Thursday, August 1, 2013

Nihonmatsu Trip

Pictures from this trip are: HERE

Friday morning (the 12th) started out earlier than most Dartmouth expeditions do—6:25—I left my house in a hurry to meet everyone at the rendezvous point at Nishi Funabashi at 6:45. 

We all made it on time and actually had a fairly smooth trip to Tokyo Station (6 ducklings total. Three decided they could get there on their own.). I think they were all sort of surprised by just how packed the morning train to Tokyo can get. I instructed those who I could hear me to get into the aisles rather than the space by the door because you get a little bit more room. Japanese morning trains are all about strategy, you see. The picture on the right is Kiki being upset on the packed morning train with Anne in the foreground. We met everyone else and received our tickets for the 8:16 bullet train. I then got a message from Tom (one of the independent ducklings) saying that he was going to be late. So everyone went on to the bullet train and I waited behind for Tom hoping that he would make it before the train left, which he did! Scolding him for being late as a result of not going with the group (as a good senpai should do), we joined everyone else just in time and were off to Fukushima prefecture!

Once we arrived, we hopped on a bus headed toward Asaka High School, the school that Dartmouth alumnus Asakawa Kanichi, the first Japanese national to graduate from Dartmouth, attended back in the day. We were given readings about him prior to arrival so that we knew a little bit about our “dai-senpai.” Dai-senpai basically means great or grand senior. Not senior like senior citizen or senior in college/highschool. Senior as in older or higher in rank than us. In Japan, there’s a huge emphasis on the hierarchical system and on respecting your elders and those who are more experienced than you. Therefore, everyone talked a great deal about Dai-senpai and all of his accomplishments and everything. 
We learned a word of the Tohoku (or maybe just Fukushima prefecture’s??) dialect—“obandesu” which apparently is the equivalent of “gochisousamadeshita” which is what you say at the end of a meal. I think I missed the beginning of his explanation, so slightly unclear on that.
We walked around the school wearing hardhats because it had been partially wrecked from the tsunami and earthquake, and then we came to this attic-like place where we went up this rickety staircase wearing our hardhats just in case the roof fell down (!!!!!). I’m actually not sure why we went up there.. We climbed up and looked around for a second and then went back down…
I’m still a little confused by that. Afterward, we went out to the school yard which was completely dirt and sand. There were kids playing soft tennis (bigger rackets I think and softer ball.. maybe not.) which was amazing because it was swelteringly hot outside. Our ultimate goal, however, was this giant tree. As the story goes, while Asakawa-san was a student learning English there, he memorized a page or two of the dictionary a day and after he had it memorized, he ate the pages. When he had finished all the pages, he couldn’t eat the cover so he buried it in front of this tree where it most likely has now decomposed and is no longer actually there, but at least the memory is nice. So we took a photo in front of it like good sightseeing Dartmouth people and went to take shelter from the heat.
After the highschool, we went to this place called Furusatomura (Hometown Village) where we had a group lunch and then walked over to this museum-like place where we appreciated some art and old artifacts and some things related to Asakawa-san. Then the fun began as we came to the place entitled “Genki Kizu Paku” (Energetic Kid’s Park),
this big play place where kids could come, accompanied by parents or not, and play in the different rooms. One room was occupied by various toddlers and their moms reading books and playing with pretend cooking sets. The next (and by far most exciting) room that we came to had a ball pit and slide and a wheel you could roll around in and a giant trampoline runway thing. We wore passes that said we were only observing, but being the adventurous group that we are, there would by no means be any sitting on the sidelines and watching the fun. Even Dorsey-sensei joined in.. Here’s photographic evidence.

After our romp through the playhouse, we moved back outside and walked around viewing various historically rich traditional buildings. Then of course we came to another play area and made a stop there, mostly (I think) because Dorsey-sensei wanted to ride on the mini zipline.
We then returned to our bus and made a quick stop at this really big castle, but instead of going inside, we just took a picture in front of it. We used up a good chunk of our time by taking over the children’s play areas, but in the end it was definitely worth it.
Afterward we went to the Nihonmatsu City Hall where we had a small reception-ish thing with the mayor, a short and rather cute man who apparently is a great campaigner. We each did a self-introduction in Japanese and then received a gift. Consequently, we were in the newspaper the next day, which was cool, I can actually post the digital version later. Then we left City Hall temporarily to visit the grave of dai-senpai where some people offered prayers, lit incense, laid flowers. The graveyard itself wasn’t very large, but regardless it was beautiful. It was located high up on this hill and it overlooked the whole city of Nihonmatsu. After we payed our respects to dai-senpai, we returned to City Hall to have a cultural exchange with a group of middle schoolers who would soon be travelling to Hanover for a short trip. They all introduced their selves in English and then proceeded to demonstrate a variety of traditional Japanese games, practicing explaining the games to us first before they went over to Dartmouth. It was really fun actually—they played this version of mini volleyball with a paper ball that you just kind of batted back and forth. 
They also had this card game for learning English that was sort of like the memory card game where you have to find two matching cards, except for with this game all the cards were face down and the teacher would call out the card in English and they would have to find the Japanese character that went along with it. Then they flipped the cards over and we played an opposite version of the game where we would say the kanji and they would have to find the English. It was really fun! We all played these games together; I mostly watched because I wasn’t able to adequately complete with the energetic Dartmouth kids, being the slightly worn down senior that I am. So Yukari-san and I teamed up and got one point together. 

After game time we broke up into small little groups and had really basic discussions in English and then Japanese with the middle schoolers where we talked about our hobbies and why we were learning our respective languages and what Hanover is like, etc. Our time together ended with Dorsey-sensei taking a video of all of us in turn answering simple questions about our likes and dislikes in English for the kids to learn grammar patterns. For example:
“Do you like Japanese food?”
“I love Japanese food!”
“What type of Japanese food do you like?”
“I like monjayaki!”
“Thank you!”
“You’re welcome!”

We sadly parted ways with the middle schoolers and were ushered into a bus and then a break room for about half an hour before the reception with our short-term host families. The important article of forgotten clothing that I mentioned earlier was a change of clothes for a slightly more dressy occasion--the coming reception. 

Once we arrived in the reception hall, we all lined up along the wall and sat down in chairs in an order that was given to us and waited for each of our names to be called. When it was, we walked up to the front, our host family’s name was read, they came up to meet us, we took a picture together, and all sat down together at our tables.
After dinner, we went home with our host families and that is sadly where my account of the group activities must end! By the looks of it, a lot of people went to Aizu, a town in Fukushima prefecture, and did a variety of things with their families.

I actually had a pretty severe allergic reaction on Friday night (a rather unfortunate combination of cats, dogs, and different trees), and Dorsey-sensei was kind enough to take me to the doctor on Saturday morning. 
Next morning was Sunday and time for us to make our way back to Chiba. We had breakfast and packed up to meet everyone at the station where we said our (tearful, for some) goodbyes, took a group photo, and hopped on the various trains that would take us home.

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