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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

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.

 

First Few Weeks of School

My first few weeks of school have been tiring and fun. I feel like I’m learning a lot about the language when I’m at school and can’t always rely on translators or English. I’ve made a couple friends in my class already. For those who don’t know, in Japanese schools, you usually are in 1 room. However, there are some exceptions like computer class and, of course, P.E. I also have this class where I’m not in my home room, and it’s called bookkeeping which is essentially finances. I was put in the first year class for bookkeeping because it would be easier than if I was in the second year class. Most of my classes I understand very little, but I can usually get the gist of what’s going on. Subjects like Japanese, History and Health, I have almost no clue what is going on so I’ve been using those periods to study Japanese and my Homeroom teacher gave me a Japanese history and culture book written in English that I’ve been reading during History. The other subjects I’m taking are Chemistry, Math, Music, Programming and Business. The first day of school I went to Kyudo and it was a lot of fun. Kyudo was one of the clubs that I really wanted to join. I got to do that practice that they do before they start shooting and it felt like I got the hang of it pretty quickly. The second day of school, I went to Kendo practice. I also got to do some of the warm ups. Both of those days, I got home and was really exhausted, so I decided to take it easy the first week or 2 and wait to join a club. This week I went to visit soccer because most of my friends are in the soccer club and I enjoyed it, but I mostly had my eye on kendo. I decided I am going to start kendo and will be starting this upcoming week. Also, this week we had tests. Instead of the regular subjects, I had several Japanese tests, including a practice test for N5. I got some of the tests back, but not the tests from the last day. Still haven’t checked them but I think I did pretty well.

Also this week I met with Mayor Nishikawa, the Mayor of Asahikawa. We talked about my school and host family and what I wanted to do while in Asahikawa. There was a reporter there and I had a snippet in the paper the next day. After the interview, I went out with one of the committee members to look at cell phone plans because I’ve had some troubles with communicating with my host family, so we’re working on getting a phone plan or hotspot. After that, she took me to a ramen shop and it was really good. So far, I haven’t had any Sister Cities events since the 55th celebration, but they have planned my birthday party for September 30th. When I went to meet with the committee members who take care of me, they had a little display for the Sister Cities. They had pictures from the last few years of exchange students and Junior Ambassadors.

I’m still doing great with my host family. We are planning on going to Noboribetsu, which is a very famous city because of it’s hot spring, as well as Sapporo in a couple months.

I’m sure you are all wondering about what happened with the missiles. It was around 6 in the morning when everything went down. My host siblings kinda freaked out but it looked like my host dad was pretty calm. My host mother was working a night shift so she hadn’t come home yet. We were under an evacuation warning. That basically means that we didn’t have to evacuate, but to be prepared just in case we do need to. It was a little scary to experience what that really was like. I’ve always heard about stuff like this and never really knew what it felt like. Nothing bad happened here but it kind of opened my eye to what these sort of situations are like. Later when I went to school, nobody seemed to really be talking about it. Back in America, everybody would be talking about it, but it seemed like it wasn’t a big deal here. Not even the teachers said anything about it as far as I know. It is one experience that I will never forget.

I have been lacking in my Japanese studies lately but want to bring it back up. I still have so much to learn and am very eager to learn.

 

First Month in Japan

My first month in Japan has kind of been crazy. For the first week I toured around Japan with the Sister Cities Committee and citizens of Bloomington-Normal. We went to Kyoto, Nara, Tokyo and Mt. Fuji. In Kyoto we mostly visited shrines and temples. While I was there, it felt like I was looking into Japanese history, because a lot of the shrines were a bit old. We went to Kinkaku-ji which was a pretty much all gold Buddhist temple. In Nara, we went to a park with deer just walking around and you can buy crackers that you can feed the deer. If you raise the crackers high, the deer will bow and once they bow 3 times, you give them the cracker. Walking around Kyoto was actually amazing and seeing a bit of the night life was very interesting.

Next we took a bullet train to Tokyo. The bullet train was actually really nice and one of the smoothest rides I’ve been on. We spent the next 2 days in Tokyo. We saw the Imperial Palace and even got to see the guards change which was super cool. Day 2 of Tokyo, we went to the 5th stage of Mt. Fuji. Tt was pretty cloudy, so, unfortunately, we weren’t able to see much. We also went to visit Lake Ashi, I believe, which is a lake in the middle of some mountains. We road a ferry to one of the mountains and took a rope way up to the peek. It was an active volcano so it was super cloudy. There was a power outage while we were up there so we were stuck for a little bit until they turned it back on. That night I went to Akihabara which is nerd heaven. It’s this section in Tokyo that has a bunch of anime and video games. They even have advertisements on the buildings. However, it was really busy so it was a bit overwhelming.

The next day we went to Asahikawa, my home for the next 10 months. I was extremely exited to meet my host family and see all my friends again, especially my friend Nick who was the exchange student the year before me. Meeting my host family was really exciting and I instantly loved them. My host family has 3 kids, 6, 8 and 10 and they’re all a blast. My host mom works for Red Cross so she speaks English pretty well.

The 55th Sister Cities Anniversary Celebration was really fun. I visited a lot of the same things that I visited last year, which was alright, because it was the places that I really enjoyed. We went to Asahikdake, Asahiyama zoo, Chuo Junior high school and some other places, over the 4 days we were all in Asahikawa. The actual celebration parts were really nice. Most dinners I was with the committee as part of the celebration. The formal dinner was really nice and I got to see some of my friends I made when I hosted a junior high student in March. The next special dinner was held at the Art Hotel and after that, we went to a fireworks show. It was so much more amazing than the ones back home and had a lot of different types of fireworks. We were near Asahikawa bridge so as the fireworks went off, you could see the city and bridge in the background. We also were a apart of a parade and had a dinner at Bloomington Hill and I got to meet Minami, who is the exchange student who will be going to Bloomington-Normal. She seems really nice and I wish she was able to come with us for the touring. During the parade, we wore what is called a hapi coat and had to dance with fans and was really fun. The final full day that the Committee was in Asahikawa, we had one final dinner which was at the Art hotel again, and it was pretty fun. There was a Jazz Orchestra and they were really good. After the dinner, we all went out to see the summer festival that was going on. I had to be picked up by my host family because they were getting together with a neighbor who was also hosting a couple that was with our group. I had a lot of fun but I was also pretty tired after the past several days. The next day everybody was leaving Asahikawa and was leaving me to stay for the next 10 months. It was sad to see everybody leave but I was also glad I would get to relax for the next couple days. I had a lot of fun with everybody for those 2 weeks and can’t wait to have more adventures here.

For the last couple days, I’ve been relaxing and studying Japanese. I also went to see my school and found out about my classes and what I needed to buy. My home room teacher is the English teacher and speaks it pretty well so I’m thankful for that. We ordered my Uniforms and Gym clothes. I can’t wait for school to start up, although I haven’t decided what club to join yet. We finalized my citizenship information and I even have a bike now.

All in all, I’m super excited for what Asahikawa has for me and all the friends I’ll make and the adventures I’ll have.