Tag Archives: travel

My Travels Abroad: The Tomodachis

I made a lot of friends, both American and Japanese (and even German), while I was overseas.

I enjoyed the company of most everyone on the trip, and while there were frustrating times, just like any trip with a group of any size, we had each other’s backs, and the experience definitely would have been lacking without their company.

The first of the lot I met after my first few days with Thomas was Stephanie, Mariahn, Yogi, and Meghan.

Meghan was really quiet. I didn’t get to know her very well, but she seemed to me to be a very eager student. Most of the people there had taken only a semester or two of Japanese, but she seemed confident. When we went to a karaoke bar, if I’m not mistaken, she sang exclusively Japanese songs, something I didn’t even dare to do unless I knew the song by heart. She seemed to have a good head on her shoulders, but I like I said, I didn’t get to know her very well.

Then there’s Stephanie. I quite enjoyed her company, and she was an agreeable person. She ended up getting the host mom I initially wanted with the children, but it was probably for the best because I heard she had restricted internet use at the house. I remember she’d wake up super early every morning so that she could go to the University to use their Wi-Fi to keep in touch with her boyfriend. Luckily, I had the benefit of being able to text for free overseas, so I didn’t need internet to communicate with my boyfriend, but I still sympathized with her.

Mariahn was the sweet fashionista of the group. I commend her for being able to wear heels at all in Japan with all the walking around we did. I sported flip flops and tennis shoes the entire time, taking it super casual, but most of the time, she put more care into her outfits on a daily basis than I’m sure I have in at least a year. She was a sweetheart, and she helped me win a crane game.

Yogi was quite the character. His actual name is Spencer, and so I asked him the meaning behind the name ‘Yogi’, and like any good back story to a name, he told me, “It’s a long story.” I don’t even remember the full details myself, but I do remember that a yogi is a Norwegian storyteller, and I remember he and one of his friends who had since passed went dumpster diving so they could get suits from the YMCA for job interviews. He’s also worked at Excalibur, served a mission, and was active duty. He had a lot of stories to tell, and he’s had many interesting things happen to him, so his old buddy started calling him Yogi. (If you see this Yogi, correct me on any mistakes!)

Then there’s Cody. I’d already known him before because we’d taken Japanese classes together since my freshman year of college, but we didn’t connect too much til Japan. The poor thing ended up needing to go back home a week into our trip because of a medical emergency, but we were at least able to do a few fun things.

There were others who I met later: Joel, Torrie, and Celeste.

When I saw Joel, he was originally supposed to be in Japan a day sooner than everyone else, but he had a serious delay in Honolulu, so he came to Japan with a ukulele and I think a Hawaiian shirt. He definitely had a personality.

Like Meghan, Torrie was quiet. We didn’t talk much except once on the way back to campus from Nara.

Celeste was also pretty quiet, but I remember she loved Sonic the Hedgehog, and she was definitely in Japan to get the cultural experience.

The last of the American bunch was Thomas, who I got to know quite well on the trip. Well, actually he was German, but lived most his life in America (I think). He loves old video games, and he also loves Snoop Dogg. Thomas definitely had a way of caring and looking after the rest of the group, something I kind of lacked. Every time we went on excursions as a class, he was the one who always looked back to make sure everyone was with us. He’s also plenty fun to be around, and he had few objections. One of our fun times included discovering the bidet option on Japanese toilets.

More on the tomodachis later. This is just a short description of them. 🙂

My Travels Abroad: My Host Family

Being a host student can be a nerve-wracking experience, and there’s not much you can really do to prepare yourself for it. You’ll have all sorts of questions to ask yourself, and there’s a lot to consider. “What unforeseen cultural differences will there be?” “Am I going to get along with my host family?” “Oh God, I hope they don’t try to serve me something I don’t like.” “Are they going to try to impose restrictions on me?” I tried to not be too nervous about anything. I try to take things as they come, and I evaluate what I should do after a fair bit of interaction, but I was nervous to meet my host family.

Before I met my host family, I had to meet up with the other students from Weber State who were part of the home stay program. Our professor told us to meet her and the others at Kansai International Airport at her terminal with no exceptions. Although we thought it a little odd and unreasonable at first, since we already knew where the university was and that was our final meeting spot, Thomas and I checked out of our hotel and made our way to the airport.

We got there a fair bit early, about a half hour before our professor and another student were due to land, and I met most of my companions at the terminal. Yogi, Stephanie, Mariahn, and Meghan were newcomers to me, and I had great first impressions. I’ll save a whole other post for them, later!

We had a few stragglers, who showed up either a little later, or a whole day later (international travel can be complicated, especially with delays), but we hopped on the bus, and we made our way from the airport to Osaka City University, where we would meet our host families.

OCU was truly a beautiful campus, with palm trees lining a scenic pavilion, where flowers bloomed towards the end of May. We were guided to a room in the Media Center, where we were given a few brief rules to follow, and we all had to sit at our own tables, away from friends. While we were given the speech about the do’s and don’ts, host families, mostly just consisting of women, lined the back of the room. I couldn’t help but look back and wonder which one was taking me home. There was a young woman with two kids in a stroller. She looked pretty easygoing. Based on just visuals, I wanted her to be my host mom, but I decided I’d be happy with whatever I got, as long as the living situation wasn’t a nightmare.


After we were given the do’s and don’ts, we finally moved on to the meet and greet with our host mothers. My host mom was named Etsuko Matsui, and she came alone. We exchanged introductions, not sparing the formalities, and I had a pretty good feeling.

Matsui and I didn’t stay too long at the meet and greet, and she loaded my luggage into the trunk of her car for me. Luckily for me, she lived in Tennouji, an area I had become pretty familiar with over the past four days.

God, I don’t remember the last time I was so nervous just interacting with someone. English doesn’t exactly have a formal dialect, but Japanese does. There were so many times I had to catch myself. Most of my experience in Japanese up until then had been with friends, and more often than not, it was casual speak, so I really had to train myself to speak strictly formal. I was constantly on edge, worrying that I was going to slip up or otherwise somehow offend her. Etsuko was the host family member I spent most of my time with, so I really didn’t want to screw things up.

Estuko was a very thoughtful woman, and after I got settled and unpacked my suitcase, we got started on dinner. She saw on my survey that I said my favorite food was Yakisoba, so she got ingredients for the night to make it. I was so excited to eat it! I was about to have the real McCoy right there!

Estuko’s version of Yakisoba was different from what I made back home. Her’s included bean sprouts, pork (mine usually had chicken), bell peppers, cabbage, and a few other assorted vegetables with delicious sauce and soba noodles. To make it, she laid newspaper down on the dining table, had bowls for each ingredient laid out on top of the newspaper, and she set down a portable skillet on the table. She had given me some cooking chopsticks and asked me to help her stir up the ingredients.

My, that was the best yakisoba I ever had. It blew mine out of the water, that’s for sure.

During dinner, her daughters, Wakana and Kotone, came home from their studies, and I was acquainted with them. Later that evening, Estuko’s husband, Nari, had come home from work, and I was briefly introduced to him before I went to bed.

Cultural differences make things difficult in a lot of ways. It’s hard enough trying to read someone in your own culture, but throw a language barrier and different customs into the mix, and it proves to be very difficult. My host mother was the person I most frequently saw, but I received mixed vibes from her.

I was constantly nervous that I was going to screw up somehow or otherwise overstep my bounds, so I never went into the kitchen except to fill up my water bottle, and each time I did, I explained to my host mother what I was doing. I was never allowed to open the fridge for any reason, so whenever I filled up my water bottle, I handed it to my host mother so she could put it in the fridge for me. I didn’t much have a problem with this. I like to think I follow peoples’ house rules without questioning them.

My second day living with my host family, I got lost on the way home from school. From the JR station in Tennouji, the walk back to my host family’s house was about 20 minutes, and it was a pretty straight-forward walk. Follow the Q’s Mall Strip on the street until you see a Family Mart, and then turn right, then take a left at the flowers, and I’m there. I’d accidentally gone north instead of south. Or something or other. I never could figure out where north or south was. I began to panic, as I was fixing to be home very late, and I’d walked a long way in the opposite direction. My phone was dead, so even if I could find a way to punch the address in to my phone’s navigational system, I couldn’t get there. I ended up having to go into a convenience store to buy a portable charger. I called my host mom while my phone charged, and I managed to find a landmark so she could find me and pick me up. I had apologized profusely for losing my way, but she seemed cold. Then again, we tend to see what we want or expect to see, and I expected her to not like me.

While we had our hiccups and misunderstandings, for the most part, I had a great time with my host family.

Sundays in Japan are just the opposite from those in Utah. That’s when people are busiest because the work week is over. Sundays were really the only days I saw my host father since he came home so late from work every night, and he left too early in the morning for me to catch him. On the weekends, and especially Sundays, I did fun things with my host family. My first weekend with them, we went on an excursion to Kyoto, where we visited a theme park of sorts. No roller coasters, but the entire area was based on the Edo period.

On another weekend, we went into the city to explore a museum, and my host mom and dad took me to a kaitenzushi (sushi-go-round). It was definitely the best sushi I had, and I ate about 18 nigiris. They also took me to Osaka Castle, and that was such a lovely sight to see.

I still keep in touch with my host family from time to time. They provided me a very comfortable stay, and my host mother made me delicious breakfast and dinner almost every day. If you get the chance, I recommend doing a home stay. You have to be emotionally strong, but it’s definitely rewarding.

My Travels Abroad: Golden Week and Our First Day There

When I was purchasing my plane ticket, I had to book it for a few days before I actually had to be in Osaka. I wasn’t really sure why there was a $3,000 difference, but I figured this way, I’d be able to enjoy a few more days in Japan. While I was at it, I booked my hotel reservations.

My acquaintance at the time, Thomas, who was also going on the trip, had asked if he could get a hotel with me if it came down to it, since he also had no choice but to book his tickets for a sooner date. I’d only ordered a single room, but I had few objections because he said he’d go half with me on it. On top of that, he’d already been on the study abroad trip a year prior, so he knew the area a lot better than I did. I was kind of iffy sharing a hotel room with another guy, though, and not only for the fact that I had a boyfriend. I told him to let me know if he couldn’t find anything else. He had no luck, so we got that single room together, $300 each for three nights.

We had the same flight going to Japan, and we bonded a little, talking about video games and such. The flights themselves weren’t bad. It’s mostly the layovers I hate. On the way, we only had about a half hour layover in L.A., and the layover in Hawaii was four hours. The trip in total was about 21 hours, so by the time we flew into Osaka, we were both exhausted and starving. It was about 9 P.M. when we landed, and from there, it was about another hour or so to our hotel.

Thomas seemed to know where we were going, but I was exhausted and irritated. I just wanted to crawl into a nice, warm bed, just to have my circadian rhythm wake me up in a few hours. I had no idea where our hotel was, and I constantly forgot what it was even called. I had to put my trust in Thomas, because he seemed pretty confident that we were going the right way. I was thankful that he was there; I couldn’t imagine trying to find my hotel alone.

After lugging our, eh, luggage through a transfer from the JR Station to the Subways in Tennouji, and riding that for a little while, we finally made it to our stop. How convenient; the hotel was right there in front of the station.

apa villa

We checked in, and then we made our way to the hotel room. I was irked at how small the room was, but I did order a single room because the price was significantly lower than a double. We had quite the dilemma. With not much walking room, figuring out our sleeping situation was a struggle. We had agreed to take turns sleeping on the floor beforehand, but it looked like there wasn’t even that much room. Eventually, we decided that we’d just have to set up camp right in front of the door. With that, we got extra bedding, and as much as I wanted to get something to eat, there was nothing close by, so we just resolved to go to bed.

hotel room

When we finally got to exploring Osaka, it was clear why booking things was weird: it was Golden Week! For those who don’t know, Golden Week is a holiday in Japan, where most everyone is given a week off of work to do things with their family and travel. Needless to say, it’s their busiest travel week, and as such, it’s hard to get reservations unless you book them well in advance.

The morning after we arrived, we woke up pretty early, at about 6:30 AM despite going to bed late. Thomas wanted to show me around Tennouji, but before that, we resolved to get breakfast at the hotel, seeing as it had been several hours since either of us had eaten. We stood in line for a long time. Breakfast was so busy, that they had to wait for someone to vacate a table before they could let another person in.  The breakfast was so good. I had a random assortment of things. When in Japan, eat as much Japanese food as you can!

After breakfast, we got ready for the day, then we hopped on the Subway to explore Tennouji. Riding the subway got less and less frustrating, now that I was beginning to familiarize myself with it. Plus, I was in a very carefree, adventurous mood. I figured that it might be a long time before I get to go to Japan again, so I wanted to see all that there was to see. Take me wherever.

Q's Walkway

It was kind of silly when we got to Tennouji. Nothing was open; we began our day too soon. Thankfully, we weren’t way too early; most shops were fixing to open up in about ten minutes by the time we found a store we wanted to go to. Thomas really wanted to show me this shop, Book Off, and I’m glad he did. It was basically a thrift book and game store. Thomas was an avid collector of old games from the 80’s, so he frequented that place.

Before I left for Japan, my boyfriend, Ramsey, had given me money to buy myself a 3DS in Japan. He wanted me to get it so I could practice my Japanese more, since Japanese 3DS games were region-coded, and I couldn’t change the language option. Luckily for me, Book Off provided a 3DS that was much cheaper than what I could get at a typical electronics store, and it was even in a color that was exclusive to Japan: deep blue. I also bought a game for myself there, but I didn’t get the chance to play very many games. I still carried the 3DS with me everywhere I went for street-passing though. Since it was Golden Week, my 3DS connected with people from all over Japan, as far as Hokkaido and Okinawa, and it even connected with people from other countries.

So much happened in Golden Week, that I need to make individual posts for the things we did. Stay tuned!

Leap of Faith

On my journey to adulthood,

I have had to cross many cliffs.

Some were easier than others,

but they progressively become more and more difficult to cross.

Sometimes, my feet slip, and I almost fall backwards.

Luckily, someone is always waiting on the other side to catch me.

I have crossed oceans, deserts, and chasms to find my way here.

Here I am again at a cliff’s edge.

The drop off is scary.

What if I don’t make it?

I get weak in the knees, and I get down on my fours to loom over the cliff’s edge.

The fall would hurt, but it wouldn’t kill me.

I’m scared.

I almost turn away from the cliff; there has to be another way.


The land beyond is only attainable through this path.

There will be someone on the other side to see me to safety.

I bend my knees,

say the words,

and I jump.

Study Abroad Trip

Hey, this is that separate post I was talking about!

So as some of you may be aware, I am in the Japanese program at Weber State University. There is a solid chance I’ll be able to go on the study abroad trip this year that I have unfortunately had to forego the past few years because it was so flippin expensive. Well, my professor informed me that because either the yen got weaker or the dollar got stronger (I like to think the dollar got stronger), the trip is $1000 cheaper than it was last year.

I have the money to go, thankfully, but my only impediment now is if work will grant me that time off. It’s going to be May 7th – 27th, which unfortunately is during my tour of duty.

If I can go on this trip, I will be absolutely ecstatic. If I do go, however, that most likely means the publishing date for Monochrome Dream will be pushed back. I’ll try to do everything in my power to get it out sooner, but hard copies won’t come until maybe June or July, depending. I can’t exactly print and ship hard copies when I’m in the land of the rising sun!

Well, either way, if I do get to go, this will be a great opportunity for me. I’m considering making a sequel for In Tandem with the Resurrected (you know, the book you weren’t supposed to hear about for like another year), and if I do, it’s going to take place in Japan. I’ll be attending school in Osaka, and I’m sorry, but I’m having a hard time shutting up about this because I’m super jazzed that this is actually a possibility for me now.

TL;DR: I’m hopefully going to Osaka in May, where I will find inspiration for my next book, and I will also further my studies there. Also expect delays for Monochrome Dream if everything goes through. 

Don, of Oregon: Entry # 4

August 14th, 1994


I’m feeling a lot better. I still felt too queasy to do much yesterday, but I feel better than ever.

Today, we volunteered at the orphanage. Ah, it made me feel so alive again. It’s strange, but Don was right – I am the man for the job. I always wanted kids, but well, it’s kind of hard to swing that with no wife.

We told the children bible stories, and we even acted out the scene between David and Goliath. Ah, it was so much fun. Oh, and then we had lunch – turkey and cheese sandwiches. The buns were a little stale, but it was nice to actually be able to keep hard food down.

Even though it was fun, I somehow doubt this is what Don needed me for. On the phone, he told me to not tell a soul what I was doing in Oregon, but why would I need to keep volunteering at the orphanage a secret?


9:04 PM


The scent is unbearable. I can’t really even describe what it smells like. I compared it to cat urine, but come to think of it, it smells more like feces.

Don, of Oregon: Entry # 3

August 12th, 1994



I woke up feeling rather ill. I blame the airport food, but I’ve been throwing up all day. Poor Don had to deal with me the entire time we were driving to his house in Eugene, pulling over every other mile so I could vomit. So much for waking up early to catch free breakfast. I couldn’t even keep it down.

I feel a little better now, but I hardly have the strength to get out of bed. Thankfully, Don’s been taking good care of me, bringing me up soup and Gatorade.

The strange smell of his house isn’t really helping my nausea. His house is at least tidy, but the scent… I can’t quite describe it. Maybe it only smells bad because I’m sick.

                Who knows? Maybe he got sick too, and that’s why it smells. Although it doesn’t smell like vomit. The closest thing I can compare the scent to is cat urine, even though he doesn’t have cats, save for the strays that wander around his house sometimes. Maybe one wandered in just to soil his carpet.

                I better stop here before I make myself sick. 

Don, of Oregon: Entry #2

August 11th, 1994

It’s dark out, and I’m a little tired, but I guess I ought to write something.

Oregon is such a nice place. I could get used to the green scenery and the clean scents.

Not really too much to report, except I met up with my friend from high school, Don. He hasn’t aged very well, but then again, neither have I. We sat down to dinner at this nice Japanese restaurant. I can’t think of the name, but it was so delicious. We discussed briefly why I’m here. I’m currently staying at Comfort Inn. I would be staying at Don’s, but he said the place is a bit of a mess right now and he wants to clean it up before I come. As if I care whether or not his house is messy – I left my place a pig sty. 

Well, I better get a bath and go to bed early. I’d like to catch breakfast at the cafeteria instead of sleeping in. 

Snippet Sunday: Don, of Oregon

August 10th, 1994

I’ve decided to keep a journal of sorts. Well, it’s a travel journal, and I suppose I ought to record what happens to me in the places I go. Well, I’m still in the same place I’ve been for twelve years. Although, something peculiar happened. I got a phone call from a friend I haven’t seen in, well, since high school, really. Can you believe that?

I was actually rather curious as to why he wanted to see me, specifically. I don’t even know if I should tell you, but, well, it’s not like anyone else is going to read this. We talked for quite a while, mostly catching up, but he invited me on a trip to Oregon. I wish I could say it was for vacation, but it’s for something much… greater, if that’s the proper term to use. He said I was just the guy for the job, whatever that means. He hasn’t told me much yet about it, but here I sit in the airport terminal, waiting for the six-hour layover to pass me by.

It’s been raining all day. How dreary. Looks like there’s more where I’m headed.

To be frank, I’m actually rather glad to be getting out of town. I didn’t really notice it for a while, but people have slowly stopped talking to me. I used to have plenty of friends, and I used to visit my family quite often. Now… besides that phone call, it’s been a while since I’ve talked to anyone, really. Maybe they’ll start to miss me after being out of town for a few days.