On the 29th of January 2019, I set off for 14-hour long journey to a place I was somewhat familiar with, others teased that it was my second home. I have travelled several times over my lifetime to the bustling capital of Japan known as Tokyo, but this time it was different.
What lured me to this trip in the first place was the opportunity to practice my three years of Japanese language study, which I have struggled continuously to use in conversation in my past travels. I had received an email advertising the Meiji University Language Program which gave the opportunity for me to study and practice the language while receiving credit points towards my Diploma of Languages.
Meiji University’s Japanese Language Program is a UTS BUILD Abroad endorsed course, which is a three-week intensive language course located within central Tokyo. There are four levels which you can apply for: introductory, beginners, pre-intermediate or intermediate. However, you are not guaranteed the level you have chosen because you will be allocated based on the result of the test given to you on the first day. (This is just a heads up for those who’d want to prepare and brush up a little on their language skills).
The classes are mostly taught in Japanese, but more complex concepts were explained in English. My first realisation in these classes was how lucky it was for English to be my first language. The course consisted of people from all around the world, many from countries where English was not the primary language. I watched as some of my classmates struggled to grasp the concept in both Japanese and English, but after persistent efforts, they had managed to gain an understanding in the end. I grew to admire them and noticed how they overcame these communication issues with other forms of communication.
The program not only provides language classes but also offered an opportunity to experience its culture in another perspective. For this session, we had a chance to participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and to wear a traditional Japanese Kimono. Although I had checked off most of the ‘What to do when you’re in Tokyo’ checklist in my previous trips, this was my very first time experiencing these things.
The Japanese tea ceremony was an informative and reflective experience. Although the ceremony was not performed under traditional circumstances, the demonstration was inspiring, and the instructors had provided thorough explanations for each step and the meaning behind it. In the end, everyone was welcome to try their hand at performing the ceremony within small groups. All I can say is that I did not have the arm strength for it, but it was an enjoyable experience.
The following week was the Kimono wearing class, and with knowledge of the traditional wear, I was dreading it a little knowing it’ll be the most uncomfortable thing I would have to wear. On the day we had our language class as usual, and after we were split into changing rooms where a trained staff helped you put on the kimono of your choice (It was first come, first serve basis). Overall it took about 20 minutes to get the garment on and was about 3 hours of restricted movement (and lungs) to go out and enjoy being dolled up. On this day, it was my very first experience wearing such a beautiful piece of clothing and also the day I decided that I would never wear such a thing again.
Finally, The last thing on this trip which I will never forget is the relationship I had built with my host family. This program offered three options in regards to accommodations, and in order to maximise my time in practising my Japanese skills; I had chosen the homestay option over the hotel option provided by the university. They were a lovely family, who welcomed me to their home and gave me a lot of good memories and experience.
So I guess this isn’t a very good conclusion to this blog, but I would like to show how grateful I am to the host family who took me in for those three weeks (Even though they would probably never see this). To the host mother, who made me delicious meals for breakfast and dinner. Who had helped me practice my Japanese while showing me a different perspective of Japan. Thank you for patiently listening to me and helping me ease into this lifestyle. To the host father who I didn’t get many chances to interact with, thank you for driving us on the weekends and all the small conversations you tried to keep up in English. And to the kids who were extremely loud and full of energy, thank you for keeping my days positive with your smiles and high energy every day. If you ever have the chance to undergo a homestay option, I highly recommend it was one of the most memorable experiences in this trip.
This wasn’t my first trip to Tokyo, Japan and it isn’t going to be my last but at those moments, it’s the experience that make it something special to remember (Okay that was cheesy and it’s way past my bed time but I finally got this done).