By: Karoline Ernst
“My Tale of the Two Sister-Cities”
It was the best of trips; it was the worst of trips. The worst part was being without luggage for 4 days, and roasting in 90 degree weather; the best part… where do I begin?! One of the most beautiful places I visited while in Obihiro, Japan was the Millennium Forest botanical garden. There were rose gardens, pumpkin patches, lilies, very noisy cicadas, and a pretty stream running through the middle. A goat farm (that sold goat cheese) was also located there, and there was a small ice cream/gift shop, too.
I had been worried about the food because I thought maybe I wouldn’t like anything, but I liked almost everything! There were “normal” things, like corn, rice, salad, pork, chicken, and spaghetti. And there were the Japanese foods, like sushi, nato, Japanese ice cream (which the Japanese call in English “soft cream”) and butadon (which translates “pork bowl”). I adventurously tried everything, and liked all that I ate except for the nato (fermented soy beans…).
The next thing that I remember was the amazing Bon festival ﬁreworks the night before the Bon Dance. The display went on for hours, and every single ﬁrework was truly amazing. They popped and banged and sparkled to the background music, which
was all American, from the Pirates of the Caribbean theme to 70s rock songs. And there were so many people there, too! I told my family it would be the equivalent of the entire city of Anchorage coming down to Seward. I was a little bewildered by the number of
people, but it was so much fun!
One of the most culturally interesting experiences was the Bon Odori Dance. It was basically an evening parade, with different groups or associations participating. Our group was called “Friends of the World” because the group consisted of all the exchange students to Obihiro. Some groups did very complicated, synchronizeddances, but most of the groups (including ours) did the same dance, which was very easy and repetitive. Wearing yukatas (the summery version of a kimono) or special costumes, everyone danced up and down a certain street to music for about an hour and a half. Interestingly, the Bon Festival is a commemoration of Japanese who died in World War II, but all of the Japanese were very happy, not somber. I really enjoyed that night!
Next, I think of the traditional tea ceremony I participated in (drinking hot tea on a hot day!), the miniature horse farm I visited (cute!), and the Banei horse racing that I watched (very slow race with horses pulling weighted sleds). And there was so much more – little things, like playing a board game with the family (and having to Google English instructions!), playing Wii with some girls my age, learning how to eat with chopsticks and laughing with everyone at my ineptness.
Communication wasn’t as hard as one might think, either, because almost everyone spoke a little English. If they didn’t speak English, using translators or making up sign language worked amazingly well. In my favorite family (who were farmers), the dad didn’t speak any English, but he wanted to tell me about all of his tractors that he owned. So, he would motion with his hands and make different noises to illustrate the machinery; by the time I ﬁnally understood anything, the whole family and I were all laughing hysterically. However, I would suggest to anyone thinking of going to Japan, that you learn a little more Japanese than I did before you go. Be comfortable with saying certain useful phrases (like, “Can I help?” or “May I have water?”), even if you don’t have to use them with every family. Also, the Japanese people were very welcoming, and really tried to make me feel at home, and ensure that I had a good time while I was there. They understood that I was in a new culture, and they really went way
out of their way to make my trip an excellent experience.
To wrap up, I would deﬁnitely encourage people to go on this exchange! I took 923 photos and movies over the 11 days that I was in Japan, and I think that is a good indication of how many fascinating and different sights I saw! Some suggestions I would have for the students who are thinking of going next year: learn a little Japanese before you go; read up on the culture before you go; realize that you can contact your family with internet, if not with a phone; and realize that the Japanese understand that you don’t know everything (or anything!) about their culture, and will take good care of you! Last, but not least, I would like to thank everyone who supported my trip!
Arigatou gozaimashita! (Thank you very much!)