Finding a Balance Between Work and Play

This is what happens when you don't have a balance of work and fun. Work from Korean, Japanese, Ideology, Drawing...all of it piles up.

This is what happens when you don’t have a balance of work and fun. Work from Korean, Japanese, Ideology, Drawing…all of it piles up.

It’s time for a rather serious topic. With half of my time in Japan already gone (Wait, what? Already? Where did it go?), I’ve noticed that at times I find myself forgetting that I came here as a student and not as a tourist. Yes, I have been going to concerts, going shopping, and doing everything else that has made me feel like a kid in a candy store, but when it comes down to it, I did not come here to do those things. I came here as a study abroad student (and you’ll note that the words study and student always come before and after abroad). It seems as though I’ve mixed up this order and put the abroad aspect above everything else.

Don’t get me wrong, I did come to Japan with an initial plan. I was going to focus on my studies during the weekdays and use the weekends to explore the wonders of the country and have a little fun. That was how it started and for a while it seemed to work, but I found myself drifting further from this practice as the semester progressed. Maybe it’s the excitement of being in a new country and trying new things, but I can’t let it overwhelm me. The fact of the matter is that although I am in Japan, I’m here by myself, with no parental guidance. I have to take matters into my own hands, behave like an adult, and make adult decisions. One of those decisions being how to find a balance between work and play or being able to decide when it is best to sacrifice one’s wants for one’s needs. I’m having trouble with this so I decided who better to ask for some tips than my fellow TUJ students. Here’s what some of them had to say:

“I incentivize things. I’ll study for an hour or so and then eat three chips or watch an episode of ‘The Following’ then go back to studying. It’s like setting short-term goals and rewarding yourself for achieving them.” -Lilly

Study abroad student, Lilly, likes to set short term goals and incentives for studying.

Study Abroad student, Lilly, likes to set short term goals and incentives for studying.

“There’s a lot of studying involved but I prioritize what I need to do and tackle that first to make sure it gets done. I also get my work done between classes so I know I’ll have time on the weekends and won’t have to rush.” -Nina

Japanese Admission student, Nina, sticks to the classics and prioritizes her schoolwork.

Japanese Admission student, Nina, sticks to the classics and prioritizes her schoolwork.

I realize for each person it’s going to be a different experience but as study abroad students (and students in general), it’s imperative that we learn to find the middle road between schoolwork and having fun. You may have been waiting to see AKB48 (or even Miyavi) live in concert but they’re not going to be the ones who will explain to your professor why you were too excited to study for you midterm and got a failing grade. A lot of the time that you are here, you’ll find yourself saying, “I want” to see this or “I want” to do that. However, ask yourself, considering your circumstances, do you really “need” it? It’s about priorities and since we’re in a foreign country we need to have them more than ever. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a bit of fun after a week of studying, but like everything, we need to do it in moderation. With this in mind, I’ll definitely be trying Lilly’s incentive approach. Time to prioritize, hit those books and earn my fun!

Odawara Castle


Since our boat trip to Hachijo-jima Island was canceled because a typhoon was forecast to interrupt the trip, a group of friends and I planned a backup trip to Odawara Castle to experience a more traditional side of Japan. For the most part, areas in the Tokyo Prefecture are very modern with the exceptions of spots of shrines placed throughout the city. Odawara Castle is probably the furthest outside the city we have been thus far. Considering that it was more than two hours away from campus, the trip was pretty inexpensive (only $13 one way).

Odawara Castle has a long history as a strategic headquarter in the late 15th century. My host mother explained that a Shogun wanted to unite all the clans in Japan and form a peace treaty; however, the Hojo clan refused to conform.

"The Three Dragonscales"is the emblem of the Hōjō clan. Apparently Zelda's Triforce symbol came from this design.

“The Three Dragonscales”is the emblem of the Hōjō clan. Apparently Zelda’s Triforce symbol came from this design.

Eventually, the Hojo clan was defeated in a large siege around the 1590’s by a large force under the command of Hideyoshi. Apparently, the story of Hideyoshi is well known and quite popular throughout Japan is seems to be a timeless story. Our visit to Odawara Castle certainly made me realize how little I know about Japan’s history. It was certainly interesting to learn about the history of another country, and to retrace the steps of mighty feudal lords.

As you enter the site, you are greeted with sakura trees on one side, and construction on the other side (they are still excavating the outer castle). The original castle was largely destroyed by the Meiji government in 1867 (with the exceptions of its stone walls and moats), however the restoration process began in the 1930’s. Nowadays, the interior of the castle is used as a museum, and the surrounding area has become a popular location for sightseeing and experiencing traditional Japan.

Speaking of experiencing traditional Japan, the location had a site set up where you could rent and wear kimonos or real samurai armor!

Ready for combat!

Ready for combat!

This has got to be one of the most unique experience I’ve had so far in Japan!

Unfortunately, since the inside of the castle was a museum, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures. However the museum had countless historical artifacts, beautiful pieces of art, and weapons with interesting stories of romance, revenge, and heroic feats. We were allowed to take pictures at the top of the castle though!



There were also a lot of gardens and markets around the area!

A very pretty looking bridge!

A very pretty looking bridge!

We stopped by a famous restaurant that was recommended to us. The food was surprisingly affordable despite its exotic appearance! The drinks on the other hand were not (it was 600 yen for a cup of coke!! And refills aren’t a common thing in Japan!) It might be a little too adventurous for some friends back home, but we figured this was a once in a lifetime experience.

I guess being in Japan has made us all open up to new experiences.

I guess being in Japan has made us all open up to new experiences.


Anyway, I would definitely recommend Odawara Castle to visitors who would like to experience a bit of feudal Japan! We all had a great time, definitely got a lot of cool pictures!

Yamato Nishi High School English Camp Training Session-Day 1

"Interested in teaching?" Why, yes. Yes I am :)

“Interested in teaching?” Why, yes. Yes I am :)

I knew when I entered college that I wanted to go to Japan and teach English, but I was convinced I had to wait until I graduated in order to do so. Luckily, through another study abroad student, I learned about a two-day English Camp held by TUJ’s AEP (Academic English Program). More than the money (although, getting paid is a bonus,) I wanted to know what it was like to teach English in Japan since I plan on doing the same after I graduate. I wanted to take this opportunity by the horns, so I went to the AEP office, requested an application and scheduled a time for my interview.

A short interview and an application submission later and I was accepted into the program (やった!or “yatta” which means “I did it!”) But they wouldn’t just unleash us onto innocent freshmen. We had to prepare and what better way to prepare than to go through the training sessions. Here’s a recap of Day 1

The first training session took place on October 15th and with about 35 TUJ student participating, it consisted of providing introductions and basic information on what we’ll be doing. In pairs of two, we’ll be teaching four classes of first year students at Yamato Nishi High School in Shibuya. But what will we teach them? While we will be speaking in English, we’ll be split into four groups to teach one out of four topics: Trips and Travel, Food, Olympics, or Social Media. In addition to teaching the same lesson four times during the first day, those who will participate in both days will have two additional lessons to teach on the second day, one picture drawing lesson and one holiday lesson. Yours truly was placed in the Olympics group. To be honest, I wasn’t too happy about this at first. I don’t play sports (I didn’t even like gym when I was in school), so how can I teach something I know nothing about? All I could think was どうしようですか?(What am I going to do?)

After I received the lesson plans I realized I may have been getting a little ahead of myself. The plans were well written, easy enough to follow, and looked fun. The advisors for each topic met with their groups and walked through the plans, giving suggestions on what we could do. Overall, it would just be a matter of familiarizing myself with the materials and practicing. (See? I totally wasn’t worried about anything!)

Just a little preview into the lesson plan for the Olympics group (Sorry, no spoilers guys)

Just a little preview into the lesson plan for the Olympics group (Sorry, no spoilers guys.)

Among the TUJ students, there were those who had taught English to Japanese students and were able to provide some advice from personal experience, such as:

1) Smile and encourage the students to speak English (even if they make mistakes).

2) Speak slowly and use short, clear sentences (keep things simple).

3) Use gestures as you speak (to help them understand better).

4) Have patience and give them time to respond (English is not their first language).

In order to practice some of these techniques, we paired off and were given a lesson on Halloween. We had to read over the material and then take turns paraphrasing the contents as if our partners were one of the students. This was a good exercise because I think as native English-speakers, we take for granted the fact that we started learning from the time we were infants so we don’t fully understand how difficult it is for non-native speakers to learn the same language. This is definitely something I’ll have to keep in mind when I review the lesson plans. I’ll do my homework, look over the lessons, practice how I’ll teach and prepare myself for Day 2 of the training sessions. Look forward to it!

Gaijin Stories Part 2


Food Etiquette:

Even with all the research I did beforehand, sometimes habits are just hard to adjust to. Although I was fully aware of their tradition of saying “itadakimasu” (a phrase used to give thanks before a meal) and “gochisou sama deshita” (a phrase used to express gratitude for the meal) I often forget to say one or the other. Fortunately, my host family is very understanding and usually initiates the phrase so I don’t forget to say it. However, there are a plethora of other unfamiliar rules and exceptions that come in Japan’s food etiquette. For instance, a friend of mine and I once went to a small shop in Shinjuku. After staring at a menu outside for a couple minutes, an old man ushered us in to talk with him. He didn’t speak English at all and spoke with an Osaka ascent. Luckily, my friend and I were able to piece together what he was saying to us. Apparently he was the president of Generali (the largest insurance company in Italy) Japan’s division! Anyway, back to the topic of food etiquette, he explained to us that when you are eating soba, it is polite to slurp your noodles. It shows that you are enthusiastic about the meal.

Am I suppose to make the slurping sound for this one?

Am I suppose to make the slurping sound for this one?

However, I discovered that this rule doesn’t apply to all noodles when my host family give me funny looks as I was applying this rule to pasta. I think in the future, I’ll just wait until someone else takes the first bite to figure out what I’m supposed to do.

Lost in translation:

One night while Alfonso (a close friend) and I were trying to figure out what we wanted to eat, we found a Spanish restaurant near campus. Being in Japan, you typically wouldn’t expect to see a Spanish flag in front of an establishment, so it caught our attention and we decided to read their menu outside to see what they had. As expected from Japan, once we were near the door, a worker approached us to urge us to come in. What we didn’t expect was for him to greet us in Spanish. Alfonso, being from Venezuela, was excited for the opportunity to speak Spanish with someone for the first time since arriving in Japan, so we decided to give the place a try.

Not sure if this was a Spanish dish, or a Japanese one. Either way, it was delicious!

Not sure if this was a Spanish dish, or a Japanese one. Either way, it was delicious!

The food was delicious but also a bit expensive so we only ordered one dish to share. In the meantime, we chatted with Taki-san (the worker who greeted us), who we learned to be the owner of the establishment. Taki-san introduced us to his wife and Momo, a student who was working there because she wanted to improve her Spanish. When Taki-san introduced us to Momo, he told us her name in Japanese means Peach and translated her name to Mandarina (which apparently means tangerine in Spanish). Alfonso, thinking that was a cute name, intended to tell her that she had a “kawaii namae.” Instead, he said “kawaisou” which translates to “poor thing.” (He was trying to say “kawaii sou,” which roughly translates to, “seems cute.”) I noticed the mistake, but the owner and Momo giggled, and my friend looked confident, so I thought maybe I was wrong. Besides, in my culture, it is rude to correct others in public. After we finished our food and said goodbye to the staff, I asked him if my translation was wrong. He stopped momentarily to think about what he said before. Upon realizing his mistake, he squatted down on the sidewalk, covering his face in embarrassment. Pretty sure, now is an appropriate time to use the term “kawaisou.

Language Partners


While my host family and coworkers always says that my Japanese is very good, my inability to read a book without picking up a dictionary every five seconds makes me disagree. I’ve completed Intermediate Japanese II at Main Campus so I was pretty confident in my ability, but upon arriving in Japan, I discovered that I still had a long way to go.

I bought this book a month ago. At this rate, I'll take me another semester to finish it.

I bought this book a month ago. At this rate, I’ll take me another semester to finish it.

I honestly thought keigo (honorific language) would be the most difficult for me to use while in Japan since it was a difficult chapter for me in the past. Instead, I found it easier to talk to adults and cashiers in comparison to talking to my peers! Since in class, we would always use masu form (formal language) with our professor, short form (informal language) had slipped from my mind.

Yearning for the opportunity to practice and review short form, I signed up for Temple’s Language Partner Program. Unfortunately, my partner was unable to meet at the originally designated time and I ended up without a partner. Fortunately, Meiji University was looking for Temple students to participate in its language partner program. Unlike Temple’s Language Partner Program, this program is held online, so while it was a little less personal, you could have as many language partners as you want. I certainly was in for a surprise! After typing up my self-introduction in Japanese, I ended up having four language partners! And their fluency in English really surprised me! Everyone from Meiji University seems to have almost completely mastered English already! Some of my partners have been studying English since middle school! They all seem very surprised to find out that I’ve only been studying Japanese for two years, and told me that they thought I had been studying it for much longer (but I’m starting to have a feeling that this is something everyone in Japan tells you no matter how terrible you are at Japanese). Honestly, I am really embarrassed that my Japanese isn’t at the same level of their fluency in English, but I will certainly do my best to catch up to them. An icebreaker I found fun to ask my partners was what the kanji in their name meant. My parents gave my sister and me Chinese names but never taught us how to write it. However, they did tell use the meaning. I know that my Chinese name means “spring water.” And my little sister’s Chinese name means “spring flower.” My parents told me that since water is necessary for life, the origin of my name is “to support others,” especially my little sister.

I sure got a lot of interesting responses! For instance, the kanji in Keiko’s name (慶子) means “happy child.” Incidentally, the kanji in Rika’s name (莉加) means “child that gives kindness to everyone.” I thought Tsubasa’s name was pretty cool too (翼). His name means “wings.” And Emi’s name was also quite interesting (宇田川 瑛実). Her last name uses the kanji for space, rice field, and river (so we think it means galaxy), while her first name means “faith crystal.”

Anyway, I really love talking my with language partners. It feels more like having pen-pals who love talking to you instead of practicing. I’ve made it a goal to reply to them at least once or twice a day, without using the aid of Google translate to write a response back. Using a dictionary takes much longer, but I don’t want to take shortcuts on the learning process. I definitely would love to meet them in person if the opportunity pops up.

Becoming One Through Music-My First Concert in Japan

Thank you Zepp DiverCity Tokyo, for giving me a night I will never forget.

Thank you Zepp DiverCity Tokyo, for giving me a night I will never forget.

Remember when I made a post about Loppi and how I was able to get a concert ticket to see Miyavi live? Well, the day finally came and I went to his concert at Zepp DiverCity Tokyo. I got there early in hopes of getting some merchandise and possibly bettering my chances of getting on a good spot for the concert, but unfortunately, I was mistaken on my second assumption. When comparing the pre-concert experience of Japan and the US, I found that in the US, arriving early is very beneficial to the concert attendee. The singers or performers might come out, greet, or take pictures with those waiting in line and once the doors open, you are more likely to get a spot close to the stage. However, for this concert in particular, arriving 2-3 hours before the doors opened did not reap the same benefits. It was more organized than the US venues I have been to because the way they let us in was based on our ticket numbers rather than just letting people in for having a ticket in general. At first, they called the numbers one by one, to check tickets and allow entrance into the venue, but since the show was scheduled to begin an hour after the doors opened, after the 30 minute mark they called groups of numbers. For instance, 1-300, 301-600, 601-900, etc. and with my ticket number being 1666…oh joy…it was going to be a long wait (and let’s just say I wasn’t pleased because I was by myself). But wait, there was a silver lining in this situation and it came in the form of another TUJ student (and believe me, this surprised me more than anything).

All of these people.'s going to be a loooooong wait.

All of these people. Sigh…it’s going to be a loooooong wait.

While standing in line, I had the pleasure of running into a fellow TUJ student (woah, didn’t see that one coming!). Her name was Julia and we got to know each other better since there was an hour wait before the doors opened and an additional 30-45 minutes before our section was called. I found out she’s a communications major and would be staying in Japan for 2 years in order to complete her undergraduate studies. Although she is currently doing a homestay and we probably won’t get to see each other as often as if she were living in the dorms like me, her personality was similar to mine and that was a welcome surprise. In addition to us both loving Miyavi and his music, I discovered that we’re both very sarcastic (and in Japan, I welcome all forms of sarcasm as it seems to be a rather rare commodity). I guess like-minded people are drawn to each other, right?

Meet Julia, fellow TUJ student and my new sarcastic friend :)

Meet Julia, fellow TUJ student and my new sarcastic friend :)

Because this was my first concert in Japan, I didn’t know what to expect to be honest. It did occur to me when I got my ticket that I might be the only African American at the concert but I hoped it wouldn’t interfere with the enjoyment of seeing a musician I had been listening to for the past 12 years. It wasn’t until the concert began that I had an epiphany and it made the whole experience unforgettable. I came to the realization that even if I was the only African American at the event, labels didn’t matter. Young, old, student, salaryman, citizen, foreigner, all of them disappeared when he and his band performed on stage. We became an ocean of people that came for a common purpose. We came to see a wonderful artist and were blown away. We became one in our cheers of excitement, in our applause and even in our shouts for an encore. All 2,000 of us became one through our love of music and that was a thought that touched my heart at the end of the day. I’m so happy I had the opportunity to experience it even in a country so far away from home.

Through the Doors and Into the Classroom-A Look Inside My TUJ Classes (Part 2)


Time for part 2—languages! I’ll be focusing on my final two classes at TUJ, Korean and Japanese.

Korean Elements I:

So I decided to be a little over-achiever and registered for Korean Elements I while in Japan. Japanese and Korean are the two cultures that I really admire so when I saw that TUJ offered a Korean language course, I couldn’t help myself. My instructor, Park Kyo Hee (박교희), is a native Korean and although English is not her first language, she does her best with the class and learns from us as we learn from her. We have native Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and English-speakers in the class, so sometimes if she’s not sure if different cultures have words or phrases that are equivalent to Korean ones, she will ask the different native speakers in the class. There is something about this form of mutual learning that really makes me love this class and 박서생님 (Teacher Park).

Professor Park showing her students the difference between certain letters in the Korean alphabet.

Professor Park showing her students the difference between certain letters in the Korean alphabet.

Time to go over the class's answers to make sure the phonetic Korean is right.

Time to go over the class’s answers to make sure the phonetic Korean is right.

A gift from Teacher Park for completing my homework. It says "Great job!"

A gift from Teacher Park for completing my homework. It says “Great job!”

As you would expect from a language course, we learn vocabulary, grammar, reading and writing comprehension, etc. Since learning Hangul (한글), the Korean alphabet, students are called to write the phonetic spelling of words on the board, to read Korean words and sentences aloud, and do partner work involving introducing themselves and then their partners to the class.

A brave student volunteers to write on her answers on the board.

A brave student volunteers to write her answers on the board.

A student is called to the word to do some Korean contraction math (yes there is such a thing as Korean contraction math.)

A student is called to the board to do some Korean contraction math (yes there is such a thing as Korean contraction math.)

Time to work on the handouts.

Time to work on the handouts.

I find that because I know some Japanese, learning Korean has been made a little easier since the languages are similar. For instance, the Japanese word for “library” is としょかん (pronounced to-sho-kan) and in Korean it’s 도서관 (pronounced to-suh-gwan). The grammar of both languages are essentially the same as well but do I ever confuse the two languages? You better believe it. If I can’t say a word or phrase in one language I end up saying it in the other mid-sentence, but I try to catch myself. All in all, I’m really enjoying my Korean class so far. By the end of the semester, I’d like to be able to have a full-blown conversation in Korean with the instructor and my Korean friends in Korean. I think that’s an attainable goal, don’t you?

Japanese Elements II:

The class is comprised of students that have different levels in Japanese and that was a first for me. My classmates range from those who understand basic grammar, vocabulary, and sentence pattern to those who are able to speak nearly perfect conversational Japanese. The class meets three times a week for about an hour and a half and for each lesson we cover a mixture of vocabulary, grammar, kanji, reading comprehension, composition writing and give dialogue presentations.

Students present their dialogue to the class as sensei follows along and checks their memorization.

Two students present their dialogue to the class as sensei follows along and checks their memorization.

In addition to this, we have a quiz every class. (Gosh, do we every get to have any fun?) Yes, we do! Thanks to 手綱先生 (Tezuna Sensei).

The one face I have the pleasure of seeing three times a week is that of my professor’s, Hisae Tezuna (手綱久枝). She is absolutely charming. She reminds me a lot of the professor I had for Beginning Japanese I and II at my home university (whom I think the world of.) Although she refers to them as “presents” when she gives us worksheets for homework (and who are we to refuse presents?), Tezuna sensei is the kind of teacher I adore, the kind that makes learning fun and entertaining for the students.

Tezuna sensei is not afraid to thow herself into a dialogue scenario for her students. Have to love the cup and eraser phones by the way :)

Tezuna sensei is not afraid to throw herself into a dialogue scenario for her students. Have to love the cup and eraser phones by the way :)

She is always willing to help students after class.

She is always willing to help her students after class.

Nothing like a round of Shiritori to put those Japanese vocabulary skills to the test.

Nothing like a round of Shiritori to test those Japanese vocabulary skills.

Overall, I think TUJ’s Japanese curriculum is a lot more rigorous than what I’m used to but this is most likely because of the school’s location. We are in a prime location to learn the Japanese language, Japan. It’s literally everywhere. We see it when we step outside, on the way to and from school, we hear it on the subways, when we go shopping or when we ask someone for directions. Some people are looking to continue their studies and get their degree while in Japan, some are planning to come back to Japan for employment (like me), while some are planning on living in Japan permanently. Whatever the reason, learning Japanese can only be beneficial so I’m happy I get to take it in Japan.

All of the classes I’m currently taking are interesting in their own ways. The professors each have their own methods of teaching and the lessons can be challenging at times, but it’s all a matter of how you look at it. For each challenge, you may have to put in a little more effort and hard work, but with challenge comes the opportunity to triumph and that is a experience that no one can take away.