I always tell people when they ask me about Japan about the plane ride. Twelve hours may be something to scoff at for the international traveler, but for a squeamish ninth grader from the middle of Kansas, it was all a little too much. Besides being blocked in my airplane seat by two people that didn’t speak English, it wasn’t the worst though. Good food by airline standards was served; I slept for five hours of it even. The view wasn’t much to behold; just clouds and water the entire way there. It felt like we were stuck in a turbulence pocket indefinitely at one point, just revving the jet engine in place.
When all hope seemed to be lost, we landed. I wend through immigration forms with vigor, stormed out of the airport (with the rest of my student delegation, of course) and found myself standing in front of a bus…four more hours to Hiratsuka.
This became a theme in our trip:
Two hours to Enoshima,
Three hours to Mt. Fuji,
Four hours back to Tokyo,
Five hours to the Great Buddha Statue (not as long at all by bullet train),
…And so on and so forth. When we actually arrived in Lawrence, Kansas’ sister city of Hiratsuka all twenty-two of us were treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet. As a tourist would expect, you don’t exactly know what’s what of the cuisine. Everything smelled a little bit like fish, and as any one of our group would tell you later that night, it did havoc on your stomach. During the entire trip I was plagued by stomach problems, though never missing a bite of something new.
The experience I treasure most about this trip though is the three days I spent with a Japanese family, doing things as they do, living the life they live. Only one of the five members of the family spoke any English, and if I wanted to explain anything I had to go through her. It was an odd paring already, putting me in a family with three daughters whom I didn’t have anything in common with. We spent several awkward dinners getting to know each other, and over two years later I still remember all the things they liked:
The youngest one (13 years old) played basketball which was really rare for Japanese girls but not for her since she was a really big tomboy. She beat me in sports every time. The middle sister (15 years old) was the most studious one and was just starting English lessons. The oldest one (17 years old) spoke semi-coherent language—but it was strange for me to expect her to be fluent in it looking back—and held a job at the 7/11 a few blocks from her house.
After all was said and done of these three days, I was exhausted. We hiked every day and went all over the map with our destinations. I was excited to get back with the student delegation and tell my stories, but more excited to spend two days in Nikko Park, a traditional Buddhist temple ground. Though the part I remember is far different than I could have imagined. The hotel we stayed in didn’t have showers, just one large hot springs area. Only one rule too—you had to be naked.
It was somewhere in the hot springs, sitting next to twenty or thirty foreign men who had no problem with nudity that I realized my trip was over. I had experienced something incredibly different, in a place I didn’t know. Suddenly I wished ten days were twelve.
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