Japan Study Abroad 2023

From September to December in 2023, I studied abroad at the Japan Center for Michigan Universities. JCMU is located in Hikone, a city in the Shiga Prefecture of Japan, and sits just along the coast of Japan’s largest lake, Lake Biwa.

Living in Japan as a student allowed me to study Japanese through an intensive intermediate language program. I was in an environment where I could apply my language studies to daily interactions in society through conversations with employees at Family Mart or making new friends at the nearby Shiga University. Making mistakes and embracing them allowed me to correct myself and learn a little more each day, which helped me further cement my confidence in conversation skills, listening comprehension, and overall language proficiency. 

JCMU held weekly cultural activities, in which we would practice Japanese calligraphy, play the koto, and learn kendo exercises. I also volunteered to be an assistant English teacher, which helped me connect with so many new friends and exchange each others’ cultures. We also had the honored opportunity to meet the governor of Shiga, Taizō Mikazuki, and the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, who spoke to us about Michigan and Shiga’s sister-state relationship. In addition to the culture, I became invested in Japan’s history through studying post-war Japan at JCMU, and visiting the local Hikone Castle where I was able to catch a glimpse of Hikone’s mascot, Hikonyan!

Before coming to Japan, I could only wonder what life would be like there. Now, whenever I look at Shiga, Osaka, Hyogo, Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagoya, Gifu, and Kanagawa on a map, I’m instantly reminded of the vivid emotions I felt there. Through my frequent travels to various prefectures, I learned how to navigate the train system. In Japan, trains are integrated into society, which made it easy to go anywhere without a car. I was able to take day trips to Universal Studios in Osaka, visit the UNESCO registered Himeji Castle, check out Kyoto’s Byōdō-in Temple, and wander throughout Tokyo’s Shibuya and Shinjuku wards with my sister, who visited me for a week.

Through the lifestyle I adopted in Japan, I learned about aspects of Japanese culture that I can only truly understand through my own first-hand experience. I was able to learn about the convenience of Japanese society via the orderly train system, technology used in vending machines and public restrooms, accessibility of convenience stores, and overall safety of Japanese society. I miss the routine I created for myself in Hikone — biking to Beisia to do some shopping and pick up or McDonalds and a taiyaki, and having Al Plaza, Karaoke Ban-Ban, Yume Kyōbashi Castle Road, and Hikone Station being a bike-able distance away.

One of my greatest memories was visiting the Fujiko F. Fujio Museum in the Kanagawa Prefecture, which is a museum with exhibitions that showcase the original sketches and animation cels drawn by the late manga artist, Fujiko F. Fujio, and the development history of his many manga series, including my favorite, Doraemon. In addition to his original artwork, the museum had a special screening theater, café, life-size character statues, and other attractions. As a Doraemon fan and an illustrator, it was inspiring to experience the work and characters of Fujiko F. Fujio.

Doraemon paved the way for my curiosity and passion for Japanese culture and the language. When I first arrived in Japan, It was amazing seeing Doraemon-themed merchandise and advertisements casually displayed everywhere. From diapers to bath bombs, I was happy to find him everywhere I went. Witnessing the work of one of my favorite artists reignited my passion for animation. I want to create the same imaginative stories that Fujiko F. Fujio created, and I hope that my cartoon characters to reach that level of popularity in the world one day. 

Embarking on my study abroad trip led to life-changing relationships. I met one of my closest friends, Akane, at Shiga University. Thanks to her, my time in Japan was full of many special and memorable experiences. One weekend, Akane invited me to stay with her family in Gifu, which became my homestay experience. Akane and her mother showed me around Gifu; We enjoyed the natural river and greenery of Tsukechi River, and walked up the beautifully preserved Magome-Juku. Akane’s family welcomed me into their home like I was a part of their family. We watched Doraemon on TV, and prepared curry rice, gyoza, and takoyaki while sitting together at the dinner table exchanging language and culture. I was able to use a Japanese bath and shower for the first time, stay in their tatami mat guest room, and try Japanese home-cooked meals that Akane’s mother made for us. Thanks to Akane and her family’s hospitality, I got to experience an authentic Japanese lifestyle.

To this day, I still stay in touch with many of the friends I met in Japan. Having people I know living there gives me a strong incentive to go back. On top of the relationships I made there, the tastes, smells, sights, conversations, and memories has allowed me to form my own personal connection to Japan. With my increased global awareness and endless passion for learning Japanese, I hope that I can find ways to continue my cultural immersion in the future. Maybe, through a fellowship that allows me to teach English abroad, or maybe finding work abroad connected to art.