Did I mention I AM IN JAPAN!! This is incredible. I have seen on fancy game shows the big prize which always seems likely that nobody ever wins it, the prize being a trip to Japan! And, here I am! Breakfast today was at 6:30 in Providence Hall. It was a huge buffet breakfast and we sat by states. There were greeters at the doors of this room. They not only welcomed me to the breakfast room in English and Japanese, but also checked our ID tags. I would say there were no less than 100 different choices of foods, all presented very formally. Everything from omelets, fermented soy beans (which were very stringy and reminded some people of spider webs!), salty salmon, fermented cherries, pastries, fruits, and salads (yes, salads)…all interesting and delicious. After breakfast we had our Japan orientation meeting in the Magnolia Hall of the hotel. Kyoko Jones, director of the JFMF spoke, along with Dr David Satterwaite, director of the JUSEC . We have been reminded always to be on time. It is no way acceptable to make the exceptions for late people. We are to carry our passports all the time and wear our name badges everywhere and all the time. Lots of things were explained to us. One of the things was quite serious. This had to do with terrorism and us, the American teachers, being considered a soft target. We were reminded to be ever vigilant, not to be so careless about our surroundings, and even though they try to keep us together, there are times that we will be off on our own or in small groups and just to be aware. Also, they told us of two areas to stay clear of at night. During the day they were just fine, but after the sun sets, to be extremely careful as these areas are where gangs and foreign gangs have been known to operate. In fact this information is well known and is shared with tourists to Tokyo. Other things they shared with us were reminders to not lose our nametags, carry our ID’s, and not to lose our books with our individual itineraries. If we did, then we would be charged. There were some other rules that were layed down for us. No chewing gum in public as that is considered disrespectful (especially in the schools). Limit the wearing of blue jeans to when we have our own “free time”, but should never be worn when we are on their schedule (or even close to it). I am glad I didn’t pack any, that saved some weight!
There were some other interesting things that were shared with us in this orientation session. One was that the general public, especially in the US, tends to get this program and Fulbright Scholars mixed. It should be noted that anyone associated with the name “Fulbright” is considered to be a great honor. The Fulbright Scholars program is a program sponsored by the United States Government. It was started shortly after the Second World War by US Senator Fulbright. He thought that the money that was in pipeline for war, when it was over, could be diverted into education for foreign studies/students. The idea was well received and became law in 1946, and carried his name. In this spirit there are 150 countries that participate in the Fulbright Program. 11 years ago, the Government of Japan put into place the JFMF (the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund) towards carefully selected United States teachers in appreciation of the United States of America’s rebuilding efforts of Japan and the support of education by the Fulbright program (hence the use of the name Fulbright in JFMF). It was originally the idea of the Japanese Government to have this JFMF teacher program last for five years, but has lasted this long due to good diplomacy between Japan and the USA, and the efforts of the participating teachers. So, with our group, this is the 11th year and 6000 teachers have had the opportunity to participate. We have been selected to participate and are being honored by the Government of Japan, and have been brought here on behalf of the Japanese Government and the Japanese taxpayers. The Japanese society fully respects education, and Japanese hospitality and warmth will be shown and shared to all of us as participants. Wow. We really are ambassadors!
It is true that we could learn about Japan by reading about it, reviewing it on the Internet, or talking to someone else, but it is felt that there is nothing like experiencing it for ourselves. We are being immersed totally into a different culture. We will be moving, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, and interacting in Japan, which gives a very different feel that can never e experienced without being there. It’s only three weeks and will only give us a surface look at Japan and the Japanese people, but will allow us to see through some stereotypes and maybe some perceptions that we might have. While we are here, we will interact with teachers, students, parents, and people of Japan. When we return to Tokyo in a couple of weeks, we will briefly share our experiences, and later implement our plans and proposals, but most likely with many changes! In the next few days, before we depart Tokyo for our official host city (mine being Ota-ku) many of our sessions that we will attend will be videotaped for us and converted to DVD (and we may purchase these later on if we would like), and a CD will be available from the musicians that played last night when we met our Fulbrighter for dinner. There will be a travel desk available to us, so during our free time that is scheduled and unscheduled, we may use those folks to help lay out plans for us to get somewhere or answer specific questions. For me Saturday, according to my schedule book, is to be a free day. I have many ideas, but we will see what happens. I will have to give some thought as to what I might like to do. Maybe it’ll be to stay around here, but then, most of my evenings, after 5 or 6 appear to be free. If we need to communicate with another JFMF’er there is a bulletin board available for us to leave them a message. I must admit that all of this seems so well organized!
Here are some other things that were shared in our orientation meeting. It will be noticed that the Japanese people will head bow or bow at the waist, sometimes very deeply. I have already noticed this, and in some cases returned the bow. This is a sign of acknowledgement and respect. The deeper the bow, the deeper the respect in most cases. All Japanese people demonstrate this kind and respectful sign, in business, personal lives, and on the street.
After the orientation, we headed out to our busses for a tour. Keiko would be our guide, again. We drove past the Imperial Palace and learned about the Emperor and his family. The Palace has two river sized moats to protect and has watch towers along the coast. Then to the DIET building. This has nothing to do with food, but it is the capitol building which houses the House of Representative and the House of Councilors. We got to pass through the main chambers, then along the courtyard and then lunch is in a small place nearby. Then out past the Gingko Trees.and back on the bus and on to Asakusa. I will have to add more detail later on, but everything is amazing. We passed the shopping district, we passed an area that we have even been told to watch out for due to safety. We arrived as Asakusa…it’s amazing. There is a entry gate which holds a massive lantern and statues of thunder drums, then it’s past those and a walk into the main Buddhist Temple. The main walkway is lined with all kinds of shops selling, well, everything…keychains, gloves, napkins. I would estimate that there might be 300 tiny shops, certainly no less. I stopped in “Fujiya”-the kimono and happi-coat store and priced some things, including kimonos, some wall hangings, and some other things that I had already seen priced at other shops. The prices at this stand were quite good—and everything “made in Japan.” Anyway, we went directly to our lunch place, where we put our shoes in a bag, sat on the floor and had “tempura” which means that the main foods are fried. Batter coated, then fried. Fantastic. Soup, rice, fried shrimp, fishes, vegetable, and salad. All with chopsticks. After lunch, 30 minutes of free time to look at all the shops and temple. There were people buying giant incense sticks, lighting them, placing them into a large sand holder and then catch the smoke to put all over their bodies to heal. There were lucky and unlucky sayings. If unlucky, it was to be tied to a metal bar to rid the evilness away. If fortune was good, you take it and keep it. The temple, too,, is interesting Each temple and shrine has a story, and there are literally thousands of shrines and temples. For Asakusa, the story goes that were two fisherman a long, long time ago, that were fishing in the river. They didn’t catch a fish, but they caught a golden Buddha. The brought the golden Buddha to shore and constructed a giant temple for it, as this would bring good fortune to fisherman and those that visit it. The Buddha, though, is hidden away in the temple for protection so no one sees it. There are Buddhists monks that are in the temple and supposedly they see it only once a year. As I walked up the steep stairs to the temple, there were “grates” on a large box and people would throw coins into the grates and bow, some would put their hands together in prayer. Then, they would proceed up to the temple entrance and approach the center of the shrine. You cannot get all the way into the shrine as there is a giant metal “chicken wire” type of screen that separates the public from the monks inside the beautiful shrine. And just in front of the screen is another grate where people threw their money into and prayed again before turning around and leaving. Off to the side of the temple is a five story pagoda. On the other side are hundreds of white lanterns, and two Shinto shrines. The gateways into these temples and shrines are fascinating and I will work on getting those photos up on the photo pages. Then it was back on the bus and back to the hotel. .We had another 30 minutes or so, and then time for the Kyogen, a presentation in Japanese theatre from 3-4 pm. Very interesting how it is presented. It was a type of Japanese theater, presented in what seemed a monotone fashion with inflection only when a major point would be made. The presenter had translated most of the Kyogen plays into English. He gave us a newspaper clipping about him and his work and it read that he could perform in English and charge for it, but he could not charge for Japanese performances. His presentation was in English (oh, no he did not charge for it!) He did sell his translations of the plays. I purchased one. Afterwards, time to get cleaned up, again, in professional attire. And, we have been reminded several times, that in Japan, it is extremely inconsiderate to be late, even by a few seconds. Interestingly enough if a program is scheduled to start at 6:30, it will. Not 6:35, or 6:40! This program is so well oiled (how it runs) that they even tell us when to wear what, due to they type of situation we will be in. And with a little bit of time I was able to get this caught up just a bit. Now (6:30 pm) is a reception with government officials, and honored guests. This is to last approx two hours……..It did. All the teachers are in suits or dresses. There were to be some dignitaries from the US and Japan. I was talking with another teacher that I have known for quite some time, Kathy Steele from Alaska. Kathy was named the 2004 Alaksa Teacher of the Year the same year I was named the 2004 Indiana Teacher of the Year. We met in a special session in Dallas, Texas and then again in Washington, DC, and the last time, at International Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. We were having a good chat, when a gentleman came up to us and asked where we were from. He introduced himself. He was Robert Post from the American Embassy and is in charge of US-Japan educational needs. Then a another man came up and it was the gentleman we had dinner with last night at the Prince Villa restaurant. Suddenly, Mr. Post went to front and was introduced and he was our main speaker of the evening. He bid us welcome to Japan and hoped that we would have a good time, learn lots and have lots to share in some fashion. Dr. David Satterwaite, director of Japan-United States Educational Commission (JUSEC) provided remarks, as well as Kyoko Jones, director of the JFMF. Once again, since there was a different mix of people, Mrs. Jones was thanked for her years of service as this is her last JFMF group of teachers to work with. At the conclusion of all the remarks, what seemed like out of nowhere, the center of the room was filled with foods and all along the wall was hundreds of different kinds of Japanese foods. Before we started eating, my host city group (Ota) was to meet a dignitary off to the side. The lady we met was Kazumi Tamata in charge of educational affairs and from the Board of Education of Ota. We had a quick chat and then many went there own ways due to the line lengths. Where we were standing somehow became part of one of the food lines, so we all stayed together. The board member hardly spoke any English and she apologized, but she was getting her message across to us and after awhile we were all laughing to the point of tears in our eyes. It turns out that Ota-ku (or Ota-City) really means Ota ward. A ward (or division) of Tokyo called Ota. And, this is the first time that this city will be hosting JFMF teachers. With that we were most honored. Back to my room, 884. I looked at several of my pictures and selected those that looked pretty decent to put on the website and load them in. That seemed like it took forever and I am dead tired! The computer has made some strange sounds and I am not sure the pictures really made it to the website. It’s the end of my day and I am so pooped, but it’s just the start at home and I wanted to try to do a web cast, for just a few moments. I got it all set up and was able to talk with my substitute Mrs. Helen Campbell and Mrs Carol Mayer. Mrs Campbell says the kids have been doing fine…I hope! They are to have a quiz today over some of the material from the last few days in class. Mrs Mayer gave me some tech pointers and then I would call back in a couple of hours. I did. My 4th period class seemed excited and they finally quieted down and I showed them some Japanese money (Yen) and then a look out the window to the Tokyo Tower. As I put the camera out the window to see the tower, suddenly the lights went out on the tower and then shortly thereafter, the camera froze and I could not reconnect. I tried again for the next three classes, trying on the hour….long night! The tower lights were still off, too.