Trip offers cultural experience

NANAIMO – Joshua Willis immersed himself in Japanese culture for a year as part of the Rotary International Youth Exchange.

Joshua Willis says going to Japan as part of the Rotary Exchange Program was a great learning experience. Here he shows off a tea ceremony bowl and a secret box

Joshua Willis says going to Japan as part of the Rotary Exchange Program was a great learning experience. Here he shows off a tea ceremony bowl and a secret box

Joshua Willis immersed himself in Japanese culture for a year as part of the Rotary International Youth Exchange and describes it as a learning experience.

He was in Kaisei town and Odawara city in the Kanagawa prefecture from August 2012 to this past July.

Willis did some research into Japanese culture, but unfortunately, the information he had was a little outdated, so there was a bit more culture shock than anticipated.

“I had lots of culture books that I read before I went but they were all from the ‘50s and ‘60s so when I went over there, things weren’t quite as polite. I’m like, ‘Oh! Someone littered. I didn’t know that anyone littered in Japan.’ There was no such notion in my head,” said Willis with a laugh, adding that he saw people speaking disrespectfully to older people, which also surprised him.

Willis had to learn Japanese and while he thought he knew a bit, in hindsight, he didn’t know any of the language at all. He learned the language during his stay with five host families and the first family was interesting from a linguistic standpoint.

“My host father was a professor at the University of Tokyo and his specialty was European history, focusing in the region between France and Germany, so he spoke French and German fluently and he spoke English fairly well … his wife, too, spoke a bit of French and German, not so much English, so it was a mix, we had the four languages (including Japanese) going at the same time,” Willis said.

While he was learning Japanese, Willis also had to experience a number of different aspects of Japanese culture that he wasn’t necessarily expecting to take part in.

“I wasn’t really into sports (in Canada) and one of my teachers got me into joining the judo club at school and so I was into that and I also joined the Sado club, the Japanese tea ceremony club, so I got to learn the culture through that as well,”  Willis said.

Willis’s year in Japan certainly left an impression on him. He says he is fairly fluent in Japanese now and can carry a conversation. He has plans to go back to Japan in January. He is working toward university through the North Island Distance Education School and has plans to take part in another exchange in university.

“Vancouver Island University has exchange programs with Japan as well and I might go during my second or third year there,” Willis said.

Rotary International said its youth exchange is meant to develop a sense of tolerance and understanding in youth toward other cultures with the aim of promoting world peace.

It is currently offering summer exchanges and one-year exchanges to a number of countries, such as Argentina, Taiwan, Thailand, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Chile and Columbia.

An information meeting is being held at the Rotary Field House on Third Street tomorrow (Sept. 18) at 7 p.m. Please call 250-390-2505 to learn more.