Friday, January 14, 2011

Back Home

To say that Japan changed my life would be a major understatement; it changed my life, it changed me, it changed everything. I had always wanted to go to Japan, ever since I was 10 years old. I had a major appreciation for this very different culture.

Before I left for Japan, I had a lot of pent-up stress and frustrations. However, after being 7000 miles away from home, I realized that those problems I had were small, solvable, or not worth my time at all. Now back in America, I feel that nothing has changed, yet everything has changed. I see the world as a bigger place, and I want to explore it all.

In Japan I made lasting friendships, a lifelong bond with fellow exchangers (from Brazil, California, Virginia, and Ecuador), have a bigger view of the world, and now have the confidence to do anything. After going to Japan I realize that ANYTHING is possible.

When I got back from Japan, in a sense, I died inside. It was the happiest/calmest time in my entire life. However, I know that I will be back again, and I know that I still have all of the world to explore and fall in love with.

So what's next? Well, I am graduating from high school and I am going to attend university in the Fall.

My advice for future exchangers is that if you even have the opportunity to go abroad: do it. It will CHANGE your life for the better. If you are ready to jump into the unknown and experience a world of opportunities, then do it. I can guarantee that you will not regret it.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Last 30 days in Japan

Now I'm back home, but I did a heck of a lot those last (roughly) 30 days in Japan. I was too busy trying to enjoy/soak up every last bit of it that I didn't have time to blog it all, but I'll try to do a summary of what I did/what happened.

  • Went to Kyoto at night with Vicky: I would not suggest this. Not going with Vicky, but going at night. It was cool in a way, but it's not the best time for taking pictures of the temples (as you can probably see from the slide show). However, something really cool and unexpected did happen. There was this random water show on the top of the Kyoto train station entrance. It was really pretty and reminded me of something they would play at Disney world :D
  • Went to our friend Yuuki's "special spot": Ok so Yuuki is a really cool guy, and he speaks great English but he is a little (read: VERY) shady. But then again he is cute...yes, I know, that should NOT be a judge of character. But anyways, the night turned out to be a lot of fun :) He took us to this really fancy restaurant place and we went on the top of the roof (which has a bunch of cool canopy places to sit, and you could see the the city from up there. At night it looks really pretty :D
  • Vicky's birthday: On Vicky's birthday, my Okaasan brought a plain cake and told me to decorate it. Now I did work at a bakery before, but they didn't let me near the cakes, let alone decorate them (I was on box making duty...with the occasional cupcake thrown in there), so I was a little skeptical. However, I managed to spell "Vicky" but cutting up kiwis, so I was quite proud of myself ^0^ Maybe I should become a baker...ok, let's not get ahead of ourselves ;)
  • Another Kyoto Trip, but this time with Okaasan: Since our last trip didn't work out so well our Okaasan took me and Vicky to Kyoto during the day. This time we went to view the leaves, which were BEAUTIFUL!!! The leaves do change colors in America, but I've never seen any so vibrant and rich before (and also the Japanese seem to appreciate leaves and nature more than Americans, so I might have been brought in by the "hype"). After we got there we preceded to climb a mountain (this host family is OBSESSEDDDD; monkey mountain, killer mountain, tengou mountain, bird mountain, mountain mountain. I've got some serious calf muscles going on right now). Once we got to the top we stepped inside of this giant circle thing to make a wish. It was a lot of fun, but we were all totally beat by the end of the day.
  • Yakitori Restaurant: Yaki means "barbeque" and "tori" means chicken. Usually you go to Yakiniku (niku meaning "meat") restaurants, but Vicky doesn't like meat so the family went to the Chicken version. Since it was a whole restaurant based off of the chicken, they had to get...creative. Aka: chicken hearts, livers, spleens gull bladders (well not quite gull bladders, but you get the idea). If I hadn't known what I was eating I would have been fine, but whenever I picked something up my Okaasan would put out to me (using her body as a diagram) what I was eating and then my little brother would act out what sound it made. For example, if I picked up a piece of heart, my host mom would put to her chest and say "see??? right here!" and then my host brother would yell "DOKI DOKI DOKI DOKI!!! (the equivalent of "bathump bathump" in Japanese)", not very appetizing....
  • Mountain in Nara: This time we drove up, so my calves got a break :) It was some very intense driving indeed though. There were a bunch of sharp turns and bumps, and even 100s of people going down the mountain to hike. Add pitch darkness, and then you got yourself quite the exhilarating drive. It was totally worth it though, when we got to the top it was like this shopping complex thing, but then when you walked out onto the patio/viewfinder area it was BREATHTAKING. I had never been up that high before and there were so so so so many lights so it was And the gift shop was pretty cool too, it had a bunch of turtle stuff. I think this mountain was "Kameyama" (literally means: Turtle Mountain"). I was gonna buy a trinket for my friend whose name is Kameyama (me and Vicky had a laughing fit), but they were too expensive. And the one thing I thought would be perfect for my dad turned out not to be on sale :(( But oh wells, I got a lot of other good stuff. 
  • Saying Goodbyes: Ok this was the hardest thing. Especially with my school teachers. They presented me with this BEAUTIFUL certificate and went around a circle saying how amazing I was and how they all want to visit me in America. They were all so nice and helpful to me during my stay, I am forever grateful to them, and it made my heartache to think that I might never see them again :(( When I had to say goodbye to my best friends, Chibi and Misato, it was really heartbreaking too. They even told me that they loved me, something the Japanese NEVER do, because they are all so shy. It was so touching and it made me want to stay forever :(( 
  • Seeing the Leaves: The day before my departure, Vicky's school friends took us to go see the leaves in a town (I forget the name, but it's famous for leaf viewing). It was the definition of bittersweet...

I put in a slideshow of all my pictures, but just in case the slideshows decide not to work in the future, here's a link to my pictures: 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Yankiis Galore and Other Fun Happenings

Ok so first I think I should start of with the definition of what a “yankii” is:

A yankii is simply a subculture that was popular in Japan in the 80's and 90's. It is still popular in some areas of Japan. Moreover, it is basically the style of delinquent students. They are characterized by punch perms or pompadours, shaved eyebrows, altered school uniforms, popping squats, being poor students and causing violence or trouble. Yankii is a term that applies to both boys and girls. Although it is said some yankii would be recruited into the yakuza, or Japanese organized crime, this is not always true. Many yankii simply join the regular workforce and live regular, productive lives after high school. Being a yankii is simply a way to enjoy youth and lash out at society similar to the punk rock movement in the West.

And yeah, hope that clears things up a bit. I live in a relatively…”shady/seedy” part of Japan. So there is a whole lot of yankii where I live. Also, my host sister and all of her friends are yankii too. My host sister thought I was leaving November 1st (I am leaving November 27th), so she was trying to set me up with all of her yankii friends during my “last” week here. It was quite amusing…And I have come to realize that I love the yankii lifestyle ;)

Me and Vicky have met a bunch of yankii in a park near our house, and even when to karaoke once with them. The bill came up to 12700 yen and they payed O.O So we have decided that they are harmless enough…and rich xD

One of the yankii boys I have actually grown quite fond of. His name is Yoshii-kun, and we ate yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) with him, my host sister, and her boyfriend. He’s nice, but mecca hazukashi (very shy). But he’s really takai (tall) too which is cool :D

Ok, now that I’ve talked about a very interesting subculture in Japan, its time to get into the “traditional” Japanese stuff J

Over the past 2 weeks I have:

Went to a batting cage with my Otosan (host dad):
This was fun. I had never been to a batting cage before in my life, but the Japanese version seems pretty similar to American batting cages I’ve seen on TV. I hit one ball…out of all of the 200 balls that came my way. I apologize for my lack of hand/eye coordination.. My host dad was a beast however. He hit like all of the balls out of the park!! I think he was showing off for us :P These other guys kept trying to show off their skills to us too, but we left too soon xD There was in arcade there too, so while Vicky and Otosan were watching Monan (my little host brother) bat, I decided to play a racing game. When Vicky came back over she said “Oh, I see you’ve made friends”. At first I had no idea what she was talking about but then I turned and realized there were about 10 Japanese boys crowded around me watching me play. Talk about awkward (-_-;)

Climbed “monkey mountain” with my okaasan (host mom):
When my Okaasan came before there were a bunch of monkeys (just like how Nara has a bunch of deer), but this year the locals said the monkeys were gone L It was still fun anyways though. We found this really pretty waterfall, I got a monkey lollipop, and we ate leaves. Yes, leaves. Or actually more specifically, “fried leaves”. The leaves on monkey mountain are deep fried and then you eat them. Who knew leaves could be unhealthy? The actually fried leave tasted realllyyyyy good though. Kind of sweet, kind of not. Like a really good snack.
Had a Halloween party at my school
Self explanatory…

Went to Tennoji to see the golden Buddhas:
We saw the golden Buddhas (which are beautiful) and we also saw the Buddhas made of human remains. 150,000 people’s bones. I was quite concerned, but my Okaasan said “no it’s ok! Because this means the people turn into Buddha”. I am still quite confused, but from what I could make out they make a new “bone Buddha” every ten years. The bones of the people are kneaded/molded into the shape of the Buddha. I would not want to have the job of kneading those bones. My okaasan is proud because her grandma and grandpa’s bones were in one of the Buddhas. After seeing all the Buddhas and praying at a few god statues/lighting incest, we went to this really cool burger restaurant. But the burgers in Japan are different from America. There’s no bun. It was however the best burger I have ever tasted J

Went to an amazingly amazing cheap shopping plaza called “Tenjimbashisuji 6-chome”:
IT’S SO CHEAP!!!!!!! Mecha yasui (very cheap)!!! I found a bunch of good sweaters there, and a full blown warm winter coat that only costs sen yen!! (about $10 us dollars). I think I’ll definitely be going back there ;) and its just a short bike ride from our house!

Went to sleep over at my friend’s house…which is actually part temple J:
I thought the temple part was cool, but kind of eerie too. We got our fortunes and my friend’s dad read them out to us. Supposedly I’m going to be a teacher in the future/make my own business. But I cant teach with the personality I have now, I have to change. And its better for me to marry early xD We had dinner/did a little dinner time karaoke, and then watched scary movies.

Got an amazing instant camera from my host mom:
Yes! So now I’m going to take instant pictures and make a scrapbook, I love my host mom :D

Had a ceremony for grandma:
I’m not quite sure the details, but in Buddhist culture, a certain number of days after the death of someone you have to hold this special ceremony. We went to a really pretty temple (dressed in all black) and this priest sung from this book. We had to sing too and since the book translated all the kanji into hiragana I could understand it. After the ceremony my host grandpa took us all to this oishii (delicious) Chinese restaurant :D

Went to an amazingly shady concert with my yankii host sister on Halloween (Cosplay was in fact involved)
This was probably one of the most interesting things I’ve done while here in Japan. My host sister’s boyfriend (Shin-chan) and his friends have their own band. They had a show on the 31st so we went to go see it. It was in Umeda at a venue called “Live House”. There were a bunch of other bands performing too, some good, some…..kowaii (scary). The venue itself was quite dark. Literally and figuratively; the lighting was very shady, as were the people, and there was (at least I hope that‘s what it was…) red paint splattered all over the wall. But I guess we couldn’t really talk about those people considering the fact that me and Vicky were both in Cosplay. And for those of you who don’t know; Cosplay is an abbreviation of “Costume Play”. It’s really popular here in Japan and I see at least one person a day dressed in Cosplay. Usually the costumes are based on some sort of anime or manga, but in my case I wasn’t sure. My costume seemed like some sort of maid thing….Anyways, back to the bands. I thought Shin-chan’s band did pretty well. And his band consisted of most people I know. Including Sho-chan (supposedly he has a crush on me, says my host sister), Yoshii (watashi no sukina (my favorite) :D), and Katsuya (I thought he had a crush on my host sister, but it turns out he only likes men. homosexual.). So it was exciting to watch, and me and Vicky realized that we know quite a lot of yankiis xD The last band scared Vicky, but I thought it was hilarious and just played along for the hell of it (very big pun intended) and danced along (which my host sister loved). But the lead singer wasn’t really…singing. It was more of a low pitched scream roar. It sounded like he was trying to open the gates of hell actually. And he kept screaming “Korra sei (kill)…korra sei!!!!! Korra sei!!! KORRA SEEEEEIIIIIIIII”. His costume (at least I hope it was a costume) was quite interesting too. It included all black, chains, white contact lenses (so you couldn’t see his pupils), and red/white hair. Seemed like he was going for a “Satan’s son” look. Vicky told me to ask him for a picture, but I was worried for my soul so I passed….However I did take a picture with pikachu ^^ The most kakkoih guy of the night :DD He was really charismatic, and polite too (*^0^*) And hey, I’d rather have a picture with pikachu than “Lucifer’s offspring” ya know?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Journey to big waters (aka: the beach)

My host dad works part time as a kayak tour person (at least that’s what I think he said) but he’s pretty famous for what he does. He’s in a lot of kayaking/camping magazines and stuff like that. He doesn’t work a lot during the fall/winter seasons though, it’s mostly during the summer (he actually spends the WHOLE summer at the beach kayaking sometimes). Since me and Vicky had been dropping a lot of hints (well maybe we weren’t all that subtle…), he decided to take us with him on one of his excursions J We woke up early one morning and basically started driving. When my Otosan (host dad) was younger, he used to live in Okinawa so he has a lot of Okinawan CDs (which we listened to the whole drive up). Some songs are really catchy, some are funny, and some have ear bleeding qualities about them. Like in one song these ladies with really really (realllyyyyy) high nasally voices keep repeating “Iya…SASASASASASA” and just when you think it’s finally over, again, “Iya…SASASASASASA”. My favorite song is the one about goats though. Yes, goats. Supposedly Okinawa is known for its many goats (?) so there’s a song where this shady guy says “Okinawa dokodemo hija ‘MEMMEMEM’’. It literally means “Okinawa anywhere goats ‘MEMEMEMEM’” The “mem” part is the guy trying to sound like a goat. And then there’s a crazy guy in the back screaming “Memmemme!” in a high pitched raspy voice. The first time I heard it, honestly I was frightened. But now that I have gotten used to it I enjoy listening/singing along. I do quite a good “MEMMEMMEM” if I do say so myself.

The beach itself was really pretty. It felt like we were on a tropical island :O While Otosan was working, me and Vicky walked around the neighborhood. We found a little island with a lot of houses, an abandoned haunted looking building, this crazy Egyptian guy, and a temple. Japan surprises you sometimes like that. On the island with a lot of houses Vicky had to go to the bathroom so we went looking for one. However, all we found was a bunch of narrow streets and alleyways. When we got to the Ojisan (old man) we asked him where a public bathroom was and he chuckled and said there wasn’t any on the island, just houses. But he kindly let Vicky use his bathroom J When he opened the front door to his house his wife looked at us like “What the heck are these foreigners doing in my house?” but then she warmed up to us xD When Vicky was finished we went looking some more around the neighborhood and found this cat lady. But all her cats were sneezing for some reason…Then we found this guy dressed in all black and he started whispering something to us. We decided something wasn’t right on this island and before the townspeople could offer us as sacrifices at the temple we decided to go back to the mainland. Where we preceded to make a sand castle J

Overall it was a pretty fun day, and all the scenery was like out of a Hayao Miyazaki movie. That’s something I’ve noticed about Japan though. I used to think that the scenes in Manga and Anime were just imagination, but it’s really just the real Japan. Aside from the fantasy manga, the scenery and different places in Japan aren’t glamorized or made into something else; for the most part they’re copied down exactly how they are.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Nara with the deer~

Me and Vicky took a train to see the deer in Nara! It was a lot of fun!! And I found my favorite matcha ice cream too ^o^ The deer were really kawaii (cute) but they were very forceful…and I bought some of the sanbei to feed the deer with. They nudge you a lot and there was this one deer that seemed like a demon deer with its cut off horns and gray fur. We pet the deer for a while and then we walked around the shopping district and I bought souvenirs for people in America.

Baseball Game

A few weeks back my Okaasan took me, Vicky, and my little host brother to a baseball game. Since this was on my list of stuff I wanted to do I was really excited :D My okaasan made a big lunch of rice balls and sandwiches and we set out. My Otosan drove us to the Osaka dome (another thing of my list J ) and dropped us off. It was a really exciting atmosphere! It was pretty much like a baseball game in America, but there was actually less technology when it came to the tickets. I think that’s because this wasn’t a major league game though, just a small league. We came into a big room and gave a person our tickets (and we got a discount because of my little brother’s school ^^) and they gave us free T-shirts. Tada suki (I like free)!! \(^0^)/ When we got into the arena it was a lot bigger than I thought it would be! And it seemed to perfect, like a hologram or something. I found the cheering very interesting though. It wasn’t like America where people just yell and shout out random things; people knew exactly what to chant/yell. It was very orderly and they switched between fans. Like our team sung/chanted/did a specific song, then the other team did the same. It reminded me of my high school football teams and how the bands play. Oh and something else that I found quite interesting was that there were a lot of foreigners on the baseball team. Like there were 3 whites guys, One Hispanic, and one Indian guy. Whenever the white guys went they played rock music, Hispanic guy: samba, Indian guy: music from the movie soundtrack of Slumdog Millionaire xDD Towards the end, we blew up these balloons (that looked oddly familiar to something I learned about in health class…) and we let them go all together. It was really pretty, I wish I could have gotten a video :O Otosan said he didn’t feel like picking us up (gotta love Otosan haha xD) so we took the train home. Overall it was a good day ^^

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Birthday :)

Well, my birthday is September 23rd, and it was on a Wednesday, but we didn’t celebrate it until Friday. The day of my birthday was actually kind of sad. My Otosan (father)’s Obaachan (grandma) died on the day of my birthday (depressing….) so my host parents had to drive far away to get to her funeral. When I came downstairs my Otosan was playing on his guitar in the dark and singing a really sad Japanese song… My okaasan (mother) was ok though. She kept apologizing at the fact that they couldn’t celebrate my birthday. What the heck???? I’m not a monster!!!! His grandma DIED!! Of course I understood!!!! She made me feel bad. But it was ok. Anyways, they put me and Vicky (did I mention that me and Vicky live in the same house? It’s a long story) in charge of my little brother and the dog Reita (yeah, she said dog too xD) and said we could use the internet in my Otosan’s office. It was funny though because when I came home from school I found this huge pile of junk food (instant ramen, melon bread, candy, etc) on the dining room table table and I was like “eh…is someone robbing our pantry?” and then I found a note from my Okaasan that said “Dinner is on the table” Hahaha I love my Okaasan. And she knows how much I love budou (grapes) so even though they are takai (expensive), she bought some and they were on the table too. Along with a note that said “Here is budou for Jojo~ Hugs and kisses, okaasan”. So nice!!! (>_<) That day my little host brother was going to a friend's house so me and Vicky went to Karaoke with my three good friends Misato, Shota, and Chibi (Mai), along with Shota’s friends and some other exchangers. It was a lot of fun and I got a really cute gift from Chibi (^0^) and Shota gave me a dragon ball. Yeah, don’t really know how to explain that. Then me and Vicky came home and had budou and instant ramen for dinner. Not very healthy but it tasted good xD And then we went out again with my yankii host sister and her boyfriend to sushi :D My birthday was kind of sad though. I really missed my family and friends back home :( Ok now for Friday. This was definitely one of the best birthday celebrations I have ever had. It was just…perfect. Okaasan made all of my favorite Japanese food (including Karaage [Japanese/Chinese style fried chicken] and dumplings). I think the best part was my cake though. She spelled name with budou on the top. Best. Cake. Ever. xD Now onto my Otosan. Even though Okaasan and Vicky are always saying how much he likes me (because I make him laugh a lot, something he rarely does), he never shows it much because that’s how Japanese dudes are. But his present to me was my name in Kanji. It’s a really beautiful kanji that literally means, “beautiful, pretty, lady” and basically a bunch of other pretty things. My okaasan said it took him a long time to figure out the name. So my Japanese name is: Jojo Yoshikawa (the last name is my host family’s name). I was so touched!!!! I actually almost cried. I really feel apart of the family!!! I think this was one of my happiest moments here. I feel so grateful to have such a great host family.