Friday, 31 January 2014

Time flies!

Wow! It was pretty much a week ago that I was sitting here writing this but it seems as though I was doing this just yesterday. Although it was "just yesterday" that I was writing my blog, so much has happened in between then and now.

Last Sunday I had my first Rotary Orientation meeting. So it turns out I'm pretty good at procrastinating as on Sunday morning I had to give a speech but my speech was still being 'edited' in the car on the way there. This meeting was held in Gifu city (I think.) We went to this big hotel (once again, I think it was a hotel) but man this place was flash! Chandeliers, big white pillars, marble-like floors and absolutely stunning service.  I met all of the other foreign students that were in the same district as I. According to them, (Australians, Americans, a French girl and a girl from Norway) the New Zealand accent is funny. It's quite weird to hear that after having only lived in NZ with said accent!

The meeting was held inside of a big room with tables arranged in a big 'U' shape with us foreigners all sitting on one side, the Japanese Rotary officials in the middle and then all of the extras (for lack of a better word) on the other. Myself included, there were three new students, we sat at the top of our table. We listened to a lot of Japanese, I really had no idea what was going on. Luckily for us newbies there was an English translator but sometimes even that was hard to decipher. All good, I only had to listen out for when I had to get up and speak. That time came around and I made my speech to this crowd with some stuttering Japanese. Stuttering aside, it wasn't so bad. From that point I could relax, all the nerves were gone and all we had left to do was eat lunch. Wrong. We actually had a big seminar on how to use chopsticks properly which was quite interesting. I know 'officially' know how to eat. This big tutorial went on for quite some time, but lunch was worth the wait! We had Bento boxes which basically means lunch box, What a feed!
I'm absolutely loving Japanese food!
So after lunch I thought now all I need to do is listen to the meeting and then I could go home and sleep (6:00am wake up is still an effort) but I was yet again wrong! The outbound students (The Japanese exchange students to be) also had speeches to give. They were all in English and whilst they did a great job, there was still that Engrish-Japanese accent. The four current inbound students had to translate their speeches from English to Japanese which was a surprise to us all because we were not told about this whatsoever. "That's a bit tough" I thought. But hang on, there are four "experienced" students to translate for five outbound students. This didn't add up. Uh-oh. We got to the last student who was about to give her speech when everyone realised that they had run out of students to translate. I knew what was coming. My name was whispered around the room and just as I thought, I had to translate this girls speech from English to Japanese. I frantically found a pen and paper and began scribbling for dear life. She spoke fast because of nerves which didn't help me at all. After her speech I was handed a microphone and I stood up and made the most broken, awkward-silence filled speech ever. It was pretty much just a bunch of basic lines read out with very large pauses in between each sentence. Of course at the end it was met with lots of applause but that falls under the "points for trying" category. Well that was exciting I thought, I was quite far out of my comfort zone (miles away form it) and to be honest, it was great. After all of the student's speaking we got to listen to more of the Rotarians. This went on for quite some time. I might have dozed off a little bit but eventually it was all over and time for photos. Everyone that I met at this meeting was so kind. It's not like being welcomed into a group of strangers but rather welcomed into a group of friends, I felt right at home straight away.
The big Rotary family!
It seems us newbies missed the 'silly face' call from the more experienced bunch
The drive back home was a very quick one thanks to a much needed nap. I got home that day and repeated the day's happenings to host Mum. That night we watched some TV. Japan never ceases to amaze me with the stuff they come up with!

Monday was a regular day at school filled with misunderstandings and much fun. They have an extra period on a Monday so school finishes at four something. I was all ready to go home when it turns out there was still one class, I looked quite dumb there with my bag on my back whilst everyone else sat back down ready for the next lesson. Woops. Tuesday was much the same. In English we are learning some New Zealand slang which is honestly the coolest thing. The students now say "ta" in place of thank you and instead of saying "nice" or "cool" they say "choice." This always brings a smile to my face, it really is awesome. After school I went along to the Kendo club, I learnt the basic strikes and had a great time! In Kendo, you face your opponent, yell really loud (kiai) and then smack them with your shinai (bamboo sword/stick) when you hit them, you kiai and then run about whilst kiai'ing. So whilst everyone was all very quiet doing some other exercise I was yelling my heart out feeling very self conscious. This is putting me way out of my comfort zone. But it is a good feeling to do something so radically different to what I'm used to.
Self consciousness aside, this is really fun!
After Kendo, we went to Karate again, this time it was a little different. When I entered the dojo I was met with genuine smiles and I was among friends. The Karate family is quite like that of Rotary's except unlike the Rotary family, the Karate group beats you up. Tough love! So we trained really hard with many squats, press ups and all the other good stuff. We practiced kicking for what seemed like for ever. We were doing kicking whilst moving backwards and then kicking whilst moving forward. We did this for so long that my legs felt like led. My kicking partner and I were competing, we were seeing who could do the highest, strongest and fastest kicks so the next day I was quite sore, more on that in a moment. That night we fought but not as hard as the previous week, which I was pretty grateful for to be honest! So the next day I had sore legs, but it wasn't until I sat down that I realised how much I hurt. because of the intensity of the kicks we were doing and the height of them, the muscles from my buttocks down to my calves were so very sore. Sitting down was the most painful thing. I limped around school for quite a few days.

Next day I was introduced to "Zero Jikanme" which means zero period. Because my host Mum is a teacher she sometimes has to go to school very early for this zero period. That means I had to get up at 5:30 am. Oh god was this tough. I was so tired in the morning that when my alarm went off, I literally jumped out of bed on the wrong side and jumped straight into the wall. I was so disorientated and confused that I stood there and pushed the wall, not knowing why it wasn't stopping my alarm. Well that day I slept through a few classes but whilst I thought I had it tough, I found out later that my host brother, Kazu, was up earlier that I was and not only that but he walked the dogs! He does this every morning! And my host Mum was up even earlier making lunches! I am blown away by the work ethic here. After school this day I went back to Kendo where I was taken out the back to go over the basics. I was going to protest and say "I did all of this yesterday and some more" but it was a cute girl teaching me the stuff I already knew so I didn't complain. After everything I was actually looking forward to the next day's 6:30 am wake up, a whole hour of sleep in! And man, it was great. Thursday was an interesting day. I very exciting, exhausting and painful day.
The school building.
It's five stories tall!
The rest of the building.
It's a big school!

It started with that amazing sleep in, a great breakfast of rice and warm miso with some hot tea. It really is the best thing in the morning. The day at school was good, I studied some more Japanese grammar which I could conveniently use straight away. I'm going to become fluent, little by little! Lunch was a delicious combo of rice and many other little bits of various meats and vegetables. I have to say, Japanese lunches are probably the best thing ever. 5th period was maths, this was a struggle because they do some pretty advanced stuff that is well beyond me. So I studied some more Japanese. In last period I was invited to the library by my friend, so of course I went along. "What about class?" I thought. Oh well, I just do what I'm told. Next I was taken to the staff room. Up and down the stairs, back and forth I went, limping all the way. I was well and truly confused now. I had to wait in the staff room for a wee while so I just about went to sleep. Regardless of how long my sleep in was, I still got up at 6:30 am. I was very tired. Well my snooze was short lived as I was again relocated. This time we went back to class, all the way up the stairs. (My class is on the 5th floor and I was currently on the 2nd.) So up the stairs I hobbled and then into class...

I walk in the door to cheers and confetti! Wow! My classmates gave a short English speech and then we played a few games. My face was hurting because I couldn't help but smile the whole time.We then played a true or false game in which we made small teams and were asked questions relating to NZ and Japan. My team won, probably due to my unfair advantage of knowing more about NZ than the Japanese do. Lastly we had 'daifuku' a small Japanese cake like thing that was delicious. It's quite soft and is made from glutenous rice. The filling is often anko (I have no idea what anko is, but it tastes nice) and strawberry. They tasted so good! Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of one because they were eaten so fast. After class I went to Kendo again. Much the same as the previous day but today the Sensei showed me how to properly grip the shinai. There is so much to think about whilst doing Kendo, it's a bit like Karate. All good fun. I had Karate again that night, I was quite excited. I wasn't expecting the beating to come.

So I get to the dojo and there was this 14 year old kid, who was a 2nd dan! I didn't know what to expect from him. Class started and we literally fought all night. I am loving it! I fought this 2nd dan and like I said, I didn't know what to expect from him. Silly me, I let my guard down and I was punished with a very hard reverse punch right in the guts. Ouch. Woops, let my guard down again and a foot skimmed past my face. I had to step up my game. I asked him, "am I allowed to do high kicks?" And he said "of course!" This was good for me. So we rotated opponents a lot but I didn't find too much challenge in the other fighters, they were all a lot younger than I. The guy that smashed me last week wasn't here tonight. Every time I fought this kid he had a new kick to hit me with. I was really blown away! He had the jump kicks sorted, the hook kicks, he could even roll kick! I had to be real cautious because he had already hit me with one or two. Our fights got increasingly harder, by the end of the night were smashing each other! I landed a bunch of high kicks on him and he kept getting me in the guts. I am still surprised at this wee guy's strength! But this wasn't the beating that was to come. The Sensei took his glasses off and stood across from me. "Oh shit" I thought. This going to hurt. I was scared but I smiled and challenged him. It was similar to last week in the sense that he just took everything I gave him! I was more careful however and this time we were trading hits. It was very fun. At the end of our bout I thought "oh my god, I'm exhausted" because we really did smash each other. He stands there and shouts "Mata!" which means "Again!" I just replied with a nervous laugh. We fought again, he just kept smashing my left side.
It's a wee bit difficult to see but here is my left arm after a good training session!
After we had fought twice, he was keen to fight another two times in a row. Well I was able to take the heavy punches he gave but then he started kneeing me and that was it for me. He got me straight through the middle and winded me. Ouch. Once again, I was limping about but with a big smile. Painfully good times.
The Karate family!
The Sensei is the bigger one with glasses. 
That night I could barely walk up the stairs. Definitely a good training session.

I took the train to school on Friday, I must of looked like a real dick sitting there, the only foreigner on this train with a huge grin on my face. It was pretty cool, I haven't ridden many trains so this was a really cool experience for me. Friday was such an easy day, we had a free period, so I slept, we had a few other classes that were lenient enough for me to sleep in and everything else was very cruisey. I was unable to do Kendo due to my elbow being swollen, so I watched. This too, is going to be very tough I reckon. I do love martial arts.

Today is Saturday and I am relaxing. I got up at 11:00 am and the weather is warm. We had a udon noodles for brunch. I can't get over how good the food here is! I skyped my parents and had a good catch up and am now just writing away at my blog. Everything here is still a bit of a novelty but I am slowly becoming a part of Japanese life and I absolutely love it.

Cheers for reading my blog! Please give me some feedback! Be critical; what's good and what's not? Should I do more, smaller updates or keep it at the once a week massive update?
Thanks again!
Until next time!
Photo timing is a fine art!

Friday, 24 January 2014

It Begins!

So, after much excitement, many nerves and a few tears (quite a few) it was finally time to leave home and start living my dream. In Christchurch airport, early on Tuesday morning I said my goodbyes and wearing my Rotary New Zealand blazer, departed. The flight was pretty standard, nothing too exciting. The kindness of kiwis was present as I had a few people come up and talk to me about my blazer and what I was doing. I found my way around Auckland airport alright, albeit a little bit rushed. (I stood in the wrong area for a good 10 minutes) But no problems, I got to where I was going. Lots of staff were interested in what I was up to which was cool, it made the whole airport experience way more friendly. Now waiting to board the international plain I was sitting in a room full of Japanese chatter, this was a small taste of what was to come! The flight was long and pretty boring, I slept quite a bit and the food was alright. But whilst the flight wasn't so interesting, I was feeling on top of the world. My goal was literally coming into vision. We landed in Narita where all of a sudden, everything was Japanese, the intercom, the signs, the people!

 I awkwardly checked through customs, not knowing what to say and not knowing what was said to me but after some fragmented conversations I managed to go through a few doors and was once again waiting in a big departure lounge. It wasn't too late in Japan but it was quite dark and very cold. One flight left though, I was almost there. This flight went pretty quick and I was soon picking up my bags in Nagoya. What a beautiful airport! This place was amazing! I was spotted straight away and was bombarded with photos, only had time to confirm that I was the student they were looking for!
To the right of me is my host Mum, Rieko, everyone else is part of the Rotary crew that will be looking after me, I am yet to remember their names!
 We went out for dinner and I found that the language barrier wasn't as big as it was last time I was in Japan, this time I can actually converse with people which is so much fun. It was freezing in Nagoya but Rieko said to me that it was quite a bit colder at where we were going. So we drove to Gero which took a good two hours, we arrived at about 11:30pm. We talked in the car but I soon fell asleep. I was told it was an early get up the next day for school which turned out to be a very early get up.

 At 6:30 in the morning my alarm went off! I was so tired that I had forgotten how I got to my room! So when I woke up I was ht with the reality! Shivering, I pulled myself out of bed and took a few steps toward my alarm. Instead of the soft carpet that I'm used to, I felt the weird texture of tatami mats. Traditional tatami is like a mat made of woven straw. Often nowadays people have polystyrene tatami but this is the real deal!
The short walk to my alarm (the white device on the duchess) becomes a marathon when it's 6:30am and -5 degrees!
I'm also still sort of unpacking hence the messy room!
I looked outside my window to see if it was true,"am I really in Japan?" I thought. A quick look out the window not only confirmed that yes, I was in Japan but also the fact that it was it was freezing!
The view from my window
Only a little bit of snow at the moment
So that morning was a bit of a mission, I was shattered but excited, there was a lot to do and not so much time. Breakfast was miso soup, rice and a few vegetables. This 'weird' style of breakfast was actually the best thing here in the cold. The soup was hot, the rice was warm and soon I was too. 

So at school I made a slightly stuttered speech to the staff, but it went down well. I then had to give the same speech over the school intercom, this time it was a very stuttered speech. But that too went down well, points for trying. That day at school was uneventful because it was just an orientation. Nevertheless it was fun. The saying "It's a small world" became very real because I was being shown around by a fellow Kiwi. So here I am, in Japan and I meet this guy who is a graduate from the University of Canterbury, who studied the same things that I want to study! To top it all off, we have damn near exactly the same interests. We couldn't believe it.

That day I was signed in as a resident of Gero-shi, met the school principle and then went exploring. Gero is a beautiful little town, it really is amazing. I found a big shrine complex which was really breathtaking. It was hard to take photos because it was so cold I could barely hold my camera!
One of the many small buildings in this shrine area.
So cold!
The next day at school was a bit more intense. I went to classes and did regular school stuff. I didn't really understand much from the teachers when they were teaching but I could have small conversations with them and the students. It's difficult but so fun.

So far I've had a try at Judo (the wrestling version of Karate) and Kendo (the sword fighting version of Karate) It's very difficult to pick up a new martial art when you can't understand whats being said to you. However, these practices were awesome.

What I really want to talk about though is karate. I've been to one training session and it was great. There isn't a Kyokushin club in Gero but the style that we found is very, very similar. So I went to the Dojo with my host Mum, no appointment or anything. We get there and there is a big man with a 5th Dan black belt on. This was a class of little kids, some even had black belts! These kids absolutely blew me away, here are a bunch of 6-10 year old children who were doing all these exercises by them selves! The Sensei was talking to my host Mum so these kids organised them selves! They decided to do 100 squats, then 100 press ups. I couldn't believe it.  With my limited Japanese I managed to tell the Sensei that I love fighting and I don't know how but he must of thought I challenged him. Because he says, "We will fight later." He called in a couple of older people for me to fight, one was about 15 years old and the other was 19. I fought the 15 year old first and it wasn't so bad, I had no gloves or shin pads on and he had minimal gear so it was quite a rough fight. I then fought the 19 year old. We are very similar, same grade, same height and same techniques. When we first fought it was very hesitant, we were both testing the limits. Then I fought the Sensei. He's an older guy so I wasn't expecting what I got. I hit him a couple of times and immediately found that he was a brick wall. So I him as hard as I could, it all bounced off. I kicked him as hard as I could, it still bounced off. I thought, bugger this and launched a flying knee at him with everything I had, still bounced off. And then he hit me back. Shit. He just smashed me, he hit like a machine. He even managed to kick out my leg, I'm still limping now 2 days later. But that wasn't the worst of it. Feeling slightly beaten, I said I was fine and could keep fighting. There's no way I can give up, representing my style and country in a Japanese Dojo, so I said "Yes! of course I can fight again!" and the 19 year old just made a mess of me. So I didn't know that he was 2nd in all of Japan until the end of the night. But when I fought him that second time, I could understand why. The whole Dojo sat around the walls and watched as me and this guy fought. It wasn't so bad for a start but he landed a good head kick which stunned me a wee bit. So he took advantage of my hesitation (as any good fighter would do) and hooked me right in the ribs. We were both without protective gear so this hit just knocked all the wind out of me. I tried to hit him back with a counter but he got me on the other side! Oh my god was I in pain! But he wasn't finished, there is till a good 30 seconds to go and he just wrecked me. I could barely find an opening. I did manage to kick him in the head so I feel like I've achieved something. The fight ended and we shook hands, apparently I got him a few good ones too, but shit, I was done. I then taught the class the Brazilian kick (a kind of kick that looks like a forward kick but then flicks around to get the opponent in the head) I limped to the car with a huge smile on my face, this is what I love.

My second day at school was much the same as the one before. And now it is Saturday so I've finally had a sleep in. I'm living the dream here and I really can't explain the elation I'm feeling. 

Cheers for reading! Sorry it's a quite long but there is so much I want to say!
Until next time!