Missing Tacos: A Love Letter to Kyushu

EDIT 8.13.13: I’ve realized that a lot of the links to my photos are broken, so I’m going to go ahead and delete the ones that are causing trouble and fix that up later!

Because of the lack of photos, here’s a video with some of my photos that I helped edit and make!


When I returned to my weeklong trip to Japan, I found myself intensely craving tacos. It’s a bit sad actually and I’m pretty sure I whined about it at least two times a day. The funny thing is that, aside from breakfast tacos (not to be confused by breakfast burritos ugh), I don’t normally eat that many tacos. This being said, I went to three different taquerias during the week I returned and had a wonderful taco fest. I promise that this is actually (somewhat) relevant to my trip to Japan and I’ll explain later as to why I decided to title this blog post like that.

This post will be a survey of my week trip in Japan and I will approach it via my five senses, chronologically, and my take-aways from the trip as a whole. I expect this to be fairly long, so join along for the ride friends!

THE SENSES

SMELL

I’m going to start off with this one first because breathing the Fukuoka air was definitely the beginning of a wonderful trip. The flight from San Francisco to Narita was okay until the last hour. Thirty minutes into landing we experienced some terrible turbulence. Landing, I felt like I was in the worst roller coaster of my life. To top it all off, our plane was coasting along the strip as it waited for a gate to open for another good thirty minutes. I’m a guy that can handle roller coasters, but that was one of the worst moments of motion sickness that I’ve experienced. I could go into gritty detail about a bus ride my mom and I endured in the Philippines ten years ago, but I’ll spare you all the nasty. Instead, I can tell you at the very moment we landed into Fukuoka and exited the airport that I felt so much better. When I saw neon lights advertising some Japanese beer to me I realized, “Oh man oh man, I’m in another country.” With the exception of the Philippines (the homeland) and a three hour trip to a border town in Mexico (definitely does not count), I have never visited another country outside of the United States before. Was the air pollution free? I’m not sure, but it sure beat the stuffiness of an airplane. In that moment, breathing the crisp and clean(er?) Fukuoka air, my motion sickness disappeared and my spirits were lifted into another higher power.. until I got on the bus and entered a world where I drifted in and out of sleep alongside the rest of my peers.

I just realized that I made another post about how I wasn’t going to complain about that anymore, but to remain consistent with this line of thinking I’m just going to keep it here.

TASTE

One of the things I was excited about coming to Japan was the gastronomical experience I knew I was going to partake. As you can tell from the title of this post, I really do love food, so I had my little shortlist of the foods I wanted to try. Okay, that’s a bit of a lie. I just knew I wanted to try all of the foods. To be quite blunt, the food was amazing. I was able to try so many wonderful things. I’ll go more into detail about the food when I detail the trip by day.

TOUCH

This is going to be corny as heck, but I just want to talk about how each and every one of the buddies just touched me personally. Even the ones that I didn’t really connect with, from conversations with my peers I could tell how much their buddies meant to them. It’s strange how close strangers from different countries and upbringings could become so close in a matter of six days.

OH, but something related to actual tactile-ness is the onsen (hot springs). Oh man, the onsen. I remember before the trip, I decided I was not going to partake in onsen because I was really self-conscious about the nakedness part of it. I did one of those things where I thought that I was never going to have the chance if I let it slip, so I did the hot springs. And it was naked. And it was worth it. And I totally miss it.

SOUND

There’s a particular silence that I felt in Beppu. I want to make sure that I differentiate the fact that being in Beppu is not the same experience one would have if they went to Tokyo. Beppu is fairly sleepy and I appreciated that. I don’t come from very hustle and bustle cities, but I just appreciated the quiet that I was immersed in the city.

To contrast that, imagine a bunch of drunk-y americans stereotypically singing karaoke in a little room because that shining stereotypical image was very much us and a great memory. Our buddies were so much better singers than us and made us feel bad! We sang, we shouted, and we had a dandy time at karaoke.

SIGHT

Beautiful. Japan was beautiful. The area we were a part of was just beautiful and I expect that the rest of the country to be like it..

THE TRIP

After arriving to our dorm at midnight and promptly passing out, we got our groggy selves up and rode the bus up many winding roads to the APU campus. We met up with our buddies and went through a little rundown of what our week will consist of. We then got into a big circle, introduced ourselves, and with our buddies we paired up with another pair and did an icebreaking challenge with a little game of pictionary.. kinda. We were given a character or person and we had to run back to our group and draw it. When we had the right answer, the group as a whole had to run back to the leader and yell out the answer. After many grueling rounds of sketching and cardio, my group won! I actually have the paper we all drew on lying around somewhere in my apartment.. I’ll post it one day. We then went to downtown Beppu and explored the city a bit, specifically a mall called You Me. We then went to visit the “hell” hot springs, hot springs that are too hot for people to actually bathe in. Afterwards, we had this wonderful steamed dinner using the natural hot springs water that runs around Beppu to cook our food. We had an assortment of meats, veggies, and dim sum (yes, I know I’m using a Chinese term for something we ate in Japan forgive me please). It was so oishi! This was the night that I ended up participating in onsen with one of my classmates and my buddy. Some of my friends wanted to do it, so I figured why not. It was so worth it. In case you were wondering what onsen was because I didn’t really define it, it’s hot springs. The water around the city is heated up with dormant volcano heat and people harvest this water into hot springs filled with minerals that are apparently good for you. It was so soothing and all I wanted to do after that was to take a nice long sleep, so I did.

The next day, we arrived back to campus and we had a lecture, learned and experienced (kinda) a traditional tea ceremony, and did flower arranging!

Professional

Cindy and Gabe listening to the flowers talk.

Cynthia and her arrangement

beauty

We then went back to You Me, as I proceeded to get tired of it, and we went to a sushi belt! Sadly it was not like this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOkVNs-UXRs), but ahhh it was so delicious and we didn’t pay that much money for it! You just grab sushi off a conveyer belt and munch on beautifully made sushi. The amount that we spent on the food that we got would have only paid for one California roll in a middle of the road sushi place back here in Austin, and California rolls aren’t even sushi! I got to try salmon roe too, something I probably won’t be having any time soon.

On Wednesday, we traveled to Oita, a city not too far from Beppu. We visited Nippon Steel, a company that obviously makes steel. We got to tour around the area and see all of the different raw materials that made steel. Then we actually got to see the production of steel! It was amazing! Except I have no photos sadly. The only way I can describe it is, well, it looked like a big airhead being rolled out. … Now I sound like an airhead for saying that. We then went Aeon mall, had lunch (where I had the most amazing pasta I ever had the pleasure of knowing), learned a bit more about the company, and headed back to Beppu.

Our charter bus then dropped us off in front of You Me. As we got out, rain pouring, I yelled out to my friend Liseth and her buddy Nancy, “Ugh, do we have to go back to the mall? I’m sick of it let’s go to Beppu tower.” At first, I thought she begrudgingly acquiesced, but I later found out that she was a bit tired of the mall too so we trekked on over to Beppu tower. We arrived and realized that.. well.. it wasn’t really that exciting because, of course, the top of the tower was closed on Wednesdays. When we were about to leave, two of our classmates and their buddies came from behind and asked us if we wanted to join them for some karaoke. Yeah, sure, we thought, why not? We realized that the karaoke place was inside Beppu tower so we went in and did karaoke. Did not regret that at all and had so much fun! We then went to grab Korean barbecue right down the road and, welp, I’ll leave these pictures here:

Master Chef Mai (Gabe points)

Master Chef Mai (Gabe points)

bibimbap bap bap

bibimbap bap bap

The next day, we went to Fukuoka and visited a Nissan plant. Sadly, like Nippon Steel, I have no photos of it. It was so cool to see cars being made! We went to a beautiful mall called Canal City that actually had a canal! We also had ramen because of course food.

I realized that if there was a city that I would want to live in and work at it would be Fukuoka. I realized that after just being in the city and a little presentation at City Hall. It’s a beautiful city and I was sad that we only got to stay there for about five hours.. because it takes three hours to get there. We then went back to Beppu and had Okonomiyaki for dinner!

Our last day consisted of going to a wonderful city called Bungo Takada. There, we played taiko drums, meditated, tried our hands at calligraphy, and trekked up a mountain to view beautiful Buddha carvings. We then ended this experience with a buffet spread of food made from local ingredients. It was wonderful.

Then, we went back to Beppu where four of us wanted to check out this beach that had our attention during the whole trip. It was right across from the bus stop from the dorms!

In terms of structured and planned trips, that was about the end of it. Some of us went to karaoke later that night and had a lot of fun. The next day, we went to Monkey Mountain (or Forest?) where we say a lot of monkeys, uh, monkeying it around. We went back to Oita, walked around, and took a few jumping photos.

And then the next day we went back home.

WHAT I LEARNED

I barely scratched the surface on what I really felt about the trip to Japan. I felt so immersed and so at peace the whole time. It truly was a beautiful experience. I hope that, at the very least, you were able to experience just a bit of what I was able to during my short time there. To conclude, I have four takeaways from this whole experience.

  • Friendship is important. Although I know that I can be a bit charming and outgoing, I consider myself to be fairly introverted when it comes to new people. Not only am I glad to have met our APU buddies who I consider great friends for life, but I’m so glad to have known my classmates that I met on the trip. Entering the class, I only had one friend (Mai) who was actually in the other class for this trip (there are two classes, one ethics and the other international business, that went on the trip. I consider them all my classmates). Entering the trip, I would say that I was only really friends with only one more other person because we are in the same group for another class. Coming out of the trip, and excuse the sap that I’m sure you could wash it off with handsoap, I feel like I’m able to call all of my classmates friends. I am so grateful that I experienced the trip with 19 other great students that appreciated the experience as much as I do. They were there for me when I needed them and I hope that they consider me just as much of a pal, buddy, or a friend as I consider them. I already miss all of them and this trip, even after four weeks. Don’t discount people just because you might not have that much in common with them because everyone has a beautiful story to tell.
  • You must continue learning no matter what. No matter how content you are with your life at the moment, there is always something new to learn. Listen, respond, and learn.
  • Appreciate life. I mean, look at the food photos that I shared and tell me how you cannot appreciate life after seeing that. No, but seriously, I felt so at peace in Japan. I’ve returned to my bubble of school stress, but remembering that time reminds me to just appreciate what life has to offer.
  • Break cliches. What I mean by this is, yes karaoke in Japan is a bit of a cliche. Eating sushi? Duh. But just do it because you’re in Japan or you’re in another country. Just don’t make an ass of yourself.

Before I officially end this post, I just want to say a few more things. I want to point out that my experience was different for various reasons. This is not the Japan of Tokyo, but of a more slow paced lifestyle of Beppu. On top of that, the cities of Oita, Fukuoka, and Bungo Takada. We also had buddies that would help us translate and get around the city. Going to Japan will be a different experience because of this of course. I also want to say that, after experiencing Japan, I really want to go back and possibly work there. I know that with the above I have had a different experience than the actual Japanese lifestyle, but still. I’m interested in applying for the JET program and hope to maybe do it after graduating. We will see.

Lastly, the explanation for the title of this blog post. Part of it is because I was having some serious taco cravings in Japan, but the other part is actually a funny story. On Saturday, we went to Oita and after lunch went to McDonalds just to get some ice cream (don’t judge). My friend Liseth was collecting money from us and my buddy Kazu put his 100 yen coin in her hands. Liseth tried to give it back to him, but he refused, so she proceeded to buy us all ice cream. When we finished and as we were walking around the city, Liseth tells Kazu that when he comes to Texas that she’s “going to buy [him] a taco and you’re not allowed to refuse it! Because in America, we buy food for our friends you can’t say no!” Kazu was really confused but he nodded appropriately. After a few blocks, I remembered a conversation I had with TK, one of the translators from APU. We talked about the fact that the Japanese word for octopus was tako (we were talking about food so it was relevant, I promise). So I elbow bumped Liseth and told her that tako/taco means octopus in Japan and we both just looked at each other and laughed and laughed and laughed. Kazu, expect an octopus in June.

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