After going home to America for 3 weeks I have returned to Japan for my second semester at Sophia University. Being home was a huge blessing for me because after being on my own for six months I realized how important my family is to me. This being said, leaving my family for a second time was so many times tougher than when I first left back in September. Therefore this particular blog is as much for you, the reader, as it is for me. Of course attending school and travelling throughout Japan is a blast, but it’s remembering the little things that helped me get back on the plane and gave me that little push I needed. This blog is dedicated to those little things and to the people who brought me those little bits of happiness to me. The chronology of this is going to be all over the place so I apologize for the lack of organization.
One of the first moments that came to mind when I decided to write this blog was during my stay at the hospital. While I was staying in the hospital I tended to French braid my hair into two braids. This style was easy to do and easy to handle throughout the day. One day one of my nurses commented that my hair was kawaii (translated to cute though it’s similar to the American word “cool” in that it carries other meanings). I didn’t think much of it at the time, but the next day another nurse said the same thing and continued by saying that it reminded her of being a student. In Japan there are/were rules about the length of a girl’s hair, and if the hair passed her shoulders it had to be tied back or in braids (I think these rules differ from school to school and may no longer be present, I’m not sure). I got all warm and fuzzy inside because even though I’m a foreigner I got the feeling that I was part of Japanese culture. It’s kind of hard to explain but it was like the fact that I was foreign was irrelevant, we were just two people sharing a connection. There are many times that I feel different and foreign, which I am, but sometimes it’s a negative feeling that is difficult to deal with. Then something like this happens and I don’t feel as far away from home.
Another time was just a few days before I left to go back to America for break. One of my Japanese friends was leaving to study abroad in America so a few of us went out to congratulate her and wish her well. The group was comprised of four Japanese people and then me, the foreigner who speaks mildly okay Japanese. The conversation started and remained in Japanese for most of the evening, but I was actually able to understand much more than I expected, however when the conversation turned to more “technical” talk, with vocab I didn’t understand, I kind of felt a bit left out. Of course my friends would direct questions to me and explain in simpler terms or in English if I didn’t understand but it was still tough to feel like a part of the group. Towards the end, the friend that was leaving brought out her camera to take video of us wishing her well. I didn’t necessarily expect to be included but then, after the other three had gone, my friend turned right to me without a second thought and any imaginary barrier was overcome. My face then proceeded to get red with embarrassment as I left my own English message on camera (I’m not used to talking to cameras). Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up by the title “foreigner” and feel out of place and “different” but it’s just as easy to throw away that title when you are lucky enough to meet great friends.
My birthday occurred while in Japan back in January. I didn’t really expect people to know or to wish me happy birthday because I didn’t make a big deal about it. Of course my family and friends from America wished me happy birthday on Facebook that morning but it was saddening to go through class without anyone saying a thing. Then lunch time hit and one of my Japanese friends wished me happy birthday and even got me a little present. I was super surprised because even though we were good friends I didn’t expect anything. This made me forget the down morning I had and I was in a great mood the rest of the day. And then, when I got back to my dorm, there was a handmade poster wishing me happy birthday on my door. If I hadn’t come to Japan I wouldn’t have met these amazing people.
Possibly the first “little thing” that happened to me was earlier in my stay. I had met this girl only a few weeks earlier, but it was easy to connect with someone who was going through the same experience (she is also from America studying abroad in Japan). We were in the same Japanese class but had only hung out two or three times outside of school. We talked a bit about different video games, me often mentioning Persona 4 because I had just finished the game before I left for Japan. I was having a really rough week being homesick and I had talked to my friend about it before class a few days. Then one day there was a knock on the door. My new friend, who I had only known for a few weeks, bought me a Teddy plush toy (my favorite character from Persona 4) to make me feel better. I was really touched because not only did she remember my homesickness while she out with friends, she also brought a gift that means something to me.
A few weeks after I arrived in Japan I got a card from my relatives back in America. I’ve received many cards from my family and I’m incredibly grateful that I have family supporting me abroad. However this card was particularly special. Not only was the content sweet and encouraging, but it was also in Japanese! My brother has studied Japanese for a few years, but outside of that no one in my family knows a lick of Japanese. Of course there were some grammar mistakes (I’m guessing google translate), but the thought and the extra effort my aunt and uncle put into that card means a lot to me.
Skipping around again, I’m returning to my time in the hospital. As I’ve said in previous blogs, the doctor who performed the surgery wasn’t my care doctor during my time in the hospital, but he often stopped by to see how I was. Once he found out I come from Wisconsin, he started reading up on my state and even quizzed me about all things Wisconsin. He didn’t have to go out of his way but he did. Being admitted to the hospital is hard enough, but having to watch other patients receive visits from family and friends while your own family is far far away was disheartening to put it mildly. One day that doctor asked if I read manga and I said that I did. The next day he had gathered over 20 volumes of the manga Dragon Ball form me to read. Talk about going out of one’s way. Even though I didn’t have my family there, this doctor played a big part in making feel not so alone.
I’ve mentioned this before too, but it’s worth mentioning again…and again…and again. After the surgery I was brought to my room. I had been crying on and off trying to comprehend and deal with everything that had happened in the last hour or so. I enter my room at the hospital and as the nurse was showing me to my bed and area one of the other patients just came to me and gave me a giant hug. I was enveloped with warmth and comfort because finally here was someone I could lean on for a bit, someone who didn’t need me to fill out forms or give information, someone who communicated in a language that was universal. I, of course, started crying again, but so was she, she said that seeing me cry was making her cry. I hate to keep mentioning feeling foreign, but it’s a real emotion that I struggle with. At that time it flew from my mind, I was just me and she was just she, her hug meant the world to me.
Before I went to the hospital, I went to a medical clinic because I didn’t know how serious my injury was. The first time I went I was in mild pain, and there was nothing that looked physically wrong, so the doctor took an x-ray to be sure nothing was broken, then gave me some pain medication and said to return if it didn’t get better. Well obviously it didn’t so I returned to the clinic. The second time I went there were physical signs that something seriously wasn’t right. The doctor told me what had happened, the area had gotten infected, and told me he’d write a referral to the hospital and the receptionist would give me directions. Then the doctor told me the words I wanted and needed so badly to hear, the pain will go away. I had been so frustrated at being in pain 24 hours, and frankly I was pretty scared that the pain would never go away (in the moment things always appear much worse than when you think on it later). Obviously the doctor told me that they would take care of my injury, but when he took the time to look me in the eye and tell me that the pain would go away I felt a heavy burden lift. He even came out in the waiting room while I waiting for the receptionist and once again assured me that at the hospital they would make the pain go away.
Another time, after a party, one of my friends wasn’t feeling well. We took the same train home so I stuck with her. When she got off the train early because she was feeling nauseous, I got off at the next stop and kept in contact with her, eventually meeting up with her again. One of the guys I was going home with (there was a group of us all from the same dorm that left together), stuck with me. I was surprised because even though I encouraged him to go back with the rest of the group he was worried about my friend and I too, so he waited with me. Once we reached our stop, my friend was feeling better so she continued on to her stop to meet another friend. I was grateful that my friend from my dorm stuck with me because taking care of one’s self at night in the bustle of the train station is hard enough, but trying to take care of a friend as well…I was glad I had someone to help me too.
Gift giving is a huge activity in Japan. There are specific days when gifts are sent to different people and whenever someone goes on a trip it’s expected they bring back gifts, called omiyage, or souvenirs, for friends, family, and coworkers. A group of my Japanese friend went to the Philippines over spring break (spring break is 2 ½ months in Japan) and brought back omiyage. I knew they were going on a trip, but I wasn’t expecting anything. I was pleasantly surprised when at a get together I received a gift from the Philippines from those friends. I was happy that they had thought of me.
Another event that I’ve already mentioned, but is worthy of this list of mine, happened after I agreed to join the basketball team. I really wanted to join and was extremely happy that the team was welcoming (I’d heard that some groups at the different schools weren’t very accepting of having foreigners). After going to my first practice the team formally asked me to join saying that they would be happy to have me as a member of the team. I kind of assumed that by coming to practice I was joining the team so I was touched that they took the time to ask me to join. After one of the upcoming practices they organized a team get together at a restaurant to celebrate me joining the team. I really felt like I was considered a true member of the team, not an exchange student who was a temporary member or something. And as an added bonus they even treated me! Thank you guys!!
During the time of my injury, between my first visit to the medical clinic and my visit to the hospital, I missed a bit of school because it was too painful to sit in class. One of my friends brought my homework and handouts from class to me, without me asking or anything. She even offered and brought me home food while I was stuck at the dorm cause of the injury. Even though it doesn’t seem like much, I mean she brought me HOMEWORK, but having someone care for me while I was sick/injured, when my family wasn’t there, helped me cope and deal with my situation.
In Japan, the big age for becoming an adult it age 20, the age you can vote/drink/buy cigarttes/drive (I think)/etc. Therefore turning 21 isn’t necessarily a big deal. It is in America though and often times friends/family take the person to a bar for their first drink or a huge party in thrown. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a tradition, but it kind of is. Anyways, because the age isn’t as important I missed out on the American “I’m 21, this is so important” feeling. But even though we were in Japan, one of my friends from the states, who is also studying abroad, took me to an izakaya to get my first “legal drink”. Even though I was already legal in Japan and could go to a bar, the fact that my friend thought of the American tradition and took me to a bar on my 21st birthday meant a lot to me.
The big events provide excitement and interest, but it’s the little things that stay in your heart.