Today is April 20, and I am currently sitting in my host family's house. These past 2 weeks have been a lot of fun, and I'm a little sad that the trip will be over soon. I'm also sad to leave my host family, because they've been a big help and a lot of fun! My host mother is very energetic and loves to talk to me in Japanese, and my host father, while not always home, is a great person and nice to be around. My host brothers don't speak much, but they have certainly made this trip much more exciting, and I know that I've made two more friends. This week, going to school has been a major highlight. Our time in the school is over, but I've made a lot of memories with the students at KGN. For example, today in gym class I won a table tennis tournament against the KGN students. Events like these are ones that I won't forget, and I'm happy that I was able to come to Japan and make them. I hope that even though my time here is almost over, I'll be able to come back one day and have similar experiences.
We had a very successful 2016 BHS Japan Exchange Program. We are back in Boston and looking forward to sharing our experiences with the Brookline community!
For the last couple months, graduation seemed like a far away dream that would never quite reach me until it did. Much like graduation, going to Japan has been the goal. Having studied the language for four years and immersing myself in the culture, I have carried the hope of going to Japan in me. In my mind, Japan was going to be everything I wanted it to be, the experience to put a bang to four years of being part of the Japanese Language community in Brookline High School. And it was. Filled with traditions that date back centuries, exquisite food, temples, and beauty unlike anything you’ll ever see anywhere else to kind and generous people who made sure to make our stay as comfortable and welcoming as possible, Japan was invaluable experience. It has opened my eyes to the world around me. People, no matter where we are in the world, are just people, but what we can all bring to the table as people from all over is precious and demands special attention. As I am about to embark in my own journey to make my own place in the world, being in Japan has reminded that there is a lot of things that there is so much to learn about the world and living it. And whenever I continue to make that journey through Japanese or any other language, it’s always interesting to see what will come next.
I’m already on the plane back to Brookline and I can’t believe how fast the trip has gone. I remember reviewing Japanese phrases, excited and worried about meeting my host family. With my high school “career” coming to an end as a senior, I felt that my four years of studying Japanese was leading to this trip. It was an amazing experience visiting cultural sights and sightseeing locations in Japan, and this trip was truly the first period of time where I was able to test my Japanese skills. The excitement of visiting a country that has a different culture, and a different history remained with me throughout the trip because I was continuously experiencing new things. From getting to know a family that I had never seen before, laughing and cracking jokes in awkward Japanese, to visiting historical sights hundreds of years old, the Japan trip was an experience that I will never forget. It truly reminded me why I was studying this language, not just to get credit, or emotionlessly memorize vocab, but because learning this language is opening up a new world to me.
After a long week of jet lag, falling asleep on bus rides, Sakura trees, department stores, onigiri, and travel all around Tokyo and to the mountains and Gokayama it was finally Friday. But on the bus ride to the KGN school where we would meet our host student, the week felt like it could never have been long enough. Coming to Japan I had the notion that the knowledge that I had accumulated over the past three years of Japanese would more or less come together as I interacted with my host brother, especially seeing as I would have had just spent the week traveling Japan. But as we walked through the school gate onto the front quart yard and I saw the group of students on the other end the red alert resounded with a deafening wailing in my brain and my confidence fell away into the abyss. We were instructed that we would find our host students next to our checked luggage from the flight to Japan. I located my suitcase only to find that no one was standing next to it. I turned around to find a short, thickset Japanese boy in a KGN uniform behind me. I asked “Daura?” The boy motioned to my left, “That is my friend, Daura.” Confused, I spun to see another Japanese boy in KGN uniform walking towards us across the courtyard. He was bigger than the first, and was wearing a white face mask like many Japanese do. By this time my confidence had diminished by a notable amount, but I recomposed myself and started towards my host brother. As we met in the middle of the court yard I asked for the second time, “Daura?” He nodded his head yes. When I reached out to shake his end he pulled his hand back shaking it from side to side. I can look back on that gesture now and confidently assume that he had a cold or something, but in the moment it only added to my confusion and embarrassment. We returned back to my bag and where I had expected there to be natural conversation there just wasn't. After a long silence Daura asked me in broken English whether I wanted to speak in English or Japanese. Shamefully answering in part English, part Japanese I said that we could use both. And then without another word, except for maybe a confirmationed grunt or two, we headed to the train with Kenji and his host brother Kazu. Kazu is the first boy who I mistook to be Daura who also happened to be Daura’s best friend. When Daura and Kazu banded together I took to the front with Kenji. We talked in English about how horrible our Japanese had magically become when we met our host brothers, and we fretted together about the weekend and meeting the family. My one interaction with Daura on the walk was limited and extremely awkward. I prompted him about his younger sister explaining that I had an older sister who was in college. This led to a brief conversation about our likes and dislikes, where I found each of my lengthy answers that I had prepared reduced to a choppy few word answer, or not applicable to the questions he was asking. When we finally arrived at the train stops it felt like I had just completed the Hajj. After a confusing reimbursment of my t-card, a long train ride, and a walk to his house filled with more broken and awkward conversation, I finally met the family and settled in. It was one of the longest weekends of my life, but it I survived and it was fun. Before I left for Japan everyone was saying how I would be practically fluent by the time I got back home, but that is not anywhere near true. I would say that speaking in Japanese was extremely difficult through just about the whole trip. There was never one moment where I could simply relax and Japanese words would magically flow out. I constantly had to focus to answer questions, to express my needs and opinions, and to understand the Japanese that as being spoken to me. Even now, on the very last day of the trip, I can only pick out bits and pieces of what my family and brother are saying to me. I think one of the most important things that I could say about this trip and my experiences is that I didn't really expand my Japanese in the form of learning new material or grammar patterns at all, rather I expanded it through gaining confidence in the basic form of speech that I learned to readily use through constant communication with my family.
It is the end of our trip to Japan. We went around Tokyo to Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya, Akihabara, and Kamakura. Seeing all the shops and fashion in Harajuku and Shibuya was quite interesting. Away from the craziness of downtown Tokyo was Kamakura. There we saw a large Buddha which was very interesting. We visited many shrines and Temples afterward. One temple in particular was beautiful with lots of nature. There was also a mountain which you could go up and see the main temple which had a magnificent view as well. I heard that there was an explorable cave as well, however I did not get the chance to explore it. The next day we left to Toyama by Shinkansen from Tokyo station. The train ride was two and a half hours. From Toyama, we got on a a tour bus which transported us for the following two days. First we visited Shirakawago where we saw the Gasho styled houses. We then went to an observation area where we got an excellent view of the village. we then went to an inn where we stayed the night, getting to use an onsen, and bond with fellow group-mates The next day we went to Gokayama and looked at the houses. We then went paper making. We got to see a Japanese folk dance as well as eat a vegan lunch. we then got on the bus and returned to Toyama where we got on the Thunderbird express train to Kyoto. I have travelled to Japan in the past visiting family, however trailing as a group with y classmates and friends has been a completely different experience. We visited many places that I have never been to or experienced, notably Shirakawago and Gokayama. I cannot believe that we are getting back on the plane tomorrow.
My experiences in Japan have been life changing and I will continue to cherish them forever. Spending time with my host family is an amazing opportunity to learn and I have been having so much fun. My host family has become like a real family to me and I feel as if I can rely on them the same way I do with my real family. I am learning so much more about Japanese culture and language then I ever could have just traveling around．Even Just staying in on a rainy Sunday, doing laundry and watching Japanese variety shows provides an amazing learning environment for me. Everyday I look forward to talking with my host family. Yesterday, I told my host family that I wrote a project on Sado, or Japanese tea ceremony, and she told me she used to study Sado. She brought out all the tools for Sado and taught me how it works in real life! I feel so fortunate to be fulfilling my dream of traveling to Japan. I want to continue to study Japanese as much as I can and return to live here in the future!
This is the second week of the trip. So far, we have been to Akihabara and Harajuku and most popular places of Tokyo. I have seen both the crazy and the conservative sides of Tokyo and I love them both. They are so interesting. Tokyo is crazy quiet for a city, especially compared to the US. Harajuku was very colorful and wacky while Akihabara was very cute and maid-like and frilly.
We went up one of the taller buildings in Tokyo to see the sights from the top and it was breathtaking. It was incredible to see the whole of the city just stretch before my eyes. It was almost like a dream. Seeing a city in an island like Japan just stretching for miles ahead of me made me feel so small and made Japan seem so huge. It was awesome. We went to a baseball game and all I can say is that the fans have the most interesting way of cheering for their teams. From waving their shirts around to bobbing umbrellas up and down to the music, their cheer is very unique.
We rode a shinkansen to Gokayama (after moving on from Tokyo), a much more rural part of Japan. We hiked up a mountain and ate like monks and saw a traditional Japanese folk dance complete with folk music. It was aboslutely beautiful over there and seeing sights from the mountain was so incredible and very different from Tokyo. The sakura there were in full bloom and the mountains were still dusted with snow in some spots. It was so amazing to stay at the Inn and try the onsen. I want to go back because it was just so beautiful simply being there.
Following Gokayama, we have arrived in Kyoto. I met my family, a mother, a daughter, and a dog. They have a weiner dog and she is the cutest thing I have ever seen in my life. She waddles. It is hilarious. My host sister is sixteen and the most adorable thing. She is always laughing and taking snapchats of me and other people. She loves to study together, me in Japanese and her in English. We spent hours this weekend just talking and eating sweets all day and it was awesome. My host mother works in a nursing home and is the sweetest person and always makes great food and is always trying to make sure my sister and I are alright.
School is amazing and people keep calling me cute. It is embarrassing and awesome at the same time. The school is very different and the way these students at this specific school have classes is especially different from BHS and what I am used to. However it has all been lovely. Today was the last day of classes for me and I am sad to stop going to school because I already made a ton of friends at this school.
Tomorrow, we plan on doing meditation among monks and going to a temple and I am so excited. And then, unfortunately, we will be returning to America. It feels like I have been here for so long and not at all as if it flew by. It feels so long but at this moment I feel like I do not want to go back to America and that there is still so much to do. This experience has been so unbelievable. I have definitely learned many things outside of just studying and practicing my language skills that I will be bringing back to America with me. Japan is an incredible place and I am so blessed to be here right now. That is all I can say.
Today we had a special meditation with Taka Kawakami at Shunkoin, where we learned about mindfulness and practiced some quiet meditation. We were treated to a garden tour and Japanese sweets with matcha green tea. In the afternoon, we had a special farewell Buddhist vegetarian lunch at Shigetsu inside Tenruyji Temple and toured the beautiful gardens and Bamboo Grove. We walked through the gardens of Ohkohchi-sanso and once again enjoyed green tea and traditional sweets. Despite the rain, it was a lovely day!
Please enjoy the photos from school today- the girls played soccer and the boys played Ping Pong in gym class. Neel was the ping pong champion of the class! We then had English class third period. In the afternoon, we learned to make yatsuhashi, a classic Kyoto specialty made from rice and red bean paste.