Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Our first day out and about!

Tuesday, January 22, we had the opportunity to join the United States Consulate to watch a rebroadcast of President Obama’s inauguration. We headed out on the train only to discover that we weren’t confident of where to transfer trains or how long the ride would take. We quickly jumped into three different cabs to make sure we would make it to the event on time. In Japan, people stick to schedules – the trains don’t run late and neither do these events! Unfortunately, we and our cab driver didn’t speak languages the other could understand. When he read US on the map we showed him, he assumed we wanted to go to Universal Studios Japan. (Apparently, this is a standard stop for Americans in Japan!) His nodding and saying, “USJ” sounded like “USA” to our American ears, so we nodded back in agreement. So 15 minutes later, after we crossed the river (thus indicating we’d gone too far!), Melanie showed him her passport and said “consulate” one more time. When he realized that we’d missed our destination, he turned off the meter and quickly redirected us back to the Consulate. He refused to take any money from us and we thanked each other – Melanie with a bow and him with a handshake. We hurried into the building without a moment to spare.

Together we sat with Japanese businessmen, students, government and NGO staff members and other dignitaries. The event was quite amazing because it was nothing like watching it on TV at home. Somehow, the experience of watching the President and the news commentators speak of our democracy, the peaceful transitions of power, and the basic tenets of our Constitution, stirred a pride and gave a perspective that felt like what a fish might feel like if he looked at his fishbowl home from outside of the water, rather than inside. Countless moments during the inauguration struck us, and we spent some time after the playback talking with our host U.S. Consulate Public Affairs Officer and other guests.

We were lucky to make new friends who joined us for a post-event lunch – yes, more wonderful food in Osaka! One guest was a Japanese local who helped us decipher menus and taught us how to mix the condiments, broth base, raw egg and noodles for a wonderful lunch. We visited a Shinto shrine, and a few of us offered coins and received fortunes from a vending machine. We split up to explore the city in small groups. By the end of the day, we knew how to get around (despite getting off the train a stop too early), we were able to order food without a Japanese translator (which included lots of pointing, nodding, and menus with pictures), and collapsed in our apartments to rest up for the next day of travel and exploration.

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