Michael Mauer is an alumnus of the 2016 CLS Japanese program in Hikone, Japan. He is currently a junior at Cornell University majoring in computer science and Asian studies. Michael has been fencing since he was in middle school and is currently a member of Cornell’s fencing team, as well as a writer for the Cornell’s student-run newspaper (the Cornell Daily Sun) and the university’s study abroad department’s newspaper (Cornell Abroad). He also manages the largest fan page for Japanese pop culture on Google Plus.
Originally, I took introductory Japanese because I needed to take a foreign language class. Going out on a limb paid off, though, as I fell in love not only with the language, but also with Asian studies as a whole.
Not So Lost in Translation
I remember one of the first weekends of the program, two friends and I went to Tsuruga, a city north of Hikone, to see the famous fish market there. We spent the night in a village outside of Tsuruga called Mihama at an AirBnB. The host (a graduate of Tokyo University who became dissatisfied with corporate life and moved to the country) was excited to have three foreigners visiting and suggested beforehand that he’d bring a few friends for a barbeque that night. I’ll never forget sitting outside with the warm summer breeze and the sounds of cicadas, eating delicious food we cooked ourselves, and talking (in Japanese!) about everything from cooking beef to the meaning of life.
When You Don’t Fit In… Literally
As a tall, white American, I stood out very distinctly in Japan. This caused some very simple issues, like hitting my head against door frames and not fitting in seats. It also had other effects, like making it impossible to be discreet or go unnoticed, which was a problem for me because I’m an introvert by nature. People would often stare at me while I was on the train or out doing errands. However, in the end, I was able to come to terms with all the attention, which helped me become less introverted.
Words of Wisdom
Japan is great to visit, both as a student and as a tourist. The country is very safe, and has extremely efficient public transportation so it’s easy to travel on weekends, stay at AirBnBs, etc. This, in turn, is great for language learning, because you’re really enabled to go out, explore, and make friends. Many Japanese people are excited to meet someone learning their language, and want to talk with you about why you’re in Japan and what it’s like to study Japanese.