Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saturday, October 31, 2009- Halloween-

ハッピーハロウィン!In other words, “Happy Halloween!” It seems odd to say that today I actually RELAXED on Halloween instead of getting all hopped up on sugar, wearing a peripheral-blinding rubber mask, only to run recklessly through streets and neighborhoods at night. Why exactly do we as Americans do that again??? Hah, but it is true that I missed the excitement of the holiday and of course the delicious food…okay candy…

Quick Note: I feel like I did attend a Halloween party, it just so happens that it was via Skype. I talked to the entire Northfield High School Boy’s Soccer Team as they ate a steak dinner out at my home. I laugh at the idea that even though I’m no longer on the team (in fact I’ve graduated and am living several thousand miles away) my family still hosted a team meal. But to be honest it was terrific to feel like I was sitting in my crowded living room laughing with friends once again. It made today bittersweet knowing that they were there, preparing for a state game in the METRODOME and that I wouldn’t be able to see it! Best of luck though guys!

A day on the roof: 屋根 Yane- it means Roof, and the Sato’s have quite a big one. It’s above their side of the house, overlooking the surrounding homes. The tree to the right is in the middle of the neighbor’s yard and is likely the tallest thing in town. It makes me wonder how long it’s stood there slowly watching the town of Nakagawa come, build, flourish, and now start to crumble.

Not much I can say about this one. Just me pretending to being studious, the 60-degree sun, some good reads on a tatame matt, and the self-timer of my camera. I told you I relaxed today!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009-

Fishery Party!
It doesn’t get any easier than my day today. I spent the first two hours of class helping cook curry and rice, my third hour was craft design and then for the rest of the day the three fishery classes all went to the fishery where we had a fall festival. I provided the decorations, believe it or not. My mom’s package came yesterday followed by my aunt and uncle’s today. They were to two perfect pick-me-ups that I needed. Inside Mom’s package were a couple of ghost and pumpkin decorations that I surprised everyone with today at school. A quick note on Halloween, although I’m trying to tell myself otherwise I know that tomorrow will be a tougher day then most. The fact that Japan does not celebrate Halloween means that it will be just another day to them, but a special one for me. It’s an odd recognition.
But the party today was a blast. It started by making fishing poles out of freshly picked bamboo, grilling sweet fish around a camp fire, and enjoying the beautiful 60 degree weather (So Japanese, right?). That's right, that is a camera crew filming our school event in the background! After eating we divided into teams in order to stand around the center tank which had been filled with fresh rainbow trout. The atmosphere was casual yet exciting, well still being slightly competitive. The winning team did take home a big bag of candy!
For half an hour each team was given one pole in order to snag as many rainbow trout as possible. I think I helped catch two fish but my team still fell short of the prize. One team took in 22 fish!! It was nonstop laughing and genuinely enjoying fish. I couldn’t help but smile (there’s a reference to Rachael Stets’ last blog if you haven’t read it yet). Great day, great weather, great package in the mail (thank you so much Chuck and Cindy!), and the good news that the boys’ soccer team is going to the Metrodome! I was so cheesy proud of them when I rushed home to check the results online. Wish I could see it so badly, hopefully I will get a chance to catch up on it soon.
I told you the weather today was perfect!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009-

CAUTION: CULTURAL DIFFERENCE AHEAD! I had it in my mind to every once in a while not write about my day but rather about some of the main differences I’ve noticed between America and Japan. Today seemed a fitting time to start seeing as for one hour at the end of classes we as the students had to stay and clean the school. You see here in Japan it is up to us to keep the school clean. We do the sweeping, dusting, light changing, garbage removal, bathroom duty, and even some of the lawn work. When I first heard this I was impressed. I assumed that because the students knew they were the ones cleaning the building everyday they would cause less of a mess. WRONG! At least in my fishery school the convenience of having a janitor to take care of the building is sorely missed. The fact that students know they’re the ones cleaning the school seems to give them the idea of getting away with being messy. At least that’s my read on it. I do think that giving the students responsibility is a good thing but the fact that students give each other haircuts in the middle of the classroom floor, spend most of the cleaning time playing catch with a golf ball (at least that’s what most of the third year boys did today), and do not always replace the toilet paper in the bathroom is somewhat of a struggle. I am sure in some schools the system works very well, but out here for the country folk, a little dirt ain’t hurtin’ nobody.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009-

Today was one of those days where you look back and in many ways it seems like it’s taken forever, yet you realize, “Oh my gosh, I feel like I just woke up!” I’ve had quite a few of those lately at school and although it’s not exactly how I’d like to spend my days here I think it shows that I’ve at least gotten into the routine of life.

In honor of Halloween my host brother brought his daughters’ favorite movie for me to watch. 魔女の宅急便 Majo no Takkyūbin” or in English “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” It was made by Disney/Studio Ghibli back in 1989 and is a Japanese classic. Although it has nearly nothing to do with Halloween the main character does happen to be a 13-year-old witch with her talking black cat. The Japanese go all out for these animated clips so the graphics were fun and the story itself is youthful but exciting. If you’ve got kids (or like more than a couple of my friends, are still a child at heart) then it’s a fun and very Japanese way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Update on the Swine: I’m feeling fine. I think I ate bad fish on Monday so my stomach was in pain yesterday but I’m doing better now. Thanks for the well wishes. As my BFF Sam Weaver advised me to do: I might just have to take some ancient, magic potion. Maybe I’ll go ask Kiki!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009-

Today the Bato High School’s 茶道 Sadou – Tea Ceremony club threw an official welcoming ceremony in honor of the ALT Grace Lee and myself. The whole event took all of 10 minutes but it was impressively handled and both Grace and I marveled at two facts. 1) As we sat there I turned to her and said, “Isn’t it weird that this kind of ceremony has been going on for literally several hundred years?” The realization that the USA has nothing such as this helped only to increase our fascination and respect for the art; 2) We were told that each of the cups we were served cost several hundred thousand yen, or a couple thousand dollars! At first we thought the translator had his numbers wrong and asked him to tell us again. It turns out each cup is individually crafted, fired, painted, and sold with a special style and name attached to it. Some cups are less expensive but the truly official ones are incredibly costly! In a ceremony where delicate movements and precision are valued it’s easy to see why when handling such pottery.

Afterwards the club showed us how to whisk the tea and turn the cup in the proper fashion. It is all very precise and the motto theme of Peace, Quiet, and Tranquility is displayed in the special calligraphy that adorns the wall. The flowers are also hand picked up in the mountains and change for each season. The dessert that is served is a sweet, soft, and tasty little piece of artwork all by itself. It is made from Anko and it is so important to the Japanese that there are entire shops dedicated to making it. Apparently the powdered green tea that is used (incredibly rich and thick with a slightly bitter aftertaste- thus the sweet dessert) is also pretty expensive. All in all we felt very honored and as though we’d been offered a glimpse into merely one of the traditions that is Japan. Luckily I still have 9 more months to discover some of the rest…

The wildflowers and calligraphy
The Anko dessert! Isn't it cool?
PS sorry my English is getting worse and worse, it’s taking me longer to write these blogs because my typing is so horrible = \

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009-

Yet another typhoon is making it’s way across Japan making today perhaps the coldest, dreariest day I’ve had yet. I’m sitting at home in sweats and craving a bowl of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Cereal and some hot cocoa! Luckily today in the library while I was studying the librarian Oshima-Sensei made me up a hot cup.
But in reality I am trying to stay low, half of the second years in my school didn’t come to school today. A growing number are being confirmed for H1N1 and the rest are all in fear of catching it. Two of the classes at school have the whole week off because the risk is so high. I’d almost prefer just to lay low until everything (the rain and the pesky pig problem) both pass…

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Saturday, October 24-Sunday, October 25, 2009-

These are the weekends for which I signed up to be a Rotary Exchange Student!

I left for the capital city of Tochigi Prefecture, Utsunomiya, Saturday morning excited for a weekend with friends and Rotarians. The fact that I’m now home 7 at night the next day and am completely exhausted I think speaks for itself. I am realizing how much I truly enjoy the city life and although the countryside is beautiful, access to a large city is something I definitely find appealing (at least for a 19 year-old in a foreign country!).

Yesterday was spent at the incredible Round1 宇都宮. It’s basically I gigantic amusement area where for only 1500 Yen ($16-$17 US) you could spend the afternoon doing anything your heart desired.

There were 7 of us total. Me, my friend Ayano (she was in Minnesota four years ago), her friend Shogo (he was in South Carolina the same time), Max from Florida, Amberly from Canada, Anaïs from France, and Anaïs’ friend Gustaf who lives in the same city as her but is here from Sweden through AFS. It was a hilarious crowd and we spent the time playing arcade games (unlimited, all for free), at a roller rink on which we also raced miniature motorcycles, ping-pong, billiards, a bucking bronco, a real life fishing pond (I was forced to get Amberly and Ayano’s carp off the hook for them), and a huge upstairs area with soccer, basketball, tennis, archery, and baseball courts. I already want to go back = ) Ayano, Shogo, Gustaf, Max, and I walked back to Max’ house as it grew dark and it was so fun to be in a busy city where the bustle just kept right on moving.

The Recreation Area at Round1 宇都宮

Walking back to Max' house: Max, Ayano, Shogo, and Gustaf

For dinner Max’ host family took me, Ayano, and Shogo out for dinner to a western style hamburger and steak place. We all laughed when Max’ burger was literally served on a platter shaped like a cow and filled the whole plate! To be honest it at first felt strange to use a fork and knife again. I realized how used to chopsticks I’ve become and laughed at the fact that I’ve probably gone about a month without using a fork and knife! My burger was tasty but it just didn’t feel right not having a bun with which to eat it. The Japanese don’t really do the bread thing as much as we do, so their burgers are just served whole (and usually boiled instead of grilled) on the plate. They are nice and juicy, however.

I stayed up until 12:30 simply watching the MTV international music video countdown with Max’ 16 year old host brother. He wants to learn English so he’d talk in English and I’d try to answer in Japanese. It was, to be honest, perhaps the most refreshing and satisfying couple hours of the weekend. When I signed up to be an exchange student that is what I had in mind for a host family and so it was so great to finally experience.

Sunday was filled with Rotary, Rotary, and Food. We listened to the Rebound (last years exchange students from Tochigi) tell about their years abroad. It was so cool to hear my friend Chisaki tell about her year in White Bear Lake, MN. She truly took so much away from her year, I only hope to leave with as happy of memories as she has. I found it somewhat ironic that we were actually tucked away in the tiny chapel of a large park in Utsunomiya. The Rotarians were meeting across the street in a hotel and so the students, their parents, and some visitors crammed into a warm, dolled up wedding chapel on a Sunday morning for a very different kind of service.

Chisaki's Speech

Lunch was in a GIGANTIC park tent that was filled with Rotarians from all over Tochigi coming to their annual convention. We as the inbounds were invited to join them for food, to introduce ourselves in from of everybody, and then to a very entertaining Hawaiian Luau afterwards. The food was all fresh seafood and fruits and we even had live entertainment from a group of Hawaiian dancers. At one point we were dragged up onto stage to help them dance, all I can say about that is: Oh Geez! Now I’m absolutely wiped out and headed to bed early. Good weekend!

Hangin' Loose with: Shogo, Anaïs, Ayano, & Eriko