Study Abroad Japan High School Blog Assignment

  Welcome back to my blog. These past two weeks have been rather crazy and event-filled, so I'm sure that you'll be glad to hear about it. Oh, and not to mention, Valentine's day was this Friday. Happy belated Valentines Day. Well, there's a lot to cover so I should stop stalling and get right to it.

  I should start by talking about the most noticable of these of these events. Snow. Last Saturday, February 8th, marked the first time that I saw snow in Komaki. I had seen snow before during my onsen and ski trips, but not in Komaki before. It was rather surprising because it hadn't snowed here before. There have certainly been days when it's been below freezing, but no snow. I actually thought that I wouldn't see snow in Komaki because it had been getting warmer in the past couple of weeks. Despite having come quite late in winter, it was nice to be able to see some snow since there's no way that I would see any back in California. However, when snow comes, it comes in full force.

 As a Californian who has rarely seen snow during his life, I was compelled to walk around the neighborhood for a bit in order to bask in what felt like a winter miracle to me. 

  Of course, I also came to realize that snow isn't a completely good thing. As beautiful as snow can be, it can also be a bit annoying. For example, I can't use my bicycle if there's snow piled up all over the place, so I have to walk. In addition, the snow wasn't that perfect powder snow that's great for making snowballs out of. It was more like a watery mush, which is no fun at all. That's about it for my complaints though. Snow can be annoying, but I thought that it was great to see such a splendid display  that reminded me that winter isn't over quite yet.

  The next day, Sunday, was also quite fun. Remember that in my last blog that I mentioned that I might do some sightseeing. Well I did. I went to the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology (産業技術記念館 Sangyo Gijutsu Kinenkan). Now to be honest, I'm not all that much of a car person. However, I looked online and it seemed to be was an interesting place so I decided to check it out.

  I arrived at Kamejima (亀島) the station closest to the museum. This station is outside of the area covered by my commuter pass, so it cost an extra 260 yen each way, or 520 yen total. However, remember that I had to pay 800 yen to see that Kendo match? Well the machines for charging money on the cards only accept quanities of money in multiples of 1,000 yen. Before I went to the Kendo match, I put 1,000 yen on the card, so I had 200 yen left over. I had some other money left over from a previous trip as well, so I actually had 680 yen on my card already. This meant that I didn't have to put any money on the card because I already had enough left over. This may not seem that exicting or noteworthy, but it was a relief for me because I'm keeping a log of my weekly spending. The fact that I could go somewhere special without having to pay for transportation that week satisfied some odd part of me that enjoys budgeting and keeping track of spending.

Anyways, here's the museum's sign:

Soon after entering the museum, I had a look at the map that they had and found a rather funny English translation.

  You can find these sorts of flawed English translations all over Japan. For a fluent English speaker it can be a bit funny, but the fact that there is any kind of English guidance is something to be greatful for. What was odd about this one was that it seemed to be the only noticable mistake in the whole museum. The English translations of the exhibit texts seemed to be fine to me.

  As I mentioned before, I didn't have to pay for transportation, but admission was a small 3oo yen (about $3) for a high school student such as myself. An interesting thing to note is that the museum itself is actually the site of a former factory and research lab for Toyota.

  Now, when one hears the name "Toyota", the Japanese automobile company probably comes to mind. What I learned was that Toyota actually started out as a textile manufacturing company. The automotive branch was created quite a while after Toyota was already established as a textile company. That's weird because if I heard "Toyota" I would think cars not textiles. I didn't even know that there was a Toyota textile company.

  The museum starts out by explaining the origins and founding of Toyota as a textile company. One thing to note is that the name was originally "Toyoda", but they chnaged it to "Toyota" because it sounded better. I have to agree. Anyways, the first part of the museum contained displays of various textile machines, from both Toyota and other companies. As I went through the exhibit, I saw that the bulky machines became smaller and more practical and wood was replaced with metal. By the end, there were some pretty high-tech looking machines. 

One thing that was kind of out of place in this exhibit was the trumpet-playing Toyota Partner Robot.

  It was interesting to learn that Toyota was originally a textile company before becoming the more widely known automotive giant that it is today. However, as much as I am not a car person, I'm even less of a textile person. The museum seemed to be less interesting than I thought it would be, but it got better. After the textile exhibit was the automobile pavillion.

  This focused on the establishment of Toyota as an automotive company. The first part of this exhibit talked about the challenges that the company faced when making it's very first car. Another interesting thing to note is that they were having problems manufacturing the engines at first, so they establish a steel making company as well. Today it is known as Aichi Steel (愛知製鋼 Aichi Seikou) and is a member of the Toyota group. That's pretty cool because Komaki, Nagoya, and the city of Toyota are located in the Aichi prefecture.

  I was surprised to learn that the metal plates for the cars were hand-forged at first. These were actually placed on the car body, which was made of wood at the time.

After finishing this part of the exhbit, I came to the most interesting part and hands down best part of the museum. A massive room filled with tons of machines.

  The focus was on the technology that makes up cars as well as the machines that make them. Now I think that I should mention that although I'm 17, I have yet to get my driver's license. That means that I've never driven a car before, so it was interesting to see how these machines work. They had various parts of the car isolated and on display like the engine.

Many of these displays included a description of how it works as well as some sort of interactive feature. For example, I got to turn the steering wheel and see how that allows the car to turn.

  As mentioned before, I have never driven a car before, so it was my first time to use these contraptions. It was fun, but I don't think that this should count as driving practice.

  Then there were of course the huge machines that build the car parts put them together. Probably the largest and most amazing of these was the machine that welds the car body together. There was a demonstration of how it works, but of course they didn't actually do any welding. This was probably the best single display in the whole museum.

I forgot to mention earlier that it was near closing by this time, so I kind of had to rush to be able to see everything before they closed. After exiting the automobile pavillion, I was once again greeted by the Toyota Partner Robot.

  The only disappointing part was that the gift shop didn't really have any good souvenirs, but other than that I had a good time. Although I'm not that into cars, I used to live near an automotive museum that I went to a couple of times. So, I've seen cars on display before but this was different. As someone that's into science, it was cool to be able to see how the individual components of a car function and come togther as well as how cars are made and put together. This was quite fun and  good change of pace. I should do this again because Nagoya has plenty of tourist sights that I haven't been to and the time that I have left in Japan is getting shorter each day. So that sums up last week, but this week was also quite eventful as well.

  The first notable day was Tuesday, February 11th. First of all, it was my mom's birthday! I sent her a card in the mail and was glad to know that it got there in time. Next, it was a national holiday over here, so there was no school. That leads to a third event, a Kendo tournament. Yeah, apparently the Japanese like to celebrate national holidays by having tournaments. I went to support my team and view the tournament, which was actually held in the city of Toyota (kind of an interesting coincidence).

  The problem is that Toyota is far, so it takes a lot of time to get there and is expensive. The whole commute there cost me 1,620 yen. It also took well over an hour to get there. Anyways, the tournament started at 9:30 A.M., but Chigusa high school didn't have its first match until about 11:30 A.M. I spent the time observing the other matches, which was something that I didn' t get to do that well during the last tournament. Surely enough 11:30 came, and so Chigusa high school's boys Kendo team entered the fray. I got some pictures of the match.

  Unfortunately like last time, they lost. However we still stuck around because the girls team had their first match at about 1:00 P.M. When 1:00 came, I got some pictures of their match. 

Despite starting at a differnt time than the boys team, they suffered the same fate. They lost. This time, however we stuck around to see the whole tournament. As more and more teams were eliminated, the amount of matches being held at the same time began to decrease. This made each individual matches easier to view and concentrate on. Eventually it was narrowed down to the last four teams as the match to decided to best boys and girls Kendo teams was held.

  By the time the last match was concluded and the winners were picked, it was already about 5:00 P.M. I didn't get home until after 7:00 P.M., which made it the same as any other school day. It was expensive, far, and held on a national holiday, but it was interesting experience to be able to see an entire Kendo match this time.

  Friday was of course Valentine's day. To start off, it snowed on Valentine's day. Remember that it had snowed on the previous Saturday. That's 2 times in a week that it snowed here. That's crazy considering that it hadn't snowed at all before. Well anways, Valentine's day is a bit of a different affair from that in the U.S. I'm sure that you know that boys and girls exchange chocolate on Valentine's day in the U.S. In Japan, only girls give boys chocolate on Valentine's day. Now you might think that this kind of unfair and weird, but hold your horses. There is another holiday, White day, that is held on March 14th. During this holiday, boys return gifts to the girls that they received gifts from on Valentine's day. So basically Valentine's day is split into two holidays in Japan.

  This meant that I would be receiving chocolates and leads to another aspect of Japanese Valentine's day culture. In Japan, there are two types of Valentine's day chocolates. There are ones that people give to their sweetheart or crush, and there are ones that people give to their co-workers or friends. These can be distinguished because the romantic chocolates tend to be more special and personalized while the friendship chocolates tend to be a bit more generic, as they are given to a group of people, not just one person. In my case, all the chocolate I recieved was the co-worker/friend kind. Oh well. However, according to Japanese culture, I am obligated to give return chocolate on White day. I guess you'll be hearing about how that went in a month from now.

  On Saturday, I went out for lunch. I tried this place that specializes in Omurice (オムライス). It is Japanese shortening and combination of the words "omelette" and "rice" It's basically fried rice that's folded inside an omelette and is a popular and classic Japanese dish. I got a Japanese style omurice topped with mountain vegetables (山菜 sansai).

  It was delicious and is something that's a bit hard to find back in the U.S. Well, that about does it for the past 2 weeks. A lot of different things happened. Some things, like the Kendo tournament and the snow were both interesting and a bit annoying, but it is nice to have some variety and fun around here. I hope that the next blog will be as eventful as this one. See you then. Bye.

We always hear the basics of these programs: I had fun, it was safe, it changed my life, it was amazing. Here's a quick story to give you more insight into the kinds of experiences you can expect, beyond the basic ratings.

--
I was sixteen and didn’t know how to find my way home. That might be because I was in Japan, with little knowledge of Japanese, and lesser knowledge of the bus system. So what was I supposed to do when five buses arrived at the station at the same time?

At the sight of the many buses I gathered my wits and walked up to a student wearing my school's uniform.

“This bus. It goes to Sanchu?”

She only stared at me, eventually giving me a slow nod. I wasn't sure she had understood my bad accent, but on the bus I went. I'm not sure what I was doing for ten whole minutes, but when I finally looked out the window I saw beautiful, vast farming fields.

Red Alert: There were no green fields near my house.

I turned my phrasebook to the travel section, walked up to the driver, and said, “I am lost.”

There's a prophecy of all exchange students coming back as independent and enlightened citizens of the world. For the most part, it was true -- but the prophecy was a little off. There I was, in a new country, a foreign student always supposed to be curious and asking questions like it was nobody’s business. And I lived up to my role, constantly bombarding my host family with questions. Just this once, though, I wanted to do something for myself.

That morning I hadn’t wanted to ask my host parents for the name of my bus. I wanted to figure it out on my own. Instead, I ended up on the wrong bus, asking even more questions to get myself back.

My year abroad hadn’t made the mythical independent individual out of me that everyone had talked about. Instead I learned to better gauge how much (in)dependence to use. It turns out it varies from situation to situation, and learning which one to use is what really brings you one step closer towards Enlightened Citizen status.

My time with AFS Japan taught me the value of asking for help. Let's not forget the people that made it all happen: a welcoming host family, supportive school, and an amazing AFS chapter that worked to make sure their students learned.

There were many stories like these in which each of these groups did their best promote my learning. My year abroad was challenging at times, but I had the support I needed to make it through. There were cultural trips, language lessons, and chances to meet up with other students and swap trips with stories. At the same time, none of it was too overbearing. They left you on your own just long enough to get a little lost and learn a lesson or two, before they picked you right back up again.

Go abroad! Go for a year. Get lost on a bus or two, and come back with some cool stories.

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