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Katrina Hacker's NHK Trophy diary

Team USA partaking in shopping in Japan

From left to right, Team USA's Emily Samuelson, Mirai Nagasu, Ashley Wagner, Katrina Hacker and Stephen Carriere group together.
From left to right, Team USA's Emily Samuelson, Mirai Nagasu, Ashley Wagner, Katrina Hacker and Stephen Carriere group together. (courtesy of Katrina Hacker)

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By Katrina Hacker, special to icenetwork.com
(12/05/2008) - Katrina Hacker takes icenetwork.com around Tokyo while she was there for the NHK Trophy.

Looking back
Konnichiwa, everyone!

I left you last time just before the short program. Now I'm writing the last installment of my NHK diary from the San Francisco airport, waiting for my flight home to Boston. I was so busy in Tokyo that I didn't even have time to write!

Practices were great, and everyone on Team USA skated wonderful short programs but perhaps less-than-stellar long programs. All the skaters should be incredibly proud of their achievements. The stadium was filled to the rafters for all events, and even the Crown Princess of Japan was in attendance both evenings, along with both Midori Ito and Katarina Witt.

I had the chance to talk to Akiko Suzuki as we cooled down after practice on Friday, and she is one of the nicest skaters I have ever met. She fielded my bombardment of Japanese vocabulary questions graciously. I was so happy to be able to watch her spectacular long program (Suzuki won the silver medal)!

After the free skate, Mirai Nagasu saw that I had been thrown an NHK robot stuffed toy (I forget its name). This was the one item that she, somehow, had not received among the bags and bags of gifts that were thrown on the ice. I usually leave most of my gifts in the locker room, but I gladly traded this special memento with her. Next up, I was the random draw for drug testing, (it's always the first-place finisher and one other skater drawn at random). Thank you to our team leader, Pat St. Peter, for entertaining me and for patiently waiting with me as I sat drinking bottle after bottle of water! The only occurrence of interest was that the incredible Mao Asada came in to the doping room as I was leaving. I did receive some really adorable Sanrio band-aids, with cartoon trains, from the doping agent for my cooperation!

On Sunday, I was free from skating, so my mom and I set out for the Meiji Shrine. First built in 1920, and rebuilt in 1958, this shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, who ended Japan's period of isolation. The Shrine is housed within a beautiful park that was filled with visitors. We spotted lots of people in kimonos and even witnessed a wedding!

After the Shrine, we walked south to Shibuya, the trendiest (among the teenage set) of the trendy shopping districts in Tokyo. At the recommendation of a Tokyo University student with whom I used to skate in the New York we ventured into Shibuya 109, which is a cross between a mall and a department store, and the experience was unreal. Loud music blared throughout building, which was packed to the gills with masses of teenage girls browsing the latest styles (the most popular of which seems to be mini-shorts trimmed with fur). Everything is kawaii (cute). I browsed through the endless array of accessories -- from fake nails to hair accessories (even scrunchies!) jewelry and a bizarre, personal ear-piercing gun -- but ended up just buying a pretty black coat with big rhinestone buttons and some cell-phone charms to bring home (you're not cool in Tokyo unless your mobile phone is decked out with gems and charms).

From Shibuya, we headed back north to Harajuku and the Jingu Bridge, the heart of the "cosplay" movement. Cosplay involves Japanese youth dressing up in over-the-top outfits and parading around on Sunday afternoons to see and be seen (check out the photo gallery!). The bridge is only steps away from the Yoyogi Stadium, so we stopped by and watched the men's free skate.

Getting ready for the banquet, I accidentally (I swear it was an accident, not sabotage!) stepped on Ashley Wagner's foot with my high heel. Thank God for those band-aids -- the little blue cartoon trains accented Ashley's black dress marvelously! The famous NHK Bingo Banquet (actually, it was a raffle) had a similar result to the one from the Cup of China -- no prize for Stephen Carriere, Ashley or Katrina ... but some other members of Team USA did win some cool prizes like digital cameras, Gameboys and iPod Nanos. As a consolation prize, all non-winners were given aqua blue hand towels with plaid trim. (A side note: I was perplexed by the abundance of washcloths -- from plain solid colors to Disney and Sanrio characters to designers like Betsey Johnson and Anna Sui -- available in all Tokyo shops. Apparently, everyone carries around a washcloth, as paper towels are generally not offered in Tokyo restrooms -- very environmentally conscious.)

By Monday, we finally had a grasp (albeit a pretty weak one) of the Tokyo subway system -- all 13 lines. Armed with two subway maps, Stephen and I ventured to Roppongi, formerly a red-light district but now a very trendy upscale neighborhood. Two beautiful, modern, multi-use towers are located in Roppongi: Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown. Both boast shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, office space, residential quarters, museums ... everything! The architecture is stunning. We went to the observation deck at the top of the Mori Tower at Roppongi Hills and enjoyed 360 degree views of Tokyo -- simply breathtaking!

Contrasting sharply to the new, dazzling behemoths in Roppongi are the shrines and temples in Asakusa, relics of old Edo. Inside Senso-Ji, the main temple, is a golden statue of Kannon, Goddess of Mercy. The statue was apparently fished out of the Sumida River in 628 AD. Next to the temple is an impressive, 53-meter tall, five-story pagoda, the second-tallest in all of Japan. The entire complex is beautiful and moving. Worshipers and tourists alike visit the temple, throwing coins into troughs for good luck and writing wishes on ema (wooden plaques). I liked watching all the people going about their rituals.

One of the most amazing parts of Japan was the skating fans. It is truly wonderful to skate in front of such an appreciative audience. Fans congregated in the hotel lobby, so every time I entered or exited the building, I signed tons of autographs. It was fun being a celebrity for a few days. Bags of gifts randomly appeared in my hotel room. My favorite was an anime drawing of me in my short program dress. "Arigato gozaimasu Megumi-san!" The fans are so thoughtful, and I am so happy I had the chance to perform for such an enthusiastic audience.

The Grand Prix season was an incredible experience, and I am so thankful that, after a rough spring dealing with a bulging disc, my back healed enough for me to be able to compete around the globe. I'm happy to be back home in Boston now, and I'm looking forward to breaking in my new skates and training for the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Happy Holidays and happy training, everyone!
See you in Cleveland -- I can't wait!

Practice time
Happy Thanksgiving from Tokyo!!!

Enjoy your turkey. Team USA is grateful to have arrived safely in Japan and to be able to perform at the 30th Anniversary NHK Trophy competition.

We landed here on Tuesday afternoon, exactly 24 hours after leaving home. At the airport, a media circus greeted Mirai and Rena Inoue, filming them and shouting questions as they exited the terminal. Within five minutes of arriving, one can tell that the Japanese love figure skating!

At the hotel gym, which I visited to loosen my travel stiff legs, I discovered a new workout machine -- it's sort of like a miniature mechanical bull. I think it is supposed to strengthen your core and inner thighs as you hang on through the ride. I stuck with the Stairmaster, but it did look like fun!

On Wednesday morning, I woke up very early and found myself back at the gym. It was definitely a popular destination for those who could not sleep. I found my mom, my coaches Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, technical specialist Brad Cox [who taught me ice dance when I was little] and his wife and adorable baby, Brody, who speaks both Italian and English at only 21 months! Later, Stephen and various other coaches came in to work out. After breakfast, me, Ashley, Stephen, plus our coaches Peter, Mark and Priscilla Hill headed out sightseeing.

Our adventure really was an adventure! It all began trying to navigate the vast and confusing subway system -- so many different lines and colors, and each line seems to be managed by a different company and requires a separate fair. Plus, the actual station near our hotel in Shinjuku was huge, with about 20 different entrances, signs in Japanese with arrows pointing various directions. Who knew that Peter Johansson had a special talent at map reading and deciphering Japanese subway signs as he guided us onto the correct train.

The weather was beautiful, so the Imperial Garden looked especially gorgeous. The actual Imperial Palace [Kyokyo], the official residence of the Emperor, is closed to the public except on Jan. 2 and Dec. 23. Sited where the old Edo Castle stood until the late 1800s, Kyokyo was rebuilt in 1968. The prior Meiji Imperial Palace was bombed in World War II. Despite not being able to see the Palace, Higashi-Gyoen [Imperial Palace East Garden] was an attraction itself.

After that, we took the subway [this time, less confusing] to Ginza, the famed luxury shopping area. Tokyo is a big shopping city, but unfortunately the exchange rate prevents American skaters [who normally love to shop] from buying too much! The Sony Building is here, where one can view the very latest in electronics. We went to the Mitsukoshi Department store, and later Ito-ya, a nine-floor stationery store. I love paper, pens, notebooks, erasers, etc., so Ito-ya was like heaven. I bought some really adorable miniature origami paper, which is about all we can afford here!

Much of Tokyo was destroyed by the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923, and then again by bombs during WWII. Therefore, unfortunately, most of the ancient temples and shrines are gone. Being a tourist here is more about soaking up the atmosphere - the riot of neon lights, the ten-story electronics stores blaring pop music, the masses of people rushing everywhere. At the same time, Tokyo is very orderly. No one ever jay walks [incidentally, we have learned to look right instead of left when crossing the street because Japan follows the British rules of the road], and the residents are unfailingly polite.

We had unofficial practice at the Yoyogi National Stadium on Wednesday night. The ice was very new and quite hollow, so skating on it was a very noisy experience. The stadium is breathtaking. It was designed by famous architect Kenzo Tange and hosted swimming and diving events at the 1964 Olympics. Apparently the ice has been laid on top of the swimming pool, but I'm not really sure if that's true! Anyway, while we practiced, volunteers and officials were still setting up for the event. A television camera is perched atop the diving platform -- so cool! I saw Johnny Weir at practice and he said that he has just been to the Harajuku district, where Tokyo's fashionable teenagers shop and parade about in lavish, over-the-top outfits. I totally trust Johnny's sense of style, so I can't wait to see Harajuku [and Shibuya, a similar district] for myself.

After practice, we had a team dinner at a Shabu-Shabu restaurant. Shabu-Shabu is a type of Japanese meal in which one dips thin slices of raw meat in boiling water and then eats it. As a vegetarian, I personally did not partake, but other team members reported that it was delicious.

Official practices began on Thursday. Everything went smoothly. Ashley, Mirai and I did our free programs in the morning and our shorts in the afternoon. All of Team USA seemed pleased with the entire day. The opening ceremony was much shorter than usual. There were two speeches, Katarina Witt was introduced as the guest of honor, and then we were done. p>

The competition started Friday. Good luck everyone!!!

Here's some useful Japanese vocab:
Good Morning: ohayou gozaimasu
Hello: konnichiwa
Goodbye: sayonara
Thank you [very much]: arigato [gozaimasu]
You're welcome: do itashimashite [according to Mirai, just say "Don't touch my moustache" very quickly]
Yes: hai
No: iie
My name is ___: watashi no namae wa ___desu
Ice Skating/Figure Skating: koorisuberi/figyuasuke-tingu
Numbers: 0 - rei; 1 - ichi; 2 - ni; 3 - san; 4 - si/yon; 5 - go; 6 - roku; 7 - shichi/nana; 8 - hachi; 9 - ku/kyu; 10 - ju