I made it to Nagoya after two perfect weeks in beautiful Kanagawa Prefecture. As I mentioned in my last post, I had spent the last couple weeks of summer vacation with friends whom I had met two years ago in Japan. Together we traveled just about everywhere, from the new Tokyo Sky Tree, to Asakusa’s Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), to the beaches of Enoshima and Chigasaki, to Yokohama’s Chinatown, Hakone, and even to the fifth step of Mt. Fuji. We dressed up in summer yukata to view fireworks, attended the once-a-year, Hawaiian-themed festival at my friend’s apartment complex, had our fortunes read at temples, and hiked through several beautiful nature parks and an ice cave.
I wholeheartedly recommend Kanagawa Prefecture to those of you hoping to travel and sight-see in Japan. The mountain ranges are always visible in the distance, and the “seas of trees” (jyukai) are incredible. Nagoya is not that distant from Kanagawa, but saying goodbye to friends there had been tough. We still stay in close contact thanks to social media networking, and I remain grateful for the time we were able to spend together.
The food has been excellent, too; my recommendation for the summer would have to be kakigoori (shaved ice). Asakusa has a long line of food vendors, where you can try kinako odango, a treat of rice cakes rolled in soybean powder. With fall around the corner, shops and grocery stores are introducing new products, such as chestnut flavored sweets and drinks. Always stay open to trying new foods! My friends’ parents prepared Japanese dishes for breakfast and dinner, and they were always glad to see I had enjoyed each meal. My current host family relishes in serving new foods. Last week, after a dinner of akamiso, fish, and homemade okonomiyaki, Okaasan served fall pears and manjū, a confection filled with red bean paste. Not only is the language practice a huge benefit of living with a Japanese family, but access to traditional cuisine every day presents many opportunities to try foods one might not order at a restaurant or cafeteria.
Spending two weeks with friends has, of course, allowed for great Japanese practice. Hearing and speaking with individuals of the same age really lets one catch onto how the Japanese language is used in daily life today. I have begun to learn subtle differences in dialects and vocabulary between the prefectures, too, although I do hear the same sentence endings or words here in Nagoya. Because my friends study English, we were able help each other with confusing vocabulary, pronunciation, and even connotation. Exchanging personal challenges of foreign language study makes visible areas needing improvement.
Classes have started at Nanzan University, for both exchange students and Japanese students. I have enrolled in Japanese Linguistics, Culture; Language and Society, and a Fieldwork Research Methods course on top of my Japanese language classes. Besides Japanese students, I have met individuals from Kansas, New York, D.C., Alaska, India, Thailand, Sweden, Austria, and Australia. Not often do I see foreigners walking the streets of Japan, but through Nanzan’s exchange program, students from around the globe have come together for the same purpose – Japanese language study. With this in common, everyone becomes friends pretty quickly! We all differ in our Japanese study backgrounds, so conversing during class facilitates fast improvement.
Commuting to and from school and surrounding areas has been, actually, pretty simple. Upon arrival at Nagoya Station, my host family, handing me a map of the chikatestsu (subway) promptly explained what station I enter, where I switch trains (norikaeru), and how long commuting takes. At that time, I had only ridden trains – above ground – with friends who had been riding the trains since middle school. What happens if I board the train in the wrong direction? What stairway do I exit through if and when I arrive at the correct station? Should I buy a commuter’s pass? My questions dissolved soon enough; relying on myself, I learned quickly. I did ask for directions at one point, but I have only stepped onto the wrong train once. My host family has also provided a bike for me to ride. The summer-like heat and humid typhoon season temperatures certainly make riding the subways more appealing, but the hour-and-a-half bike ride is still great exercise.
The other day, I met two elderly women living next door. They explained how they had visited America and Europe, so they have friends who speak English. The conversation we had, though brief, let me know I was welcome here. I gladly shared my reasons for studying in Japan and learning the language. For those of you planning to study abroad, go outside of your comfort zone and talk with natives, no matter what age! You will find some way to relate, I promise!
Until next time,