I know this is cliche…

I am actually having the time of my life here.  I know everyone says that college are the best years of your life, and I tend to not believe that since I think that life only gets better if you believe it will, but these past few weeks have actually been some of the best of my life without a doubt.  The only downside, to be honest, is not being able to share everything that happens with my friends and family back home.  I have yet to find a good way to motivate myself to write in a blog – it’s so difficult to find the time!  I am constantly running around Kyoto and beyond, getting home too late and leaving too early the next morning to sit here at my computer for a half hour and write a new post.  But I suppose sharing pictures and stories will have to do! :-)

Being in Japan has made me aware of an entirely new phenomenon: that of being a minority.  It is very strange for me to be waiting for a bus and have a group of 20 middle school kids waiting next to me start whispering “gaikokujin” or “gaijin” (both meaning “foreigner,” the second with a slightly negative connotation) and pointing at me.  It’s similarly odd to realize that every time you walk onto the train that you ride every morning, even though you feel like you’ve become a familiar face, people still do double-takes and peer over at you when they think you aren’t paying attention.  I don’t think, or assume, that the attention is negative, necessarily.  I am not always upset by it, although when people start talking about you in Japanese because they assume you don’t speak any it can get a little frustrating.  But in general, I just keep in mind that many people, especially since I chose to study in a city that isn’t swarming with white people (like I’ve heard Tokyo is) do not see foreigners all that often, and when they do, they seem to always be on a tour bus and so aren’t integrated into society at all.

I am enjoying being at Doshisha University immensely – it seems like the students here are the friendliest in the world.  All it takes is to ask to sit next to someone at lunch in the cafeteria, and the next thing you know they are asking to hang out with you this weekend and practice Japanese and English together.  The cell phones here all have an infared information exchange function, so staying in touch with the friends you make is as easy as holding your phone up to theirs for 5 seconds and pressing “ok.”  Not to mention the fact that there are probably 5 different clubs on campus dedicated solely to Japanese-English relations, whether for conversational or just purely social reasons.  It’s also getting easier and easier to communicate with everyone here – I can ask for directions (which I do all the time, like literally every day) without a second thought, and my listening comprehension is improving staggeringly quickly.  I can’t even remember how I thought the listening sections on my Japanese tests were difficult last year!! ^_^

I still sometimes can’t believe that I am actually here.  I find myself standing around campus watching some beautiful Japanese bird fly overhead, or sitting on a bench eating takoyaki (octopus-filled fried dough balls) at the equivalent of a monthly flea market/craft fair at a Japanese temple, or even just hanging out in front of the TV with my host parents chatting (in Japanese!!) about whatever comes to mind, and I have to shake my head.  It’s incredible that I am actually here.  Not learning about it in a textbook, not seeing pictures of it online, not reading someone else’s blog – I am here.

Kiyomizudera

Geisha in Gion - they are a fairly common sight, each one incredibly beautiful.

A little hard to see, but front and center is the spider whose occupied web I walk underneath every day to get to the train. This one's for you, Mom.

(Taken from directly beneath the web, standing in the street.)

I told my host mom that I had a lot of studying to do - she brought me cake and chai!!

I guess that’s all for now!

Well, it’s over

…the typhoon, I mean ;-)

My host dad just came in from outside and he pointed outside and said to me: “sunny!” It’s so adorable, because I clearly know how to say “it’s sunny” in Japanese. Hahah!

I’ve decided to upload some pictures, ones that are already on facebook but for those of you who can’t see them, these are some of my favorites!!

Plastic food display outside a restaurant in Kyoto Eki (Station)

The beginning of a huge labyrinth of hallways filled with shops and restaurants in Shijo, a street in Kyoto.

Ginkakuji

View from the top of the Kyoto Tower Hotel, where my program's orientation was held

Two of my friends from AKP!

It has begun!

Right now, I am sitting in my room in Japan, watching the Japanese equivalent of Food Network and listening to the typhoon that cancelled school today blow around outside.  I’ve got my own けいたい電話 (cell phone) with cute key chains dangling off it, which is what all the girls here put on their phones.  Mine are Hello Kitty, of course. I’ll eat lunch in a little while, and it will be delicious – my お母さん (mother) is an unbelievable cook.  I haven’t eaten one single thing in this house that I haven’t loved.  We have the thickest, most delicious toast every morning for breakfast, along with Japanese pears (which are about twice the size of American pears and are served peeled and cut) bananas, and other assorted fruits.  The food I’ve had has actually been SO tasty.  The only thing I’ve missed so far are Cheez-its.  What a random craving!

I have made some really good friends so far from AKP as well as Japanese students at Doshisha, but it’s obviously a little easier to make connections with people who speak your language.  I think as my Japanese improves I’ll be more able to become real friends with the others.  Right now I’m seriously happy with the social situation though.  I’ve been out many times already with my friends – Kyoto is a great place to explore.  We even went to a カラオケ(karaoke) place this past weekend and sang songs (in both Japanese and English)!  I am glad that the freshman-year syndrome (trying to be friends with everyone no matter what, traveling in massive groups to every place you go, etc.) is winding down.  That part of any new experience is exhausting for me.  I can’t wait for when I feel confident enough in my language ability that I will go out completely alone and discover things by myself!  Although to be honest, I have already been lost and confused while traveling alone to meet friends enough times that I think I could handle pretty much anything.  The city is very different from Gorham, as I knew it would be.  And of course, being a clearly non-Asian, red-haired and blue-eyed girl does grab people’s attention frequently.  When I met my host family’s 2-year-old grandson for the first time the other day, he couldn’t stop staring! It was actually really cute.  My parents explained to me afterwards that he had never seen anyone who looked like me before in his life.  That was a really interesting thing to think about – clearly I was fascinating to him, and we didn’t even communicate!

As a quick aside, it’s really difficult to think about what to write now that it’s been over two weeks since I arrived.  I have already done so much, from eating お好み焼き (okonomiyaki) to visiting 銀閣寺 (Ginkakuji, silver pavilion) to taking プリクラ (basically photo booth pictures) with my friends in a huge shopping center (of which, by the way, there are a TON)!

The storm wasn’t bad this morning, but the wind is really picking up now.  It’s definitely not scary or anything… it just means I won’t get to go outside today.  I guess that’s a good thing though, because I’m finally sitting in my room for long enough that I can update this blog! :-)

Lunch is ready – more (and some pictures) to come later!

I’ve decided…

I am insanely excited to go to Kyoto.

I’m currently sitting in my brother’s and boyfriend’s brand new apartment in D.C. after a long week of helping them move in, studying Japanese from my old textbooks and getting ready head back to Maine.  Then it’s a weekend at camp with the family, a week of what I’m sure will be frantic packing and shopping and goodbyes, perhaps a stop at Bowdoin, and I’m gone!  It’s actually crazy.  I’ve been really nervous for a while, kind of oscillating between excitement and terror, and today, it being so close to my date of departure, I’ve finally started to become more excited than scared.

Of course, the whole different language thing is still freaking me out, but I have e-mailed with my host father (who seems extremely friendly), and he said not to worry too  much about it, I’ll pick it up quickly once I get there.  I think he’s right – there’s no way that I won’t learn a ton, living in Japan.  I just can’t wait to put to use the language skills that I’ve spent so much time and effort gaining over the past two years!! :-D

Hopefully I’ll have some amount of free time over the next week and a half to update, but I really shouldn’t promise much…my suitcases are still empty.  Hahaha…

Got my homestay information!

Last week I received the packet of information about my host family – I absolutely cannot wait! It seems like the summer has flown by. It’s a good thing, because I am seriously looking forward to leaving for Japan, but I also feel like I need about three more months to pack! It’s crazy for me, the perpetual over-packer, to be limited to one or maybe two bags for 8 months. I’ve been doing some serious wardrobe scouring, and I think I’ll be able to survive with the basics…I’m just so used to having a million different outfits to put together! >_< I’m betting this will be one of the huge number of things I’ll learn how to deal with and overcome while preparing for/being in Japan (although this seems like a pretty silly one to be concerned about). I just can’t imagine my style will suffer from being in one of the most interesting places (in terms of fashion and everything else) in the world! As much as I will try to save money and be frugal while I’m there, I just can’t deny how excited I am to go shopping in Kyoto! ^_^

These past few months, I have been officially unemployed except for a few days of babysitting the kids across the street per week, which is a really fun job anyway! It’s actually been really nice, having some free time to enjoy being home. My brother and boyfriend are moving to Washington, D.C. tomorrow and are going to live there for a couple of years at least, so the extra time I spent with them this summer was great.

I cannot believe I’ll be in Japan in less than a month!!! It’s been a long two years building up to this moment, from the first day of Japanese 101 to now. I’ve read over and over how, as short as this summer felt, and as long as 8 months seems now, I will look back in April of next year and be amazed at how quickly it all went by. I’ve decided that I’m just going to take tons of pictures, write tons in my journal, and try to absorb all that I can from my time in Kyoto. I wouldn’t want to forget any of what I’m about to see and do! :-)

Hello world!

So, it looks like I’ve started a blog!

Even though I’m still 3 months from heading across the ocean, I thought I’d get the ball rolling on my blog for some pre-trip discussion. Hopefully, once I actually make it to Japan, this site will give you a good idea of what I’ve been up to in Kyoto, and you’ll feel less like I’m 7,000 miles away and more like I’m right in front of you!

I apologize in advance for the ugliness of my first few posts…It has been a long time since the HTML class I took in high school and my skill with code is terrible. So bear with me, people!!

To be honest, I’ve been focusing more on summer jobs than my trip to Japan during the past few weeks, although it’s always at the back of my mind, especially since the purpose of any and all summer work will be to save up money for next year! (Seriously, I can pretend that I won’t want to shop all the time in Kyoto, but I would be lying to you and to myself.) It’s too bad that there aren’t many summer work opportunities in Maine with connections to Japan, but I guess one more summer of retail at the Maine Mall won’t kill me. I especially won’t be miserable if I get to work at Sephora - they have a whole entire line of Hello Kitty-inspired makeup!!! Talk about perfect for me. Plus they have the Tokidoki line and perfumes by Hanae Mori, both of which are amazing.

All in all, it looks like this summer will fly by. I can’t imagine leaving, but I’m sure once the time comes I’ll be more excited than ever.

Keep checking back for more posts, but the real fun will start in September!

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