I just got home about a week ago after the end of my semester abroad, so I thought that for my last blog post I could do a little reflecting about what I have learned and how my initial “research” question panned out over the last three or four months. That question, or exploration which I chose to expand on, was to experiment with food and through food unlock a portal into daily Japanese life. My research question originally stemmed from some of my own worries and anxieties about living in Japan for an extended period. I have historically been a pretty picky eater (my family might laugh at that and say I was an extremely picky kid), so I worried that I might have a hard time eating food from a cultural palette different from my own, especially one that holds different sensibilities about things like raw meat and fish. Now looking back on my time, I laugh at myself for ever worrying.
After the first day in Kyoto I decided that trying to be picky about food would be useless and tedious, so I just picked new things at random and ate every single thing my host mother ever made for me. Did I sometimes eat things that I found not very tasty? Of course!
But the vast majority of the time, perhaps 95 times out of every 100 meals, the food was delicious, new to me, and interesting. Some of my favorite comfort meals are now pulled from the Japanese menu, and I sadly have yet to find a way to make Japanese curry in my small American hometown.
I remember around mid-November I sat down to eat a bowl of pasta, and it wasn’t until after four-fifths of the way into the dish that I realized there were fish eggs in it. I will admit that I might have turned my nose up at that even just five months ago, but at that time I just shrugged, told my host mother it was delicious, and kept eating (as it turns out, fish egg pasta has a little bit of spice to it).
That’s just one anecdote of many that I now have from my time in Kyoto, mostly focused around the theme of being afraid to try something new but after living in Japan for a while I no longer felt nervous about it. And even if I end up straying slightly from the focus of my blog, that new confidence doesn’t just apply to food! I had a lot of amazing experiences with my other friends from the program, with my host family, and by myself. I climbed a mountain! I saw the nightlife of Electric Town in Tokyo! I went to a traditional tea ceremony and tried my hand at karaoke on the same day!
I think the attitude I used towards food to just pick something at random, take a big first bite and enjoy it really helped broaden my experience abroad and allow me to get a glimpse of life in another country. Whether that meant helping my host sister set the table and scoop out the rice, or boldly trying octopus (which I still can’t believe I did), I hope my emboldened attitude towards food continues after my return to the States.