Tag Archives: travel

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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‘Moana’ navigates through Polynesian culture


By Shelby Ford

“Moana” is everything you would expect from a new feature animated movie from Disney. There is a strong-willed Princess who goes on a great adventure with her animal sidekick and many musical intervals.
Although it’s not just the catchy lyrics, tear-jerking story or beautiful animation that sets “Moana” apart, but the unique attention to detail and cultural history that’s behind it.

Continue reading ‘Moana’ navigates through Polynesian culture

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Lowdown on the Down Under

by Emily Huntington

Horizon Reporter

Italy. South Africa. New Zealand. Europe. Australia.

These are just a few of the places that students are able to travel through the study abroad program at Whatcom Community College. The Australia/New Zealand option was administered in 2001 by Green River Community College, and Whatcom has been involved in it for many years, according to Ulli Schraml, study abroad coordinator at Whatcom.

Overall the program costs $6,895, and includes round trip airfare to Australia via New Zealand. While overseas, students earn 15 credits in history, biology, and interdisciplinary studies. The classes are taught by Bruce Haulman, who works at Green River Community College, as well as Australia/New Zealand faculty.

A few students have recently returned from their 10-week stay in Australia and New Zealand (five weeks were spent in each country).

Bree Gorsenger, 18, a Running Start student at Whatcom Community College, returned to Bellingham about a month ago. In all, the trip cost her $17,000 when tuition, food, room and board, and general entertainment were taken into account. The price varies for every student, depending on how much money they want to save for general spending.

Gorsenger chose Australia and New Zealand for many reasons. “I really like change,” she said, and explained that she liked that it was far away from home, and of course that it was sunny and full of laid back, outgoing people.

While away, Gorsenger missed her dog and her bed the most. Surprisingly, she said, “I didn’t miss my cell phone.” International rates are almost not worth the trouble of texting or calling, especially with Skype and social networking sites that are free.

She misses the weather and the way that daily life was way more exciting in New Zealand and the overall culture. In Australia, people were so open minded. “You could talk about absolutely everything,” she said.

Some surprises for Gorsenger were the prices of things, and the overall exchange rates. In Australia, for example, a bottle of water is $4.

Gorsenger explained that before they leave they are advised to watch what they spend, since in a lot of countries the drinking ages are less than 21. In New Zealand and Australia, the drinking age is 18, “which was helpful,” she said.

In Australia, the natives hate kangaroos, and actually hunt them and hit them with their cars, then eat them. Gorsenger said it tastes almost like a regular hamburger, but since kangaroos don’t have a lot of fat on them, they’re way healthier. Whatcom student Alan Carroll, 21, who also went to Australia/New Zealand, compares kangaroo meat to venison.

Carroll also returned from his trip about a month ago, though he explains that it feels like just yesterday he was there. “It’s like a dream now,” he said. Carroll said he chose to go there for the different experience. He is studying anthropology, and said that his knowledge “helped me see different ways cultures interacted with each other.”

In New Zealand, there is a tribe of people called the Maori that make up about another half of the government there. They have several languages, and “most everyone has tattoos. The women have tattoos on their chins,” explained Gorsenger.

While there, it wasn’t all about studying. Gorsenger had the opportunity to go swimming with the sharks, and got to meet some rugby players. In New Zealand they are really big into rugby. Gorsenger also went bungee jumping twice.

Carroll missed the food here, and not having to worry about it. In Australia, besides hating and eating kangaroos, they are also big on eating lamb. Carroll explained that they would cook it like we cook t-bone steaks here and enjoy it. In Melbourne, where they stayed, it is against the law to pick up a koala bear, but in other parts of Australia it’s okay.

Carroll was surprised at how expensive everything was there. In Australia, the minimum wage is about $15/hour, so despite being warned about careful spending, they couldn’t really budget correctly because of the price increase.

Overall, Carroll prefers New Zealand to Australia, and he is already looking for a way to get back. The climate of New Zealand is similar to good summer days in Washington. It’s about 80 degrees, and the summer nights aren’t too hot or too cold, and you can actually sleep, he explained.

He encourages people to go, no matter what, at the first chance they get. “It’s so much better to learn by seeing and experiencing than hearing about it,” he said.

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