Culture, Religion and Manga!

I realize that I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, but it is because of all the fun and exciting activities NUCB has organized for us exchange students!

First off, the Japanese Culture Club at NUCB organized a Tea Ceremony for all exchange students so we could experience the tradition by seeing how the tea is made and going through the steps of a proper ceremony. I have to say, I find it very impressive how long Japanese people are able to stay kneeling on the Tami mats. All of the foreign students, myself included, had a very difficult time doing so and eventually sat cross-legged (once we received permission of course!). The tea and Japanese treats that were offered to us were unlike any I’ve tasted before. The treats were very sweet and so they are offered first, followed by the tea which is fairly bitter. This is done to balance out the taste in your mouth.

Drinking the Tea!

Drinking the Tea!

Following the ceremony, we all had the opportunity to practice our Kanji and calligraphy skills on fans provided by the club. I was in awe of the accuracy and fluidity of the calligraphy done by the Japanese students who mentioned that most of them start learning this skill at the age of 6.

My Kanji, Ai=Love

My Kanji, Ai=Love

Following suit with this cultural experience, I headed to Kyoto a few days later. The trip was organized by the Contemporary Japanese Culture course at NUCB. We learned about the two main religions in Japan, Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto is the religion of the indigenous people of Japan and focuses on the harmony of all people, believing in many gods and living a pure and respectful lifestyle. We visited one Shinto shrine called Fushimi Inari which takes a few hours to walk through all the paths and see everything the shrine has to offer. It was definitely a beautiful and interesting site to see, with many people coming to pray and admire the intricacy of the walking paths and statues.

Under the Torii gates

Next, we visited two Buddhist temples. The first of which was called Sanjusangendo where we were not allowed to take any photos. This temple was filled with 1000 statues of Kannon with one large Kannon statue in the middle of the temple that is 11.5 feet tall. This was an impressive site to see as each statue was incredibly detailed, each with different facial features and more than 740 years old. I spent a few hours just staring at the different faces. It is said that if you find a Kannon statue that looks like you, it is good luck. I was not so lucky as to find one, but I was mesmerized none the less.

Next we visited Kinkaku-ji, a Buddhist temple covered in gold sitting on the water, ever so peacefully.

The last stop on our trip in Kyoto was the Kyoto International Manga Museum. The museum was filled with thousands of Manga books and hundreds of people reading them. People were sitting, standing and laying in the museum with their heads buried in these books. Visiting this museum definitely demonstrated the huge Japanese cultural phenomenon that is Manga.

So much Manga!

Visiting all of the places and experiencing the many different aspects of Japanese culture and religion has been incredibly interesting. These out-of-class experiences have really added to what I’m being taught in my courses. As cheesy as it sounds, I can’t wait to keep learning more!!

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Enjoying the Nagoya Sites

It has been an excellent week of classes and enjoying the tourist-sites that Nagoya has to offer. My class schedule has been 100% finalized and I am taking Topics in International Politics, Japanese Language, Understanding Japanese Copyright Law and Global Marketing. What is even more interesting than the topics themselves, is the discussions we have in class. I get to hear perspectives from many individuals from different cultures and countries. This makes the international aspects of the course that much more educational and thought-provoking.

On my day off, I had the chance to check out Nagoya Castle. This is a beautiful place in the middle of a park about a 40 min walk from where I live. This castle is more than 400 years old and we had the privilege of hearing about its great history from a volunteer guide name SHO. The castle was burnt down during WWII so the inside looks very new and was turned into a museum. It was a beautiful site to see!

Our tour guide SHO!

Next, we visited the Higashiyama Zoo. The zoo was great and they had a lot of cool animals that I’ve never seen before. I may return soon since they allow the public to feed certain animals every Sunday. While it was a beautiful zoo, they had polar bears and you could see the bears panting and drooling from the heat (~40 C). I wasn’t too pleased with this and I wish there was something I could do to help. However, this is incredibly difficult when you can’t speak the language in order to talk to someone about it. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the day and seeing all the animals.

My last stop of the week was Midland Square. This skyscraper is almost 250m tall and you can see a panoramic view of the city from the top floor. This view made me realize how large Nagoya is (3rd largest city in Japan). The skyline seemed never-ending.

View from Midland Square

Visiting all these great places has shown me what a beautiful city I live in and how much of it I still have to discover! I can’t wait!

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All Settled In

The first week is over and I finally feel all settled in. I’ve been doing a lot of shopping the last few days picking up random things that I never thought of purchasing before, like dish rags, kitchen cleaner, and hangers. I’ve also experienced strategic grocery shopping on a budget. I’ve learned that fruit is too expensive and you should always check if you can buy things at the 100 yen store before purchasing them at the supermarket.

Along with all my household items and groceries, I managed to buy myself a cell phone from the local SoftBank. I went with a group of friends and the store called the customer service line for us so we could speak to someone in English. Ironically, I was the one chosen to speak to the gentlemen on the phone since I had the strongest English. I never thought I would be the go-to person in the group to try to communicate with people in Japan, but I guess it has some sense to it. After some confusion and many questions, we were able to come in the next day and get our phones, prepaid cards, and for an additional price of 1115 yen, a phone charger. (I’m not sure why I would buy the phone without the charger, but whatever).

After an errand-filled weekend, classes started on Monday, beginning with Contemporary Japanese Culture, taught by a Canadian professor. This class is interesting to say the least. Assignments include, keeping a journal, standing in a train station with your eyes closed to listen to the sounds, and going to a Sento to participate in public bathing. While these are definitely not activities I planned on doing when I came to Japan, I came here to push myself out of my comfort zone and it seems like this class will definitely do that. I’ve also started my Japanese language class, so here is hoping I can learn enough Japanese to at least understand what the clerk is saying to me at the grocery store!

Now that I’ve started my routine, I’m looking forward to doing some sightseeing this week to Nagoya Castle, Skytower, and Higashiyama Zoo. I will be sure to post some pictures soon.

By the way, I did find one familiar item at the supermarket….

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New Housing and New Faces

I’ve now been living in residence for the last 3 days and it has been great. The Chiyoda residence for NUCB is beautiful and the rooms are kept in amazing condition (fully equipped with a much-needed air conditioner). I have my own private room with a small kitchen, private bathroom, washing machine, desk, TV and even a balcony! Check it out!

In addition to moving into such a nice room, I met my new classmates for the next few months at orientation. There is about 35-40 international students and the majority come from all over Europe and Hong Kong. Everyone is very friendly and all seem very excited to be here!

During orientation, we registered for our classes, got a tour of the gorgeous NUCB campus and were given an opportunity to become well acquainted with each other. So far, everything is excellent. The only downside is that we take public transportation for 1 hour each way to the NUCB Campus from Chiyoda Residence and public transportation is quite expensive (~600 JPY each way) but the NUCB staff is hoping to get us discounted rates in the next week or so. (fingers crossed).

Well classes start on Monday and I’ve got to hit up the 100 Yen store to get some household items for my room so I will post again after the weekend! Happy Labour Day long weekend!

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I Have Arrived!

Finally after 19 hours of traveling I am in Nagoya. Unfortunately, due to delayed flights, I couldn’t check in to my residence as planned and was forced to find a hotel for the night. I have to say, when I showed up to my meeting point for residence at 10pm and the doors were locked, I was scared. Dragging all my luggage with me I found a 7/11 and asked to use their phone but they said no (or they did not have one I could use). Luckily a customer who spoke some English offered me his cell phone and I was able to call the exchange coordinator who then booked me into a hotel nearby. The 7/11 staff then provided me with directions (in Japanese) and I finally made it to bed by 11pm.

I have been thinking about all the differences I’ve noticed in the 2 days I’ve been here but there are too many to explain so here are the most significant ones:

  • I haven’t stopped sweating— It is very humid in Nagoya (understatement). Thankfully it is not just me who thinks so as I’ve noticed many Japanese walking around with fans and with cloths to wipe their faces. When I woke up this morning and looked outside, everyone had umbrellas so I thought it was raining, but it wasn’t. It took me a little while to come up with the assumption that they were trying to block their skin from the sun. Yet, when I looked around, I couldn’t find the sun.
  • I’m sorry I don’t speak Japanese— Language has definitely been the most challenging aspect of the last couple days. I knew before I chose to come to Japan that not very many people speak English. Apparently, it is the first world country with the least amount of English-speaking people. This language barrier has become significant in almost everything I do. Whether it be asking directions, understanding food labels or understanding how to use the A/C in my room; it has been challenging.

Some other differences I’ve noticed:

  • They drive on the left side of the road
  • People don’t tip for services
  • I can’t wear my shoes inside my room (out of respect)
  • Approximately 15% of Japanese people I’ve seen have been wearing surgical masks
  • Food portion sizes are smaller
  • Eating cereal, oatmeal, or bagels is not common
  • Most people shower sitting on a stool and sometimes in front of a mirror
  • Clothing is usually hung to dry instead of using a dryer
  • Japanese elevators seem to be about 1/3 of the size of a North American elevator
  • You must separate your garbage into at least 5 different categories: burnable garbage aluminum, plastics, etc
  • You are allowed to smoke in some restaurants but you are not allowed to smoke on the streets

Another major difference I’ve noticed, and probably the most important one for me, is how helpful and kind people are here. I know this is a large generalization, but so far I have yet to meet someone who was unwilling to help me even though we did not speak the same language. From all the countries I’ve traveled to, including living in Canada, I would have to say that Japanese people have been the nicest. In the last 48 hours of being here I have probably asked at least 15 people for help and about 20 people have helped me. Complete strangers have helped me carry my luggage up the stairs, lent me their cell phones and given me directions. I am thousands of kilometers away from home in a very foreign country to me and yet the kindness of the people makes me feel incredibly welcome.

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Day Before Departure

After almost two years of planning for exchange, I am finally getting on a plane and heading to Nagoya, Japan tomorrow. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned while preparing for this exchange is that patience is a virtue. (Especially considering I only received my visa in the mail 4 days ago!) Needless to say, these past couple of months have been filled with paperwork, applications, emails and above all, waiting. Now that all of that is done, I am ready to embark on what I hope is the adventure of a lifetime.

I’ve been packing for what seems like weeks! Trying to figure out what I will need in the next four months is difficult to say the least. What should I bring? Should I buy it there? Do I need this? I can definitely say that I am pretty sure I have over-packed (including 6 different coats and jackets, depending on the weather conditions of course).

Another thing I have been doing in preparation for this exchange is spending time with friends and family. They are all very excited for me, giving me advice and asking plenty of questions. The most popular question I’ve been getting from them all is: “Are you ready?” While I often answered “I think so”, today I feel like I can finally say “Yes, I’m ready”. I’m ready to discover a country that is completely different from my own. I’m ready to learn a new language. I’m ready to be completely thrown out of my comfort zone. I’m ready to jump right in and experience life abroad. I’m ready!

Now just one more day…

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