Wednesday, June 11, 2008

All good things must come to an end

And how true that statement is! (more on this later)

I got my exams back--well, math that is. I don't know if it was due to the fact that I haven't taken a serious math test since about December, or lack of sleep, or sabotage, but I received the test, and as I turned it over, everthing I studied deliberately left my brain like an insulted guest at a surprise party. (more on surprise parties later) Anywho, I got the test back, and it was--not good, to say the least. I definitely vote sabotage. 
Japanese was fine, nothing peculiar...I am still awaiting chemistry...

Since in comparison to my classmates, who take NINE (9) different exams from their classes, I took just the three, leaving me with a lot of free time. While everyone was in full exam-mode, Sakurai-sensei, Kobayashi-sensei, myself, and Hannah went to see Kabuki. It was the first time for Hannah, but being an old-timer myself (in some respects, having seen it twice before then) I knew what was coming. The play we saw was very interesting, if not slow-moving. But there were heads in sushi-tubs and men playing women and men playing women playing different women, and I had a good time.

The next day the four of us went to a Mexican restaurant, since I have involuntarily been dubbed the "Mexican food referee," here to judge if "Mexican food" is authentic or not. In this case, it was really good, and pretty close, but used a Japanese spicy thing that killed my tongue and disqualified it from the mock-Mexican food contest. Regardless, it was really good. After that, we went to Ghibli museum (think back to one of my early posts!), which is a display of Hayao Miyazaki's work as a animator and film-maker. I love Ghibli, so it was really fun for me to be able to go a second time.

On the last day of finals (aka free time), when my friends finished, the six of us FINALLY went to Tokyo Disney Land! Since I haven't gone yet despite the fact I have been in Japan for nearly 9 and 1/2 months, it was really really fun. I went with my two host sisters, Natsu and Keito, Hannah and her host sister and one other friend. It was a weekday so it wasn't too badly crowded (really really lucky!) and although we did have a slight money issue (someone had trouble withdrawing money) it was so fun, though we were all exhausted by the time we left.

We had school on Saturday (no fair, right?!) and then on Sunday I was planning to hang out with four of my friends. I met them and they told me that one of them had to go to her dad's work for a second. So, I blindly followed them to this little place, and as I went in, the girls from my old class surprised me with a (surprise) farewell party!! I was so happy that they would do that for me, and at first I was so speechless because, well, I was surprised...everyone brought a dish that they made at home, nad within minutes I was stuffed. We played games and talked a ton and decorated TWO farewell cakes (handmade whipped cream and, um, granola cereal and strawberries--trust me, it was delicious, not to mention heartfelt) Even though we were already stuffed, we were really hot, and two of my friends went out and brought back a tub of ice cream (we threw in the rest of the cereal, and it was soooo good.) As people left, more people came, and when the time we had to use the room my friends rented ran out, we went out to eat though we were stuffed (a recurring theme that day) and took purikura. I started crying at the end because I was so overwhelmed that they would throw a pary for me.

This is my last week in Japan, and it is already half-over. The time has gone so fast. Will I be happy to go home? Yes, I think so, but leaving feels impossible. I want to see my family and friends and teachers, but it is so hard to have to leave one side of my life to be in the other. 

After school today, the school is having a farewell program today. I will be "interviewed," give a short speech, and play violin with Natsu. Then, tonight, I will have dinner with a lot of teachers and my host families and again, give a speech and play violin. 
Here is my speech for the farewell program (translated--please excuse weird English!)

To everyone at St. Margaret's,
I remember the day I left America exactly. I left behind my family, all of my friends, and my life in America and crying, was on a plane my myself.
As I became used to my life in Japan, the way I saw Japan completely changed. In the beginning I didn't speak Japanese at all, but thanks to all of you, I have learned Japanese, made good friends, and become used to my school-life.

Whether it was During school events like St. Margaret's Festival and the Sport's Festival, for example, you all always helped me out, and during everyday life I made amazing friends. 

When I left America, I saw Japan as a far-away foreign country where I didn't know anyone at all, but because of you, I feel like St. Margaret's and Japan is my home. Everyone, thank you so much for these last 9 and 1/2 months.

My speech for my host families and teachers is slightly different (longer and teacher/host-family focused) but I don't have it right this second--I might post it later. I hope it goes well tonight! (aka, I hope I don't give a speech about how good my Japanese has gotten then not understand the interview questions.) I'll let you know.

This time next week I will be home (and probably tired.) I leave this Sunday...only about 3 and 1/2 days...

see you soon


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mulling berries and razzing berries

I have not had internet for the last month or so, which directly hinders my ability to edit my blog. I am so sorry to everyone who reads my blog that I haven't written for an eternity. I will do my best to catch up.
With the combination of the end of spring vacation, starting a new school year, starting a new club, and a new exchange student here, there is a lot going on...
At the end of spring vacation, some of my friends and I from my old homeroom class
got together for a picnic at the very end of the cherry blossom season. We all brought different parts of the meal (for example, I brought Japanese sweets, while my one friend brought a whole chicken--but no knife. See the picture of us attacking the chicken with chopsticks.) On that same day, we found out the different members of the next school year's homeroom classes. The Japanese school year, which ends in March and starts in April, is significant longer than the US, around 240 days a compared to 180 days in America. Thus, everyone is in the same homeroom classes for much longer and therefore becomes very good friends and very used to their different classes. Changing to the next year is not something most people look forward to...
The next day, I went with one of my friends to the much-anticipated Rihanna concert. It was held in Makuhari Messe, a huge convention center that is frankly huge. The concert technically started at 1 pm, but our day started at about 10, since it Makuhari Messe is about an hour and a half train ride from--well, anywhere. Of course, when we got there at 12:30 pm, we had to join the line, which was probably the biggest I have stood in. There were obviously people who had camped out there for a questionable period of time. When we finally got in, and then waited some more--the 4 singers we wanted to see (Rihanna, Sean Kingston, Kanye West, and Ne-Yo) were all performing in the evening, and until then, there were a lot of lesser-known bands--American and Japanese. There were 3 different stages, and we, being hardcore fans (just kidding) stood in front of the stage with our favorite singers 2 hours in advance. Not that the standing room was spacy and comfy--especially when Sean Kingston and Rihanna sang, it was so packed--people had to be pulled out of the crowd because they were getting sick from being squished into the second dimension. It was unbelievably crammed, but it was so great. After standing for almost 12 hours straight (Apparently the world record is around 36 hours...we were getting close) we got back after midnight-ish. The buses had already stopped, and my host family came to pick me up. (They volunteered! Don't worry)
The day before break ended, I met a friend of mine who I met when my family was staying in Japan. She is a Japanese college student (Aiko) who was an exchange student in America and works at the hotel where my family stayed. I thought she was so nice and interesting, and we got together one day at Odaiba. Odaiba is a man-made island originally made to keep out unwanted threats like Commodore Perry, who you probably don't remember from World History 9. Now, it is a tourist attraction, home to Fuji Television, an indoor theme park, and some great shopping. We went on the ferris wheel there, which is not the tallest in the world, but still pretty huge. We chose the "shii suruu" (see-through) car, which we thought would be fun until we got more than 3 feet off of the ground. After that, we went to the Toyota headquarters (also in Odaiba) and didn't drive a self-navigated car (we inhibited it, I suppose) and tried out their race-car simulator. We briefly went into Joypolis, the indoor theme park, which was--thrilling. 
A new exchange student, Hannah, came to my school here in Japan from New Zealand. She is staying for 2 months and is in the grade below me. This makes me a senpai...all throughout Japanese culture is the concept of senpai, a word that literally means "superior" or "senior"...whether within a school team or an office building, to a person who is more superior to you by title (office worker versus boss, high school 2nd grader versus 3rd grader, for example) you are obliged to show respect. While Hannah and I treat each other on the same level, my friends, for example, use a different form of Japanese when speaking to older students from their clubs. Anyways, it is nice to have someone to speak English with, but I have tried to be friendly without speaking English too much! I leave Japan really soon so I want to get my Japanese to the best level possible before I leave!
Speaking of exchange students, my friend John came to start an exchange student-cy for the next year, following the school year in Japan. He came with his host mother, who I couldn't believe was actually his host mother...she looked so young and was dressed so casually--I could only describe her as very cool. After eating lunch together, she had to go to her work, and we walked around Harajuku. It was nice to, well, (I repeat) speak English with someone. 
In Japan, there are a series of consecutive holidays in May (Constitution Day, Greenery Day, Children's Day) that most everyone has off in Japan...this time is called Golden Week, and I was busy every single day of it...
I met my friend at Odaiba (again) on a free day from school. She had to convince her mom to let her go--she usually can't meet friends because she has to study...she told her mom it was a "farewell party" sort of thing to meet me =) We went and walked through the big shopping areas of Odaiba, which I didn't do the time before when I went there. After walking through the shops together, we split a drink from Godiva (who has apparently started making drinks) was perhaps the most delicious dessert-drink I have ever tasted--we both took a picture of it beforehand and made loud obnoxious slurping noises when we finished it off. It was that deliciously scrumptious.
The next day (Greenery Day, FYI) I got up really early to go volunteer with my friends at a Festival in a distant town. ("Distant town" is the only correct way to describe this place.) We all thought we were going to be doing waitress-like volunteering, but we were stuck washing dishes outside. Nevertheless, it was seriously fun, besides getting a wee-tad sunburned. 
After getting back from volunteering that same day, I went to go hang out with my Natsu, Keito, and some friends that don't go to my current school that I don't meet a lot. We went to another festival and then, in an epic twist, decided to go to a ¥100 store (the same basic principle as a dollar store) and buy a really big deck of cards (¥100) and play in a cheap cafe. (It was a ball, really--no sarcasm =) ) Keito and I spent the night at Natsu's house, and I must say that sleepovers in Japan are just as fun as those anywhere else.
I got my hair cut (not trimmed, cut) during Golden Week based on advice from my ever-helpful and advice-doling host sisters. My hair-do is currently a short bob...At first, I hated it...really really hated my, I am used to it/dare I say I like it? However, I think I will grow my hair out over the summer...I am still judging it.
Do you remember my speech contest back in about March? The sponsor (the ever-generous Suginami Rotary Club) invited me and the other two winners back to give our speech agin at their meeting...which was a bit awkward, since there were about 35 older men in business suits all using really really really polite Japanese ("I am humbly named So-and-so. I beg your favor." And so on. ) and no women besides me and my Japanese teacher. Never the less, my speech was more confident this time (reportedly)...
One of the girls at my school is the daughter of a former sumo wrestler. She took Hannah and me to see sumo at the only sumo arena in Tokyo. It was really a novel experience. The wrestlers are truly gigantic. The actual wrestling general lasts about 10 seconds; however, the sumo wrestlers do a lot of staring down, throwing salt to expel evil spirits, and slapping their lard before hand to build suspense ("Slap that fat!"). Sumo starts in the morning, but the best wrestlers start at 4 pm, so we went a bit late. The seats on the first floor are not typical theater-style seats, but rather pillows that one kneels on--also to be thrown in the air to express emotion at a wrestler's win. The best wrestler currently is Koto Oushu, a Bulgarian (Japanese sumo wrestlers are becoming scarcer and scarcer, though the sport is gaining more and more popularity in foreign countries--Mongolia and Russia, for example.) The wrestling takes place on a raised cement (?) platform...the most expensive seats are right around the ring, I believe, though they are potentially dangerous when a wrestler is pushed out of the ring and falls down backwards on an unsuspecting spectator. This happened to an unfortunate cameraman...The most impressive match was when one sumo wrestler pretty much flipped the other...All in all, perhaps not a sport that will catch fire in America soon, but you can never tell.
Like I mentioned, I started a new club--badminton! I was so bad at first, but it has been so so much fun for me. I have gradually gotten good (or at least better) and I am really hoping I can do it when I get back. However, it still won't be the isn't uncommon for my friends and I to become incapacitated with fits of laughter because our club time is so fun =)
The midterm exams start very soon here. I will take math (seriously not is the same subject matter as I would learn in America...but then they take it about 7 zillion levels up and then work through a textbook in a day) and Japanese. For chemistry, I have to write a report about a given theme (in English--so I am not worried at all.) 
After these tests, I will leave Japan on June 15th. It is going to be so hard for me to leave...I feel like a Japanese person myself, and I have so many good friends and people I care about here that I don't know how I am going to leave. I still remember the outright humiliation that was the first day of school clearly, and it feels like someone pressed fast forward since then...time has passed quicker than I imagined it could, and it really is time to treat every day like it is the last, because pretty soon it will be. On the other hand, I am going to be unbelievably happy to be home--I have thought being back so much recently. 
I am out of personal thoughts and steam right now. Once again, my sincere apologies (Or as they say, "I humbly made thee wait honorably.") And I will be back soon! 22 days and counting...down.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

PSA = just to let you know--a slight note

I would just like to clarify a few things that have come up recently (aka this is not a real post about my recent be coming to a computer near you soon...)

1. Contrary to popular belief, I did NOT quit writing my blog! I have just been trying to cover everything that happens to me--a difficult feat over spring break, which is a 3 and a half week period here

2. I am (as usual--you should have figured this out by now) having computer issues, so as soon as I figure out how to get internet at my host family's house, everything will be back to normal blogging life...

3. Due to blog comment abuse from unknown 3rd parties, I am moderating comments--so feel free to write, but I will be moderating (ha ha ha)--well, you know, reading your comment before it gets on the blog. No worries, keep commmenting.

4. (I'll think of #4 later. There was a #4, but I forgot suddenly.)

Most sincerely, with love from your exchange student Audrey

Friday, March 14, 2008

Be-rhinestoned and mathed.


Do you remember that blog post right after my Kyoto trip where (if I recall correctly) I put off writing my blog for about 2 or 3 weeks--and swore never to do it again, since my news built up so much? Well, I have definitely beat my record--I have not written for about sorry.
First, my family came to see me here in Tokyo. I moved in with them in the "weekly mansion" in which they werere staying (mansion = condominium in Japanese-adapted English.) It was the first time I had seen my whole family together for 6 months--since September of last year. When they first got here, my whole family was really really jet-lagged--especially my mom, who is still, after about a week, going to bed at about 8:00 every night and getting up at 4 dad brought ingredients to make food I have been missing out on in Japan, aka Mexican food and pancakes. Like I said, I moved in with them (and am staying together with them for the time they are here--about 2 and 1/2 weeks), but school still wasn't over for me yet.
In Japan, the school year ends in March and begins in April, so I went to school and had a "farewell party" with my homeroom class. Everyone brought snacks and the room was decorated. The dancers in my class did a dance, two girls did a skit, there was a teacher impersonation skit =D, a "before and after" show, and a contest for "Mr. and Mrs. 1A" (1A is the name of our homeroom class.) My friends nominated me for "Mrs." and although my school is a little boy-deficient (being a girls' school, you know,) we got 4 girls to dress as guys for the "Mr." part of the cont est. There is this gameshow in Japan where 6 men and women sit in a circle and say "I love you" and the like and a) try to make it believable and b) try to make each other laugh. If someone cracks up, then they lose...anyway, this is what we did. I didn't crack--even when a "Mr." contestant I know declared in Japanese, "Audrey, you are from a different country, but love transcends boundaries. I love you..." And I won the honorable title of *drumroll please!!!* "Mrs. 1A!" (pronunciation: "mee-sass ee-chee ay--y!") lol
I took my family to Harajuku and showed them around. I personally think they were overwhelmed by the crazy looking people there (for pictures of these crazy people, refer to prior post[s]).
I finally had my foreigners' Japanese speech contest last week. As my Japanese teacher predicted, it was mainly graduate students, foreign wives with Japanese husbands, and/or businessmen competing (besides yours truly, of course, who doesn't fit in the previous categories.) I was pretty sure I was not going to win at all, since they all were obviously more competent than me. I was pretty nervous, partially because of that, and then also because there was this panel of important/stern-looking judges, my family, Sakurai-sensei, and my host families watching me...but besides skipping about one sentence, I think my speech was fine...and after a deliberation I got 2nd place and an invitation back to compete in May! Yay! This is heinous, but my family posted the video on YouTube. I feel obliged to post it since it exists, but as a favor to me--don't watch it...or pretend like you didn't. it is...(cringe)
A really coincidental thing happened on the way home from the speech contest. I was walking back to the train with my family and host family when we were stopped by a news crew from NHK, a really big news station in Japan. This was very random--they asked us to try a burger and filmed our reactions. It was a burger with pancake-like buns and a chocolate inside...very interesting, even if it was too sweet...but anyways, this could be my big break to fame in Japan. What do you think? =P
My family had dinner with my first host family, which was very enjoyable. The next day, my little sister invited Natsu to come with us to DisneySea (the 3rd time to go there for me...) It was fun, regardless of the fact that my little sister and mom refused to go on anything scarier then Scuttle's Scooters...Natsu and I met a famous TV star, as well, which was pretty cool--though her name escapes me...
My family came to school with me to meet my teachers and friends. This wasn't nearly as chaotic as the first time my dad came to see my classmates--who all wanted to take a picture of and with my family =D
I was required to go to the senior 3rd grade students' graduation, which was frankly, long and tedious. I was really glad that 4 of my really good friends were there as well, but during graduation the announcer read Eeeevvverrry Siiiiinnngglllleeee Naaammmmmeeee (around 200 graduates!) and I was so glad afterwards to see natural light for the first time in about 3 hours on a wooden pew (I was sore for 3 days after that!) My friends and I decided to celebrate our survival of the graduation by going to Inokashira Kouen, which is a park very close to our school. We bought random food and had a picnic and rented rowboats!
When my parents were still here, we went to go see Kabuki, which is a Japanese sort of play. We followed by headset but as we bought tickets for one show only (generally, the plays can last 4-8 hours!) right before it started, we had pretty awful seats--errr, well, standing places (it was very packed!) I am always enthralled by Kabuki, especially female characters (since all the actors are male) because the voice is so nasal--and in comparison to the last time I went with my Japanese teacher last year, I understood the Japanese a lot better--even catching some of the puns.
We also went to the famous Tsukiji market, where early in the mornings, they have large auctions for fish--which we missed since we went there right before lunch. However, we stood in a 45 minute line for one of the many sushi restaurants in the huge market, and were definitely not disappointed--the sushi I ordered was soooooo goooood and really really fresh. Yummmm
We met my current host family for dinner to thank them for taking care of me. The food was very traditional Japanese, and it was so good.
At the hotel in which we stayed, the staff was all required to be bilingual, and I became friends with one of the receptionists, Aiko, who was an exchange student in Kentucky and speaks really good English, on top of being really nice. I am hoping to meet her sometime when I am still in Japan!
My family did have to eventually leave (though I was definitely getting used to my dad making me pancakes and Mexican food--but, all good things must come to an end.) It was hard to say goodbye again, but I really only have 2 and a half more months in Japan--which is so hard to realize. I still can recall the overwhelming awkwardness of my first day of school here, and the sports festival, the school festival, New Year's celebrations, hanging out with my friends like it was yesterday...excuse my moment of semi-nostalgia, but my time here
is really's an inconceivable thought that in 75 days or so I will be back to "normal," if I can ever get back to life before I came to Japan...(no) But back to business... I didn't really have time to dwell on missing my family, because the moment I got back to my host family's house to unpack, I had to repack to go skiing with my school the next day. I went with the middle schoolers, who I don't know at all, making the experience awkward immediately--but I got to be friends with them, which I think was the best part of the trip. Unfortunately, the ski school itself was disappointing for me, since I love to ski and am, say, reasonably good. I was put in the highest ski group and was anxious beforehand--"The highest ski group? Can I keep up?" It was no problem at all; not because of my talent, but because the group was so easy. Even our advanced group was put on the most basic of runs, and the most frustrating part was the teacher. On the first day, the teacher asked me, "Can you speak Japanese?" Which I can, but I wanted to stay safe, so I said, "Yeah, so-so." After that--he didn't say a word to me. Barely at all. He would always ask the other people in my group, "How was the run?" and give them feedback on their skiing, but then he would look at me, stare for a second, and then keep talking with the other girls in my group. On the last day, my group took a level test, which, if you passed, gets you a certificate and a badge...and I couldn't do it. I hadn't learned anything, or at least not enough to pass. It was really disappointing. Like I said, though, I did make friends, which was definitely the positive part of my trip. I met Josh and his mother, who came up from Osaka to Tokyo for a few days. I got up at 4 in the morning to meet them at the above fish market in Tsukiji, so that we didn't miss the auctions. We got there, and it was crazy--there were packed super-fish-markets that were full of people slicing, dicing, examining (etc.) live and dead fish, sea cucumbers, gigantic mussels, and many other things I didn't believe were was so busy; full of fisherman's boots-wearing men wielding knives, icehooks (more on icehooks in a second) and driving fish-carrying cars (called "Mighty Cars") in such a ferocious manner, wandering tourists like ourselves had to take up Defensive Pedestrianism to not be taken out by Mighty Cars or huge frozen fish. Getting back to icehooks, though, we found our way into the auction warehouse, where a robust man was auctioning off HUGE frozen tuna in Japanese. If you think trying to understand English-speaking auctioneers is difficult, don't even attempt to guess what these auctioneers are saying. ("Yup-yup-yup! Namanamanamanama! Hai! Nama! Yup!"... repeat a zillion times, but faster) We were considering raising a far-flung hand to raise the bidding price on these huge tuna, but never got around to it. On the subject of icehooks, though, it was very scary to see these fishermen checking out the fish, deciding it was large and unwieldy enough to be delicious, and then (get this) SLAMMING it with an ice-pick-like tool and dragging it to a third location. We decided we had had enough of having our lives threatened by the above, and went to go eat. We were there much earlier than I had gone previously with my parents, so the wait wasn't as long--though the restaurant was much more strict rule-wise (check the picture of the rules list.) It, of course, was delicious. After Tsukiji, we went to OMG I forgot to say that it is sakura (cherry blossom) season!!! Ueno-kouen, which is very famous, especially this time, for having a long trail of cherry blossoms. We went with a kajillion other people (it was quite packed!) to do hanami, (literally, "flower-looking) and took pictures of the trees, which at this time only have white-pink flowers that last only a week in spring. (Trivia: On television in Japan, in the weeks leading up to cherry blossom season, there is an actual sakura forecast) One of the things that comes with this season is intoxication among picnicking blossom-viewers. We encountered (or were encountered by) a very small (and very drunk) older man who stopped us. In gruff English, he gave a short oratory of many random non-related subjects, starting with "I am teacher," and then going onto other subjects like Elvis, and oldies songs (which he sang for us.) He then took our picture for us, then, commenting that Josh's mom was, well, "mazaaa! Gone Wiss za Wind!," he had us take his picture with her. I hope it came out. We also went to Asakusa, to see the long string of shops and the large temple. This was the 4th time I have been there, so as always it was interesting, though not novel. We took a little break at their hotel (since our day started at about 6-ish!) and then went to another cherry blossom park, Kitanomaru-kouen. It, too, was packed, but still so beautiful. There were rowboats to be rented on the pond there--however, everyone else seemed to have had the same idea. The line was about hours long (or so it seemed--we didn't stand in it!) We were very close to the emperor's palace, and thus we decided to go see if we could have tea with him. Unfortunately, it was closing time...or at least roping-off time, and our impromptu meeting didn't go as planned. Maybe another time =P A few days ago, I met my host sister's cousin, and with her and my host mother and Keito (host sister), we went to Yokohama, which is right next to the ocean. There was a very large and famous Chinatown, where we didn't eat, though we did walk through it and try on ancient Chinese men's hats. Her cousin was about middle school age and really cute! Unfortunately, she lives in Hokkaido (very north/very far) so that was probably the only time I will meet her...But we all had a lot of fun =D Yesterday, I met my Natsu and our two guy friends (who she has known since kindergarten) and went to Harajuku and Shibuya. We went bowling, which was a little humiliating for me, since I am frankly awful...but it was still really fun. At the end, we took purikura. Check it out! My old homeroom class is going to have our last event together tomorrow--we are going to have a picnic at Inokashira-kouen, a park close to our school. We already scheduled to do it earlier, but it was cancelled due to a) rain, and b) no cherry blossoms yet! Hopefully tomorrow will be okay. The day after that, I am going with two friends to go to see Rihanna and Kanye West in concert in Japan! I am really really excited--I will report back! PS School starts on the 8th again...must do homework...rawr....

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Art thou well? Methinks of olden days

So I am trying to counterbalance my gal reputation (just kidding) with something a bit different. My host family and I were watching a Japanese soap opera, something that is a bit different than the soaps of America since they are more often than not about mukashi mukasi, the days of old when samurai warriors roamed the land and everyone wore kimono and used the equivalent of what Shakespearean language is to English-speakers. "Alas! Thy barn doth purloin a century of sushi without wasabi!" So anyways, my host family has taught me how to speak Old Japanese to some extent, something I am eager to try out on teachers, friends, loved ones, street vendors, security guards, etc. I'll let you know how it goes.

This last week started on Thursday, because the time between my last blog post and finals was like Pope John XX--non-existent. To quote the web: "there has never been a Pope John XX, because the 20th pope of this name, formerly Petrus Hispanus, decided to skip the number XX and be counted as John XXI instead. He wanted to correct what in his time was believed to be an error in the counting of his predecessors John XV through XIX." But passing over popes, I took my finals (and turned in my essay) to my great rejoice, relief, rejuvenation, remarkable-ization, and so forth in that strain. My math notebook decided to get conveniently lost somewhere within a 10 foot long hallway that starts in the kitchen and goes to my room--2 days before the exam, so I elected to take the obvious choice and do as I have been doing for the last month--go to bed before 9:30 and pretend there are no exams. I actually think I did pretty well all in all--I know it wasn't perfect, but I am expecting to have done reasonably decently swell. 
Within my exam period of 2 days, I had a run-in with the law. At my school in Japan, they have a strict no-cell-phones policy that I hadn't been breaking regularly (although I won't comment about the rest of the students). I generally wasn't bringing my cell phone to school because a) I didn't need it and b) it was dangerous to have it at school--I don't want to kill my nerves wondering if it was going to start singing Phantom of the Opera like Richard Simmons in the middle of class for no reason at all, right? But for some reason, I threw it in my school bag as I went out the door. As I got to school and went to my Japanese class, it started buzzing--my exchange program head (Sakurai-sensei) was calling me. I had a convenient coughing fit so that my Japanese teacher wouldn't realize it was vibrating, but then Sakurai-sensei came in and asked if I had my cell phone. I wasn't going to lie--that would just make it worse, right?--so I told her I did, and she asked to see it--apparently it called her by itself (I obviously wasn't calling her during school with it regularly) and when I didn't answer, she thought I had been abducted or something. So, it turned out fine, no one is hurt (or abducted) and I am going to not bring my phone to school again. I felt guilty because she found out I was breaking the rules, as well as that she was so worried that I was kidnapped. It's not going to happen again. >.<>

On that same day, I went to a soba-making class with the high-school third graders, who don't take finals because they graduate and go to college. There was about 20 people and the "soba-meister." Just kidding, but the soba-head-cheese was a very intense guy who made making soba look very easy. Within a really really big mixing bowl, we mixed the soba flour with water gradually to make it as even as possible (my partner and I were getting frustrated because every 5 minutes or so the soba-dude would come look at our mixture and tell us "Just a little more." About 5 times. We finally got the soba to the right evenness, and it magically turned into a ball of soba dough-ish stuff, with a little help from Mr. Soba Master himself. From there we made it flatter than we believed humanly possible with a rolling pin about 3 feet long. After it was decently paper-thin, we folded it and using a large chopping knife, we were technically supposed to cut into strips about a millimeter wide. Due to unforeseen tactical errors that were certainly unavoidable, ours was about 3 times as wide as it was supposed to be cut, but all in all, it was delicious. 
 The next day, I went with Sakurai-sensei (awkward, right?) and Kobayashi-sensei to an outdoor architectural park of old Japanese buildings. I wasn't expecting it to be nearly as fun as it was. Before we went in the buildings' part of the park, we went around and looked at the blooming ume trees, which were so pretty. They bloom earlier than the famous sakura cherry blossom trees, but are still so beautiful! I took so many pictures. We then entered the outdoor museum part of the park. Before we started to walk around, there were free volunteer sketch artists who drew my picture. It was an--interesting likeness, but what can I say? They were volunteers, I won't complain--it was fun =P After that, we went and looked at an old train, an umbrella shop of olden times (from which I stole, no borrowed, and used an umbrella while we were within the park), an old public bath (don't tell, but we went to the boys' side, too), and old bar. An interesting thing that you maybe didn't know about the public baths of a long time ago--some chosen person would sit and supervise both sides of the baths from a raised chair, from which he/she could view both sides of the changing rooms. After that, we walked to the other side of the park and checked out an old police box, a normal house (dirt floors with a raised wooden floor--looks cold!), and a huge mansion that someone was killed in years ago. We had a Japanese dessert in this house called cream-anmitsu (that is, the dessert, not the house) which was really delicious--sweet azuki beans, fruit, and seaweed jello-like cubes (the cream is the optional ice cream that goes with the dessert--though that's not traditional...but still yummy.) All in all, I was really glad I was able to go, and it was really fun!

On Saturday, I went to see Sweeney Todd (finally, right? since my plans with my friends were cancelled) with my host mother. It was really fun, and I wasn't as disturbed as I thought I would be--it was creepy, though! And after that, I went around holding my neck in place for safe-keeping--but no harm done, I should think...

Today, I went to the neighborhood with my host father pool/track/workout area/fields to run while he swam at the pool. When we were about leave, we spotted a kyudo class, which is Japanese archery--very traditional. We watched it for about 10 minutes--very intense and cultural! But not for me--there is no kyudo club at school. If there were, though, I think it would require too much self-discipline for me to be interested in it for too long--I mean, there is a lot of waiting, posing, general silence and palpable tense, solemn energy in the air. I almost fell over when a serious-ray of focus hit me. I just like something more active--this is not to say I have no focus/self discipline! =D 
Also, I went to Keito, my host sister's old elementary school's brass band concert. We watched for 2 and 1/2 hours brass and percussion performance of varying levels of skill. By the end, I was waiting for the end--I like brass band well enough (though it is always second to orchestra! always!) but after that much time of hearing faltering brass instruments and too many renditions of "It's a Small World After All," plus the fact I had a violin lesson immediately after to practice for, I was ready to book out of there. 

My violin teacher brought her friend to my lesson today. Her friend is a Japanese violist who graduated from Yale and speaks English. I have been advancing in my lessons, but there is only so much my teacher can express, so it was nice to get 100% of what she was saying and discuss some issues (what piece to work on next, for example). I pretty much understand what she says, but there is always the occasional thing that doesn't make sense to me and she can't express in either language or on the violin. So, like I said, it was nice to understand everything, and her friend was really really nice! 

I am really looking forward to my family coming in *3* days! It will be the first time I see them all together since September--6 months. 

Monday, February 18, 2008

Too many songs in my head, especially ones I don't know the words to

Happy late Valentine's Day! I am guessing that the height of your Valentine's Day was appreciating the commercials especially targeting you at the height of your emotions on the love-filled day. I, on the other hand, had no time for commercial trifling--I was making a mountain of chocolate to give my friends. If my camera would work with this computer, I could show you my literal mountain of future heart disease, and then the pile I received in return. I originally intended to make 80 brownie squares (you know, 50 for the people in my homeroom, 30 for my friends from other classes--no mean feat) but accidentally, due to an unforeseen highly unavoidable error, I made 169 (and then some) squares that were brownie-turned-cookie squares. Still highly delicious, I assure you. And there were exactly 169 and then some--I know because I counted every single one; the "and then some" were the ones that failed quality square inspection, and upon a closer look, really resembled triangles, rhombuses, or Alaska. Passing over non-square-like shapes, though, I was overloaded with the ancient tradition of Valentines Day (Japanese version), which is virtually the same as everywhere else, save that a person is bound to give sweets to virtually every person they know. If they don't there is a conveniently placed day exactly a month later, called "White Day," to return the favor if you got sweets but didn't give any. Like I was saying, I was loaded down sweets, and my whole class was complaining to each other about stomach aches all day. I myself didn't over-consume, but realized that the sweets would go bad within a series of days, so responsibly took care of them within a series of hours. (Very satisfying, I assure you.)
[Don't worry, I made sure I ran off the after-effects of choco-disposal over the weekend. =P ]
Apart from that, my week wasn't so very eventful. I have final exams next week (not good...), and then in 2 weeks, my family comes to Japan! I'm looking forward to that...

If I think of anymore news, I will post it pronto. However, this week really wasn't too interesting objectively, save for, of course, Valentine's Day =D

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My love for my electric blanket exceeds all the vegetable oil the world

I've got to say, I am a bit mixed on my blog. I mean, I like to write it, and since there are a little less than 1000 hits on it, I have to say it's reasonably well-read...but the inability to upload my pictures is a bit discouraging. This might be fixed in about 3 weeks, or less, if I figure out how to make my camera work with a Mac before then...Also, sorry this post is late because *Drum Roll Please* my mom sent me an electric blanket! Oh, sweet relief from the cold of my host family's spacious but concrete house! It is really really cold...or was, I should say. How this relates to my blog--I have gotten into the healthy-yet-inconvenient-for-blog-readers habit of going to bed at 8:30 pm, as to get the most use out of my very very delicious blanket.
Okay, now I am trying to remember what happened last week. This electric blanket is definitely dangerous--memory loss, among other things.


Well, not to much exciting happened that I can remember.

I got the results back from my Japanese level test at the Tokyo University (if you don't remember this, it's because I took it ages ago.) I passed quite nicely, so no worries there. That was the level 4 test, and in 2 weeks, along with my math and chemistry finals, I will take the level 3 test.

My speech that I was writing was accepted for the foreigner's speech contest. I don't know how selective the judges are, so I can't say if the acceptance is anything to brag about but...for lack of interesting material from this last week, I present to you my translated speech! (To be memorized and presented in Japanese on March 8th.)

"日本に来て感じた事" (literally: stuff I thought when I came to japan)
Written and translated by yours truly
(I will skip the first part, because it's an introduction of myself, and translated, it sounds a little more than cheesy.)

Before I came to Japan, I heard a lot of different things. For instance, I heard things like "Japan is really safe," and "All Japanese are really helpful." However, I also heard things like "There are a lot of strict customs to follow, so be careful," and "Japanese people don't show any emotion and don't express themselves." Because of this, I was worried upon coming and did a lot of research about Japanese customs. Before coming, I was worried about things like the right order to enter the bath and unkind host families.
After starting my life as an exchange student, I was still worrying. I wanted to do everything right. Even though my host family was really nice, and I could take a bath whenever I wanted, I wasn't comfortable. My teachers, friends, and host family noticed that I seemed frequently nervous {I insert: embarrassingly} I really liked school and I enjoyed my everyday life, but because I was still thinking about the things I heard before I came, I was worried about making a mistake. For example, in the beginning, because my Japanese wasn't so good, the teachers seemed really scary to me.
Time went by, and I became more comfortable. When I relaxed, I learned more about Japanese culture.
In America, yo u are expected to take care of your needs yourself, while in Japan, cooperation is considered better.
My host mother told me that in Japan, there are old traditions that Japanese people follow. Because I am a foreigner, I didn't understand these in the beginning. However, once I learn them, I too am expected to respect and follow them.
I went on a school trip with the high school second graders where everyone was expected to bath together. I didn't really know the people in the grade and I was a little nervous about it. I thought it was going to be awkward, when I first tried it, it really was fun and the second graders were really nice. Now, I really like the public baths.
I think that foreigners can't ever 100% understand Japanese society or culture. However, because I have spent 6 months {by the time I give the speech} here in Japan, I have learned so many things and gotten a much better understanding of the Japanese lifestyle. I am really glad I have been able to come.


Sorry i f the wording sounds weird--translating it was harder than I thought. But that is the g ist of it. Interestingly enough, my Japanese teacher is convinced I will win the contest because there will be "housewives and salarymen" at the contest, and as I will be the youngest, I will win on my feisty pluck. =P

Since I can't remember any outstanding events in regards to my last week, I will skip to my weekend. (This memory loss is depressing.)
On Sunday (Saturday, too, was pretty free) I met Julia Blood, which was really nice for me. She

is still studying in Japan, though, as a college student, she has a long break right now, and she is going to go home for a week soon. (Lucky...) It was really fun to just meet up with her, eat, and talk (a lot.)

On Monday, it was (according to my planner) National Founding Day, so it was free. The de finite highlight of the day was getting ready for hinamatsuri, which is a special day for girls. Most families in Japan all set up a collection of dolls, which I wish I could show you with my extraordinary pictures, but unfortunately can't, once again fueling my remorse on the subject of Macs....but excuse my mini--rant. I'm just a PC person, that's all.

February 14th, as many of you might know, is Valentine's Day (wink wink). This is definitely a very big holiday in Japan. Technically, it is a girl-to-buy gift giving holiday (and then there is another day in March where boys return the gift, called White Day), but as a) there are no boys at my girls' school, and b) we all just can't resist the urge to hand out sweets, I am making a huge batch of brownies tomorrow. Be prepared.

I am excited because my family will be coming to see me! We have actual dates, and they will come for about 2 weeks and a half in March!

Tomorrow, if I can write 5 selected kanji in my Shodo calligraphy class, I can allegedly achieve my Shodo license. I am going to dominate. I hope. I really want a license...a Shodo license.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Hanging around town without meerkats

Today was the second snow day of the winter, which according to the olden calendar of Japan, ends today. As the spring is "here," in name, if not actually weather-wise, my host family and I threw soybeans outside in all of the major rooms to traditionally throw out the bad and bring out the good. Then, we each ate a number of soybeans corresponding to each person's age. So, happy spring to you--wish it wasn't freezing!
So, I finally did the much-awaited Vatican speech, which was pretty pathetic, as I eventually ended up creating 1 questionably accurate map of Italy and Rome, 1 frantically drawn Swiss Guard uniform in chalk on a black board, and 1 stand-up speech in a mix of casual Japanese and English. My standup speech was probably the worst of the three, as I took a gander at explaining, comparing and contrasting the different branches of Christianity in America--not pretty. ("Mina de wa onagi belief ga aru kedo, tatoeba mina de wa chigau celebrations toka ga aruyo.") In fact, there is a comedian in Japan who is famous for throwing random English expressions into his sentences--my speech was pretty similar to one of his acts. But seriously, how am I honestly expected to be able to explain about Mormons and polygamy in Japanese? Oh, please...
But before that...I went to watch Japan versus Chile in soccer! I was soooo excited--it was in the National Stadium (the same one, if you remember, in which I ran a 1k in nefarious costume with Natsu) and there were so many people. Poor Chile--there isn't a large Chilean majority naturally residing in Japan, and I don't think that most fans, even the most devoted, chose to travel to Japan to watch the match--so, Chile's cheering section was hard-pressed to a) find people and b) compete with the thousands making up the crowd cheering for Japan, not to mention Japan's specially designated cheering sections, which didn't let down for singing Nihon fight songs. Thus, I was in short, pretty pumped for the game. This euphoria was quickly taken out by the biting freezing cold. I was literally the coldest I think I have ever ever been. And it wasn't just me--everyone was turning into human ice lollies. To top it all off, after almost 2 hours, neither team had scored. It was still very very fun, though, and I would love to go again sometime--especially if it was just a teensy weensy bit not-so-COLD! =D
On Wednesday, I got sick once again...
I made sure I got well soon, because on Friday, I had priorities....
On Friday, I went to Disney Sea with 3 of my friends! We were there from opening to closing (10 hours!) and because it was Friday (we had the day off from school) it wasn't crowded at all. We went on all the rides, met Mickey, Minnie, Cruella De Vil and friends...the scariest ride we sent on was one we had all been on multiple times before, but mid-Indiana Jones the ride broke down, and we, chained to our seats, were all poised for the fall... the suspense built, until we were just confused as to what was wrong. The best part--it was the scariest ride ever AND then the staff let us go again without waiting! Yay! We spent a very long time at Disney Sea, and although everyone's feet were dying by the end, it was most definitely worth it.
On Saturday, my host family and I
celebrated Keito's birthday. I made chili, and that plus a bunch of other dishes constituted a very large proper birthday dinner, I think. Keito's grandparents came. and she played sax and I played violin for them...Today, I went ice-skating with Keito and her friends from elementary school. Very fun!
Tomorrow is my cooking class that I am teaching in English. The menu was initially labeled Mexican, but I think, as "chili tacos" aren't exactly traditional standard, the menu should be renamed "Tex-Mex for Cross-Cultural Cooking Experimenters." I am hoping it goes well...very risky business, toying around with cooking...I fear so many things going wrong...=P
Speaking of things going wrong, my general English, especially my self-set high standard for spelling, has gone down the drain, so to speak. On my list of words I can no longer spell: