Thousands of Miles from Home


My school uniform (what a geek) 

A fashion show in a mall at Okayama 

Shun asleep on the bus 

Shun on the streets of Okayama 


Today brought a calm, clear sky. The kind that only manifests itself after an unusually powerful storm. Last night's typhoon was the worst the town has seen in a long time. There were high winds and a good deal of flooding. Nothing in our house was damaged or wet, however, because we are not very close to the water. I was supposed to meet the mayor, but because part of the city hall was flooded my meeting has been moved to a later date.
Instead, I took a glorious bikeride to my school for a tour of the grounds. There are many buildings, but not many students because today there was no school. I am going to be in grade 1, which is the lowest. I will take higher math and perhaps science classes, but I'm discussing my schedule in depth with another teacher tomorrow.
In the afternoon I went with Shoko to see her friend who had a bit of damage from the storm. Her friend teaches english. I did what I do best and reconnected her computer and internet.
In the evening, Masatoshi, Shun, and I took a drive to see the damage from the storm. It looked as if most people had emptied their basements to the world, old tatami mats, tvs, sheets. Most of the water had subsided and people were beginning to move the items back into their houses. And no one was injured by the storm.
Tomorrow I start school.

In front of my house. The sign says "Watanabe" 

View of the inland sea 

On the street where I live. This is Tama, I live on a side street. 


The Usual

I've had some requests to answer some mundane questions about japan/my stay. So here's some boring, I mean wonderfully exciting, information.
ATMs here work pretty much the same as they do in the USA. Except more cartoony displays. In fact, everything here is more cartoony. I enjoy it because it keeps me entertained (or horrified, in the case of various cartoon pictures describing what will happen if you jump from the escalator). I've been going to bed pretty early. Except for a few nights when the whole family was out late. But I also wake up early so I feel pretty rested.
For breakfast I've been eating cereal, eggs, rice, bagels, or toast with jam. And bananas. Sometimes we have dumplings, but mostly I make my own food for breakfast.
I will be riding a bike to school, and it takes about 10-15 minutes. Mostly flat, but I have to go in a few tunnels through mountains. I hear the school has a very good library, but have not been able to check it out yet. I eat vegetables, but I think I will lose weight (because of all the rice consumption). My host dad has a vigorous workout routine every day. I have been pretty good about staying active. I read a lot too.
I bought an electronic japanese dictionary. It does everything I need, is small, and was on sale.

Today Mai and Miyu went to Tokyo. Mai is staying there for school, and Miyu is coming home in four days. We went out to lunch at a restaurant by the sea, with high winds and choppy water from the typhoon. It's raining right now, but still relatively hot. I don't think there will be any damage from the storm because the inland sea usually remains calm. I watched The Pianist because I'd never seen it before (in English, subtitled in Japanese). Masatoshi took me in the car to see the ocean because I'd never been in a typhoon before. When we came home there was a man with some expensive dog figurines in ceramic and porcelain that masatoshi may buy. From what I could tell they were very expensive, and Shoko thought he was crazy, but he liked them. I'll be taking a tour of the school tomorrow, as well as going to city hall.
It's hard to explain, but I've has some hilarious conversations about English words and their connotations. Like the difference between "chapped lips" and "canker sore." Good times.


Host Dad

Listening to some Jazz with my host dad. I have discerned that he likes collecting porcelain dogs and neckties. Although these may appear very mundane activites, he is a very exciting man. He really enjoys his job (internal medecine) and traveled to Okayama the other night for a lecture on hypertension in diabetics. His office is behind our house and he comes in and out of the house during the day. Today he and I took a bike ride to city hall so I will be able to go on my own this Wednesday to meet the mayor of Tomano.
Yesterday, Shun and I took a bus trip to the city of Okayama (sort of the equivalent of going to Pittsburgh from Morgantown). The place is hugem but not as crowded as you might think for Japan. I had to buy a belt so we stopped in a department store and browsed some stores until I finally settled on a plain leather strap.
After shopping and a bit of lunch, Shun and I went to see a movie. While we waited for it to start, we stopped in an arcade. Wow! We played a shooting game that was way ahead of anything I'd seen in america.
The movie Nin/Nin, completely in Japanese. But it was easy to follow because of it's comedic nature. It reminded me of a bad children's comedy movie like Shazzam! with Shaq. But Shun really liked it and I'll admit so did I.

Miyu in the living room (sort of watching Olympic basketball) 

Where I post in my blog 

View from a local mountain 

Very wonderfully and more pleasantly in a brilliant mood... (local town T-shirt) 

at the comfortable moment...Something to Chat (on an ashtray) 

The Story of Peachboy

This was the story I was relayed through a fury of Japanese and English on the ferry from Tamano to Shikoku:
A long time ago, there lived an old man and old woman in Okayama. They did not have any children, but wanted a child very badly (sound familiar?). One day, the old man went to cut wood on a mountainside, while the old woman washed clothes in a nearby stream. While washing the clothes, the old woman spotted a giant peach drifting down the stream. The old woman brought the peach home, and when the old man cut it open they found the Peachboy inside.
Now the Peachboy was very strong. He could lift large boulders with little effort (and leap tall buildings in a single bound). A great evil was plaguing the land ( a giant named Oni), and the peachboy offered take a journey to battle Oni and save the town. The old woman gave the peachboy some very sweet dumplings to take on his journey.
Along the way, the peachboy met a dog. The dog said it would help him fight Oni in exchange for some of the Peachboy's dumplings. The peachboy agreed, and the duo continued on their journey. Next the peachboy met a monkey who said the same thing as the dog. He also met a bird, etc. The boy, dog, monkey, and bird came to the island where Oni lived. In a reasonably short battle, the Peachboy defeated Oni and brought his treasure back to the old man and woman, who lived happily ever after.
Here comes the interesting part. As we're on the ferry, we spot an island in the distance.

the writing in white letters on the sign reads "Evil's Island"
Pretty spooky, eh?


Japanese Birthday

Today was what I will refer to as my Japanese birthday. In the morning I attended a rotary meeting, which was quite entertaining. It was held at a local golf course (my dad would be jealous), and I gave a speech which was well received. I was served lunch and played a kind of japanese chess, the name I cannot remember (Shumi?). Shoko also promised to teach me the game of Go. At the rotary meeting I met a girl from japan who had been on exchange to Texas. Her english was good and we chatted for a while about exchange and how excited I was; how much fun she had.
After the rotary meeting the real fun began. I visited my school whose name was a little confusing at first. Tamago means egg, and koko is the word for high school. The city is called Tamano, so Tamano high school is called Tamako for short. I kept thinking people were talking about eggs. At the school many people said Hello to me, and I was excited about my first day which is coming soon. First we went to pick up my school uniform, which looks very fancy and was completely paid for by the Tamano rotary club. It included a jacket, dress pants, gym shoes, dress sandals, gym shorts, dress shirt, gym shirt, and school tie. After a quick meeting with Sakaguchi-san, a very nice teacher who speaks excellent english, we decided that I would ride my bike to school. My schedule is still being decided.
When we returned home, Shoko took me to the bicycle store and told me to pick whichever bike I wanted, the cost would be covered by the rotary club (!!!). First some very nice looking clothing and now a new bicycle. No more riding to school with Shun on an old pink bicycle with two flat tires. I choose a flashy red bike, the Red Flyer as it shall be called.
In the evening, Shoko, Mai, Miyu, Shun, and I went bowling with some other exchange students. Zhang Shi, a girl from China, I had met before, and there was a new boy named Andee Lim from Malaysia. Andee's english was excllent, and we spent the evening talking about his country, Tamano high school, and the like. He enjoys computer games like counterstrike and warcraft. He has been on many clubs at school and I think we will be able to be in the same club. He is also taking advanced math which I plan to do. We bowled and played ping pong and had a great evening. He is staying with a host family very close to mine, so we will be able to ride to school together.

The Red Flyer (always wanted a red bike) 

Ping Pong fast motion 

Mai (top), Shun and Miyu 

Golf course (for dad) with Ferris wheel in background 

Shikoku island from Symbol tower. 

Saltwater moat of Takamatsu Castle 

Shoko, Shun, and Mai crossing the inland sea by Ferry 


On the Ferry

Just returned from Skikoku island. Yesterday Shoko and Mai went to Okayama to shop in the morning. Shun and i were going to meet them in afternoon but shun had to stay late preparing for a school festival. in the afteroon, Masatoshi didn't have to give a lecture due to summer vacation so he drove me around town. We stopped at a bookstore and an electronics shop. He told me that he wants to buy an iPod, but is waiting for the price to go down. Sony offers an alternative that many people in japan use because the walkman is so popular.
I finished reading fear and loathing in las vegas, and moved on to another book in my stack from home. I also added a little more to my rotary speech; I will go to a meeting tomorrow. In the evening, Shoko, Mai, Miyu, and i went to a rotary sushi bar. you sit at a table while various plates of sushi whisk by on a conveyor belt. Very entertaining.
Today, Shoko, Mai, Shun, and I went to Shikoku island by ferry. The weather was very agreeable and many of the distant islands could be seen by boat. Along the way, in a mix of Japanese and Enlish, shoko and mai explained the legend of peach-boy, a local hero (legend to be added in a later entry)
When the ferry arrived in shikoku, we went to the top of the symbol tower, thirty stories above the island. This provided quite a nice view of the various surrounding cities, a vast landscape of buildings stretching into the horizon. We also visited Takamatsu Castle (also known as tamano castle) which is one of the three castles in japan with a saltwater moat. takamatsu castle was built in 1590 by Lord Ikoma, who ruled there for 54 years.
Shikoku is known for it's udon noodles, so we went to a local udon restaurant for lunch. Not only did i have udon, but also octopus, jellyfish, tempura, and sashimi. all delicious.
After lunch, we made a quick stop in the kagawa museum and took the ferry back home. shoko is making korean pancakes for dinner, and two of shun's friends are here. They want to know if I am #1. "Tsuge (pronounces soo-gei)" means cool here. Everything is tsuge.


Images of Japan

Currently watching the Beastie Boys on MTV. Just to prove that Japan gets everything as soon as the US. Today was more sight seeing with Shoko and a woman on the school board. We left arund 10 after going to the post office to pick up some stamps. We went to a very old saltworks owned by Buzaeman Nozaki, "King of the Japan Saltworks." It was composed of many guest houses, a lighthouse made of wood, and a stone obelisk "Nokaki's Memorial Pole."
Lunch was delicious as usual. O-ishii. After lunch we drove to an observatory for the Seto-o-Hachi island bridge. The view was amazing. Perfect place to see the inland sea and it's islands. I believe there are over 1000. After some dessert we went to Yuga Daigongen and Rendaiji Temple. It is one of the few places that both a shrine and a temple are located in the same place. In the temple I rang a prayer bell, rubbed the buddha's head, and witnessed some chanting. I lit incence and felt very refreshed by the peaceful landscape.
People here think i look like Elijah Wood.
For pictures of the trip go to


First days

8/20/04 4:40 PM
On the airplane from Detriot to Osaka. Only a few more hours until we touch down. Rahul is sitting next to me in the lucky exit row with plenty of leg room. The most interesting aspect of this flight is that throughout the 13 hours we've been flying, the sun has not set. In fact its getting brighter. This makes for pretty exciting scenes above the clouds, white caps on the ocean water.

Currently at a Chinese lesson with my host mother. Its beautiful outside. I woke up feeling wonderful. There is a man who teaches computer classes here. He let me see the computer lab inside of this department store and I showed him my website. Amazing what you can portray with little laguage and some pictures. This chinese lesson is quickly disintegrating into a cooking class. Everyone is very nice, also happy. There is a large warehouse out the window to my left, men making some sort of metal items.

I am not writing until the next morning because i was very tired last nite. it was quite a day. after the chinese lesson i went with shoko, shun, and mai to a sort of italian restaurant on the water. very pretty. afterwards we went to a department store where i bought the most engrish looking notebook i could find and a pen. then we went to see the umi (ocean) which was very close and quite lovely. mom would love it here. we traveled up a mountain to the tomano/okayama national park which was breathtaking. it was truly just like the pictures of the town in the brochure. a widespread ocean with scattered islands, ships, and towns. there are large rocks which tower over the water, each with a different name. smiling rock was my favorite. returning to the house we were greeted by masatoshi who took the four of us in a different car to see okayama. we made a quick stop at a toyota dealership to fix something on his car, and during the wait were served ice tea and juice. there cars here are very advanced. GPS systems and automatic sliding doors. by this time i was getting tired but we went on to okayama castle, which promptly woke me up. built in 1700, almost nothing had changed since its construction. we toured the gardens, took some pictures, and ate shaved ice.
around sunset we came home, switched cars again, and went to eat dinner. yaki niku, cooking food in a fire right at the table. i accidentally ate an uncooked piece of liver, but was quickly corrected by my family (with some laughing). No adverse affects yet. i feel asleep quickly after coming home. cold shower this morning because i couldn't figure out the hot water button in the kitchen.

another wonderful day. masatoshi took the whole family (except shun who had school work) on a tour of okayama. first we went to an art museum in kurashiki which has both japanese/non japanese artists (picasso, andy warhol, rodin). there were also some old chinese pieces from 20 AD. after the art museum we walked around kurashiki ivy square where i received my name. Three symbols, "study," "dream," "citizen." in kurashiki we ate in a traditional japanese restaurant, complete with pillows and slippers, sitting on our knees. even my host family didnt recognize all the foods. after lunch we shopped in a couple stores. im able to communicate a little better now. at least i can get an idea of what is going on.
there is a very large bridge near tamano/kurashiki, much like the chesapeake bay bridge. we took the bridge to a fishermans wharf, very nice with a cool ocean breeze. we went to a temple that was 200 years old, and then to a japanese electronics store.

this morning i was home alone with mai. she slept in so i played the guitar and studied japanese. around noon shoko and i left to go to city hall so i could register in japan with mr. aketa. shun and i went on a bikeride to my school (it rained a lot) but we had fun. i met a few of his friends. shoko made a wonderful dinner and we watched the olympics.

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i can't check the internet every day, but i would love to hear from you.


Before I Go

This is my new home for thoughts. However silly, I'll try to be honest about my travels and experiences in Japan. We'll see where this takes me...