Gino Paolo C. Narvasa


The experience also gave me newfound confidence, independence, greater appreciation for family and friends and gratitude for all of life’s blessings.

It was not too long ago when Japan for me was the land of ramen, cherry blossoms and anime. Little did I know that my image of Japan was merely like a tip of the iceberg. All these however changed in my two-week stay in Japan. The International Student Exchange Program in Eiko Gakuen exposed me to a uniquely different cultural dimension and filled me with heartfelt memories that will last a lifetime.

Japan is a country that has a striking blend of the old and the futuristic world. It has an exceptional interesting cultural mix of ancient traditions and the fast evolving modern world. The magnificence of the city is amazing — its complex concrete buildings, skyscrapers and shinkansen (bullet trains) are astounding. Undeniably, this country is highly wired and is one of the best in cutting edge technology. There are vendo machines practically everywhere. But what really gave me the greatest thrill was the remote control – push button toilet seats! Honestly, I never expected that my private moment in a restroom would be horrendously embarrassing and an entirely different encounter. What really surprised me were the complex control panels and extra “features” that were strange to me. There were features that included heat, pressure level and position for his and her bidets. A “magic” button that can lift up the seat, put it back down, with automatic flush for the guys. Now that’s what I called a brilliant invention for spoiling the men in Japan!

In sharp contrast to my high tech exposures were also two remarkable experiences of the old culture and tradition that my foster family made me experience. Notably, these were the sumo wrestling and onsen experiences. This time, old practice and sport is magnificent beyond words. It reflected a heritage so rich and so strong that it still pervades and weaves through the very core of every Japanese to the present day.

I count myself so lucky that I was able to witness sumo wrestlers in training. My Japanese family– Grandpa, Dad Kenichi, Mom Haruko and my bro, Yuta graciously brought me to one of the well-known sumo wrestlers training camp. There, I was able to see these extremely huge, strong and agile men in action. So while the whole world was engrossed in the MayPac fight, I watched in awe a live sumo wrestling match. The fighting match, though just a training session, was intense and way more exciting compared to the much hyped boxing match of the century. And to top it all, I dined with one of the top sumo wrestlers in Japan. Nothing – absolutely nothing can beat that!

Onsen (hot spring) is an important part of the Japanese culture. These geothermally-heated public baths are separated by gender and nudity is a standard. This naturally came as a culture shock for me, but once I submerged myself into the hot waters I forgot (sort of) that I was in my birthday suit. It was a totally relaxing, soothing and exhilarating experience.

One of my most unforgettable cultural encounters was my food adventure in Japanese cuisine. Japanese food is a feast to the senses. You can eat with your eyes just with the sight of its meticulous preparation. The balance and explosion of flavors is a gustatory celebration to the palate. My Wagyu beef steak dinner and conveyor sushi experiences were exceptionally marvelous. And what was even more amazing was that Japanese people have made eating fun and in their very own brand of taste. Green Tea Kitkat , Matcha Ice cream and Wasabi Pretzels are just a few of the many varieties of Japanese flavored preparations.

But more than the cultural journey and gastronomic delights that I experienced, what really mattered the most to me was the warmth I felt being one with my Japanese family. The time spent with them in their summer home near the Goshiki-numa (five colored lakes of Japan) canoeing, watching Dead Poets Society, singing karaoke, and the wonderful interactions we had were most memorable.

Mr. Kenichi, my Japanese Dad, was not only a joy to be with but also a man of wisdom. His send off letter to me left a profound imprint in my being. I am truly blessed to have two great fathers in my life.

My Japanese Mom, Haruko, is an amazing woman. She’s a great cook and a woman of substance. But what truly touched my heart was that she treated me like her own son and even left cheerful notes on the lunch bento she prepared for me every day.

Yuta, my bro, is indefatigable, a good dancer and has a great sense of humor. I found in him the brother I have so longed to have.

My cultural immersion in the Japanese way of life, family values and school life may have been short but it deepened my resolve to nurture deep respect for all people and to transcend culture, race, color and religion in order to foster mutual understanding and peace. The experience also gave me newfound confidence, independence, greater appreciation for family and friends and gratitude for all of life’s blessings. I look forward to the day when Yuta and I, too, will become fathers and will have our sons be part of the International Student Exchange Program. Then, truly we have made this experience become a living legacy of brotherhood and camaraderie for the future generations.