We spent the weekend with host families, enjoying everything Tokyo has to offer, from sushi to the Meiji Shrine, the Tokyo Sky Tree to beautiful parks and gardens, shrines, temples, and celebrations in honor of the National Coming of Age Day. As we enter week two here in Japan, we feel so lucky and grateful to be immersed in our neighborhoods, new friendships, Japanese culture, and the Kichijo community.
From Haley Baum:
Yesterday was the first day of the Sumo Wrestling season. My host family took me to see the arena with all of the stands outside and the famous wrestlers coming in and out. My host mother printed a little pamphlet for me with all the information about sumo. I learned that sumo began over 2,000 years ago, originally as a religious activity, then for military training, and then it became part of a festival. After 2,000 years, none of the rules have changed and the platform is still made of clay and rice-straw bales. I also read that it is the national sport of Japan and my host mother told me it is extremely popular. We waited with the crowd outside of the arena and watched the famous wrestlers enter the arena. I was surprised at how respectful their fans were. People clapped and were very excited as the wrestlers came by but there was no screaming or asking for selfies. After, we got some houjicha and matcha ice cream, which was delicious, before going to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. We got to see some really cool artifacts and learn all about Japan’s Edo period. My favorite thing that we saw was “Mihara”, the sword that was passed down in the royal family starting in the 18th century. (photos don’t do it justice)
We left when the museum closed and it was finally time for me to try Japanese sushi. It was absolutely the best sushi I had ever eaten and the miso soup was unbelievable. I tried so many different types of fish and I was so full, exhausted, and happy.
On our way back to the train station we stopped at Tsukiji Hongwanji, a Shinshu Buddhist temple and it was breathtaking. When we got home, my host mother’s parents were waiting for us. They had covered the table in beautiful handmade bags and scarves and told me to take as many as I wanted, some things for me and some for my family members. My host mother told me her mother loves to sew and make art and she is overjoyed when she can give things to other people. She also gave me a little frame with a picture inside, made from precisely cutting and layering a photo over and over again and applying a special gloss. These are absolutely the most amazing gifts I have ever received and I was so touched. This family is so incredible and I can’t believe I have to leave them in just five days.
From the Meiji shrine, we took a walk around the area, with my host parents pointing out significant buildings such as schools, or historical landmarks like the preserved wall of an ancient castle. After visiting another smaller shrine, we had lunch at a famous nabe restaurant, which was almost exactly like Chinese hotpot, except with really fat udon noodles. The meal was piping hot that my host Father started sweating like mad!
Our next stop was the popular tourist shrine, the Asakusa shrine. I had been there before, but there weren’t as many people as before! Japanese people and foreign tourists flocked the food stalls and shrine steps, armed with their cameras and wallets. Thank goodness for being short, because we managed to duck under outstretched phones and peace signs. After having our mid-afternoon snack of takoyaki, candied apple, and chocolate banana, (this whole day was just composed of good food and walking), we began to head home. I was delighted to find out that my host family had booked a sushi restaurant for dinner near home, and the day came to a perfect finish with drool-worthy sushi and chawamushi. If anything, this day only proved to me how kind my host family is. They planned today according to what I was interested in, even when my host sister had a lot of homework. Now, I ought to find some way to give back to them.
Tomorrow morning we are headed Miura Beach to explore Japan’s fishing industry and economy. Additionally, we’ll be celebrating the start of the new year for the area fisherman, which culminates in a festival of blessings and well-wishes for a successful season. Due to limited internet connection, we’ll be unable to post for the next 36 hours, but we’ll have lots to catch up on when we return. Stay tuned!