Castle ruins, spiders and incredible recycling: Tales from Centre-in-Japan
Hannah Musser ’13 enrolled in Centre College for one paramount reason: the Centre-in-Japan study-abroad program. This fall term, as a junior, she is discovering that her experiences in Yamaguchi are exceeding even her lofty expectations—as are those of the three other Centre students taking part in the 2011 program.
“I’ve wanted to study abroad in Japan since the sixth or seventh grade,” Musser says. “I grew up loving anime and manga, which eventually translated into a love for Japanese culture and history. Applying to this program just seemed like a natural choice for me.”
Like Musser, Lisa Pascuzzi ’13 has dreamed of traveling to Japan since she was young. “The culture is so unique and very intriguing,” she says. “As I’ve gotten older, I have a new respect for the culture, and I’m glad to be experiencing it.”
Since late September, Pascuzzi, Musser, Michael Bishop ’12 and Jordan Sanders ’13 have been studying at Yamaguchi Prefectural University, a small university in the Western ancient capital of the Ouchi culture. There, they are taking courses in everything from international relations to the politics of Japan to Japanese Tea Ceremony to the history of U.S.-Japan Relations.
And, of course, the students are discovering immeasurable lessons about Japanese life outside the classroom.
“We have time to explore and learn in a more hands-on way than any classroom could ever allow,” Musser says. “For example, we had a day off in our second week of class, so a group of students got together and hopped on the first train to a random, nearby small town. We spent 12 hours exploring the town, climbing mountains, exploring castle ruins, visiting a famous shrine to one of the most well-known Shinto goddesses and just experiencing the Japanese culture. I know that I got more out of that experience than I would have in a whole day in the classroom.”
While studying in Yamaguchi, Pascuzzi says she has learned things she hadn’t dreamed of, not only about Japanese history, culture and society but about herself as well. “This experience has helped build on things I have been taught at Centre and has embellished them more than I could have ever imagined,” she says.
And although the students knew that life in Japan would be filled with unexpected discoveries, they weren’t prepared for many of the things they’ve encountered.
“The most unexpected thing about life in Japan so far has got to be the vending system in restaurants,” Musser says. “In most restaurants, and in the school’s cafeteria, you go up to a vending machine, put money in and select what you want to eat. The machine then dispenses a little card with your order printed on it and your change. You give the little card to the person behind the counter and without a word, they take it from you and prepare your food. It’s very efficient.”
Recycling is also a completely different experience in Yamaguchi.
The “complicated system,” Pascuzzi says, “has six or seven categories that you have to sort all of you garbage into, and you can only throw it out on a certain day.”
The categories — burnable, non-burnable, plastics, PET bottles, paper, glass and cans — make the system “more difficult than it sounds,” Musser says. “Today I broke an umbrella, and my roommate and I spent a good half-hour discussing what kind of trash it was before deciding that we’d rather not deal with that and she’d just use it in an art project instead.”
The fact that “spiders are a part of life in Japan” has also been surprising, Musser says. “Giant black spiders with yellow stripes live everywhere in Japan. They live in giant webs draped over bushes, street signs and fences. And it doesn’t matter how clean you keep your home; you learn to accept and live with the spiders and slugs that find their way in.”
Spiders and all, the experience has been life-changing for the students in countless ways, including allowing the Centre students to learn the realities of current life in Japan and the country’s path for the future.
“There has been a lot of fear about the recent nuclear disaster that occurred in northern Japan,” Pascuzzi says, “but everything is fine here in Yamaguchi. The Japanese are continuing to look forward.”