Mt Koya and Nara Trip, Part 1

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All of us had certain expectations of what Japan might look like before we actually arrived here. I personally envisioned Japan solely as a modern society since I rarely heard anything about traditional Japan. I thought that it was similar to the way Americans don’t talk or really relate to the culture of cowboys or the “Wild West.” However, in Japan, their modern society and traditional society co-exist and complement each other in a very fascinating way. With that said, the trip to Mt Koya and Nara was intended to show students that didn’t get the chance to step outside of Tokyo before, a more traditional side Japan.

I was certain that it would be difficult to get any sleep at all on our long 7 hour bus ride; after all, our journey began right on Halloween night. However, after our guides told us that we would be woke up around 6:40 AM, everyone quickly went to sleep. We arrived at Yoshino Park around 7:00 AM and took a morning walk before meeting with our guides.

We were greeted by the Nio Guardians, and lots of rain!!

We were greeted by the Nio Guardians, and lots of rain!!

Within the entrance of Daimon, were the Nio guardians. Our guide explained to us that, according to Japanese folktales, these guardians traveled with Buddha as bodyguards. Buddhism is normally known for its pacifist traditions; however, the stories of the Nio guardians often justify the use of force to protect cherished values and beliefs against evil.

Agyou is the guardian with an open mouth, wielding a vajra, and is known as a symbol of overt violence.

Agyou is the guardian with an open mouth, wielding a vajra, and is known as a symbol of overt violence.

Ungyou is the guardian with closed mouth, normally barehanded (sometimes with a sword), and is known as a symbol of latent strength.

Ungyou is the guardian with closed mouth, normally barehanded (sometimes with a sword), and is known as a symbol of latent strength.

Our first stop was Konpon Daito, shrine that houses a three-dimensional mandala along with a large statue of Buddha Mahavairochana.

Unfortunately, it was still closed when we arrived, so we only got to see the exterior.

Next, we also explored Miedo. Kobo Daishi (the founder of Shingon Buddhism) used this place for meditation. Kobo Dashi wanted to establish a monastery deep in the mountains, far from worldly distractions, where monks could practice and pray for the peace and welfare of the people. Miedo contains lots of portraits of Kobo Daishi, painted during his lifetime by his disciple. Unfortunately, pictures of the portraits were not allowed in this building.

After a long day with lots of walking, we arrived at Rengejoin Temple where we would meditate with monks and stay the night.

Rengejoin Temple was a very different experience from your typical overnight stay at a hotel!

Rengejoin Temple was a very different experience from your typical overnight stay at a hotel!

While the meditation room was crowded and cramped, it was very relaxing. I attempted to sit seiza style since I notice most of the locals were sitting that way, but after ten minutes I was already at my limit. I wish I could have taken pictures to share a bit of the experience, but I figured it wouldn’t be appropriate to do that while everyone was meditating.

Then, it was finally time for dinner, where we got to experience 精進料理 (Buddhist Vegetarian Cuisine)! In Buddhism, eating any sentient life is wrong, therefore monks live on a vegetarian diet. As a meat-eating-fanatic, I admit to being a bit disappointed when I heard that our meal would not have any. But after I began eating, I was pleasantly surprised! The food was quite delicious! Each dish was based on the concepts of five flavors, five cooking methods, and five colors (it seems that five is a lucky number in Japan!).

There is always a grilled dish, a deep-fried dish, a pickled dish, a tofu dish, and a soup dish!

There is always a grilled dish, a deep-fried dish, a pickled dish, a tofu dish, and a soup dish!

After our meal, everyone returned to their rooms, and chatted with friends while under a こたつ (a table with a blanket over it and a heater underneath). I’ve seen them before, but always thought that it was overrated. However, after experiencing its warmth, I definitely want to have one in the future!

Our rooms at Rengejoin Temple.

Our rooms at Rengejoin Temple.

Holiday Season With a New Kind of Family

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Holiday season is already here and for the semester study abroad students, like myself, Halloween and Thanksgiving are the only two holidays we will experience away from our families back home. That being said, I think it’s more difficult for those staying for an academic year or longer. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, etc. are all days one usually spends with their family or significant other, but what if they’re over 6000 miles away? How do you cope with such a dilemma?

I asked some TUJ students, ranging from semester study abroad to Japanese Admission about how they feel being away from home during the holidays and their celebration plans.

Students, Shanice, Jennifer, and Jordan have become a TUJ family and cherish their time together.

Students, Shanice, Jennifer, and Jordan have become a TUJ family and cherish their time together.

“For Thanksgiving, I’ll be celebrating it with fellow Americans for dinner. It’ll be like a family dinner, but without my actual family.”—Shanice (Semester Study Abroad)

“I am a little sad about not being able to spend time with my family during Thanksgiving. But when I am at college in the US, I usually can’t go home for Thanksgiving anyway because it costs too much to go from San Francisco to Georgia. So it’s not that bad. I can’t wait to see them for Christmas though. I’m so excited!”—Jordan (Semester Study Abroad)

“Christmas is going to be a little tough for me. I miss the smell of the fresh Christmas tree in my living room and the sweat and tears I put into decorating it. I still miss my family but I’ve decided to do a home stay during winter break so in a sense I will gain another family. As for celebrating, there’s plenty of activities to do during the holidays. I went out for Halloween and got to carve a pumpkin at TUJ the Wednesday before that. I’m also going to a Thanksgiving dinner party later this month. I’m still participating in the holiday traditions I’m familiar with. I’m not just sitting around watching the days go by. What good does that do?”—Jennifer (Academic Year Study Abroad)

Jennifer reminds us that even in Japan, Jack Skellington is always ready for Halloween and Christmas.

Jennifer carved this to reminds us that even in Japan, Jack Skellington is always ready for Halloween and Christmas.

Now, you may be wondering, “But what about you, Tiara? What do you plan to do for the holidays?” As for myself, the thought had crossed my mind to Skype with my family for Thanksgiving. By Skype with them I mean for them to have a laptop on the table, where I would theoretically be sitting, and that would be just as good. I wouldn’t be able eat a nice helping of my mother’s delicious lasagna or have a slice of my sister’s delectable pumpkin pie but it’s the thought that counts. But at the end of the day, I side with Shanice and believe that surrounding myself with a solid group of friends while here has proven to have given me a second family away from home. Thanksgiving is two weeks away and about 12 students (Jennifer, Shanice, and myself included) plan to attend a student-organized Thanksgiving dinner that Friday. We may be away from our own families, but it doesn’t mean we can’t spend this time with the families we’ve created at TUJ.

Traditional Arts Workshop

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The hustle and bustle of modern Japan is quite easy to adjust to after living in it for a couple weeks, especially if you live in urbanized areas such as Tokyo or Osaka. But traditional Japan is a completely different experience. Upon arriving in Japan, I knew that I wanted to experience the whole spectrum of Japan, which is why I signed up for my internship, home-stay, and Japanese classes, as well as nearly all the school trips. Amongst the school trips was the Traditional Arts Workshop, which was a trip I definitely looked forward to attending. The location was designated to be at a local resident’s house.

Upon our arrival, our host introduced herself and her two friends and explained the Japanese phrase “ichigoichie” (一期一会) to our group. The phrase “ichigoichie” is a Japanese idiom literally translates to “one time, one meeting,” but is also often translated as “one chance in a lifetime,” or “for this time only,” to describe the cultural concept to treasure and cherish any gathering they partake in, because particular gatherings will never be replicated in the future, and thus, each moment is a once in a lifetime experience. Anyway, our host expressed her excitement to have the opportunity to meet us all, and asked us to join her in a prayer so that she could wish that our future is bright, and our stay in Japan is fruitful.

Afterwards, she demonstrated Ikebana (生け花), a traditional art of Japanese flower arrangement. Unlike the US, where the vase is very crowed and the type of flower used conveys a meaning, Ikebana values asymmetric arrangements where the vase shape, water in the vase, as well as areas intentionally left empty are all part of the art form. The focus is driven away from the specific types of flowers used, and more on how each different kind of flower contributes to the overall beauty of its arrangement.

One of the Ikebana our host made to commemorate our chance to meet each other!

One of the Ikebana our host made to commemorate our chance to meet each other!

Then our host entertained us by playing the Koto (箏), a traditional Japanese string instrument about 6 feet long that has 13 strings. She even allowed us to try it out!

Joshua gives the Koto a try.

Joshua gives the Koto a try.

The women were then directed to a different room to get changed into kimono while the men did calligraphy. When the women were done, the men got to wear Hakama (traditional Japanese clothing worn by samurai and courtiers during the Edo period) while the women did calligraphy.

I think this was their first time preparing something for the guys to wear. I’m definitely glad they did it

I think this was their first time preparing something for the guys to wear. I’m definitely glad they did it.

My Hakama looks very cool from the front!!

My Hakama looks very cool from the front!!

Not so much from the back or side (most of the strings were tied in the back)

Not so much from the back or side (most of the strings were tied in the back)

Everyone definitely was excited to “dress up” in traditional Japanese clothes.

Everyone definitely was excited to “dress up” in traditional Japanese clothes.

Afterwards, we experienced a Japanese Tea Ceremony. We were instructed that when we were served, bows are exchanged to express gratitude. In Japan, candy and other sweets are eaten first, before tea is served. When the tea is served, we must use both hands to hold it and rotate the cup slightly twice before drinking from it.

Remember to exchange bows at a Tea Ceremony!

Remember to exchange bows at a Tea Ceremony!

If any of these activities sounds fun to you, I definitely recommend going to this workshop!
This past weekend was the Mt Koya & Nara school field trip! So in my next few posts, I’ll go into more details about the adventures we had! Since it was a three day trip, I definitely have a lot of stories to share. Please look forward to it!

5 Weeks Left, 5 Things Missed, 5 Lessons Learned

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Since study abroad students have only five more weeks left in Japan I decided to commemorate my remaining time with a few lists. To be specific, two top-five lists. Although I’m sure these lists can go on and on until the cows come home, for the sake of time (and sanity), I’ll keep them to my top five. Ready? はじめましょう!(Let’s start!)

Top Five Things I Will Miss About Japan (no particular order)

1) Punctual Trains

2) The Convenience Stores

3) Seeing Japanese Artists in Concert

4) The Food

5) The People

1) No need to worry about being late or fear that the train will be late. Unlike in the US, if the platform board says the next train will arrive at 2:23, at 2:23 the train is there. I won’t miss the chaos of morning rush hour, but I will miss such punctuality.

2) I’ll miss my friend, the conbini. I’ll miss being able to pay my bills at Lawson and being able to get concert tickets at the Loppi machine.

3) Speaking of concerts, as a person who loves Japanese music, I’ll miss being able to see my favorite artists in concert in their own country. Miyavi, Shiina Ringo, BACK-ON, etc. These are artists I would’ve never been able to see if I didn’t come to Japan and I’m beyond ecstatic that I had the opportunity.

4) I’ll definitely miss the food. I cook Japanese food for my family in the US, but there’s something special about eating Japanese food in Japan. Even something as simple as ramen has a different taste in Japan.

5) And of course, I’ll miss the Japanese people. I’ll miss their politeness. I’ll miss Naito-san, who would give me a free cream yaki when I pass his どらやきshop. I’ll miss the children I pass on my way to school. At first they would just stare and point, but I would bow and greet them with おはようございます (good morning) and continue walking. For the past month now, they greet me back, saying おはようございます and my mood is instantly lifted.

I always look forward to seeing Nagito's smiling face.

I always look forward to seeing Naito-san’s smiling face.

He knows my face so well that he saves a cream yaki just for me!

He knows my face so well that he saves a cream yaki just for me!

Top Five Lessons I Have Learned in Japan

1) Have An Open Mind

2) Experience All Parts of the Culture

3) Make Friends

4) Try to Overcome Language Barriers

5) Take Risks

1) I think it’s the most important because it opens the door to everything else. Before coming to Japan, I had to be mentally prepared. Japan is not my home country and as such, I had to have an open mind and be prepared to adapt.

2) I sought out all aspects of Japanese culture, not just what is popular. Not only did I go to Akihabara and Shinjuku to partake in the anime and fashion of Japan, but I also went to Osaka and Kyoto to visit the temples and got a first-hand look at the more traditional side of this wonderful country.

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My friend and I went to Maica in Kyoto and she was transformed into a Maiko!

Even though it was raining that day, you have to appreciate the beauty of Japanese shrines and temples.

Even though it was raining that day, I love the beauty of Japanese shrines and temples.

3) I can’t stress how important making friends is when you’re abroad. Whether they’re 日本人か外国人 (Japanese people or foreigners), the friends I have made in Japan are a big reason why I didn’t spend every day in my room.

If I stayed inside, I would have never met these lovely ladies.

If I stayed inside, I would’ve never met these lovely ladies.

She always provides me with a little fellow-foreigner comfort and I love her for it.

She always provides me with a little fellow-foreigner comfort and I love her for it.

4) A language barrier should not prevent anyone from enjoying Japan. I took the opportunity and used Japanese as much as I could and met a lot of great people because of it.

5) To make the most of my time in Japan, I pushed myself to do things that I wouldn’t have the courage to do back home. Through taking risks I learned that I can reap the benefits and this newly found courage I like having.

Looking back on these things, I realize something….

FIVE WEEKS ISN’T ENOUGH! I’M NOT READY TO LEAVE JAPAN YET!

(Time to find my TARDIS)

Fuji Forest and Onsen Adventure!

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After carelessly missing the bus for the Hawaiian Spa Resort, and a typhoon canceling the Hachijo-jima Island Boat Trip, I was determined to attend TUJ’s Fuji Forest Adventure no matter what. I had done zip-lining in the past while visiting a famous tourist attraction in China, but I had never done one that was combined with an obstacle course. It certainly was a combination that sounded entertaining and adventurous to me!

Of course the day of the trip, it rained, but it didn’t stop our group from having our adventure! However the rain did make it troublesome for those who came unprepared.

I made the mistake of wearing a jacket that wasn’t quite waterproof. Ming made the mistake of wearing pants that weren’t quite long enough.

I made the mistake of wearing a jacket that wasn’t quite waterproof. Ming made the mistake of wearing pants that weren’t quite long enough.

The course was already pretty difficult and required a lot of upper body strength and balance if you didn’t rely on the zip-line. The rain only made it that much harder and colder! I didn’t have much trouble with keeping my balance, I was thoroughly defeated by the weather! Half way through the course, I caved and brought gloves and a rain coat after realizing my jacket was completely drenched.

After losing his balance, Gabe cheats a little and grabs hold onto the zip-line to complete this course. Meanwhile, in the background, I “Tarzan swung” into a net.

After losing his balance, Gabe cheats a little and grabs hold onto the zip-line to complete this course. Meanwhile, in the background, I “Tarzan swung” into a net.

Fortunately, we were always attached to something, so it was very safe.

Ming faces her fear of heights, and takes a leap of faith into a net!

Ming faces her fear of heights, and takes a leap of faith into a net!

Not to mention a lot of coordination.

One of the adventurers got his leg stuck in the ring and had to take off his shoe in order to escape!!

One of the adventurers got his leg stuck in the ring and had to take off his shoe in order to escape!!

Even landing was quite tricky! We were supposed to pivot our bodies forward or sideways so we could use our feet to slow down our landing. However, we often ended up backwards and landing on our backs instead.

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The thrill of zip lining made Kayleigh completely exhausted.

Epic high fives on the last course!

Epic high fives on the last course!

After a tiring but exciting adventure, the onsen was exactly what we needed!

We all rushed to the warm bus, and were instructed to take off our shoes at the entrance of the bus. I was already quite used to taking off my shoes upon entering a house since we do this all the time in most Asian cultures; however, I had never did it upon entering a bus though. But considering how dirty everyone’s shoes got from our adventure, and Japan’s culture regarding cleanliness, it made sense.

Upon arriving at the onsen, everyone rushed for food. We were all expecting it to be pretty pricey, since it was at an onsen. To our surprise it was not only very affordable, it was very delicious!

Nothing like ramen after a tiring adventure in the rain!

Nothing like ramen after a tiring adventure in the rain!

I always thought that paying for food in Japan would be expensive since their diet has a lot of seafood, but it doesn’t seem to be to the case. Not to mention, workers in Japan don’t accept tips!

The onsen had a lounge for those who wanted to take a nap, chat with some tea, or get a massage.

The onsen had a lounge for those who wanted to take a nap, chat with some tea, or get a massage.

To be honest, I completely forgot that in Japan, people don’t wear anything at onsens, and packed swimming trunks. Upon entering the male’s locker room, and seeing everyone naked, I was once again reminded that there are a lot of things that are completely different in Japan. Surprisingly, being completely naked wasn’t as awkward as I expected. After the first few minutes, it felt completely natural. It was definitely a refreshing experience!

Teaching My Children-English Camp in Japan

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As I mentioned before, I was picked to be a participate in an English camp and it will definitely be an experience I will always cherish.

(Find out what training was like in my previous posts)

TUJ student, Anthony, encourages the YN students with a smile :)

TUJ student, Anthony, encourages the YN students with a smile :)

Teaching the lessons was new for me, but when partnered with at least one other TUJ student, we always bounced ideas off of each other and got the activities finished. I learned that if the lessons are fun, the students are more likely to want to learn and participate, so we got the students involved as much as possible. For example, for the Olympic Games lesson, after the students finished one of the worksheet activities we had 3-5 of them come to front of the class and when we gave them an Olympic sport, they would model it. As an alternative, we would model and the students would have to tell us which sports we were acting out. It was something that made the rest of the class laugh and put them in good spirits because it was fun (and who doesn’t like fun, right?) so they participated more.

We got the students to speak more English with a game of Pictionary.

We got the students to speak more English with a game of Pictionary.

We also rewarded the students whenever they conversed with us in English. Each student was given a card with 10 circles and each teacher was given stickers. We gave the students stickers only if they approached us and spoke English. However, this couldn’t be a simple “Hi, give me a sticker.” They needed to engage us in conversation by asking us questions and talking about themselves. These Q&A sessions mostly took place during mealtimes and in between classes but it was about more than giving them stickers. It gave us an opportunity to bound with the students. I met a student who absolutely loves Elvis Presley and the Jackson 5 despite only being 15 (Yep, good music has no age limit). I also met students who enjoy the same anime and movies as I do. I got to know a lot of the students and we shared a lot of the same interests.

Overall, I think all of the TUJ students came to the consensus that during these two days, it really felt like we were celebrities. Crowds of students would surround us to ask us questions and take pictures with us. During the last day, there was time set aside for picture-taking before everyone was free to leave so once finished, a fellow teacher and I started to make our way back to the main building where our luggage was. Within five seconds, three students came up and asked to take pictures with us. We finished and two seconds later, another five students approached us for the same thing. At some point we decided to run and after managing to get five feet closer to the building, SURPRISE, more students and more pictures. Once finished, we ran while saying to each other, “No more student. No more students. No more students!” Despite our short-lived celebrity status, we had the chance to write short personal messages of encouragement to the students and I truly felt like I was their 先生(teacher) . 私の心は幸せでした。(Watashi no kokoro wa shiawasedeshita = My heart was happy.)

私の学生が大好きです! (I love my students!)

私の学生が大好きです! (I love my students!)

I’m extremely glad I got to participate in an English-teaching event while in Japan. I think it has furthered my desire to want to teach here after I graduate. As a teacher, I became a different person. The quiet, reserved person that most people know me as became loud and animated for her students. The students at Yamato Nishi High School were wonderful and I feel like even though it was a two-day event, we really bonded. I see so much potential in them and I hope to see them again in the future. However, if I don’t, I still wish them all well in whatever they pursue.

Yamato Nishi High School English Camp Training Session-Day 2

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While Day 1 of the training sessions focused on introductions and providing the participants with an overview of the English Camp, Day 2 provided more in-depth explanations and a chance for us to ask questions, strategize, and learn from the advisors and each other.

We were given a tentative schedule for both days, which also informed us of what classes we would be teaching, what times we would be teaching, and who our teaching partners/groups were. Seeing as how most of the students didn’t know each other, we did the next best thing to try and match names to faces; we called out names and looked around to see who answered. Yep, that’s sure fire way to find your partners.

Half way through the session, we separated into our topic groups and each advisor reviewed their lesson plans. For my group, we went through each activity, from introducing the Olympic Games to giving feedback at the end of the class period. Our advisor, Jeff Hulihan, walked us through each worksheet as if he were teaching the high school students himself. He gave examples of how he would model or demonstrate things for the students and encouraged us to do the same in order to make the lesson more understandable and to get the students to participate more. This was a new lesson plan created by Jeff, so what I really appreciated was the fact that he gave us room to adjust the lesson plan if we needed to, as long as we didn’t veer off topic (since we only have an hour for each class). The lesson plan is made for us, but it feels nice to have some wiggle room in the delivery.

Jeff Hulihan, Academic Coordinator for AEP, demonstrates how he would teach the Yamato Nishi High School students.

Jeff Hulihan, Academic Coordinator for AEP, demonstrates how he would teach the Yamato Nishi High School students.—”The main thing is to always be active. Walk around, give praise, suggest answers and encourage the students.”

The Olympic Games group! Ready to go!

The Olympic Games group! Ready to go!

Finally, it was time to learn about the Halloween and Picture Drawing lesson plans for the second day. AEP instructor Danica Young reviewed the Halloween lesson plan, which consisted of yes/no questions, crosswords, conversations, etc. For parts that seemed to lack excitement (like The Story of Halloween, which we are to read to the students), she told us to make it fun and dramatic. By doing so, we will create a fun atmosphere in which the students are more likely to enjoy the lesson rather than feel like they’re sitting through a lecture. When it came to the picture drawing lesson plan, Ashley and Carly, two students who participated during previous years, told us about their experiences, including which activities worked and which ones didn’t, how they adjusted their lesson plans, etc. From this, both participants and advisors learned something new. For instance, the pairing method stated in the lesson didn’t work for their classes last year, so Ashley and Carly adjusted it to instead make groups of four and found that worked better. It’s always beneficial to hear from those who have gone through the process before and have a clearer idea of what we can expect as new participants.

AEP Instructor, Danica Young, teaches the participants how to make a seemingly dull lesson fun.

AEP Instructor, Danica Young, teaches the participants how to make a seemingly dull lesson fun with a little enthusiasm.

Today concluded the teacher training session for the Yamato Nishi High School English Camp. All that’s left is the actual camp on the 26th and 27th, where we will finally put our teachings into practice. I’m hoping to apply for the JET program after I graduate and this is a great opportunity to gain some first-hand experience on what it’s like to teach English in Japan. Although this is only two-day event, it will give me a glimpse into what I can expect in the long-run.