This is a translation of the speech I gave on January 21st to my host club. It took about 3 hours to write, but only lasted 10 minutes in Japanese. Oh well.

Hello everyone!

It has been exactly 5 months since I arrived in Japan! Time sure went by fast! Since it has been a while since my last speech, I want to share my experience of my school trip and New Years.

First, I will talk about my school trip. Although it was a while ago, I can still remember quite well.

On November 24, we set off for Tokyo. From there, we took a plane to Nagasaki.

The second day we spent touring Nagasaki. First we went to the Peace Park and saw an interesting statue. We donated the origami cranes we had made before the trip and then headed to the atomic bomb memorial. One of the survivors gave a very sad testimony and I thought, `it would be good if we never have to face such a tragedy ever again`. After that, we went to Glover Garden, where I looked for heart stones. There is a legend that if you can find all three heart stones, you will become happy. As Ursula is a Catholic school, we also visited some historic Catholic churches in Nagasaki. I thought that they looked a bit like European churches. During our free time, I went with my friends and bought tons of castella, a specialty of Nagasaki. We climbed to the top of the Hollander slope and then went to Nagasaki`s Chinatown.

The next day we took a plane back to Honshu and then got on a bus to Kyoto. We first visited Kinkakuji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion). Since the leaves had turned to autumn colors, I was able to take many beautiful pictures. Next, we went to Nijo Castle. When I walked in the hallway, I could hear the floorboards creaking. This was designed as a precaution against intruders. At Sanjūsangen-dō I looked for the statue with my own face but unfortunately, I was unable to find it. The last place we went was Kiyomizu Temple. I drank from the stream that supposedly improves your knowledge, however, I feel no smarter. I don`t have any confidence that I will pass my upcoming kanji exam (passed!). As I find Japanese history to be very interesting, I had a great experience in Kyoto.

The fourth day, we went to Nara. Playing with the deer at Nara Koen was the best part of my whole trip. If you didn`t feed them, they would nibble your clothes until you gave them a rice cracker. We then went to the temple and I saw a huge Buddha statue and thought to myself, “Wow! Japan is, as expected, amazing.” Next we listened to a talk given by a monk at Yakushi Temple. Even though I couldn`t really understand him, I still found it interesting. For dinner, we took a bus to Osaka Castle Park, where I skillfully made takoyaki, a specialty of Osaka.

We spent all of the next day at Universal Studios Japan. I rode the roller coaster three times and had a lot of fun playing with my friends.

On the sixth day, we returned back to Hachinohe. As we had gone to so many places in such a short time, we were always being rushed. When I am able to go again, I defiantly want to be able to take my time and see everything.

The next thing I want to talk about is my experience of the New Year. On December 23, my host sister returned home from Sendai. Christmas was spent eating Christmas cake with 6 people and 5 dogs. On the 28th I went with her to the local temple where we made mochi. The mallet was very heavy but after making 7 batches, I got to be pretty good at pounding the rice. I also went to a mochitsuki at my host brother`s middle school. Out of all the students, he was the most lively when it was his turn to pound the mochi. My host sister spent the New Year working at a local shrine. One night, she let me try on her uniform.

On the 31st we were invited to ring the bell at the same temple where we had made the mochi. As we were ringing it, it turned to the New Year and so we headed over to my host sister`s shrine. I drew an omikuji but it was only regular blessing. It`s too bad that I didn`t get great blessing. We bought protection charms and then headed back home. Before going to the temple, my host father had watched a 24 hour comedy show on TV, when I had really wanted to watch kohaku. Please don`t tell him I said that.

Thanks for listening!

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My 4 Host Families

I`ve already had 4 host families, and will have at least 2 more before I return home. 3 of them were only for a short time, but I got to experience 4 different lifestyles.


Host #1
Sugawara Family

I stayed with them for my first week in Japan. My older host sister Mikiko (19) is a college student in Tokyo but was home for that week. She took me to see Salt (where I pointed out Albany when it came into view) and took purikura for the first time. They gave me a tour of Hachinohe and helped me get adjusted to Japan and school. Right before I changed families, we went to Kappa Sushi, a conveyer belt sushi resteraunt which was a lot of fun.

Host #2
Chiba Family

My second and also my current host family. My host parents are both veterinarians and run an animal clinic. I live in the second floor, above the animal hospital but I go through the clinic everyday when I return from school. They have 4 big dogs they keep outside, and 1 small dog, Tagosaku, who is very naughty and always knocks over the trash cans. My host brother, Mei (23), and host sister, Rei (20), are both university students so I don`t see them very often. Rei came home for a week during the summer and we went hiking together.

Host #3
Nakamichi family

I stayed with them for a week when the Chibas went on vacation to Jordan and Syria, and then for another 2 days when they went to a funeral. My 2 host brothers, Kinosuke (18) and Minofune (12), and my host sister, Koto (15), all had really busy schedules, and I got to see my host sister`s kendo tournament and my younger host brother`s judo tournament. I stayed with them during the week before test week, so they really helped me study and such. I really enjoyed having a lot of host siblings and I could really experience a Japanese family life.

Host #4
Hayashi family

I stayed with them for about a week when the Chibas went to a wedding. I had 2 younger host sisters, Miori (15) and Akari (10), and an older host brother, Tatsuya (19). I went with them to their calligraphy class and we completed a puzzle together (which had to have 1 piece missing). I also went to see a movie with my two host sisters and later took purikura. I really enjoyed staying with them.

I`ll correct and add more stuff when I remember. I have a post half done on Mutsu and Tokyo which I`ll finish later.

Next week I`m going on my school trip! Nagasaki, Kyoto, Nara and Osaka here I come!

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This is really late and I`ve forgotten most of what I got but I think it`s funny anyway.

Math: 47 and 21, not bad for not being able to read most of the questions…In Japan, they don`t use calculators at all. So I`m learning how to do the stuff they taught us on graphing calculators in America by hand.

English: 76 (writing), 60 (reading) I got all of the English grammar correct but I couldn`t really do the translating English into Japanese.

Chemistry: 34, I came late in the semester so I could only answer 1/3 of the questions, and I couldn`t read most of the questions anyway.

Biology: I still haven`t gotten this back. I wrote the same word (脊索) for every question on the test, so I`m hoping at least one of them was right.

現代文 (modern Japanese): 5% I memorized a bunch of Kanji, but only 5 of them were on the test. For the rest of the questions I wrote 一生懸命 (for dear life) over and over again which made the teacher laugh.

I didn`t even bother taking 日本史 (history) or 古典 (old Japanese) as it was pure kanji and I can hardly even understand the class. I started taking world history and surprisingly I can understand most of it. One of the tests was about the Islamic world and I deciphered one of the questions and answered “モスク” (mosque) and it was right! That made my day, haha.

Next time I`ll write about my trip to むつ and 東京.

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Test Week

I changed host families for a week but moved back in with the Chiba`s last night. Lot of fun stuff happened, including attending a badmitton meet with people from all over Aomori, watching my host sister`s kendo tornament and my host brother`s judo tornament, going shopping with my host sister and her friend, visiting a bread/sweets factory run by a Rotary member (and bringing home a huge box of sweets!) and entering a Japanese class outside of school with other foreigners.

Between all thoses exciting events, I have spent hours studying my math textbook, translating all the kanji into English and then trying to memorize the kanji to be able to read the questions on the test. However, when I actually took the test, of course I instantly forgot most of it and could only complete about half the exam. I have another math test tomorrow, so hopefully I`ll be able to remember then. The English tests have been relatively easy, besides the translating English into Japanese. The example sentences are pretty funny, for example “I wish we could do more to help the children” and “We should learn more about ecology in order to save the environment”. Later today I have a chemistry exam which I hope to be able to answer a couple questions.

None of these tests count for anything, as my school in America refuses to accept any credits, but it feels good when you can actually answer questions in another language.

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An Update

So much has happened I don`t know where to begin.

I changed host families a while ago and am now living with the Chiba family. Both of my host parents are veterinarians and I live above an animal clinic. They are always pretty busy so we always eat late at night. Their daughter is currently home for a week but will be leaving in a few days. We went hiking together on the beach, I hope to have some pictures up from that eventually.

About a week ago, I had an orientation for Rotary. There are 2 other Americans in my district, one attending my school and the other is in another city. We learned the basic rules and then had a chance to chat with some of the rebound students who had gone to America, Canada and Europe. Last Sunday, I went golfing with my Rotary club in Iwate-ken. Despite being really unskilled, it was pretty fun and afterwords I went to a classical concert of of my school friends was in.

I have found that the only classes I can actually understand and participate in, besides English, are math and chemistry. Math is pretty much the same as in America but they don`t use calculators at all. The exchange students (4 total) have cultural classes and Japanese together. Tea ceremony was really interesting, but there is so much to remember! I joined the Badminton club for an after school activity. They are really strong and we practice every day until around 7:00, meaning I don`t get home till around 8:00, which is about when my host family finishes work.

Tomorrow I have a field trip to an art museum and an aquarium. That should be fun.

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日本が大好き! (I love Japan!)

I made it to Japan with only a little trouble changing airports, almost getting off at the wrong bus stop, but survived in one piece. I flew over with a bunch of other exchange students (on our 13.5 hour flight), who were mostly from New York and Florida, but we were all spread throughout Japan. I arrived at Aomori Airport around 9:00pm and found 2 Rotary people and a really tall Canadian waiting. I spent the 2 hour car ride chatting with the Canadian about Aomori, Japanese culture and such. I was really surprised by how much Japanese I can understand, but my speaking is still terrible. But, I have a whole year to work on that!
My host family is really nice, I have a father, mother and an older host sister who is a college student in Tokyo, but home for the summer holidays. She took me to see Salt and after we did purikura. After some sightseeing with my host father, I attended a rotary dinner (my welcome party!) and watched fireworks for around 2 hours! Afterwords, I was really tired.
On Monday I got my first cell phone! Japanese cell phones really are the best. I also got fitted for my uniform, which I`ll have next week, for now I am using a borrowed one. Today was my first day of school. After arriving super early, I greeted all the teachers and then went to my class. The first class was English writing, where I had to introduce myself and talk about my hometown (in English) and then answer any questions. Next was ancient Japanese which even Japanese people find challenging so as a foreigner, I understood almost nothing. I made my schedule, or at least part of it, and I am arranged to take French, and some traditional Japanese classes (tea ceremony and calligraphy) as well as Japanese classes once the other American gets here. Then we had history which I also understood very little. After I went to another class to do the same thing as first period. All my classmates are really nice and were happy to help show me around. I hope this will be a good year!
I hope to have pictures next week, the current computer won`t read my sd card.

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Leaving this week!

3 more full days in Albany. Then off I go Friday morning to the airport and say goodbye to my family. Hopefully I’ll be with some other students on my flight from DC to Tokyo.
My friends threw me an awesome surprise going away/birthday party last week. I am really going to miss them!
Today I bought gifts for my future host families. I hope they will like them. I got a few books about New York, a lot of post cards, a calendar, some Dutch knick knacks and a few bottles of maple syrup.
I was able to talk to someone in my host club and they said they are going to be my next host family since my first planned host family didn’t work out. They have a dog and run a small animal clinic! How awesome is that? I can’t wait to meet them!
I am still packing, it is tough packing for a year. I hope to finish tonight or tomorrow.

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