Four weeks ago I stumbled onto the first train that pulled into the station, with rudimentary map reading and Japanese skills, hoping not to get too lost. Within 10 minutes, a kindly gentleman (who
spoke no English) got off the train with me at the next station to show me which line to take, and to which stop. This has been my experience of Japan in a nutshell. The people are extremely やさしい (kind), and when there is no English signage or menu or map available, they are more than willing to help in whatever way they can.
As an avid anime fan and an enthusiast of Far East culture and history, Japan is the place to be! Not only is it very different from the US (in all the right ways), but also it's also unique within Asia. CIEE has been instrumental in facilitating my experience in Japan including outings, academics, and a wonderful homestay family.
Last week alone I saw my first Japanese Noh drama (a story of a mother who went mad with grief after she lost her son and husband, and is happy and reunited with her son by the end of the play), and I was educated in the art of the tea ceremony (this included learning the proper procedure to eat sweets and make tea, watching a demonstration ceremony performed, and getting a tour of the tea house and surrounding garden). These activities are imbued with the essence and import of Japan’s history and culture; what better way to experience a country than through these!
Let me tell you about my two favorite classes (of all time). In the afternoons I take History of Edo and Tokyo. Our assignments often include interaction with the city in the form of field trips. We’ve seen the Imperial Palace, been to the Edo Tokyo Museum, Asakusa, and the Ichigaya Hachiman Shrine to take pictures and walk the area as “field research” for our papers. In the mornings, I take Japanese Popular culture, which broaches sub-topics of “otaku culture” such as anime, fujoshi, and the virtual life the younger Japanese generation through both historical and philosophical perspectives. On several occasions we’ve spent the period watching and analyzing anime such as “The Time of Eve” (2010). This week, I presented with five group members after going on my first anime pilgrimage. It included sites in Akihabara that have been featured in the anime “Steins Gate”. Seriously, it doesn’t get any better than this…or does it?
Having only taken one semester of Japanese, I was a little nervous to do a homestay (but also ecstatic at the thought). My host family lives in the Kanagawa Prefecture; I have a mama, a papa, and for three weeks I had a host sister who was an exchange student from Taiwan. My family has been so helpful in orienting me to Japanese lifestyle, daily customs, and language. They’ve taken me to Kamakura, Matsuri, and upon learning of my love of anime, they accompanied me to an exhibit of art and storyboard from the new Studio Ghibli film “When Marnie Was There” ,and took me to J-World in Ikebukuro. They’ve also looked after me as their own (which I’m grateful for…Tokyo can be overwhelming at times when
you don’t speak/read the language well). Last week, I misplaced my iPhone at Shinjuku station and my host mom and host sister moved heaven and earth to help me find it by retracing our steps through the evening and using findmyiphone. Spoiler: someone had turned it in to the station lost and found. Which I was also extremely grateful for…