The conclusion of our last class
It’s our last night in Japan. This morning students gave presentations about what they’d learned about Japanese art and culture. We spent this afternoon packing and making final visits to our favorite areas of Tokyo. Tonight we had our final group meal. We depart for Narita airport in the morning for our nearly 14 hour flight to New York.
Today’s blog entries feature student writing about what they learned about themselves through the experience of living in Japan these past three weeks.
What can I say about this trip? It has been the most amazing, inspirational, and at times bizarre, adventure of my life. On this journey I have made some wonderful friends, walked more then I have ever walked in my life and learned more about myself then I thought I would when this all began. Back home I have on more than one occasion been called a picky eater, but while on this trip I have tried so many different foods, often without the slightest idea what any of them were. When I return to the United States I plan on being more adventurous with the foods I try and I have some great ideas for food I would like to introduce my family to. Throughout this trip I have been pushed to the limit of both my mental and physical ability. I am not the most athletic person in the world, I will be the first to admit; however, during this trip I learned that I have the ability to walk farther and longer then I thought I could. I also found that, while I may never enjoy the experience of being on a plane, I do possess the ability to adapt to my surroundings. After using the subway systems of Japan I feel more confident in my ability to use public transportation. The most important lesson I learned on this trip would have to be that while good company can keep the feeling at bay for a while, home will always be where the heart is and right now my grumpy heart is patiently waiting for me to return.
This trip to Japan was something that always seemed in the works, something that was at the end of a long road and now, it is at its end. Weird how the time goes, mono-no-aware I guess. I really enjoyed my time here. It was a gift to be with Christie and Ruth, and made my dream a better reality. I never thought the reality would be better than my imagination. I guess there is always room for surprises in life. Anyway, from getting to know Tokyo and how to get around by myself in week one to the great personally healing trip to Kyoto and then this final week back to Tokyo, this was the best international trip I have been on. The concerts I saw: Lite, and Tyondai Braxton, were phenomenal. I have to say though, that I am going to miss Japan, especially the food.
I have experienced a lot of new things over the past three weeks. I got lost in the world’s biggest city; I experienced a wedding at a Shinto shrine; I learned to navigate through the Tokyo public transportation system; I got lost again; I tried many new types of food; I got bitten by a cat in a cat café; I discovered how dangerous gambling could be through a children’s video game, and I got lost many more times. Along the way I grew in ways I honestly thought I couldn’t. I came to Japan having a fear of crowds and I was very worried about traveling during heavy traffic hours. I had my panicky moments, but every time I made it through. By the time we left Tokyo for Kyoto, I felt no more anxiety over crowds. I had experienced the biggest crowds I will probably ever see in my life and everything turned out fine. It had dawned on me that I was officially over my fear when I walked off of a subway into a massive horde of people hurrying along their way. As I got off, I merged into the mass and followed the signs to my destination. I only needed to look at the signs to find my way; there was no need to stop, observe the mob, and soothe my anxiety before continuing on my journey.
Throughout the trip I’ve been trying to live in the moment and pretend that I don’t have major decisions to make about my life once I get back to the USA. I’ve learned that I can postpone thoughts that give me anxiety and that I don’t always have to give into them. I’ve realized that I do want to continue on in school after I get my associate’s degree from Landmark, but I need to take some time to figure out where I want to go and what will be a good fit, not just going to the first school I applied to. I’ve come to terms with the idea that life can stand still for a bit– I don’t need to always be doing something in order to be productive.
Well, the time has come, the end of the trip. It seems like time has just flown by while we have been here. This trip has been very eye-opening as to how Japanese people actually are, which sounds like a “duh of course” statement but up until now my experience with the Japanese came mostly from reading and the occasional news clip, so being able to actually observe them from a street level has given me a new insight into the intricacies of how their society works. But, enough about that, I suspect the blog reader doesn’t want to hear about the more academic parts of this trip so I will talk about one experience you cannot get anywhere else: The Maid Cafe. Maid Cafes, as the name suggests, are themed restaurants centered around cute, magical maids (not real magic, although it is one heck of a show). They greet each person with the phrase “welcome home master” and call each person a king or queen. As the food is brought to your table they make you do gestures and say “MOI MOI CUTE!” It’s all very cute and fun. It is totally a tourist trap, but I would whole-heartedly recommend it to people even though it can be a bit nickel and dime-ie (the place we went charged you for the seat and then made you order an all-inclusive meal, as well as coming around with more souvenirs and glow sticks to sell). It is an interesting experience, because while people have tried to replicate it in America by opening their own maid cafes, the uniqueness of the Japanese culture is what keep these places alive.
I love Japan and everything about it, the amazing people and all the different types of food, but I’m excited to go back to the States. I think two weeks in Japan is fine, but three is tough. I’m starting to miss all the different varieties of foods that America has, such as burritos, salads and Indian. Another thing I miss is simply saying “please” and “thank you”, sure I can say it here but I often feel like I’m saying it wrong. But overall, being in Japan is an amazing once in a lifetime experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
The past three weeks in Japan have been very interesting and fun, which made it a great learning experience. I learned about Japanese culture and art when we visited the shrines, art museums, temples, and the tea ceremony. It was inspiring how much beauty and artistic features Japanese culture offers. During the trip, I went to Roppongi Hills with two of my friends. It was a great learning experience to be able to get ourselves around in a foreign country. It was interesting how similar and different the subway system in Japan is, compared it to our subway system. We had to be cautious with our belongings and even with ourselves since we were told that there are men who like to touch women on the subway. While on the subway, there was an old lady who needed a seat, so my friends and I offered our seats out of common courtesy, just like we do in the United States. I am sad to leave Japan but at the same time am happy to have been able to live this trip with this group. I would love to come back to Japan and be able to learn their language, more about their art and Japanese culture and definitely to enjoy more of their nourishing food.
What I have learned about myself is that I could live here on my own very easily. I know how to use transportation, which was easier than I thought. Also I have learned I love the public bath house, because I found it very relaxing. Another thing I have learned about myself is that I am more energized and ready to go compared to what I am back home. I am always on the move here and never resting.
Raymond E. Lounsbury
I have always been a very patient and kind individual, but the experience of coming to Japan has reinforced patience and understanding more than any event in my entire life. I have been with a very diverse group who by in large have been very different from me and with whom I have learned to coexist. People don’t have to like everyone they meet, but they all deserve respect and the benefit of the doubt. We all have good things to offer and a little time and understanding can reveal those good traits. Sometimes it takes more time than others but commitment and resilience are the key.
The value I have seen in the Japanese people, especially in Tokyo, is “respect gets respect” or “treat others how you want to be treated.” Hence Japanese cultural values, everyone gets around in harmony and there is a great sense of acceptance. Per the collectivist model, people are more than willing to take the time to talk and help each other out. One night I was on my way back from Yoyogi Park and I was disoriented and needed help getting to the right train. I stopped and asked a couple who were on their way back from work for directions by pointing to where I wanted to go on a map. To my amazement, they stopped everything they were doing and walked me through the turnstiles and the station corridors leading me right to the train. It’s hard to think of many people who would give up ten minutes of their day to help a stranded foreigner get back on track. I will remember that evening my entire life and return the favor to others. The next time someone asks me for help I will reconsider pulling the “I’m too busy card.” Tokyo is firsthand proof that even the busiest people can slow down and make a difference.
Tonight we enjoyed a final dinner featuring all you could eat shabu shabu and sukiyaki which we cooked ourselves at our tables. It was a great way to celebrate a wonderful three weeks in Japan together.
Photos by R. Wilmot
Finally here are a few additional blog entries. Raymond Lounsbury writes about the tea ceremony and Ben Garrett writes about a particularly interesting experience he had while in Tokyo.
Ray Lounsbury – Tea Ceremony
The Japanese tea ceremony properly referred to as Chanoyu, captures many of Japan’s traditional values. Many of the people who host tea ceremonies are women but it is not uncommon to for men to practice the profession. The preparation and the ritual itself aren’t very complicated. The catch is every single movement is carefully planned and has symbolic meaning right down to things like how a spoon is placed on the kettle. To become certified a tea host must practice for five years. 15 years are needed for the host to be considered a tea master which is the hardest qualification to obtain. Before the ceremony great effort is put in making the garden, tea room, and equipment presentable for the guests. Placing the coals used to heat the water in exact configuration is a ceremony in itself. Even the water used to make the tea has special meaning. Everyone and everything has an explicit place and purpose. During my experience I noticed how formal and ritualistic the ceremony is. Everything is done in a choreographed ritual right down to the route the host takes through the room to bring the tea to her guests. Whenever our host moved around the room she would turn either 90 or 355 degrees and the hostess never walked diagonally. Our tea ceremony was informal and geared towards tourists who want to gain a basic understanding of what the tea ceremony is. We were informed that during a proper tea ceremony guests are to bring a fan, among other items which is used to determine personal space. The room was silent during the tea ritual and everything was observed through the eyes. We were instructed to turn the bowl a specific number of times before drinking from it and to drink no more than 4 times. The final drink was to end in a slurp to signify having finished the tea. These customs and rituals illustrate Japan’s healthy respect for hospitality and harmony. Both the guests and the host are to follow a very strict curriculum during the ceremony. The bowls were painted with earth colors and exhibited a symmetry. Much of the pottery had spots of paint that looked that they were applied in spots. Each bowl had a phrase and a name carved into the bottom which the guest is expected to show interest in which is part of showing appreciation for the host.
The biggest struggle for our group was keeping up with the formality of the ceremony. With such precise rituals we were all convinced we were somehow messing up. There was a lot of “awkward silence” and people being put on the spot who were deemed the guest of honor. They had to drink first and were scared their mind. Much of the ice was broken when our host talked to us and explained why everything was so formal and what it meant. She brought humor into the room which relaxed everyone. What calmed me down most was when the other host said “Please just enjoy tea ceremony, don’t concentrate on formality… it’s just a demonstration.
Harmony, Suffering and Lite by Ben Garrett
To start off, this is a project I stumbled into. It was not my intention to investigate the process of getting tickets for concerts or anything of the like in Japan. It all started with searching for tickets online for a J-pop metal band named BabyMetal for Clark, on a site called song kick, which lets you search for any band worldwide, find when and where they are playing and direct you to get tickets through links to ticket sellers and scalpers. That though, fell through because they are extremely popular and they sold out in a matter of three hours. Very happy that they did to be honest because as over stimulating as a Japanese pop metal band is and would be, it is not something I wanted to actually see. So I decided to search for any band playing in Tokyo that I knew, through song kick, based on our schedule in Japan; and let me say this, the events that followed were the most surreal experience of culture shock, exploration, and total lost in translation that I have ever been in, and I honestly wouldn’t have it any different.
My research brought me to the realization that the Japanese rock group Lite was playing in a venue in Ebisu, Tokyo called the Liquid Room on Sunday 6-21-15, as well as Tyondai Braxton, another experimental rock artist who was playing on 7-2-15. I thought it would be like in the United States where you can just order tickets online, but oh boy, was I wrong. I couldn’t find anything online, just websites all in Japanese for the Liquid Room. This was the first dead end I encountered, so I decided to try my luck and give them a call from a phone number that was listed on their site. I called, asked if they spoke a little bit of English. They did! But, they informed me that in Japan the venue doesn’t sell tickets for their shows. That a distributor does for them and in this case the distributor’s name was Smash. They told me to give them a call for tickets, and when I called their number, a voice machine in all Japanese spoke to me and then told me arigato gozaimas (thank you), then hung up. Dead end number two. I felt defeate. I don’t speak Japanese, and I sure can’t listen to it and pick out information. So I went back online for a few hours till I found a site online for a convention named Smash! This to me seemed like tickets for the concert because it was the same price for tickets, on Sunday, and the same name as the distributor. To my dismay I found out immediately after I purchased these tickets online that they were for an entirely different thing. This was crushing, not only did I spend money for something that I wasn’t going to but, it confirmed for me that you do not get tickets online for any concert or show in Tokyo, even museum tickets.
Seemingly defeated I went to the baths alone to distress and give my brain a break from searching. I have been searching for two days now and the show was in a day. I needed that bath, and I have to say without I would have given up. The next day, I basically started from nothing. Began searching for how to get tickets in Japan, and I hit for me, the jackpot, it was a guide to how to buy tickets in Japan. What it told me was that I can get tickets in convenience stores in Japan, i.e. 7/11, Family Mart, Lawson, etc. through a ticket machine where you punch in one of three types of codes, a ticket Pia, Lawson ticket, or an e-plus ticket. In my case it was an e-plus or a Lawson ticket according to the Liquid Room’s webpage for the band Lite. Another way it told me I could get tickets was by going to record stores. But, most importantly it told me that if I go to the Gan-Ban music store in Shibuya, Tokyo I could get tickets to smash events. This was great news for me, gave me the drive I needed, and Shibuya was only a ten minute bus ride away from where we were staying.
So, Shibuya bound, map in hand, and a determination to see this concert was the fuel in my tank. I got on the bus, which was a totally new experience for me. Haven’t done that in Tokyo before. I knew that my stop was in Shibuya station where the bus stop ends for that direction. But, Shibuya was way more confusion than I thought. I asked for direction for the Parco department store seven times, because It took me seven different streets till I managed to find a young Japanese couple in their twenties who gave me direction with their hands where we then confirmed with a series of thumbs ups. The experience was interesting because they had to communicate between themselves to get a sense of where it is. This confirmed to me at least that in Tokyo, the people there really only have a sense of where they are going that day. They really don’t know where everything is. Makes sense, honestly, but to actually be present to it was fascinating to me. Anyway, I eventually made my way to the Parco department store. Oh, the smile on my face when I saw that sign, I thought to myself the whole hour and a half or searching was all worth it. I went to the information desk and they directed me to the Gan-Ban music store. I went down there and asked if they sold the tickets to the event that night. They said no. I died a little inside. So I asked if they could direct me to someplace that would have it. They said, Lawson convenience store and to look on my phone to find a location. I thanks them and immediately went back to the information desk where they actually helped me search for it. They found it and it was just around the corner.
At this point. I bumped into Kara, she just was finished her date with her boyfriend and she was happy to tag along. I have to say, she was pretty crucial to keeping my sanity, well sane. She followed me into Lawson where I managed to get an employee to help me navigate through all the Japanese. It wasn’t in their system. My spirit was so crushed at this point. But, I couldn’t give up. My last chance was to go to every record store in the Shibuya area and try and get these tickets. The first one was literally a block away. So, I went there first and talked way too fast to the employee there, where Kara was like slow way the hell down. The employee thanked her. I apologized profusely, and spoke super slow, where he told me the usual, that they don’t sell Smash tickets there, but this time there was no dead end. He said go to Tower Records where the Hachikoi dog statue is, and that that is my best shot. So we did. It was only a five minute walk from where we were, and you know what, they did sell Smash tickets there. But, unfortunately they stop selling tickets the day before a concert in Japan. She said that I could most likely get the ticket at the door of the venue. They did however have the tickets for the Tyondai Braxton show, so I picked that up so I don’t have to go through this process again and Kara and I went back to the bus station and back to the Olympic Youth Center where feeling bittersweet I decided to call the liquid room one final time. They said you can definitely get tickets at the door, Toujitsuken (on-the-day-ticket). I was so happy. I ran to everyone who had interest in coming and told them to get ready in twenty minutes. We left, Ebisu bound, navigated through the area to the venue and managed to see Lite at the beginning of their set. Oh the joy, I could have cried. It was such a great concert. It was total bliss. Well worth the self-sacrifice of the seventy-two hour search to see this band. I thought I won, and you know what, I did. I can say one thing through this whole process that the search for harmony, no matter the suffering, is well worth it in the end.
This whole process taught me a lot about Japanese culture. There were tons of language barriers that I had to overcome all the way from talking to Japanese venues on the phone to getting directions in Shibuya from various different people. It was wild, and honestly I am glad I went through this because I now know how to do it, what to expect, as opposed to suffering through three days of frantically searching for something I can just now do in a short afternoon. It really built my confidence up, because if I can do this for something I honestly had no idea about and in Japan for that matter then I can do this anywhere. All in all I am very happy, because through all of the effort I put into this, it paid off, and I managed to go to both shows which were such a treat to see.