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Yonsei Study Abroad

2 Months In

I’ve been in Japan in for about 2 months and at this point I’ve settled into life pretty well. This experience is going by incredibly quickly and its surreal to think how fast time flies by. In the two months that I have been studying here, I have seen my Japanese improve immensely. Constantly reading Japanese around me and using it every day has been fantastic for my language skills. Speaking Japanese is definitely still a challenge but all in all, I find I can more quickly piece together sentences and comprehend what others are saying. The best part about learning the language here is that there is an immediate use to what I am learning. If I learn a new word or grammar structure in class, I feel like I am immediately growing my ability to speak and relate to people here.

I have definitely grown accustomed to life here in Kyoto, and I feel fortunate to be studying in a city with so many cultural and historical sites to see. The highlight of my time here so far was definitely Golden Week. I spent the week exploring Kyoto’s heritage sites and it was a great opportunity to get to know the city that I am living in.

A few students and I went to a temple down by the central river, Kamagawa, and watched a Yabusame, Japanese horse archery, exhibition. It’s amazing the amount of energy that goes into perfecting the art of Yabusame. We were told that a rider can train for up to five years before they are even allowed to begin training on an actual horse. The archers gallop at full speed and shoot at a target only about one square foot in area.

I’ve long had an interest in Japanese history, and seeing what is essentially history brought to life was an incredible experience for me.

I also went to Arashiyama, a sort of river and mountain park area, on the eastern edge of Kyoto, which is by far one of the most beautiful areas of the city. I spent an amazing day hiking and playing with monkeys in the mountains and rowing on a nearby river.

One of my favorite things about Kyoto is how easy it is to get out into nature and away from the hustle and bustle of city life, something that was always difficult to do growing up in Los Angeles. In no more than twenty minutes I can ride my bike and be in the hillsides of Kyoto.

In more recent events, the situation in the North is a persistent topic in school and in conversation. One of my recent vocabulary lists focused on words associated with natural disasters and it was easy to see the discomfort on my professor’s face as the word for earthquake came up.

Reading Japanese news sites and watching television here, we are continually reminded of the problems Sendai faces. However, comparing the Japanese media’s coverage to American news sources, the Japanese stations have been much more objective and collected in my opinion. The situation here hasn’t been sensationalized to the degree it has been in the States. Many Japanese that I have talked to have been perplexed by the degree that western media outlets have tried to sensationalize the problems Japan is going through. It’s difficult to respond to their confusion mainly because I feel as if I cannot fully comprehend the damage that has occurred because of the March earthquake. We here in Kyoto and the rest of the South of Japan are really fortunate to be largely unaffected by all the problems the earthquake caused.

A couple of days ago, however, we experienced a small earthquake centered in Kyoto. It was only a 3.0 on the Richter scale and as a person who has experienced several earthquakes growing up in LA; it was a somewhat normal experience for me. Although, the quake did make me think again about the tough situation the country faces. Up until now, we almost had a feeling of separation and immunity to the issues of the North. While the quake here was exponentially weaker and shorter than the March earthquake, it reminds us that the entire country is susceptible to tremors and that the entire country has to work together to get through this time.

I am really enjoying my time here and I am in the process of trying to extend my stay here by another semester. I have fallen in love with the country my ancestors came from and hope to stay here for a great while longer. Every day is an incredible experience.

© 2011 Nathan Kasai

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About this series

Nathan Kenji Kasai is a fourth generation Japanese American foreign exchange student at Ristumeikan University in Kyoto.  He is studying Japanese and international relations and will be traveling throughout Kyoto and other parts of Japan. He will be staying in Japan for one semester from March until August 2011 and will be writing biweekly articles on his experience.