KCP alumnus Hector Santiago describes how his desire to learn more about the culture and language of Japan led him to join the KCP program and later, achieve his goal of working in Japan.
By the end of my second year in college, after having been involved in my school’s Asian culture club on campus and learning about different Asian cultures, I had decided that I wanted to study abroad. Of all the countries I had learned about, I was most enamored of Japan. I knew this was where I wanted to go. I felt a connection to the culture that I couldn’t explain. I started studying the language and even began practicing karate. My hunger for knowledge and experience pertaining to Japan led me to KCP, which had a great reputation as a school using the direct method of language learning while offering total immersion into the culture as well.
In cooking class. | KCP Flickr
When I arrived at KCP on the first day of class, I’m happy to say I was well prepared, as I had taken 2 semesters of Japanese in anticipation of going to Japan. The classes are intense, but I learned a lot, so long as I applied myself and kept trying. During my time at KCP, I was given the opportunities to hone my language skills by attending English support sessions, class trips, and joint events with Hosei University students, like cooking classes and parties. Also, I decided to live with a host family during my stay, which gave me opportunities to practice and learn Japanese daily. That experience has not only enabled me to become more confident in learning and speaking Japanese, but I also developed a lifelong relationship with my host family.
Since my time at KCP, I have gone on to graduate from my university in the U.S. and have started a new life living and working in Japan with the JET Program. The possibilities are endless for you if you pursue your goals and dreams with passion.
KCP is not just any language school. It is a first home for many who want to explore the world outside of their homes. It is a place where people from all over the world can come together and grow with respect for each other’s cultures. KCP is the epitome of an international education.
Hector with a taiko drum. | KCP Flickr
Read other posts by Hector here.
You can also visit Hector’s online travel journal to read about his other study abroad experiences. If you have a question for Hector about his language learning tips, please ask him.
Ever since I saw the 1974 classic movie “Murder on the Orient Express,” trains have held a certain mystic fascination for me. Riding the opulent Orient Express symbolized travelling in luxury, no doubt something like being on board the Titanic, only by land. Aside from the morbid plot of the movie (not to mention the fate of the Titanic), the way the Orient Express and trains in general entered my life still makes trains the ideal way to take me places and at the same time allow my imagination to run wild.
A flashback in history
Wagonways were common in the mining industry in Europe since the 1500s. The first mechanized rail transport system came to life in England in the 1820s. Trains were a critical aspect of the industrial revolution and of the economic development of countries all around the world. In many parts of the world, trains remain the primary source of transportation today. One of the best ways to travel around Europe is by train. Trains are a convenient, reliable, and comfortable way to get you from one country to the next, allowing you to enjoy scenic landscapes (and dream) along the way. Steam engine trains have long evolved into bullet trains that travel maximum speeds of 320 kilometers per hour (close to 200 mph).
Shinkansen 500 series. | Kubotake
The Shinkansen (新幹線), or new trunk line, is a network of high-speed railway lines: an essential mode of transportation in Japan. Japan was the first country to build high-speed railway lines. Hideo Shima, the first president of Japan National Railways (JNR), persuaded the Japanese government to back the plan. Other key people responsible for the technical development of the first Shinkansen were Tadanao Miki, Tadashi Matsudaira, and Hajime Kawanabe, based at the Railway Technology Research Institute (RTRI). The term “bullet train” is a literal translation of the Japanese term dangan ressha, a nickname for the initial 1930s project and because the first O Series Shinkansen moved extremely fast and looked like a bullet.
Shinkansen with Mt. Fuji in the background. | swollib
The Shinkansen is operated by four Japan Railways Group companies that began in 1964 with the Tōkaidō Shinkansen. Initially, it ran 515.4 kilometers. Its routes now currently encompass 2,388 kilometers of lines with trains that run a maximum of 240 to 320 kilometers per hour. The Shinkansen network presently links most of Japan’s major cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu with the Hokkaido links, well on their way to being completed in March 2016. The Tōkaidō Shinkansen is still the world’s busiest rail line, carrying around 151 million passengers a year between Tokyo and Osaka. Thirteen trains consisting of 16 cars each, with a seating capacity of 1,323 people, run at 3-minute intervals between trains. And check out Japan’s latest, super fast, cutting-edge train between Tokyo and Aomori, the E5 series Hayabusa, the Peregrine Falcon. What an amazing way to get around!
Shinkansen N700 interior. | Masakazu Matsumoto
During the Meiji Era, more Japanese sought a better way of life in other countries. The earliest Japanese nikkei (Japanese emigrants) were recorded as early as the 12th century when Japanese migrated to the Philippines.
Nipo-brazilian family in the Bastos city colony, São Paulo State, Brazil, c. 1930’s.
Nisei, Sansei, and Issei may sound like a rhyming game, but the story behind the words has a resounding social impact in the annals of human history. Issei (一世 or “ first generation” in Japanese) is a term used in North America, South America, and Australia to identify first-generation Japanese migrants. Nisei (二世 or “second generation”) is the term for children born to the Issei, while Sansei (三世) are the third generation descendants of the Issei. The terms were derived from the Japanese numerals one (ichi), two (ni), and three (san).
Japanese Immigrants disembarking in Port of Santos, Brazil, year 1937 or 1938.
Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, with 1.6 to 2.5 million Japanese Brazilian or Nikkei Burajiru-jin (people of Japanese descent) registered in Brazil.
People dream of having a better life, and this usually entailed travelling to distant, unknown lands. It took courage and determination to uproot oneself and one’s family to reach that dream. In the late 1800s to the early 1900s, coffee was Brazil’s main export. The abolishment of slave trafficking in Brazil saw the end of African slave labor in the country. With the end of feudalism in Japan and the abolition of the han system in favor of the system of prefectures in 1871, Japanese from rural areas struggled with poverty, and many sought to emigrate in search of a better life. In 1907, the Japanese and Brazilian governments signed a treaty allowing Japanese migration to Brazil. The first Japanese immigrants on board the Kasato Maru, a total of 790 people mostly farmers, arrived in Brazil in 1908. They travelled from the Japanese port Kobe, across the Cape of Good Hope, in South Africa. In the next seven years 3,500 more Japanese families, about 15,000 people, arrived in Brazil. St the beginning of World War I in 1914, more Japanese people immigrated to Brazil, and between 1917 and 1940, over 164,000 Japanese came, mostly in São Paulo where most of the coffee plantations were located.
Japanese immigrants working in coffee plantation, c. 1930.
In the 1970s, when Japan rose to become one of the richest countries in the world through industrialization and modernity, Japanese Brazilians also gained great cultural and economic success as well as social prestige. The Issei’s dream of success and a better way of life is now seen by the Nisei, the Sansei, and other generations to come.
Western music was introduced to Japan during the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912). The Japanese initially experienced Westernized pop music, kayōkyoku, in a dramatization of the Tolstoy classic Resurrection. Shinpei Nakayama’s 1914 song Sumako Matsui was a best-selling record in Japan. The pre-war period saw the ryūkōka genre as a popular form of music from the 1920s through the 1960s; it developed from Western classical music. The progression of music genres in Japan mostly follows Western influences from rock ’n’ roll in the 60s (which contributed to the Rokabirī and Wasei pop genre), folk music in the 70s, and city pop in the 80s. It was only in the 1990s that the term J-pop came to refer to all Japanese popular songs except for traditional Japanese music (enka).
J-pop (ジェイポップ jeipoppu), Japanese pop or pops, was coined by the Japanese media to differentiate foreign music from Japanese music. The J-pop musical genre has gained such immense popularity among other neighboring regions that other countries are borrowing the style. Some popular J-pop artists include:
B’z (ビーズ Bīzu) – one of the best-selling music artists in Japan (and the world) with 75 million or more in record sales. B’z is a rock duo with members Koshi Inaba as lyricist and vocalist and Takahiro “Tak” Matsumoto as guitarist, producer, and composer. They were the first Japanese band to have their handprints and signatures in Hollywood’s RockWalk.
B’z RockWalk. | Jmaeshawn
Glay – composed of members Teru, Takuro, Hisashi, and Jiro. The band formed in 1988, and their songs are arranged with a wide variety of genres such as punk, R&B, electronica, and ska. As of 2010, the band has sold around 37.5 million copies in Japan alone.
Glay at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards Japan. | Norio NAKAYAMA
Sekai no Owari (世界の終わり, aka “End of the World”) – band members include Satoshi Fukase, Saori Fujisaki, Shinichi “Nakajin” Nakajima, and DJ Love. They initially performed a live concert at a club with only 15 people in the audience. Their styles are mostly indie pop, pop rock, and alternative rock. Their song “Dragon Night” is number 2 in the Japan Hot 100 Billboard Chart as of November 2014.
Ayumi Hamasaki (浜崎あゆみ) – known as the “Empress of J-pop,” Ayumi Hamasaki is popular across Asia. Her musical styles are varied and include progressive rock, classical, pop, metal, dance, and R&B. She uses her own lyrics and uses different types of instruments such as Japanese traditional string music boxes, piano, and guitar. She also incorporates techniques such as clapping and scratching into some of her songs.
Ayumi Hamasaki Asia Tour 2008. | Uma machi
Japan is an island nation with mountains occupying 75 percent of the land. That land is threaded by rivers that flow into the ocean. Japan has experienced some of the world’s worst natural disasters ,yet the amazing resilience of the Japanese people has brought about astounding engineering wonders. One perfect example of Japanese ingenuity is the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel, also known as the G-Cans Project.
Main tank. | dddeco
Just 32 kilometers north of bustling Tokyo, deep beneath a soccer field in Kasukabe, Saitama, lies a colossal series of vertical shafts, underground tunnels, and silos that were built to protect Tokyo. The G-Cans Project began in 1992 and was only recently completed in 2009.
The Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel (首都圏外郭放水路 shutoken gaikaku hōsuiro), is 50 meters below the ground. The G-Cans Project is a feat of state-of-the-art civil engineering technology designed to drain water from flooded residential areas into five enormous containment silos (32 meters in diameter), and discharge it into the Edo River via connecting tunnels that stretch over 6 kilometers. And a number of 10-megawatt pumps can pump up to 200 tons of water per second. Prior to being released, the water is first stored in a massive tank designed to avoid any possible effects caused by water pressure and force from running water. This underground structure is often likened to an underground temple.
A tour group at the G-Cans Project. | eerkmans
The Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel is also a popular tourist attraction. Free tours are available, conducted in Japanese. It truly is an amazing architectural wonder that represents technological innovations put together from many centuries into one awe-inspiring creation.
Take a quick tour of the G-Cans Project through this video by the History Channel, uploaded to YouTube by Okram Dark:
Click image or here: http://youtu.be/B1VIepfMLbA
Japan’s culture and traditions are greatly influenced by Shinto and Buddhist beliefs. Several gods or spirits called ”kami” are revered by many Japanese. One of them is the goddess of the sun, Amaterasu who, according to Shinto belief, is the Emperor of Japan’s direct ancestor. Japan is also known to have the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. The Chrysanthemum Throne is the term that embodies the Japanese monarchy and the legal authority of the existence of the Japanese government. The kazoku was considered the accepted hereditary peerage (legal system of hereditary titles) of the Empire of Japan between 1884 and 1947.
The Meiji Restoration of 1868 saw the restoration of practical imperial rule to Japan under Emperor Meiji. It put in place practical abilities and secured the political system of the country. This led to many changes in Japan’s political structure as well as its emergence as a modernized nation. Kazoku (華族) literally means “exalted lineage” or “magnificent.” The ancient court nobility of Kyoto (kuge) regained its status when several of its members played crucial roles in overthrowing the Tokugawa shogunate. The Meiji government nominated kuge to head all seven of the newly established administrative departments.
The Emperor Meiji.
The new ruling class of Japan was known as the Meiji oligarchy. One of their Westernizing reform strategies was to unite the daimyo (feudal lords) with the kuge to build an expanded aristocratic class distinct from other social classes of shizoku (former samurai) and the heimin (commoners). The kazoku peerage was intended to provide the political and social foundation for the newly restored Japanese imperial institution. Any kazoku without any official government appointments in provinces were obligated to reside in Tokyo.
The Peerage Act as promulgated by Hirobumi Ito of 7 July 1884 expanded the awarding of kazoku status to people who had performed outstanding services for the country. The kazoku was divided into five ranks based on the British peerage system but with titles derived from ancient Chinese nobility:
Prince or Duke – Kōshaku (公爵 )
Marquis – also Kōshaku but written with a different Chinese character (侯爵 )
Count – Hakushaku (伯)
Viscount – Shishaku (子爵 )
Baron – Danshaku (男爵)
The 1946 Constitution of Japan abolished the kazoku. This ended the use of all titles of nobility and rank outside the immediate Imperial Family. But many of the descendants of the kazoku families continue to hold influential positions in Japanese government and society up until today.
Amaterasu and the Imperial Regalia of Japan
Ensemble taiko drumming is catching on fast in the U.S. The first organized American taiko groups started in California in the 1960s. Today, there are over 300 groups across North America that incorporate influences from different types of musical genres such as hip-hop, Latin, and jazz.
Taiko (太鼓) encompasses a wide variety of Japanese percussion instruments. In Japan, the term refers to any type of drum. But outside the country, taiko is used to describe the types of Japanese drums called wadaiko, as well as the form of ensemble drumming officially known as kumi-daiko (drum collection).
Tokara Taiko Drummers. | Notreshuggle
According to the myth mentioned in the Nihon Shoki (the second oldest book of classical Japanese history), taiko originally came from the Shinto gods Ame no Uzume (goddess of dawn, mirth, and revelry), Amaterasu (goddess of sunlight), and her brother Susanoo (god of the sea and storms). At one time, Susanoo was so angry he brought forth raging waters from the sea that reached the land. Amaterasu became so upset with her brother’s actions she fled to a cave, sealed it with a boulder, and refused to come out. The other gods knew that without sunlight from Amaterasu, life on earth would dwindle and eventually die. Ame no Uzume thought of turning herself to look like an old lady, emptied out a barrel of sake, and started to pound on it creating percussive and compelling rhythms that moved all the other gods to sing and dance. The sounds of the music and the revelry caused Amaterasu to come out of her cave to see what all the commotion was about. As she saw the joyous scene before her, light once again shone on earth and banished Susanoo.
Kita no Taiko Performance. | Kurt Bauschardt
The exact origin of the taiko is unknown. However, archaeological evidence suggests that ancient Japanese during the Jōmon period used drums. The Kofun period also indicated the use of drums for rituals and as a means to communicate.
For some people, the attraction to learning taiko is the depth and breadth of what the instrument offers not just as a musical instrument but in the movement of the body as well. There are so many different sounds and styles that can be produced from one single drum. When many drums are played together by an ensemble, in various styles, movement, and positioning, the artistic possibilities are endless. For others who are looking to combine movement and music in a form other than dance, playing the taiko offers the best of both worlds. Taiko involves full body drumming and can be likened to a fully body workout that satisfies the physical, mental, and musical aspects. It’s no wonder taiko is fast catching on as a great way to flex your musical creativity while exercising at the same time.
Click image or here: http://youtu.be/pZO47QxV-iY
Autumn in Japan can be described as colorful splendor. The leaves of gingko and maple trees turn into rich hues of red and yellow. There’s no better way to appreciate the culture, history, and people of Japan than taking a stroll in some of the most beautiful places in the country. Here are scenic places you can visit while in Japan in autumn:
Imperial Palace gardens, Tokyo—the Tokyo Imperial Palace has some stunningly beautiful gardens that flaunt all of the magnificence of autumn colors right in the heart of the Japan’s bustling capital. Since the Edo period, the Fukiage Garden has been used as the residential area of the imperial family. The East Garden has most of the administrative buildings, the Ninomaru Garden has all the symbolic trees that represent each prefecture in Japan numbering about 260 trees from 30 varieties, and Kōkyo-gaien to the south of the grounds is the outer garden of the Imperial Palace.
Imperial Palace East Garden. | Guilhem Vellut
Kinugawa River, Tochigi—a river located in the main island of Honshu. Since Japan’s ancient times, the Kinugawa River has been notorious for its raging floods in the area, but its beauty is nonetheless unquestionable. It runs from the north to the south of the Kantō plain, eventually merging with Tone River. The Kinugawa River is also known for running through the Kinugawa Onsen where you can bathe in the warm mineral-rich water and admire the beautiful fall colors and other natural wonders in the area.
Kinugawa River. | ume-y
Eikando Temple, Kyoto—the head temple of the Seizan branch of the Pure Land Buddhist sect of Japan. It is famous for its fall foliage, centuries-old structures, and other great cultural treasures. The Tahōtō, the temple’s tower, is situated at the highest point of the compound and offers a spectacular view of the amazing scenery.
At the Eikando Temple. | Hideyuki KAMON
Hida Takayama, Gifu Prefecture—an-old town district in the Chubu region. Old buildings line the streets, giving you the impression you have traveled back in time. Promenades are full of spectacular autumn colors. The view from the nearby mountains and the “Higashiyama Walking Course” leading to the Higashiyama Temple Area and Shiroyama Park all make a trip to Hida Takayama a worthwhile visit while in Japan.
Leaves in autumn at Hida Takayama. | きうこ
Every culture has its own artistic style that expresses the proud tradition and history of the forever evolving nature of mankind and gives us a glimpse of the treasured past.
Japan has a continued philosophical and cultural belief in the preservation of arts that is quite different from contemporary preservation techniques. Japanese art preservationists give importance to the terms kufū , a practice of creating art using innovation, and kaihen, the transformation of other objects.
Japanese painting, highly regarded as one of Japan’s highly refined forms of visual arts, encompasses many different styles and genres. Throughout its early history, Japanese painting was mostly adapted from the Chinese style and it displays the contrasting nature of Japanese aesthetics. Western influence on Japanese paintings was introduced later in the 16th century onwards.
Wind God and Thunder God folding screens by Tawaraya Sōtatsu.
Ink wash painting, also known as literati painting, was a common technique used around East Asia in early history. It is a type of brush painting that makes use of black calligraphy ink. Chinese influence is apparent in the repeated use of the technique in earlier works that depict Buddhist religious paintings and used the style similar to the landscape scenes in Chinese literati paintings, paintings of flowers and animals, and calligraphy of ideographs.
As Japanese painting developed its own distinct style and traditions, the most consistent characteristics of many of the earlier historical paintings are the narrative scenes full of detail and the depiction of images from everyday life. Nihonga, coined during the Meiji period and literally meaning Japanese-style paintings, is a term for Japanese paintings that use the traditional Japanese artistic technique and conventions that are more than a thousand years old. The term was used to differentiate Japanese works from the Western-style paintings known as Yōga. Nihonga paintings were typically drawn on silk or washi paper.
Pond and Insects from the Colorful Realm of Living Beings by Itō Jakuchū.
Some notable Japanese painters include:
Tawaraya Sōtatsu (1643) – the co-founder of the Rimpa school of Japanese painting. He began his career as a fan-painter and later moved on to producing fine decorative paper for calligraphy for the imperial court.
Itō Jakuchū (1716–1800) – his works consisted mainly of traditional Japanese subjects. With Japan closed to the outside world, he experimented with perspective and other modern stylistic elements.
Suzuki Harunobu (1725 – 7 July 1770) – a woodblock print artist in the Ukiyo-e style and a pioneer in producing full-color prints. He used several special techniques and depicted a wide variety of subjects.
The Water Vendor by Suzuki Harunobu.
KCP alumna Gwen Taylor describes how studying at KCP and experiencing Japan have touched her life. She also offers valuable insights about the program. Thanks, Gwen!
I had always felt held back by the speed of language courses at my university. And I thought Japanese culture was something easily understood through textbooks. I wanted to learn so much and was so motivated, but there was often nothing for me to do. In my second year studying Japanese, I got the opportunity to spend three months at KCP. It was everything I dreamed of and more.
Gwen. | KCP Flickr
Not only are the courses magnificently challenging and the staff extremely supportive, but the school is in the heart of Tokyo. I have never been in a place where there was so much to explore, so much to do. One afternoon, I decided to go to the trendy shopping district of Harajuku, and after a great day shopping in a huge population center, I discovered a temple almost totally hidden by a forest. The ease of train travel meant I could go anywhere, from peaceful rural farms to historical monuments, castles, and hot spring resorts; from frantic urban centers to glorious beaches in a single day. It is true that you are only young once, and I believe every young person should get to spend time in Tokyo.
The culture classes taught me more than I ever learned in university. Every class was devoted to exploring some aspect of Japanese culture that had never occurred to me. Because the teachers were Japanese living in Japan, their perspective was totally new to me and opened my eyes in so many ways. The tours we had of Ginza and the Edo-Tokyo Museum will remain in my memory forever. Our teachers were not only knowledgeable but also seemed to genuinely share in our wonder and joy at discovering so many new things. One of the best experiences was seeing Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku performances, which should not be missed even by those who don’t know what they are.
At Edo-Tokyo Museum. | KCP Flickr
We were also obliged to participate in a sports day event. As an American, I found this incomprehensible at first, since even elementary schools in America do not have a culture of students putting on events. But like everything else at KCP, the idea was immersion. I suggest embracing everything that seems weird, including strange community events. Although I dragged my feet at the beginning, by the end of that effort I enjoyed a sense of community and family that I have never felt in an academic environment. I also highly recommend trying extracurricular activities such as the Anime Club, through which I was able to visit the magical Ghibli Museum. Every child should get to go there.
One of my most memorable experiences was our day trip to Aizu near the end of our term. By that time, I thought I was getting a good idea what Japanese life was like. How wrong I was. We stopped at several historical sites, at each place seeing beautiful clothing, rooms, and structures plucked from periods in Japanese history. Because Aizu is somewhat colder and we started our day so early, each place we visited had an air of stillness, a slight hint of fog tipping from the mountains as we drove further into them. Our final destination was Tsuruga Castle, from whose top tower we could see what felt like all of Northern Japan. As snow started falling in big flakes, we visited a rural village that, even though it had people living in it normally, really felt like stepping back in time. The blissful feelings carried us all the way home through winding mountain roads and Japanese children’s songs.
Aizu. | KCP Flickr
Even if there were no language classes at all, KCP would be a worthwhile experience for anyone. But on top of this wealth of cultural experiences, every day is dedicated to learning Japanese. It feels like a heavy load at first, but after a couple of weeks it becomes thrilling to get to learn so much every day. Each level and class had three different teachers, each one fascinating, kind, and funny, and always willing to help with any problem or answer any question. Because most of the students’ native languages were other than English, there is little temptation for switching to one’s native tongue during classes. Soon, without really realizing it, speaking Japanese every day becomes natural.
The system of levels and the way the school is designed seem perfect for language learning. No matter what one’s Japanese proficiency is at the start, there is a class ideally suited to helping each student learn as much as they can. Because KCP has so much experience teaching Japanese, they understood my own psychology and ability even better than I did. As each hurdle approached, my teachers helped me to overcome it. I have never had a learning experience like it, and I wish it for anyone.
KCP students at dinner during an overnight trip. | KCP Flickr
Each of my classmates experienced KCP differently. Some were old hat at this and simply concentrated on studying; others took every opportunity to make new friends in the strangest places. For some, it was their first time in Japan and first time ever learning Japanese. I would have worried about them, but the staff was so supportive and friendships so strong, none of my friends ever complained about feeling left behind or lost. I have never felt so close to other human beings as I did to those I met during my time at KCP.
In summary, even for a total novice in Japanese language and culture, KCP is a perfect experience. Everyone deserves the accelerated learning and day-to-day experience of Japanese life, and no human being should go without spending some time in Tokyo. Even years later, I think often of my time there and wish to return. There is no need to hesitate. Japan is waiting for you.
For more of Gwen’s photos, visit her KCP Flickr set.