Travelogue 2014 – Michael Juchnik

I have always wanted to travel the world and see places like Greece and Italy, but It always seemed like a far off goal that might never come true. Little did I know I would be going to Japan The country I most wanted to visit. I can say that I wasn’t disappointed on my visit. The people I met and My host family were some of the friendliest people I met, and I will cherish all the memories I made while I was there, whether it was visiting a shinto shrine, swimming 500 meters in the Chesborough cup, Dancing at the Nebuta festival, or making friends with the matriarch of the tea ceremony.

What truly impressed me though was the amount of Diligence and kindness that the Japanese people and students had to offer. As I said before my host family were among the kindest people I had ever met, but my host brothers were also among the hardest working students I had met. There wasn’t a night that went by that my host brother wasn’t studying for school, and at one point I decided to ask my host mother what he was studying for. I learned that my host brother was studying for college entrance exams, and for each college he wanted to enter he had to take a college exam that would determine if he was able to go to that college. As we talked I learned more and more about the Japanese student.

What surprised me the most was how long they were at school. Japanese students go to school for 6 days a week and only have around one week of school off per year. I can’t help remembering my host mother’s baffled face as I explained summer vacation and three months off I was enjoying at that time. The students not only spend more days at school, but they typically spend a much longer time at school. While many american students participate in seasonal sports, every Japanese student is expected to be in multiple “clubs”. Weather its baseball club, swimming club, kyudo club, or kendo club Japanese students participate in a club year round and typically spend their time practicing from the end of school until 7:30, where they return home and do their homework.

I was able to witness these “clubs” first hand on my trip to Japan as we visited the High School. After being greeted by the school band as we exited the bus we were lead to the Kyudo club. Kyudo is the traditional art of the Bow, but unlike the small composite bows you might expect to see at an archery tournament at your local High school, these bows were taller than some of the students. After watching a demonstration from a High school student, who hit his target from some twenty meters, we were invited to try it ourselves from four meters away. Sad to say many of us had a hard time hitting the target from our short distance, but the students were eager to help and get to know us.

From the Kyudo club we were then brought to the Karuta club. Karuta was an interesting card game where several poems were laid out in front of two competitors, the club leader recited a poem, and one of the competitors would try and grab the corresponding card. We were warned to watch out for flying cards, but it was still surprising when a flying card nearly struck me. The intensity with which they played was amazing. Again we were invited to try ourselves, but with a simpler version that was, thankfully, in english. It was fun chatting to the young Japanese girls that I played with, and I had a wonderful time playing with them.

Next was my favorite club, the Kendo club. For anyone who would be unfamiliar, Kendo is the art of the sword, and as a teenage boy it was exhilarating to be in a real Japanese dojo. First they invited us to join them in their warm up which consisted of tepeating a basic overhead stroke with a bamboo sword. Then they showed us the three basic strikes in Kendo, head, body, and wrist. What surprised me next was the Students then donned their sparring outfits and invited us to try our newly learned strokes! The enthusiasm that I could see in them as we attacked them with swords was nothing short of amazing, and I made quick friends with many of the students in the Dojo. It was odd how a smile and a peace sign could warm you up to many people, and what was even better, since my name is Michael, calling myself Michael Jackson and failing at a moonwalk got many laughs and a lot of close friends. We wrapped up our visit by watching a thirty second sparring match. The intensity with which they attacked each other was almost intimidating, neither one of them letting up ground on the other. The match ended with a draw, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell who one either way, but it is a memory that will stay with me forever.

The last club we visited was the Judo club. Before I begin this story Ill start with the fact that, yes I was a tourist, and of course I was terribly sunburnt. Now when we entered we were invited to try on one of the kendo uniforms, and of course being a teenage boy I was eager to comply. The uniforms were slightly heavy and made of a rough fabric, so I was in a small amount of pain standing in that hot room, and I could hardly believe that these boys wore these uniforms every day for hours in the heat. Next they taught us how to roll and protect yourself when being thrown. Again this involved rolling over your back, which was one of the more sensitive areas of my sunburn, but I was happy to try. Then we were shown how to perform a throw, picking up our opponent and rolling them over our backs. Now in Japan its a rule that men are much more polite and considerate towards woman, and unfortunately for one boy, a college girl from our group decided she wanted to join int. Seeing the look of embarrassment and discomfort on the boy’s face was priceless as Ellie picked him up on her back.

The trip to the High School is among my fondest memories of Japan, and it is great to know that I have so many friends on the other side of the world, even though they still think Im Michael Jackson. I hope that anyone reading this will truly consider going on this wonderful trip, because I know that they will cherish the memories as I have.