Thursday, 30 October 2014

Kendo Kendo Kendo

I've barely had time to sit down over these last few weeks! And when I did sit down it was because I couldn't physically stand anymore. I've been so tired. I think this month has been the toughest month physically but I think it's paying off.

Tuesday was a regular day back at school. I've been working on my study methods and it's improving well I think. I'm still learning more and more everyday and I'm enjoying it a lot. I'm learning some new grammar and it's proving to be more difficult than the grammar I was working on earlier in the year.

I think I've got the basic grammar sorted but now it's getting more in-depth and people don't tend to use it in normal conversation as much so I don't get many chances at using these new ways to talk.

I didn't go to kendo tonight because of karate which was a slight shame because we were starting the dreaded: "Hard Menu." (A week of training so hard that there is nothing to compare it to.)

I got to karate all ready to try and keep my winning spree up for another week. Fuyuki and I had our slow warm up fights before we could really have a good go at the end.

I was already hurting, I have to lend my shin pads to Emma, the other Gero exchange student who is giving karate a go, so I go it bare shinned. And it hurts.

We get to the last fight and face off. We battled hard. I remember getting a good one in the ribs, (I don't know how he always hits me in the ribs so hard.) and busting my shin on his elbow but I also got some vicious hits to his guts.

We hit each other without fear of being hit back and it was tough. We stood there, sweating and breathing heavily as we waited for the student judge to give the verdict.

He slowly and nervously raised his hand to my side. Sensei gave him a good shouting at for not being precise enough with his actions but I wasn't too worried, I was sore all over but grinning from ear to ear.

"I am getting stronger??" I thought to myself. (Writing from the future, the answer is no, Fuyuki has a comeback.)

Wednesday was a special day because it was the ball sports tournament. We gathered in the hall on the chilly morning in our sports gear, all ready to have a fun day.

The tournament was supposed to be quite some time ago but there was a tragedy at the time (I wrote about the boy who drowned.) Which caused the event to be postponed.

The principle said in his morning speech: "While his name is on the list of players, he wont be here to participate beside but he is somewhere cheering you all on."

It was quite touching. We got up and made our way to our sports fields. I was going to be playing soccer and we had quite a ways to walk to get to the field. I didn't know this at the time though so I left my lunch box in the classroom, assuming that we would come back for a feed.

The wind was strong and it was bitingly cold. I only had P.E. shorts and a T-shirt so I was feeling it. We warmed up and got to our first game. I was the goalie and we were versing some third years.
Can't complain about the cold when I was the only one to get a singlet!
I stopped maybe three goals! (At least two for sure.) It was cool. But I also let a couple in which made me feel bad because I was letting the team down.

However, throughout the day we all switched roles and we didn't score a single goal. I did manage to kick one kid in the shin and knee another kid in the thigh. Woops. It's those karate instincts.

Our day ended early so we sought shelter in the stadium beside the soccer field and watched the girls volley ball. That was pretty fun. And it wasn't windy so it was all the better.

Soon enough though we had to go back to school. When I write it like this it seems as though we were only outside for an hour or so. But we were actually there for about five. And I didn't have lunch.

But by the kindness of my friends, I got to eat one rice ball and one cracker. Can't complain when people are giving up their food for me, I was so grateful.

I got to talk to one of the kendo guys and I asked him how the first night of hard menu was. He said it was hard. I sort of didn't get an idea of how hard hard is until he said that when he got home he vomited and went straight to bed.

Oh. It's "Chuck your guts up"-hard. And the horror of hard menu week is that everyday is harder than the previous one.

I was quite nervous.

I got to the club room to grab my gear when one of my friends asked if I was actually going to do it.

"What?! Brennan, are you coming to training tonight? You know that this can't be compared to anything, aye? We're all going to die!" He said.

I said: "I'd like to give it a go!"

You might remember from ages ago, I talked about kendo and people training so hard that they would fall down on the spot and have small fits and then get straight back up for training.

Well this was that sort of training. They do two Hard Menu weeks a year and I only observed the first one, this time I was going to participate. I knew that if I showed my face in the dojo then I'd have to do it all from start to finish. There was no sitting out this time.

We started off with the regular warm up and then got straight to it.

We cheered and screamed and bellowed as we ran up and down the dojo, smashing these light bamboo swords that had suddenly become so heavy. I started off screaming as per usual but as I realised that I was about ready to kark it and we were only 20 minutes into the two hour session, I somewhat evolved.

Instead of just yelling, I was roaring. It felt amazing to be honest. In hindsight I can say that it was fun in a twisted way.

But at the time, I wasn't even thinking. I was just roaring and swinging this stick. After every exercise everyone would bump fists and cheer each other on.

We did this death syndicate twice and I thought my arms were actually going to fall off. It was as much an emotional journey as it was a physical exercise.

I found myself at breaking point with two clear options in my head. I thought I could drop here, just lay down and pass out or I can just keep conjuring this energy out of nowhere and keep on fighting.

Obviously the former is not an option. I was in a room full of people thinking the same thing. All of us wanted to stop and rest but no one would because we were fighting together. I thought the team spirit was beautiful and with that, I kept on roaring.

We finished the menu and heard sensei shouting at us so we ran to him and fell to our knees to listen to what he had to say.

We weren't trying hard enough and we finished a little early so we were going to do some more. We ended up going 15 minutes overtime but finally we finished and got to rest.

Sensei yelled at us because we weren't trying hard enough. He said he would hope that we aren't so weak tomorrow.

(I'm pretty sure he was just trying to work us up and make us do even better but he must be an awesome actor because his disgust was pretty sincere.)

We patted each other on the back and everyone said that I was some kind of monster. They didn't know where my voice came from and they couldn't believe that I didn't drop on my first ever hard training.

I told them that everyone else was trying just as hard but they insisted that I was doing something good. They said that it was pretty amazing that even though I had only done kendo for about nine months I was able to do this.

It made me feel pretty good and made the near death experience all worth it. The next day would of course, be harder than this was.

School was neither here nor there on Thursday. I was in two minds about training tonight. I had to go to karate and kendo and kendo was looking pretty daunting, especially since I was having trouble moving my fingers, arms and legs. Fingers from gripping the sword, arms from swinging it and legs from all the running and stomping around,

My voice was also a bit deeper than usual, I thought.

School past in a flash and I knew that I had better get to training. My sword last night had to be repaired and today it was supposed to be fine but I was a bit dubious about it. It had a mighty big crack through one of the shafts. 

Should be right.

We started again. This time the two syndicates had been upped a bit and they had some new exercises added to them. 

No one knows about the schedule until we get to training and it is written on a white board. 

Sensei was there watching from the start, with his woolly socks and big jacket. He looked pretty comfortable.

But I was once again a robot. Just a screaming, arm swinging robot. 

I managed to get a few normal yells in before I changed again and the roaring started again. Sometimes people would just scream for the hell of it. I did too, I don't remember why.

We all bumped fists again after every exercise and it felt great. People were cheering me on and saying my name as we stomped about. It was uplifting and helped me work my way through everything.

But I hit that wall again, I was barely thinking at all but I remembered something my karate sensei from back in NZ said to me about getting over these barriers and fighting on and that helped me a lot.

Halfway through training, I noticed that my sword was about ready to splinter so I requested a swap and I got an old one from the cupboard. It'll have to do!

It was absolutely wrecked on the inside, it was about ready to snap
(This photo is in the club room after training.)
So with my new old sword I went back to screaming and whacking.

I was sweating like never before and my heart was beating so hard that it could have been the metronome to keep everyone stomping in time.

We made it to the end once again, almost dead. Sensei this time said:

"Today was better than yesterday."

And then he said my name and rattled of some words that I didn't understand. I was a little worried.

Once again everyone called me a monster but they also congratulated me on something. I was quite confused.

I asked my mate, Tenpei what was up and he said that Sensei had praised me.

I didn't believe it! I got Tenpei to explain what he said to me and this is apparently what he had to say.

"You can't shy away when your body is tired. It becomes a matter of spirit of body when you've got no energy to keep going but you've got to keep going. Everyone should look at Brennan, he's done karate for most of his life so he has that warrior spirit. He was screaming even when he was breaking, It doesn't matter how good or not he is at kendo, he was giving his best and that's what you all need to do too."

I was quite moved by that. Sensei doesn't normally have anything nice to say at all.

Tenpei couldn't believe that I still hadn't dropped. Once again, I was proud to have finished the session and it made it all worth it again.

Just one more day!!

There were rumors going about school that this was going to be so hard that it was dismissed as a joke. No one can do the "extra exercise syndicate THREE times!" Hahaha, that's stupid.

We got to training believing that we were doing a slightly harder version of the previous day.

But shock horror! The rumors were true! People were asking if it was a joke but it was on the board so it was the truth.

Oh god.

Back to it then!

I was going fine up until the final exercise of the final syndicate. I was roaring my heart out but I found that my legs weren't responding the way I wanted them. So I decided to kick it up a gear and get back to normal speed.

As I screamed, I found myself face first on the ground. I don't know how I got there but I can remember being furious at the fact that I was down. I jumped up and went back to smashing with a new vigour.

"Ah shit." I thought. I finally dropped.

But I made it to the end and I was happy for it. It was finally over. Hard Menu week had finished and I couldn't be more ecstatic.

We did it!
(Not everyone is here because some went of to get changed and die in piece, I would soon follow.)

Tired but stoked

Tenpei, I think I talked about him in the last blog.
He's one of my best friends and is so strong it's unbelievable.

"Do a cool pose" I said.
Not disappointed.

Genya here helped me a lot too, he's little but moves like lightening.

Akiho is a higher grade and would run laps around me but she said she was really proud of me for doing the hard week.

This is what I was seeing all week.
Can't see anything bar whats in front of you.

My weapon of choice

This was my new old sword.


I can remember there being one small hole in my glove just a week ago.
I went home and was ready to lie down and depart the physical world when I realised that I had to give a speech tomorrow.

Speech to be memorised!
I had actually been practising all week and I was quite nervous but I had clean forgotten about it the night before and now I was a little worried.

I said it three times in my room before I went to sleep, just to make sure.

I woke up on Saturday and did my speech one last time before leaving the house. I always challenge myself to memorise my speeches and do them without paper or cards and do the speech off by heart.

That way I can look at the crowd and look confident. I used to get incredibly nervous before my speeches to the point where I would be shaking and couldn't eat. But I've gotten pretty used to it now and I have no problems with them. I think they are quite fun sometimes.

But this time there was a crowd of over a thousand people.

I ran into that old eating problem at lunch time but forced myself to eat, mainly to try and shut down those nerves.
Curry and fried chicken. The curry was quite nice and it did help me calm down once I ate it.
 We got to the meeting and helped greet people into the building. We were all badged up (and foreign) so absolutely everyone would stare at us and comment on our blazers. It was cool.

We walked down the corridors to where we would be having the meeting and it turns out we were late. So we gate crashed in the coolest fashion. As I walked at the front of the exchange student line, people would look back and see a wall of badges but when I walked past them, they saw the hello kitty on my back and that got quite a few comments too.
Jake and I, ready for a long day of sitting and not doing much.

Most of these guys fell asleep for a decent portion of the meeting.

These guys too.
But there were a fair few people there.
 I got a cool gold ribbon to put on my blazer because I was a speaker. I was meant to be back stage at about 3:00pm but because the schedule was moving along quicker than expected, I was swept off of my feet and rushed to the prep area. I had no time to practice my speech again and it had me a little worried.

But there was this really cool guy directing everyone around and he got me all pumped up and ready to go.

My name was called (and they didn't even mispronounce it!) and I walked out onto the stage as confident as I could. I bowed to the flag and made my way up to the lectern.

There was a spotlight and it actually blinded me. I couldn't even see the crowd!!

I knew that because most of the Rotarians were asleep. I would have to be extra loud. So I gave a strong: "Konnichiwa!" to everyone and they replied back.

And then it all went to plan, with only one stutter and one backwards word. I was damn pleased.

I mentioned my karate tournament results from a while ago in Japan and they all clapped for me which stumped me. I didn't know how to react so I just waited and kept on speaking.

I really should of said thanks and then carried on but I was pretty confused.

They all clapped for me and it might just be because I was on stage, but it sounded like they clapped louder than before. I even heard that one guy from my Rotary club gave me a standing ovation which made me feel real good.

I stepped back from the lectern and shook one of the governor's hands. It was cool as.
I love talking but I never thought I get to be here,
waffling on stage.

And now I'm grinning like an idiot, just standing there.
 After coming off the stage tons of people came up to me and complimented my speech. Lots of the shook my hand and some them even wanted photos! I felt like a celebrity!

I sat back down in the crowd when one of the Rotarians from the exchange group came up to us and hurried us all away for some "tea."

It turns out he just wanted to escape the meeting and he took us with him.

This hotel is also a wedding venue so we got to look around at the traditional Japanese wedding rooms and one thing led to another and woops, some of us got married.
I was the reverend hahaha

The 'new' group. 
This all of us exchange students in this district. It's our first full group photo. We're already a pretty tight family and there have been nothing but good times.

Emma and I left with some of the Gero Rotarians to go out for dinner. We were dropped off in a cafe somewhere with the orders to have a coffee and wait.

Our waitress turned out to be an old exchange student who went to Australia (Dunno if Rotary or not.) But that was pretty cool. I guess you never know who you'll meet wherever you go.

We got picked up and taken out to this amazing yaki-niku restaurant. Yussss!
I have pretty much found my love in life.
And I'm drinking tea, just by the way
I don't like eggs and I have a huge problem eating them but while I'm in Japan I want to experienve everything I can.

So when someone ordered the beef sashimi with raw egg and soy sauce I was pretty apprehensive. I gave into the peer pressure at the table and ate a piece of raw beef that was coated in raw egg.

And it was delicious! I loved it!

But I definitely over ate at the dinner. After some weighing and disbelief, it turns out that I ate 2 kg's of meet that night. I felt a little guilty but it tasted so good!

We drove back to Gero and Emma and I had some pretty cool conversations all the way back. Our poor driver wouldn't of had a clue as to what the two white kids were talking about in the back of his car.

I got home and told my host Mum about my speech. I was pretty happy and excited but I was also really tired.

I went to bed because the next day was going to be a big day of karate!

I got up at 4:30 am and went downstairs for breakfast.

But I found that I didn't have any energy and what's more, my voice was gone. I asked my host Mum about what I should do and we decide to call off the practice.

I felt guilty for not turning up when everyone else did but I was shattered.

I slept all day and then got up for dinner. We were going out for Chinese!
Sweet and sour pork and then this fried chicken that was divine.

An interesting salad, dunno if it's Chinese or not

Can't go wrong with fried rice!
It was a fun night because most of the extended host family came along too so there were heaps of us!

We got home and decided it would be better to go to sleep early. You know, school the next day and all that.

There was a local Rotary meeting that Emma and I were supposed to go to so of course we had to prepare speeches.

I had it sorted though, I was going to recycle the speech from Saturday!

But to my absolute horror, I got to the meeting and the boss was going to play a video of my speech.

I asked "What should I do? I was going to give that speech!"

He told me to make a new one. Oh dear.

He did say some really nice things about the talk though. Apparently on the second day of the meeting (that I didn't attend.) Some Rotarians gave speeches and praised my talk from the day before. I was quite touched. Hard work pays off, it seems!

But yet, here I was, being praised about my speaking abilities when I was about to go up with nothing to say.

I got up, and started off by saying that I had nothing to say and talked some rubbish about the school trip just earlier.

I "Ummmmed" and "Aaaaaahhhed" my way through a full minute of cringe-worthy awkward silence. It was horrible.

I felt so bad about it, I couldn't believe it.

But the boss said not to worry about even though it was an awkward talk because I did alright on the weekend.

I was still pretty disappointed.

Kendo was great because Sensei wasn't there! We had some awesome fun.

One of my friends and I put a play on words as we screamed about.

Normally you yell: "Men!"

Which is the name for the helmet we wear. It also means noodles.

So we ran about smacking each other and yelling the names of different noodles. It was a good laugh.

Training finished and it was nice. We didn't feel like dying and it was just great.

Tuesday was karate of course and this time the winning spree would come to an end. A painful end.

It started off with just a normal fight where I had forgotten to wear a cup and true to Murphey's law, I got kicked straight in the nuts. It put me out for a wee while.

Then Fuyuki smashed me this way and that all throughout the night but when we got to the last fight, he really dealt it to me.

I was cowering away for some reason, I'm going to blame it on fatigue but that's irrelevant.

His kicks landed hard, his punches hit true and he even kicked me in the head.

Oh god it hurt. It definitely put me back in my place though.

Wednesday was a cool day. My host Aunty made me a "Kyara-ben." Which is a character bento.

My lunch box was the coolest thing at school!
I showed all 40 kids in my class this lunch box and they were all pretty jealous!
We all thought it a waste to eat but whilst it was cute, I couldn't go hungry
You don't see many Kyara-Bens in high school so it was quite the sight apparently. I thoroughly enjoyed it! It even tasted great!

My old host brother, Nobu, had me translating some letters he had to send to Rotary for his exchange next year so I was quite busy.

I had to first understand these big, difficult letters and then translate them into English. But not just simple English, they had to be top tier stuff so that he could actually go on exchange.

There was a bit of pressure so I was up until late hours of the night everyday and at school all I was looking at was Japanese letters.

I was relieved to go to kendo where I could scream a bit.

We had some practice fights this time, because of a tournament on Sunday that I was going to entering!

I lost my first fight in a matter of seconds and got a talking to from sensei.

He asked me where my voice from the hard week went. He asked where all that power and energy went. He told me to pick my game up and really get into it.

So I did. And I ended up knocking my opponent over three times, roaring the whole time.

I still lost but it didn't matter, I had a great time. I got some tips on blocking and countering so I would do better next time.

Kendo finished and I decided to go and hit the gym.

I was lifting some weights while watching some boxing on the TV when someone came up to me and asked if I was staying with the Mukaino family. "Yes, I am." I said.

Then another stranger said: "You're Brennan, right?" 

"Yes, I am." I said, in slight confusion.

Then another says: "You went to the Takayama festival a while ago, didn't you! Aren't you going to Kyoto next month?"

"Yes, I am?" How did these people know my schedule better than I did?!

It turns out that my host Grandma had clued everyone in about me and the man who knew my name was the father of a girl in my class.

We were all instant friends and it was great.

I got home at 10 and had dinner and then got back to Nobu's letters. It was tough.

We finished the letters on Thursday and I decided to read some comics. I've been reading Japanese comics and it's really improved my reading speed. And it's fun study!

Kendo went awesome tonight. 

I scored my first ever point. And my opponent wasn't even going easy!! I was so happy and everyone congratulated me, even though I didn't win the round.

Sensei told me to be stronger and louder, of course.

I stumbled to karate and had a good time busting up my already busted shin. I'm gonna have to take it easy on that one. It was a good session though, I'm trying to work on my blocking so I don't take as many hits.

It's not that they hurt, but more that if they slip my block it will start to go in their favour if the fight comes down to a judge's decision.

The all Japan tournament is on the 16th of November and it's getting real close. I'm a bit nervous.

I got home and had dinner and got to bed early. I need sleep. I've realised that whilst I'd like to stay up late and just muck about on the computer, I can't. If I don't sleep then the next morning really kills me.

On Friday I got some more good study done and I was pleased to be learning some new things. Learning a language seems to get easier as you study. The more you know, the more you can learn and I think it's great fun.

I had no luck in kendo tonight but I did drop my opponent a couple of times again, that was fun. 

Tenpei had bought me a new sword for the tournament and he insisted that it was a gift even though I was practically throwing money at him. He said it was a gift from his Mum which was really nice.

He has a 13 year old brother who always want's to talk to me and it's too cute. Tenpei has done a few skype calls via his phone from school to his brother after kendo practice and we've had a few conversations and even practiced some English. It's pretty cool.

I went back to the gym tonight and got home at around 10 again. I really want to win this tournament coming up so I'm going to do my absolute best in both the event and training.

You can only fight as hard as you practice.

I was looking forward to a sleep in on Saturday but kendo thwarted that plan.

I got up earlier than a regular school day in order to get my head smacked in at school. Not my ideal Saturday morning but it was still pretty cool. A bunch of junior high school students came along to practice with us.

They were pretty cute when they were all geared up and still only shoulder height to me.

It was a pretty chilled session but I had to demonstrate one of the exercises and sensei introduced me as the exchange student here at school and said that even though I've only done kendo for a short time, I can do all of the exercises just like everyone else. 

I was feeling pretty humbled because sensei doesn't normally say nice things ever. And here I was, praised twice in a couple of weeks!!

After kendo, I went home and then met up with Nobu to go buy some comics from the local shop. We walked there and back an it was fun!

I then came home and slept for a good while. 

Once again I had to get up earlier than usual, even earlier than Saturday!

I got into my kendo gear and host Mum gave me a ride to school. We loaded up into that tiny bus and off we went. I slept in the bus because it was pretty much still night time for me.

We arrived in Takayama and set up for the tournament. 

I have videos but I'll have to put them up later, I couldn't take any photos during the day because I was a competitor.

Sensei told me to get in with my power and drop them. He then said to go score a point to which I said I'd score two. 

I lost my first fight but it went for the full four minutes which isn't bad. 

In kendo, if someone scores two points then the fight will finish and that person wins.

I managed to go for the whole four minutes in all of my matches. 

I dropped my next opponent but he scored a clutch point near the end of the round which made me lose.

I drew the next fight which had me pretty happy! I apparently landed some hits but we had some very questionable judges. (They were students from the school hosting the tournament which was also a very rich private school.)

I lost my next one and that was the end of the team division. (You go up as a team, fight individually and then finish as a team.)

I had another fight in the individual section. My opponent looked pretty scared and quite small so I was feeling confident.

It went into a draw and I lost by foul. I accidentally left the court boundaries twice and that was that. He didn't even score a point on me which was a bit of a shame.

But I had an awesome time during the tournament. The best bit was screaming in the opponents faces. I liked to stare them straight in the eyes and stick my tongue out, 'pukana', from the haka!

It was quite fun to watch their surprise. It's a bit unfortunate that I couldn't win but I managed to draw a round which was great.

Sensei was pretty mad at us though for some reason. True to character, he scolded us for not trying harder in front of all the parents who came to support. This man confuses me.

I said thanks to all of the supporting parents and they said that I tried really hard and that they were all impressed. I tried to use really nice Japanese when I thanked them and they noticed and complimented me on how much better I've gotten. It was a heart warming moment to have all of these people that, in all honesty, I didn't even know very well yet they said such nice things to me.

I met Tenpei's Mum and thanked her for the sword and she said it was absolutely no problem. I think I've made a life long friend and that's the best.

One of my exchange student friends came to watch and support me at the tournament so we hung out after in Takayama.

We went and got burgers.
While this looks like a very small, average burger, it is actually a very small hida beef burger so you pay through the nose to get it. To be honest, the patty was delicious. But I tried to eat it slowly and enjoy it because if I really tried, I reckon I could have put the whole thing in my mouth.

The weather was good all day and I had a pretty great time chilling in Takayama.

I had some time to think to myself on the train ride home and I decided I wanted to try and sort out my thoughts and emotions regarding going home.

I don't really know how to word them so you'll have to bear with me as I try and type this out.

When I think of going home, I have two separate thoughts. The first is obviously sad to be leaving.

I think of my families here and all of my friends. I don't know how I'm going to deal with being away from them. I really love my families here. I enjoy looking over the mountains that surround my town and I enjoy eating all the delicious Japanese food.

I think it's the best thing everyday to be able to hear Japanese and understand it. I have an amazing time simply talking to people in Japanese. I can't express the joy of being able to think in a different language, it really is something mind blowing.

I cry sometimes, at the thought of leaving all of this even though I know that I'll come back some day. I don't want the exchange experience to end at all.

But then I am also excited in a way. I felt guilty for a while to be feeling excited about going home because I thought I wasn't fully immersed in the exchange if I was wanting to go home.

But I don't want to go home. I don't even know what home is but I know that I'm excited to see my friends and family again.

I can't wait to talk to Mum about everything I've been up to and I can't wait to tell Dad about how my karate has been. I'm gonna beat the crap out of my little brother (who should be a black belt by the time I get home and also, should be looking me in the eyes because apparently he got big.)

I can't wait to eat New Zealand's various foods again and I'm pretty excited to be able to buy my own beer. I'll have to buy Dad a lot because I used to "steal" his.

I'm excited in a way to be surrounded by English again, it's going to be something like a reverse culture shock.

I'm looking forward to being able to drive a car again and laugh with my friends as we hang out and just muck around like we used to. 

When I think of these things, I can't help but smile and feel excited. 

It's so conflicting. It is a feeling that's really working me up. I know I shouldn't be getting worked up and I tell myself not to think about these things but of course I do.

That's all I've got for now.

I'm still shattered, I might need to sleep for a whole week to get back to my regular state but for now I'm going to be a zombie. 

Sorry this is late, I'm really pushing it with the sports now and it's taking a toll on my body and lifestyle. I want to win the tournament more than anything right now, I'm investing my entirety into it. 

Until next time!
I've got no idea what I'm doing!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Okinawa and some real good times!

Monday morning was an semi early get up and the weather was really packing it. There was some question as to whether we would be able to actually fly out to Okinawa.

We all packed in buses at the Gero train station and set off on our way to the airport, a two hour drive that I pretty much knew backwards because I've been there so many times.

The bus ride up was fun though, everyone was excited for the trip and you could see it. There was some movie playing on the tv at the front of the bus but I didn't understand much of it so I went to sleep.

We arrived at the airport and it turns out that half of the kids have never been on a plane before! All of my mates were asking me all sorts of questions about how it all works.
Some buddies from my class
We had some time in the airport to get some food and I knew exactly what I wanted and where it was. I told my mates that I was gonna go and get some subway and they said they were keen for a sandwich too.

We get in line and there are a bunch of Englishmen in front of us. With thick British accents they tried to communicate with the poor young Japanese staff. It was painful to watch but I chuckled a little because I know the language barrier quite well.

We finally got our turn to order and the poor boy looked at me with a sad look in his eye and he said:


And I told him in Japanese that I'd like all of the salads with extra onions. My mates laughed as the shop assistants looked at me with jaws dropped. It was quite cool.

And it turns out that my mates had never had subway before and were confused as to how to eat the sub. I thought that was a laugh.

Up and away
Getting high

Friends everywhere!
The plane ride was so smooth I almost didn't believe we had landed!
We're everywhere!

We all piled into buses and made our way to the "Kokusai-dori" which is "international road" and looked around for some grub.

We split off into groups and started looking through souvenir shops and checking out the menus of restaurants when we decided to hit up this nice looking steak house.
The international street of Naha, Okinawa

That's "peace street" (And one character that I can't read, making me unable to understand half of the sign.)
Chicken steak and real steak!

Snake alcohol. about $300 a bottle
Okinawa is a tropical island so there were tons of these island-esq things around
After our big feed, we did some souvenir shopping. I got some cool stuff and paled when I checked my receipts afterwards. Of course this touristy tropical island is going to burn a hole in my wallet.

We found the hotel but met up with some other students and a teacher on the way there. I found a vending machine that was selling mountain dew, a seemingly rare drink in Japan. Anyway, I was drinking and walking and everyone kept asking if I was drinking some sort of alcohol.

I told them what it was and they just looked perplexed but I thought I could make a joke out of it with one of the teachers I get along well with.

So as I walked up to him, I took a big swig of this can and staggered ever so slightly and said to him:

"Would you like some of this sake?" (Sake is a Japanese rice wine but it also means alcohol.)

He looked at me without hesitation, or without even looking at the can for that matter, and stole the drink and sculled the whole thing.

He looked at me with dead seriousness and said:

"This is lemonade, kid."

I laughed and walked away feeling slightly defeated.

We all made it to the hotel and we got segregated into sexes and started searching for our rooms. The ladies got to use the elevator but us guys had to lug our luggage up the stairs. I was on the fifth floor.

I locked into the hotel's free wifi and spent the night playing games with my room mates. It was good fun.

6 AM wake up for the buffet breakfast. Everyone was in their pajamas so I thought I would be fine in sweat pants and a singlet.

I got in the elevator and was promptly told by one of the teachers that a singlet is inappropriate. So I had to run back to my room and change. I was slightly late for breakfast and couldn't get a seat with my friends but that wasn't so bad. There were some girls from my class sitting at a table with a spare seat so I made my way over to them cos we were all pretty good friends.

But nope, can't be sitting with girls, that's a bit too racy for Japanese schools apparently. So for the majority of breakfast I was eating by myself. At least it was a decent breakfast!
Sausies and bacon
Breakfast finished and I went to say hi to the teachers because they were between me and the place where we dropped off out plates. My homeroom teacher was wearing a CCC shirt, so I sat down and gave him a mini lecture as to where the Canterbury Clothing Company is and how I live in South Canty. I must have talked his ear off.

Today was the "education" leg of the trip.

Back in the Second World War, America invaded Okinawa and bloody conflict ensued. Obviously with such a war ridden place, there are a few museums around dedicated to the memory of those who served.

We went to this one place where there was a monument with all the names of the lost written on it. It's hard to explain, so I'll chuck some photos in.
These plaques(?) stretched on for quite a while and resembled waves. They were justly called the "Waves of peace"
Most of the names were Japanese but there was section for all of the Americans who died here as well which I thought was amazing. It was sad to such a huge amount of people had given their lives. I was having a small moment but I looked around and saw that everyone had left me behind.

So of I scuffled, trying to find my class.

We were heading for this big museum

But first there was this monument to look at

The two islands (far left and far right) are Okinawa and Japan
looking the other way, there was this superb view. It was so tranquil
 We entered that museum and got all set to look around. It said no photos, but I laughed at the sign and took photos anyway.

I don't know why I did, they're too grotesque to put in my blog and I don't really want to go looking over them again.

The museum was quite hard hitting, I thought it was a bit more traumatizing than the Nagasaki atomic bomb museum because it wasn't just showcasing the aftermath of said bomb, but instead this museum showed the real horrors of the battlefield and all else that went on during the war.

It was all quite grim.

We made our way through and finally came to an end, some students had slightly dropped moods, but some others were all cheers as they took selfies around the place. I just overlooked them, I thought it was a bit disrespectful though.

I bought some of the local tea from a vending machine to find out it was just re-branded jasmine tea. No worries, it did the job and it tasted nice. I met up with my class and we got on another bus and made our way to the next war museum.

I was told by one of the teachers that this next museum was even more hard hitting than this one. Oh dear.

It took a wee while to get there so I pretty much just zoned out in the bus. I wasn't in a talking mood but I didn't want to be that one kid who sulks, so I did my best to interact with people who talked to me. The whole war scene had me a bit emotional.

We get to this new site and immediately I could feel something different. But I couldn't really put my finger on what it was.

We lined up to pray at this monument, but I didn't completely understand what was up.

One of the teachers explained it to me.

We were standing in front of this opening to a big natural cave that was used as shelter during the battles, The actual cave.

It wasn't just soldiers who were using it though, back when the invasion took place, about 300 or so 18 year old school girls were enlisted into service as nurses and helpers for the military. Obviously that's quite horrible and they were subjected to the full horror of the war and many of them died from just being exposed to the brutality.

But this cave was the place of their last stand. After suffering many losses and enduring so much, the Americans had overtaken their position. They stayed in the cave and the enemy gassed it out, killing all of those who hadn't fled or been shot.

And we were standing right there, where it happened almost 70 years ago. That was quite eerie.
It went pretty deep
I couldn't believe that so much had happened here

Respects were payed
We went inside and filed into a big auditorium. We were going to listen to a lecture from one of the girls who was enlisted. It was hard to understand her because she used words that were well beyond me and she had this odd Okinawan accent that I hadn't figured out yet.

But the I got the jist of what she was saying. She talked about looking at the sky in disbelief as it was filled with American planes. She talked about her friends dying around her and how she dealt with injured soldiers even though she didn't have any medical experience.

And she also said she was glad when she survived and found her Mum. Lots of her friends died but some of the people who made it through had lost family members and she told all of us listening to give our family a huge hug when we got home. I thought she gave a pretty powerful speech. Some kids slept through it though and I wasn't too happy to see that.

But off we went again, to look about the museum.

I didn't take many pictures this time though.

This museum was a lot more personal, it had names and photos and really showed a more human side of what happened. It was quite tragic to see that people my age were submitted to such a horrible fate.

I was reading some of the testimonies and diaries of the girls when they were in the working in the caves. Conditions seemed to be pretty bad and obviously lots of people died but one girl's recount almost made me cry.

She wrote that her best friend and her were working but her friend had been falling sick and she didn't even have the energy to eat what little rations they got. She said she couldn't see her in the dark but she knew that when she stopped shivering and crying that she had died. She carried her body out to bury it but because she was so weak she kept dropping her friend but she'd apologise every time and keep going.

I couldn't even comprehend the situation. This was a girl who was my age.

I walked around trying to hide my tears when one of the girls from my school came skipping up to me and asked if I was enjoying myself.

I feel bad about it now, but I snapped at her and almost lost my cool. I said that this wasn't really the type of thing to enjoy with more aggression than I should have. 

We made our way out and went off looking for lunch. We were having a standard lunch as a school, so food was a little sparse. But that's cool cos I wasn't so hungry. 

As we were eating I decided to stop feeling down because it wasn't going to make anything better. I put the memories of what I just seen to the back of my head and started to look forward to the afternoon's activities. We were going to the beach!
Ready to eat!

Okay, so lunch was better than 'standard'
 After the feed, we got back on the bus and zipped off to the next hotel which was right in front of the beach.
New room and new room mates
Mint view from the porch
And then we hung out on the beach until late!
We buried a guy!

Played some beach volley ball
I'm not even hairy but I was the hairiest guy on the beach, even more so than the teachers
A bunch of guys were trying to carry one of the bigger P.E. teachers into the sea but he wasn't having a bar of it. When I say bigger, I don't mean he was overweight, he was just massive. 8 of us guys couldn't move him into the water so with our logical male brains, we decided to challenge him one by one in judo/wrestling.

It had a lot to do with the fact that there were lots of girls around and also the fact that who doesn't enjoy fighting on the beach?

I am proud to say I stood my ground longer than any of the other guys but there was no way this man was going to be thrown around by a wee white guy like me. We grappled and had a small battle but then he threw me and sent me rolling through the sand. I went back for more but to no avail. 

Battle scars scratches
I was trying to suck my tummy in and get a good angle of the scratches so hard that I accidentally pulled a silly face. Woops
We hung out on the beach for ages! We got to ride some cool inflatable things that were pulled behind jet skis at speeds that probably weren't legal. We swam in the beautiful water of the Okinawan ocean and had an awesome time.

Slowly but surely, the tide came in and it surprised me! I went in the water at the start of the afternoon only to be a tad disappointed because at the farthest point (there was a roped boundary) the water only came up to my waist.

But when I went back in a few hours later after a few games of volley ball and other beach shenanigans, I went back in to find that the water was up to my neck with the waves going well over my head. It was pretty neat.

But it started to get cold and our time at the beach was nearing an end.

We lined up and listened to someone say something that was lost on me because I was far away and pulling funny faces at my friends. We all started filing back into the hotel to have warm showers and get ready for a buffet dinner.

I let all of my mates go before me when it came to the shower. I was enjoying the view over the beach but I started to get a little cold so I was grateful when everyone had pretty quick showers.

I had sand everywhere and it wasn't nice. I even picked some small shells out of my togs. I got dressed for dinner and off we went!

The salad was DIY, and I got it right, it was divine! I couldn't recreate it when I went back for seconds though

My dinner team
It was a good feed! After dinner we went to explore the hotel and there was a convenience store on the first floor. There was a French lady working there! (She was white and had a French flag on her name badge, it wasn't too hard to tell that she wasn't Japanese.)

Once again I found myself, a Kiwi, speaking Japanese to a French lady. I asked if she spoke English (in Japanese) and she said yes (in English.)

So I asked why she was working in Okinawa and I got a pretty cool answer. She said she got sick of her last job so she simply quit and decided to come to Okinawa because it's a cool place and she loves karate! (Okinawa is the birthplace of karate.) I told her about my Kyokushin and we had a good yarn.

I asked what belt she was and she looked at me, with equal parts challenge and pride in her eyes and said: "Brown belt!" I told her that was awesome and smugly said that I was a black belt. She smiled at me with a slight look of defeat but it was in a joking way.

How cool, I thought.

I went back later and she remarked on the fact that I was from New Zealand, even though I never said I was from NZ. I'm still not sure how she found out.

We all went back to our rooms and made the most of the free time by milling about the hallways.

It turns out that everyone had come out to take photos with everyone. It was like a weird ritual. Girls would carry their phones around asking the boys (and other girls) to take a photo with them. It was always the same pose and the same request.

It got really weird when I showed up, it was like I was a rare commodity and everyone rushed to get a photo. I felt pretty cool, but I still thought the whole thing a bit odd.
I got lots of photos with lots of girls! I felt real cool!

Some of the guys wanted photos too, it was kinda cool
It was actually great, I got closer with all of my friends and even made some new ones
Everyone was out wandering the corridors until late but soon enough the teachers came along and sent everyone back their rooms. A couple of my roommates had some running practice to do in the morning but they were already keen to do some press ups and what not before bed.

So I joined in and got quite a sweat up. One of my best friends was my roommate for the night and he used to do karate when he was younger so we had some play fights and then talked for ages out on the balcony.

The view was honestly amazing.

I had another shower and went to bed. We got up at 6 and realised brekkie was at 7 so we lazed about for a while. 

Breakfast was much the same as yesterday's feed. 

We got back in those buses and drove halfway around the island to this massive aquarium. It boasted a Whale-Shark, the largest species of fish in the world. (It is neither a whale nor a shark. It's actually just a massive fish.)

This place is just stunning

Hey, that's not a real whale shark!

Found Dory, best go looking for Nemo next

Pretty big fish tank

There were actually three whale sharks swimming about and a whole heap of other massive things

It was massive! Those are manta rays swimming above it, the sheer size of this thing was mind blowing

The thickness of the acrylic glass keeping the fish in
It was an awesome day at the aquarium. It was pretty hot so Nobu and I got ice creams. I made the better decision by not getting a soft serve, but Nobu quickly found out why when his started melting all over his hands. It was hilarious.
Nobu was my host brother during my 3rd family, but we're still pretty much brothers
From the aquarium, everyone broke up into pre-organised groups and got in taxis to take on the island. We had spent some time in school planning out some places to go. I wasn't too sure of the plan but Nobu had it sorted.

We had a really cool taxi driver but none of us could understand his accent so communication was slightly awkward.

We started off with this place called: "Pineapple Park"

This'll be interesting!

Yea! Pineapples!

Ready to do some pineapple things!

Actual pineapples!
Even Christpher Columbus likes pineapples!

It was a pretty interesting place
It was actually really cool, we got some neat photos taken and learnt a bit about the delicious fruit. Even got to try some pickled pineapple but I wasn't allowed to try the pineapple wine. 

There was this incredibly catchy/annoying tune playing the entire time we were there and we found ourselves singing about pineapples for the rest of the trip.

Next we went out for lunch and we were having traditional American food!


So I came all this way to Okinawa, Japan, and all my mates voted to go to this "American restaurant."

I'm not gonna lie, it was quite nice
We then made our way to this other beach to get some underwater photos?

I didn't really understand what we were doing but I was just rolling with it.
Destination is that tower, it goes underwater apparently. And it was super windy. It was actually crazy

Still a pretty awesome place

I wouldn't mind living there!

I got a photo with these random Taiwanese girls who didn't speak much Japanese or English, it was a good laugh

I don't know what's going on here but it was funny

Found Nemo!
This was the best photo from the bunch I took underwater. I stupidly forgot to take a photo of the place we took the photos from.

Nobu and I being cool over here

A bunch of us being cool on the beach!
It was an interesting little trip. But our next destination was as odd as lunch was. We were in Okinawa and everyone wanted to go to the "American Village." Supposedly an American style chain of shops. Like a mall or something.

In my western opinion, it was very standard. There were a few American outlet shops that were playing English music. The Japanese loved it!

We quickly realised that none of us wanted any clothes so we went and hung out in the games centre which was just across the road.
Mario Kart! I came third place...
We then got into our taxi and made our way to the last hotel. It was a pretty flash place.
I arrived first so I assumed the ancient tradition of "First in first served."
 (We sorted out the beds later but I still got the middle bed!)
View from the room. There is a typhoon coming soon and the weather is starting to show it

It was pretty relaxing, just looking over the place

Some mates from the rooms a wee bit over 
I went over to Nobu's room just in time for some photos
Dinner menu had me pretty excited

The ontray was pretty nice and then the food just kept coming!

The night view was pretty great

Yea nah, that eclipse was pretty cool too
(we saw it for about 2 minutes and then the clouds ruined it)
 My roommates and I played cards and watched TV until late and it was great fun!
This is Tenpei and I, ready for the last day of the trip
Tenpei is one of my best friends here, he's in my class and I do kendo with him. He's quite quiet but when we do kendo he turns into this different person and it's awe inspiring. Last year, he was one of the two first years to be on the kendo A grade team with the third years, so he's pretty damn strong.

The last day had everyone slightly sad, no one wanted the holiday to end.

But it was still a good day! We were going to see a castle.
Lots of people and lots of gates

Much the same as the last one, but this one has walls!

That typhoon is gonna do some damage when it comes along

Not so many people but another gate

Damn wind!

This building was magnificent, I wish the weather was better so a more justifying photo could be taken


Trying to be a smartass and sneak a photo in the no photo zone

A view from inside the castle

Feeling like royalty in the throne room
We didn't have much time so we had to rush through which I thought was a bit of a shame because it was a really nice place. I still managed to get an icecream though!
The bio teacher and I, he's a pretty cool guy

Trying to be cool in the bus

God knows what's going on here
We made our way to the airport and then off we flew. There was a small bit of waiting around but it went by pretty smoothly. It was such an awesome trip! But there was still a lot of traveling to get done before we would be home.
 I felt so clever when I showed my juice/tea box to the teacher who was sitting next to me. He laughed at me when he saw that I had shoved it into the round cup holder and then almost cried when I tried to get it out spilled tea all over myself. I gotta stop doing these things.
It was a bumpy flight home but kids were so tired that they slept like babies.
We landed back in Nagoya and everyone was walking on those cool conveyor belts that are just flat along the ground. They were all standing on them so they were moving at a pretty standard pace. I decided to be a smartass again and got a fast walk going.

Everyone laughed when I casually walked past them on the normal ground whilst they were taking the express lane. It was a good time.

We all picked up our bags and got back into those buses. This time I slept for most of the journey home.

I got back to the station and my host Mum was waiting for me. When I got home I had a shower and went to bed. I was supposed to be going to school the next day but we had made plans to check out a festival in Takayama instead. Courtesy of host Grandma. looking out for me so I didn't have to go to school!

And it was an awesome day!
Takayama is a cool place

Some raw beef sushi on a rice cracker! Delicious!

They push these big towers around during the festival (the previous day, I was traveling when these were being rolled about)

We visited a shrine to see some show that was being put on

Everyone was gathered around in anticipation as we watched this puppet dance

He danced for a whole 15 minutes...

Those guys on the left were working for the BBC, I used my English skills to ask them!

Lunch was divine. This meat is to die for

Host Mum and I rolling around town

Grandma and Grandad!

There were all sorts of parades and even this dog was getting involved!
We walked around town all day and it was great. The weather was good and Takayama had plenty to show. I got to try a few different types of sake and eat a bunch of free snacks.

We met up with a friend and went out for dinner. We had eel! I don't know how but I forgot to take a photo of dinner but it was pretty delicious.

We got home late and we were all tired from walking and driving all day.

Saturday was a good long lazy day. We all slept in and it was great. There was a small event on in the evening which was quite interesting.

There was this shrine (that I used to pass everyday on the way to and from school) that was putting on some show.

It was a half hour traditional musical/dance with some cool as lighting.
Half of town turned up!

It was some mystical stuff
 They had this eerie flute thing and it sounded quite amazing but it gave me chills.

I thought it was pretty cool but my host sister was bored out of her mind
After the music stopped we could hear our stomachs rumbling so we went to a nearby ramen shop and pigged out on those noodles that I love so much.
Spicy garlic awesome noodles!
Sunday was supposed to be a lazy day but after a long time of saying that I was going to do something about my slightly swollen belly and telling my family that "I'll diet from tomorrow!"

I decided to hit the gym and take some action!

I went with host Grandma and one of my sisters. We started with the treadmills and I ran until I was sweating like anything. I hit the weights and got quite a decent work out. It was a good feeling. We finished on the bikes and once again I was sweating like crazy.

Grandma said it was yakiniku for dinner and I got so excited. It was like I could almost smell the tantalizing meat already. 

But I really could! There was this smell and I couldn't figure out what it was. It was kinda garlicy.

I asked Grandma if she could smell it to and she bluntly said:
"Yes! It's you! you're sweating out all that garlic from yesterday!"

Yuck. I thought that was pretty gross but there was nothing I could do about so I just kept on biking.

I went in the onsen after the gym and it was so relaxing.

We got home and sure enough, yakiniku was waiting for us. It was so good. So, so good.
Host family whipped out this big pan and we grilled so much meat I thought I wasn't going to be able to eat it all.
But I did. And I thought I was gonna explode!
Monday was another lazy day but I decided to go to the gym again. I did three hours and it felt great. I walked home with a sense of accomplishment and some tired muscles. 

That's all for the moment, there is a whole other week to talk about but that'l have to wait for a moment because I need to sleep.

Okinawa was absolutely amazing and I can't wait until I can go back sometime and make my own way around the island. The memories from that trip will be with me forever though, and what good memories they are. I'm truly living the dream everyday here. 

I think that's just awesome.

Until next time!
I was hoping to look a lot cooler when I was eating this ice cream
But it tasted great so I don't actually care how I looked at all