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By John Meade

Notions of Japan

students from Ritsumeikan University     Japan was an overwhelming experience for all of my senses.  I feel like I saw so much, but also that there is so much more to the country that I did not get the opportunity to view.  I was able to absorb the aesthetics of the Japanese landscapes and cityscapes; I was able to observe the Japanese culture and way of life; I had the opportunity to interact with Japanese students, and I also had the unique experience of Japan being my first site of international travel. 
     The first thing that struck me about Japan was just how urbanized and modernized the culture is.  I arrived in Kobe with presuppositions of Japan.  I had a picturesque image in my head of pagodas, temples, rolling hills, and mountains.  I got the mountains, but was surprised at just how modern the environment was.  I was not prepared for the sprawling city of Kobe and the thousands of scurrying people that occupy it. 
     The aspect of Japanese life that I found most interesting was just how polite and trusting the Japanese people are.  As I was walking around, looking painfully like a foreigner, everyone I encountered was pleasant and extremely eager to help me.  Even when I had no way to communicate with language they still tried to be as helpful as possible.  I found myself trying to imagine the same situations occurring in the U.S. and could not.  At home I have rarely encountered such kindness from total strangers.  It was as if the Japanese could sense that I was a foreigner, but at the same time they saw me as just another human being.  I felt a very personal, subconscious connection with everyone I met in Japan.
    Definitely the most memorable part of my travel experience was my stay at Ritsumeikan University.  Upon our arrival I felt instantly welcomed and accepted by the group of Japanese students.  They made us feel at home and we proceeded to have a great discussion.  I found myself trying to follow the advice of Michael Angrosino in Doing Cultural Anthropology.  As I was talking with the students I felt myself wanting to know more and more.  I wanted to be able to conduct a life history interview with each one of them.  I was striving to know as much information as possible.  As our discussion progressed I began to realize that, even though there are striking differences between the Japanese and myself, there are so many more similarities.  Beneath all of our presuppositions and preconceived notions we are all just people.  It was liberating to be able to experience that. 

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