Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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Japanese but not Japanese

I do not quite know what this blog is about, but I’ll write about my experiences in Japan thus-far.

My study abroad program in Japan has not started yet, but I am currently in Okinawa, Japan, doing undergraduate research. I came by myself and it is my first time being in Japan.

However, before I explain things further, I feel that I must explain my background. I am ethnically Japanese and Okinawan and am from Hawai`i. That being said, when I came to Okinawa, I felt like I was still in Hawai`i. Everyone here wears aloha shirts, is tan, is Asian. The sky, the sea, the plants, the laid back atmosphere, everything is the same. Plus, because I am part Okinawan, a lot of people think that I am from Okinawa based on my facial features.

I have been here in Okinawa for the past two weeks already, and the biggest adjustment for me was realizing that I’m not in Hawai`i anymore. I’m in Japan. The people here don’t speak English. They speak Japanese. It took me about five-or-so days to adjust to that, but even now I sometimes forget the fact that I’m in Japan. At the moment, I am in Okinawa and I feel like I’m at home — other than switching languages — I have had no culture shock at all, since I was raised in Hawai`i where Japanese traditions are still strong. However, I don’t know how I will adjust to being in mainland Japan.

Here in Okinawa, I blend right in with everyone else, so unless I say that I’m from America, no one will know. However, that brings up problems as well. My Japanese is no where near perfect, so when I go out into the streets, ride the bus, go to the store, everyone speaks to me in Japanese. I don’t tell those people I’m American because my Japanese is good enough to get by, but I constantly ask “Sorry (what did you say)?” So, while I am a foreigner, no one knows that I am a foreigner. I don’t know what the think of me when they speak to me and I don’t immediately catch what they say. According to my Japanese Literature professor from freshman year, everyone will think that I’m slow or not very smart, but I feel like they think I’m just spacey.

When I go to mainland Japan to begin my study abroad program, I think I will stand out more. My features are more Okinawan and I am tan, so I won’t blend in as much. From what I’ve heard from my interviewees and hostel acquaintances here in Okinawa, mainland Japan — especially the Tokyo metropolis — is fast paced and busy. Totally different than Okinawa. Plus, it’s the big city, something which I haven’t really experienced before. So although I am perfectly content and fine at the moment, I don’t know how things will end up when I begin my study abroad program next week. However, either way, I know that my experiences in Japan will be very different in comparison to others due to my ethnicity.

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