June 12-15

On June 12th, I left Detroit for Tokyo. The flight went without many problems, except for the Last Holiday, Big Momma’s House 2, and She’s the Man trifecta. No problems arose in Customs or in finding my way to the Hotel Shuttle. I was lucky that another JSPS fellow (Rashad) was on my flight over from Detroit. Rashad studies the persistence of man-made Fluorinated Organic compounds in nature at MSU. Pretty smart guy. He and I used the whole buddy system arrangement to maneuver around the Narita airport, through immigration and customs, and then to our hotel. Once at the hotel I finally crashed (after 20 hours of being awake).

June 13-15

The next day we headed roughly two-hours south to Shonan International Village where there was a week-long orientation session consisting of research talks, Japanese language class, an evening of “cultural experience”, a poster session, and of course a weekend-long home stay with a local family.

The grounds of the Shonan Village were beautiful, as was the rest of the surrounding area. Perched on a hilltop, the grounds provided some beautiful views of the Sagami Bay and the nearby town of Hayama. On a clear day, it is said that Mt. Fuji is visible. Unfortunately, our arrival to Japan coincided with the beginning of the rainy season for the lower islands; thus our visibility was drastically reduced by fog and haze.

The talks during the orientation session, took up much of the time. Additionally, they were often hard to understand. This was not because of the language difference (they all spoke English), but rather some of them were never finished. Here in Japan, if someone goes over their allotted time slot, they just wrap up the presentation without finishing. We were left “hanging” without hearing the main points of a couple talks. Pretty funny stuff actually.

As for the Japanese language class, it was rather fun. Although I think I may have embellished my understanding of the language on my application. Most people in my class had at least one semester of Japanese under their belt. Catching up to them was tough initially, but I think I picked up steam as the classes continued. Also, I sat next to a guy named Keith; who has a Japanese wife and has in-laws that don’t speak English at all. He provided insight into those phrases that were absolutely necessary for survival in Japan and those that I can pick up and practice over time. Here’s a gem: Toire wa doko desu ka . . . Mo ichido onegaishimas. Motto yokkuri onegaishimas. Amerika kara kamashita. (Where is the toilet? . . . Please repeat more slowly. I am from America). In addition, he also gave me the perfect filler phrase to use in conversations of subjects I don’t recognize or understand: So desu ka (Is that so?), followed later by So desu ne (I know what you mean). Priceless information.

The cultural experience at Shonan Village was fun, as there was a tea ceremony, origami instructions, calligraphy, etc. The best part of the whole ordeal was that it was the first time for most of us to meet our home-stay family. Luckily, my family was ok with the chaotic atmosphere and we made it through the tea ceremony and the origami before the children of the family (Ryoun who is 6 and Shoun who is 2) became bored. This experience also made me realize what a lucky draw I got with my host family. The dad spoke impeccable English (he was in the States for 20 years), and the mom and oldest son spoke pretty well too. Many other students weren’t as fortunate, as they had families that spoke little to no English. I guess that situation would force one to learn the language and culture much more rapidly, but I still feel I lucked out with the Ukita’s.

Pictures from Shonan Village

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