Sunday, May 26, 2013


I am currently on route back to Chicago from Matsuyama.  With three connections, my travel itinerary reminds me of hopscotch--Matsuyama to Osaka, Osaka to Narita, Narita to Seattle, and Seattle to Chicago.  Unfortunately this itinerary is my own fault for booking my ticket late. On the plus side, the more frequent stops does mean that I can stretch my legs more frequently and hopefully avoid the swollen feet I had on the way to Japan.  So far, things are going rather well, but I did make the mistake of packing a bottle of plum sake that I had bought for Matt in my carry on and had to give it up when going through Japanese customs on my way from Tokyo to Seattle because of the ban on liquids in carry on bags in the U.S.  I am sad, but hope that at least the screener gets to enjoy it and it doesn't get tossed in the trash. 

 The other disappointment so far has been that my connection from Osaka to Tokyo was very short, not allowing me time to get anything substantive to eat (I just had some snacks in Osaka because nothing else available looked appetizing).  i also regret that i didn't get to do any shopping in the duty free stores.  I had just enough time to use the bathroom, clear customs, and get to my gate before boarding began.  I did manage to grab an ice cream sandwich from a vending machine (these are all over Japan) and a bottle of water though.  It's now dinner time and I'm thankful that meals are served on international flights.  The flight attendants are coming around now with dinner--chicken curry or salmon and rice.  It smells delicious in the cabin and I can't wait to eat!  It won't be the juicy hamburger I've been dreaming of, but I look forward to that when we land in Seattle.  My connection there is a couple hours so I'm hoping it won't be a problem.

10 minutes later....

Well I completely devoured my meal in less than 10 minutes.  Yum!  Interestingly, when I got my meal, I looked for the chopsticks.  I guess that a week in Japan has gotten me conditioned to using them.  I am kind of surprised, though.  Funny thing is that had I had chopsticks to choose from, I think I would have used them!  

Given the time change that I am facing when I get back to the States, I am going to try and stay up as much as I can.  I also want to try and stretch my legs a bit more on this flight.  I am in a window seat and have an empty seat between me and the women sitting next to the aisle of my row, so I am hoping that will help.  Just seven hours to go to Seattle!

Uchiko and a reunion with friends

Saturday marked my last full day in Japan.  With the students at their home stays, I had the opportunity to get together with Miki and Azumi, two friends from Ehime University whom we had the privilege of hosting in our home one weekend  last summer when they were participating in a three week exchange program at CLC.  They picked me up and took me to Uchiko, a small town of about 20,000, about an hour outside of Matsuyama.  Uchiko is unique in that it is a town dedicated to the preservation of the old, traditional style of Japanese architecture.  On the way, we stopped at a small grocery store where Miki and Azumi taught me a bit about the different vegetables and fruits one can find in Japan.  In our perusing, I discovered bottled honey that contained the body of the largest bee I had ever seen (see picture below).  Even Azumi and Miki were surprised.  Beside it was another jar of honey that contained the bodies of several smaller bees, but still large by U.S. standards.   The smaller bees looked to be the size of Carpenter bees, not honey bees.  This only left me to surmise that the bigger bee must have been the queen bee.  If these are honey bees in Japan, I can only imagine what beehives must look like.

After our expedition of the grocery store, we went out for a nice lunch and then headed into the town of Uchiko.  Driving through the town felt like taking a step back in time.  Every where I looked I wanted to take a picture.  Once we got parked, we visited a Shinto Shrine with what appeared to be the largest statue of a reclining Buddha that I had ever seen.  We then toured the Japanese Wax Museum, which explained the historical importance that Uchiko had in production of vegetable wax made from the dried flowers of the Sumac plant in the 1900s.  As part of the Museum, we also toured the Kamihaga Residence, a historically refurbished home in the traditional Japanese style.  It was amazing to see.  I learned from Azumi and Miki that Japan made the move to more modern housing in the 1960s and 1970s.  Consequently, there are very few persons in Japan that still live in the old style homes.  Even their grandparents didn't live in old style homes.

After touring the museum and home, we went to visit Uchiko-za, one of the only remaining Kabuki Theaters in Japan.  Unfortunately, it was being used at the time and unavailable for tours.  Afterwards, Miki and Azumi took me to see their homes and meet their parents.  We didn't stay long, but I appreciated the opportunity to see what a modern Japanese home looked like.  There were definitely still elements of the old traditional style evident in their homes-- tatami mats, sliding doors separating the entrance way of the house from the rest of the house, a room for prayer/worship of their ancestors, and beautiful use of the open space leading up to their front doors for plants and flowers.  I appreciate them giving me a little glimpse into their everyday lives.

After departing their homes, we went to a vertical mall in the center of Matsuyama where we had a late dinner.  Within the mall, I had the chance to see what a typical grocery store looked like in comparison to the one I saw earlier on the lower level of a department store that I would say was comparable to Macy's.  It looked a lot like a Jewel/Safeway/Pick n' Save with slightly different goods, of course.  One thing that I saw that did make me laugh was the size of their shopping carts.  They are extremely tiny and the basket was just the size of the basket that you carry around at Target or US grocery stores when you have a few things to pick up.  Miki and Azumi said this was the case because many people grocery shop every day and only get enough that they can carry by foot or by bike (I think there are more bikes than cars in Matsuyama).

Azumi and Miki kindly helped me find a few other souvenirs that I had been looking for but didn't have the language skills to find on my own.  Soon it was 9 pm and time to go home.  It was sad to say goodbye to Azumi and Miki, but I couldn't have planned a better way to spend my last day in Japan.  I thank them (with a deep bow), for their time, their generosity, and their friendship.  It was deeply satisfying to be able to share a bit of their lives and their culture after their trip to the U.S. last year.  Although I have made many international friends over the years, it is not often that I get to travel see them in their home countries.  I hope I have additional opportunities like this in the future, and perhaps Matt will even be able to come with me next time.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Winding Down

Friday was a bit more relaxed as there wasn't a field trip planned in the afternoon as there had been the days previously.  In the morning, I did some catch up on work email and then headed out to do some shopping in downtown Matsuyama with Tamara.  It also gave Tamara and I a chance to talk about plans for next year's joint study abroad program to Matsuyama.  Drawing from our previous experience with public transportation, we decided to take the tram back towards campus and grabbed lunch at the cafeteria on campus.  Each lunch experience is an adventure as I never know quite what it is that I am getting.  Thankfully I have been pretty lucky and enjoyed most of the food I have tried.

After lunch I attended a Japanese manners class that the Coordinator of the international center at Ehime University conducted for our students in preparation  for their home stays with Japanese families over the weekend.  Although I wasn't planning on participating in a home stay, I found the class very insightful and had wished that I had know all the information covered before I left for the trip. I discovered that not only is gift giving an important part of Japanese culture (which I did know), that gifts are typically wrapped.  Hearing this, I smarted recalling that the gift I had given the University President the day before wasn't wrapped.  I was told that Japanese people don't expect Americans to do this, but I still felt like a schmuck.  I had planned to do more homework on Japanese culture before I left, but time simply didn't allow. I guess I will know for next time.

After class, I went to the Share House, the hostel where the students are staying to check out their digs.  It is not quite as I had envisioned it, but still pretty nice and all the students with whom I talked indicated they really liked it.  Shortly afterwards I returned to campus to see the students off to their host families and then went to dinner with the CLC and JJC faculty, Ruth and some faculty from Ehime.  At the suggestion of one of the Ehime administrators, we went to a seafood restaurant tucked off the beaten path that translates as The Fisherman's Boss.  It had several huge tanks of fish of various kinds, including three sea turtles (which I verified that the Japanese do not eat, but are rather for show).  Dinner consisted of several courses, starting with a huge platter of fresh sushimi.  I tried the traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage of sake for the first time and even gave octopus a try.  I really liked the sake, but wasn't a big fan of octopus.  I was a bit surprised that it was a big meatier than I had expected.  By the fifth course, we were all stuffed and ready for bed.  It was a delightful time and I thank Ruth and Ehime University for a wonderful night and their gracious hospitality.  ( I took photos of this dinner but used my other camera and don't have the ability to upload them at this time.)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Something fishy

Today while I was shopping, I came across a grocery store situated on the lower level of a department store in Matsuyama (which apparently is quite common).  I was greatly amazed at the variety of fish (dried and otherwise) available.  I couldn't help but take some photos to share.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Matsuyama Castle, Dried, Deep Fried Squid and the Oldest Bar in Matsuyama

Thursday marked another full day of activities in Matsuyama.  In the morning, I hiked up a steep, unmarked trail leading up a mountain situated not far from our accommodations for an astonishing view of the city.  We had heard about it from Ken, the lead faculty from CLC. At the top was a small Shinto Shrine.  It was quite the work out getting up there.  Later that afternoon we would hike up another mountain in the city to see the famous Matsuyama Castle.  It is the oldest and most complete castle in Japan. No one actually lived there but rather it was used as a point of defense for the city if needed. It was originally built on the other side of the city closer to the coast, but was moved to,it's current location for strategic reasons.  It required the builders at the time to move the local river that flowed thought the city.  Give his took place in the 1600s, it is particularly impressive to consider.  As it turns out, the castle was never attacked and as our guide told us, could be considered one of the biggest wastes of tax payer money in history.  

After we toured the castle, the lead faculty from both schools, Ruth and I met with the President of Ehime University for a brief time.  Ken, Tamara and I then went to a Japanese leadership class to observe how students are being taught how to develop their leadership skills.  The class was conducted in Japanese, but some of the co-teachers translated for us so we could better follow the conversations.  

After class we went out for dinner at a Japanese Fusion restaurant where I got to try dried, deep-fried squid.  It looked like fried onion strings, but definately was more chewy.  I have to say that I prefer the hydrated kind of squid--calamari.  Although, we had intended to head back to the hotel after dinner, Ken was interested to show us the oldest bar in Matsuyama, which he had visited during a previous visit.  We wandered around for awhile looking for it and conferring with many different people about its location.  One thing that makes finding such places even more difficult is that there are no street names in Japan.  Rather, addresses are based on neighborhoods and the order of which buildings/homes are constructed.  I can hardly imagine how everyone eats around.  I would hate to try and navigate in a bigger, more crowed city like Toyko.  Just as Tamara and I were thinking the bar was a figment of Ken's imagination, we found it. It was the tiniest little bar I have ever been to, but it was probably one of the nicest.  The bartenders/owners of the establishment are a cute, elderly couple in their 70s, if you can believe it.  They didn't speak English, but you could tell by their faces, that they were kind hearted persons who had good humor and loved what they were doing.  And you could tell by the regulars that they loved the owners.  I'm not normally one to visit bars these days anymore, but I am grateful for the opportunity to meet the owners and see this place myself.  The owners do not have children and so it is hard to know how long this bar will be there.  I asked them how long they intended to run their business, and they said as long as their health allowed.  May they have long life.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Culinary and cultural explorations: Matsuyama days 1 and 2

I arrived in Matsuyama on Tuesday afternoon and was greeted at the airport by Ruth Vergin, the coordinator of the International Education office at Ehime University. She took me to the University Guest House where the CLC and JJC faculty leading the trip are also staying during their time in Matsuyama.  The students are staying in a youth hostel type hotel  little further away from campus.  The Guest House feels a bit like furnished dorm rooms with private bathrooms.  It isn't the most luxiourous accommodations, but is fine for the time I will be here.  Honestly after such a long flight to get to Japan, I was just thankful for a place to take a hot shower and lay down to stretch my legs.  After a quick shower, I headed onto campus to meet up with our students and faculty and some Japanese students for a meet and greet.  I was delighted to see several of the students who had come to CLC last summer for a three week exchange program, including Azumi, one of the students whom we hosted in our home one weekend.  Afterwards I grabbed some lunch at the campus cafeteria trying some delicious pork, onion and cabbage stir fry of sorts selected for me by one of the Japanese students at my request.  I withdrew some additional money, got some beverages for my hotel room, and then headed back for a quick (2 hour) nap before rejoining our group and many Japanese students for a Nabe party.  Nabe is a type of dish made up of various vegetables and meat cooked in seasoned broth in a big pot heated on a propane fueled burner at ones table. It is like soup but with larger chunks of vegetables and meat.  One drinks the broth, but the main attraction is the food contained within the broth.  The broth is really more for the purposes of cooking the other items.   There were about 8 different types of nabe pots at the party and small groups of us sat on the floor on straw mats around tables low to the ground, which each had its own pot of Nabe that we shared.  It was a great introduction to Japanese style meals.  I am anxious to try a duplicate Nabe at home.  I'm not sure I can find all the same ingredients, but I think I could make due.  After the party I crashed and slept pretty well until I woke up around 3 am Japan time.  Thankfully, i did manage to get back to sleep an hour or so later.

Later that morning, I enjoyed a Western style breakfast at the Guest House.  It was a odd assortment of things:  one piece of bread, half a pancake, small dish of egg salad, one sausage link, coffee, small tossed sald, and yogurt.  I then headed onto campus to the computer lab where I did some catch up on email and afterwards had a lunch meeting with Ken, the CLC faculty leading the trip, Ruth and a colleague from her office to discuss the MOU between our schools for short term and semester long exchange.  Followings lunch, I joined up with the students for a tour of Dogo Osen, a public bath house situated atop a hot spring.  The bath house is the oldest Hot Spring in Japan and the Special bath house for the Royal Family.  We didn't actually see people bathing, but rather saw the part of the bathhouse designated just for the royal family and a sample private room where people rest and relax after bathing.  Since I'm not one to even make an appearance in a bathing suit, I do not anticipate returning to partake in the bathhouse personally.  I heard some students will do so though.

We also took a tour of the area surrounding the Guest House, which included a Buddist Temple and a Shinto Shrine.  It was quite the hike and I regret that I didn't have a chance to change my clothing after my meeting with Ruth.  Consequently I got some blisters from my shoes.  Nonetheless it was neat to see these sites of such historical and cultural significance in Matsuyama. I especially enjoyed the beautifully manicured gardens among the temples and shrines and in the homes we passed along the way.  If I had had time, I might have enjoyed just sitting in the gardens and spending some time in prayer.

After the tour concluded, the group split up for dinner.  I took a tram across town with a Tamara, a JJC faculty member to try and do some shopping and to find a place to eat.  We had received some instructions from Ken about how to get there for which we were glad since there aren't too many signs in English in Matsuyama and trying to navigate based on the tram map itself wasn't particularly helpful.  When we arrived to our stop, we came across a drug store.  As we had both been battling some mosquito bites since we arrived, we sought out some anti-itch cream and some mosquito spray.  Of course everything is in Japanese so we sought the help of the pharmacist.  He didnt speak English well enough to communicate with us, but through gestures, we were able to explain what it was we wanted and he helped us find it.  I was grateful and proud of our accomplishment.

Afterwards we had dinner at a nice restaurant above a department store.  We soon discovered that like the pharmacist, the server also did not speak English and that the menu was only in Japanese.  Undaunted and feeling adventurous, we chose a meal based on a photo in the menu and pointed to the picture and asked the server for two of them using our fingers.  We were each brought a set that included some tempura, some noodles in a broth like Miso soup with seaweed, and a bowl,of white rice with fish eggs and dried seaweed on top.  The server showed us which sauces went with which things and we dug in.  While I'm not sure I would have ordered fish eggs If I had known what it was that I was getting, I am glad to have tried it.  It wasn't too bad actually.  I'm not likely to try duplicating that meal at home however.

Tomorrow we will go to see the famous Matsuyama Castle.  Afterwards we will meet the President of the university.  I can't wait to see what other Unforseen adventures await me!  Sianara!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Hello Japan!

After more than a day of travel, I have made it to Japan.  It is most definitely more humid here, even inside the airport.  I am sweating profusely in my light weight cardigan and capri pants, yet none of the natives around me seemed to be phased.  They are wearing suits, pants and long sleeves and barely breaking a sweat.  I think they must be pacing themselves for warmer weather yet!

After making my way through customs, claiming my suitcase and rechecking it for my last leg of my trip, I headed to the domestic terminal for All Nipon Airlines.  On my mind was to withdrawal some yen from an ATM so I had cash for my cab ride to the university when I arrived in Matsuyama.  Granted it was still early in the morning, but imagine my surprise to find that found that nearly all the ATMs I came across were non functional until later in the morning!  The one I did find that was open rejected my card leaving me wishing that I had at brought more USDollars with me so that I could at least exchange the money.  Thankfully my layover between flights was long and after an hour or so, I tried another ATM and was able to withdraw some yen.  (Phew!) I also found a little convenience store where I bought myself a little dinner (US time)/breakfast (Japan time)--a Coke, mandarin orange. Up and sushimi.  No McDonalds for me!  Later on after going through security to get to my gate, I stumbled across a Starbucks.  Feeling slightly weary, I decided to try out a something you cant get at a Starbucks in the U.S.--a chocolate brownie matcha (green tea powder) frapaccino.  I have to say that it was quite delicious.

I will soon board the plane for Matsuyama.  As I think about my experiences in Japan so far, I realize that there is nothing like traveling by oneself to a foreign country in which you do not speak the language to evoke a fresh sense of humility and gratitude.  While I do know a few customary greetings in Japanese, my inability to communicate further in Japanese has made me very grateful for signs in both English and Japanese at the airport, and kind hearted people who are wiling to go out of their way to help you, even if it means using their limited English skills.  It is humbling to think that although native English speakers make up just a small percentage of the world's population, the rest of the world caters to that group.  It is a privilege that I think should propel more of us to study other languages.  It definitely makes me want to reinvest myself in working on my Spanish fluency and even studying a couple other languages.  Moreover, it makes me want to ensure that my children study another language and when they are old enough, to study abroad, as both Matt and I had the privelege.  Who knows--maybe Joshua or Daniel will study in Japan and provide me additional reasons to return.