Saturday, June 28, 2008


Our group at our elementary school.

We left today for home, though we didn't leave the hotel until noon. It took two hours to get to the airport, passing such sites as the Tokyo Tower and Disney Sea (complete with Ariel's castle). We waited in line for a long time to check in and were the last ones on the flight as it was overbooked. At least this time I had a window seat and could lean against the wall to try to sleep. My connection time in San Francisco was also very short and I barely made that flight. Now I am home but suffering from jet lag.

I am so grateful for my harmonious Ichinoseki group. We had a good mix of educational levels, teaching specialties, and ages, and got to go to a naturally beautiful place. I am also grateful to the JFMF Teacher Program for believing that it was important for us to spend three weeks in Japan and to get to know Japanese people by staying in their homes. My hosts were so welcoming and thoughtful.

I feel like I barely scratched the surface of Japan and want to go back, this time with Bill. One more place to add to our list!


On our last full day I had some free time between sessions and went to see the Japanese Garden at the hotel across the street. It was on the 5th floor of the hotel on the side of a hill and was wonderful. You can see some views of it here.

Each of the groups had to report on their experiences in their assigned perfecture. Walter wrote us a song to sing:

that's where they left me
with the world's greatest friends.
First Morioka,
as I go through
"Watashi wa" once again.
Maybe I'll say it right this time,
Matt, help me out with a line.
A line, a line, a line...
a line, a line, a line...

as we find us
in the lobby at 8 AM.
Take the green book
for a second look
to find out where the day will end.
As we go see the junior high,
greatest kids we've ever seen in our lives.
Our lives, our lives, our lives...
Our lives, our lives, our lives...

Before teacher discussion
Taiko percussion,
then a band that could tour stateside.
Then the school song,
hundreds sing along,
feel so happy you could cry.
Only problem comes at night
Melanie has no red wine.
red wine, red wine, red wine...
red wine, red wine, red wine...

As our sleep breaks
for the earthquake,
and interrupts our quiet night.
5 point 0,
I don't know?
But it happened for three times.
What do we discuss among our friends?
Who's going to the Hundred Yen?
A yen, a yen, a yen...
a yen, a yen, a yen,...

Then the high school,
fall asleep and drool,
but it ain't jet lag this time.
Teachers are tired,
green tea to get wired,
unfortunately the last in line.
And I go spend the whole night,
filing pictures of shrines.
Of shrines, of shrines, of shrines...
of shrines, of shrines, of shrines...


Japanese cemetery

At lunch today I went with Betsy to see a nearby shrine that was established in 1600. It is a shrine for, among other things, stillborn children. It is at the top of a steep hill, surrounded by concrete and right next to a tiny cemetery. It is called Akasaka Fudoson. The brochure is mostly in Japanese but there is some English: "Prayers are said for the health of children and in memory of children who could not be born in this world."


The entrance to the temple grounds.

Some of the fox shrines at the temple.

At lunch today Betsy, a fellow art teacher and one of my Iwate group, took me to a fantastic temple she had found not very far from our hotel. It was quite extensive and had numerous shrines of foxes. It is the Toyokawa Inari Betsuin Temple Complex. Of the foxes, the brochure reads, "It is said that, in ancient times, the third son of Emperor Juntoku underwent a spiritual experience in which the deity Dakini-Shinten appeared on the back of a white fox with a rice plant slung over his back. The prince embodied this experience inot the stature of Dakini-Shinten. The statue was later brought to the residence of Ooka Echizen-no-kami during the Edo era and was finally enshrined in Toyokawa Inari Betsuin at its present location in 1887."

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Aiko, Nancy, and Yasushi

Matt and I with our hosts.

Our boatman.

Our grilled fish lunch.

I spent most of the day with my Japanese hosts, Aiko and Yasushi Atsumi, floating down a beautiful shallow river at the Geibi Gorge. Considered one of the most picturesque spots in Japan, the gorge was carved from strata of limestone by the Satetsu River. We had an entertaining boatman who told funny jokes and stories (in Japanese).

They brought me back to our bus and our group drove on to Kesennuma City, our destination for the night. Kessennuma is a major fishing port on Japan's Pacific coast. For food, it is known for its shark fin soup.


Shishi Odori (Deer Dance)

My Ichinoseki hosts for the home stay, Yasushi and Aiko Atsumi.

Esashi Fujiwara-N0-Sato
Fujiwara Heritage Park

My Japanese hosts, Aiko and Yasushi Atsumi, picked me up Saturday morning and we spent the afternoon at the Esashi Fujiwara Heritage Park, a historical park that reproduces through architecture the history and culture of Japan's Tohoku region. The interiors of the buildings are equipped with replicas of the household effects of the historical time of the Heian Period (794-1185). The rooms had clothing (armor and kimonos) to try on and objects to try out (bows and arrows, spears, toys).

While we were there, we were fortunate to witness the Shishi Odori or Deer Dance, performed by high school students, both girls and boys. I was struck by how similar the costumes and dance were to the Native Americans of New Mexico. In fact, the land and climate here is very like that of New Mexico.

Afterwards we went back to their home to pick up Aiko’s mother, Hideko, and went to dinner at a revolving sushi restaurant that looked much like a diner. Different small dishes revolve around the top of the counter and you take the ones you want. It was fun and I got to try a lot of different things, including something like a savory egg custard.

After dinner, we went back to their home. Since they had an internet connection, I was able to call Bill on Skype so he could see them and meet them online. A friend and her son then came over and taught me some origami techniques. I was honored to sleep that night on a futon in their beautiful, traditional tatami room.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Betsy Sio, the art teacher at Ichinoseki High, and Nancy Walkup

Excellent student

This post is out of order, but I can't figure out how to go back and insert it. Anyway, Thursday we spent at Iwate Prefecture Ichinoseki Daini High School. The students were preparing for exams so we didn't get to see as many classes as we hoped. A highlight was the hands-on calligraphy lesson and meeting some of the art students and their teacher. The plaster casts in the artroom had suffered some damage from the earthquake.

On our way to Ichinoseki, on the bus the day before, Meg tried to teach us to introduce ourselves in Japanese. My introduction is:
"Watashi wa Texas no Denton kara kamishita Nancy Walkup des" or "I am Nancy Walkup from Denton, Texas." We could then go on to say "Watashi wa shogakko de zuko wo oshiete imasu" or "I teach art at an elementary school."


Calligraphy lesson

Toothbrushes and cups

School lunch

Today we visited Hagisho Elementary School in Ichinoseki City. The eco-friendly and beautifully designed school was matched in grace by its principal. teachers, and students. One of our most enjoyable experiences was joining students for lunch in their classrooms as they served and cleaned up for themselves, a regular practice here. The lunch was also tasty and healthful.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Ichinoseki City Junior High School

Shoe cupboard

Art teachers Nancy Walkup, Kazusige Otomo, and Betsy Sio

Today was our first school visit, to Ichinoseki City Junior High. We spent the entire day there, beginning with a meeting with the principal and vice principal in the library, then observing classes on our own as we wished. I set in on two art classes, one with just special education students and the other with regular students. Mr. Otomo was the art teacher and he was very welcoming. The special education students were making monoprints from collages they had made earlier and the regular students worked on a collage design based on Japanese history and culture from the area. I also participated in a music class where the students taught us how to play the koto, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument.

After lunch, the students presented an unbelievable program they had planned for us. We were seated in front of the entire school in the gym. The program included speeches, the school band, the entire school singing, Kancho daiko drums, and cheerleaders (or yell leaders). Laura, the music teacher with us, was invited to lead the band (which consisted only of girls. The level of professionalism for every event was far beyond what our schools can do. The Japanese schools obviously have high expectations for every student and place a strong focus on student effort. Everyone seemed very glad for us to be there.

Near the end of the day we got to see the students as they cleaned the entire school. Apparently this practice helps keep the school clean. Wearing different shoes for inside and outside definitely helps as well.

We all felt very welcomed and honored. This is why we are here - to experience Japanese schools and to be reminded how similar we all are.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Apparently there was a fairly strong earthquake here last night but I somehow managed to sleep through it (it woke everyone else up). The breakfast room was full of relief workers this morning. Today we met with some parents at the Ichinoseki Cultural Center and had a beautiful traditional meal at the Sekinoichi Saki factory, then visited Sasaki Seika, a factory that makes "hand-grilled wheat crackers" and two Buddhist temples, Motsuji and Chusonji.


Rice paddy behind the hotel in Ichinoseki City

Iwate prefecture is the dark green area on the main island of Japan.

Today we spent the morning at Iwate University, talking with teachers and students at the college. They were mostly very shy but friendly. They certainly spoke English better than we spoke Japanese.

In the afternoon we traveled north to Ichinoseki City, the site of the recent earthquake, where we met with the mayor and the superintendent of schools. Our hotel is right off the highway, a businessmen's hotel that looks very new. The view outside my window is of a rice paddy. It comes right up to the parking lot of the hotel and an apartment building.


Today was just a travel day. Our Ichinoseki group of 16 and our coordinator took the bullet train to Morioka in Iwate and spent the night at a hotel there. Since Iwate prefecture suffered a severe earthquake on Saturday, we were happy to discover our plans were unchanged. We walked around town and looked at the famous cherry tree there that split a stone as it grew (remember, cherry trees are very important here!). Morioka is the capital of Iwate and was very cosmopolitan. I was glad to discover the city buses are decorated with student artwork.

We had dinner at a soba noodle restaurant with most of the group. Afterwards I found a grocery store to buy some green tea. I took the photograph above in the grocery store. The packages looked like big bags of chips but they had pictures of lobsters on the front. Looking at the back, I could read that they actually contained shrimp chips from Thailand! In the back of the store they had a Mexican section complete with Old El Paso brands.

Free Saturday

Up at 4:00 to catch a 6:00 train to Kyoto. We took a taxi to the station to save time and make life easier, only to discover that the taxi dropped us off at the wrong station. After frantically looking for a solution and with the help of a number of nice Japanese people, we took a local train to Tokyo station and just barely made the bullet train. Riding the bullet train is a bit different that the regular train. When it comes into a station, it only stops for one or two minutes. You have to be lined up for the correct car and ready to get on as soon as the train stops. Fortunately, the signage is in both Japanese and English. Riding the subway and train here is great, partly because they are so clean. The Japanese do not usually eat or drink on the street or on the subway, so there is no litter anywhere I have seen. Cell phones cannot be used on the train or subway so the cars are very quiet.

Our luck improved, though, because we could see Mt. Fuji from the train (not always visible, apparently). We had a morning tour in Kyoto that took us to a Buddhist temple, Nijo-jo Castle, and the Golden Pavilion or Rokuon-Ji Temple. We spent some time at the Kyoto Craft Center, then visited on our own the Philosopher’s Walk and the Silver Pavilion at Ginkakuji Temple,and the famous Rock Garden at Daisen-In Temple. That was my favorite place of the day, even though it is under renovation and we couldn't take pictures inside. The garden was made about 490 years ago by Kogaku-Zenji to express the spirit of Zen through the media of only rocks and sand. You can look at some of the sites we visited at

Afterwards we went back to the train station for a long wait for our return train; finally back at the hotel about midnight.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Nijo Castle in Kyoto

We took the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto early today and then took a bus tour of the main sites in the morning. One of the places I most wanted to see in Kyoto was the Rock Garden of Daisen-In. It turned out to be quite far from the center of town but our taxi driver finally found it. It was almost closing time by the time we got there, it was bein renovated, and we couldn't take pictures, but it was still the best experience of the day. The garden, called a dry garden, uses only rocks and sand to represent nature and was made about 1509 A.D. by Kogaku-Zenji, the monk who founded the temple. It was a timeless place.

On the other hand, we could photograph Nijo Castle, originally built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu. It has a "nightingale" floor, especially designed to squeak when walked on. It was a way of preventing sneak attacks.


Walking around the neighborhood last night, I came upon a blowfish restaurant, complete with a street-side tank of the actual fish, which are pretty ugly. Supposedly these are poisonous unless especially prepared by an expert chef.

This morning began with a talk about Peace Education by a survivor of Hiroshima. Keijiro Matsushima was 16 years old and sitting in his math class at school when the bomb burst. He was on the side of the school away from the blast, survived, and left Hiroshima right away, walking to his home outside the city. Apparently he escaped the worst physical consequences but he saw the results of the bomb, both human and physical, as he left. There can't be too many survivors left. It was an honor to be able to meet and hear from Matsushima-san.

I skipped the group unch today to go to Akihabara, the electronics district, but it looked like parts of New York City to me. What was more interesting is that I was the only non-Japanese person on the subway, both coming and going. Of course, no one paid any attention to me, but that is typical of subway behavior. And I didn't realize until I was returning that I didn't know what an exit sign looked like (very little of the signage was in English). Fortunately, the character looked like an E turned on its side. I went by myself because no one wanted to go; so many of the participants are afraid to try the subway, but it is just like the subway anywhere else.

In the afternoon we had a presentation on Japanese music, theater, and dance, and then met with our group coordinators for our upcoming visits throughout Japan. Tomorrow I am going to Kyoto on the bullet train with a group of participants, leaving here at 5:00 am. The train leaves at 6:00 but only stops for 2 minutes!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Second Day

Today was filled with presentations by a number of officials, all in the hotel. Since it was raining hard this morning, that worked out well. In between times, I have been recruiting a group to go to Kyoto on Saturday, our one free day in Tokyo. We have to catch the bullet train at Tokyo station at 6:00 AM for the two hour ride to Kyoto. We spend the day there, seeing as much as we can, and then come back late on the bullet train.

After we finished our obligations today, I walked around the neighborhood with some of the other teachers. We're in a neighborhood of restaurants and banks and odd little stores. We did find our first 100 Yen store, but it wasn't very big.

We discovered you can get ice cream here, but it comes in interesting flavors like green tea, lavender, wasabi, adzuki bean, as well as the basic flavors.

Our First Full Day in Japan

I actually woke up in time to get to breakfast, which was a buffet that offered both Japanese and Western style breakfast foods. So I had a balanced breakfast of miso soup, grilled salmon, "English" tea (black tea with milk and sugar), and a chocolate croissant (very small).

We started the day with a bus tour of the area of Tokyo around the Imperial Palace, including Japan's Supreme Court and the Diet, Japan's legislature. You can't see the Imperial Palace itself from the road, but it is surrounded by a huge moat and covered with dense greenery.

We had lunch at a traditional Japanese restaurant with tatami mats (shown above), I guess to acquaint us all with traditional practices before our home visits. We had tempura, not sushi, as well. Afterwards we had a total of 45 minutes to explore the area around the Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo's most sacred and popular temple, also known as Asakusa Kannon. The street leading to the temple is called Nakamise-dori and is lined with shops selling different kinds of souvenirs. I was more interested in the temples' huge paper lanterns, giant incense burner, and numerous buildings. I bought a book from the temple I can have stamped at each temple I visit in Japan (thanks to advice from Ken Vieth) and took lots of pictures. The photo on this page portrays the Hozo-mon Gate, which leads to the temple.

Back at the hotel, we watched a performance of a traditional Japanese theater called Kyogen, performed by Don Kenny, who has popularized this historic form, performing it in English. The day ended with a Welcome Reception with lots of speeches, food, and drink.

Lots of our participants immediately went out on the town for the evening but I need to recover some energy before I am up for that!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We're sitting in the San Francisco airport waiting for our oversold and delayed flight to Tokyo.  A surprising number in our group have laptops and we have filled all the available outlets in the waiting area trying to charge our computers one last time before out 10+ flight (and everyone else seems to be on a cell phone). Looking out the window at the humongous airplane set to carry us around the world, it is hard to believe such a thing can fly. Fortunately, the airport is filled with fine art to distract us, including a huge metal cutout by one of my favorite artists, Carmen Lomas Garza, a Texas-born artist who lives in San Francisco.

Last night we were treated to dinner at the Japanese consulate, a home high on a hill with a fantastic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay, and Alcatraz. It was a beautiful, clear, surprisingly cool evening and the food was absolutely wonderful (sushi, of course - I think my favorite was the eel).

We are all sleep-deprived and anxious to get to Tokyo.