Not the Same

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One of my final outings of the semester was visiting the Tsukiji Nippon Fish Port Market with Ashlee Mantione. While waiting for the market to open, we were able to watch the sunrise.

As I started packing for home, I kept thinking back to one of the songs that my favorite artist, Ben Folds, composed back in 2001. The song, “Not the Same,” is about how even the most mundane thing changes you. Although studying abroad is by no means “mundane” there’s a certain magic to it that wears off after the weeks of daily commutes begin blending together. And after a while (most of the time without your knowing) the country you’re studying in becomes an inseparable part of who you are. This made Japan feel more familiar, more ordinary—to the point where maybe my experiences became a bit mundane. Regardless, my overweight suitcases and unrealistic expectation for America to have as many vending machines as Japan has made it clear that I am not the same.

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Before I left Japan I was able to swing by the recently constructed Oizumi Anime Gate. This area, featuring life-size bronze statues of classic anime characters, is located outside of the Oizumi-Gakuen Station in Nerima. Lum the Invader Girl is one of my favorite characters; she’s also one the protagonists in Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura. Without reading Urusei Yatsura—which is jam-packed with Japanese-specific humor that I had to look up to understand—I would never have gained an interest in studying Japanese culture so I’ve got a lot to thank Lum for!

Over the course of my semester I learned that planning a trip weeks in advanced isn’t always necessary. Spontaneously deciding to find lunch somewhere other than the nearest seven-eleven on a weekday or foregoing an early start on homework to scope out more of Harajuku Friday evening is always a good choice. On the topic of going out, when I return to Japan in the future, I’ll remember to set aside a larger amount of money for food and transportation. While preparing to study abroad I had been more focused on all the souvenirs I might pick up rather than my grocery and train bills. Additionally, I’ll find the courage to bring larger suitcases or learn how to use the post office because I did not have enough room nor weight allowance for my luggage.

I’d also like to return to Japan with a larger vocabulary and grammatical understanding of Japanese. Temple University Japan’s language program was a great way for me to kick-start my language skills, but I was always hesitant and far too concerned with saying things correctly to really put them to use. What was even more difficult than being fearless with my Japanese was juggling my coursework and personal trips. I tend to be a slow worker so I spent a lot of time either completing assignments or trying to keep up with them after going out and exploring. It’s why I’d love to return to the country with a slightly lighter schedule and also why I stress the importance of knowing and acting upon your academic limits.

It’s not a surprise to me that so many of my friends and peers are returning to America knowing that Japan is still a part of their futures. Although it’s hard to identify, there’s something about Japan that constantly calls those who stay back. I’ve been lucky enough to experience even a sliver of Japan’s cultures and I look forward to the next time I’ll be able to stay.

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