Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Second Semester

The finish of one story is the beginning of another.

The Second Semester

Oh, The Places I've Went!

I saw a giant golden buddha on my way home from Tenri

One of the best parts of my second semester was all the places I visited.  I went to Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea, Osaka, Tenri University (to visit an OSU friend), Kugunarihama (an afflicted area from the tsunami), Yokohama, Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and so much more.  All of these places I went with friends or to see friends, but I also visited places by myself.

They weren't new cities, but they were new places.  I walked through the largest cemetery in Nagoya: Yagoto Cemetery.  I went to a movie theater by myself for the first time, and learned that Japanese viewers can watch the entire black and white scrolling credits without complaint.  I shopped by myself and discovered a favorite boutique, as well as bought my most expensive skirt (over $300, and not even an original!)  Not only did I explore new places by myself, but I also went with friends.  Sayuri and Yumi - two Japanese friends I became closer to second semester - would invite me to new cafes or restaurants.  We three would have a lovely time eating and just talking.  Those times have been some of my fondest times in Japan, and I miss them dearly.

Me, Sayuri and Yumi in front of the Science Museum

God Found Ways To Refresh My Soul

My dorm's prayer group at our final fancy French hangout

Looking back at my last semester, I had many periods where I needed to be refreshed.  Dorm relations were a bit bumpier than my previous Yamazato family.  We were still a family, but I kept comparing my new family with the old, which ended up depressing me.  Instead of feeling homesick, I missed my new friends that already left Japan.

But God found ways to encourage me during those times.  Through a Korean Christian dormmate, I met many Christian students for the first time.  I also visited other churches, including a Catholic church.  Meeting all these Christians, who were brought together from all over the world, warmed my soul.  Miraculously, I even participated in Biblical discussions and attended a Bible study conducted in Japanese.  Now that was an amazing achievement for me while I was in Japan.  Although I know I didn't say anything profound, the fact that I could express my love for Jesus and my beliefs in another language made me ecstatic to study more!!!

What I'm most thankful for is my prayer group.  The Christians in my dorm came together each week for dinner and discussed how we were doing spiritually.  We shared our struggles and delights, as well as prayer requests.  I looked forward to our time together; that small fellowship time helped my own spiritual life stay strong while I was in Japan.  I honestly don't know what I would've do without my spiritual brother and sister at that time.

Visits from Ohioans

2012 was also the year the dearest people in my life visited me!

Andrea with our massive fruit parfait (serves 3-4 people).

My sister, Andrea, was the first to visit.  I remember visiting Tokyo, which was our first stop, was more difficult that I imagined.  We arrived New Years Eve, which meant that even though we were tired, we wanted to enjoy the festivities that night.  However, it wasn't until the next day that I realized my ATM card wouldn't work until 2-3 days later (apparently even the ATM machines had a bank holiday).  That meant experiencing Japan only on the cash I had.  We managed to enjoy our time there, but I remember feeling stressed out because of my wallet.  @_@

However, I loved taking her around to my favorite places, especially when we visited Nagoya.  I took her to a lot of sweet shops . . . it's amazing we both didn't gain weight.  O_O  ^_^  She also was my only visitor who got to hang out with my friends in Japan.  So to summarize, although the trip was poorly planned, we had a lot of time to bond as sisters.  I especially enjoyed seeing her be culture shocked in the most unusual ways.  I won't forget the way she yelped when she tried a Japanese toilet for the first time.  (haha!)

”Every bathroom had toilet slippers" (From my sister's Facebook album)

Jon, my boyfriend, was the second to visit me.

Jon and me in Kobe

I planned my trip with Jon much better, after learning from my mistakes previously.  He wanted to eat Kobe beef, so I researched different affordable places we could go in Kobe.  Unfortunately for him, because I took him to unfamiliar places, we got lost multiple times.  Therefore, he said he saw "all the different faces of Japan: the city, the suburb, and the countryside".  He wasn't far from the truth either.

My best experience during this trip was the food though.  Kobe has a many great restaurants where you could try different grades of Kobe beef.  Kobe beef, for those unfamiliar with it, is considered one of the best types of beef in the world.  It's notorious for the way the cows are bred and treated (some cows are fed sake and are even given massages to help produce superb beef).  Jon and I tasted Kobe beef twice.  Our first time was at an all-you-can-eat buffet (tabehoudai).  It may sound spectacular, but there was so much meat at our table we don't know what was regular meat and what was Kobe beef.  Our second time was much better: we were served mid-grade level of Kobe beef which was heaven on my mouth.  ^__^  But I remember the okonomiyaki better.  Our chef let us try both the Osaka/Kansai style and Hiroshima style.  Most people would recognize Osaka style, which is what's usually portrayed in media.  Hiroshima style has a layer of noodles, which enhances the texture and taste of the delicious pancake!

Our second (and better) Kobe meal = around $45

So in conclusion, the food was great reward for Jon, especially after walking in circles in Japan.

And finally, my parents came to visit.

This trip was the most difficult for me, because I wasn't used to traveling with people my parents age.  I didn't realize how physically active a traveler needs to be in Japan until I tried having my parents walk around Kyoto.  My mom in particular had a difficult time because of her feet.  I also learned that my dad didn't especially like Japanese food aside from udon and noodle soups . . . However, despite having a rough time traveling around Japan, they did get to experience Japan, a new country they've never been to before!  They traveled to Kyoto, Nara, Kawaguchiko (to see Mt. Fuji) and Nagoya!  If you don't know your geography, that's a low of ground to cover on the Japanese mainland.

They also had the chance to see a view both Andrea and Jon didn't see - Mt. Fuji.  No matter how tourist-y it sounds, seeing Mt. Fuji from our hotel room was a sight to behold.  We spent a good 45 minutes just enjoying that view in silence.  Seeing something that magnificent made our last few days together peaceful.  My parents also had the opportunity to stay at the fanciest hotel I've ever been in.  My mother and I enjoyed the hotel's small onsen, and my parents had the chance to try on the hotel's yukatas!

Mt. Fuji from the hotel room

So At The End Of My Journey

Hill between my dorm and Nanzan U.

During all my travels and living in a new country, I learned many things.  My most important lesson was this: to value what I see in front of me.  Each experience, small or large, may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I don't think I'll see cherry blossoms at Yagoto cemetery, enjoy cafes with the same friends or be reunited with the entire Yamazato family ever again.  It'll be a miracle if I could.  But that's why I treasure those memories now, and why I keep all the pictures I took during that time.

There were times when things were tough, just like the picture of the hill to Nanzan U (shown above).  Everyday, I had to travel up this steep incline to school.  It was strenuous at first - we even had to take short breaks in the middle - but slowly we could walk it without breaking a sweat!  That describes how I adjusted to life in Japan.  There were times when I wanted a break from the societal norms or from my language studies, but after a while . . . the rewards were very clear.  I could use my Japanese everyday.  I became friends with so many people.  And now looking back, those many difficult challenges shaped who I am today.

I'd like to leave this blog with one last story about my time in Japan.  It's about this hill.

It was a really dangerous hill.

Before I went on my trip with my parents, I went bike riding around the city with a friend.  We went our separate ways at Nanzan U and I decided to go back to the dorm.  I had two choices: take a longer route down a less steeper hill around the school, or take my typical route down this hill.  For some reason, I thought that if I walked down the hill with the bike, instead of riding it, it would be less dangerous. . .

It wasn't.  Less than 15 seconds down the hill and I was already losing control of the bike.  When I arrived at the dorm, I had deep gashes on mly left shoulder, hip and around my legs, not to mention a lot of bruises.  Even bandaged the injuries looked bad.  The amazing thing though is I managed to hide these injuries from my parents (even when my mom and I enjoyed a public bath together at Mt. Fuji hotel!)

Ha ha!

My last selfie:
The only time I've ever been alone on the train

I hope you enjoyed reading about my time in Japan.  If you've ever been to Japan, I hope some of my experiences were nostalgic for you.  If you haven't been there yet, I would recommend going there once in your life.  Compared to American culture, Japan does feel peaceful.  Despite the Americanization and Westernization that's occurring there, the traditional cultural practices are being upheld.  It's an amazing place that would be a great traveling experience for anyone!

If you're wondering what I'm doing now in life, you can read my new blog!