Thailand

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Wat Chalong

Now starting the fourth week of classes at Gaidai, and a blog is long over due.

Time has flown by and it’s hard to believe I’m already a quarter of the way into the semester.

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a cat lying on the table near the guest book on the way up to the Big Buddha

I had a wonderful winter break. I was able to go home for the holidays and catch up on cuddling with my cats. There truly is no place like home for the holidays, so I’m very thankful to have been able to spend that time with my family and close friends.

Upon my return to Japan, I was ready to leave again for Phuket, Thailand! Yes, again so lucky to have all of these experiences. In the beginning of December, the cold weather was dispiriting. I decided I needed a mini-vacation somewhere hot, relatively cheap and somewhere in Asia.

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perfection

I went to Google flights, looked at possible destinations and chose the cheapest yet warmest place to go; that’s how I ended up going to Phuket.

My close friend and classmate, Emily, was all for going when I mentioned it to her. Now I have a new partner in crime and a wonderful cultural experience gained.

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gentle giants

First, the ‘ph’ in Phuket is just a p sound. ‘poo-ket’ not an expletive you may have been thinking. (though it is undeniably humorous to say it with the ph sound)

Thai culture is very focused on the family. So much that the king says all of those living in Thailand are his children; because they are one big family, his family will not fight with one another despite differences. I could really feel this about the culture while I was there. I hardly noticed any discrimination; it felt focused around a moral of respecting one another even if there were differences.

Along the lines of being a super accepting culture, ladyboys are a big deal and part of the culture. Gender ambiguity appeared to be widely accepted. For example, in addition to the wonderful shows performed by ladyboys, workers who identified as a woman are able to dress as a woman at work in professional jobs.

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after the famous Simon Cabaret show

Overall, I believe there is a lot to learn about the importance of respect and acceptance from Thai culture.

Aside from having a humbling culture, Thailand was also beautiful. I am not denying that, yes, it is extremely dirty in some places. However, it is also breathtaking in other areas.

Big Buddha- the Thai people have paid on their own for this as a tribute to their king and for tourism

Big Buddha- the Thai people have paid on their own for this as a tribute to their king and for tourism

My favorite thing about Thailand? Curry, of course. I love spicy food; the kind that makes my nose run and eyes water and most everything was super spicy.

I was only able to stay 5 days, but going back to Thailand is now on my bucket list. I’m glad a cheap google flight lead me there to discover a culture I previously knew nothing about.

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kha pun ka

~kha pun ka~

Thank you for reading!
I have now started another page, which has a link at the top, named ‘Japan in Color’ where I will post photos that I have taken abroad. Please go check it out and follow!

Acculturation

あけましておめでとうございます。Happy New Year!

This holiday season I was thankfully able to travel home and visit with friends and family. However, there are a lot of emotions that come with studying abroad and saying goodbye to all the friends I made during my first semester. I still have one more semester to go in Japan, but I want to share my experience with acculturation thus far and hopefully provide some insight to the normal feelings that happen during these once in a lifetime experiences for those looking to study abroad and those that may already have.

 

First, what is acculturation? To make it simple, it is the process where one is immersed in a different culture and undergoes various changes from living in the new culture. There are many different theories and curves about acculturation, but my personal favorite is Hofstede’s curve. First, is a state or euphoria which occurs from the excitement of being in a different culture. Then there is culture shock; the initial euphoria fades then one may feel depressed, confused, and any array of emotions. Finally, we adjust to the new culture and feel more comfortable. Because this process happens over time, individuals who only spend vacations abroad for a few weeks are unlikely to undergo an acculturation process.

 

Using this information, I’m going to talk a little about what Japanese culture is like, compare and contrast my experiences during my time abroad so far, and what it is like to re-acculturate back into my own culture.

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traditional street in Kyoto near Gion-Shijo station * I also posted some interesting pictures so this long post isn’t too boring.

I’m from a college town, born and raised. Within my culture, and American culture in general, there is emphasis on the individual. However, Japan has a collective society so understanding an opposite culture can at times be difficult.

I was starstruck by Japan when I arrived. Everything seemed exceptionally clean and everybody seemed very polite, even the police. As the semester continued though, I started to learn more about why Japan isn’t as perfect as I had onced idealized it.

I am not in any way ‘down-talking’ Japan, because I love Japan. I do want to talk about my acculturation process, because every culture across the world has its downsides including my own. Understanding differences helps understand the culture whether or not they are positive differences.

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opening ceremony, every flag means at least one person from that country was in the program

Everything in Japan is black and white which means there is a high uncertainty avoidance within the culture. Very few places are ‘have it your way’ like in America. It is rude to change the state of a menu item- unless the menu says it is possible. It is also usually impossible to change a menu item or order something not on the menu. So whenever I try to get mayo for fries at restaurant, I’m either told they do not have it (though it is on the sandwiches), or given a “what is this foreigner doing” look then finally given mayo.

Now that I’ve grown accustomed to this about Japanese culture, I just laugh it off and know that it is how the culture works. Though considering my flexible American lifestyle, it was very annoying at first.

If the culture difference were not enough, language barriers also can also make it hard to acculturate. I find this specifically true for Japanese culture, because there are different conjugations and nouns used that depend on to whom I am speaking. There is a strong sense of senpai-kohai (senior-junior) relationship that is always observed, but it sometimes hard to differentiate exactly when should I use keigo (honorific language).  I still haven’t worked out all the kinks for knowing whether or not to honorifically or politely say thank you, but living in Japan has helped tremendously and I do not believe there is a better way to develop an understanding of this deeply rooted Japanese concept than by living in Japan.

Along the same lines of understanding Japanese, some Japanese think that I don’t know that they’re talking about me in front of me, but I do. On the flip side, there are a good portion of Japanese that know if a foreigner is speaking in English about them. I think it is best to just keep opinions to oneself about others. Maybe the girl on the train has really awesome shoes, but she only knows enough English to know she’s being openly talked about by foreigners.

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Kyoto Tower

 

I believe the hardest part of acculturating in Japan is accepting that I am a minority there so discrimination is inevitable. Living in Japan is the first time in my life I have experienced being the minority, which has been very eye opening for me. I’ve watched it happened to others in America and it enrages me, but it does not compare to being the one discriminated against. For example, when a non-native English speaker speaks in English, sometimes the individual may have an accent. No matter how many times they say something or how perfectly they say it, there are individuals in America who don’t even try to understand what the other person is saying because they look foreign and/or have an accent. The exact same thing happens in Japan to foreigners speaking Japanese.

Though, enough of what was hard to acculturate. There are many things I love about being in Japan.

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My favorite station for switching to an express train because of it’s natural beauty and shopping: Kuzuha.

The train systems in Japan are fantastic. I am able to be in Osaka or Kyoto within 30 minutes for little cost. I believe the US could only dream of providing such an efficient service to its citizens.

I can also ride my bike a ton of places and worry much less about being hit by a motorist. Around the world, I have a theory that all cyclists and motorists hate sharing the road, but in general Japan is cyclist friendly. There are also bike shops that sell used bikes for extremely reasonable prices. (starting at 6,000JPY or about 50USD)

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Downtown in Namba, Osaka

With transportation costing so little, I have access to many locations that are packed with things to do. I could hike a mountain, visit a temple or two, eat sushi and go out to karaoke all in one day. There are also things I see unique to Japan that I am able to do, such as cat cafes.

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My friends and I visited a cat cafe of Japan located in Namba near Ame-mura called ‘nekonojikan’ (cat time).

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the friendliest cat

Living in Japan has changed me forever in ways that are hard to explain. Coming back home for the holidays has given me reverse-culture shock; I do not think I will be able to re-acculturate before returning to Japan.

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Making American food can be expensive, so I cook Asian dishes

Some of the oddest things about readjusting are not separating my trash, how America is dirty, and America is loud.

Since Japan is an island nation, most things are recycled or burned. (nope, no nasty landfills!) There is a bin each for burnables, PET bottles, plastic trash, glass, broken glass, and cans. Grocery stores also have separate bins for plastic food trays, cartons, and paper. The trash system is complicated and if it is not separated correctly then it does not get picked up until it is done right. Upon my arrival in Chicago O’hare, I tried to separate my lid and cup from Starbucks to throw away, but surprise! America doesn’t take recycling as seriously so it took a moment to realize I didn’t have to throw my lid in the nonexistent plastic trash.

There are also very few garbage cans around the streets in Japan, so I thought there may be more trash on the ground, but most people drink or eat where they are then dispose of the trash or take it home and dispose of it there. However, if one visits Ame-mura in Osaka or Shibuya station in Tokyo at night, the night life will leave plenty of trash, but it is always cleaned up by somebody.

Finally, America is loud. In a collectivist society where most houses are not heavily insulated like in the states, Japanese tend to be as quiet as possible for consideration to others. That also goes for being on the train; small talk is rare between people as is eating and drinking on the train (although I’ve seen it done by Japanese themselves, I advise against it.) It is also against the rules to talk on the phone while on the train, so if caught the train attendant will politely tell individuals to put it away.

*I also advise against testing the Japanese patience. They always ask nicely, so it is courteous to return the favor by listening.


The last thing I want to talk about in acculturation is something I do not see brought up as often: losing all the awesome friends made while abroad. I believe this is the cherry on top for post study abroad depression. Nobody understands exactly how I’m feeling quite like those whom were with me on the journey. I lived in a bubble with friends I grew extremely close to and then one day it popped. All of the people I knew I may never see again, but I think the best thing is to be happy I had the pleasure of making all of the wonderful friends I did and I am able to forever cherish the memories we made together.

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out in Tokyo

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our first time at Karaoke

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on top one of the Holiest mountains in the world

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saying goodbyes

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sharing an American meal my friend cooked with other international students

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Same dorm friends

Okinoshima

My friend has wanted to meet his extended family that lives here in Japan. We were both surprised when he was able to contact them from the documents his mother sent him that may or may not have been accurate. Thankfully they were.

His grandmother passed away this past spring. She was Japanese, but he did not learn much Japanese until coming to Japan. I was able translate for him when he met his extended family for the first time. Seeing how enthused they were to meet him was a very special experience.

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His grandmother pictured on the left in the bottom picture.

We arrived on the island on a Saturday afternoon. I had been messaging with his family prior to our arrival, so they were waiting on us when we got off the boat. We weren’t sure what his family looks like aside from being Japanese, which isn’t helpful at all in Japan. However, the way his great aunt’s face lit up as she saw us walking down the stairs from the dock let me know it was his family. The rest of the family shortly met up with us and we walked to a restaurant across from the docks to eat lunch.

During lunch, I translated some basic introductions to the family. They asked where we lived in the US, how Japan had been so far, what our favorite places were and so on.

After lunch we went to the family house which hosted their family shrine. I did not take pictures out of respect to the family, but Shelby was able to light incense and pray respect to his ancestors at the shrine. After briefly looking around the house, we sat in the family room and talked over coffee, tea, and snacks. They showed us multiple photo albums and other things they had saved over the years that his grandmother had sent. I have no words for how special this entire experience was.

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overlook on the island

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heart shaped rock

His great uncle drove us around a few places to see the natural beauty of the island. I was most happy to see the red cliffs. 20141122_154534

According to what his great uncle told us, the cliffs were formed when the ocean cooled the hot magma from volcanoes long ago, so the red cliffs were rather unique to the islands and red rock formations were abundant.

Tired from travel, we were able to take a nap at the family’s hotel before dinner.

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our room

Shelby and I were able to have our first homemade traditional Japanese dinner- YUM

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the food never stopped

If not aware before, the Japanese love to drink. Beer is a celebratory drink here, so beer (and sake) didn’t stop all night. There is a catch though: it is customary to pour each others drinks and not your own. It took a moment to catch on to this, and we were shocked they kept filling our cups before we finished. After dinner, the family took us to a karaoke bar where everybody sang and danced. Around midnight, we all walked across the street to the hotel to sleep for more sightseeing in the early morning.

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Sunday morning they woke us up at 9am, but with good reason; the sun sets around 5 here. We traveled to one of the other islands by ferry and his family drove us around to take pictures where his grandmother had taken pictures when she lived there. I left my phone in my bag, so I don’t really have many pictures of my own. We were given copies of pictures they took, so I hope to share them once I have an opportunity to scan them.

The rain held off until we were done exploring, and just in time for another delicious lunch.

Since we were up early, we took a nap before our ‘sayonara’ dinner at the other family’s hotel. We were served more sushi and a Japanese dish I had been wanting to try for sometime called ‘nabemono’. (or just ‘nabe’) Nabe is a hot pot with various ingredients which can vary by region and other factors. (‘nabe’- hot pot  ‘mono’- things) Ours was like sukiyaki with the Island’s sweet sake, and my favorite Japanese dish yet. Afterwards we drank tea and ate sweets with the family while I translated so Shelby could learn more about them, as well as they could learn more about Shelby.

Monday morning, we headed back for Hirakata after goodbyes. I do hope to meet them again.

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This was a truly special experience; I feel lucky that I was able to help Shelby and his family communicate with each other. They were so welcoming and nice to us, and treated me as family too.

Curious about something in Japan? drop a comment below or shoot me an email at lucyjw3@gmail.com

Mount Hiei – Hieizan

The other weekend I ventured up Mount Hiei. I took the cable car, but was able to hike some.

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always take off shoes before entering a temple

I had wanted to hike but,  our school group was meeting early on a Saturday morning. Early and Saturday are separately okay; together it never happens.

Once we met up with those who braved early morning the hike, we all did some more hiking to our lunch spot.

The scenery was beautiful. I resented my laziness after seeing how beautiful the Mountain is.

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abandoned building on the hike to lunch

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open field on the mountain during the hike to lunch. Same area as abandoned building

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Once we reached the lunch spot, I ate some conbini (convenience store) food. Unfortunately, I covered myself in salad dressing rather than my salad. At least my sushi was still good…

I couldn’t care much about smelling like Italian dressing when I was looking out on Kyoto, and reminiscing of the hills at home in West Virginia.

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oh the hills, beautiful hills…

After lunch, there was some more hiking, then we reached the entrance to the temple grounds. It was 700 yen to enter, but a temple well worth experiencing.

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Buddha statue

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to wash your hands and mouth

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freezing

Though a slightly expensive trip, I believe it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this World Heritage Site. The temple grounds were serene, and along with the fall foliage it made for a perfect day. Good friends are always a plus, too.

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“get by with a little help from my friends”

Halloween

I didn’t expect Halloween to be so big here, but the costume contest was a HUGE deal. Groups went all out on their costumes and performed little skits that related to their costumes. Because the event is so big, trying to see isn’t so easy if you don’t show up almost 2 hours prior to show time.

I had class until 6:10 and the contest began at 7:30. I walked straight from class to the stage, and it was packed.

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As for myself, I dressed up as Yoko Ono ( and there’s my John Lennon.)

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After the event, we hoped to go to a Halloween party to meet Japanese students, but the sign that said we needed tickets in advanced was in Japanese, though the rest of the advertisement was in English. Slightly let down, we decided to grab a drink and hopefully meet new people at a local club or bar.

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Still nobody there, we left and ate sushi.

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Anytime is a good time for sushi.

Jidai Masturi

The actual day of Jidai Matsuri, October 22. Jidai Matsuri is the festival of ages that celebrates Kyoto’s history put on by the Heian Shrine. (The shrine from my previous blog.) The parade takes awhile to watch, as it covers the span of when Kyoto was the capital of Japan. We were able see participants playing traditional Japanese instruments and wearing traditional Japanese clothing from the different eras of Japan.

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Unfortunately, it was raining and cold the day of the parade. Standing outside for two hours just didn’t seem as appealing as it did before. So we took breaks from the crowd and cold rain by looking around in book-off.

Book-off sells used video games, books, comics, dvds, and cds- all for a discount price. Most of the comics were 100 yen, and a used nintendo DS was only 2400 yen (or a little less than 24USD).

After the parade we ate at our favorite chinese restaurant, then headed back to Hirakata.

Next: Halloween

Accidents Happen

So before Halloween, I accidentally went to Kyoto. Let me explain: I thought Jidai Matsuri was on October 15, but it is on October 22. After I found out I was there wrong day, I decided to take a break from studying for midterms and enjoy the afternoon. My friend and I sat along the river after buying some bread and snacks from the conbini (convenience store) and fed the ducks. A few unexpected visitors showed up though…

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I’m not sure what kind of birds these are. They look like some type of crane, but I cannot say for sure.

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And of course, the pigeons.

After relaxing by the river, my friend and I walked to the Heian Shrine. This is the shrine that holds Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages). We figured it would be less crowded the week before rather than during the festival.

Walking towards the shrine, there are huge tori gates and we crossed a bridge.

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The shrine was humbly elegant.

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I don’t have a picture, but a group of shyougakusei (elementary school students) were there on a field trip. They all approached me, which was slightly overwhelming,  saying “Excuse me! Excuse me!”. After they had my attention, they weren’t sure what to say in english, so their sensei (teacher) told them to ask to if it was okay to take a picture with me. The bravest little girl tried and said “picture?” Seeing how excited they were to interact with a foreigner really made me happy, and I wish I had a picture of the adorable experience.

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After that encounter, I bought postcards and an ema to write prayers on and leave them in the temple.

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We ate dinner at a 330 yen restaurant and got a window seat with a nice view of the city. Overall a relaxing evening if I do say.

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Next: the actual day of Jidai Matsuri