June 30

July 6, 2006

June 30

Worked a little on my journal manuscript in the morning, and then went with Alex and Emilie to Mister Donut for lunch . . . that’s right, donuts for lunch. I think the world would be a much better place if everyone ate donuts for lunch. One of the major attractions of going to this establishment is that you get merchandise tickets for every 300 yen you spend. Once 8 tickets are collected you can turn them in for prizes. The prizes for this month are some pretty awesome bags, one of which is absolutely hysterical . . . it has a dog on one side of the bag, and a little poop on the other side . . . in between are the words (in English), ‘haven’t you forgotten something?’ SO GOOD. Pics of this to come shortly . . .

At 5:30 that evening everyone in the lab got together and we headed out to the UliBob Bash. This was Uli and my welcome to Japan Party put on by the lab. We went to a very nice restaurant/pub where we had a private room for about 15 people. The food was really good, and the sake was even better. I again thoroughly enjoyed the squid; however, I think I may have found something I like even more . . . raw scallops. Really sweet and delicious. Another extremely cool thing was that they brought out all of the sashimi in a pirate ship . . .

After dinner, Uli, Emilie, and I went down to the district called Susukino, where we would eventually meet up with Alex (he was at a bbq with his labmates) at the Gaijin Bar. There were some decent pictures taken on our walk there, and also one rockin’ video of a couple kids dancing in the street. After throwing a few back at the Gaijin Bar (and meeting Alex), we went to another bar closer to our apartments to watch Uli’s German footballers play Argentina in the World Cup quarterfinals. It was a really exciting game with a pretty dramatic ending. I have to say, watching it with someone who has a vested interest in the outcome, makes it pretty fun. Went to bed late, but it was hard to get to sleep as I was so excited about my plans for the next day . . .

Pics of the UliBob and walk to Susukino

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June 29

June 30, 2006

Another dullish day at the lab, so I took off early (~2PM) and went exploring. First I decided to go to the JR Tower, which is a 182-meter (about 600 feet) tall structure with an observation area on the 32-floor. As soon as you step off the elevator you are looking at a great view north of the city. It is a circular room with windows looking out to all directions from the city. Below I have a slideshow that runs from north to west to south to east to north (what a dork). In the northern pictures you can see the ocean in the distance, pretty awesome. I would also like to point out that in the southeastern picture you can see the Sapporo Dome, where the Nippon Ham Fighters play baseball. I am heading there on July 1st and am very much looking forward to it. Also awesome were the bathrooms . . .I guess they didn’t want you to miss any of the spectacular views for an instant.

Spectacular views from the JR Tower

After the JR Tower I wandered around the huge mall in the subway station trying to read all of the signs. Here, I got a funny video of what is called a Kaetensushi, or, for a lack of a better translation, a rotating sushi bar. Very funny. I will have to try it one of these days.

Next, I traveled to another Hyaku-en store and then finally to the huge Wal-Mart type store before heading home.

It was kind of nice to wander around without help, as I am really trying to be self-sufficient. I think my conversation needs a lot of work, but I seemed to manage pretty well this time. Next step, ordering food without help . . .

June 26-28

June 29, 2006

FYI, I have updated pictures in the previous post relating to Bess’s party, my fishy lunch (hilarity), and one pic at the Hyaku-en store.

June 26

At 10 AM, I left the lab with Hasegawa-san to travel to his first field site. On the way we stopped at a lunch café to get some ramen. Pretty good stuff. We arrived at the stream around 12 PM, and then walked about 30 minutes to his first sampling reach. Within the first 5 minutes of sampling we shocked up this huge brown trout from underneath an undercut bank. Frickin sweet, except that it is an invasive species, and that we didn’t find any native trout within the reach. This site was very close to the confluence with the main branch of the Chitose River, so the habitat conditions were a bit more favorable for the invasive bt (brown trout). Another awesome finding was that the stream was full of native, freshwater lampreys. I believe they are called Far Eastern brook lampreys (Lampetra reissnari). The spawning-season for these lampreys was wrapping up; however, we caught some females that were still full of eggs, and I also got some good video footage of a male brook lamprey making a spawning redd (nest). He used oral disk attachment to move rocks out of the nest and also to sweep away pebbles from the nest. For video sweetness click on the respective actions. I also have pictures of the sampling day linked below, but I want to warn you that if you are afraid of fish or squeamish, you might not want to look (there are stomach contents of a brown trout in one of the pics).

Pictures of sampling Day 1

 

June 27-28

Not much going on these days, as the weather has been bad and Hasegawa-san was feeling a bit sick. No field work and all laboratory work makes Bobby a dull boy . . .

One highlight is that Uli (my advisor from EMU) arrived late on the 26th, and we got to hang out a bit on the 27th. The evening of the 27th, Uli invited Alex, Emilie, and me to dinner where he made tofu with dried bonito flakes and very good dumplings for appetizers and then spaghetti for dinner. Quite a multiethnic feast. I helped make some of the stuff . . . but in Bobby fashion I was in charge of browning the meat and somehow the burner turned off, so I was stirring everything around and nothing was happening . . . the kitchen is not my place evidently. Other than that, a pretty dull couple of days.

June 19-25

June 27, 2006

June 19

This was our last full day at Shonan Village. After breakfast, there were several talks related to scientific research in Japan. They were designed to inform us about the main differences in conducting research in an Eastern Culture vs. a Western Culture. Pretty eye opening.

In the afternoon we had our last Japanese language class, which lasted about 4 hours, and at the end of which was an exam. I did pretty well, but I wish that I had studied Japanese before coming over here. From the pronunciation to the 3 forms of characters, it seems to be a difficult language to learn.

Later in the evening many of us hit the beer vending machines and then gathered in the lobby to talk about our home-stays and future plans for the summer. It will be much more interesting to compare stories when we meet again at the end.

 

June 20

At 9:00 am we left Shonan Village for our research institutes. JSPS provided buses going to the Tôkyô-eki (Tokyo train station) and the Haneda-kûkô (Haneda airport). I went to the kûkô along with Alex and Emilie who were also heading to Hokkaido University. There were no problems at the airport, as I (again) had someone (Alex) that was on my flight. The buddy system is awesome. Oh, there was one problem, Alex forgot to check his Swiss army knife and had it in his backpack. Instead of throwing it away, the security team actually took down his info, gave him a receipt, and he picked it up upon arrival in New Chitose Airport near Sapporo. I am not sure if they do that in the States, but it was an interesting approach.

I arrived at New Chitose Airport in the afternoon and was picked up by Hasegawa-san and Watanabe-san. (Alex met his host researcher at the train station and Emilie, who arrived at roughly the same time, went with him . . . again, the buddy system people, its awesome). From the airport it was about 1.5 hours to Sapporo where Hokkaido University is based. Upon arrival to HU, I went first to the Field Science Center building to fill out paperwork regarding my housing here in the city. Next we went to my apartment, which is in an International Student Housing Building located about 30 minutes from the main part of campus (which includes the Field Science Center). I will share this accommodation with Alex, of whom I will probably talk much about in later posts.

After about 2 hours of getting situated in my new place, Hasegawa-san picked me up and we went to dinner at a restaurant specializing in sashimi (raw fish). Of course, I was a bit frightened by this idea, but I sucked it up and went along. And wouldn’t you know it, I actually like raw fish better than cooked fish. I had salmon, tuna, sea bream, squid, and octopus. All were pretty good. They also brought out some Yakitori (grilled-chicken on a skewer) and some furaido chikin (you can guess that one), which were both good. But as the night rolled on, I realized that an alternative reason they wanted to take me out was to get me drunk on sake (nihonshu) and bîru. Unfortunately . . . after 3 beers and 2 little containers of sake, I was just getting started, and they wanted to go back home (as it was a weeknight). So, of course, I went back to the pad and drank a few more with Alex as we discussed our sweet accommodations.

Pictures of our apartment

 

 

June 21.

I got up very early to ensure that I would not arrive late to the lab, but that didn’t work out so well. First, we were having some problems getting our hot water to work (couldn’t read the instructions). After that was taken care of, I left the apartment around 8:15 only to get extremely lost coming out of the subway station. The silly thing is that all the streets in Hokkaido run north-south or east-west. I think the not being able to read the the language thing, especially kanji (shortened words of which there are about 3000 different characters), might be bad. After that experience, however, I did learn the Kanji characters for the ordinal directions.

When I got to the lab Hasegawa-san was already waiting for me. The goals of the day were to pick up a bicycle and a cell phone. So we first went to the student co-op, where I purchased a used bike for about $55 US. Of course, this was the absolute cheapest bicycle on the lot (that I could fit on, anyway), and for an extra $10 bucks Alex got one with a sweet bell and more than one gear. Oh well, that’s $10 more dollars that I can spend on presents for all of you.

Next, we went to two mobile phone stores (and back to the lab in between so I could get the correct paperwork) to try to purchase a pay-as-you-go phone. Luckily Hasegawa-san was with me because neither of the salespeople could speak English (and of course I suck at speaking Japanese). I finally got my keitai-denwa (cell phone) in the afternoon.

The main reason I got the phone was for emergencies; therefore, I only bought about 30 minutes of international time. Incoming calls, on the other hand, are free. So I can e-mail you my ketai denwa-bango (cell number) if you can get your hands on a cheap calling card. Other than that I also have a Skype account that is set for voice-mail. I will send that number out over e-mail. I will probably use Skype to contact most of you (however, Hasegawa-san mentioned to not use it a lot during working hours, so the talk time may be limited).

After the cell phone fiasco, Hasegawa-san and I met up with some other labmates to eat lunch at the cafeteria located in the agricultural building’s basement. Sweet deals. I got a large bowl of miso soup and a small bowl of rice for roughly $1.30 US.

When lunch is over in our lab, I guess it is a tradition to go to the upstairs lounge to have coffee. So we made coffee in the Field Science lounge where I met many more people. What a whirlwind. I already stink at remembering names, and throwing foreign names into the mix crushes me. I have since bought a pocket notebook; where I have people write their names and e-mail addresses. Hopefully this will work.

I left the lab relatively early that evening to go with Alex to the supermarket (suupaa) called Daichii. The place is crazy. First of all, they have a sweet theme song playing on loop. No idea what they are saying except in the middle somewhere they say “Daichii, DAIIIIIIIIICHI”. It’s so appropriate. The other strange thing about shopping is that I have no idea what I am buying. Most things that I buy are based on the picture or flashy, shiny, or humorous packaging. I am a Japanese marketing advertiser’s dream customer: I seriously bought some kind of fruit drink because on the package it had this devious squirrel that was about to throw a nut at something. Oh, and the other things that I can distinguish in DAIIIIIIICHI are sales bins. I have a week’s worth of ‘Cup O Noodles’ that cost me about $5 US.

June 22

This was probably my best day yet in Japan. I got up very early, put on some grubby clothes, and then took off on my bike toward the lab. Waiting for me there was a group of my labmates that was going to play in the Annual Softball Tournament put on by the Agricultural School. Of course, Hasegawa-san had asked me to play when he picked me up from the airport on Tuesday (one of the first things he mentioned actually), so I gleefully accepted.

I have to say, no offense to you Americans, but if I got a bunch of graduate students back home (boys and girls) to play a softball tournament, the score of a 5-inning game would be something like 20-15 due to errors and all around bad plays. Here, we were lucky to score 6 runs, and we were crushing this team. Everyone played outstanding defense and knew exactly what to do in every situation (except for the one instance when I fielded a slow grounder to first and the second baseman forgot to cover the bag). I was pretty impressed. As for my performance, terrible. My fielding was sweet as ever, but my years of swinging a golf club have led me astray. I had something like 5 infield pop outs in 8 at bats. Eggghhhhh. No Cecil Fielder this day (except for the sweet glove at first). There are some hilarious pictures of the event though, and I will share them below. My favorite experience of the day was when my team and Alex’s team tied, we did a best-to-five paper/rock/scissors tourney in which everyone was jumping and screaming after every go-round. My team won in crushing force: 5-1 (with the only winner on their side being Alex). Oh and of course I crushed my opponent. Once we won the roshambo-off, we were supposed to be playing in either the semifinals or the final game (no idea what was actually taking place in any conversation regarding the tournament . . . actually, I don’t even know if it was a tournament?) In any case, the rest of the games got rained out and I was bummed.

Pictures from the softball tourney

Next, Alex and I went to dinner and then decided to go watch the US play Ghana in the World Cup at 11 PM Japan time. Again . . . the disappointment continued. The best part of the whole US-Ghana ordeal was that we found this sweet Gaijin bar, where most of the wait staff spoke English. They let us practice our form of Japanglish, and in turn we critiqued their English. An all around informative night. “Here is the best line I learned: Sumimasen. Nama biru dai jokki, kudasai.” (I think that is correct?) It means, “Excuse me. Draft beer in a big mug, please.” Awesome.

 

June 23

On Friday, I worked mostly on the blog until Emilie Bess’s (the other JSPS’er) welcome party in the afternoon. It was put on by her lab, and was held in a discussion room near their office. One thing to know about going to parties in Japan, you always have to bring something . . . so I brought Jack . . . Daniels. I figured it’s made in Tennessee, I went to High School in Tennessee . . . it’s a match made in heaven. So after I picked up Jack from a nearby convenience store, I got lost trying to find the party (the ag school is an absolute maze) and was late. I guess that is also a big no-no. In any case, they had a bunch of sushi, and because they heard I like ika (squid) , they ordered extra just for me. Well, I guess I don’t like ika as much as I had thought. These pieces of sushi were huge and ika is very chewy. Evidently not a good combo for me. So, I gagged alot and eventually spit every piece of sushi back onto my plate. What a failure. Fortunately for my ego, the Jack Daniels was a hit, so at least that worked out. I think Bess-san has some pics, so I’ll try to include them at some point.

Pictures of Bess-san’s Welcome Party

 

 

 

 

June 24

Awesome day. I got up early, saw that it was going to be a beautiful day, and rode the cycle to the lab. First, I tried to check out the Internet, but it was down. I called Hasegawa-san on my cellie to ask whether the U shut off the Internet on weekends (no idea why they would do that, but had to ask). He said they don’t, we chatted for a sec and then we hung up. Five-minutes later, he calls back and invites me to go Rockfishing with him in the afternoon. So of course I accept.

While waiting for the fishing trip, I spent the rest of the morning wandering all over campus taking pics of various (and random) sites. The best pics are of the stream that runs right through the middle of campus. It seems heavily impacted (as are most streams here actually), but it provides a nice scenic setting. Another great set of pictures are those taken at the “Model Barn”. Pretty awesome stuff.

Pictures from around campus

 

That afternoon, Hasegawa-san and his girlfriend Kazahari-san, picked me up from my apartment. I guess I had not realized that he was taking his girlfriend, so I felt kind of bad that I was third-wheeling it. But, on the other hand, I was going fishing.

Hasegawa-san’s favorite rockfishing piers are located about 2 hours southwest of Sapporo, obviously on the ocean. On the way, we stopped at a convenience store/rest area for some awesome Hokkaido snack called Agemo, which is basically a skewered set of fried mashed potato balls. Frickin awesome. Also on the way, there was a nice view of what I think is translated into“Beautiful Mountain”. It is about 1000 meters smaller than Mt. Fuji, but is a pretty nice site.

We arrived at the piers around 4:30PM and immediately started fishing. Rockfish are actually a common name for several different species (mainly Aename and Soi). They are nocturnal, so the best way to catch them is by jigging vertically along a pier’s wall as they like to hide in cracks and crevices in the cement. I was using Hasegawa-san’s very nice Shimano bait-casting set-up, with a texas-rigged silver-specked, plastic minnow. I danced that thing all around the pier and wouldn’t you know it, within the first hour, I caught the first fish. It was a nice sized benthic fish that they call a Kajika (Koh called it a sculpin and it looks to be in the sculpin family . . . Steve, help me out here). In any case, Hasegawa-san and Kazahari-san were pretty happy about the catch, stating that it is really good in Miso soup. I was just happy to contribute. Then, almost immediately after I opened a celebratory beer, I caught another fish called Aename. I thought it too small, but Kazahari-san really wanted to take it home, as it makes very good sashimi. Hasegawa-san complied. After that flurry of action, things slowed down quite a bit and we caught only three more small fish in the next four hours.

Rockfishing pictures

Another highlight of the trip was dinner. We paused fishing around 8PM to go to a convenience store called Seico-mart. This place has everything. You can buy preheated dinners (I was a bit nervous so stuck with a fried rice dish), noodle bowls (they provide the necessary hot water), bacteen (I had a bit of a gash from playing softball), sake, hot coffee (not from a machine or coffee maker, but they put cans of coffee under a heat lamp to warm it. . . a bit strange), and various other sundries. I think people could live solely out of Seico-mart, and I am told that the Japanese 7-11 is the same way. In any case, it is a popular place to go for a quick bite.

After dinner, we went back to the piers for another couple of hours. We took off for Sapporo around 10:30PM, after many casts with no bites. It was a pretty exhausting day, so I had no problems getting to sleep.

 

 

June 25

I had my first meeting with my supervisor, Maekawa-san, in the morning. Hasegawa-san was also in attendance and he presented me with a meal made out of the fish we had caught the previous day. He made miso soup with the Kajika and sashimi out of the Aename. The portions were huge, so I shared with Emilie and her lab. Pictures of this are worth a thousand words.

Pictures from the Fishy Lunch

Emilie and I then set off to find the hyaku-en store (basically the dollar store), to buy some cheap house furnishings and such. My best purchases were a sweet, baritone bell for my bike and some glasses that say “pastel wind” on them (obviously a huge laugh every time we use them). That night we went to her labmate’s place for homemade pizza. Everyone in attendance, except one, was a foreigner (2 from US, 2 from Brazil, and 1 from Guam). The food was delicious and it seemed as though there were 2 pizzas per person . . . every five minutes a new pizza was coming out of the oven. This was also my first real chance to watch an extensive amount of Japanese TV. The commercials are definitely the best, as they are utterly insane, (it probably doesn’t help that I can’t read the product or understand the language); however, the images are enough to sell me on the products. I can’t wait to go to DAIIIIIIIICHI . . . I tried to go to bed early that night, as I was scheduled to go out into the field the next day. Thus went my second week in Japan.

June 16-18

June 25, 2006

June 16

There was a poster session during the afternoon and that evening I was picked up by my home-stay parents. The Ukita’s lived about 30 minutes away in Zoshi City. This town is one of many seaside “prefectures” leading north to Tokyo. Within this town, they lived in a nice house in a hilltop neighborhood overlooking the fishing section of town. That night, we went out to dinner at a nearby seafood restaurant. I had my first taste of grilled Anago (a burrowing eel . . . I think), and it was ok, but I probably won’t order it again.

Pictures of Zushi City

 

June 17

The next morning Kikue made me waffles and because it was listed on my homestay information sheet that I did not like eggs, she made them eggless (what a pain I am). After breakfast, the oldest son (Ryoun) and I went walking around the neighborhood. He was a bit shy that morning, so the “walk” was more of a “he runs away and I catch up pace”. I think he may have either been a little embarrassed showing me around or he just didn’t like me. Not sure.

Later in the morning we went to the town of Kamakura, where there are some Buddhist temples and a huge Buddha statue. On the way, the family let me stop at a fish market to take some pictures. Because of its spiritual and historical importance in the Japanese culture, Kamakura gets a bit touristy. Kikue (the house mom) said that it is an especially popular place for old people to visit. Many of you would have thought that I fit right in . . . however, because it is the start of the tourist season, the town was packed. (It was also around this time that the family finally mentioned it was Kikue’s birthday, so I felt pretty bad about her having to show and explain everything to me as we walked around town fighting crowds and humid weather.) Getting back to the story, the house dad (Jinro) shared my distaste for loud, noisy crowds, so the trip to the temple and its associated pools was about all we could handle. After the temple, we stopped to eat lunch at a Korean restaurant where I tried Bibim (sp?). This is a type of noodle dish that can be served either hot or cold. In each case the same ingredients produce a different taste. I liked the hot dish the best.

After lunch we strolled around town, went to a Sutâbuccu (Starbuck’s) for coffee, and then dropped Ryoun off at his swimming lesson. The family split at that point: Kikue and Shoun went back to the house and Jinro and I walked down to the beach. The scene at the ocean was a bit chaotic, as there were swimmers, para-sailers, and fishing boats all moving within the same areas. Jinro said it can be a bit dangerous, but that there aren’t as many accidents as one would expect. As we walked north along the coastline, the views became very nice; however, due to the overcast weather, my pictures did not turn out very well. About mid-afternoon we took the train back into Kamakura (Jinro and I had walked north along the coast to the next prefecture).<<As a side, the train system seems to be relatively easy to use, but I am sure that some problems will arise later in the trip.>> Once back in Kamakura we picked up Ryoun from the pool and then took the bus back to their house in Zushi City.

That night we had a birthday dinner for Kikue consisting of gyoza (dumplings), rice, pork steak, and a cake. Kikue made the gyoza filling from scratch and asked for my help inserting the filling into the shell and folding it into form. Ryoun was very critical of my work, but I feel as though I did a pretty good job. They tasted great in any case. With the main course finished, the video camera made its first appearance, and the Ukita’s now have a very embarrassing video of me trying to sing happy birthday. I hope that it doesn’t get posted somewhere on the Internet. It would be like that embarrassing video of the star wars fight scene kid. I can just see that video being sold on the street corner now. . .

Pictures from Kamakura

 

June 18

Before everyone went to bed on Saturday night, Jinro set his DVD recorder (yes, I know, he is awesome) to record all of the World Cup games that take place overnight. This included the US-Italy game. I almost set an alarm to watch the game by myself (at 4am), but I decided to wait and watch it with Jinro the next morning. The US played pretty well actually, but it seemed like they missed out on some opportunities initially and then barely held on for the tie. (Soccer analyst that I am of course. . .). We stopped the recording at half, to eat a traditional Japanese breakfast, which consisted of miso soup, rice that was rolled in nari (seaweed), pickeled vegetables, sausage, and some tiny little anchovies. It was all pretty good. I think I could have miso soup with every meal (and probably will).

It rained most of the day on Sunday, so we searched for something to do indoors. We finally settled on the Modern Art Museum in Hayama. Unfortunately, when we got to the building, there wasn’t much to see. We sauntered around the grounds (in the rain) for a little while, until they told me there was a museum devoted to the scientific works of the late emperor ?, who spent much time in the field of marine biology. I took many pictures (I think I may have embarrassed the Ukita’s actually), so this field trip is better described in pictorial form. My favorite was the picture of a picture of Mt. Fuji-san.

On the way back to Zushi City, we stopped at what looked to be a chain restaurant (sort of Denny’s/Elias Brothers-esque actually), and I had my first tempura of the trip. It was ok, but after much eating over the weekend, I was pretty full pretty fast. I will have to try tempura again when I am hungrier. After lunch we went to a couple of antique stores before heading back to Zushi City. Back again at the Ukita’s, I spent my last couple of hours watching Thomas the Tank Engine and Toy Story 2 with Ryoun and Shoun. I haven’t talked about Shoun too much yet, so I would like to mention him here. He is not very much like his brother, in that he is very rambunctious and loves to hear himself talk. He spent a lot of time playing with and saying names of Thomas the Train and friends. He also liked to hand a train to me (especially Diesel Tim), say its name, and then expect me to repeat. He is definitely a funny little character that has a permanent devilish grin on his face (check him out in the pictures). Also, I think he got a bit attached to me, as he would run full-steam into my leg, bounce off, hit the floor, laugh hysterically, and then do it all over again. His parents said that was a good sign that he liked me, so I ran with it. When it was time for me to go back to Shonan Village (the JSPS orientation site) Shoun was sound asleep, which made me a bit sad. But I guess it would have made a lot worse of a mental picture if he had been awake and unhappy.

Before I took off, the Ukita’s presented me with an extremely nice clay sake (Nihonshu) set made in Okinawa. It was very generous, and I am sure that it will get put to good use at Hokkaido U. As I was saying my good-byes, I left my baseball mitt with Ryoun, and told him to practice up for the next time I will see him. He said he will be a Detroit Tiger and it made me happy. Overall, staying with the Ukita’s was a great experience and I am envious of the JSPS’er that will be hosted by them next year. I hope to keep in touch with them, and I may stop in for a visit on my way back to Tokyo for the JSPS final meeting at the end of August.

Pictures from Hayama

 

June 12-15

June 23, 2006

On June 12th, I left Detroit for Tokyo. The flight went without many problems, except for the Last Holiday, Big Momma’s House 2, and She’s the Man trifecta. No problems arose in Customs or in finding my way to the Hotel Shuttle. I was lucky that another JSPS fellow (Rashad) was on my flight over from Detroit. Rashad studies the persistence of man-made Fluorinated Organic compounds in nature at MSU. Pretty smart guy. He and I used the whole buddy system arrangement to maneuver around the Narita airport, through immigration and customs, and then to our hotel. Once at the hotel I finally crashed (after 20 hours of being awake).

June 13-15

The next day we headed roughly two-hours south to Shonan International Village where there was a week-long orientation session consisting of research talks, Japanese language class, an evening of “cultural experience”, a poster session, and of course a weekend-long home stay with a local family.

The grounds of the Shonan Village were beautiful, as was the rest of the surrounding area. Perched on a hilltop, the grounds provided some beautiful views of the Sagami Bay and the nearby town of Hayama. On a clear day, it is said that Mt. Fuji is visible. Unfortunately, our arrival to Japan coincided with the beginning of the rainy season for the lower islands; thus our visibility was drastically reduced by fog and haze.

The talks during the orientation session, took up much of the time. Additionally, they were often hard to understand. This was not because of the language difference (they all spoke English), but rather some of them were never finished. Here in Japan, if someone goes over their allotted time slot, they just wrap up the presentation without finishing. We were left “hanging” without hearing the main points of a couple talks. Pretty funny stuff actually.

As for the Japanese language class, it was rather fun. Although I think I may have embellished my understanding of the language on my application. Most people in my class had at least one semester of Japanese under their belt. Catching up to them was tough initially, but I think I picked up steam as the classes continued. Also, I sat next to a guy named Keith; who has a Japanese wife and has in-laws that don’t speak English at all. He provided insight into those phrases that were absolutely necessary for survival in Japan and those that I can pick up and practice over time. Here’s a gem: Toire wa doko desu ka . . . Mo ichido onegaishimas. Motto yokkuri onegaishimas. Amerika kara kamashita. (Where is the toilet? . . . Please repeat more slowly. I am from America). In addition, he also gave me the perfect filler phrase to use in conversations of subjects I don’t recognize or understand: So desu ka (Is that so?), followed later by So desu ne (I know what you mean). Priceless information.

The cultural experience at Shonan Village was fun, as there was a tea ceremony, origami instructions, calligraphy, etc. The best part of the whole ordeal was that it was the first time for most of us to meet our home-stay family. Luckily, my family was ok with the chaotic atmosphere and we made it through the tea ceremony and the origami before the children of the family (Ryoun who is 6 and Shoun who is 2) became bored. This experience also made me realize what a lucky draw I got with my host family. The dad spoke impeccable English (he was in the States for 20 years), and the mom and oldest son spoke pretty well too. Many other students weren’t as fortunate, as they had families that spoke little to no English. I guess that situation would force one to learn the language and culture much more rapidly, but I still feel I lucked out with the Ukita’s.

Pictures from Shonan Village