The Sevier Cough

Blaise Sevier is a 2nd year who studied abroad last semester on exchange at Hitotsubashi University  in Japan. She and three other UVA students ran a blog about their experience, See her original post at https://runningjapan.squarespace.com/wheels-up-dc/2017/10/31/the-sevier-cough-blaise

I’ve been sick with the “Sevier Cough.” It’s not just any cough, but a family hack where my whole chest vibrates with force and I find myself gasping for breath.

Dramatic? Yes. Harmful? No.

The “Sevier Cough” is a family plague that hits my sisters and I right around when the leaves change and the air gets a bit cooler – my mom says it’s a seasonal asthma and always sends us to school.

Here in Japan – my cough has become a somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. On the metro, in the grocery store, walking to class, I find myself getting over a coughing fit, clearing my throat and receiving the death stare from my fellow Hitotsubashi peers, grocery-goers, and metro riders. It don’t blame them. It’s gross!

But it’s a cough that I have and can’t quite control.

For the past few weeks, I have maintained this blasé attitude about my cough. I pushed passed the smirks, glares, and uncomfortable metro shifts. I was just sick, they were just hypercritical – and I didn’t want to wear a…. mask.

 

 My inital reaction to wearing a mask

Masks in Japan are one of the most common accessory for any woman, man, grandmother, grandfather, and/or child to wear. It is a white cloth that covers the nose and mouth and prevents germs from spreading. It’s practical and considerate when you are crammed on the metro with hundreds of people every day. But until now, I didn’t think *I* needed to wear a mask.

The thought struck me when I was in my Global Network class and we were talking about the effects of colonialism. We discussed several examples on how European settlers rarely conformed to native practices – even if the practice, ideology, method was practical, was for the betterment of the people, or just made sense.

Take for example the Calvinists that landed on the Hawaiian Island in 1893. I learned that they refused to change the way that they dressed. Instead of adapting their wardrobe to a subtropical climate, the Calvinists continued to wear often thick, long cotton pants and dresses.

Gosh, that sounds hot.

Although this is an ingenuous example, it demonstrates settlers’ reluctance to conform to the practical norms of the region. Why wouldn’t they just throw on some linen?

But before I move forward, I want to make a few things clear 1). I am not comparing the Japanese culture to the native people in Hawaii rather, I am comparing my thoughtless act of not wearing a mask in public (which is practical and thoughtful thing to do in busy public spaces) to the settlers’ dismissal of Hawaiian’s traditions and norms.

I was wrong about not wearing a mask in public. What gives me the right to expose other people to my germs, when they are taking precautions to not get me sick. If my fellow community members are considerate – why do I think that I have the privilege to not wear the mask and not be?

 

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I think the answer lies in the fact that I wasn’t being self-critical – I wasn’t acknowledging that I was part of the community and that I was somehow different because I was a “gaijin” or non-Japanese and could get away with breaking social norms.

It’s a crutch that I think many individuals abroad rely on – and something I want to recognize and change.

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Preparing for Takeoff

Leah Corbett is a 3rd year student studying Japanese. This semester she will be on the JF Oberlin University: Reconnaissance Japan Program in Tokyo. Check out her thoughts on starting her semester below!

 

I am less than a week away from my departure date to Japan for a full semester abroad. It would be an understatement to say that I’m nervous. I have never been out of the country before, or travelled anywhere near this far away, let alone by myself. I’ve wanted to study in Japan for years, but it was always a far-off dream. That dream got a little closer when I finally finished my application, but I had to wait. I was ecstatic when I received my acceptance letter! After I took the necessary steps such as ordering plane tickets, I then had to wait some more. I’ve been waiting for so long, and now I’m almost done doing so. While I’m pretty much ready in terms of knowing what to pack and what I need to do, I’m realizing I’m not mentally prepared.

I thought I was mentally prepared for most of my time waiting. One summer as a high school student, I attended a three-week-long Japanese language academy, which was the first time I’d been away from family for an extended period of time, so I was naturally nervous beforehand. It turned out to be an amazing experience! The next summer, I went to a week-long program at NASA Langley Research Center, and I had nowhere near as many nerves going into that. When I left for my first year of college, I felt like those experiences had helped me prepare for it, which they did. I adjusted to college life fairly quickly and have enjoyed it, so I figured a trip abroad wouldn’t be too nerve-wracking.

But here’s the catch (which I didn’t think about until very recently): I’ve lived in Virginia my entire life, and all of those times I’ve been away from home, I was still in Virginia. My home is a 40-minute drive away from UVA. That’s way closer than a lot of my classmates are from. While I’ve been on my own at college, I’ve always had my family nearby as a safety net, and I’m not going to have that in Japan.

In a way, I feel like I’m back where I started when I was preparing for that language academy five years ago. I can still use what I learned from that experience, which is knowing that being nervous is normal, and that it in no way means I won’t have a great time. I’ve wanted to do this for so long, and being a Japanese language and literature major, I know it will enrich my knowledge of the culture beyond what I can learn in a classroom. Having so many friends and family rooting for me helps me to realize my potential and try to be as proud of myself as they are of me, which pushes me forward.

Tokyo, Japan

Rachel White is a 3rd year studying Foreign Affairs at Waseda University in Tokyo for the 2017-2018 school year. Check out some photos from her first semester below!
Lake near Mt. Fuji2
Mt. Fuji can be seen from this lake in Shizuoka Prefecture. Mt. Fuji is Japan’s tallest volcano and symbolizes Japan. Because my exchange university is in Tokyo, natural scenery like this is not very common. Also, I thought it was interesting that some people live on that island because they would have to commute by boat to get groceries.
Fried Oysters at Hiroshima
Fried Oysters at Hiroshima: Hiroshima is known for having fresh oysters around fall, so this is a common dish sold there.
International Exchange Halloween Party
International Exchange Halloween Party: I joined an international exchange group at Waseda, and was able to meet a lot of other exchange students and Japanese students. The international exchange group is connected to other universities as well, so I am able to meet people from other parts of Tokyo. Halloween was not a common holiday celebrated in Japan, but has recently become very popular.
Torii Shrine at Miyajima
Tori Shrine: This is the most notable landmark at Miyajima, an island near Hiroshima. During high-tide, water covers the bottom of the pillars. However, during low-tide people are able to walk up to the shrine.
Red Spider Lily field in Saitama (1)
Red Spider Lily: This flower was once believed to be a flower sent from the heavens, and is a very popular plant during the fall.
View from Odaiba
This is a view of part of Tokyo from Odaiba. Odaiba is a man-made island in Tokyo and is a very popular tourist spot. This area will host the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, so they are currently constructing more buildings in preparation.
Odango at Mt. Takao
Odango at Mt. Takao. Odango is a traditional Japanese food, and can be served either sweet or salty. The one picture on the left is mochi with a layer of soy sauce type sauce that is grilled. The one on the right has a layer of “azuki” or “red bean.”
tokyo station
In 1914, Tokyo Station was built and was known for its red-brick
appearance. It became damaged in WWII, and recently was renovated back to what it looked like in 1914. Many Japanese businessmen use this station because of the various company buildings surrounding the station.
Mitama Festival
Mitama Festival is one of Japan’s biggest Obon festivals, and it celebrates the lives of the dead. The festival is held at Yasukuni Shrine, which is a Shinto shrine that commemorates those who fought for Japan. However, it is controversial in the Asia-Pacific region because it also commemorates class A war criminals. Mitama Festival: Although the festival is located in a controversial location, the festival attracts tourists because of the 30,000 lanterns on display. There are also traditional Japanese performances.

Climbing Mt. Fuji

Chandler Collins is a 2nd Year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. He is attending the UVA Exchange: Hitotsubashi University program this semester.

We took an early morning bus to Mt. Fuji’s Yoshida-Subaru 5th Station, a small simulacrum of a Japanese city perched 2,000m into the clouds, where we began the 7-hour ascent to the summit. Since Mt. Fuji is a volcano, there is no foliage at the summit to block the harsh sub-freezing winds from sapping our body’s heat. We huddled together on the rocky ground and waited as the sun rose through the clouds and over Kawaguchiko, the small town below Fuji-san. In this image, Keelyn McCabe braces against the cold wind and attempts to steady our UVA (pronounced Baa-ji-ni-ya in my broken Japanese) flag against the sub-freezing winds. An old Japanese adage rings true, “Only a fool goes to Japan and doesn’t climb Mt. Fuji. An even bigger fool climbs it twice.”
Pictured is my completed “Mt. Fuji Stick,” a 2 ft. long wooden stick which climbers get branded at each mountain hut along the ascent up the mountain. Each hut has a unique brand, marking the name of the mountain hut/station.
After the sun rose, we began the 1500m descent over a 6km trail dusted with volcanic ash which bored its way into our clothing and gnaw on our feet with each new step. In this image, we’d yet to descend through the clouds. [L to R: Gabriel Aguto, Blaise Sevier, Keelyn McCabe]

 

Additionally, Collin has created a travel video to recap his adventures, you can find one for Mt. Fuji here (https://youtu.be/Co2nKR_b7GA)

Stunning Sights of Japan

Caroline Jordan is a 4th Year student studying Psychology. She is attending the UVA Exchange: Waseda University program this semester.

Taken in Harajuku, this photo shows the famous Takeshita Street, famed for its relevance to youth culture. The picture shows how crowded this popular shopping and fashion area gets, with both tourists and locals examining the youthful fashion culture in stores.

Taken at the Asakusa Shrine, this photo shows the long road of shops and vendors leading to the temple. Food, charms, and souvenirs are sold here, before entering the Shinto shrine.

This photo is of myself in the Tokyo Metropolitan Building observation area. For such a large and populous city, the view is serene from above it all.

Two Waseda University students show the exchange students how to observe the proper rituals at the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine in Kawagoe.

I took this photo in Kawagoe, a traditional town. Around the town, there were many of these “love fortunes” pictured here. Fortunes are common in the shrines and temples here, but this is the only city where I have seen so many love fortunes placed around!

Taken near Palette Town in Odaiba, this photo shows buildings making up the famous skyline. I took it to show the unique architecture of even the standard office buildings in Tokyo.

Running Japan Film: Studying Tokyo’s Community

Blaise Sevier, Chandler Collins, Keelyn McCabe, and Gabriel Aguto, who are second years spending this semester on our new exchange at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

They are a part of one of the Forums in the College  – theirs is Mobility and Community, which highly encouraged its students to study abroad fall of second year.

They are all collaborating on a film project over the course of the semester.

From L to R: Blaise Sevier, Chandler Collins, Keelyn McCabe, Gabriel Aguto at the top of Mt. Fuji

Please check out their blog below!

https://www.runningjapanfilm.com/

Golden Week: Okinawa and Osaka

Myliyah Hanna is a Japanese and English major who spent this past spring semester studying on exchange in Tokyo, Japan. Read about her spring break adventures!

 

Okinawa

Golden Week is a week of Japanese holidays, such as Showa Day or Children’s Day, that many people take off to vacation and travel. For us exchange students it meant a week off from class, my spring break. Golden Week is an opportunity to travel and therefore the prices of the shinkansen, Japan’s infamous bullet train, flights, and hotels are bumped up. Even though expensive, I asked myself when would be the next time I get a chance like this. And so, I booked a flight and an inn in Naha, Okinawa.

When I left for Okinawa, Tokyo was cool in the morning. The sun was bright and an early morning breeze swam through the city and across the shoulders of other people pulling suitcases alongside themselves. After a three-hour flight to Naha, I found myself overdressed. My leggings and t-shirt were too warm for Okinawan weather and I was paying the price via sweat. But the air near the airport smelled of the ocean and palm trees stood tall along the roads.

I decided to stay close to the airport since Okinawa doesn’t have trains. Besides a car, buses are the main form of transportation. In Naha, however, there’s a monorail that goes through the city. My inn was about ten minutes from one of the stations on the monorail. It was also about 20 minutes from one of the most popular tourist attractions in Okinawa, Kokusai Dori (Kokusai Street), a long road abundant with yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurants and Okinawan souvenir shops where one could buy a jar of habushu, or Okinawan snake wine.

The owner of the inn was a talkative, friendly older man who referred to himself as “Master” and spoke in the third person. In the morning he was usually near the entrance of the inn stretching to prepare for a daily run. Sometimes I would come down and see him playing with a short-tailed cat that often frequented the inn. The kitten was a girl who he had wanted to name Kentarou, a traditionally masculine name, but had yet to name her because he couldn’t think of anything else he liked. “See, if I named her Kentarou,” he said, “she’d probably get scared by the name and run off.” Every night he was usually in the kitchen, watching television and inviting people to sit and drink with him. Amongst some of those conversations, I had come to know him in a way that I wasn’t expecting. He was open and honest about his life, his feminine personality, his open marriage and three girlfriends. He had probably told me too much for even American standards, but I undoubtedly appreciated his honesty.

“Master” was just one person in Okinawa that I encountered and made me feel like I belonged, almost as if Okinawa had been waiting for me. Although I wasn’t free from the prolonged staring, Okinawans were more willing to approach me and ask me questions than people in Tokyo. It was also the first time I received so much positive attention on my braids since my arrival. There is something to be definitely said for Okinawa’s excellent hosting skills. It was the first time in my exchange experience thus far that I wasn’t the odd man out. I wasn’t othered. I was welcomed and I cannot begin to explain how necessary that was for me.

This isn’t to say that people in Tokyo haven’t been kind and gracious either. I’ve run into many nice people who were patient with me as I tried to explain myself in nervous Japanese. I will say, however, that even though Tokyo is the most global in its visitors and stores, Okinawa’s mindset is far more international. There is no need to remind a foreigner how un-Japanese they are in their mannerisms or mother-tongue. Okinawa knew that, and it didn’t care.

Okinawa was laid-back, lacking some of the rigid social rules I discovered in Tokyo. I noticed this especially when it came to clothing. In Tokyo, certain styles of tops and dresses–off the shoulder tops, open back dresses, spaghetti straps–have a reputation for promiscuity. In Naha, however, these tops and dresses were abundant in Naha. Simply put, it was too warm in Okinawa to cover up. Tokyo is serious; Okinawa is a beach.

Two days before my flight departing from the island, I visited an interactive workshop that specialized in traditional Okinawan sango dyeing. The building was styled after traditional Japanese architecture and soft music played overhead. Upstairs was where I sat at a table and used coral and paint to create designs on a t-shirt. The entire workshop, which was about an hour, cost about 30 dollars but it was well worth my money. Later that day I also visited Shurijo Castle, a World Heritage site and one of Okinawa’s oldest historical monuments. The inside curved and weaved through numerous rooms that each held their purposes, such as the throne room for celebrations and a raised platform room where past kings conducted political business.

I didn’t know what to expect what when I landed at the airport. I imagined long rural roads, strangers distancing themselves from me. Okinawa surprised me, opened up a whole other side of Japanese identity I thought I would rarely see. The friendliness I experienced in Okinawa alone is reason enough for me to go back. I was reminded that Japan is not only Tokyo, the one place that seems to ring in our minds the loudest when we hear the country’s name. Okinawa reminded me that central Japan, the big cities, are not the end-all-be-all. It also reminded me about the pleasures of taking a break from crowded areas to breathe and stretch, feel the ocean on my toes and the sunshine on my skin.

Osaka

When I hear the name Osaka, I think of medieval Japan. I think of how important Osaka was as a trade post and a cultural hub where many of the great poets journeyed to. I think about its proximity to Kyoto, Nara, the once great capitals of Japan before it was decided that Tokyo would become the next, and final, capital.

Japanese literature classes can only teach but so much. I knew of Kansai-ben, or Kansai dialect, and of Osaka’s infamous okonomiyaki, which I can only describe as a vegetable and meat pancake. Other than that, Osaka remained a mystery to me. Japan is ultimately more than just Tokyo and I wanted to experience the Japan that wasn’t in Tokyo. After Okinawa, I returned to the airport and boarded a plane heading for the port city.

Admittedly, when I arrived in Osaka I was excited to have trains and subways to ride again. The airport stood atop an island about twenty minutes or so from Osaka itself. When I landed, the waters and sky were streaked with flecks of gold and purple, the windows of the stylish airport glittering with the sunset. It was rush hour but people were calm, taking their time to board the trains heading into the city. Osaka has its own loop line that circles the city, making stops at the most popular locations. The guesthouse I stayed at was on one of these stops, two minutes from the station.

My favorite part about Osaka is the fact that the city weaves its rivers into its architecture. Bridges are abundant, each with their own character and connecting different areas together. Atop the Umeda Sky Building is an observation deck. I went and ordered a parfait to enjoy the breathtaking view. Mountains stood tall along the horizon and I could see planes descending to land at the nearby airport. The outside observation deck had speakers playing the epitome of cafe music, with its soft guitar and drums. It was windy but the circular deck gave me one of the best views of Osaka. I could see the curves of the river and how they emptied into the sea; I could see clouds lifting off from the mountains.

It was at night, however, that Osaka’s young spirit opened itself up to me. Dotonbori is undoubtedly a tourist site, but the attention it attracted was nothing but positive. Everyone was relaxed and enjoying themselves. I indulged in the sights and smells of ramen and okonomiyaki. There was laughter and music and relaxation. As I walked through Dotonbori, crossing bridges over a glimmering river to the other sides of the area, I walked aimlessly and took in what Osaka gave to me. I had chosen a small izakaya to eat dinner at that night. I sat at the bar, where I watched the two chefs prepare the meals and joke with one another. I was the only foreigner in there at the time, but that didn’t stop anyone from asking me questions. Before I left they wished me luck in my studies, asked that I come back to the izakaya when I’m in Osaka again.

Although my time in Osaka was limited to a day, it’s easily one of the most memorable. I didn’t want to leave. The people were incredibly friendly and unbothered about my foreignness. If anything, it emboldened many to ask me about my studies, where I came from, my reasons for coming to Japan. The week of traveling reminded me about the importance of traveling in the first place. Of course seeing monuments and visiting famous areas is always an experience in itself, but certainly, the beauty of venturing oceans away from home is to interact with people and to learn their stories and their habits. Okinawa and Osaka presented to me the beauty of human curiosity and kindness, the kind that one can find only when they travel.

I returned to Tokyo via the shinkansen, or the bullet train. I was convinced by some friends who have been to Japan numerous times to ride it at least once while I’m here. From Osaka to Tokyo it was about two and a half hours, but the trip itself felt so much shorter than that. At one point Mount Fuji stood in the distance. I scrambled to take a picture, but the train curved and Fuji-san disappeared from my sight.

I wasn’t expecting Osaka to leave such a deep impression on me, but that’s what makes it so alluring. Osaka was young and carefree, wanting to take you everywhere and show you everything it could. Osaka showed off its mountains, its rivers like snakes emptying into the sea. Osaka’s nighttime dress was bold and kind, and when it saw me off to return to school I knew I had to visit again before I returned to America. Osaka still has so much to show me, and I eagerly await my second chance.