The Study Abroad Newsletter

Summer in Japan

Kimberly Mulanix
International Christian University, Japan

In the summer 2007, I traveled to Japan for the second time. I have never been outside the United States except for Japan. In fact, I am the only one in my family to ever have owned a passport! So you can imagine my excitement when I got mine. I felt like a new door of opportunity was being opened up. I come from a small town called Hawi in Kohala where it is a rare event for someone to be going abroad. So I consider it a great privilege and I feel very appreciative that I have had the opportunity to travel. Japan holds a special place in my heart and I’ll tell you why. This is my experience.

Kimberly poses in a kimono with her host family I knew from the time I started college at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo that I wanted to study abroad. I had many reservations but my family, friends, and teachers were very encouraging. I finally decided on the Summer Courses in Japanese offered by International Christian University in Mitaka-shi in Tokyo, Japan. This was a six week intensive Japanese language program. There I met people from all over the world. Most were from the mainland U.S. Others were from Germany, China, Korea, Russia, and one other student from Hawaii! I made many friends but of the two good friends that I made, one is from Canada and the other from Switzerland. Classes were hard but fun. I had a difficult time trying to balance everything because my host family kept me really busy and I attended the majority of the culture program classes. I started riding the bus to and from school and one time took the wrong bus. After that, I rode my bike to school everyday. Actually it was my host mother’s bike with a basket on the front and back. The humidity was hard to withstand and the temperature got up to a sweltering 104 degrees!

Of all the experiences, my most enjoyable were the ones I spent with my host family: host father Katsuya, host mother Shigemi, eldest host brother Satoshi, 23, other host brother Yuta, 21 and host sister Sumire, 17. I fell in love with my two “host cats” Kuro and Gon also. The whole family loves watching the Japanese soccer team play on T.V. My host mother and sister are excellent chefs. All three children are learning Spanish and the two boys are learning violin. Even my classmates at school were jealous that either they didn’t get a host family or that they didn’t get one as good as mine.

Odawara-jo Japanese castle

I couldn’t possibly pick one exceptional experience out of the rest but some of the best were going to a castle called Odawara-jo and staying at a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) in Atami with my host family the day after arriving in Japan, dressing up in kimono for the first time, and going to an onsen (hot springs) in Kawane. My whole stay, I associated with the Momijigaoka congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. My family and I and my host family are all Jehovah’s Witnesses and I was constantly invited to numerous homes of families in the congregation. I was also taught by them how to make okonomiyaki (a Japanese dish from Hiroshima), and we did hanabi (fireworks) together in Tochigi. I also got to visit with my host family from four years ago.

If you are wondering if I experienced any culture shock, I can say that I did. It was the time I was squished tightly in the train. I had never felt like a sardine until that moment, but everything worked out okay. I also went to Costco in Japan and the famous fish market in Tsukiji, which is the biggest in the world. My host family and I would play card games together, exchanged music, and we would go out to eat a lot. Once we went out to a specialty restaurant to eat unagi (eel), my favorite Japanese food! I also taught my host family hows to make Spam musubi and they loved it. They have tried Spam musubi when they came to Hawai’i a few years ago where they stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort. My host family had a little gathering at their house when I arrived but when I left, they had a big party with all of their friends that I met. During that party, I was dressed up in a furisode kimono (my favorite) and my hair was done in the traditional Japanese style. Of course shopping for gifts for my family was fun for me also!

Up until the last day that I was in Japan, friends from the congregation kept coming by to give me gifts. I cried a lot the day that I left. I didn’t want to say goodbye but I left them with the hope that I would be returning the following year as a participant in the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program. I had another reason for being tearful when I arrived at the Kona airport: my parents and sister were waiting for me at the gate! Without them, I would never have been able to go to Japan, the first time or the second time. I know that wherever I go, Hawai’i will always be my home and Japan will always occupy a special place in my heart. I will never be more in love with any other culture.