In 2007 I was fortunate enough to take part in a study abroad program through OSU. It was a summer class that traveled to Japan and we learned about the cultural differences and medical practices of Athletic Training (this is what my degree is in). When I heard about this opportunity, I knew it was something that I had to participate in. The closer our departure date came, the more excited I became (and the more worried my mother became)!
Once the 14-hour flight had landed and I finally arrived in Japan, I was in awe of this beautiful country that was so different from anything I had ever experienced before. Everywhere I looked was something new! It was so exciting! I couldn’t wait to meet the people that would be sharing this trip with me!
During my trip, I visited the cities of Nagoya, Osaka, & Kyoto. Nagoya is a large manufacturing and shipping hub with a population of 2.26 million people. Osaka is a large port city with a population of 2.66 million people. Kyoto is the smallest city we visited with a population of 1.47 million people. Even though Kyoto is a very large city, walking through areas of the city you would never realize it was so large. There were thousands of Buddhist temples, so the areas around the temples are quiet and slow paced. In other parts of the city are quaint neighborhoods where you walk along stone streets and look at little shops. You can see the beautiful Geishas walking down the street with their beautiful white painted faces and intricate wardrobe of kimonos. The scenery was breathtaking. From the cherry blossoms to the ponds filled with coy fish; everywhere you looked was something more beautiful.
The hotel that we stayed in while in Nagoya was considered a “westernized hotel.” It had many of the modern features you would expect in a hotel in the United States. However the size and layout of the rooms were much different. The room itself was much smaller than any hotel I had ever stayed in. It was only wide enough for the bed and a small walkway to the desk at the opposite end of the room. Instead of a coffee maker, it had a tea kettle. Instead of a bath robe, it had a cotton kimono.
The bathroom was quite a bit smaller too, but was definitely more futuristic. There were so many buttons and gadgets on the toilet, I felt like I needed an instruction manual to operate it. I had to figure out what all of the button did. Let me just tell you, if you ever use a fancy Japanese toilet with a built in bidet, make sure the water pressure is turned down to the lowest setting BEFORE turning it on! During my exploration of the toilet I pushed the button, not realizing it was the bidet, and nearly shot myself off the toilet! Talk about a wake up call!!! The built in blow dryer was quite nice, though! The bathtub and shower combo were a little odd looking because the tub was only about 3-feet long, but was about 4-feet deep. Since I am on the short side, I almost felt like I needed a step ladder to get into the shower each day. This was the most adventurous bathroom I had ever used!
The hotel that we stayed in while in Kyoto was considered a “traditional” Japanese hotel. It was very different from Nagoya. The room was larger, and instead of carpet or tile it had this thatched straw type of flooring.
You were expected to remove your shoes before you entered the room. The room smelled like hay due to the flooring. I then realized there was no bed in this room. When I looked in the closet, I found the “bed”. It was in between the size of a twin and full-sized bed. But instead of a bed, it was a type of futon mattress, but only about ¼ of the thickness. There were also no pillows, other than the pillows that were intended to be sat on. There was only a sheet to cover up with. This is what I was going to be sleeping on.
To make things even more uncomfortable, I would be sharing this bedding with 2 girls that I had just met days before. I then noticed that there was no bathroom in our hotel room. After asking around, I was told there was a community bathroom just down the hall. Once I found it, there were only toilets in this bathroom, no showers. I walked a little farther and found the bath room. This was the true meaning of bath room. It was a large open room, with one large bathtub. It looked more like the hotel hot tub. But I was informed this was where you bathe. You and everyone else (they did have separate facilities for men and women). You all just share the same bath at the same time, and the water is only emptied at the end of the day. I learned that this is typical in traditional Japanese homes. There is one bathtub that is filled for the head of the household (the oldest male in the house). He takes his bath first, and then leaves the water. The rest of the family bathes in the same water. I was all for being immersed into the Japanese culture during my trip, but that was just too much culture for me. I decided to opt out of the community bathtub and just wait until I had my own private bathtub back at Nagoya.
During this trip I was fortunate enough to get to witness and participate in so many neat activities. My most favorite activity was the Sumo wrestling tournament that we attended. Before this trip, I would have never imagined I would have gone to watch Sumo wrestling in person! It was by far one of the coolest experiences of my life! There are so many ceremonial aspects to the sport. Each movement seems to have a special meaning. There is tradition in almost every aspect of the tournaments.
Some of the other activities of this trip were a traditional tea ceremony held in the home of some nice people who invited us for lunch and tea. The host was a master at the tea ceremony and even had original Japanese attire for us to wear at the event! This too was rich in Japanese tradition!
Once we were dressed, we were taught the proper way to kneel in our kimono, how to sit on our knees during the ceremony, how the tea is prepared and served, as well as how the food is served. This was a very intricate and lengthy tea ceremony. I can still remember how bitter the tea tasted. It was very dark green in color and served warm. As a very southern girl who ONLY drinks her tea very sweet and ice cold, I was severely in culture shock! I was so out of my element! But I loved every minute of the ceremony!
We went to a sports medicine clinic to learn about some of the injury treatments that are common in Japan, but not so common in the United States. I was able to have acupuncture on my neck. This was the first time I’ve ever had a treatment like this. It was a very cool learning experience.
There were so many cultural experiences during this 2-week long study abroad class. I will never forget this trip! I have always hoped to travel back to Japan sometime. I loved Japan! If you ever have the opportunity to travel there, TAKE IT!