Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

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September 11, 2002

September 11th in Japan
As you know, today is the first anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In fact, here in Japan, as I write this it's about 9am. I wanted to share the atmosphere here in Japan on this big American anniversary. Every lesson I do a quick, five-minute warm-up, usually a fun game to get them thinking in English. Each week I choose a warm-up and do the same one all week. This week's warm-up involves asking what day it is today and then what month it is - and they have to answer in English 'today is Tuesday', and 'it is September'. Yesterday, one or two students mentioned September 11th when I asked what day it was, I think he thought that was the answer I was looking for. So they are very aware of the anniversary. It is in the news here, but I'm sure not nearly as much as in the US. It's also come up other times in the last few weeks. I have put up postcards in my classroom of scenes from Chicago, and some lessons have focused on sites in Chicago. They know the Sear's Tower best, and when I say it's the tallest, well, since the World Trade Center fell, it feels strange. Is it just me, or does that feel strange for anyone else? And when I had dinner at my landlord's house, that first weekend, his wife showed Conor and I a craft she was making. In Japan, if you fold 1,000 origami cranes and make a wish, the wish will come true. My landlord's wife, is folding 1,000 cranes to send to New York. Her wish is for peace and recovery. I thought that was nice. When they are folded they are about an inch high, and stacked on a string. There are about 100 cranes per string, ten strings all gathered together at the top. She gave Conor and I ten cranes each on a string, so that's twenty more she needs to make. I have mine hanging in my apartment. They warm my heart when I look at them.

How I'll be spending the day
I'll be working as usual, of course. But today I will wear two pins I got when I was in New York the first time, gifts from friends I met while I was there the first time. I will think of ALL the friends I made in New York and know that they are wearing their pins too. I hope those of you that I gave pins to (when I returned from New York) are wearing yours today. At 9am New York time, (midnight here) I'm going to light a candle out on my balcony and face east. What's interesting is I don't feel the need to hang with other Americans. Maybe because September 11 impacted the whole world, and that includes the Japanese - so I don't feel particularly drawn to Americans. People are people wherever they are.

And on to happier topics...

Fireworks at a Festival
For instance, Monday night one of my students, Rei (pronounced Ree-ah) drove me to a nearby town for a fireworks display and festival. I guess autumn is a big season for fireworks because these festivals are harvest festivals. It was amazing! They're not meant to make you feel patriotic, but they did. Here's how it works. Each firework (single firework) has a sponsor. A firework might be one single boom, or it might be two or three booms, or more. And each boom has a name, and the firework is given a title. In some cities the sponsors are local businesses, but in this small town the individual citizens were the sponsors. So an announcer will say who is the sponsor and the reason for it (to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, good health to a child, etc.) So there are a few minutes between each firework for the announcements. There were booths with all sorts of food, other events, LOTS of people walking around. Oh, and there were little parades of young people going through the streets with drums and whistles dancing. Rei tried to explain why they were doing it, all I could get from her broken English was something about teams and competition. I'm pretty sure drinking was involved. It was fun to watch. And so many people walking around, looking up now and again to watch the next firework. Rei and I walked around quite a bit. Oh, as we walked through the throng, above all the other heads I saw a tall, (6'3" easily) blond guy walking towards us. We caught eyes for a moment, and smiled at each other. I didn't know what to do next. So I said a soft "hello" and he said softly, "how ya doing?" in a British accent I think. Rei was amazed and asked if I knew him. I told her no, and it was difficult to explain why we greeted each other. It was funny.

Oh, but the fireworks! It started at 7:30 pm and went until 10. These are the biggest fireworks in the world! 300 meters across - I believe that's about 3 football fields across! Oh and the sound! I jumped almost every time because we were RIGHT there in front of it. Rei couldn't help but laugh at me. But the most amazing firework was to celebrate the 60th birthday of a man in the town. So there were sixty (no, it's not a typo, 60) booms of white fireworks, some huge 300 yards across, some small but plentiful, one right after the other, sometimes quite a few at once, and it seemed to go on forever! The sky was completely filled. I tried to count but lost track - it gave me goosebumps. Happy Birthday to him indeed! Kris, I was TOTALLY thinking of you! You would have just gone nuts! (Kris loves fireworks.)

Dinner with Students
The past weekend was full of great experiences. Dinner on Saturday night with Tadashi and Tetsuya (I think that's the right spelling for their names) was fun. We went to a Chinese restaurant and then to a Russian restaurant. (Japanese are big on second parties, and third parties, etc... all on the same night!) Tadashi and Tetsuya were very gallant. We three are going out again this Saturday.

Bicycling on my Clanky Bike
On Sunday I went bicycling with Sayuri, one of my co-workers who speaks amazingly good English. It's particularly amazing to me because she's never lived outside of Japan. So this means she learned most of it from books, and by just paying close attention. She showed me Nagaoka Castle which houses the Nagaoka Museum. The castle is up on a mountain and you can see all of Nagaoka spread out below you. This photo to the right is of Sayuri and the view from the castle, but the view didn't turn out well.

Below are a couple more photos. To the left is the view towards the mountains, to the right is the view overlooking Nagaoka down in the valley.

I plan to go back there a lot, particularly in the fall, when the leaves change. Because I'm going to ride my bicycle so much (I also ride it to and from work) I'm thinking of getting another one. The one I inherited from past foreign teachers is very... clanky. The sounds were making Sayuri nervous on Sunday - well a humorous nervous. And the entire chain is a lovely shade of rusty red. The back fender falls out of place sometimes, but I just kick it back into place and all is well. It's kind of funny actually. So it would be fun to clank around all year. But if I'm going to go on long bike rides this fall and next spring, I'll need a new one, or rather another used one. Sayuri says I should be able to get another used one for about 4000 yen, which is about $40US. I think maybe it's worth such an investment. Maybe I'll hold onto this one too for when visitors come. (hint hint) Don't worry I'll be riding the old one if I do get visitors.

Seasons in Japan - an Invitation to Visit
I'm very much looking forward to fall here and seeing the lovely colors on the mountain out my window (gosh, lots of prepositional phrases in that sentence) And I'm looking forward to winter, cuddling up with lots of good books (have down comforter, will travel.) And spring with the cherry blossoms. :-) Oh, for those of you who talked of visiting me this year, Sayuri says April is the best time to visit because the cherry blossoms are in bloom, and the snow is gone by then here in the city. Yet those who want to ski can still ski in the mountains. And I have found a great Japanese friend who goes skiing and snowboarding almost every weekend. His name is Wateru - He's a professor at the university here. So if you're serious about visiting, look into airfare tickets. But let me know first before you buy, don't want too many at once. My apartment is big, but it is also a finite space. And I'm keeping track of good restaurants.

Cleaning Rice
Oh, here's a hilarious story involving Wateru. (I took the photo of him to the right with my cell phone camera.) He enjoys cooking and I often ask him questions about how to cook Japanese food. The Japanese eat a lot of curried rice... yes, it's Indian food actually, but they eat a lot of it here. Anyway, I bought something with a picture of curried rice on the cover. But of course, the directions are in Japanese. So I guessed that I added water, heated it up, threw in some veggies (carrots, potatoes, etc) and put it over rice. Well, I tried and it was a dismal failure - inedible. I asked Wateru what I did wrong. Are you ready for this? I was suppose to use only 1/6 of the package! Not the entire thing! We both thought it was very funny. He suggested a curried rice party and I could invite people who know how to cook it and have them show me. Good idea, huh? Or I could have whatever kind of party to learn how to cook any dish. I'm not quite ready for that undertaking, hopefully soon.

'Anne Marie' sounds like what in Japanese?!
Teaching is still going well. I did very little work at home this past weekend and all is still well. That is the goal, to only work at the school. More lessons are going well, fewer are going badly. I'm getting a few more Japanese names every day - I still have so many students' names to learn. Oh, here's an interesting note. I've dropped the "Marie" from Anne Marie. Because in Japanese, when you ask "how are you?", and you're not too well, you say something that sounds very much like Anne Marie. So I am Anne Sense (pronounced Sen-say and it means teacher). I'm having difficulty responding right away when people call me that. But again, everyone is patient with me.

Well, so much more to share, but this entry is long enough for today. As you can tell, life is very good here. I hope life is very good for all of you as well.

Dewa sono uchi ni
"See you in a little while"

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on to September 20, 2002