It’s unbelievable that I have been living in Japan for nearly a month already!
While I’ve been in Nagoya for nearly two weeks and this is where I’ll be studying during the fall semester, I started my trip abroad one Shinkansen ride away. My journey began in Kanagawa Prefecture, where I was able to stay with the family who hosted me during my short trip two years ago.
Since that trip I had been keeping in touch–through letters, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and occasionally Skype–with this family and other friends I had made, but had no idea that one day we would all be reunited. Meeting these people again has become one of my most treasured experiences, and I have so many memories to take away with me. My twin sister Sarah and I are still talking about all of the interesting events we experienced. The two weeks spent in Kanagawa taught me that the language one speaks or the country one lives in does not matter when it comes to the bonds formed between individuals seeking the same goal; in this case, that goal had been and remains connecting with and learning from the people you care about through shared experiences.
Kanagawa is a beautiful part of Japan and luckily my friend’s house was located near a number of interesting places. The himawari (sunflower) fields of Zama and the rice fields of Ebina seemed endless and full of life. There was an epic view of Fuji-san and surrounding mountains from the driveway. Local matsuri (festivals) offers an opportunity to wear yukata, Japanese summer garments. Kamakura is a place rich in Japanese history and culture. There, traditional wafu (Japanese-style houses) and jinjya (Shinto shrines) are abundant; I definitely suggest checking this place out, and make sure to stop and see the daibutsu, or giant Buddha! My host sister and I sought out a famous café and ate sweet bean, green tea pastries. Not far from there is one of my favorite places, Enoshima. This is a beach town and although Japan’s notion of a trip to the beach is quite different from that of the States, it is a boardwalk pier full of street-food vendors and quaint shops. Specialty snacks include the flattened, grilled octopus “chips” and purple potato ice cream.
Looking back on these experiences, I feel that living in Japan for two weeks before I traveling to Nagoya was an advantage. Adapting to the household lifestyle and speaking only in Japanese allowed for great language practice. I definitely feel that communicating and interacting with my host families and friends has helped me to loosen up and not worry so much about making mistakes here or there; speaking up is productive and not only gives you the chance to realize weaknesses in speech, but to also find solutions and improve your skills. The more you listen to Japanese the easier it is to pick up on different ways of speaking; observe and listen at all times whether you are commuting, watching television, or listening to the music playing at the extremely practical convenient stores, or konbini. You might even find it beneficial to strike up a conversation with fellow commuters on the bus or train!
Daily living has also required adaptation. Although I still get nervous purchasing train tickets, I have learned how to read maps and ride the train, subway and bus systems. Definitely invest time into studying kanji; otherwise, how will you know which direction is home?! Ordering dishes at restaurants also requires some kanji and tango that are not necessarily taught during class. If you think a dish looks tasty, I say go for it! Chances are you will find many, many new favorite foods here.
I have mentioned eel before, but Nagoya is famous for hitsumabushi, a dish in which the eel is eaten in three different ways. After a bit of research, my sister and I tracked down a well-known restaurant that serves this dish in Sakae, a popular hangout area for college students. As expected, the place was packed; the dish was worth the hour-long wait. The first course is plain eel and rice; the second is eel, rice, and toppings such as wasabi and green onions. Incredibly, the toppings give the eel an entirely different flavor! The final course is also prepared with toppings, but then a steaming broth is added to the bowl. This was my absolute favorite course, and this dish is my number one recommendation!
Even though the school year has just begun, I already know that this will be an amazing semester abroad! Meeting and speaking with new people is important for participating in Japanese culture and learning the language. Don’t let homesickness get you down, and remember that you are never alone. Although there is always a professor or advisor to confide in at Nanzan University, there are also an infinite number of places right outside campus to socialize and create new bonds.