Kon-nichi-wa from JAPAN!!!

Trip Start Aug 26, 2006
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Trip End Dec 08, 2006


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Thursday, September 21, 2006

JAPAN!
Day 1: Lost in Translation


It's tradition on the ship for everyone to wake up ridiculously early and watch the sunrise over the country we're visiting; therefore, my roommate Kate and I rolled out of bed in our sweats and Semester at Sea hoodies. Unfortunately, due to the overcast weather, the sunrise was non-existent. So.... We crawled back in bed for a couple of hours and watched the old seasons of 'Laguna Beach' until breakfast opened up. Just as we were finishing up breakfast, we pulled into port - which was quite possibly the warmest welcome I've ever received. Keep in mind, for the past nine days, we've seen only the ocean for miles in every direction - so seeing the lights, sky scrapers, and mountains of Japan was a ridiculously miraculous sight to begin with. Upon docking, we were greeted with a welcome performance by a Japanese band - they even played the 'James Bond Theme' and John Philip Sousa's 'Stars and Stripes forever'.

Thought #1: Would American's greet Japanese visitors with music that defines their country as opposed to our own? Yea... I didn't think so either.

As Kate and I were getting our stuff together for the day, our friend Pete (an engineering major at Colorado School for Mines), who was spending the day with us, stopped by to drop off his pack... and camera, (as he was receiving a gift from the Japanese diplomats on behalf of the student body of the ship). At about 9 am, we were all paged to go up to the union for our diplomatic briefing and welcome ceremony. The energy in the union was palatable - literally. We couldn't wait for the ship to clear and get INTO Japan!

The welcome reception included a procession of about 25-30 Japanese individuals ranging from performers to diplomats to the Kimono Queen (yes, you read that right). There were three traditional performances as well as a welcome speech by the Kobe minister of tourism.

Cultural Note #1: In Japan, gift giving is a very important part of any visit or nice act: in fact, there are these watermelons grown in Japan that are no larger than your two hands put together, which cost over $100... and no one eats it. One person will receive it and have a 'debt' to pay to someone else, who will have a 'debt' to someone else. I mean, by the 5th person, the watermelon's ripe, so someone has to eat it. It's also very improper to show up to a home and not have a gift... but the host normally gives the visitor a gift as well.

With that in mind, our Dean was presented with authentic replicas of samurai swords... our ship's Captain was given three gigantic bottles of sake (Japanese rice wine)... and Pete and another girl from the ship received these coat-like kimono's on behalf of the student body. Our diplomatic briefing wasn't nearly as fun, as the American man had no idea what he was talking about in reference to currency exchange, which caused chaos among the ship board community. In actuality, the Japanese do only use Yen, but there are some ATM's for American cards and more expensive shops accept U.S. credit cards.

Finally... after waiting in line, we swiped our cards and were on Japanese soil... well. Pete and I made it off - Kate's ID card stopped working... so we waited for her to get a new ID made, which took about a half an hour. Then it was off for currency exchange, and buying postcard stamps!

Cultural Note #2: On the ship, it had been rumored that Japan sells everything in vending machines. This is only half true. Upon getting off the ship, there are drink vending machines everywhere. You can buy any beverage from a vending machine: juice, water, coffee drinks, weird flavored yogurt/water/milk and even beer and sake. It was weird to see vending machines selling 'beer and liquor'. Even more interesting were the vending machines that sold batteries. However, finding food selling vending machines was absolutely impossible - - ever now and then a kit-kat bar could be found... but no crackers, chips, or any 'vending machine' type food. Oh, and a side note on kit-kat bars - they have about 5 different variations in Japan - bitter chocolate, white chocolate, original, mini's, and APPLE. Yes. That's right... apple. I bought one... but haven't sampled it yet. More after I taste it.

Finally in Kobe: Pete, Kate and I walked into Kobe, after a nice Japanese lady stopped on her bike and asked us where we were looking for, past a park, the flower clock (this giant working clock made out of flowers) and into downtown... finding ourselves in the indoor shopping district. It's like an open air market connected with a common roof. No doors to enter the mall... but all of the stores were separate like in America.

Cultural Note #3: Everyone in Japan smokes. Okay... maybe not everyone... but it felt like more so than America. They sell cigarettes in vending machines and can smoke nearly anywhere - in the open part of the mall and as soon as you get off the train.

We walked around, in a vain effort to find food, and finally gave in to this Japanese/American-ish cuisine. Our meals were pretty tame, although mine had octopus in it... but for desert we had this mound of shaved ice over jelly drenched in a green tea sauce and whole black beans... oh and a small spoonful of ice cream. It was surprisingly delicious. After we had been properly fed and watered, we explored Kobe, ending up down some fabulous alleys complete with sushi places and small stores. Afterwards, we combed the streets - ending up in a Pachinko parlor (I guess it's a kind of gambling, but as far as Pete, who was the only one brave enough to try, could see, it was just a way to put money in, get some tiny silver balls and then have them taken away by a really boring pinball machine!) After that, we found the highlight of our day: PICTURE BOOTHS! Only, the picture booths in Japan aren't just 4 frames of funny faces. Nope. You can pick 4, 6, or 8 backgrounds and then can add digital items afterwards. It was the most fun ever and the moment I track down a scanner, they'll be shared!

Next, we visited the tourist bureau to find out how we could climb Mt. Rokko. The lady there (who, in retrospect didn't know what she was doing), told us it wasn't possible to climb Mt. Rokko any more and that we had to take the tram up to see it. However, to get to the tram, you had to take a train and catch a bus first. Well... first... we took the wrong train. Then, on Pete's advising (I'll never trust Pete's instinct ever again!) we got off at the wrong stop... but eventually we made it to the tram stop.

By the time we got up Mt. Rokko (the tram, by the way, is very nice, save the fact that for about 20 seconds you think your life is going to end when you see the headlights of the other car on your track - a split track was made only large enough for the two cars to pass each other - nice job at saving materials!) the sun had set and lights were seen for miles in every direction. I've never seen so many lights! (We also saw a gigantic beetle bug that flew and had weird antennas and Kate and I screamed like little girls!).

We stayed up at the top for a long while, surrounded by lights - and were able to spot our ship. It was a gorgeous view that pictures will never be able to do justice.
Prior to our return tram, we ran into some girls from Semester at Sea who were obviously drunk. Not just obviously... they were also passing around their wine bottles getting utterly obliterated. Now, I realize that there are two types of people on the ship: those that are here for a party around the world and those that are hear to travel and learn. No wonder foreign countries have such skewed images of America - between our entertainment media and girls like that... it was a sobering experience.

Upon our return to Kobe, with our tummies yearning for fresh sushi, we began our search for a cheap dinner. Due to a great amount of luck, a young gentleman asked us what we were looking for. Immediately, after hearing our question, he began asking other Japanese people and began walking us to our destination. We must have stopped at least 15 times as he continued to ask directions of his fellow man. Over the course of the 15-20 minute brisk walk, we found out that our make-shift Japanese tour guide had studied abroad in Great Brittan while in college and was currently a 25 year old... business man? I'm not sure we ever learned his current occupation. Either way, by the time we got to sushi, we had all agreed to buy him dinner. The food kept coming - appetizer, soup, sake, sushi after sushi after sushi and a cup of after-dinner-green tea. It ended up being 1500 yen/person (a little less than $15 American) - however, during the meal, Kate and I were a little worried as to the price (the signs read a lot higher!). I ate all of my sushi except for the sea urchin, as by that point I was full... and intimidated by the bright orange mush in seaweed. Yep. I ate squid, octopus, a lot of fish I don't know and some scrambled egg-esque sushi. It was delicious. The hot sake wasn't that great (especially after having good sake later on!) The restaurant itself was very small with stools to sit on around the 2 sided bar that the 'sushi master' (well, I'm sure that's not what he's called, but that's what I'm going to call him) stood behind.

After dinner and bidding our friend goodbye, we stopped by the Japanese version of 7-11 and bought ridiculous Japanese snack foods. Upon our exit, we ran into some SAS kids who had come from the baseball game and were partying nearby. We stopped by the festivities for a few minutes - a bar in the basement that had a Norman Rockwell painting hanging below a Budweiser Lamp (irony!). It was a cramped room with about 20 SAS-ers, and not the experience we were looking for, at all! We left rather quickly to peruse a late-night stroll through the park near our port. By the end of the day, we were zoinked and happy to catch some Z's for the next day.

Observation #1: Japan is very quite. No one honks their horn. No one talks on their cell phones - in fact... the cell phones are larger than those in the US but that's because of how much you can do on them - sending full emails, internet, purchasing train tickets, you name it. And everyone text messages - not calls. Many of the phones also have 'key chain' like baubles attached.

The people are ridiculously friendly and accommodating. I would love to see an American get off their bike or go out of their way to help a puzzled foreigner find their way.

Day 2: Rain, rain, go away!

Woke up the second day to lots and lots of rain. Kobe has been called the sister city of Seattle... but I don't think it's because of the rain - it's more how the city is set up. Japan also has an exquisite public transportation system - busses and trains (parking is very hard to come by and exceptionally expensive!)

Anyway... My friend Brie and I had already planned on spending the day walking around the city and doing some shopping (ok.. My one girl day!) It was actually perfect, as we were all very tired and only shopped for a few hours, got a great lunch (some seafood salad appetizer, soup, green tea and seafood/vegetable tempura) and came back for a nap as we were all a little grouchy. Later, Pete and I headed out for dinner and ran into a group of people... however... they were taking absolutely forever stopping at the ATM... so Pete and I went to find food as were starving! We ended up walking around Kobe... bought a very small bottle of blueberry wine then stopped at this random food vendor and ate this omelet type food with vegetables and soy sauce and other things that I'm not sure what they were. As we were eating outside, sipping our wine, this nice lady from the nearby restaurant came out and brought us wet towels to wipe our hands on.

Culture Note #4: The Japanese always use damp towels to wipe their hands on (we never could find out if it was something to be done at the beginning, end, or throughout the meal... we tried the throughout thing and no one complained...)

We were still starving after our omlete-esque appetizer, so we went into the restaurant which had given us the towels, to order a real dinner.

We settled on these egg roll looking things and some dumplings. The food came and there were a variety of sauces to try - our favorite was this red paste which was salty and very spicy. The food was delicious and we really enjoyed it.

Culture Note #5: The bathrooms in Japan are both Western and... traditional? Non-western? Ok.. They're holes in the floor. At the restaurant we were at, they only had a western (fine by me!) but the cool thing was, the toilet seats of the Western's normally are heated. Weird. But wonderful! (Obviously, I had to use the bathroom after dinner!)

Post-dinner, we strolled around Kobe with no real direction other than going down whatever streets caught our eyes. We ended up in China town (weird, I know... China town in Japan in only 4 or 6 blocks from the main shopping district in Kobe). We got pictures with our designated birth year mascots (mine was the tiger) which were actual gifts FROM China. Weird place. We also stumbled upon an Arabian Night restaurant/night club. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of it - but it was hysterical! The next day, as we were planning to get up early for Kyoto, we decided to call it a night and took the train back to port.

Day 3: Kyoto and the Dessert District

Note: Day 3 was probably my favorite day in Japan, however, I've had such a difficult time putting everything down... it seems choppy... however, I promise the stories will be told much better in person!

I woke up early and realized that I had no idea what was proper attire for the temples we were going to visit that day... and lucky too, as Pete (who had been to Kyoto the day before with SAS) was still asleep (not good when you're going to finish your trip plans over breakfast!) Anyway.. Worked it out... ran into our best good friend Erich (who's from California - actually about an hour away from my roommate) and after realizing he had no plans, invited him along. As were finishing up breakfast, another guy comes up and asks to share our table. Victor, turns out, was headed to Kyoto and then to Mt. Fuji to climb before sunset. Erich and I really wanted to climb, but we had a scheduled trip to Hiroshima for Day 4, but Pete was free - so the two were going to climb together.
We reconvened in my room and headed out - 3 guys over 6'2" with their climbing packs, and little me in my gaucho pants and little, blue purse. Haha. It was a really funny sight.

We caught the train to Sannomyia station, then the JR line to Kyoto. Luckily, Pete, although he smelled like rotten garbage due to his still damp shoes from the previous day's rain, befriended a young Japanese man on the train who told us where we needed to switch trains (he... by the way, smelled amazing). We had many a laugh through the day at Pete's expense.

Upon our arrival to Kyoto, I purchased some HUGE purple/black grapes (which the Japanese only eat the inside and spit out the skins... however... we found them tasty!) Pete and Victor went to work out details for their climb, and Erich and I explored a side street that Pete and Victor thought looked cool and wanted to meet us there. Unfortunately... it was only pretty at the entrance - it was a Pachinko parlor, a bunch of dumpsters, a closed restaurant and a dead end.

Observation #2: Finding trash cans in Japan is terribly difficult - however, the streets are exceptionally clean. No idea how... but it is.

Anyway... about 30-45 min later, Pete and Victor finally reappeared and we started walking to the nearest temple, Higashi Honganji which was on our way to our main goal for the day: Kiyomizu Temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. (The Kiyomizu Temple is known for a number of picturesque views - especially in the fall, it's architecture and balconies, and means "pure water" - keep reading for more on that). On our way there, we stopped at a 7-11 and picked up some food... I purchased some crazy green tea/chocolate cups (kind of like Reese's peanut butter cups). After walking through a flock of pigeons, a few of which perched themselves upon the guys' shoulders (thank goodness they didn't come near me), we washed our hands with water from the fountain using a cup on a stick and pouring the water over your hands and onto the pebbles below.

Kept walking and took a random side street up a hill where we ended up walking past a huge cemetery - and the cemeteries there aren't like those in the U.S. - their entirely stone and right on top of one another - no grass at all - with gift offerings at the base (sometimes there are flowers, sometimes there are toys or gifts or even sake and beer bottles). Most Japanese people are Buddhist or Shinto, and thus, as part of their reincarnation belief, have no desire to keep their earthly bodies, get cremated. The hill we were on, in every direction as far as the eye could see were these memorials.
Finally, we reached the Kiyomizu Temple. We saw some Japanese girls in traditional kimonos (and were kind enough to get a picture with us!) Again, we washed our hands and learned that it's tradition to get God's attention by clapping your hands twice before bowing your head in prayer. There were prayer shrines everywhere - gongs to ring, incense to burn, prayer requests to write on rice paper and let dissolve in water - all at a price. There was a monument structure in honor of Buddha - sandals representing Buddha, a small sword, which if you can life it, you are a man, and a much larger sword that if you can lift it, you are enlightened. I, am a man, ladies and gentlemen... however, I am not yet enlightened. Erich, one of the guys with me, swore he could have lifted the enlightened sword if he had better footing... I guess that means he's not enlightened.

We ended up walking through the prayer 'shopping' district (for lack of a better word) - literally - everything was a prayer for love, wisdom, wealth, etc. - again - all at a price. Next we veered off the path onto, what we found out later, was a hiking trail. Beautiful, serene, wooded area... such a nice change of pace. We hiked to the top of our portion of the hill... and then realized we were getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and headed back down the hill. Upon our return, we walked through more of the shrine and down past the three spouts of streaming water. There was a really long line to drink from these streams as each one represented something: health, wealth, and... well, after conferring with a number of other people who visited the temple, none of us can recall the third fountain. I'll look it up next time internet isn't 40 cents a minute. Yet again, blessings only come at a price... so we all by passed it and continued down the hill in pursuit of lunch.

We had decided early on that we would go down the hill into the surrounding shopping area to pick up souvenirs for home and sample some food (Pete had been in Kyoto the day before and discovered this magnificent sampling area). Unfortunately... everything we sampled seemed to be these pastries filled with bean paste... which you can only eat so many before you want real food. I've found that in Japan, real food is always separate from shopping... no big deal - just different from America. However, this time, we were all starving (it was about 3pm by this point) and wanted a real meal. Erich and Victor had already purchased the model swords they wanted (boys)... Pete had stocked up for all of his cousins... and I had gotten the things I was looking for (I'm really not at liberty to say at this moment...) so we wandered further down the hill. We stopped at one restaurant, however, after closer inspection of the menu, we realized it was a very American-ized institution... so we continued on... and into... the dessert district. You'd think it would be heaven, but when all you want is a real meal, there is no number of samples that will hit the spot. We ended up buying some rice candy that was seasoned like meat (I swear! We didn't know what it was for 5 minutes... it was sticky, taffy-like and a salty/savory flavor!). Found a post office, where we purchased some stamps and some of the guys shipped their swords home (especially since we couldn't bring them on the ship). Finally, we crossed the river that many of the local people were situated, as it was almost sunset (and very beautiful). We wandered down the first alley by the river, trying to find a decent priced dining facility (preferably with outside seating - because you could sit on cushions and watch the sunset!) however, they were all ridiculously expensive (we're talking 40-80 US dollar meals) - and one place even had a seating fee (7 US dollars). So... yea... we moved on and eventually we found ourselves in an open mall region, like the one in Kobe, and quickly found a decent looking eatery.

Culture Note #6: Japanese restaurants always have pictures or plastic models of all of the food on the menu in a window or on a board outside of their establishment - complete with prices! It's super helpful for we, travelers, as you can point to what you want - and so that you know what your food should look like... to be able to venture a guess as to what it actually is...

Upon our entrance into this restaurant... well... we had to go down a flight of stairs... and found ourselves in a pub-like atmosphere with a kitchen staff and servers who shouted loudly to one another whenever a customer entered, exited or ordered. We ended up ordering about 8 entrees between the four of us and a small pitcher of hot sake (which was a much better taste experience than the first time!) We had some tempura, a soup thing, some beef dish with a sunny-side up egg over it, cheese wheels (AMAZING!!!! With this incredible spicy peanut sauce!), and Edamame (cold, seasoned soy beans that you eat the bean out of the pod).

Post dinner, I had a lovely bathroom experience - hooray heated toilet! My bathroom came complete with anything you could desire - lotion, mouthwash (in a pump dispenser and dixie cups for cleanliness), a book to read, a book to write in and leave your mark, and... well... that's about all for now.

After dinner and a very cheerful send off (the cooks were kind enough to fill up our nalgenes with ice cold water!) we wandered the streets a little longer, enjoying the city, hit up another 7-11 (Pete and Victor were trying to stock up on items for their impending Fuji climb). After some earlier recommendations, we tried to track down a public bath, as it is a very common social experience (don't worry - they're separated by gender) unfortunately, the one we had been directed to had closed a half an hour earlier... it's on the list of things to do in the future... a nice long hour and a half soak sounds phenomenal after walking as much as we had!

Finally, we decided it was about time to head back to the station - and on our way to purchase our tickets home, we noted a sign for the 'sky gardens' which, of course, we had to look into. After about 9 escalators, we found ourselves at the top of the terminal with a breathtaking view of Kyoto. I must say, it was probably the most romantic sight I've ever seen - and many Japanese couples seemed to think so as well - snuggled on their respective benches or pressed into one another in shadowy corners. So... I had the three guys and we took some good pictures of the skyline - but no snuggling for us!!! Instead, we filled the affection void with a ridiculous amount of doughnuts a few escalator stops down (I had a strawberry French vanilla cream - it was phenomenal... and I don't even like doughnuts all that much!)

Anyway... went to buy our tickets... and Pete and Victor found out that the last train for their Mt. Fuji expedition had left about an hour ago. Silly boys - they worked out the details of how to get from the station to the mountain, but not what time the last train left. Yep. And they're smart kids, too! Victor was meeting friends in Tokyo and decided to go ahead to the city, while Pete, who had a trip scheduled on our last day in Japan, decided to come back to Kobe with Erich and I.

Our train ride home was quite - it's weird when you're the only people talking - everyone else is texting on their phones or sleeping. We did, unfortunately, witness an argument between two business men... no idea what it was over, but it was only a loud exchange of words and a shove or two.

Cultural Note #7: In Japanese culture, your business colleagues are your family. Business men stay out late for dinner with their co-workers and spend all day with them... and yea. As Americans, we value our time away from work - involved with our friends and our separate community - while in Japan, it's just the opposite. Work engulfs peoples lives - they have no separate social structure.

Got home and instead of heading straight to bed, we tossed our stuff on the pier and dangled our legs over looking at the perfect night sky - a half-crescent moon - a bunch of flying fish, a few waves, and even a shooting star. I'd tell you my wish, but then it won't come true... and I'd really like for it to come true... especially as it was my first shooting star!

Day 4: Hiroshima, a day of loss.

So, We came in from the pier far too late - Kate and I went to bed at about 1:30 (Erich and Pete stayed up until about 2:30). Unfortunately, we had to be up around the 5 o'clock hour - well, Erich, Kate and I for our trip to Hiroshima. We hopped on the bus at 6 am and drove 5 hours to the city of Hiroshima. The drive, though uneventful (I got a niiiiice long nap!) was gorgeous scenery - green everywhere, rice fields, mountains everywhere - and tunnels!

There's not a lot you can write about Hiroshima. I mean, obviously, you could write novel after novel about the tragedy and loss and how depressing the situation was. You could write about the history of Japan and the events leading into it. But I can't tell you the words that will make a lump rise in your throat about the death of a 3 year old riding outside on his tricycle, of families who only could recognize their barely breathing relatives by their voices. I can't describe to you the pictures of burns and devastation - the photographer who went into Hiroshima that day only took 5 pictures - and the first was only after wrestling with himself for a half hour. It was sad. Many children had been evacuated months before the bomb was dropped, due to the potential of an attack (as Hiroshima had a large military base). After the bomb, so many of those children were instant orphans. Above everything that I saw that day, that was the only thing that made me choke up. Or the defects of unborn infants. Or the children who died from leukemia or cancer 10, 12 years later. That got to me. Pearl Harbor, where I was about 2 weeks ago, was the entrance of Americans into the war... and Hiroshima was the end result. The city itself has rebuilt exquisitely - they have their own baseball team and everything. But, in the middle of the city stands the A-bomb dome - what used to be a major office building - the dome had been a green-blue and melted upon the detonation. In fact, everyone in that building perished. 8:15 am. Imagine... just starting your day and then not knowing what hit. I mean, I guess if you're going to go, the initial blast wouldn't have been bad... but the aftermath? Hanging on for moments, hours, days, even weeks? How hopeless, how terrified, how alone? Imagine, just for a moment the thoughts you would have in the aftermath of some explosion - pain of your own injuries... fear for those you love... not knowing what happened or what will happen or what is happening to your family and friends?
Just imagine.
However.
On the other hand, Japan was in the midst of a war - it wasn't completely off guard. Yes, surprise and a horrifying event - but after seeing both sides... Pearl Harbor? No warning... just a lazy Sunday morning... not being in a war but being thrust in? Which is worse? Living in fear or in a false sense of security? I'm not sure. But what I know is this: the Mayor of Hiroshima sends letters every year to those nations with nuclear weapons - no one listens, but he still tries - out of the memory of those who perished and are still suffering. What I know is man kind is brutal. We don't play by rules. Each culture has their own set that they like to follow, but don't like to tell the other team. War isn't between people - it's by ideals - by governments - by things larger than themselves. Individually, we're all the same - different pigmentation - different words and backgrounds - but basically, we're all the same cells and genes and eating, breathing structures. One person can resolve to reach peace... and yea... that IS one person... but in a War, one person is overshadowed by an institution. An ideal.
And what is the ideal fighting for? To be more like us? For personal gain? Domination? Because we're right and they're wrong?
I guess I'd like to have a better understanding of war. Whoever thought physical fighting was the solution was a complete idiot. I'm not saying that I agree with every other culture, and I surely don't believe in genocide... but what I am saying is that peace isn't just a one person position. It's not even a job. It's like the pep squad - only effective if everyone is involved in it and believes in the cause. World peace will most likely never occur - I'm not being pessimistic - its just some prejudices run to deep - some vanity and power struggles to ingrained - the thirst for control outweighs the satisfaction of sleeping easy at night.
I know that two great tragedies occurred during WWII - beyond from anything that happened in Germany. Two countries lost their innocence - they lost the ability to know that everything would be alright and that there were always shooting stars to look forward to.
And the saddest part? Do you realize what is the saddest part? How little we discuss what happened or try to prevent it from occurring again - not to protect our young, innocent generation (who, by the way, are given a very watered down version of what happened) but to make the exceptionally high loss of life not in vain.

I think my rambling is done for the time being; I really hope you take a moment to reflect on what America, war, peace, and tolerance mean to you. And if you get a chance, please share a little history with someone young - text books are a poor teacher - stories and experiences mean so much more.

Oh, almost forgot, after Hiroshima, went to Shukkeien, a beautiful Buddhist garden that my Dad would've loved - a lake, bridges, plants galore (and GIGANTIC SPIDERS!!!). However, to continue with a day of loss, in a freak accident, my camera slipped out of my hand and landed, most likely on the lens, as it would not retract or go out. All was not lost, however, my memory card (with ALL of my unloaded Japan pictures!) and my battery were still in working order. And if you're going to buy a new camera, Japan's the place to do it.
Called Dad that night (or rather, his morning) to let him know about my upcoming large purchase... and I must say, he has the best words ever to cheer a girl up (obviously, I was upset, as I am more careful than most, and I was trying to figure out what I had done to get such bad karma!) So... Dad, (I know you're reading this!) Thank you so much - you always have the right words to say to make everything ok - and as soon as I get back from China, I'm posting pictures for you!!! (P.S. Jeramy loves GOM!)

Day 5: Everything will always be alright, when we go shopping!

As planned, Kate and I went down to the shopping district early the next morning to buy my new camera - which took practically no time at all (and actually, the step up model was cheaper that what I paid for mine a couple months ago in the states). We did a little more shopping (I'm really not at liberty to tell you all of the purchases, as those will be saved for a fabulous story for when I get home!) Afterwards, Kate and I went our respective ways for our home visits. I met the daughter of my host at the train station - she had worked with a Japanese-French organization and enjoyed the DaVinci Code (book... hadn't seen the movie - no loss there!) Once the other SAS girl, Pricisilla (from Canada) joined us, we took another train and a steep walk up a hill to Hana's house - our host for the afternoon. Hana, who was a spry 86 years old, has been hosting semester at sea students for over 20 years! She took us in and we discussed our favorite seasons, American TV, food, pop culture, our dreams and aspirations, where she's been and where we were going, and shared some delicious food! We had a pastery filled with a sticky rice paste and cold green tea (perfect on a hot day!) then an apple pie/torte and finally, a Japanese pear (which is DELICIOUS!!! It's much firmer than an American pear - it's more like an apple with a much milder taste).
At the end of our stay, we exchanged information and bid our hostesses farewell and many thanks! Upon arrival back in Kobe, I headed straight for the ship to make on-board time. No problems there... we all got on safe and sound and left right after on ship time due to the impending Typhoon.

All in all, Japan was fabulous. Definitely a place I'd like to visit again - it is so safe and the people are ridiculously hospitable! I've noted a few areas I would like to visit the next time in Japan, and have a few, simple language notes posted at the bottom for all of you to learn for the next time YOU'RE in Japan :) Just a thought...

Much love always - and a very special thanks to my friends at home who sent me mail at our last port!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Quick Japanese Phrases (spelling... most likely incorrect, pronunciations are correct):
Arigat (ah-re-gat-oh) = thank you
Arigat ximus (ah-re-gat-oh zi-mos) = thank you (formal)
Ohayo (Ohio) = good morning
Kon-ichi wa (koh-knee-chee-wah) = good evening
Sumimasen (Sue-me-mas-en) = Excuse me
Hai (Hi) = Yes
Iie (ee) = No
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