E-mail Update - 2007-06-27

Pre-Trip & Japan, Plus Personal News

Hey Everyone,

I know that I haven't wrote an email since leaving. When I was in Japan I didn't even make a real attempt. In the Philippines I have been pretty busy & Internet is only available as much as the sporadic power (sometimes less than 10 hours per day) allows. This has made it tough to get much done beyond basic communication back home for most of the trip. I guess the biggest personal news is that Sayoko & I have ended our relationship. Not really going into the details, but we decided it was best for both of us to go our separate ways. Back to the single life for me!

I have been in the Philippines a little more than 3 weeks after being in Japan for less than 3 weeks. I wrote about the pre-trip stuff earlier on in the trip so I will leave that in, but summarize my time in Japan since I am so far behind with things. I will talk about the Philippines in a separate email whenever I get a chance to type that. As always if you want off the travel update email list just let me know!

The trip prep had been going so good. I had bought all the supplies I needed over 2 weeks before I left. I had packed a full 24 hours before I was set to go. I even felt like I was going to be able to take a nice afternoon nap since I knew sleep would be something I would miss leaving around midnight that night & traveling for over 24 hours. That is when it all changed as my laptop stopped working. My dependable Dell that had been with me at home & abroad since June 2004 would not turn on, I suspect a hard drive problem. It meant that my plan to take the laptop had changed, my plan for the morning had changed & I had lost some things. Here is the lucky part, I had did a full back-up the night before. So all I lost was a few new songs I hadn't copied over & a few other small things. Nothing major & all the work I had done since being home was saved. This is not the way you want to start a trip though seems like a bad omen.

Anyway I got ready the best I could, using both my brother & mom's computer plus external hard drives to try to get myself ready to go. I had not copied my email list or anything like that, plus I needed to get my email back into my account from the computer, plus a big list of other things. Either way though a full day & night of work I got it all done. I didn't get my nap though :(

Saying good-bye to John (my nephew), Kristy (my sister-in-law) & Dad were all tough as I told them bye while still in Boscobel. Thad (my brother) & Mom took me to the bus station in Madison where I would catch my 2:20am bus to Chicago O'Hare. So it was 2 more difficult good-byes. There is nothing really eventful about the bus ride & 2 flights other than that I slept a little, but was wore out when I got to Japan. I did however meet a really nice guy from Ohio named Brad. We talked for maybe an hour total during the 11 hour flight from San Francisco to Osaka, which helped but that was still a long boring flight, meeting him was the highlight, was nice to get back into the travel groove right away.

After meeting Sayoko at the airport, late Wednesday afternoon, we talked for a little before going back to meet her family. I was quite surprised but happy when Sayoko's dad gave me a big hug, everyone else stuck with the more stated handshake, it surprised me but I was cool with it :) I gave them the gifts my mom & I had shopped for before the trip. We had a lot of stuff, between that & the extra small food things I packed I reclaimed about a fourth of my backpack when I was ready to leave Japan. They really enjoyed the gifts & at a certain point decided that I needed to try on a kimono, with the full sash. It was interesting, they even tried to teach me how to tie it, but at that point I was so tired from everything that it didn't really register. Either way after all the gift giving I was able to eat my favorite Japanese dish, Sayoko's curry :) After that I got to sleep, one thing I noticed was that my throat was really hurting, but I just attributed it to the plane ride.

It was however more serious as I spent most of the first week very sick with Tonsillitis. On the Friday after I arrived I went to the doctor which was an interesting cultural experience of waiting & trying to figure out a system of numbers & waiting. It for sure didn't meet the typical efficient Japanese image I was used to, it was more like planned chaos. I guess the main problem is that older people go to the doctor each week basically just showing up & they fit them in as they come in (ahead of people with a number) so it makes the whole thing beyond comprehension for a mere mortal. Sayoko said that a lot of times the doctor visits are more social for the patients, who I guess don't get out much otherwise. The important thing was that after several hours I got to see a doctor, who even spoke English :) He prescribed me the 3 medicines I needed & after about 6 days I was back to 100%.

All of this pushed back our Shikoku trip which has originally been planned for 4 days after I got there. So during the first week plus I mainly met Sayoko's friends & family. However I also got to Nijo-jo which is a great castle in Kyoto (we went with Sayoko's friend Ayuko, who actually spoke great English the only other person who did that I met in Japan). Nijo castle reminded me of all the other important places I had been in Japan in that it was remarkably clean & everything was so well restored. I mean there is not one piece of gravel even in the wrong place. Japan sites are incredible, I think the people help though by trying there best to keep things in order making maintenance easier. Another memory of that time is meeting Sayoko's aunts. They both brought beautiful gifts including hand made pottery & hand drawn portraits, plus a beautiful fun little card game that even though we played 2 times I probably understand 75% at best. It was interesting to hear how similar their lives were to Hitomi (Sayoko's mom) with the husbands parents living with them, how being the proper housewife was important & what there roles in life & the family were. In Japan the men are the people earning the money, while the wife is the support system. The wives must have things done & are to be there when he gets home, that was very obvious. I am guessing even though they didn't tell me that they had both gotten up very early to make supper before leaving so it was ready as they would have both got home not much before their husbands, because they left around 4pm. They also told me about there working lives before meeting there husbands and how it was dealing with all their current responsibilities.

Sayoko's dad is an amazing man to me. He works very hard at his job often for very long hours. The one advantage he has is an ability to be home in 1 minute. He said at one point he had to pick money or an easier commute & he chose the commute. The reason that he is remarkable is that it seems like he is always working whether it is at work or around the house/garden. His garden dwarfs anything I have ever seen in person from anyone back home. I went through a tour of it which took about 30 minutes. He said his grandparents only knew how to grow 2 things, he learned completely on the Internet how to grow the garden. I guess if he was working a 40 hour week & didn't have so many other home responsibilities it would not be a big deal, but when you see all the work it would take to maintain this not to mention all his other home maintenance/ other tasks, I really wonder when he gets to sleep. Plus he has the complete pressure financially on his shoulders. I think a lot of people say bad things about Japanese men at times because they are not as sensitive, but having the parents & sometimes dependent kids in the household makes for a lot of work & pressure.

On other thing I did that was so much fun was making Tako Yaki (Fried Octopus). Of course since I don't eat seafood I had a small variation, which was sausage yaki. You dump all your ingredients onto this burner with half circles then with a big toothpick (basically) turn them to make them into circles. Plus when it got done it tasted so good. Cooking I enjoy...sweet :)

Now onto the vacation part of the trip. Shikoku is smallest of the four big islands of Japan. The nice change is that there is nature instead of constant urban development. Also Shikoku is steeped in history & some Japanese people do the the 88 temple walk which goes around the outside of the island mostly & takes anywhere from several weeks to several months to complete. We left on a Sunday taking a bus to Tokushima across the longest suspension bridge in the world, took the cable car to the top of Bizan, then walked down in the forest & stayed the night. During the next 2 days we went to Ritsurin park (a huge garden), Zentsu-ji (temple), ate the famous Udon Noodles at the city of Takamatsu, went to the port in Takamatsu & climbed ALL the way to the top of Kompira-san (almost 1400 steps, most people do the first 800 & call it a day saying they went to the top of this shrine).

Starting on Wednesday we rented a vehicle for 2 days from Awa-Ikeda (near the Iya Valley). The Iya Valley is a beautiful nature area complete with Vine bridges, interesting statues, waterfalls & mountains. Our first day was spent on the numerous mountain roads, which were often only one lane. This means if you meet someone you try to squeeze by or if you can't someone is backing up to a bigger section (which I did a couple times). By the end of the first day which I had been driving the entire day I was really tired because it of the small roads, having to pay 100% attention to the road curves & having to watch the navigation (even though we had GPS it would have led us wrong a few times). On the first day we saw the famous peeing boy statue (which has beautiful nature in the valley around it), walked across 3 vine bridges (with possible death awaiting below!!), saw 2 beautiful waterfalls & took the chair lift to near the top of Tsurugi mountain, but didn't do the hike all the way to the top since it was too foggy to see once we were about 1/2 way. After all this we made it back to Tokushima & called it a night. The second day was more relaxed with our only tourist destination being Todoroki falls. It was my favorite stop on the Shikoku trip & has a total of 6 beautiful waterfalls on what would be maybe an hour walk up & down if you didn't stop to look at all the falls. The other interesting activity was being a driving instructor for Sayoko. She had only ever drove once before in her life & in total did 3 short stints as a driver. It is funny how when I travel I always end up being an instructor whether it be in English, diving or even in driving, it seems like I am always teaching the people around me. In return people have given me such a bigger view of the world so I guess it has been a good trade.

The pictures are about (1) in Ritsurin Park of me with a character, you see these everywhere, (2) The Iya Valley, (3) Sayoko & I with 5 women coming into Nijo castle in Kimonos, (4) Ritsurin Park, (5) Me & a stone tori which seem to be everywhere in Japan, (6) One of the 3 Vine bridges we crossed. I sized them all down a lot so hopefully I don't overfill your email box :)

After spending the last couple days mainly around Sayoko's family I flew to the Philippines which is where I am now. In the next update I will tell you about the diving, going to an underground river, bats, monkeys, crocodiles, bear-cats & island hoping, plus much more.

Love & Peace!