…E, thought about the questions you posed…they are good ones and I love that you are framing them for me to think about 🙂 Keep ’em coming

Hi Sweetie – get some rest and eat something fun/gummy 🙂
Today was much better on quite a few levels – the weather, our outfits, and the lighter pace of our schedules. We all settled in to good host families and got rest.

Today, our biggest event was touring the beginnings and current location of Kikkoman soy sauce factory. We toured the land of one of the first makers, dating back from 1600’s, and saw the small river that was used to take soy sauce in canoes from this area in Chiba Prefecture to Edo (now Tokyo). Two families who were well known for production merged and began Kikkoman – which, as you know is HUGE, for a variety of sauces. It was awesomely nerdy to see how the bean, wheat, and salt are combined, fermented, made into a ‘mash’, and then the juice squeezed out – which is then bottled and sold. At the end of the tour, we were actually handed a bottle of soy sauce 🙂 Lunch was a delicious combo of duck and soba (dipped in duck broth) – I could have eaten it all day long.

But behind the scenes things were brewing – and because of yesterday’s stress, S tried to take some action and get our team some alone time for shopping in Tokyo. It took her all morning, required phone calls and confirmations, and finally ended with yes you can go, but not to Tokyo. We got three hours of free time (without Rotarians surrounding us) to shop at a typical suburban mall. I say typical because was a big box and very Western – but still it was free time…and it had place to get massages. While it wasn’t perfect – it was absolutely necessary. We needed the time to rant, veg, be alone, be together, and to be unobserved. It was absolutely preventative – and my thought is that our trip to Aisu can not come soon enough – in three days, where once again we will have some free time.

Just before going home, we stopped at a beauty salon (friend of K’s host mama) for a short introduction – which became a study of black hair styles. It was awesome and hilarious because these two Japanese hair stylists went crazy over all the details of K’s hair, how to braid, how long it takes, and how much. Pretty soon, K was doing one of their hair and trying to teach them how. And with my mangled Japanese, I was translating. Braids and corn rows are becoming popular among Japanese youth, but very few salons can do them – and they said it usually takes 2 -10 hours depending on the style – at about $500 a shot. Truly a cultural moment, and if K ever wanted to move to Japan, she’d certainly have a job by providing classes.

The rest of the evening was spent with my host family – mama, papa, 22 year old bro, 20 year old sis, and 9 year old ‘baby’ sister. They are adorable – but the feeling of being in an entire family is quite different from just having the mama and papa around. There is a warmer feeling, but also one of being a stranger in the cohesive unit. And my Japanese reflected my nervousness.

That’s not exactly the explanation you likely expected for that comment – but I did treat myself to a chocolate mint ice cream mochi today. Yum.

Do you think the attitude of your 1st host father is something akin/better/worse to what foreign nationals might feel in the US? Is that something you can talk about with the other team that visited the US?

I would actually say in this case his attitude and behaviors are unique to him. If his comment about my Japanese was only a one off thing, I might say that there could be a correlation – like, ‘you are in Japan, you should speak Japanese’. And I might even agree if I was intending to live here for a while, but it is a one month exchange.

I did have the chance to speak briefly with the team who visited the US about him and his issues with my freedom. And they noted that Japanese fathers are traditionally strict and over protective and agreed that home stays are quite stressful. Unfortunately, at that time, the discussion didn’t allow for much more.

I will say that I continue to be genuinely confused with this country’s situation with the English language. Perhaps my Japanese is mangled, but it is out there for all to see. In these types of situations, I really respect those who try rather than giggle. I have no idea how Japan will move past this hurdle – or if they even should.

Do you think that there is any kind of hasty/harsh judgment being made against your team as a result of the widespread international sentiment against the US? Despite Japan’s fairly insular way of existing, do you find that there’s an increased sense of judgment as a result of the Bush admin? Would you rather be Canadian there (as Americans are often wont to be in non-US cultures?)

Actually not at all, we have actually been receiving such good praise in terms of what we have presented (now talk of making it a movie :)). However, because of our short home stays and busy schedules – for me – there hasn’t been anyone that I’ve gotten to know well enough to dive into this topic. Instead of feeling judgement or disdain, there is little feeling of outside things inside our very-secure ‘bubble’.

And one last question (for now): I know your opinion will shift but at this point, 1/4 of the way into it, how would you frame the cost benefit analysis of this endeavor? What’s your reflection, for now, on projects like this in the future?

Ha ha! You know me well – and my opinion might change by tomorrow – but here it is…personally, I needed this travel. I needed the stimulus and stress of culture and travel. I needed the mental and emotional challenges. I needed the distance to regain perspective or create new ones. Personally, I know that this is what I do. I love this stuff — its diplomacy and I can do this well. Professionally, it is a big dark black hole that I can not seem to pull the answer from. After each experience my mind is so full and so energetic – but I can’t figure out the right equation to translate into ‘US’ language. I can see where my strengths lie and I see where they are not being used currently. Cost benefit of this endeavor – like anything else I’ve done – calculated the risk and took a leap – and am hoping that on the other side there is a door opening up. I don’t have answers right now – but lots of thoughts – and thoughts on really taking some risks in the near future.

On projects like this – we have to continue these things. If anything from this, it reaffirms that the stress, the tension, the anxiety, and the experience are all so necessary to get to some sense of understanding. I am passionate about it. And I’m finding (as I have in the past), that I am learning as much about my team members as I am about Japan and the Japanese. These endeavours aren’t perfect – they are created and run by humans – but they get people out there, into spaces where one might not have previously considered (i.e. Soy Sauce factory :)) – and they make you really think.

It might sound fluffy sometimes – but it really is down and dirty. And what it reminds me of is that I really am bored of hierarchy and bureaucracy. I’m bored of the mentality – and need to decide if I will just give into it or really give something a bit more unconventional a go.

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