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Postcard from Japan

I was happy to see a detailed letter in my email inbox this morning from Grace Meador, a Half Moon Bay High School senior who has been in Japan for the last couple weeks.

For 14 years, Half Moon Bay and its sister city, Kariwa-mura, have operated an exchange program, sending two high school students each year across the Pacific for three weeks to learn about the other culture. This year, Grace and another student, Eric Barton, were selected as Half Moon Bay's ambassadors to our friends 5,000 miles away.

Grace gave me permission to reprint her letter:

"Japan is amazing! It is so different from America in a huge amount of ways. It looks different. The roads are smaller, and the cars are too. I would freak out every time I was in a car making a turn for about the first week because I thought we were going to crash. The countryside when we are driving is just green everywhere. Even by the ocean, the hills are green right up to the sand. The ocean is warm, an amazing concept for any HMB resident.

Japan sounds different too. They have a lot of cicadas everywhere, which surprised me a lot. They are very loud. My Japanese speaking skills are better than they were, but most of the people I meet are eager to show off their English skills so I don’t get as much practice as I would like. The first family I stayed with didn’t really speak English, which was a lot of fun, but now I am staying with Tomomi Oniyama. She is basically fluent because she is going to college in Reno. It is not as much of a challenge, but still not easy. After swimming in the ocean my lips were pretty chapped so I asked her if there was a store where I could buy chapstick. She gave me a strange look but after conversing with the salesperson led me to an aisle full of... chopsticks. Fortunately, they sold chapstick in that store as well.

Another amazing experience here has been going to the movie theatre. When my host family found out that I was a studio Ghibli fan, they told me there was a new Ghibli movie in theatres, called Ponyo. It was a children’s movie, but the animation was gorgeous, true to the Miyazaki style. Another stunning visual experience here was the fireworks festival in Nagaoka. It was two hours of fireworks, the biggest fireworks I have seen in my life! When I saw the first ones I was awestruck, but my family assured me they were not the biggest by far. The finale left me in tears, and speechless. The entire sky was covered by fireworks. I was shocked when they told me it would happen again the next night, and was only one festival of 3 major yearly fireworks festivals in Japan.

I met the mayor, and we talked about the devastating earthquake to hit Kariwa a year ago. Seeing the damage then and how the city is now truly displays the resilience of the people who live here. He also proudly showed us a painting of HMB pumpkins that I instantly recognized as January Hooker’s art. I haven’t spoken in front of the city council, but I met many council members at the welcome party and gave a mini speech just saying thank you and talking about the amazing experiences I have had in Japan. The time has passed so quickly! I can’t believe that in less than a week I will be on a flight home.

I do miss American food a bit, most of all the sandwiches and the Mexican food. I have had so many strange culinary experiences here in Japan. I have eaten octopus and squid both raw and cooked, raw fish, whole cooked fish, eel, and even sea snail. I have also fallen in love with Japanese sweets. Their ice cream is delicious, and I adore Dango, which is like rice paste balls with sweet sauce on them. A very popular flavor in Japan that I had never seen in America is Melon flavor. It’s really tasty!

Another really funny experience was the first time I went shopping in Kashiwazaki, a nearby town. I was prepared for tons of cute Japanese toys, but what I saw were American toys! Lilo and Stitch, Snoopy, Mickey and Minnie, and the Disney princesses are all hugely popular here. Also, many people wear Crocs.

Speaking of shoes, I went shoe shopping and almost nothing fit me. The only size I could squeeze into was the double L! Eric has had a similarly hard time shopping because he is so tall. After the double L size in shirts is 3XL, which is made mostly for sumo wrestlers.

An interesting contrast to America is being in Japan while the Olympics are happening. All the matches on TV are Japan vs. other countries. The only time I see American athletes are in sports like swimming or whenever America is against Japan. Eric and his host father got into quite the dispute when Eric was rooting quite loudly for America. It was all in fun of course, but he was getting chased around! It was hilarious.

I am having such a fantastic time, and everyone is so helpful here. I am already thinking about when I will get to come back to Japan, and studying Japanese in college so my next trip here I will be able to understand more of what is going on around me.

Thanks so much, and hopefully I can write again soon!"



Your posting came up because I get Google alerts when things come up about Kaskiwazaki....I lived there for 18 months and taught English as a second language. I loved Kashiwazaki and the people there! Your description of the fireworks made me a bit "homesick" for my second home. I lived there from August of 2004 until February of 2006, so I was there when the October 23rd earthquake hit...that was quite an experience for a midwestern gal who had never felt even a mild tremor before! Living by the Sea and the mountains and attending various festivals leave me with many fond memories of Japan. I'm glad you had the opportunity to spend time there too!

Thank you for a wonderful letter Grace. I lived in Japan from 1988 to 1991 teaching English at a conversation school, working as a concierge at Hotel Seiyo Ginza in Tokyo, and also as a teacher on NHK Educational Television. I also taught English at the Japanese Parliament. I was in my mid-20's when I did all this. I, like you, also tried learning the language but so many wanted to practice English with me. Your letter brought back so many great memories. I still consider Japan my second home. I hope your experience will be as wonderful and lasting as my experience there was. I came back a better person; at least I think I did. :) Thank you again!

Grace, I am impressed to see your letter. I am sure the people in Kariwa were having wornderful time with you and Eric. We all wait for your return to Japan!!

Energetic Grace is remembered. A smile and a big yawn aren't forgot.

You and Eric return, and I'm lonely.Energetic Grace is recalled. Neither your smile nor a big yawn are forgotten.

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