Naomi at Akita Week 13: Mission Impossible

December 2, 2016

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Remember how it snowed for the first time a couple of weeks ago? The snow melted right away and since then it hadn’t snowed. Well, it started snowing again this past week and it was actually pretty bad. Some of the snow melted and froze during the night; the next day I could barely walk. I was basically ice skating everywhere in my slip-on Vans since I wanted to refrain from slipping and falling on my butt. I really need to buy some snow boots…

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Thursday evening, my mom and brother, Tyler, landed in Akita! They stayed in a hotel near campus – only a 5-minute walk away. My mom decided not to get a rental car in fear of sliding on the icy roads. Practically all of the ice had melted by the second day they were here but she insisted on using the buses and trains for transportation. We all got dinner in the school cafeteria since my mom wanted to try the food they served there. I was surprised to see that there was a Thanksgiving special considering we’re in Japan! The turkey was actually very delicious when drenched in gravy. Since we had nothing planned for the night, we took the bus to AEON so my mom could buy some food for breakfast. We met Patrik there – he went earlier to get a haircut before the shop closed. After the mall, my mom and Tyler headed back to the hotel. They were tired from traveling and Patrik and I had to work on Japanese homework due the next day.

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After my 10:30 Japanese class, I walked to the hotel. My mom’s friend and husband from Iwata (different prefecture) drove about three hours to visit us. My mom has been a friend of this woman since 3rd grade – they’re pen pals. The last time they saw each other was in 1993…that’s 23 years ago. She lives in the area that was affected by the tsunami in 2011. My mom wanted us to visit her there but since we didn’t have a car we would have had to travel by train and it would’ve taken 6 hours. For lunch, we ate at the restaurant in the hotel. I got the Lunch Set with the ハンバーガーステーキ (Hamburger Steak) and it was delicious. Afterwards, we decided to walk around my campus. We showed them our beautiful library and stopped at the only café on campus for some coffee. They left around 4pm so my mom and Tyler just sat at one of the tables outside of the café. Patrik and Isabella both ended up coming to hang out with us before Isabella left for dance rehearsals. They both kept asking my mom and Tyler for embarrassing/funny stories about me, giving Tyler the opportunity to make fun of me. All of us were laughing so hard, especially Tyler and me. The both of us even started tearing up – it was great.


After Isabella left, we got on the bus and headed to AEON for dinner. Tyler wanted to go to 焼肉 (grill in the middle of table so you cook your own meat) and Patrik found one that was a 15-minute walk away from the mall. However, while on the bus, Patrik admitted to not wanting to go because it was cold and snowing outside. So, we walked into the restaurant area of the mall not knowing where to eat. We looked at the menus of all the restaurants there and then stood in the middle of the walkway trying to figure out where to eat. It was very inconvenient that the four of us were all very indecisive. Thankfully, Patrik had made an earlier comment that he hadn’t eaten pizza in a while so my mom said we should go to the Italian restaurant. Once we sat down we realized that the pizza given to us wasn’t that big, it was more of a side of pizza – only 15cm wide. The four of us ended up getting spaghetti with a side of pizza. Patrik and I both got spaghetti with squid ink – it was a Black Friday special. Patrik got honey pizza and I got pizza with spicy pollock/cod roe. It was obviously a Japanese-style Italian restaurant! After dinner, my mom insisted on going to Baskin Robbins so she could get a free scoop of ice cream with a coupon she got from her phone company. Once she got it, she took two bites, said it was too sweet, and gave it to Tyler to finish. Oh brother.


On Saturday, Patrik and Isabella joined us to head into the city. My mom was on me about making Christmas cards to send to family and friends. I told her we could use pictures that we took together during the summer in Okinawa but she was persistent in taking some pictures here. While I gave my camera to Patrik and he proceeded to take some pictures of us.


Oh, here are some pictures of me throwing a snowball at Patrik. I missed. BUT, I missed intentionally because I didn’t want to hit my camera.


We got to Akita Station and saw some guys dressed as Namahage! My mom told us to run over and take pictures with them before another group of kids jumped ahead of us. I felt like an elementary school student being forced to take a picture with one of the scary movie characters at Disneyland. After we took that picture, we walked towards the city and passed a souvenir shop with a big stuffed bull. Isabella started freaking out and I could tell she wanted to go hug it so I told her I would take a picture of her with it. Tyler ended up jumping in too and the both of them look so happy! It makes me happy.


We walked to a fish and vegetable market. There was a guy chopping off fish heads. We saw puffer fish and lots of cheap ikura (salmon roe) – Tyler’s favorite. I actually really love going to fish markets. I don’t know why. I love seeing all the different kinds of fish and as weird as this is going to sound, I appreciate the smell. We walked outside and saw someone selling different kinds of mochi – a Japanese rice cake. The rice is pounded for several hours until it turns into paste and then shaped. In Akita, zunda mocha is popular so my mom bought a package of four. Tyler and I shared one. It tasted nothing like the mochi we are used to; it was super sweet and soft to chew. I guess the rice was pounded for a longer time.

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After the market, we walked to Senshu Park. Isabella and Patrik have never gone so I decided to take everyone there since there isn’t that much to do in the city here. Tyler’s a senior in high school so he needs senior casuals for the yearbook. I offered to take some pictures for him. He found a bunch of leaves sprawled on the ground under a naked tree. The leaves matched with his hoodie and shoes so we thought it would make for a nice set of photos. I told him to throw some leaves for a couple of the pictures and it turned out looking pretty cool. There’s a castle at the park that I wanted to show my mom but we had to climb up a pretty steep hill. Tyler had to help her out and we were all laughing, even my mom. She felt like a grandma hanging out with us kids, she said.


After the park, my mom treated all of us to some ラーメン (ramen). The place was very small and only had maybe 15 seats altogether. Each table only seated three people so we had to sit separately. You had to order at a machine, which allowed you to receive a ticket you give to the cooks. I was shocked when my mom told me the only sizes they had were regular, large, and extra large. We all got the regular size but the bowl was still so huge. I’ve never eaten so many noodles in one sitting. Isabella couldn’t even finish her bowl. Tyler was still hungry and ate some of hers before we headed out. His stomach is bottomless, apparently.


Saturday night, we went to Isabella and Annabelle’s dance performances. There were 24 dance teams performing at Dance Virus. It was the last dance event for the semester so it was very emotional for the seniors graduating soon. It was a lot of fun to watch though and I’m glad my mom and Tyler came this weekend to see everyone perform. Even dance teams from other schools came to perform. The last performance was very exciting though. A bunch of people danced to “You Can’t Stop The Beat,” the song from Hairspray. Not many people know this about me but I love watching musicals. My mom watched them while I was growing up so it has rubbed off on me. I was rocking out in my chair when the song played.

 

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My mom and Tyler had to leave for the airport at 10am today but Patrik wanted us to complete Mission Impossible before they left. We met up at 8am and Patrik gave us that first paper shown above and told us good luck. There were 7 missions and we had to walk around campus looking for the next clue. I was laughing throughout the entire game. It amazes me that Patrik made this for my mom and Tyler; he’s such a sweetheart. He even created mp3 files that we read with a QR scanner on Tyler’s phone. We had to guess the national anthem of different countries to find the next location. We used Shazam to find out some of the anthems – we couldn’t figure out the Italian national anthem. We told Patrik that and he told us they sing “Italia” in the song….I guess we have bad hearing. At the end, my mom and Tyler were rewarded with maple cookies and syrup from Canada. Patrik’s sister lives in Canada so he asked her to send that over for us. What a wonderful weekend. It makes me happy that Patrik gets along with my family so well considering he’s going to Okinawa with me this winter break.


Week 11: Crepes and Kraft Mac & Cheese

November 14, 2016

1I appreciate Patrik so much. I’m so used to drinking five cups of coffee at Richmond because it’s so easily accessible so I appreciate Patrik letting me make coffee in his room. I was having a hard time staying up in my International Trade class so Patrik brought me a cup of coffee during my class break, before my History of Pre-Modern Japan class. やさしいね〜 (he’s very kind, huh?)!

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Isabella and Annabelle finished writing their speech about their Korean trip for JPL100 and I finished my grammar homework for JPL300 and this was the outcome. We were all very tired so we continued to hang out in Annabelle’s room in Sakura Village. I was also messing with my camera a bit. Trying new lightings and what not.


Do you all remember the Draw Something app that came out maybe…four years ago? Well, Griff, Patrik, and I were hanging out in the Komachi Lobby and rediscovered the game. Some of our other friends joined in and we soon found out that Griff is actually Picasso. How do you even draw that nice of a toilet and blender? I want his drawing skills.

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Griff even drew me…I don’t have a neck but it’s still a pretty good drawing considering he drew me with only his index finger on his small screen.


We had our first snow this past week. I still can’t believe the snow stuck. It’s only the beginning of November. I woke up and heard the hail hitting the ground and immediately fell back into bed…very unwilling to walk outside in the cold. Thankfully I bought a winter jacket from UNIQLO though and it actually keeps me very warm. Now I have to buy some snow boots though or else I’m going to injure myself.

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Saturday, a group of us took the bus to AEON to eat lunch then walked over to Yotsugoya station to head into Akita City. I had the directions up on Google maps but closed the app when I realized where the train station was…you could see it in the distance. Unfortunately, the rode split into two and we didn’t know which road to take. Everyone yelled at me for closing the app then proceeded to split up. Patrik, Griff, and I walked on a path that led into the fields while Isabella, Annabell, and Tristan took the actual road. We ended up meeting up five minutes later as the roads met up! We made it to the station five minutes to spare before the train arrived.


You wouldn’t believe this but we actually ended up getting on the wrong train. It took us in the opposite direction. That’s the life of AIU international students: reading the schedule wrong and getting on the wrong train/bus. The train took us to Wada Station so we had to wait there for an hour before the train came to take us to Akita. It was fine though. We listened to some music on Patrik’s speakers and took a couple videos of us doing the mannequin challenge. If you don’t know what it is just look it up online and it should pop up as it’s trending right now. We had to retake one shot at least 10 times because I couldn’t stop laughing. Anyways, we went into the city and went to Karaoke for about 3-4 hours. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures but just know we sang our hearts out to 80s music and Michael Jackson songs. We took the last train from Akita to Wada Station and walked for an hour back to campus.

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I’m super proud of all of my friends for expanding their collection of beer stickers. Most of the time Japanese beer cans have a sticker on them so I decided to start collecting them on my phone. When I got to Akita, I influenced people to start collecting the stickers as well. Everyone has more than me now though and it’s upsetting. I took off all of my stickers recently so I have 0…


Sunday afternoon, everyone came to Isabella’s apartment to make crepes. Griff and Patrik had been planning this out for about two weeks now. It was originally supposed to be pancake day but Griff told us that the pancakes wouldn’t be as good without baking powder, so crepes it was. Patrik went all out and bought whipped cream, chocolate sauce, strawberry jam, canned peaches, and canned pineapples for the crepe toppings. We didn’t have a whisk so Griff, Annabelle, and Patrik stirred as fast and hard as they could with the forks and chopsticks. It was pretty intense.

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I FaceTimed my mom asking for help on how to make the whipped cream since none of us could read the directions. She told me that we needed a whisk or else it would be very difficult to make. So, Patrik actually ended up running to the Komachi kitchen and finding a whisk. The whipped cream was almost impossible to make with just a fork. Kevin had been stirring it for about 20 minutes and the consistency was still very liquid. Tristan took the whisk and stirred for only about 5 minutes before it turned to actual whipped cream.

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We actually had a can opener but I guess it didn’t work out too well…I turned my back to help Isabella with the crepes and by the time I was done the can was opened like this. Super dangerous…we should probably invest in a nice can opener.

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The first one was pretty rough but Isabella looked up a tutorial on YouTube and after that the crepes came out perfect. Patrik sprinkled some brown sugar on his crepe. He had the first one and Kevin commented on the placement of the whipped cream. All of us put our whipped cream inside the crepe and Patrik found it super weird. I guess that’s just a minor culture difference in the way we make crepes. Everyone had 1-2 crepes and we were still very hungry so Isabella ended up making some Kraft Mac and Cheese that my mom sent me recently. Eating American food was a nice change. My mom is visiting at the end of this month so I’m going to have to ask her to bring some more mac and cheese with her!


Naomi at Akita Week 10: EXCITING NEWS!!

November 10, 2016

OKAY, SO VERY EXCITING NEWS! I Facetime my mom pretty often while I’m here since it’s so easy without the usual time difference while I’m in Richmond, as she’s in Okinawa with my younger brother, Tyler. Well, she has met a couple of my friends here via Facetime including Patrik. She knows how close the two of us are and knew that Patrik had nothing planned for winter break. See, Patrik is staying here for a year so he has about a three week winter break to do anything. Well, I’m going back home to Okinawa from December 22nd – January 5th before heading back to Richmond and…

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My mom invited Patrik to come with me to Okinawa and he had to get approval from his parents AND HE JUST BOUGHT HIS TICKETS THIS PAST WEEK! HE’S GOING BACK HOME TO OKINAWA FOR ME AND I’M SO EXCITED!! I’m sorry for all of this excitement but it’s just…I’m so happy. We’re going to have so much fun. I get to show him where I grew up during high school and he gets to try Okinawa Soba and Milk Zenzai and all of the other Okinawan food that I love. I told him we’re going swimming at the beaches; I don’t care how cold the water is, we’re still getting in the water. We’re going to chill on the seawall. I’m so excited. You have no idea.

Another thing that made our day even better…after he bought the tickets, we started walking back to our dorms. I was talking to him about chilling on the seawall as someone passed us. This woman immediately turned around after hearing the word “seawall” and asked me if I was talking about Okinawa. I told her I went to high school there and she told me that she graduated from Kadena High School, the rival of Kubasaki High School, my school. I was shocked. I asked if she was a student here and turns out, she’s a professor! I told her that Patrik was going back with me this winter break and she told us she’s going back too. It was a great moment. Everyone from Okinawa understands how close everyone is, especially with the military life. I CAN’T WAIT TO GO TO OKINAWA WITH PATRIK!

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Remember last week how I mentioned we had a speech to give in Japanese class? Yeah, it went very well! I snapped a quick picture of Patrik giving his speech. If we used difficult vocabulary in our speech we had to put it on a slide and show it to everyone so they would know the English translation. Patrik talked about the culture shock he felt when coming to Japan. For example, how kind and helpful Japanese people are. I didn’t provide a slide of difficult vocabularly words because the Japanese words I used were words students in our level should already know, or so I thought. I talked about Japanese vending machines and how they sell hot food and drinks, and the convenience of selling iced black coffee, since they don’t have that in the states. After a speech, the students have to ask the speaker questions. I had about seven questions related to vending machines directed towards me. Just as I was about to thank everyone for listening to me, Will, one of my classmates, raised his hand to ask a last question. He asked me what 自動販売機 meant…he didn’t know the Japanese word for vending machine. Everyone started laughing. Here I am talking about vending machines and everyone asking me about vending machines and poor Will didn’t know what I was talking about. 亀井先生 (Teacher Kamei) laughed as well.

Cool Japan, a show on NHK that promotes Japan’s “creative industries” to foreign countries, came to campus and asked for international students to give two hours of their time to watch popular Japanese YouTube videos. After every video we had to write down our comments and rate the video. Between videos the camera crew would walk around and quickly interview students, getting our opinion on Japanese innovations. They had us watch videos on bullet train, PPAP (if you don’t know what this I recommend looking it up), bentos, and raw squid. We had to watch 43 videos. It took a while but it was interesting trying to understand why certain videos had millions of likes in Japan and even outside of Japan.


On Wednesday, there is no early Japanese class so Patrik and I decided to sign up to go to Omagari Elementary School to hang out with the students. The Division of Research and Community Outreach (RCOS) puts out events weekly for international students to participate in. Most of the events include going to elementary/middle schools and talking to Japanese students.

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We got to the school an hour early so Patrik, Okka, and I walked to a nearby grocery store to get some breakfast. It was super cheap. We were able to buy a 2L bottle of tea for less than¥100. We bought a couple of riceballs and some sweet bread then headed back.

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We were directed into the gymnasium and seated in front of all of the students. The students welcomed us by all standing up and singing a song to us. They were all so cute. Afterwards, we each had to introduce ourselves and introduce our home country with the file book we made ourselves. Of course, we had to do it in Japanese. It was a challenge but very fun to try out. Patrik stole my camera and ran to the back to snap a picture of me introducing the US to everyone. The kids yelled with excitement when they saw the pictures of the hamburger and pizza that was already included in the file book.


After we all introduced ourselves, we played a couple of games with the kids. The teachers all stood around and announced what games we were playing. We played Rock, Paper, Scissors first. I was so confused as to how they were paying but I understood towards the end. Everyone runs around while the music is playing and once the music stops you have to find someone to go against. The loser has to put their hands on the winner’s back and follow them around when the music continues playing. The winner runs around and looks for someone to go against once the music stops. The loser then goes behind the winner again. This is repeated over and over again until there are two winners left. You can imagine how hectic this is because the winner’s lines of kids behind them increases more and more with each win. Whoever wins gets to walk around the entire gymnasium with all the kids behind them. It was so funny seeing us, the older international students, following the winner in front of us and having more students behind us. The kids were too short to put their hands on our back so we all had to bend down!


The school provided lunch for us and it was quite delicious. Two students from each classroom had to bring our lunch trays to the classroom. Patrik and I were assigned to the same classroom for lunch so we followed the students there. I was surprised to find out that we were served the same amount of food as the elementary school students. The rice bowl was filled up only a quarter of the way. We were served a vegetable soup, gyoza, and some type of noodle and meat mix. We also drank milk with our lunch. I used to drink milk with every meal when I was younger but I haven’t in a while so it was interesting. The milk actually tasted really good.

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Patrik ended up getting more food since it wasn’t enough. Funny because when we got back to campus he immediately went to his room to get more food because lunch wasn’t filling enough.

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I snapped a picture of the students’ backpacks. This is a typical Japanese backpack that you see in アニメ (Japanese animation) or 漫画 (comics). I used to have one because my mom made me attend Japanese Elementary School for a month every time we visited Okinawa during the summer. I had to wear a uniform but these students didn’t have to…quite envious.

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Can you believe the students brush their teeth after eating lunch? Some kids didn’t even use toothpaste. The teacher told everyone to sit down and start brushing their teeth as she played some listening video in the background. Patrik and I sat there smiling at each other while watching the clean and healthy children.

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After lunch, we headed back to the gym to say bye to everyone. The kids made a tunnel for us and it was the sweetest thing. Again, since they were so short we had to bend down the entire time we ran through the tunnel. It was uncomfortable bending down for that long so I ran through the tunnel as fast as possible to get to the end quickly! I had such a wonderful time so I told Patrik we should sign up for another one. We’re going to try going to RCOS tomorrow and sign up for another Wednesday morning/afternoon one.

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Unfortunately, Patrik and I have been stuck in the IT lab all day working on our papers. Fortunately, my paper has to only be 1500 words long; Patrik has to write a 4000 word essay. I actually just finished and left to go back home. Patrik wasn’t even half way through…he’s probably going to be stuck there all night. Poor guy. His paper is for his Japanese Literature class and my paper is for my Japanese Premodern History class. It’s our last long paper for the semester! We still have to write short papers for the discussion forum and come up with our final project. I should probably start coming up with an idea for that considering the semester is quickly coming to an end.


Naomi at Akita Week 9: 漢字漢字漢字

October 31, 2016

This past week has been pretty slow. People are getting sick and wearing masks to avoid the sickness spreading. It’s getting super cold. I ended up facetiming my mom who was sleeping in my room. I asked her why she was in my room and she told me the AC works better there…I almost jumped out of my chair when I heard that. She’s still using the AC while I’m over here freezing my butt off!

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I went for a walk after my classes since I had some free time. A couple of my friends told me that there was a dam about a 20-30 minute walk away so I decided to go find it. I listened to music the entire walk. Only about 5 cars passed me. I ended up finding the dam but didn’t take pictures, as it was already getting dark. There was a small green frog chilling on the fence blocking the dam.

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You know how Patrik always gives me coffee in those cup noodle containers? Well, I went to AEON (the mall) this past week and ended up buying some paper cups from DAISO (100 yen store, basically the dollar store). I also bought my own mug since I get coffee from him that often. I went to his room about 5 times this past week just for coffee. While we waited for the coffee to brew, we showed each other music that we recommend. Me with my hip hop music and him with his metal core music. It’s funny how close we are but how different we are, especially when it comes to music taste.

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I forgot to mention but last week, Patrik was showing me some Japanese music he listens to and he ended up playing a song by a band named FAKY. I started freaking out because my friend, Diane, the girl I recently visited in Tokyo, used to be in that band. She ended up leaving it because she wanted to do something else I showed him one of their music videos and pointed out Diane and he started freaking out. We both started singing along to the music video and wow, it was such a surreal moment. If you want to check out one of their songs just type in “Better Without You FAKY” and you’ll see Diane with her long red hair.


There was a Halloween party at the Student Hall Thursday night. Isabella and I decided to stop by because my friend was performing. We thought we were going to be late so we ran all the way to Student Hall but ended up being early. We watched the costume competition and two guys dressed up as Cup Noodles won! Patrik was there as well with his skeleton face paint. Jay ended up performing and blew us all away. It was Isabella’s first time hearing him sing and “wow” was all that came out of her mouth.


Most of us went out Friday night for a Halloween party and ended up pulling an all-nighter since we were unable to get back on campus till the next morning as we had to wait for the trains to start running again. We slept all of Saturday and woke up around 4pm! Since we practically wasted the day, we decided to all cook dinner. Isabella and I went to AEON first to get the ingredients. She bought spaghetti and Carbonara sauce. I decided to make Goya Chanpuru, an Okinawan dish, since my mom sent me Spam in that care package she sent me last week. I bought tofu, eggs, and goya. Isabella already had salt and soy sauce so I was set. I had to call my mom before I started cooking to make sure I was doing everything correctly. She also sent me jushi, Okinawa style rice seasoning with vegetables and meat, so I had to make sure I was using the rice cooker correctly.


We had so much food. I made rice and Goya Chanpuru, Isabella made her spaghetti, and Annabelle and Kevin made chicken with some sweet chili sauce. Patrik was the only one that actually enjoyed the Goya Chanpuru; everyone else thought it was too bitter, which didn’t surprise me. Tristan actually said that we should all eat a mouthful of just Goya. I didn’t do it because I didn’t count, as I enjoy the bitterness. So, Tristan, Isabella, Annabelle, and Patrik all took about 5 pieces of Goya and stuffed it in their mouths. It was great. Annabelle made the weirdest face and immediately ate chicken afterwards to get rid of the taste. This makes Goya Chanpuru sound bad…I promise it’s actually delicious.

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This upcoming week, we have to give a 3-4 minute speech in Japanese class. We can’t have any notes or anything so we basically have to memorize our speech in just Japanese. I’m actually pretty nervous. For this speech, we had to decide to talk about either something that surprised us, saddened us, or excited us about Japan. I wrote about the vending machines in Japan and how the abundance of them surprised me.


I’m not kidding when I say you will find at least three vending machines on every street corner in Japan. It’s unbelievable really. They have vending machines with hot foods, like hot dogs and cup noodles. They’re everywhere. Back home in Okinawa, right outside of our apartment, there are seven vending machines lined up outside, side to side. Even outside of convenience stores, they have vending machines lined up outside, despite the drinks they have right inside the store.

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I appreciate it though because these vending machines sell iced black coffee. It’s a struggle for me when I go back home to the states because the only way to get iced black coffee is if you go to Starbucks or to some other chain store. It’s not as easy, common, and cheap as Japan.

img_0927In addition to the speech I have to memorize, I also have a 漢字 (kanji) midterm to study for and its just line after line after line. I’m even studying for it right now. I’ve been doing well in the class so I’m not too worried about it but this is an exam on ALL of the 漢字we’ve learned so far this semester…wish me luck!


Tori in Spain: The Boy Who Bowed

October 13, 2016

Since coming to Spain, I have had the privilege of joining BocaTalk, a group who walks through Madrid every week to sit with people experiencing homelessness and listen to their stories. Before we leave, we make sandwiches together to give to the people we meet that evening. However, our motto is, “It’s so much more than a sandwich,” because the focus is on listening, not material goods given.

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I have been both broken and blessed through this experience. I am thankful it has broken me, because I believe people must be broken before they can receive blessings humbly and give themselves to others wholeheartedly.

Last Wednesday started off with a blessing named Maria. I sat with her for a long time despite my inability to understand and to express what I wished to say to her well in Spanish. The language barrier is still really hard for me, but she didn’t seem to care. I think she told me her life story, but am honestly not sure. Whenever we didn’t have words, we just looked at each other. That was powerful to me.

Her gaze held no bitterness or resentment. I often resent myself for the privilege I have been given, and I felt that she was skeptical of my intentions, but appreciated me despite my brokenness. As a knelt on the ground beside her place of residence (a box she sat on) and all of her belongings (a small cart), she was worried for me. “Why are you on the ground? Don’t get your pants dirty! You don’t need to sit on the road.” Here she was, an old woman whom had experienced oppression and exclusion from society, worried about me, a privileged White American on a semester of vacation. 

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I told her I was so grateful for her words and thankful to have met her, she pointed at the sky and said “No, todas gracias a Dios.” All thanks to God. After that, I began to understand more of what she was trying to communicate to me. She told me of her Christian roots, how good the Lord was, and how He always heard our prayers. I wanted to pray for her, but she told me that prayer was for quiet, private places… not on the streets. There’s a verse in Matthew which says just that, and I was humbled by her wisdom and knowledge of scripture. Here she was, an old woman whom had been victim of abandonment and countless difficult circumstances, blessing me, loving me, and pointing me to Jesus with her steadfast faith and joy. 

I left her later that evening, and continued on with our group throughout the center of Madrid. I struggled with my ability to walk away from Maria. She could not walk away from her circumstances, so why was I able to walk away from hers without a scratch? Privilege is a terrifying and convicting thing.

Little did I know what was in store for me the rest of the evening. Less than a half an hour later, I met the boy who bowed, and our encounter broke me.

We were wandering the side streets of Puerta del Sol, when we came upon a man whom was lying facedown on the street, holding a cup in his hand. We tapped his shoulder to ask him his name and offer him a bocadillo, expecting nothing out of the ordinary. I was shocked when a young, beautiful pair of brown eyes met mine. This child could not have been older than my little brother, and here he was, alone in the streets. We tried to talk with him, but realized that he could not speak English or Spanish.

We left him a sandwich and walked away, feeling like we had nothing else to offer him since we didn’t share a language. This young boy was alone in a foreign country where he could not be understood nor could he express himself to others.

I felt paralyzed. 

I realized that we didn’t offer him a juice, so I grabbed one and ran back to him. I placed it in his hand, placed my hand on his shoulder, and merely looked into his eyes, hoping to communicate all I wanted to express to him through a look. Even if we had shared a language, words would not have been sufficient for this moment.

I left deeply disturbed and couldn’t hold back my tears.

WHY WAS I ABLE TO WALK AWAY? Why didn’t I sit with him longer? I should have stayed. Should have done something more. Should have bought him groceries for the week. Should have done anything to show him that he was loved and valued and worth it and not alone.

This experience has lead me to question the hip-evangelical-Christian subculture I immerse myself in at home. My love of bible verses in calligraphy, fancy dinner parties, hospitality, quiet times on perfect front porches, freshly picked wildflowers, acoustic music, hipster cafes, and organic food feels silly and superfluous when juxtaposed with Maria’s simple life. She loves the Lord with all she has, which is just herself. I have much to learn from Maria.

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Do we hide behind the trappings of our Christian subculture? What does it mean to live courageously and walk through life with open hands? Faith requires surrendering all we are and have to the Lord in the knowledge that everything we have we have been freely given.

Luckily, the Lord does not need us. He has already won. It can be easy to feel guilty and helpless and be paralyzed by the brokenness and inequity in this world, but we serve a God whose light cannot be subdued by darkness. My prayer is for the Lord to take my guilt and helplessness and change it into a fire within me that pushes me to give of myself, my money, my time, and my privilege in radical, courageous ways. I know it is impossible on my own, but trust that the Lord is inviting me into His beautiful story of redemption and healing in every moment, I just need to learn to say yes to those invitations.

A good friend and I sat down for coffee yesterday, and I began to process this experience with him and my frustration with privilege and guilt for the joy I derive from traveling, good food, and other material comforts. He wisely reminded me that in order to give to others, we ourselves have to be filled up. The list of things I love that felt wrong and superfluous after talking to Maria are all things that remind me of deeper truths and allow me to savor life with others. Without those reminders and relationships, I would not be wholehearted enough to give away anything at all.

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I hope to see the boy who bowed again, and hope to give more courageously to him next time. Not because it is required of me, but because the Lord is inviting me into the extravagant adventure of loving and caring for His children.

 

 

 


Tori in Spain: The Story of Madrid

September 22, 2016

People keep asking me what my favorite parts of life abroad have been so far. Honestly, it isn’t the crazy, spontaneous trips, Instagram-perfect moments, or even the yummy tapas.  The simplest, slowest moments have been the sweetest. Watching the sunrise and set on my back porch, sipping espresso in the morning with my roommate, talking with my host mom after the kids go to bed, and snuggling with mi hermanito Juan. Long dinners, long conversations, and long days spent in solitude have made this time special. I feel like a story is being formed here, and every moment I remain in Madrid and am very present here, that story gets richer and richer.

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The more I fall in love with my family and friends and the story being told here, the less I am tempted to country hop all over Europe, because I want to discover more of what God has for me here. I think that places are significant, and investment in a place can lead to seasons of growth and deep connections. Even more than that, I think that people are important. People are what make places so special, and my family here has done that for me. Allow me to introduce you to the people who have added depth and dimension and wonder to the Story of Madrid.

My host mom Bella is absolutely amazing. Our conversations about Spanish politics, religion, food, favorite things, and our philosophies of life have truly been my favorite times of my entire trip. I love to learn from her and she is the only Spanish person who I feel fully understood by, since the language barrier often makes it hard for me to express myself to others.

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We just celebrated the first birthday of my little brother Juan(ito), whom I love dearly. He crawls into my room with a huge smile on his face, just wanting to play and love on me. He has a mischievous and adventurous personality, and has never met a stranger. He is constantly smiling and giggling and truly has contagious joy. I want to be more like Juan. My other little brother, Cesar, is 3 and he can’t decide if he loves or hates me. Regardless, we love to play pretend “caballeros” (knights) and engage in ferocious duels “encima de caballos con espaldas” (on horseback with swords). I always end up dead, but never before we swap some serious trashtalk in Spanish.

Last, but not least, my roommate Amalie! She has become one of my dearest friends here, and I am incredibly thankful for her. She is very committed to learning as much Spanish as she can and truly doing life within the culture of Spain rather than having a typical “Americans in Spain” study abroad experience. This has really helped shape my perspective on my time here and helped me learn so much. I love her philosophy of life, and treasure our many meals together, long walks in the park, and jokes about how intimidating and cool Spanish young people are. She is very special, and I’m not sure how I got so lucky to have been placed with her randomly.

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A couple days ago, I tripped on my way to school, my things went flying, I face planted, and my knee got bloody, swollen, and bruised. I couldn’t fully express myself to the man who was trying to help me and I had a breakdown. Here I am, injured, bleeding, and crying in a place where I still sometimes feel like I am not known and cannot make myself known due to the language barrier. However, when I got home, I talked to Bella about how I was feeling, Amalie checked out my knee, and I snuggled with Juan. Even Cesar was concerned, and I did not die at the hand of his sword that night. I am so thankful for a family here that loves me, knows me, and allows me to rest and lean into the simple moments of life alongside of them.

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Naomi at Akita: Week 3: Raw Egg

September 19, 2016

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On Monday, my History of Pre-Modern Japan class took a field trip to the Yayoikko Village in Goshono – about a 15-minute drive away from the school. The Akita City Board of Education excavated this Jizouden Site, from Jomon and Yayoi Periods, in 1985. Four pit dwelling houses were found but only three were restored. The style of the houses is called “Kabe Tachi Shiki” which stands for Wall-Stand Type, as you can see in the two pictures above. Professor O’Reilly (pictured above – yes, he has blue hair) actually told us about 50 people lived in each house, which I found to be unbelievable. Our class consisted of about 30 students and when we all went into one house, it was already too stuffed. There was a small museum near this site that exhibited pottery, stone tools, and clay figurines. Some of the pieces of pottery we saw were used as children coffins and several clay figurines found were used as good luck.

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After a long day of classes and napping, our friend Isabella invited us over for dinner. She lives in the University Villages so her kitchen and bedroom are very spacious even though it’s only two people to an apartment. Isabella is actually half Japanese, a quarter Brazilian, and a quarter Italian so she made us Brazilian Strogonof with a side salad. とても美味しかった!We all ended up lying on the ground, listening to music, and teaching each other different words in different languages – Japanese, English, Portuguese, Slovak, etc. I’m telling you guys, you meet people from around the world when you study abroad. People from various countries meeting up in a small, close-knit community in Akita International University talking about things ranging from differing prices of beer to conflicting habits among cultures.

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On Saturday, the school organized a day trip for all of the new students, including international and first-year students. The day consisted of going to a historical Japanese town full of samurai houses in Kakunodate. This historical town was first located in Mt. Furushiro. However, due to floods and fires, the town relocated to Kakunodate, an area with natural terrain, surrounded by mountains. The town is actually split into two parts between Hiyoke (fire shield): the samurai district and merchant district. Before we walked around to look at samurai houses, shrines, and temples, we decided to get something to eat, as none of us had eaten breakfast yet (we had to check in for the buses at 8am). We found a tiny restaurant that served soba, udon, and ramen. I practically inhaled my soba (pictured above); I’m sure you can guess what the best part of the soba was. We ran into a couple of souvenir shops as well and as you can see above, Okkasan had a grand time with a traditional Japanese straw hat.

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After eating, we headed towards the samurai houses that didn’t require an admission fee. We walked along a narrow street called Bukeyashiki-street – designated as a preservation district for nationally important historic buildings. Bukeyashiki translates to warrior mansions. The first picture is of a well from the Iwahashi Samurai House, which was a typical middle-class samurai house. We ended up walking to the front of a shrine, pictured above. Unfortunately, we were unable to go in, as a monk made an X with his arms. We kept walking and passed the Boshin War Graves as well. Of course, I did not take any pictures, as that is seen as disrespectful. As we had to head back towards the buses for our next destination, we walked across the Uchikawa and Yokomachi Bridges, passing several fishermen. The picture above of the fisherman was taken almost two seconds before he caught the fish. Takao, the guy with the grey shorts and glasses, saw the fish flying around. Naturally, we all clapped and the fisherman started smiling.

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One of our last destinations was Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in Japan – 423.4m deep! The statue pictured above is the Statue of Tatsuko. There’s actually a legend behind her and it’s quite confusing. Apparently, Tatsuko, a very beautiful girl living by the lake, wished to retain her beauty forever. So, the god told her to drink the water from a spring in a nearby mountain. She did what she was told but instead, became a dragon. She then lived in Lake Tazawa regretfully. That’s it. It’s very interesting and short. Anyways, the lake was very beautiful and calm. Some of the students started skipping rocks. There were a few fish jumping out of the lake. Unfortunately, a lot of fish have become extinct due to agricultural promotion but there were still a few swimming around. After the lake, we headed to Ando Jozo, a store specializing in miso and soy sauce. They even had soy sauce soft cream – it tasted like caramel. By the way, look closely at the first picture…do you see Patrick? I yelled at him to jump and this is what happened.

 


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