Spending the past week in Japan has been absolutely amazing. My favorite part so far would either be soaking in the hot springs or shopping in Harajuku. It’s so hard to decide between the two. Going to the hot springs was a nice surprise. The last time I went to one was when I was about five or seven years old. It was not as hot as I remember, however it was still very enjoyable. The outdoor part of the hot springs was especially nice. I would say, as in the words of my friend, George, “If everyone just went into the hot springs together, we would no longer have wars and everything would be in peace.” Spending time with someone in the hot springs is a way to get to know them on an entirely new level.

Shopping in Harajuku was also really awesome. There were so many stores in such a small space. I was surprised by how there were many stores with just photos of stars from movies, sports, or dramas. Those types of stores seemed to be especially popular by how they were always filled with countless teenage girls. I think my best buy was a cute white skirt with stars that cost me only 199 yen (about $2). I was also able to buy some headphones I had previously bought from Japan for about $15 cheaper than their original price. Someday, I hope to go back again; then, I can do more exploring and eat those delicious-looking crepes. 

Throughout this trip right now we’ve gone to Ichinoseki where we stayed at a hot spring, visited shrines, also a farm and visited the disaster sight.  At Ichinoseki when we visited the disaster sight it was like nothing you could imagine.  On TV and seeing it in real life is like being in a whole new world.  You wouldn’t believe their was land their before because it looks like something you would see from a movie, but put into real life.  It made everyone very emotional.  When we visited the Shinto Shrine and looked from the hill to the ground it was painful because the only buildings you could see were banged up ones and they just made you start to cry because some of them had bodies in them still.  As much as the disaster sight was hard to look at the people we visited were very strong.  They all were amazing people I’m so glad I got to meet them.

            When we arrived back in Tokyo we went to a shrine, drove through Asakusa (temple area), we did an earthquake and fire simulation, visited a museum and went to Harajuku. (teen filled shopping street) At the shrine we walked through a street full of little shops and bought lots of little charms.  Driving through Asakusa everyone wanted to get off the bus and walk around because of the many shops.  We also did the earthquake and fire simulation, we went in a room which had six seats and a alarm would sound telling us their was a fire, which told us we would have to squat on the ground, put some type of cloth on our mouth and find our way out through the little the house.  Yesterday we went to the Miraikan Science Museum.  It was beautiful.  And it had a robot name Asimo, which could walk like a human, dance, speak, and kick a ball!  Asimo was incredible it’s like seeing a robot from the future.  After, we went to Harajuku everyone went shopping and did Purikura, which is a type of photo booth where you decorated your pictures.  My first week in Japan has been a lot of fun I can’t wait till this week begins!          
Mariana T-S.
Ohayou everyone! This is Mariana speaking! Today I will write about my experience in Tokyo! Especially Harajuku. It is a major shopping district in central Tokyo where lots of teenagers go dressed up in costumes from games or anime, or just go to hang out! I saw a couple people in really funky cool outfits! My group and I went to Takeshita street in Harajuku on the 15th. Takeshita street runs down a narrow and long road. There are countless stores there, from Photo booth stores called purikura---which by the way my friends and I went to first!!---to punk rock clothing stores and crepe shops! There is a store for everyone. It really is paradise there!

I have nothing bad to say about Tokyo/Harajuku other than it is VERY CROWDED!! But even that was a fun experience!  I’m sure everyone in my group enjoyed walking down Takeshita street holding each other’s backpacks or hands! Yes yes.

Tokyo truly is an exciting place!

Amanda J.
Today is Monday July 16. We are now riding on the nozomi shinkansen, which is the fastest bullet train in Japan, heading towards Kyoto. For the past three days, we were staying in Tokyo, the capital city, and it was amazing. It was a huge transition from Iwate, where it was extremely rural and filled with farmlands. Tokyo is more like New York, but I think it’s a lot cleaner and prettier (though I might be biased).

The first day, we went to a place to learn how to safely deal with natural disasters like fires and earthquakes. They recreate situations and tell you how to safely deal with them. So first, we were taught how to escape from a smoke filled building. They put us in a room and when we heard an alarm telling us there was fire, we had to escape. They pumped smoke into the room (it was the best smelling smoke I ever smelt and it was totally safe- it is the one they use at Tokyo Disneyland!) and we had to go through various doors and halls to the exit. If our head was over 120cm high from the floor, an alarm would sound telling us to lower our head or we would inhale too much smoke. It was really funny because as we tried to escape, the people outside could see and hear what we were doing. So if we messed up, they could tell. Then we learned what to do in case of an earthquake. This one was a lot cooler, but also a lot more violent. They put us on a platform with a table and mat and told us that we should hide under the table once we felt any tremors. Then the platform would shake making us feel like we were in the middle of an earthquake. They recreated earthquakes like the earthquake that hit Kobe and the Great East Earthquake. I think it was surprising how much we were shaking. I definitely wasn’t expecting to be shaking that much. It was really scary and hard to imagine that the Japanese people were feeling this for about two weeks from the earthquake itself and the after shocks that followed.

After the simulations, we went to the Edo-Tokyo museum and it showed us what Japan looked like during the Edo period. The Edo period was stretched over a long period of time, so as we walked through the museum, you could see the change in lifestyles as technology started progressing. It was difficult for a lot of us to figure out what everything was because the whole museum was in Japanese and all the English headsets were taken. It was unfortunate, but we could get a good idea what it was like because they made very detailed replicas and miniatures of the time period. Plus, some of our Japanese skills came in handy when trying to figure out what things were. It was really cool to see what kinds of tools they used for occupations like firefighters and what Japan looked like at the time.   

When we left the Edo-Tokyo museum, we went to get lunch at a Sumo wrestling place. Unfortunately, they changed the site of Sumo competitions, so it was vacant. All the guys were able to go into the ring, but girls were not allowed, so we stayed outside and cried because all the guys got to go in.

After lunch, we went to Asakusa, a Buddhist Temple. It was huge. There was the temple, gates and a huge section dedicated to shopping. So, we were able to walk around and pray if we wanted to, but I feel like a majority of us walked around to the various open-air shops.

The next day, in my opinion, was a lot more fun. We started out by going to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan). It was all about future technology and science that people are researching about such as space expeditions, Deep Sea exploring and technology. It was really amazing looking at all the discoveries scientists have made and how it might affect us in the future. I think the highlight of the Museum was Asimo, which stands for Advanced Step in Innovative MObility. He was a robot that responded to people, kind of like droids from Star Wars. He was a small white robot who could talk, kick a ball and dance. He was so cute!

After the museum, we went to a museum where we learned about the products created in the Tohoku region. There was a room that showed us multiple movies about people making tools, baskets and food specially found in the Tohoku region. It was really cool watching how the people made their products. As you watch the movie, you try and guess what their making and it almost surprises you at the end when you realize how much work goes into making on product. After the movies, there was another room that showed all the products made in the movie and then some more. It was really amazing how much detail and work goes into simple things like shears and baskets that people use everyday.

The highlight of the day was probably going to Harajuku. Even though it’s not really educational like the museums we’ve been visiting, it’s definitely iconic. Harajuku is a huge shopping area. It’s pretty much one narrow street and shops are squished all down this street as well as on top. The foot traffic was crazy and you realize just how different it is from Iwate. The shops were mainly clothing stores but there were a few CD stores, Purikura shops (photo sticker machines) and cafes scattered around the street. Even though there definitely wasn’t enough time to explore all of Harajuku, I think it was great to at least see what the huge buzz was. It was what a majority of us already knew about Japan and it was great seeing it and exploring it first hand.

So now we are on the bullet train after waking up at 5am heading to our host school and host family, so until next time. Matta ne. 

Michael M.
In our time in Tokyo our group took a trip to Harajuku, a fashion district. I was quite surprised at the amount of people shopping on the street that we were on. There were also several interesting characters all around the place. For example, there were cross-dressers and cosplayers. It was a very, very strange sight to see. On another note, the eight year olds were far more fashionable than I was.  It would make sense, if you were to actually take a look into the stores on that street. The names of those stores were quite interesting as well. To name a few, “Nudy Boy”, “Wooden Doll”, “Pinklatte”, “Store My Duck’s” and many, many more. Julian, myself, and George went off on an adventure into the stores to buy and browse several feminine clothing articles. I did not personally buy any of the items, because I was sure I would not fit into what would be a “Japanese large” as an American extra small. Julien and George, however, did buy something. George bought a hat that said, “Don’t sell me a dog” and “Drugstore Cowboy”. All in all, a fascinating experience in the fashion district of Tokyo.

George G.
Good evening. Or morning. Or afternoon. Yesterday, we spent two hours in the fashion district of Tokyo, Harajuku. I would like to start with a word of advice. If you ever decide to walk into a Tamagachi store, first check to make sure that you are a six-year-old girl or her mother. If you are in fact neither of those things, then I highly recommend not going into that store. Anyway, we spent copious amounts of time looking through some wonderfully form fitting clothing. In  my time there, I purchased a wonderful hat. To find out more about the hat, please read Michael’s entry. It was at that very moment that I decided that from now on, all of my clothes will be ordered from Japan over the internet. Julian bought a FABULOUS shirt. Michael bought absolutely nothing . That is all. Thank you for your time.

Julian H.

I want to blog about something recent, but I can’t stop thinking about the eye opening experience of when we visited the disaster affected area of Ichinoseki. We had all heard about the disaster brought about by the earthquake and tsunami, we had all seen pictures of the affected areas, and we had all heard about the strength of the Japanese people. But knowing what to expect cannot always prepare a person for the bitter truth. As a group, I feel that we had been goofing off prior to this, treating this as a vacation, albeit no ordinary one. This harsh slap in the face as to why we were here started on a particularly gray morning, and the appropriately grim skies loomed over us through our trip to the area. From the bus, we saw piles of debris being shuffled and reshuffled by huge machines; there are few districts that would want to harbor remnants of destroyed buildings. Countless structures had windows destroyed by the water, rice fields were severely damaged by the oceanic salts, and the whole area seemed like a ghost town. Even after a year, the damages remained. We were shown a video of the tsunami sweeping the area by one Mr. Saito. The video showed his business being swept away by the tsunami as he cried to the heavens. Tears were shed, and again when we met with Mr. Saito at his rebuilt business. It was clear that this was not an easy subject for him to share, but he wanted to do all in his power to save as many lives as possible in the future. He told us of how he and those who remained in his immediate family survived with such methods as freezing puddles to cool food. His wish was to minimize future damage and save lives. To think that there are so many good-willed people such as Mr. Saito out there makes me feel something indescribable. Something like hope, something like inspiration, something like a feeling that humanity is capable of so much goodness. I may just be one person, but as a result of what I saw, I will try to help in any way I can and spread the word of the strength of the Japanese people. The world could benefit from putting others before oneself, and the abundance of this that I saw in Japan will stay with me forever.

When we arrived at Ichinoseki after Tokyo, it was very rural and contains mountains covered in green trees.  It was absolutely stunning.  The hotel we stayed at was right next to a beautiful gorge with rushing water.  During our second day at Ichinoseki, my group visited a farm with geese and cows.  It was the Tanaka family.  We got to feed the geese and even pick them up. There was a black Labrador called Sora, which means sky, and he was from the tsunami disaster.  The family who owned him survived, but due to the disaster they lost everything and could not afford to continue raising the dog.  Then the dog traveled to the Tanaka’s farm and they decided to raise him.  Usually dogs love water, but Sora is scared because of his experience with the tsunami. To imagine seeing the tsunami disaster from Sora’s eyes chills me.  I am happy that Sora is alive, but it makes me sad that such a beautiful, caring, fun-loving dog had to face a terrible disaster. Today we visited the disaster site in Ichinoseki.  We first visited Mr. Saito’s confectionary factory to hear his story on the earthquake and tsunami disaster. After the confectionary factory, we went entered another disaster site.  The first thing I noticed was how there were very few people.  I saw construction trucks piling up large mountains of debri and there were no houses or buildings.  Our second tour guide, Mr. Konno explained his experiences with the tsunami.  One of the first things he mentioned to us was how he was lucky to have been able to see the tsunami.  To me, it was a bit ironic, but after thinking about this for a while, I can understand what he meant.  Because of this disaster, he is able to look at life in a new perspective.  He told us how life is beautiful.  I have never experienced a traumatic disaster such as the one Mr. Konno faced, and therefore cannot see life as he does.  However, after visiting the disaster site, I can get a glimpse of his perspective.  I know that I will definitely return someday and hope to see Ichinoseki filled with homes, buildings, and people.  

***Please note that we have decided not to publish our photos of the devastation in Rikuzentakata or Ofunato because it is hard to publish them without full explanation and next to more casual, tourist images of Japan. If you are interested in seeing these images, please contact one of the members of our group.***

We have been in Japan just about a week now and I am so struck by how well our BHS students listen, observe, and take in all the nuances of Japanese traditional and modern culture around them. They have loved both their experiences in the countryside and Tokyo, which could not be more different from each other. They truly are students of Japan and the world!

For me, the most meaningful moment of our trip has been the opportunity to visit the affected area of Rikuzentakata. This past March, Iida-sensei and I watched 100’s of videos online of Japan one-year after the disaster, poured through stories of the tsunami, and picked just 2 or 3 to share with our students on March 11. One of the interviews that struck me and I chose to show was one by a Japanese man, Mr. Konno Fumiaki. It turns out that Mr. Konno was our guide in Rikuzentakata the day we toured his town. I quickly realized I knew his story from somewhere, searched online for him, and shared with him and our students that it was his story, out of the thousands of possible stories that I could have shared, that we had listened to before.

He took us to his former home, and to the spot on the hill where he filmed his video. We visited the Shinto shrine where he stayed the first night. I was overwhelmed with a sense of fate or karma, standing in the same spot he had been on 3.11.

Please check out his story here.

When 3.11 occurred, I felt so far away from Japan. I felt as if I could not stop watching the footage of the disaster and I was overwhelmed with sadness and grief. This was a country I had studied and loved for almost 20 years that was being devastated. I had no idea that just 16 months, I would be standing in the affected areas with students, listening to stories and witnessing such devastation. Getting off the bus at the Town Hall, which had all 4-stories of the building devastated by the water, was deeply powerful. I broke down in tears standing on hallowed ground. The total emptiness of the scenery around me was too much to take in. I don’t think I will ever forget the feeling of grief standing in front of the Rikuzentakata Town Hall, or of the joy of meeting Mr. Konno in person.  It was a day filled with so much emotion that I still am having trouble processing all of it.