As of right now, it is near the end of my second to last full day with my host family. I wanted to write a blog entry sooner, but pretty much every evening has been so full that I haven't had time to write. The Catlin website has also been undergoing maintainance at times that are convenient for Portlanders, but inconvenient for us, which has blocked my few attempts to write.
Every day in GIfu has been tons of fun. I have made numerous friends in my class (year 2 class 7), and all throughout the school. We have only had about 2 days of actual classes due to bunkasai and taiikusai (cultural festival and sports day), but the classes I sat through were fun, although most of the time I had no clue what was going on. In the literature classes, I understood almost nothing outside of what Yu (my host student) explained to me, or what the teacher directed at me. For example, in classic Japanese literature class, they were analyzing an old Japanese text about 5 people sitting in a room, and the full extent of my understanding was that two people were sitting on the East side, and one person was sitting on each other side of the room. At the end of class, the teacher took a few moments to explain Japanese seating etiquette in different room/table configurations - I didn't realize how big of a deal it is in Japanese culture where the "most important" person sits. My favorite class was probably English, because that was the one class where I could understand everything and participate. We played a fun game where one person would show me a card with a picture/word on it, and I had to describe it in English to a group of people who couldn't see it. They then had to guess what I was describing and say it in English within a time limit. It was a lot of fun, and it felt good to be helping them practice English.
The cultural festival was also incredibly fun. Our class built a haunted house, which took up two classrooms on the third floor (the second years' floor). The class' synergy was amazing - over three days or so, we went from having a huge pile of cardboard sitting in the hall, to a winding, linear haunted house full of very creepy stuff, and people in costumes ready to jump out and scare customers. Once the house was built, I helped run it on both days of the cultural festival. On the first day, my job was in the hallway of hands - a narrow passage with holes in the walls so we could stick our hands out in a creepy fashion. On the second day my job was even better. The first room of the haunted house had a TV/camera set up in front of three chairs, so customers could sit down and see themselves reflected on the TV screen. My job was to wait until they were sitting down and watching themselves, then crouch down, sneak up behind the chairs, jump up, and scare them. Normally I'm pretty bad at making loud noises and being scary, but I got some good practice, and by the end of my shift I was loving it.
Taiikusai, the sports day, was next. Catlin students were restricted to participating in only a few of the many events for safety reasons, but we still had our share of loud, dangerous, athletic fun. My favorite event was the horse fight. In this event, everyone forms teams of four people. One person is the rider, and the other three are the horse. The horse people carry the rider, who wears a hat, and the goal of the game is to tear the hats off of as many enemy horsemen as possible without losing your own. Since teams of equal height work best, we formed an intimidating team of four people all about six feet tall, and we helped our team win both rounds of the game. The most terrifying event we were allowed to participate in by far, was the flag pole game. Each team has a wooden pole about 15 feet tall and six inches in diameter, and at the very top of the pole there's a flag. The goal is to pull the flag out of the other team's pole without letting your own get taken. The general strategy is to grab the enemy pole as high as possible, and climb until you get enough leverage to pull it down so someone can jump for the flag. The teams were about 20-30 people each, so the battles at each flag pole were pretty rough - lots of shoving, climbing, and pulling. At the end of the day, Genbu, my team, came in second in the sports events, and second in cheering (out of four teams). It was a bit disappointing not winning anything, but we still did pretty well.
In addition to the daily events of bunkasai and taiikusai, I also got to participate in the opening ceremony for bunkasai, something no other Catlin student got to do. I wasn't planning on doing it at first, especially because Yu asked me if I wanted to, but didn't actually know what the job entailed. The role turned out to be simple, however, and I had fun performing, and made more friends during the incredibly long (we were still in the gym at 11 PM) rehearsal.
My time outside of school has been even more meaningful that my time in class or at the festivals. When I first met Yu, I was a little nervous because I couldn't really understand his Japanese. With each day, however, we have gotten much more used to each other's language, and can communicate more or less anything, although it may require some reiterating in different languages. Now we are great friends, and going back home is going to be very sad. I've also gotten close to the entire Suzuki family. Ken, Yu's father, knows a ton of English, although I pretty much only see him at breakfast and dinner. He is very nice, and was a huge aid on the first few nights when Yu and I were having trouble communicating with each other. Yu's mother doesn't speak any English, but her Japanese is incredibly easy for me to understand, and she's incredibly nice. She does laundry every day (for the entire huge family), makes great meals, and drives us everywhere. Yu's grandma, Sumiko, also lives in the house and helps Yu's mother with laundry and meals. We haven't talked much, but she is very kind and helpful. Tomo and Yuki, the older of Yu's younger sisters, are a blast to hang around with. Tomo and I played a very intense game of Othello (she won by a few pieces), and all of us have played tons of card games together. Aya, the youngest sister at 4 years old, is very cute. She doesn't say much, but she makes us all laugh when she plays games with us.
I've done too much with my family to list everything, but they have gone far out of their way to take me to fun places in Gifu and show me a wonderful time. They have taken me to multiple castles, we went to see Gifu's famous cormorant fishing, and they've taken me to several great restaurants to eat Japanese foods that I like. It's going to be sad leaving them, and I will never be able to forget how kind they've been to me, or how close I've gotten to all of them after only having met them a week or so ago.
I appologize for any typos; I'm writing this from my host family's computer, which doesn't have easily accessible English spellchecking. The keyboard layout is also a little funny, especially the apostrophe, which is not in the same place as on Western keyboards.