Hello everyone! My name is Halee Haggerton, and I am a 20-year-old International Business major at Texas Tech University (which is a good 9 hour drive north from my hometown in Houston, TX). For my major, I am required to study abroad; however, I would have chosen to come to Tokyo through CIEE regardless of my studies.
A few of the dorm residents and I eating crepes in Harajuku!
My interest in Japan was spurred many years ago. When I was around 8 years old, I picked up one of my father's National Geographic magazines and thumbed through the photos. I was particularly struck by the beautiful and unique pictures from what I learned to be the country of Japan. It was from that moment on that I knew I wanted to visit the gorgeous, seemingly magical country. In my earlier years and throughout my teens, I soaked up different aspects of Japanese culture, and in freshman year of high school I begun taking Japanese language classes. In Sophomore year, I helped form a sister school relationship between my high school and Toyota Minami High School in Aichi prefecture, and had the opportunity to host three Japanese high school peers as well as visit Japan three separate times (for a total of 5 weeks over all three trips). This last year I helped form my university’s earthquake relief group, and through performing a Japanese dance all across town we raised over $11,000 that we donated.
Ikebukuro at night
I knew that somehow I wanted to incorporate Japan into my future life, so I decided to become an International Business major and minor in Japanese language. This is what led me to choose to come to Tokyo- the huge epicenter of businesses is perfect for a networking businesswomen. One of my most important goals is to become fluent in Japanese, and I will definitely practice as much as possible while I am in Tokyo!
I am living in one of the dorms, DK House Nerima, and it’s fantastic. A few other bloggers have discussed the living conditions, so I won’t dwell on it, but I highly recommend it for anyone who is thinking about coming to Japan through CIEE. It is an environment where your effort determines what you get out of it! If you want to push yourself to socialize and practice your language skills, it’s a safe place to do so- the people here don’t care about your mistakes or misunderstandings, and the dorm manager is really kind.
Yesterday marks two weeks since we have all been in Tokyo, and as a collective group we have done a lot during these orientation weeks. I’m going to explain two major events I’ve experienced so far: 花見 (Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing) and カラオケ (Karaoke).
Hanami is very important to the Japanese culture. These cherry blossoms, called 桜 (Sakura), have a bloom that only lasts around one week. This short period of time is celebrated by everyone in Japan. Families and friends go to parks (or other areas rampant with the flowers) and picnic under the blossoms. There tends to be a lot of 酒 (Sake, a traditional Japanese alcohol), and many people bring outdoor games to play and large tarps to relax on. It’s a very calm environment, although very crowded. There were roughly 30 people in our group!
A few of us tried 甘酒 (Amazake), a sweet and usually non-alcoholic drink made from rice and traditionally enjoyed during hanami events. It was extremely sweet with a hint of ginger, and served warm. I recommend trying amazake- I’d personally never tasted anything like before.
Karaoke is also an important experience, surprisingly so! When we think of karaoke in America, most people probably envision a bar filled with strangers on a particular night of the week, or perhaps a personal karaoke machine in your own home. In Japan it’s almost always very different- you go with a group of friends to a karaoke place (sometimes a building over 10 stories high!) and rent out a room by hour. Depending on the location, you can order unlimited drinks (also called 飲み放題- nomihoudai), otherwise you can pay for beverages and food. There’s a wide range of songs, from Japanese to American and many in between.
I have gone twice so far, once in Shinjuku and once near my dorm. Both times have been great experiences. Using the little electronic remotes, we all found songs to queue up, and took turns singing everything from solos to the entire room joining in. Karaoke is a very popular hangout for not only younger people, but also for working class adults, too! Many businessmen and working women will go karaoke with their coworkers. It’s a sort of bonding experience, and after witnessing it firsthand, it’s understandable why karaoke is so popular.
Karaoke and Hanami are just some of the things I have experienced so far in Tokyo, and I look forward to blogging more about the rest of my semester here at Sophia University. Thank you for reading my post! Classes start soon, so hopefully I’ll have some more unique things to discuss with you all next time. またね！