Marathons, Octopus-Eating and Life Lessons: A Trip to Japan

Posted by on March 6, 2013

Minnesota School of Business-Richfield High School Coordinator in the admissions department, Kelly Brinkman, took part in the experience of a lifetime by traveling to Japan with a local group, staying with a host family, and taking in all the sights and culture that Japan had to offer. Oh, and while she was there, she ran the Senshu City Marathon in 3 hours and 4 minutes. And she was the 3rd place winner in aforementioned marathon.

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Japan has a running association, which professionals and amateurs can all join. Kelly placed 7th among all female runners, and 3rd place in the non-registered category. Because of that 3rd place win, she was included in the awards ceremony and received a silver cup.

It was her first time traveling internationally, and she experienced complete culture shock. She said that while she was in high school, she took Spanish classes, and some of her friends took French or German.

“There’s a crossover in those languages,” Kelly explained. “You can sometimes easily pick up words or phrases just by hearing the sounds–like ‘hello’ or ‘excuse me.’ But Japanese is so different. The sounds are so different. They assume you can’t pronounce certain words or names, so many times, they’d just say ‘you won’t be able to pronounce his name, so just call him this.’ There are sounds and intonations that we just don’t have. And vice-versa. It was a unique experience to be that much of a fish out of water.”

On that note, Kelly offered a piece of advice to anyone traveling internationally.

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Kelly with her boyfriend and Japanese host family.

“Try to learn a couple of sentences and phrases. I finally learned how to say ‘thank you’ and when I did, Hide (the female host) literally clapped. She was thrilled,” Kelly said.

Kelly traveled with a group of other runners as part of the Bloomington Sister City Organization. The runners and their companions stayed with host families for four days and nights, and then stayed at a hotel for the remaining days.

The home at which she stayed belonged to Masa (male host) and Hide, and was very traditional in that it was efficient and functional–each room was its own small box. They slept on bamboo floors, which is the standard living situation. There was no heat or central air.

As with the rest of the house, their luxuries were few. They had a tiny washing machine, and no one has dryers.

“Don’t you want your clothes to smell like sunshine?” asked Hide, after Kelly explained that in America, most people had dryers for clothing.

There was one thing that made Kelly long for the U.S., and that was the food.

“I’ve always considered myself to be very open-minded when it comes to food – but I was not prepared for this.”

Most of the food was served cold or chilled including fish, and much of it was raw. One of the most common cuisines is octopus, and it is included in a lot of the dishes.

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Kelly at Kiyomizudera, a celebrated temple in Kyoto.

“Masa had a garden and he made a salad using ingredients from the garden,” Kelly said. “He was so proud to explain that the lettuce and broccoli were fresh from his very own garden. Then he presented me with the salad that looked gorgeous–and then I saw the tentacles on top.”

When asked what she would most take away from this experience, Kelly paused.

“The race was awesome, the sights were amazing–the Golden Pavilion, the Osaka castle–but what I will take away most is meeting the host family. Masa said it best when I was leaving. He said, ‘there are over 6 billion people in the world, but there is only one Kelly and only one Masa, and we got to meet. How incredible is that?’”

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