Friday, July 28, 2006

Only in Japan

While walking the streets of the festival, one of the vendors at a snack booth was dressed as a pikachu! Some people really get into their summer festivals, and this guy wanted to add something extra to his booth. Well, it caught my attention. The funny thing is, people look at me the same way I probably looked like seeing this pikachu man, since I am a gaijin. When the guy saw me taking a picture, he laughed, and stood up to take one with me! After that some girls wearing their summer yukata were giggling at me... next thing you know I am taking pictures with them too. Being a gaijin has it benefits, haha! These pictures are just an example of some of the crazy stuff you see in Japan, but also it shows the funny situations I get into because I am a foreigner. You know I love the attention.

Great food and Fireworks

Tonight Erika and I were invited to attend a different Natsu Matsuri (summer festival) with Honami's family. The festival was in a different part of Saga, in more of the mountainous region. Along with the festival, Honami's family was also going to a special company dinner for Honami's father. He is part of a carpentry business. It was very nice for them to invite Erika and me along since the restaurant was very nice. The restaurant was in a large building up in the mountains. As a matter of fact it looked over the Kasegawa river that I visited a few weeks ago. There were pricey cocktail lounges in the building that had perfect views over the river and mountainsides! At the restaurant we walked to our own special reserved room for the party. The restaurant was in a traditional style, with sliding doors, tatami mats, and ground level seating. We met a few of the other families attending and got ourselves situated. For dinner we had very nicely plated sashimi (raw fish slices) and tempura (Japanese style deep fried seafood and vegetables). Along with this, there was a buffet with many Japanese salads, side dishes, and soups. It was very nice! After dinner we walked out of the restaurant to another part of the building. We went to an outdoor terrace that many people were settling down at for the night’s fireworks show. That was a surprise for me. The building itself wasn’t that tall, but because it was tiered on the side of a mountain, it seemed very grand. We had a great view of the river, bridge, and roads where the fireworks were going to take place - prime seating! The fireworks show was great. Like the Umi no Hi show, this one was also one hour long! The Japanese like to slowly enjoy their fireworks. Although seeing the fireworks over an ocean was neat, I think the mountain and river view was even better! It was also great to be looking down at the bustling festival streets. The fireworks show consisted of airborne fireworks, water plunged fireworks, and even large strands of sparklers over the river. It was so cool to see the Bridge ignite into a sparkling outline, and also large strands of sparklers to go off over the river, which looked in the reflections like a waterfall of fire. It was an excellent evening. After the show we strolled the streets of the bustling festival. It was great to take in all the excitement from the atmosphere. The pictures are of Erika, Honami, and me at the restaurant, Honami and me overlooking the terrace, and finally the fireworks display!

Hanging out with friends

Today was a neat day because some of my friends actually came to my host family's house to hang out. Yoshi and Bernardo (Yoshi's exchange brother from Brazil who is 18) came over after their school today. It was just like hanging out in America: tv, music, snacks... except it was just all in another language. It doesn't strike me as being an out of the ordinary experience until I think about it later. "I just spent a few hours with friends speaking a totally different language!". Luckily both understood a little English, which helped some conversations to be more smooth. It was a neat experience to have friends visit me here. We had a good time.

A real Onsen!

Today I was invited to go to an onsen with the Kais' relatives, the Ootsukas, which is Takuji's family. Okay... so in terms of America, yes it is weird to attend a public bathing facility with friends, but that is just because of the nudity factor. In Japan it is totally common, and even a highly practiced form of gathering! It is a big social activity. As a matter of fact, many groups of teens from various sports teams attend the public baths after games and such. I don’t think I could ever see that forming as a hang-out activity for American teens. Today though, we were going to a REAL onsen, which is filtered with natural spring water from the mountains. It is said to be very healthy due to its minerals. (I got to wear a nice latex glove, secured tightly with velcro straps to keep my hand dry. Well... I guess I was more clothed than other people then!) We drove up from sea level, to the winding roads in the mountains. The roads were narrow, and much like those at the Kasegawa viewing post a while back. We first stopped for dinner at a restaurant that the Ootsuka family highly recommended. It was so cool because it viewed all of the bamboo and pine forests on the mountains through the windows. This traditional restaurant had floor seating and low tables which I still find very nostalgic. The specialty there was soba noodles. We all ordered cold soba with dipping sauce, and tempura. Wow, what a day! All my Japanese favorites... Sushi, Soba, Tempura!! It was a very neat experience. After dinner we drove a little higher, but then actually went down just a little. In contrast to the other onsen that I visited last week, which required you to go up to enter the spa area, this natural onsen went down. You first entered the building, and after that, went down to a walkout basement where all the baths were. This may seem very cliché on my part, but this onsen was very nice simply for the fact that it was, well... natural. It was set up with lots of bamboo, wood, and rocks, in a very tranquil mountainous area that was beautiful especially at night. It was different than the, "man-made" onsen because it didn’t have all of the special pools. It was just hot, warm, or cold water. Of course at this onsen the baths were man made, but the water is not artificially pumped in. That is the main difference in addition to its location and decor, but it was the more natural feeling of the place that made the biggest difference. From both of my experiences, I have to say that if you ever go to Japan, make sure you visit an onsen. It is very cultural, as well as relaxing. It was very generous of the Ootsukas to let me join them, and I had a great night. Since it was a Thursday, the facility was much emptier than last Saturday’s experience! The pictures are of Takuji and me sitting in the restaurant, the tatami room in the facility, and finally Takuji, his sister Tomo-chan, and me outside this onsen.

An afternoon with my host dad

Even though my host dad may have tediously long working hours, I have had many opportunities to spend time with him, and they have been great. Today he actually had a day off from work. This would be the first time it would be just me and him to hang out together for the afternoon, so I was excited. We ran some errands, and before we knew it, it was lunch time. My host father loves his sushi (as do I), and today he found out about a good lunch special at one of his favorite sushi restaurants. For as much as I am crazy about those kaiten sushi (conveyor belt) places, I have found out that they are more economical and almost "family style" in terms of quality (still better than anything you could find in America... or at least Michigan for that matter). You have to go elsewhere for the apparently "real" stuff. I have only had sushi relatively seldom, so I am by far not a connoisseur, but I went with it. We went to a very traditionally decorated sushi bar specializing in Osaka style sushi (The best translation I could make out was that it deals with the education of the chefs). Of course we were first served our warm towelettes for our hands, and then green tea. The sushi came soon after. It was plated so beautifully and artistically. It definitely lived up to its growing fame as being a "sophisticated" meal. It was very good. So fresh, that the pieces just melted apart in your mouth. Along with the sushi were steamed vegetables, a salad, and some miso soup. My host dad also wanted to treat me to some traditional Japanese desserts, so we ordered some azuki bean treats. This classic, traditional sweet was served like a soup. It was very sweet, with mochi and melon in the bowl. It was very good. The outing today was filled with many great grammatically incorrect conversations, and along with the delicious lunch, it was nothing less than a great day!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

One Crazy Night

Some more pics of me sporting my pj's and sweats, oh yeah, and my new bandages, along with the great medical staff that helped me at the hospital.

Hospital : Just one more check to mark off on my list!

Okay. The title of this post is a complete joke. The events tonight were a big surprise to me, as well as my host family.

Let me start from the beginning...While riding our bikes back from karaoke we were going down some narrow sidewalks. Well, in the blink of an eye, I somehow sandwiched my hand in between the cement wall and my bike handle and tore up my left hand. It stung for a second, but I just shrugged it off, and let my hand stay high to stop all the bleeding for the rest of the half hour bike ride. It was only a bit of bad luck...

When I returned home, I washed up the wounds, which were pretty sore, and bandaged them up myself. I had dinner, and even typed up the previous post with my amateur-bandaged hand. After I took a shower, I asked my host mother for some antibacterial medicine. This is the first time she seen my open wounds and kinda freaked out. It had been almost 2 hours since I had returned home, and my hand had swelled, and the slightly dried gouges presented their depth. Almost ironically, my host dad arrived home just in time for the "hand inspection". They were both very concerned. I now know it is a universal parenting trait. To the hospital it was for me... at 11 at night.

My host father took me to the local hospital, which wasn't Beaumont hospital huge. It was a quaint hospital, barely lit, since only one doctor and two nurses were there at this time of night. When we went in, all three were immediately caring for me with gauze, paperwork, and questions. A quick, funny story... This past year in Mrs. Lowry's Japanese II class, we spent a significant amount of time learning vocabulary about sickness and health. Many of the kids in my class complained, saying, "when will we EVER use this". Well the moral of this is, today I did, and I used it in a very big way. On the bright side of this whole ordeal, I was able to use a whole new array of Japanese vocabulary. The two nurses treated me as if my hand was off. They were very caring. First I had x-rays taken. My wounds were then cleaned out with saline water and iodine, which wasn't too fun - yes... stick some gauze and tweezers into a small, but deep open wound...ouch. Then I found out that I would need a few stitches for some of the gouges on my knuckles. It all happened really fast. Iodine, anesthetic shots, gauze, stitches, ... pictures, haha. After the procedure was done, we were ready to return home... at 12:30 at night. Wow, what a day. After the hospital, we stopped at 7-11 for some puddings to take home. When we arrived, Erika and my host mom were waiting, and my parents at home in America were already notified by Okasan! The situation may have given my host parents a few gray hairs, but now it is definitely something to laugh about. It was surprisingly a great bonding time. Now I laugh, while trying to type this with my tightly bandaged hand, that there were so many things I planned to do in Japan, but there have been so many great surprises. If I have a scar or two, or not, I will always be able to think back to this crazy, hectic night here.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Karaoke Time!

Today Erika invited me to go along with her and some of her friends to karaoke. This would be the first time I would experience "real" karaoke, since I would be doing it in an actual karaoke parlor, and also with Japanese people... or at least it would feel more real than the Narita Hilton "American" experience! Some of Erika's friends had to cancel, but it still turned out to be us two, and two other friends, so it was a lot of fun. There almost seems to be a karaoke parlor every two streets or so here in Japan. It is very popular. The place we went was near the Eki (the train station, with many entertainment activities and restaurants, which is a downtown hot-spot for Saga teens) and on the second floor above a restaurant. It was neat to see the layout. You pay at the front, and are lead through a hallway that almost seems like a hotel. There are many small rooms, each equipped with karaoke systems, couches, tables, and dimming lights. The reason today was a big deal for us to go was because there was a deal for Wednesdays. Only 4 dollars for the time slot of 5-8 pm. That is a very good deal. It definitely lured us in. Along with this deal, we received a free fountain drink (which is great, since food and drink is what really racks up a bill in a karaoke parlor... try 4-7 dollars just for a pop!) and also a snack... well more like a dish with about 20 pieces of popcorn, haha. Ehh, it was free, so I'm not complaining. Good thing we stopped to get some cheap snacks before we went (crackers, off- brand calpis [everyone really likes the stuff!], and toppo [which are the opposite of pocky... the chocolate is IN the biscuit stick]). The karaoke itself was very fun. The system had a wireless touchpad/catalog to search for your song. Of course, the majority of the songs are Japanese, but there are many American, and even Korean artists with only a few of their most popular songs in the catalogs. Some Japanese songs have the real music video playing in the background, but that was rare. The common thing was for some random video to be playing during your song. When I say random, I mean that when you are watching your lyrics scroll by, there is a camera panning over ,say, a woman walking the beach, a man reading a magazine, a different women opening a fridge... ya, it just makes no sense, but it is filmed in a "slo-mo" music-video style. Another thing is that the microphones are made to echo so much, that they could transform anyone into a singer. I was able to magically hit some Daniel Powter/Maroon5 notes tonight, haha. One thing I found funny, was that all the English songs had small Japanese phonetics on top of the words... and I could just imagine how funny it would be to hear someone really sing with it. Overall the night was very fun. I never thought I could enjoy karaoke for that long (other than its "Japan" nostalgia, I didn't think I would find anything truly enjoyable about it). The 3 hours flew by, and we had a great time. The pictures are all very bright (due to my camera flash), but the lights were dimmed to almost darkness.

Some Free Time

The past two days have been the first two days of my host sister's summer "vacation", so we have had a little bit of extra free time to do stuff together. I put "vacation" in quotes, because Yurina still has band class everyday, and Erika has homework, and extra classes for studying... so really it is like "half-day" vacations. Regardless, when they return home, I get to do stuff with them. When they are at school, I get some time to explore on my own (which I have loved doing, since there is so much to see and discover within the few blocks near my house). Accompanied by my host sisters, I went to the public library, the super supermarket, or just relaxed at home and watched a movie with them. My host mom has also gotten us involved in cooking with her, which is always fun. On Monday we made mochi, which is the sticky Japanese rice sweet I have mentioned in some of my past posts. The mix was powdered, but as soon as water was added it was sticky, then turned to goopy, then to crumbly, all in the matter of seconds. You would make small balls, put a thumbprint in them, and boiled them for a few minutes. The mochi itself isn't sweet (it is a texture more than anything). To make the dish sweet, special toppings are added. On that particular day, we added kinako (the brownish powder, which has a nutty taste), an edemame bean puree (we popped out the beans from the peapods, added honey [MI honey that I supplied ], and blended it). The last one is the deep red azuki beans. This is a famous Japanese taste. It is very sweet, and one of my favorites.
The next day we made gyoza for dinner. Gyoza are Chinese steamed dumplings, but are just as common in the Japanese kitchen. (They are similar to wontons, but the dough is a bit thicker and the shape is more like a tiny turnover.) We gathered around the table with the filling (pork, cabbage, onions, shrimp, and spices) and carefully folded up each gyoza dough parcel. Mine never turned out looking the right way, with the pretty folded crimps... Erika said we should feed mine to John, haha. At dinner time, I thought it was cool that the gyoza were cooked right at the table. My host mom had a transportable hot pan that we steamed the gyoza in right there at the dinner table. Along with a soy-vinegar dipping sauce, the gyoza were delicious. Both the mochi and the gyoza are recipes I plan on bringing back to America (along with many, many more)!

Sunday, July 23, 2006


On a Saturday night, there is one building that is packed, and the place to be. No, it isn't the movies, or the mall either, it is the public bath! Quite late on Saturday afternoon, my family told me to get ready because we were going visit an onsen. An onsen is a building that is dedicated specially as a public bath center / spa. I had a small experience with the community ofuro at camp, but this onsen was different. It was much bigger, with many more baths (all public and together). I was very skeptical on how the trip would be, since in America, it seems almost unheard of to go to a place to relax in the same huge hot-tub together with several other, well, lets just be obvious, naked people. It turned out to be EXTREMELY relaxing. For only 5 dollars a person, I was surprised that all of the bath/spa facilities were open, which I thought was really amazing. There were, however, separate facilities for men and women, but other than that, there is NO privacy. The first floor of this facility had spa goods, a massage parlor (for additional prices), and a restaurant with a dining room with low rising tables and tatami flooring! The second floor is all baths. Before you enter the ofuro tubs, you must wash yourself very well. There are rows of low showers, mirrors, and stools to wash yourself right outside the tubs. No soap ever enters a Japanese tub. You must wash yourself outside, the tub is for relaxing. Japanese showers are not stand up. You have a stool, and clean your self in a low seated position. The experience was wild for me, since I have never done anything quite like it before. Your privacy barrier must almost immediately break down, since the place IS packed, and there is nothing else you CAN do! The more intimidating thing is that the spa staff can go into any shower/locker room... that means women too. Here in Japan, there have been several occasions where women have been cleaning in bathrooms, but I was shocked when they were working in this part of this spa! It is crazy. The ofuro itself was amazingly comforting once you get past the fact that you are amongst dozens and dozens of other spa users. The facility had indoor baths of many different styles. There were jet pools, and high power jet pools to massage you. The baths were all extremely hot at 105 degrees fahrenheit. There was also a bath at only 60 degrees that chilled you in it's icy waters. I could barely stay in that pool for three minutes! There was a pool tinted deep pink due to it's hibiscus infusion, and even this totally unique bath, that had electrodes running through it. It was the wildest feeling. Your muscles felt like Jell-O! Those were the indoor pools. The facility went outside too... onto the roof! Outside there were steaming pools set up like natural rock baths, and even strong waterfalls to pound down on your back for a great massage. The outdoor facility also had a sauna room. I was amazed at how much was there! I would definitely go again, since I felt so refreshed and relaxed afterwards! Now I know why Japanese citizens love them. After using the baths for about an hour, the family met back downstairs. We had dinner at the restaurant, and ate in the tatami room. It was so comfortable. Dinner was tempura vegetables and seafood with dipping soba noodles. Delicious. We also got some soft serve black sesame ice cream! It was very good. The night was a great one, and we all went back home very happy and refreshed. The pictures are of the tatami room where we ate (Yurina is wearing the green shirt). The second is me with my host mother. I was brave enough to take pictures of toilets for you... but there was NO way that camera was going even close to the stairway leading upstairs, haha... Even for your educational purposes! I figured I could use this opportunity to introduce a picture of the ofuro at my house. In Japan, the ofuro room is completely separate to the bathroom. As you can see there is the stool and shower out side the bath where you clean yourself. The tub has the lid on it to keep the water very hot to soak in. The whole family shares the same bathwater, and then the next day, that water is used to wash clothes with. That is how the Japanese conserve water!

Natsu Matsuri

I love when my host family is all together for a weekend evening, because they always fill them with many activities to spend time with each other. This Saturday was no exception. In our area there was an elementary school with the community center next door hosting a city summer festival, or a "Natsu Matsuri". At this event, which took place indoors and outdoors, there were many tents with food and also many activities. There were so many people there! Many people wore their summer yukata and jinbei robes there too. Inside there was traditional Japanese dancing, which we participated in. As a matter of fact, some of the dances were just like the ones I did the previous night at camp! Another thing about this festival had to do with the "women's club". Our city has a club for women that enjoy planning and helping out at events like this. Apparently they also enjoy dressing up together for the events. Saturday's summer festival theme was Minnie Mouse. Going along with my host dad's humor, I got a picture with one of the senior citizen club members. Just like Disney Land! The pics are of me doing a traditional dance, and me with a women's club "Minnie Mouse" member!

Touring the city

My host dad has a way of turning what seems to be aimless sightseeing, into great memorable experiences. I love his spontaneity. After the mall touring, we went back down to the underground center where the subway station was intermixed. Apparently we were going to just ride the subway for fun, I was game! It was great to witness everything, and see how smoothly Japan can order up and transport so many people. Tickets and gates were all electronic, and the subways lived up to their name to being insanely prompt. At this time of day the subways were empty, but I have heard that Japanese city subway systems get incredibly packed. We didn't go far, only a few blocks away, switching subways once, but I loved it. It was a very cool feeling moving around amongst the bustling pedestrians. I first figured that we had just went in a small circle to just sample the subway systems, but I was wrong. My host father took me to see the bullet train station, or Kyushuu's "Shinkansen" as they are called in Japan. The bullet trains are very fast due to their magnet technology. I have always wanted to see one, and not only did I see it, I touched it! This particular train was headed for Tokyo. I got to experience the station and see how the above ground system works, and what it looks like inside. It was very interesting. That wasn't the last surprise of the day. I figured we were going to return to our parking structure only a few blocks away by subway, but I was wrong. My host father waved down a taxi and all four of us got to drive down Fukuoka mainstreet in a Taxi Cab! Not only was it my first time ever in a Taxi, it was also a great way to view this amazing city of Japan. The short trip was pretty awe-inspiring. When we arived at our parking garage, there was a large event set up in a courtyard of a large building. There was a collaboration of business sponsors advertising Japanese youth education, along with the current campaign for Fukuoka to be the 2016 olympic host. I got a tada fan with the olympic campaign logo on it, so it was a great way to finish off such an amazing afternoon. I had so much fun this Saturday, with the camp, and the city touring, but I later learned that my day was really just starting! The pics are of me with my host father on the subway, my host sister, Erika, and her friend Honami having fun on the subway. The last is me next to the Shinkansen!

When in Fukuoka... Go Downtown!

At noon on Saturday, my host father picked us up (Erika, Honami, and me) from camp. After recapping the great experience for him, He asked me a question that I assume must have been extremely rhetorical... "what do you want to do today" *smile*. Well, being only minutes away from downtown Fukuoka by highway... of course you know where I wanted to go! And that is exactly what we did! I was so excited! The city is amazing. For many hours of the afternoon we got to explore even more of the vastness of this huge city. We went to a big mainstreet that had three very tall buildings. On one cross section, each corner had a huge skyscraper mall! Now, one week ago, Canal City was massive with 5 floors. These malls didn't quite spread out like Canal City, they went UP! The first mall we went to was the InterMedia Station. This mall was massive! (I am sorry I use that expression so much! It is so hard to explain the incredibleness of what I am witnessing). This mall went up 14 floors! All the floors weren't used for stores mind you, (some for restaurant centers, or spa/beauty parlors) but it went up high! I thought it was neat that the decor "theme" of the center mall area was "Jack and the Beanstalk". The beanstalk was displayed as growing up through the center of the mall. The higher you went, you began to see connected clouds, like you were up in the sky. That is the first picture, I thought it was creative. Afterwords we went outside to cross the mainstreet to visit another mall. This mall was unique in that it only contained womens stores! The "Tenjin Core" had 8 floors of clothes, shoes, makeup, and girly trinkets that just made my host sister and her friend go crazy. I guess it truely was a woman's paradise. Surprisingly, that trip was not boring or uninteresting at all for me. I got to see so much crazy fashion that Japan is known for. The second picture shows the mannequins from one of the stores. I personally think the style sometimes becomes very cluttered with lots of bright colors, patterns, and garish accessories, but it is fascinating to look at. It is said that Japan is right behind Europe in terms of fashion... so this could be the new thing to catch on in America within the next few years! As we continued on, we did not cross the mainstreet, instead we went to the basement of the mall that connected to the subway stations. This is also where I witnessed one of the coolest things of the day. All the malls on this intersection of the mainstreet are interconnected underground in a huge checkerboard setup of more stores, fancy salons and coffee shops. It was so neat because the underground "streets" were set up like they were outside on the mainstreet itself... just underground! We finally zig-zagged our way through this mecca (which was just packed with people - it was extremely crowded in every mall.) and made it to the last mall on our tour. This mall was so intimidating. It was possibly the ritziest mall I have ever been to in my life. In the "Mitsukoshi" I really felt so out of place that I fit in with the expression "It took my breath away". This mall was 9 floors of the highest names in fashion and cuisine. We walked through stores of European, American, and Japanese brands where everything seemed to be priced from hundreds of dollars to the tens of thousands. In this mall, I looked at suits and dresses priced at thousands of dollars, and even went to a kimono store where everything was silk stiched and ranged upwards of ten thousand dollars! This mall even had art exibits with lavish pieces of artwork up for sale! I can tell you that I felt so out of place, but the mall was PACKED! I have heard that Japan is a nation obsessed with name brand goods, and it seems it must be true. The basement floor of this mall was also a very famous area. It was just counter after counter of department store pastry companies in one area. Everything was expensive and way too beautiful looking to eat. The best thing about Japan is that their products may be expensive, but they always lure you in with free samples . I was in heaven. The third picture shows one of these stations among a seemingly endless sets of several dozen cake, bread, wagashi, and chocolate shops. The last picture is of a view of Fukuoka city taken from one of the high floors of a mall. My tours of these malls were not only overwhelming, but filled with some of the coolest things I have seen related to modern Japan.

Fukuoka Camp

This past weekend, there was a YFU sponsored camp held in Fukuoka city for all YFU students on the island of Kyushuu (a southern island of Japan, where I am living). This camp invited all exchange students, including Japanese students returning from their year exchange to America, Japanese students preparing to leave for the next year, American year students living in Japan now, summer exchange students to Japan (me), and siblings of any traveling student who wanted to attend. The event took place on Friday and the morning of Saturday at a community building that I think may also serve as a hostel, since it had rooms with bunks, and everything else necessary for us to stay there over night. On Friday the activities were various, all dealing with Japanese culture. We had origami classes, participated in a Japanese flag lowering ceremony, "Kitsuke", and also learned Japanese dances. One of the coolest parts of it all was that we wore our yukata (summer robes) for many of the activities. As a matter of fact, just learning how to put them on was a 45 minute class on its own. The summer, year, and siblings of American students all wore their robes, which was so neat, since everyone's was unique in its own way. The thing that I liked best about the weekend was the unique conversation opportunities we received. I loved talking with all of the Japanese year students that just returned to Japan. They had many great stories, and on top of that, they actually knew English. I can't stress enough how happy some of us summer YFU students were to hold fluent English conversations. For many of us, it was our first chance to do so all summer! Everyone was extremely fun, and you can bet that our "traditional" Japanese dancing kinda lost its authenticity, haha. The Japanese girls liked to mix in what they "learned in America", haha. That was one of their favorite things about American schools, the dances.
After the first afternoons activities, we were told to go to the ofuro, and head to bed. Ofuro is a Japanese style bath, and in a public place... always communal. All of us were wondering what was going on... and almost frantically asked around "is it really communal", "are there separate showers"? We got "Yes" answers for both... so we were confused. Well, in any case, for most of American students it was our first time using a communal bath (separated for men and women), but we were all going to experience it together, haha. As for the answer about separate showers... it just meant that they were separate shower faucets with stools to sit on (Japanese showers are "sit-down", but more on that later) all around the community bathtub. Perfect example of "lost in translation". After our unique washing experience, it was bed time. Of course many of us were too excited to sleep. Many groups of boys and girls met together in rooms talking about all stuff related to our culture clashing experiences late into the night (until we were busted of course ), but that is what made it special. The second day was a little different in terms of activities. This day we had small group sessions to introduce and share about our Japanese or American cultures and experiences (pretty much a more formal version of what we spent hours doing the night before!). After that we all got together for a ceremony for YFU Japan students. The year long students returning and leaving were all recognized for their accomplishments. On top of this, American students were also recognized as guests for our trips to Japan. Afterwords we sang traditional Japanese songs, and took many, many pictures with all of the people that we just spent over 24 hours with. Some of the students at this event I had already met and had become friends with while at the Narita Hilton hotel when we first arrived to Japan. But there were many other American YFU students I met for the first time at this event, along with all the new Japanese exchange students that I soon became close friends with. The amazing thing about this YFU experience is how quickly you can create strong bonds with people, only hours after meeting them, possibly due to our very noticeable cultural differences, but most importantly what we all have in common with our travels. I had a great time at this camp, and now have a whole new list of people to stay in contact with all around the U.S. and across the Pacific!

The pictures are of a few of us hanging out the first night in our yukata robes.

This is a picture of me with Erika and her friend, Honami, that joined us for the weekend.

The second picture is of me with Derek, who I became friends with earlier this summer. He is from New York.

It was great to recap all of our YFU friends on all of our experiences from the past weeks. The last two are of me with a few of the great Japanese foreign exchange girls. They were so much fun to talk to. The pictures can also show you a VERY MILD form of what Japanese fashion for girls can be.