It’s hard to imagine how different living with a family from another culture (or even living with a different family within your own culture!) can be. A homestay student and the family s/he stays with can each have radically different views of the experience.
How to prepare for this? Check out
Okay, it’s a resource website that can feel a little, well, simple at first.
But as I went through it, I discovered I wasn’t always getting the right answers to the tests. So I clearly had some assumptions that would be interpreted differently in Japan.
The site includes some tutorials. These tutorials are well-paced, using a variety of methods–prose, animations, diagrams, interactive images. Very small tests come up every so often. There are 3 modules–
(1) The Cultural Child (and we are all cultural children, especially we Americans)
(2) What You Need To Grow, and
(3) Homestay Diaries–Growing Pains . . . and Gains.
Here’s a quick example of differing perceptions–
There’s also a *great* Links page (within the Resources topic)–12 links for everyday life in Japan and 10 links on study/daily living/travel.
At Home In Japan was created by Jane Bachnik and funded by Japan’s National Institute of Multimedia Education (NIME) in Makuhari, as well as by the Japanese Ministry of Education.
Enjoy the tutorial and other resources there–they are a free, easy, no-risk way to prepare yourself for enjoying life in Japan.
Thanks to the staff at Western Washington University, a KCP affiliate university, for this link.
Most Japanese participate in rituals and customs derived from several religious traditions. The birth of a new baby is celebrated with a formal visit to a Shinto shrine at the age of about one month, as are the third, fifth, and seventh birthdays and the official beginning of adulthood at age twenty. Wedding ceremonies are often performed by Shinto priests, but Christian wedding ceremonies, called howaito uedingu (“white wedding”), are also popular.
The Nachi Shrine, an ancient site of Shinto.
Japanese funerals are usually performed by Buddhist priests, and Buddhist rites are also common on death day anniversaries of deceased family members. 91% of Japanese funerals take place according to Buddhist traditions.
Toshodaiji, a Buddhist temple in Nara (near Kyoto).
There are two types of holidays in Japan. Matsuri (festivals) are usually of Shinto origin and honor rice cultivation and the local community’s spiritual well-being. Nenjyū gyōji (annual events) are largely of Chinese or Buddhist origin.
Very few matsuri or nencho gyoji are national holidays, but they are included in the national calendar of annual events. Most matsuri are local events and follow local traditions. They are often associated with Shinto shrines.
Most holidays are secular in nature, but the two most significant for most Japanese–New Year’s Day and Obon–involve visits to Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples, respectively. New Year’s (January 1–3) is marked by the practice of numerous customs and the consumption of special foods. Visiting Shinto shrines to pray for family blessings in the coming year, dressing in a kimono, hanging special decorations, eating noodles on New Year’s Eve, and playing a poetry card game are among these practices. During Obon, bon (spirit altars) are set up in front of Buddhist family altars, which, along with ancestral graves, are cleaned in anticipation of the return of the spirits. People living away from their family homes return for visits with relatives. Celebrations include folk dancing and prayers at Buddhist temples as well as family rituals in the home.
On August 16 in Kyoto–today–some enormous bonfires are burning.
Spectacular okuribi bonfires on five Kyoto mountains signal the end of summer.
Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火), more commonly known as Daimonji (大文字), is one of the iconic festivals of Kyoto. Five giant bonfires are lit on mountains surrounding the city to signify the moment when the spirits of deceased family members are believed to be returning to the spirit world—thus the name Okuribi (送り火) (roughly, “send-off fire”).
Specific families have the hereditary duty of organizing all the logistics of the bonfires, and they spend many hours annually providing volunteer labor to maintain this tradition.
Here’s the play-by-play:
- Daimonji (大文字), “large” or “great” and the most famous: on Daimonji-Yama/Higashi-Yama, Nyoigatake at 8:00 pm
- Myō/Hō (妙・法), “wondrous dharma” (Buddhist teachings): on Matsugasaki, Nishi-Yama/Higashi-Yama at 8:10 pm
- Funagata (舟形), the shape of a boat: on Nishigamo, Funa-Yama at 8:15 pm
- Hidari Daimonji (左大文字), again, “large:” on Daihoku-San, Hidaridaimonji-San at 8:15 pm
- Toriigata (鳥居形), a torii gate: on Toriimoto, Mandara-San at 8:20 pm.
By 8:30, all the characters are lit. Each bonfire lasts for 30 minutes.
A montage of four of the fires. Which one is missing?
Here’s an extremely witty, lyrical accessible Japanese artist from Japan’s Edo period. Katsushika Hokusai / 葛飾北斎 (1760-1849) was an artist of the uyiko-e / 浮世絵 school of painters. Uyiko-e means, literally, “pictures of the floating world.” They are mostly woodblock prints and paintings.
Hokusai was enamored of the artists’ practice common at the time to take a series of names–in fact, he took many more names than was customary. He was best known for his views of Mt. Fuji. This shot, the first in the collection Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji, is perhaps his most famous.
Hokusai cultivated a personal obsession with Mt. Fuji. Religious beliefs at the time considered Mt. Fuji the source of the secret of immortality.
Travellers Crossing the Oi River
Hokusai was born into an artisan family; his father was most probably a mirror-maker for shogun. At 12, he was sent to work in a bookshop and lending library. At 14, he apprenticed with a wood carver, and from there he was accepted into the studio of a Uyiko-e artist.
Sumida River Seen from Azuma Bridge
Hokusai began exploring other styles of art, including European styles he was exposed to through French and Dutch copper engravings he was able to acquire. He was expelled from his studio, an event he considered inspirational. He said, “”What really motivated the development of my artistic style was the embarrassment I suffered at [my master's] hands.”
Self-Portrait at the Age of Eighty-Three
Hokusai also changed the subjects of his works, moving away from the images of courtesans and actors that were the traditional subjects of ukiyo-e. Instead, his work became focused on landscapes and images of the daily life of Japanese people from a variety of social levels. This change of subject was a breakthrough in ukiyo-e and in Hokusai’s career.
People Crossing an Arched Bridge
Though his subjects are the everyday and the ordinary, they all project a lyrical evanescence that draws me right in.
Village by a Bridge
About his aging and gradual diminishment, Hokusai had this to say:
“From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life.”
Ancient View of Yatsuhashi in Mikawa Province
“I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention.”
Hanging-Cloud Bridge at Mount Gyodo near Ashikaga
“At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow.”
Head of an Old Man
“If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature.”
Stage Properties for a Farewell Performance
“At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive.”
Fishing by Torchlight in Kai Province
“May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.”
Wow. Here are a few more prints; see many more at my sources, www.wikipedia.org and especially www.katsushikahokusai.org.
And if you’ve got a fire burning in you, don’t wait. Let it out now, so that you won’t need to hanker after immortality.
Three Ladies by a Well
Begging for Alms
The Strong Oi Pouring Sake
Get to Japan! For details, see www,kcpinternational.com. Cheers!
A great way to “explore” Japan, and to explore your own feelings about going there, is to read about it. These books may be useful to you in your exploring. They link to Amazon.com, so you can buy the books for low, low prices–as low as $2, in some cases. Also included are excerpts from reviews. Enjoy!
The one book you NEED to come to Japan
After spending about 3 weeks in Japan with this as my only guide book, I can honestly say you NEED to buy this book before traveling to Japan. It also serves as sort of a mini-travel dictionary in a pinch as well as a quick guide to cultural practices.
Better than Frommer’s
I recently bought both this book and Frommer’s most recent edition of its guide to Tokyo. I think the Lonely Planet guide is much better than its rival. Lonely Planet’s is shorter, but the information in it is much more useful–especially for my situation as a student with a place to stay and food being taken care of (though Lonely Planet does have information on hotels and restaurants for those who need to know).
Indispensable Atlas for a Traveler in Japan
I travel to Japan every 5th week or so to sell my company’s semiconductors to various manufacturers spread out all over Japan. This bilingual atlas is terrific for English-only speakers like me, as it has all the Japanese characters next to the English names, which is essential when navigating the train stations off the main lines. This Atlas has good city maps, too.
Innovative and upbeat, not your usual guidebook.
This is definitely not your average guidebook. Rather than just a listing of the usual tourist destinations, Tokyo for Free gave me insight into what living in Japan would really be like.
Having lived in Japan for the past 6 years, I’ve had the opportunity to use all of the major guidebooks (and quite a few of the minor ones as well), and without a doubt, the most useful and informative guidebook is this one. Of course Lonely Planet has lots of information about restaurants and hotels, but what you really want is a purpose to visit the places that you are visiting. This guidebooks tells you the history of each place, so you can understand why each place is important.
Outstandingly beautiful book, yet information-packed.
If you glance through this book, you’ll immediately be stunned by the top-notch scenery shots of today’s Japan. National Geographic’s long experience in joining excellent information with outstanding images has given us a great look at Japan and its culture. I’m now planning a trip there for next summer!
Real-size images of Japan and Japanese
I’m a Japanese living in Japan. I bought this book to check if it’s worth recommending to my friends–and yes, I recommend this book. It’ll tell you real-life Japan and Japanese without exaggeration. It covers Japan from the inside–the life of ordinary Japanese people.