Tag Archives: Japan

Travel – My experiences as a foreigner in Japan

By Madison Roper

“Baka gaijin!” is something my brother, Kyle, and I have been saying to each other at least once a week since coming to Japan at the beginning of April.
In Japanese, ‘baka’ means idiot and ‘gaijin’ means foreigner or someone who’s non-Japanese.
Kyle and I are Japanese American, so we are guessing we only fall under the category of foreigner.
No Japanese person has said either of these things to us, so it’s mostly a joke between the two of us when we do something stupid.
Such as getting on a train that’s completely empty and exclaiming “we’ve hit the mother lode” when in reality everyone got off because the train was at its last stop and officially out of service.
No one stopped us from getting on the train, but we apologized profusely when the conductor walked through and told us the train was done for the day in basic English.
Kyle and I have found that Japanese people are extremely respectful.
As a foreigner, I found it to be extremely refreshing.
Older generations stare at us sometimes because we’re white, but me mostly because I am tall and extremely pale.
However, it doesn’t bother us at all because they keep their distance.
When we arrived in a more rural area of Japan, where we were the only white people we saw during our day there, more people looked at us.
Kids specifically were intrigued by us.
They would walk by us with looks of wonder on their faces, and when we made eye contact or just happened to walk by a group standing around, they would yell ‘konichiwa’ or bow to us in response, but always with smiles on their faces.
I had a child walk by and say ‘hello’ to me in Nara Park.
He was in a big group of school children that were on a field trip. I said hello back and all the kids screamed in excitement. Both generations are just curious about us, there’s no problem with that.
Japanese people also respect your space and privacy, even when packed like a bunch sardines into a train car.
They turn their backs to you as to not be right in your face, and men are respectful in keeping their hands as close to their bodies as possible when around me, and apologize if they touch me.
A Japanese man splayed his hand on my back to keep some room between his front and my butt.
He apologized profusely for having to touch me, and would step back whenever he could.
I appreciated the respect that he had to keep some space between us when he was unable to turn around in a packed train car.
The only truly rude people I have encountered are other ‘gaijin’, who irritate me most of the time.
On an escalator, which are very popular in train stations, everyone stands to the left so people can run up on the right if they need to.
I’ve noticed countless other foreigners who stand randomly on the escalator, as if they are completely unaware that they are the only ones standing on the right.
When trying to get off a train or just trying to move by someone, you say ‘seemasen’ which is excuse me.
I had a man, who I guessed was Asian American based off his family’s American accents when speaking English and his Asian features, put both of his fists to my lower back and push me forward to get me out of his way.
I had stopped moving because there was a little girl barely to the height of my waist, struggling in the crowded train to get off with her family.
I’m nearly six feet tall (and have manners to ask people to move aside), so I am easily able to make room for myself or anyone who seems like they need help.
I wanted to turn around and yell at this man to not touch me once I was off the train, but noticed the little girl whom I had stopped to allow off the train was his daughter.
His daughter gave me a sweet smile, so I let his rudeness slide.
Kyle and I know enough basic Japanese to move around Tokyo on our own, though having our family with us does make it much easier.
When it is just my brother and I, people will turn to me to speak Japanese because I look more Asian than him.
I’ve noticed that Japanese people speak a lot with their hands, so I can mostly understand what they are saying with that context.
And if you don’t understand anything, they will do their best to make you comfortable and to breach that language barrier.
Signs have English or ‘romaji’, which is how I’ve been writing the Japanese words for readers to understand, underneath the big Japanese symbols.
Many restaurants have English menus.
Tokyo is much more English friendly than I expected it to be.
I have found that if you try your best to speak Japanese, they will try their best to speak English.
Due to my limited Japanese, I was extremely anxious to come here.
I didn’t know what I was walking into for a full month.
I barely know the language, and the culture I was raised with was an extreme mix of Japanese and Western.
Would I offend someone by accident?
What if I do something wrong in a shrine or temple and get cursed for life?
How am I going to use chopsticks every day for a month, when I’ve really only been using them a few times a month since I was five?
Have I been using chopsticks wrong this whole time?
I had all kinds of worries about coming to Japan.
This is my brother’s fourth time here, so his only worry was if I was going to go into culture shock.
Hint: I didn’t and am liking all of Japan more than Kyle, whom is acting extremely biased in his love for Tokyo.
“Tokyo has everything!” he’ll say to me randomly as we walk the city.
And I have to say, he isn’t wrong.
Someone could live in Tokyo their whole lives and not be able to see or eat everything available.
There are more food shops than I have seen anywhere in my life, and 10-story tall buildings that are designated specifically for women’s shopping.
Tokyo is an amazing place to visit.
People keep to themselves, and are very willing to help if you look lost or confused.
However, you can experience so much more culture and history if you leave Tokyo.
I’ve seen and eaten things on this trip that I never thought I would experience in my life.
As a foreigner, Japan is very open to people whom are respectful and are there simply to experience all that Japan has to offer.
They want you to learn their culture and have fun in their country.
I would recommend anyone to come to Japan for a minimum of a month.
Japanese people aren’t scary and Japan overall is a country full of rich history.
But just be ready for some staring. They’re just as curious as you are.


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Travel: Japan’s temples have much to teach

By Madison Roper

“You’ve been blessed by God for seeing that,” said Megumi Yoshihisa, after witnessing a monk bang a drum at a temple.
Megumi and her husband Yasushi are part of my family, and a huge reason I was able to see so much of Japan.
Out of everything I saw in my month there, I learned the most from the countless shrines and temples.

Continue reading Travel: Japan’s temples have much to teach


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Japanese Students Cope with Disaster

by Matt Benoit

Horizon Editor

As Japan continues to deal with the devastating effects of the 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami disaster that occurred on March 11, it is likely that no students at Whatcom Community College have been watching the developing crisis more closely than the 19 Japanese students here as part of the college’s international program.

Kelly Kester, Whatcom’s director of international programs, said in a campus-wide e-mail to faculty on March 14 that the students’ friends and family were only “peripherally impacted” by the earthquake and tsunami.  In a subsequent interview, Kester said all of the students had heard from their families.

A few years ago, though, Kester said Whatcom hosted a large group of students from Sendai, one of the cities most heavily damaged by the tsunami.

While some of those students transferred to universities in the U.S., others returned home to Japan. Kester said that Whatcom has been in e-mail contact with an organization in Montana that sent the students to Whatcom from the University of Montana, and that the organization would try to let the college know if they had heard from any of those students.

Another former Whatcom student who’s dealing with the disaster, said Kester, is a man who graduated last quarter and travelled back to his home country of Thailand to spend several months before he heads back to the U.S. to begin attending Central Washington University this summer.  As a member of the Thai military, the man is now doing disaster relief work in Japan.

In addition to former students in Japan, five new Japanese students are expected to arrive in Bellingham between March 27 and 28. They will be attending Whatcom during the spring quarter.

Kester said Whatcom has worked with the students’ other schools to try to find out what’s happened to them, but added that they are reluctant to be too aggressive in pursuing  information with all the likely difficulties those students may be facing.

“We hope that these students will get here,” Kester said, but added that if they cannot, it is certainly understandable. If that is the case, Kester said the college would help the students attend Whatcom at another time.  

All of this, he stated, is still secondary to making sure the students are okay and that the college continues to monitor the situation in Japan as it develops, especially with the uncertainty of Japan’s nuclear plant issues.  

Of the current students’ friends and families, Kester said the stories he’s heard about them mostly involve transportation inconveniences such as road closures or being trapped on a train. Other issues involve power outages, as well as houses being partially damaged or suffering collapsed roofs.   

Despite all the damage that has been caused, Kester said it is fortunate Japan does so much planning for natural disasters.

“They do an amazing job of preparing for these things,” he said. “Japan will recover, but it will take a lot of time.”

That recovery may be aided by Whatcom’s own, as Kester said members of several student clubs, including the International Friendship Club, are having conversations about organizing ways to collect donations for disaster relief efforts in Japan.  Some of the students had planned to meet March 16 to discuss those possibilities further.

“I’m glad that they’re so thoughtful,” Kester said.

Many of Whatcom’s faculty and staff have also sent e-mails expressing their thoughts and concerns for the Japanese students.


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