During my homestay, I stayed with a boy named Toshiki. He lives in Osaka with his parents and four brothers. His father is a doctor and they live above his clinic very near Osaka Castle. On my first day with the family, Toshiki took me to Osaka castle. The surrounding park was beautiful and as we turned the corner, I first saw the castle. It was covered in gold leaf and the sun made it shine just like in the movies. Later that night, his family took me out to a sushi restaurant. It was my first time at a sushi restaurant with the sushi on conveyor belts and it was awesome. The parents were really relaxed and the kids were really nice. They all spoke English well and made every effort to make me as at home as possible. I really enjoyed my time at their house and would love to do it again.

 
 
 While with my host family we went to the place called “Tomato and Onion”. It was kind of unusual for me to eat it because it was basically a burger without the buns, served with rice, veggies, and other side dishes. I thought that it tasted like burger meat from Wendy’s or burger king, but the food in general tasted good.

The school we visited was really great and it was really fun during the club activity events. I chose to do volleyball and it was a great experience, learning how to hit and spike the ball. Even though I knew how to play volleyball, I was able to learn a lot from my student assistant person Shin, who had been playing volleyball for about 7 years. Just saying that the cafeteria food in Takatsuki high school was amazing, I wish that they had that in America.

Most favorite part was my time in Japan was visiting Ichinoseki. It was  timte of strengthening friendships and creating new ones, viewing beautiful scenery of the countryside, and experiencing the traditional setup of the ryokan.
 
 
The BHS Kizuna trip is back in Boston! We all arrived safely last night after a 30 return from Osaka. It was a fantastic trip. Please read through our blogs to check out our experiences. More photos will be posted soon!
 
 
              The Keihanshin area encompasses the areas of Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka, and takes it’s name from a combination of the kanji in the names of all three. Although a metropolitan and port area, the vibe is certainly less intense than that of Tokyo, with fewer tall buildings and a focus on historic buildings and places (which is certainly existent in all parts of Japan, but is more concrete in an area such as Kyoto, which used was the previous capital of Japan before it was moved to Tokyo). Places such as the Gion Corner assist in preserving the culture of Japan through demonstration of arts such as tea ceremony, flower arrangement, plays, dance, and music (Japanese harp [koto, a thirteen stringed instrument], court music).  The seats are quite small, but the performances were spectacular.

Besides the cultural aspects of the cities, there are also areas for shopping, one of which we visited in Kyoto. The covered streets stretch out in all directions, and are host to stores that sell such things as punk clothes, books, high-end clothes, CDs, anime and manga, and a variety of food items. There are also places such as game galleries that include purikuri booths, and a movie theater. I spent a good deal of time looking through anime-related CDs in the anime and manga store that we stumbled upon. It was a fun place to spend time in.

On our last day in the Keihanshin area, we visited Osaka castle, starting with a lunch at a takoyaki restaurant, located within the castle wall in a plaza area in front of the castle, where we were given the opportunity to cook our own takoyaki. It was quite difficult to make sure that it the batter was shaped well and cooked evenly, but the efforts were rewarding. Although it was a takoyaki restaurant, the people who didn’t eat meat had konnyaku-yaki. It was quite tasty from the batter, although the root vegetable itself has almost no flavor. The castle was eight floors tall, and exists today because it was rebuilt after being destroyed multiple times in the past. The roof is a light green, and there is gold trim on all the edges. The view from the top is quite something, and the museum on the other floors provides a plethora of information.

The Keihanshin area is certainly a must-visit in order to experience the history of Japan as it exists in the present, and melds with the new.

 
 
I am currently returning home, and I very much want to stay here. Japan was an unforgettable experience, and I would love to come back here again. All the temples we went to were beautiful, and Tokyo was amazing, but those pale in comparison to the homestay. We were able to stay with a host family to 3 days, only relying on our Japanese. Both my host brother and I had trouble with communication, and we would always get a bit frustrated, but we made it though, and made an outstanding bond. He was as kind as he could be, and his family tried to make me feel as comfortable as possible. At one point, we were able to go to the grandparent’s house, which was very traditional. The grandmother bowed to me, and I accidently bowed to her outside of the house where one takes off one’s shoes. It was a bit awkward, but it’s ok. The food they made me was spectacular, and I reminded the mother of this constantly, and when I said it for the last time in my speech, I nearly broke down and cried, and I guess she couldn’t hold it in anymore. Those goodbyes were as hard as goodbyes to my real family.

 
 
 
 
It’s our last day in Japan and of course there’s mixed feelings. I don’t want to leave but I do miss home. There’s too many things that happened these past two weeks to try and write in a blog post. In fact I’m not sure it would be possible to write everything down at all. But even if I could, I wouldn’t. It’s impossible to capture what we saw in words. The disaster area, our homestay, all the temples (too many to count), all the different shopping areas. We took pictures and videos of the things we saw, but there’s no way to contain Japan in a 2.5in screen.

I’m writing this after our final debriefing session and there were things people said that I will definitely bring back with me. It also brought up memories from earlier in the trip, what our guide Konno said, the videos we saw of the rolling tsunami, what we did with our host families. I really do wish there was some way to tell these stories, but to write it out would be to simplify it to only the things I can remember.

There’s also no real way to thank all the people who brought us here and made this trip what it was. They paid for everything and brought us all over Japan and showed me things I would never have seen on my own.

These are memories that I will never forget. And bonds that will never be broken. And I will find some way to pass on these lessons and stories to our children so that no one will forget this.
 
 
Japan is a country where the natural and urban aspects of life coexist beautifully. The people hold a deep respect for nature that can be seen in the many temples and shrines that sit within the mountainous region of Kyoto. Over the past few days we have been touring several of these locations, taking time to stroll through the gardens. Walking through, I realized how peaceful the culture of Japan is. I realized it was about harmonizing with nature. It was in these places that I felt like the most beautiful aspect of the country shone through.

              One particular temple, Ginkakuji, particularly made me think about the way nature coexists with city life. The path around the gardens wound part way up a hill and at one point, there was an amazing view of the city. This particular view made me see how close the nature was to the urban life yet how different it was, and how much respect the people held for nature to have these beautiful temples so close to their lives. 
 
 
 
 
I’m writing this on the train to Osaka. We just finished spending 3 days in Tokyo after leaving Ichinoseki. In Tohoku (in Ichinoseki) we visited a large disaster affected-area with heavily damaged buildings and barren/ destroyed land. The majority of the buildings in the area were swept away. Seeing it up close was an emotional experience for all of us. This was the main part of the trip; learning about what happened on 3/11. On a lighter-note, I have appeared on Japanese media at least 2 times; there was an article of when my group went to our farm and a semi-short local news segment of when us and the kids from Alaska went to the famous confectionary company known as Saito Seika who make the famous and delicious Kamome No Tamago (“seagull egg”) dessert. There, the head of the business Kenji Saito told us about his sad, traumatizing, yet informative experience in the 3/11 disaster. 

We got back to Tokyo after leaving Ichinoseki. We did a lot of sight-seeing and some shopping. We went many museums like the astounding, huge Miraikan (Holder of the Future) and saw robots, scientific demonstrations, and other cool stuff. We went to 21_21 Design Sight to see their exhibit on life in Tohoku and how people work & farm to make their own living, with products that they produce and design. We also went to Takeshita Street in the Harajuku district. This is basically a horrendously crowded small street with tons of shops lining the sides with people yelling everywhere and music blasting in every area. There were tons of weird costumes and odd stores. I guess, in America, trendy districts are toned-down and try to keep things cool, but in Japan it is just Hyper. Very energetic. None of it was really for me. All the clothes and souvenirs/toys were either for eight-year-olds, people into goth stuff, or extremely cute stuff. So I only made a small purchase. This morning, we got up early and left the hotel. Got to Tokyo Station (again) and got on this bullet train heading to Osaka to go meet host families. A little scared, a little excited, looking out the window I think “wow those mountains really fly by fast”. Bye for now.