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Only two and a half weeks after this year’s group received word that we were accepted into the Fulbright-Japan program, the devastating events of March 11 took place in northeastern Japan. The mere fact that I was coming to visit the country had caused me to feel a particular closeness to the Japanese people already, and my heart broke for their loss and hardships. It was a weird place to mentally be, though: wanting to know if the program was still a go, if we were going to get to experience this country and culture, yet feeling pretty selfish even entertaining the question. Believe me, if we could have added a componant of rebuilding, or similar service, I would have jumped at the chance.

But it didn’t surprise me at all when Fulbright-Japan changed the center of our visit further south to the city of Kobe. At the time I figured it was just because of wanting to move us from the danger of the leaking radiation. What I found out however, was that the choice of Kobe also had much to do with wanting to show the American teachers how this particular city had rebuilt so successfully after their own catastrophe of January 17, 1995. http://www.georesources.co.uk/kobehigh.htm 

Friday of our first week, we visited   What an incredible place.

The building that houses the memorial is pretty spectatular in and of itself. It’s a large building with glass facades on all four sides. I regret not taking my own photos of the exterior, and taking photos of the inside was prohibited.  But this photo from the web gives you an idea.  

www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotos-g298562-d1153607-Disaster_Reduction_and_Human_Renovation_Institution-Kobe_Hyogo_Prefecture_Kinki.html

Our introduction to the subject was in a space similar to an Omni theater, where we were surrounded by sounds and images of the earthquake as it was happening. Some of this might have been real footage, some was simulated or reconstructed. No matter. It was pretty realistic and impressive. Scary and intensely sobering, to even briefly get a taste of what people really experienced. After that, we walked through a reconstruction of a street looking as it did just after the quake. Again, pretty sobering. The extent of the destruction was everywhere. From there we went into a hall with photos and story after audio-story of how the earthquake affected individual lives, and also how the city began to rebuild. Lastly, we met and heard a first-hand account from a man who lived through the earthquake.

One of the most striking messages from this visit was how the Japanese freely admit their own mistakes that contributed to the extent of the damage and destruction. Throughout the museum was evidence of the acknowledgment that unchecked development was largely responsible for the loss of over 5000 lives and the displacement of tens of thousands of citizens. The result has been that rebuilding and subsequent development in Japan have evolved from a considerably more conscientious collective state of mind, where all citizens seem to be on board with making sure that what gets built gets built well, and with an eye towards respecting the forces of nature, versus what I see as American cockiness in terms of building, building, building, in spite of what nature keeps telling us (for example the condominium complexes that continue to go up on coastlines from New Jersey down to the tip of Florida). I wish I could accurately repeat the phrase shared with us on one of the opening days of our visit, something to the effect of Nature being tender and nurturing, like our mother, but also punishing and severe, like our father. The intent of the phrase is that we need to learn to listen and obey the forces greater than ourselves. Certainly this trip has informed all of the Fulbright-Japan participants, and I believe inspired us to take such a message home to our communities and classrooms. I know I will be sharing this with mine.

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After posting this, I realized the potential was there for readers to think I was passing judgment on people affected by the more recent earthquake in Japan. I want to assure you that I am not. I think they were caught completely by surprise and the tsunami is really what increased the damage and loss exponentially — something that was not anticipated.  But here too, lessons can be learned from the Japanese, in that since March 11, they have been giving serious reconsideration to their dependence on nuclear power.  I believe that the government and the people will be putting great effort into seeking out alternative energy sources in the coming months and years, much more collectively than I think Americans do following any kind of disaster.  Case in point:  the Gulf Oil Spill of April 2010. To me, that was a missed opportunity to take a long, hard look at our dependence on oil (foreign and domestic) and actively engage in a dialogue and subsequent activities to reduce that dependence.  I am left wondering how catastrophic an event it would take to shake our own countrymen out of their comfort zone.

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Last Friday morning was the first time the group of 48 American teachers was split up into the three sub-groups according to the three separate host cities we’d be traveling to the next day. My group, the Soja group, boarded a bus and headed to Sumiyoshi High School in Osaka. Before we could enter the building, however, we again had to put on those stylin’ shoes!  

This school is highly regarded, bringing in its 800+ students from all over the prefecture. Among its graduates is a Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry and an internationally renowned music director, but I can’t remember his name….

The two areas of emphasis for this high school are Science and International Relations. It’s won all sorts of awards and has a ton of support from the prefectural government to send students abroad (exhanges with Taiwan and Korea), to English Camp, to compete in various contests around the country. Pretty impressive.

What strikes me most about the educational system here is that healthy mind and healthy body are equally as important. What a student does for sport, what a student does in terms of their moral development, what a student eats — how the school provides structure and guidance about these areas gets equal emphasis. “Extra-curricular” activities, sports or cultural, are incredibly planned, and viewed as opportunities to help students develop good character. And it is the expectation that teachers will work long hours to make sure that happens. Homeroom teachers may have up to 35 students, and they are expected to develop close bonds. It is said that if a kid gets in trouble with the law, the police will be in contact with the homeroom teacher, and the homeroom teacher will be the key person in getting that kid to turn themselves around. Yes, be in contact with the parents. But they are entrusted with the sacred and important guidance of their offspring, so it’s left up to that teacher to make that happen.

Parents are involved, though, make no mistake. The PTAs here are very active, right up through senior year. Parents are integrally involved in fundraising and manning all aspects of the many festivals and events throughout the year and the community where students will be performing.

When we visited, we were taken to observe several classes. The Junior English class was lots of fun. The three (!) co-teachers were working with the 35+ students, getting them ready for a debate competition. It was lively and fun. From there we went to visit classes in Korean, Chinese, Spanish and French.

Most of the students were wearing uniforms. I asked about that. Apparently, there is a school uniform and it is expected that on certain occasions (usually events or school trips), they must be worn. But besides that, it is up to the students whether they wear them for a routine school day. Surprisingly, most of them do.

We also sat in on a chorus class. It’s probably worthwhile here to say that the photos I can share are photos where individual kids can’t be identified. The schools here are very protective of their children, as they should be. Thus, sometimes there aren’t photos to support things I would have loved to have photos of. It was easy enough in this class to take video footage that fit that bill for one song, because the students had their backs to us, standing around the grand piano singing with their teacher.

But then the teacher asked them to come out and line up to sing to us. So the second music clip here was recorded, but with my lens cap on. (recording to get posted later).

In the midst of these classes, we were invited down to an all-purpose room to eat lunch with selected students. As I entered the room, I noticed cards evenly distributed amongst all the tables, with student names written in both English and Japanese. And lo, there was one that said Mia!!! Obviously I sat next to that one. 

Shortly thereafter, a group of students came into the room, chatting away and curiously looking us over. And I met Mia! She’ was very polite, and very willing to answer any questions I had about school, her family, similar things. She was pretty self-conscious about not having a better grasp of English than she did, although I think we managed most of the conversation quite well. Interestingly, Mia has a lot of things going on in her life that are very similar to Mia’s! She’s an only child, loves art, she plays tennis, and she is a first year student taking biology. She has pets in a pair, but hers are budgies. She is teaching them to talk! We had a bento box lunch with salmon etc and iced green tea. Just like in American schools, all too soon it was time for the students to go to their next class. But before she left, I got her email address so that maybe she and my Mia could be penpals. This will help my girl get to know someone from another country, and help Mia from Osaka work on her English, moving this lovely young lady closer to her goal of being an English-language translator when she grows up. It was a lovely morning.

When in Rome

We spent the morning hearing lectures from two distinguished professors based at Japanese universities about education, sustainable development, and the Cultural Background Behind Education Reform. Then we had our first Bento box. Just a brief word here: it’s an art form, as many things are. One of the motivators behind it is that when parents send their children off to school, they want to communicate their continued love for their children, even though they are not present. Over time, packing a lunch box has evolved to, at worst, a heavy competition, at best, unique expresssions of creativity and love manifested in how the food is prepared, packed, displayed. Japanese mothers get up hours earlier than the rest of the family in order to prepare the food that goes into their children’s bento box. Now it is so much a part of the culture that “prepared lunches” are treated in a similar ways. And I have to tell you, they put us to shame! I hope to never slap together a sandwich at the last minute!

After lunch we got ready to leave on an adventure. We were headed out to do a bus tour of the city of Kobe, then experience “onsen” or hot spring. We traveled about a half hour out of the city, to a resort. Entering the building, of course, we had to remove our shoes and put on the indoor slippers. Then we were led upstairs. That’s when the women said goodbye to the men. We women were taken up three flights and through a sliding parchment door into a tea room (slippers off). We were told by our guide to enjoy tea and sweets, and then change out of our clothing (stipped completely) into a yukata (summer kimono). From there (slippers on), we were went up three more flights and down a hall to the baths. Bathing in the public bath is a long-standing community activity in Japan. But it’s not bathing like you’d think of bathing. Slippers off, you enter the room of the baths. You take off the yukata, and go to one of the stools along two walls of the room, sit and use the hand-held sprayer to clean yourself. All sorts of nice soaps and shampoos are available. Culturally speaking, folks typically scrub each other’s backs. I didn’t ask any of my colleagues for that favor, however.

Then, when you are clean, you enter the baths. At this onsen, there were two. A large one, with stepped shelves within where the women can sit. You don’t sit for long though. It’s HOT! These are fed by the natural hot springs, which are numerous in this country of considerable volcanic activity (undersea). It’s pretty steamy in the room. Women are chatting away, for the most part completely un-selfconscious of body image issues. For me, that was easy. My glasses were rendered fairly useless from the steam, and my vision is so bad without that I couldn’t really make comparisons or feel bad.

The smaller one is more along the lines of a hot tub, but hotter! It is also filled with a type of naturally occurring mineral water that makes the whole thing look like rust soup! Apparently it’s really good for you skin. It smelled interesting. Minerally. I didn’t stay in there long, because by that time I was feeling pretty cooked. Then I head back to the area of stacked baskets where we’d left our clothing. Women were all around me in various states of dress, some of us daring to try creams and lotions in bottles labeled only in Japanese. (found out that one substance we thought was skin cream was hair gel! Thankfully, that was someone else’s mistake!). There were foot massage and reflexology machines which were fun to try out. Then, eventually, we put back on the yukata and our slippers and headed back to the tea room to relax with our women friends, sip more tea and chat away until dinner.

 

It’s huge. 33 floors. It’s near the water. Kobe is the majort port city in Japan. We passed the busy and industrial side of things north of here, on the drive from the airport. The hotel is where things get nicer, closing in on the trendy downtown.

The bus had to climb a fairly steep grade to get from street to grand hotel entrance, winding around a curve where taxicabs parked not out of the way enough for my comfort level. We were greeted by 3 or 4 bellhops, dressed in white pants and jackets, and little pillbox hats. Extremely gracious in welcoming us to the hotel and then rushing to get our bags unloaded from the the bus. We were then greeted by AACU (Japanese counterparts to IIE, a Fulbright sub-group) staff, given conference bags and stipend money (8000 yen for the three meals we’d be “on our own” instead of at orchestrated dinners). Then we threaded through a spacious lobby, past many more hotel staff, all greeting us warmly, to go up to our rooms for an hour, settle in, freshen up, and come on back soon for dinner.

  The room. There’s no mistaking it’s a hotel room. And yet, it’s different than what I am used to. What first struck me was regrettable, that there was an underlying smell of smoke. There are no non-smoking rooms, because so many people smoke in Japan. But that  is really the only negative. The positives begin with the view. I am in a corner room on the 10th floor . Views of the mountains beyond the city on one side, views of the city, looking off towards the water on the other. 

It took me a few minutes to figure out how to work anything electrical. I’d hit switches on lamps and nothing happened. This was most crucial because of my need to test out the bathroom facilities, which had no window. What I discovered is that there’s a master switch at the door. Probably to help visitors turn off everything (and save resources) when they were leaving the room. And what is powered? Well there’s a flat screen TV, but you know me. I haven’t even turned it on. There is a set of controls on one of the two bed-side tables that hook into several radio stations for music, a “foot light” that emanates from under these tables (red — good night lights) and controls to open/close the drapes. All the lamps have dimmers. There are plenty of places to plug things in — no adaptors necessary — although to connect to the internet, the laptop has to be used at the desk. No wifi, only ethernet.

There are two low beds, pushed together, which are pretty darn hard. I suppose it’s because traditional Japanese sleeping happens on futons on the floor, so folks are used to a less cushy surface, more solid support. But I certainly haven’t had any trouble sleeping on them.

The bathroom. I know my students are just dying to know the details. But I will make them wait for the obvious and begin by saying that there’s a deep tub, and also a shower stall. Japanese culture loves bathing. But there’s getting clean, and then there’s the bath. You don’t soap up in the tub. Oh no. Here, you’d take a shower to get clean, and then have a soak in the tub, in pretty darn hot water. The water pressure here is wonderful. That tub’ll fill up fast on you, if you are not paying attention.

I am a bit mystified by Japanese toilets. On the one hand, there are the traditional ones: basically an elongated hole in the floor with a bit of a raised shield on one side (think of toilet seat inserts for training little boys, but bigger and made of porcelain). There’s a wastebasket for used toilet paper, and a handle for flushing away just the waste. I believe these toilets evolved because Japanese are so hygienic that they couldn’t imagine touching a surface one peed/pood into. Toilet training of little kids involves suspending them over the hole, till they’ve developed the size and ability to straddle and squat on their own without falling in. But now there are western toilets available in more modern establishments (like my hotel room) with lots of bells and whistles. The toilet control panel has buttons for a bidet, a different spray to clean your bottom, a button to make either spray oscillate, one to heat the seat, and then there’s the standard handle to flush it all away. In more public restrooms, there’s also a button to simulate the flushing sound in order to mask the noise of what you might be doing in the stall. Simplicity to the extreme on the one hand, and then a highly mechanized and ritualized set of options on the other. 

After the bath, of course you might want to hang out in the cozy pjs provided for you, but it is expected that you might have forgotten your own indoor slippers, so they provide some for you. They are waiting at the bottom of the closet, with a wrapper indicating they have been properly sanitized! 

Home sweet home means being able to sip something. That can happen here by brewing a cup of tea from the electric teapot that is already warming water for you on the desk. The teacups are traditional Japanese, handle-less, with china lids and wooden saucers. There are bags of Japanese green tea and also smoky tea. And when I want to have tea with someone like fellow teacher Juniper next door? I should ring the lighted door bell outside her room! And that’s what I did, to summon her to come with me to head down to our first traditional Japanese dinner.

Coming out on the other side of the security experience, we fell into groups of three and four, all drifting towards Gate 102, a fair walk away. In anticipation of claustrophic jet lavatories to come, most of us headed to a last visit to roomy bathrooms on terra firma. Then there was the search for good coffee, and filling water bottles. Of course, this would result in more visits to those lavatories we were dreading. But we weren’t thinking about that.

In the seating area at Gate 102, people were putting down their carry-ons, making last calls on cellphones, sipping those coffees. Here, we met up with fellow Fulbrighters just arriving from home that morning. I was pleased to reconnected with my friend Janine Gracek, from northern California, whom I’d met at the conference in May.

The excitement was clearly building. Soon, a group of teachers who had been merely standing around chatting excitedly turned into a flash mob led by a woman named Patria. She’s a lovely young woman from Dallas, Texas, who clearly had the patience a teacher needs to teach THAT exciteable crew how to dance! 

Finally, we were called to board. This was gettin’ real. Really real.

Janine and I were disappointed to not have adjoining seat assignments, until we got on the plane and discovered that other very compatible seatmates awaited us. Glory be! I was sitting next to Flora, an incredibly dynamic seventh grade Social Studies teacher from Louisiana whom I had gotten to know and enjoy at the San Francisco conference a month ago (and who does a very similar Point of View activity to what we do, but pitting the Loyalists against the Colonists adorned with three-corner hats, crowns and powdered wigs!)

What can I tell you about the long, long flight that you might actually be interested in knowing? Well, for one, we didn’t fly straight across the ocean, like I’d thought. The jet followed the coastline up past Oregon and Washington, Juneau, Alaska and Whitehorse, British Columbia. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a window seat, or even be next to one. And the flight attendants had asked people to put down their shades for most of the flight anyway (I think to get us to prepare for the extreme change in time zones, get our bodies thinking it was night time). But someone must have peaked because when we flew just southwest of the Alaska range, window shades flew up and we were all craning to see these exquisitely beautiful mountains from this height. Covered in snow, and surrounded by glaciers, they were quite impressive.

The Alaska range - public domain photo

Talk about point of view! What a gift for this group of teachers gathered together to discuss the environment and sustainable development!

My more personal gift came in the form of an antsy four year old sitting directly behind me. Mia swears that wherever I go, I always find myself a little kid to play with. The entire row of seats was taken up by this little girl and her family: her, her mom, her seven year old sister, her grandmother and (I believe) an uncle. For awhile they kept to themselves, the mom trying very hard to keep the girls happy and subdued. But then mom fell asleep. And four year old got bored. She began kicking the back of my seat. Pretty hard. Now here I was, just an hour or so into an 11 hour flight, needing to seriously consider the options of how I dealt with this. I wanted to enjoy the flight, and also not offend this family. I waited and tried to ignore, but five minutes later that clearly was not going to be an effective strategy. Sitting on the aisle, I was able to lean around the back of my seat and ask nicely: please don’t kick my seat. The little Japanese face who stared back at me clearly did not understand the words, although her recoiling back into the corner of her seat told me she got the message. I turned back to my reading and was at peace… for about five minutes. More kicking. I asked again, making sure that my tone and my face were communicating that I wasn’t mad, just asking. The mom stirred and chastised the little girl. I made sure that the next time I got up to visit the bathroom I smiled at my little irritant. And I don’t remember how it evolved from there, but before long we were fast friends, peaking around the seat back at each other, playing “grab the stockinged foot” and similar things that required no advanced Japanese language skills. A few hours into the flight and she and I were the hit of the cabin, sometimes joined by her sister, skipping down the aisles, or me holding her hands so she could bounce down them singing away.

That’s one of the nice things about long flights. People are way more understanding of your need to be up and about than they are on domestic flights. As long as the flight attendants weren’t getting meals or drinks out, you were allowed to stand in groups in the galley and talk, doing modified stretching exercises, visit and laugh. You had to. Sitting in a pressurized cabin at 38,000 feet for 11 hours does a serious number on your body. I still ended up with two not-so-pretty bruises where I’d crossed my legs for too long, despite the exercises I made myself do to avert this type of problem.

So after the plane left the Alaskan coastline, it flew due west over an open stretch of Pacific and then began following the eastern coast of Asia, or at least the major islands to the east of the continent. The little map on the tiny screen in front of me labeled Siberia and other Russian place names. Then the graphic showed the plane heading to Hokaido (the northern-most of the three major Japanese islands). And at last we were flying over the center of the country, heading for Kansai airport in Osaka. I think at most I got about 2 ½ hours of sleep. Landing that huge hunk of metal went fine, customs was a breeze, and before we knew it, we were loading ourselves and our gear on two busses, destined for the city of Kobe. It may have been 2:30 in the morning back home, but it was 3:30pm where we were. We were headed to the Hotel Okura, checking and settling in, and a then a welcome dinner. The Fulbright-Japan exchange teachers had arrived!

In Security

Not too much to report about Portland to San Francisco. Highlight: holding a seven week old babe while his dad got their paraphernalia organized. Lowlight: the roller-coastery moment in flight when we moved so erratically and suddenly, it couldn’t have been turbulence. It lasted about three seconds. I was sitting next to an off-duty flight attendant, with her friend and colleague across the aisle. Both of them said in true surprise: “What was THAT???” I told them their question definitely did not strike me with a sense of confidence. They quickly got professional again, but we all knew it was something pilot driven. Maybe a sneeze and hit the steering wheel? Something…

Arriving at the hotel Monday night, I met up with some other teachers in the program. Mostly we compared notes: how recently school had ended, how much we packed, how it all still felt surreal. I must admit to being proud of my Mainer practicality in packing. I probably had the lightest luggage load. That might prove to be a liability later, but right now it’s feeling good. Some people brought SO MUCH STUFF! When we got on the shuttle to head to the international flights terminal yesterday, I was awfully glad not to be pulling along the biggest-sized suitcase!

That morning (just yesterday morning?) at the international terminal is when it all started feeling real. Holy cow! We were going to Japan! Of course, put a big group of giddy teachers together and things got pretty entertaining in line to go through security. I think most of the security people were reasonably amused, if not joking along with us. A couple were the more serious, humorless types, which only got us more silly. Unfortunately, that’s what might have gotten me in the special search line…

For those of you who haven’t flown recently, security has taken an even more bizarre twist. First step, one person looks over your passport and boarding passes. Sometimes asks you questions. They’re definitely watching your eyes to get a read on your honesty level. Then you get in line to put your carry-on worldly goods through the x-ray screener: Back-pack off. Laptop out and in its own tub. Camera out, add cell phone (other people add their iPods here, but you know how Mizzz E is still in the dark ages and doesn’t have one…). Take your shoes off. This is a fun time for people-watching, seeing how others deal with this massive group ritual (socks? paper booties? dismayed facial expressions?) except you have to be on top of moving your own stuff along. I put my tubs on the conveyor and then my backpack. They began moving slowly into the tunnel with the scanner, but my backpack must’ve gotten hung up. So I reached in to move the strap. BIG NO-NO! A security guy spoke sternly to me not to touch.

Meanwhile, someone else was motioning me to come put my feet on the carpetted footprints, spread my arms out (this must feel like getting arrested) and the new big body scanner thing took a picture of this 51 year old school teacher. (now analyzing THAT must be a weird job). Then a female security person waved me over to her. She was older than me, apologetic, but let me know I was about to get the pat-down. Now you must remember, this is happening at the same time that other people are in various stages of some of the same procedures. There are HUNDREDS of people around you at the time. Everyone’s in their own stage of the process so no one’s really paying attention to you. Even so, very quickly you are getting pretty personal with this complete stranger. It’s kinda bizarre. Anyhooo, this nice woman is patting me down, checking my wasteband several times. Patting my fleshy, 51 year old abdomen and asking me if that’s layers of clothes. Well, no. I told her that was from giving birth… She apologized and let me move on. BUT I WASN’T EVEN DONE THEN! Another apologetic but business-like security woman motioned me over to a machine on a table. She took a very non-generic looking wipe and went thoroughly over both my hands. Then she put my hands over this scanner that I guess was checking to see if Mizzzzz E had any explosive residue on her skin. Ha! Mizzzzzzzzz E, the Terrorist. How’s THAT for an image?

I want you to know I did want to take pics to document the entire scene, but there were signs EVERYWHERE warning against just such behavior. As I said, there were some pretty humorless people there. But don’t worry. There will be photos with the next installment.

Next up: the 11 ½ hour flight! xxxooo

34 hours. Yikes!

I love how people ask me if I am packed. Or even packing. Ha! not yet. You see, I compartmentalize my life. It’s a coping skill. I’ve pretty much had to wrap up life at school before I can switch gears and focus on the actual getting ready to go. And wrapping up a school year well is very important to me. I need my students to know I have enjoyed their company and watching them develop as writers, readers, and young thinking people. I also need to not come back to a mess in my classroom. I need to put my own toys away.  Closing out this school year has had the added complication of having to leave plans and awards behind for other people to carry out.  In a more typical year, because all this wrapping up does take such a physical and emotional toll, I then spend the first week of summer recuperating, spending a lot of time in my garden, reading books, walking the dogs. Right now, I am in this funny place of wanting to do that, and instead having to put myself  into even higher gear to get ready for the trip.

Not that I can’t. I am finding myself this morning making a rather natural transition into packing mode. Anne Britting Oleson, writer, traveler, and list-maker extraordinaire, would be proud to see my several lists.  The dining room table is becoming Pack Central. Almost all of the laundry is done.  Today will be split between getting things laid out and organized and all those last errands that make me feel like I won’t be without something crucial over there.

Traveling to a culture as unfamiliar to me as Japan’s, it’s been interesting getting my head around some of those considerations.  I have bought new slippers, to be my indoor shoes when I visit schools and traditional places.  Most of these venues have shoes for visitors, apparently, but not typically for big American women’s size 11 feet! I am having to pack an ethernet cord, because despite the fact that Japan is a leading producer of technology, most of their hotels do not have wireless access (one of my new Japanese friends doesn’t even have internet for herself at her school!)  I am packing a small photo album as a conversation starter, and a Japanese phrase book, because my latest set of information from Fulbright informs me that there’s no guarantee that my host family speaks any English!  I have extra batteries, a second memory card, and new walking shoes. I am gratified to know that Fulbright grads recommend us packing light and washing outfits in our hotel sinks.  I have most of the “stuff” I think I will need.  Oh yeah, the passport…

And what do I know about what I will be doing so far? Well, the barrage of emails and paperwork informs me that we will be jumping right into a tour of Kobe on the afternoon of the 21st. Next day, already a school tour and an NGO. A week from today I will travel to Soja and stay with my host family, a 56 year old school teacher and his wife. I will stay one night with them and then stay in a hotel in Soja for several more days:  more schools, the University and a water treatment center. I will also be going on a canoe trip (note to self: pack water shoes), visit a zazen meditation center, and have a lesson in Japanese calligraphy! I will try to bring back some brushes, dear students, so we can play with that in the fall (whether or not you are still in my class. We will find a way!)

So…all the prep work awaits. I must leave off here. Monday, I fly out at noon. Stay in San Francisco overnight, and then face the 11 1/5 hour flight to Kansai airport on Tuesday. Thanks to all for your support and good wishes. I promise to post as often as I am able, and figure out how to attach photographs.  Those of you attached to school calendars: Happy Vacation!!!!

Peace.