Building a Bridge of Friendship with Japan

By Frank Cheng, Foster Undergraduate who participated in the Spring Break Kakehashi Project in Japan.

Where do I start? It still feels like a dream having gone to Japan. Every day in Japan, I found this short moment of disbelief that I was actually in Japan. I would pause for a few seconds and question if I really was in Japan. For as long as I can remember, Japan has been the number one place I’ve wanted to visit because I grew up with so much influences from Japan; from its food, language, movies, shows, etc. When we finally landed in Narita Airport and went out of customs, I was stricken by an indescribable sense of joy of the adventure that awaited us and of finally being in Japan. It felt unreal.

Before starting the trip, I actually didn’t know what to expect. From the time of acceptance to the trip starting, it was a long period of waiting. I looked over the itinerary, but didn’t think too much of it because I knew the schedule might change and that the JICE coordinators would take care of everything. So in a lot of ways, I went into the trip with a “blank slate.” I knew certain parts of Japanese culture from reading about it and experiencing some of the culture in Taiwan, but I still didn’t know what to fully expect. And wow was I blown away. Every detail from the hospitality to the food to the cultural sites blew away anything I had read, seen or did previously. Not even the most eloquent writer or the most skilled videographer could do Japan justice.

One of the most memorable moments of the trip was our final night in Japan. During our free time after dinner, we decided to go to Asakusa, an old part of Tokyo to visit the famous Sensoji temple and its gate. We got lost at first but eventually found our way after some lucky guesses and some trial-and-error. We saw the temple lit up in the dark, a beautiful and majestic sight. Tokyo Skytree was in the distance too, shining in the night. But what really made it memorable though was the people and friendship. As we got lost and walked around, the jokes and camaraderie echoed among our group. Professor Dukes and Aaron came along with us too, and it was so fun to hangout with them. It was a great finish to an amazing trip.

On the plane ride back, we asked each other what our favorite part of the trip was. I said it was the relationships I made. If you asked me before the trip what I thought my favorite part would be, I think I would’ve definitely said the food or the cultural sites. But very surprisingly, I didn’t expect the new relationships to be the most memorable part. I didn’t know I would make so many friends on the trip, and how spending the trip with them made it a million times better. With my peers, we made so many inside jokes and laughed so much that I can’t recall the last time I laughed to the point of tears. With professor Dukes and Aaron, it also felt like just hanging out with my peers and friends but with the added bonus of learning about their experiences and stories.

And finally the relationships with with the Japanese community. I really liked our JICE coordinators; I learned a lot from them and came to view them as our friends. From the various Japanese people we encountered on the trip, from Nagahama’s mayor to the innkeepers to the university students, I felt a connection with them that’s a bit unexplainable. It was so brief, but I felt that they really made the trip what it was by sharing that human connection. I told my friends that the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto or the streets of Akhabara will still be there in Japan 10, 20, or 100 years from now. But it’s the people on the trip, whether that be the students, teachers, guides, etc. that were there at that time and at those places that made this an unforgettable trip.

Since coming back from Japan, I have found myself in the situation of reverse culture shock. Where are the 7-11s that sell such good food? Where are the super cool toilets? Where are all the really cute street signs? It definitely feels a bit strange coming back to the States. I felt that Japan resonated with me a lot and it felt like home to me. I miss not only Japan, but the memories I have made on the trip.
I will definitely be back in Japan. I have thought very seriously about living long-term in Japan, and I have been looking into different programs that will allow me to do that soon after I graduate like the JET Program, where I can go to Japan to be an English teacher, or the Fulbright Scholarship program, a fully-funded program for me to do language or graduate study in Japan. This trip has really affected me a lot as a person and I am incredibly grateful for this experience.

I am thankful to everybody that made this trip happen, from the Global Business Center staff at Foster to my peers to JICE to the friendly bus drivers. And I know you are reading this, Professor Dukes, thank you so much for being a part of this trip and for being our guide along this journey. You being a part of this trip has affected me deeply in my development as a person and I hope to be able to see you around more and catch up with you over some green tea.

I think I will wrap my summary here. It feels very emotional to write this paper as I reminisce about the good times in Japan. But I know this is not the end as it is the beginning of new adventures of hopefully not only in Japan, but with all the new people I have come to have the privilege to call my friends.