The following is a letter from Zoe Taber, our Youth Exchange student in Japan, sent just after the New Year's holiday...
明けましておめでとうございます (translates to: I wish you a Happy New Year),
Happy New Years from Japan! It has been a great start to 2017. As Japan's biggest holiday, New Year's greetings and celebrations have lasted through this whole month. I started 2017 with my host family on a trip to a small and rural island off the coast of Osaka.
On New Year's Eve we ate Soba noodles (the long length of the noodles represent our hope for a long life in the future), and we stayed up until midnight to see a fireworks show. Similar to Americans, Japanese people like to stay up late on New Year's Eve to celebrate the first moments of the new year, but not only that, they also love to get up early on New Year's Day to see the first sunrise! After about 5 hours of sleep, we woke up at 5:30 on January first and drove to the sea shore to watch the sunrise, it was very beautiful but also very cold. The rest of the day was spent visiting temples and shrines and eating traditional Japanese foods. 

New Years vacation lasted until January 9th, so I had plenty of time off school to check some items off my bucket list. I visited some art museums with my host family and friends, I got to see and participate in "awaodori" (a traditional Japanese dance), and I went to the hot springs many times with my 2nd and 3rd host mothers. 

In school I have been working hard to learn Japanese, and although reading and writing are still very difficult for me, I feel like I am making quick progress. After school I am still learning calligraphy on Mondays, tea ceremony on Thursdays, and oil painting techniques in art club on the other week days. I recently finished a painting of my little sister. 

I also participated in a Japanese speech competition with many other exchange students, I did not win anything, but even so I feel proud of myself for being one of the only people who recited their speech from memory, something I never would have thought possible a few months ago. 

Last week I moved in with my next and last host family. They live much closer to my school, which means I spend only around 40 minutes commuting and I can sleep until 6:45. My host parents have been so kind to me already; last Sunday we went to Kyoto where they rented a kimono for me to wear for the day and showed me around Gion. Every night my host mother and I study Japanese, I am so grateful to have her to help me. It was sad saying goodbye to my last family, but I know we will keep in touch, and I will see my host dad at monthly Rotary meetings. 

Five months have already gone which brings me about half way through my exchange! I have to admit it is a little scary how fast time is going by, I hope to make the most of the remainder of this amazing opportunity that has been given to me. 
Zoe Taber