(Editor’s note: Chaz Plager, who will be a senior at Palisades High School and started writing for Circling the News last year, went to Japan for a month as part of a cultural exchange with a group sponsored by The Experiment in International Living, which was founded in 1932. Plager had taught himself how to speak Japanese during Covid. Before he left, he agreed to send a weekly report that CTN could share with readers. This is the fourth and last installment.)
By CHAZ PLAGER
Reporter Chaz Plager here for my final correspondence in Japan.
The last days of The Experiment’s exchange program involved a stay with a host family. As I documented in Week Three. I’m staying with the Nakazono family, who live in Yokohama, a seaside town.
During the day, I attended classes and activities at Yokohama Hiranuma High School. Here are some of the highlights and interesting events:
Much like the name implies, being an exchange student involves an exchange of cultures between natives and foreigners. Our exchange with members of Hiranuma High’s Class 2-2 produced some interesting insights.
Japanese student: Does your school have uniforms?
American: No. None of them do, except the rich ones.
Japanese student: Then, what do you wear to school?
American: Usually just my pajamas.
(Class in uproar)
Japanese student: Does California have trains?
American: Yes, but they’re very dirty. And there are lots of crackheads on them.
Japanese student: Crackhead…?
The American student gestured to me and I translated in Japanese “Drug addicts.”
Japanese student: (shocked gasp)
Japanese student: What music is popular in America?
Me: Uh… Kendrick Lamar?
Japanese student: Oh, is he a rap artist? The ones who swear a lot?
Me: Well, yeah, but…
Japanese student: Cool! I will listen later.
American: A lot of girls from my school are jealous of you guys. They think your uniforms are so cute.
Japanese student: You say that, but we are jealous of you. We can’t even wear accessories with our uniforms.
American: Not even a ribbon?
Japanese student: Not even.
American: Not jealous anymore.
Members of our group also created individual presentations on certain aspects of American culture. I chose fashion, educating students on trending brands and styles.
Japanese students treated us to demonstrations of their tea ceremony club, archery club and band program. We were able to participate in a ceremony, shoot targets and watch students perform in the auditorium. It was incredibly fun, both talking to students and participating in their activities.
There’s a very simple sort of joy in talking about the things you love and why you like them, which might be a strong draw of this program.
Not everything shared was positive, however. One student, Nozomi, talked to us about her fears for Japan’s future. “The politicians are very dirty, and they don’t want to fix the corruption,” she said. “The economy is also going in a bad direction. I want to move to America as soon as possible.”
Nozomi also explained the Nakanuki system, which is an issue with Japanese economy. She said that when Japanese companies make something, they ask smaller companies to make it to save money or labor costs. The boss of the company can get surplus money to do it. Then that company asks smaller companies to make it to save money and that boss gets the surplus money.
Nozomi said the process repeats many, many times, and that brings a low salary for most email companies and lowers merchandise’s quality and makes workers poor.
FINAL VERDICT. After spending a month in Japan, were my expectations met? Was it everything I hoped it would be? Would I consider moving there? Yes, yes and yes, probably.
Ironically, it’s hearing stories of the negative sides of Japan which make me more certain of my choice— the way they talk about things so common in America in grave, serious tones makes me believe that there may still be hope for them, no matter the problems they may be facing now.
After college, I plan to join the JET (Japanese English Teaching) Program, putting my Japanese knowledge to good use in ways other than translating games for fun.* I believe this trip is one I will look back fondly on, both for the bonds I formed and experience I gained. As for whether it will make me a better journalist, I hope so.
Those interested in applying to The Experiment, please visit (www.experiment.org).
*Yeah, I translated a game. It’s free. You can grab it here: https://vndb.org/r104621