Study Abroad: Learning About Cultural Heritage in Tokyo

Japan is the land of panda-shaped breads in grocery stores. It is the land of green forests and festivals filled with lanterns. It is the land where cats roam the streets as free beasts. It is the land where elementary school students display their athletic prowess every year by mastering human-pyramid balancing acts and running around a track like their lives depend on it. It is the land of noodles, rice balls, and seafood, but also the land of mayonnaise, mildly alcoholic drinks known as Cassis, and purple potato ice cream.

Land of the Rising Sun, you say? Nah. Everyone is too busy cramming themselves into the morning trains to ever see that phenomenon. Unless you go to the top of Mount Fuji during climbing season, that is. But to do that, you first have to climb Mount Fuji.

My decision to study in Japan was made before I had even heard of the 5Cs. I am a fourth-generation Japanese-American. I don’t speak Japanese at home, but I have studied the language since kindergarten. (Weekly three-hour Saturday school completely crushed my social life for 12 years. Not that I’m bitter or anything.) However, I always have known that the only way I would get even remotely fluent in Japanese is if I spent a considerable amount of time in the country. 

I am beginning my fourth month in Japan, but I’m not nearly close to fluent yet. Yet after six weeks of intensive studying in the summer (and by intensive, I mean intensive) and more studying in the fall term, I’m getting there ever so slowly. In the meantime, I have lived everywhere from the dorms on campus to a hostel in the mountains to a hotel by the ocean to a homestay in Hokkaido (the northernmost island of Japan) and two different homestays here in Tokyo. 

What is it like to be away from Claremont? That is the question of the century.

At International Christian University, it means spending endless hours in classes and missing the lively Claremont professors and discussion participation. It means that if you don’t live on campus, you can’t get into any of the dorms except one, even just to visit. It means that while parties and outings can be fun, they’re not quite Foam, Toga, or even a plain old TNC. It means that when you want a late night snack you go to a convenience store, not to Mix Bowl (although, not going to lie, Japanese convenience stores have some of the greatest creations on this planet). It means that there is no nearby Mexican food.

But really, how can I complain? I miss home and Claremont students, but I could not have dreamed of passing up the opportunity to study here in Tokyo. I have learned more about my cultural heritage and about myself than I could ever have thought possible.

What have I learned? The list would be too long to fit in any length of article I could publish here. However, there are a few essential tidbits that I can share with you:

1. Be careful on the streets in Japan. It is typical for the sidewalks to suddenly disappear, leaving you at the mercy of all of the traffic. This has led to several accidents on my part, as I commute every day to school on a bicycle with terrible brakes and an attitude like no other.

2. Appreciate the nature. Tokyo is very urban, so when you suddenly encounter a beautifully green bamboo forest or an enormous tree-filled park in the middle of the city, stop for a moment, look around, and take it all in. Or even if you’re not in Japan: Find a nice nature-y spot and enjoy.

3. If you feel like getting a bowl of ramen, don’t wait. Get that bowl of ramen.

Ijoudesu. I’m done now.

Aly Minamide CM ’15 is an International Relations major studying at International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan.

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