Fond ‘hello’ from wonderful Japan trip

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June 1, 2016
Today is Wednesday. We left the office at about 1 p.m. Myra forgot her rings and earrings but noticed before we got to Agra. We were in no hurry so we returned home. While there, I topped off my memosa.
In Oklahoma City before 3 p.m. Stopped by Apple Store in Penn Square Mall to get the keyboard for my iPad.
Checked into hotel. Took a short nap. Went to eat at Outback on 74th. Myra had filet and lobster. I had a seven-ounce oz sirloin. Our salads were spectacular. My meal was just OK.
Myra had the idea to see if Jim and Evelyn were at home. We found them and stopped by. Had a nice chat and some beers. Returned hone at 9:30. We have to get up at 5 a.m.
Myra is getting cold feet about staying with host families. I think it was the alcohol.

June 3, 2016
Weather became a travel issue for the team. Our first plane that was supposed to leave OKC at 8:30 a.m. didn’t leave until after 11 a.m. That was about the time our flight from Dallas-Fort Worth was supposed to be leaving.
We stayed on AA 3270, though late, and, with Myra’s help, switched to AA 61 DFW to Narita Tokyo.
We had lunch at Fudruckers at the DFW airport. Very nice. Our team gets along so well.
Once on the Boing 777-200 in Dallas, without delay, we began taxiing. Again, weather delayed take off for more then an hour.
We were to arrive at Narita at 2:30 p.m. and now it will be after 6 p.m. before we arrive.
It won’t be the first or the last time Tsuyoshi-San has dealt with flight delays. Tonight, assuming someone actually meets us at the airport, we’ll be staying in a Japanese hotel tonight with a bunch of tired kids. My guess is they’ll want to walk around and see sights. We’ll se. Myra and I are game.
Interesting how the flight from DFW to Tokyo almost goes back over OKC then Colorado up to British Columbia, Alaska then across to Japan. I guess that’s the shortest route.

June 4, 2016
Today is our first full day here. We began with a 6 a.m. breakfast at the Nikko Narita Hotel.
We had a nice dinner last evening. Everyone was quite tired. We arrived in Narita/Tokoyo airport after 6 p.m., spent quite a bit of time working our way through the airport and through customs.
Once through customs, 6Pack, Kiochi and another host gathered us all up. The three have been taking care of us in the non-stop sense.
Dinner was a buffet at the hotel. The three hosts joined us. We enjoyed a good traditional Japanese dinner. It was complete with susumu, rice, etc.
6Pack asked me if I wanted a beer, sake or something. I asked if it would be possible to have a cold sake. It came and was wonderful. Our guests filled my small glass and we toasted “COMPAI!”
Once dinner and sake was gone, only the hosts and I remained. I had one more sake and they had beers and we continued our chat.
This morning, we were to be gathered in the hotel lobby by 5:50 a.m. We had breakfast completed with several types of fish non does, rice, miso soup. Very nice.
We left by train at 7 a.m. and have been on numerous trains, a boat, and now the bullet train en route to Kurikoma, where we will meet our first host family.
The train took us from about 40 miles east of Tokyo to the east side where Kamakura is located.
We visited the ancient city with perhaps a 50-foot tall Buddha clad with copper. It developed over the past 600 years, an attractive patina.
The flowers and koi ponds were lovely. The temples were beautiful and we walked through a cave where many of the God’s statues were chiseled and where people have placed tiny soldiers in exchange for their prayers being heard.
We visited a Tokyo “China Town” where we looked around and found a traditional Japanese restaurant. We took off our shoes and sat down around the table to enjoy lunch Japanese style.
We were taken to Genzu Street in Tokyo, much similar to Rodeo Drive in LA. Much shopping but every thing is too expensive. Today is the first time in my life I kind of wanted to spend $6,000 on a Seiko watch.
Afterwards, we took the Bullet train on our way to Kuirikoma. The train alledgedly travels at 200 mph. I’ve not noticed it going nearly that fast.

June 6, 2016
When the bullet train got up to speed, it seemed to take no time to get to Kurikoma. We met our host there and were driven to their home in Kurihara, only 20 minutes away.
We are hosted by a wonderful small family: Takashi, husband; Kiku, wife; Toki, 9-year-old son; and Sake, rabbit. They live in a moderate, two-story home in town. They are undergoing an expansion that will provide them more useful living space and room to add a piano for Toki downstairs and additional space plus laundry upstairs.
Toki is a lovable little boy. He loves his rabbit, tropical fish and turtle. He takes very good care of them all, including weighing food and providing Sake with a clean home each morning before school.
Kiku typically works outside the home but has been ill lately and stays at home to rest. She doesn’t seem ill. She is beautiful and cheerful. Her English is the best of the family but all know enough English to be conversant, thank goodness.
Our section of the home is just as one enters the front door. To the left is a room with an expressive Toto toilet — common here — and immediately to the right is our bedroom, complete with pallets on the floor. It’s actually quite comfortable but that may be because I’ve been dead tired both nights.
At this time of year, it gets light outside at about 4 a.m. Sunday morning I woke then and took a walk around this town of about 6,000. I found no trash. I could not even find a cigarette butt to pick up.
Most yards were extremely well manicured with well-groomed gardens for providing fresh veggie. Of course, in any culture, one is bound to have sluggards. There are some here but not many who don’t take very special care of their property.
On the schedule for Sunday was a “visit to a bakery.” That’s all we knew.
Takashi drove us there, about 20 minutes away. What we found was a small establishment with a few neighboring abodes nestled in a quite area surrounded with mountains. The proprietor greeted us as the first guests of the day.
His name is Satoh, a small man of about 70 years with a big smile and boundless energy.
Satoh took us to his home just across the street and the two things he was most anxious to show Myra and me were his two toilets with motion detectors. When the door is opened, the lid raises for men.
The other item was the shrine to his deceased wife and father. Satoh’s home is not large, yet more than 20 percent of the square footage was committed to the memory and honor of his loved one who had passed. I have to admit to having a lump in my throat from thinking about how, after all these years, Satoh remains single and devoted to the memory of his wife and father.
Satoh owns the bakery. His business card says, in Japanese, “good bread.” He introduced us to his staff, to whom he is loyal as he is to his family. It was clear they are lifetime members of the Satoh bakery legacy.
Though Satoh has the bakery, what he really has is party central for the area.
Once our team began showing up, they were given chores, Some were helping to make noodles, some bread, some preparing vegetables and Myra and I were taking photos and minding the beer keg.
Soon a group of high school kids arrived and the Kurikoma Rotarians came to help. Of 18 members, 11 showed up to help with this hospitality project.
Most knew enough English. Many knew it well.
We noticed several split bamboo trees, each about 20 feet long. Satoh handed me gloves and a hammer and I was to knock out the bands that show up about every two feet inside the tree. Then comes a guy with a right angle grinder to smooth out the inside of the split tree.
We had seen photos of this activity from earlier Wings trips. They make a slide, about 50 feet long, from the bamboo, run water down the slide and pour noodles into the water, all down the slide are people with chop sticks and bowls trying to catch the noodles. It’s a traditional activity and much fun. All team members enjoyed the time.
All the while, Kurikoma Rotarians were minding the beer keg and cooking barbecue. The gas grill was 6 inches wide and 15 inches long and sat on the table. On it they grilled shrimp, scallops, fish, squid, octopus, chitterlings, meat from a pork neck, beef tongue, Kobe beef, Japanese sausage and other exotic items. We tried and enjoyed each one.
They also had a paper carton of something, it said “sehyo chu” and I asked if it was Sake. They said it was not but poured me a taste. It was only slightly flavored and tasted much like water. I found it was 25 percent alcohol.
Easy boy!
Remember, I’d only asked if the carton contained Sake. I never asked for it. In five minutes arrived a pickup with a styrofoam container filed with ice and one large bottle of the most delicious sake I’ve tasted.
We ate barbecue, drank,visited and played volleyball and badminton all afternoon, We had arrived at Satoh’s place at 10 a.m.
It was beautiful weather and a wonderful event. We were treated like very special and honored guests. In mid-afternoon we enjoyed performances of Japanese dancing and dragon dance.
Tradition, during the dragon dance, is to walk up to the dragon and put your head in the mouth of the dragon. It is for good luck and safety. Everyone at the party took a turn.
In the evening, our hosts prepared spaghetti and curry and rice, we chose the curry and enjoyed it very much. An unusual addition was venison sashimi with soy and garlic. Though deer are rare around here and venison a delicacy, this was not my favorite part of the meal.
It was not late when we arrived home but we were tired from a long day nonetheless.

June 7, 2016
Yesterday, we woke up again to a nice breakfast and left at 8:30 a.m. to arrive at Hakuou High School, in Kurikoma, at 9. We were greeted at the school entrance by the principal, Miura, and escorted upstairs to the conference room.
He explained the school and how it is different from other Japanese high schools. Students enter at about age 16 as first-graders. In the first grade, they are instructed on basics like in U.S. schools. In the second grade, they choose a particular field of study.
They can choose, for example: business, computer science, health care, horticulture, agriculture
and mechanics. Once they choose, they are emerged into this field and the school seems to spare no expense to see the student has every tool available to learn the trade. The instruction staff is young and very connected to each child.
After the introduction to the school, we joined a classroom where activities were provided to eliminate the language barrier and get the Japanese students and our team interacting. I must say, our team is exuberant and interacting with anyone — anywhere — is very natural.
I was pulled away by the English teacher to basically lecture his class. They wanted to know about where, specifically, we were from? How we came to visit Japan? Why and what we had been doing so far this trip?
They wanted to know about my family, about our children and grandchildren and asked questions about our team members. The ages and gender split. They were entertained as I told them about some of Kory’s hog-hunting adventures.
Afterwards, we went to the agriculture barn. Of course, the principal joined us and took part in arranging and serving us lunch. The students prepared the lunch of rice — of course — and a nice chicken soup.
Miura gave us each a sheet of cellophane which they dropped a portion of rice into. We were to wrap the rice into cellophane and form into a ball with some pressure. There were options of condiments we could flavor the rice with. Miura assisted as we transferred the rice from the Ceres wrap to a sheet of sea weed. It was yummy.
Once full, they showed us their greenhouses full of tomatoes and other veggies. The students demonstrated and were very proud of their achievements and insisted that we sample their produce. They even provided me a present of a handful of beautiful vine-ripe tomatoes. They must still be in my backpack. Should be good for breakfast soon.
The rest of the afternoon, we were on the baseball field. The kids chose up teams, some Japanese and some of our kids on each team. We learned some of our kids had never played softball or baseball. Still, they did quite well and had a blast.
Anna made the first run of her lifetime and Michael hit his first home run. Even the principal played a couple of innings of baseball. He returned to his administrative job, then came back to throw some pitches to give kids batting practice.
We left the school at 4 p.m. and gathered back up at Tsuroshi’s store. Then to a traditional Japanese restaurant, in Kurikoma, for dinner. The fellowship was wonderful but the meal not the best. Enough said.
We walked, after dinner to a Karaoke bar about five minutes away. We had only an hour and a half but our team absolutely got the good out of it. It was non-stop entertainment. I laughed so hard it hurt.
We have Sarah, Anna and Morgan, aka the Three Stooges, who sang song after song complete with jest urges, dance and drama. We were impressed as Nathan, our team member who taught himself Japanese with only the use of his cell phone. He sang a Japanese song complete with only karaoke words in Japanese. Wow!
Not to be out done, Jackson sang an original a capella.
At 9 p.m., we had to leave to return home with our hosts. I have no doubt those kids could have sung all night.
Today, we leave our host families for yet another adventure. We go to the Matsushima Islands for mountain climbing and sightseeing then to Ichinoseki area to meet up with our new host families.
We will be disbursed through three different towns along the highway toward the coast. The team will be scattered for a couple of days to join back in Sendai on Friday.
We are about an hour, by bullet train, north of Sendai City.

See this column next week for the rest of the story.