I arrived in Fukuoka with a warm greeting from my host mother named Ms. Chikako. She showed me how to get to school and also how to get back to where her house was in case I got lost.
I also got to meet Mahiru, Ms. Chikako’s son which was awesome because I got to finally meet someone who lives in Japan that is around the same age as me. Mahiru can speak English fluently which really helps me to translate Ms. Chikako’s Japanese. Also he plays one of the sports that I used to play which is soccer. He even likes comics such as the Avengers, Iron Man, etc. It was an amazing experience to meet my host family and to be able to finally go to Japan after all the hard work to get here.
Today was the first day of school and it was crazy! I didn’t really know where I was supposed to go even though I received instructions from my host family. But thankfully with the help from a lot of people along the way, I got to where I needed to go. They helped me get on the subway which would take me to a station near my school. When I got there I didn’t know how to buy a subway ticket because in Hawaii, there are no subways, so I was completely new to this type of transportation. I asked a nice, kind lady and she showed me how to buy a ticket as well as where to go for the right subway.
When I was about to enter the subway, my jaw dropped. It was packed to the point where it was body to body. In a lot of animes that I watch, the subway scenes are always never packed and it looks empty all the time. My initial expectation was that it was going to be less packed, but in reality it was crowded! But I knew I had to get into it, so I went in squished to the point where I could hear the person next to me breathing.
It took a long time before I reached my station and by that time I thought I was going to pass out from all the body heat, but I survived. Luckily I found my school (by wandering around all over the place), I went through orientation at my school and got my class schedule. I got to talk to some people while I was waiting for my orientation and found out that most of them were from different programs other than Greenheart Travel. After all the chaos and figuring out when and where my classes were, I went back home, with a reminder that anime and reality are sadly not the same.
Today was the second day of school and I woke up early to make sure that I would miss the traffic that I encountered yesterday; I was able to get to school one hour before it started. However during this time I got to meet Megan (from Australia), Kat (from California as well as a Greenheart Travel Scholarship winner), Veego (from Sweden), Deha (from Turkey), Maja (from California), Marcus (from China), etc. It was so cool meeting all these new people who were from all over the world. Most of the people that I met, were in the same class as me and I got to know them even better.
After class was over, we had an excursion to the Zen temple. In the Zen temple, we had Zen meditation. We had a monk show each of us how to do the meditation correctly. The first five minutes was just clearing our minds to be able to hear the sounds of nature. That was the first stage. The second stage was when we learned what a true monk had to go through.
The second stage was like a simulation run of what monk trainees would go through during meditation. If you were a monk in training, and if you fell asleep or your posture was bad, you would get hit very hard by a stick. They called this “encouragement” because it’s supposed to not make you want to get hit again, so you should stay awake till the end. Even if you have good posture or if you’re fully awake, you could still get hit if the monk wants you to get hit. Being hit by the monk was optional, but I thought to myself, “Well, your back is usually very strong, so most likely it won’t hurt that much.” Boy was I wrong!
When it was my turn to get hit by the stick, I was confident in myself. When the first of the two strikes hit, I was wondering how could I make him stop hitting me. When the second of the two strikes hit me, I was already feeling my body getting bruised. I thought that he was being serious, but when the meditation was done, he said to everyone who got hit that he was doing “soft-touch” for us and that if it was for real, the stick would’ve broken.
I thought to myself “I don’t think I would ever want to be encouraged by a monk again,” but I must give credit to all the monk trainees in Japan because the pain that I felt was the greatest amount of pain that I have ever felt in my entire life. Also if that was supposedly a soft hit, I’m scared to find out what the hard hit feels like!
After the class excursion, I went to Ms. Chikako’s friend’s house. Her name was Makiko and she has a family in Hawaii. Ms. Chikako was talking to her about me and how I was from Hawaii and Ms. Makiko wanted me to come over to show me a casual tea ceremony. I went there after school and got to see tatami flooring as well as I got to watch how green tea is made. I also got to drink it which was awesome!
I got to meet Ms. Makiko’s son as well. His name was Daiki, and even though he couldn’t speak English, I was able to communicate with him through Ms. Makiko. In my opinion, Daiki was a younger version of me. He loves playing minecraft as well as playing other types of video games and invites his friends over to play them as well. He also likes reading manga (otaku buddies) and we got to talk a lot about my life as well as theirs. It was a fun experience to be able to use my Japanese language skills as well as to be able to talk to another Japanese family.
I got to create a character bento today and it was very interesting. Character bentos are bentos that are created with food that forms into a picture of a famous character such as Hello Kitty or Naruto. I have seen some of the character bentos on social media sites and have always wondered how to create them. Now I finally have learned how to make them and EAT them!
I also got to go to an anime store called “Animate” and it was so awesome! I’m considered to be an Otaku (a person who loves anime a lot) and just seeing so much anime merchandise in one place was like heaven. I was able to buy not only for myself, but for my friends back home as well! The best part of it was that it was super cheap compared to what it is in Hawaii.
I got to wear a yukata today and it was really cool to finally be able to wear one. I have seen it many times in animes, however I was never able to see one in real life nor have the chance to be able to wear one. Interesting fact: Yukatas and Kimonos are different.
Yukata is a traditional dress that is only one layer while as a kimono is two layers. Also there isn’t that much specific types of yukatas or kimonos, but there are different colors for the different seasons.
I didn’t have classes until the afternoon so Kat, Megan, Maja, Zane and I decided to go to Canal City Hakata to buy omiyage for our family and friends back at home. We met up at the school and “yelped” our way to the mall. We found the mall after a couple of minutes and when we arrived we thought that it was huge!
When we checked the information stand to see the whole entire mall, our minds were completely blown away. The part that we were at was only ⅕ of the mall and the mall had five different buildings with each building having five levels including a basement level. We knew we wouldn’t be able to go to each and every store, so we decided to just explore the first and basement floor to see what it had.
We were able to buy some candy for our family as well as anime stuff from a store called “Jump Shop” and ice cream at a very American shop called “Cold Stone.” After we ate ice cream, we went back to Hakata station to buy some food and went back to the school.
Sadly there was a ceremony that was held today for our school. It was a ceremony for all the students who were leaving the school this week. There were a couple of people who I have seen around the school, but I never got the chance to talk to them. However, there was one person who I had to say goodbye to. Her name was Megan and she only stayed here for a week. Even though it was a short amount of time, we acted as if we were best friends since forever.
It was sad to see one of my friends leave, but we enjoyed our last day with a blast by going to a pokemon shop called “Pokemon Center” and got to see awesome pokemon goodies. We then took our last train ride together and we said our goodbyes. It was nice getting to meet Megan and to be able to talk to her about anime and other crazy things.
These moments are the moments I truly enjoy, to meet new people from around the world and to be able to connect with them so much to the point where we feel very close together. Even though it was sad seeing her for the last time, I was happy I was able to meet her.
After saying goodbye to Megan, I met with my host family and we went to a supermarket mall to buy some food and groceries for Mahiru’s camp that he is going to tomorrow. After shopping, we went to eat at the food court. I chose to eat meat with eggs and rice at “Pepper Lunch” and it was so ono! After a happy yet sad day, there was a good meal to end the day!
Check out my video from this first week in Japan and don’t miss the three important tips for travel at the end!
Duke Takeno is 16 years old and lives in Oahu, Hawaii. His goal during his language program in Fukuoka, Japan is to “learn the language, connect with the other students in the program as well as my host family, and to enjoy what Japan has to offer. I can’t wait to begin my adventure!” Follow Duke’s adventures in Japan on his weekly blog post updates.