Austin and Chandler share their home stay experience closer to the seaside of Oita. They got to experience the Japanese hospitality and humbleness, a 5-start meal made by the host families, as well as a great ocean view on their walks around town.
On the island of Kyushu, visiting the relaxed, peaceful countryside of Saiki City, we were given the amazing opportunity to stay in the homes of the members of the Green Tourism volunteers. Our home stay group consisted on Austin, Chandler, Dennis, Ahmed, and Evan. An hour away from the urban centers of Oita, and a scenic drive through mountains and forests, Saiki felt like another world. The fields of crops were neatly aligned and houses adorned with beautiful roofs. It was the pure ideal of the Japanese countryside.
At first the idea of staying with someone who knew no English was a little worrisome. Most people in the areas of Japan that we had been to up to this point had spoken a decent amount of English and could understand our broken attempts at Japanese. The area of Saiki was less used to this. We arrived to a greeting that was enough to put our hearts at ease. The town had put up a big banner to welcome us, and soon we met Hadaka-San.
Our home stay family only spoke Japanese, but fortunately, Dennis (who was in our group) speaks Japanese, so he was able to translate for us. Despite this language barrier, this experience taught us about key cultural differences. While our home stay family were a quiet couple, their hospitality for us was like none I have ever experienced before. They opened their home to us, fed us with delicious food and gave us a look into their lives. Sitting around the table with Hadaka-san late at night having coffee and enjoying each others’ company was a simple pleasure that reminded me how much of a treasure it is to share time with other people.
This home stay experience gave us a clearer understanding of the differences between urban and rural Japan. Luckily on this trip, we were fortunate enough to go sightseeing in the urban area of Tokyo and the more rural, scenic area of Oita. Tokyo was tremendous in size and appeared to be a financial hub similar to New York City, although much cleaner and less hectic. Conversely, Oita was very mountainous throughout, but Hadaka-san, being a fisherman, lived right on the coast. The view on the walk we took in the morning still feels too beautiful to have been real, but the scenery stays with us.
Further, many of the vegetables and fish which we ate were raised and caught by our host family personally; this is significantly different than the typical American experience of going to a grocery store for raw materials to cook. Our host family provided a 5-star restaurant-quality dinner and breakfast for all five of us, which we appreciated thoroughly.
This was a big part of what we found to be the humility of the Japanese people. As can be seen by certain items in the below image which I took of the interior of their home, our host father was a proud carpenter, fisherman, and musician. However, he was too humble to play his instruments or boast about his fascinating work to us, even when prompted.
Before long we had to say our goodbyes. Despite a language barrier and only staying one night, leaving was very hard. This trip to Japan has taught me to value the people I meet and keep the lessons I learn with them with me as I live my life. I hope to pay forward the warm welcome I was extended.
As she gets close in completing her Global Option in Business program, Megan Reardon reflects on how the program helped her learn, develop skills, and gain experience for her to be ready for a global future.
Before I came to Fisher, I knew I wanted to study abroad. Having studied Mandarin in high school, I wanted to be able to apply my language skills in a real-world setting. When I was abroad, it opened my eyes to the world of global business and that I could be a player in the international business scene. At this point, I did not find it worthwhile to pick up an International Business degree. However, I wanted a way to differentiate myself among my peers as a global citizen. Thus, I learned more about the Global Option program and decided that I wanted to pursue it.
The global option consists of several sections in order to earn the certificate. For my sections, I took classes, mentored students, and went abroad. Going abroad was definitely the most impactful section that I completed, however, it only gave me insight to business in Asia. Through the other sections, I was able to learn more about business in other parts of the world, including South America and Europe.
Since coming back from Singapore and having had a full semester to reflect on how my experience impacted my personal, school, and professional life, I have started to notice visible changes in how I act. I am now more confident in speaking up in classes. I no longer get nervous that my answers will be wrong or I am not knowledgeable enough about a topic to answer a question. My classes at Singapore Management University (SMU) were all discussion based. Because of the language barrier, I often had to make sure that I was well-prepared for classes and spoke very clearly about what I was trying to convey. This has translated back to my studies at Ohio State in that I come to classes ready and willing to make my opinions known.
I also think that I am much more understanding in group projects. Before I went to Singapore, I would completely commandeer the leadership position in my group projects. I would delegate and assign tasks to people, even if I didn’t have the best knowledge of the topic. After I went to Singapore, I am much more willing to take a step back and first look at what people are good at or interested in and discuss roles based on that. I no longer take a lead position in every project I work on.
Also as part of the global option, I took International Finance and International Marketing. I definitely found International Marketing more interesting because it focused much more on culture abroad compared to International Finance which focused on hedging and derivatives. For International Marketing, our final grade was a semester long consulting project designed to bring a U.S.-based firm to four different international markets – France, Hong Kong, Canada, and Brazil. We did in depth cultural, economic, and political analyses on these topics that resulted in recommendations for how to introduce this new firm to international markets. Overall, I really liked this project because it gave a good sense of business operations in other countries without having to go to those countries.
I would recommend the Global Option in Business program to any student at Fisher. As the world is becoming more globalized, it is inevitable that current students will have to work with foreign entities at some point in our careers. The Global Option in Business is a quick way for students to enter the workforce more prepared for inevitable global careers.
Why go to Singapore? Megan Reardon who studies at Singapore Management University in Singapore tells you the top 10 reasons why!
Probably the top reason I went to Singapore was because I knew that travel opportunities would be plentiful. People normally think of Europe when they want to travel, but Singapore is in the heart of Southeast Asia and offers easy access to destinations like Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. On top of that, Singapore’s airport was recently voted as the best airport in the world for the fifth year in the row, making getting to these places very easy.
English is the most widely spoken language in Singapore. While Singapore has four national languages (English, Tamil, Malay, and Mandarin), signs and communication are largely in English and very easy to follow. Unlike other Asian countries, it is not a problem if you are only familiar with English.
3) Safety and Cleanliness
Singapore is consistently ranked as one of the safest countries in the world. There is essentially no fear of harm if you are out walking alone at night. Singapore is also very clean. Have you ever heard that gum is illegal in Singapore? It’s true! Singapore is so clean that the government doesn’t want to risk gum being spit out on sidewalks.
The university that Fisher partners with, Singapore Management University (SMU), offers great courses and a competitive curriculum. Unlike at Fisher, most of their core courses focus on one intense, semester long project. Every class is required to have a group project. This gives an awesome chance to work in a project setting with people from all around the world.
Singapore is famous for places called Hawker Centers. These are open-air complexes that house stalls selling inexpensive food from around the world. Most days, I would eat various hawker meals for lunch. These cheap meals also give you a chance to try all of the local flavors without breaking the bank.
6) Public Transportation
Singapore is small, and therefore so easy to get around. Getting to the middle of the city from my apartment was a 15 minute MRT train ride. The public transport system hits all parts of the island, and they are constantly adding more routes to improve efficiency.
7) Cultural blend of local and international students
One of the best parts of studying at SMU is that there is such a diverse blend of students and teachers. Whereas in Europe, many of the exchange students are from the U.S., in Singapore most exchange students were from Europe. I rarely met other U.S. foreign exchange students, which offered great opportunities to learn different cultures.
8) SMU is in the city
Unlike the two other Singaporean universities, Singapore Management University (SMU) is directly in the middle of the city. It’s easy to get to, and offers many off campus options for things to do when you’re done with classes.
9) Leading global business hub
Singapore itself is a hub of international business in Asia. Being a business student, this was an awesome way to learn about international business and how business is conducted in Asia.
10) High standard of living
Singapore offers a very high standard of living. SMU is a commuter school, so all exchange students live off campus. Most students live in condos with a few other students. These condos are luxury. They have pools, hot tubs, gym facilities, etc. Since Singapore is usually about 80 F, a long morning of classes is easily followed by an afternoon at the pool.
Considering to go to Singapore Management University (SMU), but still unsure about going? Read Megan Reardons advice on studying on the Student Exchange Program to Singapore!
Before I went to Singapore, all I wanted was someone who had been there before to answer some questions. I did not have this person, but I want to try and answer some of my biggest questions for potential students studying abroad in Singapore.
1. How hard are the classes?
Coming from Ohio State, I would say the classes are the same level of difficult. However, they are difficult in different ways. Singapore Management University (SMU) puts a large focus on class participation and group projects in every course, while Fisher’s core classes focus on exams and homework. Being an exchange student, it is also difficult because all you want to do is explore the city you are in and travel on the weekends. Since classes transfer back as grades rather than Pass/Fail as most other U.S. schools, you have to try for good grades. This means studying harder than your other exchange friends.
2. Where should I live?
Unfortunately, since SMU is an urban campus they do not have dorms. You are on your own to find housing. Most students end up living in condo’s run by individual landlords. Some people choose to live in hostels, however I would not recommend this. When I first arrived in Singapore, I stayed in a hostel that was very dirty and ended up being unable to receive my deposit back. Many students wait until they arrive in Singapore to find housing. They book a hostel for the first few nights, and take the first few days to contact a housing agent and tour potential condos.
Note: it is required that you have an agent to rent a condo. I was not the person in my group to contact the agent, but I believe they just Googled, “Housing agent for expat in Singapore” and emailing the first few.
I ended up finding two other Americans, three Finnish people, and one French girl to share a condo with. Being with other nationalities was a very rewarding experience because it gave us the opportunity to learn from each other. We stayed in City Square, which was right next to the MRT train station making it very convenient to get to school. There are many other housing options closer and further from school, depending on the price range you pay. We each ended up paying S$950 = US$680 per month.
3. What did you do about your phone?
Fortunately, most mobile phones that we buy now are unlocked. This means that as long as the phone is working well, it will be able to accept any wireless carrier. I brought my iPhone from the U.S., and was able to use one of the wireless carriers in Singapore to get a new sim card with data and messaging. It is very straightforward to get a new sim card. Like Verizon and AT&T, wireless carriers in Singapore have physical store locations. If you walk into one of these locations (I prefer Singtel), you will be able to purchase a sim card with however much data you want. I was able to get 2GB data for S$20/month. Singtel also offers international packages, so when you travel abroad to places like Thailand and Indonesia, you don’t need to buy a new sim card in those places.
4. How do the subways work?
The subway in Singapore is called the MRT. Rather than buying a package at the beginning of the semester, I recommend purchasing an EZ-Link card at any of the kiosks at the entrance to the MRT. You can refill this card throughout your semester at any self-serve kiosk at every MRT station. Rides are typically in the S$1.50-S$2 range per trip, but are cheaper during rush hour. This same EZ-Link card is used for buses and printing at SMU.
5. What do I pack?
Singapore is a hot, humid, tropical city-state. Students in Singapore look much nicer than students in the U.S. They hardly wear athletic gear and are more in favor of trendier styles. Still most people wear shorts and nice shirts to class. I would pack a light jacket because the air conditioning can be very chilly indoors. Additionally, research the places you want to visit. Northern Vietnam and Hong Kong can get chilly during the evenings, so jackets might be necessary. I would recommend bringing at least one business casual outfit. This can be used for group presentations, meeting with professionals, etc. I chose to purchase cheap, plain t-shirts and leave them in Singapore to save luggage space for souvenirs.
If you have any questions about studying in Singapore, please do not hesitate to reach out. I am more than happy to talk to anyone who is interested but unsure about what to expect.
“I would highly recommend reaching out to business professionals wherever you go abroad.” says Megan Reardon who attended Singapore Management University. She gives tips and advice on how you can set up informational interviews with professionals abroad to take full advantage of expanding your network while abroad!
One of the top reasons that I chose to go to Singapore is because I am really interested in working abroad once I graduate. That being said, I was excited to start grabbing coffee with Singaporean business professionals. It was surprisingly easy to find people to meet with once in Singapore. There are four different ways I was able to connect with people:
1. LinkedIn. I was able to search my LinkedIn connections for graduates of Ohio State who lived in Singapore. I reached out to several people this way and was able to meet for coffee with a few people in the banking industry and the fashion industry. More so – they were all impressed that I took initiative to reach out that they were able to give good recommendations for places to search for internships and jobs in Singapore. One of my connections brought me out to eat with his whole family, so they would understand what native English sounds like!
2. Leveraging professors. Before I went to Singapore, I spoke with my professors at Ohio State about my goals. Several professors were able to connect me with their peers in Singapore, which shows the power of connections given how small Singapore is. As it turns out, one of my professors at Singapore Management University (SMU) received their PhD in Finance at Ohio State! It was interesting to be able to talk to him about the differences between Ohio State and SMU.
3. Past work experience. I knew that one of my past internships in Cleveland had a location in Singapore that operated their Asian business. Since I knew that I was going to Singapore when I interned with this company, I was able to talk with the people who did business in Singapore before I went abroad then meet them in person while in Singapore.
4. Family connections. Though I previously believed that my family had no connections in Singapore, I asked my dad to reach out to one of his work friends that lived there previously. They set me up with someone else, and before I knew it, I was talking to my cousin’s best friend’s older brother who happened to go to the same college as my dad and had a cousin that I was friends with at Ohio State. What a small world!
It was typically very informal when I met with the business people. I would usually ask that they pick the place where we would meet – this gave the professionals flexibility and gave me good recommendations regarding the “local favorites.” We would usually meet at a coffee shop, and the conversation would start pretty naturally given that we had already exchanged a few emails by that point. Some of my favorite conversation topics were:
1. Do you see significant growth opportunities in Singapore in regards to business as a whole?
2. Do you do any business with the U.S., and if so, what are the major differences that you see?
3. I would usually ask about their family, whether it be a simple, “Do you live with your family here?” or “How are your kids liking school here(primary school in Singapore is much different than in the U.S.)?”
4. Would you recommend working in Singapore?
I would highly recommend reaching out to business professionals wherever you go abroad. This gives you the chance to experience other cultures at a more personal level and determine more about the working culture to decide whether or not you want to work abroad.
Follow Joseph Latkovich’s home stay experience in Oita, Japan! He gets to see some traditional Japanese homes, bond over a Japanese card game, have a traditional Japanese breakfast, and visit a Sake factory business, to have the most enjoyable time with the host families.
Joe here! At the beginning of the third day, Lorraine gave me a paper covering my home stay group; Ethan, Kevin, Judson, and I would be staying with a grandmother named Shouko, grandfather named Mitsuo, and their grandson named Soto. As we were walking to meet Shouko, I asked Miho if she was happy to get a break from us for the night, but she said that she was very sad about it and that she wanted to sneak into one of our suitcases on Sunday to come back to the United States with us.
We met with Shouko who greeted us and drove us to her house, near the bottom of a mountainous area. She knew a few English words, so Kevin translated for the group. The house had two main parts with a garden in between. One side was a functional house with a kitchen, shower area, living room, and tatami room and the other side had two rooms; one was something between a garage and a kitchen, and the other is best described as a dining room with a cooking pit in the middle, which we’ll just call the dining room.
Once we arrived at the house, she introduced us to Mitsuo, who was busy making a fire in the kitchen/garage. We changed into casual clothes and went into the dining room, where we were served green tea and a dessert made from red beans. We sat and talked with Shouko for a while, and then some of their neighbors as well as one of the groups from University of Kentucky came over. We then went into the kitchen/garage area to help with cooking; we battered and fried mushrooms, chicken, and sweet potatoes. At the same time, Mitsuo and the host family father for the Kentucky group put coals in the cooking pit and cooked shrimp, scallops, squid, and potatoes.
Our group, Mitsuo, the other host father, and the Kentucky group all ate together sitting around the cooking pit, while Shouko and other women ate in the kitchen/garage. The food was amazing, and there was an ungodly amount of it; we were all stuffed, but felt obligated to finish as our hosts were so proud of their cooking and wanted to make sure we had eaten enough.
After dinner, the group from Kentucky left, and we sat talking with Mitsuo for a while. Not much longer afterwards, the grandson, Soto, returned home from playing baseball, so he joined us. Soto’s father as well as Shouko both joined us, and we all sat and talked. Mitsuo was eager to share his perspective on the Japanese people and economy; he took a lot of pride in the quality of Japanese products and engineering, as well as their commitment to safety. He had previously worked as an inspector for the railway system in Oita, and he told us that rail workers from other countries would come to study the structure and quality of the Japanese railways, but were unable to successfully replicate it. We got onto the topic of sports, and Ethan showed them a picture of the Shoe during a game, which they were amazed by. They taught us a card game similar to old maid, and we taught them blackjack. We played cards until around midnight, at which point Shouko led us over to the tatami room, where she had set up mats and blankets for us to sleep on.
Even though we had stayed up very late, we wanted to get up early to say goodbye to Soto. Before he left, we took a picture with him and Shouko.
After Soto left for school, Shouko made us breakfast consisting of rice, eggs, fermented beans, yogurt, and bananas. Ethan couldn’t handle the taste of the fermented beans, but the rest of the group powered through. Once we finished, Shouko led us on a walk down the road next to her house. She told us that she used to walk the family dog down the road every day, and no matter how many times she did, the scenery still looked beautiful to her.
We walked back, and Shouko drove us to a nearby Sake factory for a tour. Upon arriving, we found that another home stay group (consisting of Lewis, Pat, Alex, and Jacob) were also there with their home stay mother. Our tour leader walked us through their entire process, showing us the vats of fermenting rice up through putting labels on the finished bottles. While Sake is traditionally made from rice, they also produced several variations made from barley, peaches, and plums. The tour leader was very proud to announce that one of their types of Sake is used on American Airlines flights, which was very significant as it was a small factory (roughly equivalent to a microbrewery, having limited access to distribution networks). Consequently, it was cool to see how much the town supported the factory; the factory was an obvious point of pride for the town, and it employed a good number of residents. This gave us a big takeaway in the fact that the community was not just a group of neighbors, but also a group of friends that enjoyed living together and supporting each other.
After the tour ended, Shouko drove us to Saiki City Hall to meet back up with everyone from Fisher and their home stay families, which is where our Day Four blog picks up. See you there!
Megan Reardon, studying at Singapore Management University for a semester, talks about what she has learned on how to conduct business in Asia.
While Singapore is a very Westernized culture compared to other Asian countries, business is still built on the same founding principles as other Asian countries. Most of the principles here are applicable in the workplace, but also in the school environment. In general, business in Asia is more focused on the group rather than the individual. This stems from the familial ties in Asia. Business emphasizes family and kinship more than the individual, as in the U.S. To be successful in Asia, the first thing is to ensure that you are willing to put in the long hours to get to know the people you are working with. In Asia, it isn’t about just signing a contract. It’s only when your Asian business colleague is fully willing to trust you that you will make any progress.
“Face” is an important concept in Asia. “Face” is essentially preventing embarrassment at all costs. You can lose face, save face, and give face. You should avoid putting possible partners in situations where they are required to contradict their superiors, give black and white answers, or make them uncomfortable in any way. This is typically regarded as not only disrespectful, but will cause the partner to lose face and thus lose trust in your partnership. It is very much appreciated when you give face to another person. Giving meaningful gifts, complimenting them to their superiors, or other positive affirmations give face to another person.
Another important business etiquette is the importance of exchanging business cards. You should have your information printed in English on one side and your language printed in the local language on the other side. Have plenty of business cards, as they are exchanged frequently. When you first meet someone, it is normal to give them a business card, even if you never anticipate doing business with them. When exchanging business cards, you should hold the card with both hands and present it to your counterpart.
A final business etiquette is becoming fluent in popular phrases of the country you are visiting. While most business in Asia is conducted in English, it is important to recognize that English is never their first language, and phrases in their native language could go a long way. Essential phrases like hello, good to meet you, and thank you could make the difference between a business deal gone right or wrong.
In Singapore, business people are accustomed to Western business practices. Almost everyone speaks fluent English and is comfortable enough with Western practices. That being said, first impressions are important and being prepared and comfortable with standard Asian business practices will show strong interest in conducting business in Singapore.
After the week on the Kakehashi Project, they share their thoughts of reflection on the program. Feeling reverse culture shock, sharing how they have changed, what they have learned, advise for future travelers, and what they plan to take with them into the future from the experience abroad in Japan.
The Fisher curriculum requires all students to complete BUSMHR 3200: Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management, often taught by Dr. Larry Inks. One of the major concepts covered in his class is global job assignments, which covers a broad process of preparing employees for foreign assignments, managing employees while abroad, and repatriation. While it may seem like repatriation is as simple as a plane ride to your home country, it often entails reverse culture shock, a change in living standards, and a change in the employee due to their experience abroad. Coming back from Japan and re-entering daily life in Columbus gave us a taste of this concept of repatriation.
With minimal international experience, we had no idea of what to expect before arriving in Japan. Fortunately, the Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan, and the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University adequately prepared and facilitated the Kakehashi Project for students of all backgrounds.
As soon as we returned, we couldn’t stop telling our roommates and friends about our week abroad. Of course, we had some trouble readjusting; Kelly said that she missed hearing ohayo gozaimasu (good morning) from hotel breakfast waitstaff in the morning, and Jacob accidentally told the cashier at CVS arigato gozaimasu (Thank you) out of habit. Over the course of the next few days, however, we found that while we had a great experience in Japan and enjoyed recalling the memories, we really missed being together as a group. About half of us went to visit Lorraine in Undergraduate Leadership and Engagement Office (ULEO) at least once throughout the week.
One of the things that we have been thinking about a lot since our return is Japanese ettiquette. An example that we touched upon earlier in our blog series is that Japanese people wave goodbye as you drive away until your car is completely out of sight as a courtesy. This provides a very warm, hospitable feeling from the host to the guest. These subtle, yet new cultural differences were eye-opening and pleasant to be a part of. Our amazing tour guide, Miho Sato, even told us after the trip that she constantly checked our flight to make sure we arrived back to Columbus on time and safely.
Now that we’re home, it hasn’t been the details that have pushed through, but the concepts and lessons that cultural exchange has taught us; the lenses we see things through will be forever changed. When a non-native speaker struggles to find a word in English, we won’t have only our place of privilege to look back on, and hopefully we can listen to context enough to help them find that word, remembering our experiences of having no way to communicate, as empathy is much stronger than sympathy. When someone makes a cultural gaffe, hopefully we can remember something from our trip where we made errors, such as Ahmed saying hajimemashite (Nice to meet you) to a cashier, or how Christine D’s host-mom kindly giggled and corrected her when Christine thought the mom asked her to call her -kun (only uses towards boys). Hopefully when we see a gaggle of tourists, rather than feeling annoyed, we will be proud and try to see our world through their eyes and remember the amazement and awe we felt at the Japanese countryside.
Overall, the Kakehashi Project had a great impact on us. Having now experienced another culture first-hand, our perspectives have been widened to form a more developed outlook of the world, and we all consider ourselves very lucky to have had this tremendous opportunity.
Going abroad taught us a lot about becoming a global citizen, but most importantly that kindness is a universal language. We had never been to Japan before, nor did we know Japanese, but we were able to have a wonderful trip through the mutual exchange of courtesy; it was amazing to see how far arigato gozaimasu (Thank you) and a smile would go. In terms of business, this trip showed us about taking pride in the work that you do, demonstrated by the employees at Daihatsu, OMRON, the Sake factory in Oita, and Mr. Yusuke Okano from Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO). We hope to take this lesson with us and implement it both in the classroom and our future careers.
Given the right opportunity, we would highly encourage our peers in Columbus to travel abroad. There is so much to learn about other cultures that can’t be taught in a classroom or experienced through a screen; anyone with internet access could read this blog or look at pictures and videos, but there is no way to feel the energy of standing in the middle of the monstrous crowd in Asakusa between Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Street without actually doing exactly that. This travel opportunity also taught us a lot about ourselves, both as individuals and as Americans. In the U.S., we possess a relatively short history and ever-changing, often undefined identity. By going abroad, we were able to take in a land and people with a long, rich, enduring history and a strong identity defined by continuity and resilience. Our reflection upon this taught us that being a global citizen is being able to recognize the strong, admirable qualities and values held by other cultures and implement those qualities and values into your own life.
Also, a big part of why we enjoyed this trip so much was that we went in a group that we liked and was respectful. Most of us had become great friends by the end which enhanced the trip immensely. Travel is as much a skill as it is an experience, and we were lucky to have good travelers on the trip. Beyond the basics of travel (like how to pack a suitcase, what documents to carry, how much money to carry, etc.), most of the people in our group possessed the ability to maintain awareness in every situation, which allowed our trip to go smoothly with no hiccups. Most importantly, everyone kept a good attitude on the trip, which made a world of difference. If you do go on a global program group, we encourage you to be punctual, make smart decisions on how to conduct yourselves abroad, and keep up the positivity. By doing this you and your group will have a much better experience and make life lasting memories together like we have in Japan.
Long after the details fade, despite the hundreds and hundreds of pictures we’re anxiously awaiting the prints of, those lessons will live on in us. That’s what has made this trip so much larger than the sum of its parts, and that’s what leaves us struggling to pinpoint our “favorite” thing about the trip. The overall course for each of our lives may not be drastically altered going forward (though we do have a newfound confidence in seeking opportunities to live and work abroad), but a tiny piece of our stories will always exist in Tokyo, Oita, Beppu, and Saiki City.
While counting down the hours of leaving Japan on their last day, they share their visit to mall and Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. Then off to Narita airport for final goodbyes to the country and people of Japan.
We woke up on the last day with a growing reluctance inside of us; we had a thrilling time this week immersing in a new culture and making new friends, and we were not ready to return to class. Most people know the ‘sunday scaries’ – anxiety and dread that starts on Sunday afternoon brought on by the thought of the upcoming week (and all of the responsibilities that come with school and work). Not only was the greatest spring break we had ever experienced coming to an end, but we were being thrown into the back-half of spring semester (which is tough enough already). This Sunday would be 37 hours long for us with the time change between Japan and the United States, so we had plenty of time ahead of us to endure the sunday scaries.
Our bus took us from the hotel to Narita, a town about an hour outside of Tokyo where the international airport is located. Our first stop in Narita was a large mall. This was our third mall visit of the trip, so most people were just interested in walking around, getting food, and finding WiFi. Dennis was glad to find a McDonalds in the food court, saying that his body had been going through fast food withdrawal. Casey couldn’t get over how cute the children in the mall were.
After the mall, we went to the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, a Buddhist temple built in 940 AD. In terms of structure and architecture, this was very similar to the Sensoji Temple we had seen the day before in Asakusa, but due to how far we were outside of the city, there was just a fraction of the foot traffic, which really allowed us to explore freely.
After leaving Shinshoji Temple, we went to the airport. Most of us had to check a bag on the way back since we had bought so many souvenirs to take home with us. After we dropped our bags with the airline, we regrouped to say goodbye to Miho.
Miho had meshed really well with our group. She was young and she wasn’t overly serious, always conversing with us and treating us as equals, so it felt like she was more of an older sister than a tour guide. She had gone to university in Great Britain, so we thought it was funny to hear a slight British accent come through when she spoke English, her second language. Most importantly, it became increasingly apparent over the course of our time in Japan that she really liked us and cared about us. She made several comments about how much she was dreading us leaving, as she did not want to part from us. One of our group members had their birthday on the last day of the trip, and Miho bought them a birthday gift at the Narita mall. Miho was just as important to our group as any one of us was, and we were going to miss her immensely. When it was finally time to split apart, there were several tears. We gave her three or four gift bags to show our appreciation for everything she had done for us. We made sure to say ittekimasu; we will go and, someday, we’ll come back.
We went through security and enjoyed our last moments in Japan before our long journey back to the United States. Over the course of our time in Japan, we had grown together, going from being near strangers to good friends, and it would be tough to split apart once we went home. Everything had been a group activity from the moment we got to the Columbus airport on the first day, to when we left the Columbus airport on the last day. Our group started to connect before our plane touched down in Tokyo, so the experiences we had further catalyzed the bonds that developed between us. We had made so many memories together ranging from the incredible, unforgettable experiences of the Beppu Onsen and our home stays, to the very ordinary experiences of hotel breakfasts and being on the bus together. Even after the structured events had ended each day, we would still gather in each other’s hotel rooms just because we liked being together so much. Like the tea master taught us back in Oita, ichi-go ichi-e; this was our one time to come together as this group, and we will all treasure these memories forever.
A full day in Tokyo, Japan was dedicated to exploring the city! From Asakusa Temple, Harajyuku shopping district, to an observation tower overlooking Tokyo city, the students dive into the unique and interesting capital of Japan.
The sixth day started with Austin eating all of the eggs at the breakfast buffet, as usual. However, this day would be unusual as we would be traveling to different sites around Tokyo and given time to explore. First, we went to Asakusa to visit Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Street. The Sensoji Temple is an ancient Buddhist Temple built in 7th century AD. It was very interesting to see the structure of the different buildings on the larger complex as well as the large crowd we were walking through. We saw many women dressed in yukatas (a summer kimono) taking pictures in front of the different structures. It seemed like this was popular, as some of the shops we passed offered yukata rentals. Just outside of the temple area was Nakamise Street, a large area of street vendors and shops. Some people decided to keep exploring around and made it out to the Sumida river.
The original Pokemon video games (developed in Japan) included a part of the game where players could enter a large department store with many stories and specific groupings of items being sold on each floor. Growing up in the United States, this did not make a lot of sense, but upon visiting Akihbara, it started to make sense. Akihabara’s two main attraction points were a mall and bookstore. The mall was seven floors, with the lower floors resembling technology and department stores and the upper floors having current popular culture branded items (such as Pokemon, Star Wars, and Super Mario). The book store was nine floors tall with different types of manga books on each, though it was very tough for us to decipher the difference between types of manga books because we couldn’t read the language. There were also some sections dedicated to hobbies such as trains and automobiles.
We then went to Meiji-jingu Shrine & Harajuku; the Shrine was part of a larger park where many tourists and locals were walking and enjoying the scenery. Meiji-jingu is a Shinto Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji, who reigned from 1867 – 1912. The shrine was built in 1920.
Across the main road next to the park was a small St. Patrick’s day festival (as our big day out in Tokyo happened to be March 17th). Many people living in Columbus have visited the Dublin Irish Festival – the core concept is that a group of first, second, and third generation Irish living in America put on a large cultural festival, complete with Irish dancing, traditional folk music, exhibits, a lot of food, and games like Gaelic football. The festival here in Japan that we stumbled upon was much smaller than the festival in Columbus, but still had much of the same types of stands and presentations; there was a street rugby game, a live band, and some typical Irish food. The most interesting part of this festival, however, was that it was put on by Japanese people (as opposed to Irish immigrants and descendants); everyone in the live band playing the Irish folk music was Japanese. One of the contacts from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) told us that they did not know about St. Patrick’s day in Japan until recent years, so it is small but growing as a celebration.
Harajuku was an extremely crowded shopping district. With the sheer number of people walking around, it felt like being in New York City, but the streets were extremely quiet and peaceful with no shouting, horns honking, litter, or unpleasant smells. One thing that really stuck out was the customer service we encountered. In America, we’re used to retail workers being indifferent (more or less) to their jobs, and it quickly became clear that Japanese retail workers will bend over backwards for customers, requested or not, which was interesting to see. For example, Dennis had finished trying on some shirts in Adidas and went to see some of the shirts back to their racks. Even though he was only about 20 feet away from the rack, an employee quickly ran up with a smile, took the shirts, and put them back. Similarly, Jacob was looking at shirts and a store employee would not let him fold the shirts back up himself, insisting that he let her fold them.
After Harajuku, we returned to our hotel to relax and get ready for the big travel day ahead of us. Before going to bed, Ethan led a group down the block to a mall that had a 60th floor observation deck looking out over Tokyo. It only cost ¥900 (about $9), and the views were amazing.