Today after having breakfast with my host family, we met up with the rest of the group in order to go to a buddhist temple where we practiced zen meditation and rang the world’s largest bell.
The first thing we did after getting to the temple was (after a meeting regarding the day) to purify ourselves before going to the floor where zen meditation is practiced. The actual zen meditation was actually really interesting as the monk would slap our shoulders with a stick if we weren’t focused on the meditation.
After the meditation, we were allowed to go to the top of the tower and gaze upon the amazing view from up there.
We then went to ring the bell, but since only six people were allowed to assist in ringing the bell, we had to do rock paper scissors against the monk in order to earn a spot. Luckily, I won on the first try and secured myself a spot.
After having rang the bell seven times, it was time for lunch which had been prepared by a chef specifically for us. He had made curry however me and Martin from the Czech Republic wanted to walk around the place for a bit so we had to finish up quickly.
Next on the agenda was a visit to an authentic katana swordsmith and to try cutting bamboo mats with real katanas. The smith has welcomed us many years in a row and four of us were able to experience the difficulty of actually hammering a piece of heated metal. After that we then moved to try using katana swords, surprisingly every participant managed to cut the mat which somebody fails to do almost every time.
All in all, I enjoyed the day greatly and would love to do zen meditation again if I get the chance.
Our Host Family day was packed full with many different activities instead of just one big event! I was hoping to take it easy on the Host Family day but we had a schedule to keep so there really was no time to rest. My Host mother is a real movie enthusiast and she wanted us to go to the movie theater! It was a different experience because the movie started at 9:30 in the morning and I was very surprised to see so many people there. Especially because in Sweden we do not go to the movies that early, it is more of an afternoon and evening event. After the movie ended we went to the Omuta Coal Museum!
The Coal Museum was a very small but interesting museum. My Host mother wanted us to go there because of the Coal Mine History the city had. Even though it was small I still learned a lot from the information texts and the models were good representations of how it used to look like. In the end I learned something new about the city and the coal mine industry. Close to the museum we ate our lunch at a Ramen place.
Before heading to our next activity with my Host Family’s friends we went into one of the malls in Omuta. They wanted to buy me a gift and we went around the mall looking for something that I would want. However, we did not find anything interesting so we decided to go to another mall the next day.
After a quick rest we went to the Bowling center where we played three games with their friends. My Host mother and Host father are Bowling experts so of course they crushed me and got way better results. It was a lot of fun and we cheered on each other. I would like to add that if you ever go Bowling in Japan, look up your japanese shoe size so that you don’t have to try a lot of shoes to see which one fits. It did this mistake unfortunately.
We ended the Host Family Day with a nice dinner with their friends at the Suchi bar that was nearby. As always we had a lot of fun and the food was amazing. I enjoyed our day together and I have learned so much.
I woke up this morning much earlier than I had wanted to, but no matter how hard I tried to sleep again, the bright sunlight outside greeted me and told me to get up. With another two hours until breakfast, I slowly prepared for the day: getting dressed, organizing my things, and learning another few Japanese words that I would soon forget. Just before breakfast, I walked into the dining room to be greeted by sleepy Otoha, my 7-year-old host sister. After a late breakfast of eggs, miso soup, and rice, it was time to start my day with World Campus – Japan.
We gathered at Eruru around 9 and after a short briefing about the upcoming event, we were off to the shopping street to set up for the fair. There were over a dozen high schoolers from the area that were there to help out and we all introduced ourselves before getting started. Of course, I forgot all of their names right after they said them. Paul (China), Jean-Michel (Luxembourg), and I were on yo-yo duty first. They arranged for half of us to have lunch from 11:15 to 11:30, while the other half stayed at the fair and had lunch from 11:35-11:50, but that definitely didn’t go as planned. I was in the first group for lunch but when we got there, we waited for our sandwiches and onigiri until 11:35 and so we had to bring the other group their food instead. But the onigiri was really good, so I’d say it was worth the wait.
After lunch, we moved to the photo booth, where we took pictures with all of the cute children that came. They also had mochitsuki, which is where rice is pounded to make mochi, which we all got to do. They told us to use it as a way to express our anger. I got to taste some of the mochi and it was very chewy, almost a gum-like consistency. In America, they fill the mochi with ice cream, but these were equally as good. My group was supposed to be on drink duty at the end, but no one was really buying drinks anymore, so we played ring toss with some of the other WC members. I haven’t laughed that much in awhile.
Sadly, around 2 pm, it was time to clean up. Shortly after, we had a guest speaker from Wales who came to talk to us about working in Japan. Almost half of the WCJ members were interested in moving to Japan to work. I was not one of them. Still, the presentation was very interesting, especially because he chose a different work route, rather than the usual English teacher. Once the presentation was over and we said goodbye to our speaker, the WCJ staff made some final announcements before the end of the day.
My host family picked me up and took me to see their grandparents who lived right next door. Of course, I had no idea what they were saying since my knowledge of Japanese is very basic. All I understood was when they asked me if I liked cats. From there, we walked home. Otoha fell asleep on the floor, my host mom went to take the dogs for a walk and my host dad came home. I hadn’t met him yet because he was out of town, so I did today. He speaks little to no English, which is hard for me since I speak and understand about the same amount of Japanese but we were able to communicate because Michael Jordan, a famous basketball player from America, came on TV. We finished the evening with oden and a few rounds of card games before heading our separate ways for bed.
I woke up at 7.30, at which point it was time for breakfast. I prefer to sleep as much as possible, since World Campus can be quite tiring. Today, like yesterday, we had toast and miso soup. There was toast with melted cheese & piman (Japanese green bell pepper,) blueberry jam and the newcomer, coconut oil. I had never tried toast with coconut oil before, and it turned out to be a bit… greasy. It was totally edible though, but it’s not my favorite condiment for toast. The day had started with something I had never done before, and it was not the only thing this day.
Arriving at our location at 8.30, I was ready for today’s first activity, bamboo crafting. One of the locals, Mr. Higuchi, told us a lot about bamboo in Japan, both things I knew and some I had never heard before. He told us that bamboo sprouts used to be a common food in Japan, but that these days it was not so popular anymore. As a result, areas that had previously been used to grow bamboo sprouts are now covered by huge bamboo forests. Bamboo grows about 15 to 20 meters in a year. Because they are so tall, they block out the sunlight so other plants can’t live there. As such, bamboo is a bit of a pest. It is important to keep cutting down bamboo trees, and Japanese people try to find uses for the excess bamboo. Mr. Higuchi cut down some bamboo trees for us the day before, so we had the opportunity to create a bamboo “smartphone speaker.” It was a contraption that worked similar to a flute, where the sound from the smartphone would be channeled in one direction through the bamboo instead of going in all directions, hence enhancing the sound. In order to make this, we used a special saw made for cutting bamboo. Unlike western saws, it could only cut when pulling it towards you, making it more efficient, but less flexible.
After finishing the bamboo speaker, we learned about Japanese ribbons. In Japan, it is common to give money as gifts on certain occasions (such as funerals,) and one usually puts the money in an envelope and decorates it with a ribbon. The color of the ribbon indicates the occasion, and the size indicates the sum of money. We learned how to make the most basic ribbon, awai musubi. We then made a slightly more complicated ribbon, which was supposed to look like a crane, that we used to decorate our bamboo speaker.
Next we each made our own stamp. In preparation, I had asked my host family what they thought would represent me. We ended up choosing the kanji与 (“yo”). It sounds like the first syllable of my first name, and it also looks like the number five. In Japanese, five is pronounced “go”, which is the first syllable of my family name, so it seemed like a perfect choice. It also means “give” or “grant.”
As our final activity of the day, we made okonomiyaki with some locals. Okonomiyaki consist of a batter similar to pancakes, and usually contains cabbage, spring onion and other fillings (in our case, cheese.) It is cooked in a frying pan shaped like a thick pancake with pieces of pork on top. Finally it is served with a special sauce, mayonnaise, nori (seaweed) and fish flakes. It was delicious as always!
In the evening we had a couple of hours to shop in Aeon (a large shopping mall,) before being picked up by our host families at 17.00. This evening my host family had a guest – a student who was being taught English by my host father. Even though she was very shy, we had a great time and enjoyed a lot of food and drinks together. My host father also played some songs on classical guitar for us, which was amazing. Overall this was yet another fantastic day with World Campus this year!
Today we first started with a stamp rally event in an arcade mall.
We were divided into 8 groups and each group was assigned to a flower shop, a sports shop, a tea shop, a cafe, a Swedish restaurant, a Japanese snack store, a deli store and a clothes store.
We had students from National Institute of Technology, Ariake college (有明高専) to help us and we could chat with them during the stamp rally. When children and their parents came to the store they greeted us using “hello” and “my name is —-” in our own languages such as Swedish, Dutch, Spanish, Finnish and so on and if they were able to say the greeting words then we gave our stamp on their rally sheet. I was a cameraman during the event but I could see all the kids and parents seemed having fun with talking with us although they were nervous to say the words from the beginning and atmosphere in the all the shops were very welcomed!
It was the first time to have this event in WCI but it all went smoothly and about 120 people including kids and their parents registered to join the activity, which means we put our stamps about 120 times, but it was worth to it! The purpose of this activity was to bring kids to the arcade street and let them know what kind of shops there are. Even though we didn’t think we helped with the sales of the various shops it was a nice opportunity to get the people know the stores and hopefully this opportunity brings about an another one and that those who visited us would come back to stores to buy stuff in the future.
After lunch, we went to Omuta shrine where daija (dragon float) was exhibited. People living around this area join Daijayama festival since they are young so it’s very familiar festival and although the festival is in middle of July they start making daija and practicing ohayashi which is a traditional festival music sounded by drums and flutes from May.
After visiting the shrine, we came back to Eruru and had our session wrap up.
Everyone shared how they broke out of their comfort zone and one of their best experiences during the session. Let me share some experiences from people; trying to eat natto as much as possible even though they didn’t like it, using Japanese style bathrooms, practicing dancing and performing it on the Arigato events! It wasn’t all unconditional fun, sometimes it was difficult to accept other cultures or things, but if possible everyone tried to have new experiences and adapt changes.
It was only 3 weeks but we spent most of the time together and through every activity we got closer and all the time we spent together became memorable.