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Broadening Cultural Horizons in Japan

the Todaji Temple
The Japan Junior Journey group at the Todaji Temple, the largest wooden building in the world.

Dec 20, 2016

By Robin Coombs ‘18

Edited for content and length

I never thought I would have the opportunity to travel all the way to Japan. I’ve always wanted to go, but it seemed too far out of reach. That is until one day, sophomore year, my sociology professor, Dr. Blankenship, said she was planning a junior journey there and asked if anyone was interested. I was so excited. Then a few months later I was signed up and before I knew it I was on a plane heading to an adventure of a lifetime!

I knew Japanese culture would be quite different from ours, but I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Obviously they speak a different language and write using Japanese characters rather than English letters, but did you know that they drive on the opposite side of the road, have diagonal crosswalks, read their books backwards, and offer rice with every meal?

Torii gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Japan is one of the cleanest places I’ve been to. They barely have garbage anywhere. Oh and lets not about their food! There were vending machines carrying drinks on almost every street. The restaurants had many different types of fish and vegetables, both raw and cooked, some of which I hadn’t heard of before. I tried eel tempura for the first time, and it tasted just like chicken!

This junior journey also put me outside of my comfort zone. This new culture was a lot to take in on the first day, which made me feel a little overwhelmed, but as the trip went on I got used to the changes and felt so happy to be able to experience it. I didn’t know anyone going on this trip and by the end of it I made new friends because everyone had a common goal: to see and explore the wonderful country of Japan!

Because we were so different from the locals, we stood out like a sore thumb, so much so that we were stopped and asked to take pictures. The locals were very excited to see Americans and the children loved to practice their English with us! Every time we passed a group of Japanese school children they would say, “Hello!” which I thought was very cute.

Each day, the tour guide took us somewhere new and exciting. We saw many beautiful temples and shrines throughout the week in the cities of Kyoto and Tokyo. Kyoto seemed a little more traditional and historical. Here we saw the Sagano Bamboo Grove, Kinkakuji Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Nara Deer Park, Nijo Castle, and many different temples. Needless to say our four days in Kyoto were very busy. Each place was absolutely gorgeous and unique; I’ve never seen anything like it in America.

Nara Deer Park in Kyoto.

Tokyo was gorgeous as well, but in a different way than Kyoto; it was a large and crowded city. We got to Tokyo via bullet train. We stayed in Tokyo for three days and saw the Tokyo Edo Museum, Tsukji Outer Fish Market, and the Meiji Jingu Shrine.

We had a free day while we were there, so I decided to go to Disney Sea. The park was a lot of fun! Disney Sea had many rides that are not in Florida’s Disney World, including Raging Spirits, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Indiana Jones, which were all great rides! The shows were very good too, however, they were in Japanese, which made them difficult to understand.

I think everyone should travel to Japan, at least once in their lifetime. I experienced their culture in so many ways: through food, language, and visiting local areas. Seeing new places and experiencing a new culture is amazing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.