No.173 “MT Student Amanda's Trip to Japan in 2015”



Konichiwa! (Hello!) Watashi no namae wa Amanda desu (My is name is Amanda).

I’m a third year master’s equivalency student at the University of Kansas. Since middle school, I was always fascinated by the Japanese culture, especially anime and mangas. It has been one of my lifetime goals to come visit this beautiful country and explore all it has to offer.

Carol and I at a yakitori restaurant in Ueno, Tokyo
Carol and I at a yakitori restaurant in Ueno, Tokyo

After many years of waiting and saving up money, I finally had the opportunity to travel to Tokyo and Kyoto for three weeks with my one of my best friends Carol. We experienced many new, exciting, and unforgettable moments during this trip and I am very thrilled to tell you all about it. J



There were many things we loved about Japan; but I’ll give you a few that we really appreciated and enjoyed during our travels.

#1) the subway systems. I cannot tell you how many times we were thankful that the subway trains were not only always on time, but compared to the United States, would even tell you on the screen how long each stop would take. It was one of the most organized public transportation systems we have ever witnessed.

#2) the food. Our motto throughout this trip was, “I don’t know what this is, but it’s delicious!” We had customary meals, such as ramen, udon, yakitori, and sushi. However, especially in Kyoto, we had many pickled to more traditional foods that were unknown to us. 


Since most people in Japan spoke very basic English, we couldn’t ask them what we were eating. Regardless, we ate everything and enjoyed it to the fullest! Lastly as a side note for future travelers, try different foods by the temples. They were some of the best meals, such as pineapple to crab meat on a stick. We highly recommend it!



However, there were some difficulties that we did encounter as well.


#1) our lack of knowledge of the Japanese language. I knew a few words beforehand and found a great I-Phone book app that provided basic phrases (Boutique Japan, Tiny PhraseBook). However, when we got lost and needed directions, many people could not tell us where to go, including the policemen.

The best way we figured out how to bypass this was either: (1) have the name and/or address of your destination written in kanji; or (2) have a map out with the destination circled. As a result, people figured it out and gave us the correct directions. Even though the language barrier was present throughout the trip, everyone was very friendly and willing to try to help us out. Also, as another piece of advice, when you are planning your day, use Google Maps. It was a live safer!

#2) finding the right ATM to get more money. There are many ATMs in Japan, don’t get me wrong. However, most of them do not do international transactions, even if you have a VISA card. The only place was, surprisingly, 7-11 stores. Even then, as another piece of advice, don’t get money in a very populated area. The machines will run out and you may have to walk a fair distance to find one that has available yen. We found that out the hard way. As a result, our other popular motto on this trip was “7-11 is a tourist’s best friend- for money and delicious snacks”.



Towards the end of the trip, I had the wonderful opportunity to observe and lead a few interventions in a Music Therapy session. It was located at a nursing home in the suburbs of Tokyo that housed a variety of clients – day program groups to 24-7 care for those with more severe diagnoses. I got to see Aki, the Music Therapist (MT), facilitate a session with 28 elderly clients with minor dementia. Before she started, she introduced me to the group and I got to state my name and where I was from in Japanese.

Even though my nerves butchered my Japanese a bit, the group was very welcoming. The instrument of choice was the keyboard and it was interesting to see first hand how it can be utilized in an efficient way to keep the group engaged throughout the session. From personal clinical experiences and observations, many MTs and students prefer the guitar. It’s understandable, based on transportation difficulties and the proficient skills needed to play the keyboard. 

However, from observing her play the melody in the right hand and a basic chord pattern in the left hand, the group was able to follow each song with ease. She became a great example of how using the keyboard in a simplistic way can really connect the clients to each song, their colleagues, and their memories.

Throughout the session, there was one cultural difference that I found interesting. Each time a song ended, Aki would say “Thank you/Thank you for participating” to the group. I found this very respectful and something that MTs in the U.S. do not really say based on my experiences. We tend to focus more on stating positive specific feedback after each intervention and keeping the flow of the session continuous based on those comments. This simple idea of saying “thank you” to a client for coming to a session or participating in an intervention could not only potentially make a client’s day, but overall give the client respect and appreciation for their time and effort.

Otherwise, there were many aspects of the session that were similar to ones I’ve experienced. Some examples include:

1) keeping a steady slow tempo to match the group’s singing;

2) giving simple and clear cues of when to sing and when not to sing;

3) asking the group about their knowledge about a song and artist; to

4) singing hello and goodbye songs that were popular to the group when they were younger.

Aki and I at the Kamiishi nursing home facility
Aki and I at the Kamiishi nursing home facility

Aki was able to use her skills as a MT to communicate and relate with the group effectively. She did this by not only having meaningful short conversations, but also showing positive facial affect and really focusing on the group’s overall dynamics.  


Afterwards, many people thanked me for visiting and hoped for another visit in the future. Even two very nice women came up and told me their own personal stories of when they lived in the United States. It was fascinating to hear them-stories about their grandchildren to their own opportunities of living there for a short period of time. Overall, the entire site, staff, and clients were very heart-warming and friendly throughout my visit. It was one of the most memorable and impressive experiences I’ve had the pleasure of observing in this field.

It’s been about two months since this amazing trip and there are still many things that I want to learn and experience in Japan. However, I’ll just give you one of them and that is: observing and learning more about Music Therapy in Japan. This one observation made me really think about not only potential thesis topics relating to the Japanese culture, but also how we as MTs can come up with new creative ideas to integrate Japanese and/or other cultures’ ideals and music into our practice. We have done this, especially through drumming and learning more about the African culture. However, there are several cultures out there that we can examine and learn from. This one simple idea can lead to many more future and potential eye-opening theories, interventions, and ideals for our field.

4) FUTURE: World Congress of Music Therapy in 2017 in Japan


As a result, that is the main thing that I am curious about for the Music Therapy World Conference in 2017. From this idea, we can learn more about the variety of research by MTs from Japan and other countries to see what exciting results are being found. We can make new networking connections from different MTs all over the world and start to understand and respect each other’s cultures.


Lastly, as the main theme of this conference entails, find new ways to “inspire the next generation” of MTs. When given this opportunity, especially to students in this generation, it gives everyone the opportunity to really start thinking about:

1) what has been happening to Music Therapy all over the world;

2) what can the present MT generation give as advice for these upcoming MTs of the future; and

3) how can we change or challenge the field in order for it to become more successful. With these views in mind, I believe this conference will thrive and flourish.

In the end, this was an experience that I will never forget and has become a place dear and true to my heart. Lastly, I want to personally thank Aiko Onuma and Aki Ohmae for helping me have this amazing opportunity to observe this Music Therapy session during my travels. I’m very honored, thankful, and grateful.


Dōmo arigatōgozaimashita (“Thank you very much”). 




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