by Lily McFeeters, CCI Greenheart Travel High School Exchange student in Japan
Hisashiburi desu! (It’s been a long time!) So much has happened since my last post. A week before school started in Japan, we celebrated hanami, a centuries old custom which literally means “flower viewing.” Everyone carefully watches the blossom forecast. Ideally, when the blossoms are in full bloom, friends and family gather together and enjoy a picnic under the cherry blossom trees, or sakura. Sakura embodies many symbolic cultural interpretations, one being that of the samurai. Just as a cherry blossom suddenly falls to the ground upon reaching its peak, so too would the samurai readily sacrifice himself in his prime, should he be called upon to do so.
For our picnic, Obaa-san prepared oden, a hot-pot stew made from various ingredients such as egg, tofu, daikon (white radish), and chikuwa (a tube-shaped fish cake), stewed in a soy-sauce flavored fish broth called dashi.
The Japanese school year begins in April and ends in March. I bike thirty minutes to school everyday, rain or shine. All Japanese schools, both public and private, require a uniform that is unique to each school. My school has generously loaned me both a bicycle and a uniform, which can be quite expensive. Here we are on our first day, and no, we haven’t joined the navy; these are our winter school uniforms. Clearly, some students are very excited about their first day!
I am a “first year” (sophomore equivalent, even though I am a senior at home), a.k.a., year 1, class 8, student number 41 (ichi-nen hachi-kumi yonjuu ichi-ban). There are 40 students in my class, about 20 girls and 20 boys. Here is a picture of me with my friends Megu (Megumi) and Rika. Now that it’s gotten warmer, some of us have opted to wear our summer uniforms.
The first day of school, the other exchange students and I were asked to prepare a self-introduction for the entire 2nd and 3rd year classes. During the first school week, all the Japanese students have placements tests, so we exchange students, Aotea, Oliver, Camila and I, went to the library to prepare for our cultural presentation.
Even though we were all a bit nervous, our presentations were well received. After the introductory ceremony, many students enthusiastically waved to us and said, “Hello!” or “Ohayo!” (Good morning!). Some students even leaned outside their classroom windows to show their appreciation.
We occasionally have a half-day of school on Saturdays. On this day, my host sister, Momo-chan, the other three exchange students, and I went to the mall and ate takoyaki (fried dough with octopus).
Afterwards, we went shopping and did purikura, shortened for Purinto Kurabu (Print Club). This is a popular photo booth stall where you take silly photos with your friends, like Aotea and me. The photos are then printed into really cool stickers.
Thank you for all the comments, emails, and words of encouragement that I have been receiving from friends and relatives. It really means a lot to me. My host family has been so incredibly hospitable. I am having such a wonderful experience.