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Getting ready to leave

This is the post excerpt.

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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

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.

School Trip and Lots of Pictures

This month has been a pretty crazy month. It started off slow, but the last 2 weeks were very busy.  I had my school trip, I went to Sapporo with my host family, and even got to see a famous Japanese pianist at my school! However, this month also went by a little quickly. I’m always worried about my time here going too fast. I love it here and can’t thank the Sister Cities enough for this opportunity.

The first week wasn’t super exciting, besides going to the Sea of Japan to fish with my host family. It was a regular school week. I studied Japanese quite a bit that week. When we went to the Sea of Japan, we had to wake up super early. We woke up around 3 am and set out to the ocean. We didn’t catch anything, unfortunately, but I almost caught a salmon fish, but it jumped off the line before I could bring it in. The Sea of Japan is located between main land Asia and Japan, so it isn’t very nice to look out at. It was a great experience and one that I will always remember. That week in music class, we started listening to a band called T-Square, which is a pretty popular Jazz Fusion band from the 80’s. It is really good music and I would recommend it to anybody who likes that kind of music. Those periods in music class were kind of all leading up to the pianist of T-Square coming to my school to perform in front of us. That whole week I was pretty excited. Unfortunately, I was put all the way in the back, so I couldn’t really see anything, but it was still very entertaining.

The weekend of the 14th, my friend Taisei’s school had their school festival. It was pretty interesting to see other schools and to see where the previous exchange student goes to school. It was a pretty big school with a lot of different buildings and rooms for different uses. It was a high school that is also mixed with a college, so you go there for about 6 years, as well as a technical school. I was there for about 2 hours and then went to lunch with Taisei and his mom, and then after that, I hung out with Taisei in downtown Asahikawa. My mom sent me some American Mountain Dew, so Taisei and I just sat and drank that. The whole time, Taisei was reminded of Bloomington-Normal, and we even listened to WBNQ. We also drove around Asahikawa in an imported 1978 Satellite, which is a pretty rare car, and there’s only 1 in Japan. So, of course, I was pretty excited about that. It was weird to be in an American car since I’ve become so used to Japan’s cars and stuff, but it was still super cool to be in a car that’s so old.

The next week wasn’t really that exciting until the weekend. We had 3 regular school days and then on Thursday, we only had 2 periods because we were getting ready for the school trip, which was the following week. That week’s Friday was the School’s Anniversary, so we didn’t have school, but I had kendo practice. However, that week, I was given the kendo uniform to borrow for awhile. It’s a little big for me, but I still appreciate it. That weekend, I went to Sapporo with my host family. I have never really been to Sapporo so I was pretty excited to go. We went to the Sapporo TV tower, which was pretty cool, and sorta just walked around the city. I really wanted to eat tacos because there aren’t any taco places in Asahikawa, so we went to a Mexican place for dinner. The hotel that we stayed at was really big. It had 6 beds and 4 of which were bunk beds. It was a lot bigger than I expected. The second day, we went to the biggest electronics store in Hokkaido, and then to a Pokemon center, which is a Pokemon store. The electronics store was huge. We were only there an hour and I didn’t even get a quarter of the way through the shop. The Pokemon store was pretty cool. They had a lot of Pokemon Plushies and Pokemon card related things. I bought a shirt that was for the Hokkaido Ham Fighters, that has a Pokemon on it. The Hokkaido Ham Fighters are a famous baseball team that is in Sapporo. I’ve wanted to go see them for awhile, but have’t gotten the chance to yet. For lunch, we met up with my host-dad’s aunt at a sushi restaurant. It was pretty good sushi. After that, me and my host siblings went to an arcade with my dad’s host aunt while my host parents went to Costco. My host parents brought me a hotdog from Costco. I had a lot of fun in Sapporo and can’t wait to go back.

After I got home, I didn’t really have time to relax because I had to get ready for my school trip. I was a little worried about getting ready because I didn’t want to forget anything and I was worried that the laundry wouldn’t be done in time, but everything went smoothly. I had to wake up very early that next day, because I had to finish packing and had to be at school around 7. The weather that day was pretty crazy. It was windy and it started snowing so it was pretty cold. We took a bus to Chitose airport near Sapporo and from there, we flew to Haneda airport in Tokyo and from Tokyo to Osaka. When we landed in Osaka, we took a bus to this area that has a lot of restaurants and the TV tower. My friends wanted to take pictures with foreigners, so throughout the whole week, I was kind of a translator between my friends and foreigners. The entire school trip went to one place to eat. It was kind of a big place, and the school trip was only for second year students, so we were all able to fit. The food there was really good, especially the takoyaki, which is pretty much fried octopus. Osaka is famous for its Takoyaki, so it was better than what I’ve had in Asahikawa. After dinner, we all went to the hotel. On the way to the hotel, I saw Nintendo’s Headquarters. I was really excited to see it and it was a little weird to see a place where people I’ve looked up to have worked and been to countless times. We only passed by it, so the next day I wanted to go see it up close, but we didn’t end up going. I was very tired that day from all of the traveling, but I went to bed kind of late.

The next day, we had all day to go where ever we wanted to in Kyoto or neighboring cities. My group went back to Osaka and just kind of walked around the city a little bit. For lunch, I saw a Taco Bell so of course I wanted to go there for lunch. I had possibly one of the best burritos I’ve ever had. Even my friends agreed with me that it was really good. There are only Taco Bells around the big cities in mainland Japan, so I won’t find any in Hokkaido. After that, we went around Osaka a little more, but then went back to Kyoto. We actually were around the area that I went to when I went to Kyoto in August, so it was a little weird to see it again. We also went to Kiyomizu Temple, which is another place that I’ve already been to. When we got there, we all just kinda chilled out for about 2 hours. For dinner, everybody met up at Kiyomizu Temple and then walked to a restaurant. We had Sukiyaki, which is basically Japanese barbecue. It’s one of my favorite Japanese foods so I was looking forward to it. After that, we all went back to the hotel, and I had another somewhat late night. I had to pack everything up and get ready to go to Tokyo the next day.

I had a lot of fun in Tokyo and got to see a lot of places that I’ve never seen. Wednesday the 25th, was half traveling and the other half at Disney Sea. We went to Tokyo via bullet train, and again it was an amazing ride. I have nothing but positive things to say about the bullet train. It took us pretty much all morning to get to Tokyo and arrived at Disney around 11:30. From there, we spent the entire rest of the day at Disney until around 8:30. I was expecting to go to Disney Land, but Disney Sea was still really cool, However it rained pretty much the entire day. I have never heard of Disney Sea until the school trip. It’s pretty much a smaller version of Disney Land and The entire park is pretty much just a place to take pictures it seemed like. There weren’t very many things to ride or really do, so we just walked around the park, and I took a lot of pictures. This blog might have the most pictures of all of them. I wanted to buy some souvenirs, but everything was just so expensive and I couldn’t find anything that I really wanted to buy. They had this Medieval era part of the park, which was probably my favorite part. I was hoping that they would have some Star Wars things, but unfortunately there wasn’t. We got to the hotel around 9 and it was a super nice hotel. I was a little surprised that we got that hotel, but also, I’m sure it’s much cheaper than Disney’s hotel. The rooms there were also really big. We had 4 beds in one room, plus a lot of room for all of our things. Thursday, we got to spend the whole day in Tokyo to do whatever we wanted. My group went to Shinjuku and Shibuya. I’ve never been to those parts of Tokyo so it was a lot of fun. I took a lot of pictures there too. My group was all soccer players except me, so we went to several sports stores. We also went to a couple clothing stores. We didn’t really have any specific place that we wanted to go to so we mostly just walked around those 2 areas. Needless to say, the whole day was super exhausting, and I think that day might have been the most exhausting day. For dinner, we went to a Yakiniku shop. Yakiniku is another grill it yourself BBQ. It was really good. Before dinner, I went to a Wendy’s nearby and got Chili fries and chicken nuggets. The chicken nuggets tasted exactly like they do in America, so I’m pretty sure they are imported. I stayed up super late that night, so when I had to wake up, it took me a little bit and had to rush to get ready and pack up, because the next day we were going to go back home. Before we left Tokyo, we went to Asakusa Temple, another temple that I’ve been to. Next, we went to a tempura place for lunch. I’m not a huge fan of tempura, but this tempura was really good. After lunch, We went to the Tokyo Sky Tree. Tokyo Sky Tree is a really tall tower in Tokyo where tourists can go to the top and look out at the City. There’s a Cafe and a Restaurant on the higher levels of the tower. We weren’t there for very long before we had to get to the airport. We flew directly from Haneda to Asahikawa, so it was relatively quick. When we were landing, my ears had a lot of pressure and it hurt a little bit. Also, I got a little sick for the second time that month, after my school trip. Thankfully, it only took a week to get over. I was so exhausted the night that I came home, I fell asleep somewhat early that day, but didn’t wake up till about 9, which was great for me. The 2nd year students had a 3 day weekend because of the school trip. So I pretty much just relaxed those days except for Monday, because I had kendo practice that afternoon.

This week has been really relaxed and I’ve really enjoyed just relaxing from my long week last week. I hope I can have more experiences like that in my future. I still haven’t heard back from my JPLT application, so I’m getting a little worried that I won’t get it. It’s a month away and I’m really wanting to take the quiz. Also, I would like to thank the Sister Cities Committee again for this amazing experience. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would do something like this. Thank you.

2nd Month of Being in Japan

So it really hasn’t been long since my last post, but a lot of events happened. I turned 17  and almost every weekend an event has happened. I Had a Sports festival at my school and my host familly took me to Noboribetsu, which is about 3 hours away, and went to a hot spring and visited my host-mother’s mother. It was also a 3 day weekend because of a holiday on Monday. I also experienced what a traditional Japanese hotel was like. Unfortunately we didn’t get to do anything other than visit my host-mother’s mother and the hotel because a huge storm started the second day so we had to go home early, but I still enjoyed the time I spent there. Noboribetsu also is known for having lots of statues of Japanese Oni, which are similar to demons or ogres, however we only got to see one because of the storm.

At the sports festival, every class of every grade competed in different events. We had a 3 legged race, tug of war, a basketball type game, a relay race, and a race coarse which had different things that you had to do, like a four legged race, running while jumping through a hula-hoop, and other things like that. I had a lot of fun at the sports festival and hope that we do another one, but I don’t think so. I also went to kendo that day, so when I got home I was very tired. That same weekend, there was a food festival in downtown Asahikawa. I went with my host family for lunch. I’ve only been to a few festivals and I’m really excited about going to more. Asahikawa has this strip downtown that has a lot of restaurants and other shops, which is where the festival took place. It had so many tents and it was like each tent had different food. We had chicken yakitori, which is grilled chicken on a skewer, and it was pretty good. We went to a tent where my host dad knew some of the workers. I continued to go to kendo that next week and my skills are slowly becoming better and I’m making friends in the kendo club as well. The Tuesday of that next week, I went to get my haircut. It was my first time getting a haircut from someone that wasn’t my mom and I didn’t know how to explain how I get my haircut, but I like how it turned out. When I came here last year, one of my friends’ host mother owns a small barbershop, so I went to her for my haircut and got to see some of the friends I made last year. Fortunately, my host family goes to her anyway so it was really convenient.

The weekend of the 16th, I went out on my bike to downtown for a little bit. It was only my second time going out by myself, but I already figured out the way there and back. It was my first time just going downtown alone and without any real purpose and it was a lot of fun. I just walked through downtown for about 20 minutes and found a fountain that is right next to city hall and just relaxed for a few minutes. That weekend, I really didn’t do much besides going to downtown.

Last week, I didn’t have much time to do any Japanese studying because we only had 2 days of school and was the last 2 days of the first semester. I had a meeting with my homeroom teacher about how school is going and things like that. It was kind of a short meeting and I had expected it to be much longer so I didn’t think I would be able to go to kendo that day because of the school bus, but I was able to go. I had Wednesday through Friday off from school, so I had to figure out how to get to school on Wednesday and Friday for kendo. I had help from my host mom and found another bus to get to school. I was a little nervous that I would get on the wrong bus, I trusted what my host mom told me. The bus ride seemed a lot longer than the school bus for some reason, so by the time I got home, I didn’t want to get on another bus for awhile. On Friday, I had kendo practice all day. It was really tiring, but it was nice to hangout with my kendo friends all day. Yesterday, the Sister Cities Committee had a little birthday and welcome party for me and it was pretty fun. They played this game where they had true or false questions about me and I had to tell them my answers. It was a pretty fun day, and 2 of my friends from last year came too. This week I applied for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test), which is an international test that I can put on my resumes and Scholarship applications. It is coming up in December, so I have to get studying. My homeroom teacher said we could maybe start doing private lessons during the subjects at school that I usually study Japanese. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I know that if I work hard, I’ll do well.