Saturday, June 24, 2006

Hanging with Yurina

In case you dont know, Yurina is my younger host sister. She is 12 years old and is in middle school. She is extremely shy because she really doesn't know English. She actually attends Japanese cram school, Juku, for English. Because she is shy, it is hard for me to talk to her, but I have made the effort and we have had a lot of fun. The first picture is of me playing Ohajiki (Japanese marble game) with Yurina. The second is me playing DS with Yurina! Yes Nintendo! It is fun to play videogames universally. (I'm sorry to say though that animal crossing multiplayer doesn't work between languages. We tried... and I'm checking into WiFi info.) {that comment was for you Adam!}

Just some random pics

Some of Erika's school friends with me.
It's sometimes sort of awkard that everyone wants pictures with the American kid, but I like it!

Erika at home, studying.
She has a lot of big tests coming up.


I am very glad I got to experience the tea ceremony. It was very interesting. First everything is set up. The cups and bowls and the sweets, which can be considered a light meal. The bright green tea powder, matcha, is sifted, and the tea ceremony is ready to go. We did a role play of hosts and guests. I was obviously the guest both times. I was amazed at how articulate the ceremony was. Every little bow and sip is watched. There is an order to everything, including how many times to bow, sip, turn the cup, and even view. The first half of the ceremony is Wagashi, which is Japanese traditional sweet cakes made of rice, jellies, and sweet bean pastes. They are very delicious, and very beautiful. The one I was served had blue jelly water with a small fish-shaped jelly ontop. (Recall the visually pleasing food note !)
Later that night I found out that Ojiisan used to be a wagashi maker, that is the kind of candy maker he was. The second half of the ceremony was the tea. There is a lot of things done during this part. You bow a lot, turn the glass and sip in a certain order. Also when you are finished, you take time to focus on and appreciate the beauty of the ceramics!... twice! The tea ceremony was very educational. I am so glad I did it. During the ceremony we sit in Seiza style, which is on your knees with your butt resting on your heels and the tops of your feet lie flat on the floor, the back straight with hands in lap. (seiza, literally means "correct sitting") It was difficult to maintain that position. About 3 minutes into the ceremony my circulation cut off. I didn't want to offend anyone so I pulled through. It hurt when I got up, haha, but I felt very cultural doing it! We did the ceremony twice. It was great. The photos are of me bowing one of several dozen times, and the other is the group that did the ceremony. The sadou sensei is next to me. She is very old and cute. She is very small. I am taller than her even when I'm kneeling! She didn't speak English, but she was extremely happy to teach me sadou: the way of the tea! It was a great experience that was done in the most graceful, most polite, most tranquil, and most perfect way.

Tea Ceremony

Sadou classroom
(It has a mini Buddhist shrine in the back.)

Me with other sadou students kneeling for a Japanese tea ceremony.

After school Erika had tests, so I was invited to a traditional Tea ceremony in school. In Japanese it is called sadou. It was so great that the school had a tea ceremony classroom. It had very nice tatami flooring. You had to take all slippers off and only wear socks.

The rest of the school day

Some other classes that I attended that day were Japanese history, Buddhism, Literature, and English. In English, I was asked to read a few pages of a book out loud to the class. Even though the class learns English, they learn it with a Japanese accent. They rarely get to hear real American English from a native speaker. The other classes I barely understood. Next week I will be allowed to visit the library when I don't understand that particular class.


This post is about Obento, or Japanese lunch boxes. Every kid at school has them. I think they are very neat. There is no "brown baggin it" in Japan like there is in America, lol. Everyone's lunch is very visually appealing. Each lunch may have mini sandwiches or rice balls, some veggies, fruit, and maybe a few bite size pieces of meat. I had small pieces of breaded chicken in mine. They are all arranged very neatly, and come with chopsticks. My set is orange. Also obento boxes are wrapped with a handkerchief and put in a small carrying bag. The whole process is very interesting to me. Most importantly, they are delicious! (oishii!)

Cubby holes

I think I may have already mentioned this, but Japanese schools have cubby holes for shoes. You wear indoor slippers inside, and change into different shoes for the bathroom, kitchen, and gym. It is interesting.

Japanese people like to put small keychains on bags and cellphones. This pic is dedicated to my brother Adam! KERORO GUNSO!!!!!!

More cooking!

The class may have been fun, but... the food wasn't, lol.
The teacher said the success rate in the class is 50% .... and well, our group wasn't one of them, haha. So far, I have really enjoyed Japanese food, but I didnt like the Donburi. I dont think semi cooked egg, chicken, and fish broth cooked over veggies and rice really belong together.
The picture is of my donburi.

This picture is supposed to be just of the shoe cubby holes before entering the kitchen, but the picture serves as another learning experience. Japanese people love to jump into any picture they can, lol. This girl randomly jumped in with a peace sign just at the right moment, lol.
Very funny.


For the next two class periods, I was taken to join a different class for cooking! It was awesome. There is a classroom devoted just to cooking education. The dish of the day was Donburi, which I think its meaning might have some relation to the parent and child, since it contains egg and chicken. I'm not sure, in any case it is a "rice bowl dish" that is something like a sweetened or savory stew served over rice. The ingredients are set at the last minute with egg.

The girls spoke only a few words of English, hot, stop, go, etc., but it was still fun. My job was making the rice, cutting and washing veggies, and then cracking eggs. It was fun.

Me with some cooking students and the cooking sensei who is behind us.

Me eating the final product with my classmates.
ITADAKIMAS! (Let's eat!)

Second day of school

I woke up at 5:45 again and had breakfast with my host father. He usually works very late, so unless I stay up late, breakfast is our only time to talk. His English is very limited, but he is so funny! I really like talking with him. He is very happy to host me. We drove to school today by car because it was raining. Hahah, on the news this morning chance of rain was 90-100 percent for the whole day! The first period of class was English vocabulary. It was fun helping some of my classmates study. Second period was home care. We walked to another classroom where there were items that all had to do with sewing. It was neat. The girls really enjoyed the class and like the big sewing machines. The boys on the other hand, didn't do much, lol, as you can see by the picture. I think as far as they got was cutting the cloth for their projects, lol. It was a really fun class. The pictures are of the girls' table and one of the boys' tables. There are a lot more boys in my class than girls. It is funny because the boys and girls talk a lot with each other, but never sit with each other, even at lunch.

The purikura arcade

These pics are of the purikura arcade entrance, and the inside with all of the machines.

It was an awesome day. I got home and was exhausted.
For dinner we had curry rice. I have never had curry before, but it actually was really good. It was like a spicy beef stew with meat and beans over rice. I liked it. I went to bed right after dinner.
My first day of school was great, I can't wait for number 2.


The next step is to walk to the outside of the machine. There is another screen which is a touch pad, and has styluses. There you draw, color, write, and stamp all over your pictures. The only way to describe it is, well.... very Japanese, haha. I had a blast. The pictures are tiny stickers, but are very cool to keep. Japanese teens stick them everywhere, books, gameboys, cellphones etc. The cool thing is that you can also email them at the station! The one example below was emailed right to me! The pictures on this post are of the drawing board and of the slot where the masterpiece comes out with all of your pics.


... Wow where do I begin on this post. After Ufufu, Erika took me to one of her favorite things to do: purikura. Purikura is this crazy Japanese pasttime of creative sticker booths. The purikura arcade had dozens of machines. It is wild. Everything is super brightly colored. The steps to purikura is to put in money... about four dollars, and then step into the pure white picture section. On the conputer screen you first pick music you want to listen to while taking pictures (crazy). Then you pick from an array of random backgrouds, and within a minute about a dozen pictures are taken in which you jump into random poses. Then you pick the ones you want.

More Ufufu pics!

Erika, my host sister (left) and her friend Honami.

My tiramisu parfait. Mmmmmmm... so good, I am beginning to see why the Eki is so popular. There were many, many students in their uniforms walking around small shops and restaraunts. It's very cool.

... back to after school fun

So where was I... We got off the bus at the eki, (train station) which has a mall attached to it. I followed Erika and Honami in, and we went to this small restaurant that is known for their parfaits. The restaurant was called Ufufu, lol; funny name. I guess it means to laugh or chuckle. Notice the Japanese onomatopoeia... or however you spell it. They have many words that resemble their real sound. The restaurant had western style seating, but we sat down at a Japanese style booth where you kneel around the table. Somewhat uncomfortable, but very cool. The menu for parfaits was huge! So many variations and flavors, all artistically decorated with fruit and nuts. Japanese people like their food to be visually pleasing. I've noticed that with obento and other dishes as well. Anyways, Erika got Japanese sweet cake ice cream, Honami got the very berry parfait and I got tiramisu. It had coffee ice cream, a real slice of tiramisu and lots of fruit. The girls' parfaits were very cool too! Every thing was awesome. I had a great time.

Entrance to Ufufu restaurant

Our Japanese style booth

More school photos

Oops. These first day of school pics didn't fit
into my super long school post, lol.

The pictures are just of my classroom with some kids walking around.

Friday, June 23, 2006

After school...

We left school at about quarter after 6:00pm, which is normal leaving time for the students, if not later. It was a looooong day! It was raining out, so Erika said we would take a bus instead of riding our bikes home. It rains a lot in Saga. Buses are a main form of transportation in Saga. It was a surprise to me that home wasn't our first stop. Erika and her friend, Honami wanted to stop at the eki first. The eki means train station. The train station has something like a mini-sized mall attached to it. It is a teen hotspot. It is right in the middle of downtown Saga, which has many large buildings, stores, restaurants, and lights. I saw many kids in their school uniforms there. It turned out to be a blast. I'll share what we did in the next post due to picture restraints.
The pictures on this post are of Erika and her friend Honami on the bus, and the second pic is what the bus looks like inside.

Extra Photos

This is my finished caligraphy... not so good. But Sensei says I will keep practicing so as to bring a good copy back to America.

The teacher workroom at Ryukoku High School.

More caligraphy

More pics of caligraphy. The first is the caligraphy sensei critiquing the student's work. Notice the finished products behind him. They are nice. The other pic is a close-up of the advanced student's work. It is very cool.


The teacher that came to get me was the Caligraphy sensei. While Erika was taking her test, he was going to teach me the basics of caligraphy. He barely spoke English, but he still taught me a lot. We started by doing my name in the katakana alphabet. I quickly found that it is much harder than it seems. The japanese really scrutinize every stroke, angle, and brush swipe. Only after doing my name countless times did I begin to appreciate the artform of caligraphy. There is a delicate touch to getting the "perfect" strokes. By the way, the finished one next to me in the picture is the teacher's example. That is why it is so good! I got to bring home a copy of my good one for my host family. The other picture is of a very talented advanced caligraphy student. She is studying the "cursive" form of Japanese characters.

They have come back to haunt me!

So I thought I was done with chemistry and Algebra II for life as of last week during finals. WRONG. I am studying it now in Japan! Ahhhhhhhh! It has come back to haunt me! In chem, the students were learning about balancing equations. I helped some. I thought chem was hard enough, but think of it in Japanese!! (see pic... beware, very scary lol). Math was the same. The teacher was actually checking that I was taking notes! They were doing parabolas... grrr.. hate that too. The teacher wrote an equation on the board and asked if I knew it. I recognized right away that it was the quadratic formula. Then, without thinking, I started singing out loud. "X equals negetive B, plus or minus square root of, b squared minus 4 a c, all over 2 a!" (We learned it in algebra to the tune of the Notre Dame fight song. Everyone turned and stared at me... Everyone at Athens would have understood what I was singing, lol. They all laughed. I then had to explain it all. School ended at 3:30, but it wasn't the end. After school, all the students pull out brooms, mops, and sponges, and begin to clean the classroom. The school has no janitorial staff to do that. After this, Erika had to take an important test, so a teacher came and got me from the class.

Erika and me in the class with our school uniforms on.


Lunch time was very fun. First Takeshi and some other people took me downstairs to the cafeteria. The cafeteria was very, very small only for the small portion of the school that purchased lunch. The guys bought noodle bowls and rice dishes and we sat down. I had my obento (Japanese lunch box) from home. It was fun.
Takeshi went and bought me a Calpis drink (it is the name of the drink) from the vending machine. They told me to try it. When I did, they all laughed. It definitely wasn't that great. It was like flat pop. Oh well, I drank it. I am still dehydrated from the trip, the jet lag. I mean with a name like Calpis, it can't be good, but it is still very popular in Japan. I tried explaining to them why Americans think the name is funny, how is sounds like cow urine, haha. They were confused.
After that, we went back to the classroom where everyone else was eating lunch. In Japan, most everyone eats lunch in the classroom. I passed out some Starburst and everyone devoured them. They were so excited that I had "Amerika kyandii!" lol.

Me with the guys in my class while in the cafeteria, and my obento box. ( I'll explain more about obento later.)

School cont'd...

The next class was Japanese Literature. The other teachers realized the fact that I only understood very limited Japanese, except for this teacher, haha. He kept asking me questions, and even when I couldn't answer, would ask me more!... he really likes Earnest Hemingway, because he kept asking me if I "had seen Hemingway"... idk. English was next. It was really fun. First, the students had to get up in front of the class and introduce themselves to me in English. All of them said only 2 sentences. My name is... My freetime is..., that's it. After that I went up, introduced myself in Japanese, and talked about where I am from. I drew the U.S. on the board. They asked me a bunch of cities, and I would star them on my "map". They were actually entertained by that. Lastly, they asked me questions in English and I would answer in Japanese. It was fun practice for all of us. I got a lot of questions about movies and music, but also some fun ones. Some of the best were: "Do you have a steady girlfriend in America?" and the very best was "If you had a dollar what would you do?". Haha. I was just as confused as you probably are with that one. The teacher ended up changing it to what can you purchase for one dollar in America. Everyone laughed. English was great. After that was lunch. The pic is me with Takeshi who was one of the extremely outgoing students in the class. Many of the others were VERY shy, but really wanted to talk.

First day of school continued...

The first class was English grammer. The students were learning about the usage of may, might, was, has been, etc. Next was Japanese History. I had no clue what was going on, haha. During that period I just studied my own Japanese. When the bell rang for the end of the period, I found out it was gym time in the most abrupt way. Space is limited in Japan, so who needs a locker room, lol? When the bell rang, everyone just started taking off their clothes right in the classroom and putting on there gym stuff. Well, the saying goes "when in Rome..." so I followed suit, haha. That was something I wasn't expecting. Gym was a blast. I left my camera in the classroom, so I'll get pics of that next time. We played volleyball. It was really cool because some guys immediately guided me through the school and wanted me to be on their team. Whenever we changed courts to play another class, everyone would want to give me a high five... just because they were playing against an American, haha. Our team did very well. I had a lot of fun. Back in the classroom everyone changed back into their uniforms. It gets very hot in Saga, so everyone has fans, and also a rag to wipe off the sweat! It is definitely necessary. There is air conditioning, but after coming back from the hot gym, it doesn't do too much. It also rains alot this time of year. It rained about 7 times really hard during class. It is nice because each class has a window to the outside, and glass windows to the hallway. It is much better than the "dungeon rooms" at Athens. The first pic is of Erika, her friends, and me in class, and the second pic is with me and Toshi, who sits next to me and is really nice. He plays soccer, too. He was very bummed when Japan lost to Brazil, lol.

My first day of school!

Today was my first day of school! I was really excited, but also nervous. I woke up at 5:45, and ate breakfast with Erika. I got my uniform together and everything set. We were out the door by 6:30am. I get to use my host dad's bike. It is good. After 5 minutes out by bike, I realized I forgot something. My gym clothes! Erika told me last night that today was gym, and I forgot. We quickly returned home to get them. I was really embarassed. Anyways, the second bike ride went well. It definitely is 40 minutes, if not more, to get to school. It is neat though, because we ride through the more city-like or "downtown" part of Saga. Finally we got to school, went in, and changed shoes into indoor slippers. Each student has a cubby hole! We got there as the bell was ringing, so we sprinted up the stairs to the 3rd level where the classroom is. There are 3 levels in the school and it is big, but there are only so many rooms per floor. Athens High School is still much bigger. (Japanese school starts at 7:30am.) My desk was right in the back of the class. After homeroom attendance, there is a 15 minute break for teachers to get situated. All of the classmates were introducing themselves to me and talking. It was very cool. Their English is extremely basic, so there is a big language barier, but we still manage to have good conversations. During breaktime the classroom is crazy. Everyone is moving around, loud, and even the desks are moved around. But as soon as the teacher steps in, everyone rearanges everything properly, and the class leader orders everyone to stand at attention and bow. It is cool. In the morning, there is also a prayer on the speaker anouncements. I think I already mentioned this, but it is a Buddist school, and there are two short prayer times during the day. The class is very fun, and everyone is extremely nice. Japanese schools are similar to European ones. The students stay together the whole year in the same classroom, while the teachers move around. Also, students don't have the same classes each day. Schedules rotate. I'm not sure yet what I prefer, American or Japanese/European class styles. I'll update later. It was really cool because students from other classrooms were coming to my classroom window just to see me. I was definitely treated like a celebrity. It was so awkward. While walking in the hallway, some kids would take a double take and then stare like a deer in the headlights, and then wildly start saying "HELLO! GOOD MORNING!", etc. It was wild, like nothing I have ever experienced before. The picture is of my classroom during the crazy break time.

Later that night...

Dinner that night was temakizushi. That is hand rolled sushi in a large cone-shaped piece, with the nori (seaweed) on the outside and the ingredients spilling out the wide end. Temaki is eaten with the fingers since it is too awkward to pick up with chopsticks. Everything you need is on the table. You grab a seaweed sheet, put in rice, and then all of the raw fish and veggie fixin's you like! lol. That simple. It was very good. I didn't realize octopus was so chewy. The family laughed at me. Since Ojiisan (grandfather) went to bed early yesterday, I gave him his gift today. He really liked the gift and also the candy I gave him. He opened the candy right away and tried some. He is very short of hearing, so we can't talk much, but he seemed very appreciative. The two pictures are of Erika, Ojiisan, and me after dinner with Ojiisan's gifts (he is happy), and the other is Ojiisan in his bedroom. That is how he sleeps. He watches a little TV in his room, and then goes to bed on the floor! Well it's off to bed for me. Tomorrow is a big day. SCHOOL!