Ah, Japan – land of quirky contradictions and unique cultural schisms. My first trip outside of the U.S. was to this majestic country for a study abroad semester. As a major of Asian Studies in undergrad, I naively thought I was prepared for everything and anything. I had studied the culture, language, and made it a point to meet as many Japanese-American friends as possible. In retrospect, working with essay helpers, I realize now that no matter how hard you study, you never truly are prepared for everything. Sometimes though, the best experiences on your journey are the ones when you’re far outside your comfort zone, interacting with people, partaking in unique customs far different from your own.
For example, on a visit to Hiroshima, I stayed with a friend’s grandfather who lived in one of the only houses to survive the atomic blast. This house was quaint and full of charm, but unfortunately did not have a shower or bathtub. When I asked Oji-san (“Gramps”) where I was going to bathe, he asked if I had ever been to a public bath before. Needless to say, as an American this is not something I was accustomed to, nor entirely comfortable with, but I threw myself into the situation and ended up having an interesting discussion on Japanese-American relations with a stranger while sitting in a tub filled with herbal water that made me feel like I was in a giant bowl of soup.
As I would learn very quickly, the Japanese are very hospitable, and go out of their way to help you; that is, at least those who were around my age anyways. The best way to describe the friends I made there would be shy, but quick to warm up. There is a level of reservation that one might expect from Asians, but the Japanese do know how to party! They just know that there’s a time and place, and it’s usually at an izakaya (bar). Once the sake and beer come out, they let their hair down and get as rowdy and opinionated as you’d expect a typical American to be. I’m not much of a drinker personally, but drinking is such an integral part of Japanese society, it’s almost a requirement to truly socialize. And of course, no izakaya night would be complete without a follow-up trip to a karaoke bar.
Though my stay was brief, and there was much I regret not being able to see or do, Japan not only opened my eyes to a new culture and way of life, but nourished a curiosity about the rest of the world, which I think in these times of growing international isolationism really needs to be encouraged. The world is smaller than ever, and can be among the most rewarding experiences you can hope to do in your life. I await the day that I will return to Japan and say hisashiburi (long time no see) to my dear friends.