Recently, my friend Jade and I joined something called JUSCO (Japanese something with a U Students something with a C Organization). The group's main goal is to unite Japanese students with ryugakusei (foreign students, aka me)! Which university you attend does not matter, so while Jade and I go to Sophia University, other students attend Todai, Waseda, etc, etc.
The day started out with a cultural education program in which the foreign students were introduced to such Japanese activities as the traditional tea ceremony, calligraphy, origami, and ikebana. For me, the tea ceremony was the most interesting segment.
The participants had to kneel with their (our) backs straight up, their (our) hands placed at an angle on our thighs- all while keeping perfectly silent. It was certainly an exercise in endurance. The servers were all Japanese women dressed in traditional kimono's. They conducted the ceremony with the utmost reverence for the tradition involved; each movement was maticulously (and realllllyyyy slowly) carried out. It may sound tedious, but in fact it was quite beautiful. I really like this aspect of Japan- having respect for something (even if it seems meaningless to an outsider) and upholding its procedure no matter what. This is why people are so polite to each other wherever you go, and why product satisfaction and customer service have such high rates (I believe the highest in the world).
Calligraphy and origami were interesting, as well, but as they were something I've already been introduced to the mystique and curiousity levels were a bit lower for me. Ikebana, on the other hand, was something completely new. I had always had an interest in this (Japanese flower arrangement) but had never had the opportunity to experience it. Turns out I didn't have much of a chance on this day either! I spent most of the time talking to the elderly woman who was the head of the Japanese woman's society helping out at the event. Turns out she spent many years in the Bronx! I got her business card, and she told me to contact her at some point so I could come over for dinner and meet her family! I really have to start spending more time on this stuff...I have a few contacts I really need to get in touch with.