Thursday, February 16, 2012

I'm Home

So, as far as my Japan experience goes, this is my last blog post (,-n-~
I made it home safely and am enjoying the sunshine and summer weather! With all the preparations before I left Tsuruga, I didn't really get a chance to update my blog so I have a bit of catching up to do... I apologise now for the long post... 英語ばっかり-ごめんね!


Firstly, the weekend before I left, my host dad took me to a onsen (hot spring) hotel in Ishikawa, the prefecture above Fukui. I had never been to a Japanese public bath or hot spring before so it was an amazing experience. I ended up going into the bath 4 times in the one night and morning we were there. Meanwhile, outside, it was snowing which just made the steaming hot baths that much more appealing. At the hotel, there was also karaoke, a game centre, a manga library and a buffet restaurant. The next day, we got up early and drove back to Tsuruga where I was dropped off at school (Lol). Anyway, here's some pics...










Later that week came my last day at Tsuruga High School ’;n;` Along with it came a snow storm *-*
As a normal school day, everyone had club so I had to make my goodbyes quick before trying to clean up six months worth of stuff in my locker and desk... thankfully some people stayed behind to keep me company but it was hard to say goodbye to them when it came time to finally leave!


(Sorry, this isn't everyone...)
But, due to the huge amount of snow that fell in the storm...

... all the trains were stopped the next day. Me and my host dad were waiting at the station in the morning until they announced that nothing was running, so I asked if I could go back to school to have lunch with my friends one last time (my host mum had made me a bento for on the train and it was about ten minutes until lunch at school).

When I turned up at school I went and surprised my teacher in the staff room but, as it turned out, she had a surprise for me -- a personalised chocolate with a picture of our class on the wrapper. She had ordered them the week before but they hadn't quite made it in time before I left. It was an awesome, awesome surprise.

2-3 友チョコ!
The best part came, however, when I went back to my class. I waited outside while my teacher went in and told everyone there was a little surprise. That's when I walked in :P Everyone was so surprised, thinking that I was already on the way home -- you should have seen their faces! The whole class gasped and one of my friends came right up and hugged me. I got to eat one last bento with my friends, just like normal (except for the fact I wasn't in uniform) and then, after lunch, the teacher came in and announced that afternoon classes and club activities were cancelled due to the snow. I got to hang around with my friends at school for a bit to say some proper goodbyes (and take a million more photos lol). Even though I was still sad to go, seeing everyone one last time let me leave Tsuruga feeling happier than I had the day before.

But actually, leaving wasn't going to be that easy...



... When we went back to the station, the snow kept up and the trains still weren't moving. So, we went back home and I got to spend one last night with my host family. We went and got okonomiyaki because it's one of my favourite Japanese foods and I spent my last night with my brother and sister playing with the snow and icicles outside my window


The snow didn't really stop, but it slowed down a little. The roads were open again but the trains still weren't running. My host dad ended up driving me and the other exchange student in Fukui to another town about an hour away to catch the bullet train. If we didn't leave Tsuruga that day, I would have missed my flight so (as much as I wanted to) I couldn't go back and have another lunch with my friends... ^0^

The snow outside the station...

Then came the bullet train ride to Tokyo. The further away we got from Tsuruga, the less snowy it got. I was also quite excited to see Mt Fuji on the way as well...


And my host mum made me another last bento... :D


In Tokyo, it was sunny and comparatively warm. Me and a Columbian guy stayed with a host family who had previously hosted a few other AFS students. They took us to a few places around Tokyo but, because I was supposed to arrive the day before, we didn't really have that much time. However, we still managed to get some good sight seeing done.

First was the Tokyo Sky Tree, the newest installment of the Tokyo skyline. It is taller than the Tokyo Tower and still isn't properly open yet.



We also went through Ginza, the most famous shopping street in Japan.




 And then there was Akihabara, or Electric Town...

The AKB Cafe... *Sigh*

The lines of people waiting to get into the AKB cafe...

Some of the crazy things to be found in Akihabara -- a flexible keyboard! (I'm sure you can probably get these everywhere, but I had never seen one before...)
A 3D capable visor for watching movies. 
Just before going to the airport, we went and got some eel because our Colombian friend hadn't tried it before (my host dad really liked eel, so we had eaten it quite a bit). It was really good, anyway..





And, finally, it was time to leave Japan and come home... I was a little bit sad but I had already said my goodbyes in Tsuruga and was looking forward to seeing everyone back home. The plane ride went surprisingly fast and, before I knew it, I was seeing New Zealand again!



Now, I just want to say a big thank you to everyone that has helped make my time in Japan the wonderful, unforgettable and amazing experience that it was. Thank you to AFS for making this exchange programme possible. To 敦賀高校, my friends, teachers, 2-3, Tonko Kyudo Club and everyone else who I met along the way ~ ありがとうございます!!(僕のことわすれないで!)
ホストファミリー~本当にありがとうございます!:D この日本の経験をわすれません。

また日本に来るよ!じゃね!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Takoyaki ^u^

On Sunday, I was invited by one of my Japanese teachers and her daughter, a fellow Tonkou student, to come to their house for lunch. Before I begin, I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Takeuchi-san for giving up her time each week to give me a Japanese lesson at school. I would also like to thank the organisation "Nihongo no Kai" for making these lessons possible. They have been so helpful in improving my Japanese and were always interesting and fun. 

For lunch, we made takoyaki which, for those of you who are not familiar, is possibly the most fun and (one of) the most delicious foods Japan has to offer. Takoyaki are little fried spheres of batter which contain pieces of octopus, as well as anything else you can think of that you want to put in. I don't know anyone who doesn't like them and they are quite a treat (even though you can buy them pretty much anywhere these days, even at Mister Donut. Lol). To cook takoyaki, you fry them on a specially designed hot plate with small spherical moulds. Sitting around the hot plate frying up takoyaki is a really fun way to have lunch. 

Topped with okonomi sauce, katsuo (fish flakes), ao-nori (seaweed flakes) and mayonnaise we enjoyed our takoyaki prawn and kara-age (fried chicken) flavoured, and, of course, with octopus pieces in every one. So good.

A (quite fancy) takoyaki hot plate.

Some takoyaki with katsuo fish flakes and okonomi sauce. Just looking at this makes me hungry...
I don't think I will ever be able to get a hold of a takoyaki hot plate in NZ, but I have heard of people making much less spherical versions in extra small muffin trays... I am definitely thinking of giving this a try sometime -- I'm pretty sure you can get katsuo and okonomi sauce at any Asian supermarket.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Little Sunday Drive

After having a nice sleep in this morning, one of the last I will be able to enjoy in a while, my host mum came and told me that my dad wanted to 'go out' somewhere and, if I didn't have any other plans, I was welcome to come along. It being a Sunday, I didn't have anything else to do so I jumped at the chance to go on one of the little trips my host family often makes. I didn't bother to ask where we were going because I knew that no one would have a clue. Usually, my host dad will randomly decide he wants to go somewhere, so we load up the car and start driving out of Tsuruga while he decides where he wants to go. Today, he chose Kanazawa, the largest city in the Hokuriku region, lying in the prefecture just north of Fukui, Ishikawa. To get there we drove through a lot of really industrial places so I wasn't expecting much from this city to begin with. However, when we got there, I was amazed -- it is probably one of the nicest Japanese cities I have been to to date. I want to live there. Lol. It takes about two hours to get there from Tsuruga and we didn't leave too early in the day, so I am gutted that we only got to spend a few hours in the city itself. But I really enjoyed going there. 

Admittedly, it probably seemed a little more glamorous today than it would normally -- there were a lot of well dressed young men everywhere along with young women in kimono. Apparently, around this time of year, there are coming of age ceremonies in Japan for 20 year olds, and it seems that, in Kanazawa at least, today was the day. People coming of age dress up and get together to have dinner and party after their ceremonies, so all these people were out on the streets today. Anyway, here's some pics (didn't get many though)...


I told you this place was cool.

You can't really see, but those people walking along the footpath are a group of guys dressed up for their coming of age ceremony.



I didn't get a picture of any of the actual people wearing kimono, so I took a picture of a kimono shop instead.


Some lettuce flowers thingies. The pot beside this one had a lettuce missing... someone got hungry perhaps?

While you can only see the nice wide streets of Kanazawa in these photos, there is also a labyrinth of tiny, narrow streets that we made the mistake of turning into. Our big car couldn't really navigate these streets too well, but we managed to get out eventually (after a lot of swearing from my host dad!). Also, surprisingly, I think there were a few hills which would be a change from the other Japanese cities I have seen in the past -- all built on flat land. *o*

Sunday, January 1, 2012

正月

So it's officially the New Year, both here and back home. Last night was spent reasonably quietly but the importance of the New Year was not played down. On the morning of New Year's Eve, we visited the local fish market and bought some nice food so we could have a special lunch. Then, for tea, we had "Toshikoshi Soba", or Year-End Soba. These noodles are traditionally eaten on New Year's Eve because they symbolise longevity. One of my host Dad's friends came over, with some New Year sweets as gifts, and then they went away for the night (and I never heard my host dad come home again!). The rest of us just sat watching TV and eating ice cream with some other goodies. It was weird to know that it was actually already the New Year in New Zealand by 8 o'clock Japan time and as I watched the clock change from 7:59pm to 8 o'clock, I thought of everyone back home already in the year Twenty Twelve.  We all went to bed just after 11 but I stayed awake to see in the New Year. After the clock switched over, I went to sleep to the sound of distant gongs going off every now and then -- a Japanese tradition in which a gong is struck 108 times, symbolising the expulsion of the 108 troublesome desires that humans posses according to Buddhism. There were also these groups of people wandering the streets striking little wooden instrument-thingies and yelling out in unison. A group went past my house, so I looked out the window to try and film them but they saw me... I just gave them a wave and they carried on. Lol.


Part of the fish market

This morning, we drove all the way to Fukui City for the first shrine visit of the year. This is also a Japanese tradition, in which you go to a shrine and pray to the Kami-sama (they're kind of like the gods/spirits in Shintoism) for prosperity in the coming year. We went to this shrine in Fukui so that my host father and mother could ensure business success -- although I don't know why this shrine in particular could offer that. At each individual small shrine, you throw a coin and ring a bell before bowing and clapping twice, then you make your request. This was a good way for me to get rid of some of my smaller coins (like 1, 5 and 10 yen coins) but there were some people who must really want prosperity -- giving up 100 and 500 yen to pray. After visiting all the individual shrines, my host family bought me a piece of bamboo that is kind of like a good luck charm. You can buy them for different things (business success, success at school, success at entering university, etc), you write your name on them and then they will be put up all together in the shrine (I got the 'success at entering university' one). As well as this, I bought a New Year's fortune, which you tie to a special rack with everyone else's fortunes. I've gotta say, Japanese New Year is quite special and there were tonnes of people at the shrine. If we had gone to the one in Tsuruga, however, there would have been even more -- at least according to my host dad! Here are some pics...


People lining up at part of the shrine
Torii Gate at the entrance of the shrine.
You can see the bamboo charms all strung up on the left
My bamboo charm for prosperity in entering university this year

Part of my New Year's fortune. For my desires, autumn will be better than summer. For my study I have to have confidence. I'll also be a "Waiting Person" this year -- things will come if I wait.

There's my fortune tied up with the rest..


And here's the rack all the fortunes are tied to

People lining up to get to the individual shrines.
After getting hot coffee, we went for a delicious (and very traditional) lunch at an Italian cafe... that wasn't very Italian at all. Haha. They had pasta there, but we all got hamburg steaks and ate rice. Lol. All in all, though, it was a very good day.