Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sayonara, Tokyo!

Nick's note: This post was orginally dated October 26, 2005.

Today was our last day in Tokyo. I will always remember Tokyo... and the country of Japan. How the people have welcomed me and my colleagues with open arms. Guiding us when we got lost, humoring us when we mis-spoke, and their general enthusiasm and zest for life. Must be a Zen thing, I don't know. Most of this morning and afternoon was spent on hearing group presentations from the other prefecture groups. We had to give ours, too, of course, and we decided to do it interactive style and have smaller groups participate in some of the activities that were taught to us at Kyouei Elementary. We had a lot of fun presenting it and the other groups had a ball doing the activities.

We had a few hours before our banquet where I did some last minute packing, a short nap, and a quick subway ride with Mary and Sydney to the Hard Rock Cafe for Cokes and to snag souvenir T-shirts.

Finally, it was time for our fantastic banquet to send us back home. We were encouraged to share Japan with our colleagues, students, and families.. and to come back as soon as we could! We all made that promise with all our heart!! We enjoyed many different kinds of foods... even though I ate well, Mary, Sydney, and I still went out for ice cream and a walk around the Imperial Palace grounds. Very pretty at night. I will always miss these two friends and all my other great friends I made--Kara, Bill, CK, Jeff, John, Sue, Cynda-san, Elena, Angela, Harumi, Naoko, Satoshi, and Ikuko... along with anyone else I am forgetting. Tomorrow we spend most of the day in the airport... and then in a plane before arriving in the good 'ol USA. I fly into Los Angeles, and I heard customs there is a pain in the neck, so I'm praying all goes smoothly.

The next time you hear from me, I'll be home. Hopefully. :)

One last time, Sayonara!
Mr. K

Back to Tokyo... and Tokyo Disney!!

Nick's note: This post was originally dated October 25, 2005.

Oy. What a day! Today we got on the bullet train, or Shinkansen, for you Japanese speakers out there... we managed to successfully manuver through the busy commuters at early morning rush hour at the train station, and before long, I was nice and cozy in my window seat, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji as we raced along at close to 200mph. I needn't have worried. The conductor said it would be on the window side... wrong window. Half the train got up and went to the OTHER side to get the picture. All I got was someone's head and back. Nice! At least I bought those postcards in Tokyo... Whew!

We got back to Tokyo a little after noon, when Elena, Angela, and I went looking for food. American style. We found a Subway and had Haagen Dazs ice cream for lunch. The subs were a little different than home, but they were good!! We then went and packed a little before planning to meet Vermont Nancy and Sue for Tokyo Disney at 4:30. We took the subway there and spent the evening there. We had a lot of fun, even though we only hit the the Carosuel, Space Mountain, and the Tea Cup ride. The place was packed. We did get to see the fireworks over Cinderella's castle and the Electric Parade. So cool. We left Tokyo Disney disapointed, as none of us could find a t-shirt in the place that said Tokyo Disneyland. Bah to you, Michael Eisner!

Tomorrow is our last full day in Tokyo and we have to spend it listening to everyone give group presentations and our big Sayonara banquet is tomorrow night. Mary, Sydney, and I plan to get together and hang out afterwards, hopefully, because it's been nine days since I've seen those crazy kids.

Mata ashita,
Mr. K

A PTA Meeting, A Pottery Museum, and a Japanese Inn

Nick's Note: This orginally was dated October 24, 2005.

Today is our last Monday in Japan! It's hard to believe time has flown so quickly. We did so much today... first, we had a meeting back at city hall with members of the Tajimi City PTA. They had so many questions to ask us and were very curious to hear what we thought of the Japanese schools. Ikuko, my host mother was part of the panel, so it was awesome to see her again... after the PTA discussion, we had our last lunch at the Oustat International, our home in Tajimi. I'll miss the pillows, that's for sure!

We then got on our bus and headed to the Koibei Pottery Museum. While there, we got to tour it on our own. Cynda-san and I managed to do the butt-slide successfully down the steep staircases, for fear we would fall off the rail-less staircases. They were slippery, though!! The museum was very interesting and had some amazing works of pottery, some that go back seven generations! Can you imagine seven generations of teachers in one family? Wow. Makes your head spin.

After the pottery museum, we headed for the mountains and our Ryokan, or Japanese Inn stay. Everything here was traditional... from the kimonos we had to don as soon as we arrived, to the tea and sweets served before dinner, and a fabulous dinner that included kobe beef, miso soup, rice, tempura everything, radish soup, egg dumplings, and shebert for dessert. We then did a little karaoke, posed for pictures like fools, then went off for our baths before going to bed on authentic tatami mats. Very fun! What a day! We leave early for the train station and back to Tokyo tomorrow... we only have two days left in this adventure! Wow!

Sayonara from Tajimi!
Mr. K

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Staying with the Shimizu Family

Yesterday was the big day. The day my host family came and got me. I was a little nervous, but more excited than anything. My host mother, Ikuko, came and picked me up at the hotel around noon, earlier than anyone, except for Kara, so I was picked first. Yay! We first went to her son Subaru (yes, like the car) tennis game. He did very well and we cheered him on excitedly. Ikuko then took Subaru and I to the Tajimi Science museum, where we stayed for a few hours. She thenn took me to a candy shop, where I was asked to pick out a sweet. She ended up getting a dozen of them, because they were popular and in season. Turns out it was like chestnut cookie dough. Very good. I had two of them with two cups of green tea when we got home.

Subaru and I walked the family dog, Happy, while Ikuko got groceries for supper. Around 6pm, Subarus uncle and cousin came and got us and took us to a Japanese hot spring, which is like hot tubs in the States, but quite different. The water is over different temperatures and some are even outside! I took seven different kinds of baths... all at different temperatures and sizes. They were great and very relaxing!! The hottest one was about 104 degrees and the coldest was like 62 degrees, but I just followed Mahiro and did what he did. The only difference, there are no women and no bathing suits. OK. Enough of that. It was interesting, though. I felt so good when we were done and we were there for an hour and a half. Afterwards, Mahiro gave me some Seki milk... it was sweeter than American milk, but good. I saved the glass bottle it came in. We took a picture before we left.

When we got back, Ikuko and her husband were ready for supper. Their daughter was already in bed... she ha a long day of tennis, so she was tired. We had tonkansu, which is breaded pork, rice, miso soup, teryaki beef and chicken, salad, and oranges and plums for dessert. We then watched the first game of the Nippon Series. (The Japnese World Series) The Chiba Lotte Marines are playing the Seibu Lions. I am becoming a Lotte fan because they have Bobby Valentine as their manager and Benny Agbayani playing for them. They both were on pro teams in the states. Chiba Lotter won the first game, 10-1, before it was called in the eighth inning due to fog.

We then exchanged gifts. They loved their gifts, especially the North Dakota t-shirts, snow globes, and the license plate... thank you, Governor Hoeven! I was given a ceramic tea set and cups made in Tajimi City. I felt so proud and honored to recieved it and be a member of their family!! We stayed up until almost midnight, talking and playing games. The next morning, after a wonderful breakfast, my host mother and father took me to the Little World, which is a mini Japanese version of Epcot Center in Florida. Despite the drizzle, we still had a great time. We came back to the house for lunch, and then my host mother took me shopping, where she bought me some more Japanese sweets. We then went back to the house, where she showed me the textbooks she uses for her students that she tutors in Mathematics and English. Soon it was time to go back to the hotel. Ikuko and I exchanged addresses, e-mails, and phone numbers... and hugs. I will always remember them and will forever hold a special place for them in my heart!!

Sayonara for now,
Nick-san

Friday, October 21, 2005

High School and a GREAT supper!!!

One more note on yesterday, before I forget, those Japanese games that we played? Yeah. I was given those games... all of them. The teachers gave me two tops, a ball and cup game, two hammer games that are like Jenga, and another one I quite have not figured out yet. All for... in their words, bringinging joy to their students. Is that NOT cool or what?

Today we visited the High School and I was a little disappointed. The kids were like robots. They are so focused and intense it is almost scary. More details when I get back but we had very limited interaction with the students and saw many sleeping in class.

A bunch of us went out for supper with our guide, Harumi-san, and our interpreter, Naoko-san, to a place owned by a member of the school board. Great spaghetti. We were also served special sake (rice wine) and salad. Good times and laughs were had by all.

Tomorrow i begin my stay with the Sasaki family for two days. I am excited.

More to come soon....

Konbanwa,
Mr. K

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Look out Ichiro, here I come...

Today was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I can barely describe in words what it was like to visit the Elementary School here in Tajimi, but I will try. I was selected as group representative for the day, because I am the only one who teaches elementary school in a regular classroom setting. So... that meant I got to address the students in the morning assembly, address the teachers and principals in the post-school day staff meeting, AND... I lead the WHOLE SCHOOL, not to mention my other 19 colleagues in... the.... HOKEY POKEY! I even had the Curriculum Director from the Ministry of Education in Tokyo joining us. He was having a blast. His face was all red by the time we were done, so I know he had a great time.

The kids taught us traditional Japanese games in the gym, station style, where I got to spin tops, do calligarphy, make kanji characters, and fold origami cranes.

I also got to eat lunch in a fourth grade homeroom, visit a lot of different classroom settings, play dodgeball at recess, sign many autographs, pose for a lot of pictures, and give out many pencils!!! It was SO much fun.... the kids were so excited and happy to see us and very appreciative. Elena and I even got to check out the Nursery School.

Well, tomorrow we got to the senior high school. Watch for a report soon.

Sayonara,
Mr. Knoll

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Good times at Tohto Junior High

Today was an awesome day at Tohto Junior High School. We had so much fun... especially in the homerooms. I got placed in an eighth grade class where the sensei (teacher) spoke NO English at all and the kids and I could barely communicate, but we had fun dancing, laughing, and eating lunch together. The girls were a trip. Everyone wanted me to pose for a picture and the boys wanted to play games. My homeroom clapped for me when I walked in and started chanting, speech, speech. They also sang for me in the morning, after lunch, and before I left for the day. Every class has a piano in it. I got some video of it. Sweet!

In Japan, the students serve the lunch and clean the school. I tried to help, but they would have none of it... it was fun. Everyone was so welcoming and got to observe many different lessons... including helping out with an English lesson with my buddies Kara and Cynda. You rock, guys! Kara is from Minnesota and Cynda is from Oregon. Cynda and I also got a private origami lesson and got to practice Kendo (wooden stick fighting) with a PE class. I also got to play a version of Red Rover/Red Light Green Light with my homeroom class. It was awesome.

The whole day was unforgettable. I will always remember the kids and staff at Tohto.

Banzaii!!!!!!!

Sayonara,
Mr. K

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Visiting the Mayor and the Ceramics Museum

Today was a serious day, albeit a nice one. We had a reception and lunch with the Mayor of Tajimi City at City Hall where hey welcomed us to his city and made us honorary citizens. He then presented us with ceramic tea cups and paper cranes. We all posed for a picture and then he gave a great speech. CK from Nebraska spoke on behalf of us. Way to go, CK!

After our lunch with the mayor, (teriakyi chicken with rice), we then went to a Zen Buddhist Temple Ground where we got a guided tour with one of the monks himself. We even got to go in the actual temples and take pictures. He gave us each a set of postcards from the temple. Man, am I getting spoiled here!!

After we got back, Cynda, CK, Nancy from Vermont, and I went out to a curry resteraunt. Chicken curry... not Japanese.. but good!! More to come tomorrow.

Sayonara,
Mr. K

Monday, October 17, 2005

Welcome to Tajimi and the University

Today I went back to college. Well, sort of. First, let me apologize for not posting sooner. I know most of these will be old news, but they will be still fun for you all to read. I have been trying to get blogger.com to work and finally succeeded tonight. Anyway, this morning, my new friends and I boarded the Shinkansen (bullet train) bound for Tajimi. Normally, the trip would take 5 and a half hours, but thanks to Shinkansen technology and going 165 mph, we made it in two. Nice!!!

After we got here, we went to the local University, where we were treated with a great speech of welcome by the president and University T-shirts and pens. We had a great Q and A with professors and a tour by certain students. The girl that showed me around, Aya, was very helpful and took me to the bookstore where she bought me a Japanese candy bar and a great kind of gum... oishi! We then checked in to our new hotel and Elena, Angie, CK, and I went out to a great Japanese BBQ place.

Tomorrow we go to Tohto Junior High School. I can not wait! More to come then.

Sayonara,
Mr. K