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12/14/2014

The Paper Crane and Hiroshima: Origami with a Surprisingly Deep Meaning

Paper craneThe well-known favorite, The Crane

 I’m pretty sure you know of this little guy! This is a paper crane, and it is easily one of the most recognizable paper crafts from Japan. Japanese origami is a really neat and fun little past time that requires you to precisely fold, crease, unfold, and manipulate little sheets of paper into beautiful, fun and intricate designs! It’s definitely one of my favorite past times, which I enjoyed even before coming to Japan. Luckily, there are tons of different little origami books and paper supplies all over, so I’m in no way lacking in terms of supplies. Yet, I’ve definitely found a greater appreciation for origami after coming here to Japan. First of all, I’m able to learn many new little tricks and practice Japanese with the people who have taught me new designs. In fact, I was able to participate in a CIEE sponsored origami lesson/event during lunch, where I received a delicious bento lunch and learned to fold some cute little designs! I made a flying folding crane that flaps when you pull the tale and then made a sort of spinning top out of three sheets of origami paper!

Top spinnerThe top is made with three colors and actually spins!

The instructors were very nice and helpful, and most importantly patient with all of us who were learning! My favorite was definitely making the spinning top, because now I can idly spin this little contraption when I’m bored writing an essay or doing homework. It’s great.

However, there is more to folding origami than just being a little pastime. Origami contains some bearings in Japan’s history. When we went to the Peace Museum in Hiroshima last weekend, we were able to see the power of the belief in hope during dark times. I was very moved by the melancholy yet inspiring story of Sadako Sasaki and her belief in the 1000 Cranes Wish. Legend has it that if you fold 1000 paper cranes, your wish will come true. Sadako, at the age of 12, sought to fold 1000 cranes in order to recover from Leukemia caused by the radiation from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during WWII. I’ve always been taken with the belief of the 1000 Cranes Wish and though I’ve never made 1000 cranes, someday I hope to. Though Sadako sadly passed away, her story inspired the nation and continues to inspire people today, like me! Hers is a story of hope and desire for peace.

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Sadako's Memorial. She's holding a Paper Crane.

The Peace Museum has a statue built in Sadako’s honor, featuring her on top with a giant paper crane to symbolize the power of hope and peace. Surrounding the memorial are giant clear spaces for schoolchildren to put the 1000s of creatively and diligently made paper cranes they fold in her honor and in the hope for peace around the world. I found the entire story and memorial very moving and I will never forget what I saw and learned at the Peace Museum.

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Hundreds of students fold cranes for peace and hang them like so.

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Th pictures made from cranes are intricate and heart touching.

Sadako’s story is one I’ll always remember when folding origami in the future, and it’s one I love to share. Origami holds more meaning than simply being a simple past time. I’ve definitely learned that here and maybe I will finish those 1000 cranes sooner than I think…

Hope you enjoyed this little post and you’ll have a greater appreciation for paper cranes like I do. Until next time~

 Leilani

CIEEFA14

Class of 2015

The Famous Cafes of Japan: Cat Cafe!

Grrreetings Efurryone!

Today, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite activities that’s pawsitively purrfect for cat lovers such as myself! All around Tokyo and the greater Tokyo area, there are numerous cafes or “kissaten”「きっさてん」 that often times have a special theme to draw people in. These themes can range from simply adorable to delicious, but my absolute favorite kind is the cat cafe!

Cat cafe room

Extremely clean, well kept, and well loved.

At the cat cafe, you first remove your shoes, wash your hands, and then pay a small entrance fee that correlates to how much time you wish to spend there. After that, you’re fur-ee to spend time with the cats! There are plenty of cats for everyone to play with and pet, and the cats freely roam about the cafe to say hi to you. Lying about the rooms are cat toys, scratching posts, and gazebos for them to jump onto or nap on. These areas are completely accessible to guests and the cats are so well behaved that you can pet them all you like!

Me and cats

This is how I want to be remembered.

Cat feeding time

Snack time!

In addition to housing many cats, the cat cafes are stocked with manga for all readers, and it’s a great way to practice your Japanese reading! They even had one of my favorite series, Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

Cat cafe manga             Cat cafe pmmm

A manga fan’s dream.

Of course, what’s a cafe without coffee or lattes? They have a latte drink bar available to all customers and you can drink as much as you like from the self-serving machines. The lattes and hot chocolate are definitely worth it. I’d even dare to say they’re… purrfect. Seriously, I’m not kitten you right meow. But bad cat puns aside, the drinks are really good and I’ve found nothing more relaxing than having a cat rest on your lap while you read some good manga and sip a lovely little latte.

There are plenty of other themed animal cafes in Japan, such as an owl cafe, numerous dog cafes, and even more cat cafes. Naturally, my preferred (Purr-furr-ed?) cafe is the cat cafe, and I highly recommend venturing to one of these magnificent and rewarding venues! They don’t cost that much at all (~12USD for an hour), and you get all the drinks, manga and cats you could pawsibly dream for!

Well, I could go on for days on end about the cat cafes and all the different ones I’ve seen so far, but I’ll just leave you with this little snippet of the wonderful world of cat cafes. You should definitely try one at least once while you’re here in Japan!

So long fur meow~ [or for now]

Leilani

CIEE FA14 

Class of 2015

WEATHER IN TOKYO: SEEING THAT BLUE SKY FOR MYSELF

For the longest time, I thought Tokyo was a city plagued by endless gray skies and rain; at least, that’s what Google image search always showed me. Even in the many documentaries I’ve seen on the city prior to coming here, barely a trace of blue could be seen in its skies. With that in mind, I still arrived on September 16th excited to begin my adventure as a study abroad student in Japan, though there was a lingering feeling of dread for the persisting ugly weather I had heard so much about. With that in mind however, one thing I certainly didn’t expect was for Japan to show me the bluest sky I’d ever seen.

 My home school is the University of Southern California, located in a city that’s known for its pretty Californian sky: good ol’ Los Angeles. I used to have to embark upon a 15 minute walk to campus from my apartment every morning; so needless to say, I’ve grown used to seeing pretty sunrises on my way to school. In addition to that, no combination of words could accurately reflect how much I dislike cloudy and rainy days (the latter especially); I could win the lottery during a drizzle and still feel upset.

So, one could only imagine how dismayed I was upon hearing that Tokyo was to endure a massive day-long typhoon within the first week of school; even the fact that all my classes for the day had been cancelled was no consolation. I spent the whole day doing what I usually do when the rain comes to destroy my happiness: surfing the internet in my room with the curtains drawn. At one point, I fell asleep, and then woke up to this:

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I couldn’t stop my camera arm. Surely, this kind of weather only happens when the planets are perfectly aligned or something; it went contrary with everything I had heard about Japanese weather, so I was understandably desperate to immortalize the moment through photos.

There’s something to be said about weather so good it merits its own blog post, and I’m sure many readers would say that I’m being a little too excited about something seemingly mundane. In my defense however, I feel like Japan – in spite of being a modern city of concrete and glass through and through – offers one a unique environment to experience nature. A look at the city of Tokyo from a bird’s eye view reveals that for every patch of gray, there is also a fair amount of green. Modern civilization exists in harmony with nature, and aesthetically, the two really contrast and complement each other, to the point where even an Angelino such as myself would have a difficult time not marveling at great weather. My favorite place to watch the sunset is at this place called Kitano Shrine. On a day when there’s a festival, this is what that sight looks like:

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 The best part is, I get to see this more often than I see gray skies. The weather in Tokyo is erratic, and the occasional rainy day still brings me down, but whenever the sun takes the stage, boy does it brighten up the city. And to be honest, I’m more than a little bummed out that I won’t be around during the spring to see how much prettier the sky will grow. I guess the moral of this blog post is: whilst internet research certainly does help you get a good idea of what a place might be like, nothing beats seeing the real thing with your own eyes.

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WHERE THE MODERN MEETS THE TRADITIONAL: HARAJUKU, TOKYO

One of the things I like most about the highly urbanized city of Tokyo is how I can still find old shrines and temples with little effort. From what I’ve seen in my few months here, Japan is a country that has managed to retain many of its historically and culturally significant artifacts, in spite of having undergone a staggeringly rapid stage of modernization.. This is a very exciting thing to know, especially for someone with an academic interest in the more traditional aspects of Japan yet can’t survive without constant access to the latest amenities and technologies. That being said, I feel my most recent trip to a little spot in Tokyo called “Harajuku” really drives home this point.

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For those who haven’t heard of Harajuku, a brief Google search of the name should reveal enough for one to imagine concrete streets bathed in sunlight gleaming off glass buildings – and such an image wouldn’t be inaccurate. Harajuku is, after all, internationally famous for being one of Tokyo’s most vibrant Japanese pop culture hubs; it’s a pretty shiny, high-tech place. My personal favorite place to shop in Harajuku is at this little 390-yen store on Takeshita Street – a little alley lined with clothing shops and crepe stands, and one of Harajuku’s most famous gems. Surrounding it are various other shopping malls, restaurants, and smaller stores, all swimming in a sea of Starbucks Coffees. And each time I go, the streets are crowded with well-dressed young students and workers, many of whom are tapping away at their smartphone screens (though I do sometimes spot the occasional flip phone).

It was sometime in late November that I suddenly decided I wanted a new hat. Japan grows chilly fast in the fall, and as a hardworking college student, I needed something to protect my thinking apparatus. I also just really wanted a new hat. Wallet-in-hand, I rode the train down to Harajuku station, rushed out the ticket gates (though not before weaving through a torrent of people), and in my excitement, made a wrong turn. Considering the fact that I had been to Harajuku many times prior to that moment, I must have been seriously excited for that hat to make a wrong turn.

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A few minutes later, I suddenly found myself walking down a gravel road, shaded by many tall trees very prettily bathed in sunlight; the cars, crowds, and concrete were nowhere in sight. I had accidentally stumbled into the Meiji Jingu Shrine (in spite of it being a spectacularly famous tourist spot, I had no idea what the place was called at the time). Perhaps it had something to do with how the weather was puzzlingly beautiful that day, but I was having difficulty connecting a scene so one-with-nature to the image I had of bustling Harajuku. The massive torii gates, the traditional architecture, and the various Japanese men and women clad in Shinto garments all existed just a right turn away from the fancy hat stores and Starbucks’. I was suddenly really glad that I had made a wrong turn (and that I had my camera handy).

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I’m sure the photos I’ve attached to this blog post do better justice to the pretty sights I saw that day than words, but again, the most interesting thing about all this is how closely together the “modern” and the “traditional” can be found here in Japan. I’ve grown much more attached to Harajuku in particular, as not only is it the place where I can buy fancy clothes and white chocolate mochas, but also draw fortunes and partake in Shinto prayer. My only regret is that I forgot about the hat I wanted.

The Hiroshima Local Specialty: Okonomiyaki

Hi again!

 

During our trip to Hiroshima, we learned not only of the historical importance of the area and its desire for remembrance and peace, but also of its delicious local specialties! Okonomiyaki, or “As-you-like-it (Fried)” is a kind of savory pancake. There are two basic types: “Osaka style” and “Hiroshima style.” The dish bears historical significance; after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the area was nearly completely leveled, and not much was left to feed the survivors. By using their creativity and resourcefulness, the people in the area took any flat sheet of metal they could find and transformed it into a grill of sorts. The super heated thin scraps of metal made great substitute grills, and were easy to find and use. Inside Okonomiyaki went anything and everything that was edible, so this provided a good way to feed the recovering, hungry people.

Oko 1

Okonomiyaki! 

Today, Okonomiyaki is eaten fondly, and is a local specialty that is a “must do” for visitors from all parts of the world. Okonomiyaki features a doughy batter fried lightly on a large heated flat-iron grill, sort of like a Hibachi grill. The cook lays out the batter in pancake sized circles but makes it very thin. From there, depending on what you ordered, different ingredients pile right on top of the frying dough-pancake. The dough isn’t necessarily sweet, but it is very good and light in flavor, similar to a tortilla but more sturdy in texture. It’s very hard to describe, but very delicious! On mine, I ordered the “meat special”, which means that I was given a ton of meat in addition to the heaps upon heaps of lettuce, egg, sprouts, seaweed, even more bacon, sprouts, and a bunch more I can’t remember! It was like magic in front of my eyes as I watched the delicious-ness be created by this local master chef!

Oko 2
The Master's Grill

After it was all cooked and flipped, the chef pushed the pile of deliciousness over to our edge of the grill, where it stays. The plates we had were very small and were coupled with a pair of chopsticks and a sort of spatula. Using the spatula and chopsticks, I was able to cut my okonomiyaki into fourths like a pie and eat each fourth on my plate individually. It’s an art form that takes careful mastering and a big mess of trial and error before you’re able to eat it! Everyone ordered a different type of okonomiyaki and seeing all the variety really reminds you of the resourcefulness of the people recovering from the war. It’s not only delicious, but extremely filling! After 3/4ths I was struggling, as was everyone else. No wonder this was such a good meal to have!

 Here’s a little video about the cooking of Okonomiyaki:

 

Experiencing this local specialty was not only tasty but a great reminder of the real struggles that the people of Hiroshima faced. What better way to remember the creative resourcefulness than to appreciate and enjoy the now-famous dish? It’s definitely something I’d love to eat again, and something anyone going to Hiroshima should experience at least once!

Hope you enjoyed it, and I really hope you’ll someday get to experience okonomiyaki, too!

Leilani

CIEE FA14

Class of 2015

Hiroshima: Exploring the Peace Museum and Peace Park

    CIEE took us on a great excursion to Hiroshima. I knew this trip was going to be fun, but I had no idea what to expect when we arrived in the city. As the world knows, this city was the first to see the aftermath of a nuclear attack and the story it holds is one everyone needs to hear.

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    To get to Hiroshima, CIEE booked us on a Shinkasen, or “bullet train.” We rode the Nozomi, which is the fastest model in Japan, reaching speeds of 186 mph (300km/h)! It was a very comfy and fast ride; an experience that was fun to have! Upon our arrival that night in Hiroshima, I was pleasantly surprised. The progress this city has made in the past seventy years was absolutely amazing to see and really impressed me. You would have never even known that the city had such a tragedy befall it just by looking at it. Truly awe inspiring. Since we went in December, the city’s streets were illuminated by Christmas lights and we all thoroughly enjoyed them as we made our way to the hotel to retire for the night.

 

    The next morning was probably one of the most eye opening experiences I have had. After we all met in the lobby, we made out way over to the Peace Memorial Museum. We first walked through the exhibits simply showing what Hiroshima went through when it was bombed. It was very moving. At first I was interested in just the historical facts. As I went further and further in, though, my mindset began to change. I don’t want to give anything away for those of you whom may visit this museum, but they do not pull any punches. They serve what they have to you raw and I’m very glad that they do. It was wave after wave of emotion as I walked down the halls; as an American, I felt both sympathy and sadness.  The museum is a great reminder for all of us of what man is capable of- both the good and the bad.

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    When you finish walking through all the exhibits, right before the exit, you are greeted by some notebooks. There is a sign that asks you to stop and read them along with adding your personal thoughts about everything you just soaked in. It was a privilege to be able to contribute to them, and being able to go back and read other people’s thoughts was a treat. It was amazing to see the responses and I’m glad the museum set out books like these to keep track of visitors’ emotions. It really helped me to further reflect on what I just saw.

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    The rest of the day we had the opportunity to listen to an A-bomb survivor, listen to a presentation about what exactly nuclear weapons are and where they come from, and had a guided tour around Peace Park. It was an amazing time for reflection, and the park is a beautiful place to do a bit of soul searching as well. I highly recommend making time for Hiroshima if you ever visit Japan. The city inspires me and shows me that with hope, anything can be rebuilt and strengthened. 

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Sushi Making with CIEE

Sushi Making with CIEE

 

            Sushi is one of my all time favorite foods. It is delicious and healthy, a great combo! CIEE always has great events planned for us, and the most recent one was sushi making. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to learn how to make authentic Japanese sushi!

 

            I think its safe to say that almost everyone coming to japan knows what sushi is, but there are always a few outliers. Sushi in Japan is considered an art and is treated like one, and, boy, is it a delicious art! We made three types of sushi: hand rolls, regular rolls, and nigiri. If you want to make sushi at home, be sure to buy a bamboo roller/mat for rolling the sushi, all the ingredients, some nori (seaweed), and be sure you know how to make the special rice used for sushi.

 

            I’ll start with my all-time favorite: nigiri, specifically salmon nigiri. Nigiri consist of rice, the fish of choice (in my case salmon), and wasabi. The rice acts like the support, the fish is like the roof and the wasabi acts like the mortar holding the two together. First, you take a decent amount of rice into your hand and mold it into an oval. Next, take the fish and wasabi. On the under side of the fish, place some wasabi so it will help the fish stick to the rice. If you like wasabi and can handle the heat, feel free to add as much as you can take. They may be the easiest to make compared to the hand roll and regular roll, but nigiri is the most satisfying in my opinion.

 

            Next on our list will be the hand roll. The hand roll is just as its name implies: you use your hand to roll it. It’s pretty straight forward, right? So, take the nori and place it in your hand. Next, spread around the rice, but only by the area closest to your thumb and be sure to only spread it into a small square. After this, feel free to put the filling in. It can be whatever you like. After you have added the filling it’s time for the actual rolling. Take the bottom, left hand corner and fold it in a way that the corner meets the top of the nori, making a triangle-like shape. Then, simply role it and you should end up with a cone shape and then you’re finished.

 

            The regular roll can be a little difficult. This is when you use the bamboo mat to roll the sushi. Place the nori on the mat and apply the rice and the filling ingredients. Then, while using the tatami mat, tightly fold the nori in half over your ingredients, applying pleasure. Then, fold it in half again, applying more pressure. The last step is to cut the roll and to eat!

 

            If it weren’t for CIEE I would have never been able to partake in a very rich vein of the Japanese culture. The events that they plan are always very culturally immersing and I would highly recommend attending them. You will see a different facet of Japanese culture through each event that you participate in, a view that you couldn’t get without their help.  Even though you may be busy with other things, I would still urge you to make time for these events. The staff takes time and effort to prepare them and they are wonderfully beneficial. 

Sushi!

Transitioning to Tokyo from a Rural Area and My Trip to Miyajima

Living in Tokyo has been amazing. I love living in a big city with tons of people and things to do. Every day you can go explore something different or have a unique cultural experience! Going out and exploring at night with all of the lights around you is personally one of my favorite things to do. The entire city seems to change once the sun goes down and turns into a twinkling walkway of lights.

But, being from rural Colorado, one of the hardest transitions in coming to Japan for me has been not being able to see the stars or be around the mountains or open spaces. Something that was always relaxing for me after a hard day would be to go out and look at the stars, or just go sit somewhere quiet in the mountains to think. In Tokyo, however, it is a rare occurrence to see the stars when you are in the heart of the city. Having grown up near the mountains my entire life I feel slightly disconnected from a part of myself that I wasn't even aware I really had.

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On the bright side, however, CIEE has some sponsored events where we get to travel outside of Tokyo and into some more rural areas. Our trip to Hiroshima City and Miyajima has been one of my favorite excursions so far. While Hiroshima City was an amazingly beautiful experience, it deserves its own post because of its solemn nature. For this post I wanted to focus on Miyajima, and show that the mountains and stars are still here in Japan. They may be hidden and harder to reach, but being able to explore different places to find them again is truly amazing.

On the island of Miyajima I was beyond excited. The whole island was practically the mountain and full of different trails you could take. Just being near the mountains again made me feel more at home and grounded. I felt reconnected with a part of me that had been longing to see the mountains and to be surrounded by nature. Even just having dirt trails dusted with leaves underneath me and animals (deer) closer to me made me feel more at peace. While we didn't have time to hike up the mountain, we did get to take a cable car and overlook the other side of the island and ocean as we went up. It was truly breathtaking seeing all of the leaves changing to gold and orange. Just being in the mountains again was so relaxing.

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Being on top of the mountain was even greater. You could see the entire island and ocean below it. There are no words to describe the beautiful scenery. For those of you who come from more rural areas, this is definitely the place for you. You feel right at home up on the rocks of the mountain overlooking the gorgeous scenery with the cool mountain air against your face. The trees and nature sounds are soothing and remind you of home, so much so that I didn't want to go back down the mountain and back into the city life. It was just too relaxing and peaceful, I felt like I was back in Colorado for a little bit.

As much as I love Tokyo, not having the mountains and stars at my fingertips has been a very hard transition for me, but I just have to remember that over 70% of Japan is mountainous so I just need to travel outside of Tokyo to find them. I haven’t had time to do so yet, but I definitely want to go out and explore more now that I got a taste of home again.

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On the rare occurrence that I can see the stars from my dorm, I am lucky enough to have an open roof to go out on and star gaze. While this doesn't happen very often, it is a nice treat to see them peeking through the clouds every once in a blue moon. And seeing them just reminds me of home again, which is a comforting feeling knowing that I’m not that far away from the things that were once so close.

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Everyone experiences some kind of homesickness at different parts of their time abroad, which is completely natural. I would recommend finding something that can remind you of home while you are here so that it doesn't seem so far away. It doesn't have to be a big thing, just something small that reconnects you to your home. For me, this has been being able to go to the mountains and seeing the stars. Now that I have been to one mountainous place I am determined to go out and find more so that I can give myself some much needed relaxation.

 

 

 

 

Making Japanese Friends While Studying Abroad in Tokyo

One of my main goals during my time here in Japan was to make Japanese friends at school and in my dorm, allowing me to be more immersed into the Japanese culture.

However, making Japanese friends was more challenging than I expected. The language barrier and cultural differences can be intimidating for both parties. It can be scary going up and speaking only Japanese. It can also be intimidating for the Japanese person because they may feel pressured to talk in English. 

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Talking in the other person’s language can be scary, so it’s almost easier to not communicate at all. But it’s important to push through that fear in order to break the boundaries of your comfort zone so that you can get everything you can out of your time here in Japan.

 Personally, accepting these challenges has been a wonderful experience. While I still get frustrated at times working on getting past the language barrier, I have been able to make amazing Japanese friends whom I can practice my Japanese with. While this has been a very difficult process, it is well worth the challenge. The Japanese friends I have made are absolutely fantastic and I love them to death. There is a mutual helping of understanding because they speak English to me and I respond in Japanese, which allows us both to further our language skills.

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 Not only do you get more language practice with friends, but also you get to go out and explore new places with them. This is one of my favorite things to do, going to new places that I otherwise wouldn't have known about and getting to spend time with friends. It’s an even greater way to further immerse yourself into Japanese culture.  Some of my new favorite hangout spots have been places that my Japanese friends have shown me. And coming into the kitchen space in the dorm is even more welcoming now that I have more people to talk to and interact with. Being asked to join activities, get food, go to onsen and other trips is an amazing treat. But getting to know and understand people from a culture different than your own is an even greater experience.

One of my favorite experiences so far with the friends I have made at my dorm is just being invited to different food parties. Not only do you get to try delicious new food, but it is also great language practice in a relaxed setting. You get to find out more about your friends and your language abilities.

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One of the best ways I have found to overcome language and cultural barriers, and make friends, is to join clubs or circles. While I am not officially part of a circle yet, I plan on joining one next semester. My friends in circles have participated in a lot of activities and made a lot of friends, and it seems to be another amazing experience. Many circles may accept you with open arms and add you to their family. Because of this family setting it is easy to make new friends and connect with lots of different people. All of this might sound really intimidating if you are shy. If you are as shy as I am, you probably are hesitant about putting yourself out there. But, this is probably the best way for you to make new friends and further enhance your experience here. I have no regrets being pushed out of my comfort zone, because without that happening I wouldn't have made the friends that I have, or experienced the things that I have. It was really scary at first, but now, it just feels like my friend group expanded into an even larger family.

 

12/13/2014

How to Make Japanese Friends while Studying Abroad

Before I came to Japan, my greatest concern was whether or not I could make Japanese friends. I realize that everyone makes friends differently, but now that I'm here in Japan I would like to share a few tips about making friends with Japanese.

 

Tip #1: Speak Japanese

Everyone who comes to CIEE comes in with varying levels of Japanese: some people are very proficient, while others are just beginning. But it's really not about how well you speak Japanese. It's about how willing you are to speak Japanese. For example, I have a friend who is conversationally fluent in Japanese but refuses to speak it because he's not comfortable. As a result, most of his friends here are Americans. On the other hand, one of my friends is still a beginner but makes an effort to practice Japanese whenever he can, even at restaurants or with strangers. Even though he makes a lot of mistakes, he has been able to make Japanese friends. I think once you get over the fact that you are going to make mistakes and sound silly sometimes, speaking becomes a lot easier and it's easier to make friends. Even if the Japanese people you're with speak some English, it says a lot when you're willing to work hard to speak their language and converse in a way that's comfortable for them. So whether it's with your classmates, your club mates, or the people in your dorm, ask them to speak Japanese with you!

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Shopping with Japanese friends in Odaiba

Tip #2: Say Yes

When you first start meeting Japanese people, whether through your classes or your school clubs, they're going to say things like, "Let's get lunch!" or "Let's go hang out!" At first, they may be the ones to initiate. I recommend saying yes as much as you can (obviously don't go out so much that your grades suffer). Even if it feels a little outside your comfort zone, or if you normally aren't the one to go out very often, spending time with people outside of class is really important. It's where most of the bonds are made here. If you're naturally shy, this may be where you have to stretch
yourself a bit. But I think it's worthwhile to spend time with the Japanese friends you make here, even if it's difficult at first or if you're not really sure how to approach it. You also may have to be the one to initiate and push yourself to invite people to eat together at lunch. But Japanese people really are friendly, and most of the time when people can't hang out it's because of their part time jobs. So try to make time for them during lunch periods or ask them when they're free. 

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Visiting Chichibu Winter Festival

Tip #3: Be Present

At the beginning of the semester, you may be at every club meeting and sit at the same lunch table every day with your Japanese (or foreign) friends. But as the semester goes on, schoolwork gets busy and you have to start skipping lunch to finish your homework, or you don't go to the Friday lunch period meeting because you need to study for a test. While you are here to study and be a student, a lot of those last-minute homework assignments could have actually been done at home. Your time here is precious, especially if you're only here for a semester. So rather than spend your lunch period doing homework that you should have done last night instead of going on Facebook, I recommend getting your work done so you can go to the club meetings or eat lunch with your friends. As midterm season hits, your Japanese friends will get busy too; it might get harder to meet outside of school or on the weekends. So go to the club meetings. Even if nothing important happens at the club meetings, it will matter to them that you're there and you're willing to just hang out and talk with them. 

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Halloween Event at the Park

Tip #4: Don't Worry, and Be Yourself!

This is the key to making friends in any culture, but I think it’s especially true when trying to navigate in a new cultural context. While you may find yourself stretching outside your comfort zone, at the end of the day you are still the same person you are in your own country. There may be days when you don’t feel the same, but trying to reinvent yourself completely when you come to Japan is going to be very difficult and exhausting. Also, being sincere about the things you like and dislike will help you find people with whom you get along. If you like anime, find people who will go to Akihabara with you; if you like sports, find someone to play basketball in the park with you. On the same token, don’t feel like you have to go out every weekend if that’s not the kind of person you are. Ultimately, be who you are and you’ll find Japanese people who appreciate that. You may be surprised how some of the people you will meet are so similar to you, too!