Sept. 4th 2018, Blog by Caleb Schooler.
Hajimashite. Watashi no namae wa Caleb Schooler desu. Washington daigaku gakuesei desu. Yoroshiku oneigaishimasu. Nice to meet you. My name is Caleb Schooler. I’m a student at the University of Washington. I hope we can get along well. This self-introduction that I memorized before my study abroad trip to Tokyo, Japan started has served me well as I try to navigate the vagaries of a culture quite different from my own. Often meetings begin with an exchange of business cards in a highly formalized ritual (although college students are not yet expected to carry them) so it is reasonable to say that first impressions are extremely important in Japanese culture. If that’s the case then Japan itself presents itself in a way most favorable as you travel from the distant international airport of Narita into the heart of Tokyo itself, endless skyscrapers, floods of people, shining lights, delicious food all for miles and miles, as far as the eye can see. It is, in a word, overwhelming, especially as a first-time visitor.
There are also quieter places all around the city.
I was nervous before I left, and even more nervous as I made my way to my initial lodgings because of my limited Japanese skills; I was relying on half-remembered lessons from high school and what I could brush up on before the study abroad program began. I want to say this emphatically for anyone out there reading this and who might hesitate to visit Japan because they are afraid they wouldn’t be able to read any signs or understand anyone; there is a tremendous amount of English on hand in Japan, especially within public transportation (which is extraordinarily safe, reliable, and timely). I’ve never felt like a lack of Japanese skills were holding me back, but I also imagine that with a greater understanding of the language than what is experienced unofficially, outside of the study abroad program itself, would be all the greater. As it has happened for me, I am confident that some of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in my life have occurred while I am here in Japan.
Practically all signs are rendered bilingually or tri- or with even more languages.
By way of example, this is actually a little bit of an embarrassing story, I lost my mobile wi-fi device (Japan has, surprisingly, pretty spotty public wi-fi) on a train which would mean I would lose access to any reasonably convenient internet access. I wasn’t even sure which train I lost it on, or what train car I was in, but, by pantomiming with a station attendant and using my broken Japanese and his broken English, my mobile wi-fi was returned to me in less than 15 minutes. I thought, at that point, that this is the kind of service that Japan is legendary for. It was an astounding customer service experience, all the greater since I had resigned myself to having to buy a new, very expensive device.
A trip to a baseball game in Japan is one well worth it, even if one isn’t a fan of the game.
Tokyo is, especially, amazing to someone like myself who has never been to a truly massive city before. There is such a tremendous diversity of activities at hand that it is quite impossible to ever be bored. As part of the study abroad program we’ve had the chance to travel to several extraordinary museums, shrines important in the Shinto religion, parks, ancient shopping districts, a baseball game and more. I can say, quite confidently, that this is a trip that is impossible to regret, and it is all the better to receive college credit for it at the same time!