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 house...it'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!!