It was strange landing in Chicago after 10 weeks in Asia. The flight was from LAX, just before noon, and it was almost uncomfortable to be around people that openly speak English. It seems like a blur, but for an obvious reason: our route started in Kyoto, Japan and ended in Beijing, China. In between we coasted along Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Hiroshima, Matsuyama, Beppu, Kumamoto, Tokyo, Taipeh, S.A.R. Hong Kong, and then got to China to see Shenzhen, Guilin, Wuhan, Kunming, Li Jiang, Chengdu, Xi’an, Chengde and Beijing, and topped it off with 5 days of Honolulu. It is hard to put it all in one little blog, but I’m warning you, it might be a long one.
Augustana’s expedition with 74 students and 4 professors flew over Greenbay, WI to get to Japan; just a strait line over the North Pole. Japan was a shock in every sense, since humidity was high and we came from a pretty mild summer in the Midwest. However, Kyoto was a great place to have a culture shock since everything that is ancient in Japan is in the Kinki Prefecture. While in Kinki, we were able to make one whole-day excursion to Kobe, a city that was devastated by the earthquake in 1996, and Nara Prefecture, home of Todai-Ji temple and one of the biggest Buddha statues in the world. I also got to visit old friends, Yuki Serizawa and Masami Arai at Kobe City University for Foreign Studies, and they took me to the traditional archery class, Kyudo. Kyoto and Nara are two of the only places that were not bombed in WWII, thus they represent true Japanese heritage. They were lucky not to have military bases that should be bombed (unlike Tokyo and Osaka that were carpet bombed).
Landing in Hong Kong was everything but a normal procedure, since we were going through a turbulence in the middle of the biggest typhoon in 30 years, but I really started freaking out when captain turned on the seat belt sign, as well as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Spring, of course), at which point everybody exhaled and closed their eyes, as if they are being hypnotized to a very certain and painless death.
Our third day in Matsuyama, professors and directors of the program arranged a whole afternoon for students with the locals. Bill Cahill ’14 and myself were lucky enough to be hosted by Michiko Izumitani, Associate Professor of Leadership and Communication at Ehime University in Matsuyama.
Michiko and her family wanted us to to have the best time in Matsuyama, which she absolutely achieved. I didn’t really know what to expect from a Sunday afternoon with a Japanese family, and what ended up happening is that we just had some fantastic family time. Our first stop was a local shopping mall, where we just went for a walk and got some groceries for dinner. Since Michiko went to college in New York, she knew exactly how to get the most of our day, perfectly understanding cultural differences and what could be appealing to us. We stopped by at a local conveyor belt sushi bar and bought enormous amounts of sushi.
Due to some (un)fortunate circumstances, I had to leave the group for a day and go to Osaka. Even though all the Augie kids had tons of fun in Hiroshima, I was glad to leave for a day and see Osaka at its finest because it is the second largest city in Japan, after world’s biggest metropolitan area, Tokyo. Unlike the sushi place in Moline, real Osaka is everything but cheap. When I got to Osaka Umeda train station, I was surprised because that was exactly what I would expect Tokyo to be like: commercials and billboards EVERYWHERE, street performers on every step and crowds of people rushing, and I swear if you stop walking or don’t know where you are going, somebody will run into you (hate to enhance the stereotype).
I stayed a night at Yuki Serizawa’s place, and Yuki was an exchange student at Augie last year. She is a senior studying International Relations at Kobe City University for Foreign Studies, and wanted to show me around Osaka and welcome me to her home. Even though Serizawa family’s hospitality cannot be described with words and I thoroughly enjoyed staying with them, I tried to spend as much time possible in the city of Osaka, since I only had a day and the city has metro population that is bigger than that of Chicago.
Riding on a bullet train from Kyoto to Hiroshima at a speed of more than 200 miles per hour was an extraordinary experience, but getting to Hiroshima was nothing I could ever imagine. Modern, clean and welcoming city that was exterminated off the place of the earth only 68 years ago by an atomic bomb and is one of the most beautiful places I have been to. Right behind the Atomic Bomb Dome, the only building that survived the attack on August 6th, 1945, is the most impressive park with a museum, called Peace Memorial Park.
Since we were all tired and sluggish from the night before in Kyoto where we had a social shindig with some locals, the only thing we were looking forward in Hiroshima is bed time. However, waking up early was great so we could go and see why Hiroshima is advocating for world peace past 68 years. After interactive museum and park tours, we got to meet two people that survived the atomic bomb attack and wanted to share their horrific experience. They are both World Peace Advocates and try to bring people from all over the world to come to Hiroshima to see and feel that nuclear energy should not be on this planet as a weapon of mass destruction. They compared 5000 degrees of Celsius during the detonation to both temperatures of the Sun and the Hell itself, as they saw human bodies melting and walking down the streets while they were just kids at the age of 8. Past three years, Hiroshima had over 380,000 foreign visitors, which makes it the most popular tourist destination in Japan, following Kyoto and Tokyo.
After 16 hours of flights and bus rides Chicago-Tokyo-Osaka-Kyoto, we arrived to ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto. The Emperor of Japan, believed to be the ancestor of Amaterasu, the goddess of the Sun, lived in Kyoto for centuries until mid 1800s, when he moved to Tokyo. Overall, Kyoto looks like what you would expect to see in Japan as far as history and architecture. Buddhist and Shinto temples are on every step, with monks walking on the street in their robes and wooden flip flops (and white socks, of course). Even though downtown area is modern and it has a great city vibe, you can still run into a smaller temple that is hidden between two brand new buildings. Kyoto is the only ancient city that survived WW2, which is why it is one of the biggest tourist attractions not only in Japan, but in the whole world.
We are back on U.S. soil!!
|Sophomore Brandon Motzel|
While it feels great to be done with the long plane rides, it is weird to not be running out to the beach to body surf on the waves or go shopping at the markets. From the basketball side of the trip in São Paulo to the relaxation and tourism side of the trip in Rio, there was never a dull moment. We were always going on adventures to markets or visiting iconic sites or relaxing at the beach. I know it was a trip of a lifetime for me, and I could not be happier that I shared it with my team and coaches and their families.
Waking up today was a struggle for many different reasons. The game last night was very taxing on us. It was a hard fought game and a few guys, including me, were pretty banged and bruised. Despite that, however, last night’s game will be one that will never be forgotten.
|Sophomore Tayvian Johnson|