The following JASPective is from JASK intern, Peyton Goodman. Peyton spent four months studying in Yamaguchi, Japan at Yamaguchi Prefectural University as part of the Centre College study abroad program.
Japan used to be just a dream for me. My interest of the country first started with the stories my step-father would always tell me of his six years in Okinawa. I was instantly fascinated and hoped that one day I could visit this country. In my first year of college, one email changed that dream by saying I would be going to Japan. This last Fall and January semester I was given the opportunity to study at Yamaguchi Prefectural University in Yamaguchi, Japan. After traveling through Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, and Kobe, I had finally arrived at the place I would call home for the next few months. If you know any Japanese or kanji, you would know that Yama means mountain and guchi mouth. Basically translating to mouth of the mountain/mountain entrance, and it lived true to its name. As we drove into the city I was immediately greeted with big, beautiful mountain ranges on both sides of the city. It was almost as if the city was accepting me into its arms.
(Top) One of the mountain ranges in Yamaguchi on a nice summer day; (Bottom) Rurikoji temple in October, very popular attraction in Yamaguchi.
I was not the only foreigner to be starting this adventure. Including me, there were six students from Centre College/America, three from Bishop's University in Canada, two from the Navara University in Spain, five from China, and four from South Korea. It was truly a global experience! During my time in Yamaguchi, I especially grew close to the students from Canada and Spain. On our first night together, we decided to go to Yuda Onsen (just a few stations away from the university by train) to eat at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant and play around at an arcade. From then on, we did many things together like small get-togethers at our houses and going to the shopping street every couple of weeks. We even held a Thanksgiving event! Everything was paid for by the school because it was a Y & I event (Yamaguchi and International events), which encourages the interaction of Japanese and foreigner culture. It was not the easiest thing to pull off. First, we had to get most of our food from a military base in Iwakuni, which only one person could get in with his military ID. Second, the building where we cooked and had the party did not come with an oven. Instead, there was a big microwave/oven machine. It cooked the turkey beautifully, but handling the grease was a disaster. As the meat cooked for 5 hours, many towels were put under the door to catch the grease (the door could not be opened or the turkey would take longer to cook). Unfortunately, we ran out of towels at one point. Surprisingly, everything else turned out wonderful! There was homemade pumpkin pie, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, and the best turkey I had ever eaten. Honestly, I don’t know how we pulled it off, but our guests were so happy. As soon as we brought out the turkey to cut it, everyone gasped as they snapped pictures of it. At first I was surprised since I had celebrated this holiday my entire life. However, I started to realize that none of them had probably eaten or seen a turkey like this before. Then seeing their big smiles and shouts of “oishi!” (delicious), made me learn that being able to share your culture with someone else, is the greatest gift you can give anyone.
(Top) Birthday party for one of the students from Spain; (Bottom) In front of Itsukushima Shrine
(Top) International Students Group Photo at the Halloween Party; (Bottom) Another Birthday Party for two of our Japanese friends (there we’re many Birthday parties)
I also became friends with many wonderful Japanese people. They were the some of the most patient and loving people I had ever met. Before going to Japan, I had very little Japanese teaching, so having Japanese friends who can speak good English was very helpful. Whenever I didn’t understand something, I could always go to them. At first I was frustrated with myself. I desperately wanted to learn Japanese and be able to show the same courtesy my friends had shown me. This led me to be very diligent in my studies, which thankfully I had an amazing tutor to help me with. Although, I didn’t become fluent during my time in Japan (learning a language does take time), I got better at listening and understanding Japanese, and I was able to read hiragana and a little katakana. I felt I had done nothing, but my Japanese friends would always praise me because they could see that I was trying to learn. It was a lot more than what other people would try to do. Just like what I mentioned before about culture, learning someone else’s language can be one of the kindest gestures..
In the end, Japan in not perfect. Transportation can be hard in rural parts of Japan (the train would only come once an hour to the station closest to us), language barriers are frustrating (when my friend’s suitcase broke I tried to explain to the department store that I wanted to throw it away; not even a picture helped), and traditional homes (like the one I lived in) can get very cold in the winter. However just like people, no country is perfect. Japan truly changed my life. I always jokingly tell my friends this story: “I had a plan. Get a major in Politics and English and go to law school to become a lawyer, but then Japan happened.” Currently I am pursuing a major in International Studies with a Concentration of International Relations in hopes of working with the State Department or anything dealing with International Politics. Japan made me realized that there is so much in the world that I don’t know and haven’t explored yet. One day, I hope I can return whether it is through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) or as an ambassador. My final advice is no matter where you go in the world, always have an open mind for the people and culture will welcome you with open arms.