Life After Japan is a new project that I’m excited to share on Hasami & Glue. Join me as I chat with old friends who also have close ties to Japan. While catching up on all the crazy twists and turns that life has thrown at us in recent years, we’ll unpack unique experiences and reminisce about those all too familiar memories of life in Japan. Regardless of when, where, or why they lived in the country, all of my interviewees share a special identity: someone who used to live in Japan.
Today on Life After Japan, I chat with my close friend from college, Eva.
Born in China, Eva moved to California with her family when she was a young teen. We met during our first semester at Mount Holyoke College – way back in the fall of 2007. Over the next 4 years, we spent a lot of time together both in and out of class. In the same Japanese class every semester of college, we passed many a late night commiserating about upcoming kanji quizzes and speaking tests.
After graduating from Mount Holyoke with a double major in Asian Studies and International Relations, Eva moved back to San Francisco to work for a non-profit. After spending 1/2 an hour catching up over the phone last week, Eva and I reminisced over our best (and funniest!) study abroad memories and discussed the pros (and cons) of studying abroad in Japan and majoring in Asian Studies.
Building Cross-Cultural Bridges
Q: Let’s start with this: Why did you choose to study abroad in Japan?
I was born and raised in China. Growing up in China, I watched a lot of movies and documentaries about WWII in school. These documentaries talked a lot about what the Japanese did to the Chinese during the war…and it was always really negative. Many of my elders also held a really bad perception of the Japanese people because of what happened during WWII. That was the culture that I was raised in.
But, I loved to watch Japanese anime when I was a child. I remember thinking that the Japanese couldn’t all be like those people that I heard about in school and from the older people around me. So, from a young age I wanted to see Japan for myself and learn about the Japanese people and culture.
Since that was one of my childhood dreams, when I had the opportunity to study anything that I wanted and travel anywhere that I wanted during college, I decided to make my dream come true. I was so happy to be able to live in Japan and interact with the people while studying the language and culture.
Q: Did your childhood experiences help shape any of your personal goals while studying in Japan?
I think so. I wanted to build a bridge between the Chinese and Japanese people. I think I even wrote that in the essay I wrote for either my college or study abroad application.
Q: Do you feel like you were able to accomplish that goal?
I made a lot of Japanese friends while I was there. I now understand objectively that all the stories I heard as a child weren’t totally true. I do think I have been able to close that information gap among the Chinese people that I know here in the U.S. – the ones who still continue to hold that negative perception of the Japanese due to the war.
Q: Are there any people in particular that you feel like you’ve been able to have some kind of an impact on?
I think that I’ve been an ambassador of Japanese culture within my family.
Chuhai and Gomi Mondai
Q: What’s your favorite memory from studying abroad?
I always remember when you, some other friends, and I used to buy chuhai (kind of like a wine cooler) at the conbini (convenience store) and then drink in Inokashira Koen (a local park). That was so fun. We were so crazy back then.
Q: How about a least favorite one?
That one time that I had the “gomi mondai” (trash problem) with the dorm manager. [Eva and I both lived in a gakusei kaikan – sort of an off-campus dormitory for both international and domestic college/university students from many different schools.] I hadn’t followed the trash rules correctly and he had taken my bag of trash out of the trash can and left it outside of my door. At the time, I really didn’t understand the rules, so it was so frustrating for him to ask me to clean it up. In retrospect, yes, I should have followed the rules. But, I couldn’t understand the system so it was frustrating…
Japanese Favorites: Chuhai, Conbini Snacks, & Travel!
Q: What’s your favorite Japanese word?
I think “gomen” (sorry) is most memorable for me. I also like to use “sugoi” (cool) or “suge” (another way to say cool) because they’re just fun.
Q: What’s your favorite place that you visited while in Japan?
I have really good memories from when you and I when to Ginza. It’s just a super vivid memory. I also loved Kyoto. I took a trip down there and just loved it. I especially loved the people. Tokyo was just a little too crazy for me.
Q: What’s your favorite part of Japanese culture?
The New Year’s celebration! There’s just so much good stuff going on at that time of the year. I love that if you visit a shrine on New Year’s, the pathway is just lined with vendors. It’s definitely my favorite time of the year in Japan.
Q: Do you have a favorite chuhai (sort of a wine cooler) flavor?
Sakura (cherry blossom) – the seasonal one that they have in the spring! Oh, and the seasonal apple one. Maybe it was in the fall? Or was it winter?
Q: What about a favorite conbini (convenience store) snack or food? Do you have one?
Onigiri (rice balls) – ume (sour plum) flavored, for sure. Oh, and then the chocolate chip melon pan (bread). That was so good.
Q: We used to go to Lawson (one of the big chain convenience stores) almost every weekend. Do you have a favorite Lawson food?
The Pros & Cons of Studying Abroad in Japan / being an Asian Studies Major
Q: What impact, if any, do you feel that studying abroad has had upon your life?
I think it made me more aware of the differences in Asian cultures – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese…I think I’m better informed on how to interact with all different kinds of people.
I think I know how to behave appropriately around Japanese people, in particular. There aren’t a whole lot of Japanese people in my area, but if I do interact with one I try to act appropriately. Although, I do think that this puts me at a disadvantage because when I fall into that “appropriate” role I think it puts me in a less favorable position. I feel like treating a Japanese man the way a Japanese woman can make me appear as inferior in a professional setting – just because it’s a different culture here in America. So, I do have to be careful.
Q: Do you think that your experience studying abroad and studying Japanese has helped you at your current job?
I really don’t feel like it has any impact at my current job. Actually, I wish that I had learned Spanish. That’s just because I don’t find my Japanese skills useful in my daily life. Really I don’t regret studying Japanese or studying abroad in Japan – I just wish that I had done more on top of that.
Q: Do you think that you’re using your Asian Studies or International Relations degrees right now?
No. I wish that I was, but it’s just not related to what I do today. I guess I’m in a field that is kind of related to international relations. There’s a little big of international trade involved, but not really. I just don’t think that I use that knowledge so much. I don’t find myself directly applying things I learned within my majors to my work.
Q: Do you have any regrets about your study abroad experience? Or is there anything that you wish you could have done differently?
I wish that I had been placed with a Japanese family when I did my homestay. They placed me into a family with a Taiwanese mom. It was just her and the elderly Japanese husband in the house, so she just ended up speaking Chinese to me all the time. So, it wasn’t a good experience for me. That’s why I ended up leaving and moving to the dorm.
Q: So, all of that being said, would you recommend studying abroad in Japan to someone?
Yes, it’s an amazing country. It’s a totally different world. But, then again your experience is really shaped by who you hang out with. There are Japanese who know a lot about American culture and then there are Japanese who are more traditional.
Q: Do you have any advice for people studying Japanese…or considering studying Japanese?
Definitely study kanji (one of the three Japanese writing systems – it’s adapted from Chinese)….or don’t study Japanese, haha. I say that just because it’s such a hard language. Oh, then for people who already speak Chinese – be careful with the pronunciation. I always get confused because they are so similar.
Q: Would you go back to Japan in the future?
Yes, I would definitely go back again. But, I don’t want to work or live there. I’d just go to travel.
Q: Why don’t you want to live or work in Japan?
I’d just get so frustrated if I lived or worked there.
Q: Why’s that?
When I studied abroad in Tokyo, I got so frustrated by the lack of efficiency. I think maybe it’s because they strive to employ so many people…and that’s a good thing, but things just end up going more slowly.
Do you remember how we had to register for classes at ICU using a paper system? We had to talk to like 3 or 4 people just to hand in the paper, too. That kind of stuff drove me nuts. They had the potential to be so efficient, but they just weren’t.
I loved catching up with Eva and hearing her talk about her memories and feelings regarding her experience studying and living in Japan!
If you enjoyed or could relate to this post, check out my first two Life After Japan posts!
‘Till next time, take good care!