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Yokkaichi Trio 2017

Welcome to our Blog.  It is our sincere hope that you enjoy everything we share here with you.  Lily, Aidan and I are incredibly thrilled at the opportunity we have been given to share with and be exposed to people from a geographic background that is different from our own.  It is our sincere hope that this opportunity will assist with developing positive relationships with others, understand a broader range of perspectives, and develop the knowledge and skills needed for participation in our multicultural society.  Our goal is to work as Ambassadors to build a better cultural understanding between nations and people and help create dialogue to build a world of caring and responsible global citizens.

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Day 17 – August 7, 2017

Day 17 is coming up on the end of our trip.  Today was the last day of our official scheduled visits to places in Yokkaichi.  Our guides today were Shintani San, Yoshimizu San, and Tanka San.  We were scheduled to visit the Akatsuki Soap Company, the Port Building Observatory Exhibition Room, the Shiofuki Breakwater the Rinko Bridge and a visit to the Mayor again.  It is also the night our Farewell/ Sayonara Party is scheduled for but….there’s a Typhoon coming so most of our planned activities are cancelled.  We are so sad about the Sayonara Party because we invited everyone we met along our journey and we were looking forward to seeing them all again and saying goodbye.  We were able to visit the soap company as planned and we got to see the Mayor again.  Since being here, we learned that a part of traditional culture is to give gifts to everyone and anyone.  The gifts don’t have to be large and are just a small token of a person’s appreciation.  They are sometimes an ink pen, or a button, or a key chain, nothing big, just something thoughtful.  We’ve gotten so much better with that tradition, both the giving and receiving.  At the soap company we spent time learning about the only company in Yokkaichi that produces this valuable every day product.  They produce laundry detergent, shampoo, bar soap and other soap products and supply them locally to the people in Yokkaichi and nearby communities.  We received soap samples and were really happy because we learned that this is the only way we would have access to their products because we can’t get them in the United States.  When we went to visit the Mayor, he was happy to see us again, even though his focus was on the Typhoon.  His office staff apologized that he was wearing his Typhoon gear instead of his suit, but we totally understood and were just grateful that he took the time to see us and send us off.  He gave us gifts to give to Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and LBYSCA Board President, Frank Tabar.  On this visit, we gave the Mayor Mori a Dodger hat signed by Dodger pitcher, Dennis Powell.  We spent time with our guides having lunch and then had to head back to our host homes to hunker down for the Typhoon which was quite scary for us as this was also a “first” for me, Aidan, and Lily!20170807_10140720170807_10154520170807_10155420170807_10193220170807_10244920170807_10245320170807_10245920170807_10250520170807_10292320170807_10293820170807_10302520170807_10351920170807_103639DSC09296DSC09297DSC09298DSC09299DSC09300DSC09301DSC09302DSC09303DSC09305DSC09306DSC09307DSC09306DSC09303DSC09304DSC09298DSC09300DSC09301DSC09296DSC0929720170807_10394520170807_10414920170807_104154DSC09309DSC09310DSC09311DSC09312DSC09313DSC09314DSC09315DSC09317DSC09318DSC09320DSC09321DSC09322DSC09323DSC09324DSC0932620170807_13030220170807_130305DSC09325

Day 16 August 6, 2017

The day of the Grand Yokkaichi Festival! The day we’ve been hearing so much about, the day we were looking forward to, the day we get to be dressed in Yukatas! We were so excited and had so much fun. Our Sensi and her assistants dressed us and prepared us for the festival, then schooled us on how we were expected to behave in this traditional attire. She then had us model for a group of students who would be putting on their own Yukatas with her assistance then we headed out to the streets for festival fun. We walked and ate…. and walked and ate, and shopped and ate, we were filmed by a local television station playing with our O-Nyudo dolls we received from our friend, Mr. Yanagawa Hirakazu, (one of the first places we visited when we arrived in Yokkaichi, Day 4 to be exact)…and just had fun! Our usual guides, Dion, Tanka, and Ohno made sure we had a great time and our high school friends, Yuya, Saki, and Kaho came along too! This was not just a fun day but a day of learning more about Yokkaichi and the 120 years of cultural heritage this city represents. This festival is Yokkaichi’s summer feature and had a number of floats including O-Nyudo, which is the largest karakuri puppet (doll) in all of Japan….and the star of the festival according to Mr. Okada. We also caught a glimpse of his “son”, Konyudokun. Several whaling boats made an appearance, and we saw traditional performances including Taikio drumming and dance performances. We even got to spend time enjoying the festival from the VIP area where I sat next to Katsuya Okada, a Japanese politician who is a member of the House of Representatives and was once the Deputy Prime Minister of Japan!

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Day 14 Aug. 4, & Day 15 Aug. 15 , 2017

These are the days dedicated to our host families and spending time with them and another opportunity to really immerse ourselves in Japanese culture.  On my first host family day with the Takase family, I enjoyed a late morning wake up call to breakfast and spent some time with Daichan, their grandson, and some of the neighborhood children.   I absolutely love little people and these guys were no different.  They were so excited to brush up on their English skills and learn new words, and I was happy to teach them!  Their son came from Nagoya with his family also and I met their two children, Naoya and Yuya, and fell in love with those two!

 

The second day with them, we spent some pre-festival time taking in the sights and sounds of the festival at night.  Taiko drumming,  the smell in the air of yummy foods frying, and so many people dressed in Yukatas, Happis,  and other traditional Japanese attire.  We also did some shopping that day at the 100 Yen store and visited the Yokkaichi post office where I left my cell phone and realized it when we went to another store and I wanted to take a picture of something in that store!  Fortunately I had a receipt from the post office with their phone number on it so Mrs. Takase called and they had the phone so we went back.

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Ban Family {坂 家族} 

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My second host family, the Ban family, has been amazing. They have four kids. Three girls and one little boy. The older girls are closer to my age, so it was nice to be with some teenagers and see what they spend their time on. One of them likes to dance, like me!

The father owns a meat business with restaurants. We ate at his restaurant the first night and it was similar to the KBBQ restaurants that are so popular in Southern California. We grilled many different types of nice Japanese beef and it was delicious. In Japan it is called Yakkiniku. I even tried some beef shashimi that was very good. In addition, I think I ate some cow stomach? I’m not too sure but it was squishy and took a long time to chew.

Every meal has been very delicious and enjoyable with the Ban family. One of the nights we had a barbecue with 30 people. The cooks at his restaurant made Yakkiniku and Yakkisoba in their front yard and served it hot. We had fresh melon and Japanese style cakes for dessert. We followed this up with huge fireworks in their front yard. I didn’t know you could buy fireworks of that caliber from the store. I held a firework canon that shot out a firework that exploded in the sky. Fireworks are a staple of the Japanese summer and this was the third time I saw fireworks on this trip. When you tell Japanese people that fireworks are illegal in your city they think it’s crazy. Fireworks are another part of this trip that I will truly never have in Long Beach!

Host family days were incredibly fun! Here is what we did:

Friday- August 4th: The first day of this entire three weeks that I slept until 8 am! Wow! We got up and packed for our one night stay at the Toba Grand Resort & Spa. First, we went to the Toba Aquarium, which reminded me of home. We saw a seal show and a walrus show. Their aquarium is like Sea World mixed with the Long Beach aquarium in this way. The touch ponds were also more exotic then the Long Beach aquariums. They had fish that ate the skin off of you hands and eels that you could pick up! In addition, they had a room full of poisonous bugs, snakes, fish, frogs, and anything you can think of. The aquarium was another place that I saw the similarities of our countries and cities. Then the hotel was only 10 minutes away. Hotel is understatement when talking about this establishment. You had to take a bus between buildings! One stop was where our rooms were, one stop was the Onsen or Hot Springs, and the other was a building purely for restaurants and recreational activities. So we checked in and got on the bus for the spa. Silly me, brought a bathing suit. I was not prepared to be completely naked with my host mom, sisters, grandma, plus a bunch of strangers! Looking back I don’t know how I could have prepared. I was explaining to my mom that I have been well educated about every Japanese custom and event and nothing has taken me too much by surprise. Watson Sensei (Aidan & I’s Japanese teacher) does an amazing job of teaching us culture in tandem with the language. So we learned about the custom of the onsen in class, and I knew you didn’t wear any clothes. I was aware of the ritual but was not physically prepared when we got there! I realized there is nothing you can do to prepare yourself for being naked with a bunch of strangers in Japan. However, my motto for this trip is go with the flow, so I followed along. As I got used to it, is was very relaxing and fun. My host family are kind and funny and I wouldn’t want to experience the onsen for the first time with anyone else.

We then headed back to the hotel for a 10 course traditional Japanese dinner. It was delicious but I was full by the third course, with no idea of what was to come. After we took the bus to the recreational building, where we had a private karaoke room! You order food and drinks and do karaoke with just your friends and family watching. They call them music rooms and you set up your karaoke playlist on an IPad. It was so much fun! My host little brother sang Hotel California to me in Japanese. Then of course they made me sing it in English! The nights hits were “I want it that way” by the Backstreet Boys, “Marry You” by Bruno Mars, and “The Macarena” by The Sunshine Superstars. We then took the bus back to our building and listened to a Jazz saxophonist in the lobby. I play the saxophone so it was fun to hear some live jazz on the trip.

Saturday- August 5th: We woke up early and hit the Onsen again! I now highly recommend. We had a hotel buffet breakfast and then packed up the car. Toba is about an hour and half from Yokkaichi. We got home and had McDonalds for lunch. I was so excited because Marybeth and I have been saying we wanted to eat Japanese McDonalds before we go. They put rice in their burgers! The fries are identical to America’s and it tasted like home. Then we had some downtime before catching the train to the Yokkaichi Matsuri/ 四日市市 まつり. The 120th anniversary of Yokkaichi becoming a city is being celebrated by a multiple day festival. I got to see it in regular clothes before dressing up in Yukata tonight to attend.

The Ban Family speaks very little English and I am grateful for their effort in speaking English with me. I’m also grateful for their contribution to the betterment of my Japanese language skills. I’m so happy that I could practice my speaking with you, you are the best (and most understanding) teachers!
Thank you Ban Family for allowing me to experience wonderful food and fun with your family. I will never forget my time with you and I am eternally grateful that you opened your home to me.
またあとで!

Day 13 August 3, 2017

Today was super fun.  We started with a long drive in our favorite rental car which we’ve come to love because of the features it has like the ability to recline the rear and middle seats, the disco-type fluorescent lighting, and the amazing amount of leg room!  Oh, and did I mention the driver? It always comes with a driver.  Today it was Yoshimizu-san.  Shintani-san and Tanaka-san also accompanied us.  When we reached our destination of Iga, a city of Mie Prefecture, we met our guide and changed into Ninja gear at the Danjiri museum.  As Ninjas, we toured the museum then went over to the Iga Ueno Castle to see and hear the history of the castle and Ninjas.  We learned more about Ninja history and traditions as we visited the Iga-ryu museum.  We were also treated to a Ninjutsu demonstration show. It was a great time!   After the fun in Iga, we went to lunch and as you know by now, food is Yoshimizu’s forte! He keeps us well fed. After lunch, we took a tour of Tokaido Road and visited the Hatago Museum where we learned about the history of the area and Seki-Jukuof the “Tokaido” with its 53 stages, a main route between Edo (Tokyo) and Kyo (Kyoto) of the Edo period.  We also inquired about how much one of the properties in the area would sell for and found out that for about $45,000.00, you could purchase one of the properties on this road! Once our day was finished, I met my host family at the Yokkaichi City Cultural Center where I was able to watch a live stage performance of a very famous Japanese theatrical company as they performed a play called Children of the Storm.  I really enjoyed it because it reminded me of my visits to the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts at home.  After the play we went for dinner at Reds which was a burger place owned by my host mother’s friend and previous student.  This place spoke to me as it was splattered with all types of California memorabilia on the walls, including a sign for PCH (1) and Jason Mraz playing through the speakers.  I almost forgot I was in Japan!

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Day 12 – August 2, 2017

Today was another day of adventure for us in Japan.  We started the day on a train heading to SCMAGLEV and Railway Park.  Our guides today were Tanaka, Wanibe, and….SEIKO!!! Yay! We were so happy to see her again and have her come along.  We made it to the Railway Park which was a museum and it was beautiful.  There were 39 rolling stock displays which included the Superconducting Maglev and generations of Shinkansen (trains).  We had a chance to learn about the history of the railway system in Japan and it is pretty impressive.  I was most impressed with the way they care for their tracks and how they work to ensure the safety of they entire railway system. After we finished at the museum, we went to the DOME Furniture Store for lunch. This was sort of like IKEA only with better food! Here is a pictures of the food I had, and of Tanaka-San being the best guide ever bringing me my food with a smile.  I can’t remember the name of what I had but it was some sort of croquette and it was delicious.  I also snapped pictures of the parking lot at the DOME because I am still trying to figure out the parking spaces.  Why do some of the spaces have grass and cement and who’s job is it to care for that grass?  It can’t be easy to cut!  After lunch we walked over to LEGOLAND JAPAN and on our way, we ran into Wanibe’s friend, a very famous soccer player and now coach of the Nagoya Oceans, Pedro Costa.  We met his family and had a chance to chat with him and take a couple pictures.  What was most memorable about this encounter for me was watching Wanibe beam with pride as he talked to…and about his friends and interacted with their daughter.  We very rarely get to see the personal side of our guides as they are so focused on us that we really treasure the moments we can learn more about them personally.   After that it was on to LEGOLAND where we spent some time riding a few rides and enjoying some treats before heading back to Yokkaichi.  Once again, a day filled with fun!  When I returned to my host family’s house, their grandson Daichan was there to greet me with the cutest welcome any 8 year old could put together.  I’ll share the photos in my 2nd host family post.

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Day 10 – A Day of Firsts 

Monday was a day of firsts. It was our first morning with our second host families. So we each woke up in a new house with new people. Starting the day, it was the first time we met at the Yokkaichi train station. A big first was sitting in our reserved seats and looking up to see Yoshimizu San waving to us on the other side of the glass. Yoshimizu works for the Yokkaichi International Center and has been with us from the moment we got off the plane. He speaks no English so there was no communication that he wasn’t getting on the train with us. So, on the 10th day, Yoshimizu San rested. We took the commuter train and marveled at the crowded station with trains perfectly on time. Public transportation can run sometimes every two minutes. If you are a minute late, you have missed your train. An alien concept for us Americans.

We were headed for Ise Jingu. Nicknamed the “heart” of the Japanese people, it is a 2,000 year old shrine. It is made up of an inner shrine (Naiku), an outer shrine (Geku), and 125 surrounding shrines. We had the privilege of visiting Geku. It was our first time learning how to bow before crossing under the Torii gate signaling the entrance to the shrine. In addition, it was our first time learning how to throw our coin and pray. Wanibe San was a great teacher and made sure we had an authentic experience. The view was breathtaking and we loved seeing pictures of Obama’s trip to Ise on the walls. Next, we went to Oharai Town in the Okageyoko District. We walked its streets of merchants and souvenir shops and tasted the famous foods of Ise. First for lunch, sushi with thick raw tuna slices. Then for dessert, Akafuku. A matcha flavored shaved ice with rice cake, and sweets made of bean paste (Wagashi) in the middle. We also had a super traditional Japanese drink at… the Snoopy Cafe! A first for everyone! We had snoopy marsh mellows in our hot chocolate, and we were happy. Our snoopy drinks were followed by a train ride back to Yokkaichi on the Shimakaze Premium Line. It was a deluxe train, and we watched a movie about making sushi off of Aidan’s IPad. The last first of the day was being greeted back in Yokkaichi by Yoshimizu, his wife, and their grandson. Reuniting does feel good!