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Felt like a Celebrity



It was my first time really away from home.  It was exciting!  I was never the homesick type of kid.  I was eager.  I was willing to try everything once [although] I didn’t like everything I tried.  I embraced it all.  I tried to be respectful to customs.


They sent us to Seattle first with hundreds of YFU kids there [for a weekend] orientation.  That was sort of like a summer camp, getting to know the kids and learning all the rules and regulations.  In Tokyo, the next day, I got on the bullet train to Hiroshima and that’s when I met the family.


Bullet train, Mt. Fuji

Bullet train, Mt. Fuji



They were there with a little sign waiting for me.  You know it’s going to be awkward because they are strangers, and you weren’t sure if they would speak your language.  I had learned how to say pleased to meet you, so I ran up to them and I bowed and I said “xxx” and they were all giggling and excited that I was speaking Japanese.  They gave me little gifts and right away everyone wanted to touch me.  I think it was just because I’m really pale-skinned.  They whole time I was in Japan everyone wanted to touch me—touch my skin, touch my hair.  You felt kind of like a celebrity, but it was more of a novelty.  They hadn’t seen a lot of Americans.  They gave me gifts right away and hugged me.


Then everyone pulled out the dictionary.  [Laughs]  We all carried dictionaries with us everywhere we went.


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This place is different, and therefore, so cool!



From the jet lag and with the time difference, I was wide awake very early in the morning.  Couldn’t wait to get out and explore my new world.  The house, the neighborhood, and what was around the corner, on the horizon?

I was excited as my surroundings were completely different to what I had known until then.  One of the things that left an impression initially was the difference in the size and design of the homes, the look and feel of the town, and the shopping experience.  Especially supermarkets.

Japan has some very bizarre things that would seem weird by American standards.  A friend and I nicknamed them “bugs and tentacles”.  There are literally octopus parts packaged in those flimsy white Styrofoam plates in clear plastic wrap like we have with hamburger and steaks.  And whole fish packaged the same.



Who in their right mind would buy a salmon as it looks when a bear drags it out of the river, guts, eyes, and head intact?

(Note: now when I visit the States, though, I am appalled by all the disgusting crap that Americans eat, all that processed and junk food.  YUCK.  No wonder obesity is a serious issue.)

My first impression?  Wow!  This is place is different, and therefore, so cool!

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Those bath houses really got to me!

Ukimi Temple, Lake Biwa, Shiga prefecture, central Honshu, Japan.

Ukimi Temple, Lake Biwa, Shiga prefecture, central Honshu, Japan. © Digital Vision/Getty Images


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We went to this placed called Lake Biwaka — it’s on the main island of Honshu.


It’s one of largest lakes there, and they have casinos, Lake Tahoe-Las Vegas kind of area there.  They have shows and it’s a  big deal to go as a family.


They also have communal baths and communal showers and things of that nature.


We went there to go to one of those — my host mother and I — and I didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me to do.  You had to wash a certain way in a certain space and then rinse off in another space to get in.  I didn’t realize there was a major partition that separated the men from the women, and oh my gosh, I went in the wrong section and I was bowing, and of course when you’re bowing you get closer to looking at stuff.


I was so embarrassed!  


I had my hands in my eyes, and I was backing up and bumping into people.  I just got so flustered.  I yelled Kacha! Come and get me!  All the people were looking at me like who is this crazy Americanyoung girl, what is she doing.  Some were laughing and snickering and she got me over it.


She was like, Kim, you do as me.  I stayed very close to her from then on!  I didn’t let her out of my sight.  I did everything she did.  I was so embarrassed. I was 15 and getting naked in front of all these people, it was like oh my gosh.   Those bath houses really got me!  I never got used to them, either.




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