homy restaurant. The 'mama-son' walked downstairs to the picture menu to help us order. There was a little confusion about what we wanted, and we walked back upstairs without really knowing what we just ordered. Inside it was very unusually decorated. There were Indonesian masks and pictures all around. Huge paper lanterns hung low on the ceiling. We were the only ones in there for a while but soon a group and some salary-men came in. Mama-son asked "where from?" and when she found out we were from the US she said "aw" and hugged me. Then she told everyone in the restaurant and said "aw" and looked sad.

It was a really nice place. Mama-son sat and talked to people, smoked, and drank beer with tea in it. The tables were large and wooden, and G and I sat on the same side of it watching everyone. I felt like I was sitting in Mama-son's kitchen.

From there we walked to Romi for drinks. The bartender was the only person in there and he was watching a little portable TV/VCR/video camera. When we came in he took the TV over to the bar and turned it to an English translation of the news. We were really sick of the whole situation, but it was nice to hear English words telling the story. There were also interviews with people in New York and that was also interesting. We watched for maybe 45 minutes and left. We were really too drained to do anything else.

I woke up yesterday morning scrunched at the bottom of my bed. I don't remember if I had any dreams accompanying that situation, but I was there anyway. We packed up our stuff to change rooms, took our sheets with us. Luggage went into storage for the day and G and I took off for the Embassy. We were again conscious of people staring at us- but it wasn't so bad. We left around 8:30am so rush hour was in full swing.

6pm Bus to Kyoto
We were so goal driven that we didn't notice if people were staring or not. We left our bags in class so they would have less to search when we got there. We passed a guard station where the guard was wrestling with a bullet-proof vest. On the street was a mixture of TV trucks and unmarked trucks and busses. Near the entrance were tons of tripods and cameramen. Luckily, no one was taping yet so we slid by to security. He checked our passports and let us through the gate. There was a pile of backpacks and purses by the gate so I assume people were not allowed to bring them in. Once inside the gate, things were the same as last time. It only took G a few minutes and we were done. We glanced down the main street and saw that the block was restricted to vehicles and that police and black sedans were parked on the curbs. As we walked back we followed a plainclothes American who was giving orders to Japanese security guards and telling a woman that "prescreening began at 8:45am". Whatever that meant. We bought a Japan Times on the was back and read in English more news from home.

We were back in time to see a music group in Culture class. The music was very beautiful. The classical piece was calm and flowing. Almost too soothing for us who were already sleepy. The other more modern pieces were more varied and emotional. Altogether, with three people, there was 1 shakuhachi (flute), 1 shamisen (guitar with plectra) and 2 kotos. When I go home I have to remember to buy a CD of classical Koto. The three people were one guy who was bigger and about 24, and two tiny little women about 29 years old. The women had studied with Dr. Prescott.

After a quick lunch, G headed off to check on his embarkation/disembarkation card and I followed the group to the geriatric center. It was a little hard to get us all there: two train rides on the JR line. Once we got there we walked through some really nice gardens and Koi ponds, past great little fountains. The walkway was very shady and cool. We had a brief introductory lecture and then a tour of the facilities. These included the training rooms, residences (trainees and folks who used their services), the activity hall for patients, the handicapped bathroom, the hospital, and the roof. The center has a very long history starting in the 1920's and is now one of the most advanced research facilities on Japan's aging population. We have them another picture of Old Main, and they gave us 1,000 paper cranes- twice. One we're going to bring to Hiroshima, and the other we might bring back to school.

After a confusing train ride home (in which both I hopped off a train at the wrong time and tried to get on the wrong train) G and I went to McDonalds. We also had to get new rooms for just one night. It was nice to taste American fast food and not have to deal with sympathetic Japanese. When we got back I had to borrow G's towel because he lost mine that morning. We were back in the baths-per-floor so I tried to run the bath water myself. I don't know if I was the only one to use it or not, but it was too darn hot for me to stay in there very long. After that I went to bed.

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.