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Be Careful What Buttons You Push

Three weeks have passed since I returned home from my whirlwind tour of Japan, and I have finally recovered enough (and caught up with my school work) to update my blog. Every year various clubs of the business school plan Spring Break treks around the world, and I was fortunate enough to join the Japanese Business Association for their annual trek. My four classmates who planned the trip did a phenomenal job - and it was a great intro to Japan. Travelling with 158 classmates was definitely an interesting experience (three planes, four buses, one bullet train and remarkably nobody left behind). We covered a lot of ground - but here are some of the highlights.

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As anyone who has travelled in Japan knows - Japanese toilets are pretty cool. They come with an amazing amount of buttons and options - including seat warmers and musical accompaniment. The first bathroom I encountered, in the Tokyo airport, also had a variety of buttons you pushed to open and close the door. As someone with a very small bladder, I was in Heaven. On day two, I found myself in an equally fancy restroom outside of the Imperial Palace. I also found a very convenient, brightly lit green button that was used to flush the toilet. Or so I thought. Only after I pushed it did I notice the small sign underneath which said, in English, "emergency". By that time I had set off the alarm - and not only was a siren going off, but there was also a bright green light flashing to help the bathroom attendant identify exactly which stall held a person in distress. So while still trying to pull up my jeans, I was also trying to explain, in Japanese (which, incidentally, I don't speak), to the attendant who was now pounding on the door, that I was not in fact in distress. The trip was off to quite a start.

Our first day we toured many prominent Tokyo landmarks. We also learned that Japanese are as crazy about their pets as we are. And, my friend Vikram got recruited to perform in a stand-up comedy show (apparently he's funnier in languages he doesn't speak).

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Later that day a group of us went see the Tokyo Giants game. Not much of a sports fan, I was definitely there for the cultural experience (and to find the Japanese equivalent of beer and hotdogs). For the most part, Japanese baseball games are fairly similar to US games, with a few differences. First of all, you only cheer (or make noise at all) when your team is up to bat - but when you do, it is no ordinary cheering. It is a coordinated group effort of your entire half of the stadium - most of who are wearing your team color and chanting along to constantly a changing variety of cheers. Second, there are cheerleaders (which many think is a welcome addition to the sport). Finally, they do serve beer and hotdogs - but they also serve much more interesting things - like little fried dough balls with pieces of octopus inside.

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Before leaving Tokyo, we also made a trip (at 4 in the morning) to the Tsukiji first market. We watched as giant tuna were auctioned off for destinations around the world. And then we had tuna for breakfast. The vegetarians in the group weren't quite able to understand how we could watch as the fish had their heads cut off - and then turn around and eat sushi. But I'll have to say, it was probably the best sushi I've ever had!

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Next up, we made a trip to the Toyota factory (after all, this was a business school trip!). It was really interesting to tour the factory and see the production process up close. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take cameras in. (On a side note, by this point in the trip, my camera had also broken, so the rest of these photos were actually taken by friends on the trip. Luckily, I had 158 pictures of each thing we saw to choose from.) That night we stayed at a traditional onsen. We bathed in the hot springs (another way to bond with your classmates. . .), dressed in kimonos, and slept on mats on the floor. I really liked my kimono.

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Then we were off to Kyoto - one of the most beautiful cities I've ever been to. Don't get me wrong, Tokyo is an amazing city. But it was also virtually destroyed in the wars, so everything is new and modern. Kyoto by contrast still maintains much of the traditional and historical architecture. On our first day, we went to visit the Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, which is set upon a hillside overlooking Kyoto. Just below the main hall is the Otowa-no-taki waterfall, which is known for having therapeutic properties. We understood from our tour guide that the three streams of water represented llongevity, good studies, and love. My friend Joe decided to go for longevity (we've promised not to tell his girlfriend) and I opted for love (see mom, I try!). However, I just looked the temple up online, and according to Wikipedia there is not love a stream. So I may still be single, but I should be getting all A's this semester or living for a very long time!

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On our one free day we ventured to the outskirts of the city to the bamboo forest. It was amazing - straight out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which yes, I realize, was set in China, not Japan). We also stalked a few geisha and had lunch in a traditional tea house.

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Finally, our last stop was in Osaka - the highlight of which was a Sumo tournament!! It took a long time to decipher the sport and figure out how everything worked - but I'm proud to say that I won 200 yen (about $2) by wagering bets on the final two winning wrestlers. I'm hoping to find a sumo bookie in New York.

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Our last night we had a great send off dinner for all 159 of us (plus one who snuck on the trip, but that's another story entirely. . .). Akira, one of our leaders, made regular announcements to remind us that the "all you can drink" portion of the dinner would end promptly at 9:45. But hey - we're business students - we knew how to get the most for our money! Amazingly, no one missed the flight the next day either (but I don't think any of us will be drinking sake again for a while).

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All in all, it was a great trip. I don't think I'd ever travel with 158 other people again, but I will definitely go back to Japan. Next up - summer in Nicaragua! But first I have to work on getting those A's this semester. . .

Posted by jme75 20:32 Archived in Japan

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