My name is Conrad Troha and I have lived in Florida for my entire life! Moved from Daytona (which is where I was born) when I was about 4 and lived in Palm Coast ever since then. I love it here, but I have always wished that there was a way I could get to see the world...
THAT is why I'm so absolutely excited and honored to have been accepted as a Rotary exchange student! I'm fairly well rounded and very easy to get along with. About 5 times a week I attend jukido jujitsu, it is the thing I enjoy most in my life! It has helped me with friends, grades, and even home life, definitely the most beneficial thing that I have ever done! After my training sessions at the dojo (training hall) I stay to help the youth of Palm Coast gain respect for themselves and others and improve themselves in their daily lives as they train.
When I get back from my exchange I want to be a teacher. But I plan to teach language so I will study Spanish in college and I will study the language of wherever I am going so that maybe I could teach it as well! I have never been more excited to leave home in my life! :)
August 26 Journal
Japan...where do we begin?...
Ah yes! the airport! So it was Friday night and time to say my goodbyes. The truth is that I didn't think that it would be as hard it was, I would say to myself, it is only a year, I will be back in no time. Haha..yeah right. I said "I love you and goodbye" to my mother at home then my dad at the airport...both times letting out more tears than expected.
Nevertheless I was on the plane to Chicago. 3 hours wasn't so bad. Met up with an agent from Bokoff-Kaplan in O'Hare and other outbounds going to Japan! We walked around and got to know each other for the three hour lay over and I went ahead and exchanged for about 9000 yen. Before we knew it, it was time to go, we boarded the plane and endured the 13 hour flight to our knew homes. I ended up reading a book and watching a few movies but do you think that I slept? No way! I couldn't, I was too energized and excited even though I hadn't slept for a day prior to the flight. Tokyo, Narita...that was my next stop and where I would say goodbye to my fellow outbounds. Truth is though that goodbyes never happened, after we went through customs and immigration we got separated so fast I have no idea where they went! Nevertheless I found my way to the connecting flight that would land me about an hour away in Osaka, Itami Airport.
After getting off the plane this is where I was supposed to meet up with my host family, but coming through Customs I didn't see any signs or Rotarians at all! I was so confused...so I asked as best as I could where a telephone was and the airport attendant kindly showed me the way. After a lot of struggle in figuring out how to use the phone I called my host father Kobayashi-san. In broken Japanese I told him that I was at the airport and after much confusion he assured me that he was on his way. Two and a half hours later a taxi pulled up containing my host mother and father with a very big greeting! I was so relieved to see them! Come to find out the next day I had arrived at the airport a day earlier than scheduled! We are still figuring that one out.....
It took about 2 hours to get to the hotel in Okayama which my family owned. That is where I would stay the night and after 2 days of no sleep and stress I would have the best night's sleep of my life. I had a dream that night of a normal day back home and thought that I was still there when I awoke the next morning! Then it hit me that I was in Japan! That first day was hard, I was very homesick, and missed my friends and family more than you know, I figure it was due to the lack of communication with anyone in US. My parents were worried too, I know, seeing how it took me a day or two to figure out how to call internationally from my house. Thankfully though everything worked itself out. I have to say though that the food is very strange here. I had Tako (octopus) for the first time, and we went out to the super market and bought some fresh octopus tentacles for dinner hah, I have to say though it wasn't bad. It has been 5 days and I have been so many places I don't even know where to start.....
Korakuen garden - My first day there my host family took me to one of the most famous gardens in Japan. It was absolutely beautiful - the fish, the birds, the trees, and Okayama castle! That is where I had my first cup of traditional Japanese green tea and kibi dango. It is....rather bitter, kind of like drinking mashed up leaves I could swear they made me eat grass too.....anyway! Unfortunately I didn't have a camera at this point because I left mine at home....took me a day or two to get my host parents to understand that so the next day, me and a Rotarian and my host father went to the electronics store and I bought a Japanese camera, luckily it has English settings or I would be done for!
Joypolis - This is a very very big arcade close to the supermarket in Okayama, my host mother was showing it to me asking me if I knew about anime and about sonic (there is a giant gold sonic statue in there!) and mario hah, it was interesting. So she asked me if I played arcade games and I told her yes so she asked me to show her by playing a gundam game....I lost....very badly....
7/11 - That's right 7/11! It is a convenient store here...not a gas station and it was sooooo different. That is where my father took me to get lunch the other day, we had Onigiri (rice cakes). The best food of my life....I could eat onigiri allllllll day long. Oh and if you ever go to Japan and are eating rice, do NOT leave rice in your bowl when you are done...you better eat it ALL! I learned that the hard way....
Okayama University - It is a very famous school in Japan, right down the hill from my high school. It is MASSIVE! My high school is uphill so when you look over the side you get a beautiful view of all of Okayama city, it is absolutely amazing! I was introduced to my high school principal and vice principal. And there was a gentleman there that I thought was Japanese until he said "Hi, I'm Zack". I was shocked, until he told me he was the English teacher there! He is American and extremely helpful. They are going to put me into a language school down the hill from my high school to help me every day and they had to measure me for my seifuku (school uniform). I am bigger than they anticipated. I hit my head on EVERYTHING too! I have hit my head on the light above the dinner table...all the doorways in my house and even a ceiling or two...
According to Zack sensei, jetlag takes a few weeks to wear off and I am still extremely tired. School starts on Monday, I hope that I am prepared, hah I hope I can even find my way there! I have to walk to the train station and then ride a train to the bus stop where I will ride the bus to school....that is not going to go well I already know xD. But I am taking pictures of everything, my family laughs at me when I stop to take pictures of things like like signs and vending machines, but hey it's all new to me! :)
Everything here is sugoi (amazing) I don't know how else to explain it. The Japanese are interesting people, they don't need to worry that cigarettes and beer are in vending machines because they know that no one under age will even think of taking them, I haven't seen one police officer in the time that I have been here. And I have never seen so many bikes either! The sidewalks are lined with bicycles - it is insane, everyone here rides their bike. Needless to say I haven't seen one fat Japanese person yet :D
Everyone bows and says thank you, everyone is polite and smiles. It is truly amazing. I have befriended my dictionary as well, I don't go anywhere without him, and the Rotarians here were kind enough to give me an electronic dictionary to use during my stay even though I can't read it :) Anyway, my rambling has to end abruptly due to the fact that it is dinner time and I have to go. More entries will come soon and so will some pictures when I figure out how to get them onto the computer! Arigatou Rotary for everything, I already know that this is going to be the best year of my life! Until next time journal....
Ja mata ne
September 20 Journal
OK everyone.....It's me again!
All in all it is very hard to organize my thoughts over the period of a month but I will do my best! Where did I leave off last time.......
Oh YEAH! School! Now you might be thinking oh woopdy doo it's school....but if you are, you are COMPLETELY wrong! School in Japan has more differences than I can imagine, and for the most part, I like school here way better! I have to wake up every morning at about 7 to eat breakfast and put on my uniform and leave the house by about 7:30, 10 minute walk to the train station, train ride to the central station in Okayama city then it's on a bus to school. Worst experience I have had with the train thus far was a couple of days ago...I was the first one off the train and clumsy me (it was too early...) stepped in between the train and the platform leading to me face planting in front of EVERYONE! My phone flew out of my front pocket and both my bags flew out of my hand....I was alright...but boy I will never be more embarrassed than I was then....
On to a happier memory! =) School starts at about 8:50 and there are 7 classes everyday.....the problem is that every day the schedule is completely different D= I have to keep mine with me and look at it every day between every class! Nonetheless it is a private school but it's more laid back than Florida public schools! I was amazed when our math teacher just didn't feel like showing up to class one day...so he didn't...we just hung out and talked until the class was over.
My absolutely most favorite class is my 書道 (calligraphy) class! Yes I said calligraphy...that means a piece of paper, a brush and some ink! It is amazing. I went as far as to join the Calligraphy club after school every week! Nonetheless, every day is a new challenge, Japanese is difficult and easy at the same time, some things make a lot of sense and others I just don't understand at all =) Some things I can't help but laugh at though...my teacher was amazed when I told him that every street in Florida has a name... That's right...only main streets have names in Japan! (with the exception of Kyoto)
Ah, so a few days ago I was able to officially say that I turned 18 on the other side of the planet! :) My birthday was a blast, the kids made a cool card for me and signed it, my host parents bought me a birthday cake and got me presents - it was a lot of fun!
Every day my Japanese gets just a tiny bit better, but I still have an incredibly long way to go...it's amazing how one word can mean 4 or 5 different things....somewhat aggravating too -.-; I think everyday that my Japanese gets better my English gets worse though...'tis a funny cycle....
Today is the first day that I am out in Japan by myself as well!!!!! I can simply walk around and just enjoy the sights...check out some cool stores or go to the arcade (which I might do when I am done with this ^^)
My cellphone is my best friend by the way....hahahahah it comes with me everywhere! It's pretty sweet, I don't use the internet on it though simply because I am paying for it annnnnd....yeah no thanks, but I like to use it to write messages to mah Japanese buddies....I like to think of it as a study tool. =P
My school was also kind enough to hook me up with some Japanese lessons at a school not far....just a bus ride down the hill! (My school is basically on a mountain, thus I have the most amazing view of all of Okayama city from my classroom!) But yeah those lessons will start first thing next week, hopefully my Japanese will pick up a little faster after that point.
I have now decided that the greatest invention in the history of mankind is Onigiri...I'll explain: You have your favorite kind of fish - for example my favorite onigiri is tuna and mayo...then that is wrapped in a rice ball...that rice ball is then wrapped in seaweed...even if you don't like fish or sushi, I guarantee that you will like Onigiri....it's that amazing....I am going to buy as much onigiri and bring it with me before I have to leave Japan in 10 months!
There are Konbini (convenient stores) literally on every block...if you have a wallet and two feet to get you there you can go and buy anything you want to eat for extremely cheap, it's rather amusing. I have found myself making quite frequent trips to the local Konbini. (Yes, to get me some Onigiri!!!!) heh
Right....Japanese homes are extremely compact...it's rather amusing - there are secret compartments in the floors and ceilings so that they can store stuff, yes...it's really that small! Hhahahaha
Talk about amusing, they have some of the craziest game shows you will ever see in your life! It's so funny...I will sit and stare at the TV for hours trying to understand what is going on...But at the moment it is Sumo season so you could say I have been rather attached to television. Sumo is incredibly big in Japan, but the reason I like it so much is that you can see Japan almost embodied within Sumo...the actual sumo match is only one aspect...a real treat....
I have been here for an entire month! I have no idea where the time is going...it's insane...It definitely is going to be over before I know it, which is why I have to go out and explore the wonders of Japan! Next I think I will visit a local book store and see if I can't pick up some (more or less) easy Japanese reads so I can study!
Until next time Everyone!
今良侍 - Conrad (that's my kanji name) =)
P.S. Still haven't gotten used to the cockroaches in my house xD (Not a joke...)
October 30 Journal
So it turns out I'm not very good at writing these things...my head goes blank and I cant remember what I did xD not to mention the fact that while I'm typing in English I forget English words and use bad English grammar.....but here goes....
A lot has happened this past month and it has been incredible! I'm slightly worried about the fact that I'm not even the slightest bit homesick....but I have a feeling that the homesickness feeling is going to come in a month when I have to change host families for the first time...I'm absolutely dreading it. At this point, when I am at home I actually feel like I am at home! It's hard to explain, but you know that feeling you get after a long day - you walk into your house and you're simply relieved that your finally home and can relax? Well that's finally how I feel when I am walking up the hill on our incredibly narrow street knowing that I am almost at the house that I have been living at for the past two months and I am almost with the family that has been so incredibly kind to me no matter what the circumstances. I didn't think that I could develop such an attachment to people I hardly know. My host mom is a blast, me and her make fun of each other almost nonstop....it's a lot of fun! =)
School has become a lot easier, I like gym class the best....It's the easiest to understand! We were playing handball the other day and the ball almost went outta bounds so I dove for it and threw it back in, everybody started screaming 'sugoi sugoi' and started clapping...I dunno, I just felt like 'I was part of the team'... sounds corny but it is an incredible feeling to be accepted by my classmates, absolutely incredible! I went and hung out with the girl from my class the other day, we went to the arcade and she ended up forcing me into the purikura....(basically a camera room, and after you take pictures you can draw on them and make them.....unique xD) it was interesting....after that I proceeded to win a giant stuffed stitch doll from one of the grabber machines...took me about 1000 yen....I was determined -.-
AH! So I went to the onsen for the first time about 3 weeks ago! Needless to say it was highly awkward! We went into the little locker room (this onsen wasn't coed by the way) and found our lockers, then my host father proceeded to strip right then and there! I looked around and their were naked old men everywhere! I hadn't even noticed it! So....I took my clothes off and had my little hand towel covering what was left of my dignity, then we went on into the shower room. It wasn't weird to them though, fathers had their children in there and it simply wasn't anything abnormal. There are little stations in the shower area where you sit on a tiny little stool and there are shampoo and body soap provided, and you wash.....everything, total scrub down. After that you proceed to the actual hot spring itself. At this point the fact that I was naked didn't bother me anymore...It just was. And in the hot spring, there are various kinds of hot springs - some are outside some are inside, some have massaging bubbles and there are even little personal tubs you can relax in if you want. Come to think of it....I really rather enjoyed myself! And am definitely looking forward to going again! (Bradley when you come to visit next summer I'm taking you to one whether you like it or not! xD)
So I definitely think I'm going to be fat by the time I get back to America...after dinner every night me and my host mother make sure to enjoy some Ice cream! Just for future reference....Japanese Ice cream is 10 times more delicious than American ice cream! I came to find out though that sweet foods are associated with women and bitter foods are associated with men....that made me sad...because I love sweets! There is a kind of chocolate in the conbini (convenience store) that's actually called 'men's bitter chocolate' ......It's disgusting! X(...........call me a girl if you want, I like the sweet stuff! Speaking of bitter foods though, I have become rather accustomed to tea without sugar, traditional green tea, and nearly black coffee. As disgusting as that sounds...it's not half bad once you get used to it! One thing I haven't gotten used to is the slabs of fish they put in front of you and expect you to eat! It's not the taste either, I'm actually rather fond of the taste of raw fish.....it's when they give me cooked slabs of fish and there are little bones in it! I feel like they are trying to kill me, it takes forever for me to eat too because I have to find the little bones and pull em out, I don't know how they do it..... I haven't mastered the art of noodle eating either....the Japanese eat their noodles really really fast, I'm pretty sure they don't chew, they simply inhale.....But I have to say I love my chopsticks! It's simply more fun eating with them. Hah, when I get back to the US I will continue to use my chopsticks, I refuse to use a fork! >=D
I can't believe it's already in the third month though! I am rather disappointed in my Japanese thus far, but I know that it's just me being picky with myself! There are times when I understand what people are saying without thinking about it and times when I feel like its my first day in Japan again! It's a funny system...but I love when I can't remember English words! It's amazing! I was talking with a couple of other exchange students in English and forgot how to say vending machine.....'uhhh uhhhh.....you know that thing the drinks come out of! x(' It was hilarious! Because I would say it in Japanese and they had no clue what I was talking about.....=) Every Monday and Friday I have a special Japanese class down the hill at a language school for exchange students, there are only two other people in that class both from America and their Japanese stinks =) so the class is extremely easy for me, the teacher goes ahead and makes up harder reading and writing assignments for me. And I just found out that apparently they want to throw me in a Japanese class at the university every Thursday to see how I do ;; Not gonna be fun!
I'm getting too used to the walking on the opposite side of the road thing....I have a feeling that when I get back to America it's not going to be safe for me to drive.....I'll be driving into oncoming traffic! =) I learned not too long ago that to get your driving license in Japan it cost like 200,000 yen.....that's like 2000 dollars! I was appalled....but it's for the driving school, which is apparently really difficult, but it's a good thing they go to driving school in Japan because the roads are incredibly narrow! And I don't know how they do it but Japanese people can fit the biggest cars in the littlest places at incredibly high speeds.....it's scary to say the least....
All of my friends think that I am crazy...I LOVE the fall weather! It is absolutely amazing! nice and chilly, the leaves are absolutely beautiful! It's an amazing experience. The mountains are covered in forest so it is absolutely amazing, something you definitely can't see in Florida!
I went to Osaka about a week ago as well. It was with my grandpa's host club though, so I felt really awkward....luckily I had my host mom there to keep me company and talk too. We went to one of Japan's most famous aquariums. It was absolutely amazing and beautiful. Seen everything from penguins to otters to sharks and octopus to crabs.....it was neat! But a little strange cuz my host mom (the entire time) kept pointing at things and telling me how badly she wanted to eat it....highly disturbing!
Two days ago, with my host club we went to see an old traditional style play called kyougen. There actors dialects were very strong and were very strange, it's the oldest style play in Japan so it was very difficult to pick up what they were saying, but even though I couldn't understand the verbal part of the play I understood the body language and I found myself laughing along with everyone else. Came to find out later that because of the way the actors were speaking it was even hard for the Japanese to understand....I didn't feel so bad after that =)
And today I discovered the book off! Its basically a store with any comic or video game you can think of at incredibly low prices! Needless to say I was in heaven! ^^ Call me a dork, but I have found that reading comics is an excellent way of studying the Japanese language and picking up kanji and different expressions!
I have to say, though I am not homesick....I do miss my friends and family dearly! I can't wait to see you all again! But at the same time...I really don't want to have to leave my new family....
I am torn....
But no worries! I am going to go and study and brush up my Japanese and become fluent! So I will talk to you all again soon! Don't miss me too much!
Until next time folks!
February 4 Journal
Ok folks….it's been a while…lets do this!!!!
When I last left off in my journal it was mid fall and all of the leaves were absolutely beautiful, the red, yellow, and orange shades covering the vast ranges of mountains as far as the eye can see! Things have definitely changed…it's now well into winter and it's cold, the trees look sad and bare, the sign of the end of what was and the start of something new. Something that can’t be seen in Florida. Though I am slightly disappointed in the lack of snow in Okayama….hey I can’t really complain can I? I’m in Japan!
Well before the current winter befell us all, me and an exchangee from California and two English Sensei’s made a trip to Himeji castle! That may not sound all that exciting to you guys but Himeji is the last standing original castle in all of Japan. All the others have been rebuilt, destroyed, or are in the process of being remodeled. Needless to say it was absolutely amazing! The castle's foundation is huge and is made completely of stone! They actually had to move stones in from different prefectures in the process of building it. The inside has basically been turned into a museum at this point with swords, spears, armor, ancient scrolls, and statues lining its innards. Absolutely breathtaking…. Oh yeah the two English teachers I spoke about, they made me feel really good about my Japanese by the way. They have lived in Japan for nearly two years and understand almost none of the language….I almost wanted to tell them to get out of Japan….I was slightly appalled….but needless to say at this point I can have a conversation in Japanese for a good amount of time, I can read Japanese comics, and I can play my video games in Japanese as well…..and understand it Sure I can’t understand it all but I honestly don’t expect to at this point. If I simply continue my studies the way that I am, I am very confident that my Japanese will exceed anything I ever expected when I first left for Japan.
Dressing for winter…..something I was definitely not used to at first. My host mom would tell me “it’s cold outside! Maybe you should put on a few more layers,” and my response was always, “Thanks but I think I’m alright”…..NOT xD As soon as I walked outside I felt like I was going to turn into an icicle! Hah….and I’m in one of the warmest parts of Japan. It’s the Floridian in me ;; trying to let me freeze…..rather sad really….
Me, my previous host father, and a few Rotarians made a trip down to Shikoku just before winter as well. I have to say it was relaxing. Shikoku is the island just south of Okayama. The drive was about 3 hours there; we first drove to the top of a beautiful mountain range to see the windmills at its peak. When I first stepped out of the car and breathed in that fresh mountain air it was….indescribable….the view was intoxicatingly beautiful, the air was clear, and I just wanted to sit up there and gaze for hours. However, the little old man that came with us was kind of creepy with his camera….hahahah he took way to many pictures of me for comfort xD Anyway! After we descended the mountain we hit up a local fish market! I don’t really know why though…they just walked around pointing and saying how delicious everything looked (we didn’t buy anything…..) needless to say it was interesting. Following that we went to the place that we came to Shikoku for…the ONSEN! (hot spring) I have to say, though the first time was strange, I have really grown to like it. It's not weird to me anymore to strip and bathe with other men xD We actually ended up staying the night at a nearby hotel, went and ate REALLY expensive food (which was the MOST delicious thing that I have ever eaten) and then hitting the onsen one more time before returning home. Then it was back to school before winter break…..
At this point school had grown redundant and boring. As bad as that may sound, the only part I liked about it was my friends. Now that I could talk to them, lunch and after school were my favorite times. And not to mention the amazing attachment that had grown between me and my first host family in those 3 and a half months. But….it was finally time to change host families! I didn’t want to go….I had a bond with my host family that I didn’t want to share with anyone else in Japan! Sure they weren’t my real parents and they could never replace them! But they were the next best thing….I packed and before I knew it was in a new room and house with strange people I didn’t know again….the worst part of my exchange thus far was that day, though no tears were shed between me and my host family. I felt like they had been torn from me on that day….
But I soon realized the fact that that wouldn’t be the last day I see them and that my new host family was actually very very nice and cared for me just like my previous family did! And so as things went on I adjusted to the different cooking style of my new host mother and learned my way around the new area of Okayama that I had never explored before while eagerly awaiting Christmas in Japan.
Things were fairly normal up until break, not much had happened. And as things drew closer I decided to ask my host mother about what Christmas was like here in Japan! And to my extreme disappointment she basically explained to me that because almost none of Japan's population has any set religion they don’t make Christmas a very big deal…I’m not religious either but I mean come on!!!!! So I didn’t see any Christmas lights at all this winter, and only an occasional Santa-san here and there. Or we would pass a KFC and the colonel would be dressed up as Santa xDDD. Needless to say I wasn’t going to spend Christmas lounging around at home all day so I decided to go to a friend's house…and lounge around all day there hahah. I made sure not to impose on anyone, and because no one was celebrating Christmas here it was just like another day off of school. I was actually pretty happy because that was the first time I have gotten to ACTUALLY talk and have a serious conversation with my family. It made me feel better. And so did the fact that new years in Japan was NOT in anyway disappointing!
It started with New Years Eve actually! Me and another exchange went to her host grandma's house and we made rice cakes!!!!! It is a really old Japanese tradition, and not many people nowadays do it. It's an interesting process actually…they first bowl a bowl of rice, when its nice and soft they then put it in a big stone bowl thingy and the guys (who wait outside in the cold -.-;) get to take a very heavy mallet and smash the rice until it turns into a goo…then the women (who are inside with the heat -.-;;;;;) roll the goo into little cakes! And then they add flavors and stuff, 'twas fun ^^ We were out there from about 7 in the morning til 1…….but I don’t regret the experience! After that I went home and that night after dinner everyone sat around talking and it was just….nice =) then around 11 o’clock everyone had soba (Japanese noodles) just like everyone else in the country to watch the countdown on TV!
Upon awakening the next morning and going downstairs to greet my family I see the traditional new years breakfast! (Way too hearty of foods to be eating that early xD) and If you would like to know what we ate…..I don’t really know ;; I find that happening to me a lot…. (-.- ;) sorry….
And I was not expecting the hordes of money given to me on New Years either! It’s called Otoshidama and it’s simply a tradition that on New Years day adults give money to the kids - once you hit 20 it’s your turn to do the giving! Well I knew about it but I was given a LOT more than I was anticipating! I ended up getting different amounts from different relatives and all together collecting about 50,000 yen…..that’s the equivalent to about 500 dollars! (well probably more than that now….thank you exchange rate -.-; ) And after the receiving of the money we made our way to the temple to pray for a good year! A tradition that nearly everyone in Japan keeps so there were way too many people at that lil temple! Hah but needless to say that too was a good experience, and kind of hard to explain the feeling of it all. You simply had to be here!
And from then on, January has simply become amazing! It’s the little things that simply make me smile each and every day! I go to school and understand homeroom, can have conversations with my friends, I can make jokes, and I understand my classes! The classes that are not understandable at this point are classical Japanese….I don’t even know contemporary Japanese yet -.-; and chemistry….but I didn’t understand that in English so I'm not all that worried about Chemistry hahhahah.
Among the closing of January came one of the funnest things that I ever done in my life! SNOW!
That’s right folks! I was allowed to tag along with the younger grades on their trip to Tottori prefecture and visit the mountain Daisen! And the trip was not just to visit this mountain of course - what would be the point in that? So instead we went and the younger kids hit the ski slopes and me and the other high schoolers hit the snowboards! It was AMAZINGLY fun! We stayed on the mountain for three solid days to simply go snowboarding and nothing else! I just remember getting going as fast as I could and trying to stop…..hah…I hit the brakes a lil to hard ^^; Needless to say I made quite a few rotations while rolling down the rest of the slope hahahah and then simply laid there thinking to myself “Wow……”
I am very very confident that I am going to do that again in my life! Don’t know how or when but I WILL see snow again and I WILL go snowboarding again! No doubt =)
And that’s all for my adventures thus far! At least the big ones =D
Will make sure to update more often too. Hope you enjoyed, readers! I'm out.
July 27 Journal
Hey all its my final journal,
And It has been a LONG time. So there is plenty to tell right.
Well around the end of January I was given the chance to see snow for the first time. To be honest I was nervous about going because I didn't know the people that I was going with. I went with the sophomore class at my high school, so sure we have met before but I didn't really KNOW them. So on an early winter morning I dressed snug and grabbed my bag, my host mom took me to the bus station where we met the other students. And off we went, 2 hours north into the snowy top of one of the most beautiful mountains in Japan. From far away it can be mistaken for Mt. Fuji if you're not looking carefully. The first time I stepped out into that cool mountain air ... it was a feeling that I can never forget. I looked at one of the kids next to me then at the ground. And without having to think about it grabbed the biggest handful of snow I could and hit him right between the eyes with it. The beginning of a beautiful friendship I say =). After the relentless snowball fight everyone was herded into the resort that we were staying at and we checked out our rental gear, suited up, and back out into the snow we went. This time a bit more cautiously (thanks to the teachers breathing down out necks) and finally onto the lift. Seeing how I don't like heights and there was nothing to fasten me in...I didn't enjoy that part. And not to mention the jerks on the lift behind mine that brought snowballs with them. hah Upon arriving at the top we were introduced to our snowboard instructors. After that we were assigned rental boards and the 3 day snowboard lessons began. It wasn't very rough but I will say this, the guys on the TV make it look reeeeeallly easy! Around the second day the instructor told me to go as fast as I could down the hill WITHOUT losing control. I said ok, and simply went as fast as I could. Nonetheless lost it and rolled 7 or 8 times, which was extremely fun hah. All in all the experience was amazing and has made me decide that I will have to make a few road trips up north during the winter.
After my snowboard experience I returned home to Okayama and the next day it was back to school like normal. Things were normal for a while, friends, study, school, video games, and comics until my host parents told me that I would be able to go to Tokyo! I had told them how badly I would have liked to have been able to go nonstop and so my host father decided that seeing how they were going to Tokyo to see my host brother it would be a good idea to bring me along! With that I packed a few things and off to the bullet train we went. While riding the train, it took us right past Mt. Fuji (another place I would LOVE to go) and I was able to see how beautiful it really is. After about an hour and a half we were there. Tokyo, the heart of modern day Japan. And the biggest impression I think that I got from it was...there are way too many people in one little city. I lost my host parents a couple times in the crowds (thank god for cell phones) and it's ridiculous how fast people walk in that city. I was walking at what I would consider faster than a normal pace and this little old lady comes shoving past me with her cane in hand. And though it was crowded and hectic...it was a good experience. The first thing we did was go visit my host brother at his job. He works at Tokyo Dome, which is where the biggest baseball games in all of Japan are held. With that I went and saw my first baseball game AND my favorite team won! ^^; After the baseball game we went and stayed a hotel next to Tokyo station. My host brother came to visit with his fiancée and it was off to bed. After we woke up and checked out, we went on over to the buses and it turns out that my host father had bought us tickets for a tour bus. And so we toured about various sights of Tokyo and eventually came to Tokyo tower. Tokyo tower is 330 meters tall and from that high up...the view is absolutely beautiful. Past the tall buildings it's nothing but mountains and rice fields as far as the eye can see. From that tower you can even see Mt. Fuji which is quite a few prefectures away. After our tour bus we ended up back at the station, ate Korean, and were back on the shinkansen (bullet train) home.
After Tokyo came our Rotary Orientation. And I was more than looking forward to this one. See in my district here in little Okayama there is only one other exchange student, making things a little bit lonely. And when the orientation came, various districts gathered together allowing me to meet exchanges from all over the world. (Finally!) Through the orientation we had to do a talent and talk about our experiences which wasn't a big deal, then after that we basically had free time to just hang out and get to know one another. We talked, played games, joked, and simply had a good time. The next day everyone went to Kurashiki (a small but very old city in Okayama) and bought souvenirs for family and friends.
Following the orientation it was time to change host families again. And I don't know if this is bad or not but I was excited to be going back to my first host family. Don't get me wrong, Koyama san (second host family) was very kind and we talked and did things together but it simply wasn't the same bond as the Kobayashis (first and third host family). We simply click, and get along so well that when it comes to host families I don't believe that there is a better one out there for me. I honest and truly feel like I am at home. Which is why things are going to be a bit tough here in 10 days when I have to go home to America. Backtracking-Not long after moving back in with Kobayashi san we were to take a trip to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. The reason for the trip may sound silly when I tell it ... but it was worth it. We went to see flowers, yes that's right, the cherry blossoms. These are the most beautiful flowers that I have ever seen in my entire life. Seeing them blowing in the breeze with that beautiful pink tint in front of and old Japanese style shiro (castle) is something everyone should come and see at least once their lifetime. No question in my mind. We walked the streets of Kyoto and visited various old houses, temples, and castles. Maiko (geisha in training) were walking the streets in their kimono and kasa (paper umbrella), that together with the old buildings and cherry blossoms is an image that is only able to be seen in Kyoto Japan and nowhere else. hah now that I think about it that was the first day that I ever ate green tea ice cream (which is absolutely amazing! and also cant be found in America ;;).
On my famous places that I wanted to go to in Japan list I had almost been to them all. But not quite, and once again thanks to the efforts of Rotary and their generosity, me and the other exchangee in our district were scheduled for our trip to go to the wondrous and mysterious island of Okinawa. I have to say, I was a bit...confused I suppose is the best way to put it. Seeing how the original culture and language of Okinawa is so different from that of the rest of Japan, it really isn't the same feel as everywhere else. After getting off of the plane and getting settled into the hotel we went out for our first Okinawan meal. And it was ... well ... nasty hah. I have to say I loved goya (a food grown only in Okinawa and is extremely bitter) but the rest of it was a bit weird I guess cuz I'm not used to it. When the dishes came out with the food on them and I picked up my chopsticks said itadakimasu and picked up the closest thing to me put a bit in my mouth and tried to chew it up though it was very difficult. I wasn't going to ask but the Rotarian sitting next to me looks at me and says, "do you know what you're eating?" Unfortunately I told him no and he was more than happy to tell me I was chomping on pig ear. A bit shocked I looked at him, put my bowl down and said ever so queasily " we feed that to our dogs". Needless to say that's how the entire dinner went but afterwards we enjoyed a traditional Okinawan dance and song which was very entertaining and neat to be able to experience.
The next day we went out to one of the old bunkers used in the war which was now a museum and looked around at how horrible things were. But to brighten up the day a bit we went canoeing and snorkeling which was an absolute blast! Swam through the coral reef which was incredibly beautiful and played with the fishes in the ocean. The instructor we were with picked a puffer fish outta the water and poked the poor guy till he puffed up and rolled off the side of the little floaty he was on and swam away.
After the fun it was time to eat so unfortunately we went to the most disturbing place in all of Japan. The fish market. I swear it is like hell, they have no sympathy for anything in there. Remember the puffer fish I was talking about a second ago, unfortunately his cousin was at the market skinned and waiting to be bought. Alongside every other fish that swims in the ocean. The weirdest thing that I was while I was there though was definitely the pig face. It was the skin from the ears all the way down to the snout and was just hanging in the market, very grotesque. After the hell market it was time to depart Okinawa and return home.
After going back to school the next week my teacher came up to me and was delighted to tell me about the kanji test that I would be taking in two months. The level that I was to take was that of a middle school Japanese student in kanji proficiency. That's approximately 1009 kanji. When I was told about the test I knew about 650 kanji roughly. This shocked me, scared me, and had me studying my ass off every single day not missing one not even for the weekends. One of the most difficult tests that I have ever taken and wasn't prepared for it in any way. So for a good two months of my exchange I woke up to go to school and study. When I got home I ate dinner and studied. Took a bath got dressed and studied before going to sleep. There were only a handful of days that I wasn't studying until my eyes wanted to fall out of my head (these days were usually on the weekend) but I didn't care, I was not ready to fail this test! During the last week of my studying my brother made it to Japan to visit which left me a bit strapped for time. But nonetheless the day came and I did not feel ready. On top of all the stress I had going for me that day...I was late. Thank goodness for me I got lost somewhere where the people were nice enough to guide me in the right direction. So I'm here. What all the anticipation for the last 2 months was for, stuck in the middle of a bunch of 7th graders. It was a very short test, about an hour long and 100 or some questions. Once It was over I was simply glad to be done with it. All that there was left to do was wait. It would be a month before I knew whether I had passed...or had studied my ass off only to fall face first in the dirt....
Bradley! That's my brother's name! It was incredible to finally see him again after 10 months! Like I said he came just before I was to take my test but I didn't care hahahah. And one of the craziest things is that he was going to be staying for an entire month! I would be able to show him around and teach him about Japan and make fun of him in Japanese with my friends and family and he wouldn't understand! hahahahah >3 The first night I felt bad for him actually...he had just gotten off of an incredibly long plane flight, hadn't slept, and we were going out to eat udon (Japanese noodles) and I didn't even consider the fact that he couldn't use chopsticks. Things didn't go horrible, he just ended up eating a lot slower than usual. And I think the reason I felt so bad for him was because I knew exactly how he felt. That first week especially was like looking at myself a year ago. The only difference was that he liked to look at me for translations of things all the time. I didn't have that. But nonetheless it was amazing to see how clueless he was. And it's not just him, any of you reading this, if or when you go abroad you will feel the same bit of confusion and hardship. You won't know why people do the things that they do, sometimes you will regret having made the choice to go but it's the people that fought through the hard times and became a part of their host country, making a bond like no other, those are Rotary exchange students, and I'm proud to be one of them. Even though you don't realize you did anything....thanks Bradley you helped me realize how important this place is to me and how I have changed this year.
And as things are wrapping themselves up over here on my exchange, I am preparing to make my way back into my "normal" American life...for now. I'm not sure what the future holds for me or where it will end up taking me but I am positive that this year's experience will help me to make the choices that will guide the right path to the future I want to create. And I owe it all to Rotary for opening this road up to me that seemed to be in the farthest reaches of my wildest dreams a year ago. All of you, including my fellow exchangees and Rotex. Everyone played a part, and I wish there were some way for me to pay it back to each and every one of you. And I can't leave out my family. They have supported me through this entire year, mentally and physically (cash). You guyz never let me down, and I love you all so very much. From here I have to get in as much time with my host family as I can. It's weird to think, but I love them too. They have done so much for me. And it's coming to its close. This chapter of my life is ending only to open up many many more.
One more time, thank you Rotarians and thank you family.
From yet another certified adventurer,