Stories from Japan!

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Friday, September 13, 2002

Despite the little sleep we had from the night before (I was up until 2am trying to close out my accounting cycle for the two weeks we were on the ship - mainly due to the issues the campus store had with closing their cycle), we were both so excited to be heading into port Friday morning. Brian woke me up about 6:30 am telling me we were getting close to port. I could barely open my eyes, literally, but the excitement was at an all time high! I grabbed the camcorder and ran outside to take some footage of our first port. Brian soon followed with the camera. When we docked, there was a band playing to welcome us to Kobe. At around 8am, we had a welcome reception in the Union. Several people spoke to us to welcome us to the city as well as a group of four men in costume who entertained us with a Japanese skit and some drum music. Everyone was just glowing in excitement and ready to disembark the ship to begin their adventures in Japan! It took us about an hour and a half or so to get everyone off the ship for customs, but by 11:00 am or so we were all clear. Brian and I met up with some of our friends who also had vouchers for bullet train passes we had purchased in the States. We all decided to grab lunch on the ship (despite the fact we were dying for our first Japanese meal, it was quick, easy and free!) and then head into town. There were five of us…Tony, Julie, Michelle (who are all Resident Directors) and Brian and myself. There is a shuttle train that will take you from the ship terminal to downtown Kobe or you can walk it… about 20 minutes or so. We all managed to exchange our money for tickets (done so at an ATM-like machine) and make our way for downtown. At the train station (Sannomiya Station), we all felt like fools! We were all walking around in circles trying to find the place to exchange our vouchers for train tickets. Not many people speak English (or if they do, it is only a little bit and are too timid to talk to you), so walking up to someone and asking directions just didn't work. We finally managed to find the ticket office with the help of showing people pictures from our maps as well as a few signs in English. This initial adventure definitely set the stage for our continued need for patience in a foreign land where only so many people speak our own language!

Just before arriving to Japan, Brian and I were able to finagle tickets to the baseball game happening on Friday night. We knew that baseball was a huge deal in Japan, so were very excited to go. There was probably 225 or so of us from SAS attending the game this night. We were all worried about having seats near our friends…what a joke this ended up being! We rounded the corner into the huge stadium and it was deserted!!! There was probably less than 1,500 at the game! We just couldn't believe it! In addition, we ended up having seats in the outfield ("rock pile" tickets for you Denverites), and thus anyone could sit wherever you wanted in this section. Oh well, we made the best of it anyway! In the end, we found out the team we went to see (the Blue Wave) was really the minor league team - not the major league team (the Giants) who draw the sold out crowds! We settled down to our first meal (off the ship anyways) in Japan…for me it was a corndog and fries…yeah, yeah, yeah…I know, not really Japanese, but it was a ballgame remember! Brian was more adventurous than I was (surprise, surprise!) though and got a prepackaged container of a variety of sushi. He enjoyed it, but I on the other hand wasn't so excited to try things (yet) that I couldn't explain! Ha We both did enjoy some warm Japanese soup at the end of the night though! Anyway, back to the game…we were all cheering our hearts out and even got the wave going several times. Before you knew it, we were on the jumbo tron!! The cameras had zoomed in on several of the students and said "Welcome US Universe Explorer" on the screen…of course, spelling it wrong which made it even funnier (see picture). Soon after this, we all got bumped from our section and told to move into the next section. Turns out we were in the visitor section and they weren't appreciating our hollering for the Blue Wave…how funny, how would we have known?!! Near the third inning, it started to rain. Probably more than half of the SAS'ers left and went back to the ship or downtown…at that time the weather didn't seem to look as if it was going to clear up. The group we were with decided to hang in there and lucky for us, the rain stopped. Near the seventh inning, many of the Japanese fans started rounding all of us up to go cheer with them. This ended up being so much fun and absolutely hysterical. None of us knew what we were chanting, let alone if we were saying the words correctly. Non the less, the Japanese fans loved us and we all had an incredible evening!! The cameras loved us too - we continued to be shown on the jumbo tron throughout the entire night! Brian and I must have been on the screen 5-6 times! And we thought the one time we were on the jumbo tron back at the Rockies stadium was great…ha!

After the game, we pretty much called it a night…we were both exhausted!!!

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Other than having our bullet train pass and our baseball tickets, we really didn't have a set itinerary for Japan. We had tried to get tickets to a "highlights of Kobe city" tour, but had been bumped in the lottery as it was overbooked. However, we had heard several students had been no shows on certain trips the day before, so we decided to show up for the trip anyways hoping to find there were some extra tickets. We were in luck! We ended up getting the last two tickets. In the end, this ended up being an incredible day, so we were very lucky we decided to try our luck! The tour started around 10am. There were about 60 of us in two different buses. The city put this tour together and subsidized the price greatly! It only cost everyone $10, but probably valued at $60 or so! We started off going to the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution. The facility had just opened this year, but is dedicated to passing down the experiences and lessons learned from the Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake that occurred on January 17, 1995. It killed nearly 5,000 people, mostly in the city of Kobe. During one part of the tour, you stood in a room that shook like an earthquake while you watched reconstructed visualization of the earthquake…it was very real and very sobering!

Next, we were taken to a Sake museum. We had hoped it would be a tour of a sake plant (similar to taking the Coors tour in Golden, CO) where we could see the process in action, but it ended up being more of just a museum…movies you could watch of how they did it then and how they do it now. We did end up having a taste testing at the end, which was nice. Brief though. Brian did come to one realization though…he prefers sake chilled than warm!

Next to the coast for lunch! We were all starved by now! Lunch ended up being in a hotel ballroom which was right by the beach. We were extremely excited to see a very beautifully prepared lunch in front of us…hot soup and tea, rice and an assortment of sushi and tempura. It was delicious!!

After this we headed to the world's longest suspension bridge, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, built in 1998 (the Golden Gate Bridge is actually 7th). The facilities we toured included an observation plaza where you could actually feel the wind blowing through the Akashi Straights. There was also a glass floor you could stand over and look down at the ocean…it was an incredibly weird feeling. It really gave you the feeling that you were falling! The other thing the observation plaza had was an incredible video camera system where you could zoom in on various places around the city. One of the volunteer tour guides that we befriended, Hiromi Hiraki, lived near the bridge so she zoomed in on her house. I learned her 13 year old daughter was at home, so I told Hiromi she should call her daughter and have her wave to us out on the deck. Hiromi thought this was a great idea and it really did give us all a huge laugh!

Last on our itinerary was a visit to the Nunobiki Herb Park on top of the mountain surrounding Kobe. We all took a tram up the mountain and then walked down through a beautiful herb garden. The views of the city from on top of the mountain were spectacular. This was a perfect way to end the afternoon tour! Not only were all of the sights that we saw educational and entertaining, but the friendship that we began with one of our tour guides, Hiromi, was very meaningful. We exchanged emails and addresses in the end. I plan to send Hiromi a thank you email because the time spent with her this day was truly wonderful!! She is an incredible woman!

By the time we returned back to the ship, it was approximately 6pm. Although we were tired and you know me, I could have used a nap, we found some friends and headed out to dinner in town. Originally, Brian and I had planned on grabbing sushi, but then as we wandered around town trying to accommodate everyone's tastes, we gave up on the sushi idea and just found a restaurant that had noodle bowls and tempura. We were joined by Monica (one of the nurses on ship), Hoyle (senior adult passenger), Bill (RD) and Amber (Asst. Videographer). Fortunately for us, Amber had lived in Japan for a year or so, so she was able to translate a little. Again, very frustrating being in a restaurant and trying to figure out what you want! Luckily, they did have a few menus in English, but translating this to the waitress was painful. Amber knew several words in Japanese and the waitress was as patient as she could be…so in the end, we were all happy and full! Just another test of our patience and flexibility, I guess! After dinner we just walked around downtown for a while. Kobe is really a "happening" place with lots of lights (almost a mini Vegas)! It is really fun just walking around and viewing the people in action. We even stopped in one of the many game rooms and all crowded together in one of those instant photo booths! We had a blast and got some great sticker pictures to prove it!! ha ha After this, we separated into two groups. Brian, Amber and I went to a local pub (don't laugh, but we went to Ryan's Pub - yes, Irish - where all the "ex-pat" and American tourists go) and the others walked around town some more. It is hard to find a good bar to go to...many of the local bars only want "locals" in there…i.e. no foreigners! We had fun listening to the American band (of course) and drinking with the many other SAS'ers there…even the Captain! (The captain can be very very serious when he needs to be, but otherwise he is a great guy! You can see him in the picture…although the funny face he is making almost makes him look frightening! ha) We had a great time, but when the students started packing the place (which wasn't very big to begin with), we all called it a night. The next day would be packed anyway.

Talked to Mom and Dad Lundberg tonight. Boy did it feel good to hear their voices! You don't realize how much you miss home until you talk to your family…then you realize you are in a foreign land with many more days until your return. We are loving absolutely every minute of this voyage (even during the stressful working hours), but we miss our family and friends more than you know.

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Today was the day we were to visit Hiroshima. Before leaving, Brian called his parents. They were as anxious to hear from us as we were to talk to them. All was good…Brian's parents were doing well, which is always a relief. By bullet train, it only took us about an hour and a 15 minutes to get to Hiroshima. We arrived around lunch time, so first thing we wanted to do was find a quick restaurant for lunch. The one thing we've found in Japan is that people are generally very friendly and willing to help if they can. Luckily, when you arrive, there is usually an information booth somewhere close…especially in train or subway stations. Not a lot of Japanese know English (more so with the young), but everyone in tourism will usually speak a little and can get you to the right spot - even if it by pointing to pictures or drawing on maps! We managed to get on the right cable car to get to the museum area. Getting off on A-Bomb Street was probably our first indicator we were in the right spot! The first thing you see is the Atomic Bomb Dome. This is the building that was directly below the atomic bomb ("ground zero") when it exploded on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 a.m. Just viewing the remains of this building was enough to haunt you. Only some outlying bricks remained…a mere skeleton of what it used to be.

We wandered down a few streets and came across an outdoor mall. Well, it is really more like walking down Pearl Street in Boulder or 16th Street Mall in Denver with stores to your left and right, yet there is a room. So, I guess it is partially an outdoor and indoor mall! It really feels as if you are walking down an alley though. Anyway…we were just amazed at how "Americanized" it was! I even took some videotape of it as I was so surprised! You would never have known you were in Hiroshima at this point in time! We couldn't really find an appetizing restaurant nor a quick one. We were starting to get frustrated as we wanted to get to the museum. I had been kidding Brian earlier about going to McDonald's (as they were all over!), but didn't really think much of it. However, by now, I was starving, so I'd decided I was going to go to a familiar place. He was going to have nothing to do with it though, so he found another local fast food place. I will never hear the end of this one. He loved his lunch and mine sucked. The fries were the same old fries, so I was ok with these, but the grilled chicken sandwich I purchased was NASTY!!! It tasted like nothing in America…I couldn't believe I even ate it, but I was starving by then! Brian just kept smirking and saying how good his lunch was. Yeah, whatever!!! ha ha (guess I learned my lesson!)

After lunch, we went on to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. We had bumped into our friend Bill before we got to the museum (he was on the tail end of an SAS trip to Hiroshima, where we were visiting the city independently), so he walked us around and showed us a few other places of interest. We must have spent three hours in the museum. Every inch of the museum was truly captivating, but even more so, truly sobering! In one of our pamphlets, a passage read:

The Destruction of Hiroshima "A white flash. At the same instant, searing heat and blast whirlwinds. Flames rushed through the city. Later, black rain beat down on those people still running about trying to escape. Gradually, a circle of motionless death spread outward from the center of the city. From the ruins, Hiroshima was born. Hiroshima's population at the time of the atomic bombing was approximately 350,000."

Enough said. The images, the remains and the words were more powerful than we could ever relay. Nonetheless, we are truly thankful we were able to learn, appreciate and pay tribute to Hiroshima.

By the time we finished touring the museum it was nearly 5:30 p.m. We started walking towards Hiroshima Castle, which was about a mile away. Another SAS student, who had been traveling on her own, spotted us while we watched a Japanese family play by the river (their children were absolutely adorable!). We all decided to stick together for the rest of the evening. Natalie Best is from California. She is a very sweet, quiet student. We enjoyed having her along. By the time we got to the castle, we expected it was closed as it was getting dark. We decided to check it out anyways, but unfortunately for our feet, we went the wrong direction and ended up walking completely around the mote trying to find the entrance!! It was quite amusing. It did end up being closed, but we still managed to get some neat pictures of the castle in the moonlight. We finally arrived back at the ship around 11 p.m. - just in time to crash from exhaustion!

Monday, September 16, 2002

Since we arrived in Japan, we had talked about visiting a beautiful city named Kyoto (with many temples and shrines) today and the Himeji Castle on Tuesday. We got all packed up and headed to the train when we realized we should probably not spend the money. People kept saying that Japan is expensive. Well, it is, but not in the way we had originally thought. We really hadn't spent much money on food, museums or even gifts (sorry folks!), but we had on transportation! The transportation system in Japan is exceptional…you can get wherever you need to go very painlessly and very much on time! However, this costs you. After a while, we realized the few dollars here and there that we were spending on one-way train or subway tickets to get to another train or subway station were adding up…and quickly! So, we decided that Kyoto and Nara (another beautiful, but more rural city) would have to be put on the list for our next venture to Japan. We did, however, decide to head to Himeji to see the castle as it was only 20 minutes from Kobe and was included in our bullet train pass. Once we arrived in Himeji, it was obvious where the castle was (which was so nice…no more transportation expenses and no more asking directions!), so we just headed down the road. Brian and I had much better luck with lunch this day. We stopped at a local bakery (where we had also stopped for breakfast Danishes - the bakery seems to be in several locations) and picked up some noodles and chicken nuggets that were already pre-packaged. I know it doesn't sound too Japanese, but I promise it was local! :) We ate our lunch while viewing the castle in front of us. The castle tour was really only a couple of American dollars. I took some video footage of it. It really was amusing…everytime we entered different parts of the castle, we had to take off our shoes, put them in a bag to carry around with us and put on some closed-toe "sandals" they gave you. But of course, all of the sandles were exactly the same size, because as you know, most Japanese are all of the same size…short and petite (which is why I loved being there…I felt extremely tall for the very first time! ha). I could barely keep the sandals on while Brian was bulging out of his….he was so uncomfortable, but all I could do was chuckle!! It still makes me laugh! Anyway, the castle was neat, but not what we had expected. Many of the rooms were empty and some floors didn't have much English (and of course, no English speaking tours were available at the time). I guess I just expected more…but the woodwork and architecture were beautiful and so were the views, so I can't complain too much. After visiting the castle, we visited the gardens which were around the corner. By far, this was the best part of the day. The gardens were absolutely beautiful with cascading waterfalls, beautiful ponds and amazing flowers and plants. Very peaceful place and it was very empty, which made it that much better! We spent a good hour wandering around the gardens and then headed for the train to return to Kobe. Other than our lunch on Saturday, we had not really been able to eat any sushi. So, this was our mission. We walked around Kobe trying to find the best place for dinner as we were so anxious for sushi. We finally found this great restaurant, but to our dismay, they didn't take credit cards. This was another thing we learned about Japan…it is a cash society!! Most places (other than large department stores and hotels, I gather) do not take credit cards which is very frustrating, especially coming from America where you can charge absolutely anything! We were short on yen and had mistakenly left our traveler's checks on the ship. We must have roamed the streets of downtown for nearly an hour looking for either an ATM machine that would actually take our card or another sushi restaurant that would take credit cards. Absolutely no luck! We were so frustrated, hungry and tired by this point that we both just sulked our way to the train station and ate dinner on the ship. Despite the fact that the ship has turned out to have good food, nothing tastes good when all you wanted was sushi! Great day, but frustrating ending. We promised ourselves we would exchange some more money and have an incredible sushi lunch tomorrow on our last and final day in Japan!

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

It is hard to believe we are leaving Japan today. We have thoroughly enjoyed our visit, but I believe we are both ready for our next journey…China! We decided to relax today and sleep in for once! It was a wonderful way to start the day! We did a better job at estimating our expenses today, so were all set with our daily yen (Japanese currency). We hopped on the shuttle train and ventured back into downtown, this time, determined to eat sushi! We went back to the exact same restaurant and to our excitement, completed our mission! The sushi was extremely reasonable in price (we had a ton of sushi for only $9 each) and very tasty! No drinking sake with the sushi chef this time (Margie - that comments for you!), but we had a great time conversing with him. He even taught me a better way of eating sushi…I think he was chuckling at all of the rice in my soy sauce bowl! ha ha :)

After lunch, Brian and I headed to the Sogo and Loft department stores as well as outdoor shops for some more "window" shopping. We were so surprised…the department stores, again, were so Americanized! You would never have known you were outside of the US! Funny. I also had the chance to talk to my sister, Jill. I had been trying to reach her for days which had become very frustrating. We are 15 hours ahead of Denver (thus, 16 hours ahead of Portland), so trying to call someone at an appropriate hour can be tough sometimes! Anyway, I managed to finally track her down and have a very needed, yet short, conversation with her! We needed to be back to the ship around 5pm to take care of some work items, so we headed back to the ship for the last time in Kobe, Japan.

It was sad to see the ship leave port after dinner. So many people were out there waving goodbye…many of the families that the students had participated in a home stay with or our Japanese interport students, etc. We waved goodbye as we sailed away towards Shanghai, PRC (People's Republic of China)…

Fun facts/differences we've noticed about Japan