2018 marks JCMU’s 30th anniversary since our founding in 1988. To celebrate, we will be posting 30 JCMU stories of 30 different JCMU alumni from 1989 to 2018 every Thursday from mid-February through September!
Have you ever found love in Shiga? For our third installment in the “30 Years, 30 Stories” series, read the story of JCMU 1991-92 alum Gary Wroblewski, and learn how his time at JCMU led him to find his love of Hikone, and the love of his life.
Hikone. Long ago I found love.
My 9 month stay in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, Japan was possibly the most life-changing thing that I have ever done.
My decision to apply for the Japan Center for Michigan Universities was based on my love of travel, and my thirst for adventure. I had just returned home to Michigan from my Army service and was in my first year of study at Ferris State University (FSU). My major was International Business, and I met a friend in the program who had just returned from the first year of the program at JCMU. It did not take much to convince me that this would be a great experience, so I applied immediately for the program.
There were only 2 candidates from FSU that year. In typical fashion I spent as little time as possible preparing for the interview. I met Sue, the other candidate in the waiting room, as we both sat waiting for our turn to be judged worthy. The interview went OK, but perhaps arguing with the chair of the Econ department about fair trade is not the best strategy to win selection, because Sue beat me out for the top spot. In the end we both ended up going though, and that as it turned out was the thing that changed it all.
Overcoming tribulations and thriving in Japan
Unfortunately for me, shortly before my trip was scheduled to begin I ended up in the hospital because of a motorcycle accident. I thought at the time that it was done. Thanks to many people I was still able to make the trip in the end, although the large orthopedic appliance attached to me leg would prove to be a small impediment to many of the daily activities.
I briefly met most of my classmates at the orientation ceremony, and it seemed after that short time that we would get along just fine. The selection committees had done a fine job of picking out individuals from varying backgrounds and personality types. I think we all had one common thing though, and that was the thirst for adventure that allowed us to not let our fears rule when approaching the unknown.
I arrived in Japan several weeks after my peers because of the hospital stay. They all had figured out the lay of the land, and formed alliances and staked out territories. Suddenly in come this guy with a broken arm, seriously broken leg with a huge metal fixture attached, and long hair. So naturally they welcomed me with open arms. Seriously, I would not have been able to function there without the help that I received in those first months in-country.
I could not ride a bike, which was the main form of transit, so whenever I needed to go out one of the instructors would take me in a car. Getting used to the food took some time as well. Massive pieces of bread turned out to make great pizza in the small toaster ovens in the apartment. I even learned how to prepare yakisoba.
Our little collection of adventurers spent many days in the library looking out over the wonderful views of Lake Biwa. We also spent many nights making friends at Sugimoto’s and Coco’s. Sugi was a special friend to us gaijin (foreigners). He opened his heart and sushiya (sushi restaurant) to us, and we all had many memorable experiences sharing great raw fish, Asahi Super Dry, and sake on the long winter nights.
Because of my medical situation, I was not able to participate in many of the homestay activities that my peers were doing. I did manage to tag along on a few adventures around the area though, and they all stand out vivid in my memories.
Life and love after JCMU
Sue, the other student from FSU, and I started dating around February. We never stopped. This year we will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Of course there is no guarantee that embarking on this journey to Hikone will end up with a lifelong love affair, 2 kids, a dog, and a house on the lake, but you never know.
I have not been back to Hikone since. I will one day return, and maybe give back that Prince hotel robe.
Life is long. There will be many joys and many follies. Each one is but a short act in a long play. They all seem so important at the time, but when memories fade and wrinkles appear, the ones you remember most vividly are those that truly shaped you. Those things that were scary and made you uncomfortable. Even the things you failed at and cried after… they are the good stuff of life.