I had the best host parents I could have asked for!
By Luke Bader*
Well, my semester abroad has come to an end and I am back in the U.S. As much as I miss Nagasaki and all of the new friends I made during my time abroad, it was still great to be home for Christmas with the family.
Today, for my last blog, I thought I would tell you a little about the holiday season in Japan and then give some farewell words of wisdom…at least my kind of wisdom.
First off, arguably the most popular holiday in the U.S., Christmas, is also celebrated in Japan. Now, you may be wondering how many Christians there are in Japan. Well, outside of Nagasaki, the answer is ‘not many.’ As I mentioned in my previous blog, the biggest religions in Japan are Shinto and Buddhism. However, Christmas in Japan has become much more of a cultural holiday, rather than religious. From what I learned from some of my Japanese friends and my host parents, it is mostly a time dedicated to spreading happiness. Gifts are still exchanged like in the U.S., but on a much smaller scale.
Traditionally, Christmas Eve is seen as a romantic day and couples will commonly go out to dinner, walk around to look at Christmas lights, and exchange gifts. On Christmas day, immediate family members usually spend the day together and have dinner (I’ve been told that fried chicken is a common Christmas dish).
As for New Year's (oshogatsu), it is probably the most important holiday in Japan. To give you an idea, most businesses are open on Christmas, but closed from January 1-3. New Years is a special time where people prepare for a ‘fresh start’ into a new year. By the time the new year comes around, you are supposed to have finished all of your duties from this last year and bankai (‘year forgetting’) parties are held so people can relax and leave old troubles in the past.
On New Year’s Eve, there is a long tradition of serving soba (buckwheat) noodles to symbolize longevity. The next day, almost everyone in Japan starts the year off my viewing the first sunrise of the year, which officially rings in the new year and the completion of the old one. On this day, people should try to be full of joy, forget their stress, and do no work. Around this time, it is also tradition to visit a shrine or temple. Some of the largest ones can attract millions of visitors during the first few days.
As a side note, like we do in America for the holidays, in Japan it is traditional to send out New Year’s cards to friends and family.
Now, as I mentioned, this is my last blog. Therefore, I want to give you some advice.
Going to Japan has been one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. No amount of studying about different cultures and foreign countries can compare to actually going there and experiencing it in person. It used to be so difficult to study abroad. I am extremely fortunate and grateful to live in a time where universities like ours have departments dedicated to helping you have such an amazing experience. My advice to my fellow students: take advantage of your time here at The University Iowa. If there is any country you’ve ever wanted to visit, stop by the study abroad department and get some free information. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up going on a life changing adventure like I did.
“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.”
― Wendell Berry
Going abroad can not only be beneficial for you, but also for others. Again, it’s one thing to read about foreign countries and cultures, it’s another to experience them. By living abroad you’re able to see how others live and learn about your own home in the process. You’re able to see what you like about where you come from and what you may not like. Through this you can grow to form educated opinions that may one day change the world.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
― Henry Miller
Finally, if you already want to go abroad but are nervous because it’s a country that’s not very commonly traveled by students, don’t be afraid. You never know what the experience will bring. Again, who knows? Your time in that country might just inspire others to follow their own dreams of travel and adventure.
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Well everyone, as everything must, we have come to a close. It’s been a pleasure to write for you and share my time abroad this last semester. During this new semester, I hope you all are able to see the world in new ways and experience life to the fullest.
“I’m going on an adventure!”
― Bilbo Baggins
(Happy New Year. See you around)
*Luke Bader is a senior majoring in international studies with a minor in Japanese and a certificate in writing at the University of Iowa. This semester, the Jesup, IA native is studying abroad on the USAC Nagasaki Program in Japan.