Last Post in Japan

Hello everyone. It’s my last day in Japan. Unbelievable! I didn’t even think I was that far into the program. There was so much I was doing, and so much more I wanted to do. I wanted to go visit all the islands in Japan, try eating puffer fish, and go surfing on the beaches in Okinawa. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it all, but, once I got into a routine at work and found out places I like to go and things I like to do, I started thinking I would have time for things later. I guess that wasn’t the case. However, I’ve enjoyed my time here in Japan. It has been an honor to work alongside great staff at Second Harvest Japan, to have a host mom that is generous and kind, and to be given this opportunity to go abroad. I would like to thank everyone who made this possible. (that being said, I only like giving out names and information if I have formally asked for it in person, email, or other form of confirmation, so I will not be giving names). IWU, IES Tokyo, and Second Harvest Japan. Thank you.

My last day in Japan wasn’t very thrilling, but pretty nice. I wondered around Tokyo, with Connor and Emma, and went up Tokyo tower. It was nice. Later we played some card games and went over to Emma’s host family’s house for dinner. The meat that they were cooking looked so good, I wanted to eat it fresh out of the package. Then again, if there was a chance of getting sick before coming home, I wanted to avoid it. I had a wonderful meal and we all had a good time. Emma especially had a good time when she was surprised to received many amazing gifts from her host family that night. My host mom also got me some pretty amazing gifts. But I want to surprise my folks so I’m not going to spoil anything for them yet.

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One of the things I have to take some more time in thinking about is what I’ve taken away from this experience. Being abroad in a foreign country is a great experience to have. Why? Because not everybody is from America. That’s the simplest way I can put it without writing a paper at this moment. There are a bunch more reasons I assure you. In my honest opinion, everyone should have an experience abroad to discover more about it themselves. Things you may find weird are normal there. Things you may have thought were normal are strange there. Being here really taught me what mechanisms I should use to adapt to a new environment. Knowing the things I know now, and having done the things I have, I now have a new life goal. After my education and career are stable enough, I’d like to get enough money to take my family on a vacation in Japan. (And maybe I’ll have taken a few more Japanese classes to translate for them.)

I feel like I’ve grown in some ways, but found room to grow in others. I have much to work on in the future and much more to look forward to. The first thing I’m looking forward to is getting back to my family. The second is getting out of this humid temperature. Bye everyone. I’m coming home.

A Good View

I had a great time this week. It may have been just the same work schedule, but I got to meet new people and see some familiar volunteers again. It was lovely chatting with some of them (Specifically the ones I could understand a little). I always make sure to introduce myself and give a proper greeting to the new people . I like making the work environment a little less uncomfortable for newcomers by telling them about myself, using some humor, and asking questions about them. On time a guy came in with a name that, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t pronounce. I remember his name starting with an “E” and asked if it was all right if I just call him Mr. E. it didn’t occur to me until after I said it out loud that the words mystery and Mr. E sounded very similar. We had a laugh about it and got to work. He was fine with me calling him Mr. E from then on. I think these little interactions are what I might miss most about Second Harvest Japan. I’m also going to miss the staff who gave me such a wonderful experience and made me feel like part of the team.

When I was talking with Charles McJilton, the founder of Second Harvest Asia, I asked what he thought the biggest issue in Japan is. His answer surprised me a little. As the CEO of an NPO whose goal is to create a food safety net, I expected him to say something in regards to food. He said it was the population. There’s not enough people. He even told me that getting a job here (specifically if I was proficient in Japanese) would be relatively easy. Even Second Harvest Japan is short staffed. His answer made sense to me once I realized that you can’t create a food safety net if there’s no one to help you build it. He also told me that we don’t see many of the problems that other countries have when being associated poverty. Other countries might have drug problems, criminal activity rise, and other dilemmas. However, Japan didn’t have any of that. In comparison to other stories I’ve heard about countries with poverty, this sounds pretty good.

However, Japan itself is another matter. I don’t know how to approach the question, “would you go again?”. It sure is an interesting place, but I arrived at one of Japan’s record breaking heats. Sweat was dripping down the small of my back every time I went outside. Not even ten minutes would pass and you might feel inclined to ask me if I was in a sauna or in the rain. But I was in neither. I was in Tokyo. Despite the weather, I had a many days eating out with Emma and Connor and loved sharing my day with Aoki-San. Recently, we went to Yokohama and visited China town, the small amusement park (that seems to come out of nowhere), and the cup noodle museum (we would’ve gone to the cup noodle museum if we weren’t so exhausted. The museum is insane and I don’t understand why some things were there. There was an unnecessary little show using shadows and fake grass, but it didn’t seem to have anything to do with cup noodles…I wonder why. I’m approaching my final day in Japan. I’ll fill you guys in on my final thoughts before leaving.

Mt. Fuji

I had never planned on hiking up Mt. Fuji, but it taught me a valuable lesson. I learned that you should never prepare less to save weight. I wanted to travel light at the time so it would be easier for me to climb up. I ended up regretting not bringing enough clothes. Connor, Emma, and I decided to go at night to see the sunrise. I never expected the altitude to be such a problem for me. Every step I took felt like I had taken ten steps, and every ten steps had me panting as if I had walked a thousand. When we made it to the top at 2:30 A.M., I was sick, out of breath, and I ended up sleeping on a stone staircase leading to an indoor sleeping quarters, which you could only enter if you paid in advance. I was shivering throughout the next 2 hours in an attempt to gather enough warmth to last till the sun rose. When the sun finally did show up, it was a blessing. I felt reborn! I didn’t feel sick anymore, I wanted to walk around again, and I didn’t feel as cold. The beauty of the morning on the mountain was indescribable.

Something I noticed afterwards was how sponsored everything is. There were several stations on the way up  the mountain for people to buy food, relax, and get souvenirs, but everything was overpriced. I wanted a souvenir. At first I thought about getting some little trinket, but a key chain that would cost me 2 bucks in America would cost me 15 bucks in Japan. I didn’t bring enough cash on me for much and then discovered that I could only use my credit card on things that were 3000 yen and up. I ended up buying a cool Mt. Fuji t-shirt for 4000 yen. I also ate pancakes at a local shop on the way back. I had 6 dollar pancakes. However, I suspect that 4 of those dollars were just to have the Mt. Fuji logo burnt onto the pancake itself. It was also disappointing that they didn’t have any syrup…

Overall, Japan sponsors things better than any place I’ve been. The trains have TVs displaying ads, posters on the train sponsor one company or another, and then posters off the train are changed regularly. Sometimes I wonder if I got off at the wrong stop because of the posters I don’t recognize. It can be disorienting seeing all the ads. However, it makes me think about how easy it can be to become absorbed by the advertising. With so much ads around you, you’re bound to find one that catches your eye and lures you in. It makes me think about “shut-ins”, also called hikokomori, and how they wish to avoid the outside world. While I think that it’s silly to choose to remain inside forever, I also think that avoiding places with such condensed advertising and people is not such a bad idea. It only becomes a bad idea when you know that you need to do something outside everyday, such as a job or activities, in order to earn money. Without money, you lack resources to buy simple things, such as food. I do not believe “Second Harvest Japan” offers their delivery services to people who choose to remain inside even though they are able bodied. However, It may be a good question for them considering how popular hikokomori are (they’re popular enough to have a word for the sole purpose of describing them).

As for my “Second Harvest Japan” activities, I’m enjoying working with other volunteers. However, there have been pantry customers that can get a little out of hand. When someone makes a scene, we often have to get one of the bosses in charge. Charles E. McJilton, founder of Second Harvest Asia and CEO of Second Harvest Japan, comes down from his office upstairs to deal with these situations himself. I am always impressed by his patience, frankness, and strategies when handling the costumers.

Half Way Down the Road

Now that I’ve been in Japan for about three weeks, I feel like I can address some stereotypes about Japan. Japan is very clean. The streets are cleaner than any I’ve ever seen even in my own neighborhood. The trains look brand new and are almost never late. Pretty much all toilets have extra features that wouldn’t be seen on any of the toilets in America. There are a couple things I just can’t get used to though. People walking on the left side of the street and sidewalks is confusing, using the train during rush hour where people are in lines going from one side of the tracks to the other in order to cram into one train, and the crowds are too much of a hassle to get around. I don’t think I would do very well in Japan if I was claustrophobic. I’m still enjoying my experience so far, and have many things to look forward to.

My job involves many different kinds of people. The people who come into volunteer usually represent some company or another. If you look closely at the photo’s background, you can see the names of those who have volunteered and the names of the companies they represent written on the walls. IES Tokyo is one of those places whose name I saw and felt obligated to write my name next to. I am very fortunate to work alongside people of different backgrounds and who all wish to contribute to the betterment of the community.

I haven’t done the internship justice because I haven’t described in detail what it is Second Harvest Japan does, or their true objective. Second Harvest Japan aims to create a Food Safety Net for those in need. In Japan there is something called the 1/3 rule. According to this rule, certain places won’t sell anything past 1/3 of the product’s shelf life. The result of this, along with several other damages and production errors, means millions of food products are thrown out even though they are still edible. This is absolutely ridiculous to think about. It makes food banks and food pantries all the more important. Food banks accept food that has such errors and distribute them to Churches, people in need, and other charity organizations. Food pantries are where I work for the most part. Here, people physically come into the Second Harvest Japan workplace and pick up the food available to them. Often, families let Second Harvest Japan know ahead of time if their coming, so food is normally prepared keeping the number of people in mind. However, sometimes people come in for the first time and then we explain that, next time, a reference letter will be needed in order to prove that they are truly in need of such food, and not simply abusing the charity of the organization. Many people come into the organization, including refugees from other countries. I always feel a little cautious when approaching them to explain how the food pantry works. Normally, there isn’t any confusion, and I get the message across. In some cases, the language barrier is too large for me to get across, so I often have to get a fellow coworker to assist. Overall, working there has been an invaluable experience. I plan on doing volunteer work like this in the future.

Of course, more than just work happens when I’m done for the day. I went to a Korean barbecue in Shibuya! The menu had me so confused. There were a few animal parts I didn’t know were edible. I’ve come to the conclusion that Japan is full cool and crazy places. Sometimes you get a glimpse of peacefulness when go to places like Tokyo station, but it never lasts long. There’s always something to do, and never enough time to do them all. Last week I celebrated my birthday with my peers. Then, I went to Emma’s host family’s place, where I made sloppy Joes. By the way, everyone absolutely loved them! (I might think about getting a food truck in the future.)

Thank you all for following my posts. I want to tell you all more about Second Harvest and update you on Japan. I recently got the application on my phone to so I don’t need internet access all the time. I’m sure you will hear more from me about updates and Second Harvest Japan. #IWUstudyabroad

Much Has Happened.

It’s been a while since I’ve written to you all. I’ve had quite a bit of adventures and so much to tell you all. Most days I’ve been exhausted and just needed rest. I’ve seen many people sleep on the trains to and from work, but I didn’t think I would end up just like them. Work is just a routine. There are some rewards every now and again. For instance,  in my workplace in Saitama, there was a man who bowed and thanked us. And, in the Kid’s Cafe, I taught a child how to make a paper airplane. We also played Jenga together. My main concern about work was the hours I needed to put in. As it turns out, I’ve been miscalculating the hours I’ve actually put in. I only discovered this recently after talking with Amanda (fellow IWU FreemanAsia student) about how she’s been calculating her work hours. That was a relief to hear because I was just about ready to ask for work 6 days of the week.

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Enough about work, let me tell you about what I did with my weekend. First, I went on a ship with Connor and Emma that cruised around the Tokyo area. We were told that if we had a yukata, which is like a long robe with a bow/belt wrapped around the waist, we would get a big discount. Emma borrowed her yukata from her host family’s daughter. However, Connor and I thought it might be more expensive to buy the yukata than to buy the ticket at it’s normal price. In the end it was expensive but worth it. The ride was beautiful. I don’t have a very good picture of it, but the city lights up from a distance. You can see Tokyo Tower, Skytree, and rainbow bridge. While I was on the ship I met a couple of guys who spoke english. They told us that they used have an internship in America and we became friends. I hope to hang out with them sometime in the future.

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The next day was even more amazing. I went to an onsen for the first time. An onsen is a Japanese hot spring, but, sometimes, it is also a word that is used for any bathing facilities centered around a a hot spring. Emma’s host family had invited me to go. Thank god I had Takeshi-san, Emma’s host dad, guiding me through the hot springs. There wasn’t just one bath to get into. There were seven. One was a general hot spring. Another was a scented bath. There was even a carbonated bath, which felt like I was in a soda bottle. I wanted to see how long I could stay in the cold bath, but I couldn’t do more than two minutes. The sauna was so hot that my lungs felt as if they weren’t breathing air, just hot gas. Some people cooled off by resting on some wooden planks, and others stayed hot by laying down on some hot rocks. When I got into the hot tub, I thought it was a relief to get into something familiar. However, there was one spot that confused me. Nobody sat on one part of the hot tub. I asked Takeshi-san what that part was. He said there were jets on that side. I thought he meant regular hot tub jets, so I reached down to feel them. A sting of electricity instantly made me pull back. The other guys in the tub laughed at me. I was so confused at what was happening. Takeshi-san disclosed to me that that part of the tub typically helps people with back problems. I don’t know how, but it sounds interesting.

Even though the clear, beautiful, sunny days in Japan were a blessing, the heat was killing me. The heat was bothering Connor and Emma, too. Connor, Emma, and I decided that there was only one way to beat the heat. The beach. We made our way down to this fantastic beach. It wasn’t very crowded, the water was nice and warm, and the wind was a godsend. Some people were out playing in the sand, others were windsurfing, and most people, including us, just went out swimming. It was very fun, and very tiring. I had to rest on my beach towel and for most of the trip back.

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DisneySea. You might think that it’s for children, but it was very entertaining for Connor, Emma, and I. The first line we went in was not so lucky. Connor wanted to show me this ride called “Tower of Terror”. I’m not very good with anything scary, so I thought I wouldn’t like it. It turned out to be pretty fun. It was like a story. A man would go around the world collecting ancient artifacts and one, in a cliche manner, ends up being cursed. The artwork inside was pretty cool too. I would say more, but I don’t want to spoil the ride for those planning to go. The one drawback was the wait in line was about 3 hours. The wait was worth it because there were some amazing special effects. I felt like I was watching a magic show. I never remembered Disney being this amazing. They had holograms! (The kind where you think it’s real). Unfortunately we didn’t go on many rides because our little group was confused about using the “fast pass” at DisneySea. I almost cried when we found out that the fast passes are free. All of us thought that we had to pay for them, so we stood clear of the “fast pass” booths. Before heading back, we decided to watch the light show. It exceeded my expectations. I never thought I would like DisneySea as a 21 year old man, but, honestly, I think it would be a great place to take my friends. I don’t think they have a Disney like this in America, and I doubt we will for quite a while.

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There are a few things I miss from home. I miss watching movies with my family. I miss ordering my meals in english and being understood. I miss being able to hold down conversations with people I meet and having small talk. However, I haven’t found much I don’t like here Japan. The weather is a little annoying. The walks are long. The trains are crowded. They seem like very minor nuisances right now, but I wonder how things will end up at the end of my stay. Now that things have settled down, I’m planning on writing more. Look forward to more posts!

The Room Shook

I had a nice relaxing day before I went to work the next day. Everything was just fine. Then, in the middle of the night, my room starts jumping up and down. I had to assess the situation for a while so I stayed still in my bed until the room settled. Then, I walked over to my door and Connor appears right on the other side. He asks me, “Was that an earthquake?”. We went downstairs to confirm with our host mom, Aoki-san. She was downstairs watching TV and using a back massage device. I asked Aoki-san, “Was that an earthquake?” She explained to us that it was a just a little one, and that it happens all the time. I can sleep through many things, but not when I feel like the room is gonna collapse on me. I thought about the procedures about what to do in case of an earthquake. You open any nearby doors to give yourself an escape route, you avoid standing next to objects that can fall on you, and you duck underneath something (preferably a desk). This made me worried for two reasons. First of all, I like the doors in my room closed when I sleep, so now I have to choose between sleeping comfortably or sleeping safely. Second, the only thing in my room that I can duck under is a glass desk. Wish me luck.

The Zoo, The Food and Money

It was my first day off from work and my friend Emma already had plans for our little group (which was just Connor, Emma, and I). She wanted to go to the zoo and go to Skytree (a tower in japan). Well, we got to the zoo and paid the entrance fee. However, there was a two hour wait to see the Pandas. That didn’t stop us though, and we got to see plenty of other animals.FullSizeRender (4) Unfortunately the heat was unbearable, and all that walking around was exhausting, so we decided to stop and eat. I had some fried chicken ligaments and rice. It was strange. It tasted like a combination of crunchy chips and slimy octopus. I don’t think I’ll order that again. There was one interesting thing I discovered. Not many Japanese people have heard of sloppy joes! I offered to make it one day for my host mom, Aoki. Then, as it turns out, Emma’s host family hasn’t heard of sloppy joes either! I’m pretty sure they serve sloppy joes somewhere in Japan, but, if that’s not the case, I think I might have found a great way to make money. Speaking of which, I need to slow down. It’s so easy to go everywhere and see everything when you’re not worrying about the money in your wallet. Traveling to work everyday is pretty expensive in itself since I have to pay using my Suica card (a train pass) every time I get on a train. Time to ease up on the spending.

Where’s Here?

My work has me travel to Saitama on Saturdays. The only problem was that Amanda (fellow iwu intern) and I weren’t given a direct address. We were given the address of the entire prefecture and a vague map of the area. Then we had to figure the rest out on our own. It was kinda scary. I took several wrong turns on my way there. I even took the wrong train…twice!  Luckily I left really early, so I arrived right on time. Work is the same as it is in Akihabara. Organize the food, pack the rice, sort the bins, and distribute to those in need. My boss at the Saitama location wasn’t as proficient in english as I was led to believe, but there was another volunteer there who could translate any complex directions. After work, I went to Tokyo. Beautiful Tokyo. If Chicago is considered an urban area, then Tokyo must be a highly advanced alien civilization. That being said, for some reasons there are spots in Tokyo where the air smells like something rotting. I would have to say the beauty masks the smell pretty well.IMG-0920

The New Normal

It’s only been about four days and I feel like a routine is settling into place. Take a shower eat breakfast, get on the train, walk to work. However, I found a little shop that I like that serves these amazing creme brûlées. I would show you all a picture…but I ate it. I had some spare time today to walk around Akihabara station before work. It is jam packed with anime characters, little cafes, and electronics. I’m a little nervous to go in to some of these places because I don’t want to get swindled out of my money. I heard that some places charge you to sit down. By doing so they trap you into ordering something because, otherwise, it’s not worth the charge to sit down.

I decided to just head for work. Work was similar to yesterday. I distributed food to those in need, made sure people got their share, and cleaned up after. The only big difference is working with kids at the Kids Cafe. They have a place for kids to do their homework, learn some english, and decorate the place for the upcoming star festival. I played uno with a kid and learned the names of  some colors. I lost track of time at that point and got home kind of late. I don’t want to make my host mom worry, so I’ll set an alarm to, at the very least, check in with her.

First Few Days in Japan

I finally arrived in Tokyo on June, 18th 2018. It was a long plane ride and I was very tired, and even more hungry.  When I arrived in Japan I went through customs, and my friends/IWU classmates and I were greeted by an IES staff member, Mariko Ishikawa, at the arrival gate. She directed us to a luggage delivery system where my luggage was shipped directly to my homestay, which was incredibly useful. However, we were only directed as far as the bus. Mariko was not with us for the rest of the day. On the bus ride I tried my best to read the hiragana and katakana on signs. I think I will do that more often from now one because, on the bus, I figured out that there was sign in regards to something about our seatbelt. Unfortunately my knowledge of the kanji characters is very limited, so I wasn’t able to decipher most of the words I saw. To my surprise, most of the signs in Japan have kanji. Later, I looked online to discover that there are literally thousands of kanji characters, however, most Japanese citizens only need to know around two thousand or so to get by. After arriving at the hotel, I organized my things and got an IES document filled with information about my responsibilities at Second Harvest Japan. I don’t know why we didn’t receive this information until that day of all days, but I decided to roll with the punches. The schedule told me what days I would work, what my hours were and what I was doing on certain days. After briefly going through the rest of the packet with IES information, my friends and I decided to take a walk around our hotel to find a place for dinner in the meantime we waited for the final classmate to arrive (he arrived late because he left from a different location). First, we stopped by a park and played around in this playground with weird toys we hadn’t seen before. Soon, we found a dollar star, which is called a hyaku en shop in Japan (literally meaning 100 yen store), where I purchased a coin purse, and then we found a building with plenty of restaurants. Our final classmate arrived at a hotel and we brought him to the building with plenty or restaurants. We ate at a place called Lemon Grass. Our server was definitely not from America. I pulled out my translate app so my friends could asks questions about their order a bit better. However, most of us were still a little nervous to use our limited Japanese, so we mainly tried conveying through gestures and pointing. Eventually we got our food. I didn’t really eat my food. I devoured it. It was a kind of spicy beef and I couldn’t bring the chopsticks to my face any faster. And that was the first day. On the second day, we had breakfast at the hotel and met with Mariko again. She directed us to the IES center. From there we had orientation, which reiterated our responsibilities, gave us a clear direction in case of emergency, and told us how to properly treat our host family. Then we went to a place that had revolving sushi/food. Our group had a hard time figuring out how it works at first, but it turns out the they had an english setting. I had some kind of sushi and miso shrimp ramen, but it wasn’t very satisfying. Afterwards, Connor (my classmate on the trip) and I met our host mother, Yasuko Aoki. She was a very laid-back woman in her 60s. Yasuko let Connor and I know about how things work in the house. I was confused about how to use the shower, but everything ended up ok in the end. That night, Connor and I gave our host mom gifts and thanked her for inviting us to stay in her home. She was very happy. Day three I had a wonderful breakfast that Yasuko made. The train station is a few minutes away from home and is very crowded sometimes. I had a hard time figuring out what train to use, but later realized that the trains were color coded. The train rides are quiet, clean, and sometimes crowded. I have an hour train ride and a 20 minute walk to work. My feet are killing me by the end of work so I’m often in bed before 10. I made a few wrong turns getting to work my first time coming there, but I made it on time. Mana Nishioka is my supervisor. I was very glad to know she speaks english. She had to consult Amanda (the second Second Harvest Japan IWU intern/classmate) and I about a work schedule. I’ve only worked for two days, so not much has been happening. The work I do involves me helping package food and handing it out to people who come to the Second Harvest Japan center and have the proper paperwork to let us know that they need the food. Sorting the food is sometimes hard to do, because the labels are sometimes in Kanji. There’s also a kids cafe next door that I’m supposed to go to in order to entertain kids if there happen to be some. However, somedays we finish early and can go home. Hands down my best night here so far was Thursday night. Connor and I went to a restaurant with another IWU student, named Emma, and their host family. We ate octopus, raw fish, yakitori (chicken on a stick), and some kind of dough-ball with meat inside. And the night didn’t end there. After dinner, we all went to a karaoke place and sang together. I’ll never forget Connor going singing “I’m a barbie girl” for the rest of my life. In the future, I plan to do more frequent posts on my blog. Daily, if possible. It has been a bit overwhelming with getting accommodated with the environment, but, as things have settled a bit, I think it’s possible. Look forward to more posts! #iwu

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