August 4-5, 2016: My 21st Birthday

For once this week on my 21st birthday, I had a more normal sized breakfast: pizza toast and yogurt. And my host dad made me bento again for lunch. My host family is so nice to me. They put up a sign in the living room that said “Happy Birthday!”

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I felt very appreciated on my birthday. At work, everyone sang Happy Birthday to me. Interestingly, there is no Japanese song, they just sing the English song we sing in the US. One of the other host moms found out it was my birthday and she gave Lucia a gift to give me. I’ve never even met this woman. But all of the host families have been so kind to us.

Some of the other moms (like PTA moms), not mine, are on Facebook. And they are all friends with each other and they post about their interns and they all like and comment on each other’s photos. Jay called it a rabbit hole that he fell down just reading all their comments about him. A photo of his breakfast got over a hundred likes. They also just love him because he speaks Japanese. My communication with my host parents is more limited. They insist they don’t speak English, but we get by.

I was the facilitator on my birthday coincidentally. And I am a terrible facilitator. I am really awkward at the front of the room and I have no enthusiasm. It is also just impossible to control this enormous room of rowdy kids.

After having Wednesday without any overseers, Nishiyamato sent another person to check up on us to see if we instituted their unreasonable demands from earlier in the week. Needless to say they weren’t happy, because we weren’t about to let someone tell us what to do. We are independent minded Americans and we’re going to do what we think works.

I started to suspect that Chika was set up to fail here. Nishiyamato is never satisfied and we were faced with an impossible task or wrangling these kids. Did they send her alone because she is lower down in Toshin? Did someone higher up know that Nishiyamato would be a pain in the ass? I was genuinely worried for Chika and her job because it didn’t look so good. It was no fault of her own. It’s pure business.

Luckily, when the head honcho came back on Friday to see final presentations, the kids did well. I guess from the overseer’s perspective, if he missed the days in between then what counts is the result. And they all have to speak in front of the room in English and it is always impressive to these teachers who probably don’t even speak English themselves. I was worried that they wouldn’t be ready to present and we did cut it very close but everyone had a speech by the time they needed it, even if I had to write most of it. Good old Issei had written most of it the night before instead of playing Wii with me. So in the end, it was a success and Nishiyamato will have the program again next year. Hopefully, it will be in conjunction with other schools.

I learned a couple things from my students. For one, Justin Beiber and One Direction are popular here not just with teenage girls but with everyone. My kid was talking about a One Direction concert he went to last year. Interestingly, that wouldn’t be cool in America. I also learned that the Japanese equivalent of my Chinese name would be Choho. And then they laughed at my name because I guess it sounds funny.

I didn’t have a crazy American 21st birthday party. 21 is not an important number in Japan. The drinking age is 20 here. My birthday was quite tame. In fact, I didn’t drink at all on my birthday. I went home. And spent my birthday with my host family. I’m not really sure what exactly I wanted, but it turned out that it was exactly what I needed. While I was in Tokyo, I always felt like a tourist. That is, I felt obligated to always do things after work and take advantage of being in Tokyo. But while in Kansai with my host family, I was no longer a tourist. I was home. I could spend the evening with my family and enjoy their company and I was perfectly happy with that. It gave me some much needed rest after running around for 3 weeks nonstop.

When I came down for dinner, I was greeted by party poppers that actually smoked and streamers. And another birthday surprise: my host dad came home early for dinner!  And he brought home a cute little cake. And a birthday hat from Don Quixote. Osaka people are stereotypically very funny. So he, naturally, wore a rainbow clown wig. And the surprises weren’t done… They got me presents! Plural! They are such nice people. They even got handkerchiefs for my whole family. And we took pictures and I set up the camera to take pictures on a timer. And then we folded origami. Definitely not how I thought I’d spend my birthday, but exactly what I didn’t know I wanted.

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This was my last night with my host family. And it was kind of sad. My host mother started to cry saying goodbye. It has only been a week but I really feel like a part of the family and I appreciate their care.

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So after they got me all those presents and cooked and cleaned for me all week, I felt like I had to get something more for Issei. So I went to Oasis and got a nice gift box of cookies. There are lots of gift boxes of food all over Japan. All the train stations and shops have nicely wrapped boxes of specialty desserts and cookies and teas.

At the end of the day, my host brother cried. Jason told me and I didn’t believe it. We had some fun this week, but I didn’t think he was so attached to me. But I will miss them too. The worst thing (also kind of funniest thing in a terrible messed up way) was that the other kids were making fun of him for crying.

After work, Lucia, Teddy, Alex, Cat and I headed to Kyoto with our things. It took us longer than expected because we didn’t really know how to get there, but we eventually did get to Kyoto. We emerged from the train and saw tons of foreigners. We passed by lots of street performers on our way to the Airbnb. We went where we thought it was and then we couldn’t find the building so we had to dip into a liquor store to ask for help.

The Airbnb was small but really nice. It was in a modern building on the first floor. The building was located within walking distance to a bunch of our points of interest. There were two beds and a sofa bed.  We even had a laundry machine. We never met the landlady. She just gave us directions on retrieving the key and we let ourselves in. Alex didn’t read the instructions and pressed a button he wasn’t supposed to. It set off an alarm at the front of the building and that continued to ring for hours. And when we returned from dinner, there was a note in Japanese on our door. If it had been a real emergency, they had a very slow response.

We walked around the neighborhood looking for a reasonable place to eat. The restaurants in Kyoto seem to be a lot more expensive than the places in Tokyo, or at least we can find cheap places in Tokyo. We settled on a place for betayaki, which is a Kyoto variation of okonomiyaki, though it tasted the same to me.

Across the street from the restaurant was the entrance gate to a complex of temples. It was really dark though so we couldn’t see anything and we weren’t sure where we were walking to. But we wandered around for a bit. We walked into a park that you would’ve guessed would be empty. But it was packed with people playing Pokemon Go. It was a very pretty park too, a real Japanese garden. I wonder if there would have been people in this park at 10PM had it not been for Pokemon Go. We continued to explore until we went too far into the park and found a graveyard. The shrines were creepy enough at night, but we were freaked out by the graves. So we hustled back to our Airbnb and tried to plan our itinerary for the weekend.

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