January marks the 5th month I've been living in Japan. As I sit in a Tokyo hotel room feeling displaced as a tourist in a city I have lived in for an entire semester, the last leg of a family Christmas vacation that has taken me through the regions of Kansai, Kyushu, Chugoku and back to Kanto, I have been given plenty of time to reflect on not only my experience in Japan, but my experiences throughout my life.
Experiences become a part of daily life when you're an American diplomat's daughter. I have stood at the Center of the World in Ecuador, scampered about the Salar de Uyuni and dipped my fingers in Lake Titicaca of Bolivia, fished for piranhas as I've coasted down the Amazon river, covered myself in paint as I danced through Port-of-Spain in a Trinidadian carnival at 4 in the morning....
I have tasted so much of what the western hemisphere has to offer while knowing I have only scraped the surface of this diverse, beautiful, wide world of ours. I had believed myself a citizen of the world, adaptable and experienced, ready to do something I had long dreamed of doing since I picked up my first Gameboy and watched my first Spanish dubbed Anime: go to Japan.
Having been living in Tokyo under IES Abroad's Tokyo - Language and Culture program for the past four months, I can assure you I was not prepared in the slightest. I don't think anything can prepare you for the immense culture and language shock of visiting a place on the other side of the planet, so vastly different it might as well be another planet.
Thus, Tokyo was a lot of first experiences for me. It was my first time being crushed into a train, so tightly pressed against other people I could feel their body heat during a morning rush hour that left me in awe of how willingly people sacrifice personal space for the sake of arriving to work on time. I became used to using chopsticks for everything, even food I was laughingly told to use a spoon or fork. The fruits, vegetables, and meats I once found easily and plentiful in the United States have become special, expensive treats.
I also felt the love of a host family that has told me I have become another daughter to them. I have sung my heart out on several occasions at karaoke, a Japanese past time that bonded me closer to my peers both American and Japanese. I even had the wonderful opportunity of adorning a hakama (traditional Japanese clothing) as a shrine maiden every week as part of a class studying Japanese organizations.
These examples are but a fraction of what I have learned and experienced in the bustling, crowded city of Tokyo (though I technically lived and studied in Chiba, a prefecture that's basically a Tokyo suburb). What kind of experiences will I have in the smaller, industrial Nagoya? Well, moving to a different region and getting used to a new dialect will be one of them (from Kanto to Kansai, where they use the infamous "Kansai-ben" dialect). I will be living with a new host family and getting used to their personalities, routine, and getting used to a new commute/lifestyle. Not to mention all the differences that will arise from attending a Language and Culture program versus a Direct Enrollment one.
Regardless, I'm excited to see what this semester will bring. Goodbye Chiba, hello Aichi!