From Keio to Kamakura: Life and Lville in Tokyo, Japan
Exactly one day after Spring Term exams ended, Arya Singh ‘20 and I boarded a thirteen-hour flight to Tokyo armed only with umbrellas and a limited understanding of one of the four Japanese alphabets.
Exactly one day after Spring Term exams ended, Arya Singh ‘20 and I boarded a thirteen-hour flight to Tokyo armed only with umbrellas and a limited understanding of one of the four Japanese alphabets. By that point in my Japanese studies I could probably “hello” and “goodbye” myself out of most sticky situations, but I was lacking in pretty much everything else. I was apprehensive to say the least.
When we arrived at the Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School (SFC), located in southern Tokyo, we were taught Japanese by Imanishi-Sensei, an older woman who spoke no English and was surprised to learn that the two of us spoke only English. As I said before, I don’t speak Japanese. That was probably my biggest takeaway. 日本語 が はなせません. Nihon-go ga hanasemasen. I don’t speak Japanese. We made it work. Translating from Japanese to English is a terrible experience. It’s not just that it’s hard – it’s unbelievably inaccurate. When I was performing a chanoyu–a tea ceremony–I saw a phrase on the wall which read 一期一会, which translated directly to English, means ‘cherish the present’. In reality, it means something like ‘meeting and parting are irregular, so we must cherish the moments we have together because each moment is the only one of its kind.’ My point is that you miss so much when you try to skip straight from Japanese to English.
Understanding takes time, and your only hope is to try and process what you do not know.
There are hundreds of things I would never have known if I hadn’t had the unique experiences the Keio Program had to offer me. What the best street foods are. The best bottled coffee brand (it’s Georgia). What attending bukatsu (club) was like. How much better (or worse) matcha tastes when you make it yourself. The hundreds of Japanese slang words you can never learn in a classroom.
I lived in Japan for two weeks, and I know so little. As I said before, understanding takes time, and I cannot even begin to process a whole language or culture within the short amount of time I was exposed to it. Claiming to know anything about Japan would be ridiculous, because my limited knowledge can only take me so far. What I will claim; however, is that I met real people and made real friendships on this trip. My host student and I talk every single day, updating each other on gossip or school events or practicing really bad hiragana. My photos that decorate my dorm room wall in Reynolds now include pictures of her and of our time together. At the end of the day the most important thing is not my poor attempts at explaining how fun Japan is, how hard taking classes in a language I don’t know is, or even what it was like living with another family, but rather how much I connected with a complete stranger, what we were able to learn from each other, and our friendship that formed from this trip. Thank you Yuka. Thank you SFC.