My Japanese experience really started on the plane, as I was sitting in between two Japanese men. There I had my first taste of trying to communicate in a foreign language. The Airport wasn't that bad, and it was just easy to go just go with the flow and go out to meet my Host Brother, Tetsuo-san.
>From there we took a 6 hour train ride from Tokyo to Imizu city.
I love my first host family. My house sits on top of a tea shop that my first host parents own. It's quaint, but by now it feels like home. We laugh a lot, about so many things. Whether it's Otoo-san (Father) trying to pronounce an English word he's asked about, or something else that's happened, I am often brought to tears from laughter.
Honestly, most of this food would scare most Americans, but I much prefer this diet to America's. They have the greatest seafood here, and it still amazes me how Okaa-san (mom) gets sashimi everyday and the grocery store. Everything's so fresh here! I also have a hard time slurping the noodles, instead I inhale a lot of air to make the sound and kind of “push” the noodles into my mouth with my chopsticks.
I remember my first Rotary club meeting. It was a Thursday night and it was held at a VERY traditional Restaurant. First we were in a tatami mat room. I had to introduce myself in Japanese. Then my sister (who had only gotten back to Japan from an exchange in Australia a couple of months ago) had to give a presentation on that. After this we “Partied” in the words of the Rotary members.
We ate dinner in a very traditional Japanese room, and we were served at least ten courses of food varying from sea cucumber (I do NOT like it) to sashimi and other traditional foods.
Thank goodness my sister was next to me because I accidentally put a piece of chicken in my mouth. Japanese restaurants do NOT give you napkins, and I don't eat chicken. She helped get me to a bathroom where I spit it out and flushed it down the toilet.
The first few days were good, however I got VERY confused for the first couple of nights. Otoo-san would tell me “Go take a bus.” I was confused, but I accepted it and got my purse, thinking we were going to go somewhere. It turns out that he was trying to say “Go take a BATH.” In Japanese, the th sound doesn't exist, and instead sounds more like a s or a sh sound. Sometimes I have no idea what people are telling me, even if they're speaking English because their pronunciation is so bad.
I have figured out that Japanese can read English WAY better than they can speak it.
My first day of school hardly really counts, because between the opening ceremony and the rotary meeting I had to go to, I only went to two classes. At the opening ceremony I had to introduce myself and tell a little bit about myself in English and Japanese in front of everyone in the school. Thank goodness I'm not afraid of public speaking, so it went good.
My school, Daimon high school, is about 300 students. They're very friendly, and I'm pretty sure everyone knows my name. The girls say “Hello!” to me lot, and only recently are some of the guys greeting me. I help teach a lot of English classes, for all 3 grades. The only real class I have is Math, the rest are English, PE, music, computer, art, calligraphy and Chemistry lab. I also spend at least one period every day in the Library. At first my schedule wasn't set, and I was basically wherever they told me to be, but now I have a schedule.
So far I have made one actual friend, but I have a lot of fun with the girls in Chemistry lab. My friends name (that I call him) is Ryo. He's a third year (equivalent of a senior) and is very nice. He's really the only person to try and become my friend, and I am extremely grateful for that. School is indeed very lonely right now with the language barrier and all. A girl named Momi in my homeroom is also very nice and she often helps me in school.
I love helping in English class, and I enjoy teaching them things you can't get out of a textbook like how to pronounce something.
I have been to a Festival. My counselor and my parents took me. I got to wear a beautiful Kimono that Oba-san (Otoo-san's mother) was very kind and gave it to me as a gift. I have learned about things about a kimono and I will list them here:
1. Takes at least one other person to help put on
2. You can't slouch in a Kimono if you like breathing
3. You can't reach over a table of food
4. Is very hot
5. Not practical for stairs
6. Is not made for walking
Haha, besides that they're beautiful and I enjoy wearing one.
I got to see traditional Japanese dancing, singing and instrument playing, as well as try some awesome foods. Takoyaki (octopus batter vegetable ball thing) and grilled squid are really good.
Finally the last story I will tell you all is my trip to Kanazawa to hang out with other exchange students. Exchange students tend to me some of the coolest people, and are extremely friendly. We went shopping and had a wonderful time. Kanazawa is WAY bigger than Imizu. Imizu is a small town with about 94000 people. I got to buy some really cute Japanese clothes (Japanese clothes are the CUTEST thing ever, and I happily take part in buying some of the most girliest, frilliest clothes there are). That was the first time I'd been to a Japanese McDonalds. Their beef patties are VERY small compared to Americans, and they had a few Japanese things added to the menu.
Things I have noticed about Japan:
1. Way safer than America, at a big shopping mall there were no bike racks, and lots of bikes left unattended outside.
2. Japan was not built around roads.
3. People are very friendly, and will often help you.
4. They eat way more than Americans thought they ate.
5. Are more touchy than I had thought.
6. Engrish is hilarious and common.
7. Everything is smaller.
Saturday, December 31, 2011
So much has happened I have no idea how I could ever write even half of it all down. During my stay here I have been to 4 festivals, traveled to two large cities by train by myself countless times, bought way too many things and have had too many great times at school and with friends to count.
I wish I could accurately tell you all about everything, the people, the food, the things I've done but no amount of words can tell you how amazing it all is.
I have moved from my first host family about a month ago, and I miss them. The Fujioka's became my family, and that house had become my home. I miss the weird things like how everyone would show their belly for no apparent reason around the house. I miss all of our inside jokes and laughing with Otoo-san(dad) as he would try and form and English sentences, and I would always end up asking for him to say it to me in Japanese. I know it's hard for someone who hasn't experienced this to understand, but that is my mom, that is my dad, and that is my sister.
I'm not quite part of this new family yet, but I'm getting there. The beginning here is way easier than the beginning at my first host family because my Japanese is significantly better. My family situation here is a litter weird, my host mom and dad have two daughters, both of which are married. The eldest daughter lives here, have a two year old son(Yuusei, who I call my little brother) and are currently pregnant. The youngest daughter and her husband live in Kanazawa, and they come over every weekend. I love my new host brother, it's my first experience with babies and he's adorable. His Japanese is VERY hard to understand though. I am currently trying to teach him patty cake, and it is way harder than I initially thought it would be. He loves it, but isn't really learning how to do it yet. I will keep trying though.
I currently live in a temple that's 1000 years old. America's got nothing on where I'm living now. It's really weird to find out that a Daibutsuu(1 of 5 famous statues of old giant Buddha scattered through out Japan) that I found on Imizu's website before I came here is now currently in the building I live in. I just have to walk down some halls and through a door or two to get to the main room of temple where it is. I live in the temple because my host dad is a monk that does a kindergarten, and the father of the two year old is also a monk, although I'm not sure what he does.
Back in October, a rotary club around where I live took all of the English speaking exchange students of district 2610(7 in all) to a really big festival in Imizu(my city). We got to watch these beautiful giant carts be pulled during the day, and at night, as well as we all got to help push one ourselves! Their called hikiyama, which means pull-able mountain, and I'll put pictures of them here. They're beautiful and at night are adorned with paper lanterns. We got to play some festival games, like catching a goldfish with this little net that you spin, and tossing a ring around a prize that you want(I won this cute yellow bird pen!) During this festival I got to meet the major again, and they took us to a museum with a whole bunch of cool things like maps and a boat from old Japan.
I love trains, and I regularly use them. I can read the schedules myself and I have memorized all of the stations between Toyama and Nichi-Kanazawa (14 stations in all, and the two cities I go to are Toyama and Kanazawa, which are at opposite ends). However, this does not mean I haven't had my own difficulties with trains. I used to always be running late, and this has gotten me into some interesting circumstances. Because I've messed up so much is why I'm so good with trains now.
About a month or two ago I was running late when going to Kanzawa(a far away and really BIG city), so I ran down the stairs to get to my platform, to find a train just about to leave, so I of course ran onto it. Everything was normal until two stations later, where we just stopped for about fifteen minutes. I knew it wasn't unusual for trains to stop there in Takaoka for various reasons, but I should have figured it out when they started talking about Toyama and Kosugi(my station) that are both in the opposite direction. The doors finally close, and the train starts moving. In the other direction. So I get back off at my station, and when I'm there I notice a train is at the other platform. I go up the stairs to get to the other platform(there are two platforms, one goes one way, the other the other way) and go to the train schedule to find the next train. I look at the schedule, and see that there was a train scheduled to leave about a minute ago. That train I saw was the next train to Kanazawa, and the next train wouldn't come for about 45 minutes. I did finally make it to Kanazawa, over an hour late, and I have since then definitely learned my lesson. It's so bad now, I am always at least 15 minutes early for my train now, and it's not uncommon for me to be 30 minutes early. I am soooooooooooo paranoid now. Japan has definitely gotten me into the habit of being early.
Last thing I want to talk about now is Christmas in Japan. Christmas isn't a big holiday here, but is celebrated a bit. I have learned that the traditional Christmas dinner here in Japan consists of KFC(yes, the one and only Kentucky Fried Chicken) and Christmas cake. They do give out presents but not like it is in America. I celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with a big dinner here, and my Rotary club also had a Christmas party. By far the best present I got was from my current host family. They got me a Kimono for New Years! I can't wait to wear it tomorrow(New years day) As well as experience New Years in Japan, which is a BIG deal.
Oh, and there's snow! Every where! And it's cold! Everyday! It's really cool that I get to experience all four seasons, but everyone keeps telling me that I won't feel so excited with snow at the end of February. We'll see about that, haha. It doesn't get that cold here. The average coldest is 14F(freezing for Florida, hehe) but I've already adjusted well to the cold. At least, around freezing because it hasn't gotten much colder than that during the day yet.
May 3, 2012
I guess the first thing I'll confess is that I've always been kinda clueless as to what to put in this journal. It's not that I'm not doing things, or having new experiences, I just am not sure how I can possible accurately describe what I have experienced. So I've just been putting what I think other people want to hear about.
To me, this journal is just like that question that I, and all other exchange students, are asked. “So how's (insert country here)? What have you done?”
How can I possibly accurately describe to you the place that has become my home?
The people, like my family? Well, I could tell you that my current (and last) host family consists of my 16 year old sister who's going to go on a exchange in Iowa soon, my 14 year old brother, the cousin who lives with us, dad, grandma and grandpa. But how am I supposed to describe to you with words the way my host brother so much like a kid. How he hasn't actually said anything to me except for the time where he almost walked out of the bathroom without pants on(I'm assuming he didn't think anyone was outside waiting for the bathroom), and through his embarrassment managed to say “it's okay(granted a bad translation for daijyobu in this situation, but it's the best I can think of) as he quickly walked past me. Or the way Grandma scolds him for things like not eating his vegetables or having his head buried in his phone when we're out for dinner.
Or the way it has practically become an inside joke that people tell grandma to slow down when she talks to me because she speaks so impossibly fast that it's difficult for me to keep up.
Or like the people in my school. I know I can't explain to you just how shy a lot of these kids are. Shyness like this does not exist in America, and I know it can be hard to wrap your head around the fact that a lot of these kids are so shy that they won't even reply to you when you say or ask them something. To watch some of these kids flounder in anxiety at the expectancy to have to say something still, to this day, amazes and appalls me.
The teachers, three of which I work with on a daily basis to teach English, and what they're like. Mr. Yokka, who was put in charge of me, who's always making jokes. Mrs. Onoda, my previous homeroom teacher who I've have so many wonderful conversations about Japan, America, and English with. My current homeroom teacher, who seems to be amazed at everything I do. I remember 4 months (keep this time in mind) into my exchange I was in class eating my lunch with chopsticks (I normally eat with chopsticks here of course, and I actually like them better than silverware now), when she came in and saw me the first things our of her mouth was “Miranda! Chopsticks! You're so skillful with them!” Hahaha, After four months she was amazed I could use chopsticks (Japanese people are convinced people outside of Asians countries never use them.) But you still can't imagine what my daily life school life is like.
How can I accurately describe my hometown, Kosugi? I can tell you about wonderful Toyama weather which is best summed up as “precipitation”. I can tell you about how people stare at me because I'm a foreigner. I can count on my hands the amount of white people living in Kosugi, half of which is a family that's from some non-English speaking country. I could tell you about how all you have to do to make people stop staring is make eye contact because in Japan eye contact can be considered aggressive. And I could tell you about the two exceptions to this rule. Little kids are too innocent to know any better, and I have concluded over my time in Japan that elderly people here have balls of steel. If you look them in the eyes they will continue staring with no shame, and some will even start up a conversation with you. I could tell you about Japan's stunning like of grass and wild animals, and how all of the buildings, and even roads here in Toyama pre fecture, seem to be rusty, but you'll still be unable to picture the small town that has become my home.
I know I have talked about the fashion here in lieu of an actual idea of what to talk about here, but I know you still don't understand. I can tell you that I fit in WAY better here than in America, since it's normal for girls to wear heels and a skirt, and I can tell you that it's much more conservative, with a lack of actual shape. But you still won't be able to picture the borderline eccentric skirts and adorable tops often adorned with lace and other little details you can never find in America. Or could you ever comprehend the epidemic that is the horrible English that decorates and exists in Japan. Like my gray sweater I used as pajamas in the winter that says “YOU and hideandseek let's enjoy with me!!” Or the Itarian(yes, Itarian, not Italian, it actually says this next to the name) cafe in front of my train station.
I could tell you about my numerous trips to Kanazawa with other exchange students, a big city in the prefecture over, which often contains karaoke (which is filled with numerous Disney songs and anything else we can find that hilarious to sing (me and Stuart can do a mean Barbie Girl)) and dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant. But you still can't see the laughs, and you still can't see the numerous favorite places and activities that I have grown to love over my 8+ months here.
You can't see the smiles of those I have grown to love. You can't see the buildings I have grown to love. You can't taste food I have grown to love. And you can't possibly comprehend the festivals, school, cities, hot springs, shops, convenience stores, bakeries, temples, houses, and so many other things that has become my life.
Let me tell you what an Exchange is. It is leaving your entire life beyond for an entirely new one in a new country (and for Florida Rotary exchange student, a new language).
And lastly, you can't feel the love in me that has grown for this small and humble prefecture in Japan. You can't see how I change when I speak my new language, you can't see the changes that have happened in me, and you can't feel the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes that come with the realization of the hard fact that I have to leave it all. That I have to leave my home and return to one that I have already learned to live without. One I always knew I would return to.
I know I can never return to my life here, and with that thought alone I am crying.
Maybe it's just my writing skills that fail, but I apologize. I'm sorry because I know I can't describe to you what it's like, and believe me, I wish I could. I wish I could so much because it's all so amazing. So wonderfully amazing that I (like I am sure every other successful exchange student would) would do it again without second thought. Despite I know the utter heart break that comes to at the end of the year, I would do it all again in a heart beat, and, if I could I would prolong my stay here.
Wouldn't you do the same for your home? For your family? For your friends?
Because that's what this is. My home. My families. My friends. My school. My town.
And that's the best description I can come up with for you to understand what it's like to be here, in Japan, on an Exchange. It doesn't feel like an Exchange at all, that implies almost like I'm just trying out a country, and that's just not what it feels like.
This feels like home, and I hope with this simple reply for “How's (insert country here)?” that you come as close to understanding what it's really like as possible.