Posted by: Admin | March 12, 2011

To Japan, with love

I have heard from four of my friends in Japan to say that they are safe after yesterday’s catastrophic events. In 2007 I spent a month in Japan, two weeks of which involved taking part in the Overseas Volunteer Programme at Meijii Gakuin University. At the time I was studying at the University of Leicester for my MA in International Relations and when the chance came up to take part in a two week exchange, I jumped at it. I don’t think the girls were expecting a student as mature as me, but they did everything they could to make me welcome and include me in everything. This despite the fact that I had to learn my welcome speech phonetically – a fact they soon cottoned onto as they heard me repeat it every day as we went through the activities!

The September weather was warm and humid and I spent the entire trip hot, pink and frizzy-haired, but with a great big smile on my face.I have never felt more foreign than I did on that trip, but nor have I ever felt more welcomed. The Japanese way of life is so much more formal than ours with strict codes of behaviour and nuances of etiquette that are a minefield for the uninitiated. Those that know me know my propensity to put my foot in it without the cultural gulf. My frequent gaffes were generally met with such patience and good grace and I will always be grateful for the experience.

Like many of us, my thoughts are in Japan today, for a little piece of my heart stayed behind with these bright, beautiful, friendly girls (and one boy!) Everywhere I went, I was photographed and filmed (usually from behind – oh joy!) and my every word and action recorded for posterity.This, then, is my tribute to them, in snapshots.

Welcome ceremony. They were soon calling me "mama" l-r: Ayumi, Akira, Derya, Airi, Kimi, hot, pink Englishwoman, Chiho, Mai

Welcome feast - so good.

Litter picking in Tokyo

Entertaining pensioners - they made me sing "a traditional English Song" solo - and filmed it! What did I sing? The one that has a chorus with the words "gilly gilly ossen pepper, kessen-ella boden by the sea" (that's the phonetic interpretation, obviously!) I don't know what possessed me.

On the way to Chiba province

weeding an organic paddy field...

...whilst wearing these...

...to protect us from these?

"new" rice - best I've ever tasted

with broth

and barbecued fish

and so to bed...

Up at dawn to hitch a ride on a fishing boat (still hot, still pink)

the morning's catch

Breakfast

Despite explaining that, in my culture, we don't generally all bathe naked together, I did, in fact, experience the onsenn. I watched the sun set over Tokyo Bay whilst making friendly, but unintelligible conversation with a Japanese woman my own age who was convinced I was an American. I emerged even hotter, and even pinker

After the closing ceremony - I'll never forget them and I hope that they are all safe

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