1. Brooke White
    2007-08 Outbound to Japan

    Hometown: Gotha, Florida
    School: Olympia High School
    Sponsor: Windermere Rotary Club, District 6980, Florida
    Host: Niimi Rotary Club
             District 2690, Okayama, Japan

Brooke's Bio

Hello Everyone, My name is Brooke White and I am outbound to JAPAN! So how about I say "Konichiwa"!

I am a senior at Olympia High School and I am very involved in my Drama and Anime Clubs. Dramatics is my outlet and I love to act and perform. Musicals are my favorite so I am constantly singing show tunes. When I go to Japan I am very anxious to see if they have a drama department I can join so I could be in a Japanese play (that is my main motivation to learn the language fast). And I have always wondered if there were Japanese musicals.

Japan has always been a country of interest to me and I hope to create memories of a lifetime. I want to learn everything about their culture and I hope I can teach them everything about mine. I would like to thank the Rotary club for this opportunity and tell them how grateful I am. So in Japanese I would say "Domo Arigato Gozaimasu"!

September 11 Journal

 So when I got off the plane I was surrounded by Asians and I like freaked out on the inside like "omg Asian invasion" XD. And then I get through security and customs which took forever cuz I had no clue where to go and lord knows I can't read or speak Japanese that well. I found 5 little Japanese people with big signs that had my name on them.

So we go out to the car after a quick meeting, and the steering wheel is on the other side … and so is the car! We're driving on the wrong side of the road! This put me in a panic for the first week or so but I'm getting used to it.

My host parents are wonderful people. They're so nice to me that sometimes it's scary. I love them so much though. And they have two cute little dogs named Luna and Nabi.

So I go to school to meet my principal and then my classmates came into his office and it's 10 students! There's only 230 students in the school. sooo small. But they all came in and it's 2 girls and the rest boys and all the boys were smiling like crazy at me. It was soo funny. But I've been to school and I love it there. Everyone is super nice to me and we just had a school festival which was fun.

I also went on a three day journey with my host parents and some of their friends. I went to so many places I don't know where I was half the time. But I do remember the Bone Dance Festival and the hot springs. They were both amazing. Except I got to keep my clothes on for the first one. The hot springs is a community bath and no clothes are allowed. That was an experience. But overall I am having a great time and I hope to give you another update really soon.



September 29 Journal

 Hello everyone. I'm sorry this took so long but I've been so busy and there is so much to tell all of you. I am having a great time and there is so much to tell all of you. But my main focus today is what I've been doing in school.

I have many many classes in school but for the most part I only have the same class once or twice a week. I am taking the following classes: Japanese, English, science, calligraphy, Japanese dance, tea ceremony, kanji, report class, cross cultural understanding, yukata sewing, and flower arranging. I think I might have missed a few but I cant think of them right now. School is very fun and sometimes I wish I could stay longer than I do. The people in the school are very nice. I have made many friends here.

I also ride the train to and from school everyday. It takes about 35 minutes each way but I either fall asleep or draw to pass the time. Because when I fall asleep people sometimes have to wake me up so that I don't miss my stop. But I do meet some very nice people on the train. Like two little girls that seemed to like me very much. I take Japanese class everyday in school and I am slowly but surely getting it. I have almost memorized all of the hiragana which is not much compared to the kanji but we'll get into that later. It's been a little more difficult for me to learn Japanese as fast as I wanted to but I think it's because my host parents want to speak English most of the time. They really want to learn and they are doing a good job. But I'm now using key phrases and I also sometimes use Japanese without thinking.

Well that's it for now, next time I think I'll tell you all about my magical bathroom. Sayonara!


October 25 Journal

 Oh boy oh boy! I have been in Japan for nearly 2 months now and it sure has been an experience. I have gotten to do soo many different things and I didn't even realize until today how lucky I was. I have been feeling a little homesick, but it's nothing serious, just looking for old times with friends. But then I thought to myself... 'I'm so lucky, all of my friends would die to come here right now and to do all the things that I'm doing. So why should I leave?' Well I'm not going to.

There is one thing about Japan that I have noticed and that I have been doing a lot of lately: Festivals. It seems that there is a festival or some kind of celebration here at least once a week. They celebrate everything! The moon, what color it is, how the weather is changing, the first leaves falling, the first leaves growing...even how white the rice is. :P But it is a blast. I even got to be in the fall celebration parade in my schools town. It was huge! And I had the special honor of collecting money/rice for the Gods...I don't know what Gods need with money or rice but I'll let that slide for now.

And the food during the festivals is amazing. I went to this one booth with my host father and we sat down to eat and they just kept putting food in front of me, I wasn't even that hungry but I ate all I could. They gave me sushi, fried chicken, grilled fish, some pickles, fruit, mushrooms and I'm sure there was more I just can't think of it. Oh, and they gave me an extra plate of sushi to take home @-@. I guess they think I'm too skinny, but people in America think the same thing.

I'm not sure if I had already mentioned the flower field trip I took with my class in another post, so I'm going to do it in this one. We went to see flowers, but not just a few... many many flowers. It was like that scene in The Wizard of Oz where they are all running through the poppy field. It was madness how many flowers there were in one spot. And they were so pretty. I took lots of pictures and I'll add some in with this message (see above).

This past weekend I went on a sight-seeing trip with my host parents and the Rotary club. It was so much fun. I saw two amazing castles and a few old shrines. The architecture here is just amazing. And I don't even know how they did it in the old days. But also on that trip I got to go to the hot springs again. Once you get used to the whole 'public nudity' thing it's not so bad. Because well...everyone is naked so there is no real need to be embarrassed. But the best part about this hot-spring was that one of the baths was on the roof of the hotel we stayed in. I wish I could have brought a camera up there to take some pictures of the view at night time because it was simply breath taking. Oh! I just remembered that the weather is changing here. The leaves are changing colors...and not brown like in Florida but red, yellow, and orange. Just like in all the picture books. Well anyways it's getting pretty cold and you can just imagine what it's like to be on the roof of a hotel in that weather while in your Birthday Suit. Can you say 'BRRRRRBRBRBRBRRRR!'?

Also the fact that it's getting cold does not really suit me very well. People are even starting to wear scarves to school. But that skirt is driving me crazy! it's too short for this kind of weather. It's the 'winter skirt' so you think it would be longer. The only difference is that it's all navy blue....no stripes....that's it! It doesn't protect me from the cold at all. And the school isn't heated so the second I get to school I change into my PE uniform so i'm warmer. But I'm just going to start wearing pants like the boys. This weekend I'm going shopping for them because my skinny lil 'pocky legs' can't take it. Someone said that it might make me 'stand out' and i just stared at them blankly and told them... 'stand out? I'm at least 6" taller than everyone else, I'm white, have light hair, and blue eye, and not to mention that I am very loud. And you think some pants are going to make me 'stand out'. I don't think so...

November 20 Journal

 Okie dokie then, here I go. I know that it has been quite a while since I have sent a journal update but there has just been so much going on that I can’t keep track. Let’s see…

I think the first thing that happened after my last update would have to be the giant Rotary meeting. So basically all of the Rotary Clubs in the Okayama Province got together in one big building and it was madness. You were not allowed to wear your shoes in the building so the Rotary club team provided every single person with their very own Rotary slippers. (Not quite as fashionable as Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers or Cinderella’s Glass Slippers. But they are all the rage in Japan right now. Denim colored slippers with the Rotary emblem on them. How can it get better than that? I’m not sure if it can… XD)

So anyways, the meeting was really pretty boring. It really was not something that people of any age wanted to be doing (I’m going to be completely honest in all of these posts by the way, I don’t sugar coat things.) Even the adults in my Rotary Club that spoke the language did not want to be there. So you basically either fell asleep or went out to smoke or in my case…buy a bottle of Japanese honey. Actually one of the men in my Rotary club bought it for me, he’s really nice. He’s the one that took me out to buy it in the first place because he was so bored, ha ha. Also, the other exchange student from America went with us. And during one of the hour long lectures that took place all day long our Rotary clubs allowed Guy and I to go out and get some fresh air. We decided to go for a walk but we had no idea where to go. We walked in one direction for about 15 minutes but there was NOTHING! Only a giant rice patty field that looked like it had been harvested a while ago. Then we went in the other direction and after walking for a while we actually found a convenience store. And in that store we found what was called a “CRUNKY BAR”. Well we laughed at this because of its meaning in American slang and the fact that we think they were trying to spell “Crunchy” because it tasted just like a CRUNCH BAR in America.

So to sum up the evening, we went back and there was a giant dinner…with lots and lots of alcohol. I’m not sure what it is with Japanese men and drinking and smoking but it seems to be the trend going around and I’m not really one for joining nor supporting the club. I brooded over it the entire way home on the bus…especially when they continued to drink sake and SMOKE on the bus.

The next event is much happier I assure you and I liked it very much. It was my 18th Birthday! In America I have officially become an adult but in Japan… I still have 2 more years of childhood baby! WOOT! My host parents and I went out to this really fancy Japanese restaurant and we had our own little private room. It was very nice. Most of the food was wonderful. Some things I did not really care for though. I’m not the biggest fan of fish when it still has a face on it. Especially when they want me to eat its cheek. Oh and here was the biggest event of my night….eating the most EXPENSIVE and POISONOUS fish on the planet….FUGU (blowfish). I was sooo scared to eat it. Many people die from it every year and here I am thinking that I could be one of them. It’s just a little piece of fish, did it taste that good? So I tried it…IT TASTES JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER FISH OUT THERE! Why in the world to people go through pain of body and wallet for these things? I can’t figure it out.

Well in any case I am alive and well enough to pack up all of my things and move on to my next host family. I literally packed everything I owned in an hour. I was in a frenzy because well…I only had an hour and I was about to move in with a new family that I had only met once before and it was a very brief meeting. But it all went pretty well. All that happened was my host parents dropped me off and my new host mom showed me inside. My room is very big and it was completely empty besides some furniture. I also have two younger host sisters here and they helped me unpack. I gave them some American candy and a couple other gifts too. My youngest sister Chi(haru) really seemed to like the alligator head and keeps it on a shelf in her room.

We all had dinner at their grandparents house that night (the house was HUGE for Japan). Everyone was there, even my host father who I do not see very often. By the time I come home from school he has already left for work and he works very late into the night so I have only seen him a few times other than that night. And those segments of time were very brief, some only lasting a few seconds. So I spend most of my time with my sisters and mother. We go shopping sometimes and last weekend my sisters and I went to a Karaoke Lounge and sang. They had many American songs on the list and one of the songs I sang was “American Idiot” by Green Day. They didn’t know that song but they knew the Mickey Mouse Club March and the song “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne. And last night we all made Christmas wreaths together. I think that it’s a little early to be doing so but it was just as fun all the same. And my new house is only 3 minutes away from the mall by walking. And it is getting much colder here so I bought myself a cardigan for school and a winter jacket along with some sweet bread. That was my favorite. (Did I mention that I went all by myself? Well I did and it was no problem. Little kids tend to stare at me but that’s just because they probably had no clue there was someone out there with blue eyes and non-black hair.)

Well as of right now I am finishing this letter as I wait for the next train…I missed the first one so I have to wait another hour or so. –sigh-. 

January 25 Journal

 Gomenesai Minasan (sorry everyone), I really am sorry that this took so long to come it’s just been a very hectic time for me. I’m going to be dead beat honest and I’m not ashamed to say it either. I’m homesick. But not as homesick as I have been for the past month. The winter holidays really got to me and there was a point when I really was thinking about going home. But you don’t have to worry now because I am finally going back to school again after being off school for two weeks, then being immobile for another two. I’m going to go in order here. Going to start off from the last time that I wrote (if I can remember that far back) and then go up to today.

Let’s see, December… dadadadada… Oh yeah. Well my school went on a field trip to Chibbori Park (spelling? Haha.) And it was really fun. I got to go on the world's slowest roller coaster and laugh my butt off as my classmates screamed bloody murder because they were so scared. I’m a roller coaster girl and once you’ve been on the Hulk and all of the coasters at Busch Gardens nothing phases you anymore. I’ve been scared more when my host father drives me to the train station in the morning. Anywho, thank you ADD for interrupting me. I nearly forgot that I was talking about the park. Let’s see, what else? I wanted to vomit on the teacups, went into a cheesy haunted house, and my teacher bought my class ice cream even though it was the coldest day of the year up to that point. Oh, and Li Ashen (a girl in my class) and I actually got along. Normally she just stares at me with a dirty look on her face and talks about me in Taiwanese behind my back (I’m not stupid I know you’re doing it.) But that day we got along very well. We shared our ice cream and went on rides together and just walked around looking at things. But our friendship seemed to last just as long as the ice cream did, sad to say.

For some reason Li looks at me as an enemy because before I came to school she was the “queen bee” and all the boys loved her and what have you. But I could honestly care less about those things and I haven’t even noticed that any guys even like me. *Shrugs* Well people in Japan aren’t exactly open with their emotions in the first place. Let’s just say that lateral gravity syndrome is in full effect in this country (but that’s another story). Let’s get back to school/Li. Well as you may or may not know, in Japan the girls wear skirts to school. And they like to hike them up as high as they can without their panties showing. Although I always seem to get a decent view of one girl's undies daily. It really bugs me that no teachers or anybody say anything to this girl when she must roll her skirt up 4 or 5 times to get it to where it is, when on the hot days if I hike my skirt up once to make it a little bit cooler they tell me that mine is too short when it’s nearly down to my knees. Mind you I have longer legs and mine are probably twice as long as hers but if you do the math I should be allowed two rolls. Oh well, It’s not like I care anyways right now because at this point I think I must be the only sane girl in my school. Okay Floridians, get ready… It’s Snowing. Even at this very moment it is snowing outside and these girls still wear skirts to school. Not only that. They still roll them up! How in heavens name do they all not have frost bite on their tooshes? It’s madness. I was wearing shorts under my skirt just to keep by butt from freezing off (and I don’t have that much to spare, lol. No meat equals a small space between me and my seat. Hey, I’m a poet and didn’t even know it. Gah! Darn you ADD stop it!)

Back to my point. So now “Bluku Wito” is the only girl in the school (maybe ever) to wear pants with her uniform. I asked two of my teachers if it was okay before I did so (who wants to waste the money?) if it was okay if I wore business pants to school and they said “As long as they are black or grey it’s okay.” So I went to the mall and actually found a pair of pants long enough for my American legs and with help from a safety pin, fits around my waist. I go to school… all hell breaks loose. Everyone is staring at me more than on my first day of school. Nobody really said anything to me until I walked into my classroom and there was Li, looking at me with a white flash of fury raging in her eyes. Doesn’t say a word to me and walks out of the classroom. She goes to tell a teacher. Then another and another until she get’s her point across. She said that it wasn’t fair that I get to wear pants and nobody else does. They tell her that it’s not true and that anyone can wear pants to school if they want. But that doesn’t stop her and eventually there is a conference called with like half the teachers in the school… about my pants, people! I have never seen so much drama over an article of clothing since two girls wore the same dress to prom. And even then it wasn’t this big. Eventually after much discussion one of my teachers came to me and said that it was okay for me to wear the pants. And now I wear them everyday and Li has yet to even attempt wearing pants to school. Which just doesn’t make sense to me but whatever.

Onto the holidays shall we? Let’s see now… how about Christmas? Christmas is very, very different in Japan from America. And a lot cheaper too. Presents don’t really happen like they do in America. At least not with my host family, we had a little plastic tree out in the hall and we didn’t exchange presents. I really didn’t mind. Honestly I could care less about presents and stuff like that on Christmas even in America. I just like to be with my friends and family on the holidays which eventually led to my homesickness. My parents and a few other family members sent me x-mas packages and what not. And they made me feel a little better. But it was one day when we were eating dinner and there was someone at the door. My host mother went to answer it and the next thing I know she’s coming into the house pushing a big heavy box across the floor and she calls my name. I look at the address and it’s from my best friend, I was so excited and angry at the same time because he said that he didn’t get me anything for Christmas and I believed him. But I finished my dinner as fast as I could and I went out into the kitchen to open my box. The first thing I see when I open it is the teddy bear that he and I made at Build-a-Bear together nearly two years ago. I took it out and I started to laugh. Then I started to cry. I was hysterical. I laughed so hard my sides we killing me and tears were streaming down my face like waterfalls. My host sisters were just looking at me like I was a madwoman and they decided to let me have my moment. Well I went through the box and it was full of gifts and letters from all of my friends back home and I just kept on laughing and crying as I open them all until I couldn’t breathe anymore and I ran out of tears. It made me so happy I can’t even find the right word for it.

After I was done with my giant box I went back into the family room with my teddy bear and we watched TV with my host family. And how lucky for us, we got to watch fried chicken. If there is one thing that the Japanese have gotten wrong about Christmas it’s what we eat on that day. I’m not sure who, but someone told Japan that on Christmas you’re supposed to eat fried chicken. So during the holidays in every store there is fried chicken to be sold. I have never seen anything like it in my entire life. They advertise it on TV with fried chicken legs swimming around in boiling oil to Christmas songs. Kind of like the synchronized swimming competitions but with chicken. Needless to say there was more than plenty of fried chicken to eat on Christmas day. And what did we do after we ate our fried chicken? Well what does every family do after that on Christmas? Go bowling of course! Well mine was not about to break the traditions of Christmas. So we went bowling and apparently I’m not that good unless I’m not trying. I could barely keep the ball in the lane when I tried to do it normally but the one time I stand with my back facing the lane and I toss the ball between my legs and what happens? I get a strike. I have it all on video too. I made a little movie of my family and I that night. If you would care to take a look-see on YouTube. Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOfGnBw08H0 .

Now in America if you were to hear the word rat you would either scream or call the exterminator. But lo behold 2008 is the year of the rat. In Japan rats or nezumi are all the rage right now. Well I’m pretty sure that no matter where you go that rats are not the most welcomed creature in the world but I sure can’t go anywhere right now without seeing a rat statue or poster or card or anything else that you can think of. There are rats all over Japan. And personally I think that new years here is even bigger than Christmas in America. The entire family gets together for three days and eats lots of food and goes to temple to pray. I prayed this year that I could make myself proud and that everything would go smoothly for me. Well for the first few days of the New Year everything went fine. I was having a good time with my host family and visiting my old one. I even ate a little fish with a face still on it. I could never do it before but that was my first food of the New Year. I wanted to make myself proud and say I did it, so I did. And I am never doing it again. It didn’t even taste good and my main reason for not eating the fish with the faces still on them is because it’s just too sad to look at them.

Oh yeah, back to new years. Well on new years in Japan children receive money from older relatives. I didn’t even expect to get money from my host parents mainly because I didn’t even know about the tradition. But boy did I learn once adults started handing me envelopes like no tomorrow. I’m really not comfortable receiving gifts for whatever reason so when I opened my first envelope I went into near shock when I saw a 10000Yen bill. I tried to give it back saying thank you for the offer, but they just insisted. And eventually by the third envelope I stopped trying to give them back and just thanked them politely. Over all I think I rounded in about 50000Yen (editor's note: that's about $470). And what does every girl do when she has that much money? Go shopping. My whole family and I went to the giant mall down in Soja where my sisters and I do what girls do best. I’m really not a big spender. Especially on clothes but being a Floridian I didn’t come with the right winter wear in the first place so whether I liked it or not I had to buy some warm clothes. And FYI they’re cute! Haha. I was content with my new winter wardrobe but I still wasn’t entirely happy. Material items mean nothing when you have your friends and family around you. I was still very homesick and missing home a lot. I still had a few days before school and as each day of winter break went by I missed them more and more. I was almost to the point of wanting to come home. So I went to my first day of school in nearly 3 weeks and I had a talk with my teacher at school about how I felt. She’s from America too so she knows how difficult the transition can be. She took me out to lunch that day and we talked about how I could get my mind off of home and find my time here more enjoyable. We came up with some plans and I was feeling a little better. But that was not to last very long. Not more than two hours really.

When I got on the train to go home that day I fell asleep. And when I woke up I was already at my stop so the first thing I do is hop out of my seat to make sure I got off the train before the doors closed. That was a little more difficult than it should have been. Why, do you ask? Well the reason is simple really. The second I stood up, I fell right back down, on the floor, my face to the ground, people staring at me. Some people even started to snicker at me and all the while I’m thinking “What the heck just happened?” I tried to pull myself up but I just fell right back down again. Apparently the entire left side of my body had gone numb. Not pins and needles numb. I could not feel a thing. When I tried to use my limbs it just seemed like I went right through everything like a ghost. Eventually using my right arm I managed to pull myself up onto my right leg and somewhat gather my belongings that had fallen along with me. But there was still one problem. I was still inside the train and by some odd miracle the door had not yet closed. And I’m not really sure how but I managed to get my things and get off the train. But at this point I’m sitting on the floor just outside the train holding onto my leg because it really hurts now that it’s not numb, and now I have people coming over to me asking me if I’m okay and they have completely stopped the train now and everyone is looking at me and I just want the mortification to end. I pull myself onto a bench, tell them that I’m okay and to start the train, and call my host mom. When she finally got to the station I was crying it hurt so bad and I’m just trying to make it look like I’m not a lost tourist or something. We go to the hospital and apparently I have a really bad sprain but it's worse than a sprain, it’s not broken but not a sprain either. I don’t know. All I know is that I had to wear a cast for two weeks and it was a pain in the butt because in all that time I only went to school for two and a half days. I didn’t even last that long on the second day because my foot hurt so bad I got dizzy and my principal drove me home. He’s seriously one of the nicest men to ever walk the planet. He talks to me all the time and always brings me some kind of snack or drink from the American store.

Well after being in bed for two weeks and doing nothing and just getting more and more homesick by the day I finally got my cast off and now I’m back in school after a month of being out. And boy am I ever happy. I need people. I could never be a housewife and sit at home all day watching soap operas. But it’s odd because right now I have started a hobby that most Japanese housewives do. And trust me there are a lot of them in Japan. Ladies and gentlemen I have learned how to knit. And I love it. It’s so much fun it’s like magic. I just don’t understand how one little piece of string turns into a scarf or a hat or anything. It baffles me. Haha. I know that knitting obviously didn’t originate in Japan but it is a very popular hobby here especially in the less populated areas where I live and I have never once seen I knitting store in Florida but boy oh boy, I have never seen so many stores dedicated to selling yarn. I’m making a scarf right now and it’s only 2/7 of the way done at this point but if I keep working on it I could be done with it by the end of next week. All of my teachers think it’s really neat that I can do it and my host mother nearly flipped her lid when she saw it sticking out of my school bag. She thought it was so amazing, I wasn’t even going to bother showing her because I didn’t think it was that big a deal. But she really likes it and she wants to see it when I’m finished. So knitting apparently is something fascinating for a young American girl to be doing and actually enjoying. Maybe one day I could make a kimono out of yarn (if that’s even possible).

Oh yeah! I was about to end this but then I remembered my lil kimono adventure. Okay so before I broke my leg my last host family invited me to take a family picture with them all dressing in kimonos. I was really excited to do it but when they found out I broke my leg they thought I couldn’t do it. Well good lord I am not missing out on an opportunity like that just because of some plaster boot (that goes with none of my clothes by the way, haha). So I sleep over my last host parents house the night before and I wake up at the crack of dawn and start to get ready. There was a lot to put on. It was amazing. I couldn’t even do anything but sit there and have these two Japanese women dress me and they just told me to hold my arms up and stand still. Well I have never had so many layers on at once and it was so tight I felt like my eyes were going to pop out. My face was turning red on the third layer and we still had two more to go. And my hair wasn’t that comfortable either. It looked really nice but at the end of the day when I was taking it out I had a count of 36 hairpins in my hair. And some fluffy stuff that took forever to get out. Apparently they put it in there to make my hair look bigger or something. But when I was finally all dressed and ready to go, me, my kimono, and my plaster boot where out the door and walking all through the town to go to temples and grave sites and photographers.

It was quite the day and even though the kimono was a pain in the lungs to wear I think it was all worth it. Kind of like my trip here in general. It sure isn’t the smoothest road I’ve ever walked on but in the end it sure is worth the adventure.

Ja ne,

Bluku Whito 

April 21 Journal

 Okay so it’s time for another one of my wonderful updates on what’s going on in Japan. Well the first thing that happened after my last update is that I went on a trip to a big Rotary meeting. I figured that it would be another snore-fest like the other one I went to in October. The one where even the people performing went to sleep. I was dead wrong. This had to be one of the best weekends of my exchange. So we get there and it’s a hotel “The Seaside Hotel” And it definitely was by the sea. But it was also right next to a power plant type thing that made smoke come out from these giant pipes like chimneys all day and night. It kind of looked like where Homer works on The Simpsons. Anyway, there is practically nobody there so I figure we were just having lunch here or something because that’s the first thing we did when we got there and we had “Italian food” and there were a million utensils to use. I’ll take a pair of chopsticks over too many forks, knives, and spoons any day.

So when we were finally done with our seven course lunch we left the hotel and went into a building across the street. At first…more emptiness and then I figured that this wasn’t going to be a meeting with 2 thousand Rotarians. Then we get into an extremely small elevator and go upstairs. We pick up our name tags and enter a room and what do I see? Teenagers, of every shade and talking and laughing and I went into a slight culture shock. Normally I would just join in and start talking too, but 6 months in Japan can make you a bit reserved so it took me a few seconds to call back the old Brooke. So I start to mingle and talk and find out that I’m not the only person in the boat that can’t get past the language barrier. This made me glad to know that I wasn’t the only one that had a speaking in Japanese problem. Some people find it easy to speak it and for others it’s just not something we’re meant to do, no matter how hard you try. But I still have hope. I can understand it pretty well, and I get compliments from people on my listening skills all the time. It’s just when I go to open my mouth… not much comes out.

So we’re asked to get up and answer some questions about our time in Japan and what we like and don’t like and stuff like that. Well if you get to know me then you’ll know that I love to talk and that I’m very active when I talk and sometimes I don’t think about what I say before it comes out. Well I didn’t say anything wrong but for some reason whenever it was my turn to talk people were laughing like crazy. It was so odd, I wasn’t even trying to be funny and even the Japanese kids that were there were laughing. But in general I think that talking about your first toilet experience in Japan is funny in any language, simply because of the gestures. Ha-ha. Well after everyone was done talking and we went over all of the Rotary things and then went back to the hotel to rest for a little bit before dinner. I wound up rooming with a girl from Australia and she was super nice. We talked a lot and actually late for dinner. Someone from the front desk called and told us to come down for dinner and we got there and everyone was already eating the first course. We felt a little stupid but at this point I was just gloating to myself on the inside that I understood the lady on the phone and I responded to her.

So the night goes on and there are two parties planned, one for the kids and one for the Rotarians next door. Ours had soda and pocky. And what did the Rotarians have? I’ll give you one guess. That’s right, lots and lots of alcohol. So we students moved our party upstairs after they told the room was closed and we went up to one of the hotel rooms and played international telephone, which was a really funny experience. Then we played truth and dare, I never, stuff like that. It was really fun. Then when we all started to drop like flies one by one, we went to our own rooms and went to bed only to wake up a few hours later and climb a mountain then make udon noodles and eat them for lunch. It was pretty cool to graduate from Udon School with a certificate and everything. Udon isn’t my favorite food in the world but I know how to make it now so that’s a plus. After we ate everyone got to explore the town and do some shopping and stuff then we all exchanged email addresses and said our goodbyes. It was really nice to meet everyone and I definitely made some friends in those two days. It was just nice to meet some people my own age that had the same experience I did and shared the same viewpoints on the whole thing.

So the next thing that comes to mind is the season of love for the Japanese. Valentines Day. Only I must say that it’s quite topsy-turvy here from the way they do it in America. Here the girls give to the boys and their friends. The boys don’t give anything at all. So I gave everyone in my class and a few of my favorite teachers those little candy hearts with the words on them from America and it was a little hard for them to figure out because they said things like “U R CUTE”. Not really words to them. But I explained some of the phrases and then eventually people started to pass them around like messages to people. It was fun. And then one month later from Valentines Day is White Day. Which people kept saying it’s my day because most people here just call me “Whito” and it was “Whito day”. The jokes about my name never stop even half way across the world. Ha-ha. But anyways I had completely forgotten about White Day until the day before when my PE teacher asked me what I wanted right now. And I said “waffles” (It’s the main thing I’m craving right now) and he said “Okay, that’s your white day present then”. I quickly changed my answer to diamonds but he said I didn’t need diamonds because I was one. How cute and creepy at the same time, ha-ha. Anyways the next day I got more chocolate than I could handle. People actually gave back the favor (if you give to someone on v-day they’re supposed to give back on white day) I really didn’t expect it and apparently all of the teachers pitched in to buy me this really nice basket of chocolate because I gave them all a box of candy the month before. They had me go in the teacher’s room and presented it to me just like they made me do a month before. VERY embarrassing both times. Things are never kept secret in Japan and everything is a big deal. All in all I think the love love holidays are fun considering I’m not allowed to have any romantic relationships while I’m here and I get to see couples together but… yeah. I’ll let that slide.

Shortly after White Day I went to Hiroshima. And for those of you that weren’t paying attention in World History, that is the place where America dropped the first atomic bomb in Japan. I didn’t really know how I was going to feel about the whole thing because my parents weren’t even alive when it happened so I couldn’t possibly feel guilty. We went to the site where the A-bomb was dropped and it was right above a building that is still standing today which is pretty amazing considering that everything around it within a half a mile radius was completely leveled. And as we were standing there looking at the building a Japanese man that spoke English with flyers and a button that said “Free information guide on it” came up to me and asked me if I was American and I said yes and then he starts to tell me about Hiroshima and what he experienced and how his family members died and showing me pictures of people with their skin melted off and all of this information all at once was just a little overwhelming. I didn’t even ask for it. I mean I feel bad for him and all it’s just that you don’t go stalking the white people to make them feel guilty about something they didn’t even do. I was feeling bad and really angry at the same time. And then the guy asks for a picture with me afterwards and I couldn’t refuse any of this because there were like 20 Rotarians there with me. Normally if it was just me I would have said “no thank you, I’m going to the museum in a few minutes” and walked away. But instead I had to go through a guilt trip. Soon after that we walked to the museum and I was given an information player in English for all of the exhibits. It was so amazing to see all of those things. But we only had less than an hour to see everything so I had to pick and choose. I saw a diorama of the bomb site before and after. It was amazing. And clothes of people that were hit by the bomb and bottles and cars and things that were melted together and listened to stories behind the items and it was just so amazing. I mean… we thought that 911 was bad. It was like a daily car wreck compared to the A-bomb. Just typing this makes me tear up. What these people had to live through (if they lived at all) was amazing. To go through so much and to be so brave trough it all is really inspiring. I took so many pictures and I’ll include them with this update. I think the best thing I saw while I was there was the main reason I got interested in Japan in the first place. In my sixth grade social studies class we learned about Japan and the bomb. And we heard a story about a little girl named Sadako and she tried to make 1000 paper cranes so she could get a wish from the gods to heal her cancer from the a-bomb. Sadly she did not live or finish the cranes. But I did get to see cranes that she actually made herself. It was so amazing, because I nearly forgot that she was the reason that I wanted to come to Japan in the first place. But when I saw the cranes it hit me and it was like a revelation. If it wasn’t for her and her wonderful story then I would have never been able to be where I am and do and see all of these things right now.

After the museum we went out to lunch to what I think was the number one okonomiyaki restaurant in Japan. And boy oh boy was it ever. First of all that is my all time favorite food in this country and I’ll be very sad to leave it behind so I need to learn to make it. Second of all it was amazing. So many wonderful flavors and I ate it all. It was huge and glorious and fun to watch it get made. I usually cook it myself when we go out to eat it so I was a little bummed when I didn’t get to flip it over but it tasted so good I didn’t care.

Then comes one of the things that I have been dying to do since I got to Japan. Can you say DEER PARK?! Yay! It was so much fun. It was in Miyajima and there were deer just running around the town. Lying in the sun, taking food where they could get it from people. Chasing me for my food (a little scary when there are 15 of them by the way). But I had so much fun and they were so cute. I made a video for it too because they were too cute and funny to pass up. I had a blast and it was so much fun to see them and pet them. The only time I see a deer in America is when I’m in the wilderness and it just runs away if you make a noise. So this was really cool for me.

A few days after the deer I moved from my second host family onto my third… which was the first but that’s okay because I love them. My second host family was nice but we just didn’t mesh well together. The daughters were… how do I say it nicely? “Vanity Fair” and I don’t really care to look at myself in the mirror half the day. They were just very pampered and were not really open to the cultural experience that I was looking for. It’s okay though because even though we had a hard time communicating because neither of us has the brain power to speak another language we had a good time. She was such a goofball and funny, reminded me of my own mom. Didn’t see the dad much. Just about once a week for dinner. But he was still really nice. Not sure if Pooh the dog and I were meant to be either but we had our moments. Well after I packed up my many many many things that I have accumulated here (don’t ask me how I’m going to get it all home) we said our goodbyes and I moved into my new/old house.

Oh yeah, sometime after White day and before the trip to Hiroshima there was the end of the year graduation ceremony. (In Japan the school year ends in March and starts back up again in April.) But the entire school gets to be part of the graduation *do a fake cheer here* yippy… ha-ha. But it had to be one of the most boring things on the planet and all we did at school for three days prior to it was practice how to stand, bow, sit, bow again, stand, sing, bow, sit… etc. It was soooo annoying. And everything had to be perfect too. Point one, the music teacher at my school should be put in jail for killing the musical arts with her teaching. Point two, everyone else knows it. Even the other teachers laugh at her for being so untalented. She was “trying” to teach us to sing the school song and the whole thing was just a disaster. I was screaming on the inside bloody murder while the entire baseball team thought it would be funny to scream the school song bloody murder for real. If there is a god up there he didn’t feel like helping us. Anyways the ceremony happened, it was done, I was almost late for it (go me, right? Ha-ha.) But the year ended as smoothly as I guess it could have. Even though there was no celebrating during this whole graduation, looked more like funeral to me but if they liked it then it was all that mattered.

So my big spring break trip was to where? T-O-K-Y-O baby! It was so nice to see more than 12 people on the street and a building more than 5 stories high. I’m pretty sure I like the country and the city life equally but when my life has been about 90% country I can go a little insane. Anyways it was wonderful to be there and I had a blast the whole time. And what I was most excited about was going to Tokyo Disney and Disney Sea. It was sooo cool to see everything through the Japanese eye. Everything was bigger and bolder and more colorful I think. And the rides were all pretty much the same only they were half Japanese half English spoken. Neat-o to listen to the country bears sing in Japanese I must admit. Along with the awesome parades and the costumes were so flawless. The Winnie the Pooh ride line was always so long that I walked past it so many times and eventually my curiosity got the best of me and I had to get in line. It was only a 90 min wait compared to the 3 hour one I saw earlier and I finally rode it to see what the fuss was all about. I can’t even paint a picture for you on how amazing that ride was. I wish I had taped the whole thing to show but I was so caught up in the moment and having so much fun I didn’t even think about it until it was nearly done. But let me tell you that it was one of the, if not the best ride I have ever been on at a Disney theme park. The next day we went to Disney Sea and it wasn’t quite as impressive as Tokyo Disney but I think that it might have been topped with just Atlantica. And for those of you that don’t know that is where Ariel the little mermaid lives under the sea. And since I got there super early I was practically the only person in there and I got to do and “sea” everything. It was like my paradise because Ariel holds a special place in my heart for reasons you may or may not be aware of but none the less I had a wonderful time. I thought I had died and gone to fish heaven. It was so wonderful. And I got to see the little mermaid show where Ariel was “swimming” above you and all of the fish and stuff. They were on wires but it was sooo amazingly wonderful. And as I was playing in Ariel’s playground I got to meet Prince Eric and chat with him for a bit then take some pictures. Then bump into him like 10 times for the next hour. Ha-ha. I think he thought I was stalking him but I was really just exploring. ^__^ I didn’t want to leave at all and I had to take a piece of this life under the sea home with me so I bought a little mermaid bento box (lunch box) and when I get home I’m going to make my lunch in it everyday for college and work and I don’t care what anyone says about it. :P

After all of my Disney adventuring we went to look at the other parts of Tokyo and it was just like all of the pictures you have ever seen. It was wonderful. And I got to go to the top of Tokyo Tower and stand on the glass so you can look down, it was super cool. And I saw one of the oldest Kabuki theaters in Japan and they’re going to tear it down soon?!!? So not cool. And I saw so many things that I couldn’t possibly put it all down. I saw where the emperor lives and that was pretty cool too. But I think the best part was when I went to Harajuku. Harajuku is a teenage fashion paradise and I am so lucky to have gone and shopped there. I got so many cute things but I think the look is best pulled off on the Japanese girls. They just have that something that makes their crazy fashions work and they look so good. Definitely gave me some good Ideas though. And it was nice to see some teens in something other than a school uniform. That thing is as unfashionable as a nun’s dress.

So I came back home after my long weekend in Tokyo and got ready for school to start back up again. I’m finally a second year student when I should have graduated with the third years but it’s cool. Same class mates, same class room, what’s the difference? Homeroom teacher. Our last one was cool but he was a pushover and the students knew how to get what they wanted from him. Especially our little princess Li Ashen. This teacher isn’t pushed over and she’s nice and all, my only problem with her is that everyday, no matter what, even if I’m wearing the same thing as all of the other days she always finds something wrong with the way I’m dressed. I can’t stand it! But I don’t have to wear it that much more then I’m done. But last year they had it so once a week we could wear normal clothes. This year it’s different, now there is one week out of the month that we can do it and that was this past week. It was wonderful. I feel like myself when I’m in my clothes. But guess who the only people that did it were. Me, Guy, and Li was a new addition to our freedom duo. I have no clue what it is about these kids but they all want to look the same. Everyone could wear their own clothes all week but they just don’t want to. I practically got down on my knees and begged my Japanese friends to dress up along with me but they all say the same thing “Oh no no, I could never do that, then I would look different from everyone else.” (Please imagine the pain and agony on my face at this point). I tried all week and it was a no-go. I couldn’t do anything about it, but when next month comes around I’m cracking skulls.

But here’s the nice part about the beginning of school, it’s when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. And let me tell you people that there is no prettier site in Japan than this. It’s a shame that the only days I had my camera they were gloomy days. But you can just imagine it when the sun is shining. I went on a special cherry blossom viewing outing with the Rotary club and Guy. We got to play ground golf on this field that had the most wonderful environment with the trees and everything. I tied for second in my group so I didn’t think I did too shabby. But I think the main reason that that was possible was because since we got on the bus at 8am that morning every single Rotarian was drinking beer and sake and who knows what else. I think I’ve gotten used to it a little bit. Annoying, though, when the man behind you on the bus is shaking your chair and laughing loudly when you’re trying to sleep. Let’s just say that from the moment we got on the bus until we got off they all just kept drinking… and guess how many toilet stops we made. I think I counted 14. But other than that it was a great day. And we went to a hot spring resort for lunch which was nice. We had lunch, sang some karaoke, and then took a dip. And I had it all to myself seeing as I was the only girl. But then there was the open air bath that was outside and had a nice view. And I had a feeling but I wasn’t entirely prepared for what was behind that door. It was indeed a co-ed open air bath. And when I got out there I heard these men’s voices and I popped my head over the bushes to see and it wasn’t blocked off by a wall or anything just a couple of naked, drunken Rotarians taking a bath. And so I stood on my side of the bushes where they couldn’t see me and I waited for them to leave so that I could go in. I didn’t care if someone else came in while I was in there, but I’m not about to go in while someone else is in there. If that makes any sense. But just trust me that it’s less embarrassing. But every time someone went back in another person came out and it started to get annoying so I went back inside for a bit, and when I came out another person did at the same time, and you can see just over the bushes and see the other person's head before you get to the baths where it’s all open. And guess who it was. It was Guy. And there was just this awkward silence and then we said hi and both agreed to go in but not look at anything, ha-ha. Like either of us would want to anyways. Let’s just say that Guy and I have the relationship of the brother and sister from That 70’s Show. (FYI, they fight all the time) So we went in and we covered ourselves with out little towels, but we just didn’t look at each other and we talked about stuff and eventually just laughed at the whole thing because if you think about it, it’s really funny. Then another woman came in from my side then left two minutes later because it was “too hot” and I saw my fair share of naked old men come in and out. (Heads just don’t turn fast enough, ha-ha) But all in all it was fun. I’m not really embarrassed about stuff like that it’s just it can be an awkward bus ride home when it’s people you know. And actually before WW2 all of the hot springs were co-ed. It wasn’t really a big deal. It’s not a sexual thing it’s just people taking a bath. As it should be. But America came in with all of its crazy morals and made it so that men and women could bathe separately. In my opinion it really doesn’t matter either way because it’s just a bath house and a place to relax. I really wish the US wasn’t so uptight about things like nudity and love scenes in movies while blowing off a guy’s head and killing is okay. *shrug* Oh well.

But all in all I’m having a great time here. As you can plainly see I am experiencing things that I never would have in the US and I love it. I just wish I could combine the two worlds. Well that’s my plan in the future anyways. But that’s another story and I’ll tell you about it later. Hope you enjoyed this update and sorry it was so late and long. TTFN.

June 21 Journal

 Hi everybody, I'm soo so sorry that it took me so long to send this but my last few weeks in Japan and the short time I have been home have been so busy that I haven't had time to send an update or a thank you.

Well. Overall my time on my exchange was the most amazing experience in my entire life. And I owe all of that time and happiness to the people that made it possible for me. I want to thank the Rotary Clubs of Florida and Japan for funding me and making this possible. And second I would like to thank the wonderful people that welcomed me into their homes and into their lives. Without them I would have been homeless and loveless. They gave me families to come home to every day after school and in the years to come. And all of the amazing people that I met in Japan. All of my classmates and teachers and even the crazy old man on the train. They all made my adventure what it was, and I wouldn't have changed a thing.

I recommend the Rotary Youth Exchange program for any adventurous teenager. It's an experience that you will never forget and if I ever get the chance to do something like this again I will most definitely do it.

Thank you all again and if it wasn't for you I wouldn't have had the chance of a lifetime that most people can't even dream about.