Sunday, June 26, 2011

First day of high school (6/24)

I woke up around 6:30. I woke up thinking only about friends and family in America. I started tearing up but I tried to conceal it. I didn't want my host family to see me weepy on only the second day. Okasan (host mom) made obento for Katsuumi and me. I changed into my school uniform, grabbed my back pack and headed out to school. It`s so cool. I get to walk to school! No crazy bus ride or subway ride, just a 20 minute walk! By the time I got to school I felt fine and wasn't sad at all. I was very nervous though. I walked up 4 flights of stairs to homeroom, where I left my lunch and backpack.

All the students headed off to the gym for an assembly. The principal awarded the students for something, I think for some achievment in English but I couldn't understand most of it with all the Japanese. Then I was called out of the blue, unbeknownst to me to stand before the entire school (800 students) and give an introduction. I tried my best in Japanese: I'm very glad to be here in Okinawa. I'm excited about this. It's hot isn't it?. I said something along those lines. I went back embarassed and waited for the end of the assembly. From the gym I walked with Katsuumi to the science room. From what I understood it's a physics class. I don't understand anything that's going on, even if it were in English I probably still wouldn't understand! So I sat there for an hour, eagerly awaiting the end of class. When the end of class came I was greeted with a humorous surprise, the class bell is fur elise, the Beethoven song. At most American high schools it's just a ringing bell or a beep of some kind. Classes are about 50 minutes with about 10 minutes in between each class. From science we headed off to chemistry, up the winding stairs to the chemistry room. There were only 4 kids, including myself in the class. When I asked why there are so few kids in the class from what I understood the class isn't very popular. It was fun though! They were balancing equations, which I understood, but the teacher only lectured for about 10 minutes. The teacher was very welcoming which was nice. I appreciated it a lot. The teacher gave a brief lecture and then the rest of the class we made popcorn in a beaker with with a bunsen burner. たのしい ね⁉

From there we headed back to the homeroom classroom for some kind of government/politics class. Apparantly even the Japanese students think it's boring. Pretty much the whole class the teachers is just lecturing in rapid Japanese. I took out my Japanese grammar book and studied and just zoned out. Then we proceeded back to the physics room for some science class which no one knew the English name of. In this class they're watching The Day After Tomorrow (with Jake Gylenhall) dubbed in Japanese. It was nice to have something I'm familiar with. Everyone is really engrossed by the movie, however at one of the action scenes the bell rang to the outcry of the students and we headed back to the homeroom room for lunch. I ate my obento lunch, (rice and some kind of meat), but didn't finish it. My host mom packed me some fried fish thing that tastes like fried chicken, I ate and didn't think about what it really was. This was around 2:30. Their lunch is around 1 hr long. I got to meet one of the English teachers during lunch and speak English with an English speaker which felt amazing. She's Brown~san from California and she finishes teaching August 1st, the same day I return. I learned a lot about the school from her persepctive. Apparantly my school is one of the least academic schools in the area. The students don't get much homework and most go to technical school and not university. The school is also really lax about uniform. Girls have earrings and piercings and boys don't have belts and leave their shirts untucked yet nothing happens. Next week is exam week and she promised to take me out to lunch for AMERICAN food one day! There's not much for me to do during exam week and she told me to bring a good book.

I guess due to the non-academic-ness of the school few students can really speak English. I asked them about what music they like and they really like American music. One girl in my class is OBSESSED with Miley Cyrus. She has a Miley Cyrus backpack, a Miley pencil case, a lanyard, and camera case. Another BOY had pretty much every Beyoncé song I know exists. I don`t think I`ll be judged for my Britney Spears collection here!

They were all really friendly. Then we went to the science room for a 'welcome party', for me! It was so sweet. They had coke, ocha and jasmine tea. They also had cheesecake and German cake. German cake is the same in Japanese! (Jyaman Kaiku) We played a game called fruit basket. In the game, there's one less seat than there are people. Everyone is assigned a fruit: melon, orange, and apple. One person without a seat stands in the middle of the circle of chairs and calls a fruit, and everyone with that fruit switches seats. One person is always left without a seat. If the person in the middle calls 'fruit basket', everyone must find a new seat. We played that for about a half hour and then we took a group picture. I walked home with Katsuumi and his friends and we played game cube. We just hung out until okaasan came home. Then we got PIZZA for dinner! It made me so happy, just to to eat something I'm familiar with. We ate and I felt exhauated by 8. I forced myself to stay up till 9 but I was still exhausted. I quickly fell asleep in bed after my first full day with my host family.

Flying to Naha, Meeting my host family! (6/23)

I woke up at 6 (via wake up call) but ignored it and slept till 7. I went over to Brie's room and Brie, Samantha, Sim and I headed to the buffet breakfast. There we me up with all the people from last night: Samantha, Dimitri, Sim, Sabria, Taylor, Max and myself. We finished a social, laughter filled meal and all went to our rooms to bring our luggage to the lobby and check out. All us JUSSE& Okinawa Peace scholars waited for 8:15 check out and took many pictures. Most of the JUSSE people were taking trains to their families and all us Okinawa people were flying from Haneda airport. We said our goodbyes and I felt sad, knowing I wouldn't ever see some of these people again. We boarded the bus to Haneda airport and said our final goodbyes. I skipped lunch, which was this a smoked salmon& ham sandwhich. We did the usual ticket print out bag check in and went through security. Narita is mainly the int'l airport and Haneda is mainly for domestic flights. Security here is so lax. You can even bring liquids on the plane with you. The plane ride was 2 hrs 7 minutes precisely and went by quickly. I sat in the very back with Spencer and Nicole (schumacher) and listened to my ipod and chatted it up. Our flight landed in Naha airport and I felt overwhelmed with nervousness. I was going to meet my host family. Would they like me? What if they don't like me? I was ruminating over those questions in my head. We walked to baggage claim and I almost didn't want to walk out to the exit were my host family would be. I did though (peer pressure) and saw my host mom and brother with a banner that said "Welcome John". I used my basic Japanese to introduce mhself. Then we all took a group picture of the Okinawa YFUer's. I said my goodbyes to all the YFU'ers, not realizing I might never see them again. I headed out with my host family, Wakako(host mom), Katsuumi (host brother) and my host brother's friend to the parking garage. Then we proceeded on the ride from Naha to Kitanaka which took about 1hr and a half with all the city traffic. I made simple conversations with my narrow vocab e.g. "Do you like American music?" "Oh what kind?" "What else?" "Is Okinawa always hot?" etc. My host mom complimented my on my Japanese with "Komunikashon godo" (translation 'communication good') I'm getting used to hearing everything spoken with a thick Japanese accent and trying to decipher what they're saying. We arrived in Kitanaka and came to the house. I carried my suitcase up to my room, which I share with my host brother. My host mom indicated to me a closet saying "John-san no space" (John's space). They showed everything around the house, e.g. the toilet, the bathroom, kitchen, etc. In Japan the toilet has its own separate room and the shower and bath and washroom are also their own separate room. Around 7 we ate dinner of onigiri(rice balls) pork and Okinawan udon noodles. I tried using chopstickes but failed, to everyone's amusment and my host mom ended up asking me if I wanted a fork. I ate really slowly, I always eat relly slowly now. It's weird, I was always a quick eater, maybe it's due to the foreigness of the food. My host mom asked if I was up to going to school tomorrow and I eagerly said I was. At about 8 I was exhausted. I couldn't stay awake and fell asleep.

A day in Tokyo (6/22)

I woke up around 5 AM completely awake. I got dressed and walked around the shops around the hotel even though they were all closed. I went and bought a drink from the vending machine Around 6 I ate breakfast with my roomate. It was buffet style and mainly American, well Japanese take on American food. The "breakfasts sausages were hot dogs and the scrambeled eggs were watery and seemed undercooked. They had french toast which was exactly the same. They also had "pancake". Which IS similar to pancakes, but they make an enomrous single pancake and cut it like a pizza. They had home fries, which were my staple! I dressed up in slacks, collared shirt, tie and dress shoes and grabbed my passport and camera and went downstairs and boarded the bus. We visited the embassy (for JUSSE and Okinawa Peace Scholars-the US embassy funds our scholarships) and met with 4 foreign service officers for an info session about life in the foreign service and later a Q&A session. We left the embassy around 11 and took the bus to the YFU Japan headquarters. There we met with the Chairman of YFU Japan Yoshio Ogawara, a cool guy. He's 92 and he still chairs the organization. He was the Japanese ambassador to the US and the Japanese ambassador to Australia. We ate lunch with him at the YFU office. All Japanese food. I ate the best sushi I've ever had in my life. I used to think I didn`t like sushi, but maybe the sushi I`ve had just wasn`t as good as the real Japanese thing.

I also made some progress with chopsticks. I can't use them. I fail at that. I just can't pick things up with them, to the laughter and amusment and laughter of the YFU workers and my fellow exchange students. After lunch we boarded the bus for a tour of Tokyo! We saw Tokyo Tower, the National Diet building, the Imperial palace and most of the famous sights. We also visited the Tokyo-Edo museum. A museum dedicated to Japanese history, specifically the Edo period. There were lots of samurai exhibits and even a life size replica of a traditional Kabuki theater. However, the coolest part of the museum was the students. There were Japanese high school students visiting the museum too. We spent a lot of time talking with them, over an hour. With my limited Japanese I managed to talk an hour with these Japanese high school girls. They were sweet. They spent a good 5 minutes talking amonst themselves about how tall I am. I'm a giant here (6'). Some random high school boys asked to take a picture with me too! I felt like a celebrity! Haha. We got on the bus and headed back to the hotel for dinner of soba noodles. I finished up my meal quickly, and then went out with Samantha and Spencer and explored Tokyo. We only walked for about 30 minutes and came back to the hotel. There we picked up Brie and headed out again, but in a different direction. Tokyo is packed. There's just people everywhere. I'm glad I got to see the commuter traffic. We wondered around stopped at one of the amazing vending machines here and stopped in about 3 コンピ二 (convenience stores) which are fascinating. They even have 7-11 here in Japan. They also have Denny's, Outback steakhouse, and of course McDonalds. After wandering aimlessly we returned back to the hotel around 9. I took a shower, and then headed to another YFU student's room were I found about 9 other YFUer's talking. We talked and talked up a cacophony for 2 hours or so, all hyper and jet lagged. The hedonist pleasure of the moment eschewed concerns of how early (6am) we had to wake up the next day. We knew this was our last full day together and we soaked it up. I ended up going to sleep around 11:30

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Leaving America, getting to Japan (6/20-21)

Monday morning started out busy from waking up onward. I woke up at 6 and called my friends and family. I packed up my last minute things, brushed my teeth and got on the elevator with my luggage and headed to the dormitory lobby. There all the other Japan kids brought their luggage and it got really packed quickly. Imagine 60 kids` luggage, at least one suitcase each and a carry on. We were hurried out to a bus and given a bagged breakfast which I ate during the ride to SFO. (A yoghurt, a milk carton, and a muffin) I enjoyed the scenery as we passed from Berkeley to SFO. San Fran is a beautiful city with the bay and the rolling hills. I want to go back there sometime. All 60 of us schlepped our luggage to the United Airlines check in area and checked our bags and got our tickets. After EVERYONE (all 60) checked in we proceeded to security. That also took a good half hour. Around 10:30 we all made it to our gate to board at 10:47 for our 11:32 flight. That`s close for me! We got onto the plane, it was huge! Two floors and more seats than any domestic flight I`ve been on. We buckled in and got ready for the looonngg flight(10hrs 30min). The fact that I was leaving America and spending weeks in a foreign country still hadn`t hit me. Lots of people on the flight were Japanese, but it is a flight to Japan, that`s what you`d expect. Hahaha. The old Japanese lady sitting next to me pulled out a DS and started playing it. She had to have been at least 60 years old. I don`t know why but I found that very amusing. She was very sweet. She dropped her ticket and I picked it up for her and said どうぞ(here you go). She responded with ありがとう(thanks). Then I said どう いたしまして(you`re welcome) Then she told me 日本語 じょず(skilled Japanese). She was so flattering! My Japanese is far from skilled. Japanese people are too nice.

They gave us 2 meals and a snack. The first meal we had the choice between beef brisquette, mashed potatoes and salad, or sukiyaki vegetables with pork. Almost all the Americans choose the beef, and all the Japanese people the sukiyaki.

During the flight we watched "The Adjustment Bureau" (a good movie by the way). It had Chinese subtitles though. I`m not sure why a flight to Japan had Chinese subtitles...

I slept, (uncomfortably) through most of the rest of the flight but woke up about an hour before Tokyo.

The time came when we began our descent into Japan. I was wearing a huge grin on my face that light up the face of the old Japanese lady next to me. As we touched down some YFU girls in the back of the plane screamed enthusiastically, making some people laugh, others look perplexed or annoyed. We got off the plane and walked through the runway. WE WERE IN JAPAN! I did a little dance of excitement and walked with about 5 other YFU kids to immigration where we were photographed and finger printed. I have to say that Japanese security people are a lot nicer than TSA. We then proceeded to baggage claim which proceeds customs in Japan. After we got our bags we advanced to the airport exit. There YFU Japan staff met us and directed us to a bus to our Tokyo hotel. We all gazed in awe out the windows as we drove into Tokyo. We excitedly read the hiragana& katakana signs and scowled at the kanji we could`t read. We arrived at our hotel, the Prince Hotel Shinagawa and received room keys and our room mates. I quickly put my luggage in my room and hurried downstairs to talk to the other YFUer`s. I used one of the amazing vending machines here. They`re amazing. They have such a variety and there not shabby and graffiti-ed on like the ones in Philadelphia. A Japanese lady was staring at me sceptically as I paparazzi style photographed the vending machine.

There`s vending machines for everything here. Obviously beverage machines, cigarette vending machines, umbrella vending machines, medicine vending machines.

A couple of us YFU kids went downstairs to the convenience store were we went crazy and swarmed it. Outside the convenience store we met 2 Japanese high school girls. I sort of played interpreter as we talked to them as everyone else didn`t know Japanese or was too shy to talk. There was a lot of awkward silence. We bid them goodbye and walked around the hotel shops. There was a bowling alley with purikura booths. All 8 of us stuffed into the booth an posed for the camera. (Purikura is like a Japanese take on a photo booth.) By that point we were all exhausted and our hyper-ness was wearing off. We were going on 20hrs or so without sleep. However, the night wasn`t over for us. We still had to go to our 5 course meal at the hotel restaurant YFU had arranged for us! I barely ate anything and wasn`t even hungry. We were all zombies, ready to pass out. After dinner I mustered the energy to shower and shave then collapsed in bed.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Japan Pre Departure Orientation

The time has finally come. All this waiting is over. I only have about 18 hours left in America. At 4 today I checked into Berkeley for my Japan Pre Departure Orientation. I checked into JPDO (Japan pre-departure orientation) like a conference. I was greeted by my energetic group leader Justine and she took me to get my room key and a meal card. We are divided into kumis (group). We eat meals and do most of our activities with our kumi. We have a Japanese language class and some different cultural activities. We signed up for different activies we wanted to do. I choose ice cream making, haiku and watercolor. In ice cream makin class we made different flavors of ice cream, all Japanese! Have you ever had wasabi ice cream? -neither have I! Haha. We had red bean ice cream, green tea not so bad and ginger. We were told were going to be eating some weird foods in Japan. I am already! Haiku class was-interesting. With my basic Japanese I wrote a haiku, here we go!
くるま いい です。
はやく と たのしい。
くるま いつも 好き。
The car is good
It's fast and fun.
I'll always like it.
Pretty awful. Hahaha. I did a little water color painting also, about as awful as the haiku. We also did cultural info sessions, e.g. Japanese manners, what not to do, how to behave. Also we had a session on living with our host families.
I'm excited, nervous, scared, worried, all those things at once. I can't believe that I'm actually going to Japan it still hasn't hit me. I can't believe this is happening. I don't know how this experience will change me. Orientation isu fun but I want to just get there! I'm too excited to pay attention. My flight takes off at 11:33 San Fran time. I'll write with an update about getting to JAPAN once I'm there. Japan here I come!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I have a host family!

Today, in the mail I received a letter from YFU telling me who my Japanese host family is! I will be staying with the Tamashiro's. They live in Kitanakagusuku village in Nakagami district in Okinawa, Japan! I have two host brothers, one 17, one 19! I will attend Kita Nakagusu high school! The dad is a teacher and the mom is a public servant. This is so exciting!