Daniel Lambert and classmates

Tokyo–truly a place of wonder

by Daniel Lambert, Spring 2009

When I first arrived at Narita International Airport I was not yet aware that the city was going to affect me so dramatically. As I and other American students were taking the long train-ride from Narita to Shinjuku, the sun began to set. We took turns trying to read every sign and poster we flew past. Everything was foreign, new, and exciting to us, from the people to the seat cushions.

KCP's Daniel Lambert in the subway

Alejandro (the guy in red) and I quickly became good friends. We had many adventures in Tokyo before going home, and we still make an honest effort to keep in touch. When we finally arrived in Shinjuku, night was already upon us.

Tokyo at night

The city seemed to tower over us. It may not look all that special to someone from NYC, but it definitely stood out as impressive to people from the suburbs.

Hustle and bustle in and out of the train station

The hustle and bustle in and out of the station overwhelmed all of us, even poor Tanaka-sensei, who might have suffered minor bruising when a man-on-a-mission slammed right into him without so much as looking back, sending Tanaka’s papers flying this way and that. (Don’t worry, this is rare from my experience.) It was in front of this station that we met our homestay families and dorm-mates. I was a homestay candidate while Alejandro shacked up in the dorms. I’m convinced that I got placed with one of the nicest families in all of Tokyo.

Host family

The benefits of choosing a homestay are enormous! There’s no better way of learning about a culture than diving right in and completely immersing yourself in it. Living with a family you learn much that you just couldn’t from a book; and best of all, of course, is the connection you make with real people. I love my homestay family as if they were my own. They were very kind to me, took care of me when I was sick, took me on weekend excursions to parks and zoos, and fed me extremely well. (Every night was a feast!)

Walking to school

My first days in Tokyo were confusing, to say the least, but highly adventurous. I must have back-tracked between Nakagami and Tachikawa 5 times before figuring out which train would take me to Ogikubo! And that was just so that I could transfer onto yet another train to make it to Shinjuku. For your first day, if you’re on your own, I recommend you leave very early so that you have time to make mistakes like I did. The American KCP students stuck together in the early days after our arrival. Finding places can be tricky at first, so it’s always nice to have a companion in case you get lost.

Daniel Lambert with classmates

You have to buy cell phones early on, so gather up some buddies and go down to Don Quixote to buy some prepaid phones! (Don Quixote is an odds and ends superstore of sorts, where you can find anything from pen and paper to video games and bedroom novelties.) You’ll learn a lot at KCP if you’re dedicated to your studies, so if you know what’s good for you, you’ll do all your homework and study hard for your tests. But that doesn’t mean you should shut yourself in and “isshoukenmei benkyou suru” (生懸命勉強する / study as hard as humanly possible) until your eyes fall out. You’re in TOKYO!

KCP students at the park

Experience the city while you’re in it. Don’t pass up good opportunities. If your friends want to catch a game of Sumo or picnic at a park, tag along! Some of the simplest day trips became my most memorable experiences. Also, make it a point to make some Japanese friends while you’re there. These friends are invaluable resources on the road to becoming a more fluent Japanese speaker. It’s one thing to learn new material in class; it’s a whole different game when it comes to applying what you’ve learned in real conversations.

House party friends

There’s nothing like a good house party to break the ice! A lot of young Japanese people can speak English surprisingly well, so don’t be afraid to approach them if your Japanese is not that good. I found that most people were very encouraging of my pursuit to learn Japanese. A native friend will not only help you practice speaking but can also show you hidden parts of Tokyo that you might never have found, making your personal Tokyo experience all the more unique!

A classmate by a park

Take advantage of the field trips. Some of my friends opted out of a few of the school-sponsored weekend trips, and boy did they ever miss out! The most unique and spectacular photo opportunities presented themselves on fieldtrips like the one to Kamakura and Enoshima. I must have taken 200+ photos per trip. There was so much to see and do! Above, Alejandro is doing an improv-meditation in front of a small waterfall at a Kamakura temple. You’ll get much more than photo-ops though: the simple experience of visiting culturally significant landmarks by teachers who know a lot about them is a great way to deepen your knowledge and understanding of Japan. Trust me: you don’t want to be the one who misses out.

Having a class discussion

I can’t sufficiently sum up my viewpoints on Tokyo and KCP with a mere 10 pictures and a few paragraphs of text, but I will say that since I’ve come home I have spent more time talking about the things I saw and learned while at KCP than I spent actually living through it all. I find myself wanting to return frequently– to the classrooms, to my friends, to my family and the places we went. I learned more in those 3 months than I ever expected to. Open your ears, your eyes, and your mind: get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. KCP was by far the best learning experience of my life. I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything in the world.