Memories from my spring break...

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Friday 20 - Saturday 21

Leaving Honolulu Friday morning - arriving Nagoya Saturday evening! one day lost.
Plane not full. Nice Korean lady 2 seats beside. Chat most of the flight.
Stop at Seoul (with shower at the KoreanAir business lounge, I'm still a frequent flyer with AirFrance, so I can use these privileges)
Arrival at Nagoya earlier than scheduled. But Michiyo was already waiting for me!
My first contact with an ATM at the airport has been a failure.
Going back home took a while, and after chatting a bit I finally went to bed very very late...

Sunday 22: Friendship

Michiyo's Sunday morning is dedicated to her Church, and since it was her turn to accompany songs with the organ, the timing was very strict that morning.
I've been warmly welcomed even if, at that time, I thought that nobody spoke English. Except Wendy, a Canadian missionary who is also the English teacher. She doesn't understand Japanese but seems to communicate so easily with everybody... The 'pasteur' is Japanese and the service is entirely said in Japanese. The songbook is easy to follow since lyrics are written in katakana. Although, I suddenly realized that a text only written in katakana is impossible to understand since there is no separation between words! And they have bible in English... At the end I could even recognize my name in the week events section!
After the service, the church is transformed in a dining room where everybody shares the meal brought by members. This is a very friendly moment. They were surprised that I could eat what they prepared... It was so delicious (a home-made ちらしすし). Then, some people started to speak English with me! At the end some group pictures were taken!
After the lunch there was a bible reading class lead by Wendy. Actually it's more an English lesson. At the end, many of them had questions for me about the Sun!
It was so rainy that we had to cancel Michiyo's initial plan (to visit the Inuyama castle). Instead, we went to Yuki's place to have dinner. So Wendy, Mr. and Mrs. (Tomoko) Inoue, Michiyo and me, met at Yuki's place to cook for several hours a fantastic dinner (やきそば -even a special version for me-, minestrone soup, vegetables, spring rolls & chicken deep fried, salades and cake). At the end, Yuki gave a performance on her so sophisticated organ. Before leaving, we were all rolling on the floor when Yuki showed us her paper toilet with which you can learn English and Japanese! This first day ended very late...

Monday 23: Cultural visits

Beside the weekend, I didn't expect to see much Michiyo as I know she works very hard (more than 14 hours per day!). So I had in mind some plans of what to do during the week by myself. But it didn't work out that way Michiyo' friend offered to show me the region. Monday, Mr. and Mrs. Inoue brought me to Meiji-mura and Inuyama. いきましょう! Meiji-mura is a place where old buildings have been brought and re-built from somewhere else. We also expected to see some cherry blossoms. For lunch we had some どるそば (which wasn't even on the menu!). When visiting an old house there I made a joke to our guide. Since the floor is in wood and makes a lot of noise, I supposed that this noise comes from mice... I'm not sure how she took it... At Inuyama there is an old castle. Climbing the stairs through very steep steps was tough but it was worth going to the top for the view.
We spent the rest of the day preparing a delicious dinner (again!) and waiting for Michiyo. During that evening I learned a lot about Japanese cooking, but also about Japanese language. Tomoko always uses an e-dictionary, even during critical phases of a meal preparation! The word that came the most often was そして Unfortunately, Michiyo arrived much later than expected and we were all so starving after this long preparation (まきすし, てんぷら with homemade dipping sauce, みそ+あさり, carrot salad, なと (nobody could believe I eat that!), なぐろ, raw えび, and what else?) so we had many snacks in between...
A wonderful day, ending very late again, much later than midnight.

Tuesday 24: Change of plan!

I didn't really feel jet-lag, but that morning I was already tired from my 2 long days. Hopefully I can sleep very well (even if nights are short), something that I didn't experienced the past 2 months...
For the 2nd day in a row, I tried to find an ATM that would accept of of my AmericanExpress cards (the US one or the French one). Or, a bank where I could change my dollars. We are in a city north to Nagoya and I have some difficulties here to use my card. Unfortunately, I don't have a Visa or Mastercard, because I'm not allow yet to get one in the US! And traveling with only an Amex is so stupid. I should have thought about that before leaving... But that day I finally succeeded to have 80$ converted. yeah!
Yesterday I realized that I embarrassed someone. So confusing... I entered in the bank with 2 packs of strawberries. The lady at the counter looked at my strawberries (although they were not in danger!) and offered me a plastic bag to put them inside... hmmm .
Today it was Yuki's turn to kindly offer to show me another place. As she was driving, she had several plans and finally decided to change them and to go to a city called Seto, famous for its pottery. We met a friend of her there and we had lunch in a small local restaurant. Again a very interesting meal with ingredients I didn't know (たません and あかみそ). The boiled だいこん reminded me a nice memory taste from when I was a kid (raifort root, kind of Alsacian radish). In Seto, I bought a tee mug and a necklace made with glass. When we left the parking, Yuki's car was complaining about its gas level... Yuki drove me back to Tomoko's home where I stayed until she came back to pick me up with Tomoko to go to a strange restaurant... That evening, we missed Michiyo who was away for 2 days on a business trip. By the way, when Yuki arrived, her car was still complaining. As night was coming and we drove in the country side I was wondering if we will have to push the car at some points... I learnt a new expression today from Yuki: だいじょうぶ.

Yuki kindly lend me a mobile phone that her mother doesn't use. But beside calling or answering I could not do anything with it, I mean sending a message for instance. And it seems necessary because these Japanese ladies are always sending messages Anyway, at least I figured out how to read them when I received some.
So now, that strange restaurant. It was a smoky dark place. At first when you enter, it looked like a US steak house. Then after ordering food and drinks someone asked me to go to the counter. There were 2 other girls in the same situation than me. First there was a little show: waiters with horrible masks were signing. Then one of them was juggling with bottles. Finally I had to go behind the counter to say something... After that we had a nice diner composed of different types of cooking styles. I can't remember every meal, but I do remember the japanse style spagetti that I liked very much. And they offered a piece of cake at the end. They came to take a picture of us with the cake and plugged it onto a wall with tons of other pictures! Well, that was an experience... And it was a kind of birthday party! Even nicer, because in Hawaii I won't have one... I had fun, but I guess Yuki and Tomoko had even more fun than me. It was good to see them enjoying the evening so much.

On the way back, the car got finally something to drink and I felt relief not to have to push it in the dark... Another very nice day, again that ended very extremely late. Despite being alone in the apartment, I slept like a baby. I'll see Yuki again on Thursday since she already made some plans for another tour...

Wednesday 25: Kyoto

Today I'm on my own, and decided to go to Kyoto. I went to Nagoya by train and subway, and took the Shinkansen, with which you can reach Kyoto in less than an hour. First stop was to find an ATM that accept my French card (I could only get cash with this card, but pay with the US one!). Following Wendy's advice, I tryed to find a bus tour on the Internet. I also tried the tourist center. But no luck. But when I exited the Kyoto station, I saw a sign "Sightseeing tours". Nobody seemed to speak English at the counter, but I insisted and finally get a ticket. Of course the tour was in Japanese. I couldn't understand anything, and after a while I didn't pay much attention about what the lady guide was talking about, but somehow I managed to pick numbers followed by じ. Ouf! So I never missed the right time to come back at the bus. The tour included the visit of 3 places: Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji, Kiyomizu-dera. I had the opportunity to try a lot of food along the streets that lead to these places. This 5-hour tour was nice but I'm disappointed not being able to see the old heart of Kyoto. Back at the station I wanted to visit the big department store but something happened and half of the station was in the dark and several firetrucks were in front of the station... So I decide to take the train to come back home. During the morning I called Yuki (with her phone) to let her know what I was doing. It seems that she didn't really get what I said, because later, I received a message on the phone from Tomoko who whished me a nice day in Seto I was so proud to be able to read the message, but I couldn't answer her to tell her where I finally went! As I was in the train I've got another message, from Michiyo this time, telling me that she will be home early. Great! And actually I arrived only a few minutes before her... That evening Michiyo cooked あげだしとふ. So delicious.

Thursday 26: On the road again!

Today, Yuki picked me up early. She wanted to show me Ise, Futami and Toba, three famous places in the Mei prefecture. 2 and half hours of driving were needed to reach this place south of Nagoya and on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. For this trip, she treated us with a snack bag that includes many different things to eat, and some fresh tea. So nice!

I was so excited to see the sea! It has been long time since I didn't see it. Well at least 5 days First stop, Ise and its famous and very old shinto-ji. I can't say about the shrine, but you can feel a peaceful atmosphere in the park. These old trees are so impressive. The second step was the male and female stones of Meoto-iwa. I found their view magic. I can't explain why. It's so simple and beautiful. Then a lunch break in a small local restaurant. Then we went to Toba to visit the aquarium. There, it was a shock for me: usually aquarium are places where you can see nice fishes and mammals. There, it is exactly the opposite. All these animals were uglier ones than the others. Huge ugly fishes, too many for their pool. Many of them aggressive. Plus a lot of s..... or at least long fishes like s...... The nicest one we saw, was a beluga. Among 6, there was one who was interested by people and try to amuse them. I've been traumatized by this aquarium. Must be a cultural difference of presenting fishes and mammals...

That day couldn't just ended up like this... Back in Komaki, Yuki wanted to show me a special shop: the 'recycle shop'. It's a thriftshop (I can write it but I can't pronounced it! ). Even if it seemed clean I didn't like the smell (old dust?). There, I hesitated to buy something... I've found a small taiko drum! It wasn't pretty but it was cheap (14,700 yens) for a taiko and the sound seemed better than my tire. But how could I bring it back with me? After that stop, we tried to find a restaurant. We called Michiyo who, unfortunately, couldn't join us. Top choice on the list didn't exist anymore! Yuki drove us to an Okinawa restaurant where she said "it might not be very clean, but the food is delicious". And she was right, once again I enjoyed the food very much: そめん, いせ えび, ぐるくん, おやつ. And we order some food to take away for Michiyo. Another great day ended up very late since I waited for Michiyo to be back from work and to take a japanese bath... so

Friday 27: Nagoya

Each morning I feel more and more tired... But I don't want to just rest: I haven't really been in Nagoya yet, so today was my last chance. First step: to find a bank! Again. Now I understood that the bank that works for me is always located in a post-office. Ouf! Next step: the robot museum. I found the place. But no robot museum... I went to a tourist information place and the lady was so sorry to tell me that it doesn't exist anymore. It went bankruptcy. Next step: Matstuzakaya department store. I started with the basement floor. The choice was so numerous that I couldn't make any choice, and decided to leave. Upper floors were disappointing too. I couldn't find nice hankerchiefs or towels that looked like Japanese. Japanese people like the French touch! so everything was too French or English for me. Next step: Osukanon and eating something. I continue to walk instead of taking the subway. I diverted from my route to find something to eat and I found a temple. I didn't know which one it was. There, an old men stop near me and started talking to me in English. He happened to be a Japan history teacher. We talked for more than 15min. It was very interesting and nice chat. I continued my way and found a place to eat. Hopefully someone entered in this restaurant just before me, so I could observed what she did!!! She went to a machine, like a vending machine, press some buttons and paid! I did the same and choose a とろ丼. yeah! I continue my way, and walked and walked and walked and couldn't find Osukanon. I was trying to identify where I was on my (only written in) Japanese map, when a lady stopped near me and started talking in Japanese. She recognized me from the lunch restaurant. She helped me to understand that I was out of my map boundaries. So now back on track to see the Science Museum building and Osu-Kanon. Actually I never found Osu-Kanon but I walked in the science park. I continued to walk, found a big bookstore, and went back at Komaki. There I bought some beer, rice crackers, pastries and joghurt (I realized how much I miss joghurts since in the US they are so bad and jelly) and wait for Michiyo to come back home for dinner. And wait, wait, wait... She came very late but told me that like that she will have her day off on Monday! When waiting for Michiyo, I've started to write these notes... That night I hit my record and went to after 2:00am!

Saturday 28: Un weekend à la neige !

Michiyo decides for this weekend that we will go the Shirakawa-go. It's an old village up in the mountains. It has been preserved for centuries and is now an UNESCO heritage. Initially, Michiyo wanted to drive her car, but since the weather was getting more and more bad during the week with cold and snow, we finally took the train. A Japanese train trip starts by buying a lunch box. So we did. At the station, the choice is huge. It was two and half-hour long ride along a beautiful river in the mountains and then an hour of bus through tunnels and tunnels (like in Switzerland).
The village is incredible. You feel like back in the past. It's so beautiful and impressive. And there was snow! Michiyo made a reservation for the night at the Toyota Shirakawa-go Eco Institute. Wow, that was something too. A beautiful all-wood construction. Simple but stylish. And upper in the mountain (Alt 700-800m ?). We first had an excellent dinner. French style gourmet cuisine with some Japanese touch. Then a bath in the onsen. There was an outdoor bath surrounded by snow. I was surprised that women go to the bath with their young daughters. I thought that the heat (more than 45degC) was not good for children. There was a little girl who told us 'see you later' (in English in the text!) when leaving.
Our room was a large Japanese style room, and we had to setup our futon. So good to find again tatami mats and futon to sleep since at Michyo's place I slept in a bed Then we had a nice, peaceful and restful night. This was the first and only evening I went to sleep that early and that I could sleep more than 5 hours! I was so tired having a migraine the whole day and still being annoyed by the altitude.

Sunday 29

First thing in the morning (since our schedule was very tight!): going to onsen one more time. There are 2 onsen, one for men and one for women. But they exchange the place everyday. So we were looking forward to try the other one this morning (ひのき onsen). So disappointed that it wasn't the case... After breakfast, we met again the little girl from yesterday evening. She was with her older sister and seemed to wait for us. She wanted to talk with us in English. We sat down in the lobby and exchanged some words. She had 2 pieces of papers ready for me! On one she wrote her address so I can write to her, the other one was left blank for me to write my address Her name is Ai and she is 10. Her sister is 13. But she was the one who spoke all the time. It was amusing to see her shyness and at the same time her courage to come and talk to me. Michiyo took some pictures. This was a very special moment.
An hour later we met them again with her parents. And we took other pictures. I really hope she will write me. I will send her a postcard later this week. Now it's time for our Nature visit. Part of the accommodation plan, an-hour outdoor visit is included. Our Nature Guide is みけ (Mickey). Since there is snow outside, we had to wear snow rackets. So we first stretched a bit before putting on the snow rackets. Then we had to train to observe carefully things. Mickey counted ten when we were closing our eyes so he had time to change something on him so funny.  I can still recall the music of his counting: いち にー さん しー ごー ろく しち はち きゅう じゅー He came up with funny changes even like wearing a bear head as a hat! Anyway we walked a bit in the snow, observed trees, birds, tracks. We even saw blooming despite the temperature. Very educative for children and adults. It's time now to leave this peaceful place in the middle of the forest and going back to Shirakawa-go to take the bus to Takayama where we will have to wait for the train for around 3 hours, enough time to have lunch, visit old an house and to do some shopping. For lunch, Michiyo found a very nice little traditional place where we had some noodles. Here we saw the little girl, Ai, again with her family when they left the restaurant! And that was another "see you later!". We visit an old and huge governor house. It was so cold inside, but beautiful. Then we went shopping and having まちゃ and せんべい.
It's time to take the train, and same as our way to come here, we will try to get a sit in the non-smoking and non-reservation car. So we have to go early at the station. For dinner, Michiyo wanted to go to a とふ restaurant at Nagoya station where all meals are made with tofu. That was just exquisite. Time to go back home. A wonderful and successful week-end. Another very late evening...

Monday 30: Let's fly back... home and time!

My flight to Narita is at 2:45pm, and I'll arrive at NHL Monday morning 7:00am. I'll have my lost day back! Michiyo has her day off and Yuki and Tomoko offered to come with us at the airport, so Michiyo is not left alone after I left, and then I can share another moment with them. Michiyo's car is a small Italian one (she works at Mitsubishi hmm) but we all fit in it. Finding a restaurant with a not so long line was not easy. We choose the うなぎしょ. We all had a うなぎのひつまぶし. Unagi comes cooked in one way, but you have to eat it in 3 different ways. So delicious. The best unagi I ever had. Yuki wasn't really nice with me when she wanted to remember me that unagi was a s...... and with gestures ;) and that we saw some in the aquarium ;) The meal ended by an origami lesson from the waitress to Yuki who made a dog! Time to leave... more pictures taken... some ...
It was a small aircraft, Dash-8 (less than 60 passengers). The arrival at NRT was very bumpy and I tryed to forget what happened last week at the same place because of the wind. There is a big hole beside the runway where the plane crashed. I went to the NorthWestAirline lounge. I sent a skype sms to Michiyo that was lost... I had beer, sake and udon. Enough to eat since I knew that I will not eat during the flight (NWA always have a choice of beef or chicken!). And a few skype chats with buddies in Strasbourg. Coming from Japan and using NWA is stupid. The service is so bad and the crew so not pleasant (but still better than other US airlines). During the whole night you can hear: trash, trash, water, water, コヒ, コヒ, etc... Hopefully the plane is new and very comfortable (A330) and there was nobody sitting beside me. It was good to see the ocean when arriving. I finally decided to take a taxi to go to the institute. So I was there at 8:15am. I ordered a cab to which I could pay with my card and I got a limo! Later during the day I took the bus to go to Hawaii Kai (where I leave) to take a shower and pick up my car to go back to the office and bring my suitcase. The bus ride was almost 2 hours (1.5 riding, the rest for waiting and walking up the hill to my home). My first day at work has not been very nice... Back home, I couldn't stay up after 7:00pm. I was so exhausted and happy to find my futon again... Tomorrow it will be time to write scientific papers again...

To my friends: あかげさまで。
I had a fantastic week, I enjoyed each moments and I learnt a lot from you all. I've been touched by your kindness. I've brought back with me lots of nice memories, a full notebook of new words and recipes, your presents, and some hope about friendship. Please come to visit me in Hawaii (or in France, or wherever I'll be, if I can't stay here). 

Photos thanks to Mr Inoue, Yuki, Michiyo, anonymous people who were just asked to take a picture and me!