Host family day-
On the last day with my host family, we woke up early, ate breakfast, and drove to a family fun center in Morioka; about a half hour drive from Hanamaki. While there, we met up with Trey and his host family, Ale and her host family, and Ben and his host family. The fun center was around five stories, filled with batting cages, basketball hoops, archery, a roller rink, tennis courts, arcade games, and karaoke rooms! We spent the majority of our day between the floors, spent some time singing karaoke with Chinami and Misora, and then went to a restaurant close by for lunch. I had a teriyaki burger and fries, which was absolutely delicious! After lunch, we drove to the Morioka mall and shopped for a couple of hours. We split up between kids and adults and were allowed to visit any store we pleased. After meeting up again, we ate at a Japanese/ Italian restaurant in the mall. It was a traditional Japanese restaurant; we sat on the tatami floor and ate off of the low wooden tables we were seated around. After dinner, I rode in Alejandra's host family's van with Chinami to the Shidotaira Onsen back in Hanamaki. The onsen (hot springs) was situated on the edge of the Toyosawa River, the main river running through Hanamaki. The onsen was beautiful! There were around five different baths, two of them situated under a roof outside. The onsen was the most relaxing place I've ever been to. The hot springs were the perfect end to an incredibly fun day. Host family day was an amazing experience for me and stood as a great last chance to bond and spend time with my family before I said goodbye to everyone the next day.
On Sunday morning, the RISE delegates, their host families, and many of the kind people who had been helping us throughout the week met at the train station to send us on our way back to Tokyo. It was a wonderful way to get to say goodbye to everyone we had met that week. After saying goodbye to everyone, we traveled by bullet train to Tokyo, where we were lucky enough to have two and a half days of time to spend seeing the city before flying back to America.
After we made our way to our hotel and checked in on Sunday afternoon, we headed out to see a few sights. We made our way to Meiji Shrine, the most important Shinto shrine in Tokyo. We observed as other people visiting the shrine washed their hands and mouth before entering the grounds, and then learned how the Japanese traditionally worship at a Shrine. After visiting the shrine, we wandered around the Harajuku district, which was full of Japanese students in a variety of fashions and outfits. There were a lot of shops to visit, and the students particularly enjoyed shopping in the Oriental Bazaar.
We went back to our hotel early that morning because on Monday morning we left bright and early at 3:30am (!!!) for the Tsukiji Fish Market. Every morning the fish market has a tuna auction, where buyers for restaurants come to bid on and purchase the best tuna for their restaurants! Only 120 people are allowed into the fish market to watch the tuna auction each morning, so we wanted to make sure that we got into that group. We arrived at the fish market at 3:45am, and were lucky enough to get some of the last vests for that day’s tuna auction. The hard part after that was waiting two hours for the tuna auction to actually start. Once we were allowed into the fish market, though, it was incredible. Watching the restaurant buyers vie for the best tuna was a once in a lifetime experience that we will never forget.
We traveled by subway all around the city of Tokyo over the rest of Monday and all day Tuesday, and saw so many amazing sites. On Monday, we went to Shibuya Crossing, the busiest intersction in Tokyo, and then to Tokyo Tower. Tokyo Tower used to be the highest building in Tokyo (until the Tokyo Sky Tree was built), and is modeled after the Eiffel Tower in Paris. We wandered through the grounds of Zojoji Temple, and also wandered through some of the shops in the Akihabara Electronic District.
On Tuesday, we traveled to the Imperial Palace East Garden and walked around the palace grounds. We spent time at the Senso-ji Temple (also known as the Asakusa Kannon), Tokyo’s most sacred and spectacular temple. Exploring the temple and grounds, and then having time to duck in and out of the myriad of Japanese shops that lined the area around the temple and grounds was one of our favorite parts of Tokyo. We bought little Japanese treats in one shop; we had no idea what they were, but they turned out to be red bean stuffed pastries that were so delicious. We also visited and went up the Tokyo Sky Tree, the tallest building in Tokyo and second tallest structure in the world. The panoramic views of Tokyo and Japan that we could see were insane. We also walked through Ueno Park, and ducked into the Ueno Zoo to see the giant pandas Ri Ri and Shin Shin.
Wednesday was a travel day, and it was a long one to get back from Tokyo to Rutland! Despite the great distance, we had an incredible cultural exchange to Japan. We met the most amazing people in Hanamaki and truly got to experience what life is like in Japan on a daily basis. The chance to spend a couple of extra days in Tokyo was also an incredible experience, and one that we will never forget.