By: Shirley Yuan
Breathe, you still have so much to pack. Don’t get too nervous. The suitcase is right around the corner. All you have to do is bring it over and get it ready for tomorrow. You scavenge your room for all the clothes you need. Should I pack more or less? There’s no answer, you have to figure it out yourself tonight. There’s still five hours before you leave home for the journey ahead, you have plenty of time to pack, right?
That’s how I felt when I left my university residence in Nagoya, Japan for Golden Week. Japan’s 2019 Golden Week was incredible and exciting. Golden Week in Japan is designed for Japanese citizens to have a ‘break’. It allows Japanese workers to spend time with their families that would otherwise be difficult during the weekdays through numerous holidays and festivals that fall in close proximity to each other.
One of these festivals includes hanami, the yearly cherry blossom flower viewing festival. Hanami typically is used to celebrate the beginning of Spring while admiring nature at its best. Many families and friends will go to parks and admire the cherry blossoms while they last. This year, it was extended from 7 to 10 days as the old Japanese emperor was stepping down from the throne and a new emperor was preparing to ascend. The emperor’s role is to act as the figurehead for the country, much like the Queen in the UK. They have limited power over politics, which is left to parliament. This meant that Japan would be entering a new era until the emperor passes away, traditionally, or abdicates. This also meant that this would be the first and only time I would ever experience a transition into a new era of any country in my entire life.
During Golden Week, I travelled to mainly Kyoto and Osaka. I had planned to go to these cities during Golden Week as they’ve been on my bucket list for years. These cities were important to me because they represent the old and the new; traditional and modern life. I also visited Tokushima, a city on an island off mainland Japan, with one of my friends from McMaster to visit an animation festival that I would have been too embarrassed to go to if it wasn’t for him. Before I could actually go, the only problem was that I never went on long trips by myself and so I didn’t know how to plan everything for it. Panicking, I ended up planning a month earlier because I needed to make sure I knew how to use Japan’s transport system before getting lost… again. Off I went, by myself, into a country that I could only dream of being in.
As I sat on the bus to Kyoto, I noticed my exchange friends and we ended up having the same plans. We somehow ended up on the same bus to Kyoto and I spent the rest of my bus ride with them. Before you knew it, we were talking about where to go and what to do when we got there. Later, while exploring around with them, I found myself enjoying being around them.
Before exchange, I found it difficult to find people I could relate to and found it difficult to even talk to people because I felt that no one had the same interests as me. During Golden Week, I began to learn more about them and because many of us were in the same situation, trying to find our way through Japan, I started to learn more about them. I found myself enjoying their company and eventually, started talking with locals. I learned to relax and have fun while sharing stories from Canada and having our own adventures. If I was alone, I would have never known some of the things people can teach you like where to find owl cafes and yukata stores in Kyoto or where to find unique dresses in Osaka. We also went out for Japanese karaoke and wandered through the alleyways of Koreatown in Osaka.
Before I knew it, at the end of Golden Week, I knew it was something special. Back at residence, sitting on my bed and looking back at the pictures of my travels on my phone, I knew that no matter what, I ended up enjoying more of what Japan offered: a new appreciation of their culture, lifelong friendships, and a family that I’m proud to be part of.
Shirley Yuan is currently a commerce student specializing in accounting in the Faculty of Commerce at McMaster University. She studied for a single term at Nagoya University of Commerce and Business (NUCB) in Japan during summer 2019.