*Glances around sheepishly* H-hi everyone..hehe..l-long time no see huh..
So I see you’ve already forgiven me for my long absence! (right?) In all seriousness though I do sincerely apologize and make no excuses for abandoning you all like this. So here I am, 3 months after returning to New Zealand, making attempt at reviving my blog! My plan starts with writing a post to accompany the ‘to-do-list’ that I wrote before leaving on my exchange, showing how well I did with my goals and expectations.
But first, a little update on my life at the moment, and my overall ideas for the foreseeable future. So, as I said, I’ve been back for three months. A lot of things have happened in that time, including me managing to survive my first term of NCEA level two (oh yes, I’ve chosen to repeat a year in high school). I’m going to shamelessly tell you all that I got excellences in my first two internals of the year, which I’m rather pleased with (I’ve gone and jinxed it now haven’t I..), despite missing two weeks from the start of school then being sick for a third. Apart from that, some of you may know about ‘return shock’ – something you get upon returning to your home country after a long time abroad -. It’s similar and yet different to ‘entry shock’, which I experienced when I first got to Japan. I won’t go into the details of it, but basically I felt very weird for the first month I was back, like I shouldn’t be here, kind-of..’disconnected’. Luckily AFS held a camp down in Wellington for recent Returnees like myself, and we spent a weekend sharing stories about our exchanges, discussing how to deal with return shock and talking about the future.
So that was great fun and heaps of help. Another thing I participated in a week ago (Friday 9th May) was my school’s Cultural Mosaic Night, where I sung a Japanese pop song called “Tegami” (Letter) by Angela Aki (which I actually sung with my class choir at my school in Japan). It was super fun, and a nice way for me to make a connection between my exchange and life back in NZ. Hopefully I can get a video of it up on YouTube sometime soon..but for now here’s a picture;
That’s basically all that’s happened, and we’re into the second term now and already I’m just keeping my nose above the sea of internals (ohoho, but just wait for week five! Say all the teachers). At the moment my plans are simply to focus on school, and having no extra-curriculars at the moment makes that easier. I mentioned before that I’m repeating a year, and that’s because I want to aim for being International Prefect in my last year of school, and I also want to get into my school’s top choir (which is coincidentally also the best secondary school choir in New Zealand ahaha~). I hope I can spend more time on my blog and..maybe..get a YouTube channel up-and-running? But we’ll see. I also have the AFS North Shore Chapter Newsletter on my hands, which will hopefully pressure me into learning to come out with content regularly..Anyway. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to kick start my blog back into gear! Prepare yourselves for my ‘things that I achieved while I was in Japan’ list; blue are the goals that I wrote pre-exchange, black are the results post-exchange.
Become fluent in Japanese speaking and writing (Hirigana and Katakana and some Kanji)
Every time someone asks me “So, are you fluent in Japanese now?!” I put on a modest face and say “No well..I like to say ‘conversational’ rather than ‘fluent’”, which means that yes, I can keep up a casual conversation with most people, watch Japanese dramas and read comics, but I still feel like I have only scratched the surface of the enormity that is the Japanese language. In terms of Kanji (Chinese characters), last time I counted I knew close on 300, which is…compared to the “2000 most common Kanji” textbook that my classmates studied from..a good effort?
At least pass my exams in school
It turns out that I didn’t actually take any exams at my school, and instead I got holidays during exam times, which was awesome. I did take various Japanese Language Proficiency Tests though. For the JLPT N4 I got almost top marks, then for N3 – next level up – I got…not so top marks…but I won’t let that discourage me! I’m now ultra motivated to pass that exam! Sometime..
Make lots of new friends-for-life
Gosh..I can’t even express how fully this goal was met. For one, I’m practically friends with all 700 odd girls at my school. They’re like a huge family to me, especially my class and the kendo club girls, who were so kind and welcoming and helpful. At the beginning of my exchange, like any relationship, I didn’t feel completely comfortable there, but as time went on..well, lets just say that by the end of my exchange it was like we’d known each other for years. I love them all and miss them so much. On the other side of the picture, I also have life-long friends among the other exchange students and Japanese students I met through AFS. The people in my chapter; Sophie from Denmark, Chris from America, Santi from Paraguay, Helena from Iceland and Juuso from Finland, are especially close to my heart. There’s also Sunny whom I met at the AFS summer camp and, gosh, EVERYBODY else.
Become a part of Japanese culture
That’s a bit vague..but yes, I think I did achieve this. By the end of my exchange I felt connected to my surroundings, and no longer noticed people staring (in fact, I myself stared whenever I saw a foreigner…like, WOW, what are they doing here?). I was able to talk to people in shops, find my way around the train system and I generally just felt like I belonged, like Japan had become my home, instead of just a destination.
Have my host family become like my own family
Oh yes, no doubt about this one. My last host family was the Horibe family, who I lived with for close on six months. I got so close to my host Sister and host Mum especially that it was like I’d been born there. My host Mum and I would watch Japanese dramas together, chatter about them over dinner, argue over which celebrities were better looking and fan-girl about kpop boy-bands (especially Tohoshinki!). There’s a dessert in Japan called Yukimi-daifuku, which is icecream inside a sticky rice-cake coating, which I loved so much I could have eaten it three meals a day. By the end of my exchange I didn’t even have to say “Do we have yukimi-daifuku?” after dinner, I could simply ask “Do we have…that?” and my host Mum would roll her eyes and say “Yes of course! Go on…you’ll get fat!” or something to that effect. Yes, she knew my eating habits well enough to know to put tuna-mayonaise paste on the pumpkin in my lunchbox..which is, by the way, delicious. You might be wondering, though, how about my host Dad? Well he lived in Oosaka, down the bottom of the country, during the week, and only came home on the weekends (at which time he would drink lots of osake every evening and fall asleep on the floor in the lounge). But don’t get me wrong! My host Dad was the greatest host Dad I could have asked for. Actually, one time when we went to a yakitori (chicken kebab) restaurant for dinner, he introduced me to some of his friends that we bumped into as his daughter, told me sincerely that if I should get a Japanese boyfriend then I had to introduce them so he could “make sure he’s an alright guy”, then (after a few drinks), gave me his Ray Ban sunglasses as a present.
‘Discover’ myself and become a more mature person
One of my main reasons for going on an exchange was that so I could develop a ‘sense of myself’. I’ve definitely become more independent and I feel like I know myself better than I did only a year ago. One of the greatest things that I got out of my exchange, also, was self confidence. By about half way through I found myself saying “Yes, of course I can do that!” to things that, earlier, I would have balked at. For example, the 3 minute Japanese farewell speech that I presented to my school on my last day, or going into busy teen-central Shibuya on Christmas Eve with my Danish friend, dressed as Santa and Rudolf, to hand out chocolate to unsuspecting strangers. I cherish both now as great memories, and I’m glad that I was able to gain the self confidence to tell myself “Yes, I can do this!”.
Develop a Japanese-like personality and fashion sense (in other words have a kind of personality change)
Well..I have picked up a number of habits (which I must admit are wearing off slightly, now that I’m back..) such as finding it appalling to wear shoes inside, saying “Itadakimasu!” before each meal, “ittai!” instead of “ouch!” and “oisho~” when I sit down. I also find it tempting to do the dolphin-like head-bobbing bow when speaking to someone formally and have picked up other such gestures that seem to confuse most New Zealanders. In terms of fashion, well..I’ve developed a liking toward pastel colours? Oh I also got a dramatic hairstyle change right before coming home.
Be able to sit on my knees without trouble for a long time
I got plenty of practice at this while in kendo club, as we had to sit like that while the teacher talked to us before and after each practice. I actually find it comfortable to sit like that now..but certainly not for more that ten minutes.
Be able to use chopsticks flawlessly and skilfully
Actually, when I first got to Japan, my first host Mum corrected my chopsticks-holding-technique, and since then I’ve received a lot of compliments on my ability at chopstick-weilding. So yes, that’s something that I’m rather proud of..
Go to an Onsen
(An onsen is a Japanese public bath). I went to an onsen a total of four times while I was in Japan; the first orientation camp, the AFS summer camp, during my First Year Conference camp with my school, and when I went on holiday with my host family to Kyoto and we stayed in a traditional Japanese motel. To be honest, they’re really great, and it really cuts a lot of corners on the road to becoming friends with someone..aha..ha.
Wear a Japanese School uniform
Of course, derr. I even got to buy mine and bring it home with me, score!
Learn to spin my pen in my fingers like a ninja
No..unfortunately, this didn’t happen. I still can’t do that.
Learn how to make awesome Origami
Well I did one time make a samurai helmet out of origami..in fact, here’s a picture of a present I received from the school I went to during my short-term exchange to Yonezawa (which I suppose I’ll write about later).
of course, my version wasn’t nearly as beautiful.
Experience the Japanese school opening ceremony
Yes. And it was BORING.
Have an awesome 17th birthday in Japan
My birthday in Japan was the. Best. Birthday. Ever. Me, my host Mum, host Sister and host Grandma went to Seoul, Korea for three days. It was FREEZING in the middle of winter (like, you wouldn’t believe how cold it was), but it was definitely one of my favorite memories from my whole exchange. I won’t go into it here, but I’ll definitely devote a post to it in the future.
See the Sakura trees in spring
Yes! The Sakura were in bloom when I arrived, and the lane down the middle of the school campus that we had our arrival orientation on was lined with them. They were hands-down one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I also got to see them late into the season when my first host family took me away for golden week, after they had all fallen in Tokyo.
Go to Japanese festivals and ceremonies
I went to a good number of festivals while I was in Japan, including the new-years celebration of the shrine that I stayed at over the new years (and that will be the topic of yet ANOTHER post to come).
Wear a Yukata/Kimono
I’m very lucky to have been gifted two Yukata while in Japan, but a Kimono is a very different thing. They are very expensive and elaborate, taking up to an hour to put on – something that someone else has to do for you, as it’s impossible to do yourself. There was only one Kimono in my family, which my host Grandma put on me during my time in Mie-ken over new-years, and which my host Sister also wore for her Seijin-shiki (coming of age ceremony);
Visit a Shrine or Temple, maybe in the mountains? With the beautiful relaxing gardens where you can meditate..
I visited countless temples and shrines during my exchange, including Japan’s largest: Oise-jingu. But one that comes to mind when I read this goal, is “Yama-dera” (literally, “Mountain Temple”), which I visited while in Yonezawa on my short term exchange. It was so, so tranquil and beautiful, I can’t possibly describe it in words. Even pictures can’t do it justice, but here’s one..
Again, I’ll be talking more about this in my post about Yonezawa, so you’ll have to wait ’till then!
Do lots of little traditional Japanese things like writing a wish on paper and tying it outside a temple at the new years (that might be way off but you know what I mean)
A little bit off..yes. In Japan you are able to draw your fortune from a box for 100 yen, and if it’s a bad fortune, you tie it up on a wooden rack outside the temple in the hopes that the bad luck won’t befall you. I haven’t heard of people writing wishes, but that may very well happen, and not just during new years.
Go to Harajuku and Shinjuku (they have the Square Enix head office there ahhhh!!)
I actually ended up living walking-distance from Harajuku during summer vacation, which resulted in daily shopping sprees (as Harajuku is filled to bursting with weird and wonderful Japanese fashion stores), and I was also able to go to the Square Enix shop in Shinjuku. But, my favorite district was, in the end, Shibuya. Whenever I hung out with my friends, it was in Shibuya. They have everything there, from great Ramen (noodles) to the famous Tower Records, Toho Cinemas and 109 Shopping Tower. Not to mention the atmosphere. Shibuya was definitely my favorite place to be when out of the house.
Buy heaps of clothes
Do I even have to answer this? Just take a look at the two 30kg boxes that arrived on my door-step last month.
Buy heaps of manga and anime. In Japanese. And be able to read and watch it. In Japanese.
I have upwards of 20 volumes of manga scattered across my room that I haven’t managed to get through yet. The great thing is that in Japan they only cost up to 500 yen (seven bucks) per volume, while over here in New Zealand they cost $25 each. Yeesh! On the Anime front I still haven’t managed to interest myself in it, apart from the Ghibli films, so I didn’t buy any of that.
Buy heaps of other stuff. Just stuff in general. I mean, the minimum spending money I take is $5,000 so…
I pity my naïve 16-year-old-self for believing that $5,000 is really that much. But oh yes, I bought a lot.
Travel around Japan and see the beautiful scenery. And take a gazillion pictures.
I wish I could have travelled more, seen more and taken a gazillion more pictures. Japanese is such a beautiful country. And I’m so, so grateful for all that I was able to experience of it.
Although I did have the opportunity to, I never did go skiing while I was over there.
Eat lots of weird and wonderful food and develop a taste and knowledge for it
If mixing tuna-mayonaise paste with every possible thing is something you call ‘weird and wonderful’, then I definitely completed this goal.
Continue learning Judo. Maybe get a grade higher? Although I hear the Judo here is like Preschool compared to the Judo there..
Unfortunately there was no Judo club at my school but…
If I can’t learn Judo, take up a different Japanese sport.
I joined the kendo club, as you will know from previous posts, and it was amazing. Tough work, but great fun.
Have a good looking cross-dressing Japanese Boyfriend~ (okay that one was an inside joke). But a girl can dream right? (without the cross-dressing part that is) >___<”
I..might have..had a crush on someone…but that is DEFINITELY for another time..if at all! You better keep reading my blog if you want to find out! (Aha! See what I did there?)
Sleep on a Futon and eat from a table that you kneel at (I hope my host family’s house will be like this – they probably will have the low table but maybe not the Futon – but if not I hope I can live like this at least once. Experience some real traditional Japanese culture..or something)
None of my host families had low tables (we ate at a western dining table) or futons (we slept on western beds), but I did have plenty of opportinities to experience these things while away from home. One particular time was when my last host family took me to Kyoto over the new years and we stayed in a traditional Japanese motel (which I mentioned earlier). The room we slept in was a tatami mat room and we ate our dinner kneeling at a small table, which we then moved to the corner to make room for the futon mattresses that we slept on. It was a wonderful traditional experience.
Go to an Anime or Manga or Cosplaying convention
I went to Japan’s largest cosplay and fan-art convention during the middle of the Japanese summer, at a location called “Tokyo Big Site”. The line to get inside the venue was a full three hours long and wound back about a kilometre from the doors..me and my three friends melted in the summer heat and humidity and cleaned up a litre-bottle of water between us before we were even half way there. But it was still great! We saw some amazing closplays, some..interesting..fan art and generally had a cool time.
Become knowledgeable and enthusiastic about Japanese Pop/Rock music
In Japan, 95% of the content on TV is made up of variety shows and dramas, both of which usually feature one or more idols from famous music groups. So yes, I’d say I learnt quite a bit about the most popular Japanese bands out there..Arashi, SMAP, Kiss My ft2, the 48’s, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Rip Slyme, Funky Monkey Baby’s (who actually disbanded while I was over there, because one of the members had to take over the family business), EXILE, J Soul Brothers, blah blah blah..too many to name (and don’t ask me about their weird titles, I don’t know). By far the most famous (and the object of my first host mother and sister’s fan-girling) is Arashi, of whom I like Matsu Jun the most, and who appeared in variety shows almost every night (or so it seemed). Anyway, I’m getting carried away. My favourite Japanese Rock group is and will always be ONE OK ROCK, and when I went up north to Yonezawa and attended a different high school for a week I quickly made friends with all the many ONE OK ROCK lovers in my class (of which there were three) and we started singing and playing crazy air-guitar every time we met each other in the hallways. Good times. I must also mention that whenever I went to Shibuya I made sure I stopped by Tower Records, and over the course of the year I bought many an album.
Go to a concert? That would be seriously awesome.
The outcome of this goal is yet another of my best memories of my year abroad. I was able to go to two concerts overall, the first at the end of summer called A-Nation – with my school friends and fellow Kpop fans – where Tohoshinki (known better as TVXQ) and Super Junior, plus some Japanese artists, performed. That night I screamed my voice raw and almost passed out every time Changmin or Yunho winked into the camera. The second time was with my host mum, where she managed to nab last-minute tickets to the Big Bang Japan Tour in Toyko Dome, which was an out-of-this-world experience. The greatest thing about the night wasn’t even the performances (which were pretty epic, especially when GD decided it was getting hot and thought he’d throw half his clothes into the audience), but it was their Japanese (being Korean you’d think it was pretty average). Most of them had passable Japanese, although Taeyang had a weird accent and once couldn’t remember the word for pinkie and called it “Aka chan yubi” which literally means “baby finger”..but TOP, my favourite member..TOP was HOPELESS. And it was hilarious. It seemed the only word he knew was ‘yabai desu’, which means something like ‘Oh my god’ or ‘incredible’, and so he would answer with this every time a question was directed his way.
“How are you feeling tonight, TOP?”
“Are you excited to be in Japan?”
“Explain what our next song is about”
I found it hilarious.
Become familiar with Tokyo (somewhat)..well I’ll be there for school everyday anyway..
One of the things I’m most proud of achieving while in Japan is my efficiency at navigating the train system. From my first experience on a subway being when I got there, I think it’s pretty cool that by the end of 10 months you could ask me how to get from point A to point B and I would probably know off the top of my head, including transfers and a rough time estimate, how to do it. I was also able to find my way reasonably well through Tokyo’s second biggest station, Shinjuku station, without getting too lost..and I knew the surrounding area of Shinjuku district passably as well. Another couple of places I knew very well were Shibuya and Harajuku..by the end of my stay you could have put me down at almost anywhere in those districts and I would have known roughly where I was and how to get to the station or certain shops.
Well, there it is folks, the response to my goals for my exchange year. It sure was fun for me to go through and write this, I hope it was as interesting for you to read! And with this as a starting point, I hope to keep up a reasonably regular posting routine, updating everyone about all that happened in my life after the summer vacation, and what’s been up since I got back.
Bye bye for now!