Definitely not in Japan anymore!

So its obviously been a while since I’ve posted! And I’m clearly not in Japan anymore, since the semester ended a long while ago. The entire experience felt like blur, but nothing felt quite as fast as the last month there did. I wish I could have finished up a few posts I wanted to make about the last trips I took to Tokyo, the Kurama Onsen, and all the goodbyes I had to say.

I wanted to wait until some time had passed before I made a last post. I was still in reverse culture shock for a little bit. Then came holidays and the start of a new semester. I can honestly say looking back at the four months I spent there that I had an amazing experience. And I look back and it all and feel incredibly grateful I could experience it. But there were some really hard times too. The first month I was there it was a fight to stay positive and as soon as I started feeling better about it all I got really sick for over a month. But in all that I still had fun and did things I had always dreamed of doing in Japan. I kept the posts about the struggles I was having as drafts and figured if I wanted to ever look back on it I could. I think everyone there goes through an adjustment period and deals with it in their own way. And as time passes you just kind of adjust without realizing it.

I think that I definitely made some friendships that will last, and then some that probably won’t. I’ve kept in touch with people via email and skyping. A few friends are still at Kansai Gaidai for the next semester and I try to live vicariously through them. I look back at the pictures and the movies and all the random things I saw and did. My massive amount of pictures and videos are my way to save all the memories I had. I love being able to see them and remember vividly how I felt at the time.

I could look back and think to myself how things might have turned out differently had I only done such and such, but truthfully I had the time of my life there. Any small change in my actions might have changed my experience. And I was given opportunity to learn and have fun.

Hiroshima, Miyajima, and Thanksgiving.

I’m not going to write too much about the trip I took to Hiroshima. The night bus was certainly an experience, but it was cheap and it got us there so I can’t be upset about it. I’m surprised that we actually fit in most of the stuff we wanted to do. The only thing that we missed out on was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. We went to Miyajima first and then back to the city, so by the time we got to the museum it had closed for the day. We did get to see the Genabaku-dome at least. I didn’t take any pictures of the dome itself for my own reasons, and Peter did the same. Sadly I didn’t take too many of the actual city either. It is really built and up and actually reminds me a bit of Chicago for some reason. Other than extreme fatigue and getting lost more than a few times, I think we both had a good time. I’m especially glad we went to Miyajima because it was by far the most beautiful place I’ve seen since I’ve been here.

This past Tuesday was Labor Thanksgiving Day so we had the day off classes. My suitemates and I constructed a Thanksgiving meal. It turned out really well! I took up the job of making dessert, so I made a cake. Having none of my recipes and no mixer I just went with a box cake. We have no oven and our microwave doesn’t have a bake setting so I made the sponge of the cake in the rice cooker. I was super worried that it wouldn’t work, but it was a success!

Winding down?

I can’t speak for everyone, but lately I think we all are feeling the fact that we only have about 5 weeks left. I’ve been so bad about blogging. Between being busy, and not really knowing what to say I generally forgot about doing it for a while. I think most of the other people here that blog have fell into the same rut. There are so many things I haven’t blogged about that definitely deserve a spot.

Time has gone by very fast here. But in reality four months really isn’t that long of a time anyway. I still feel that I haven’t done even half of the things I wanted to do before getting here. In the next few weeks I’m going to try to rectify that a bit. The next three weekends are filled with things that I need to do. Hiroshima this weekend, home visit next weekend, then finally Tokyo. After that, studying for finals and all the semester end projects are due so for at least a week and a half to two weeks I’ll be stuck doing that. After finals are over, I have at least five or six free days before I leave on the 22nd. I’m not really sure what I’ll be doing then. If Tokyo doesn’t pan out the first weekend of December, then I’ll more than likely head there during those last days. Ideally, I’d love go back and stay with Wakana and her family again. Maybe head to an Onsen nearby with my roommates. I feel like I spent too much time here thinking about what I want to do instead of doing it. So even though it’s going to be pretty hectic, I’m just going to shove it all into the next month!

My life in pictures

Meeting my home visit family

I’ve been putting off making this post because just like all the other stuff I’m trying to backtrack and write about, it happened too long ago to get all the details right. But I’ll try anyway because this particular day was amazing.

So I had only met Kazu once before going out to see his family. Unfortunately, he speaks Kansai-Ben, which makes it a lot harder to for me to understand him. His english is great so we mostly use that to communicate. I know a lot of people are probably wondering why I wouldn’t take the opportunity to speak Japanese to an actual Japanese person. But it’s a lot easier said then done, and like I said, he speaks a lot of slang. Compare it to a non-native English speaker going to an area where there is a really strong dialectal accent and a lot of colloquial slang after learning English from teachers who speak standard textbook English. You get some of it, but it takes time to sink in.

So I had planned to meet Kazu at Hirakata station so that he could make the trip with me. I can navigate the trains now after the fact because I’ve taken them a few times by myself, but at that point I hadn’t so I was grateful he was there with me. I was really nervous about the entire thing. It really was an interesting experience to be sitting in a room of people who don’t really speak English. It definitely forces you to put your Japanese to the test.

After we had taken the train, Kazu’s mom Fumi picked us up in the family car. That was interesting enough on it’s own, because I spent the 10 or so minutes it took to get the house thinking that we were going to die. I’ve only been in a car here one other time and while it was crazy too, it wasn’t quite like this. It’s kind of like slamming your foot down on the gas, flying around corners, and only stopping when nearly colliding with other cars. Her and I talked the whole way to the house because other than Kazu she is the only other family member who can speak English. But we switched back and forth from English to Japanese since she speaks much less Kansai-ben than Kazu.

When we got back to their house I was stunned. Kazu kept saying it was old and not nice, but it definitely wasn’t at all. The architecture of this house was amazing. They had old family heirlooms and pictures of ancestors everywhere. I wanted to take pictures of everything, but I didn’t want to be rude. I’m hoping I’ll be able to take some next time I go there. We all sat in the most modern room of the house where the TV is and the family came in to talk to me. I got to meet Hirokazu, Kazu’s father. He was probably the easiest to talk to, even though he knows no English and my Japanese isn’t at a high enough level to properly communicate sometimes. He talked to me about my life back home and what hobbies I had. He told me about how he used to play baseball and all the awards he received for it. He even knew about the Detroit Tigers, since the team the Hanshin Tigers here in Japan are the sister team.

We spent a lot of time just talking about random things. There were a few moments of awkwardness, but nothing too bad and during those moments we’d all just laugh because of the barrier we hadn’t broken yet. Once food was ready I got to meet Yaeko, Kazu’s grandma. She was incredibly nice. Even though she knew less English than everyone else she still tried to talk to me and kept making sure I had enough food all throughout lunch. The entire family in fact made it a point to ask me what I thought of all the food and if I wanted anything else. Kazu’s friend Kin came to have lunch with us at that point too. We sat in the nicest and most traditional room in the house. I knew that they didn’t eat in here all the time, it was mostly for guests. I felt really honored that I got to sit and eat in that room. The food we ate was probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had, which is saying a lot. We had Sukiyaki, which I had never tried before. During lunch Hirokazu keep refilling my beer and sake glass. At one point we started laughing because I told him if drank more I’d get too drunk. I think he was happy that I drank with him though, since when he asked if I like either beer or sake I said I liked both and he was surprised. Kazu told me later that his dad was impressed I liked both.

After dinner we sat around the table and talked. Kazu is part of the Kansai Gaidai debate circle since he wants to major in Economics. So he went over some of his debate arguments with me. For only being a freshman, his vocabulary is pretty extensive and impressive. At that point, I was so full from the lunch but they had brought out homemade mochi with adzuki. I’m glad I ate it even though I was full because it was some of the best mochi I’ve had.

Kazu, Kin, and I played some video games and watched TV after that. Hiroki, Kazu’s younger brother, came downstairs and proceeded to destroy all of us in almost every game we played. I did manage to beat everyone at smash brothers more than a few times though. We started watching some of the game shows that were on TV. Some of time I knew what was going on and other times I didn’t.

Even though we had eaten only a few hours ago everyone decided that we should order pizza. Since coming to Japan my appetite has significantly decreased for some reason. So after the large lunch we had, I would have been okay without eating for a really long time after that. But this was my first chance to have Japanese pizza, so I went with it. It ended up actually being phenomenal and I ate a few pieces.

We continue to play for video games for a while after that and talked some more with everyone. Since it takes some time to get to their house from Hirakata I ended up taking the last train home. Before I left I said about a thousand thank you’s to the family and they told me to come back soon. I realize that the experience I had with them isn’t something they normally do. But I was extremely grateful they went through all the trouble. I see Kazu every now and then on campus and we’ve chatted on and off these past few weeks. I’m going to see them again soon. On the 31st, there is a festival the town is having. I’m really looking forward to seeing them again.

The missing days

I went back and read through some of the entries I’ve posted already tonight just to check over spelling errors and whatnot and noticed something. There are definitely some things that I never wrote about. I think in the whirlwind that was the first few weeks here everything blended together and I couldn’t actually remember what happened on particular days.

A lot of it involved exploring Hirakata, going out to karaoke a few more times, going to Izakaya’s, and obviously shopping. There are two train stations close by the Seminar Houses, the first obviously being in downtown Hirakata, and the other being in Makino. The train in Makino is actually closer and cheaper since you aren’t paying to take a bus there like you would if you went to the Hirakata station. One stop past Makino is Kuzuha, where there is a decently sized mall. The shopping there isn’t too badly priced, so it’s no surprise that we’ve ended up going there a few times for clothes.

The biggest thing I forgot to make a post about was the Kyoto tour I took back in the first week here. The funny thing about the tour was that I almost didn’t go. They had all of the study abroad students wait outside the CIE building and nobody really knew what was going on at first. It was a really hot day so standing around started to get annoying and I remember Jess and I talking about not going. Ironically, Kyoto ended up being our favorite place to go. I can’t remember the name of the first temple we went to but the second was Kyomizu-dera. From what I had heard before coming to Japan was that Kyomizu-dera, along with Fushimi Inari, were the temples that got the most tourism. After seeing nothing but the international students around Hirakata it was surprising in a weird way to see other foreigners walking around Kyoto. It sounds weird to say, but being in Hirakata makes you feel less like a tourist, except when you’re in an area that there a ton of tourist foreigners.

Walking around Kyoto, I must have taken over two hundred pictures. The architecture there is absolutely stunning. It feels and looks very old. Japan’s architecture in general is in and of itself amazing, but Kyoto just feels different. It has a much older feel that Osaka does. While Osaka is great for being the big and busy city that it is, Kyoto has more to look at in terms of history. I wish I had remembered to blog about this trip after it happened, since I probably would have been able to give a better description of what we did. Since it was a few weeks ago I don’t remember the details as clearly.

But we started off at the school and were sectioned off into smaller groups. Each group has one to three japanese students to help guide us around. The train ride there was the longest I had experienced at that point, so it was relaxing. The view of the mountains and changing landscape was really amazing as well. Walking down the streets after the train ride was like a photo opportunity waiting to happen at every turn. The temples were amazing and the architecture is stunning. I ended up taking more pictures of the two temples we visited more than any other places we had been to. We spent almost the entire day walking around Kyoto and Kyomizu-dera. We really didn’t get stop to buy anything from the numerous shops along the streets, but since then I’ve gone back and bought a few things for gifts.

Catching up and backtracking

So I currently have two unfinished entries sitting in my drafts folder. One goes over the days I had forgotten to blog about in between other events, and the other is about meeting my home visit family. I feel like I keep putting off writing about things happening recently since there is still so much I haven’t wrote about yet. In order to keep things going I think I’m going to have to skip over what has been going on before this. To be honest, time has flown by here. It’s hard to explain what time feels like here but I know that my friends feel the same way. I feel like I’ve been here for a year when it has really only been a little less than two months. The unfortunate thing is that I feel like I haven’t been able to do anything that I wanted to do. I really haven’t travelled all that much outside of the Kansai area. Granted, I have to been to both Osaka and Kyoto a lot. But there is still stuff in both cities I haven’t done yet.

I’m hoping to find time to do at least some of the things I set out to do before coming to Japan. At the very least I want to be able to visit Tokyo and Hiroshima. It’s all in the planning I suppose.

Today a few of us went out to Nara after classes. Nara is a lot smaller than both Kyoto and Osaka. We did a lot of walking around and visited different places. The most well known place there is the Todaiji Temple. We didn’t get to walk up the main steps because there was supposed to be a big televised concert there the next day and they had already set up a stage. It was a bit out of place considering it’s a big Buddist temple. But we still got to take pictures and see most of the temple. After walking around for a while it started to rain and pretty much killed most of the plan to explore the city. But I still was able to take some nice pictures. The train ride there took a long time, but we actually went through the mountains and it made for a scenic ride. I shamelessly took a few videos of the train ride while getting glares from Tim. It’s considered rude to take photos, talk, or do anything that makes noise at all while riding trains and buses here. But there are always the odd japanese people who don’t abide by this. For the most part we keep to this expectation as well. But I won’t lie, there are times in which we don’t.

This weekend is another long weekend for us since Monday is a holiday. The plan was to go to Hiroshima this weekend but money and time constraints made it impossible. I have a speech to give and an in-class writing composition test on Tuesday so it may have been a good idea to stick around good old Hirakata for the weekend.

As for the two other entries I’m going to try to finish them up and get them posted here. Either that or just combine them.

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