Today was interesting because it was another one of those days where I was not traveling, which are quite few given that I will not stay in any one place for more then two nights until I return to Tokyo on the 12th. So today was a calm day as Dave had to work, Me and Sam mostly just hung out at the apartment doing various things on the Internet.
My exploits started out with a skill I have gotten good with while in New York: wandering. I have learned to leverage my photographic memory to keep me from getting lost, just a glance at defined landmarks and I can easily guide myself back if my sense of direction fails. I did a lot of walking and went all over downtown Mito. I started my journey at the train station for breakfast at McDonalds (yeah, I wanted something American) and then some shopping, I needed a solid wallet suited for Japan, they carry a mixture of paper money and coins.
Here is a shot from downtown Mito from the enormous pedestrian overpasses which are found everywhere along the main street. One of the most fascinating things about cities in Japan is they all look impressive. No matter where you go.
The main thing is the cleanliness and the near lack of littering that happens, in addition, the adherence to rules. I remember when I was in New York people dont even pay attention to the crosswalks, they just cross when its clear. The Japanese do not believe in this and in fact they clearly segregate the road so each side is a particular direction, the result: things are orderly and everyone moves faster, SHOCK!!!
On top of this central crosswalk was a statue of three samurai warriors, they come from an old story which, strangely, involves the next city I am heading for: Hikone. Mito-komo tells the story of three samurai who went down to Tokyo and essentially beheaded the lord from Hikone, who had been saying bad things about the leader of Mito.
The story is a lot more complex and exciting then that, and in fact we walked past the group filming onsite for a new movie: Sakurada mon gai no hen (桜田門外のへん). But needless to say I was quite surprised and it just goes to show you the rich history Japan has, when someone can be like “ohh this happened 1,000 years ago”, its pretty wild.
Following this I made my way to some of the prefectural buildings as Mito is the capital city of the Ibaraki prefecture, and like many of the government buildings I have seen, and heard about, the whole front lawn was covered with Sakura, cherry blossom trees.
Following this I headed for Kairakuen (偕楽園), which is the worlds second largest urban park, behind Central Park in New York City. The one thing I have come to know about these sort of places in Japan is that because of the insane number of people who tend to be in close proximity the animals are all extremely tame. Take for example, these beautiful swans, werent even bothered by my presence, though I didnt dare get any closer then this, for obvious reasons.
Now I have seen these sort of swans before, but I had not ever seen black swans. I was confused why they were both in the same lake in the Kairakuen park. Dave explained me to later that about 50yrs ago, Mito and Hikone put aside the bad blood and became sister cities. As a gift to show their intentions Hikone gave a number of black swans from Biwako (Lake Biwa), those swans offspring still survive in Mito.
But seriously, this park is gorgeous, I went halfway around the lake and just some gorgeous shots of the lake and surrounding city of Mito. Really nice how the Japanese mix nature with the rest of the city, even with so many people they find a way to incorporate the surrounding area into how the city presents itself.
Following my trip to the park, I returned to Sam and Dave’s place to await the return of Dave so we could go visit his school, which I am told is the best school for students studying the English language in the prefecture. This is where Dave works a consultant, more or less, to the English teachers, helping them understand natural speaking. The school is really nice and is actually built on the remains of the old Mito castle, which was burned to the ground during a rebellion against the Meiji government back in the 1800s, all that remains in the gate to the Keep.
I got the chance to meet one of the teachers Dave helps understand natural English speaking, as well as a couple of his students. Though, they dont teach slang, which I find rather odd as, like it or not, slang is found in almost any interaction between Westerners, its just something we do, whether we mean to or not.
We ended our tour with Dave showing a bit of his hobby: Kendo. For the uninformed swordsmanship is still a revered skill in Japan and kendo is the art and practice of this skill. Dave explained the scoring to me and it is easily one of the most complicated games I have ever heard of: to score a point a certain combination of strike, movement, speech must be completed. The maximum point total you can achieve is 2, though its rare it ever gets there. After seeing the equipment, it reminds me a lot of hockey.
You have to dress up in armored plates to protect yourself and you have to score certain ways. Though its much more complicated then hockey, it looks like a lot of fun. I was glad that Dave showed me the equipment and how the strikes are carried out and scored.
Overall my trip to Mito was very nice. I really cannot complain how this vacation has gone, my only regret is that I learned today that I will not be able to attend Serika’s, my host sister, entrance ceremony for KooKoo (High School) which I was very much looking forward to, hopefully I will get to attend Toma’s ceremony. Instead, I will be traveling to Arashiyama, or the Eastern district in Kyoto. So wish me luck as I head south tomorrow into the Kansai area of Japan to meet up with my host family for about the next week, after tomorrow there are 10 days remaining in my trip before I return to the states. I am please to say that I was able to finally make contact with a friend of a friend in Tokyo, so I will have someone to hang out with. Bad news, she works a lot so she is barely free at all, well figure something out I am sure.