Epilogue – Being a Foreigner in Japan

Consider this an epilogue of sorts. Four months in Japan is a long time, relatively at least. For someone who has never left the country, never traveled alone, and especially never lived alone, it feels like forever. However even as the trip came to an end, I knew that my experience only scratched the surface of what others have been through.

Some of my friends here have been studying since last September, meaning their return marked the conclusion to a year-long trip. Having spent about seventeen weeks dumping all my thoughts and experiences into this blog, I figured it would be nice to look a bit outward and do some research.

In this essay I will endeavor to report the experience of being a foreigner in Japan, contrasting my experience with the accounts of those I’ve grown close to along with some statistical information and stories I’ve found online.

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Week 17 – The End of the Line

By the time this is posted, it will be Sunday night here in Nagoya. A few friends will have already left to return home or go on further travels throughout Japan. I’m not sure how emotional I will be by that point. Like with arriving here, I wasn’t sure when the weight of departing would hit me like a ton of bricks.

I’ve elected not to give a shit. After all, the unknown has been tamed. I spent four months in a foreign country alone and I killed it. In less than a week, I’ll be home, eating American food and catching up with friends I miss like crazy. There is nothing to be afraid of now, except when I’ll get to see the friends I met here again.

We are a pretty spread out bunch as far as origins. Some of my best friends are in Canada, and one of them is even further north in Alaska. Reuniting will be a future endeavor that we are all anxiously awaiting. However, if I’m honest, I’m not that worried about that either.

Circumstance is a big factor in how people connect. The friends I have back home became my friends over years of seeing each other in school, learning about one another and slowly realizing we tolerated each other enough to actually enjoy one another’s company. The way I feel talking with my friends here isn’t a whole lot different.

Granted, we all share that desire for friends given that we are out of our shells and we all live in the same building. Plus, I would argue seeing all your friends naked at a hot spring and just goofing around will accelerate the bond of any friendship tenfold, as weird as it may sound.

So what are my thoughts on going home? I’m excited to see my friends back home, I’m disappointed I’ll be leaving the ones here, and I’m only nervous about the 12 hour flight. I think I’ve stated this before, but if the biggest worry for the past month has been airport check-in, I’d say I’ve been doing pretty well.

I still can’t quite believe that I of all people went to my parents one day and said “hey, I think I wanna study abroad.” If there is a lesson for the end of this journey is that when you get that voice in the back of your head saying “this would be a great opportunity for you,” maybe you should listen. Because once you take a leap and try some crazy and awesome stuff, you can rest easy knowing you got there because of you.

This is the end of the line, but since all of this was technically a blog for a class, expect an epilogue next weekend. A more research-based conclusion that sums up what I learned. However, for now, consider this the true ending to this cool little story.

Thanks for reading.

Week 16 – Making the Most of It

My friend Chris came to me this time around for one last get-together before I returned to America. It was a long and fun day bringing one of the last two weeks to a satisfying close and actually ended up being a lot more than initially planned (which is always a pleasant surprise). Ever since I first met up with Chris in Nakatsugawa, we talked about him visiting Nagoya, but now here we were, with me playing the tour guide.

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Week 15 – The Last Big Assignment

You ever get to the end of a school term, look at all the things you need to get done and pinpoint the exact moment you can just relax. Typically the work will persist up until the very last moment but then you have those terms where things are going pretty smooth. It’s the moment you’ve got one last big project that’s kinda stressing you out, followed by the remainder of the term that’s a breeze. That’s what I’m dealing with now.

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Week 13 – The Best Day Yet

Part of me feared that by the end of my trip, I would not have truly engaged with the people here. Even if I took the steps to talk with people from Japan more, how would I know when I really and truly had made a strong connection? Would it have been enough?

But, all tough things in life just need a big enough push to get through, and I’m happy to say that this week was the most engaged I have felt with this… incredible place. It all started with my Culture teacher, Masuda sensei.

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Week 11 – I Didn’t Go To Tokyo

… Well, it ain’t like I ain’t going in the future. I’ve got like six weeks left and I guarantee I’ll find the time during one of them to take a nice day trip. As for why I didn’t take advantage of a free day to go and visit the biggest “no shit” tourist spot, it was mostly monetary.

Somehow after literally looking up prices for the bullet train a week or two ago, I managed to convince myself that the price was lower. Like, approximately 16 USD one way. In reality, It’s about 90-100 USD… one way. So It’s basically two times my weekly budget for food, plus whatever I end up spending in Tokyo since it would be a waste not to get some sort of souvenir.

Now I’m thinking I’ll put some money away on the side and save up so the cost isn’t as extravagant when I eventually go. Still, for the first time in a while, the budget really hit me in a nasty way and without a part-time job, I’m not exactly making that money back until I go back home and start working again.

But it wasn’t all for naught. I actually did way more this week than I initially thought I would, starting with a visit to a cat cafe…

Of course, I have pictures.

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Week 10 – A Pleasant Start to Summer

This had to have been the single greatest week so far, if only for the fact that the rather typical week of classes was bookended by some great stuff. Last weekend capped off with a viewing of Promare, the latest animated film by Studio Trigger, and I was amazed at the chance to see such a major animated film in Japan.

A few days after this is posted I will be putting up a post about my more detailed thoughts on the film on my other blog. Check it out if you are interested in animation at all. What I will say here is that the theater-going experience was fun and just like when I saw Endgame, I got a special collectible for the opening weekend. This time a dope little ID card of the main character.

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Week Nine – A Loss For Words

This week was the first time this term that I have felt truly stressed in a class. It wasn’t due to the homework or any upcoming tests, as the coursework here isn’t all that difficult. I was frustrated because I couldn’t find the right words to say in class.

Since arriving in Japan, I have continually challenged myself to express my myriad complex thoughts in Japanese. If I have something I want to say, I should try to say it in Japanese, even if I have to rethink my entire approach to saying what I mean. But when I can’t find the words, I pause and I simply cannot speak. I end up feeling trapped.

To add insult to injury, I found myself in a position after class where I was explaining to my teacher – who was worried I was having difficulties – this exact phenomenon. I was thankfully able to explain that when I can’t think of what to say, I freeze up and she understood, but when this stuff happens early into the class, I’m in a bad mood the rest of the time.

I’ve expressed for a while now that I don’t think I’ve been struggling in Japan the way that I expected to, but this moment made me rethink a lot of things. Am I interacting with Japanese people enough? Am I truly testing my Japanese skills thoroughly enough? If I can’t do either, why am I even here?

This was a small taste of what would be more intense if I went to a different school without NGU’s international appeal. I’m cursed and blessed with a lot of English speakers around me. Okay, I wouldn’t outright call it a curse but it definitely hasn’t pushed me out of my comfort zone as much, as happy as that makes me.

The truth is, Japanese isn’t super integral to what I aspire to do as a career. I took on this second major because I love the language and I was already planning on taking three years of Japanese classes. The study abroad trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and with only one or two extra classes in the major after the previous three years, it was a no-brainer.

The biggest lesson this week is that I should be glad that I’m meeting with my tutor weekly to chat for a little bit during lunch. I am passionate about Japanese and learning the language more because the culture of Japan speaks to me in a lot of ways. All that being said, I need to remind myself that I don’t need to beat myself up if I go back home not having improved a huge amount.

At the time this new journal entry goes up, I will be a little bit more than half-way through this trip. I’ve got to start planning trips to Tokyo and other places a bit more seriously in the time that remains so I can get the most out of my time here. Expect an entire post dedicated to Tokyo in the coming weeks, as well as possibly Kyoto, Hiroshima, or any other places this journey takes me.

Week Seven – Back in the Swing of Things

At some point early this week, I asked myself if I was homesick, and I thought, “yes absolutely.”

I wasn’t asking because the symptoms were eluding me or because I was having a rough time AT ALL. Rather, I felt I needed to think it over because my time here has been legit great so far and I simply never considered homesickness to be anything other than a hurdle to jump over.

To my surprise, it stays with me kinda like the stress for an upcoming test: a completely natural and it will pass in time. Likely, whenever the next fun thing happens to take my mind off of things.

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