Hey guys, Win’s here. Sorry I haven’t update about my trip on Japan to you guys since my last post. I’ve been extremely busy once I’ve reached the country of many islands. I landed on Seattle soil yesterday morning, September 19th. After a long slumber in the hope of getting rid of the jet lag, I woke up at 8 am this morning trying to adjust to reality. Somehow it’s too hard for me to get my mind off Japan for just a minute. My presentiment regarding post-trip feelings of emptiness I mentioned in my last post came true. Now, I’m sitting here trying to blog about my experience in Japan. I don’t think this is a good idea at the current state, but I think writing and thinking about the trip will somewhat put my mind at ease. I don’t know, we’ll see? I’ll be writing a paragraph for each day in Japan and accompany some pictures along to help you visualize. So to those who like to read, there writing is there and for those who like to see pictures, the pictures are also there. Best of both worlds? I think so. Here goes, Win’s adventure in Japan!
September 3rd – Day 1 (Seattle, Washington)
This is the group of individuals that I spent my times with in the past days in Japan. This was taken before we headed to Narita airport near Tokyo, Japan. We started out as strangers, as students and teachers, and as individuals. However, I have been getting to know each and one of these people and had plenty of fun times with them. Once we left, I felt like they were a part of a family that I never had. The airplane ride was long and I couldn’t even sleep once. However, I got to watch a bunch of new movies on the way.
September 4th – Day 1 (Matsuyama, Japan)
Landed in Matsuyama in the evening after roughly 12 hours of plane ride. It was a day ahead of Washington. That’s time traveling, guys. We got accustomed to the share house and then headed to a tourist place called Dogo to buy breakfast for Day 2. There are convenient stores all over Japan that would open 24/7 that sell from drinks to lunch boxes. I would say they are your typical Seven Elevens, except fancier without the Slurpee. The amount of vending machines was overwhelming to me. There were one at every corners. There were soda and cider drinks that have Dragon Ball Z print, my generation childhood on a can right there. I bought an mandarin orange cider that are specialized in Dogo as well as some ramen (I basically ate a load of ramen for breakfast in Japan, they were delicious).
September 5th – Day 2 (Matsuyama, Japan)
Woke up at 4 am to remembered that the glass bottle of cider I bought the night before exploded in the freezer because I left it there overnight (that’s what jet lag do to you). Three great events happened on this day; bikes, Japanese foods, and rice. Scratch that, the fourth thing is meeting our first Japanese friend. We meet with a Japanese cute female student at Ehime University (the university that affiliates with UWB and where we also learned about nuclear energy) named Yuri. She took us to a bike shop near the campus to rent our bikes. The feeling of riding a bike after 10 years of absence was indescribable. The wind I caught with the speed felt like time was flowing faster. We headed back to the campus’s cafeteria to grab our first real meal in Japan. I had karaage ramen (fried chicken noodle), Japan cold omelettes, weird textured veggies, and an incredible pudding for dessert; all for under 5 dollars. Just to warn you, I ate extensively large amount of foods while I was in Japan. So some pictures will look impossible for a small guy like me but I made it happened (kind of gross, I know, but the food was just so good!). We headed to the outskirt of Matsuyama city where golden green rice paddies were blended within the edges of the mountains. This was where we helped the local farmers harvesting the rice. It was a great experience to worked alongside with everyone as well as the farmers on the 1000 years worth of nutritious soil. Made me feel like saying “itakadimasu” (an appreciative expression to say before every meal in Japanese) isn’t really just for show. We ended the night with a dinner at a traditional udon restaurant. It was a super supper!
September 6th – Day 3 (Matsuyama, Japan)
I am still very much jet lagged on this day, my brain woke up at 1 am. We had our first class today at the Ehime University. A representative named Takana-san and Takana-sensei (-sensei here is added to a teacher’s name in order to show respect when address), had us learned about the radioactive rays and what materials can block them. To my surprise, water can block all three of the radioactive rays. Therefore, to live in an almost radioactive-free environment, it must be underwater. Once again, I enjoyed the cafeteria lunch VERY much! We headed down the main street to see Matsuyama Castle. Ruth-sensei (the faculty that works at Ehime, the main contact for UWB’s Global Initiatives for the study abroad in Japan, and our group’s tour guide) gave us very detailed explanations of the castle’s structures and history. In the castle, I got to tried on a samurai armor. We ended the night by eating okonomiyaki (a type of Japanese not-sweet pancake that is called the soul food of Hiroshima) at the local mall named Okaido (I’ll tell you more about this mall later). Once again, the food was delicious!
September 7th – Day 4 (Matsuyama, Japan)
This was a free day, where everyone can roam around and explore. What I had for breakfast? You guessed it, it’s instant noodle again! Everyone decided to go shopping today and end the night with some karaoke. We headed to Dogo tourism area first, this was where everyone started to split apart and did their own things. Few of the friends and I headed down to Okaido, a mall strip just down the road of Matsuyama Castle where it’s not in a secluded area but is built within blocks of the city’s streets. David (another classmate) and I were the only male students in the group. We eventually went ahead of everyone and headed to Gintengai (another mall strip that is connected to Okaido, except it’s not connect straight but to the right of Okaido’s cut point). Let just say Okaido and Gintengai create a big L on the map. At the end of Gintengai, there’s a 9-story mall (or department store in Japan) with a Ferris Wheel on the top floor named Takashimaya. Being boys, David and I didn’t really shop but got attracted by crowds, foods, and entertaining objects. We first stopped by a kaarage shop (fried food) to grab a quick lunch. Here, there was only one worker there, a Japanese guy with some funky dyed blond hair. He greeted us with excitement. Every time we ordered, he would smiled and blurted out “ARIGATOUGOZAIMASU!” to us (it means thank you very much). He had some really upbeat music playing while he was operating his skills in cooking the food. And every time he tried to drain the oil out, he would bounced up and down to the music. Though the lunch was not that great in quantity, it was extremely delightful in quality. And somehow, the presence of the employee made the lunch completely a different dining experience! So we rode a mechanical panda and the Ferris Wheel. Later in the afternoon, we headed home to grab some dinner and headed to Dogo Park near by. They had live turtles and fishes in the pond! Then everyone headed to JoySound for a fun night of karaoke.
September 8th – Day 5 (Gogoshima, Matsuyama, Japan)
I finally got rid of the jet lag! This was a Sunday, so it’s another free day. We planned to go to an island that is near the city named Gogoshima for a group hike. Some of us stayed back at the share house for a much needed rest after an adventurous day yesterday. Yuri and Matt-sensei came to pick us up. We got to use the train and ferry system to get over to the island. Everything ran on time to the second, the Japanese public transportation system is very efficient! Once we got to Gogoshima, the town seemed a bit quiet. There was not a lot of locals walking around interacting. Our group split into two because some didn’t want to continue up the dark trail that has a big spider web dangling in the front. The hike was canceled due to the trail being masqueraded by overgrown plants and colorful spiders. We decided to hike over this small hill instead. The trail was still very crowded with plants but we made it over to this humongous slap of pavement that extended out in the water with a sole shrine at the very end. It was an incredible environment where the sea breeze constantly blessed us with a cool temperature during our lunch break. It worth every bug bites I received. We then visited school afterward. Our guide was a 10-year-old boy who would spoke Japanese to us like we know the language. Everyone headed home in the early afternoon and rested. At 6 pm, Yuri came around to take us to a conveyor belt sushi 20-minutes bike ride away from the share house. Did I mentioned that trying Japanese made sushi was my primary purpose of this trip in my last posts? If not, then I just want to let you know that I ate 20 plates worth of delicious and inexpensive sushi!
September 9th – Day 6 (Matsuyama, Japan)
This morning, we learned about nuclear waste management in Japan from someone who works at an energy company in Tokyo. In the afternoon, we traveled to the other side of Matsuyama Castle to visit the Japanese garden where the warlord lived to learn about tea ceremony. This day, another Japanese student joined us with the intention to improve his English. It’s also the day where I made friend with a very kind guy. His name is Kohei, and I considered him to be my Japanese brother and he thought the same. After the ceremony, we migrated back to the share house. There, we found the common room crowded with Japanese ladies preparing to teach us how to cook some Japanese dishes. The dinner was great with all the company. Here, we had the chance to laugh, to share stories, to cook, and to bond. After dinner, everyone gathered around to talk about nuclear energy and how it affects the Japanese’s ways of thinking about energy in the future. An ending to a very meaningful day.
September 10th – Day 7 (Hiroshima & Miyajima, Japan)
Our group went to Hiroshima early on this day. I learned how to make origami crane for the first time. I made a total of 25 cranes. Another friend made 25, and together as a group, we put together more than 50 cranes for the peace park that we visited. It was a very emotional and hard moment to walked through the peace park and the Hiroshima museum. We went to an island named Miyajima neared Hiroshima to lift our spirits a little. The island was the most beautiful phenomenon I’ve ever seen, and the sunny weather that day added some majestic touches to the scenery also. There were live deers that roamed around the island like they’re friends of human. On the island, we got to visit the Itsukushima Shrine with the floating torii gate. This is where my camera just suddenly broke!
September 11th – Day 8 (Matsuyama, Japan)
On this morning, the group got together at the college with Matt-sensei to discussed about what we have learned so far regarding nuclear energy. After lunch, we had a Japanese teacher, Tsuchiya-sensei, who went with a group of Japanese students to talked about nuclear energy in Maryland came to give a lecture to us about the U.S. and Japan relations during the Cold War. It was a very informative lecture. After class, the “boys” from the group went with Kohei to another department store named Fuji Grand and an entertainment building called Kisuke Box to hang. We tasted takoyaki (octopus balls) there. We had sushi for dinner (this time, Ruth-sensei guided us to a different restaurant), and of course, I ate a tons of sushi! You guys still with me? Half way there!
September 12th – Day 9 (Ikata, Japan)
We visited the Ikita Nuclear Power Plant on this day. Our group was transferred by a big bus, made me thought I was a member of a sport team when entered the bus. We took a 2 hours ride to the rest stop before heading to the actual plant. I stayed up late that morning so I was knocked out cold on the way, I missed a sight of a nice beach on the way. At the rest stop, we were offered a very nice looking obento (lunch box) from the company. After lunch, we headed down to the plant to just watch it from a watch distance. The security was very tight there. There was an actual life-size turbine there. I learned a lot about nuclear plant procedures that day. Later that night, a small group of us went for some karaoke again. I got to sing my favorite Japanese song this time! We had a blast.
September 13th – Day 10 (Matsuyama, Japan)
We got some basic Japanese lessons today by a friend of Ruth-sensei’s in order to prepare us for the homestay over the weekend. After lunch (of course, once again, I had a big lunch, I’m in my bulking phase, you know?), we headed back to the classroom to find it was filled with many Japanese students. It was an exchange presentation from them to our group. The Japanese students started out by singing 5 acapella songs, they were so good that I had goosebumps every single songs. Then we learned how to fold some more basic origami. Last game was a game of Picture’s Shiritori (a similar game of charade). We then received gifts from the Japanese students. It was such an amazing time making new Japanese friends at the exchange. Later in the afternoon, we headed back to the school main gate getting ready for our host family to pick us up. I was greeted by a mother, Keiko-san, with a small daughter, Haruka-chan. I learned that their family name is Tomiyoshi. They took me back to their house in an suburban area. There, I gave the gift that I prepared to Keiko-san and Haruka-chan. They especially loved the “It’s Raining in Seattle” globe. The oldest son, Yosuke, got home from school around 6 pm. We then had dinner and played a game of Monopoly. Haruka-chan beat Yosuke and I badly. The husband, Shohei-san, got home late so I didn’t get a chance to interact with him that much. I went to bed with anticipation on what will I be doing the day after!
September 14th – Day 11 (Matsuyama, Japan)
I woke up early the next day to go with Keiko-san and Haruka-chan to where Keiko-san works, at a tea ceremony school. Keiko-san teaches with 6 other teachers and they all welcomed my presence with warmth. There was a lot of kids turned out for the class and I had to talk in front of them. It was funny seeing small eyes looking at me asking “why is this big man here?” Oh yeah, I had to sit in seiza (a respectful way to sit on one’s knees) a lot of times throughout the day. I was very amazed at how long these little boys and girls could maintain the pose. Afterward, we departed back to the house for lunch. After lunch, the family gather around for a good o’ game of Uno and watched the Pirates of Caribbeans. Later that night, I had the chance to try out Kendo (a Japanese sport that practices swordsmanship) at Yosuke and Haruka-chan’s dojo. The head teacher of the class, Matsumoto-sensei, gave me a personal lesson on the basics. I would like to go into details about Kendo in my conclusion section. You guys can skip everything but please read this part where I’ll be discussing on my views of the Japanese culture.
September 15th – Day 12 (Matsuyama, Japan)
It was my last day of homestay. We went to Yosuke’s school to watch the sport festival. Every elementary school, middle school and high school hold this event either on a Saturday or Sunday for the parents and friends to come watch. It’s amazing to see all the students practiced so hard to put up such a great show and showed a collective effort at such young age. Keiko-san prepared a very nice obento for everyone to enjoyed. I didn’t get to watch the whole festival because I had to be back at the school by 2pm. Keiko-san drove me back to the school. On the way back, we exchanged email addresses in order to contact each other in the future. The biggest regret for me was not be able to take a picture with my host family. Everyone meet up at the share house’s common room to exchanged our homestay experiences. Everyone else had great time, too!
September 16th – Day 13 (Matsuyama, Japan)
I once again slept at 4 am on this day because I was having a boy’s problem, it was laundry problem. So I drank so much coffee in order to keep myself awake to the extend that I had to use a bowl to drink from, and I don’t drink coffee. We meet up at the Dogo main gate with Ruth-sensei and Matt-sensei to head over to Ishiteji temple, one of the 88 temples of the Shikoku pilgrimage. I got to ring a big bell that said who ever hit it would have power transferred to that person. After a moment of peaceful praying, I hit the bell as hard as I could and walked around it. Something happened and my mind was completely awake. Maybe it was the coffee that finally kicked in or just something else. We then had the rest of the day to ourselves. I spent my time with the group shopping, eating at another sushi restaurant (I broke my record by 1 plate this time!), and went to the arcade. This day was the day that I found myself a new hidden talent, claw machine games. I was able to win a lot of prizes for my friends. Later that night, the group watched a scary Japanese movie in 4D. Yes, you read it right, 4D!
September 17th – Day 14 (Matsuyama, Japan)
We had a very relaxed morning because everyone was trying to prepare for a presentation that we have to present the next day. After lunch, we got to the classroom to have a discussion with Tsuchiya-sensei’s students about nuclear energy. After class, I decided to head to Gintengai to try to win big pillow-size plush toys for each of the girls in the group. I attracted a crowd because every time I got a win, the whole group would literally yelled and screamed in celebration. Even a Japanese lady and the employee there supported me. In the end, I was able to win 7 plush toys for the girls. It was amazing to see everyone so happy. Later that night, some of us went to the Dogo Onsen (the oldest hot spring in Japan) to try out the bath there. I felt great afterward, now I know why Japanese culture likes to include taking a bath as a daily ritual.
September 18th – Day 15 (Matsuyama, Japan)
Last full day in Japan! Our group gave presentations on what we have learned and experienced throughout this trip. We had an audience of 30 or so. Everyone did their best and I think our messages got through to the Japanese faculties and students. Later that night, a big group of us went to a beer garden on the top floor of a skyscraper to have a farewell party. On the way home, we got to see three geisha (geisha are a very rare sight in Japan) and be able to took pictures with them! What an ending to the last night in Japan. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any of the pictures for this day, so here are some other pictures instead. Enjoy!
September 19th – Day 16 (Matsuyama & Narita, Japan -> Seattle, Washington, USA)
The group woke up early to do some final packing before the bus arrives. Kohei and Yuri swung by to said their goodbyes. We took a funny picture of everyone as Batman (inside jokes). We also said our goodbyes to the Indonesian students who were also at the share house with us. We still very much enjoyed the Narita airport while waiting for our layover. I bought a lot of souvenirs for the folks at him. Then until we landed at the SeaTac airport. It hit me hard that I have left the country that I have always dreamed of visiting…now I’ve lost it.
On the day of the presentation, I had this slide and it says ” I’ve come to love Japan, and its people especially. The hospitality of the strangers I meet in Japan is contagious.” Though I came there for the sushi, I think that the people have gotten my heart instead. There would be many stories that my group and I countered (like the story of the guy who works at the kaarage restaurant) that would loudly express of how nice and generous the people of Japan are. For instant, my host family and Matsumoto-sensei. The night after I got dropped off from homestay, I received an email from Keiko-san. The content of the email basically said that they had a great time with me and told me that they would never forget me. Before I left the Tomiyoshi’s house, I mentioned that I like to buy some of the Kendo headband for my tennis. Keiko-san and Shohei-san would go to the supermarket and bought me 7 of the headbands as presents. In the email, there was a short message from Matsumoto-sensei saying that the dojo’ door is open anytime to welcome me back.
Not only Matsumoto-sensei gave me a personal lesson free of charge, he also gave me one of his headband that has the kanji “ninja” on it as a present, and it was our first time meeting. During the lesson, he was talking in Japanese while I was listening with an English ear. I don’t know what it was but I somehow would understood most of what he said. And what I got out of his lesson were three statements that that would stick with me forever. “Practice Kendo is to spread world peace”, “to practice Kendo with your opponent is to care about them, and “whenever you strike your opponent, it is not hate you’re transferring but love itself.” For a sport with something we considered using a weapon to hurt others, it can also be a practice to give one a peaceful state as well as spreading love around is just a really ideal philosophy for me. Before the class started, the kids would be walking about striking and yelling in order to warm up their basics. Then Matsumoto-sensei talked to the class about a story. Of course, I was suffering because of the seiza position. Later, Keiko-san told me that the story was about a great retired Kendo athletic who joined a very weak Kendo team at a police station. The team then became strong. Matsumoto-sensei said that it was because of a great mind who joined the team. But he then ended the story by saying, “to practice Kendo is not the matter of win or lose, but it’s to create peace within oneself”. I found it’s a very great sport that is taught to the children of Japan. While they’re learning about peace the have the chance to train their body and hone their sportsmanship. After the lesson, one of the kid bowed to me and thanked me. I didn’t know why but I bowed back anyways. Keiko-san told me that the group usually would practice very hard and tense but because of my presence today, they were able to gained some great motivation to work harder. I felt flattered but at the same time astonished by how amazing the Japanese culture is in delivering the sense of hard work and give love.
One last thing I learned from this trip was appreciation. Tea ceremony, saying itadakimasu, harvesting rice, sitting in seiza form for a long time, sleeping on the hard tatami bed, etc. taught me to not taking the things given to me for granted. There would be wastes every day all around the world and there would be people who need what have been wasted. We taking what given to us from the bottom up as a mere magic that we don’t fully appreciate them when they’re gone. Try this, sleep on your carpet for a night and you would miss your comfy bed dearly. Appreciate!
Sorry that you have to read this long essay. There are a lot I like to share with you all so that you would see how great study abroad would be and how much it would enriched your college experience. Trust me, when you embark yourself on a trip to visit a foreign country with antipodal culture to your own, you would learn so much about the world and even yourself. I am still very depressed about leaving Japan, I guess only time would heal this lost of mine. I just have to accept it, eventually. As time erases all of the traces of feelings I’m enduring today, I will never forget the people, the experiences, and the time I have spent in Japan 2013. The hiragana alphabet in Japanese started with “a” where you would open your mouth wide and then ended with “nm” where you would closed your mouth to pronounce it. This is just the same as everything on this world, if there’s a beginning, there would be an end. My chapter in Japan has closed, but your chapter in that foreign country you been wanting to visit could begin soon! Reach for that dream!