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The following articles were originally published in The Shelbyville News in the column “Letters Home:  A Hoosier in Japan.”



Send questions and comments to me at toddjayleonard@yahoo.com.

Book Description

Letters Home

What types of holidays do Japanese people celebrate? What is the educational system like in Japan? What are Japanese festivals like? What are some of the customs and traditions of the Japanese people? Professor Todd Jay Leonard, writing from the perspective of living and working in Japan, provides in this fascinating book the answers to these and many other questions.
Letters Home: Musings of an American Expatriate Living in Japan delivers a firsthand account of daily Japanese life through the eyes and personal experiences of Professor Leonard who has enjoyed an ongoing relationship with Japan and the Japanese people for nearly twenty-five years. 

This anecdotal book of essays, written in the style of personal letters, offers commentary on a wide range of topics and issues including culture, history, education, language, society, and religion of modern Japan from the point-of-view of an American expatriate who has made Japan his home. 

The author’s friendly, down-to-earth, yet authoritative, style of writing will transport you to modern Japan, where you will learn about the customs and traditions of this most fascinating country. This book can be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in learning about Japan and its people.http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Home-Musings-American-Expatriate/dp/0595283098/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299907225&sr=1-2

World traveler believes there's no place like home


A reader recently wrote and asked where besides Japan I have traveled to, and what is my favorite place of all the destinations I have visited.

These are such difficult questions to answer. I have been blessed over the years to have been afforded many opportunities to live in different parts of the world and to travel to just about every continent, with the exception of Antarctica.

As I was growing up in Shelbyville, I never imagined in my wildest dreams the type of life I would eventually lead. I always had a fascination with foreign languages and cultures, and this allure became even stronger once I first traveled to Japan as a summer exchange student while still a junior at Shelbyville High School.

That first exposure of living in a foreign culture as a teenager has led me to live in Europe, Central America and Asia. As a university student, I spent my junior year abroad in Madrid, Spain, through the Purdue University Study Abroad Program.

As a post-graduate student, I lived in San Jose, Costa Rica, as an Ambassador of Goodwill for Rotary International. I received a Graduate Scholar's Fellowship through the kind recommendation of the local Shelbyville Rotary Club.

None of these opportunities would have been possible without the support and assistance of many people in the Shelbyville community, to all of whom I am most grateful, most notably, Mr. and Mrs. Polakoff, who were the regional coordinators of the Youth for Understanding (YFU) Program in Shelbyville that initially took me to Japan on a Lilly Foundation Scholarship; and the Shelbyville Rotary Club, specifically Bill Murphy, who sponsored my application locally.

Although I don't live in Shelbyville physically, I still have a strong attachment to the community, and I look forward to my yearly trips home to visit family and friends. Shelbyville will always hold a special place in my heart, because it is where I grew up and will be the place where I eventually retire. In my view, it is heaven on a stick.

With that said, I can't pinpoint one particular place that I would say is my favorite, outside of Indiana, except to say that each and every place I have had the great fortune to explore offers a unique and different cross-cultural experience. I can, however, list a few of the high points Eand even some low points of my travels.

A definite highlight was when I went on elephant-back safari in the foothills of the Himalayas in Thailand. This experience, along with seeing all of the cultural and historic places, stands out in my mind. I also enjoyed seeing the terraced rice paddies of Bali, Indonesia, along with the culture and traditions of this fascinating tropical island.

Doing the "hokey-pokey" on the Great Wall of China with a group of school kids was another highlight, as well as seeing the mass of clay soldiers unearthed in an imperial tomb in Xian, China. Traveling through China had its challenges but was well worth it to experience such a diverse and ancient culture.

When I lived in Spain, I traveled all over the Iberian Peninsula, even skiing in Andorra (the principality between Spain and France in the Pyrenees), visiting Portugal several times and sunbathing in the Spanish Canary Islands off the coast of Africa (as well as traveling to a number of other European countries).

Living in Japan allows me to visit easily a number of countries around Asia and the surrounding area. I have visited Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Las Marianas (Saipan and Guam), Australia and, of course, Thailand and China. Within Japan, I have made an effort to travel to all regions of the archipelago, from north to south, including Okinawa.

On the downside, being chased by a raging bull on a mountainside in Spain would be a low point. I learned not to take shortcuts through fenced fields. My friends and I ran screaming like girls across the open field, making it over the fence just in time. Being 22 years old had its advantages, as I probably wouldn't be so quick on my feet today. It does make a good story to tell at cocktail parties, though.

Needless to say, I never participated in the running of the bulls in Pamplona after this harrowing experience. I had no desire to repeat that sensation after my own impromptu version of this famous Spanish festival. Also, I figured I shouldn't press my luck.

Other harrowing animal adventures include being chased by a pack of wild monkeys in Bali and coming face to face with a wild boar on a jungle trek in Costa Rica. I won't even mention the snakes I have encountered in my adventures.

Also, I was pickpocketed in Costa Rica, scammed by a taxi con-artist in BogotE Colombia, and had a knife pulled on me in Madrid in an attempted robbery. Thankfully, I was not injured in any of these instances, but these experiences made me a much better traveler and made me much more aware of my surroundings.

After visiting Noriega's Panama, I was stopped at the border and "bonified" which prohibited me from returning to Panama for six months because I had purchased 12 pairs of shoes. The border patrol thought I was smuggling shoes to resell in Costa Rica, when in fact they were all for my personal use. I like shoes, what can I say?

A similar thing happened when I was returning to Costa Rica from Colombia; I had to submit to a full body search because I had 10 wool sweaters in my luggage. I purchased them for my family as gifts. Unbeknownst to me, drug runners sometimes used the wool in sweaters to hide drugs. An embarrassing experience, indeed, but at least my family got sweaters for Christmas that year.

All in all, though, traveling abroad has allowed me to meet some very interesting and colorful people. It has also humbled me greatly by showing me just how much I don't know about our great big world and how much I still need to learn. In actuality, I have only scratched the surface.

But as Dorothy so eloquently opined in "The Wizard of Oz," "there's no place like home"... which is why I click my heels a couple of times a year and visit my own "home, sweet home."



Monday, January 30, 2006

Balinese women and children carry offerings to the temple in preparation for a Hindu festival. While visiting Bali, columnist Todd J. Leonard had a run-in with a pack of wild monkeys.Submitted photo