2005-06 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: LaCrosse, Florida
School: Santa Fe High School
Sponsor: High Springs Rotary Club
Host: Urawa North Rotary Club, District 2770, Japan
August 30 Journal
ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS I think is the best way to describe how I am feeling right now. Japan is so beautiful and equally beautiful are the people living in this country.
As my plane flew closer and closer to my new home the butterflies began to subside and my heart began to ache.... I started thinking of what and who I was leaving behind and I realized that in one short year I would be a complete mess on the plane back to the U.S. for I would not dream of leaving this country that in just ten days I love....
I was greeted at the airport by four gentlemen holding a sign saying Welcome Chelsea King. As I approached them, butterflies fluttered in my stomach. I quickly learned that two of the men were to be host parents, one was Matushima my first host father (Ota san) and the other was Saitou my fourth host father.... I was so incredibly grateful for Matushima spoke better English than I would have ever expected. The gentlemen all laughed as I spoke to them in Japanese that I could not speak their language.... Matushima was very polite and asked me many questions and told me I was going to have a blast on this adventure I call life. I fell asleep in the car and when I awoke I was startled because the night had already fallen and I supposed it was around nine, when in fact it was only seven at night. Matushima was very nice and he was so surprised that I am a vegetarian, I felt bad because when I got to his house his wife Mariko had prepared quite a lot of sushi for me to enjoy. We all just laughed at the misunderstanding.
Matushima was pleased to show me that he had prepared me with my own personal computer in my room. I fell into a deep sleep and awoke the next day to look up and see that I have a loft in my room, so awesome. All of the next day I cleaned and organized all of my things in my room.
My host family consists of my father, mother, sister, and three brothers; one of my host brothers lives outside of the home. I do not see much of the boys for they work all the time and when they come home they eat and go to sleep. My host sister, shortly after I arrived, had to go to the hospital; she was diagnosed with collagens disease, and she is very nice and sweet.
The people here are so petite. We went to dinner and I wore my heels and I noticed that I did not only tower over my host mother, but quite a number of people in Japan. It is a nice change to go from mildly short to tall in just a day.
Everyday is an adventure. I went with Ota san to his work by bike and it was every last inch of my effort not to scream and sing with joy... it is so fun to be able to get around so easily with nothing more than your bike. I met for the first time my very nice language tutor, Mrs. Hirooka and with only three hours spent with her she gave me full proof that this language was going to be a lot easier to learn than I had ever dreamed.
The next day I was to give a speech to my Rotary Club and I was quite nervous, but in the end I realized that I and anyone else, should never be afraid of speeches, for if you give a good speech and they like it or if you don't do so good and people laugh at you it is only minute and hours until it is completely forgotten. My Rotary Club loved my speech, however, and thought that it was quite nice.... the meeting was held in a beautiful hotel on the 22nd floor with a miraculous view... not until that moment did I realize the enormity of the city I lived in.
After the meeting we went to size me up for my school uniform, and needless to say I felt like a small elephant... however, I am proud to say that the myth of the Rotary 15 pounds is not going to happen to me; on the contrary, I have been losing weight, with all the healthy foods I have been eating and with quite a surprise to me I have had quite a lack in the appetite. I have lost around five pounds since I arrived here in Saitama and I am very happy because of it.
I went to my new school and it is so wonderful. I still can't believe that I am here in Japan. My class schedule is for the most part confusing I will be attending 14 different classes and they have been composed in the most unpatternized way that I could imagine. I pray to God that I will do well in them. I have five Japanese classes and three English classes and the rest are of random select.
All I know is that it really brings tears to my eyes to be living my life right now. More than ever do I realize that my life is an adventure all on its own. And I am so very blessed to be living out my adventure here in Japan. Finally I am no longer droning on in my effort at changing my mundane life, for Rotary has given me something that will burn in my heart forever: my life in Japan.
I feel the power of love overcoming me. And I feel that when the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.
September 17 Journal
So here I sit thinking to myself, Can it be, is it even possible? So much has happened to me and it is only four weeks into my home stay.
God, Where to begin, where to begin. Well here goes.
I have seen the enormous Tokyo Tower. It is magnificent. It is a total of 333 meters which is right around 1200 feet, I'm not sure of the exact height because I am not positive of the exact conversion. Anyway, it was high, I was wearing heels and when I looked up I felt like I would topple over. And it was very beautiful indeed.
The night before my first day at school was OUTRAGEOUS....... it was so nice. You see, Mr. Heiji Yamagishi is a member of my Rotary Club and he owns a very nice restaurant. Mr. Yamagishi was nice enough to host a Welcome to Japan dinner in honor of me. I had a lovely time. He had the cook make a special vegetarian dinner just for me; it was Oishii (delicious). I had an absolute blast, with the club president on my right and my host father on my right. It took me a good long while to realize the reason for the increasing laughter and tone of voice. Not until I noticed that both the president and my host dad were tapping me excessively on the shoulder did I realize that they were all inebriated. When I realized it I took a good look at all the men sitting at the very long table we were at and laughed very loudly...... One of the men that picked me up from the airport said "do you remember my name?" I must have looked puzzled because he then said, "you can call me Kennedy." I didn't realize this was a joke so he said "and please call him (the man on his left) Michael, or Mr. Jackson," and we all had a good laugh. The highlight I think was when a man showed me a picture of his daughters and my host dad said, trying to whisper, "SAY KAWAII," which means cute, and I haven't laughed so hard in a very long while.
We all sang Karaoke. I sang I will Survive by Gloria Gainer with my host dad. I was enjoying myself very much. It was a great welcoming dinner in my professional opinion.
My first day of school was grrrreat!!!!!!!!! It was like they made a new version of Where's Waldo but it was Where's Chelsea. You look at the page and scan it not for the red and white stripes but for the only person with golden hair. I have never heard so many people scream at me KAWAII KAWAII KAWAII it means the equivalent of beautiful and charming - it was like I was a celebrity or something. Everywhere I went I was approached by everyone - so many smiling faces and waving hands.
"You are so beautiful" they would say, or "You have such beautiful long eyelashes." It was great, they asked, "Is that a perm?" I reply, "yes it is" they ask, "Did you dye your hair?" and I reply "No it is natural" and then they scream at the top of their lungs and bang on their desks "KAWAII KAWAII, We are so jealous."
I go to the cafeteria and want to sit alone and have a minute to myself, but everyone wants me at THEIR table and I look up and everyone is waving and smiling for a wave in return and when I do wave back they burst into a fit of giggles and scream KAWAII KAWAII
I have never felt so revered in all my life.
On the way to school I read their faces like an open book - she has on my uniform, that girl with gold hair and freckles is going to my school. - I don't think I have been stared at this way and so much ever in my life.....
I gave a speech in front of the school assembly and I realized that there is no reason to be afraid of public speaking, no need for shaky legs, for if you are asked to make a speech, don't be scared, there is a reason people want to hear you speak - you are interesting and equally interesting is what you have to say. They clapped so much for me... in class I look up and turn my head in different directions only to see that I am being watched like an exotic specimen, which I guess I am, aren't I?
A friend of mine gave me something I have never seen before: "Chelsea" - they are very good yogurt scotch hard candy and I well enjoyed them.
They ask why Japan, and I say I wanted to live an adventure and they say, I am afraid of adventures, don't you miss home, and I say, no, for home will always be there, the USA will always be there, and a chance like this will not always be here....... it is so funny - anything I do or show them it is KAWAII KAWAII and they scream and giggle and bang on their desks.
Over the weekend I got to go to the Saitama festival. Everyone dressed in Kimonos, even me, and dancing, I really enjoyed myself. It was nice, and I met my second host mother for the first time, she seems like a very nice lady. The next day, I went to a Bar-B-Q and everyone is so amazed that I am a vegetarian, what do I eat they ask me, just vegetables? And I think to myself, Of course not, would I be my size if that were true? You just have to think outside of the box.
On Monday as I was leaving I hear the band tuning, and I stood and they began to practice, it was so, I am at a loss for words, but there is something in me that music is just completing, and I think one of the most satisfying things in life is to create music, damn me to hell if I don't learn a musical instrument in my life, you should really invest in buying one.
It is so amazing, these girls, these brilliant girls, I nearly cried as I left the band's music playing, they are really such little prodigies, I can not believe they are but the rare age of 15 and 16 and have accomplish more than I could dream. Most of them can play not just one instrument, but three, I am not kidding, and they can sing, amazingly, and they can dance and act and perform in musicals, it is spectacular. I am just so amazed at these people, and I pray to Krishna that a little Japanese prodigy girl rubs off on me and returns on the plane back to Florida. It has been 4 weeks, and it feels like it has been at least twice as long.
Japan is so beautiful and equally beautiful are the people that occupy it.
Thank you so much Rotary at giving me an opportunity of a lifetime.
September 20 Journal
Well, here goes, I am going to give you my best shot at recounting my days....
So, let me see, let me see..... I had no idea that I would have such a hard time concentrating on learning how to speak Japanese with a Japanese teacher talking very fast in the background.... so naturally I was so pleased when my school adviser, Matsumoto Sensei told me that I would be able to spend most of my time in the library....
However, the books they have here are so different from the text books for learning a different language in the states, for French I and French II it was so organized, and these books that I have are so scattered... I would do anything to look into one of my old text books, it would help me so much.
Somehow it was Friday and my fellow classmates and I had to get ready for the Akenohoshi school festival. It is amazing; every class has a different theme and is completely decorated by home made materials. My class was the 'Japan and U.S.A. Friendship Rice Burger' and my class made every decoration in the room. They put together large plastic bottles to make a table counter to take the orders, and we all painted different mats for the tables. It was really wonderful. It lasted for Saturday and Sunday, I walked around and took a picture of nearly every classroom, but it was with a disposable camera, so I can't post the pictures, sorry guys!!!
I have to say it again, these girls are so talented, I had so much fun just walking around and looking into classrooms and seeing what they were doing. It was strange to see so many boys at the school, everywhere you turned there was a guy, the Japanese school boys wear their pants soooo low. And my classmate said to me ' So American boys are much more good looking?' and I say ' I wouldn't say that, you have some very handsome boys here' and we both have a good laugh about it.
Oh yeah, don't let me forget!!! I watched the most magnificent musical, it is called Takarazika, and it is an all girl musical, in which the females play both male and female parts. It is very popular here in Japan, and I think it is absolutely fabulous. They are such beautiful men. It is funny because I saw a poster for one of the Broadway type plays and thought to myself, he is so pretty, and it turned out he was a she!!!
Sunday I got to the festival late, because I had my first ever Inbound Orientation, and I met all the different kids in the program, I have to say they really were an interesting group of people. And the Rotex's were so surprised that I didn't even know I had a junior counselor, but as my Ota san says 'Step by step Chelsea'. So I look forward for the Orientations to come and to getting to know this group of inbounds.
Monday rolled around and I went to school for the eighth day in a row to help clean up and get things in order for getting back to studying. But not to worry because we had a two-day vacation. I was so happy because a girl named Ayaka asked if I could go with her and her friends to eat cake the very next day, I was delighted to!!!
Monday night I went with my host mom and dad to a nice Mexican restaurant, it was my host mother's birthday-eve dinner. I really enjoyed myself; the food was good, but not as good as her cooking!!!
So I thought to myself what can I get her? Well the chance came when I went to Tokyo to eat cake on Tuesday..... I saw a marvelous piece of chocolate cake that I knew my host mom would have to like. I went with my friends and made a very decorative picture sticker, they have so many of them!!! And they all insisted that we get matching bracelets........and then I went back to get that beautiful slice of cake! I couldn't wait to give it to her. When she got home I said, close your eyes and she looked at me like I was crazy, but she got the picture when I pulled out that fancy piece of cake!
I went to a Rotary meeting the next day and was happy because the Rotary president is a dentist and said that I should come after the meeting to get a cleaning. I love cleanings. But I was so surprised, he looked at my teeth and said, Beautiful, they are so clean, you don't even need a cleaning. That made me smile.
I was so tired the next day, Thursday, that when I got to the library I put two chairs together and slept sideways for about two hours, but then I woke up an insisted to myself that I must WAKE UP and I ran around a little bit to get the blood flow up to my brain.
Unfortunately, on Friday I had a great fall down a flight of steps, and found myself lying face first with my panties exposed - thank goodness this is an all girl school. I was helped up and many girls helped me gather my things, but I walked calmly to the bathroom and had a good cry on the toilet. I have about six large bruises, two of which were very swollen by the end of the day.
I was soon laughing again with the help of one of my friends, Moe. She went to Wisconsin for a year, and she loved it. I really like her, she has a wonderful personality and she is so very kind. 'What can you eat?' she asks me because she knows I am a vegetarian, and I say ' Anything you can eat, just minus the meat and fish!'
Saturday was one of the most frustrating days so far. I had to watch the most pitiful display of teamwork soccer has every known. I had to take a walk and I felt so frustrated that when I was definitely sure that I was all alone, I covered my mouth and had an 'inside scream'. So all I could do was do what I knew would cheer me up, I sang songs of Bob Marley and I was happy again. On the train ride home my friend Chihiro asked me what words I knew, and I did not only surprise her, I surprised myself as well! I named so many things I couldn't even believe it! It made me very happy, very happy indeed!
All in all I am having a great time here in Japan. And I want to give a big THANK YOU to my fellow Rotarians for helping me get this far!!!
Thank you everyone!
October 12 Journal
Well it finally happened. That last little hair fell on my back and it made me break, it made me crumble, it made me explode into a stream of uncontrollable tears.
I had already been so upset on my walk from school to the train station, as I let thoughts roll over in my head. I was so frustrated and agitated at the things that I began to realize. There are so many obstacles that I must climb over before I can even STUDY Japanese. It finally hit me today when I looked at the school clock as I started my journey home, it was five, which meant I would be home by six and if I leave home in the morning at seven thirty that is ten and a half hours, and surprisingly I don't feel that the majority is going where I wish it would... studying.... so I began to think about it....
I hear in my head, 'Chelsea you must help us decorate for school festival' so I go to help, but everyone has it covered. They hand me five posters to hang up and so I sit twiddling my thumbs at a wasted eight hours of my day.....
'Chelsea you must sit in my class for the lesson' and I sit bewildered in the class for an hour not able to concentrate on anything with the rapid speech in the background.
'Chelsea you must participate in P.E.'....all they are doing is preparing for sports day - something I know nothing about, however, 'Chelsea you must participated in sports day'.......'Chelsea, you must stick out like a sore thumb in a sports game that we Japanese have played all our lives and you have never played'...... 'Chelsea you must do this'...'Chelsea you must do that'...'Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea'
I think Please I just want to study....'Chelsea, you must go here.'...'Chelsea you must watch this'....'Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea'...
This is what I hear going on in my head as I climb down the four flights of stairs that separate my classroom and the grounds of Akenohoshi Private High School... 'Chelsea, you must spend your holiday watching a soccer game that you can't participate in, and it lasts from ten to five'...'Chelsea, you must go to a meeting'...'Chelsea you must...'
Then I think about my discussion with my homeroom teacher today...We were talking about the soccer game that I was told I would only watch and not participate in. I think of when my coach managed to say in English that I should learn how to practice... LEARN HOW TO PRACTICE???? I think I know how to do that thank you very much, but I must keep a good face and repeat to myself over and over, it is culture Chelsea, they are culturally different and this is just one of those little cultural differences, don't let it go to your heart...........
Well my home room teacher asks me what I thought of the game so I am honest and say ' They perform badly, and I wish that they would take some tips from me because I believe it might help them.' She says 'Maybe so, but I think it is about the group' so I say 'Exactly - they play as a single person not part of the team.' She says 'I don't know about your advice.' I insisted, 'But I have played with much more advanced players than these girls and I know what I am talking about.' She replies back to me 'Yes, but it really isn't your position to give them advice is it? At least not right now....'
All of this is going on in my head as I walk to the train station and I think to myself, Please, Please, Please don't let one of those girls come and try to speak English to me, I just don't think I can take it right now....
I hear, 'Chelsea' - it is my history teacher. 'Where are you during my classes?' and I think to myself, you know damn well I am in the library studying Japanese, but I tell her the courteous answer, 'In the library studying Japanese,' she says 'You must learn Japanese.' Then it happens. She strings together some sentence she thinks I will understand but I have finally had it.
Left and right the tears spill onto my cheeks. Through gasps of breath I tell her I am trying but Musukashi, it is difficult... Nihango wa musukashi, 'don't cry Chelsea, what is wrong?' ' I don't have any time to study, that's all I want, to study Japanese so I can communicate with you and not look like an infant.' She looks like she didn't understand any of what I said and says 'is your family good to you, and classmates?' 'Subarashi, wonderful they are very kind.' 'Please don't cry' she repeats over and over.
But I can't be stopped. I am gasping for breath behind a river of salty tears when I look to see everyone on the platform staring at the pair of us. And all I can say is Japanese is difficult; Japanese is so difficult, nihongo wa totemo musukashi behind endless strings of uncontrollable beads of tears falling from my eyes. Damn my lachrymal glands. I felt my goat had finally been gotten, gotten with its heart ripped out and left to bleed on the floor..........
But I learned today that beads of tears don't bother me rolling down my skin quiet as much as the beads of sweat that I feel every morning and evening in the crowded train... I also learned that remembering that you didn't eat your big fat grapes at lunch makes you feel a great deal better after an uncontrollable cry.... And I slowly walked home; I did not run as it started to rain, for the cold splashes on my skin cooled down my cheeks.......... Not to worry fellow family, friends, and Rotarians, this is just an episode I would like to title 'Frustration at its Best'. The worst is out of me; even if is was through the outlet of uncontrollable tears.............. You can never truly appreciate the good if you have not seen the bad, am I right?
Besides good times were on their way.
The weekend came and I was scheduled to go see a Karate match and I must say it is the first time I have felt truly scared of a seven year old, but the faces the children made were so concentrated and serious... I really enjoyed myself, and I was introduced and I didn't know but a Rotary member asked me to say something so I stupidly said Watashi wa Chelsea desu. I must have sounded like a barbarian, I said, I is Chelsea, oh well it is soon forgotten...
I went to a wonderful shrine in Tokyo and it was crazy, because leading up to the shrine is like a bazaar, it is a long aisle of covered booths on both sides, I ate a very good Japanese dish called Munju, which happens to be the name of a friend I have known all my life. My host parents and I laughed as we all agreed that my friend was so delicious!
I am not sure when, but one day about a week ago, on a whim I wrote my ex-boyfriend's mother, because she is a vice-president of a company that merged with a company in Japan, and I knew that she came here for business occasionally during the year. It really was Krishna's mercy, for she replies back to me that she will be on a plane to Tokyo the very next day!
Naturally I was worried that my host family would think to arrange a dinner on such short notice was impossible, but alas, they are Japanese, and I have learned that the Japanese find ways for everything. The Japanese are also, should I say, passive aggressive? Hmm...you see my friend that lives in Tokyo, Ayaka, arranged for me to go with her to the hotel to meet my companion. Ayaka then offered for me to spend the night at her house, I thought that it might be too difficult and maybe better to go home. She then called my host father and offered that she prepared everything for me to stay and I only bring change of clothing ... it was at that moment it dawned on me, I said to myself 'Chelsea, she is not offering, she is asking, will you spend the night at my house?'
It really made me smile, and I feel it will make me smile for a very nice period of time. Her family was so kind, they really made me feel like a guest of honor. I really couldn't believe what was happening, and I must have worn my smile all day through ... ..
People ask me 'What is the biggest surprise coming to Japan?' I finally found an answer, sitting directly in front of me in an Indian restaurant. Joyce.
It is hard to put to words the feeling you get from something like that...I still find it hard to believe that it was not some elaborate dream I had. We talked so much, and I was so happy to get that much out of me. I wanted to say more to her, but how can you keep from bombarding your company and achieve this in three hours? Therefore I told her to read my journals and hope her eyes run across this very sentence.
I am regretful to report about something I learned about my school trip to Nagasaki. It is wonderful to go there and all and spend five days on vacation at the end of this month. But I learned at school that I will be shown into a public bath house at the hotel and see at least twenty of my classmates strolling around naked. That is something I am not looking forward to. Really not looking forward to, especially because I am maybe in between the average size of the Japanese, so it could substantially be depressing and make me dedicate some time to losing more weight than I have lost already. However, I am sure the trip will be a success, and I will be sure to take lots of pictures, except of course in the bath house, haha!
I gave a speech to a class the other day. I am used to those by now. It would be a question and answer type thing, but the Japanese can be too shy for their own good. They all want to ask me questions, but hesitate, so I do my best at guessing what their questions might be. One of the popular ones is "Are you homesick?". I have that question down word for word, but this time it was hard to get out. I started, "No, I am not, for the U.S.A. will always be there, Florida will always be there, but..." and I couldn't help it, the words just wouldn't come. I started choking up like you wouldn't believe, I literally couldn't say the rest of the sentence with out bawling my eyes out. I figured there was no use in trying to hide my emotions so I said the rest of it behind a red and wet face. I said, "...opportunity like this will not always be here, this is a chance of a lifetime, and I do not miss what I gave up to get it." However, the class understands English pretty well, and had a rough idea what I was trying to get out of me. I never realized how much this means to me.
Last night again, I started crying on the way home. I looked up into the sky and started thanking God for everything, and I asked, "Can you believe it? I am here, I am here, in Japan, can you believe it? Thank you so much Krshina for blessing my path towards Rotary." and I couldn't help myself - I cried my little blue eyes out, as I asked myself, can you believe what ground you are walking on. It kinda overwhelmed me. But it felt good to feel so passionately about such a thing. THANK YOU ROTARY!!!
I really fight back the tears, but this time not from frustration, but happiness and honor. This is a dream that I am airily walking on day by day. Japan is truly an adventure, and has been the best chapter in my life so far. I only wish I could slow down the passing time for I don't know how much they will have to coax me back on to the plane set for Florida. I see a long companionship between Chelsea King and Japan. I love this country that I am living in....I love my life ... .and I love Rotary ....
November 28 Journal
Trying to put to words my time spent here I begin to see how strange and differently time passes on an exchange. For when you are abroad you come to see that your time is limited and always remind yourself the time you still have left until that fateful day when you have to ultimately leave neverland and grow up. My mom and I count down the days together, today is day 273, it helps me to not ever forget her, but it also shows me how time is always on the move, that the time I have here is so precious, and that everyday counts. Sorry to seem nostalgic, but in a place where you feel so alone, as I find myself feeling sometimes, you grow close to your family, as I feel I have, then you are ripped from them only to repeat the process over and over again, as I find myself embarking on the adventure of a new family life. At night lately I find myself crying like never before thinking, 'God I hope I made them happy, I hope I made them proud, I hope I gave them reason to want to be a host parent again, I hope one day I can return the favor and show them around Florida, I hope they love me as much as I really love them...'
But let me get back to what has happened since my last recounting of time in Japan.
October 29th was a great day! I went with my Oto-san to a soccer game (photos at right)! The best part about it was that we had second row seats directly in front of the locker room. I was so close to the field that I could smell the freshly cutgrass! I had a really great time watching a professional game and how well trained the body can be and can perform!
Then the school trip came with the end of the month! For five days around two hundred and fifty girls from my school went to Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan. We visited Nagasaki and Kumamoto and learned more than I imagined.
First and foremost is the tragedy that happened in Nagasaki sixty years ago at 11:02 a.m., August ninth. The Atomic Bomb Museum was our first stop when we arrived in Nagasaki, but it will be the last thing I will forget out of the trip.
People were caught in the middle of their everyday lives. Some were at their place of work; some were at school maybe in class or outside practicing for a club. Some were at home, but none could have imagined what was coming when the clock struck 11:02.
Described as a bright light and then a black cloud that blocked the sun is not the most vivid description, until you step foot inside a place that shows you the pictures of the suffering, the dead and the bewildered do you begin to realize the horrific truth. I saw a graphic picture of a girl walking around after the drop and looking at the ash covered body of a young boy, if only you could have seen the look on her face.
There was the shadow of a watchman that was burned into the wooden wall he was in front of by the light of the explosion. Such tremendous heat that melted glass plates together bent the iron of buildings out of place and killed more than a hundred thousand innocent lives. And all throughout the exhibits were signs that said the museums purposes were such that this tragedy never is repeated. I could not count how many times tears were brought to my eyes. I mean really, what a tragedy. People were ripped from life itself and if they survived just think of the life they had left to live, one of misery and unhappiness. What a horrific thing war can truly be.
On lighter subjects ... We had the freedom of group day, in which we were able to go around the city and see different sites without the entire group of girls. This was really great! Everyone began their journey at the church dedicated to the twenty-six martyred saints. I wish I could have stayed there longer, looking at the exhibits showing how hard Christianity's road has been in Japan and how many people have suffered because they refused to stop believing in who or what they conceived God to be. But I don't think my classmates were too interested in that because they were only so ready to go and sightseeJ.
What a beautiful city Nagasaki is! We visited a large shrine, Chinatown, and a beautiful Park. The Park was the best; it had a wonderful view and great gardens! But best of all was that we were all there for the first time, it wasn't only new to Chelsea, but also the members of my group!
I really liked the trip because I felt myself getting closer to knowing my classmates, trying to give up English and depend on Japanese alone.
Day three we took a ferry over the sea to change from Nagasaki prefecture to Kumamoto prefecture where we stayed for the rest of the trip. And on the ferry I stood with my friends by the edge just looking at the view and then I screamed "KURAGE" - it was the first time I saw a real live in-the-sea jellyfish!
Day four we went to the wondrous Aso Mountain! This was spectacular! I absolutely loved every minute of it! We didn't stay long, but it was amazing to say the least, with the hot sulfur spring at the bottom and such wide-open spaces that my eyes have yet to see in my lifetime! We then went to Kumamoto Castle. This was great! It was so gigantic and had wonderful artifacts on display inside. One that I thought was remarkable was a game set like memory, but was it ever extravagant! It had the most beautiful paintings of such different things all on the inside of large shells. It was so beautiful. I climbed the steps up to the sixth floor to see the 360-degree view of the Castle grounds and the park outside of it. I tried my best to savor every minute, for my classmates kind of just looked and thought 'oh wow' and went outside to get souvenirs, maybe because they live in Japan and have the option of always going back. I mean I would love to think that one day I will go back to Kumamoto Castle to view its splendors, but what if I don't? That was floating in my head as I looked out of the windows and realized what a real opportunity this time is for me!
Day five came faster than ever! We set off to go for a wonderful nature boat ride. I love nature and with twists and turns and bridges and riverfront stores it was awesome! The autumn was setting in so the leaves were turning a beautiful gold and red and there were so many cute little docks scattered on the bank. I loved it so much! The time was gone all of the sudden and we were at the airport. I really enjoyed the trip, for not only wonderful and beautiful; it was also educational, on Japan and my friends. I have a world more to learn in the next eight months!
We were all asked to make a little paper to hang up in the hall about our school trip. Let me tell you, every single ounce of effort I put into writing and translating and getting help for my mistakes was worth the look on my teachers face! I loved it! She nearly screamed at me, and she handed it to my classmates who all had the same reaction. They do say the best satisfaction is satisfaction, and I think they had a real point in that! (My paper, at right.)
I walked home today and couldn't stop saying, oh my god. Yesterday I went with Hirooka sensei and my host mom to a sushi bar. It was nice, but it was also a kind of farewell for me. I had a good time with them, but it really began to hit me that I was about to start all over again so to speak. So today I kept realizing last things, like, this was the last time I take this route to get home. This is my last chance to take Gogo for a walk. Last chance for any familiarity I have found at the Matsushima families house, and the last time that this house will be my home. I really can't believe it. Three months gone. I kept having big sighs, but I know all will be okay because I can still remember how scared I was when I got here, that feeling is back, but also the proof that I shouldn't be scared because this home stay was such an ultimate success, I mean it had to be a success if I can feel the emotion of love for this family, right?
All I can really say is that if anybody ever considers to go into this program, just remember one thing, you will never be able to fathom how many people you will come to know and even love by the end of the year. If ever I felt a hole in my heart for love, understanding, and friendship, there is no doubt in my mind that it will become filled and overflowing in the growing passage of time. I really love my life here and I will do everything in my power to do my best and give my all and not to squander time because I love life and that is the stuff it is made of!
Thank you Rotary for changing my life and helping me grow into the person I am destined to become!
From this side of the world and back to you,
February 16 Journal
Hisashiburi desu ne?
Looking back on the time that has elapsed since my last journal, it is no wonder to me that I have put it off for so long. I never imagined finding myself so busy that I was making myself go on with less sleep and less food to just have a few extra minutes in my busy schedule. I have gone through a complete transformation and I can't believe I am the person I am, from the standpoint that I have writing this entry right now.
As difficult as this is going to be, I will go through it chronologically and as close to the truth as my memory permits me to do.
I changed host families, but there were so many things that I found fault with that it was hard for me to really appreciate them heart and soul. I will never suggest for a person to judge another, but in my case, it was damn near impossible. And in this situation the saying "If you judge people, you have no time to love them," truly comes into play, for next week I move, and let me tell you, it took too long for me to see that real love had grown in my heart. I love these people so much, I love Japan so much, I love my Rotary club with all its Rotarians in it, and I love my school and my classmates, and all the exchange students so much that the very thought of leaving this paradise, this struggling paradise is making me cry right now, but let me tell you how I got to this point in my life. Never did I imagine I would do something so great with my life at the age of 18 when I was a little girl.... I never expected to be so globally educated.
Well, let me be honest, I was a darling little shy and uneducated female when it came to the knowledge of this country that I am living in where we last left off. I was even still in the mental setback that thinking that this year will never end can put you in. November was nearly over when I moved and nothing exceptionally wonderful really occurred except one thing.
On the 27th I went with most of the exchange students to the Asakusa Shrine and to the Edo Tokyo Museum. This day was significant simply because I was spending it with the exchange students. I realized that it wouldn't take much for me to fall in love with the inbound from Sweden, Daniel. We became quite good friends and had just the best time ever. I was delighted when my history studying paid off while our tour guide explained many things and I was proud to put in little comments and have her exclaim that I was intelligent. The best discovery was Daniel; however, I was so glad to realize that I was making better friends with the exchange students.
Then there was December, starting off with a bang and a visit to the doctors as I was coughing up bits of blood and needing antibiotics. At school I realized I was being a bit ignored by the teacher in charge of me simply because she didn't have the time, energy or experience needed to handle me.
I had to basically beg to take some form of examinations, as any student learning a new way of writing a language, not just speaking it will tell you, that you must know an exceptional amount to take the regular academic classes and their quizzes and pass them with good marks. I was given a Japanese language proficiency test, but I nearly cried by the end of it. It was the most elementary test I had ever seen and I thought that if this teacher really thought my language skills were like this I could not be more ashamed of anything for the rest of my life. I did the smart thing; I laughed it off and worked harder.
This was a month filled with shopping for presents and getting numerous invitations to Christmas parties. I went to Disneyland with my host family and it was then that I truly began to appreciate my host sister Momo and put aside her greedy ways. Akenohoshi (my school) had a wonderful closing ceremony for the winter holidays and we sang lots of hymns which was a treat because it is rare to find any school practicing teachings of Jesus Christ. I learned how to sing 'Silent Night' in Japanese and surprised some people that I know out of school by singing a verse or two. Akenohoshi also had a fundraiser to give a donation to a charity. This got me into the real spirit of giving, which is in truth the way we should live each day, like Christmas, giving not to receive, but to give and spread happiness as far as we are able.
I baked cookies with my host sister for an exchange student Christmas party. As any time that comes along my way to spend with this exceptionally interesting group of people, I enjoyed it immensely. Do not judge people, that's my 'no no' number one, number two is, do not pick favorites, something I did. The girl from Canada, Paula, had become my number one faithful companion and I am so appreciative of her. However, this is a handicap I realized this day, I have such a good time with her that I forget to take time with the other exchange students, which is a shame. Everyone went to karaoke after and had a great time. I personally did as I popped in on the different groups that were spread out in different rooms because this allowed me to become acquainted with many more students.
The official Rotary Club Christmas party of my hosting club was a night to remember. It is something special to be an exchange student. So much attention you are paid. Everyone wants to take you places, and I especially feel as if the members of my hosting Rotary Club are just one large extended family that plays an enormous role in my life in Japan. I got many invitations to go places and spend time with different people and my host mom was showing me off as best she could. I had one person on my left talking to me, one on my right taking my arm, and someone trying to butt in standing in front of me, my head began to spin as I tried my best not to offend anyone or cut anyone short in their sentences. I met for the first time my last and next host mothers. It was like a whirlpool so many faces and names and so much Japanese, words and sentences running into each other as the voices were numerous to finally and at last the voice that I have become to feel at ease when I hear it, my host mother, Yumiko speaking to me on the sidewalk towards home. It was over, as soon as it began and I was walking arm in arm with my host mother as Yumiko, my host father, Mitsuhito, and my host sister, Momo and I walked home.
I unfortunately experienced something that made me want to give up on soccer completely. I spent three hours lost on a train with no means of communication from seven a.m. to ten a.m. and was so close to tears that I didn't know what to do. The wonderfully difficult practices that I was used to at Santa Fe High School and the part of the year spent to playing this sport is so completely different to that which I have experienced here in Japan. It is so easy and the team is so poor that I have nearly quit, but have refrained because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings that is on or connected with the team. Games are held on the weekends and you have to get up around six in the morning and this is something I am just not used to.
This was two days before Christmas and altogether not something I wish would have crossed my path. I went on the wrong train had to come back and realized that they must have gone ahead to the game because I was about two and a half hours late. I got home and was asked to call a number that was written on the note pad. I was expecting the coach, who I got however, was my teammate's dad. He can speak English so therefore, they thought he would be the man to talk to me, I didn't think this was the way it should have been done. He yelled at me, was completely misunderstanding of the entire situation and blamed me, said they forfeited the game (which was a lie) and made me feel so bad that I never wanted to see any of their faces again. Oh, and don't forget this was two days before Christmas, nothing like a good scolding to get you in the holiday season, right?
But no worries for the next day was a wonderful enough day so that it made me forget every word this man had said to me. I went to my first host family's home to cook burritos and cake with their daughter and had such a wonderful time. Burritos are something I ate every week in Florida, but here in Japan, it is a rarity and my first host father absolutely loved my cooking that he asked for me to make them again. It was a special feeling to be in their home again, although it isn't the same, it didn't feel like my home, but I felt welcomed all the same. I must admit, that this night was my Christmas celebration, I waited patiently for them to open their presents and prayed they would love them. I promise you that you could have mentioned America and my life back in Florida to me that night and I would not have known a word of what you said. All has become lost in my mind, what is at the forefront of it is Japan and all the aspects that it has to offer to anyone with enough heart to take it in.
I am happy to say that I, a foreigner, educated my first host family on the height of Mt. Fuji on the early morning of December 30th as we woke up to view it for it appears red in the morning due to the reflection of the sun. It was beautiful and breathtaking all in same way.
I am changing so much and it is all because of Japan. There are some things in life that can't really be documented, can't be captured in a picture or a film, one of those things is life as an exchange student. I will never be able to truly explain what this adventure is to me, you have to live it yourself to ever really understand. It is one of those conditional moments in life, where you realize no matter who helps you, no matter what is done for you, it is the strength within that makes the difference, it is the power in your soul that helps you make it what you want it to become, you must find it inside, for if you search high and low you will never find it, I know this is true, because I have found such strength inside myself, inside my heart and inside my mind.
With these words and such thoughts down in the depths of my body I said goodbye to 2005 and welcomed in the new year, but I really welcomed a new Chelsea. I have become such an enriched human being from all this, and I was so happy to realize it. So many people, as this time of year comes about, make resolutions to better their life, but I realized the only thing you need to do, is be true with yourself. Don't try and be a person you are not, just do now what you can look back on and be proud of, it lies within your very soul. For what lies behind us and before us are truly tiny matters of such complete insignificance compared to what power and meaning that lies within us, but we always forget such things in this hectic place we call earth.
All ideas such as these were running through my mind as I welcomed in the New Year and really became closer with my host family. I am proud to report that I went with my host family to the Tokyo Palace on the third of January, one of the few days of the year that it is open to the public for viewing.
As my Japanese is rapidly improving, I understand more and more of this family and am really becoming a part of it. Instead of filling up my agenda over the winter holidays, I took as much time as possible to rest and get myself back in good health and energy. I went on the fifth to a shrine for the second time, with the exchange students to do as my fellow countrymen do every year to welcome the New Year. I prayed for things like strength of heart, fluency in Japanese, good friends and health, and power of mind, all in Japanese, for what if the Gods cant speak English? They might not have been the most profound prayers, but the point was made, I do believe.
In the blink of an eye I was walking to school with the holidays over, and my grumbling on about the snow and how idiotic it is that I must wear a skirt as a school uniform. But that is only the journey there, when I get to school, I have such a supreme good time with so many wonderful girls all around me that nothing really can make me unhappy, and the fact that I walk arm in arm with someone home everyday, what other type of icing would be better on my cake of life?
The very day after school started, I was to go to a Rotary meeting. This was something else. So the Japanese have this custom called, Otoshidama, where grandparents and parents give their children amounts of money for New Years. I am at the meeting with the club president on my left and my counselor, Ishii san comes up and hands me a 10,000 Yen note and says Happy New Year, I am stammering out thanks and the president says something like, 'What a good idea, Ishii san, here's another 10,000 Yen note Chelsea, Happy New Years.' Could life get better? I got nearly two hundred dollars in the matter of three or more minutes. I was speechless and so happy I didn't pass this meeting up. And very happy I had taken the time to make hand written New Years postcards for these gentlemen two weeks previous to this day.
Then the weekend came, and I was off to Echigoyuzawa with my host family for skiing. It was a good time, but I must admit, it might have been more enjoyable if I was seven, for in that case, my crying would have been more easily accepted. The snow capped mountains and clean air as it filled your lungs was just the most incredible thing to experience for the first time in someone's life. With the private bath and shower in our room, my host mother was happily surprised when I asked her what time she would be going to the public bath. With a sauna, Jacuzzi, steam room, and outdoor hot tub with the snowy scenery all around, why settle for anything less? Yes, there are about thirty naked women walking around, but I am a Rotary Youth Exchange Student, with an iron heart of steel, and it will take much more to scare me off. My host father said I was getting better much faster than expected, so he took me on a much more advanced course than I was prepared for.
I thought my knees were going to break, I fell against the joint so many times that by the time I got to the lift and my ski got stuck under someone else's and pulled my knee out of natural position, I had it and walked to the lunch room early with tears of pain in my eyes. With my body aching like no other sport excursion I have experienced I set off on my last run. And although I acted like a complete baby about it all, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
And now, let me tell you about a teacher named Akaike. Scary to say the least, she nearly makes me cry every time I see her. She is like some teacher from a nightmare, and I am happy that I don't see her on a regular basis anymore. This is what happened. She kind of butted into my schedule and said she wanted to give me lots of homework and tests and things like that. Although I am not too well equipped with time, I was all for it.
Homework comes before tests right? Well, she comes by and says here's a test, you have ten minutes. I told her I didn't know that much Kanji, as that was what the test was on, and she said it was okay. I got a sixty percent on it; it was difficult, very difficult. So she says "Oh, Chelsea! I thought you were serious about studying Japanese! I guess you don't really want to learn this language after all!'' she picked up her books and left with me and my mouth gaping wide open. Kanji is just one aspect of this language, the Japanese take six years learning it, and she wants me to learn all of that while I am here, that is just moronic.Akaike sensei wa sugoku kibishii desuyo! Let's just say I avoid going down corridors that she happens to be in. ... I may have an iron heart of steel, but let me tell you she penetrates it like it is water.
Now let me tell you all about February.
We are only half way through, and Valentines just isn't the same honestly when your school is all girls, even though you give and receive chocolate anyway, so I don't really have much to say about that at all. I have been seeing friends outside of school much more, and have so much more of a social life and acquaintance with life in Japan that it amazes me. I finally got a cell phone, me being the only one in the group without one, and me being the only person so uneasily accessible, it was a great weight once lifted that I didn't really realize it was there until I got one.
The one big thing that I have left to talk about is the trip to Nagano for a Rotary Ski trip which will be with me for many winters to come. It was from the fourth of to the sixth, just less than two weeks ago, but somehow, I can still see the snow, and the butterflies are still present in me from being so happy to be spending so much time together with everyone.
Well, Daniel, Paula, and I have formed a triangle, and geometrically, where one of us is, the other two are not far off. We were on a bus for God knows how long, but I couldn't have been happier. I ripped a hole in my pants near the butt and considered a diet until two other girls showed me that they were wearing there favorite pants that day, and both had a hole similar. We are exchange students, what more is there to say. So, have I mentioned that it is difficult to live life as a vegetarian in Japan before now? Well, let me tell you, with the amount of food I took in, and the amount of energy exerted during the snowboarding, I should have won a medal for the most energetic. I had things like lettuce and celery for dinner the first night. Stayed up late with everyone talking and just thoroughly loving the time I was spending with them. I fell asleep around three or so, no, it hasn't been one of my most intelligent moves, but I don't think I would have been able to fall asleep just out of my pure ecstasy of happiness I
was feeling with these people.
I woke up with three hours of sleep, at six a.m. and with breakfast at eight, what was I to do? I went to quench my thirst and got some green tea, and along with that I got an idea, and evil idea, or let's just call it childish. What better way to wake up my best friend than pouncing on him early in the morning? Paula might hit me, but Daniel is just too sweet a boy to do that. And if I went back to bed, I would wake up late, and grouchy, yes, this was my only option. So I snuck into his room, the door was unlocked, which told me it was a sign from God saying it was okay. I sat on his bed quietly so that I wouldn't wake him or his roommates while I waited. I sat thinking about how happy I was, and twiddled my thumbs till I couldn't take it, and at six forty-five in the morning, I pounced on him with all my might like he was my prey and I was a mighty lion. Then I sang to him that it was time to wake up and time for breakfast. He loves me, so please, don't think wrong of me.
I had an orange for breakfast, and was definitely the most spirited in the bunch. Well, I have called Paula my faithful companion, and trust me, you have no idea. Patiently she waited for me to come down what seemed like the slope of death on my snowboard for the first time, but she was happy as I progressed faster than expected and not much was lost, since we are such good friends. It was like a bath, a hot steam room inside my jacket as we broke for lunch, or well, as they had lunch and I ate some cabbage, which the cook called salad. I think not. We set back out this time accompanied by Daniel and just loved it, every moment of it. We went down this one course that was like Narnia. With snowcapped pines on both sides and blue skies it was breathtaking, and as I fell on my butt for the hundredth time and it beginning to bruise and numb all in one, I took a moment to take in this supreme beauty of nature that I had at my finger tips. How can it be that tomorrow was our last day in this winter land? We retired to the on-sen, public bath, and just couldn't believe the day and adventure we experienced with each other.
Dinner was pineapple, and you may be getting sick of my recounting what I ate, but I only do so to show you exactly how difficult this was for me to stay so happy, with hunger pangs, muscles killing me, and not being able to sit, I was the least likely candidate for being a happy camper, but that is just what I was.
I ended up confessing my love to everyone I had finally grown close to and just let them know how happy I am to know them and be in there company. As I am proclaiming this joy and love, we all come to the same realization. Back home, it isn't spoken so much, the 'thank you, I love spending time with you' kind of feeling, but here in Japan, we are all aware that these relationships are truly conditional and will be ending in a matter of months. I can always come back to Japan, but these people will not be here when I do, I am so in love with life it makes me sad, because eventually I will be having my heart torn apart, as we make our promises to see each other, and write, but life will not be like this again, never, and I am so sorry to say that I believe that is the truth. ... What does it feel to be an exchange student? Falling in love, into a deep and forbidden love that you know, no matter what you do, will not be able to work no matter what you do in the end.
That night, I was just so in touch with my heart and talking so much that it was four before I knew it. I was sleeping as Paula led me back to our room and in an instant, tachimachi, I was awake, beckoning Paula to come with me to tickle Daniel awake, one last time, for, this kind of sibling torturing won't be so graspable in the future. We set off on our last adventure, and I endured every pain with pleasure as the clean air filled my lungs. It was almost too much for the senses. I know that they are just names to you, but these two people mean so much to me, so much; I love them, honestly, and with all my heart. And just like that, it was over, we were on the bus once more, heading for Saitama prefecture. As the three of us talk about the summer of 2007, and backpacking through Europe to board the Trans-Siberian Railway, the bus ride comes to an end, it almost makes me speechless, this feeling inside my body. It is so amazing, so much that I have gone through and the things that I have endured, but I am half way through, and by the end of it, I will have friends, real friends, to visit in Canada, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, and what language shall we communicate in? You be the judge.
And now I will be leaving you with all I can give you and that is this, "Absence diminishes little passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans a fire." Japan, I know will be a raging fire in my heart, and all the experiences I have lived in it.
Do you want to know what it is to be an exchange student? He is a popular song to help you "Si, Oretachi wa itsu demo, futari de hitotsu da atta." The 'Si' is Spanish for yes, so together it means, "Yes, together we are forever, two people living as one." If that can't explain how I feel about all the people that I am constantly submerged in, the feeling I have right now, I don't know any other way to put it.
Good luck to the new outbound class of 2006 for district 6970, and my deepest apologies for taking so long, this was made possible by Rotary Youth Exchange International, and taking this path, has made all the difference.
Ja, mata ne.
Chelsea, or as they call me here Chi-e-ru-shii
April 16 Journal
Well, I promised myself that I wouldn't let too much time pass me by before I wrote another journal, therefore, I am sitting up late on one of my only free days to get this done. It is strange, time just keeps going, and when I found my count down on day ninety-five, I decided it was time for an update.
Last time I left off on moving to my third host family's home. I have really enjoyed my time with this family. They have been really nice to me and welcoming. They happen to be a bit old fashioned and such, but things like these can't bother me much, besides, they are sixty and have grandchildren, so I don't think I would have been anything but shocked to find them with different personalities. The grandchildren have been a real joy in my life when they come around. My host mom really enjoys them because they are her pride and joy, she is a housewife, so is very happy to have youngsters running around, and I must admit, I feel guilty to leave her at home when I go play with my friends after school or on the weekends. In truth, although I will celebrate my nineteenth birthday in Japan, I think that she views me as just a big kid, but it might just be because I have a rather colorful personality. Anyway, like I was saying about those grandchildren, whom I believe make me act younger, I really love their company. The three-year-old boy will sit in front of my view of the television from time to time until I play with him and throw him around and tickle him a bit. The six year old asks me to correct his homework, because he thinks my knowledge of kanji is so marvelous (but he also likes to look over mine as well, so I guess it's a give and take relationship). The five year old is a bit shy, so I have to take the initiative to make her laugh, which I take with great pride might I add, from juggling to coming up with riddles to hiding when I hear her come so I can scare her, it's good to be a kid again, yes it is.
The house is about a fifteen-minute bike ride from the station. No problem, what's a fifteen-minute bike ride right? WRONG!!! I am petrified of the morning commute to the train station. I will not tell you the honest and truthful amount of times that I have nearly been run over, by bike, car, and fire truck; it is rather frightful. I listen to music and stretch in the morning, so on my way I have a song in my head and start singing away, but have to stop myself and concentrate, and this is no joke. I have to ride on the street because the sidewalk is over populated, but motorcycles ride that way, and people that run late run red lights, and that is how I got into a three bike pile up in the street, the cars were stopped, I was screaming "ATAMA GA ITAI ITAI ITAIIIII' or my head hurts, hurts, hurtsssss".. I was lying in the street, leg stuck in between the plastic wheel protector and the wheel, they were trying to pull my leg out and drag me out of the street". Long story short, I went home crying - thinking I would get the day off because of my throbbing head, but I got a ride to the station by car instead. I almost broke my hand once, and my bike buggy got mashed in, but I guess now you can see why if these aren't the only bike "incidents" I have had, I have reason to fear the morning commute.
I have done so much while living with this host family, I have acquired many more friends and just been improving so much with the language that it has given me much more mobility. With the beginning of March my school had a graduation ceremony. This was extremely sad for me. So many faces that I used to see in the halls everyday I most likely will never see again. It just made me really respect the experience that I am getting here. I go to a Japanese high school. I sit in a class with forty four other Japanese girls, I get lost in amazement; they say this wears off and all, but it subtly stays. I no longer look at them in as much marvel, but I still enjoy all my time at school. I don't want to leave this country, and I know it sounds weird, but sometimes I expect to see a different face in the mirror. When the only hair color and complexion you see is so similar, and you see it for such a long amount of time, I guess you just expect to be able to adjust to things like that as well, adaptation, right? I just love my life so much, I love the uniform I have to wear, and how we aren't allowed to wear nail polish or make up, but some how find a way to look beautiful naturally. It is a high that I have been living on for these past eight months, the natural high of Japanese living.
I went to a place called Yokosuka, about a two-hour train ride. There is an American Naval base there, and a friend of mine I have known since middle school is stationed there. I hadn't seen him in a rather long time and had never been too good of friends with him, but this was a remarkably wonderful experience for me. I promised myself that if I get the invitation and have the time, I would go back once a month (3-4 more times) before I go home. It will be a good re-entry exercise for me, for I honestly felt like I was in America while I was there, and I wanted to turn and run back home screaming. There are just certain things you get used to, like seeing only Japanese people, and for the majority, seeing only thin to medium weight people. Or speaking English freely knowing only your English speaking friend is likely to catch everything you say, or being able to block out a lot of the random conversation that goes on when walking down a street if you try hard enough. This place was like some kind of nightmare for me. With schools there and bowling and movie theaters and shopping centers, you didn't have to leave this place for many reasons at all. I felt like I was having withdrawal from being taken away from the Japanese. There were kids there that went to school, so I was curious, and I couldn't help myself. My friend went to the bathroom and I got my chance.
ME: So you live and go to school here, huh?
Two teenage girls: We sure do.
ME: So - you speak Japanese or what?
Two teenage girls: Not really. We can say things like "thank you" and "how much".
ME: Are you serious? Don't you get taught it in school?
Two teenage girls: No, but they have a class you can take all year round.
ME: But you don't take it?
Two teenage girls: No.
ME: How long you lived in Japan for?
Two teenage girls: Three years, but this isn't Japan, it's an American naval base.
ME: Oh (this conversation is OVER).
I was even asked to pay in the U.S. Dollar there, I was in shock, and it was a little hard for me to take. But I guess it will be a good thing for me to do before I go home. It was just a bit strange because it is in Japan, but it wasn't Japan, nothing was at all like the Japanese, and I was homesick for it within half a day of seeing Americanism. I just love Japan so much, and their aloe vera yogurt, how you are stared at for being anything but Asian, and how they are so amazed when you speak their language with them, and how friendly they can truly be, it is wonderful, and hot towels in restaurants before your meal, and the trains. It's like back home compared to here:
ME: Hey, do you think I could borrow five bucks?
Some person: What in the world could you even do with five bucks? Get lunch?
ME: Well, I was actually thinking about going to TOKYO!!!
Some person: You can't get a train ticket under five bucks to Tokyo!?!
ME: HELL YEAH I CAN!!!!! Its only forty-five minutes away!
Or like sushi or meals for like three dollars in the convenience stores. Oh, don't let me forget Pizza Hut for all you meat and fish lovers, (I'm a vegetarian) "Hi, I would like a large Pizza with rice cracker and octopus and shrimp on it, and a liter of green tea please." Can you believe that? This country is psychotic, I love it, and the fact that I have to wear the extra large pants hear, ha ha ha, I am no extra large, but hey, it's Japan, what can I say.
Well, with the coming of Spring Vacation, the coming of Cherry Blossoms also arrived. The wonderful light and warm snow of April was upon us and so nice to enjoy. I went to a Rotarian's home and made Soba, and I don't mean I cooked it, I am talking from flour and water, I MADE it and it was so good - oh yeah. It was really nice, it was a little Soba party. All of my host families were there together, this was the first time I was able to actually view them like that. It was a bit strange, for they weren't at home, I wasn't their child, and they were not in their actual element. It was wonderful all the attention they lavished on me. Talking about how my Japanese is getting so good, I was like "I could live life like this for so much longer than just a night." They were getting a bit drunk, and I don't know how many times they repeated "Chelsea, won't you come play at my house?" It has been a good experience for me, growing up a second time at the rare age of eighteen.
That night I went in an RV with my first host family, to a place called Shimoda, rather historical, where Admiral Perry opened up Japan to trade, with his famous "Black Ships" that made the people in power realize that while Japan was sleeping the rest of the world was making progress toward the future and this could no longer be denied. We went up a lift to view the harbor and the Cherry Blossoms from the most desired view possible. The car ride was nice, the back roads we rode on was the chance I got to finally see the Japan I had expected before I came here. With thickets of bamboo and tall pine trees and thick forests, I let my mind drift back to a time where horses and Samurai were used in war. Just to think of how life was back then, it was a small peace I found in my heart that day driving. We went to an "on-sen" which is a public bath. I had a great time, there were naked women walking around, but it was very relaxing. We went to the outside bath and my first host mother taught me the national anthem and just relaxed and looked at the lit up Sakura tree. I guess it is just a different way of life, I didn't even feel weird, soaking in a bath with my first host mom and sister, absolutely naked, it was anything but weird, it was wonderful. The next day it rained too much so we went home. It was a very nice way to start April in Japan, with nature, and besides, rain is not too bad, it brings life back to the earth after the winter.
I had the joy of meeting Daniel's family from Sweden with Paula on a trip to Kamakura, for those who don't know, there is a giant Buddha there where you can go inside of it. This was a nice trip, I had been before with Daniel and Paula's mother when she came, but it was very nice because spring had come and jackets that had been brought were worn over your arms because of all the sunshine and blue skies. It was a little strange, because well, well honestly, up until this point, I hadn't thought of either of my friends (or really myself in this light) as having lives back home. I just came to forget everything that was left behind and accept what was at my feet, on my plate, here and now sort of thing. It was another one of those re-entry exercises that I kind of needed to experience before this trip ended. My time in Neverland is actually coming to an end and although my Peter Pan (Rotary) will always be in my heart, and I will dream about him, and tell as many as I can about him, I don't think many other things can compare to living in Neverland and for a year not having to grow up.
On the last day of Spring Vacation there was an orientation that I had forgotten all about. We had to give a little three-minute speech; I had given a thirty-minute one for my Rotary Club, back in March, so this was not daunting in the least bit. However, in retrospect, I think I did a better job as apposed to preparation. I had to talk about Florida and things about it, and just had to end the little speech with the fact that one of my friends was almost killed as a child by being nearly death rolled in a crocodile's mouth. But, be sure that I was not trying scare them from coming, it was just one of those stories.
Then school started. With a new class, new classmates and a new homeroom teacher. It was refreshing and good for I would meet more people this way. I really like my school, and feel really lucky about going there. I am the only one out of the exchange group going to an all girl, private, Catholic school. We start school with a prayer, a hymn and a little hello from the principal, it is just one of those feel good things to me, like starting your morning off right with a power-protein shake or something. And gosh, how amazed the new students seem when they see me - it almost makes me laugh. I went to P.E. and heard the new teacher talking to my classmates: "So can she speak any Japanese? Is she going to understand me or what?" So I walked right up to her and said with a gleaming smile on my face, "I can speak Japanese, and don't think there will be a problem if I understood what you just said right there. Don't you agree?" She seems to like me.
One last thing before I leave you. I went to view the Cherry Blossoms with Paula one day and we saw a relatively good-looking foreigner on a bench all alone. I am not what you would call shy, so I sparked up conversation, for moments like these aren't reoccurring, and life gets lonely at an all girl school, haha. This person had to be one of the most interesting people I have met my entire eight months here. Does not look a bit Japanese, but was born and raised here, is completely fluent in every respect, went to school here and is now a college student here. And not only that, can speak fluent French because that is what his parents are and learned enough English for me and Paula to not immediately realize he was French, but actually not, Japanese, not foreign, I actually had a hard time believing it. I actually couldn't believe it, I met a nice college student here in Japan, who is Japanese, and looks completely foreign, there are some battles you just can win I guess.
So on this wonderful day 95 left on my exchange, I give you a piece of my heart, through the Beatles:
"There are places I'll remember all my life, Though some have changed, Some forever not for better, Some have gone, And some remain. But these memories lose their meaning, When I think of love as something new."
Thank you so much Rotary, so much, for giving me this year; no words can truly possess my feelings of gratitude.
June 1 Journal
Somehow it comes as a complete shock to me. Has it really only been six weeks? It gives me that feeling I used to get back in high school when the nine-week quarter would be coming to an end and I realized I had exams coming up. Maybe my days are just so filled with happiness and my weeks and schedule so filled with events and plans that I don't notice that it's time to change the calendar to June. Ah, the only real passage I feel is the one that comes with the seasons, I have been waiting for the warm weather, now it's hot, and as much as I wanted those cold days behind me, I forgot I would be going home shortly after the warm ones began. I guess, there is nothing like realizations. It's kind of like when all you want is to grow up and then you're hitting young adulthood and you say "Oh my, I am never going to be a kid again" - maybe it's just that it is too hard to relish something while you have it, so easy to yearn and desire something, but so hard to appreciate anything. Life gets you sometimes.
Well, I left off around April, I do believe, but there wasn't too much left of it. EXCEPT, I turned 19! Now, this must have been one of the best birthdays ever, so much so that I best not go into too much detail with my story. As the day came to a close my host father had a little celebration for me with all my other host families, club president, and counselor and wife at a soba restaurant. It was so wonderful seeing them all together again. I can't believe how much time has passed since I have associated with them, I miss the Matsushima's and the Saitou's a lot, they were very good to me, and at that time, I was sure I would soon be missing the Enomoto's shortly. It was so nice, really a splendid evening. They were all getting rather belligerent, or at least some of them were and the Rotary president asked me if I wanted some beer, then my host mom leans over and says something like "she turned 19, she wasn't 19 yesterday" and I found that very funny. Then my second host mom after eyeing me from the other side of the room for a while came and talked to me. She sat down beside me and asked why I haven't come and played at her house and said that Grandma missed me and I should come when I have free time. She was kind of inebriated, but it was just such a wonderful feeling, as we sat next to each other with her arm around my shoulder I was just in complete bliss to know that from my living with her family she had really grown to like me as much as I had grown to like her and her family. It was a good thing she was sitting there because not shortly after the club president asked me where I wanted to go in Japan and then started kidding in a way that she found perverse and I didn't catch most of it, but she just told me to ignore his comments that had cracked up most of the people there. I had such a wonderful feeling as I left, to know that I would be leaving shortly, but have so much to come back to. They all have been such wonderful and generous people to me.
Hello May!!! I had to leave the Enomoto's home and move to the Igarashii's, but in the two months I stayed with them, I had become so used to living with them. I felt that I had gotten along with my host family very well, and really enjoyed living with them. I moved to my last host family's home with much difficulty. It wasn't just because I had really liked my previous host family, but I just had a hard time believing that this was the last time I would be moving houses in Japan and not going back to America. It might also have been hard because the term "Back to America' isn't properly defined in my head. I better work out for strength on that expedition. I had to say that this is the best house I have lived in, in Japan. My room has a tatami floor (mats made of straw, I think it's straw) I have a REAL FUTON, and sliding doors that open up to a wonderful and peaceful garden that I like to gaze into while I drink my morning coffee. There is bamboo nailed on window frames outside, but not for security measures. It might actually be what I had in mind when I was told I would live in Japan, all except the treadmill and the stray cat that gets a "here kitty, kitty, kitty,' from me and a "SHEW' from my host mom.
I went camping with my friend Paula and her host family. Now, the Japanese idea of camping doesn't seem to be too close to that of what I am used to in Florida. I mean, they were pulling out skillets and burners from their pockets, and with an ice cream vending machine in the direction of the toilets, you can't really call that at the mercy of Mother Nature, can you? As the light began to cease Paula and I went on a nature walk, going back to life as a kid, racing to silly things, and seeing who would be the fastest to be hanging upside down on the monkey bars and deciding whether or not we could climb a tree or not, and oh yeah, pushing each other in metal carts. Then we found the obstacle course all deserted and went crazy, till we finally decide to take a bathroom break and go back to the campsite. We asked if we could go back for a bit even though it was nearly dark and I think they saw the childish light in our eyes and said all right. It was a very good time, I like her host family very much, and they have been very welcoming to me.
My counselor and his wife, the Ishis' were so very nice to take me on a trip to the old capital of Kyoto. Now this is kind of difficult for me to put to words. I was only in Kyoto for two days, but I had this wonderful impression from the trip. Kyoto seemed like some kind of magically superb city so much so that it outstandingly stood pronounced in my appreciation of places of Japan. The thing is however, to me I had a realization that you just can't take in what is ultimately conceivable from seeing a place in only a few days, it takes months, let alone years to take it all in. I tried to do my best, but being on a bus ride and only having two days to "see the sights" didn't allow much to be taken in. I found it so sad that I saw so many people lining up to take pictures with beautiful buildings and then just glaring at it, not really seeing the significance that it used to make by being there, and then going on to the next place on the list of places to go. You have to take in a few deep breaths, let the noises and presence of all the other people fade out and listen to the nature that still remains, the running of the water, the chirp of the birds, and try to imagine what it would have sounded for the wind to blow through the open doors of the building you were looking at. Imagine the temple priests and monks repeating their prayers, or where their favorite part of the grounds might have been. Imagining what might have happened to you if you had been caught there so many long years ago, would you have just gone home crying to your mother, or would you be in much more trouble to be in such a close proximity of the living place of the Shogun? I know that the thing that made me sad in turn made it possible for me to see such a place myself. It must have been beautiful, not too long ago even, just before such tourists came in the herds. Back when you could go to Kiyomizu Temple and look at the magnificent view and not worry about the people fighting for a little look at it, when you could say to yourself, this is beautiful and not have anyone in earshot.
And although I feel this way about Kyoto, I highly recommend this to be on your list of places to see, for me, however, it's on my list of places to live, to take in with deep breaths and hope to hold a small bit of understanding of the significance it has to its country. .
Shortly after that I went and saw SUMO!!! Yeah, can we just repeat that once more for the fun of it? I went and saw SUMO! Probably the number one thing that I wanted to go do since I have been here, I mean come on, what could be better than men proudly showing their bums and tearing each other in half, or at least out of the ring. It was so good, before I went I was kind of like this, "Hello! I'm happy to meet you! My name is, WHO CARES? I'm going to watch SUMO." I had also started thinking of ways to talk about the experience, (so excited that it felt like I had already experienced it ... is that weird?) "He's my favorite, I call him 'Chubby Cheeks' but not to his face". My host mom was so kind to get tickets for us to go watch it, and we saw it together for the first time, but I think I was more excited by it than she was. However, as fierce as those wrestlers are, it might not have compared to what I would have done if I were more than one person. Let me explain, I went to get my host mom popcorn, without my camera, and can you guess whom I stood behind? I will give you a hint, lots of people ran up to take their pictures and I wouldn't have called these two men slender.
Yeah, and if that wasn't the worst part, when I went to go to the toilet there they were again and there I was again, once more with out my camera ... But I got lots of pictures and enjoyed it exuberantly. I think Aristotle would have been happy at my practice of cathartic methods, but I might have enjoyed it too much. I had to control myself part of the time; while my host mother slept during the not so eventful beginning I was pumping myself up for the higher ranked wrestlers by chanting on the first ones to go. "Get him, get him, he ain't got nothing. You can do it ... yeah, I might have been a bit over enthusiastic about it. I highly recommend this to any traveler to Japan and its multi faceted cultural experience it has to offer.
Now I would like to talk about my new class at school. I graduated to the third year at Akenohoshi, the highest rank girl school in my prefecture. This was back in mid April, but there are just so many things that happen at school, and I just spend about half of my time there so it would be wrong for me not to talk about it. I am not sure why, but I was very shy towards these girls at first and still am a bit shy now. I think it might just be because they are just so cool, I guess. A few of them were in my last class, so I was really happy about that and my best friend, Asuka, would come at the end of school to walk with me to the station to go home, so it hasn't been too difficult not having her in class with me. Now, I am not a shy person, but when I am in a classroom with girls I don't know too well and they are just so darn cute, I get a little bit offstandish. I think it has something to do with the fact that one of them is in a band, a few of them are rather good in sports and dance clubs and they seem to me as being the American high school idea of popularity. They are very nice to me, but it's so hard for me to ask them to do anything after school or on weekends, partly because they spend a lot of time studying, and partly because I kind of feel like the nerdy guy asking the cool girl out on a date. However, I don't believe they see me that way, so that is helpful. Akenohoshi had a sports competition for the entire school. Every class participated, in basketball, volleyball or dodge ball. I was a member of the dodge ball team. Now, one of my classmates, Sayaka, was on the team, and boy could she ever play. I really like her, she is really nice, and just so awesome. I was happy I was on her team; otherwise I might not have played dodge ball at all because she just throws that ball so hard that I would have been too scared to be on the receiving end of it. We won out of the entire school, and it sure felt good. My moment of glory was when we were in the finals and the other teams strongest player belted the ball at me, but I caught it, it was very relieving, I did not want to be tagged out. I remember before the final, Sayaka was tagged out and the other team just cheered (knowing well enough she was our strongest player) but it was just minutes before she was back in again.
The basketball tournament was also really good, our class made it to the final, and were really good, but the defense lacked off a bit and the other team got two three pointers and that was the game, on the over all, if they could have stopped that from happening, we would have won, no doubt in my mind. It was so amazing to see this event. After, they cried and cried about losing, to me, it was a sports event, but to them, doing this every year at school, it was their last chance to be number one and to do this before going to college, and maybe it helped them realize it was the end of the beginning for them, it made me realize it.
It's going to be so difficult to leave this school, to not go to Akenohoshi every morning, to wake up and catch the train and walk to school. And although they will always be in my memory and have a place in my heart, it will be so hard for me not to lose touch with so many of them. This year abroad has really made a good foundation for what lies ahead on my road of life, especially when I return to this wonderful place.
I found it so funny, the other day, I glanced at the calendar and said, "Wow, I have only been living in this house for four weeks" and it surprised me how at home I feel within such a short time. Now, I know that it has been said that you can make or break a habit within 21 days, but I don't think I have ever had so much proof to make me really believe it. I mean, changing families changes your whole schedule most of the time, unless the families were similar, right? I feel so at home that I don't feel bad about arguing about what I eat because of my diet and that I want to fit into Japanese jeans before I go back to America, by the way, the Japanese size large is closer to a size 0 to 2 from what I am used to. However, now I have about 48 days left until I go back to America, and I don't even want to think about it. I have a farewell speech to give on the 18th, but sometimes I wish I could forget how to say the word goodbye. It's just going to be so hard for me, or that is what I am expecting, I have just really grown to love Japan and all the people that I have gotten to know over these few nine plus months. I supposed that is how all exchanges go, but I have really enjoyed mine and hope to make the most out of the last 48 days I have to make happy memories with.
I hope everyone has enjoyed reading this, but most of all, I hope the Rotarians have enjoyed it, because if it weren't for Rotary, I would not be able to say that I have lived in Japan and lived life as a Japanese school girl and relished the culture it truly has, just like many places in the world, Japan is beautifully unique.
To the outbound class of 05-06, have a wonderful end of your exchange, and please, please take care.
With deepest gratitude,
July 14 Journal
Well, it sure comes to me as a shock. The far off and nearly mirage-like beginning of June where I last left off. As of now I have a little less than one week and it brings the most sensational feelings that I could have ever imagined. It's really more internal than external, what has been going on I guess you could say. I have said good-bye to friends and accepted the fact that not only may it be a good three years until we meet again, but in truth that day may never come. I have accepted this, but not with open arms.
Everyone expects those feelings of mixed emotions to be running high, and they are. However, to expect such things and then to experience it are so very different. I can become indifferent and then become dripping in emotion in the course of a few minutes and such emotional imbalance is new to me. That should tell you right there that this is not bound to be a very long journal indeed.
I went to Kabuki with my counselor's wife in Ginza. This was very nice. Kabuki is theater in which all the characters are played by male actors. The dialogue is in ancient Japanese and if you are not familiar with the performance and dialogue that is used then you are able to get cassettes that have the dialogue in modern Japanese or English. I was rather shocked at how many of the Japanese were listening in on the head sets. The one that made me laugh the most was the play in which a feudal lord is trying to sneak out of his house to meet up with his mistress and his faithful assistant sits and waits in his room in his dressing gown weary of his frightening witch of a wife. He comes back to retell his adventures of the night and remarks that his assistance was much needed and how it must have been awful frightening when the witch came around when all the while it is her waiting under the clothing. Their make up is also rather spectacular. The costumes and music make it all such a wonderful performance.
For the first two weeks of June at my school, Akenohoshi, we practiced for a chorus competition within the school. All classes competing. In Japan this is rather common but I had never heard of it. It was a most wonderful experience being able if not made to practice after class, mornings, lunch breaks, and the weekends with everyone. Things like this really make you feel like you are part of your class and that you have a sense of loyalty to your classmates. I may have been a bit of a traitor as I congratulated everyone that won because we lost. What can I say? I am sportsman like, and I just can't help that.
I have been going to karaoke a bit too often if I may say so myself. It is just so much fun and any version that we have in Florida doesn't come close to what they have here in Japan. There are shops dedicated to karaoke. With all different rooms where you can eat and be merry and just have fun with friends and sing as much as you like. With songs of all different genres and languages, where can you go wrong? They even have Disney songs. Naturally I am a soprano, but occasionally when there is a male part I like to go into the deepest alto there is possible just for laughs. It may be because that I am, or well everyone is leaving so soon that we go so often. It is a way to kind of relax and be happy, it is one of my favorite pastimes.
I went to the beach, yes, I know, I am coming home to beach two hours by car on all sides, but I couldn't turn the opportunity down could I? I went with Paula and her Rotary member's wife, Okuzumi. It was a very fun time. We were very lucky on the weather, for June is a rather dull and dismal season for sunshine and it just rains off and on with no set pattern what so ever. We got this idea that we would swim to the temple on the far end of the shore. The shore was in a 'C' shape so we swam across. Half way there with nothing but black below us and nerves going wild we hit a patch of seaweed - we went a bit mad screaming, "it's gonna get us, swim for your life!!" then I started yelling "No Paula, wait for me, its got me, help!" and while all this was happening Mrs. Okuzumi was just laughing waiting with our towels to tell us that it was impossible to begin with. I don't think land ever felt so good and comforting.
I spent the night at my last host families' home a little while back. Nothing too memorable happened that really needs to be commented on, we really just spent time together and enjoyed each others' company. However, there is just one thing that I feel is important. I went to the bathroom, and I saw the calendar and I had this strange realization, I thought to myself "that's not the right photo". It is because such time has elapsed, and I guess subconsciously I didn't realize it was. And while I was having this deep thought in the bathroom I thought about the room upstairs now inhabited by their daughter. I though, "I had shed tears in that bed, I laughed up there, I used to look out those windows and think how small Gainesville is, I used to study up there ... I can NEVER do that again in that room." I realized that it was no longer my home, that the boundaries I never had before really were there, I mean, I am sure they would have loved for me to be as loud and silly as I used to be while I lived there, or to lay on the carpet and try to blend in with it, but I wouldn't have felt comfortable doing such a thing.
On an exchange year, because it is short, just a year, you change continually, so fast that sometimes you don't feel it at all. You forget to take time to say, I can only live here for three months, after that I will be no more a guest than any other relative. It is something that I never really thought of until that night.
It happened a little more dramatically when I went to my first host family's home. I had been there many times before, so the sights didn't bring it about at all. It was the smell. Rotary may tell you (if you're an exchange student) to always be smelling a new smell, to not let yourself become accustomed to a single smell, i.e. your room. The house you live in will no doubt be registered, you can't help that, but in the way it's registered is something I never expected. You see, I was going home, at the entrance and putting on my shoes and I got this magnificent fragrance I just couldn't figure out what it was. Then BOOM it hit me - it smelled like a sweaty summer, like not knowing my way around town, like I hadn't mastered the trains yet or even better that I knew little of Tokyo at all. Over all it smelled like I couldn't speak Japanese. You may have smelled some extraordinary smells in your life, but to smell your mindset, your beginning of when you knew close to nothing when you have come so far is something I don't think I would trade for anything.
So, I have six days left, busy, busy, busy, but it is a good feeling because it is not only welcomed but feels normal to me now. All of this month has been filled with saying good byes and get-togethers and I still have a few before I leave. Six more days, it sure has been a good 11months, not much, if anything, can compare to the spectacularity of it all.
Thank you so much Rotary for making this possible, and to those that read this, hope to see you at the 3rd annual welcome home dinner.