Jade, outbound to Japan

I finally found out my departure date a week before I had to leave for Japan. This, and the fact that I left in the middle of night, made it feel like my going was little more than a dream. However, as the sun began to rise outside of my plane's window, it became clear. I was really going to do this, I was going to leave my city, my family, and the home that I had lived in since birth. I'd being lying if I said that that first flight wasn't a little bittersweet.

Arriving in Tokyo was as exciting as it was terrifying. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I was herded into immigration, where I somehow managed to get through only using Japanese. With my shiny, new residency card in hand, I wandered through the airport, giggling from exhaustion at the seemingly absurd fact that I was actually in Tokyo. While standing in line for currency exchange, I was suddenly pulled into an interview for some Japanese show. They asked me questions about why I came to Japan, what I wanted to see, and what I enjoyed about Japanese culture. I felt a bit overwhelmed standing in that crowded airport, being asked a bunch of questions while I had hardly slept in a day, and knowing that I had a bus to catch.

Finally, they let me go and I quickly exchanged my currency and bought a bus ticket. The bus took me from Narita Airport to Haneda Airport, from whence I would take my last flight. While waiting for my flight, I nearly fell asleep in the airport. I was sure that I would sleep the entire flight to Okayama, but I was wrong. Just as I was settling into my seat, a stewardess brought over two crying girls and told them "don't worry, big sister will take care of you!" She explained to me that the girls were travelling alone for the first time to go visit their grandmother in Okayama. I then told her that I could understand how they felt because I had been traveling without my family as well. She asked me my story and then translated it to the girls. After she left, the girls kept asking me if I was really all alone and wouldn't see my family for a year. I told them that it was true, and they offered me some of their candy. It was really adorable. I spent the rest of the flight speaking to them in broken Japanese and helping them with a Disney puzzle that they had brought.

I was a bit nervous landing in Okayama. What if no one was there, or what if they were mad at me because I only gave them a week to prepare for my arrival? My fears were unfounded as I was instantly greeted by my host mother, host brother, about half a dozen Rotarians, my counselor, and even my homeroom teacher. Everyone was very welcoming. I went out to dinner with my host family and tried melon soda for the first time. I was totally surprised to hear my host brother (who is only 11 years old) speak fluent English without any sort of accent. Living with him, I have come to learn that he actually prefers speaking English: When he talks in his sleep, it's in English, and even though his mother speaks to him in Japanese, he responds in English. The majority of his friends are foreigners, with his best friend being a girl from Australia. At first, he begged me not to learn Japanese, but after reading my RYE handbook, he learned that I would need to learn Japanese in order t o stay in Japan. He has been a great support. Once, he told me that one of my host clubs rules is that I not get too homesick. Since then he's been saying "Don't get homesick!" and anytime that I'm feeling a bit down, he distracts me by taking me for walks around the neighborhood. We treat each other like real siblings. He ropes me into all kinds of games, and challenges me to pick him up almost every night. I once asked him if he thought I had a big nose (because there seems to be a stereotype in Japan about foreigners having big noses) and he said "you look like Luigi."

My host family has been very kind to me. They are always telling me that I don't eat enough, and have been giving me lots of sweets. I feel like I am going to get fat.

My host club has also treated me well. So far, I have been to a welcoming party (which consisted of a seven course meal. Far too fancy for me...) and a regular meeting. The Rotary meetings here are far more formal and grand than the ones in America, so it was a bit intimidating at first, but everyone is very encouraging and no one criticizes me if I make a mistake. They have also given me a rather generous gift: They are paying for my school trip to Hokkaido next month! Hokkaido is considered to be the most beautiful prefecture in all of Japan, so I feel very lucky to be going there. Expect a post from me about it afterwards!

School can be a bit boring at times, but I have not fallen asleep in class even once. I have, however, nearly fallen asleep on the train to school. Every morning and afternoon, I have to take a car ride, train ride, and bus ride to get to and from school. It's not an unpleasant trip though. Only when I'm coming home in rush hour is it uncomfortable. In Japan, you don't see rush hour traffic on the roads, but instead on trains.

My favorite class in school is musical class, which actually sounds like a class that I would make up. In musical class, you learn all the songs and dances from different musicals. Right now, we are doing "Beauty and the Beast." No one else in the class has done a musical before, but I have, so I at least have a leg up in one class that isn't English.

Another class that I enjoy is fine arts class. We are currently working with oil paints, which is something I've always wanted to learn how to use.

I change my shoes at least 4 times a day: I have my outdoor shoes, my indoor shoes, my carpet slippers, and my gym shoes. I often have to change shoes even more than that. It's supposed to keep the school cleaner, which is good because students have to stay after school three times a week to clean the school.

This weekend is my school's cultural festival (called "bunkasai") and my class is doing a Doraemon (a famous Japanese cartoon)-themed play. I even have a role in it! My whole class was surprised that I could read Japanese. There will be a bunch of other stuff at bunkasai too, but I'd rather make another post about that later, after it's already happened.

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