Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 40 (Packing Up)

My last full day in Japan. Tomorrow we all ship out and go back to our ordinary lives.
Kasumi, Haruka, Yuichi and I spent the weekend at our grandparent's cabin by Mt. Fugi. It was so refreshing to be out in the woods again and away from the city for a little while. We visited a couple of springs which produced the cleanest and coldest natural water I've ever seen. I also met Yuichi's family who were really friendly but didn't speak very much English. On our way back to Kawasaki the car battery died, so Kasumi, Haruka and I waited for three hours in a gas station entertaining ourselves. It was blast.
I have a couple of people I would like to thank for this opportunity to come here. First and foremost the Toshiba Company for financially making this happen. They are such a wonderful and caring company that I was so proud to represent.
Thank you Mom and Dad for giving me up for one summer, and raising me to where I could stand on my own two feet in another country. Thanks for all the support and trust too.
Thank you Omori family for taking me in this summer! You have changed my life and I am forever grateful! I've learned so many things here, not only about myself but about other people.
Lastly and most importantly I would like to thank God for leading me through this journey. I've learned that everything happens for a reason, and He is always there to guide you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 36 (U.S. Embassy)

The YFU students from my prefecture today visited the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to host a question and answer session with Japanese students. All I had to do was get to Musashi-Mizonokuchi station by myself and change trains. There would be an adult waiting for me on the platform. The plan was so simple - Kasumi and I even went step by step yesterday to where I would get off and transfer! Of course I managed to get lost anyway. I was confused when Kasumi handed me a map of the bus and taxi pick up at Mizonokuchi last night. I didn't really understand what she was saying so I figured it was a new plan. It actually turned out to be a map of getting back home.
So there I was, late, standing in the middle of the bus pick up panicking. I finally gave in and called the YFU emergency line. The woman gave me the number of the woman I was supposed to meet and I ended up writing the number on my map with mascara. It's interesting how creative one can get when in a tight spot. Of course the woman didn't pick up her phone so I called Kasumi and she explained my mistake.
We weren't late to lunch though - we were actually early so I didn't mess everything up. After we ate lunch at some swanky hotel the entire group headed to the embassy. We were dispersed throughout the room and I sat and waited for people to arrive. Shy students of all ages trickled in and I noticed the Americans with blonde hair group's filled up faster. I was by myself with about fifteen people who did NOT want to talk. So I rambled on and on about how different the United States was - the food, transportation, people, and just everything that came to mind. I'm pretty sure they couldn't understand me so I tried to talk really loud and slowly. Apparently I was too loud because I was notified later that entire groups were staring at me. Like I couldn't embarrass myself anymore today.
An intern at the embassy showed a quick power point of Ten Things about American High School that were so true. Little things like picking your own classes, teachers moving from class to class, driving cars there, focus and sports and PROM! After that each American had a translator and I raved about prom and tried to explain how much homework we had and what you had to do to get into college.
At Tama High homework would be a joke. There are no research projects, discussions or presentations - only worksheet after worksheet. No variety at all. They also take one test to determine if they go to college. If they fail the test they have to study another entire year and take it again.
The biggest difference I've noticed about Japan is that instead of individuality, uniformity is encouraged. In America uniqueness and confidence are a good thing and here it just isn't as stressed. Maybe that's why 99% of the students at my school are totally shy.
We were able to tour the embassy and it re-inspired me to follow my dream of becoming a journalist. We explored rooms that announced press releases and held interview of Presidents since the 1970's. The guide encouraged us to become part of the embassy but I was turned off to living in a compound.
We were released to go back home around 2:30PM so a few friends and I decided to tour Tokyo with one of the guy's host brother. We explored Shibuya and Hioshi which are the major shopping and nightlife areas of Tokyo. Crepes are extremely popular here so I tried my first one at a roadside stand in Shibuya. It was deliciously filled with blueberries and cheesecake but there were so many to choose from! I am proud to say I made it back home all by myself without getting even a little bit lost. I think I've even gotten a little street smart. The first time a man stopped me on the subway, told me I was beautiful and asked for directions I actually listened to him until Haruka pulled me away. Now I don't even take a second look.
I realized today that many everyone has the same feeling about leaving and the best way we came to describing it was "empty".

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 35 (Last Day of School and summary of weekend)

Nobody likes to say goodbye. Unfortunately today I had said many because it was my last day at Tama High. It felt bittersweet to be leaving - I mean who doesn't like to end school? It was much more difficult to say goodbye to everyone than I thought it would be. I've only known them five weeks but their kindness and patience was genuine and I appreciated everything they have done for me. I actually made a speech in front of the entire third grade thanking them and the teachers for welcoming me and helping me with my Japanese. It was just hard to know that I'll never see any of them ever again. I guess this is what graduation feels like.

School ends tomorrow (I go to the U.S. Embassy) so my homeroom had a little snack party where they surprised me with two folding fans that they had written goodbye notes on. No one cried (thank goodness) but I still had this terrible indescribable feeling. During the party though I'm proud to say I stepped out of my comfort zone and talked to every single person in my homeroom. Immediately I wished I would've done this the first day instead of observing from the background. Usually I'm terrible with small talk, but it was so easy to strike up a conversation with everyone because I'm foreign and I can use that to my advantage:).

On a lighter subject yesterday Haruka and I visited Tokyo Disney Sea, which is like Disneyland but for big kids. The rides were NOTHING compared to Cedar Point but I loved how everything was themed. I've never been to Disney in the states, so I felt like a little kid taking my picture with Ariel for the first time. I defiantly recommend it if visiting Tokyo.

This weekend I was very busy at my grandparent's house in Tokyo. The big events were making soba noodles, watching sumo wrestling and trying on my first kimono. My grandparents have a traditional house so we slept on mats on the bamboo floor and ate rice and fish for breakfast. They absolutely LOVED showing me Japanese culture and explaining their history.

Overall Friday was the biggest day of my weekend. I visited the Toshiba Science Museum and met the Senior Executive Vice President of Toshiba, Mr. Masao Namiki at Toshiba Headquarters in Tokyo. I learned that Toshiba is so much more than just TVs and laptops - it's about creating new technology, conserving energy, inspiring young leaders and operating a eco- friendly company. The Science Museum we visited was kind of like Cosi but it was also centered around the history and evolving technology Toshiba is working on. We were guided by the Chief Specialist of the Social Contributions Group, Ms. Tokiko Soma. In addition I finally met the other scholarship winner, Michael from Canada. The bento for lunch that day was HUGE and I ended up trying squid and clams for the first time.

That was my weekend summed up. I can't believe I leave for home in six days. It baffles me that I've been looking forward to this trip since April and it's almost over! I'm excited to get home and prepare for my senior year though, so like I said, bittersweet.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 28 (Omatsuri Festival)

When traveling to another culture my number one recommendation is to go to a festival. You are able to experience the food, history and atmosphere of the culture in a fun and exciting way. Tonight my host family took me to the Omatsuri festival in Tokyo. The food was just like you would get at a county fair but Asianized: squid on a stick instead of steak, pancakes filled with pork instead of gyros and LIVE sea urchins in place of nachos.
What I loved most is how they incorporated their history by remembering the ones who died in WWII. Fifty foot walls hanging nearly 23,000 lanterns lit up the walkways. On every lantern was someones name who died in WWII and where they were from. In the center of the festival was a group dancing the traditional style line dance to a taiko drum. It was neat to see random people from the audience moving along with the motions, obviously knowing the dance very well. My host mom Kasumi said she was taught many of the dances as a child.
After the festival my family surprised me with a trip to Tokyo tower at night and it was ten times more beautiful. I thought I was standing under the Eiffel.
School tomorrow so I've gotta get some shut eye.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day 27 (Japan Open - Air Folk House Museum & Taro Okamoto Museum of Art)

Yet another successful journey today by myself. But instead of a temple I navigated my way to Japan Open - Air Folk House Museum, a "living" museum in Mukougaoka-yuen. I have to admit it was very easy to find when I arrived at Mukougaoka Station: the museum is actually a huge park where 23 houses have been collected from across Japan and preserved. It was so interesting to see the different styles of architecture from different places and periods. Houses ranged from 100 to 300 years old and were still most of the original.
The second house I entered I noticed a lot of smoke and realized there were two women tending a fire and folding something. They invited me to join them, and informed me about what they were doing. In the center of each house is a fire pit and all of the houses are regularly fumigated to keep bugs and mold out of the thick straw roof. The two women were weaving origami dragonflies and grasshoppers from bamboo leaves. They handed them out to children as old-time toys. I thought it was ironic because everyone in my host family hates bugs.
Many of the buildings had the same interior; either it was a rustic stone floor farmhouse or a wealthy business home with woven straw floors.
At the end of the tour I had the opportunity to dye my own piece of cloth the Japanese traditional way! The dye was made from fermented indigo leaves so when the instructor opened the vat in the floor the whole room smelled to high heaven. I didn't mind though - I was so intrigued in the dying process. After soaking for three minutes the cloth must be spread out and exposed to air for the dye to change colors from green to blue, and then dipped again.
After the Folk House I headed to Taro Okamoto Museum of Art which was about a five minute hike into the forest. What made it intriguing was it seemed so out of place - it was a chic concrete art museum surrounded by forest. Okamoto was born in 1911 and died in '96 but his art is still modern in today's times. He had this intense fascination with the sun and made sculptures conveying feelings such as "pride" and "separation". It's kind of creepy though - there are statues of him throughout the exhibit so when you thought you were alone and turned around you were suddenly face to face with Taro himself. Instead of cameras the museum was equipped with people watching in chairs all day - how would you like that job?
I forgot to mention the other night we went to an "American" buffet and had a time limit of an hour and a half!
That was my busy day... I can't believe I only have two weeks left! I still have so much to do!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 26 (Baseball game)

Because of finals I didn't have to go to school yet again, so I was able to attend my high school's baseball team's first round in the tournament. The atmosphere was drastically different than that of an American game. For beginners no one yelled at the umpires. Even if a terrible call was made I never heard any booing or harsh yelling. Everything that was being said was encouraging words directed to our school's players only.

Another thing different was the sportsmanship. At the end of the game both teams gathered into lines and bowed to each other, the umpires and oddly the fans. They actually thanks us for coming to the game and cheering them on. We won a nail-biter 6-5, and even though it was intense both student sections remained respectful to one another. They chanted and cheered when their players were up to bat and they sat down when it was our turn to cheer. At the end the band played and we sang Tama High's alma mater and in response they saluted us.

It was raining most of the game so the baseball moms passed out plastic tarps and Japanese tea to the student section which was so nice! Everything here can be flavored as green tea: cookies, mints, chicken etc.

Tokyo and Kawasaki remind me so much of NYC. If you've ever been to NY you will never be able to forget the infestation of monster rats. Well here it's killer crows. They scare me they're so huge and they're really mean. I guess every city has it's pest.

Tonight's dinner is noodles smothered in squid ink - bon appetite!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 23 Quest to Daishi Temple

Everyone that knows me knows I'm terrible with directions. So traveling to Daishi Temple alone today was not only a challenge for me, but also a feat for all bad navigators.

School ends on the 22nd so finals began today, which meant that I had the day off. I set out for the Kawasaki Daishi Temple this morning hopeful that my lack of sense of direction would not alter my voyage too much.

I managed to successfully transfer trains, but once I arrived at Daishi station I had only planned to ask the station officers directions. I hadn't think about what I would do if they couldn't speak English. Therefore I stood nodding while the officers made hand movements and rambled in Japanese.

I thought I was successful finding the temple after ten minutes of walking in the direction the officers pointed me to, when I stumbled upon a park with a what I thought was the temple. In my prideful shining moment I asked a local woman if this was in fact Daishi temple, and she responded by telling me it was merely a miniature Chinese garden attached to the park. I had actually walked past the temple when I caught sight of the playground! When I did make it to the temple it was magnificent. I've noticed every temple has the same rituals (hand cleansing center, fortune telling station, incense, etc.) but they all have different styles. Asakusa was fast paced with many visitors, Saijoji was rustic and woodsy and Daishi was tranquil yet still modern. Daishi is located in the middle of residential living, and is centered around the Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi.

Since I had walked circles around the area and I had forgotten in which direction the train station was. While pondering my situation I noticed an older couple which looked lost as well. I pointed in the direction of the temple and asked if that was what they were looking for. They ended up helping me instead by taking me back to the train station. In my personal experiences Japanese people in general are more shy than Americans but if asked of something like directions, they are very thorough and are honestly concerned about your successful arrival.

Lesson learned today: if I can travel alone in Japan anyone can - it's all about using your resources and being smart. Nobody wants to end up like those girls on the movie Taken after all.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 21 (Karaoke and Photo booths)

Yesterday after school Haruka and I met with Nana and Kana (classmates) and sang karaoke for five hours! Karaoke in Japan is much more popular than in the U.S., because instead of buying your own machine and using it at your house, you are able to rent a soundproof room for the night and have a great time for cheap! It's very simple - to choose either Japanese or English songs we typed in either the artist or song into a little computer. The Japanese style room (sitting on the floor) consisted of a table, karaoke machine, screen and two microphones. The evening was hilariously funny and exemplified the Japanese culture even more.

Another popular activity for high schoolers is to take pictures in photo booths. The booth is much larger than the ones in America, being able to hold about ten people. Any way after we were done taking the pictures, the girls edited the photos. They made our eyes bigger, dyed our hair, choose different backgrounds, wrote messages, etc. When the pictures printed out one of the six shots was sent to each person's phone for them to save.

A fashion trend I've noticed is that everyone has huge cell phone charms! They range from beads to stuffed animals to plastic beer bottles! It cracks me up when I see a high school guy on the train pull out his cell phone and a Hello Kitty charm is hanging off of it. Priceless.

Speaking of that I'm really going to miss watching people on trains - my favorite is someone fighting off sleep. It's entertaining to watch them slip in and out of consciousness, and their head sway back and forth. Many people do fall asleep successfully but I have no idea how they don't miss their stop. Unlike NYC the trains are always on time and are clean. They can be extremely packed, like on my first day to school the train was so filled it was almost painful. At stops people were literally pushing their way into the train. Since then it hasn't been that crazy, but if there is one thing I've learned in Japan it's this: you never know what could happen next.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day 19

Today was the 4th of July, and instead of watching fireworks my area's YFU coordinators took the students and their families from the Kanagawa Prefecture to the Saijoji temple and Soshu Odawara castle.
We were told to dress casually for hiking up to the temple, but little did I know Japanese hiking and American hiking are totally different. I realized the first week that image is everything here - from food to gifts to clothes - so when I showed up in a CF t-shirt and athletic shorts I was surprised to be the only one. Japanese consider "hiking" to be walking up stone steps to the temple - 300 to be exact. Not exactly Mt. Fugi material....
This particular temple is unlike any other in the fact that it is completely submerged in the wilderness, which gives it a rustic and earthy feel. Another extremely extravagant and beautiful shrine furnished with incense, a cleansing station and an ema shrine (wall of wooden plaques with prayers on them).
We ate lunch and then headed to Odawara castle for some Japanese history! When entering visitors must to go through three gates to finally get to the castle, but when you finally do make it there it's awe-inspiring! The castle was built by the Omori family (coincidentally my host family's last name!) in the early 16th century, and now holds samurai culture such as armor, swords, drawings and ancient documents. It's pretty much like a public park, mini zoo and museum with an awesome view of the seaside.
Quick recap of Friday night dinner with my host grandparents!
Haruka and I went to eat with my host grandparents at a traditional style restaurant in Tokyo Friday night. The rice was cooked in a traditional "okama" which scorches the outside of the rice. They bought us both little frog charms which are called "kaeru" to return home safely. There are just so many aspects of the Japanese culture that I don't even know about yet! It seems like I try something new almost everyday. Part of the culture I've noticed for example is that on all the trains and buses that there is a specific area of seating designated for the elderly only. Even in the language there is different words to use when talking to adults that shows a higher level of respect. Also at a restaurant we ate at a small, medium or large order was all the same price. Why wouldn't everyone get the large then? Because the set price is a sign of customer service, and the customer in return only orders what they think they can eat. As crazy as it sounds it's that simple. Speaking of restaurants I was surprised to see that food chains like McD's and KFC have different "Asianized" menus. It's not any healthier by any means, it just applies more to the Asian pallet. For example instead of mac 'n cheese and mashed potatoes the menu offers gratin, which is like a casserole.
Well that was my weekend.... Happy forth of July everyone back home! Save me a firework or two:)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day 16

This morning it shocked me how hot it was - just waiting for the bus for five minutes and I had sweat literally rolling down my face! Soon a thunderstorm will come though, and cool things off for a couple of hours, and then when the heat kicks back up the humidity will be insane. It has been a struggle with my hair almost everyday:) Some days though it's like living in California - there's a wonderful breeze and the sun is shining bright.

Today I tried swimming class and loved it! I was kind of timid to try it at first because Haruka warned me the pool was disgusting - it turned out to be as clean as any other public pool. We spend the entire class playing water polo, which was extremely entertaining.

I've noticed a few things different about Japanese high school. For beginners there is hardly any gossip. Of coarse I don't understand Japanese, so I wouldn't be able to understand it anyway, but I asked Haruka and she said it's minimal. Also when the bell rings for the end of class the students don't bolt towards the door like we do. Most of the time though we stay in the same class and the teachers move. Even at the end of the day they wait until the teacher is done, pack up their things and then chat for a little while. Instead of three minutes between classes they have ten, and even if they are late there are no consequences.

The kids at school have finally started to warm up to me. Before if I would ask a question they would start giggling hysterically and ask me to repeat it again until they could give me a one word answer that I couldn't even understand. Now more people are starting to ask me questions about Ohio and my hobbies, and it's so nice to explain things like the forth of July and the day after Thanksgiving. The girls are amazed when I tell them people a few have even been injured and even trampled to death when stores open! Everything is either expensive or made cheaply here - I haven't some across any good bargains or sales yet.

Something different about school is that when we arrive we have to change our shoes. It is an ancient Japanese custom, and it applies for the gymnasium and home bathroom as well. Something else different about school is that they have the sports handball, badminton, kendo, jyudo, karate, dance team and ping pong. They are all so hard core... and they practice the same sport five days a week, all year round. See here you have to pick one sport your freshman year and stick with it - no changing or doubling.

My schedule for the week is pretty easy:
Mon: Japanese History, study hall, Eng. Writing, Eng. Reading, lunch and Jap. History
Tues: Eng. Composition, study hall, PE, homeroom, lunch and Jap. History at the end of the day
Wed: Japanese, Eng. Reading, PE, lunch, Calligraphy and English
Thurs: Eng. Grammer, PE, lunch, Japanese, Eng. Reading and sougou (which I still don't understand what that class really is. Everyone just talks and sometimes a student goes to the front and speaks but that's about it.)
Fri (the worst): Eng., Eng. Writing, Eng. Reading, lunch, Eng. Reading, Eng. Writing and Classics.

Yesterday was my first day of Calligraphy class, and it was surprisingly difficult! It's writing Chinese characters, but it's artistic as well. You have to wait in certain places and put pressure on different spots for the ink to bleed just right. I learned some basics like tree, river, and mountain. When I told the teacher I wanted to learn how to write my name a bunch of the students began figuring it out in the Chinese characters, and at the end of class I had at least five interpretations of my name from from different students.

The English teachers love me. I've recited passages, have been repeated after and have defined countless random words. Yesterday while reading I didn't know what the word "mariner" meant, and I had to ask the teacher. I looked it up later and it's just another name for sailor. I really looked like an idiot though - it was like forth grade reading. During the other classes I just read my summer English homework which they can't believe I have. When I told them the class has to read 21 books they almost had a heart attack right there. Teachers here don't even expect their students to be awake during their class, let alone reading a 300 page book about mythology over their break. In Japan instead of a three month summer break there is a month break beginning in mid-July and another in January.

I recently began attending basketball practices, and the girls are absolutely the nicest people I've ever met. I was immediately welcomed as part of the team, and they are even helping me with my Japanese! They don't mind that I'm slow and uncoordinated either, they're very understanding and not judgmental. I guess I can't understand what they're saying half the time though, but they're always really nice when they speak English! And for example today during the treacherous 3 km run (a little less than 2 miles) in the blazing sun one of them stayed back with me even though we were five minutes later than everyone else. They don't ignore me and always smile as well. Sometimes though I don't think they understand what I'm saying, but they've become really good fakers. I guess I have too. When I don't know what they're saying and feel it would be awkward to stop the conversation and ask, I just smile and shake you head a little - it always does the trick.

I don't think I can write enough about how different the food is. I've never really been a Chinese or Asian food lover, but now either I've adapted extremely well or the food is becoming more Americanized. Sometimes I think it's a little bit of both - we've had dishes similar to ones at home, but other times I've defiantly taken a leap of faith. Unfortunately in Japan though if you do not finish your meal or don't like something it's taken offensively. The only thing I've drawn the line on was salmon eggs and octopus - I had it the second day I was here and after the fifth or sixth bite I saw the suction cups and I couldn't push myself any further. The traditional Japanese desserts aren't my favorite, but the sweet ones are absolutely out of this world! Like the other day I had what's called melon bread, which is like a hybrid between a chocolate chip cookie and a loaf of bread. The only reason it has the name melon is because it looks like a watermelon. Most of the time too bread is filled with pudding, whipped cream, chocolate or this delicious unidentifiable cream stuff. I'm excited to bring back the recipes and try them at home.

Some nights Haruka and I help Kasumi with dinner, but a lot of things are instant or just need a packet of seasonings added. We frequently clean and the rinse the dishes (don't tell mom!) because along with a broken oven, we do not own a dishwasher. No dryer either - everything is hung dry on the balcony. That's another reason it stinks when it rains - we have to worry or rush outside to grab the clothes. In that case we have to scrunch them all into the bathroom and turn on a heater. Everyday Kasumi washes, hangs, folds and lays our clothes on our bed. Everyday.
That's about all I've got to update on.... until next time!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 14 (Thai Food Adventure)

Today was testing at my school so I had the day off. For lunch Kasumi and I picked up Haruka after her tests, and headed towards the restaurant Kota works at in Tokyo. It was exactly like the ones in NYC, in the sense that it looks like a tiny worn out dive, but once you get inside it's this huge elaborate joint! When you enter the first thing you see is this HUGE Thailand dragon chandelier in the middle of the restaurant. The next thing you notice is the Black Eye Peas are blaring and the place is packed. We barely saw Kota the entire time because he is the chief waiter and bartender so he was literally running everywhere. The food was good - I've never had Thai before. Surprisingly I liked how spicy it was - usually I'm a total wimp when it comes to heat. This seemed different though ... it kind of amplified the taste.

Any way after we got done we looked around in a couple of stores, and I have come to this conclusion: Japanese style is the most berserk thing ever! I guess you get that in every big city though, or maybe I'm just not fashionable enough. I've never seen more unique and brightly colored patterns in my entire life though! During the work day people do not wear any form of bright colors. Everyone sticks to black, white, tan, ivory and brown. That's all I've seen on the bus and train, so I have no idea where people wear these insane designs! In addition to extremely conservative, women tend to wear drastically baggy clothing. Obviously everything is thin material because of the heat, but they tend to pile on the layers. I really like it though - no cleavage, butt cracks or thighs. The sense of individuality is defiantly different here too. Instead of standing out, being uniform is encouraged.

My host family and I have made up little random games, like trying to guess what flavor a Skittle is without looking. It's these types of things that make living with a host family different than just visiting the country. You actually learn what the people are like and get to experience the culture everyday - not just watch it. We've learn to communicate well through charades, facial expressions and phrases (like pointing something out and saying "Hmmm?"). The translator is not used as much as before...

Most nights we eat around eight or nine, which is the norm here. I eat something deep fried at least once a day, and a bowl of white rice at every meal. Whoever said Asian food was healthy was wrong! It's soooooooo delicious though, and I have no idea how everyone stays so thin. It must be the heat and walking.
I still can't believe two weeks have already flew by! This is happening too fast!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 12 (Tour of Tokyo and Sushi Bar)

I'm going to begin at the end of the night, because that is where I conquered my worst fear - the sushi bar. I was beyond nervous and excited when we arrived, and I almost lost it with happiness when we sat at our table and there was a rotating conveyor belt beside the booth. Tonight was definitely an experience I will never forget! My first piece was cold cooked egg over rice - not bad but not too adventurous either. We then quickly progressed to raw salmon, cooked shrimp, eel, squid, sea urchins and my personal favorite.... salmon eggs! They exploded in your mouth and it definitely was the craziest thing I've ever tried! I could only take a couple of bites though - mind over matter only lasts so long.
Before dinner Kasumi, Haruka and I spent the entire day touring Tokyo. On our first stop we went up the Tokyo Tower, which was modeled after the Eiffel. The view was absolutely breathtaking - you could see pure city from at far as the eye could see. We then proceeded to do a little shopping at Ginza. Some stores were very Americanized, like Ambercrombie and Fitch. As soon as you walked in, there was a half naked guy and could get your picture taken with, and the music was blaring so loud you could barely talk to the person standing next to you. Next, the bus took us to Koukyo Maehiloba which is like the Central Park of Tokyo. The park has over 2,000 of Asian trees and takes over 60,000,000 yen to maintain every year. It was so tranquil I couldn't believe it was a public park. In the middles there is the present-day's Emporer's Koukyo (personal home), which is like Japan's white house.
The temples were next, and were my favorite part of the whole tour! I've never been submerged in another culture/religion like that ever before! It was amazing to see all the people funnel into a couple of buildings and pay their respects to the Japanese religion. After you go up to the alter you are able to buy a fortune. You pick out your fortune by shaking up a metal can which has a little hole in the top. When you are done shaking it you turn it over and a stick with a number (1-100) engraved in it comes out. You find that number drawer on the wall in front of you and pull it out. Mine was a bad one - it said I shouldn't travel anytime soon :). When you get a bad fortune, of coarse you don't bring it with you, so there's a wall of rods you can tie it to and leave it there. Quite creative if you ask me - too bad it's all fake. The detail and time put into the buildings though is absolutely amazing! Everything is so elaborate and decorative it's hard to imagine how it ever got accomplished! Another detail is that it's basically a big money pit as well - when you enter you throw in money and pray, when you go up to the alter you pay, when you get your fortune you pay some more, and finally their are shops IN the temple where you can buy more nick knacks! It made me sad at the same time thought because I felt bad for everyone who actually believes in it all. They're buying into a bunch of lies and won't be saved by Christ.
The last stop was the CX broadcasting station, which was absolutely gigantic. I don't think I've ever seen a bigger building. We only went to the top to sight see, but it was really neat to see the people in their offices working on the Tokyo news. Overall the tour was quite wonderful - too bad it was all in Japanese though. Haruka explained some things to me, and the tour guide even took me aside and translated a bit.
That was my day in a nutshell - tomorrow I have school so I can't stay up too late! I haven't fallen asleep in class yet, and I plan to keep that record going. Sometimes it's really difficult because I'm reading my honors English book and entire day or studying Hiragana. I keep reminding myself that I may be the only American some of the students ever meet, and my impression will always be in the back of their minds when the topic of "Americans" comes up. So do I want them to think we're slackers? No way Jose. I'm representing the U.S. and I'm proud of it!!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 11

Today Yuichi, Haruka and I went to the Yokohama Zoo. Of course it started to drizzle on our way there but it was so much fun anyway! The animals were basically the same as back home...bear, lion, elephant etc. The park had some very common animals in America though such as the red fox, wild rabbit, common donkey and a couple of pheasants. They also had some interesting ones too like the Japanese macaque, bush dog, ocelot, and my favorite.... the okapi! Everything in the park seemed to be centered around the okapi - it was hilarious! We even rode in a bus that looked like an okapi and had okapi sundaes! An okapi is the half zebra half horse animal. The park was about the same size as the Columbus zoo - and we were the only kids over five years old. This one little girl kept yelling "saru" and after about five minutes I asked Haruka what it meant. She was screaming "monkey monkey!" It's so funny to listen to little kids because I can't understand them either!
After a fun filled day at the zoo we headed home to barbecue outside, even though it was still raining. We broke out the BBQ sauce I brought from America and they loved it! I mean it wasn't really a surprise - who doesn't like BBQ sauce?! I tried for the first time a gold kiwi which was so sweet and not sour at all. We kept joking that our neighbors must think we are so weird to eat dinner in the rain!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 10

It's FRIDAY! Today while we were leaving for school Haruka got sick so I had to go alone. You would think after following the same exact path for a week I would know where to get off at. Of coarse I didn't and thank goodness for a boy I recognized from our school was riding the same bus - it was so ironic we NEVER see Tama High students on our way to school.
So when I finally did get to school I forgot where my classes were and I had left my schedule back at home. The teachers were really nice though and let me use theirs. They have it high lighted when I am going to be in there class - they love it! They ask me questions and want me to give examples in English and I think it's hilarious now. At first it was difficult to be put on the spot, but now I'm used to making up random sentences and describing what words mean. For example my English Composition teacher wanted me to describe experience, sip and gulp. He used the sentence "my father has experienced that job for 20 years." When I told him it was the wrong word to describe a job he wanted to know why "experienced" didn't fit. Questions like these are my challenges everyday.
Most of the boys in my classes were asleep today because of the Japan soccer game last night against Denmark. We just watched the rerun and they won 3-1.
As for food... I've just stop asking what is it all together. I've come to the conclusion that if it doesn't have eyes and still isn't moving, I don't want to know. The food is "con oshii" which means "very delicious".
After school I attending my first basketball practice and only lasted an hour! They told me it lasted for three and I almost died right there on the spot. They practice basketball everyday all year so you can only imagine how good they are. They were practicing at the speed of our varsity boys but their shooting was average. After an hour I knew I was going to get sick so I told the coach and headed towards the trashcan. When I came back it turns out they practice for and hour and twenty minutes and then train on the stage for the rest of the time. So hard core - I told them all thank you and that they were crazy:) They all laughed at my pronunciation like everyone else.
Any way when we finally did get back home, I scrubbed off and tried my first soak in the "". I was so relaxing and wonderful. The temperature is kept at 41 degrees Celsius at all times.
For dessert tonight we had Japanese cherries which are not dark red like the cherries back home - they are a mix between white and pink and are absolutely delicious. We then tried to tie the stems into knots with our tongues. Haruka was the only one to succeed :)
Oyasumi (good night)!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 8

I didn't have to go to school today because Haruka had an appointment at the YFU embassy in the middle of the day. So I just hung out at home and Skyped my family and friends. When Kasumi did get home we went to the supermarket....boy are there a bunch of weird things! A lot of items are instant or in packages which I found very interesting. The seafood section was CRAZY! Squid, tiny fish, whole fish, octopus (tentacles and all!), shrimp, etc.
Every night before dinner I have to correctly remember and pronounce "itadakimasu" which roughly translates into "let's eat!". Sometimes it takes me ten minutes but I get it. They think it's hilarious because I try to mumble it or I start guessing random vowels. Japanese is coming slowly but surely....
Haruka and I have been teaching each other our languages. We review her English pronunciation and speed and she helps me review the 40 note cards of Japanese words. We've even thrown a little Spanish in there too. She wants to be an English/Japanese/Spanish translator so I thought "why not?" The more she practices it now the less she'll have to learn later. We literally practice during study hall, after school, after dinner and everywhere in between. It's been a bit difficult so far but rewarding. You should see the faces of people when I pronounce a Japanese word correctly - they go crazy!
It's funny - I gave Haruka the new Carrie Underwood CD for a present and since then it's been playing nonstop. I don't mind, I actually think it's really sweet they want me to feel comfortable and at home - and the crazy thing is I'm actually starting to. No worries though I love my hometown and everyone in my life back home!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 6

Haruka and I literally spend the entire evening making origami. It was difficult, not to mention a little frustrating, but we finished many beautiful pieces.
I love how this family is so laid back and doesn't have a strict schedule. They do what they want when they want. Also we spend a lot of time together, like every meal (well except lunch of coarse). Even at breakfast we must force ourselves to sit down (since it's rude in Japan to walk and eat) and enjoy the meal even when we're late.
They also only take as much as they can eat and have only what they need. For example everyone has a set of a fork, spoon and knife - they need no extra so why have it? We clean the dishes every night so why would we need more?

Everyday in school gets more and more hilarious. Most everyone still stares at me like I'm from outer space but I don't really mind anymore. Some brave souls have approached me to practice their English and I give them major props for it.
My Japanese is getting better little by little. Every school day I try to learn five new letters in the Japanese Hiragana alphabet. Let me tell you it's not easy but hopefully it'll be worth it. I also am practicing short phrases such as "what's your name?" and "pleased to meet you". They're actually not short at all. For example pleased to meet you is "yoroshiku onegaishimasu". Yeah try saying that ten times fast. :)

Yesterday Kasumi, Haruka and I spent the entire day shopping and sightseeing in Yokohama's China Town. I tried "pow" for the first time (which is absolutely delicious!) and entered a Chinese temple with incense burning and everything! I couldn't believe how elaborate and beautiful it all looked - practically everything was carved and outlined in gold.
At the end of the night we ate a traditional Chinese family dinner with Kasumi's parents and Uncle Mackey and Aunt Mickey. It reminded me of my family's get-togethers for holidays. Even though I didn't know what they were saying most of the time, their eyes and expressions said it all. It was so interesting to watch and be involved in a family of a totally different culture.
I ate some weird stuff that night including shark fin soup and jellyfish. Being there helped me realize that no matter where you are or who you're family with, your time with them is what you make of it. I could tell they enjoyed one anothers company and I loved how after the meal we didn't all stand up and walk our separate ways immediately. We sat and talked and took pictures and waited on each other to get back from the bathroom, and when we DID finally get out of the restaurant we all walked over to a shop and the explained to me what everything in it was. Grandpa Ackey was my favorite - he hilarious the entire night! He kept involving me in the conversation and asking me questions and he was the typical cute Japanese grandpa.
One thing I hope to take back with me is the sense of relaxation. Sometimes it's ok to be lazy and work on origami for five hours. It's ok to sit on the subway and just watch people - not play with you cell phone or eat or do homework just WATCH. It's ok to slow down a little and enjoy life before it changes on you - because it always does.
Some deep stuff I know - but the more time I have to think the more I surprise myself. When they say this trip changes you they weren't kidding.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 3 (June 18th)

Now that jet lag has wore off and I have settled in this experience has turned from good to absolutely awesome. Yesterday and today I attended Tama High school with my 18 year old host sister Haruka. Because of my blonde hair and blue eyes I was an instant celebrity. Little did I know it but most of the 700+ students in the school already knew my name when I arrived. Even teachers were excited and in almost every class I introduced myself and was asked questions about the United States and my interests. The most common questions were "Do you have a boyfriend?" and "What sports do you play?" Sports and dance are taken very seriously here which surprised me. School work is not checked and students frequently sleep or talk during class. The teachers are passionate just like ours but they have much more limited resources. The school is over fifty years old and extremely run down. The students actually clean the school - there are no janitors. They do a really god job though and are thorough. The campus is much larger than Clear Fork's and consists of four buildings - first (freshman), second (sophomores), third (seniors) and a science building. Thus far I have noticed though that English is strongly stressed. Maybe they put me in mostly English classes though because I'm American and they want me to read out loud.
My host family know more English than I thought. Haruka actually want to be a translator when she gets older which I think is so cool :) She wants to be fluent in both English and Spanish. She will be great at it - she has been a decent translator/teacher for me so far! I've learned the basics - hello, goodbye, thank you, sorry, etc. I have also begun to learn Hiragana which is one of the three types of Japanese writing. It is the most basic but has 50 characters in the alphabet. Haruka leaves as an exchange student in August for a year in Iowa. Like Dad always says "if there's one place more boring than Ohio it's Iowa." I think she will like the new experiences like seeing cornfields for the first time and walking around a Walmart. Her English will become 150% better.
It takes about forty minutes to get to school. First we walk through our neighbor's garden and down a couple of streets to the bus stop. Then after we pay 200 yen each (about $2.00) we ride for about ten minutes to the train stop. There we pay 150 yen ($1.50) for one way. The first day we rode the train I was shell shocked. It was literally painful how crammed we were in there and I was freaked out about some guy groping me. At orientation they explained to us how perverts fool around with girls on crowded buses and how the girls are so ashamed that they don't say anything. Not me! I would scream "chikan!" which means "pervert!". You really just need to use your common sense though and slower your book bag over your butt like we did and now wear short skirts.
That's another thing - women here are so modest. They don't wear shorts at all and if they do wear a skirt that shows their thigh they wear leggings even if it's just three inches. The only exception is school uniforms. The girls hike them up pretty far but not on the verge of slutty.
It is so funny when people see me for the first time - they will literally stop and stare and if I day something in Japanese they will freak out giggling and shriek "kawaii!" which means "cute". I respond with "arigato" and they start hysterically giggling again. Two students have even given me candy and baked goods as gifts. I can not stress enough about how shy and polite they are. I know they want to know things about the U.S. but the teachers have to pull teeth to get them to ask questions in English.
Now about the food... almost everything we eat is fried. Fried octopus, french fries, fried chicken, fried pork chops and McDonald's apple pies are not baked they're fried! FYI McD's is AMAZING in Japan! No matter what their job is Japanese people take pride in what they do. No only do they look cleaner and more organized, but the food looks like the picture on the menu.
Japanese desserts are really good too! I've tried Japanese chocolate (super creamy!), ice cream (not as sweet as America's but still as good), cookies (they're actually rice bread they're not sweet at all), gumi (chewy mango tasting goodness!) and chocolate pies (actually like mini biscuits filled with chocolate).
It's so sweet every night my host family and I eat dinner together (except most of the time Kota's missing lol) and they help me with the difficulties of chopsticks. Don't get me wrong I was pretty decent in the U.S. but these people are like professionals! They can pick up a whole heaping pile of rice and just gulp it down!
My host family's profile:
(Mom) Kasumi - sweet and giving. For example when we eat dinner she always gives herself the food that's burnt or somehow lower grade than everyone elses. She also washes and folds my clothes and puts them back on my bed in addition to making my lunch everyday. She is a dental hygienist assistant.
(Dad) Yuichi - loves American football and still plays/coaches flag football. I only see him at dinner because he usually works late or is watching the world cup or is reading. At dinner though he is very polite and funny but knows less English. I'm not sure where he works but on the letter it said
"company worker". He leaves the house in a suit and tie everyday so it must be fancy whatever it is.
(Sister) Haruka - she is the person I spend the most time with and is EXTREMELY helpful. Not only is she patient with my Japanese, but she also tours me everywhere and doesn't seem annoyed that I'm constantly asking questions and following one step behind her. Her friends like me and she doesn't mind that we get so much attention walking together. We both think it's pretty funny actually. She is so smart and nice and is the best at English in her class (except the girl that lived in New Hampshire for two years). She works for McD's on the weekend:)
(Brother) Kota - I don't see him much. His hair is crazy, he's 21 years old, he works as a bartender and he's in his third year of college.
The language barrier is slowly but surely breaking down. Us three girls spend so much time together we've learned what each other's speaking patterns are if that makes any sense? We also play many games of charades, use the translator frequently and guess what the end of the sentence is.
Speaking of translator yesterday after school Haruka and I went to her English tutor's house for he lesson. IT WAS SO WONDERFUL TO SPEAK ENGLISH AND SOMEONE FULLY UNDERSTAND ME. You don't realize what a blessing that is until it's taken away from you. Don't get me wrong I LOVE being consumed in the Japanese culture but 24/7 Japanese can get kind of monotonous. What I mean is when the group of people you are with are speaking another language and begin laughing it kind of stinks to ask what they're laughing about. Anyway it was so nice to speak in English who was fluent and she was very helpful and interested in my opinions of Japan.
That night after dinner I gave them their gifts that I had brought - it turns out they do have Skittles but o well at least I tried. They loved the red, white and blue items and Yuichi especially like the OSU umbrella. He knew where I was from because of the buckeyes! How cool is that?
Things I haven't tried but would like to:
1. Eat REAL Japanese sushi at a sushi bar
2. Take a public bath (yikes!)
3. Japanese karaoke
4. Explore Tokyo
5. Learn how to make an origami swan
6. Try on kimono + learn traditional dance
Things I've cross off the list:
1. Try seaweed, octopus, and fermented soybeans.
2. Ride a crowded Japanese train
3. Attended Japanese high school

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 1

No orientation could prepare you for this. I thought my family would be somewhat fluent to English because their letters were pretty clear. They can speak little English and sometimes can't understand what I say. They told me they live in s narrow's actually an apartment and I'm sharing a room with my host sister Haruka... boy is space limited! It's preparing my for a college dorm though which is good...
Last night we ate roast beef sandwiches and egg stuffed in rolls which was good and normal for me. For lunch today my host mother Kasumi and I ate fried octopus balls. It was ok until I cut the forth one in half and saw the suction cups and then I was done.
They are so extremely polite it's crazy. They treat me like a guest now but I wonder later if I will become part of the family. That might be difficult with the language barrier though.
Last night I was told I would be spending the night in a hotel in Tokyo and then meet my family the next day. When I got in the airport it was another story though. We were all so exhausted from the jet lag and the ones who were living in the Kanagawa prefecture were sent on a hour and a half ride bus to meet their families. They were holding up a little sign for me and were so polite! When we got in the car to go home they had Michael Jackson playing and I felt better.
Arriving last night I think I was so overwhelmed and emotional because I was tired, hungry and my plans were changed when I got there. Plus my host family couldn't understand English which kind of freaked me out.
Today though I feel much better and have begun to learn the Japanese alphabet :)
At 4:00pm we are leaving to pick up Hakura from the bus stop and maybe after that we will go shopping for a school skirt. I tried on Hakura's extra and I don't think Japanese women have hips lol.
Most things you hear about Japan life are true though. For beginners the doorways are shorter because everyone is shorter, they hang their clothes out to dry, the weather is hot and extremely humid, they conserve water like it's going out of style, they are SUPER nice and they are stacked right on top of each other in the city.
Tomorrow I head to school with Haruka for the first time.... wish me luck!! :)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pre-departure Jitters

Monday June 14th,
Wake up this morning was 4:00am! Not like I got much sleep anyway...I mean how could I? This is WAY to exciting.
Finally the day has come... I've been repeating the date over and over for family and friends and now it's really happening!
The airport was awful this morning but we made it through with even a little time to spare for a quick nap. I am the ugliest sleeper - especially in public!
Right now we're all chilling in the Seattle airport waiting for our flight to leave at 1:00pm. Thus far that is the extent of my adventure.
Yesterday I found out I will be spending the night tonight in Tokyo too which is really exciting! We only have ten more hours in a plane which is the light at the end of the tunnel compared to how much time I've been flying lately.
I hope to sleep on the plane because I really need it!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

OK we have limited time in the computer lab so that's why I haven't started posting yet sorry! As soon as I get in Tokyo and settle in the hotel I'll post all my journals so far of orientation.

Please remember also my blog may not be grammatically or politically correct because these are my opinions and I would NEVER want to come off as disrespectful or taken out of context. I'm not trying to persuade anyone, I'm just documenting my journey to Japan to share with my family and friends back home to give them a taste of what I'm going through.

Will blog again soon!
PS- FYI I will be staying in Kawasaki!!