An Introduction is in Order!
Hey there! My name is Russell Ottalini, and I'm one of the academic yearlong CIEE students who came to Japan a little more than a month ago this past Semptember. I am a junior out of the University of Pittsburgh, and I am majoring in Japanese (language as well as area studies) and Sociology. I'm twenty-one years-old, and the comfort food I am missing most here is good ol' peanut butter and jelly, or rather, peanut butter with preservatives or jam. Specifically strawberry jam. Yes, they have it, it is in fact sold here: but to spend more on a sandwhich whose purpose is to be cheap, quick and dirty (or 手っ取り早い as they say here), that seems to defeat the purpose. Nevertheless, I can pretty much guarantee I'll have to buy some at some point in the term.
It's very hard for me to grasp the fact that I've been in Japan for a month now; the time really does fly by. I've been wanting to come to Japan since I was in the third grade, when I was first exposed to this country's fascinating culture (even through a few days' lessons) in social studies. There is something about the combination of its beautiful traditions refined over several centuries and the tireless adoption of new ideas and the Japanese appreciation for novelty, which makes everything seem so futuristic, that simply clicked with me. Perhaps one of the most alluring thing about Japan to Westerners, particularly Americans, is that things seem so similar, but are simultaenously completely different. It is that divergence, amongst other things, that has brought me here.
Perhaps a good example might be baseball culture here. Japanese baseball is, in almost every respect, exactly the same as American baseball: so far as I can tell, the rules are the same, the uniforms are rather similar, and yes, there is no shortage of beer and hotdogs to be had when spectating. However, if you have ever seen even a clip of a Japanese baseball game, you will know that the attitude and spirit of the Japanese fans is much livelier here than their American counterparts exhibit. In fact, I'm going to correct what I said before: if you are cheering on your favorite Japanese team in a stadium, you are not spectating: you are actively engaged. Diehard fans pay more to sit in designated cheering sections for each game in order to participate in organized cheers for their team, as well as for each individual player who comes up to bat. Some fans even bring their own instruments in order to provide real musical accompaniment. From what I recall of the last American baseball game I went to, I spent more time concentrating on planning a beach trip with my friends than watching the actual game; the focus was not on cheering on the team, and it was indeed a shared concept amongst my friends and I that baseball was a "sport you could chat to" of sorts.
I can't say that I know American baseball extremely well, so I won't claim that I can speak with too much authority on whether or not the experience of most fans is similar to mine. Nor will I deny that there aren't tense moments in American baseball games that hold the crowd's rapt attention. However, I really feel that the palpable spirit and enthusiasm for actively rallying around baseball teams is something truly characteristic of Japan. It seems to be a carry over from other aspects of Japanese culture, as well: see Omikoshi, the portable street shrines featured in smaller festivals, for example, or perhaps even simply the versatile word "ganbaru" which seems to be imbued with this spirit of perserverance. So there we have them: American baseball and Japanese baseball, one in the same and completely different at the same time.
It's been great to have the opportunity to see and experience such cultural activities, like Japanese baseball, and I cannot wait for the many more that are to come in the following months. One of the reasons I chose to come to the capital was because of my interest in the "Tokyo lifestyle," and I would like to learn more about the city itself. Even commuting on the train almost every day of the week has already been quite an educational experience, and I hope to share more experiences here. I am also hoping to join a hiking club through the university, which will give me an occasion to travel to other parts of the country, as well as a chance to see the beautiful countryside. With that, I'll have a lot to write about here; until next time!