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Matthew Swanston

Canadian in China

Category / Travel

“Home” is an Abstraction

“Home has less to do with a piece of soil and more to do with a piece of soul.”

International schools represent the “salad bowl” model of cultural integration. The children of expatriate families, who often bounce between continents at the mercy of employment relocation, converge at elementary and secondary schools designed to provide Western education in foreign countries. These expat kids experience a range of cultural climates growing up, and as a result, they form communities free of the entrenched prejudices and deeply-held convictions that are common in more rooted societies. Their greatest similarity is a lack of allegiance to any single country — as well as the values inherent to that country — and, most importantly, their constantly evolving notion of “home”.

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10 Things I’ll Miss About Japan

There’s no doubt Japan has a unique culture, the subtleties of which became increasingly obvious the longer I lived in Tokyo. Its uniqueness is just as apparent in the competitive swimming world as any other; Japanese clubs develop their huge depth in the sport by requiring children to master perfect stroke technique before they are allowed to advance to the next level. Within this rigid structure are plenty of cultural quirks, like bowing to the pool to show respect before and after a race.

Cultural nuances in the land of the rising sun have little regard for outside norms; Japanese people do things their way, with precise method that they never stray from. Although adjustment was a bit of a process, I became accustomed to Japanese life over the better part of the past year. I’m already missing some of the small things now that I’m back in Canada for the summer. Here are 10 of them, in no particular order.

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Spring Break in Tokyo: Part 3

My return trip from the mountains seemed to take ages, but my train finally glided into Tokyo in the midafternoon. Rather than completing the circuit back to Asakusa, I got off one stop early at Tokyo Skytree Station, which is located almost directly below the 634 metre tower on the east side of the city.

Then I stood in line for over an hour behind hundreds of other people waiting to buy tickets for the main observation platform. After getting my hands on a ticket and riding the elevator 350 metres up, the doors opened and I was struck by a breathtaking view of the sunlit city below.

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Spring Break in Tokyo: Part 2

The morning of my 24th birthday began with a headlong sprint for the train station. I’d woken up early for the 1.5 hour commute across Tokyo to Asakusa Station, but it wasn’t early enough. If I was late, I’d miss my 8:10 am train bound for Nikko.

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Spring Break in Tokyo: Part 1

The end of my teaching practicum coincided with the beginning of spring break. I thought about traveling out of Japan for the week, but why leave? Despite having already lived in Tokyo for months, there were so many areas I had yet to explore. I set off with a backpack and a camera at my side (like a true gaijin?), but instead of leaving Tokyo, I went full tourist inside the city. Here are some of the things I saw.

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Hokkaido, Japan

Japan’s largest and most northern prefecture boasts the greatest skiing in the world. My four day “ski break” weekend in February was the perfect opportunity to hop on a plane with a few friends and fly an hour and a half north of Tokyo, to Hokkaido Island’s capital, for a short vacation in the snow.

Sapporo, best known for its brewery, is actually one of Japan’s most populated cities with close to two million residents. That population doubles during the Sapporo Snow Festival every February, when tourists pour in to see the hundreds of carved snow statues and ice sculptures around the city. We were too late to see the festival, but our break coincided with Chinese New Year; we joined a flood of vacationing tourists nonetheless.

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Lake Sai, Japan

The northern base of Fuji is home to five lakes, formed during past eruptions of the iconic Japanese mountain. One of them is Lake Sai. A campground at the water’s edge, nestled between forested cliffs, was my residence for a rainy week in October.

I was joining a team of teachers from The American School in Japan to help supervise the annual Grade 8 trip to this remote destination. Having landed in Tokyo only a few days prior, I was still fighting jet lag when I arrived at my empty cabin. But the chilly morning air, which I confronted only with the aid of steaming hot-chocolate-laced-coffee in a thermos, snapped me into routine.

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