Capturing the unforgettable in Japan

On the second day of my adventure in Tokyo, I ran out of storage on my phone.

Oli posing next to Totoro
Oli found Totoro. Photo by Maurice Epps.

I’ve never been an avid photographer, often going months without opening the camera app on my phone. After all, why capture life through pictures when you’re living it, right? When I take pictures, they usually come out blurry or overexposed, and I try to pass them off as “artistic.”

But on this trip, no moment seemed too small to capture, no detail too insignificant to remember. Being abroad magnifies the significance of even walking down an empty street. And sometimes, stumbling upon a Totoro statue prompts you to drop everything, find the nearest umbrella and ask a friend to snap the perfect picture.

Expectation vs. reality

As I embarked on this journey, my expectations were intentionally limited. Going with the flow has always been more my style, so I conducted minimal research on the places we planned to visit, preferring to embrace spontaneity over meticulous planning. I was content with immersing myself in new culinary experiences and exploring fascinating locales. About the only expectation I did have was when I wasn’t exploring Japan or working on assignments, I’d be on my phone. And don’t get me wrong. I used my phone a lot, especially when it came to working on the go. Like, a lot.

A train ride
A train ride. Photo by Gabby Fiorenza.

But, I didn’t expect to be very social on this trip. I’m an introvert by nature, so the thought of embarking on an adventure halfway across the world with a group of virtual strangers was enough to make me consider dropping out of the program.

As it turns out, I was anxious about nothing at all. From playing Spoons while waiting for a delayed flight to laughing a little too loudly on the subway, there was never a moment I felt lonely.

A Dr. Pepper can
Dr. Pepper in Japan.

Any expectations I might have had couldn’t come close to all of the amazing things I saw and experienced in Japan. I enjoyed the peacefulness of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and the bustling atmosphere of Don Quijote in Tokyo. We stumbled through the dark at Kiyomizu-dera Temple, got lost in the winding streets of Kyoto and made frequent vending machine stops.

I’ll never forget the seven-hour adventure I went on to Arashiyama Monkey Park or my first Japanese baseball game. No matter where we visited in Japan, there was always something unique and beautiful to see.

Sleepless in Tokyo… and Kyoto

An amazing experience I wouldn’t trade for anything, there were some bumps in the road. Sleep became a distant memory, with the combined stress of assignments and the learning curve associated with multimedia aspects. Balancing the desire to experience every aspect of Tokyo and Kyoto with the need to complete assignments proved to be an ongoing challenge. Also, my existing insomnia persisted, making it difficult to unwind despite the packed itinerary.

Now that the trip is over, I’ve been racking my brain for days, searching for the words to articulate the profound impact this trip to Japan has had on me. All I can express is an overwhelming love for every single second, even amidst the inevitable challenges.

What I learned from SJMC Japan

Roomates in the 7/11
Felicity and Oli browse 7-Eleven.

As I enter my final year of college, I plan to build on the skills acquired during this trip. Time management, understanding the basics of social media and the ability to capture decent photographs will all be valuable assets. I am grateful for Professor Jon Zmikly’s patience and willingness to collaborate, ensuring that the work I submitted during the trip truly reflected my best efforts. Striking a work-life balance will remain a priority, as well as nurturing my writing voice, a task that Professor Gilbert D. Martinez pushed me to explore. Guidance from Jamie Gonzalez, our graduate instructional assistant and my hero, was invaluable, enhancing the quality of my writing throughout the journey. Each feature story showcased an improvement in my storytelling abilities, making me more confident in my writing.

Jen Norris, our guide from Asia Institute, assured us that this trip would not mark our final visit to Japan. Despite the challenges posed by long flights and financial constraints (thanks Amá, for all that overtime you worked to help me afford to study abroad), I am determined to return to Japan soon.

For now, thanks to the SJMC Japan Team for midnight 7-Eleven runs, unforgettable rounds of UNO and finally giving me a reason to use up the storage on my phone.

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