by Karlena Koot
I wasn’t prepared to eat boiled octopus. Even after months of preparation, language classes, cultural lessons, packing, watching anime online, and praying, nothing could have prepared me for that. We were, however, warned about the copious amounts of rice and seafood. We were told that the language would be a barrier, that the culture is extremely foreign and that we would definitely have to leave our comfort zones. We thought we were up for the challenge.
Conquering the Food
Most conquered the food head on, diving into the strange world of tofu, sashimi, and lots and lots of fish from the very beginning. Others of us needed some Starbucks and bread before we eventually eased ourselves into the cuisine. Most of us left on the trip with at least one food we promised ourselves we would stay away from; mine was anything raw. But soon enough we would be sitting alone, in strange homes and unknown food would be plunked in front of us. Our eyes would dart between the expectant gazes of our Japanese host families and soon the octopus, or raw egg, or fish eye ball would be in our mouth and we survived.
The bathrooms were both luxurious and treacherous. The seats were all heated, which was unexpected at first, but now it’s a longed for commodity. Then there were what we dubbed “the squatters.” Now, the three boys on this trip were oblivious to the horror that a girl would experience upon finding a hole where a toilet was supposed to be. But for us girls, who comprised a large majority of our group, “the squatters” soon became the centre of a point system. One point for each usage. Soon the girls were seeking out the squat toilets. I say, “The girls” because I am proud to announce that I did not once need to use one.
These were the things that we thought were going to be difficult, these are the things we prepared ourselves for. What we didn’t anticipate were the relationships we made both with each other and those we met in Japan.
Our international relationship with Hokuriku Gakuin, ACS’ Japanese sister school, has been in the works for the last several years. A summer program, spearheaded by Ms. Lestage, welcomed Japanese students from Hokuriku for two weeks as they participated in English and culture lessons, day trips, and Canadian fun. The problem was, the students from Hokuriku were coming here, but we were not going to Japan. This sentiment resulted in the creation of the Japan Team 2014.
Dutch Blitz, Beyoncé, and Prayer
None of us were really friends before the trip started. We preferred to endure culture classes in silence, sitting next to one friend that we felt mildly comfortable with. Not long after strolling through security and into departures, settling down with some food and Dutch Blitz did we really start to form a bond. And once we were in Japan it didn’t take long for us to become best friends. We would run to the konbini (convenience store) every night to get junk food. All of us would gather into a hotel room in our pajamas, squeeze onto a bed and have what we called, “A Pocky Party.” Our staple foods were Hi-Chew, Pocky, and any other weird Japanese junk food that looked appealing.
From the very beginning we viewed this trip both as a cultural and historical experience, but also as a mission’s trip. Less than 2% of Japanese people are Christian, and Hokuriku, a Christian school, only has two Christian families in its entirety. So we laughed with them as we imitated Beyoncé, played the Pterodactyl game, sang karaoke, took Purikura, and just hung-out as teenagers. But we also prayed, we sang, we talked, and we loved.
Before we left, we were told that everything is different, from transportation to housing, from food to washrooms. We were warned about being perceived as rude, about the strange food, and the language barrier. What we weren’t prepared for was how the trip would impact us. I realize now that through all the preparation, warnings, and tips we were given on how to adapt and handle a new, strange and different culture, we were never told about how in essence we are all the same. Somewhere in between hanging out with my homestay, watching her fret about clothing and make-up and singing Disney songs, eating ice-cream, and talking about boys, I realized that we are not different at all.
And now I finally feel prepared.