Everything was Kawaii and Nothing Hurt:
I have spent far more years than I am willing to admit wishing to go to Japan, so naturally I jumped at the chance to go there to fulfill my study abroad requirement. Japan was just as I expected: everything was kawaii and nothing hurt. Goucher’s art ICA in Japan had been canceled, but I found a five-week program through University of New Orleans at Kyoto’s prestigious Doshisha University. The program was arts-focused and students chose two classes, mine being intermediate Japanese and advanced photography.
I studied Japanese for three years in high school and although I felt as if many of my language skills have been lost in the years since then, the language barrier was hardly intimidating. I was surprised that so few people on my program had previously studied Japanese, but they all got along and it was fun to see how much they learned by the end of the program. In order to improve our language skills, the program included the Tomodachi (friend) Partner Program in which each of us was matched up with a university student. In addition to spending time individually with our partners, we often ate lunch as a group and had night outings to drink at Kamogawa (Kamo River).
Kyoto is a beautiful city rich in Japanese history. The building we stayed in was a five-minute walk from Kyoto Gosho, the Imperial Palace from the Meiji period that we had the incredible opportunity to see the inside of. We were provided with Kyoto city bus passes that allowed us to use the public transportation to access numerous shrines, temples, museums, the downtown shopping area (with a seven-floor arcade!), and unique places such as Gion geisha district and monkey mountain.
Each weekend had an organized trip, which included a Kyoto city tour and trips to Osaka and Nara where we got to see famous sights, eat local food, and explore as long as we wanted before finding our way back. My favorite experience was interacting with the friendly wild deer in Nara. We had one free weekend during which my friend Lindsay and I took the Shinkansen bullet train to Tokyo and spent an inordinate amount of time in Harajuku. During that trip, I decided that Tokyo should be renamed “Broke-yo” for obvious reasons.
Although the tsunami and earthquake of 2011 have given Japan a questionable safety reputation, the country is incredibly safe. There was never a moment that I felt uncomfortable being alone. Small children walk to and from school without adult supervision. One of my friends on the program joked that he saw a crime scene requiring two police cars although it was only a bicycle collision. One day classes were cancelled because of a typhoon that was not nearly as threatening as it was made out to be.
During my trip, I also noticed that Japan is incredibly environmentally conscious. This stems from their Shinto religious beliefs , which determine that everything in nature has a spirit. Many Japanese people ride bicycles instead of driving cars, recycling bins are easily accessible, and the streets are very clean. Returning to New York City after Japan was quite a shock in those regards.
I had originally been upset that I was not going on a Goucher study abroad program, but in retrospect, I am grateful that it worked out this way. Had I been on a Goucher ICA, I would have known most of the people on my trip, had to spend three weeks with them and then come back to Goucher and see them again. I worry it would have been a Goucher overdose. I went on this trip knowing one person, my friend Lindsay from Goucher, and was able to meet many people from other universities as well as Japanese students. I wish I had been able to study abroad for a whole semester, but this program was two weeks longer than what Goucher offers, which was a good compromise.
After returning from Japan, I missed a lot of small things such as purikura photobooth machines, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s “PONPONPON” playing in every store, doughnuts shaped like cats, and milk tea, all which were enough to get me planning a trip back to Japan. I am considering returning for a several-month art residency after completing my senior year. Although the long plane ride is exhausting, I would definitely make the trip again.
Too Loud for Japan
Carly Susman ‘13 and Lindsay Harris ‘13 pose with shop girls Yuka and Vani at the famous 6% Dokidoki Harajuku shop during a study abroad program in Japan. [Photo: Carly Susman].
Read more of this post