by Ciara Cavanagh
After discovering the culture of Japan in 5th grade through anime and manga, I’ve dreamed of visiting the country and absorbing as much of the history, language, and daily life as possible. Yet, this past week, and being part of GCU’s virtual tour, has made me feel closer to achieving that dream than anything I’ve ever experienced! Touring the streets of Tokyo with our guide Osamu-san made me feel like a giddy child on Christmas morning. It was so amazing to see so much of what I knew from Japanese media like the train stations, fashion, and the rituals of the Buddhist temples like fortune drawing. Osamu-san may have drawn a bad fortune while showing us the ritual on that first day, but I truly felt so lucky to be along for every second of the experience! Because every second truly had something interesting and worth seeing! I loved watching school children run past in the background carrying their schoolbags, older students enjoying the beautiful morning in their uniforms, people bowing and clapping at the shrines, and even women walking through Kyoto in kimono! I truly felt like I was in Japan, watching daily life through only a window!
But more than anything, the opportunity this virtual abroad trip gave me to experience Japanese first-hand was irreplaceable. On day 2 when participating in the Kikou demonstration I was beyond immersed when listening to our teacher, Hoshino-san, speak fluent Japanese to us and with Dr. Komagata, who translated. There were so many times when I was barely containing my excitement – while trying to calmly meditate – at understanding Hoshino-san’s directions in Japanese before Dr. Komagata even translated! Words like “shiro hikari” or “senaka” immediately caught my ear! With Osamu-san and our guide in Kyoto, Mari-san, I loved listening to them even speak Japanese under their breath or in passing. Hearing the different filler words in Japanese isn’t something you experience unless you’re with a native speaker! Hearing “etto” instead of “um” put a smile on my face every time! And hearing Mari-san say “sumimasen” or “hai” or understanding that Osamu-san was making a comment about running out of time for the tour under his breath – every instance had me almost bouncing in my seat with pure glee. To understand a language when watching a media is one thing but to actually hear and understand it from native speakers – it is truly an indescribable experience, and connection, you can only have when traveling. This Georgian Court trip to Japan may have been “virtual” but it still connected me to the language and culture of Japan in a way that I thought I would only be able to experience by physically visiting the country. Now, I’m all the more determined to visit Japan “again” in the future! Thank you to everyone who organized and ran this trip! I’m beyond thankful that I had the chance to attend.
(I think nothing better shows my excitement for the whole trip than the video below my sister took of us realizing we saw Moomin sitting outside the Tokyo Moomin café!)