Thursday, May 19, 2011

Portraits of Japanese Friends (and a return from my hiatus!)

I have returned!

     Hello everyone! I am back to writing again after a hiatus of quite longer than necessary. It has been a hectic last few months with evacuations and anxieties, all the while nearing the end of my study abroad term in Japan. I've tried to enjoy my last few weeks in Japan as much as possible and as a result have neglected uploading this blog on time. I really apologize for the break and hope the upcoming posts make up for it! I've been taking notes and thinking about each subject for a while now, and despite posting these entries in quick succession, each post is a culmination of many interactions and adventures with Japanese people. So without further ado, the posts!

Portraits of Japanese Friends

     In this blog I've decided to go a little bit beyond just introducing a single Japanese friend of mine. I'm glad to say that I've befriended many Japanese people all of ages, genders (well honestly, probably more females than males ^^) and backgrounds since I first arrived at Kansai Gaidai University. Not all of my friends today are the same as back when I first arrived however, and many friends I've made have since graduated or embarked on their very own study abroad programs outside of Japan. Despite the short time we've been given together and the different schedules and priorities had, I believe that I've been able to connect with some remarkable people. Each has been incredibly open and honest with their thoughts and opinions, inquisitive about my background and interests, more than accepting of my differences and patient with my blunders in Japanese, and for that I am eternally grateful. :)

We've become friends despite the short time we've been given together. Our time schedules, college and after-graduation plans, hobbies, dreams, how we define ourselves, are all a little bit varied, but we still share a common goal and experience, whether it be to conquer a foreign language, make friends from another culture, or to challenge and find out more about ourselves while studying abroad, there is something that has helped us click.

Akane (あかね)

     The first person that I would like to introduce is Akane, or as she likes to be called in informal settings, Kabu-chan. (She's on the left side of the picture below, while my other friend Mahori is on the right). I met both Akane and Mahori while in the 'Food Booth 2' circle that I joined for Kansai Gaidai's Fall Festival (外大祭 or INFES [International Festival]). Our group's job was to sell mochi waffles and tapioca juice (bubble/boba tea), but the group was far more than just a job or club activity. Through it I was able to meet such wonderful people as Akane, Mahori, and Shoko (her description's next!).

     Akane and I spent time preparing for the festival, went out for dinner and karaoke, met for lunch and between classes to help each other with projects and homework, but also talk about various happenings in our lives. We weren't language partners who were helping each other out of obligation, but rather friends just doing the other a favor and generally having a good time. I was really glad to be able to move past topics of academics with her and hear about things like her family life, what she valued and cherished, her dreams and future plans, and anxieties about her upcoming year abroad. She absolutely adored her older sister, whom had recently married and moved into a new house. Before the marriage Akane and her sister took a trip to India together, being that adventurous and close-knit. Akane was always happy to see you, even if she was exhausted from doing homework most of the night beforehand. She's incredibly gifted at languages (her English is phenomenal and her Mandarin is pretty high up there as well from what I've heard), warm, thoughtful but still with a great sense of humor. I think I could go on most of the day listing positives. : )
I often hear both foreign exchange and Japanese students lament that their foreign friends treat them as tutors first and foremost, and as friends secondly. It's an awkward feeling that I think most students know too well. Surely teaching language is a wonderful thing, and often a good ice-breaker for meeting others, but if one gets the feeling that their partner only likes them for the free English/Japanese lessons, then it gets quite uncomfortable very quickly. In complete opposition to that type of situation, Akane was one of the first Japanese students at Kansai Gaidai that I felt saw me as true friend. Akane is now 4 months into her 9 month study abroad program in Tianjin, China. We had a tearful farewell in late January as she embarked on her journey, but I know we'll meet again in the U.S. or Japan. We still talk online (thank you Facebook and Skype creators! :D) and should be sending each other mail or postcards soon!

Shōko (尚子)

Showing her radiant smile s we watch the Japan vs. Australia soccer match at a sports bar in Namba

     The next person I would like to introduce is Shōko, the fearless leader of INFES Food Booth 2! She was finishing her fourth and final year at Kansai Gaidai, having studied abroad in Canada the year before. She was serious, organized and professional when managing the group, but at the same time was kind to everyone, with a bright, cheerful smile that put everyone at ease. When I think of Shōko, I am reminded not only of kindness, but of courage as well. Shōko is a strong-willed, determined young woman. She met her fiancé (also pictured above) while abroad and has since graduated and moved to Canada to follow her dream of starting her own business in an English speaking country. I am grateful for the kindness she's showed me, in her advice given, leadership shown, and willingness to take time out of her day to go chat over coffee or omuraisu or kushi-katsu or pasta or yaki-niku~! :) I sincerely hope for the best as she follows her dreams in Canada!

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