“The land of the rising sun” typifies Japan for its glorious sunrises and its humid summer weather; however, a more literal slogan would be “the land of infrequent sunrises,” because the sun is usually playing hide and seek behind the clouds, and you can’t always find it. Japan’s location in the Pacific Ocean places it in a prime setting for torrential storms which is inconvenient for tourists, yet it endows Japan with very luscious vegetation. I live in Southern California so this weather was very foreign to me and somewhat difficult to accept. During my first night in Kyoto, Japan, my delegation group and I were walking towards a restaurant when Mother Nature decided we were dirty, and needed a rain shower. Most of the soaking students stopped to buy ¥200 umbrellas and others were wise enough to bring their own umbrellas, which I advise you to do as well. You might think an incident like this would be the “bad” part of my trip, but actually, it is one of my best memories because it was so unexpected. Traveling to Japan presented many unanticipated moments and I’m grateful because it is one of the best ways to delve into the exploration of a new country.
This past summer, the People to People Student Ambassador program chose me along with 40 other students to represent our community as we traveled abroad to Japan. The organization arranged the hotels, transportation, and food, which encouraged travelers to focus their attention on the sights and activities. Japan’s cities range from historical, rural and folksy to contemporary and innovative. In Kyoto, I participated in the traditional tea ceremony by bowing to the honored scroll and whisking the green tea into the boiling water. I also partook in the ancient art of calligraphy and learned how to write my name in Japanese. Visiting the Peace Dome and the World War II Memorial in Hiroshima highlights the quintessence of remaining peaceful in Japanese society and throughout the world. And lastly, the densely populated Tokyo is great for shopping, particularly in the Harajuku District, and exhibits the ground-breaking, industrial heart of Japan.
On this trip, I left behind the reassurance of my family and friends for strangers who later became my closest companions. I was vulnerable but being self-reliant permitted me to open myself up to all the possibilities that a certain culture can offer. For example, during my home stay, my “mother” was planning to take me to a local festival and she asked me if I wanted to dress in a traditional Japanese kimono. I was hesitant but I replied yes in the excitement of the moment. By the end of the night, I was promenading around in an indigo kimono and an ocher ribbon that wrapped around my waist, while listening to the beat of ancient drums and feasting on fried octopus. Taking chances allowed me to submerge myself into an unfamiliar lifestyle.
Before I left on my student ambassador program, I feared the Japanese way of life would be unmistakably different from my own. I wondered how I would relate to the people and their eccentric surroundings. For instance, on one unnerving occasion, I walked into a restroom to find a ceramic hole in the ground in place of a toilet. The anecdotal aspects of everyday life may seem unapproachable, but if you just straddle each opportunity like a Japanese style toilet, you can understand and appreciate the culture better and you might even have a remarkable saga in the end.
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