An Introduction to Japan

Hello everyone! こにちは皆さん、

My name is Stephanie Lytle, and I’m currently studying abroad in the Toshima ward of Tokyo, Japan for the academic year of 2015-2016. I’m a double major in Anthropology and Psychology at the University of Miami, and I’m currently attending Sophia University in Japan. I’ve actually wanted to live in Japan for a while now. Two years ago, I applied to be a youth exchange student through Rotary International to go to Japan during a gap year after graduating high school. I ended up getting accepted into the program, but was instead sent to Northeastern Thailand. I’m honestly so happy that I ended up going there – it was an experience I never would’ve had otherwise. However, after returning to the U.S., I realized that I still wanted to live in Japan, so I applied through my university to study abroad and here I am!

I’ve been in Japan for about three months now, and it’s crazy how fast time goes when you’re studying abroad. It literally feels like it was a couple weeks ago when I arrived in Narita airport and felt the rush and nervousness of entering a country for the first time. Asia is a really different feeling than the States. The language, the culture, the food, and the scenery are all so different, and it can be a little overwhelming at first. I always try to keep an open mind when going abroad, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some preconceived notions about Japanese people when I first came here that have been utterly proven wrong. I’m pretty sure everyone in the U.S. knows of the stereotype that all Japanese people are too serious, work too hard, and don’t ever relax. While Japanese people act formally towards people they don’t know and they are very hard-working, they are collectively a group of people that I would say are the best at having a good time out of other places I have traveled to. My roommate and I joke that Japanese culture is the epitome of “work hard, play hard.” Tokyo is a city that never sleeps, and places like karaoke bars are open until 1:00 or 2:00 am, even on a weekday. Japanese people definitely know how to balance being serious and having fun, and I find it almost comical that I used to think that they couldn’t.

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The view from the entrance of my apartment.

I am finding Japan to be very unique for a number of reasons, but most noticeably because of the striking modern culture. Places such as Harajuku specifically cater to a type of fashion style that is based around being crazy and really out-there. But at the same time, I feel like Japanese culture is also much more connected to their historic traditions than America is. In the same city of Harajuku you also find one of the more famous shrines in Tokyo. Compared to the extreme modern atmosphere that exists outside this shrine, there is no trace of modernization inside the sacred grounds. Instead it feels more like stepping back in time. Japan has extremely polarized sides to its culture, and it’s extremely interesting to live in.

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The path to my school from the local train station.

Now on the other hand, there are some similarities to American culture as well. Young Japanese people have most of the same interests in Japanese pop culture as young Americans do in American pop culture. Instead of being into the most recent American pop song, there is an array of music idols that Japanese people tend to like here. Instead of being into the most recent American film, it’s a Japanese film that everyone is talking about. It’s all essentially the same, just geared toward different cultures and languages. I love being able to find these interconnections between cultures, and find ways to relate to people around the world. It gives me new things to take an interest in, and in turn gives me a chance to share my culture with others around me.

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A view of the Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba.

All in all, I’m really loving it here. The new language, food, friends, and culture, is all an amazing experience. It’s so weird to think that I’ve already been here for 1/4th of my study abroad experience, and I’m so excited to learn more about this amazing country in the meantime!

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