Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Flash Mob in Ogaki Mall

The choir traveled to Ogaki, Japan today and performed Peze Cafe as a flash mob in the Mall across the street from the Best Inn Ogaki, where they are staying.

After the flash mob the choir was introduced and they sang Salmo 150


Ue O Muite Arukou

Toraya Kobo Sweets Studio Demonstration and Tasting

This was a very popular event and will be remembered as one of the most special events of the trip, I'm sure.  The people who make the confection, known as wagashi, are real artists.

Wagashi are traditional Japanese confections that are often served with tea, especially the types made of mochi, anko (azuki bean paste) and fruits.

We had the treat of observing two master confectioners creating beautiful edible art while we watched. The Wagashi are typically made from plant ingredients.

The green tea we have been served is seriously green, like St. Patrick's Day green, unlike the green tea we are usually served in the USA.

After watching the wagashi being made we were treated to a cup of hot green tea and one of the pieces of confection, which we got to enjoy in the beautiful, modern building. The hosts were extremely generous and kind, as has been the case with all of our hosts on this trip without exception.

The confectionary is on an historic property that has been owned by a prominent family for many centuries.  We had a tour of the house, apparently owned by the Grandfather of the current Prime Minister, Shinso Abe.

Chichibunomia Memorial Park

The imperial villa in Gotemba where Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Chichibu spent time during and after World War II was donated through Her Imperial Highness' will
to Gotemba City and opened to the public as a memorial park.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Gotemba Sister City Welcome Party for iSing

The city of Gotemba went ALL OUT to welcome the singing ambassadors of Beaverton.  We have seen generosity of spirit and humble respect demonstrated by the Japanese people over and over this week.  My heart is filled by the love that was poured out to us at this party.  It was a formal event.  The purpose of the formality was to emphasize the importance of a Sister City in it's power to change the world for the better, and to honor the longevity of this commitment of two citys of similar size on two sides of a vast ocean.

Everything about this party was top notch, but the BEST thing, the thing that turned it from a grand event to a great event, was THE MUSIC.  It was the music that brought everyone together in a way that nothing else in the world could have.  Oh, and THE FOOD--eating a very special meal together.  Put those two together and you have world peace.

After the meal,  iSing went up on stage and sang "Flowers Will Bloom", which was perfect because we did not perform that the night before.  As if that wasn't enough of a tear jerker, we then went out and sang Shenandoah in the round.  So many of them told us that they did not understand a single world in the piece, but it had brought them to tears the night before and this night as well.  There's something about that song that speaks the universal language of love.

Nic and Ona

Then they sang a song for us from their seats.  To wrap up the night they projected the words to Ue O Muite karaoke style, which we had performed the night before, and everyone sang the melody in unison together.  It couldn't have been more perfect.  Presents were exchanged all through the night.  Nobody went home unacknowledged or empty handed.

Kirin Fuji Gotemba Distillery Tour

After the Hakone Region tour we drove to the Kirin Whisky Factory and received a tour of the factory, which started with a very slick video presentation.  After the video we were led through halls that overlooked the pristine factory and distilling equipment. 

The best part comes at the end where they take you to the hospitality room and give you two free samples plus the opportunity to buy the product.  Delicious.  Very fun.

Hakone Region Tour

Today we explored the Hakone region near Gotemba.  Hakone is a town within the borders of the volcanically active Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park centered on Lake Ashinoko.

The group assembles to take attendance by counting off.

Hakone Shrine

Purify your hands and mouth at the temizuya water pavillion.
You must purify yourself first before you stand in front of the deity to pray.

  1. Scoop water with ladel in your right hand and pour some over your left hand
  2. Hold ladel with left hand and pour water over your right hand.
  3. In your left hand take some water that you have scooped with the ladel and rinse your mouth

Susan and Maria, above the lake in the foothills of Mount Hakone, near the Hakone Visitors Center

Hot Steam rises from vents coming out of Mount Hakone near Mount Fuji

Black Eggs of Hakone - 7 years life extension for each egg eaten
A lot of us ate the black hard boiled eggs--they are hot when you buy them, and they are basically regular hard boiled eggs with black shells.
They are boiled in 80 degrees Celsius for 60 minutes in the natural spring water that smells heavily of sulfur.  Then they are steamed at 100 degrees for 15 minutes in  steal baskets.  The water they are boiled in contains sulfur and iron.  The black eggs, or commonly called "kuro-Tamago" by the locals are perfectly safe, although they may smell like sulfur.  They are believed to add 7 years to your life.

Monday, May 29, 2017

the hot springs

What I thought would be a nice time in the hot tub turned out to be full on Japanese experience.After a long search, we finally found the hot springs in the hotel next door. Men and women are segregated and fully nude. I made my way into the springs and was attended by a very elderly women attendant. The Japanese men sat stoically in the spring having a very solitary experience. No one spoke and they starred straight ahead. I spent a very quiet personal time sitting in very warm water, it made for a wonderful night of sleep.
--Posted by Mark Campbell

Mt Fuji

Mt. Fuji is 12,000 feet tall.  As we drive along in our two buses, she stands so beautifully out side our window.  It takes our breath away with it's haunting beauty.  Continuously, there is this striking vision, Linda and Mark sat facing the mountain this morning during their breakfast.
--posted by Marcella Box

Breakfast in Gotemba

Breakfast in Gotemba was fabulous.  There was so much variety, James explored some snail-type item.  Mt. Fuji sits majestically outside the room.  A major percentage of the foods are so different for us we could not begin to tell you what they are, but often find them delicious.
--posted by Marcella Box

Day 3 - Gotemba, Beaverton's Sister City - First Concert

After a couple of very busy days in Narita and Tokyo, the group boarded the buses and headed for Gotemba (Beaverton's Sister City) today.  It was still an action packed day.  The drive from Narita to Gotemba was specatacularly beautiful,..lush, fertile ground, lots of gardens and farming.  The landscape was very reminiscent of Oregon, with a little more bamboo and a whole lot more rice fields.  It was so exciting the first time Mount Fuji came into view.

We had lunch at Takumi no Sato near the  Mount Fuji Visitor's Center--Fujisan Juko no Mori--for lunch.  The delicious menu:

  • Fresh made Soba noodles
  • Dipping sauce for the noodles including chopped chives and wasabi
  • Tempura (vegetables and shrimp) with dipping sauce. 

The choir broke out in Shenandoah as we were being served lunch, which turned out to be helpful practice for tonight's performance.

After lunch there was a demonstration on how to make fresh soba noodles.  

 They let a couple of us slice the noodles (Andrea Wood)

Then on to the tea house, the former Ishida residence, to sample green tea and a treat made from Adzuki beans.

Then on to the Mt. Fuji Visitors Center for a movie about the history of Mount Fuji.
Next we were whisked away to the beautiful Gotemba Kogen Hotel.  We had 30 minues to check in before we had to be on the bus with all of our performance gear to go to the performance center for the rehearsal.

The concert hall was beautiful.  We had a great rehearsal.

 The concert started at 6:30 pm and completed at 8:30 pm.  It was wonderful singing the Japanese songs at the end of the program with the various Gotemba performing groups.  It was an honor for both Sister Cities to sing together.  Stephen was presented with a beautiful bouquet of flowers at the end of the concert.

From Mollie Williams' facebook post (she said it so well):
Last night we had the opportunity to sing with 13 choirs all from Gotemba.  We performed our concert for them, then they joined us on stage to sing 2 Japanese songs.  The ages ranged from young to old and the power of that many voices singing together was overwhelming and beautiful.  The people here are so welcoming and kind.  I will cherish these moments forever.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ona's Day at Disney

Day one in Tokyo was exhausting but a success!  I decided to break away from the group and go all by my onesie to Tokyo Disney Sea. I met a very nice group of business men from Iran on the train who offered to sell me one of their tickets at the group price because some of their crew didn't make it. Such a nice offer but it was for Disneyland. Not Disney Sea. 

While researching my excursion the repeat theme was that one MUST eat a Chandu Tail from the Sultan's Oasys. Chandu is Sinbad's adorable tiger companion and he's very popular here. I waited in a queue for 30 minutes to eat his tail!  I was extremely hesitant because the description is "bun with chicken cream." Not only does that sound unappetizing but I'm picky about texture. I'm glad I didn't wimp out because it was DELICIOUS!  When in, Japan!  

The crowds were pretty heavy as I expected on a weekend but less so than when my husband and I went to Tokyo Disneyland a few years ago. Disney Sea is so much bigger that It helps spread people out. With that said though, some wait times were consistently over 130 minutes!   I utilized my fast passes to avoid lengthy waits and rode quite a few rides!  The park is beautiful and the themed lands are on point!  I did miss a little of the tradition of your typical Disneyland park but this was something new, unique and very worth my time, sunburn, and aching feet!  Thanks to Yvonne and Jing for pointing me in the right direction with the trains!  

Day 2 - Tokyo - May 27, 2017

Day 2 was an amazing, fantastic, somewhat exhausting day, I think most would agree.  So much happened!

The day began bright and early with a very good breakfast in the hotel Mercure restaurant.  We heard a lot of stories from people about how jet lag was impacting them.  A lot of people either did not sleep at all, due to being "tired and wired", or they would sleep two hours, wake up for two hours and repeat that pattern during the night.  I was lucky and slept straight through from 10:30 pm to 4:30 am.

After breakfast we walked to the train station.  Rebecca handed out train passes for everyone, which made train and subway transportation so easy.  We had a pleasant one hour ride into Tokyo, and it was fun to see all the people on the train as it got more and more crowded the closer to Tokyo we got.

When we reached Tokyo we were greeted by a wonderful group of volunteer guides.  Everyone was divided into smaller groups and assigned a guide.  We started at Ueno Park outside of the Ueno train station, where we got a great shot of the whole group.

 Volunteer Guides
Yukie and Yi

Group at Ueno Park Tokyo-These are two of our most wonderful guides, Yukie on the left and Yi on the right.  Yukie and Yi were patient and warm with our group.  

Here we are collected together prior to splitting off into our individual groups in Tokyo.

Here is Group B at the Imperial Palace, in front of the Stone Bridge (called the Eyeglass Bridge in Japanese) because of it's twin arches. .One highlight was that there were no cars because there was a half marathon and bike race happening.  A highlight was the stone walls surrounding the palace with a mote.  There were beautifully sculptured pine trees and lovely manicured lawns.  On New Year's Day and December 23rd it is possible to enter the  inner grounds to where the Imperial Family can be seen from a balcony.

Here is a panorama of some of the sacred grounds we saw in the Ueno district.

More Group B.having fun with our volunteer guides.

Stairs to Temple in Asakuso

Jake and Mollie's 17th Anniversary at the wonderful Grill House in Narita
This is a perfect example of some of the after hours intimate dining opportunities for bonding and getting to know people