Mary Margaret Hollstein visits Japan 2010.07.14

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

torii_gate.jpgMary Margaret Hollstein’s trip to Japan was a long time coming, but it was worth the wait. And even though she discovered that she’s not a fan of flying, she certainly would be willing to go through it all again for another visit.

Mary Margaret signed up for the Lenawee ISD Japanese exchange program back in 2008. Her “sister” from Moriyama, Japan, visited in October 2008 and a group of Lenawee County students were to fly over for a visit the following spring.

Then came the swine flu scare and the trip was postponed. Finally, this spring, the students from the 2009 exchange joined those from this year’s program and they flew together to Japan.

For Mary Margaret, this trip became a lot about food—both the good and the bad. Overall, she said, she probably didn’t eat all that well.

But consider her dilemma one day at a 7-Eleven store: “You had a choice of dried octopus legs or ice cream.”

She took the ice cream.

The students were encouraged to try everything and Mary Margaret did follow that command in Toledo when the group made a visit to the Koto Buki restaurant before embarking for Japan.

“I tried everything,” she said, but the tiny fish eggs were too much.

She didn’t want to swallow, she didn’t want to spit them out. They just hung out in her mouth for a long time.bento_lunch_copy.jpg

She wasn’t in Japan for more than a day when fish eggs were back to torment her.

“The first night my host family took me to an amazing restaurant,” she said.

There was a conveyor belt of sushi items that slowly made its way past diners.

“They tried to feed me fish eggs but I wouldn’t eat them,” she said.

There was an unknown white fish, however, that really hit the spot.

From Moriyama, the students spent two days in Hiroshima, taking in a sobering visit to the Peace Memorial Museum—commemorating the result of the atomic bomb dropped on the city in World War II—and the memorial to Sadako Sasaki of the 1,000 paper cranes story.

They took a ferry boat to the island of Miyajima in the Inland Sea to view the famous torii (gate) to the Itsukushima Shrine, and they got a good view of cherry blossoms. That’s a sight that eluded previous LISD exchange visitors, but the timing was perfect for this group.

“They were everywhere on the island,” Mary Margaret said. “We were the first exchange group ever to see them.”

After a trip to Kyoto, the students gave the obligatory program for the host families. This year’s group showed how to square dance and they told the story of Paul Bunyan through pictures and by reading Japanese text.

The group took part in the salty sushi routine where everyone chewed a piece of sushi and crowd members had to guess which student ended up with the highly salted one.

Mary Margaret’s “sister,” Mai Hirakawa, lives in a modern style house, similar to what you might find in the U.S., but much smaller. Mai’s grandmother lives in a much more traditional home and it’s there that Mary Margaret tasted “the most delicious chicken I’ve ever eaten.”

Among her miscellaneous discoveries are these:

Keira Knightly’s voice-over in the Japanese “Pirates of the Caribbean” is very high-pitched and annoying. A half-hour wait in line for a crêpe was well worth the time—even better than an earlier crêpe purchase.

Enormous malls sometimes rise up to 14 stories rather than sprawl wide like a typical American mall. The heavily used trains include “silence cars” to enable business people to concentrate on their work.

“Vending machines are everywhere,” Mary Margaret said, “and you can get anything you want.”

The stretching routine in physical education class at school includes Leap Frog. She joined in with the Clarinet Club for the required after-school activity. She learned that Japanese ice cream is even better than what she gets at home, and the honey milk flavor from a Hiroshima 7-Eleven was the best of all.

“I think when [trip coordinator] Nina Howard said to try all the food, she didn’t mean ice cream.”

On her last day in Japan, the host family took Mary Margaret to a Korean restaurant where eaters cook their own meal in the center of the table. She consumed a lot of one item, although it was the sauce that she really liked.

“Later we were talking about weird foods eaten in the U.S. and I mentioned cow tongue,” she said.

That got a good laugh. That’s just what Mary Margaret had been downing with the delicious sauce.

The Japanese culture is something Mary Margaret really grew to appreciate.

“Everything is very modern, but they manage to balance it out,” she said. “The traditional is still there.”

She said that before the trip, she had some concerns that her journey might become the kind of school trip that was marked by educational experiences but not a lot of fun. That view couldn’t have been further from the truth.

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