Japan Trip Summer 2014

In the summer of 2014, I took my second trip to Japan. I know, right? I was super lucky to get to go twice, let alone consecutive years! But for this trip to Japan, the journey to the trip was just as important as going to Japan itself.

My Journey to Japan started in my first semester of my fourth year in high school. I had just gone to Japan the summer before, and with a renewed passion for studying Japanese, I decided to take Advanced Placement Japanese. A few weeks into the semester, I started losing confidence in my Japanese abilities. Because I skipped Japanese 4, I went from being the top of the class to being near the bottom, and that really bothered me. However, when I talked to my teacher about it, she told me that instead of giving up, that I should try out for Japan Bowl. What is Japan Bowl, you ask? Well, its an academic competition where teams of three compete to demonstrate their knowledge of Japanese language, culture, history, etc. I was unsure at first, but I thought that I should at least show my teacher a good effort, and I made it onto the team along with my two good friends as teammates.

We studied Language, History, Martial Arts, Sports, and several other categories, but I was in charge of Religion, Daily life, and Perfoming Arts. This is when I developed my interest in Japanese religion, especially in Christianity and Shintoism.

Studying for Japan Bowl was tough work. We met two or three times every week after school for about three hours, and our teacher advised us, but we generally taught ourselves most of the information. Let’s try a pop quiz! These are some of the Japan Bowl questions that either showed up in the actual test or could have easily showed up in the test. Get your pencils out kids and let’s see how you do! (The answers will be provided at the end of this post)

Question 1

This picture depicts an oomatsu, or an old pine tree. It is often seen at the back of Noh stages. What is this depiction called?

This picture depicts an oomatsu, or an old pine tree. It is often seen at the back of Noh stages. What is this depiction called?

Question 2

This is a picture of the largest lake in Japan. During the Sengoku period in Japan, there was a battle at this lake. What is the lake's name, and what was the name of the battle that was fought there?

This is a picture of the largest lake in Japan. During the Sengoku period in Japan, there was a battle at this lake. What is the lake’s name, and what was the name of the battle that was fought there?

Question 3

This man is purifying himself by standing underneath a waterfall in meditation. This ritual is based off of the purification process Izanagi went through after returning from Yomi. What is this ritual called?

This man is purifying himself by standing underneath a waterfall in meditation. This ritual is based off of the purification process Izanagi went through after returning from Yomi. What is this ritual called?

Question 4

Komusou monks are part of the Zen buddhist sect and can be characterized by this kind of hat which covers their whole face. What is this hat called?

Komusou monks are part of the Zen buddhist sect and can be characterized by this kind of hat which covers their whole face. What is this hat called?

Question 5 (final!)

In this ritual that is part of the funeral in Buddhism, the deceased’s bones are passed between all the relatives. What is this called?

In this ritual that is part of the funeral in Buddhism, the deceased’s bones are passed between all the relatives. What is this called?

How do you think you did? Well, if you got all 5/5 right, then you should go compete in Japan Bowl if you are in high school and not ethnically Japanese!

Well, what does Japan Bowl have to do with me going to Japan? When I participated, the Kakehashi Project, or a project started by the Japanese government to encourage US – Japan student exchanges, decided to sponsor the top five teams of each level in Japan Bowl to go to Japan. At the National Level in Washington D.C, my team took 2nd place in Level 4, thus allowing us to go to Japan completely funded by the government.

私の学校(クパチーノ高校)のチームだ。私は下列の真ん中の女の子で、私の右にいる二人はチームメイトです。

All the teams from my high school (levels 2-4) made it into the top five, so we all got to go to Japan together! The boy and the girl on my right are my teammates.

In July 2014, we got to participate in many events through the government in Japan. We met the Minister of Education, we saw the Princess Takamado, and we got to participate in a three day home stay program.

We spent most of the time in Japan in Tokyo, and we had buses that took us everywhere on a schedule that was all planned out for us. In other words, this experience was the total opposite of what I experienced of Japan the first time. In many ways, it was much more convenient having a bus with Air Conditioning and not having to worry about getting lost, but during my first trip, taking public transportation (despite the heat!) were some of the best ways that we made friends in Japan.

From Tokyo we went to Osaka for three days to stay with our host families. The family that I got to stay with are really great people, and I still am in contact with them today. During my home stay, we made takoyaki, we watched Japanese TV shows together, and took a day trip to Kyoto, which was only 30 minutes away by train. Here are some pictures that I took with my host family:

My host sister and I standing outside of her high school~

My host sister and I standing outside of her high school~

My host mother and I outside of Kinkakuji, or the Golden Palace

My host mother and I outside of Kinkakuji, or the Golden Palace

My host sister and I enjoyed some Kyoto - specialty green tea parfait and kakigori!

My host sister and I enjoyed some Kyoto – specialty green tea parfait and kakigori!

My host family and I

My host family and I

Making Takoyaki

Making Takoyaki

My host grandmother was a professional in wearing kimono and yukata, a traditional Japanese garment worn in the summertime, and she put it on both my host sister and myself.

My host grandmother was a professional in wearing kimono and yukata, a traditional Japanese garment worn in the summertime, and she put it on both my host sister and myself.

Although meeting government officials and participating in speeches was very interesting, my highlight of the trip had to have been the home stay. My family was so nice to me and I felt extremely well taken care of during my stay. However, if you do not know much about Japanese culture, I would suggest taking a look at this website. It is a bit dramatic in many ways, and it is mostly geared towards people who are doing a longer home stay program, but still very useful if you are looking to participate in a home stay.

….And here are the answers for the above Japan Bowl questions! 1. The depiction of a pine tree is called the kagami-ita. 2. This is Lake Biwa and the battle was The Battle of Anegawa 3. This purification process is called misogi 4. They wear tengai. 5. This process is called honeage.

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