Now I shall recount the miraculous occurrence that some people like to call... 修学旅行. 2nd year high school students (basically, Juniors) all over Japan go for trips with their class. The purpose of such trips is not entirely clear, since it involves both bonding activities and class-like activities (for example, studying the places that you visit). As far as high school field trips, I'd say it's a combo of:

1) the Senior Trip (class, after 5 years of being together, goes and spends several days basically hanging out with each other and sneaking into each others' rooms at night)
2) the Japan Trip (students visit "exotic" lands via airplane)
3) the trip we took subbie year to grain elevators and such (educational attempts about the history of your country)

Monday: From Kansai to Kyushu

Woke up early, and Furo's parents drove the two of us to the airport (thankfully I didn't have to try and find it myself). We had a ridiculously short plane flight to Kagoshima (southern part of the Kyushu island) and then a lot of bus riding to our hotel in Minamata. We had a really genki bus tour guide who stood at the front of the bus and said things about Kyushu as all but 6 or so people (including me) slept. It's pretty weird to me that you can go on a 1 hour plane flight and get totally different dialect that people from Kansai have never heard of, but that's Japan for you. The deal with Minamata was basically that it was an industrial town back in the day and this company, Chiso, was polluting the water with mercury in its industrial waste (fun stuff) and people got mercury poisoning and died. Fighting the Chiso company was tough because almost everyone around was a Chiso employee so their livelihoods depended on the company. There was a big cleaning up process, but it still remains basically, a really creepy place. Seriously, bad vibe, not to mention it killing my appetite... let's all get mercury poisoning and die or give birth to deformed babies. Really fun school trip location.

Oh, also the first day we had to wear school uniforms. School uniforms, bus... REALLY Battle Royale-like. This is why I was one of the like 6 people who was not asleep during the bus ride. SCARY. But Ayana, Mari, and Machiko don't seem too worried!

So that was depressing, but the fun part of course was that you're staying in a hotel with over 100 of your classmates. The hotel was Japanese style and once you have a bunch of futons on the tatami it's quite slumber party like. Here's Sayaka, Furo, and Yuka (I think)... on futons and with snacks. Furo sent herself a giant package of snacks in the mail. Or rather, she sent it to the hotel we were going to stay at, and then picked it up when we got there.

Other highlights of the evening included:

Dinner at really long tables. It was divided up by each homeroom, resulting in very Harry Potter like feelings. But maybe that was just me.

Baths. The baths at this hotel were really cool. They were Japanese style of course, where you wash yourself before you get in the bath part, and everyone is there together. For some reason, everyone was surprised that us Americans were willing to do this (apparently the stereotype is that we're shy) but it was rather excellent. The baths were also set up in a sort of tunnel like way, so you could walk around and discover people in other rooms. This might have been creepy if there was anyone else at the hotel besides our own class, but since you just discovered more classmates in different baths, it was fun. Also, there was an outdoor bath that had glowing multicolored lights in it that reminded me of cosmic bowling, somehow, but bath style.

General weirdness in the hallways. People were screaming as I walked down my hallway and I went to see what it was about, and everyone was like, screaming and grabbing the boobs of Yui-chan. Yui-chan is incredibly skinny, but somehow has gigantic boobs and for some reason everyone decided to attack her chest right then. They called me over from the other side of the hallway, like, "Mo! Mo! Come feel Yui-chan's boobs!!!" Yui-chan didn't seem to mind that everyone was touching her chest, and though I was a little perplexed and asking like, "um... isn't it kind of rude?" people are saying, "No, of course not!" and grabbing my hand and making me feel her boobs. Don't you just love that Japanese politeness??? Here's a picture of the group... Yui-chan is the one with short hair between the two girls wearing purple, if you were wondering. Everyone, mid-excitement, paused for my picture though:

Tuesday: mountains and ocean

Tuesday was very nice. After getting a decently long night's sleep due to the fact that my roommates were not doing anything interesting, we embarked for these group outings that we had chosen several months ago. I didn't really understand what mine was when I picked it, but it said "somethingsomething let's walk" and I am like, hey, I like walking, this is bound to be good. It ended up being walking around in this mountainy area, around where there used to be a train line. It was beautiful, and even the girls I was with thought it was Totoro-like. We also had a tour guide who was this youngish guy who was totally into taking pictures of like, everything around.

We also walked around more foresty areas and also met some people who lived around there and grew crops I suppose. I'm not so much into eating things that you find growing on sides of mountains, but there were some cute peppers that our tour guide was into eating. But the area was like this:

Here we are at the train tracks. A bunch of girls in my class that I don't know, plus one of the women who lives around here, plus my chem/physics teacher (in white).

After we finished walking around the mountains we went back to this house and had yaki-imo, which is possibly one of the best things ever. It's essentially just a baked potato. Remember the giant purple potatoes (imo) I had pictures of back in October? Well, if you take normal sized ones, and just bake them over coals I suppose, you can just eat them by breaking them in half and eating the insides, which are kind of sweet and totally delicious. Also, there is an imo emoticon on my cell phone.

After lunch, we all went to a fishing boats in groups of 8 or so people.

Waving and posing:

Furo, me, Haruka:

We fished for shrimp. And when I say "we", I mean the two fishermen on the boat, wheras us girls just sat around. A few girls felt pretty seasick. Overall the conversation was not very enlightening. However, once we got creepy crawly creatures from the ocean, people got more excited. I was totally creeped out by live shrimp convulsing and dying in front of me, but apparently I am a wimp because Yui-chan, Ayana, and Yuka were all totally okay with picking them up. In fact, here is an excellent picture of Yuka sticking one in my face:

Apparently on Hannah's boat they decided to kill the shrimp and eat them right there. Eating raw, debatably live shrimp--not quite my style. Also, sensing disconnect. People on the plane were afraid to chew the gum I offered to them (though they did actually try it eventually) because they were afraid it would be too "spicy" (mint flavor??), but they're totally cool with pulling things out of the ocean, hitting them, and digging in. Right.

That night, we had "recreation," which was mostly the dance club dancing for us. I have a lovely video that youtube is not letting me upload right now because it is 8 mb over the limit. Perhaps I will figure out a way to show it to you guys later. However, Yukari/Take/Guchi/wahtever name you choose to call her... she and Risa play guitars and sing and call themselves Lego. Poor Yukari was sick and her voice was almost gone, but she still could sing wayyyy better than I will ever be able to.

Wednesday: Okinawa and 台風

All morning on Wednesday was spent on buses, and then was the worst flight I've ever been on (and it was only an hour!) The plane was shaking terribly, and as we approached Okinawa it got even worse. People were screaming, people were getting sick, people were saying, "it's like a roller coaster!" and I didn't feel so good myself. The worst part was, all of the planes on this trip had a camera that would film what was under the plane at that moment. For example, you see the runway getting narrower and narrower as you take off, and the surrounding area. They also use the camera before landing. Except before landing in Okinawa it was storming and we could see it on the camera. We could also see lightning bolts under the plane. NOT A FUN EXPERIENCE.

So then we're in Okinawa. Instead of just waiting in the airport, we apparently have to walk to our buses RIGHT THEN. The rain is pouring, the wind is blowing, everyone's umbrellas are worthless and turning inside out, and we walk to the buses on the flooded sidewalks and end up completely soaked (as well as all of our luggage). Luckily, my electronics somehow ended up ok. Also, thanks to the typhoon, the teachers cancelled our plans to go to the caves that day. Thank god. I wasn't going to go anyway (I planned to pretend to be sick) but luckily I didn't have to get anywhere near any caves. Instead the bus took us to the hotel.

On the way, the tour guide was telling us about Okinawa, but she definitely spent way more time talking about America than Japan. And all the wonderful things Okinawa has imported from America. Like, for example, MILITARY BASES ALL FREAKING OVER THE PLACE. You can't go five feet in Okinawa without seeing one. It's CREEPY. And what's even creepier is that Japanese people seem not at all bothered by this. It's like, dudes, this is your country, why do you not mind. But I think Okinawa is exotic enough to them that they don't feel like it has any relation to themselves. Or something. I don't know. But thanks to the military prescence, pretty much the all the stores we drove by were either:
1) pachinko
2) car dealerships
3) fast food
So yeah, there's some good cultural interchange.

Anyway, the hotel was rather magical. It was way nicer than the one in Minamata, and it was about half Japanese style and half Western. There were beds, for example, but some rooms also had futons. However, there were two dead giveaways that we were in fact in Japan, and not America:
1) Lack of towel racks in the bathroom. I will not go into how annoying the lack of hand drying utensils is, I will save that for another day. Just, ugh.
2) This picture:

What's wrong with this picture??? Aside from Hannah's lovely pose, of course. If you are thinking, "holy crap, there's a 13th floor!" then you're pin-pon!! 13 is not unlucky in Japan.

The hotel looked like this. The top was open to the air in the middle, but this is the view down from the 23rd floor. We were on the 4th.

Also, the elevator... had a CHAIR. How... necessary?!

Also, on the first floor, there were Okinawan clothes to try on. The gaijin put them on, and suddenly a flock of like 20 girls came to take pictures of us. It was like we were rock stars... but no, we're just white.

The gaijin actually hadn't hung out much all week cuz we were usually separated into our homerooms. But we had some free time before dinner at the hotel... so we had a GAIJIN PARTY. And when I say "Gaijin party," I mean that we went and bought a bunch of snacks, and then went to Corinna and Katja's room and just ate them.

I hadn't had ice cream in ages, and we bought this "Blue Seal" brand ice cream that all the Okinawans are always talking about. It's a brand that claims to be American, and their slogan is something like, "Born in America, grown up in Japan" or something, except that as far as I know it's a TOTAL LIE. Everyone there totally buys into it, despite the fact that the two Americans had never heard of it. My Japanese friends were like, "oh, it must be from a different state or something!" And it's like, um... NO. Also, no American brand of ice cream would have POTATO FLAVORED ICE CREAM, much less two or three different kinds of potato flavor.

So yes, we had potato flavor 1, potato flavor 2, and sugar cane Blue Seal ice cream. And we tried putting it on potato chips... which was actually quite a delightful combination. Some healthy pre-dinner snacking right there!!

In addition to eating ice cream and other snacks before dinner, we did a number of other typically forbidden-during-childhood activities such as jumping on the beds, and standing on your head right after eating.

I can't stand on my head, but I CAN do this, thanks to the careful instruction of Max Goldberg at some cast party last year. He claims it's the first step towards breakdancing:

"What are those fabulous socks you are wearing??" I am sure you're wondering now. Basically...they're shit. Yep. A great pair with Hannah's Yon-sama socks, I think:

Later on that night everyone eventually went to their rooms. I was rooming with Ayaka and Akino, who are like two inseparable best friends, so I was a little worried they would exclude me. But it was totally fine, and I ended up staying up late talking to Ayaka while Akino slept. This is a pretty good picture, I think:

Slightly more typical. Akino, Ayaka, Me:

Thursday: The beach in November

We overslept, missed breakfast (which was okay only because of the disgusting amount of ramen, chips, and pocky-like-things we had eaten around midnight. Thursday was our day to go around in groups and basically hang out in Okinawa wherever we chose. I was with Ayana, Furo, Yuka, Kana, and... Nan (I think?), and our chauffer basically. Again, my group, not the most stimulating conversation, so I spent a lot of time emailing my family on my phone.

First... the castle. Of the Ryukyu-an Kings, which used to be an empire separate from Japan, based in Okinawa. This picture makes it look menacing.

View from the top:

Main building:

Then, it was lunchtime. Luckily, our taxi driver recommended an Okinawan soba place. Things were getting dangerously close to being American fast food, and I didn't really want to oppose the 5 other girls, but luckily they had interest in the soba so I didn't have to pull the, "Sorry, I don't eat American food" card. I got yomogi soba and it was green and I was delightfully happy about this!

Next... the BEACH! This was by far the best part. It was beautiful, and we were pretty much the only ones there.

Sexy poses:

Momentary stop at a sugar cane field to take pictures (I don't know why we really wanted pictures... but now I feel obligated to post it):

The group and our taxi driver.

Thursday night was also fun. After the teachers came to our rooms and told us to turn out our lights, we were hanging out watching tv, talking, etc. Then at some point we heard a bunch of THUMPS and then banging on our windows. All 5 members of the next room over had climbed from their balcony to ours and wanted in. It was Corinna, Katja, and three of their friends whose names I don't know. They brought a bunch of tropical fruits they had bought today and we had a fruit eating party. Mangoes, dragon fruits, and one other kind that was really sour and delicious. Then we were hanging out on our beds talking right after we had cleaned up the fruit. We hear a knock on the door. Crap, a teacher!! The 5 of them make a break for the balcony, and we close the curtains behind them, and we hear 5 more thumps as they all jump from our balcony back to theirs. The three of us in our room jump into bed (I grab my cell phone off the table first, because of course cell phones arne't allowed), and Akino starts coughing like mad as Uramoto enters. This all happened in the span of about 15 seconds, and it was like a perfect movie close-call-exit with no trace of what had happened. If she had come maybe 2 minutes earlier all we could have done was stand there and say, "want some mango?" but this was like, stealth. Uramoto looked suspicious of us as usual but didn't do anything to us other than to tell us to go to sleep. As soon as she leaves of course we run out to the balcony and look over at the neighboring room's members on their balcony and are all, "THAT WAS AWESOME!" etc.

Friday: finally coming home

But first, museum and gift shopping. In school uniforms. It was hot and uncomfortable. I was also so entirely sick of shopping for gifts at this point. Okinawa is pretty much NOTHING but gift shops, all with the same stuff. You really only need one and you'd be set. But they are countless. We went shopping for gifts on this "international street," which was supposed to be America-like I suppose. As Hannah and I concluded though, no matter how American you try to claim this street is, in America, you do NOT see prettyboys checking out their hair in shop windows. Sorry, that's just Japan.

Of course, that's not to say that it was totally Japanese either. Mostly, Okinawa creeped me out. It was really touristy, and any non-touristy areas seemed very poor and depressing. Plus, of course, all the American military bases. So in summary, my impression of Okinawa is more like this. Lots of barbed wire and unpleasantness.

Thus, I was really happy when we got back to civilization (aka Honshu). I'm glad I went on the trip, but the places we went were incredibly depressing. Overall, 3.5 stars out of 5 or thereabouts.