The National FFA Officer team embarked on a journey to Japan on January 28. Here are some dispatches from their trip:
Rise and shine, it’s tofu time! Our travels began as we headed north out of Tokyo toward the Aomori Prefecture and the Taishi-food, INC tofu plant. We first toured the facilities and learned how the tofu is made. Tofu originated in China and has become a common item in the Japanese diet. This plant produces 150,000 tofu cakes a day which are distributed all over Japan using an intricate delivery system managed by the Mitsui company. After having a basic understanding, we made our own tofu! While it was cooking, we tasted other types including fried and chocolate. While not professionals our own tofu turned out well. Terrific tofu!
Our bus continued toward the city of Nikko stopping for lunch on the snowy bank of Lake Chuzenji. As we were peacefully eating lunch light snow began to fall. Our goal was also to see the Kegon waterfalls. As we arrived at the National Park with the falls, so did the heavy snow! Dispite the snow we bundled up, descended 100 meters in an elevator and exited at the ground level looking up at the falls. The snow created a nice white sheet covering the falling water, but couldn’t hide the sound. While we missed seeing the falls in full glory, we had a great time in the snow and it was truly beautiful!
The Nikko Toshogu shrine is a famous shine in Japan that many students and visitors come to see each and every year. At this lower elevation the snow had stopped and we observed the full glory of the 1617 architecture. Many of the buildings have been restored and they were currently working on restoring the main shrine. We enjoyed a large mural of a dragon painted on the ceiling of one building. When wooden blocks are clapped under the head of this dragon the sound echos throughout the building. We definitely identified the carving of the three monkey’s depicting “Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” on the horse barn. Huge cedar trees surround this beautiful place.
Beauty was a great way to describe our stay that evening at the Ryokan which is a Japanese style hotel. The hotel was up along the hillside with natural flowing streams and more tall trees in Nikko. This night was filled with Japanese traditions from our rooms with bamboo floors to a bath house to a traditional dinner. We cleaned up in the bathhouse and donned kimonos. The traditional dinner was served seated on the floor with many different types of vegetables, soups, fishes and rice. It was definitely a time to try things we would never otherwise sample! After dinner we learned how to write some basic Japanese and how to fold origami cranes. Lastly, before hitting the pillow we relaxed in the bathhouse and then collapsed onto our futons. A beautiful day for sure!
More tradition met us this morning as we were greeted with a traditional Japanese breakfast consisting of sushi, salad, miso soup, and yogurt. It was definitely interesting getting used to eating salad and sushi for breakfast! Afterwards, we loaded back up on the bus to travel to Tokyo. After arriving in Tokyo, we were met by members of the Future Farmers of Japan at the Tokyo Mizuho Nogei High School.
FFJ members are strictly high school students studying various fields of agriculture. In the auditorium, they had prepared a program to tell us about the FFJ as well as to demonstrate a few customs of the Japanese culture. Many of the high school’s FFJ officers sat amongst us as well as the National Vice President of the FFJ. We went around the room doing self-introductions to inform one another of each of our interests in agriculture.
One of the hardest things we did all day was to stand up and introduce ourselves in Japanese in front of 50 agricultural students. After the self-introductions, we got to share with them about the FFA. We prepared a short slide show, and, along with the help of Chieko translating, we described about agricultural education and the FFA. It was awesome when the students began asking questions about our National Convention as well as the types of SAE projects and agriculture education classes FFA members have in the U.S.
Then came the gift giving! The Japanese culture holds giving gifts in high regard and this proved true within the high school as well. The National Vice President of the FFJ gave a short speech in which she pointed out the long relationship between FFA and FFJ members. She also described some of the effects of the disastrous earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan in March 2011. It was moving to hear her speak of the role agriculture will play in rebuilding their society. She ended her speech by thanking us for traveling to their high school and asked to strengthen the bond between our organizations. We were then given the opportunity to offer remarks in return. We exchanged gifts and many, many, many, many business cards!
Once the program was concluded, we were given a tour of their high school and accompanying school farm. There was everything from sewing classes to flour making to swine production to small animal care to monkey managing to greenhouses filled with orchids. It was incredible to see the care and ownership the students took in their projects. Everything on the farm was entirely managed and maintained by the students with supervision from instructors. We all agreed that it would be a great high school to attend!
After the school visit, we hit up the Hard Rock Café in Tokyo, and now we are back at the hotel ready for a good night’s rest before taking the bullet train to Kyoto in the morning to visit another high school and meet our host families for the next two nights! Oyasuminasai! (Goodnight!)