Finding a new communityFri, Nov 22, 2019
Moving to a new place comes with a wide variety of challenges. Among these are social challenges. This is evident when moving to a new town or school and is even more magnified when moving to a new country or culture that is completely different from your own. In leaving my American home university and coming to Japan, I was suddenly thrust into a new environment; struggled to adjust and make new connections. However, I was fortunate enough to meet some good people. Here at Waseda, I was able to find a support system. The following story is the account of how I came to find a few good friends and began to see myself as a part of the Waseda community.
“You took hula lessons when you were a kid?” asked Reren in surprise.
“I did, but only for a summer and that was about 11 years ago.”
“You know, we have a hula group on campus. Would you like to join?”
It was Friday, September 27th. It marked both my birthday and the first day of school. It was fitting, in a way. To me, that day represents the beginning of a grand adventure. It marked the beginning of a school year, a new year of life, and a year as an exchange student at Waseda University.
Reren was a friend I had met through WIC, Waseda International Circle. WIC, along with Niji no Kai, another international student circle, helped me and my fellow groupmates during orientation. They took us on campus tours, showed us where all the inexpensive shops and restaurants are, accompanied us on ward office visits to register our address and apply for health insurance, took us to Shinjuku to purchase new sim cards, and so on. These errands, without their help, would have been difficult to complete. Reren helped me negotiate my phone contract and translated some of the material for me. During a ward office visit, our group’s paperwork was taking several hours to process. We sat and waited in the white lobby for more than three hours. During that time, I met Reren and we had a lengthy conversation. We became friends and almost two weeks later, I was celebrating my birthday and the first day of school with her and was being offered an opportunity to join WIC’s hula group.
“Would you like to join?” asked Reren. I said, “Yes.”
I was put in contact with one of the organizers, added to the hula group chat, and soon found myself at one of the preparatory meetings. There I met several Japanese students. They asked me if I wanted to help paint the hula poster or help sew costumes. I was unskilled in both departments, but I could sew a straight line, so I opted for the latter. I was greeted warmly, and my fellow students helped me practice my Japanese, teaching me the words for “thread,” “sew,” and “scissors.” Towards the end of the evening, I asked one of the students, “Which song are you playing for the performance?”
“Song?” they asked.
“Hula song” I rephrased, looking up the word for “song” to make sure I was saying the right thing. However, they still looked confused. “Hula performance?” I said, unsure of where the confusion was. Realization suddenly dawned on their faces.
“There is no performance,” they replied. They went on to tell me that what we were preparing for a hula-themed food stall. The props were working on was not for a dance performance, but a festival called the Yataimura.
Yataimura (Food Stall Village)
“Yatai” means food stall and “mura” means village. The Yataimura was scheduled to take place at the main Waseda Campus. From what I understood, clubs, circles, and other organizations would each have a themed stall, selling food and drinks. Since it was a festival, there would also be music and performances.
Less than a month later, I woke up early on a Sunday morning and headed to Waseda. It was still early but hundreds of people were already on campus. There was a festive air about the crowd as stalls were set up, food cooked, and wine, souvenirs, and other trinkets were put on display. An hour later, I was wearing a floral apron and holding a sign that said, “Furi Furi Chicken, 400 Yen.” We were selling two Hawaiian dishes, Furi Furi Chicken and Garlic Shrimp. The day was broken into four shifts starting at 11:00 and running until 3:00. The Hula team was broken into five groups with two groups of cooks and three teams of sellers. The participants rotated, each person taking on three shifts with one shift off to eat and around the Yataimura. I, along with a few other students, took a tray of food and walked around the campus. One student handled transactions, the other held the tray of food, and the rest of us called out prices and advertised our food. I held up the sign above my head and called out, “Furi Furi Chikin, ikaga desu ka?” Would you like some Furi Furi Chicken?
Delicious smells filled the air as people called out to advertise their various products. Crowds were gathered in and outside of buildings. Benches and tables were all taken up and at Okuma Garden, blankets were placed under the shade of trees. There were couples, families, and friends, all gathered together, chatting, eating and catching up on old times. In front of the Okuma Statue was a line of people, waiting for their turn to take a picture in front of one of Waseda’s founders. A stage was set up in front of Building 3. There, different clubs and circles performed dances or songs (unfortunately, I didn’t see a hula dance performance).
What I witnessed that morning was truly a village, a community coming together to celebrate. Alumni from years past came back to Waseda to meet up with old friends and support current students by purchasing food and other goods. The alumni would ask us which club we were a part of and what our majors were. They would offer words of encouragement and tell us to keep trying hard. Their words, simple and brief as they were, were heartwarming. These men and women were very much like us, different majors and fields of study perhaps, but the only thing that truly divided us was time. And yet here they were, years after graduating, crossing the separation of time to support the current students of Waseda. It may seem silly and sentimental; however, this thought comforts me. Being a part of a community is so important, especially when moving to a new environment. I found that community at Waseda. I found a group of students who were kind and welcoming and a greater community of caring and encouraging alumni.
Side note: On the way home from the Yataimura, as I was walking down the stairs to the Waseda train station, I saw a girl carrying a gym bag. On the bag were the words, “Waseda University Hula Girls Dance Team.” Maybe I will end up dancing hula at some point during my year here at Waseda.
*This article was written and contributed by the following student.
Gabriella de Asis
Exchange Student from California State University, Northridge
(Currently studying at Waseda’s School of International Liberal Studies)