Thursday, May 23, 2013

Return from Japan

Nearly one week has passed since we made the long journey back from Japan, where has the time gone? I find myself missing many things from Japan: the wonderful cuisine, the extremely efficient public transportation, and the bustling city of Tokyo. As soon as we got off the plane in Detroit the difference between the United States and Japan started to jump out immediately: signs in English, walking on the right side, and people speaking loudly. For me, and I think for the other students as well, it was nice to see prices in figures that we could more easily interpret, ex.) a sandwich costs $5 rather than several hundreds of yen! Although the conversion rate was relatively easy to calculate, I still found myself rethinking some things, especially when prices reached over 1,000 yen, thinking that items were more expensive than they actually were. In a strange sort of way, it is also nice to hear people speaking loudly, rather than hearing complete silence on a crowded train. Despite these differences, I cannot wait to go back to Japan and discover all of the things that this wonderful place has to offer to any curious visitor. 

Lauren Porter

Dreams Do Come True #Kitty-chan

            Although many students on the trip were not in a Hello Kitty craze as I was, I still happily indulged in as much Hello Kitty as I could possibly take in during our three-week excursion.  In Japan Hello Kitty is an extremely popular face that originated in 1974 and continually spreads throughout Japan.  The creator of Kitty-chan, Yuko Yamaguchi designed this quaint cat with a red bow and no mouth as a form of playing to the emotions of the viewer.  Having previously researched the Japanese company Sanrio, I had a high interest in exploring the many Sanrio shops found in Japan.  Japan’s Sanrio Company, Ltd. aims to make the world a cuter place with its motto “small gift, big smile.” While walking the streets of Japan, decked out in my Hello Kitty decor I noticed that Sanrio’s motto fully promoted big smiles among Japanese individuals.  I was pleased when many of Japan’s students noticed my Kitty-chan getup, pointing at me and smiling or saying “kawaii.”  It was almost like we had an intimate connection through our obsession and fondness of Kitty-chan.
Throughout our travels I made it my mission to explore the Hello Kitty stores of Tokyo.  Among my three-week stay I was fortunate enough to go to Sanrioworld in Ginza, Kiddy Land in Harajuku, as well as the Toy Park and Gift Gate in Ginza.  All of these locations feature Hello Kitty in their store.  Upon previous research I had learned about an amusement park called Sanrio Puroland, which is an indoor Hello Kitty theme park found in Tama New Town, Tokyo, Japan.  This was one attraction that I had hoped to visit in my lifetime but was one that I never imagined actually attending…One can dream though, right?  However, my wonderful host mother was able to get me a ticket to visit this Kitty-chan infested attraction.  Sanrio Puroland was absolutely incredible.  Having attended the theme park with a 1 ½ year old and a 4 year old, only made my experience significantly more enjoyable, especially because I was able to interact with my host mother’s grandchildren, sharing the same delight and compassion for Hello Kitty as the youngsters.  During this day of glory I put my Japanese speaking skills to the test.  Since the 4 year old only spoke Japanese, I tried my hardest to understand her, replying to the best of my abilities.   Yet simple, I learned that this interaction greatly impacted my experience, showing me that despite having a language barrier a smile as well as small exchanges can go a long way with others and inevitably promote long-lasting memories, which translated to the amount of happiness and enjoyment each of us experienced during our day of splendor. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lauren VanCour

I never expected to have such an amazing, eye opening experience before boarding the flight in Elmira, NY to our destination Tokyo, Japan. Since I have been in Japan, not only have I been having the time of my life, but I have also been learning so much about the Japanese culture, which I find to be extremely unique and fascinating. The two experiences that have been my favorite and most memorable would be the helicopter tour of Tokyo and the Japanese tea ceremony.  These are two experiences that are once in a lifetime and memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
The helicopter tour was an awing experience and it was once in a lifetime.  Ciara and I went together along with my host family.  Michiko, my Mama-san, Ciara, and I went in the Helicopter while Okah-san and Michiko's brother, who was the person who made the arrangements, stayed behind.  When we took off I instantly became excited and nervous.  Once we were in the air I honestly don't even think I blinked because I did not want to miss anything.  We saw all of Tokyo and we recognized some landmarks that we had already been to, such as the largest crosswalk in Shibuya, shopping centers in Shinjuku, and the Tokyo Tower that we went to our first week in Japan.  Seeing Tokyo from the air made it seem so small, which left a longing feeling of relief because seeing how small it is made me feel closer to home.  When we landed, Ciara and I were both grateful, yet sad that it was over.  It is surely one of the many highlights of this trip and I will never forget it.

As we entered the building where the tea ceremony was held, everyone was extremely anxious and excited because the group had been looking forward to this event.  The kimono I was able to wear was absolutely gorgeous and I felt honored to be able to wear such a beautiful ensemble.  I felt like a geisha or like royalty when the woman was dressing me in my kimono because it is not a familiar experience for me.  During the tea ceremony, everyone was focused and ready to learn how to properly engage in the ceremony. Each person was given a sweet filled with bean paste.  Mine was pink and filled with a bean paste that I did not know.  The instructors told us that eating sweets before the tea will allow us to want bitterness, which the tea could provide.  Afterward, each of us got our own green tea and was instructed to drink it a certain way, which I found to be fascinating.  Bobby, Jen, and I were able to make the tea ourselves when we were all through with the actual ceremony.  It was such an amazing experience to be able to learn the proper technique to Japanese tea making. I will most likely never participate in a tea ceremony again, therefore that is why it was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip for me.

Ciara VanCour

May 7, 2013

Today our group visited the Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima. We began the day with a lecture given by the chairman of the museum. The lecturer basically told us that the purpose of the museum is to promote peace throughout the world by advocating for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The people of the museum want to ensure that what happened in Hiroshima during World War II (the dropping of the atomic bomb) never happens anywhere else in the world.
After the lecture, a survivor of the A-bomb presented to our group and told us her experience on August 6, 1945. The presenter’s name was Keiko Ogura and she was 8 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On the morning of August 6, Keiko’s father told her she shouldn’t go to school because he had a strange feeling. She, however, wanted to go to school and see all of her friends. While she was walking toward the road outside of her house, she saw a  flash of bright light and was knocked to the ground by some sort of force. When she regained consciousness, everything had gone black. Keiko and her family had no idea what had just happened. As the minutes dragged by, refugees from Hiroshima began to make their way past her house. Keiko described how awful they looked, with their skin melting off and their organs protruding from their bodies. When she tried to give them water, some fell dead instantly. After that day, Keiko described her life as being permanently scarred. Being a survivor was not viewed as a good thing in post atomic bomb Hiroshima. Men did not want to marry a woman that survived Hiroshima because she was weak and a health risk. For decades, Keiko was fearful of sharing her story with the rest of the world. Now that she has, however, she hopes to inspire younger generations to strive for a nuclear-free world.
Keiko’s story was followed by a tour of the museum. The Peace Memorial Museum begins with the events that preceded the atomic bomb all the way through to the reconstruction period. As previously stated, the bomb was dropped at 8:15 on August 6, 1945. The hypocenter of the explosion was decimated and there were no survivors. The museum is actually built on the location of the hypocenter. The A-bomb killed thousands of people, both initially and due to severe burns. Even years after Hiroshima, people died as a result of radiation-induced cancer and other lethal illnesses.
Hiroshima was chosen by the United States as a target for numerous reasons. One of the major reasons was because the Japanese had a military academy and base located in the city. Another reason was because Hiroshima had yet to be effected by airstrikes, therefore the Japanese government would not see the attack coming.
After the attack on Hiroshima, the Japanese government sent relief and aid to the city. Nurses and doctors came from neighboring towns to provide medical assistance. Schools were transformed into hospitals, where those injured came to find treatment. Many of the people that came to these makeshift hospitals died. The city of Hiroshima kept a ledger of the names of those who perished after the initial bombing. It was very interesting to learn that some organizations in the United States sent relief packages to the city. This demonstrates that the citizens, not the government, are the good will of a country.
            Eventually, the city of Hiroshima was rebuilt. It is now a major advocate for world peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. The mayor of the city writes letters of protests to the leaders of nations who continue to test nuclear weapons. The last letter written to President Obama was in March 2013.

Allison Traynor

Japan is more wonderful and amazing than I ever thought it could be. The environment and culture is different from anything that I have experienced. The language continues to be the greatest struggle making it difficult to interact with the Japanese people. But the Japanese host family that I have stayed with have been remarkable. They are hospitable, generous, and heartwarming. 
My favorite experience however has been visiting the Fushimi Inari-taisha, a shrine in Kyoto. What is so special about this shrine is the Torii or gates that line the paths leading to the inner shrine. There are thousands of them, all closely standing next to each other. It is famous throughout Japan and was used in the film Memoirs of a Geisha. The torii are donated by Japanese businesses after achieving success in their business. Large stone foxes stand outside the temples to the shrine as messengers. We went there at nighttime because there was not other time that we could go, but it was still an incredible sight to see. Out of everything that I knew about Japan, it was the one thing that I wanted to see and I will never forget it. 
My other favorite experience about Japan was trying all the food. I tried everything, from swordfish to salmon eggs, from eel to jello tofu. While I did not eat rice all the time because it is so heavy, I tried with over easy eggs mixed with meat. Up until now I have not been able to eat eggs but ever since I got here I eat eggs almost every other day. One of my favorite dishes was okonomiyakii, a dish that is a large pancake but is grilled using vegetables and meats of all kinds. I have had bamboo shoots, purple potatoes, seaweed jelly, and dough pastries filled with anko beans. The variety is astounding, and so far I have loved everything. Its very filling, not to mention that there are no preservatives in the food like they are in America. The seafood is so fresh too. One night my host family served a buffet spread of make-your-own sushi. There were eight different kinds of fish! While I will admit that I miss breakfasts that only included fruit and yogurt (here they have noodles, rice, soup, fish, or vegetables) I  have enjoyed tasting different kinds of food throughout Japan. Even the smoked fish that is still served with their eyes has not dissuaded me. 
Out of all of the countries that I have travelled to, I have enjoyed traveling here the most and know that I will comeback again! But that won't stop me from adding some of Japans culture into my own life everyday back home!

Jennifer Vigil

Gambari:  Work hard, but not too hard.
Before coming to Japan we had a week of intense classes about the Japanese culture and how to behave in Japan. One of the things that we learned is that Japanese love to Gambare.  What do I mean by Gambare? Well Gambari is a frequently used word in Japan which means “doing someone’s best and hanging on.”  Japanese people consider Gambari to be their greatest virtue; nevertheless it is starting to have a negative impact in the Japanese society. During our classes we learned that Japanese are taking Gambari to the extreme level, for example: many people (workers) work excessive hours, without any breaks, in order to keep their jobs, because they are afraid they might get fired for not putting in their best. A lot of these people work from very early in the morning until very late at night and even on weekends making it very difficult for them to spend time with their family. There is data the shows that many of this people end up committing suicide after retirement because they do not know what to do with their lives anymore, since the only thing they have done is work. But this not only happens to adults, kids from a very early age are also expected to work hard throughout the school year. A very great example here is my host sister, she is 16 years old, and she is barely at home during the week, she leaves to school around 7:00 am and does not come back until 11:00 pm. Even though she is done with her regular classes around 3:00 pm she doesn’t come home because she has other classes in other school, club meetings or kendo practice. I personally don’t know how she does it, but every time she comes back she is always completing about how tired she is. But not only on the weekdays, also on the weekends she wears her school uniform because she has school meetings to attend. I asked my host mother why students never have free time, and she told me that is better to keep their minds busy so that they can’t ever think about bad stuff. In my opinion it kind of made sense. Now you might be asking what does that have to do with the picture up there. Well during our Japanese culture classes I didn’t really believed the whole thing about Gambari, until I actually saw it with my own eyes.  During the first week in Japan I had to take the train and travel for about thirty minutes to the Japanese Language Instutute where I was going to be taking Japanese lessons with the rest of the group and every day that I took the train people would always be sleeping. I would say about 80% of the people in my surrounding would be sleeping. Whether they were sitting down or standing up, they would always be sleeping, in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. This showed me how serious Gambari is for the Japanese people, even though sometimes it could just be too much.

Samantha Dunn

            Japan is an extremely friendly and courteous country. The people can be very shy if they do not understand much English, but even then, they really like foreigners.
            The best example, and the strangest by far, that I have experienced is when our little fleet of Americans went to lunch while shopping in Akakusa before going to the sumo matches. Stephanie, Jennifer, Meredith, and I decided to go to a small bar for lunch where you buy tickets for food, sit at a table and the waiters will bring the food for the corresponding tickets. While enjoying our food an elderly Japanese gentleman approached us and asked us if we spoke English. We told him we were Americans and despite knowing little to no English he kept talking to us and we were smiling and answering as best we could and used our limited knowledge of Japanese to talk back to him. Somehow this turned into the little old man buying us all shots and toasting together. Then he introduced his Korean friend who knew a little English as well, before leaving to resume his dinner with his wife. The whole experience was less than 10 minutes long but it was so funny and awkward that it was just amazing!
            Some of the other girls thought that the experience was a little alarming; despite thinking it was adorable as well. I truly didn’t feel uncomfortable though, because I can completely picture my grandfather, and maybe even my father as well, doing this to a group of friendly strangers. So cheers to the elder generations and the gifts they give us.