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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Japan: Sushi & Other Small Things

Summer 2008

Everything here is miniature. Because of a premium on space, the elevator can fit five people at most, bowls are half the size of those at home and blow dryers fold into two for easy storage. The food and gifts I brought for my host family appear to be on steroids sitting on their low dining table next to tiny packages of chips and nuts. When I brought out these oversized packages, my host family laughed and commented about big, easy, and casual American living. The culture here is so different. People always talk in polite and hushed tones. It is rude for girls to step out of the house without makeup and to talk on cell phones in the metro. I bow and say “sumimasen” (excuse me or sorry) quite frequently. No one wears regular t-shirts. Instead, fashion is filled with patterns, frills, layers and colors. On the first day here, I decided to abandon the free UTD convocation T-shirts to avoid standing out like a sore thumb, so much for school pride.

Work ethic is strict. Commutes of three hours per day are not unusual for workers or students. Leaving work at five is simply not done. Female participation in the labor force is very low. Students go to private tutoring and classes after school and on weekends especially when preparing for entrance exams.

Shinto beliefs are inseparable from society and culture. The respect for nature, a core belief of Shinto, manifests itself in green policies and in everyday life. Public bathrooms have a button next to the toilet labeled “flushing noise” that, in fact, makes the noise of a flushing toilet. After pressing the button a few times out of curiosity, I finally asked Sensei its purpose. Sensei told me it is a water saving measure to prevent people from actually flushing the toilet to mask embarrassing noises. All public bathrooms also have high-powered hand dryers that work much more efficiently than those in the US. About a million other things are done by ordinary citizens, companies and government for the conservation and recycling of valuable resources.

I am finally back in the US. My trip to Japan was glorious. I ate plenty of good sushi, sashimi, tempura, udon, soba, kare(curry), rice, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and bento items. Being an economics major and a lover of efficiency, my favorite of all restaurants had to be the conveyor sushi place, which really was the epitome of efficiency. It was like an itemized buffet without ever getting up from your seat. Ask me for details sometime! Highlights of the trip include two weeks in Tokyo visiting Meiji Jingu, Yasukuni, Asakusa, Akihabara, Tokyo Tower, the Ghibli Museum, Shinjuku, Tsukiji Fish Market and Mount Fuji. The city was so alive and full of local flavor. There were always people out and about, a few were even dressed in yukata(the traditional summer robe). Different parts of the city showed a different aspect of Japanese culture, whether traditional, popular or a comfortable mix of the two. Also, by the end of my stay in Tokyo, I vowed to become an otaku starting with Miyazaki’s films. Then came another two weeks in Osaka for Panasonic, Nagoya for the Toyota factory and Kyoto for historical and scenic sites. Traveling by Shinkansen (the bullet train) was very convenient and public transportation in each city was easy to navigate. My favorite part of the trip was sitting in the grounds of a gorgeous Zen temple, jinja, or cafĂ©, watching people and reflecting on conversations with host families. Greatest gain from this trip- I’ve finally experienced what Twain meant when he said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”