Lookin around

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Ok so I was totally supposed to write this quite a while ago but I’ve been pretty under the weather recently. But without further ado here is the next segment in this little adventure:

The first official day with my host family was on a Saturday so we had some time to get to know each other. Woke up a bit late (finally some sleep!!!) and came down to my see my host mother had made me a nice breakfast. As we ate we were chatting again and suddenly she shows me an ad in the newspaper announcing the release of Hayao Miyazaki’s Howls Moving Castle and Goro Miyazaki’s Tales of Earthsea on Blu-Ray in November!!! Best way to wake up in Japan!! We had been talking about my love of anime the night before and I guess she remembered when reading the morning paper.

After that the family (meaning me, host mother, and host father) got into the car to go pick up my host father’s mother for their granddaughter’s Hawaiian dance recital. Turns out his mother is a professional teacher in how to hold a Japanese Tea Ceremony (茶の湯). She let me see the room where its practiced as well as the tools and such. It really was amazing seeing it first hand from a master (though I could barely understand what she was saying XP).

Once we picked her up we went around the corner for lunch as the greatest surprise so far:

My…sweet waffles.
This place was so packed! Way cooler and better than an American Denny’s. It even had a small toy store in the entrance that sold small popular anime products. The funniest thing was the menu though. Rather than traditional breakfast items it was filled with foods like ramen dishes, soups, fish, and other Japanese style breakfasts. There was one tiny corner on the last page that had my sweet french toast, which I enjoyed like none other.

Following lunch we made out way to the recital. It was very interesting but while in the lobby waiting for the auditorium to open I was getting quite a number of stares. This was a pretty local family event so most people didn’t expect a foreigner to be there. Didn’t get any pics either. Either way the recital was interesting and the granddaughter was adorable doing the hula on stage :)

When we returned later that afternoon there wasn’t much to do so I spent about an hour getting used to the family bike that was loaned to me and taking a look around the neighborhood. Its a pretty place but the sheer amount of houses makes it quite overwhelming. Here are some pics I grabbed:

Some farms that have been prepared and recently seeded.

Pretty sunset from the grocery store.

More community farms/gardens.

Absolutely beautiful garden across from the kindergarten. This is where the kids spend recess according to my host mother. Also, those are real peacocks they’re raising. Way cooler than ducklings.

And on my return home I found this strange little car parked in someones driveway. Only in Japan.

Enter the Host Family

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Introducing yourself to the host families: MOST. NERVE. WRACKING. THING. EVER!!!
So yeah after a small Japanese class in the morning to kick start our speaking skills and a mild lunch it was time to go meet the host families.
What they don’t tell you about the 30-45 min presentation (until about 5 minutes before the start) is that we each had to get up and give a small introduction (じこしょかい)….

…with only 5 minutes to prepare it…

….in Japanese…

…..in front of about 100 people…….

If you hadn’t figured it out by now

I’m scared $***less of talking in front of any group larger than 4.

**INSERT PANIC MODE HERE****INSERT PANIC MODE HERE****INSERT PANIC MODE HERE****INSERT PANIC MODE HERE****INSERT PANIC MODE HERE****INSERT PANIC MODE HERE****INSERT PANIC MODE HERE**

If you know what a じこしょかい is and have done one before then you know its not usually more than 5 to 10 sentences and about 30 seconds to a minute speaking time. It includes such things as:
-はじめまして
-Your name (duh)
-What school you’re from
-Where you’re from
-How old you are
-What your major is (minor too if you want)
-Your interests (sports and such)
-どうぞよろしくおねがいします

Normally that wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that it’s done in front of:
-All 30 host families
-The 5 program directors
-The president and vice president of the university
-All 9 Japanese language professors
-All 29 program peers
-The 6 PAs (Peer assistants)
-All the university officials
-And your host family WHO YOU WILL BE LIVING WITH FOR THE NEXT 4 MONTHS TO A YEAR

<<<<Fidgeting
<<<<Freaking out

So yeah I’m done ranting now about how terrified I was. It also didn’t help that I was one of the last people to go which made the nervousness build up little by little.

Finished!! Yay!!

So after all was said and done we met up as a group once more to grab our remaining luggage from one of the offices before formally meeting our host family. I was unfortunately too braindead to remember to take some pics though XP
I was greeted in the lounge by my host mother and her adorable 2 year old grandson and after a short exchange we made our way to the car where I was greeted by my host father.

Their house was about half and hour from the school and we spent the ride chatting about little things like how I was enjoying Japan and what New York was like. My host father speaks enough English to get by so we were able to communicate pretty well. The best part was that I was in the back seat with the grandson who was staring at me the entire time with his jaw dropped. Apparently the last student my family hosted was about 2 years ago so I was his first encounter with a foreigner (がいじんだ!!).


When we got to the house I was shown my room (which already had my luggage that had been shipped straight from the airport a few days prior) and had a tour of the rest of the house:


My room, desk (already messy -__-), and the pretty view from the 2nd floor


The 2nd floor patio where all laundry is hung to dry. Japan is very Eco-friendly (because electricity is expensive) so drying machines are frowned upon and hard to come by.
Each house is given a small plot of land on a community garden/field to grow whatever they need. This is the one right behind the house (though my host mothers garden is on another plot nearby).
Looking down the family dog Nene is having her afternoon nap.


My host mother works part time as a masseuse at home.
Golf is a my host parents’ hobby.


Down to the first floor we have my host parent’s room (very traditional style).
The family room (mix of traditional and modern).



The kitchen. A lot goes on in here so it’s pretty messy but it also tells you how much people in Japan are pressed for space.
The laundry room is right around the corner. As stated above there’s only a washer because running a dryer is too expensive and it’s much more Eco-friendly to air-dry clothes. Laundry in my house is done once a day in small loads to prevent clothes from piling up (because of the humidity mold is a serious problem which host mothers try to avoid at all costs).


The genkan (玄関) is the entrance to the house. When you enter you announce yourself then remove your shoes on the tile floor before stepping up into the house. This keeps the house clean and shoes in order.
Only one pair of shoes per person is usually found in the genkan to prevent clutter, the rest are kept in huge shoe closets right next to it (the rows are organized by person).


And finally the ofuro (お風呂), also known as a bathtub. The only difference is unlike baths in the US you must first shower before hoping in (the shower is cut off here but its to the left of the drain plug). Also unlike in the US the entire family uses the same bath water so as not to waste (this is why it’s so important to shower completely before hoping in).
And because I’m a dork: super hi-tech space toilet. Almost all bathrooms in Japan now have these things (besides the very traditional ones). Eco-friendly again in that the faucet on top will not run until you flush and only for a short while.


Open the pod bay doors please, HAL.

And that pretty much covers the house. I’ll add actual pics of my host family once I can download them from my host fathers’ camera. But for now time for HW.

 

Next up:

We venture out into the unknown: The Neighboorhood and old town Kawagoe

New day, New country

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So after crashing for 11 hours or so it was inevitably time to wake up for breakfast -___- Sadly we weren’t allowed the day off to relax and recover from our jetlag (which was utterly terrible) but what can you do?

First look out from the hotel window at Kawagoe in daylight:

Basically Japan in a nutshell: Lots of new skyscrapers going up around old residential houses whose families refused to move.

Breakfast was served in a traditional dining room but I was far too braindead to remember to take pics. It was amazing though!

By 9am we were out the door and on the way to the station to head to school to go explore campus and have a small orientation…all day.

Waiting for the other groups at Kawagoe Station (川越駅) I noticed something quite odd:

Hmmm let’s zoom in a bit…

OMG a new bakery just opened!!!
jk jk but seriously, I found it so strange that a Japanese Buddhist monk would be looking for donations around a train station during the early morning rush. He was mostly ignored except by maybe a handful of older citizens who stopped to drop a few yen/en (円) into his pot.

And off we go! The school is only a 5 minute train ride on the Tobu Tojo Line (東武東上線) to Kasumigaseki (霞ヶ関) but the scenery is spectacular:

Walking to the school from the station we get our first look at a typical Japanese home:

And finally school:

Well at least one of the buildings. It was far too humid to stick around outside to take more pics.

From inside on the 4th floor however:

Lots and lots and lots and lots of houses, as far as the eye can see. And need I remind that this is OUTER Tokyo. Also this time of year the weather isn’t that great and we had rain on and off for about 3-4 days before the sweltering heat came back.

Orientation that day was pretty standard: a tour of the school, a small tour of town, and being taught everything we need to know about Japan (homestay, safety, transportation, places to see, classes, etc etc).

Not much else the rest of that day besides dinner with the PA’s (peer assistants) who are TIU students studying English who had been showing us around.

Let’s skip ahead to day 2:

SWEET SUNSHINE!! We finally got an amazing look at the mountains in the distance, though with the cloud cover we have yet to see Mt. Fuji.

Another small orientation today followed by the most nerve wracking experience yet:
HOST FAMILY ORIENTATION…

dun dun dun….

ようこそ!

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ようこそ!

Ok so it’s been about a week now since I came to Japan and things have finally settled out so I have some time to write this :) Let’s begin:

After several days of packing (and re-packing) we finally find ourselves at the airport with 2 giant bags, a roll-away, backpack, and grocery bag with food and water ready to go!

Stepping onto the ANA plane there was an immediate sense that we were somewhere else. The flight attendants were extremely friendly, the plane was exceptionally clean, and the entire plane (which was friggin huge) was hi-tech like none other:

Tons of storage space and every seat had its own mini TV (naturally a touch screen) complete with a pull out remote and usb insert (for viewing pics, files and such). The TV also came equipped with movies, music, games, shopping, kids channel, and interactive maps to track the flight. Basically any attempt to distract you for the….13 hour flight…..

Let’s just go ahead and skip those 13 hours from hell.

Never before have I been so glad to see a tv screen finally shut off.

The humidity this time of year kicked up some serious cloud cover but once we broke through we got the perfect welcome setting: endless fields of rice.

Not the plane we were in but the same model. (ps This was taken from the hallway from Hell. The minute you step off the plane into the bridge the humidity hits you and it is atrocious. I made the mistake of wearing long pants and a light jacket and it almost killed me. The airport offers health services immediately after landing for good reason.)

 

Yay!!!! In English, Japanese, and Korean. Followed shortly by immigration peoples who can’t speak anything but Japanese, the painful irony. Luckily they didn’t actually say much because after 13hrs the last thing my brain could handle was translating (the migrain didn’t help much either).

Waiting for stuffs. It was nice of the airport to have a free cart service otherwise I would have looked like a total idiot. Followed shortly by customs check.

Soon after landing we head down to the appointed meeting place (which was literally a giant sign that said “Meeting Place”) to meet up with the program director Matt Lindley who was helping all incoming JSP students ship out their big bags directly to their homestay (so we wouldn’t have to lug them around for the next 3 days) and showing how to buy bus tickets to Kawagoe. Buses ran ever hour so there was about 30 min of waiting time in which we got to meet some other JSP students (a few were returning after their Spring semester on JSP was cut short because of the earthquake).

*sigh* 2 hr bus ride to 川越 (Kawagoe) from the airport, even more time to kill. Somehow I actually ended up sleeping throughout the entire ride and missed out on taking pics except for this one (I had only gotten an hour or 2 or sleep on the flight, not a happy camper).

Standing in front of 川越駅 (Kawagoe Eki/Kawagoe Station). We ended up waiting for the bus after ours to arrive (along with the PAs (peer assistants)) before heading to the hotel.

FINALLY!!!!!! Checked into the hotel and got my room all nice and set up. Hotels in Japan are usually extremely minimalistic and a single room only comes with a bed, tiny bathroom, desk, tv, and chair (and a few anemities like hair dryer, coffee pot with coffee, and….tea. It’s Japan, expect tea everywhere you go).

Super tight fit. This bathroom is standard for a Japanese hotel but it’s still really high tech and far different from anything you would find in America. You step up into the room, which is completely waterproof, and shower right in the center (the drain is the small space under the sink) before hoping into the bath. The water is shared between the sink and shower so as not to waste. I’ll explain more about the お風呂 (ofuro/bath) later as it is a big part of everyday Japanese living.

As for now though I’m going to go pass out (much like I did shortly after this pic was taken). Only way to get a college student to go to bed at 7 PM: keep her traveling for 24 hours.

1 week and counting…so nervous yet so excited ^^

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So I thought I should start this blog before I leave for Japan and with but one week remaining now would probably be a good time ^^ Not much really going on besides picking up stuff to pack. Just got my host family’s gift and will get them some sweets right before I leave. I’ll probably start packing this weekend though knowing me I’ll still be packing at 3am the night before with extra stuff I’ll probably have no need for XP

I’ve never been much of a writer so this blog is really just to keep track of my adventures through Japan through an insane amount of photos I’ll be taking. I’ll hopefully update it on a weekly basis (if time allows and when I have internet access) so stay tuned for some otaku epicness! :3

ps If you’ve checked out my bio then you’ll probably guess one of the first places I’ll be heading to a short while after my arrival. It rhymes with 東京ゲームショウ B-)