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Japanese Milestones and Special Events by Shione Nishimura and Rurika Fujita

We are studying abroad here for a year as exchange students from Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts in Japan. This is the last semester for us, so we would like to spread Japanese culture as much as possible and we are glad that many people here know about Japan. Today, we would like to introduce about some Japanese traditional events.

In this part, Shione Nishimura will talk about Japanese milestones in life. In Japan, there are some specific events through life. One of the examples is Shichi-Go-San. This is one of Japanese traditional ceremonies to celebrate children’s growth and pray for their future health. Shichi-Go-San literally means 7,5,3 in Japanese. This is a festival for three- and five-year-old boys, and three- and seven-year-old girls. Usually, children dress up in a kimono which is very traditional clothing in Japan. They take pictures in commemoration and go to a shrine with their parents for a ritual. They are given Chitose candy during the festival. Chitose means a long life, so they eat it to pray for live longer.


A 3-year-old girl, a 5-year-old boy, and a 7-year-old girl in the shrine



Chitose candy

When Japanese children become 20 years old, there is Coming of Age Day in January. In Japan, the age of becoming an adult is 20. Once you become 20 years old, you can drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. The second Monday in January is a national holiday known as Coming of Age Day, and people who are 20 years old attend the ceremony as a ritual. Girls wear a kind of kimono which is traditional clothing called Furisode. The difference from other kimonos are the long sleeves, and it gives the most spectacular impression out of all kimono types. On the day of the ceremony, girls go to a beauty salon to help them put on their kimono because the way of wearing kimono is very difficult. They also do their hair up gorgeously in the beauty salon. Most boys wear suits, but some boys also were men’s kimono. Normally, they attend the ceremony at a public hall in their home town. At the ceremony, one of the 20-year-olds in the ceremony presents his/her goals as a representative of the new adults, and mayor of the city gives a speech to them. Sort of like an alumni gathering, they have the chance to meet some friends they haven’t seen for a long time. After the ceremony, it is common for them to go drinking alcohol with their friends like party. Then, they change their clothing from kimono to western dress. Actually, it was time for us to attend the ceremony this winter because we all are 20 years old. However, we couldn’t attend it because of studying abroad here now. I felt a trifle sad, but I was glad to see pictures of my friends looking grown up and beautiful.


Furisode (kind of Japanese kimono)


Hair styles


After the ceremony


Next, Rurika Fujita will introduce some traditional annual events in Japan. We have some events depending on the month. For example, in February, we have an event which is called ‘Setubun’ and this event is held on February 3rd every year. On this day, we buy a lot of soybeans, because we throw these soybeans to ‘oni’. ‘Oni’ is like a monster human body, which has a red or blue face. The reason why we throw soybeans is that there is a theory that on February 3 ‘Oni’ come to us and they bring evil spirits. That’s why people buy many soybeans and they throw to ‘Oni’. Generally, someone in the family puts on the mask of ‘Oni’ and they pretend to be an ‘Oni’. After we throw soybeans, we eat soybeans of a number of our ages. It is said that if you eat soybeans of a number of your age, you can be healthy without getting sick. In addition to this February event, we have Valentine’s day on February 14. Certainly, this event is famous in the United State, but in Japan, it is a little different compared to in the United States, because generally, a girl gives chocolate to a boy. It is the opposite of America.


Setubun February 3, Soybeans and Oni


Secondly, I will introduce the event of July. On July 7, we have an event which is called ‘Tanabata’. On this day we write our wish on paper and we put the paper on bamboo grass. Besides the paper which we write wish, we decorate bamboo grass with colorful origami.


Tanabata July 7

Finally, I will introduce the New Year’s Eve and new year events. On December 31, most people spend time with family and they celebrate the new year together. Before the new year comes, we eat Toshi-Koshi soba. There are three reasons why we eat soba. The first reason is that if you eat soba, you can live longer because soba is thin and long. The second reason is we can cut the bad fate of last year because soba is easier to cut than other noodles. The final reason is that it is said that if you eat soba, you can collect money because a craftsman who handles gold and silver collects powder of gold and silver by using soba flour. From these three reasons, Japanese people eat soba before New Year’s Day arrives. After the New Year arrives, on January 1st, we go to a shrine to wish for our wish. Moreover, on the same day, we eat ‘Oseti’. It is a very traditional food and its appearance is really cool.

Besides these traditional events, we have a lot of other special events! So, visit Japan and please experience these Japanese events!

Toshi-Koshi soba December 31


Oseti January 1

Fall 2018 Off-Campus Excursions

Somewhere around twice a month, we organize an excursion for international (and local) students. We try to provide a small sample of what Vermont has to offer, and this semester has seen us visiting various locales for hiking, corn maze-ing, and pumpkin picking. There are many corners of the New England lifestyle to explore, and studying abroad is much the same as being home in that the times that you can get out and away from your daily routine are the most memorable.

Here are a couple of photos of trips that were, for me, some of the highlights of this semester.




Global UGRAD, where are they now? Part 1

Bahdja Selhi was a Global UGRAD from Algeria who attended Castleton during the Fall of 2016. She is currently  in Lebanon, pursuing a graduate degree in Migration at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. Before this she co-founded Shaping Young Algerian Minds, an educational NGO, and has worked with her community on youth education, bringing lessons on leadership she learned from her time in the states.

The following is a reflection on her time here at Castleton.

Left: On vacation in Lebanon

Right: First snow in Castleton


A year ago, I got a scholarship to study one semester in the US as an exchange student. As with most international students, and because we mostly only hear about NY or DC, I wished that I would study in one of these two big cities. However, a few days later, I received an email from Castleton. It was my first time noticing this name. The only source that I had to know about this place was the Internet, so I checked it on Google and found many beautiful landscape images. I started wondering. How can a girl who lived her entire life in a small town in the desert of an Arab country, travel to study in a snowy town uphill the mountains in another continent? How is the culture there? What about the people? And countless questions. Every night, I used to imagine and dream about everything that would be there. I drew my own wonderful picture of Castleton.

Days later, the imaginations became real. I was an “international student” at Castleton University. The journey then began.

I still remember the first day when I opened my eyes in a different room filled with marvelous theater stuff that belonged to my roommate, and I realized then that I was not home. I was so tired because of the longest trip I’ve ever taken. I sat there wondering and looking around; everything seemed odd for me.  After few minutes, two friendly girls knocked my door and invited me to explore the campus and meet other international students. With curiosity, I went out with them leaving everything as it was, my luggage even unpacked. We walked outside, and the first thing I noticed was that it was all green, I was flabbergasted. This looked like heaven on earth for me.

The whole campus was astonishing, and I was I extremely eager to explore every corner of it. I still recall how excited I was, taking MANY photos and meeting other students.

After a week, the semester began. I attended classes and discovered the academic system. It was very different and flexible, and I loved the whole program. The professors were comprehensive, they helped me a lot and took my situation into consideration whenever I struggled to understand something that was common knowledge to the American students.

Before I traveled, and since it was my first experience, I was kind of concerned about how I’m going to adapt there. I surfed through several blogs, and one of the common terms discussed were “homesickness,” it made me feel a bit worried, but in fact, this wasn’t a big deal for me when I got there because Castleton gave me another home and a new family.

Homesickness was not all that I came across. One of the repeated tips that I found was that international students should not be shy, otherwise they won’t be able to make friends. Although I read this, it was hard for me to open up at first because we had so many differences and I wasn’t aware of the culture, but actually, people at Castleton accept you regardless of your background. They try to understand you, respect you, and love you just the way you are.

Eventually, I became more easygoing. From looking at differences as a hurdle, I found myself discovering several similarities. And I learned that both of them are what shape those unique lifelong friendships between people from all walks of life.

I had the chance to get to know many people from different countries such as Nigeria, China, Nepal …etc, and because of the i-seminar, organized by the campus, I could learn more about them and try their traditional dishes as well.

The university also used to plan trips for the international students once every two weeks. We visited various places, tried new things, and had so much fun together.

This great university means a lot for me. It’s the place that holds my best memories, and most importantly, the beautiful souls whom I met, the ones who made my experience fabulous. I had friends who prepared for me hot cups of tea and made me forget about my illness when I once fell sick. They organized an amazing party for us, the UGRADERs, they prepared delicious food, gave us beautiful Christmas gifts, and played with us funny games. And of course I can’t forget my best friend who made my Halloween experience unforgettable along with many other splendid days.

One of the reasons that I traveled to the US was not only to study, but also to explore its culture, and Castleton was the perfect place to do so. Traditional and religious celebrations are highly valued there. And as I mentioned above, professors were always kind and helpful. One of my favorite lecturers Mr. Supernovich, invited me to Thanksgiving dinner which had a special charm. This gave me the chance to learn more about American families and traditions.

After an incredible semester, I came back home inspired and eager to make a positive change in my society. I co-founded a non-profit project called “Shaping Young Algerian Minds” where I shared the skills and the knowledge that I gained from my experience at Castleton University. It is a leadership and educational project that aims to empower inquisitive teenagers.

Although Castleton was chosen for me, if I went back in time, and was given the chance to choose, I would definitely go for Castleton University again. And I am so glad that I got the opportunity today to write something about this place and reveal what hides behind the digital photos, because although Castleton as a town is captivating, I also believe that its people, their spirits, and the culture are more fascinating.

It’s not “Good-bye”….

but “See you later!”.

That is just what the Castleton community got to say to 15 students from Doshisha Women’s College (Japan) and from ECUT, Jiajung, and Ludong Universities (China) on Friday, May 4th. These students completed either a semester or year at Castleton University in the 2018-2019 academic year.

We congratulate you intelligent, kind, hard-working, generous and beautiful young women on all of your successes at Castleton–academic, linguistic, social, and extra-curricular.  You made a difference to our community in central Vermont and we are so excited to watch you make a difference in our world! We look forward to seeing you again some day.