Hello Lafayette! I think it’s around 10AM where you all are but it’s 11:15PM here. I am honored that I was asked to write blogs on my experiences in Japan by the college.
I feel that a lot of people who study abroad want to play it safe by either going to an English-speaking country or a country that is in the “western” world. Please note that this isn’t my first time in Japan. I studied in Kyoto last year and now I am in Tokyo through Temple University’s program. But the things I am already experiencing are a little strange for me.
I don’t man to sound heavy, but as someone who is not Japanese, being in Japan automatically pegs you as a “gaijin.” Gaijin (外人) literally means “outside person.” Initially it just referred to people who were from outside villages that married into a village. These outsiders were the ones to blame when unexpected calamities and other bad things happened in the village. Nowadays, the idea of “outsiders” in Japan refers mostly to people who are not Japanese living in Japan.
So what does this mean for me? I speak and understand Japanese at a high proficiency level. However, most people here just assume that I don’t understand what they are saying, that I am always lost, and I feel sort of like an amusement park attraction for people here. I’ve had people at restaurants try to test their English on me and strangers ask for my picture in the street simply because I am American. I don’t blame them for it. It’s actually kind of fun sometimes.
A little about my trip so far: I am staying at homestay in Higashi Yamato shi, Tokyo. I live with two parents, a little brother, and another homestay student who is a year younger than me. The house, including walking time, is around 2 hours from TUJ campus. I take two trains with 3+ transfers to get to school. My host mother prepares two meals a day for me while I am left to find my own food for lunch.
Luckily for me, Japan is the country of CONVENIENCE! There is at least a 7-11, Lawsons, or Family Mart (or some combination of the three) on every corner. The food that is sold in them would make Wawa cry; it is THAT good. Furthermore, there are vending machines EVERYWHERE. I think I live my life on canned coffee. I love Japanese canned coffee. It tastes good and keeps you awake through your commutes.
Since I’ve been here, I have done some fun things and have had a week of classes. I went to J-World (JUMP world) with my friend and got to see some cool stuff there. As a film fanatic (and major), I want to see some movies here too including the Japanese dub of Pacific Rim as well as the CGI film Captain Harlock and the live action Gatchaman movie. I admittedly love Japanese animation a lot. I have some experience working in the industry itself and while I am here I am hoping to continue with that in my own way.
On a more serious note, I have had to experience some incredibly difficult things since coming here too. The biggest one was my trip to the ward office. As a home stay student, you have to be very independent. That means registering your own Japanese residence card and getting your National Health Insurance (which allows you to get something like a bank account or cellphone) on your own.
At the ward office, they tried to talk my friend and I into getting pension. This was when knowing Japanese language wasn’t enough to deal with the situation. It was very nerve wracking because you go in there thinking you know what you want to do and say, and then you’re suddenly being asked to pay $9000 for something you don’t really need/understand. Needless to say, I now hate the ward office and it was an incredibly frightening experience.
Lastly, which is probably most important, is a note on classes. I take three film classes and one Japanese literature/Asian studies course. I decided to drop my advanced Japanese class for personal reasons–plus I prefer taking Japanese at Lafayette. I can read, write, understand, and speak well enough that it’s not really a problem for me anyways.
What’s really interesting about TUJ is that you have both Western/gaijin students as well as Japanese native students in classes together. The classes are in English, but almost all the lectures will be brought back to something based in Japanese culture. For example, my silent film course does this so much so that the professor uses a lot of Japanese words to describe themes and theories in the films that we are watching. It’s interesting how they teach the classes with both cultures in mind. At Lafayette, and other American colleges, we think that we are being universal, but everything is still really Americanized. But when you are dealing with topics such as American film and Hollywood, and tying in Japanese ideals, cultural themes, etc., you realize that what you thought was a “global education” really was just American ideals.
So I am expected to update this blog once a week. I tend to take a lot of pictures during the week (at school, home, out in Tokyo, on the trains), so my blogs will be picture heavy. I will try to focus on what it’s like being a gaijin in Japan as much as I can because I think that it’s a challenge and something that people who are thinking about coming here should be aware of. I would also like to share how fun Japan is though. After 3/11, there is an international stigma about Japan not being a safe country. But I assure you that it’s safe and fun, and a place really worth visiting someday.