Japan is our last international port, and so far it couldnt have been better! I dont know how Im going to choose a favorite country because I love each one more than the last.
Our arrival in Kobe, Japan was a little different than usual. First, we were welcomed at the port with a marching band! It was really funny because the first song I heard them play was Aux Champs Elysees. It seemed like an interesting choice since were obviously not French. Haha. The end was the best though because they finished with When the Saints Go Marching In. I loved it it was definitely a warm welcome and such a crazy thing to see! Second, none of us could get off of the ship until we had our temperatures checked. I figured it would take forever, but it turns out they have a fancy machine that looks like a radar gun. You just walk by it, and you show up on the screen as either red or green.
I was with the first group off the ship because I had a homestay. I got fingerprinted and photographed at immigration, went through customs, and then went to the lobby to meet my host family. It was so cute because all of the women had made signs with our names on them. I didnt see my name anywhere and I started to get a little nervous after I had waited for a while. Finally though I saw my name, and when I went up to my host mother, whose nickname is Sabu, she gave me a big hug. She had a shy little boy, named Kenta, with her, and so I got excited that I would be with a family that had children. I asked if that was her only child and she said she had three others! I was completely shocked because Ive heard so much about the low birth rate and declining population in Japan.
We left the port and drove to a restaurant nearby for lunch. She told me she didnt have anything planned, but I was excited because that seemed like the best way to get an accurate view of their normal daily life. At lunch I had rice and miso soup and Sabu had spaghetti with meatballs. She found this to be hilarious and told everyone we saw during the two days. Sabu and I talked at lunch about many different things. She told me that she had lived in England for a year (I didnt understand exactly why but it had something to do with working with disabled people) and Zambia for a year because of her husbands job (he works for Proctor and Gamble). She was very interested to hear about all of the countries we have visited but particularly Singapore because they will most likely be moving there in March for her husbands job. The move came up several times during my visit and I could tell she is nervous she has a very established life and is quite happy in Japan.
After lunch we went to the kindergarden to pick up Genki, her third child, from school. She introduced me to some of the other moms, and I found out what a social butterfly she is because we were the last ones to leave the schoolyard! She said everyday they are the last ones because she likes to talk with all the mothers. Genki was so full of energy he ran everywhere he went and never seemed to get tired.
We then went to Sabus house and one of the mothers met us there. She was so sweet and reminded me a lot of my friends. She spoke English very well because she had lived in England at one point. We talked all afternoon over tea and snacks. It was funny to me because at one point she had to get her daughter ready to leave to go to her flamenco lesson. I was quite surprised by Japan and how similar it is to Europe and the States. Ive never given Japan much thought, but the similarity of Sabus life to life in American suburbs was not what I had expected.
After tea we got ready and went to a Hippo Family Club meeting. The Hippo Club was the group through which all of the homestays were organized. It is a club that people join to experience different cultures and learn others languages without textbooks or formal classes. They basically get together, talk, and play games that help them mimic the sounds of other languages. I didnt understand how it could work, but I was surprised to hear how much English and Spanish Sabus children had picked up just from listening to the Hippo CDs. At the Hippo Club we played games and then had snacks and talked. Afterwards we went to dinner together. Sabu told me it was a traditional Japanese pub and it looked to me exactly like a hibachi restaurant without the big grills (I asked her and some other women if they actually have hibachi in Japan and they had no idea what I was talking about so either they didnt understand me or hibachi is not really Japanese food. haha). Dinner was pretty good.
By the time we got back to the house it was late, so I we went to bed. I slept in a traditional Japanese room there was no furniture, just mats on the floor and paneled closets along the walls. From one of the closets she pulled out my bedding, and it was very comfortable! Sabu showed me the shower, and I didnt want to be rude (the Japanese are very meticulous about bathing and cleanliness) but I didnt bathe. The house was freezing so taking a hot shower and then drying off in the cold air didnt sounds appealing plus I didnt have gel or anything for my hair. Haha
I slept very well but had to get up at 6am for the second child Konopys dodge ball tournament. We had a yummy breakfast bread and rice cakes with cheese (they had the texture of Brie but tasted like rice) and then rushed to the tournament. I felt bad because I didnt realize I was supposed to bring my stuff, so after we dropped off Konopy we had to go back to the house. Because we had more time on the way back to the tournament we walked through a traditional Japanese shrine. Apparently it is the festival time of year so there were stands with food and candy and a man dressed in samurai clothes. It is tradition that when a child turns 3, 5, and 7 they dress in a kimono, and the family goes to the shrine to give thanks to the gods for giving the child the strength to reach that birthday. There were a few kids in kimonos there while we were there they were so cute!
Before we left I gave Sabu a small thank you gift. It was so cute though because she kept apologizing that she didnt have a gift for me. I told her the point was to thank her for what she had already given me, but she still ran upstairs and came back down with some acorns she had painted. One had a snowman for Christmas, one was glued on a clothespin, and the other could be worn as a necklace.
We went back to the tournament, and since Konopys team tied the first game, she would be playing later in the afternoon and I wouldnt get to see her. We watched a few games and then ate the lunch that Sabu had made rice balls, vegetables and eggs. After lunch we went outside to meet Jun Jun, the president of the Hippo Club. Sabu had to stay at the tournament, so after I hugged her and said goodbye, Jun Jun took me to the final Hippo Club meeting. There were more people at this meeting than the night before, but we played all the same games.
After the meeting, Jun Jun too me back to the ship. I had a little bit of time before I had to be back on the ship, so I walked toward Sannomiya in downtown Kobe. There were so many people! I just walked around for a few hours and then went back to the ship to eat dinner.
Later that night I sat on the back deck and watched as we pulled away from Kobe. The city was all lit up with mountains in the background, and it was so beautiful!
Semester at Sea
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Sunday, November 21, 2010