Read Part One and Two
We spent some time at Komayama Park and had lunch at the resturuant built into the observation tower, where we had a fried fish burger. Everything was made, grown, or caught in Hiratsuka. It was an amazing burger. After lunch and a little drive, we were ready for the next part of the day.
After our games and activities, we learned a traditional Japanese dance, which I wasn’t good at. As a thank you to the Japanese teachers spending the time to show us a Japanese dance and teaching all the other activities, we showed them ours; it was the best performance we had done. I’m not sure if everyone thought this, but I thought we looked better doing it in Kimonos since our unsynchronized arm movements were more hidden than if we had been doing it in our Hiratsuka shirts. After the dance we received gifts, said lots of thank-you’s, and got back on the bus to go back to city hall, where our host parents picked us up each day.
Dinner that night was one of the best I had in Japan. My host mom made Japanese-style fried chicken, sticky rice, eggplant in a sweet sauce, a dish that had a similarity to what you might think pickled salsa could taste like, and what seemed like chunky green mashed potatoes, but tasted way better. To drink we had the best lemonade ever, made with water, lemon juice, and honey. It wasn’t overly sweet like I was used to, it was just the right level of sweetness.
After dinner we did one of my new favorite things; we played with flares. During that time, I decided it would be a great time to practice photography by taking long exposure shots, some of which turned out beautifully.
The next day, I again forgot my camera at home.
For dinner that night, my host mom made beef curry, sticky rice, her signature lemonade, edamame, and a smashed vegetable salad. It was another of the best dinners; they were all so different.
The next day we went to LaLaport, a gigantic shopping mall. There, I splurged on candy that I planned to take home, but I ate a lot and had to go back for more Pockys. I spent my last Japanese bill, almost ten dollars, on lunch, which unfortunately I couldn’t even eat because it was too spicy. I can handle some spicy food, like Mexican, but this was a whole new level (one I couldn’t handle).
After LaLaport, we walked to a temple and had the honor of being part of a temple ceremony. We weren’t allowed to take pictures during the ceremony, but it was amazing to watch how carefully and precisely every move was made. Outside the temple, where we were allowed to take pictures, was also beautiful, as was how they embraced all life, including pigeons, turtles, and fish.
After the temple, we got back on the bus, again not knowing where we were going, and ended up at a fire station. We still had no clue what we were going to do… until the firefighters pulled out harnesses and helmets, with the background noise of the ladder truck engines starting. I then did one of the coolest and scariest things of my life; I went up in a ladder truck with only a waist-high gate and a carabiner keeping me from falling 46 meters (151 ft). I felt alive at the top. I would have been able to see for miles (if it wasn’t sprinkling as it did every day in Japan). I was calmed by the solitude; it was so peaceful, above all the noise and chatter of middle/high schoolers. I was sad when the firefighter with me motioned for us to come back down. It was almost painful to be surrounded by noise again.
As well as going up into the ladder trucks, we got to spray the building with the hose, hooked up to a different truck. It surprised me how hard it was to keep the hose from flying around from the pressure of the water, and every time the firefighter focused the blast more, it was a sharp jerk in my shoulders and mostly instinct that kept me from making an absolute fool of myself.
We also got to choose if we wanted to do a challenge: either climb up a vertical wall while harnessed and using only a rope to pull yourself up, or pull yourself across a flat zipline. I chose the latter because my shoes have really bad traction.
After everybody was done with the activities, back on the bus we went.
We were given a show-off by having traffic stopped for us by the whole team, and we headed back to City Hall with a little trepidation, as this was the day to change host families. We had some time to kill, since we got back early, and I passed the time by taking bad pictures. About one hour later, our new host families started to pick us up, and Hayden, my new host family pal, and I got picked up first. It was a longer drive that was calming (we were both tired and Hayden even fell asleep), as our new host dad was a great driver. We got our stuff out of the car, set up, ate dinner, and went to sleep.
The next day was in Tokyo again. Here is how it went; Part 1: make fake food. Part 2: eat lunch. Part 3: let loose the herd. After lunch we were let loose and told, “Be back by 1:15, goodbye.” At the beginning of the trip, everybody had made their own little groups of people they stuck with, and that’s what I again defaulted to. After we stopped in a shop, I found something I wanted to purchase, and the rest of my group decided to move on without me. I was a little grumpy at that point, until I discovered that one of the Japanese students that had been an exchange student before had stayed with me. She was a college student and spoke English fluently, so I was appreciative. I exchanged my final American bill to yen and went up to the counter to pay. The instant my new friend saw how many coins I had, she told me I should use them up on the last three days there. She poured all of them out, (yes, I say all of them because it was a pile of coins) and pushed some forward, using those to pay, and the pile became 40% of what it was. I was extremely grateful, and declared, “Let’s go find something else to help rid me of this weight.” After walking through the streets for a little bit, I saw a picture of a Shiba and heard barking. She saw my face and asked, “Do you like dogs?” I nodded vigorously. Thirty seconds later, I had spent five hundred yen, and had a ticket that let me pet shibas and drink orange juice for hours (of course I only had about thirty minutes).
Afterwards, when my hands felt like clouds, we left and I was again introduced to something new: tapioca (also called bubble tea). I got a good flavor, mango, which was fruity, sweet, and thick. Sip number 1 result = love. We went to a different shop for hers, green tea, (horrible — so bitter) and had to speed walk back, only to discover that Dave wanted us back fifteen minutes before we actually went anywhere. When everyone had reconvened, we took a walk to a temple I had been through ten minutes earlier and took some more group photos (some more because everywhere we went, we took at least two). Back to the bus after that.
Dinner was a Japanese BBQ, (hot plate on the table) and Hayden’s first host family came over, with two more Wii remotes, then we played Mario Kart until some ungodly hour of the night.
The next day was our school visit, and we each received a fan from the student council, hand-painted by one of the students.
We also participated in two classes, music and art. After, we were again let loose, but this time on the Tanabata Festival, held only in Hiratsuka and Tokyo.
We found our way back to city hall and were picked up by our host families. Dinner again, followed by sleep.
Sadly, it was our last day — a free day. Our host parents’ suggestions were agreed on, and we headed out. We went to the Hiratsuka aquarium and the public baths, which aren’t as bad as you might think. In fact, they were extremely calming.
On our last day we also went to the saddest event I have ever been to – our farewell party. It was a gathering of everyone who had come to Japan, the exchange students who would be going to Lawrence, the host families, and some of the previous exchange students. There was a buffet, speeches from the Mayor, Foreign Relations Minister of Japan, one of my fellow exchange students and Dave. Both exchange groups also performed. The worst part was the end – the goodbyes and the realization that we would probably never see each other again after tomorrow morning. Outside, after the party, all you could hear were sniffles and muted cries, mine included. There were swarms of hugs, a few “see you tomorrow’s”, and scattered small smiles. As Hayden and I walked back to the car with our hosts, we were both sniffling and hard of sight through the tears fractalizing our vision. At home, some small, “goodnight’s”, and some nice tears from crying ourselves to sleep.
After a wake-up call at five, we had some rushed organizing, and stuffing, then agonizing over traffic. At city hall we were met by all the host families, and some tearful waiting for the bus to arrive. I’m pretty sure everybody was crying at that point. The luggage was packed onto the bus, and we all climbed on. The last I saw of my host familes was of them smiling and waving out the bus window.