I’m Aaron Dolbow of Edgewater, Florida. I’m currently a sophomore at New Smyrna Beach High School and I’m going to Japan for the ’07-’08 Rotary Youth Exchange.
Though I’m originally from New Jersey, I moved to Florida with my family in the summer of ’05. At first I was hesitant about moving, but in the end, it turned out to be great. (but I do miss those freezing winters….)
Anyway, I have several hobbies that I devote time to at the moment. Of them, the most important one to me is soccer. With the school season over, I’m playing for a club outside of school and it is going great. Soccer is my favorite sport essentially because it requires constant movement, communication and teamwork, and the desire to have fun. This is all made better by the team I’m on, which just so happens to be an awesome team.
Another hobby of mine is participating in my school’s MUN team (Model United Nations). It might sound weird, but I really enjoy it. In MUN meets, you basically discuss the topic chosen about two weeks in advance, and present your country’s opinion on the issue (you get to choose a country from a specific list given to your school). The issue isn’t debated (it is not like a Debate team), but discussed and everyone tries to ‘conform’ on the best way to solve the issue.
I have more hobbies such as reading and practicing martial arts, but they are more like hobbies I take part in when I have spare time, and because of school at the moment, I don’t have that spare time to enjoy all of my hobbies.
I’m extremely excited about having the chance to go to Japan. I can truthfully say I’m not nervous now, but that will probably change when I get on the plane to depart.
August 29 Journal
Well, I'm in Japan and two weeks have gone by since I left home. I would be lying if I said it has been easy, because there have been challenges that I've had to face. But it sure has been a great experience thus far.
After arriving in Tokyo late evening August 18th, I was greeted by eight Rotarians, one being my first host father, Masahiro Taguchi. We took a few pictures, packed my luggage into the bus they had rented, and set off for my first Japanese home. When we got there, I was greeted by my first host family. It consists of otosan and okasan (father and mother), obasan (grandmother), Kana (sister), Nori (brother), and Aki (sister).
After a good night's rest, I woke up the next morning not knowing what to expect. After giving a short speech in Japanese at a Rotary meeting, I was informed that it was Iwatsuki Matsuri (Iwatsuki festival). Basically, I put on a happi (a short festival coat) and helped in carrying one of the mikoshi (very heavy, portable shrine). It took about 20 people to carry it and march down the street, lifting it up and down. It was extremely fun, and somewhat painful on my shoulder.
Other things that I have done in the past two weeks include going to Tokyo Tower, meeting the mayor, the Saitama Summer festival, going to an Urawa Reds game, a trip to Iwatsuki High School (which I will be attending starting Sept. 3), and going to the Ueno science museum and zoo. But the best part has been spending time with my host family (which includes host uncle, aunt, and cousins). Whether it's playing basketball or soccer, chess, watching horror movies, going out to the zoo, or just sitting around playing UNO, it has been great beyond explanation.
Well, that's it for now. Until my September journal,
September 29 Journal
As of lately, many people have been asking me if I am homesick after being in Japan for about six weeks. My answer every time was: No, not really. And every time the person looks at me with a surprised expression. Maybe a summary of an average day would help explain.
Every morning I wake up at five, just like I did in the U.S. I don’t need to do this, but I’m a morning person. Anyway, between waking up and 7:50, I eat breakfast and get ready for school. As for breakfast, it usually consists of eggs, sausage, and toast. I’m guessing that is probably surprising to many reading this, but yes it is true. But at 7:50, I grab my things, tell okasan and obasan that I am leaving, and run out the door. I get on my bike (provided by the Rotary) and pedal my way down the busy street. On my way to school, I stop by the MiniStop, a convenient store, and meet up with my friend Takase. We proceed onward and meet up with three of his friends, so there are five of us. As we cross the last street, riding behind as many as 20 other students on bikes, we pull up to the school and park our bikes. We then walk to our classes. As I enter mine, I’m usually greeted by a dozen ‘Ohayo`s and the occasional ‘good morning`.
From this point, my story can diverge into five different ones, depending on the day of the week. I’ll choose Friday. First class of the day is Math A, which I can actually understand, followed by Science, where I moderately understand the topic of the lessons. But the next class, Shodo, or calligraphy, is the most interesting one of the day. It’s different, interesting, and a good way to learn Kanji. Because shodo is once every week, it is a double period, increasing its greatness. After shodo, comes lunch, which is done in a way different from New Smyrna Beach High School. There are about 1000 students in my school and we all eat lunch at the same time. But the cafeteria is so very small, which brings me to first point about the major differences between Iwatsuki and New Smyrna high schools: students eat in the classrooms in Iwatsuki High School. The reason for this being allowed will be explained later.
Anyway, after lunch, I go to my most important class: Japanese. Due to my lacking experience in Japanese, I’m put into a special class where there is a whole two people; me and the teacher. This class is fairly productive in terms of learning, but I have this class only two times a week! So in the end, most of my Japanese learning will happen by self-study. My final class of the day is the only one I don’t really like: Home Economics. In this class at the moment, we are sewing these pink…. I don’t really know what they are yet, but sewing isn’t my favorite hobby. At least my classmates and I can laugh and joke about how bad I am at sewing.
After classes are finished, the best part of the day comes and no, it isn’t us leaving school. It is school clean up. Basically, this means everyone puts in some work to help clean the school. This is the reason why we can eat in our classrooms, because at the end of the day we will have to clean up any mess made during lunch. Finally, because it is Friday, I go to Seminar Room 3 where I have my Japanese lessons. Here, my Japanese teacher, her six other students (who are Chinese), and myself do some more Japanese studying. After this, I get on my bike and pedal my way home and by this point in time, it’s about 5:00.
Well, that’s a basic day for me, and in case I made ‘basic` sound boring, it is the complete opposite. Every night, I go to sleep eager for the next day to come because that’s how great it is. I’ve come, adapted, and love living in Japan.
I’ve been babbling on about what a normal day is, so now I’ll mention some special days. First, I’ll tell you about my first day at school…..
After I arrived at Iwatsuki on my first day of school, I was brought to the staff room where the teachers have a meeting every morning to discuss teacher related things. I gave a speech (in Japanese) after the two new English teachers from Canada. I was then escorted by my homeroom teacher to my classroom. As I walked in, everyone looked at me, I looked at them, and a lot of murmuring started. I proceeded to give another speech in Japanese. After I’m applauded, I’m shown to my seat. As I sat there, everyone just kept looking at me. I did my best to keep my expression as normal as possible, as though I had been through that situation a dozen times. After a few questions and replies, we are told to go to the gym. So we all grab our gym shoes (that we only wear when in the gym) and I noticed everyone had a green bag for their shoes, but I didn’t, so I had to carry them in my hand. But I few noticed this and asked me with simple Japanese words and hand signals if I had a bag for my shoes. I said no. So…they took their shoes from out of their bags and carried them in their hands, so I wouldn’t look stupid doing it by myself. A few more noticed this and did the same thing until there were about ten of us carrying our gym shoes in our hands. This really surprised me.
Anyway, we made our way to the gym and lined up in order of our homeroom. I’m in 1-3, which means 1st year, third class. But I got called by one of the teachers and was placed in a line by the wall with other people; for what reason? It was the line for speakers. I was put behind the two new English teachers again, but that was soon corrected. I was then put in front of them and told I would speak first. I waited 5 very long minutes. Then I heard an announcer announce something in Japanese that I understood. He said that the exchange student was now going to speak. At hearing this, the 1000 students suddenly and eagerly looked in my direction. I slowly made my way up the stage and stood at the podium. It was a large stage and I stood on it alone. Well, I gave the Japanese speech, everyone applauded, and I left the stage twice as fast as I had come. My heart was pounding for the next twenty minutes. After we left the gym, my host father showed up and told me he was going to take me home. That was my first day of school.
The next exciting event in my life happened at school. It was Bunka-Sai, the school’s yearly festival. I can describe the four days that this encompassed as FUN. I saw many things and did many things. I saw the school transform from a dull, colorless place to a loud, colorful place, I saw men dress up as women and do skits on the stage in the gym (I didn’t understand most of it but that didn’t stop it from being hilarious); I helped to decorate my classroom and to advertise snacks being sold in my class room (the latter of which was quite humiliating). I got to explore the high school, meet new people, and ate a lot of food. Overall, it was great, but mentally exhausting which was caused by the huge mass of names that I feel obligated to remember in fear of hurting someone’s feelings when I am unable to remember their name.
Finally, there was the first orientation for Rotary exchange students in this district. It was a lot of fun meeting people from all over the world: Brazil, Mexico, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Finland, Canada, Taiwan, Denmark, Australia, and of course, the U.S. When it was time for the first activity, I was called up first to give a speech (why do I always have to speak first?). I had a rough draft of a speech that I wrote five minutes earlier, but I crumpled it up and winged it. I think I did alright. After all the speeches, each of us was introduced to our junior counselors (A.K.A. Past exchange students). I don’t know about the others, but I already knew who my junior counselor was: Akemi Saito, who was in Florida in 06-07. Anyways, we conversed, posed for pictures and exchanged pin badges and meshi (business cards).
Well, I’m tired of typing for now, so I will end this Journal. But I’ll give you a hint at one thing I will include in my next Journal: it’s a school club, very physical, and might be called Judo…..; )
Until next, Aaron
December 5 Journal
Wow! Time sure flies when you're an exchange student. It's already been two months since my last journal, but it really doesn't feel like it's been that long. I have plenty to talk about, so where should I start......
Of course I should start with my move to my new host family (2nd of 5). In the days up until the big move, my first host father kept teasing me about how my next host mom is a 'vegetarian' and that I will eat only vegetables while living there. Those who know me understand why he was saying this: it's because I really don't like vegetables. Needless to say, I moved into the Ojima family household, which is made up of the mother and father, the 17 year old brother, and the grandmother. I also have a 20 year old host brother, but he's in college and doesn't live at home. After the first meal, I can declare that my new host mom isn't a vegetarian, and that vegetables aren't as numerous as my first host father said there would be. And while I am on the subject of food, I will elaborate on that which I have eaten.
The average Japanese diet consists of a lot of rice and seafood. Rice, I have no problem with. But I do have a big problem with seafood! I just don't like it. In my first two months here, I did my best to try and like it, but that didn't work. I will never like it. But I didn't tell my first host family that until the middle of October. At this point in time, I would gladly eat vegetables over fish and seafood any day. As for my new host family, there has been absolutely NO fish. And I'm lovin' it. This is probably because Kohei (host brother) doesn't like seafood and fish either! But everyone in my new host family eats nato! For those who don't know what this is, you don't want to know. It has the most horrid smell that would make you want to throw up. Most Japanese don't even like it. That's how bad it is. Some of my favorite meals include: ramen, udon, and soba, and yakinikus. A yakiniku is basically a Japanese BBQ, and always has good food.
Now on to School. It is going really good and will only get better from here on out. For me, it has been easy making friends, but difficult making 'true friends'. In this last month though, I feel I have really become friends with some of my classmates. I would say it has something to do with communication. I am able, now, to communicate my thoughts and feelings in Japanese better than I could a few months ago, which can only help strengthen my current friendships. I can't say I'm fluent in Japanese yet, but I know I'm on the right path to getting there.
Also in school, I joined the Judo club. It's as you might imagine: painful and very tiring. But that hasn't stopped me yet. Basically, there are two people with white belts, me and one of the two girls in the club. Everyone else are black belts who have been training in Judo for years. To sum it up: they are a lot stronger than me, and more experienced. Therefore, I couldn't really beat them in a serious match. But they usually go easy on me; not like that helps any. They are all really great people, who were very welcoming when I joined the club, and continue to do their best to help me, whether it's in simple Japanese or a mix of Japanese and English. I truly appreciate what they are doing for me.
The only bad thing that is school related is the fact that my Japanese teacher who gave me lessons two days a week has moved away! I really hope this doesn't effect my Japanese learning.......
Now for the highlight of the month: the Rotary Trip to Kyoto, Hiroshima, Himeji, and Nara. I can only describe it as amazing!!!! The flight there was amazing in its own way. We flew by Mount Fuji! I was lucky to have had the window seat on the side of the plane that faced the mountain. It was simply breathtaking, seeing Mount Fuji from above. We landed in Hiroshima, and visited the Atomic Memorial Dome and Peace Memorial Park. It seemed really strange being there. After, we went to Himeji, and visited Himeji Castle. It is the first, and only, castle I've seen in Japan thus far; I hope to see more in the coming months. The next day, we were in Nara and visited the Toudai Temple, which houses a VERY large statue of Buddha, and is home to many 'bowing deer'. I did see a few bow to me, but the majority mauled me when I tried feeding them crackers. Later, we made our way to Kyoto, where we visited the Kiyomizu Temple and went shopping (maybe for Christmas presents.....). The last and final day, we went to Kyoto's famous Golden Pavilion, or Kinnkakuji. It wasn't the real one, which was burned down a few hundred years ago (like many things in Japan), but it was an exact replica, gold and all. The last thing we did, and arguably the best: dressing up as geisha or samurai (depending on gender). I got to dress up as a samurai, and posed for a few pictures....
Other things that I did over the course of October and November include: Saitama International Roundtable Meeting, karaoke, Rotary District Conference, a concert in Kasukabe, mistakenly went to Akabane (which is in Tokyo), and many other little things that I don't have time to type about.
Well I'm tired and want to go to bed. So I'll end this exciting, fun filled journal.
February 14 Journal
Well, my year in Japan is already halfway finished (or halfway begun). So much has happened in the last 3 months that it all seems to blend together, which is a bad thing in my opinion.
I’ll start with Christmas. Two days before Christmas, I, my host mom, and two host brothers went on a trip to Zao, a famous mountain a few hours north of Tokyo. It’s not as famous as Mt. Fuji, but it has one thing Fuji-san doesn’t have: a huge ski resort (at least I don’t think it does). So yes, I was snowboarding on Christmas! Before that day, I had only tried snowboarding once, and due to my impatient nature, gave up and did skiing instead. But this time I didn’t give up, and with the help of my host brothers, mastered the basics of snowboarding.
Two weeks after my trip to Zao, I switched to my third host family: the Motoyamas. My new host father is a mixture of hysterical outbursts with consistent strictness, but not overly strict. My new host mother is a really funny person, though a little crazy at times. My oldest host sister is in her second year of college, and has fairly good English, though I ask her not to use it unless I am helping her with some homework. My other older sister is currently in Brazil as a Rotary Exchange Student.
Every night, we all gather around a table, turn the TV on, and talk. Usually for two to three hours, we simply talk. Constantly conversing in Japanese, every night, has done wonders for my Japanese. My Japanese is, by no means, perfect, or even slightly perfect. But I do seem to have the ability to make them laugh all the time. And who knows, maybe I’ll be fluent when I return here later this year (more on that later).
But there is one drawback (and it isn’t that bad of a drawback) in living with the Motoyamas: their home, of all my host families, is the farthest from my school. It’s about an hour and fifteen minute trip. Let me give you all a detailed outline of my daily trip. From my house, I walk to the bus stop. From there, I ride the bus (Which follows a universal Japanese saying: there is always enough room. I mean to say that the bus is always filled with more people than you can imagine.) to Kita-Urawa Station, where I take a train on the Keihin-Tohoku Line to Omiya, which is in the opposite direction of Tokyo. Therefore, I have enough personal space to breath while on the train. In Omiya, a very large train station, I transfer to the Tobu-Noda Line, and take that until I get to Iwatsuki. From Iwatsuki Station, I walk a fairly long distance to my school. At this point in time, doing things like this isn’t much of a problem for me. I feel very comfortable using Japan’s ultra advanced transportation system.
Shortly after switching families, I went on my school ski trip. I was sad about not being able to snowboard, but I got over that and had a great time with my classmates.
Another exciting event: Kendo, Japanese sword fencing. Yes, I did in fact get to try it. And apparently my host sister is an expert because she did kendo for 11 or so years. But a general summary of it is this: a lot of screaming and shouting and killing each other with a fake sword that does in fact hurt. Overall, it was interesting.
Next, the Rotary Ski Trip! On this one, we got to choose skiing or snowboarding. So of course I chose snowboarding. This trip was different from the other two. On this trip, I felt more freedom to go where I please, to snowboard where I please, to fall and crash where I please, etc. It was amazingly fun, whether I was racing someone, teaching someone, or falling into someone, it is a weekend that I won’t soon forget.
Two days after the Rotary Ski Trip, I was informed that I was changing Host Clubs! That really shocked me. I didn’t know that was possible. But it happened; I switched from the Iwastuki Rotary Club to the Iwatsuki East Rotary Club! What a change. The only differences are the name of the club, the day of the week in which they have their meetings, and the people. But it is in the exact same room of the exact same building. It was a complete shock.
Speaking of Rotary meetings, I usually attend one or two each month, depending on when I might need money. But in all seriousness, the Rotarians of both clubs are really nice people who are really fun to hang out with. And whenever I go to a meeting, I’m required to give a speech. At first, this was a real challenge for me. But now, it’s somewhat easy, and I don’t need to write down any notes to help me when I speak. I simply wing it, and it always works out.
And I can’t forget my 4th ski (snowboard) trip with my host sister, Mizuho, and her friends. This trip was also very amazing, fun, etc. But what made this the best was the fact that it was on a huge mountain with a lot more variety than the previous trips. And I got to go off plenty of sweet jumps. I’m amazed at how much my snowboarding skills have improved in the last month. Maybe you’ll all see me at the next Winter Olympics.
Other things that I’ve been involved in through these last few months include going out with friends to karaoke, lots of Puri Kura (why don’t they have these in America?!), going to Tokyo with host sister and her friends, eating at a dessert buffet (that was great), cooking and ice skating with Akemi (former exchange student to Florida) and Shinobu (soon to be exchange student to Florida), and visiting Tokyo University with my host father and host cousins.
It’s late, I’m tired, and I’m sure my dear readers are already bored out of their minds, so I’ll end this entry of the Exciting Chronicles of Aaron in Japan!!!!!