Monday, September 25, 2006

Meeting Shikoku's Exchange Student's for the First Time

An Australian Sandwich with American Bread.
Sunday: As is the common opening sentene in all my recent blog posts, "I woke up early and threw on my uniform."

I'm beginning to think that I should just sleep in this damn thing.

I really do like my uniform, but I wear it so much its getting annoying!

At 9:30, my Rotary club host counselor, Mr. Sakioka, the dentist, picked me, Yurie, and Masako up from in front of the pharmacy for the 2 hour drive to Imabari in the Ehime prefecture. We were attending an orientation for the 2 new inbounds (me and Mary Beth) and for the 4 Rotex (Yurie, Masako, and 2 other girls.) The drive was long and boring. But one thing is for sure, Shikoku is really beautiful.

We must have driven through 20 tunnels underneath lush green unspoiled mountains. It was a beautiful day and the drive was scenic. But everyone spoke in Japanese, which I had a hard time understanding. But when I could understand Yurie answered the questions for me. Its beginning to worry me that I don't many chances to try to speak.

At Imabari, I met up with my friend from the plane ride, Mary Beth, from NY. We caught up a little bit, and I was relieved that we were in pretty much the same boat. Then we met Althea, from Townsville, Australia. She had been studying Japanese for 8 years prior to coming here, and she had been in Japan since March. Thus, we weren't all that disappointed when she blew our doors of with her Japanese skills. The 3 of us quickly became fast friends, all discussing the fact that we had all gone thru some intense Culture Shock. It was also cool because I have been to Townsville before, so Althea and I had even more in common. We ate a big lunch and then were whisked into another room. We all introduced ourselves and I got the whole "What do you mean your 15?!?!?" from most of the Rotarians. Then I impressed them with another speech, in English, about how I was surviving with Track and Dance and 6 days of school. Mary Beth and Althea only had 5 days of school, and they had only one club a week. We were read off the rules, which are pretty strict actually. Then we were told that on October 21st and 22nd, we would be in Matsuyama and would have to do a brief speech in front of 1, 800 Rotarians. When the meeting was over, it was hard to say goodbye to Mary Beth and Althea. But at least we would be seeing each other a lot over the next month!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Japanese Cultural Festival

I am typing this update in a brief moment of free time, which is really hard to come by around here. Not that i am complaining, this weekend has been a blast. On November 3rd every year, Japan celebrates the National Holiday of Cultural Day. My school wanted to celebrate it early as our schedule for october is pretty busy. So on Saturday the entire student body of Tosajoshi Middle and High School had an enormous school cultural festival. It was awesome! Friday: I got to leave school early as my clubs weren't doing anything for the festival. So I had an entire free day. I was correct in saying Saturday: I got up bright and early, threw on my uniform, and headed to Tosajoshi for what was supposed to be one wicked day; the Cultural Festival. When I got there, the homerooms all got into line formations to check in. Afterwards, my teacher, Yano-sensei, wanted me to experience a morning Cultural Festival Bazaar. He brought me to the gym, where at 9 o clock the doors were opened to the public. Hundreds if not thousands of screaming Japanese woman came running in; Bargain Hunters. The gym, was lined with dish towels, toys, and other little chatchkeys at a low price. There were over 3500 items, and we were all sold out by 9;30. I was so amazed at this phenomenon, that I took a bunch of pictures of the woman ripping thru boxes in search of a good deal. I got to help hand out items as well. Afterwards, Masako Ichihara, who spent last year in California as an exchange student, picked me up. We planned on touring the entire building. At Tosajoshi, there are 3 main building, 1 side building, 1 courtyard (which looks like a prison ground), and 1 large gym. Each room was filled with a club that could basically do anything that they wanted. Masako and I first went to the Tea Ceremony Club. There we payed a small fee and got to watch a traditional tea ceremony in action. In my opinion, it is really interesting and strange at the same time. Its an elegant art form, where one basically places tea down and then drinks it. Masako was really bored so we left for the Folk Song Club. A huge blarring concert was a bit different than what we had had a Tea Ceremony, but it was a lot of fun. After we got lunch. My absolute favorite Japanese dish; Okonomiacki. The Basketball Club was making the Okonomiacki, so Shiho and her teammates greeted me to a kind OH MY GOD JULIE!!!!!!!! While Masako and I ate, the Tosajoshi Baton team, Cheer squad, and Marching Band put on shows. By this point the school was beginning to fill up with lot of people from all over Kochi. Many of these people have never seen me before, so I managed to draw alot of stares. But one good thing came from it. A parent of one of my students in the middle school came up to me and thanked me for helping his daughter. It made me feel really good to know that I helped someone. After lunch, Masako and I did some more touring of the festival. We stopped at the Middle School Haunted House where I was forced into holding Masakos hand. Chicken... I laughed thru the entire thing, even when someone grabbed me and shook me. It was funny! After a while, we toured everything and needed a little brake. On of my teachers saw me and decided to put us to work. So for an hour we had to help stuff envelopes. Finally Masako came to the rescue and made up some crazy excuse. So for the last hour of the festival, we ate a mini Parfait and Snowcone just enjoyed the crazy atmosphere. When it was all over, I quickly headed home to take a nap.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My First Month In Japan

In Preparation...

Okay so sorry for not updating. (Mom calm down.) I haven't had any time for blogging because I have been answering back emails. Which brings me to my next point: News in Japan.
I have recieved many emails from my mother and other people about the current news of the world. Thailand, Chavez, etc. Let me just say that I would never have known about it from just television in Japan. Japanese television is actually comical. I get a good amount of time to watch tv in the morning and at night. In the morning after I scurry to get ready and eat breakfast, the news is usually on. Japanese news consists of interviews with a game show winner, a Jpop artist, occasionally if you get lucky the weather for Tokyo, and if you get really really lucky you can find weather for Kochi. No world news whatsoever. At night they usually do game shows and domestic news, such as a little story on the new baby and 4th in line to the Japanese throne. Yesterday the news showed 5 minutes about the emperors new grandson, 2 minutes on the new prime minister, 10 seconds on the coup in Thailand, and then an interview with a Japanese heartthrob. So yeah world news is almost non existant.

Anyway has been pretty interestin and a little boring. On Sunday I was supposed to go to Kagawa, but it was flooded from typhoon 17. Then we planned on Osaka, but then the typhoon took out an entire highway in Kochi. (That sounds worse than it actually is, Kochi only really has one highway and its usually deserted.) Naoko, my host sister, was supposed to return to college in Kobe, but couldn't because of the highway. The typhoon really ruined the sunday. But my host father, being the brave and somewhat strange man he is, decided we ought to go to the beach, in a typhoon. So we trekked in the pouring rain to Kochi's famously beautiful beach, Katsurahama. You can't swim at this beach as the waves are too big on a nice day. So I hope you can imagine how large they were with the typhoon swirling off the coast. The beach truly is beautiful and we were lucky as the rain stopped for us to take a few photos. Afterwards, we headed to Godaison, which is a famous old Buddhist/Shinto Shrine in Kochi. On the whole island of Shikoku there are 88 temple and shrines of great history and beauty. It is said if you visit all 88, all your wishes will come true. Godaison is number 21 on the list. So I have 87 more to go. Anyway Godaison is situated on top of mountain. It is a beautiful old shrine, that actually is kinda creepy. Unfortunately the main shrine was closed from the typhoon but we still prayed for the ancestors and rang the gong. We went to lunch afterwards, where I got to eat delicious pumpkin soup. Then we went home. Later after dinner, which was Tempura, one of my favorite dishes, we went bowling. I really don't like bowling, and I'm terrible compared to some Japanese people. But I stuck it out and beat Naoko again.
Monday- Today was the Japanese holiday "Respect for the Aged Day" thus a free day from school. I woke up and had to say goodbye to Naoko as she caught the bus back to Kobe. I really didn't all that close to Naoko as she was pretty busy all summer, but I was very sad when she left. Back at home, I found out that none of my Dvds work on Japanese dvd players. So I accepted that my monday was meant to be a bust. But Yurie called and invited me to lunch with her family. So I headed thru Obiyamachi for Bento with Hirosue-sensei, Sae, and Yurie. Afterwards we went shopping. Sae insisted on trying to buy me everything, though I resisted. We ended up in Daimuru, the largest department store in Kochi, where they were having a Japanese food festival. Because I'm not Japanese, the vendors all insisted I try everything. And most of it was good. Sae ended up buying me this tasty beef jerky thing that is actually squid or ikura. Very tasty, very strange. Back at home, I started feeling sick with a big headache. I rode Naokos bike for a little while but hurried home after I started feeling really sick. At home I apparently had a little temperature, as I was sent to bed pretty early.
Tuesday and wednesday: Typical school days basically. Its kind of getting annoying because I spend more time in self study than with my friends in home room. I really am getting close to Shiho and Aimie. But they keep sending me to the library whenever they think I can't understand. It's getting annoying. I practiced Ikebana, or flower arranging and was told that I am improving. Is that great or pathetic? On wednesday I went to the Dining Room with Aimie and her friends for some Tempura Udon. I was told my chop sticks skills are on par with the average Japanese person. YEAH!!! I also one class of English Conversation with the middle schoolers. Its really cute, because they speak English terribly and I speak japanese terribly and we try to teach other. Only a few of the girls can actually talk to me. The rest of them just crack up and say "kawaii kawaii kawaii" On both days I had track, which is really difficult and tiring. And yet, my teammates are so wonderful. My teammates and fellow 1st years, Aimie, Waka, Natsuke, Yuki, Katsuke are really really great. Tuesday, me and Waka had to walk home for 40 minutes in the pouring rain. But instead of getting annoyed we laughed and attempted to talk about boys and other fun stuff. Aimie is teaching me all these bad Japanese jokes, that I keep telling the track teacher. She usually laughs her head off and then yells at Aimie for teaching me.
Thursday (today)- Bit of a boring day actually. I got to stay with my home room for the first two classes, but then we had to do a whole school cleaning. This is because Saturday is a huge day for my school. We are celebrating Culture Day, by throwing a huge festival. And my cleaning group was assigned the toilets. So I scrubbed toilets and sinks about a half an hour. The toilets in Tosajoshi are squat toilets, so they are much easier to clean. Then I met some new 1st years and talked for another until lunch. At lunch, my host mom prepared me bento in my new Totoro Bento set. This set of another chain reactions of Kawaiis. after lunch the school had a lecture from a former student about dreams. Yeah thats all I got from the whole thing. Mostly thats all anyone got. Most of the girls around me were snoring so loud it was just to hard to listen, not that i could understand anyway. So after we were set free from school, I hurried home and then hurried back to school. Back at school I had Traditional Japanese dancing lessons. It's weird because I can tell the teeacher likes me but is kinda of annoyed how clutsy I am. And yet I really love it. When I tell my friends about it they all laugh and make fun of the club, but it really is great. The way you dance with the fan, really reflects you feelings. I hope to get really good at it.
As for tommorrow, Ill prolly update again only because I only go to school till 10. The school has to practice for Culture Day and none of my clubs are doing anything. Culture Day sounds really great and I'm pretty excited. So thats what going on with me.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

School in Japan (So Far!)

The field/courtyard of the school.
I think its pretty important to know a little bit about the Japanese school systems, since I spend most of these blog posts describing my daily happenings at Tosajoshi.

I go to Tosajoshi, an all-girl private school in Kochi city. In urban areas, such as that of Kochi, there are a variety of school ranked from best to worst. Tosajoshi is 4th or 5th out of 13. Its really the school that wealthy parents send there daughters to if they couldn't get into a better school. So the girls at Tosajoshi are for the most part pretty smart, but not geniuses or anything. Basically, the atmosphere of the school is that the students here have the opportunity to better their grades in an effort to get into a good school if they work hard. Their situation is not great but it certainly is not hopeless.

Anyway, the school system runs from April to March with 3 long breaks. Summer break lasts the entire month of August, Winter break lasts from the end of December to mid-January, and Spring break lasts from end of March to mid-April. A student moves to the next grade after the break in
A typical Bento lunch. It looks a little different than
a PB & J sandwich, Doritos, and a Coke.
March and April. A school week consists of 6 or 7 days, 5 of which are full days from 8:40 to 3:20. Saturday is a "half day" in which school ends at 12:40. Sunday there is actually no school but sports always meet to practice. So about half of the students have no break in there schedule whatsoever.

Everyday there are 6, 50 minutes classes and 1, 40 minute lunch period. Lunch is usually brought from home, called bento. But I always eat the cafeteria pan. Another thing is cafeteria food in Japan is delicious and healthy. The only "unhealthy" option on the menu is Karage, which is fried chicken. But the food is still of a much higher quality then what you might find at the cafeteria at my own Verona High School.

There is a dining room, where you can order hot foods or a bread room, where you can order cheap pan (bread.) Most of the students eat in their classrooms with their classmates, but you can eat anywhere you want. We have 10 minutes between each class to use the bathroom or speak with friends. But one must not be late for class, even though there doesn't seem to be any punishments.

Thats another things about school: the differences in studies and discipline.

Japanese classes are pretty boring. The teacher gives a lecture and the students are expected to learn it. The books are owned by the student so one can highlight important information. But it is very difficult to pay attention. Thus, students have a tendency to be pretty rude. I'll explain that in a moment. When the bell rings, the teacher walks in and the class must stand and bow to the teacher. I always participate but tend to notice my classmates not really bowing the full incline. The lesson then begins. Within 15 minutes, at least 6 girls have fallen asleep and are snoring. Some in the back are passing notes. Some in the sides are talking to one another. And the teacher does nothing. Don't get me wrong, there are many students actively paying attention. But I know in America, teachers command absolute attention from all the students. But then again in America it is a little easier to pay
Kochi Castle actually overlooks my school!
attention. In America, class is a bit more interactive, hand raising is important, text books are in color, and the classes are much much smaller (My Japanese homeroom has 40 kids in it.)

I'm not saying that I don't like Japanese schooling. In fact I love it because I always have the time to study Japanese and keep myself busy. No one bothers me to pay attention (not that I can understand the teacher anyway.) But I was just a little surprised at how students act in class. Luckily, we practically never get homework. So far in these past 2 weeks I have received one homework sheet, which I didn't have to do because I couldn't read it. But most of the kids don't do it anyway so it really doesn't matter. The teachers don't really bother to check. I asked some mentors and other teachers if school was like this everywhere or just Tosajoshi and they laughed and said its basically like this everywhere. Japan is very different.

Usually, school lasts much later than its closure time.

For example, every week groups are expected to do a cleaning task. My first week in school I cleaned the Cooking Room, then I received a week break. Next week, I have to clean the toilets. Then I get a break. Then I have to clean the classroom. And so on and so forth. Cleaning usually lasts about 10 or 15 minutes and everyone is expected to do there part. In my opinion though, everyone shows up but the cleaning work is done with minimal effort. Still, I like the idea of school cleaning as it gives all students a stake in the overall environment of the school.

After cleaning there is always clubs and sports.

Everyone does a club, though it isn't really required. For me, my week is booked full to the max and
English Speaker Society work.
its a bit stressful. On Monday, I will join the English Speaker Society. Basically we promote English holidays, like on Halloween we will go around and give out candy. The club lasts from 3:40 to 4:40. I am home early on this day at 5.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I have track. On nice days the track team heads to Starjam stadium, which is a 20 minute walk in the afternoon with no traffic. It starts at around 3:30 or 4. Followed by about 2 hours of intense running drills. At 6 it ends, and we make a 30 minute walk back to the school where I have to put in my school uniform again. I don't usually get home till a little after 7, which is slightly inconvenient for my host family.

On rainy days the team is stuck in the gym doing intense drills. It end at 6, so I get home at 6:30. Thursday. I have Traditional Japanese Dancing. I'm incredibly awful, but am also enthralled by the
Japanese Dance club. I had no choice but to be in the club.
club and dance. The teacher is very kind and helpful and Yurie is there to help. It starts at 3:40 to 5. We get dressed up in a Yukata or Kimono and are taught the steps to famous Japanese dances with the paper fan. My first day I learned a little bit of a dance for Sakura, the most famous Japanese song. I get home at 5:20, another early day for me. Friday I have track. And Saturday I have track from 2 to 5.

It is a very difficult practice, as we are consistently running. Afterwards, the team sometimes goes shopping in Obiyamachi. So I don't get home till between 5-7. Sunday I also have track again, but had to tell the coach that I would not able to make Sunday practices with my busy travel schedules and Rotary meetings (plus if I will die if I don't get a rest day.)

As you can see a typical Japanese student schedule is booked to the max. And I'm actually not really typical student because most of my classmates also have cram school from 7 to 10 PM to prepare for college entrance exams. Plus some students live hours away from the school by bike or train. For me it is 15-20 minute walk thru the Obiyamachi. My next family it will be a 15 minute bike ride. I often feel stressed thinking about my schedule but then I think I'm pretty lucky. Looking over my own hectic schedule and then comparing it to that of one of my friends in cram school or taking an hour train ride home everyday, I realize just why these kids sleep during class. Because they have no other time to sleep. The one day off from school is spent practicing a sport (half the school participates in a sport.) Sometimes I try to grasp how the Japanese can function everyday with these schedules but then someone lets out a loud snore in Biology and I totally get it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Pigtails

I recently received an email complaining about my poor spelling and grammar on my blogs. The
A photo taken later, but you can see the pigtails.
reason my spelling has been so bad is that the Japanese computer have a tendency to switch from Japanese to English and so forth... and it gets hard to keep track of things. But if reading my blog posts is truly that difficult, I will not be offended if you bow out! No hard feelings!


Let's start with Friday: After school I met up with Aimi and the Tosajoshi Girls Track team. We all ran throughout the citym which is pretty hard. I'm officially terrible at the sport, but everyone seems very eager to help me along the way. For example, I asked Aimi to ask the captains if it would be okay for me to join the team. I expected them to say "Well..." But instead all the team members yelled out "We Love Jurie!" So I assumed this meant that I could definitely join. The first half of practice was at the old dry river bed. I've never seen so many nasty bugs in my life. But afterwards we headed to the huge stadium called StarJam, where all the city school track teams practiced. Its slightly larger than our track but has many more practicing schools. And I of course was the only gaijin, which merited many stares. I think above all I will become the team mascot.

The Manager, one of my classmates showed me how to throw Shot-put.

Let's just say I'm going to stick with Long Distance hopefully.

After practice, I looked at the clock and realized that I would have to sprint to be home in time, and that wasn't going to happen. The annoying thing is that after practice when you're sweaty and stuff you have to change back into the uniform to get home. I wasn't home till about 7:45, but there was no trouble because this time I called and informed my host family.

Yeah this is going to last maybe an hour.
Nice try, though.
Saturday: I discovered the world's best breakfast: Chocolate croissant. Its a very small portion (thank god!) but its melted and gooey and warm. After school I met up with Yurie, Yuko, and Sae Hirosue for Ohm Rice. Ohm Rice is my second favorite Japanese dish. Its so damn good! At lunch, Yurie officially decided that my hair was too poofy.

Okay fine, maybe I brought that upon myself.

I told her that some of my friends at school have been calling me Hermione from Harry Potter because of the hair. But my poofness has really been bad here because of the excessive humidity with the typhoons and the overbearing heat.

So after lunch, they made me a hair appointment. First, we went shopping and I was told me fashion sense is wicked simple. I like tee shirts and skirts, don't be so harsh people. Then we went to my appointment. Yurie had to leave so no one could translate that I was hating my hair cut. This crazy frizzle haired pink lady chopped off nearly all of my hair, gave me the thickest bangs I have ever seen, and then made me swear to blow dry my hair daily.

Haha NO.

At first I hated the hair but now I'm used to it. After the cut I had to run home for dinner to not be late, but found my host father had left for the night. So Naoko, Okasan, and me celebrated Obachans birthday. In Japan its not usual to give presents for the birthday person, but I'm not Japanese. I gave Obachan a calendar with national parks of America. I thought she was going to cry with joy. She looked at the pictures all throughout dinner and cake. Later, the Masakis friend called and asked to go bowling. The friend was pretty drunk but she brought along her daughter who will help me a lot in Hokkaido (as I am going with her class.) I'm not really a fan of bowling, but I was certainly not going to lose. And at least I beat Naoko, even though I'm terrible at bowling. Finally after a long week I could sleep.

Sunday: I woke up at 11 AM. Yes I am now officially a Japanese teenager that sleeps till 11.

Learning how to gamble Rock-Paper-Scissor
style in Japan!
After breakfast/lunch we got in the car (driven by Naoko *gulp*) and drove to Aki to city okasans parents. We did the usual grape picking. I love Japanese grapes! They make American grapes look terrible and small. They are so juicy and tasty, but you can't eat the skin and you must spit out the pits. Then we played ping-pong for about an hour. The place in Aki is like an old folks community and when they get bored they play ping-pong. So these ancient ladies playing each other is actually amazing. I'm not a fan of ping-pong but I made a good score keeper. We had to return early because I was to have my Welcome Party. Well, one of them. (I've already had about 5 Welcome Party's. I have given up trying to find a rhyme or reason in the way things operate in Kochi, Japan.)

We rushed home and I quickly hopped into my uniform. We then went to the nicest most expensive
hotel in the city. There the Masakis, the Onos (my next family), my counselors: Sakioka, the dentist, and Matsumota, the furniture guy, Tsutsui, not sure his profession, my school principal and one teacher, 3 or 4 Rotary guys that I have never met before, Yurie, Masako, and another former exchanger, got together for a party. Everyone spoke about me and I couldn't understand anything. But I had to speak and I really messed up the speech for the first time since I've been in Japan.

At dinner I met my next family the Onnos. They have 1 son who is 14 and is an amazing baseball player. But they also have their niece who is 14 and in 3rd grade at the middle school (9th grade in America) living with them. She goes to Tosajoshi as well. Her parents wanted her to go to a better school than what there commpunity offered, that's why she lives with her Uncle, Aunt, and Cousin. My latest Otosan said they are very honest and kind
Rotary's exchange student all lined up!
people. There house is much farther from the school so I will be biking. The house is also brand new apparently. The family loves baseball very much, but that is really all I got to know from them. The night was very fun. I was taught how to play the epitomie of Rock Paper Scissors and I ended up beating everyone at the party... beginners luck?

It was a bit funny beating my principal because I kept apoligizing and bowing afterwards. I won these strange Japanese cookies, that Otosan had his eye on the moment I got them.

You can guess where they are now.

After the party, me and the Masakis jumped on the Kochi tram for home. At home I went to bed, but couldn't really sleep as my cell phone kept getting emails from my friends. LET ME SLEEP!

Monday: Not too much happened today at school. Except when I woke up this morning I realized my hair is too short for a ponytail... so I have to wear them in pigtails from now on.

Yes, you read that correctly.

I'm a Japanese school girl, what can I say? 

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Day In My Life

My life in Japan is still fresh and new, and yet already a routine is beginning to form. Even though I am a white person from a faraway country living amongst the Japanese, and in some regards, pretending rather unsuccessfully to be Japanese, the slow and easy rhythm of routine is beginning to creep into my lifestyle. The Japanese appear to love routine. I can not say whether or not I, too, love routine. But I think I will have little choice in the matter.

This morning I woke up with an aching deep in my belly for food. I normally abhor eating breakfast, but stopped on the way to school for some delicious "pan." The word for break in Japanese is taken directly from the word for bread in French. I think the style of bread-making is also taken from the French.

So. Damn. Delicious.

I was quizzed at school by my friends about their various names... yes, I know I'm a terrible person but its a little hard to remember names that are really foreign. I did however remember my friends Shiho and Aimi and Tada... probably because there names are so easy. After that they all had a fight over who I would be eating lunch with. I also think I offended Shiho and Tada when I asked Amie to take me to her club today, which is track. Shiho and Tada play basketball and have been eyeing my height for the past few days. But I am not a team-player and I am a runner.

Anyway, school started and I had to stand in front of my class (42 in my homeroom) and read an entire report about the Beatle in English. Then I had to read it again because the first time was too fast. I had self-study next where my new good friend, the librarian helped me read in all Japanese a very traditional story called Momotarou. After, I headed back to homeroom for biology where I am actually expected to pay attention. But in fact I just answered my fan mail instead. (My fellow classmates write me notes in English. It's very cute, but also weird.) Shiho and Amie also gave me a notebook that I am to write in. Its pretty cute I write one day then I pass it to Amie who passes it to Shiho and then on and so forth.

Then I headed to calligraphy class with some of the older High School students. It is not the kind of calligraphy that you might hire for wedding invitations, but traditional Japanese character writing. I'm the only one in the class who hasn't been doing it since they could open there eyes and hold a brush but I try. I like the teacher and he is close friends with the Masakis. It took me all class and about 100 tries (actual count:56) to write 日本 (Nihon) But I succeeded and later my host parents acted very very proud when I presented them with my painting. (I suspect their excitements was reminiscent of when Naoko would come home from preschool and present her parents with "portraits" of stick-figures. But I won't dwell on that minor detail.)

The typhoon was in full swing and the power in the school was in constant brown out, spelling trouble for school teachers. Japanese girls scream and laugh and cry at the thought of thunder and lightening. So you can imagine how classes were with the loud thunder and constant lightening. After Calligraphy I headed back to homeroom for lunch.

I bought a chocolate bread....300 calories... to die for. Pan.... as the word for bread is here.... is absolutely delicious! I ate with Amie and her friends and we all attempted to talk/ later Yurie came in, worried that I would be by myself and then surprised to see that I had made friends. After lunch I headed to the middle school, where I taught English to seventh graders. These girls make Shannon seem like a mature respectable young adult. They squeal and laugh and when I ask them to do something, they practically wet themselves. I sincerely hope the gilded glamor of having a young white person in the class wears off and soon. I am getting a little tired of being a celebrity, having none done nothing to deserve the title except being born white.

After I went back to homeroom where my seat was moved to the back with Shiho and Amie. I also was informed about the upcoming sports festival which I am obligated to participate in. I am in the following events: Piggyback wrestling (I have no idea!), 100m Run, Flower Arrangement, and something else that I don't remember right now. School ended and I went with Amie to track. The track team is very small but they were HONORED to have me there. They lent me shoes and water and the coach bowed the lowest to me. We warmed up and I was able to keep up pretty well. Then the long distance team seperated because the rain stopped. We would be running around the school 6 times. But I could only make it 4 because the shoes were too small and I got major toe jam. The long distance captain, luckily was Amie, and we went to my house to pick up my shoes. We then had a warm up and training session. The track team here is very bad but the girls are soooooo nice and friendly. Tomorrow, I am supposed to go try Kendo and then Friday swimming, but I had such a nice time with the track team I think I want to stay. At 5:30 I left for home. I met Yurie in Obiyamachi and we made plans for Saturday after school. At home I got confirmation from the school I could go to Hokkaido!!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Kawaii

The ultimate example of Kawaii
If ever you come to Japan, don't worry about learning the language.

It's hard and strange anyway.

Instead focus one knowing one word. Kawaii.

Pronouced like Hawaii with a K.

It's one of those Japanese words that has multiple English meanings all into one definition. Ultimately it means "cute," but can be translated into lovely, pretty, and warm/fuzzy. And if you are a 5` 8" American girl with bright blue eyes, long real brown hair, and a good Japanese accent than you will be called "kawaii" more times than you can say konnichiwa.

School started for me at Tosajoshi Middle and High School, a famous expensive private all-girl school with an impressively old history. Masako Ichihara, who spent last year in San Francisco, California, picked up this nervous 15 year-old Gaijin girl from the Masaki pharmacy at 7:50. I was dressed in my white short sleeved sailor school uniform. My skirt flowing down to my knees. My
long hair in a thick ponytail, to abide by the Tosajoshi school rule that if your hair is longer than your shoulders it must be kept back in pigtails or a pony tail. My face wore an expression of total fear, which was how my body felt.

But Masako, with her easy going attitude, got my calm with a few quick jokes.

We made the walk through Obiyamachi, which is a large arcade mall that I will be walking through everyday to and from school while living with the Masaki's. Masako and I talked about how nervous we were. I was nearly throwing up, while she kept whining about being placed in a younger grade with a bunch of immature brats and nobody she knew very well. At some point I kind of blew up on her and said, "Well at least you can speak the language!" I let nerves get the better of me.

Soon we made our way to the big old white school and I walked into the metal gates for the first time in my school uniform. Immediately heads poked up to stare at me and whispers began to float in the air. It didn't take me long to realize that they were all taking about me. And since I didn't understand, I wasn't sure whether it was good or bad stuff. Masako just chuckled and told me to get used to it.

I have never considered myself "cute."
Japan begs to differ.
I'm not sure that I can.

After I placed my 3 new pairs of school shoes in a little cubby marked 48, Masako said it was time to visit my homeroom for the first time. My teacher, Yano-sensei, had come to the airport to meet me, so I had met him before. To be honest though, it was a hectic day and I didn't quite remember which Japanese guy he was. When we climb 3 flights of stairs and walked down a long white hallway that smelled like clean flowers to room 16, I found myself remembering Yano-sensei. Masako slid open the sliding door and gestured me to come inside.

And my life changed forever. I'm serious about that, too.

Yano-sensei greeted me warmly in English while 43 pairs of eyes stared at all of my motions. He welcomed me to the class and then introduced me to his students. At that point, a group effort was made to shriek and freak out that I was going to be a classmate among these girls. And it wasn't just one crazy girl, it was everybody!

Everyone acted as if Christmas had come early and I was the biggest present under the tree. Yano-sensei continued to talk and ignored the girls who were still practically wetting themselves. He gave me two very enforced rules of his classroom.

1. I MUST learn Japanese
2. I must make friends in my homeroom class.

The second one caught me a little off balance at first. The way he said it seemed like I would only be allowed to make friends with my homeroom. But Masako later explained that that isn't the case. But homeroom friends are the most important. You spend all day with them, and eat lunch with them. And if you don't eat lunch with them, it is seen as sort of ditching them. This came as a bit of shock to me. But I was willing to do anything to make my school life in Tosajoshi work out. To Yano-sensei's rules, I promised I would try my very hardest. Masako left and Yurie came to collect me before I had the opportunity to meet some of my new classmates. I asked her why everyone was laughing at me. Was there something wrong? Was I breaking a rule? Am I ugly or something? She just laughed.

The High School building of the school
She grabbed my arm and took me on a tour throughout the 3 buildings of Tosajoshi Middle and High School. The farthest building was the middle school. The center building, the high school, while the front building was the activity building. She showed and introduced me to some new things. We visited the music, art, tea, tatemi floor, cooking, sewing rooms and our last stop was the library. Throughout the tour, my school mates had been cleaning the entire school. Everywhere I had gone, there was a group of giggling girls with brooms and sponges. Yurie explained that once or twice a month, the school received a full fledged cleaning. But because today was my first day, I didn't have to do it. I was a bit disappointed to be honest. Now that the nervousness from the morning had subsided I was anxious to meet with my new classmates.

At the library I met with another teacher, whom had welcomed me at the airport. Matsuoka-sensei greeted me very warmly and gave me brand new schedule, in which I was allowed to the opportunity to delete one class a day for Self- Study of Japanese.

Sat: Self Study, English Grammar, English Conversation (where I go to the middle school and teach English), World History

Mon: English Conversation, Self Study, Home Ec., Home Ec., Japanese, Gym

Tues: Music, English Reading, Flower Arrangement, Self Study, Japanese, Japanese

Weds: Biology, Self Study, English Reading, Calligraphy, English Conversation, Classroom Active

Thurs: English Grammar, World History, Cooking/PE, English Conversation, Japanese

Fri: Art, Japanese, Computers, World History, English Reading, Self Study

After that Yurie, took my arm and beckoned me into the school gym, which had been converted into an auditorium. Japanese schools, upon returning from vacation, always have Opening Ceremonies. So as walked into the gym/auditorium, 2,000 girls from 6 grades suddenly turned their eyes to me. All of them were sitting in Saza position on the hard wood floor, holding their white slippers and chatting quietly among friends. Then their mouths dropped open, and soon kawaii's flooded the air. I'd never been so amazed by the sight of thousands of white uniform wearing girls, who had never been so amazed at one white uniform wearing foreigner. A teacher ushered me into a seat, but the stares did not cease even as the principal began the ceremony. The first part of the ceremony was a commemoration to honor all the awards and history of Tosajoshi high school. Here is Japan, your high school is just as important as your college. For example, back in the states if someone said they went to Harvard or any of the Ivy Leagues, people would assume they are smart and respectable. And if they said an unknown college, people just smile and say "oh... now where is that again?" And they wouldn't hold you in quite such high respect.

Well in Kochi-ken saying you attended Tosajoshi is of great importance and therefore so are the awards and history. The middle school Ping Pong team won and Shikoku league and a group of High School second graders placed highly in a National Calligraphy competition. I clapped and cheered, but the rest the girls just watched me, eyes glittering with word Kawaii. Then the principal announced a small introduction about me and I was whisked onto the stage. As I walked onto the stage, 4,000 pairs of eyes belonging to all my classmates held there breath and smiled and waved. I sat next to my counselor teacher and he translated the principals speech about me. Julie Garner is from Verona, NJ, only 30 minutes from NYC. She has a younger sister and is only 15. (Everyone gasps at the number, and the kawaiis start up again) Then the principal asked me to stand up and give a speech.

Yes, a speech in front of 2,000 girls and 30 to 50 teachers.

So I stood up and did it. And I would have been scared to death at home but here is is like my 3rd speech in Japanese.  So I stood up and said "Ohayoo Gozaimas. Watashi no name wa Julie desu. Hajimemashite. Juugosai desu. Nihongo wa scoshi wakarimasu. Doozo yoroshku onegai shimasu. Arigato Gozaimas." Sure I messed up a little when I said I can understand a little Japanese. I should have said I can understand no Japanese, except for the word "Kawaii" because you have said it about me at leave 1 million times in the past 5 minutes. But the applause and the cheers and the "KAWAII!" made it much better. I was very happy when my counselor said that I did very well. And later Yurie and Masako told me that I have a very good Japanese accent and that I will do well, provided I learn Japanese.
The classroom.

Afterwards, Yurie brought me back to my homeroom where all the girls stared and laughed when smiled I at them. All the girls in my class are 15 and 16 and although I was placed in the lower level class. They all seem incredibly nice. Yano-sensei assigned one girl, Shiho, to be my helper for the first month while I get everything set. Another girl, who I think is named Amy or something, made me promise to eat lunch with her. I have a good feeling that she and I are going to be very good friend. The rest tried to speak English, but well, let's just say their English is worse than my Japanese. If that's possible. I had to leave school early because I had a my 2nd Rotary meeting! SO I said goodbye to my new classmates, whom I hope I will be able to call my new friends very soon. I thought Amy was going to cry, until I told her I would see her tomorrow. And I will. And the the all of next week. If the rest of my school days are 1/10th of how wonderful today was, then my year is going to be awesome!