Muted conversations barely surface above the noise of the train. A different form of writing greets your eyes everywhere you turn. Humidity hits you like a brick every time you step out of a heavily air conditioned room. Surfaces practically gleam from every inch of my brand new room in the brand new dorm. Happily surprised natives, grateful to hear an attempt at their own language, abound, asking questions and providing services. These are some of the observations that particularly stick out in my mind after two weeks in Japan.
Hello everyone, my name is Moniqa Beatty and I will be your (in)experienced guide through my next three months in Japan. I hail from Renton, Washington, about 40 minutes outside of Seattle on a good traffic day. At Linfield I’m studying English literature as my major with minors in Japanese and education, hence my selection as not only the scribe of our trip but also the reason for the trip in the first place. I hope to be able to gain an accurate and unique view on the Japanese culture and to give you all one as well!
All Japanese minors from Linfield attend Kanto Gakuin University (KGU) for about three and a half months. Based on the stories and experiences of previous participants in the program, I have a very hectic, but fun three months to look forward to. As a part of this program each Linfield student is assigned a Japanese “buddy” who helps us with any issues we have and as a simple way to make friends quickly. The buddies are great people who are very helpful and have a decent understanding of English so that they can help if an emergency arises. Not to mention the fact that everyone is really sweet and amazing--people whom I hope to stay in touch with years down the road.
Almost two weeks have flown by since we landed in Japan, but with each passing day I can barely believe that I am here. Amongst the students from Linfield, we keep saying to each other, “It hasn’t even been two weeks yet, but I feel like I’ve been here forever,” and “We haven’t even been here a week and I know that I’m going to cry at the end.” While it may be odd to hear such things, the time that we’ve already spent here has been so amazing with so many great experiences that we can’t believe that we will have to leave it in another three months. Three months may seem like a long ways off, and our feelings may change before then, but for now we are having the time of our lives and we simply don’t want it to end. There are so many things that we have experienced and want to do again and many more that we have simply talked about. We want to make as much of the experience as possible so as to have no regrets.
I suppose that I should talk about some of these experiences, lest you all begin to doubt my sincerity. At the time of this writing (September 8), I am sitting in my room after a long day of walking around the Ueno area. Today we went to the Ueno Zoo (which was really cheap compared to any US zoo that I’ve ever visited) which was really fun. If I need to tell you why going to the zoo with a group of friends is fun, then there’s no way I can help you understand how making funny animal noises, cooing over baby animals, and searching the cage desperately to spot an elusive beast is fun. On top of that, we had several Japanese buddies with us who could not only help us read signs, but teach the American students how to correctly pronounce the name of the animal and vice versa. While people from the United States tend to have problems distinguishing “tsu” from “su” for instance, Japanese have issues with l’s and the “th” sound. It certainly makes for interesting conversation in between all of the cooing noises and exclamations of surprise.
Afterwards, we strolled around the Ueno area for a bit, looking at all of the unique street shops that Japan had to offer. Within a few blocks we found a wide variety of wares including but not limited to fresh fruit on a stick for a bit more than a dollar, a shop dedicated to Hello Kitty, clothes imported from America, Japanese-style leather jackets, more shoe stores than you could count, and fresh meat. Much like Japan itself, this small shopping area in Ueno is full of a wide variety of interests (some odder than others) and people. We saw everything from older Japanese gentlemen who looked like they had been working their trades their whole lives to the dyed-blonde younger generation with a unique sense of style. While some may think that Japan, being a mostly mono-ethnic society, would have a much blander, or at least ubiquitous, culture, that is definitely not the case. This stems from a variety of reasons including the influence of other countries such as Korea and the United States; it also has to do with the wide array of geography that exists within the country itself. I do not claim to be an expert in this area, but simply based on my own readings and observations, Japan is home to a unique central culture and a very flexible pop culture which I may discuss at more length in a future entry.
This year, the students from Linfield get to live in the new KGU International Student dorm which has only opened this year. Since I have already written quite a bit in this entry I will talk more about the services provided and the dorm itself at a future date, but the rooms are very nice and students are treated to free breakfasts and dinners Monday through Saturday, which is a refreshing change of pace from the previous year’s students who had to forage for themselves at the Hayama Seminar House. Since the dorm is only a 10-minute walk from the KGU campus, our commute is also quite a bit nicer.
I also plan to talk about the KGU classes after a few more weeks in which I can form more solid opinions instead of merely my initial reactions after a mere week.
Until next time! Moniqa Beatty