Konnichiwa! By the time I have finished writing this post, it would have been a month since arriving in Japan. A lot of things have happened so far, and it has been an interesting experience. This post will highlight our the start of our homestay, reunions, and trip shenanigans. じゃあ、はじめましょ！（Let’s get started)!
Monday 9/03- This was the first day of our classes. This semester, I am taking four classes as part of my Japanese minor. They are: Japanese pre-intermediate , Japanese Studies I: Culture and Society, and Japanese Studies II: Politics and Economics. (Japanese studies II is a combined class of politics and economics. The politics class only lasted three weeks, and we just took our final exam last week.) Unlike the classes at Linfield, some of these classes have two or three sessions in one day with a break in between. For example, my Japanese class on Mondays and Fridays are from 10:45-12:15, 1:15-2:45, and 3:00-4:30. I am still trying to get used to the multiple sessions because it makes the day seem longer, and sometimes I get sleepy in class. However, we all take the same classes at the same time. And the nice thing is that the class is small, giving that individualized interaction with our professors. Our Japanese Culture Studies professor especially is very enthusiastic about the subject she is teaching.
Saturday 9/08- We met our host families for the first time at the International Center. My host family is the Miwa Family which includes a mother, father, and a high school daughter. They also have three small poodles which I have yet to meet. They were a really nice family, and we got to talk a little about our interests. Their daughter especially loves American music artists such as Taylor Swift and Sia.
Tuesday 9/11- Our politics class took a field trip to the Yokohama Prison. I was not allowed to take pictures of the prison, but I will tell you the experience. The prison facility was located in the middle of a suburban area with other public facilities such as an elementary school. Compared to a typical American prison, it was huge and spacious. Plus it had a garden and sculptures inside. What this institution does is that they tried to help inmates reform by making them work many jobs such as cooking, woodworking, etc. There was even a gift shop next to the prison where you can buy items made by all the inmates in Japan. This has changed my whole perspective on the penal system as a whole. I thought that the prison was scary based on what I see in the media, but I felt a sense of peace and hope during the tour.
Friday 9/14- There was a Welcome Party for all the International Students at KGU. I saw a lot of students from different countries such as China, Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan. I also saw some KGU students who were former exchange students at Linfield last year, so it felt like a mini reunion. The best part had to be the food! There was pizza from Costco, and it was American style pizza. Since coming to Japan, I missed eating pizza and luckily this was my rare opportunity to have pizza. Overall, it was turned out to be a great party!
Saturday 9/15- It was my first time going to Tokyo! I went to Ueno Zoo and Asakusa with two former Linfield exchange students from AGU named Zeno and Emi. Located in downtown Japan, Ueno zoo is the oldest zoo in Japan. We got to see many animals including the popular Giant Panda exhibit. Since it is very popular and a baby panda was born recently, you can expect the lines to be pretty long. Unfortunately all the pandas were sleeping, and I don’t think I saw the new baby panda. However, the gift shop was full of panda merchandise! Since I really like pandas, I would have bought almost all the merchandise if I had the ability. After our trip to the zoo, we went to Asakusa where we got to see the Sensoji Temple. The temple is one of the most famous in Japan. It is know for the Kaminarimon entrance gate which has a large red lantern. Since we went at night, it looked really pretty to see the entire temple illuminated. We also went through the oldest shopping street called Nakamise Dori with cute little shops that have snacks, and omiyage (souvenirs). After that, we went to a Japanese bar known as an Izakaya where I had my first alcoholic drink in my entire life (whoops, sorry!). In Japan, the legal age for drinking is 20, and I am already 20. I was a bit hesitant at first since I have never drank before, but I had one of the weaker drinks and I was fine. I hope to get used to drinking in Japan, but won’t do as much because I have heard that over-drinking especially in a different country can cause you to do stupid things, and have severe consequences.
Saturday 9/22-Sunday 9/23- This was the weekend where are Japanese culture studies professor took us on a study tour to Kamakura and Hakone. On Saturday we went to Kamakura, a city just south of Tokyo known for its many temples and Shinto shrines. We went to three temples/shrine that day. The first temple was Zeniarai Benten Shrine. This shrine is popular for people to wash their money which means the money in the shrine’s spring will double. I washed a US dollar bill along with a 5 yen coin. The next temple was called Hase Temple. This temple was known for many things. There is a wooden Buddhist statue called the “Eleven-headed Kannon” and it is one of the largest in Japan. There are also many jizo statues located around the temple and a jizo-do hall with hundreds of these statues of the Jizo God. It was dedicated to children who have passed away, the unborn, and miscarriages. Lastly, there was a cave called the Benten Cave where the goddess Benten is worshipped. Sixteen followers of the goddess are also engraved as well. There were many other great things at the temple as well. The last temple was the Kotokuin, famous for the Great Buddha that stands on the grounds. The statue is also known for surviving a mass tsunami where it used to be inside a temple hall, but the hall got destroyed. After the visit to all the shrines, we went to Odawara and had dinner and stayed overnight at a guesthouse on the KGU Odawara campus. The next day, we left for Hakone known for its onsen. Unfortunately, we did not have time to go in onsen because our study tour was during the three-day weekend of the autumnal equinox. Therefore, it was very crowded. However, we did other great things. First, we went to the open-air museum where there were many art sculptures including those by Picasso. I actually got” lost in the art”, and because of that I missed the opportunity to go in the foot bath with the others. However, I got to admit that if there was a place to get lost, it would have to be here. After that, we had lunch at the Gyoza Center nearby. Lastly, we went to Mt. Owakudani to see the sulphur pits and Lake Ashinoko in Togendai. We actually rode the gondolas to get to the places. This was an interesting weekend despite me getting a sore leg from all that walking, but we got to bond with our professor over jovial conversations.
Saturday 9/29- Sunday 9/30- This past weekend my homestay officially started. The first thing we did was see my host sister’s gospel concert in the newly renovated Kannai Hall. My host sister is part of the Yokohama Community Singers aka, “1000 Peoples Gospel.” They were joined by another choir called “The Soulmatics.” They sang all kinds of gospel songs including English songs; overall the atmosphere of the concert was energetic. The next day, I went to my host sister’s school festival at Kamakura Jogakuin junior and senior high school. It was an all-girls high school and it is very different from my all-girls high school. I got to meet some of the students and participate in cultural events such as tea ceremony, and even went through a Beethoven haunted house! I wish I could have participated in more activities but the rest of the day was canceled due to typhoon. But, I had a lot of fun bonding with my host family during the first couple of days and I am looking forward to the rest of my homestay. I even got to meet their three dogs named Peach, Joy, and Leo. Peach and Joy are energetic especially and would want to play with you when you come into the house!
So far, I have been in Japan for a month and time is really going by fast. I ask myself: Have you been making the most of your time? Yes. Do you think you can push yourself and try to do more? I hope so! To be honest, 90 days in a semester abroad does not seem like a lot of time, so I have to do as much as I can and take every opportunity!
じゃあね (Bye bye!)