Monday, May 7, 2012

Flat Stanley Bids a Teary Farewell to His Japanese Friends

"This is the saddest day in the history of the world." That's what I told Ryan's friends when I woke up this morning. "I am not ready to leave Japan yet! I still haven't been to Tokyo Disneyland or Disney Sea! You didn't take me to see the sumo wrestlers stomp around a ring in their underpants!  We didn't climb Mount Fuji!"

They said I can come back to Japan some day.  At first I didn't believe them.  Then they opened a scrapbook and guess who popped out?  My long lost cousins!  I had not seen any of them since they came back from Japan three or four years ago.

Flat Ferdie, Flat Frank, Flat Walter, and ME!
Ferdie told me the three of them returned to Japan about two years ago and have been living with Ryan's friends ever since!  The trick, according to Frank, was that they absolutely, positively refused to say "Sayonara" (SAH-YO-NAH-RAH) when they left Japan the first time.  Sayonara means "farewell" or "goodbye".  Have you ever heard such a sad sounding word?

"We crossed our fingers and said 'Mata ne' (MAH-TAH NAY) instead," Walter piped up.  "Mata ne means 'see you later'.  We think it sounds happier than sayonara.  It worked for us.  Maybe it will work for you, too.  Now tell us about some of the things you have seen during your visit!"

I wish I had more time to browse this children's book department

It was easier than I expected to order food in restaurants. Many restaurants put plastic copies of their food in their front windows.

There are lots of Italian, Indian, Thai, and Korean restaurants. I really liked the French bakery restaurants where I could eat all the rolls I wanted. I liked the Japanese restaurants, too, especially the ramen noodle shops and the sushi restaurants where I could just pick what I wanted from a moving belt on top of the counter.

I was not surprised to see McDonald's restaurants in Japan but I did not expect to see so many Denny's restaurants!
Have you ever seen such teeny tiny oranges?

One of my new friends is a retired teacher. She used to teach science to junior high students. Her name is Reiko Ishii but I call her Ishii-san. "-san" means friend in Japanese. I had fun exploring nature with Ishii-san.

We saw a heron on an island at the Shinto shrine.

We saw lots of turtles.  They are called "kame" (KAH-MAY).

Watch out for that pole!
Many of the streets and roads are very narrow. Traffic goes in both directions on the street in this picture (right). Drivers are very polite and squeeze their cars against the buildings to let other cars go past in the other direction. People don't drive very fast except on the highways. Drivers do not honk their car horns in Tokyo unless there is a serious emergency. They used to honk their horns a lot and Tokyo was very noisy but a law against honking horns was passed and now Tokyo is a quieter place to live and visit.
Traffic guards make me feel safe when I want to cross a street on foot or in a car. They wear white gloves. This traffic guard is wearing a mask so he will not spread germs when he coughs or sneezes.

Almost everyone in Japan backs their car into parking lot spaces and driveways. This might be a safer way to park. You hardly ever see or hear about car accidents in Japan.

Ryan's friend really likes the man in this picture. He lives in Kamakura, a really neat town where we saw the shrine and the temple on Sunday. This man always helps her back into a parking space. When it is time for her to go home, this man stops the traffic on the busy street so she can leave the parking lot.

Most people in Japan wear hats, especially on sunny days. There are lots of stores here that sell hats. This lady is wearing a hat that protects the skin on the back of her neck as well as on her face. She was also carrying a sunbrella. That's a small umbrella coated with something that keeps out the harmful sun rays.

She forgot to wear a hat!
This girl on the train is wearing a special Japanese backpack. It is made of leather and she will probably use it all through elementary school, from first to sixth grade. These backpacks cost a lot of money and are often paid for by a grandparent.
This little girl will ride a train home from school
I climbed a LOT of steps in Japan

They are wearing hats
I met so many nice people. These men were taking pictures at a garden I visited. They are members of a photography club. They take pictures with Nikon cameras. Their cameras are made in Japan and pronounced NEE-KOHN. I am going to try to say Nikon that way from now on.

Making a new Japanese friend

Mrs. Matsuzaki is another new friend of mine. She has a daughter who is nine years old. Her daughter rides on a train every day to go to and from a private school in a nearby town.

Mrs. Matsuzaki taught me the proper Japanese way to make a new friend.

First we bowed to each other. That's what we're doing in the picture.

Flat Stanley: Hajimemashite. Flat Stanley desu. Dozo yoroshiku.
Matsuzaki: Hajimemashite. Matsuzaki desu. Dozo yoroshiku.

Flat Stanley: How do you do? My name's Flat Stanley. I'm very glad to meet you.
Matsuzaki: How do you do? My name's Matsuzaki. I'm very glad to meet you.


This is a good thing to know.  I am always happy to make new friends!

I don't feel so sad now that I have looked at these pictures.  I am starting to get excited about seeing my teacher and classmates again.  I just wish I could ride on a plane instead of in an envelope.  Did you know that when you ride on an airplane from Tokyo to Washington, DC, you can arrive in Washington, DC, an hour before you left Japan?  That's because Tokyo and Washington, DC, are in different time zones.  That's pretty neat and a little bit strange.

Have you been wondering about earthquakes in Japan?  I almost forgot to tell you that I felt one when we were in Tokyo.  We were in our room on the fourth floor of our hotel when everything started to shake.  The couch I was sitting on wiggled and jiggled for about eight seconds.  That doesn't seem very long, but try counting to eight very slowly and imagine you are sitting on a couch that is hopping around four stories in the air.  Was I scared?  Just a little bit.  Mostly I was worried about the people who live close to where the earthquakes happen.  I am going to pray for them.  I hope you will, too.

Mata ne, Japan!  See you again (I hope).

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Flat Stanley Visits a Shrine and a Temple

This is a torii (TO-REE), a gate that marks the entrance to a Shinto shrine.  I saw lots of torii today.  The Shinto religion is the ancient native religion of Japan.
We spotted another torii after we walked down a long path lined with cherry trees and azalea bushes.  Ryan's friends said this looked even prettier last month when the cherry trees were covered in pink blossoms.

We could see the shrine on the hill ahead of us through the second torii.

All the shrine buildings were painted an orange-red color. They looked pretty against the blue sky. (I think I was wrong about the Rainy Season starting early this year.)

There are a lot of steps in Japan.  I can't wait to run up these.

What are those people doing over there?  Can you see me?
Those people were rinsing their hands before going up to the shrine to pray.  I watched what they did and then picked up one of the ladles lying over the well, filled it with water from the well, and rinsed both my hands.  One man used his hand like a cup and rinsed his mouth and then spit the water out next to the fountain.  This is because you are not supposed to drink the water directly from the ladle.
Bad fortunes
Some people were buying fortunes at a little shop near the fountain. The ones who bought fortunes that predicted bad luck, like getting sick or failing a test, tied the fortune to one of these ropes or a tree branch so the bad luck could not follow them home.

Another thing you can do at a Shinto shrine is buy a wooden tablet, called an ema (EH-MAH), and write a prayer on it. There is a big rack where you can hang your prayer. I wonder what the person who drew the cartoon is praying for.

There is a picture on the front side of every ema. Most of the ema I saw had pictures of dragons because 2012 is the Year of the Dragon here.

Someone picked an ema with a picture of a horse.

Which would you choose, a dragon or a horse?

There is a smaller shrine next to the big shrine.

Not all torii are made of wood and painted that orange-red color. Some are made of stone, some are made of metal, and this one is made of concrete.
We passed through a different type of gate when we entered a Buddhist temple later in the day. Buddhism came to Japan from China almost two thousand years ago. I think I heard someone say this kind of gate is called roumon (ROH-OH-MOHN).

We did not wash our hands at the Buddhist temple. Instead, people lit sticks of incense, stuck them in a big pot filled with sand, and waved the smoke around. We had to take off our shoes to enter the temple so I'm glad I wore nice socks.

Visiting a shrine and temple was a nice way to spend the day. Lots of people were strolling around the gardens at both places. I saw children feeding turtles, three herons resting on an island, and plastic food in a restaurant window. You can look at those pictures tomorrow while I pack my things to come home.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Flat Stanley Celebrates Children's Day

Today is Kodomo no hi (KO-DO-MO NO HEE), or Children's Day, all over Japan.  This is the fourth and last national holiday that falls during Golden Week.

It has been called Children's Day for the last 60 years but before that it was Boys' Day (Tengo no Sekku) and that's how most Japanese still celebrate this holiday.

I was glad to hear that there is a separate holiday for girls on March 3.  It is called the Doll Festival or Hina Matsuri (HEE-NAH MAT-SOO-REE).  On that day most families with girls display dolls dressed like the emperor, empress, and their court.  Some displays are simple dolls and cards but others are very fancy and can cost hundreds of thousands of yen.

Today families pray for the health and future success of their sons.  They fly carp streamers called koinobori (KO-EE-NO-BO-REE) outside their houses.  They decorate the inside of their houses with samurai (SAH-MOO-RAH-EE) dolls or tiny samurai gear like armor, swords, bows and arrows, and helmets.

Samurai is the Japanese word for warrior.  Samurai were important in Japan for more than one thousand years, until about 1860.  Today people all around the world still study and practice the martial arts the samurai invented.  Have you ever heard of judo or kendo or aikido?

Today my new friend, Hisayo (HEE-SAH-YO), showed me how to make a samurai helmet.  The Japanese word for samurai helmet is kabuto (KAH-BOO-TO).  She used fabric to make my kabuto but we can make them out of paper, too.  I bought some Japanese paper for you today.  While you wait for it to get there, you might want to practice making kabuto with newspaper.

Here are directions for making a paper kabuto and here are some pictures Hisayo took while she was making mine.    

It's starting to look like a helmet!

Hisayo showed me what her name looks like in kanji (KAHN-JEE).  Kanji are symbols invented in China that Japanese people sometimes use to write words.  They are the most complicated of the three different writing systems Japanese children learn in school.  How would you like to learn three different alphabets?

The kanji symbol for Hisayo means "happiness".  I think this is the perfect word to describe my new friend.  She filled me with happiness when she taught me how to make a kabuto.

Tomorrow I am going to visit a Shinto shrine and a Buddhist temple.  It seems like a good way to spend a Sunday.  The post office is closed on Monday so I cannot come home until Tuesday.  What should I do on Monday? 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Flat Stanley Visits Gardens on Greenery Day

Midori no hi (MEE-DOH-REE NO HEE), or Greenery Day, is dedicated to nature and the environment.  It is the third national holiday during Golden Week.  This was a good day for visiting parks and gardens.

There are many beautiful gardens in Tokyo.  We visited two of the oldest gardens.  They are feudal clan gardens.  Feudal clans ruled Japan hundreds of years ago.  They built these gardens before the United States of America became a nation!

This stone bridge is what I liked best at Korakuen garden. The name of this bridge is Engetsu-kyo because a full moon is formed by the bridge and its reflection on the water.

Can you see the shape of the full moon in this picture?

Kyu-Shiba-rikyu (Q-SHEE-BAH-REE-Q) is the name of the other feudal clan garden we visited. There is an island in the middle of a big pond at this garden. I had fun walking across all the bridges.

We saw lots of flowers blooming at Kyu-Shiba-rikyu.

The wisteria is just beginning to bloom
Irises usually don't bloom until June or July

What kind of flowers are these?
We saw lots of turtles sunning themselves on rocks in the pond. Big carp fish, called koi (KOH-EE), swam to the edge of the pond to tell me hello. I said "Ohayo gozaimasu" (O-HI-O GO-ZAH-EE-MAS) to the turtles and fish. That is how you say "Good morning!" in Japanese.

These people are drawing pictures of the peonies on the hill. We saw other people drawing pictures of trees and turtles.

Of all the things I saw at Kyu-Shiba-rikyu gardens, my favorite was a bride and groom posing for wedding pictures.

The bride is wearing a traditional Shinto wedding kimono in the first few pictures.

Shintoism is one of the two main religions in Japan.  Four out of every five Japanese people practice the Shinto religion.  Buddhism is the other main religion.  Three out of every four Japanese people are Buddhists.  Most Japanese people practice both of these religions.

The bride is wearing a white robe over her kimono in this picture.  This is how she will look during the wedding ceremony.

The bride and groom are holding traditional umbrellas in the next pictures.

These umbrellas are made by hand from many layers of paper and glue. They are strong enough to hold an inch or more of snow.

In Japan people don't just use umbrellas when it it raining. They use umbrellas to stay dry when it is snowing and to protect their skin on sunny days.

They even use umbrellas to protect flowers like peonies from snow and sun!

This was a fun holiday in Japan but I think tomorrow will be even more fun.  Tomorrow is Children's Day!


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