The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Japan: A Questionnaire

THE OVERVIEW

On June 19th I left Portland International Airport (PDX) on a 10 hour flight to Narita Airport in Japan. I spent two weeks in Japan with the Oregon Intercultural Association on a home-stay program. For two weeks I lived the Japanese life-style with three different families, having some of the coolest experiences of my life.

Sadly, it did not last and I returned to America on the 3rd of July at 8:30am (after leaving Narita on July 3rd at 3pm). Problems at customs and picture issues aside, those two weeks were some of the best in my life. However, I had the hardest time putting my experiences on paper. So I turned to my fellow co-workers and members of The Nihon Review for prompts on how to tell my story.

As a result, I have received tons of questions to answer about my trip. And I do so gladly.

THE GOOD QUESTIONS

(From Dheu)
How do the Japanese view Westerners? As a Westerner in Japan, how did they treat you?

I was never really mistreated while in Japan. Furthermore, I never saw any Westerners being mistreated, either. The Japanese generally have respect for everything. Whether their respect is fake or real, it is still respect.

As for their view on Westerners, I can’t really give an answer with any evidence to back it up. I was never told “We hate Westerners” or “We love Westerners” or “We are indifferent about Westerners”. From my experiences, they don’t really harbor bad feelings towards Westerners. If you show them respect, you will get respect back from them ten-fold.

I’d say you can’t define how the Japanese view Westerners, but how the Japanese view guests. The families I stayed with made it pretty clear to me that guests are respected greatly. If you travel to Japan, don’t worry about how the cultural or racial masses are viewed; worry about how you are viewed individually. In that light, how you are viewed individually is directly related to how you act.

What was the weather like?


We went to Japan during the rainy season. However, I think it only rained three or four times during the two weeks we were there. Coming from Oregon, where our seasons are either “Rainy” and “Not Rainy”, the rainy season didn’t affect anyone from our group much. Japanese summers are very hot and very sticky due to high humidity. After a few days though, you adapt to the weather and it just feels natural.

What was your host family like? How many were in the family? Were the kids still going to school when you were there?

My host families were awesome. I had three host families, two in Ogaki (Gifu) and one in Omiya (Saitama, near Tokyo). My first host family consisted of five members: two parents in their 60’s and their three kids ranging from 26 to late 40’s. My second host family had two parents in their 40’s and two children: a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old. My last host family was three people strong: two parents and a 17-year-old host sister.

All of my host families were really nice and really cool. At least one member in each family could speak English at varying degrees. I grew to love them all, and I will definitely return to Japan to visit them in the future.

In the case of the kids, all of them went to school while I was there. My 14-year-old host brother even went to an after-school program. My host sister went to a private girls’ school and was studying very hard for college entrance exams.

What kind of food did you eat, and what was your favorite meal you had?

Japanese food in Japan is nothing like Japanese food in the States. I felt like I should have been filling out an 80 dollar bill after almost every meal. I ate everything from ramen and sushi to cow heart and stomach to rice and red bean paste. It all tasted great.

When traveling to Japan, or even outside of the States, really, don’t be afraid to try new things. Especially food, because you will discover so many new tastes and textures. The only thing I strongly suggest you steer clear of is natto, which is fermented soybeans. The smell is horrible, and I didn’t even dare taste it. From what I hear, it is horrible, although healthy.

My favorite meal had to be yakiniku. Yakiniku is a Japanese style of cooking meat and vegetables. This is the meal in which I ate cow heart and stomach, both of which were really good. At a yakiniku restaurant, you are the cook. All the restaurant provides is the food and means of cooking the food. You have to handle the rest.

This caused me to notice a trend. Japanese chefs are very lazy. I ate at several restaurants where you pretty much just ordered ingredients and had to cook your own food. This wasn’t a bad thing, because it was a cool experience. Just be careful not to burn yourself on the hot grills.

(From Kuma)
What is the funniest piece of Engrish you saw/heard?

It would have to be my 14-year-old host brother in Ogaki saying “My mom is fool” in a super-thick Japanese accent. It wasn’t so much the fact he was forgetting the “a,” but just how he said it. A close second would have to be “fok”, which was how a kid in Omiya pronounced the “F”-word. Every time he would say it, his friend would smack him upside the head, and he said it a lot.

Is Akihabara as good as rumored?


Yes, Akiba was pretty cool. I didn’t go to Japan for anime and manga, but I sure went to Akihabara for anime and manga. Akiba is pretty awe-inspiring when you first see it. A lot of tall buildings with characters like Di Gi Charat plastered all over them. Stores like Gamers have upwards of 6 floors devoted to anime, manga, video games and live action shows like Power Rangers.

If you ever get the chance to go to Akihabara, visit the donut shop called Mr. Donut. We arrived too early in Akiba for most stores to be open (almost all of them open after 10:30am) so we decided to grab a bite to eat at Mr. Donut. The donuts were really good and it wasn’t that expensive. Perfect stop before a day of shopping.

With that suggestion, I bring a warning. Maid cafés do exist, but they will cost you a lot. The one I visited, Maid-in-Japan, had nothing on their menu under 700 yen (about 7 dollars). The “special services” cost a lot more than that, and in my opinion weren’t worth it at all.

How good was the English of most of the Japanese people you met?

Not that bad actually. I didn’t expect anyone to speak good English, because it isn’t their native tongue. Almost in return, no one there really expected me to speak as much Japanese as I did. You must also take Engrish with a grain of salt and getting angry over it is just stupid. Some people traveling in our group would make comments about how annoyed they got at their host families for butchering English, but they knew very little Japanese themselves.

While it doesn’t make the difference between life and death, when traveling to Japan (or any foreign country) it is good to know a little about the language. I highly recommend traveling with a pocket English-Japanese/Japanese-English dictionary and maybe a small Japanese language guide.

(From Tamashii)
Why have you had such an interest in this country and has this visit satisfied and answered all your questions? What regrets do you have? Do you wish to have done something more or something else?

I got interested in Japan because of anime and manga and through those mediums I have developed an interest in Japanese culture that has nothing to do with the fact that anime and manga are produced in Japan. This trip to Japan, my first, really satisfied my need to experience Japanese culture firsthand. A lot of my questions were answered, like “What is it like to sleep on the floor on a mat?” or “What does octopus taste like?” were answered (comfortable and tasty respectfully).

My only regret is that I left without experiencing it all. I experienced a lot, like the onsen (Japanese hot springs) and Sekigahara (famous battle ground in Gifu), but I didn’t experience it all. I still want to visit Osaka and Hokkaido, so I must return one day. I wish I had had more time than 14 days.

THE INTERESTING QUESTIONS

(From Kuma)
What is your favorite kind of Hot-Pocket?

Ham and cheese.

Can free will co-exist with an omniscient and omnipotent divine being?

No.

This brings something to mind about shrines and temples. A shrine in Japan belongs to the Shinto religion, while a temple is Buddhist. At a shrine, it is okay to clap while praying; however, never clap while praying at a Buddhist shrine (I did, and I contribute my after-trip bad luck to it).

(From “Professor” Tamashii)
Have you had a strong cultural experience in this foreign country? If so, how and why has it impacted you as an American foreigner?

I spent a lot of the first week in culture shock actually. In Japan, they drive on the opposite side of the road than they do in America, and if you sit in the back seat of the car, you don’t have to buckle up. This was hard to get used to at first, but eventually I felt safer in a car in Japan then I did in a car in America.

Another interesting experience was the onsen. We all have seen the mandatory hot spring scene in our favorite anime, and we all know that in an onsen you are completely naked. This took about 20 seconds to get used to, until I finally realized that in Japan, nudity matters close to nil. The onsen is extremely relaxing. Just don’t let the towel touch the water.

The most painful experience was the revelation that Japanese have a fetish for burning themselves. That of course is a joke, but it seems pretty true after a cup of Japanese hot coffee or a Japanese traditional bath, both of which are probably hotter than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

As an American foreigner, these experiences were all eye-opening. A nude public pool would never work in America, and all the Starbucks drinkers would slowly burn to death. I am now more open to try new things, and I have a permanent craving for tako (octopus).

(From Compl3x)
That ‘doo-doo-dee-dodidodido~di’ theme in anime whenever people cross traffic lights is so true. Yup, you can’t see any cars coming but don’t cross that 5mm gap because traffic light is red, but oh look at that little brat, so ‘some Japanese gibberish’. Quite different from Europeans, especially Latin ones. Could this particular behavior pattern shed some light into Japanese society?


Actually, that theme music signals train stops. I never heard it used for cars. The yellow line in subway stations does exist. On JR (Japanese Rail) lines, guards will yell at you until you are behind the yellow line after the announcement to be behind it has been said. They carry nightsticks so I wouldn’t stand on the other side. Although, this has little to do with Japanese society, with the exception that everything in Japan is super happy and super cute.

THE FINAL WORD

My trip to Japan was an experience that I will never forget. The people I met there will never leave my memory, and the experiences I shared with them are some of the best I have ever had. I cannot wait to return.

The Rating: 10
10/10

Written by: Kurier
Questions from Tamashii, Dheu, Kuma and Compl3x.

Next: The Ogaki Chronicles

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