Well, here I am at Haneda International Airport, waiting for my flight to Toronto where I will then catch my flight home to Boston. There were limited shuttle buses from the hotel to the airport, so I’ve arrived here quite early. With this extra time, I’ve been reading back through the blog and doing some reflecting.
Here are a few takeaways & things I’ve noticed, learned, and felt on my trip. These are all my own honest opinions and observations:
Though I was traveling by myself, which I have never done before in a country where I don’t speak the language, I never once felt alone or out of place. This is all thanks to everyone who helped to put this trip together.
To all of the SET-J members and to all of the amazing people who have helped and hosted me throughout this trip: Words cannot express the gratitude I have for you all. Hopefully someday in the near future I will be able to find the words to thank you, but right now, I am just in awe. I am so overwhelmed by the careful planning, organization, and the way everything flowed so smoothly. Our school is so lucky to have you, both in Boston and in Japan. Lawrence teachers are so fortunate to be part of a community that values their culture so much that they want to help teachers better understand where many of our students come from. I am beyond grateful for this trip of a lifetime!
To Akiko: I owe you one big, giant hug. And then a few more after that. Thank you for being the SET-J liaison and, most of all, for being my rock. I am indebted to you!
To Yuki and Mr. Nagano: Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything! Thank you for teaching me phrases, calming me down when I received e-mails in Japanese and panicked, and answering any and all questions that I had. I am so lucky to work with you!
Thanks for following along on my journey throughout Japan and my first ever personal blogging adventure. I had so much fun writing and reflecting. I hope you enjoyed reading! This is only Sayonara for now, not forever. I will definitely be back! There is so much more for me to experience in this incredible country.
With all that said, I’m excited to make my way home to my family!
My final full day in Japan was a combination of tradition, exploration, and a heartwarming reunion!
I started by meeting Mrs. Kida, a former Lawrence parent, at Shinagawa Station across the street from my hotel. She arrived in a beautiful kimono. We got on the train and headed towards Tokyo city center. Our first stop was a traditional tea ceremony. The set up for ceremony was running a little late, but it worked out well as it gave Mrs. Kida and I a chance to grab a cup of coffee and chat for a bit.
We headed to the tea ceremony and began by waiting in a traditional Japanese-style room. It was very reminiscent of when I stayed at Mrs. Kamei's family's guest apartment.
After that, our Master of the Tea Ceremony brought us to the tea room. In order to enter the tea room, you take off your shoes, crawl into the small door, and then turn on your knees and put your shoes up against the wall outside the room. I learned that the door to the tea room is small because samurais had swords, and the swords would not fit into the door. The tea room is a place of peace, so no weapons are allowed. Samurais would need to leave their weapons outside in order to enter.
After Mrs. Kida and I both entered, the Master of the tea ceremony had us sit on our knees. Mrs. Kida and the tea ceremony Master did this the entire time, but it was a struggle for me. I am so used to sitting criss-cross applesauce! However, I now see why most of my Japanese students come to the circle sitting on their knees. It's cultural.
The tea ceremony room is very small and intimate. We began by eating a kidney bean sweet treat in order to prepare our tastebuds for the somewhat bitter matcha tea that we would be drinking. It was in the shape of a flower and tasted delicious.
Next, the Master of the ceremony burned some incense in the charcoal pot that was in the tea room. After that, she made the tea. There was a very methodical and routine way she made the tea, including the direction in which she stirred, how she cleaned the drinking bowls, and even the amount of times she tapped the wooden scoopers that she used. It was mesmerizing to watch.
Then, I tried the matcha tea. Thanks to the kidney bean treat, it was not as bitter as I had anticipated.
While the Master conducted the ceremony very traditionally and seriously, she would stop and change her demeanor to more relaxed in order to explain what she was doing. This was the perfect combination as I felt like I had a real authentic experience with the sincerity with which she performed the ceremony, but also a more casual and understanding conversation about what was happening. After Mrs. Kida and I both tried the tea, the Master had me perform the ceremony!
It was such a lovely experience. After the tea ceremony, Mrs. Kida took me to the Tokyo Sky Tree. What a view!
On a clear and sunny day, you can see Mt. Fuji! You can also clearly point out schools as they have tracks and lap pools. Can you spot any schools in the photograph?
We enjoyed a sweet treat while overlooking the city of Tokyo. I had a Japanese sundae that had vanilla frozen yogurt with sponge cake squares, sweet black and red beans, roasted sweet bean jelly cubes, matcha, molasses, and fresh fruit. It was yummy!
After our treat, we did some shopping in small kiosk-style stores. Finally, we headed back to Shinagawa for the much anticipated...Lawrence Reunion!
Over 60 members of the Lawrence community in Japan came together to have a party! I learned that several of my former students and their families FLEW into Tokyo from other parts of Japan just for the day to join the celebration. I was nearly moved to tears. Do you recognize any of these faces?
Some former friends from Class KG (plus a few others!) in years past were at the reunion!
It was such a joy to see so many students and families. I had such a wonderful time talking about my experience in Japan with parents and catching up with so many Lawrence School students!
Thank you so much to Nao Otomo for organizing the reunion, and to everyone in Japan who traveled near and far to be there. This reunion was another indicator of just how special Lawrence School and our community really is and how fortunate I feel to be a part of it everyday. What a way to end my last full day of my trip!
Today was an absolute dream. I think the only thing that could have made today better was if Dominique, Liz, and Nora (my K Team!) were there to share it with me. Tokyo Showa Kindergarten is a magical place.
I met Tomoko, Naoki (former KG student!) and Kumi's mom, with Kumi just outside the school. It was so great to see them. I remembered Kumi dropping Naoki off to KG every morning in the stroller. Now, she is in Kindergarten!
The principal and staff were so incredibly welcoming. I immediately felt right at home. There are classrooms for 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, and 5-year-olds. I was able to spend a few minutes in the 3-year-old and 4-year-old rooms during early free choice time, but spent the majority of the school day in Kumi's Kindergarten classroom.
The day began with two Kindergarten classrooms seamlessly turning into one. There are sliding doors that open and close between two classrooms, making one giant play space for all the Kindergarten students to play. This happens for the first hour or hour and a half of each day. It was just like activity time in KG! There were blocks, dramatic play, toys, coloring, and many more activities.
After a delightfully long choice time, it was time for meeting. The teachers closed the sliding doors, and the students set up chairs in a semi-circle.
There are two student leaders, similar to a daily reporter in KG, that help throughout the day. They begin meeting by greeting students and teachers. Then, the teacher plays piano (!) and they sing a few songs. Not only did Kumi's teacher play the piano, but every teacher plays the piano as there are pianos in every room! The students LOVE to sing!
After meeting, I read Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems. It was really fun reading the same book to Ryo's class yesterday and then again to Kumi's class today. The Kindergarteners thought this book was hilarious, in true Kindergarten fashion! Once we read the story, we made Elephant and Piggie puppets.
The most fascinating thing about the puppets? The glue! In Japan, they have children's glue that is kept in a small jar. It is finger glue, so the children take a small amount, spread it with their finger, and then glue their paper or craft. The best part? The glue doesn't stay sticky on their hands! I've already started searching on Amazon to see if they have this glue in the states...
After making puppets, the children worked on another project where they were creating the milky way. They had already painted stars, so they cut them out and put them on long string to hang up to decorate the classroom.
Next, we went into a large open room where we had dancing and singing! There were many fun Japanese children's songs and dances they did, and I tried my best to follow along. My cheeks hurt by the end of it from smiling and laughing so much!
Lunch was after all that exercise. We gathered together back in the classroom and said, "Itadakimasu," and then everyone ate. Unlike yesterday's school visit where lunch was provided by the school, the children bring their own lunch to Tokyo Showa Kindergarten. This was fun and familiar to me, as everyone had a Bento box, similar to many friends at Lawrence School! Tomoko had packed a Bento for me with rice balls, fruit, vegetables, egg, and a few other delicious things. Thank you, Tomoko!
[Did you notice: I did not mention anything about having snack. That is because they do not have snack! They take bathroom and water breaks, but no snack is had.]
After lunch, we played some movement games in the larger space. It was a rainy day, so we did not go outside (unlike in KG, where we go out in any and all weather unless it's thundering/lightning and/or too freezing cold!). We played a few different tagging games, which were so much fun. We then went back into the classroom and played a few more games there. We played a game similar to duck, duck, goose, but the person going around the circle has to secretly put a small cloth behind someone's back. Once that person realizes the cloth is behind their back, they chase their friend around the circle. The friend being chased has to run and sit in the other friend's spot, and the game continues. We also played the daikon radish game, where all the children lay on their bellies in a circle and interlock arms. The teacher goes around and pulls out a "daikon radish," or a child, from the circle, or "garden." She does this by pulling their feet until they are no longer interlocking arms with their peer. Then, the teacher and the child that was pulled out both pull out another daikon radish. The continues until all the radishes have been picked from the garden!
Finally, it was time for a closing circle. We sang a few more songs, said thank you to friends and teachers, and then said goodbye. Every child in the class gave me a big hug as they were leaving. Tomoko reminded me that Japanese culture does not often hug, but that Kumi's teacher hugs her students every morning when they arrive and every afternoon when they leave. That, to me, is the quintessential Kindergarten teacher.
Speaking of children in the class, there are 27 children. With one teacher. In Kindergarten! Can you believe it?! And not only that, but the teacher is with the class from 8:30a.m. - 2:00p.m. with no break or planning time. The teacher leads the meetings, plays the piano, cleans up, folds and stacks tables and chairs and then unfolds them again, eats lunch with the students, leads all the movement games, etc. Kumi's teacher does it all with a huge smile on her face the entire day. She was such a joy to be around and was such a great role model for her students and for other teachers.
Here are a few more photos from the school:
I left Tokyo Showa Kindergarten so fulfilled and so happy.
On another note, did you notice that I shared the whole schedule of the day, and not once did I mention direct or explicit literacy, math, science, and/or social studies instruction? [Notice the words "direct" and "explicit." It doesn't mean that there isn't a wealth of organic and natural learning happening in these subject areas during play, because trust me, there is SO much!] And this was a class full of students who would be in Kindergarten in Massachusetts if school were in session right now. As a reminder, yesterday, I saw first graders successfully doing an independent literacy project where they researched animals and were doing corresponding writing about their research. They have also only been in school for 3 months since the school year here starts in April. This is something to think long and hard about in terms of meeting children where they are developmentally in order for them to experience the most success emotionally, socially, and academically...
After the most joyful time at Kindergarten, Tomoko let me know that Naoki was going to be out of school just around the corner in a few minutes and asked if I wanted to surprise him. Of course, the answer was an enthusiastic, "Yes!" The moment when he came out of school and we saw each other just might be the highlight from my day. We had big hugs, lots of giddy giggles from the surprise, and wonderful conversation about Japan, Boston, and school.
Naoki, Kumi, and Tomoko walked me to the train station, where I began my journey back to my hotel. I will see them again tomorrow at the Lawrence School reunion!
After returning to my hotel, I dropped off a few things and then headed back out for a little shopping. I grabbed some dinner and am now relaxing for the night. Tomorrow, I will do some sightseeing and experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony with Mrs. Kida. Then, we will have a Lawrence School reunion at my hotel! I cannot wait to see everyone!
On Thursday, I visited Hatanodai Elementary School, a public school, where my old student from KG, Ryo, goes to school. I first took a taxi to Hatanodai and met Mie, Ryo's mom. We walked together to the school. Here I am at the front gate:
I asked if I could take pictures without children's faces, but the principal asked that I not take any as she was very concerned about privacy. While it's a little disappointing that I don't have the visual reminder, I completely understand as my KG classroom blog is password protected for that very reason! That said, I'll try to do my best explaining. Here we go!
When we entered the school, we immediately took off our shoes. There were what felt like hundreds of shoe cubbies! I put on my indoor shoes (thanks for the tip, Ms. Gannon and Ms. Russell!) and we headed inside. We first went to visit with the principal, who we spoke with for a few minutes. She set up a wonderful schedule for me, where I would visit two first grade classes, one second grade class, and then Ryo's fourth grade class where I would do a lesson. The school is grades 1 - 6, and has two classes per grade level. The classes could have anywhere from 25 - 40 students with one teacher! Quite a different ratio from this past year in my classroom with 20 students and 3 teachers! Also, depending on the grade level is how many classes, or subjects, you have per day. In first grade, you have five per day. As you get older, you have one more. Each class lasts 45 minutes.
Mie and I went to our first observation, which was English class in a first grade. It was AWESOME. It reminded me of the Spanish classes we have at Lawrence. The English teacher used songs, visuals, and a lot of repetitive language. I think 30 minutes of the 45 minute lesson was singing, very loudly and enthusiastically, by all of the students. They sang Old McDonald and reviewed/learned the names of about 10 farm animals. They learned chick, duck, and turkey while I was there as new words. If asked a question, when a student was called on to answer, s/he would stand up, push in his/her chair, stand behind it, and then answer. After answering, s/he would sit back down. Mie let me know this is traditional of Japanese schooling. After learning and singing, they played a game about animals where they had to find a friend that had the matching animal card to their card. They moved (skipped, hopped, ran as they pleased) around the classroom, in true early childhood fashion, and went up to a friend. As they approached, the first thing they did was play rock, paper, scissor. This was a big hit! After that, the friend who won used the English phrase, "I am a _______" to tell their friend their card. If they had the same card, they sat down. If not, they kept moving. After playing two rounds, they gathered for story time. The teacher used two big books with repetitive language, one of which was Five Little Monkeys! Additionally, they also played a mystery game that was similar to the "magic bag" we did in Kindergarten. There were 26 students in the class, yet it did not feel that way at all!
Next, we went to the other first grade classroom for Japanese class. There were 28 students in the class. First, the teacher began by having everyone at their desks. They did a proper greeting to their teacher and to us, and then they could begin. Mie told me it is very important in Japanese culture to have a beginning and an ending of a lesson. The students had been doing some reading and research on parts of animals, and for Japanese class, which is essentially a literacy block, they would continue their research and to write down what they learned. Part of their job was to create and answer questions for a "quiz" that they would give their peers in order for them to guess their animal. On the back of the quiz, they would draw a picture to let their peers know the answer. For the entire duration of the block, the students worked independently. However, there was some boisterous laughter and chit-chat. It felt like a very happy, busy classroom. Though they may have been chatting, the kids were very focused on their work. They would get up to check the classroom library for more books about their animal, and if they were done, they would read or continue to work on their picture (kind of like what we do after we are finished with a task, right KG!?). At the end of the block, they said, "Arigato gozaimasu," and thanked us for being there. They did their traditional end of the lesson, packed up their things, and went out for a 20-minute recess.
After a short break, we went to a second grade classroom for math. This classroom had a bit of a different feel to it, as the students were quietly at their desks for the whole block with the exception of answering questions. It was a whole group lesson about place value and more than / less than (KG: the greedy mouth!). First, the teacher began with a traditional hello and welcomed us to their room. Then, she began by putting some 100s, 10s, and 1s magnets on the board. She put two combinations up and asked her students to tell how many. After answering, she asked them which one was larger. I can't remember exactly, but the numbers were something like 532 and 238. Some students thought the 238 was larger because it ended in an 8 in the ones place. The teacher did an amazing job of asking students to come up and explain their thinking. This is something I have been working on supporting my students with, developing, understanding, and sharing math language, so I was excited to see it being put into practice in Japan as well! After learning that 532 was larger, she asked a student to come up and put the greater than / less than sign in the middle. They repeated this cycle once more, and then it was time for a quiz! The teacher put on a 2-minute timer, and the students took out their math workbooks and did a short quiz about what they had just reviewed. The teacher walked around, checking on everyone's work. If they were finished and had the answers correct, she circled them in their books. If not, she would tell them to keep trying. Afterwards, they went over the answers so everyone could make sure they understood. This was the routine of the class for all 45 minutes.
Next, it was time to visit Ryo's 4th grade class. I went in and introduced myself. I am so glad that Mie was there to help translate as many of the students, and even Ryo's teacher, could not understand me well! I got a really good sense of what it must feel like for our students who come with little to no English to both not understand what's being said and to not be able to communicate. That was an eye-opening moment for me. After introductions, I learned a bit about some of the students. A lot of them said they love their school because they have great friends. After introductions, we played a vocabulary game. I introduced some words that would be in the book I would read, and they had to act them out. Akiko-sensei and I made the cards so the had both the English word and the Japanese word. Everyone stood up, and we jumped, flew, skipped, ran, swam, and ate! Next, we got ready to read. I read Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems. We love, love, love our Elephant and Piggie in Kindergarten, but I thought it would be a nice, easy to understand through pictures story that was a little bit funny, even for 4th graders. I read the story slowly and carefully, and there were definitely a few giggles! After reading, the students did and Elephant and Piggie drawing activity where they followed step-by-step instructions on how to draw the characters. After this, they asked me some questions about life in America and Boston.
The last thing we did was eat lunch. Just like in Kindergarten, the students eat lunch in their classrooms. However, lunch is quite different. The students turn their desks into long tables, like a dining room table! Several students put on aprons and hair nets and they serve the lunch, prepared by the school, to everyone! When everyone had their food, we said "Itadakimasu," or thanks for the food, and then got to eating! The lunch was SO DELICIOUS! We had rice with white fish, egg, vegetables, and vegetable/tofu soup. The expectation is that everyone finishes their meal, so while I was getting a little full, the girl I was sitting with continued to motion to me to keep eating. I had to eat my quota! This experience was so, so, SO much fun! It makes me wonder about how I can foster this sense of community and care during lunchtime in my classroom...
We thanked everyone, put our outside shoes back on, and headed to KidZania in a taxi. KidZania is essentially a mock neighborhood for children, where they can try out many different types of professions.
Mie used to work at KidZania and helped to start it in Tokyo, so she had a wealth of knowledge while we were walking around! It was unlike any place I have ever seen. Kids try out a variety of jobs, but they are truly lifelike. Each job takes about 30 minutes to complete, so Mie said that kids typically try anywhere between 4-6 jobs per visit. There are over 50, however, so they continue to come back! Children put on costumes that correspond with the work they are doing and use tools, sometimes real and sometimes fake (for safety), yet still very real looking and feeling, to do their job. Also, parents are not allowed in the "places of work." This gives kids the independence to really focus and pay attention to what they are doing (no offense, parents!). Here are some examples of some of the jobs:
This is just a handful of the jobs, too! One other very cool part of KidZania is that as children do the jobs, they make KidZania money. There is a bank at KidZania where they can deposit their money onto a debit card. Additionally, the debit card can be used at the KidZania ATM, that works like a real ATM!
Not only does KidZania expose children to a variety of professions, but it also introduces them to the important life skill of understanding money and managing your finances. Incredible, huh?
To read more about KidZania, click here.
After an amazing experience at KidZania, Mie and I did a little shopping before picking up Haruka, Ryo's 5-year-old sister, at school. The feel of her classroom was very reminiscent of Kindergarten! Kids were playing at tables, on the floor, building together, and laughing and having fun! We took the train back to their home, where they had me over for dinner. Mie and Grandma (as she introduced herself to me!) prepared Japanese-style curry, rice, salad, cabbage, and some pork cutlets. It was delicious, and it was so nice to have a home cooked meal after not having one for over a week! Thank you all for such a wonderful day and for inviting me into your home for dinner. I learned so much and had such a great experience at Ryo's school and at KidZania!
Today started with big hugs in Tokyo, which is the perfect way to start a day! I took a taxi from my hotel to Cooking Sun where I met Etsuko, Satoko, and Karou, three former KG moms. We put on our aprons and got right to work!
We took a class on traditional Japanese foods. Satoko, Etsuko, and Karou said they do not always make Japanese food from scratch, so it was a learning experience for them as well! Some of the things we made were:
Homemade Sesame Tofu
Vegetables with miso dressing
Japanese Accordion Cucumber Salad
Japanese Rolled Egg
Fresh sashimi with various seaweed
As well as wagyu beef with shimeji mushrooms, simmered pumpkin with sliced beef, clear soup, and vanilla ice cream with kuromitsu (molasses) and kinako (soybean powder - SO yummy!) for dessert. I learned a few new slicing and dicing tricks, and definitely want to buy a rolled egg pan to bring back home with me!
We had so much fun reminiscing, talking about Lawrence School, and cooking together. I will see all of them plus Miki, Kotaro, and Komei on Saturday at the reunion. A big thanks to Aya, our cooking instructor, who was wonderful!
After the cooking class, Satoko rode the subway with me back to my hotel (thanks, Satoko!). I got a few things ready for the next day, and then met Kaori, Toshi's (former KG student - now a 5th grader! Yasuyo, that happened fast!) aunt, in the hotel lobby.
We got on the train to Yokohama, which was about a 30 minute ride from the hotel. We walked around Yokohama a bit. It reminded me a lot of the Boston seaport district.
After a little walking, we made it to the Cup of Noodles museum! Any other grown-ups that are reading this remember eating a whole bunch of cup of noodles in high school? College? Well, in Yokohama, you can make your very own cup of noodles, and that's just what we did! First, we got our cups from the machine and decorated them. And yes, of course I tried to draw my dog because we all know how much I love Rao...
Then, we got to choose our flavor and our toppings! I chose traditional cup of noodles flavoring with corn, scallions, green beans, and pork. Kaori chose the curry flavor with a few toppings.
Then, we watched our cup of noodles get properly sealed. We put them into a delicate blow-up bag so that they would not get crushed. Good thing I have a big suitcase with me so I can fit it in my luggage!
After visiting the museum, we got back on the train for one stop to Yokohama Stadium for a baseball game! The Yokohama Baystars were playing the HIroshima Carp. We met two of Kaori's friends there and had pretty amazing seats! Thanks, Yasuyo!
We certainly have a big baseball culture in Boston (Go Sox!), but I have to say, I think the Japanese baseball culture is way more energetic and a little more fun. First of all, the stadium seating is split up so that the home team fans sit in certain sections and the visiting team fans sit in another. Part of the reason for this is the "second of all," the singing and cheering. Each team comes with it's own small band of brass instruments that plays the theme song, or fight song, for it's team. No cheers or songs from any team is the same. And everyone sings and chants for their team...the ENTIRE TIME that their team is up at bat!
For example, when Yokohama was up at bat, the Yokohama fans were singing and cheering in unison the whole time. When it was Hiroshima's turn, the Hiroshima fans did the same. However, there is also a large sense of mutual respect. No fans of any teams "boo" at the other. There are security officers who stand in each section and hold up signs that Kaori told me mean to be kind and respectful to each other, and not to fight or argue.
I thought that was pretty amazing. And as I am sure you were wondering, yes, there ARE hot dogs in Japan baseball stadiums. In addition, there are more traditional Japanese dishes and treats. I opted for the shumai and soba dish with edamame, not your average Fenway frank!
The game was such a blast. We had so much fun cheering, and I had fun trying (key word: trying) to follow along with the chants and songs. Here's a celebration from when Yokohama got a home run!
There is also a section on each team's fan side that is closest to the field and in the foul ball zone, so everyone in that section is given a helmet to wear during the game. What a smart idea!
Many, many thanks to Kaori and her friends for making my evening so wonderful! I had so much fun with you all.
I have to admit, I am really enjoying writing these blog posts. I try to write them soon after my daily activities so that I can jot down as much as I can remember. There is so much that happens each day, so I want to remember it all! It's been such a nice way for me to reflect on each day and all I have been experiencing and learning here.
Tomorrow my school visits begin. I can't wait to experience school life in Japan! See you tomorrow, Ryo!
Today was an incredibly eye-opening and important day for me in Japan. I visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park with Masako, an interpreter whom has worked with the Lawrence SET-J teachers for many years. She has such a wealth of knowledge about Hiroshima and the atomic bombing. I was both emotionally and mentally overwhelmed, in a good way, during today's visit.
First, Masako took me on a walking tour of the park. She told me the history of Hiroshima and the bombing in great detail.
This is the memorial that holds the names of those killed in the atomic bombing. The stone on the inside reads, "Let all the souls rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil." Masako told me it was very important to understand that "we" in this writing means "human race." Through the arch, you can see the peace flame and the a-bomb dome.
I was so moved by everything around me. For those that know me well, you know I love to talk and make conversation! I found myself very quiet when in Hiroshima, really taking in my surroundings and listening carefully to Masako.
The A-bomb dome. This is the ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It is the building closest to the hypocenter of the bomb that remains somewhat standing. Masako taught me that after the war, there was a divide between the people of Hiroshima about whether or not to keep the building or to knock it down so as to not have to see the visual reminder of such a horrid time. The city decided it was important to have it remain standing to share the message that we must find peace throughout the world.
After walking through the park, I spent an hour in the memorial museum by myself while Masako went to get flowers for us to donate as well as the Lawrence School paper cranes. I did not feel comfortable taking pictures inside the museum. I felt like I really needed to be present and, again, take everything in slowly and thoroughly. The museum so clearly shares the details and timeline of everything significant that happened before, during, and after the atomic bombing, including President Obama's visit last year.
The last exhibit I walked through was artifacts from the atomic bomb. It was very hard, but very important, to look through them. I will not go into detail here, but would be happy to talk about it further with anyone reading who is interested. Masako told me that she visited the museum as a young girl and was so affected by what she saw that she could not return again for a long time. I understand that now completely. She said giving tours and interpreting at the Peace Memorial Park is her way of healing.
After going through the museum, we donated flowers on behalf of Lawrence School to the memorial. This was a much happier moment for me, being able to share the message of peace.
Next, we walked to the Children's Peace Monument, which was created in honor of a young girl named Sadako Sasaki, who died from the radiation from the bomb. In Japan, it has been a belief for a long time that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes, you will be granted a wish. Sadako folded over 1,300 cranes before she passed away.
I felt so proud and honored to represent Lawrence School and deliver our 1,000 paper cranes. KG: Do you remember when we made so many cranes with the SET-J moms back in January? Click here to see the post from when we made the cranes.
After hanging up the cranes, I filled out a registration form that shared who we are, where the cranes came from, and a message of peace from the Lawrence School.
The last part of our visit was meeting with and hearing from an atomic bomb survivor, Hiroko Kishida. Her story was powerful, and her memories extremely vivid. She was only 5-years-old when the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima. When Hiroko mentioned her age at the time, I immediately felt moved as I spend the majority of my days loving and caring for 5-year-olds. She told of how she, her mother, and her brother fled north and of all the troubled times they had during the aftermath of the bomb. Her story was extremely moving, and left me speechless. Now as a 77-year-old woman, she decided she needed to start sharing her story so people will understand why we all need to be kind and peaceful. She only started speaking about her experience 5 years ago. After sharing her story, Hiroko gave me a big hug and said, "Please spread the message of peace."
Thank you to SET-J and Masako for arranging and making possible this very important and meaningful day. It was an experience I will never forget.
I am currently on the Shinkansen on my way to Tokyo. Tomorrow will be a different vibe: cooking class and a baseball game. I am SO excited to see former KG moms tomorrow and to meet Toshi's aunt for a baseball game! I'll have to be sure to get some rest tonight for my busy day tomorrow.
Miki, Kurumi's mom, told me that Miyajima Island is one of the most beautiful places in Japan. Well, Miki, you are absolutely correct! I think Miyajima may be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to in my entire life thus far.
But first, how did I get there? The Shinkansen, or high speed bullet train! These trains run up to 320km/hour, or 198mi/hour. I take the Green Line T in Boston to Lawrence School everyday, and I think it's safe to say that the Shinkansen is significantly faster.
Here is a video of how fast we were going from Kyoto to Hiroshima:
When I arrived at Hiroshima, Mrs. Kamei, another former Lawrence parent, was waiting for me on the platform. We walked to her sister's, Mrs. Shimizu, car and drove about 25 minutes to the ferry dock, where we would catch the ferry across the way to Miyajima.
When we arrived to the island, the Itsukushima Shrine looked like it was floating in the water. There were a lot of people taking pictures, so I decided to be patient and wait until I got on the island to take some of the shrine. So first, let's discuss...the deer.
The deer are EVERYWHERE, and you can walk right up to them! They will also come right up to you, especially if you have food. We saw someone being followed by 4-5 deer because she had put a bag of food in her purse! Where I grew up in New York, we had deer in our backyard all the time. However, it was quite different! They would only come out if we were inside the house, and the moment we stepped outside, they would get scared and run away. We also had to be quite careful when driving because they would just come out of the woods and cross the street quickly!
In Miyajima, the deer are very used to people. Some people even pet them! I don't think I ever got used to the deer being so present with people on the island. Every time I saw one, I would gasp a little.
After my initial shock, we kept walking to a beautiful view of the Itsukushima Shrine.
During low tide, the water goes all the way out and you can walk up to the shrine. Here, it is high tide, and looks like it is floating in the water!
I was still a little confused about shrines and temples, so Mrs. Kamei taught me that shrines are brightly colored and are for praying to Japanese God. You also cleanse your hands with the pure water (like you saw in my previous post) before entering. Temples are buddhist, where Buddha can be seen. There is also often the incense burning, which was also in my previous post in Kyoto. Mrs. Kamei also taught me that shrines and temples are both used by many Japanese people.
While walking through, Mrs. Kamei suggested that I choose my fortune. I shook the box, found my number, and then opened the corresponding box.
My fortune was in Japanese, so Mrs. Kamei and Mrs. Shimizu helped translate for me. There was so much to remember, but I remember these few highlights:
- When we purchase a home, it will be good news (phew, right Corey?)
- When I have challenges, some are good and some are not so good
- Wedding and marriage will be happy (also great news as a newlywed!)
- Work is good (Of course it is, right Lawrence Family & Class KG?!)
After reading the fortune, Mrs. Kamei and Mrs. Shimizu had me tie the fortune onto the pole. This helps to bring good fortune to those who need it.
After reading and walking through the first part of the island, we walked around the streets a bit and headed to lunch. The restaurant had a Japanese atmosphere, but the food was Italian! It felt good to sit and relax as we had been walking a while. I had spaghetti bolognese, which was delicious.
After that, Mrs. Shimizu said, "It's time for exercise!" We walked and walked and walked. It was the most beautiful place to walk around!
Finally, we got to a large staircase where Mrs. Shimizu said, "We must go up!" So we did. We took off our shoes and we went up, up, up these very narrow stairs. Photographs were prohibited, but we entered a beautiful temple on the top floor of the building. We could take photographs facing outside, and I am so glad we could. Look at the view!
We then put forth all our energy, and our leg muscles, and climbed down the many stairs. Our feet were tired, so we went to a traditional foot bath! Though it was warm out and the water was hot, it felt surprisingly refreshing!
Before we left the island, there was one more thing that was a must do. Miki, Kurumi's mom, told me that I could not leave the island without trying momiji manju. It is a baked good in the shape of a maple leaf. Inside, there is delicious stuffing in a variety of flavors. I tried the traditional red bean paste. It was DELICIOUS!
I liked it so much, that I bought two more flavors, lemon and chocolate, to try later! I will definitely be snacking on those when I am on the Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Tokyo.
After that, we left Miyajima Island to come back to the city of Hiroshima. I dropped off my luggage at Mrs. Kamei's family guest apartment, and then she and I went to visit the Hiroshima castle and the Japanese garden.
The garden was such a beautiful place to walk around. It was calm and quiet, and smelled so good!
After the garden, I went back to rest at the guest apartment, which is a traditional Japanese style apartment. I made my futon on the floor and let the light come in through the doors.
After a good rest, it was time for dinner with the whole Kamei family and Mrs. Shimizu! We went to a wonderful spot for okonomiyaki, which Mrs. Kamei called "Japanese-style pizza," but it is nothing like pizza from the North End of Boston! We started with a fried fish paste appetizer and some cooked and marinated bean sprouts. Delicious!
I could tell the Kamei family were regular customers at this particular spot, as the chef was quite chatty and making jokes with us the whole time! He could tell I was excited about the food, so he even had me make okonomiyaki right there on the flat top!
After a lot of laughs and getting to know Mrs. Kamei's family, it was time to sign the visitors wall! The chef keeps adding more space because more people keep visiting his place!
Thank you so much to the Kamei family and Mrs. Shimizu for an incredibly wonderful and fun day! It was so lovely getting to know you all and to spend some time with former Lawrence students! I hope our paths cross again soon (maybe at Tanglewood, a place you love and a place I go to often!).
Today I went all over Kyoto with Mrs. Nakamura, a former Lawrence parent. She was a fantastic host and took me to many beautiful and historical places throughout the city. First, Mrs. Nakamura helped me get my Japan Rail (JR) Pass all ready at Kyoto Station. I will use the JR Pass for my travels on the bullet train to Hiroshima and Tokyo. More on that later!
Next, we took a bus to another part of the city. We walked up a very quaint (my favorite word to describe Kyoto!) street to get to Kiyomizu-Dera, the Buddhist Temple. Did you know that people and cars often share the road in Kyoto? Some of the streets are so narrow that there is no sidewalk, but there are both people and cars on those streets. It is easy to see that this is common practice as I do not think I heard one car horn the whole day! That was quite different from the roads of Boston!
Kiyomizu Temple is at Otowasan, or Mount Otowa. Otowasan is one of Kyoto’s east mountains. The colors were so beautiful. From the temple, you can see a beautiful view of Kyoto.
Hondo, the main sanctuary was quite beautiful. Mrs. Nakamura said that the central part of the main sanctuary had never been open before when she visited, and it was open when we went! We were not allowed to take photographs, but the experience felt very sacred and peaceful. We took off our shoes, and looked at the Buddhist statues and gifts left for them in the main sanctuary. It was very dark, lit only by a single candle and very dim lights.
Just below the main sanctuary, you can bring the smell and smoke of the incense closer to your body by waving it towards you with your hands. Mrs. Nakamura said this helps you improve. So, if you bring it to your head, you will become even smarter. If you bring it towards a certain part of your body that hurts, that part of your body will heal. *See the step behind the incense bin? That's the step up to the main sanctuary.
Part of the sanctuary was covered, however you can still see the original woodwork. Mrs. Nakamura taught me that this sanctuary is unique in that some original parts were made only from wood, and without nails. Can you imagine a grand structure such as this with only wood and no nails to hold it in place? It was quite amazing to look from across the way and see the intricate detail of the wood being held together.
*KG: This reminded me of many of your structures using Lincoln Logs the way the wood is stacked on top of each other.
Next to the temple, just down some beautiful stone steps, are the Otowa No Taki, or water falls. These Otowa No Taki are known to have pure water that runs from the mountain top. The name of the temple, Kiyomizu, means “pure water,” meaning these waterfalls are how the temple came to receive it’s name. Mrs. Nakamura suggested I cleanse my hands once from each waterfall, and then try to drink a little bit. It tasted very cold and fresh!
After visiting Kiyomizu, we did quite a bit of walking. We walked through Gion, an area in eastern Kyoto, known as an entertainment district which has a large geisha population. We walked through Yasaka Shrine. The grounds were quite beautiful. I walked through the large circle, chinowa wreath, which Mrs. Nakamura told me is only available in the summer. When a person walks through, it is believed that all of the evil goes away.
We also made a 5yen donation, rang the bell, and made a wish. 5yen is called “Gion,” in Japan. Mrs. Nakamura taught me that you put your donation in, ring the bell with two hands, clap your hands twice, and then put them together, close your eyes, and make a wish.
Next, we went for a long walk through many streets and shops of Kyoto. Mrs. Nakamura took me to a beautiful store of Bento Boxes (that was for you, Mom!), which was a fun place to shop. After shopping, we walked through Nishiki Market. It was the longest food market I have ever walked through. I would compare it to Faneuil Hall, but it is significantly longer, much narrower, and has much fresher and, in my opinion, more delicious foods! The most interesting and perhaps exciting thing about not only Nishiki Market, but many markets and shops here, is that you can sample so many delicious things!
I tried a fish paste roll and a fried sample of sweet potato and onion. Both were quite delicious!
There is also often iced green tea available, much like water in the states. It was so delicious and refreshing; much different from the green tea I’ve had at home.
Tea is also the drink given to you at restaurants. You need to ask for water if you would like some. This reminded me of my travels to Cape Town, South Africa, this past February, where you must order water at restaurants rather than servers bringing it to you upon arrival to your table!
After Nishiki, we went to Ippudo Nishikikoji for ramen. The ramen presentation was so beautiful. Unfortunately, my jet lag and exhaustion started to get to me a little bit at this point. I was able to eat a few bites, and Mrs. Nakamura even told me that I was great with chopsticks. Shout out to my husband, Corey, for buying me some beautiful chopsticks last year when he found out I was going on this trip so I could practice! Mrs. Nakamura said she could tell I used them often! The few bites that I had were so delicious, I wish I could have eaten more. My temperature sensitivity and exhaustion won this time, but I have many more days and many more places to find and eat some delicious ramen!
Once we got out of the restaurant and I got into the fresh air, I was feeling a little better. We decided to go to Kikaku, the Golden Pavilion, and that would be our last stop of the day. We took the subway and a taxi to get there. The subway cars were very clean and comfortable. The taxi was even more interesting to me, though. We walked up to the taxi stand and the driver was able to open the back door automatically from his driver’s seat! I have never seen that before except in a minivan back home. It made me feel like I was getting into a Tesla, yet it was a Nissan sedan.
Interesting fact: I did not know cars and drivers are on the opposite sides here. I think because I have been to many places where this happens (e.g.: London, Cape Town, etc.) that I did not notice at first when I got on the bus to Kyoto from Osaka Kansai Airport that the driver was on the opposite side and we were on the “wrong” side of the road. About ten minutes into the ride, I realized!
When we arrived at the Golden Pavilion, I was so, so glad I mustered up the energy to go. It was breathtaking. The Golden Pavilion is a Buddhist hall. It is part of a temple often called Kinkaku-ji Temple. It was formerly named Rokuon-ji Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple.
Mrs. Nakamura said I was, “very lucky,” because the bottom floor of the temple was open today as well. She said it is rare to have even one of Kiyomizu and Kinkaku-ji open, let alone both! You could view the Buddha from across the water.
This detached tea house, Sekkatei, was built by an emperor many, many years ago. Sekkatei means, “Place of Ancient Beauty.” Kikaku is supposed to be especially beautiful in the late afternoon sun when viewed from Sekkatei.
After visiting Kikaku-ji, we took a taxi back to the subway station. We took the subway to Kyoto Station, where my hotel is across the street (Excellent planning, SET-J moms! It is so convenient!).
I was completely exhausted, so I took a 2-hour nap. Boy, did I need that! I woke up around 6:30p.m., and decided it was time to venture out for dinner. I did not need to go too far, however, because Mrs. Nakamura as well as several friends of mine told me that the basement of department stores have some of the best food. I crossed the street to Kyoto Station and walked through to Isetan, a department store. Imagine going into Macy’s, Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, or any department store like that, taking the escalator to the basement, and finding this:
Isetan had two full floors of food! One was a grocery store with many prepared foods, where I got my Bento dinner for the evening. I was feeling very overwhelmed by all the choices, when suddenly…a sign of familiarity! I found Inarizushi! I have eaten a fair amount of these over the years from the Japanese Food Fair at Lawrence, so was relieved to find something I knew I liked. I was hoping to find some salmon, but many Bentos with salmon had a lot of other fish that I don’t like with it. I then grabbed another Bento with some protein, vegetables, and rice and headed back to my hotel.
Kyoto feels to me like a mix of Boston, San Francisco, and Montmartre in Paris. The narrow streets and paths are quite beautiful, the homes are interesting to look at, and the main streets have a very Boston city feel. The temples and shrines have such beautiful grounds, and you cannot help but feel at peace when walking through them. Thank you so much, Mrs. Nakamura, for being so generous with your time and your knowledge of Kyoto. I very much enjoyed spending the day with you, and am so grateful for your guidance, understanding, and your patience with me today, especially when I started fading in the afternoon. I hope to see you again some day!
Next stop(s): Miyajima and Hiroshima!
I have arrived in Tokyo! I am currently at Tokyo Haneda Airport waiting for my domestic connection to Osaka Kansai, where I will then take my bus to Kyoto.
The flight was a bit bumpy, but mostly it was an easy flight. I watched a lot of movies, read some of my book, and tried to sleep a bit. Having an aisle seat for the 12+ hours was perfect as I was able to get up, stretch, and walk around the plane easily.
*KG: You know how we love to run around outside and take mini outside time breaks when our bodies feel wiggly? Well, imagine not being able to do that for two school days in a row! That's what the flight was like, so I had to walk up and down the small aisles and do lots of stretching to move my body. Too bad I didn't have some KG friends to do "Tooty Ta" or "Going on a Lion Hunt," with me!
It is quite warm and humid here (not the best for frizzy curly hair, but alas, I am prepared!), so the first thing I did after going through customs and getting settled in the domestic terminal was grab a bottle of water. Of course, I was immediately comforted by our very own KG friend's name right on the bottle! Thinking of you, Sora!
I am looking forward to a day of sightseeing with Mrs. Nakamura in Kyoto tomorrow! For now, it's more adventuring to get there. I hope everyone had a wonderful last day of school!
I am missing you already, Class KG, but am so excited to share my trip with you! There is some deliciously fresh smelling sushi across from me right now that I think may be calling my name... Stay tuned for more soon!
Tomorrow is the day I begin my journey to Japan! I am so looking forward to my trip. I cannot wait to immerse myself in Japanese culture and see many of my former Lawrence students and their families!
Today I will be busy packing up Class KG, but wanted to give you a few highlights to look for in upcoming blog posts while I am in Japan:
- Sightseeing in Kyoto
- Visiting Hiroshima
- Cooking Class in Tokyo with 3 former KG moms (See you soon, Karou, Satoko, and Etsuko!)
- Baseball game with former KG student's aunt
- Tokyo school visits with former KG students and their families (See you soon, Naoki, Ryo, and families! I am so excited!)
- Lawrence School reunion
These are only a few of the experiences I will have in Japan, so be sure to follow along.
To the Lawrence community in Japan: I can't wait to see you!
Sayonara (almost) for now, Boston! Next stop: Kyoto!
Kindergarten Teacher traveling to Japan in June 2017.