Saturday, November 26, 2011

And as the day comes to an end
My thoughts begin to bend and sway with the rhythm of new memories
And I sink into myself and think
I've learned something
What a funny thought

Friday, November 25, 2011

We've had the time of our lives!

It feels as though I've been in The Land of the Rising Sun for much longer than two weeks. Life here has become the norm for me and America is merely a distant memory. I still cannot grasp the fact that I am on the complete opposite side of the world from my home. It feels like Japan is only a short drive away and I can visit whenever I please. Sadly though, this is not the case. I am using my final moments here to reflect upon everything I have seen and done in this country. Everyday felt like a week and if I were to recount each thing I learned here you, reader, would be sitting at your computer for a very long time. I will miss many things about Japan; the food, our sister school and all of the wonderful friends I made there, my amazing host family, the fact that you can set your valuables down in a public place, walk away, and they will remain untouched, and, of course, Japan's unique sense of style, just to name a few. I am never going to forget how welcoming the teachers and students at KJ were. They made each of us feel very at home and never hesitated to include us in with their friends and classmates. And, of course, I will always remember my host family, the Oguras, who gave hospitality an entirely new meaning. It is safe to say that Japan will always hold a special place in my heart. It opened my mind to things I never dreamed existed and has shown me ways and customs completely different from my own. I am so grateful to have received the opportunity to travel to this one of a kind country and I am very much looking forward to returning. I would not trade the memories I made here for anything. Dear reader, if an opportunity for you to go to Japan comes along I strongly urge you to take it. I am sure yours will be, as mine has been, the experience of a lifetime.

Today we are going home. I am very grateful to be able to have an experience such as this. Memories like this will never go away. These past 2 weeks went by really fast. I wish I could stay here longer. i'm going to miss so many things in Japan. I love it here. i promised the family that I would come back to see them. Everyone was crying, including me when we were about to leave the train station. I saw one of my old friends, and she was crying and she gave me a very big hug. I also promised her that I would come back. It's gonna be really weird coming back home, getting used to the American custom. But I am very happy that I was chosen to go on this trip, and I will come back here again.
- Danielle Woods

Today, though we are on the train to the airport, I have no concept of how much time is left. We leave Japan and return to Chicago on the same day, seemingly travelling backwards in time by two hours. This strange warped time has followed me throughout our trip. The only way I can be sure that I haven't been dreaming is the length of my fingernails, which I haven't cut since before we left. Then, my nails would not have made a tapping noise against this keyboard.
To my host family too, time seems to have passed differently than usual. Kouki, Kasumi's younger brother, didn't say goodbye to me, because he was on his way to school. "Jikan ga nai!" he said. "I have no time!" Will he be surprised when Kasumi returns from school without me?
His mother and sister gave me very tender goodbyes, with some candy to eat on the plane and a photo album from our time together. When I hugged Kasumi's mother goodbye, she looked like she might cry, but said "It was fun," affirming that we are both more glad to have met each other than sad. Even seeing others crying at the train station, because of that sentiment, I could not be sad.
-Emma Fujii

Every night at dinner my host student's father would "challenge" me to eat hot foods or to put spices on my dinner. One night we were all sitting around the dinner table, we were eating a soup-like noodle dish. Before my host students father had a chance to take the spice I grabbed the spice and poured it onto my meal. The family stared at me in amazement they seemed unable to understand that I actually enjoyed spicy foods. I then casually handed the spice to my host student's father. He looked at me for awhile and then said something along the lines of "you man now, give challenge to me." We started laughing, it was a great night.

I feel like these past two weeks have been a dream. I love my KJ friends and my random train buddies, the delicious food, the night excursions, the couture fashion (I have so much clothes I may need a new closet!!) My lovely Japan with the bustling streets, the ramen stands, and oh the beautiful moments. I am counting the days until I can return. Cheers, Jenny.

Below is a "left half" "right half" of the group before we left our sister school. Also included are a few images of that farewell.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I love the homestay! My family is very nice. On Saturday, my host student's mother gave me a pack of handwarmers. Since I will be at the school for the first time today, these things will come in handy! My family is very nice. It's good to be in a home where the family does not speak any English. I mainly speak Japanese in the home, and I barely speak any English. I'm happy to be able to get the chance to speak Japanese. It feels so weird to use English now.
- Danielle W.

Making, and later eating, soba (buckwheat noodles).

Alright, so my family has the most adorable sheltie named Arto. This dog is so excitable I can get him to jump after and chase my hands. It's so cute and fun! So last night I was playing with him and he all of a sudden goes crazy hyper, he runs and jumps with so much force that he crashes into the couch next to me, jumps down, skids around the table several times, and finally comes to a halt right in front of me wagging his tail and panting. It's like he is saying, "Okay, that was awsome let's go again!". Now at this point my homestay student's mother and I both break out into hysterics. I swear this had to be one of the greatest moments of this trip! -Eli Looper

Yes, they trusted us with hocho like this one!

My homestay family is really nice and I really like staying with them. In their home, they also have a chinese resturant which they own is attached to their house, therefore I get to try a variety of different Japanese and Chinese dishes. Everyone in the home except for my student speaks only in Japanese, so I speak Japanese a lot and rarely get the chance to speak English. On Saturday, we made chocolate fondu as well as play games together. We also watched parts of an American movie dubbed in Japanese. Today I get to experience their school life and I am excited.
-Alex Wilson

The hardest part about this homestay is waking up at 4:30 in the morning to walk around in an mostly unheated house stumbling to get ready for a new day at KJ. But let me tell you what makes it easier, it's worth it. It's worth waking up really early to ride trains where I meet new students and make many new friends. It's worth enduring the cold house where the baths are relaxing and the food is delicious. This part of the trip was what I have been looking forward to the most and what has been the most rewarding. You can't even put into words how grateful I am to the Yahagi family for all the history lessons, half Japanese-half English conversations, and the trip to the Onsen (even car sickness wont get me down!) I'm just so appreciative of this experience and I know the many friendships I havemade here will last a lifetime. Cheers, Jenny

A vessel from the Jomon Era (4,000 to 5,000 years ago), found in Niigata prefecture. (shhh...apparently I wasn't supposed to take this picture).

Each group made a presentation in Japanese in front of a class of Japanese students.

I made a pun in Japanese. A pun. In Japanese. Wow. I didnt know I could do that. I think punniness runs in the Sufrin family. What a fortunate way to break the ice with my host family. We were eating buri, a type of fish, for dinner. They asked me if I knew what buri was, and if it was okay for me to eat. After a beat or two, I regurgitated a phrase I had memorized in first year Japanese. "o hisashi BURI desu, ne?" - long time no see. They applauded. In the States, that probably would have gotten a massive groan. I like this country.
-Stu Sufrin

Over the past few days, my host student's older brother and I have enjoyed conversing together. His English is very basic, but with a Japanese-English hybrid, we can have a decent conversation. He often likes to asked me questions about English, such as commonly used words and the correct way to shape a sentence. He also has an interest in American slang. He already knew a lot of ubiquitous slang phrases and words, but I have enjoyed attempting to translate the random and obscure vernacular of the American youth. Following these lessons, he has begun to spew out his arsenal of slang in aimless succession. He has taken a liking to "Got it dude!", stated arbitrarily without any context whatsoever.
-Henry Smith - November 22nd, 2011

Last weekend was great! I slept an average of 6 hours per night. My host parents and student kept me laughing and we had a lot of fun. On saturday night I showed my family my music on my iPod and I ended up teaching them how to dance samba (exclusive secret, no one else knows I can dance that). My host mom loves Bruno Mars now and both parents love my Latin American mixes especiallythe samba ones. On Sunday morning, we woke up early to go to my host dad's cousin's award-winning coy farm!!! The coy fish were amazing!!! I got to feed them and get them to lick my finger-it was a funny feeling-after feeding them we went to the top of Ojiya mountain (were we live) and we took some pictures; then we went to eat lunch, which was amazing, and afternlunch wae went to the electronics store where Canon cameras are less than $200!!!! I had a lot of fun with my host dad and student when they were showing me their collection of transformer-looking toys: it was amazing! We also played Wii Sports. The home stay and the sight-seeing plus the friendships I've made have made this the experience of my life!
-Gustavo A

We finally had a day without rain or snow while in Niigata, and saw the beautiful Hakkai-san as a backdrop to the school grounds.

My host family is incredibly kind to me, and my host mother is especially considerate of my needs. She speaks no English, but she is very good at making sure I can underestand her Japanese. I am also grateful for the delicious meals she makes! Breakfast is especially delicious because I'm not used to eating very much in the morning. Today, she made me a rice ball, along with spaghetti noodles with tuna and cucumber, tea, cinnamon toast strips, and fruit. At home it would be strange to eat such a large breakfast!
I have also made friends with Kasumi's eight-year-old young brither Kouki. He loves to play Pokemon and Supermario, like me. We share candy with each other, I poke his cheeks when he makes a "pufferfish" face, and it doesn't matter what language we speak because we can have fun together.
-Emma Fujii

Students also participated in school arts and music clubs.

Living with my homestay family is turning out to be a great experience. While I am there we find different things to do, some of which are Japanese-related and others are American-related. For example we have played basketball, video games, board games and magic tricks. The whole family likes doing different activites. We found a liking playing video games which is very fun as I try to understand what it is saying, since I played the American version of some of the games as well. One night the younger sister was showing me and the rest if the family magic tricks, it was funny since everyone else knew what was going on except for me. And then when I shuffled the deck, I did what I called the "American way", where you do a "bridge" and everyone was amazed and tried to do it as well.
Alex Wilson

Physics and basketball are the same in all languages, which is nice. Performing my groups presentation on the train for Shinya (host brother) and his friends was quite an experience. They clapped with glove clad hands as the rest of the train stared on in puzzled amusement. We talked about Michael Jordan for a little while and it was at this point that I decided to play wingman to Shinya and talk him up to some cute girls on the train. They seemed quite surprised I could speak Japanese and apparentely didn't know I understood the word for cute because it seemed to be thrown around a lot. Although Shinya didn't end up talking with them, it was great practice and later on he admitted it was fun and asked me to help him talk to some girls the next day. Mission accomplished.

-Ian Rosenthal

Farewell party thrown by the UNESCO club with various kindsof yummy Japanese foods.

My host family is very kind. Some nights I play the father or my host's brother in a soccer game that is like FIFA. I only won one out of the 6 games I played. They are pretty good at the soccer video game. During the time that we would play, we would get really into the game. W would start yelling and shouting, and when someone scored it was like the person won the world cup! These kind of moments were very special, and made the bonds between the host family and I stronger. The next day, I started to talk more in Japanese because I felt more comfortable, and knew that it didn't matter if I messed up. That same night, my family told me they wanted me to be part of the family, and the brother wanted to call me お兄さん (this means older brother). When I heard this, I was astonished. I felt so honored that they would give me this offer. It was an amazing feeling to have. After I said yes, they also told me that they wanted me in there New Years photo that is for their New Years card. Tomorrow we will take the picture, and I will be in it as an honored family member. This shows how strong a bond can be made in such a small amount of time. Experiences like this don't come very often. My time here is so surreal that sometimes it even feels like I am in a dream, a fantastic dream.
-Andrew Torma 11/22/11

The time I've spent with my homestay family has been amazing. On Sunday they took me to see a shrine to "make a wish and get our fortunes." My host mother told me that many people wish for success in business or for an exam, fortune with love, or good health within your family. She said, because I was now part of their family everyone wanted to wish for good health with me. We each threw in 100 yen, bowed, made our "wish", clapped twice, and bowed again. Afterwards we received our paper fortunes, I got middle luck. Although we had visited shrines previously during this trip, it can not compare to the experience of visiting a shrine as part of a Japanese family.
~ Gabriela Santiago

Staying with my host family has been an amazing experiences. My family is very kind to me as i clumisly practiced my japanese with them. The mother and grandmother speak almost no english and are very happy when i speak in japanese to them. My host sister and the younger sister both enjoying watching tv and playing wii games with me after dinner.

My host sister, Yuki, took me shopping with her friend Chihiro. After lunch we went and took many purikura, which are Japanese photobooths. Much more fun than American photobooths. We made many silly faces together and wrote funny things so we could remember. Overall staying with my host family has been one of the best experiences of my life. -Rhea G

It's really great having so much in common with your host student....well except for the fact that anime wise, my tastes are more in line with his parents (they even dug up a poster and gave it to me). Three experiences I'm definitely going to remember was the Appleking concert (his band), and the time last night where we plugged my iPod into their speakers and I played my music for them. It was a huge success. We also had a bonding moment over nostalgic pop culture from my childhood. It was great. I'm going to miss this.
-Ben "Strow" Ostrow

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Photos from last several days

In an effort to update everyone on the last several days, the blog was posted yesterday without images. Here are some images to help you visualize our experiences...

Hikone-jo (castle) on the eastern banks of Lake Biwa. One fine example of a castle that was uneffected by World War 2.

Looking down the super steep steps found within the castle.

Famous Byodo-in in Uji, just one stop from our lodging. "Phoenix Hall" is imprinted on all 10 yen coins.

Night excursion to Kiyomizu-dera (temple). "Light up" is done in autumn and spring at select temples and shrines to accentuate the changing leaf colors or cherry blossoms. Oh, and by the way, that stage latticework was assembled without nails of any kind (in case you weren't impressed enough).

Sometimes the night viewing is accompanied by light shows. Here is a stone garden with a dragon half submerged in blue. This was at Kodai-ji (temple).

A gorgeous reflection pond found at Kodai-ji.

An ethereal bamboo grove in the temple grounds.

The entry tunnel to the Miho Museum.

Exiting the tunnel to the bridge leading to the actual museum.

Inside the entryway of the museum.

Oldest wooden structure (5-story pagoda) found on the grounds of Daigo-ji in southeast Kyoto.

A bit of the selection of the feast of "fucha ryori," a kind of special vegetarian Buddhist meal, that we ate during our last night at the "Dojo."

The prominent "kitsune" found at Fushimi Inari.

Walking through the vermillion tunnel of "torii."

Yokota sensei holding down the fort while the group explores Fushimi Inari.

We saw Mt. Fuji from the shinkansen.

Crammed on the shuttle to our hot springs lodging.

The "yubatake," or hot water field of Kusatsu Onsen. The place where the natural hot spring feed the towns' onsen (hot spring baths).

Group shot in the foot bath outside the hot water field.

Hitting the gong at a small temple in Kusatsu Onsen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fushimi Inari, shinkansen, shinkansen, express, bus, and HOT SPRINGS

Earlier today we made a brief stop at the Inari Shrine. While i am not good with words, i will do my best to describe the absolute beauty of this place. A long twisting line of gates that one would walk through to get to the top of the mountain that this shrine was built on. Bright orange red set against the natural green beauty surrounding the walking path. I hope to one day return to this place and spend much more time there.

We are now on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. If i were to ever live in Japan, i would live in Tokyo directly in the heart of Shinjuku. The people, the atmosphere, the lights, and the colors... All of it is an ideal city. Tokyo station is next. Byebye then :) - Rhea

Shinkansen rides are awesome. I have been learning and telling life stories. It is a great time to really get to know people on the trip. Also right before bed is a good time to get to know people because thats when we have some time to talk and relax.
-Andrew Torma

Miho Museum and Daigo-ji

The miho museum was gorgeous. Walking on the bridge if you stood really still you could feel it moving, swaying ever so slightly. The museum itself was amazing, a very rich woman's collectables that happened to be priceless and beautiful. The gardens of Daigo were breathtaking. Sadly, my camera was not working at the time so I missed out on some stunning shots. Cheers - Jenny

After the group departed Kyoto crammed elbo-to-elbo into JR train, we transfered to a crowded bus for the second part of Wednesday morning's excursion to Miho Museum. The museum is secluded up in the mountains, east of Kyoto. We would be traveling there via bus. The bus flew up the single-lane mountain roads, sliding past oncoming cars with only inches of clearance. After almost an hour of moderate distressful driving, we stepped out into the cool mountain air. The mountains are the home of a very different type of environment. The ground is covered in furry mosses. Dark green coniferous trees grow. Sprinkled among them are others covered in rich red leaves, blazing in the early-morning sunlight. The museum itself, though constructed in a modern style with shining silver metal and smooth sand-colored stone, coexists with the environment with seamless compliments. It does not seem out of place, they live as one. The museum is built into the mountain as if it was naturally formed, the same as the forest and stones around it. A shadowy and gaping tunnel led us through a mountain and opened out onto a long suspension bridge, stretching between two mountain sides. At the end of the bridge lies the entrance to the museum itself. The sleek and modern design, glowing among the deep-toned plant-life, was illuminated in the warm and streaming sunlight. To be honest, I enjoyed the beauty of the construction more than I did the art that lies within.

-Henry Smith - Nov. 17th, 2011

The Miho Museum was amazing! The building the museum was in was astonishing. I have never seen a place so intreging and be on such a beautiful landscape. I loved how the museum had artifacts from many different cultures instead of just from the japanese culture. Also the guide was very nice amd helpful. The Diajo garden was beautiful as well. The smell of insence, sound of water flowing, and the scene of the garden was super relaxing. It was a great place to just sit and think.
-Andrew Torma

Castles, tea, and temples-oh my!

Our second full day was full of making new friends and so much Japanese when someone spoke in english it took me several seconds to stop my brain from deciphering Nihongo. We woke and made our way to Meiji shrine to meet up with a couple of highschool students, Vankrey sensei's teaching friend and Yokota sensei's Aunt and Uncle.
Through self introductions and broken conversation we toured the site and took pictures with a panda clad man. Got some balloons and tied a purple one to Sensei's backpack in order to see him in crowds. We left and went to Harajuku for shopping and lunch (Icecream, caramel and creme filled crepes). Then it was off to Asakusa where we experienced a temple with huuuuge lanterns and giant sandals on gates. Watched Kodomo Kabuki (children kabuki) and wondered around the shops. By far my favorite part of the day was getting to the meeting site a half hour early and being approached by some college students doing a project about foreign reactions to Japanese culture. They asked the four of us if we would like to participate and we spent the next 45 minutes making some origami, answering questions and getting to know eachother. So much fun speaking that much Japanese.
The final stop of the day was in Shinjuku where we walked a monsterous department store. There was an entire floor devoted to food and the colors were mind boggling. We couldnt find the giant book store so I asked for directions. After a few missteps we finally found it and I 've never been so proud to have followed directions in my life.
Mos burger for dinner and a trip to the top of a tall building to see the city capped off the day and we made our way home to collapse.

Yesterday I feel in love with the fashion of Harajuku and the lights of Shinjuku. It was beautiful and the most amazing place to be. I love Tokyo and leaving for Kyoto was very bittersweet. I hope someday I can find my my back to the bustling streets of my lovely Tokyo. Cheers, Jenny

So i havent done this in a while so ill start with the 13th. when we where in harujuku a cramra crew from Brazil stoped me and asked me questions about lolita clothing (i was waring a sorta puffy skirt). And i bought all the things :). Than yesterday we arived in kyoto and it really felt like places i've gone on vacation before. This sort of intrinsically different. And now its today and im trying to blog on a train while holding on to a bar.
-Charlotte Pope

Okay so this is my first time doing this so lets see how it goes. Over all so far the trip has been an amazing experiance, full of adventure and excitment. I have found particular love for the mountians. The way they loom in the background ever present like venerable stalwart guardians watching over their charges with love and sincerity. The way the clouds roll down their slopes like an avalanche. Well on to more current events. Yesterday we arrived in Kyoto, via Shinkansen. We went to the dojo at which we are currently staying, this place is absolutly amazing to say the least. We slept on futons on tatami mat floors which is the traditional Japanese form. Then after arriving we went to Monkey Mountian. Where we saw well what else, monkeys! Then we went back to the dojo for dinner and bed. Mr. Vankrey shared ghost stories with us which was really fun! But man that stuff was spooky. Well that 's all I got for now till next time! Eli Looper

When we got to Kyoto we headed for Arashiyama. Once here we headed for this shrine which we didn't even go to, but we did get some very good ice cream. Mine was a strawberry vanilla swirl. Other got macha swirl, plain macha, and chocolate swirl. It was very differet then American soft serve because it was very rich and didn't feel like it was full of air. After this we walked past a bridge, past a river, along a mountain, then through a forest to grandma's house... I mean to the top were there was a view point. Here you could see everything. Below us was the forest and the river. That was very pretty but it was nothing ompared to the view of the mountain, when you looked straight. The leaves were changing and the opening in the mountains was just right were we could see the next bit of mountains. After this we walked more throught the village then up a very tall mountain. If it wasn't for what was at the top of the mountain I would have given up half way, but do you know what was at the top of the mountain. If you don't want to know what was at the top 1. Why are you reading this blog 2. You probably already know 3. I'm telling you anyways. What was at the top was a bunch of monkeys. Here we could feed them and take picture, but nothing else or we could have gotten eaten. When it was feeding time the played the can can. The best part of the day was when we go to play at the park.
-Erin McKearnan

Monkeys everywhere and Ghosts in our temple.

I was actually really surprised at how tiny Harajuku was. I really expected to see a lot more people in extravagant clothing, but I'm guessing we were out of season or something. I did meet a really friendly shopkeeper who, in addition to being able to speak pretty good English, let me take a picture with him. I bought a Domo-kun change bag from his shop.
The next day we went to Kyoto, where I was only given a peek at the gargantuan Kyoto station. Were staying at a temple now, where Sensei decided to freak us out and tell us stories about how he was possessed by "Derf" the Russian spririt. I'm not buying it. I swear hes just messing with us,
On another note, I met some really friendly elderly women on the ride to Kyoto. They were really easy to understand and spoke very clearly. We all had a laugh together.
Got some really excellent photos at the top of Arashiyama and the monkey island. Really good stuff this week so far. Im just hoping that being in a room with all the guys doesnt end poorly or anything.
- Ben "Strow" Ostrow

Through a hole in the wall.
Tourists will often find comfort in Japan with the fact that, inside the major cities at least, english will accompany the important texts. You know, restaraunt menus, toilet signs, train maps. Most of the people you encounter will even know a handful of english too. However, take away all this and you dive into a whole different world.
As Emma and I were walking to find lunch in Hikone, we stumbled upon a restaraunt tucked away behind potted plants. The lack of windows, and the uninviting doors that we couldn't see through made the place look closed. But after closer inspection, pulling the door open, we soon found ourselves seated inside a restaraunt devoid of any english.
This was one of the few times on the trip so far that i have found myself completely reliant on my Japanese, and the first time I had to translate a menu. Thankfully, after five minutes we successfully ordered our food, and the bathroom; and had only to sit happily while our meals were prepared.
We learned a lot in that hole in the wall. We were placed in a situation completely out of our comfort zones, and survived just on what we walked in with. Thank you hole in the restaraunt, for all the above, and your nikudonburi.