Its off to Toyota City today via the shinkansen, the famed bullet train, which was a lot of fun. The ride was very smooth, but we didn’t go the full speed of the train because the track was relatively twisty. When we go to Tokyo, we should go full speed.

I’m now at the point of traveling in Japan where I don’t care what I pack. I think I can make it for two nights with 2 pair of underwear, 3 socks, a t-shirt with a hole in it, a pair of jeans, my contact lens case, and as always all my computer gear. I did find a neat website before I left for Japan that has advice on how to travel with one bag, I picked up a few ideas from it, but I wished I had picked up more. If you want to travel light, make sure you check it out.

We were picked up in Tokyo by members of the Language Society for English (LSE), a group of volunteers who teach English to adults who might not have learned English in school. The society is led by a lady named Ioku who is just like every older southern lady I have ever met. She had boundless energy and was constantly working to make sure everything was in their proper place and everybody knew what they were supposed to do. We were joined by her bubbly friend Ishiguro, who is a complete hoot. She brought a huge sense of fun to our day.

The first stop we made in Toyota after stowing our gear was the Hatcho Miso factory. The buildings and equipment they use to make miso reminded me a lot of wineries in Altus, Arkansas. Our tour showed us how they made miso back a few hundred years ago. The miso is still made the same way today, but packaged using modern methods. To make miso, six tons of soy beans are poured into a large, iron bound vat. Then, three tons of rock are piled on top. The beans are left to ferment for two winters and two summers before it becomes miso. When they want to reuse a vat, they don’t clean it out. They leave the miso residue on the sides of the vat until they’re ready to use it so the wood remains damp, keeping it from cracking.

At the end of the tour, we got to try many miso based products. There were three types available for testing. The first and the second were very similar, the first having a stronger taste than the second. The third had an aftertaste that was OK, but not as good as the first two. The highlight of the tour was the miso soft-serve ice cream. It was fabulous. Everyone was saying, “I can’t believe this is miso ice cream!” It tasted much like vanilla but had a nice tang to it. I highly recommend it.

We returned to Ioku’s house to watch a little sumo before dinner. Again it was just like every southern lady’s house except the tables were a little lower, and there were no chairs in the main room. There was enough food for everyone, and it just appeared, like it came from out of nowhere. Ioku made sure that everyone was taken care of and made time to teach people how to make various parts of the upcoming Japanese dinner.

Watching sumo was a good time and surprisingly educational. Before the bouts, they flash on TV who the wrestlers are and what their records are. I relearned how to read the kanji for numbers by reading the wrestlers’ current wins and losses. Now, if I could just learn how to write them.

The main event for the day was the banquet for us, the guests of honor, where we would meet our homestay families. We introduced ourselves and our hosts introduced themselves to us in English from the youngest to the oldest. There were approximately a million kids running around, and they were all very cute.

Then we ate Japanese potluck. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much sushi in one place. I tried as much of it as I could. The sushi was good but I think I liked the salmon the best. I don’t know what was on top of it and I don’t care, it was very good.

Dr. Stapp made a presentation to the LSE of an Arkansas flag. I made the mistake of explaining the various parts of the Arkansas flag to Ioku. Of course, she made me explain it again to the entire group. I think I will have my revenge, though, by teaching her students how to say “y’all.”

I stayed with a wonderful homestay family, the Mukoda’s. Shinichi, the father, is employed by Toyota and oversees 700 workers developing for suspension systems and other components for Formula One race cars. I presented them some gifts from America and a few from Arkansas specifically. Many of the gifts that I brought were food, but the gift that they seemed to like the most were some homemade cards that were made by Kathleen. They had close-up pictures of flowers attached to the front of the card and they are quite beautiful. Way to go sweetie!

Tomorrow, a tour of Toyota and Denso.