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In the past few weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s important to do what you want to do when you want to do it.
In the weeks prior, I was overwhelmed with work and the tasks before me that I lost track of living and treasuring each day given to me. During the busy times of developing a mobile application, starting an English project for the Japanese community, and interning, getting through the day had become my end goal, and before I knew it, there were only three months left in my gap year.
Of course, three months is still a lot of time, and I am just as excited to start my time at Duke, as I am living in Japan on this gap year, but part of me started to fear the what-ifs. What if I feel like I didn’t do enough on my gap year? What if end up not being able to do something I could’ve done? What if I reflect on my gap year and think, I should’ve done this, I should’ve done that instead of feeling satisfied with my year?
Rather than thinking about the what-ifs now, I decided to prioritize taking time to do the things I want to do now: the things I can’t do in the United States and without the time I currently have. One of those things was traveling. With the added hurdle of COVID-19, it was difficult to take extended trips to remote areas, but with the number of cases having gone down significantly in Japan after the New Year, I took my mask and backpack and headed off.
I first started by taking a brief trip back to the United States. This trip was mostly to conduct trials of the mobile application I had been developing in Japan, but it was nice to be home and spend time with my family for the first time in 6 months. After enjoying many home-cooked meals, time with my dog, and feeling refreshed for the second half of my year, I headed back to Japan.
In retrospect, this short trip back to the US was important in resetting the new “normal” that had become living in Japan. I was able to appreciate spending time here more and found many things I wanted to do before the year was over.
My first trip in Japan was two days in Osaka on the West side of Japan. I decided to go on this trip about three days before I went, as I found tickets for The National High School Baseball Championship. The National High School Baseball Championship is held twice a year in the spring and summer, and it is one of the most-watched sports events in Japan. I was very excited to get an opportunity to attend, as it was my first time going to the spring tournament, and the tournament last summer was canceled due to COVID-19. Watching the players chasing their dreams under the hot sun and brisk wind, was a fresh reminder of myself just a few months ago. Revitalized and motivated, I returned to Tokyo.
My next trip was to the bottom part of Japan, where I visited Hiroshima, Oita, and Fukuoka prefectures. A friend and I took a plane down and only used trains to travel between the prefectures. Although we were still in Japan, life seemed much slower there, especially in Oita. Trains only came once an hour (they typically come once every few minutes in Tokyo), and the climate was slightly milder, making it a nice escape from the hustle of everyday life. Walking along farmland and homes in remote areas of Japan, seeing and experiencing things I had never done before but knew I’d likely never do again, I felt happy and refreshed.
Looking back on the past month, I feel that it has been one of the most enjoyable of my gap year so far. Being able to take a trip across the country whenever you “feel like it” and experience things unbelievably different from your everyday life is a benefit of the gap year I never want to give away. I have a few more trips planned for next month, so I am looking forward to wherever those trips take me next.
Developing My Application
Happy New Year!
I hope that everyone is doing well amid the ongoing pandemic.
In the past few weeks, the situation in Japan has worsened severely, with many prefectures calling for a state of emergency. Although that’s made it difficult to meet with friends and explore various restaurants and cafes, it’s given me a significant amount of time to focus on programming my application.
With the application I am developing coming closer to completion, I have been contacting organizations in Japan and the United States to see if I can run trials at their facilities. It’s been especially difficult in Japan as I lack connections with schools and organizations. But last week, I was given the opportunity to trial with an organization in Ibaraki Prefecture.
This organization, known as Mokuyou Ichi Online (木曜市オンライン) takes orders for vegetables sold at a local farmers market and delivers them to people’s homes. My application was going to be used in the delivery portion of the operation, for two weeks (once a week).
At first, it was quite difficult for me to imagine a society in which vegetables were locally grown and locally distributed. Growing up in the suburbs of New York, I only knew of a society where people went to the grocery store to buy produce. However, I learned there were many people in Japan (like Ibaraki) who still depended on their crops for fresh produce.
As I made final preparations to the app to make sure it ran smoothly on the first day, a familiar sensation of nervous excitement grew within me. It was only a small trial with a few users, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to step in if something went wrong. What if it didn’t work? I pondered upon these questions continuously, but in the end, the excitement that came with seeing my app being used after months of development won over.
In the end, the trial ended up running quite smoothly. There were no glaring issues, and the application itself received positive feedback from both the organization and the users. It was still a small trial, but a step towards a final product. I look forward to next week and the trials that are yet to come.
Shun’s 2020 reflection
A few days ago, I celebrated my 19th birthday. As most of you may know, turning 19 is quite odd. In the United States, turning 18 represents adulthood, while 21 represents being able to consume alcohol legally. In Japan, turning 20 represents both adulthood and being able to consume alcohol legally. In both countries, 19 serves as an odd middle step, where you don’t gain any legal rights but still think to yourself, “damn, I’m getting old.”
As a result, I didn’t expect much out of my 19th birthday. Living away from my parents and friends, I didn’t have anyone to hang out with, not that the pandemic would have let me anyway, and as I mentioned before, 19 just represented getting older.
Here’s how it went:
December 16th, 11:55 pm: Get handed a soccer-ball-shaped cake while proceeding to be immersed in a shower of voices screaming “happy birthday!”
December 17th, 12:00 pm: Wake up to a phone call from the postal service, regretting wasting half of my birthday sleeping. Go downstairs to be handed a huge box filled with cupcakes sent from my family in the US.
December 17th, 7:00 pm: Go to my grandparents’ house to eat sushi and cake.
Though I do love my family and friends, I don’t write this to boast about how great they are. Rather, having a surprisingly eventful birthday in a time where events are hard to come by, really helped me reflect and appreciate the value of friends, family, and personal connections.
Before blowing out the candles on my cake, a friend asked, “What kind of year was 2020 for you?”
To me, 2020 has been a year of new encounters, both physical and metaphorical. I was able to meet this school, the wonderful community it offers, this country, a place I always held a connection with, and friends, new, old, online, and offline.
2020 has been a difficult year, but it has taught me to appreciate and be thankful for everything that I have. Though not everything has turned out the way I expected, I am thankful for the way it did, and look forward to what the rest of my gap year and 2021 has to offer.
Freedom and Opportunity
In the past few months, I have come to appreciate the amount of freedom I have to live a “normal” life despite the current pandemic. As most countries are starting once again to implement travel restrictions and lockdown measures, Japan seems to be doing the opposite: removing the 2-week quarantine upon entering the country and providing discounts on hotels and transportation accommodations. If you walk through Shibuya, located in the center of Tokyo, you would not even think for a second that we were in the midst of a global pandemic. People walk the streets, certainly within 6 feet of each other, some not even wearing masks.
Coming from the United States, it feels unfair and almost disrespectful that while the rest of the world deals with the deadly pandemic, that people here can live so normally and carelessly. With ~250 cases being reported daily in Tokyo, the virus is nowhere near gone. I just hope that the people here can take slightly more responsibility for the freedom they have so we don’t lose it with an influx of cases.
On the bright side, with the measures being slightly more relaxed, I have started to have more opportunities to participate in programs offline. One of those was the Exploratory IT Human Resources Project (Mitou Project), the program I am currently apart of where I am developing an iPhone application. As a member of this program, I receive resources and mentorship from the Japanese Government to work on and develop my idea. Until recently, all meetings and presentations of the work I had been doing (held once/twice a month) were online. However, they decided it was safe enough to hold the last meeting in-person, so I was finally able to meet the other members of the program and my project manager in-person.
Participating in the in-person meeting was like taking a breath of fresh air, a reminder of the beauty and power of being with people. For months I had been working alone, endlessly typing away at my computer, my only communication with the other members, and my managers done through Zoom. Though in the moment, it didn’t seem like I was missing out on much, the meeting was a reminder of the excitement of the now days-of-the-past, where you could meet new people and exchange conversation in the same physical environment. I could move around to talk to different people without having to be assigned break-out rooms and I didn’t have to rely on private messaging to talk with individual people.
As I sit in my room alone writing this blog post, I feel so grateful for the offline aspect of the meeting, something I took for granted just a few months ago. Without it, I know I wouldn’t have been able to meet so many people and received the valuable feedback I did, from software engineers and professors. Looking back, this pandemic has given me many opportunities to reflect and appreciate aspects of life that previously, I never noticed. Although life here has started to regain some normality, I know that other parts of the world aren’t as lucky. I look forward to the opportunities that await me while taking responsibility for the freedom I have been given.
The Changing of Seasons
To my surprise, in a few days, it will have been two and a half months since I first step foot into Japan. Before my eyes, the hot humid summers, accompanied by shorts, a hand-held fan, and lots of water have quickly been replaced by the scent of fall, a crisp breeze, and a hot cup of tea. Just as I thought I had gotten used to buying water before going outside or bringing a towel wherever I go, I found myself scrambling to buy clothes and a heater to adjust to the new season.
With the heat having subsided, I’ve taken the last few weeks to try and explore Tokyo. At times I walk endlessly away from my sharehouse in an unfamiliar direction, hoping to find something interesting, while other times, I’ll take the train with a friend to a famous landmark or exhibit. On these many planned and unplanned trips, I’ve found many things. Whether it’s ramen and gyoza or a goat, it seems that Tokyo has it all.
I’ve also taken time to explore some of my passions from the United States. With my weekends being spent playing soccer on the roof (quite thrilling), or going to a park to fish, my days off from programming are starting to feel much like mini-adventures, at times busier than a normal workday.
As for my programming, in the coming weeks, I will start conducting trials of the application I am developing at small schools and facilities in Tokyo. It’s been a meaningful learning experience using my knowledge of programming to develop a service for those in the community around me. The project I started with five other students will also be holding another event in the next few days.
Though it seems that I won’t get an opportunity to find normality in life in Japan, I find the unpredictability of every day exciting. Whether expected or unexpected, I look forward to what awaits me next.
The First Month
It’s been around a month since I’ve arrived in Japan, and I finally feel like things have started to settle down. I finished my self-quarantine, moved into a share house, found a nice place to work every day, and enrolled in the local gym. However, along the way, it was hard getting used to living alone in a new environment far from home. I no longer knew where everything was, where to eat, where to take some time to relax, I can’t walk to the park to play soccer, or practice violin at night, and there’s nothing stocked in the fridge to eat when I am hungry.
The last of the three was the most difficult challenge I’ve had to get used to since arriving in Japan. In the US, whenever I was hungry, there was almost always something on the table, or in the fridge, I could prepare to eat. Here, I always have to go out or to the supermarket to buy groceries and cook something myself. In the beginning, it was fun to take time to cook dishes I had never cooked before (even with my subpar cooking skills), but as I’ve started to get busy, the quality of my meals (and daily schedule for that matter) have really started to deteriorate. It’s really made me appreciate the time and effort my parents put into cooking (thank you).
Apart from the difficulties of my daily cooking/dinner adventures, I have really enjoyed my first month in Japan. Whether it was starting a project with 5 other students to help reduce the barrier for foreign exchange students to study in Japan and provide more opportunities for Japanese students to practice speaking English or taking a two-day trip with some friends to explore Enoshima Island and Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture, I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet and bond with many different people from completely different walks of life.
Though I feel like I have so much already, I know there’s so much more left to come. Whether it’s programming, cooking, or talking to people I’ve never talked to before, I look forward to whatever awaits me next.
Stepping off the plane and being enveloped by the hot humid air felt different from the times in the past. There were no thoughts of rushing to the convenience store or visiting all my friends, eating home-cooked meals, or the inevitable farewell only a few days away. Rather, I was relaxed and slightly nervous, knowing this would be my new home. For the first time in my life, I had entered this country without being bound by time; I could take a moment to breathe, look around, and not have to pick out everything I wanted to eat in one run to the supermarket.
In retrospect, my arrival in Japan did not go the way I had imagined. For weeks leading up to that day, I had spent time saying goodbye to friends (virtually), packing, getting official documents, and preparing myself for the leap across the ocean. The suspense and excitement had reached its peak, and though COVID-19 had put some doubts in my mind, I was ready to start my adventure. But while I got off the plane knowing I had time, something that I had desired for so many years, I felt that I had lost something else; freedom.
The moment I stepped off, the 20 other passengers on the plane and I were guided to a large room to be lectured regarding how we would spend the next 14 days. After being informed that I would be self-quarantining in a hotel with little freedom, I was taken to a small area where very friendly nurses in hazmat suits gave us our PCR tests. With my nose still throbbing from the incredibly long swab used for the PCR test, I was then led to the government facilitated hotel. There I received three meals a day, had no contact with any hotel staff, and could not leave my room. Thankfully, I was transferred to a different hotel after three days where I am now allowed occasional walks to the park, but aside from this, I remain in self-quarantine. I spend quiet days in my room daydreaming about the things I hope to do this year: developing my iPhone application, expanding the concept of “peer-mentorship” in Japan, volunteering at camps, traveling, spending time with extended family, and making friends from diverse backgrounds with many different interests, among other things.
At times it seems like quarantine will never end, but I also know it is the start of my new adventure. Every day I wait, I become more excited about the things to come, the people I’ll meet, and the opportunities that await me.