Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Appreciation for Family and my Hokkaido Trip

Thanks to the help of my Japanese relatives I have finally returned back to Akita International University (AIU). It feels nice to be back at AIU because I get to be reunited with my friends from this university, and I no longer have to worry about returning back to AIU. It is too bad that some of the other students will not be attending the winter semester, had to return to their home country, or leave for study abroad, but I am happy to be back.

I am looking forward to taking a class about Tohoku Culture and continue studying Japanese this semester. Anyways for this blog post, I would like to talk about my trip at Hokkaido with my relatives this past winter break.

On my last blog post, I mentioned that I came to Hokkaido by ferry from Akita with two other students. The ferry brought me to the Tomakomai port at Akita, and I then transferred from Tomakomai to Sapporo train station by riding a shuttle. At Sapporo train station, I met with my Japanese relatives at the west entrance and I stayed at their house for most of my winter break which was about two weeks.

The first night I stayed with them, I was very nervous to talk with them because although I studied Japanese for about three years, I was not comfortable speaking the language. I felt that my relatives would be disappointed with my limited vocabulary or grammar because I thought that they would assume my Japanese would improve dramatically while studying Japanese at Japan.

Despite my fears, my relatives were far from disappointed, and they treated me with great hospitality by providing me with my own room, and they taught me a lot of Japanese customs that most foreigners do not learn unless they stay with a Japanese host family. My Japanese uncle taught me how to eat sushi properly because apparently, a lot of Japanese people do not correct foreigners that eat sushi incorrectly by dipping the rice inside of the soy sauce. Whereas my Japanese auntie cooked for me and washed my dishes.

Here are pictures from their house. Before coming to Hokkaido, I thought that all Japanese houses were tiny, but when I arrived at their house, it was a lot bigger than I imagined. Their house was two stories tall and it had a garage for two cars. At their house, I could bathe like a Japanese person because before entering the bathtub, I had to take a shower. Apparently Japanese people reuse water when taking a Japanese style bath.
The room my relatives provided me

The tub is filled with water

Most of the time when my relatives spoke to me in Japanese, I could not understand them. Despite that I was able to understand the meaning of their conversations, and gradually I became better at Japanese. My relatives barely spoke English, but they had a Japanese-to-English dictionary with them so it was convenient. According to my relatives, some of my responses were unclear because I only answered either "yes," "no," or "okay" when I answered their questions and I did not know what to say. Therefore my relatives had to call their Japanese daughter who spoke proficient English and was going to school at America to help translate sometimes.

The front door of my relative's house
My relative's yard
Apparently my relatives were impressed with my Japanese accent because my Japanese teacher at AIU during the Fall semester had made sure that the international students learned how to speak like a Japanese person. However, I was still disappointment with my Japanese so I studied Japanese as much as possible from my Japanese textbook and the internet while at their home. My Japanese auntie thought that I would be disappointed with my trip because I spent most of my time studying Japanese while my uncle was busy at work, but I had fun. 
Food my auntie made that I do know what it is called

Seafood curry

A Japanese style bento my aunty made
Thanks to my relatives, they showed me around Sapporo and brought me to places like Sapporo Skywalk, Costco, and the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum. In addition my relatives took me out on Christmas and New Years. They also took me to a few areas nearby Sapporo such as Chitose and Otaru.
Delicious food from Sapporo my aunty did not make

On Christmas day, my relatives had took me to dinner at the Sapporo Park Hotel. At the dinner I got to eat great food, and I got to practice speaking Japanese with them. This was my first Christmas I spent without staying at my parent's house at Hawaii.
Sapporo Park Hotel is located within Sapporo Park
Christmas dinner with my relatives inside of the restaurant at Sapporo Park Hotel

Christmas tree at the lobby of Sapporo Park Hotel
Before going dinner, I had Skyped with my parents the day before to wish them a merry christmas from Japan. Japan was nineteen hours ahead so Christmas would be the following day for people in Hawaii. I had also planed to Skype with my parents at my grandma's house the following day for Christmas at Hawaii. Unfortunately my parents had trouble trying to set up the Skype software on my grandma's computer so they had to Skype at my house without my grandma being present.

After Christmas, my relatives had brought me to the Costco in Sapporo. At Costco, I was unable to take a lot of pictures because the Costco shop attendant told me in Japanese that I was not allowed to take pictures from Costco.

Shopping at Costco was interesting because I was surprised how popular it was. Before coming to Japan, I heard that a lot of the Japanese people do not like to buy big things, but a lot of the Japanese buy a lot of big things from Costco because of how cheap everything is at Costco.

Parked cars at Costco
Inside of Costco
Cake from Costco
At Costco you can buy a 48 pack of eggs and doughnuts for a reasonable price. According to my uncle, Costco at Japan opened five-years ago and has been popular ever since then. Usually when my Japanese relatives visit Hawaii, my Hawaii relatives try to bring them to Costco so he was familiar with the Costco brand and is happy they opened at Sapporo. Another reason why Costco may be popular in Japan is because a lot of the Japanese people in Sapporo own cars so it easier for them to carry big things from stores like Costco.

After shopping at Costco, my relatives brought me to Chitose by car where I was able to meet my Japanese uncle and speak to him in Japanese. Like my relatives, he was also impressed with my Japanese and he was happy with the gifts I brought him from Hawaii and Akita. I brought him spam from Hawaii and a Namahage Statue from Akita.
Outside of my Japanese uncle's apartment
Sitting with my Japanese uncle
Eventually my Japanese relatives introduced me to some of my other Japanese relatives also living within Sapporo and scheduled to meet with them some time after New Year's Day. Below is a picture of my Japanese relatives from Hokkaido. One of my cousins is already a doctor, and another cousin that is the same age as me that is not present in this picture is also studying to become a doctor. My cousin that is a doctor is siting on the left side of me.
Me and my Japanese relatives from Hokkaido
When I returned from shopping at Costco, I did some research and discovered that there is a Costco at Sapporo, Makuhari, Kanazawa Seaside, Kawasaki, Iruma, Shinmisato, Maebashi, Zama, Tamasaki, Amagasaki, Kyoto Yawata, Koba, and Hisayama within Japan. The Costco company intends to build Costco's at Hiroshima and Kitakyushu. Here is a blog I found about the Costco's in Japan and Costco's Japanese website in English.

On New Year's eve in Japan, my auntie made a special dinner for that night and my uncle tried to explain to me about the Japan's new year's tradition called Oumisoka. Apparently on New Year's Eve a lot of the Japanese try to pay their respects to the dead and eat a special type of soba called tokikosi-soba for New Year's Eve. In addition, in order to prevent other people from waiting, it is important that customers eat their noodles as fast as possible.  At night, my aunty allowed me to listen to the  sounds from the Japanese bell that is played 108 times before the start of the new year at night. Besides the sounds from the bell, I noticed that compared to Hawaii, there were no fireworks at Sapporo on New Year's Eve.

Special type of soba called tokikosi-soba for New Year's Eve

On New Year's day, my relatives woke me up early and brought me to this nearby festival at Sapporo Dome where they introduced me to a temple where I could pray to show my respects, donate money, and receive a fortune telling from a Japanese piece of paper called an omikuji. My paper mentioned that I would have good luck and good fortune so according to my aunty I was lucky.

Later that day, my relatives and I Skyped with my mom, grandma, and dad from my grandma's house in Hawaii and wished them a Happy New Year. It was my first time seeing my grandma in-person since I left for studying abroad so my grandma was happy to see me. My grandma spoke to me and both of my Japanese relatives in Japanese so she was impressed to hear how much my Japanese improved.

My mom also tried to speak to some of my relatives in Japanese and mentioned to them that today was her last day at work, so she is looking forward to retirement. My dad retired a few years ago, and is currently enjoying his retirement. It was nice talking to my family on New Year's day at Japan and at that moment I learned to appreciate the importance of family because if it was not for my family, I would not be there at my relatives house learning Japanese within Japan.

A few days later, I was worried about my return trip on Monday, December 7, so I did some research with Google Maps and Hyperdia and managed to figure some sort of plan for how to get from my relatives house in Sapporo to the port at Tomakomai. I also used this program called Rikaichan to decipher kanji I did not know on Japanese websites. After figuring out my plan, I had problems trying to figure out how to get from my relatives house to the Sapporo train station so I talked to my Japanese auntie about this. According to my auntie there is a bus I can take from Sapporo train station to the ferry so her and my uncle were willing to take me to the train station by car.

On the weekend before my return trip, my relatives did their best to make sure that I enjoyed the last few days of my trip. My uncle had brought me to the Okurayama Ski Jump and the Sapporo Skywalk on Saturday, December 5. The Okurayma Ski Jump was one of the locations used for the 1972 Winter Olympics at Sapporo. At the Okurayama Ski Jump, I got to see Japanese people participating in a skiing competition. After that we went to the nearby Sapporo Winter Sports museum, where I got to participate with several skiing stimulations and watch a video about athletes that participated in the Olympics. In addition, my uncle brought me to this restaurant where I could eat goat meat. The goat meat was delicious, but I am not sure how to describe it.
A skiing competition at Okurayama Ski Jump

Inside of the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum

I am trying one of the skiing stimulations

This slide was used for a professional ski competition the next day

At Okurayama Ski Jump I could ride a cable car to get a better view from Sapporo

Goat meat that my uncle was cooking at the restaurant

 Later that day my uncle brought me to the Sapporo Skywalk where I could ride a cable car and take multiple pictures from the view of Sapporo. Shortly after returning to my relatives house from the Sapporo Skywalk, my relatives brought me to this all-you-can-eat yakiniku place and then let me eat desert at their home.
View from the Sapporo Skywalk

This guy's name is Moris.

On my last day at their house, my relatives brought me to this rural area on Hokkaido called Otaru where I was able to eat food at multiple restaurants. At Otaru, I ate fried chicken, sushi, and delicious pastries. When I was eating sushi, my uncle told that the proper way for Japanese to eat sushi is to dip the fish into the soy-sauce bowl by flipping the sushi over with my chopsticks. Usually when foreigners eat they dip the rice into the sushi, but the Japanese people do not correct them. When I returned to their home, my uncle allowed me to drink sake that was 43% alcohol that my parents brought for them when they dropped me off at Akita for studying abroad. The sake was very strong and compared to my uncle I could only drink a few sips from the sake before I had to quit.
Great food my relatives treated me to

This fried chicken tasted better than the chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken

Finally on Monday, December 7, I had to return to Akita by ferry so I had packed the night before. My uncle dropped my aunty and me at the train station during his lunch break whereas my aunty lead me to the bus stop that would take me from the Sapporo train station to the Tomakomai ferry at 4pm.

Unfortunately my auntie had read the information wrong online because there was no bus that leaves from Sapporo train station to the Tomakomai ferry on that day. Therefore she met with some of the staff from the train company at Sapporo and made a map that showed me how to get from Sapporo to Tomakomai by train and how to transfer from the Tomakomai train station to the Tomakomai ferry by bus.

With my aunty's help, I was able to transfer to catch the ferry from Tomakomai to Akita, and I was able to figure out how to get back from the Akita Port to AIU. I was nervous returning to AIU by myself, but somehow with the help of my relatives and my limited Japanese, I had done it.