Japan Trip (Part Two)

The exhilarating saga continues.

Day 4

We woke up bright and early to travel by bus to Fushiki High School where we met up with our host sisters and host brothers. The school kindly presented us with little gifts to keep as souvenirs. Being a school in a more rural area meant the school didn’t come equipped with air conditioning. Each classroom had huge windows that opened into the hallway and most of them featured blackboards, just like the Chinese classrooms I had experienced when I still lived in Shanghai. One difference was the switching of outdoor shoes into sandals for indoor use throughout the whole campus. I could never imagine doing that in American schools, just because of the sheer inefficiency caused from having the 3000 or so students in my high school change shoes and then put them inside a cubby to be locked away every morning. We all sat in on varying levels of English lessons and participated in games lead by a British ALT (Assistant Language Teacher).

ramen

From that class we moved to a cooking class and even though I’m usually horrendous when it comes to such things, apparently I’m really good at chopping cucumbers – the best/most intricate slices in my group happened to be mine. Since our group had to prepare food for the teachers as well, we fell behind others and the Japanese students ended up doing most of the cooking for us, leaving us with only side jobs such as washing the dishes and chopping vegetables. The noodles we cooked were Japanese-style Chinese noodles yeah I don’t really understand either and they turned out fantastic! The fruit desert tasted equally yummy.

After lunch, we divided into three groups and rotated through different classes. My group was taken to calligraphy class first. My grandfather knows how to write Chinese calligraphy (kanji is similar to hanzi) and I had learned a little from him with I was little, so my characters actually looked pretty decent and the instructors complimented me.

Story time! My great-grandfather used to carve stamps/seals with fancy calligraphy used by artists to sign off their pieces and when the Japanese invaded his studio during World War II, they left him a letter. He found someone who could read Japanese and it translated to something along the lines of “We really liked your stamps so we took them, sorry, thanks, bye”.

tea cake
Notice the “koi fish” and “rocks”
sparklers
Children playing with fire 😉

Traditional tea ceremony came next…the matcha green tea tasted warm and milky but it was too hot for my preference. You’re supposed to grab the bowl with both hands and rotate twice. Then you drink on the third turn after eating the included sweet. My little dessert was supposed to represent a “pond” and I didn’t even notice until it was too late. I actually didn’t enjoy the ceremony as much as I should have because sitting on your knees on tatami mats for so long hurts like hell. I had worn a school uniform that day and the skirt gave me no protection whatsoever.

We went to a school assembly in their gym afterwards where we showed them a video introduction to Bellaire HS and the school’s students put on some fantastic performances for us. We exchanged gifts (exceedingly awkward because we gave them a $85 yearbook while they gave us a $300 metal horse statue) and parents came to pick their kids up and I finally got to meet my host sister’s family! They drove us to a supermarket and bought all the groceries needed for a BBQ party with their neighbors. Note: most Japanese drive on the opposite side of the road, which I found strange but got accustomed to after a while. They also bought hanabi (sparklers) which I liked since it was the first time I had ever used them. My host sister’s two school buddies came home with us and we played volleyball in their neighborhood park. I love how safe the neighborhoods, and the country in general, are because there’s a sense of community and belonging which we don’t really see in America. Totoro came on TV so I watched that while waiting for my hot bath to be prepared. The water was so hot (42°C) that I chickened out several times before finally just plopping myself in the tub. After the initial warmness, the bath gets better and it sure is relaxing!

Day 5 & Day 6

The next two days were filled with a lot of hand-signaling, broken English, and fragmented Japanese used as communication. I learned how fast I am at picking up foreign languages and learned so many phrases in the short amount of time I spent with my host family. I ate a variety of amazing food, probably gained ten pounds, and picked blueberries with my host family in the mountains while my host sister went to play in a volleyball match for her high school.

Authentic ramen (not that cheap stuff we get on the shelves in the states)
Authentic ramen (not that cheap stuff we get on the shelves in the states)
Mango shaved ice!
Mango shaved ice!
Authentic sushi (everything is raw - even the baby octopus on top!)
Authentic sushi (everything is raw – even the baby octopus on top!)
Takoyaki (red-bean paste pastry)
Takoyaki (red-bean paste pastry shaped like a fish). It reminds me of waffles.
Kawaii bear bread
Kawaii bear bread
Picking blueberries!
Picking blueberries!
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