日本が大好き: My Japan Experience

Last Saturday, my friend and I dined in a local Japanese restaurant in Quezon City. The ambience transported me back to Japan with those paintings depicting lovely cherry blossoms in bloom. The meal served was mediocre – perhaps because I’m always partial to authentic Japanese cuisine.

We downed our food with sake, a choice I surprisingly made. I admit I was tempted to go for avocado juice, but with the atmosphere being so Nihon (Japanese), I suggested a bottle of sake could improve the mood.

Okay, some of my readers know that I am not a drinker. You’ll be glad to know that I have only taken a sip of the rice wine, then politely set the glass a bit far from me. However, since I am not acquainted with alcoholic drinks, I cannot give you my opinion about the taste and quality of that sake my friend mostly consumed. I hope you can forgive me.

As I was dining in that restaurant and trying to refresh my memory with all the things I’ve learned in my two-year Japanese language classes, I was hit by those nostalgic moments. I vividly remember those classroom memories when all of my classmates, including me, learned Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji; when sensei (teacher) taught us conversational Japanese using her ball pen puppets; when we foolishly played Momotaro wearing our costumes and tried to sound like a Japanese native; and when we watched movies in CCP Complex for Eiga Sai (Film Festival) celebration. There are many happy memories associated with Japan and its language, and I feel ashamed when I realized that I have buried them deep in my consciousness. I should remember that before Korean wave, I have loved J-pop and J-drama first, that I was half-crazy with animes and mangas before. That Japan made a life-changing experience for me.

THE BEGINNING

September 2008. I have applied for the Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youth Program. According to JICE, this is an exchange program to invite foreign youth to Japan every year with a view towards promoting mutual understanding and friendship with Japanese youth and citizens. I have applied to this program even though I knew the competition would be tough especially for those coming from the National Capital Region.

February 2009. A list was sent to my university with the names of the students chosen for the program. I was in! I wanted to jump and celebrate my success, but I held myself in check. Three of my friends also applied and they were unlucky. Thus, I contained my excitement until the last week of April, when the preparation for the two-week, all expense paid trip to Japan was starting. Oh, how lucky I’ve felt!

DISCLAIMER: I went to Japan In May 2009 when I was only 18 years old. Some of you might not recognize me in the photos because I was really thin at the time – only 33 kg. I know, you will ask me now what had happened to my eating habits. Haha! Anyhow, I went there when H1N1 virus was starting to spread in Japan, so please understand why some of the pictures are with masks.

imperial palace, tokyo, japan, exchange student, JENESYS, culture, travel, tourist

This is our group photo taken in front of The Imperial Palace. Our group consists of 12 females and 11 males. On the bottom level, sixth from the left was our female Philippine supervisor and on her side was her male counterpart. On both sides of the group, carrying the JENESYS flags were our Japanese coordinators – Imazato and Nakamura-san. And oh, can you find me?

This photo should be before the first one, but since I’m too lazy to edit, I’ll just continue with this. This picture was taken in our two-day, pre-departure orientation in CSB International Hotel, Manila. We were wearing our Philippine National Youth Commision white t-shirts. Unluckily, the shirt was three sizes bigger than my body. Found me? I looked like a sack.

The Philippine student ambassadors in the airport. Yes, we were called student ambassadors, not kidnappers. Please forgive the masks. Not fashionable, but somehow prevented H1N1 virus from hitting any of us.

YOKOSO, JAPAN

We arrived in Narita Airport around 4 PM, then in Shinjuku Washington Hotel around 5:30. I was greeted by someone I know, but didn’t expect him to be there. He must remain to be unnamed here. Haha! Anyway, here’s my first meal in Japan. (One should not count the Japanese curry in JAL, right?)

Japan, tokyo, student exchange, youth, JENESYS, youth ambassador, tourist, travel, Ishikawa, bentou

tokyo, japan, exchange student, JENESYS, culture, travel, tourist

We were en route to Asakusa when the picture above was taken. I miss my close friend, Alexandra. We met prior to the pre-departure orientation and easily got along well. We even have our own endearment – Bi. Actually, I wanted to post more photos in Asakusa like the Kaminarimon and Asakusa temple, but I couldn’t find my files yet. Below are two of my favorites though.

tokyo, japan, exchange student, JENESYS, culture, travel, tourist, asakusa, temple

tokyo, japan, exchange student, JENESYS, culture, travel, tourist, asakusa, temple, kaminarimon

I think this was the first time I have tasted “real” green tea, and  I really didn’t like it at that time. It was so bitter and made my tongue and teeth stained with green leaves. However, one must eat mochi (sweets) first before drinking the tea, so it would balance the taste. Now, three years after this photo was taken, I am a self-confessed tea addict – one very partial to green tea.

Japan, tokyo, student exchange, youth, JENESYS, youth ambassador, tourist, travel, Ishikawa, green tea, tea ceremony

Tea ceremony with Okasan and Nao (Japanese foster mother and sister)

ISHIKAWA PREFECTURE

As included in our youth diplomats’ itinerary, we went to out first school. To do so, we flew from Tokyo to Ishikawa prefecture. This was one of the best part of the program. In Ishikawa, we were alternately stayed in Sunroute Hotel in Komatsu City and in a Japanese family for homestay.

When we went there, the city was celebrating one of its three major festivals – the Otabi Matsuri.

Japan, ishikawa, komatsu, otabi matsuri, kabuki, festival, travel, tour

Japan, ishikawa, komatsu, otabi matsuri, kabuki, festival, travel, tour

Japan, ishikawa, komatsu, otabi matsuri, kabuki, festival, travel, tour

KOMATSU TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL

In the picture below, we looked like proud student leaders in Japan, showing our country’s flag in the picture. Found me? I was in the center wearing my university uniform.

KTH flags

Oh, it would be too easy to find me in this photo. I was with my otoosan, a news director for the entire prefecture, imoto Nao, an anime and manga fan, and my okaasan, a singer who just came from Switzerland for a show. Not in this picture was my father who took this photo. I am really missing them now.

Japan, tokyo, student exchange, youth, JENESYS, youth ambassador, tourist, travel, Ishikawa, komatsu, foster family, homestay

tokyo, japan, exchange student, JENESYS, culture, travel, tourist, Japanese, host family, foster family

Almost complete family photo: Nao, Okasan, Chiisato, Me, Christine, Obaasan, and Ojiichan. Otoosan was behind the camera.

my futon!

Yep, that’s me in the picture, but you can’t really see my face. This was my room and it was huge! All the four “walls” of the room were actually sliding doors. One was conveniently to a toilet and another for a view outside.

Another photo in KTS (Komatsu Technical High). This was our farewell presentation to them. We danced the Philippine traditional bamboo dance, Tinikling. In return, they had a wonderful number in their brass band.

tokyo, japan, exchange student, JENESYS, culture, travel, tourist, Komatsu, Komatsu Technical High School, brass band

The background of the picture below is the contentious East Sea/Japan Sea.We looked crazy, I know. It was so much fun at that time – we didn’t even care if we looked stupid. We were foreigners in the land; the idea of which might have given us the excuse.

tokyo, japan, exchange student, JENESYS, culture, travel, tourist, youth, young people, ishikawa, east sea, japan sea

Back at Tokyo, we had two more days before we leave the land of the rising sun. On our last night, we had our cultural presentation witnessed by both JICE and JICA, as well as some Japanese ministers and staff.

tokyo, japan, exchange student, JENESYS, culture, travel, tourist

As I have mentioned, I have lots of photos in Japan though I have to look for them. Will update this post when I have found those pictures!

Japan, tokyo, ishikawa, travel, youth, student exchange, youth ambassador, JENESYS, kimono, spring

また逢う日まで!!!

Have you been to Japan? When you were young, did you participate in a youth exchange too?

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