Discover travel destinations of travelers writing a travel journal on FindPenguins.

4 travelers at this place

  • Day1


    June 21, 2018 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 22 °C

    Between flights, layovers, and driving I think we've been traveling for about 21 hours. I don't know how I haven't collapsed.

    We were driven from the airport to Saitama City Hall, where our host family picked us up. I knew I was staying with the assistant principal for one of the elementary schools I'm visiting, Iijima-sensei (in Japan they use suffixes the way we might use "Mr." or "Ms.", and "-sensei" is used for teachers, doctors, and some other professionals). I noticed on the schedule they sent me that it said his wife will be taking care of me and now I know why - he barely speaks any English! He picked my up by himself and I felt bad when I asked him in the car, in English, when his school gets out for the summer. I could tell he didn't understand the question so I used Google Translate to ask again in Japanese, but then he spent literally 5 minutes trying to remember the word for "July". Thank goodness I know a little Japanese and have a smartphone! His wife, Jun-san (-san is used for most adults, but her nickname is Jun-Jun) speaks much more English thankfully.

    Once we got to the house I of course wanted to go to bed, but instead we went out for sushi. Sushi > sleep so I couldn't complain too much. It was a conveyor belt sushi place, which are always fun. It was exactly what it sounds like - there is a conveyor belt wish sushi on it that goes around the restaurant past all of the tables and you just grab what you want. Some, like the one we went to, also have touch screens at every table so you can order a specific thing. When you are finished you are charged by the plate. The best part (and lets be real, it was all amazing) was dessert, which was Japanese shaved ice (kakigōri). Again, I didn't take a picture of mine but it was similar to the one posted here. American shaved ice can't compete; kakigōri is shaved much finer and often has sweet condensed milk on top along with syrup, giving it a much smoother texture. I promise this whole blog won't be about food (if only because I won't remember the name of everything I've eaten), but I had kakigōri once when I went to Australia and I've been craving it ever since!

    Anyway, once we got home I was finally able to take a shower/bath and go to bed (I'm not going to talk about Japanese shower rooms now but spoiler: I really like them). I don't remember the last time I feel asleep that fast! Hopefully this means I won't have trouble adjusting my body clock to Japan time.
    Read more

  • Day2

    Meeting the Mayor

    June 22, 2018 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 25 °C

    The main event for our first full day in Japan was meeting the mayor. Heather and I had to meet the gentleman who picked us up yesterday (I can't remember his name - sorry sir!) at the train station nearest city hall. To do that, I had to take the train with Jun-Jun. Apparently she lives near the biggest station in Saitama. It's practically a mini-shopping mall with a 4-5 floor department store in it and everything. We rode in a women-only train car, which are available in mornings and evenings. While a lot of people use their smartphones to read, no one talks on the phone on the train as it is considered very rude.

    From the station we had to walk about 10-15 minutes to City Hall. Now's as good a time as any to mention that the weather in Saitama is very similar to that in Richmond - the city is only 2° latitude further south - so it is very hot and humid out this time of year. Now anyone who knows me knows that I am rarely seen without a water bottle and sure enough I had one with me. However, I forgot to fill it up before I left the house so I was (metaphorically) DYING of thirst by the time we got to City Hall. I don't remember the last time I was that thirsty. In fact, I find I am more thirsty more often since I got to Japan; perhaps it is a combination of the food, weather, and perhaps different air quality. Maybe everyone in Japan feels this way and that is why there are drink machines EVERYWHERE.

    Somehow I survived without passing out, managed to fill up my water bottle, and was taken to the floor where we met our host families the previous night, which is where the school system offices are. I say offices, but really the only office is the superintendents and the rest of the staff sit at rows of desks facing each other. It's pretty cramped and crowded, but it does feel more collaborative I guess. We went into a large meeting room and met with the ALT coordinator, Keiko Tonegawa. ALTs are Assistant Language Teachers - teachers from other countries who help teach English. If I were to come back and spend a year or more in Japan that's what I would do.

    Since she has to work with English teachers who often don't speak Japanese, Keiko-san is fluent in English. She told us she spent about 3 years in San Francisco about 10 years ago. She told Heather and I about Japanese curriculum requirements, which are set by their national Board of Education. School districts who want to modify or add to the curriculum have to ask the BOE for permission. Saitama did this so that they could teach more hours of English, in classes they call "Global Studies". At the elementary level it's basically just conversational English, but maybe they learn more things in Junior High. A lot of areas around Tokyo are really putting a lot of time and resources into teaching English in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Saitama also has a unique class called Human Relations - which is usually taught as a few hours after each semester break from 3rd-7th grade to help fight bullying and teach the kids relationship skills. Even in Japan adults think the kids don't know how to talk to each other anymore!

    All in all the curriculum is actually quite complicated, because the number of required hours for each subject is different by grade - I can't imagine how complicated it is to build the school's schedule! Not only that, but 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders actually have fewer total hours, with 1st have the fewest and then gradually adding more until 4th grade, which means the kids may leave at different times every day. Then when the kids get to Junior High (which is 7th-9th grade here), they have slightly more hours. Kindergarten and pre-K aren't part of the school system here, but many children go to private Kindergartens. High school in Japan also isn't compulsory, and students have to pass an entrance exam to attend, but something like 98% go anyway (they can go to a remedial school for a year if they don't pass the entrance exams). I'm still trying to figure out how much control the BOE has over high school education.

    After our briefing on all things Saitama Schools-related, Keiko-san took us out to lunch. I let Heather pick because, as I mentioned previously, she doesn't like a lot of Japanese foods. She decided on a pasta and pizza place because she figured she wouldn't be having any "American-style" food for the rest of her time here. Apparently Italian food is SUPER popular in Japan, although obviously it is not the same as Italian food in America (or Italy for that matter). I opted for a cold vegetable pasta because it was so hot out, but I also tried Heather's pizza. Both were good and actually did taste like dishes you could probably find somewhere in the US. While we were out for lunch Keiko also took us back by the train station so we could buy passes, which are also good for the prefecture's buses. An interesting note about the train system is that you actually pay based on how far you need to go (calculated by which stations or bus stops you scan your card on as you enter and leave) - so you should check your route if you don't have much money left on your card or have to buy a single ticket. We also stopped at a 100 yen store to each get a small hand towel - a must for any person living or traveling in Japan because you're always wiping away sweat and most bathrooms don't have dryers or paper towels.

    After lunch we still had to wait a little longer to meet the mayor, so Keiko-san was nice enough to introduce us to the head of Special Education and her team, since she knew I was interested. With Keiko-san acting as our translator we had quite a long conversation. Based on what the woman (I can't remember her name either) said, Japanese and American special education have a lot in common. However, because of the language barrier I'm not sure how much of that is really true and how much is us not really understanding what the other was describing. I guess I'll have to see for myself.

    So finally it's time for our meeting with the mayor. We were actually meeting the mayor at the same time as a group of students from Clover Hill High School in Chesterfield (one of the counties outside Richmond). As part of the same Sister Cities Program that sent Heather and I, Saitama sends a group of high school students to Clover Hill every year in the spring and Clover Hill sends their own group in the summer; this year they happened to be coming the same time as us. Most of the 10 kids from our group were actually learning Japanese at their school, since I guess Chesterfield has the money for that (not that I'm bitter or anything). We got a chance to talk for about 15 minutes before the meeting and of course they were super excited and practicing how to introduce themselves. Their teacher chaperones this year had never been to Japan either so they were nervous.

    Anyway, either meeting the mayor is a big deal in Saitama, they just wanted to show off, or (mostly likely) Japan has formalities for everything, because the meeting was held in this huge conference room at a table about 20 feet long and had an MC and everything. There was no chit-chat and it was all scripted, right down to giving him and the superintendent the gifts we brought. Heather and I actually got small gifts in return - a cute pen with the Saitama mascot on it and a towel from the city's Bonsai Museum, yay! Many photos were taken and it was all over in maybe 30 minutes tops. All in all I said maybe five words to the mayor so saying that I "met" him feels like a stretch, but it was an experience that I'm very glad I got to have.

    After the meeting the superintendent invited Heather and I to her office to talk. It turns out she used to teach English and was very excited for a chance to use her conversation skills. She was very friendly and relaxed; we talked about American versus Japanese schools and I told her about what I had heard from the Special Education team. By the time we finished talking to her it was after 5:00 and time to use our new train passes to get back. I'm pleased to say I made it back without getting lost or, as far as I know, breaking any international laws! I'm also pretty sure I didn't embarrass myself, Richmond Public Schools, or America any more than usual over the course of the day, so double win!
    Read more

  • Day3

    Weekend in Japan! Time to...Hula?

    June 23, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    I didn't know what to expect from my first weekend in Japan, but I must say I was surprised. The first reason is that I apparently didn't understand Jun-Jun at all when she told me what we were doing Saturday. I thought she said we were going to her "cycling" club, and I can't say I was looking forward to that given my general aversion to exercise. However, it turns out she was saying "hobby" club (don't ask me how I heard "cycling", I don't know either). Jun-Jun's hobby is foreign language and travel, which is why she can speak a good amount of English despite not having to use it for a job. Her and several other people (mostly other older women) meet at a community center type building on Saturdays and I guess just share experiences about foreign travel and sing foreign songs or something? Look, I said I learned SOME Japanese - I had no idea what was going on most of the type.

    What I did understand was that there was a young woman there who had spent 10 months in a home-stay and attending an American high school in Montana of all places. She talked about her experiences and read a paper she had written for her English class there about Affirmative Action. Since it was in English, this was about the only part of the who meeting I understood. It was really interesting, if more than a little awkward for me, to hear her perspective. Perhaps unsurprisingly she took the position against affirmative action, and cited data and anecdotes about how the policy can discriminate against Asians. I'll be the first to admit that I don't know a lot of the fine details about affirmative action, but when she asked me what I thought I tried my best to explain SOME of the reasoning behind the policy - mostly how there is a lot of child poverty in America and that African-Americans and Latinx people are often more strongly affected and how that can lead to worse performance on tests that determine college acceptance. Like I said, it was pretty awkward for me and I know I didn't have all the facts. The good news is that I'm pretty sure only the girl who studied abroad really had any idea what I said because I said a lot and it was all in English. After that the group started talking about various things in Japanese so I mostly just sat there and quietly ate snacks and hoping someone would tell me what they were saying. I did ask at one point in the conversation and apparently they were saying that young people in Japan aren't paying attention to what is going on in the world. While I kind of question the accuracy of that statement considering older people are genetically predisposed to complaining about "kids these days", I said that it felt like almost the opposite in America. After the 2016 election all the older people just seem to want to live in a bubble while the millennials are worried about the end of the world and global crises.

    Other than the young woman's paper (and the food), the one other nice thing about the hobby club was that Jun-Jun's daughter who lives in Saitama (she has two, but the other lives further away) came and brought her two little girls. One is three (Miko) and the other is one (Koto) and they are sooooooo cute. While everyone was talking I was mostly watching Miko draw on the whiteboard in the room and Koto stare at me because I guess I would look really weird to a Japanese baby.

    After the hobby club meeting we went to a convenience store to buy lunch - a very common occurrence in Japan. Japanese convenience stores sell a lot of read-to-eat foods like sandwiches, breads, and rice balls that are cheap, often somewhat healthy, and taste good. While Japan does have drive-thrus, I haven't really seen any and apparently they aren't as common here and there isn't enough space for them in the city anyway.

    The reason we got such a quick lunch was because we were heading to see a show. Jun-Jun goes to a hula class, and her teacher was going to be in a recital. A few people may think that having a hula class is a weird (I hear you making Pearl Harbor jokes) but in fact Hawaii is a very popular tourist destination and Japanese people make up about 17% of the state's population, not including those that are mixed-race. Now I've been to several dance recitals and most of the performers are usually small children, but this show was at least 75% older women! It is well known that Japan has an overwhelmingly large aging population and as I was watching the show I was able to appreciate what a great low-impact workout hula can be. Go for it ladies!

    We didn't stay for the whole show, which I was very grateful for. While I was enjoying it, I was also falling asleep during it. When we got home I took a much needed nap, then ate dinner and watched TV with Jun-Jun and Iijima-sensei until it seemed like a socially acceptable time to go back to sleep.
    Read more

  • Day18

    Harajuku, Shibuya & Teppanyaki

    September 16, 2018 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 24 °C

    Am 16.09. ging es zuerst wieder in das Shibyua 109, wieder Kevin und ich, diesmal aber auch noch Larissa und Mia aus dem anderen Sharehouse. Gerade die Mädchen hatten Schwierigkeiten, sich zusammenzureißen bei der Vielfalt an unterschiedlichsten Klamotten, tatsächlich siegte jedoch die Selbstbeherrschung. Vielleicht auch der Geldbeutel, das 109 ist nicht unbedingt billig. Nach einer Weile musste Kevin allerdings los, da er zum Fußball wollte und wir anderen drei sind kurzerhand nach Harajuku gefahren. Zur gleichen Zeit war in Harajuku eine Modenschau, die wir allerdings erst ganz zum Schluss angeguckt hatten, ich bin nicht mal reingegangen, weil es mir zu spät war. In Harajuku gibt es sogenannte Cheesedogs, da ist eine Art Mozarellamasse, die um einen Stock gewickelt und frittiert wird. Sehr lecker die Teile, so lecker dass wir uns gleich 2 geholt haben. Das interessanteste an dem Abend war jedoch das Teppanyaki. Während Mia und Larissa weiter in Harajuku waren, bin ich zurück nach Kita-Toda gefahren und habe mich kurzentschlossen Alex, Alan, Lars und einem Neuen angeschlossen, die Essen gegangen sind. Wir sind in einem typisch japanischen Teppanyaki gelandet, das ist ein Restaurant, indem man sich sein Essen selber brät und das auf einer großen heißen Metallplatte in der Tischmitte. Man kann es sich etwas wie großes Raclette vorstellen, mit Fleisch, Gemüse, Tintenfisch oder auch einfach Sobanudeln. Sehr lecker und sehr zu empfehlen. Man sollte sich allerdings von dem Gericht mit den 4 Chilishoten in der Karte fernhalten, denn ist ist scharf. Sehr, sehr scharf.

    Yesterday we went to the Shibuya 109 again, also Kevin and me but this time also Larissa and Mia, a girl from the other sharehouse. Especially the girls had difficulties to just go past the shops, but in the end self-control won or maybe also the bank account, because the 109 isn't exactely cheap. After some time, Kevin left, because he wanted to attend a football training and the girls and me decided to go to Harajuku. There was a fashion show there at the same time, but we came across it last and it was too late already for me to check it out. In Harajuku you can get cheesedogs, which is basically mozarella wrapped around a stick and dipped in potato pieces and deep-fried. It was so tasty that we got two each. The most interesting on that evening was the teppanyaki though, which is a japanese barbecue, so to speak. It's a hot iron plate which is integrated into a table and you basically order everything raw and cook it for yourself. It's a bit like a big raclette, with meat, fish (we had squid), vegetables or just noodles as well. Very tasty and a big recommendation at well. Just stay away from the dish with the 4 chili signs in the menu. It's spicy, very, very spicy.
    Read more

  • Day2


    January 29, 2018 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    1345 touch down
    Small airport, areas for golf
    1405 out of luggage area, but taking too long to change and wash up in airport, at easy pace.
    Totyota rent a car counter to arrange for pick up, just across the road
    Normal insurance don't cover damages or accident.
    Nice, new car.
    More blind stop, seat too low
    Beautiful Udo Shrine, first stop. 15 mins up stairs, cross tunnel walk.
    Red, space and beautiful coastal rocky view. Diff from others....cold... at 7 degree
    Miss the pebble stone luck toss to the rock
    Sheraton grandde ocean resort hotel, modern huge hotel.
    Both private and public Olsen available, also payable.
    International buffet dinner, by FMJ
    short drink alone at hotel lounge bar.
    Read more

  • Day1

    Ankuft // Arrival

    August 30, 2018 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 32 °C

    Der Tag ist mehr oder weniger geschafft und ich sowieso. 11 Stunden Flug sind echt nicht lustig, aber wenn man dann gelandet ist, ist das alles vergessen. Tokio ist kein Vergleich zu irgendeiner deutschen Stadt. So dicht, so viele Menschen und vor allem überall Stromleitungen die wie ein einziges Knäul wirken. Wenn es nicht schon dunkel wäre, hätte ich ein Bild gemacht. Nun noch den Abend schaffen. Außerdem hab ich meine eigenen Essstäbchen.

    The day is more or less over and I'm exhausted. 11 hours flight aren't easy, but after landing, that is complety forgotten and I was excited. Tokyo itself is so different from any german city, the density is just crazy! Also the electric cables look quite adventurous from time to time. Sadly it's already dark, so no photo of that. Now I'm just going to relax. Also I bought my own chopsticks.
    Read more

  • Day13

    Wie ich in Japan angefangen habe

    September 11, 2018 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 23 °C

    Ein Thema, was ein bisschen untergegangen ist, ist die Bürokratie. Sobald man sich Japan nähert im Flugzeug, auch wenn der Bildschirm schon seit Stunden sagt, man ist in der Luft stehengeblieben, gehen die Stewardessen rum und reichen einem zwei Zettel. Der eine ist für den Zoll, der andere für die Einreise. Nach dem man diese mit geliehen Kugelschreibern ausgefüllt hat, ich hatte meine sinnigerweise im aufgegebenen Gepäck, und schließlich gelandet ist, kommt erst einmal anstehen, denn jeder muss erst einmal ordentlich Einreisen, wenn man nicht schon einmal da war. Dort wurde mir dann von einer wirklich unglaublich gelangweilten Mitarbeiterin, meine sogenannte Residence Card gegeben, die bestätigt, dass ich eine Art Pseudo-Einwohner bin. Dadurch kriege ich auch keine Steuerermäßigung beim shoppen mehr. Allerdings ist das natürlich noch nicht alles, erstens muss man diese Residence Card immer mitführen und zweitens musste ich noch meinen Wohnsitz eintragen lassen. Deshalb sind wir in der ganzen Gruppe zum Rathaus von Saitama gegangen, in Begleitung von Julia, dem Mädchen für alles, wenn man so will. Sie kümmert sich darum, dass wir nicht vollkommen gegen die Wand laufen. Im Rathaus hat man dann einfach etwas ausgefüllt, konnte ja keiner außer Julia lesen, was draufstand, dann hat man einen Stempel bekommen, der nun festhält wo ich wohne. Das reicht aber natürlich noch nicht, an einem Abend habe ich und einige andere den Sim-Karten Vertrag ausgefüllt und zu guter Letzt haben wir noch unsere Bankkonten bei der japanischen Postbank eröffnet. Dafür gibt es ein Bankbuch und eine Bankkarte, mit der man allerdings nicht bezahlen. Auch hier zeigt sich, dass die Japaner auf ihr Bargeld schwören, man kann sogar mit dem Buch Geld einzahlen und muss sich seine Kontoauszüge reindrucken lassen.

    Something I haven't talked about yet, is the bureaucracy. As soon as you are close to Japan, even though the onboard screen shows you frozen in the same spot for hours, the stewardesses will hand you two forms to fill out. One is for immigration, the other for commons. After you filled them out with borrowed pens, I forgot mine in my luggage, you need to queue in the airport. Everyone needs to go through the process, who has not been to Japan before. The women responsible for me, was extremely bored, but sooner or later I got my residence card, which basically confirms I'm somewhat like a pseudo resident. Also I don't get the tax-free bonus when shopping anymore. That's not all of course, we also had to go to the Saitama city hall to get a stamp on our residence card to register our address, the Hippo House. Without Julia, she is from WorldUnite and helps us getting along, we would be lost so much. No one can read Japanese, except her. Later in the evening, we also filled out the stuff to get our Japanese sim card and phone number. Some days later we did the last thing for now, which is opening our Japanese bank account in the post office. You get a book and a card, which you can't use to pay in stores. This is another example of Japanese love for cash, you can actually deposit cash by using the book and also print your current account balance into it.
    Read more

You might also know this place by the following names:

Saitama-shi, さいたま市