To experience new things first hand is exciting, but just as exciting and wonderful is to view the reactions of other people who are. It's a great feeling to know that you are part of someone else's experience which will be remembered for many years to come. Within the last several years I have had some great opportunities to witness people's first encounters with Japanese culture. They haven't necessarily been significant events and festivals, but tiny, everyday things (as talked about in the "LITTLE Things Japanese" section), which are often the most interesting. Impossible to experience these things with every person who visits Japan, I enjoy hearing as many different stories as possible. It can be enlightening to have people share their thoughts and reactions, so I asked some of my friends to write a short essay on their stay in Japan.

An essasy from John

When I went to Japan, I went without too many expectations. I knew all the stereotypes, but I also knew enough not to expect them to be true. Some of what I learned in Japan confirmed some stereotypes, but a lot of what I learned blew the stereotypes out of the water.

I learned a good portion about Japan through my homestay family. Theywere the Japanese I came to know most intimately, and they've come to be like a second family to me. Living with a 7 person family (rare in Japan) -- composed of the grandparents, parents, and 3 college-age sons -- I had a lot of people to learn from. And what's more, they represented 3 generations of Japanese -- 3 generations radically different from each other, and each with its own embodiments of Japanese cultural values. Ojiisan lived through the war, but was as nice to me as anyone could be. He was a scholar, and the Buddhist beliefs were still strong in his life. Obaasan was even nicer, if possible, just thebubbliest, cutest old lady. Otoosan was a salaryman, typical of the modern middle-aged Japanese man, and his wife, Okaasan, the dutiful housewife counterpart. The three sons represented a perhaps disenchanted youth, stuck in a society whose values did not match their own. They rarely went to class and did not seem eager to rush into the "real world" of Japanese society.The whole family was a lot of fun. They were quick to crack jokes and laugh, and at least all of the men were pretty fond of the bottle too. I just had to laugh when I considered that probably some of my friends must be thinking that living with a Japanese family must be like living with a bunch of hard-working, humorless drones. This family was a riot!

I guess if you're in Japan, and you do enough looking, you'll find some truth to a lot of the stereotypes. But I don't think any of them were completely true without modification. Many of them were outright false.Living in Japan, you'll discover what should, after all, come as no surprise to you. The Japanese are just people. They're no less fun, no weirder, and no more mysterious than any other people. They're just a little different. I guess that's what makes them Japanese. Nevertheless, the more you get to know the Japanese, the more normal they seem. Yet, they never seem to lose that which makes them interesting to the Westerner...


An essay from Brenda

"How did you become so interested in Japan? And why Japan?"

These are two questions people frequently ask of me. They are also ones I have had difficulty answering, not because I didn't know the answer but because I couldn't find the right words. My love for Japan runs deep, so much that I believe either 1) I was Japanese in a former life or 2) somewhere way down the ancestral line I have Japanese relatives. How do you find the right words to explain this?

Anyway, I can answer both now. I've been interested in Japan for as long as I can remember, though I don't know exactly when it started. Long ago I decided that my lifelong dream was to visit Tokyo; little did I expect it would happen so soon. During my second year of college I had the opportunity to study Japanese business and society - in Tokyo of all places - for four months(Jan.- May '95). Living with my host family and experiencing everyday life just made me love Japan even more. As I commuted to and from classes each day I watched people: smartly dressed businessmen reading morning papers, kids in school uniforms sleeping or trying to study, blue haired obaasans dressedin kimono to go shopping (yes, I really saw a granny with blue hair!)...Tradition is still alive in today's modern society, and that's one of the reasons why I like Japan. There's a respect for the old way of doing things, and for each other. This is what really has me interested in Japanese society - despite outside influences heavy emphasis is placed on showing respectfor others. I think we here in the US can learn a lot from Japan.

Then there was Nagano. A trivia contest by a local TV station with two all expenses paid trips to the Olympics being the prizes... As soon as I saw the ad on TV promoting this upcoming contest I turned to my grandma and said "I'm there." I watched Oprah Winfrey's talk show every day and took notes like I was in school, then at night waited for the day's question to appear during a popular game show. Thanks to the help of my brother (one of us was at the phone, the other at the TV) I was registered for the first drawing. Four nights later I watched as they did the drawing, and when they read my name and showed it on the screen I was stunned. This was the impossible coming true.

My youngest cousin went with me - he loves to travel. It was his first trip to a foreign country - and the first time he was ever on a plane. While the ride over to Japan was not kind to him he started having fun after we got there. To see the excitement and interest in his eyes as he had his first encounter in a different culture was like seeing a mirror image of myself. The trip was more than a chance for me to share my interest; it was a time for us to enjoy each other's company. So we did - mainly as photographers and camera crews were getting pictures and interviews from us. We appeared onJapanese TV, CBS gave us a long clip on their broadcasting and we appeared in the official Olympic newspaper among other places. Now that the dream trip is long in the past, all we have are the pictures and our memories and - thanks to his parents - proof on video that we did make it on TV. One more thing.on the trip home my cousin said that he loved Japan and wanted to go back. I had succeeded in sharing and passing on my interest with someone who cares.


An essay from Wendy

When I first got here, I was frightened. I felt like a minnow lost in a storm. I would be washed upon the seas of people, rivers of Japanese, streaming through the great halls of Ikebukurro and shinjuku stations.

All I could see were oceans of brown faces, dark suits, black heads rushing somewhere. Now I look a little closer and see a million shades of shiny back. Smiling almond eyes, liquid brown. Just like a thousand pebbles on a beach, Japanese people look like they all go together, but on closer inspection are beautifully individual.

I still don`t speak any Japanese, even though I have been here a year.I have not got time to learn, but people in Tokyo are so polite and helpful, it makes me ashamed to be a rude foreigner.

On a good day, I am a tropical fish, revered for my beautiful strangeness. On a bad day I am just another stupid Gaijin, waiting to be stared at. Lucky for me, most days I am that pretty fish. It is an exciting place to live, this. If I thought I could stay forever I would. I have a favourite Combini, a favourite Talent and a favourite Pockemon. It dosen`t make me a NIhonjin, but maybe it makes me less Gaijin.

The life is very easy and uncomplicated for foreigners. The pay is good, and the culture shock makes the days a little more difficult but never, never dull. When I am here I sometimes miss Australia, but when I am in Sydney, I always miss Tokyo. I have been seen to kiss the tarmac in Narita like the Pope!

If you are reading this, you should come to visit at least.

I would not live anywhere else.


An essay from Lloyd

I have been interested in Japan since I first saw "Karate Kid" and my interest grew when I started learning the Bushido (The way of the warrior)and the samurai due to their true nobility, which throughout history no other society has been able to "recreate" (for lack of a better word) Since I started enjoying Japan I have also started learning and enjoying Nihongo (Japanese language). I hope to move to Japan before I turn 25.

I don't know why but I have always liked video games since I had an ATARI when I was 8, and I like them more now that I have found out about and play the elusive Japanese Final Fantasy games that were not released here.

I have always liked cartoons even now. When I was young I enjoyed Scooby Doo, Jetsons, and the Flintstones. When I discovered anime (namely Akira) I was extremely impressed with the quality of the animation and the complexity of the plot, I have a diverse collection of Anime including but not lmited to ; Akira, Venus Wars, Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Macross, and Armageddon, and I highly recommend to everyone Grave of Fireflys.

Thank you for reading my essay.


If you would like to contribute an essay, please send it here. Anything from serious to causal and light will be welcome!


Copyright -2000 JUN Japanese Gifts & Souvenirs