To Ellie's class, I'm sorry it took me too long to get your questions answered by Ellie, recorded in my notebook, typed on the computer and posted to you. We love to hear from you. Ellie thinks about you every day.
Miss Krieger: Did you really eat pickles for breakfast?
Ellie: Yes, and we like to get them for free samples in the department store basements.
Ellie's mom: tiny pickles are a traditional part of every Japanese meal. We definitely had them every time in Kyoto. We have them sometimes now, but the kids do like most varieties. I can send some in for the class to try when we get back!
Miss Krieger: Are there any American foods like cereal?
Ellie: Not in Kyoto, but yes, in Tokyo.
Ellie's mom: We had only Japanese breakfasts (or Japanese interpretations of western breakfasts) while we were traveling. The B&B in Hiroshima was run by American QUaker volunteers, so they served granola and yogurt. Now that we are in Tokyo, we can get a version of corn flakes, frosted flakes, or cocoa flakes, and that's all. They also have big thick fluffy slices of very white bread that is nice for toast. Butter is uncommon and expensive, but Ellie was delighted to discover margarine.
Miss Krieger: Are the beds like at home, but on the floor?
Ellie: Not really. They are futons, which are thick pads, then a big fluffy quilt. The pillows are small and filled with beans! You roll they whole thing up and put it away during the day and only get the futon out at night. They are comfortable, but they are better to jump on when they are rolled up than when they are rolled out. But not in our apartment in Tokyo. We have beds. But not my brother. He still has a futon.
Miss Krieger: Do you go barefoot when you remove your shoes, or do you have to wear slippers?
Ellie: Well, it's a litte tricky. You take off your shoes when you come in a building. And it is hard because you can't touch the shoes floor with your socks. You have to step up onto the socks floor. Then sometimes, they have slippers for you, like at our ryokan in Matsumoto. I had Minne Mouse Slippers. But sometimes you just go barefoot or in socks. But if you have slippers on, when you get to a room with tatami mats, then you have to take the slippers off and the slippers have to stay on the wood floor only. Only barefoot and socks on tatami, always. And then, when you go to the bathroom, there is another pair of slippers you have to change into that only touches the bathroom floor. And don't forget to take the bathroom slippers off when you leave the bathroom - that would be embarassing. In our apartment in Tokyo, we take off our shoes at the door and we have a special shoe closet to put them in. We just wear socks. We don't have a tatami room and we don't have bathroom slippers, so it is easy.
Alicia: Have you seen families with pets?
Ellie: Yes, especially lots of Shiba Inus, which look like little foxes. Alex N in Miss Metter's class has one and we posted a picture of one earlier on thew website. There are mostly smaller dogs, but we have seen a few big ones.
Spencer: Is there a Japanese SPCA?
Ellie: I don't know.
Ellie's mom: we asked our friends when we were staying with them and they said that they hadn't heard of such a thing. When schools raise money, they said they usually give to UNICEF. But that was a small town and there may well be such a thing in the more centrally located areas.
Miss Krieger: Are there ceramic cats in all the stores to symbolize good luck?
Ellie: Sometimes. We like the ones that actually wave with a battery inside.
Ellie's mom: Yes, we see them in many places and in many forms. If I can recall the story of the cats correctly, it goes something like this: long ago there was a temple that cared for many many stray cats, but the temple was running out of money and it was about to close down. Legend has it that someone important, a lord or nobleman was riding by and saw a cat with its paw up waving him into the temple. The bigwig stopped, went into the temple and eventually became the temple's sponsor saving it and all the cats. Now people display a cat figure waving its right hand to attract good friends or a cat waving its left hand to attract good business. Once in a while someone will have one of each kind of cat. Once, I saw a cat with both hands waving!
Becca:Does the food at McDonald's taste like at home?
Ellie: Yes, but they have Mini Pancakes as a choice with a cool little butter and syrup squirter. And you get to pick your prize from the menu.
Miss Krieger: When you visited the Hiroshima Peace Museum and signed the book, how did you feel? Did someone help you fold the origami crane?
Ellie: I felt happy and proud because I was sharing what I thought with the people in Japan. I think everyone should go there. Nobody helped me fold the crane. I followed the directions.
Vidal: Are there other stores there that we have in the US?
Ellie: Not really. There's Kentucky Fried Chicken. They have 100 yen shops, just like the dollar store!
Miss Krieger: Is there anything on the news about the election for US President?
Ellie: Sometimes, a little bit.
Ellie's mom: When we were traveling, we could only get the Japanese TV news and they really only seemed to mention it very briefly and not every day. I asked my friend what Japanese people thought of the election and she said that Japanese people don't follow politics to the same degree that North Americans do. She said that whether it is US or Japanese politics, no one really cares because they expect goverment to be bad, no matter who is elected. Of course that is the perspective of one person, who works long hours as a teacher and mom, in a small city. Back in Tokyo, Polk has heard a lot of interest, but much of that is from Penn alumni and other academic types who spent some time studying in the US. He says they are interested and somewhat amazed that the United States would even entertain the idea of electing Obama (presumably because he is black, though this is unsaid). I spotted a poll in the Daily Yomiuri, the English newspaper saying the 34 percent of Japanese were hoping Obama would win. 13 percent were hoping McCain would win. And the rest expressed no preference. Now that we are in Tokyo, we have our Apple TV and Slingbox running so we are watching the (delayed a few hours) Today show every morning, the network news every evening, and the Daily Show and Colbert every night, just like at home. When Novemebr 4 comes along, we'll have to get up early in the morning to watch the live election results.
Thanks for your interest. We hope you are enjoying the blog. Ellie has started a book report about Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes. Did you find it? If not, she will tell you all about it when she gets back.