During my kids' spring break at school a couple of weeks ago, we traveled to Japan. My oldest daughter's soccer team did a cultural exchange with a soccer team in Arao, Japan, staying with host families, playing soccer and experiencing Japanese culture. Here's a photo of all of us just as we arrived at the Fukuoka Airport in Japan.
We had a wonderful experience in south Japan in a city named Arao in the Kumamoto Prefecture. It's a very rural area with many small towns and lots of farming all around. The girls played in a soccer tournament and had three exceptional players from Japan join their team for the games. It was a very different style of play on a smaller, dirt field with only eight players per team and 12 minute halves. The ball traveled very fast on the dirt and the Japanese teams were all boys with only a few girls. They were very precise in their play and very fast. Then we traveled a couple of hours to Komamoto city to play a two of all girls teams on a turf field. Again, very precise passing and very quick feet, overall a great time was had by all. The girls were exhausted after all of the soccer.
At the end of the first few days while we were still adjusting to the time zone change, every evening my youngest daughter Bailey and a friend's son Cameron would fall asleep at dinner. They are each nine years old.
After playing soccer for a few days, we went sightseeing for the rest of the trip. Here are some of the things we experienced:
- The first day we arrived we visited the mayor and the school superintendent of Arao city (in all of our exhaustion from traveling). This was very special to them and we were very happy to be a part of it. The next morning it was raining so in the morning a few of us went bowling with all the girls while another group of adults visited a sword maker and an historic Buddhist temple (I was chosen to chaperon the kids bowling so I missed out on visiting the temple - I would have loved to experience this). Then in the afternoon all of us joined up and went to a mall for some shopping. The bowling alley and the mall both looked like they could be in nearly any city in the US really.
- While in Kumamoto city we visited Kumamoto Castle which dates back to the 15th century. The size of the entire castle complex is enormously vast measuring roughly 1.6km from east to west, and measures 1.2km from north to south. The height of the main castle keep is 30.3m. The complex has 3 castle keeps, 49 turrets, 18 turret gates and 29 smaller gates. It's size and beauty has to be seen to be believed really.
- One day we traveled to Amakusa to go dolphin watching (dolphin watching photos). It was so much fun to be in a boat cruising along side the dolphins as they swam. We even got to see some baby dolphins swimming with their mother.
* Another day we traveled to Nagasaki to visit the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park, a memorial to the victims and the history when atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki by the US in 1945. This experience left a lasting impression on myself and most everyone else; the atrocities that humans commit upon one another is shocking. This was a similar to Janene's and my visit to the Halocaust Museum in Washington, DC years ago.
- Still another day nearly everyone went to an amusement park named Greenland Resort and Amusement Park (this site is in Japanese but the photos are great). A few of the adults also went to visit a Japanese pottery studio.
We also had multiple dinners and parties while we were there both at large areas where we could gather and in small groups in Japanese family's homes. Experiencing the Japanese life and culture in this way was something that we will never forget. It was a very good for all the girls to experience life in another country, especially one that, at times, could seem so different from the US and yet so similar. I have always enjoyed the experience of other cultures throughout my travels in Europe and I'm glad that my girls got to experience Japan.
Nearly everywhere we went during our trip, there were Japanese people who were amazed by my youngest daughter Bailey. Evidently the Japanese people are enamored with her blonde hair and blue eyes. She was like a celebrity and they wanted to have their photo taken with her. They would ask to touch her hair and stroke it with a look of awe. I was a bit freaked out by it at first but it became so common and hilarious that we all just laughed and laughed.
If you would like to see more about our trip, take a look at the blog and photos that Janene and I maintained while we were in Japan. There are plenty of photos and blog entries by the girls about their experiences.