In week 8, I am starting to make more preparations not only for impending TUJ finals, but for my post-program travel. Preparing for the organized chaos of undergrad finals feels like clockwork now, making it all the more surreal that this time around, I’m finishing for good – and doing so in Tokyo, Japan. My first ever summer semester is also my last. It has felt understandably short, but even more so considering how packed with adventure it has been.
This week was no exception to that statement. On Friday, I took the advice of local residents and brought five other TUJ students to Nihonbashi for Tokyo’s Art Aquarium. Featuring thousands of goldfish in artistic tanks, I was beyond thrilled to experience it. Taking place from mid-July to late September, Art Aquarium tickets can only be bought by way of 7-11 ticket machines. Learning to use this technology, in itself, has been an interesting cultural adjustment over the course of my time at TUJ. 7-11 and Lawson ticket machines were a daunting task back in June. This month, though I feel like my actual comprehension of the Japanese display has improved only slightly, I felt a lot more confident in my ability to work my way through, especially with the help of native speakers, than before. Though still constantly aware of my foreignness, I am not as embarrassed of asking for help – a necessary step to learning while abroad.
In addition, I took an impromptu trip to the old city of Kamakura and island of Enoshima in celebration of the long weekend. There, I encountered shrines, temples, and landmarks familiar to tourists in Japan. I took note of how comfortable I’ve become traveling with my friends, fellow TUJ students, even with our varying, low degrees of Japanese comprehension. There is a sense of being collectively pushed outside our comfort zone – a weird sense of security, but specifically in encouraging each other forward.
Last post, I mentioned meeting native Japanese students, some of which made plans to give us the “authentic Japanese student” experience. Shuhei and Tohru brought us to Spocha, a complex that offers sports, arcade games, and karaoke for a flat rate, in Odaiba. I was amazed by the huge range of, and even variety within, the activities offered there. One gem included a simple Japanese arcade game, in which you had to carry out certain traditional tasks and manners, such as bowing at the right angle and practicing handing off your business card (an important and common practice in Japanese professional life). Our own Spocha group was accordingly varied in terms of nationalities and included American, Japanese and French students. At one point in our afternoon, one Japanese and one American student, who could communicate very limitedly in one another’s respective first language, realized that they could both speak fluent Spanish. Through their second languages, these students could connect with much more ease than before. We came for an “authentic Japanese uni experience,” but I also felt that what I observed was an authentic and unique experience in its own right. Overall, my time in Tokyo seems to be following this same path.