Japan has Temples like The Netherlands has bicycles

This week in Uda (possible the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen) we had the chance to see some of the cities amazing history. Our mission was to visit 3 temples in one day! One of which was Murou temple, one of the oldest temples in Japan. Some of the buildings were built in the 9th century and are still standing there. The temple buildings are surrounded by huge cedar trees close to a thousand years, an awe inspiring sight and a reminder of the power and beauty of nature. As we went up the roughly 500 stone steps towards the building on the top of the mountain the view became more beautiful with every step we took. Our guide explained the fine details of the statues of Buddha, their purpose and why they were arranged the way they were, it was very interesting. The 16 meter high pagoda, apparently the smallest outdoor pagoda in Japan can move like a snake, so even when a big earthquake occurs it will stay standing, and it has been standing for over a thousand years, and it is made out of wood! At the top some of the monks were having a ceremony, we were so lucky to be able to witness that.

(Frank Florris from The Netherlands)

A Home for Everyone

On Friday the 15th, the WCJ 2011 session II crew went to Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto Prefecture after a brief (and very, very warm) adventure at Kumamoto castle. For those in the know, going to a hospital an hour away might seem odd, as there are several hospitals in Arao all worthy of a visit. Jikei hospital, however, has something unique to the whole of Japan: a so-called Baby Deposit Box. A Baby Deposit Box, despite the oddly sounding name, is an initiative for the rights of babies in danger of being abandoned by their parents.

Stork’s Cradle

The set up is like this: there’s a hatch in the one of the hospital walls. The hatch reveals a cozy cot in which one can put the baby. The cot is lined with soft materials and the room is insulated to keep the baby warm. When the baby is put into the cot, an alarm sounds to alert a nurse with special training to pick up the baby and have it checked out by doctors. There’s also a camera for surveillance of the baby.

The initiative for the Baby Deposit Box, or Stork’s Cradle as it is called, was taken by Dr. Hasuda Taiji, former Chief Director of Jikei Hospital. After three baby deaths in the local community surrounding the hospital, the doctor was very distressed that his hospital couldn’t offer the babies and their families help. He was inspired by a trip he had taken to Germany, where there are many Baby Deposit Boxes, to make one in Japan, and despite some hardships the Stork’s Cradle was opened in 2007. Dr. Hasuda was not so concerned by the many controversies that arose but rather with the fact that children who otherwise would be abandoned should have a chance at life. For Dr. Hasuda, the children are, and will be, the first priority. And to date, 75 children have been given a second chance at life. Thank you very much Jikei Hospital for welcoming us all and sharing your time with us. Afterwards we had the chance to discuss in our group representing 9 countries how our culture and countries views programs like this and to hear so many different views and perspectives from around the world was really a unique experience.

(Alexandra Kristinnsdottir from Norway)

International Fair, 9 Cultures (Norway’s Table)

Norway Table

This last weekend we had a great opportunity to host an international fair at the Arao City Mall. Right now our World Campus Japan group represents 9 different cultures and countries and the 4 of us Norwegians were excited to represent Norway. I wasn’t too sure on how I could show Japanese people our Norwegian culture but it the challenge was great and it turned out to be quite fun and new for me. Alexandra, Joakim, Torunn and I (Ola) were the 4 Norwegians in the group and we had the idea to serve traditional Norwegian porridge, which surprisingly many of the Japanese people seemed to enjoy. Hiro the president of World Campus International, Inc. luckily has a Norwegian wife Kristinn and she had been kind enough to make it for us (because none of our host families had the right ingredients), it takes about two hours to make it from scratch so we were really thankful for her help and knowledge for knowing the ingredients!

Norwegian porridge

Lots and lots of people from the community showed up for the fair anywhere from older couples to somewhat over 100 kids! By the end of the fair almost all of the porridge was gone. We were also letting people taste the Norwegian liquorice, which not too many seemed to enjoy as much as the porridge. We all really enjoyed sharing our cultures, traditions and taste buds with the Japanese community here in Arao, we thank them very much for welcoming us and we learned a lot from their culture so it was great to be able to give back and it would be great to do it again sometime!

(Ola Johanness from Norway)

Never thought I’d do this

The first day after meeting my host family in Omura even before the program week began I got a rare opportunity from my host family. My host mother, who is a elementary school teacher, decided to introduce me to Japanese elementary school life. It sounded nice so of course I took this chance but little did I know I would end up going into the rice fields and planting rice! Something I had never expected doing in my life. Also the way they plant the rice was different from what I imagined or seen. I thought they would just randomly plant the rice siblings on places that looked well for planting. But no, they span a line across the rice field and plant the rice siblings just in front of it, then the line moves and every one moves with it. It’s a very interesting and effective strategy. Seems like I learn something new every day!

planting rice

This was also a good opportunity to meet new people, older and younger. During the planting of the rice I talked to the kids, teachers and other people of whom I have no idea what they were doing there. I taught them about my country and they taught me about Japan. They learned that we don’t have any rice paddies at all and that instead of rice we mainly plant potatoes in The Netherlands. At one point a frog hopped on the girl and she was so frighten she fell into the mud, so they then taught me the Japanese word for frog (while laughing at the girl) which is: ‘kaeru” and I taught them it in Dutch: “kikker”. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the activity that day. I know I did. Except the mothers on the other hand, maybe because they probably have to wash the clothes afterwards…muwhahaha! All and all is was a great day and fun experience and I hope to be able to do it again while in Japan.

planting rice

(Juir from The Netherlands)

400 years later and still standing strong

Kumamoto castle

This week all of us had the opportunity to visit the historical castle of Kumamoto. This was an amazing experience because it showed all of us just how simple, yet beautiful Japanese architecture is. Even though the castle was over 400 years old, it is still in good shape and just as beautiful. When we went through the entrance of the castle, the walls were really tall and made of big black rocks that would be impossible for any person to climb (I think that the purpose). Even the watchtower was over 50 m tall and when walking through the low doors, passing through the small rooms and going up the really narrow and yet tough steps, you could really feel those 50 m. But it was all worth it, when we got to the top of the tower the view was the beautiful city and mountains of Kumamoto. Afterwards, we went to the restoration of another part of the castle. Even though the restoration was new, it had been restored so carefully, that you could almost feel the spirits of the samurais and how they’ve been walking though the underground part of the castle.

400 years later and still standing strong

When we finished the tour of the castle, we went outside where we met a Japanese guy dressed as a red samurai looking prepared to win a battle (we thought it was hot outside but after seeing this guy dressed in a full samurai uniform weighing around 70 Kilograms we now thought we were the lucky ones) also he was very polite in front of the girls, he even took the ladies hands and got on his knees as a polite gesture.

After all this experience was so indescribably beautiful, that the pictures just doesn’t reach the same level of beauty. It’s just one of those special places where you just have to see it through your own eyes. I did, and I would properly never discover this castle without WCJ. And for that I’m truly grateful.

(Nina Møller from Denmark)