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Getting ready to leave

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Last November I was selected to be the next foreign exchange student for the Bloomington-Normal Sister Cities program to Asahikawa, Japan.  The day is finally arriving for me to leave on Wednesday.
Japan packing

My Last Full Month in Japan

May seems like it has been one of the fastest months so far, probably because I’ve been having a lot of fun. Like last month, I had a few more parties this months as well. This month has also been a good month for kendo and Japanese studying. I entered into a tournament, and like usual, I’m continuing to improve. I’m also making lots of new memories with friends and have started packing already. So far I have one suit case packed and it’s 12 pounds under the limit! I will also be in Sapporo during the time of writing this so I apologize if this month’s post is shorter, or less detailed than it usually is.

So the start of this month was still golden week, which is a week in Japan were there are 3 holidays in a row. Many people travel or take those days off from work and is one of the most busy weeks in Japan. During Golden week, I hung out with my friend Taisei and he invited a German student who was studying in Tokyo and was touring Japan this month before he went back to Germany. We picked him up from a bus stop and then we went to a ramen shop. After that we just kind of hung out and talked about a lot of stuff. I hope that we can hangout like that again someday.

Next up we have one of the annual Sister Cities parties. This one was a lot like the one in the winter. I prepared a speech and talked with some people that I haven’t seen in awhile. During my speech I said that I was going to enter into a kendo tournament and then everybody asked me about it. Some of them even came to see me compete, which I was really happy about. It was a relatively short event, but the food that we ate was really good.

Leading up to the kendo tournament I went in and out of being nervous. I know that I’m not best, of course, but I knew that I would give it my all and really try to learn from my mistakes. It wasn’t a super big tournament, but it had students from elementary school to high school. The tournament was only team matches and I was on my school’s team C with 2 second year students and 2 first years and we had to go up against 2 really strong teams. The high school boys and girls both had round robin pools with about 3 teams each. My round one was super difficult. My opponent was another 3rd year student and he was incredibly fast. Right as the match started he went for a strike and caught me off guard because I’m used to people taking a second before doing that. He scored on me and then round 2 was pretty much the same thing but I went for a strike too, but he was still faster than me. Our team ended up losing that but I was still optimistic about the next match. The next team was also really strong and beat the team that I played round one. I hoped that we could win or get a tie so that I had a chance of getting into the bracket, but we unfortunately lost again. This time though, I was more prepared and the round actually lasted a lot longer. My opponent was really strong and I couldn’t really find an opening but I tried really hard. After that we went onto watching the bracket which was only 4 teams, but still really entertaining. I watched my school’s A team just clear through the first round no problem, but the second round they went up against the team that won my pool. This one was a lot tougher, but we still pulled through and won. Afterwords we took a lot of pictures and everybody was just really happy. Even though I lost, I was still proud of what I was able to do, especially since I’ve only been doing it since September. Both the girls and boys won.

The next event was my going away party with the Sister Cities committee and my host family. I had to prepare another speech and  then everyone said a little speech to me saying thank you and wishing me good luck in my future. They also gave me a gift that has a quote on it, and then everybody signed around it. It was a really memorable moments for me, and I can’t thank everybody enough for how much they’ve done for me.

I didn’t do much between weekends because of packing and school, but the weekend of the 26th I had 2 events. The first one was on Saturday, which was a barbecue that I had with some friends and my host family, and then my host siblings sports festival at school. The barbecue was really fun. I hadn’t seen those friends in a long time so I was glad to have seen them before I go back to America. We did it over lunch and after we roasted marshmallows. We did it at a park so the whole time my host siblings wanted to go to the park or play a game, so me and my friends went and played a game with them. The next day was my host siblings’ sports festival. In the morning my youngest host brother said he was too nervous to eat breakfast and I had to convince him that he needed to eat so that he would have energy for the day. The school made spots for the students’ families to sit, but they weren’t very big. My host dad’s parents also came to watch so we were all kind of squeezed together. Every kid at the sports festival wore a red or white hat for whichever team they were on. My host sister was the white team and my host brothers were the red team. They competed in races and the winning team was red team. It was really interesting to see part of what elementary school life is like.

Later on in the weak, was the All Asahikawa kendo tournament. The top 4 players and teams from this tournament would go onto the all Hokkaido tournament. Junior high schools and high schools compete in these tournaments every year for almost every sport. They usually take place during school days so throughout the week people would be away from school. My kendo teacher invited me to go see so of course I went to cheer on my friends. It was a really tough tournament and only have 2 boys and the girls team from my school going to the All Hokkaido tournament. On the second one day of the tournament I met with 2 of my friends who went to the school that was hosting the event. I was super glad to have seen them because it would probably be the last time I see them for awhile. Also, the junior high school student that I hosted last year was also entering the tournament so it was nice to see him again. Even though a lot of people from my school lost, I’m glad I was allowed to go and see. It was really an amazing event.

On June 1st was my last school assembly and I had to say a speech. I didn’t give myself enough time to write it so I wasn’t too happy about the way it turned out. It was also the same assembly that the school announced who was going to the All Hokkaido tournaments. Pretty much all of the track and field members, the basketball team, the judo team, and the swim team are all going. I was really shocked with how many people from the track and field team are going. June 5th is my last day of school. I’m sad about not going back, but I’m very thankful for all the memories that I made while there.

Since there’s so much to talk about with the Sapporo trip, I’m going to be making another post next month including it and my last week that I’m here, as well as what it’s like to go back to America. It’s really crazy to me that I’m going back in a week. I’ve been here for so long that it’s become normal and seems like I’ll be here forever. I don’t really want to leave, but I’m also looking forward to what lies ahead in my future.

I’ve spent this month really working on my Japanese studies. I found a PDF file of the question book that goes with my text book and I’ve been working on that. As well as practicing kanji. It feels like it’s been going really great. My host family is also still amazing and they’ve been helping me with packing all of my stuff, and I can’t say with words how amazing they’ve been. They truly have become family to me. I’ve truly enjoyed almost every second of being here, and I can’t wait to come back and make new and different memories.

 

My Nineth Month in Japan

 

April has been one crazy month. I had a few parties, went out of town, have been improving with kendo and Japanese, and I made some new friends. I’ve had a lot of fun last month and I plan on continuing to make memories. The cherry blossoms are starting to blossom and the weather is getting very nice. It was even 70 degrees last weekend.

During the first week of April it was still the last half of spring break and I hung out with some of the friends I made when the Junior high school students came to Bloomington last year. I saw the boy that I hosted and some others. We had a lot of fun and went to karaoke. It was great to see all of them again. I hope I get to see them before I go back to America.

School started the next week, and because it was the start of the Japanese school year, I became a 3rd year high school student and new 1st years come to school. The Japanese school system is a little different than America’s school system. Elementary school has 6 years, middle school then starts with 7th grade and ends with 9th grade, and then high school starts at 10th grade and ends with the 12th grade. So when I say that I am a 3rd year in high school, I am saying I am a senior in high school. I have only talked to the 1st year kendo students and I get along with them very well. I wasn’t able to go to the school entrance ceremony, but all of the clubs had kind of a showcase event. They all had some sort of presentation. Most showed pictures and said where they could come and for practice and when practice was. Basketball, Kyudo (Japanese archery), and volley ball had live presentations to show off what they do during practice. It was cool to get a taste of what the other clubs have to offer.

The kendo club had a party for the 1st years, and it is one of my greatest memories. I had a lot of fun joking and hanging out with all of my kendo friends. The 2nd and 3rd year students all did dances. I wasn’t apart of them but I still had a lot of fun watching them. It was just a super relaxed event where we got to know the 1st year students. I also had to do a small self introduction, which was really easy. It has been one of the highlights of my time here.

While I’m still talking about kendo, I was recently told that I will be able to enter tournaments now! I have one coming up next weekend, but I think its the only one I can enter into. I also received my club jersey! The pants are a size too big, but they have a tie at the bottom of the pants so it makes them seem like they aren’t too big. I also got an extra club shirt from my kendo teacher as a gift! I’ve been working really hard on improving so that I can do my best at the tournament.

On April 25th the Sister Cities Committee had another party. I had to write a small speech about my host family and school. Different people, from the last party, were at this party so I got to meet new people. A few weeks before the party, some junior high school kids form Asahikawa went to Bloomington-Normal. The chaperone from that trip was at the party and we got to hear a little bit about it. I was a fun night and the food was really good.

During the first week of May, Japan has 5 holidays in a row and it is one of the most popular weeks in Japan. The weekend before Golden week my host family and I went out of town as a little Golden Week celebration. We planned on visiting my host mother’s parents’ house and going to an amusement park. Our first stop was my host mother’s parents’ house where we had lunch and stayed for a few hours, but before that we stopped at a rest stop which had a little garden type area and some plastic horse statues that you could ride. It was a nice break from the long car ride. After we visited my host mother’s parents, we went over to the hotel where we were staying at. It was across the street from the amusement park and it was a really nice hotel. It was kind of a 2 floor hotel but the 2nd floor was really just the door to get in and a regular hotel bedroom. The first floor was a living room where the bathroom, a sink and counter, and 2 pull out beds. The windows were pretty big so the next morning the sun was very bright and made the whole hotel pretty warm. We left early the next morning to go to the amusement park. There was a small train that went from the hotel to the park. The park was right under a mountain, because the park also had a ski slope. While on the train, you could see a great view of the mountain. I had a lot of fun riding roller coasters and spending time with my host family. The roller coasters were actually some of the craziest that I’ve ever ridden, but were also the most fun roller coasters that I’ve ridden. We had lunch at the park and stayed for a few more hours after and then we had to go to the next hotel that we were staying at. Also at the park was a group of magicians. They came from Tokyo to perform and they were pretty interesting. The next hotel was right across the street from the ocean. I wanted to go to the ocean at night, but there wasn’t enough lighting and I was pretty exhausted. The hotel was an older one in a small town, but it had a really nice hot spring. The food at the hotel was also really good, and they gave my youngest host brother some special treats because he was youngest. The next day we didn’t really know what to do. Since it was almost Golden week we didn’t really know if places would be crowded or not. We ended up stopping at a small park to ride boats, but the waves were too high to ride them. I wanted to stay at the park for a bit to explore it, however we left to try to find another spot. We couldn’t really find anything and stopped to eat lunch. We ate at a buffet, which had really good food. They had Japanese food and also some western food. Outside of the restaurant was a giant globe that I thought was pretty cool. The next stop was an animal farm where you could feed the animals and see the farm. We ate some ice cream and then we flew kites. It was really windy so they flew really well, and It was very relaxing. We left after about an hour and returned home. It was an amazing weekend where I had lots of fun and made many memories.

One of my major rolls as the high school exchange student is to be an ambassador, not just for Bloomington-Normal, but also for America. I am to exchange culture between Japan and America. Many people ask me about the American culture, and I always try to give the best answer that I can. I also try to help people as much as possible. Sharing my culture and language has become something that I love to do.

Studying Japanese has become somewhat difficult. I’ve become pretty good at the language, but there is still so much more to learn. Since I feel like I’m at a good point in learning the language, every time I learn something I feel like I’ve already learned it and it just makes sense. Because of that my motivation for learning has been slipping. I feel like I don’t have a structure for what I’m learning and I don’t have enough time during school to really learn anything. Since I started noticing that, I’ve been thinking on ways to create a structure for learning and improving. Drilling Japanese sometimes feels like it isn’t the best option, but I know that I need to keep going at it until I come up with the best way to learn for me. My host family is still amazing. While the kids can be a bit too loud, I know that they are just kids and still have a lot to learn, just I like do. I try to talk and communicate with my host family with what’s going on in my life and my plans while I’m here, and their plans with work and whatever the kids have planned. We get along just great and I’m going to miss them a lot. Since school started up again, this month has been very busy. From all of the activities that I’ve been doing during the week and the weekend have made it a very busy one, but that just means that I’m having fun and making great memories. I hope that even though next month will be a less busy, that I will still be making memories that are just as great.

 

 

Family Visit and Spring Break!

This entire journey of being in Japan just keeps handing out the best experiences. Just like every other month, this one has been just amazing. My family came to visit, we had another sports festival at school, and spring break started! I’ve been super excited about spring coming so that I can get out there and really see Asahikawa again.

The first exciting thing that happened this month was on March 3rd and it was the graduation party for the 3rd years that are in kendo club. The 1st and 2nd years did dances and speeches, including me for the 3rd years and it was a lot of fun. We also took a lot of pictures and I got to say goodbye to all of the my coaches and friends because I probably won’t be able to see them on this trip. I hope one day I’ll be able to see them again.

That whole next week I was getting ready and super excited for my parents to arrive. We had such an amazing time and they got to meet my family here, which was really special to me. They arrived pretty late on a Friday night so all they really wanted to do was eat food and then go to bed.

Saturday for lunch, we had a welcome party with the Sister Cities committee. I had to act as translator for it, but I guess I’m going to have to do a lot of that one day so I used it as a learning experience. We then walked around downtown for about an hour or so and then ate dinner. That night we went to Sounkyo for the ice cave festival. It started becoming warm about the week before we went so the caves were kind of melted on the outside. While I was there, I felt like I found my adventurous self again and have been trying to find adventurous things to do. The caves were all made out of ice and there were some sculptures, and little crevices that you could climb into. They also had a stage where people danced and fireworks. They also had a climbing wall, but it closed before I had a chance to climb it. It was another late night, but one I’ll never forget.

On Sunday, we went to the zoo for my host sister’s birthday. We saw the penguin watch, which is one of the most popular things in all of Japan, and all of the other amazing animals at the zoo. We ate lunch at the restaurant at the zoo and my family got to try some more Japanese food. It was another amazing memory that I will never forget. That night, we went to the church that I’ve been going to for the past couple of months.

I was able to take Monday and Wednesday off from school, so I spent both of those days with them. We mostly just went shopping on those 2 days. We went to the Feeeal building, which has a bunch of stores until you get to the 7th floor which has tables for studying and the international relations office. They met my friend Daniel, Doreen, and Mr. Shudo who is the head of international relations while there. Next we went to the biggest mall in Asahikawa. we didn’t spend a lot of time there because we were going to be picked up to go a restaurant for dinner. It was a really nice French restaurant which was designed like a lodge. The food was absolutely delicious and we gave presents to my host family.

On Tuesday my family came to visit my school and see kendo practice. The whole day I was really excited about them coming and a lot of my classmates kept asking me about them. They visited my last period, got a tour around school, met the principal of my school, and then went to the first half of practice. When they came to visit my class, my parents passed out jelly beans to all of my classmates and then we all sang the school song for them. Kendo practice was just a regular day pretty much. We didn’t do many special things besides put me close to my family, so they could see me, and take some pictures. I was really exhausted after practice, but I went to a ramen shop with my family. The ramen shop was really good, and might actually be my favorite shop here. It was another really late night, but I was looking forward to spending another full day with them.

On Wednesday we pretty much spent the whole day at the science museum. The science museum is kind of like the Children’s Discovery Museum and has a lot of interactive science experiments and stuff like that, but also has a planetarium and an observatory. We had a lot of fun doing all of the activities that are at the museum. For dinner we went to a Japanese burger place. Japanese hamburgers are somewhat different than what Americans are used to. It still has a beef patty, of course, but instead of bread, it has rice underneath or as a side. It was really good food. We were all exhausted because of how busy the last few days were, so I went back home to try and prepare my room and some other things for my family to come over the next day. My school’s sports festival was on the Thursday and Friday that my family was here, but thankfully it was just in the mornings so I could spend more time with them on Thursday.

The sports festival was a lot of fun. The events were volleyball for the boys, basketball for the girls, and everybody was able to compete in dodge ball. I entered in both volley ball and dodge ball. We were able to get to day 2 of volley ball, but lost pretty quickly in dodge ball. After school I went to meet up with my family and was picked up by my host family. We first went to a sweets shop and bought some sweets for people back in Bloomington. We then went to my host family’s house and we stayed there for a couple hours. My host family gave my family presents, we showed them around the house, and played some games. My family really wanted to try a conveyor belt sushi so that’s where we went for dinner. We weren’t able to sit next to my host family, but we still had a great time there. Since I had to go to school on Friday and my parents were leaving Friday morning, I stayed Thursday night at the hotel with them. We didn’t really talk much because we were all tired and they had to pack for the return trip.

We all woke up on Friday, packed up all our stuff and then went to eat breakfast. Pretty much right after breakfast I had to get to my bus stop so I could go to school. It was kind of sad to say goodbye to them, but I know that it won’t be long before I see them again. At the festival we started off playing a game were you have to try and kick a ball into some hoops to score points, but we didn’t do so well. We then continued to play where we left off. Our class’s basketball team got really close to winning the whole event, but both of the volleyball team from my class lost. I had a lot of fun hanging out and competing with all of my friends at the sports festival. It was my last sports festival so I really wanted to try and work hard and make it the better of the 2 sports festivals. Throughout the time that I’ve spent with my family and host family, the more I’ve realized that my host family is the perfect match for me. They continue to be the nicest family and I’ve only grown closer to them over the past month.

The next event of the month was the going away party for the junior high school kids that came to Bloomington-Normal this year. I met the student that my parents are hosting and his mom at the party. I talked with some of the parents about what they should bring as host family gifts. I also watched and participated in the dance that they did at the welcome party when they arrived in Bloomington-Normal. It was all around a fun day.

The week after my parents came was the last week of school before spring break. It feels like not much time has pasted since winter break, but I was glad it came. Mostly because I got sick for the first little bit of spring break. The whole time I’ve been on spring break I’ve just wanted to go out and do something, but there is still some snow that hasn’t melted so I’m still going to have to wait a bit. I also went to my host siblings’ end of school kids club party. As soon as I walked in, I heard a lot of kids say my name and it was a little intimidating, but the party wasn’t bad and I surprisingly didn’t have a lot of kids try to talk to me.

Over the past months that I’ve been here I’ve learned a lot about the kind of person that I want to be. I’ve been learning how to really push myself and leave my comfort zone and learn how to connect with people even if there is a language barrier. I’ve really been trying to study hard so that I can continue to understand the people around me, and I’ve been really confident about my Japanese lately. I still want to pursue my dream of living in Japan and I will probably become an English teacher. I still have about a year of thinking and figuring out what college I want to go to and my degree, but I have been thinking a lot about it. I will absolutely study Japanese and try to do exchange programs while I’m in college, and once I graduate I am planning on doing the JET program and an ALT. I’ve really been pushing myself to just go beyond what I think I can do and I feel like it has paid off quite a bit.

Winter Festivals and Other Fun Stuff

I left off my last report saying that I had my Kendo test, but I did much more than that. I went to 2 snow festivals and ice fishing. I’ve also been planning what to do with my family once they get here and I’m super excited! I also finally got my results in for the JLPT and I passed!

The kendo test was pretty easy. I practiced a lot leading up to it. Kendo levels go from 10 being the lowest and 1 being the highest. My kendo teacher entered me in level 2, but I did so well that they ranked me up to level 1! It was such a relief to be done with the test and I was super happy with how well I did.

As sort of a celebration for passing both of my big tests, my host parents took me to the Sapporo Snow festival. It was really COOL to see how detailed all of the snow and ice sculptures were. I have never seen anything like it and they some of the prettiest pieces of art that I’ve ever seen. They had a sculpture from a newer video game called Final Fantasy and it was of a dragon and a person. The dragon was incredibly detailed and looked almost real if it wasn’t made out of snow. That same week Asahikawa had its snow festival as well, so of course I went there with my host family. They also had a lot of snow sculptures, but the coolest one was the main ice sculpture. It is made to be a kind of backdrop for the stage that people perform on. Also, because it’s so big, they make a slide for it on the side. However, there was more than just that. They had some other activities there and, of course, they had food stands. Both festivals were the greatest festivals that I’ve ever been to, and I hope that someday I’ll be able to go again.

So I have never been ice fishing before, and the weekend of February 17, we went ice fishing with my host dad’s family. It was a lot of fun and we caught a lot of fish. Where we went was about 2 to 3 hours away. We woke up at about 3 and I was hoping to be able to sleep in the car, but I just couldn’t get myself to. When we got there, we set up where we were going to fish and drilled the holes in the ice where we would be fishing. We set up tents and heaters which kind of surprised me, but the ice was about 3 feet deep so I guess it was alright. I think one of the caretakers of the lake and woods surrounding the area, came and said that there was a fishing tournament the day before and they caught around 500 fish! We also caught a lot. I think I caught around 40 just by myself! It was a lot of fun, but the trip didn’t end when we were done fishing. We stayed at a really nice cabin, with my host dad’s family, in the same town where we went ice fishing. It was a really pretty cabin and I had a lot of fun with everybody. For dinner we ate what we caught that day and some other food that we brought along. The next morning the skies were clear and there was hardly any clouds, so the sun was shining and lit up the entire cabin. Ever since that day it’s been a lot less cloudy, and I can’t wait until spring.

The next big thing that happened was high school graduation. Now in Japan, the school year starts and stops over spring break, but spring break is usually about 3 weeks here. Graduation had some of the same things as it does in America, but also, of course, there were some different things that they did. It was actually in the middle of the week and in the gym so it wasn’t like a whole arena like in Bloomington. Everybody sang the school song and then everybody walked up to get their degrees. It was pretty interesting to see the differences with things like graduation. After graduation, everybody went outside and we kind of had a parade type thing for all of the 3rd years for when they walked out of school. It was an interesting experience that I’m glad I got to have.

So It’s been over half a year since I’ve been here and I am so glad that I was selected to be the exchange student. I feel like I’ve really learned a lot since I’ve been here. I feel like my Japanese skills have very much increased. I feel like I can speak pretty fluidly, but I am not at all close to being fluent. Listening and reading can be very difficult still, but I want to keep learning and growing with my skill level and I absolutely plan on continuing studying the language even when I go back to America. I’ve seen so many things that I would never be able to experience without this trip, and I’m unbelievably thankful for all my host family, friends, family and the Sister Cities committee has done for me. I’ve been trying really hard to go out of my comfort zone lately and really try to experience everything I can. These past 6 months have felt like they’ve gone by super fast, and I wish that this whole trip could have felt slower. I really want to keep pushing myself through the next few months so I can make the best out of this trip.

I’ve been studying a lot lately, especially because I have finals coming up this week and I feel like I’ve been truly understanding things. My host family continues to be some of the nicest people that I’ve ever met, and I’m so thankful for them. School life has been pretty much the same. Understanding teachers is becoming easier but learning somethings, without the teacher constantly helping me, can be tough. Kendo has been a lot of fun because I’ve started to be able to practice fighting. I’m also super excited for my parents to come later this week! Even though they will only be here for a week, we plan on doing a lot of stuff while they are here

. We also stopped our winter training, which was super intense, and now practice just seems super easy and not as tiring.

January

Continuing from the last post about relaxing, winter vacation went until January 15. I enjoyed it, but I really wanted to get back to school and see all my friends. This month was not the most eventful. It felt like a typical month like it would be back in America.

This month we had more tests. All of the students had a standardized test, which I think is similar to the ACT, but I had kanji tests instead. I’ve been studying a lot lately and I’m really trying to learn new vocabulary. I’ve realized that when you’re studying a foreign language while in a foreign country, you learn that language so much faster. Things have just started to make sense and click in my head. It seems like every time I learn something new, it’s like I’ve already learned it. I still struggle with kanji though. It’s just a lot to remember, and I really have to take time to study it. Lately, it also seems like I’ve understood almost everything people are saying. I’ve been getting really confident in my Japanese. Also, I recently got my class T-shirt! We only wear them when we have sports days, but I asked a while ago if I could get one too, and I finally got it! I’ll be doing 1 more Sports Day at school, and I can’t wait!

Kendo has been the primary focus of this month because I have my the test today. I’ll write about it and post some pictures in my next post. I have been really practicing hard and working at improving so that I can pass the test. I’ve been learning a new thing called, “Nihon Kendo Gata,” it’s on the test, and It looks really cool when performed correctly.

So one little fun thing I did with Taisei this month had what we called “the American Experience.” From my Christmas box, I got 2 bottles of Mountain Dew and Doritos. We went to McDonald’s, and then we ate the snacks after dinner. It was just something silly that we did, like what we did in October.

One of my friends left for New Zealand as an exchange student with her school, so we had a going away party for her. The party was with people that I made friends with during the last trip to Japan because I had met her then. It was kind of funny because all 4 of the teenagers will be/are exchange students. Other than the girl going to New Zealand, one girl is the next exchange student that is coming to Bloomington, and her sister will be visiting for a week.

So I’m super into competitive Super Smash Bros. (a video game made by Nintendo), and my friend Daniel and I play occasionally. Last weekend, there was a world tournament, so we got together with some friends and had a watch party. I thought it would feel like a super bowl party, but it was only 4 guys. There was one Japanese player there that was doing really well, so we all rooted for him.  This is actually the same player that I contacted in 2016 about playing this game in Asahikawa. It was just a really fun time, and it felt like we were watching a sport and not a video game.

The Sister Cities committee contacted my host family about having me until June, and they said yes so I’ll be with them the whole time. I’m glad that I get to stay because I really like this host family, and they are a perfect fit for me. This week we had 2 birthdays with my host family, the oldest boy, and my host mom. We went to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant for my host brother and got pizza and lasagna for my host mom. Every birthday that we have seems like I’m apart of the family, despite the language barrier, they have completely accepted me. My parents also decided that they will be coming to visit me in March and I’m very excited. I’ve been starting to think of all the things that we will do, but I have school the week that they are here, so I’m not sure how much we will get to do.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of pictures this month because of the lack of events, but I have some, so I hope you enjoy. This month has been a really enjoyable month, even though there hasn’t really been much going on.

 

 

 

 

 

The Start of Winter

So this month has mostly just been filled with Christmas and New Years parties and hanging out with friends. I had a lot of fun, and super great! I got my gear for kendo and had a lot of fun on Christmas and New Years.

On December 5 we had the Sister Cities Christmas party. I had to write a speech all in Japanese, and met a lot of people. Another exchange student from Australia came to the event and I got to meet her and some of the faculty from her school. I had to help with a drawing and we all drew numbers and people chose prizes. I had to take so many pictures and meet with so many people that I didn’t have much time to eat my dinner. All in all, I had a really good time.

The second weekend of December my school hosted a kendo tournament. We didn’t do so well but it was still Interesting. When I went, it really made me want to improve at kendo so that I could do well when I start competing in tournaments. The following week, all of my kendo gear came in, and I even got 4 more practice swords. The helmet can be painful to wear sometimes, but everyday it seems like its getting more comfortable. I am also improving a lot and I’m continuing to surprise some of my friends. Although during winter break I have only been able to go to practice about 4 times and haven’t been doing much physical so practice has been very exhausting. I’ve been preparing for a kendo test that I have coming up next month so I have to be practicing really hard. I think I have a special training session coming up next weekend so I also have to be ready for that as well.

The weekend before Christmas, my second year kendo friends and I had a Christmas party. It was a blast to hangout with them outside of kendo and I hope that we get to have something like that again. It was also my first Christmas party in Japan so I didn’t really know if it would be any different than in America. We pretty much just ate for the first hour or 2 and then kind of just relaxed. We started playing music and then someone brought up the national anthem so of course I had to play it and sing it. Now whether I did good or not is debatable, but then they all started playing and singing the Japanese national anthem. It has definitely been one of the highlights of my entire trip.

The last day of school seemed really fast, and I’m pretty sure everybody just wanted to get done with the day so that winter break could start. For a couple periods we had 2 of the guys messed with the teachers and said that because it’s about to be Christmas that they would give them presents, but the presents were just random things that they had like phones, neck ties, and mobile batteries. It was pretty funny. Every time we have a break from school, we always clean the entire school, and then after that we had a school wide assembly. I was pretty relieved when winter vacation started. I have been relaxing a lot so that I can be ready to go back and learn a lot more.

Christmas was a blast. On Christmas Eve, I went to the Christmas service at my Church and we had lunch after the service. I even got to eat more turkey! On Christmas day, only got to open one present because the presents from home hadn’t arrived yet. I was planning on spending the whole day with my host-family, but pretty much everybody was busy so I decided to hangout with some of my friends that came to Bloomington last spring. We just went downtown and hung out, although it was very windy. When I got back home, I made Christmas cakes with my host family. Then we had a buffet for dinner. I got to call a lot of my family on their Christmas morning so I had to stay up really late so I could call them. We did a group video call and called my brother who is in North Carolina, my mom’s sister’s family in Colorado, and my parents and other siblings in America. It was probably the highlight of this month, besides it being Christmas. Japanese Christmas is a little different than how we celebrate it in America. From what my friends have told me is that Christmas in Japan is mostly celebrated by hanging out with friends and going on dates. Also I only saw 1 house that had any Christmas lights so it appeared much different that what it probably was. The day after Christmas, I went to a tofu making class with Daniel, the Australian exchange student and her host-sister. It was still very windy that day. Probably even a blizzard by Illinois standards. I got to learn how tofu is made and then after that, I waited for Daniel and we went to play melee again at his house. Two days after Christmas, I finally got the box from my parents. My parents got gifts for my host family to as kind of a thank you. I even sent a box with some presents and a lot of Japanese candy. My mom said that everybody liked the candy. The week of Christmas was just a blast and refreshing.

I didn’t really do anything between Christmas and New Year’s besides relax. On New Year’s Eve we went to my host-dad’s parent’s house. We had dinner and stayed there until a little before midnight because we went to a shrine. Every year in Japan, the Japanese go to a shrine on New Year’s for good luck. They give the 5 Yen coin, and they ring a bell at the shrine. After that, people usually buy little fortunes on a little piece of paper and they are different levels, and I got the best fortune that you can get. It was a pretty fun day and I ate a lot of food. In Japan, and most of the Asian countries that I know of, New Year’s means a lot more than most other holidays, and in turn is celebrated more.

This month has been a great month. I wish It and winter vacation could be a little longer, but I also need to get back to things like studying. I’ve had a lot of fun with my host family and got to hangout with my friends a bunch. Since winter vacation started, I’ve been kind of taking a break from studying, but I really wanted to get back into it and learn a lot more.

 

A Month of Studying and Meeting Lots of People

This month has been busy, but also there was a lot of time to relax during the first half of the month. I went to a lot of different events and got to meet new people, including some of the ALT’s (Assistant Language Teachers) at an International Understanding Seminar. ALT’s are native English speakers from around the world that come to Japan and help students to understand English better. I plan on applying to be one after college. I also finally heard back from the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test)! At the time of me writing this, my test will be tomorrow, so this post might be a little shorter than what it has been so I can study. I was worried all of October, and the first half of this month, that I wouldn’t be able to take the test because of sending the application in pretty late. When I got the letter, I started studying as soon as I could.

The International Understanding Seminar was the first event that took place this month. Like I said, I met some of the ALT’s and one of them was actually from Illinois. I also got to meet some of my friends that I made last year. It was honestly an amazing experience and it’s something that I would love to do again. I saw some of the AFS students and 2 of my friends from school came with me. AFS (American Field Service) is another exchange student program that used to be primarily an American organisation, but has branched out in to several different countries. Pretty much all of the ALT’s from Asahikawa and neighboring towns came to the event. It was set up in tables, and each table had 1 ALT and some had 1 exchange student. I think there was about 7 or 8 exchange students at the event, so there wasn’t enough to have one at every table, but they limited it to 1 per table. They had presentations from different exchange programs, ice breakers for each table to do to try and get to know each other, a cultural quiz competition, which my table got second, a presentation about Indonesia, and one of the U.S. Consulates came and did a talk about being a consulate and the importance of exchange programs and foreigners coming to different countries.  It was an amazing experience and I hope one day I’ll be able to do it again.

The next event was my first Kendo tournament. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to enter, but I still went to watch and see what they are like before I am able to compete. The competition had 4 events; 2 events for boys and 2 events for girls. The events were singles which was just one person competing against each other in a regular tournament format, and the other was the schools competing in a team event. Each school had 5 Players and they fight like they normally would in a singles event. It’s set up in 5 rounds so it’s whoever scores the most points in those 5 rounds. Our school has one of the best kendo clubs in Asahikawa so we did pretty well in all the events. The girls’ teams pretty much beat everyone that wasn’t from our school and won both events for the girls’ side. The boys’ events were tougher than the girls’ events. Our school got second in the school event and in singles, they were pretty scattered throughout the bracket. After the event, we went out to a BBQ place to celebrate and it was a lot of fun. I road with one of my friends and his parents to the restaurant and before we got to there, we stopped by a couple of the students’ student housing. I didn’t know it before, but some of the students were scouted in Junior high school to move to Asahikawa for high school to attend my school and be in the kendo club. Kind of like if someone gets a scholarship in high school to go to a college and play a certain sport. Everybody had to do a little speech after dinner and I was worried the whole time because I wasn’t told that I had to say anything and wasn’t prepared at all, but then everybody told me to stand up, and with the help of one of my friends, I was able to do it. All-in-all, It was  a really fun day, and can’t wait to go to another one.

It also really started to snow this month. I think it snowed a couple times in October, but it really started to snow this month. Thankfully, the school bus switched to the winter schedule, so there’s a few more school buses so the school bus I ride isn’t super crowded anymore. I really missed having a lot of snow so I’m really happy with how much it’s been snowing lately.

Two weekends ago, I went to a family reunion on my host-dad’s side. We went to a neighboring town for 1 night, and the reunion was only Saturday night. We had dinner, played bingo, and some people did karaoke.  It was a lot of fun getting to meet the rest of the family. The hotel also had a hot spring so at the end of the day, many people went there and relaxed. Most people stayed up really late, but I only stayed up till midnight. The weekend was really exhausting and when I got home the next day, I just relaxed the rest of the day.

Thanksgiving was pretty interesting. It was a little odd because people don’t celebrate it and don’t really know about it. But, the Japanese thanksgiving/labor is the same day, so I still got to have a holiday. My host family didn’t realize it was Thanksgiving, so we didn’t have any special dinner or anything. I started going to a church here, and the pastor and his wife are American, so every year they have a mini-Thanksgiving and they invite a couple families. This church does an English Saturday school thing every other week so they invited all of those families. It was more of a cultural exchange than anything so you didn’t have to be a Christian to enjoy it. We had turkey, stuffing, lasagna, chicken nuggets, french fries, and mashed potatoes with gravy. I think they added chicken nuggets and fries for the people that might not like the turkey or some of those things, so they can still eat and enjoy it. My host family got to come too and they enjoyed it as well. I was really excited about getting to eat some sort of Thanksgiving dinner and it was really good.

I’ve pretty much been studying since the Monday after the family reunion, and it’s been going pretty well. I’ve even been doing the practice questions and it’s mostly been things I already know, but I’ve still been preparing for anything that I might not know because I know the practice questions aren’t all of them. I’m pretty nervous about the test, but I’m pretty sure I’ll do well. I also have mid terms coming up this week, so I have to be studying. I’m doing math, book keeping, English, and the rest of the tests will be Japanese tests. I think I’ll finally be able to do more of the math test because I learned everything that will be on the test. Listening to teachers has become easier. I can almost make out completely what they’re saying in some subjects, but still can’t in others. I really feel like my Japanese skills have become better this month.

With Kendo, I got sized for all of the armor and a new uniform. It’s supposed to come next week and I’m super excited for it. I hope that I get to start fighting soon. Practicing has also gone super well I think. I feel like I’m learning a lot and my form has been getting a lot better. So many of the basic things are becoming muscle memory. Kendo is still as fun as it’s always been and I’m always looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, this month I haven’t really been able to hangout with friends outside of school. I hung out with Daniel, Asahikawa’s CIR (Coordinator for International Relations), and we played Super Smash Bros. Melee for the Nintendo GameCube. Last year when I came to Asahikawa, I messaged a Popular, Japanese Smash Bros player if there were any Smash Bros. tournaments in Asahikawa, and he referred me to a Smash Bros. player in Asahikawa. We met up at his apartment twice and we played for a few hours each time. However, this year I asked him about playing and he said that he wouldn’t be able to because he lives with his grandmother, but then Daniel asked me if I knew him. I guess they met somewhere, became friends, and started playing Smash Bros. with each other. They’ve met up a couple times after I played with them, but I haven’t really had time to play. Hopefully after all of the tests that I have coming, I’ll be able to meet with them, and my other friends.

This has been a super fun month, but also I’ve been working hard with studying Japanese and other subjects at school.