Saturday, November 15, 2008


            The train came to the end of the track. I guess that was our stop. We had arrived in Arima Onsen with no plans or reservations, just wanting to eat good food and relax in the Kobe suburb’s famous hot springs. Despite not having any idea what we were doing it turned out to be the smoothest traveling of the entire trip.

            We walked into the closest hotel… and it was perfect. We slid back bamboo and paper-screen doors and fell into our fluffy futon beds. A pot of hot green tea sat waiting on the black table six inches off of the floor. 

            Dinner fell into our laps just as easily. The only restaurant still open was a little bar that could barely squeeze ten people. Two couples filled the only two tables and the bar seats had diners. After seeing our disappointed faces three of them prematurely left just out of courtesy… incredible.

            Everything was written in characters. The cook stood right behind the bar. No one understood us. The only thing we could do was point to the vegetables and noodles prepped on the chef’s counter and smile. He whipped us up four amazingly bizarre combos of noodles… parmesan and roe, scallions and garlic etc etc.

This sure isn’t jersey because… the hot springs were on the sixth floor with no bathing suits allowed. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hola, Bonjour, Namaste or Arigato

In a little bright room I clasped hands with a 4-year old and a 60-year old man. We were part of a big circle dancing to Asian music. It was a Friday-night Hippo family meeting. The Hippo foundation is an organization that began in Japan as a method to teach young Japanese to speak English. In a few years it incorporated Spanish and Korean. Decades later, as I stood in the Kobe meeting room with my home-stay mom Hiromi, the members spoke over ten languages.

            The point of the Hippo family is not to have teachers and tests but to have an interactive multilingual environment. Some members start young and others join later but everyone participates in the same activities, from dancing and singing to mimicking audiotapes. The games were beyond goofy. But even though I couldn’t keep a straight face the 15 or so members were actually learning. They all could fluently speak at least three languages and could introduce and explain themselves in the eight others.

            When they want to use their language in a real-life situation they apply to live with a host family abroad… or let a foreigner, like me, stay in their home. At “sharing time,” Hiromi read from her journal what she had learned during our time together- that you can “sprinkle” salt on something and you “hit the road” when it's time to go.


This sure isn’t Jersey because… Hiromi uses whitening lotion and thinks the concept of tanning beds is hilarious.