Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Evolution of Eating Habits

Picture it: A cold February night in 2006 at a Japanese restaurant in North New Jersey, USA. The protagonist is a 15 year-old beyond clueless outbound exchange student that is aware she will be spending 1 whole year in Japan. THe antagonist of the story is a tiny piece of raw fish surrounded by vinegared rice, and wrapped in a piece of seaweed, and furthur drowned in a plate of soy sauce. The antagonist is also part of dinner to a minor character of the story, a Japanese exchange student who wants the protagonist to try some of the food she will be eating next year. The clueless Outbound has always been one to try everything, so she greatfully accepts the Sushi. But as she places it in her mouth, a horrible sensation occurs. She now suddenly realizes what it is like to die and slow and painful death, actually, that might be easier than eating the raw fish. The other characters nearly wet themselved as they watch the protagonist choke and beg for mercy. She does, however, eventually swallow the Sushi, but vows to never let the occurence happen again. A year later, that very same raw fish and vinegared rice, wrapped in seaweed and spurged with Soy Sauce is the one of the main characters favorite Japanese foods.
What prompted me to write down the story of my evolution throught eating habits was particular occurence one afternoon at lunchtime. Everyday I, like the rest of my fellow classmates, has a Bento box for lunch that is filled with tasty samplings of Japanese food. The main selection is always a small portion of rice covered in a certain topping. The toppings can range from fish eyes to tea leaves. One of my favorites is this long stalk on brown weed type thing that would cause any Gaijin to have certain suspicions. In the 7 months I have been here, I have never bothered to ask what it is because of philopsophy on Japanese food, which is 'Ignorance is Bliss.' Because seriously, if I actually asked the origins of half the stuff I ate, I would have probably be on the first flight home. But, alas, I have become so Japanese that seasoned fish brain gives me shutters. So I found myself, one afternoon asking my lunch group, what the brown weed substance was. They conformed my suspicions, I had been ignorantly munching on Kelp, a type of seaweed. I couldn't remember were I had heard of Kelp before, until I remembered a computer game I played when I was really young. The game was for little kids to help Freddy the talking Goldfish rescue the Kelp or all the other fish would croak from starvation. I am, in fact, eating fish food. But the worst part is that that simple fact doesn't even bother me.
When I first landed in Japan, I immediatly made it clear that I would not eat fish raw. And would follow my rule, "If it came from the sea, it's probably NOT for me!" I was all gung-ho and ready to resist the taste of raw fish, with preplanned methods of polite ways to say, "No thank you!" That lasted about one week. For one, I came to the important realization that it would be just that much easier for my host family to host me if I at least tried everything. I didn't have to like it, but trying it shows that I'm willing to be here. And I did try everything. All the raw fish that was put in front of me ended up in my stomach. And I discovered that once one can get over the whole, 'wow this thing was swimming not too long ago and although it's ice cold, it might not actually be dead,' one will have a much more enjoyable time. And very possibly pick up a new favorite food.
Seaweed was a bit more difficult to get over. My first experience with Seaweed was in 2nd grade when my class went to an Asian food market. Back than I was really really picky, and refused to even consider the green crap that was covering my lunch of rice. We met again at various occasions in the first few months of my exchange. I never once made an attempt to eat it, until October and my school excursion to Hokkaido. We made it to the hotel a little late and missed dinner, so instead we were given Rice balls wrapped in Nori seaweed. I was so hungry that I took an enormous bite and halfway through the bite I realized the sudden urge to vomit. And vomit, I certainly did. But one day, upon tempting fate yet again, Nori suddenly became delicious. I can't explain how it happened, except that I probably threw up the taste buds that detested Nori. Sorry for those gruesome details.
There are more things that I find myself eating and realizing that if I were eating this in America, people would be horrified. Sometimes at dinner if I'm not in the mood for regular rice, I crack open a raw egg and mix it with the rice. People at home would immediately think, "Oh god! Sal Monella!" But hey, it's delicious! But what about my 3rd favorite food, Takoyaki? Tako in Japanese means Octopus. And Octopus is quite tasty. In my host prefecture of Kochi, the people eat alot of 'mountain vegetables.' These vegtables are quite interesting. Some are green, blue, brown, emitting curious odors, and have possible IQ's. Basically, you name it and I'm sure that Kochi has a vegetable for it. If not, they'll probably go into the moutains and find one one that matches the description. I'd name of these 'weeds' but I'm pretty sure they don't have names in the English language. Most likely because no one from an English speaking country would eat half the vegetables.
My eating habits have evolved greatly, but there are some things I really just can't eat and adapt to. Ikura are these little orange balls that have a sweet taste to them. They are fish eggs, that are just too foul for the right words. There is also Nato, which is fermented beans. Just take at a look at the word ferment and tell me that doesn't sound disgusting. Umaiboshi is this little questionable brown things that tastes sour and along with Tsukemono pickles, makes me want to cut off all my taste buds. Mochi doesn't actually taste bad, but I have a bit of a texture issue. Eating Mochi is kind of like chewing on Goodyear tire.
I used to have this motto, "If it tastes good, don't ask what it is!" It worked pretty well. I suddenly found myself eating everything that was put in front of me. Stuff I later found out might have been alive while it was digesting in my stomach or possibly at some point highly poisonous to anything that tried to eat it. If I liked the food item and I wanted to continue eating it without praying I didn't get killed in the process, I never questioned it. I was gaining confidence that everything I tried I would like, which is not always the case. At one particular Rotary meeting, in which there was a important person speaking and we teenagers were asked to be on our very best behavior, I noticed a pink petal looking object waiting to be eaten on my plate. It actually looked quite safe compared to what I was normally trying without question. I popped the entire pile into my mouth. Then, well... I can't say I remember what happened after that. From what I have been able to piece together, I began clutching my throat, coughing as if I was trying to get rid of a lung, grasping for a mug of water, losing the ability to breath as my cheeks turned pink, and my eyes seared open to an alarming size. It also wasn't a quiet incident, either. I guess when the entire room is full of quiet people intent on listening to a famous person, the sudden choking madness of 15 year old gaijin is a bit hard to ignore. The 2 former exchange students jumped to action. They grabbed my arms and hauled me to the bathroom, where they smacked my back a couple times until I spit out the Pink Petaly food, which flew across the bathroom. After I drank about 3 galleons of water trying to wash the taste of my mouth, I returned to the Rotary meeting as quietly as possible. The former exchange students, who nearly wet themselves upon hearing what had caused the suddent choking, loudly explained that I had stupidly eaten the pink petal thing in one bite. And suddenly, every Rotarian was in a fit of laughter, louder than even though guest speaker. When someone explained to him what had happened, he too, snorted at the incident. To this day, I never figured out what the substance was. But it failed in getting me to be more cautious when eating curious looking food.
My new reformed philosophy on eating has changed drastically into, "Ask what it is so you can tell everyone your favorite side dish is [Octopus tentacle]!" Sometimes I encounter a food that just reeks of putridness. I always try to eat it 3 times before I make a real decision about it. (Except for Ikura, I've only eaten it twice and both times have made me consider jumping off a bridge.)
The thing about traveling and being in different places, sampling different foods of cultures and people, has made me become one of those crazy loons who eats EVERYTHING. Foods from different lands give one more of an understanding of the people in that culture. When I journeyed to Australia, I sampled Crocodile, Cow Testicles, Chicken Salt on Fries, Green Ants, and Vegemite. Here in Japan, well, I couldn't even begin to go into all of the funky stuff I've been given the opportunity to eat. To name a select few, which aren't that gross, but still not exactly 'sane' foods, Squid Ink Pasta, Green Tea and Tuna Ice Cream, Fish Brains, Deep Fried Eel, Bamboo shoots, and Bonita eye shavings. I better leave it at that. Now, I'll let you sit and ponder what the heck a Bonita eye shaving is. You probably don't want to know. Food is food, no matter where you go. I hear people talk about the lack of humanity in eating Dog and Cat in China, Whale, here in Japan, grilled maggots, worms, beetles, or cockroaches in Thailand. But think about it. It all comes down to where we were born and how we were raised that determines what we can eat and what we think is purely and utterly ridiculus. Japanese people get offended when I put Soy Sauce on rice, or when I talk about my favorite food being the meat from the ribs of a Cow. Nothing's wrong with that. It's just the way we are as people rasied in entriely different cultures.
Food is food, no matter where you end up. It could be a safe as a slice of bread or as daring as piece of Fugu, which is the fish that if cut slightly the wrong way will kill you instantly. Try everything, because life is too short not to. I think back to that 15 year old in the Sushi restaurant last year. I can't help but smile and think she has come a long way.

Monday, February 26, 2007

TGIF- Actually Friday Is Boring in Japan

Friday's are probably the most boring day of the week for me. They are just really long and dull. So when I woke up, still slightly sore, I did my routine with no enthusiasm. At breakfast, I had finally succumbed to the Osaki drink of choice, Milk. It's only my 5th day with them, but I already know that they go throught like 3 cartons a day. Amazing. I left a little early, still tired, and stopped at a Family Mart to buy a Rice/Seaweed ball. I never ever eat breakfast, but I've been excercising a lot lately and I've actually been hungrier. I guess that's a good thing, I was really unhealthy in my last family. I really didn't eat too much at all. I arrived early at the school and headed to the library, where I ate my Tuna Rice ball with a slow enjoying taste. I'm really turning into a Japanese girl. I then thanked god I brought floss. Can imagine walking around all day with a big leaf of Seaweed stuck on your teeth? The horror. What's worse is that the Japanese would NEVER ever tell you that you had a big piece of green thing stuck to your tooth either. God forbid they ever said something that could be taken as an insult.
When the bell rang and I was nicely settled into my desk, Yano-sensei was conformed to be absent and a lady took our attendance. I then walked with my friends to Art class, where it was revealed that they are annoyed that I prefer to study or go for a run rather than eat with them. It's odd, they usually just ignore me when I'm there, but when I'm not they get pissed off. Our first class was Art, where we have this weird Scracth picture as our assignment. Japanese girls are obsessed with perfection and most have gorgeous pictures that would blow Van Gough out of the water. I just have a simple and easy cake as my picture, the poor thing never get any compliments. That's fine though, it is pretty bad. By hand got quite a warkout doing all the scratching from the back sand paper thing.
When the period ended I hurried back to the library for Japanese with Nishimoto-sensei (not the music teacher, a different one because they all have the same names in Japan.) Japanese is not so much Japanese as it is Intellectual English Conversation. Nishimoto-sensei speaks really great English, and if it's not perfect, then it's damn close. Usually I ask her a questions about Japanese history that springs into a whole class period of exchanging ideas about the time period or particular event. Today, she was particularly interested in my opinion of the Israel/Palestine situation. AFterwards she showed me an extensive book with pictures from Japan as it walked into it's modern state. It's nive to have a class where I can just talk about intellectual things, rather than keeping them bottled up all the time.
3rd and 4th period found me stuck back in the homeroom class. It's weird not I'm complaining about being in the homeroom, when back in September thru December I only wanted to be with them more. Things have changed. My real friends aren't in the homeroom, but in my Koto club. In the homeroom I spent Computer Science and World History writing the journal entires for Wednesday thru Friday, while my classmates glued their noses to books for the upcoming test in 2 weeks time.
At lunch, I actually ate a full period with my classmates. Like I suspected, I was essentially ignored even though I tried my very hardest to get into their conversation. All the girls did was play on their cell phones and gossip. I went to the bathroom and met up with Chiake, which was a real relief. She had me laughing and happy within 30 seconds of talking to her. I'd rather be eating with her, but Japanese school culture means that you HAVE to eat with your homeroom, or they will ignore you during the day. Usually I prefer the library or the staircase for running, which is always more eventful and I can more done. I hope I don't sound like a horrible person, but I reckon next month's change of homeroom with come as quite a relief.
Usually the 5th period class is English, but Since Yano-sensei is absent, we have another art class. Yuck. At though in extra time I was able to finish the stupid scratch project. Last period of the day I have library Self Study, and I really throw myself into my writing. I ought to be studying but I really got to finish this project.
School ending comes at a pure and utter relief for me. Especially since I have Koto today. In the Koto room I hang out with Chiake, Yuki, Yukimi, Casami, and Aya as we wait for the private sensei to arrive. Yukimi gave me a box of cookies for valentines day as a thank you for the box of Sweet Hearts I gave her. When the teacher arrives, I start working on the numbers of practice that I couldn't quite get on Tuesday. I only got about a 20 minute practice because the teacher believed me to be suffering from leg pains because it is physically impossible for gaijin to sit in Japanese saza position. That wasn't the case, and Chiake told me that everyone thinks the teacher is a bit looney. So I practice by myself until the club is finished. Then I assist my fell Ko Ichinensee in cleaning the club room. The girls invite me to go Hanami with them over Spring Break. Hanami is...well... don't laugh... flower watching of Sakura. At 6, Chiake and I are on our way home. I tell her all about my homeroom and she tells me that I am in an A class, which is the really smarter girls of the Ko Ichinensee class. They are also a tighter knit group and tend to act a little better than everyone else. We made a pact to try to get into the same classes next year, though I'm not sure that's possible. Hopefully I get movied into a B class with the dummies! Once again Koto club is the best thing to happen to me all day. I ask CHiake to show me her house and we peddle off the road into the more quieter country areas. I met her father and mother who told me that I was welcome to come over any time. I also met Yusu, her loveable little pooch who slobbered all over my hand. When we parted, I said good night and felt disappointed that I would have to wait 2 weeks for the next club because of testing.
Back at the Osaki house, dinner was Curry Rice. The best way for me to fully describe how things are in the Osaki house is when Hikari spilled a large portion of her Curry on her lap. My host mom looked up, smiled, and said "Well it's edible."
I love this family.

Mokuyoubi is Japanese for Thursday

When my alarm rang at 6:50, I layed in my bed for about 15 minutes wondering how to go about the difficult process of moving. I consider myself a fairly athletic person, biking an hour everyday, running, walking, and doing excercises much more than the average person. But dear god, every muscle in my body that I usually don't use was contacting a lawyer for abuse charges on that particular morning. After I limped through my daily routine, i headed down the 3 flights of stairs for the morning excitement and coffee of the Osaki kitchen. Soon I was painfully on my bike riding like a turtle with a broken leg. When I arrived a Tosajoshi, I assessed the damage of my body. My legs were shaking uncontrollably, arms ready pulls themselves out of the socket and climb away, and my feet cursing at me as I climbed 3 floors to get to room 16.
Nothing important happened in the first 2 periods of English and World History. I just gave Aimi more English answers. Even though when she answered, Yano-sensei smiled and said, "Thank you, Julie!" The World History teacher, Furuchan-sensei, really really likes me. Every chance he gets, he uses me as an example for something. the last example was when he was explaining Hernando Cortez conquest of the Aztec. "The Aztecs had never seen a white person and were really shocked. Kind of like most of the Tosajoshi girls when they first saw Julie. Holy Crap Gaijin! Though the Aztecs said something more like, "Holy crap a white guy that might be a God!" I wanted to tell him that half of the girls acted like I was a God too. Furuchan-sensei is Japanese, and thus has horrific English. While, my classmates all studied for their upcoming tests, Furuchan-sensei hovered in the back of the room trying to decide how he was going to go about having a conversation with me. "So New jersey-shu we ather warm this year?" I answered in Japanese, "December and January were unusually warm. But last week my sister had a snow day." He turned to the class and announced that weather in New Jersey is really warm this year. Often Japanese people think they know more about America than an American does. This is because it is physically impossible for anyone to be as smart as the Japanese. When these things happen, I generally just allow the person to continue speaking while shaking my head behind their back. He continued in English, even though I could understand his Japanese much better, which really isn't saying much. When he walked away, I hate 1/2 of my tiny Bento box.
3rd and 4th period were joint periods with Morida-sensei. The class is.... prepare yourself for laughter... SEWING. Morida-sensei always goves private one-on-one Sewing lessons to exchange students. I think she first started doing this in the 80's. I also think she considers it a crime that young woman don't know how to sew. I don7t have the heart to tell her that I don't know anyone who can actually sew. The assignment for the class is to sew my very own Yukata, which is a summer time Kimono. My cloth is dark pink with these over sized 6 petal flowers. I think it's kind of weird looking and I'm not sure what I was thinking when I picked it out. Sewing, I have learned, is not hard at all, if you have the patience of a saint and unlimited time. Both of which I strongly lack. Some parts of the Yukata sewing process have needed to use of a sewing machine. It took me a long time and a curvey line where there was supposed to a perfect straight line, to get the hang of it. I also managed to sew a piece of school uniform onto the Yukata. Don't ask me how I did that, but instead of being mad, Morida-sensei nearly wet herself. I don't think she had ever had a student with such terrible skills in the art of sewing. 4th period was me just sewing and sewing my little fingers off. I also nearly fell asleep and ketp apoligizing for my excessive tiredness. She said it was a relief that I was just tired and not truly losthing sewing like she had figured. I laughed and not to worry. I DO hate sewing, but when I'm less tired I can at least act like I don't. That totally went over her head. The bell rang just as my fingers began to bleed from me poking myself so much. Gah...sewing! I went directly to the 4th floor deserted corridor and did some stair climbing drills with the belief that stretching the sleeping muscles would dull the pain. Wrong. Coming back from the stair case I ran into Nakazawa-sensei and she told me I looked very thin. This made me happy.
My next class was the Thursday English class in the middle school. They aren't usually quite as horrid as the Wednesday class, but today they were being real loud and obnoxious. We tested them and actually finished with everyone, suprising Ms. Fabian and I a whole lot. As soon as the testing ended. the girls began shouting and became annoying little beasts. We tried to get them to play Bingo. Bascially I stood in front of the class and took a stem verb and made into a current action. For example. the word sing. I would say "I am singING." They really weren'tinto the game at all, which was fine because the bell ran not to long after that. I walked with Ms. Fabian all the way to my next class and confessed to her that I really do love Japan, but everytime I'm with her it seems I'm just complaining about how much I hate it. It's just that I can't express myself in Japanese and even if I could, I would never be able to complain about Japan to a Japanese person. She pointed out something really interesting. One of the main factors of speaking English is complaining. It's a conversation starter and way to find out more about the people we are talking to. Complaining is non-existant in Japanese, and they don't teach it in English class. That's probably why they have such horrible English.
My next class is private Japanese with Kitazoe-sensei. She was my teacher on the School excursion and will most likely be my teacher when I change grades next month. We studied alot from my Japanese books. I'm making good progress, but I really found something that got me stuck. I still don't know how to use the certain forms. She started telling me about the upcoming test, though I really didn't have to worry about it. The grades don't matter to my future at the school or for anything for that matter. But I'm one of those people who strives to be the test, so I'm going to be studying.
When school ended for the day, I hurried up to the 4th floor Calligrpahy roon and waited the Nihon Buyou club to start. First I finished my lunch of more Kelp rice, when Yukimi-sensei arrived. She gave me some pictures from the recital and told me that she had video taped the performance. I would get a copy within the next couple of weeks. For information on what we did, refer to 'My Japanese Dance Recital.' Today we just worked on a dance, even though I could barely move. I leanred a new word: shindoi. It means exhausted.
I pedaled home as slow and painlessly as possible. It was nerve wrecking though because the sky could open up and drench me at any moment. It was just that kind of weather. I had told my host mom, I would be home at 6, but I made it home at 5. So I went upstairs to my room and typed all about Monday for about an hour. When at 7:30, Hikari and Maako returned from ballet, we all ate dinner. Then I took my Ofuro. Later on I was playing with Hikari when I came up with a fun idea. I began teaching her some of my favorite school games. I started with Bubble gum, Bubble gum. She quickly figured out how to crush me. Then I showed her Poop in the Barnyard, which caused alot of laughter when I explained what poop is. I showed her Ring Around the Rosey, which she didn't like very much. Finally I couldn't take much more and went to bed.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Synchronized Wednesday

I woke up consistantly ever hour on the hour for some reason, so I was up at 6:30 and ready to start the day. I did my daily routine, when my host sister Hikari poked her head into my room and said cheerfully, "Ohayou!" When I was all finished with the routine, I climbed down the 3 flights of stairs and into the warmth of the Osaki kitchen. To be honest, I'm really began enjoying mornings. Okay so it was only my third morning, but I loved the havic and craze of the bog family dynamics. I sat and watched in awe as my host mom got 4 kids ready for school without breaking a sweat, raising her voice, or showing any sign of annoyance. My host father had returned home sometime during the night from a business trip and happily wished me a good morning. He declared that today would be the day we got internet into my room. Honestly, though, I wasn't worried because these past few days without internet have been great. With my second host family, I was ALWAYS on the internet. Now that I don't have the chance to, I've already become more apart of the Osaki family after 3 days than I did with the Oono's in 3 months. I'm just enjoying spending time with my host sisters and parents and getting to know them and become apart of their daily lifestyle for 3 months. After my daily cup of coffee, I waited for Chiake with no such luck, and I pedaled off at 8, following Chiake's scenic route. After 20 minutes I reached the main part of the busy farm city Kochi, and stopped at a Kagome Convenience store for my usual Kissing Watermint gum. And then 5 minutes later I was bursting thru the Tosajoshi gates and parking my bike in it's usual spot. I then crossed the green gym like court yard and into the shoe cubby area. On the second to last shelf, Yano's homeroom have an area dedicated to their 4 pairs of shoes. My spot is labeled 48, even though my number is really 44. I change from my black Pilgrim leather outside school required wear, into the white blue soled slipper like shoes. There are two other pairs left in the cubby, my indoor gym shoes and my outdoor gym shoes. Both have a green stripe, because green stands for the grade in which I am in. All the Ichinensee in the High School and Middle School have the green stripe, while red belongs to Ninensee, and yellow to Sanensee.
After homeroom, the first class is Biology, where I am actually expected to try. I learned most of the material in American high school Biology, but I still can't understand a word, Sugino-sensei says. I do try to do the work, but it's really hard to construct the inside of a Frog's endothermic cell if you can't read where the pieces go. For today's class I sit and stare at space and try to decide how I can spend my large amount of free time without going crazy. Somewhere between Biology and my second class, Self Study in the library, it hit me. I then started my current project a complex and detailed journal entry, "A Week in My Life." It's funny for me to type this. I mean it's a weird to think that I'm typing about what I wrote about what I wrote. Wow. Haha. I continued writing in Self Study, until the pen died an honorbale death and was given a proper funeral. Then I was back to reading Japanese comics.
3rd period was another class of homeroom English. And like usual, my surrounding classmates used me as the answer machine. They really shouldn't because I actually get alot of the English wrong. Personally I have never actually heard most of this English before, but hey, that's Japan for you. Today I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out the following missing words: "I learned to play the violin (-) the (-) of 10." If it was a snake it would have bit me. I leanred to play the violin AT the AGE of 10. That's difficult for me, imagine a group of girls who don't speak the language and hate English trying to determine the answer to the problem. It's comical. I gave my answer to Aimi, who answered and became the hero of the class for determining the answer to such a diffucult problem. It had stumped 10 of the other classmated. Yano-sensei was abolutely amazed and kept complimenting Aimi's sheer brilliance. The pompous brat sat back and said, "Oh it was nothing."
Next period I went down two flights of stairs, thru a cold passageway, and back up 2 flights of stairs to the school Calligraphy room. Taniwaki-sensei is a world renowned teacher who is a really patient and kind man. He is often traveling to Austria, where I think he has pieces in a museum. Actually he kind of annoys me. I think he must have smoked in his younger days, because now he's is ALWAYS doing that "EN..HUM..." throat clearer. It's really annoying. But anyway today, I entered the classroom and set up the equipment. I grabbed the ink, ink bowl, felt backstop, brush and paper holder from the second cabinet in his desk. Then I snagged some white paper and straightened it out with the paper weight. When Taniwaki-sensei entered the room we had a long talk about my new host family. We both agreed that for today's assignment I would be practicing writing the Kanji on Osaki, which isn't too hard. After at least 500 attempts, 100 of which Taniwaki-sensei smiled at and said, "Just a little more..." I completeted one that was satisfactory to the teacher. Although I'm not sure if it was really satisfactory or just that we ran out of time. At least I now know how to write Osaki in Japanese Kanji. Just as class ended, I cleaned the brush and ink bowl with the water faucet. But I turned on the water pressure much too high and the ink got all over my old school neck tie. It's ruined, but I'm not upset. They are pretty cheap and my friends have been updating I had ought to get a new one anyway. It's all ripped and tattered and it's breaking like 3 school uniform violations. Well, I guess I'll just get a new one.
I ate my tasty little Bento box silently listening to my friends act like morons. At one point, I pointed to the weed like substance that I have been eating for many months. It tastes pretty good mixed with rice, but it is pretty foul looking. I've had this policy never to ask what it is if it looks gross but is tasty. Today I was curious though. The girls revealed my suspicions. I had been eating Kelp. On a grossness scale of Japanese food, that's probably only about a PG. But essentially I'm eating goldfish food. Oh well. I was hungry and it is tasty stuff,
I left lunch early and walked to the dread Wednesday English Conversation class. I've never had the misfortune of being in such a terrible class. I can't even begin to go into it. But Ms. Fabian, who I think is really a tough lady, leaves them and sometimes is just about in tears. They are just so horrible. Today, I had a chance at revenge. We are giving them their final test of the school year. A speaking test with really easy questions. And the answers can just be written on the paper they are reading from. In any normal class, there would be no way to fail. All you have to do is read the paper! But this class is not like any normal class. To be honest, I was fair though. I passed 3/4 of them, when really only about 1/4 of them actually did what was asked. Rotten little munchkins. And they aren't even cute. When the class ended (thank god!) Masako came slunkering into the room with a grim look on her face. She explained that she had left her Ipod 2 periods ago. Ms. Fabian and I exchanged glares and as if on cue, "You left with the WRONG class." She was lucky, though. Or maybe not. She found the Ipod in a desk on the other side of the room. The ear buds were another desk somewhere else. I think the kids probably had a nice little game of Frisbee, but I can't be too sure. I walked back to next class, Long Homeroom, with Masako, speaking only Japanese. She told me she was AMAZED at how well I'm speaking the language and not to listen to Yurie, who had said my language wasn't good. That fact is that I have better language then the girls last year and the year before that. Plus I have made better friends, joined clubs, and fit in well with Tosajoshi life. The best was still to come.
Long Homeroom with Yano-sensei is usually incredibly boring. Yano-sensei is a really nice guy, though. He even came to the airport in August when I first landed in Kochi, though I didn't who he was at the time. He started the period off with asking what everyine would be willing to do for the upcoming homeroom class matches. I was later assigned to the Yano-home Basketball team. That should be interesting... Afterward, yano-sensei came to the back of the room, where my desk is, and struck up a conversation in Japanese. I understaood nearly all of what he said, and was able to pidgeon Japanese answers. O told him about the move, and he was really curious about the whereabout of my new house. With only the following information: In Kouda, near a Sunny Mart Supermarket, Book Store, Bread Shop, and an Okonomiacki restaurant, we located the house on a HUGE map with the help of Aimi and Nanae. After more conversation, Yano-sensei began the highest praisal of my Japanese that I have ever received. He then turned to Aimi, Shiho, and Nanae and started yelling at them for teaching me bad Japanese slang and Tosa Ben. I have in fact picked up Tosa Ben, which is the dialect of Japanese only spoken in Kochi. It's kind of awful, too. Now that when I speak Japanese to someone outside of Shikoku, I not only have bad Japanese but I speak like a freakin' hick from the farms of Kochi. I can not speak it either, because everyone around me speaks it. It's impossible not to talk. I continued and told Yano-sensei that I thought English was too difficult, it seems like I'm always giving answers to the girls because they don't seem to get it. Oops. It suddenly all made sense. Aimi really is a dumby, how could she possibly answer such a difficult English question? Yano-sensei turned to her and REALLY started to scold her, as I whispered apoligies behind his back.
When class ended, I didn't say goodbye because I sprinted at lightening speed through the sliding door, raced down the stairs, through on my Pilgrim shoes, and wrestled my bike out of the school gates. I had to be home as early as possible because I was going to Maako and Hikari's Synchronized swimming class. On my bike, I literally pedaled to a pace where I could have started flying. I made the 30 minute bike trip in only 20 minutes, and nearly died as I walked through the door. My host mom gave me one of her old bathing suits that is too tight on her. Last Sunday she asked if I had a bathing suit of my own, which I do. I told her it was a bikini. Now she and the rest of the Synchronized Swimming mothers have a little joke about me. I'll never understand how a country with such acceptance to being naked can have such a problem with girls in bikinis. The borrowed bathing suit was a long grey and blue two piece with tight shorts for the bottom and a zipper up top. I changed into quickly and then threw some other clothes into a bag for the pool and afterwards. I didn't get a chance to see myself in a bathing suit in the middle of winter. The thought made me shutter, however. In the van, we made a couple quick stops and picked up some other little girls in swimming wear. On one occasion, a lady was riding her bike beside our car and suddenly fell off. Some men who were busy pacving the sidewalk immediately hopped to her aide, but my host mom and host sisters also went to help her. I couldn't but think that this would never ever happen in America. Hikari dragged me through the enormous center and into the pool locker room, after Okasan bought me a ticket for the pool. Inside I met up the 5 year-old presidents of the Gaijin Julie Fan Club, Aki and Mika. I met them on Sunday at the huge Synchronized swimming party in Kochi City. After they gave me a million hugs the group of beginners to "Shincoro" (Synconized swimming in Japanese) piled on a group of orange mats beside the pool. Since I don`t own a mat, we borrowed 5 kick boards and lined them up in a long row. I was still to big for the makeshift mat. What was worse was that the squished me in between Hikari and another little girl. I was sandwiched between 2, 7 year-old little girls, uncomortable, and attempting difficult stretches. After the stretches, the beginners scurried over to the unoccupied swimming area and did the bow to the tahers. Then they turned around and bowed to the pool! I'm totally used to the bowing thing now, but sometimes we b ow to things that really throw me off! After, we jumped into the 50m pool on the far end away from the main Shincro swimmers. Our first drill was 6 non-stop Freestyle laps. I should have foreseen the oncoming pain at this point.It wa s followed by more drills, which I had a bit of hard time with. The teacher kept offering me breaks, but I`m much too stubborn. The next drill was a Kickboard kick, in which I was the slowest swimmer by far. Who would think it would be so difficult? But a sudden problem occured with my body. Last year when I had first started running, I would get these horrible shooting pains in my legs that would force me not to be able to stand at nightime. I would actually go to bed in tears from the pain. Luckily, though they stopped, as my body began to get stronger and in much better shape. But with new burst of excercise in different muscles, they were coming back. And at one point, the pain was so unbearable that I could barely keep my head above water. I took a break, but for the rest of practice I was plagued with horrible random bursts of shooting pains.
My teammates really liked me being at their practice. I think one of the main reasons was because I wasn't intimidating to them. They were much better swimmers but also I stood on my knees in the pool, which was down to their level. I didn't accept special treatment either. It's weird but being here has made me understand human nature a little better. Only someone with no communication skills and strong observing nature could notice these things.
After a few more speed trials, in which most of the girls were in tears with pain, the teacher agreed to allow the girls to move up to the actual Shincro practice. We were given these nose pieces that hold together the nostrils so no water flows in. Personally I thinkk i looked like a Who from the Grinch movie and sounded ljust as strange as I looked. Our first practice drill was flipping while holding onto the wall tighly. Then the left leg rose, followed by the right. Then you arch your food to the ceiling before sliding back down slowly with any splashes. Oddly enough, I did very well until it was time to let do of the wall and only use buoy things. After about an hour of practice, I got out of the pool to use the bathroom. I never in all of life, thought I could actually look good in a bathing suit, especially one that was giving me a camel toe from hell! But looking at myself in a mirror, and... well... I can't wait for bikini season! Back in the pool, I realized we had s pent about 3 hours swimming and my physical condition was deteriorating at an alarming pace. The shooting pains became more frequent. Waterlogger Julie nearly had a fit of joy when the announcer announced the end of practice. That's not to say i didn't enjoy the practice. Atcually I'm really glad I got the experience. When everyone cleaned the pool, put on the cover, we did one final bow to the teachers and pool. A funny occurence happened during the final bow. All the beginners, or Kyohei, must stand behind the Sempie, or senior students out of respect for age. I practiced with the Kyohei so I was expected to stand in the back. But when I went to follow hikari, the Sempie saw me coming and, in total fear for her life over my size and gaijin appearence, bowed to me and stood in the back with the Kyohei. Poor girl. When the speech ended, we all trudged into the locker room to change our bathing suits into normal street clothes. I changed in front of everyone, and I even as ked myself what ever happened to the prude me who was totally afraid to be naked in front of anyone but myself. Somehow my tired bosy trasported me to the carpool and from there bcak home to the Osakis. It was 9 when we got home and ate heated up Chinese Stew. Otosan ran throughout the house trying to figure out how to get internet in my room. On more than one occasion did my head actually nearly fall into the bowl of Chinese food. I finally got to bed around 12.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Tuesday= Best Day of the Week

At 6:50, I was wide awake and ready for school. No, I'm really not enthusiastic, but I had a weird night in sleeping concerns. I kept waking up and falling back asleep. At 6:30 I was up and not willing to fal back asleep again, so I started 'the routine.' In 6 months, and 3 different host familes, this same routine has not changed once. It's amazing and probably the only thing about me that hasn't actually changed in this wild year. The routine involves waking up turning on my straighter and popping a piece of gum in my mouth. I know this is strange sounding but chewing actually stimulates the mind to wake up faster. While I wait for the straightener to warm up, I put on my uniform. Since it's the winter uniform and it still is pretty cold, I start with tight under armor. I'd wear thicker clothes because it is really cold, but the school is really strict. Actually if they found out I was even wearing the under shirt, I'd probably get into trouble. I did fail my uniform test last month for some crazy reasons. I next put on a pair of my always handy draw string adidas shorts, which are much too big. Then for the top of my sailor suit, which involves a brief wrestling match. Although the top is much too big it still is dofficult to get over my big head. I then put on my long skirt, which is too big and would fall off. But I roll it twice, breaking the major school rules. The straightener is usually ready and I sit for 10 minutes attempting to straighten the beastly hair. My hair is short now so it isn't to difficult. I manage to burn myself only once! A new record. My hair looked really straight, which meant it might actually stay that way till lunch. Though that was a little optomistic. After the straightening, I spat out my gum and brushed my teeth in the sink in the upstairs living room. Hikari and Maako have already gone downstairs and Yu is still asleep so I pretty much had the whole third floor to myself. When I finished brushing, I returned to the room put on some chap stick, eye liner (breaking another school rule), zit cream, and then threw my cell phone and writing notebook into the back on top of my school coat. Then I was totally ready and it was time to go downstairs for the morning excitement of the Osaki family kitchen. I sat at the bar kitchen table and poured myself a cup of strong coffee and drank it pitch black. Then I opened my Japanese book and began studying some language. At 7:45 I figured it ought be the right time to head to school. It was my first time for a morning bike ride and I wasn't sure about traffic and all that jazz. My host brother, Yu, was ready and decided to take me the way until we had to separate for different school. For about 6 or 7 minutes we drove together. He nearly killed me as I overworked my legs into a pedaling craze. The first main riad out of Kouda has no main side walk and instead has an underground walkway. Bikers have to get off and walk their bike down and up again on the other side. Most people I have met have told me that they avoid the underground sidewalk at all costs. It seems dangerous but I can't imagine it being that bad. I followed Yu in dismounting our bikes and then running them down the steep slope and under the hectic above ground road. After we climbed up the steep slope on the other side, Yu asked me which way I would be continuing. The only way I knew how to get to school was the way he was taking, but if I followed him I would definitely die an early death. So I pointed in the opposite direction and pedaled off. The daily ride to school is 30 minutes and I have sadly, not run into any of my friends along the way. It's no big deal, but I got used to having a biking partner with my host cousin, Eri, when I lived with the Oono's. My current family has 3 girls that go to public school in a different route. After some crazy navigation and exploration of the river side back alleyways I managed to find a proper route and get to school. I parked my grey ancient bike, that should be in a museum for old things, in the space labeled 37, between the other ancient Tosajoshi owned school bikes. Then I scurried to the shoe cubby area and changed into my slippers. After climbing 3 flights of stairs, I make my way to room 16, where I ran into Kaori. Kaori is my classmate who I call Chibi (meaning something like 'midget' in English.) She is exactly half of my height. I never get tired of standing next to her and saying "Hey, Chibi!" At 8:35, when the bell rings starting homeroom for all the Tosajoshi students, Yano homeroom got really quiet as Yano-sensei entered the room. He quickly skimmed the room, checking for absent students, then dismissed us all.
First class of the day is Music with Nishimoto-sensei. The classroom is on the 3rd floor of the South building, with all the other extra culture and manner classes. I walk there with Shoko and tell her all about my latest host family. In the room, I share a piano with my friend, Shiho, who is celebrating her 16th birthday. I sit in her seat because she needs my half of the piano for her test. Today is the final test of the school year. Each row of 2 pianos and 4 girls has to play a rendition of the theme song to Sazae-san, a popular manga. You know that stereotype of smart Asians that are all great with music, especially the piano? Well I have enough experience to confirm that it's true. I am, alas, not Asian, so when the teacher tried to get my to play with my row, my classmates gulped and crossed out their dreams of getting an A. I eventually begged the teacher to not make me do it.
When the bell rang, my row headed up to the front pianos and went first. Shiho, Tomoko, Megumi, and Nanae played a very successful rendition of Sazae-san. The other rows all followed in playing successful music. But we were all very happy when the bell rang to end class. Because I don't think anybody likes music. They are all just really good at it.
For next class, I stayed with my homeroom as we returned back to our room for English with Yano-sensei. The class is alot of fun for me, for everyone else, it is pure agony. English in Japan is far more difficult and unenjoyable than English in an English-speaking country. I sit with Aimi, Shiho, and Nanae and am nearly always giving them answers. It's because they would never get them right on their own. I don't blame them though, class is really hard, even for me. But there is complaining about something in Japan, the country avoids change at all cost, and I doubt very much that the school system will change it's English program.
My third class is Tea Ceremony, with the Middle school 8th graders. It's definitely my favorite class that I take in Tosajoshi. I left a little earlier to use the bathroom, only to realize that I had forgotten my Tea Ceremony cloth. SO I ran back to the room and then back to the Tosajoshi Tea Room. I was greeted enthusiastically by the old lady teachers, who really adore me, God knows why. I won't go into full details of Tea Ceremony class, because I save that for a different column, but I will say that we have partners that make us tea, and drink our homemade Tea. My partner truly deeply loathes me. I'm a beginner to this whole making Tea think, so sometimes I put to much powder in the cup, causing the partner to choke and have her mouth turn green. While, sometimes I put to little, and the concoction looks and tastes like slightly green dirt. Today I put way too much in the cup. My partner gave me a look of a thousand daggers, but when she opened her mounth to make a nasty comment I burst in laughter at her green mouth. Poor girl. For today's Okashi, or sweets, we ate Strawberry Mochi. Personally, I think Mochi is liking chewing on sugary rubber. But this particular Mochi was pretty tasty, and I ate all of it.
My 4th class of the day was Self Study in the library. I was really not in the mood to crack open my book and study Japanese, so instead I read Sazae-san old school Japanese manga. I stayed in the library through the lunch period, because I wanted to talk with some middle schooler kids that I had in my Monday morning English class. I'm always amused at Ichinensee English.
5th period found me heading back to my homeroom for Advanced Japanese class with my least favorite teacher in the school. The class, like the teacher, was pretty boring and I spent the 50 minutes writing one of my columns about language blunders (will post later on.) 6th period found me returning to my school away from school in the library for a private Japanese lesson with my school counselor, Matsuoka-sensei. He is my Japanese teacher, but he always speaks English to me. Usually I just let him, but today I only answered in Japanese and did my famous, "I don't understand your English, try Japanese." Together we talked about my new family, my Rotary orientation, and other things about me. Then he made my day when he said that is since our last lesson, 2 weeks ago, my Japanese has increased at an alarmingly amazing pace. I told him that I'd been studying the langauge in all my freetime and with my current family, speaking is not an option, it's a requirement or get lost in the madness. When the bell rang, I trekked 3 flights back to room 16 for dismissal. After Yano-sensei dismissed us, I scurried off to the Koto room and waited patiently on the Tatemi flooring for my Koto friends to arrive and give me directions. For the record, my best friends in the entire school are my Koto friends. Especially Chiake and Yukimi. When Chiake arrived at the room, she informed that she and the rest of my grade mates had stupid extra classes. The funny part is that they all failed English. I think that's why Matsuoka-sensei suggested I join the Koto club in the first place. The whole High school first grade class of the track team did not fail English (probably only Aimi.) Just goes to show that some stereotypes aren't true. Anyway Chiake also told me that I would be taking private one-on-one Koto lessons with the special Koto sensei. So when she arrived, we headed into the long hallway outside the Koto room and art rooms and began easy simple drills after she went over other drills with the more advanced students. The first thing the teacher did was remove my cheat tape. Basically the tape was placed on the specific number string because I had not yet memorized the place of the strings. This got me really nervous because I really hadn't momorized the placement and I'd never even tried to learn. But I was shocked because it seemed as soon as the sensei asked me to begin, I was able to play exactly what she pointed out. Somehow over the course of all the practices I had attempted, I had picked up the placement of the string. The sensei was very pleased, and I was amazed at myself. I beasted the first 4 sets of notes with no trouble whatsoever. The fifth one was slightly more difficult. But at the end of the lesson I had got through 10 sets! (That's really impressive, apparently) The teacher shouted commands that I never understood, but acted like I did. (I'm telling you, I ought to take up acting when I get home.) I know I should have been proud of myself, but they were far too easy, even for a beginner, such as myself. When the private sensei left, the School teacher Koto president gave me a pretty expensive bill for 3 months of Koto club membership. I don't mind paying it because I really love the club, the instrument, and above all my new incredible friends, even though they tend to fail English.
The high school first graders always have to stay and clean, pack up the Koto equipment, turn off the lights, and lock the room up. Basically make sure everything is left in order for the next days practice. I waited with all of my friends and we joked and danced around the room until 6. At some point I told everyone that I had moved families and was living in a totally different section of the city. But I couldn't remeber the name except that it started with a K. CHiake said, "Kouda?" I knew right away it was, and nodded happily. Suddenly the club room was shaking with a loud scream. Chiake was jumping up and down screaming, "That's my hometown! What do you live close to?" AT this point, I was really excited too, "The Sunny Mart." "AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!" That's how I found out the my best friend lives about 5 minutes from my house.
When it was time to return home, Chiake hopped on her bike and met me at the main gate. We rode home together laughing and screaming the whole way. She took me on a really awesome scenic route that I had not discovered and would keep me away from the Underground walkway. I was so happy that I arrived home in pure excitement. I was a little later than I said I would be, so my host parents were a bit worried about where I had been. But I explained to them about riding home with Chiake, and they were really relieved. On the late nights at school, I'll be riding home with someone. At dinner we ate a delicious bowl of Kimuchi Korean food. The Osaki's were amazed that I could eat such a spicy dish with no problem. 2 words: Mexican food. The only problem was that my lips were chapped and spicy food is beastly to this particular condition. I was so tired I went to bed at 9:30.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Just Another Manic Monday

Febuary 19, 2007::: On Monday morning, I woke up at exactly 6:45 to the sound of my annoying jingling of the cellphone alarm. I was so tired because the weekend, involved one full day of rest, which found me not resting and instead packing all my items into hundreds of suit cases and hauling them to the other side of Kochi City. Yes I moved- switched families- from the Oono's to the Osaki's. Every morning I straighten my hair, jump into to my Tosajoshi school uniform, which resembles a sailor suit, brush my teeth, scuttle through my belongings, and throw the necessities into a school bag. The end result always finds me half asleep, with straight hair, that never stays straight for more than an hour, carrying a heavy bag. This was my first morning in the Osaki household, so I wanted to make a semi-decent impression. After climbing down the 3 flights of stairs into the first floor kitchen, I was warmly greeted with "Ohayou" (G'Morning!) from my host mom and 2 younger host sisters, Maako and Hakari. I sat down at the bar shaped kicthen table, overflowing with papers and proof of the fact that Osaki's have 4 children. My host mom gave me my daily cup of coffee in a mug because I am addicted to coffee. Soon my host brother Yu and my other host sister Kaho entered the kitchen. Everyone ate breakfast, except for me because I never eat breakfast. It's weird but eating so early makes me kind of sick. Then everyone changed into their school uniforms or regular street clothes. Elementary school children don't have to wear school uniforms, but they all wear these little leather back packs that seem to point out the fact that they are elementary school kids.
At 7:50, my host mom told me that it is time to go. She was driving me because I had left my bike at the school last friday, thinking it would be easier with the move and all. We get into the Osaki Minivan and drive through the peceful streets of my current host town, Kouda, and into the hectic commuters filled streets of Kochi City. We talk a very little bit, mostly just introductory stuff, after all, I had only just moved into her house yesterday. She asked me what I had planned for after school, and I told her nothing. So she suggested we go to the big sports arena where Maako was having practice and jog. I told it sounded like a good plan. When we arrived at Tosajoshi, I thanked her for the ride to school and told her I'd see her at about 4. She told me to be very careful because I'd never taken the streets before, and if I got lost, I should call her. But honestly, I knew I wasn't going to get lost. I'm very good at finding stuff and finding my way. Since I was very early getting dropped off, I went and waited in the library, where I did a little studying, until the second late bell rang. Then I climbed up 3 of the 5 floors of the Tosajoshi High School main building. I made my way through herds of Japanese school girls screaming and laughing and greeting me with "OHAYOU!" Then I finally reached room 16, my home room, Yano Home. Aimi gave me a greeting smile as I slide open the sliding glass door. My desk is the last desk in the first row and the immediate desk, upon sliding open the door. I quickly took off my jacket, hung it on my seat, took out my Japanese text book, and studied. Friends around me squeel and laugh at each others conversations. I have a lot of friends but this past month I have been spending alot of time by myself. Mostly because these girls have been going to school together for years and have a lot of inside jokes. But also sometimes culture shock, gets the best of me. At first, I worried that my friends were getting tired of me because they didn't talk to me EVERY second. But now I realize that I have way more friends than the average exchange student, but sometimes it is just hard to keep up with a different culture and different lifestyle. At 8:35, when homeroom began, the homeroom teacher, Yano-sensei, briefly took attendance. A few minutes later, he announced that homeroom was finished, and Aimi and Shoko, the class leaders called for everyone to stand up. Then bow to the teacher. It's a very old custom that basically states pure and utmost respect for the authority figure and grand master of the classroom. Everyone is required to do it, but I really don't think it makes its point. The fact is, nobody actualy does it with any enthusiasm. And the only person who actually makes a true bow is the teacher.
My first Monday class is English Conversation in the Tosajoshi Middle School. I have a grand total of 4 of these English Conversation classes, but Monday is without a doubt, the greatest of all the classes. I am basically an assistant to the main teacher, Ms. Paula Fabian, born in America, but a Kochi resident for 20 years, and someone who pushes the Japanese culture to the edge. It is definitely the most fun I have during school, and even though it's an English class, I pick up a lot of vocabulary. Ms. Fabian teaches like an American style teacher, interacting and pushing the students to give their own answers and ideas. I think that is the reason why we have such a hard time with these kids though. Japanese students don't have their own ideas. But anyway, Monday's class is still alot of fun. The class is home to the crazy Osca, who firmly believes that she comes from the Sun.
When the starting bell rings, the girls of this class have been taught to bow their heads, close their eyes, and meditate until the teacher wishes to begin. Ms. Fabian and I always crack up thinking about spreading this custom to an American classroom. It's just not possible. I have suggested on more than one occasion to leave the students in this mediation for an entire period. Ms. Fabian begins with "Good Morning!" The girls fling their heads up to listen and respond, "Guodo Morningu." "Ms. Fabian continues, "Now say 'Good Morning Julie'" "Guodo Morningu Judie!" "Now how about you ask how she is doing?" Ms. Fabian suggests. "Houw ar yu tuday?" I respond, "I'm very happy (because I just changed host families) How about you? How are you this morning?" But usually I answer tired, sleepy, annoyed, fine, okay, or jubilant (to totally throw them off.) We began the class with Ms. Fabian announcing next's week final test of the school year. She and I then pass out the study sheets she has made for them to work on. The first couple questions on the paper are talked about and written on the board, then I went around and make sure everyone is copying what the teacher is writing. Occasionally this involves me stopping and helping with spelling or answering how to say "..." in English. This class never ceases to impress me, though. "Where do you come from?" Most of the students answer perfectly- "Kochi City." Some are even at an English level to joke around, Osca is now insisting she came from the Moon. The next question is far more difficult, "What is you town like?" Ms. Fabian list some adjectives on the board for the girls to choose from- small, big, loud, noisey, rural, etc. The right answer should be rural, but I'm not the student. Some write, "It has..." with either trees, cars, people, vegetables, etc. I suggsted to Ms. Fabian that it has Hicks. When we are done filling in the questions, the class splits into small groups without any protest, to practice and prepare for next week's final test. I walk around and practice with the few girls who are partnerless. When the bell rings, the class always tells Ms. Fabian and I, "See you!"
My next class if the day was Self Study, but I ended up spending most of it talking to Ms. Fabian about my new host family, and why things didn't work out wonderfully with the last one. I really enjoy talking to her. It gives me time to realize that my English is horrible and a chance to complain about the things in Japan that I really don't like. She always complains to me about how much she hates the school system here as well. I think if it weren't for complaints and a common language, I wonder if I would even talk to her at all.
I finally made my way to the library, a little late, but not exactly missed. Self Study involves well... self study. Last Thursday a certain occurence took place involving a close friend making an unprovoked remark about my poor Japanese. My Japanese isn't perfect, but it's far from poor. The occurence prompted me to study harder, however. Not that I didn't study hard before. It's just I want to be able to understand alot more of what my new host sisters say to me.
My 3rd and 4th period is Home Economics with my homeroom and Nakazawa-sensei. Nakazawa is a really nice teachers even though I think she is way too young to have to deal with teachering high schools. I really can't understand anything of what is being said. So I didn't really pay too much attention. But even if it was in English I wouldnt pay to much attention. The class is really just manners, how to cook, be a good mother, and all that jazz. Essentially everything in steps on how to be the true woman- a housewife. Thus I glue myself to my language studies. My classmates don't pay much attention to class either, most are wrapped up in Manga, loudly conversing, or slumbering blissfully.
When the 3rd period ends, I accompanied Shoko, Aimi, Tomoko, and Mosa to the school television room. There the class was to watch a movie on...well... on something. I couldn't figure it out, and I'm not sure anybody else could either. But I do find a pretty funny similiarity between Japanese and American school kids. Both are often forced to watch terrible school-approved movies where the characters can't act to save their lives and have horrible haircuts that only would have been cool in the 80's. And both students from America and Japan spend a lot of time making fun of the movies rather than watching them. It's okay, though, because the movies never make any sense anyway. I learned all about Puberty from a video where the parents made a uterus out of pancakes. I reckon here in Japan, they used Sushi.
Every school in Japan has the same bell to end, begin, and give ten minute warning during the morning and lunch hours. To me, it's just a long and really annoying doorbell. (It's the same sound as my neighbors at home!) But to Japanese students it means YASUMI! (Break) Sometimes the bell you hear comes from the various surronding schools in the area, so false hope runs rapid with the Tosajoshi girls. When the actual Tosajoshi bell rang, Yano-homeroom bowed to Nakazawa-sensei and headed back to the homeroom. I've been told on various occasions, that one must never walk alone of they don't have to. It gets kind of annoying, but I walked back with Shoko and Mosa, while Aimi and Tomoko ran to the bread shop for lunch. Back in the homeroom, my lunch group, Aimi, Tomoko, Mosa, and Shoko, pulled up desks and chairs, sat down, and took out their little Bento box lunches. We all say, "Itadekimasu," which is kind of like saying 'Grace' but it has more to do with the culture of Japan than of the religion. I've never actually met a Japanese person who didn't say it. My tiny Bento box was quite tasty. I was surprised because this was my first Bento from my new host mom. 1/2 the box was filled with seasoned rice, while the other half at different treats like Salmon, Spinach, and other sorts of fish. The girls all talked about some random Tosajoshi occurences, while I tried hard to listen and understand what they were talking about. The thing about lunch, is that it used to be a traumatically difficuly experience for me. I am an American, and therefore, I eat fast, or breaking the sound barrier fast in Japan. Japanese girls are so slow that I first thought that they waiting for each other to die, before they could finish eating. In the first few months I finished my lunch box in minutes, while the girls sat around and watched in disgust. In all of their Japanese indirectness, they made comments about how I am always the first to finish... probably in the whole school. To them I pretty much vacuum inhaled the food. In America, I ate at a normal healthy pace. Eating slow gradually became a part of life, and it's not a struggle anymore. Now I finish 3rd in the eating contest, even though my lunch is always the smallesy. I've learned a really good lesson about eating. The slower you eat, the less you eat because you feel fuller, and you learn to enjoy every last bite. After the 2008 came and went, the girls finished and started a card game. I packed up some of my belongings and headed to the library to wait for my next class. I skimmed the book and looked for questions I could ask Arakawa-sensei, the teacher of my next class. When the bell finally rang, a few minutes later, Arakawa-sensei entered the library. She is a really kind older woman, who speaks a little bit of English. I immediately spoke to her in Japanese and asked a few questions. Afterwards she gave me an assignment of particles, which is my worst subject. And not surprisingly, I got nearly half of them wrong. After I bombed the assignment, I asked her what she thought about my Japanese. She respond that since our last lesson, which was probably a month earlier, my Japanese had surged forward. People who have no right to make comments about my Japanese are always making nasty remarks. But when good praise comes from a teacher, I am very happy and quite relieved. She also reamrked that after 6 months, I am at a great level for the halfway point. After all, Japanese is much harder than English, especially for someone who hasn't studied that language prior to coming to Japan.
My final class of the day is Gym with my homeroom. So after I thanked Arakawa-sensei, I headed up to the third floor where my classmates were changing into their gym uniforms. Everyone was nearly finished, so I really had to hurry up. Just for the record, if someone back in America ever complain about gym clothes in my presence, I'm going punch them. We have the world's most awful uniform, and I'm totally not exaggerating about that. They are these bright yellow sweat suits with the Tosajoshi flower and the name of the student. Mine says, of all the weird names in the world, "Uraytay." Mind you, that's not a Japanese name. I really haven't a clue what it means. Anyway, individually we look like bananas, while clumped together a group of students looks like a plate of cheese. I can't even begin on the horror and the loathing I possess for this sweat suit. To make matter worse, my uniform is really short so I look like a banana going clam digging. Taking off the sailor uniform isn't exactly easy either. When all is said and done, I look like I stepped out of a Tornado.
My group of 5 girls goes to the shoe cubby area, where we change our slipper into the indoor gym shoes. We have a grand total of 4 pairs of shoes at the school, while there are 2,000 students and a little over a 100 teachers. Now I haven't takena math class in a while, but I'm pretty sure that means there are about 8,500 pairs of shoes in Tosajoshi.
My group then heads to the Tosajoshi gym/auditorium for this semesters rotation sport of Volleyball. My team, the same group as my lunch crowd are the first to have received testing from the gym teacher. First we did our warm up excercises, which are a bit of a joke. We kind of just wave our arms around and look like peeling bananas. But warm up is nothing like the rest of the class. What shocks me about Japanese gym class is that everyone participates. I think I'll write a column on that later on. When it was time for testing, my group did quite well. My test went really smoothly too, except I can't really serve. I was really happy to be included with the class in testing. Sometimes I feel the I'm just a class mascot who doesn't have to do anything. When I'm asked to participate, it means I am an actual student. Shoko, Mosa, and I played a little soccer, where we really took off the gym teacher's head. It's been a long time but I can still play soccer. For the last few minutes of the class, our team played another team in Volleyball. And slaughtered them 12-3. The bell rang and we were really late for last homeroom.
Back in room 16, most of the girls changed back into their sailor suits fight in front of Yano-sensei. I couldn't bring myself to chnage in front of a man. So when we were dismissed I was a lone banana in a sea of sailors. After the final bow, everyone must pull their deak to the back of the room in assistance of the current classroom cleaning crew. Luckily, this week, my group has no cleaning duties and I am free as soon as I changed into my sailor uniform. I quickly changed and then headed down the shoe cubby area and changed the slippers for the black leather clunkers. I found my bike, sandwiched between two school bikes. I had not seen it since Friday, so I after a brief reunion, I wrestled it out from the other bikes. I then pulled it to the school gates, where I pushed them open and freed myself from the clutches of Tosajoshi. I turned right and headed straight fr the Kochi Prefecture library to drop off some Japanese history books that I was finished with. I then crossed my fingers and followed some signs that looked somewhat familiar in hopes of finding my new host town, Kouda. Being honest, it wasn't difficult at all, I really I am a great navagator. Just before the bridge over the main Kochi rover, the Kagami, I stopped at a Family Mart Convenience store for some gum and cake. I made my way home at around 4, after I passed underneath the underground walkway. I wanted to do some more exploring but I was unsure what my host mom had planned and what the times were. But from what I got on the that first bike ride, Kouda, is great. It reminds me so much of my hometown of Verona, in that it's really quiet but still has a main road. It's a city neighborhood with a suburd atmosphere. Just outside the Osak household are a bread store, book shop, super market, post office (the size of a shoe box), ande to my delight, and Okonomiacki restaurant. I pulled my rusty old bike into the driveway and knocked on the front door. Nearly seconds after I made my way inside, my host grandmother was dragging me out, with plans to visit the Osaki company. I pass it everyday to and from school. And the building is HUGE, with 3 enormous floors, lots of employees. I'm not exactl sure what it does, but I'm sure it's pretty successful. In an elevator, we traveled up to the third floor, where I was introduced to the main leaders in the company, and given a company profile, which had the craziest English ever. From reading it, I gathered the company makes gears or something. Maybe. My host Obachan (grandmother) is a pretty funky lady. She reminds me of an old lady version of Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus. She introduced me to one guy, who insisted I see his sword collection. Now I was thinking, toy swords. But nope. He opened a huge mahogany cabinet and pulled out a few velevet wrapped sticks. The first one, and most "unimpressive" because it was so young. Now I was thinking 10 or 20 years old. Nope it was only 200 years old. What a toddler! The oldest he owned was about 600 years old. And I couldn't help but think that the sword I was holding was more than twice the age of my country. He also handed me a small sword that was shockingly heavy. He explained in Japanese, that the sword was used by Samurai to committ suicide by slitting open their stomachs when they had committed dishonor upon their masters. I kept wondering whther the sword I had joking played around with had seen the inside of a Samurai's guts, and from the pride in the employee's eyes I'm pretty sure it had. Ew. Obachan realized that she had to get me back because of the committments I had made with the host mom. So we hopped into her BMW and drove back to the Osaki household. There I rushed up the 3 flights of stairs to my room and changed into running clothes and then ran back down stairs in time to jump into the Mini Van. We took a 30 minute through the city and then in to the country surrounding Kochi City. Hikari and Maako were sound asleep by the time we arrived. I couldn't help but crack up at this fact. Through rice paddies and abandoned cabins sprung this really out-of-place stadium looking thing. Maako woke up and jumped from the car and ran into the arena for her Synchronized swimming lesson. Okasan, Hikari, and Me started on a little jog around the area. We only lasted running for about 15 minutes because Hikari got really tired. So we walked for about an hour, until it got too dark. We continued the excercise inside the arena on an indoor track place. I showed Hikari an excercise I had learned from track, that nearly killed the poor girl. ABout an hour and half passed and we then went outside to wait for Maako. Hikari and I played a bunch of elementary school girls games while we waited. She ended up beasting me in Junken (Rock/Paper/Scissor) because she quickly figured out I ALWAYS throw out a scissor first. We also played touch tag and hand slap, but boredom soon got the best of us. When Maako was finished we piled back into the car and returned home, though nobody fell asleep. At home, Okasan quickly threw together a dinner, Oden, and some foul smelling weed looking thing with rice. I stayed in the living area with family and didn't use the computer once, because I didn't need too. I used it too much with my last family because I was always hiding in my room. I'm really liking the new family alot, no need to hide. I can only hope things continues to go as great as today and yesterday. I went to bed, and fell asleep wuickly, just after Hikari popped her head and said 'Good night.'

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How Do You Say "Faux Pas" in Japanese?

For the past 7 months of my exchange to Japan, I have made hundreds if not thousands of language blunders. Sometimes I think I make more than even the average gaijin can claim to. And trust me, the average gaijin makes ALOT of mistakes. There are other times when I know some Japanese people set me up, other time there is no one to blame but my idiotic self. Nonetheless I wish to share some of the more interesting occurrences with the world in the hope that if one ever comes to Japan, one comes prepared to make more mistakes in the brief course of a day than in one's entire life.

In my September I was fresh meat for a large group of Japanese girls at my school. Everyone was
really interested in everything about me, and I was often asked what my favorite hobbies are. I also answered in the few words I knew "Skiing, Reading, History, and Running." The Running part got a lot of gasps and unbelievable noises. Why would an American do exercise, I thought all they did was eat McDonalds, shoot people, and love Hollywood? I would always say, "Watashi go Unco ga daisuki desu," thinking I was saying "I love exercise!" Most of my friends and listeners would eaither chuckle quietly or give me a horrified stare, which I interpreted as more disbelief that an American would actually excercise for fun. Finally after the majority of my classmates discovered that I loved Unco, a teacher pulled me aside and asked me to stop saying such foolishness. I argued with him in English that I really did love excercise. SUddenly his serious grim face turned into a bright laughter and he said, "Oh you mean undo." Turns out "Unco wa daisuki desu" is "I love Poop."

I have a teacher, who for the purpose of concealing my embarrassment, we will refer to him as Igawa. He is the most awful putrid odd little man. He is always looking at himself in a mirror and making snide remarks about me because he thinks I can't understand him. Anyway I wanted to tell my friends about the object of my my utmost loathing. "Igawa ga kirei desu," I proudly announced one afternoon at lunch. Half of my friends snorted in laughter while the other half just stared at me in utmost disgust. Finally somebody asked, "Why?" My lack of Japanese prohibited me from saying that the man is the most right foul twit I have ever laid eyes on it, so I settled for something along the lines of he is just not nice. They all nodded their heads in understanding, while suppressing their laughter. Finally somebody said, "You mean 'Igawa go kiRAi desu." Apparently I called the world's most awful man, quite beautiful.

Then there was accidentally perverted blunder. During one of my self study periods, I was to do a little speech in Japanese about what my life in Japan has been like so far. The audience was a small group of teachers and students who were interested in hearing my terrible Japanese. I was telling the group all about friends when I said, "Kaho-chan wa shikima desu." Everyone gasped in horror as I stared around waiting for cries of applause at knowing such a difficult Japanese word. Instead I was met with whispers and the English teachers asked me what I was trying to say. When I told them Kaho was colorblind, they cracked up and began telling everyone what I was really saying. Kaho-chan wa shikimo, Not Shikima. The difference of one vowel makes the difference between colorblind and horny. Poor Kaho, either way she is no longer looked at the right way.

But I certainly can not forget the unfortunate mishap involving a very tired host mom and a stupid eager exchange student. I turned to my host mom, who was yawning heavily, and said, "Takusan chikube," or "Many yawns!" The woman nearly fainted and stammered "wha...what...WHAT?" as she eyed me from head to toe wondering what would possess me to say something like that. My electronic dictionary revealed the simple problem. I had meant to say Akube, instead of chikube, because akube is yawn in Japanese. Instead I told the lovely woman, that she she had a lot of nipples. Oh dear. She was looking considerably less sleepy after that wonderful comment.

And then there have been those countless daily menacing incidents. Some people will never let me live down the time I told my first family I had seen 4 cats. The word for 4 is also the same word for death. So for a few brief moments of horror, my host parents believed me to have just recently killed a cat. In the first few months every morning I went to say "Itekimasu," meaning "I'm leaving!" Instead I would say "Itadekimasu," meaning "Let's eat!" I would then merrily skip out of the house, as my host parents laughed themselves silly at the stupid little gaijin. The sea between Shikoku and Honshu is called, in English, the Inland sea. For a while I referred to the water as "Inland Sea," which the Japanese heard as, "Inran." I was telling people to commit lechery, when I was trying to tell them to visit the Inland Sea. Being honest, I could go on and on with the countless mistakes that I have made.

You know what, though? Being here as an exchange student, and as a foreigner or gaijin in Japan as taught me a really incredible technique that has gotten me through everything, all those little moments when I would have been embarrassed enough to put on a paper bag over my head. It was in those horribly embarrassing moments, when it all came together and I realized I just told my brand new host mom she had a lot of nipples. I realized there is only one thing to do to get through it without scarring one's sanity. Burst out laughing. I mean sure, sitting there and allowing the horror of embarrassment to sink in is a viable option. But why? My first host family thinks I slaughtered a cat.

That's pretty funny.

They say laughter is the best medicine. Though I'm not totally sure that's true, I do know that it cures symptoms of Gaijin Stupidity Embarrassment Disorder (GSED) And I figure, once you can leave to laugh at yourself, life suddenly becomes a lot easier to live. But pooping makes it even easier.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Moving on a Sunday In All Of It's Newness

I was wide awake at 7AM on a Sunday morning.

If you ask my body, that simple act of being awake so early is a crime against humanity. Sunday is the only day that we Tosajoshi girls have off during the week. Usually I sleep till 10 or 11. But luckily, I had yesterday off, so my body was only considering calling a lawyer and not actually doing it.

So why was I up this early? I had to finish packing.

Today, Sunday, February 18th, I was to move to my third family, the Osaki's. To be honest, even though I really haven't had an easy 3 months with my current family, I was kind of dreading moving. It's just making my departure that much closer. I mean thinking that approximately 3 months ago I was still living with the Masakis... Where is time drifting off to? When I looked around my room, I couldn't help but chuckle. I came here with 2 large bags, a backpack, and a camera bag. Now 6 months later, I have 5 large (that's an understatement, more like gigantically enormous mega OoKi super heavy) bags, a back pack, and a camera bag. You know, though, I'm not too surprised about this. I'm sure you have been in a situation when you pack a bunch of suitcases for just a few brief days and someone says, "What are you packing for a year?" Well, yeah, actually... My room was a total disaster, but that's okay.

That's totally understandable to my host family.

I am, after all, an O blood type.

I guess you'd have to be Japanese no understand the brilliance behind my newest and most wonderful excuse. The Japanese believe that your blood type determines you personality. A people are really straight laced, clean and orderly folk. I'm not sure about B. But O people have a tendency to create messes and be content with unorganization. I'm a pretty organized person when I want to be. But today, I was about to move into a new family that I know nothing about with 5 trillion pounds of luggage and a bit of a cold to top off all the madness. Yes- I was allowed to be disorganized regardless of my blood type. I opened my door at some point and Mari-chan, my host mom wandered in. She asked me to help her with the laundry, which I was happy to do. Then we returned to the madness of my soon-to-be former room and began to impossibly exhausting task of hauling the dangerously heavy luggage down 3 flights of stairs and into the van. Yohei, Me, and Mari took all the heavy stuff. Eri might have broken in half if she tried to pick up the heavier stuff.

God forbid my host father actually helped.

Ready to leave, I said goodbye to Eri and Yohei, who opted to stay behind. It wasn't all that hard. Mari-chan and I drive in a separate car than Otosan. The reason was because I had so much luggage that we needed two cars, but I really don't think that's the case. No matter though. The beginning of the ride with Mari-cahn she said, in all of the Japanese indirectness that she was sorry that we didn't do too much and that the Oono family is very "my pace." Last night she had come into my room and said the same thing only more direct. I honestly felt like she was telling me that they want nothing more to do with me. Japanese is a very indirect language so those very words didn't come out like that, but that is the way I felt. I was upset at first, but I realize that it is definitely for the best. We drove through the city and I began to worry at just how far the Osaki household is from Tosajoshi, my school. To say I wasn't nervous would be a lie. Everyone over the past few months had been telling me that I would be taking the bus because it is so far. But I'm a bit of an exercise Nazi and I insisted on being able to take my bike. But as we drove and drove and drove, worry began to set in.

Another thing that was bothering me during that drive was my next host family. '

I had only met my next host mother and father once at a dinner back in December. I learned basic
My new home.
things about them. They had 4 kids, 3 cats, 2 grandparents living at the house. They are are a very active family. I think I made a pretty good impression. But I really don't know anything about them since they live so far away. We finally pulled up in front of the strangest looking house I'd ever soon. The front door was on the street and almost on top of the stairs to the second floor was this little shoebox looking post office. My next host parents were waiting outside with 2 older looking people, whom I assumed to the grandparents. 2 little girls ran in the streets in the background. The view of the family and the playing kids made me feel... not welcome so much, but in more of environment that I am used to.
It reminded me so much of those summer days of Hide and Seek on my street in Verona, New Jersey.

It was a brief, but nice feeling.

Out of the car, Mari-chan greeted Osaki-san. They spoke about me briefly, about my likes and dislikes, and all that jazz. The little girls had locked themselves to their mother's hip and were staring at me in awe. Otosan Oono was talking to Osako Otosan and the older people. I stood there just looking around and trying to get a feel for the place that would be my home for 3 months. 5 minutes passed and Otosan Oono was in the car and staring his wife down trying to give her the hint. She made him come and say goodbye to me. But it was the coldest goodbye I have ever felt. People don't hug in Japan. But when Otosan Masaki said goodbye, he was fighting back tears. Otosan Oono and I shake hands and he quickly jumps into the car to leave.

You know how you have one of those experiences where you can't stop thinking about the awkwardness and the coldness of what just happened. Well that was it for me. Even after he had driven away I stood there in total awe, not believing what had just happened. It was so cold. That's all I can describe it as.

Mari-chan, who I know will miss having me around, said a slightly warmer goodbye. She had given me a hug a few nights ago and didn't want to hug me again-in public. This is Japan- you just don't do that. I watched them leave and the very little sadness I felt was replaced by a great hurting feeling. I know things don't work out perfectly, but I didn't realize I meant that little. I really don't think I did anything wrong except for maybe having a bit higher standards than most. I did, after all, have the greatest first host family ever. I'm going to try and make sense of everything that just happened with the Oono family, bear with me or skip down to the next paragraph. I moved in with them on November 19th, a day after my super sweet 16. It was hard to leave the Masaki's but I knew that and vowed to not have any expectations. It would be really hard for anyone to be as great as my first family. But every family is different and I planned on making things work at all costs. Within the first month, I loved my host mom. She was a sweet, kind, and attentive woman, who generally worried about me like I was one of the family. My host brother was pretty cool as well. Once I realized what a Japanese younger host brother was like, things went pretty smoothly. I had mixed feelings about my host cousin. The only way to put is that she is very strange. Not in a way that made her someone I couldn't live with, just in a way making things harder to get to know each other. But there was something, from the start, about my host father. He rarely ate dinner with his family, even though he was nearly always home, barely spoke to his wife, always stayed on a different floor, wouldn't speak to me unless it was really fast and when I was in trouble. To cope with the weirdness, for want of a better word, I categorized it to as being part of the culture. But Masaki Otosan was not like that. He yelled at me twice. Yelled. Each time I had been invited to go out with my first host family for dinner or a movie. If they would be late, I would get driven home. If early enough, I'd just take my bike. No harm done. I won't get into the whole thing. It just wasn't a positive experience for me. Or perhaps it was.

Would I change it? No. I stuck it out through all the hardships. The only problem was that I sort of shot myself in the foot in that to avoid the things that made me uncomfortable, I went into my room on the computer and didn't try to get involved with the family. My host mom was my saving grace, but I realized that for me it is hard to have respect for people who don't have respect for themselves.

I've learned some important things in 3 months of my life spent with the Oono family. I won't go into it all, for it would take weeks and I still wouldn't even begin to explain what I have learned as an individual. But to sum it up, the first night with the Osaki's I watched as my host father put a blanket on his slumbering 7 year-old daughter because he thought she was cold. I knew then I was going to be okay with this family.

Back on topic, after my bags had been magically transported up 3 flights of stairs into a room that would be mine, the host parents ushered me into a large family living room. There all 4 kids, plus 2 host parents, 2 grandparents, and 3 kids were introduced to me. Hikari, 7, Maako, 11, and Kaho, 13, are my host sisters. While Yu, 15, is my host brother. My host parents told me to call them Otosan and Okasan, while the grandparents are Ojichan and Obachan.

After a bit of an awkward moment, my host mom and grandmohter suggested I head up stairs to unpack. I went upstairs where I was showed an old-fashioned thin walled room with a bed styled like a crib. My room. My host mom and I began ripping open boxes and taking out some necessary stuff. Some of the stuff I felt weird letting her see. But I wasn't sure how to tell her I could do it myself. She found a rice ball wrapper from Setsubun that I thought was cute, and tried to throw it out. I had to stop her, which was a bit embarrassing. Eventually she got the hint though and went downstairs. I was left in my new room. I realized something. I'm becoming so much like the Japanese, in that I don't like change. I

t's not as though I was sad to leave the 2nd family, it's just... well. I guess I forgot what packing your entire life into a few boxes and unpacking for just a few months was like. It's not easy at all. It's one of those things that I will just never be able to get used to no matter how hard I try.
Howdy, partner! 

At about 12, I headed for the first time all the way to the first floor. The main living area of the Osaki family is the kitchen area. It was there that I had my first meal with the family. Rice balls. I only ate 3. I have this incredibly weird habit of eating next to nothing on the first day with the new host family. You can ask 3 families who have hosted me for proof. haha. Lunch was awkward, at best. I didn't speak and neither did anyone else. The littlest Osaki, Hikari, kept staring at me and smiling as she devoured like 10 rice balls one after another. After lunch, my host mom suggested that Hikari and Maako take me for a brief tour around the surrounding vicinity. They took me to the Hooka Bento shop, the neighborhood Juku, the Hair Saloon (this is not a spelling error!) and the Shoebox post office.
The wee post office net to the
Osaki abode.


It took about 5 minutes and when we returned my host mom asked me if I wanted to attend Maako and Hikari's Synchronized Swimming. I've learned to do EVERYTHING that is offered to me. Like when we arrived at the party and my host mom asked me if I wanted to go with Hikari to Synchronized swimming on Wednesday. At home, I wouldn't be caught dead doing something like that, here, well I said something like, "Bring it on!" The part was really nice, but for me, very awkward. All the kids were Synchronized swimmers and knew each other really well.

After a while of watching old swimming performances by myself, I met 2 of the most interesting 5 year-old girls in Kochi. Aki-chan and another little girl came up to me, plopped themselves on my lap and soon made it clear they had every intention to start a Julie Fan Club. At home, I was a pretty well-liked babysitter. Probably because I liked what I did, that is, hang out and play with little kids. But I haven't been around little kids in 6 months, and so this chance to play with 5 years old was awesome! Plus as soon as Hikari saw that I could communicate with the littler kids, she and began to bond with hand games and poking. By the end of the party, we were holding hands. With Aki, her friend, and Hikari, I taught them a classic game, "High! Low! Too slow! hahah" I spent well over an hour getting beasted by kids 1/3 my age at my own game.

When the main Synchro teacher found out I would be attending the Wednesday practice, she wanted to come talk to me. She spoke very funny English, but with my Japanese and her English, we communicated the harder aspects of both languages. She asked me if I knew how to swim.

Well... duh.

Then she asked me if I had a bathing suit. I said I did but probably couldn't wear it. We both were thinking very different reasons on why I couldn't wear it. She looked me up and down and said in Japanese, "you are VERY skinny, don't worry." Why do all Japanese think of gaijin as fat? ER! I shook my head and said, "The bathing suit is a bikini."

(Every mother of a swimmer in the Kochi Shyncro has a joke now. It's about the gaijin in a bikini.)

I'll never understand a country that is perfectly okay with onsen bathing can have a problem with bikini's. But then, how many times am I going to have to say it for it to finally make sense. That's Japan for you. As the party was coming to a close, the girls all formed a huge group to take a picture. I walked to the side, not wanting to get in the picture of the only Shyncro club. "Don't be silly! Get in this picture, Julie!" And so that's how one random gaijin ended up in a picture with mega-muscle swimming dance fiends. The Kochi Shyncro girls.

After the swimmers left for Karaoke, Hikari and me stayed alone and watched television with the mothers. They all seemed to get a kick out of the fact that I love coffee, Not sure why though. When it was all over with, my host mom, Hikari and I, holding hands, headed down to the lobby to be picked up by my new host father. About 15 minutes later, and a few less awkward moments, this time because my host mom and I had a little conversation about Shincro, we were picked up. Otosan Osaki, Kaho, and Yu were already spread throughout the army-sized van. We packed in like Sardines, and started to drive to a restaurant called Torii Ben. The restaurant had these random giant eggs in front. Inside the restaurant, Obachan and Ojichan were already seated with my host Obasan (Aunt) and new host cousin. I took an immediate liking to her. She was funny and sweet and really very kind, plus she actually talked to me.

Soon dinner was on it's way. Torii means chicken and we eventually were served up to 10 different servings of chicken. I felt very awkward at first just reaching over the table to grab a piece of chicken, in fact I missed the majority of the servings because of my shyness to do it. But eventually I realized that if I wanted to eat in a big family, I had to get things my self. I'm pretty sure that same goes for talking, but I have yet to test that theory. After 10 rounds, Maako returned from Karaoke and slowly, in all her Japanese characteristics, ate every tiny piece of chicken and made us wait another hour. The meal total $300. I was shocked and horrified at the huge price for chicken. But then I realized that there were 11 people.

This whole big family situation is really throwing me off.

When we made it home, the kids were dropped off while the adults parked the car in the parking space across the main road. Hikari and walked hand in hand back up to the house. I hope things stay the same with us. She is really cute and I'm really enjoying being around little kids again. Sometimes you don't realize how much you miss things until you are given a different version of it. Hikari reminds me so much of the little balls of energy I get to play with alot at home. Inside, I sat with the family in the living area/Kitchen watching TV and absorbing the Osaki lifestyle. Everyone took orderly and planned quick bath times. That included me. After I brished my hair I returned to the family room, something I never did with the Oono's. I decided I wanted to become as involved in this family as purely possible. I'm going to put 120% in getting everything to work out. Maybe an additional 20% will do the trick. At around 11, we all went to bed. Poor Hikari was sick. I went to bed thinking that even though some things were a little awkward, things in this family are definitely going to work out.

I felt for the first time all week, really really happy.