Sunday, January 28, 2007

Last Day in Tokyo

I went to China...I didn't even mention this did I? I feel I wrote some notes to myself while I was there, but currently everything is packed away ready to go to GW tomorrow, so I won't look. I can check on that later- this is mainly here to remind myself to do so.

Oh yea and I'm back in America. It's bittersweet- one one hand, I was so happy to see my family and I'm super super excited to see Lisa (and yes Erv, you too)..and the rest of you....ASAP! But on the other hand, I left a true family in Japan- a group of people I really love and consider a huge part of my life.

The Kato family opened their homes and arts to me as a complete stranger. And so, I never once felt like one. They never said "You're our host-child." Instead they said "You're our child." I will miss them, but as I said to them upon leaving "This is not sayonara (good bye), this is matta-ne (See-ya later)."

Click for pictures from last day in Japan!

The night before leaving, Otoosan and I tried in vain to set up the webcam I bought for them. For some reason we could get it where he could see me, but I couldn't see him. Additionally, the camera itself worked to make movies or take photos, but stopped once on Skype or MSN. I say all this in the hopes that someone out there sees this, knows what the problem is, and comments a solution. Thanks!

Afterwards, K-chan (Tomo's best friend since 1 years old) came over, took a picture with me, and then ran out of the house. He came back 20 minutes later having framed the photo and asking me to bring it home with me! It said "Happy birthday" and then, on the inside in tiny letters "Please find me an American girlfriend." Then he and I went to the onsen (apparantly he does this on the last night as a way to bond with the gaijin) and had a great talk for an hour or so. I came home, realized I hadn't yet made the PowerPoint for the Kato's (wanted to show them something about how I felt) and thus stayed up a bit longer to finish it.

Otoosan and I were supposed to eat breakfast at 8:00 AM, but apparantly he tried and tried to wake me up and I didn't budge! Okaasan said he laughed, said "kawaii-so" (poor little thing) and let me sleep. I wish they had poured cold water on me! So I never properly said "goodbye" ...although, as I said before it's not really goodbye, so it's okay!

At around 10:45 AM I met Satomi and K at Oji-ekimae, had an adventure cancelling my cell phone and taking the toden (only the second time I've missed my stop and it took 20 minutes out of my last day!) and finally arrived back at the Kato's. Okaasan, Mune, Asako, Satomi, K, and I had brunch together (Tomo, who had work and then something with school, stopped by to show me his hotel uniform since he had always promised to do so). Satomi and K were extremely generous, giving me 2 birthday presents- a tie to wear during my upcoming job interviews, and a bottle of Kyoto wine (a bit of an inside joke between us).

At the airport I almost had to pay YEN120000, or roughly $1000 for heavy baggage, but luckily we were able to sort heavy books and other stuff* into an extra duffle bag. So I, boasting a somewhat high 5 carry ons, headed for security. There were teary goodbyes at the gate, but after a group hug and the found realization this wasn't goodbye, I made my way through. On the other side I was asked if I had any liquids. My denial was followed by the security guard checking my newly created carry on* to pull out nothing but the Kyoto wine Satomi and K had given me. I managed to convince the guard it wasn't a threat and was escorted back to the entrance to hand Satomi back her wine. After an explanation of the strict policies of US airlines and some more goodbyes, I finally headed to the flight gate.

How was my first taste of America on the plane? Well, let's just say the service in Japan is I'll miss that.

For now ; )


That being said, I'm heading to GW tomorrow so see you all soon!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Smiths Go to Japan!

Two days after Christmas, my American family came to Tokyo!!! After a great morning and early afternoon during which Okaasan and I toured Ameyoko, Ueno Koen, and ate lunch at a sushi restaurant, I boarded the Skyliner headed for Narita Airport. After a little while of waiting at the arrivals gate, I finally met them! After all these months apart, it was great to see them all- even though my father was in a wheel chair due to a bum knee. Baggage in toe, we took what ended up being a 2 hour bus ride to Shinjuku, where we checked into the Hilton Tokyo. Following is a summary of the wonderful visit we had:

Day 1:

Checked-in, exchanged Christmas presents (woo for two Christmas'!) and performed a frantic search for food. We found a great restaurant in Roppongi where the food was delicious and the wait-staff extremely courteous. I had my first real taste of an extended translation period, and stomaches full we returned to the hotel for a good-night's sleep.

My family's very first meal in Japan! They were REALLY jet-lagged...I kinda felt bad for being so awake haha.

Day 2:

Headed straight for Sophia University, so my family could have an idea of where I've been spending so much of my time over the past 5 months! Immediately afterwards, tried to walk to Yasakuni but, for whatever reason failed...ended up near the Imperial Palace but, unfortunately not the side with anything of interest! Eventually, we succombed to a taxi and made it to the famous War (or is it Peace?) Shrine...Afterwhich we headed across town to Asakusa (my favorite!) I was able to show everyone what's so great about the place- the lit up shrine, the streets lined with traditional Japanese snacks and crafts, the old-fashioned green-tea and red bean dessert place, etc. Finally, to cap off the busy day, we took in all Tokyo from the top of Roppongi Hills!

Christopher and I in front of some of the many empty sake barrels at Yasakuni.

Day 3: We went to Kappa Bashi (where you can see plastic food and buy any kind of restaurant equipment...thus it's a great place for Japanese dishes, bowls, etc), a shrine nearby that I don't know the name of at the moment (gotta check sorry!) and Ueno. For lunch we stopped in for katsudon (!) and ramen. My mom had rice (the food issue was a bit difficult for her here...they tend to eat fish in Japan).

Christopher and I inside the shrine I forgot the name of.

We ate dinner at a kaiten (revoling) sushi bar. My dad was in heaven, my mom liked oinari (rice inside tofu skins), and Christopher took pictures.

He's the weird one, I swear.

Day 4: The first half of the day was spent at Meiji Jingu (the Meiji shrine) in Harajuku. After being amused by Snoopy-Land (a store selling nothing but products related to the Peanuts), we headed into the shrine...not realizing until about 20 minutes later that the walk from the entrance to the main shrine itself was, well, 20 minutes! This was made increasingly more difficult due to my father (who has a really painful knee at the moment) having to push his wheel chair and my brother and mom pulling a big suit case (filled with gifts for the Kato's). Eventually, however, we arrived at the main shrine, and it was well-worth it (well, for me...ask my family if they agree! haha)...the shrine was big and impressive. On the way out, we were laughed at by a passing couple...apparantly our struggling was of some humor to them. Were they Japanese? No, of course not! They would never dare do such a thing...were they American? Hmmm...perhaps.

After Meiji, we headed over to Tabata to meet the Kato's! Finally, the big moment had arrived- my two families would meet....

...and get along! We had some lunch, opened a ton of "hi nice to meet you, thanks for taking care of Brian, Merry Christmas!" presents and then went to eat dinner in Ginza. The Kato's had reserved a private room at a famous tofu-only restaurant (for my mother, a vegetarian) WOW. It was amazing! Half the stuff you kinda just looked at and said, "That's tofu?" It was all delicious and I was really glad to have my two families together in the same place. Christopher got along great with Mune and Tomo, as well.

Day 5: Disney Sea!

Disney Sea was nice, but different. I feel everything was simply geared to a completely different audience, once with more subtle tastes. Thus, rides such as Journey to the Center of the Earth (a supposed 'thriller') were fun but...not quite what I expected. The Japanese, though , go nuts over the place. They scream on the one drop (yes, only one) on JTTCOTE like it's a crazy coaster...and they don't seem to mind the mysterious absense of characters, nor the fact that the Indiana Jones present within the Indiana Jones ride (mechanics seem to be a replica of Dinosaur from Animal Kingdom) is not based on Harrison Ford's likeness.

So I complain, yes. But really Disney Sea is a great place that has a lot of's just different. The scenery is beautiful, however, and I can see why it's known as a big date place.

Having fun...and perhaps turning Japanese???

Christopher, being a gaijin, was obviously asked to pose in a picture with curious Japanese.

We went to a Thai restaurant after Disney and, to our shock, horror, and excitement discovered the entire staff was in costume. This is the chef, a man who secretly desires to be a Power Ranger. There were also maids, bears, a Spiderman or 2, etc.

Anyway so after Disney and some dinner, my family's trip to Japan was over....short, but busy and fun! I had a great time showing them around, benefitted by translating every day all day, and was so happy to have them see where I've been living and what I've been seeing for the past 5 month.

Sorry this post is so late! I'll be updating further to explain why I've been so busy!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Funny English

I bought and then consumed something called a "steam cake" produced by the company Ginza Kimuraya. It was quite good. The package reads:

"My lasting memory of that first trip to Frnace in 1952, is of sensuality. Today, one would have to step off an aeroplane on the other side of the world to experience such an impact on the senses. There was a strangely exotic smell which hit me as soon as I set foot on the quay at Calais, later identified as a mixture of strong tobacco, expensive scent, and fresh garlic. As well as producing unbeatable bread, French bakers also service the nation's sweet tooth with a cornucopia of pastries and cakes. One French customs is the visit to the boulangerie-patisserie after Mass on u attended the service or not! - returning home with a baguette in one hand and a pyramid-shaped parcel in the other, containing a shle heavy creme patissiere."