The English Camp was in a word, amazing. I went a little photo crazy and if you’d like to see the pictures go here. To spare you I’ve only uploaded 61 of the 252 pictures that I took.
I woke up Saturday morning at about 4:45 and Ayumi rode with me to the station for my 5:50 train. I met up with the other Temple students with no problem and surprisingly the whole group made it in time for our train. We rode the train for about 40 minutes and at one of the stops I thought I heard the name of our station so I told everyone to get off (I was one of the group leaders). Turns out our station was one more stop so we climbed back on the train (after I apologized for the embarrassing mistake). All 240 of the students were already loaded on one of the 6 buses and after the Temple students got all situated we were on our way.
The drive took us through beautiful country with tree covered mountains and past many farms. The first rest stop we went to took my breath away; after stretching out my legs and taking a look around I fell in love. On one side were mountains covered in trees of all different colors and the other side more green and fields of brown stretched before me. Being used to the skyscrapers of Tokyo everyone was taken aback by the scenery at the lowly rest stop.
When we finally arrived at our destination I was again struck by the difference in environment. The building we stayed in was set into the mountain side and the view before us was breathtaking. Faint outlines of mountains could be seen in the distance and the land below us was alive with color. Behind the building trees climbed the mountains and turned them golden, especially when the sun hit the leaves. The whole weekend whenever I’d pass a window I couldn’t help but stand and stare for a bit.
Saturday afternoon, not long after we put our bags in our rooms the first workshop started. Each Temple student was in charge of a group of high school students of about 10 or 11. In almost every workshop we had a different group and most of the workshops were helping the group make speeches and giving them advice on the presentation. Ever single time I gave the group the same advice and by the end I was tired of repeating myself and I’m sure they were tired of hearing the same advice. The best time of the camp was the freetime during meals and at night. Everyone was more comfortable and a lot of mingling happened during those times. Most of the high school guys were pretty shy but the girls were pretty bold. A lot of them came up to me and would say I’m “kawaii,” which means cute. Even though everything is “kawaii” here it was still very surprising whenever someone would say it in reference to me. Especially since all the students were either 15 or 16. One girl would cover her face and get really embarrassed every time she saw me saying, “K is so pretty/cute” over and over again. Everyone wanted our pictures regardless of whether they knew our names or not. By the way, the “peace sign” that you see in pictures is basically like a thumbs up. It’s also a nice way to occupy your hands when posing so that it doesn’t feel totally awkward.
Sunday night a group of us went hiking at around 9. Tori (my roommate while we were there) lead us to a waterfall she had been to earlier that day. Even though it was overcast a few stars could be seen in the clear patches of the sky. When we got back I looked out to the “valley floor” and saw a few lights from what I assume were farms and small villages. I had decided to get up early on Monday morning to explore the hiking trails since during the daylight we didn’t have very much free time. Monday morning I woke up at 5 and finally got outside at 6 (it was dark when I first got up). I went back to the waterfall and then decided to go up to what I thought was the ridge. Turns out the “trail” for the ridge was a very steep incline that zigged zagged up the hill. To get to the top I was basically on my hands and knees brushing away the dried leaves so I wouldn’t roll down and surely break something. When I finally got on flat ground the sun had already risen a bit and I was able to see the first moments of truly golden trees. I was still waiting to find the elusive ridge and was surprised when I rounded one bend and the path dipped down. I continued walking until I got to the river and the sucking mud kept me from crossing. By that time it was about 6:45 and I decided to turn around. After I got back to the fork I headed back to the waterfall and walked upstream to get a better angle of the water. It started getting really cold because the sun hadn’t reached me yet so I went back to another fork and walked down the path some more. By the time I got back it was about 7:45 and I had walked for an hour and forty five minutes. It was very refreshing and I was really glad that I decided to get up because I knew that I would have regretted not exploring such a beautiful area. The sacrifice of little sleep was well worth it.
The last activity of the camp was a speech contest. 12 finalist spoke in front of the entire camp and the judges picked the best three. I was so proud because the leader of my first group got third place. After giving the winners their prizes (candy!) all the assistants (Temple students and others who lead the groups) got a certificate of recognition. While we stood in front of the assembly Masa, the leader of the camp and one of the high school teachers, gave a speech thanking us for our time and at the end he said our group was the best “fo sho.” Of course that went over the students’ heads but we understood and gave him a round of applause. Everyone was sad to leave the beautiful place and go back to the “real world.” I don’t think we’ll ever be that popular again (at least I won’t unless I do the camp again).
After we got back to the station Matt and I went to Shinjuku to grab some dinner since most everyone was going to a bar and we weren’t interested. We ended up running into some people from his church and going to a restaurant with them. We had to sit at different tables since our group had more than four but it was still really nice meeting more Christians (and three of them were from Australia and had awesome accents).
Wednesday I went with my Photography class to an art exhibition of a former Temple student. It was really interesting work and I enjoyed just hanging out with our class. This next weekend is the Sapporo trip and I’m really looking forward to that. Also on Wednesday, before my Art History class, I met with Shinya (Photography) to talk about what classes I should take next semester. In the end my schedule is pretty crazy as long as the classes aren’t full when I’m able to register. Basically it’s 16 credits and I’d be at school MWF from 9-5:45 and Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:45-5:45. I’m both nervous and excited about next semester.
I’ve decided what I’m going to do for my host family for Christmas (even though I won’t be living with them on the 25th). Yui and Mai are always playing with the scarves I brought with me so I’m making them both a scarf of their own. And for Ayumi and Masayuki I’m planning on making a photo album as long as I can find the right book to put the pictures in. So on Thursday I went to a department store two stations away and bought the yarn and needles. Since that took very little time I decided to explore the area around the store. I walked to another “mall” and walked around the five floors. I really like the way they set up the stores because there aren’t any walls to separate them and they sort of blend together; it reminds me of the makeup sections of Macy’s and Nordstrom.
Thursday night Mai and Yui spent the night in my room because I had promised they could when Steph spent the night. They shared a futon but I ended up on theirs when Yui rolled onto mine while I was on my laptop. All throughout the night I woke up because Yui kept putting her foot on me and I was afraid of them kicking me in their sleep. In the morning (6:30!) Mai showed me how she had ended up perpendicular to the bed and I told Yui of her rolling. They played in my room for a while and we ended up having a pillow fight with a single pillow. Even though I hardly slept I really enjoyed have a “sleepover” with them.
Friday was a holiday but I had to go to a museum for Art History. Afterward I met Steph near her church and we went to a women’s group called “Jesus, Women and Chocolate.” You can probably guess what we ate. It was a really nice time to just relax and worship with other women. We spent the night at her pastor’s house and ate Mac & Cheese and watched Disney’s Robin Hood. The next morning we were supposed to meet with an old Japanese lady that Steph met and have lunch with her. We ended up getting lost and being an hour late but she seemed fine and took us to an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant. The entire time we ate she didn’t say anything until Steph asked how her week was. When we were done and leaving the restaurant she told us of her previous plans but then she pointed at me, said she needed to go home, promptly told us “goodbye” and walked away. We looked at each other, confused about what had just happened.
Someone had told Steph about an English bookstore a few stations from where we were so after the lady left we stopped by a bakery and headed to the station. We spent a good amount of time at the book store and read some manga (Japanese comic books) in English and were both impressed by their English collection. I’m sure I’ll be going back.
Today (Sunday) I decided to check out Matt’s church. We met at the station and walked the short distance to the church (which meets in the “Bicycle Culture Center” with a giant bike tire on the overhanging). Immediately after walking through the sliding glass doors we were greeted with smiling faces and loud techno music. I could feel the coolness seeping into my pores. Matt and I went into the “sanctuary” where the band was practicing and set our bags down. After a few attempts at conversation we decided to move back into the lobby were the volume was slightly lower. I met two more people who both spoke with Australian accents and called Temple the “Uni” (which I found incredibly cool). The service was amazing and very energetic. During worship many people jumped up and down and clapped their hands and it felt very much like a concert. It was very different from the church I had visited a few weeks ago, there were definitely more than 6 people in the audience. I can’t go back for a couple of weeks because of previously made plans but I definitely liked the atmosphere and wouldn’t mind visiting again.
I’ve had a few instances of homesickness when I think of Thanksgiving and Christmas without the traditions. I’m going to miss getting a tree and decorating the house and the overall feeling of the holidays. But I’m also looking forward to some serious free time to explore and I really hope I’m able to visit Fukuoka and Beppu during our break.