So it seems I have survived my first week of Japan without a scratch (other than that little knick I got from my Grandmother`s cat). Before I go into more detail about the present, lets go back 7 days (or I guess 8; time changes do wonders to your internal clock).
August 20th, Washington DC Dulles Airport
-My plane is about to take off. I`m sitting next to a small elderly Japanese woman who speaks no english. Zack, the other Florida Rotary Exchange Student going to Japan is in the seat behind me. He`s sitting next to a young Japanese woman who is nearly fluent in English. Figures. In 13 and a half hours, I`ll be in Tokyo, Japan. Lets just hope my family will be there to pick me up haha. I wonder if I`ll be able to sleep on this flight. I realized yesterday that my hair is getting longish, so I just learned how to say `I need a haircut, please` in Japanese and I plan on whipping that phrase out in a week or so. I`m still wearing my khakis and button down from earlier this morning, I decided to leave my uncomfortable clothes on during the 2 hour flight from Orlando to Washington DC. I took off my blazer, but I`m waiting until the flight takes off and then I`ll throw on my soccer shorts and t-shirt. Right now our plane is creeping down the runway so I suppose doing a quick-change in the funsized airplane bathroom wouldn`t be a super safe choice. Now the airplane is currently flying down the runway, making it incredibly difficult for me to write in this journal, so maybe I`ll take some time saying goodbye to the lovely landmass that is America. Until soon, Adieu.
August 20th, Some where Over Canada
-We have been in the air for 2 hours, 33 minutes and we are 34,000 feet in the air, all according to the small television set inside the back of the seat in front of me. We were just served our first hot meal. A tip for anyone planning on flying to Japan anytime soon: Always choose the pasta. We were given a choice of either chicken or pasta. I, being adventurous, chose the delicious smelling ginger chicken. Sadly, the smell was decieving and it ended up being incredibly chewy and inevitably inedible. Even the Japanese woman beside me refused to touch hers. However, they gave us a delicious oatmeal raisin cookie with the chicken so there was that small bit of heaven. Speaking of the Asian woman, she is now asleep. Normally I think sleeping seniors are cute, but my bladder is wanting to burst and she is blocking my path to the restroom and I`m too nice to wake her up. I wonder if after we have been flying for a while they would play a workout video to wake us up, maybe even Richard Simmons. There is a pimple on my face that must be popped. The plane just hit some turbulence in the sky and I looked very hopingly to the sleeping woman on my left to see if she had woken up but apparently she chugged a bottle of Benedryl and is in a semi-coma. I cannot find the Japanese word for coma in my dictionary. Maybe those do not exist in Japan. Being a very busy country, it is possible they simply don`t have time for a comatose state. If this woman does not wake up soon I might find comfort in my throw-up bag.
August 20th, still somewhere over Canada
-We have been flying for about 4 hours now. The woman beside me is still sleeping, even after I very nimbly climbed over her in my rush to the bathroom. I have a strong urge to check for a pulse. This is a very long flight. I have yet to find a workout video, let along Richard Simmons. However, Iron Man 2 is on. I have been wanting to see this for quite a long time now and I love me some Scarlett Johansson.
August 20th (or is it the 21st now?), somewhere over Alaska
-ALASKA, THE FINAL FRONTIER. Surprisingly beautiful and not completely covered in snow. I understand why Sarah Palin would want to govern there. According to my cell phone, it's 9 PM in Florida. We have been following the sun, so outside the window it's still the 1PM that we left during. Airplanes by B.O.B & Hayley Williams has been playing on my iPod and I just now realized the relevance. I desperately hope nobody pretends my airplane is a shooting star. Whoooooa halfway there, WHOOOOAAAA LIVIN ON A PRAAAYER.
August 20/21, over the Bering Sea
-We have been flying for almost 9 hours now. I'm trying to sleep but I can't. I feel like death.
August 21, Pacific Ocean
-I can't believe I have written so much on this flight. I feel like Al or whomever will be posting this will have a heart attack when they see my hourly journal entries. However to make it easier on them I will try very hard to type with good grammar/spelling. I just chowed down on a delicious turkey sandwhich, my last airplane meal. I can see the outline of mountains in the distance through the fog (or is it smog?). So it has finally hit me. I am an exchange student, and I will live in Japan for a year. All these months of preparation will finally be put to use in about 30 minutes. Who knows what will happen after that? Well, other than Rotary. They know everything.
August 21, Mama's house
- It was about 3:37 PM. After going through Customs and baggage claim completely shell (or culture) shocked and bleary eyed, I was greeted by 5 smiling Japanese people. The exceptionally short one, a girl that looked to be a little older than my little sister, was holding a sign that said, "GARRETT NICKELL". The woman who looked to be about my mother's age grabbed my hand and told me to call her 'Mama', and then told me she speaks very little english. Also in the group was Mama's father, and two rotary members. She told me that it takes about 2 hours via car to get from Tokyo to our home, in Oyama. There isn't much I remember from that car ride. I found out that my host little sister's name is Kaho. She's 12. I also have a brother named Hiro who is 13, and another sister named Chi who is 17. I was taken to my first restaurant in Japan, and ironically my first meal was beef and potatos. I'm surprised I didn't fall asleep. When we got home they showed me my room, and I met Chi and her boyfriend, Tatsuki. Both very stylish looking and nice. I have a feeling they`ll be my friends. I called my mom for a little bit, then took a shower (which was very very confusing). Japanese word of the day: Oyasuminasai - Goodnight.
August 22nd, Mama`s house
Japanese word of the day: Atsui - Hot
-I love my house. It has a piano, which Mama, Kaho, Chi, and Omama (grandmother) all know how to play. Today I started learning Kanon by J. Pachelbel, which is one of my favorite piano pieces. I'm starting to pick up little japanese words here and there. Of course, dictionaries and translators are VERY handy. This morning, Mama, Chi, and I went to church. Last night Mama asked me if I was Jewish. She said she knew a man from Florida who was Jewish and therefore assumed all floridians were Jewish. I told her no, I go to a Christian church. Mama's family is Protestant. Imagine my surprise, going to Japan and being placed with a Protestant family. The church we went to was more like a room in an apartment building. Apparently Catholic churches in Japan are bigger. It is very hot outside, and the Japanese love to say so. Whenever outside, they constantly say, "ATSUI ATSUI ATSUI". However, once inside, they don't always turn on the air conditioner. Odd. At church I was introduced to everyone and was given an English bible. There was a lot of singing and many words I didn't understand. However, courtesy of the priest, I was given the day's message in English: God Leads Us. Church got out at 12 and we walked to a Temple. They were setting up for a festival which is happening tomorrow night. Candles everywhere and many decorations. Everything was very beautiful. After we went to the temple I met my younger brother, Hiro. Tonight Tatsuki came over for dinner and all of us kids hung out in my room and I showed them all my stuff. We took a lot of pictures together with my macbook haha. Chi and Tatsuki want to take me all over and go shopping a lot, which is fine by me. Tomorrow shall be busy busy. Oyasuminasai!
August 23rd, (home)
-Today I woke up early to the sound of fireworks. When there is nobody around to distract her, Mama likes to feed me large amounts of food. Today I went shopping with Mama, Chi, Tatsuki, and Kaho. Tatsuki and I broke off and he showed me his favorite stores. We took pictures in the Japanese photobooth thing where everything is super kawaii (cute) and bright and your skin looks like butter. Each day I learn more Japanese, thanks to Mama and Chi and Tatsuki all knowing a little English. Today was Kaho's birthday. Chi made a REAL Japanese cheesecake, which of course was not very similar to the one my mom and I made. Tomorrow Mama wants me to make the family an American lunch, so I decided to make the easiest gourmet meal known to man, Spaghetti. Easy enough to make, just noodles and tomato and sauce and garlic and peppers and butter. I think I'll also make garlic bread. Tonight Chi, Tatsuki, Kaho, Opapa (grandfather) and I went to the festival that they were setting up for yesterday. It was so beautiful at nighttime to see all the candles lit. There was a big ceremony with monks and incense and gongs. It was a ceremony to honor the dead, I believe. But wow I am TIRED. Oyasumin.
-Every morning, i wake up exhausted. I seem to forget while sleeping that Im currently living in Japan, and around 7, when the sunlight shines through my wall-sized window, I start to wake up. I then freak out, not recognizing the room, and can't go back to sleep after remembering that I'm not in Kansas anymore. Or Florida. Today, Chi, Tatsuki, her friend and I went shopping. Tatsuki and I have very similar styles. Our clothes are very similar and when we look at clothes we like the same things. Japan as a whole is very into Marine fashion right now (Navy&white stripes, rope, anchors, etc.). Tonight I had a big dinner with the high members of my rotary club. I gave a little speech that Tatsuki helped me correct. The dinner was traditional Japanese food: a bunch of raw fish and rice and soy sauce. Even though it was gross to think about, it was pretty delicious. I tried a bunch of stuff that I didn't think I would ever eat, such as octopus, eel, and some kind of sea snail. We talked about my high school and they said I would be getting my 10,000 en tomorrow (about 120 dollars). I'm not sure what to spend my 10,000 en on other than clothes and food here and there, because according to my president they plan on paying for basically everything I need.
Surprising things about Japan: 1) Their use of technology is very odd. Most buildings don't use their air conditioner, yet almost everyone has hot water and cooked rice at the touch of a button, not to mention their super-awesome cell phones. 2) Everything about their lives is cute. You can be a horrible person but I think if you were cute while being a horrible person it might be okay. Children are expected to make mistakes and be loud and foolish and immature but its okay because its cute and part of being a child. Kaho broke something today and instead of Mama scolding her like in America, she laughed and was like, "OOOH KAHOOO". 3) The role of Mama is very confusing to me. Mama has no job, other than to constantly take care of the family. She is the taxi, chef, maid, and babysitter of the family. There is no possible way for her to have a job for she is constantly busy. She gets up at 5 to pack the kids' lunch (something they could easily do themselves), then she takes a little nap, then she cooks breakfast and does laundry and drives around and shops and every little thing you could think of until 12 at night. Dear Mother, if you are reading this (and I'm sure you are), just imagine being a mother in Japan. Just. Imagine. Even though Mama cooks all the meals, she doesnt eat dinner with the family every time. Instead, shes cleaning up the kitchen or maybe doing laundry (which is done every day). However, I guess I just go along and do as the Romans (or Japanese) do.
-Today was quite the adventure. Chi and I were set on a destination to go to my school. We had to walk to Oyama train station (about a 7 minute walk), ride the train to the next station (about 10 minutes) and then walk to my school, Oyama Nishi High School (a 12 minute walk). We knew how to get to Oyama station, and how to ride to the next station, however we had no clue where my school was and how to walk to it, haha. We got off the train and went around asking where my highschool was, then went on the long and hot trek. I met my english teacher and some kind of administrator woman that also knew english. They showed me my classes and soccer club, which surprisingly looked good. The kids I met seemed nice and interested in me haha. I found out that I give a big speech friday to the entire faculty, staff, and student body. No big deal, right? Tomorrow I shall be getting a haircut (sampatsu) and then go to a Rotary Meeting. I'll be giving my go-to speech. My Japanese is getting better as I learn more and more every day. I also really like my uniform, it's supa kawaii. Even though Tatsuki is a good friend and is a fun guy, he's a controlling boyfriend when it comes to letting me and Chi hang out. He always wants to be with us, Mama says he's jealous of me because Chi wants to know so much about me. Chi wanted to go to Harajuku with me today, the fashion capital of the world, but Tatsuki had to go to school and didn't want just me and Chi to go so we couldn't go. He wants to go next weekend though, so that should be fun. Japanese word/phrase of the day: Ja ne - Bye bye
-The Japanese put the most random English words on something, when they usually have no clue what they mean. It is extremely in fashion for clothes to have English words on them. Chi`s friend a couple days ago was wearing a shirt that had the famous I Have A Dream speech by Martin Luther King Jr. on it. A couple hours ago, I noticed that the toilet paper dispenser in our bathroom had the word 'cherish' engraved on it. Cherish... What is there to CHERISH about toilet paper? It is used, and then flushed away, without the slightest bit of reverence. No prayer, no kiss goodbye. Also, I believe that the Japanese have a natural deodorant the comes out of their pores. I have not seen one hint of any odor control, yet I don't smell any B.O. even when they are often outside. They act like I pulled an alien out of my bag when I showed them my deodorant, and were very confused with the idea of rubbing it under your arms. Today I went to the big Rotary meeting, and my speech went well. There was, again, traditional Japanese food. Sashimi, rice, shrimp, some fried pork, and an orange slice. I got pai-ai-ai-ai-ai-aid and now I'm listening to that song by The Millionaires (sup Meredith hopefully you're reading this). I semi-start school tomorrow. I have to give three speeches. One to the faculty and staff in Japanese, then two to the entire student body and some teachers, one speech in Japanese and a very short one in VERY EASY english. Then I meet with the soccer coach and discuss what I need. I got a haircut today and I like it quite a bit. I must awaken at 6:00 for school, OYASUMIN!
-This morning I very tiredly made my way to school with Opapa and Furuhashi-san (my Rotary counselor). The faculty speech went well, and for the entire student body speech they put all the kids in the gym and put me on a stage in front of everyone. Op. Miss Fink, if you're reading this, THANK YOU. I was barely even nervous being in front of all those people, and my speech was nothing more than a monologue. After my speech, I talked to my soccer coach and he told me all the stuff that I needed for Monday, which is when I start my classes and then soccer practice. I'm pretty excited for both. My schedule changes on a daily basis. So right now, block scheduling at LPA looks like no big deal haha. I went out with Mama and got my new soccer equipment: Cleats, shin guards, socks, shorts, shirts, and winter wear. I told Rotary I could have my old equipment shipped here but they insisted on buying me all new stuff, which I'm very thankful for. Papa, Kaho, and Hiro went to a professional baseball game, so Mama, Chi, Omama, Opapa and i went to a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant. It was so good oh my lord. Apparently I'm the first American to try the octopus sushi. When we got home, Chi went out and Omama and Opapa went to bed so Mama and I had good talk time. We talked about America, Japan, declining society, the War in Iraq, how American influence is changing Japan, our family lives, and more. I really like my Mama. She has a very kind heart, but is very honest and straight up and blunt. Im really glad that we already have a good relationship so early into the trip.
Week one, down. Now that I'll be going to school every day and traveling a lot on the weekends, she wants me to have a cell phone. However, she wants Rotary to pay for it so we have to ask. I'm so excited for school, and soccer. Like my school in Florida, every class is 50 minutes long. However, school here starts at 8:30 and gets out around 4:30. Monday's schedule is Math, Japanese, 2 hours of cooking (OH YEAH), English, PE, then homeroom. Then soccer for around 2 hours. Today Mama, Omama (on Papa`s side of the family) and I went to a vineyard restaurant. It was amazing, and of course I forgot my camera. The vineyard was more like a big connection of trees, and the branches were all flat and together created a roof. Under the roof of vines and grapes and branches was the restaurant, where they served you free grapes. In Japan, the grapes are bigger and less sour. After you eat, it`s common courtesy to order a box of grapes to take home or you fill out a form and they send grapes to someone. Afterwards, Mama and I went to Oyama train station to get my student train pass. It allows me to go to the train station by my school pretty much whenever I want, I believe. Then we went to a donut shop. Holy Mary mother of God, the donuts were so GOOD. They are soft and not as sweet as American donuts but somehow MORE delicious. Tomorrow is a huge festival in the city, around 4 Kaho, Mama and I will walk around the festival grounds and then around 7, the fireworks start. Huge huge fireworks that last until 9. I'm incredibly excited.
(or as I'm called in Japan, Garretto)
-So today, after slaving away over a hot keyboard for a grueling 3 hours, I finally wrote my Rotary blog. After wiping off my blood, sweat, and tears it was around 1 PM. Time to get ready for the festival! Kaho and Chi got their Kimonos and we along with Mama went to Papa's mother's house. Just a little explanation of Japanese traffic: many cars, very narrow roads. There aren't many road laws when it comes to passing or much else. When a car is in a turning lane but can't turn at the moment, the other cars merely go around that one, even if the road is 1 lane only. Also add a lot of pedestrians and bikers in the mix. The cars and pedestrians have a weird mix of reverence for each other. I swear Mama has almost hit 17 people with her car, but people seem to know how to get JUST CLOSE ENOUGH to the car without getting hit. Every time we go by someone I stop breathing and then I think in my mind `OH MY GOD SISTA OVER HERE ALMOST JUST GOT BODY SLAMMED WITH AN AUTOMOBILE'. Mama thinks my state of constant stress while being in the car is truly hilarious. We got to Omama's house and she (being an expert on how to properly dress in a Kimono) dressed Kaho and Chi. Their kimonos are completely beautiful. It took 2 hours to get them completely dressed, which is insane. Around 5, Tatsuki came over. He was wearing the male kimono. Chi and Tatsuki went down to the festival by themselves looking all snazzy while I waited for Mama and Kaho to finish getting ready. Opapa, Mama, Kaho, two neighbors, and I went down to the festival, which was completely HUGE and beautiful. It seemed everyone in Oyama was packed in there (and later I found out I was pretty much correct). At 9, the fireworks started. Luckily there weren't any clouds and I brought my camera so I got some pretty good pictures. However an old asian lady (why do they always have such meddling roles in my journals) kept standing up in front of me and I had to keep yelling SUMIMASEN!!!!!!!!!!!!! (exCUSE ME!) over the booming fireworks and she would then look at me like I had a bug on my face just like every Jap does when I speak Japanese or at least attempt to. My school starts tomorrow. mmmMMMmmmmmMMMMmMmmmMm. Time for bed, Oyasuminasaiiiiii
-School was completely great/tiring/awesome etc. I met an overwhelming amount of people. General introduction conversation I had with most of the people I met:"GARRETTO!""Konnichiwa haha""Nice to meet you""Yes hajimemashite""Japanese EEEY? (insert long string of incomprehendable Japanese words)""Nononono nihongo sukoshi wakarimashita (I understand little Japanese )""Oh. My name (insert difficult Japanese sounding name). Do you have girlfriend?""Nonono""What is name of girlfriend?""....nonexistant""Does she have nickname?"I n the morning I met two of my classmates at Oyama station, which Mama drives me to. We then scan our train passes, and get on the train to Omoigawa station. it's about a 4-5 mintue train ride. Then, along with all the other students of Oyama Nishi High School that rode the train to Omoigawa station, we walk to school. Its about a 15 minute walk. Not too horrible, other than the relentless sun beating down on your head/neck. Almost everyone walked with a t-shirt or towel draped over their head. I felt like I was part of a Sahara caravan haha. Even though my school has a uniform, it is very slightly followed. The pant legs and sleeves were rolled up, and the button down was unbuttoned and untucked. For girls, they hoisted up their skirts until the originally below the knee length skirts were about 6 inches above the knee. Voila, miniskirt. As soon as I got in the classroom, the few kids I met the day I gave the speech came up to me and greeted me with a chirpy, "Ohayooo" (good morning). Then, an abnormally tall Asian guy came up to me and said very loudly, "HELLO!. I AM KAITO. WE WILL BE BEST FRIEND, YES?" I then replied in the same tone of voice, "OF COURSE! BEST FRIEND." Then we shook on it. He then told me that he played soccer too and he was going to make it his mission to show me to everyone in Grade 1 (sophomore year). Yes, I know, I'm in the sophomore class. Its good though, because I've already learned everything in my math class so woop. He walked me from class to class in our floor and told me many many names I knew I wouldn't have a chance at remembering. We had PE today. You had the choice of doing inside gym (basketball, soccer, badminton) or swimming. I, of course, jumped at the opportunity to swim. When I told the swim coach that I wore a Small sized waist in America so I would most likely wear a Large in Japan, he started laughing. He then handed me a 3L waist swim suit. I said no, M or L. He grudgingly handed me an L and told me to try it on and then come back if it was too small. I went back, but only to show him that it fitted fine, if not a little loose. He then patted my stomach and gave me the universal OK sign, and sent me off to the pool. There is going to be a big school festival Friday and Saturday, so every day after school this week there is junbi (preparation) for the festival. Each class decorates their rooms in a different theme. I spent some time decorating but then went off to soccer practice. Because of the Junbi, there wasn't any set practice schedule. So practice was more of a scrimmage between everyone that showed up. I scored a couple goals so I was content with my first day of soccer in over a year. I made friends, today was good. I met up with some friends after soccer practice and we rode the train back home. Mama was waiting for me and she drove me home. She said she wanted to know how my first day of school was, which I took as, "Okay listen I know I picked you up today but don't expect it anytime soon because I am a busy mother and I don't have time to wait for you to get off your train I have THINGS to DO." That's fine too, I like walking through the city at night. It's pretty. However, I'm exhausted. Oyasumin!
- I'm completely exhausted all throughout the day, when in America I would usually be sleeping. My body's inner clock is playing a never-ending joke on me. School was good though. I was excited because we had a 2 hour music period and I wanted to play the piano for my teacher, however that was a dud because the lady decided to be sick. It was kind of nice thougn, because that meant we got 2 hours of free time where we could do whatever. The Japanese are very giving people. Kaito, to prove our best friendship, gave me 3 gifts today. He had a Nike magnet that he carved 'Never Give Up' into, and he told me to put it inside my pencil/pen holder. Then he gave me a button from his Junior High school that was completely irrelevant but really cool looking. After school today for Junbi (preparation) of the festival, our class was all diligently working on misanga (friendship bracelets). We're selling them in our room at the festival for 100 yen each (about 1 dollar). Kaito made me a misanga and since bracelets are discouraged in school dress code I tied it around my ankle. Today, my social studies-esque class was ridiculously hard. Only in Japanese, and all about government policies and such. The teacher was determined that even though I said I couldn't, I actually COULD understand Japanese if I just tried HARD enough. That class is pointless for me until I can actually understand Japanese so maybe I'll switch out of that class for now. Today after soccer practice, I rode the train home and actually walked home all by MYSELF. So proud. Mama looked like her baby had just garbled out its first word when I stepped through our front door :'). Alright well time for bed oyasumin
-I am incredibly tired and there is a possibility I will simply pass out while writing this so I shall reduce my day into bullet form.
*I fell asleep a lot in school today, again.
*In return for the gifts Kaito gave me yesterday, I gave him a golden dollar I brought from the US. He seemed to like it.
*I laughed a lot today at my English teacher's horrible English. Mostly inside but sometimes I had to act like the book we were all reading was truly hilarious. I accidentally corrected her out loud and I fear she does not like me anymore.
*I met more of the soccer team today. Practice was good. The soccer coach actually took time from Junbi to run some drills with us today. I forgot to mention, our soccer field is dirt. Clay or dirt or something like that. Its really not bad, just dusty. So when I fell today at practice I looked like I had decided to take a nap in a bag of brown cocaine.
*The Japanese guys aren't as shy and innocent as many people would like to think. Before Gym, everyone changes in our homeroom class. Yes, everyone changes in the same class. Strip down to only underwear and then put the PE uniform on. Kaito of course takes that opportunity to run around the class in his underwear screaming war cries. Today the guys on my soccer team asked me if American girls have a bigger bosom (to put it nicely) than Japanese girls. I told them, usually not naturally.
*Today at soccer practice pulled me aside and taught me the Japanese version of, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." I do not know what he means by this because he didn't explain why he pulled me aside to tell me this but looking back to yesterday when he insisted I was an XXL, I believe he is telling me to lose weight. I might title this trip, 'Garrett Battles Anorexia, feat. his Soccer Coach'.
*The kids at my school keep telling me I am 'so cool'. I doubt this has anything to do with my personality but rather that 1) I am American 2) I have naturally curly hair and straight teeth -something rarely seen in Japan- and 3) I have a big iPod. For some reason when they see my iPod Classic they look like I am holding the Holy Grail in the palm of my hand. Mama says people like me because I'm good looking. Japan cares about your inner beauty, people.
*Today I saw in my English textbook under Weather Conditions, 'polluted smog' was listed. Nice to know. No school for a while tomorrow, I have a Rotary meeting tomorrow at 12. I don't think I have to give a speech so there's at least that. Night
-Today was the Rotary meeting then school. Since the meeting was at 12, I got to sleep in. Er, sort of. I remembered last night that my friend always meets me at Oyama station in the morning and then we take the train together with other students. I could picture him waiting for me until he missed the train, then was late to school all because of me. So at 7:45 in the morning I dragged myself up to the train station and tried to put together some Japanese. I ended up saying, "Ima wa, no gakko. Gakko later. Gomenasai ja ne" (now, no school. School later. I'm sorry see you later). Then I went back home and fell back asleep. I woke up around 11:20 for the meeting, which was generally boring. There was a female speaker today (I was shocked they even let a woman in the Rotary meeting whose purpose wasn't to serve them food). She said a long bit about me (none of which I understood other than I'm 16, live in Oyama, and will be staying for a year) and I started laughing as normal when I don't understand what someone is saying to me however I want to look happy and I gave her an always polite, "Arigato gozaimasu!". I have discovered that it is even easier to tone people out when they are speaking a language you don't understand. I was falling asleep so I figured I would go to the bathroom. I left and once in the bathroom I started making funny faces at myself in the mirror. Completely entertained and doubled over in laughter, I didn't notice the Rotarian enter behind me. He cleared his throat (which of course scared me to no end), asked me if I was feeling well and then rubbed my stomach. After getting over the shock of an elderly Japanese man rubbing my stomach, I realized people probably thought I was throwing up the raw fish lunch. I said, "Hai, genki desu arigato gozaimasu" (Yes, I'm fine thank you), then proceeded to wah my hands and go back to the meeting. When I got to school I got a lot of, "EEY? GARRETTO?! LATE!" Since tomorrow is the start of the big school festival, the whole day today was dedicated to Junbi (preparation). A bunch of painting and making misanga and decorating and not being in dress code at all and listening to music. Our classroom looks awesome, for real. In English class, we read a book about a volunteer for clearing old landmines that was caught in an accidental explosion. His name is Chris Moon. Because of the explosion, he lost his right arm and leg. However, he proceeded to run many marathons with the aid of prosthetics, spreading the message of the danger of old and forgotten landmines. Because of this book, my class' room was the theme of World Peace, and also had posters for Japan's campaign against landmines. I forgot my train pass at home in my soccer bag, which I didn't bring because I didn't play soccer. Luckily I live about 20 minutes from the school so Mama picked me up and then we went out to dinner. I had Green Tea ice cream, which is DELICIOUS and GREEN and only 94 calories for TWO scoops. Mama explained how our bathtub works tonight. Our tub is always filled with hot water, and has a machine connected to it that is always sucking out and pumping back in equal amounts of water at the desired temperature. That keeps the water clean and hot. She emphasized the clean part, which may have been Mama's way of telling me its daijobu (alright) to pee in the tub. At 41 degrees Celsius (about 104 degrees F), it is inevitable that your muscles are going to loosen and there will be some leakage. Well. Goodnight
-School today was incredibly fun. Well, most of it. School started at 8:30 as usual, and there was 30 minutes of last minute junbi. At 9, there was a big assembly in the gym. Unlike in class, you had to be in dresscode at the assembly. Which meant pantlegs down, shirt buttoned up, and sleeves unrolled. Add those things together and then throw in the factor of the gym not having air conditioning and then toss in 600 kids and you have a REALLY HOT ASSEMBLY. I'm talking sweat pouring down our faces. It lasted until 12. 3 hours in Satan's dungeon. At least it was semi-entertaining. A bunch of the senior guys as their big joke ha-ha cross dressed and put on a fashion show. Then there was a bunch of joke telling. My favorite joke was the one I pretended to understand. There was a fashion contest and then another contest of who the school's best guy is. Somehow they managed to squeeze about 20 minutes of entertainment into 180 minutes of torture. However, when we were released, we were free to put on the class festival t-shirts and roam the school and see all the classrooms. Floor two, the Junior class, was the best. They had a haunted house room and an Alice in Wonderland room. I met quite a bit of people today, all of course really nice. Everyone seems to like me, which is good. My Japanese is improving just by being around people my age. Tomorrow is the Saturday portion of the festival, where everyone is invited, not only students of Oyama Nishi High. It starts the same time that today's festival did, bright and early, so no sleeping in this Saturday. Oyasuminnnn
-So today was great. There wasn't a beginning assembly, only fun from the get-go. Between the two school buildings, there were 5 tents set up. Each senior class got their own tent to sell food of all sorts. Class 3-4 was the best senior class. They sold frozen pinapple slices and baked potatoes. Everytime I would walk through the grounds everyone would scream GARRETTO MY FOOD MY FOOD and eventually I was out of money so they would give me something as a 'presento'. Kids from other schools came, and I saw Chi's best friend Tension. She bought one of my class' misanga bracelets :). I went around completely numb, the experience was insane. So many people smiling at you and calling your name and just having so much fun was awesome. After the school festival was over and the other schools' students had to leave, everyone met in the gym. It was like the grand finale I guess. A girl in my grade sang a song. She did pretty well surprisingly, because she was obviously very nervous when she went on stage. When she was done there was a huge round of applause; it was one of those situations where you clapped harder because you feel the person has overcome some huge obstacle in their life, and you know their self esteem appreciates your burning hands. After that, we found out the winners of the fashion contests and who was the 'best guy' at our school. Then a woman that I think was maybe somewhat famous sang. To be honest I enjoyed the girl in my grade more, nervous as she was. This woman was ridiculous. She had them turn the music up louder while she was singing so you could barely hear her voice, and then she pulled out her guitar for a song and was slamming on the strings and I was just laughing so hard. Then she played a couple songs on the piano. My eyes started watering and instead of being emotionally moved I realized I was literally being bored to tears. She finished and got a huge bouquet of roses that I was tempted to snatch away and give to the girl in my grade but hey, Kaito said that he enjoyed the performance and he likes good American music so I guess I was being overly judgmental because of my tiredness. The assembly ended late, around 4:45, so soccer started late at 5 and ended at 7:40. I got home from practice about 8, scarfed down some dinner, and now I'm truly exhausted. I wish I could use tomorrow as a wonderful Sunday to sleep in, however I have a Rotary meeting to attend so I suppose I'll sleep early tomorrow night. We'll see about that. Oyasumin. ~To my readers, just wanted to say thank you for reading. It means a lot that you take the time to actually look at my journey.
Until next week, Garretto :)
Today was a really big Rotary District meeting. I had only been to my city’s Rotary meeting, but this was the big bad District's meeting, where all the exchange students in this district through Rotary meet and discuss the rules. I was TOLD that I was to be giving a speech, so I stayed up really LATE and PREPARED one. However, once I got there and was introduced to the other kids and some Rotex, we were told to go upend give our '15 second introductions'. That’s right, my speech of awesome Japanese was reduced to 'Ohayo gozaimasu! Watashi wa Garrett Nickell desu. Hajimemashite. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.' Then I sat down. The other exchange students seemed nice enough. There was a girl from France, a girl from Minnesota, a guy from Thailand and a guy from Canada. The girl from Minnesota got here 4 days before me and therefore told me she is further along in her experience than I am so I am determined to leave 4 days after her. The guy from Thailand is about 9feet tall and has a ridiculous Thai name so his nickname is Champion. He says he hates the nickname Champion because it makes him sound gays just to please him I started calling him Precious. I told him it’s an honorable name that comes from a very famous American movie. I got cellophane today, woohoo.
It's Monday, however it's a holiday and there was no school. However, there was still soccer at 9AM. I hate physical activity in the morning. I’m always of course tired and I always suck and feel horrible. This soccer practice I was tired and I sucked and I felt horrible. It lasted until 12:30, so I was also quite hungry afterwards. And sunburned. Then walked to the train station, and waited an hour for my train. I ate my lunch box about halfway through my wait. I went home and Mamaabout had a heart attack at my red skin. I assured her my African ancestry would make the sunburn go away in 24 hours. Tonight a man that’s walking the length of Japan ate at our house for dinner. Well, him and his friend who is visiting him. They're both college students but the guy walking is taking a year off of college to do this. He's pretty amazing.
My life is starting to become a routine. Everyday I go to school, then soccer, then home. Pretty soon, I fear I won't have much to write about. My journals will become a habit, a waste of paper. Today was a day off of soccer, though, so that was nice. I talked to my homeroom/English teacher and we changed my schedule around a bit. My Japanese Culture class and Classics class are taught by teachers that understand no English so I basically sit and drift off into space in those classes. So until I have better Japanese, I'll be taking extra English classes. I think Saturday I'm going to Harajuku woohoo! We’ll see if this one actually happens.
I woke up to the sound of rain. After exchanging 'Ohayo!'s, Mama informed me that we were experiencing a typhoon. Similar to a hurricane, with less wind and generally more rain. She handed me an umbrella and wished me luck. Thanks. Because of the torrential downpour, I didn’t even bother bringing my soccer bag. After walking to school with some friends huddled under my umbrella, I sloshed to my seat, sat down and looked at my schedule. Oh, today is indoor gym. Guess where my PE uniform is, MY SOCCER BAG. I sat gym out today, no big deal. Afterwards, instead of attending my Japanese Culture class which is all Japanese no English, I went to talk to my English/Homeroom teacher. We further discussed my schedule changed. I'm taking twice as many English classes that the regular Japanese high school student takes. Two of those are 1 grade level higher than what I am usually in. In my English class today, a guy from Chicago came and talked to the class. Imagine my joy when I heard someone from AMERICA was coming to my class. He's lived in Japan for about 3 years as an English assistant teacher. He has long blonde hair and a goatee. He refused to tell his age but I think about30 simply because nobody under 30 hides their age. Tonight for dinner I ate a hamburger steak, steamed carrots, potato wedges, rice, and green tea ice cream using only chopsticks. I could have weeped with joy. I noticed this morning that if Japanese guys have bad skin, it's usually accompanied with bad make-up covering it. The guys probably steal their mother or sister's cover-up, because it usually is a completely different shade than their skin tone. This guy on the train today looked like he straight up finger-painted some peanut butter onto his nose. However mostly everyone in Japan has flawless skin. At night when I'm bored I walk to different places in my city. Sometimes the supermarket, sometimes the mall. It’s really peaceful and the city lights are awesome.
Today I woke up at 7:20, about 20 minutes before I had to leave the house. Oops. I threw some stuff in my hair, put on my long-sleeved button down for the first time (the typhoon brought not only immense amounts of rain, but some lovely cold weather), and the rest of my uniform. Today nothing much exciting happened at school. I had my first upper-grade English class. I was greeted outside of my homeroom class with 9 smiling Japanese guys waiting to escort me to the upper floor. The class was much more advanced than what I usually go through in my normal classes. Afterwards they tried to walk me back to the class, but I insisted I was daijoubu (okay). My last period was swimming, we had to swim 200 meters in 5 minutes. I did it but was exhausted afterwards. Right after swimming was soccer. Even after being exhausted from swimming, it was still fun. I almost died though. While fighting for the ball, me and another player tripped each other and we flew to the ground. I did a complete flip but managed to roll on my back and spring to my feet in one nimble movement. I am that good. However the dirt&rock field that we practice on was not to kind to my knee/elbow/lower back. Tomorrow my wounds will have time to heal while I skip soccer to cook’ American Hamburgers' for my family for dinner. I'm starting to become better friends with people. Usually it's only the, "HEEEY GARRETTO!" in the hallways and classes. But now I'm having actual attemptiveconversations and joking around with them. It's nice.
This morning I woke up semi-on time. I left for Oyama-iki (Oyama trainstation) a little early today, so I would have time to stop by Starbucks and grab something. I ended up getting a Dark Chocolate Frappuchino, something I haven't ever seen in the US. It was magic in my mouth. When I got on the train, deliciousness in hand, my friends were shocked that I was drinking coffee. Looking back, I noticed that Chi never drank coffee with Mama and I and when Tatsuki and I went to Starbucks last week, he didn't get anything. I suppose that's something only for older people here. School was better than usual, of course with it being Friday. Every Friday, instead of having a normal class as my last period, I meet up with my English teacher in the Library and we study Nihongo (Japanese). Today I learned how to say the date. That in itself took about an hour. The Japanese date/day system is 'totemo muzukashi'(very difficult). But I understand it, so it's all good. Today after school, Mama and I went shopping at UNIQLO, which is like a cheaper and better and Japanese version of Urban Outfitters. Then, we went food shopping. Tonight I slaved over a hot stove braving spattering oil and burning juices creating holes in my flesh. I made pan fried hamburgers for my family, along with garlic butter roasted potatoes. The recipe for the hamburgers I kind of created perhaps from memory I have no idea. Input a bunch of beef in a bowl, added an egg, some chopped garlic, chopped onion, salt, pepper, and a splash of steak sauce. It came out completely delicious. I couldn't find hamburger buns, so I improvised and put the hamburgers on some toast. Then I put the potatoes on the burger, added some ketchup, and voila. My wisdom tooth grew in like awake ago, so tomorrow I'm going to the dentist. Then, I have to go to my host brother's school's sports festival. Busy busy busy.
So. Today wasn't super great awesome etc. I was told last night That I had to leave the house by 8:50 for the dentist. Opapa woke me up at 8:47 yelling, "HAISHA! HAISHA!" (DENTIST! DENTIST!) I was so angry that hewoke me up 3 minutes before we were supposed to leave that instead of rushing like usual, I walked my way to the shower, wet my hair, changed, and was ready by 8:57. While changing, Opapa kept yelling (always yelling!), "GOHAN GOHAN!" (Gohan is used as cooked rice/food/breakfast I don't know) and I kept yelling back "NO!!!" (NO!!!). We went to the dentist who AWESOMELY spoke no English. It was also very difficult to explain anything when his assistants fingers never left my gaping mouth. I tried to mime that my wisdom tooth was growing in, but there was no pain. I just wanted to make sure it wouldn't mess up the alignment of my teeth. He looked at it, gave me some pain meds, and sent me off. I doubt, unless they have suddenly invented a pill form of braces, that the meds will be any help for my possibly soon-to-be jacked up teeth. I then realized that Opapa had driven off and left me at the dentist. I guess he presumed I would walk to my little brother's school. I called Mama and she picked me up and took me to the festival. One word. ATSUI(HOT), The sports were so weird. They like, made human bridges and walked on each other's backs. I met this awesome girl from Africa named Maggie. She moved to Japan 6 years ago, so she speaks awesome Japanese. She came from a wealthy part of Africa, so she was taught very high level English at a young age, and has continued since then, so we were able to speak in English. She wants to go to Harvard for college in the US. I told her to go for it. Mama and I left early because it was too hot. Later that night we went out for sushi, so at least there was that to improve my mood. Tatsuki is sick, so no Harajuku tomorrow. Bleh.
I was dreaming of piano music. Very nice, lovely, slow piano music. Then, BAM Omama bursts into my room, shouting incomprehendable Japanense. Complete flustered and frustrated and just plain ANGRY that she woke me up from my dream that I yelled out, "OMAMA, NIHONGOWAKARANAI! EIGO!!!!!" (OMAMA, I DON'T UNDERSTAND JAPANESE. ENGLISH!!!) She then left and I fell back asleep. I woke up at a wonderful 10:30A.M. (ju ji sanjupun gozen) and played around on the piano for a while. Then Mama and I made some delicious spaghetti. Then, Mama and I went shopping near Utsunomia. There's this huge shopping center that had a ton of stores. It even had GAP, which was just as expensive. I found this awesome store called We go, which is half their products, half used clothes. I found this really cool bleach-washed used Levis denim jacket for about 900￥ (10 bucks). I also got a sweatshirt and some jeans. It's getting chilly outside! Tonight after dinner I walked to the grocery store and picked some things up for the family. I dropped my ice cream cone on the walk back and I wonder how many people heard my sarcastic scream, "COOOOL!!!" I have discovered a blister on the bottom of my foot. Thank you, soccer.
School was surprisingly good. I now have a good specific group I always ride the morning train with. One of them, Hiroki, is a guy that lives in Oyama also. We usually ride the train back together too. Even though it was nice and cool 4 days ago, it's back to being hot. That was nice during swimming today, though. Not so nice when we had to go to theun-airconditioned gym to listen to a guest speaker who was incredibly unentertaining. He read off his papers in a boring monotone voice. Even the teacher sitting by me fell asleep. It too hot for me to sleep, believe me, I tried. I'm happy about how much I'm starting to be accepted in my group of friends. Before I was the cool American they talked to so they could test their English, but now I'm actually their friends. My English teacher gave me this super awesome Japanese textbook designed for English speakers trying to learn Japanese. The guy from Chicago recommended it. Its seriously like the Holy Grail. It has everything I could ever need. Hiragana/Katakana/Kanji/Dialogue/Vocabulary/etc. I didn't go to soccer today because my teacher told me to start studying the Hiragana. Unfortunately, a lot of that time was spent trying to make flash cards, failing, then walking to the mall to find flash cards. After searching ever surface possible, the only thing I found resembling flash cards were these little 1x2 inch flash card babies. I refused to waste 100 yen on them so I wasted my 100 yen on a pair of chopsticks with sushi cartoons on them. 100 yen well spent. Mama told me that the flash cards only come that size, and she found some in the house. I spent the rest of the night making the Hiragana flash cards, then studying them with Mama over some coffee, classical music, and small talk. This is the life.
Kyou wa kugatsu ju yon nichi ka youbi desu.(Today is Tuesday, September 15th.)As practice for my Japanese lessons, I must now write this a lot. Today in school my main focus was to learn Hiragana. I brought the flashcards to school and they never left my desk. At all times they were being studied. By the end of the night, I had the characters pretty much memorized. Today in music class, a member of our school's music club invited me to join the club. I, of course, accepted. The teacher told me that they didn't practice the piano, which kind of sucks. She said that her and I could practice the piano on different times, though. I think I want to try the flute, seeing as in music club its only wind instruments or drums. However, I'm almost positive I will fail because I've heard the flute is so difficult to learn. It's going to be difficult juggling soccer, a new instrument along with the piano, learning Japanese, and schoolwork. Tonight after dinner I was bored so I walked to the mall. I love walking through Oyama city at night time. The lights, the smells! You can always tell when you're walking past a whore-house because it'll have a sign in front that is bordered in Christmas lights and there are suited men standing in front. Mama said those 'extra massage' places are run by the Japanese Mafia. I didn't even know Japan HAD a Mafia. OR BROTHELS. I stopped by the donut shop for some coffee on my walk home, however there was no English or pictures on the menu, but I would feel bad for not buying anything so I got a donut. It was mediocre. Tonight over some Beethoven, Mama and I studied the Hiragana more. I really enjoy that time at night with Mama. The kids have gone to sleep so its quiet, Chi's in her room studying or listening to music, and Papa'ssulking in his room. Always sulking. So coffee at night with Mama is a good tradition.
I woke up this morning not feeling like P. Diddy. Instead I had an incredible stomach ache. I layer, half awake, in my bed for about 5minutes trying to figure out what I ate yesterday that could have conjured this stomached ache. The only thing I could think of is that mediocre donut that I was obliged to buy. I walked into the kitchen, announced that I would have to miss school today, walked back to my room and fell asleep. Mama came in around 9 in the morning and asked if Wanted to go to the hospital. I had never been to the hospital as a patient, and almost said yes only for that reason. However, I said no, it was only a stomach ache that I could sleep off. I figured that my stomach ache was mainly my body reacting to me not wanting to wake up, however as I woke up about 2 hours later I felt the need to vomit. Then I had no appetite. I insisted to Mama a 2nd time that I did NOT need to go to the hospital. Around 1 in the afternoon, I felt a little better, so Mama took me around town to a couple parks and a really old and beautiful Shrine. Then we went clothes & food shopping. She told me that she had to pick up Chi at school tonight, which is about 50 minutes away. I told her I would cook dinner. I decided to make my favorite Mexican dish. It's similar to the setup of Sheaperds Pie, except the bottom is a layer of spicy ground beef, a layer of cheddar cheese, and then a layer of cornbread. It was tough, seeing as cheddar cheese is difficult to find and I have never seen cornbread in Japan. I walked to the supermarket and found the cheese and cornmeal so I could make the cornbread from scratch. Tomorrow I must go to school 30 minutes early. Apparently every Thursday, you come to school 30 minutes early and that’s for studying.
This morning when I left the house for school I noticed two things: 1)It was cold. Really cold. 2) It was raining. Hard. I grabbed an umbrella and Mama drove me to the station. While entering the station, I shook the water off my umbrella... right on top of some tiny Asian girl walking beside me. Oops. On the long, cold, and wet walk to school, I entertained myself by interviewing myself in comedic voices. I also thought of things to write in my journal, all of which I have forgotten. The wind was blowing sideways, so one side of my body was completely soaked where as the other side was dry. I felt like that guy from Batman who's face was half jacked up half okay. I was very content with my dry side until a car drove by and splashed my good half with water. I sogged my way to my class, took off my shirt, shoes, and socks and let myself air dry. Most of the school day was again spent practicing Hiragana. I have all 71 characters memorized. Quite happy with that. At PE, it was too rainy for swimming so we played indoors. I played ping-pong with a few of my friends. YES, I played ping-pong with Asians. YES, I even beat some of them! Proud, so proud.
September 17thEven though I went to bed at a normal time last night, I'm super tired. So, bullet points.*I fell asleep a lot in school today. I would feel bad if not for every other student doing it too.*I can now read and write the Hiragana from memory. Today I worked on saying the sounds and writing the characters from memory.*Tuesday after soccer, my friend Kaito is coming home with me and staying the night, then we're going to school in the morning.*Today was Music club. They refuse to let me practice the piano, instead they made me get a new instrument. I tried flute (fail) drums (alright) trumpet (I had a headache from lack of oxygen) and the tuba (just no). I finally tried the clarinet, and they were surprised that I could actually play it well for my first time. I didn't sound like Squidward, which made me very happy*Tonight during coffee Mama told me about her young adulthood. Before she got married and had kids, she used to work for a very big company, and was very rich all by herself (and her parents already being rich).She showed me all these super super expensive clothes that she owns but doesn't really wear anymore. They're awesome.*Mama insists that one day I will either be an actor or model. She knows that right now my plan is to go to school to be an International Lawyer, and she thinks that’s great and all but she wants me to be famous.*Tomorrow is Kaho's school's sports festival.*Goodnight
This morning I woke up tired enough to die. The whole family went down to Kaho's festival. I fell asleep multiple times. Most of it was really entertaining though. They do crazy stuff at elementary school sports festivals. There was this thing called the tower, where 5 kids were at the bottom ring, then 3 kids stood on their backs on the second ring, then 1 kid stood at the very top ring. Insane! I said that something like that would never happen in America, people are too lawsuit happy. After we ate lunch at the school, I walked home by myself. I love the independence and freedom I have here. When I got home, I hung around tinkering on the piano until Opapa came in, and said we were going shopping. I was very confused, but I put on some clothes and went with him. Turns out his idea of shopping is driving out to the middle of nowhere and unloading some brush into the woods. I didn't mind helping, I minded getting my nice clothes dirty and ripped by the brambles and brush. When we got home Mama freaked out on Opapa pointing to my hands. I have tough hands, they can handle themselves. I walked to the mall, hung out, then we went out to a delicious dinner of traditional Japanese food I may never remember the name of. Chi has a school festival tomorrow that we shall go to!
So much happened today that I doubt I'll be able to remember it all. It started out getting ready for Chi's festival. Chi's school is about 50minutes away, and her Cheerleading performance started at 2, so Mama and I had to leave at 1. However, at 1, Opapa announced that him, Kaho, and Omama had to take the car somewhere. They dropped Mama and I off at Oyama station. Mama originally said we would ride the train to the station near Chi's school, and then take the bus to Chi's school. However, that would be very tricky with timing and we would most likely miss Chi's performance. Mama told me that she decided to take me to Tokyo instead! I was incredibly excited. We took the train there for about 2 hours. IT here was a Japanese woman in across the train seated reading a book. I realized that the book was in English. However, her reading speed was about 2 minutes for one page, and the print size wasn’t small enough for that slow of reading. I decided she is not a native speaker. There was a man leaning with his back against the train sliding doors while we were speeding along. I imagine that couldn't be too safe when the train is possible going over 100 miles an hour. Weirder things have happened than doors opening all of the sudden. Once we were in the city, I was awestruck. Everything was beautiful. The huge buildings were beautiful, the stores were beautiful, the people were beautiful. Speaking of stores, there were so MANY. Mama and I first went to the very high class part of Tokyo (Like the Upper East Side of Manhattan) where she used to work. Then we went to the Ginza section of Tokyo, which had a lot of modern shops. I discovered that just because they are in a different country, most Americans are just as rude. We went to a different section to look for some shoes I found online made by Adidas. They have tuxedos on them! The lady working said they would-be sold in Harajuku starting in October. On the way home, we stopped in the Hard Rock for dinner, where my friend Mai works! She's a Rotex from my district. She went to South Carolina two years ago. She's super awesome and I'm allowed to go visit her whenever. In October we're going to Harajuku together to get the shoes and she's going to show me around the place. On the way home, Mama and I rode the express train. You know, the TRAINS OF THE FUTURE. It cut the 2 hour ride on a normal train down to a 40 minute ride that was super comfortable. It was like flying first class, with a price to match. I'm so exhausted. So exhausted. Oyasumi!(goodnight)
Howdy Y'all. I know it's been a while, and I sincerely apologize for that. I started out this exchange year with the full intent of writing in my journal every single night before bed, and I really kept up with that for a good while, but alas the pen has fallen. So let me just say that this RYE Journal is going to be quite different from the past RYE Journals. For one, they're not going to be ridiculously tedious and detailed. I apologize for informing you guys so much, I realize now that you would most likely much rather be informed about my general month rather than what happens day by day. However, it seems that I've gone almost two months without telling you what's going on. Well, ikimashou! (let's go!)
The first week of October was when the first actual cold front swept in. Along with the cold front came the cold sickness. I, along with every normal person, sneezes on occasion. However in Japan, the second you sneeze you are asked if you are cold. Even before the cold front came in, it was starting to cool down so I slept with my windows open. However, it dropped about 30 degrees overnight, having me wake up freezing and sick. Luckily that day was only a half day, but I still went home even before we got out. I was miserable. Snot was pouring out of my nose, I could barely swallow, my body ached, and no matter how many layers I wore I was never warm enough. The next three weeks I was put on 5 different types of medicine to try and get it out of my system and eventually it went away. Three weeks of doing nothing but sleeping and watching movies. I went to the hospital once but that was mainly because nothing was working! Eventually they found out most of the problem was my body was reacting very badly to a large pollen blooming that had happened recently in Japan. It was all quite an ordeal, but I really kind of enjoyed the time off. It actually gave me an opportunity to spend more time with my host family ironically, even though I was sick. So that was my excuse for not writing a Journal for October, because it would have been incredibly dull and boring.
However, the last weekend of October, my friend Mai and I went to Tokyo for shopping and sight-seeing. My host mother and I went to Tokyo once on a whim, however we only went to the Ginza, Roppongi, and other high end districts inside Tokyo that is mainly for shopping of the very wealthy of Japan. With Mai, we went into Harajuku and Shinjuku which are two districts that are filled with deathly fashionable Japanese teenagers (and of course tourists galore).
November brought rain rain and more rain. And with the rain came the cold. Every day is 50 or below, at night it gets to about 40. I am absolutely loving this weather. Another thing that came in November was a significant mood change in my little host sister. After my 'new toy status' wore off for her, she treated me like the enemy of the house. However, this month, she has been incredibly nice to me. We ACTUALLY get along, which is a very nice change from screaming every time she sees me.
School is going very well, I am happy to report. It definitely changes on a daily basis, but on a progressively good level. As my Japanese improves (which it should, seeing as I study from my 3 Japanese textbooks 4 hours a day), so does the relationships with my friends. My real friends are the ones that have finally stopped gasping at the sight of me in the hallways. My two best friends are Seiya and Kaito, and I know those names obviously mean nothing to you, dearest reader, but both of them mean quite a lot to me. Kaito is the one who I was friends with from the first day of school. Loud, energetic, and sometimes borderline childish, he's someone that is up for anything even when it's not the time to be. Seiya is more quiet and laid back, very into his studies yet also can be loud and joking when the time calls. Kaito and Seiya are almost my school-time yin and yang (which is, by the way, CHINESE not JAPANESE), balancing each other out, and also, balancing me out.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and there is no doubt out there that there is so much I have to be thankful for. I'm thankful for my amazing host family, for never wanting me to leave and fighting for me to stay as long as they're allowed to keep me. For putting aside their want to learn English and speaking Japanese with me, and for being some of the funniest and most loving people I know. I'm thankful for my friends, whether they be in Japan, currently around the world, or back home. For my friends back home, I hope you know how much I miss you all and especially thank you to the ones that have stayed close with me (even if it's through the computer screen) these 3 months I've been gone. I'm thankful that I was given this opportunity, to even be able to meet all these people and to learn this wonderful language and experience this beautiful culture. I'm thankful for ROTARY! And last but not least, I'm extra thankful for my family back home in Florida and in Alabama. (And you too, Aunt Cathy!) I love all of you guys so much. You guys are my backbone, my support system, and the reason that I am able to be sitting here right now in another country. Mom and Bo, I love you guys so much. And to my baby sister Brooke, I hope you have an awesome 9th birthday this Friday! I miss you the most, munchkin.
3 months down in another country and I'm not even 1/3 of the way finished. Time moves so fast yet so slow at the same time, and I only wish there was a way for me to record it all in my mind, but I suppose that technology hasn't been released yet (but I guarantee you they probably have a prototype in Tokyo). As of tomorrow, I'm going to try to start writing every day in my journal again. The holiday season is coming fast. Christmas is just around the corner, and I can bet that the hardest times for me as an exchange student are coming. I'll be sure to keep you posted! Until next time,
Jyaa Ne, (see you)
Ossu! For those of you that don't know Japanese (and I'm guessing that is a very high percentage of you guys), that is a very informal and friendly way of saying HEY. So it seems I have a couple months to fit into a journal space I used to be able to fit a day into, ah well, big wheel keeps on turning proud Mary keep on burning.
We shall start with Christmas. Christmas-time is supposed to be the greatest time of the year, beautiful weather, beautiful decorations, people in great spirits, and Japan is no exception to that. Many people asked me if Christmas existed in Japan, and of course it does... just in its own twisted Japanese way. Japan being almost void of Christianity, it was mainly about the glitz and the glam and the fashion of Christmas instead of celebrating the birth of Jesus. Some people put up Christmas lights, Christmas trees, and decorate their houses; some do nothing. Almost all restaurants/shops will have SOME sort of decorations up. However when it comes to Christmas Day itself, that's where the main changes are. You don't give presents (I KNOW, RIGHT?). Nothing is closed on Christmas, and everyone seems to think that in America we eat fried chicken on Christmas day, so KFC is extra busy that day. For me, Christmas was a day I wasn't too happy with. I missed my friends, my family, my big Christmas day. It honestly was my worst day in Japan so far. I went to the movie Cinema and watched the current Harry Potter film by myself, then afterwards I ate dinner with my host Mama. Christmas was really hard for me to deal with, but I thought of it as just another day. If I ignored the fact it was Christmas, it was a pretty good day!
Now the reason they don't give presents is because of the money they spend on New Years day. On New Years day, if you're a kid, you get money from most of your older family members. On New Years Eve me and my extended host family all got together at my house and we ate dinner and watched a program on TV together. It was a lot of fun, especially getting money haha. Days like that really made me feel a part of my host family (which has been my only host family since arriving in Japan), and I honestly wouldn't give them up for anything.
From around Christmas until the 13th of January was our school's winter break. My family and I went to a resort in Nasu called Epinaru for a few days. It was up north some in Japan, so I got to see some actual snow for the first time! Epinaru is gorgeous, even the Emperor of Japan has stayed there. They have an onsen (public bath) that have live koi fish swimming around you.
February 7th was my birthday, which was another time that I missed home. But this was a huge step up from Christmas. My host family had a dinner for me, and friends even came to give me presents. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday, really.
My Japanese is actually getting really good. I study about 3 to 4 hours a day in and out of school, so I can hold a conversation with my friends and family. I don't think I've ever appreciated being able to express my opinion so much. I felt like a baby, who had no way of communicating with its parents except for crying. Well now I can communicate, but I'm not quite to perfect grammar yet haha. I would have to say the thing that fuels me would be when I NEED to say something, but I can't. So then I learn what I have to say, and voila. When you realize it's as easy as memorizing a word, it doesn't seem like such an impossible task.
I am forever grateful for the time I have spent, and the time I'm going to be spending. I'm more than halfway done, which is impossible to grasp right now. I'm nearing upon my 6th month here in three days. It seems like every month that goes by passes more quickly. I just want it to STOP. My host Mama (pretty much the person I spend the most time with here) talks about on a daily basis about how lonely the family's going to be when I leave. They make me feel so loved and such a part of them, I know that I am so incredibly lucky to have gotten them as a host family. My return date is set, June 25th. I'm excited to be returning home but also incredibly sad to be leaving this beautiful country. Japan has changed me in ways I didn't expect it to, and I can only hope it continues to make me a better and more mature person the longer I stay here.
Spring is on its way. Time to make the best of what in my opinion, is Japan's most beautiful season!
Jyaa ne (see you soon!),
I was dreaming that I was being shaken awake. I sat up in bed and saw my room seemingly falling to pieces. Clothes coming off their shelves, books tumbling off my desk, my beloved macbook taking a leap of faith from its usual spot on the chair next to my futon bed. I could have sworn I was having one of those Inception moments - a dream inside of a dream - until I heard my host mother (lovingly called Mama) screaming,”GYARETTO! JISHIN DAYO!!! (GARRETT! IT’S AN EARTHQUAKE!!!)”. She ran into my room (completely shocked at the fact that I was simply sitting in bed during the biggest earthquake I had ever felt) and yelled at me to follow her to the living room. While running to find somewhere to get under cover I saw that my mom and her friend were having lunch when the earthquake struck, and her friend was now motioning me under the dining room table. The three of us huddled under the table as the earthquake continued to grow stronger.
Water started splashing out of the fish tank that we had just a few days ago put new fish in, tea cups from the china cabinet were crashing to the ground, windows sounded like they were ready to bust from their frames and on top of all of that, Mama was screaming, “KAMISAMA, TASUKETE KUDASAI! TASUKETE KUDASAI! (GOD, PLEASE HELP US! PLEASE HELP US!)”. I, no longer in a sleepy stupor, was surprisingly not thinking much. Instead of, “I wonder if I’m about to die right now” it was more of, “If I die right now my mom is going to be MAD”. After more water spilled, more tea cups broken, more screams of prayer from Mama, the ground finally settled under our knees. Mama and her friend both agreed it has been the most terrifying earthquake either of them had experienced.
It seemed as soon as the earthquake ended and we realized we were unbelievably unhurt, Mama’s first concern was Kaho (my 12 year old host sister, the baby of the family). Mama told me that my lunch and a box of donuts she bought was on the dining room table, and she drove to Kaho’s school to check on her. Mama’s friend ran up to the 5th floor of our apartment building to check on her flat. I went to heat up my tonkatsu (fried pork cutlets), but I realized after pressing the ‘warm’ button ten times that we had no power. Deciding against eating cold meat, I ate a donut while waiting for my mom to come home.
Suddenly, the floor was moving under me again, just as hard as it was the first time. I ran back to the living room, donut in hand, and dove back under the table to safety. I was home alone experiencing another earthquake thinking, “Well, if I actually die this time, at least I will die enjoying this amazing chocolate covered donut.” The same pattern as before started: water splashing, tea cups jumping to their demise, windows sounding reading to shatter out of their frames, just no host mother screaming for God to save us. After a minute or two it stopped, however I stayed under the table until Mama and Kaho came home.
They returned and soon after so did Ji (my host grandfather that lives with us, along with my host grandmother). He, being around 80 years old, said it was the biggest earthquake he had felt. Every week day, my host grandmother goes to a nursing home where she takes a bath and does therapy and she returns at 4 P.M. When she came home, she also said it was the biggest earthquake she can remember feeling. Kaho and I decided to take a walk around the town to see how the damage was.
Going outside, you noticed many smells. From the natural foods store in the first floor of our apartment building, there was a strong smell of vinegar wafting from the automatic sliding doors that were pushed open during the lack of power. Many of bottles of vinegar that were recently shipped and were placed on a show table had topped over during the earthquake. We came to a crossing in the street and realized how quickly chaos had begun. With no streetlights working and many people trying to go in many directions, these two crossing streets had become very dangerous. My sister and I were luckily able to cross; I honestly felt like I was in some real life version of Frogger. We came upon a sake (alcohol) shop that was sweeping heaps of glass and sake out of their front door. The smell was almost worse than the vinegar. The store owner was crying as she told us how upset she was at the money she lost with all of these large bottles broken, about 50-100 dollars a piece. She told us to take care and we continued walking until we came upon an empty lot where a parking garage was soon to be built, but everyone seemed to be gathered looking at something. There was a crack in the ground, starting from a temple close to the lot and ending at the bottom left corner of the lot.
Kaho saw the crack and decided she had enough adventure for one day and we walked back home. When we got home, Hiro (my 13 year old host brother) had returned from school. Mama told me that Chi (my 17 year old host sister that goes to a private high school an hour away) was also on her way home. It was 4:30 and darkness was coming fast, and we were still without electricity. I kept trying to email my mom back home telling her I was okay, but cell phones were also down.
When Chi got home from school, everyone was home except for my host dad, Papa, who works for City Council. We started gathering all the candles and setting them up for when the sun would set. Chi taught me this unbelievably simple trick where you get a candlestick and a glass plate, then light the candle and hold it upside down over the plate, letting the wax drip onto the plate. Then you quickly set that candle right-side-up into the wax where it’s held put. Papa came home around 7:30 and since power still hadn’t come back on yet, we decided to all drive somewhere to get dinner. We drove around the pitch black city to see if there had been any building damage, but as far as we could see there was none. Our car has a mini-television built into the dash where we were able to watch the news for the first time since the earthquake, and what we saw was more than upsetting. For the first time, we heard about the tsunamis. We saw houses being swept away like they were nothing. Cars full of people being dragged into the ocean. People standing on their rooftops waving for help as a wall of water takes their house down and them along with it. We drove for about 45 minutes watching the disaster that continued to unfold until we came to a neighboring city that was a little newer than ours, and it had power.
We stopped at a yakiniku restaurant, where they give you raw meat and you cook it yourself on a grill that’s set into the middle of your table. I don’t think I had been through a quieter dinner, except for that night back in Florida when my mom’s birthday was forgotten. Driving back home was just as silent, with more terrifying images playing on the small television. We got home, lit some candles, and waited for the lights to turn back on. One by one we gave up and crawled into our beds. I flipped the light switches in my room hoping that when the power was restored, I would be woken up by the lights turning on.
Around 2:45, almost exactly 12 hours after the earthquake hit, I was woken up by blinding lights. I immediately went to my laptop (which had suffered no major damage except for a crack in the body on its left side) and logged onto Facebook. My wall was completely flooded with people asking me, “ARE YOU OKAY?!?!” or “ARE YOU ALIVE?!?!”. I realized that what people in America were seeing on the news was what we were seeing in the car: buildings broken into splinters, cars sliding into the sea like sand in an undertow. The American news stations don’t really care about my town, whose biggest problem was the power going out for 12 hours. I insisted everyone I was fine with a quick status update, then tried to go back asleep…. until another aftershock happened. About 3 times an hour we got aftershocks of about a 3 or 4 on the Richter Scale. Those are what kept up awake in the night.
At 4 in the morning Mama, Chi, and I were sitting in the dining room watching the news unfold and the death toll rise. By around 8 A.M. I had crawled back into bed and tried to get some sleep. When I woke up, things only seemed to have gotten worse. Much worse. A factor previously not thought of was the nuclear reactors. When the earthquake hit, electricity at the power plant was lost. The water pumps that continuously keep the nuclear reactors cool were stopped, bringing the reactors to incredibly high temperatures. Fires started breaking out, and explosions were shown on the news. Radioactive steam was being released and people in a 20km radius were evacuated. People from many different places in Japan take trains every morning very early to Tokyo, and when the earthquake hit on Friday many people were left in Tokyo with no way to get home. Trains were down and people couldn’t return home to see if they even had a home left. People were literally sleeping in the train stations just hoping to catch a train home whenever they started operating again. Trains in my city are still not fully operating and it has been almost a week now.
The past 6 days following the earthquake haven’t been very eventful. They almost seem like the same day over and over again. Chi and I are out of school because we’re both in high school. My younger siblings both go to schools that are very close and don’t require trains, so they have to go to school. In the morning, Chi, Mama, and I wake up and watch the news. Every day the news seems the same: they’re finding more people dead in the wreckage left from the earthquakes and tsunamis, there was another fire or explosion in the Fukushima plant and radiation levels seem to be rising. Then we go out to eat lunch, and go shopping for food or emergency supplies.
In the restaurants, every day they have less and less food that you are able to order. Things that are most likely shipped to the restaurant such as pre-mad beef patties are the first things to run out. Shipments anywhere have stopped. The supermarkets no longer have water, eggs, milk, and sometimes bread. Every day we go food shopping to see if the supermarkets have decided to put out some of its stock of things we eat and drink on a daily basis. We’re a little worried that if shipments don’t come soon, there won’t be any more emergency stocks of milk, eggs, or water to be put out. Also not being shipped is gasoline. There isn’t any gas. Many are worried that if there is a need to evacuate due to the radiation, it will be impossible due to the lack of gas many people have.
The way the Japanese news works is a little different than American news. American news seems to use a lot of scare tactics. They use the scariest and boldest news stories they can find. However in Japan, they like to keep people calm. They tend to slightly downplay events happening to avoid panic. Because of that, I’m a little frustrated. Many people are not preparing for evacuation or anything happening, including my host family. My prefecture, Tochigi-ken, has been forever known as a “Safety State”, as boldly as Florida is known as the “Sunshine State”. Because of that, many people living in Tochigi feel that they will be safe if nuclear radiation comes our way. It seems to be a bit of the Japanese mindset that if you ignore something long enough, it will simply go away. My recent goals have been convincing my host family that you can not simply wish away nuclear radiation. We’ve started packing emergency bags, emergency food and water, and we have an evacuation plan. We plan to leave, at the latest, on Wednesday the 24th to a place that is farther away from the power plant. When I went to the store to go shopping for supplies such as Band-Aids, medicine, multi-tools, flashlights and batteries, many of those supplies were in full stock. It worries me that many people simply are not preparing for if there is a mass evacuation, in which case many people will soon have the same idea that it’s time to stock up on emergency supplies. I’m just happy knowing that my host family is now prepared.
Many people have asked me if I’m safe; if I’m okay. I am perfectly healthy. I’m with a loving host family that wouldn’t put me in any danger. We are NOT being affected by any radiation. There is a 30km radius where people are only being told to stay inside, so clearly the health risks there aren’t fatal in the least, let alone where I am. If the situation worsens, it is always a possibility I could be sent home. More than 3 months short of my original return date, that would be a horribly abrupt ending to what is becoming the most amazing year of my life. My family has an evacuation plan if there’s even the thought that we could be affected. I will come out of this completely unscathed, just like I hope and pray Japan will.
I advise everyone to inform yourself about this situation as much as possible. Read and watch the news (but DON’T get too sucked into it). The American news does exaggerate, and things may not always be as horrible as they seem. Don’t let anyone tell you there is soon to be a nuclear holocaust in Japan. We’re all working as one to get back on our feet and putting this beautiful Japanese puzzle back together.
With all my love and appreciation,