The journey I have waited years to take is at an end, and I am now back Stateside. My time in Japan was beyond belief; I have been so blessed to be able to go. Now that I have achieved this goal, my life will never be the same. In fact, I have a strong feeling that my time in Japan is only just beginning, that this study abroad opportunity was only an introduction to greater journeys to come.
I learned so much in Japan, both from firsthand experience and in the classroom. My Japanese history course gave me greater insight on the progression of Japan into a modern nation, and provided context for many of the things I saw on my travels. My second class, an analysis of Japanese popular culture, changed the way I believed about certain facets of Japanese society. There are some parts of Japanese culture that I originally found very strange, such as recreational activities and fashion trends, but in class we were able to discuss why these things came about and what their significance was. Through these discussions, my opinions softened considerably as understanding bloomed. Going to a karaoke building alone (called hitokara) and renting out a room might seem strange to Americans at first. However, when one considers a Japanese person’s plight of an extremely stressful job with great pressure to fit in, compounded with the fact that many Japanese apartments are small and have very thin walls, one can understand why someone would want to rent out a private room just to have some peace and privacy while venting their pent-up stress. Additionally, yukata, the summer version of kimono, is odd to the Western fashion sense, but after feeling the boiling Japanese heat week after week, then donning a yukata, I realized how well-ventilated it was, and why it would have come about as an essential piece of clothing in Japanese history. There were many instances like this during my time in Japan when the logic behind a “foreign” practice suddenly dawned on me. People in other countries aren’t just different for the sake of being different, it’s just that they have come up with unique solutions to problems that they face in their countries.
Japan has indeed changed me, and inspired me to learn more about the uncountable number of things I saw while there. It has already changed my cooking life, because upon coming back to the US, I purchased ingredients for and tried my hand at making tempura. Though nowhere as good as what I ate abroad, It was a great experience that I never would have tried had I not tasted the real thing, and I will certainly be working on my tempura skills going forward. Although the Rising Sun has now set on this trip, it will inevitably rise again, and I will prepare with all enthusiasm for that day, living in this in-between time in light of all I’ve learned.