Thursday, June 2, 2011

The End of the Beginning

The last days I spent in Japan were one of the saddest days of my life. Before I left I had to watch many of my AFS friends leave one by one before me- until there was just me out of the group left. Saying goodbye to my school friends and host family- now truly my real family- tore my heart apart.

It wasn't the first time I had said goodbye to loved ones, and it definitely won't be the last. But that never makes it any easier.

I think, one of the reasons I haven't finished this blog is because I often find it too painful to recall the last moments.

As the train took me away from people and places I loved, I broke down crying. It was terrible saying goodbye to everyone and not knowing when or if I would see them again.

I cannot describe the debt I feel towards those people, especially my family. I am so thankful for everything.

***

Arriving in California, I met my mother at the airport and we spent the next day talking (well... mostly I did the talking) and catching up on things.

Even though, for quite some time, Japan was all I talked about- I couldn't find words to fit the feelings I had. Sometimes I still don't.

Looking back on pictures, I feel like I can turn around and still see my friends and family. Although the days and times of events are becoming more and more blurry, the people I met, the feelings I had, the places I went are still sharp as ever.

Often I would accidentally speak in Japanese or bow. Soon, however, this habits started to fade too.

***

One day, I got a message from one of my friends "I'm coming to America!" he facebook-ed me. He was able to get a bus down to Pittsburgh, and Houston and I got to show him around for two days.

On the second day he was at our house, the earthquake hit Japan. I remember him staring at the TV screen and just saying over and over "that's not Japan".

We contacted his family and mostly everyone in Niigata had been safe. My family and friends included. They were not harmed by the earthquake, thank God! I appreciate everyone's prayers and concerns towards the issue.

***

Sometimes I still can't believe that I am back. The first day I arrived home I remember not wanting to fall asleep, for fear that my experience in Japan would become a dream.

Sure, there is Skype and Facebook out there to help me keep up with everyone- yet there is still a distance.

Someone once said "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." I can now do that.
****

I want to thank each and everyone of you for supporting me. I really appreciate it. Without the encouragement from people back home, I might have never made this life changing decision.
***

Japan is so much more than an "incredible experience"

it is part of me.

I now dream of returning someday. No, next time around I will not be a high school student, or an AFS member, or even a super genki, over excited, gaikokujin. But those memories will be with me, forever. And now there is only more to make.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow!!!

Yikes!!! And I thought Pittsburgh could be bad! Though the weather temperature here is around the same as Pittsburgh, I have never felt so cold as in Niigata. I've come up with a few theories to why. The first theory is that it seems so cold here because of the constant winds and how Niigata is stuck right between the sea and the mountains.

The second reasoning is, in America I also had central heating. I always wake up in the morning and I can see my breath and I don't feel my nose. When I brush my teeth and place the toothbrush back on the stand, I can see steam coming off the brush.
Only the living room is the warm room out of the whole house.

When I go to school, I have to walk about ten minutes to the station. If I forget my tights and just go in normal socks, my legs turn blue.

I've really come to enjoy the train ride, it's warm, compared to my school.

There's no heat in the hallways but each classroom as a stove. During break, between classes, everyone huddles around the stove, trying to get warm.




Being in Japan, I discovered something very peculiar on the road. I noticed it when I first came. On the roads are little silver plates. I did not really understand their purpose but now I do. The little silver plates spurt out water to melt the snow.



Now you might be thinking "woah woah woah, doesn't melting snow with water just cause ice?" Yep, but the water is from an underground river, Japan was made up of volcanoes, so the water is warm and therefore keeps the ice away too. Though sometimes I do slip on the way to school or get sprayed by one of the silver plates.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEARS!!!

Okay, okay, it's almost a month past Christmas, but I still think I should write down a few things about Christmas in Japan(before I forget).

I went to school during Christmas Eve. I'm pretty sure this never happens in the USA. I also overheard people talking to each other on the train. A few of them got into arguments over what day Christmas was, the 26th or the 27th... I guess you can figure out that Christmas isn't too big in Japan.

But, still there was the Christmas decorations, the carols (Though in one store the only song playing on the loudspeakers was "All I want for Christmas is you" It repeated about 5 times before I started to want to get out of the store), and Christmas spirit was still apparent with people walking around saying "Merry Christmas!" to each other.

And, of course, there was also Christmas cake.

I was surprised to hear of the tradition of eating Christmas cake. But I think it was even more of a surprise to my friends and family that Americans hardly (if ever) eat cake around Christmas time. Most of them assumed that the tradition of the Christmas cake had come from America.

I'm not sure where the tradition came from, but the cake was very yummy :)

Nothing too exciting goes on during Christmas. No Christmas movies programed on the TV, there were hardly any houses with lights(though there were a few, but not in my city), and life goes on rather normally.

My host parents realized and understood that the Christmas holiday had always been a very important part of my life. So when Christmas did come around, we all made the best of it :)


Skipping to New Years.


I had heard from a lot of people that New Years was the most important time of the year in Japan. I asked my host parents what they would do on New Years, to which they replied "Nothing much. We'll drink, visit the shrine, and sleep. But on the 3rd we see the rest of the family."

I was expecting something more festive, but New Years passed without much excitement. Food was different. Most families (and mine too) ate a osechi, or traditional Japanese New Year food.

Oh! Also around New Years everyone sends cards to everyone they know. My parents must have sent and recieved at least a hundred cards. The cards are called "年賀状”"nengajou" or simply, a new year card.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hisashiburi!!

It's been wayyyy too long since I've written!

I've been incredibly busy, so finding time to blog is hard. And now, that I have the time, I have no idea where to start.

Lately life has been a mesh of things happening. I had a one week home stay in Murakami(a small town north of Niigata), a school trip to Okinawa, tons of AFS events, and then the trouble of being sick.

Sometimes AFS sets up home stays for us exchange students in different towns. Usually these home stays are only one or two nights. But we stayed in Murakami for a week. Although Murakami is only a little north of Niigata city, the type of food people eat already changed!

Usually when I go to a market in Niigata, I don't see this hanging down!

So then after the home stay in Murakami, there was my school trip to Okinawa!!! :D
(High schools in Japan always have a school trip for the second years).

In addition to having an amazing time (Florida-like weather in December!) I also learned (from a different point of view) the tragic events of WW2.

On the first day we went to Shuri Castle, which was almost destroyed completely during the Battle of Okinawa.

On the second day we attended a lecture and then visited the Peace Memorial, dedicated to all the soldiers who died in the Battle of Okinawa. During the lecture, I realized just how horrible the battle of Okinawa was, and after visiting the Himeyuri Memorial museum, I had had enough and broke down crying.

On third day there was no more World War places to be visited or speeches to be heard, so we all went down to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium!
The aquarium had huge whale sharks!!! I could have stared at them all day, but it was so crowded(it seemed as if ten other schools visited the aquarium at the same time) that I had to keep moving forward.

On the fourth day, we went home (or at least back to Niigata).
Okinawa was so beautiful and I enjoyed every minute I was there, but I enjoyed the school trip even more because I was able to get hang out with some classmates that I usually don't.
It was a great way to become closer friends with everyone!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fujisan Part 3 (Final, I promise)

Waking back up at 2 AM wasn't a problem. It was getting out of bed. I had woken up to the sound of hushed whispers and people rustling through their backpacks.

"Samui!!" was the most frequent whisper that reached my ear.

"Freezing"

I sighed and then with a "yoshi!" climbed out of my sleeping bag and rushed to my backpack to find my sweater and winter coat.

Now, fully donned with armor, prepared for the cold, I whispered to the lump lying next to me "Nakanosan! Ohayou gozaimasu!" Good morning!

The lump stirred, took the form of a human face, and looked at me "ohayou, horii" .

Thus, the final step up the mountain began.

Before leaving, we were told to organize our backpacks and supplies. Since we would be returning to the 8th station, it was not necessary to bring everything up the mountain. Nakanosan and I ended up leaving with only our breakfast, our walking sticks, lights, and a small backpack.



Now, it didn't come out on my camera, but seeing everyone climb up the mountain was amazing!
Everyone had their own light, either a flashlight or headlight turned on. And all of those lights were headed in one single direction. Zig-zagging their way up to the mountain, it was an incredible sight.

Unfortunately, it can get pretty crowded and half of our group got separated and took another route. But, needless to say, we all made it to the top.

Looking down bellow at the earth before and during sunrise is something spectacular. At first there are only misty clouds below, and you get the feeling that you and your companions are all alone, with only the mountain and the clouds.




On one side of the sky, it is still dark, even a few stars are still shining. Yet, in the east, where the sun will rise, the sky rapidly changes color. It melts from black to a dark blue, then fades to a light purple. Yet, the purple doesn't last because the edge of the sky bursts into a flames of reds and yellows, and the sun rises, scattering all the darkness left.

At last, the sun fully emerges, and a "Bonzai!!!" is shouted through everyone and we all cheer.

We have made it. All of us there, have seen something wonderful and experienced an awesome journey together.

Even though some of us came from totally different countries, spoke totally different languages, had totally different backgrounds, opinions, religions,and even if every single thing about us was totally different,

Everyone there, all will have that same one memory of the sun rising up over the clouds, and wiping away the darkness.

--------

I can't say much about the way back, just that Nakanosan and I were tired. The path back down, doesn't take half as long, but it is rather... well... not to pleasant. The path is almost gravel, and because of that, everyone slips a lot. Other than that, there's not much else to say :)

By the way, the pictures do NO justice...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fujisan part 2



First off, I'd like to apologize for taking so long to upload the second part.

Ja, enjoy!!!

The bus drops us off at the fifth station on Mt.Fuji. This is about half way up the mountain. We're going to be traveling with the same group of people that were on the same bus. There's also a little time to explore the fifth station before we start on our way. Besides there being a lot of souvenir shops, there's a lot of places to buy food.

One thing, however, shocks me. There are a lot of foreigners here, more than I kind of expected. I can hear languages from all around the world, and we're all gathered here for one common goal, to climb Mt.Fuji



Our guide from the bus tells everyone in our group to have a look around and then meet back up at 11:30 to start the climb.

Looking up at Mt.Fuji, you can't see the top. There's were too many clouds in the way.

At the station, there is a shrine (in the picture you can see the torii- a gate marking that you are entering holy ground).
Shrines in Japan are for kami (gods). Throughout Mt.Fuji, there are many shrines since it was once believed Mt.Fuji held many gods. However, now-a-days shrines are "Just for fun," as Nakano-san stated. At most shrines, you can pay 100 yen for a fortune (one Mt.Fuji the fortunes come in English though usually they are only in Japanese).

After eating our onigiri (rice balls covered with seaweed) we meet back up with everyone in the group and then started out ascent.

The path is rather easy at first. In fact, some people even take a horse up to the 6the station, but after that the trail gets rather rocky. The wildlife I saw on the bus coming up to the 5th station has disappeared and there are only a few shrubs here and there and I'm surround by the sky above me and the land below.



The pace was slow, partly because going up fast isn't too wise (if you go up too fast, then your body can't adjust so fast to the air thinning and you'll be sick) and partly because of the crowd too!

During one of our break times, I got curious and went to find the bathroom and to my utter shock!!!!! Going to the bathroom costs 200 yen!!!! :O



Around 2 o'clock I'm starting to get tired. But now, I have to wait till 5, the time we'll reach the 8th station and sleep there. Nakanosan is doing well. And we've both started to eat our supply of chocolate. :)

The temperature also changes rapidly on Mt.Fuji. I felt like I was walking through seasons as I climbed up the mountain. From the hot summer weather from the 5th base to the winter cold at the 8th.

One of the great things about climbing Mt.Fuji though, is that you get to make friends on the way with your fellow companions.

When we do reach the 8th station (every in the group is rather tired) We are rewarded with curry and rice and...

As I step into the building where everyone is sleeping, the first thing I think is "concentration camp?"

If you've ever ridden a train in Japan, then you know that the Japanese people typically don't mind being close to each other when it is necessary... It was necessary on Mt. Fuji and everyone was packed close together. Really close to together. Poor Nakano-san had to sleep next to a boy she didn't know.

After we eat, we all flop into a warm bed.

Although everyone isn't getting up until 2 AM, I woke up at 9 o'clock. I wasn't sore from the climb, but I felt restless. So, being careful not to wake anyone up, I got out of bed and took a look outside.


As I stood there in the freezing cold, peering of the edge of Mt Fuji,

I beheld one of the most beautiful sights in my life.




Below me, lights glittered like tiny stars; they winded through the landscape and around the tiny mountains, creating their own milkway. To my left was a group of storm clouds and they raged without sound. Lightning sparked through their dark form though not even a whisper resounded through them. Everything was silent. My whole life, I had watched from below. I had been one of those stars looking up at the storm, looking up at the sky, looking up at the mountains. But now I was above the city's stars, above the storm, above all the mountains, and in the sky.

Monday, September 13, 2010

FUJISAN!!!! Part 1?

Hmm... this is written in a story format I guess...

Bad thing is I think I change from past to present tense a lot...

Sorry! But enjoy my story of climbing Fujisan! :D

------
I move my arm in my sleep and then jerk wide away from the pain. My whole arm is aching. Ouch. That's not the only part of my body hurting, as I slowly turn my head to look around, my stiff neck sends me another painful message.

There's not much to see, only the slightest bit of light slipping it's way through the cracks in the curtains. I hear some one snoring, a whisiper, and then the snoring stops.

"I'm never spending a whole night on a bus again" I think to myself. It felt like I had slept up against a cold brick wall. The rest of my body doesn't hurt too much, but I'm afraid to fall back asleep.

It's not like I could help sleeping on a bus though. I was too excited the day before, so excited that it had worn me out. Besides, I had needed sleep too.

I smile to myself, remembering the reason to why I had boarded a bus at 10 pm. and would be getting off soon at 5:40. The reason, of course, was because I would be climbing Mt.Fuji. One more dream in Japan I wanted to accomplish was well... on it's way to being accomplished.

But could I make it? Could WE make it?

I look at the seat behind me to see Nakano-san. I guess you could say she looks like a rather stereotypical Japanese woman. She has the small body and frame. Though, her personality is very very crazy. Crazy in a good way of course. Without her, I wouldn't be on this trip.

As I sit there, thinking, I hear her cough in her sleep.

She has a cold... I asked her the day before if she was sick, but she had denied it. I was really worried. Climbing Mt Fuji- the highest mountain in Japan had to be difficult. And I didnt want her pushing herself too hard for my sake.

-----

Before I realize it, the loudspeaker comes on and a man's voice wakes the whole bus up, announcing we will be dropped off soon.

Yes, Tokyo, here I come!!!!

Tokyo's our first stop, from there, we`ll board another bus that will take us to Mt.Fuji.

Unfortunately, there's no time for sight seeing, but I enjoy staring up at the buildings in amazement. In the country, where I live, there are practically no high buildings at all. It seems forever since I've seen them.

In the time between catching buses, Nakano-san and I grab breakfast at a convience store and eat it inside a hotel (since it's REALLY hard to find benches in Japan).

Finally, with me practically bouncing with excitement, the bus comes and we board it. As we go towards Shizuoka Prefrecture and out of Tokyo, the setting turns from tall buildings, into huge mountains. This picture is of Mt. Fuji. Since it's summer, there's no snow on the top. (The only time to climb it is in summer, otherwise it's rather dangerous).