My Daily Life as a Student in Japan

On April 27, 2017, in English, Life in Japan, School Life, by 01. Hannah
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I have a friend back home, and whenever she calls me there’s excitement in her voice to hear how my life out here is. I always tell her that I’m living here, I’m not on holiday and that I live a fairly normal, mundane life, and every time she reminds me that it’s ‘normal, mundane life in Japan.’ And in a way she’s right, I really do love my life out here. Moving to Tokyo provided me with excitement that I never found back home. But at the same time I do live a fairly normal life, it’s just different to back in Australia. I get a lot of questions from the people back home as to what I’m actually doing, so I thought I would provide some insight into what my everyday life looks like.

My weekdays are very much unchanging, I get up at around 9:00 and get ready in the morning. I usually leave the house between 11:00 and 12:00 and walk to the station where I take the train for Shinjuku before transferring for Shin-Okubo. From Shin-Okubo I walk to school, buying lunch from the convenience store or bento (boxed lunch) store on the way if I don’t have leftovers from the night before. I’ll get to school with an hour or so to spare and eat lunch with friends. Then, we’ll sit and chat or do homework together until class starts at 13:40. (Having afternoon classes is one of my favourite things about my life right now).

During class we will study whatever is scheduled for that set day. Throughout the week we study a combination of kanji, grammar, reading, writing and listening exercises. School runs with regular short breaks until 17:30 when I will usually, unless exceptionally free and/or bored, head straight home.

When I get home I make and eat dinner (unless I’m too lazy or don’t have enough time, in which case I buy dinner). When I lived with a host family I would sit in the living room and study or play with the girls until they went to bed before retreating to my room. Now that I live in a share-house I sit in the shared space with my housemates for a while until I go to my room. From here I do any combination of homework/study, procrastination and spending way too much time on Netflix, YouTube and social media. Essentially, I’m your typical student. I also occasionally do chores when I realise my room looks like a bomb site, that I have no edible food, or clean clothes to wear.

On Fridays after school I usually hang out with friends for dinner or karaoke which is usually one of my favourite times of the week. Such activities can range anywhere from a couple of hours to all night. My best decisions regarding sleep and study schedule do not happen on Fridays but as far as I’m concerned it’s the start of the weekend and I’m allowed to be a little less strict about such things. Being able to do karaoke with friends is certainly one of the things I love most about life in Japan, as silly as that may sound.

Most Saturdays I go to dance lessons for a couple of hours. I often eat lunch out and then go shopping or hang out with friends. Sundays are usually the only day of the week I don’t have set plans. If there’s an event on I may go to that, otherwise I usually just relax with friends. Before I would often spend time with my host family on Sundays and now I do the same with my house-mates when they’re free. Unless I have a lot of study to do, such as before exams, Sunday is usually my no pressure day and I like to keep it that way.

From Monday I start the cycle all over again. This is a brief look into my life as a foreign exchange student in Japan. I really do enjoy my everyday life here, as mundane as it may be. I hope this provided some insight/enjoyment to those of you reading this.

 

Fuji Five Lakes and Aokigahara

On April 26, 2017, in English, Travel, by 01. Hannah
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Recently, during spring break, a friend and I made the somewhat hasty decision to visit the lakes surrounding Mt. Fuji in the beautiful Yamanashi Prefecture. It was my third time visiting Yamanashi yet every time I go it takes my breath away. Even if one never climbs Fuji, it is certainly worth viewing from its surrounds. Having never been so close to this iconic symbol of Japan I found my self in awe of its magnificence.

There are five lakes sitting at the base of Mt. Fuji: Kawaguchi, Motosu, Sai, Shōji, and Yamanaka, all of which were formed by eruptions hundreds of years ago. We stayed at the most famous of the five, Lake Kawaguchi. Before arriving at our destination we decided to make a detour by the Chureito Pagoda where we got our first proper glimpse of Fuji from up close.

After having lunch, checking into the ryōkan (traditional-styled Japanese hotel) and buying local bus passes, we took the opportunity to enjoy the nice weather and wander around the lake for a bit. Somehow, despite the warm spring weather, there was still snow on the ground in places. Following this we took the bus around to Iyashi no Sato, a replica of a small, old village that was destroyed in a land slide in the mid 1900s sitting by Lake Saito. The village is a tribute to the time when it existed and now serves as a sort of museum for tourists to the area. All the cute, little cottages contained pieces of history and culture in the form of exhibits and crafts.

Before heading back for the night we decided to eat hōtō udon, a local specialty, for dinner. It was super delicious and definitely worth the try. To end the day we wound down in the hotel’s hot springs. There are few things I can think of that I enjoy more than bathing away my stresses in the crisp mountain air, especially after a long day of exploring. The only thing that could have made it better would be being able to see the mountains had I gone in daylight.

After being greeted by a stunning view of Lake Kawaguchi under the morning sun, we headed out for another busy day. We headed down into some of the caves which even little me struggled to fit into at times. Even in April we found ourselves in chambers decorated floor to ceiling with large ice stalactites. It was certainly a sight to behold. After heading out of the caves we walked through Aokigahara, often called the Sea of Trees, an expansive and beautiful forest at the base of Fuji which is unfortunately better known for its morbid history than its beauty. Despite the horrible things that are known to take place (which I won’t get into here) it did not feel eerie in the slightest but in fact quite serene. Despite the rumours, it’s a place you needn’t fear. Aokigahara is well worth the visit regardless of its dark past.

After reaching the end of the path, we headed back towards Lake Kawaguchi to see the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum. The small museum exhibits works of the late Kubota, a man who dedicated his life to the dying art of traditional kimono dyeing. Whilst the entry fee was a little pricey it was well worth the money spent. Being able to see the intricate patterns of such stunning pieces up close was certainly a humbling experience. Unsurprisingly, we were unable to take pictures inside the exhibit, however no picture I could have taken would have done his works justice. It’s much better viewed with ones own eyes.

We continued around to the northern shores to get the stereotypical touristy photo of Fuji over Lake Kawaguchi. By this time clouds had settled in and the mountains were shrouded in mist, yet somehow the brilliance of the view still astounded me (almost as much as the cold winds tried to deter us). Even after a long two days we found ourselves not having done all the things we had planned to do, though it seems that’s just the way things usually go when travelling. Regardless, the things we did do were beyond spectacular and I hope one day to be able to appreciate the wonders of this area with more time to explore. I urge you to do the same should the opportunity ever present itself.

 

Hanami – Flower Viewing in Japan

On April 23, 2017, in English, Life in Japan, by 01. Hannah
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Spring has sprung in Japan and the cherry blossoms have already fallen (save those that bloomed late). Having experienced all four seasons in Tokyo, I must say that so far Spring is my favourite of them all. There are many reasons for this, the weather is warm and sunny without being too hot and humid like summer. But what makes spring so wonderful is watching parks and boulevards transform into a sea of pink and white as previously barren cherry trees blossom. While cherry blossom season is only short, I was lucky enough to witness the life cycle progress, from budding to falling like snow, day by day as I walked through Inokashira Park on my way to and from school.

Cherry blossom season attracts many visitors to the parks; hanami, or flower viewing in English, is one of the most anticipated events of the year. People will take tarps and picnic rugs to the parks and sit under the shade of the trees all day to enjoy the fleeting beauty of the blossoms with their friends and family. It’s common to see people sharing food, drinking and laughing surrounded by the natural beauty that the flowers provide. Having never experienced Japanese spring before, this year was my first hanami party. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It’s impossible to appreciate the splendour of cherry blossom season through pictures alone. Experiencing it in person feels enchanting, particularly as petals begin to fall and rain down upon you. Whilst sitting around all day may seem like a waste of time, it’s more than worth spending it to sit in the sun relaxing with friends in the magical atmosphere that Japanese springtime brings. After you’ve experienced it once, it’s impossible not to understand how this has become a yearly tradition for so many people. No matter how many I see it in my life, I’m sure I’ll never get sick of it.

 

On Friends

On April 19, 2017, in English, Life in Japan, by 01. Hannah
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Packing up your life and moving to another country, even on a temporary basis, can be hard. Suddenly you’re far away from everything and everyone you know. If you’re stuck, and without a doubt, at some point you will be, it’s hard to know where to turn. It’s important to have a network of people you trust, no matter where in the world you may be.

Making friends with locals is an important part of the experience, and one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the language and the culture. Through these friends you learn how to interact with natives, ways of speaking you can’t learn through a textbook, and things about the country you may never have learned otherwise. It’s also a great opportunity to gain new perspectives which, in my opinion, is never a bad thing. It’s also a good opportunity to share things about your own culture and experiences. Having friends who know the country you’re living in can certainly make living overseas a lot easier and a lot more fun.

For people like me who spend time in a foreign country, it’s stressed that we should make friends with the natives. However, the importance of meeting other foreigners is often overlooked. In my opinion, having foreign friends is just as important. These are the people who will get you through many of the tough times. They will relate to your often similar experiences as a foreigner in a new country. You can share these new experiences, rant about the difficult ones, laugh about the strange and enjoy the very best of them. When you’re in a new place, just having someone who gets it can really make all the difference.

In the end, what I’m trying to stress is the importance of building a network of good people in a new place. Through my life here, I’ve met many amazing people from Japan and all over the world. If you plan on living overseas, I urge you to do the same. If you’re lucky like me, you may just meet some of the best friends in your life so far.

 

Today I wanted to talk about Japanese omiyage culture. The word omiyage literally translates as souvenir, however, is usually a food item of some sort, often a local specialty to the area it was purchased in. In Japan, omiyage are always beautifully wrapped and well presented. In western cultures, buying souvenirs for friends and family is optional. Polite, but optional. Here there seems to be a lot more obligation in giving omiyage. Everyone buys omiyage, even if they are only away for a short time and even if they only went to the next prefecture over. People will often buy them for their family, and if they are travelling on a business trip, for their bosses and colleagues. Omiyage are so popular that you can find entire stores dedicated to souvenir shopping, and not like the tacky ones back home. These are filled wall to floor with beautiful, delicious and usually inexpensive gifts. And honestly, whilst it may seem like a hassle to buy presents for the people back home wherever you go, I really like Japanese omiyage culture.

In my time in Japan I have given and received many omiyage, usually with my host family. My host father would often go on business trips and he would always bring me back something from his travels. Usually local food from the places he visited but sometimes other things too. I remember my first week living with the family, my host father had to go to Thailand. He brought me back a gift and I was so flattered. I hadn’t expected anything, particularly as we barely knew each other. Even when my host family travelled together, if only for a day trip, they would bring me back something. Even though they were usually small, it made me so happy and grateful to know they were thinking of me when they were away.

Living in a new country, I try to see as many new places as possible. I’ve done a fair amount of travelling since I got here. Honestly, one of my favourite things about visiting a new place would be finding souvenirs to bring home. Finding the perfect little gift, something you can’t find anywhere else, is so satisfying. And seeing the smiles of the people back home is priceless. Omiyage are a good conversation starter and great to share when talking about your trip.

Omiyage culture in Japan may seem a little over the top from the perspective of an outsider, however, it’s one of the many little quirks I have grown to love about life in this beautiful country. As silly as it might be, something as small as the giving and receiving of souvenirs is a unique part of the Japanese lifestyle that has really helped me feel a part of the society I currently live in.