Reflect on your language learning and acculturation during your SLA Grant experience.
After my experience abroad, I know for a fact that my understanding of Japanese has definitely improved. Other than just learning more about the language itself, I now find it easier to understand what people are saying in Japanese (as well as pick up phrases in the anime I watch) and respond articulately. I had fairly low expectations for my goals in traveling abroad, but knowing how much I have actually improved has made me realize my goals were met far beyond what I could have expected. Studying in another country truly does enhance your mastering of a language, as well as further your understanding of the country’s culture, which in turn emphasizes differences between that country and your own. For me, just simply interacting with objects and people in Japan on a daily basis helped me to engage in the country and language.
Reflect on your SLA Grant experience overall.
Japan is the third country to which I have traveled abroad to, but it hasn’t been any less of an impactful experience. In fact, since the city I was living in spoke almost wholly Japanese and little English, it may have been one of the most enlightening study abroad trips I’ve been on. It has made me realize that even if people speak different languages, have varying customs, or just generally act differently, we’re all still the same at the core. We all laugh at what we find humorous and have conversations about the strangest topics. Every time I travel, it makes me remember, bit by bit, that the world is a lot smaller than it seems, even while containing about 7.5 billion people. Anyways, other than the philosophical perspective I gained from the experience, it was a great learning opportunity. For those seeking the SLA Grant or considering studying abroad, I highly recommend going somewhere you know you’ll have an interest in and won’t get bored of easily. Every place has something to offer if you take the time to look for it.
How do you plan to use your language and intercultural competences in the future?
After my study abroad, I planned to take the next level of Japanese language, which is what I’m currently doing. From here, I hope to continue learning Japanese during my time in college, and trying to apply to opportunities that require an understanding of the particular language. A huge possibility I am considering is the JET program, which sends students to teach English in Japan for about two years. Although none of my future plans are set in stone, a possible path I could take includes working in Japan as a teacher if I enjoy my time in the JET program, or working at a company that translates Japanese texts and shows to English. Either way, I hope to integrate my knowledge into my future career, and I have the SLA Grant to thank for allowing me to learn as much as I did and help me find out what I want to use my Japanese for.
1. Reflect on your language learning and acculturation during your SLA Grant experience.
This Japanese summer language program experience really exceeded my expectation. In as short as six weeks, I can say I learned even more than one year of language skills in America. Before the program began, my goal was to acquire basic communication skills so that I can travel through Japan by myself confidently. Through daily classes and lots of small trips on weekends, I not only learned how to buy things, order food and ask for directions, but also tried to do some small conversations with local people. For instance, I visited a Japanese architect who graduated from ND long ago and chatted with him about his working experiences in Japan and his memory of ND architecture school. I also talked to some artists while I was visited art galleries in Ginza. My courage of talking in Japanese is accumulated through conversation practices in class and chatting with professors during tutorial sessions every week. Japanese people I met were all very kind and patient, and it felt good to be treated with smiles. I think I am also kind of influenced by the Japanese culture of being polite that my parents also find me talking more gently after I returned.
2. Reflect on your SLA Grant experience overall
Thanks to the SLA Grant, I was able to fully engage in my language experience. Although at first I thought the required tasks in SLA blogs was a burden, I soon found out that it helped me enjoy my program more. There were lots of Chinese students in the same program as me and it was easy for me to stay in the small friend circle. However, the interesting tasks made by SLA Grant pushed me forward to make Japanese friends and immerse myself in the Japanese culture. I actively participated in the cultural programs and conversation tables offered by my university in Japan after class and got to know many local and traditional beauties of Japan. I highly recommend my fellow ND students to apply to SLA Grant and try a summer language program. Studying language in the target country is a lot more fun because you can see your progress everyday while using the new language skills.
3. How do you plan to use your language and intercultural competences in the future?
I started learning Japanese as an interest outside of university requirement, and I will keep this interest in the future. Since my major is architecture and there are many Japanese architects whose styles I admire, I am planning to go back to Japan on either personal travels or other interesting program opportunities. The Japanese culture also gives me many artistic inspirations. I will keep learning Japanese language classes and literature classes when I return to ND campus. I will also actively participate in Japanese related activities in ND. In the future, I wish to make more Japanese friends and find any internship collaborating with Japanese firms.
The time has finally arrived to tell you all about the tastiest part of my study abroad adventure–Food! Being from Hawaii, I grew up eating many of the popular foods in Japan. That being said, nothing compares to the amazing food I was able to eat in Japan. Though I would love nothing more than to explicitly explain each dish I ate, for both of our sakes I will focus on the best and the most unique parts of Japanese cuisine.
By far, my favorite food is a fairly famous Japanese dish that goes by the name sukiyaki. Sukiyaki is a popular communal dish where we sit around a hot pot to braise beef, tofu, clear noodles and various spices. A delicious and simple dish, Sukiyaki’s sweet and salty taste will satiate your taste bud every time. Though it is easy to find a Sukiyaki restaurant, in my experience the style made within a home is easily more tasty.
The next food, a Hakodate specialty, may be the most interesting food I have tried. This food is so unique even many well travelled Japanese people have never heard of it. Its name, is Ikameshi. Ika(squid) Meshi (cooked rice) is a dish made by cutting the legs off of a squid and stuffing it with cooked rice. From there, it is then braised in a shoyu broth and then cut into slices. Though this wasn’t the most appetizing or tasty food I have ever had, it is definitely representative of Hakodate.
Lastly, this last food needs no real explanation. Hakodate being a squid fishing town, there was no way I could leave before I had this famous Hakodate dish. Ika Sashimi. A delicious plate of fresh squid, this delicious food is served with the squid’s legs still wiggling. Truly an amazing food.
In search of local experiences, I took a sequential pottery class during my time in Kanazawa. I luckily learned pottery-making with an experienced pottery master, Lida Sensei, at a beautiful wooden house located at a serene garden dedicated to a Zen philosopher.
Our first class included a brief introduction to pottery-making, and shaping clay into a bowl shape. Even though this seemed to be an easy step, it involved many techniques and procedures to define and refine the shape. We started off with pressing the clay multiple times to soften it, and then molding it into a circular bowl-shaped by using a rotating tool. Following that, we carved out the inner parts to make the bowl thinner and lighter.
In the second class, we worked on refining the bowls by making them even lighter and adding patterns. I went for a simpler style and carved a few lines that resembled tree branches, and wrote down my name in Chinese at the bottom.
In the third class, I colored the dried bowl into a lighter blue on the top part and a darker blue on the lower part. It turned out to be really fascinating one.
Unluckily, I dropped the bowl on the way to Tokyo, but this experience was definitely a memorable one. The seemingly-easy pottery making involved much care for details and sense of art and design. It was also one of the very few times where I had a hands-on experience with Japanese art. I will definitely go back to visit the sensei, and hopefully, will make a better bowl to carry home in the future 🙂
As I’m writing this, I’m also preparing for the new school year at Notre Dame. I’ve had a week to flip my cultural switch and settle back in to my American habits. In that week, I had time to relax, unwind, and think about everything that happened during my six weeks of study. I learned a lot in class, but the most valuable things I took away from my experience weren’t linguistic in nature.
At the time I really didn’t realize just how challenging and sometimes uncomfortable it was to live in a country where practically no one speaks your native tongue. I didn’t realize how nearly overwhelming all of the kanji and new customs and attempted conversations were until I came back home. Being able to speak English again was a breath of fresh air. In comparison to having to navigate all of the new experiences in Tokyo, simple things like small talk and asking strangers questions in English seemed so much easier. I felt more assured, as silly as that might sound.
That said, I definitely picked up some funny quirks in my six weeks that have stuck with me a week later. I still bow a little bit when introducing myself or thanking someone. I drift to the left when walking anywhere rather than sticking to the right. Just little mundane things like that. My favorite quirk is how I mix up English writing and Japanese writing sometimes. Katakana and hiragana are both phonetic scripts, and they both have symbols for “to.” The Japanese “to,” however, it more like “toe.” Regardless, I got into a habit of writing quickly and writing the hiragana “to,” then the katakana “to,” and then finally writing in English. And it’s still happening.
All this rambling is to say that I really think this experience will stick with me academically and personally for the rest of my life. It seems strange to say it, but I think those six weeks are a part of me now. It wasn’t just fun, it was formative, and I think what I took away will help me shape my future. Grandiose proclamations aside, I am truly grateful for my time in Tokyo, and I can’t wait to go back.
Now let’s talk food. There are four major differences between American food and Japanese food: content, price, size, and flavor.
This one is pretty straight forward. American and Japanese food are obviously different. The dishes vary, but the common ingredients vary as well. It’s not at all uncommon in Japan to eat a vegetarian (not vegan) meal. Rice is what you typically fill up on, and meat typically acts as more of a side dish or accent flavor. In the good ol’ US of A meat is usually the main attraction and everything else is an accessory to it.
On top of that, there’s a difference in what meats are common. I think it’s fair to say that America gives you a wealth of meat options at varying prices. You can fairly easily find anything from chicken to buffalo if you look hard enough. In Japan, this doesn’t apply. Chicken is common in Tokyo as well, but possibly even more common is pork. Pork seemed to be the go to meat in my experience. Beef, an American staple, was woefully uncommon in comparison. The texture and quality of beef was, in my opinion, quite a bit different from what we Yanks are used to.
Another major difference is the price and prevalence of vegetables. In most restaurants in America you can pick up a (seemingly) healthy salad alongside your main dishes. However, that convention doesn’t exist in Japan mainly because vegetables are comparatively expensive. Meat and fish tend to run at cheaper prices for what you get.
Finally, dairy products are also pretty rare. Cheese doesn’t really have a place in Japanese cooking, and even the smallest pack of cubes in the grocery store is comparatively expensive. You’d be hard pressed to find a carton of milk, and more processed items like yogurt simply don’t seem to exist.
You may have noticed that I kept using the word “comparatively” in the last section. That’s because on the whole, Japanese food is much less expensive than American food. You can get fairly large meals for cheap by our standards. If you’re spending around ten dollars on a single meal, you’re in a pricier restaurant.
Honestly, this point was my absolute favorite part of living in Japan for a bit. Anything from breads to a full meal were very affordable. However, this only applies to Japanese cooking. If you want Western foods like hamburgers or pizza the price goes up. Also, strangely enough, drinks were fairly pricey. Even something as simple as a fountain drink poured into a paper cup. To add insult to injury, you can’t get refills for free, so that was a bit of a bummer.
Before I got to Tokyo, I expected all the serving sizes to be considerably smaller. This is somewhat true in that Western food portions are significantly smaller than what we’re used to, but when you buy Japanese cuisine you can typically get a hefty amount of food. Hamburgers, pizza, fries, etc are doled out in minimal amounts. In fact, it’s rare to find more than two size options for our typical side snacks. The restaurants like to call them medium and large, but in my opinion they’re actually small and medium.
That said, drinks are always a lot smaller. Even the largest of sizes I’ve seen have been smaller than a regular sized fountain drink from Whataburger. Did I mention there are no refills? Because there aren’t.
You never realize how much sugar Americans use until you take a step back. That’s the first big difference I would point out between common flavors in American and Japanese cooking. The two styles share a love of salty and savory flavoring, but Japanese cooking usually doesn’t infuse as much sugar into sweets. I was often left feeling that the desserts I bought were almost bland. Even whipped cream from Starbucks has next to no sugar in it. I also noticed that sweets tend to be fluffier or lighter in flavor compared to their American counterparts.
Reflect on your language learning and acculturation during your SLA Grant experience.
Overall, this summer has been an overwhelming positive experience for me and I’m really glad I had the chance to engage in another culture and broaden my language skills. I think that the improvement in language acquisition would depend on the type of program and the environment/activities that the person partook in over the summer. For me, my ICU Summer Course class was heavily emphasized on reading and writing rather than speaking. For example, they enabled me to form opinions on more complicated topics, and introduced me to class presentations in Japanese. While I have improved in my language skills, it was not in a direction that I expected.
Reflect on your SLA Grant experience overall
It was interesting to note the differences and similarities between Japanese culture and American culture. Even doing something mundane and ordinary like taking the public transportation is an adventure in and of itself. There are so many subtle customs that is woven into the everyday life activities of the people there, as in a proper way to do things and the reasoning behind it that take foreigners a while to figure out. However, for all the differences that exists, I’m still very amazed at the similarities. While I did have some really interesting conversation with the locals, I wished I could have more. I think there are definitely language study opportunities in the daily life activities, and in local resources that are not as readily accessible elsewhere, such as a local bookstore with authentic materials.
How do you plan to use your language and intercultural competences in the future?
I plan to take the Japanese reading class this semester, and the translation class next semester. I’m very excited to apply what I learned in the reading class and broaden my vocabulary in the language. Through this summer experience, I renewed my love for Japanese and am very motivated to improve my language skills. I learned about the historical similarities between the Asian languages, and am considering exploring other Asian languages in addition to Japanese in the future. I really like Tokyo as a city overall, and would love to have the opportunity to live and work there for a period of time in my life.
While Catholics are currently only a small percentage of the total population in Japan, there is a good number of vibrant Catholic communities in Japan. I love to attend masses in Japan for many reasons. On the one hand, I could admire the universality of the Church and notice all of the similarities in the liturgy. On a more practical matter, I could practice my listening skill by listening to the responses and the homily, and practice my reading skill by reading the responses.
While I loved all the churches I visited, the church that I went to the most often was St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Yotsuya. This church is attached to Sophia University, and is a large Catholic hub for many communities. They offered masses in English and Japanese masses every Sunday, and Vietnamese, Portuguese, and other languages on some Sundays. Conveniently placed next to the Yotsuya train station, many people gathered here on Sunday for mass, Bible study, and other activities.
The other churches that I was able to visit was Meguro Catholic Church, the Franciscan Chapel Center, and the Kichijoji Catholic Church. The Kichijoji Church is the nearest church to where I lived, being two train stations away, and is a local church.
It was interesting to see some cultural differences during the masses, such as no genuflection, but overall, it was inspiring to see the Catholic faith in a different environment.
This week I went to Harajuku with my friends. Harajuku is a representative place for youth fashion in Tokyo. Even before we arrive at Harajuku, on the subway to there, there are already many people who dressed very fashionable, even somehow weird to me. Since Harajuku is very popular among tourists as well as local people, it became so crowded on subways and huge groups of people got off at the Harajuku station. Once we got out of the train station, the streets looks so different compared to those around ICU. The streets are filled with people with all kinds of hairstyles and hair colors. Girls, even some male people, wear bold makeups and dress up. An interesting theme is that every people just walk on their own way without questioning others’ looks. The shops along the streets are all very unique. I see in Harajuku a great acceptance and confidence of people’s own understanding of fashion.
Harajuku’s street full of people looking from a pantry shop
My favorite fashion brand’s window display in Japan
Indeed, I have been interested by the Japanese sense of beauty. On the one hand, Japanese people seems to like extreme beauty. Girls and sometimes middle aged women often make their cheeks outstandingly red using blushers. Last weekend my friends and I went to プリクラ (Japanese photo booth) to experience the legendary “cosmetic surgery machine” (because the photo adjusts faces so much). Even though we tried minimal adjustment, our eyes were like twice as big and our chin were like knives. It was a cute and funny experience but we did not look like ourselves in photos at all. On the other hand, Japanese people also seems to pursue natural beauty. I recently saw a news talking about the most beautiful high school girl selected by the Japanese public. Far from what I described above, she looked very natural, and not so outstandingly beautiful that some of my Chinese friends joked that they might defeat her. I also wondered about Japanese people’s criteria of beauty and so I went to ask some Japanese friends. According to them, instead of stressing the point “sexy” in many western countries, Japanese people value “healthy beauty” more. They think youth should be 元気 lively and they like 可愛い cute girls. There are people who are very bold in expressing themselves, but the large population prefer to be natural in dressing in normal days. That’s why I see many people dressed elegantly with makeups so delicate that I could not tell if it is natural skin or makeup from distance.
I feel that fashion in Japan is such a colorful and amazing topic that I wish to explore more. No wonder why many designers find their inspiration from Japan.