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Personal Essay

Visiting Japan: An Opportunity of a Lifetime

On Oct. 3, 2018, my friend Emilee Hall and I sat in Old Main at Texas State University. As we attended our Media Writing course, we were tasked with writing a story about Dr. Gilbert D. Martinez’s proposed study abroad program in Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan. Dr. Martinez presented a slideshow outlining the rough itinerary and discussed his reasoning for creating the program in the first place. Intrigued by Dr. Martinez’s presentation, I discussed the opportunity with Emilee as we walked to our next class together. We both said to each other, “I will go if you go!” I am not sure either of us believed that we would follow through, yet finally, we applied and were accepted into the program

 The weeks leading up to the Study Abroad Program were some of the most anxious weeks of my life. Prior to this program, I had never been out of the United States and only traveled domestically. The furthest I had traveled prior to this program was to Florida when I was younger. I could not stop thinking about traveling abroad for the first time and all the facets of making it all work and going all the way to Japan. Before I knew it, it was time. I no longer had time to dwell on what was to come; instead, I had to react to what was happening. I flowed from one step to the next, and before I knew it, I was on my way to Japan.

When I arrived in Tokyo, I found myself constantly drawing a comparison between Japan and the United States. Last spring break, I visited New York for the first time and was often anxious and worried due to the unpredictable nature of the transit system. I found myself concerned about what would happen the next time we arrived at a stop. Japanese transit systems, on the other hand, are much cleaner and tame. I felt a sense of security and never felt a fraction of the worry that I felt while in New York. Everyone on the subway and train kept to themselves and did not often talk or make any noise. Also, the subway system would close completely at midnight, allowing for cleaning during the off hours which helps overall cleanliness immensely.

This trip taught me how to cope with mishaps and go with the flow while traveling with a group. As the trip progressed, the group of students attending rapidly became close friends. We spent all day together and willingly continued to be together at night as we explored independently from the planned excursions. At times, issues would arise that we would have to work out such as getting lost or disagreeing on the itinerary. Of course, these spats were soon remedied, and we carried on.

We had the opportunity to visit a multitude of shrines and temples throughout our trip, each having its own unique traits. I had never experienced anything like this before. I was completely caught off guard having not researched the etiquette that coincides with visiting these locations. Luckily, I was able to be guided by the rest of the group and our local guides in order to pursue best practices and behaviors. I had a wonderful time touring the shrines and temples. I underestimated how different each of them could be, while still holding the same type of structure. My favorite location would have to be Fushimi Inari Shrine. The 1,000 vermilion gates were stunning. I have always seen images of this historic site, yet had no idea how beautiful it would be in person. 

For anyone that is considering traveling to Japan, I would highly recommend it. As someone who had to wrestle with the idea of traveling internationally for the first time ever, I can confidently say that it is not as scary as it seems. If it is that scary, it likely will get better after you do the hard part: go. Ensure that you do preliminary research in order to follow social cues and navigate the transit semi-smoothly, but other than that, it is a huge leap of faith in order to make the decision to finally go. Once in Japan, you should travel, travel, travel. At night I found myself at times wishing I could stay at the hotel and rest when a friend would drag me back out into the town. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We utilized every minute to the best of our ability and saw as much as we could see. Coming back to the United States having this in mind is comforting, for I would never want to have a regret or “what if?” Who knows the next time I will be back in Japan?!

I hope for future students to have the opportunity that my classmates and I shared, for it was the trip of a lifetime. I will never forget the time we shared together, and am grateful for those who made the trip possible. Dr. Gilbert D. Martinez sacrificed a year of time and planning in order to make this come to fruition. On this trip, I learned a vast amount about Japanese culture and how society differs in Japan from my home in the United States. Tokyo and Kyoto will forever hold a special place in my heart, along with my fellow classmates with whom I had the opportunity of a lifetime.

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