Monday, July 30, 2012

Sayonara

July 30th:
Today is my 56th birthday, but since I’ll be crossing the date line, I’ll be 55 forever!  We got up early to pack….SO MANY GIFTS!!!   The people of Gotemba met us to bid farewell as the bus took us back through Tokyo to the Narita airport.

Our plane doesn’t leave until this evening so we took the train in to the town of Narita to visit an old Buddhist site with many shrines, temples and pagodas.  It is the place we tried to see when we first arrived in Japan.  A railroad employee helped us figure out the tickets and gave us handwritten instructions, “Please don’t be putting inside ticket to ticket gate cause we’ll have make trouble with the ticket.” Translation – this ticket will screw up the automated ticket reader so just show it to the guy at the gate.  This time we got to the shrines the correct way, along the pilgrim road.  Even though the heat was sweltering, it was well worth the journey.

We are now at the airport waiting to board our plane.  We both desire to return to Japan some day.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Domo Arigato

It is Sunday and our time in Japan is coming to an end.  This morning we participated in the Mt. Fuji Taiko Drum Festival.  We donned our pink Mt. Fuji “happy coats” and Denny opened the ceremonies by playing the big drum, the largest in the world weighing in at 3 tons.  We all had a quick (very quick) lesson on how to play and all joined in.  Thank goodness the crowd was very kind.  Playing the drums was a lot of fun, but very loud.

We were taken to a French restaurant called Creation where we were fed another incredible meal.  The main course was salmon in the form of Mt. Fuji and it not only looked good, but was some of the best I have ever had.  After lunch we were off for a tour of the Kirin Distillery, the only whiskey distillery in Japan and famous for their Scottish approach.  (I hope my Fuji Sanroku Single Malt makes it home!)

Late afternoon we went to Takane Nakagokan, a community center, to look at the Sister City marionette clock.  This is an animated exhibit of Gotemba’s Sister Cities, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and Beaverton.  In the park outside, in between the tennis court and amphitheater, a group of students were getting together to practice some band music and gave us an impromptu concert.  I took a stroll around the gardens where the Koi were huge!

That evening we had a the Gotemba International Association hosted our final party at yet another 5 star restaurant, the Italian Tanta Roba.   We met some new citizens, connected again with those we’ve met over the last few days, and had lots of laughs over trivia games and song exchanges.  The people of Gotemba are such generous and gracious hosts that we feel we have truly become friends.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

They're turning Japanese (I really think so)

July 28th:
The breakfast this morning was extraordinary and again served beautifully.  The main entre was a salmon crepe.  The crepe was a square envelope and the salmon was the note card.  The coffee is very good and the croissants are so very good. We get a dessert after each breakfast of intricately displayed fruit and herbs with a dab of ice cream.  We eat on the top floor overlooking the city and the valley in the morning light.

This morning we went to Chichibunomiya (Prince Chichibu) Memorial Park, picturesque gardens with wild lilies, hydrangeas and tall thin cedars.  We had a traditional tea ceremony with sweets depicting water, fire and air.  The tea was thick and very green, and very good.  We saw a bonsai trees, one of which was 150 years old and another was a 100 year old azalea tree.  Rebecca and I got our picture taken with a samurai sword and we then took calligraphy lessons.  We each had separate teacher, but the sensei quickly discovered Rebecca has a natural gift for this.  I’m working real hard to do one character for “fish” while Rebecca-san is easily doing the three complex characters for “Gotemba.”   Rebecca-san received a bamboo brush from her sensei.

We were taken to the National Chuo Youth Friendship Center to have an outdoor barbeque with the citizens of Gotemba.  We saw Minami Junior High School students dance the Hokkaido fishing dance and Mikuriya Step no Kai square dance.  Rebecca joined the group, I opted out to take pictures.  We all joined in the Gotemba dance and the Tokyo dance.  We left mid-afternoon for the Waraji Festival.  Waraji are traditional straw sandals, and this weekend in Gotemba is a big festival at the Mt. Fuji Visitor’s Center to celebrate them.  They have these two very large sandals with tethers and bamboo sliders in they hold races where two people pull the sandal while someone is riding on it.  Our own mayor was pulled around the track to start the races.  Our Beaverton delegation was presented to the people and we were given gifts.  We then observed the Yosakoi Dance Festival which was very colorful and I took tons of pictures.

We squeezed in a quick visit to the Buddhist Peace Park before heading back to our hotel.  The main temple is the shrine pictured on the background of this blog.  As I was writing this the sun started to set and Mount Fuji came out of her hiding.  What a sight to behold

You can dance if you want to...

July 27th:
Today we had another wonderful breakfast at the Lala.  Presentation is everything, and each course is a work of art.  Our next stop was the Kinyosha printing factory for a tour.  The 80 year old company has a long history of printing items for the entertainment industry, record jackets, CD covers, DVDs and the like.  Most everyone in the world has seen their work – they did the printing for the 2009 remastered Beatles albums, the iconic image in black and white with the green apple.

Afterwards we were joined by a tour guide for a tour of Hakone and the national park surrounding it.  We went up a mountain and hiked around the Owakudani hot springs watching the sulfuric fumes move up the mountain.  The area is famous for eggs cooked in hot spring water which come out completely black - said to extend your life by seven years.  We then navigated down the mountain to the Hakone checkpoint, a heritage site.  The Tokugawa shogun had this checkpoint built in 1619 to control incoming guns and outgoing women.  To keep loyalty to the shogun, his feudal lords were forced to live in Tokyo (then known as Edo) every other year and their wives and families held hostage there.  The purpose of the checkpoints was to prevent weapons from being brought into Edo and wives and children of feudal lords from fleeing.  The checkpoint was kept in operation until 1868.

Following a buffet lunch at a hotel on Lake Ashi – complete with green tea and black sesame ice cream (yum!) - we boarded a pirate ship for a cruise on the lake.  Beautiful scenery, but still Fuji-san remains shy and hides her face from us.

Today’s evening festivities were held at the 8th floor Sky Lounge of the “Brush Up” Gotemba Kogen Hotel where we a had a traditional Japanese meal with citizens of Gotemba that have fostered and promoted friendship ties with Beaverton.  We were taught the Gotemba dance (we weren’t very good) and sang a Japanese song (even worse), but we had lots of fun.  We wrapped up the evening with karaoke back at our hotel with the mayor and deputy mayors of Gotemba.  Hopefully none of this will show up on YouTube!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Super Cool in Japan

July 26th:
Today, Thursday, was a very full day of activity.  The government of Japan has started a campaign called “super cool biz” asking both government officials and business people to dispense with wearing ties and jackets.  We still had to dress up today, but at least no ties.  It very hot and humid and the government is requesting air conditioning be set at 85° to save energy.

Our delegation had a welcome at city hall this morning.  A crowd of Gotemba citizens greeted us waiving Japanese and American flags.  The Mayor welcomed us and gave us gifts.  We then met with the chairman of the city council and again we were given gifts and then took a city hall tour.  We had lunch with the Mayor at an Italian restaurant looking over gardens and ponds.  I could tell we were in for a lot of food, a total of eight knives, spoons and forks!  We had a salad with shrimp and prosciutto, followed by pasta with mussels and scallops, then lobster in a cheese cream sauce.  Next the main course of parmesan veal and purple sweet mashed potatoes. Dessert was a collection of exotic fruits, ices and gelati.

After lunch we went up Mt. Fuji to the visitor center, saw a program on the history of the mountain, went outside to see the mountain which could not to be seen behind the clouds.  We were told of the mountain, “she is sometimes very shy.”  It started to downpour, which for me was a welcome relief from the heat.  We went back to city hall and Ann, our Mayors wife, met us and told us of her harrowing journey.  Apparently the plane, (in a typhoon!), tried twice to land in Hong Kong and finally had to give up and go to Taiwan. When she finally got to Tokyo she was able to get the last room at the huge hotel we were at previously in Narita.  She discovered all her clothes were drenching wet, her luggage undoubtedly left out in the rain.  Our hosts at LaLa were so gracious they took her clothes and are having them laundered.   Mid afternoon we were ushered into the City Chambers for the signing ceremony of the Sister City agreement by the mayors and Denny gave a speech to the 23 council members.

We returned to LaLa for a much needed rest break (and shower), and then we were taken to Hotel Gotembakan 21 for a welcome reception and dinner.  Rebecca and I were seated at table D with one of the council members, some business men and an interpreter.  The evening dialog was helped through the constant pouring of beer.  The food was wonderful even though at times I could not tell what I was eating.  Our new friends were amazed that Rebecca and I were adept with chop sticks.  A children’s choir led us in the national anthems and we saw a performances of Karate, Nihon Buyo (dancing) and Koto.  Then we had an exchange of gifts from the cities.  After dinner Rebecca, with the help of our interpreter, went and thanked the Koto players.  When they heard she played guitar, they brought out their rather large stringed instruments and gave her a lesson on how to play “Sakura” to the delight of all those gathered round.  Even Ann, tired as she was, gave the Koto a go.

We are now back at LaLa after an exhausting day.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Up, up and away

July 26th:
Our new adventure started with flying down to Los Angeles.  LAX is not, in my opinion, a well thought out airport.  In order to connect to an international flight one has to leave the airport from the terminals servicing domestic flights.  It was very confusing and made even more confusing by lack of signage or poor directions.  Regardless we made it to our plane which was then delayed because of too much weight in the cargo hold and crews had to remove cargo and redistribute the load before we could fly out.  Singapore Air is a wonderful airline with great service.  Thank God for noise cancelling headphones.  More than the average share of screaming babies.  Got to our hotel late Tuesday night and met Mayor Denny Doyle in the hall way as we were heading to our room.  His wife Ann was to meet him at the airport on a flight from Australia which, because of a typhoon, was canceled.

This morning Rebecca and I went on a trek to a temple in Narita (the town where the “Tokyo” airport is).  After receiving extensive instructions from the hotel staff, we firmly held our map upside down and headed off in the completely wrong direction.  Ended up walking through a patch of jungles to some lovely rice patties along the Tokko River.  Two hours later we got to our destination in time to take a few pictures and then grab a taxi back to the hotel.  We joined up with the other 7 members of the Beaverton delegation and we were greeted by a delegation from our Sister City of Gotemba.  They took us by charter bus for the 3 hour journey to our hotel, LaLa Gotenba.  Our rooms have panoramic views of the city and of Mt. Fuji.  We were fed a huge meal, buffet style: pasta, lamb, duck, sushi, fish, chicken and more, much more.  We had a delightful evening talking about Beaverton politics.   Still no word as to where in the world Ann Doyle is.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Off to Japan

Steve and Rebecca are on their way to Japan right now. We'll be hearing updates and seeing pictures of their trip in the coming days. Watch this blog, pass it along to your friends and tell your great-aunt Mildred.