I slated this day to be one of relaxation and a tour of Hikone, which is the same town I stayed in for four months when I studied abroad. We decided to use the day to visit Michigan Center where I studied. This is a rather interesting exchange program. The prefecture of Shiga and the state of Michigan are linked in friendship because each holds its countries largest freshwater lake. Michigan has the great lakes and Shiga has Biwako (Lake Biwa).
First meet my host family. It is a rather unusual family for Japan because their are five kids, most families in Japan have no kids because the cost of living is so high, especially in the larger cities. For a family to have five kids is most unusual.
These are the two boys, there are three girls; Toma and the youngest Asahi. Asahi is a ball of energy. Toma enjoys soccer and is quite good at it.
The others are Serika, who just started High School today in Omihachiman at one of Japan’s best high schools for learning English; I am helping her with some of the finer points. The twins Yurina and Marina who I can never tell apart but, like their sister and Toma, have a deep interest in English. I attribute this to A) Japan insistence that its people be exposed to foreign languages in particular English and B) the mother, Emiko, is an English teacher and often my only means of direct communication. However, through hard work, my Japanese has gotten decent enough to where they can understand what I mean and go off the rest. I have a lot of trouble with Japanese verbs because of the many forms they take depending on context and formality.
Our first stop on the visit was Michigan Center to visit my Japanese language teacher, Aizawa-sensei. His class was one of the hardest I have ever taken. He drove me very hard and I had to give up many social events to keep my grades up. In the end, I still didnt do that well, but he helped me out with the final grade; I have a great deal of respect for him.
However, one thing has not changed: Coco’s. We used to have a tradition when we were attending Michigan Center. Every Friday, after classes, for lunch many of would congregate here for the amazing curry and other dishes that were served.
We also met some of the current students and found out that graduation is happening on the 17th, unfortunately the same day as I fly back, otherwise I would have thought about attending, especially considering I get free tickets on the Shinkansen.
The next stop on the Return to Hikone was Hikonejo (Hikone Castle). Many of the major cities in Japan were originally city states in the feudal era. Now since it is more democratic these castles are reserved for posterity and a constant visiting place for Japanese and school groups. Unlike in America, Japan has a deep and rich culture spanning thousands of years. Very often schools will take their students to these sites to learn firsthand Japan’s history. I remember this sort of thing vividly at Hiroshima three years ago. In a sense, it would be like your school taking everyone to Gettysburg.
And of course, the view from the top of Hikonejo is awesome, as one would expect from a fortress built to command the city below.
I really love Hikonejo, I went there many times when was studying in Hikone. However, I had a date with a cute Japanese girl and at the point we realized what time it was we had to rush to Maibara station so I could catch the Shinkansen for Osaka. It is times like this which make me glad for the JR Rail Pass and the free train tickets it essentially provides. I managed to barely catch the train in time, however, I still had to conquer Osaka station, which is even busier then Shin-Osaka.
Osaka, is Japan’s second largest city and very comparable to New York in many respects. Like Tokyo, it has a loop line which is a train that goes around the perimeter of the main city, and yes, its a very busy train. Now let me preface how I met this girl.
A few years ago my friend Cameron and I went to Disney land and I got the change to visit Epcot and went to the Japanese pavilion. There I met Megumi Kurata, who was a waitress at the Japanese restaurant in Epcot. We immediately hit it off and I asked her out on a date. We subsequently became friends and I talked to her a lot until her time at Disney was over. She then came to visit me in Michigan and we went with Cameron and Ben to the U.P of Michigan to Mackinaw Island.
We had a great time. Megumi went back to Japan after that and we continued to correspond for the next year or so. Now, dont get the wrong idea, we are just friends and that is all I want to be. The idea of marrying a girl and having her leave her country is a great responsibility that I think you need to be sure about before. Anyway, during the trip preparation Megumi landed a job teaching Japanese in China, and said she would not be in Japan when I visited. She introduced me to her friend Mami, who also lives in Tokyo. Mami found out, from me, that I was staying in Osaka for a bit during my trip and asked if I’d be willing to go on a date with her friend Mari, which of course I said yes to.
As you can tell from this picture she is very pretty, though frankly, the picture doesnt do her justice. I dont know what it is about Japanese girls, but I just find them so cute, though its hard because dating would be impossible as I dont live in the country.
We had a great time, first we went to a Japanese restaurant and ordered a ton of food; she ate almost as much as me. We both hate vegetables, her more then me. Much of the music I like in America she loves as well, which made karaoke with her a whole lot of fun.
In Japan, to say karaoke is huge would be a gross understatement. Japanese people absolutely love it, and no matter where you are, you are likely close to a karaoke shop. The combination of bad singing, friends, and alcohol is always a good time. The setting is also much different; in America its usually at a bar with a group of people. In Japan its much more intimate and private.
Honestly, being in this room with such a beauty made it hard to think straight. No worries, my friends know I am capable of high amounts of self control when needed, and I really didnt want to pull any moves on Mari. Mainly because, that sort of behavior is viewed much differently in Japan vs America.
The only bad part about karaoke is the time limit of one hour. It is so popular it really becomes expensive to hold the room for more then an hour. We decided to take a walk and ended up finding ourselves by the giant Ferris wheel I rode many times when I was here as a student. It actually sits on top of a shopping mall so you get a very impressive view of the city from the top.
Mari is such a cool girl and I really wish I had the time to get to know her better, but I engaged in this activity knowing full well nothing could come of it. I am hoping that we get a chance to hang out one more time on Sunday after I tour Kyoto.
We parted ways after the Ferris wheel and I began the long journey to the outer edges of Osaka. We decided that to further my Japanese experience I would stay with with the Oe’s grandparents; this also furthers my streak of not staying in the same place more then two nights.
It was about a 30m subway ride from Umeda station in Osaka and then a game of hide and seek trying to find my host mother’s car at Dainichi station, but we succeeded. To my surprise, the grandparents house is very nice and spacious, furthering Dave’s assertion that most older Japanese people are very wealthy because they saved their money.
Tomorrow’s goal is to visit Nara, the ancient capital of Japan before Kyoto. I hear there are some awesome deer there that act like the geese in America, with less poop; should be a good time.