Chandler "Stew" Stewart
2004-05 Outbound to Japan

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club
Host: Takaoka-Manyo Rotary Club, District 2610, Japan

September 21 Journal

Hey hey! It's been about a month (actually, it's dead on a month since I left), and I figured I would send in a brief journal entry. I don't know where exactly I should begin with all of this, so I guess I will try to say whatever comes to mind. Tomorrow is the school festival, where I have 3 projects that I have completed in it. The festival at my school isn't anything close to what Morgan's is. We just make a whole bunch of posters and walk around the school all day, reading the posters and looking at the calligraphy that the students did. Actually, my year isn't anything close to how Morgan is describing hers.

My school is REALLY strict with how it holds the students. What they don't enforce with rules, they enforce with massive waves of persuasion. All the kids study, everyday for hours on end. I haven't had a chance to meet anyone really, because they are all SO busy. Plus, all the kids are pretty boring. They just sit in class and study. Even during lunch and such, they just study, study, study. Friendships seem few and far between and even conversations are kept minimal. Things can be rather depressing at that particular facility. Not to mention that eleven hours of school (which means studying kanji and Japanese for about 8 hours and sleeping for the other 3) is just NOT TOO appealing. No one in my school except for the other exchange student and the 2 A.L.T.s (Alternate Language Teachers) speak English well enough for a conversation, so I am more or less just left to my own devices. Help is very minimal here, and they just don't seem to care too much about what I do. I actually left school today right after lunch (I asked permission from my homeroom teacher first) and NO ONE even TRIED to stop me. I really feel like no one is too excited about the little burdens I am involuntarily putting on them. Thank God for my Japanese Tutor. She is SOOO nice. She helps me all the time with sayings that I need. Basically, the way things go is I write down everything that I want to say to someone, mostly just one sentence frames, and then she helps me translate them. Because of her, I am learning Japanese, slowly but surely. After she helps me translate, we start our 2:30 hour lesson. It's really useful, but still slow going. Other than that, school's just a fun little kick in the pants.

I will say that my host family is the nicest family on earth. They are always willing to help me with whatever I need. They also aren't too worried about me, so I get a chance to actually explore the city and such. My H.F. consists of Mom (okaasan), Dad (otoosan), sister (Yoshie), Grandma (obaachan), and dog (Korochan). All of them are really fun in their own way, though my host father works a lot. When we are all home, it always seems like we are laughing and generally having a good time. I truly do like the family I'm with, and really don't feel like changing too soon.

My city is a fairly large city for a Japanese city (imagine 5 Gainesvilles put together). It doesn't have a TON to do, but I usually have a great time going bowling with Yoshie and her friends, going to the Book store, or just casually riding my bike around town for hours on end. So far though, I haven't had much time to do such a thing because it's too late at night by the time I get home and all my weekends are booked until sometime in November. Rotary is always making sure I have a busy weekend. So far, I have been sailing, to a public bath and spa (which was SOOO cool!! It was like a miniature Water World, with water slides and everything!!)  I had a great time. They did a Japanese barbecue which tasted AWESOME and we all ended up having a very enjoyable time. Actually, the only thing I didn't like was I got to meet my last host family, which is a very old man who kept falling asleep while people were talking to him....I don't know, but I think I might try to have a change in plans. We'll see.

My trip to school is a pretty exhausting one. It takes an hour to get school from my front door, including a 15 minute bike ride, 15 minute walk and a 30 minute train ride. It's fun though, because I usually see someone from my class and I try to speak to them (though they are often too shy to reply).

I think that would be about it. My exchange time so far is all ups and downs, without too many free minutes (thus why it takes me so long to write). OH!! I did find one thing though that blows my mind to no end. In Japan, there is this crazy little thing called a Rice Ball. Most people know what they are, but few know about the amazing little fruit that they often put inside it. This is called a Japanese Plum, and it has the equivalent sourness of putting 40 Lemon Warheads in your mouth and then taping your mouth shut. Oh my, I LOVE IT!!! Its soooo good. Oishii!! Right, that's it for me. Hope everyone is having a great time on their exchanges as well!!! (If you want to see photos of some of the things I've done and places I've been, go tohttp://public.fotki.com/Johnnyandgir/ . MATTA NE!!!!

November 19 Journal

There's absolutely nothing happening right now. My school is more or less dead silent, other than the tapping of my keyboard and of the construction happening far off in the distance. Remote, muted and completely dead, this school reminds me more of the creepiness of walking down the halls of BHS when testing is in session. ::shivers:: So I stay to my little domains, one being slightly warmer and more cozy due to all the books and the 2 computers, the other being a place of rather foreign studies. A place to take your mind off your life and back into your studies. I go there when I need to concentrate. I use these domains for my interests and have even personalized them to make it more comfy. A picture sits in the upper library, which in reference is the foreign study zone, of my friend, Miguel who is another exchange student from Germany, Ibata sensei, who is my Japanese teacher and favorite adult friend in America, and myself. The picture is of Ibata sensei and I studying the forms in Japanese and Miguel half-sleeping, half-playing my gameboy. The picture, though the school system doesn't approve of it, reminds me every time that I see it there's always a little bit of home in every country. It's finding it that's the hard part.

Life goes on in this now sub-artic land of western coast Japan. I sit in my other, more cozy room, shivering and clinching my fists, ever cursing this abominable seifuku (school uniform). Japan has frozen over, minus the snow and deadly shape of trees. Though some leaves still cling to the branches for dear life, most lie, defeated, at my feet as I casually stroll for fifteen minutes to my school from the train station. Now, as I'm trying to kick life back into my toes, already wrapped in a pair of socks each, I realize how much I'm going to miss this freezing when it's gone. Needless to say, thinking that doesn't make me any warmer.

I've changed host families. Some would call it down-sizing, I call it renovating with a bad shaped ruler. My previous room, a large and quite spacious room, has now been updated to a very small, uncomfortable, bare walled 2nd office. My host father, when there wasn't enough room to carry out his work in his original office, would move into here and sleep on the air mattress that I currently occupy. He would practically lock himself in here to study up on whatever services he provides. I'm intrigued by the fact that I still can't figure out what, exactly, it is that he does. He seems to be a constructor/engineer/plumber/life guard (minus the life guard part. That was from his college years during summer break. He has a plaque for it though.) My host mother, well, she's as much of a confusion as the host father. I believe she works, but I can't be sure. She gets home around the same time everyday but she never tells me what she does. Oh well, I can tell you what she DOESN'T do....cook very well. We usually end up going to the Hokka Hokka fast food bento place. It's not really fast food, because a lot of it is REALLY good for you, but it still reminds me of walking into a dominoes pizza shop.....only with manga in the magazine rack. The naughty stuff is on the top rack. Weiiiiird.

I've met with the other exchange students several times now and I have to admit...I don't like too many of them. Most can either be snobby, stuck-up, or others are shallow, and overly-depressed. So fear not, for I have little interaction with them, except for the occasional Rotary member wanting to do his part in our exchange....by occasional I mean just about every weekend.

I've suffered and still AM suffering through 2 colds, one of which left me bed-ridden for nearly 3 schooldays... something previously unheard of in Japan. My host mom was furious and actually DRAGGED me out of bed when I couldn't talk to her and tell her my throat was swollen. That was my first family, a very nice group of people. I miss living in their house dearly. My current host family has more or less come to ignore me. Maybe. Maybe it's just a very busy time for them, or something of that sort. I won't complain until it's over.

Alright, well, life shall continue to go on as I try to master the language of the Japanese people. I think I will bring a blanket to school tomorrow and keep myself warm that way. I shiver at even the thought of having just ONE heated room in which I can stay. Currently, the only place that meets these standards is the cozy, OH so cozy train. I look forward to going to school just for that one reason. My time has come, the bell has rung, I hope I can make it to my next class on time...10 minute passing periods are just NEVER enough. ::snickers::

Stewy

January 11 Journal

I just have to say this. This idea goes above all else, and will definitely be forever on my mind. Karaoke, is, by far, the BEST place to say good-bye to someone.

Yesterday, on the Jan. 10 2005, I met up with a total of 18 other people, some exchange students, some just random cool Japanese people. Meeting up at roughly 9:30 am, at kana-eki, we all went shopping for a good hour or so. Afterwards, we hit Kanazawa park......its real name I forgot.....but we went there, and my GOD was it beautiful. With a half foot of fresh, powdery snow, that park turned from a normal walk into a fantasy trip through Winter wonderland. I'll be puttin up pics later, but, well, pics can't even BEGIN to describe it. I'll probably go back and take a movie of the whole thing. Anywayz, we walked throughout the park, taking a devastating number of pictures and just generally being awestruck at such natural beauty. This all came around to about 12:30 or so, and since we were hungry, we started out towards the German bakery and Cote D'azur....<--karaoke. After scrounging up a meal in Germany, we sailed away to Cote and digested our foreign food into a matter of minutes. We then introduced ourselves, via Karaoke Microphone, and then started up karaoke. A good hour into it or so, more people dropped by and claimed a song or two, only to leave for a hair-combing appointment.

Andrej, for those who don't know, is probably my best friend here. He helped me laugh through a lotta hard times and helped keep us all strong. I think of him more as a wise, older brother. Someone you definitely wouldn't have problems calling Oniisama. His fluency in Japanese, coupled with his strong will and determination to overcome any and ALL challenges with a smile provided a great amount of warmth for us new exchange students. He would definitely be a good companion on any trip. We all loved him like family, and basically became a part of his family as much as he became part of ours.. Yesterday was the last time I'll see him, quite possibly forever.

Yesterday was Andrej's going away party. It was planned to be a group of us just going to Karaoke, to sing and dance and generally make fun little fools out of ourselves for a couple of hours. What really happened was an event much more than just karaoke. It was something closer to a truer realization of life.

We ended up staying at karaoke from 1 pm until about 6 or so. For 5 hours, we poured our hearts, and our horrid Japanese skills, into the microphones, hoping to come out with a melodic line. Andrej had no problem with this, being the reincarnation of the not-yet-dead Hirai Ken. Everything from Frank Sinatra to Bump of Chicken; Cutie Honey to Dir En Grey; we sang it all. There was a dashing of every style known to music in our facade of being the racial and genderly challenged group of Morning Musume. Still, a sad decadence held over us, as we knew that our older brother was about to leave us, for a long long time. The time finally came when we had managed to use up all of our allowances, or what was left of them, on singing and we had only a few more songs to go. Next on the list was That's Amore by Dean Martin. A wonderful song, and tears started here. Next came Saia, known for her exceedingly crazy style of dance and singing. Last up though, was all of us. We knew it was the end, like anticipating the explosion as u see the missile drop. Andrej grabbed the mic, punched in a couple of numbers into the receiver to get his song and up popped something I can never forget. Thank You by Dido flared through the speakers in the classic MIDI style fashion of Karaoke. Andrej quietly asked us to all sing with him......

The song was majestic. Effervescent in its tone, with 18 voices singing in sync to a song we all knew we forgot, Thank You was truly the song of our evening. Whilst singing, I couldn't help but notice how voices were coming and going, sniffling happening in the background as people wiped the results of this sudden onslaught of tragic reality from their eyes and forged on through the song. I will admit, my voice faded as well, more often than not, as I was infected by this feeling of sadness. Wiping the streaming tears from my eyes, I looked around the room, to see everyone with a set of red cheeks, blushed ears and a wet line running down the side of their faces. As the song slowly ended, we all sat there, staring out into the world that had just vanished around us, to our own futures and pasts and how we will all survive this parting of friends. Slowly, reality rolled around, and ever so softly, through the mic, into the receptor and through the speakers, into our ears and minds, the words of Andrej touched our very cores. "Domo....Doumo Arigatou Gozai....Gozaimashita".

I've found that life can be explained through just about everything in this world, though none as thoroughly as the sound of someone's voice, more true than the words they speak, saying what it is that has to be said.

January 30 Journal

I went to the Pillows Concert.... WHICH WAS AMAZING!!!! I got there with about a half hour to spare, bought a new ticket (never found the old one, though I'm sure it will come up again sometime soon) and ran around trying to speak Japanese. No one wanted to speak to me though, cuz I didn't have a small towel tied around my neck.... for what reason this serves, I have no idea, but the guy who was standing about 3 people away from me looked DASHING in it. Anywayz, so I bought the ticket, waited in line (I was the 23rd person in line.... I WAS THAT BORED WAITING TO GET IN THAT I JUST COUNTED THE WHOLE CROWD....) and just generally acted like a dead zombie eating my second to last piece of American' finest gum, the fruity one.... (I never remember the name).

SO, after waiting in line for 15 minutes, they finally opened the automatically opening doors MANUALLY and started letting people in. Dare I say it... I WAS EXCITED! Walking up the stairs, staring at the posters on the wall, I quickly felt a need to BUY RANDOM MEMORABILIA so I bought a hella awesome Pillows T-shirt and a pair of lil keychain things for my cell phone and my mp3-player holding case. Pretty cheap too, only 30 dollars. SO yeah, we all kinda shuffled in, I shoved all my stuff into the corner of the room, on the tables designated for such an action, and quickly found the best place in the WHOLE HOUSE..... right in front of the center of the stage, 2 people back. It was BEAUTIFUL! I could still see the whole stage without a problem but was still close enough to to touch the main singer when he leans out into the crowd (this comes much later).

So yeah, after we all shuffled in, and the people in the back stopped moaning and griping over not being able to be up close, and the faint, yet distinct sound of a Japanese version of Modest Mouse quietly faded from the speakers, the lights grew quite dim, nearly black and we all started to cheer...... of course, the actual band didn't come out, it was the tuner and sound technician...... who then spent 10 minutes tuning the whole place up and all that stuff. Life went on, the crazily dressed Japanese mohawk man, aka tuner technician, quietly left the stage and who else would appear but..... some guy from the news. He talked for a few minutes, someone threw their shoe at him and told him to bring out the Pillows, and he quickly did as he was told. Music started playing, someone sneaked out on to the drum set, started blasting out some random beats, and then the party started! The guitarist and bassist came out, started playing some riffs and generally just rocked the house in a nice lil instrumental lead-up to the main singer's entrance. The main singer comes out, TRIPS on a wire, falls into the speaker, the crowd goes WILD, yelling and screaming, he gets up to the mic, screams that he's a retard (in Japanese of course), grabs his guitar and starts MASSACRING IT. Twas beautiful, simply EXTRAVAGANT!

The first song went off without a hitch, the main singer grinned evilly and the crowd KNEW what was coming. Main singer winks in the general direction of the crowd, and starts playing the best riff ever created, that of "I think I can"!! The crowd, of course, FLIPS out, goes into a MANIC HYSTERIA OF "AI SHINKU AI KAN!!!!" and the whole house explodes in a beautiful harmonic world of music and life. Jumping, screaming, waving our arms, legs, hands, elbows, any body part that CAN BE waved, the crowd exploded and we led the band into one of the best shows that Kanazawa AZ hall will EVER know.

What made this crowd so different from the others is that since the Pillows have been around for 15 years, they weren't very mainstream and almost ALL of their concert-goers are FLUENT in their lyrics. Therefore, there wasn't just 1 singer, there were 215 singers, all pulsing to the music, screaming the lyrics like we've all been meaning to do in some vacant lot or field. This time, though, we were all packed in together, screaming for the wide open spaces that life never seemed to present us with, and we found ourselves in complete and utter bliss. We realized that we WOULDN'T have had it any other way. Those wide open fields or vacant lots can go suck an egg, we were gonna scream together. The song, unfortunately, did have an ending in sight. We relaxed, realized that it was, indeed, several degrees above what is healthy for a person to be in (around 105 or so, we were BAKING) and we all then conceded to yell "Atsui!!!! ATSUI YO!!!" meaning "HOT! IT'S FRIKEN HOT IN HERE!!!" So, Kanazawa Az Hall, being the splendid foundation that is, turned OFF the heater and turned ON the air conditioner.

Still, as time went on, the band taking a short breather and the main singer telling us about how he bought a belt somewhere and made us all guess at how much it cost, the heat did get to one of us and she fainted. What was so amazing though is that it wasn't like an American concert, where she would faint and people just wouldn't care. She fainted and about 5 of us helped carry her to the back, where some of the Hall's workmen and technicians got a chair for her and let her sit next to the sound tech and recover. They also brought her a glass of ice water. So nice! The band waited for all of this to end, asked to have the air conditioning put to a lower degree and jumped right into their set list.

Things went on for a while, they played a couple of songs from their newest album, Good Dreams, which I didn't know and then the singer got the fun wink going again. We knew something was coming, we built the tension for it, and the band, being the oh so generous people that they are, let us have the best song to ever escape the confines of their heads. They played the theme song of the fans, called "Little Busters". The crowd went into a full out frenzy! We went mad! Screaming, pushing, shoving, yelling, jumping, EVERYTHING that could POSSIBLY occur to someone THAT much in heat, happened. The singer barely even sang. The whole band went flippin mad, running all over the stage, leaning out into the crowd while playing solos (this is where being merely 2 people in front of the main singer comes handy) and generally just reamed the place into a solid mass of flowing joy and energy. The whole crowd was family, your best friend, your closest love, whoever. We all became one entity, flowing in our own individual patterns to the sounds, the OH SO AMAZING sounds, of the Pillows. Ecstasy could be no greater than this flow was.

Before I knew it, the concert was over, the band had left the stage with a final "Ja ne" and we, the crowd, dispersed into our own sanctuaries, mine being the Starbucks and a very warm cup of Chai Latte right up the street, while waiting the arrival of my 9:05 bus back to the station. The rest of the night passed effortlessly, everything just one giant blur of automatic motion. I ended up going home on the same train as a lot of other concert goers and we all discussed how amazing and fun it was. Chewing slowly on my chocolate banana mousse pocky, I watched the city of Kanazawa disappear and found myself longing to stay with that crowd, continue to be part of the flow, to become one with a complete group of strangers all over again. Regret took over me for not staying longer, which made no sense as the concert had ended and the crowd had just become a regular group of people, just with one more thing in common than before. Eventually, I laughed at myself and thought about how much fun I had. I'll make new brothers and sisters, be a part of a new flow, define my own sanctity all over again, within a matter of months.

The rest of the train ride home, I thought about Hide and wondered how much all of this would have been possible if not for his influences in the Japanese rock world.

February 14 Journal

Man, Valentine's Day is a lonely lonely day for exchange students. All I've done ALL day is just sit around, listening to my playlist labeled "valentines day" in my MP3 player and study. Even the Japanese kids are having more fun than me, and that just SUCKS. I miss being hugged. That's a big thing about Valentine's Day. It's more or less the only day I can get people to give me free hugs. Now I've withdrawn to just kinda sitting back and watching as all the girls gave chocolates to people they admire. Any for me? I LAUGH AT THE QUESTION!

Lonely lonely lonely. In other news, I've managed to hurt myself YET AGAIN. I sprained my wrists (yes, PLURAL) on Saturday. Here's how it all went down:

Friday and Saturday I went Snowboarding with my Rotary Club. Being the complete and utter retard that I am, I decided that after NOT GOING SNOWBOARDING IN OVER 3 YEARS, I would start my self out on a blue, that winds in to a black (for those of you who are clueless to the color scheme of mountains, green=easy, 10 year old stuff, blue=medium, 15-20 year old stuff, black=hard, 21-25, double black=pee your pants at the top of the slope, pray to whatever god you believe and call an ambulance to meet you at the bottom.... age is 25-30) yeah, a blue, then a black. TO say the least, I felt sooo cool once I went down. I didn't even crash!!! WOOT FOR ME!! So yeah, anywayz, After that, the couple that I was skiing/boarding with decides it would be fun to race... so we go down a blue, STRAIGHT FACE. None of that falling leaf or weave and tuck crud that they teach you in snowboard school (that stuff's for WUSSIES!! lol) . Well of course, everyone else on the mountain was dead set! on GETTIN IN MY WAY, so the basic idea is, I go flying past the other racers, nearly crash into a pedestrian, go flying board over head into a nice lil roll down the hill, shoot back up on to my board, and give chase to the couple now a good 18 meters or so in front of me. This happened about 5 times before I landed on a sign.... YES, ON A SIGN! The mountain had about 8 feet of snow, COMPACT, so the signs were BURIED. but I landed on one, hit it with my right hand, and hurt my right hand really bad. We called it a day after that (it was about 4 anywayz, time to go soak in a Public bath) and I rode calmly home with a BIG smile on my face. (by rode, I mean I rode on a snowmobile that we called to come pick me up.) Saturday showed that my hand felt fine, so back out on to the slopes I went! I went down a couple of blues, and then hit another black. I was doing JUST fine until this stupid skier thought it would be fun to play tracks (a game where someone skies over your board or skis and sees if you freak out and fall. Last one standing wins. ridiculous game that people get killed over sometimes). Well, of course, having such a thing unannounced be put on me, I flipped out and went CRASHING down the hill, slamming into a tree. Blacked out for about a minute, woke up, took my cell outta my jacket, called the snowmobile guy, told him what happened and to pick me up and then fell asleep. Woke up in the hotel room, dressed in the hotel's yukata, both of my wrists wrapped up in ace bandages with a note on both of them saying "touch don't". yes, touch don't. Deciding to touch don't, I left the hotel room, went down to the public bath, ordered a giant amount of food and such to eat in the bath and then relaxed until it was time to go.

The trip was really nice, and I did have a GREAT TIME. I was kinda sad that they didn't have a terrain course, but I guess that'll just have to wait until I get back in to Colorado....hee hee....

I'm fine though.... I don't even have the bandages on anymore. My wrists still kinda hurt, but it's only when I use them in excess...... I guess that's all for now. Hope everyone has fun.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ERIN!!!! MUCH LOVE!!!!!!

HAPPY VALENTINES DAY EVERYONE!!! TONS OF LOVE!!! Hope everyone finds their sweetheart!!

mwah mwah, cuz we're all french,

Strained Sprain Stew

March 22 Journal

This past weekend was a roller coaster of waking up at 6 am every single day (Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday) and going to bed at around midnight or so. While normally this would not appease me in any way, I have to claim that those past four days were EXTREMELY FUN! Now why would someone who loathes waking up anything earlier than noon on a weekend say that waking up 6 hours prior to bliss is content with all that?.....

It tends to happen when that person is part of the Kanazawa Philharmonic Orchestra! Wheee!!! And, to make things more exciting, OUR CONCERT WAS SUNDAY!!! YAY!!! Oh maaaan was that fun! I have to thank all my fans, (bows majestically) and most importantly, Mr. and Mrs. Washikita for introducing me to playing in this fun ensemble! (Mr. Washikita is a Violist and Mrs. Washikita is the First Chair Flutist.) Mr. Washikita is a member of my Rotary Club and was overjoyed to hear that I can play the bass! He instantly grabbed me and started bugging me about going to practices with them and all of that kind of thing. I was a bit nervous to say the least (this happens to be way back in September) and I didn't have enough time to get a hang to that particular set of music, but apparently they were very impressed by my playing skills! So they instead invited me to the concert in October. I accepted and have to admit, I'm stunned at the professional level that these people play! Sure the clarinets were a tad off, but it's to be expected. But the concert went very smoothly, I was impressed, and was, again, invited to come play with them.

November came and went, and even December was half way through before I heard anything about the orchestra again. When I did, I was asked to come into have a "practice round" as they called it in the mail. Actually, it was basically just testing to see if I was "up-to-par" with them. I performed well enough to be sat in as 3rd chair (out of 7)! To say the least, I was PROFOUNDLY SURPRISED! I think they were just being humble and letting me take a guest seat. I don't know, but from the middle of December on, I went to practice with the Washikitas every single Saturday from 5:40 until 11:30 ish.

We all had an incredible time practicing and perfecting our three concert pieces: Marche Slave by Tchaikovsky, Schubert's 5th Symphony, Dvorak's 7th or 8th Symphony and our small encore piece titled Slave Dance. I'm a veteran of Marche Slave and have no problems playing it, but Schubert and Dvorak threw me for such a loop that I had to seek guidance with our first chair. Mr. Sansei, completely in Japanese and no use of a dictionary or anything, taught me ALL of the words that the conductor uses (which is incredible because they have their own words for just about everything that we have in Italian) and showed me finger tricks and all sorts of things. Mr. Sansei greatly improved my ability, and I can now play Schubert and Dvorak like I play Marche Slave!

Well, eventually last Saturday rolled around, and with it, our last informal practice. We were all dying to play at the concert, knowing that we can truly impress all those who came. Sunday arose with me awake, (I daren't say wide awake..... that would definitely be over-doing it. Let's just stick with the word "mobile" for the time being) and eating breakfast (rice, an egg-roll and some ham) while studying Dvorak's 7/8th symphony. The Washikita's picked me up bright and early, we drove into Kanazawa Bunka Hall, and then waited for about 2 hours for my bass to arrive. (the guy who was supposed to be transporting all of the heavy stuff had over-slept.) My bass finally arrives and I can begin the pre-Concert ritual of psyching myself up and practicing every small aspect of the music. Dress rehearsal begins and goes on and on and on.... for about 5 or 6 hours we practiced. I was so tired, I could barely even stand. I quickly took a 30 minute nap (after changing into what has to be the tightest clothing I have ever wore in my life, Mr. Washikita's spare Tuxedo) and felt much better afterwards. Awaking with a "kimochiiiiiiiii!" I quickly did some scales on my bass and set off for the stage.

The concert was amazing. I only counted 4 mistakes that I made the whole entire time!! WHOO! We all played really hard and gave it our all. I thought Schubert was the best, even though it was the longest. We had practiced that piece till our fingertips were bleeding, so it's nice to know that we performed it to our full potential. The concert lasted a total of 3 hours, minus the 15 minute break. What stunned me.... no, FLOORED me, was when I was asked to come up to the front of the stage and was given a bouquet of flowers by a kindergartener. What made this part stick out in my mind is 2 things. Number 1, I instantly realized that the bouquet of flowers was practically twice the size of the kid. And number 2, a good 1/4 of the crowd were people that I had invited. I was so stunned that I just kinda stumbled through a brief speech, "ureshikatta desu..... phewww, Ureshikatta." (I turned to the orchestra) "Otsukaresama degozaimasu!" (back to the crowd) "Honti ni, arigatou gozaimashita!" (bow bow bow bow bow). Rough translation: " Oh god, I feel GREAT! That was incredible!" ..... the part to the orchestra doesn't really have a translation, but you say it to congratulate each other on a performance well done, and the last part "Sincerely, thank you all!" and then multiple rows of bowing incurred.

After the concert, everyone went out drinking. I, wrapping my hands up in bandages, instead pleaded with my host family to go to Okonomiyaki! We went and had some of the BEST Okonomiyaki and Omochya on the face of this earth! I loved it! I don't really recall the rest of the night.....

The next morning, yet again, I got up bright and early to go see a friend's concert and cheer her on. She did a really good job and we attended the party afterwards (until 3ish). After that, we hit the shops! I, being completely broke as I always am at the end of the month, decided on just buying a Chai from Starbucks (something I haven't had in WELL over 3 months) and just tagged along with Hikari. We visited tons of used and vintage stores, looked at some amazing pieces of Japanese pottery and things of that sort and generally just got along very well. Time flew, I missed dinner (a serious no-no in Japan), called my host mom who is the most understandable person in the world, apologized THOROUGHLY, told her that I'll eat in Kanazawa (they didn't save seconds for me) and would be home by 9. Well, time never stopped flying and before I knew it, it was 7:10. Time to be heading home. We decided to walk back to the station from kata-machi (a 20 minute walk, normally) but we kept on stopping and didn't get to the station until 7:50. I missed the train that would have gotten me home BEFORE 9 and instead had to take the train that left me at Nishi-Takaoka at exactly 9!! I hopped on my bike, and quite literally, 7 minutes and 5 kilometers later, arrived at the door-step to my house, out of breath, tears streaming for fear of breaking my host families trust and generally just feeling very tired about the whole ordeal. I get inside, go into the living-room, and do something that quite possibly hasn't been done in that house in over a hundred years. I performed a Zei-Bow. Used for only the most SEVERE CRIMES and begging for forgiveness, it represents a more or less complete hand over of what yourself to whoever you're bowing to, and begging for their forgiveness. My host mom and dad were STUNNED by this and instantly had me up, saying that I did nothing wrong. My father happened to have drank a lot last night, so he was laughing full-heartedly at my apology. They say they figured that I had gotten on the 9:00 arrival train. No harm was done, I'm glad to say. Actually, if anything, tons of good might have happened on account of this..... who knows? But at least they know that I take my relationship with them VERY DEARLY. To me, they are my family and it's scary to get so close to breaking a bond like that.

May 10 Journal

Mina san e,

ousu!!! Minna genki? It's about time I write out a report, isn't it! Sorry it's taken so long, but things have just been moving faster than lightning.... maybe not grease lightning, but definitely regular lightning... Anywhoo, April was incredible. Starting off on the 2nd day of April, we (being the exchange students, and a couple of Rotary guys) flew on down the tracks to Oosaka. (for those of you who DON'T know, Oosaka is indeed spelled with 2 o's) We were ecstatic about the whole idea of seeing the country and whatnot. For many of us (including me) this was our first time outside of our district. So off to Oosaka. First day there was filled with.... an aquarium and the "world's largest ferris wheel".... that we're pretty sure isn't, but oh well, it was still splendid. We don't get much time to hang out together so seeing everyone and being able to talk is was good. For dinner, Mexican.... ahem, pardon, Japanese-Mexican food. That is to say, it was Mexican looking, with a Japanese name and more often than not, wasabi and other Japanese spices on it. Oh well, I'm pretty sure they were a lot closer to real Mexican food than Taco Bell.

The second day was spent out at Universal Studios Japan. This was pretty cool actually, despite my numerous previous ventures to the exact same theme park in Orlando. This time, I did it with someone who had no previous ventures, and wasn't sure what to expect. Sooo, we ran around, trying to fill in our time as best as possible and generally took in the whole theme park in just that 1 day. Our biggest surprise of the day was, by far, meeting the other exchange students. You see, in Toyama and Kanazawa, our Rotary club only allows students from Australia, Canada and America to come in and stay here. Therefore, we were happily surprised to finally meet people from countries that DON'T speak English! So, off into the unknown world of speaking to a person from France who has almost no English experience, and doing it all in Japanese! Whoo, fun times. Too bad we had a Japanese guy controlling us, otherwise we would have definitely hung out with them more (they were from the Oosaka area and were all getting together at USJ too). But we were shuffled out into the train terminal and it was back to the hotel for us. The awesome thing was, though, that when we got into Oosaka and started our lil shopping sprees, we ran into a friend of ours from Toyama!!! COINCIDENCE?!?! I THINK SOO!!! This had our day made. We all went out for some kick-butt Okonomiyaki, shopped around a bit and generally had tons of fun! Great times in Oosaka.

Third day: Third day was Hiroshima. I, personally, was not looking forward to this because to me, this represented quite possibly the WORST thing America, and the world, has ever seen or done. Going to the museum of that bombing had me shaking, to tell the truth. I was horrified at the actual amount of destruction and devastation that our, MY country had done to the country I was now living in. Talk about a humbling experience, ne? I couldn't think of anything else to do at the time, but I put my regards of the whole "nuclear war" concept into the guestbook. What absolutely amazed me though is how the Japanese recuperated from the situation. If America was bombed like that, you can put who ever bombed us as the number 1 hated country in America, but in Japan, they don't see it like that. They look at it more with the idea of "it was an experiment. We know what these things can do and we have to make sure that they're NOT USED! We don't want another Hiroshima or Nagasaki to happen in this world EVER AGAIN!" While coming to realize that this is the way they thought of it, and put no personal grudge against the US, all I could do was get this horrible choked-up feeling in me. This feeling that this country, these peoples grandmas and grandpas were brutally murdered just for an experiment, just for a TEST, and yet they held no grudge. They looked at it in the most positive light possible and celebrate it as a day in which Peace should be started on. Not so much of the ending, more as a beginning. To say the least, I was in tears by the end of it.

That night, we had Italian. We had all recovered from the museum and realized we were DANG HUNGRY! So, off to "the number 1 Italian restaurant in Hiroshima". The sign does NOT lie here, it is indeed the number 1 Italian restaurant . Granted it still can't be our own Bob Rella, but that's a tough number to pass....

The next, and last day was Miyajima. This is probably my favorite place out of the whole trip. This has GOT TO BE THE COOLEST ISLAND ON EARTH! You know, how many islands can sport the idea of being greeted by deer? That's right, there were TONS of deer, just casually walking around the island. You can pet them, give them food (some of them will try to eat your pamphlets.... poor Courtney), and just generally have a really cool time. This place also holds one of Japan's more prominent features, the Water Gate. It's a giant temple gate that's out in the middle of the ocean. Incredible to say the least! I spent my time on this island climbing the mountains with Tucker, Brad and Sara, and then going swimming in the ocean.... IN OUR BOXERS!!!!.....(pictures to come soon).... It was great!.... until we saw the Jellyfish and then went "ocean running" back to shore. (you know, that silly run that people do when they try to get to shore really fast. They pull their legs up really high and try to run.) Time ran out a lil too fast in our opinion, but it was time to go back. I bought my Rotary club, my host family and my teachers Hiroshima sweets which Japanese people have been known to kill for. Smart move on my part. Thus concludes my Oosaka trip. After Miyaijima, it was on the bullet train back to Toyama. It was an INCREDIBLE TIME! I really hope I can go back there sometime.

Well, time is up for me, and I haven't even covered Tokyo....... I guess that'll be next time!!! Otanoshimi!!!

Suchu yori