Japan: Connecting to My Heritage and Studies - My Family Travels

Authors are awe-inspiring.  They miraculously create vivid images and emotions which depict fierce battles, heartbreaking romance, historical societies, scientific discoveries, suspenseful adventures, and even actual places.  A superfluous amount of knowledge lies within the text of authors as well.  Yet, no amount of words or knowledge comes close— in fact, it pales in comparison—to actually see or use whatever events were read and knowledge gained.  I am a Japanese American, and for almost five years now, I have been studying the Japanese language and culture with my mother using her college textbooks.  Last month, the summer after my eighth grade promotion, my family was able to travel to Japan, our goal since I first started learning.  We visited countless temples and shrines, explored the electronics hub of Japan, walked through historic cities, and even had a private taiko drum lesson.  And during the entire trip, the greatest satisfaction was seeing and using everything I had learned from our studies.
In Japan, my family and I stayed at the Hotel Granvia inside the Kyoto Train Station.  From there, we embarked on several side trips.  We visited multiple temples and shrines, including Todaiji Temple in Nara, Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, and the  Fushimi- Inari Taisha with its ten- thousand torii gates in Kyoto.  Our experiences at these places illustrated the content in Lesson Two in Learn Japanese: Volume III.  Lesson Two described and compared the architectural and religious differences between Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.  It also described Nara’s history and the Daibutsu, the Great Buddha of Nara.  Seeing the various places of worship was breathtaking, and prompted my mother and I to exclaim,“Wow, do you remember reading about that? It’s amazing to finally see it in person.”
Later, on a day trip to Hiroshima, we saw evidence of the bombing in the A-Bomb Dome and learned more about the horrible carnage and Japan’s strong efforts to promote peace at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.  We also experienced more Japanese culture by visiting Japan’s electronics hub, Akihabara, and taking a taiko drum lesson in Kyoto.  Not only did we use Japanese at these activities, but we utilized Lesson Seven in Learn Japanese: Volume II.  Lesson Seven revolves around Japan’s highly efficient train and subway system.  We used the sentence structures learned in that lesson quite frequently to communicate our destination, ask for directions to our platform, and inquire train departure times.  Since we stayed inside the train station, we depended on Lesson Seven practically every day!
Throughout our trip in Japan, I witnessed countless examples of Lesson Two in Learn Japanese: Volume IV.   This lesson explains the different levels of speech used in Japanese society.  A speaker will use varying degrees of politeness when addressing another person depending on his/her status in comparison to whom the speaker is addressing.  For example, there can be four to five different expressions for a single phrase, each with its own level of politeness.  Observing the most polite degrees of address, I remember being in awe that such a complicated system of courtesy genuinely existed.   
I enjoyed every second of my trip to Japan.  My experience was made even sweeter due to the satisfaction of recognizing monuments and cultural traits described in my Japanese textbooks.  I also felt triumph when communicating with Japanese citizens using what I had studied.  I had the best time in Japan, and my rich lingual experiences heightened my will to master this incredible language.  I already desire to return.  

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