All posts by Thomas Greve

Happi

koto experience
koto experience

Wednesday the 7th of August was the first day of the last week of our great trip around Kanto area. We had had lot of fun times in Mito and afterwards in Abiko, but now was time for the city of Tama.

The first thing in the morning, we got to try out traditional Japanese clothing – kimonos. Each member of our group was dressed up by a bunch of lovely and enthusiastic ladies, all the while we could only raise our hands and let them do their work. Personally I really like this type of clothing and found it really fun to dress up in a few different outfit combinations for the photoshoot we had afterwards.

When everyone had at least tried on the clothes and had some pictures taken, we had a small parade around the building. Some of us were a bit uncomfortable about being presented as dressed up foreigners for the entertainment of the local people, but I just took it by the stride and enjoyed my time playing a Japanese flute, shinobue, to make most out of the experience. The parade ended at a stage, where we could try our hand at traditional Japanese games, while still in our fancy clothes. Not gonna lie, juggling or playing with a kendama with big floppy sleeves was not the easiest thing to do…

After lunch, it was time to try on a different traditional Japanese costume – Happi coat. Though not as fancy as the kimonos, it was a nice experience to try those too. In our new costumes we continued onwards with activities. From here we showed the audience the dance we had prepared for the arigatou event and gave them a few short presentations of some of our home countries.
The highlight of the afternoon for me, personally, was the activity following that. We got to try our hand at playing either a Japanese harp, koto, or one of the Japanese flutes, shakuhachi. While I would’ve loved to try out their shakuhachis, time only allowed for us to try one instrument, so I had fund picking sounds out of the koto.

The last activity of the day made us feel like proper celebrities for we got to give out autographs. It would’ve been great fun, if the kids wouldn’t have wanted us to draw something along with giving the autograph. I decided to give my signing seat to another participant after a few signatures to save the rest of the kids from my… “Art”…
All in all we had great fun!

Oskari, Finland

Summer School and Zen

Exchanging Ideas at Uda City Hall
Exchanging Ideas at Uda City Hall

We have done it, we have finally arrived in Uda! The city of beautiful hills, roaring rivers and… bugs. After having survived the first night without encountering any big unwanted guests, it was time for the first day, a day packed with a variety of activities.

Early in the morning our host-mother took us out for a quick stroll to a big dam that is just a stone’s throw away. The dam looked over on a beautiful lake surrounded by the dark green forests. The morning fog that was gliding through the woods created a mystical atmosphere. With that beautiful sight engraved in our memories Paul, who stayed at the same place as I did, and I were ready for the day

After having our usual morning meeting, we took a bus to a local elementary school. The kids were very happy to see us and greeted us with some traditional songs and a flute concert. One of the kids in particular stole my heart. When the other kids were listening to the long speeches, he took his socks of and tried to play the flute using his feet only. That was only the beginning of the fun. After the official welcome we were divided into smaller groups. My group had the luck to spend the morning with the 6th graders. We played a lot of card games together in some kind of tournament format. Even though I (almost) lost every game, I still had a blast! After having some intense card matches, it was time to replenish our energy with a traditional school lunch!

After Lunch we went to city hall, where we were ironically enough greeted even more as rockstars. When the bus arrived, the crowd was standing outside, cheering us on with flags. At City Hall we enjoyed some speeches by the mayor and other administrative figures of Uda City, a short presentation about the history of Uda and we got to ask many questions.

Immediately after the visit we continued on our way through the beautiful roads of Uda. We drove all the way to a Renshoji temple, which would be the location of a very unique experience: we were going to master the art of Zazen, the art of meditation and clearing your mind of all thoughts. Sadly, but to no surprise, I wasn’t very good at it. A key component of Zazen is the form. We had to sit in an uncomfortable cross-legged position, keeping our backs straight at all times without moving an inch. I don’t have to explain why, for somebody who can’t even sit decently on a chair, this was like cleansing the Augean stables.

While we were trying to cleanse our minds, a monk was walking around, making sure everybody was doing well. Those who were losing focus, received ‘encouragements’ in the form of being beaten with a stick. I can proudly say that I was one of the lucky few who got to experience the stick. After being beaten, having a sleeping foot and not feeling my ankles anymore, I felt one step closer to inner peace. The physical pain aside, it was a very interesting experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life. Up to the day that I have written this blog, me and the boys have been strengthening ourself in the art of Zazen on the path to true enlightenment. Except for Nils, he has a long way to go.

In the evening, Paul and I gave our host-mother some local gifts from Belgium and the United states. It was a very cozy evening and we really were having a blast. Paul also insulted Poland by calling the traditional 15th century Market square of my hometown in Poland a supermarket. Thereafter it was finally time to go to bed after what had been a very interesting and eventful day.

Herbert
Poland

Combining Queen with traditional Japanese music

Posing in yukatas with the performers
Posing in yukatas with the performers
Clipping the branch of a bonsai three for the first time
Clipping the branch of a bonsai three for the first time

After a quick breakfast my host mother drove me to the meeting point for the day, at JR Suita station. When everybody arrived, except poor Paul who would arrive an hour late due to struggling with the public transport in Suita as usual, we went over the details for the day and an excited group was heading to Kinrosha Kaikan. This was the place where we would spend most of the day, at a culture fare prepared specifically for World Campus and the community of Suita. And we had all the reason to be excited, as I think this day overwhelmed anybody’s expectation.

We were welcomed by the group who was organizing the fare. They are a diverse group of people who try to keep traditional Japanese culture alive, such as traditional games, instruments, theater, tea ceremony among other things. After their success with the cultural fare for us last year, they are now determined to keep the tradition going with the second fare. And I am happy that they do, because this was certainly the highlight of the stay in Suita.

Following the welcome ceremony, we were divided into groups of three participants and three Japanese volunteer students. My group first went to get dressed in yukatas, traditional Japanese garments, before going to sing karaoke. I really enjoyed the karaoke, as we first sang my favorite karaoke song, Bohemian Rhapsody. But even better was our final song Ue O Muite Aruko (better known as Sukiyaki in the west) since the Japanese people were all joining, and I am familiar with the song from previously participating in the World Campus program.

We then got to try to perform some traditional Japanese theater that uses katanas and really precise choreography. It was really fun to try because we had already seen these people perform during the opening ceremony and finding out how hard it really was made me respect them even more. It was indeed incredibly hard, but very satisfying when I (almost) made it.

After changing back to our regular clothes we had lunch at a nearby restaurant. We had two of Osaka’s specialities, okonomiyaki and yakisoba. It also happens to be two of my favorites. We then tried a lot more activities, including bonsai three trimming, playing koto (a harp-like instrument) and drinking maccha tea., but I will not elaborate for the sake of brevity.

Half of the groups, including mine, stayed behind after the event to help clean up. Due to our collected effort, the cleaning went by in a blink, so we had time to get some ice cream and visit some shops nearby. We then got picked up by our host families, and the rest of the day was a blast with them as usual.

Joakim Gåsøy
Norway

Traveling to a new city and experiencing Nou

Paul wearing the oni mask and costume
Paul wearing the oni mask and costume

There’s something intimidating about having to move to a new city every week. Right after getting used to a family and becoming part of it, you need to pack up and repeat the process over again in a foreign place. I won’t lie; I was scared to leave Omuta initially. I had grown so attached to my host family; my dad Mizu, my mom Riko, and my siblings Junsei and Koto. But I knew what I was signing up for when I joined World Campus Japan, and meeting new families was boldened in the contract.

We got to the bus station at the very start of the rainy season. It was pouring, and we had been running late. I chalk it up to taking my sweet time saying some final goodbyes to my siblings and mom, but I’ll blame the rain on anything official. We pulled up just as everyone was loading up onto the bus, so Mizu had to take off fast. The goodbye was short, but I know we’ll miss each other very much. Afterall, he had become my dad in the week I lived with him, and I became his son.

The ride was short, but the air in the bus was heavy. I think everyone felt the same growing anxiety at the prospect of meeting a new host family. I slept for the hour and a half drive to the YMCA in Kumamoto City. After arriving and waking up a bit, we received some free time from our councelors. We strolled through the thinning rain to the shopping street down the way, and we all split up and went our own ways. I wound up with another student from Sweden, and we had lunch at a curry house together, talking about our lives back home and how we felt about the world in the present moment. It was in that moment I realized I had really made true friends while on this journey of mine. I made my way back to our meeting spot early so that I could work on some journals for the trip.

We had been invited to experience a type of Japanese theatre called Nou. We walked down the road to a small cozy house nestled in an ally. Inside and up the stairs, a small stage had been built by the house’s owner. He demonstrated his beautiful art, akin to opera in the west, and then invited us to try the movements and some of the costumes. The air was thick with amusement as we watched our friends make stiff movements and try the exotic costumes and masks. We thanked the very talented actor, and we headed back to the YMCA to meet our Kumamoto host families. I won’t lie, I was terrified in the moment.

Families started to pour in, but we had no idea who our host family would be. We were given cards with our family’s info and we lined up in the front of the room and introduced ourselves to our families. My hands subtly shook as I read out the name of my new family; Takayama.

My host dad, Yoshi, stood up and waved at me. His wife, Tomoko, stood close behind with my 5-month-old host sister Hiyori in a sling. My younger host brothers, Eito and Kento stared at me with awe as I walked over and towered over them. My fear melted away to worry; worry that I would be obnoxious or too different from what they’re used to. But as we drove home that worry subsided, and a feeling of familiarity washed over me.

It occurred to me that the best part of this trip has been that feeling. The feeling of meeting and becoming apart of a new family. Every week, I was welcomed with open arms and, for all intents and purposes, was adopted into a new family. It was effectively the cherry on the cake that World Campus had offered me.

I didn’t just stay with families, I became a part of them.

Paul George Newman
USA

Unique experiences with zen and katanas

A large buddha statue at the center of the temple's premises
A large buddha statue at the center of the temple’s premises
We did zen meditation in the pagoda
We did zen meditation in the pagoda

Today after having breakfast with my host family, we met up with the rest of the group in order to go to a buddhist temple where we practiced zen meditation and rang the world’s largest bell.

The first thing we did after getting to the temple was (after a meeting regarding the day) to purify ourselves before going to the floor where zen meditation is practiced. The actual zen meditation was actually really interesting as the monk would slap our shoulders with a stick if we weren’t focused on the meditation.

After the meditation, we were allowed to go to the top of the tower and gaze upon the amazing view from up there.

We then went to ring the bell, but since only six people were allowed to assist in ringing the bell, we had to do rock paper scissors against the monk in order to earn a spot. Luckily, I won on the first try and secured myself a spot.

After having rang the bell seven times, it was time for lunch which had been prepared by a chef specifically for us. He had made curry however me and Martin from the Czech Republic wanted to walk around the place for a bit so we had to finish up quickly.

Next on the agenda was a visit to an authentic katana swordsmith and to try cutting bamboo mats with real katanas. The smith has welcomed us many years in a row and four of us were able to experience the difficulty of actually hammering a piece of heated metal. After that we then moved to try using katana swords, surprisingly every participant managed to cut the mat which somebody fails to do almost every time.

All in all, I enjoyed the day greatly and would love to do zen meditation again if I get the chance.

Isak Odén
Sweden