Monthly Archives: August 2012

My Homestay Family and the Wakabadai Festival!

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It’s been a little over a week since I started living with my new Japanese family in a peaceful suburb on the edge of Tokyo called Wakabadai.  The family includes Otosan (our dad), Okaasan (our mom), our two younger sisters ages 10 and 15, two fluffy cats, and two American girls from the program (me and Betrice).  Though it’s only been about a week, I have already learned more than I could have imagined.  I feel that there are so many nuances of daily Japanese life that you can only see when living with a home-stay family.  For example, the necessary activities we’ve had to do like getting a Japanese cell phone and filing our resident paperwork at the local ward office, have been unique experiences for me.  Fortunately for Betrice and I, we have a very caring Okaasan that helps us with everything we need.  She took us to the local ward and the cell phone store to translate for us and make sure everything worked out.  Whenever I thought of Tokyo before I came here, I would think about all the fun things such as sightseeing, eating, performances, etc.  There were many things I hadn’t considered before, like filing my paperwork and things like that.  When Okaasan took us on our errands, I learned about the practicalities of living in Japan, and started thinking more about what it would actually be like if I lived here.  There are many steps to take!

But besides all the practical things, our family has shown us a lot of fun things, too!  Okaasan makes delicious meals, and it is a treat just to watch her cook authentic food.  Our younger sisters have taught us about the school systems in Japan, and we see from them what it is like to be students here.  They do a lot of homework.  As it turns out, Otosan is a black belt in Judo.  Last week, he took us to his dojo to teach us some moves.  I didn’t really know what Judo was before, though I had heard of it.  After some warming up, Otosan began by demonstrating how to throw ourselves onto the ground.  Betrice and I just stared at him in shock!  But after exchanging a few hesitant glances, we began throwing ourselves to the ground with gusto.  After that, we learned how to shove each other down, and throw each other over our shoulders.  It was tough work!  I mostly enjoyed watching the little boys in the dojo who were also practicing Judo.  They seemed to have endless energy, and were so funny when they played jokes on each other.  At the end of practice, everyone in the dojo lined up to bow and pay respects.  I think this was a unique experience I wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for Otosan, because Betrice and I would never just show up at a dojo on our own.

Last weekend, the neighborhood festival happened to take place in Wakabadai.  Betrice and I walked to the festival through our neighborhood with Okaasan and our younger sisters.  We met Otosan there, as he was selling crushed ice at a stand with the local baseball team.  It was a sunny day, and we arrived late in the afternoon.  Upon arrival, I got very excited at the sight of all the young girls walking around in their colorful traditional yukatas.  There were also taiko drummers, dance performers, and lots of food stands.  When we wandered over to Otosan’s crushed ice stand, he grabbed Betrice and I and made us start selling crushed ice for him!  He gave us baseball jerseys and a sign that said Crushed Ice for 100 yen.  We started yelling, “IRASHAIMASEN!!” (Welcome!!)  Many people came to take pictures with us, and it was a lot of fun!  But we would have never known about this small neighborhood festival if it wasn’t for our host family.

Children in their Yukatas

An all-girl Taiko drummer group performance

Betrice selling crushed ice. Irashaimasen!

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Back in the Saddle

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Philadelphia.  Seven months detached.  Some things have changed, and others remain the same.  Looking back it all seems like just one long dream.  Thinking about the experiences I had, I want to take this final blog post to reflect on the things I have learned while living in Japan.

Number 1: Differences are beautiful, accept them.  Before I came to Japan I was not much of an otaku, nor did I have any extreme interests towards specific aspects of Japanese culture.  I just had a general interest in the country, based on things I had already knew.  I took the trip so that I might learn more from a first person perspective.  When we are in our comfort zone we tend to do the same things that we know we like, and stick around those who are similar to us.  This stifles growth and learning.  I came to the realization that I would not have a comfort zone in Japan similar to the ones I had at home.  Therefore, I learned how embrace cultural differences and apply them to my own living abroad.  This is not to say that I compromised my own identity.  I just merely developed ways to communicate and interact effectively across cultures.  One night, while out with a group of friends, I look around the table.  Looking back at me were faces from all parts of the world.  Deep down you get a sense that everyone is connected on this Earth.  Our differences don’t separate us, they are what identifies us as unique.

Number 2: Balance and Harmony.  Balance seems to be an important part of Japanese culture.  I got a grasp of this mentality and applied it to various aspects of my life.  I began to eat healthier and stray away from sweets.  I chose water or unsweetened tea over sugary, caffeinated drinks.  As the days turned into weeks, it became an unconscious habit to be healthy.  My time management skills also increased.  Balance may sound like such a rigid, static word; but harmony accompanies it as well.  I developed a go-with-the-flow mentality, and did my best to extinguish conflict among groups.  I started to listen more, and be more in tune with the body language of others.

Number 3: The world is huge!  I understand the size of the world differently now.  Of course we all know how vast the world really is.  Yet when were living in the small little complex world of our community, we sometimes forget about the outside.  Living abroad, I always was aware that there was an outside, and that there were other things going on outside of my small Tokyo community.  It’s an interesting feeling: to be fully engrossed in your living space and at the same time being concerned of the things going on back at home and around the world.  I have grown to become more concerned about international matters in general.  We are all in this world together.

From friends to family, to those I may not know personally, thank you all for following me on this seven month adventure.  I encourage you to check out the other bloggers studying abroad in different countries, we all have interesting stories to tell.  Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone at Temple University Education Abroad for allowing me to utilize this site as a platform to express my own personal reflections on Life in Japan.  If any followers are interested in learning more about Japan from my point of view, or just have questions in general, feel free to email me at eric.burton13@temple.edu.  Thanks again and,左様なら!

A Peaceful Weekend

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Earlier in July I, along with about thirty or so other TUJ students took a trip to Hiroshima.  I did not know too much about the city itself, only its significance in World War II.  We took an overnight bus from Shinjuku station and arrived in the city early in the morning.  From the bus station we took a street car (similar to a trolley car but much lower to the ground) to Peace Memorial Park.  We met with survivors of the fateful atomic bomb as well as other city residents.  The survivors retold the stories of where and what they doing when the bomb hit.  Some of them were just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time; those who were in their vicinity either died or received very grave wounds.  After receiving a tour of the Park we checked out the Peace Memorial Museum.

From what I can remember of history classes I had in my preteens and teenage years, a significant time of the school year was spent on the World Wars.  I’m only speaking from my own experiences, but very little time was spent on the events that happened in Japan; specifically Hiroshima.  The deeper I walked into the museum more the I began to realize how horrific this tragedy really was.  Imagine the entirety of downtown Philadelphia being wiped out instantly; over 100,000 people dying instantly.  It’s hard to really comprehend the power of nuclear weapons until you’ve seen a physical example of the damage they can do.

After checking out the museum I was starving.  One food that I really wanted to try this weekend was okonomiyaki.  The Hiroshima style of this dish is considered the best in all of Japan.  I, along with a few other friends went to a nice spot that was recommended by our tour guides.  Okonomiyaki itself is sort of like a pancake, with just about anything you want beneath it.  Sounds like a fairly simple dish, but I don’t think my explanation will really do it any justice.  You’ll have to try for yourself if your ever in Japan.

Okonomiyaki

As the afternoon approached, we began to regroup and make our way towards Miyajima, the island where we would be spending the night.  As we ferried across the sea, I could spot the famous torii of the Itsukushima Shrine in the distance.  A calm, awe-inspiring feeling came across me as we neared the island.   This type of gate stands before every Shinto shrine in Japan.  Yet this one felt more unique in that it was not on dry land.  The next morning we would be meeting up with students from Hiroshima University, who would accompany us on a tour of the island.  I later learned from the students that the torii had not moved at all since it was built.  A true feat of ancient architecture.

We couldn’t have had a better weekend to spend our time in Miyajima.  We were greeted at the entrance of the Itsukushima Shrine by kaitenma boat rowers from a neighboring island.  In addition a post-wedding ceremony was occurring at the entrance to the shrine.  With all the tourists snapping photos of the event, the couple could have saved money on hiring a professional photographer!  After all this, we dined with the Hiroshima U students and staff in an okonomiyaki restaurant.  This weekend might have sealed the deal on me being an okonomiyaki addict; it’s just that good.

Marriage

Wild deer inhabit the entire island, hide your food!

After lunch I decided to take some personal time to stray away from friends and reflect on Life.  One thing learned while living in Japan is to have balance, in all aspects of living.  While living in America I found it hard to balance my social and personal life.  I would always be at one extreme or the other.  It is good be around others: to learn new things, as well as for enjoyment.  Yet sometimes it is wise to take some time to be alone with your thoughts; so that you might affirm your own opinions and ideals on things.  I hiked up a hill to a small a secluded shrine; and I thought about these things, as well as others.  Before long I’d be back on a bus headed towards the busy streets of Tokyo.

Torii at low tide