Category: Japan

A Summer in Tokyo

I had been to Tokyo once before, but this summer I got the opportunity to return to Japan and study abroad for seven weeks at Senshu University. I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity. I learned a lot about the Japanese language, but more importantly, got to experience the culture and make friends from all over the world.

We were able to experience many aspects of Japanese culture, traditional and modern. One of my img_0546favorite days this summer (despite the humid heat) was the trip to Kamakura, an old part of Japan just outside of Tokyo that houses many shrines and temples. We went to half a dozen shrines that day. At one we hiked up the side of a hill where the hydrangeas were blooming. After, we all got paper fortunes- omikuji. The next shine was Daibustu, with a giant statue of Buddha. At another shrine, we hiked through a forest of tall bamboo. And at another, we saw a traditional Japanese wedding taking place in the bright red building in the center. Before we returned that day, we also went to the beach at Enoshima and one of our Canadian friends got to see the ocean for the first time. On other img_0501occasions we went to Kabuki theatre and a folk museum.

The streets of Tokyo are crowded, much different than Oregon where I have spent my whole life. Sometimes the crowded trains and thoroughfares could be overwhelming, but there was also an energy there that I miss. It’s weird to leave my house now and not be around hundreds of people at a time. Tokyo is the biggest and most populous city in the world, and I think even if I spent 7 years there, let alone the seven months I had, I don’t think I would even begin to scratch the surface of all it has to offer. It made every day that we went to the metropolitan area an adventure.

But by far the most rewarding aspect of my time abroad is the new friendships that I forged there. Classes were long, but we still had plenty of time afterwards just to explore Tokyo and spend time with the other students.Whenever we made plans, whether we were going across Tokyo to Ikebukuro or Akihabara or just walking down near the train station for karaoke, it was always an invitation. Everyone was so open and inviting. And since we lived in an international dorm with students from all around the world, on any given day, I would be hanging out with not just Americans and Japanese, but I also made bonds with new Korean, Chinese, French, Vietnamese, German, Canadian, Italian, and English friends. They have, all of them, opened my eyes to the world.shibuyaOverall, the experience made me aware of how big the world is. It can be so easy to get caught up in our comfortable lives, not even really aware of just how much goes on outside of our own city, state, or country. I hope I never lose the perspective of how much else there is out there, and how many people there are with completely different experiences. In meeting so many friends from around the globe, it opens your eyes to how easy it is to make a bind with people who may seem completely different from yourself on the surface.tokyonight

 

-Blair Prater, Summer 2016

Summer in Kyoto: an Abundance of Belief in Adventure

4.  Stone Statues, Southern Sado Island, near Ogi, JapanLiving in a 14th century Buddhist Zen temple in the heart of the incredibly culturally rich city of Kyoto was a surreal experience — sleeping on tatami mats, raking the pebbles of the gardens in the morning, eating native cuisine while sitting cross-legged in a circle, hearing the monks ring the bronze bells to signify that it’s time for meditation, seeing the ancient hardware-free wood joinery of my new home’s construction, being careful to not step on the entry threshold, removing shoes before walking onto the sacred floors — the authenticity of these five weeks were filled with wonderment, mindfulness and endless pleasant sensory surprises — everything was so new to me.  Before arriving, I was a little worried I might feel a bit uncomfortable in a place so geographically and culturally distanced from the rural Appalachia in which I grew up.  Instantly, though, I felt as though I was fully meant to be exactly where I was.

Dipping my feet into the goodness of Japan via this study abroad program was the most appropriate first step I could have imagined for preparation of the next chapter of my Asian adventure.  I said my see-you-laters to my fellow UO classmates, packed my panniers, and spent the next seven weeks of my summer vacation pedaling north.  A solo bicycle tour — my first of (anywhere near) this length, and in a country which I can only speak a handful of words of its 5. Sun Dried Squid, Northern Honshu, Sea of Japan Coast, near Ajigasawa, Japanlanguage.  Setting out with books and paints in tow, my expectations were to spend a summer keeping myself entertained — self-work and inner-reflection were on my to-do list as was meditating and practicing yoga daily.

Not long after parting ways with my American friends, I began to hear the Japanese language surrounding me.  And not long after leaving the upper edge of Kyoto’s city limits, I saw nearly no one else who appeared to share my European ancestry, (with the exception of just a couple of touristy stops along my route.)  As the mid-rise buildings disappeared in the clouds behind me, so did the populations who were versed in speaking English.  I wasn’t sure what sort of interactions I was headed for, but I felt ecstatic and as liberated as could be — I had no route in mind, no schedule to adhere to, no one’s rules to follow — just a tent, a sleeping bag, a camp stove and an abundance of belief in the thought that adventure fulfills all the soul’s needs.

After a couple hours on the road I pulled over for rest number one.  Barely half way through munching on a carrot, a local farmer rolled to a stop beside be and handed me two fresh, bright green cucumbers.  I grinned from ear to ear, bowed a few times and repeat the only phrase I’ve mastered — arigatou gozaimasu.  What kindness!  And from a perfect stranger!  Cherishing this moment, I headed onward through the cryptomeria hills and to the shore of Lake Biwa where I spent my first night.  Only ten miles or so into my second day of cycling, I realized that the cucumber incident was not a fluke.  I stopped by a small market to charge my phone and I was promptly greeted by an employee who offered to share a watermelon with me — I graciously accepted and proceeded to offer slices to other visitors as well.  One of these customers happened to be on his way to a nearby beach to practice windsurfing in the day’s ideal conditions.  He invited me for a lesson.  By the end of the evening, I was cooking a traditional communal stew, nabe, with him and his friends.  I was invited to stay at their house.

6. Circum-Pedal Mt. Yotei, Southern Hokkaido, near Makkari, JapanThis only brushes on a sliver of the generosity I was shown in the first 48 hours of my tour.  And, without exaggeration, this was typical for the entirety of my 48 day journey.  I was overwhelmed with the kindness and hospitality consistently poured in my direction on a daily basis.  I didn’t know what I had done to deserve it, or how I could ever repay these miracle workers, but I didn’t want to turn down any opportunities to bond with such lovely people; I didn’t want to miss out on a story that could make this adventure all the more enriching.  I found myself falling more and more in love with life with every shared smile and laugh.

All along my 2000 mile meandering route up to and around Hokkaido, I had hardly made it through two chapters of my novel and I still had three times as many blank pages in my sketch book as filled ones.  (And most of the pictures I had drawn were for the purposes of communication.)  I had a few yoga sessions from time to time, but not nearly as often as I was unexpectedly invited into someone’s home.  Places to sleep, hot showers, delicious homemade meals — these were certainly gifts to be grateful for, but it wasn’t the crux of it.  People were incredibly patient — the language barrier posed its challenges, but speaking with pencils and hands proved to be surprisingly effective, even if it took 45 minutes to say what could have, under other circumstances, been said in three.  I couldn’t believe how willing people were — willing to take me in, to trust that I wouldn’t cause harm, willing to share so much time and energy for a cause with no direct physical return, willing to reach out to a foreign stranger who is simply passing through.

My goals were accomplished but not in the form I’d envisioned.  In discovering these qualities of these new friends and acquaintances, I discovered something which I will forever strive for — to be a caring citizen not for the sake of feeling 3. Tojinbo Cliffs, Sea of Japan Coast, near Awara, Japanobligated to, but because it brings so much mutual joy.  I hope to always feel that there’s room and time in my life to share it with those who pass through it, even if I realize that they might not extend identical offerings in return, but solely because the universe aligned us at a certain time and place.  Japan restored my faith in the goodness of humanity, and I intend to carry this mantra with me wherever I may go or wherever I might be.

– Halley Anderson, Landscape Architecture in Kyoto

Gaining Confidence Through Study Abroad

MykelSutherlandI must admit, I have never been confident about my own abilities and potential at any point, and I am not sure I ever truly will be. The option of studying abroad was something I had always put off, coming up with reasons for looking into it next term, or next year. I went into this experience expecting that I may end up departing early, that I would not be able to handle being somewhere so different when compared to my relatively tiny hometown and life.

The first thing was using a foreign language, with anyone. I had never been comfortable using Japanese in or out of class at the University of Oregon, so I had no idea how I would manage in a situation where it was required most, if not all the time. My confidence in communication is poor even with English. This became an even greater concern at the time when my host family’s details were finally made available, and their monolingual background. The thought of going into another person’s home, where my weakest language was the only means of communication, amidst all the other changes felt beyond me. While I must admit, compared to others my family may have been the simplest and most open in expectations, I was amazed at how well I took to living in Tokyo and using the language, and how well life went with my host family. My time there showed from the very start that my language proficiency, while not without the occasional mistakes, was actually much more advanced than I had allowed myself to believe. I was able to communicate with very few issues with my host family who spoke no English, and that I was able to effectively communicate in general conversation and day to day activities outside my host families place and class. This experience really helped build confidence in my language skills, especially Japanese.

MykelSutherland5Another major thing I was able to work on to some degree while abroad was my difficulty with public speaking and presentations. While at Waseda University I had the opportunity along with a friend to visit Seikei University as guest speakers and speak at two seminars under a professor we had worked with at Waseda University. I have always questioned whether I can actually manage a position as a teacher as that is what I would like to do in the future. What was supposed to be simple introductions followed by observation turned into four hours of constant discussion and presentation with the students of these seminars, as the professor joined the students and left everything in our hands for the day. I found that not only was I able to manage this situation, but I actually did enjoy it, and a good time was had by all.

In all this, I was able to see what I was capable of, and what I should to improve upon in communication and the way I treat myself. While I already knew this, my time abroad really brought out the issue of self-confidence, and how excessively hard I am on myself. This is clearly something I need to address if I ever wish to advance in education.

– Mykal Sutherland, Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan

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