Kelsey Hendricks

Kelsey Hendricks
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Kelsey Anne Hendricks

My name is Kelsey Anne Hendricks and I am 18 years old. I was 17 when I started my trip to Kurashiki, Japan, and it was my first time traveling internationally. I took Japanese language classes for my last two years of high school and, ever since I was a little girl, I have been obsessed with Asian culture, Japanese in particular.

Of course, I was nervous about being away from my family for three weeks as well as the communication challenges, but I was traveling with three other girls. Maddie and Jordan were traveling to Japan for the first time while Sarah had been there once before. These girls were so much fun and they made things less stressful. Besides, the opportunity to travel to Japan is, in my head, once in a lifetime. How could I pass it up?

We arrived in Osaka right on time. We met up with James Benson, or as we like to call him, Bensei, had our bags sent to our first host families and checked into our hotel. Maddie and I decided to share a room and, once we got there, we kept saying over and over again, “We’re in Japan!” We couldn’t believe it. When it was time for dinner, we all walked around until we found a ramen shop, which I thought was quite appropriate for our first night. There were a couple of elderly men in the ramen shop who where very friendly. They asked us where we were from and, when our miso ramen came, they taught us how to eat it in the proper Japanese style (not biting, just slurping).

The next day, we traveled from Osaka to Kurashiki by train. We got to take the shinkansen, which is the fancy bullet train. Once in Kurashiki, we went to City Hall where the welcome/farewell luncheon was being held. My second family, Harumi and Nobuo Tachibana, were the first people I met. I sat with them at our table with one of the Japanese exchange students and had a wonderful time talking.  I was very nervous but they helped me relax and feel at home. About halfway through the luncheon, I got to meet my first host sisters, Remi and Mana, and my first host mom, Chiaki. Everyone kept commenting on how tall I was and asking me about things in America, like where I like to go and where they should go if and when they ever come to Kansas City. It didn’t take long for me to settle in.

Immediately after the luncheon, my host family met up with Jordan’s host family for a shopping trip. The host families have always been good friends, so I got to see Jordan and her host family a lot. When we got to the mall, my host family graciously brought me my own chopsticks (Hello Kitty Chopsticks!) and a beautiful yukata. They showed me all the stores around the mall – the sweet shops, the Miyazaki store, the school supplies store … everything! I think their mall is bigger than Oak Park! On our way home, Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” came on their car radio. I had told them that I sing and they asked me to sing it for them. I did and, after that, every time that song came on, they asked me to sing. I loved it so much.

We arrived home and I got to meet my host father, Tetsuya, and his two poodles, Peace and Lucy. They were so cute! I took a shower before dinner and, when Remi and Mana came in to tell me dinner was ready, they asked if they could look at my hair. I didn’t mind and they started playing with my hair.

The next day, Remi’s cousin came for a visit. He’s in college and has studied English for six years, so we helped each other study languages. We asked each other what we liked and what our hobbies were. Then, while Tetsuya picked Mana up from tennis practice, Remi and I got into our yukatas and got ready for a summer festival. When Mana got home they both did my hair for me. Tetsuya drove us to the festival and the first thing we did was get some takoyaki. Wow, was it good! We ran into Jordan and her host family, played a scoop game, and then we all went up to the shrine to say a prayer and be blessed by the priest. Man, was that a fun night!

Early the next morning, Tetsuya and Remi took me to Kurashiki Ivy Square. It’s a small part of town full of small shops, museums, and a little canal that we could take a boar ride on.  Our first big stop was an art museum. It had all the traditional European art as well as the ancient Japanese and Buddhist pottery. It was so enlightening.

The next stop was a little sweet shop for sweet-making lessons. My sweets didn’t look very neat compared to the people who made hundreds of them every day, but I was pretty content. I gave all the sweets I had to my host family.

After a little more shopping, Tetsuya, Remi, and I met Chiaki at a sushi bar. That was some good sushi! My favorite was hamburger sushi…yeah, there is such a thing.

Once we got some one-hundred yen shopping done, Jordan and her host family came over to my host family’s house.  All of us girls communed in Remi and Mana’s bedroom and listened to music and showed off some dance moves. That’s when Jordan’s host mom brought us some cake slices. One word: tiramisu.

For dinner, my host family went over to Obasan’s for homemade shrimp, vegetable, and octopus tempura. My taste buds were in heaven. And, as it just so happens, Obasan lives on the side of a mountain which has a perfect view of the Highland Bridge. When I took a look at the night scene, it was, without a doubt, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. That image will live on in my memory.

I went to the library with Remi and read while she studied. We had unagi dishes for lunch and we made a stop at the beach.

The next day was the trip to Hiroshima with Tadashi. On the way over, we all made origami cranes to hang up at the Sadako Memorial. There were hundreds – no, thousands – of cranes that had been made and sent from people all around the world. It was amazing.

When we got to the Hiroshima museum, I had to stop reading all the information captions because I started to cry. Tadashi noticed this and handed me a handkerchief, saying, “Thank you for your tears.” I still have that handkerchief.

Next up: Miyajima Island. After a delicious okonomiyaki lunch, we headed over to the famous Itsukushima Shine and took a look around. I absolutely loved the torii gate that lies out where the high tides can hit it. It made for some incredible photographs, especially when you got a close-up on the yen coins that were stuck on the pillars with the barnacles. The aquarium was the next attraction. It was definitely a mixture between wonder and humor, wonder because of all the different types of aquatic life and humor because Jordan, Maddie and I ran into two guys with a TV crew. They claimed to be Japan’s number one comedians and made us laugh. I wish we could have stayed on that little island.

After a day of relaxing, Tetsuya took Remi and me to the Korakoen Gardens which is like a national park in Okayama. This is where Okayama Castle (the castle of many great samurai lords) is located. The castle is now a museum and has incredible artifacts from the many lords who once ruled. My favorite part was when Remi and I got to dress up like a samurai lord and lady (I was the lord, Remi was the lady).

The next day, I took the train back to Okayama with Remi and Mana. Remi and I went shopping around the station, which has its own mall. I also tried some edamame bread from this French bakery and boy, was it good!

That night was the night that my family communed with Jordan’s to have a delicious BBQ party. With our Kansas BBQ sauce and their premium meat cooking skills, we created the most delicious BBQ that was ever seen. After dinner, I was greeted with a surprise. The night of the BBQ was three days before my 18th birthday, so the families had bought two cakes; one for me and one for Jordan.  A round of “Happy Birthday” was sung, poppers were popped, and even though they didn’t have to, they gave me some gorgeous presents. I couldn’t believe that they did all of this for us…nor could I believe that my trip was already halfway over.

On the last day with our first host families, Jordan and I came together once again. Jordan’s host father was a carpenter who was working on a new house and there was an open house celebration going on that night.  According to Japanese tradition, when a new home is in skeletal form, a priest goes onto the roof to bless the house and then throws candy down to the members of the neighborhood. It was like Santa Claus and Halloween in one. I met a boy who was Japan’s number one comedian. He spent a lot of time talking to me and, when we were done, Jordan’s host mother said to me, “You can’t go back to America now. You have a boyfriend. Don’t you need to get his number?” I’m pretty sure my face was bright red. We went bowling with Jordan and her family. It was a great night and a good way to say good-bye to host family number 1.

We took a tour of a high school on the day that we changed host families. All of the students who were studying English were really sweet. There was actually an assistant teacher who was from America…and her name was Kelsey. What made it weirder was that she kind of looked like me. I wondered if I would be like her when I got to be her age. Well, now I have a goal.

After seeing the kendo class, the archery club, and the tea ceremony, we were taken in by our second host families and I was reunited with Harumi and Nobuo. They had a really big house, and on the way over, they said that three other people would be staying with us that night – a girl named Miki who was traveling around, a boy named Lejandro who was originally from Argentina, and a girl named Julia who was from Brazil. Harumi and Nobuo like to travel and whenever they make new friends, they invite them to come to Japan and stay at their home.

Dinner was really interesting. You see, Lejandro had studied Japanese for ten years, so he could speak it like a pro. I had only had two years. Julia didn’t know very much Japanese at all. So, in order for us to communicate, Lejandro would speak to Julia in Spanish, who would then speak to me in English and then we would reverse it. If Miki, Harumi, or Nobuo needed to know something, they would talk to Leandro in Japanese, who would go to Julia, and so on. Julia and I shared a room that night and became fast friends.

The next day, Julia and Lejandro planned to return to Okayama; Lejandro was studying at the university there and Julia’s mom lived just outside of town. They invited me along for the ride and, of course, I said yes. So the three of us plus Harumi got on the train and headed over. After lunch Lejandro, Julia and I walked to the university. Lejandro showed us around campus and explained that he was studying to be an archeologist.

The next day was my birthday. I was officially eighteen. An adult. Just like my first host family, Harumi and Nobuo wanted to celebrate it. For lunch, we went to a ramen shop where I tried soy sauce ramen.  Let’s just say there was nothing left in that bowl.

Then we hit the hot springs. There was a kabuki-like performance going on that day so we went to watch. I’ve always loved theater, so this experience was really exciting and enlightening. We then took our hot springs baths. It was a little bit awkward at first because we’re not used to it here in America, but I settled in quickly. We need more hot springs in America; life would be a lot more pleasant and a lot less stressful.

For my birthday, we had ebi/fried shrimp, takoyaki and a fruit cake. Again, I couldn’t believe that they had done this for me.

The next day was spent at a Zen temple, the pottery makers’ and the oldest open public school in the world. The Zen temple was absolutely gorgeous. We met a woman monk there who was originally from Seattle. She had been at the temple for about twenty years and she taught us how to meditate. It was so relaxing and I felt so lively after the meditation. After a curry lunch, we went to the pottery makers. Everything was so beautifully made and intricate. And the public school looked just like a training dojo. It was so cool.

The next day, Harumi and Nobuo took me around and showed me all the jean museums and shops. From Momotaro Jeans to Betty Smith, we went to so many places. I even found a kimono that was made purely out of denim; now I have a new sewing goal.

We left for the hot springs the next day. Once Miki and I had taken our bath, Miki was helping me get back into my yukata and random women would come up and start helping us. Other women also told me that I looked beautiful in my yukata. Their compliments warmed my heart.

Harumi invited the entire family over for her BBQ.  After the BBQ, Masa and the gang took me out to a karaoke bar. Due to many requests, I ended up singing four times. Not that I minded. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Once we were at home, Harumi and Nobuo opened up the M&Ms and jelly beans that I had brought from America. Everyone wanted to try the candy and we eventually got to play jelly bean roulette. Don’t get the black licorice-flavored beans!

That night, I had to start packing my bags to go home. Harumi offered to help and I could tell that she was sad about my having to leave. She wasn’t alone. My last day with Harumi and Nobuo was spent at home, just talking and enjoying each other’s company. I taught Harumi the basics of knitting and she taught me how to use a loom and spin wool.

We met everyone back at the main train station in Kurashiki the next morning. Once we had left our bags at our hotel in Osaka, Bensei took us to Kyoto to see a Shinto shrine and two Buddhist temples. One of the Buddhist temples was the Sanjūsangen-dō temple, which is where there are 1,000 statues of the kanons, the messengers of Buddha. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the temple, but it was so amazing. There were so many statues; right in the middle of these statues is a giant statue of Buddha. It was so enlightening.

The second Buddhist temple had three sacred waterfalls from which people could drink. One waterfall would make you smarter, one would make you prettier and one would help you live to an old age. I had an entire water bottle of old-age.

Back in Osaka, we walked around for a long time, looking for some dinner. We walked down a hallway and suddenly the other girls started smelling curry. We followed the scent until we finally found the curry. It was pretty entertaining. For dessert, we had crepes (tiramisu for me).

No one really wanted to leave and we all had our reasons. I wanted to stay so that I could be with my host families…and follow Oumi Hiryuu’s acting troupe around Japan to show my support.

But you know what? There is no place like home.

The Japan-America Society has given me an opportunity that had always been a once-in-a-lifetime chance, if you were lucky. I would like to give my deepest gratitude to Patty Woods, Lydia Kanki and everyone who supports us and the JAS. Arigato gozaimashita!