I gained interest in the Japanese language when I was around 13 years old, but it was at that time that I decided to teach myself it. However, it wasn‘t until I was about 15 or 16 that I managed to focus on it better, but what motivated me was a Japanese pop-group. I watched the shows they appeared in and it paved my way into the language: I learned, f.x., kanji, the rhythm of the spoken language and various phrases and expressions. That was also when I decided I wanted to study it at an university, and finish my study by going to Japan as an exchange student. Because the best way to study a language and the culture surrounding it is to experience it, in a place where you can‘t “escape“ it. In 2010, I received the honour from the Japanese embassy and granted a 5 week scholarship to spend in the heart of Tokyo. I spent those five weeks with a lovely host family in Setagaya, Tokyo and attended a Japanese high school where I got to know many customs and even the culture straight-on. It was an amazing time and made me even determined to go out as an exchange student.
I have studied here at J.F. Oberlin University, located in Machida, Tokyo, for more than half a year now, and I know I made the right choice. I have noticed how much I‘ve grown mentally by staying abroad, and it is an experience I am not willing to change for anything else. I have made many Japanese friends, as well as friends amongst other exchange students at my school. Almost every day I experience new things and experience a new side of the culture through my friends and acquaintances, and that has helped to pave the way for my future endeavours. I’ve noticed just how much I’ve gotten to know myself, and I know just how much I can achieve in life, but that is a small flame that’s getting bigger every day. I have learned to have trust in myself.
Life in a big city like Tokyo can sometimes feel hectic, and even be difficult, considering the fact that I’m used to small cities. However, Tokyo is one of my favourite cities: it’s very clean, and in many areas it is interesting to see how the old and the new merge together. There are many things to see, and even more things to discover. I’ve experienced the throngs of people, and often had to ride the “man’in densha”, or trains so full of people they’ve had to be pushed in. It is not something that I could’ve experienced back home in Iceland, but it has given me insight into daily life here in Japan: I’ve seen many young children and kids going to school in their uniforms, and even business men who are half-asleep on their commute back home after a hard day at work.
Studying at this school has sometimes proved a bit hard, especially when there is a ton of homework to do, but I have always done my best and never given up. The teachers are all very nice, and willing to help out, and many classes are a lot of fun to take. I have especially loved to take the folklore classes, which gave me a lot of insight into things that relate to Japanese customs and habits, including weddings and funerals, birth, death and things that are related to beliefs and superstitions. Once, my teacher took us up to Mount Fuji, and we spent the whole day there by going to many various places, including the “suicide forest” Aokigahara and even to a restaurant where we could taste a local, very old recipe of a delicious noodle soup. I was elated to have had the opportunity to gain this much insight into Japanese culture and traditions through this trip.
I have also been in contact with a former ambassador of Japan in Iceland, a Mr. Watanabe, who has taken it upon himself to spread the knowledge of Iceland and Jón Sveinsson around the Tokyo area, and I have had the honour to go with him to many schools and become a sort of ambassador myself, introducing both my country and culture to young students. Furthermore, I’ve had the opportunity to go with representatives of my school to many elementary and high schools, and taught the children about both Icelandic language and culture, and that experience has been amazing. All the children showed great interest in Iceland, both country and culture, and it was my honour to have become one of my country’s small “ambassadors”.
Thanks to the Watanabe Scholarship Fund, I have gotten to experience so many things I couldn’t have without it. I’ve travelled around the country, to places including Fukuoka, Kyoto, Osaka and Nara, as well as been an ambassador of Iceland in many schools. I have travelled a lot around the Tokyo area as well, to downtown areas, to the areas around Mt. Fuji and Hakone, to name a few. I’ve been able to experience first-hand many different aspects of the Japanese culture, participated in matsuri or festivals, gone to onsen, visited my friends’ homes, and once I even had a lovely host family for a night. I never realised just how much I could do, and I still have enough to help me experience more things before I head back home. I am forever grateful for the honour of getting this scholarship, and I wish I could put into words just how much it has helped me and supported whilst staying here.
The cherry blossoms are in full bloom now, and other flora are waking up as well, for spring has come and warmer days are up ahead. There are more opportunities, and experiences, ahead that will help to better discover, and trust, myself and to explore this lovely world we live in. Life does not get any better. I am eternally grateful and I want to thank the Watanabe Trust Fund for granting me the honour of this scholarship, for supporting me and trust in me whilst I have discovered myself.