By Sarah Cook
---- — Happy New Year!!! So to begin with the holidays!
Many people will say how amazing their Christmas on exchange was … I’ll be honest mine wasn’t the best. On Dec. 24, my host mom had a little party that was her friend and her friends’ children. We ate cake, played Jenga, and played Uno. It was fun. On the 25th I had school, yes school on Christmas day. It was only in the morning though because it was closing ceremonies for winter break. That afternoon my host cousin came over so we could play soccer, and stayed for dinner. A friend of my host sisters’ came over for dinner, too. It was a good time and in the end, my host sister gave me a present — a scrapbook of all of our times together.
The next day I changed to my third host family. I have two sisters, one who is a year younger than me and goes to school with me and one who is two years older than me and goes to an all-girls school specializing in music in Osaka. We live in a pretty big house in the “country” side that is about two hours by train from my school. Two hours!! Yes, it’s a lot, but I have learned my way around quickly. I take a train from my town’s small train station to a bigger city and switch train companies and then take that train to a different city and switch trains then take that train to my school’s city and then take the bus to my school. The travel time has been harder to adjust to because it can be so tiring. I usually get up around 5 a.m. and leave the house around 6:15 or 6:30 a.m. and don’t get home depending on nights until usually 5:30 p.m. It’s a long day!
A lot of events have taken place before school started up on Jan. 8, and after Christmas, or should I say one BIG event, NEW YEAR! The Japanese just don’t celebrate Christmas but on the contrary they DO celebrate the coming of the New Year and in my opinion it tops America’s celebration by far. The Japanese believe in having a clean house for the New Year, so they clean like crazy. They also believe you should “rest” your kitchens the first three days of the New Year, for this they prepare “Bento Boxes.” If you don’t know what a bento box is, it is the Japanese name for their lunch boxes, but what they used for the New Year were four wooden boxes that stack together. They fill them with a ton of food such as shrimp, mochi, meat rolls, eggs, tiny fish eggs and a lot more. I was very lucky and was able to help make them. The boxes lasted us two maybe all three days. A lot of food had special meanings. For example, the shrimp: Curved back represented that you would have a long life. Another example was the fish eggs. My host mom told me that people would eat them for fertility. It was fascinating.
My host family, their neighbors and I also made Mochi, which is a HUGE job, but is a TON of fun when you make it with friends and family. Mochi is rice that is like melted together and you can put fillings inside. Other people would probably explain it a lot better, but it was fun and I enjoyed getting to know everyone.
On the 31st we went to a shrine and a temple. It was fun. We ate that night from 8 p.m. until midnight. In the morning we all got dressed up in Kimonos and the neighbors took photos. I really have enjoyed the holidays, but I love and miss the American Christmas.
I was really excited when school started back up because things have been slightly difficult adjusting to my new family’s expectations. I’m not sure who they want me to be, but they don’t want me to be me that’s for sure. It has been difficult but I’m making the most of everything the best I can. I love school and the teachers are all so nice.
We went on the school’s nature trail and I loved it. It was nice to be out and in the open. I often feel like I’m a caged animal, which I am in a way, but it is difficult because I have experienced a new kind of freedom and I liked it. So to all those new exchange students, this is not easy. You will gain a lot of strength through this, but you have to be willing. I’m so lucky to have a family back in New York that has helped me a lot. I want to thank everyone for supporting me.
In February I will be traveling to Tokyo with Rotary. I can’t wait. I will also be celebrating my 16th birthday, so I can’t wait for February to come. So Happy New Year everyone — hope you enjoyed.
Sarah Cook is a Rotary Exchange student from Cherry Valley-Springfield Central School. If you want to read more about her adventures check out her blog: www.sarahsjourneytojapan.blogspot.com.