Wow, it’s been a while since my last update. I’ve been quite busy and I’ll just do a brief overview of the important events.
At the beginning of March I spent the weekend with my host family. March 3rd was Girls Day (also known as Hina-matsuri) and I was able to wear my kimono for the first time. Ayumi wanted me to learn how to put it on myself so she only helped with the obi (the thick sash that goes around the waist). We went to the Japanese garden, visited a shrine in Koshigaya, and then stopped by a garden full of plumb blossom trees in full-bloom. That night we had a traditional Hina-matsuri dinner in the Japanese room with the Hina dolls (they represent the Emperor and his wife and their court and are meant for good luck for the owner).
The next day we went on a very nice day trip. We went to a museum, hiked around a really pretty river, and visited a really cool shrine. As always it was such a joy to be with them.
On March 8th Stephanie’s best friend, Sasha, arrived here in Japan. Apparently some lady at church randomly told Sasha she wanted to send her to Japan. She was here for two weeks and it was so much fun. During her time here, we went on the Single Ladies Retreat put on by the church. It was put on at a military base recreation center. So it was like being in America in Japan. And for dinner we had real American food for really cheap prices.
The next weekend we went with our friend Josh to a club, club Vanilla. Steph had gone while I was visiting my host family and had had a really good time. The thing with going to clubs here is that the trains only run from 5 in the morning to midnight. But midnight is about the time that things really get started at clubs. So when you go to a club, you either leave before the last train and miss all the fun, or you stay out all night until the trains start running again. Since it was Sasha’s and my first experience with clubs, we stayed out all night. The clubs here are different from (my impression of) clubs in the States. Here everyone just dances and no one cares if you’re a bad dancer because most likely, so is everyone else. You don’t dance with a particular person, it’s just everyone hopping around to the beat and doing whatever crazy moves they want. The environment is safe and for the most part, it’s all in good fun. So we danced for about 3 hours and then at 4 am headed back to the station. We had a really good time and finally got to the apartment at around 7 am.
The next week was Steph’s birthday. We had a holiday for the first day of Spring, Wednesday the 21st and since we only had one class on Thursdays, we decided to go somewhere to celebrate the day. We ended up at Hakone, a really nice place about two hours away from Machida with a lot of hot springs. Steph had booked a hotel about a month or two before and when we arrived, we were blown away by how nice it was. Our room was huge and after settling in, we walked around the Japanese garden that the hotel owned. Then we explored the surrounding area and ended up on the valley floor where there was a man-made waterfall. We walked around the area and then climbed the rocks to get closer to the waterfall. That night we went to the onsen (hot spring) after dinner and again the next morning. A very nice continental breakfast was included in our hotel fee. It was so nice to get away and go somewhere new.
March 24th, a Saturday, we (Steph, Sasha, Matt, and I) went to DisneySea. DisneySea is not owned by The The Walt Disney Company and it was made especially for Japan. After what I’d been hearing from other people, I expected it to be slightly better than Tokyo Disneyland. But it ended up being much better than Tokyo Disneyland. It’s geared to an older crowed with more roller coasters and rides of that nature. Another reason it’s a lot better is they have sections themed after a particular movie. One was themed for Aladdin, another for the Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid section was definitely my favorite. It was underground and you really felt like you were under the sea. They also had an amazing Little Mermaid show where a girl dressed in Ariel fins was suspended from the ceiling and she “swam” around the theater and sang “Part of Your World.” The whole show was about 10 minutes long and I think that alone was worth the price of our ticket. We hadn’t planned on staying very late but didn’t end up leaving until the park closed.
The next week on Thursday the 29th, Matt and I went to a park in Shinjuku to see the sakura (cherry blossoms) for which Japan is famous. They are very fragile flowers and only bloom for about a week. It was a perfect day, the temperature was just right and it was a very sunny day. And the next day, instead of having Japanese, our class went to a temple close to Tokyo Tower to see the sakura. Again the temperature was just right and it was the perfect day for sakura viewing.
After I left the temple I headed out to visit my host family. Ayumi’s tea ceremony teacher was putting on a tea ceremony on Saturday and she had invited me to attend. So on Saturday we dressed up in our kimonos and went to Ayumi’s English circle, a group of older Japanese men and women who want to improve their English. They meet every Saturday and two (or three) times a year they have a party on Saturday night. After we went to the tea ceremony we came back to the house and changed out of the kimonos. Masayuki had come back home from work so we walked around the neighborhood river which was lined with sakura trees. That night Ayumi and I went to the English Circle party at a local restaurant. We ended up sitting in the restaurant for about 4 hours and they took turns sitting next to me so they could practice their English. It was a lot of fun and after we left the restaurant, one of the guys taught me how to play darts and then we joined the rest of the group for karaoke. Ayumi and I had planned on staying for one song but ended up staying for the whole hour. We didn’t get back to the house until about 11 pm.
The next day Courtney, the new homestay student, came back from a short trip to Korea. She came with us to more sakura viewing. We went back to the shrine I had visited with them on my last visit. It was a really nice day and we ended up walking around the area a lot. So in the end, I was able to see sakura trees four days in a row. I was a happy camper.
Last Thursday, the 5th, our contract ended for the apartment. So we moved to the church. It’s been really weird living here, the kitchen is on the 2nd floor, the room we sleep in is on the 3rd floor and all our stuff is on the 4th floor. And when no one else is here, it’s a strange feeling. But we do get to play the piano whenever we want to and it’s free.
Last Friday we had a student art exhibition at school. I displayed two pieces, one from Drawing and one from Computer imaging. There were a lot more pieces than last semester’s exhibition and a lot more people came. I think everyone had a good time. My teacher Claire came to see my work and that of her other students. She ended up hanging out with our group for about 20 minutes and we had a lot of good laughs. She’s definitely my favorite teacher, she really knows her stuff and she really cares about her students. We need more teachers like her.
This last Monday, the 9th, was the last day of official classes. After classes a few of us went to Shinjuku for a last hurrah. We went to “Shakey’s,” the closest to American pizza you can find in Japan (aside from the military bases) and then hung out at Starbucks.
Yesterday, Thursday, I went with Matt and two guys from my Computer Imaging/Drawing to visit the ocean. We explored the island that was connected to the mainland by a really nice bridge. We saw a lot of shrines and went inside a really nice garden that had a lighthouse inside. We went up to the top and were able to see the coast in one direction and the open water in the other. It was pretty spectacular. Then we visited Daibutsu (the giant Buddha) in Kamakura, and walked around Kamakura a bit. And it was another really nice day.
Today I had two of my three finals, for Art History and Japanese. Both were really easy and I’m not all that worried about my last final on Monday.
On Monday at about 9 pm I’m going to be on the night bus on my way to Fukuoka. It’s going to take about 15 hours to get there but I can sleep on the way. I’ll be staying four nights and five days and leaving Saturday the 21st, arriving in Tokyo the next day at about 6:30 am. It’ll be a really short trip but at least I’ll be going. Unfortunately it means I won’t be able to see Steph and Matt off but we’ll see each other in the States when we go on our road trip in May. I’m really excited about the trip and I’ll finally be able to explore the area where my family is from. This has been a life-long dream and it’s pretty exciting to be this close to fulfilling it.
In other news, I have 11 more days until I’m back in the States. I’m ready to come home but there’s so much I’m going to miss about Japan. Steph and I have decided that Japan needs to be move closer to California. We could build a bridge to connect the two and then we could just drive across the bridge whenever we missed Japan. If only it were that simple.