Monday, November 7, 2011

Nara's Big Buddha, Deer in the Public Park, and Tofu

Last week on Thursday, because school was on holiday, my host mom offered to take me to the neighboring prefecture of Nara to see the Daibutsu, or Big Biddha. This is the biggest Buddha statue in the world, from what I've heard. She also said that there is a famous only tofu restaurant nearby the public park, which happened to have hundreds of deer living there. I was totally in.
We drove for an hour and a half, blasting Lady Gaga the entire way. We are really best friends, in place of a student/host parent relationship, for which I'm really glad. The drive was really fun and full of laughs. I attempted to translate Gaga's obscure lyrics and she didn't understand and of it, which was fine.

We arrived, and I suggested to use the free bicylce rental service the city offered. We spent the next 30 minutes biking to the Big Buddha, through the city. It was my favorite part of the trip- Nara is really hilly, and the day's weather was just cool enough. The breeze in my hair and the fun of gliding around the streets and in between traffic was just the best.

Passing a public park, I noticed deer. Lots of them.

We stopped and I took pictures with them. There were deer sleeping, running, and eating from people's hands (they sold deer food for people to give them). They were all friendly (to me!). I saw some charge at some people because they ran out of food to give. Some people were overly freaking out over the really well behaved ones too. They were screaming and backing up and saying 'Go away!' as they were holding food to give them. Why wouldn't you want to get close to them if you wanted to give them food anyways? Crazy people.
There were even some babies, but they were extra cautious and ran away if you tried to pet them.
The males had their antlers shaved down so people didn't get injured.

We kept on biking uphill untill we reached the huge temple housing the Big Buddha. It was amazing to behold. It was made entirely of wood, and a meticulous amount of detail was payed. The chair he sits in, and the background featuring many mini Buddhas, and even the wrinkles in his clothing were all very realistic and lifelike. The temple was packed with avid admirers. Many people added incense to big steel vases full of ash, in order to pray to him.

This last picture is of a nearby pagoda, or tower.

After that, we went to the tofu restaurant. It was really fancy and had a great atmosphere. Literally everything they served, save for the rice and tea, was tofu. I was shocked how many different flavors and dishes you can make out of one simple and plain food. It was delicious! I was really glad I got to try so many new various dishes.

Everything was surprisingly packed with flavor!

On the drive home that evening, my host mom asked if I wanted to skip the next 2 days of school to go to Hiroshima with my older, college student host sister. I immediately said yes. It was one of the best decisions of my exchange. I will blog about Friday and Saturday later. Now, I'm off to bed.

Osaka with Tim and Justin

On Saturday the 29th, Tim and his roommate Justin came down from Tokyo. We met at Osaka station and I took them around the city. There were tons of attractions and the day was really full of fun stuff. We went to a bunch of places through the extensive subway system, because our aquarium tickets also functioned as all day city transportation passes (smart move, Osaka!). Justin dropped his stuff off at the hostel, but Tim was planning on staying at my host parent's house.

First we went to the aquarium, but decided to eat lunch first. We had Okonomiyaki made right in front of us, on a huge iron stove built into the table. We also had yakisoba. Both of these are specialties in Osaka so they were really excited! (though I was probably more excited, I like food, derp)

Thanks for taking these pics, Tim!

After eating at the nearby mall, we entered the aquarium. The Osaka Kaiyuukan is the biggest in the city! It was 4 stories high, and on the edge of Osaka bay! There were such a variety of fish, whales, sharks, otters, dolphins, and crabs. It was amazing! I had a lot of fun taking pictures of everything I could see. I also bought some little souviniers like a shitajiki (a plastic sheet you place under the paper you're writing on in a notebook, so it doesn't press through) which has like 6 otters staring at the camera. ADORABLE. And I got a squid keychain for my cell phone. It was a great visit!

This is a picture of the Kaiyuukan from the outside. It's huge!

After that, we went accross the city to Osaka Castle, famous in the area for it's location, size, and condition. The sun was just beginning to set so the indoor tours had stopped. But we took tons of pictures of the castle and the surrounding motes, bridges, and forests. The area outside of the castle's mote is a public park, and there were tons of people hanging out. Some walking their dogs, some racing remote control cars, others training for the upcoming city marathon. It gave a very peaceful, and healthy atmosphere. If the subway tickets weren't so expensive, I would go there to jog more often.

The area around the castle was a great place to just relax and rest your legs after a day of sightseeing.

When night fell, we returned (allllll the way back) to the aquarium, to ride on the ferris wheel. It was lit up in bright green! It was one of the scariest things I had done in Japan, I was cowering in the corner of the cart the entire ride. It was incredibly tall- we could see in all directions, over the bay and accross the city. It would have been even cooler if I hadn't been flipping out.

It was incredibly unnerving.

Then we decided we should eat some more food, so I took them to Namba. I had a restaurant, Gyouza no Ousama, a famous Chinese food chain. Chinese food in Japan is way different from America. It is way better. It actually resembles mainlaind Chinese food, most likely because it isn't as far a journey to travel, meaning things are brought over from China and they remain pretty much the same. It was delicious of course!

Chinese food done RIGHT. Cheap, too!

And of course, being in Namba, we had to take our picture with the nationally known landmark, Glico Man! Glico is a famous candy company which makes tons of money even to this day. Every day, hundreds of people take their pictures posing like the Glico man! We were such tourists, but you know what, who cares.

Everyone was wearing Halloween costumes, even though it was the Saturday before. I guess it's because no one really does anything on the actual day! Especially a weekday. I did nothing. Made me feel like something was missing from my life!

Anyways, Tim came over to my house and stayed in the spare room. We bought snacks at the convinience store and stayed up late and gossiped and ate chocolate. It was a good day.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Injuries, instruments, and laughter, OH MY

At the sports festival last week, I ended up tripping over the body of one of my fallen comrades, during a particularly violent race. The objective of this activity was to run towards a vertically lying bamboo pole at the blog of the whistle, and wrestle it tug-of-war style to your team's side of the court. This can be accurately visually described by saying the "pole" in question was slathered in honey and the "girls" competing were human-sized bees. That is how many people were packed around that stick.
Anyways, because I tripped, I have this nasty bloody knee, which the bandaids keep falling off of, and consequently I am staining everything. Not fun. Also experiencing annoying, pirate-like swag.

Today, the Rotary invited us to an exchange student workshop, where we all got to try the traditional Japanese instrument, the Koto. They are really, really cool. I want to buy one and start like an all-koto band, I swear, it will happen and we will become famous. Also I met German and Korean exchange students! They were nice so we instantly became friends, yay!

About the 3rd part of the title: laughter. I learned something new the other day. It was just my host mother and I, sitting at the family computer trying to edit some photos from last month's recital. There were people sitting in places that took the focus away from the singer/people closest to the camera had hideous expressions.. etc. My host mom asked for my help, and although I had never edited an image in my life, I did. That night my bond with her elevated beyond anything ever. We spent an entire hour screwing with the image to extents that it was ridiculous. For example, one woman's frown was incredibly noticeable, therefore, we copied and pasted a smiling person's mouth onto that woman's face. Dragging and dropping the hovering smile we copied had us cracking into even crazier hysterics. The hues of her new smile's lips were completely off. We painted over it. We literally flipped some people's frowns upside-down. Tears rolled down both of our cheeks for the entire process. I felt so loose with her, and we got to know eachother's sense of humor, and it was the highlight of my exchange so far. The little things in an exchange really make for the better, I think.

I am having a great time.

Well, I am exhausted as usual, so I'm heading to bed.
Goodnight world!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rotary Meeting in Minou


This is the whole group standing in from of the infamous waterfall in Minou.
This last weekend was spectacular! I knew I was going to go to a Rotary meeting up in northern Osaka, but I had no idea it was going to be so fun. After gathering all the student up, we had a few workshops. 

The first was a samurai expert, demonstrating the different levels of expertise of sword fighting and bujitsu. He also brought a collection of ancient katana, some of which actually had killed people hundreds of years ago. The swords were pretty heavy, which I found out when I held one in my own hands!

 The next was a form of traditional Japanese puppetry. A man sang the story with koto accompaniment (a stringed instrument). Three people man each puppet, enabling them extremely realistic movements, like head moving, hands flexing, eyes blinking. It was creepy, yet REALLY COOL!

The third was an old fashioned play, which the theme was treating family with respect. The cast wore kimono and face paint, like in the old days. The props and set were also made to look like a traditional home. Unfortunately, I couldn't take a picture!

On the side of the mountain was a huge hotel/resort, where everything took place. The rooms were super nice. Our room had a beautiful view and I slept so well on their futon. The hotel also had a complimentary Onsen, or hot spring/public bath. It was my first time in one, and it was super relaxing (and a little embarrassing!)

Here are a couple of pictures of the landscape on our walk up to the Minou waterfall. It was really beautiful! There are aparently wild monkeys that live in the forests but we didn't see any. I was really disappointed!
Also, I added a picture of the entire group: Rotarians, Rotex, Inbounds, Host families and all.

The Rotary really took care of us on this trip! I feel privileged to have such an active and supportive group on my exchange.

Tomorrow is my schools Taiikusai, or Sports Day. I get to wear a yukata and dance with the thirds years (while I'm in 2nd year), which is a real treat! Keep an eye out for my journal entry.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A month in Japan.

Today, there is a really scary typhoon, so school is canceled. I am going to take this opportunity to write about my first month in Japan. And there sure as heck is a lot to write about.

When I stepped foot off the airplane, I was already in a bad mood. The plane was delayed 1 hour. Glancing in the mirror, I noticed a weird pink spot on my eye (Rachel had been worrying about catching pink eye the day before) so I was really nervous that I looked weird for my first impression. The woman gathered up the minors off the plane, taking her time, and 30 minutes passed. Then one of the other minors threw up everywhere so we waited for her for 30 minutes. After that, the hostess was running about because she had forgotten paperwork. She finally gave me to a new hostess who led me to a long line. We waited for 30 minutes. After my family and the Kaizuka Rotary Club had been waiting about 4 and a half hours, I finally picked up my luggage and met them.

We ate at a restaurant in the airport, and it was really fun. Everyone was nice!

Dinner with the Rotarians and my host family. I ordered sashimi and udon, and struggled with my chopsticks. Everyone laughed.

I went home with the Sampei's. Their daughter was at a concert that night, but they took me home and showed me around the apartment. It's really cozy and I love it. I unpacked and went to bed.

The next morning I went to my school to get fitted for my uniform. I rode on the back of my host sister's bike, to memorize the route to the train station. My host mom and I then rode to nearby Hagoromo. I met my teacher, who throughout this month has done so much for me. I also met the principal, who asked me what my hobbies and talents were, in order to place me in the correct classes. I feel my Japanese was pretty okay!
When we came back, I explored Izumiootsu from the apartment balcony. It's really a beautiful town, especially with the mountains in the backdrop.

That day I went out with my host sister and her friends. We went to Tennoji by train, and shopped at the huge mall nearby. Purikura, which are tricked out photobooths with green screens and doodling capabilities, soon became my obsession! You can send purikura to your phones digitally, as well as print them off at the booth as stickers.
Purikura with Mao, Nariko, Yuya, Ryosuke, and Saya.

School started on the 25th. For me, I didn't go to any classes, but instead gave a nerve wracking speech in English and Japanese in front of the whole student body during the entrance ceremony.

The next day was my real first day of school, and I met tons of friendly girls. I also decided to join the tennis club! The  club president, Miku, was really nice and so was the rest of the team. I exchanged emails with  everyone, and they all became close friends of mine over the month.

There was a Rotary meeting for the inbounds and outbounds of all the nearby districts. There were only 5 girls coming into this region! One was Brazilian, the rest were Americans. We all gave speeches and receieved a lot of info.

The Japanese girls were Rotexes from countries like Canada, US, France, Denmark, etc.

My host grandfather died from his bone cancer. This means that my host mom, who has to take care of her husband's parents, is going to be very busy for the next 3 days. 1st day, grandpa lies in his home in front of the shrine, in a kimono. 2nd day, at the funeral home, the public pays their respects. 3rd day, he is burned and family picks up his bones with chopsticks.

That day was the 2nd day of my host grandfather's funeral. It is customary for everyone attending to wear black, except for students, who wear their uniforms. After paying respects, the family members gathered for a meal, so grandpa could look down and see us happy. I met my host aunt, Keiko's second son, Shuya, who was really friendly and nice.

Finally, I'm up to date with the major events of my exchange thus far. I'm sure there were some important points I forgot, but there will be more entires over the rest of the year.

Stay tuned!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Last evening in the US.

I guess the idea that I'll be flying alone all day tomorrow hasn't hit me yet. I feel prepared but not nervous or even excited. I can honestly say that it doesn't feel like its Friday already.
Tomorrow I  have to get up at 3am and be ready to drive an hour to Omaha at 4am. I'll arrive at the airport at 5am and the plane takes off at 6:30am. From them on I'm completely alone. Don't know how to feel about that.