Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009-

This, the shortest day of the year, has truly turned out to be one of my favorites of 2009. I cannot give one definite reason for my sudden raise in spirits, only that I have been blessed so incredibly much over the past 12 months, and it is still so, so remarkable to me that I have only known about Japan for one year, let alone been here for a third of that. I didn’t even realize it, but yesterday was my four-month mark. It came and went without me ticking it off like I had the first three. I think that says a lot about where I am as an exchange student that I am finally taking the days as they come, rather than measuring my experience by how many I have under my belt.

Yet perhaps what made today so special was the fact that I spent the morning back in Minnesota. My family Christmas (just my dad, mom, and sister) was this morning, or their Monday night, and I was able to Skype with them the entire time. For those of you who don’t know, Skype is an incredible (and amazingly, free) Internet form of video chat that works anywhere you have a connection and computer camera. As Mom said this morning, “Skype saved our Christmas!” And as Dad said when we were saying our good-byes, “Do you have any idea how much this visit would have cost us 20 years ago? Hundreds of dollars!!” So Skype was like a little Christmas present all in itself.

But anyway, I was able to “sit” at the dinner table, in the living room, by the fire, and near the Christmas tree all while actually snuggled up in my futon here in Nakagawa. I had as great a Christmas celebration as ever. I got fantastic presents and the time I spent with my family was truly the little “fix” I needed to get by the next few days. I am thrilled to have made it this far, because as Samantha Weaver [http://samantharomaweaver.blogspot.com/] told me this past week (also via Skype, coincidentally), “As fantastic and wonderful as the first part of the year is for most exchange students, to be honest, in the back of our minds we are really telling ourselves, ‘Get through Christmas, just get through Christmas!’ Because that is when we miss our families, could really use a break from this exciting, but very stressful, new life we’ve made for ourselves in a foreign country, and are just plan missing what we’ve had.” Well I don’t remember exactly what Sam said, but it was close to that = ) Haha, you get her point and I totally agree with it. So I am happy, and proud of us, that we have made it to Christmas Break and are now able to enjoy it rather than dread it, as I had once feared I would.

The rest of my day was spent listening to Christmas music, wrapping presents, and giving the Kobayashi’s, the Miyazaki’s, and my host parents their Christmas gifts (which all of them loved by the way Mom, so you did good shopping!), opening my present from my host parents which turned out to be a pottery cup from the famous Tochigi pottery city of Mashiko, and finally packing for my trip to Sendai and Ishinomaki where I will meet my past Rotary brother Ryota and his family! I leave tomorrow morning and won’t be back until the 27th, but only for one night. I will try to post a couple photos, but I will likely not be able to blog until after New Years! I am going to be visiting Rotary friends, enjoying the holidays, and preparing for my first ever Japanese New Years. So I apologize for not being able to write, but I hope each and every one of you has a very JAPANESE Christmas: By that I mean…

I wish you a good Shogunate of a family with whom to celebrate,

And that your presents are fit for the grandest of emperors, while your house looks like his great royal palace.

With luck your Christmas will be as snowy as the top of Mt. Fuji,

And you'll find some mistletoe for your beautiful geisha wife.

I pray there's less drama at home then on the stage of kabuki,

Meaning there's no ninjas throwing stars at your killer sushi feast.

I hope your friends are packed in like a Tokyo subway,

And the fire's got your cheeks toasty like a big shot of sake.

Make sure to take a lot of photos be they Nikon or Sony,

And always remember to show your holiday cheer with a nice peace sign for the camera.

So be happy, don't think hara-kiri think hello kitty!

And enjoy this your most Japanese of Christmases

Sincerely signed your skillful SAMurai

Doing Fruit Fondue with Maria!
Mom's sick sense of humor!
Just a couple of the presents the family shipped over for me to open. It was a wonderful day, thanks to you three. I love you so much. Have a great Christmas and tell the rest of the family that I miss them and wish them the best!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009-

Does it get any better than this? To finish your last day of school before Winter Break, only to go read with a warm cup of green tea and a hot sweet potato pie? I'd call it pretty darn relaxing
In honor of the Japanese tradition called Oosouji ("Big Cleaning"), we spent the last hour or two of school today thoroughly cleaning the classroom.
Apparently it's a Japanese style of cleaning to throw wet newspaper balls all around the room before sweeping them up! It was the first time I'd ever heard of it, but it was of course tons of fun to joke around with friends like Seiya here
Clean and Tidy
We even waxed the floors

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009-

I don’t know what’s more telling about today: A) I learned how to make different kinds of Japanese mochi rice cakes, or B) I learned four or five different ways to tell people I’m exhausted in Japanese!

Because the truth is, I’m wiped! It was so much fun to spend all day with Miki and her family, the Miyazaki’s (they have been like a second host family to me, and Miki has surely been the most inviting person I’ve met here in Nakagawa), helping to make EIGHT full batches of rice cakes, also known as mochi, in front of their home. The day started at 7 am and I am just getting back home now at 6 pm. It was one full day, but I had a great time. Making mochi with your family is one of the great traditions for Japanese New Year so it was very nice to be included in the Miyazaki’s. Plus we certainly got our fill of mochi before heading home (laden with even more mochi…)

PS do you like my fancy apron? Miki bought it for me, and then immediately told me (in her best boss voice [which was still her laughing at me]) "GET TO WORK!!" Here are a couple pictures from the day...

The Mochi "stump" as I liked to think of it, is really a hollowed out tree that is used to pound rice into a sticky Japanese rice cake. Today we were working beside the Miyazaki's house
Miki and I workin' on the mochi
These mallets were literally 20-30 pounds, so after a while it really wore you out
In the beginning the rice looks a little something like this. It has soaked in water for a long time, steamed for a while, and mixed together in "the stump"
But after it has been beaten a while, it looks more like this. This mochi still has a little way to go, but you get the idea. It's super sticky and hot! A real treat
Some of our finished product. Mochi in sweet bean powder
The kind above was plain mochi, but we also made the Miyazaki's favorite "Tochigi Specialty Mochi." It included:
Plus: Ao Nori (seaweed), white sesame, and salt
Here's Yuka (our friend) and Miki with just some of the finished mochi. We literally made enough to feed all of Nakagawa!