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.