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The Ogaki Chronicles

In early September of 2005 a friend presented me with information about a trip to Japan through an Oregon group called the Oregon Intercultural Association (OIA). Nine months (and $2,200) later, I was set for my first trip to Japan. I had no idea what a great trip I had in store for myself, no idea of how many new friends I would make or how much fun I would ultimately have. Japan was my dream destination, the one place I wanted to visit above all others. The culture and language have captivated my mind for many years, and now I was finally on my way to the “Land of the Rising Sun”. My first stop on the two week trip to Japan was the city of Ogaki near Mizuho in the Gifu prefecture.

These Ogaki Chronicles are my person account of my stay in Ogaki, Japan. They follow my journey from Portland International Airport to the wonderful city of Ogaki to my departure via Shinkansen to Omiya city. All accounts are accurate and nothing has been fabricated.

Entry 1 – June 19th Portland International Airport Gate D15 12:15PM

Check-in and baggage check went smoothly. D15 is the very last gate in the D section, and it is unusually hot down here. I have seen most of the students I met at the OIA meetings, but only two are actually at the gate. I guess it is still early.

Traveling tip #1: When traveling to Japan, or any place where you plan on using a lot of public transportation (i.e. bullet trains, subways, and buses), I highly suggest packing a duffel bag or better yet a duffel bag with wheels like the one I used. They come in very handy when it comes to squeezing your entire luggage into a small rack or in between seats on a train.

Entry 2 – June 20th Mizuho City (Ogaki) Bedroom 11:15PM

Well… it has been one long day. Plane ride was enjoyable, made a couple friends. Narita Express and the Shikansen (“Bullet train”) were a rat race. Met first host family, they are really nice. Too tired to write more.

After a 10 and a half hour plane ride, I was a little drained of energy due to the fact I don’t like sleeping on planes. The Narita Express is a train that goes from the Narita Airport (where we flew in at) to Tokyo. This wasn’t my first time on a train, so I relaxed and stared out the window. For about an hour I watched the Japanese country side roll by. It was like a drive through the country side, with a splash of urban every once and awhile. These splashes of urban came in the form of power lines, billboards, gray buildings and small houses along the train tracks.

I was kanji, hiragana and katakana illiterate while traveling in Japan, spending my time focusing on learning how to speak the language (with no formal teaching other than my “Beginning Japanese 1” text book). This flaw of mine never truly hurt me while I traveled. While I suggest knowing a little Japanese while traveling in Japan, not knowing any will not completely ruin your trip. If anything, it will make for an interesting way of bonding if you are staying with a native Japanese speaker.

The Shinkansen, or Bullet Train, traveled at about 300 MPH, but when inside of the Shinkansen it feels like a regular train with fewer bumps on the track. My first experience of this modern train was of being herded on it like a confused sheep. Our entire group was worn out from the trip, so it was a pretty mellow ride compared to those that would happen in the future.

Entry 3 – June 21st Mizuho City (Ogaki) Bedroom 5:45AM

The bedroom I’m staying in is traditional and very beautiful. I slept very well. The sounds of the morning are very relaxing. Today I visit a high school.

My bedroom was a traditional tatami mat room with a futon bed. Tatami mats are made of woven straw, and feel like soft tile flooring. Sleeping on the floor sounds uncomfortable, but it really wasn’t. Japanese futons are really soft with enough support for your back so you won’t wake up sore.

My host family’s house was one of traditional architecture, which meant most of the doors were fusuma (Japanese paper sliding doors). They slide on rails and move pretty easily. It is very important that you remember to close a door after you open it, because Japanese houses are small, especially their hallways (this is important when the house you are in has Western-style doors). You might think a door that slides into the wall won’t obstruct any hallway, but it is more of a matter of privacy then of space. This becomes apparent when (if you are staying with a family) the room’s true owner will ask you if he/she may enter it.

Entry 4 – Same day Mizuho City (Ogaki) Bedroom 6:14AM

It is already very bright outside. Japan does not have a daylights savings time. I took several pictures of my room, and of the several shrines in it. The Yoshimaru house is truly beautiful. I’m beginning to believe I brought too many clothes.

Traveling tip #2: If you are traveling in Japan and staying with a family, you will not need as many pairs of clothes as you might think. It will not be uncommon for the head woman in the household (i.e. mother or wife) to clean any clothes you give to her in little under half-a-day. This means you could perpetually have clean clothes every day with as few as two full sets of clothes (shirt, pants, underwear and socks).

Entry 5 – Same day Mizuho City (Ogaki) Bedroom 11:12PM

Today was another experience. The high school girls (and the one boy there) were funny and pretty nervous around us.
The Tea Ceremony was educational, but my legs still hurt. I have gotten used to red bean paste and all its forms.
Community center was nice and relaxing, a lot of sitting around (and messing around). Calligraphy was a major challenge.
Tomoyuki took me to Karaoke with his sister and brother. It was really (really, really) fun. Mai took me shopping, she is nice but her English is about as good as my Japanese.
Tomorrow = Onsen

Our visit to the Ogaki Commercial High School was culturally interesting. We were split up, usually one or two of us to a group of three or four students (who, with the exception of one boy in a group of about 40, were all girls). They were leaving the next day for Australia and tried their English out on us. Each girl had a book about cultural stuff in Japan, and they explained it to us in English. Japanese high school girls are pretty much the same as those fictional school girls you might see in an anime or manga or J-drama. They were giddy, nervous, and laughed at the drop of a hat (my group thought it was hilarious I was single, and that I was 14).

The Secret to Japan: Japanese Tea Ceremony. A revelation told to me by my host brother, Tomoyuki, over a bowl of ramen a few days later. Almost every traditional aspect of Japan can be related to the Tea Ceremony, from the bowing to the architecture to the respect for everything. The greatest parallel was the sweet-bitter-sweet transition throughout the ceremony, red bean paste jelly then tea then a red bean paste cake, to the ups and downs of life. The Japanese tea ceremony is a must experience when traveling in Japan.

Entry 6 – June 22nd Mizuho City (Ogaki) Bedroom

The junior high was very interesting. The students were shy and energized at the same time. They sung for us and it sounded very good.
The Marujun building was cool. Japanese cars are a lot different than American cars. We talked a lot in the meeting room, and received Asimo key chains and towels.

Japanese schools are very different from American schools of the present day. They resemble schools of the 50s and 60s in America. Large, square buildings with multiple floors, dozens of classrooms and large dirt playgrounds. Students don’t move between classes, the teachers do. We sat in on a Calligraphy class and an English class, the students were very disciplined and quiet in both classes. At the end of our visit, we were taken into the gymnasium and the entire student body sung for us. It was very well rehearsed and it sounded better than any middle school choir performance I’d ever been to.

The Marujun building was cool, but looking back, it was a waste of time. We spent a lot of time in the dealer room looking at Japanese cars, supposedly looking for differences between them and American cars. We wasted about an hour making posters and presenting these said differences. The rest of the time was spent talking amongst ourselves.

Entry 7 – June 23rd Mizuho City (Ogaki) Bedroom 11:18PM

Last night I went to the Onsen with Tomoyuki and Zach. It wasn’t even half as embarrassing as I thought it was going to be. The mineral water felt really good.
Before that, I went for Ramen with Tomo-san. He taught me how to eat Ramen like a Japanese person. Bouncing and slurping loud.
I was sad to have to say “Goodbye” to the Yoshimura family.
The ride to Hiroshima station was boring. I played my new Naruto game with Michael translating the booklet so I knew what I was doing.
Hiroshima station was interesting. A lot of shops and an extremely good bakery.
The train ride was… an experience. Very cramped and a lot of swaying.
The Hiroshima museum and dome makes you really think. I was angered by an idiot member of our group who was skateboarding around the memorial.
We then went to Miyajima by ferry. On this island were wild deer, evil little deer. Nathan, Cynthia, Teasha and I walked the shops. I purchased a bokken. Did I mention that the deer were evil? One even snarled at me.
My new host family is really nice. Otosan (host father) game me a fish knife. Their English is okay.

Visiting a Japanese hot spring or Onsen is another must. Don’t be put off by the nudity aspect of the Onsen, everyone there will be naked and the natives could care less about nudity. The water is hot to the extent of being extremely relaxing, and the minerals will leave your skin silky smooth.

When eating ramen, make noise. It isn’t disrespectful to slurp your noodles, in fact that is how you are supposed to eat it. This serves two fold: one ramen is very hot and slurping it will cool off the noodles, and two, because you’re really supposed to just swallow the noodles whole (that means no chewing). Give it a try and you will see for yourself.

The Hiroshima Memorial was very beautiful and had a definite feeling to it. A lot of must see’s and do’s were done on this day, and visiting Hiroshima was another one of them. Everything from the Peace Flame to the booths of millions of Origami cranes was breathtaking and must be experienced first hand.

The island of Miyajima was a nice shopping and tourist island. Nice up until we exitted the shopping area to the trail that leads to the shrine and the shore line. We had been told about the Miyajima deer before hand so we didn’t pay them much attention, until they started trying to eat us. Don’t have any lose fabric or money or paper or clothing around these deer, they will try to eat it. To get rid of them, just go back into the shopping area, one of the shopkeepers will chase the deer away.

Entry 8 – June 24th Mizuho City (Ogaki) Room 10:11PM

Today was free with my host family. Okosan (host “mother”) took me to Ogaki caste and the historical museum. After that we went to the Budokan in Ogaki (a Japanese sports complex). We watched Sumo and Kudo (archery). Both were pretty interesting.
We returned home and some of Takuya’s friends came over. We played video games and card games.
For dinner we went out to a Japanese grill. It was very traditional and very good.
I had cow heart and stomach.
Note: Warm toilet seats are annoying

Yakiniku, a style of Japanese grill, was what I had that night. It is a self-cooking style of food where you buy various plates of raw meats and cook it at the grill attached to your table. We ate in the “traditional” room, a room outfitted with tatami mat floors and a low table (similar to the restaurant frequented by Kenshin and his gang in Ruroni Kenshin). The food was really good, and a key example of why trying new things is good. I’ve now developed a liking of cow heart and stomach.

Japanese toilets are separate from the shower and, if they are Western design, are super toilets. Almost all in-house Western toilets are made by Toto and are remote controlled with built in bidets and heated seating. If you’re like me, heating seating will sound good until you actually use it. Other than the feeling like someone just got done using the toilet, you run the risk of getting burned (I did on one occasion).

Entry 9 – June 25th Mizuho City (Ogaki) Room 9:15PM

The American Seminar was both boring and educational. I commented on the onsen and chimed in about religion.
The WING party was fun. Taiko drummers entertained everyone (I even gave it a try). The food was good, especially the apples. I got a Kaleidoscope in a game of bingo, but I traded it with Teasha for an amazingly hilarious back scratcher.
It was sad to have to say “Goodbye” to Tomoyuki and Okosan.

The American Seminar was a question-and-answer seminar between the Oregon Intercultural Association and the WING (the exact meaning of WING escapes me) association which was hosting us in Ogaki. We shared cultural insights on everything from Christmas to the etiquette of fanning oneself indoors.

After the seminar, the WING members hosted a party for the Ogaki wing of the trip (which included me and 12 other students staying in Ogaki). It was a potluck so all our host families brought different dishes. The apples I mentioned were pretty sweet and cut in the shape of rabbits.

Taiko drums sound stunning live, their powerful bursts of sound almost changes your heart beat. Definitely different from playing Taiko Drum Master.

Entry 10 – June 26th Mizuho City (Ogaki) Room, Desk 9:56PM

What a day. Kyoto was another amazing place. I think it can be stated that Japan is pretty amazing. This trip isn’t even about the anime, manga and video games. It is about the amazing people I have met and the amazing places I have gone.
The Golden Pavilion = Amazingly beautiful
The shopping arcade… holy crap. A M A Z I N G. Hundreds upon hundreds of stores. Nathan and I explored dozens of shops and started to make it into a game.
I’m thinking about buying an airsoft gun.

The city of Kyoto (former capital of Japan) was beautiful, and the shrine we visited only added to its glamour. The Golden Pavilion was a sight to behold: the gold plated building shined in the morning sun and was a perfect backdrop for photos. If you want a taste of Japanese history, visiting Kyoto is another must.

Japanese shopping arcades put American strip malls to shame. There are hundreds upon hundreds of stores, selling everything from traditional toys to elegant under-garments. You could spend all day shopping in one of these arcades and still not visit every shop. Perfect locations for picking up souvenirs.

Entry 11 – June 27th Ogaki Nursing home 4:00PM

Nagoya wasn’t that fun, we just walked around and shopped. I hung out with Justin, William and Elizabeth. I couldn’t find a gun shop and I missed out on a Gamers.

Traveling tip #3: If you plan on spending all day shopping somewhere, make sure you know when the shops open. We arrived 45 minutes before most shops opened in the shopping arcade at Nagoya, so we had nothing to do for 45 minutes. Most shops in Japan open at 10:30AM.

Entry 12 – June 28th In-Transit Shinkansen

It was sad to say “Goodbye” to the Matsuoka family, Yoko told me Takuya cried as he left for school. We waited awhile at the station before we all finally left via Shinkansen.
The trip wasn’t the best, two hours of nothing.

To Be Continued…
Next: The Omiya Chronicles

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