These last few days have really been a blast and a blur... I am currently in Tokyo Japan staying with my friend Anna and her husband Will. I can't figure out how to post pictures yet since they have this new fancy-dancy Mac computer I can't quite figure out... Being out of the new technology loop for the last 2 years sometimes makes me feel stupid around all of this purdy equipment... Anyways, point being: no pics now, hopefully some later.
I arrived in country on the 5th of Dec (4th where most of you are reading this), but almost didn't make it. I guess the flight overbooked and even tho I checked in 2 hours before hand, I checked in too late and was on standby. I don't know what I would have done if i didn't make the flight, but luckily I didn't have to think about that. The flight is a long 10 1/2 hours, but they had these little entertainment screens in each seat, so I watched 3 or 4 movies on the way there.
When I stepped out of customs, Anna was not there right away. I had a bit of a breakdown, but she showed up shortly and we piled ourselves into a subway and were off. On the way to Anna's house we switched trains at one of the most busy train stops in the world. More than a million people pass through that stop each day. Even at 7pm it was still pretty insane. That night was chill at Anna's house. I met her husband for the first time, saw wedding pictures and ate cheese and olives... yeah!
That next morning we awoke bright and early and headed off to the train station again. Only, this time we booked seats on the Shinkansen (bullet train) bound for Okayama to visit Moto. The train ride was long (3 hours) with stops in Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. Moto is from Kurashiki, but that is a small town nearby and Okayama is his district. He was waiting for us at the station. For those of you who might not remember, Moto was the JICA volunteer placed at my school with me. He left in April this year. The whole visit with Moto was sort of a whirlwind since we never really knew for sure the plan, like where we were staying until the time arrived, and he never let us pay for anything...
The first thing we did was get in his car and headed off to Kurashiki. His village is known for some really beautiful buildings that are more traditional style. We walked around, took a ton of pictures, went to the museum, and shopped a bit. Before dinner we got back in the car and headed off to a bath place. Now, in Japan people with tattoos are generally in the mafia. So, unlike Samoa, tattoos are really looked down upon. Even tho for the most part you cant see my tattoos, in a bath house you are naked. We were concerned that I would not be let into the bath house with my tattoos. But I did a good job of keeping the one on my thigh covered up with a towel while we were out of the water and no one really said anything. After that we went out to dinner. A few of his friends worked at the restaurant we went to and we were treated like kings it was so great. Plate after plate of I don't even know what, but I ate it all and it was amazing. :) I am an expert with chopsticks now too. After dinner Moto said his family was waiting to meet us to we headed off to his house. His dad had already gone to bed when we got there, but his mom was so sweat. She doesn't really speak English and I can only really say: thank you, your welcome, how are you, pretty and I am full in Japanese; Anna speaks a bit though and Moto was a good translator. Our room was up the stairs and we had 2 futon like mattresses laid out for us on the mat with really comfy down blankets. Anna said I was out the second my head hit the pillow.
The next morning, we got up and headed down to the kitchen. It was a pretty cold day yesterday and we were freezing, but the kitchen was nice and warm. Moto's dad was already at work, but his brother joined us for breakfast. Once again I felt spoiled. His mom made homemade miso soup, rice, eggs and fruit even. It was good. After tea and an exchange of a few gifts from us and them, we headed out. I do want to say that Moto's brother was really fun. He can't speak English either, but he really wanted to chat with us so Moto kept telling him what to say. His brother is a fire fighter, rock climber, and musician. He even gave us a CD of his. Moto is the oldest brother and works at his dad's company as a carpenter mainly making ornate doors. Its been the family business for a very long time. Moto would like to get involved with a local NGO someday, but promised his dad he would work with him for awhile.
After breakfast we drove out to a local temple. I think it was for fertility, but we really only walked around the gardens. It was very beautiful, but freezing so we weren't there very long. We all piled back into the car and said goodbye to Kurishiki and headed back towards Okayama. In Okayama, one of the main attractions is the Okayama Castle, also called Crows Castle because it is black. It is where the Shogun used to live, and what is left of it that wasn't bombed in the wars is still beautiful. They fixed up the grounds/gardens, and the main house is still the original. We decided to head there for the day. The gardens were beautiful, but I imagine much more colorful and pretty in the spring or summer. Moto's grandfather even built one of the doors to one of the buildings in the garden grounds. In the center of the gardens is a traditional tea house. We walked up to it and Moto was telling us about all of the rules around experiencing a traditional tea ceremony when a lady asked us if we wanted to partake in the ceremony. Moto asked her about the rules, but she said she would walk us through them. So we headed into the little house and kneeled on the mats. The lady came in and served us a little food dish that was sweat. Then she came in with the tea. It was frothy and very green and very strong. We had to turn the cup around in our hands 3 1/2 times and say a few words in Japanese then slurp the tea down. There were a few other things we had to say and do as well. It was a great experience. Anna had never done that before either.
After the tea ceremony we headed towards the main castle. Inside is really just a museum and some articles and artifacts about what the castle was like in the day of the Shogun. We walked up the 6 stories and took pictures from the view of the city from the top tier of the castle. If I ever figure out this computer I will have to post pictures of it all. After the castle, we were winding down since Anna and I had tickets back to Tokyo around 4pm. We had another meal, traditional Japanese pizza and finally had to say goodbye to Moto.
Once we arrived back at Anna's house, there was a note from her husband saying him and some friends were out and to meet them wherever they were. After a very confusing and frustrating cab ride, we finally found the place. Dinner reservations weren't for another hour so we killed the time chatting. Dinner itself was at this really famous restaurant I guess with amazing Japanese food. It is known for its sorba (noodles), but had many other items on the list. Will wanted some good sake, so he asked the waiter for the best Sake they had... I am not usually a big fan of sake, but this stuff was so smooth it tasted like water. Overall it was a great night of food and meeting some new people and catching up with Anna. I can tell I am finally over my jet-lag because we finally made it home around 2am and I wasn't struggling like when I visited Moto.
So, that is my travels thus far. You are up to date. As i write this everyone is still asleep but Samoa has turned me into an early riser. When it comes to missing Samoa, I try not to think about it. I am really missing the people a lot lately and it is hard to not be able to just call up a few people I used to talk to almost everyday there... It was fun chatting with Moto because a lot of Samoan words were thrown into the conversation, and we chatted about people there and what everyone was up to. We even played a few Samoan songs in the car rides. For the most part I still feel like I am just on vacation (which I am), but that afterwards I will head back to Uesiliana. Anyways, enough sentimental talk. I will try and post a few random posts when I can while I am here... Until next time.