So, today is my second full day here in Japan, but let me start at the beginning….

As we walked down Terminal 3, to Gate K16, at O’Hare Intl. Airport, we never could’ve known what was waiting ahead for us. We boarded the plane headed to Narita promptly at 1:00 pm; our flight was departing at 1:35. Due to the weather, we sat on that plane in Chicago for 3 hours. After finally getting clearance to take off, we flew for 12 hours to Narita Airport in Tokyo.

We arrived in Narita, met our Saitama YMCA counterparts, took an hour-long bus ride to a Tokyo YMCA, met and went home with our host families. Finally, after 20+ hours of traveling, we laid our heads down in an unfamiliar room to rest. I awoke Sunday morning bright and early, ready to go, or so I thought. After a full day of driving to see the temples and shrines Nikko, and stopping to enjoy freshly roasted chestnuts at a rest stop on the way, my body decided to shut down. I fell asleep on the car ride home, skipped dinner completely, and passed out so hard that I don’t even remember changing into pajamas and laying down. I woke up to the whole house shaking underneath and on top of me. Since 3.11.11 earthquakes have been very common in Japan. And, although this only registered as a 2 on the Richter Scale, it was my first earthquake and I was very frightened. But, I didn’t hear anyone screaming, and no one came running downstairs to tell me to get up, so I just tried to go back to sleep.

When I spoke with my group of teens today, they were all fairly scared of the incident, but knew they were in good hands with their host families. We spent the day sightseeing and swimming and preparing for our trip to Sendai tomorrow. It has already taken a lot of adjusting – to the lifestyle, the food, the language, the customs; you name it, and it’s different – but hopefully, there will be no more earthquakes and we can finish our trip on solid ground.


Until next time, 

Elena Brewer
West Cook YMCA Service-Learning Project Coordinator
Oak Park, IL

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West Cook YMCA in Japan

Dispatches from the learning volunteer experience in Japan.