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Making a change (in plans)

Shaima written in Kanji
Shaima written in Kanji

Yesterday was the personal day for the World Campus Japan class, and unfortunately the heavy rain did not seem to want to stop. It caused many delays and trains to stop driving. Luckily there was still quite a lot to do and we all had fun and arrived back to our host families safely.

The rain however caused our plans for today, the 7th of July, and also the day of the Tanabata festival, to be changed for the most part. The plan was to visit a museum and university, but due to the heavy and constant rain, we could not go. Thankfully our lovely World Campus staff and counsellors came up with a solution, we were to spend the day doing various activities at Mai Theater.

We started off as usual with going over the schedule and explaining the changes in this case. We were joined by some of the host families aswell in the morning which was very fun. First we were divided into 2 groups so each group could go into a room to do an activity and afterwards switch rooms and also activities.

The 2 morning activities were ‘Shoudo’ (Japanese calligraphy) and writing wishes and making origami for the Tanabata festival. The group I was in, started with the Tanabata activities. First, we wrote 2 wishes each to hang in a bamboo tree for Tanabata. I wished to come back to Japan someday again, and for my Japanese to improve. After hanging the wishes up, we moved on to the origami. I love origami but don’t always have the time for it, so it was fun to pick it up again. We learned how to make a 4-pointed shuriken by Kengo, one of the volunteers of the LOC. It was quite funny to watch everyone, including me, struggle with the last step but in the end we all made our shuriken. After that, the children of one of the host families that were present, taught us how to make an origami heart. They were very good teachers and we could easily follow along!

I made a functional ‘beating’- heart out of paper aswell, which Kengo was very excited about. I ended up teaching him how to make it during our lunchtime. He tried his best, but I think he used the wrong paper, so he had a slightly broken heart.

Then came Shoudo. Our sensei was very kind and patient in explaining and individually correcting the Kanji we wrote. We wrote the Kanji for mountain (‘yama’) and river (‘gawa’), aswell as learning how to write our own names as Kanji. At the cultural fair the day before, we could ask how our name would be written with Kanji. For those that still remembered those Kanji or brought it, they showed how the stroke order works. For those without a Kanji-version of their name yet, they quickly thought it over and provided one.

Shoudo was difficult, but it was very satisfying when you finally received the ‘ok’ from Sensei, which was an orange coloured spiral she would draw over your well-drawn Kanji. We were of course allowed to take home all of the things we made and drew/wrote.

Lunch came around and we were surprised with quite some options, I personally had sushi, but I saw some eat a rice dish and even omurice. During this lunch hour, I made an 8-pointed shuriken that turns into a Frisbee, which I gifted to Rina, one of the volunteers. Rina, Kengo, and I chatted for a while and exchanged information, after which I attempted to teach Kengo how to make the paper heart I mentioned earlier.

After lunch we had a variety of games in store for us, provided and guided by Yui. We played name games to learn to remember each other’s names easier, aswell as funny ice-breaking games to get to know each other better and become closer.

We ended up playing a game called ‘Take your stand’. The point of the game was to share opinions with each other, without interrupting each other and to expand each other’s horizons. The questions that divided us ranged from, ‘Which do you like better, Pepsi or Coca-Cola?’ to more serious questions such as, ‘Do you think diversity is positive or negative?’. You had to stand on the side of the room corresponding to your opinion and then if you received Yui’s permission (in the form of a ball being thrown at you), you were allowed to voice that opinion.

We discussed a lot but everyone remained respectful and friendly, which was very nice to see. I am glad this group can get along so well and that games like these are in the program. I almost dare say, maybe it wasn’t a bad thing that the schedule changed. In the end it led to healthy discussions, friendships being formed or further expanded, and a group of people from different backgrounds, ethnicities and with different opinions becoming closer.

We ended this interesting and fun day with a wrap-up meeting discussing the schedule for Monday. Long after arriving home to my host family, I kept replaying today in my mind, with a smile on my face. I think today was a success, despite previous setbacks and elemental struggles. Thank you to the counsellors, World Campus Japan staff and collaborators and everyone involved really. I made the right decision applying to join this group, and I am extremely happy that I was accepted and am meeting so many interesting people.

This was a glimpse into one of my and our days in Suita, Japan. There aren’t enough words to fully explain all I experienced but I hope this message still comes across quite well.

Shaïmaa Samouh

Bamboo crafts and okonomiyaki in Omuta

Joakim flipping Okonomiyaki in Omuta
Joakim flipping Okonomiyaki in Omuta

I woke up at 7.30, at which point it was time for breakfast. I prefer to sleep as much as possible, since World Campus can be quite tiring. Today, like yesterday, we had toast and miso soup. There was toast with melted cheese & piman (Japanese green bell pepper,) blueberry jam and the newcomer, coconut oil. I had never tried toast with coconut oil before, and it turned out to be a bit… greasy. It was totally edible though, but it’s not my favorite condiment for toast. The day had started with something I had never done before, and it was not the only thing this day.

Arriving at our location at 8.30, I was ready for today’s first activity, bamboo crafting. One of the locals, Mr. Higuchi, told us a lot about bamboo in Japan, both things I knew and some I had never heard before. He told us that bamboo sprouts used to be a common food in Japan, but that these days it was not so popular anymore. As a result, areas that had previously been used to grow bamboo sprouts are now covered by huge bamboo forests. Bamboo grows about 15 to 20 meters in a year. Because they are so tall, they block out the sunlight so other plants can’t live there. As such, bamboo is a bit of a pest. It is important to keep cutting down bamboo trees, and Japanese people try to find uses for the excess bamboo. Mr. Higuchi cut down some bamboo trees for us the day before, so we had the opportunity to create a bamboo “smartphone speaker.” It was a contraption that worked similar to a flute, where the sound from the smartphone would be channeled in one direction through the bamboo instead of going in all directions, hence enhancing the sound. In order to make this, we used a special saw made for cutting bamboo. Unlike western saws, it could only cut when pulling it towards you, making it more efficient, but less flexible.

After finishing the bamboo speaker, we learned about Japanese ribbons. In Japan, it is common to give money as gifts on certain occasions (such as funerals,) and one usually puts the money in an envelope and decorates it with a ribbon. The color of the ribbon indicates the occasion, and the size indicates the sum of money. We learned how to make the most basic ribbon, awai musubi. We then made a slightly more complicated ribbon, which was supposed to look like a crane, that we used to decorate our bamboo speaker.

Next we each made our own stamp. In preparation, I had asked my host family what they thought would represent me. We ended up choosing the kanji与 (“yo”). It sounds like the first syllable of my first name, and it also looks like the number five. In Japanese, five is pronounced “go”, which is the first syllable of my family name, so it seemed like a perfect choice. It also means “give” or “grant.”

As our final activity of the day, we made okonomiyaki with some locals. Okonomiyaki consist of a batter similar to pancakes, and usually contains cabbage, spring onion and other fillings (in our case, cheese.) It is cooked in a frying pan shaped like a thick pancake with pieces of pork on top. Finally it is served with a special sauce, mayonnaise, nori (seaweed) and fish flakes. It was delicious as always!

In the evening we had a couple of hours to shop in Aeon (a large shopping mall,) before being picked up by our host families at 17.00. This evening my host family had a guest – a student who was being taught English by my host father. Even though she was very shy, we had a great time and enjoyed a lot of food and drinks together. My host father also played some songs on classical guitar for us, which was amazing. Overall this was yet another fantastic day with World Campus this year!

Joakim Gåsøy (Norway)

School visit and BBQ with host family

Magnus with his extended host family
Magnus with his extended host family

Hello everyone, My name is Magnus Krumbacher and I’m from Norway. I have been living in Tokyo on my gap year since I graduated from high school last year.

Now that I’ve introduced myself, I would like to talk about my day and what I got to experience. It started off as usual by waking up at 7:00 AM. I went downstairs to eat breakfast together with my host family. I have to say, I’m not really a morning person so I’m always half asleep while eating. Today was no different. Luckily though, they are quite the same so I felt comfortable with just sitting, eating and occasionally talking a bit.

After breakfast my host father drove me to Takematsu elementary school where I met up with the other World Campus participants. After everyone had arrived we walked inside and sat down in an empty classroom, waiting for the principal. Astonished by the sight of so many foreigners in one place, the elementary school kids quickly began to gather outside of the classroom and started staring at us. I didn’t feel uncomfortable being stared at because I think that children anywhere in the world would stare out of curiosity when seeing a group of people that don’t look like people they’re used to.

The principal finally arrived and we were taught the history of Takematsu elementary school. After also having explained some things we were not allowed to do, such as taking pictures of children and publishing them on social media, it was time for 書道, calligraphy in English. After going to the gymnasium and briefly introducing ourselves, we sat down with the children and started writing Chinese characters. I chose to write 嵐, meaning “storm”. Although I was pretty bad at it, the children helped me enough that I ended up with a presentable result. Then the children cleaned up after us and we were introduced to some typical Japanese games like 剣玉, literally translated “Sword-Ball”.

After about 30 minutes we returned to our classroom and waited for the kids to prepare for school lunch. We were sent into different classes and got to interact with the children while eating the school lunch. I made a small group of friends during that time so after we finished eating, they dragged me outside to play with them. On the way out one child had the idea of asking me for my signature and when the others saw that, it completely took off. All of us were surrounded by school kids asking for our signature for at least 10 minutes. When we finally made it outside, my small group of friends suggested we play tag. Of course I was the one who had to catch them and it wasn’t exactly cold on that day either so after we were done, I was drenched in sweat.

We then proceeded to clean the classroom with the children. This is actually part of the education at Japanese schools. They have to clean their own classroom, toilets etc. The children had a hard time believing that in Norway we have people who clean after everyone leaves the school in the afternoon. Anyhow, after having cleaned the classroom it was time to say goodbye. I really felt bad because my small group of friends I had made seemed quite sad that we were all leaving and they had to return to their daily school routine. We then moved to back to the Shorinji Kenpo Dojo we had been earlier that week and practiced for the upcoming Thank-You-event at the end of our stay in Omura.

Our host families came to pick us up and I just had enough time to take a shower before they took me to their daughters place and we all had a rooftop BBQ. The daughters children were pretty scared of me in the beginning but that went away pretty quickly when we started playing various games. The BBQ was also delicious. I discovered that I really like fried tofu. When it got dark outside we went inside and it turned out they had made a cake for me to “welcome me to the family.” I thought that was very sweet of them. Then I went home with my host family and we watched some TV before I went to bed. Overall it was a very successful day!

Magnus Krumbacher (Norway)

Joyful interaction with school children and the spirituality of Japanese archery

Helena about to shoot a Japanese yumi bow in Omura
Helena about to shoot a Japanese yumi bow in Omura

This day started with me not being able to wake up, even though I slept for 9 hours! Which is probably the last time I can sleep that much during the program as I am a counselor.

The breakfast was so delicious I suddenly realized why I wanted to wake up. After quick preparation and hurrying with my host mom, I got dropped off next to Nijinohara school. My host mom happens to work in the school that stands next to the one we were going to visit that morning, so I was glad I didn’t take time from her usual morning.

We met in front of the school and the activity day could start. This school is a bit different from the other schools we visit with World Campus Japan. It’s a school for children with special needs and that was recognizable from the beginning. For me it meant a huge joy. We lined up and the children high fived us while entering the school and even that was a wonderful experience. We were given a chance to see how excited these kids can be and how much they can give you just by smiling. The whole experience was really emotional for me as I really love spending time with happy people and these kids are just glowing with joy.

One of the teachers lectured us about how the school works and what not to do around the kids. We even had a tour around the school and I must say: how much creativity they use to teach the kids is really impressive. Every kid has the attention needed.

Next, it was our turn to introduce ourselves and perform for the kids. Even though we practiced just a little bit the day before and our positions changed, it went well. The amazingly performed Alele by Daniel was an even better icebreaker.

After dividing to 3 groups we were assigned to a specific classrooms. I was with the 3rd years. On the way to the classroom two of the kids wanted to hold my hand and walk with me. I couldn’t feel happier. The teachers took like thousands of pictures of the three of us. I made new friends right in that moment. The class had its own program for us and everything was fun, mainly watching the kids being sooo excited. Their joy was almost visible as waves of energy in the air. But I would prefer not doing the whole “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” four times in a row and singing it with a microphone while doing so. The tempo of that song was changing in a weird way but the kids didn’t seem to mind.

Lunch was the last thing that awaited us in that school. My group was eating in the cafeteria and the system of Japanese school cafeteria is just amazing. Almost every system like that is really well done in Japan. Maybe this system was a bit adjusted for the kids but that makes it even more amazing. We ate curry and drank milk. The portion was so big I just couldn’t finish all of it, so I gave the rest to someone else. Together with my jelly. Even while eating, the kids were coming to us and introducing themselves. They always tried their very best.

Then we said our thanks and were headed to a dojo for Kyudo. The dojo had a tradition to follow when entering and leaving which was the first sign of the spiritual nature of what was about to happen. A very well done lecture about Kyudo was given by the masters and then they helped us getting in the traditional clothes. We looked so cool in those. I felt really confident while wearing it.

Kyudo has exact steps to follow before and after shooting the arrow. Following them has a spiritual meaning to it and some of us really enjoyed this part of Japanese style of archery. I enjoyed the feeling that it’s not as hard as it looks. After a short practice without the arrows we were able to shoot. Not once. Not twice. Multiple times. I couldn’t hit the exact target anyway. But still it was really interesting and rewarding. Literally. We received an award for hitting a balloon, or in my case, for trying hard. And also other gifts. Japanese people are too kind.

When we left we had some time before our host families would come pick us up so we went for ice cream! What a nice ending of a long day. Even more so thanks to the deliciousness of the ショップドチョコレート (chipped chocolate) flavor.

For dinner with my host family we went to a sushi place and of course it was also delicious. It really felt like a dinner with family. Everyone was exhausted but still enjoying the presence of one another. I always try to remind them that they need to sleep more but they never listen!

We sang together on the way back and were welcomed by a loud “wan wan”. Honey, the dog, barks all the time. It’s like a little black sheep trying to gain some respect. After taking a shower I went to my room and now I can enjoy a nice sleep in this huge bed.

Helena Raichartová
(Czech Republic)

Anime studio tour and saying goodbye to World Campus – Japan 2017

My host family told me ahead of time that I had to get to the meeting place earlier than usual, as my host sister was gonna take an English test (I still find it absurd that they have classes during summer break, but different school system I suppose) so there I was, at the Parthenon Tama– dying because of the heat. Well I didn’t care because I was excited for NIHON Animation! I’m gonna be honest, it’s not like I’m the biggest anime fan (I read manga though) but to see how it’s done professionally sounded awesome.

Just before we left Hiro decided it was kind of him to hand me my shoes I left at Mito… I had completely forgotten about those and it wasn’t like I was excited to carrying them throughout the day! I didn’t have space in my bag either… But Elizabeth had enough kindness to place one of the shoes into her backpack.

When we arrived at our destination, it was a lot smaller and less dramatic than I had anticipated. I’m not sure what to expect but it wasn’t what I had in mind? Well, my odd imagination is partly at blame here. We wandered around, taking pictures as your everyday gaijin. It was so much fun for sure!

We were taken back to a shopping mall. There we had our lunch and got dressed for our, sadly, last ceremony. By dressed I mean a very Japanese clothing called yukata. We were shown awesome performances as well and we managed to wrap everything up nicely.

Of course, the session wasn’t gonna finish just like that. We had our own little last meet up together. Hiro had a lovely speech about what we’ve faced and how much we’ve progressed. Also, a hug from each of the staff as we received a signed thank-you letter. It sucked how it as the last time together with all of us but it’s gonna be a cherished memory for sure.

And to end a great day, my host family took me to onsen! A very Japanese way of finishing it.

Dahabo Omar (Sweden)