Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jeff's Blog - FINALLY!!

We're leaving Tokyo after a few hours of free time - after spending the entirety of yesterday in Akihabara (the geeky district, full of electronics, manga, and anime), I suppose that means I should go someplace else. Since we arrived in Tokyo, I've been to Shinjuku (shopping & nightlife) and the aforementioned Akihabara, and as I'm not terribly interested in expensive clothes, Akihabara was definitely better.

As a huge computer geek, Akiba (the hip name for Akihabara, which I'm clearly hip enough to use) was absolutely amazing. Walking out of an 8-story electronics store only to find two more across the street, and then discovering that many of them sell used components at ridiculously low prices, made me wish that we had someplace like this in the US (I had a terabyte hard drive in my hand and was counting out the cash for it when I realized I didn't really need was a fantastic deal, though). It's definitely my favorite thing about Tokyo, and it's probably a good thing I didn't have more cash with me when we went - putting hard drives, SSDs, and graphics cards in checked luggage seems like a bad idea.

At least some of us will go to Shibuya today, which is one of the more bustling shopping districts. Tokyu Hands, a "creative life" store (whatever that means) has locations throughout Tokyo, and the one in Shibuya is the original. The TH in Shinjuku that we visited our first night here had everything from wood and power tools to children's toys and traditional Japanese goods, and the Shibuya store should have even more stuff. We might go to Ginza too, which is another shopping district, but more focused on designer stores - there's a huge toy store there targeted at adults, which would be an experience even without buying anything.

Getting around Tokyo is pretty easy - they have both a subway and an elevated train system, and our rail passes get us unlimited free travel on the elevated tracks. Combined with English maps and helpful people in the stations, I don't think anyone's gotten lost, despite having had tons of free time.

I'll definitely miss a lot of stuff about Tokyo (and Japan in general) when we get back, but it's been a fantastic trip. We've been to tons of cultural sites, had time to explore on our own, had uniquely Japanese experiences (their arcades are crazy), and gotten to improve our language skills by interacting with native speakers all the time, every day. Sensei's done a great job of running things, and we all owe her a lot for being willing to come to Japan with us and barely do anything on her own (also, for being willing to miss Felix's first birthday). I also want to thank everybody on the trip for a fantastic end to my Wash career.

Mom, Krista, Sensei: There, I did the blog.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Brianna's Blog - Hiroshima and Miyajima

Monday June 28th, 2010

Despite the general exhaustion the entire group has been feeling, the past couple days have been indescribable. But even though this is contradicting the previous sentence, I’m going to try to describe them anyway! So Monday we ventured to Nara, which is a town (city?) known

for the freewheeling deer roaming the park looking for sucker tourists who pay 150 yen to feed them food. Well, by the way, we are

included in the group of sucker tourists (who doesn’t want to feed them?!). Nara is about a 40 min Shinkansen (bullet train) ride away from Kyoto. Monday was one of our more packed days (we fit a lot of sightseei

ng in…but I would have to say that it was one of my favorite days so far). W

e had a total of 4 places we traveled to that day.

The first shrine we visited was one of my favorites of the whole trip thus far. It was called Hasuga Shrine and it is known for th

e thousands of stone and metal lanterns they have lining the walkways and dispersed throughout the area. A family belonging to the shrine can purchase a lantern and they serve to help ancestors find their way home when they are lit. It used to be a long time ago the lanterns would be lit daily, but more recently they are only lit twice a year for special occasions. Because it is a Shinto shrine, as a practice it used to be that they would burn down the entire building every 20 years and rebuild as a way to purify the are, but they stopped doing that practice recently as well. The entire area is be

autiful and serene with pine trees and moss covering everything, including some of the older lanterns.

And like I said previously, because we were in Nara, there were deer everywhere. It was really entertaining watching them try t

o eat a couple of people’s t-shirts while we were walking, and watching them follow people everywhere. Under the shade of trees there were a few babies too!! J Way cute.

The next place we ventured was Ben’s research assignment, which was Todaiji Temple. This mega structure is the largest wooden structure in th

e entire world! And just saying, they weren’t lying. It was truly mind blowing

how ginormous this building is. In order to fit the whole thing in a picture you need to be standing at least 500 ft away or more. The Buddha inside is (I’m guesstimating) about 50 ft tall and weighs over 3 tons. On either side of the Buddha there are two Kannon statues that are about ¾ the size of the Buddha. Around the back side of the temple there is a hole in a support beam that is lucky to crawl through that i

s (supposedly) the size of one of the Buddha’s nostrils. It was fun to crawl through!! Most everybody went through, including Jeff!! (It was funny watching him getting pulled through by Colton).

Byodoin was the third place we visited. However, this temple wasn’t in Nara, so we left and traveled to Uji, which was in between Nara and Kyoto. This temple was originally built as a show-off-y palace by Fugiwara who was a lord in the royal family and pretty much became emperor by marrying off his eight daughters to powerful families (he wasn’t actually emperor, but he had more power than the emperor at the time…the actual emperor was more like a puppet government). Later on the palace

was made into a Buddhist temple. The original colors have faded both on the inside and outside, but with computer reproductions, they figured out that the main palace area was overwhelmingly colorful. At this point in the day (mid-afternoon) I hit my afternoon slump…so I walked through the area pretty fast because I just wanted to find a comfy bench somewhere, but from what I saw, it was really prett

y. There also was a rare collection of a set of wooden Buddha wall statues that were on display in the museum (they were originally in the main palace room).

The next (and last) place we traveled to

was Fushimi Inari Taisha Temple. By this point we had traveled to the outskirts of Kyoto (and go

t a second wind after green tea ice cream!). This place and Ginkakuji were two of my favor

ite places we visited while on our week

of travel. Fushimi Inari Taisha is known for the 10,000 Torii gates that line the miles of pathways. The emperor named it one of the most important temples for imperial messengers (which it was a popular meeting place for imperial messengers to stop at). The Torii gates are purchased by local businesses and they are engraved with the name of the donator and the

date. Fushimi is known for the Kitsune statues as well. Kitsune are foxes that are shape shifters who are witty tricksters. They are the temple’s symbol and are important to the are because they are the holders of the key to the rice grain and the Rice God is enshrined at Fushimi. Everybody (ex. For Colton and Tara) stayed within about the first half mile. Colton and Tara ended up walking a couple miles in and they said they found an amazing (but creepy) old graveyard full of Kitsune statues and

got freaked out by a crow. Sensei had me run

with her camera through the first row of the gates and take video, and I did it again with my own camera. Even before

I arrived to Japan it had always been a g

oal of mine to run through them, so I’m glad I had the opportunity on this trip! On our way out we saw a black little kitty and petted her (she was really friendly, apparently she lives in the temple). We were joking that the kitty was probably actually a kitsune in disguise.

By the time we got back to the hostel it was late, so we didn’t have much time to do anything that evening except get a quick dinner from the Conbini across the street and pack up for departure the next day! Kyoto was a beautiful city and the combination of big city and the incorporation of nature in the area made me want to live there!! (if not, then definitely go back in the future)

Tuesday June 29th, 2010

esterday. Off to Hiroshima!! We took the shinkansen for an hour and a half to Hiroshima. Sensei brought a bag of cranes that she had collected from the time between now and the previous Japan trip, but they weren’t strung and we needed more, so the whole train ride we folded and sewed them to make our “1000” paper cranes (more or less….(actually, its less…))We got a lot done though!So we left Higashiyama Hostel f

When we arrived in Hiroshima we went to the Peace Park, and the first thing we saw was the A-bomb sor good y

still standing, as an example of the bombs power. What is most surprising is that is stayed up, even though the bomb went off almost directly aboite. It was originally built as public works building in 1913 (that date might be wrong…sorry). But for WWII, the building changed to a war efforts/ human resources building. When the bomb went off of August 6th, 1945, all around the building was flattened instantly, but the shell remained (because it was built to withstand earthquakes). Today it stands as a symbol of peace and displays the tragedy that occurred

at Hiroshima. The building and the rubble around it remains unchanged since the bomb happened

, (except they had to add on reinforcement on the inside to protect it from weathering) to show how it looked 70+ years ago. It was a powerful si

ght to see the actual building that was


it (about 1600m away and 600 m in the air).

After the A-bomb site we went to give our paper cranes. We tagged them with our name and date and a message of peace:

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…give peace a chance.”

-John Lennon

“For all of those who died and suffered, you will be remembered.”

The other paper cranes that we

re on display were really pretty…and SO colorful!!

We then walked through the museum. It took a couple hours to go through because of how good it was, and everybody wanted to take their time viewing the artifacts. I’m not a big museum person, but this museum was really good, especially with the audio accompaniment. All the information was really interesting and worthwhile. The most moving parts I saw were the personal accounts of the survivors and the horror of what they lived through, as well as the pictures of the actual rubble and people who were f

atally injured. Now that I have been to Hiroshima, I feel more connected to WWII history than every before because I have actually been to a site that was (probably) the most affected area by the War in the entire world.

After the museum our group was waiting for the others to come out of the museum. We were waiting on the benches in the park and we got approached by elementary school students (probably 4th or 5th grade) and got asked what our names were and where we were from. Lauren and Jeff went up to them later and talked to a part of the group about how everybody in America has a cat in their bag and how they are

delicious for dinner, but Lauren didn’t eat the

m, but sensei did and she though they were yummy. It was really funny because all of the group responded with the same “EHHHH?!” and priceless facial expressions. I’m pretty sure that we made their day…they are going to go home to their parents and tell them all about the crazy Americans they met. J Once everybody was with us we went and rung the peace bell and hopped on the shinkansen once again, but this time on to Miyajima!

Unfortunately while on the shinkansen, I was caught up looking through my previous couple day’s photos and we, as a group, never went over what stop to get off on or how long the ride was going to be. So I was off minding my own business and then I hear a loud tapping to my left. There was the entire group frantically motioning to get off the train on the train platform. After I processed this, my facial expression quickly became a mixture of laughter, surprise and utter horror. The train started to move that instant, and I was off on my own. I wasn’t that concerned though, I knew I just needed to get off at the next stop and turn around. I felt really bad about it though that I was holding up the group. (sorry!!) Luckily it was short ride between the two stops, and right as I got off the train, the one going the opposite way arrived and I was back with the group

within ten minutes. Sooooo I’m never going to get any slack about i

t now, which I don’t mind, because I thought it was funny too (esp. my facial expression; I saw it in the train window

when I was on the train). Not a problem, just a small set back!

So before the ferry for Miyajima, we ate at a YUMMY Soba shop. Best soba I’ve ever had (and good sweet potato tempura). J

We took the ferry round 6:30 across to the island. It is a beautiful island that has tall hill cliffs covered with pine tress (my fav!) stretching up into the coulds and mist with a pretty Torii gate in the bay. When we arrived it happened to be the last part of low tide, so we dropped our stuff off at the hotel and walked out to the Torii gate and put coins in between the barnacles on the sides of the wood. We wen

t back to the hotel, took a shower and put on our yukatas (

comfy kimonos J). Lauren, Carrena, Katharine, and I all walked around the town for the evening after relaxing for a bit. I loved sitting and looking out at the Torii gate (by t

his time it was high tide and the entire area we had walked before was under 10 feet of water)

and the peacefulness of walking around and enjoying the evening in the sleepy town. By the time we came back to the hotel it was close to 11 o’clock. We had our daily meeting and all went to bed soon after.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Trenton's Post - First Day in Kyoto (a few days late)

I'll arrange these and caption them once we get to Tokyo and have a bit more time...

Today was the first official day of shrine visitations, with: Ginkakuji, Kiyomizudera, and Sanjyuusangendo. According to my own host family, the temperature in Kyoto was destined to be similar to the magma chamber of Mt. Fuji. The heat however, unlike our last two weeks in Okinawa, was perfectly bearable. Most likely because it rained ALL day. Our ongoing issue of taking up the entire tiny Japanese sidewalks was worsened with most group members carrying an umbrella. Our day started out with Ginkakuji, the silver pavilion. It was a nice start to the day and was slightly refreshing walking around the gardens in the light sprinkle.. Kiyomizudera, or the temple of pure water, on the other hand was a tourist zoo… The mountainous terrain combined with wet stairs and surging crowds was just asking for someone to slip and fall (ironically people jump from the balcony of this shrine and end up killing themselves). Luckily no one was injured on our visit. We proceeded to eat lunch and move on our way to Sanjyuusangendo. Translated in English as the 33gen (a Japanese unit of measurement of length) hallway, Sanjyuusangendo is a practicing temple so pictures of the inside are considered disrespectful and unlawful. It just goes to show you pictures are no substitute for the real thing. We soon returned to our place of residence to take in for the night. We were bet from our first day in Kyoto.

Carrena's Day - Nara

No time to arrange the photos or caption them Will do when we get to Tokyo!

Today was a long day, but it was a pretty good day. Our three main destinations were Todaiji, Byodoin, and then we saw Fushimi Inari Taishya. Personally, my favorite places were the Todaiji temple and Fushimi Inari Taishya.

I had been looking forward to these two places more than any of the otherplaces. I think my favorite part of Todaiji was all of the deer. I couldn’t believe how comfortable they were around all of the people. Plus , I enjoyed watching some people squeeze themselves through this tiny hole that is in the bottom of this tree stump that is inside of the temple.

Then, after we were finished touring Byodoin, we went to Fushima Inari Taishya. This is the place that I was looking forward to the most, because I the first time I saw this place was in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. At this site there are ten thousand tori gates, which are orange and black. In the movie, you see the little girl running through the gates, so of course I felt obligated to do this. Even though I was ten times hotter/sweatier, it was worth it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lucy's Post - Kyoto Fun

Hi all! Japan in general is fascinating. Okinawa is where I belong. Kyoto is like Carrena- it has many personalities, all of which are pleasant in their own way. It can be scary and intimidating, but also serene, surprising and beautiful. You’re welcome, Carrena B. So today we went to Kinkakuji (the gold covered temple), Ryouanji (Cool temple with rocks and gardens), and Nijo Castle. Nijo was amazing. The floorboards are called Nightengale floors because they squeak every time you step on them. They were the most interesting floors I’ve ever seen. And the art there was beautiful too. There were restorations going on when we were there, but theres just so much art that there can’t possibly be a time without restorations. Kinkakuji was just beautiful. It was so absolutely gold that it looked fake, but the fact that it was real made it that more awe inspiring. After our sightseeing we went back to the city and did some shopping. Then we did Karaoke, and that was without a doubt my favorite part of the night. I sang many songs, but my favorite one was Paparazzi. And everyone else was ok too, I guess. ;;;;DDDD Then there were drunk guys in the lobby of the karaoke place. We keep seeing these adorable puppies everywhere and it makes me miss my babies.>

-I miss the Kinjos.

-Kyoto is awesome.

-I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me. Papa. Paparazzi.

Good night!!! (Morning? ; D)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lauren's Post - Leaving Okinawa

This morning everyone left okinawa, it was a sad day, everyone had become so close with their families! I sure am going to miss everyone in mine, it really felt like home.
Last night one of my friend's dad invited us to have a party at his restaurant, it was a traditional japanese restaurant, complete with the tatami mats. The food was delicous, I especially enjoyed the tako sunomono!
My host father wrote me a nice letter
and read it to me during the dinner, it was so sweet. They also gave me a coffee table book full of cats in japan!
Sunday is my birthday! Ill be 18! Sensei says were going out to karaoke that night!
About noon we got into kyoto, and ate lunch at the conbini, i had some angel hair pasta.
After that we went to one of the shinto shrines here, I bought a fortune, and it told me Id have a safe trip so long as I took care!
We went to the shopping district for a few hours also, it was way neat, kinda like a half indoor half outdoor mall, it seemed to stretch on forever, it was more or less a maze, I found a really cheap scarf too.
We ate at a sukiyaki place tonight, it was alright, but wayy too much food in the bowl.
Our hostel is pretty nice, although all the girls are crammed into one room, thats 8 of u
s, 4 bunk beds in a room the size of a dorm (maybe smaller)
Anyhow, its been a pretty long day so I'll see everyone July 2nd! Im excited to come

Students walking through the gate at Heian Jingu Shrine. Before you enter a shrine area it is traditional to purify yourself.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ben's Post - Vacation Days

The last three days we didn't have school hence, no blog. Fortunately, we have school today with full 60 minute classes. On Monday, we all went to Naha to the huge shopping district and before that, some of us went bowling. We pretty much spent all day there and experienced the thrill of buying all of your presents. Tuesday, we had a BBQ party at the beach with all the host students and all the senpai that came to Iowa last year. We weren't allowed to swim because it was a school event but after the principal and vice principal left, we swam anyway - lol. Yesterday, Wednesday, everyone went to the aquarium which contains the largest observing tank in the world and the only tank in the world that has whale sharks. It was awesome. Also on Wednesday, I visited my family in Nakijinson. My Grandma, who is 106, is doing very well and talks about my dad 'Jimmy-boy' a lot. I also visited my 3rd cousin who is 93 and lives in a giant house on top of a huge hill all by himself. It was very cool seeing all of them. I think everyone had a great time in Okinawa. Today is our last day and we are going to hold a party for all the hosts.

This is Ichi-nen Ni-kumi's farewell party. Brianna, Lauren and Tara seemed to really enjoy this homeroom.

Well, Brianna and Haruna enjoyed most of the class...

When it was cleaning time after school today... Colton was the only one I could find who was helping out! Way to go Colton!

Sarah's classmates were chasing her down to get photos of her!