August 26 Journal
Let me just start by saying that the country I will be spending the next 10 months of my life in is truly amazing. We can start off with departure day, I’m not quite sure where all the time went to but I left Thursday morning at 6 a.m. and got to Narita airport in Tokyo on Friday at 3 p.m. I was met by Ms. Matsuba (the YE chair for 2550) and Mai Maruyama, a Rotex who went to North Carolina. We sent my luggage to my host family and left the airport headed to ex-district governor Yoshio Ohtake’s lake house at the foot of Mt. Fuji. It took us about 5 hours to get there, partially because we got lost 5 or 6 times and got stuck in traffic in Tokyo. When we finally got there they showed me to my room and I was asleep within 2 minutes. I woke up at about 1:30 a.m. when the lights were turned on and I met Sam Estenson from Minnesota. We went to the upstairs room and talked for about an hour with the other exchange students and Rotex and then went to bed.
I woke up Saturday morning to a standard Japanese breakfast of sushi, tofu, bread, salad, and soup; among other things. After that we had the chance to go to an Onsen or hot spring but only the boys decided to go, you have to be nude to go to them. Everybody then went to lunch and went sightseeing around Hakone. We went to a Japanese supermarket to look around and it was really cool to see the things that they had there. Their biggest ice cream size is equal to our smallest! Their portions will take some getting used to. We went back to the cabin for a while and after that we continued onto dinner. After dinner we went to a karaoke place and that was a blast!
When I woke up Sunday morning I was ushered to the 3rd floor by Mr. Ohtake to see Mt. Fuji. There were umbrella clouds around the top of it which Mr. Ohtake said only happens once or twice a decade. We had breakfast and went to go sightseeing in Hakone more. We rode a cable car and a boat around Lake Ashinoko and then we went to a hot spring water park, it was a lot of fun and I had an amazing time. We went to a Chinese restaurant on the way back and had a huge meal, which included shark fin soup which is very rare and even the adults had never had it before.
On Monday we went to Fujikyu amusement park which was one of the most fun things I have done in a very long time. We only rode 3 roller-coasters because the lines were 2-3 hour waits but we rode a ton of small rides and got to know each other very well. After we left Fujikyu at 5 o’clock we went to a sushi buffet. It was all you can eat in 1 hour 30 minutes. There was a lot of different food there but I loved it all and decided I may even like Japanese food better than American food!
Tuesday was a blur of activity, we woke up at 6 and cleaned the cabin then we left for the Tochigi prefecture which is where I will be living. We had to give a speech in Japanese in front of the Japanese Rotarians and mine went pretty well, at least I think so. After I got to my host family's house I was exhausted and I spent the rest of the night unpacking and talking – or trying to talk - to my oldest host brother.
Wednesday we went shopping for various things and visited my high school. I got fitted for a school uniform and then walked home with my host brother. I also went to city hall to register as an alien and then went to the post office to send some letters. I start school tomorrow and will be walking there with my oldest host brother who is 16.
I can tell this will be a difficult first couple of months but I am ready for the challenge and I am going to try my best to learn the language as quickly as possible.
September 8 Journal
As I walked through the hallway with the only teacher at my school that spoke English, albeit broken English, I felt as if everyone in the whole school was looking and talking about me (which I later found out they were). With the amount of stares I was getting I thought I should have been an alien, which I legally am until Sept. 15th. I crossed the final threshold into my homeroom and walked into complete silence. "Great," I thought, "Well at least I don't have to make a speech." Oh how wrong was I ... the majority of the class period was spent of me introducing myself, flipping through my Japanese dictionary, introducing myself again, and answering the uncountable amount of questions that followed. Finally I was able to slide into my seat and catch a breath. The day went by at a crawl and since I couldn't understand any of the lectures the teachers were giving I decided to practice my Japanese, so hopefully in a few months time I would be taking notes like the rest of the class. Since that day everything has proceeded to get better and better, including my Japanese!
The next day I was approached by a few classmates asking me if I wanted to play baseball that night with them and even the Captain of the volleyball team asked me if I would join him in playing after school! Unfortunately I had plans that evening playing baseball with my host Rotary club in their league match. Yes that's right, the Rotary clubs in Utsunomiya have organized sports teams for the Rotarians. I also was asked that day, or rather told, that I was to prepare a five minute speech in Japanese to present to my host Rotary club about myself and my life and family at home. Luckily I had prepared a slide show of pictures in advance and would just show that to them and explain each as it came up, right? Wrong... Unfortunately, they do not have a projector, so I was going to be stuck up on an empty stage with all the lights on me. But that didn't have to be done until the next Thursday, so I pushed that out of my mind and went on with my day. That night was a blast, and even though I was stuck in right field (for those who don't know that's the position all the bad players get, the same one I got when I played as a kid...) I still had a great time meeting all the Rotarians in my host club.
Ahh, my first day of school on Saturday. It only lasts until noon and is only one class the whole day, which is Math II for me. During lunch, which we eat in our homerooms, I was approached again by Takasu (the captain of the volleyball team) who told me that I should try out for the volleyball club and that tryouts were on Sept. 14th. I had been looking forward to joining a team since starting school so this was an awesome turn of events for me. After school Yoshi (my host brother), his best friend, and a few of his other friends invited me to go to a festival that the all-girls high school down the street was putting on. We wandered around and I got to see some of the popular sports in Japanese high schools, which include tennis, swimming, traditional Japanese archery, ken-do, soccer, and a tea making club.
School started up again on Monday after a 'holiday' on Sunday and I felt like I was finally getting into a routine. I walked to school with my host brother and looking around at all the amazing scenery realized every moment that I'm here I enjoy my new home more and more. After third period that day we were told that school was canceled because of the typhoon that was headed our way! A few of Yoshi's friends came over and we played wii and baseball (Inside! Don't worry) until dinner at 7. I used the rest of the time to finish up my Rotary speech which ended up only being half in Japanese and half in English, but my classmate Iida was going to help translate the English part at the meeting.
Finally the big day had arrived! I went through my first 3 periods of the day mumbling the words of my speech over and over again but was comforted by the fact that Iida was more nervous than I was! And he was speaking in his own language! My speech went really well and I met a ton of new Rotarians who, thankfully, told me that my Japanese sounded like a native speaker! Although I'm sure they were just being kind it is comforting to know that I am doing well.
Saturday morning I woke up and felt awful! I took my temperature and found it to be 37.9, and having no clue what that meant I took it to my host mother. Who gave a big "Ooh!" and rushed off into a cabinet fishing out some medicine and telling me to go back to bed. At three my host father woke me up and asked me if I wanted a tour of the city; of course I did! He showed me around to all their temples and shrines and we even got lost in a huge camping park in the mountains. We went by a restaurant to say hello to the secretary for the Utsunomiya West Rotary club he was very kind and even taught me a few kanji to remember! After we got home I went straight to bed, after all I was exhausted from my long day of adventure.
Tomorrow my host family is taking me to the hospital to make sure I don't have swine flu, although I feel better I still have a fever and the school won't let me come back until I am checked for the flu. It has only been 2 weeks and I have already made great friends and memories that I will never forget. I can't wait to see what these amazing 10 months has in store for me.
Hope everything is going well!
September 20 Journal
Well this has been an interesting 2 weeks to say the least. Well the second more interesting than the first so I’ll give a brief overview of the first week. I went to the doctor on Sunday and got tested for swine flu, which thank the heavens I don’t have. He prescribed me some medicine and told me that once my fever went down and my symptoms were gone that I could go back to school... Unfortunately that didn’t end up happening the whole week! I had a fever all the way until Friday evening. The week off school gave me a great chance to learn Japanese though and I really think that I am catching on to the language pretty well. I’m also getting a lot more interested in learning it faster which makes it so much easier to spend a few hours a day on learning it.
On Saturday I went out to dinner with my dad, my two older brothers (16 and 13), and two of my cousins who were 24. We went to a sushi restaurant that had a huge revolving belt around where all the sushi was made and you would know the price by the color of the plate that it was on so you could just take whatever you wanted. It was really good and definitely really different; I want to try to find one in the U.S. when I get back! At the end we stacked up all of our plates and a waiter came by and counted them out and we proceeded to go up front and pay.
Monday I was back at school thankfully! During 3rd period my English reading teacher took me out of class to give me some Japanese lessons which were actually pretty helpful because I could ask him all the questions that I had about grammar and whatnot. We chose sports in gym today that would be the sport that we do for the rest of the year. The one that I chose was soccer and I actually met a ton of new friends that are doing the same so that is good that I will get to see them every time I have P.E.
On Tuesday I went to school feeling fine but I ended up leaving early because I started to have chest pains and a headache. My mother took my temperature when I got home and it ended up being 38.9 C (102.2 F) which was not good at all! Especially since we thought I was getting better. On Wednesday I went to the Doctors and he took a lot more tests than I expected. I ended up getting a chest and abdomen X-Ray, having my blood taken, and getting a urine sample. He told me to go home and get some rest and that he would call when he got the test results from my blood. He called later that night and told me that I had inflammation in my blood vessels and that my white blood cell count was above 20,000 and that the average was somewhere around 2,500, he also said that I should visit the hospital in the morning to get a more extensive X-Ray and a blood culture test done. After dinner Ruri Suga, a Rotex that went to Canada and is in my grade at school, came over and we talked for a while about how I liked Japan and what my hobbies were et cetera. She is really nice and I think that we will be good friends.
So Thursday I woke up around 5:30, ate breakfast and then headed off to the hospital around 8. I had a CAT scan done and a chest X-Ray first. Then they took my blood yet again, which has always been kind-of cool to me so it wasn’t that bad. After about an hour of waiting around they said my results were back and a long and confusing talk in broken Japanese and English I figured out that I would be staying the next two days in the hospital while they tried to figure out what was wrong with me. I mean of course they were saying “Don’t worry!” the whole time but you can’t help but have some thoughts when they tell you that they have no clue what is wrong with you. I can honestly say that my want to learn Japanese had gone up about 10,000% at this point and I learned pretty quickly that the word for “test” actually sounds quite like “cancer” so I was definitely freaking out a bit until my dad corrected my malapropism of the word, albeit it wasn’t quite humorous on my end my father thought it was really hilarious. So after I got my grim fate given to me I was rushed off to get an ECG done. Afterwards I was shown to my room and promptly had an IV shoved in my arm and a bag of who knows what hanging above me. The food was great though, at least that was a positive. But unfortunately my two days at the hospital were rather uneventful. I had brought a book with me so I finished that and spent the rest of my time sleeping.
Saturday I was finally able to go home! The Doctors still hadn’t determined what had caused my fever and high WBC count but they said that both had gone down enough to where it was safe for me to go home. As soon as I got home I had a ton of calls to make to various Rotary members to assure them that I wasn’t dying and didn’t have swine flu or leukemia. Alas I was exhausted even though most of my time at the hospital was spent sleeping, so after answering all of the worrisome e-mails from my parents about what was happening, as they had only been told that I was going to the hospital not what was wrong with me, I went to bed.
Sunday was a pretty restful day; I spent most of it doing Japanese lessons on LiveMocha though which have gotten increasingly more helpful! I went to my little brother's baseball game and then had dinner with my family. I watched TV for a while and stayed up pretty late, mainly because my brother Yoshi and his friends decided that they wanted to make a band and bought a drum set and some amps for their guitars. They also kindly decided to set up their band directly above my room and since none of them know how to play the drums yet and they decided 2:00 A.M. was an awesome time to rock out. I’m sure you can see why my night was a long one.
Even though I have been sick for half of my first month here this has already been the experience of a lifetime. The experiencing different sights, people, and culture is something that I have always dreamt about doing and hey, I even got to experience a Japanese hospital stay! Not many exchange students can say that!
September 29 Journal
This week just happened to be infinitely better than last week, now that I’m out of the hospital… Imagine that! Unfortunately, me being in the hospital ruined my family's plans to take me to a baseball game in the Tokyo Dome and go sightseeing in Kyoto over our week long school break. In the U.S. it would’ve been a fragmented break, but luckily Japan has a law where if a day happens to fall in between two holidays then it automatically becomes a holiday itself! Who could’ve created a better law!?
Monday was a pretty laid back day but my dad gave my brother (Yoshi) and I our new gym membership cards to the gym town the street so we decided it would be a good idea to go check it out. We were there for about an hour and a half and it was really awesome, way different that the YMCA that is near my house. They have the normal workout area, 2 aerobic rooms that they hold various classes in, 4 squash courts, a swimming pool, tennis courts, and an onsen (hot spring) in the locker room!
Tuesday I had a late breakfast with my brothers, minus Yoshi because he slept in until noon, then went out and got McDonalds and brought it back to the house. I talked to my brothers and cousin and watched TV until lunch-time when they insisted that we should go out to an American style restaurant. And I couldn’t resist! I wanted to see what the Japanese thought American food was like. I ended up getting a hamburger, but the Japanese don’t use buns and you eat it with your chopsticks so maybe a little off the average American restaurant. But hey, not all Americans use chopsticks in Japanese restaurants and my burger was really good so I won’t complain. After that we went bowling in a bowling alley that was at least twice the size of any one I have ever been to and the bowling balls were in size order and organized so I didn’t spend 30 minutes looking for the bowling ball that was just the right size. I ended up coming in second overall with a whopping 118 with which I was pretty disappointed. The man two lanes over on the other hand bowled a perfect game except for the 9th frame where he bowled a spare putting him at 277, which I thought was pretty amazing. The rest of my break was pretty relaxed and I spent most of it with my brothers and cousin.
Thursday was my first day back at school in three straight weeks! It was a lot of fun and after each one of my teachers got through asking me if I was feeling alright and then visiting the president of the school during lunch to tell him myself that I was feeling fine, I finally made it through the day. Friday was a P.E. day and since I’m in the soccer club that is what I ended up doing during the period. I am definitely glad I decided to start to play a sport because it’s a great way to meet other people who are very nice and although my soccer is ultimately lacking in skill I still had a lot of fun.
Saturday was a day that two Rotex and another exchange student who lives in Nakagawa (Sam Estenson) had been planning for a while so I was very excited for it. At 11:00 I went out to lunch with my Dad and we had a nice conversation about his days in high school. At around 11:50 we went over to the Utsunomiya train station to meet Sam who was getting off his train and we also met up with Ayano and Mai, two Rotex students who had gone to America. We spent our day meandering around Utsunomiya and since what we had planned to do, which was go-karts, was closed we went to a park and visited the Utsunomiya tower. We went back to my house, and after Ayano and Mai left, Sam and I went out to dinner with my dad, cousins, and brother to a revolving sushi restaurant. Which once again was very, very good. Sam spent the night at my house since there was a Rotary gathering the next day.
Sunday was an exciting day because everyone from the first orientation got to see each other again and talk to each other about their towns and Yukiko was there! We left for Tochigishi at about 9 and got there in roughly 45 minutes. The first part of the meeting we spent talking to all the Rotex about how we were doing and how we liked our host families and our new lives in Japan. We all had to give introduction speeches to the Rotarians, including the Rotex, and after that we all moved over to another building to have lunch. After lunch we spent the rest of the day walking around and sightseeing which included a boat ride on a river, a museum, and free ice cream! After walking back to the meeting place we all said our goodbyes and left with our respective families to go home and of course we were all looking forward to the next orientation in October!
It has been just over a month and I am having the most amazing time here. I can’t wait to see what is in store for me in the coming months and as my grasp of the language increases I’m sure so will the excitement that I get out of this amazing experience that has been given to me.
October 18 Journal
Alright so it’s been a while since I’ve written about my time here in Japan so I have got a lot to talk about!
We had exam week at school and since the only exams they were letting me take were English reading and Biology I didn’t do much other than study Japanese and play Sudoku. I actually did really well on both my Biology and English exams which I was happy about. I would’ve taken the Physics exam on Friday but my Dad decided to take me and my cousin みょじょ to Nikko that day for a sightseeing trip!
So at around 9 in the morning on Friday we left the house. My host father dropped my cousin and I off at an onsen (Hot spring) while he went off to get some things done. We were there for about an hour and I had a good time. I find the hot springs really relaxing even though the constant influx of questions from strangers doesn’t stop. After we were all rested up, みょじょ and I piled back in the van and we were headed back towards Nikko. To get to the top of the mountain where Nikko is located you have to first drive up a huge winding slope to the top, this particular slope prides itself in having 48 separate hairpin turns to get to the top. On the way up my cousin thought it would be fun to count every turn so every time we reached one we would all yell out the number. It actually passed the time pretty quickly.
We visited 3 different waterfalls while we were there; the first was Kegon falls, the second was Riyuzu falls, and the third was Yudaki falls. All three were really beautiful and I got some good pictures of them. We stopped by the Toshogu shrine and walked around there for a while. I always thought that Japanese architecture was really interesting so I had a great time looking at some of the structures that they had there. Lastly before we headed home we visited the famous Shinkyo or Sacred Bridge. While the bridge is only from 1636 the surrounding mountains were explored during the year 767. After walking around the bridge and snapping a few photos we all piled back in the car and headed home. I would say after about 2 minutes, both みょじょ and I were asleep in the car. What can I say - it’s been a long time since I have been a tourist!
So there were still exams going on when I got back to school on Monday, so more reading and Sudoku for me. Until Wednesday when… my younger brother Atsushi got Swine flu! Now in America this would be no biggie, life would go on as normal and Atsushi would get better, then go back to school. But this does not happen in Japan. My brothers and I were quarantined and not allowed to go to school until the next Tuesday. Now this happened on Thursday so luckily there wasn’t that much time to be spent away from school since Friday there was a big ceremony going on that we were missing school for anyways and Monday was a holiday.
Friday morning I woke up, went running, showered, read some, ate breakfast, and then put on my school uniform for my host dad's grandfather's 1 year memorial service. This was probably one of the most interesting things I have been to so far. There was a lot of chanting and praying that I found really interesting, partially just trying to translate what they were all saying. This went on for about 45 minutes before they had an incense lighting ceremony. There were three boxes with coals in front of the shrine and everyone that was in attendance (there were probably about 100 people there) would walk up, sit in front of the box, take a pinch of incense from a jar next to it, and throw it onto the coals. After that my Dad and his brother both spoke about their father and then we all headed off to the Utsunomiya Grand Hotel for a luncheon. The lunch was great and even though all the portions were small there were so many of them by the end it was a struggle just to finish.
After lunch I was really excited to get home because this weekend was the weekend that I was going to go stay in Nakagawa for the rice harvesting festival! I got invited by another exchange student, Sam Estenson (from MN), who is living in Nakagawa. Every year they host this homestay weekend and various exchange students from across Japan come and participate (not just Rotary exchange students). I had a blast getting to know a lot of new people and learning how to harvest rice the old fashioned way, not with a combine.
I left at about 4 for Utsunomiya station and boarded my first train ever! I was really excited about it and actually ended up enjoying it. Although apparently I liked being on the train a little too much because I missed my stop; after going through about 5 minutes of country with no city to be seen, I decided that I should probably get off at the next stop. But when I got off I found out that the next train going back the way I came wasn’t getting there for another 30 minutes. Fortunately my host mom had gotten me some doughnuts for the trip so I sat down in the deserted train station and ate my doughnuts, which were pretty good considering the circumstances. After I got to the correct station, I boarded a bus with all the other exchange students who were meeting at that station (it is the nearest train station to Sam’s town) and we headed off to Nakagawa.
I stayed with a homestay family while I was there that I met as soon as I arrived. I really liked them and they even made me promise that if I came to visit Sam again that I would stay with them! On Saturday we had the rice harvesting and after that everyone came together for a huge lunchtime meal and together we made this giant sushi roll. Before I left on Sunday my homestay family and I went bowling and went out to a soba restaurant for lunch. Instead of letting me take the train back again (since I missed my exit on the way there) my father offered to drive me home and even said it was 45 minutes faster. So their 3 kids and I piled in the van and we made it back to Utsunomiya in record time.
During school this week I had to get an ECG test for the field trip just like all the other students. After the test there was a super long assembly that lasted until an hour and a half after school was supposed to end. I have joined the Volleyball club and can come and play with them any day after school that I want to. I really enjoy playing volleyball and it is a great chance for me to get to know some new people and start to learn the language as it is used in an everyday environment.
Until next time, じゃね！
November 13 Journal
Wow, it has almost been 3 months that I have been in this surreal country. It seems that sometimes the moments fly by almost too quickly to differentiate them and other times they seem to crawl by in agonizing detail.
To start, my host parents have cracked down on security around the house, keeping all the doors locked at all times because my Dad's bag and iPhone got stolen out of our house around October 20th! The thief even ended up spending around 50,000円 on my host father's credit card.
The Saturday after that I went to Round 1 (An Adventure Landing type place) with a group of current and past Rotary Exchange students and a Swedish exchange student from a different program. This place was amazing let me tell you they had anything you could imagine. Down on the first and second floors were all kinds of slot machines and chance games, up on the third floor you had all the arcade games like Time Crisis, Dance Dance Revolution, and Racing games but they were all free! Unlike at any other place I had been to you could play any of them as many times as you wanted to for no cost. They also had a ton of mini sports rooms set up for ping-pong, a mini pond with real fish that you could catch, basketball, bowling, roller skating, and even a huge magazine room with about 20 massage chairs! On the roof they had 7 or 8 batting cages, 2 tennis courts, a volleyball court, a soccer field, and even an archery range!
The next day we had our District Rotary conference and I was under the impression that I had to write a speech that I was to present in front of about 250+ Rotarian's that were going to be there. Only to realize once I got there all I had to say was my name and my host club, you can bet I was pretty relieved after that.
Volleyball at school has been fun but I am thinking about joining the Soccer club because I enjoy soccer a lot more and there are only about 6 people on the boys volleyball team. Halloween came up pretty quickly and left just as fast, I don't think one person that I knew even mentioned it, hah! On the 31st Nikko was hosting a Soba festival so my host family and I drove there for lunch and walked around a bit and then come back home. The next day was my school's festival which I spent a couple of hours at with my host brothers, it was nice to see all the students since normally I only see those that are in my homeroom. Sunday I went to a Jazz festival with my host Dad and my little brother Hitoshi, the music was great and it was fun just to get out and see the city with my family.
The next two days were Holy days which meant no school but on Monday I almost walked out the door because my host Mom had forgotten. If it wasn't for my Host father I would've completely shown up at school and been really confused.
That weekend we had another Rotary orientation but this time it was for the new outbound exchange students who would be leaving the following year. We had to make Power-points on our states and countries in order to promote them to the outbounds.
The Friday before Gustaf (Swedish exchange student), Ayano (Rotex from MN), and I went to Karaoke in Utsunomiya. It was a blast as I have never done real karaoke before. After Karaoke we got dinner before all of us headed home.
The overnight orientation at Akiyama was a blast. When we all got there we had lunch and then had about a 3 hour break until the meeting started. We all gave our speeches and the rebounds gave their presentations on their respective countries. We didn't have time for our presentations so we postponed them until Sunday. After we all had dinner together the exchange students and outbounds got together and played some games hosted by the Rotex. We played Bingo (I won a Hello Kitty Blanket), a pictionary type game, and some type of game that involved shoving your facing in flour.... Overall it was really fun and it was great to meet the people who would be coming to our homes in the coming year.
Sunday after waking up we all went out to a field behind the cabins for some morning exercises and a quick walk. The fall colors here in Japan are beautiful and are something I am just not used to seeing in Florida. After we got back and had breakfast we finished up all of our presentations. I got a ride home from Ayano and on the way back we stopped for Ramen with her mom and grandmother (可愛い!).
This week at school has been rather uneventful, playing soccer and having Japanese lessons. It's starting to feel like normal. I am looking forward to visiting Tokyo with some of my friends in late November and then December 3rd I have my school trip to Okinawa!
That's all for now but with so much coming up in the next few weeks I'm sure I will be writing again soon!
December 22 Journal
Wow… What an amazing time I have been having lately, with my first trip to Tokyo, my school trip to Okinawa, and changing host families I have been truly blessed with this experience. And it’s not even half over yet.
Unfortunately the end of November was more of a routine than anything but that is expected after living somewhere for 3 months. It was filled with school, a lot of running, and even more Farmville (yes, I got addicted). Even in a routine though Japan never ceases to surprise me and I was about to have one of the busiest weeks of my life.
It started off with me going to on my first trip to Tokyo. I went with all the other exchange students in my area and we all ended up taking the same train which was pretty fun. When we got there we went straight to Kaminari-Mon or “The Lightening Gate”. This was followed by lunch and then we all walked around the main tourist area which is chocked full of stores, each one selling their own souvenirs and keepsakes that every good visitor just has to have one of.
After that we split up, half the group going clothes shopping and the other (consisting of only guys) headed to Akihabara or the world famous electric town. Akihabara is definitely something else, the first thing you have to think when you get there is “Where do I want to go?” There are tons of multi level stores with everything electronic you can think of. We decided to head to the first multi-level store we store. This one had (among other things) a floor devoted to figurines and a whole store devoted to Pokémon cards (some pricing up to 99,999 yen or 1000$). A few floors filled with weird and strange costumes and other oddities, some appropriate and some not even close. After that came the arcade, where I was surprised to find a man in skins (running or workout gear) stretched right inside the arcade. I was even more surprised when he hopped on the DDR machine and with about 25 people watching (no videos allowed or I certainly would have taken one) he started to play a song on the hardest difficulty on both of the pads at once! After that we headed back out and went over to a book store where I browsed around for a while Simon looked for a new game for his PS3. Finally it was time to head back to Harajuku and meet up with the rest of the group and after a quick dinner at McDonalds (classy I know) and a 2 hour train ride I was back home and asleep within minutes.
This didn’t end my exciting week though as a few days later I left on a plane out of Tokyo headed off to the tropical Islands of Okinawa. Now I could spend a long time talking about Okinawa but I will try to cut it down and only get at the good parts.
Now I was a little angry at myself on this trip because I forgot my camera and there were a lot of amazing sights to see here but hopefully I will end up getting some pictures from my classmates. The first day we visited two places, the Himeyuri Peace Museum and the Okinawa Peace Memorial. The Peace memorial is a huge area that borders the ocean and has a massive amount of marble slabs that contain on them all the names of both the American and Japanese that died in WWII. But by far the most amazing part of the day was getting to see the ocean again for the first time in months.沖縄の海はとてもきれいでした。This was I can honestly say the first thing that actually made me completely homesick and standing out on the beach with only the ocean in sight it was almost as if I was at home again. After this we had a nice long bus ride to our hotel where we immediately had dinner. There were 7 courses and I don’t think any table completely finished any of the courses. Except for my table of course, we were on a mission and we weren’t going to be beaten. By the end of the meal we were all groaning and definitely ready for a nice rest.
For the sake of space I will combine the second and third day and skip breakfast and dinner. But don’t worry, my table finished our meal every night much to the disappointment of the boy who went to the bathroom and came back to find that his plate had three times the amount of food on it as when he left. Friday we went to a nature preserve called Bios and again I was reminded how angry I was that I forgot my camera. We walked around a little, got to play with the goats, and went on a boat ride in a swamp. Okinawa was really starting to remind me of Florida, except for the mountains of course we don’t have those in Florida.
After we left Bios we went to an old style Okinawa town that reminded me of Williamsburg, Virginia. I picked up some nice souvenirs there to send out as Christmas presents to friends and family. After lunch and yet another bus ride we went to the Churami Aquarium. It was a cool place to see but Aquariums just aren’t something I can stay in for an extended period of time, so after a quick run through my group and I walked around outside and then headed down to the beach to sit and talk. We headed back to the hotel after that and it was a pretty late night but I eventually got some sleep.
The third day was probably the most fun. In the morning there were all different activities that you could sign up for. The one my teacher stuck me with was ironically looking for shells on the beach. Now don’t get me wrong, it was pretty fun. But I do wish I had done one like harvesting sugarcane or learning to cook Okinawa style foods. When we finished that we had lunch at the hotel where we would be spending that night (A different hotel than the night before) and then went to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. Unfortunately I think I spent longer in the bathroom than I did browsing the museum (which wasn’t long, mind you). Fortunately after my brief visit I went back to the bus and found that my whole class was already asleep and had finished their tours too. When the teachers got done browsing around we all headed over to the main street and they told us we had 2 hours to wander around the many shops and stores that lined the street. I ended up spending most of my time talking to a Marine who was stationed in Okinawa about his time here. After everyone finished shopping everyone was exhausted so we piled on the bus and went back to the hotel for a nice meal and some sleep.
Sunday was the last day of my stay in Okinawa. Overall it wasn’t too exciting, but it was still fun. In the morning we headed off to Shurijo Castle Park. After a guided walkthrough and buying some postcards in the gift shop my classmates and I got some good shut-eye on the bus in the underground parking garage. After a nice nap we headed off to the airport where we had some time to wander around before catching our flight at 12:55. When I finally got back to the temple it was about 7:10 and I was, to say the least, done in for the night. The next day was a holiday off from school so luckily I got to sleep in.
After another day of watching the latest Gossip Girl it was finally time for me to move Host Families. In the morning my room was looking pretty desolate and I packed up some last minute things and then headed off to school. After school we packed all of my things into my counselor’s car and then I rode my bike over to the Baba’s house. It took me a long while and we had dinner at 9 o’clock. After dinner we headed over to the store to get me a pillow, a lunchbox, and a second lock for my bike. When we got back I took a shower and then headed off to bed.
This past weekend was my Rotary Christmas party. It was, to put it simply, a blast. I had gone early with Ayano to help wrap presents for the party. But after about 2 hours everyone else started to arrive. Once everyone was there the outbound students for next year gave speeches about the countries that they were going to be heading too next year. After that we played a version of Russian roulette that involved treats filled with spicy mustard. We got to watch a really ‘cool’ magic show and have a nice pre-meal before we headed over to the bowling alley. I ended up bowling a measly 132 but was pretty happy with myself because I haven’t bowled in a while. My score won the highest for the kids but didn’t even match the highest for the adults, which was 246. Dinner was good and gave everyone a chance to talk and to say goodbye when it was all over. It is always great to see all the exchange students together in one place because we all end up having a great time.
The past few weeks with the Baba’s has been absolutely amazing and I feel like I have gotten closer to them in 2 weeks then I had with the Inaki’s in 4 months. They are nice and always very helpful when I have a question about the Japanese language. My winter break just started today and will hopefully prove to be very exciting. I am headed to Tokyo today to spend 5 days there with some other friends and will be going skiing too! Sorry it has been so long since my last journal! But I promise I will write again soon about my Winter Break!!
January 23 Journal
Well it has been quite a while since I have written a journal, let me assure you though, it is no fault of my own... I promise. Alright well maybe I have been procrastinating this one for a while and I would have liked to have gotten it out sometime right after the New Year. But alas, it is now late January and I am just now sitting down to write about my very fun holidays.
Alright well where did we leave off? Oh yes, the start of my Winter break. Well the day after school ended for the holidays I was whisked away to Tokyo for what might have been one of the most fun Christmases I have had. The first night in Tokyo I got to meet my friend’s, who is also my host sister, host brother from when she was an exchange student in Minnesota. This year he is also an exchange student and was going to be spending the whole holiday with us. So after getting acquainted we headed back to Ayano’s (My host sister) apartment, grabbed some dinner, and hit the sack. Ayano had college classes the next day so Luke and I meandered our way over to Akihabara to look for some games and the other oddities that are to be found there. After grabbing some lunch at a local BK we headed back to the apartment to help everyone else prepare for the Christmas party that we were having. The party was a lot of fun and the night was even more fun because we headed out to see one of the many light shows that Tokyo has to offer around Christmas time. When we had our fill of the night life of Tokyo we found our way back to the apartment and got some much needed rest.
The next few days followed pretty much the same schedule. We moseyed around the Imperial Gardens, caught glimpse of Tokyo tower, went to a very rare Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, and managed (I still don’t know how) to go to McDonalds at least 5 times. We also did Karaoke from 11 P.M. to 5 A.M. which was a blast, although Ayano fell asleep within the first 30 minutes of us being there. The day after Karaoke was spent mostly sleeping and then cleaning up before we headed out to Utsunomiya (home) with Luke in tow. As soon as introductions were over we all went back to sleep and slept pretty well through the night.
The next day Luke, Ayano, and I went over to a Rotarian's house to participate in their annual Mochi making ceremony. For those of you who don’t know what Mochi is, it is basically rice that is pounded into a paste and then shaped and eaten, especially around the New Year. We spent most of the day doing that and then went to an onsen and got dinner before coming home exhausted. We picked up Sam Estenson (another exchange student from Minnesota) from the train station on the way home and then we all got some much needed rest.
Two days after that we all went skiing, well I went snowboarding (this was my first time naturally, being from Florida) because it’s more manly, right? Well, to start with we thought we had found the easiest route at the very top of the mountain but when we got up there apparently it was a kid’s play zone and was closed off anyway. So I thought “What the hay, I might as well go down the hard slope all the way to the bottom. I’ll just go slowly.” I probably should have learned how to brake on a snowboard before I tried that, so after I ended up flipping head over heels all the way down the slope, I discovered at the bottom that my camera had fallen out of my pocket somewhere along my path of devastation. Luckily, about 15 minutes after I lost it someone turned it in to the lost and found with only a few scratches to bear. The rest of the day went without incident and by the end of the day I was going down the slopes like a pro.
The rest of my break was all a blur. Sam left soon after because he had to be home before the New Year. Luke and I went to Nikko with my host Dad and also went with him to a temple and out for coffee on New Year’s Day. I showed Luke around Utsunomiya for a day, including my old host family's temple, my school, and one of the big parks around my area. Luke left around the 3rd and Ayano went back to college the same day.
The next five days were spent going running, reading books, riding my bike, and practicing my Japanese. This last weekend I spent with all the exchange students from our district in Sano checking out one of the light shows and looking at some old original school houses.
Next weekend I am going to Disney in Tokyo and will finally see how it compares to Disney in good old Orlando. I’ll make sure I keep you guys informed.
Until then, Sayonara!
April 8 Journal
Wow! It has almost been two months since my last journal! And to think that when I got here I thought I would be writing every week! Hah!
It has been an eventful past two months so bear with me. At the beginning of February I went to Tokyo: Disney Sea, which is just like the normal Disney other than the fact that there is a canal running throughout the whole park. It was a blast, and was also a great opportunity to get to know some of the outbound exchange students.
February in general was a pretty average month. I started to get used to my host family's schedule and could probably have rode my bike to school asleep (In fact, I may have a few times). But just because it was average doesn't mean that is was boring. The month was sprinkled with little events: A District Rotary meeting, various events with friends, and even the occasional Rotary club meeting. March has probably been the most fun month I have had while here in Japan. First of all, I only had 7 days of school the whole month! Secondly, I got to travel Japan with my family, who I hadn't seen for 7 whole months!
March was a whirl of activity and after I had gotten used to the fact that I was going to see my REAL parents it seemed I was already on my way to pick them up from the airport. We spent three days in Utsunomiya, two days meandering around Osaka and Kyoto, and the last three days staked out in a deluxe suite at the Hilton in Tokyo.
The days seemed to fly by and before I knew it they were on their way back to Florida. There was no rest for me though, as soon as they were gone I was sent off to the annual RYLA seminar, which here in my district is only 2 days and 1 night. The seminar was a lot of fun and since all of the new outbound exchange students were there it was a great chance to get to know them all better. After returning from RYLA I immediately started on a speech about the weekend to present to my Rotary club.
And just yesterday all of the exchange students around Utsunomiya, only 3 of the 5 inbounds, got together and went to Karaoke and lunch. I also found out yesterday that the outbound who is heading to Florida, Chisato, will be hosted by my sponsor club and may even be living with my family next year!
Well that's it for now, I will write again when I change host families on May 1st!
See you later!
May 18 Journal
Once again it has been too long since I have written a journal. But as it gets down to my last days here I find myself wanting to do everything so that I know when I get home I won't have any regrets. This past month and a half started off really tough but has gotten a lot better and I am happy that I will be leaving Japan in high spirits.
At the beginning of the month I found out that my Grandfather passed away. For about a week I was feeling pretty down and thinking about home and my family a lot. In the end I decided to make the most of the time I have left here and to do my best in studying the language and culture.
I went to Yokohama with my host family and got to see the Cherry blossoms in Tokyo, which were absolutely beautiful. That same weekend there was a Rotary event for all the inbounds and future outbounds where we got to make soba (Buckwheat noodles). After making it we all got to sit down and enjoy our great cooking.
I have started to help Chisato, a future RYE exchange student (she will also be hosted by my Rotary Club at home) with her English and getting all her school forms and what not ready for next year. I got to go out to dinner with her parents and had a really great time getting to know them.
I spent one weekend staying with a pair of Rotarians while my host family was out of town and attended a Rotary sponsored event with them at Nikko. We got to plant trees in an old coal mine area where there was no vegetation whatsoever. The goal of the event is to plant 10,000 trees over a 10 year period. My school's interact club also came and I got to meet the local Rotary clubs Rotaract members.
A week after this event I said goodbye to my host family the Baba's and after a day of strenuous packing (and sending 2 huge boxes home to America) I headed out on my bike while my counselor drove my luggage. My current host family is Mr. and Ms. Okagawa and fortunately no more 30 minute bike rides for me. They are a leisurely 8 minutes from my school and only about 1 minute from the center of town and 2 huge malls (not that I have any room in my suitcases to buy anything).
My moving host families also coincided with Golden Week (a string of Japanese holidays that is 5 days long). That Sunday my host father and I (keep in mind he is 82 years old) made an hour long trek/climb up Kogashi mountain, which is about a 20 minute drive from my town. I had a great time and really got to know my host father well, I also found out that he is the Chairman of the Rotaract club so I would be seeing a lot of the friends that I met in Nikko the past week.
On my last day of Golden week I ran in a 10k race at a car/motorcycle track in a town called Motegi. It was one of the first sunny days Japan had seen for a while and was also brutally hot, I got sunburned for the first time since coming to Japan!
Alright, I realize I am being a little long winded so I will summarize the rest of this month. The weekend was a lot of fun. I went to Tokyo with a fellow exchange student and we spent the day shopping (well she did, I didn't spend a dime), eating, and just having a great time. The next day was the District Rotary meeting in which myself and the other inbound students would be giving our LAST speeches! Albeit we still have our host club speeches to give but we were excited nonetheless. Before the meeting started we all got to visit a very special ceremony at a temple that few people (especially foreigners) get to see. After we had finished giving our speeches and making our goodbyes my host father and I went over to another Rotarian's house to see his two Katanas (Samurai swords). Mind you, these were not fake and each one was around $4,000 when he got them and he said they are probably worth double that now. It was a really interesting experience and I am definitely glad that I had the chance to see them.
This past week was exam week at school so nothing too exciting going on. There has been so much during this exchange that I am thankful for and I've got no clue how the time has passed so quickly. All I can do now is make the most of the 30 days that I have left here, and of course look forward to writing one more journal for Al!
Until next time,