Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Second Semester

The finish of one story is the beginning of another.

The Second Semester

Oh, The Places I've Went!

I saw a giant golden buddha on my way home from Tenri

One of the best parts of my second semester was all the places I visited.  I went to Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea, Osaka, Tenri University (to visit an OSU friend), Kugunarihama (an afflicted area from the tsunami), Yokohama, Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and so much more.  All of these places I went with friends or to see friends, but I also visited places by myself.

They weren't new cities, but they were new places.  I walked through the largest cemetery in Nagoya: Yagoto Cemetery.  I went to a movie theater by myself for the first time, and learned that Japanese viewers can watch the entire black and white scrolling credits without complaint.  I shopped by myself and discovered a favorite boutique, as well as bought my most expensive skirt (over $300, and not even an original!)  Not only did I explore new places by myself, but I also went with friends.  Sayuri and Yumi - two Japanese friends I became closer to second semester - would invite me to new cafes or restaurants.  We three would have a lovely time eating and just talking.  Those times have been some of my fondest times in Japan, and I miss them dearly.

Me, Sayuri and Yumi in front of the Science Museum

God Found Ways To Refresh My Soul

My dorm's prayer group at our final fancy French hangout

Looking back at my last semester, I had many periods where I needed to be refreshed.  Dorm relations were a bit bumpier than my previous Yamazato family.  We were still a family, but I kept comparing my new family with the old, which ended up depressing me.  Instead of feeling homesick, I missed my new friends that already left Japan.

But God found ways to encourage me during those times.  Through a Korean Christian dormmate, I met many Christian students for the first time.  I also visited other churches, including a Catholic church.  Meeting all these Christians, who were brought together from all over the world, warmed my soul.  Miraculously, I even participated in Biblical discussions and attended a Bible study conducted in Japanese.  Now that was an amazing achievement for me while I was in Japan.  Although I know I didn't say anything profound, the fact that I could express my love for Jesus and my beliefs in another language made me ecstatic to study more!!!

What I'm most thankful for is my prayer group.  The Christians in my dorm came together each week for dinner and discussed how we were doing spiritually.  We shared our struggles and delights, as well as prayer requests.  I looked forward to our time together; that small fellowship time helped my own spiritual life stay strong while I was in Japan.  I honestly don't know what I would've do without my spiritual brother and sister at that time.

Visits from Ohioans

2012 was also the year the dearest people in my life visited me!

Andrea with our massive fruit parfait (serves 3-4 people).

My sister, Andrea, was the first to visit.  I remember visiting Tokyo, which was our first stop, was more difficult that I imagined.  We arrived New Years Eve, which meant that even though we were tired, we wanted to enjoy the festivities that night.  However, it wasn't until the next day that I realized my ATM card wouldn't work until 2-3 days later (apparently even the ATM machines had a bank holiday).  That meant experiencing Japan only on the cash I had.  We managed to enjoy our time there, but I remember feeling stressed out because of my wallet.  @_@

However, I loved taking her around to my favorite places, especially when we visited Nagoya.  I took her to a lot of sweet shops . . . it's amazing we both didn't gain weight.  O_O  ^_^  She also was my only visitor who got to hang out with my friends in Japan.  So to summarize, although the trip was poorly planned, we had a lot of time to bond as sisters.  I especially enjoyed seeing her be culture shocked in the most unusual ways.  I won't forget the way she yelped when she tried a Japanese toilet for the first time.  (haha!)

”Every bathroom had toilet slippers" (From my sister's Facebook album)

Jon, my boyfriend, was the second to visit me.

Jon and me in Kobe

I planned my trip with Jon much better, after learning from my mistakes previously.  He wanted to eat Kobe beef, so I researched different affordable places we could go in Kobe.  Unfortunately for him, because I took him to unfamiliar places, we got lost multiple times.  Therefore, he said he saw "all the different faces of Japan: the city, the suburb, and the countryside".  He wasn't far from the truth either.

My best experience during this trip was the food though.  Kobe has a many great restaurants where you could try different grades of Kobe beef.  Kobe beef, for those unfamiliar with it, is considered one of the best types of beef in the world.  It's notorious for the way the cows are bred and treated (some cows are fed sake and are even given massages to help produce superb beef).  Jon and I tasted Kobe beef twice.  Our first time was at an all-you-can-eat buffet (tabehoudai).  It may sound spectacular, but there was so much meat at our table we don't know what was regular meat and what was Kobe beef.  Our second time was much better: we were served mid-grade level of Kobe beef which was heaven on my mouth.  ^__^  But I remember the okonomiyaki better.  Our chef let us try both the Osaka/Kansai style and Hiroshima style.  Most people would recognize Osaka style, which is what's usually portrayed in media.  Hiroshima style has a layer of noodles, which enhances the texture and taste of the delicious pancake!

Our second (and better) Kobe meal = around $45

So in conclusion, the food was great reward for Jon, especially after walking in circles in Japan.

And finally, my parents came to visit.

This trip was the most difficult for me, because I wasn't used to traveling with people my parents age.  I didn't realize how physically active a traveler needs to be in Japan until I tried having my parents walk around Kyoto.  My mom in particular had a difficult time because of her feet.  I also learned that my dad didn't especially like Japanese food aside from udon and noodle soups . . . However, despite having a rough time traveling around Japan, they did get to experience Japan, a new country they've never been to before!  They traveled to Kyoto, Nara, Kawaguchiko (to see Mt. Fuji) and Nagoya!  If you don't know your geography, that's a low of ground to cover on the Japanese mainland.

They also had the chance to see a view both Andrea and Jon didn't see - Mt. Fuji.  No matter how tourist-y it sounds, seeing Mt. Fuji from our hotel room was a sight to behold.  We spent a good 45 minutes just enjoying that view in silence.  Seeing something that magnificent made our last few days together peaceful.  My parents also had the opportunity to stay at the fanciest hotel I've ever been in.  My mother and I enjoyed the hotel's small onsen, and my parents had the chance to try on the hotel's yukatas!

Mt. Fuji from the hotel room

So At The End Of My Journey

Hill between my dorm and Nanzan U.

During all my travels and living in a new country, I learned many things.  My most important lesson was this: to value what I see in front of me.  Each experience, small or large, may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I don't think I'll see cherry blossoms at Yagoto cemetery, enjoy cafes with the same friends or be reunited with the entire Yamazato family ever again.  It'll be a miracle if I could.  But that's why I treasure those memories now, and why I keep all the pictures I took during that time.

There were times when things were tough, just like the picture of the hill to Nanzan U (shown above).  Everyday, I had to travel up this steep incline to school.  It was strenuous at first - we even had to take short breaks in the middle - but slowly we could walk it without breaking a sweat!  That describes how I adjusted to life in Japan.  There were times when I wanted a break from the societal norms or from my language studies, but after a while . . . the rewards were very clear.  I could use my Japanese everyday.  I became friends with so many people.  And now looking back, those many difficult challenges shaped who I am today.

I'd like to leave this blog with one last story about my time in Japan.  It's about this hill.

It was a really dangerous hill.

Before I went on my trip with my parents, I went bike riding around the city with a friend.  We went our separate ways at Nanzan U and I decided to go back to the dorm.  I had two choices: take a longer route down a less steeper hill around the school, or take my typical route down this hill.  For some reason, I thought that if I walked down the hill with the bike, instead of riding it, it would be less dangerous. . .

It wasn't.  Less than 15 seconds down the hill and I was already losing control of the bike.  When I arrived at the dorm, I had deep gashes on mly left shoulder, hip and around my legs, not to mention a lot of bruises.  Even bandaged the injuries looked bad.  The amazing thing though is I managed to hide these injuries from my parents (even when my mom and I enjoyed a public bath together at Mt. Fuji hotel!)

Ha ha!

My last selfie:
The only time I've ever been alone on the train

I hope you enjoyed reading about my time in Japan.  If you've ever been to Japan, I hope some of my experiences were nostalgic for you.  If you haven't been there yet, I would recommend going there once in your life.  Compared to American culture, Japan does feel peaceful.  Despite the Americanization and Westernization that's occurring there, the traditional cultural practices are being upheld.  It's an amazing place that would be a great traveling experience for anyone!

If you're wondering what I'm doing now in life, you can read my new blog!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The First Semester

More than 3 years ago, I went on my journey in Japan. . .

. . . And today, I would like to write about the end.

Bur first, let me take you down my memory road (it may take a while).

The first 6 months were about getting used to living in a new place and enjoying new experiences.  

The Classes That Constrained Me . . . and Set Me Free

Nanzan University Sign

I remember I had a terrible time getting used to a new teaching style.  My Japanese teachers were very strict about the quality of our grammar homework.  When I wrote creative sentences to illustrate what I learned, I would be docked points for errors.  Thus, I felt constrained to only give generic answers that I knew were dull but error-free.

Japanese Fieldwork Research Method's class 2011

However, there was a class that gave me complete control of my studies.  It was the one class that I felt was no different than a class at the Ohio State University.  "Japanese Fieldwork Research Methods" allowed students to choose a cultural topic to study and create a presentation of.  I studied Japanese Sign Language (JSL), mainly because OSU's Japanese textbook is called JSL for Japanese, the Spoken Language.  Over the course of the semester I consumed as much knowledge as I could about the Japanese deaf society and even took an introductory course in JSL at Nanzan's extension college.  I began attending a JSL circle (a club) in the city and interviewed one of the deaf members.  That gave me a unique insider's look into the lives of Japanese deaf people.  I wish I could talk more about it, but it would take an entire essay to go over that experience (perhaps in my new blog?)

Overall, the classes there were challenging.  Even though the classes weren't nearly as hard as a regular class, I couldn't slack off.  It helped that my grades would directly transfer, but that doesn't mean I enjoyed that part of my experience.  I did get to study topics that I would've never been able to study at OSU though, which made all my efforts worth it, in my opinion.

The People Who Changed Me

Yamazato Family Fall 2011

The people I met during my first semester also shaped my entire experience.  I met friends I'm still in contact with today.  There were so many fun times with both Japanese and International students.  What struck me was how easily it was to talk with my international friends, especially the people in my dorm (called affectionately, Yamazato).  Although we came from all over the world (France, Sweden, Denmark, China, Canada, Korea, USA, Japan), we could talk and hang out together without going crazy!  Our dorm meetings always went smoothly (even when we shamed one dorm-mate for leaving trash everywhere).  Everyone had their unusual quirks too, something that made them stand out.  There was one girl who loves to sing Japanese songs and has a beautiful voice.  One guy joined the triathlon circle and was known for being the adventurous type.  Another student was polite and softspoken, but was known for eating bento meals all the time.  We all had our unusual parts, but I think those differences is what made living at Yamazato fun.  In the truest of essence, we were a family.
Saho and me inside Sakae Station

I felt particularly blessed with individual Japanese students who invited me to hang out with them.  They treated me no differently than a normal friend.  Of course we talked about cultural differences and even spoke in English at times, but we also went shopping, asked each other for opinions about various things and even sought advice from each other.  When I first started my journey into Japan, I didn't believe I could become close to many Japanese students.  I thought I wouldn't be able to have deep conversations with them or share any personal feelings with them.  Yet the Japanese people I met always showed me patience and love and always showed an interest in who I was, not just where I came from.

So In Conclusion

Inuyama Castle

My first semester in Japan is one of my favorite memories of my life.  I had to adjust to a Japanese lifestyle, but I was also immersed into a global community.  There were some difficult times that first semester (learning to be a good roommate, an open-minded friend and a humble student), but they helped shape me into the person I am today.

The people I met that first semester, I will never forget.  Even though I lost contact with many people I met back then, I'll never forget them.  My eyes will never forget the views I saw at the different temples, castles and other scenic areas.  My taste buds will never forget my friend Saho's mother's home cooked feast.  As hard as I try, I won't forget the rigorous classes my Japanese teachers, which ultimately helped me have deeper conversations with locals.  All of these experiences made the first half of my journey one of the greatest times of my life.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Flower arranging (生け花)

My re-arrangement of Ikebana flowers after class
The semester is soon coming to a close.  Today I had my very last Ikebana (生け花) class.  It was a good experience, especially because although it was a very fun class, we were still graded on how well we arranged each week's flowers.

Ikebana is a very hard art form to master.  Despite being a popular easy class, our teachers graded us critically and would point out whose arrangement was the best in the class each week.  Ikebana requires good math skills especially in geometry; angles play a big party in the art.  There were a lot of times when I wanted to give up because my own arrangement wasn't aesthetically pleasing or correct.  In fact, I think each arrangement I did had a mistake in it that the teachers would correct.

Still, despite the struggles, it's a part of the Japanese culture.  Flower arranging can be very soothing, in the right situation and atmosphere.  Maybe I cannot focus or relax in a classroom setting, or maybe to me the concept and reasoning behind flower arrangement isn't clear to me yet.  I still learned a lot, and I learned a new Japanese art (even if I'm poor at it).  I don't regret taking it at all, and if I don't get that A I thought I would, it's still fine.  Because if there's one thing I've learned while I'm in Japan, it's that the grade doesn't matter as much as the experience.  Sometimes you sacrifice a little to gain something immeasurable.