February 3rd, 2012
A new day began as we left the Tokyo Excel Hotel and made it through the hustle and bustle of the subway system to Tokyo station. The famous bullet train “Shinkanzen” awaited to take us south to Nagoya. This futuristic train travels over 150 miles per hour. As Mount Fugi appeared, we all took photos of the breathtaking mountain covered in snow.
The city of Nagoya is centered around the automotive industry, and is home to a “super hub” sea port. In the port, we visited the San-Ej Suchrochemical Co., Ltd. to learn about turning corn into dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, and sucrose. Our next visit was Chitafuto Company., Ltd. Their docks handle 1 million tons of grain imports each year. Chitafuto was currently unloading 50,000 tons of U.S. corn from the giant panamax carrier “Asteris”. The ship had departed from New Orleans 38 days before reaching the Port of Nagoya. It was inspiring to see American agriculture products reach the people of Japan.
After lunch with executives from Chitafuto and Mitsui Co, we travelled to Inazawa High School in the Aichi Prefecture. The school specializes in landscape design, hydrology, horticulture, and agricultural engineering. They have Bonzai trees over 60 years old, and worth more than $20,000 each! Inazawa students offered to host a national officer at their homes over the weekend. We were all excited to meet our host families and experience their lifestyle firsthand.
February 4th, 2012
Inazawa High School prepared a day of cultural experiences for us and Inazawa FFJ members. We made beautiful Cloisonne enamel crafts, learned to write Japanese calligraphy with finesse, and Jason tangled a paper kite in telephone lines before departing to a town festival. This 1,200 year old tradition involves the gathering of more than 7,000 men wearing sumo cloths in 35 degree weather attempting to expel evil by touching “Shin-Otoko” meaning “man-god.” It was a once-in-a-lifetime event to say the least.
Our evening was again spent with host families. Times spent in these households are among our most cherished memories of the trip. Jason’s host father was successful in touching Shin-Otoko, Seth and Cain’s family were strawberry farmers, and Alicia’s host sister studies food science. We were all lucky to have such hospitable and generous families.
February 5th, 2012
Our last event with host families was visiting the Nagoya Castle – an estate over 400 years old. The castle served as the home for the Shogun and his family. Air raids on Nagoya in World War II destroyed most of the buildings within the palace. Restorations are still going on today. It was incredible to see the modern skyscrapers of Nagoya, Japan’s 4th largest city, from the high windows of the 17th century Donjon Tower.
Saying goodbye to our host families in Nagoya Station was hard for all of us. We each had a heartfelt relationship with our host family. After many hugs of farewell, tears were shed as we waved goodbye through the windows of the bullet train. “Matao” means, “I will see you again.”
Kyoto is a beautiful city and hub of Japanese tourism. There are over 1,600 Buddhist temples and 800 Shinto shrines in the city. We visited the Kiyomizu Temple which overlooks the entirety of Kyoto and is dedicated to the God of Mercy. The name Kiyomizu means “pure water,” we each had the chance to drink water bringing either successful business, happy marriage, or a long life. Our team is made up of love birds and businessmen. Dinner was all-you-can-eat Shabu-Shabu or 23 plates of beef feasting. Our pillows never looked so appealing.
February 6th, 2012
Our first destination for the day was the Golden Pavilion. It is a three-story pagoda-style building from the 1300’s. It is completely covered in gold sheeting, an amazing sight. We then visited the Nijo Castle – a hotel for shoguns who came to visit the emperor from the early 1600’s to 1868. The nightingale flooring makes a lot of noise when walked on in order to protect from invaders. Our third stop was the Sanjusangen-do Temple. There the giant “Kannon” Buddha is protected by 1000 Buddha statues, all of which are covered in gold. The Buddhas were created between 1200 and 1400 A.D.
Our last historical experience was the 400-year old Kodai-Ji Temple. We participated in a Japanese tea ceremony and toured the ancient walking gardens. A sharp contrast to the temple atmosphere was downtown Kyoto where we spent time gift shopping, eating dinner, and singing karaoke – a Japanese tradition. We sang everything from Backstreet Boys to George Strait and Journey. Our experience in Japan has created lifelong memories, given us a new perspective, and friendships that span across the world. We can’t wait to be home and share this experience with our families and FFA members throughout America.