Saturday, May 19, 2007

Judi- Sensei

At 16, I consider myself to be one of those lucky people who has gotten to experience alot of amazing things. I mean obviously, not many people can say that they have lived for over 9 months in a foreign country, especially one as foreign as Japan. But there is one more thing. How does it happen that a 16 year-old American high school student, with basic Japanese skills, teaches an entire Middle School English Conversation class? By herself.
On May 19, 2007, I arrived at my host school, Tosajoshi prepared for another fun filled Saturday. My schedule on Saturday is as followed: English Conversation, English Conversation, English Grammar, and English Conversation. English Conversation is the period that I head to the Tosajoshi Middle School and help a foreign teacher teach English to the Chugakkou Ichinensee (Middle School 7th graders.) I'm really just an assistant, but I feel like I do certainly play a big help in teaching. While the teacher teaches the pronunciation, I usually walk around and correct the students. The girls really like me, and I really love teaching. It's a wonderful opportunity to see what it is like to teach and to teach English in a foreign country.
For the first 8 months of my assistant teaching stint, the lead teacher was Paula Fabian. She was a great teacher who used really connected with the students. What the students liked best about her, was that she wasn't a typical Japanese teacher. The kind that stands in front of the 40 students and lectures. Paula was interactive, forcing the girls to learn by speaking English to them, and pressuring them for a response. Unfortunately, Japan does not like the type of change that Paula tried very hard to advocate. She was replaced with another woman, who couldn't start till June. In the meantime, a substitute, Paul, from Great Britain, is filling in for the new teacher. For all the given circumstances, Paul is a decent teacher. He studied Japanese in college, and worked at a ski resort in Hokkaido. The only downside is that he just arrived in Kochi 3 weeks ago, and has never taught a class before. There is only way to describe Paul, in that, no one will ever forget him. In his first lesson with all the classes, he gave them all 10 minutes to ask him whatever they wished to know. Every class asked the same first question. And it wasn't the important stuff like, "Have you ever taught before? Where do you come from?" Instead they all asked if he had a girlfriend. When he responded no, in laughter, the girls all nearly wet themselves. As he turned away I told them all that they are only 12, I'm 16 and I already called first dibs.
On that May 19th, I headed to the Tosajoshi Middle School, mentally preparing for some teaching with Paul. By this I mean, I had looked up how to propose in Japanese. Some of the girls in last weeks class had asked me to teach them how to propose to Paul. I arrived in the quiet classroom, which held 22 petrified looking schoolgirls. In each homeroom, there about 40 to 45 girls to one teacher. But Paula had succeeded in making one important change. She got the Tosajoshi English department to split the classes down the middle, so that the teach could work a little harder on every one's individual skill.
When I walked through the sliding glass doors, I greeted the girls of Ohama homeroom, and received shy smiles in return. This class is not one of the smarter class, but I can't say that they don't try. Mostly I think they are just intimidated by English. I had arrived a little early, so I used the time to speak with the girls. Even though I am the English teacher, before class, I always speak Japanese. The only problem is that Ohama homeroom is full of girls who have trouble believing that Gaijin can speak Japanese. Most of the girls refused to answer me, as they blushed and avoided eye contact. When the bell rang, I headed back to the front of the classroom, and leaned against the podium in waiting. Often the first period teachers would be a little late, as they only had less than 5 minutes to scurry throughout the building to their next class. So it was no surprise that Paul had not arrived yet. I kept and eye on the main hall, waiting for him to come, while the girls sat and waited in silence. A few minutes passed, none of which gave me the slightest worry as to the whereabouts of Paul.
Then a few minutes turned into a full 10 minutes, it was then that I think I knew、Paul was not coming. I kept hope, as I walked back in forth in the front of the room peering out the windows looking for him. The girls began to chatter amongst themselves in a quiet manner. I heard one girl say, "I don't know why Juri-sensei doesn't just teach." And taking that in, I knew what I had to do. I picked myself off the desk, grabbed a piece of chalk and started teaching. "Good Morning Class!" As soon as I began, 22 confused Japanese girls suddenly turned to bright cheerful smiles, "Goodo Moringu Juri-sensei!"
As I stood in front of the class of girls, eager to learn a language from their teacher, I sort of freaked out. I was not their teacher, I was just the assistant helper. If I continued teaching, I was be giving these girls a false image, and possibly breaking education rules. I don't actually think that people without teaching degrees are allowed to teach, but then in Japan, pretty much anyone is allowed to teach. Instead of continuing, I jolted from the room, looking for the fellow English teacher, Craig. Craig was teaching the other 22 girls of the class, one floor below where I was placed. He saw me coming, but he continued to teach. I burst threw his doors, causing quite a scene and yelled, "Paul didn't show up!"
Craig looked at me and said, "Can you do it?" He must have seen how scared my face was because he then said, "If not, just bring them down here with this class."
I think everyone has a moment, once in a while, where they are just faced with a big decision, knowing that either way has consequences. The 22 girls, I has supposed to be helping with, would fall behind and not be prepared for their upcoming exams. Even if I sheep herded them down to Craig's class, it would waste alot of teaching time. Plus the girls weren't used to Craig's teaching style. They all knew how I taught, and had previously excelled in. On the other hand, I thought that the girls parents might call and complain to the school that their daughters had a 16 year-old American exchange student teach the class. I couldn't allow Tosajoshi to get into trouble. But the choice seemed obvious. "It's okay, I can do it!" Craig smiled, and then gave me some tips on what the lesson involved.
When I trekked back upstairs, I climbed a set of stairs in total shock. I was going to teach and entire class all by myself. And what made it even stranger, was that I was no longer scared, but excited. It was finally my chance after months of just helping out.
I opened the sliding glass doors, wearing a big smile. The 22 students looked at me, again confused and clueless. One girl asked me where Paul was. I replied that today, he probably wouldn't be coming. But that I would be teaching. And with that, I started the lesson. " How are you?" I walked around the room and got each girl to individually answer. Many just said fine, but I also got quite a few sleepy people. After this activity, the girls seemed to relax a little bit. Everything was back to normal, they had their teacher and were learning English.
Since I had been thrown into this whole thing, 10 minutes after class had started, I had no preparation. I also had no teaching material, lesson plan, or ever stationary! On the previous Thursday, the classes all got through pages 13 and 14, in preparation for their exams. Deciding that staying on the schedule was the best way to go, I had the girls take out page 13, and we began to go over some sounds. I borrowed one of the front row girls page, and began reading off the new vocabulary. After I read, the girls would repeat it until I was sure everyone got the correct pronunciation. That was difficult, because in Japanese many of the English sounds don't exist. After they got the write pronunciation, I had them write the word twice. My greatest hope was for them to remember exactly what the meaning of the words were. I couldn't help but switch into speaking Japanese sometimes, because I don't think they quite understood all my English.
When we were finished with page 13, I decided to be a little mean. I had the girls who were not participating in the speaking portion, come to the board. I wrote out some of the new words. Then I explained the rules; that after I said the word, the girls were to smack the proper word. The winner would get to sit down. The shy girls of Ohama's class, suddenly become not to shy. Two girls in particular, amused the whole class. I called up the tiniest girl, who resembled Tinkerbell in a sailor suit, to face the tallest giraffe Japanese girl in the whole country. Tinkerbell was actually about 1\3 of the Giraffe's height. Both girls stood in the front of the room, wearing the most competitive grins I had seen all year. Tinkerbell shot Giraffe a look, that gave even me shivers. I called out the word, 'Shrimp.' The Giraffe slapped the board at a speed, breaking the sound barrier. Tinkerbell began howling that she couldn't reach and that's why she lost. So I agreed to send out another word. This word was 'what.' Both girls locked eyes, before looking at the board to find the word. At the same time, two arms flew in two different directions. The Giraffe reached for the right answer, while Tinkerbell knocked her arm into the Giraffe's shoulder. This threw her off the front podium and into a desk in the front row. Then Tinkerbell carefully placed her hand on the 'what,' while turning around and giving the class the cutest most innocent little smile I had ever been fooled by. In that single moment, we all learned how Napoleon conquered Europe. Yet Napoleon would not have stood a chance against Tinkerbell.
After that round, I realized if I continued, someone might end of dead. I asked the girls to return to their seats and take out the next page, 14, which was dedicated to the learning of the TH sound. Even English speakers have a hard time with the pronunciation of the TH. Most small children can't even do it, saying words like, 'fing' rather than thing. In the Japanese alphabet, TH sound doesn't even exist, and it is never taught. In all of my High School English classes, the teacher used the ss pronunciation. Like thing, would be said as sing. I knew looking down at the sheet, I was in for a long struggle. And sure enough they had an enormous amount of trouble trying to overcome the difference between Bus and Bath.
The sheet contained many different examples of the TH sound, which I read off, making sure to emphasize ever TH sound. This. That. Thing. Bath. Thin. Thick. Math. I also went around to each and every one of the girls and pointed to a word on the sheet. I made them say it out individually, and in a loud voice, until I was content with their pronunciation. One girl was forced to say Math, about 25 times. But in the end, I was sure she had the perfect TH sound. I soon discovered that giving certain students individual teaching rather than spending time with an entire class, had it's downsides. The girls who weren't getting one on one help, decided to do other work or began chatting with the friends around them. I found myself yelling at them for silence.
When we had gotten through the terrible TH, I looked up at the clock and was shocked by the time. It had reached just 2 minutes before the ending of class. Looking around the room, I smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. Then I ended with the Japanese word 'it's all over with.' Looking out at the 22 faces, I couldn't help but feel immensely proud of myself. It's true, that I probably didn't teach them anything that they will remember in 20 years or even next week, but I did my job. I kept them on pace with the other classes. And I taught an entire class, by myself.
Craig was the first to congratulate me. But I didn't need the congratulations, I was so proud of myself. The teacher of Middle School English department, who is also my school counselor, actually seemed annoyed about what I did. I knew that it might cause some problems, but I thought he could at least pretend to be impressed or something. I didn't let it get me though, and it seemed like nothing could really get to me after all that I managed to do. Later on in the week, I went to my counselor and asked him if parents had complained that it was a problem. He smiled and instead, apoligized for not thanking me for covering and keeping the girls had an even pace with the other class. He then told me earlier that he went to speak with the girls and aploigize that Paul had not shown up. He said that the girls couldn't understand why he was apoligizing, after all, they had a teacher, Judi-Sensei.

Friday, May 18, 2007

You Can Just Call Me Tree Pear

One thing I really admire about Japan, is the clever use age of Kanji in people names. For the record Kanji are the Chinese characters, adopted by Japan, and used as one of the 3 Japanese alphabets. The other two alphabets, Hiragana and Katakana, have about 48 characters within each of them. Nobody knows how many Kanji there actually are in existance, although some rumors estimate there to be about 50,000. That's not even the most intidating fact. The worst is that one Kanji can have multiple meanings. An easy example is the common 中. It can either be pronounced as naka, meaning in or inside, or chu, which is an abbreviation of China. Within names of Japanese citizens, Kanji are probably the most difficult to read. What I really like, though, is that every one's name has a different and special meaning with Japanese Kanji.
Japanese names usually consist of a family name, followed by a given name. And middle names are not recognized in Japan, like in the Western sense. When someone addresses another person, they usually use the family name. Only close friends and family members use a persons given name. According to estimates, there are as many as 100,000 different surnames in use today in Japan. Though there are only about 1/100th of that sum in used Kanji. Family names almost always refer to something in nature. For example, Ishikawa (石川) means "stone river," Yamamoto (山本) means "the base of the mountain," and Inoue (井上) means "above the well." While first names can have any sort of meaning, as long as it is of kind nature. For the examples I use, I put the family name first, followed by the first name, in Japanese style.
Unlike most Western names, every Japanese name has a meaning. Though each and every one of these names means something important in Japanese, translated into English and they sound a little bit funny. 矢野 愛実 Yano Aimi, who is a friend of mine, has a very interesting name. Ya means Arrow, while No means Field. So Yano (矢野) means Arrow Field. Ai means love and affection, and Mi means fruit. Aimi (愛実) literally means Affectionate Fruit. The names almost never work together. Another example, is Hirosue Yurie, 球末 友里恵. Hiro (球末) means Globe End, while Yurie means (友里恵) Royal Friend of Mercy.
When I first arrived in Japan, I couldn't read any Kanji. But 9 months later, it is my strongest Japanese language skill. Actually I can read more Kanji than previous students who had studied the language in the past. I think it's probably because I have a knack for reading and remembering things. One of my favorite things to do in my spare time is go outside the school Teachers room and read the names of the teachers. My current homeroom teacher is Fukumoto-sensei (福本) meaning Base of Happiness. There is also Matsuoka-sensei, (松岡) my school counselor, who's name means Pine Tree Hill. And then there are the names of my host families. My first host family, the Masaki's (正木) are the Truthful Tree's. The second family, the Oono's, (大野), is the Big Field. The third family is the Osaki's (尾崎) or Tail Cape. While my final family name is Kato (加藤) or Add Wisteria.
In Japan, one of the rules and regulations to become a Japanese citizen is the adoption of a Japanese name. My host counselor had a friend who's name went from John Brown to Minamoto Yohei. Now as much as I love Japan, becoming a citizen is not one of my priorities. However I did want to adopt a Japanese name, and with a stroke of luck, I was able to put my name into the Kanji characters. For the record my name in Japan is pronounced something like, Juri Ganaa. As you can see, because it began as a Western name, my first name is used first become the family name. Now the Kanji name ensures that the strange pronunciation sticks, and backward name reading sticks.
A few months ago, I was sitting and eating dinner with the Osaki host family, when we all decided to craft me a Kanji name. They liked the Kanji, 授里, which is translated into Giver of the Village. I thought the Kanji was kind of ugly, so it was back the drawing board. After many failed attempts to please my strict Kanji decision, a really nifty looking set of Kanji was selected. My host parents were somewhat annoyed that I selected the name because of the way the Kanji looked, rather than the meaning. But when I picked the final Kanji for Juri, nobody could argue that it wasn't perfect. Otosan Osaki even said that the Kanji had a really pretty meaning for girls. Though he couldn't explain what the meaning was. Next we crafted the Kanji for Ganaa, which was really difficult. There is only one Kanji for Ga and A. Though I was able to pick a pretty cool looking Kanji for Na. Plus the name had a really special importance to me. I didn't know the meaning in Japanese, but the Kanji I used had outside meanings. The A Kanji was taken from my host sister in the Osaki family, Maako (真亜子) Her name means Truth child. While the NA kanji was taken from my first host sister Masaki Naoko (菜?子)Thus my Japanese Kanji name looks like this: 我亜菜 樹梨. (Read Gaana Juri)
About a month after the adoption of my Kanji name, I discovered the real meaning. I had a Japanese lesson with my homeroom teacher, Fukumoto-sensei, when I write out my Kanji name. She's a very Westernized teacher, and when I was finished she burst into laughter. She told me that the Kanji had a wonderful meaning for a Japanese person, but that I was going to crack up when I found it out. She wrote out Ju (樹) and explained that this is a smarter term for Tree. The she wrote out Ri(梨) and then attempted to draw the shape of pear. 樹梨 means Tree Pear. I now give you permission to call me Tree Pear. Contrary to Fukumoto-sensei's belief, I actually like the meaning for the name a whole lot. Okay, sure I don't actually like Pears, but it's still pretty cool. That is until you add it with my last name. Ga (我) means something like I. A (亜) doesn't have any meaning. And NA (菜) means Vegetable. 我亜菜 I Am Vegetable. My English translated Japanese name is Tree Pear, I Am Vegetable. My name is more organic than a Vegan's refrigerator.
For as bad as it sounds, I actually really like my name. It's got beautiful Kanji, even though the meaning is bizarre to say the least. Julie Garner doesn't have any special meaning in English. Though I know it does mean something in Latin. I'm pretty sure Julie means Youthful. Garner has something to with farming, but what exactly I have no idea. In conclusion, when I return to America, I'm not going to go around by the name of Tree Pear. But having a Japanese name is really special. I'll never ever be Japanese, and I'm informed that quite often. But having a name written in ancient characters with a pretty interesting meaning, makes me fit in that much more. Tree Pear, I am Vegetable. A Vegetarian's dream.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Rafting the Yoshinogawa

I was wide awake and really excited at 5:30 in the morning. The rest of the Osaki family was sleeping soundly, while I excitedly threw on a bathing suit and tee-shirt. By the time the alarm clock in the other room rang, I was dressed and ready to go. After all, we were heading for the Yoshino River, in Tokushima/Kochi for a full day rafting adventure. The Yoshinogawa, is Japan's most intense rafting river. In fact in the top of rafting spots in all the world, the Yoshinogawa is rated among the best. At 7:30, the Osaki cars left the city of Kochi heading for the border of Kochi and Tokushima. There we would stop at the rafting company, Happy Raft, to begin our adventure. The drive took us about an hour and 20 minutes, where everyone but myself, slept soundly. I must have acted like a little 5 year-old on a driving trip to Disney World. "Are we there yet?" "No" "How about now?" "No" "Now?" For those that don't know me, I'm one of those insane people that enjoys dangerous and crazy thrills, for fun. Most Japanese people think I'm absolutely mad when I tell them I went Bungee-Jumping at 12 years-old, Parasailing at 10, and rode my first Roller Coaster an 1 and 1/2. Rafting qualifies, at least in my book, as one of those insanely awesome extreme adventures I so much enjoy.
When we arrived at the small, family-owned, river rafting company, Happy Raft, I was immediately shocked that they spoke English. On rural Shikoku. Oddly enough, Happy Raft was founded by an Aussie, and most of the staff speak a little bit English. We all sort of split into our rafting groups by this time. Since Hikari is only 7, the strict regulations say that she is not allowed on a full day rafting tour. Obachan and Chizuko-Obasan, decided the take Hikari on the half day tour on the less intense, half-day course. The Oboke, literally meaning 'Big Danger,' half-day tour is perfectly suited for first-time adventurers. The tour begins at Toyonaga where it’s straight into the action. Big rapids are interspersed with crystal clear pools as the river winds its way through the Yoshino valley down to Happy Raft base. Since they wouldn't start till later in the afternoon, they trekked out to the Iya Valley Rope Bridge (See Mysterious Iya Valley) That left Me, Otosan and Okasan Osaki, Ebuki, Kaho, and Maako getting quickly prepared for the Full Day Tour. From the brochure, "This is our premier tour and a must-do for adventure-lovers. There is no better way to refresh, relax and immerse yourself in the beauty of the river. The Koboke section stands above all other rafting trips offered in Japan. HappyRaft will ensure your day is safe and memorable. The Koboke is the big one! Japan’s ultimate white-water rafting adventure. The Koboke One-Day Trip boasts big challenging grade 4 rapids, breath-taking scenery, and crystal-clear pools!"
We waited for the company to open it's doors officially, then we began getting into the rafting gear. They provided us with everything that was needed. Luckily, they had lots of heavy clothes, because the weather was cold! There was a huge wind blowing and I had 'bird-bumps' (Japanese translation of Goosebumps) from the chill. First I put on a heavy sweatshirt. Next came the wet suit. Now the wet suit, is really not the most flattering thing I had to wear. And Japanese wet suits aren't quite good for the the long legs of a gaijin. It was so short that my ankles were hanging out the entire day. The wet suit resembled overalls, in that they went over the sweatshirt with suspender type things. It was tight, and began thanking god that I lost some weight recently. Next game this horribly obnoxious colored bright yellow jacket. The younger girls put on another set of wet suits, but I really don't think it would have fit me, Okasan, and Otosan. We were then given helmets for head protection. Mine was bright red, making my outfit the most unmatching thing I have ever worn. The guide then, wrote our names in Japanese on a piece of tape and stuck it to our helmet. And with that, all of us were ready for our big rafting adventure.
Into the Happy Raft van we went, briefly stopping to say goodbye to Hikari and the rest, as they set out for the Vine Bridge.
The ride to our first spot was really exciting. The guide talked to the Osaki's about the last rafting adventure they all went on with Happy Raft. When we arrived at an abandoned riverside parking lot, the group exited the van, which was to be dropped off further downstream. We walked along a deserted highway, besides the huge green mountains of Shikoku, and listened to our guide talk about some rules. I really couldn't understand anything, so I didn't bother to listen. After we climbed down a hill to the Yoshinogawa riverbank, where 2 rafts floated silently waiting for us, the guide handed out paddles. On the riverbank we sat and listened as he showed us some tricks and ways to avoid danger. In the boat, I sat alongside of Okasan Osaki in the back, later to be changed. The first long stretch was not very fun at all. Mostly we just practiced techniques, which were quite embarrassing for me. My host father told the guide that I'd been rafting before. Even though I insisted I couldn't remember it, because I was like 9 years-old, he seemed to think I would be a pro. So while everyone knew exactly what to do, I sort of sat around looking clueless. The wind was blowing very harshly, causing us to paddle heavily. But our first rapids changed all of that. Soon we were beasting category 3 rapids in an attempt to stay in the raft. Kaho and Ebuki, in the front of the boat, were drenched within the first few rapids. But it wasn't until later, that the rest of us got the water. About an hour of category 3 and easy paddling passed, when we reached a spot that made our raft get stuck. When we were freed from that madness, our first category 4 of the day loomed in the distance. We were very successful in getting through it, but Happy Raft had another idea. The company has this special feature, where the drag the raft underneath the front of a huge rapid. Basically the only way to get out of it and keeping it from doing a total flip over, is to fight with all of the weight in the boat. Maako and Otosan, who had switched to the front, followed by Me and Okasan in the middle, were suddenly found in the a bathtub. The water poured into the boat, up to our shoulders and as we screamed and laughed. The guide, Ebuki, and Kaho, stayed in the back and fought to keep the boat from flipping. I was screaming at the top of my lungs, while water that was the temperature of slightly above freezing, poured into my wet suit. It was so much fun and so cold at the same time! It was definitely the most enjoyable part of the whole rafting trip. When we finally escaped the grasps of the rapids and slight hypothermia, a 20 minute paddling stretch awaited us. We all sailed along in a synchronized manner, among the chorus of Ichi-Ni, or one-Two. By the time we reached the shores, out arms were burning with pain, and crying for a break. We climbed up the side of a slight hill to where we saw Hikari and some other people from the Happy Raft company. They set out a huge table full of lunch. I was starving, but noticed there wasn't much food. So I only ate one and 1/2 mini ham and ketchup sandwiches. At some point I had to go to the bathroom. On the side of a bridge was a couple Port-a-Potty, with a Japanese touch. When I got back the rafting group, they had lit a charcoal fire. I was so frozen that I almost sat on the fire, though it wouldn't have made much difference. The wind was just so strong! Hikari, Obachan, and Chizuko, were the first to head back to base as their tour would be starting shortly. The rest of us climbed back down the hill and boarded the raft. This time, Okasan and I were put in the front of the raft, probably because it was supposed to be the wettest spot. I wasn't very happy with this idea because of how cold I was. The wind had died down alot, but I was still frozen from the coldness of the water. Sure enough, our first rapids left Okasan and Me sopping with water. The funny part was that these rapids were really dangerous and the guide called for everyone to sit in the boat in a protective way with the paddle above one's head. Okasan and I couldn't hear the directions from the roaring of the rapids. So we fought and braved the rapids in a really dangerous position, while the rest of the group thought us to be stupid. When we were told what had happened, we couldn't help but burst into laughter. After those major rapids, we made some side stops, like a rock with a huge bath carved into it. The younger girls took a little dip in the 'Onsen,' which was filled with algae rather than sulfur. They got their suit covered in the green slime, joking that it would be a good souvenir to take back for Hikari. The next part was a long boring stretch, in which the guide crafted some fun paddle games for us. Along the way we got to look out at the beauty of the Shikoku landscape. I'm convinced there is no place quite like it in it's utter beauty and mystery. The Koboke canyon, which we rafted, is crystalline schist ravine running through central Shikoku, carved out over thousands of years by the Yoshinogawa river crossing the Shikoku mountains. The steep sides and rugged terrain of the area are said to have given the ravine the names Ooboke, meaning "it is dangerous to walk at a stride", and Koboke, meaning "it is dangerous to walk even with small steps". Many strangely-shaped rocks and abysses are visible at Ooboke and Koboke, sometimes considered to have a rather masculine shape to them. These features, formed over time by the river, are the Yoshinogawa's natural "works of art". There is no good way to describe the breathtaking views of rural Shikoku. The first game that the guide crafted for us on that long paddling session, was a game where you push down your paddle into the water. When it comes back up you have to catch it. If you do, a wish will come true. Maako was the only one to catch her paddle. But I didn't make a wish, the guide however, made my wish. That I would get a boyfriend. Luckily, the silly paddle wasn't caught. The next game was my least favorite part of the whole day. The guide stood on the back of the boat, while the rest of slide to where he was standing. Slowly he pulled it back, claiming he wanted to see how far he could full it without flipping. What stupid person would really fall for that? Unfortunately the raft flipped, and since I was the furthest up from it, it crashed into my head and pushed me all the way under the water. I can't really remember what happened next, except that everyone was roaring in laughter. My Host Mom said that when I reached the surface I started screaming in English, "Oh My FREAKING God!" The water was sooooooooooooooooooooooo cold. The girls swam around in the water, whileOkasan, Otosan, and I climbed back into the boat. I think it must have been because we weren't wearing 2 wet suits that we were so uncomfortable in the water. When everyone was back on the boat, the guide asked if anyone was crazy enough to some cliff jumping. I didn't understand his question, but I did understand when 5 Japanese people pointed their fingers at me as if on cue. So we paddled down the river, my lips were blue and my teeth were chattering as the wind blew strongly. When we reached the last stretch of our tour, the raft was stopped at a huge rock on the side of the river. The girls and I all climbed out, and onto the rocks. The guide helped us as we slowly climbed the huge rocks to midpoint. Kaho went first and jumped straight into the water. Maako and Ebuki were too scared to go, but I asked the guide to take me to a higher spot. Hey I didn't care that I was suffering from Hypothermia, a chance to some something crazy and stupid and dangerous is like my life called. The guide wouldn't even climb to the spot he showed me. It was sooooo high! But as soon as I reached it, I lept off the stone into a 360 Twist. I hit the water quite painfully, especially since my life jacket wouldn't allow me to go all the way under. But I popped out of the water laughing and cheering, while my body wondered how I got from Japan to Antarctica. Back inside the raft, I watched as Ebuki and Maako had to be taken to a lower rock, nearly right above the water. There is no word for Chicken in Japanese. Ebuki did a flip, while Maako did a simple jump. Back inside the boat, we paddled to our final set of rapids. The first portion, we sailed through while all standing up. I have terrible balance, and nearly took out Kaho with my paddle. The last rapid, we did while laying down in a relaxing style. I was sad to get off the raft when it was all over with, but everyone seemed relieved. They were all exhausted! And it showed when we climbed into the van for the 40 minute ride back. Within 5 minutes snores filled the van. I just sat back and laughed.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Miss Independent

When I arrived in Kochi-Ryoma airport on August 17th, 2006, I knew as much Japanese as a can of Tuna. Just for the record that can of Tuna, does not have a Japanese label. And on top of that I was just 15 years-old. While most 15 year-old were getting squashed as Freshman in High School, I was standing in an airport on the other side of the world, knowing no one or anything. Most people who met me on that day, thought I was absolutely mad. Some were even making bets about how long I could last away from home. I don't think anyone really believed I could do it, that is, except for myself. Now, 9 months later, I officially say that I have done it, or am doing it. It hasn't always been a walk in the park with Chocolate ice cream, but I figure what dream was every really special without it's nightmares. And there have always been people supporting me, especially once they got to know me and mostly come to love me.
So far, over the course of this year, I've lived with 3 of the 4 host families. Like every family in America, and probably the rest of the world, each host had it's strengths and weaknesses, it's great moments and it's disappointing moments. The Masaki's, my first family, were the ones that made me know that I was going to have a wonderful year in Japan. The Oono's, were difficult but rewarding in that they showed me how to fight and stay strong. The third and my current family, the Osaki's, are busy and unpredictable but exciting all at the same time.
The Masaki Family were pressured into hosting an American exchange student, only 2 weeks before my arrival. They had been really reluctant to open their home when they had heard rumors of the previous terrors, or last year's exchange students. The packets containing my application showed a fat American girl, who was not the same girl who walked off the airplane. That girl was a tall, blue-eyed American girl, who tried her very hardest to speak Japanese. That girl was me, at only 15 years-old. I have always been the youngest girl in my class, and age doesn't matter to me anymore. But in Japanese culture, the teenage years don't exist, instead one is a child until reaching the age of 20. The Masaki's basically saw a little innocent school girl walk into the terminal. This was combined with the fact that the Masaki's only have one daughter, Naoko, who is a college student and grown up, leaving behind an empty nest. Mr. Masaki had always been very protective of Naoko, and seeing her all grown up was hard for him. But when I came to with the Masaki's, I sort of became the daughter. I was so much like the High School Naoko, with my constant studying, love for books and movies, and my cunning sense of humor, that by halfway in my stay, Mr. Masaki would tell people I was his daughter.
Because I was so attached to the Masaki's, a great deal of independence was really not needed, or allowed. For instance, I was prohibited from running at nightime, because of 'drunk old Japanese men.' And when the silly Japanese mafia drive by, Mr. Masaki would hurry me inside. Basically I was treated in the style of every Japanese child, with even less freedom than at home. I even had a certain time I needed to be in my room by. All in all, I didn't even notice the lack of independence. There was always something to do or somebody to talk to.
One of the strangest things for my host parents occurred in December. I was living with a new family, but I was still traveling with the Masaki's as often as I could. One morning for Brunch, I ordered coffee. My host father spat, "You drink coffee?!? But you are only 16." I explained that I had only just started drinking it, after my birthday and at the new host family. In his eyes, I saw a sudden sadness as he replied, "Well you are 16, though I don't like you drinking it. All grown up, then."
I think things really changed for me when I moved into my 2nd family, the Oono's. I often find that I give the impression of disliking this family, which isn't exactly the case. Actually, I loved my host mom, Mari-chan, and found myself bestowing in her all of my activities, problems, joys, and problems. I enjoyed having a host brother, Yo, and weird host cousin, Eri. But there is no way to get around the fact that I strongly disliked my host father.
In this family, I was again treated like a young child, with strict rules regarding when I had to be home, which often cut into my club life. At first, I kept an open mind, assuring myself that the rules were in place for my own good. But there was nothing to but go on the computer and be immersed in the English world. All I really wanted to do was run, but by the time I arrived home every day, it was too late. Night running was out of the question. Things got really bad in January, when I was invited for the movies with the Masaki's. My host father went berserk that it was much too late and that they didn't have the right to invite me because I wasn't living with them anymore. Though I kept my mouth quiet, rather than argue with me. Instead I started watching, and learned that it wasn't only I who was treated like this, but his one family. What bothered me the most was that they just sat back and accepted the mean comments.
Somehow, through all the hard moments, I grew stronger. And I don't mean like Action Super Hero strength, this strength came from the realization that there is only one person I really need to rely on in this life, myself. I began to fight back, but not noticeably. I spent less and less time involved with the host family, and more time at school or on the computer locked in my room. I had been forced to eat a large amount of food every night, and I found myself fighting that I wasn't hungry. Mari-chan and I worked out a morning running routine for me, before anyone could get up and stop me. In the end, leaving the family was not very hard.
My third and current host family, the Osaki's, are a busy bunch. It's a lot of fun being in the house of 4 kids, 4 adults, 3 cats, and 1 exchange student. There are 4 kids, all with more activities than your average wedding planner. All 4 are really very active, and somewhat spoiled. When I arrived, I expected to be treated like a little child, after all the youngest girl is only 7 years-old. On the contrary, I have more freedom here than in any of my families. My host parents are so tied up in their children's activities that it is hard for them to enforce rules that I really just don't need. Plus my host mother was an exchange student to America during her college days. She told me that her least favorite part was being treated like a little kid with strict rules. So, I can run whenever I want to, be home at whatever time the clubs end, and hang out with friends anytime at all. Basically I'm allowed to come and go as I please, as long I don't cause any trouble, which is quite easy.
Things are still somewhat difficult in this family. Don't get me wrong, I love them very much, especially my Otosan Osaki, who has tried very hard to make my stay wonderful. He's planned many little day trips, and always included me into everything his own kids get to do. And I love little Hikari and Maako, who are just like goofy little girls. But I don't quite feel like a real member of the family. That's not to say I feel like a guest, either. Something in the middle of the two is the best bet. I still find myself feeling like I'm the only person that I can really rely on. But I've also become aware of how hardened I've become. It's like I'm hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. So in the end, things don't make me all that upset.
I'm moving soon, and I'm anxious to see what life is going to be like with that family. Looking at this year from a perspective such as, how independent I've become, is somewhat weird for me. It makes things really clear about how quick this year is flying by. I don't want to leave, because I love all that I have here. It hasn't always been easy, but it's always been enriching. I'm a different person from that Can of Tuna that arrived in August of 2006.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Prayers for the Dead

Just when you think that you've got Japan all figured out, or at least, somewhat understood, the country throws a curve ball at you. It's not even like a little dinky little league curve ball, but more like Bruce-Willis-Is-Actually-Dead-in-The 6th Sense-kind of thing. What I'm saying is that I was really beginning to think that nothing about this country could surprise me anymore. I've seen and eaten all the weird foods, experienced all the freaky cultural aspects, and all those sort of things. But, I know that I keep saying this, yet oddly it never seems to sink in. When will I ever learn?
My current host mom, Osaki Okasan, was born to a Buddhist family, though later marrying into a Shinto family. It really doesn't matter which religion the family claims or claims not to be practicing, because religion in Japan is different than the rest of the world. Shintoism is the ancient and homegrown religion which basically comes down to ancestry worship and respect. While Buddhism is the 'new' religion which has some different practices and customs. The two have become interchangeable, feeding off each other's ideas and practices. They have existed together in Japan, peacefully, rather than fighting to convert members and gain a majority. What's more is that each is so deeply nestled into Japanese culture, that it is impossible to distinguish whether it is a cultural custom or religious custom. In my opinion, Japan is not religious at all, but a country highly mindful of it's rich culture and ancient customs.
7 years have passed since the May 6th, in which my host mother's father, Gado-san, passed away. The family practices a form of Buddhism, in which a Memorial Service is to be conducted for the deceased upon this Deathday anniversary. Memorial services depend on local customs and family practices. Usually, there are a number of memorial services following the death. For example, daily for the first seven days, or a number of services within the first 49 days, or on the 7th, 49th and 100th day, depending on the local custom. After that, there is a memorial service on the Obon festival in honor of the dead. The festival may be held in the 1st year, sometimes in the 3rd and 5th, 7th and 13th years, and a number of times afterwards up to either the 39th or the 50th year. As for the Gado family, the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and many more years will have Memorial services on the Gado-san's deathday.
On May 5, of Golden Week, I found myself with the Osaki family touring the Tokushima prefecture. Afterwards, we headed through the Shikokan lush countryside to the Ehime prefecture. There we stopped for the night at Okasan Osaki's mothers house, where we helped prepare for the following days big activity. The next morning, we were all prompted to awaken at 8:30, and be ready. When I was packing for the occasion, my host parents told me to wear dark colors as the Memorial Service is somewhat like a funeral type thing. They were very serious about this hinting, probably because I'm someone known to wear obnoxiously bright colors and make every cultural faux pas possible. But when I packed, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't mess up at all. Even though I'm beginning to think that messing up on all these little rules is part of the culture. Sure enough, I made a big mistake by wearing silver bracelets and a necklace. Apparently only pearls should be worn at a funeral, as they signify tears of sadness. Gold and Silver is disrespectful to the deceased.
Downstairs, I watched Okasan Osaki get ready. She was placing traditional Japanese sweets in a huge bowl to give to the guests. Afterwards she got out envelopes with red/white and yellow/white ribbon, into which she placed a large sum of money. Though the money was later given to the priest to perform the ceremony, I could not guess why she used celebration colors. Black/white, usually used for condolence money, would be the most logical choice, I had assumed. The colors she used are used in celebrations, like weddings and congratulations. The money had been given to her by the guests who had come to pay their respects. It costs between $30 and $300 to attend a service, in only Condolence Money. Services are morbidly expensive, and the money helps if only just a little bit. The strange part is that the family is supposed to somehow reciprocate a small sum. And there will always be things about this place that I'm not meant to understand.
The guests began arriving, shortly afterwards. I would like to be able to say the mourners, but guests seems the most appropriate. Nobody seemed to be mourning. All were dressed in dark colors, but bestowing cheerful faces and exchanging laughs. My younger host sister and I sat and watched television, while the guests continued their giddy conversations.
At promptly 10, the Buddhist priest arrived at the Goda household. This large man was dressed in a Toga suit, until he went into the Tatemi room and changed. Then he wore a bright Purple rub set, with a radiant yellow sash. Briefly, I contemplated whether he was trying to look like the Purple People eater. He really stood out among the black dressed guests.
The room, in which the Memorial would take place in, was a tradition Tatemi covered room. Usually Memorials take place at the Buddhist temple, but the Goda's preferred to have it at home. On one side, there was a huge Buddhist altar, made of dark thick wood and holding various types of religious items. Next to it, in the middle of the room, was an even bigger wooden altar. On this altar was various amounts of candles being burned, a huge amount of food, the daily offering to the deceased, and a picture of a stocky Japanese man. I assumed the picture was Goda-san, the man who would be receiving the Memorial, but at the rate I'm going in mistakes, it could very well have been a Japanese Santa Clause.
When the priest was dressed and ready, he ushered in the guests to the room, while the kids, Me, Ebuki, Yu, Kaho, Maako, and Hikari waited for instructions. When it appeared that there would be enough room, Okasan Osaki called in her kids and told me to wait for the ceremony to finish. To say I was not disappointed would be an understatement, but I realized it was probably something that had to do with respect for the dead. Though, just when the disappointment subsided, Otosan popped his head out from the room and called for me to enter.
Inside I shared a floor cushion with Ebuki, my host cousin. All the woman in the room were sitting the politest Japanese Sazae-style, which meant that I should too. I don't mind Sazae so much, because I have to sit in the style for Tea Ceremony and Koto. The only problem is that I can't last very long until my legs begin throbbing in pain. Meanwhile, the Buddhist priest began the ceremony. He did a little speech about the Goda family as well as Buddhism. Then he passed out little black books to each and every one of the group members. Inside the book were scares of incredibly difficult Japanese kanji, that most Japanese couldn't even read. Luckily there was Furigana, or easier Japanese alphabet on the side for those who couldn't understand. It didn't matter because I couldn't understand what was being said anyway. I later learned that the manuscript was so old, that it is was written in mostly Chinese, the language that ancient Japanese tried to speak. The books also had no binding, so that the paper was attached enabling you to pull it out and share.
Everyone opened to the first page, which I suppose in the Western world, is actually the last page. There we began skimming from top to bottom and right to left the Kanji of the manuscript. Then the Priest began. Imagine an overweight Japanese man, who resembles a Purple-People eater, singing an opera in Japanese. He sang it at an incredibly rapid pace and at a note that makes you question the existence of Tone Deftness. I assumed that since the Memorial had begun, the odd cheerfulness would cease, yet I couldn't help but sit in awe. While the purple Priest attempted Don Quixote in Japanese, Kaho and Ebuki poked each other, some others whispered quietly, and the rest of us attempted to mimic the Priest while suppressing our laughter.
I tried very hard to keep up with the words. But it was really very difficult, since the words were inconsistently sung. Instead I just studied the difficult Kanji, which was kind of like trying to teach a recently arrived immigrant Shakespheare English. Since there was no binding to the book, it was very easy to pull apart. It seemed like every time there would be a moment of quietness, mine would come undone, and I'd scurry to scoop it up. The book took us about 30 minutes to get through. And when it was finished I half expected champagne to be passed out, followed by a "Kanpai!" (CHeers) Instead another book was passed out to us. This time, Ebuki, Kaho, and I unraveled it as an accordion and shared it. Luckily it took about 4 minutes only. I breathed a sign of relief, then groaned as another book was passed out to us. It was like the second book, in that it only took us about 4 or 5 minutes to get through.
When finally the Priest finished, I sat in painful Sazae and waited for another book to be passed out. Instead it was confirmed that the ceremony was over, when the other guests, began climbing out of Sazae positions. Each and every woman was whining as they stretched their legs. I was even too cramped to stand up. The kids were pushed outside the room to wait for everyone. I waited with my host siblings and listened to them make fun of the priest and talk about how boring the ceremony was.
Led by the Priest, the remaining group left the room and then the house heading for the family grave. In Japan, the Family Grave is one of the most important rituals in life. The remaining family members have to clean the site as often as they can, which means that where the Grave is purchased is where the family must live near. Luckily, the Goda Family Grave was up a little hill overlooking the side of the house, a mere 5 minutes walk. Ebuki, Kaho, and I flanked the group as we made the little hike. When we arrived the immediate family members formed a circle around the grave, while the Priest lite hundreds of sticks of incense candles. Okasan Osaki began handing out the incense, 3 or 4 to each of the guests standing around the grave site. The closer family went first by lacing the curning incense in a small dedicated hole of the grave stone. Then they clasped together their hands and prayed for the deceased. My Obachan Osaki grabbed my arm and pulled me forward to contribute to the incense. Together, she and I put the burning sticks in the hole, and bend down to pray. In prayer, one is supposed to ask for something from the ancestors. I asked for them to help me learn Japanese.
When we were finished, Obachan Osaki and I headed back to house together. She was curious as to what my feelings regarding the Memorial were. She explained that the Osaki family is Shinto, and has an entirely different and less elaborate ceremony for the dead. When we arrived back inside, I waited with my host siblings for more directions. Soon, the remaining guests returned and directions to the Restaurant were given. I got into the car with the Osaki's as we headed to the most expensive and fancy restaurant in area.
The only word that I can use to describe meal and celebration, was Party. Everyone gorged on Raw Fish and other delicious Seafood. They toasted and laughed and enjoyed themselves and the company. At one point Hikari tried to pass me a piece of fish with her chop sticks. Passing food from chop sticks if probably the worst and most rude thing you can do in Japanese culture. This is because the only time you are allowed to do this is when you are putting your dead family member's cremated bones into Urn. Someone called Hikari on this, "HIKARI! What are you doing? This is isn't a funeral!" I looked at her and said, "Then what exactly is this?"

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Julie in Junior Year...

In about mid-April, after I returned to school to discover that I had moved up an entire grade with my classmates, about of wondering struck me. I was given a new schedule, with Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday filled to capacity with fun and interesting classes. While Monday and Friday each had about 4 to 5 Self Study in the classroom. During Self Study, I sit at my desk and do many things. Though the time is intended or me to study Japanese, I learned early in the year that I would never be able to spend that much time studying a book. So last year, I filled the free periods with reading English books (very BAD idea) until I began writing. In January, I bought a thick pink notebook and began jotting down little things that eventually turned into journal entries of observations and specific events I don't want to forget. Soon enough, I took the writing one step further and began typing them up and putting them on this blog to show the very few people who actually cared. Now, surprisingly, a pretty decent amount of people read these writings, which is great. During my first part of the year as a High School first schools, I didn't have the boring Monday and Friday situations, so it was all okay. But in the very beginning of my school life a High School 2nd Grader, with the new schedule, the constant Self Study was very difficult. I thought alot about home. What found myself missing the most, was being smart. What is mean is that I missed sitting in class, and understanding and learning. One such Self Study, I wrote out whole section about what I think life would be like if I remained Julie in Americountry... I thought that the editorial was going to make things much worse, but in the end, it made me sit down and think. And from thinking I realized how stupid I'd become.
It was never my plan to post this on the webpage, because I knew people would jump to the conclusion that I was homesick or something. And that was never the case. But now that I am actually a Senior, and dreading going home, while at the same time excited for the whole thing, Julie in Junioryear is ready for the world.
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It's April, at 7 in the morning, when I roll over in my bunk bed. The fan that I use to sleep every night has been shut up, by my mom. It still gives her a chuckle every once in a while to think that the only way to get my awake is to shut off my fan. It's been that way for ages, it seems. Friday morning's are terrible. Getting up early 5 days a weeks is brutal, and on that last day, it's the worst. But I do manage to get up. Somehow. The first thing I do is get dressed. The night before, I lay ed out my clothes on the chair beside my desk. It was difficult work, because I had to take alot into consideration. What would the weather be like? What would people think if I wore a shirt with childish characters on it? Would I attract unwanted attention if I wore something like this? Afterwards, I make my way into the living room and turn on my hair straightener, because I don't like blow drying the night before and sleeping on my hair causes a crazy poof. While it heats up, I brush my teeth and hair, grab breakfast and lunch, 2 100 Calorie Packs that I will eat at school. Back in the living room, I hot iron the hair, while I watch the news with my Mom. Lots of deaths in the world, yet still occasionally even the news has to show some hope. Even if only be accident. At 7:45, while Shannon, my younger sister, is just starting to eat breakfast, I head outside. My best friend got her license in December, and everyday, together, we go to school. I only have my permit, but I will get the license in November upon my 17th birthday. It's so crazy to think I'll be driving soon. Honestly, I don't want to learn to drive, but I know it is a necessity in today's America. Sometimes on weekends, when my Dad is home from a business trip, he and I practice driving in his Mini Van. I am horribly sarcastic at the concept of practing in a Mini Van, but I think my Dad enjoys teaching me. Just like he enjoys when we go to Vermont and ski together. Anyway, together, Roshani and I drive to school, first stopping to pick up Lauren, on Linden. And then up Sampson Drive, painted by the Seniors of 2007, along the football field of the Verona Hillbilly's. We've all known these roads for ages, and now the time is here where we have to learn them from a car. After we park and grab our backpacks, it is time for us to head into Verona High School. The 3 of us depart out separate ways and head to first period. My classes are English 3 H., Us Hist 2 AP, Gov and Pol AP, Algebra II, Chemistry, Creative Writing/Public Speaking, Criminal Justice and World Studies, and Gym. I opted out of lunch again, so that it would look good on my college records. However, again, I am regretting that decision, because I have no free time on weekdays. Nonetheless, school is alot of fun. I love my teachers alot, and when we are given time in class, I'm always with my friends. I never really felt like I had alot of friends until this year. This year it seems like everyone is beginning to realize that we only have a little bit of time left, and that since we are all so swamped with homework, we all have a little bit in common. And speaking of homework, we are being slowly pecked away to death with the enormous amount that these teachers seem to think we can handle. Back in the fall, there was a week, which most of nicknamed, Junior Hell Week, because none of us escaped with less than 4 or 5 major reports and hours with difficult homework. Junioritus? We are all too busy to catch it. But when we have time to be together, we are always talking about the upcoming stuff. The AP exams are looming on everyone's mind, including mine. This year I have to take 2 of them. I'm sure I'm ready for US History II, because my teacher was Mr. Maher, who is the most genius man to ever walk to face of the earth. But I'm still worried, nonetheless. There is also Spring SAT's, which are always annoying. But what everyone is really worried about is the Prom. This is our JUNIOR prom, the BIG one. Some people are already starting to get dates, and form tables, and reserve limos. I don't think anyone is going to ask me, so I'm probably going to just go with Rosh and Lauren, though I'm not totally sure what we are going to do. We still have plenty of time, luckily, but that doesn't mean we aren't always thinking about it. College is also a biggie. Since Junior year is supposed to be the most important year, we are all looking into where we want to go and stuff and what we want to do. I don't think anyone is really all that sure, especially me. School is monotonous. I eat during 1st and 5th period, one of my 100 calorie packs, while I try to listen and learn. Like I mentioned before, I love my teachers. But school is school, and it isn't supposed to be loved. So when it is all finsihed with, I can't help but feel relieved that the it's over. After I collect my things from the my locker, which has been relocated due to school construction, Rosh, Zoe, Araba, and the other members of the Track team, head t the girls locker room to change into our gym clothes. Rosh and I run on the long distance team, though we are really terrible. It doesn't matter though, because we put our full effort into it, and the coaches see that. Rosh drops the car off at home, and then we walk to HBW for practice. After the warmups, Coach Galbs assigns Rosh and I to a long distance run on the trails. Together, we set off to explore the lovely trails. When we get back to practice, less than an hour later, we are dismissed. Together we walk home, complaining about the huge amount of homework waiting for us at home. Sure enough, when I arrived back home, I take out my History book and begin the intense studying for the test of the Cold War. With my family, I eat dinner, and then get back to studying.
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What's interesting is that, it's incredibly boring. Maybe it's just the style in which Iwrote the editorial. Yet when I finsihed it, I thought about my life in Japan. Nowhere in Junior Year do I go to the library filled with books in a different language waiting to be unlocked, nowhere do I mention the Koto club, and cleaning with Chiake, or the uniforms, or the JAPANESE. No matter what I do, I'll always wonder what life would have been like if I had just stayed at home and became Julie in Junioryear... But you know, I'll never ever regret becoming Julie in Japanland...

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Today is April 16th

Today it is cold in Kochi, I felt my spine shiver as I rode my bicycle across the Kagami Rover on my way to school. It was an eerie uncomftorbale chill, that is rare for April, when the Spring is in full bloom. Now, a light rain is falling and piercing the windows to which I am looking out. The beloved Japanese Sakura flowers have withered away and are being washed away with the rain. A light thunder echoes across the lush mountains in the distance. But it is not peaceful, as the gentle rain should be. Beyond the protective Shikokan mountains, providing Kochi with all the isolation is could ever want, is a world in madness.
Tuesday brought in the news from my home country, America. 32 innocent college students had been brutally murdered in their safe campus, Virginia Tech. Details flooded in that the murderer was just another student, with a gun and a life full of hate. And as the world watched the tears and the heartbreak, a light snow seemed to fall on the torn campus.
As Japanese people shook their heads in pity, remarking about how how unsafe guns are in the hands of civilians, the mayor of Nagasaki was killed. He was shot dead by the Japanese mafia, after standing behind his city in punishing the gangsters. And while the mayor's daughter weeped for her father, a light rain began to fall.
I don't know enough about Global Warming to take a stance on it. But it's impossible to deny that 250,000 are without power in the eastern United States from a Nor'Easter, in April. While Anna Nicole Smith's daughter, truly has a father, Sanjaya looks to take the American Idol competition. While most of America sits puzzled about how a boy with a terrible voice has made it this far in the competition, North Korea looks to continue it's Nuclear program. Iran is also continuing to ignore UN sanctions on it's newly formed Nuclear power.
I learned the meaning of Terrorism at 10 years old, when I peered out my front window and saw smoke coming from New York City. It was September the 11th, 2001. I had my heart shatttered while imagining the destroyed lives of those children in Hiroshima during the world's first A-bomb explosion. I know the feeling of not being safe, in one's own house, state, or country. At 16, I've been lucky enough to do more traveling than most get to do in their lives. Every country is different, yet nothing is better or worse. The world is full of beauty in people, cultures, lands, and hearts. Our Earth is such an incredible place. Yet so full of hate.
Today is April 16th. There is nothing uncommon about today. It's just a normal day for our world. And the rain contimues to fall....