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Impression Of Japan
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    Ever since I can remember Iíve always wanted to leave the United States and see other parts of the world. Iíve already seen many things in the U.S.: Yellowstone, Mesa Verde, Washington D.C., Disneyworld, Yosemite and others. So part of the reason for wanting to go to Japan was rooted in just wanting to see it. But of course the real reason I wanted to go was the one I gave in my application to the Student Ambassador Program: ďTo see a part of Japan is also one of my dreams because my great-grandparents/ grandparents are from Japan. I know shamefully know very little about my heritage, and a visit to Japan, albeit short, would help me to better understand the part of myself that has been suppressed by living in the United States for my entire life. A trip to Japan would be a very important and helpful step in the exploration of my heritage.Ē The fact that I would be away from my family for a while provided some discouragement, but I had already spent long periods of time away going to college 360 miles away. Three weeks is not much compared to periods of 6-8 weeks I spent away from home during my first year of college.
    Enduring the boring flight over the Pacific Ocean we finally arrived in Japan at Kansai International Airport. I was immediately impressed. The airport looked really new and had a unique metal arch and glass architecture. Though we had difficulty getting through to the exit, the airport was much nicer than LAX or any other airport that I had ever been to. After we left the airport we experienced the lovely heat and humidity for the first time. The cars were all small and the steering wheel on the right side of the car! The expressway was not free like it is in California, but you can tell the money goes toward maintenance of the highway, which is much nicer than anyway highway in the U.S. When left the Hanwa Expressway we went onto the main street through Wakayama City. Of course we were driving on the left side of the road. The streets other than the main street were tiny! Some of them looked like alleys and were maybe only 6 feet wide and were still two-way streets. At least there were mirrors around to help drivers. The first night we spent in a hotel room, a very small room at that with a corresponding small bathroom.
    We met our host families the next day, all of who did not speak much English. This would be the biggest trouble over the next few weeks, as I donít speak any Japanese. The language barrier probably only slowed us down as we still tried to explain many things about our respective cultures. The experience of living in a Japanese home is the most valuable experience I can take from the trip. From eating Japanese food (contrary to what I though before coming I ate relatively well, as they served me a lot of Western Style, but also some Japanese food) to just sitting around and observing I learned a lot. A big difference during eating times is that in Japan it is not rude to make noises while eating particularly noodle dishes. In Western culture, noises are viewed as bad manners. It was hard for me to try and fit in with making noises, as I am definitely not used to it. Other than that some aspects of the home life were still the same. I slept on a bed rather than on the floor and ate sitting down in a chair on a dining table. After the day was done, the whole family would sit down and talk, play cards or watch TV. It was these times that proved very valuable as we exchanged information about Japan/U.S. during these times. I appreciate those times the most, because it was then I learned the most about Japan and they learned the most about the U.S.
    School was a very interesting experience that was nothing like I was expecting. Biking to school was the first point of interest. Everyoneís bicycle looked the same! They also all looked the same, wearing uniforms. I stood out a lot having not worn a uniform. The students in the class were really misbehaved. They talked, read comics, slept etc. during the lessons and the teacher didnít seem to care or notice. During the assembly I went to, more of the same. They were honoring their sports teams but not many of the students gave much respect. The Kainan High School baseball team would go on to the semi-finals of the Wakayama tournament, but the students didnít show them much more respect than any of the other teams. I met an English teacher from New Zealand at Kainan High School who shared these shocks with me. Aside from the shocking behavior, the classes were not all that different from the ones I took in high school. A few differences are that the teachers moved around instead of the students and the students have to buy their own books. The students and teachers also bow at the beginning of class, something that has no equivalent in the U.S.
    Sightseeing was a limited activity for me, as my host family had a business to run and could only do stuff on Sundays. Subsequently I only did the scheduled sightseeing and some little sightseeing for things that were nearby. I really liked seeing all the various temples, shrines and other sites. The most impressive sight was Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. The pavilion glimmered with sunshine reflecting off of the pond in front of it. The squeaking nightingale floor of Nijo-jo and the 108 stairs of Toshogu Shrine also impressed me. American culture is not as closely tied with religion as Japanese culture is, so the abundance of shrines and temples in Japan is very different from the U.S., which offers basically none of that. There were many temples and shrines that I didnít see, basically because there were so many of them. Kyoto is famous for them, but Wakayama has its share of them. The one I wanted to see was Nachi, but it was too far from Kainan City; however, it was OK since I got see plenty of shrines and temples anyway.
    The biggest difference I noticed between Japan and here is that the people in Japan are a lot more polite and respectful to each other. People over there seem generally happier than people here. I already miss this aspect of Japan. Even though it is probably not fair to compare Los Angeles with a small city like Wakayama City or Kainan City, even the people in Kyoto seemed a lot nicer than the people in Los Angeles. I felt much safer in Japan than I do here, but there was always the fear of falling into the rice fields riding along side them on the bicycles. I learned a lot about Japanese culture from my trip to Japan even though I couldnít speak Japanese. I hope to one day return to Japan, hopefully speaking Japanese, but for now the memories and experiences of my trip good enough to satisfy my curiosity about the land of my ancestors. And for this opportunity I am eternally grateful to Nanka Wakayama Kenjinkai, the Wakayama International Exchange Association, and the government of Wakayama Prefecture for giving me the opportunity to experience Japan first hand. But, of course, I reserve the utmost and greatest gratitude for the family who took me in and made me feel at home in my home away from home. I can only hope to repay them partially by giving my host student, Toshiyuki, an equally enlightening and enjoyable experience when he comes to the United States next year.


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