A Story from a Student

Please enjoy this story from one of my students.

About 3 years ago I spent my vacation in Japan. It was my first trip to another country alone, so I was excited but at the same time a bit worried. I have visited a lot of other countries like Germany, France, or England but it was with my parents, and I was very young so I don’t have much memory about them. From booking airplanes to searching local tourist spots, it was all very new to me.

Any way I got in to the plane bound for Haneda. It took about three hours to get there. The first impression of Japan was that it was so clean. It was quite a shock to me. In Korea it’s not hard to see some soda cans or garbage here and there, but in Japan there were no such thing as garbage, even in the streets where there is ton of people like Sibuya or Ginza.

Because I had a friend named Jinyong who was studying in Tokyo I didn’t have to make any reservation for a hotel. Jinyong was living with his girlfriend, the house wasn’t big but it had a little room what used to be a storage room, and that was good enough for me.

For a few days I was busy visiting famous tourist sites such as Tokyo tower or Asakusa, because I was intending to stay more than just few days, I wanted to see more than just tourist attractions. I wanted to feel the real Japanese cultures and wanted to be the part of the culture. When I told Jinyong that I wanted to meet some Japanese friends he said that he might be able to introduce some of his class mates.

The next day, my friend and some of his class mates took me to have some Yakiniku and some beer. It was my first time eating and drinking with local people. I was nervous because I wanted to use some Japanese that I learned in college but I couldn’t use much Japanese because most of them talked in English. While I was eating Yakiniku one of the girls seemed upset and she started to speak in Japanese. After listening to what she had said my friend started to laugh.

It turns out that she was upset because I had kept eating what she was cooking. In Korea when we go to a Yakiniku place, most of the time one person would be in charge to grill all the beef for everybody else, but in Japan they grill their own little piece of meat one at a time. At first she thought I had mistakenly eaten her piece of meat but as I had been keep eating what she meant to eat for herself, she thought I was being mean. I knew that in Japan people eat in separate dishes and don’t eat soup from the same pot. But I didn’t know they each cook one piece of meat at a time. I felt very strange and a bit embarrassed.

A few days later Jinyong and his girlfriend had a big fight. I didn’t understand what they were saying but the fight became bigger and bigger. Long story short my friend and her girlfriend broke up and Jinyong was kicked out from the house. The house I had known to be his house was his girlfriend’s. But she was kind enough not to kick me out. She said she would let me stay until I found a new place to stay. That night I realized how quiet Japan was. Although it was a bit far from the main streets, it was still part of the city, so I was surprised to hear nothing. I guess didn’t notice it before because I used to talk with my friend Jinyong and his girlfriend all night. It was a bit scary too because I couldn’t even hear any dog bark. In Seoul when we lay down and try to get to sleep we could hear lots of things, drunken people screaming, sound of TV drama coming from the next door, cars coming and going, Tokyo was a silent city. I guess it’s because of the culture “not to trouble other people”. I don’t know why but after realizing how quiet it was, silence started to bug me.

Because I didn’t have any other relatives or acquaintances in Japan I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t stay with Jinyong’s girlfriend any more. Fortunately my kicked out friend didn’t forget about me and said that I could stay at his uncle’s place which is a little hotel in the city. The next day I packed up my things and went to the hotel. It was a small hotel for Korean tourists. Jinyong introduced his uncle Jaeyong, he said I could stay with his son, but in return I had to do some chores for him. It was better than nothing.

A few days later when I was carrying laundry from the basement, I heard the windows shaking. At first I thought it was the wind blowing, but the sound became bigger. Then I noticed something was wrong. It was something I never felt before I couldn’t stand or walk straight. It felt like the ground was trying to attack me. I will never forget what I felt that moment. When I realized that it was an earthquake I didn’t know what to do. I soon found out that I was just in front of the exit so I crawled to the exit.

I thought everybody would be running and screaming but most of them were not in panic. They were very calm. Some girls were even laughing. I noticed that the panicking people were all tourist. No Japanese were frightened by the mild earthquake. (I thought the sky was falling) All of them were wearing a safety helmet on their heads (I later found out that in all homes there are safety helmets incase of earthquakes). It was one of the most shocking moments of my life. The earthquake itself was terrifying but it was very strange to see how calm people were. It must have been because of all the frequent earthquakes they encounter. But still it was strange.

I had much fun in my trip to Japan the food was great, the streets were beautiful and there were so many interesting things to do. But I also had some troubles like suddenly losing a place to stay and experiencing some culture shocks, like the individualism and people being so strangely calm at earthquakes. Overall I believe it was a very precious experience.

Filed Under: Vacation experiences

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