Saturday, April 10

Paula: Our time in Japan is coming to an end and we all agree that this is a country we will come back to someday. The hospitality of the people in Asakura gave us a special appreciation for genuine kindness of the Japanese and our visit here was a wonderful conclusion to our stay in Japan. Today required many goodbyes to new friends, but not before we enjoyed another great day here including a fun morning in the park and an afternoon barbecue, Japanese style.

Both Yoshiko and Mitsuko prepared delicious Japanese breakfasts for us again this morning. The presentation and organization of food here is always well thought out. Each dish is often placed in its own small plate, saucer or bowl. Even lunch boxes (called bentos) have a compartment for each type of food, and yesterday the school lunch was also served in numerous containers that the students made sure we put each in a specific location on our trays. We have greatly enjoyed the food here, both the home-cooked breakfasts and at restaurants.

Before leaving Mitsuko's house, Katie and I had fun taking a few pictures of things we wanted to remember about her home. These included the slippers waiting at the entrance of each room (and the special "toilet slippers"), the shrine to her ancestors which she attends to each morning, the Japanese bath, the tatami mats, and the low tables and pillows for sitting on in each room. Katie and I will miss talking with Mitsuko and Chiaki in the mornings. We have been impressed by their ability to speak English even though they insist humbly that "our English is not good." We will also miss our evening baths, Japanese-style. Although we were nervous about this ritual at first, Mitsuko gently demonstrated the proper method on our first evening and we immediately came to appreciate this relaxing and therapeutic ending to each day.

After breakfast we joined the students from California at the Asakura Exchange Center. We enjoyed picking strawberries again and watched what looked to be a Japanese little league baseball game being played in the park. Though we had time to watch only two innings, in this short time we saw the players demonstrating typically Japanese discipline, teamwork, enthusiasm and respect. The players huddled around their coach between each inning and listened intently with their caps off to show respect. After this, the team captain would lead the team in another huddle and a unified cheer. Players always run to their positions, and even up to bat - loafing is clearly not acceptable. Between each and every pitch, the players in the field all make a variety of noises, which we interpreted to be encouragement for the pitcher (as soon as the ball is thrown, all the noise stops - we assume this is in respect to the batter). It was very interesting to see a little of the Japanese version of America's pastime. We had hoped to attend a major league game here, but schedules didn't work out - maybe next time…

The baseball field is part of a complex which also includes the Asakura Exchange Center (lovely community center with meeting rooms, kitchen and dorm facilities), Senior Day Care Center, tennis courts, picnic facilities and park. The park consists of brand new playground equipment, two large slides and a wading pond/fountain. There were people of all ages enjoying the complex today and David and Katie especially enjoyed the wide, long slide that kids ride down with plastic sleds (of course the sleds are provided free in the park). David and Katie quickly made friends here, with several young boys trying to teach David how to go down "surfing-style" and the girls making trains with Katie on their sleds. David and Katie were touched by the friendliness of these children and desire to be helpful, despite the language barrier. After David and Katie tired of the slide, three young girls approached them and asked in English David and Katie would play with them. Of course, this offer could not be refused! Steve and I commented that we'd never see a situation like this at home - young children approaching older foreign kids and asking to play.

The Asakura Exchange Club here sponsored a barbecue for the California students participating in the exchange and we were invited to join. It was fun to meet this group of students and their teachers. The barbecue was delicious and served with a soy sauce dressing. It was the first barbecue we have experienced where we had to use chop sticks!

On our way to the airport, we stopped to see the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge. This is the first independent three bridge suspension bridge in the world, and was completed about five years ago. It is truly remarkable in its design and the three bridges span over two miles with supports on several small islands to cross three inlets connecting the islands of Oshima and Shikoku. Construction of the bridge was complicated by the strong and swirling currents here - these were very visible to us today.

The sakura (cherry blossoms) have been in full bloom during our entire visit. Today, we found ourselves in showers of blossoms as they are just now beginning to fall from the trees giving way to tender green leaves. When it was time to say goodbye, we were again humbled by the kindness of our host families who literally showered us with thoughtful gifts before driving us to the airport. What a strange feeling it was to be receiving gifts from the people who had just gone so far out of their way to make our time in Asakura so special! We will never forget the kindness of Yoshiko, Mitsuko and everyone else here. We will always remember our time in Asakura as one of the highlights from all of our travel adventures. We plan on keeping in close touch with Yoshiko, who has promised to forward e-mails and pictures from us to all of our new friends here. We also made Yoshiko promise to visit Boston one day, so that we may try in some way to return her very special hospitality.

Our flight to Tokyo was exactly on time, we expect no less now that we have been here for over a week - to say that things work like "clockwork" in Japan is a huge understatement! We will spend the night here close to the airport before flying to Los Angeles tomorrow and then on to South America on Monday. What a strange feeling it will be to set foot back on home ground, only to leave the following day for our final 12 weeks in South America and Africa…












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