A couple of days ago, I headed out my host family’s house to go to a school trip. The trip wasn’t, in fact, with my own host school, but with a different high school in Tokyo. They had a three day (two night) English camp, and the Japanese exchange program asked me to participate. The high school had hired six native English-speaking teachers and invited six exchange students to lead classes and help out at the camp. There were 84 Japanese students participating, all first years from the same school. Only twelve of them were boys.
The camp may have been for the purpose of letting the Japanese students learn about foreign cultures, but the hotel we stayed at took on the classic form of a Japanese-style school trip.
The meals were all Japanese dishes. The first lunch was curry and rice. Curry might summon the mental image of some yellow Indian food, but Japanese curry rice is a thick brown sauce flavored by curry, containing potato and carrots and onion and usually beef. This is poured over white rice and eaten with a spoon. Dinner that evening was a hamburger steak, fried shrimp, sashimi (raw fish) with salad, the ever-present bowl of rice, and melon and coffee mousse for dessert.
The next morning was miso soup, salad, and a barely cooked egg over rice. The following lunch was a dish called oyako donburi. Oyako means ‘parent and child,’ and the dish was named thus because it’s made of chicken and egg. That night was udon noodles, fried tofu, a creamy seafood noodle dish, and apricot and orange. The final morning, they threw in a Western breakfast of rolls, an omelet, sausage, and potato. The salad was still there, though. It seems to be a popular trend to eat salad with breakfast. The students all thought that was typical in the U.S. And our last meal of the trip was gyudon, or beef over rice.
Aside from food, the sleeping arrangements were also very Japanese. The rooms all had tatami floors, and there were six or seven kids to a room. We all laid out our futon mats on the floor to sleep on. Out the window was a beautiful view of Shoji Lake, and behind it, Mount Fuji.
There was a public hot spring bath at the hotel too, but I admit I refused to go in. Many Japanese have no problem with entering baths together with other people. Despite this fascinating aspect of Japanese culture, I preferred the cramped shower that was in each room. I wasn’t the only one; a lot of the Japanese girls also didn’t bother with the big public bath.
I must have spent half of my time during the trip just taking pictures with the Japanese students. They treated the foreign students and teachers like celebrities. At one point, I had a line of, literally, ten girls waiting to take their picture with me. They were all a bit shy about using English, but after the first day they started speaking out more. By the end of the program they were drilling us with question after question: Our age? What’s American school like? My favorite Japanese food? Their favorite question was always: Do you have a boyfriend? They changed it accordingly for the teachers into: Are you married? Where did you meet? Is it an international marriage? What did you say when you proposed?
No matter the country, girls will be girls.
It was exhausting always speaking in deliberate and slow English, and listening to the dozens of presentations they made, but I also had a lot of fun. And despite all the English, it was a distinctly Japanese experience.