It has more than 3,000 islands crammed into roughly the same land area as the state of Montana. The topography makes most of the nation uninhabitable. And yet, as Adrian Ellison says, there is so much to enjoy about Japan.
Ellison was one of 14 students from Pierce College and Tacoma Community College who undertook the trip of a lifetime during summer 2010: a visit to Japan.
The trip, open to students studying the Japanese language, became a year highlight for Ellison, and he enjoyed practicing his Japanese.
“I’ve been speaking (Japanese) for four-and-a-half years. They understand (English) a little bit, but they don’t use it a lot where I was travelling to. I had to use about 80 percent Japanese and 20 percent English,” Ellison says.
Two teachers, well versed in the Japanese language, chaperoned the students. Some students, he says, were newer to the language and had some difficulty but caught on with assistance from their teachers.
Ellison and his colleagues made their home away from home at Tamagawa University, in the Tokyo suburb of Machida.
“We stayed in their guest house and received an entire tour of the university,” he explains. “We met a few teachers, (and even) the ‘head honcho’ of the program.”
The group did not remain stationary, however. They visited a number of cities–––so many that Ellison admits some difficulty in remembering all of them.
The group saw a fair share of sights in Tokyo, including the National Diet Building, where the Diet, Japan’s national legislature, meets. The group also attended a performance of kabuki, an iconic Japanese dance and drama performance.
Outside of Tokyo, Ellison recalls visiting the coastal tourist town of Kamakura, where one of the largest statues of Buddha stands.
When it came to cuisine, the students readily sampled local delights.
“Whatever restaurant was nearby, we just went over and ate,” Ellison says.
Many restaurants were cook-it-yourself, he says. One that stood out for him was a restaurant called Ojoyomiyaki, a pancake house much different from American pancake houses.
“We sat on mats. We were given the batter, stirred it, poured it onto a burner and cooked it,” he says.
During the trip, Ellison and his classmates met an array of people. He considers talking to civilians as one of his favorite parts of the trip. The most interesting person they got a chance to meet?
“We met a Sumo wrestler,” Ellison chuckles.
“The bullet train. That was the best part of it for me,” Ellison says when asked of his favorite part of Japanese culture.
The bullet train refers to Japan’s Shinkansen trains, powered purely by electricity and magnets, such that it appears the trains levitate over the tracks. They are renowned for their speeds.
“We were going about 100 miles per hour,” Ellison says.
Another part of the culture that wasn’t lost on Ellison was the shopping malls in Japan’s urban centers.
“They were four to five stories high. The first four floors are women’s clothing; you don’t reach men’s goods until the top of the mall,” he says.
In addition to the university, the students also caught a glimpse of K-12 schools. He was moved by the respect of the students.
“When we entered the elementary schools, we had to take off our shoes and wear slippers–––school slippers, you could call them,” he says. “At the end of the day, the kids cleaned up.”
That is one element Ellison stresses to anyone who wants to visit Japan.
“Japan’s a very respectful country–––that’s a must know,” he says.
Ellison endorses the destination.
“Japan is a definite go-to place,” he says. When asked if there was any part of the journey he did not enjoy, he says simply, “Absolutely not.”
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