November 8th-30th 2018- 十一月のイベントとオリンピックの会じょう (November Events and Olympic Venues)

Light tunnel at Sea Paradise Illumination

(I am back home right now, but please try to bear with me as I write my last two blogs in a quick manner.)

Konnichiwa! Two months have passed during my time abroad in Japan, which means it is near the homestretch of the program. This post will talk about events that happened during November. In addition, I will also be talking about some of the Olympic venues that I visited.  Along with my other four class, there is an independent research class called Perspectives in Japan with the theme of 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I had to choose one aspect of Olympic preparation and conduct research on my own. Since my topic was sustainable venues, I visited some of the venues that will be used for the 2020 Summer Olympics. With that being said, 始めましょう!

Thursday 11/08- Our economics class took a field trip to the Kirin Beer Yokohama Factory where we went on a tour about how the beer is made and processed at the factory plant. The brewery is the only major Japanese manufacturer to produce their own malt and selecting their finest ingredients by traveling far to select the highest-quality of it. After the tour, we got to do some beer tasting. It was my first time tasting beer and let me tell you that it was the most disgusting thing I ever drank (in my opinion)! The taste was very bitter like some cough medicine your parents forced you to take when you were sick, and I wanted to throw up! I even tried both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beers and they still gave that same bitter taste. The only thing I enjoyed was the snack that was provided with the beer tasting. This was the most interesting field trip that I ever went to, and the first one where I drank (remember, 20 is the legal drinking age in Japan).

Beer processing plant at Kirin Beer Factory
Beer processing plant at Kirin Beer Factory

Sunday 11/11- I decided to have a nice and relaxing Sunday by going to Umi no Koen, a marine seaside park with the only beach in Yokohama. Nearby the park was an amusement park with an aquarium called Sea Paradise which is why you can see a rollercoaster on the shoreline. (I actually visited the amusement park later on this month). Although it was nothing compared to the beaches back home, I still had a great time sitting on the sand and listening to the sounds of the ocean.

Umi no koen
Umi no koen

Tuesday 11/13- Our Japanese Cultural Studies Class went to a concert in Shinjuku called Mangekyo. Mangekyo was a modern taiko concert with modern image projection mapping and very stylish costumes. This was unlike any taiko concert I had ever seen. I thought the performers were good-looking, and had great energy. I also thought they were having fun and so was the audience. I was only allowed to take a few pictures near the end of the show.

Mangekyo concert finale
Mangekyo concert finale
Taiko drummers of Mangekyo
Taiko drummers of Mangekyo

Friday 11/16- I went to see the “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie in a theater nearby Kamiooka Station. To get tickets, you can pre-purchase them online ahead of time, then when you arrive at the theater you get the ticket out of a machine. For snacks they have the typical ones served at the movie theater except for popcorn, the only original flavor they have is shoyu-butter which was actually pretty tasty. As for the movie, I thought it was a great storyline with fantastic music. The one thing about movie theaters in Japan is that everyone stays until the credits have finished playing. It is because they are showing respect to the directors and producers who created the film. I found that pretty interesting since I never stay for the credits because they are somewhat boring. At least there was good music playing during that portion.

Saturday 11/17- I took a little trip to the two most populated cities home to Japanese pop culture: Harajuku and Shibuya (round 1)! My first stop was at Meiji Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Since it was also the shichi-go-san (Seven-Five-Three) Festival that weekend, I saw many families with their kids dressed in kimonos. Nearby, I took a stroll down Yoyogi Park, one of Tokyo’s largest city parks which featured a lot of nature. Fun Fact: Before becoming a city park, it was the site of the Olympic Village for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. From the religious and peaceful side of Harajuku, I went through one of most busiest and crowded places: Takeshita Street. This street is known for many shops, boutiques and restaurants along the way, including the largest Daiso store (Japanese version of the Dollar Tree Store)! It is especially crowded during the weekends if you wish to go during that time. I also tried one of Harajuku’s famous crepes. After pushing my way through the crowds, I went to a rabbit café called Ra.a.g.f. The cost was 700 yen for a half-hour session along with 150 yen to feed the rabbits and drinks for yourself. The bunnies I played with were really cute! Then, I wrapped up my trip by conquering the famous Shibuya scramble crossing street. It was amazing to see so many people crossing the street all at once with some taking selfies in the middle of the crosswalk. I even saw the view of the crossing from a nearby Starbucks and it was amazing! And that was round 1 of my Harajuku/Shibuya trip!

Sunday 11/18- The Enoshima Yacht Harbor was the first of the Olympic venues that I visited for my independent research. Before I go further, past Olympic venues have now become abandoned “ghost towns.” What Tokyo is trying to do for the 2020 summer games is to use existing facilities for 60% of their venues, including those that were used in the 1964 games. The Yacht Harbor was used for the yacht competition back in 1964 and will be used for the sailing events in the upcoming games. It has also been used for other sailing competitions as well.

Enoshima Yacht Harbor Club House
Enoshima Yacht Harbor Club House
Enoshima Yacht Harbor
Enoshima Yacht Harbor
Enoshima Yacht Harbor Center Promenade
Enoshima Yacht Harbor Center Promenade

Wednesday 11/21-  Around this time of year, many places have huge light displays called Illumination and they have become popular attractions. I went to one Illumination display with my KGU buddies, along with a few friends, at the Sea Paradise amusement park (the one I mentioned earlier in this blog) in Hakkeijima. It was really beautiful with tons of lights all over the place including a huge Christmas tree and a colorful light tunnel.

Christmas tree at Sea Paradise Illumination
Christmas tree at Sea Paradise Illumination
My KGU buddies and I at Sea Paradise Illumination
My KGU buddies and I at Sea Paradise Illumination (Photo was taken by my buddy’s friend. He is a great photographer).
Picture of me taking a picture
Picture of me taking a picture (also taken by my KGU buddy’s friend)

Thursday 11/22- Even though there was no Thanksgiving in Japan, our Japanese Cultural Studies professor took us out to dinner at a sushi restaurant. Earlier, I didn’t want to go because I was very tired, plus there were some personal issues I encountered recently. However, my professor encouraged me to go to experience a Thanksgiving in Japan. So I went along with my classmates, and we got to have sushi with my professor along with her two daughters. The sushi was really good including the flower that was part of the plating decorations. (In Japan, everything on the plate is made to be eatable so it was okay!) The one thing that was embarrassing/awkward about the dinner was when the head of the sushi restaurant pointed out and asked if we were foreigners. Then our professor told him where we all came from, enthusiastically. One little pet peeve that I adapted during studying abroad is when I am in a place with few tourists, and someone points out if we are foreigners. They weren’t acting racist or anything, but it just makes me feel a little awkward standing out as a 外国人 (foreigner).

My ikebana arrangement at KADO event
My ikebana arrangement at KADO event

Saturday 11/24- The International Center arranged a kado (flower arrangement) experience for the international students. We were taught by a professor from Kyoto University about the art of ikebana. When creating ikebana, you have to find balance as you are arranging the flowers and the branches plus there has to be no symmetry in between. It was a bit difficult trying to fit all my plants in a perfect place. The end result did not come out as perfect, and at one point I wanted to throw it out. But temporarily, I put it on my balcony in my dorm.

Yoyogi National Stadium
Yoyogi National Stadium
Imperial Palace
Imperial Palace
Imperial Palace Garden
Imperial Palace Garden
Bamboo Pathway of Imperial Palace Garden
Bamboo Pathway of Imperial Palace Garden

Sunday 11/25- These next two places were also future Olympic venues. The Yoyogi National Stadium which is nearby Yoyogi Park was used for the basketball and aquatics events back in 1964. For the 2020 games, it will be used for handball events and the para-badminton wheelchair rugby events for the Paralympic games. The Imperial Palace Garden was not used as a venue for the 1964 games, but another goal that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Committee is trying to achieve is the use of nature within the city and city within nature. This venue includes traditional landscape Japanese gardens and will be used for the race-walking events.

(Another sustainable venue for the Tokyo Olympics that I mentioned in my first blog is the Yokohama Baseball Stadium which will be used for the softball and baseball events.)

Tuesday 11/27- The International Center arranged another cultural event for the international students. This time, it was a sado experience that involved kimono dressing and tea ceremony. For the tea ceremony portion, we were taught how to make the tea using the traditional tools that are used for the tea ceremony. While I was waiting for my kimono dressing appointment, I actually took part in the tea ceremony for a second time where the host actually makes the tea. Then it was time for my kimono dressing experience. I was dressed in the complete kimono outfit, including tabi (Japanese socks) and geta (Japanese wooden shoes). I even got my hair styled in a traditional kimono hairstyle.

Me in complete kimono outfit
Me in complete kimono outfit
Back side of kimono outfit
Back side of kimono outfit

Friday 11/30- There was a farewell party for the departing International students. Each of us gave a short speech that we prepared in Japanese class. I was a bit nervous not because I had to say it in Japanese, but because of another reason. Compared to the other study abroad participants, my experience was not as perfect as theirs. I made a lot of mistakes and had many struggles. There were also times where I thought my Japanese wasn’t improving (even though several people said I spoke good Japanese). I know I shouldn’t be beating myself up with what happened to me in the past, but I was also thankful at the same time to the people that helped me along the way and believed in me like the International staff and my KGU buddies. Now enough said about my speech! I also gave each of the International staff members a box of Hawaiian chocolate-covered macadamia nuts as my way of saying thanks for all they have done. For future study abroad participants, always bring a little something from your hometown to give to the ones who have helped you on your journey. That includes your host family, International staff members, friends, etc. After the farewell party, we went to a izakaya in Yokohama with our KGU buddies for a drinking party. Before I leave Japan, I wanted to have a chance to drink sake, so this was a perfect chance. I had the umeshu drink, and it tasted great! Overall, I had a blast drinking with my KGU buddies as this was one of the last times we would be together before parting ways.

Having fun with my KGU buddies at drinking party
Having fun with my KGU buddies at drinking party

Well that was a quite a mouthful that happened during the month of November. I know it was jam-packed, but I had to do a lot because I was running out of time.

じゃあね!

ーアリッサ

October 30th-November 5th 2018- 秋休み (Fall Break)

Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

Konnichiwa! The week after Oppama Y Festa, it was fall break and everyone went off to explore on their own. I will talk about my experience during fall break. じゃあ、始めましょ!

Tuesday 10/30- Fall break for KGU did not officially start until the next day, but my Japanese Cultural Studies professor decided to cancel class that day. Therefore, I decide to venture out to Tokyo Skytree, a television broadcasting tower and one of the landmarks of Tokyo located in the center of Skytree Town. I went all the way to top at 450 meters and since the weather was clear that day, I was able to see Mt. Fuji from the observation decks. There was also a large shopping area at the base where I did some omiyage (souvenir) shopping.

View of Tokyo Skytree from the bottom
View of Tokyo Skytree from the bottom
Observatory deck view with Mt. Fuji
View of the city of Tokyo from observatory deck with Mt. Fuji in the back (circled in red)
Alyssa at 450 meters
Me at 450 meters

Wednesday 10/31- I decided to venture off on my own by first going to Kyoto. I went by the Shinkansen bullet train and it took about three hours from Yokohama to Kyoto. That day I visited two shrines/temples; the Nishi Hongwanji and the Fushimi Inari Shrine. I will not go into much detail about the shrines, so I will leave links at the bottom so you can learn more about them. The best part was that these shrines were FREE! At night, I went to the Gion Corner show which was a theater that showcased Kyoto’s performing arts including, koto (Japanese harp), kado (flower arrangement), kyogen (ancient comic play), kyomai (Kyoto style dance) and chado (tea ceremony) where I was one of the two audience members that participated. I stayed at a modern hostel that was only around $26 USD a night, so it was a good deal. And since it was Halloween that day, it was weird to not see many people dressed up in costume especially in Kyoto, except for one foreigner dressed up in a unicorn onesie at a ramen restaurant. On a side note, the place where many people dress up and celebrate Halloween is Tokyo specifically, Harajuku and Shibuya area. That is the last place you would want to be on Halloween in Japan since it can get crazy!

Nishi Hongwanji: http://www.hongwanji.or.jp/english/

Fushimi Inari: https://kyoto.travel/en/shrine_temple/180

Thursday 11/01- The next day I went to Yasaka Shrine which was also free and nearby was the Teramachi shopping district. It is where all the junior high school and high school students buy stuff to take home and many are affordable. Therefore, I did a little shopping in that area. After that, I was off to Hiroshima by bullet train which took about two hours. At Hiroshima, I saw the Atomic Bomb Dome, and the Children’s Peace Monument, and Peace Memorial Park. The Atomic Bomb Dome looked so real with all the rubble remaining after the bomb dropped. For the Children’s Peace Monument, I have a very special connection. In my senior year of high school, I held and origami crane drive where I encouraged the students at my high school to make origami cranes and donated them to the Children’s Peace Monument. And here I am three years later at the place where all the cranes ended up! I also saw many elementary school groups come for school field trips where they donated cranes and prayed in front of the monument and sang a song. During the night, I stayed at a Japanese-style guesthouse which was around 39$ USD a night. The gentleman who owned the place was really nice, and even took me to the supermarket to get some food.

Yasaka Shrine: https://www.discoverkyoto.com/places-go/yasaka-jinja/

Friday 11/02- My time in Hiroshima continued the next day by going to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. I was very touched by the exhibits displaying the day that the atomic bomb dropped. It was also a little bit sad because there were many artifacts and pictures where people where injured very badly, and even burned. Because it was a little traumatic, it was hard for me to take a lot of pictures during my visit here. I even saw a peace “watch” tower that indicates the number of days since the A-bomb was dropped and the number of days since the last nuclear test. The last nuclear test was conducted a year ago in the United States and that made me feel sorry.

I am not a huge fan of politics, but I could tell that my country has taken a big step back with what has been happening recently. However, there is still hope that someday all nuclear weapons will be abolished. I even signed a petition at the museum about this act. Overall, it was one of my goals to visit Hiroshima during my time because I am familiar with the atomic bomb drop, the story of Sadako Sasaki and the origami cranes and I am proud to say I achieved that goal. After visiting the museum, I ate Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) at a place called okonomi-mura, a “theme park” where there are many okonomiyaki restaurants in the vicinity. Then, I returned to the Children’s Peace Monument to donate two cranes that I made while I was here.

As I was on my way to the station, I stopped by this cool facility called the Hiroshima Orizuru Tower, named after the folded paper crane. From the rooftop observation deck, you can see a view of city including the atomic bomb dome. There are also activities where you can learn about the art origami cranes such as making one and throwing it down the orizuru wall. It is a really cool place with a modern aspect, and I highly recommend while anyone is visiting Hiroshima. After that, I took the shinkansen back to Yokohama. The last two days was the first time I traveled by myself and I didn’t really do a lot of planning, I just went by ear. But, I was able to get around safely without getting lost at all!

Saturday 11/03- My host family along with a family friend went to the annual windsurfing event sponsored by the KGU windsurfing club at Tsukui Beach coast located in Yokosuka-shi. Now, being from Hawaii I have never surfed in my entire life, so I was a little nervous. And as it turns out, I did not do so well the first try as I struggled to balance on the board, and falling off eventually. As soon as I was able to maneuver the vessel, I went out too far past a point where I was screaming “Tasukete!” (help!); luckily I got towed back to shore. I almost lost my glasses when I fell off the board, but they were able to be found. It was a close call, and I should have taken another pair with me just in case. My host mother was not as lucky as I was because she too fell off the board and she completely lost her glasses which never ended up being found. She was also supposed to take me back to the dorms that day, and without them she wouldn’t be able to drive. However, another family that she invited lent her a pair, so everything turned out well. But for the most part, a lot of my time was spent screaming, swimming in the water, and playing in the sand. I wish I had more time trying to windsurfing, and I think I am the first International student that failed at windsurfing.

Group photo with windsurfing club members
Me, my host sister, and her friend along with some of the windsurfing club members
Me trying to windsurf
Me attempting windsurfing on the first try. (As you can see, I probably fell off the board few seconds after this photo was taken)
Group photo after windsurfing
Everyone is happy even though we did not successfully windsurf on the first try. (And yes, I was the one that came up with the shaka pose!)

After the event, my host family along with my KGU buddy ate dinner at a food court in a shopping complex. Then, my host mother took me back to dorms which meant my homestay had come to the end. I enjoyed spending time with my host family. I will miss being greeted by their dogs when I arrive at the door and playing with them, the breakfast bentos my host mom always makes me every morning, the super comfortable bed in my room which is actually my host sister’s, and most of all the おもてなし (hospitality) and strong relationship between my host family and I. Overall, my homestay experience became one of my happiest memories. The moment before I went back to the dorms, I hugged my host mother tight before we parted ways. After leaving my host family, I had a bit of withdrawal and I even played James Arthur’s “Say you Won’t Let Go” because of it. I hope to see my host family again before I leave Japan.

Monday 11/05- The International Center organized a bus tour for international and Japanese students where we went to a variety of places. First we went to the Yamanashi Shinbun Mochi Factory Tour where we got to see kinako mochi being made. At the gift shop, I tried about four pieces of one of their kinako products. Then we went to Misaka Farm for some grape picking and had lunch. After that, we went to the Lako Loho Lake Experience studio where we made gel candles at Kraft Park. Finally we went to Oishi Park where we could see Mt. Fuji but unfortunately, the weather was very cloudy so we could not see it. It turned out to be a great time bonding with buddies and other students.

I happened to make the most of my fall break because that is one of the only times that I was free and had no studying to do. For future participants, if you have a weeklong break like mine, I strongly encourage you to really take advantage of it by exploring many places and doing many activities. You might not have time near the end of your semester to travel due to final exams and projects. And I will say this again; 90 DAYS IS NOT A LOT OF TIME for a semester abroad program. So don’t be afraid and explore while you have the time (but be safe about it.)

Excelsior! (In honor of late Marvel creator, Stan Lee)

じゃあまた(see you later)

Me with one of my KGU buddies
Me with one of my KGU buddies (before taking this selfie, a grape fell out of my mouth LOL!)

-アリッサ

(Disclaimer: I apologize that these posts are coming out so late. The last few weeks had been busy with final papers and presentations, plus I had not been getting much sleep. Again, sorry for the delay in these posts and will try to get them posted as soon as possible.)

October 28th, 2018- ホストファミリーの生活とおっぱまYフェスタ(Host Family Life and Oppama Y Festa

Oppama Y Festa 2018

Konnichiwa! In this post, I will talk about my homestay experience and the annual Oppama Y Festa. My homestay experience was amazing, and I have made some of the most happiest memories. They are a really nice family with three adorable dogs. My host mother is especially the sweetest. Every morning, I have to wake up early because my host mother leaves for work around 7:30 and by then everyone is out of the house (daughter goes to school and host father is off to work in the early morning). However, she always makes me a breakfast bento to take to school and most of the time that includes pastries and fruit. Before I leave for school, she tells me “きをつけてね (be careful)” and to have a nice day. She is very understanding especially when I have my struggles sometimes.

There were also times when I went out with my host family to do fun activities. One time I went to karaoke for the first time with my host mother and daughter, and we had a blast singing mostly American pop songs since my host sister loves American pop music like me. Another time, we went shopping at Yokohama Landmark Plaza, and after that we rode the Yokohama Seabass, a ferry that travels through the scenic route from the port of Yokohama. Since we rode at night, the view was really pretty!

Me and my host sister singing karaoke
Me and my host sister singing karaoke
A view of the Cosmo Clock Ferris Wheel from the Seabass
A view of the Cosmo Clock Ferris Wheel from the Seabass

Then, one dinner I helped make gyoza for the first time. To be honest, it is not that easy especially when you have to make small creases as you are folding the dumpling and I put too much meat in one of them. But, it still turned out to be おいしい (delicious).

Finally, there was a day where my host family even met one of my KGU buddies after he helped me get shinkansen tickets for fall break (I will talk about this in my next post) and we went to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) where they had an exhibit about the gannenmono, the first Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii. This exhibit was special since it is the 150th anniversary of the gannenmono and there were a few celebrations honoring them back home this past summer.

Making gyoza
Making gyoza with my host sister
Me and my buddy at JICA
Me and my buddy in front of a display of a vegetable parade float made by Japanese immigrant farmers in Oregon for the Portland rose festival at the JICA.

Overall, I had a great time with my host family. At the beginning (and before the homestay started), it felt kind of awkward since I am different from them. However as time went on, I felt as if I had become part of the family. I am now glad to say I have ohana (If you don’t know the meaning of this word, you better watch Lilo and Stitch) in Japan because of the hospitality they have provided me. I imagine that it is going to be so difficult coming back home where my real family lives. Now on to Oppama Y Festa!

Oppama Y Festa KGU game
One of the games where I helped out at

Sunday 10/28- Oppama Y Festa was a festival sponsored by Nissan where there were many activities set up for the kids. KGU had a tent with two activities set up, so all of KGU, both international and japanese students helped out at this event. Since the theme was Halloween, I decided to dress up as Mario. My job was to cheer on the kids as they had to play a game where they throw a ball at one of the numbered squares to get three across, diagonal, up, or down. I got to admit, I probably sounded like an idiot because I got into the character of Mario and cheered like him but I am pretty sure the kids seemed to enjoy it. There were also performances going on such as a power ranger fight and a band that played Hawaiian music along with hula dancers. At the end of the day, we all walked down to see the fireworks, and the display was huge! It was much bigger and more grand than the usual Friday night fireworks back home.

 

Hula dancers performing at Oppama Y Festa
Hula dancers performing at Oppama Y Festa
Oppama Y Festa Power Ranger Fight
Power Ranger Fight at Oppama Y Festa

Well that is all for this post, be on the look out for my upcoming post about fall break which occured soon after Oppama Y Festa.

Me with Luigi kid
Me with my “brother” Luigi!

じゃね!
-アリッサ

October 12th, 2018- 中間点 (Halfway Point)

Konnichiwa! It is hard to believe that I am at the halfway point of my time abroad in Japan. Being at the halfway point means I have experienced a lot! Recently, we have started our teaching assistant program at a nearby junior high school that is part of the Kanto Gakuin system. We assist a teacher in an English class and help the students learn English. On Tuesdays, we teach the high school grade 4 level class and on Thursdays we have a casual English lunch break in the English lounge where we talk with the students in English. After that, we help teach the junior high school grade 1 level class. To be quite honest, I wasn’t looking forward to be a TA for an English class at first because English was not one of my strong subjects in high school. Luckily, I reached out to some of my former high school teachers and they gave me strong words of encouragement to be patient and keep it simple. I especially need to have lots of patience because in the grade 4 class, some are not as interested in learning the English language. Some are sleeping, or talking to their friends. The grade 1 class on the other hand, are very energetic and interested in learning the subject. But at times, it can be hard to teach them since they are very noisy.

Now, this post will not be like the others because as much fun studying abroad seems, it will not look like a picture-perfect experience at times (and that’s OK). I will share those challenges that I (as well as others) have encountered during my time in Japan as they are considered learning experiences.

#1 The Language Barrier- this for me is the biggest challenge in Japan since the Japanese language is one of the most difficult languages in the world. In fact, the other Linfield students have said that the language barrier was the most difficult as well. Vanessa Kelly said that with the language barrier, you are “not able to say what you want to say.” Edna Poton mentioned that “it has stopped her from asking questions that she wanted to ask and continuing conversations. In Japan, there is more intricate vocabulary that catches us off guard at times.” I totally agree with both since they are mentioning similar points. In Japan, there are many levels of talking based on rank and statuses of people; ex. boss to his subordinates. Especially in Japan, you have to be very careful when speaking to someone higher than you because there is respectful language called keigo (honorific.) There are also different tense endings that are used when talking about past, present, and future. Even when speaking to friends/host family during a conversation, it is hard to continue the conversation especially when there is a word you don’t know the meaning of, yet you have so much to talk about. Often when I come across a word I don’t understand, most conversations are left open-ended.

And sometimes there are things I really want to talk about that I am able to in English, but many times I don’t know the meaning in Japanese, so I try my best to keep it simple. My perspective on the language barrier is that it is taking a while for me to get through. Sometimes, I feel intimidated when someone is talking to me in fluent Japanese, and I can’t understand a word at all. It also takes a lot of energy for me to speak the language especially there are times when I want to use English. If I am in an uncomfortable situation and someone is trying to help me, I completely shut down and unable to try to speak Japanese. Not a lot of people speak English in Japan, so it sounds very foreign to me and I have to fend for myself. Not only is there the language barrier in Japanese, there are also barriers from  other languages. There are many international students from other countries such as Russia, China, and Taiwan. The positive aspect is that it makes the study abroad experience more diverse, but there is also a negative aspect in my opinion. English may not be their first language, so the only way to communicate is to use Japanese, or somehow find a way to learn their native language. In a way, it creates a double language barrier As you read on, you will find that the language barrier can play a role in the other challenges that I talk about.

#2 Standing Out- This is another major challenge that I have noticed in Japan. In the country, a majority of the population is Japanese/Asian. Very few are either white, hafu, (half-Japanese), etc. and that includes mostly tourists. For the two other Linfield students in my group, they easily stand out due to their ethnicity with one being white and other Latino. In my case, it is a little different. Since I am Japanese, I have a Japanese last name and I look Japanese.  Therefore, people expect me to know Japanese. However, not being fluent and knowing little about the cultural habits makes me stand out as a 外国人(foreigner). There is a Japanese proverb that says, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” Japan is a group-oriented society meaning that everyone has to conform to the cultural norms. If one does not conform accidentally, Japanese people really notice, and act very emotional about it. That is why, I have to be careful when blending in with society so that they don’t know I am a 外国人.

#3 Typhoons- In my hometown of Hawaii, we have hurricane season but in Japan, there is typhoon season. The season lasts between May and October, with August and September being the peak season. During a typhoon, there are strong winds and heavy rain showers hitting Japan. Typhoons can impact many things including delays in the rail lines. There have been a few typhoons since arriving, and I remember experiencing one that hit close to my area. One night, I remember the room shaking in my homestay as the wind speeds were about 46 miles per hour, plus the power went out. I was feeling worried as the room kept shaking since this the first time I felt wind speeds at a very high level. Luckily, it happened close to my bedtime and I was safe after that. But it was a scary experience for me.

#4- Making Friends- I remember this point being mentioned by a former Linfield student that studied abroad in the same program. In Japan, people tend to be very shy so you have to make the move instead of them coming to you. I recently interviewed one of the KGU professors for my Japanese culture class, and he is also from Hawaii. He mentioned that in Japanese culture, they are more patient and willing to wait unlike the Hawaiian culture where they are more welcoming. In my case, it makes it really difficult when trying to do things during my free time and there are two reasons. One, is that I am an introverted person so I am shy as well. And two, there is that language barrier once again which makes me unable to say what I want to say to the Japanese students.

Crowded train
On a crowded train during our study tour back in September. (It gets worse on the way!)

#5- Transportation/Getting Around- For me, this has to be the second biggest challenge during my experience. In Japan, the rail systems are the most reliable form of transportation for everybody. I mentioned this a little bit in my first blog that the trains can get really crowded especially during rush hour. You will find many people such as businessmen/women and school students riding at the same time. At times, it can get so crowded that you feel like you are in a can of sardines. Before coming to Japan, I heard that there are some instances where the train station attendants have to push people to fit in the train, but I have not seen that yet. There are also times when there are no seats available that you have to stand during the whole ride, and it can make you feel dizzy. And, as part of the cultural norm, you have to give up your seat to elderly, disabled, or infant-carrying passengers. Unlike McMinnville, Yokohama is a really big city and it can be hard to get around especially if you don’t know where you are going. I unfortunately got lost a couple times trying to get around. The first time was when I was trying to get to my homestay from school by bus. It seems that I kept taking the wrong bus that were heading in the opposite direction of where I was going. I tried to ask the drivers as best as I can, but I couldn’t understand them. Up to a certain point, I gave up on the bus and took the train instead since it was more convenient. I realized soon after that I was at the wrong bus stop, and I was going by the bus number and not the destination of where it was going. Luckily, the International Center staff helped me the next day by showing me the correct bus stop, and I even wrote the destinations down so I don’t confuse them. The second time happened recently on last week Thursday. This time, it was involving the train. I was supposed to go to the Tokyo Stock Exchange for an economics field trip. What happened was I went to the correct platform that the station attendant told me to go, but what I did not realize is that there is more than one train using that platform regardless of what the sign says. So the platform said to Haneda Airport, but I was supposed to go on a train that was headed to Aoto and was the limited express to Tokyo. That resulted in a series of wrong directions, and I never ended up near Tokyo at all. Therefore, I missed the field trip which feels like missing a big opportunity to experience. After that, I felt humiliated, disappointed, upset, and a little bit traumatized. Especially since this was the second time I got lost, I felt like I let the KGU International Center, my classmates, and my professor down. I didn’t even want to go to class the next day or talk to anyone since I blew it! What also made this more complicated was my poor Japanese language speaking ability. Again, when someone is trying to explain directions to me, I just block it out because I don’t understand a single word (plus they don’t speak English). Now that fall break is approaching, I still feel anxious of getting lost again as that memory haunts me.

Because of these challenges I have encountered, Japan still feels like a foreign country to me. Most of the time, I listen to music just to ease my worries. I have also reached out to the KGU International Center, Linfield College IPO, and my host family for support. They all understand the challenges I have been going through. Most of the time, it feels like I am the only one still struggling to get used to Japan, and the others already gotten used to it. On the positive side, the food is really good and because Japan is so fascinating, I feel like I don’t want to go back home. Already, I have gotten an email about course registrations coming soon, and it will be hard to get back to reality once I come back in the spring.

I hope that people that want to study abroad in the future will take-away from this post that you will tend to make a lot mistakes, and that is ok. It will take a while to get used to a new country, just like how we had to get used to being on our own at the beginning of our college career. At times, we may have mixed feelings when dealing with unknown situations, especially when the cultural norms are different. If you ever need help, you can always ask someone, they are willing to guide you. At this point, I am not ready to give up on my journey, and neither should you. If I had offended anyone who is reading this post, I am very sorry. がんばって!(do your best!)

Me playing with host family dog
Since this post was not so happy, here is a photo of me playing with one of my host family’s dogs so you can all feel better.

ーアリッサ

 

September 30th, 2018- 一か月後 (One Month Later)

Big Buddha

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.

KGU Welcom Party group photo
KGU Welcome Party with all International and current KGU students.

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!

Ueno Zoo panda
Sleeping panda at Ueno Zoo
Vanessa Kelly and Alyssa photo
Vanessa (another Linfield student) and I in front of Mikuji, a fortune station #808represent!
Sensoji Temple in Asakusa at
Sensoji Temple in Asakusa at night

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!

Student performing tea ceremony
Student performing tea ceremony
Meeting students at school festival
Meeting more students at school festival!
Me with my host sister and another student
Me with my host sister and another student
Tea Ceremony at host sister's school festival
Participating in tea ceremony at my host sister’s school festival.

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!

Wearing kimono at school festival
Wearing kimono at school festival

じゃあね (Bye bye!)

-アリッサ クワもト

 

 

Sept. 7th, 2018- 日本へようこそ!(Welcome to Japan)

Yokohama Bay Bridge

This the welcome sign you see after you have landed in Narita Airportはじめまして!(How do you do? Glad to meet you!). Sorry for the late post, but I have been getting used to this roller coaster ride of studying abroad which is normal for anyone living in a new country.  Prior to leaving, I was worried my flight would get canceled/delayed due to a category 4 hurricane approaching my hometown of Hawaii. Luckily, the storm dissipated in time for my departure. The flight wasn’t too bad since the duration lasted only 7 hours. On August 28th, my journey started when I arrived in Narita Airport. As soon as I went through immigration customs and baggage claim, I arrived the main gate and met two other current Linfield students and some KGU students known as “buddies.” One of my buddies was actually an exchange student last year at Linfield named Naoki, aka Kiki. Soon after, we were transported to our dorms where we got a tour. The next few days were filled with orientation, meeting the KGU International Center assistants, and a few trips. Here are a few highlights of some of the days during our arrival week:

Thursday 8/30- I learned how to use the rail system for the first time going to downtown Yokohama. In Japan, almost everyone uses the rail system as a mode of transportation to work and school. Riding it will take some getting used to since I felt a little dizzy from standing while the train is moving. The trains can also get crowded at times especially during rush hour, and you must offer your seat to elderly or people with infants to be polite. In downtown Yokohama, some of us went to get International sim cards for the smartphones. After that we had lunch at a place called Ichiran Ramen. It is an unique restaurant because you order from a vending machine and then you eat at your own private booth. I enjoyed this “antisocial” experience where I can just focus on the taste of the delicious ramen all by myself. Then we did a little shopping at mall called JoinUS. We went to a café where one of the program assistants, Matsuoka Sensei, treated us all to drinks. This shows how sincere and kind people can be in Japan.

Tonkatsu Ramen
Tonkatsu ramen from Ichiran Ramen

Friday 8/31- The next day we took a placement test for our Japanese language classes. After that we had  a bento lunch with our Japanese lecturers. It was nice getting to know our lecturers before classes started, and were all fascinated by our interests and our background. It is similar at Linfield when we get the 1:1 student-teacher ratio, and they want to remember us.

Yokohama City
Yokohama City as seen from Cosmo Clock Ferris Wheel

Saturday 9/01- We met with our KGU buddies and went to various places around Yokohama. First we walked around Yokohama Baseball Stadium, and through Chinatown. After that, we went into separate groups and did our own activities. For lunch, my buddies and I went to this Hawaiian restaurant called Sun Aloha Minato Mirai for a little taste of home. The one thing I like about Japan is that it has a great relationship with Hawaii, so I hope to find some bits of Hawaii here. Then, we went to the famous Cup of Noodle Museum where it was all about the famous ramen cup and its creator, Momofuku Ando. I learned that Momofuku Ando was a great innovator by using creative thinking and curiosity to create a successful product. The day ended by going to CosmoWorld amusement park where I rode the famous Cosmo Clock ferris wheel and a cool water ride.

Cup of Noodle Wall
Had Momofuku Ando not created Cup of Noodle, then broke college students would not have been able to survive.

Sunday 9/02- The next we spent time with our buddies again by going to Enoshima, a small island located off the Shonan coast of Kanagawa Prefecture. From there, we went to the Enoshima aquarium where we saw lots of fish and marine life. There was even penguins and otters! After we that we had a lunch break, and it was off to the Enoshima Shrine. It was really nice, but it turned out be a long hike for me. I should have worn more comfortable clothes especially since the weather in Japan is very humid during this time of the year.

Enoshima Shrine
Enoshima Shrine

So far I have been having an interesting experience in Japan. My only issue is the language barrier. Japanese can be a difficult language especially when people are talking really fast. Sometimes, I feel intimidated when I listen to them speak, and I don’t know what to say because I know so little. And not a lot of people speak English except for a few that speak broken English. I wished I had reviewed more during the summer. Hopefully, I will improve and become fluent before the end of this program. Until next time, じゃまた!(See you later)!

Group photo at Enoshima Aquarium
Our group at Enoshima Aquarium

ーAlyssa Kuwamoto (アリッサ クワモト)