Sunday, May 28, 2017

Japan is Weird

"10 Reasons Why Japan is So Weird!"

"Why did you want to go to Japan? It's so weird there."

"Look at what weird thing Japan has!"

When people talk about Japan, it's usually about how weird it is. "They have robots everywhere! Their clothing are so outrageous and out there!" Even when talking about my study abroad, people were confused on why I would want to go here since it's so weird.

I've come to the conclusion that Japan is not weird.

The things you hear about that make Japan weird belong to an extreme niche of people. One of the prime examples of weirdness is that there is a vending machine that gives out female underwear. I have yet to see a vending machine that even has food in it, let alone underwear. I'm more than sure that this vending machine is an outlier. I also know that Japanese people find this weird as well. So how can we claim an entire culture 'weird' based on something that natives even consider weird?

It's not just the actual weird stuff that gets called weird. During my stay here, I often hear people describe something different as weird. Heck, even I catch myself saying it. It's the little things, like bagging your own groceries or having to give money on a plate instead of in their hand. If Japan isn't weird, than what is it?

It's different.

It's a different culture. They like different things. They experience things different than us. If we come at it from an American view, of course it's going to be strange to us. But I'm not here to look through the eyes of an American. Yes, my American view will come through, that's inevitable, but I can at least try and understand from a Japanese perspective. The reason why you place money in a plate first is so that the money doesn't get dirty. They even run coins through a washer in the cash register sometimes. This isn't weird. Instead it showcases the cleanliness that's so important to the Japanese people.

By keeping in this perspective, it ends up damaging your experience. You actively keep your self from growing.You have to realize that everyone can see the same object, and interpret it differently. That doesn't mean it's weird. Instead, it showcases their backgrounds. By exploring their backgrounds, you gain a much firmer and better understanding of them. The same can be same for cultures. By exploring it, instead of limiting yourself because it's weird, let's you understand better.

Unfortunately, this mindset of weird in a way is harming Japan. People outside of the country view them as the things that even they view as weird. Like everyone wants underwear from a vending machine. So for foreigners, the Japanese are these weird people. Why visit if they are so weird? They are missing the deep and complex culture that's here in favor for touristy (like robot fighting) and exaggerated experiences, because that's "Japan". 

Japan is a fantastic country. It has it's quirks, just like any country, but it's certainly not this weird out of space place the internet likes to make it out to be. Like any country, it's just different. But different can become familiarity, like how it's become for me. So if we keep that in mind, we can all gain and learn more from each other, and gain a better appreciation for each other. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I'm Coming Home a Mermaid. Blame France.


Here in France, the days are finally getting warmer, and the school year is coming to an end. I have only two exams that stand between now and the freedom of summer break (and Italy!!). While this is exciting, I am also sadly watching each day slip by, knowing I must leave this country soon and head home.

I admit, it feels strange to call the U.S. "home" when, for the past few months, Caen has been that place for me. I feel like a real-life mermaid, not completely belonging to either country, and yet, my heart resides in both. (Here, I could honestly break into the "Part of Your World" song and find it perfectly fitting.) I've already practice-packed and decided what to keep and what to donate. There are many things I'd like to take back with me, and while I may pack some souvenirs and take with me all the memories and the growth I have undergone, some things just can't fit into my rolling suitcase.

The glorious baguettes and exceptional coffee would be impossible to pack. For one, by the time I touched down from my nine-hour flight, it is quite possible that the lovely morsel of fresh-baked goodness will have become stone-hard and considered a weapon by the U.S. customs. Concerning the coffee, realistically, I would have downed it as soon as I bought it.

The friends I have made here absolutely make this list. If they could even fit in my luggage, I would've considered taking them with me (even facing an extreme weight-limit surplus charge when boarding). I am so thankful that social media exists, so that I don't have to truly leave them here!

 There are also certain French values I'd love for the U.S. to adopt: the appreciation of art, education, food, and traveling, the intolerance of fake friends, and the importance placed on living happily.

This last quality was one that I found to be quite difficult. I came from a calendar-oriented life to a life of cute cafes, numerous dogs, and many places to sit down and just breathe. I am not saying that every aspect of adjusting to France was easy. Even now, I feel restless at times, but the culture has shown me the value of being happy in each moment. Why else would so many cafes, public pianos, macaroons, park benches, and pretty fountains exist here?

It could be easy, in this state of living, to imagine a whole long life ahead of me, a future of infinite possibilities and uncountable adventures. That could even be true, but recent events have shown me the reality of life-life and death. My Maryville College community lost a truly amazing soul only a week ago. I lost a fellow Bonner-scholar, a bright shining light on the campus, and an example of someone who seemed to love life with his every breath. Xavier Sales impacted many of our lives and our hearts. His smile was the most genuine and his laugh, the most contagious. He spread love and respect, and all the way from France, my heart mourns for him, his family, his friends, my college community.

I will return from France a changed person, that mermaid. I am torn between two worlds, but I am more appreciative, more understanding, and more excited than I have ever been to live life as happily as I can. I admire Xavier's way of giving love and respect, and I hope more of that shows in me as well. This post has made my heart heavy, but my heart is also full and for that, I am the most thankful.

 A bientot. -Albrianna

Monday, May 8, 2017

Food for Thought


First, I must announce that the new president of France will be Emmanuel Macron and not Marine Le Pen! You, as an American or person of another nationality, might be wondering "Why does this matter?" and to that I will answer: It matters because what is happening on the other side of the world DOES matter. Even if you are unable to see the events, even if they don't directly affect you, it matters to be aware and informed. Of course, I cannot claim to be informed of the political events of every country in the world, but it doesn't hurt to look at the world outside of our own backyards every now and then.

I was talking to a new friend that I had the privilege of meeting during my trip to the U.K. about the United States and our lack of knowledge about the world outside our borders. Of course, I can only speak for myself when I admit that before traveling to France, I had no idea which little dot on the map was really the country. Even within the U.S., I'm not sure I could label every state on a map (Trust me, I failed my 5th grade U.S. geography test.)

What I mean to point out is that traveling broadens the mind, the heart, and the soul. It allows you to become emotionally invested in the world outside of your own four walls. It is possible, even, to tap into your curiosity and empathy without purchasing that oh-so-expensive plane ticket! Find a pen-pal. Support a charity that helps in foreign aide. Recently, there was a French man named Jerome Jarre who began the hashtag: #SaveSomalia. This spread awareness about the drought and famine in the country. Good things can happen when people are aware of the need. To be aware, one must be watching, reading, and updating.

I shared in my last blog post my newest goal to go to Italy and as of today, I have booked all necessary flights, train tickets, and hostel stays to do so. I have only 35 days remaining to spend on this side of the Atlantic, and I will live each one to the fullest. A few of those days will be exam days, as I finish my semester here at UniCaen. One of the days will be spent at a French music festival. I will have a few days in Italy, a few days in Versailles, and the very last will be spent in Paris-the city that now owns my heart.

As a concluding thought, I leave you with these wise words of Mark Twain:
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

A bientot. -Albrianna Jenkins

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Meeting My Home Visit Family

The weekend after spring break I finally met my home visit family! Now, a home visit family is different from a homestay family. The home visit program is only available for those living in a seminar house/dorm. This way, those living in a dorm can experience having a family in Japan and see how family life works in Japan. Due to spring and winter break, I wasn't able to meet my home visit family until two weeks ago. It was great to finally meet them!

Before officially meeting everyone, I met my home visit sisters in Umeda station in Osaka. Riko is a fellow Kansai Gaidai student. In fact, all the home visit families have one student from Kansai Gaidai. Riko is a sophomore here. She has a little sister, Rui, who is nine and a younger brother, Sho, who is fifteen. Riko and Rui were there at Umeda station to meet up with me.

After about 15 minutes in trying to find each other in the train station, we finally meet up with each other and head towards Hep5, the shopping mall with the ferris wheel on top that I talked about in the beginning of my blog posts. Here, we ate a little dessert at the Gutatama Cafe, or Lazy Egg as it's known in the States. Riko and I both had this delicious cake, while Rui had a hot chocolate with a design on it.


After our little sweet break, we moved on to the Sky Bridge Buildings across the street. The two buildings are connected via two escalators. It's pretty thrilling! On the roof, there's a magnificent view of Osaka.







It's now time for dinner! We take the train for about an hour to the local train station. Riko's mom met us there and drove us to their house. It's a lot smaller than my house back home, but it's perfect for Japan. Out of necessity, most houses are small. After taking off my shoes, they showed me their living room. Instead of a couch, they have a heated, plush carpet type mat. The dad and brother were sitting there waiting to met me when the mom was just a couple of feet away in the kitchen. I sat down and tried my best to talk to the rest of the family. Sho and Riko are the only ones who really know English, with the mom and dad knowing only a few words here and there. Rui is still too young to learn English in school.

In Japan, the culture revolves around gift giving. If you go on vacation, you are expected to return with a gift for friends, family, and even coworkers. That's why a lot of the stores in Disneyland had boxes of food and souvenirs, or omiyagai. So to follow this gift giving culture, I gave my home visit family two gifts. One was a tin of chocolates from Disney Sea. I knew that if nothing else, Rui would love it. The second gift was much more special. I give them a little carved bear from Dollywood. It's a link both to my family, since my Papa To (grandpa) was a carpenter, and to my home, since it was from Dollywood and a black bear. I tried my best to explain this in Japanese, though Riko jumped in a couple of times to explain better.

After giving my gifts, we had dinner. Mom, you're going to be so proud. I had a salad and ate it all. I really don't like salad. In Japan, it's extremely rude to not eat everything on your plate. This led a wonderful conversation about salad dressing. They use Japanese mayo for dressing. It's a little different than our mayo. The family was shocked when I said we use honey mustard for salad dressing. I mentioned McDonald's to describe what honey mustard was. This then led to a everyone trying to mimic how I say McDonald's for about five minutes. In Japanese, McDonald's is pronounced almost like it's MacDonald's. So everyone around the table just kept on trying to say Mc instead. We also talked about my family. While talking, the food was so good. It was really nice to have a homemade meal that I didn't make. There was even a dish with potatoes! The mom asked what I liked and was very impressed when I said I liked basically all Japanese food, including raw fish.

Following dinner, I was invited upstairs to Riko's room. I was very surprised, because traditionally, you don't invite people up to their rooms. I was very honored. The four of us, the kids and I, entered the room and played card games. They wanted me to teach them some American card games. Me, being the big gamer I am, was thrilled!! So I taught them the number one card game in America, Go Fish. It's a simple game. Since my Japanese is not good enough to explain, I ended up explaining in English with Sho and Riko understanding, and then translating for Rui. We all had fun with the classic card game! I found out that they call Jack, Queen, King, and Ace, by numbers such as 11, 12, 13, and 14. They then teach me so Japanese card games and also perform a magic trick for me. It was fun sharing games from each other's cultures.

I had such a fun time meeting my home visit family. They were so opening and welcoming for me, which I very much appreciated. I can't wait to meet them again this coming month!!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Takarazuka and Hanami!

Last weekend was filled with Japanese cultural experiences, both niche and mainstream. These experiences have definitely helped me feel more in tune with the culture around me!

In my Japanese pop culture class, we studied about a form of theater called Takarazuka. In takarazuka, all the actors are played by females, including the male roles. These actresses train in a takarazuka school for two years in their teens, before being able to perform on stage. Most of the shows performed are musicals, which makes it very impressive when you hear a female singing lower than most males. 

An interesting aspect of this theater is that the main male and female roles are played by the same actors until those actors retire. The main male character is called the Top Star. She will continue being the Top Star until she decides to retire. Another interesting thing is the interaction between the actors and fans. Takarazuka audience is primarily female. These female fans form clubs surrounded by one of the actors, with the biggest club usually going to the male Top Star. Before the show, the Top Star waits outside the theater, and the leaders of the different fan clubs will come up and hand her gifts. 

Fans waiting to take a group picture with the Top Star.
Fans waiting for other fan members

Taking a picture on the famous stair case in the theater

The show that we watched was the Scarlett Pimpernel. It's about an Englishman who uses his secret identity as the Scarlett Pimpernel to rescue French aristocrats during the French Revolution. The premise of a secret identity where he refuses to kill anyone eventually inspired the famous character Batman. The musical was well performed with engrossing music. The fact that the male characters were female made it that much more impressive.

If you ever come to the Kansai region of Japan, I highly suggest you go to a Takarazuka musical. It's honestly quite stunning.

The next day brought about a much more traditional cultural experience, the famous Japanese Hanami.

Hanami literally translates to flower viewing. And that's exactly what you do. Durning the peak of cherry blossom season, usually about a week or two after they bloom, you go to a park filled with sakura (cherry blossoms), sit on trap or blanket, and then eat, drink, and enjoy the flowers. My seminar house hosted our own hanami where we went to a local park. It was filled with locals eating and drinking. Kids were playing soccer and badminton. There was even a surprise performance for everyone at the hanami. A group of performers did several Okinanawian dances. Even some of my friends joined in!

Okinawaian Dancers
Locals enjoying the hanami in the park

So much food! Ranges from traditional sweets to donuts!
Friends drinking and eating

Reminds me of people singing folk songs at TN festivals!

Dancing with some locals!
Next up are the drummers!

After dancing, drinking, and eating, we all decided to take pictures with the cherry blossoms. Here, we experienced the generosity that exists in Japan. See, there was an old man with a nice camera going around and taking pictures of the cherry blossoms and the performers. He also started taking pictures of us. He took a picture of my friends and I in front of a sakura tree and printed that one off for us. He would show us his pictures on his camera so we could take a picture of it. Well, about a week later, he shows up at our seminar house. Of course Otoosan is really worried. If a local come in, it usually means we were too noisy or something bad. Turns out he printed off all the pictures of us, made enough copies for those in the pictures, and dropped them off us we could all have them! I was amazed! He went through the time and effort to give us forgieners the pictures he took. They're really good pictures too.  It's just amazing that he was willing to go through  that for all of us. I'm definitely framing the picture when I get back.

Unfortunately, the cherry blossoms only last for a short amount of time. A week later, most of the sakura are no longer in bloom. I can see why the Japanese love them so much. They are so beautiful. Apparently, they also like them due to their blooming time. When sakura start to bloom, it also corresponds to when the new school starts, when new graduates start to work, and other types of beginnings. The blossoms represent a new beginning. And as the Japanese students start college, hopefully I will have a new chapter in my study abroad.