For my STEP signature project I traveled to Japan for two weeks in December 2017 to study the architecture, landscape, and urban fabric and development of the worlds 7th most powerful country. Over the course of 14 days, myself and 18 other OSU students traveled over 1,500 miles through over 15 cities and towns in central and southern Japan. On our sprint through Japan, we visited about 120 significant architectural sites that included traditional Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines and also many modern-day buildings. While visiting these incredible buildings and gardens, we analyzed the spaces through sketches, notes, discussions and photos.
Although this was not my first but third study abroad experience as an Ohio State student, I feel that this experience has been the most transformational of the three for many reasons. On my past experiences abroad (England and Chile) I found myself adjusting to and embracing the cultures relatively easily and quickly mainly because the languages were ones that I could speak and the food was already food that I enjoyed. On this trip however, I am not sure that I was able to completely adjust to the culture. Just about everything in and about Japan and its culture was completely different from life in Columbus, however after being immersed in the culture for two full weeks, I adjusted pretty well by then end.
My understanding of myself, my assumptions and my view of the world both changed and solidified while on this trip. This trip challenged me in a lot of ways but over the course of the two weeks, I found myself overcoming most of these challenges. Before going on this trip, my views of the world had already been altered by other experiences abroad, however this trip changed those views even more and to a greater extent than any other past experience had. After returning from my trip to Japan, I have a newfound appreciation and respect for Asian food, languages, religions, customs, ideas and overall culture. Traveling to Japan and even the Japanese culture and way of life was never really on my ‘radar’ until I began to think about going on this trip, so everything that I experienced and learned about the country both before going and while in-country was something new for me.
This trip taught me much more than my other trips abroad, not because it was ‘better’ or ‘more fun,’ but because the culture was so incredibly different than any culture I had experienced or studied before. Every new interaction while in Japan made me appreciate their culture and life style even more. From taking your shoes off when entering a home or restaurant, to bowing as a greeting or farewell, to walking on the left side of the sidewalk, to not talking on the subway, to not tipping waiters and waitresses, to wearing a face mask when you are sick, to eating slowly, everything had a rhyme and reason and most of the time it was out of respect and courteousness to others around you, and it is this that I admired most about their culture, the ample amount of respect.
At first, I admittedly was a little uncomfortable with the social norms and customs solely because they were so vastly different from anything I had ever experienced before. However over the course of the two weeks, after more and more interactions with locals, shop owners, hosts and hostesses, subway attendees, etc., I became more and more comfortable with these interactions and common mannerisms. Everyone that I encountered while in Japan was so friendly, and they were all incredibly understanding when it came to my lack of cultural knowledge. However by the end of the trip, I even surprised myself with how comfortable I felt in almost every social situation. I had learned so much, and appreciate it all that not only was I comfortable but in most cases I was confident in navigating the culture.
This newfound appreciation and understanding of the Japanese and Asian culture is valuable to me not only at a personal level but also at a professional and academic level. As a citizen of the world, traveling is something that I have always enjoyed and always will enjoy. It allows me to explore cultural differences on a first-hand basis and foster a deeper understanding and appreciation for them. As an architecture student, a worldly perspective and understanding is vital because culture, geography, history, etc. all effect the profession and the projects completed as an architect. While abroad in Japan, I learned so much that will not only influence my work as a student but will most certainly also influence my work as a potential licensed architect. I learned about different construction methods, materials, building systems and structures that I otherwise would not have learned about, all while exploring an amazing history, culture and country.