Forgotten Youth.

Ohisashiburi, darlings! It's been almost a month since my last update, when I visited my wonderful host family. But how have you all been?

On this side of the world, I'm going through the busiest, most exciting and also scariest point of my study abroad. I'm adventuring out more than ever, but at the same time, unexpected bills and typhoons have come, homework and big projects came at me left and right, and I was hit with the shock that I have less than three weeks left before I go home.

To be honest, I'm in a bit of denial... I know my usual haunts backwards and forwards, I've made many wonderful, irreplaceable friends, and Nagoya truly feels like my home now. It was the first place I've ever lived on my own and I am proud of how much I've grown, as a student, and a person.

On one hand, I can't imagine leaving without the prospect of coming back. At the same time, I have to keep telling myself, this isn't the climax of my life, I have to keep moving on to the next chapter. Life is the sum of your experiences that make you who you are- it's not just achieving one dream, and bam, you've found your purpose in life. You have to stay ambitious and keep setting goals.

One of the best things I've done in Japan so far, was volunteer at an orphanage with my "Service Learning Across Cultures" class. It's one of the optional Culture Classes offered by NUFS, taught in English.

We spent the semester in teams, planning volunteer projects at one of the local orphanages. We also helped with their Sports Day, and helped the kids with chores around the orphanage, like cleaning and pulling weeds. In addition, we've been going in small groups to teach English classes and just play on weekday evenings.

So, this orphanage was less than five minutes away from my apartment this whole time, and I never even realised it was there. It's up a hill shrouded by trees and an overgrown driveway, with nothing to suggest children are there other than a "Children At Play" sign for cars.

No one ever mentions it, acknowledges it, or considers it a community responsibility. The adoption rate in Japan is actually very low... according to some stats from this prefecture, taken from several children's homes, only about one child is adopted every year. The other children who leave are either taken in again by their biological parents (which isn't necessarily a good thing), or they leave to find work because of their age.

This shocked me. Typical Japanese parents spend a small fortune on their children. Then there are the children in foster homes with nothing, not even up-to-date computers, with just a small fixed allowance from the government every month. They don't even get to go to uniformed schools with other kids, the home has their own school on the premises. It's a shocking contrast to the privileged youth on the outside; the uniformed Japanese student everyone automatically thinks of, when they think Japan.

To me, it seems these children in the home are just disposed of... one common reason is abuse, but it's more common for divorced parents to send their children there... in your country, do children of divorced parents just get sent to a children's home? The community I live in is practically oblivious to this, even though there are SO many children who need a caring home. Even though the children outside are given anything they ask for.

It really opened my eyes, and made me think about how much I take for granted myself.

I had heard before, that the Japanese government tends to hide 'embarrassing' problems like that. But to think they'd hide their own forgotten youth under the carpet too...

Enough ranting about that, I could go on forever. And to be honest, I don't have enough concrete information to rationally argue about this, other than my own experience.

Instead I'd like to talk about our projects. I lead an art group, and we set up a few fun projects for kids to express themselves.  My plan was to have each kid design their own puzzle piece, and it would be displayed as a group work in the community to call attention to the children's home. (I had done a similar project working with Foster Children in Hawaii, about a year ago.)  But due to my classmate's suggestions, and the fact we couldn't find a place to display the artwork, we changed our plan.

Instead, we had each child design their own "Pokemon Card", and in the stats box, we had things like "Favourite Food", "Super Power", "Future Dream" and such. 

Here was my example, haha:

Not everyone filled in every box, but a lot of the little kids wanted to be a "Pan-ya san" (guy who works at the bread shop) or "Keki-ya san" (guy who works at a cake shop). I think those are EXCELLENT ideas! xD All the bread and cake you could want!

Other groups set up a soccer tournaments, cooking classes, parties, and one group is trying to organise a campus tour of NUFS for older kids. It's been so much fun going to see them, getting to know them and feeling like we made their day special...

I hope that this class comes back next semester, and students keep donating their time, effort and smiles. I hope that they all talk about their experiences too, and word gets out. I hope more people in the community put aside their pride or shame or whatever it is, and make room in their hearts for someone who needs a home.

One thing our teacher told us, was that these kids don't know how to be part of a family yet, but they want to learn. They just need the chance.

Home Stay

Though I feel studying abroad is the best decision I've ever made, I do miss my family. When I'm here I find myself longing for that 'homey' feeling, with younger siblings and pets, a home made meal, and a place where I feel welcome.

Add to that my desperate desire to learn more Japanese, and I had every reason to sign up for the Homestay program this semester. 

Last semester, I was too scared to sign up. I thought my Japanese wasn't good enough, and I was too shy to meet strangers. This semester, I was still scared, down to the minute I turned in my application. But as soon as I met my family in person... a Mother, Father, two younger daughters and a dog, all my fears were dashed away. 

The Homestay program with NUFS was great. If you use an outside program, your family may be really far away, or there might be expensive fees to set everything up. But the program through my school was free. Prior to the actual home stay, Nufs organised a "Cultural Exchange Party", where we could all meet and chat on campus, enjoying a catered lunch provided by the school. 

A few weeks later (last Saturday morning), my host mom picked me up in the lobby of my apartment building. We drove off to my oldest little sister's dance recital first, where I watched her perform hip-hop routines. After, we all enjoyed a cold soba and tempura lunch at the shopping centre. I took Purikura with my adorable sisters in the arcade.

Later that night, we went back to my host family's house so I could meet their dog and my host Dad. My host mom had prepared a home made temaki dinner. Basically, you spread rice on a sheet of nori, choose your filling, roll your sushi by hand and eat it fresh. It was delicious! My host mom had everything from tamago-yaki to ikura. My host Dad had also bought sake, made locally. 

That night I drew pictures with my host sisters, and slept in a tatami room with screen doors. The next morning, we all woke up early and headed out for an adventure, to Biwako. I had never been, and only knew it was a huge lake close to Kyoto. 

We started at Hikone-jou, a castle from the 17th century which overlooks Lake Biwa. My host Dad said, it was still mostly original architecture. Many castles, including Nagoya-jou which I visited last September, are mostly reproductions. 

After, we headed to the nearby town of Kurokabe, known for its glass art and old-style architecture. 

There also happened to be a figure museum!

Afterwards, we drove "home" and enjoyed some relaxing conversation. My host Dad broke out a travel guide of Japan and told me all about the places they had been with other host students. 

He seemed to really have a thing for old-style Japanese towns, which are abundant in this area of Japan. He said that back in the day, this region had many trade routes passing through, so "inn" towns and such were abundant. But sadly, those towns are going extinct.

Seeing my Host Family is one of my best experiences in Japan so far... I adore my family, and got the rest I needed to finish up this semester. I really hope I get to see them again, before I leave!

Time is going by so fast. I can't believe I leave in July... I really don't want to think about it! I love Japan, the people, the life style and the language. As much as I love Hawaii, and seeing my family, I don't want to leave. I know one of the first things I'll do when I get back, is apply for the Jet Programme or search for opportunities to work in Japan. Then as soon as I graduate, I can head back! 

I know these next few weeks will pass before I know it... between cosplay events, volunteering at a local orphanage, finals and outings with my amazing new friends. I can hardly wait to see what's in store, in the exciting future!