Thursday, December 15, 2005

Withdrawal Symptoms

My departure from Japan is fast approaching, and along with it a great sorrow and moments of contemplation also come. It is now about 1 month until I board the Airplane and everyday is very busy due to life, but it is in those quiet moments like when I am studying or even when I am sleeping that a voice in the back of my head says “Do I really have to leave?”.

It was about 1 week ago that it dawned on me that I would soon be leaving. The feeling of leaving is very surreal, leaving is not a one day process but a series of events- packing your life into boxes, farewell parties, looking back over your accomplishments and failures, new resolutions, saying goodbye to the people who have come to be your closest friends, and finally leaving your life as you know it behind and starting all over again.
I am sure many Ex-pats can agree with me when I say daily routine is one of our biggest securities in this life and when it is abandoned many people become lost and confused about what to do with their lives.

While I have only been in Japan for 10 months, I have come to establish myself quite well here; if you gave me a job I would have no problem supporting myself in this country. I have made many incredible friends from all over the world thanks to being apart of an Exchange organization and also due to attending the International Baptist Church in Fukuoka. I know that many of these people will be my friends for life and I will have a friend (or 5) in many countries I visit in the future. I am definitely going to miss my weekly trips to Fukuoka city, while Sydney may be my home city (and I love it), Fukuoka has become my second home city and there are so many elements Sydney just can’t compare to.

Dwelling on these thoughts and feelings and letting them dominate the rest of my stay I exactly what I intend not to do. I always knew this time would come, it is a part of the Exchange journey. Instead I plan to continue doing what I have always done, get back up and keep on running- focus on the future. By no means does this mean that I am trying to make myself emotionally void, that would be unhealthy and demeaning. What I am doing is prioritizing the focuses in my life and making sure that my time in Japan is well spent. Japan is only a small part of the bigger picture, what I would call the launching pad for the bigger achievements I plan to accomplish and the better things that are to come in the future. While I may have a firm focus on the future, I always remember this quote from the movie Ferris Beullers day off “ If you don’t stop once in a while to take a look around at the scenery, life will pass you right by”.
Focus on the future but never forget to enjoy the place you are currently at.

Keep rocking,


I went to Fukuoka......again

Once again it is time for my “I went to Fukuoka” weekly update. This definitely proved to be one of my best trips yet as it was a day filled with friends, fun, shopping and a lot of people.

As usual the morning started out with a 5:30am wake up call and by 6am I was pedaling to the bus stop in the dark, 6 degrees Celsius weather. Getting on the bus was a wonderful feeling because the bus has really good heating, I quickly nodded off to sleep. It was 15 minutes later that I was quickly awoken by a blast of cold air, it seems the woman in front of me thought it would be the most genius idea of the morning to open her window, while we were speeding down the highway at 100km/h. She also thought it would be a good idea to play her walkman loud enough so that the rest of the bus could enjoy her music along with her. She finally shut her window, but the bus driver had turned the heating off….. I had to wear my gloves and scarf all the way to Fukuoka.

Arriving in Fukuoka I ran off to Starbucks to meet Rick and Satoko for our regular Sunday morning coffee, then we headed off to Church.
Church finished and it was at that time the Church’s caroling group lined the street outside our Church (there is always a lot of people walking down this street) and sang Christmas carols in Japanese and English for 10 minutes, it was really nice! Caroling finished and we gathered the youth guys together to head off to lunch, it was at this point we got involved in a 15 minute debate about where to actually eat lunch… we finally decided on that cool Thai place. Lunch was fantastic, we really have an awesome group of people in our youth group and we have some fantastic conversations, lunch with the whole group is always an event to look forward to. We all stayed together in that Restaurant for probably 2 hours eating and talking, it was time to leave.

One lady who came with us is 25 and she has a four year old daughter. Little, cute 4 year old daughter was very tired from a big day out with the grown ups, so she fell asleep. Her Mum was having a difficult time carrying her so I offered to carry her (the daughter) for a while, Mum gladly accepted. I carefully took hold of the little girl and held her the way I have been taught after many hours of child care work. The little girl wrapped her arms around my neck and snuggled her head into my shoulder and fell asleep, that is when I started getting the looks from passer bys. Obviously her Mum was walking next to me along with the rest of the group, but the general idea (to passer bys) was that I was this little girls Dad, at one stage I heard comments along the lines of “hey check out the Gaijin Dad!” it was interesting to say in the least.

Most people went their separate ways, but Rick, Erin and I went to do some Christmas shopping. During the Christmas shopping I ran into my very good Exchange student friends, I split from Rick and Erin to head off with the Exchange students. I was unbelievably happy to be with the Exchange students, I foster a great fondness for their friendship and it is very rare I get to see them so we had a very good time together.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and I had to go catch the bus home. I am hoping to be able to see them all before I leave for Australia.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Black belt weekend

Yes ladies and gentleman it is official, I have obtained my Black belt in the most ancient Japanese Martial Art of all, Kendo. For those of you who really have no idea what Kendo is, picture Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai” pulling off cool sword moves, that is kendo.

The period of getting ready for the Black belt test took about 1 month. During this time period I had to learn a Kata- A series of movements displaying different positions, strikes and forms of the Martial Art, you could almost call it a dance. I also had to learn the names of positions, improve my game play (the fighting/ sword play) and write an Essay about why I started Kendo (I wrote it in English and then it was translated). The test itself consisted of my Essay being submitted and marked by the committee of Judges, performing my Kata for the Judges and playing 2 games of Kendo with other test applicants (the Judges marked us on our form). Before I talk about the weekend let me first explain this, like any other Martial Art, obtaining a Black belt in Kendo is considered quite difficult. The Judges mark on a complex criteria and everything from your Kata right down to how neat your uniform is, needs to be perfect.

The test took a full weekend to complete. Friday night and Saturday were spent perfecting the details of our Kata’s and game play with the teachers who would be our Judges on the exam day. While everybody was working very hard it was a fantastic time getting to know the other exam applicants, everybody else was a Junior High school student. Obviously I being the only foreigner provided a lot of entertainment for everybody, there were too many funny incidents to list. I had one girl say “Happy Birthday” to me in English, I replied with “Thanks a lot, but it isn’t my Birthday” in Japanese, we had a good laugh. I had another boy who, when he heard I was from Australia would greet me by saying “Aborigine” and I had another boy who just couldn’t believe I was a white guy and taking the exam, he made this clear by gaping at me every time he saw me.

Sunday morning started with an early rise at 6:30am. I had to check my equipment and make sure it was in working order, I also had to eat Breakfast. At 7:30 my Host Dad and I hopped in the car and headed to the venue for an 8am preparation period. It started raining heavily so I ran for the Venue from the car and my Host Dad headed home, that is when I realized no one else was there, it was 7:55am. I calmed myself down and called my friend (I really don’t know what I would do without a mobile phone)
“Hey man where are you?” I said
“Uhh I’m at the test site, where are you?” he replied.
“I’m at the venue where we were training”
“Haha you idiot, the test is at the city Martial Arts Dojo”
“Right, where is that?”
“Hold on a second..” I am totally freaking out by now, I don’t want to miss this exam, I paid $200 for it.
“Jesse are you there?” my friend asked.
“Yeah I’m here”
“The captain of our team and his Mum are coming to pick you up”
The captain and his mum arrived, I was thanking them profusely for picking me up. It turns out the Martial Arts Dojo was only 5 minutes away, so I got there with plenty of time to spare.

The rest of the day went well. I won both games I played, the Judges loved my Essay and my Kata was almost perfect. The Judges congratulated me on a job well done, they were very surprised to find out I have only been playing Kendo for 7 months and said my skill level is fantastic for such a short period of time. Most of all I was ecstatic about obtaining the belt, it was my goal from the beginning, now I need a new goal. My Host Dad got the whole test on video, my Host Parents, family, friends and most of all my teacher were unbelievably happy. I would like to officially thank all these people for continually motivating me to be the best I can be, but most of all I thank God (no I’m not being a cliché Music Artist, I am serious) because without him on my side I may never have accomplished this.

More Japan stories to come,


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Dinner in the Den of a stranger

First let me start by apologizing for not updating sooner, I haven’t had access to a computer (or my notebook) for the last week. A lot has happened in the period of time I haven’t updated, the following story being one of those events.

It was a sunny but chilly Sunday morning as little Jesse practiced his Soccer skills in the big park near his house. Jesse was having a fantastic time improving his game and exercising, when he was approached by a stranger. Jesse, being a smart and good little boy knew that he shouldn’t talk to strangers. But this time he did not heed the warnings of his primary school teachers, due to the fact he was in Japan.
“Excuse me, are you American?” said the strange looking Japanese man.
“No, I’m Australian” replied Jesse.
“OH WOW! NO WAY!!” the Japanese man exclaimed “Today an Australian exchange student is coming to stay at my house for 1 month”. Jesse and the Japanese man talked for 1/2 an hour about Soccer, Australia and the new exchange student. Jesse found the man to be quite friendly. Jesse finally had to go home for lunch when the stranger said “Jesse do you have a mobile phone?” Jesse, still knowing that evil could lurk inside this friendly stranger hesitantly replied “Y-y-yes”. Jesse and the stranger exchanged mobile phone details and went their separate ways.

Jesse arrived home and told his mum about his exciting adventures in the big park that day, his mum was amazed. No sooner had Jesse finished lunch when he heard his mobile phone ringing. “Hello?” Jesse said
“Hello Jesse, what are you doing tonight?” Said the stranger from the park
“Umm nothing” Jesse replied with a hint of worry in his voice.
“I was wondering if you would like to come to my house tonight for dinner with me, my family and the new exchange student, Peter?” said the stranger. Jesse asked his mum and she said it was ok.
“Ok I can come” Jesse said
“No problems, I will pick you up tonight…. In my black car” the stranger replied.

Later that night the stranger met Jesse and Jesse’s mum at the Train Station, where he introduced himself and talked with Jesse’s mum for a while. Jesse, still not fully trusting the stranger and his black car, saved the strangers number plate into his mobile phone while the stranger wasn’t looking. Jesse said goodbye to his mum and embarked on the 2 minute car ride to the stranger’s house. When they arrived Jesse was greeted with the sight of a very large, very old Japanese farming house, he was also greeted by the stranger’s family who were also very friendly. Jesse had a fantastic night getting to know everybody, especially the exchange student Peter. Jesse had an even funnier time trying to understand the friendly stranger’s grandpa who was 81 years old, was very drunk and could only speak the very old dialect of Jesse’s city which nobody speaks anymore (except people who are 81 years old). Jesse learnt on that special Sunday that you can never be too careful when you meet a stranger, but he also learnt that sometimes a friendly stranger is really a friendly stranger.

Keep rocking,