July 31 Journal
WOW. "How should I explain Japan?" That's the question that's been plaguing me since I arrived here. It's unique, kind, amusing, sometimes scary, traditional, fun, advanced, and patient but most of all it's sugoi. That one Japanese word pretty much sums up my visit so far. In Japan you can get by with 4 words- sugoi, kawaii, oishii, and arigatou. Sugoi basically means amazing in everyway. And everything in Japan is amazing. From the tatami mats to the karaoke rooms, from the way you bow to everyone to the food (which is sooooo oishii). I love it and I'm never going to be able to say thank you enough to the Rotarians, friends, and family who have helped me get here.
When I was still in predeparture-mode I noticed something in America. So many people had all these concepts and ideas about MY country that, 90% of the time, weren't true at all. Most of them were actually rather funny. I just want to put this out there, the Japanese don't eat cats. At all. It's kind of amusing the way other cultures think of each other. My host family was really surprised that we have cabbage in Florida. xD
Anyways, I left the US 6 days ago and boarded the first of three flights. I said goodbye to a small group of family members with much hugging and picture taking, and then I was on my own. It didn't really hit me until after I got through the initial security. I was really on my own. There was no family to guide me. I had to look after myself from here on out. It felt like a huge amount of responsibility had fallen on me, and to be quite honest I was loving every minute of it. The first flight was relatively short now that I look back on it, a mere 3 hours, but at the time it seemed to take forever. I wanted to get to Japan and I wanted to get there fast. The second flight was a little bit longer, a staggering 13 hours. Ugh. Even now I dread the flight back and not just because I know I won't want to leave. As my plane flew over the first part of Japan that I could actually see (there were a lot of clouds :( ) I kept thinking to myself, "Japan! You're flying over Japan! That's a Japanese car! Oh my gosh, a Japanese tree!" I'm still doing that. 6 days later and I'll say to myself, "A Japanese Wendy's! So cool!"
My initial feeling of anticipation disappeared for a while after I landed, to one of awe. Then to confusion :)
I managed to get through customs and grab my luggage, but then where to next? Carrying 2 giant suitcases, one carry on, and a giant 'purse' across an airport and up two flights of escalators is not fun. At all. Especially when you're supposed to get your e-tickets on the first floor where you just were. Luckily, this nice Japanese attendant pointed where I was to go and another person brought me a cart to carry my luggage (Yes!). After that I didn't run into any other mishaps. I got on my next plane and sailed away. Oh, and did I mention that the entire flight over the sun was up? I was awake for 23 hours and the sun was up for all of it.
When I got to Sendai I grabbed my luggage and walked out to find a banner held by three other exchangees (Anna-Mexico, Emma-France, and Joe-America), a couple Rotarians, a future Floridian inbound (Chihiro Watanabe), and one of my host families. Relief, excitement, and anticipation at the realization that I was finally in my city where I would spend the rest of my exchange. I had actually made it, all that worrying about missing a flight for nothing. After the first greeting I said goodbye to my host family and Chihiro and took off with the exchangees to go the hotel where we would have a small inbound orientation.
Oh, and all the Japanese cars I've been in have had not only GPS, but a GPS and TV in the front next to the steering wheel, so on the way to the hotel our Rotarian was watching baseball. Plus, although I knew the Japanese drove on the other side of the road, I wasn't expecting every inch of my body to be on edge. It felt wrong and scary. Now I've been trying to pay attention to understand the rules of the road. It's amazing. It's almost like a dance. I don't know, it's hard to describe.
When we first got to the hotel there was a mad exchange of pins and candy from the different countries. There was a lot more candy than pins. Mmmmmm, Mexican candy :)
I had my first Japanese dinner (oishii) at the hotel that night and met the inbound from Sweden who was leaving soon. After dinner we all went up to the hotel room and talked for hours, until I couldn't keep myself awake any longer.
The next day I woke at two in the morning..... Needless to say, I was irritated at my internal clock for disturbing my much needed sleep. Throughout that day I-
-Had natto (fermented soybean) for the first and last time.
-Had various relatively easy Japanese classes.
-Went through an overview of the Rotary rules
-Had my first bowl of Japanese ramen. Sooooo much better than ANY ramen I have ever had in my life.
-Visited my first shrine. Amazing. Breathtaking and awe-inspiring. The music and ritual gave me goosebumps and is something I will never forget.
-Went to a yakitori restaurant. Where I ate a baby octopus.... whole. Very interesting D:
-Went to a Japanese karaoke! Soooo much fun. And there was so much beer and sake XD but not for the exchangees :) We were good. Anna sang in Spanish, Emma sang in French, and the Americans sang in English. Very fun.
The next day we had to pack and prepare a short speech to give at the small ceremony that introduced us to our first host family, counselors, and a representative from our school. It went by in a blur of Japanese that I didn't understand and before I knew it I was being whisked away from the people I had just gotten to know and like to another strange and new environment.
My first host family is amazing and so kind and patient. They include Keke (gramma/host mom), Shu-chan (grandpa/host dad), Junko-chan (mom), Yoshi-kun (dad), and Anna-chan (little sister). They have been sugoi, trying to make my stay as enjoyable as possible
My host family runs a restaurant chain so they're a little different from a traditional Japanese family. They have three houses right next to each other. Keke and Shu-chan live in one, Junko, Yoshi, and Anna live in the other, and the last one is just sort of a hangout house. I live with Keke and Shu-chan. Every morning we wake up at 6, yes 6, and breakfast is at 6:30. After, Keke and I go outside and wave goodbye as Shu-chan goes to work. Then I vacuum the entire first floor while Keke works in the kitchen. In Japan everyone is so polite. I always smile when I see Keke bowing three, four times in a row to someone to express her gratitude. That coupled with, "Arigatou gozaimasu. Gomen nasi. Arigatou. Shitsureishimasu. Arigatou Gozaimasu." Is so cute >><<
Everything in Japan is so kawaii (cute). The cars, the cell phones, the people. They're all so tiny >< And my counselor was nice enough to lend me a cell phone to use, because in Japan EVERYONE has one. Especially teenagers. They're constantly texting and I hate to admit, but I have grown rather attached to mine too...
Oh! School! I start August 8th and visited it once to get my school uniform (soooo kawaii ><). Miura-sensei, my English teacher showed me around. It's currently summer break so the only students there were there from club activities so I got to see all those as well ^^
Very cool. I really want to try Kyudo (traditional Japanese archery). When we went into the library I thought this one girl was going to have a heart attack when she saw me. She and her two friends freaked out with whispers of 'kawaii, kawaii'.... Very amusing XD
I still haven't decided whether I enjoy being a minority or not. It's strange to see a sea of Japanese and not any other races. Very different from America.
While I've been in Japan I have eaten so much, oh my gosh. . Everyone said don't worry, don't worry, don't worry, you're going to Japan. You won't gain weight. Ha. I've eaten WAAAAY more here than I did in the US and it doesn't help that since they run a restaurant chain all the food is amazingly delicious.
Oh and the other day I got to take a purikura. The best thing in the world, why we don't have them in America I'll never know. It's like you're own private photo booth, and it's big, and you get to take a variety of pictures. Afterwards you get to draw on them, add pictures, sparkles, etc etc. Soo much fun.
My Japanese is slowly improving. My grammar is still awful and I can understand more than what I can say, but a word of advise to all future outbounds. Study, study, study. Nothing is more frustrating than having to look in your dictionary every couple of minutes only to find it's a simple word like freedom. Every minute of studying I did back in America, and I actually did a lot, has helped me. I can have a conversation in Japanese. How cool is that?
I've only been here 6 days but I love it and am forever in debt to Rotary for providing me this wonderful, life-changing experience. Thank you, thank you, thank, thank you, thank you. I will never be able to say it enough.
But for now, I can hear the cicadas outside the window. Sendai is calling and I need to go enjoy the wonders of Japan.
Ja, mata ne~
August 29 Journal
Hello again everyone!
I change host families next week. Let me retype that. I don’t think you fully grasped it. I change host families next week.
Next week. No way. I’m going to go with the cliché saying- Somebody wake me, because I must be dreaming. There is NO WAY I have been in Japan for a month already. The entire world is playing a practical joke on me and setting all the calendars ahead. Not nice, not nice at all. Half of me is so excited that I'll be experiencing a whole new family and meeting new people, and the other part just wants to throw a temper tantrum at the fact that I have to leave the people I have just become so close to. At while I must have just gone with the latter a few years ago, I am now supposed to be 'the responsible exchange student'. So... here I go. One family at a time. (And I’m supposed to have 5!)
There's so much I want to put in this journal, but it’s impossible to put a whole month's worth of time into this without making it either excessively long....or excessively boring. Therefore, I shall only put the highlights of this month :)
First and foremost-School. Which I mistakenly said started the 8th of August in my last journal. That was a lie. It actually started the 20th of August. My day starts out at 6:30 when I wake up. I have come to the realization that it is tremendously easier to get ready for school when you wear the same thing everyday and you’re not allowed to wear makeup or jewelry. Some may see it as a restriction but I see it as an easy way to be lazy. :) At 6:30 is breakfast, and I head to the bus stop at 7. Did you know that the school bus in Japan costs money to ride? If I understood correctly, about 50 USD a month! I, however, take the public bus.... Then the subway... Then another bus to get to school. It takes me about an hour to get there all together. Yes it's far, yes it's early in the morning. And most times I have to stand the entire way because there aren’t any seats available. Very different from my usual nap on the school bus. But that’s not to say I don’t enjoy it, it’s nice to sightsee during that time.
Before school started I have to admit I was missing friends my age a lot and I’ll even go as far to say that I was a little homesick-But alas! Now that school has started up I feel better and love every day once more. (Not to say I still don’t miss you guys :D) It's fun to walk down the hallway and hear people calling out random things to me in English. My personal favorites are "I love you!" and "Do you like me?". I’ve also been asked if my hair is a perm more than once. I’ve decided to take that as a compliment from now on.
I have 7 classes a day and the cool thing in Japan is that the teachers come to you, no more do I have to worry about being late or getting lost. That’s the teachers job now! I’ll be taking English, media, AOC (another English class), Gender, health, Math, science, PE, music, dance, and probably some I forgot. The schedule is different every day and I’m nowhere near memorizing it yet. I’m not taking Japanese, history, or geography because to be quite honest I either sleep in those classes or draw because I have NO idea what’s going on. I struggle to understand what’s going on in all my classes (with the marvelous exception of English) but those are special. When I’m not taking those subjects with my fellow classmates I go to the library and study Kanji (Japanese characters)! Yay!
Or sleep. Sleeping seems to be high on my list lately. Actually, that’s what I want to be doing right now. I’m tired... All the time. Except, of course, when I have a chance to sleep in.
Anyways, at school everyone is really nice. My first day Miura-sensei showed me to the classroom before classes had started so everyone was in small groups talking. She then was like, "Well, everyone this is the new exchange student. See you later." And left me standing there looking back at all the people I definitely did not know. In Japan you can’t be afraid to take the first step in greeting people. I am very happy to say that I went against all things natural to me and stepped up to a small group and hesitantly asked if it was ok to join them. Of course, it was. Later during morning congregation I had to give a short speech in Japanese in front of the whole school. Let me emphasize short. I was not happy finding this out, and to be quite honest I felt a little nauseous. There’s also another foreign exchange student in my class from Germany (Juliya) who’s been there for a couple months already. Lucky for me she rarely speaks English to me (even though hers is perfect) but we converse in Japanese instead. Only when I’m feeling really desperate and my dictionary has failed me do I run to her for help.
Skip ahead to after the awkward hellos and getting to know yous to a more happy time. The school festival. In particular, my class' exhibit-The Haunted House. Now, I’ve never been part of a haunted house before and I didn’t know how hard to was to pull one of those off. The maze itself was the hardest part-construction board and black plastic garbage bags haphazardly draped over strings running back and forth across the ceiling. Very fun, very time consuming. Everyone helped out and got a part in the 'scaring the bejeezus out of kids' role. I was in charge of dropping a head :D And I don’t think I’ll ever get the image of 5 Asian girls looking zombified and grudge-like creeping towards me out of my head.
Oops! I got distracted, I think I WAS explaining my average school day at some point...
So after school is over everyone has an assigned cleaning role that changes occasionally. That’s right the students clean the school, not some janitor that’s been hired, the students. That probably explains why there’s no gum under any of the desks :)
After THAT, I go to.... KYUDO!!!
Yay! I’ve only gone a couple times, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to continue. It’s a rather small club (maybe 10 people) but it has made a lasting impression on me. I had a chance to shoot my first arrow with Kyudo bow (which is huge by the way, taller than me) and I’m not as bad as I thought I would be. Kyudo ends at 6:30 ish and then it's back home. I usually get home around 8ish because (oh boy) it's rush hour :D That means no seats and no room to breathe. You better hope you’re not claustrophobic.
So next subject! The onsen - better known as the public bath.
My family and I went to this gorgeous onsen located in the mountains. It was breathtaking and I loved it! This onsen was, lucky for me, a separate bath. Meaning the girls in one-the guys in the other. Still....You go into the changing room and remove all clothing while clutching this towel that’s maybe big enough to be a hand towel. A bunch of people were using it for their hair. There is a washing area with shampoo, soap, etc and then there are the baths. Now these are like no baths we have in America. They’re more like giant shallow pools filled with hot water. At the hotel I was at, there were all different types of baths-some were stone, some were wood, some were rectangles, some were circular but they were all in view of the mountains and they were all hot, hot, hot. Once I got over the initial 'oh my god there are naked people everywhere' and self-consciousness I actually really enjoyed it and am looking forward to going again. I can see why they’re so popular over here.
I had the opportunity to join the middle schoolers on their English camp. Good news- They’re adorable and I got a chance to know a bunch of them while having fun at camp too. Can you say bonfire, s'mores, songs, and yakiniku (BBQ! :D)? Bad news-It was an English camp. Juliya and I were specifically told to speak English only. Horrible for my Japanese. Though it was nice to get to know Juliya on a level I could understand. There were a couple English teachers and Rick-sensei is actually from Maine. So it was kinda nice to talk to another American about Japan, especially when he’s lived here for ten years. That lasted two days as it was very fun.
I also attended my first Rotary meeting in the beginning of August. I believe the Rotarians back in America now. The Rotarians in other parts of the world definitely have a bit more money than normal folks. The meeting was at this fancy hotel and I would swear that all the Rotarians were guys. I had to give a short speech in Japanese (again emphasize short) to introduce myself and then the rest was a blur of fast talking Japanese that I didn’t understand. Although I did recognize the Four Way Test in Japanese (mainly because it had the word four in it :)) and felt this overwhelming feeling. I don’t know how to describe it. It was so strange to see something so familiar in a completely different country. In a completely different language. A mixture of pride and awe and I don’t what else.
But it was cool.
I had the chance to go to the Tanabata festival early August. It’s the biggest festival in Sendai bringing about 2 million people each year and weeks before its arrival you could see the Tanabata decorations slowly start to take over the shops, restaurants, and even the airport! The story is basically two lovers in the sky are unable to see each other because a river of stars (The Milky Way) separates them. They can only see each other on the Seventh day of the Seventh month. The festival consist of fireworks, food vendors, games, and the main attraction hundreds upon hundreds of brightly colored and intricately designed streamers from every place imaginable. I even saw one from my phone company and Starbucks. They consist of a large circular shaped top with long streamers hanging down and each one is unique. Very pretty. Plus I got to dress in my first yukata (summer kimono)! My family even bought me my own!!
I got to Japan during its rainy season. A good day is when it only rains at night and is partly cloudy, a bad day is when it rains for two days straight with not a glimpse of blue in sight. The bad days far outnumber the good days (at least weather-wise) and I’m looking forward to the end of this rain. I want to see the stars again!
My Japanese is crawling along at its ever constant snails pace. And I can talk a little faster. Still don’t know what the heck people are saying most of the time though.
Since I’ve been in Japan I’ve carried around a little notebook that I jot down ideas or things that I think I would want to remember or put in this journal. Here's a couple of them.
- In Japan people wear shirts with English on them all the time. Hmm. Here's an example- ’Have you had your love tomorrow?’ Now... I’m no English teacher, but something about that seems wrong. And that’s one of the good ones. At least twice a week I'll come across English that I'll just break out laughing at. Of course, this earns me weird looks from everyone around me, but oh well.
- Sometime I think to myself, "I wish I could bottle this feeling and bring it back home to America with me."
- I’ve seen a little girl eat things that would scare most grown men in America.
- I like tea. Now some of you may know of my utter hatred for tea in America…But no more! I’ve actually become quite fond of the traditional Japanese green tea. Who would’ve thought?
- I miss Hugs. Back in Florida, I got hugged a bajillion times in one day. I sorta miss that.
- I’ve apologized to my family for obnoxious and loud Americans in a restaurant. I actually felt kind of embarrassed.
-In Japan they don’t say goodbye to their family on the phone. It's hello, conversation end. No goodbye. I still can’t get used to that.
And now, I am exhausted and want nothing more than sleep.
So I’m going to end this for now！
Ja mata ne!
September 22 Journal
Hello again everyone,
Wow. It's already time for another journal? The time seems to be flying away and before I even realized it I've been here for 60 days. If you would've told me this time last year that I would be in Japan I would have laughed at you.
I still might.
So (obvious to me, not so obvious to the readers), I am typing this on a new computer. In a new house. And it's in the living room :) Yes, that's right. I am in my new home, and have been for... 3 weeks? Maybe? I've seem to have lost all ability to keep track of time. Months have magically transformed themselves into days and the only way I know what day it is is when I look at my phone calendar.
My new host family is superfantabulous and I'm very sad that I'm not going to get much more time with them. There's my mom, dad, little sister (Yuri), sister my age (Eri), and a big brother (Keichiro). And Momo, of course, the giant white fluffy dog that I've been getting my hug fix from :) I have the big brother's room because he's in college at the moment. I hope he doesn't mind all the posters I've put up of my favorite Asian boy bands. So, this new family is really different from my last one mainly because I have kids my own age around. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED my last family as well, but it's kind of nice to have siblings. I don't have my own bathroom anymore, instead it's the traditional type in which everyone takes turns washing (outside of the tub of course!) and uses the same water for a bath. The o-furo is one of my favorite parts of the day. My new family lives pretty close to the school and I only have to get up at seven, plus I only take one bus to school! No more hour-long rides to school for me! Very happy about that.
In my last journal I said I'd have five families, right? Oops. Another mistake. I actually have..... DUN DUN DUN.... eight. No that's not a typo. That's my host district trying to kill me (A joke!). I got to meet all of them at a welcome party a few weeks ago, and I can honestly say all of them seemed very nice and I'm looking forward to all of the different views of Sendai. At the welcome party I was greeted with warmth and friendliness you can only feel when you realize, 'all these people are opening up their homes, their families, to me.'. HOWEVER - I'm NOT looking forward to packing my steadily growing pile of things every month or so.... I don't know where all this extra stuff has come from! I know I've been doing a little bit of shopping but really! Ok, maybe more than a little.....
Since I've been in Japan I've been lost maybe five times. Now, yes that sounds bad, but I did change families and have to get used to a completely new bus schedule. The worst time was when I completely took the wrong bus on my way to school and me and my pride thought I could find the subway station by just walking around for a bit. Ha. After an hour of walking around town in the downcast/slightly rainy weather and emailing my friend to tell her to tell the teacher I would be late, I finally gave in and asked for directions at a conbini (convenience store). In Japanese I might add! Very happy to say that after that I managed to find my way back to the subway and arrived safely at school! I didn't even have to call my parents and ask them to come pick me up like the other times :)
Although, the last time I got lost my host father came and picked me up on his motorcycle! All I've got to say is being on a motorcycle plus being in Japan equals amazing.
School right now is test time and, if you didn't know, test time is a big deal in Japan. They have to take really hard tests to get into high school (sometimes even middle school!) and really hard tests to get into college as well, so test time in Japan means you can practically feel the tension in the air. These high schoolers are like super students. In one day some have school from 7 till 4, then club till 6 or 7, then sometimes cram school till 10, and then they have homework! My sisters right now don't go to sleep till at least 12:30 or 1... It's amazing! I am exhausted from just club and school, if I had to add cram school and homework to that I'd collapse! So today, since I am but a poor exchange student who cant read or speak Japanese anywhere near well enough to take a high school level test, I went to the library and studied.... and slept till they released us early.
The past couple weekends have been very fun. I went to the depaato (mall) with a couple friends and we did things I would normally have done with my friends back home. Taking pictures, buying weird things, trying on ridiculously expensive hats. It was nice. I also spent time with part of my future host family. Kozue is in my class and invited me to go to see her brother play the electone with her and her mother. Wow! I never would've thought that electones could sound like a whole orchestra. It was just groups of people playing the same instrument, but it sounded like I was in Carnegie Hall. And Kozue's brothers group got second!
My family is really good friends with a soccer player from the Sendai soccer team so this weekend I went to my first Japanese soccer game! First off, Asian soccer teams get two thumbs up! ;) And second, I was almost just as fascinated with the fans as I was with the game. Every single person was singing the Vegalta Eagles songs in sync and doing these crazy arm movements (in sync) while jumping up and down. They even had this massive banner that sprung out of nowhere and engulfed an entire section of the bleachers. There were even giant flags that HAD to have been coordinated before. We won. :) And the family friend got to do an interview and hold up the giant check that they had won. I'm excited that I get to go to another soccer game again soon.
The day after the game I went shopping. I have no spending money now D: But it was worth it. When I'm in the mall I'll forget I'm in Japan for a while, but then something distinctly cultural like a kimono shop will pop out and remind me 'You're actually in Japan!'.
It doesn't seem like a dream so much anymore. It's just a place I really love and can't (or won't) imagine leaving anytime soon. Some days I'm still amazed that I'm talking in Japanese and understanding it, other days the fact doesn't even phase me. It's just... what they do here.
The customer service here is absolutely amazing. I love it. I wish American customer service was like this. At the McDonalds (MCDONALDS!) drive-thru someone came up and gave us a menu. Woah. And all the gas stations have those people who pump gas for you.
Once in a while, I'll spot a foreigner and whisper to my friends or family, "Gaijin, gaijin!" (foreigner, foreigner!). Even if their back is turned and they have black hair, for some reason I can still tell. It makes me realize how obvious I must stand out.
Nothing else epic has happened lately. I'm still struggling with the language, still trying to figure out the bus system, still missing hugs (though Momo has been helping with that :)), still trying to make friends, still loving the food (had my first Japanese crepe with ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate, and bananas. Yum).
It's been exactly 60 days.
And there are still so many more to go.
Saa, mata ne.
October 5 Journal
Hi everyone~ I know it hasn't been long since my last journal but I figured I might as well fill you in on my recent adventures. (And give you some pictures seeing as I didn't do that last time :))
So this weekend I went on my first outing with some of the Rotarians, some of their wives, two kids from my school's Interact club, and my English teacher. I'm proud to say at the very beginning I specifically asked my teacher (In Japanese) to not speak in English during the day so I could practice my language skills. :) It was so much fun and I feel a lot more comfortable with some of the members of my club now. We went to eat soba at an onsen in the mountains, and I have to say it was one of THE most beautiful places I have ever seen. We started out with a ten minute ski lift ride up the mountain. Now, it doesn't take much to make me happy. I was ecstatic at the fact that the leaves were starting to change colors the entire ride to the mountain. But put me in the middle of that and add mountains as well? I was loving it. After the ski lift we saw our REAL obstacle. Climbing to the top. I think it might have taken us (well, at least the other two high school students and I :)) thirty or forty minutes of very vertical climbing to get to the top, and the view was not only breathtaking there but the entire way up and down as well. I was definitely playing the 'camera-happy' tourist the entire time. Something I've realized is that no mater how beautiful the picture, you can never really show something the way it was. All the pictures I took don't even come close to how amazing that trip was. Afterwards, as we struggled to catch our breath, we walked back to bus and were whisked away to the onsen to relax in steaming hot water. It was bliss. I am definitely a fan of the onsen, hands down. I've only been twice but foresee many more visits in my future. :)
Then it was time for a good ol' fashioned Japanese meal. I was a little put off at the first dish-a lovely fish with head and tail still attached and slightly fried. Even more so when the nice lady next to me told me I should eat the head as well. :( But overall, it was (as usual) a delicious meal. I don't know how I'm ever going to get used to not having rice with every meal again! American food doesn't even compare to what I'm eating every day...
As I was enjoying my meal and talking to the other highs school girls...In Japanese!... a Rotarian came over and told me I was to give a small speech on the bus ride back home. Surprise! Boy, I never get tired of these surprise speeches ): After quick consultation with my English teacher on how to say a few nice things (Please invite me on this type of event again, etc.) I, luckily, kind of just swung it. It went alright. I believe they even understood me :) It was a lot easier than my first two surprise speeches. Maybe it had to do with that fact that I had gotten to know them a little over day. Maybe it had to do do with me being able to speak Japanese a little better. Or maybe everyone was slightly affected from the sake that they drank during lunch. Whatever the case, it went well. I even answered questions afterwards (with some help with my English teacher). I've been feeling kind of bad because I'm only able to go to one meeting a month. The Rotary meetings happen in be right in the middle of my school day and missing school is a no-no, but I feel a little better now that I was able to share some of my experience with them while on that trip.
Last weekend I went to a baseball game in Japan. Now, you may think baseball is really 'American', but you obviously haven't been to a game in Japan. Baseball is Japan's top sport, closely followed by football (soccer) and sumo. Is was closely related to my explanation of the soccer game in my previous journal. Lots of synchronization. Lots of singing. Lots of excitement. Lots of fun. There were balloons too :)
BUT-My American family is going to disown me :)-I actually enjoyed the soccer game a lot more. I've been to both twice but I think it was more exciting, possibly because one of the players is a really good family friend, but still. Go Vegalta Eagles! :)
A while ago I was feeling pretty down. I was missing my friends like crazy and felt like my Japanese was horrible in comparison to the two other exchangees at my school. I didn't feel like I was being a good exchange student, I wasn't making friends quickly enough, I wasn't studying enough.
After talking to the other exchangees I feel a lot better now. They were feeling the same way. I realize good friends will come in time and as for the language I just need to keep trying. Plus, the other exchangees studied for about 4 years in school before they came here. THAT little piece of information really made me stop comparing my poor grammar and writing skills to them.
I'm very excited to say that in December I will be taking the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) test. This is so big to me. I've always heard about it and wanted to take it, plus I'm not taking the really beginner level (level 4) but one step up (level 3). So I'm taking the test around a 5th grader level. :)
It suddenly got cold about a week ago. I wasn't expecting it at all. It went from kids fanning themselves in the classrooms one day to everyone wearing their sweaters the next, and it's stayed colder. I'm a little worried I won't have the proper clothes for winter now... But that's ok. I'll just have another excuse to buy more adorable Japanese clothes. <3
Most of my class is going to Australia for a little while, but seeing as me and the girl from Germany aren't allowed, instead we get to travel Japan. Which is perfectly fine with me since I get to go to Okinawa instead! Okinawa is one of the most southern parts of Japan and is supposed to be very beautiful. Think a Japanese version of Key West.... Only better.
I'm changing host families again in about a week. I'm going to miss this one so much. My host sisters are really nice and the host dad and mom are so fun to talk to. Plus, I love getting rides on papa's motorcycle. (Yes. They make me call them papa and mama. XD)
It's a good thing I adapt so quickly or all this family moving business would be very disorienting! Although, every time I figure out one area I have to move to another, so I figure by the time my exchange year ends I will have gotten lost at least 20-30 times. But who's counting? :)
October 26 Journal
It's that time again, Journal updating. I have a love hate relationship with these things. Half of me really loves doing them and sharing what I've been doing for the past month, and the other half is just plain lazy. This month has been full of ups and downs, so much so that I think there should be a new medical diagnosis- 'Exchange student-itis'. It would involve everything and anything including excitement, depression, happiness, nervousness, nostalgia, sadness, laziness, giddiness, etc., etc. And would help tell people what is wrong with us. (haha)
The hardest thing this month for me was definitely changing host families again.... So soon. It hurt. I mean, it really hurt. I had just gotten to the point where I really felt like part of the family. I loved my host parents like they were my own and me and my host sisters were able to joke around like we were real sisters. I knew where the stupid little things in the house were and could laze about without feeling self-conscious. I didn't get lost anymore because I finally understood the bus route. I was feeling pretty good. Then I realized I only had one week left with them.... then two days..... then one day. It was awful. I felt like all the effort I had put into this family had been in vain. I now had to start all over again, the self-introductions, the wondering where the dishes are, not knowing what music they liked, not knowing anything.
My last day with them my sister made me takoyaki for breakfast. The best takoyaki I had ever tasted <3 When they dropped me off at my new host family's house it was just mama, papa, and me. And then this lady, who had barely known me for a month, started to cry as we said our goodbyes. That's when I really realized I'm NOT just a guest in these peoples houses, I really do become part of the family. It not something that Rotary kept pumping into our brains for fun, it happens. Whether you know it or not. I think this is going to be the hardest part of my exchange. Even more so than the other students. I have 8 host families and am going to have to go through this five more times. I don't think I'm ever going to like it either.
My new family is so different from what I'm used to back in America where there was 2 people, my mom and me, but here there are 7! Grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, little sister, little brother, and myself. All packed into a Japanese house XD. My siblings are very busy - almost always studying, going to cram school, or at club and they're only middle-schoolers!! My dad is a doctor though. That's pretty cool. He and mom really love classical music, in fact I think they all do. And my mom loves chorus music and is going to be a soloist in an upcoming concert. It's so amazing to be sitting downstairs and hearing her practice while I'm doing my homework. I love it. Grandma and grandpa are very sweet to me, even though they know I can't really understand them very well (haha). In Japanese the older people have really hard to understand accents that sometimes even native Japanese speakers can't get what they're saying. But it's fun to try.
So this month my school - Shokei - had two exciting things happen. One was that we had our undoukai (Sports festival in English?)!! We got the entire day off from our normal school day and were instead to compete with other classes in various sport-related competitions. There's tug-of-war, jump roping, relays, a spin off of a three-legged race, the throw the beanbag in the really tall basket game with a bunch of different people game, and others that I probably forgot. About a week before all the classes had to choose specific people to participate in the different activities. I made the mistake of telling people I had been in Track and Field. That sealed my fate. I was put in two relays and a three-legged race but with five people instead. Both of the relays I was very nervous about, whereas the three-legged race I knew we were going to fail miserably HAHA (and we kind of did XD). The first relay I was the last person and had to run 400m instead of 200m like the ten people before me. After that was the really important one where one person from each class was chosen to race with their fellow year against the others (think Sophmores vs Juniors vs Seniors). We didn't win either but I was told I did really good :) And at the undoukai winning isn't the important thing, well... ok it's good to win too but! It's more important to have fun, it really was a nice friendly atmosphere that I thoroughly enjoyed. I'm disappointed I will be back in America next year when they have it again. :(
The other exciting thing was that Shokei had 15 German exchange students visit us for a week. And three of them were boys. I could've sworn Johnny Depp had just walked into the room a couple of times by the way the girls absolutely, and totally freaked out. It was highly entertaining to me who was unfazed by their western looks :) That week was fun in its own way. Julia (from Germany), Rania (from Romania), and I got to skip almost all of our classes that week and just join whatever the German kids were doing. I got to witness my first tea ceremony (seated in a nice comfortable chair, not seiza hahahaha), try my hand at calligraphy, and had numerous chances to go out shopping on a school day. To help the German kids, you know? They didn't speak Japanese at all and the Japanese kids were hesitant, as ever, to practice their English. So who was around to be the handy-dandy translator? Why not the girl who has only been in Japan for 3 months and doesn't feel like her Japanese is anywhere near good enough to be helping two strangers communicate? Oh, okay. It was interesting but it made my confidence in my Japanese rise so much. I was actually able to translate a good 80% of what they said and it helped me realize my Japanese IS improving... Even though I haven't been feeling like it is.
So yeah, my grammar is highly questionable at times. And yeah, there are still a ton of words I don't have a clue about. But I can get around. I can order stuff. Heck, I can even figure out those big words if I ask them to break it down into smaller ones so I can understand it. That's ALMOST good enough for me.
Anyways, the German kids didn't just get me out of class a lot and help my confidence in my Japanese, but they helped me get to know to classmates a lot better. The kids were actually kind of distant and cold to us so we bonded over talking about them. Not necessarily in a bad way, just in a 'why?' way.
Now that Autumn has begun I am constantly fascinated with the changing colors of the leaves and the branches that are beginning to grow bare. I'll pick a red leaf up and show it to my friends all proud and say 'Look! Isn't this pretty?'. Of course, they just laugh at me. But I can't believe that they just all walk around all day without realizing how beautiful some of the little things in their town are. They're just so used to waking up and seeing changing colors and mountains in the distance, whereas I'm trying to take every picture possible of the whole thing. It makes me realize there might be things about Palm Coast that I don't see that are beautiful too...... MAYBE.
I had the opportunity to go to my first Kyudo competition. I cant wait until I'm able to look like what they looked like. It really is very beautiful when done properly and if you ever get the chance just try to stop by and see it sometime.
I almost got to see Patty (currently in Taiwan) in Japan. ALMOST. She came to visit Tokyo for a Rotary meeting (THREE HOURS away from me by bullet train!) and we both tried our hardest to try and meet each other, but in the end things just didn't work out. Maybe it was for the best but I was pretty depressed about it for a long while....
And now to more random thoughts I want to get down-
-I love the people who hand stuff out at every corner. Helps me get my free tissues and lotions :D
-A Jehovah's witness came up to me while I was waiting for a friend at Sendai Station.
-They are very wary of me riding a bike. Even to the store. Apparently it's dangerous.....
-At a festival there were very, very small children dancing like professional 'hip-hop'ers. I felt a mixture of awe and horror.
-No matter how full you think your suitcase is, you can and will be able to stuff more things into it.
-I feel awkward when I'm on the right side of the sidewalk or street. It just doesn't feel right.
-When I disagree with something I wave my hand in front of my face like I'm swatting a fly away like the Japanese girls do. And when I tell someone to come closer I beckon them with my hand, palm down.
-In Kyudo I have yet to use the bow. Still taking tests on my form.
-My legs constantly hurt. Walking almost everywhere is starting to take its toll.... But at least it's a good fighter against all the crepes I'm eating.
-Speaking of crepes I think I'm starting to grow an addiction.....
Alright, I apologize to my family for the lack of pictures recently but my new family's computer really doesn't like me. I'll try to send some soon.... but as for now, this journal isn't going to have any either. Sorry!!! Much love to my family (blood-related, dojo-related, and adopted) and my much missed friends back home <3333
Until next time,
November 30 Journal
It feels like I just wrote my last journal the other week. I've been in Japan for exactly 129 days and counting (yes, I'm still counting :)) and my exchange is a quarter of the way over. Wow. This just seems to be going faster and faster and there's nothing I can do but just sit back and enjoy the view of Hello Kitty, host families, and Rotary meetings whizzing past me.
I finally fixed the problem of not feeling like I was participating in my Rotary club enough this month (Way to be proactive, Georgia. It's only been four months. Haha.). I joined the school Interact club! This club doesn't really have any meetings, so it doesn't interfere with my regular Kyudo practice, but it gives me the chance to occasionally volunteer with the other members and once in a while we even volunteer with the actual Rotary club. Or at least semi-volunteer and then eat a lot afterwards, either way it's fun. Plus I've made some really good friends through it as well. At the beginning of this month I did my first volunteer by standing outside for five hours yelling things in Japanese to get people to donate to orphans. It was long and boy it was cold, but I was thoroughly surprised by how giving some of the people were. We had far more than one or two people give us at least 20 or 30 dollars. Made my faith in the human race rise a bit :). Another time we volunteered was at Hirosegawa, the local river, where we did some river cleaning with the Rotary club and various other small groups were there as well. I learned how to FINALLY skip a stone across the water, after watching the one guy do it for an hour and being infinitely jealous that mine completely and utterly sunk. We got him to teach us and nicknamed him Sensei.
So, it definitely got cold. My Floridian is kicking in and as much as I love the cold I think the fact that we have to wear these shorts skirts in freezing weather is slightly ridiculous, however cute the uniforms may be it doesn't help the fact that you start to lose feeling in your legs. Almost all of money is going towards warmer clothes now, not that I'm complaining about buying clothes :) The vending machines that litter the streets everywhere you go and I have become marvelous friends. They give me cans of hot tea or cocoa that I can use to warm my hands and I give them money. It's a nice relationship. Oh and apparently, I got really lucky. My mom told me that the fall this year was one of the longest and most colorful that Sendai has had. I was walking through a park with my little sister one day and came across this amazing area where it was like you were literally walking on a field of gold. I also found a small trail/park area within a five minute walk of my home that was next to a lake and surrounded in these giant trees, all of which were changing colors. It was like I was in my own world down there. Now more and more of the trees are becoming bare, but this fall is something I will not forget.
So this was the month were my class went off to Australia for two weeks, leaving me and the other exchangee in my class (Julia) to fend for ourselves. That week I realized something about my class. As much as I didn't really feel like I was making good friends within my class, I was brought back to reality about how wrong I really was. While they were off on their school trip that week we were put into two different classes. It was fun, but it was like the beginning all over again and I really missed my class where I felt pretty comfortable just jumping into any conversation or talking to anyone. Now, I did really enjoy getting to check out the other classes that week and met some really nice girls, but the day our class came back it was a blur of a bunch of squealing and hugs.
They were gone for two weeks and one of those weeks about 100 other girls from Shokei (Julia and myself included) got to have the pleasure of going to Okinawa! It was simply put- breathtaking. There was an endless view of this perfectly flat ocean with crystal waters on one side and the other had these gorgeous mountains. I was struck with a very strong feeling of deja vu though, once we stepped off the plane I was hit with warm weather, palm trees, tan people in sandals, and floral designs. Sound familiar? We also stepped straight off the plane and, no we didn't get to relax and go to our hotel right away, but we went to a museum were we sat in front of this giant painting and listened to a speech for a good 40 some minutes. That might not have been so bad but the painting itself gave me the worst goose bumps ever and I felt like crying the entire time because it was a about war and I couldn't really understand what the guy was saying. All I knew was that he was saying America an awful lot...
This would continue throughout the trip. People talking about America and war and me feeling sort of bad.
Okinawa was really very beautiful, although it did rain a couple times, it almost always ended up clearing up just enough to leave the clouds looking like something out of a dream. We had a schedule every day and were almost always busy. We went to so many different places it's hard for me to remember. We went to a couple museums and we also went to some of the caves that the Okinawan people had lived in during World War Two. Okinawan history is so different than the rest of the history of Japan. One of the things that really stands out in my memory is when we went to this memorial where we walked around for a while and then went into this building where this little old lady gave this speech. This little old lady was one out of a group of female students that formed a nursing unit during the war times and she gave the most incredible speech I have ever heard. I couldn't understand all of what she said but what she was saying was not stopped by a mere language barrier alone. The atmosphere in the room was one I have never felt before and in the end as we were leaving almost everyone was crying. We also went to the Himeyuri Peace Museum where it's dedicated to those students and teachers and has all their pictures and some information as well. Her picture was there as well.
Now our trip wasn't all serious stuff, we had a lot of fun as well. One day we got to pick a course that we would like to take. you had the choice of cooking, Okinawan art, or outdoors stuff- I choose the outdoors stuff. It was so much fun! We were taken to this beach where we were split into two groups. Half of us went to go look for shells and then make things out of them and the other half went canoeing in the ocean, then we switched later on. It was a perfect opportunity for my tourist nature to come out and I ended up taking a bajillion pictures. It was really cool to see how different all the shells were from Florida's shells and I got the chance to take a bunch home. The sea canoeing was immensely fun and even though I didn't get any pictures (I just couldn't bring myself to carry my precious camera onto an unsturdy craft in the middle of the ocean being steered by two teenage girls.:)) I have my memories. Another place we went was this American base where we were toured around the houses where the family lives, which I found highly amusing, and taken to eat an American meal- A 'giant' cheeseburger and french fries. HA! I felt like such a fat American, I was the only one able to eat the whole thing at the table..... But it was yummy. :)
Throughout the trip we had a couple different hotels but we always traveled on the same bus and had the same bus lady. I loved that woman. She was so happy-go-lucky and nice. Plus she sang all these traditional Okinawan songs that are still stuck in my head. If it wasn't for her I might have gone crazy on that bus on which we spent so many hours traveling. Another thing to note- Almost all my classmates bought hundreds of dollars worth of souvenirs! I was expecting a lot, but standing behind them in lines and seeing their baskets filled to the brim with things NOT FOR THEM really brought it in check. I believe in souvenirs as much as the next person, but there's gotta be a line somewhere! Also all the students were early for everything. Breakfast- getting to the bus- meeting up after shopping. If they said to be back at the bus at 10:40 and I got there at 10:38 it was almost like I was late, everyone would be already on the bus and, of course, I would be the last person to board. The Japanese definitely have a 'being on time' complex.
So we get back to Sendai and I am informed I missed the first snow...... WHAT?! I was not happy. So now every day I am on snow patrol and wishing for cold weather and rainy weather which, apparently, makes me crazy. Haha.
So, the day after I get back from Okinawa I go to a town about an hour north of Sendai by bullet train to meet up with the other four exchangees, have a semi-meeting with Rotary, and have the pleasure of listening to the Rotex's speeches! It was my first time riding the bullet train so I was very excited. I have to say, yes it went very fast, enough to make your ears do the ear-poppy-thingy, but all in all in was like any other train or subway I have ridden. So I met up with one of the exchangees and we traveled to Morioka together then afterwards we met up with the rest of the exchangees. Which, I guess, in comparison with the other gatherings I've read about in the other countries would be rather small, seeing as there are only five of us. But that's ok, it just makes it better. We were all overjoyed to see each other and had an amazing time swapping stories. I did notice that in the beginning we all tried to talk in Japanese with each for the first hour or so, but then it slowly regressed into English as the conversation got faster and more teenage-like. We were all brought into a room where there were three Rotarians at the front, four chairs in the back, and one in the middle. It was QUESTIONING time!-Japanese version. It was really not as bad as it sounds and I was relieved that I understood all their questions and was able to answer them all sufficiently (in Japanese mind you). It also helped that everyone in the room was friends and knew everyone else. Afterwards we got to listen to the Rotex give their speeches which means a bunch of talking and eventual crying. It was surprising to me because I was able to get a lot of what they were saying and see how I would be feeling in about 9 months from now.
It never fails to amaze me at how much the exchange students just get each other. We're all living completely different lives, different food, different languages, different cultures, different countries, but when I read the others' journals it's always so amazing at how much our feelings and our thoughts are almost the same. Of course there are big differences too, but there are so many other things that as soon as I read it I think to myself, "YES! That's just it!". I am looking forward to the Welcome Home Dinner so much, not because I'll be back in my country, but because I'll be able to talk to all these people who have gone through the exact same thing as me and be able to see how everyone has changed because of that. Being an exchange student has been the best thing of my life. I'm learning so much and seeing so many things that I never could have imagined I'd see.
Plus, I'm now grown accustomed to living with strangers and not understanding things so that'll help me when I go off to college :)
So right.... Where was I?
Ah, yes. Morioka. I get back from Morioka and return to Sendai. You would thing that NOW I would get a chance to rest, right? I mean I WAS just gone for a week traveling around Okinawa and living out of my suitcase. But, no. Now I have to pack everything up again for none other than..... Host Family change! This time wasn't as bad as the last, I was ready for it. So I said goodbye and my last day or so with the Shigas was half spent playing video games and making origami with my siblings and the other half was me trying to cram a bunch of stuff into my suitcases. Seriously, I don't know where all this stuff is coming from but I DO know I need to start sending packages home. Fast. Or my return flight is going to be a very expensive one.
My new family is...... Well, to be honest I already completely adore them and I've only been here one week. This family is a little different than my others. They're actually originally from Taiwan (heeeellllooooo Patty! ;D) and came to Japan about 20 some years ago as foreign exchange students. At home I have Mom, Dad, my little sister (12), and my big brother (17). Dad is a doctor and mom counsels little children and teaches Chinese. They all speak Chinese which can cause me to be highly confused at times because sometimes when they talk to each other it's in Chinese others it's in Japanese. Most of the time its both XD. And at those times I'm not sure if I'm not understanding the word or the language. Of course when the talk to me its strictly in Japanese but I'm having fun picking up little things in Chinese now as well. It is kind of funny. I can always tell when my little sister is in trouble because my mom will switch to Chinese and her voice completely changes. Haha. My new house is only 20 minutes away from my school- by WALKING. I love it. It's the closest I've been, and will be, plus we are on this hill that has a very nice view of the city and at night when all the buildings are lit up I think it's amazing.
I have fallen absolutely in love with getting letters from family and friends back in America. Nothing makes my day more than getting to read about what's going on back home and hear how much people miss me. HAHA. Well not really the second part, but I reaaaaally do enjoy them. It's kind of funny if you see me when I read them I get all red and teary and have this gigantic dumb grin on my face. It's like Christmas every time. It's sort of silly but I'm still surprised when I realize people are living lives without me back home. It's like, "Oh. You guys went Trick or Treating without me... I see." I'm not expecting you guys back home to just sit away and pine after me but I can still be surprised!
SPEAKING of holidays! I completely forgot about Halloween, I mean, we had decorations and everything, but since no one was making any plans or anything when my friend said something about it the day before I had to go look at a calendar because I didn't believe her. And Happy belated Thanksgiving to you all! Hope you enjoyed your turkey and pumpkin cause I sure didn't -_-.... I did get some chicken though. Thanksgiving was a long day for me that was half down half up. The first half I was sorta down-and hungry- the whole time, but then the second half I got a letter from a friend back home and got to call my family, who were conveniently all together so I got to talk to a good portion of them :)
I have to say that for Thanksgiving I am thankful for....
Every single second I am spending here right now.
The people who have opened their lives, hearts, and homes to me.
So thank you all. So much. You'll never know how much you really mean to me.
Until next time,
January 15 Journal
It’s been a while and I’m giving everyone a fair warning now- This one might be a rather long entry. Hope you like reading.
My last journal left off around Thanksgiving so I’ll just continue from there. As Christmas started coming around more and more decorations were popping up in the main street, stores, conbinis, malls, airports, and basically anywhere and everywhere you looked.... Except your house of course. It was almost like they were teasing me. I’d go into town and see a gorgeous tree all lit up and adorned in twinkling ornaments with festive music blasting, but Alas! When I got home there would be nothing but a mere paper snowflake hanging in the window. Although, Sendai sort of made up for that. Here we have something called the 'Pageant of Starlights' every year that attracts a LOT of people. I mean, seriously, I have never seen so many non-Asians in my city at once. What happens is our main street, which is lined with gigantic trees that makes it beautiful any time of the year, is covered from top to bottom in lights. The main road is just white but if you go off to the side you can sometimes discover red or blue or green as well, although my favorite was still the white ones. And then you have the food vendors, and the outdoor skating rink, and the giant tree, and the beer tents (?). Not quite sure what to call the last one haha. And everyday around seven at night all the lights go out for about 30 seconds and then flash back on again. It doesn’t sound quite as cool when I type it but it was actually pretty neat.
So, I was still with the Chins at this time and they had a bunch of relatives coming in from not only Taiwan but America as well. So that meant my Christmas was spent tri-lingualy. Very confusing. The relatives from Taiwan only spoke Chinese and the relatives from America obviously only spoke Chinese or English. You would think I would’ve been happy about this but actually, I found myself deliberately going out of my way to ask my host mom questions in Japanese rather than ask the people from my home country in English. And I was pretty anti-social as well. I hung out with my little sister the whole time since she doesn’t like talking in Chinese and we had a lovely time watching TV and playing video games while the rest of the family sat around the dinner table talking in Chinese. Haha. I actually really enjoyed it because I got to spend more time with her. I’ve never had a little sister before (although I have had my little... 'minions' whom I love just as much) and it was nice to know that I don’t suffer from 'only child syndrome' too much. Although I DID sometimes want to kick her out of my room. A girl needs her sleep! XD But overall I really liked that family so much and I’ve gone back to visit a few times. Of course, I like all my host fams but after having six different ones I’m bound to start playing favorites at one time or another. haha. So we had a small party with the family and then afterwards we got home, and mom and dad gave us all one present. My sister and I were pretty stoked, we both got the video games we had wanted. (Mine was a Kanji study game :D Hers was... The Japanese version of animal crossing. lol) My brother got.... gloves. ROFL. Afterwards it was overall a normal night.
So I didn’t get a white Christmas this year. But I got something just as good in my book- a white day AFTER Christmas. It was really like a dream. When I first lazily woke up I didn’t even look out the window. I stumbled out of bed, said morning to the family, and then proceeded to the computer for my video chat with my family back in America. They had some technical problems and I ended up getting up to go change clothes when I looked out the window.
Everything was covered in white!
I was very happy at that point. I threw my coat on over my pajamas, gloves, a scarf, and boots and proceeded to run around outside like a three-year-old who has had one too many pixie sticks. It was marvelous. I made a mini snowman and a snow angel and splattered the side of the house with snowballs. Mind you, this is all by myself because my sister is still sleeping and my mom and dad are laughing at me from the window safe and warm in the house. But I didn’t care. I had snow. I ended up remembering about my family at some point and came inside to talk with them.... It was alright. :>)
During the holidays I got a flood of emails and pictures from back home and even got not one, not two, but three! packages containing presents and Christmas cookies! I felt so sick after eating those cookies (even though I shared like... half of them with my family!) but they were the most mouth-watering cookies I have had in a very long time. Thank you Aunti!! We all loved them! I also got a couple gifts from some friends back home.... -_- Guys.... You’re in so much trouble! Well, at least one of you is! The best all around had to be the package I got from my mom, though. It had so much stuff that just made me smile and laugh and show off to my host family and there were a bajillion little letters and stuff and it was great.
You know how in America the day after Thanksgiving is a massive shopping frenzy? AKA 'Black Friday'? In Japan there’s something like that only it’s the day after New Years and all the stores go on massive sales and EVERYONE has all these grab bags everywhere! The malls are crammed! It was very interesting....
On the 28th I changed host families. Yeah, yeah. Nothing new. But this one is different! (>o<)
It was very fun because the Shoji's daughter just happens to be in my class so I knew her pretty well before I even got there, unlike my other fams where I’ve just been going in with no idea whatsoever or what they’re like. We ended up going to Morioka which is about an hour north of Sendai by bullet train. It was really fun but it would have been even better if it hadn’t been the DAY after I had changed HF. Ah, well. I’ll have plenty of time to breathe when I get back to America right? So we get there and arrive at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Remember when I said we were north of Sendai? Well, that means... Even more snow! There I had my first chance to make a life-size snowman and an igloo! It was so much fun.... Ah, the good times.... when I was still happy about snow.... Today in particular was rather dreadful. Take a Floridian girl. Stick her outside in her Kyudo club’s small practice area. Make it dark and suddenly have snow coming down like crazy with strong wind to boot. Mind you none of the other clubs are outside at this point. Then make sure that the practice area only has one small heater in the corner and basically does nothing but tell you the temperature is below zero. Oh! And don’t forget to make sure that the snow blows directly onto the practice area so her socks get all wet and she starts to lose feeling in her feet. Leave her there for two hours. AFTERWARDS, have her walk 25 minutes in the snow to a new house when she’s taken the path once and hasn’t quite memorized it. She will get lost, I guarantee it.
Oops. Right. SO! I also met some more of the family and 96-year-old great grandma. Who surprised the crap out of me. I didn’t even know she was in the house until two days later when they took me to meet her. At their house there is a shop attached so we spent the four days there cleaning, and when we weren’t cleaning we (meaning me, my sister, my brother, and the cousins) practically lived in small living room and just watched TV the entire time. The day before New Years we had a big dinner with everyone squeezed into great grandma’s room and, of course, sitting on the floor. I remember the room was adorned with all these beautiful paper ornaments and traditional Japanese things. It all felt so..... Japanese. There’s not really a way to put it. There I was eating New Years food in Japan and we bowed while sitting in seiza before eating and kanpai-ing, plus this house was one of the first REAL Japanese houses I’ve been in. Meaning it wasn’t as westernized as the others. Meaning it was really cold. haha. We all ate and then later as the clock was slowly tick-tick-ticking away to the next year we had soba (or Japanese noodles) just like almost every single other person in Japan was at that time. We ended up watching the NHK special that features a bunch of popular artists and playing card games afterwards. Then my sister, brother, and I stayed up and watched the final countdown (that wouldn’t have been complete without the giant amount of Japanese boybands that did it) and then we all went to bed. You know, it’s almost funny. I’ve been in Japan for almost half a year now and the things I remember the best are times I’ve spent with my host families. I remember as we were playing card games my dad was slightly.... tipsy and my sister and I were still getting completely destroyed by him and then I remember laughing so hard I cried. I remember when I went back to visit my second host family and my sisters and I made the craziest origami and had it stalk the cat. I remember attacking my little sister and tickling her until she gave me back the damn ball. I remember how my host mom’s face lit up when I gave her one small present after everyone else went to bed, and then afterwards she just clutched it and walked around for a place to put it.
I get side-tracked way too easy. haha. Sorry! So, after we did the New Years thing with the gramps we came back to Sendai. After a day or two with nothing to do but relax I had to go off for the weekend to a Rotary camp thing that was, also, up near Morioka. Me and another exchangee were being recruited to help future outbounds with their English conversation. There were about 25 kids and out of them there were only 3 guys (poor things hah). Everyone was either going to Texas or Oklahoma for 2 weeks so it was neat that me and the other exchangee were both from America and could help them with anything they wanted to know. Half of it was games to help them with their English that Alexis and I would participate in, and then the other half was slightly boring Rotary rules and such that.... I may or may not have fallen asleep in. The two of us were rescued from yet another Rotary rule explanation by one of my FAVORITE Rotary members of all time who took us to see the lake and an Oni Museum. This Rotarian is great. When everyone else is wearing suits he is wearing tropical shirts and sweatshirts with smilies on it. When everyone else goes by '~~'-san he goes by 'Six-pack' and not cause he has a six pack of abs. XD He speaks perfect English and is always really good at just making you feel comfortable and laugh your ass off. Why this man is not on TV I will never know. Too bad I’ve only gotten to see him a couple times though.
SO-I get back. Guess what I do when I get back. I pack. 'Now, why would you pack Georgia? You’ve only been there for two weeks!'- You might say. Yeah, well. I’m hardcore....
Ok Not really, I just had a two-week homestay for some reason. DONT ASK ME WHY. I just did. I wanted to throw a hissy fit and stomp my feet and cry and complain and refuse to do it but, like any good exchange student, I didn’t. :) I shut up and packed. The next day my host mom, sister, and I drove to the middle of the city and by the time we pulled up to my apartment my mother was officially FREAKING OUT. She kept going, 'Here?! Really!? Here!?! Look!! It’s a private elevator! Seriously?! Here?!'. My new family is part of Rotary and my father owns a couple apartment buildings and we happen to live on the top floor of one. It has a nice view and it’s super close to the main street with all the shops I could ever want to go broke.
Next week marks my half a year anniversary. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. Half of me can’t wait to go home and stick my feet in the warm Floridian sand and see all my friends and family again, and then the other half feels like crying because I now know WHEN my departure date is and..... I don’t want to. Not yet. I’m always thinking about things too much. I mean, I still do have half a year left but I just know that it’s going to go by so fast and before I know it I’ll be back in FL wishing I could go home.
SPEAKING of that! I had to say goodbye to my exchange friends from school. They weren’t Rotary but there was only three of us and I had all my classes with the one from Germany and needless to say we had gotten pretty close over the few months. Both of them helped me so much and I really miss them. The girl from my class had a going away party and everyone got to spend their English class not learning, but talking and having fun. Near the end of the day everyone eventually wandered on home leaving just me, her, and one of our classmates. She was going to leave the next day and see some of the others before she got on the bullet train but I had out of town plans that I couldn’t change, so this would be the last time WE could meet. We sat around and goofed and talked and took pictures until both of us had to get to our club before we got any later. We hugged and by that time Julia was crying and I was feeling horrible, like I was losing a best friend. No, scratch that. I WAS losing a best friend. We parted and I walked off to my club and she to hers and as soon as I split off from her and the other classmate I burst into tears. I cried and cried and knew I would probably never see her again. I got to my club and choked on my words as I explained why I was late. After that I focused and cleared my head. Now, I’m not quite as sad and if I ever get to visit Germany I will be sure to go and see a town called Achen and look her up <3
If I got 100 yen every time I said "We have that in America, too." I would be so rich by now.
When I first started talking to the exchangees who are home now I always asked when they felt they became fluent. I should have asked when they felt they could get by. I now feel like I can get by. If I had to leave Japan right now, I would be happy with what I know. I still have a long way to go, but....I can get by and it feels great.
FUTURE OUTBOUNDS! Ahhhhhh! YOU MADE IT! How cool is that?!?! You better be practicing your languages! The time is going to go by so quickly and before you know it, you too will be getting lost and not knowing what people are saying! It will be fabulous. I’m not promising you’ll love every minute of it but you won’t regret it. I’m so excited for you guys and hope we will get a chance to meet! If you want my email ask your head Rotarian for it. I’d love to talk to some of you guys and am open to any questions you might have. <3
Until next time~
March 30 Journal
The days are getting less frigid, cherry blossoms are starting to travel their way up the country as they bloom, styles are changing, spring delicacies are popping up on menus, and the snow has said its goodbye to Sendai until next winter. Spring is finally here and with spring marks the beginning of a new school year. Since I last left off I had just moved into a new family and well, I’ve moved again. I am also moving again in about a week. BUT! That’s the LAST time, I swear! I will be done, complete, settled down, however you want to say it. I will be with my next host family for next three months until I get on a plane and head back to America. Right now Im staying with three others because my host dad is working in a different city a couple of hours. I have a mom and two big sisters. One of them is a second year in college and the other just graduated from the school that I’m going to right now. She actually went to France through Rotary last year for an exchange so its really cool to be living with a Rotex right now.
Let’s go back a little bit to February in Japan, more specifically the 14th. Now in Japan, Valentine’s Day is celebrated a little different than most countries, instead of the guys and girls just exchanging gifts the girls here seem to go on a crazy chocolate making adventure. A large majority of the girls here hand-make chocolate and give it to not only someone they like, but to people they might feel obligated to give to, like co-workers and friends. There is 'honmei' choco (given to a sweetheart), 'giri' choco (given to co-workers and such), and 'tomo' choco (given to friends). Then the guys don’t have to give anything back until a month later on a day called White Day. Well, I ended up going to one of my previous host families house and made brownies with my little sister and host mom. Usually they don’t use brownies but I made them once and they reaaaaaaaally liked them so my sister wanted to make them instead of chocolate for her friends, and it was fun. When I went to school for the next day or two I got some amazing treats from friends <3. I actually did a speech contest on March 14th on this. Of, course it was in Japanese and it had to be about 5-6 minutes long. You were allowed to choose whatever topic you wanted and since we were giving it on White Day I figured 'Why not?'. I didn’t win anything but I did get a huge ego-boost when one of the Rotarians came over to me and said my Japanese was the best. Even if he was just trying to make me feel better, it still made my day.
I’ve had two or three Rotary camps since I’ve last written. I have to admit.... They are almost ALWAYS so dull. A lot of speeches and lectures and usually stuff that I’m not prepared for because no one told me about it. The bright side is I always get to meet a lot of Japanese kids who are always SO excited and happy to talk to you and ask you questions and practice their English and just want to be your friend. It’s so cute (>w<)! I had a camp in February where Rotary had us up in the Northern part (where there was SOOOO much snow. Seriously, piles and piles way above my waist) where they were trying to break up the dullness by throwing in 'curling' lessons the next day. Hm. It was..... New. For those of you who don’t know, because I sure didn’t, curling is the Olympic sport of sliding a giant rock across the ice and trying to get your rock closer to the center of the bulls-eye than your opponents rock. Veeeeery thrilling sport. We had a mini-competition and my team.... well. We were pretty bad. haha. I was able to go to the camp with two of my friends from school though, because they are part of the 'Interact club' at school and, as always, seeing my other exchangee buddies made it ten times better.
This month there was another camp called the 'Spring Camp' that was absolutely amazing. It was a camp for the future outbounds (or Japanese kids who will go to other countries soon) to get 'prepared'. This camp had the most exchange kids out of all the camps I’ve been at. Usually there’s only the five of us but this time there was about 12 plus a bunch of English teachers working in Japan for a year. There was a lot interesting conversation going around and it was the most fun I’ve ever had at an orientation in Japan. I also met a girl who is coming to Florida soon for a year! I promised her we would meet up and I can’t wait to see her back in the states.
I also went to a place called 'Zao' with a bunch of my Rotarians in February as well. It has a bunch of what they call 'snow monsters' but what they actually are is a bunch of trees that are positioned in the mountains so that snow piles and piles upon them until you can’t even see the tree anymore, just a giant... well..... snow monster. It was sooooooooooo cold up there, and so pretty. It also happens to be the area of a popular ski resort, so I had to stand there with the only group of people not planning on skiing or snowboarding while we were there. I never did get to go skiing or snowboarding while I still could. So, I’m just going to have to come back to Japan just to do that. It is starting to look like I might have to come back to see Mt. Fuji as well. And Hiroshima. And Kyoto. And Hokkaido. I still have so many places I haven’t been yet, and I only have a 3 and half months left. Rotary is absolutely right when they tell you that your exchange starts to speed up after you hit that half a year mark. Everything is finally falling into place, I have a good friends, a good grasp of the language, I love my town and can navigate without getting lost, and I met the 'new' exchange student who came to my school the other day. That makes me the 'old' exchange student...... How weird is that? The 'old' exchange students always seem to leave so soon. They always seem to know so much about the language and way of life about their country. I don’t feel like I’m ready to go yet or that I know enough about Japan.
On the other hand I can honestly say that I am looking forward to going home. It’s not homesickness, I’m not sitting around missing everyone everyday and longing to be back, but I know it’ll be nice to see my family and friends again. I want to see what’s and who’s changed back there. And I miss my dog and cat. aha.
So right now it’s Spring break. Technically, it’s only two weeks long, but since the last week was only for people who didn’t do well enough on their exams I got three. Still one left to go before I go back and become a third year! Which is equal to a senior back in America. I’ve been pretty busy lately though. Almost always something to do or someone to hang out with. I went to another soccer game the other day and had the opportunity to sit in the 'supporter' seat. You get to stand for two hours and sing and jump the entire time. It was a LOT of fun even though it surprised everyone by being unnaturally cold AND snowy the entire time. Yep. The end of March and it was snowing.... Hard. Ahhhhh~~~ I love it. After that I haven’t done anything real exciting lately, just the usual. I went and stayed the night for two nights with one of my previous host families who I hadn’t seen in a while. I love going and seeing old host families. They always make you feel so good about your language abilities. haha. Oh! And when I went to spend the night at a friend’s house I got one of the biggest compliments I’ve gotten since I’ve come to Japan. My friend’s big sister went to America through Rotary a couple of years ago but didn’t want to talk to me in English. When I asked her why she said it was because it would be like talking to a Japanese person in English and that it would just be weird.
Apparently I’ve been on TV a bunch of times. I just never know about it! One time there was a problem with the bullet train and I was at the station waiting for someone. The next day my friend told me I had been on TV. I had seen the cameraman but didn’t think he was filming! And then there was a festival where after New Year’s you go and burn old papers at a shrine in a giant fire with other people. I hadn’t even seen a cameraman man that time. I was surprised when the same friend told me I had been on TV again. And then again at the Speech Contest all of the Rotary exchange students were on the News a lot for a while. I got a flood of emails from friends saying they had seen me on TV. I was slightly mortified, especially after I saw for myself. Haha
I was able to go to one of my host sisters graduation ceremony from Elementary school. Wow. Big difference from what I remember in America. At first it was really boring, just everyone getting their name called and going up to the front and taking their certificate of graduation. Then they all sang a bunch of songs and then there was a long time where the ones graduating were talking to the lower years about doing their best, then the younger years were thanking the ones graduating for their guidance and helpfulness. Saying they would not forget them and such. It was sweet, but it felt a little too heavy to me for Elementary school kids.
I can’t wait till May! I have a Tokyo tour for a couple days with four other exchange students. It’s probably going to be one on the best things during this exchange.
I feel bad, not only is this journal overdue, but it’s kind of short as well. There just really hasn’t been that much going on. I’m settled in. Everyday isn’t exciting and full of adventure. I still love it here! But, now it’s just all so normal. It’s really hard to talk in English with people lately. I keep having to stop and correct myself. I guess people don’t always understand what ‘arubaito’ means. haha
Well, until next time-
(BTW -it means part-time job J)
May 15 Journal
Well hello again everyone! It’s been a while and I seem to be late with this journal once again. Lately my life has suddenly become incredibly busy and I’ve been able to come up with reasons to put off writing this journal for about a month and a half with ease. Lets see~~
When I last left off it was just turning to April and I was on Spring break for school. Two weeks of relaxation and fun before going back to school as a senior, and in Japan that’s when the studying REALLY starts. As soon as it hit the first of April I switched to my last of 8 families and I have to say that I don’t think I could’ve picked a better family to be my last. I’ve only been here a month but I have grown so fond of not only my two younger brothers, but my mom and dad, and even grandpa. I can’t say exactly why I like this family so much, maybe it’s the fact that we eat dinner sitting on the floor the traditional way, or that I can watch sumo with grandpa, or maybe it's that I have two younger brothers who seem to provide me with a constant source of entertainment. I also enjoy the variety of Japanese here. My dad speaks fast, my brothers speak slight slang, my grandpa speaks… like a grandpa (haha), and my mom is what I consider pretty normal. It’s a nice way to learn the different varieties of Japanese. I can’t believe a month has already passed here. With my other families I would have been moved on to the next family by now, so I’m so thrilled to have more time to spend with this one. PLUS, their oldest child is now in Florida doing an exchange through Rotary. Chihiro will be coming back to Japan before I leave so I'll have about two weeks to live with her as well and although I’ve only been able to meet her once (and talk to her a couple of times via computer) she seems like so much fun and I know that once she gets back the house will not only be louder (haha) but even more amazing! <3 The only tough part is that the house is located in such a hilly area of Sendai that walking and riding your bike around is always a work-out. I’m all for exercising, but some days after school I wish I could just fly up the hill instead and jump into bed!
The seventh of April I was headed back to school for the opening ceremony. Usually in Japan the beginning of a new school year means you not only change classrooms and your homeroom teacher but classmates as well and have to get used to a new set of faces for the year, HOWEVER my class is a special international class so everyone is together from the beginning of the first year to the end of the third year. I’m still with the same familiar faces as when I first came here and I’m ecstatic about that. I reaaaaaaaally have grown to love my classmates so much and felt like it was fate that I was put into this class. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. There’s always someone ready and willing to help me or joke with or break out into random dancing. The only thing that really changed was the classroom… It's become the furthest from the entrance of the school and you have the pleasure of climbing four flights of stairs. haha.
Coming back to school was probably one of the best feelings I’ve had since I’ve come to Japan. It was a little like the first day, a new beginning, but this time I had friends, knew the school, could communicate, and felt this wonderful sense of… Belonging. Another thing they do at the beginning of school is a health check-up.. You know, weight, height, eyesight, that sort of stuff. OH! And recently everyone had to give uh… urine samples as well. Not sure if it's just my school but I was happy I was exempt and that we definitely don’t do that back at my school in Florida. I’m still in the Interact club and our head teacher switched at the beginning of the new school year. We now have a staggering 40 some people signed up and even if they don’t all show up every week it's still a fairly big increase from the 12 some members last year. About a week ago everyone wrote their first letter to what is going to be the start of pen-pals to a school in America, and seeing as I had the slight feeling that an American student might be disappointed to get a letter from another American when they were expecting one from a Japanese school-girl, I resigned myself to walking around and helping them write letters. It was fun. We also had a small Easter party at which the Japanese students (and the exchange students from Thailand and France) were able to dye eggs for the first time. Obviously I was considered a pro ;)
My exchange friends are all leaving next month. I’m going to fall apart when we have to say goodbye, seriously. I’m the only one leaving in July and I'll have to say farewell to them one by one.
I don’t want to.
My American friends will be easier to say goodbye to because I know I'll have a chance to meet them again, but the two from France and Mexico… I feel like I’ve known them for years and over this exchange we’ve had so many amazing experiences together and so many stupid jokes and so many ‘firsts’ and it's just going to completely and royally…… Suck. We still have our Tokyo tour together this month (after 1 more week!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and we’re determined to not talk about the departure dates and leaving, but just enjoy it to the fullest. It’s so weird. I’ve been looking forward to the tour for the past 10 months and now it's here and I have less than 2 months left. Lately I been making plans with friends and host families like crazy and realized I don’t have enough time to get together with everyone I want to. ‘There’s not enough time’. 時間が足りない。私の日本にいる時間が足りない。I never thought I would think that. When I first came here, it seemed like I had all the time in world.
So! It's spring in Japan and that means that in the beginning, all of Japan gradually turns pinkish and smells really good. Yes, it was the season of cherry blossoms, aka ‘sakura’. Sendai finally had its time and it was better than I expected. I was reminded of how I felt when I first came to Japan because I was once again walking throughout town being reminded that I really was in Japan. I was only disappointed by the shortness of the flowers' stay, a mere week and then the rain and wind was sweeping through the trees and it was raining petals over the city, the only reminder of the blossoms being the pink ground that was littered with them. I was almost worried that I wouldn’t get to go to one of the Japanese’s favorite pastime during the sakura season, a ‘hana-mi’. A ‘hana-mi’ is a mixture of the word ‘hana’-flower and ‘miru’-look. It usually refers to in spring when a large amount of people go out to a place with a lot of blooming sakura trees, sit outside, eat, drink sake, and enjoy the beauty of the sakura around them. I was really busy the week that the trees were blooming and my family didn’t have any plans to go out and do one, so one day after school I finally decided to go by myself if I had to! I asked my friends where one of the bigger parks was and once they discovered what I was planning to do before I knew it there was a group of 6 girls wanting to come with. I was surprised and happy and had a lot more fun than I would have had if I had gone by myself. It was so Japanese-y and the numerous food vendors were peddling their goods to the large amount of people, most including salary men and women who take ‘hana-mi’s as a time to drink until late at night and relax from their busy workdays. My friends and I also ended up making a friend, a 3 or 4 year-old girl who came over and soon had us walking all over the place. Afterwards her mom gave her new big sisters free food, too. It really was very pretty and I will have to come back to do another ‘hana-mi’.
A couple weeks ago my school had their annual ‘school outing’. And all of the classes got to choose where they wanted to go for a day.. My class choose the ‘Koiwai farm’ and we got to spend a day out of school uniform and enjoying a day in the country instead. The place wasn’t quite that exciting but they did have amazing ice cream and we got to make our own butter. It was also just nice to get to walk around with my friends and take pictures of everyone together.
The beginning of May was something in Japan known as Golden Week. It's basically a week of a bunch of holidays in a row that gives all of Japan an excuse for everyone to take a massive break from the usual. It also happens to contain my birthday, May 3rd, so it made it even better! On the second I ended up going over to my first host family’s house and spending the night for the first time since I moved in September. It was sooooooo neat to be able to talk with them and have a decently in-depth conversation without the use of a dictionary! They were really surprised at my Japanese and it was nice to be able to just catch up with them and that night they even brought out a birthday cake and a couple presents. The next day we went to a nearby town to eat ramen and after a while they returned me to my current host family and while it was fun and amazing to see them again, I got home and was just like….
‘Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. It's good to be home’. And promptly stretched out on the floor and took a nap. Haha. Then that day later on my mom right now took me out to the mall and let me pick out a watch that I wanted for my birthday present (I turned 17 by the way). We also had a big dinner and cake too so I was feeling pretty spoiled. Not to mention the great flood of emails from family and friends back home and in Japan, I felt like my birthday would never end. On the fifth I went and saw a friend who was in a drama and thoroughly enjoyed it and afterwards went out with a bunch of others to eat (お好み焼き会！笑) and karaoke. Then the next day was spent with Emma from France and we… well… Karaoke, purikura, shopping, and eating.
School started the next day and it was good to see everyone. I was feeling on top of the world the entire day for some reason. It only got better when I was dragged off my by friend to the first floor to look at some English work she needed help with and then when we got back to the classroom the whole world exploded. A bunch of party crackers and cries of ‘Happy Birthday Georgia!’. There was a cake as well~ My third one that week!! After I recovered from the initial shock I was presented with a present and an origami heart. The present was a giant pajama thing in the shape of bear that I had been wanting for a while, but don’t quite remember telling anyone. That would have made my day enough, but the best part was the origami heart that had thirty some other paper hearts with messages from all of my classmates on them. That’s what made me start to cry as I read through them. A bunch of them said things like ‘You only have two months left but…..’, ‘We’ll miss you!’, ‘Love you Georgia!’, and ‘I’m so glad I got to meet you!’. As I was reading through them I was struck with such a big I DON’T WANT TO GO AWAY feeling. I got a taste of what is probably going to start coming after a couple more weeks.
Did you know that in Japan there is Mothers Day as well? It seems to be just as popular as it is in America and I realize with horror that I had not only one mother now… but nine. I ended up only giving flowers and cards to the two I saw almost everyday and then sent a mail to a couple too. I called my mom back in America and talked with her for two hours as well, and that seemed to make up for me being a bad daughter and not sending anything at all. My current host mom ended up taking me and one of my younger brothers out and about that day too. It was nice even if we did go to the planetarium on a cloudy day. Haha.
I have a huge test coming up this Saturday and I have this sinking feeling that I’m not prepared at allllllll. It includes conversation, grammar, listening, explanation, kanji, etc., etc. There are two levels and for some crazy reason another exchange student and I are the only two taking the upper level while the rest of the exchange students take the lower level. Pure insanity I tell you. Insanity.
Okay~~~ So. This is long enough I am ending it!
Ill update, hopefully, soon☆♡
Jya~ mata ne!