Today was my first full day with my second host family. Their names are Richard, Satsuki, and their 5-year-old daughter Mei. They are a very nice and quiet family. Both Richard and Satsuki speak English perfectly and I think Mei spoke pretty well, but she was too shy. I liked them a lot and I think they liked me. They took me to Chichibu (a town near where we lived) to go river sailing. This was a beautiful mountain river and I felt extremely at peace here. We took a bus ride to the river and immediately my host family and I, and the rest of the participants, were loaded into a boat and we pushed off.

I loved this trip down the river – the giant cliffs standing next to the river like an impervious wall of rock, the crystal clear water, the train that passed over us on a very high bridge, and the cloudy sky. Now, most of the ride was smooth but at one point our boat dropped about two feet and a lot of water got inside of the boat; that’s how my journal got wet. It’s really irritating writing in it right now, but that is just a minor setback. I also noticed a very interesting thing about how the Japanese move their riverboats. Instead of using paddles, the man at the front of the boat was pushing it along with a long bamboo pole off of the bottom of the river and a man sitting at the back was steering the boat with a rudder. I don’t have enough knowledge of boats to prefer paddles or poles but the pole option did seem smoother.

Finally we got to the end of our tour (I wanted it to be longer) and we got off. The drop off point was like a beach and there was a long staircase leading up to a big building. While I was here I saw a few men screaming things in Japanese off of the top of the stairs and then they broke out into a song. I thought that this was quite funny, not something you usually see here, but when I asked Satsuki what they were doing she just said they were drunk. This made sense. Another thing I noticed was that while I was laughing, other people just seemed irritated. Richard explained to me that to stick out like that here in Japan was to be disrespectful to other people. There is a saying here: “The nail that sticks up, will soon be hammered down.”

I understood this concept, but I didn’t know how I felt about it. I would hate to be a bother to people, yet I also like to stand out and not be quiet and obedient.

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West Cook YMCA in Japan

Dispatches from the learning volunteer experience in Japan.

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