Houston Fulbright Blog – 190112

Hello CHME friends, faculty, and students,

Minasan ogenki desu ka? [Everyone, How are you?]

I hope you have had a smooth start to the new spring semester. Last week my family and I said ‘sayonara’ to Japan and to my Fulbright experience. It is amazing how quickly our 6-month adventure has passed.  In fact, you may have noticed me back in the halls of Jett. My CHME 305 and 481 classes are now in full swing. Wow!

 As I write my final blog, I have feelings of nostaligia for Japan and our life in Satiama-shi. It has been one month since my last blog, and during that final time in Japan we had so many wonderful experiences. From mid-December until our departure, I finalized research with Miho, we toured more of Tokyo with family, spent time with our Japanese friends, and prepared for our move back to Las Cruces. There was so much we wanted to do, see, and experience before our move back. Therfore, I hope you enjoy this final piece to our Fulbright story. As I am finally over my jet lag I have found time to reflect on our last few weeks in Japan and articulate them to you below.  

December 21 was the last day of elementary school for our kids. Winter break for all Japanese public school children started that day (12/21), which also served as the very last day for our kids at Okubo Higashi Elementary. Joaqin, Kaleb, and Kyraluna set off walking to school that morning with empty backpacks because they knew that the final half-day was mostly going to be a fun day filled with games and goodbyes. Yet, what we did not expect was for them to walk home from school, backpacks overstuffed with incredible bundles of letters, origami, picture books, presents, and memorabilia given to them by their classmates and teachers. It was amazing! The teachers, students, and school had anticipated the last day for our kids and had prepared very colorful and artistic binders for Joaquin, Kaleb, and Kyraluna to remember their time in at Okubo Higashi (see picture of notes given to Joaquin). When all three kiddos walked home and into our apartment that afternoon, they were thrilled and excited to share all that they had received. They told us stories of their friends crying, of their teachers giving them big hugs, and of all of the touching things that their classmates did for them on the last day. Kevin and I began to look at all of the presents and we were overcome with gratitude. This school was amazing to welcome our kids into their community, at the end, showing such kindness and appreciation to our children. It appeared that the students and teachers were as appreciative of their time with our kids as we were with them for being such good hosts. Some of the origami was amazing as were the artwork and letters written, even by the 1stgraders in Kyraluna’s class!

Since the kids were no longer in school, we took the next week to do something fun before our move back. We planned a few fun activities in Tokyo to celebrate the holiday season. On Dec 24, we attended a matinee performance of the Nutcracker by the internationally renowned Japanese National Ballet and Orchestra. The music was most spectacular, the dancing was amazing, and the venue was incredible. Then, on Dec 25 in Tokyo, we had a nice lunch and ice skated outdoors at “White Sacas”, a skating rink in Akasaka Sacas in mid-town Tokyo. We wanted to make the most of our time in a big city so we walked around mid-town and enjoyed the ice skating for the afternoon. We finished our day by traveling back to Saitama and eating at KFC (recall last blog about the importance of fried chicken on Christmas!)

The next week we decided to travel to Osaka, Japan and visit Universal Studios Japan. We actually never had the chance to visit Tokyo Disneyland (which many people ask me about). However it was definitely worth it to plan a trip back to Osaka, which is a great city. We spent two days visiting “USJ” which was a very special Christmas treat for our kids. This experience was a blast because of all of the typical rides and attractions (Jurassic Park, Minions, Spider Man, Harry Potter, Hello Kitty, Jaws ride, etc.) but also because the Japanese have perfected the art of fun!  There was an amazing Minion parade, a spectacular winter light show, a huge Christmas tree (said to hold the Guinness world record for the most LED lights), and great shopping and food.

When we returned to Saitama we welcomed my mother and sister (Francella Manzanares and Olivia Treasure), who came to visit us from Santa Fe. Since they were visiting us for New Year’s we decided to go see the ancientSensō-ji Buddhist templein Asakusa (north part of Tokyo). The temple and area around (Nakamise-dōri street approaching the temple) was teeming with people. New Years is a time of the year when Japanese engage in joya no kane (ringing of the temple bell over 100 times) to purify the mind and soul for the new year. Therefore we found thousands of people in line waiting to visit the temple. We were able to get great pictures and walk around, seeing the 5-storied pagodas. It was an amazing site. The New Year traditions in Japan were great to witness and although most familes stay home on New Years Eve, the cities, shops, train stations, and homes are decorated with kadomatsu andshimekazari whichare ornamental wreaths and decorations of bamboo (see picture). This and special dishes and meals are generally the traditions that are in addition to familes venturing out between Jan 1stto  about the 8thto visit the temples.

We finalized my family’s visit in Tokyo with a trip to the National Science Museum, located in Tokyo Ueno Park. This is a huge outdoor park lined with museums (similar to the National Mall in Washington DC). The museum we visited had amazing animal displays, historical exhibits, fossils, etc.

After returning to Saitama, we made a stop at a shrine near our apartment in Saitama and took turns ringing the bell (see photo of Kyraluna). We also began preparations for our move, and I finalized research with Miho. I coordinated future collaborations with Miho, and we established a plan for communciating after my Fulbright grant expires. Miho was as gracious as usual and brought Kevin and I a bag full of Japanese gifts (calendars, books, and more). As we finalized our laboratory activities, we also found time to say sayonara to the families that have become our close friends. In fact, two families (Sato and Takahashi families) gave us a going away party filled with games, sake, and great food (huge platters of sushi and homemade okonomiyaki). We also celebrated with an outing to a Japanese karaoke bar. We were so appreciative of this gesture. Our friends were so generous and could not stop telling us how sad they were we were departing. On our very last day in Japan we also visited with our friend Yui and her daughter Nanase one last time. Yui brought us more sushi, gifts, and Japanese wagashi (sweets/confections). It was truly hard to say goodbye.

I think that 6 months is both too short yet too long. It is perfect timing to experience a new country and culture while not being away from home for too long. Yet it is also too short because only after 6 months did we feel comfortable with how things work, establish a fundamental baseline of the language, and most importantly establish a strong conenction with the people. I have to say that the thing I miss most are the friends we gained. Therefore I dedicate this last blog to my great Japanese friends I will cherish forever. Arigato gozaimashita: Miho, Yui, Yoko, Satoshi, Emiko, Michi, Nanase, Keita, Natsume, Ritsu, Ibuke, Sarah, and members of the Miho laboratory!

Thank you CHME friends for following these 6 months with us.

Jessica, Kevin, Joaquin, Kaleb, and Kyraluna.
Faculty Fulbright Fellow, Japan-US Fulbright
July 11, 2018 to January 11, 2019
Saitama University

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