The past few weeks have found my fellow exchange students and me fairly busy. We are quickly coming upon our finals week and have been kept busy lately with projects, tests, and field trips. I remember last year’s exchange students talking about how things really start to pick up once you leave your host family’s house, but I did not expect it to happen so fast. It feels like I was just at my host family’s house not a week ago, when in fact it has been almost three weeks since our fall break. Obviously now is not the time to be waxing poetic about the end of my trip—we still have two weeks left to enjoy our time here!—but I can’t help but feel that every time I blink another day goes by. I desperately want to grab time and stall it for as long as possible, but again this is not the time to be thinking about how much I wish I could freeze the ticking seconds.
I suppose I will start by talking a bit more about my homestay. While I will say that I have enjoyed living in the dorm again and having my own space to do as I wish, I do sincerely miss living with my host family—and not just because of the delicious food—they were always very supportive and kind to me, giving me a great month while I stayed with them. By using Japanese on an even more constant basis than I do in the dorm, I was able to be given explanations about grammar and phrases as I desperately tried to communicate things to my host family. You never really truly value communication until you’re trying to explain to your host parents how much you wish there weren’t time zones in the world. Because they were native speakers that I talked to on a daily basis, I was also able to practice conversational Japanese even more than I had already been at school and with my Japanese friends. While class is a great place for learning some things about language, the more intuitive things such as non-verbal clues and casual speech can only really be learned out of the classroom, making the opportunity to stay at a Japanese family’s house so essential.
One of the better experiences to have in an exchange trip is the chance to go out on your own to explore and have adventure. In order to gain a fuller understanding of Japan, Menolly and I travelled to Kyoto for three days of our fall break at the beginning of November. Over the course of three days we visited ten different historical or famous places in various parts of Kyoto, on top of which we explored some of the large malls near and around the Kyoto train station. Needless to say, we readily collapsed in our hotel room at the end of the day. To make the trip a bit less expensive, we rode the night bus to and from Kyoto from Yokohama. At 11:30 PM on Monday night of our fall break we went to the Yokohama train station to wait for a bus to take us to Kyoto throughout the night. While traveling on a bus all night is certainly not the most comfortable thing to do, when compared to the price of a bullet train, both Menolly and I agree that it was worth some discomfort.
Upon arriving in Kyoto far too early in the morning, Menolly and I set out upon our adventure visiting famous temples in the area and simply absorbing everything we came across. While figuring out the train and bus systems took a bit longer than we would have liked—of course the bus parking zones would be on the other side of the gigantic mall that seems to have grown out of the train station only to end up engulfing it—we were luckily able to get around fairly easily after spending several minutes trying to figure out the exact pronunciation of the bus stops. In trying to figure out and navigate the transportation system, Menolly and I wondered aloud how foreigners who apparently spoke very little, if any Japanese, were able to get around considering we had enough trouble and both of us have been studying the language for several years. By the end of our trip we still were unable to figure out exactly how other people got around. Frequently we would see travelers from Europe without a Japanese guide, but never speaking Japanese themselves and to this day we still wonder how they did not get hopelessly lost in the city.
While we did visit many of the more famous temples that Kyoto had to offer, we were also able to admire the way that nature and rural areas seemed to blend so well with the more modern mall and train station. Once one rides far enough away from the train station, Kyoto rapidly becomes more suburban and tranquil. It is certainly interesting to find a temple nestled on a side road within a residential area—especially those that we had not been looking for in the first place—I must say personally that I really preferred the walks through nature that Menolly and I took. On the Philosopher’s Walk Menolly and I walked along a tree-lined river from temple to temple, stopping to take many pictures along the way and pet every stray cat that darted from the bushes. We even walked through a small bamboo forest on one of our more impromptu deviations from the main road. It was all very peaceful and made me feel relaxed as we wrapped up our fall break and started the final ascension towards the end of our time abroad.
I wish to discuss this a bit more in my next journal entry, so keep your eyes peeled for a very metaphor-heavy entry soon to come within the next few weeks. Until then, I wish everyone well as the holidays begin to draw closer and as my friends and family celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States.
See you next time!