When I went to Japan, my original idea was to be there for one month. In that time I did and saw things that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The thing that surprised me most though was that the amazing history and many traditional cultural sights around every corner were not the biggest attraction for me! In that first month I did all of the normal tourist things: visited Daibutsu in Nara, walked through Kyoto’s temples and castles, and went shopping in Osaka. I took a gondola ride up into the mountains of Kobe, and saw the famous Mambo fish in the Osaka Aquarium. All of this was wonderful, and there were a hundred other things I didn’t mention, but in the end they would not have kept me in Japan.
I discovered that, every day, I just loved being there. I enjoyed waking up in Japan. I loved eating normal Japanese food, although big dinners with friends on the weekends were a blast too. No matter where I went it was beautiful, whether I was wandering through the urban paradise that is Osaka, or watching the endless forested mountains pass by the windows of a train. What I loved most were the people I met. Somehow I went to far more barbeques in Japan than I ever went to in America, and there were always new people who were more than polite; they were genuinely friendly, and we always had a good time. One of my favorite days was when I went to a barbecue with some students from Smith’s School of English far out in the country. The weather was fair and breezy, and I spent the early afternoon napping on a huge rock in the middle of the river. A few hours later I woke up and we all had a big yakisoba dinner together. Days like that one were the reason my month long trip became a whole summer, and a good part of fall too!
I ended up going to a lot of gatherings and parties with students from Smith’s. I was lucky to have a brother who is a teacher there, so I was always invited to various events. I of course wanted to see where my brother worked, so one of the first places he took me was the head office of Smith’s School of English in Kyobashi, which is a city in Osaka. I went there a lot during my trip, and I was able to watch the teachers (or as they call themselves, “Coaches”) with the students, and talk with students before class a bit myself. It was interesting what a variety of people took classes at Smith’s, from retirees to high school students. The only common thread between them was that they all loved speaking English and wanted to improve their skill level, which varied from student to student. Teachers were very careful to tailor their lesson plans and style to the needs of the student, so that even the lowest level students were speaking and conversing throughout most of the lesson. Everyone always seemed to be having a good time (in English of course!) and it was great to see the same students coming back week after week for more practice. I know I’ll go back to Osaka someday, and when I do, one of my first stops will be to Smith’s School to hopefully see some old friends, and see how they’ve improved. I really can’t wait to visit Japan again.