Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Disaster

Looks like this is the last post for my Japan study...

Due to the natural disaster and unreal destruction that happened in northern Japan, my family as well as my program felt it was best to leave Japan.

I was in Tokyo during the 9.0 earthquake that hit. Thank goodness I was in Tokyo and not any closer. Don't get me wrong, it was still amazingly strong and long lasting! At that time I was stuck on the 15th floor of a hotel in the center of Tokyo.

and like that wasn't enough, there were aftershocks every 15 minutes after!! Then every hour for the next day and the day after...and the day after! non-stop.

I was swaying for DAYS after. Its as if I had "sea legs" and was on a boat in the middle of the ocean.

In the past I have felt a 6.7 earthquake back home from the volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, but NEVER had I gone through an earthquake this strong and long before...never.

At that time I didn't know the seriousness of the situation (the tsunami, the nuclear plant) until I got back to my room at 11pm and watched the news. (jaw drops)...

The most surreal experience for me was the morning after the earthquake. Business resumed and people were walking outside and taking trains (which just started working 6am that morning after a whole day of shut down). The sun was shining and I casually walked outside to check my surrounding area for damage. The only visible reminder of yesterday's nightmare was the convenient stores, shut down and COMPLETELY out of stock-- No food, no drinks. The night before EVERYONE ran to buy supplies. Other then that, nothing really.

Though life seemed normal in Tokyo, I knew that after what happened March 11, 2011 Japan would never be the same.

Though I was upset about leaving Japan, I now realize how lucky I was to get out. I got a plane ticket out of Japan before nuclear problems got worse. I was alive and I would soon be seeing my family again!! I could not ask for more.

Everyone in Japan had their own experience. Many up in Sendai and surrounding areas had horrendous stories and many deaths.

Japan was and is still suffering greatly, especially economically since people are not buying Japanese products and so many tourists and foreigners have left.

Please support Japan in any way you can! Lets show our aloha and kokua.

Keep Japan in your thoughts and prayers!...I know the people are strong and they will build a stronger better Japan.

島根県 Shimane Cultural Practicum

For my Japan Study Program I decided to do the fall semester with the cultural practicum. I was very excited for this part of my program because it would give me an entirely different experience than what I had in Tokyo! With the end of the school semester, I was definitely ready for a change. The city lights and crowded trains were finally getting to me. Take me back to nature!

The cultural practicum that I chose was in the Shimane prefecture, in the town of Daito (大東). 6 other students from my Japan Study program and I boarded the sunrise train the evening of February 5th and rode for 12 hours, reaching our destination the afternoon of the 6th. That was my first time experience on an overnight train that had beds!

When I woke up all I could see was snow, trees and very few houses. Yep this is what I wanted!

To sum up this experience it was an amazing experience! Before I got to Shimane, I knew we were all staying with host families and that our job would be to teach kids at all the schools in Daito and the surrounding areas. I don't think I was that prepared for the country lifestyle, my funny and open host family and the adorable kids at school.

I will not say the experience was an easy one, but it was TOTALLY well worth my time and I can now look back and say, "Wow I learned so much and look how much my Japanese improved!".

Having no leaders from Tokyo with us, our American group had to depend on each other, especially the girls that could speak/understand the best Japanese. Our Japanese leaders in Shimane spoke only Japanese to us, our meetings with the school principals were conducted in polite Japanese, talking with teachers and students and host families were all in Japanese. Our host families barely knew English.

As you can see, being a low intermediate speaker, I was mentally exhausted every day! every conversation and encounter was somewhat difficult.

After the first week I became use to the "country dialect" and I understood new vocabulary and "the protocol" when we went to schools. I started to relax a bit and enjoy the experience!

Shimane is a very "old traditional" kind of place. The people who live there are mostly old, they use polite Japanese and they stick to traditions. From a cultural view, I learned so much and had wonderful conversations and discussions with my host family. Everyone was so nice and I will never forget the experience!

My suggestion: Do the cultural practicum. Do something out of the norm. Get to know the people who live there. Enjoy!

Cute kids and me on the playground! :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Winter Fun

Winter Break was absolutely amazing! Getting out of Tokyo and exploring other parts of Japan was great. Going to Niigata to go skiing/snowboarding with friends was TOTALLY fun and surprisingly affordable! I spend a few days in the mountains and returned back to Tokyo.

My mom came during this time and I spent many days sightseeing around Tokyo and taking her to eat delicious Japanese food! We then headed to Osaka for 6 days to visit my long time friends. We stayed with my friend and her family during 正月 (The New Years Time).

For New Years we ate a traditional meal, おせち料理、お雑煮(soup with mochi)、and had a sip of 酒, sake. We then went to the shrine, which is traditional on New Years.

For the rest of the time my friend took us sightseeing around Kyoto and Kobe, which was easily accessible by train. It was a lot of fun!

I then returned to classes in Tokyo and continued with the rest of my semester!

food for New Year's!

Visiting the shrine with my friend and her family

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


WOW!! Super sorry for not posting in the LONGEST time! November seriously came and went and (tah dah!) December! This month has been crazy. Last month of the year and things. My schedule has consisted of class, some dance, バイト and trying to hang with friends and eat dinners with the family.

In my spare time I have been planning for 冬休み, winter break. Last week I had some midterms that I had to do. This week was the last day of classes. I seriously had only 1 class later in the day (since it is Wednesday) and I went... dedicated to school, I know ha. Tomorrow is the official start of winter break and my mom is coming to visit! exciting!

in 2 days it is Christmas! Christmas in Japan is interesting. It is DEFINITELY commercialized here and everyone goes and buys presents of course. My host family has a fake Christmas tree set up on the tatami floor room with some ornaments...super nice just like I have at my house ha :P Some of my American friends have told me that their host families do not have anything Christmas in their house so I guess it depends.
My host kids also know who Santaさん is and ask questions about him. My family will have a Christmas party get together which should be nice.

I am excited for break, to see my mom and meet up with some old time friends!

Over winter break I will be going on a skiing trip and traveling around Japan a bit. I will give more details when I return!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!! :) メリクリスマス、よいお年よ!

The new year in Japan should be cool to see so I will talk about that later! :D

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Cultural Weekend

This weekend I had some awesome Japanese cultural experiences, found in both the modern and traditional forms.
On Saturday my host mom and her parents invited me to go to a classical music concert. It was really fun! It was located in a small theater setting and it was very casual. The performance featured a famous Japanese contrabass player and a pianist. The host was a well known Japanese news journalist. The program consisted of music and casual talk. The musicians talked about their life in the music world and how they got to where they are now. It was funny and very entertaining! The music was absolutely wonderful! I love the sound of string instruments :) It made me want to pick up a violin or cello and start practicing again ha.

On Sunday, it was 七五三 so my host family celebrated for their two children (my host brother and sister). Shichi-Go-San, translated as 7-5-3, is a traditional rite of passage festival day that is annually held on November 15th or the nearest weekend day since this day is not considered a holiday (day off). This festival day is for 3 and 7 year-old girls and 3 and 5 year-old boys. It is said (on the internet ha) that this tradition started in the Heian Period, which is a LONG time ago. This long running Japanese tradition has turned into the modern ritual of dressing up in traditional wear and visiting a shrine to ward the evil spirits and bestow blessings on the child in the years to come. おめでとう!

So on Sunday my host mom, brother and sister dressed up. It was a eventful day! Both host mom and dad's parents were there to participate in the celebration. It was so cool to get an inside look on a traditional practice. (If it wasn't for the kids and the home stay I would not have had a chance to see it. ) I went to the 神社 and experienced the day. By then it was 11ish and I was starving! (no breakfast). We came home all together and had a wonderful traditional bento lunch. It was a lot of food but delicious! (photo coming soon.) Then there was tea, soup, coffee and some sweets like green tea ice cream and manju my FAV!! Today I tried some new たべもの that is for sure. Then for dinner we went to kaiten sushi since the kids love that. The grandparents wanted to take us out. Really I could have done without dinner. The typical Japanese thing to do is to insist that one eats. (Now I can understand why my grandma does that ha). So of course I ended up eating some foods.

To conclude, an awesome cultured weekend, which involved a lot of food! :) Thank you host family, what an awesome weekend.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

文化の日 and Wasedasai...oh get plenty 休み

In these past 2 weeks I have had many days off from school! Japan actually has many holidays that workers and students have off. At least more than the US or my home college. This Wednesday was Bunka no hi (文化の日). The purpose of the day I believe is to promote Japanese culture, the arts and academic endeavors. For me it really is a day to explore Japan. My family invited me to go to a course field athletic park at Shimizu Kooen. It was AWESOME! There are many wood and rope structured courses for kids to climb and hang. The place seems like a military training center or some kind of Japanese game show haha :P The goal is to successfully complete all the courses. You write down points at each course. It seems sort of dangerous for young children but the structures are made for them. I would agree that some seemed a little scary, especially if I was a smaller person swinging from high ropes.( I think this would not settle right with American parents. I feel like they would be afraid for their child's safety . I had a tendency to feel concerned at times.) The Japanese mother and father on the other hand, were encouraging their kids to go and do it, sending them off saying: ganbatte! and if they couldn't do it and the kid started to cry, they told their child: don't be ridiculous you can do it! It was interesting observing Japanese family dynamics and getting a glimpse of daily life.

All in all it was pretty amazing. My host kids did a good job. I would definitely say my hands were sore after that :(
hmm There must be something cool like this in the US.

After a hard days work of climbing wood structures and holding onto ropes we went for a late lunch at a kaiten sushi. I love going to those when I am super hungry :P After the meal we drove back home. On the way I got to witness a beautiful sunset, which honestly I don't ever see in the city. Then I of course passed out with the kids.

Thursday I had one class in the morning and then I was done. I decided to chill and go home for the day.
Friday was again another holiday, but in this instance it was ONLY a holiday for Waseda. The Wasedasai Festival was happening Saturday and Sunday, so Friday was a day for setting up. This school festival is a HUGE deal for Waseda. I would say it is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, event on campus. Every club is working really hard for that weekend. Every club either has a booth they are manning or a performance they are practicing for.
Yesterday there were cameras posted everywhere for television...yep I told you it was big. and there are huge groups of people walking around. It was quite an amazing experience. This was the essence of school spirit that definitely was missing at my other schools in the US. I went and watched all the dance performances to check out the student clubs. I was in a way club shopping. It was fun watching them. Some were well put together and others were just amusing. I would definitely say that the all male cheerleading team made my day for sure. They are legit and serious about what they do. Therefore they kick butt! The guy flyers were high and their flips were insane. It was more powerful than a girl cheerleader performance for sure. They were full of spirit and energy ha. Good times.

After spending all day there, I went to eat at a Thai restaurant nearby with friends. We just came across it and decided to eat there. It ended up being super delicious, a lot of food and cheap. You know me and spicy Thai curry...I'm coming back! :D
Next I trailed my friend to her English session she had and afterwards we headed to Asakusa where she lived. I specifically went for the Asakusa Tori no Ichi festival. It is considered to be the first important event of bringing good blessings for the new year. You would go to the Asakusa temple to pray for good health, fortune and business. The symbol of a rake is significant for this festival: as one that brings you more money in the new year. You are "raking in the money". In this fair market atmosphere there are TONS of venders selling these bamboo rakes, highly decorated. Each vendor has a certain style but for the most part all the rakes have the same symbols on them. It is said that every year a person needs to change to a bigger rake..or at least buy a new rake.
Yesterday evening there were TONS of people at the start of the festival (12am). They were all joyous and in celebrating spirit! It was fun to see a cultural event like this.

Well an end to a long wonderful weekend. School is now back in session!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Layering of Clothes Begins...

Another week has passed and it is now NOVEMBER!! WOW. The weather was definitely showing signs of fall. SO COLD. Honestly I was not prepared for that. Thank goodness for UNIQLO! Everyone in Japan knows UNIQLO. It is known for its fairly cheap prices on great layers and basics that have Japan heat technology for the cold winter season. I got some wonderful basics there that will keep me alive ha. Love that store :) Talking about the weather, Saturday we had a typhoon warning. It did rain a lot and the winds were picking up...ahh scary.

Regardless, it was a fairly decent week. The grey weather made it hard to get up for class, plus I was quite tired :( A rough week for concentrating on studies, but I pulled through. As Friday came around, all us students were excited for the weekend...Halloween!! One of the international student circles had a party in Shinjuku Saturday night. I then went to a friends birthday and went to a club in Shinkiba. Amazing! I had a fun WONDERFUL Halloween!!! :D たのしかったね!The next day (actual Halloween) my host family had a small party at the house. The kids dressed up in the most adorable costumes and walked the town street for some goodies. We returned back to the house and started our Halloween meal. My host mom made some wonderful かぼちゃ,pumpkin, dishes and a variety of other Japanese dishes. So good! It was a nice time :) I was super tired though. Thank goodness I had a Monday やすみ!

Talking about today: It was one of those great days. I was super げんき and ready to go. I made it early to class, I learned a lot of Japanese today, I was focused in my classes and I was able to have clear thoughts and easy conversation. SWEET I love these days:D Today I left right after class around the early afternoon. This time of the day is awesome because there is not a lot of people but there are a lot of kids around, trying to get home after school. Kids are awesome for language interaction because some of them are not scared of the "ohh big がいじん” ha. I had an awesome short chat with an eight-year-old boy sitting next to me on the train home. He was soo awesome!

note: **When going abroad I would suggest 1) doing a home stay if you want to practice your language EVERY day. 2) make sure to have small kids because they break the initial social/cultural awkwardness and once they get to know you they will be awesome teachers. Funny thing I have actually learned more vocabulary, cultural interaction and social accepted practices from them than from Japanese class or teachers. They ask the embarrassing or silly questions, they make the mistakes and they like reenacting real life scenarios during play time. ( I literally learned what a point-card is from an お店 play time with the kids haha). Also their books are super great for learning what things are called and also for improving your reading skills. I think I definitely got schooled on some of the kanji I found in their books ha. Keep this in mind.

Until next time...when I have time to write....