In the past few months, I have reviewed Japanese lessons and have made kanji flashcards, grammar study guides, and a verb conjugation chart. I have compiled lists of everyday nouns, and have even made a useful-phrases survival sheet. Trying to look at and study this massive collection of, seemingly, all the Japanese I have learned, I realize that this semester abroad is what I’ve been preparing for all along. Having also traveled to Japan for a short class trip already, I cannot say the nerves are kicking in just yet. However, this trip will require greater independent responsibility and a deeper understanding of the language and culture.
In Nagoya, I hope to demonstrate Japan’s unique culture through both educational and daily social experiences. I plan to explain cultural differences and the responsibilities of a foreigner living under another family’s roof, and to also express my love for Japanese customs!
Before immersing yourself in a different language and culture, it is an excellent idea to first become familiar with social etiquette and tradition. In Japan, meeting your host-family for the first time does not usually involve hand-shaking or hugs; instead, you should bow, introduce yourself and say ritualistic phrases such as douzo yoroshiku or hajimemashite (nice to meet you). Mukae ni kite kurete arigatou gozaimashita (thank you for coming to pick me up) can be used if they pick you up from the airport or train station.
The use of polite speech and enthusiasm are both important when speaking to your host family, superiors, and professors. Show them that you appreciate everything they do for you whether it is cooking or allowing you to use the ofuro (this is nothing like the showers we know) first. My host family was kind enough to cook eel twice for me—unadon is a delicious dish to try for sure! When entering a house, dressing room or certain restaurants, make sure to remove your shoes first. Slip-on footwear is a practical pre-departure purchase! Also, keeping in contact with host-families and friends is incredibly important in Japan. The Japanese can be rather indirect; they may not openly inform you of problematic conduct. Be aware of your actions to minimize inconveniences; you will feel better prepared and more welcome if you let everyone know what your plans are ahead of time.
Gift-giving is also a sign of respect; bring meibutsu (specialties) from your hometown or college, or food items that are rare or unavailable in Japan. I plan to bring Pop-Tarts, Cow Tails, dried mangoes, and macaroni & cheese. These may seem like commonalities in America, but your host-family and friends will enjoy these treats. Calendars with American folk-art or famous places are also good gifts.
Initially, a trip abroad may seem daunting—applying, making arrangements and packing can be overwhelming. However, don’t let any of these tasks discourage you from studying in another country. A journey overseas is definitely worth every bit of effort!