Quarter of a Century

bday outfit

bday outfit

I recently celebrated my 25th birthday!! Yay! OK, so birthdays in the third world really aren’t huge achievements until you’re 85 or so, but 25 feels big. I’m a real adult now, all fully grown and perfectly me. It feels amazing.

I’ve heard from some people in this country that 25 is the age by which you should be married…or at least seriously thinking about it (totally BS btw…who actually believes that?). If you know me at all, you’ve never really expected me to get married any time soon. Up until a year and a half ago (estimate), I was certain I would never get married. Now I’m open to the idea, but I’ll also be okay if it never happens. Which is great because I haven’t been on a date in FOREVER.

I am about 90% okay with that though. I’m 25 and awesome, and I really don’t think I need a man to tell me that. Unless it’s my dad. Dad, I need you to say I’m awesome. Anyway, I have some time left before my eggs shrivel up and die, so I can patiently wait for all the cute romantic things to happen again. I’m not stressing.

So, back to my actual birthday. I spent my birthday eve with my favorite people in the eastern hemisphere, and we had a great time. There was a moose and a golf game involved. And horrible karaoke singing. And lots of hugs. It was magical, and I am so lucky to have such kind, amazing people in my life. And almost no one important to me forgot to wish me a happy birthday! I do wish I could have seen my family and friends from the US too, but overall it was a great time. I am so excited to see what 25 holds for me!
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presents!

presents!

dinner AND golf

dinner AND golf

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Junior High School Stories: Kids are so Weird

I haven’t written about my students in a while, and I feel like they know it because they’ve been giving me a lot of great material lately. Cute, but mostly creepy material. (NOTE: some student comments are translated from Japanese.)

 

1.

My 8th graders have been studying infinitives and what expressions to use them with. Things like “I like to play soccer” or “I want to go to the movies.” So one day at lunch, I asked some students what they want to do in the future.

The young lady sitting across from me said, “I want to marry a rich, handsome man so I can sit on the couch watching TV and eating potato chips all day.”

To which I replied, “You want to do nothing but sit and eat? that’s not very healthy.”

And she said, “Oh we’ll have a pool. And three mini poodles. It’ll be fine!”

Okay sweetie, what a wonderful dream!

The boy next to her said the opposite. Apparently his dream is to marry an ugly, poor woman. I just don’t even know where they get this.

 

2.

Soon after that conversation, one of my most adoring students came over to poke me and ask me weird questions. I ignored her and asked her the same question as above instead. Her answer? To be my boyfriend. She meant boyfriend. When she was in 7th grade she wrote “I Love KORI!” on her arm and told everyone she was my boyfriend. Hmmm….::concerned face::

 

3.

That same day, during 5th period, I asked a young man where his workbook was, because he was supposed to be working in it.

He said, “It went home.”

“It went home? What?” Because I thought he meant it was at home.

“Oh, yea, it went home. By foot!”

 

4.

Another day, I was walking back to the 7th grade teachers’ room after a lesson. I walked by a group of three girls, and as I passed, I could feel them stop and face me. I turned to see one girl sniffing my shoulder.

“What are you doing!?”

“YOU SMELL GOOOOOD!”

 

5.

Almost everyday, someone (usually a boy) will scream, “I DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH!” in English. Why?!

 

6.

One day I caught a boy copying the answers for the workbook page he was supposed to be doing from the answer book. I grabbed the answer book, playfully tapped his head with it, and then erased all of his answers. He laughed nervously, and then actually did the workbook page correctly. It was a rewarding day for us both.

 

7.

Recently the 9th grade upper level English students were writing group essays. Their teacher was absent this particular day, so I went to the lessons by myself and helped the kids with their grammar and word choice. Easy stuff, you know. I’m helping one group write something about kimono or something, when one boy starts yelling “BEE! BEE! A BIG BEE!”I freaked out, because for once the students knew the correct English word for such an animal and because our school had been having a problem with giant hornets that are apparently vicious and painful. I did not want to stick around to find out what it felt like to be stung by one, and with all the children flailing around like drunk donkeys, that bee was probably peeved enough to stick his little stinger right into my face. Before I could calm anyone down, or breathe for that matter, the tiniest girl in class had run to the teachers’ room, fetched a bug spray gun, and begun (trying) to kill the little insect. She was way too short to reach the bee, who was flying close to the ceiling like any smart bee would, so all she managed to do was douse the classroom in a very obnoxious fume cloud. We all had a good laugh at her futile attempt to murder the poor thing, and then a much taller boy yanked the canister from her hand. He gave that hornet the lethal dose every student was hoping for, and  the little bug buzzed his little way down to the floor where he perished in a puddle of poison.

I felt so weird. This little bug had the ability to scare 20 teenagers with just the flap of his wings, and yet he died so easily at a few breaths of poisonous air. I didn’t know what else to do, so I made the kids have a little funeral for him. We all said “Sorry. Goodbye Mr. Bee.” and threw him into the “general waste” bag.

 

8.

Every Tuesday I help the 7th graders clean the teachers’ room, mostly because I like to look busy, but also because I like to make them speak English. A while back, I taught them the words “dustpan” and “broom.” Now, every week without fail, a boy who could easily pass as an American 3rd grader comes to my desk and exclaims, “Kori! Clean time!” It’s so cute, I have to clean. He is also “dustpan” boy, so whenever someone yells, “DUSTPAN!” he promptly scurries over to them, not unlike a mouse, and provides his dustpan-steadying skills. Tuesday is probably my favorite day of the week because of Dustpan (his loving new name).

 

9.

My favorite thing about my job, by far, is watching students’ faces when they randomly blurt out an answer and it’s right. They’ll say it happily, and if you don’t immediately congratulate them on their answer, they doubt it and try to retract it. That’s when you say, “THAT’S RIGHT!” and their faces light up like the sky on (American) New Year’s. It’s more beautiful than the most beautiful fireworks display, really, and it’s why I do what I do. Slowly, these kids are picking up English and enjoying it. And maybe English itself isn’t so important big picture-wise, but being bilingual is correlated with higher intelligence right? And it means they can talk to me more, because Kori-sensei does not speak Japanese at school without good reason. No sir.

 

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you enjoy this kind of post. I certainly enjoyed writing it! Until next time!

Third Year

My oh my! It has been over a month since I’ve last posted. I guess I’ve been a bit busy. Sorry >-<

 

I have started my third year as an ALT after all. The originally plan was to only stay in Kagoshima for 2 years and then try to get a different job or go back to school. Life has a funny way of hardly ever doing what you want it to. Oh well, it’s best not to dwell in the past I’ve been told. Actually, I’m not that upset I’m still here. I do occasionally wish I had moved on sooner and left, but there are some things to still be happy about.

Last summer I took the level 2 Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and passed! So I’m one step closer to being fluent (on paper)! My spoken Japanese is getting better too though. I’ve shed most of my fears of daily life in Japan, and because of this have been able to communicate with those around me better. Not only does this mean I get more stuff done and understand the world I live in better, I’ve also gotten pretty good at speaking Japanese. Not to toot my own horn or anything, it’s just Japanese is really hard, and it’s nice to be sort of good at something!

In addition to being able to serve my sass in a foreign tongue, I’ve also gotten a lot better at teaching. I think. I really get to shine at elementary schools where few other people speak English, and I can actually teach whole classes by myself. Not a huge accomplishment maybe, but getting 60 seven-year-old monsters to listen to you speak in their language is pretty big for me. Plus, the longer I’m around, the more my kids grow to like me (or put up with me…however you want to look at it). Well, I mean, kids tell me they love me, so I’m doing something right, right? I do love my students, and most of the teachers and staff I work with are lovely as well. In fact, the nurse at one of my elementary schools is so excited when I’m at the school that she pats my head and nearly hugs me every time. It’s a bit odd, I’ll admit, but I’ll take it.

Finally, I have friends. I know, crazy. Friends are hard, but somehow I’ve manage to make a few who really like me (or again, put up with me). Two of my friends recently got married, and I wish it wasn’t weird for me to hug them both for 5 minutes every time I see them. I just love their love that much.

Actually, that brings me to one major reason I wish I wasn’t living here anymore. Most of my friends, especially the ones who are physically close to me, are in relationships. Long-term, committed, beautiful relationships. I don’t wish anything else for them. In fact, I love talking about relationships and love and all that gross stuff. It just always makes me remember the main reason I am still living in Shibushi; at the time I decided to re-sign my contract, I had a future with someone else to look forward to. I do wish sometimes I could escape to a big city and never look back, but a big part of me knows that I needed this place. I needed that experience. I needed to know what it was like to part with someone. And I know there’s a reason I’m still living here. I’m not done with this place. Everyday I go to bed wishing that I could up and leave, but every morning I wake up alive and happy and ready for my next mini adventure in Kagoshima.

I also think I’m still here because I have no money, and it’s really hard to move to somewhere like Fukuoka or Tokyo without a little clank in your pocket. I do miss my friends and family back in the states, but I’m not ready to go back. I’ve come this far haven’t I? So next year, I’m planning to start my big city Japan life. If I can find someone who wants to hire me.

 

Until next time, take care!

The long awaited food blog

People often ask me, “Which do you like better, Japanese or American food?”

I prefer Japanese food, obviously. And I’m not just saying that because I live here or think American food is horribly unhealthy and not-so-tasty. So much of Japanese food (or food easily found in Japan) is delicious.

So I hate milk. And most dairy. I don’t hate cheese, but it does not like me. I’m also not a fan of red meat–or any meat for that matter. I can eat seafood. I love fish and shrimp and oysters, OH MY. And while modern Japanese cuisine is full of fatty animal products and sugar and all that, it is relatively easier to find healthy options (or foods without all those things I hate) in Japan. I think. I at least feel healthier eating Japanese food than I do typical American food, but I’m not really sure what’s right anymore. Either way, I’d like to share some of the foods I’ve eaten while in Japan. To the best of my ability, I will describe these foods and grade them based on their deliciousness, etc.

1. Sushi. The picture below is of various fishes and fillings for a temakizushi (hand rolled sushi) session. Sushi is one of my favorite foods in Japan because it is filling, easily accessible, and freakin’ delicious. Sushi is popular all over the world now, but I promise you it tastes best where it all began in Japan.

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Here we have crab sticks, Japanese-style scrambled egg (tamagoyaki), tuna, octopus, sea urchin (uni), and so many other fishes I don’t remember!

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This spread was also for temakizushi, which is really easy to do at home and makes for a wonderful dinner party!

sushi and tempura

sushi and tempura

***Helpful tip: for the last time, sushi does not mean raw fish or fish at all. Sushi refers to the vinegared-rice used. Raw fish is called sashimi.

2. Sashimi. Actually, I might like sashimi more. All of the flavor and none of the white rice. This spread included the standard types of fish and the meat from that little crab/lobster thing (sorry I don’t remember his name). It was so fresh that his arms were still moving. Not going to lie, it was a little unsettling at first, but the tastiness made up for it.

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3. Noodle dishes. The first is udon. Udon is a noodle made from flour. It’s usually really thick, but thin varieties are also available. In my opinion, udon tastes the best with a soy sauce based soup, green onions, and a big slice of fried tofu. This is commonly referred to as kitsune udon (fox udon), and it looks like this:

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You can also have kitsune soba, which is a noodle made from buckwheat. It is also delicious, especially when followed by matcha dango, a sweet dessert made from sticky rice flour and matcha powder.

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Then we have ramen. Ramen is actually a Chinese dish, but has been made it’s own phenomenon in Japan. Ramen is super super famous, but it’s nothing like those 10 cent soup cups you can buy at the super market. It has a rich, fatty flavor that makes you feel like you’re getting closer and closer to a heart attack with every slurp. It usually has a pork base, and the starchy noodles soak up all the flavor. I rarely eat ramen and can never finish a bowl, but it usually tastes pretty good after a long night of drinking. philips vacay 085

4. Takoyaki, y’all. Takoyaki is a glorious food. It’s little pieces of octopus, green onion, and maybe ginger surrounded by a little ball of fried batter. It’s covered with katsuoboshi (dried bonito flakes), mayonnaise, and a special sauce. It’s like Japanese comfort food and I want to eat it everyday. The Texas State Fair needs to get on this. NOW!
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5. Pizza. Pizza?, you ask. Yes, pizza. Despite being (maybe) Italian, Japan makes pizza all its own. One of my favorite varieties here is seafood pizza. Standard crust covered with squid, octopus, shrimp, and maybe some scallops is the perfect pie for me! However, for those of you less thrilled by shellfish on your pizza, margherita pizza is pretty easy to find in Japan.

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6. Tonkatsu, or deep fried pork cutlet, is probably my least favorite food ever. I ate it once because I agreed to go to a specialty restaurant a while ago, and I’ve never gone back. This particular one included cheese and miso paste. For someone who isn’t a huge fan of pork to begin with, this greasy slab of pig and cheese was torture. I wanted to die for a good 24 hours afterward. This is definitely not for the weak of stomach. stuffs 020

7. Matcha sweets. Above you can see a picture of matcha dango, but that’s really just the beginning of desserts using Japanese green tea powder. Ice cream, cookies, chocolate, cake…you name it, it probably exists in Japan. Oh! Matcha KitKats! My mouth is watering.

Matcha ice cream is so so good. I don’t even know how to describe it.

Obviously, Japan is a far more exciting culinary experience than one blog post can accurately show, so I hope to post more in the future! I haven’t even told you about school lunch yet…not to mention torisashi!!

See you next time! ^-^

St. Valentine and Love in the Land of the Rising Sun

Valentine’s Day is in under a week, and though I’m thousands of miles away from the V-Day I know, this is probably the first time I’ve really cared about the holiday since middle school. Valentine’s Day is a thing here, but it’s probably not what you’d expect. It’s a lot different. As I’ve been told, it is observed as a day for girls and women to show their adoration and respect for men. Women give chocolates or cakes to their colleagues and lovers. Thankfully, some women also give chocolate to their lady friends, so it’s not completely about men or romantic feelings, but for the most part, men have all the fun. Heart-shaped chocolates and red and pink decorations line shop windows, but as far as I know, no one is rushing to make reservations for the most romantic restaurant they can find. What’s worse is that women who give chocolate are not thanked for their gifts until White Day a month later.

This video, from a Japanese language learning site, explains it better than I can.

making your own chocolate is really popular among young women

making your own chocolate is really popular among young women

chocolate decorations

chocolate decorations

As a foreign lady, I briefly thought, “Man! I really have to do something one-sided for my boyfriend?! I’m modern, dammit!” But really, I don’t feel this way. It’s normal for foreigners in Japan to question and criticize everything different. Though in this case I guess it’s okay, because Valentine’s is about as commercial as holidays get. Anyway, I really don’t care. I’d feed my boyfriend boxes of chocolates and pieces of cake everyday for eternity if I knew he wouldn’t develop major health problems and a massive gut. If only carrots and soup were acceptable gifts…Besides, I’m not so sure he’s really into all these strange Western holidays. For Christmas, which is really more for couples anyway, my man and I made a metal R2-D2 model and ate okonomiyaki with his dad. We exchanged presents and all that jazz, but he said, “I’m not Christian. I don’t celebrate Christmas.” I feel we are equally cynical in that regard. I honestly find it so strange getting all dressed up and being especially lovey-dovey for one night. People who use a few days of the year to celebrate their partners and show their love are silly. Everyday should be such a celebration.

Which brings me to a really interesting point. Love, in general, is shown quite differently in Japan. For those of you who aren’t familiar, public displays of affection are minimal in this country. In America, it’s common to see couples holding hands, hugging, kissing, and sometimes full on making out in public. In Japan, not so much. Once I saw a couple here making out in a movie theater and I almost had a heart attack. It just doesn’t happen often, unless of course alcohol is involved. Even then, bars down here aren’t exactly swarming with kissing couples. People keep their desires in check out in the streets and for whatever reason, love in Japan is kept mostly behind doors.

I respect this, and have made a solid effort to not hang all over my boyfriend when people can see us. If our company is exclusively Japanese, I barely touch him. If it’s his parents? Well, obviously we act like virgin school kids. I understand that the culture is different and that lack of physical contact does not mean he doesn’t care about me, but as an American I do occasionally feel slightly rejected. It’s a weird feeling to describe, and I’m still working on balancing that out. I have to constantly remember than I stick out naturally, and that my boyfriend is a local businessman. Especially “non-Japanese” behavior could really get him in trouble.

What I find strange is that some forms of affection seem slightly forbidden for Japanese couples. Many Americans express their love for each other often. Japanese people, for the most part, do not. When I was in America, I noticed this all over again. My friend and her boyfriend would hold hands and gaze into each others eyes in public. No one else mattered. In Japan, I often ask myself if two people sitting at a table together are even in a relationship, and I’ve never really heard a Japanese couple express their love openly to each other. However, when my boyfriend and I drink with our international group of friends, he’ll get playfully mean and say things like, “I’m mad at you. I don’t like you.” “You don’t like me?!” “No, I love you!”

It makes me feel really nice–him being so rabu rabu (love-love, as in lovey-dovey) as we say in Japanese. But in my year and half in Japan, I have never heard a Japanese couple say such things to each other. I’ve never seen them be “cute” in the American sense. I have heard of students freaking out when they see foreign couples say nice things and kiss. Yes, because it doesn’t happen often, but also because I think they really enjoy seeing romantic things. Clearly visible love is like a Hollywood movie to them. Japan is just…different, I guess. I don’t think all these differences necessarily mean one country’s couples are happier than the others. I don’t know enough. It’s all just very interesting to me, and I’m not trying to take sides or anything. These are all just my personal observations.

It makes you wonder though. Could my culture and this new culture learn from each other? Maybe Japanese people could use a little more PDA. I do believe that it is important for young people to see loving relationships outside of their families. It just continues the chain of healthy relationships. Then again, maybe Americans are too demanding. Maybe we expect too much reassurance that our partners still love us and won’t leave us. Maybe Americans are annoying in that sense. Eventually you learn to live according to the new cultures standards, so maybe it isn’t so bad, but part of me really does like all that sappy, romantic stuff. Though it does make it more special when it happens less frequently, right?

Love is a universally human emotion, but it certainly manifests itself differently over the world. It’s one of the reasons international relationships take special care. They are by no means impossible, obviously, but without proper communication, they can easily crumble. I feel like I’m doing okay so far though!

Though my actual job title is Assistant Language Teacher, I feel like it should be Culture Teacher, because as an international resident of Japan, I can teach my students a lot about the world. I can use my experiences in their country to give them an outside perspective. They ALWAYS ask me if I have a boyfriend. Almost every day this happens. For some reason, it used to make me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s that I’d accepted the more “love is private” mentality or something, but I never used to answer properly. I’d usually make them ask me again in English, and in the time it took them to form the sentence, I could calm myself and say, “It’s a secret.” However, recently I’ve decided not to be so afraid to tell my students that I have a boyfriend. It is private, but now I don’t think it would hurt so much for my students to know that I care enough about someone to put up with their crazy shenanigans for another year. (In case that was a secret, I’m not staying in Japan only to hang out with crazy kids all week.) I want to be able to talk to my students about these differences between America and Japan. Plus, a lot of my students have already seen us together, so it really isn’t a secret anymore. 

As a Culture Teacher, I have also taken this approaching holiday as an opportunity to school them on American V-day. The boys all freak out when I tell them boys give girls presents and candy in America. One 9th grader said to me with a slightly rising intonation, “Hey, I love you?”

-“Oh, you love me? So will you buy me chocolate for Valentine’s Day?”
-“What? You buy me chocolate.”
-“No no. In America, you would give me chocolate. Besides, I don’t have any money.”
-“Ok. I give you chocolate, you give me chocolate. Ok?”

First of all, props to my students for being able to have almost complete conversations in English. Second, either my 9th graders are just being nice because they are graduating soon, or I’m a great ALT. This situation occurred three separate times last week. “Kori, I love you,” to which I replied every time, “Good, now give me chocolate.”

Happy Valentine's Day! Buy yourself some chocolate!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Buy yourself some chocolate!

–As always, thanks for reading! If you have any questions, leave a comment!

Technology and Winter

People who haven’t been to Japan always ask me about how technologically advanced Japan is. “I heard Japan is covered in bullet trains and robots….that do your laundry!”

No. I don’t even have a dryer. I DON’T HAVE A DRYER. When I first got to Japan, that was definitely up there on my “shocking findings” list. Although drying your clothes outside on a pole does take more effort and more time, I’ve gotten used to it. It makes me feel like I’m saving the world, one load of laundry at a time.

Some people do have dryers though. You’ve just got to be rich enough to have a big house (in Japan…) to even think about it. There’s simply no room for extra luxuries in this country. You learn to make do, or you spend a little extra to use the coin laundry.

I also don’t have an oven or a dishwasher for the same reasons. I know people with glorious baking machines, but they also have relatively glorious houses. I really can’t recall if I’ve ever seen a dishwasher.  People in Japan wash their dishes by hand, and I admire that. I grew up with a dishwasher, and learning to do everything with two 5-digit tools god gave me took time. It’s just another way Japan has made me feel like a privileged brat.

I feel like Japan doesn’t have a massive consumerist mentality when it comes to home appliances. People just spend more money on their appearances and nights out I guess.

Anyway, this post is not an attempt to demystify the lack of home technologies in Japan. I wanted to say, that despite the fact I’ve learned to live with and even love my now simpler life, I’m having a hard time getting over the heating systems used in this part of the world.

My main source of heat in my home is a space heater pointed at my bed. Also, I work in schools, right? We know this. Where have you been? Schools in Japan, as you probably could conclude from this and previous posts, do not have central heating. Or any heating. Save for the staff rooms and the library, maybe, Japanese schools are ice boxes full of bare legs and sadness. Yes, girls wear skirts. Without tights. BARE LEGS IN SUBZERO WEATHER. The teachers’ rooms have simple, no-fuss gas stoves. I asked my boyfriend why Japan tortures its youth, and he said it’s to build character. It toughens them up. A teacher told the kids once that American kids probably think Japanese kids are amazing and strong for enduring winters sitting in cold wooden desks while learning how to buy shoes in America. American kids would probably think Japan’s insane and then decide to never come here while they’re school age.

advanced heating technology

advanced heating technology

That’s what I thought. Japan, you’re crazy. But winter goes on. The temperature does not give in to my complaints. It is not forgiving. And I see these kids go about their school day, just like they would if it wasn’t two degrees Celsius out. Some kids still run around in their athletic shorts. Maybe some of them will get sick, but they’ve been doing this since they were five. I’m sure they’re used to it. Many of them do complain, but they’re wearing far less clothing than me. What can I say? Besides the necessary “寒いーーー.”

Japan Adventure: PART TWO

Boy, has this been a crazy two weeks months! Sorry about the lateness. So, where did I leave off? Kyoto. Right. After Kyoto/Osaka, we flew to Fukuoka via the ever-cheap Peach Airlines. We actually got in pretty late, and we were staying in a new hostel that closes its front desk at 9, so we got our keys from a little pouch waiting for us at the front desk. This place, part of the Khaosan chain of hostels, was super nice. Our room was a private double bunk complete with a shower and toilet! And it was well air-conditioned! I definitely recommend it if you’re staying in Fukuoka.

Anyway, we were really hungry, so we walked to Hakata Station and went to eat at the only Mexican food restaurant I know of in Kyushu. It is so good. We had some drinks and tacos and even chatted with the employees a bit. Despite the fact my brother knows zero Japanese, he managed to impress the waiter with his height and Spanish skills. Man, people here are awesome. If some weird giant who didn’t speak English went to America and try to do the same thing, he’d probably be greeted by squint-eyed stares and a few cold shoulders. Japan, guys. Japan.

After parting with our new friends, we headed back to the hostel and went to sleep. The next day, we took the bus to Dazaifu. Dazaifu is a pretty well know town in Fukuoka that has some nice historical sites and really delicious grilled mochi (umegaemochi 梅ヶ枝餅). We did get a bit lost trying to find some ruins, but overall I think it was a nice morning!

After Dazaifu, we went back to the city and headed to the beach! Fukuoka has quite a few beaches, but as we were without a car, we chose the most convenient rather than the most beautiful. Momochi Seaside Park is where we ended up, and it wasn’t actually that bad. But oh, is the beach scene in Japan different. Most girls were either fully clothed or wearing shirts over their swimsuits. The guys mostly looked normal I suppose, but most people were huddle under tents or drinking under canopies. That I can relate to. I will never understand going to the beach to tan, and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do that here! It’s expected, but definitely different from what I’m used to. We hung out in the sand for a while, then decided to get out of the sun and get some food. As we were sitting down, a reggae-ish group came up to the stage and played a short set. With the food, the booze, the sound of the waves, and the music playing, it felt like a beach back home in Texas. I definitely got sunburned, but the nostalgia made it worthwhile.

After two days in Fukuoka, we headed home to Kagoshima. I was probably more excited to be in Kagoshima with my brother than in any other place. We got in on a Friday evening and met some of my friends in the city for dinner. I was actually a bit worried about getting back to Shibushi though, because I couldn’t drive and my car was at a shop getting inspected. My previous arrangements fell through, but luckily a very amazing person offered to give my brother and me a ride. We had to take the ferry from Kagoshima to the Osumi side, and the ferry terminal is not exactly convenient to get to from this person’s home. Not to mention it was getting really late. However, this particular person is pretty awesome and insisted it was no problem.

My brother and I made it back home, I set up his futon, I worried about him sleeping on the floor, he said a place to sleep is a place to sleep, he lied down, he said, “This is nice,” and we were out. The next day we picked up my car from the shop and went on a mini drive through Kagoshima and Miyazaki. I thought my brother would think the south was boring, but he loved it. He told me he wished we had just come here for the whole time. Kyushu is quite beautiful, but you never know what a 20-year-old boy will like.

After our drive, we headed to a city called Tarumizu to see my host family and go to a summer festival. We met at mom’s house and were greeted by many friends and a full temakizushi spread. They had unagi, y’all. Both my brother and I were in heaven. He did say it was hard for him to hear so much Japanese and not understand anything, but with good food and a lot of smiling, you don’t really need words.

Following dinner, we headed to the festival. The fireworks were shot from a platform in the bay, and the display over the water was perfect. I’m really glad he got to see Japanese fireworks and experience Japanese hospitality. I think I scored a few points on that one.

The next day, we headed north to Kirishima to visit the Open Air Art Museum. For a museum in the mountains of rural Japan, it was awesome. Just look at the pictures (coming soon).

I wasn’t able to take pictures of the gallery works, but they too were great.

It was so so hot that day, so we decided to spend the afternoon at a swimming hole/waterfall. I enjoyed it, but I think my brother felt awkward. He had experienced his first real encounter with “the stare” and it got to him. I can talk about this later, but it has never really bothered me. When it happens, my first thought is always, “is there something on my face?!” But for some people, “the stare” is soul crushing.

Anyway, we cleaned up and met my host family again for sushi! Again, my brother was pleased both with the food and the kindness of my friends. Afterwards, Yumi gave me a bag of small traditional gifts for my brother to send home. She’s a dream, I’m telling you. Perfect.

I don’t know what my brother did on Monday because I was gone at the prefectural driving center all day getting grilled about my seemingly fake Texas license (more on that later). That night we stayed a friend’s house near the airport and got up early for his departure.

My brother tends to be reserved in his emotions, but I feel like he had a good time. I know I made some planning mistakes and the trip could have been so much better, but my brother got to see a piece of my new life and that felt really good. Helping him out and getting us around Japan gave me more confidence in my language and communication abilities as well. And him being here somehow solidified that I do live here, and I could live here for quite a while.

After his trip, he told me he is dying to travel again and that he may soon be studying abroad. I’m just really proud of him, I guess. Not everyone has the means to go abroad, but at the same time, not everyone wants to. There are plenty of people completely content with staying at home forever. For me, traveling and living outside of America has taught me so much about myself and the world. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

If you have the chance to travel, to visit a family member in another country, do it. Forget about the money, and just do it. There’s nothing better you can do for yourself, I think.