Public Relations Office March 21, 2013
Erin Kazizian (University of Massachusetts at Amherst)
Thoughts After 1 Month
After a daylong flight from Boston to Osaka with many stops along the way, my first thoughts when I arrived in Japan were “finally I can speak again” and “where is nearest coffee shop?” So speak I did—at the airport’s Starbucks coffee shop. This is where, for the first time in my life, I felt thoroughly amused by the thought that people back at home often complain about how ordering at Starbucks is too difficult. And then, I became doubly entertained by the general memory of the incredulous responses I have received previously when others learn for the first time that I am studying Japanese, and yet, there I was, ordering Starbucks coffee in Japan for the first time—in Japanese. Consequently, I had a good silent chuckle over this.
Throughout the rest of September I was able to experience a plethora of wonderful things. One Sunday, I went to church with my host family and did some volunteer work afterwards at a local rehabilitation center. The following Saturday, I saw my first movie at Toho cinemas and although it was in English I had my eyes trained at the subtitles, and somehow spent more time trying to remember the translated Japanese subtitles than I spent paying attention to the plot. On occasion, I frequented as many hyakkin shops as my commuter’s pass would take me to. One particularly rainy Friday afternoon, I bought my first Japanese novel by Yoshimoto Banana while waiting for the train to arrive. And more recently, I went to my first matsuri in Kobe and then had kaiten zushi for dinner.
As for the main thoughts that I’ve consistently entertained since I’ve been in Japan, I’ve noticed that Japan seems to be, in general, extremely clean and orderly, which I am enjoying very much. For example, whenever I go to a train station, I take a peek at the time displayed on the electronic boards for the next departing train, and when there is still quite a few minutes left before the next train is due to leave, I’ve noticed that the conductor as well as the employee who calls out the next stop congregate outside of the middle section of the train to chat together for a few minutes. Then, they check their respective pocket watches; give a brief nod, and exchange duties for the train that is due to depart. In the meantime, I tend to board the train because watching for any longer would result in missing the train, and while the two train workers continue talking I always notice that a small cleaning brigade makes its way onto the train sweeping up fallen papers and picking up improperly discarded trash. Every train that I have boarded so far has left at the exact moment which the display showed that it would depart.
There is always one thing in life which one does not expect because they can’t possibly know without having prior experience of it. To this, that which I did not expect is the weather and the respective response to it. There is an average difference of about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 degrees Celsius) in temperature, so, when compared to Amherst (where my home university is located) it is quite warm here. This year especially, according to every person who I’ve spoken to about the weather, has been exceptionally warm, and by these same people I am constantly assured that in just one more week it will cool down considerably. Towards the end of September, we had one day of constant rain, and as a result, the weather cooled down to about 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 Celcius). I remember while watching the news that night, how there was a whole segment dedicated to interviewing people about the weather, and what they said came as quite a shock to me. The weather was, according to the interviewees and the newscasters, hadazamui, freezing cold. Yet the whole day while running errands out and about I had not, even once felt cold. When I shared this with my host family and my Japanese friends, I was greeted with many disbelieving and shocked faces, and suddenly I was left wondering what the coming winter would be like, and if it would be as wintery as my conceptions would have it.
Over the course of just one month, I was able to have many more great experiences, which I hope will continue well into the next 9 months of my stay. Looking ahead, I’m quite hopeful as to what the winter will be like, curious about the springtime weather, but extremely fearful of a summer in Kansai where the weather will undoubtedly be much hotter than what I have already come to experience in the Fall.
April Diebold (University of Missouri)
My Homestay Experience
Deciding whether or not to stay with a Japanese Host Family was not a difficult decision for me. In order to study Japanese Language, one must also study how the language is used in everyday life. I have been living with a wonderful host family in Nishinomiya for almost two months.
All we speak in is Japanese, not English. My host mother is fluent in English, but understands that I am in Japan to study Japanese so she only uses English as a last resort when explaining something. I really appreciate her speaking Japanese with me even though she wants to improve her English.
The food at my home stay is amazing! My host mother and grandma cook traditional (and sometimes not so traditional) Japanese food every night. I was a bit worried about disliking strange Japanese food, but so far it has all been delicious. I hope I can remember how to make some of my favorite foods such as tonkatsu and miso soup, so that when I return to America, I can make them for myself.
One of the hardest things for me to get used to is the method of doing laundry in Japan. I am used to once a week, washing my own laundry in a washing machine, and then drying it in the dryer. Here my host family does laundry every day, and then hangs the clothes up to dry. It takes more time, but air drying one’s clothes saves electricity and therefore is better for the environment. I was also surprised to find out that the water from the bath tub is used to wash the family’s clothes. It makes sense not to waste water, but I never really gave it much thought.
While on the topic of the bath, I must say it is quite wonderful especially on chilly fall nights. At first I did not really like the idea of everyone in the family using the same bath water, but since everyone is clean when they enter the bath, it is not such a big deal. I will definitely miss the Japanese bath when I return my apartment in America that only has a shower.
I highly recommend to anyone who is traveling abroad to participate in a home stay. You will learn so much more about the culture you are living in than if you live on your own.
Margaret Truong (University of the Pacific)
I stayed with a host family for my entire time abroad in Japan and it was perhaps one of the best decisions I have made. Spending time with my host family has taught me more about Japanese culture and the Japanese language than any class could. Any cultural-related discrepancies have never led to problems, but only to interesting and fun conversations with my host parents. My host family’s children, who are 16 and 11, are always teaching me new vocabulary, showing me how to eat certain foods, or explaining little bits of culture when we watch the television together. However, homestay is not just about learning the culture and language firsthand, it is also about a family taking you in as one of their own. I have shared more laughs with my host family than I could count. In addition, my host family has taken me on many trips. They try to show me as much as they can of west Japan, taking me to places I would have never been able to go on my own whether it’s because of money constraints or I simply didn’t know such places existed. It is also because of my host family that I have been able to sample so much of Japanese cuisine. For instance, I was able to eat Kobe beef, something I would have never dreamed of doing if I had not stayed with a host family (or even with!). Staying with my host family really helped me ease into the Japanese lifestyle, and it was with their guidance that I was able to transition from my old life so smoothly and quickly. These people have become my second family, and it is without a doubt that if I ever come back to Japan, they will be the first ones I visit.