The Japanese perspective on America (community interaction prompt 6)

I interviewed three people for this prompt, my 26-year-old female Japanese teacher, a 20-year-old male Japanese university student, and an 18-year-old female Japanese university student. In general, they all have positive attitudes towards the US, specifically in terms of diversity and openness of the American culture. The people I have spoken to all have different experiences and exposure towards America that form their opinion of the United States. 

My teacher, who has first-hand experience studying and working in the States conveyed a specific point of view where she said that America provided a more diverse and lively community in comparison to the uniformity of Japanese culture. She mentioned that it was easy to interact with people from all over the world, with different backgrounds and cultures, because everyone knew English. However, throughout her experience living there, she pointed out that racial discrimination was the issue that most serious issue she faced. 


The perspective of the two university students I interviewed seemed to differ. Both university students did not quite agree with the notion of civilians owning guns because it was a danger to society in general. Interestingly, both university students also had negative opinions on President Trump. The male student claims that he ruins the image of America while the female student thinks that President Trump talks too much. In addition to that, the female student pointed out about the expensive school tuition American schools have. From their answers, I believe that it shows how American culture tends to be very individualistic, in terms of freedom of speech and the right to bear arms. This contrasts to the Japanese culture that I have observed throughout the program where it focuses more on the community and being courteous to others. Overall, it was interesting to hear about their perspective on America and to observe the differences between the two cultures.

The World’s second best melon-pan (Community interaction prompt 5)

The food that was very popular amongst students in our program was “メロンパンアイスクリーム”(Melon-pan Ice cream). Melon-pan is a type of bread that has a cookie-like exterior on the outside resembling a melon, hence the name melon-pan. This store serves a variety of ice cream; matcha, vanilla, and chocolate, it is sandwiched between a warm melon-pan and best eaten immediately. The combination of hot and cold, crunchy and creamy textures, makes melon-pan ice cream very popular for all ages and people across different countries.

melon-pan with matcha ice cream

Aside from the delicious food it serves, this little store caught our eyes because of its name “世界で二番目二おいしいメロンパン” which means “The World’s second-best Melon-pan”. During my interview with the chain store shopkeeper, I asked about the origins of this slightly self-deprecating name. The shopkeeper claimed that his mentor made the best melon pan in the world, so his could only be the second-best. I believe this very humble attitude is a representation of the Japanese culture of respect and politeness, especially to your elders. Because this is a chain store, the shopkeeper mentioned that all of the ingredients are sourced from Japan’s main island and shipped to Hakodate. This includes the melon pan batter, ice cream, and the soft cream. Although it is not made “in house”, I think this ensures a stable quality control without compromising flavor. 

The shopkeeper claims that the origins of this food are unknown, but it is likely that it was western roots and cuisine that shaped melon-pan roots. He also said that the popularity of this dish is due to the fact that they are taking two food “staples” that are both widely eaten everywhere around the world – bread and ice cream- into a snack that is undeniably delicious. From my many visits to that store, I always see people across all ages and a lot of tourists paying a visit to taste this delicacy. If you ever pay a visit to Japan, I highly recommend visiting the World’s second best melon-pan.


Post Program Reflections

Reflect on your language learning and acculturation during your SLA experience. What insights did you gain into the language acquisition process? How did you engage and understand cultural differences? Did you meet your goals for language learning that you articulated on the blog before you started your program? Why or why not?

My experience this summer has broadened my horizon culturally and intellectually. I learned how to converse, engage, and understand the local community even with my limited knowledge of Japanese. Some of the ways I engaged with the community was through attending Sunday mass regularly in a local Japanese church, spending time with my host family, and talking to the locals that I meet. Through reaching out, taking chances, and being kind, I was able to reach a cultural understanding despite our differences.

In my pre-departure blog post, I stated that I wanted to be able to communicate effectively in Japanese while sharing a piece of my own culture with the community. Reflecting on my SLA experience, I believe that I have met, or at the very least, is making significant progress towards these goals. Comparing to when I first arrived, I now feel that I was able to form friendships with the Japanese community, as well as sharing Indonesian culture through food that I made for my host family and the project that I completed. Overall, I was really proud of the progress that I made over the summer in my acquisition of the Japanese language as well as the valuable relationships that I formed through the SLA program.

Reflect on your SLA experience overallWhat insights have you brought back as a result of this experience? How has your summer language abroad changed you and/or your worldview? What advice would you give to someone who was considering applying for an SLA Grant or preparing to start their own summer language study?

The SLA program provided an opportunity to go out of my comfort zone and explore new places, try new things, and really stretch my own capabilities. Through the program, I gained insight on the Japanese way of living and their cultural emphasis on respect, politeness, and harmony. For example, Japanese culture dictates that people say “thank you” before and after each meal, bowing when a car gives you way, and use appropriate honorifics for a multitude of greetings. Through the SLA program, I felt like I was able to adopt several facets of Japanese culture and lifestyle, becoming an active fixture at my homestay family and the local community. 

I would advise future SLA Grant students to keep an open mind. Japanese culture is unlike American culture and actively looking to not only try a new culture but being willing to change your own lifestyle will give you a more complete, wholesome experience.

How do you plan to use your language and intercultural competences in the future? Where do you go from here? How will you maintain, grow and/or apply what you have learned? How might you use your SLA experience during the rest of your academic career and post-graduation? How will your SLA experience inform you as you move forward academically, personally and professionally? 

This program has definitely improved my Japanese language skills tremendously over the past two months. I intend to utilize this momentum of learning to continue developing my Japanese language skills by taking third-year Japanese studies at Notre Dame. I believe that having the ability to understand and converse in Japanese enriches my options for the future and prepares me for a career that can reach more people around the world. The SLA program has helped my academic career by accelerating the process of pursuing a Japanese minor. This summer has proven crucial to shaping my worldview and improving my Japanese language studies. 

my host family and me at the closing ceremony