Up at 3:30am to get ready to be at the airport two hours ahead of flight time. My mom took me to the airport, which was a surprise as I had planned to get a taxi. I did rent her a car so she could drive around a bit, going to her favorite haunts and such, but I really didn’t expect this. Quite honestly, I was really pleased and thankful. We left home at 4:30, and with very little traffic on the road this early Sunday morning it took us only about 30 minutes to get there. There was already quite a line in place at the United Airlines counter, but soon I was at the check-in. Interestingly enough, I had weighed my bags, but it turns out they were about 8 pounds overweight. Take note that there is strict enforcement right now about luggage weight. Well, my mom was still with me, so we got out a plastic bag and I eliminated some things that I initially thought I couldn’t live without. I pulled out my pair of flip-flops; the lining of my trench-style raincoat, three small resin cardinals (that would have been presents to represent Indiana, I left another three in my bag), and a big bag of Halloween candy corn and pumpkins (those could have been a present for my host family, too…really!). Back onto the scales and was right at 50 lbs. (Gosh I do wish it would be that easy to lose actual body weight!). So off my bright red suitcase measuring a total of 60 inches, weighing no more than 50 lbs went. The next time I would see it would be in San Francisco, hopefully. My flights today went from Indianapolis to Chicago; then Chicago O’Hare International Airport to San Francisco International. Before I left Indy, I had a few minutes to grab a quick bite to eat at the Little Caesars Pizza place right behind the ticket counter area. .They have breakfast pizza. One was a Tex-Mex kind, the other I had and it was an omelet pizza, personal pan sized. It was great. I shared it with my mom who was staying at the airport until she knew the plane had safely left the ground. According to the girl working at this counter this early morning said this is the only Little Caesars Pizza place that does this. Well, the others should try this, too. It might catch on! Suddenly, it was time to go. Off through the security area. The lady reading the tickets said to me “Hello Robert. Thank you Robert and have a nice flight.” She had read my paperwork to see that all was in order, but called me by my middle name. I carefully looked at my ticket and it did have my name correctly place on it, so who knows! I said goodbye to my mom as she watched through all the people and machinery to see that I made it through okay. Down to the farthest gate I went and sat down. I met another teacher from Indiana that would be on this journey, too. She is from Bloomington. We will be in Tokyo together, but then have different assigned host cities later in the program. Then suddenly, Cathy Furimsky appears. Cathy was a guidance counselor at Clay. She retired a year ago and is now running a business that sells dog items and she was on her way to Chicago for a sales conference. That was really fun getting caught up on things both in our personal lives and professionally. Then off to Chicago. With it only being a short flight, it seemed as though we were there before we left, with Chicago being a hour behind Indianapolis at this time.. When we arrived and got off the plane, we discovered that our next flight was at the very next gate. Now when does thing ever happen? Off to Starbucks for a quick Vente Unsweetened Black Iced Tea! Ahhh. There I ran into two other teachers from Indiana. Carolyn from somewhere in Indiana, and Sherry Curry, an art teacher at Clear Creek Elementary School in Bloomington, Indiana. My impression of them is that their students are very lucky to have them as they are interested in continuing to look at new ideas, try new things for themselves and for their students. Even though they were from Indiana, they would not be in my groups at any time during the experience, except that we flew to Japan together and were in the initial large meetings together. The time, though, that we spent together was quite a bit of fun. And, we would try to get pictures of each other if the time allowed so that way we could share with each other. Time to go, again. There were more JFMF educators gathering at the gate and it was great fun to meet all these new people. Some have extraordinary experience with Japanese, some speak it, some read it, and others (like myself) really know nothing about it! A couple had business cards that were in English on one side and in Japanese on the other, true to the email of the other day.. All we had was a moment or two and time to board and go, again. The flight was about 3-4 hours. I lost track and fell fast asleep drooling on my pillow (and hopefully not to heavily on the ladies on either side of me). The lady to my left was Sherry from Bloomington and to my right was another lady from Columbus, Ohio. “Yen” was her name, also part of the group, she is an ESL teacher, and she is originally from China, but this is her first trip to Japan, too. We talked for awhile. Lunch-snack was served on board for $5. It was a pretty nice snack with little sandwiches, chips, trailmix and a few other fun things. You couldn’t buy all this stuff for $5 out of a vending machine or airport foodstand, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. We landed in fog at SF International Airport, so there wasn’t much to see. A little group of us headed to claim our bags, but in all the excitement and hurriedness, we got lost. We went up and then we went down, then out and back in. We couldn’t find the baggage claim area! I got us to the ticket counter, interrupted a ticket agent and he told us where to go. The delay worked out well, as it was only our bags that were left on the carousel. We found the contact person from the IIE (International Institute of Education—one of the host and organizing organizations for this program). We boarded a bus and traveled only a few miles to the Sheraton Gateway Hotel. I got checked in and went to my room #1301. This is the first time I have ever noticed a hotel having a floor “13”. When I went in, there was somebody already in there. Turns out we are sharing rooms for the one-night stay in San Fran. Mr. Colby Vargas is a social studies teacher at New Trier Township High School in the Chicago area and is also the school’s fencing coach! He is eager to see Japanese swords and visit the museum in Tokyo. I called home to report in that I was in SF. The next thing was to check in with the JFMF staff and have lunch. Each person has their own tailored agenda written in English and Japanese. It is quite a booklet and took someone a long time to coordinate all this material. The color of my booklet (light yellow) matched 19 others. (And, interestingly enough, the luggage tags that we were to use were also color coded by groups—brown, with our name and the city name “Ota-ku”. The other 19 people that would be going to the same host city as myself: Ota-ku, next week. Lunch was very nice. In fact, it was delicious and I was starving.. The orientation began and there are 198 participants in this for this October cycle, from all 50 states, and DC. 73% are teachers, 9.6% are both teachers and administrators (that’s me). 85% are from public schools and age’s range from their 20’s to the 60’s. Here we are in San Francisco and the first welcome is called“Welcome to San Francisco, Gateway to Japan!” There was a lot of information presented. One of the things they told us is that our books with our particular schedule in it is very valuable to us. There are special pages in each book that are specifically tailored to each of us. If we should lose this book there will be a $26 (Y2600) replacement charge. If we lose our name badges, which are to be worn from now on, unless we are specifically told to do so, are also worth $10 (Y1000) if it should need to be replaced. Yes, you get the point, I hope..that is don’t lose these items! And, they are to be brought to everything. If you don’t have your name badge, you will not be admitted to any session, meal, meeting, tour, etc. It is the key to all JFMF functions in Japan. Also, they pointed out that in Japan, being late for anything is NOT acceptable, period. Their trains run on time. Their planes depart on time. Meals are served on time. All things run on time. People are not to be late, nor early, but on time. Period. If someone should run late, then that person might have to apologize to everyone they inconvenienced! And, according to the presenters, this has happened. And once it does, it certainly cures others from every being late!
Anyway, after the orientation, we met with “host city groups>” That’s a group of 20 people or less all assigned to go to the same place. Mine: Ota-ku, after our week in the city of Tokyo. We quickly asked some questions, then we returned back to the big group for final instructions and then off to go get cleaned up. It was time to head to the Consulate General’s home in SF for a fancy-do reception and remarks. We all arrived on four different busses to his home right at the top of a hill over-looking the bay. The bus seemed fine balanced on the point of the hill! Into the compound we entered and were greeted with servers with tuxes on. Wine and carbonated water and fizzy drinks were on silver trays as we entered the residence, but most of the teachers stopped on the front porch to look and admire the view before going in. The insides were beautiful and according to something I heard the place was actually a French design. Anyway, the Consulate General and his wife were greeting everyone and welcoming each person into their house. Wow a party for 200 people plus the staff! The Japanese and American flags were placed behind the podium and blocking the entrance to the main staircase leading most likely to the offices and real private residence. A side room was open with beautiful paintings and two photos of the Emperor and his wife. Shortly after everyone arrived, various presentations were given. Some by the folks at our orientation and also a special thanks to Kyoko Jones who was the organizer and coordinator of JFMF with the Japanese Government and also the U>S, as this is her final group to work with, since she is retiring. The Consulate General then made his remarks. His charge to the group was this in us going to Japan and representing the U.S. : “Listen to the voices of the people of Japan. Share the experience.” And in a bit of humor, added, look and see, hear and listen, sniff and smell (and maybe sniff again!) Well said, as this is what we are to do while in Japan. His wife also welcomed the group and then the side doors opened for a buffet dinner. A copy of the Golden Gate Bridge was made of carrots and shrimp. There were all kinds of interesting (and delicious) foods to try and of course our first encounter with chop-sticks! The food and conversation with everyone was fantastic. Soon it was all over and time to return back to our hotel. On the bus, I had the honor of sitting next to Robert Radford, in charge of the university side of this program, as those participating are allowed to receive up to 10 graduate credits, based on work that we already have to do. Robert has participated in the very first JFMF program eleven years ago. We had quite a nice discussion before we both drifted off into a catatonic state until we arrived at the hotel. Good night!