Michael with his host couple, the Kawano couple, during his stay in Isahaya, Japan. Says Michael, "they treated me as their own son."
Shawn Michael Barila, who is studying BS Tourism in the University of Baguio (UB), just arrived from Japan after his eight-month stay at the Nagasaki Wesleyan University in Isahaya, Japan for UB’s international student exchange program.
Michael studied Japanese language and culture at Nagasaki Wesleyan University. He left for Japan in May last year and arrived last January. The curriculum revolved around the Japanese language, ikebana (flower arrangement), tea ceremony, and calligraphy – the hallmarks of the Japanese culture, which endured over the centuries.
“It was a fun adventure,” he said of his experience. “I learned a lot –about the Japanese culture and about life,” he said.
“What I noticed foremost was their respectful demeanor, their discipline, and their honesty,” said Michael of the Japanese. “You can leave your groceries outside the store without worrying about them being stolen,” he said. “And they really obey traffic rules.”
“They value good family relationship; they support each other. They’re also appreciative. They’re generally very kind people,” he added.
‘War does not solve anything’
Michael and his co-exchange students were taken on a tour of the Nagasaki bombing site during his stay in Isahaya. (Nagasaki is one of the two Japanese cities attacked with an atomic bomb during World War II in 1945, killing at least 129,000 people, most of them civilians.)
“There was this survivor and one statement from him that stuck me was that war does not solve anything,” Michael shared. “War only causes senseless, massive loss of lives. War never solved a thing, and it never will, he said.”
As to the staple Japanese food, it’s all about ramen (or noodles) and bread. Michael shared he had a hard time adjusting in the first few weeks of his stay in Japan. “I would get hungry easily. I’m used to rice, as you would know. So I had to look up for something that would get me full for an extended period. I discovered banana. So there, slowly, I was able to adapt,” Michael said.
Michael was lucky to be able to witness and participate in festivals during his stay in Japan. He was part of the working committee for the River Festival, dedicated to the memory of the victims of the flooding incident that once struck the area. “Candles were lighted for the Festival,” he said.
Michael also participated in the Nonnoko Festival, where he, along with others, performed the plate dance for the patients of a facility for the mentally-challenged. “It’s a great feeling to be able to see their faces light up with our performance,” he said.
One more thing that Japan is known for – aside from its ever-sophisticated technology – is fashion. It’s a place where you can be yourself without any judgment whatsoever. You can lose yourself, re-create yourself, and find yourself again. It wasn’t dubbed one of the world’s fashion capitals for nothing. “Everybody can express himself or herself without fear of being labeled as inappropriate. Whether you’re 17 or 70, you can go wild with your outfit, and it’s all good,” Michael remarked.
All photos courtesy of Shawn Michael Barila.
Michael with other Nagasaki Wesleyan University exchange students and employees during a volunteer work for the Isahaya River Festival
The Isahaya River at night
Michael and his co-exchange students dance the "Plate Dance" at the Nonnoko Isahaya Festival.
Michael wearing the Cordilleran bahag or g-string during a cultural presentation event
Michael and other students performed for the mayor of Isahaya City, Akio Miyamoto
The cultural presentation event was published in a paper in Isahaya
Michael wearing the traditional Japanese garment kimono
Draped in kimono, Michael was the subject of a photoshoot by a professional photographer.
The photo was then published in a magazine cover.
Michael met with some students from Fukuoka University who were former exchange students at UB.
Michael and his co-exchange students were taught the ikebana or the Japanese flower arrangement.
The exchange students were also taught shodo or Japanese calligraphy.
The group were likewise taught the basics of the sado or the Japanese tea ceremony.
Volunteer work, Isahaya Station Festival
Michael and his co-contestants during a Japanese speech contest
Michael also participated in the Nagasaki Wesleyan University summer camp, where he taught kids basic Filipino greetings
Nagasaki Wesleyan University campus, autumn
Mt. Unzen, winter
Mt. Unzen, winter
Michael with the Kawano family during the farewell dinner arranged for him
The exchange students during the "Peace Hour" at the University Peace Chapel. The students gave their farewell speeches during the gathering.