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Farewell, My Second Home

     Japan May X has come to a close. I type this very blog as we soar over the Pacific Ocean. I am sad to be leaving, but I have a lot to look forward to at home. I look forward to sharing my stories with my friends and family, although it will be very difficult I fear. There is a whole lot to share, but it is challenging to remember it all and tell it in chronological order. More importantly, it is near impossible to capture the feelings and impact of Japan. Regardless, I will do my best to share. And, fortunately, I have pictures to aid my storytelling! But before I return, I need to reflect on the amazing past few weeks.

     Japan, my dream location for over a decade. Even as I think about it, I can’t believe I can actually say I have been there. No, more than that: I have lived here and explored. It will take some time for it to completely sink in, but for now I shall simply bask in the disbelief. Part of the difficulty of accepting this miraculous experience is that this is my first trip outside of the country. Disney World was my furthest adventure, but now I have been to Disney Sea. THAT’S CRAZY AWESOME!!! But, I digress, the entire journey has been worthwhile. Seeing old castles, exploring massive cities, hearing in depth lectures, meeting locals, adapting to the culture, and eating fantastic cuisine. Oh my goodness, so much fun has been packed into two amazing weeks. It is becoming progressively apparent how my blog has shifted into eccentric rambling, so let me focus on specif areas.

     I am going to miss a lot of things about Japan. I will miss being immersed in Japanese society, seeing Asians everywhere, talking with new people, enjoying the extremely kind and respectful workers (despite being clueless to their speech), using high tech toilets, strolling down impeccably clean streets, watching the extremely efficient traffic, listening to tones of voice instead of the actual words, and buying stuff without regret. There is a lot that I am going to miss, but it is nice to have plenty of reason to return in the future. One thing I am particularly satisfied about is confirming my interest in Japan. One of my mother’s hopes was that I could visit Japan and decide if it really was what I wanted to concentrate in and if I could study abroad there. I can, with complete confidence, say a resounding “Yes!” to both questions! I had a great time, and I feel fulfilled for now, but I am even further encourage to come back again. Whether it is for study abroad, an internship, or just personal travel, I, with great anticipation, await the day that I return to my ‘true’ homeland: the land of the rising sun, Japan.

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It was legendary.

It was in the May of 2012 and the weather that night was not too bad. Our Boeing-777 that carried our excitement was landed on Okinawa. To me, Okinawa is Ryukyu Kingdom because of its tie with Chinese dynasties before the Sino-Japanese war. I did not know what to expect in Okinawa. I first imagined Okinawa as a place full of silence in the night and even the convince store would be far away. It turned out very differently when I first had a glimpse on the plane.

I first saw streetlights that ignited the night with ongoing traffic. I then saw neon all over the islands. Next thing I knew was the plane was taxing. The airport was big and I noticed the wooden chairs. It must want tourist to have a tropical impression of Okinawa. Anyway, I was in Japan for the first time. We took monorail many times during the stay at Okinawa. We visited many museums and historical sites. We also had a lecture at Okinawa Prefecture University. The night in Okinawa was fun too. There were good restaurants and good stores on the street. I enjoyed very much during the stay at Okinawa but I also cannot wait to be at Tokyo. Before our stay in Tokyo we stayed at Kamakura for a night. We slept in tatami and had a fancy course dinner. I enjoyed the night at Kamakura when all of us dressed in kimono and ate dinner together. We visited a couple of shrines during the day and I finally had physical contact with Shinto after taking the class about Japan during my freshman year. We left Kamakura to Tokyo by train in the afternoon. We lived in a youth hostel. The room was tiny but it was very interesting to see and to talk to people from different countries and cultures. My friends and me went to Roppongi that night and it was also interesting to see the nightlife in Tokyo. I also went to a soccer game and a baseball game. I have been longing for J-league soccer for years and I still cannot believe I did it. It was even better when you were with your friends at the soccer game and also with Dr. Matsumura. We also went to visit Waseda University and I had some nice conversations with them. I am even thinking about exchanging to Waseda in the future and therefore I can come to Japan again.

I had an awesome trip and made some awesome friends. This MayX was very memorable. I also learned a lot about Japanese history and also its modern culture. I cannot wait to tell the stories of my fantastic trip to my friends. I want to thank for Dr. Matsumura and Dr. Tokunaga for organizing and taking all the responsibilities for this trip. The awesomeness would not happen without your efforts. I also want to wish everyone have a great summer break no matter where you will be.

I Love to Hate You, But I Also Hate That I Love You

    
     Mao and Yayi, two Chinese students, were the only people I knew going into this program. Mao I have talked to throughout the year, so he was my fail-safe friend. Yayi, however, . . . I will have to return to her later. But as for the rest, I was in a room full of strangers. I was happy to realize that I would get to know these people, but my primary focus of this trip was to experience Japan. I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised. Living with people forces a bond between people, but that connection can easily be good or bad. I am happy to say that I feel that positive relationships have formed from this educational vacation. I have made several friend, as well as a few extremely close ones. It will be nice to see people around campus and say, “Oh, hey. I haven’t seen you since FREAKIN’ JAPAN LAST MAY. Yeah, good times.” Unfortunately, some people I will have to talk to more frequently than just simple spontaneous run ins, like that Yayi girl.

     Oh my goodness, what a… memorable person she is. I can honestly say that I had to put up with her antics the most throughout the trip, and that includes every stupid remark, crude criticism, ‘playful’ punch, and insane exploration. She has definitely left an impression on me, as well as a few marks on my shoulder from carrying her duffle bag of souvenirs. We hadn’t been able to talk much the second semester because we were both very busy, but I think we made up for it in excess this trip. I still remember walking with her, Mao, and Dr. Matsumura to the hotel to drop them off for their bus pick up for their early flightback to China. Might I add that I wasn’t walking with them to say goodbye: someone had to carry Yayi’s ridiculous interpretation of ‘travelling light.’ I still remember sitting down with her and gazing into her eyes and saying, “Well, I guess this is the part where I say my final words of importance. I need to tell you my true feelings.” Without missing a beat she calmly states,”You hate me.” . . . “YES! That is exactly what I was going to say! You know me so well!” The fact that our playful conversation was so natural is a testament to how close our friendship is. Oh Yayi, I would miss you so much if not that fact that I still have so much junk to remind me of you. You know, the stuff you forced into my suitcase to mail to your boyfriend for you. Ohhhhh Yayi…

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Final Impressions

6,140

1,000

16

5

3

2

6,140 vs. 1,000:

Towards the end of our stay in Tokyo, I made a comment to Jack that I was going to finally count all the coins I had just thrown and my backpack and speculated that I could have as much as 2,000 yen collected. I was wrong. By the end of our stay in Japan I had 6,140 yen in coins and only 1.000 yen in bills, this is only slightly different from America where all my money is in bills and I hate carrying around even a single quarter. It was indeed a different experience to be in a country where most of the small denominations, from what would be our equivalent of the penny all the way up through the five dollar bill are all in coins!

16:

16 constitutes the number of pictures I took throughout our stay here in Japan. That includes 6 on my phone, 1 on my computer and 9 on my Nikon camera. Taking Photo 1 in spring semester, I read an article on how, for tourists, taking a camera along is their compensation for not working during their trip. In other words, people are so used to always working that even while on vacation they feel the need to do something and therefore take their camera along in order to have a “job” to do, taking pictures of even the most mundane, over-photographed things. I wasn’t going to be one of those people. That and dragging a camera around was just too bulky for me to manage.

5:

5 is the number of different place I slept in during the trip. Two separate stays in the Comfort Hotel in Naha, once in the campgrounds near the coast of Okinawa, one night in the beautiful traditional Japanese Inn outside of Tokyo, several nights in the cramped (very cramped) hostel in Tokyo, and finally, last night, returning back to the home of my host family on the southern coast of Hokkaido for a several night stay before returning to the states. Although it has positively flown by, this reminds me just how long I have gotten to spend in Japan and just how many things I have gotten the opportunity to see. Although it seems like just yesterday that we left a rainy Furman campus behind to pile into an early morning taxi bound for the airport it also seems like months ago that we road that late train for a much needed night of rest after first arriving in Japan.

3:

3 constitutes the number of Islands I have been on during my 3 week stay in the country. From the southern, “tropical” island of Okinawa, to the heart of Japan in Tokyo and finally to the northern Hokkaido, I have managed to span the entire length of Japan, south to north in just one trip!

2:

Finally 2 is simply the number of times we managed to get off at the right train station near our hostel and still manage to get hopelessly lost. This reminds me that though I have spent nearly 3 weeks here, I still have much to learn about this country and that 3 weeks is not nearly enough to do so. Hopefully this will not be my last trip to Japan as there are still many things I want to see and discover. But most importantly the number 2 reminds be that even if I spent weeks or even months in Tokyo, I’ll still always manage to get lost on the subway.

Sanya Views

NPO Sanya

The NPO Outreach center in the Sanya area of Tokyo as well as a man who works there handing out tea cigarettes and other commodities to those in need.

Starting the trip with a hefty reading on the Sanya area of Tokyo, it felt fitting that we wrapped up the trip with a visit to the area.

My first impression was, like our reading said, the Sanya area really is just in the center of Tokyo. No high walls or gates separated this area from the rest of Tokyo, we simply walked of the train and journeyed there by foot!

I am not sure if it was time that has changed Sanya or if I drew a misguided impression from the reading but I felt as though Sanya did not meet my expectations of being some “slum” in the middle of Tokyo. Yes there were people down on their luck but the buildings and area around Sanya seemed no different from most neighborhoods in Tokyo that I have wandered through. Maybe this was due to the time we visited (during the afternoon rather than the mornings when workers line up for work or the evenings when they return.) We did get the opportunity to meet with the head of a NPO (Non-Profit Organization) funded outreach center and hear him talk about what goes on in Sanya and what his organization does to help. Giving anything from tea, cigarettes or even just a place to relax, their organization does anything it can to help people get back on their feet.

Overall I found the Sanya region very interesting, after having the entire time to reflect on a reading we did back in Greenville, it was nice to finally see and draw our own conclusions about the area known as Sanya.

Last but not least- anime!

Yes, my overall impression is not the last post!

I just woke up on my own bed in China. Believe me, it’s great experience. After nine months and a half without coming back home for even once, I finally came back. In the airport my mom saw my huge bag that I got in Okinawa for stuffs I got in Japan, and she asked me what were in it. I said:” you wouldn’t want to know”.

My parents still call models and figures for anime “toys”. It’s ok because I don’t expect everyone to watch anime. HOWEVER, I really think everyone in Japan has something to do with anime! You can’t really avoid something when it’s EVERYWHERE. Yes, at least everyone has something to do with One Piece….

The day I went to Akihabara (actually I went there twice, but the first time), I felt I was suffocating when I saw the huge SEGA sign on a wall. It was the first building I saw in Akiba, and the cutest building I’ve ever seen in Japan. Even though I was prepared long before going to Akiba, for it was just too famous in China and lots of people know that it’s an anime center, I was still shocked and had no idea what to do. I know I don’t have enough money, but I want to buy everything I see. In a game center I saw some Gundam games. They are not merely games– they are training programs!!! Yes now I know why there are people worrying about another war with Japan– no one can fight against a Gundam army!

I feel happy that most of the anime I watch are super popular (at least important) in Japan, so I could find a lot of stuffs to buy. In the Evangelion store in 原宿, I was sitting on the floor deciding what to get. There was a moment when I really wanted to rent a small corner in the shop and just live there forever and ever. Thankfully Nikky dragged me out and that’s why I can post this on my own bed now. Thank you friends.

In a word, if you love anime and you have a strong heart, Japan is the country where you have to visit for at least once. If you don’t have a strong heart, don’t come or else you might have a heart attack. I’ll miss you, Japan.

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Overall impression of the trip

I’m now sitting in Pudong international airport to wait for my flight home. This is a weird experience because when I went to the bathroom earlier, I didn’t see those complicated buttons on the toilet. Even though it’s still kanji and English all over the place, something has changed, especially the toilets.

I enjoyed the trip more then I thought I would have. Japan really surprised me in many ways even though it’s long been a neighbor of China. It’s high technology is shown everywhere, for example, in their bathrooms. I have no idea why I keep mentioning bathrooms in Japan in this blog entry, but it really means something. China might have high technology in the space, and the United States might have high technology in the military. However, the technological advantages can be shown in Japanese people’s everyday life. I always regard that kind of advance as the real ones and the strongest ones.

The second overall impression is the politeness of Japanese people. I have long heard that Japanese people are really polite, but experiencing these myself can mean a lot. After I landed in Shanghai there were staffs talking to passengers, and I told myself “yeah, girl, back to the reality”. Besides this, there are many crazy part about Japanese people. For example, we can always see drunk people walking around the restaurant as well as bar area near Sakura hotel. The two sides of Japanese people really gave me a good image of the country– an image which shows me the diversity of the nation.

Another thing that shocked me is that Japanese people keep their traditions in a ally active way. I was so surprised when I saw people walking in their traditional outfits because it is impossible to see something like that in China, despite the fact that we have longer history and probably more famous culture. I really think this is something we should learn from Japan, and it will definitely help preserve our culture.by the way,  the traditional Japanese weddings we saw looked really sad for no reason, maybe because of the peaceful music and the fact that nobody was smiling.

In general, I think this trip is better than I have expected. If I have the chance to come back to Japan, I will totally do that!

New Scene, Same Old Story

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    With all the hustle and bustle of city living, we took a morning to reach back into our memory banks and build upon a former reading: Son-ya, a poverty stricken worker district of Tokyo. The archetype has existed throughout human history, and it a testament to the shortcomings of humanity. No matter the society, regardless of location or culture, there are always those that live in poverty. Son-ya is no different. But unlike the usual detached tour through a ghetto, we all have background knowledge of this area. We have read many testimonies of people that fought to survive in the very area we were walking through. It is easy to walk through and just take in the sight, but some of the memorable stories still radiated in my mind.

     Not all was depressing in the area though. Our guides were people heavily involved in aiding the people in need. One small building offered food and for medical care for the locals. Donations and volunteer doctors are some of the few resources available that help these people through these hard times. Also, the area seemed more developed than it was-in the time the book was written. The area was filled with buildings, and only a few constructions zones. There were drink machines around every corner at varying prices. I couldn’t decide if the low prices were for the benefit of the poor people, or for the sake of moving more product. And speaking of vending machines, cigarette vendors and machines could also be found throughout the streets: a testament to one of the many factors that is keeping people locked into the area.

     The most important part of any poverty stricken district is the people that live there. I have seen people living under bridges and begging for food at soup kitchens. The one factor that all the areas seemed to share was a sense of community. I always assumed that homeless people were recluses and defensive, and there were certainly those people, but most individuals were kind and offered big smiles. I had trouble understanding why, and I shared my confusion with my parents. I still to this day remember my father saying, “When you have nothing and realize that your survival depends on the generosity of others, you learn to be kinder to others. You can buy a lot of things, but you an not buy good manners, and good manners are important in life.”

After reading about San-ya and actually seeing it for myself, I feel very impacted about the experience. Unlike the usual tours of poor areas, it was important to have seen the prosperity of the city before witnessing the opposite side of the spectrum. Even in a city as advance as Tokyo, there is still drastic poverty. The recovery programs and volunteer work in the area are invaluable, and I pray that the work the people are doing can continue to help and change San-ya from an area of pain into a land of hope.

   

My last blog post on Japan ;_;

As I sit on my bed in the 7th floor of the Sakura Hotel in Ikebukuro, I realize that I…don’t really know what to say about my overall experience (and this is in a good way)!  I am speechless.  This experience has been, by far, one of the best I have ever had!  (I mean, souvenir shopping was crazy but that doesn’t damper my happiness!)

There is definitely a difference between Okinawa and Tokyo.  Okinawa, which is advertised to foreigners and natives alike as a place of tourism, was slow paced and had a very nice, non-crowded atmosphere, while Tokyo is the EXACT OPPOSITE! I mean, again, try going through the train system in Tokyo.  I truly love the culture and customs of Japan and feel that because of this trip, not only did I learn about some history and got a first-hand look at the development of these two areas, but I feel that I understand the Japanese better.  In my perspective, it is better to get a first-hand experience of an area you are very interested in than to just read about it.

I also really enjoyed some of the things that you barely see in America.  Such as how the cashiers would go to every extent to pack your goods in such a presentable and nice way.  I mean, I bought some books and the cashiers went ahead and put book covers on them and puts tape on the bag so it doesn’t open when you walk around with it.  But that’s just some small aspect of what I liked.   I also enjoyed some of the fashion like Visual Kei in the Harajuku area.  I especially love how the people who dressed up have the self-confidence, or are not self-conscious, to dress that way.  They are awesome!!!

I guess, overall, this trip has been amazing. And what I love best is the language.  I truly love the Japanese language and enjoy the fact that I can understand at least a bit of the conversations and I can speak some to the Japanese.  I definitely maintained what I learned and realize that I still have a lot to go before going to Japanese 201 in fall semester.

So I shall end this blog, not with a picture, but with a revised chorus version of “I’m Coming Home” by    P Diddy featuring Skylar Grey:

I’m coming home, I’m coming home

Tell the world I’m coming home.

Let the plane, fly away, all the joys of yesterday

I know our flight’s overnight, and I’m not getting sleep tonight

I’m coming home, I’m coming home

Tell the world I’m coming… home

Reflections on Japan

final blog

Before this trip, I considered myself a well-traveled person, having gone on a study away trip in the fall that allowed me to travel all over Europe.  For me, traveling to Japan is on a totally different level than going to a country in Europe.  In Europe, it is easier to communicate and read what they are saying, since they use the same alphabet as we do.  I will never again underestimate the power of nonverbal body communication and nice manners can do to help you get around a country like Japan.

Moreover, on this trip I have seen some things that the Japanese do that Americans don’t, but I believe should be doing.  For example, Japanese people seem to have a higher sense of respect than us Americans do.  For the whole time I was in Tokyo, I don’t think I saw one piece of trash laying in the street or a subway station.  What makes this even more amazing is that there are literally no trashcans to be found in the streets of Tokyo!  When I was in Washington, DC last summer, you weren’t even allowed to have drinks or food on the trains, but there was still trash and rubbish everywhere.  On the Tokyo metro, you can eat and drink, but there is no trash to be found.  I wish Americans would be more respectful about buildings and streets and not litter.

Moreover, I have noticed that the Japanese tend to respect other people as well.  On almost all of the escalators in the city, if you wish to remain on one step, you stand to the left so those who are in a hurry can walk up/down on the right.  Additionally, I never heard any yelling during my time here in Japan, as well as no car horns being blown.  Everyone respects other people and just mind their own business.  This is another aspect of Japanese culture that I wish Americans would follow!

Regarding the cities we visited, I loved both of them.  I believe that Okinawa gave us a more historical and traditional view of Japan; whereas Tokyo gave us a more modern, big city outlook of Japan.  However, while these cities are different, they are also similar.  I noticed many of the same mannerisms from the locals in both cities, like placing money in the trays for cashiers, bowing to say thanks, taking off our shoes in some nicer restaurants, etc.

I also believe that I have grown as a person from this trip.  While I loved public transportation even before this trip, I never have been on a subway system so complicated as Tokyo’s.  Even though I never (sadly) successfully exited Ikebukuro Station from exit C6, I have navigated getting on different lines named in a different languages, evaluating the pros and cons of express vs. local trains, etc.  Now I feel more confident to tackle situations in life that I might not otherwise think I could handle.  If I don’t think I can do something, I will just remind myself that I can conquer the Tokyo metro!

Now comes the part where I mention what I enjoyed the most about the trip:  THE FOOD!  I have had Japanese food before back home in the US and wasn’t a big fan.  I now love eating raw fish, which is something that I never would have thought I would enjoy.  I would also have to say my most “brave moment” of Japanese food-eating occurred at the ryokan in Kamakura when I ate the whole fish at breakfast (minus the head).  It was actually very good, and tasted fresh!  This trip has reinforced my love (fresh) seafood.

I am so blessed and honored to have had the opportunity to travel to Japan.  It is a country that has overcome many obstacles, but continues to remain strong and consistent in their traditions.  This trip also allowed me to see and compare two different parts of Japan, rather than just a one-city visit that tends to be popular with overseas tourists.  I loved my time here, and definitely want to come back soon.  Hopefully I can convince my family to come with me to Japan soon!