Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Our scheduled trip to Osaka was cancelled due to the H1N1 flu virus precautions as they closed all schools and universities. Our plans were changed to stay local and visit the Hikone Chamber of Commerce. It was a very interesting day as Shiga Prefecture is a lot like Michigan. Shiga’s economy is mostly manufacturing and agriculture with many large factories located here. Hikone has been hurt by the loss of manufacturing and the economic downturn. The directors at the Chamber of Commerce talked about how they have been trying to transform their economy and revitalize their downtown area. One of Japan’s national treasures is Hikone castle and they have done a good job of building on their heritage in redeveloping a downtown historic area call “Old New Town”. I was impressed with how they capitalized on their strengths in the redevelopment effort. After our time at the Chamber of Commerce, we were give a tour and had lunch in the area called Castle Road. Then we were invited to visit the home and art studio of a local artist where we experienced some personal Japanese hospitality. Although it wasn’t the big city, I thought our Hikone visit gave us a better look at the everyday life of the Japanese people. We spent the rest of the day doing some souvenir shopping and cooked dinner for ourselves in our kitchen at JCMU.
Today, we were able to really learn and experience some traditional Japanese customs. JCMU prepared many cultural activities as part of the 20th Anniversary celebration. In the morning, we could spend time and learn calligraphy, how to play the Koto, flower arranging, or the details of the tea ceremony. I was impressed with the simplicity yet elegance of their customs. I decided to try my hand at the Koto and later learned about the tea ceremony. Jo wanted to learn about the flower arranging and our group really had a good time getting first hand instruction in these traditional customs. We had some free time in the afternoon which was nice to catch up on some homework. The celebration was capped off with a ceremony and dinner reception. There was an introduction of the many guests who traveled to JCMU to commemorate this special anniversary and speakers to honor this occasion. The dinner was great with so many dishes to try with a special traditional puppet show. Again, we left a little early to put Annabelle to bed. Although bringing a 15 month old can limit your participation, it was worth it to share this great experience with my family.
Today would be a day trip to Kyoto to see some of the historical sites. It was about a 50 minute train ride from Hikone to Kyoto station. Wow, what a huge building. Kyoto station is a fifteen story tall building and one of the largest buildings in Japan incorporating the station, hotels, department stores, shopping mall, and restaurants. We had lunch in their food court which is nothing like the U.S. It’s more like a collection of tiny restaurants. Yum! The rest of the afternoon we would visit Nijo Castle and Kinkakuji or “Golden Pavilion Temple”. The evening would be a visit to Gion corner where we could see more traditional Japanese arts and entertainment. After the afternoons activities, Jo and I decided to travel back to JCMU early as Annabelle was getting tired. This would be our adventure traveling Japan by ourselves. However, our travel plans were delayed as we found out the train line that would take us back to Hikone was delayed due to a human damage incident. I guess it is not uncommon for people to commit suicide by jumping in front of trains. As a tourist, we don’t always think about the societal issues facing other countries. But the economic hardship has affected everyone especially those in smaller areas in Japan. The delay let us spend more time in the toy store at Kyoto station which Annabelle loved. A 15 month old has no interest in the historical sites of Japan but she loved the toy store. We made it back to JCMU without much incidence so we feel much better about visiting Japan on our own in the future.
Monday, May 18th
Although we didn’t get to sleep very long, the temperature was much more comfortable for sleeping. The temperature is very much like Michigan which was nice compared with the heat of Taiwan. Our first official day in Japan included attending the JCMU 20th Anniversary welcome ceremony (along with other JCMU anniversary guests), a JCMU tour, a Japanese language overview, downtown Hikone tour and lunch, and finally a piano and trumpet concert and welcome reception. Our trip to Japan was planned during the JCMU 20th Anniversary celebration so we are able to participate in many of the different activities. I especially enjoyed the language overview although I wasn’t able to fully participate with Annabelle running about. It was a lesson in listening and observing as everything was done in Japanese. It took a while before everyone understood what was going on but a lot of fun. The concert and reception were very nice but we left a little early to put Annabelle to bed. That was enough excitement for a day. She really enjoyed the environment at JCMU as she has tons of space to run around and explore. Prior to the trip, I had never heard of JCMU but I’ve been very impressed with the partnership developed between Michigan and our sister Sate of Shiga Prefecture in Japan.
Sunday, May 17th
Today is another travel day which is always tiring. We will travel from Taiwan to Japan for the next phase of our trip. In Japan, we will be staying at the Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU) in the city of Hikone in the Shiga Prefecture (equivalent to a U.S. State). Today, we will use just about every mode of transportation available. Planes, trains, buses, taxi, walking. I have been very impressed with the public mass transportation systems available in both Taiwan and Japan. Although it has been quite a workout carrying 3 pieces of luggage on trains, buses, up and down stairs, etc. It’s hard to travel light with a baby. It was another full day before finally arriving at JCMU around 9:00pm. Annabelle did well but it was nice to finally get there. We had our own little mini apartment with a kitchen and bathroom so it was nice to have our own space. Time for some rest (hopefully) and get ready to begin our time in Japan.