A Warm Welcome in Beppu

Kurt Stilwell is a student at Bridgewater State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. He is currently studying abroad with ISA in Beppu, Japan.

It has been just under three weeks since I arrived in Japan and I couldn’t feel more welcome and at home here. The natives of Beppu are kind and generous towards travelers, easily approachable and willing to answer questions as well as engage in conversation. In our second week, we went on a scavenger hunt around Beppu with objectives such as finding various sweetshops, buying certain items, and just talking with the locals to ask them about what makes Beppu unique. When we needed to ask directions, they didn’t hesitate to give us detailed directions as well as make sure we would be able to make it to where we wanted to go. On another occasion where we had to ask, a local man knew we did not know much Japanese and even went out of his way to walk us to where we wanted to go.

View of Beppu
View of Beppu

From my experience, the Japanese takes hospitality to heart. Their respect towards guests is something they hold with high honor and is a key component to their culture. This concept of hospitality can be seen in many traditions that still thrive today. Take their tea ceremony known as Ichigo Ichie, or “one opportunity, one meeting,” for example. In this ceremony when a guest is invited for tea, the effort that the host puts into it really shows. As the name suggest, they have this one chance to honor their guests. The attention to detail in choice of wall decoration, floral arrangement, incense, and countless minor details is all intended to give their guests the greatest atmosphere of relaxation possible. Traditionally, the hosts will also prepare the tea in front of their guests, to show how much they, as our instructor told us, “put their hearts into making the tea.” In line with this tradition, the customary rule is that a guest also respects the effort from the host as well as returns the kindness of their hospitality. In a genuine tea ceremony, guests will have to cleanse themselves at a shrine, washing their hands and mouth so they are pure before they enter. When receiving their tea, they first give silent thanks to their host, the plant growers and farmers, and anyone who could have contributed to this moment. They also turn their cups around, showing their host the decorated front of their cup as a sign of humility.

This concept of respect of host and guest still holds strong in Japan’s culture today. When entering a store, workers bow to show their respect for you, their guest. The same goes for all citizens. The Japanese see international students attempt to learn their language and respect the effort being put forth. As such, they are patient when students struggle to form simple questions and answer in kind, using gestures or even English if they are able to make sure they answer you. This is especially true with APU, with such a high international population. Here in Beppu, there is mutual respect and appreciation–and always a warm welcome.

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