Friday, January 27, 2006

The story isn't finished

Ladies and Gentleman, I am now back in Australia. Thes story is not finished. Actually there are alot more Japan updates to come ( I have a major backlog waiting to be posted) unfortunately life has not stood still since I set foot in the country so I have not had time to post. Also I am experiencing reverse culture shock in a major way, I want to go back to Japan.

Upates will be available soon!

Look forward to it,


Friday, January 20, 2006

Birthdays and Farewells- Sunday photos

Service time at church

Sermon time

Lunch time

Birthdays and Farewells- Sunday

Sunday morning I awoke to the stinging sound of my usual 5:30am alarm. This time it stung more than usual due to only 5 hours sleep, unfortunately the bus doesn’t wait for someone who sleeps in, it was time to get up and move.

By 6:40 I was settling into my usual seat on the highway bus feeling rather contemplative- it was my 18th birthday, it was also the last time I would be attending my wonderful church in Fukuoka for a very long time. Time and scenery flew by as I lost myself in the lyrics and music of an amazingly talented Japanese band- Mr Children, before I knew it Fukuoka was before me.

I left the bus terminal and met Rick and Satoko for our last Starbucks breakfast meeting ever (in Fukuoka anyway), I savoured the taste of my usual cinnamon scroll muffin and tall cappuccino. We finished our breakfast and arrived at church to get our morning youth meeting underway, it was a day to be happy and rejoice as there were so many events to celebrate and people to thank (and say goodbye to), but there was also a tinge of sadness in leaving. During the main service church service, the Pastor’s son (Daichi) and I were prayed over and blessed due to our coming of age in our respective countries, me 18 in Australia and him 2o in Japan.- it was a really nice way to finish church. After the service my church held a celebratory lunch in honour of our coming of age, my birthday and the baptism of one of the youth. The church lunch is always fantastic, lots of food and even more amazing was that a big, chocolate “baptism, birthday, coming of age” cake was presented to us and shared with all the members of the church (it was good!). Many hugs were given and many photos were taken as I finally bid farewell to all the adult members of the church, I know I will visit again one day.

Finally managing to leave church, the youth and I all headed to our favourite Starbucks to spend my remaining hours talking about the good times we had all shared together, my good friend Erin was kind enough to buy me my favourite coffee and a Starbucks mug that says “Fukuoka” on the side written on the side- so that I may remember our countless afternoons chilling at Starbucks. As usual we covered a huge range of subject matter in our conversations- always interesting. It was time for our group to disperse in different directions, good byes were given though it really did not feel like good bye- these people are my friends for life.

Erin, Daichi, Rick, Aiko and I all headed to the game arcade where it was the goal of Erin, Daichi and I to win a New Years Mickey Mouse (this soft toy is huge, at least 30-40cm high) on the UFO catcher machine (think toy story 1 “oooh the claw”). Daichi and I not only won 1 of these huge stuffed toys, we won 5!!!! We were rather happy as these machines are almost impossible to win- the game arcade staff didn’t look too happy (one of these toys is worth $30, we spent $20 total to win 5 of them- $20 for a $150 prize!!) this was a fantastic way to wrap up my time in Fukuoka, it was time for me to go. These people were (and still are) some of my closest friends in Japan, so saying good bye to them was hardest. We all hugged and promised to keep in contact; with that I turned and walked to the bus terminal feeling slightly weighted.

I had so much fun on all my trips to Fukuoka and these people helped make these trips what they were. So it is now that I thank you in front of the World Wide Web audience- I love you guys all so much (and you know who you are) and will miss you greatly. You have had an incredible impact on me personally and I look forward to meeting again in the future.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Birthdays and Farewells-Saturday photos

birthday cake
My Birthday cake

Marjo and I- Saga
Marjo and I

Check out the little cutie on the left. Awwwwwww

thai style
(from left to right) Mitona, Me, a little girl and Sophia

Aki and I- Saga
Aki and I

Birthdays and farewells- Saturday

Last weekend had to be one of the most emotionally turbulent times I have ever experienced in my life (which probably is not a bad thing). It was a time of celebration- my 18th birthday (legal age of adulthood in Australia) and also a time of many farewells- my fantastic exchange friends and unbelievable Fukuoka church friends. Let us begin from the beginning, Saturday.

As my alarm clock rang on Saturday morning I awoke with 3 words in my head….”it’s party time”. My host mother was in the kitchen cooking breakfast and also cooking food for my birthday party (I had 3 friends+ family) which was to begin at 12pm. The rest of the morning was spent madly running around my city with my host father completing all sorts of odd jobs- the garbage recycle centre, the bank, Fukuoka bus tickets, my birthday cake (It was a Baskin and Robins Ice cream cake, yummy! It even had Snoopy on the top!), and finally picking up my exchange friends from the train station. When we arrived home we walked into the kitchen to find my host mum had created a feast- Pizza, pasta, fried chicken, sandwiches, baked potatoes- oh it tasted good. I was lucky enough to receive presents from everyone:
Marjo (Finland): Marjo gave me these ultra modern chopsticks, tea spoon and coffee mug with the Japanese flag on them (sounds cheap but they look fantastic), very minimalist design style.
Erik (Holland): He gave me some money which I later used to buy a rare Dragon Ball z model- this model is from the first series ever (circa 1980’s) is in mint condition and from what I understand is rather hard to get hold of anymore- extremely collectible.
Host sisters: Cards, A Japanese Calligraphy proverb and from the oldest sister a handmade friendship band that says “Jesses Japan” (how appropriate)
Host Parents: New Cologne!! It has to be the nicest smelling cologne ever- Burberry, Brit for men.

We shared a nice afternoon together talking about our time together and anything else that tickled our fancy.

Around 5pm we left for our AFS Presidents house to carpool to Saga-Ken for a farewell party with our exchange friends in Saga. We arrived to find a huge feast had been prepared (oh boy!) we were already full from my party, lucky there were many other people present to dispose of the food. Speeches were given, bingo was played (I told you it is a Japanese party thing) and good times were had by all but then came the saddest part of our exchanges, saying goodbye. It has been a surreal feeling saying goodbye to everyone, most people agree that it doesn’t feel like goodbye. It is just incredible how things like email and long distance calling cards have made the world so much smaller. I know that it is going to be a very long time before I see these people again, in fact I may never meet them again but because of things like email and MSN Messenger (Mr. Gates your software designers are genius) it is likely I can keep in contact with these people for life.

I know that some exchange students to be read this website so please let me give you this piece of advice about leaving; say your goodbyes while you can. If you are uncertain as to whether you will ever see a particular person again, wish them goodbye, obtain their contact details and tell them how much you enjoyed your time together- these easy to do things will secure you friendships for life.

Sunday is next to come,


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Kendo Kiai farewell

A kendo Kiai (spirit) farewell is exactly what I received last Monday (Yes I am behind in the updates- these entries take an obscenely long time to write) when my Kendo club held a sou betsu kai (linguists- sou betsu kai means farewell party in Japanese) to bid me adieu and good luck.

Monday morning we arrived at Kendo to complete some H.I.T (High Intensity Training) before we embarked to party hard for the afternoon. We started practice at 10am and finished at 1:30pm, half an hour to spare before all the parents and the minibus arrived to whisk us away to our party destination- a restaurant on the bay. We arrived at our destination and made our way up to a second storey tatami room where we were greeted with the sight of food….lots of food. The food and drink just kept on coming, spring rolls, sushi, garlic bread, yakitori, yakisoba, ebi mayo- even better was the fact it all tasted fantastic!! Throughout the party speeches were given (including myself) and my club presented me with two framed photos- an enlarged one of myself in my Kendo uniform and one of my entire club and I- I will treasure these items. It was amazing how incredibly sweet everyone was towards me, my teachers wife is a music teacher, she took a famous Japanese song and changed the lyrics to be about my year with Kendo club, then the entire club stood up and sang the song to me (I almost cried). Not only did they sing for me but following on from the song all the club members stood up one at a time and talked about their fondest memories with me and how much fun they had with me- it was really special.

As the Alcohol continued to flow to the adults (Japan has to be the only place in the world your teachers are permitted to become drunk at a school event) they decided it was time to play a few games- bingo (this is a must at any Japanese party) and a strange clapping game.

After much food, many photos and a few tears our party had finished. We thanked the restaurant owners and drove back to school where I thanked everybody profusely for a wonderful party. Let us practice Kendo together once more in the future!


Monday, January 16, 2006

A Japanese style New Year

Are you a party animal? Do you bring in the New Year with a bang? Are you the sort of person who dances in the club until dawn and then stumbles home to bed on New Years day? If you said yes to one or all of the above then Japan may not be the place for your New Years partying experience. Now I am the sort of person who parties hard on New Years Eve so Japanese New Year was not a let down for me, just a different experience.

Japanese New Year (shyou gatsu) is all about tradition, culture and family time. The lead up to New Years Eve is crazy, the super markets and shops are overflowing with people as they stock pile food and other necessities before Japan almost literally shuts down for 3 days. Also in the lead up to New Years Eve every man, woman and child is madly crafting 100’s of aesthetically pleasing New Years cards to send to friends, family and any other random person that comes to mind. Until recently most of these cards were illustrated by hand (many still are), each containing detailed pictures and messages, software companies must have made millions of dollars in Japan with the introduction of the modern colour printer and desktop photo editing software. The amount of cards sent and received is mind boggling- my family sent at least 400 cards and received 500-600 cards. Even more amazing is that if the Japanese receive a card from someone they didn’t send a card to, they promptly create another card to send back to that person. Another amazing New Years card fact- the Japanese keep every card they receive; all the cards are collected and stored in what is similar to an photo album.

My Japanese New Years Eve was very quiet, in fact I went to bed at 9:30pm only to be awoken at 11:30pm to eat soba noodles….. yes that is right, to eat Japanese noodles. I’m not sure of the exact meaning of this but apparently it is a Japanese tradition to eat soba noodles between 11:30pm and 12am to welcome in the New Year. New Years day my family and I headed up to Sasebo city to stay at my host father’s parent’s house overnight- once again we feasted- Sushi and other foods that won’t make you gain weight, I also made money….lots of money. Japanese tradition dictates that on New Years relatives (parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles) give all the children money. In short I made the equivalent of $400 AUD within 10 minutes, not bad huh? Of course I thank all my relatives for accepting me as part of the family- that was the biggest gift. The next day my family and I went to the New Years sales at Sasebo shopping arcade- nothing really of interest. Following our shopping trip we headed to Isahaya to have dinner with all my host mother’s relatives- once again we stuffed ourselves silly.

It was nice to experience another cultures version of New Years, though as I am young and wild I think I still prefer partying hard on New Years Eve.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Cruising the 99 Islands of the East

On a pirate ship! Her name be tha Pearl Queen and a mighty fine ship be she………moving right along. 2 weeks ago my good friend Jeff and his wife graciously extended me the offer of accompanying them up to Sasebo city to some sight seeing and shopping, I gladly accepted. Sasebo city is located in the top quarter of Nagasaki prefecture. It is relatively easy to find Sasebo city as it is the largest city in its surrounding area; it is about a 1 to 1 1/2 hour drive from Fukuoka. Sasebo is very much America central- it is home to a U.S Navy base of around 5000 people (don’t quote me on precise numbers). Sasebo is also home to Japan’s longest shopping arcade, a 2km stretch of cafes, clothes, jewellery, books, toys and other interesting novelties. Now that you’re familiar with Sasebo’s most famous icons, let’s get started.

Jeff and his wife picked me up from my house at 9am on a chilly Friday morning to embark on our 1 hour journey to Sasebo. First stop in Sasebo was the 99 Islands tour- hehe yes I did cruise on a pirate ship. Sasebo has a group of Islands called the 99 Islands. These Islands range in size from a large rock jutting out of the water to large Islands big enough for a few houses. 99 Islands is also home to one of Sasebo’s most lucrative exports, pearl cultivation- hence the name of my ship, the Pearl Queen. The tour took about an hour as the ship took many twists and turns through narrow spaces between the Islands, many of the larger Islands are heavily covered in trees and undergrowth- almost untouched by humans, almost. If it were not for bad weather conditions back in 1945 you all probably would have heard of Sasebo, the atomic that devastated the city of Nagasaki was originally intended for Sasebo city. Sasebo was one of Japan’s largest submarine and warship manufacturing depots in WW2 (Sasebo has one of the safest natural harbours in Japan) and had many military watch posts scattered along its coastline, some of these hidden in the 99 Islands. If any of you ever take the tour see if you can spot any of these tiny, military installation ruins hidden among the trees and undergrowth, it makes for a bit of fun.

The tour came to an end and we headed for the arcade to do some shopping, I went straight to the anime store (as an ambassador for Japanese pop culture anime comes with the territory) and managed to find a few interesting items- the owner even threw in some presents for free! After an hour of hectic shopping (most of you probably don’t realize how Japan’s longest shopping arcade is!) it was time for food….lots of food. We decided we wanted Chinese and quickly made our way towards one of Sasebo’s famous Chinese restaurants called Tenshin….. (I forgot the rest of the name, sorry) simply known to the locals of Sasebo as “BIG Chinese”. This restaurant had some incredible food and the biggest Chinese dumplings you have ever seen! People line up to buy these freshly made dumplings in take home packs like the residents of Sydney, Australia line up to buy Crispy Crème donuts (that is a long line!). We took our time finishing our hearty feast of fried rice, dumplings, spring rolls and other tasty Chinese treats and when we next looked at our watches it was time to leave for home. We crammed into the car feeling full, worn out and ready for a nap- as I have said many a time before, it was a good day.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Christmas in Japan

Ah Christmas, a time for loved ones, a time for giving, a time of special things and a time that is virtually non-existent in Japan. I really am glad that my host family celebrates Christmas, believe in Santa Claus and have a Christmas tree or I feel as though my Christmas for 2005 may have been truly dead.

Christmas in Japan is different for various reasons but they all stem from one rather important reason…. Japan is not a Christian Country. No I am not making accusations that Japan is a heathen Country, what I am saying is that Christmas is a religious holiday- without baby Jesus you ain’t got no Christmas baby!! Most western Countries e.g. Britain, America, Australia were all founded with Christianity as the main religion and the bible as one of the main sources of consultation for the creation of their Constitutions, therefore of course Christmas is going to be huge in these Countries, it is a centuries old tradition. Christmas is starting to become the “trendy” thing to do in Japan (along with anything else western according to Japanese MTV), though it is mainly highly commercialized and pushed by Retailers to make more sales at the end of the year (hey that sounds just like the rest of the world!!). I would have to say Japanese Christmas spirit is rather stylish- there were decorations all over the shop fronts which looked absolutely amazing, unlike some displays we would see in other parts of the world. Though Japan is edging closer it is still missing that Christmas feeling, probably because Christmas is a normal working day in Japan…..ouch.

My Japanese Christmas came in the form of Christmas Eve, the Japanese prefer to celebrate on Christmas Eve so they can work or go to school on Christmas day if need be. My host mum did a lot of cooking (a HUGE feast), we stuffed ourselves silly on Sushi, Chicken, fried rice and lots of other untraditional Christmas foods (doesn’t mean it tastes worse). Presents were handed out between our family members (of course I bought them all presents) I managed to receive:
1: Hirai Ken’s new CD- Uta Baka
2: A soccer ball CD case
3: A very funky photo album
4: A hand made Christmas card made with love by youngest host sister
Oh I love Christmas!

Christmas morning came around and would you believe it, Santa Claus had visited our house!! And he brought me presents!! Santa brought me:
1: Push-up grips
2: A rubber tension workout band
3: One of those exercise roller wheels with handles on the side- you hold it and roll forward until your body is stretch forward like a plank- an absolute killer ab’s workout.

Santa no offence intended but I really think you are a hypocrite with that oversized belly of yours.

I spent Christmas day cleaning the house, not much fun but I still managed to get some Christmas into 2005.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

An AFS farewell

As any Ex-pat will tell you, with leaving a Country comes farewell parties- especially in a Country like Japan. One of these parties was held on the 18th of December in the hotel that my host parents just happened to get married in, how’s that for reminiscing! One thing I love about AFS Nagasaki is that 98% of the time there is a structure to the events we have- set date, set time, set venue and of course lots of people (for what is a party without many people?). So without further ado, may I present to you “An AFS Farewell”.

There was a sombre feeling among my host family and I as we left the house that Sunday afternoon for an event that indubitably marked the beginning of the end, the AFS farewell party. I could feel that empty, jingling in the pit of my stomach as I looked over the speech I was to give one last time, my story of an entire year condensed into a mere 3 minutes- 3 minutes just can not do it justice. The car trip was almost in total silence, I don’t think anyone really knew what to say, I was having enough trouble staying calm about giving a speech in Japanese to 50+ native speakers. As we arrived at the hotel I took one final breath before opening the door, “This is going to be awesome. Be happy, don’t worry you have this speech ingrained in your brain” and with that final thought I entered the room smiling.

Meeting with the other exchange students is always refreshing, they are a great group of people and we always have a decent amount of fun together. The party got underway and before I knew it I was the opening speech (why me?). I approached the mic and looked around…. No lectern, no where to hide. I gave my speech with as much confidence and expression as I could muster, finally I was finished. I looked out over the room, many people were crying- hey it wasn’t that bad was it?? Then came my host family, they could barely speak due to their tears but I think the tears say a lot more than words. I returned to my seat only to be hit by my friend Anna “I hate you” she said as she smiled at me and wiped tears from her eyes. Equal amounts of tears were shed as the other exchange students and their families spoke about their year in Japan, by the time the speeches were over everyone was exhausted, it was time to eat. We hit that buffet faster than you could spell the word (buffet), it ended up being a really nice time to socialize with all the people who had helped make our exchanges awesome. Rather than being a sad event it was a joyous event, celebrating friendship for life and a fantastic year, these are the moments that make exchange such a wonderful experience.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I'm Back

After a short period of 2 weeks I am back well rested, energetic and ready to convey all my interesting experiences to you!! This first piece of the 2 week puzzle is the key to the whole thing, the first day of my holidays; also my first Kendo tournament.

The morning of Friday, 23rd of December started out like all Kendo tournament day mornings start out….. EARLY! As “the unwritten Kendo code of honour” clearly dictates, “thou shalt arrive at Kendo Dojo under cover of darkness while great Kendo spirits are still sleeping” this being rule number 1 of “the unwritten Kendo code of honour; Tournament day chapter” rules 2 through 5 are always soon to follow:
Excerpt from “the unwritten Kendo code of honour”
Rule 2: thou shalt always have kiai – fighting spirit
Rule 3: thou shalt scream “Yes”, “Please teach me” and “Thank you” with all thy might at the pre-tournament gathering
Rule 4: Thou shalt feel no pain in battle, thou shalt fight so hard and with so much tenacity thy hand shalt cleave to thy sword
Rule 5: Thou shalt scream so hard in battle that for the next 2 days thou shalt have no voice

I know I followed those rules to the letter. We loaded our bus and made the trip to our destination, my host sister’s high school- home to one of the strongest Kendo teams in Nagasaki. Arrival was 7am, battle did not start until 10am, what do you do to fill in 3 hours? Freeze to death and train with your team. 9:30am saw the arrival of my host parents and my English teacher friend Jeff along with his wife who happens to be my AFS supervisor. This being my first Kendo tournament it was really nice to have the support of family and friends (let us keep in mind that in a gym full of 400-500 Kendo players I had the least experience of them all). Once again I was informed that I had come to the wrong conclusion about this Kendo tournament; I thought it was a team’s event…. It was a singles knock out competition- FREAK OUT! My game was not until 2:30pm so I had a good amount of time to motivate myself, study the competition and realize how truly in over my head I was. All the participants in my division had 11 years experience and 1 or 2 black belts on me (they were all veteran 2nd or 3rd dan black belts and I was the new 1st dan black belt) and Nagasaki is home to some of the strongest Kendo high schools in Japan…. FREAK OUT!!!

The time came for my battle, I was geared up and had “the unwritten Kendo code of honour” firmly ingrained in my memory. Just before I entered the battleground I was informed that my opponent came from the 2nd strongest boys team in Nagasaki and was a 2nd dan black belt, how is that for peace of mind! I walked onto the battlefield and drew my sword (bamboo), looked my opponent in the eyes and gave him the most blood chilling look you may have ever seen. BEGIN! The Referee screamed and with that one word came a blood curdling cry, the battle was on. It raged all over, with each hit gasps and screams came from the crowd as time stood still for these two warriors. A hit to the head! Judges flags moved up and down as one referee calls a point soon to be overruled by another referee. In the crowd people’s fingers were crossed, finger nails were bitten as looks of desperation and hope flashed across their faces as both combatants gave everything. The battle raged on like this into the final moments until one warrior had finally scored 2 points to win, unfortunately that player was not me.

I left the battlefield feeling quite defeated (pun intended). Not only because I had lost but because I had come so close to winning. Everyone was shocked at my level of Kendo for such a short period of time and I got a special mention by a nation wide renowned teacher in the closing ceremony.

There is more work to be done,


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I hate apologies

Well once again I am apologising.... There are so many stories to tell but so much has been happening there is no time to tell it. C.T.D (Confirmed Time of Departure) is 3 weeks.... 3 WEEKS!!!! As of next week I will be back at school so the news will be hot off the press.

Until then,