Friday 20 January – Monday 23 January
Another early morning ready for Universal Studios Japan and of course our long-awaited homestays. Our morning was mainly taken up by travel as we made our way to USJ, I think we were all excited for today. Tim and I already decided we would try a get on as many roller coasters as we could, so as soon as we dropped our bags off we bee lined for the closest rides with Danica in tow. Together we settled for the Spiderman ride first, the line was a 30-minute wait but it was totally worth it. The ride was a 4D show of rails, listening to Japanese Peter Parker save the city was super fun. Next ride we decided on the Huge Jurassic Park Roller coaster, the beauty of this ride was that you hang facing the ground while shooting along at high speed. The down side of the ride was the one hour wait in line, we filled the time chatting to one another until we reached the end. The ride was terrifying and cold but also incredibly fun. After our adrenaline rush we scooted over to the new Harry Potter world met up with a few other tour comrades, I also purchased a bit of merchandise such as Gryffindor and Hufflepuff scarfs.
Unfortunately, it began to rain so everything was a little wet, but there was a positive aspect because those long lines suddenly began to shorten, so we made our way to one last ride. It was still raining by the time we got on and by the end of it we were cold and drenched, Danica looked like a drowned white rabbit… though, 100 percent would do it again. Afterwards we went to check out the Armoured Titan from Shingeki no Kyojin 「進撃の巨人」 super cool to see just how big a 15 meter titan is in person. By this time all of us were quite worn out, so we decided to leave and grab something to eat at the Hard Rock Café just outside the park. The burger I ordered was filling although Japanese coffee is absolutely horrendous, we spent the rest of our time at the café until it was time to leave.
Once we regrouped we quickly made our way to Akashi via train to finally meet our Host families. When we finally arrived in Akashi It was quite funny how the tension suddenly grew while on the way to the building where we would meet our families, everyone was getting a little bit nervous which was understandable since we were going to live with complete strangers for 3 days. Tim and I on the other hand were pumped, I was really looking forward to finally meeting the Kobayashi family. One by one we were whisked away, I remember Sensei saying “next victim” as people slowly disappeared. Eventually It was us, we were greeted by Yukino the eldest daughter who then guided us to her mother Ritsuko waiting in the car down the street. It was a really comforting feeling meeting Ritsuko and Yukino, almost like reunion with old friends from years past. For dinner, we went for sushi then drove to the house we would be staying. Their house was compact and warm. After we placed our bags in our room and received our tour we relaxed on the heated carpet with Yukino, Chizuru the Younger daughter and Eru the families adorable Chihuahua until the bath was ready. Tim decided to go first allowing both of us to get some alone time to bond with our family, We talked about everything, I played guitar for them and we sang Bruno Mars songs.
It became clear to me that Yukino only wanted to speak English and Mandarin to us, though Ritsuko thankfully spoke Japanese and allowed us to practice. Eventually it was my turn to bath, and let me just say the Japanese know how to bath. You honestly feel so refreshed afterwards it’s amazing, I imagine it’s more so in the winter times. After we were all clean Tim and I decided to hand out our presents to Ritsuko, Tim gave chocolates and I gave her an aboriginal painting from Arnhem land painted by Dorothy Yunupingu I was glad they loved the gifts. Afterwards, we all decided to go to bed as we were very tired from USJ, and promised a sleep in. I fell asleep quite content that night, the Kobayashi family were so kind and welcoming.
Day 2 had come and bless the lord we could sleep in, Tim and I both felt we needed it after yesterday. Once we were up, we ate breakfast while Yukino informed us of what we would be doing for the day. She had planned a trip to Himeji castle 「姫路城」(Himejijō), a short train ride from the house, I was delighted to see another castle, in fact we all were I believe as Yukino mentioned she hadn’t been there for years due to restoration work on the castle. After breakfast and Tim’s shower, we got dressed and made our way to the train station. We were the foreigners of the town walking through the streets, with the locals eyes firmly fixed on us. The rail pass got us through the station and on our way to Himeji. Once there, We could see the castle off in the distance, it was quite a magnificent sight to see. The entrance was a short walk from the station through the main street to the castle, there was live music playing, people and smells everywhere. Inside the castle grounds was a spectacular sight, The exterior of the building was snow white, with defined stone work and beautiful gardens. Together we walked through the castle, learning, taking photos, trading joke and chatting about funny English translations on the signs. (http://translate.city.himeji.lg.jp/LUCHIMEJI/ns/tl.cgi/http://www.city.himeji.lg.jp/guide/castle.html?SLANG=ja&TLANG=en&XMODE=0&XCHARSET=utf-8&XJSID=0)
As it was getting late we began our journey back home for dinner and relaxation, I found the day to be really fun which left me in a happy mood. Once home, we ate some of Ritsuko’s delicious home cooking while chatted over the table.
After dinner, we left to go watch Chizuru practice Kendo. Kendo was amazing and really loud, those kid’s shouts were terrifying, Tim and I even got to hold a Kendo stick which was cool. Once home it was bath time and bed, I felt the day was fulfilling as it was a lot of fun while bonding with the family.
After another sleep in, our final day with the Kobayashi family had come. We ate another amazing breakfast then practiced some Japanese with Ritsuko, Since we had to wait till 12 to meet up with Yukino who was talking an English exam, we decided to do some blog work. At 12, Tim and I made our way alone to the train station where we met Yukino who took us to try some famous Akashiyaki. Our After the delicious food we trained to Kobe to see shrines and visit the Maya-san lookout the 3rd best view in all of Japan. At the shrines Tim, Yukino and I all attempted a successful 3 man simultaneous pray at the shrine.
Next it was time to visit Maya-san, we bought our tickets and ascended the mountain via cable car. The temperature quickly dropped to -3 degrees as we approached the summit, once at the summit we all made our way outside to discover snow for the first time on the tour. We proceed to jump and dance around as we made our way to the lookout area. The view was absolutely spectacular, the city below the mountain was just glittering in the darkness. There was something special about my time on that mountain top, a feeling I will probably carry for the rest of my life. (http://koberope.jp/en/maya/miryoku)
Returning home that night, held another warm feeling. I really felt at home with this family, They made me feel welcome, at home, like I had a place I belonged. I was really going to miss this family when we left the next day. When we got home, it was another delicious dinner, followed by presents from Ritsuko. She had bought us summer Yukata’s for when we returned to Australia. This family had been so kind to me, I felt sad that we would be leaving them.
Next morning I was up early getting my things packed for our trip to Yudanaka, we had photos with Ritsuko and Chizuru before we left for the train station with Yukino. At the station we stopped for some standing Soba, a noodle shop where you eat while standing. Once we finished our breakfast we left to meet the rest of the group where we had a touching goodbye and a group photo.
I really enjoyed my time with the Kobayashi family, they were soo lovely and I’m sure we will always stay in contact.