Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009-

Well, if I’m going to be true to everything that is happening during my time abroad here then I suppose I need to include the conflicts and confrontations that come along with that. But I will give everyone the condensed version, don’t worry.

When I arrived to Japan my first week was spent on a district orientation where I had a fantastic time meeting new people and seeing Japan. On the last day of our trip, less than 24 hours away from meeting my host family for the first time, my host dad has a rather severe heart attack and needs to be in the hospital for nearly 2 weeks. I was shocked and worried, and I think my local club absolutely scrambled to figure out what to do. They ended up putting me in a local hotel for a whole week before I moved into my current home. Within all of that confusion I never really connected well with my local counselor. Therefore I did not understand his role, the club president’s role, and the Rotary district’s role. I had just made very good friends with the district Rotarians and trusted them very much.

For that reason I have been in close touch with the district chair, and she has been so kind and understanding to me. She offered to talk to my host family for me when I had a question about visiting friends over winter break. Well I never guessed that her emailing my club would start a war, but it certainly has. My counselor felt insulted that I had not contacted him first and my host mother was irate that she find out after the Rotarians. I was so caught off guard that I really didn’t know how to act. Looking back on it now (even though it’s only 3 days ago) I can tell in my fluster I chose the wrong path. The Japanese are a very proud culture, especially older men. So when I tried to plead my case to my counselor and host parents, that just made them even angrier. They thought that I was being rude, maybe even talking back to them. That is where these cultures are so different. I as their inferior need to treat them with the utmost respect and not tell them how I feel, so when they literally ragged on me, my district chair, and the families that invited me to winter break for several hours, I should just have let them blow off steam and approached them now a couple days later.

The good news is that today I had a mature and apologetic conversation with my local counselor as he had finally settled down. He told me that I need to give him written reports every time I have an idea (not even a plan) to leave town, and that he was “cross” (he lived in England for several years) that I had not done so sooner. I told him that no one had ever told me to do that, which he was surprised at. He said that it was the district’s job to inform me of the procedure, not his. I didn’t argue as he went on to explain that in my reports I need to tell him: where I’ll go, with whom, for how long, where we’ll visit, what we’ll do, a telephone number at which he can reach me at all times, if I’ll be riding trains or cars, when I’ll board the vehicles, when I’ll de-board, where we’ll eat lunch (!?!random?!?), and who will be there to pick me up when it’s all over. He also talked to me for a good five minutes about how Rotary students had died in the past, and he was specifically worried about car crashes (a point he brought up three or four times and which I am still scratching my head over, but whatever). I am just happy they are now allowing me to go with the other exchange students to Tokyo on the 28th of this month when before they were saying they might not. I’m going to give them even more space and approach them about winter break plans next week.

My host mom is still really criticizing of me and won’t let the topic drop, but I have basically just given her space and not responded to her when every meal she wants to insult the district Rotarians and Rotex. I just bow my head, eat, and leave. So sad that that is the connection I have with my host family. It just makes me even more optimistic and hopeful for my time at the Kobayashi’s. Okay, I’m going to get out of the house again tonight and chat with Miki and her family until as late as possible. Haha, I am certainly finding ways NOT to interact with my hosts, if that’s anything to take away from this. Hope everyone else has a less dramatic Saturday. I’m just relieved my counselor isn’t furious with me anymore, I haven’t slept well the past two nights because I’ve tossed and turned thinking about what I needed to say or do. But I’m in a good mood now!

~~Sorry no fun pictures, not a fun topic so it doesn't deserve one. Plus what would it have been, my counselor lecturing me?! Yeah that would have added a lot to this page ; ] ~~

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009-

Highlights of my day:

1) In cooking class today we made fried dumplings called Gyoza! It was so much fun, and extremely delicious.

2) After school I went to the Kobayashi’s store again and spent over two hours sitting, talking, eating treats, drinking hot tea, and smiling with Mr. Kobayashi and his 66 year old mother. Every time I’ve left that store, I’ve had a big smile on my face, they’re a great family.

3) I am about to head out for appetizers with Miki and her friend Yuka. Nothing big, but it feels great to have friends to hang out with again.

Don't they just look delicious?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009-

Another short post today. It seems that things certainly do come in ups and downs here in on exchange.

Like I posted yesterday, the Kobayashi Family at whose fish shop I’ve been helping every day after school this week, is not able to host me during December and January as they will be on vacation for two weeks. But they called Rotary back today and said that they still really want to host me. Therefore starting January 20th until April 4th I will move to their home! I am so excited. The family is young and fun, the kids are great, the apartment is modern and comfortable, the store is unique, the grandma treats me like a god, and I can already tell that I will not want to leave. Today Grandma Kobayashi practically fed me a whole meal when I got to the shop! That’s her to the right. She is packaging Ayu sweetfish. My snack included two whole grilled Ayu fish, a sweet cake in the shape of a fish, a sweet tea anko treat, grapes, and hot green tea. All sitting next to the furnace

This means that I will move to my following host family in April, but I do not know for how long. Maybe until July, but I’m not positive. That family should also be lots of fun- the Shiozawa’s. They have three children. At first I thought it was three boys, but I recently found out it is two boys and a girl, one of the children is married, and the youngest boy just went to university in Tokyo. They own a Soba restaurant in the mountains, will drive me to school each day, and the old grandpa also lives at their house. It should be another exciting place to live. I know January is in many ways just around the corner, but I wish it would hurry up! It’s a good thing I have several fun plans to look forward to this winter.

More random snap shots of Nakagawa, Enjoy…

Several views of the mountains to the west, rising above Nakagawa town...
The beautiful Nakagawa river as it rushes toward the ocean over 80 kilometers away

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009-

Highs and lows.
High- I went straight from school to the Kobayashi's store where I helped for no more than 20 minutes before being invited over to their house. I had a snack, watched their gigantic plasma screen tv, sat in their swank living room, and helped their daughter Yuki with her English homework. It was great. I didn't go home until 6:30 when I needed to be back for dinner.
Low- Rotary asked if they would be my next host family but their whole family will be gone for several weeks in January so it's a no go.
Lower-Low- My host Rotary club counselor was upset with me for trying to make plans to visit friends during winter break. He says that because I didn't consult him before everyone else, my club might not let me go stay with Ayano Baba's family and visit Sendai with Chisaki's family to see my past Rotary brother, Ryota. It was just such a disappointment to have my host mom and him come down on my plans to finally be social and travel. I really hope things will improve in the coming weeks but the fact that I am still going to be at this house for 2 1/2 more months has really got me feeling low right now. I skyped with Maria and Mom after my counselor's talk because I really needed to lay everything out to someone. I can't believe how much I miss my family right now. This may be one of my lowest points so far on exchange. Time to just stay quiet for a few days and hope everything blows over...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009-

I just got back from meeting a wonderful family named the Kobayashi’s. They are the owners of a local (for lack of a better word) “fish store” that raises, cleans, cooks, packages, and sells various fish delicacies which are bought by city folks on their countryside outings. The picture on the right is of their store's sign lit up at night. As a side not, I find it funny that all of these weird local fish dishes like salted Sweetfish, grilled freshwater eel, and dried salmon are things that people in larger cities long for. Anyway, the Kobayashi’s offered for me to come to their store anytime I wanted when I was feeling bored. I was thrilled at the invitation and despite the heavy rain today, biked across town to their shop. It’s a “two song” bike ride. I have begun to measure things by the number of songs I listen to on my iPod rather than how far it is (but I’m figuring it’s just over 2 kilometers, so not too far).

The family consists of the father, mother, a daughter who is a first year in high school, and a son who is in 6th grade. The family grandparents also live in town and along with a (surprisingly large) staff, help run the shop.

This picture is of Mrs. Kobayashi and one of the store employees. I lent a helping hand in packaging dried Ayu Sweetfish, rolling individual Ayu, and taping Ayu packages (can you tell they love Ayu out here! Haha). But around 5:30 Mrs. Kobayashi asked me if I wanted to go with her and bring the two kids to the store. I of course agreed and we drove first to their house in the middle of Ogawa town where we picked up their son before stopping off at the bus stop to pick up their daughter coming home from school. They were hilarious to talk with, as both know pretty decent English for their ages. I think I smiled the whole car ride.

Another view of the shop. Plus there's a large kitchen in the back, and an outdoor area that wasn't open today because of the rain

On our way back from the bus stop we stopped at a random gas station where a dog had just recently delivered a batch of 9 puppies. I hadn’t realized how much I missed dogs until I was holding a tiny, week-old pup in my hands again. As I stood there I promised myself that I would have a dog as soon as I’m living on my own. They can always make me smile, and merely having a companion on lonely nights is such a simple pleasure. After returning to the store, the four of us basically chatted about odds and ends for about an hour. I had to be back home by 6:30 so I braved the storm once again and made it back in time for a delicious tempura dinner. PS Tempura has grown to be a new favorite of mine.

This post was quite, quite random, yet I am feeling happy and hopeful about having something to do whenever I'm bored at the Sato's, so you can't blame me. I am determined to go back as often as I can and hopefully stay well connected to the Kobayashi family in the weeks to come.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009-

I finished my Spanish book sitting in English class…ironic. Gabriel García Márquez's Crónica de una Muerte Anunciada. I read 100 years of Solitude for AP World Lit. last year and wanted to experience Márquez' writing in his own language. I'm happy to have accomplished it, yet I can already tell it's getting harder and harder to use my Spanish and German.
Besides that I have nothing new to share. I wish I were in Tokyo again. It would be the most incredible year just living in Tokyo!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009-


I don’t have words for how much I love Tokyo. It is young, it is old, it’s crowded, happy, and sophisticated, it has style, it has funk, and it certainly has a flare for the international. Looking back on the day, it’s hard to believe that in less than 12 hours I woke up (at exactly 7 am, alarm clock will prove it), boarded trains and subways, walked multiple kilometers, shopped, ate, talked, laughed, and slept before pulling into the Sato’s garage at exactly 7 pm. I guess I’m in a list-mood judging by those past two sentences so although I hadn’t planned on doing this, I’m going to make a list of the day. Some parts will be impressive and others downright simple, but here goes…

1) I woke up this morning confused but laughing. I’d had the weirdest dream in which I found Kelly Rowlands (one of the lesser known Destiny’s Child singers) dancing alone in the rain in the middle of a field and proceeded to take her on a date to Wednesday night church dinner, then back to my gigantic Japanese style mansion...I wasn't sure what that meant for the day...

2) After breakfast, my host mom and I drove to the train station 20 minutes away where we hopped on a direct train to Shinjuku, Tokyo. I was impressed to learn it only costs about $14 US for an express train (a step down from the bullet train).

3) I was happy to see Mount Fiji rising over the mountains to the west of Tokyo. On nice days it’s clearly visible from the city (if you’re not surrounded by skyscrapers that is)

4) My first experience on a local Tokyo train did not disappoint me in the least. It was literally so crowded I think I was touching 5 other people at once (at that is not an exaggeration). There were literally people by the train doors who needed to shove riders in like little pieces of Styrofoam peanuts in an overstuffed UPS package!! It was fantastic

5) Our first stop was the Harajuku area. Before seeing the infamous youth-fashion street of Harajuku, however, we headed to the Meiji Jingu Shrine Park. Today is actually a national holiday here in Japan, so despite it being a Sunday (also their down-day) the park was buzzing.

The main attraction was actually little children. That’s right, not little children were attracted to the park, people were attracted to the little children in the park. Don’t take that the wrong way please! What I mean is that today is Shichi-Go-San day, or Seven-Five-Three.

It is a Japanese holiday celebrating boys who are turning 5, and girls turning 7 or 3. Their parents tend to dress them up in traditional outfits and take family pictures in the park. As a reward they all get a brightly colored balloon (seems like a fair trade off). The beautiful weather meant for a lot of activity. To top it off, there were three separate weddings going on in the mere half hour we spent at the shrine. I loved how busy, traditional, and yet international it all was. I was by no means the only foreigner, in fact within 5 minutes I think I heard English (American AND British), German, Spanish, something like Italian, some Eastern European tongue, and of course, JAPANESE! Moments like that are what truly energize me and I’m left only wanting more

6) We then met up with Mrs. Sato’s nephew Yuya who studied in Denmark as an exchange student during high school, and then worked for (I think…) IBM in Miami, Florida for several years. His English was great, so when I wasn’t understanding the Japanese conversation he was always able to fill me in. In fact it was his wedding that my host parents went to only last month, so he and his new bride Yuka (I know Yuya and Yuka, right?!) met up with us for lunch and shopping. We walked the notoriously young/bizarre/fashionable Harajuku street for a while before turning onto a bit classy road filled with everything from D&G, Coach, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry, to fancy local boutiques and expensive jewelry stores. I was impressed to see Yuya was wearing a very expensive Bulgari watch and Yuka had a big Coach purse. Apparently they’re doing pretty well for themselves! They took us to this fun Italian restaurant at the top of Omote-sando hills mall called Zazza. The buffet was great and dessert was even better.

7) Unfortunately we parted ways after eating, yet they showed us off in the right direction. We traversed a confusing routine of subways and (obscenely long) underground walkways, to end up at Otemachi and Tokyo station. As soon as we came above ground my host mom went sprinting off and I was sure she was going to get hit by a car or something because she hardly even looked before crossing the street. I had no idea what was going on but followed behind as fast as I could. She was rushing off to the Sky Bus Tokyo booth, a double-decker tour bus company for downtown Tokyo. She seemed to think we were missing the bus but we actually had another 10 minutes, haha. Anyway we got lucky with two seats on the top level from which I was able to see the Imperial Palace walls, the government sector, Ginza shopping district, and several other areas of the city. I get the impression I could spend days here- so hopefully I will!

8) There were three American guys walking behind us for several blocks and I first laughed at their conversation (one wanted to buy a samurai sword so he could learn to be like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill and cut bullets) before realizing how incredibly loud they were talking. They were half way across the street before their voiced died out. I just don't get it, why are Americans so loud??

9) Am I extremely shallow for saying that one of my highlights of the day was eating a bagel??!! Haha, it was a delicious toasted New York style bagel with a distinctly Japanese twist. The flavor was Green Tea White Chocolate! There were literally white chocolate chips melted into the bread. The perfect mid-afternoon snack.

10) After the bagel and the bus ride, we walked back around the Imperial Palace and then into the Ginza area of town. Ginza is another expensive area of town (Tokyo real estate is through the roof), which is full of big name chains, department buildings, and famous local shops. We spent a least an hour exploring the 11-story Mitsukoshi department store. I did end the day with a couple souvenirs but I think I was in such a state of excitement that I forgot to buy things. Oh well, I’ll be back I’m sure.

10 1/2) When we were at the Imperial Palace I walked down the pathway that Obama had taken only hours before!!

11) On the ride home I finally got to ride the infamous Shinkansen or Bullet Train that Japan is famous for. The trip into Tokyo was on a more local, direct train, but the ride home had a stop off in Utsunomiya. The train absolutely zipped through countryside and city alike (all the tracks are raised high above the towns and are surrounded by sound dampening walls). I actually fell asleep for most of the ride, but I know it went fast because I feel like I’d barely closed my eyes before we arrived. Now that puts a whole new meaning to getting there in a blink!

12) I’m now ready for a hot bath and warm cup of tea. I’m exhausted, my feet are sore, and my mind is racing. I would definitely call the day a success. I just pray I’ll have many more Tokyo-filled days in the future. Enjoy the picture and dream of me (instead of Kelly Rowland…). Good-night -_- zzzz

Meiji Jingu Shrine Park
One of the weddings in the park. The bride wearing the traditional white
One of the wooden gateways
Wedding party making their way across the plaza
I feel as though this is a telling combination of Tokyo's tradition and innovation
The bride and one of her friends (the kimonos for these ceremonies are so elaborate and expensive)
The Omote-sando Hills Mall in all of its upscale Christmas decorations
Hahaha, Me trying to take a picture through the bus window. Fail! Look at how confused I look = )
The Imperial Palace and it's gigantic moat, that's the government district behind (I think...)
The moat from down below
One of the palace gates
Look closely, the palace building is tucked away to the right
The delicious Green Tea White Chocolate bagel. I missed bagels...
Ginza - I see parts of Times Square here, don't you?
The very crowded train station, standing in line for the Bullet Train