A Travellerspoint blog

Okutama

More Than a Concrete Jungle

This past week, my eyes were opened to the fact that Japan is much more than a concrete jungle of lights and high-rise buildings.

For the first time, I was able to head west to Okutama, a mountainous region on the west side of Tokyo Prefecture. Unlike the city, Okutma is covered with forest and greenery. The abundance of nature makes it a beautiful place to visit in the fall.

Not too far from Okutama is Heirinji Zen Temple in Saitama, where I was blown away by the beauty of autumn in Japan.

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The purpose for my being in that area was to visit a kindergarten and to give a HIPPO presentation along with other HIPPO members. Among them was a younger gentleman nicknamed Tango, whom I hadn't met before. Tango and I got along very well, and he invited me on a hike, along with his friend, the next day.

Tango's family owns a very quaint Soba restaurant in Okutama. The surrounding mountains and nature really give it a traditional Japanese feel.

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The three of us used this restaurant as the starting point for our trek.

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The map below diagrams our hike. We climbed up three mountains in total; Mt. Nokogiri [1109 meters], Mt. Odake [1267 meters], and Mt. Mitake [929 meters]. The journey took around seven hours to complete.

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Immediately after setting out, we were greeted by a monstrous flight of stairs. We could barely see the top from where we stood at the bottom. I am sitting in the middle of the staircase in the photo below. Can you see me?

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Once we reached the top, we were greeted by a pretty shrine...

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...as well as a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and village below.

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Our ascent was far from over. At one point, the pathway was cut off by a rock which had to be scaled in order to continue.

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However, the view from the top was well worth it.

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We kept hiking until we arrived at the summit of Mt. Nokogiri. But it wasn't until the summit of Mt. Odake that we reached the pinnacle of our journey. The top of Mt. Odake yielded a wondrous view of Mt. Fuji from 1267 meters above sea level.

Mt. Fuji

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Mt. Fuji up close and personal

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Mt. Fuji in monochrome

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Celebration photo

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By this time, stomachs began growling. We took out a gas stove, a rice pot, rice, and three packages of curry. Time to eat - nomad style.

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Mmmm. Rice and liver. REAL man food.
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Next we began our descent from Mt. Odake to Mt. Mitake. The decent immersed us in some of the most marvelous pieces of nature I had ever seen in my life. I am not a fan of taking nature pictures because I don't believe that photos of nature do any justice to the nature itself. However, in this place, we could not contain ourselves a shot photos of EVERYTHING that we laid our eyeballs upon.

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Along the way, we were able to catch glimpses of Tokyo way down below.

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Living in Tokyo and working in Shibuya everyday, I had begun to view Japan as a land of never-ending people and skyscrapers. It was hard to believe that the nature I had just experienced was part of the same country. The difference between the two Japans in astounding.

After finishing our hike, we were exhausted. After nearly seven hours of climbing mountains, we were ready to settle down, eat some ramen, and rest!

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Posted by DanPan 00:56 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

HIPPO Intern 2012-2013

I think that my participation in various high school plays, yearly church Christmas plays, and innumerable high-school English class presentations have finally payed off!

I am constantly being asked to present, speak, and even MC at HIPPO events. These events range from a small to a very large number of audience members. The topics that I speak about include my experience of being a HIPPO intern, my discoveries while learning Japanese, living in a multicultural and multilingual environment, American culture and lifestyle, or any other topics that may be related.

Presenting to future year-long exchange students about the importance of living in another country.

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Speaking about learning Japanese at my welcome party in Ota-ku.

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I was a fellow at the Daigakuse Family. Leading everyone in my favorite "Song and Dance Activity" - Shampoo SADA!

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I was an MC at event HIPPO hosted for Southeast Asian youth on the SSEAYP program. I spoke about my first encounter with the HIPPO as well as the importance of enhancing our world view by learning the languages of our neighbors.

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Also, some exciting news! HIPPO is sending me to Osaka soon to conduct a few English interviews for future year-long exchange students. I'm pretty excited. Not only are English interviews a fun part of being an intern, but Osaka is well-known for its special foods. I'm planning eat lots of takoyaki! [fried octopus, mmm...]

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A photo of Mount Fuji that I took on the way to work. Osaka is somewhere in that general direction. VAMANOS!

Posted by DanPan 21:27 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Japanese Elementary Schools

小学校

As I had mentioned before, part of my job includes traveling to various elementary schools in Tokyo to give presentations about the HIPPO Family Club as well as multilingualism and multiculturalism.

A Typical Japanese Elementary School
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Interestingly, multilingualism and multiculturalism is sort of a big deal in Japan. Japan is an ultra-homogeneous nation with a population that is 98.5% ethnically Japanese.

Although Japanese study English, schools only focus on reading and writing. As a result, people don't have enough practice speaking and are too shy to try. Many of them are left believing that it is impossible to be proficient in more than one, maybe two, languages.

HIPPO members and I go to elementary schools to demonstrate that isn't true. Language acquisition is based on the language spoken in one's environment. If you create a multilingual environment, you will create a multilingual person. That is exactly what we do in HIPPO.

Multiculturalism At Its Finest
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During the school visits, I give a small presentation in English and in Japanese about my life in America. Although I don't know very much Japanese, I memorized the words of my presentation, to make it seem like I do. The children are surprised when they hear me speak Japanese and try to talk to me afterward, though I have no idea what they are saying.

My friends and I
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An interesting thing about Japanese schools is that you have to take your shoes off before you enter. The students put their shoes into these cubbies and change into their special school shoes.

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There are also a bunch of rubber slippers, usually dark green, for visitors.

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Wearing these green rubber slippers is no ordinary task for me.

My American Bigfoot Feet Don't Really Fit Into Japanese Slippers.
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Oh well. At least they make a fun photo!
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I have never been a famous, but I assume it feels similar to what I experience in Japanese elementary schools. The kids crowd around me, hug me, tickle me, fight over who gets to hold my hand, all while yelling "Danieru! Danieru!" [my Japanese name.]

At one elementary school, the kids crowded around their classroom window to yell goodbye to me as I was leaving.

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These kids are such cute little angels.

Posted by DanPan 20:37 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Living in Japan

This is where I live in America:
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The center house is where I live in Japan.
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It's almost as though someone took my American house and flipped it on its side, and then shoved it in between two more flipped-over houses, and then added ten more houses in front of it.

This is the norm in Tokyo. Japan has limited space because it is an island nation. To make things worse, around 70% of that space is uninhabitable due to mountains and forest. The result is extremely high population densities within cities - especially Tokyo.

View of Tokyo from my house:
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Flipped-over houses are all over the place and people are literally living on top of each other.

Tokyo congestion can be experienced first-hand when riding the metro during rush-hour. I think Japan is the only nation with "subway-pushers", whose job is to push people into trains because the doors won't close otherwise.

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Because space is so limited, everything is much smaller in Japan. You'd think that being such a big and burly Slavic man, I would feel uncomfortable here. But, honestly, I enjoy it. In America, where there's lots of space, people tend to keep their distance. Only friends get close and personal. In Japan, everyone always gets close and personal because they have no choice. It makes me feel like I have lots and lots friends.

The lack of space in Japan has resulted some interesting creativity.

This is my room before bedtime
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This is my room at bedtime
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All I have to do is lay a futon out on the floor and sleep on it. When I awake, I just roll it up and put it in the closet. Pretty neat.

Lastly, here's the view of Tokyo from my room
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Hello neighbors. I think we will get to know each other very very well.

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Posted by DanPan 01:16 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Japan

Tokyo

In 2009, I went to Japan and spent four days with a host family. The family was part of "Hippo Family Club", a club where members get together on a weekly basis to practice several different languages.

Hippo Family Club is part of a bigger organization known as LEX (Institute for Language Experience, Experiment, and Exchange), which offers language programs, language lectures, exchange programs, and educational materials.

Members of the club listen to CD's with a story that is repeated in several different languages, creating an immersion-style atmosphere. When members get together, they are able to converse in multiple languages, including Japanese, English, Spanish, German, Chinese, Russian, Korean, and French to various fluency.

Hippo is a non-profit organization that has offices all over the world, including one in Tokyo, Japan - where I will be working as an intern for the next year.

I work for this company...
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...in this building...
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...in this room...
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...at this computer.
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Notice, I'm on my blog :)

Japanese offices, unlike American offices, are not separated by cubicles. Instead, desks are lined up in long rows facing each other, somewhat similar to the TV series "The Office." I'm going to be Jim and I'll find someone to be my Dwight :)

Although it may seem like working in an office is a boring thing to do, especially for an adventurous person like myself, that is not the case. For one thing, one of my responsibilities includes traveling throughout Tokyo to give presentations about Hippo and multiculturalism in elementary and middle schools. I will even get to travel throughout Japan in order to attend Hippo Family events and clubs. I love it.

I really enjoy this job, and the people here are super friendly.

Lastly, probably the COOLEST thing about this job is that it is a few minutes away from Shibuya station and the infamous Shibuya crossing.


I have the immense opportunity of working here everyday.

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I'm very excited to begin this next adventure.

For more information about LEX and HIPPO, click here

Posted by DanPan 18:20 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

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