|GSE 2005 Welcome April 9 & 10 April 11 April 12 April 13 April 14 April 15 April 16 April 17 April 18 April 19 April 20 April 21 April 22 April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29 April 30 May 1 May 2 May 3 May 4 May 5 May 6||
Welcome to the trip journal for Rotary’s Group Study Exchange between Rotary District 5170 (Silicon Valley, USA) and Rotary District 2700 (Fukuoka. Japan). The Group Study Exchange (GSE) program of The Rotary Foundation is a unique cultural and vocational exchange opportunity for young business and professional men and women between the ages of 25 and 40 and in the early years of their professional lives. The program provides travel grants for teams to exchange visits between paired areas in different countries. For four to six weeks, team members experience the host country's institutions and ways of life, observe their own vocations as practiced abroad, develop personal and professional relationships, and exchange ideas. In 2005, this GSE team will visit Rotary District 2700 on the Japanese island of Kyushu. In 2006, the Japanese will send a team to visit Silicon Valley.
Saturday and Sunday, April 9th and 10th– in Japan
Notes from Joan Perry
The GSE 2005 Exchange Trip began on April 9th . My GSE Team Members – Harry Abbott, Julia Vasileyva, Antonio Verges and Monica Koller -- gathered at the gate to board the plane at San Francisco International Airport to begin our journey to Fukuoka, Japan. It was a long flight – 14 hours with a layover in Nagoya. When we arrived, we were welcomed by our Japanese hosts including Mika, Izumi and Ai – and it was fun to see the sign welcoming the GSE Team that they had posted at the arrival gate. It was about 7PM in the evening on Sunday – 3AM on Saturday at home – and they took us by car through the streets of Fukuoka to our hotel for two nights, the Nishitetsu Grand Hotel.
We felt an earthquake after shock as we checked into our rooms – Hisa San said that it was a “welcome shock”. The team crashed for the night, in anticipation of a full day tomorrow.
Notes from Monica Koller
Greeted at airport by gse. went to hotel. earthquake greets us at about 10pm. had very good night sleep. to learn about our first day in fukuoka, please see joan' s wonderful notes.
Monday, April 11th
Notes from Joan Perry
Up early this morning – ready to start the day, and in this large city I could hear the roosters crooning. I walked a few blocks down the street for my first cup of Starbucks coffee in Japan (have to admit it tasted good) and enjoyed the bustle on the main street of Fukuoka. On with my team blue blazer, and armed with many gifts to take to our hosts (including Kona coffee from Teri in half pound bags) – we assembled for a Japanese style breakfast back in the hotel. I first noticed how gracious it is here – gentle bowing, smiles, many to escort you – and a people connection that looks you in the eye and sees you (I like that). I’m feeling comfortable here.
Oh, my gosh – we’re blessed with experiences. The team members are elated. We met with Mika San and she outlined each of our plans while we are here, the host families that we will be staying with, and the areas that we’ll visit. They say that the months of April and May are the best months to be here – lucky us. Fukuoka is a city of 1.7 million people and the island of Kyushu is about 280 miles long and 350 miles wide. We will leave Fukuoka tomorrow and go to Rotary Areas 6 and 7 which are more rural.
The cherry blossoms were in full force as we headed down the river this morning. Our first stop was the American Consulate. We met with the Principal Officer & Consul for the U.S., Joyce Wong. She talked about her responsibilities to the State Department and her assignment here for three years. Also about how popular Fukuoka is because people here have a positive outlook and welcoming hospitality. The Prefecture (which is like our state) is known for growing teas, sweet strawberries, fruits and vegetables – and the best seafood in Japan. It produces one third of the world’s semi-conductors and is part of the Silicon Sea Belt (like our Silicon Valley) and produces about 1 million autos that find their way to the U.S. market. Fukuoka was named the most livable city in Japan, she says. We comment on what a beautiful and clean city that it is.
Next we’re off to the Fukuoka West Rotary Club lunch meeting – and most notable, there are no women in this club – imagine that. We meet Dr. Hirohata, who is the incoming District Governor – and he says the he has a Japanese/Boston accent! A RI Director, Mr. Suenaga is from this Club. There are about 140 members, and the club is 50 years old – but not the oldest club in the City. By the way, the District has about 3700 Rotarians, and less than 1% are women – something to consider here. The video that Harry put together highlighting each of our team members worked well to show who we are, since we are limited in our language communication. It was a very stiff men’s Club – with formality that we didn’t understand.
We were received in the Governor’s office in the afternoon (ie. “Arnold’s” office) and spoke with the Director of International Affairs – and learned about the Prefecture and the Japanese government.
The women got dressed tonight with high shoes as part of their “look” – and once at the restaurant we were barefoot like all the rest. Our hosts had a party for us at the restaurant Kanzan – and it was lovely. Our hosts were so fun – they laugh a lot, tell jokes and are very playful – by contrast. One host told about his first trip to the U.S. He ordered a grapefruit on the plan and he expected to get a grape fruit – and what came to him was something that looked like an orange – we all laughed hard at that one. We were hosted by Tomoshige Tachibana, his wife and daughter – and he is the current District Governor. He spoke fondly about meeting our District Governor, Ron Sekkel and Cindy – and we presented him with the gift from our Rotary District. There were about 30 people at the party, including some of the families that we will be staying with. And, Kenji Ogawa (Ken) was there – he’ll be the incoming team leader when this District sends us a team next year. His team has already been picked and we will be meeting them later. We’re always amazed at the beauty of the presentation of the foods here – and know that the diet is going to take a few pounds off of all of us. The presentations are in Japanese, so we miss some of the communication that doesn’t get interpreted – and many of the people we meet aren’t conversant in English – but it’s better than our Japanese. The evening opened with a beautiful traditional Japanese dance – and included plenty of sake and beer to make the evening merry. It was a very full first day.
Tuesday, April 12th
Notes from Joan Perry
After breakfast and luggage in the lobby – we headed for the train station to leave Fukuoka and travel into the countryside. Dr. Maruyana took us on the train to Omuta and the Omuta Rotary Club. The room was set western style, and with about 60 – and again – no women in this Club. Julia, Monica and I stood out in the room. As Izumi (Dr. Maruyana) and I talked about women in Rotary – he pointed out to me that it is not only an issue of gender but also one of “class” that has limited women in Rotary here. He was kind and said that there are not very many of me here – meaning that woman have not generally had the access to the economic structure here that I have had in the U.S. Also that women are not considered in the higher class of the society that Rotary chooses its membership from here. Interesting – it is hard for me to hold my tongue. I point out to the Club as I speak that my Club looks very different than theirs – that my Club has 50% women. And further, that many men in America had trouble with this change, that some left Rotary in protest – but that they generally love women in Rotary now. They shake their heads – and someone interprets that they are saying, no women here. They ask what classifications of women join our Club. They don’t think that this will change in the future. Izumi says that he is radical – that he thinks that this change is necessary and that the world’s future requires it.
Back on the train – much like our trains only very clean – we continue down the line to Kurume City. The houses are getting bigger (with Shogun-style roofs) and there are lovely mountains in view. We are going to Nishi-Nippon shinbun (Newspaper) where we meet with a reporter who asks about us and plans to do an article in the largest newspaper. It’s a walk from there, with the wind blowing hard, to City Hall and the Mayor’s Office. The Mayor joins us and we learn that the picture to accompany the newspaper article is taken with the Mayor in his office and his warm welcome.
Izumi has a beautiful house with some western looking rooms, and a room that we gather in and sit cross legged around the table. Japanese sweets and tea is served and computers in mass come out to see what we’ve recorded for the day. Embarrassing to tell but I went upstairs to the bathroom, and pushed the wrong button on the toilet – and water shot all over the ceiling – imagine. They have it all over us in toilets here – they’re heated and do all kinds of things.
Last night at the dinner, Mr. Tanaka served as a Japanese metaphor for me. He put a chopstick on the table – then intended with his mind, as he says– and moved that chopstick six inches in the air without touching it. But that wasn’t all, he borrowed someone’s watch – and by putting his hands on both sides of it – and intending with the concentration of his mind – he moved the time forward by an hour! Amazing.
Harry San, Monica San, Julia San, Antonio San and I go off to our host families from Izumi’s house and started our Japanese stay. From here you will be hearing from each of us individually – with unique experiences and I’ll continue to talk about the things that we are doing together. So lucky – I’m staying with the Tanaka’s. Much baggage is moved and everyone goes off happily, with my cell phone number is needed.
Ai picks me up, with the Tanaka’s and we are headed to a very special Japanese style restaurant – and more small plates of food than I can eat. Quickly, though, after dinner – we decide that we’re going to head to the Hot Springs – wow – am I ready for that. We enter a building with a women’s side and a men’s side – peel off to get in the warm pools, yes – it soothed. By cab we drove to Ogori and the hundred year old house were the Tanaka’s live. I’m staying in a room to myself with a futon bed and slept very comfortably. In the evening we laugh a lot as the translation goes back and forth – with Ai translating – because the Tanaka’s don’t speak much English. I think that his business is importing and exporting, but not sure – but they travel and Mrs. Tanaka has many of the same brands of clothing that I recognize, from her trips – including a beautiful Italian suit that she was wearing. Once I was in their home, all were very relaxed and genuinely hospitable – we’re well cared for here.
Notes from Monica Koller
took train (nishitetsu) to omuta to rotary meeting. went well- received well by all men:s group. went to kuirume to nishinippon newspaper. met mayor at city hall. got photo taken and had short interviews. will be in the local newspaper- how exciting!! Went to izumi:s home and enjoyed some tea and pastries. met my `foster parents`/ host family. masa and mika nagamatsu are wonderful early 30:s couple. she:s very animated and sweet. went to a dinner with about 20 people, including the president of masa:s company, mr. murakami san. he:s very nice. one man, mr. herosa spoke fluent english and we talked about our travels to africa. food was like nothing i saw or tasted before! what wonderful company. went to my new home and am excited to go to sleep! when mika shows me her room, she gives me a sign she wrote for me that welcomes me with her signature drawing of a small bird on it. how cute she is!
Wednesday, April 13th
Notes from Joan Perry
Nope, no women in that Rotary Club, or English either – they translated my speech by cell phone. After Mrs. Tanaka served me a splendid breakfast – she said that the coffee was from Seattle, the cereal from Switzerland, the jam from Germany, the almonds from California, and the Balsamic from somewhere else – the avocado was definitely from here – Mr. Tanaka and I headed down the road about 40 minutes to a more rural town called Ukiha to visit the Ukiha Rotary Club. I laughed, even though I don’t understand the language – going to a Rotary meeting is like going to church because the world over they do they same format. This Club was about 40 members – and like the others, they open the meeting with a song – in Japan, with what we know as Glory, Glory Hallelujah, which they consider to be religious recognition. Tamaki Oi came with us for the visit – and it was fun to meet her because she will be on the incoming team when this District sends their team to us next year. The drive down and back reminded me of a drive to Gilroy from home – two mountain ranges on either side, one more rolling and velvet-like, and the other sharper mountains, with green fields in between. It’s expensive to belong to Rotary in Japan – they tell me that their dues are $250 a month – but they don’t do fundraising projects, they write checks. Mr. Tanaka asked me to speak about including women – imagine my reluctance – and he says that this is a theme of their Governor. So – I asked for questions at the end of my speech – and one guy asked me if I knew of Soroptomists – in other words, women could join them.
Yahoo….we’re going to a famous hot springs this evening -- I’d be happy to see every hot springs in on Kyushu, and I understand that there are a lot of them. It’s helping me to recover from the jet lag.
As the evening turned – it was delightfully inspired – when the girls – Teiko Tanaka, her daughter, Ai and I went out to dinner. We went to a French restaurant that served us one lovely selection and then another. The food here – and the small dishes that please the eye and the pallet with thoughtful detail – are in French cuisine as well as Japanese. We talked for a long time about the role of women in Japanese society and the changes that are occurring. Women here see the same dilemmas, and these are worldly women who have a cross cultural point of view. The conversation continues in a long soak in the hot springs – a charming spot that is in the mountains and overlooks the valley. We first wash, as is the custom, and then go outside to the shallow pool with big boulders surrounding it that forms the basin for the mineral water. It’s good to bathe in the intimacy. It’s 1PM by the time that we fall in bed. The other team members have had a good day too.
Notes from Monica Koller
george michael... building bridges. this morning, masa put in his george michael cd and we sung together on the way to izumi:s. met with group and heard about what they:ve been up to. went to old sake restaurant/ factory. sampled many sakes and loved the unfiltered one. then we went to a street where the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. saw 700 year old castle ruins. went to buddhist temple and met with monks that allowed us into the shrine and participated in prayer for knowledge. very moving. they gave us gifts of plum wine, pickled items, and were very kind. told us a story about a plum tree. went on to a noodle house where we made by scratch some soba noodles. very detailed process. they turned out delicious. ate a 10 course meal and had lots of sake. mr. tanaka did his kinetic energy again and i am convinced that he is truly gifted with an ability to communicate with any object and get objects to move. i don:t know how he does it but he made a spoon jump off of the sake bowl! great day!
Thursday, April 14th
Notes from Joan Perry
A really full day is in store today – a sightseeing day. We gather at about 10AM at Izumi’s house – and the team is glad to see each other after going separate ways yesterday. We pile into Hiroshi (Mr. Tanaka’s) Toyota mini-van and off we go. The first stop is in Tanoshimaru at the Wakatakeya Sake Brewery. We sit Japanese style around a big brown wood table with a Japanese flower arrangement in the middle – a large bowl with camellia branches standing and pink blossoms. What they serve us is all delicious and made from some of the sake production – like the soup was made from the separation of the rice and the sake, and the dessert was a plum that was also from making sake. The sweet little cups are filled with clear sake – and later unfiltered sake – which we all agree is the best, and we all took home bottles for later from the shop.
We drove for forty-five minutes or so – and were headed to Akizuki and the castle ruins there. Marvelous – it was a picture perfect town, and we walked the length of the market street that was lined with blossoming cherry trees. There were vendors and charming shops all along the way, and the stone walls and bridges of the old castle. We lingered for quite a while and took in the peaceful nature of the village, walked up the long stairs through the old castle gate, took lots of pictures because it was so pretty, laughed and enjoyed being together. The cherry blossoms were floating down in the wind like it was snowing, and the green hills were vibrant. We stopped at the ice cream vendor because he thought that Antonio was Tiger Woods – and all laughed. We commented that we liked the way that life feels in Japan.
Down from this street, we ducked into Takagi Kyusuke Shoten for Kuzu-kiri. In case you are wondering what that is – it’s a noodle made from a tree root that is a starch, and you dip it in a molasses type broth to eat with your chopsticks. It was a famous little store, and we enjoyed tea with the Kuzu-kiri – and as Izumi said, this is the real Japan. We’re blessed because we’re starting to understand that we are seeing things that are only possible because this is the home of our hosts that know where all the good stuff is – and show us the inner parts of their culture and land. As we head down the road again leaving Akizuki, we stop to take in a bridge that is thousand years old and water tumbling over the rocks below it – with abundant greenery touching the edges.
Again a little less than an hour in the car – and we arrive in Dazaifu, at the very famous Dazaifu Shinto Shrine. We learn that Shinto is not a religion, but a way of asking for more intelligence for the mind. We’re treated to an unusual experience – we walk up the side steps onto the floor of the shrine, with all of the decoration before us – and Izumi has arranged for a special ceremony for us with the priest. It’s a blessing, and since it is in Japanese, we don’t understand what they are saying – but they bless some palms and invite us to place them on the alter. We stopped at the front of the shrine to see the “flying plum tree” (because legend says that it flew there from another island), and a thousand year old tree with a huge base. And then walked across a famous bridge back into the village.
Now we were going to dinner – I thought that the Japanese didn’t eat that much until today. We drove again for about an hour to Ogori – to Ogori Tsuzumi. This was a special occasion arranged by our hosts. It wasn’t a restaurant that is advertised – it is the hobby of a man who was the president of a well-known company for ten years who retired, and now cooks for special groups. We were warmly greeted – and came into a room of Japanese style tables. We were first going to learn how to make soba noodles – and with a big bowl in front of him, we were invited to join the chef to start with the buckwheat flour, add water, mix to cornmeal consistency, knead – and then roll with sticks until very thin, cut with a sharp knife – to make the noodle. The chef was very precise about the thickness and getting the dough into a square. Harry, Monica, Julia, Antonio and I all took turns in the preparation. Harry learned to feel the dough to see if it was all the same thickness. Then, dinner – a start with the sake poured in a bucket for dipping with the ladle, and many plates to follow – highlight by the soba noodles. The plates were particularly pretty and the sake cups were bright colors – and we filled each other’s cups. By now we’ve been sitting on the floor Japanese style for about fours hours today – and our American butts and hips are moaning – while we notice how comfortably our Japanese hosts sit. We laugh a lot at dinner because Hiroshi does amazing magic tricks that leave us all spellbound. How did he do that? The dollar bills floated from one person’s hand to another – and the chopstick moved on the table and he didn’t even touch it – and after holding Julia’s watch in his hand, with firm concentration, the time has moved forward by an hour – and the spoon bends when none of us can budge it. In this group we don’t need to understand all of the conversation because there is just good humor and fellowship. The chef is delighted that we are pleased by his creations and everyone bows many, many, many times on the way out the door. It’s been a day that no tourist would have encountered – and it is only thanks to the gift of the network of Rotary – and each of my team members individually makes that comment to me – that we have experienced this incredible day.
Notes from Monica Koller
went to masa:s work, sung `faith` by george michael with masa on the drive there. arrived at masa:s work:kyuueisougo consultants. was greeted by woman that gave me a boquet she hand picked from her garden. how thoughtful and beautiful! saw presentation about company- 3D digital maps/ plans constructed for city landscapes. masa is a civil engineer. they asked me questions about how old i was, how i stay in such good shape, and what famous japanese people are popular in america- unfortunately i could only think of the guy on the new york yankees team and pokemon. mr. murakami and his wife went with us to the tanada, or rice and tea fields in the mountains. this is an amazing and very beautiful car ride. arrive at tea culture mansion in hoshino. learned a lot about the history of tea and tasted authentic green tea. went on to park designed by kyuueisougou consultants. beautiful, green environment! i:m in awe at the view. go to lunch- a j-quegeesoku (self sustaining) restaurant that serves recipes from the mountain. fried plants and leaves from the mountain (tempura), radish, roots, fish, greens, something called devil:s tongue and horse tail to help me live long. and a tiny whole crab that tastes like a crunchy chip type of thing. was very good. got extremely car sick on the winding road back. felt ok after we stopped for a bit. went on to the home of yamada where i held a 300 year old samurai sword and put on a 100 year old kimono. wow! amazing! very creative, talented family. yamada:s father carved detailed buddha sculptures and his wife has a small store in a cottage next door where she displays items she sewed by hand. kire (beautiful)! she gave me a painted character her mother made that means happiness. i am astounded with happiness, indeed! masa:s father and mother come over for dinner. he plays the piano very well. masa played the star wars theme song on the piano. his mom and i clapped along. they took lots of photos. we had a great evening.
Notes from Antonio Verges
We visited a Sake brewery and ate a very delicious lunch...and then visited and Akizuki, and old castle ruins with a very long sakura flower walk...and one of the local ice cream vendors thought I was Tiger Woods...so I kindly stopped and took a picture with him....
Also...later the same day...we went as a team and learned how to make buckwheat noodles.
Friday, April 15th
Notes from Joan Perry
Antonio San went off to Kyushu University in Fukuoka today, Monica San to Fukuoka Parish Priest Center, Julia San to Kyusyu Keiso Inc., and Harry San to Kurume Fire Station.
It was a day of similarities for me. Teiko dawned her leather jacket (as I would from my closet), walked with me into town (as I would in our little town), stopped at the hair salon for a quick wash and dry (as I would in town) and when we arrived for our shopping trip we immediately liked the same things – without much language communication – it was easy to have a fun day.
We boarded the train in the middle of the small town, about four blocks walk (as if you were on the main line in the Philadelphia area) – and arrived in Fukuoka in a big new underground shopping mall (looking like Valley Fair) – about 30 minutes on the train. We breezed through there, and up on the street found lunch on a side street – entering through the sliding doors to a Japanese style bar and a lovely sushi lunch. We take our shoes off every where – including here for lunch. Teiko said that the best stores were across the street – Daimaru and L’Equipe Yoshie Inaba (Neiman Marcus and Saks of Fukuoka). We cruzed the designer departments – names that we both knew of famous Italian, American and French designers. Teiko headed for her favorite department – yep I like that one too – and we both made a purchase, a pretty silk skirt for me. Teiko’s daughter, Miki joined us with her daughter (Teiko’s grandchildren are very sweet and well mannered) – and we stopped on the lower floor to buy some chicken for later (it looked like the amazing food shopping at Harrods in London (only Japanese selections that made you stop in amazement to take it all in). Quickly we were back on the train – off at the stop in Ogori – and picked up some fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market (like in Los Gatos) and stopped at the fish store – for the party that night.
Hiroshi and Teiko have a beautiful Japanese garden outside their back door. There house is ample but not big – and there is a lot of clever storage area, like cabinets all around the top of the kitchen and a shed area on the back porch to store kitchen items. Their office is a front building that sits on the street – and the house sits in back. People from Hiroshi’s Rotary Club started to arrive and a barbeque – like none that I’d seen before – was created in my honor. It’s not true – I’m not getting skinnier here – there is an endless selection of fish (raw and cooked), meats, vegetables, ice cream, cakes – it was a very festive occasion out in their back yard garden. The people at the party seem to really enjoy one another – and the Japanese men love magic. Each of the men in turn had magic tricks and we all ohhed and ahhed and wondered how they did that. We sat for a long time at the picnic table and talked about our lives – and Ai translated. It’s kind of a nice conversation when one person makes a comment, then translation, and then another. I met the second women Rotarian that I’ve met here – she’s in Hiroshi’s Club – where there are three women. She had lots of questions about the experience of women in Rotary in my country – and was it difficult for women there. I noticed that the men all sat at the tables, mostly by themselves (except I joined in), and the women did all the work. The women joined the table when the work was done. One of the men wanted to know if I was a natural blonde – and wasn’t blonde a movie star (a compliment). The women laughed that the “dumb blonde” joke was the same the world over – and in Japan too (a similarity). My experience here is that people are so generous, and I had several invitations for sightseeing and dinner – and one to visit a company where they make fine women’s clothing – stitched by hand – for famous labels – that should be fun.
Notes from Monica Koller
got to sleep in today until 9am! had a slow and relaxing morning. went with mika on the train to meet with mika san in hanata. went to priest center where 25 volunteers get together to help the 700 homeless people in fukuoka. this is the only NPO in fukuoka and they are doing an amazing job providing food, medicine, advise about housing, and other resources. heard the stories of 3 homeless individuals that came in and were helped with finding homes. in one case there was an instant result (withing the 2 hours i was there). the people there were very respectful and patient and thankful. then went with mika for a great dinner (my first japanese sashimi, pizza, and mussel soup). shopped around the hyatt hotel- lots of stores. came home to mika and masa and am hanging out with one of his co-workers.
Notes from Antonio Verges
I went to Kyushu University and talked with one of the Aerospace Engineering Professors about his work, and how his students are planning on sending a satellite into space to monitor weather over Japan.
Saturday, April 16th
Notes from Joan Perry
We landed in Fukuoka and went by train to Omuta in our early travels – this route was from north to south – with Omuta relatively in the middle of the island – and our travels have taken us to points in between, including Ogori. Today we were headed to Yanagawa – between Kurume City and Omuta. Yanagawa is where Mr. Tachibana (he’s the Rotary District Governor – and a direct descendant of the Shogun) and his wife own a hotel – where the District Conference is being held. Hiroshi drove us there with GPS in his car ( it’s voice activated and you can also put in a phone number for your destination). Chizuka, the Tachibana’s daughter, greeted us at the door of the hotel – and the others of my team were soon to arrive. It’s a really picturesque spot – with canals running through the gardens – that they used to use to deliver sake and soy sauce – and tomorrow night we’ll have a party on the canal boats. I’m staying at the Tachibana’s house (they’re my host family now) – and it’s a big modern house behind the hotel.
We’re the GSE team – decked out in our blue blazers – and it’s the opening night of the District Conference – and a ceremonial party. The flowers on the table and the place settings reflect the high class status of Rotary in Japan. We’re seated right in front of the stage with Izumi, Mika, Hisa and Kenji (GSE leaders) at our table. We all comment as the dinner service begins – because there are five glasses set – and they poured each of us champagne, beer, sake, red wine, white wine (we wondered which to drink) – along with another intricately prepared dinner. Various people spoke, and then we got up to greet each other. A famous movie director in Japan was there to speak in the afternoon and was there for the dinner – Obayashi Nobuhiko. When I chatted with him, he told me that George Lucas wrote nine sequels for Star Wars, but stopped after six – because he determined that he needed to create movies called Star Peace (Rotary) – and that his movies were also about Japanese culture, nature and people living together in harmony. Then there was magic – yes, the entertainment was a magician who we all enjoyed. Many people throughout the evening recognized the GSE team – we stood for recognition, the magician was playful with us, the RI representative acknowledged us – and we received the “happi kimono” from the District Governor.
Notes from Monica Koller
last day w/ mika and masa. woke up and mika packed us a lovely picnic lunch. we walked to the site where a king lived over 1400 years ago and is buried. school children were in the park playing games. beautiful weather... about 70 degrees. went to a museum to see a replica of the 1400 year old cave- crawled through a tunnel with flashlights and found very old paintings on the cave walls that symbolized the king's travel from earth to heaven. wow! went bowling with one of mika's friends. my team, the hurricanes were defeated in a very close game against the typhoons. i sadly said goodbye to mika and masa after they drove me to the district conference. it was at a beautiful hotel and we listened to the rotary opening day speeches and ate some amazing food. i met my new foster family, the kiharas. rumico is a very sweet and friendly mother and i met their two sons, ages 27 and 17. we had some whisky and played some really fun games until very late. wonderful bonding experience. the two sons speak a little english, so we're getting along well. i feel very welcome in this home!
Notes from Antonio Verges
Dinner Party to kick off the District Conference ( District 2700) ..good food, and lots of fun and socializing.
Sunday, April 17th
Notes from Joan Perry
My team is doing very well – they are generous and appreciative. I talk to them about “making it up as we go along (same guideline in my Rotary Club) – and just being gracious with all that they do. The hospitality of our hosts has been so enormous that when there is a cliché I invite them to go on to the next thing. There is good spirit in the team – and Get This: They are blown away by this experience from Rotary.
The convention opened today with a big assembly in the convention hall. It started with a blessing by three monks, and many spoke in Japanese, including the Governor. When the RI Representative spoke, Mika translated for me. I liked that he said that we are all in Rotary school (for 12 years) – and that the most important thing was a connection of hearts – that this would do more than anything to solve the world’s problems. He said that membership in Rotary has declined by 15% in Japan, is up 30% in Korea – and that more Rotary is needed in Russia and China. The audience was 95% men – so of course I’m thinking that a few women in Rotary here could help their membership – since I’ve only met two Rotarian women so far. But then again, we could invite more Japanese in our District to increase membership.
This time we wear our “happi kimonos” and are seated near the stage – with the outbound Japanese team in front of us. We were invited to the big stage – my team on the right of me and the team leader and Japanese team on the left. Izumi introduced us briefly – and then I spoke – saying that we were bringing greetings from our Governor, thanking all and giving the example that I am a past president of my Club. We all took hands – Japanese and American teams, and bowed for the audience. It was touching – and I did ok speaking my limited Japanese in public.
We had lunch with the Japanese team – and time to meet them individually. They are four men and one woman as follows: Kenji Ogawa (Rotary team leader and specialist in wine), Akihiro Kuroki (one of the top three wine stewards in Japan!), Tamaki Oi (works for an environmental company, also a student of wine), Toshihiro Terada (systems engineer), Masayoshi Nagamatsu (civil engineer) and Nobuyuki Tanaka (staff writer, city news section). I think that we should call the return team the Group Study Wine Exchange – because their prime interest of study in America is wine – and they would like to see Ridge, Bonnie Dune, Silver Mountain and more. I asked them each what they wanted to see and do in America – and it was all about wine.
Our team headed back to the big house where I am staying – and thank you Antonio! – for getting the info out on our website – I can just see Roy smiling.
5PM rolled around and we gathered in the Hotel Ohana lobby for the evening festivities. After a short cab ride, we were at the dock on the Canal – with beautiful Venice-type boats and men with long sticks to maneuver them – it was so picturesque in the sparkling sunshine. We were about to board – but first they loaded dinner, and much to drink – I’m beginning to like this champagne! The boats were one against another, and perhaps 20 – and there were other locations where people where boarding. We took off our shoes, and both the American and Japanese GSE teams sat Japanese style in the boat – with Izumi, Mika and Hiroshi joining us. “Chi” – a toast of champagne – the excitement of others settling into their boats – flowers along the canal – a beautiful arched bridge – bento boxes opening – Rotary spirit – Mr. and Mrs. Tachibana and the other Governors settling in – the light changing – it doesn’t get more beautiful. Monica was so swept away by it all that she was close to tears – and said that it was the best time that she knew. The boats started to be steered away, one after another, with the men and the big sticks. It was fun to see the smiles go by – as a parade was formed down the canal. The Japanese do things in such a lovely manner – instead of taking a direct shot in the American way. The boats eased through the waters, past generously flowering trees and the banks – Japanese flower gardens – and pulled up so that each boat was previewed. Lots of faces were becoming familiar now. We glided under small and tight bridges – around the bends – and then past a myriad of musical venues. On the canal were Tyco drummers, a women’s choir, kids with string instruments, a group with the traditional Japanese long flat guitar-like instruments, and many more – making beautiful sounds on the canal. We went under a big sign for Rotary’s 100 years – and a tent of paper dolls that others had made asking for good weather for the conference – and their wish was granted. The boats circled around the last musical venue, a big stage on the canal, with a full band. We were all surprised in our boat because we glided through the line of boats and were headed toward the stage. Like playful kids, we scurried out of the boat (all of us) – and were escorted to the stage – to dance and wave to the many boats in the canal. We’ve been honored as the GSE team, mentioned often, and enjoyed by the Japanese Rotarians. It was beautiful to see all the lanterns on the boats in the dark and feel the fun. Back in our boat, we were at the front of the line (well taken care of as usual) – and a magnificent display of fireworks was set off in front of us. The Japanese fireworks were lower to the ground on structures that they had built. Mr. Tachibana, the RI Representative and I stood in the middle of the bridge, with others, and waved to each boat as it went through with “konnichiwa” and “arigato”.
You might think that the evening was over – but oh, no. The team (now a bit high with the drink and play) – walked down the canal and a Japanese theater was set on the side with the mimes and Japanese masks. The boats continued to cruz by to their finish. I stood at the hotel entrance to see that my team was all off to their respective host families – and turned to go when Chizuka invited me for more drinks – more?. She lead me down the opposite hall of the hotel (one was American style) – and the other where we were going was Japanese style. As we entered the Japanese style room with twelve of so tables full of people, and more food, I was seated next to the Buddhist Monk, Kyoin Fujikawa – also a past Governor and RI Training Leader. This was clearly the after-party celebration and just as festive. Looking around the room there was an altar wall, and many many balls that hung in rows from the ceiling (lots of red and gold color). Mr. Tachibana got up to speak, as did others, and I was asked to speak also. Kyoin, the monk, was the only one who spoke English and translated for me – and although I did not get an answer to my question, I was dying to know how one went from being a Buddhist Monk to being as important as he seemed to be in Rotary. As I spoke, I picked up on the Governor’s theme that we need to connect world-wide with our hearts – and when you don’t speak the language you are much more aware of that. We communicate with our hearts, our expression and our laughter. All good.
Notes from Monica Koller
konnichiwa everyone! i've been so busy that i haven't been able to write about what's been going on, but here are some notes...
please excuse the spelling and unique punctuation... typing with a japanese keyboard is quite different!
Notes from Antonio Verges
The GSE team attended the Rotary District Conference (District 2700) in Yanagawa...and we had a very good time...where our team was officially introduced to the Rotary District here, along with the Japanese Team coming to California Rotary District 5170 in April 2006.
Also, later in the day...there was a social gathering in a boat...but no ordinary boat...a
30 passenger boat, where we all sat down in two rows facing each other, with a small table in the middle...and we cruised around the city of Yanagawa while eating dinner! While cruising around the city, there were many stages along the water with taiko drums, traditional Japanese music, Jazz, and Pop music played by local artists, and high school bands. This was definitely something I will never forget...especially when I jokingly said...hey...we should get up on the stage and dance (the last stage, of about stages, was the largest...and the band was playing lively pop music, with about 100 boats sitting in the water in front of the stage) and the next thing I know....our boat makes it`s way through the crowd of boats, to the front of the stage...and the next thing I know...we are the new entertainment for the evening! It was definitely a blast dancing along side the Japanese GSE team, and it was very memorable for everyone that evening...because my host family kept reminding everyone we met later that evening..."He was one of the people dancing on the stage!"
Monday, April 18th
Notes from Joan Perry
Like birds – we all flew today – Monica San off to Dentsu Kyusyu Inc., Antonio San to Fukuoka Air Traffic Control, Julia San to Dentsu also, and Harry San to Fukuoka Municipal Fire Authorities – and all went to Mika San’s Rotary Club for lunch.
I became Japanese today: I took the train all by myself to Ogori – including a transfer in Kurume City. Back to the Tanaka’s, Hiroshi, Ai and I headed for Hiroshi’s Rotary Club – and guess what? – they have, yes, three women – so good. This is the Ogori Rotary Club – and the women are very glad to see me – so delightful that they bring me gifts of incense and writing papers and sweet Japanese cakes. I spoke for about thirty minutes and there were questions about how Rotary works for us.
Afterwards, Teiko and I got the train to go to Fukuoka to look at pearls – expensive – much more that I would have thought. Aya, her daughter, joined us at the famous pearl shop and we saw many beautiful (expensive) selections – but we were just looking today. Teiko left, and Aya and I stopped at Seattle Coffee for a Cappuccino – and began a long conversation about the life of a younger woman in Japan, men here and marriage – and some challenges for the independence that she experiences as a business owner and wife here. We picked up Momo, her daughter, at the Kindergarten – the cutest bunch of kids – and stopped in an area that looked like Los Gatos for Gelato – Momo liked the Japanese mint kind. We drove through the streets of Fukuoka to Aya house. Fukuoka is hilly – and their house sits amongst others tightly on a hill side – and goes up like the father, son and holy ghost houses in Philadelphia. Aya owns a kitchen shop that she patterned after the one in Santa Cruz, The Chef’s Works, when she lived there with a host family for a month. Her brother and sister have lived with host families all over the world – including Australia and America – and prize these experiences. Aya has a lime green Toyota – very cute – and now we’re off to my favorite spot – just leave me here in Japan – the hot springs. This one is lovely – we walk through the sliding doors, take our shoes off – and bow to be seated in the café – for a dinner of curried chicken and rice, salad and fried shrimp – beer of course. Aya, Momo and I skipped off to the baths, women’s side – and naked of course – and tried all of the pools outside starting at the bottom and climbing the steps to the higher wooden tubs and pools, filled with the hot mineral water. Along with a Japanese massage – I am a new woman.
Notes from Antonio Verges
Finally...I figured out how the densha (commuter train) schedules work....with the help of my host family`s neighbor...and I departed Chikugo and arrived in Fukuoka, where I returned to Kyushu University. Hisa Nakamuta (Hisa-san) the Rotarian helping me get around Fukuoka also showed me one of his offices and stores where he manages his clothing company, and then he drove me to visit Fukuoka Area Control Center...for my aviation buddies...the equivalent to Oakland or Los Angeles Center.... The manager there, was very nice, and we both learned a great deal about similarities and differences in US and Japanese airspace. He was also very surprised to find out that there are uncontrolled airports...and that there are CTAF freqs where positions are reported! Also, there is not much General Aviation here, mainly Airline and military air traffic.
Tuesday, April 19th
Notes from Joan Perry
In Japan: toilets go up and down by themselves, men dye their hair: because grey is not fashionable, and furniture (other than tables) is not well made: because sitting on the floor doesn’t require much other than tatami mats. Back at the hairdressers in town for a quick hair wash – they put something unknown on my hair and it turned pink in places – new fashion for me I guess.
Exchange some money – and back at the Tanaka’s – where Seiko and Toshio Kobaysashi picked us up – and we were going by car to visit Mr. Kobayashi’s company, Fukuoka Knit Co. in Chikushino. Since I am most appreciative of world-wide yarns and how much can be done with a single thread – I was fascinated by all the beautiful pieces that they make. His company makes women’s wear for top designers – and sells the fashions in the Japanese market, and in New York. They knit, crochet, design for designers, hand stitch, and assemble – with most of the manufacturing in Shanghais (where they have 500 workers). Amazing – on a Polycom phone (silicon valley product) we called up China (moshi-moshi) and talked directly with the factory – not only did we see the people there and have a normal conversation, but the camera could focus in so well that we could see the knit in the stitch – wonderful. We joked on the phone because I can knit they offered me a job – so much to see and would love to take their invitation to visit. Toshio took many pictures, and gave me three lovely shirts – I took them out of the bag to see – and Seiko insisted on refolding them for me because they have such a sense of perfection. We had Japanese tea and sweets when we arrived, and finished with cappuccino in the lobby – with all the knits and threads of different sorts and orchids that were beautiful. As Toshio showed us the office building, it was only orderly and lovely – each item folded and no mess – I wondered how they each decide to be so thoughtful – and it invited me to consider how I am touching the world around me. I wondered if I could be more gracious in my actions. No one is in a rush here – that would be impolite to rush another. Maybe it’s because the toilets seats are warm here that people are calm. Antonio is most excited because this week we are going to visit the factory where they make this unusual item (the toilet) – often with remote control flush.
Kobayashi took us to a lovely lunch – served on a hot griddle, and something that looked like a hamburger with bar-b-que sauce, rice and vegetables – we are in abundance. The team has too sayings – “we make it up as we go along” – and we’re so gifted that as long as there is a patch of grass, we’d just be happy to sleep in it (this helps when we’re not sure what’s next in host families). No problems – trip is in good hands. Tonight Antonio is in Chikugo, Monica is in Yanagawa (like me), Harry is in Omuta, and also Julia. I’m delighted at the Tachiabana’s because we have dinner at home, and sit for a long conversation – about all the weekend events and lives.
Notes from Antonio Verges
This was a very fun Day...I went to visit Japan Air Lines (JAL) ...and I went into the control tower cab at Fukuoka International (the busiest airport in Kyushu) and I also visited Flight OPS, Dispatch, Cabin Attendants,and Maintenance for JAL. Thanks to Ms. Mieko Kato for the awesome tour!
Wednesday, April 20th
Notes from Joan Perry
Harry thinks that the small Japanese cars are cute, but he says that he’d need one for each foot if he lived here.
Mr. Tachiabana drove me to Fukuoka today – and the rest of the team was on their way there too – and some upset was caused by a 5 point earthquake at 9AM this morning. We did all meet though, in the Nishitetsu Grand Hotel where we stayed the first night that we arrived. We visited the Fukuoka Rotary Club in the Hotel for their lunch meeting, and were warmly received – this is Hisa’s Club. I spoke and the team introduced themselves – and the video was good – I have quite a collection of Club flags now. They took our luggage by truck – and we got on the train – a fast one – and were off to Kitakyushu-City. This is where Kenji Ogawa lives, the incoming team leader. We were later greeted in the City Mayor’s Office – and learned that Kitakyushu-City is a prime industrial city in Japan – where steel is made, and a very well known port – and has historic castles that people come to visit. Antonio was curious about a new airport opening here soon, and Monica was inspired by questions about a new shelter for the homeless that has just opened. We also learned from a representative from the board of education – that the philosophy of education has been changed in Japan – now instead of teaching knowledge, they are much more concerned with teaching how to use knowledge. Coffee – we all needed a lift – and Starbucks was the ticket at the moment. We walked through the downtown streets of the city, by stores and through shopping arcades – across the bridge – it’s a pretty city – and back to the Station Hotel, where the Kokura East Rotary Club meets for dinner. This was a lively group – maybe because they stand up for their whole meeting – and Kenji’s Club. Oh, and nope – no women, and little English in either of these Clubs. We all have new host families – and Kenji and I head off to his house in a cab.
Kyushu Island has many typhoons – and that’s why they build the heavy roofs on the houses here.
Notes from Antonio Verges
I woke up to an earthquake at 6:11 AM...and it was kind of scary...because where I was sleeping was not in a regular room, but one for a tea ceremony...and basically the fragile windows and the doors were pretty loud...and I quickly jumped up onto the tatami mat floor too look for a door way to stand in.....even though it also looked very fragile!
After a few aftershocks...I was to leave my host family and go to Fukuoka (about an hour drive) but since the 5.0 earthquake occurred this morning, all expressways, and trains were shut down for inspection, and it took nearly 3 hours to drive to Fukuoka on many country back roads...with tons of traffic! Later, we attended Hisa-sans rotary club meeting, and then we boarded a Bullet Train to Kitakyushu, where we met the Deputy Mayor at City Hall.
Thursday, April 21st
Notes from Joan Perry
Hiroshi Tanaka’s business, Tanaka Sanjiro ltd, is importing specialty items for the Japanese fish industry – which include large rolls of varying sizes of mesh (used for plankton filtration etc), values, and fish tags – and Teiko and his son Tomo work in his business. Their company does business in 24 countries and with 3400 world-wide companies. Kenji Ogawa owns a business, Ken Corporation, that exports second hand large motor equipment – including tractors that run through the grapevines picking grapes – heavy equipment, agricultural machines, trucks and buses that are sent around the world. The Japanese Rotarians like cars – they drive Land Rovers, fancy Mercedes, Ferraris -- and have more cars in a family that we seem to have.
Kenji and I drove in his Land Rover this morning to Nippon Steel – where Hitoshi Adachi (Rotarian and General Manager of the Plant) hosted us to see the Steel Plant. Monica and Antonio joined – and we all dressed in coats, white gloves, glasses, hard hats – with microphones – to walk through the blast furnace and steel making operation. If you have never been in a steel plant, it is an awesome thing to see. Huge (I mean huge) cranes moving huge pots of molten steel (burning orange-red and spitting fire) – massive furnace to heat the raw material at fearsome temperatures – neon red rivers of ore leaving the big furnace – rail cars accepting the liquid material (and how do they ever get all the stuff that is in a steel plant put together??). We entered the next plant – noisy and with such complicated machinery – and learned that the carbon was being extracted from the pig iron to make steel in a furnace that was one of two in the world (U.S. Steel plant in Alabama has the other one). Big buckets swung from the ceiling as new liquid steel was transferred to molds – you feel small in a steel plant. Antonio said that it felt like we were in the movie the “Terminator”. For lunch we went to the Kokura West Lunch Club. Report: no women or much English – and not the kind of fun that we have in our Club (not too much difference in men’s Rotary Clubs across Japan).
In the afternoon we went to Antonio’s – he was fascinated by this one from the beginning of the trip – company, TOTO – which makes (with 18,000 people worldwide) – toilets and bathroom fixtures (like Koller). TOTO is publicly traded on the Japanese Exchange under the symbol toto. It’s peculiar – but toilets here are modern technology compared to the basic fixture that we have. The Chairman of TOTO world-wide, Keizo Hanamura (a past president of Kenji’s Club) hosted us. We walked through the plant and saw how the ceramic is made from raw material, formed into molds, fired (where it shrinks by 30%), is sprayed (by a robot) for the glaze – and finally comes out looking like a toilet. We learned about the different flushes – and the technology behind creating the most modern toilet on the planet – warm seats, remote control, special glaze – new appreciation for toilets – even the toilets give you a warm welcome in Japan... The showroom was filled with beautiful bathroom items – all small to fit into Japanese homes. Antonio took many pictures. At Kenji’s house – Emi, his wife, offered a good dinner – and Cleo (7) and Arisa (10) were fun to enjoy. Ken and I played on the internet and I showed him our LGRMC newsletters, Club site and pictures – and he says that he is looking for to coming to America and seeing “not your father’s Rotary Club” – he says that Rotary needs to do something here because it’s filled with older men with older attitude and not expression on their faces – Ken is funny when he imitates this – and we laugh. He is going to fit right into our Club and not want to leave it – because he has a picture of this kind of a Club in his head as “life that rotary needs”. No doubt from our hosts today though – Rotary is powerful economically – I think that all of our concern is that it continues to inspire people and gain membership in the future by our experiences in our Clubs.
Notes from Antonio Verges
This Day, Monica, Joan, and myself all toured the Nippon Steel Corporation...and saw first hand how steel is manufactured. Two things about this....one...watch where you stand...I think one time my shoes were about to melt and stick to a metal plank that was over hot, melted ore, and two...inside of the manufacturing plant...it looked like something from the Terminator or the Matrix.
Next...we went to TOTO, the toilet company. At Toto, we learned how the manufacture their sophisticated toilets. Let me tell you...I am very impressed with the toilets here...not only do they open up each time you walk into the bathroom, they are heated and all have built in bidets! I have to say that I really enjoyed this tour.
Friday, April 22nd
Notes from Joan Perry
The best part about going to so many Rotary Clubs is traveling around the Prefecture and seeing so much from place to place – and we’re headed today – Antonio, Harry and I with Kenji in his Land Rover – to Buzen West Rotary Club – takes an hour drive and is located at about 1 o’clock (if the island is a clock) on the coast. We’re in beautiful wide open land as we drive there – lakes and mountains and not crowded like I thought that Japan would be. But Japanese think that America looks like LA – and I’m afraid that before this trip I thought that Japan all looked like Tokyo (Harry said that too). The Buzen Club reminds me of being in old Japanese countryside, and we’re served a very traditional (but spicer) rice and curry (yumm – we say). I spoke – and the questions show that the men are curious about women in Rotary – someone asked what happened after our Supreme Court decision to let women into Rotary.
Close by was the Tsuiki Japan Air Force Self Defense Base – and Antonio was very enthused to be privileged to what we saw there. We entered the base (spooky to think of Japanese air attacks) – and got a briefing of the history of the base – that it was occupied by the U.S. for a period of time and then returned to the Japanese – and the types of operations and kinds of planes that were on the base. We walked out on to the tarmac where they had pulled out three fighter planes for us to see – an F-1, F-2 and an F-16 (first time that I’d ever seen a fighter plane up close, and was interested to hear that Japanese and Americans collaborated on the most technologically advanced planes). One pilot for each of these planes was very nice about explaining his plane to us and its capabilities – one pilot said that he had a wife and two kids, and the plane was his “girlfriend” – it was funny to hear him tell this. Antonio was surprised that the F-16 could pull 9 g’s – sounded like a wild ride to me. The pilots were young and thin – because Antonio said that helped them to withstand the g-force – and that they wore special suits to keep the pilots’ blood pumping while they were soaring in the sky. We were invited to the top of the control tower (apparently a rare opportunity) and we could see out over the whole base – including lots of the three types of planes that we had been introduced to earlier. There were rows and rows of planes – like a movie set where they were all ready to take off. I enjoyed the expansive coast line and lushes mountains that we could see – and hoped that these planes would never be used. We stopped in the PX – and then said goodbye to our gracious hosts. Kenji made a bar-b-que for us at his house later in the evening (Japanese style – which I now understand is everything very thinly sliced) – and invited some fun friends – and I hated to miss the late night fun but went to bed early.
Notes from Antonio Verges
Harry, Joan, and myself were all taken by Kenji Ogawa (Kenji-san) to a Rotary Club meeting, and then to Tsuiki Air Self Defense Force, where we saw and got to meet pilots for their F-1 (resembles an F-4 Phantom), F-15, and F-2 (F-2 resembles an F-16, since US and Japan worked on it together) fighters.
Saturday, April 23rd
Notes from Joan Perry
Hooray – today we are headed for Yufuin – I read about this before we came to Japan and am delighted that our hosts included this “get away” – it’s the “lake-tahoe-wonderul-spot” like we would go off to enjoy – and it is amazing that visiting here I think that we are at the same time “so different, and so much the same”. It turns out that people that we have met in many of the different Rotary Clubs have second (usually bigger) homes in Yufuin. We’re headed to Kenji’s house – and the Tanaka’s will be up because they have a house there too. It feels like getting into my SUV and heading for a Tahoe retreat – only it’s the most famous hot springs in Japan.
First though – we stop at the wine store – Kenji is a certified wine instructor we learn – and he wants to serve us California wines for the party tonight (lots of parties with our hosts) – and he says, please don’t serve him a sake party when he comes to America (he likes California wines much better) – he’s happily joking. Ridge and Opus One are favorites – and we leave the store with wine, chocolate, champagne – and off we go because the other team members are waiting for us on the road. Yufuin is past Buzen, along the coast and then a steady increase in grade into the mountains. There are big mountains here – and three hours later, if the island is a clock – we’re at 3 on the dial. We come around the ridge of the mountain and look down on the beautiful town of Yufuin – where everyone wants to come, Kenji says. It’s bigger than I thought – and as we drive down the main street – it’s the Carmel/Aspen of Japan – fun little shops that you’d love to poke into with Japanese artifacts. Kenji has a favorite lunch spot in mind – the restaurant, Sadonoya – and the rest of the team is there. We sit at a long table on the floor – and they bring hot charcoal pots for us to roast chicken and sprouts on – with blackberry wine that is made in Yufuin (and beer). I offered to make this the “America buys lunch” – but the five GSE hosts would not hear of it – I’ve spent $100 so far on this trip. There is a good feel in Yufuin – kicked back and relaxed – very Japanese – I see the Japanese shapes in trees and flowers that are so characteristic in Japanese works of art. Much to explore here. We walk through the narrow markets streets, surrounded by magnificent mountains, and stop at Nurukawa Hot Springs for an afternoon soak – the hot springs are all different and this is a small one, where you can also stay if you are visiting. I’m happy because Teiko and Hiroshi have joined us too.
Kenji’s house is up the hill – and is a lovely mountain house, like one that we know. It’s a white field stone, with a porch on the front – and when you step out onto the porch, there is a wonderful view of the mountain range. The girls are staying here – and the boys in a house below. Kenji has dinner reservations at 6PM at a not-easy-to-get-into restaurant in the town called Kame-no-i– and it’s lovely, in a back room, in a garden setting, with about twenty of us. Mika Hyoguchi (Mika) – classification, Finishing School Owner, Ryoichi Hanechi – classification, Insurance, Masayuki Sugino – Management Senior Living, Tomoi Kondou – Real Estate and Bakery – and Takayuki Fujimoto, Architect – the GSE inbound committee are all there. The conversation is lively – dinner is very Japanese, with plates that I didn’t know (including a small fish) – and it amazes me that champagne, beer, red wine, white wine – are all served at the same dinner.
Again – you might think that the evening ended here – but more was coming. Seiho Ryu joined us for dinner – a “father” to Kenji – and he is a very famous artist in Japan – try $100,000 for one of his paintings – and gorgeous work. We went back to his house – and he signed a book of his painting for each of us – and visiting his house was a treat all on its own. You walked into the house (took off your shoes, of course) and into one big room (kitchen and living) with a big heavy Japanese table and benches on one side and his artist studio on the other – but spanning the whole backside of the house were full length windows that gave you a gasping view of the town below, grand scape of mountains, foliage of the mountain side – and delicate bamboo trees on the far left – as if you were perched for flight. It was easy to understand how Mr. Dou was moved to paint – I would be too – with the magnificence of this majestic spot on earth. He’s well known for his delicate portrayal of cherry blossoms and their trees – in the color and stroke that says Japanese. I would love to have some of his work – only even a small one costs $10,000. We went downstairs where three of his large paintings where hanging – one of intense cherry blossoms, one of the vista from his living room view (this was the $100,000 one), and one of Mt. Fuji -- all with radical color and gold leaf. Kimiyoshi, Kenji’s friend, played the piano for us with all kinds of songs, and we sang as best we could. It was 1PM before we headed home, bowing many times and thanking Mr. Ryu.
Notes from Antonio Verges
Finally a rest day....not...we went to Yufuin Hot Springs and toured the area. It reminded me of a resort area very similar to lake Tahoe...except no big lake. We ate lunch at a place where you cook your own meat on the table all while trying not to get burned yourself...and then later...we went to the Yufuin Hot Springs baths...where the guys and girls separated into different springs....and soaked and relaxed. Wow...we really needed that!
Next...we ate a very big dinner...and later went to the famous painter Seiho Ryu, and we saw a panoramic view of Yufuin from his mountain top home...and we later went downstairs and socialized and sang songs in his home theater.
Sunday, April 24th
Notes from Joan Perry
Revolt today – crash day and naps were in order. We woke to the mountain vistas – and Harry, Julia, Monica and Antonio walked down to the other cabin to snooze again. Not wanting to miss an opportunity – the rest of us headed to the best hot springs – up in the mountains, called Muso-en – phone #0977-84-2171. This was a big hot springs that took in the majesty of the valley below – the water was hot, the air smelled good, the sky was blue and a thatched canopy sheltered some Japanese women and I from the sun’s rays. I stayed long – and the rest were through with lunch – but they languished on the tatami mats while I ate. It was a very relaxed day for everyone – and much needed from our busy schedule. We woke the rest of the crew – piled in cars – and started the drive back to Kitakyushu City.
Interesting – at lunch was the first person that I have met in Japan that irritated me. At first I thought that it was just that I was tired that day. She was with us for lunch – and I didn’t understand the conversation – she just talked and talked in Japanese, and as I watched the scene like a movie – I thought that the five guys were nodding politely for what seemed like an hour. The point of my story is that when Kenji and I talked about it later we saw the same thing – she talked too much and was not aware of her affect on the guys at the table. What I thought was interesting – is that even though I didn’t understand the language, and am not as familiar with the culture – there was a common understanding (regardless of culture, language etc.) of how we perceive people and the reaction that we have to them. Interesting – we are all the same, and at the same time, we are all different.
Notes from Antonio Verges
Finally...a rest day...Harry and myself slept in a cabin Yufuin...and the girls slept in Kengi-sans home within the same hilltop community. In the morning, Harry, Juila and myself all went for a light jog...and then later, the girls came over to our cabin...and we all sat and did nothing! It was good to finally get a breather....unfortunately...the cabin had no Internet connection...so...no email communication that day....
Later that day...we drove back to Kitakyushu...where I went to a very intersting dinner.....
Where Julia`s home stay father Takayuki Fujimoto and his wife Big Momma (She asked us to call her Big Mamma...so we did) all went to a famous sushi restaurant. As usual...the food kept coming...and Takayuki-san was giving Juila and myself challenges as to what we were eating....some of the mystery foods were...fried whale....whale bacon, the dangerous fugu (blowfish) testicles what he called a "boy fish" compared to eating female eggs, and even a lobster that had his tail cut open, and he was still moving when he was brought to the table! Once again...all I have to say is WOW....I really had never seen anything like this before...and besides the fact that the our eyes were almost poked out by the lobster...I would have to say this was an awesome cultural experience. (Just kidding...nobody came anywhere near to losing an eye...but he was still moving around his feelers.
Monday, April 25th
Notes from Joan Perry
The food at lunch is much better in Japanese Rotary Clubs – today it was served like a fine restaurant. Harry and I had a fun day – while the others were off in other directions – Monica at the Yahata Central Rotary Club, Antonio at ATEC in Kagoshima, and Julia at Mr. Asagazmi’s office in Kokura.
Ah….today, Harry and I went to the Kokura Central Rotary Club – it’s in Kitakyushu City. Forty years ago five “wards” as they call them where put together to form the City – and Kokura is one of them, as well as Yahata. This is another Club that meets at the Station Hotel – lovely if you come here to visit – and we all like Kitakyushu City (maybe better than Fukuoka). Anyway – big news. This Rotary Club has 12 women members – the Club was founded by five women – its membership is 65 – and the incoming President is a women. Her name is Mariko Fujioka – and she will be the second female president in the District. Another young woman, Asami Yoshiko introduced herself to me as well – she’s in a Club in Fukuoka – with 24 members, 13 of which are women, and the average age is 38 – with 26 as their youngest member. Both were excited about the additions that they are making to the Rotary world.
Harry and I were in for a treat in the afternoon – we went to Mr. Takamoto’s business – TMSUK – and saw the T63 and other versions of the robots that they are building. Japan is a leader in robots – and Mr. Takamoto’s company is the leader in Japan, and his son runs the company. One robot looks like a dog – it can circle your house, squat and shake hands – and don’t be mistaken – it can see and alert its owner by cell phone if you are intruding. The T63 looks like a sweet woman – but she can stun you – push an elevator button – see – and be operated from another country – she goes where you won’t want to, in what might be a dangerous situation. The company also has built the largest robot in the world – and it’s 5 tons – and is used to move heavy objects (like in earthquake damage) and help in fire fighting and rescue operations. We learn that Mr. Takamoto just can’t sell his product – it’s considered a weapon and needs approval by Japanese and foreign governments in a sale – but he hopes that it saves human lives in war and disaster situations. He says that the government watches his robot development very closely – and understands that there are lots of uses. He took us to a “secret” location – unmarked – where they are working on robot development under patents that the company holds here and in America. Harry is really looking forward to seeing the firefighting robot when it comes back from Tokyo on Wednesday – me too – and we’ll see how it is operated.
We have new host families today – I’m staying with the Takamoto’s – and I’ve enjoyed home stay. My first family was traditional Japanese (less formal though) – my second was new Japanese in lifestyle – and third is traditional Japanese (much more formal). When Kenji, Harry and I arrived – Mrs. Takamoto did a formal tea ceremony, with traditional Japanese cake, in the living room. In this house you even take your house slippers off before you go into the bedroom – where there are tatami mats. Mrs. Takamoto instructs me in the proper way – I miss a few beats – and she’s obviously the keeper of the Japanese way. Mr. Takamoto was a District Governor.
Notes from Antonio Verges
Mr. Takayuki Fujumoto drove me 4 hours to Kagoshima Airport to visit Japan Air Commuter (JAC), the regional airline for JAL. I found this particularly intersting...I met with the Saab Chief Pilot...and we had a good time chatting about airplanes and airline ops. The tour of the facilities was great also. One last note...to use the expressway...it cost 6100 yen...about 61.00 us dollars...which I thought was very expensive for a day road trip, that didn`t include the cost of fuel.
Tuesday, April 26th
Notes from Joan Perry
I noticed the delicate shapes of the trees in Mr. Ryu’s paintings – often painted in gold leaf – and saw the same shapes as we drove in the car today – they were big stands of bamboo trees – lovely, growing on the mountainside. Julia was in the local paper today – showing business exchange. So far, we have eaten – fried whale, raw lobster, fish testicles – and when we all freaked, something that they called young man’s sperm – also eel, and live squid – mostly we decide that it is better not to know until after you have tasted. Japanese are well dressed and like well tailored clothes. It’s different than in America because everyone here is Japanese – not like us where there are so many different ethnic and religious groups. Mr. Takamoto says that they have 800 gods here. They drive on the wrong side of the street for us – and Kenji has one car with the driver’s side as we know it and one car with the driver’s side on the other side – and both are ok to drive on the road. Toilets in Japan can cost $10,000 – we’ve seen them. There is a monorail all the way around Kokura. I like the sweet nature that the Japanese people can show – it seems an innocence lost in America. Kimonos aren’t comfortable – they are too tight under the chest, and you have to take little steps – women here generally don’t wear wedding rings – and they don’t generally pierce their ears because that would be damaging the body that their parents gave them.
We visited the Kyushu Plant for Toyota today – very interesting – and curious. Big plant – and most of us had never seen a car manufacturing plant before. They make two cars in this plant – the Harrier (sold in America as the Lexus RX330 – and the Kruger (sold in America as the Toyota Highlander). Thirty thousand parts go into making a car, it takes 19 hours – they make about 1100 cars a day – and about 80% are exported, with most of these going to the States. The plant is new – and they will double the size in the next year for an interesting reason, we learned. There are 3500 employees at this plant – and we see the assembly part of the operation. Amazing – clean – amazingly clean – and functioning like clockwork – as you would expect in Japan. We watched from the catwalk above as the painted bodies came into the plant – and the cars move through many assembly stations on a conveyor belt receiving all the additions that make up a car. We were fascinated for some time by the robot that puts the seats into the car, and the tire robot. We have new appreciation for how much goes into car production.
The manager explained to us that GM produces 900 million cars a year, Toyota produces 752 million, Ford produces 680 million and Nissan produces 578 million – the four big automobile manufacturers worldwide. However, Toyota and Nissan make money – GM and Ford are struggling losing money. The Japanese own 30% of the American car market.
Based upon what I saw I’m not surprised by this. The Toyota cars were very good looking – design, style, color and quality – but they are innovating in ways that maybe American manufactures are not. The Harrier is produced two ways – a gas engine and a hybrid (gas/electric) engine. The just started producing the hybrid one month ago – and the demand far exceeds the supply. The hybrid combination produces a more energetic car – 4 liters hp instead of 3.1 – and even though it costs about $4000 more is in demand. In June they will also produce the Highlander (lots of luxury) in the hybrid – and this is why they will be doubling the size of their plant. The manager did not think that GM and Ford are developing this technology – but that maybe Chrysler is. Most of the hybrids are being exported to the U.S. – they are trucked to the port and then put on ships. Toyota has been producing 200,000 hybrid cars (Harriers) at this plant – and will increase production to 400,000 (Harriers and Highlanders) shortly per year. You can see these cars at Lexus and Toyota dealers in the States. Still, though, this will only be about 4% of total Toyota production in hybrid gas/electric engines. What I thought was interesting was that these are good looking luxury-market cars with hybrid option – and what I thought was curious is that based upon what I saw, the Japanese are positioning themselves to be far more competitive in the worldwide car market than perhaps we are –in profitability, quality and innovation. Stock pick. Fun to see all of this.
Tonight – Harry’s host family had a Japanese bar-b-que for us – you are catching on that the Japanese like bar-b-ques – and so do we. What’s different about them? – they cut everything in small bite-size pieces – and they eat everything and drink everything at once – with chopsticks right off the grill. Thinly sliced beef, chicken, sausage, salmon, scallops, shrimp – I know that I am forgetting some things – go on the grill – with potatoes, squash, onion, carrots and more veggies – and what’s left is cooked on the hot griddle, chopped up, and uncooked rice is added on the griddle to make fried rice. It’s a feast – along with sushi, Korean cabbage – and beer, wine and sake etc. I enjoyed a long conversation with Mariko Fujioka, the incoming woman president – who owns a children’s clothing import business. Mika San is concerned that she is not taking her new role as president seriously enough – and that as one woman in so many male presidents – that there will be too many opportunities to find fault with a woman president. I can understand that her opportunity carries with it risk for how other woman are viewed and that women like Mika have hope for her. I was lucky in my Club to have two guys who really supported me – I hope the same for her – it can be lonely otherwise. She seems very talented – and we laugh that we are the “Queens” of our clubs.
Notes from Harry Abbott
Good morning to all. It is week three of our adventure and I apologize for not writing sooner. It was a bit of stepping into the rabbit hole the fisrt two weeks as Alice would say. Our hosts have been wonderful. The cultural and professional exchange is truly a wonderful opportunity. I have seen many things that my Japanese wife had told me about in the past, but was clueless until actually experiencing it firsthand. My Japanese father in law is always saying that things in Japan are "Same" as America but different. Something I never quite understood until I got here. Tomosan, I get it now...........
The first two weeks was a blur of meetings, home switches, learning how to use the restrooms, telephones, and street signs..........A bit like being a child again. The Japanese are amazed by my SWAT background and want to hear stories. I suppose it is television that has peaked their curiousity. They are very polite and enjoy conversing while we drink. That said, I may need a liver transplant upon my return.................. LOL
On a professional level. I have met many fire chiefs and had opportunities to train with the Japanese rescue teams. The exchange of information and techniques has been very beneficial to both. They are new here to the idea of earthquake damage and rescue. This region has been considered earthquake free for over several hundred years. We have much in common but like everything else, but many things are different. The hospitality shown to me by the firefighters and their staff is equal to that provided by the rotarians. There is certaintly no shortage in friendship towards Americans in Japan.
My Japanese family hosts have taken hospitality to a new level. If I am not training with Japanese firefighters then I am at a rotary meeting. If not there, I am being shown local culture and historical sites. The evenings have been special and usually I am taken out to several different venues for dining and cocktails. I have been introduced to a new drink called Sho-Chew. It is a hard liquer made from sweet potatoes. A bit like whiskey but a lot smoother........................
Well off to the Toyota factory we go for a tour and then back to my host family for a BBQ......
Signing off in Kitakyushu
Notes from Antonio Verges
Monica and myself met with a few other Rotarians, and we all had lunch at a very good Chinese restaurant. Next, we went to visit the Kyushu Toyota Manufacturing plant...where we saw first hand the assembly lines and asked many questions about their new hybrid car, the Harrier. Later that evening...Monicas host family, and my host family went to Chigusa Hotel, where Rotarian Kazuhiro Kojima (owner) and his son Ryo Kojima (manager) presented us with a very elegant dinner party....and Mrs. Kojima showed up also...to our surprise as one of the ladies dressed in traditional Japanese cloting serving us! This was a very nice evening...where we had just the right amount of excellent tasting food to eat, and very stimulating conversations. This is definitely one of the most memorable dinners. (Also, I believe the rest of the team went to a BBQ).
Wednesday, April 27th
Notes from Joan Perry
Heads up District 5170 – because if you are going to invite this Japanese GSE team back to us – better get your hospitality hats on – because we’ve been hosted lavishly – and the Japanese like to eat well. No fast food for them – and at least several hosts for everything that we do.
Today the team met – with our hosts – at the Station Hotel – for a free day of wandering and shopping around town. We enjoyed lots of Japanese shops in the arcade – seeing the beautiful kimonos and other Japanese wear. When we regrouped at noon – Kenji took us for the most beautiful lunch – on the 28th floor of the Rihga Royal Hotel to a restaurant called Haniwa. We sat at a bar – looking out big glass windows – at the lovely green mountains, the city below – and most important, the Kokura Port. In the distance we could see the “Silver Gate” bridge – leading to the next island and Tokyo, and spanning the Kan-mon Channel. Up the coast is the Moji Port – the famous international port – that is the gateway to Kyushu. It is an ideal view of the streets that we’ve been covering and a perspective of Kokura. Lunch was cooked on a hot griddle in front of us – and included a sensitive display of Japanese fare – including fish/potato pancakes.
In the middle of the day – Harry was thrilled – he maneuvered the world’s largest robot – as we watched in amazement to see what it could do. With two big arms – it could pick up one ton – and he could imagine the many rescue options that it could handle. It will be a year before any are available for sale.
I’m really full now but Japanese hospitality is complete – and the Takamoto’s took me to what they considered to be the best Japanese (very traditional) restaurant in Kokura. We sat Japanese style in very small rooms – and a woman served us – whose role it also seemed to be to keep the conversation lively. Each time that she brought us something new (many times), she engaged each of us in the conversation. At home, Mrs. Takamoto gave me a lesson in Kimono dressing – oh, my – there are six belts around the waist. She has two undergarments (both tied with belts) – then the Kimono with the wide obi sash (more belts to hold it on) – and a talent to get the back to stand out like a cushion. She showed me her closet – where she has at least fifty – exquisite kimonos, sashes and belts – works of art. Not being careful – I admired one of the belts – and she kindly gave it to me – very generous.
Notes from Antonio Verges
The Oda family, Mr. Kesuke Oda, and his wife Takako Oda both surprised me, and we all rised early to catch a bullet train (shinkansen) to Kyoto. This was definetly a very nice gesture from the Oda`s. While in Kyoto, we only had 4 hours to tour the massive city (normally takes a week to see it all I hear) so we quickly went to 4 of the 5 most popular tourist attractions. We visited Kinkakuji Temple that is made completely of gold, Heian Shrine, a Shrine where I received a big luck charm (it is said to be lucky for 1 year..) the Beautiful Kiyomizu Temple on top of a hill, which is a Buddist temple, and finally the Sanjusangendo Temple, where there are over 1000 different statues of Buddha, and finally back to the Bullet train for the 3 hour trip home...I was very thankful to the Odas...and the topped of the day with a game of tennis with one of their 3 boys that plays tennis, and we ended the day with a Sushi dinner. This was a totally awesome day. Thanks to the Oda`s.
Thursday, April 28th
Notes from Joan Perry
The Geisha houses in Japan are going out of business, Mika says – because corporations can no longer write off the expense in Japan. The North Koreans own 90% of the PACHINKO parlors in Japan – very political, which is why there are no other forms of gambling here.
Ahh…on the bullet train to Fukuoka – luggage at the train station – bye, bye to our host families here in Kita-Kyushu City – only 20 minutes on this fast train and we’re in Fukuoka. We’ll be here now for the rest of the GSE team trip. Mika San scurried the team off to the Mayor’s office to meet the Deputy City Mayor for Fukuoka. We were graciously introduced – and given some presents. Then we went to the Fukuoka Higashi Rotary Club for lunch – and it was a fun Club. There are six women in the club – might account for some of the fun. They gave us red rose badges so we stood out as important guests – and we’re collecting Japanese Rotary pins. The meetings here start with a club member directing the song “Oh Rotary” with a baton. Hisa, Izumi and Mika are all proud of the American GSE team and the good speeches that we give – they have given us a lot of their personal time and made sure that all goes well. It’s a scramble in the hotel lobby as each of us pairs up with new host families – and a new adventure of acquaintance begins. I meet Rie Futata, and her daughter Aoi – and we leave by cab for their house. Fukuoka is a bigger city, with a good subway – that Aoi and I later ride to go have our nails done – a girl thing.
Friday, April 29th
Notes from Joan Perry
We met to go shhhooopping – in the lobby of the Nishitetsu Grand Hotel today – each arriving from our host families. Shopping – or rather looking – my mother would be surprised by this – because, all the shopping in Japan is at least a third more than the prices in America. At first I thought it was just the specialty items – i.e. Louis Vuitton, so many of which are imported – but as we traveled through the big department stores we all had the same impression – no shopping here, just looking – because it’s expensive. It was fun though to see the crowded department stores – it’s Green Day here, a national holiday and no school – so the major shopping area with three big department stores was full. As a team, we roamed to see where our hotel was in relation to the shopping (very close), the river and what was around. The river is picturesque with big flying balloons secured to both shores – the are “happy balloons” – to make citizens happy again after the earthquake that was here a couple of months ago. We walked over the bridge on the river and then back – looking for a spot for lunch – and oh, there it was – yes! – An American hamburger place. We’ve only had Japanese up to this point – and someone commented that an American hamburger sounded so much better than fried whale – and Harry treated We walked, just enjoying the bustle of the city and the faces going by. We met our hosts in the hotel lobby at 6PM for an informal dinner – very Japanese local spot called Vosue in Dainmjo – on a side street near the hotel. It was colorful with fish selections displayed like conk shells and vegetables – and the group got routier than usual as we’ve become good friends and warmed to each other. Hisa, Mika, Izumi, Dr. Funakoshi and Tomoi Kondou were all there – seated at the picnic style table with good spirits and toasts of sake and beer. Many foods came that I didn’t recognize – were passed around the table. Someone told bad jokes – everyone felt happy. We all went to a small bar, and enjoyed James Brown on video – and Monica and Antonio showed us that they could dance –salsa style – fun to watch them. Host families were waiting as the night went on – but Harry, Monica, Tomi, Dr. Funakoshi, Mika and I were left and we jumped in taxis and went off to a small bar to sing karaoke – that Dr. Funakoshi liked – and were home late. You get an appreciation for how difficult it is to sing a song – as the professionals do – when it’s your turn at the microphone.
Saturday, April 30th
Notes from Joan Perry
I like the subway – it’s a quick hop from the Futata’s house with Aoi – around the corner and down into the station. Three stops later from the Nishijin station we are in town on Tenjin Street – and three blocks to the Nishitetsu Grand Hotel. Today several members of the Japanese incoming GSE team join us – and we’re going to see a professional soccer game. First we stop at McDonalds (pronounced some funny way here in Japan so that you’d never know that it’s the same thing – they change the syllable pronunciation so that the beat of the words is different). With lunch – we catch the subway – and find ourselves near the airport – and finally at the Hakata No Mori Stadium – big stadium, full of people. Antonio loves soccer – and we’re here to see Avispa (in navy) play the Purple Sanga (in white). Fun – soccer is fast – the crowd loves it – and after a hard fought game, there is no score (0 to 0). Our Japanese friends have translation calculators – to figure out how you say “dandelion” or such in English. It’s an overcast day – much like one in San Francisco.
When we got here – our hosts gave us each an envelope – with $100 and a $50 subway card in it. I understand that each Rotarian in the District contributes $15 to the GSE program – and they have covered everything on this trip.
In the taxi ride back – Izumi and I have an interesting conversation – as he explains to me the Japanese way. Never a straight answer he says – because maybe this or maybe that – and from ancient teachings (Taoism) it is recognized that there is a dark and a light – a good and a bad – maybe one day someone is good, and one day bad – but never all good or all bad – and therefore a Japanese can never say for certain. Not yes – and not no – and sometimes when yes – it means no – and sometimes the other. But they can interpret each other – but that makes it hard for westerners to know. This makes the Japanese flexible, sophisticated – not aggressive or direct. They sure have been good to us. The Japanese show themselves in their actions – they show respect when they greet you, hand you a business card, offer many thanks, see that you are well served – and when you leave, wait until you are out of sight. Sometimes it is good to experience not understanding the language – you see what people do, instead of hearing what they hope for you – it’s awakened my “seeing” ability.
Antonio and I went with Rie, Aoi and Moe (Rie’s second daughter) to dinner – to an Italian restaurant – and I asked what kind of cheese was on the spaghetti – “natural cheese” they said – we laughed (what is natural cheese?) – but when he brought the bag out, it said “natural cheese” on it – maybe mozzarella, but not parmesan, as you would expect on spaghetti.
Sunday, May 1st
Notes from Joan Perry
My kind of day today – hot springs – the wonderful one that Aya and I went to – set in the nature of beautiful mountains minutes from Fukuoka – called Seiryu – found at http://www.nakagawaseiryu.jp/ and 092-952-8848. I got on the subway by myself – went the wrong way and had to backtrack – and met Mika and Noriko at the Grand Hotel. We spent the day at the hot springs – I’m a natural now – as you walk in, take off your shoes – register – undress – walk into the area where the pools are (but first you rinse with small buckets with handles that you dip into water – before you ease into one of eight pools. I tried a new one today – a stream of water that comes down on top of you and hits your shoulders, or wherever, and eases sore muscles – while you sit on a stone placed as a seat in the hot water. It doesn’t get much better than this. We had massages, slept on the tatami mats, had lunch in the café – and I could stay for the next week – it’s made for ease – and sitting on the floor and soaking in the tubs feels natural. Mika and I had an interesting conversation about women as we were lying on the tatami mats. Women see the bigger world – and then they chose a man – and if the man has a good spirit it’s ok – but if not it’s a problem – because once a woman chooses a man in Japan, she lives in his world – as the Japanese way (in a bento box). If the man doesn’t like what she does – he creates a bomb on top of her or an earthquake under her – and she feels insecure to leave for economic reasons. Husband and wife are not generally partners here – she says – it’s more like Landlord or Dorm Mom. Women’s status in Japan is less than a man’s – there are not the same laws as in America that protects women and children from abuse. We visited Mika’s friend – Yukiko – at her home and sat in her kitchen with more conversation. Women are asking the same questions – less world violence, more voice for women, a safe life, and we’re concerned – we share and learn as we enjoy some dinner. We think that young men are becoming less responsible in society. This feels as if I could be with my good friends at home – it’s the spirit of women’s friendship. It’s one of my favorite evenings here – homemade black sugar cake, a Japanese version of a house that we would know – and a flower arranging lesson. After dinner, we sit at a Japanese table, I chose a vase, and we unwrap some flowers (delicate ones – not the full bodied blossoms that we put in vases). I learn to cut the flowers in the water – because they last much longer that way – and I played with arranging the flowers into the prongs that stand them up. Yukiko has taken flower arranging classes for twenty years – and after my arrangement, she rearranges – and we see the difference – although I did pretty well too – and we enjoyed the splendor of the Ikebana arrangement. Yukiko presented me with some traditional Japanese house slippers that she make from kimonos – a very talented woman – and an open gracious spirit.
The rest of the team is off in directions with their host parents today.
Monday, May 2nd
Notes from Joan Perry
Izumi has a good plan for tonight – and at 6PM we board a big ship in the Fukuoka Harbor so that we can see the coast line of the City from the water – and get a perspective of all that we’ve seen on land as it is spread grandly up the coast. We gather in the ferry building and are delighted when the incoming Japanese team joins us – as well as host families and Tomoi Kondou. We board – and a picnic of sorts is set at a long cabin table – and as we cruz, we step onto the ship’s deck and watch the light change and the scenic panorama of the unfolding coastline. We could see Fukuoka Tower, the baseball stadium, the suspension bridge with the neon signs of the City under it – and later the big cranes for the port. The ship turned – glided swiftly through the waters – and we enjoyed this peace for a couple of hours while we laughed and played with each other. It’s good to see the Japanese team making friends and fun with our team – and I know that our team will support the experience that they will have in America. It’s been smart to pick the teams so that they can share with each other. The Japanese team’s English is limited – but they plan to study for the next year – good plan to pick early so that there is time to study the language. We landed back at the dock – like we were coming into Ellis Island – and off to Izumi’s next adventure – karaoke at the Hotel Okura. Down a set of winding steps – down a long hall of doors – we were in a Karaoke room – all set up for us to sing – with a “telephone-book-thick” book to chose a song – video screen, monitor with the words – Izumi, Antonio, Monica, Julia – and even Harry (he sang “I’ve Got Friends In Low Places”) – took turns – spontaneously, with others joining. And the Chinese food arrived – plenty – along with the beer. I sang “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” – and we enjoyed “We Are The People” (a song that moves everyone). Tomoi Kondou took Antonio and I home by cab – and I’m learning to find my way in the City.
Tuesday, May 3rd
Notes from Joan Perry
Today was a very rare treat for all of us – it’s fun to have guests visit because you may go places that you wouldn’t in your daily life – and that was the case today – even our Japanese hosts would not be able to have this experience unless it was specially arranged. Mika has known Mr. Ogawa, in the International Department at City Hall, for a long time – and he arranged for us to visit in the Zen Buddhist Temple – where first of all, no women are received, and second where the public is not invited – but we were treated to a very privileged experience. By taxi – we went to the oldest Zen Buddhist Temple in Japan – and we were greeted by Byakuhou Hosokawa, the Zen Master – as he stood in his long robes in the Japanese style Zen garden inside the gate and the walled community. (6-1 Gokusho, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka City 812-0037 Japan). The master was bald – like Zen masters should be – and had the in-the-moment calm that Zen masters should have – I liked him right away – and felt myself want to stand next to his presence. There were so many questions that I wanted to ask – like what someone would feel at the elbow of a master – and not for the asking at this moment. We parted and down a stone path – entered a traditional Japanese sliding door building – with meditation cushions for us all. This was the Saikouji Temple. I chose a cushion in the corner – and the monk, Genmyou Iso, sat in a full lotus position across from me – to lead in a meditation ceremony. He knew that the Americans would have trouble sitting in mediation – and broke up the sequence – but I fall deeply into mediation and was thankful for the opportunity to be gone for twenty minutes – and didn’t mind that the rest were squirming. Coming out of the meditation – I felt a stinging whack on my shoulder, and then one on the other shoulder – with some kind long flexible sticks – and the monk had whacked my shoulders. He explained that it was part of the process – not only to scold but to encourage students in the process of enlightenment. When asked – Antonio, Harry, Monica, Julia, Mika and Dr. Funakoshi – all accepted the thrashing – as if it would dash away the foolish self.
As I said – this was a most unusual experience that we were blessed with – and we were ushered next through a gate and into the Shoufuku-ji Temple – across the wooden floor corridors to the “Star Gathering Room” – which is a room that no monks-in-training are allowed to enter – only the masters. Here Sokyo Shimura (a lovely Japanese woman in her spring green kimono) – introduced the traditional tea ceremony – and instructed us. Byakuhou Hosokama, the Zen master sat formally on the floor in the front of the square room – and each of us was invited to join around the room. She told us to sit formally also, as the sweet Japanese cakes were presented – three bowls of individually decorated cakes were placed – and we each chose and passed the bowl saying (something like “sorry for taking before you”) in a phrase to our neighbor. I chose a green cake that looked like a leaf – and tasted of sweet bean paste that I ate from the paper with chopsticks. Young women in kimonos came in to prepare the tea – and the Zen master explained that the green tea is the finest and grown by the Temple. Each of us was served tea – and we turned the cup in the traditional style to show the design of the cup to the others – and drink the flavorful tea. Then we bowed to admire the pottery of the cups – graciously.
The Zen Master enjoyed us too – and this was our luck – because we traveled the halls by way of the wooden floors – and to the very special national archives treasure room – where we saw a big wooden hand-carved piece from the emperor of China who certified this temple as the first Zen Temple in Japan. There were books and carved statues – and one artifact that the Master said had a small piece of the bone of the Buddha. In the center of the third room was a large bell that hung at one time in the garden of the Temple – and is a 1000 year old Korean bell – which is rung with a big wooden log – and we enjoyed it’s sounds.
The gardens of the Temple were groomed with precision – the pebbles in finely tuned rows and circles – and the trees cut back in Japanese style to a shape. We wanted to linger in the quiet moments of the garden, the nature, the beauty, the order – the history, the philosophy, the spirit, the moment – and the Zen Master watched at the Gate until we were gone in the distance.
We were treated to lunch around the corner and down a side street – at Murata Restaurant – 291-0894 – and handmade soba noodles and tempura. Dr. Funakoshi and I sat at the bar – and the others sat with Mika at the table. We added the paste and shavings to the soy sauce before dipping the soba noodles – and enjoyed the hot tempura – all good. We talked about Dr. Funakoshi’s education in the States – and how many of our hosts have had some U.S. education.
Today is the start of the Dontaku Festival in Fukuoka – and the whole City is alive for the festival that lasts for two days – gathering 30,000 participants and two million people. The streets are lined with festivities as we leave the restaurant – and head to the parade route to see kids and adults parading in this colorful event. Such a full day – and Julia and Monica have new host families again this evening. There will be lots of thanking to do after this trip.
Wednesday, May 4th
Notes from Joan Perry
People – people – people: it’s the Japanese equivalent of the San Jose Jazz Festival/and Mardi Gras parades. The streets are packed – and Aoi, her cousin and I watched as the student bands, the women with flowered hats and colorful kimonos and kids twirling batons – thousands of Japanese people paraded by – and thousands more watched along the street. Vendors sold Japanese foods. Many more stages were set up with Japanese dancers and musicians – it’s a celebration.
My hosts own a chain of men’s clothing stores called Futata Men’s Clothing – 100 stores throughout Kyushu Island – we visited the main store in town – and Takafumi Futata met us. Suits for men in Japan are all dark. I’ve also noticed in the houses that I’ve been in – that all the walls are bright white – no paint color inside or outside of Japanese homes. Color is reserved for flowers/trees/nature, china dishes and women’s kimonos in Japan. Against an absence of color – flowers stand out so much here. Dinner was at Yoshimatu and Eriko Futata (the grandparents and Rotarian) – with Hisa, Kyoko, Nobuo and Yukiko – and we had a feast in the outside. The grandparents – and two of the children have three houses on the square block – and a Japanese garden in the middle where we had dinner. Hisa and I talked at length about Rotary – he is a very intellectual, world traveled and thoughtful man – one of my favorite people that I’ve met here. Hisa has a vision for Rotary – will travel to Korean to celebrate with a Rotary Club there next week – and wants to inspire more Rotary Clubs in China and plan to work in this direction. He showed me how they orientate new members to Rotary – and would will help to develop sister relationship between Clubs in the Bay Area – so that we continue the friendships between our Districts. I’ve invited the whole GSE Committee that cared for us here – to come to America when we have the finishing party for there team – how that no one minds my invitation – and what we need to learn from Hisa and others is how to have more Japanese join Rotary in our District. Hisa has many good thoughts. Dinner was fine china and silver – French wine and sake (beer too) – and everything you can think to eat grilled on the grill. I particularly liked the rice and apples grilled. It was a beautiful night out and my hosts made me feel very welcome.
Thursday, May 5th
Notes from Joan Perry
It’s a free day today – we’re winding down – and my hosts understand that my favorite spot is the hot springs – so Takafumi, Aoi and I went to Seiryu. I have three favorite spots in the pools – and today the third spot is laying in the shallow hot springs water resting back on a log that works as a cushion for a rest. There is a large wall of rocks beyond this pool – that make the soothing sound of falling waters. We had massages – and lunch. This evening we went to see Moe’s ballet performance (she’s 14) and danced beautifully – and there is nothing cuter than the little three foot Japanese girls – in ballet slippers, hair pulled back with ribbons, and a pink tutus – charming.
Friday, May 6th
Notes from Joan Perry
Magazines read backwards in Japan – Cities often have ferris wheels, some built on the top of buildings high above the streets – and gas pump hoses hang down from above the cars in the gas stations. Where has it gone?? – these five weeks when we’ve had so much to see, learn, do – and enjoy. Where?? – it was the first week, and seemed like we were planning to be in Japan for a long time – and now gosh, the final day of the GSE team experience. So many friendships, host families, pictures, experiences, funny moments, cherry blossoms, good drink and food – so much to be remembered as we were upon this final day. Plans were being made for travel. Julia heading home – Antonio, Harry and Monica off to Tokyo – and I was making Kyoto plans with the Tanaka’s and Ai.
I went with Aoi in the morning to have hair washed at the shop – and discovered how much was around were my host family lived – big department store, the small Japanese streets, so colorful, and filled with one after another of vendors selling sweets, meats, vegetables bustling with people. At 1PM each of the team checked back into the Grand Hotel – and I noticed that what seemed so foreign for our first night’s stay, now seemed so familiar. What stirred me to feel like a stranger and wonder how I would manage – had turned into an adventure of the human spirit that eased any concerns – and replaced them with an ease. Ria and I popped back to where I had started – for a cup of coffee at Starbucks – and made plans for her daughter, Aoi, to home stay with me in the States. I’ve learned how much the Japanese value international experience – and I notice how enriched my life is to have international friends. Dr. Funakoshi came by to pick us all up – once more dressed in team blue blazers and looking like sharp Americans – we headed out the front door of the Hotel. Two blocks away are three big department stores, Iwataya, Daimaru and Mitsukoshi – they all connect underground – spanning the three blocks below – with what is the most amazing array of foods that you have ever seen. Want to buy a mango for $42 – a perfectly grown, sweet one – Japanese sweets of so many – any kind of meat or fish? – they are all there. Each department store has different things – so it’s a must to catch them all – we walked for over an hour to gaze at the fare – all beautifully displayed to entice you. Dr. Funakoshi stopped to treat us to -- a traditional Japanese dessert, of two sweet pancake sides enclosing sweet beans flavored with honey – yummy. We stopped for cold green tea – and then for a visit to his dental clinic. Today – being our last GSE team day – the Nishinippon Newspaper prepared an article for their paper about the team. We visited the newspaper to see Nobuyuki Tanaka, who is on the GSE team coming to the U.S. and is a Staff Writer in the City News Section -- and he gave us a tour of the offices. Then Hikaru Shimizu, Chairman of the Board of the Nishinippon Newspaper Co. met and a Rotarian, met and talked with us.
Ahhh….packing – how is it all going to fit in the suitcase – not – have to give some away – presents from friends to take home – change of clothes for the party and wrap up of packing. Five-thirty – and time to be in the lobby – for the night’s celebration of our GSE experience together. Aahhh….how to part – with all that we’ve shared. The party was at the Café in the Park – down on the river – in a room where we could all be together – and a cozy pouring rain outside. Gifts – host families there – the incoming Japanese GSE team – the GSE Japanese committee – District Governor and past District Governors, and others who translated and shared our experience – maybe 80 people – and glad to see people we knew along the way as our team traveled through the different areas in the District. Speeches in Japanese – to us in English – and much to be said. Izumi spoke for the Japanese Committee – and I spoke for our team. It’s tough to make a speech – with so much heartfelt emotion – and wait for translation at good points – and I had three things to cover: that the gift that the Japanese had given our team was that they changed our lives forever (we could only think bigger with this generosity and international experience), that what I had learned personally was that as people “we are so much the same, and at the same time, so different (example, when I go to a Rotary Club meeting I know exactly what is going on because it is the same, and yet it is in a language that I don’t understand), and third, that Paul Harris had a vision that lead to us to being here (the Rotary gift) and as my message has been “we should include all smart people who share a concern” (men, women, Japanese etc.) to give the gift of Rotary freely…it is a powerful force to grow in a troubled world. I thanked our Japanese hosts for the excellent job that they did, the financial contribution that their District makes to have it be a great experience, and assured that their team would be in excellent hands with us in America. The District Governor, Mr. Tachibana spoke – he’s funny – and also Mr. Takamoto – and this trip has been important to their connection with our District. Hisa is arranging for the Ogori Rotary Club to be a sister Club to the Los Gatos Morning Club – great idea – and three of the Club’s members will come to visit our Club. They closed this party with the Oh Rotary song (never have I heard that one in America) – and the traditional hand clap.
As you can guess – one party always leads to another here – and The Tachibana’s had arranged for the next one – with all of us who had enjoyed each other so much – to be at an “oldies” restaurant – whiskey and ice on the table, lots of food – and a corner reserved for us to listen to the 60’s music – and dance – yes, a lot – and the Governor was dancing wild and crazy – and all the teams – and those who lead – and it went on late into the night – fun and good to shake around freely as we all crowded onto the dance floor. There has been nothing but good will on this trip – and the American team has done an excellent (each one of them has been terrific) job. Now the birds fly off in different directions – thankful for the people who make up Rotary.