Dispatch from Japan – Part 2

I’m on the Moscow leg of my reporting trip already, but just wanted to post some of my thoughts from Japan, which I failed to put up while I was there. Will try to post more regularly while I am here. 

Day 4 – Olga Dreams of Sushi The morning of the my fourth day in Japan, I ended up sleeping in quite a bit because I had stayed up till nearly 3 a.m. working on my election story and edits for it. If I thought it was difficult to wait for edits on a story while only several feet away from my editor’s desk, this took on a whole new meaning when I was nearly 7,000 miles away and with a 14 hour time difference.

Having spent the morning in my hotel room, I was pretty starving by the time lunch rolled around…and so was my interpreter. Together, we decided to go to Sushi Zanmai, a sushi chain in Tokyo recommended to me by an editor at National Journal. Due to our hunger, we went for the biggest menu option – 16 pieces of sushi. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was trying to save my favorite fish for last (i.e. tuna, fatty tuna, etc). By the time I got to the last several pieces, I was stuffed and ended up having to leave a few pieces behind. I think that tuna haunted me later that night.

After lunch, my interpreter and I had some time before our next interview so we visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which is dedicated to soldiers and others who have died fighting on behalf the Emperor of Japan. It is sort of controversial because some war criminals are enshrined there as well. When we walked inside, we washed our hands, as is customary upon entering a holy place. We were there in the late afternoon and saw many businessmen stop by on their way to pay tribute to the souls enshrined there.

My next interview was at Hosei University, where I met with a class of students studying global politics and American foreign policy. It was fascinating to hear their thoughts on the election in America, the issues Japan faces and the relationship between our two countries. They were so kind to me that I had no doubt about the future of the U.S.-Japan relationship. They applauded me before and after our conversation and we took this lovely photo after the seminar was over. Some of them are even hoping to meet with me when they come to Washington.

Day 5 – Going Nuclear, Part 2If I felt guilty for waking up late the day before, I made up for it on my fifth day, when I woke up about 5 a.m. Our flight to the north of Japan from Haneda airport was at 7:30 a.m., but we still had to check out and take the train to the airport. We were flying up north to visit the Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing facility up there in the Aomori prefecture – the facility also includes a uranium enrichment facility and high level and low level nuclear waste storage. It was extremely interesting to see all of it and have so much access there – most Japanese people who tour the facility don’t get to see as much as we did, we were told. We toured the site and then met with some local officials and members of the local community – some great interviews! But more on that later. We were staying the night in Aomori-city…about 2 hours away from Rokkasho and we found this restaurant that is famous for its local Aomori prefecture food. It was probably my favorite restaurant of the trip so far, but not just because of the food, but also because of the atmosphere. And the woman who worked there – sort of like the chef – was really amazing! She was bossy and kept telling some of the men how to drink their sake properly. I asked her to take a photo with me and, at first, she refused and said that she doesn’t take photos with younger, beautiful women. But…she relented.

Day 6 – Aomori-City

On my sixth day in Japan, I woke up in Aomori city and headed over to the local government offices to interview the Aomori prefecture energy policy director. He immediately asked me if I was going to publish pieces of our interview and I think the “on the record” bit put him a bit on edge. Still, he was very informative about energy policy in the local government and how it ties into the central government of Japan. But more on that later (saving material for my stories, of course)…

After that meeting, my interpreter and I decided to check out the Pacific Ocean so we walked towards the shore. It was a bit of a gloomy day so that plan was short lived. Instead, we entered a waterfront shopping mall where there was Aomori prefecture gifts and traditional foods. The prefecture is known for its apples, Chinese yams and fish products so we explored all of that before heading over to the train station of leave for Fukushima.

We got on the Shinkansen bullet train once more on my trip and headed down towards Fukushima city, where we met another ICFJ fellow reporter from D.C., went to a delicious izikaya for dinner and then rented a car and tracked down our hotel – Chisun Inn – Fukushima City. They put us in smoking rooms at first, which probably were the worst smelling hotel rooms I have ever encountered. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Two things have amazed me about Japanese people on this trip so far – 1) I am shocked by how much people can eat (including my interpreter, who regularly ate twice my portion)  and 2) I am shocked by how much people smoke. Every train station, metro stop, café and now, even hotel has a smoking section, packed tight with smokers inhaling and exhaling their shared smoke. Needless to say, I was thrilled when we were able to move to non-smoking rooms. I would be able to breathe freely. 

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