Another Country, Another Culture

Note: the article you are about to read was a project submitted in a class of Cross Cultural Communication, there were revisions made by the author, and such revisions entails the comments of the professor. This is a one sided approach like a first impression.

It all started with an almost failing grade. A journey of a young girl exploring the land of the rising sun – Japan. Among the students of Foreign Service, this young girl aimed at achieving a mertorous award. Like any other journey, she had to overcome challenges to get what she was hoping for. Luck or misfortune, ( it will depend on your interpretation of the story, and your perspective), came, she needed to take a foreign language course which would run for four semesters. It was another yet exciting and shaky ride. She had to memorize a lot of characters, words and practice writing these characters. At the end of the semester, in her final examination, she did her best to write things as far as her memory is concerned, but no matter how hard she tried her best (and her luck) it was a no match for people that got things in fast-paced means. It did not pay off. All the hardships, sleepless nights and exerting effort on the subject. The result was an almost failing grade.

The Journey began

There was this advertisement in the young girl’s hometown plaza, looking for Japanese students. The class would be offered for free. Having doubts in mind and due to curiosity if that was true, the young girl went to the school.

日本語 を べんきょうします。The Japanese class started, like in any other language class, students were asked to introduce themselves first in English then in Japanese. 私は ソフィア です。 どうぞ よろしく おがいします。

It was summer time when the little girl had her Japanese course outside the university. As it continued, she learned how to eat using a pair of はし(chopsticks)a typical Japanese way of eating. She learned how to pay respect for her 先生 and as a Japanese custom, she’d always remove her くつ upon entering her classroom on the school itself. Two months of Japanese immersion, two months of exploring Japanese language and its culture, and in that span of time, she had to say goodbye to Spanish (hasta luego!) and say hello (こんにちは) to Japanese language and its people.

Time to say goodbye to her先生, as part of a Filipino custom, she and her classmate treated their sensei in an eat all you can restaurant. The sensei enjoyed the “crispy – pata”, “kare-kare” and “sinigang na hipon”. A a token of appreciation, the teacher gave his students a letter, ( written in Japanese language) and a ningyomi doll. He did encourage his students to continue studyin the languag, as it may help them in the future and it is through the language one can see a country’s rich culture. Seems like looking in a window full of colors and shapes – a kalleidoscope!

 

The little girl took the advise of her teacher, she continued studying the language together with her academic subjects and the in-campus Japanese course;  she manage to take them all with an ease. Together with her classmate/friend/coffee buddy, the two learned a lot from their new Japanese teacher, they’ve learned about customs, etiquette and traditions.

In line with the Japanese religion, most if not all Japanese are involved in doll collection, which was used during festivities and events. One example is the Dharma doll or Daruma. It is a willow- wood doll with no limbs, no eyes (pupils) and no hair. It was believed that Dharma (Bodhi) seeks enlightenment. As time goes by, he did not move, not leave his place, so after while, his limbs, and feet hid. It has no eyes also because as Japanese buddhists believed, when dharma finally reached enlightenment, there was a strong light that made his eyes disappear. It is believed that during elections, politicians would buy a daruma doll and make an eye on one of the eyes of the doll, and if the politician win, he will make another eye and bring it to the temple to be burned by the monks. The doll is not only for politicians but even for students who want to pass their exams and even for those who want to achieve their goals in life.

Aside from the daruma doll, also a lucky charm, called omamori おまも, is use to attract good spirits in achieving one’s goal in life. It is like a small cloth ( ausual charm would look like) but it has a chinese character (kanji) with the person’s with or hope or goal in life. In most temples and shrines of Tokyo, a lot of Japanese students would buy one and use as a charm on their mobile phones to attract good spirits. Of course,  gem stones are still on the top, there are various lucky gem stones available or being sold all over Japan. Kyoto being their former capital has a lot to offer. The girl’s sensei gave her one, a white gem which means finding luck in love.

Japanese people does not really rely their lives on the charms, they work hard for their dreams and goals to be achieve. It maybe one of their means of having a tangible faith. Every month, in Japan, they showcases a variety of festivities. From Hokkaido down to Okinawa they have special festivitivals. One of which is the Tanabata festival (たなばた). It is a kind of festivity in which people will wear kimono or yukata around the streets and they will write in a piece of colored paper, their wish, or goals in life. Then it will be hang on a bamboo tree which the wind would blow for the Gods and good spirits to make their wish come true. It is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month.

Tanabata festival has the same counterpart in China. The story was about Orihime (織姫 Weaving Princess?), daughter of the Tentei (天帝 Sky King, or the universe itself?), wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (天の川 Milky Way, lit. “heavenly river”?). Her father loved the cloth that she wove and so she worked very hard every day to weave it. However, Orihime was sad that because of her hard work she could never meet and fall in love with anyone. Concerned about his daughter, Tentei arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (彦星 Cow Herder Star?) (also referred to as Kengyuu (牽牛?)) who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa. When the two met, they fell instantly in love with each other and married shortly thereafter. However, once married, Orihime no longer would weave cloth for Tentei and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to stray all over Heaven. In anger, Tentei separated the two lovers across the Amanogawa and forbade them to meet. Orihime became despondent at the loss of her husband and asked her father to let them meet again. Tentei was moved by his daughter’s tears and allowed the two to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month if she worked hard and finished her weaving. The first time they tried to meet, however, they found that they could not cross the river because there was no bridge. Orihime cried so much that a flock of magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanabata>

 

It is not always a love story behind such festival. There was also, an event in which paper cranes are used to symbolize fast recovery, good hope and fortune, “a thousand cranes” exemplifies that. Most Japanese would make a thousand cranes to sympathize with a sick friend and hoping for a fast recovery. As we remember, when a tsunami hit the Miyagi prefecture, most of our Filipinos made a thousand cranes hoping for the Japanese people to recover from the disaster.

 

 

Moreover, Japanese learning will not be complete without the know-how of wearing kimono and yukata with geta. Kimono is a Japanese traditional dress with five or more layers to be wear by a person in festivities and events. The color of kimono varies as it compliments the event. Usually, if it is a festival, girls and boys will wear a pastel colored kimono from left to right, if the pattern is otherwise, it is for the dead. Usually and as a Japanese custom, married women should only wear a black kimono or yukata symbolizing that they are  married. As for the single ladies, it is expected, that they will wear pastel colors or colors relating to nature such as orange, red, sky blue and others; the same concept with yukata. However, yukata is one layer dress. During the ancient time or late Edo period, yukatas were used after going to the onzen or public hot bath, with regards to the color, the same rule is applied. Geta on the other hand is the traditional footwear of Japanese. In Philippines we call it “bakya”, it will complete the traditional dress of a typical Japanese in a festival. It is made of wood and looks like a slipper but with heels on the middle; there are two blocks underneath, making it balance.

 

In terms of foods, one popular food aside from California – maki, sushi and tempura is okonomiyaki. It is the Japanese version of pancake/pizza, (without catsup), it is consists of veggies (usually cabbage), squid, pan (bread like in a cooked pancake) shrimp and others. The kotatsu table is one of a typical Japanese table which has a hole under it, which is usually use during winter season in Japan.

 

Japanese course will not be complete without its language. Japanese language is consists of romaji (Romanized), hiragana, katakana and Kanji (Chinese characters). The hiragana, katakana and kanji are written in a balanced and relaxed way, especially in writing kanji. One way to practice it is through shodou writing. It is similar to the Chinese way of calligraphy.

 

The journey of the little girl did not stop at knowing these things. Last 2011, she did gave it a try to take the Japanese Language Proficiency test; and hoped to wing it (but the result came in negative – better luck next time). The little girl aimed/dream to go to Japan. わたしは 日本 へ いきたい!。But it seems that destiny does not permit her to go to Japan this time. Perhaps there is something better waiting for her in the future when the right time comes for her to go to the land of the rising sun.

 

One of her professors asked her why Japan? Why pursue a career in International Relations if you can just apply to Japan Airlines? Why waste money, time and effort in discussing geopolitics, international economics, and comparative politics if you can land a job in an airline industry? Why? The little girl replied immediately, she said that, Japan is the country of discipline and balance. It has a rich and unique culture which a lot of people would want to experience. Working as an FSE or Officer is one way to set the bottom line in her mind to set goals (personal) and helping her fellowmen in that country. There is much more to learn, more to read, and the journey has been started, it is not the end of the little girl’s journey.

 

                Final comments, the Japanese culture is so intricate and unique even other Japanese, would ask why they have such attitudes and traits. There are things needed to learn, explore and be loved. I would admit that I love Japan as much as I love my own country (especially in Comparative Politics – both countries has similarities and differences). It makes me excited whenever I am thinking of Japan. I learned, meaning, I was able to love the country because I learn and am still learning to love the country. It would be a rewarding opportunity for me to go there and represent my country there. But like what my sensei told me, “if you want to become an Ambassador, Foreign Minister, Career Minister, you need to study hard, it is not suffice to study a lot but you must STUDY HARD”, allow me to add on what he said, it is not all about study hard, but STUDY SMART. ^_^.

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