Okay, so this is going to be a long one since I haven’t written since last Tuesday. (^^;;
Last Wednesday and Thursday were really just normal school days. Though on Wednesday night, my host mother, sister, brother and I went out for Okonomiyaki, which is a kind of savory Japanese pancake that you cook at the table. One of the pancakes my family ordered had corn in it. Hot open area+corn = bad idea. It started to burst and jump around every where on the grill, sending out droplets of hot liquid.
Last Friday was my last day of school （ ｉ _ ｉ ）
I had to give a speech in front of the entire school. It was two pages long and all in Japanese (Narita-sensei helped me write it.) My legs were shaking so badly that I thought they were going to give out on me. This put my nervousness before dancing to shame, I could barely eat any breakfast that morning I was so jittery. Yes, I am keeping a copy of it for memories sake. Though, it reminds me how horrible I am at public speaking. It’s eve harder in a foreign language. (Though I just learned today that everyone was very impressed, I’ll talk about it when I get all caught up.) Momoka, a third year from English club who I became friends with, gave a goodbye speech in English to me. She was very nervous, but she did really well. Her English is very good and I kept smiling at her reassuringly (or at least I hope it was helpful). My 1A classmates made me a shirt with my name in Kanji and presented that to me along with the Homei (name of my highschool) tshirt.
English Hiragana Kanji Meaning
I い 井 Well
Za ざ 座 Sit
Be べ 辺 Around
Ra ら 羅 Thin
cloth of silk
(In Japanese, I spell my name with a z instead of a s because it sounded closer to the actual English when spoken like that.)
So the meaning of my name is:
“Sitting in silks around a well.”
I also received the rest of the Homei sports wear (wind breaker and hat.)
I then had a meeting with only the first years where I had to give another speech (one which I was not told about.) My classmate Maho gave a short speech to me in English. Then they changed their schools chant so that it fit my name. It was really sweet.
We had cleaning after that because it was the last day before summer vacation. At the end of the day, I took a photo with all of 1A and gave them their own speech. The day ended with them singing to me and I got to dismiss class. I’m really going to miss them all.
I got to rid my bike home on Friday and it was really nice. I liked having more independence and being able to go home alone. I took the nice, long route home and even then it only took me 45 minutes instead of the hour my family told me it would.
On Saturday I had to wake up at 5:30, which was not very pleasant, but it was to do something fun. Homei’s baseball team was playing to get into the semi finals, so along with the third years, Martin and I went to cheer for them. It was in Akita, which is a two hour drive, which is why we had to leave so earlier. It was a lot of fun. Each player has their own individual cheer and dance that does along with it. Some of the long cheers were hard for me to learn, but the dances were easy to pick up and I memorized some of the shorter cheers. We won, 10-4! Go Homei! Everyone was exhausted on the bus ride back though. The heat just drained our energy. I’m pretty sure that for a good portion of the ride everyone was asleep.
Saturday night my host family and I went to karaoke. I never thought that karaoke would be something I would enjoy, but I wanted to try it and turns out I love it. We stayed there really late and everyone sang.
Sunday I met with Maho and Misaki, two of my friends from 1A. I biked to school, which again was really nice. Something about biking around Japan is just perfect. Anyhow, Maho, Misaki and I had a great afternoon. We ate lunch at 105 yen sushi, which is the conveyer belt sushi restaurant that my host family and I went too. We then went to Eon and walked around. We mostly window shopped, though I saw some things that I would later buy. We also did purikura (I have a rather large stack of them at this point), but this was my first time doing it with more then just myself and another person. Maho challenged me to a Mario cart race (you know, the racing games with the actual steering wheel and gas/brake pedals.) I am happy to say I won. I wanted to try to Takio game, so Maho and I played. Misaki didn’t want to. Maho told me I was going to loose because she was good, but it turns out that I’m actually pretty good at it and I beat her twice.
Monday was another 5:30 wake up for another baseball game. This time the entire school went because it was the semi finals and I got to see everyone from 1A again. This time however, we lost. It was pretty upsetting and I felt really bad for the team, remember how it felt to put everything you had into a game and still loose. It’s tough and the entire school seemed to feel it.
I walked Sora with Mitsuru again, but this time we had a bonding experience. It was childish, but childish can be really good and I had a great time. He showed me his favorite path to take Sora on and we chucked rocks into the river while we walked. Slowly we started picking up bigger rocks and hurling them ungracefully into the water. We also had a little competition to see who could throw a rock further (we both got it across the river so it was a tie.) We made Sora an umbrella hat out of a large leaf and tucked it into his collar so he actually walked with it. We caught frogs and small grass hoppers. We had a sword fight with some dead plants, but Mitsuru’s kept breaking so I was the winner by default. We found a broken stick (much better for sword fights), but could only find one, so we took turns fighting a tree, throwing the branch back and forth.
Tuesday I was going to go on a bike ride and go shopping, but it wound up raining the entire day so I couldn’t go. I just kind of had a lazy day at home, spending time with Nonoka and Mitsuru.
Wednesday I went to the place where my host mother works. She is the head nurse at an old folks home and they were having some special volunteer activities. They sung traditional Japanese songs. I could sing along to the one’s written in hiragana, but the one’s with a lot of kanji were too difficult.
Today was completely full. I went to my host mother’s work again. I got to dress in my yukata and dance traditional oban festival dances. I actually knew one of them and I quickly picked up the other ones. Some people from another local news paper interviewed me and took a lot of pictures.
Afterward, I went back to school for the last time. I thanked all the teachers and the principle for taking care of me during my time at Homei.
I had some time to kill after that, so I actually went shopping (and bought things this time) and I had a simple lunch. I played the taiko game some more (it’s really addicting, we really need to have it in America.) At 4 I meet with some girl’s from the English club and went to Itoku. I challenged Saki to the Taiko game and we did purikura with five people (which is a ver tight squeeze, we didn’t all make it into every picture.) At 5 we meet the rest of the English club for karaoke. It was a farewell to the third years party. I had lots of fun with them and was glad to sped time with them before leaving. Saki got really teary when it was time to go and gave me lots of hugs. Momoka waited with me until my host father picked me up (I rode my bike around all day, but they didn’t want me riding home in the dark.) Everyone is so sweet, I’m really, really going to miss them so, so, so much.
Sorry I haven’t written in over a week. Everything has been very busy and very tiring.
Monday at school was just a normal day, attending a few English classes and sticking with my class. After school though, I was sitting down at the dinner table reading when my family told me I would be cold. Confused, I couldn’t understand why I’d be cold until Mitsuru said “レストラン” (resutoran, which is restaurant). We were going out for dinner. So I changed into a pair of jeans and a tshirt and we were out the door, leaving dinner for grandpa. He doesn’t seem to come out with us, I guess because of his bad foot or maybe because it’s too late. Anyway, we went to one of those sushi restaurants where the food goes around on a conveyer belt. You could also order food off this touch screen TV and it would come around on a raised platform, the TV making a little noise when it did to tell you it was yours. Most things just naturally come around on the belt, but it’s good for people like Nonoka and I who don’t like wasabi on our sushi. When we got home it was actually past nine, so I was ushered into the shower while Nonoka and Mitsuru started their homework. The rest of the night was quiet.
Tuesday Martin and I had a special Japanese culture class. We had two women come to the school and in the library they taught us how to properly serve tea. There are so many steps, I’m not sure how I remember them all because at the end I had to serve tea to Narita-sensei (an English teacher and the woman in charge of the exchange students at my school). I can barely remember any of the steps now, but it was really fun.
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday Martin and I visited a local junior high school, which is actually pretty close to our school. Wednesday and Thursday morning Narita-sensei drove us due to the rain, but we had to walk on Friday. Part of the way there, the schools ALT (assistant language teacher) happened to drive by and gave us a ride the rest of the way. At the junior high school we went to different English classes as well as a calligraphy class and a PE class. The kids were really energetic and asked us lots of questions.
Saturday was pretty relaxed during the day, but the night was something special. My host mother’s younger brother was visiting with his fiancee, so we had a large dinner at my host mother’s parent’s house. It was a very traditional and very delicious dinner. I also got to wear my yukata afterward because we were taking pictures.
Sunday was also pretty relaxed. I got to go to the museum at which my host father works. The building used to be a school, which you can’t tell if you just look around the ground floor, but it is very clear from the second floor and up. Since my host father works at the museum, I also got to see all of the back rooms, where they are restoring artifacts and other things like that. There was a small festival Sunday night, but the constant rain put a damper on it. Not a lot of people showed up and the ground was very muddy. It was still lots of fun. I caught goldfish with a paper net, ate a crepe, and walked around a lot.
Monday was a holiday, so we had the day off of school. YFU had a barbecue for all of the exchange students in the area. The food was really good and it was nice to see all the kids that came with me to Japan again and meet all of the year long students. It was a torrential down pour though, so it was cut short. My family and I went to an onsen (hot springs) near by. It was really relaxing because the water was hot. The rain had let up to a light drizzle, so it cooled you down nicely outside of the water.
Today was the first nice day in a week. Martin and I had another special Japanese culture class. I learned how to put on my yukata by myself and we made flower arrangements. They were very pretty, though I’ve felt like bugs are crawling on me ever since, and we gave them to the principle and the teacher’s room as gifts. Today was also my last English club. We didn’t do anything in particular, just hung out and talked mostly.
Well, that’s all for now.
Good Gaijin Tip — hot springs
おんせん onsen hot springs
Japan is famous for it’s hot springs and the locations for many vacations, but onsen have their set of etiquette and expectations.
Traditionally both men and woman bathed in onsen together, but single sex onsen have become the norm. In smaller, more traditional towns, some onsen are still mixed, but often offer woman only baths or have assigned times for either sex. Young children of both genders will be seen in either onsen though.
Like the ofuro, it is required that you wash before entering the onsen. Each wash station will most likely have a removable shower head, wooden bucket, and necessities for bathing such as soap and shampoo. Never enter the onsen dirty or with soap on your body.
You are supposed to be naked in the onsen, so many places don’t allow bathing suits. You are allowed a small towel to wrap your body in while waking from bathing area to onsen. Some onsen allow you to enter with the towel, but others do not. Pay attention to signs and what other people are doing before entering to see what you should do.
Quite talk is not only acceptable in osen, but expected. Rowdiness however is not excepted anywhere, be it the bathing room or onsen. This however is not often applied to young children.
If you are hoping you enjoy the onsen, but have a tattoo, I am afraid you are out of luck. Most onsen ban people with tattoos from bathing. This is do to that fact that they are associated with crime in Japan as the Yakuza have elaborate tattoos. Though the ban is based on the fact that the Yakuza has tattoos, it is enforced on everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a woman, foreigner, or if your tattoo is small, if it’s there you mostly likely will not be entering the onsen.
Good Gaijin Tip — Chopstick Etiquette
はし hashi chopsticks
Chopsticks can be a danger zone for foreigners in Japan. There is a long list of things not to do with chopsticks, really I have one and it has thirty five different things on it. At some point I will type them all up and post them here, but for now I’ll cover the major ones and also teach you the proper way proper way to pick up chopsticks.
Yes, you can just grab your chopsticks from the table, but I perhaps you want to impress who you are with, you can do it properly in three easy steps. First, pick the chopsticks from above up with your right hand from the end you don’t eat with. Second, use your left hand to support the chopsticks from underneath on the end you do eat with. Third, switch you right hand into chopstick using position. There, you are now ready to eat.
Alright, so let’s talk about some big chopstick no-nos.
These are things you do not ever do with your chopsticks since they are associated with death to the Japanese.
Never stick your chopsticks straight up in your rice or your food. When someone dies, this is the way rice is offered to the spirit of the dead. It also resembles the way incense is burned at funerals or at least that’s what I’ve been told.
Never pass food from chopstick to chopstick. When somebody dies and is cremated in Japan, their bones are passed around the family using chopsticks.
So those are the major ones, here are a few smaller, but still important ones.
If you have wooden chopsticks, don’t rub them together after you split them.
Don’t point or gesture with chopsticks.
Don’t pull or push food away from you with chopsticks.
Don’t rinse your chopsticks off in soup or drink.
Use a chopstick rest if it is provided for you.
If there is a communal plate of food, different families will do different things. Some have a communal pair of chopsticks, some might turn their chopsticks around, and others just use their chopsticks normally. Watch what others are doing and then do the same yourself.
Obviously things are going to be more formal or less formal depending on where you are eating. Many of my host family members have preformed chopstick taboos and so have I. As long as you don’t do the first two I mentioned, you’ll be fine.
Good Gaijin Tip — Bath time
おふろ (ofuro) is the Japanese word for bath. In Japan things are separated. The toilet is in it’s own room and the bath/shower is in it’s own room. Japanese bathes are very different from American ones and it is important to know proper bath time etiquette. In Japan, every family member bathes in the same water because the bath is not meant for cleaning, but rather relaxing. There is a shower area where you wash before entering the bath. The room containing the bath is a wet area, meaning that everything in it can get wet and be fine. This doesn’t mean go crazy, but don’t worry about getting things wet while showering. Many baths have covers to keep the bath water warm and to keep dirty water from the shower out. Make sure to replace it when you are done bathing. The water tends to be very hot, if it is too hot for you make sure to check with your host family or who ever you are staying with before you add any cold water. Remember, there are people after you who want hot water too.
The idea of sharing bath water tends to make Americans or other foreigns shy away from using the ofuro. Just remember because you are a guest, you are mostly likely going to be offered to use the bath first. Older people, like grandparents, bath first though. You however will always be close to first.
Do you have a boyfriend?
Do you like Martin?
Who is your favorite person?
(which is a literal translation, but loosely translated, it’s more who is your crush?)
Have you ever seen someone famous?
Do you like Jusin Beiber/Lady GaGa/any other “popular” musician in America?
Do you know (insert Japanese band here)?
Good Gaigin Tip — entering someone’s house for the first time.
Is what you say upon entering someone’s house the first time. Being a polite guest, you’ll want to enter the house properly. This means removing your shoes the correct when in the genkan. In Japan, people do not wear shoes inside. The genkan is where you remove your shoes before entering the main house and is normally lower then the rest of the house to trap dirt. Some genkan are not lowered, in that case many families have mats lined up to distinguish between the main house and the dirty outside. You’ll want to get as close as possible to the line before slipping your shoes off. Make sure you never step on the dirty floor while removing your shoes. You then bend at the knees, making sure your butt never faces your host, to turn your shoes around so they face the door and can easily be slipped on when you are leaving. If you are wearing sneakers or other shoes with laces, untie to loosen them before slipping them off, but again make sure you are facing your host. If you are wearing sandals, flip flops, or other shoes which you don’t wear socks with, you might want to bring a pair along with you to slip into while walking around the house. Many families wear slippers around the house and they sometimes have extra guest slippers, but not always.
So this Saturday was Tanabata, the Japanese Star Festival. I know a lot about it because I did a project on it for Japanese last year.
The day of Saturday was pretty uneventful. It was the first day I spent mostly all on my own. My host parents had work, my host siblings had school, and my host grandfather was out of the house. I took a long bike ride around town. I was proud because I didn’t get lost and our town can be pretty hilly at parts. I also took some pictures of the rice fields. It was over cast and windy, which was a nice change in weather. Before I left the house it was glaringly sunny and hot.
We ate dinner quickly that night and it was small because we had to drive over to the town where the Tanabata festival was being held. Before we left though, my host family surprised me with a gift. My very own yukata. I was jumping for joy and thanking them repetitively as they ushered me out of the house and into the car.
The festival stands themselves were pretty small, but they sold delicious food and there were fun games. I ate tacoyaki and a crepe. Yum~
I also played this game where you get a small paper cup and try to scoop goldfish into a bowl. It’s ridiculously difficult because the paper starts dissolving after it touches the water the first time.
There were also constant fireworks throughout the night. They were really gorgeous. Though the stands were small, the amount of people who were there was not. Tons of people spread out on blankets, sitting on the hill, sitting on their cars. I ran into some of the girls from the elementary school, but no one from my school.
Sunday was equally fun. My host father, sister, brother and I took a long drive to Lake Towada. It is this huge, gorgeous lake which is a popular destination. We went canoeing and kayaking. At first Nonoka and I tried to canoe, but we just wound up going in circles and no matter what we tried we couldn’t go straight. So, we had to switch to the kayak and we had a much easier time with that. It was nice to be out on the water, which was this beautiful blue and reflected the sky and surrounded mountains. As we glided by we passed different species of birds and the smells drifting from the shore kept changing, flowers at one point, the smell of forest at another. I don’t know how long we were out, but by the time we got back my arms sure were sore. We played at the shore, skipping rocks, trying to catch fish, and digging through rocks until it was time to clean up.
Once we packed up, I thought we were heading home, but our day wasn’t done just yet. We drove over to the small “town” set up on the water side and rented one of those paddle boats. You know, the ones you move with the bicycle peddles and look like swans. We only had twenty minutes, but it was really fun riding around. Back on shore, we ate a small snack, I had odango, which was delicious, before driving home. We had a great dinner and just hung out around the table until it was time for showers and bed.
Wednesday at school was pretty normal, nothing out of the ordinary really, but it was a day where neither Nonoka and I had a club. Having a lot of time to kill, a good two hours, we decided to go to the large Itoku near school. Not close enough to walk though, so we took the bus.
In Japan, or at least in Odate, you get on the bus in the back and exit in the front. You also pay when you are getting off the bus instead of when you are getting on. When you get on, you get a ticket with a number on it. Everyone who gets on at the stop has the same number and it is also on an electronic board in the front of the bus that has the price on it. Then when you get off, you put the ticket and money into a collector at the front.
So, this Itoku (there are a ton of them around) is three floors high. The first floor just being a super market, the second floor a clothing store, and the third floor has a bunch of different things, including an arcade section. That is where Nonoka and I spent our time. We played a few games and took pictures in one of the purikura machines. Purikura machines for people who dont know are a lot like a regular photo booth, but it automatically fixes your skin and makes your eyes bigger. You also can add writing and stamps and things to the photos after.
On Thursday and Friday Martin and I visited a local elementary school. On Thursday the teacher in charge of foreign exchange students at my school drove us, but on Friday we took the train. Thursday we spent with the fifth and sixth years and Friday was given to the first, second, third, and forth years. On Thursday we partook in their English classes since their teaching assistant was there. We helped read the English in the text book and played a introduction game with one class. The game was pretty simple, but all the kids seemed to really enjoy it. They would ask us questions, simple do you like questions and then had to guess if we did or not before we gave our answers. The other class was learning directions, so we started by reading different names of places, such as Park and Hospital. Then we played Simon Says with directions, turn left, turn right, walk straight. After that, each table was assigned a location and one student had to be lead by the class to an assigned location using English. I had a great time and all the kids were really cute.
When we got back to school Nonoka had a club, so I hung out with Saki. We went to Eon, another department store in the area, and ate ice cream before doing Purikura. We wound up staying a little too late and had to run back to school so that I would be on time. It was difficult talking to Saki, but we managed with a lot of miming and broken speech.
So, on Friday Martin and I meet at the train station and made is there without any problem. The trains in Japan are all really nice and comfortable. Our teacher picked us up at the station (her sons go the to elementary school we were visiting) and drove us the rest of the way. From there Martin and I split up, each visiting different classes. I started with the forth years and worked my way down and he started with the first years and worked his way up. Each class was different and each teacher wanted me to do different things. The forth years sung and played their recorders for me before doing introductions. They were all really nervous, so I introduced myself in Japanese and we played a game so that they would relax a little. The third years were writing letters, but they got to ask me questions for ten minutes before they started real work. The second year class was the same basically, they got to ask me questions and then had art class. The first years were having a math class and they were the only class I didnt get to interact with at all.
We were supposed to take a bus to the train and then take the train back to Odate, but one of the teachers from the school drove us back instead. It was really nice of her. We had English Club like every Friday and we folded origami.