Saturday, July 26, 2008

Last Goodbyes

Saying goodbye to Japan and all of my friends and family there was every bit as hard as I thought it would be, if not more so. Thursday morning, after I had put the finishing touches on my packing, my host mother and I walked around to her friends' houses in the neighborhood so that I could say good-bye and thank them again for the various gifts that they have given me.

At 9:30 we left for the train station, just the two of us. My host dad had to work and Midori had school in the morning. Our conversation was on good books that we had read, and it felt as if this was just the beginning of another adventure, not the end of a chapter of my life.

At the train station we went to a kiosk that sold beautiful obento lunches and my host mom bought one for me for the train ride home. We found my platform, along with the other YFU students staying in Sendai. Midori managed to make it to the train station right before I left so that we could say our last goodbyes.

We managed to take a few last pictures before tears started falling. We shared our favorite memories, the baseball game Mimi and I went to, afternoon tea with my host mother every day, the trips to Matsushima.... At the end my host mother said a little speech in her broken English about how she knows I will be able to accomplish great things, how she hopes that I will be able to go to Oxford someday, and how she knows I will one day be able to help with world peace. Her words made be break down in a fresh stream of tears and for a moment all I could do was bury my face in a tissue. I told Mimi and my host mom that when they come to America they must come and stay with my family, and then the train called for final boarding.

The train ride to Tokyo was two hours, and then there was another one-hour train ride to Narita Airport. At the airport I met up with many of the other YFU students. It was an extremely bittersweet reunion, with exciting tales of our adventures in Japan, and our sadness at having to leave after what seemed like such a short time. Everyone was talking about the huge earthquake the previous night. It sounded as though nearly everyone had felt the shaking in some form or another. No one seemed to be any closer to the source of it then Sendai though.

After a 10-hour flight to San Francisco, a three-hour layover, and another three-hour flight to Denver (we circled above the airport for an hour as we waited to land) I was finally home.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Earthquake #183746548

Yikes that was terrifying! I've grown used to the feeling that you're on a plane that is experiencing a bit of air turbulence - it happens at least once a week here - but this was different. This time it didn't stop after a minute. This time everything in my room was shaking so hard that it looked like it was about to fall over. My hands are still shaking from it. What in the world must a REAL earthquake feel like? o_o

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My Last Night In Japan

Well, this is it. My calendar claims it's been six and a half weeks, and I wouldn't believe it if it weren't for the fact that YFU has been sending me endless reminders that they are indeed dragging me back to America at exactly 11:21 tomorrow morning.

For my last night in Japan, my host family took me to a kaiten-zushi restaurant. Conveyor belt sushi. It was so much fun. You sit at a bar which has a conveyor belt of sushi going round and round, and you take whatever you fancy, and then the waiter counts up your empty plates at the end.

I discovered my new favorite sushi. 辛子明太子.

I think I cleaned up pretty well. =D

...Oh all right. They're not all mine. A couple of them are my host mom's.

After the kaiten-zushi restaurant, we came home and I expected that that was it. When we walked into the house though, Midori pulled out two huge packages of sparklers and said "Alexa! Shall we light fireworks?!" Two of her friends from across the street arrived a couple minutes later and the four of us spent the entire evening playing with sparklers, and using them to burn our names onto the asphalt road. It was so much fun. At that point the thought of leaving really seemed surreal. This place truly has become like a second home, even in the short time period of six weeks, and the thought of leaving it is heart-breaking.

Tomorrow is that dreaded day when I have to say good-bye to everyone here that I have come to love so much, and then I have over 24 hours of traveling to get back to Colorado, including two train rides and two airplanes. Funfunfun.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I just got back from an overnight stay with my host mom and obasan at ZaoMet's - a hot springs spa, or onsen. It was so amazing! I don't even know where to begin.

The drive took a couple of hours, through mountains, and forests. We finally drove off onto a little side path which wound it's way through about a mile of trees, and then finally arrived at the onsen. We deposited our shoes by the door, put on slippers, checked in, and then went up to our room. It was a small traditional Japanese-style room with tatami mats and sliding doors and a low table in the middle of the floor surrounded by cushions. There was a window that looked out over a breathtaking view of the forest and the river beyond. In the closet were yukatas which we changed into and then sat down to have tea.

After tea, we took our first visit to the hot baths. I'd kind of been a bit uneasy about this since I arrived in Japan - trying an onsen - because onsens = no bathing suites. Not a problem for most of the world, but a bit unsettling for an American. Actually it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. And the onsen was wonderful.

There were actually three separate hot baths, two indoors, one for men and one for women, which would periodically switch, and then one outdoors. You enter, remove your slippers, there's a small area with cubby holes for clothing, then you enter through another door where you shower before finally entering the hot springs.

We returned to our room to relax for a couple hours before going downstairs for dinner. Dinner was quite a surprise. When I imagined what kind of dinner would be served at a "spa" (as my host mom kept calling it) I pictured some sort of nice light healthy meal. What I didn't expect was a huge ten-course feast. I'm not even exaggerating. I have the menu to prove it. I didn't think it was even possible to eat that much. They just kept serving plate after plate after plate, until I thought I was going to explode.

One of the larger dishes was served with a knife and fork, which was an incredibly welcome sight. I'm the kind of person who always eats with a knife - none of that silly cutting food with your fork business. It doesn't work. I haven't used a knife and fork in six weeks though, and it took me forever to get reacquainted with the silly things. It was kind of sad actually. I finally gave up the attempt and went back to using my chopsticks.

After the tenth and last dish was finally served (I was plenty full after the second one), we went back to the hot baths. The men's and women's baths had switched by this time, and I walked in to find a much larger pool. It was gorgeous. The entire room was dark tiled, there were floor to ceiling windows looking out over the dusk setting over the green mountain forests, and the hot springs stretched the entire length of the long room.

The next morning I got to try the outdoor springs. It was the greatest experience - the brisk morning air, the stone pool surrounded by nothing but dense green trees, and then the water which was hot enough to make your head spin. They even had the sugegasa hats which were adorable and tons of fun to try on.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Small Summer Festival

Today Midori, one of her friends, and I, went to a small summer festival put on by an elementary school. The big three-day summer festival that Sendai is famous for - the Tanabata Festival - doesn't happen until right after I leave.

It was so much fun walking around in our yukatas, eating cotton candy, and playing all the various games. There was a traditional dance that everyone did, and about the third time going around the huge circle, someone came up and put a fancy origami award of some kind around my neck. Apparently I had won the yukata competition. lol. Not that my yukata isn't gorgeous, but I have a suspicion it was more the fact that I had blond hair and dared to even wear a yukata to their festival that they gave me the award for. It was all very entertaining. I got to go up on the podium and speak. In Japanese!