[The Hand Shake Event]
For all the popular celebrities and idol groups in Japan such as AKB48, hand shake events are a must. Now, many may find the concept of hand shake events as strange, but in Japan they are a big deal. It shows that the celebrities share a special bond with their fans and that “they could not have made it this far without their support.”
In order to understand this part of Japanese culture, I decided to attend SCANDAL’s hand shake event. I wanted to see what kind of fans went, how popular these events were, and find out what exactly a hand shake event was.
By the time I got to LaQua, I was already in the back of the line (and you think I would have already learned my lesson about the importance of coming early…). Some fans dressed up in orange jumpsuits, imitating the girls in a music video, while others wrapped towels upon towels around their neck. The crowd was huge and stretched across the amusement park. Despite being in front of their favorite band, there was no pushing, shoving, or yelling; it was the calm and peaceful Japan I’m used to. I stood next to the same girl in line for a modest two hours. From time to time, we exchanged glances and just laughed: the line wasn’t moving at all.
From far away, I watched as high school girls squealed as they shook the hands of their heroes. Some began crying from happiness while others whipped out another ticket from their pockets and smiled as they got in line again. The average hand shake time per member was about 0.2 seconds because anything longer than that and the staff started pushing you towards the exit.
What I found most interesting was the fact that everyone wanted to be last in line. Though it’s hard to believe, that is one of reasons why the line was not moving at all. After a long time of waiting, I finally got to the stage and threw my letter into a larger gift box. The box was filled with Rilakkuma plushes, letters, chocolates, and flowers for the band. I was more interested in talking to the members instead of shaking their hands, as sanitation wasn’t part of the event. I expected there to be hand sanitizer or something similar for the fans because Japan is a stickler for sanitation. It makes more sense that the fans have clean hands…but I guess that was just my point of view.
Because I was already here, I worked with what I had and ended up talking to the members about their recent trip to Las Vegas, and it was over before I knew it. It was a good day.
As I rode the train back, I couldn’t stop thinking about the hand shake. What does the hand shake actually represent? Is it a form of obligation (giri) that the celebrities feel or is it a mixture of giri and a publicity stunt? Do the stars feel obligated to thank their fans for their success through hand shake events? I never reached any conclusion as to why these events are so important and popular in Japan, but it’s something to ponder upon while I attend more concerts and events in the coming months.
[The Spring Break Wrap-Up Part 3]
The final part of my spring break wrap-up is about a trip to the Toyama Prefecture. Now, there is next to no one who knows where the Toyama Prefecture is located or what it is famous for. I will honest, I was one of those people who just smiled and nodded when she heard about someone coming from Toyama (“Of course I know where that is….!”). Amika, my tutor from the AIKOM Program, wanted to show me the inaka (countryside) of Japan and her hometown, so we packed our bags and left Tokyo for a few days.
The Toyama Prefecture is right next to the ocean, so it is famous for fresh seafood, and according to Amika, even fresher than the fish found in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market. Without a car in Toyama, it is pretty hard getting around. There were still patches of snow on the ground as Haruna, a friend from Toudai, and I made our way out of the train station at 6 AM in the morning.
Amika picked us from station and drove us around the city. Just the sheer distance between each house was shocking. It was even more spaced out than Toyohashi, which many consider a good example of inaka.
The seafood was, without a doubt, one of the best I’ve ever had. Because foreigners don’t typically go to Toyama, the locals kept persuading me to buy the “rare” fish only available in the area. We settled on squid and a few shrimp and watched the chef prepare our sashismi.
Besides seafood, the area is known for its ramen called Toyama Black due to the color of its broth. Amika wasn’t joking when she said the broth is nearly impossible to drink — it’s too salty even if one orders a bowl of rice to finish off the soup.
We drove past mountains and lakes and headed to Shirakawago — a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is most famous for its style of houses and unique agriculture tools. It wasn’t my first time to the area, as my host family took me here nearly four years ago. But during that time, we traveled north to get to Shirakawago whereas, this time around, I traveled south to get to the area. Going from Toyama is definitely more of an adventure because of all the bridges, tunnels, and hills. While taking photos from the highest viewpoint we were greeted with a mini-blizzard of all things.
The second day of our trip brought us to the Ishikawa Prefecture. One of the best things about living in Toyama is that it’s relatively easy to get to the neighboring prefectures if one has a car. We spent the entire day in Kanazawa. Kanazawa is the prefecture’s largest city and often gets called the “other Kyoto in Japan.”
Architecture is what makes Kanazawa different from Tokyo. Streets and roads were wide, and there were always patches of green every block or so. It was refreshing.
Hidden between all the buildings was a street market. We spent a good hour conversing with the locals about the customers they usually served. As I handed my money to the chef, she stated in front of all the Japanese behind me, “She doesn’t hand money to me like a Japanese. It’s really funny!” She actually went out of her way to talk to me after I bought my korokke. Local street markets are the best places to start up conversations with the Japanese. Even to this day, their kindness, hospitality, and jokes still stick to me. After stopping at a few other shops, Amika and Haruna were more interested in making me try a type of mussel I’ve never had before.
「意外と美味しかった（笑）」 — It tasted better than I expected.
Our final stop of the day was Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen Garden, one of Japan’s most beautiful and largest gardens.
Takayama is a city in the Gifu Prefecture famous for its 食べ歩き (tabearuki — eating and walking) culture. From senbei (rice crackers) the size of your face to skewered beef to the country’s third best pudding, Takayama has almost everything a fan of “traditional” Japanese food seeks.
Amika’s parents have, for better or for worse, heard a lot about me. We spent the night making sushi — but not the typical roll sushi. Rice was flattened into a small bowl before we arranged the pieces of fish on top making sure that we “don’t waste any space or fish.” Our conversations revolved around Amika’s acceptance to the University of Washington through the AIKOM Program. The competition to study abroad between Japanese students at Toudai is so competitive, it’s almost hard to believe. If anyone deserves to go abroad, it’s Amika; I’m really excited for her!
Being the curious person I am, I asked Amika if I could see the infamous Red Book. The Red Book has numerous practice exams and tips on how to pass the dreaded entrance exams. High school students flock to the Red Book section of book stores almost a year before entrance exams. The only section I was decently okay at was the English because it was translation and comprehension. Every other section called for the memorization of dates, names of historical figures, and recognition of kanji such as 麒麟.
On the last day, we visited a sake brewery and listened to the myths about the Shinto gods who were responsible for Japan’s drinking culture today. We stopped by restaurant famous for its curry udon (which I have say is the best curry udon I’ve had to date). Just by experiencing the slower pace of life in Toyama, I finally had time to sit back, experience and observe the small details that make Japan…Japan.
Arriving in Toyama was a whirlwind. If I learned anything from this trip, it’s that we forget the small details of life so easily. We get so wrapped up in the fast-pace of the world that we don’t always get to see the smaller details and how they help create the big picture. But if we work hard to notice them and see how they connect to each other, to see how all of this connects to Japan, then we realize that they all share a much more complex and deeper connection. A much needed lesson and eye-opener before diving back into my face-paced life as a Tokyoite.
[The Spring Break Wrap Up Part 2]
Living in the city is a huge contrast from what I am used to back in the States and where I lived on my first exchange in Japan. For the past six months, I have been exposed to the concrete jungle and crowds of Tokyo (though, living in Mitaka is a completely different story that I will write about later).
Back in October, I wrote about visiting the Heiwa Nakajima Foundation and one of the scholarship recipients was studying in Okayama — a city about an hour away from Osaka by Shinkansen. I took one day to visit her during my time in Osaka.
My first impression of Okayama came from the roads. They were huge. I couldn’t even comprehend it at the beginning, but they were incredibly wide. My friend laughed as I kept asking her, “This is the bicycle lane? You actually have space for that??”
Bicycle riding in Tokyo consists of constant bell-ringing and people-dodging as one makes his way towards the train station. Here in Okayama, the roads are wide enough so the rate of people-dodging is much lower. That being said, life without a bicycle in Okayama is nearly impossible unless one rides the trollies. Walking, though low-cost, takes a much longer time in Okayama and one will have a hard time getting around because of how spacious the city is.
Despite all of this, we walked from Okayama Station to the dormitories of Okayama University. The city itself is covered with trees and from time to time, the occasional river. The city is known most for Momotaro — the famous story of the boy hero who came to Earth from a peach.
We stopped by a local okonomiyaki restaurant for lunch and I almost died when I saw the price. 500 yen for one okonomiyaki?!
After picking up a bicycle from the dorm, we made our way to 後楽園 (Kourakuen), arguably Okayama’s most famous landmark.
“It looks better when it’s green.”
We spent a good time walking around the park while catching up on our experiences on our programs. We shared many of the same challenges, but also had many overlapping ridiculous stories to tell. Just sharing the sheer difference in the “Japan’s” that we’re experiencing made the visit worth it.
Our trip ended with a visit to Okayama Castle most notable for its black exterior. We went inside and read about the history of the castle and why it was painted black.
Okayama is a city rich with history, nature, and most importantly, Japanese culture (the bike riding culture!). Visiting Okayama has proved to me that despite living in Japan for nearly six months, I really only know how life is as a Tokyoite. The Japan that I’m creating and experiencing is completely from a Tokyo point of view. It was the same as Osaka: I am just scratching the surface of what Japan actually is. (And when I think about it, I honestly do not know if I am answering more questions about Japan that I had or just leaving with more questions. I would love to live in all of these cities and towns that I have been visiting in order to learn more!)
Heiwa Nakajima has a end of the year event in early June or July to celebrate the year all of us have spent in Japan; I can’t wait to show my friend what Tokyo has to offer!
[The Spring Break Wrap-Up Part 1]
Japan’s year officially starts in April, giving us college students a good month of spring vacation. Depending on the number of finals one has, spring break can start from the end of January. I took this time to visit cities outside of Tokyo to see the “Japan” that my friends have been experiencing.
My first stop was Osaka, the city whose famous rivalry with Tokyo is known around the world. Tokyoites describe Osaka as a “dirty and aggressive city” while Osakans try their best to be “different” from Tokyo. The city is most known for its okonomiyaki, dialect, and comedians among other things.
With rows and rows of sky-rise billboards and advertisements, I knew I wasn’t in Tokyo anymore. To make matters worse, the moment I stepped outside onto the escalators I made the mistake of walking on the left side of the road despite living in the United States for the past 20 years. It was culture shock within Japan even though six months have already passed. This just goes to show how much of a Tokyoite I’ve become and it was fun, for a lack of better terms, to adjust to a new city’s rules and customs.
Shinsaibashi is Osaka’s main shopping area and hosts an incredible number of stores ranging from Gothic Lolita fashion to “American luxury” goods. The fashion in Osaka is interesting to say the least. The majority of the Osakan girls I’ve met have an “I don’t care” attitude and wear whatever fits their personality best in order to express their uniqueness. Compare this to Tokyo where most of the girls have the same exact brand and look almost the same as all the others in the crowd. I don’t think I’ll ever run into a girl in Tokyo decked out in tiger fashion (shoes and sunglasses included). Shinsaibashi seemed to never end along with the sea of shoppers and enthusiastic shopkeepers yelling まいど！ (“Thank you very much!”).
But besides the shopping, Osaka is very much a food city. Nearly every corner would host a takoyaki stand and people would watch in amazement at the speed at which the vendors made the food and the skill it takes to flip all of them the at the right time. The more famous stands would have a line snaking around the crowd. It wasn’t just about buying food from a stand, but the show that came with it that makes the wait worth it.
I stopped by Mizuno, a well-known okonomiyaki restaurant. By the time I got there, there was already a line that stretched across the shopping center. Instead of the do-it-yourself okonomiyaki, the chefs prepared it in front of you while you watched in awe at how they flipped the pancake with little to no effort. Again, the show is one of the reasons why the okonomiyaki was as expensive as it was. One of the workers, a woman in her mid forties, started a long conversation with me about Osaka culture and what brought me to their restaurant of all places. When I handed her the bill, I was getting a lesson on Osaka-ben (the dialect)!
Because it was the beginning of March, sakura haven’t bloomed yet. However, it was ume (plum blossom) season and I headed towards a local shrine to see the festival.
The number of photographers was too many to count, as everyone was trying to get the “perfect” shot. Photographers aside, the locals were excited because this marked the coming of spring.
I ended my trip with a visit to the Osaka Aquarium. It is one of the world’s largest aquariums and holds a wide range of exhibits. I would have to say that my favorite exhibit was the jellyfish one. This is just a sign that I have to find more aquariums in Tokyo!
Despite living in Osaka for eight days, this was just an introduction to such a lively city that rivals Tokyo. Both cities have so much to offer and I don’t think they’re that comparable when it comes to which is “better” than the other. Osaka has its perks — the loud and aggressive shopkeepers and unique fashion — but so does Tokyo. The energy of the crowd in Osaka never seemed to die even if night fell. The cultures can be called “Japanese” but the atmosphere is so different from what I’m used to as a Tokyoite. Difference is never a bad thing, and I will definitely take another trip to Osaka when time permits. I still have a lot to discover in both cities!
Nippon Budokan is known around the world for hosting concerts, national ceremonies, and the University of Tokyo’s entrance ceremony among other things. Before coming to Japan I made it a goal of mine to go see at least one live at Budokan.
The problem, then, becomes who should I see perform at Budokan?
With Tokyo Jihen’s break-up a year earlier and no other interesting bands performing, I decided to see miwa.
I will be honest, I was not much a of miwa fan when I first saw her in 2010. I didn’t really have much of an impression other than “she plays the guitar and sings really well!” She performed a lot at Shimokitazawa during her indies days which I find really cool because that’s a train ride away. That being said, she has an overseas fan group most notably because of her similarity (and differences) to the singer YUI and her song appearances in anime and dramas. Her performance at Budokan would celebrate her graduation from her radio show slot at All Night Nippon and Keio University (Yeah, something tells me I should have visited Keio more often during fall semester). I had a chance to listen to all of her songs a few weeks before the concert and my impression of her changed so much…as well the amount of money in my bank account.
By the time I got to Budokan, a sea of miwa fans were decked out in purple T-shirts and muffler towels. Some were blasting their favorite hits from their iPhones while others started trading limited edition photos of the singer. I ended up walking around the park for a while and stopping by a museum before lining up with the other concert-goers. I love how organized everything in Japan is. Concert-goers were lined up according to where their seats were and surprisingly, the line moved pretty quickly. I got into Budokan within 15 minutes even though there were about 16,000 people trying to get into the stadium.
Despite having one of the worst seats in the entire stadium — okay, I lied, they were actually the worst seats one could get in the stadium — I loved the concert. It was different from the usual high energy rock concerts I’m used to. miwa had a really nice flow to her concert and she planned it out really well. Her audience was mostly comprised of high school and college boys, not surprisingly. But there were plenty of families, couples, and high school girls as well. Instead of starting off her concert with all the high energy songs, she placed them apart from each other so there were plenty of opportunities to towel wave and scream without getting tired all at once.
miwa’s concert was by no means my first concert in Japan. I won tickets to the annual Valentine’s Day Special Live and got to see my favorite Japanese band SCANDAL perform back in February.
Because of this, I’ve already become accustomed to the towel waving (spinning?), fan girling along with the high school girls, jumping, and chanting associated with each band and artist.
…Or so I thought.
Credits @ Tumblr
I could not, for the life of me, copy these hand movements during the live at all. (But that’s okay because everyone else around me couldn’t do it either!)
And with that, the three hour concert ended and we were escorted out and asked to fill in a survey. Up until now, I’ve experienced the big concerts, so I plan to wander around Shimokitazawa and Shibuya for the singers without the large labels, and though I’m not a big fan, I do want to see AKB48 perform in Akihabara before I leave. I want to see the hype face-to-face and see what it’s all about.
It’s already the beginning of April and I already have concerts to go to in June. The concert-going culture of Japan is different, but fun. It’s really interesting seeing who’s in the fan club and who isn’t by the amount of concert gear they wear.
And if there’s anything I’ve learned so far about concerts in Japan, never trust the singer when she says this is the last song.
When I signed up for the AIKOM Program, I had really high expectations. As with my two previous experiences abroad, I set the bar high and ended up learning so much that my experience as a whole was too amazing to explain to my family and friends. AIKOM shouldn’t be an exception. I came to Japan and expected to learn a lot more this time around.
Up until now I’ve been able to write about some of my incredible experiences, reuniting with my host family, going out with the AIKOM students, and traveling to new areas of Japan. Unfortunately, as “happy” and “fun” my experience may seem, those posts aren’t fully representative as to what I go through on a daily basis.
Last January I was choosing which sites to apply to. I had two choices: Toudai’s AIKOM Program or Kyushu’s Japan in Today’s World (JTW) Program. Now, I did my research and had my reasons as to why I chose AIKOM over JTW. From the blogs to conversations with my former senpai, AIKOM seemed like the best fit for me.
Every year, every batch, there are obvious differences in the people and the program, so different problems that come up. People come to Japan for completely different reasons and have completely different expectations.
The root of the problem this year has much to do with the bureaucracy of Toudai and how it’s handling AIKOM and PEAK. PEAK is a new four year undergraduate program at Toudai taught completely in English. It started last October — the same time AIKOM 18 began. The main goal of PEAK is to attract more and more foreign students to the University itself and through this, will be able to increase its world ranking status. It’s “internationalizing” their university and making it more attractive for foreign students.
On the AIKOM website, one of the main features of the program were field trips — this is one of the many factors that drew me to the program. “Because PEAK students don’t get field trips in their classes, AIKOM students shouldn’t have field trips. It’s unfair,” is what Toudai believed and to make everyone equal (whatever that means) they had to stop holding the field trips for AIKOM students. I understand why they’re putting so much emphasis and effort on PEAK; however, all they’re doing is making the AIKOM students do is repeat this cycle of class and study. This is nothing different from our home universities.
Let’s take a step back and analyze this situation.
(1) The reason why AIKOM students come to Japan and the reason why PEAK students come to Japan are completely different. We’re here to stay a short 10-months in Japan; we’re not seeking a degree from Toudai. I really think too much emphasis has been put on the “study at Toudai” instead of exploring and finding out what Japan means to you.
(a) If it’s “unfair” for AIKOM students to have field trips in their classes, then why not add field trips for the PEAK students? But you don’t see the Japanese Toudai students getting field trips in their classes.
(2) They’re not exchange students. Let’s face it, students coming to a university to get a 4-degree versus students who are only at the university short-term should not be placed in the same category just because they happen to be “foreign.” These two groups have completely different needs. Just because we’re all foreigners doesn’t mean that we’re all going to get along. I’m sorry that they think that field trips are just for “fun and games.” We only have 10-months; they have 4 years.
As for the workload, I “study” a lot more here than I do back at home (and I was doing a part-time job along with volunteering every week), but the difference is that the work here is tedious busy work for the sake of busy work. Were the “amazing places of Japan” I was supposed to visit through AIKOM, um, my dorm room and Komaba Toudaimae (a train station)? What makes this program so attractive that “you’ll want to do AIKOM all over again” and “oh I wish I could go back?”
Other AIKOM 18 students have expressed their experience regarding the Program, Toudai, and Japan. Part of me can’t help but sympathize with the students who chose Toudai over other universities in Europe and America. They didn’t know that this is what the program was going to be like; this isn’t the program that they researched and signed up for. Most, on the verge of crying, don’t know what to do. Their impression of Japan is nothing but negative. I kept asking myself is this normal? Do AIKOM students cry every year about this program…? What makes AIKOM 18 different from other years? Do most AIKOM students leave Japan with a negative impression…? But as the year progressed and more students began describing their experiences negatively, the same themes came up over and over and over again. Coming from my experience, if you have at least half of your exchange students dissatisfied with the program, then something is wrong. If you have at least half of your exchange students hating their host country and on the verge of crying, then something is wrong. Something is very wrong.
Now, I’ve gotten a lot of responses from a lot of friends and colleagues. Some give the argument that we’re the “whiny” exchange student group who can’t do anything for themselves and who expect others to do things for them. We’re the “bad” batch of AIKOM students when they compare us to their former years. Why not go out on your own? Why not go out with your Japanese friends?
Well, that wouldn’t be much of an issue if the student population of Toudai was more accepting of exchange students. Walk into the cafeteria and it’s high school all over again — cliques everywhere. However, the thing that’s different about these cliques is that it’s incredibly difficult to enter into one especially if you’re an exchange student. Part of this is due to Japanese culture I’m guessing. The moment they find out you’re an exchange student (this is from experience), boom, infrastructure. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t overcome this barrier or label of “foreign acquaintance” be it with classmates or circle members. Were my expectations too high when all I wanted to do was to make Japanese friends? What “foreign exchange” was I supposed to have with Japanese students if they just shut me out right off the bat? And don’t get me started on how five months of effort isn’t enough for one to become good friends with someone.
In one of my classes, I was told off by another Toudai student during discussion.
“Lauren you only think that way because you’re a foreigner. Your opinion is invalid because of that. This is Japan, not America.”
The entire room was silent. I was greeted with a a few awkward stares and decided not to say anything, as it wouldn’t have changed the student’s opinion. Now, I was taken aback by this comment and imagined the opposite situation. Had I said the exact same thing to a Japanese exchange student at Michigan, I would have been kicked out of the class and probably the university itself.
Comparing our batch to previous ones is irrelevant, as our senpai never had to experience the consequences of Toudai’s bureaucracy over exchange programs. Yes, each batch has its issues and problems, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be this bad. I didn’t sign up to be treated as an exchange student in first-class, but I also didn’t sign up to be treated less than the economy class. Are we just numbers for Toudai’s foreign student rating because that’s how it really feels like. Nothing is worse than knowing that you’re being screwed over and everyone else places the blame on “us,” on “you.”
It’s the halfway point, and to be brutally honest, I still don’t know what Toudai thinks we’re supposed to accomplish by the end of the year. We’re so compartmentalized, so isolated from the rest of the Toudai population. Boredom, tiredness, anger, regret, so many feelings build up and it manifests into something uncharacteristic in all of us. Why come here for a year if all you’re going to see is your room and campus? Why come here if it’s this difficult to make Japanese friends? What a waste of time. What a waste of my time. Despite living in an incredibly lively city, I couldn’t even muster up one fun thing to write for the longest time (Today I went to class, came back home, and studied…again!! Let’s rinse and repeat this for a good few months).
Before ending this post, I must stress one point: I am not writing to discourage students from applying to the AIKOM Program. Rather, I believe that this needs to be written because let’s face it, no one else is going to write about this. Study abroad blogs are often censored in the fact that only the positive experiences are written, and I’m sorry, I really didn’t think it had to come to this. I wasn’t expecting a study abroad program like this. This is my version of the truth. No program is perfect and I understand that; however, students need to know. Students need to know what they’re signing up for and why the AIKOM program suddenly changed. The AIKOM that I signed up for and the AIKOM that’s playing out right now are two completely different entities.
But what can we do?
It’s easy: sink or swim.
The world will go on even if we’re not ready. We can sit, sink into our feelings of negativity and let them consume us. This let’s all the potential and all the opportunities slip away, and then we regret in the end that we never took any chances to change things. Our choices shape who we are, give us direction, and define our persons.
Up until now, I’ve had an amazing experience despite the underlying issues. I’ve made an incredible number of friends from around the world and have learned so much about their countries. I’ve met amazing professors and friends at the University of Tokyo and can’t thank them enough for all they’ve done. I’ve been able to accomplish some of my lifelong dreams while here. I don’t regret coming to Toudai.
But here’s the catch: I had to act to reach my goals.
Before January, I was preoccupied with everyone else’s stories — how things should have been, what I was doing “wrong,” how I could make it better for them. But then I realized that I, too, have a story to write. Yes, the university and program have several issues that should be fixed, but we can play the game smarter. That’s all there is to it. Play the game smartly and do the things you came do to. It was the best decision I’ve made since coming to Tokyo and I haven’t looked back since.
[Two Years Later]
Two years ago on this day, Japan faced one of the worst earthquakes man has ever seen. The earthquake resulted in the tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region.
For the past week on television, everyone has been talking about 3/11, what has been done up until now, and how the recovery process is. I watched one of the programs on NHK documenting the lives of the people before and after the disaster. While pushing through overgrown weeds and exploring abandoned homes, the TV crew described most of the areas as inhabitable. Though some of the victims want to go back and start over again, they accepted the truth that they can’t; they can’t go back to the way their old life was. With nowhere else to go, many have moved in with their relatives or found new homes for their families. The only place they can move is forward.
One story was especially touching that it pulls at one’s heart. A 17-year old girl who lost her entire family in the tsunami played the trumpet at the site of her now broken home. After playing her mother’s favorite song, she looked up towards the sky and broke down saying, “Everyone, did you just hear that? I’m fine. I’m really fine, and I just wanted to let all of you know that.”
This is not the first time 3/11 has been mentioned during my stay here. More often than not, I get asked about what I think about the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, Fukushima incident, and how others view it from outside Japan. The road to recovery becomes much more complicated, as I heard the stories from those affected directly by the incident both Japanese and non-Japanese. It’s only the beginning; a lot more work needs to be done.
My travels will take me to Sendai this July, bringing another experience along with itself.
Twitter is flooding with Tweets about 3/11 from not only Japan, but all around the world. From continuing prayers to a countless number of thanks to the world, the entire world became connected through this one event.
The key phrase of the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami has become 決して忘れない (never forget).
Japan will never forget. The world will never forget. The road to recovery is a long one; stay strong and keep going.
[The Final Stretch]
week month coming up, I’ll be preoccupied with writing six papers for my various classes.
Finals at Michigan are crammed into a week period where everyone “studies” at the library until the wee hours of the morning. During this time, students are gobbling Red Bulls and coffee as if they were in a marathon.
Having finals spread out over a month has its advantages. For one, it makes it easier to focus on each individual subject, but it also prolongs when spring vacation starts. Some of my Japanese friends finished their papers over winter break and are now on vacation — a modest three- month spring vacation if I may add.
Toudai’s blue book exam looks really different from the one I’m used to!
In the meantime, I’ll be updating the blog with posts about Christmas, New Year’s, a reunion, and more!
[Beyond the Comfort Zone]
I took a seat in the middle of the classroom and waited, hoping that the breathing exercises were going to be explained. At this point, anything would be fine, but it never happened. Even members of the circle who rarely came and didn’t look at the sheet music for that session seemed more experienced than me.
Everyone listened to the metronome and counted together before moving onto the breathing exercises. I couldn’t match pitch at all and had no idea what everyone was doing. I played along, but realizing that I was the only person unable to match pitch made me back off and fake the exercises towards the end — discouraged would be an understatement.
With breathing practice over, general advice was given on breathing, but I had no idea what just happened — I just knew that I had to pick a part to sing for the later part of the practice.
Everything happened so fast. I learned how to read sheet music fairly quickly through a lot of trial and error and repetition within the group. I still make a lot of mistakes, but it’s a good start. It’s just like any other language — mistakes have to be made before “perfection”. The song we sang was あこがれも しあわせも (which can be found on YouTube for those interested!). Of all the songs to choose from, a Japanese song right off the bat? Reading the sheet music was hard sometimes, but I’ll be honest, it was becoming really fun singing with everyone else in the group.
What surprised me the most at the end of the session was that we broke up into smaller groups and had to sing our individual parts in front of everyone (This is what makes choir and a cappella different. Your individual part matters a lot). Singing alone in front of a group of Japanese students? As much as I wanted to leave, I didn’t have much of a choice at this point. It was now or never.
The breathing exercise almost made me quit LaVoce, and believe me, I was really close to quitting. Yes, it was probably more stressful for me than the other members there who were having fun, but it pushed me outside the comfort zone. I still have a lot to learn and language isn’t the only wall I have to overcome. I ultimately paid the 5,000 yen and joined LaVoce. This is only the beginning of many challenges to come, and I can only improve from here! 頑張らなくちゃ！
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been club hopping for a good two months. Mid-November, I finally made a decision about one circle I wanted to join: LaVoce.
LaVoce is Toudai’s a cappella circle and is in its 16th year. Songs are sung in either Japanese or English, and within the circle, members make smaller bands and audition for the lives.
The last time I sang in front of a crowd was in elementary school, and for those who know me, I can’t sing to save my life.
I tagged along with another AIKOM student to check out the club. I left the clubroom with a lot of words I didn’t know and wasn’t even sure if my translations were correct, as my knowledge of music is extremely low. Despite all of this, the LaVoce seemed so amazing. It would be a new challenge, a really good challenge.
Of all the circles at Toudai, a cappella?? Sometimes I wake up and question my decision, but I know that in the end, it’ll be worth it!