Thursday, August 31, 2006

Two Crazy Days

Yesterday, Yurie and her mother, Sae-mama picked me up early to go to there home about one hour away for the night. We drove through a lot of country as I tried to communicate with Yurie;s mother. She just smiled and told me she had a lot planned for me. I think. Her lack of English and my lack of Japanese makes for a lot for a lot of smiles and nods.

Yurie's second home, located above her father doctor practice is a small cozy little home in the country. The clinic, Strawberry Fields, named after the Beatles' song, is a popular clinic for people with back problems as Yurie;s father is an orthopedic surgeon. We pulled up and were greeted by Yurie's dogs and then I was taken for a grand tour. The clinic is pretty cute but very crowded and staffed with a bunch of high-pitched nurses, who had no idea what to say to me. Then we went up to the living quarters and the huge comfy guest room. My room had a large screen
television and a brand new ginormous apple computer. I didnt get to see Yurie and her sisters room as it was a mess apparently. Sae-mama cooked us a meal and then we hung out at the house for a little while.

Later, we headed to the Jardin de Monet. In the most obscure random countryside of Kochi-ken Japan some dedicated citizens built a beautiful water lily garden to resemble Monet's famous painting. It was beautiful but the rain quickly messed that up. We did some shopping and then headed for the onsen.

Onsen.

I'm sure the majority of you have no idea what the onsen is.

Basically, the Japanese love onsen because they are natural hot spring and very much like a spa. One cache: you are completely stark naked with a bunch of woman of all ages.

And heres the best part... as Kochi is really the middle-of-nowhere, where people like to stare at the ONE SOLE gaijin. At home in American I hate being naked so I hope you can imagine my shyness at the onsen.

When we jumped in the water i found a nice rock to hide behind. But like everything else in the country, I quickly got into the swing of things and got used to it. It may seem a little weird but onsens aren't actually bad, not that I have any intention of making the onsen a part of my daily ritual.

Yuries father met up with us afterwards and we headed to a steakhouse. It was delicious if I do say so myself. As I was eating the rice and miso soup, Yutako Hirosue yelled at me as apparently I wasn't
doing it right. So Yurie showed me the right way to switch off my chop sticks.

Hey what can I say? Im trying.

Back at the house Sae-mama showed me how to play her
koto. This fascinating instrument is used for that familiar song Sakura. Every time you go into a Japanese restaurant you probably hear it. Then we all went to bed.

Today, I woke up and played Sakura again, this time from memory. Apparently, I;m getting very very good at playing the Koto instrument, which is hilarious because i am tone-deaf. Next we hung around for a while until heading back to Kochi city. There we met the Tosajoshi principal and Yurie sucked up a little bit. Afterwards, we went to the mall to meet Yuki, Yuries little sister for lunch. For lunch, I had pizza but was forced to try the weirdest thing I have ever seen in Japan so far. Yuki ordered pasta covered in Squid ink. When you eat it it turns your mouth black. So you can imagine the table of me, Yurie, Yuki, and Sae-mama with black mouths. Kinda crazy actually. From there we went to see a movie, all in Japanese and I was
bored to death.

When it was over my host parents, very worried about me ordered me home as I was kind of later than anticipated. I also found out my computer was broken beyond repair.

So kind of a bad way to end a good day.

Now I'm here nervous to death because tomorrow school starts and I have to do a speech in front of 2000 classmates and teachers-in Japanese. Oh boy^===

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Kochi-ken

Kochi and me...  and some pirates
So I live in Kochi city in the Kochi prefecture. But here on the bean-shaped island of Shikoku, there are 4 main prefectures, which are kind oflike states. Living in the big capital city of the Kochi prefecture is great because it at least keeps me somewhat connected to the outside world. But just outside the city, is a whole new world and I had no idea how spectacular the prefecture really was until this weekend.

I woke up on Saturday morning with plans of laying around and doing nothing. I had a brief Japanese
Naoko is rocking the  big hat.
lesson with my host father, but he had to get to work so he couldn't stick around long. So back to bed...

At noon Naoko woke up, with a wicked hangover and plans to take me to the Ryuugado caves. So we packed up and headed the 40 minutes to the Ryuugado caves, just outside the city. They are a truly magnificent work of 15 billion years. Basically you walk up a mile through ancient cave shafts that contain thousands of bats and water. I got soaked and for the first time since I've arrived in Japan, I felt cold! The caves were home to ancient Japanese people as well. We could only spend a little time at the caves as apparently we were going on a vacation along the Kochi-ken coast. News to me!

Back at the apartment, I threw a bunch of stuff in to a backpack and headed out for our first stop: Shimanto City. The city is where the huge firework festival we were attending was. It is about 2 and 1/2 hours away from Kochi through lush wide open beautiful mountain side. I have probably never seen so much beauty in my life. It was like driving through Colorado and Vermont, but right next to a crystal clear Carribean ocean. The drive took us through these mountains, along clear gurgling rivers, burning rice fields, wild flower fields. There are many places in Japan, and most are nothing like Kochi. Most are more high tech, crowded, and less mountainous. And though Kochi is a bit boring, driving through the mountains along the coast, I realize there is no place that I would rather be than here right now.

We arrive a little late as the fireworks had already started. Let's just say that if American firework shows steal some ideas from the Japanese, in a couple years we are going to have some wicked shows. But although the fireworks are impressive, I think listening to the sound effects made by the viewers are more funny. For instance, my host father almost choked laughing so hard at a loud boomer. These people really like to make a lot of noise over the fireworks and it is kind of cute.

Afterwards we walked along the city for a little while and grabbed dinner at an "Italian" restaurant. Inside there were 10 surfers guys of gaijin stature and I was very happy to share some of the stares. We continued to walk until we went back to check into the hotel. I got my own room, which was good because it was small. Small meaning I smacked my head on the shallow room at least 3 or 4 times during the night.

In the morning we got out early to explore the Dragonfly Park in Shimanto City. Actually there weren't many dragonflys at all. So we went to breakfast and from there took a half an hour drive to the Tatsukushi Coast. From the moment we pulled up to this small paradise I loved it. The water was crystal clear and beach had no one in sight.

Out in the distance the strange architectural underwater viewing station floated and boats came in and out of the shallow bay. My host family decided to take a nice ride on the glass bottom boat that would lead us out into strange rock formation island. The boat ride was very cool but it was a little hard for me to fit as my legs were too long to squeeze into the seat. But when we arrived, I was surprised at how cool the rocks actually were. Old and out of the way, the island never gets many tourists but it is very fascinating how truly beautiful the area really is. I've often heard the popular quote, "go not where the path leads but take the less beaten path." or something like that you know. I can honestly say that the Tatsukushi Coast is definitely that less traveled path.

Back on the main island we realized we had to head out and hit the Ashizuri Coast, which is the
Southernmost point of Koch-ken. The thing about Kochi is that there are too many mountains to make a straight road so they created these annoying curvy roads up and down the sides of the mountains. The Ashizuri Coast is a giant cliff that looks out onto the rocky shores of the Pacific Ocean. After the longest and most painful curvy road ever, we arrived. We hiked through a small forest to the old lighthouse that looked out and took some pictures. Then we hiked back to another point that looked out and saw everything. It was so beautiful, one can't accurately describe it. We couldn't stay long, as we headed out for Ohru Beach.

After another long curvy road, we arrived and hiked another mile into the woods. I think that the woods here should be considered rain forests.
The Beach, practically empty except for a few locals and American surfersm was paradise. I have never been to a more beautiful beach in my life. The water was so clear, that we could wade out half a mile and still see the bottom. The water was extremely shallow and the surf was perfect, so Naoko, Otosan, and myself headed out into the water hor a nice long swim. It was so nice and warm and clean and like nothing I could really truly tell you about.

Sadly, we had to leave and make the trip back into Kochi city. Kochi-ken, something I could compare
to the Arkansas of Japan, as of its popularity and symbolic "backwater" description amongst mainstream Japanese. And yet, I have fallen pretty hard for my adopted home this past weekend. I look forward to all the adventures Kochi has in store for me.

Friday, August 25, 2006

School, Food, and Festivals

The 22nd and the 23rd were boring uneventful days that mainly saw me laying in my bed or studying. Actually though on the 23rd I was thrown a welcome party at an Italian restaurant that wasn't really Italian. But the steak was good! And I did a small speech in Japanese (using a notecard.) I also got my cell phone.

Yesterday was a pretty hectic day if I do say so myself. I woke up at 7 pretty excited because I would be getting uniform and meeting with some teachers at my school. Otosan and Naoko and myself walked through the arcade to the school only to meet up with Yurie and Masako. Masako was an exchange student in California  last year. She didn't much like it because "too many immigrants." She actually learned almost as much Spanish and she did English. But she is pretty nice and she and Yurie had made it their mission to find friends for me. (Initially,I was insulted at the insinuation I could not make friends myself. But this is Japan and being "helpful" is a necessity.)

 So at the school I bowed to principal, the school secretary, and my new homeroom teacher. It was pretty funny because they all reached out there hand to shake my hand afterwards. Okay. They spoke with the Rotary chairmen and my host father and were very impressed that I could understand a tiny bit of there conversation. The school purchased my 4 new pairs of shoes and my uniform. I went in with an open mind about the uniform and came out hating it more than ever. For one it is majorly too tight. And it goes halfway up my stomach area. I can't pull it down any farther. And it is going to take me a good 2 hours a morning to try and get the stupid shirt over my head. AHH!

After the uniform session, Naoko, Yurie, Masako, and myself headed to fake Mexican/Indian restaurant where we ate the food with chopsticks. It was really good but I can't decide if it was Mexican or Indian or both. I'm getting used to this whole concept of letting other people order for me... After Yurie had to go back for dance lessons and Naoko and Masako went to convert some of my money so I came back and sat in the nice AC for 3 hours. Then Yurie and one of her chorus buddies came over. She was a really nice girl who really seemed to want to be friends. I attempted to have communication with her and was pretty successful for a while.

Afterwards, Yurie's father came to pick Yurie up and the next thing I know I'm going to a pork restaurant with he and Yurie. I have never met someone so in love with rock music. He is such a Beatles fan that he named his clinic, "Strawberry Fields." And for everyone who calls him on the cellphone there is a new Beatles/Beach Boy song that plays. He was really nice and he reminded me a lot of my dad.

After dinner I went back to get ready for a Shinto festival in Kochi. I had to wear a Yutako which is also a summer kimono. My obachan took great strides (over 1 hour) trying to get it on me. I thought I looked okay but it was heavy and I got really hot fast. The festival took over an hour to drive too even though the shrine isn't really far. It happens to be the most popular festival in Kochi. Huge crowds of vendors managed to make there way around the grounds so it was hard to get through. Finally we got through and I was to participate in the prayer. I threw a 100yen coin in the box and prayed for the ancestors to give me luck in learning Japanese. Then I helped ring the huge bell. As I did this everyone stared at me because I'm not Japanese. I was the star of the festival. Afterwards we played some really strange Japanese games including this fish catching game with paper (I didn't catch any fish) and this balloon pulling thingie (I did however win this game.) The night came to a close when we got into the bus back to Kochi. The day was crazy.

Monday, August 21, 2006

My Life in Japan So Far...

A Shinto Family Holiday

The Masaki family are Shinto, which is an ancient Japanese religion that focuses mainly on honoring the deceased ancestors. For 30 years the youth of the deceased must celebrate and pray for the happiness and good fortune of the ancestors as a whole family once during the summer months. Yesterday we packed up the car and headed to Aki City, just about an hour away from Kochi City. There we would meet up with Okasans parents and her little sister and her niece and nephews for a feast and prayer. After a scenic drive (count of about 500 soda machines) thru large open country side (not quite so many squished houses at in the city but still many houses) on a very narrow street, we arrived. I met Okasans parents. I had practiced earlier in the morning how to greet them but I seemingly messed up as Otosan shook his head and gave me an icy glare. My Japanese has yet to improve and I still can't understand a single thing anyone says to me. Otoosan tries to give me lessons but I just don't really get it.

Anyways when we arrived we walked about a mile thru a very old traditional Japanese village. The houses looked very much like the typical generalized Japanese house. Okasans parents built a a huge Japanese garden with Torii gates and fountains with fish. It was beautiful. The family wanted to go swimming in the local river so we all trudged the 2 mile across dusty ancient roads in the heat (well over 100 degrees) When we got the river was too dangerous to swim in because of the typhoon so we could only stay close to the banks about knee deep. After we headed back to play table tennis. I am absolutly terrible. That's all I'll say. Everyone headed back to watch championship high school baseball game of Tokyo verses Hokkaido and to also take a shower. Japanese people take up 3 or 4 showers a day down here in the absolute heat. Then we got to go grape picking. Okasans family grows bug juicy snakes right in the front yard. I got to cut some just for the Masakis. In the grape tree tent a snake slithered by my foot and I almost peed in my pants as a ran 100 miles an hours screaming. Otosan cracked up until the snake attacked him. Then I was the one laughing.

After we ate a huge dinner of dead fish. It was my first traditionally Japanese meal as well sat on the bamboo floor on our knees. I feasted on crab and barbecued shrimp. But it was a little hard eating with a dead fish staring at you. Okasan took pity on me and went to cook some fish just for me. There hospitality is actually making me feel uncomfortable at times. I yet again could not understand a word of what was going on. After dinner Otosan and Okasan went to pray for there ancestors. I was really surprised when they asked me to do the same. I thought that would be disrespectful but apparently not. So I kneed in front of the shrine thing with the pictures of the deceased and lite candles and rang a bell and bowed my head in prayer. It was pretty cool. After a quick rain storm we were supposed to climb the mountain and give fortune to the ancestors. When we started to climb I was the only one who didnt need to take 11,ooo+ breaks. In fact I had a running competition up the steep mountain with the 11 year old boy. He needed a break so I stopped to wait for him and yelled down to mr. masaki "Come On You Dont Want an American to Beat You." Apparently he didn't care whether an American beat him or not just that if he went any faster he would have died. At the top of the mountain we walked through some torii gates and I bowed and prayed as I threw 7 yen into the ancestor well. The view from the top was impressive as you good see miles of farm land and the ocean in the distance. We came back down and cooled off in the house. The house is probably the most traditional Japanese house I have even seen. Bamboo shag floor, knee table to eat at, Japanese painting of geisha, and a sculpture of an old house. But then you can see the westernization as well. An air conditioner hangs over the room and there is a tv smack dab in the middle of the room with baseball playing on the screen.

After we played badminton, and I got crushed by Tiger Woods (Otosans latest name for himself no longer Captain JAck.) Then we set up some fireworks on the mountain. I fell asleep in the car but back at home I gave my family some American gifts. Then I had the first sleepless night in Japan.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Around and About Kochi



Yesterday I woke up, ate breakfast, and then studied Japanese for about 2 hours.

Actually when I woke up I was really hot and overheated and I felt really sick. My AC had stopped working during the night and I don't do too well in this type of heat. Naoko came into my room early to say goodbye as she was heading to a concert in Kobe. She said goodbye, but I gave her a hug.

I think that made her very uncomfortable.

I guess I won't be giving hugs for a while.
Dinner with Yurie and the Masaki's
The morning was fairly uneventful, but at least the rain had stopped and the typhoon had moved on to Korea. I started helping around the house by hanging clothes on the dry line, scrubbing the table after a meal, and putting away dishes. Otousan then told me that Yurie would be coming over at 2 after her club at school.

That fact certainly lifted my spirits and at 1:50, I walked all the way through the mall to meet her at Tosajoshi High School. By 2:30, however, I realized she wasn't coming out. Okaasan got kind of worried and came looking for me on her bike. Otoosan called Yuries mom and found out the club ended at 5 so I have 2 and a half hours to kill. I decided to ride the bike like everyone in Japan seemed to be doing at that moment. Otoosan got a little worried because I don't know my way around Kochi so I had to bring my cell. Not that I know how to use it anyway.

Basically I just drove around the main streets and through the Obiyamachi (the mall.) And since nothing too eventful happened, I figure I will devote this time to talking about the most annoying thing in my current Japan-centric world.

I am a gaijin, which is foreigner in Japanese.

I get that, I really do.

I get that I look different...weird even.

But when I walk through the mall and ride the bike through the streets people stare at me, sometimes with their mouths wide open. As I pedaled by on the bike, a little boy started screaming to his mother to look at me when I rode by. I'm not sure what he was saying but I think he was trying to tell his mother to watch out. 'Cause I'm a ferocious evil gaijin.

Kochi is really an interesting place.

There are Lawsons (convenience stores) on ever corner and more Karaoke bars on one street than in the whole country of America! There are seemingly billions of drink machines that sell all the same stuff: cold tea, colder tea, even colder tea, flavored cold tea, expensive water, and occasionally if you
My host parents are really adorable. But I am definitely
still figuring out their dynamics.
get lucky Coke. It really is an interesting set up. My home is also located smack dab straight in the middle of the city, about 15 minutes walk from Kochi Castle (amazing!) 2 minutes from the singing Japan clock (hard to explain,) and 10 seconds from the biggest mall in Kochi-ken (not just the city, but the entire prefecture.)

I got really overheated pedaling around in the damp sweltering heat, so I turned around to go home. But once I got home Okasan wanted to take me for another bike ride. So we ended up going really far thru Kochi, crossing bridges, into woody areas. It was pretty interesting to see how swampy and foresty the area around Kochi is. Then it started to pour and we had ride the bikes thru buckets of rain all the way back to the pharmacy.

Back at home, I got another Japanese etiquette lesson. After you do activity you should always take a
Julie's first Okonomiacki. Life will never be the same.
shower. So yesterday I ended up taking 3 whole showers. Pretty soon Yurie came and we went shopping in Obiyamachi. Japanese girls really enjoy taking a thousand pictures of themselves and swapping them with friends. SO Yurie and I headed into a game room and took 10 horrible pictures of ourselves and decorated them all with pink frilly crap. Later we went to a book store and I bought myself a book on Kanji alphabet. My speaking skills are terrible but my reading skills are coming along very well.

Afterwards we met the Masakis for a dinner at a restaurant very close to the apartment. The food was so good and I got to cook it. They give you this bowl full of mayo type of stuff with lettuce and a raw egg and uncooked pork. SO I'm thinking "you can't expect me to eat that!" But then they turn on the grills in the middle of the table and you mix the bowl, pour it out on to the grill and eventually flip it like a hamburger, It's called owatchie or something like that. Yurie sat there and chatted with my hist family in Japanese and I couldn't understand a word she was saying. Afterwards she told me some interesting thing though. Obaachan (obaasan in earler posts or my host grandma) loves the fact that I am going to Tosajoshi. She went there and she always wanted a grandchild to attend the high school. High school pride is very important in Japan. She is very pleased with me for going to Tosajoshi. Also, Naoko will be leaving in the middle of September to go back to Kobe. Yurie thinks that the Masaki's like having another daughter around the house. I really thought that Okasan would be annoyed that I couldn't communicate with her but she actually really likes the company and the extra help around the house.

Another thing Yurie pointed out is that the Masakis call me Julie-chan. -chan is usually the name parents or adults give to young girls whom they know pretty well. But you usually stop calling a girl chan around 15 or 16. I did not think much about this at the time, but now it occurs to me that my host parents see me as a young child. I am not sure how this will play out over the course of the months I live with them.

When we finally finished cooking dinner, Yurie took a bunch of pictures of my first cooking experience. I'm not sure it was really a success though. When I went to flip this thing it broke in mid air. Dinner was soooo good. I've come to realize that I love Japanese food (except for raw fish, which isn't as abundant as generalizations make it.) They all bought soft cream (kind of like ice cream) which I tried but didn't like the flavor (green tea.) I got some of my nose and the Masakis laughed so hard that I thought they would wet there pants. When we left the restaurant, Yurie left to meet up with her mother while we went to a food store. At home I went right to bed because I was really tired.

The heat takes it out of you.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Arrival: Leaving America for Japan for an Entire Year

August 15 -- Newark Airport

I could not believe that the day had finally arrived.

Julie in Kochi with Yurie.
Actually that's an understatement. For the past few weeks as I've been thinking about my exchange,
and well it's just, it still hadn't quite hit me yet that I was actually going to be an exchange student in Japan.

For a whole year.

That's 12 months. 365 days. 525,600 minutes. Am I ready for this? At 15, am I ready to step into the world and leave everything I know for an entire year?

There is only one good enough answer for this: HECK YES!

So in the morning I did a little last minute stuff, which included downloading a report, which I could and should have done from the time it was given to me in April. The sun had yet to touch the sky when we packed in the car. I sat in the back with nothing to say. We drove through Verona and I took some mental pictures of the place I wouldn't see for a long time.

The car ride was pretty silent. Awkward. Strange.

No one had anything to say whatsoever. At the airport, my mom yelled at me to smile so she could remember me on a happy note. That is my mother, ladies and gentlemen, a woman incapable of not yelling and discipling me for stupid things all the way until the last moment.

It was not that I was sad, I was just well, not really functioning correctly. Like I said before, the whole thing still had not sunk into me yet. We checked in, which I thought would definitely cause problems, seeing as my suitcase was essentially twice the required limit. But the woman at Airport Check-in was very kind, and she could see the tension between my mother and I.

Afterwards, we walked to security. I had to say goodbye to my parents, at this point. Mom, Dad, and Shannon cried pretty hard. So did I. Dad wanted me to just go through quick and not look back. I'd never seen my mom cry so hard in my life, though, of course, she had to make the whole event about her. My sister and my dad kind of hung back while my mom gave me a long hug and told me to go, but also how I was breaking her heart. I cried all the way through security until some big fat lady gave me a good long stare, and said "Suck it up!"

Boy, do I love America! But at least I stopped crying. While I walked through the small Northwest domestic terminal I started to skip and thought, "This is it. What I've been waiting for." And it was true; I was free.

Kochi.
I bought a blueberry muffin and then got comfortable in the terminal. So comfortable that I almost instantly fell asleep. I had 2 hours to kill. And when they finally called my plane I awoke with a jolt. I couldn't help but laugh and smile when I said, "Goodbye New Jersey!"

Then I fell back asleep and somehow managed to get to Detroit in one piece. I got off the airplane and had to walk 2 miles thru the airport to get to the Northwest Japanese terminal. There I met up with 20 other America to Japan exchange students. I barely got to the terminal when a group dressed in the Rotary blazer came to meet me. They were all so friendly and I knew then and there that the plane ride was going to be a lot of fun. I ended up sitting with a few of them including Mary Beth, who happens to be on Shikoku with me, Amanda, to Saitmama who is nearly fluent in Japanese, and sooo many others. We were all pretty excited when the plane started taking off. Actually when we finally got into the air we started screamed GOODBYE FOR A YEAR AMERICA!

Out of the 20 or so exchangers on the flight, we were all happy and excited, even if the majority of us could speak about 2 words in Japanese. To make a long plane ride (13 hours to be exact) short I'll just say that it was a lot of fun. We flew over Canada and Alaska and saw snow (for the last time in a year!) and annoyed the Stewardesses. Yes, we got yelled at ALOT. I studied Japanese for about 3 hours.

I guess I'll never lose this studious streak. Read: nerd.

Amanda helped me study a good amount. It's hard to describe how awesome the plane ride was. It seems like exchange students can just get along no matter where and why we come. It's probably because nobody but each other can understand what's going on in our lives. But mostly only another exchange student can truly understand the level of crazy pulsing through each others veins at any given time. When we finally arrived in Tokyo, we were all a little surprised at what we saw.

August 16 -- Tokyo Narita Airport

Tokyo airport = more foreigners than Japanese people.

Of the twenty or so exchange students on the flights only 6 had to stay the night at the Tokyu Haneda Hotel. It was really sad saying goodbye to all of our new friends. I mean sure we had all known each other for less than 24 hours. And yet... 24 hours of being nervous, excited, scared, but all with each other. I'm telling you... exchange students just *click*

So after we went our separate ways with everyone, me, Mary Beth, and a a few others payed an enormous fee to get on to a 50 minutes bus ride to Haneda Airport and the hotel. The scary thing that most of would have had no clue what we were doing. Some of the students had someone ther to pick them up and explain about the bus. As for me and Mary Beth. We had no idea. We may well have slept in Narita if it hadn't been for a lucky opportunity in flying with others students. I can't say I remember much about the bus ride. I feel asleep for the majority of it. But I do remember feeling really really overheated in the Tokyo sun, looking out the window and feeling disappointed at the fact
Sakioka-sensei and I.
that we could very well be in California.

All interstates around the world look similar, apparently.

When we arrived and I strained to pull my enormous bags thru a place where everyone is staring at you. I seriously mean everyone. The old men smoking on wooden benches, the little babies on their fathers shoulders, the kids in school uniforms. Everyone. And it wasn't a very suddle stare. I recall a little boy tugging his grandfathers sleeve and screaming "GAIJIN!"(the word for foreigner.) Walking thru the airport, we found the hotel. We checked into the most convenient and nice hotel ever. The hotel is located inside the airport. It's definitely not a cheap place, but it is very nice.

We all walked in to pay and stuff and everyone (hotel staff) bowed to us. So we bowed back and then they got offended. Okay, then. First encounter with Culture Shock. We headed up to our rooms and
My first photo with the Masaki's. Many more to come.
some people complained that they were hungry so we headed down to the airport. Pretty convenient, no?

Again as we walked through everyone stared at us. Haneda is not like Tokyo in that there are more foreigners than Japanese.

Here everyone is Japanese. It was a good introduction to what I assumed my life would be like in rural secluded Kochi, with limited access to the outside the world.

Some students picked up some nasty looking fish thing. I headed back to the room and took the nicest shower of my life. Then turned on the television. We started to watch some AWFUL soap opera. Basically think about the OC times about 100. I fell asleep annoyed with the tv. Again, I was growing more and more nervous over the fact that the people I would meet tomorrow would probably change my life. Hopefully, for the better.

August 16 -- Kochi City, Shikoku, Japan

Up at 5 AM, I trudged through the hotel room to get dressed and pull by bags through the domestic terminal of Haneda Airport. I was really tired and growing very very uneasy about going to my final destination. Mary Beth and myself had flights close in time so we went into the domestic terminal together. Neither of us was a paragon of courage that morning, and we both glumly stared at passerby's in the airport and tried not to think about our impending departure from each other. I barely Mary Beth at this point, but she was my last hold on "home" just as I was hers. I was terrified of what was to come and she was, too.

For breakfast, I tempted fate and ate my first Japanese meal, while Mary Beth found some Western food. I pointed to the entirely-Japanese character menu, not able to read it, and asked for whatever I pointed to. And just my luck I got fried fish, which was edible enough. It was actually good.
Welcome to your new home!

At 8, Mary Beth and I begrudgingly went our separate ways, as I boarded the plane to Kochi and she to Kagawa. Being the only person on board who was not Japanese, I received a lot of stares of suspicion. I think most people were just curious why a foreigner, especially one so young, was heading to the most rural prefecture in Japan.

The ride was pretty nerve-wrecking, actually.

I was studying Japanese because I had just learned I would probably have to do a speech. I was so scared to mess up with Rotary. I literally could have thrown up on the seat. I had no exchange students to comfort me. I was, for the first time, completely alone. And the thought terrified me.

When the tiny plane arrived, I waited in the baggage claim for my bags. The airport was about the size of my high school. Read: miniscule. I noticed a rather large group of people outside but thought
Yurie!
nothing of it. I hauled my bags out and was met by a loud "AHHHH SHES HERE!" Yurie basically jumped into my arms with a curiously-bandaged head, her one good eye fixed on mine, as she screamed, "I love you! I miss you! You are here."

The large crowd was all for me!

I tried to bow to the Rotarians but I kinda messed that one up. My poor Japanese skills didn't help. Finally, my host father Kenichi Masaki (AKA, Captain Jack) and his daughter Naoko rescued me from embarrassment. They speak English, very well. Rotarians herded us into a room where I was forced to give a speech. But even though I had practiced for an hour prior, the words seemed to have disappeared. Luckily, it was in Yurie translated my English speech and everyone seemed very pleased.

After at least 50,000 pictures, I got to meet Kako and another exchange student going to America. Kako will be in Madison, NJ next year and she was so nice. Her english was almost as bad as my Japanese so we basically resorted to good ol' Yurie. I was then given a cell phone (which blows the silly American razor phones out of the water.)

 So we next headed out. To home. Dear lord.

Naoko and I.
I got in to the Masaki van with Naoko and we spoke in English about movies and sports. She is going to university on Kobe and studying to become a pharmacist. She is 22 and very very kind. I already adore her.

The only problem is that she speaks such good English.  Captain Jack Sparrow (a big Johnny Depp fan) is very funny. He is one of those few Japanese people with a true sense of humor for sarcasm. thank god. He too speaks very good English.

When we arrived in Kochi City, 30 minutes from the airport, we drove by Tosajoshi, my high school. Kochi is truly a small city. Nothing like New York City even though it is definitely bigger than my hometown of Verona. There is a trolly train car that runs straight thru the streets and traffic jams on most corners. And I may as well complain about the weather now. IT IS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO HOT!

Right now, on the next island over Kyuushu, Japan there is a wicked typhoon (kind of like a hurricane) that is making the weather rainy and even more brutally hot than usual. The Masaki family pharmacy is located in the middle of the city, 10 minutes away from Tosajoshi High School, where I will be attending High School.

On the 3rd floor of the large building in the Masaki "mansion," or apartment. It is a clean large place that is very open and very Japanese. I have my own room which is a huge room with windows overlooking the main street. The floor is wooden but my bed is located on a bamboo substance about 6 inches about the floor. The bed also had removable walls for sleep time. Mrs. Masaki was unable to make lunch so we headed next store to a Japanese restaurant. There I had my first true Japanese meal. To tell you the honest truth, I thought it was very good. There were noodles and rice and fried fish and this jelly vegetable thing. Sure I shunned the raw fish and the shrimp. But I was still pretty full after the meal.

Naoko and Otousan said that I was really good with chopsticks.

YES!

After the lunch, I went into my room and slept for about 3 hours. Until I got up and bowed to Obaasan and Ojiisan, who live at the Masaki apartment during the day. I finally got to meet Mrs. Masaki, who was working at the pharmacy all day, she is short sweet woman who speak absolutely no English. She cooked the family dinner and complimented my chop stick skills. Man, I must be good! After dinner, we went to a food market to pick me up a pair of my own chop sticks and my own rice bowl. We met up with Naoko's cousin, Misa, who was so cute trying to communicate with me. We got to drive thru the city at night and I was impressed by the lights and the noise. Back at the apartment, we watched some tv and listened to rain pour down on Kochi. I of course was really tired and took a quick shower and then got into bed. I'll admit to the fact that I was tired from jet-lag and overwhelmed from all the days activities that I got a little tad bit of yearning for home.

Not so much homesickness, but, well, you know what I mean.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Here We Go...

It's 2:04 AM Tuesday morning on August 15th. I'm supposed to be sleeping. But I really can't sleep. At 4, I was planning on getting up and taking a shower so we could leave at 5 and be at the airport for 6.

I can't believe it's all happening.

Truthfully, I really don't believe it is all happening.

This morning I woke at 6, again. I think it must be nerves thats making me get up so early. I went with my mom to work, where I received another thoughtful gift from my moms colleague. We then headed to Borders where I picked up a Japanese text book for the plane. We then stopped off at my Pop pops house to say goodbye. He smiled for a moment, but then he began commanding details about the trip. I hugged him one last goodbye and went to my Nana's work. It was carefully planned so that my Nana didn't cry. She first showed me off to all her friends and then had to take a phone call right after she hugged me goodbye. I cried leaving though. I'm going to miss my Nana and Pop more than anything.

Lauren and Rosh came over also. Lauren couldn't stay long but it was pretty sad to say goodbye to her, as well. Later in the afternoon the Mulligan boys came to say goodbye. After Tommy gave me a big hug and I forced Seany to give me a hug, I cried a little bit. Then my Nana and Pop called again. My pop forgot to tell me he loved me and he quietly cried on the other line. My nana. too cried a little bit.

Tonight I was visited my Roshani, Brittany, Zoe, and Araba. Roshani and I walked the track and talked about random stuff like we usually do for 3 or 4 hours. Stuff that we won't be able to talk about for a whole year. Britt and me hugged and said goodbye at least 9 or 10 times. Araba came later but we got to talk and hang out for a little. And Zoe came at midnight, after she had arrived home from Bolivia. Everybody cried, even if at different times. It was so hard to say goodbye because I wasn't sure how I was feeling. It hasn't really occurred to me what a year means. A year without all of my friends and family, and yet I can't seem to grasp it and take it to heart.

I can't say that I am nervous or excited or scared. Virtually I feel nothing. I'm aware I'm leaving but it hasn't quite sunken in. I hope that makes sense.

I read all about how exchange students are nervous before departure. But I'm not. I think I will learn Japanese and do okay in the country.

I hope I don't sound crazy. I'm not crazy I'm just about to embark on an incredible journey and really haven't quite realized it yet.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

"Bye Bye" Party



My friends and I!
On August 11th, a large group of my closest friends and relatives gathered at Verona Community Pool to "see me off" in a Bon Voyage-style party. But I preferred the name that Sean Mulligan referred to the party as: "Bye Bye" Party.

I like that term, not as formal and final as "Bon Voyage."


I think I can speak for everyone when I say that it was a lot of fun! We got to the pool at 4:30 and started to set up at the gazebo in the back of the pool area. Some families came pretty early and by the time 5 set in, we were all set up.

By the time 5:30 rolled in the Youngs, Garners, Gallaghers, Mulligans, Saliernos, Foys, and all of my friends had arrived and were eating the ginormous subs-style sandwiches that my parents had catered
The cake!
for the event. Everyone also got to meet Yurie Hirosue, who happens to be my future classmate at Tosajoshi next year. She called Japan during the party and assured me that her family "was going to take care of me." (In retrospect, that sounds like a mafia order. But I am sure something got lost in translation.)

As the little kids ran around and screamed while playing tag, my friends joked around and talked about schedules for Junior year, and my parents got to kick back and enjoy the company. The atmosphere alone made me realize just how much I'm going to miss this place. After we ate the dinner, I was talked into jumping into the pool with some of my friends. Later I forced off the high dive... which is pretty awesome. Lauren and I even forced Yurie off the high dive. Let's just say that I'm pretty sure they don't have high dives in Japan, as she screamed and
Me, Yurie, and Shannon back at my house.
freaked out at the height.

After our swim, we dried off (or attempted to because it was just sooo cold!) I got to cut the cake. It was really a nice cake with a rainbow that said "Sayonara Julie!" or "Goodbye Julie!" I sat with my friends as we talked about the fun stuff that has happened over the years and how none of them could really believe what I was doing. And somehow I got cake smeared all over my face from a certain two friends. At this point some people started to head out and I was forced to say goodbye. In earlier posts, I talked about how hard it really is saying goodbye.

But tonight at the party, I got lucky. Maybe it was because most of the people said that they would be
able to stop by and see me again. I still had to say goodbye to Grandma (Garner), where she wished a lot of luck to have a nice year. Then I was given a send off by the Salierno's where I got hug from Amanda, Paul, and, surprisingly, even Eliana. Next I had to say goodbye to Uncle Bobby, aunt Adele, Robbie, and Christie. During the year when the family gets together, Robbie always has a hard time saying goodbye. But I didn't realize it would be this hard for him. I gave him a big hug and a goodbye, and he walked away. I got a hug from the Mulligan boys and the Gallagher kids, but it was only a quick one because I was wet and cold. My friends also started to head out. I gave a "see ya later this weekend" to most of them. But for Delia, Amanda, and later Michelle, I had to tell them I would see them in one year.

Sad as it was, I got through it with very little tears.

Later, we packed up and ended up taking Rosh, Meg, Michelle, and Yurie home with us. Back at my house Yurie told me all about my new school. While Meg, Mich, and Rosh joked around with my little sister and her friend Kaylyn. When the inevitable time to say goodnight came around, I had to hug Michelle and tell her I wouldn't see her for a year. Meg promised she would stop by hopefully on Monday. Roshani left with plans to hang out sometime this weekend. Yurie left with plans to see me on Saturday night.

All in all the party was more of a good time than a sad emotional goodbye fest. I think everyone had a good time, because I know that I did. I'm not too worried about leaving everyone, because I know I will be home.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Captain Jack Sparrow

UPDATE: You can clearly see Captain Jack in this photo. Clown.

So I got another email from host father. Emails from him are so exciting! He sounds like a really cool guy from this email:

"hi julie

Thank you for your e-mail
It has been very hot in Japan.


Please call me Otoosan call my wife Okaasan,if you like.

My daughter Naoko is at home and she will be around here
for two months during her summer vacation.

By the way my family likes watch American movies quite often.
How about you? Do you like movies?
My recent favorite movie is Pirates of Caribbean Dead Mans Chest
so you can call me Captain Jack Sparrow,if you like.

Take care

Kenichi Masaki"


Basically I'm getting that Japan is very hot about this time, my host sister will be home when I arrive, the Masaki's like American films, and HE LIKES CAPTAIN JACK SPARROW~! I think I'm getting a better feel for my upcoming family and the adventure I'm about to start on. I think my parents also feel a little more comfortable with this email.

I can't believe in 8 more days, I'll be gone. When people ask me how I feel about it I just say I'm scared. I don't really elaborate anything else. Truthfully I'm really excited. Freshman year when I began planning the exchange I could see myself getting on the plane leaving and on the plane coming home. I couldn't really imagine the year I would be living. And I still really can't see myself in Japan for a whole year. But above all that is the most exciting part of it. If I stayed here my life would be about school, homework, friends, SAT, Prom, Junior year stuff. With Japan everything is different. I don't know what I'm going to be doing 2 months from now or even 2 weeks from now!

And that's what I love: not knowing.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

New Updates

UPDATE: My host parents. This first email does not convey how
awesome they really are!
I'm excited! Today, actually about an hour ago I received my first email from my first host family! To begin my first family has changed since my last post. The Tateo family dropped out of Rotary so now I am staying with the Masaki family. Anyway here is the first email:

Hi Julie

"Thank you for your e-mail and I am sorry that I didn't write you back sooner.
I am Kenichi Masaki I own and operate a pharmacy in the middle of kochi city.
Our house is about ten minutes walking distance from the school you will be
attending.
My wife's name is Yoshiko ,and we have a daughter named Naoko she is a
university student. you will meet her.
We all are looking forward to meeting you.
The weather in kochi is very hot and humid in the summer and mild in the
winter we rarely get snow.
You will be able to experienced beautiful four seasons here.
Take cate and see you soon

Kenichi Masaki"

As of now I have a host family and a host counselor! All I need is to get my visa and flight tickets and I will be all set. I'm really happy but getting kind of nervous. Plus I have a lot to think about with the going away party coming up.