Right after graduating from Millikan High School last June, I began my internship at the Signal Tribune. I had only worked for the newspaper for about two weeks when it was time to pack my bags to experience Japan for the first time.
The Lions Club hosts an annual youth exchange program involving various countries from all parts of the world. The goal is to aid students in experiencing a culture that is far different from the one they are used to. Locally, I was sponsored by the Northern California Lions Club, since my grandfather was a member of that charter, and sent off to Japan for four weeks to live with the average Japanese family.
I went on various excursions with my host family and experienced the things that make Japan such a unique and historical place. Also, as part of the trip, I participated in a 10-day youth camp that had representatives from 20 different countries all under the age of 23. We learned the importance of world peace and equality amongst all.
Overall, this was a rich and rewarding experience from start to finish. From this trip I have gained life-long friends, self-reliance, and most importantly a better understanding of the Japanese culture. I can honestly say this was the best month of my life so far.
The following are entries from my journal taken within the first two weeks of my stay in Neyagawa-shi, Osaka, Japan.
Day 1 7-9-12
First off, I am honestly surprised I can even tell what date it is today considering I had just time-traveled 16 hours into the future, but beside that I am doing pretty well. My first feelings when getting off the plane in Tokyo’s Narita Airport and walking down the terminal tunnel, seeing the outside busy street and bustling runway were quite indescribable. I think I was expecting more, perhaps floating cars or for the atmosphere to look like that of Mars…but now I understand that I am thousands of miles away, not light-years away.
Now that that’s confirmed, I suppose I should share my few first impressions of the kind strangers who have very nicely welcomed me into their home for the next four weeks. Mr. and Mrs. Yamamoto-san are both people of few words. It could be the fact that they knew little English. I assume they are a middle-class family because of their modest house in a good suburban metro area. I can tell that they do appreciate some of the finer things in life, such as their iPhones, iPads, laptop and big- screen HD TV. They have one daughter named Hikaru (He-car-oo). She is 21 years old and has moved back home for the duration of this month, as she normally has her own apartment in the city of Osaka.
Today I spent the day with her and her cousin,Yuichi (still not sure how to pronounce that one). He and his parents were also there waiting for me at the airport.
But back to today– you guys’ tomorrow– we went to the super department store… a.k.a. the MALL! It was fabulous, the best one in the sub-area of Osaka. One floor groceries, two floors boutiques, one floor arcade, and two floors restaurants. We got some tapioca boba tea then hit up a few stores. Then we ate at the food court at a place called Pepper Lunch. It was thin, raw beef and rice with corn that was served on a hot stone deep-dish plate that you scramble up and cook yourself. It was quite fun and delicious.
Then we went back home and played some Wii Mario Bros. Party and watched America’s Next Top Model. Ironic, isn’t it?
Nothing extraordinary planned for tomorrow just yet… but I’m sure it will be just as wonderful! Goodnight, sayonara, or whatever.
Day 2 7-10-12
Today was a pretty chilled-out day, and by that I mean in relaxation… not the weather. Hikaru and I went for a walk with their dog to the local convenience store. It’s called Lawson Station, and there are way more of these than 7-Elevens. Then we came back to the house and watched Harry Potter movies. She has ALL of them.
Also, later today for dinner I had my first real Japanese sushi experience. For all those hipsters and pescatarians alike, if you say you adore sushi and then only eat California rolls…I will slap you. I really will. I feel that because my parents have fed both me and my brother raw-fish sushi many times before, I can say that I have an acquired taste for this cuisine. This sushi bar exceeded my 17-year-old standards. It was also very close to our house, like seriously less than a block. The bar was one big, long conveyor belt with fresh orders on plates with the cost on them. As you see an order pass in front of you, you simply grab it off the belt and then pile up your empty plates, and then that’s how you know what the bill is. Each dish averages at about 230 yen.
One dessert dish Hikaru had me try was these Jell-O-like cubes that had green tea powder stuck on all sides. It was very scrumptious despite its strange jiggly-ness. She said it was rice-cake based. Not too sure what that means, but I would say this is just number one of the long list of foods I will consume of which I cannot determine its contents.
Day 3 7-11-12
Today we went to the city of Osaka. (I wish I could explain the division of territory in Japan, but it is far too complicated.) There they had an amazing outdoor shopping and restaurant row. I splurged on a new champagne-pink Hello Kitty wallet, part of the HK Couture line that is only for sale in Japan.
We also made fake food, or rather “replica window wax creations.” As a way for food places to draw in hungry customers, they display totally believable fake food in their store-front windows. They said to not leave my wax creation near a window because it might get soft or melt, but I think I will and then serve it to my brother and watch him bite into a the candle-like wax. Sounds like a plan.
I know this isn’t a calorie-counter journal, but I will continue writing my thoughts on the strange food that I have been putting in my mouth. After talking to Yuichi, I have learned that their main diet consists of rice, fish, and eggs. Did I forget to mention the rice? Must not leave that one out. That and fish seem like the stereotypical Asian food staples, however egg seemed a tad bit weird to me. And yes, I have had egg with just about every meal except breakfast. A thin layer of fried egg on a chicken sandwich for lunch. An onion-rice omelette drizzled with curry sauce for dinner. And, of course, sushi style, which is sweetened on sticky white rice with seaweed. So much egg and so little chicken makes me wonder which one came first.
Anyways, it’s a nice change to have egg with dinner. Just as thrilling as having cereal or pancakes for dinner. Other than that revelation, today was a pretty dull day due to the fact that it was raining buckets outside. However, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t still hot and humid, because it totally still was. Maybe I am on a different planet.
P.S. I just found out that they have a whole festival dedicated to eggs here. I wonder if I’m the only American that finds this weird.
Day 5 7-13-12
Today we went to the Osaka Castle Museum, which was the historical home of a past emperor. I’m sorry, Mom, but I was not allowed to take any pictures inside the castle due to the fact that the artifacts are prone to deterioration.
The place was truly spectacular. Jade tile roofing, gold trim and accents, and even complete with full moat and hand-piled stone boulder wall. The museum inside actually felt rather small in comparison to the view from outside, but I can imagine that not all parts of the castle are accessible. After walking around the castle and surrounding park, we took a water taxi to the train station/underground mall (insane, I know!). Oh, and some of the train cars on the more popular subway lines tend to be segregated on the basis of gender. At first it struck me as some kind of old-world gender bias sort of thing, but turns out it’s because when these lines get so jam-packed the men may feel the urge to get a little frisky. So, basically, all inside the car it says “Women Only”; strange, but a reassuring measure.
Also today, we went to the 100-yen store, which is the equivalent of the 99-cents store. I bought so much Hello Kitty swag there, my friends won’t know what hit them. It was so damn cheap there and a way better deal than buying that same stuff from the actual Hello Kitty store, I couldn’t control myself. Now let’s hope my friends don’t ever read this. Oh, well– we are in a recession.
Day 6 7-14-12
Konichiwa! Today we went to a spinning studio and made ceramics. All they kept telling me was “Ghost! Do like Demi Moore!” Good thing I’ve actually seen that movie before, otherwise they’d be sounding crazy. Aside from that pop-culture reference, I think I did a pretty good job. I made a small tea cup without a handle and a shallow bowl/plate thing. One will have a white glaze, and the other will have a soft green glaze. When it came to using the spinning wheel for the first time, I found that one must be strong yet gentle at the same time. I’m making a note to find a good ceramics studio in Long Beach to take my mom to when I get back.
On the way to the studio, I sat in the front seat of Mr. Yamamoto’s Honda. Let me tell you, it was a very surreal feeling to be sitting in the front, on the left-hand side, and not be driving. It’s like I didn’t even know what to be doing with my hands because there was no steering wheel in front of me. Also taking notice of the whole driving on the opposite side of the road thing, it’s almost like one of those outer body experiences people talk about.
Anyways, it made a whole lot more sense when it came to left turns though.
Day 7 7-15-12
Today I went to the Osaka Aquarium or Kaiyukan. It was a very nice day with Yuichi and his parents. Even though his mom doesn’t know any English, her personality and facial expressions just crack me up. She absolutely adores the Beatles and used to do marathons across Japan.
She tells me that the only English she can speak is, “This is a pen,” as she then held up an imaginary pen.
Also today we went on the Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel. It is one of the world’s largest. For a girl who nearly had a nervous breakdown at the Grand Canyon, I can proudly say that, apart from enjoying the breathtaking views, I was just about peeing in my pants. At its highest point of 112.5 meters (you do the conversion), it was making all kinds of scary, creaking noises. I think I saw my life flash before my eyes at least four times.
However, on the bright side, each fully enclosed cabin was equipped with air conditioning.
I’ve experienced something very extraordinary while at the welcome party that the Lions Club of Osaka Umeda threw in honor of my arrival– live painting. It involved a pianist, and vocalist, and a painter. As the music of the popular John Lennon filled the atmosphere of the dimly lit private café, SiLSiL was furiously and rhythmically painting away. On her huge canvas was a small 8.5-inch by 11-inch piece of paper that at the end of the show they unattached and gave to me. A flurry of blues, teals, and magentas eventually turned into an abstract, splattered profile of a female’s face. Afterwards, there was a stark 8.5-inch by 11-inch rectangle on the painting, and one Japanese Lions Club member bought it on the spot for 50,000 yen– which equals out to several hundred bucks. These old Japanese businessmen gave me their cards, and I shook hands with a music executive who said he has worked with Lady Gaga and Eminem. Overall, the food was good, and the conversation was simple, due to the language barrier of course.
Baseball game tomorrow. Buy me some peanuts and…sushi? No, that can’t be right.
Day 10 7-18-12
Every day, I am continuously mind-blown in this place. The baseball game was so much fun. The stadium was a bit outdated compared to the Anahiem Angels’ and San Diego Padres’ but still better than LA Dodgers’. (When are they going to tear that place down already?) The skill was decent. It was the home team of the Osaka Hanshin Tigers versus the Tokyo Giants. It was a way weird feeling, seeing the sister team of the latest World Series Champs from California. However, I think Tokyo needed some Lincecum “Freak,” “Beard,” or Buster Posey, because they lost. Both teams had a good amount of Americans playing, including both sides’ starting pitcher. One American was from our very own Cal State Long Beach.
Aside from the actual playing, the atmosphere was insane. Because it was two traditional teams (equivalent of Dodgers vs. Angels) the place was packed. Each team had a designated cheering section where everybody wasn’t quite dressed exactly alike, but still proudly represented their team. Waving rally towels and giant marching-band flags all while playing trumpets and drums.
Lastly, at the end of the eighth inning, everyone pulled out these long balloon noise-makers and began to inflate them. Once the final out was made, everyone let their balloons go, and over thousands of noise-making balloons filled the air and floated away. No other stadium in the world does that, my host family told me. I’m certain I will never experience something so grand ever again.