Monday, April 4, 2016

On Saturday, we arrived back in Tokyo around 3:00 and scheduled to meet with an ASIJ alumni who lives in Fukushima.  Those of us who were available met in the Garden Tower restaurant for drinks and reunion with ASIJ friends.  It was a nice evening.  We met his sweet little 18 month old daughter, who at first was shy by then opened up a bit after her mother arrived.

Since it was the height of the cherry blossom season and the rain was scheduled to come in, we braved the cold weather and headed out via taxi to the Budokan and the park/shrine next to it. I can't remember the name of it. It was pretty cold that night but we were able to see the cherry blossoms in the lights shining on them at night.  A spectacular showing of white.

Chuck and I then walked up to the omatsuri and purchased an Okonomiyaki at a stand.  It began to rain and then pour.  Everyone made a mass exodus to the streets and hailing a cab became a lost cause.  We finally found a subway and felt so fortunate to have found a couple who were willing to navigate the trains for us.  They gave us great directions, we hoped on the subway for two stations, exited, hoped in a cab and made our way back to the Hotel New Otani, soaking wet, Okonomiyaki in toll and happy to have experienced it and happy to be back in warmth.

On Sunday morning we got up and began our trek out to ASIJ.  It started with the most delicious brunch in a community just outside Kichijogi.  We met a woman at Nojiri with her two daughters the first day we arrived in Nojiri. They were outside their cabin cleaning up the yard.  Their house was to the right of the parking sign for 49-A.  Since it had been 38 years since my visit, I thought the sign and the house were in the same place.  We met, shared experiences, cried when she found out I was one of the 13 sisters and connected immediately.

She invited us into her home, but since we had just arrived I was eager to see the house that had been rebuilt after the fire in 1997 and the side of the mountain community where we spent our summers each year.  Later Chuck sent her a picture of us and her girls and she then extended an invitation to their home for Sunday brunch, which we accepted.

I shall digress a bit.  The trains in Japan, particularly Tokyo, have completely changed.  You still have the Yamanote sen which is green and goes around and around in a circle, but now you have multitude of options as they have continued to add more and more train lines throughout the city.  I was relieved to find out that even the local Japanese people have to stop to look at a map to see which train to enter to get to a particular location.  The first day we arrived we landed in Tokyo Station.  Trying to get to an exit up to the street proved to be an almost impossible task.  We were both tired and irritated and were snapping at each other.  Chuck thought I was supposed to know what I was doing and I had to remind him several times that it had been 38 years since I was here.

The next day was just as confusing and we made several wrong turns and got on the wrong track.  By the time we got to dinner that night my friend with whom I went to ASIJ explained that the train system has even recently changed and it is very confusing for everyone to ride.  It made me feel a bit better and not an idiot not being able to recall how to ride the train.  So for those of you who plan to return to Japan and haven't been here in a while, be prepared to ask a lot of questions and ask multiple times if necessary.  An example of asking multiple times - we were getting on the Shinkansen for Nagano, I asked three different people in Japanese, "does this train go to Nagano?"  I got three, "hai!"  Little did I know that I should have asked, "does this train stop in Nagano?" Because, yes the train went to Nagano, but Nagano wasn't a stop on that train, therefore, we were fortunate when a train steward came through and looked at our pass and asked where we were going.  When I told him, "Nagano," he politely told us that this train doesn't stop in Nagano so you better change at the next station and get on the train that does.  Lessons learned, always an adventure.

Chuck finally acknowledged that, "yes, 38 years was a long time," and "maybe the trains are different than what you remember."

So, although it took us about 1 1/2 hours to get to their home, it was worth the trip.  We arrived to be greeted with smiles and welcomes and an incredible cup of coffee.  The table was set and their youngest daughter was preparing fruit crepes on each plate.  We also had an egg casserole of sorts, toast and green tea.  It was an incredibly delicious breakfast, better than any we had eaten since our arrival in Japan.  Chuck was so relieved to have "real food".  We visited with this fine couple from Australia, and the US with their three children who are global travelers.  Their friend from England who had come in for a wedding was also visiting and we engaged in lively conversation about everything from Donald Trump to cherry blossom picnics in the park. It was quit a lovely morning. Just the backdrop needed before my initial visit to ASIJ.

We departed just before noon and began our journey to Tamabochi.  The Tamabochi line is now called the Tama line.  The trains are much more modern than we rode and had four cars instead of two.  After getting on the Tama train at Musashi-Sakae we rode two stations to Tama.  We passed the golf course where many times we were mooned by the track team running long distance.  We arrived in Tamabochi and began walking around the small town attempting to locate places like the coffee shop and the small shops we had memorable meals often.  I found the koroke place but it didn't look the same to me.  I couldn't find the coffee shop or the place I used to order "yasai-itame."  The streets looked familiar and we started walking to the school.

The walk to the school wasn't nearly as long as I remember it.  Just down the street and around the corner and we came across the first wall of the school.  Chuck asked me if this was the school and I said yes hoping that I was right.  It is very different.  There is a barrier around the entire campus and security is very tight with a guard at the front, side and any entrance to the property.  Because we were a bit early, we walked down to where I remember our first home was in Mitaka.  Everything was built up and it was difficult to pin point exactly where everything was.

We walked around what I remember to be the community where Jack's house had been.  And I attempted to locate the Japan Baptist Mission homes and was in the vicinity but didn't put my eyes exactly on them.  We then walked through the park next to the golf course and back to the school, just in time to meet up with my other sisters.

The tour of the school was uneventful.  I suppose that because of the significant changes, it didn't feel like ASIJ.  It is a spectacular school.  I am proud to say that it is my alma-mater.  Since I attended 7-12 grade it wasn't necessary for me to tour the entire school.  After 30 minutes, I was happy to say goodbye and begin returning to Tokyo.  Returning to the school with an empty campus was a good thing to do.  I was able to walk around without much emotion which was a good starting point for the next day.

Chuck and I returned to Tokyo and met up with another two sisters who had just arrived and went to eat just around the corner from the Hotel.  We found a traditional Japanese restaurant, but the food was mediocre. The company was good and it satisfied a hunger and thirst even though it wasn't particularly tasty.  Disappointed in the food - hard to be disappointed in the beer.

We returned back to the hotel early so we could rest before our big day at ASIJ.

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