Nancy’s Fulbright in Japan

In 2000 Nancy won a Fulbright Award to visit Japan and study their educational system.   As a part of that trip she wrote a daily report that she sent electronically to her students at Oglethorpe County Elementary School.    Nancy was principal there from 1993 – 2001.  Here is her Journal.

Wednesday, November 15, 2000 (6:00 A.M.)


Our 747 full plane from San Francisco left on a clear, bright morning.  The pilot circled the Golden Gate Bridge – no fog to obscure the view.   Dave Griffiths, my seatmate from New Jersey had never been to San Francisco, so he was glad he got to see the main tourist attraction.
Three movies, three meals, and 11 hours later we arrived in Tokyo at the Narita Airport.  It was huge, clean, efficient, and quiet.  The luggage carts can be used on an escalator.  A man stands at the top to re-arrange the luggage so it doesn’t topple when the carts point down – we found that system didn’t work all the time, which was especially unfortunate for the person just in front of you.  It was 5:30 in the afternoon, Tuesday, November 14 when we began the 2 hour bus ride into Tokyo.  Everyone fell asleep even though our guide was giving very helpful information.  She understood and joked about it.  Our hotel has 40 stories and has a huge Merry Christmas decoration neon sign at the front.
Former Fulbright Scholars volunteered to be our hosts for dinner and took us to a nearby restaurant.  Mr. Yosai Hayashi, who had studied in Madison, Wisconsin from 1967 – 69 was host for me, Mary, and Fritz.  He ordered many dishes, and we ate them all even though we were very full after the several appetizers.  Among the items we had were tuna – all fish is raw of course – and I tried octopus (tako) for the first time.  It was white and (?) and you could see the suction cup on the round slice.  He ordered 4 main dishes and 4 desserts.  None of us wanted dessert, but it was necessary for him to be polite and provide a full meal, and it was necessary for us to be polite and eat.  We shared food to taste them all; the three of us are not sure if that was polite or not.  We exchanged business cards with Mr. Hayashi, remembering to present them with both hands and a slight bow at the waist.  He presented his, we remembered to take it with our right hand over our left, and gave it careful and important attention before placing it in our own business card case.  The case may be put in a purse or pocket at the top of the jacket – but never in a hip pocket.  That would not be respectful.  This is the land of manners and effort as well as the land of the “rising sun” (which I am not seeing today because it is cloudy.)
Sayonara,  Nancy Hart
P.S.  Later you’ll want to know more about the restroom at the restaurant.  It had a warmed seat and a panel of 6 buttons to push, won’t you?

Wednesday, November 15, 2000 (6:00 P.M.)

Walk on the Left

In Japan, if you followed my directions to “Drive on the right,” you’d be in big trouble.  The cars are on the LEFT hand-side of the road, and the people walk on the left side of the sidewalk.  The hotel’s “In” door which slides open automatically is on the left side.  I’ve been saying “excuse me” in Japanese a lot as I bump into people and wait a long time for the door to open at the hotel before I remember to move.
In Japan, when people make sounds to imitate animals, they are different.  For example, a cow says, “moe, moe,” and a dog says “wahn-wahn.”  (I’ve spelled these with English sounds, not Japanese.)  In Japan, there are important symbols.  The turtle and the crane are both symbols for long life.  You don not give chrysanthemum flowers as a gift because they are used only for religious occasions.  You do not give gifts that total the numeral “4.”  Four is very bad luck in Japan, so is the number “9.”  When you become 9 years old, children have to do helping jobs for the community to apologize for being nine.  Remember, I’ve told you how important manners and respect are here.
November 15 is an important day her for children who are 3, 5, or 7 years old.  At the Asakusa Kannon Temple today, I see why.  The parents dress the chidden in beautiful traditional clothes and go to pray at the temple.  I asked the mother if I could take her daughter’s picture.  After I did, I gave her a Georgia quarter.  Her mother made her say “Thank you” in English.  I said “Domo arigato” to her to be polite and use their language.
Maybe I’ll have squid for dinner tonight. Oishii!

Thursday, November 16, 2000

The Fish Market and The Shrine

When you know you’ll be listening to presentations all day about Japanese schools, economics, and government, what do you do at 4:30 in the morning?  Well, you get up at 3:45 A.M., gather 3 other people for the taxi, and go to Tsukiji – the fish market.  All the action is during the early morning.  In the darkness before dawn and a little drizzle, the frenzied work went on.  It’s not a place for tourists; it’s a place to sell fish in wholesale quantities.  The work is to unpack, sort the fish by grade (quality), display the fish, and then auction them.  It’s a busy place and tourists have to watch out not to get hit by the fast moving carts carrying the boxes of fish.  They are not reckless drivers, but the mission of the day is to buy and sell fish – not to be a tourist attraction.
When the auction is ready to begin, the auctioneer rings a brass bell like an old-fashioned school bell.  Only men work at the fish market.  The bidders place a bid by making hand motions with their fingers for numbers.  We were not able to understand their number movements, but all the bidders were polite and absolutely quiet.  The auctioneer, on the other hand, was wildly waving his hands and shouting.  The major auction is for maguro (tuna).  Some weigh as much as 650 pounds.  There are auctions in the market for other types of fish and seafood too – we saw octopus, clams, lobsters, scallops, crabs, and eel and squid, of course.  There were many kinds of fish I did not know the English for, so it wasn’t much help when the worker told me in Japanese.
Our taxi ride to the fish market cost about 1940 yen.  That’s about $20.  100 yen is about $1.00.   So, your math problem for the day is to figure out how I am figuring out the price of things (hint, place a decimal somewhere and round off.)  Since the cab held 4 of us, the cost of the trip was reasonable since we shared the cost.
On the way back, 3 of us decided to try the subway.  At 6:00 A.M. it’s not busy yet.  Although we had two subway maps, we had forgotten to know which subway stop was closest to the hotel; nor did we have the hotel address.  We narrowed it down to three stations (sort of like you do when you’re not sure of an answer on the standardized test (Stanford 9) you’ll take in March) and picked one.  Well, it wasn’t the correct one, so as we began our walk to the hotel, we came across a lovely Shinto shrine.  The Shinto religion holds its beliefs from the basic belief that nature is divine.  At this early hour of the morning, only the shrine workers were there and 1 or 2 worshippers came.  It was immaculately clean and orderly (as everything in Tokyo has been that we’ve seen).  When you enter a shrine there is a lovely stone sink type of structure you walk to.  The water starts flowing like a fountain.  You wash your hands and sip from a tin ladle first, then you drop some money into a bin that is about 8 feet long, 3 1/2 feet high, and 4 feet wide as an offering.  You then ring a huge bell that is hanging inside the roof at the top by pulling a large rope about 5 inches in diameter.  The bell is about the size of three basketballs and looks like a giant sleigh bell.  This announces your presence to the gods.  You walk to the altar and lap twice and bow to get the god’s attention, and then pray.  You bow again when your prayer ends.  At the shrine you can get a fortune.  If it’s a bad one you leave it behind, to get rid of it, by tying it on a rack with string across the posts.
From the bustle of the fish market to the peacefulness of the shrineÖall by 8:00 A.M.

Friday  November 17, 2000

Banging the Drum  

Since no one can sleep past 4:30 A.M., we get up and go somewhere before our program activities begin.  On Friday morning, we were out the door at 6:30 on our way to a major shrine – the Meiji Shrine, dedicated to an emperor of the 19th century.  We walked about 1/2 mile through a pathway with a canopy of cedar trees, protecting us from the rain.  When we arrived, we did the cleansing ceremony.  The shrine is much larger than the one we found by accident earlier this wee,  We were the only ones there, but the priests’ day had begun.  We were able to watch them perform the morning worship service, which starts by banging a huge drum about the size of the counter in the school office.  The priests wear very elaborate robes and headdresses.  We tried to get our prayer book stamped, but that priest wasn’t at the spot yet.  The prayer book looks like a diary or journal.  When you visit a temple or shrine, you go to a special smaller building on the temple grounds where a priest will put a rubber stamp mark for that temple or shrine on one of the pages.  This act keeps your prayers in the minds of the gods.
We go on the subway going the opposite direction from our hotel.  Oops!  When we got off and switched sides, we were now in the middle of rush hour.  No one talks on the subway or makes eye contact, even when the worker wearing a green jacket and hat with white gloves on gives the people who are sort of hanging outside the subway door several pushes on their backs or behinds.  This is just the way it’s done.  Several pushes later, all 6 of us got to the correct subway station.

Saturday, November 18, 2000

To the Mountains

This weekend is our only completely free days.  Today, I chose to take a bus trip to the mountain city of Nikko, nearly a 3-hour drive from our hotel.  It was much cooler, and it was even snowing – just flurries – nothing dangerous.  I knew it was going to be a special day when I walked to the elevator on my floor, looked out the window at the cloudless blue sky, which was the first blue sky we’ve seen here, and what do you think I saw?  Straight ahead, perfectly framed by the window was the most famous mountain in the world and Japan’s most important symbol – Mount Fuji.  With its snow-capped cone shape, I saw a real-life postcard!
At the shrine in Nikko, the priest stamping the prayer books was at his window because it is an important tourist area, and it was crowded.  The Toshogu Shrine is best known for the 5-story pagoda, the elaborate carvings of wood throughout the shrine’s structure, and lots of gold leaf – a lot more than what’s on the dome of the Capitol Building in Atlanta.
We visited Kegon waterfall, which means magnificentÖand it isÖhigher than Niagara Falls.  We looked for monkeys running wild in the woods on our slow drive down the moutain, winding through 48 hairpin curves.  Our guide said, “They must have the day off.”  On the drive, we got to see Mount Nantai also called “Little Fuji” because it looks like the real Mt. Fuji because of similar shapes; however, nothing beats the real think.  Our guide said that today is thought to be the second luckiest day of the year, made even luckier by falling on a Saturday, and what a lucky, wonderful day it was, indeed!

Sunday, November 19, 2000

Japanese Wedding

The sun has already set as dusk falls on this perfect autumn day.  The leaves are still on the trees  – golden ginkos make the gardens and parks splash with brilliant color.  Parents who could not come to the shrines and temples on the actual date of Children’s Day this week brought them today.  I cannot imagine a more adorable child than a 3-year-old Japanese child in a traditional Kimono.  You’re going to love these photos.
We returned to the Meiji shrine and got to see a wedding procession.  The bride wore an elaborate pure white Kimono and headdress.  She would not look up, and kept her head lowered to the ground as the couple walked down the path to meet the priest at the shrine for the ceremony.  What was unusual about this couple was the groom was Western. Here in the Orient, that means someone from the Western Hemisphere of the world – not cowboys and Indians from the U.S. vocabulary.  Since the bride was Japanese, she is called “Eastern.”  You can figure out why, can’t you?
Next we walked through a very beautiful park that took us to the Tokyo National Museum.  Our favorite exhibit was of the antique kimonos, dating as far back as the 16th century.  We did lots of subway riding, and we did not even get lost.  We’ve learned by “just doing it” and not repeating our mistakes, just like with math facts.

Monday, November 20, 2000

My New Hotel Room

I could tell you about our trip — on the bullet train going 188 MPH —  from Tokyo to the city of Hamamatsu, where we’ll be for 10 days, things like the Hamamatsu Castle, home of the first shogun (the top warrior in times of the emperors when wars among states were common), and the Ryotan Ji shrine, whose perfect and serene gardens were beautiful even in the heavy rain.  Instead, I’m going to tell you about my hotel room.
The Japanese think of every need you may have, long before you even know you’re going to need it.  The hot water pot was plugged in and ready when I opened the door, just in case I wanted afternoon tea.  The Japanese drink a lot of tea, and this area is famous for its green tea.  They supply you with a yukata – a cotton robe that is styled like a kimono.  This one has music printed on it.  You might figure out why as you continue reading.  When I was ready to unpack, I opened the closet door, and an internal light comes on.  Of course, the toilet has all those buttons I mentioned in an earlier journal entry.  The scale is in kilos — we ladies like that a lot when we see a much smaller number than usual.  They supply you with all sorts of things you may have forgotten to bring,  In addition to soap and shampoo they provide bubble bath, a brush, a comb, a razor, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a shower cap, and a sewing kit.  Although I do not have a roommate, there are 2 beds.  The beds are a lot lower than ours.  Remember, the Japanese sleep on futons spread on the floor in their own homes.  The table between the beds has the console for all the electronics.  You can press a button to choose one of 8 radio stations.  There is a speaker in the bathroom, too, just to be sure you won’t miss your favorite song when it comes on.  You can also control all of the lights from switches on the panel.  What I like best is the “foot light” — a faint light that emits just enough light from underneath the console to make sure you don’t stub your toe if you get up in the dark.
You can control the TV from there also;  the only English speaking channel is CNN.  We all tune in each day to find out if you can decide who’s President yet.  Please hurry!  This is getting harder and harder to explain to the Japanese!
I have 2 armchairs and a loveseat around a coffee table by the bay window in this room on the 34th floor of the hotel.  The night lights of the city sprawl a long way.  There’s a card on the coffee table with a panoramic photo that shows a view of the city.  All the important buildings and landmarks are indicated.  The problem is that they are written in Japanese.  So, all I can recognize is Mt. Fugi — not by the Kanji (the Japanese written symbol), but because the line on the card points to this famous mountain.  The city is famous for the Yamaha piano factory.  In fact, there’s an international piano competition going on through the weekend.  We plan to go tomorrow evening.  They also produce textiles as well as tatami mats (the tightly woven straw mats made from rice that you do not walk on with shoes).  We were told to bring slippers for these occasions.
I have been asked to give a speech when we meet the superintendent tomorrow.  I’m getting ready to practice.  Being correct, proper, and polite is important to our hosts and to me.  Sayonara!

Tuesday, November 21, 2000

It’s a Small World

Before I move on to a subject beyond the hotel room, I should tell you that each room has a doorbell; there’s a phone in the bathroom; and when you step out of the shower when the mirror is usually all steamed over, this one is not.  There’s a heating element right where you want to see your face.  Remember, I told you they think of everything.
Today, our group was welcomed by the mayor of the city and the superintendent of schools.  I delivered my speech, pausing occasionally so the interpreter could translate.  I was nervous, but everyone said it was good.  Whew!  The mayor presented each of us with a bag of gifts.    Among them was a paperweight; I will add it to my collection on my desk.
We spent the afternoon at Shizuoka University.  That is the university for the prefecture, which is the same as state in the United States.  After being greeted by the president of the university, a professor, Dr. Kumano, who has been a Fulbright Scholar in Iowa was our host.  He speaks English very well.  He has worked closely with a professor at the University of Georgia, Dr. Mike Padilla, and he has visited Athens and knows our area of the state.  As the saying goes, “It’s a small world.”
The gingko trees still have their golden leaves, and the campus was ablaze in autumn colors.  What the campus doesn’t have is trashcans – outside or inside.  Neither are there trashcans outside in the city.  It seems you are expected to carry your trash with you.   There is no litter in the streets either.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I’ll think of you eating turkey dinner while I’m visiting temples in Kyoto, capital city of old Japan.

November 22, 2000

A Japanese High School

Today’s topic is a typical day in a Japanese high school.  There are some big differences.  Japanese high school lasts 3 years and it is not a requirement to attend.  Students take very difficult exams in order to be admitted to high schools and universities.  As a result, schools are ranked by quality, and students study very hard to be accepted to the top schools.  Families pay tuition and book fees.  Students take the exams so seriously, it is very usual to go to the temple and pray about the exams.  You can even buy a good luck charm for “academics” or “scholarship” to have more luck from the gods.  I’ve got one to show you when I get back.  Some of you may want to hold it if you’re looking for some extra boost for second quarter honor roll.
School starts at 8:00 A.M., and students take 4 classes every day with each lasting 75 minutes – no breaks either!  The students wear uniforms.  The girls must wear navy blue pleated skirts.  They have lunchtime for 1 hour.  They eat in the classrooms, and no adults are necessary for supervision.  They sit in groups with desks pulled together.  The girls and boys sit in separate groups.  There’s no mixing — until after school.  Most of the students bring their lunch, with the main course in one section of the lunchbox and the rice (you always have rice with every meal) is in the bottom part.  The main course items are always neatly and attractively arranged in the container.  They have a small thermos of green tea, which is supposed to be very good for your health.  We had been given a very large meal, and we offered our food to the students.  They were not shy about taking it, and they wanted us to try their food.  Of course, we did.  To say “No” is very impolite – you just don’t do it.  So, you have to be very careful about what you ask for or what you admire — you may just get it.
At 3:00 P.M. the bell chimes a short tune, and everyone starts cleaning.  I wanted to take a photo of students sweeping the driveway, and I forgot to change my “inside” slippers for my regular shoes before going outside.  Oops!  Bad mistake.  Because schools and homes are places of great importance, keeping them clean is a priority.  A person removes the “street shoes” and wears slippers.  We had been told to bring our own, but there are always some available if you don’t have your own.
All students attend “club” activities after school.  There’s a wide variety – baseball, judo, chess, history, band, chorus, etc.   The teachers are in charge of this, although the students get started on their own without the teacher for about 45 minutes to an hour.  One teacher (A Spanish teacher) had to be absent today because of a meeting.  The students planned and rehearsed their skit with no need for a substitute.  Hmmmm  ……….

November 23, 2000

Thanksgiving in Kyoto

There was no turkey to be found for dinner.  The closest we could get to it was the tempura we had at lunch.  This means the vegetables, fish, and prawns you are served are fried.  On the plate was a fried piece of sweet potato.  Southern Thanksgiving dinners usually have a sweet potato, so I imagined very briefly how I usually spend Thanksgiving in Georgia.
But as the saying from the “Wizard of Oz” goes, “This isn’t Kansas anymore.”  Hardly!  Today was Kyoto, a 1 1/2 hour ride by bullet train from our “base city” of Hamamatsu.  Kyoto was the capital of old Japan before the modern era took it to Tokyo.  A retired teacher, who is an acquaintance of another group member, was kind enough to go with us as a guide, plan an itinerary of the tourist highlights, and arrange for a car and driver to take us from place to place.  He had beautiful manners and even thought of  bringing us small trays of food and canned tea (which comes out of the vending machines already warmed up) to have breakfast on the train since we left too early for the hotel restaurant to be open.  You can only appreciate how fast the bullet train goes when you pass another one.  All the windows and cars blur together, and you’ve passed it in two seconds.
We visited 4 important shrines in Kyoto — both Buddhist and Shinto.  Buddhism is the main religion in Japan.  There was a golden Buddha at one that you rub to bring luck and health.  Of course, we rubbed him.  Shinto beliefs center around a deep appreciation for the beauty in nature.  The maple trees (what we call Japanese maples at home because of the small leaves) gave us a bountiful, brilliant red color in the gardens and pathways in the shrines and temples.  They were very striking against the Golden Pavilion Shrine, so named because it’s covered entirely in gold leaf.  That’s a lot of gold when you think it takes 20 ounces of gold to leaf the large dome of our state Capitol building in Georgia.  The Golden Pavilion Shrine is so large, your first reaction is that it must be yellow paint, but it’s real gold.  I’ll show you pictures of the red and yellow brilliance.
In Kyoto, there are 1600 temples and shrines.  We hardly scratched the surface of this city where shrines dating from the 8th century are side by side with the type of building or business any large, modern city of 2 1/2 million people would have.  Somehow, there is compatibility despite the centuries of change,
Akio, our escort, is quite religious and stopped at the altar of every temple to pray for his ancestors, as is the Buddhist custom.  We prayed, too, but our prayers for Thanksgiving – for family and friends we were missing today, for a safe journey, and for the blessings we have to work and learn on this trip to Japan.

November 24, 2000

Yamaha Pianos

Another clear, cool day in Hamamatsu.  As our tour guide from yesterday constantly repeated, “You are very lucky.”  I believe we are.
We visited the Yamaha factory – this is the one that produces grand pianos; not motorcycles.  The workers paid us no attention as we walked through their production area to see the various steps of piano construction.  All of the jobs looked difficult if you think about doing the same thing for the entire workday.  I though the most difficult was the installation of the strings because the worker had to reach so far and really climb into the piano frame to attach the strings properly.  The outside of these pianos is black.  An occasional brown, white, or red one indicated a special order for a customer.  At the end of the tour, we were allowed to play some Yamaha musical instruments – including electronic pianos, drum set, violin, and cello.  We pretended we were like the young man who has won the piano competition – as 16-year-old from Russia.  Keep practicing if you are taking lessons!
Mr. Holdredge would love one of these pianos, but I don’t think we have an extra $30,000.

November 25, 2000

A Slipper Lesson

How many ways can you forget how to use your slippers in a Japanese home?  Let me count the ways.  First, you must remember to remove your shoes in the foyer (Front door hallway).  This is done in an exact way.  First, you turn and face the door to the foyer you just entered.  Then you maneuver one foot out of the shoe and put your stocking foot onto a platform.  Then you balance and remove the other shoe before putting both feet on the platform.  Your shoes are now pointing to the front door, in the right direction to put on when you leave the house.  This prevents the outside dirt from your shoes entering the home.  Then there are bedroom slippers you put on to wear around the tiled floor surfaces of the house.  If you go to the toilet (notice I said toilet – it is very important not to say bathroom) you open the door, step out of your slippers, and into the toilet slippers that are facing in the correct direction.  When you finish you turn so your back is to the door to step out of your slippers to leave them facing in the proper direction for the next person.  The, there are the areas of the house that have tatami mats.  These are standard-sized mats made of the rice plant that fit down into the floor a bit to keep the floor levels even.
In the home of the Ueta family, who were a wonderful host family for me, tatami mats were in a special family area used for studying, talking, and having tea.  Also the mates were in the sleeping area I was in.  Once again, you remove your slippers by having your back to the tatami mat in order to have them ready and pointing the proper direction when you leave.  For me, I could easily remember to remove my slippers at the front door, but I must confess, that I forgot about the tatami mats and the toilet areas a few times.  Oops!  Big oops!  My Japanese hosts were so polite.  They never remarked on this mistake or others that I’m sure my incomplete understanding of the Japanese culture created.

November 26, 2000

 My Host Family

Masami Ueta, her husband, Dr. Yoshimobu Ueta – an engineer wit the Yamaha music company here, and their two teenage sons, Akira and Hiromu spoke excellent English.  I was so impressed with their ability to communicate with me.  This skill in the English language is due to a lot of extra studying on their part.  Being able to speak and write English at their high level of understanding and accuracy requires study and lessons outside of school.  You pay extra money for these lessons.

November 27, 2000

The Elementary School

Our visit today was to an elementary school about a 10-minute walk from our hotel.  The building is an impressive 30 story new building.  But, like OCES, the school itself is much older, having started 83 years ago. Would you believe there’s a swimming pool on the top of the building?  Actually there are 2 – a smaller, more shallow one for the primary students and the larger one that is appropriate for racing in the swimming lanes.  Of course, it was too cold for swimming in PE this time of the year, but water is kept in the pool year round.  There is only 1 class for each grade.  So, there are 6 classes in all, from Grade 1 to Grade 6 (there is no public school kindergarten).  Student enrollment of the school is 191 children.  The total school staff is 15, including principal and assistant principal.  The largest class is 40 students, which is a usual size for Japanese classrooms.  This part of the city is decreasing in population, so there were smaller classes, too.  The lowest class enrollment was 29 students.
I am always proud of our school.  I felt even more proud today because I believe the behavior of OCES students shows more attention to the teacher than what I observed today.  Also, our teachers know more ways to help students learn than I’ve seen from Japanese teachers.  Go Eagles!
The principal was very definite about our schedule for the day.  We saw the weekly school-wide assembly where all the children gather in the large foyer of the school to have a group singing assembly.  Today, the Grade 5 students had practiced the Japanese version of “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music” and sang for us and the other students and staff.
We were allowed to observe the Japanese art of paper-cutting, calligraphy, music, P.E., and reading (where they are studying poetry).  Wait until I show you their math textbooks.  They are ahead of you – so get going on those math facts!!
Students eat the school-prepared lunch which the class leaders bring from the cafeteria to the classrooms.  We ate with the students at their desks.  I gave all the Grade 3 students in the class where I was assigned a Georgia quarter.  They loved it!  They also wanted to know what kind of games you like to play. After lunch, everyone cleans the school.  Children use a small cloth to push along the floor in a straight line to clean it.  Wow!
I remembered to change my slippers today at all the right times.  Yeah!!

November 28, 2000

The Junior High School

Our visits to schools ended today with our day at a junior high school.  They are not called middle school. Students attend who are in the grades we call 7, 8, 9.  They call them first class, second class, third class.  The school had 2 separate buildings of the same design with 4 stories each, a gym, field (always a dirt surface); tennis courts (also with dirt surfaces); and another swimming pool on the roof.  Each class had a large corner room called an exhibition room where student work was displayed profusely.  We were able to be active participants in several classes.  I tried calligraphy, which is the writing of Japanese characters.  It’s a lot harder than it looks.  O.C.E.S. students have penmanship lessons that are a lot easier!
We participated in English lessons also.  The students speak quite well, but correct grammar is difficult.  One reason is the Japanese do not distinguish between pronouns like he/she and my/your.  But their errors as they study and practice English pale when compared to our knowledge of Japanese.
We ate lunch with students.  Students brought hot lunch from the kitchen.  The cauldrons for cooking were huge – I would estimate 3 feet across as well as in height.  They were attached to a frame allowing them to be tipped to the side to pour into the containers that are taken to the rooms.  The students who serve the lunch wear protective aprons and masks over their mouth and nose to guard against germs.  All students ate the school lunch.  They bring their own rice one time a week; Tuesday was that day.  Of course, they all use chopsticks to eat.
The students loved getting a Georgia quarter.  The boys especially like baseball cards, but they know far more about the west coast teams like the Dodgers and then Padres than teams like the Braves.  I was surprised because baseball is so popular in Japan.  At the end of the day, the school administrator and the parents who had helped us so much all gathered by the bus to wave to us and see us on our way.
One parent is responsible for the many beautiful flower arrangements throughout the school – even in the bathrooms.  The simple, yet artful arrangements are representative of a Japanese art form call icheban.
A husband and wife volunteered to demonstrate the Japanese tea ceremony.  Every movement and sequence is carefully structured and must be performed exactly by the person preparing the tea, the one serving the sweet item (which is served first) and the tea, and the persons who are receiving and consuming the food and drink.  It takes going to lessons 3 times a month for 8 years even to be somewhat skilled at the tea ceremony.  For those who are experts, they study an entire lifetime.  The purpose of the tea ceremony is spiritual in order to develop a calmness of spirit and to teach about and understand and contemplate all phases of life in general.
Our last full day in Hamamatsu gave us a  view of Mt. Fugi, which is not visible regularly at this time of year. We all did better at the slipper routine and also at bowing to greet people and thank people.  The Japanese people do not like body contact among people, as when we shake hands in our country.
We spent the night at a Japanese inn, by Lake Hamana, a resort area near Hamamatsu.  We had dinner sitting on cushions on the floor covered with tatami mats.  Everyone had his or her own small table which was only 8 inches off the ground.  I cannot sit on my knees for long periods of time like the Japanese do, so I was glad to use the backrest that was provided.  We ate unagi (eel) among the many dishes at dinner.  It really was oishii – similar to chicken, actually.
The open-air hot spring baths  are a part of the resort appeal.  If you go, you wear your yukata (cotton robe) to the bath area, scrub down with the hand-held shower and ease yourself into the hot water.
The four of us assigned to Room 400, with futons and down comforters spread on the tatami mates and placed side by side, slept well.

November 29, 2000 


A walk to the Kanzanji Temple in the brisk morning air invigorated us for the day.  We got our temple book stamped and hiked above the temple hills surrounding Lake Hamana.  It was a clear, sparkling day on the lake, and one fisherman was already busy working on his catch – by standing in the lake – not on a boat.
Our breakfast was an authentic Japanese meal with raw ingredients everywhere.  I ate the cherry tomato, the shrimp, after picking his head off, and unagi (eel is tender and tastes like chicken), but all the raw dishes (even an egg) sent me to the 7-11 for a coke and a snack.  Raw fish and meat must be done in moderation in my opinion; and 2 meals in a row was too extreme for me, but I did enjoy the cherry tomato and the green tea.  Green tea cures all the ailments of the body, so I’m being careful to drink a lot to stay well.  It’s really pretty good – a distinct taste.
The bullet train ride left Hamamatsu right on the minute.  Japanese people are very proud of schedules that meet the announced times.  As we were leaving, Mt. Fugi was in full view from the base to the snow-capped top with no clouds to obscure the vista.  It was glorious.  Many photos were tried, but how effective they will be going down the tracks at nearly 200 MPH, I’m not sure.  This was a very unusual sight this time of the year, so once again, “We are very lucky.”
We have the afternoon available on our own.  My friend Peggy, technology coordinator from Arizona, found the Hama-Rikyn Gardens – after asking 4 people –  so we walked to them.  People are very helpful when you ask directions.  We encountered several instances where people stopped their missions in order to give of themselves to help us get where we were going.  They’ve either all known just where to point us or were willing to stop what they were doing and take themselves completely away from their agenda for whatever amount of time it takes to get us to our destination.  Always courteous.  When we leave a hotel or school, the staff will gather in a straight line and wave to send us off.  They did know how to make us feel welcome and valued in all our hotels in Japan.  The courtesy and willingness to help astounds me.  For example, one of our group left an unimportant booklet in the room; the hotel vehicle chased after us to hand it over to her at Tokyo station.  Some of the host families came to the train station for a last goodbye.  This seems unlikely in our country.
For a moment of regaining peace and serenity, we sailed down one of Tokyo’s rivers for 40 minutes.  The ticket for the gardens is worth keeping because of the beautiful and perfect picture on it.  Then we boarded a “water bus” – have you heard that term before?  It’s a rather long, low-in-the-water, 2-story boat that takes people up and down the river.  We got to see some of the famous bridges of Tokyo.
We walked back to the Asakusa Kannon Shrine.  We had our books stamped there and at 2 other places.  One stop – 3 stamps – not bad.  We lit a candle, and waved the “holy smoke” to areas of the body that may need some wellness and treatment.  After finding 3 shops that we specifically had in mind, it was time for dinner.  Peggy chose a sushi restaurant – I had shrimp stuffed with rice.  Oishii.  Afterwards we treated ourselves to some Hagen Das ice cream – it just hit the spot.  In the restaurant there were a number of sauces for customers to use to put on hamburgers and fries.  One looked like a strawberry sauce, but we weren’t having that food and couldn’t tell exactly what it was. Peggy has studied the Japanese language and was able to ask, “What is it.”  They waiter answered back in English, “Sauce.”  We knew that and just laughed while we finished the rest of our ice cream.

November 30, 2000

Taking Care of Business

Ordinary events of the day like banking and shopping have different procedures in Japan.  Today, I had some bank business to conduct.  Since banks observe strict hours from 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. and close on weekends, it’s been hard to do my errand since our schedule with studying about Japan’s education is in full swing by then.  Since our schedule today was from 9:30 A.M. – 5:30 P.M., I dashed to the bank to be early.  I wasn’t early enough.  Banks in the city have more than 1 floor for customers.  The first floor is all machines since common bank tasks like withdrawals can be done by machine.  If you have specialized needs that require an employee to deal with it, you have to go to the 2nd or 3rd floor.  There, you push a button on a machine that gives you a piece of paper with a number on it.  You take a seat in a waiting area that reminds me of a doctor’s office and wait for the digital display to show your number.  By this time, you’re supposed to have filled out a piece of paper with lots of chart space to fill in to explain your business.  Since I had no idea how to do this, I waited my turn and went to the teller who was waiting.  She was not a teller.  She simply takes your paper, gives it to one of a group of employees behind her.  Then, one of them gets the money or whatever other documents you are looking for.
No one spoke English.  After about 5 attempts at explaining by using my fingers and drawing pictures, we communicated.  Once your paper is taken (by now I have mine properly filled in), you step away from the counter and return to the waiting area.  No one even “lines up” or stays at a window until their business is finished.  When the other employee returns from wherever he goes to get the money, the “teller” calls your name, and you step forward to get your money.  I was a little nervous because I had given the teller 5000 yen and did not have a receipt.  (Do your math – if $1.00 U.S. equal 5000 yen, how   much had I given the tell in U.S. dollars?)   But, Japan is generally a very honest and trustworthy country and I received everything I had requested.
There is a saying here: “If you lose something, it will come back to you.”  That seems to be true.  I’ve lost a few small items and eventually found them all.  Some group members have lost important items like cameras, jackets, and even boots.  All have been returned to the owner.  What I learned today is that banking business takes more time and seems more complicated than in the United States.
Shopping has its differences, too.  Thank goodness the cash registers display the price you are to pay with the same kind of numbers we use!  There is a big controversy going on now about whether or not the math exams the students take should use the “western” way of writing problems or use the Japanese Kanji (their symbol for writing).
When you give the cashier at a store money, you never hand the money directly from your hand to their hand.  You place it on the counter if there is no small tray present.  Usually, the tray is there, though, just as it is in the bank.  The reason for this rests in something I explained earlier.  Remember, please, how I told you the Japanese people do not like bodily contact.  After the money and paying transaction is finished, your purchase is always carefully wrapped, and the wrapping method is unique.  The paper is folded around the item in a special way, and the ends of the paper are done in such a method that seems as complicated as origami.  The shopkeepers always thank you repeatedly and bow more than once.
Tonight, eight of us enjoyed an unbelievable performance of the “Cirque du Soleil,” which means “Circus of the Sun.”  They have performed all over the world  It’s not like a usual circus, but it is an entertaining gymnastics and acrobatic show.  Ask Miss Wanda; she has seen them.  I’ll just say these people would definitely pass the Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge.

December 1, 2000

The Trip Ends – The Journey Begins

When you travel to other countries that have very different cultures and customs than what we’re used to in the United States, it is very important to follow the expectations of the country you’re in.  You should not expect food, treatment among people, or the language to be like the U.S.  Unfortunately, many Americans fail to respect another country’s differences and want to have things “their way,” meaning the U.S. way.  It’s called being an “ugly American.”  We all have tried very hard not to be.  I almost gave in for a small moment at lunch when I was tempted to go to Wendy’s.  I resisted, and went to the basement of a major department store instead.  The basements of these stores are wall-to-wall food — a Japanese version of “fast food.”  The food is already put into small serving cartons.  When you make your selection and pay, you’re given your food and chopsticks (remember – no napkins!), and presto – you have lunch.  I am looking forward to American pizza soon.  I’ve missed that!
There are many Japanese foods that are oishii — everyone in the group has devoured and savored a special orange – it is similar to a tangerine, but a lot more orange in color, no seeds, and oh, so sweet!  Their apples are a delicacy, too.  And I’ll show you a picture of the $120.00 melons, — you get 2 for that price!  Needless to say, I won’t be bringing them home.
The lobby of our hotel was transformed overnight into a Christmas theme.  Since Christianity is a very small religion here, the celebration in Japan is for commerce only.  That means, “buy gifts.”  I am also looking forward to seeing Christmas decorations in the U.S. where people have connected the story of Christmas to them.
Mikimoto is the most famous store in the world for pearls.  They have a huge tree in front of their store, trying to look like the famous tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City.  I’m ready to see the OCES Christmas tree.
There are many ways to learn.  In my life, I have learned a lot by reading and traveling.  I have learned so much during 3 weeks in Japan; now the rest of the journey of live continues as I add this experience to it.  Our farewell song was titled, “Eagle Flies to the Rising Sun.”
I am ready to see Eagles flying around OCES.  When I leave the hotel tomorrow at 10:30 A.M., it will take me almost 20 hours to get home.  I won’t know whether to be awake or go to sleep.  That’s what happens when you fly halfway around the world.
See you next week!