I will start with last Sunday, a big karate training in Aichi prefecture.
I got up at 5:00 am and had a big feed of freshly made bread, waking up early isn't so bad when there is food on the table. I got my karate gear all ready for a big day of travel and training. We drove for ages! It was snowing in Gero and the surrounding area so travel was a bit slow. In the car there was Sensei, Fuyuki and I. Fuyuki is the guy that turned out to be a national finalist. We are all good friends now. We had a bunch of good laughs on the way to training while they tried to explain one of those words that doesn't really translate into English. Of course, this explanation was done with some very broken English and on the whole it was quite difficult. It turns out this word "Kawaigaru" (可愛がる) basically means "tough love" Sensei was telling me to not be disheartene when everyone is beating me up because it is "Tough love" I guess that's nice? It made me kind of nervous though, I had no idea what to expect with this event.
When we got there, it turned out to be a massive fight session. "Cool" I thought, I still don't know what to expect, Sensei is still telling me about tough love. It seems as if I'm going to get a good smashing today.
|So many people!|
I was introduced to this one guy who was described as "very strong" so I thought "ok, cool" I probably wont have to fight him, seeing as he's such a high grade and so strong.
So i thought that it was all good, I was only gonna get beat up by other people. I fought this one guy, it wasn't so bad! It was tough, I was slightly winded but it got rid of the nerves. Now I was all pumped and excited for another fight! This next guy hit me really hard but I managed to land an axe kick on him! (Basically, you throw your leg up as high as you can and then bring it straight down in the vicinity of your opponent, almost like an axe) This was great! I was doing alright! Then he kicked high and I managed to drop him by kicking his supporting leg, great! What great fun I was having! I stood there, huffing and puffing, a huge smile on my face when I found myself in a very familiar situation. So my sensei, from the sidelines yells out something, I didn't understand but I looked around to see the strong man making his way over to me. Oh dear. So a while ago, I somehow "challenged" my own sensei and received a severe beating. This time, my sensei challenged this guy for me. Thanks. Tough love i guess.
He seemed nice enough!
As I said, this was a familiar situation. I started off with a sneaky head kick which was met with a very quick block. "This isn't going to end well" I thought as I hit and kicked him to no response. I was mid way through a combo when someone hit me in the leg with a baseball bat. Wait, he just kicked me. "Oh good" I thought. I see how it is. He started laying into me with no mercy. I was pushed all around the ring, trying to hit back. All the while he is hacking away at my thigh with his blade of a leg. I thought the only way I could bring this back is to get him in the head. So everything went in slow motion as my right leg came up for the best axe kick. It went all the way up past both of our shoulders, I was looking him in the eyes, I could almost see the knockout. Almost there! My leg was vertical when the world was pulled out from under me like a rug. Still in slow motion, I could see the room move away from me as I didn't have a leg to stand on. The bugger had kicked it out while I was plotting my victory. So I'm here, standing on no legs, slowly falling backwards. I could only think: "Brace for impact!" and sure enough, the floor met my back as I fell flat. Ouch. I dashed back up and we resumed our "fight." I essentially threw techniques that bounced off him whilst he monster-ed my leg. The fight finished and I limped back to my side. Oh man, that's gonna hurt tomorrow. We both smiled and everyone was cheering. Atleast the smashing looked cool. As we lined up for the end of class, all of my other pains showed up. My previously broken toe was flaring up, my torso hurt, my knee was doing something weird and my leg wasn't co-operating. It was a good day.
I got to meet a heap of people and I had so much fun doing it.
That day on the way back we had a huge feed. I've said it before so I probably don't need to say it again but, I love this food! We had kara-age, which is deepfried stuff. Oh man it was delicious. We had these huge bowls of rice, I mean huge. I was slowly eating away, full to the brim but eating regardless when Sensei finished his third bowl! I was still eating when Sensei had finished his meal and 3x as much rice as I. This must be why he is in charge. I should probably start eating more.
After this, we went about sight seeing. It was a huge day! After I got home I sort of just coma'd until dinner. We had kara-age but done differently to lunch's feed. What a good day. Needless to say, I went upstairs and hit the pillow straight away. Here I was, yet again limping about. I love it.
|It seems everyone has a few more dans than I!|
School the next day was pretty regular. I slept in maths and studied a wee bit. I am beyond tired! Lunch was great, I had left over kara-age and a bunch of other things. I thought I better take a picture of my lunch, since I'm always raving on about it. So here is a picture of the sort of thing I get everyday!
I couldn't tell you what half of the stuff there is but it all tastes good! On the rice there are a bunch of these tiny fish, eyes and all. It is so good. Hopefully you can see why I'm loving it so much!
That night was my official "welcoming party" So we went out for dinner. I was pretty clueless about the whole lot, I thought it was just a family outing but in the car on the way there, Rieko said I will have to give a short speech. "Oh?" uh-oh. How does this keep happening?
So we get to this Italian restaurant to see that the local Rotary group is there. I sat down, and thought, I really need to find the bathroom, I'm busting here. I pulled my chair out but sat back down when the head man started talking. I'm gonna have to do this speech whilst trying not to wet my pants, not the best situation. Of course, he had a lot to say. Great. Although uncomfortable, I was quite touched by the welcoming words of everyone, it was a nice night. I made a wee bit of a rushed speech and then I had clearance. Once that was done, I could relax. Everyone wanted to talk and I managed to understand quite a bit, I talked to my next host family and they seem really nice! Dinner consisted of MANY small plates of Italian/Japanese food. It was amazing! I didn't get to take any photos but the Rotary crew got a few. It was a long night and I was yawning a wee bit by the end. But it was great fun, I got to speak lots of Japanese and eat lots of food; two of my most favourite things ever.
Once again, I got home and hit the pillow.
|I managed to get one photo|
Us two fellas are the inbound students in Gero
The girls are all outbound, two for America and one for New Zealand
The best surprise! Tuesday was a day off! It was some holiday that I had forgotten about. It was something to do with Japan being formed, or atleast that's what I understand. I wasn't going to argue with a day off!
This day was probably my biggest culture shock so far; more on this in a moment.
I used my free time in the morning to write some stuff I had procrastinated on. Kazu and I watched the winter Olympics for a while and then we all went to the 100 yen shop. I picked up some much needed stationary and then we went off to the electrical store. They have some big TVs here! I bought a hard drive but I used my card. The lady serving me had a wee bit of trouble operating the machine because people in Japan normally use cash. Also in Japan, the customer doesn't do any work, so when I pulled the card out of the machine by myself she had a little fit. Woops.
Then we went to an onsen! I know the procedure around these things but I had never been to one before. An onsen is like a spa/hot pool. Similar to the hot pools in Tekapo or Hanmer. BUT, in Japanese onsen, sexes are segregated and everyone is completely naked! I knew this so it wasn't a shock when I walked into the changing rooms. But still, I had a bit of a hard time getting undressed in front of all these men. Once naked, you walk into the bathing room and wash yourself before getting in the water. Once again, I found it a bit unnerving to be walking about with a bunch of naked men. Normally at school, everyone stares at me but it's not so bad. Here in the onsen, everyone was staring at me. This was a wee bit weird. After a while I thought, "whatever, stop feeling weird." Ans after I decided to not be phased with all the people around, I actually enjoyed the water. It is really relaxing!
After the onsen we went out to a restaurant/pub. It seemed like a pub, it had bunch of people sitting at a bar, eating, drinking and smoking. This is something I might not get used to, the indoor smoking. I order a "Hanbagu" (Ham burger) but the burgers here a little bit different.
So burgers are more like patties but they are no less delicious. This was such a filling feed, especially with the rice. I had one problem though and that was the egg. I hate egg, it's the only food I don't really like. But coinciding with my mission of "eat anything that is put in front of me while I'm in Japan" I managed to eat this egg, ever so slowly. This is a huge thing for me, hence I am talking about it. I didn't like the taste but I'm pretty stoked I could eat it. Pushing the comfort zone, no matter where it is!
Also, there was an egg under those chips, oh dear.
Wednesday was a disrupted day, I got up and I had a cold. Oh dear, runny nose and a sore throat. This is just what I want. Took the train to school and sat down, almost asleep. I only stayed for the first period because I was meeting the Mayor! I left school and got a ride to the city hall, all of the Rotary people here have the flashest cars!
At the city hall we waited around a wee bit and met up with a couple more Rotary officials. Then it was up the stairs and across the hall, I was sniffing and coughing all the way. Basically it was like a mini interview; "What is your favourite Japanese food? ... How is school? ... What do you think of the weather?" Luckily, most of these topics I can talk about with confidence because of course, it was all in Japanese. There were a couple of people taking photos for the paper but I don't know when they took their photos; this would come back to bite me. After our talk, I got a photo with the man.
It was an awkward handshake, he had one of those fake laughs going on and he grabbed my hand with a wee bit of force, so I made sure I had a strong grip too. Then we were in one of those situations where we were both laughing awkwardly as we gradually squeeze each others hands.
|The Mayor and I, crushing each others's hands.|
Back to school where I slept, studied and accidentally did something wrong in Japanese culture. It turns out that in class you don't leave to go to the bathroom. Let alone ask the teacher for permission out loud. So here I am with snot streaming down my face in desperate need of a tissue, so I thought it would be a good idea to ask if I could be excused to go to the bathroom. I put my hand up and said in a loud voice (so I could be heard, the chemistry teacher here doesn't stop for anyone!) "Sensei, am I allowed to go to the toilet?" (In Japanese of course) The whole class turned around, half horrified half amused. Sensei gave me the thumbs up and I left, slightly confused. I later found out that it is odd to publicly express anything to do with the bathroom. Woops.
On Thursday I got to help out with a 2nd year English class. I brang my laptop along so I could show everyone my pictures from New Zealand. This was all good, I showed the pictures, did a little speech and then we had small English interviews. One thing led to another and we found ourselves watching Korean pop music videos on my laptop as a class. I'm not even sure how we got there. Good times.
I still have a cold, so I was only able to make it to one Kendo practice this week which wasn't too good. I had a sore throat and that doesn't coincide well with a lot of screaming. I also had to skip on karate class which was pretty gutting.
Friday was a weird day, it was snowing from quite early in the morning. Blizzard like conditions. I got to school and had another disrupted day. For a start, it was valentines day. In Japan it all works a little differently; the girls all buy/make chocolates and sweets for the boys, not necessarily with romantic intentions but they give out these sweets to all of their guy friends. The guys then return the favour on "white day" which is sometime in March. In my class of 1st years, everyone is very shy. For a start, they are 1st years, I am also in the academic class. This means that everyone is very focused on their work and not much else. Thus, the girls are very shy. I only got a couple of chocolates :( But that's cool, I went down stairs to visit my friend in the 2nd year. As soon as I was on the floor I was greeted with screams and hellos. Also, many sweets. I took a few photos and saw a bunch of my mates from Kendo. Overall it was a good wee trip.
I stayed at school until 3rd period, after which, the other exchange student and I were off to his place in preparation for some festival I forgot the name of. We went back to his place which is going to be my 4th host family, waaaaaay down the track. We had lunch, a good warm dish of curry and rice and then we geared up to walk to this festival. Wait what? Walk? Oh dear.
|I'm pretty tired but there is always time for giggling girls|
So we did just that, umbrellas up, in the blizzard we walked, it was pretty cold, but at this point it was a novelty. We get to the festival and there are people everywhere. We met up with another exchange student and her host family and made our way up this big set of stairs on this hill. At the top there were even more people, all gathered around a temple. There was some ceremony going on and we were watching and waiting for something at the end.
It was quite interesting and cool for a start, but after 10 minutes the girl's face on the bottom left of the above photo sums it up pretty well. I was slowly getting frostbite in my fingers and toes even though I had gloves and many socks on. It was starting to get uncomfortably cold. After a really long time, the ceremony ended and these weird "good luck umbrella" things were passed around. Normally they are thrown by the priests and caught by the lucky but because of the snow, everyone swarmed the priests at the stairs and it was a rough mosh pit. Hundreds of hands were hoping to receive one of these things but luckily for us foreigners, we are taller than the majority of people so we could simply reach over and grab one. Awesome.
That night we went back to Jordan's and had a huge feast. Still loving this food.
|The temple and a bit of snow|
|Our wrapped up good luck paper umbrellas|
Saturday was a cool day. I'm still kind of sick though.
Up at 5:00 am, big feed and then off to see if I can navigate trains. Rieko said goodbye and good luck to me as I was to make my way to Nagoya by myself. This meant two and a half hours of trains and no English. "She'll be right" I thought. I sat there admiring the scenery and panicking slightly as we came into each stop. "Is this my stop?" "Nope, I must of missed it, I will just stay seated." This went on for quite some time, I felt lost. But finally, we came to my stop and I was up and out. I switched trains, hoping like hell that I was on the right one. This train was really cramped and I had to stand. I almost fell over when it took off but it was fine, I just stood there awkwardly with my knees bent ready for any unexpected movement. I got off at Nagoya, "I've made it!" but I quickly found that the ordeal wasn't over yet. In the big train station people were moving everywhere, I couldn't stand still else I would be swept away.
I was told to meet the other exchange students at the golden clock. But I wasn't looking up, I was just walking about looking lost. Finally I saw it, I don't know how I missed it. The others were late but that was fine.
Four of us exchange students roamed about Nagoya for the day and it was great fun. We took a small train to some section of Nagoya where we hung out for the day.
It was a great day, but I missed my train home so I had to wait for an extra half hour. Can't win em all! I got home after another few train rides and fell into bed again.
|It's kind of unnerving with all these trains zipping past|
|This was a huge temple, very cool|
|No monkey business here, move along.|
|What did they expect?|
|It's a nice photo, but it was a scary experience.|
Many a poor bystander got shat on that day.
|Nagoya has some pretty choice architecture.|
|Just some foreign fun in the train station.|
Now here I am on Sunday. I woke up at 6:00 am, ready for Kendo training but alas, my throat felt as though it had had a good rub down with sand paper. I was also almost drowning in snot. Nice. I went downstairs to ask Rieko if I should go or not. She said I should sleep some more. I'm not arguing with that order. 6 hours later, I'm eating brunch and writing this. It has been a huge week!
I am feeling a bunch of weird emotions now too. As of Tuesday, I've never been away from home for this long so this is brand new territory for me. I feel a little bit sad; I want to hang out with my mates, I want be with my family and I'd love to sit down with a beer (Not in an "alcoholic" sort of way). But at the same time, I'm super excited to be in Japan. My happiness here completely outweighs the longing I have for home but the longing is still there. I guess this is just part of growing up, more unknown territory that I am walking on during my adventure.
Thanks for reading my late update, I've been so busy! I'm probably going to end up saying this with every post but I'm having the time of my life here, living the dream.