Everyday, Mai and I wake up at 6am. By 6:55, we leave the house where we then take a train to where we'll then take a bus to arrive at school at around 8am. The first few days, this was so hard to get used to, since I usually wake up around 7:30. By the time I get to school here in Japan, I'm usually already tired.
In school, I am sometimes with Mai in her usual classes. These classes are usually in Japanese, so I either just listen without participating, or will do something else on my own. Even with the language barrier, I enjoy just being in a real Japanese classroom. I get to see firsthand the differences between their school life and my own. For example, everyone has pencil cases and are always organized. During my time here, I have never seen a student ask for a pen or anything. But in AO, I know maybe two or three people who actually bring pencil cases. In majority of my classes, people don't even bring something to write with half the time.
Another thing I've noticed is how responsible the students are for their own learning. Every morning,there will be people studying in their classes. Even on the trains and buses, students are studying. When they get home, they study. I personally don't know how they manage to do it, because everyone here is always tired from working so hard. After they finish studying, they will fall asleep on the trains, buses or in class, because once they get home, they have more responsibilities to take care of. Then they need to get up early because their commute is usually very long. Many foreigners are shocked when they see how many people sleep on trains/buses, but after being here for only a few days, I can understand why they do.
When I'm not in Mai's classes, I will usually be with the other New Zealand students in a class with one of the teachers from Jishukan. What we learn in these classes is always different. For example, we have learnt about Japanese phrases, hiragana, calligraphy, Japanese games and even the Greek alphabet. Sometimes, we even just get to sleep. For me, I find these classes to be refreshing, as they are usually in English. Japanese classes make me so tired, and sometimes, I feel like I just need to hear something I can actually understand to help keep me sane.
Everyday except Wednesday and Friday, the students have club activities. Throughout my time here,I went to the basketball,tennis and badminton clubs. All of them are very serious and I felt bad for intruding into their practices. However, most of the time, they would let me and the other Aorere students that were with me do our own thing on the sidelines. Even though Japan is too hot for anyone to be doing any type of physical activity, I actually enjoyed going to club activities. And this is coming from the most un-sporty person ever.
Overall, all aspects of school life at Jishukan are great!
Today was the hardest day I've had in Japan so far, but it was also one of my favorites. We visited Oyama afuri jinja shrine on Mt. Oyama with some first graders from Jishukan. As soon as we left the school and started walking to the train station where we would begin our journey, we were all exhausted from the heat. The sun was shining so strongly, and we had no cover at all. We weren't even allowed to drink while we walked, so we were all basically dying and we had only just begun the day.
After the train and bus ride to get to Mt Oyama, things only got harder. If I had to choose one thing about Japan that I don't enjoy, it would be the amount of stairs there are. Even in Jishukan, we need to climb 5 flights of stairs everyday just to reach our classrooms. The stairs at Mt Oyama were killer, and it seemed like there was no end to them. I think most of us New Zealand exchange students were struggling badly. But when I looked at the people around me, they were all old men and women, wearing layers of clothes, tackling the stairs without even breaking a sweat. I thought to myself "if they can do it, so can we". And we did
We reached the top of the stairs and got into a cable car.The further up the mountain we got, the more spectacular the view became. It made walking up the stairs so worth it. We admired the view for awhile before we went to see the shrine. The shrine was very traditional and beautiful, just like the one we visited in Kamakura. After seeing the shrine we went to a place where a man spoke to the first graders and gave them some information about the area. He spoke for a looong time,only in Japanese so we couldn't understand much. It was at this point that all of us New Zealanders were just dead. Everyone was struggling to keep their eyes open, but we didn't want to be rude. I suddenly felt as if I hadn't slept for a week and would pass out at any moment. It was a whole new feeling of exhaustion that I was experiencing. But after he was finished, we were able to see some traditional Japanese artifacts before making our way back to school.
This was the most tired and dead I've ever felt, but the beauty of the place made everything worth it, and if given the option, I would definitely do it all over again.
On the 10th of July, most students in Jishukan had important exams to sit. So our group of exchange students went on a trip to Kamakura with Ono Sensei. Here, we got to visit a shrine, and see daibutsu or the "big Buddha".
The shrine we visited was Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. The first thing we saw of it was the torii. It is the gate or the entrance to the shrine. After walking through the long path through the gateway, we had to wash our hands and mouths before we entered the shrine to "meet god". The procedure was very particular, but Ono sensei helped us out.
When we entered the shrine to pray, there were more procedures we had to follow. Firstly, we needed to throw a coin into a box type thing as an offering. Shout out to Xekiel's coin for almost missing the box. After throwing the coin, we bowed twice, clapped twice, prayed for a few seconds then bowed again.
The scenery was very beautiful and clean. It made me think about how much prettier our own country could be if it looked more "taken care of".
I really enjoyed our trip, and will cherish the memories and experiences I had for a long time. Thank you Ono-sensei for taking us!
I left my family behind in New Zealand, only to be welcomed into a brand new one in Japan. As soon as I met each member of the family, I felt so welcomed and cared for that it barely felt like we were strangers.
My buddy's name is Mai Nagamine. She is 16 years old. Mai speaks English amazingly, and I'm really grateful, as it allows us to communicate without any problems. Shes also very humble and extremely kind. She's always willing to help me out and make sure I'm okay. I'm so thankful to be paired with such an amazing, talented person, and I know we're going to build a strong relationship.
Katsuya is Mai's little brother. He is 12 years old. He is a great dancer and baseball player, but he's very shy. I was told that he speaks good English aswell, but he isn't comfortable speaking it. I hope he'll soon be able to be confident when speaking English.
Masaru is the father. Back in Aorere, I heard that he was a police officer and admittedly got scared. I pictured someone really strict and scary. But Mai and her mother told me that he's really funny and relaxed. And when I met him for the first time, I learnt that they were right. His honesty and enthusiasm is what makes him so likable.
Yuko is the mother. She's very kind, and also very funny, always picking on Masaru. She is a nurse, but does a lot of housework aswell. Yuko is also a very good cook, and I appreciate her making my lunch for school every morning and cooking dinner in the evenings.
I feel so lucky, as my host family lived in Kenya for four years, where they learnt to speak English very well. Their house has a Japanese style room (washitsu) which I stay in with Mai. Its very different to Western style rooms but is very nice. The floor is covered with tatami mats instead of carpet or wood. We sleep on futons on top of the tatami mats.
I've only known my family for a little while, but I already feel so welcomed and comfortable with them. Overall, they're definitely not a bad trade off for my real family
(Even though I do miss my friends and family from NZ...Love you guys <3)
Coming to Jishukan, one of the things I was most nervous about was whether or not I would get along with my class. I can safely say now that my worries were unnecessary.
I'm so grateful that I have been put into Class 5A. It is a class full of constantly happy, bubbly people. It's a class full of hard workers and high achievers. While my classmates and I took awhile to warm up to each other, once we did, their smiling faces in the mornings became of the things I would look forward to each day. It's always just so wholesome and I love it.They are often shy to speak in English with me, but we still find ways to share a laugh together.
I'm also grateful for Shimizu sensei, who is the best teacher I could have asked for. He's always so nice and always makes me feel included. Most mornings, he will write messages on the board such as "everyone, let's talk to Shaun!" which I think is so cute. I also appreciate the fact that he always tries to speak in English to the whole class just for my sake, even when most of the time, what he's saying has absolutely nothing to do with me.
The class also threw me a "Welcoming Ice cream party" which had me shook. I felt so welcomed and special.
Im excited to spend more time with my new class!
My first day of Jishukan started at 6am. I was really tired, but my excitement allowed me to get up. To get to school we took a train, followed by a school bus.Just getting to school was a mission,and was harder than what I was used to doing at home.
Jishukan goes from grades 1-6, but is not as big as I thought it would be. The school grounds themselves are immaculate and flash. While Aorere has a small, one-line-only tuckshop, Jishukan literally has their own restaurant and cafeteria. It also isn't overpriced, which must be nice.
Entering the school as a foreigner, everybody stares without even trying to hide it. At first, it made me feel really uncomfortable, but after a while I got used to it. I began to understand that they were stares of curiosity and not judgement. Mai is in class 5A, which will also become my new class. When I entered the classroom, there was still not many students that had arrived. But as the class started to fill up, I got more and more nervous. When everyone had finally arrived, I had to introduce myself in Japanese. Thanks to Miyamoto sensei, I was able to introduce myself properly, and the class was surprised that I spoke in Japanese, even though it was really just a few phrases that I had memorized.My class is very nice and I look forward to getting to know them better.
In the afternoon, we participated in a Japanese tea ceremony, wearing Japanese yukata. The whole process was very foreign and confusing, but our instructors helped us, and were very forgiving if we happened to do something wrong. There were a lot of small steps involved (eg. Turning the cup twice before drinking) that emphasized the importance the ceremony had. It was very formal, but very fun at the same time.I was grateful to be able to experience such an authentic Japanese tradition.
Finally in Japan!
As my alarm rang at 4:30, I started realizing that I was really going to Japan. That in about a days time, I'd be in a totally different country, half way across the world away from my friends and family. It was a confusing feeling- a strange mix between overwhelming excitement and crippling anxiety. A mix that I had faith would soon blend into a feeling of straight joy and happiness...anytime now.
Since I first heard about the scholarship being offered, one thing had constantly been weighing down my mind- even making me reconsider my application at times. That thing was my fear of flying. But I had told myself that if it meant I would be able to spend two weeks in Japan if I could handle a mere eleven hours being scared, it would be worth it. And I still feel the same way,however, I underestimated how badly it would be. The flight was dreadful for me. And I'm sure it was dreadful for Jess and Gabby who had to hold my disgustingly tear stained hands during takeoff, landing and while experiencing turbulence. I was terrified, and I didn't even know why. I knew the plane wouldn't crash or anything, but my body was convinced that everything could and would go wrong. In the worst moments, I couldn't breath properly and every little insignificant thing became the next reason that something was going wrong. But once we landed , my traumatizing flying experience suddenly became worth it. I was in Japan!
In all honesty, our first day in Japan was VERY hectic and I don't even feel like writing about it. To put it simply, it was very tiring,hot and humid. There was lots of waiting around, carrying heavy luggage through the hot city streets and way too many people(WAY too many people). Awkward encounters (eg. Knocking on an apartment door thinking it's ours only to be met by some old guy opening the door saying NANI?) made me feel out of place and overwhelmed, but also lightened the mood for a while. But at the end of the day when we were able to go to sleep in our house, I felt great. I was finally in Japan! And while I may not have enjoyed my first day as much, I knew that things would only get better.