Sunday, July 31, 2011

Last day in Okinawa

My host mom said that today we shouldn't travel far from home. We went to the mall and the supermarket where I bought some last minute gifts, and some Japanese grocery goods. I bought green tea, mugi cha, soba cha, calpis water, cc lemon (all drinks) these chocolate pretzel candies, this rice snack, and senbei to eat on the plane ride. I spent the last of my cash money. My host mom took me out around chunjun to say goodbye to different people. Unbeknownst to me my host brothers were cleaning the house up and setting up for a party. When I got home I found out my family was throwing a goobye party barbeque for and they invited my friends from the high school. My high school friends brought some drinks and most importantly icecream! I am so touched by everyone's thoughtfulness. I can't believe I'm actually leaving Japan. I dont want to go! I'm comfortable here. I can get around. I can talk to people. I feel comfortable with my host family. I'll probably tear up at the airport when I have to say goodbye to my host family.

This has been the most memorable summer of my life. I cant think of a better way I could have spent my summer. I'm indebted to my host family for taking me in and I'm so grateful for the kindness the Japanese people showed me.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Back to America

Monday's Itinerary
I have a long journey back to Philadelphia

August 1st:
Depart Naha 10:40
Arrive Tokyo @12:40
Depart Tokyo (Narita) 5:25
Arrive SFO @11:00am CA time
(10hr flight)
(4hr layover in SFO)
Depart SFO 3:20pm
Arrive PHL 11:30

I spend over 24hrs flying and in airports. :/

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wednesday and Thursday

In the morning around 8:00 okāsan woke me up. I got ready to go snorkeling! I packed a change of clothes and a towel into a bag, ate a quick breakfast and headed out to the car. Okāsan, Katsuumi and myself went. Katsuro had to go school. From home we drove to Onna, a 40 minute drive North on the West Coast of Okinawa. In the ocean front parking lot we met up with Takuma(a friend of Katsuumi) and our snorkeling tour guide. The tour guide had a difficult time finding flippers??? that fit my feet. We were outfitted with life jackets, and snorkeling gear and hot dogs. From the parking lot we headed down steep stairs to the ocean. There was no beach, no sand, just rock walls and coral reefs. The stairs were cut right from the rock. We carefully climbed into the water. The flippers were really hard to use! difficult to manuever in! I feel over a couple times and had to balance my self on the tour guide when we were getting in the water. The tourguide lead us out further into the water and along the rocky shore till we reached a cave, grotto worn into the rocky wall of the shore. It was really deep, 20meters and very cold! The tourguide brought one of those underwater cameras and we could see schools of fishunderneath us. After we left the grotto we swam out to the reefs and feed the fishes with the hot dogs. The fishes would come up swim right near you. You could here them swimming. There was a rainbow spectrum of colors! Fishes of every color.

At 4 I met up with Shiori and Ayame in Chatan and went to the beach! Lots of time by the ocean Wednesday. We spent about 2 hrs swimming at Sunset Beach, Chatan's take on Waikiki beach. Then we ate McDonalds in the mall food court. We looked around the shops in the mall, took Purikura and around 9 my host mom picked us up dropped Shiori and Ayame off.

Thursday: I woke up around 10. My host mom planned for Katsuumi, herself and me to meet Ayako-san, Chiemi-san and Hayato to meet up at the bowling alley. In Kitanaka the bowling alley and the karaoke bar are connected and you usually do karaoke and bowl together. We played 3 games and then headed over to the karaoke bar. You (as a group) are given a room equipped with a karaoke machine. It's no rinky-dink machine either. Theres a wireless touch pad where you choose the song you want to sing and then the lyrics come up on the screen on the wall. It was fun! We Ayako knows a lot of American music, well old music and we ended up singing lots of Beatle's songs, Journey, ABBA, and Michael Jackson along with some Japanese artists but they were thoughtful and tried to pick stuff I knew. At the end of every song the machine tells you how many calories you burnt! I thought that was really amusing. I burned a whole 7 calories singing We Are the World! Haha. We finished up around 7 and went home.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Day in the City

Blog post: A day in the city
Today we left the house around 8:30 and headed to Naha airport. We were going to wish Norihito goodbye. He's studying for a year in the US. We were joined there by Gray sensei and a some classmates and naturally Norihito's family, his mom, dad and grandmom. When the plane boarded he bid us all goodbye. In his departure I noticed something that distinguishes American culture from Japanese-they gave no hugs or kisses. He didn't hug his friends or hug or kiss his family goodbye. No one cried either. Japanese people usually only hug or kiss when they're boyfriend or girlfriend or "rabahs" (lovers) as my host mom said. I think Americans express their feelings more outwardly than Japanese. It's just a cultural differenc I guess. Right before I went on this 6 week trip I remember hugging and kissing my mom goodbye. Norihito's going away for a year!

After we left the airport we headed to the Okinawa times (the prefecture newspaper) building and my host mom had an interview for her sanshin playing. (A sanshin is like a 3 stringed ukulele and beloved by Okinawans.) She's going to be in the newspaper for her playing! That's a big deal! Right?
After that we eat lunch and headed to Shuri castle. Shuri castle is a world heritage site and over 500 years. It was the seat of the Ryuku Kingdom. Honestly, it reminded me alot of Mulan. It was built in Chinese style and used to welcome the Chinese traders.

After that we went and did some shopping around Kokusai dōri. I got all my gifts for everyone back home and some things for myself ;). We also went to Naha-D which is largest bookstore in Okinawa-I'm a book lover and I was extremely impressed by everything they have. They had a whole section devoted to miscellaneous foreign books. They had a whole shelf o German books, and I bought Momo by Michael Ende, I have to have something to do on the 20hrs of flying I have coming back. They even had Harry Potter in Irish and Ancient Greek-I'd be surprised if Philadelphia's Barnes and Noble had all those books. My host family also gave me a shirt they made that says `将来大者‘. That means `future big shot or future VIP`! I am always freshly astonished by everyone`s thoughtfulness here. The down side to all this hedonistic pleasure is that I'm almost out of money.

We went back to Kitanaka, picked up Katsuumi's new glasses and headed back home. We had pizza for dinner :))). At 8 okāsan drove me and Katsuumi biked to Katsuumi's English class. After the English class Katsuumi told me to ride on the back of the bike since okāsan wasn't picking us up. It's pretty common here for 2 people to ride the same bike. I'll say right now that it was terrifying! Flying up and down the hills and having no control over anything. I clinged to the seat for my life. It was kind of fun and exhilarating, like a Disney ride but scarier!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

First Day of Summer Vacation

I woke up this morning around 9. My host mom told me that there was an earthquake around 3 in the morning. I didn't even notice it. I slept right through it. Haha. I emailed some people, went on facebook and then at 11 me and okāsan drove to Naha airport to wish Rina goodbye. Rina is a Japanese classmate of mine from Kitanaka hs and she's going to be an exchange student in Germany.Today was her last day in Okinawa. A bunch of her classmates Maki, Sayuri, Serika, Shiori, Ayame, Katsuumi, Norihito and myself all came along with Grey-sensei. Once the plane started boarding the girls started weeping and tearing up. I never really thought about all the tearful goodbyes that must happen in airports. Once Rina boarded, the girls started eating chocolate! I remember being told chocolate and ice cream always make you feel better when your sad. I guess that's universal!

After that we went to Ginowan to go shopping. My host brother Katsuumi is studying abroad in the Netherlands this year and leaves in August right after and he needed to do some errands for his trip. We went to the shoe store, clothes store and the eye doctors. The eye doctors is exactly the same as American ones. However, Japanese people pay out of pocket for everything. I dont think insurance covers eye wear.

We went home, showered, ate dinner, went on facebook and then went to see the last Harry Potter movie, in 3D! Japanese movie theaters are exactly the same as American movie theaters, maybe a little bit cleaner, but really the same, even down to the layout. The only difference I noticed is that Japanese people actually wait till the very end of the movie to leave. They like to read all the credits. Americans usually just get up and go as soon as the movie`s over. Most major movies in Japan are released in English with Japanese subtitles and that`s how Japanese people watch their movies in theaters.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Last Week of School

Monday was a holiday and I spent most of it confined in the house by the typhoon's rain and wind.

Tuesday I woke up and ate only a little bit and was pretty sleepy. I listened to my ipod on the walk to school. Once I got to school I met a new addition to 一組 (my homeroom). Her name is Natsuno. She was an exchange student in Omaha, Nebraska and she spoke fluent English. I talked to her the during homeroom and during Japanese class. In English class I took their endterm vocab test just for fun. Some of it was really easy and other parts where sentences you had to translate from Japanese into English(easy) or from English to Japanese(very hard). I'm hoping for a pass! After the test we headed over to the science room (セミナー) and set up for the goodbye party. We moved tables around and just dilly daleed??? Next period we had to go to the floor above the セミナー because another class wanted to use the room. The floor above was just bathrooms and a giant 畳 (tatami) floored room. We goofed off and just talk unattended by a teacher. I taught my classmates about some gestures American teens might make in pictures ;) and taught them about group hugs, since they don't do them here. Once Gray-sensei came up to our room we played charades, in Japanese. It was harder in Japanese especially because my vocab is so small. After charades we went back downstairs and ate a feast, truly a feast. Everyone brough in some kind of food and or drinks so we had a lot of things to consume. We talked talked talked and took a lot of picures. Towards the end Shiori and Gray sensei gave me a card signed by (almost) everyone in 一組, a pair of Okinawan sandals (I'm not exactly sure what makes them Okinawan sandles but everyone said they were Okinawan sandles) and a bag full of senbei, Okinawan sweets, candy, rice cakes and a folder for the calligraphy I did. I was so overwhelmed by everyone's kindness and thoughtfulness and at the same time about to cry faced by the fact that I will have to leave these people who have been so amazing to me. I started reading what everyone wrote and felt even more sad. I hung out with everyone till about 4 and then left, knowing I would see everyone the next day.

Wednesday: I woke up, forgot to eat breakfast and hurried out the door. My host brother and I slept in late and we had to power walk it to school so that we wouldn't be late for homeroom. Tuesday was the official las day of school but Wednesday was moving day and cleanup. My high school recently built a brand new building (new classrooms) fully equipped with air conditioning. Go figure. I only get to enjoy the air conditioning on the last day. Oh well, I survived. We spent most of the day moving desks, tables, books and bookcases to the new building. That was of course interspersed with lots of idling and chit chat. At 11 we all met up in the gym for a send off-summer break assembly. The principal opened. A faculty member who won't be returning after break gave a speech, followed by Ann-sensei, who's returning to America August 5th and then there was me. I was really nervous.
Here's the speech: 皆さん親切に 私 は とても 感謝 している。ありがとう。 みなさん は やさしかった,北中城高校 大好き。沖縄 大好き。ゴヤ まま。みんな と お別れ することが かなしい。皆さん は facebook を つくって. また 話せる から。あなたたち を わすれない。I stumbled over the last word (wasurenai)
translation: I am very grateful for everyone's kindness. Thank you so much. Everyone was so kind. I love Kitankagusuku high school. I love Okinawa. I like Goya* so so (that garnered lots of laughs) Leaving everyone makes me sad. Everyone make a facebook! That way we can talk again. I will never forget you guys. We finished up with a graduation for the (2) people finishing this year and after that we returned to the (new) classroom. The students were given some summer homework and we finished up. My last day of Japanese high school. I'm really sad and thinking about how I will never see some of the people ever again makes me sad. It makes me sad to read the card they gave me. I am so grateful to all my classmates at Kitanakagusuku koukou. They were unebelievably kind and welcoming. They all took the time to listen to me and try to understand my broken Japanese. Whether it's saving a seat for me or sharing a snack with me, I feel so grateful and blessed to have been with them all and thinkin about leaving makes me sad. I want to cry thinking about it.

At 7 my host mom drove me to Nakagusuku beach to go to a little end of school party/celebration. Only a small part of ichi kumi came: Maki, Shiori, Katsuumi, Norihito, Motoki and myself. Motoki brought fireworks to use on the beach and we waited till the sunset to use them. They were small, minor things. Firecrackers, sparklers, roman candles and this thing similar to a roman candle, funny story. Motoki gives me the candle and asks me if I understand, I answered tellin him that we have fireworks in America. He gives me a lighter and I light up the end wick and wait for it to burn down. When it does burn down the stick starts smoking, embers start flying out and the top of the stick flies off. Apparantly your supposed to stick the thing in the ground or throw it once the the wick burns out. I did something really dangerous apparantly. Lol. I guess thats exactly the reason why firework sales are so strict in the US. I'm really glad they inited me to the beach party! Time is flying by here.

*goya is a bitter green melon that Okinawans often like but foreigners usually can't stand

Sunday, July 17, 2011

YFU Reunion

This weekend was a whole lot of fun and I got to speak English, German and learn a little Japanese. YFU Okinawa organized a meet up for all YFU students, past, present and future. There were Japanese students who had gone abroad, us Americans and Japanese who are going abroad. There were about 5 students who had went to America, 3 who went to Holland, 1 who went to Belgium and one who went to Basel, Switzerland. That was the coolest by far. I got to practice/speak German this trip.

The girl who went Basel's name was Ayane and was also my translator for talking to the Japanese students. I would tell her something in German, and then she would tell them in Japanese.

There was also a girl who went to Sacramento for a year and spoke perfectly English. I didn't even no she was Japanese at first. I thought she was an Asian girl from America. I told her she was my role model.

YFU organized the event at Nago youth center, kind of like camp site. We had lots of activities to do. We started off with a choice between basketball and volleyball and I chose basketball. After that we showered and had dinner. After dinner we went to had a taiko& esah performance. Then we had a 'dance party' in the terrace. Honestly, I have to say all my school mixers and Soph hop were a lot more fun and Americans can dance better than Japanese. After the dance party (9:30) we went to our rooms, which were a little different than what I expecting, they were just big open tatami mat floors and we all slept together on the floor. Us American guys shared the room with some Japanese guys. However, the American girls came from their room and we all stayed up playing ten fingers and talking until about 2-3 in the morning. The girls just passed out in our room. That was my first coed sleepover. Haha. We woke up around 7 and ate breakfast. After breakfast we listened to the returnee exchange students talk about their experiences, then after that we cleaned up our rooms, packed up and ate lunch. Then our host families picked us up. In all honesty the most fun part of this weekend was getting to socialize.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Okinawan Flora and Fauna

Okinawa is near the tropics and has some interesting animals and plants. In daily life there are some interesting bugs. Okinawa has a lot of giant bugs. One thing thats most noticeable is the cicadas. There are tons of them. They are most noticeable in the night and in the early morning when you can here them making a cacophony of noise. It`s pretty obnoxious. Sometimes they land on you. That freaks me out. This bugs are at least and inch long and an inch wide and they land on you. My host mom laughed at me when I started shaking myself frantically to get the cicada off me. There`s also a lot of mosquitos and they seem to particularly like me. They don`t bother my host family, maybe they like foreign blood. Apparently they don`t use bug spray very often here. I looked up the word for spray in Japanese and asked my host mom for bug spray and she gave me Raid. Amusing now but I wasn`t very amused at the time. There`s also these giant winged cockroaches that come out at night, but I haven`t seen very many of those. (Thank God). There also a lot of geckos that come out at night. They are ALL over the place. I walked out my door one night and one fell on me from a tree. I saw one on a vending machine last night and decided to poke it with a stick and then it sprung from the screen and ran up my arm. My reaction would probably make it on America`s Funniest Home videos.

Okinawa 101

Okinawan culture is distinctively different from mainland Japan. Okinawa is to Japan as Hawaii is to the USA. That`s the best comparison I can think of. They're both island states that have a very different history and culture than the countries they're now part of. Okinawa wasn't originally part of Japan until the late 1800`s when Japan took over the islands. Okinawa used to be its own Kingdom, (the Ryukyu Kingdom) with its own language, customs and culture.

After 130 or so years of Japanese control Okinawa is very Japanese and everyone speaks Japanese. There is a language called uchinaaguchi that the older generation speaks but is mostly being replaced by Japanese and most young people cant speak it. There's a lot of Okinawan pride and everything Okinawan is adored by Okinawans. If there's J-pop singer from Okinawa, you bet the Okinawans listen to him/her. Okinawans have a lot of pride in their homestate.

Okinawans are really laid back and live life at a slower pace. Everyone here is on island time. My host mom told me it's normal for Okinawans to be late, which is not normal for mainland Japanese. I'm still getting used to the island time as an uptight person from the East Coast, and someone who goes to Catholic school!

The Weather in Okinawa

I thought I`d make a post just devoted to how the weather here is. All over Japan it is the summer and it`s hot and humid. Japan`s rainy season is coming to a close this month and hopefully it will become less humid. Okinawa is sub-tropical (HOT). It`s also really humid here. Sometimes reaching over 80% humidity. It doesn`t rain a long time here. For instance, a rain cloud will pass by and it will pour rain for 15 minutes and then it stops. All in all its usually sunny with deep blue skys. Okinawans are much more tan than mainland Japanese and you can tell the difference between the Tokyo people and Okinawans. I've gotten more color from being here. The temperature here is extremely consistent. If you checked a forecas for Okinawa it would probably say a high of 85 degrees for the whole week and a low of about 80. Its always humid. The rain actually brings some relief by blocking out the sun. At night it cools a couple degrees but still it's very hot. I've gotten use to the heat for the most part and the weather here is still nicer than a Philadelphia summer. I can literally see the ocean from my house and that provides a nice sea breeze.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Japanese culture

Some notes on Japanese culture

Somethings about Japanese culture: some things about Japan are strickingly different than the US.
In Japan you always take your shoes off before you enter the house and in school you also take your shoes off when you enter. One time I walked into my house and forgot to take off my shoes. I was horrified when I realized I forgot and was worried something was gonna happen. My host mom just stared at me but didn't saying anything.

Ive been asked some really funny questions by Japanese people, especially my classmates: heres a sample list of the most interesting ones:

"Why do American people have such white teeth?" "Do you have a girlfriend?" "why not?" "what type of girl is your type?" "do you like fat girl or skinny?" "do you like western or oriental?" "do you like any of the girls in this class?" "I saw a girl in a picture with you on facebook, was she your girlfriend?" "At what age do you want to get married?" "Do all Americans have pools?" "Do all Americans like hamburgers?"

3rd week in Japan

This week was really the best week I've had here in Japan. I'm familiar with my surroundings, my Japanes has improved and I'm building stronger relationships with my friends and host family.

This week day by day:

Saturday: My host family took me to Nago again. This time not to visit family. They took me to expo park, which was created for the 1975 World Expo which was held in Okinawa. There's a huge aquarium, and a planeterium. The planetarium is the largest one in Asia and one of the biggest in the world. In the planeterium we watched a video about Okinawa on the huge screen. It showed lots of pictures of Okinawa but was in Japanese so I didn't understand most of what was said. After the planetarium we went to the Nago-shi Civic center for a show. It was a huge theater. A theater group from Okinawa was performing. It was some kind of satire-situation comedy and it must have been really funny, since everyone was laughing. I could understand the situations and understand a few words but not enough to find the show funny. Nevertheless, I'm grateful to my family for bringing me and including me.

Sunday: Sunday we didn't leave Kitanakagusuku. My host brother's part of an エサ(ehsah), which is a traditional Okinawan dance/music group. The closest American equivalent I can think of is a marching band but totally differnt music, costumes and dance. Anyway, my host bro's エサ was asked to be part of an Orion (Japanese beer company) commercial and we all went to see the エサ get filmed. It must have been, especially for the adults since they all got free beer curtesy of Orion. Who doesn't like free stuff!? After that my host family took me to a sushi restaurant, a kind of sushi restaurant I dont think they have in America. You are seated at a bar like table in a square with all the other people, and in front of you a conveyer belt moves and on it all different kinds of sushi are available. You just look for the kind of sushi you want and take it from the conveyer belt. At the end of your meal the waitress comes around
and counts the number of plates youve had and charges you a certain amount per plate.

Monday, Tuesday were regular school days

Wednesday was a regular school day but after school I arranged to meet with Brie, a fellow exchange student who lives in the same town as me, only 30min walking. I was very excited and glad to meet an American and an English speaker and someone who understands my situation. I left school excited and got ready for my 5:00 rendevouz with Brie. I walked home from school, changed out of my uniform and headed to Brie's part of town. However, I went the wrong way and got completely lost. I didn't know where I was and ended up walking about 2 hrs. I laugh about it now but I was really upset and on the verge of tears. If you've been completely lost in a foreign country where no one speaks English, you can empathize. I eventually looped back and met Brie albeit a half hour late.

Thursday &Friday were fun and offered a diversion from my school schedule. Grey-sensei arranged for me to spend both days in art class. Wednesday I did traditional Japanese calligraphy, and Friday I made and painted an uchiwa (fan).

Saturday was lots of fun and I even got to go to a new part of Okinawa. Shiori invited me to go to the Kitanaka high school game and I eagerly agreed. We met up at Kitanaka high school and her dad took us to Chatan to the baseball game. There we met up with Maki, Rina, Rino and Serika. Japanese people are very enthused! My school had a lot of people and a lot of school pride. One of my classmates is on the team too. After the game we went to the mall (Aeon) and had udon noodles for lunch. After that we did purikura! Purikura is like a Japanese take on photobooth and its super popular here. We bid goodbye at the mall an Shiori's dad drove me home. I'm glad I get to see them again. Saturday night my host mom took me to a ムーンライト コンサト (moonlight consert).

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Japanese High School

I just found out some sad news today. My high school only goes till July 20th. That means only 14 more days of school! I like school here! I mean I dont study or do any homework but I like this school. Every day's a party!

Japanese students have a very different school schedule than Americans. Japanese start school in April and go until Mid to late July. Then they have a summer brake of about 7 weeks. Usually they get a summer job during summer break (unlike me!) Then they begin again in September. Then they have school until Christmas/New Year when they have a 2 week break. They have a 2 week spring break in March and finish school up in late March.

My school starts @ 8:40 and ends around @4:00
In general school is a lot more relaxed than in America. Classes are 50 minutes each and there's 10 minutes in between. They have 5 classes each day plus lunch.

One HUGE difference about American high school and Japanese high school, at least to me, is that it's OK to sleep in class. Its completely ok. Talking in class is also ok. It seems to me that in Japan, more onus is put on the student and students are taught to responsibility. Its on the student to pay attention in class. The teacher's isn`t going to make you pay attention. That's up to you.

Friday, July 1, 2011

First Week in Okinawa

First full week in Okinawa
This week was exam week in my high school. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were test days. Monday was just a regular school day.

Tuesday was exam day and I spent the whole day in the library on the school computer. It was pretty boring. My host mom asked me if I wanted to go to work with her instead and I eagerly agreed. She works at the Kitanakagusuku city hall/municipal building. She had a half day or something and around 12 we left her work and drove to Nago-shi to visit her parents.

Nago is in the northern part of the island and the drive was beautiful. You have small vegetation covered mountains on one side, and on the other you have the beautiful blue-green ocean. We stayed in Nago talking to okasans parents till about 4.

We drove down the Okinawa high way and got home around 5. I did some chores around he house (hanging clothes, cleaning dishes and set the table for dinner of delicious dumplings, kind of like dim sum. I spent an hour on facebook and emailing people and went to bed after that.

Thursday my host mom didn't have work for some reason, and she took me out sigh seein around Kitanaka. We went to Nakagusuku castle, a UNESCO world heritage site and made a tour of the castle ruins. It was about an hour long hike up to the main ruins of the castle and well worth it. The castle sits at the top of a hill/mtn and you can see the ocean on both sides.

While we were walking up, I saw a little catarpillar crawling on the ground and bent down and let it crawl in my hand. All of a sudden my host mom freaks out and slaps the bug out of my hand screaming "abunai! Abunai!" (Dangerous! Dangerous!) Then she said that the catarpillars bite is poisonous. I'm glad I didnt get bit! Now I know not to just pick up bugs from the ground when your in a foreign place! After we climbed down back to the car and drove to Nakamura house, a completely preserved 18th century Japanese estate. We went to lunch afterwards and hung out at home until Katsuumi came home from school. Then we had dinner. After dinner my host mom sort of forced me to go to her zoomba class and she insisted that it wasn't just girls. I tried my best but boy was that class intense. Those Japanese ladies can really move. I can't imagine it's as intense in America.
I went home showered and went to bed afterwards.

Friday was just a normal school day.