5.5

Another relaxing and quiet week here in Machida.  On Thursday I met up with Richard again and we enjoyed talking for about an hour and a half.  He handed off some things from my parents: snacks, camera accessories, and Christmas presents.  It was so encouraging to see him again.

After parting ways I went to school to drop some things off and then to Citibank to finally set up a bank account.  The man who helped me was Japanese but he understood most of what I was saying.  The whole process of setting up the account took about 45 minutes and I was told that my ATM card would take about a week to arrive at the apartment.

On Saturday the church was having a Christmas program.  I arrived at 6 and found to my surprise that the main sanctuary was filled up.  They showed me to the overflow room where speakers and a monitor were set up.  I sat next to Kaiju (I’m probably spelling his name wrong) a really nice, older Japanese man who I’ve talked to just about every Sunday and Wednesday night.  The whole program was in Japanese except for a few Christmas carols that they sang in English.  Kaiju tried to translate as much as he could which I really appreciated.  After the program everyone headed downstairs to the kitchen/dining room area.  In the middle of the room were a few tables that had been pushed together and covered with plates of food, they even had a chocolate fountain (which of course was immensely popular).  The room is pretty tiny so with all the people it was really chaotic.  But I had fun socializing with all the people I’d met before.

On Sunday I left at about 1 to go back to the Fukuoka’s.  I arrived at about 3:10 and before I even made it to the house I saw Yui and Ayumi.  From a distance I couldn’t tell it was them but Yui started running towards me and I knew then it was her.  The two of us walked back to the house and out in front Mai and Masayuki were playing badminton. When Mai saw me she started yelling my name and running towards me.  We hugged and then went inside.  Yui and Mai excitedly pulled me around the living room showing me all the decorations they had put up since I was there.  It was so wonderful being there.

It is the Japanese tradition to have KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) for Christmas dinner because apparently they believe it has a “Christmas taste.”  When Masayuki went to pick up dinner he found he would have had to wait two hours before getting anything at KFC.  So he went instead to the LIFE grocery store and got chicken from there.  The food was so delicious and we enjoyed each other’s company.  After dinner Mai and I played a bunch of random games.  She’s really imaginative and we’re always playing games she makes up on the spot.  When we grew tired of that I showed her the Paint program on my computer and she stared drawing pictures on it.  Yui saw what we were doing and wanted to try too.  The two of them played around with the program for a while and I even taught Mai how to type her name out.  She ended up furiously typing away for about 10 minutes.  So cute!  They finally headed off to bed at about 10 because Ayumi let them stay up late since I was there.

The next morning, Christmas day, I went downstairs to find that Santa had left Mai and Yui just what they had asked for.  Mai had wanted a fake cell phone and Yui wanted a Gameboy DS and a Mario video game.  Both were quite expensive but those were the only gifts that came from Ayumi and Masayuki.  All the other gifts left under the tree were from Ayumi’s friends and parents.  She told me that they weren’t patient enough to wait until the 25th to open the gifts so most were already unwrapped.  They did wait to open my gifts though.  Mai and Yui got their scarves and immediately wrapped them around themselves (not just their necks but around their waists too).  When Ayumi opened her gift and looked through the pages we both almost started crying.  She told me since I’m not her age she was never sure if I enjoyed the things we did together but after looking through the album, she realized that I really did have a wonderful time with her family.  That was the best gift she could have given me.  But I also received a pair of very nice socks from them and Ayumi made me a card and necklace.  She told me that she knew one of my favorite colors was blue and that I liked simple jewelry.  So even when someone told her that she should make the necklace fancier, she kept it simple.

At noon we headed to her friend’s house where the kids wrapped sushi and I got to meet the first homestay student of the area.  She now lives here in Japan and is participating in the JET program (Japan Exchange and Teaching program) for a year.  She was really sweet and after we played with the kids the two of us answered a bunch of questions one of the women had about the difference between Japanese culture and American culture.  Nikki was able to answer the questions in Japanese and Ayumi translated the questions so that I could answer too.  It was so much fun being with those women and comparing our cultures.  We finally left at 5 and when we got back to the house Ayumi invited me to stay another night.  Of course I accepted.

The next morning Masayuki stayed home from work and since it rained all day we stayed inside and enjoyed playing with one of their Christmas presents, a really nice game set.  It’s two different boxes that together make up more than 10 games including bowling, basketball, billiards and a bunch of board games.  After lunch Ayumi and I talked for a while and I found out that her new homestay student is coming on the 4th.  She’s 20 and has studied Japanese for 6 years but beyond that Ayumi doesn’t know anything about her.  I know it’ll probably be odd meeting some who is basically replacing me but I’m also looking forward to meeting her.  At 4:30 they drove me to the station and we said goodbye.  It was sad but not too much since I will definitely see them again.  In January there is a flea market for recycled kimonos.  If I can I’m going to meet Ayumi and her friend there and in February Ayumi is having a party that she’s invited me to.  I also asked her to let me know about any of Yui or Mai’s school events I could attend.

When I arrived at Machida station it was still raining really hard.  Ayumi had given me an old umbrella of hers and I used that when I had to.  Unfortunately I had a rolling backpack and while I was walking it got completely soaked.  Nothing inside got wet fortunately (especially since my laptop was inside).  I pulled everything out as soon as I got back to the apartment and put the backpack in the drier/shower and by the time I went to sleep it was almost all dry.  The storm outside was absolutely breathtaking.  Through my window I could see the lighting as it flashed and both hear and feel the thunder.  It was amazing and I was able to capture a small video of the lighting and thunder.  At one point the thunder sounded like a magnified gunshot.

Last night (Wednesday) I went to Jeremiah and Geigy’s house for taco soup and the Bible study.  It was wonderful just being able to talk with everyone.  I ended up being the last one to leave.  Jeremiah took a few people to the station and I stayed and talked with Geigy.  When Jeremiah came back the three of us talked and I didn’t leave until after midnight.  Enjoy your New Year!

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futons

It’s been brought to my attention that when I say “futon” people are probably imagining something different than what I actually mean.  When I say “futon” I mean the Japanese futon, not the Americanized one.  “Futon” in the States is a couch/bed, depending on what time of the day it is or how tired you really are.  They can fold (hopefully) easily into a couch or slide down to make a bed.  They look like this:

The Japanese idea of “futon” is quite different.  The traditional futon is made of three main parts: the shikibuton (mattress) is usually stuffed with cotton batting and wrapped in a sheet; the kakebuton (comforter) is different depending on the season, lighter in the summer and heavier in the winter and it always wrapped in a kakebuton cover; the third part is the makura (pillow) and is stuffed with red beans or buckwheat chaff.*  The futons are traditionally laid on tatami mats (woven straw) and because of the moisture that collects inside of them, they need to be aired out at least once a week.  On sunny days they are hung outside for a few hours, beaten and then brought back inside.  The traditional Japanese futon looks like this:

As you can see, the differences between the two are vast.  For my futon I use all of the parts except for the pillow (I prefer my own).  Since Steph and I sleep in a loft, we don’t have to fold them but they are normally folded and put inside a closet during the day to clear up the floor.  And since our floors aren’t tatami we don’t have to air them out as much but it’s still a necessity.

*Information taken from here

 

blessings

God has been overwhelming me with blessings.  Lately I’ve been really low on cash and worried about it since I don’t have a job or a good way of getting more money at this point.  God’s been telling me in different ways that He’s here for me and that I don’t need to worry, only trust in Him.  Being the neurotic person that I am, that’s really hard to remember and fully let myself lean on.  But He’s patient.

Today I spent the day with Shigeko, going to the ward office (city hall) to get my alien registration card and health insurance updated.  She translated for me and helped me get everything sorted out.  After the ward office we met with her 17 year-old daughter (Junko) at an outlet mall (a *Japanese* outlet mall which means only slightly less expensive than normal).  Before we left she bought Junko and me gelato.  Then she brought me back to her house and fed me a delicious dinner of curry and rice (my favorite) and a bunch of other dishes.  We talked about her family and she told me how her husband is working in the Philippines and she’d be there too if the educational system was better. 

She just randomly asked me if I wanted an extra knife and pot she had.  I was so surprised by the offer but accepted.  Those were two things that had been on my list of things for the apartment and here she was offering them to me for free!  Before we left for the Wednesday night Bible study she gave me a huge apple and a bunch of bananas that she had just bought today.  Now my breakfast is taken care of.

After the Bible study she dropped me off at home and I found she had snuck a little "Crunch" candy bar into the bag.  I found that my parent’s package had arrived but since I was not home they couldn’t leave it.  The slip of paper was all in Japanese so I obviously had no idea what it said.  When I e-mail Shigeko asking her what I should do, she wrote back saying she would come by in the morning and help me sort it out.

These are just a few of the ways God has been not-so-gently reminding me of His love.  Thank God He’s so persistent.

garbage

NOTE: Previously these posts were copies of mass e-mails I’ve been sending out to the people back in the States (and elsewhere) to let them know of my life here in Japan.  I’ve decided to write posts in addition to the e-mail posts.

Today I’d like to talk about garbage.  Here in Japan they take the idea of recycling to a whole new level.  I’m sure some of you have heard stories about how fanatic the Japanese are about their trash.  When I was living in Saitama I was only aware of the main trash days, which were Monday and Thursday mornings.  I would simply take my plastic bag out of the trashcan the night before and put it where Ayumi would see it the next morning.  For PET bottles I had to remove the labels, wash out the bottle, throw the cap away and then put the bottle in a bag for Ayumi to take to the local grocery store.  She would also wash styrofoam and take it to the grocery store.

Here in Machida it’s a whole other ballpark.  You can’t throw your garbage away in any ol’ plastic bag (which was the case in Saitama), you have to buy special bags.  Fortunately the bags are available almost anywhere.  Unfortunately they aren’t free and they are color-coded.  Yellow is for combustibles which are picked up every Monday and Thursday.  Green bags are for non-combustibles and pick up is every other Saturday.  Blue bags (which come in only one size and are about $25) are for non-spray cans, light bulbs and lighters and are picked up the 4th Friday of every month.  Purple has no special bag and is newspaper, clothes books and cardboard; pickup is every Wednesday.  Gray days are PET bottles, which are to be washed out, flattened and picked up every other Saturday when non-combustible is not picked up.  Orange days are aluminum cans, non-spray cans, etc picked up the first, third and fifth (if applicable) Friday.  And Pink bags are every kind of can including spray and batteries, picked up the second Friday of every month.  It is against the law to put your trash out prior to the assigned days, which makes sense because otherwise things would pile up and become an eyesore, but still…

Though it seems ridiculous, I do appreciate their thoroughness.  Still, for those of you that only have to worry about which week is normal trash and which is recycle week, count your blessings.

5.4

It’s been a pretty relaxed week.  I just wish I never had to go back to school…

On Wednesday morning Shigeko and I went to the ward office (city hall) to update my address on my alien registration card and my health insurance.  After getting that taken care of, she invited me to go with her to meet her daughter at an outlet mall.  Since I had nothing planned I accepted her offer and got to meet Junko, her 17-year-old daughter who is very sweet but also very shy (at least when it comes to speaking English).  Shigeko invited me to have dinner with them before we went to the Wednesday night Bible study at church.  We enjoyed a delicious dinner and after the Bible study she drove me home.

When I arrived home I found that a package from my parents had been brought to the apartment, but since I wasn’t home they couldn’t leave it.  The slip they left was in Japanese and obviously I couldn’t read it.  I e-mailed Shigeko asking her what I should do and she told me she’d come to my house the next morning.  She came and we drove to the main post office.  It turns out the delivery man still had the package in his truck so I picked a time frame for him to come back to deliver it.  At 3:30 he returned and I was finally able to use my hanko (a seal with my name written in kanji).  My parents, wonderful people that they are, sent me candy and a book I had wanted to read for a while.  And one of my favorite families, the Campbell’s, sent me two pairs of warm, fuzzy socks.

Friday night was the Ladies Elegant Christmas dinner.  I walked the 10 minutes to church wearing my dress, knee high socks and tennis shoes.  It was really cold and there was no way I was going to climb the stairs wearing my high-heeled shoes.  I must have looked pretty funny to people but I didn’t care because I was warm and comfortable.  When I arrived at church, Larry was collecting our jackets and hanging them up, then he directed us to the elevator and told us to enjoy our night.  Earlier that day I had gone to the church to help prepare the food.  The transformation that took place over the few hours that I had been gone was amazing.  The only light sources were the candles on each of the six tables and the Christmas lights strung along the walls and on the tree (as well as some light that came from the kitchen).  The women were playing interactive Bingo.  Each person had to find someone who had “been in a car accident” or “owns a pet” or “liked the same t.v. show as you” etc.  Eventually 5 women won and we sat down for dinner.  Shigeko and Junko were there and during the meal (which was delicious by the way).  Jeremiah, who was our photographer for the night, took a picture of the three of us in front of the tree.  At the end of the night he printed them out and distributed them as we left.

After another game and dessert we went upstairs to the sanctuary.  We enjoyed a beautiful piano piece performed by one of the women who had attended Juilliard School of Music, a few songs sung by another woman, and sang some carols after hearing a talk by a woman who lead a Bible study at one of the military bases.  All in the all the night was a success.  I’m very glad I was able to attend and meet more people from the church.

The Japanese have a tradition where they do major clean up before the New Year.  So on Sunday I helped the church do their clean up.  Before arriving I had assumed that Jeremiah and Geigy would be there but quickly found that only the members of the Japanese service were there.  I eventually ended up in the kitchen/dining room area.  At first I cleaned the inside and outside of the windows.  While I was doing that one of the women introduced herself to me, telling me in English that her name was Nagomi.  After I finished cleaning the windows I asked her what I should do and she had me help to guys put the light fixtures back in the ceiling.  When all the cleaning was done, they started preparing lunch.  While we waited, Nagomi talked to me and tried finding other people who could speak English better then her.  Eventually she found someone and we stood in a circle of about 6 trying to communicate with each other.  A woman that I had met before (but forgot that I had) reintroduced herself to me in almost perfect English.  After we got our lunch we sat together and talked.  I was so glad that I had decided to help them, getting to connect with even more people.  I hope that eventually I’ll be able to attend the Japanese service and actually understand the message; the people are so loving and friendly.

At 3 I attended the English service and afterward Eileen, a really nice 20-something girl from Georgia, invited me to join her and a group for dinner.  They eventually decided where they wanted to go and we walked to the restaurant.  It was really great laughing and talking with all of them.  Afterward a few of us walked back to the church to pick up bikes (or in my case, just walk home since the church was on the way) and they invited me to go with them somewhere for the countdown New Years Eve.  Apparently where we’re going is romantic and a place where couples go but we’re just going as a group of friends.  Should be fun, I’m really looking forward to that.

Yesterday (Monday) I spent all day at the Jeremiah and Geigy’s.  At 10 I arrived to watch Justus (who is four and very cute) so Jeremiah and Geigy could go on a date.  After they left Justus and I headed to a “park” nearby and played with a football for a while.  He was my first official guest at the apartment because I wanted to upload some videos he had taken to clear up space on my camera.  He enjoyed climbing up to the loft and after about 20 minutes we headed back to his house for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunch.  After eating we went upstairs and watched The Polar Express.  I had never seen it and was really impressed by the animation and the story.  I recommend it to everyone who hasn’t already seen it.

Cali (9) and Jazz (5) eventually came home from school and after Jeremiah and Geigy returned, the kids and I went outside to help Jeremiah set up Christmas lights.  It took a while setting it all up and was a bit difficult because the houses here don’t have an outlet on the outside.  We eventually finished and then shared a delicious dinner together.  I finally got back home around 9.

The church has a school where they teach children English.  Tomorrow I’m going to help so today I met the kids.  I headed over to the church at 12, met the kids and talked with Jeremiah to figure out exactly what I am doing tomorrow.  That should be fun and I’m glad I can get involved in the school somewhat (after this week they are on their holiday break).

So again, this week has been relatively relaxing which I’m abundantly grateful for.  Next semester is going to be hectic with me taking 16 units and going to school everyday.  But I’m very thankful that Steph and I will be rooming together and that we were able to find this apartment.  The church has been a real blessing too.

Thanks for reading.

5.3

Monday the 4th was my final final.  I feel very good about that one as well.  The next day I met with Steph and Matt at their station.  We took our stuff to Steph’s church so that on the 7th, when our apartment was available we wouldn’t have to go very far with all of our stuff.  Afterward we went to the world’s busiest Starbucks (again) and sat and talked for a good while.

After stopping by their dorm to pick up the rest of their stuff, the three of us went to Steph’s friend’s house from church.  We were going to Tokyo Disneyland the next day and her friends live nearby.

The next morning the three of us headed to the happiest place on earth.  It was a bit chilly but not too bad when the sun came out.  I’m really glad we went during the Christmas holiday because the decorations were beautiful.  Unfortunately Space Mountain was closed but we rode everything else we wanted to.  Since it was the middle of the week and most people were either at school or work, most of the lines were really short and the whole park wasn’t too crowded.  It was a lot of fun and I’m so glad the three of us could enjoy more time together.

On the 7th Matt’s plane was leaving at 5 pm and Steph and I had to pick up our keys to the apartment.  We said goodbye to Matt and headed back to Machida.  We picked up our key with Shigeko’s help and she drove us to the apartment.  We went inside, checked it out and then Shigeko dropped us off at the 100 yen shop (equivalent to the dollar store).  We picked up some essentials and headed to the church to pick up our stuff.  We also picked out free cups, bowls, plates and utensils that people were getting rid of.  Jeremiah drove us and our stuff back to the apartment and we settled in.  (While we were in the apartment, we heard a cat outside our door.  Even though we’re not supposed to have pets inside the apartment, neither of us could resist letting her inside.  We decided to name her George because of her curious nature.  So a cat has officially adopted us.)  After settling in we picked up some dinner and brought it back to the apartment.  Steph walked with me to the station and we said goodbye because her plane was leaving the next day at 5 pm.

On my last day Mai’s school was having a show and tell.  Her class did a short play and a song.  She played the Queen of Spades and performed her part wonderfully.  I sat with all the other parents on the floor and watched as the children strutted across the stage, performing their often complicated dance moves with amazing talent.  Most of the children remembered their parts and I noticed that no adult stood in front to directed them.

I was very sad that it was my last night at the Fukuoka’s house.  Ayumi made spaghetti at my request and I stayed up really late finishing their Christmas present, a photo album.  The next morning Mai’s English school was also having a show and tell.  She was the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz and sang “We’re Off to See the Wizard” with three other girls.  I was so proud.  And Ayumi invited me to their house for Christmas which means I only have to wait two weeks until I see them again.

Then we drove to my apartment which took a good two hours with all the traffic we encountered.  They liked the apartment and Ayumi said it’s a lot easier to say goodbye knowing that I’ll still be in Japan.  We also decided on the dates for my visit, I’m going the 24th and 25th.  On the 24th we’re going to have a traditional Japanese Christmas dinner at KFC.  Apparently they think KFC has a “Christmas taste.”  I’m really looking forward to being with them again.  The first night was a little lonely once they left.  I headed out to get a few more things for the apartment and some food.  I also discovered that I couldn’t access the internet (one reason these updates took so long).

Sunday morning I went to Jeremiah and Geigy’s house hoping that someone would be home.  Geigy and the kids were and I hitched a ride with them to church.  I sat through the Japanese service, had lunch at the church, and explored the area until the English service began at 3.  It was the perfect message, just what I needed to hear.  After the service I went downstairs where they served coffee and snacks.  I talked to a few people and it was really nice to get connected to more people here.  On Friday night I’m going to a Christmas dinner for the women of the church.  It’s called “Ladies Elegant Christmas” and the men of the church will be serving us and taking care of any children there.  I’m looking forward to Friday night.

Last night (Monday) I went with Geigy and two Japanese women to an Italian restaurant for a Bible study.  It was a good time of encouragement.  I’m very thankful that I’ve been able to get involved with the church, and that it is so close by.

I’ve enjoyed the apartment and being able to have a place but I also miss Steph and Matt a lot.  I’m hoping to be able to get a commuter pass for the train and a bike from the church so that I can explore the area more.

5.2

Sunday the 12th Ayumi’s tea ceremony class was having a festival.  So Masayuki, the girls and I went and were the guest of the ceremony (people could pay to experience the ceremony so we weren’t the only ones).  It was shortened, only about 20 minutes when real ceremonies last for about 3 hours.  It was fun but by the end I couldn’t feel my feet because I had to sit Japanese style with my legs folded directly under me.  Ayumi tells me that the Japanese say sitting like that builds patience.

I can’t remember what happened that week but on the 19th our school had a Fall Festival.  Steph, Matt and I manned a booth selling Mr. Donut (a really good, sugar-filled bakery) and coffee for our club.  We never broke even but it was fun hanging out with them.  Ayumi and the girls came and I was happy to be able to show them a little of my school.  A lot of the clubs put on performances and it was really fun watching them and seeing what my fellow students could do.  Steph and I decided that we’re going to perform a duet for the next festival.

Thanksgiving day was interesting.  It happened to be the same day as Japanese Labor Day.  In the afternoon I met up with Steph’s Manga class (Paul, my Art H teacher taught this too) at the Tokyo Anime Center.  Steph and three other students did voiceovers for a clip from an anime show (Pokemon if you’ve heard of it).  After that we had lunch at a maid café, a resturant where all the waitresses dress up as maids.  The food was really good and we even saw a guy get slapped for $15.  He lost a drinking contest with one of the waitresses and she slapped him (he was laughing and smiling afterward so I guess it was okay).

After stopping by school, I met with Steph and Matt at Sunshine City, a really big underground mall.  We were going to buy food at the international food market for a Thanksgiving dinner.  But since it was Japanese Labor Day, it was closed.  So we ended up eating at KFC.  It was a little sad but I’m really glad we were able to spend it together.  After KFC we stopped by the world’s busiest Starbucks and sat around (when a table finally opened up) for 45 minutes just talking.

On the 26th Ayumi put on a tea ceremony for me and all the homestay students in the area.  It was really nice to be able to see them again.  Ayumi was nervous but I thought she did an amazing job.  At the end she let us make our own tea.  We had it at the Japanese garden and the view was gorgeous.  Unfortunately we were unable to walk through the garden, but I enjoyed our time nonetheless.

The 27th was my last official day of school until finals.  The next day Ayumi, the girls and I went to Ayumi’s friend’s house.  I made another berry pie and attempted cinnamon rolls.  Her friend made quiche and chicken.  The pie ended up being runny and the dough for the rolls wasn’t given enough time to rise but everything was delicious regardless.  Ayumi called it our early Christmas party for three.

On the 1st I had my first final for Gender in History.  I feel pretty good about the essay I had to write.  After that I had my Photography final which was basically a four hour critique (originally it was going to be three hours).

The 2nd and 3rd the Fukuoka’s and I went on a trip to a prefecture about 3 hours away.  It was a beautiful city but very cold.  When we arrived it was about 44 degrees Fahrenheit.  We visited a castle which Ayumi told me is one of the only castles that still has its original architecture.  The steps were massive, some as high as a foot.  Everyone was required to remove their shoes and I was wearing slippers.  They were entirely too large for my feet and kept slipping off as I climbed the stairs.  But it was really neat being able to see a traditional Japanese castle.

We walked around after leaving the castle and then headed to our hotel.  It was outside of the city a bit but was very well kept.  We settled our stuff and Ayumi told me she and the girls were going to visit the onsen (Japanese hot spring) and then we would be served dinner.  She asked if I wanted to join them.  I was very surprised because I had not expected the hotel to have an onsen.  I decided to take up her offer; it was really awkward at first but also very relaxing.

Our dinner was served to us by one of the hotel staff.  She brought us each our dishes…there were a lot.  I couldn’t finish it all but tried everything.  After dinner we watched the ice skating competitions and then went to bed.  Ayumi, the girls and I shared one room and Masayuki had his own.  I ended up on a futon between Mai and Yui.  I couldn’t fall asleep and so witnessed Yui as she shoved one of her legs under my futon and stretched the other foot into my face.  It was very funny and took all I had not to laugh aloud.

The next morning we were brought to another room and were served a very large breakfast.  Again I was unable to eat everything they served.  We left the hotel and went to Narakawa, an old traditional Japanese town.  It was just one long street with old buildings on both sides.  The temperature was anywhere from 39 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit.  Needless to say we were pretty cold but still spent a good amount of time exploring the shops and one of the museums.  After Narakawa we went to Suwa lake and enjoyed the ashiyu, a hot spring for feet.  The ashiyu was outside and while we dipped our feet we could look out and see the lake.  When we got out I felt as though I was walking on a cushion of warm air.

We then headed to a beautiful outlet mall.  The stores were outside and sat at the foot of the volcano Mt. Asama overlooking snowcapped mountains and the valley below.  It was again really cold and the prices were outrageous.  Not what I was expecting from an outlet mall but I should have guessed.

All in all the trip was very enjoyable.  I’m very glad I was able to spend that time with my family.

5.1

Brace yourselves, this is going to be quite long since it’s been just about 5 weeks since I’ve written an update.  I’m going to write this update in sections to hopefully make it not so overwhelming.

The biggest thing that occurred in the last five weeks is that Steph and I found an apartment.  On the 9th we went to the Leopalace21 agency with our voluntary translator, Shigeko (a really nice Japanese woman from Steph’s church).  We were shown the two different styles of rooms, both the same size but different layouts.  We decided we wanted the one with the loft because the higher ceiling made it a lot more open.  After we got back to the agency we went over the contract and were told exactly what we were paying and why.  Since neither of us had the money right then, we told them we’d try really hard to get the money to them within the week but we made no promises.  The girl who was helping us seemed really hesitant to accept that but we had already filled out the contract.  In the end we were not able to get the money by the next week.  The agency told us that was “unacceptable” and I was really afraid that we would lose the apartment.  By the 21st I had the money and was ready to pay but Shigeko told me that they wouldn’t accept my money until Steph’s wire arrived in their account.  It made no sense to me but regardless put me in a panic.  Basically if I was unable to pay on the 21st we wouldn’t be able to fully pay until the 30th, a full three weeks after we had signed the contract and two weeks later than we said we would.  After many moments of worry Shigeko offered to pay Steph’s half in cash.  Both Steph and I were floored by her offer and gratefully accepted.  I met with Shigeko an hour later and after being told the procedures and proper care of the apartment we finally paid.  If it were not for Shigeko, we probably wouldn’t have the apartment and would have had to scramble to figure out a backup plan.

The apartment is fully furnished with a sink and hotplate, a washing machine (the dryer being the shower room, we put our clothes inside, close the door and turn the heater on), microwave, refrigerator, t.v., a tiny closet for each of us, a table and two chairs, a really nice window and futons for the loft.  We’re on the second floor, less than 5 minute walk away from Jeremiah and Geigy’s (Steph’s pastor and his wife), really close to the church and station, not in the middle of Tokyo but not in the middle of nowhere either and we’ve paid for four months from December 7 to April 5 so we don’t have to worry about monthly payments (it included utilities as well).  So nice to not have to worry about that anymore…

On the 10th after my morning class I and 4 other Photography students went with Shinya to Sapporo.  We took the monorail to the airport and it was an amazing ride.  We enjoyed the view of a wide river on one side and the city on the other.  The plane ride was only about an hour and from the air we were able to see Mt. Fuji in the distance.  After we landed we took another train into Sapporo, about 30 minutes.  Another enjoyable ride with a lot of open land and very beautiful greenery.

For lunch we went to a rotating sushi bar (they put the plates on a conveyor belt and when you see something you want, you just grab it and they give you the bill after counting your plates).  The guys ate a lot while Rozan and I watched in stunned amazement.  In the end they had about 60 plates along with drinks and soup and even though the plates are quite small, that’s still a lot of food.

We took a cab to the hotel and were surprised by how cold it was after coming from Tokyo.  The hotel we stayed at was a very nice, westernized place called “The Sapporo Prince Hotel” (actually it’s owned by the company that Masayuki works for).  It was amazing because with the deal Shinya got us we were each able to have our own rooms.  Two beds each with a spectacular view of the city out of each big window.  We were on the 19th floor and the building was a huge cylinder so that everyone’s view was slightly different.  Of course I took pictures from everyone’s window (except for Shinya’s).

The first thing we noticed when looking outside the windows was the ferris wheel.  We all decided without Shinya’s knowledge that if nothing else we’d ride the wheel.  Shinya took us to a gallery and afterward we told him of our plan and he agreed to go find it with us.  We stopped at the first train station we came to and got the directions.  We made it to the station closest to the wheel and looked around the shops in the station and after the guys bought some food (cheese, crackers, wine) we headed back outside.  After wandering around for a while and not finding it we asked for directions again and found where it was supposed to be.  We could see the reflection of lights on the buildings but the wheel was nowhere to be found.  Turns out it was on top of the building!  So we went to the 8th floor and bought our tickets for the wheel.  The entire ride took about 10 minutes and it was a really good opportunity for me to take videos and pictures of the city.  It was Shinya’s first ferris wheel ride and he told us it was “okay.”

After the wheel he took us to the “Think Garden,” a really cool bookstore/artist hangout.  The door was really hidden and if I had blinked I would have missed it.  We spent an hour there, had a nice dinner served to us by the woman working there.  From there Shinya, Rozan, and I decided to go back to the hotel and the guys went to do karaoke and clubbing until about 6 in the morning.

I had seen an advertisement for a lounge on the 28th floor (the top) where I could see even more of the city.  I told Shinya I wanted to check it out so the three of us went and found out that a table would be about $5 plus whatever drink we bought.  Rozan went back to her room and Shinya and I took a table.  It was totally worth it!  The lights went on in every direction as far as the eye could see.  Shinya paid and thanked me for the suggestion because he never would have gone if I hadn’t wanted to.

Sapporo is like Tokyo because there are a lot of business buildings everywhere but it’s a lot less crowded on the sidewalks and streets.  The ride to the hotel was beautiful because the sidewalks were lined with vibrantly colored trees of red, yellow, and orange.

On the 11th Shinya, Rozan and I enjoyed a free breakfast on the first floor.  We tried waking the guys after we came back upstairs to pick up our stuff and check out.  They were still sleeping so the three of us headed to the station and Rozan and I put our bags in a locker.  Shinya saw us off there because he had to judge a film festival later that day.  Rozan and I went to another gallery and then met with Shinya’s friend and colleague.  By this time the guys were awake and ready to go.  We stopped by the hotel to pick them up and then drove 30 minutes to a really cool architectural park.  I can’t even really describe it, you’ll just have to see the pictures I took in the Sapporo album.  Even though it rained the whole day and was a bit chilly, I had a lot of fun.

After we got back into Sapporo Shinya’s friend took us to his studio and we decided what to do next.  Alex, Rozan and I were leaving that day to come back to Tokyo so we didn’t have a whole lot of time.  We thought about walking around but since it was getting darker and still raining we decided against that.  We ended up walking across the street to a really nice mall to find something for a late lunch.  The mall had a lot of options but after walking through it we decided to walk through the courtyard to the old beer factory to see what was there.  The restaurant was really nice and we enjoyed eating and talking for a good hour and a half.  Shinya’s friend then took Alex, Rozan and I to the station and after getting our bags and warming up with hot chocolate, we took the train back to the airport.

The plane ride back was a little longer that time and the three of us talked for most of the ride.  We had a really interesting discussion about Christianity and Islam (Rozan is Islamic) and I can honestly say we all enjoyed it.

All in all the trip was really fun and I’m glad I decided to go.

4.1

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.

3.4

Hard to believe I’ve been here over two months.  There are a little over 5 more weeks left of school; time flies whether you’re ready or not.

Last Friday was quite a busy day.  In the morning I had my Gender midterm and finally got my paper back (I got an A-!).  After the midterm I had a lot of time to kill.  When Steph and I saw The Lake House I started thinking about how tired I was of my hair.  Sandra Bullock’s hair is really cute in the movie and I decided I wanted the same style.  During my break I went to a salon really close to the school (where Steph got her hair straightened for free, go here for the story) and made an appointment for 2.  Since I had some time before our club meeting I decided to go to Shinjuku to pick up some Drawing supplies, this time I didn’t get lost for an hour.  I arrived back at school just in time for our meeting.  Again it was only Steph, Matt and me but I think we all enjoyed our time together.

When I finally headed to the salon I started getting a little nervous.  The style was drastically different from what I’ve had for a long time but I was excited about the change.  The man who I made the appointment with spoke English and after washing my hair he began cutting my hair with gusto.  The entire time I had my head down as I flipped through a Japanese Vogue.  I only wanted to see the before and after, nothing in between.  See the difference for yourself.   I really like it, it’s easy to take care of, after I get it wet I basically just have to shake my head and that’s it.  The only thing is getting used to bangs which I grew out 10 years ago and haven’t had since.

Friday night Steph and I went back to her church for the college group.  Besides the two of us there were four other people (whose names I can’t remember because they were all Japanese).  We had dinner, sang a few songs and talked about Japanese culture.  After we went upstairs and had a jam session.  Steph played her guitar and sang, I and the other girl accompanied her with our voices and the other three guys played the drums, bass and piano.  It was amazing and I was sad when we had to stop because it was getting late.  I won’t be able to go this week because I have to get up early tomorrow (Saturday) morning for the English Camp.

On Saturday Mai’s kindergarten had a bazaar and I bought a thermos and lunchbox for a total of about $5.80.  And then on Sunday Koshigaya was having a city festival.  Ayumi, the girls and I went to it and we stopped by the flea market section first.  I bought a really nice blouse and jacket and spent another $6.  We watched a few street performers who juggled flaming torches and ate them.  Inside the community center they also had displays set up and a table for free crafts.  Ayumi and I made beaded penguins and I put mine on my cell phone.  We had a lot of fun and I was surprised because the whole event felt like a fair in the States.

Since I went to the festival, I missed church in Tokyo and the night before I had done some research on churches in my area.  I found one that was only two stations away from mine and the service started at 2pm.  Ayumi went home and I parked my bike near the station and made my way to the church.  I found the building with no problems and when I entered the room the first thing I noticed was how small the “congregation” was (only 5 in the audience).  The room itself was very small and echo-y.  The pastor stood in front with a mic that magnified his voice even more, and since there were only 5 there I wondered why he even used the system, maybe to make it feel more official or something.  Or maybe he was recording his message for those who were absent.  Whatever the reason, his voice echoed off the walls and after his message he played a video with the volume turned way up.  Though the people were really nice, I’ve decided I’m not going back.

I decided to start using a bike to get from the house to the station since it takes about half the time as walking.  Ayumi and I found a parking structure (because if I don’t use official parking the bike could get confiscated) and I paid to park there for the rest of October and all of November.  So this week I’ve been using a bike to get to the station and I’m really enjoying it.  Monday night it was raining when I got back to the station.  After about twenty seconds of riding, the top of my legs were completely soaked.  You can see what my pants looked like.  I don’t think I’ve ever gotten that wet in such a short time aside from jumping into a pool with all my clothes on.  Riding a bike certainly gives my legs a workout.

Wednesday was a school holiday and in the morning I went with Ayumi to her cooking circle.  The circle gets together and cooks foods from different countries and this time it was Russian.  Amy, another homestay student in the area, came with her host mother and we made a pumpkin pie.  I found out that Ayumi does in fact have an oven, her microwave also works as an oven, which makes sense because of the lack of space.  I was very happy about this discovery because I really wanted to make my family a pie but wasn’t sure how I was going to do it without an oven.

That afternoon I still went to school because they were having a culture exchange with a high school from Saitama (where I live).  I only made it to the last event because of a miscommunication about time, but I had a good time anyway.  The students taught us several traditional Japanese games which we played.  They also performed a dance and surprised us by making inviting us to learn the dance which involved a lot of squatting (causing my already sore legs to be even sore…r).  I’m really glad I was able to participate.

Yesterday (Thursday) I met with Richard (from my home church) and we talked and ate at a cafe for about 45 minutes.  He gave me a care package from my parents (thank you, thank you, thank you!) and we talked about how and what I’m doing and it was a really nice time.  When I got home I made a pie for my family; it was really good if I do say so myself.  Hopefully next time I can make them cinnamon rolls.

Today I had my third critique for Photography and again it went really smoothly.  Shinya didn’t really have any criticism for me and he even told me he was impressed with my work.  After we were finished, Shinya randomly started talking about my hair cut and trying to figure out what anime character I looked like.  Everyone started talking about who I looked like while I just stood there with an embarrassed smile on my face.  At the beginning of class Shinya had said how I look younger now that my hair is shorter.  That confused me since I’ve been told cutting my hair makes me look older.  But Ayumi also said I look less Japanese while I’ve also been told I look more Japanese now.  Whatever, I’ve cut my hair, I look different and that’s all that matters.

Tomorrow I’m waking up at 4:45 so I can make it to the station in time for the English Camp bus.  I’m really looking forward to this weekend and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to report when I get back.

3.3

Since last Monday was a holiday I didn’t have to go to school.  My family went to the biggest Buddha in Japan (not the famous one but one that is relatively new) though I didn’t go with them.  My plan was to get homework done and explore the area some more because they left me a house key.  I didn’t get up until 11 because I’ve had little sleep lately.  When I did get up I wrote e-mails and ended up staying inside all day.  Tuesday was more eventful; I met Steph in Ueno and we saw the movie The Lake House with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves (which we both really enjoyed).  Before and after the movie we wondered around the area and saw two Buddhist temples and Ueno park.  It’s really amazing that they have so many green parks in the midst of huge office buildings.  It almost feels surreal when I’m walking around the greenery and I suddenly spot a high rise between the leaves.

One of the temples had a wall of wishes; the wishes are written on a piece of wood and then tied onto a peg.  It was one of the best visual representations of many different languages and cultures.  There were wishes written in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, English, Dutch, French, Arabic, German and many more.  I took pictures of all the wishes on one side of the wall (I’m planning on using them for my next Photography critique) and a few on the other side that interested me.  We went inside the temple and bought a board for ourselves and wrote our wishes down.  It was really hard to generalize my wishes so they would fit on one half of the small board.

Wednesday I had my Art History midterm which was a lot harder than I expected.  He doesn’t really lecture so the only information we get is from the readings and research we do on our own.  When he briefly went over the questions on the exam it was really generalized, which makes sense since he doesn’t want to give us the exact questions, but it made it difficult to know what to focus our research on.  I ended up writing two practice essays on questions I thought he might ask but when I read the real questions, neither of my practice essays worked.  I had to come up with totally new information and I racked my brain for one hour and didn’t feel confident when I turned both essays in.  He gave them back to us the next Friday (which is amazing since we have about 30 people in our class) and I got a B+.  I was really surprised since I didn’t feel good about either of them really but I tried to answer the questions whereas most people just spit out any information they knew on the subject.  This Friday I have my Gender midterm which I’m sure is going to be much harder (gulp!).

Thursday another homestay student (Megan) in the area and her mom (Megumi) came to our house for a little bit.  Megan can speak a little Japanese and we used her as a translator until she had to go to school.  After Megan left Ayumi and Megumi took me to an electronic store to look at phone plans.  I asked a lot of questions and finally found something that sounded like a good deal but Ayumi asked me if I wanted to look at prepaid phones.  I hadn’t planned on it but decided I should look at all my options before making a decision.  Megumi left us and Ayumi and I rode to another electronic store she thought had prepaid phones.  Turns out it didn’t but we found one not too far away.  I decided to try the prepaid phone first and if it doesn’t work out I’ll get a phone with a monthly plan.

Friday we had another meeting for the Christian club and it was really cool because Steph brought her guitar and we sang several worship songs.  (I forgot to mention that at the church she goes to she leads worship.  I think for a couple of Sundays she was doing it solo…Amazing and impressive!)  After the meeting I went to Roppongi where they had a Softbank (one of the major phone companies, the other is AU) with staff who spoke English.  I bought the phone and had them register my number which took about an hour.  I thought about going back to school while I was waiting since it was so close but decided to explore the area since I didn’t have anything important to get done at school.  I walked down the main road which was really busy and had a lot of shops and restaurants.  When I turned off the main road I noticed there seem to be a park or something with lots of trees and decided to check it out.  I had found a cemetery; it was very peaceful and there was an air of respect that surrounded the place.  It was such an amazing experience.

After school Steph came back home with me and spent the night.  We talked until 11 with Ayumi about Japanese culture, especially in regard to marriage.  She told us that husbands don’t generally help their wives, they are almost the same as children.  Wives don’t really want their husbands around because they add extra work and the less time they are around, the less fights occur and the less likelihood of divorce.  Japanese women are envious of the wives whose husbands work and live away from the home.  It was so shocking to hear that and Steph and I told her what the ideal American marriage looked like.

Steph and I ended up staying up until 2 am talking about anything and everything.  It was really nice to have girl talk even though we were exhausted the next day.  Saturday we went to her pastor’s (Jeremiah) house about two hours away.  Jeremiah and Geigy have three kids, California, Jazz, and Justus and while Jeremiah and Geigy went to a wedding Steph and I watched the kids.  We had a lot of fun with them, we took them to a nearby park and ran and played for a while and picked up ice-cream afterward.  It was so nice to be able to speak English to kids and have them understand me.

That night we went to a church service that was conducted mostly in Japanese and I even recognized several of the songs.  Jeremiah and Geigy are moving into a bigger house and have put some of their stuff in the new house, though they are still living in the old house.  Steph and I were able to spend the night in the empty house (before they moved in) and it was really nice.  The next morning Geigy picked us up and we had breakfast with the family.  We went to the newly renovated building (most of the work was done by volunteers and it looked amazing!) painted in bright colors on the outside and the inside.  The service was very small but everyone was really encouraging and I hope to be able to go back soon.  This Friday is the start of a bilingual college group and I’m planning on going with Steph.

On my way back home I stopped at a station a few stops before mine and explored the mall attached directly to the station.  I had lunch at one of the bakeries (they have really yummy bakeries here, I’m so spoiled) and headed back home.  I made another stop at a store next to my station and walked home slowly enjoying the nice, clear day and cool weather.  When I arrived home I found that my family was planning on going to a video rental store right next to the store I had just been at.  Ayumi was in the middle of writing an e-mail to me when I showed up.  I decided to go with them and we rode our bikes to the store (thankfully, because my feet were hurting by then).  We ended up getting Bambi, The Emperor’s New Groove (my recommendation), the new Pride and Prejudice and a few others.  Today (Tuesday) Ayumi and I are going to watch Pride.

Yesterday Megan and I met Megumi at a tsukiji (a Japanese fish market) and had lunch in one of the restaurants.  I took a picture of my lunch so you can see how far I’ve come.

3.2

I’m currently enjoying a four day weekend because tomorrow (Monday) is National Sports Day.  Can I just say I love it that Japan has a day for sports?  It’s no wonder that they don’t have an obesity problem here (it also helps that they don’t eat really greasy foods and they walk everywhere).

Even though I normally don’t go to school on Tuesdays, I went to pick up my draft for a paper in Gender and print out my pictures.  I got home right after Ayumi left for Mai’s English class so I was locked out for about two hours.  At first I tried doing homework but the mosquitoes kept eating me so I decided to go for a walk.  I walked around the area for about an hour and a half.  Whenever I came to an intersection, I just went in whatever direction looked interesting to me.  I passed a lot of factories and stopped at a McDonald on the way back (don’t worry, I got something healthy, the berry yogurt).  It was nice to just walk and see different parts of Koshigaya that I hadn’t seen before.  (I also took pictures, some of which I’ve uploaded.)

Wednesday was our second critique in Photography but it took so long to get through four people’s pictures that they didn’t get to mine.  I also had a presentation in Art History though I wasn’t nervous at all, in fact I was looking forward to it.  My presentation was on the Greek goddess Athena and I basically just showed six pictures, explained them and Athena’s importance and it took about three minutes.  Our presentations were only supposed to be about that long since we have so many people in class and our midterm is next Wednesday.  Everyone took longer than they were supposed to so we weren’t able to get to our midterm review.

In Gender we’re talking about the Middle Ages and Christianity since it was the main religion of the time.  We first discussed Genesis 1 and 3 when God created Eve and she fell under the temptation of the serpent.  The teacher then said that from this came the idea that “women is the root of evil, that she represents temptation, she is the victim of her appetite, and she is the mother of the dead.”  I asked her who came up with this idea, if it was from the Bible or from people in the Middle Ages.  She had mentioned the Apostle Paul and I was unsure if she was saying he came up with the idea and I wanted to make sure that’s not what she was saying.  She told me that clergy of the Middle Ages used this to dissuade any relationships with women since they were expected to practice celibacy.  On Friday we talked about Deborah the judge and Samson and Delilah.  It’s been frustrating at times talking about the Bible, especially when people talk about the “Creation myth” or when they say that man wrote the Bible to justify his ideas.  But it’s also been a good opportunity to tell people about my beliefs and maybe get them thinking in a different direction (I hope).  I also learned something new about Samson through a discussion we had about why he finally told Delilah the secret of his strength.  It’s definitely been a growing time.

Thursday I went with Ayumi and the girls to a crepe party at Ayumi’s friend’s house.  I thought we were all going to make them but it turned out that Yuba-san made them and we just ate them.  We had the strangest things to put in them: avocado, orange wedges, peanut butter, whipped cream, soy sauce, chocolate sauce.  The first one I made was normal (in retrospect), sliced ham, cheese, mayo and peanut butter.  I made another one with peanut butter, whipped cream, orange wedges and chocolate sauce.  They were all really good but I was full very quickly from all the sugar.  I’d have to say it was the strangest dinner I’ve had (later we had normal Japanese soup but the crepes were the main course).  After I played a few games with all the girls (Yuba-san has two daughters as well) including musical chairs.  We had a good time and didn’t get home until about 9 pm.

Friday I finally turned in my paper for Gender.  It’s such a relief to not worry about it any more.  I was super nervous about my critique because he had been pretty harsh with some of the people and I was afraid that since I have no real theme with my pictures I was going to get pounded.  He ended up being really nice to me and suggested that I focus on Ayumi for my next critique.  It’s exciting to finally have a focus instead of just shooting whatever I think looks good and hoping that it’ll cut it.  And I’m anxious to see what comes of it.  I also decided to go on the Sapporo (in Hokkaido, the northern most main island) trip with my Photography class and I was able to pay Shinya on Friday with the money left over from my loan.  We’ll leave Friday, November 10 after my Gender class and we come back Saturday, November 11 at 9pm.  There’s supposed to be a film festival going on while we’re there and I guess there’s really good sushi there as well.  I’m really excited about being able to see more of Japan.

Also on Friday we had rain all day.  A typhoon has been moving close to Japan and the weather has been quite screwy lately.  Fortunately Ayumi drove me to the station so I didn’t have to walk in the rain.  She forgot to tell me to call her when I got back so she could pick me up.  I ended up walking the ten minutes from the station to my house and almost lost my umbrella several times because of the wind.  I actually had to stop at one point because walking against the wind was just too much. When I finally got home my pants were soaked and my hair was wild.  I loved it (and I’ve uploaded pictures of my soaked pants).

Today (Sunday) Mai’s school had their Field day (or Sports day) where children from different kindergartens do relay races and dances for their parents and relatives.  There were several races that the parents do with their children and Ayumi signed me up because she said she’s not athletic at all.  She figured I would be able to keep up with Mai better (she’s probably right).  We got to the school at 9 and didn’t leave until 3.  I participated in three events the first and last being adults only, the second one I did with Mai.  It was a lot of fun but it was also a very windy day and the sand got everywhere.

Ayumi and I went to another chatting meeting and this time there were people from Germany (though I didn’t talk with any of them), Malaysia, England and the Netherlands.  I started out at the table with two men from Malaysia and both of them spoke English really well.  One man was a teacher for martial arts and he was very energetic when he spoke, it was kind of overwhelming.  The leader of the meeting asked me to move since there were other people who wanted to practice their English.  I ended up at a table with Ayumi and a man from England.  A man from China joined us and we laughed at the diversity represented.  It was so amazing to talk about our different cultures and languages.  After a little while the Chinese man had to leave but the English man Bryn, Ayumi and I talked about the difficulties of learning a new language and the two of us explained to Ayumi the strange parts of the English language.  We were interrupted when the leader of the meeting shushed everyone because one of the men from Malaysia was going to sing for us.  After he sang some of the Japanese men and women sang a Japanese song for us.  They wanted an English song as well so eventually Bryn decided on “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”  They turned it into a contest by splitting the room up and singing in rounds.  Each group tried to sing louder than the other and surprisingly it went over quite well.  It’s a bummer that the meetings don’t happen every week (only once a month depending on how many foreigners there are at the international guest house).

Since we have a four day weekend at school Steph and I decided we would go to the movies on Tuesday night.  Candice told me last Sunday that most theaters have “Ladies Night Out” on Tuesday nights and the tickets are half price (which basically means they’re about $10).  I don’t know what we’re going to see or even if we’ll be able to see anything.  I stayed up until midnight last night trying to find a good English website for movies in Japan.

Anyway, it’s been another eventful week and we’re about half way through the semester.  My family’s still wonderful, probably even more so as I get to know them more.  Obviously there’s been rough days but then another day comes and it’s a new start.  I know every day is a blessing but it’s been easier to see since I’ve been here.

3.1

It’s been a whirlwind of a week with much excitement and a roller coaster of emotions.

On Thursday I met with Steph and we went to check out the one guest house that would let us see the rooms and facilities.  All the other places she called said they wouldn’t know about availability until a month before we would want to move in.  We arrived at the station but because of miscommunication (with many phone calls between Steph and the manager of the guest house) we met him later than planned.  He walked us to the building located on a narrow, busy street filled with restaurants.  After parking his bike he led us up the very narrow staircase and told us there was no elevator.  The room was on the fifth floor and the while building looked ready to fall apart.  Everything was old and disorganized, the room itself was very small (which Steph had been told previously) and the washing machine (there was no dryer) and showers were coin-operated.  We were not impressed and decided we would rather pay more for an apartment if it meant avoiding that situation.

Thursday night was dinner at the sushi bar.  We arrived a bit late and the whole second floor had been reserved for the group.  At first I was worried because I thought I would have to kneel the whole time but it turned out the floor under the table was lower.  The food was laid out but no one had started eating yet.  I ended up sitting next to a woman who knew English fairly well and she helped me with the food.  I was also able to see a whole new side of the Japanese.  I had heard that when they drink they open up a lot more, sometimes they get a little crazy.  None of the people I was sitting with seemed too drunk but they certainly loosened up.  I was so used to seeing the quiet, reserved, never-look-you-in-the-eye Japanese.  So when everyone was speaking loudly and their faces were very animated and they were even (gasp!) touching each other, I was taken aback.  It felt like I was in the States (except I couldn’t understand what most of the people were saying).  I even met a woman from the Philippines who spoke English fluently.  All in all the night was very enjoyable and it was nice to try new foods and meet new people.

On Friday during my lunch break I met up with Steph.  She had found another place about 8 minutes walk from the school.  The women was willing to meet with us whenever we were able.  We called right away to plan a meeting point and headed out.  The woman was very nice, spoke English fluently and seemed very professional.  She walked us to the building which had been recently renovated and is in a nice area.  She showed us different rooms including her favorites (and ours as well) and explained the price and monthly bills.  The place was very nice and each room has a sink (with no hot water but a hot plate is provided) and a fridge.  It was very small but the price is right and we wouldn’t have to pay for showers or our laundry (and they had a dryer).  Plus free wireless internet is also provided.  Overall it was very positive and the complete opposite of what happened with the guest house.  We’re really hoping that it will work out there.  God has been so wonderful to provide for us.

In Photography Shinya is planning an overnight trip to Hokkaido (the northern most main island) in November for our class.  I hadn’t planned on going because of the cost, even though the plane ticket is pretty cheap, for me it’s a lot.  During my break on Friday, before Steph was able to tell me about the apartment, Shinya asked me why I wasn’t going.  I explained that I won’t be able to stay with my family next semester and had planned on moving to an apartment so I needed to save my money.  He said he understood but we could talk about it if I was interested.  He even said that maybe I could work at school, cleaning up the computer lab or something.  I was so surprised that he actually came and talked to me about it.  It was very flattering and made me admire him even more.

Saturday I went with my family to Yui’s bazaar at her school.  I was able to see more of the grounds and Ayumi bought a few things at the bazaar.  There were a few performances (dancing, a band and baton twirlers) and they were very well done, especially for grade school kids.

After we got home Ayumi and I put on kimonos (which took about an hour) and headed to the local Japanese garden where we posed a lot for pictures.  The kimono is somewhat akin to a corset because the area around the stomach is very tight.  Ayumi said that normally there are about three women that help with the kimono and they make them so tight that the wearer cannot eat or drink or they will become sick.  But Ayumi didn’t make it that tight, though it certainly was tighter than what I’m used to.

For dinner we went to a sushi bar were the food was on a conveyor belt.  We simply picked up the plates we wanted as they passed by and at the end we paid for all the plates (about $1 per plate, pretty good).

Sunday I attended the church in Tokyo.  Next week the man who caused so much tension at the building meeting will be speaking.  I will probably go to Steph’s church next week, I’ve wanted to go and now’s a good a time as any.

After chuch and lunch I took the train to Yokohama (about an hour ride) to visit a different church and hear a missionary from California speak.  The church was very small, maybe 15 people and a few kids.  Everyone was very friendly and after the sermon (spoken in English with a Japanese translator, and very well done) we spoke with each other, drank tea and ate sweets for about an hour.  It was very encouraging and I hope to visit again sometime.  (After, John the missionary, took me to a “T.G.I. Friday’s” where the food tasted the same as the States.  I love Japanese food but it was nice to have something “different.”)

Today (Monday) I went to one class and my other teachers were nice enough to let me have the day off.  I was able to take my friend to the airport.  It was a crazy day but on the way home I transferred to the wrong line only once and at one station the map for the ticket was all in Kanji.  Fortunately I know the characters for my station so I was able to find my way.  It’s an adventure to go anywhere new.

I have a Photography critique Wednesday as well as a presentation for Art History and a paper is due in Gender on Friday.  Life is certainly picking up speed.  It’s a bit stressful but it’s definitely exciting as well.  It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for over a month.  Sometimes it’s still hard to even believe I’m actually here.

2.4

On Friday we had our first meeting for the Christian Club.  Even though Stephanie and I were the only ones there, it was an encouraging time.  After the meeting we started talking about finding an apartment for next semester.  Someone from her church knows of several real estate agencies that cater to foreigners.  Though I’m going to miss my family, I found out that even if I didn’t get an apartment I can’t stay with them next semester because of school policy.  And finding an apartment would mean less money and a shorter commute to the school.  Yesterday (Monday) we went to one of the agencies somewhat near the school.  (Of course we got lost on the way and asked for directions two times.  We wondered through Roppongi which is where all the foreigners are since there are a lot of bars in the area.  While we were walking a man stopped us and asked if we’d like to go drink with him.  Uh, no thanks.)  It turns out that particular agency didn’t help students, only business men, but the woman gave us an extensive list of agencies that were cheaper.  We picked the ones that looked the most promising and Stephanie called them today.  Tomorrow we’re going to meet and discuss the next step.

Last week I received an e-mail from Nicole, my admissions counselor.  She wrote that TUJ has been in contact with the community college I transferred from and they want to write an article about me and the school.  I guess I’m supposed to get an e-mail from them with the questions they have for me.  It’s quite exciting, but also nerve racking.

Sunday my family went on a day trip to a smaller, more traditional Japanese city about 4 hours car ride from here.  Since it was the bilingual service and my friend Tad was preaching I decided to go to church instead.  Ayumi had explained to me that the front door to the house (and the key) came from England so the reason they haven’t given me a key is because if I lost it, I wouldn’t be able to replace it.  They would have to get a whole new door and they don’t want me to have to be responsible for that.  But after talking with her husband, they decided I was responsible enough to use the key.  I was very honored (and relieved) by their decision.  If they hadn’t given me the key I would have had to figure out what to do for about 5 hours before they got home.

The service went well and even though Tad was nervous he did a good job.  After the service was over, Candice and I went to a meeting for the new building.  The current building we meet in is very old and if an earthquake were to hit, the building would collapse.  Obviously they want a safer place and they’ve had a lot of newcomers so they need a bigger building as well.  The meeting was to get the whole church up-to-date on the planning of the new church.  There’s a lot of politics that I don’t understand involved in the process.  One man didn’t agree with the plans and his opinions made a lot of people angry (me included).  There ended up being a lot of tension and conflicting views about the plans (though nothing has been signed yet, so there are no permanent plans yet) and when Candice and I left, they were still arguing.  It was discouraging but I’m praying that everything gets resolved.

It’s finally started to cool down, the air is cooler and the rain plentiful (it’s been raining for the last 2 hours in fact).  I’m still a little sweaty when I get to school but nothing like the beginning of the semester.  Apparently the Japanese are really afraid of the cold so when it cools down more they turn the heat way up (and as my friend said, I can sweat in my jacket, yay).  But for now I’m enjoying the “normal” temperature.

School has become crazier which you can probably guess since I’m updating less frequently.  This Friday is supposed to be our second Photography critique.  But yesterday I was talking with a classmate and we thought it was a little crazy to have another one so soon.  We haven’t had any classes between now and our last critique (our teacher was in Singapore) and we have no idea what our grades are yet.  So tomorrow we’re going to talk with him and hopefully he’ll see reason.  The other classes are going well though I’m stressed about a paper due next week for Gender (our teacher said she grades “mercilessly” *gulp*).

I also found out that I will be participating in the high school English camp at the end of October (mentioned in update 2.1).  I’m excited about that opportunity.  Ayumi and the girls were in a dance in a summer festival and on Thursday we’re going to a dinner for all who participated in the dance.  Ayumi wasn’t sure if I would want to go since I might not sit near anyone who speaks English besides her.  It’s a two hour dinner at a traditional sushi bar and should be a good experience even if I won’t be able to talk to anyone.

2.3

My first Photography critique went well enough.  We basically picked three of our best photos and put them on an empty wall and discussed them.  It was very different from the critiques in my other Photography class.  This time all the students contributed to the discussion, the lights were on (in my other class the lights had to be turned off because we used a projector so it was like talking into a black hole), the class itself is a lot smaller about 14, and we got into some pretty deep discussions.

Friday I had lunch with Yumi and Junko, two amazing Christian women who work here at Temple.  We ended up going to lunch at a sandwich shop “David’s Deli,” a nice, Jewish place that the school had ordered from for the week of orientation.  Since the school ordered about 200 sandwiches they were given a bunch of cards for free cake and coffee.  Yumi brought two and Junko forgot to bring hers.  Our waitress was very nice though and let us all have free cake (she even remembered who Yumi was).  During the meal we talked about how God had been working in our lives to bring us to where we are now, all the crazy, random things that have happened.  Junko talked about how my file and name kept coming to her.  She took it as a sign that she was supposed to look out for me.  And we talked about how I met Steph to which Junko said, “We’re supposed to meet each other, but if we don’t God pushes us together.”  So true.  It was one of the best lunches I’ve had and I hope that next time Steph will be able to join us.

Friday night was fun too.  After school Steph and I went to the Japanese 7-Eleven (known as “7 & i Holdings,” you can do anything there, buy a meal, have them heat it for you, pay your bills…) and picked up junk food.  After riding the bus for about 45 minutes we arrived at her “dorm” (an apartment building owned by the school).  It was a really nice place, with a little kitchen, a toilet room (all houses here have a separate room for the toilet), a shower and a small bedroom.  The bedroom is actually the size of my room here but with less floor space since they can’t roll up their bunk bed and put it in the closet every morning.

Steph made spaghetti (it was really good) and we ate and talked.  She showed me the lounge, just another apartment with a couch, two computers, a t.v. and a laundry room instead of a shower.  We ended up watching “She’s the Man” and “The Last Samurai.”  I hadn’t seen either of them and enjoyed them both.  During part of “She’s the Man” a guy named Bobby came in to use the computer.  After both movies were over we talked with him and a guy who happens to be in my Photography class, Nick.  The three of them were going to a sumo tournament with the school the next day and the guys went to bed semi-early.  Steph and I ended up staying up until 3 am talking about random things.  It was nice to get a taste of dorm life.  While I enjoyed it, I don’t think I could handle getting that little sleep every night.  Steph had told me that everyone stays up until about 3 am and they have parties all the time.  It makes me appreciate doing a homestay even more.

On Sunday a group of us went to a karaoke club after church.  It was different than I had expected.  Since I had only done karaoke about two times in the States, I had expected it to be in a big room with lots of people with a few people singing.  We got to the club, reserved a room for two hours, got our basket with two mics and a remote and got on the elevator for the ninth floor.  The room was narrow with booths on almost all of the walls.  There was a table in the middle, a t.v. by the door and the walls were painted with dolphins and an underwater fantasy scene that could only be seen when the black lights shone.  Candice handed me a giant book with foreign songs (they had Chinese and Taiwanese as well) and when I picked the ones I wanted, I used the remote to input them.  It was a bit overwhelming and when the singing started it got really loud.  Everyone who knew a song would sing out, no one was shy about it at all.  It was amazing to see these “quiet” people singing their hearts out, I was seeing a totally different side of them.  It was fun to hang out with people from church outside of church and see a bit of the karaoke culture.

Monday was a holiday, Respect for the Aged.  I had to go to a museum for Art History and almost didn’t make it on time.  After leaving the museum I walked around the area, got some very expensive (but tasty) ice cream and was overwhelmed with all the directions I could have gone on my walk.  I needed to get paper for my Drawing class so I took the subway to the area the store is in.  I ended up walking around for about an hour, asking directions from three different people before finally finding it (but I almost walked right past it since the sign didn’t have any English).  So twice in one day I saw more of Japan than I had planned on, one on purpose and one totally by accident.  But I’ve come to expect getting lost going anywhere new.

Today (Wednesday) Steph and I sat at a table during tea time (12:30-1:30 when no classes are scheduled and the cafeteria is always packed).  All the people who were starting clubs set up a table and a sign up sheet for all those interested in joining.  We had two demonstrations, one by a girl with her baton and another of three people street dancing.  Both were quite impressive and if I had more time I might join them.  Steph is the president of the Christian club and I am the treasurer (though neither of us are really sure what my real job is).  We had one person sign up and some people looked like they were going to laugh when they saw our flyer.  I was a little discouraged but Steph was very optimistic.  I’m really praying that this club does well, even if we only have a few people.

In Drawing we had our first live model.  When models come in our class schedule is a lot more strict.  Every twenty minutes we have a five minute break and if we come back late, we’ll be locked out.  Today the model did eight 15 second poses at the beginning.  It was really tough trying to get the outline in just 15 seconds.  After the first eight we had 5 one minutes poses.  Then two 10 minute, one 15 minute and one 20 minute.  It was very challenging and I was never really satisfied with the end result though I couldn’t wait for the timer to go off every time.

Ayumi has been teaching me a little Japanese every night after dinner.  She’s been teaching me phrases about things I do every day like, “I’ll go to school” or “I’ll take a shower.”  And I’ve been helping her with her English.  At the end of October the community center close by (where we went for the “chatting session”) is offering a free Japanese class which I’m obviously going to join.  I hope to be able to have a simple conversation with Ayumi sometime in the near future.

2.2

It’s been a week since my last update but I can’t decide if it feels longer or shorter than that.

Tuesday Mirek came over and the three of us made sushi.  Since I haven’t really eaten it much and I certainly haven’t made it before, it was quite an experience.  After we made all the food (not only the sushi but tempura and chicken) we went into the Japanese room and set up a traditional Japanese lunch.  We knelt on the floor and enjoyed our work.

On Wednesday in Photography I printed a bunch of pictures, tried different types of photo paper and tried to figure out Photoshop.  It’s difficult because Shinya, my professor, told me at the end of the class period that taking pictures of nature, children and animals is very cliche.  That’s the last thing I want my photographs to be but it’s hard because I love taking those kinds of pictures.  When I was showing him my prints he actually told me, “I don’t like that one.”  It was hard to take that but I’m glad he said it that way, I don’t need or want to be coddled.  Still, it’s going to be challenging finding pictures that aren’t cliche.

During my lunch break I ended up making a friend.  Her name is Stephanie, she’s from San Diego and a Christian.  She wants to start a Christian club and I gave her my e-mail address so she could keep me updated on getting that set up.  She e-mailed me that night and asked if I wanted to hang out after school on Friday.  So on Friday we went to Shibuya, a very popular place to go on a Friday night.  Even though it was very crowded, we had a lot of fun just walking around and talking to each other.  It’s so good to have found someone whose beliefs and morals are similar to mine.  Most of the other students spend their free time in bars which obviously doesn’t appeal to me.

On Saturday the school took a group of us to Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan.  Unfortunately we got a late start which pushed everything else back.  But it was a fun experienceand Stephanie and I decided we need to go back on our own sometime soon.

The first place we stopped at was the “Raumen Museum” (yes, that’s how they spelled it).  It sounds really weird and while it was, it was also very cool.  I can’t give the place justice by describing it so you’ll just have to check out the pictures (here and here and here).  Stephanie and I ate at the small bakery there and when we finally got our noodles (after waiting for a half hour) we were told the group was ready to leave so please hurry.  The noodles were good though.

After the museum we hopped on another train and breezed through a really nice five-story mall.  We were supposed to shop there but since everything prior to that had taken so long we didn’t have enough time.  Before we got to the dock for our ferry, I heard a song drifting towards me.  As I got closer to the dock the singing grew louder.  Eventually I could see it was a big group of people standing in a circle in a very echo-y area.  From the voices I thought they were an English group so I was surprised to find them to be Japanese.  They sounded so heavenly and when they started a new song I could hear enough to decide they were probably Christian.  I didn’t want to leave that spot, the power and beauty of their voices sent chills down my spine.

I’m not really sure why we took a ferry to our next destination since we could have easily walked.  Fortunately the ferry wasn’t expensive and it was nice to sit down and cool off.  We ended up in a nice grassy park right next to the water and across the street from a lot of skyscrapers.  It was a beautiful and relaxing place and everyone wished we could have stayed longer.  Our final destination was Japan’s largest Chinatown.  Stephanie and I walked down the street trying to find a decent place to eat.  It was hard because everything served the same things for the same outrageous prices.  We finally found something reasonable and enjoyed a quiet dinner and being able to rest our weary feet.  All-in-all it was a fun day though, as I said, Stephanie and I plan on going back sometime when we can go at our own pace.

I talked with Yumi, a staff of Temple and a Christian.  She invited me to lunch with her and Junko (the other Christian staff) sometime this week.  So on Friday we’re going out.  I’m really looking forward to that.  Also I ran into Stephanie and she told me she received a package of movies from her mom.  We had talked about watching them together whenever she got them, so this Friday night I’m going over to her apartment and we’re going to watch movies, eat junk food and not sleep.  I’m looking forward to that too.

2.1

This past Saturday my family and I went to a swimming pool in the mountains.  The surrounding area was gorgeous with mountains in the distance and the three hour drive was filled with swift rivers, green trees, and small towns nestled amongst the greenery.  When we arrived it was a bit overcast but throughout the day the sun kept making appearances.  Ayumi and I spent some time in the water with the girls, they especially enjoyed the wave pool, a simulation of the beach except there wasn’t any sand and the waves were always the same size.  It was a very pleasant day.

I went back to church on Sunday, this time without getting lost.  Last week I attended the Japanese service (or what was left of it since I was over an hour late) but this week I was able to make it for the English service.  Both the Japanese and English services start at the same time but at the end, during communion and the offering time, the English service joins the Japanese service.  I found out that once a month everyone comes together and the preacher of the day speaks in both English and Japanese.

After the service was over, Candice invited me to go to a karaoke club in two weeks with her and a group of people.  I said sure since I haven’t really done anything like that since I’ve been here.  Tad, the guy I met last week from ACU, invited me to lunch with a couple new to the church.  We went to a nice Italian restaurant and I found out the couple is from  Nashville, Tennessee and he works with Nissan.  They were very sweet and told me if I ever needed anything to contact them.

After I got home Ayumi told me she wanted to show me around the area more.  We were going to do that last week but it started sprinkling after we left.  It was my first long bicycle ride here and I was a bit nervous since there are so many people and other bikers around.  We went to another subway station and she showed me some shops and what they sold.  On our way back, Masayuki needed to stop at a store so Ayumi and I went onto the house.  A few minutes before we got back she realized she didn’t have the house key.  It ended up alright though because we went to another store (where we got fireworks, basically sparklers) instead of waiting around the house.

Ayumi had told me that after dinner she wanted us to put on Yukatas (summer Kimonos).  She dressed Yui and Mai first since their Yukatas are much simpler.  The way to put on a Yukata is very precise, there is much thought that goes into the preparation.  When we were done, all of us went outside and lit the sparklers.  We had a lot of fun (and smoke).

I am now taking Gender and History instead of Japanese.  It’s a very interesting class about the roles and positions women played and had throughout history.  So far I’ve been to two classes and I’ve really enjoyed it.  What’s really nice is that I got to keep my Mon/Wed/Fri schedule but the downside is the History class is MWF at 9 which means I have to get up at 6.  I’m gone from 7am-7pm every school day.

I received an e-mail the other day about an event at a Japanese high school at the end of October.  It’s a three day event where Japanese high-schoolers and English speaking people come together so that the high-schoolers can improve their English and get a taste of other cultures.  Not only is it a good opportunity to get to see the culture of Japanese high-schools but if I participate I will receive 20,000 Yen, about $170.  I’m hoping that I will be able to participate even though the last day of the event falls on a Monday.

I can’t believe I’ve been here only two weeks, it feels like I’ve been here for months (except I still can’t understand what people are saying, though I’m hoping that will change soon).  I’ve learned so much from Ayumi and her family and I’m looking forward to learning much more.

1.6

The name of the sport is NaginataMirek, Ayumi’s friend from Czech, came with us and we took lots of pictures.  It was amazing to watch the women who were practicing.  They were extremely concentrated and precise with their movements.  Towards the end of the session, Ayumi’s friend who was in the class, invited Mirek to try.  He did a good job following her instructions as she slowly moved around and showed him the different positions.  After she was done teaching him she turned to me.  I was totally taken by surprise!  I agreed but was worried that I wouldn’t understand her.  She was very patient even when she had to keep moving my hands to the right positions.  After the class had finished, Mirek and I were invited to come back any time.  I have to wonder how much of that invitation is purely out of politeness.

My first photography class was today.  The teacher, Watanabe, is fantastic.  He may be my favorite teacher so far (I’ve liked about every one of my teachers).  He has a great sense of humor and he’s very laid back.  He basically said that in our class we can do whatever we want.  When he asked me who I thought would be the ideal person to take a portrait of, I said Mai or Yui.  Later he asked me why I liked photographing children.  I felt very put on the spot and was surprised with what I came up with.  I told him that in the States I worked at a daycare and that I love watching children.  Their innocence and energy fascinates me.  I told him that I love watching Mai and Yui interact, the way they handle situations when they are sad, happy, tired, whatever.  And I said I wanted to capture their spirit.  Watanabe sat back and nodded.

Our class is very small, about 10 of us, which is nice because it means Watanabe can be more personal with us.  During the class he was asking me about my homestay and what route I take so he could help me find the best place to get supplies.  I’m very excited about this class and being able to not only take the pictures I want but improve my skills.  In the photography class I took at the community college our projects for critique were assigned.  One example was taking pictures of things that represented line, pattern, shape and texture.  I love the freedom I’m going to have in this class.

Drawing was about the same as Monday.  This time I spent the entire class time drawing just one hand.  I posted pictures up of all three drawings if you are interested (unfortunately you can’t really see the shading on the last hand very well, that’s what took me so long).  While I was drawing, I also listened to an interesting conversation with the girls at my table.  One of them is from the States, she’s planning on transferring to New York next year.  She was talking to another girl who lives here and has never been to the States.  The girl from the States warned her that it’s very different from here, you can’t walk by yourself at any time of the night.  She recounted several times when she’s had to defend herself while in New York and L.A.  I almost laughed because she made the States sound super dangerous, like anywhere and anytime you go outside you might be held up at gunpoint or get into a fight.  But it is true that Japan is much different.  When I walk home from the station it is already well past sundown, but I feel perfectly safe.

After I got home and ate I played with Mai.  She has blocks with Hiragana (one of the types of Japanese characters) on them that she loves to play with.  She stacks them up like Jenga pieces and sees how high she can make them.  We stacked them carefully, making different patterns each time.  When we were done we would take it apart block by block.  After we grew tired of that game she started stacking them haphazardly.  Every time the stack would fall, she would laugh with pure delight.  If we were able to stack all the pieces and they didn’t fall, we would toss a ball over the stack until the blocks were knocked over.  We played that game for a half hour.  When we were done, Ayumi showed me a page that Yui had written for her summer “diary.”  On the top she had drawn a picture of Ayumi, her, Mai and me.  She had written how happy she was that I am here.

These kinds of memories are ones I’m going to keep with me for the rest of my life.  I might forget the funny thing someone said in a class or the lecture a teacher gave.  But I will not forget the joy I shared with two precious little girls and their wonderful family.

1.5

My first day of school went well enough.  I had Drawing first at 1:40 but I got there an hour early because Ayumi had to go shopping today.  I had a question about my loan and the first person I asked sent me somewhere else.  I went to the wrong room but when I got to the right room, they sent me back to the first room.  I felt like a ping pong ball.  But I finally got the information I needed.

Drawing was good.  I don’t think I’ll have to really buy much for it, basically just paper.  The teacher is very laid back.  The class is actually several different levels of drawing in the same room.  The first level students (which I am part of) drew their hands.  It was very difficult and I could never quite get my hand to look 3-D.  So basically I spent two hours drawing my hand.  By the end of the second hour I was getting drowsy.

My next class was Art History.  The teacher is from England and has an awesome accent.  He seemed a bit absentminded because while he was going through his slides he kept going back because he forgot to mention something.  At the beginning of class he said he wasn’t sure how many student wanted to be there and how many were in the class simply because it’s required.  He apologized for the more boring subjects we’ll be talking about and said we would go over them quickly if possible.  The entire class period was spent just going over the syllabus and him explaining what we’re going to be covering in the semester.  Even though some of it may be boring, I’m looking forward to the class.

Japanese was my last class.  I arrived about 15 minutes early and spent that time reading the handout for Art History.  The teacher came in and rattled off a few Japanese sentences.  I could feel the panic rising in me.  Since I didn’t really pick the classes I was in, I wasn’t sure if I would be okay in Japanese II.  The adviser who pick my classes for me must not have realized when I said I don’t really know Japanese I meant I really don’t know Japanese.  After about 20 minutes in the class I had to tell the teacher (after a very embarrassing moment) that I didn’t understand her.  I explained my situation and she tried to tell me to take the Japanese I class.  Unfortunately it conflicts with my Drawing class.  But after dropping Japanese I won’t be a full-time student.  As a TUJ sponsored visa student (and a recipient of a scholarship) I’m required to be full-time.  So on Thursday I’m going back to school to talk with another adviser and hopefully I will get everything straightened out.

While I was at school Ayumi’s two friends came over.  One of them I met last night at the “chatting session.”  He lives in Czech Republic and he gave Ayumi a Czech cookbook.  So the three of them cooked Czech food.  When I got home I ate some of what they made, it was very good!  Ayumi told me that she is very interested in foreign cultures and since she is married and has young children, she can’t go abroad.  Instead she finds people from different parts of the world and learns from them.  That is one reason why she participates in the homestay program.  I asked her if she considered traveling when Yui and Mai are older, she said maybe.  I hope that one day she will come to the States and I can show her around.  Tomorrow Ayumi is going to take me and her friend from Czech to view a traditional Japanese sport.  I forget the name but I’m very excited.

Oyasuminasi(good night).

1.4

I went to church today.  When Dad was still here we went to see where it was.  The way the subway is set up, for one station there are many exits that end up in totally different areas.  I took the wrong exit and wound up walking for half an hour.  I kept expecting the right street to be the next one, and the next one, and the next one.  Finally I decided to ask someone.  No one spoke English in the first place I went into, so I tried another convenience store.  The guy behind the counter spoke a little English and when I asked him where Meiji University was he told me it was very far.  He couldn’t even show me in a map book how to get there.  On the back of a receipt he drew the station I needed to go to and what station to get off at.  I followed his directions (which were very helpful) and finally oriented myself.  I found the church about 45 minutes after the service started.  Someone else was arriving just as I was and she showed me where to go for the service.  I found out later that her name is Candice and she is from Singapore but her English is wonderful.  She has been here since May and knows a good amount of Japanese.

After the service I met a few other people, including some Americans who told me to come to their house if I ever was missing American culture again.  Everyone was very friendly and after Candice showed me around the building we went into the basement and ate lunch together.  I met a guy (I think his name is Tim) who said he went to ACU.  I was so surprised to hear that!  He told me he found it because he wanted a college with an undergraduate and graduate program associated with the Church of Christ.  So even though I was super late, I am very thankful I made it.  Everyone I met told me to come back next week, I definitely will.   Next time I will know what exit to come out of.

After I got back Mai, Yui and Masayuki where playing a matching game with cards.  We played one round and then took bicycles to the electronic store.  We were going to make more stops but when we got out of the store it started sprinkling.  Riding the bike made me want to get one even more.  It’s a ten minute walk from the house to the station and having a bike would help save some time.  The thing is that all bikes in Japan are registered.  If the registration is not under my name, I could get arrested.  Also I’m not sure how comfortable I would be with riding here.  The rules are different than in the States.

Tonight Ayumi brought me to a “chatting session.”  People who come want to improve their English or Japanese.  There was a big group from Spain there and a lot of them were learning some form of martial arts.  It was a time filled with laughter and fun.  At one point all the newcomers stood up one at a time to introduce themselves.  One of the leaders, a Japanese man who talked extensively with me, told one of the guys from Spain to sing.  We finally got him to sing and he had a very nice, deep voice.  Mai and Yui did a little dance (Mai had no qualms about it but Yui was very shy) which everyone loved.  They all wanted a picture with and of them.  At the end one of the Japanese men who spoke English very well told me to please come back.  Most of the Japanese men and women there know that I don’t speak Japanese but a few of them said a few sentences to me anyway, trying to help me learn a few phrases.

In short, I’ve had an amazing day filled with new faces and names (most of which I cannot remember).  Tomorrow is my first day of class.  I’m very excited and nervous.  I hope I’ll be able to continue these updates somewhat regularly even when school really begins.

1.3 p.s.

I forgot to mention about the heat here.  One thing I miss about home is the weather.  It is very hot and humid here; by the time I have walked from the house to the station, changed from one line to another, and walked from the last station to the school, I am drowning in my sweat.  Fortunately the subways are air conditioned.  In Japan they don’t have central air conditioning, it’s too expensive.  Each main room has its own box attached to the wall.  When no one is in the room, the box is turned off and when there is someone in the room, it is on.  So when I come into my room, it is stiflingly hot but the air conditioner quickly cools it down.  For those of you that live back home, enjoy the weather!  Go outside and take pleasure in the fact that you can walk around for a while and not come back inside looking like you took a hot shower.  Ayumi told me that it will start cooling down in mid-September.  I just have to survive until then.

1.3

The placement exam went well.  I placed into Calculus which is very surprising because I thought I did horribly on the math portion.  The English part went smoothly as well, I had to write an essay and ended up getting the topic I was hoping for.

After the test was over Dad and I waited for my host mother to meet us.  She had tried sending us a picture of her and her family but it didn’t work so we didn’t know what she looked like.  Fortunately Dad was able to send her a picture of us so she knew what we looked like.  After we met, she showed me three different ways of getting to the school from her house.  She wanted me to pick one of them so that I could get a pass.  The subway systems are ingenious but difficult to figure out.  While she was explaining, a woman who works at the school (Junko) saw us and started speaking in Japanese to Ayumi.  Junko helped explain to us what Ayumi was saying.  We eventually left and I got my first subway experience.

There is a whole subway culture.  Ayumi explained to me that the Japanese value their subway rides (she said it was precious to them) because they work very hard during the day and the ride on the subway is their “down time.”  I noticed that everyone seemed to be sleeping or reading or texting on their phones.  I found out that it is very rude to talk on the phone; even when walking around Tokyo I haven’t seen many people talking on their phones.  I wish it was like that in the U.S.  On the escalators if people want to stay put, they move to the left and leave space on the right for those who want to walk up.

The first day I went to school on the subway was during rush hour.  When I first got on the subway, it wasn’t very crowded but on the second stop, many people boarded.  I thought it was crowded until the third stop when even more people came on.  I’m very glad I’m not claustrophobic because the people around me were very close.  Every time the subway rocked, the people swayed against each other.  Dad and I have made a few mistakes in the past several days but I think we’re getting a hang of the system.

On Tuesday I had orientation from 9 am to 5:30 pm.  The first speaker, Jonathan Wu was very entertaining.  He was born in the States and had a big, booming voice and a long, bushy beard.  All the speakers through out the day were good, but as the day wore on everyone’s energy level dropped.  By 5:30 I was ready to get out of there.  But I did make two friends (Seyia and Victoria from New York), their pictures are on the site.  Before I met them I was talking with a staff from the school, Eric.  I had noticed that since almost everyone else was staying in an apartment, there were groups already formed.  I told him how I felt a bit left out and he assured me that I was in a better situation.  He told me how many of them won’t stay friends since after this semester they will probably move out.  He introduced me to Roary (I don’t know if that’s the right spelling) who now lives independently.  I felt much better after talking with Eric and I didn’t feel so alone.  The next day I met several other people.  All of the students I’ve met have been really friendly which I’m very thankful for.

Wednesday I went to an orientation for people interested in Art or Communication majors.  The head of the art department spoke to us and after he viewed my file, he told me he wanted to speak with me later.  It turns out 43 of my credits transfer which means I’m basically half-way through my sophomore year.  That was surprising.  I figured I would be considered a sophomore but I didn’t realize that many credits would transfer.  After waiting for a while, I met with him and he set up my classes for me.  I only have to go to school Monday, Wednesday and Friday but I don’t get out until 7:00 pm.  My first Monday class starts at 1:40 though.  I’m taking Drawing, Digital Art, Art History and Japanese 2.

Today Ayumi took Dad and me to the Ward’s office so I could get an alien registration card and national health insurance.  Afterward we went to a very nice bakery for lunch.  It’s been amazing and wonderful to be able to share with Ayumi American culture and customs and have her answer our questions as well.  She is such a willing listener and her desire to learn is very strong.  When I told her that I’m going to a Christian church on Sunday, she told me she’s never been to a church and she would like to come at least once!  God has set me up with the perfect family.

As far as food goes, it’s been an adventure.  The first night with my family, they took Dad and me out to a Japanese restaurant.  I tried eel, it wasn’t bad but I had to focus on the taste and not let what I was eating get to me.  I also had salmon it too was really good.  Before we eat we put our hands together, bow and say “itedakimasu” which is something I’ve forgotten to do several times.  Ayumi is very understanding though.

Tomorrow is another orientation and afterward there is a campus tour.  The tour shouldn’t be too long since the campus is six floors of an office building.  But I’m looking forward to seeing my new school.  Classes start Monday.  I’m starting to get that jittery, nervous feeling that comes with the beginning of every semester.

1.2

Our flight was delayed but we got here in 9 hours.  It was pleasant; the stewardesses were very polite and the food wasn’t bad.  There was a two year old girl sitting right in front of us.  She seemed intent on proving the strength of her lungs and prove it she did for about an hour.  After we landed, the parents apologized to us saying she was in her “terrible twos.”

It was amazing because not only were there screens on the back of every seat, we had the option of seeing the view from the front and bottom of the plane.  We flew above the clouds and when they finally broke, it was odd to sometimes see clouds suspended below us.  When land came into sight everything looked green and lush.  After we landed and got off the plane, we had our passports checked.  I noticed how empty and quiet everything seemed.  But as soon as we went into the lobby it got much louder and more crowded.

Dad bought our bus tickets and we stepped outside.  The air was hot and humid and I immediately smelled smoke.  Next to the door was a fenced in area for people to smoke and while we waited for the bus I could almost feel myself being surrounded in a cloud of smoke.  The two-hour bus ride was not unlike the flight but this time we could see out the front window.  Everything was so clean, every car and all the roadsides were spotless.

Tomorrow I’m taking my placement tests after which I will be meeting my host mother.  She’s going to take me on the train to her house so I will know how to get from there to the school.  I’m very excited about meeting my host family.

I’m sitting next to the opened window of our hotel room.  We’re on the 10th floor and the view is pretty amazing.  Buildings surround us on every side and there’s a two-lane freeway relatively close (but surprisingly not loud).  Right now it’s dark and I can see people walking in their apartments.  The crickets are ongoing and almost deafening and below our window I can hear lively conversations in the courtyard of the hotel.  I can’t believe I’m finally and truly here.

It’s 7:30 pm on Sunday here but my body is telling me it’s 3:30 am.  Jetlag is finally setting in so I apologize for the somewhat spacey post.  Hopefully I’ll be able to upload my pictures soon.  Instead of embedding the pictures into the post I’m going to post them up onto a site.  I’ll give you the link for it as soon as I set it all up.  Until next time.

1.1

In less than 12 hours I’m going to be on a plane headed for Tokyo, Japan.

I will be attending Temple University in Japan.  Temple’s main campus is in Philadelphia where it was founded over 100 years ago.  I found out about the school through a Japanese class I took two semesters ago.  My major will be in Art and afterwards I would like to go into photo journalism after attending for three years.  I will be staying with a host family of four.  They have two daughters, 5 and 3 years old.  My hope is to learn Japanese from them as well as the customs and culture of Japan and they would like to learn about our culture in return.

I’ve felt a pull towards Japan since I was little.  Because I’m half Japanese I’ve always been curious about that part of me and when I found out about Temple, that pull grew stronger and more real.  The process of applying and getting all the documents was not easy, and most of the time things happened right at the last minute.  I like to see that as a test of faith since I’ve felt this is God’s calling for me.

This past week has been crazy as I’ve been packing and trying not to forget anything (as I typically do when I go on trips).  I’ve also tried to visit people when I could.  Though I’ve gotten a lot done everyday, it felt very slow and unproductive.  At the same time, the days have gone by quickly and time seemingly slipped through my fingers.  I’ve gone from extreme peace when I feel ready to go and extreme panic wanting to do anything but leave and every emotion and extreme in between.

The hardest part about leaving is leaving everyone behind.  Getting e-mails is nothing to a hug (not that I don’t appreciate e-mails) and talking to someone on the phone isn’t the same as face to face.  That will be the biggest challenge, not being a part of people’s immediate lives here.  I’ll only know what happens through what people tell me and vice versa.

But I’ve very excited to meet my host family and make new friends.  I have no idea what God has in store for me but I’m ready to find out.  I appreciate any and all thoughts, prayers and e-mails.  I don’t know how often I’ll be able to update but I will try to write as much as possible.