Saturday, June 2, 2012

Japan, etc!

Michael and I safely made it back to Thailand on Monday this week, and we've been working on unpacking and settling into our new apartment for the last few days! We are quite excited to be back and are ready to get back into some sort of a routine again. School starts on the 14th, but the prep work for teachers will begin next week.

In the meantime, I thought it might be nice to update all of you on what we've been doing for the last few weeks! Our trip to the States was wonderful and refreshing; seeing so many people in a short time span is definitely overwhelming, but we had a number of great and encouraging conversations with several people. We enjoyed our time with family and friends - catching up and experiencing things (such as a wedding!) together. Thanks to those of you who housed us and spent so much time with us! We love you all and were happy to see you again!

After we left the States, we flew to Japan, where we spent about 10 days with my aunt and uncle. Our analysis in one sentence is this: if you ever get a chance to go to Japan, do it. :) It's a beautiful country (although we only saw what was in the general Tokyo area) with wonderful people and culture. Below is a synopsis of some of the things we did, and if you're just looking for pictures (without all the words!), feel free to scroll down to the bottom of the post, where we've posted an album of some of the pictures we took.

We arrived on Friday afternoon (which, of course, was confusing since we left Los Angeles on Thursday morning!), ate lunch in the airport, and took a bus to the Navy base where my uncle Doug and aunt Robin live. Being on base was a cultural experience in and of itself; it was sort of like being back in the United States, but definitely had its own military culture with it.

On Saturday, aunt Robin took us to see a show that a friend of hers was in. The show was a Rokugo show, which is a traditional Japanese form of story telling. This show was in English, and we listened to about 8 or 9 people tell funny stories about different things. Each person who came out on stage was allowed to have two props: a hand fan and a handkerchief. These props could be used to indicate all sorts of things: chopsticks and a bowl of food, a knife, a mask, etc. Most of the people who came out were women who were studying Rokugo, and so their stories and English levels varied a bit. We also got to hear "The Master" (whose name I don't know) - he's one of the most well known Japanese comedians right now. His stories and observations were really hilarious; my favorite was his description of Japanese who try to learn English!

After the show, we walked around the eastern gardens of the Imperial Palace. It was beautiful to see the trees and some of the ancient structures where guard houses and other building used to be. We saw some Samurai houses along the way as well as a lot of other things.

Another place we went was Kamakura. This area is filled with lots of traditional Japanese buildings, especially temples and shrines. Michael and I visited a couple of these on our own, and it was a little disappointing because we couldn't really figure out what everything was, since it was in Japanese. It was interesting to see the temples and watch the people who were visiting. One of the temples was dedicated to fetuses who died - those who were aborted and those who weren't. As we walked around that area, we saw hundreds of little statues, which I think families bought to place there in memory of their child. In a different place in Kamakura, we went to see the big Buddha. Having lived in Thailand for two years, we've seen a fair share of Buddha statues already - this one was exactly what it was described as: it was big, and it was a Buddha. :)

A little ways away from Kamakura was Ofuna, and we really enjoyed visiting this site. When we got off the train, we could see a huge female Buddha statue on top of a hill - that was our destination. When we got up there, we saw the statue as well as a memorial for the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The memorial had big rocks that were taken from both places and were placed next to the memorial flame.

We only had one rainy day during our stay. That day we took a train to the 4-story 100 yen store. It's essentially a 4-story dollar store, but the things they have are a lot nicer than dollar stores in the States. After checking that out, we met up with Michael's friend Nate in Tokyo and went out to dinner with him. I'd never met Nate before - he and Michael went to middle/high school together, and he's a teacher in an international school in Tokyo. We had some good conversation over dinner, then parted ways. We got to Doug and Robin's house a little late that night - it was raining like crazy and we walked from the train station to their house (about a 30-40 minute nice weather) - we were soaked by the time we made it, but I've decided that it was a decent adventure to end the day.

Another place we went was to Asukusa - this time aunt Robin and a couple of her Japanese friends came with us. Asukusa was beautiful - we visited a temple that is apparently famous for its giant lantern, and then we browsed the market area in front of the temple. One of my favorite moments from this day was when we met up with a group of students who were on a field trip. A group of girls were trying to get a jumping picture in front of the Tokyo Skytree, which is a huge tower (sort of like the Seattle Space Needle) that had opened only the day before. I snapped a picture of the jumping girls with my camera because I thought it was entertaining, but the girls found out that I had gotten a good picture, and then came to ask if I would take on on their camera. So I did, and from there our little group and their group started conversing. They knew some textbook English: "Hello. How are you? I am happy. How are you? I am fine." Aunt Robin asked them something in Japanese, and they were really confused until they realized that she was speaking Japanese, not English!

A couple of days Michael and I spent most of our time on the base; after being tourists for 5 days, we were pretty exhausted. :) We did do a little wandering around the Yokosuka area; we ate at a beef bowl restaurant one day. This restaurant is one where you order your meal from a machine and pay the machine (like you would a vending machine); it gives you a ticket, which you then give to the person at the counter. A few minutes later, they come out with your food! It was really delicious and gave "fast food" a bit of a new meaning. :)

One of our final days there, we went to Flower World; we walked through a massive field of poppies, took some silly pictures by the "Memorial Photo" booths that they had in random places, and just sort of wandered around. Another stop in the Flower World tour was by the Godzilla statue/slide. This, of course, was a wonderful photo opportunity that we really took advantage of! There was a little bouncy house next to Godzilla that was in the shape of a hamburger, which we found really hilarious.

All in all, the things that we saw and did in Japan were a lot of fun. In addition to those things, we really enjoyed visiting with Uncle Doug and Aunt Robin, getting to know what their lives are like and what things they do every day. There was something about visiting with people who also live internationally that really hit home with us; international culture, whether it be military or something else, is really different than any culture you find in any given country. For example, when we visit the States, we find that we need to adjust back to the culture of the States and the culture of the people that we are with. People who come to visit us need to adjust to the culture of Thailand and the culture that Michael and I live in. But when someone who lives overseas visits someone else who lives in a different country overseas, there's sort of a mutual understanding of cultural experiences, even if neither of you has lived in the same culture. That, in particular, was the one thing that really stood out to me about our trip. We had really great conversations about cultures and experiences - those conversations were really encouraging to us.

Well, there's our trip in a short explanation! Check out our pictures below to give you some ideas of what we saw and did! If you want more stories, feel free to email us to ask about something more specific! :)

Blessings to you all - thanks for keeping up with us on our blog!