Monthly Archives: September 2011

Mikoshi

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Hello all!

I’d like to share with you a really special experience that I had about two weekends ago. I would have posted sooner, but mid term tests are starting, and its been a bit hectic. So my apologies!!

I was asked by an activities office staff member if I would like to participate in Minato ku (Minato ward’s) Mikoshi festival. I was told it was a rare opportunity, and one that would really give me an insight into traditional Japanese festival culture. So I immediately signed up.

A Mikoshi is a “portable shrine”, that is believed to be able to house a deity while it is being moved from one shrine, to a temporary shrine for ceremonial purposes.  It is shaped like a buliding, with pillars and a roof, and often covered in gold leaflet and other decorations. It is carried on four poles that are placed atop people’s shoulders. A large group of people is needed to carry the Mikoshi, as it is very heavy. The transportation of the Mikoshi from its original shrine, to the temporary shrine for a ceremony, and back make up the Mikoshi festival.

Here is the Minato Mikoshi. You can see the four poles that it is attached too.

Here is an example of how the Mikoshi is carried.

There is a leader who walks in front of the group and instructs them on where to turn, when to slow down, and when to speed up. Normally we would walk quite slow, almost like a minced march, and it took us about an hour and a half to go from the starting point to the shrine for the ceremony. Half way there we were given a break, and were provided with refreshments and some food. It was very hot, and since there are so many people carrying the Mikoshi with you, it feels even warmer. We were allowed to wear traditional uniform which is made up of a jacket, a headband, traditional Japanese Happi shoes, and a sash. Each ward’s uniform is different. As you can see from above, Minato’s uniform was white and navy blue.

Here are all of the TUJ volunteers in uniform.

Three other Mikoshi’s were being transported for the ceremony that day, and we met up with them at the shrine. There, we witnessed a ceremonial blessing of the Mikoshi’s by a Shinto priest. It was really amazing.

The Shinto priest, mid ceremony.

Several men also sang a traditional Edo period song, and after that we all shouldered the Mikoshi again and headed back to the start point. I took several breaks on the way to the ceremony, so I decided on the way back that I would aim to carry the Mikoshi for the entire march back. I was able to accomplish that goal, and I was really proud of myself. This wasn’t of course, without a break. As on the way there, we were able to take a half hour break when we reached the half way point. This time, many local women has set up tables with large amounts of food for everyone to eat. It was really delicious! Finally, when we returned to the start point, we were invited to have an oden dinner with the local men with whom we had carried the Mikoshi. Oden is a traditional Japanese fish cake soup, which is very popular. Other snacks were also provided, a long with a wide variety of beverages. The local men were really nice, and it was really good practice to talk with them in Japanese. Many of them had visited the States, or where interested in American music or baseball teams, so there was a lot to talk about. However, after a long day, myself and the other TUJ volunteers decided to call it quits after an hour or so of socializing.

I’m really glad I signed up to participate, and even though it was hard work, I learned a lot and met a lot of really great people. I hope to be able to participate in the festival again next year if I return!!

Group shot with all of the TUJ volunteers, the leader, and several Mikoshi carriers.

Another photo of everyone carrying the Mikoshi.

Interesting Times in Shinjuku

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Hello everyone!

My post this week is about an interesting experiecne I had in Shinjuku with my friends this past weekend. After meeting up in Harajuku, we headed over to Shinjuku ( a really popular shopping and hang out area), to find something to do. My Japanese friend suggested we go to a “Cat Cafe”, which is something I had never really heard of.

Cat Cafe’s are apparently very popular in Japan. The one we went to was called “Calico”, and was located on the 6th floor of a high rise building. When you entered, you had to pay a fee, take off your shoes in exchange for slippers, and wash your hands thoroughly. Afterwards, we were allowed to pass through a door into another room full of cats and other customers. At cat cafe’s you are allowed to pet and feed the cats, but you can’t pick them up. Therefore, you kind of have to chase them around a little bit, in order to get their attention.

Here is Calico!

Calico had two floors, connected by a staircase that had little shelves that the cats could sit on. I was lucky enough to get there at feeding time, because guests are allowed to take cat food out of the bowl and individually feed the cats. There were so many different kinds, and they all were so cute! Downstairs was also the cafe, where you could order drinks and sit with the cats. Also available were shelves full of manga (Japanese comic books), that guests could read while sitting with the cats.

A picture of the downstairs, cafe portion.

While downstairs, my friends and I also discovered a book that had all of the cats pictures, names, and personalities listed for the guests to read. We had a lot of fun picking out our favorite cat and then going to find it. For one hour, it was about $10 (not including any drinks ordered), but in the end I think it was definitely worth it. When you are living in a city as large and bustling as Tokyo, it is hard to get some quiet time. Also, if you are a student, like me, it is probable that you aren’t allowed to keep pets in your dorm or apartment. Therefore, going to a cat cafe allows you to have some time with animals. You’d be surprised how much you can miss that without even realizing it.

After going to the cat cafe we decided to take some プリクラ (purikura), or Japanese photo booth photos. Now I’m sure you’re thinking that that is probably pretty boring- but the Japanese take photo booths to a whole new level. When you go into the booth (which is much bigger than the ones in America and complete with a touch screen), you can choose from a variety of fun backgrounds and photo shapes. After you take your photos, you are instructed to around to the back, to another set of touch screens, and decorate your photos with an endless selection of pen colors, fonts, stickers, sparkles, and frames. Then, you can either scan them onto your mobile phone, or print them out. If you chose to print them out, you can peel off the backs and stick them on nearly anything. I see a lot of girls with purikura photos in their wallets, and on their phones.

Here is one of the purikura photos I took with my friends. :)

If you are ever in Japan I suggest you try purikura, because it really is a blast, and so much different from photo booths in America. :)

Hello again!

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Hello everyone!

I’m sorry I haven’t posted sooner, but I’m still getting used to my class schedule and the train commute to school every morning.

I thought I would write today about food. I’ve had some really yummy dishes since I’ve been here that I would like to share. Also, a lot of these foods are pretty cheap- which is great since I’m living on a budget. One thing that I’ve been eating a lot are bento’s. Bento’s are pre-made lunches that you can buy at convenient stores, like 7 Eleven. Most don’t cost more than 450円 (yen), which is around $5. There are many different kinds as well including, fish, chicken, beef, pork, and there is a general mix. They always come with rice, a little side salad or pickles, and when you purchase one at a convenient store, they will warm it up for you.

Here is an example of a convenient store bento lunch

Besides 7 Eleven, one of my other favorite places to get a cheap and quick lunch is すき家 (Sukiya). It’s a sit down restaurant, that gets you your food extremely quickly (and many are open 24 hours). They specialize in 牛丼 (gyudon), which is basically marinated and cooked shredded beef over rice with onions. In order to spice this up a little bit, they offer several different variations on the dish. You can get bowls with Kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), chives, sprouts, and most of the dishes come with an egg that you can crack over your meal. If  you aren’t looking for 牛丼 you can always order some curry, or a noodle dish. There are various sizes you can order, and you can even add little sides to your meal for less than 150円.

I went in today and bought a 牛丼 dish with sprouts, onions, carrots, and a sauce. Then, I added a miso soup and a side of tofu for 120円・ The whole meal was only 480円, and it was really delicious.

Here is one popular chive, egg, and gyudon dish at sakiya.

These are all the sizes you can order. Check out that huge one

Yesterday after school, my friend Brittany and I were looking around for somewhere to eat. We had noticed a noodle shop right next to the stairs that takes us to our train (in the station), and so we decided to try it out. This place was really cool too! To order, to approach a machine outside of the store. All of the menu choices are displayed on buttons like a vending machine. You put in your cash, push the option you want, and get a ticket. You then take the ticket in, and place it on a sign- depending on what kind of noodles you want. The choices are soba noodles (thin, greyish buckwheat noodles) or udon (thick, white flour noodles). Then, you wait right there at the window while they toss it all up and give it you! These type of places are often frequented by business men who just want a quick meal on their way to and from work, and aren’t really chains. But if you look for them, you’ll find them.  Overall the price was really cheap (490円)and the noodles were really good.  Therefore we’ve decided to go back once a week in order to try the different options.

Typical udon dish

Typical Udon dish (my favorite!)

And with these options I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of food in Japan. When I come up with some new favorites I’ll definitely post about them. As for now, I’m still exploring!

I’ll be updating soon about some really interesting cultural activities going on in my area this weekend. Until then!

Life in Tokyo Begins!

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Crosswalk at night in Shibuya (渋谷区).

Greetings from Tokyo, Japan! Since this is the first post for this blog, let me introduce myself quickly – Hi! I’m Molly, and I usually can be found lurking about at Temple University’s main campus. This semester, however, I’m studying abroad at the Japan Campus, located in one of Tokyo’s 23 wards, Minato (港区). For those of you who are interested in Temple’s study abroad program, I hope this blog will help give you some insight of what to expect! As for anyone else reading this, I promise to have something exciting and new each week to keep your interest piqued!

Let’s start off simply with some details about the arrival procedure, and what the first couple of days are like. I arrived here in Tokyo last Tuesday before the start of the semester with the rest of the study abroad group, and already it has been an exciting week and a half. Arriving and settling into the dorm was a long journey, but relatively simple. A group of us had arranged to meet at the airport, which is where we bought our bus tickets (¥3,000) to go to the Sheraton Miyako Hotel Tokyo where the Temple official would meet us. The bus ride itself was about an hour and a half long, and from the hotel we took a cab to our housing (students doing homestay actually met their host families there and went home with them instead). Luckily I was able to split the fare with another girl in the Ontakesan dormitory, so I think the final cost for the taxi was roughly ¥1,000-1,500 a piece.

The Ontakesan dorm is located in another ward, Ota (大田区). It’s in a residential area, and the surrounding neighborhood is peaceful. Ontakesan station is only 10-15 minutes away from the dorm by walking, and there’s a strip of small restaurants and convenience stores (including a 7/11!) that makes shopping for food and necessities extremely easy.

This little street in Ota can quickly become quite busy in the morning.

The first few days were busy, starting with a dorm orientation the day after arrival, when students were also taken to apply for their alien registration card and national health insurance. Last Thursday and Friday were also orientation days for the study abroad students at TUJ.

So far, what I really like about TUJ are the different events they offer during the semester to get students involved. They host a cultural exchange night and a language partner program (both of which are free!), as well as trips that allow you to see different areas of Japan, such as the Nikko Day Trip (apparently home to beautiful shrines) and the Shikoku Trip (an area that contrasts with day-to-day life in Tokyo by allowing you to experience “old Japan”).  In fact, the facebook page gives more information on all the events, so make sure to check it out!

Between running around with orientations and classes, I’ve noticed one major cultural difference, and I’m going to close this first post by mentioning it: people are extremely polite towards others here in Tokyo. Morning and evening trains are quiet despite being overcrowded (really, really overcrowded), and at night in our residential area, there are never any loud disturbances. Also, just yesterday a high school student approached me to offer me help with my Suica card (train pass) when I was having trouble getting it to work. She even walked with me to the station office, and stayed with me until it was sorted out so that she could help me explain the issue to the officials. Even just a week and a half into the fall semester, I’m already astounded by how respectful everyone I’ve crossed so far seems to be. It certainly is different  than most other cities that I have had the experience of going to.

To finish wrapping up this first post, I would just like to say thank you for reading! I have a list of all the places I would like to explore in Tokyo, so stay tuned!

New Beginnings in Japan

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Hello everyone!

This is my first entry, so I thought I would quickly introduce myself. My name is Michelle, and I’m a junior studying abroad at Temple’s Japan Campus in Tokyo. I’m 20 years old, and I’m and East Asian History major and Japanese minor.

So, my first week and a half in Japan is almost over! Jetlag was definitely a struggle, but one that ended, for me, around 4 days after arrival. However, it’s strange to have to calculate what time it is at home in order to contact family and loved ones. Despite the time difference, and being away from home, I am already having a blast here. I’m living in the Ontakesan Dorm, located in the Ota ward of Tokyo. The town is really very quaint, and yet still has 24 hour shops and a small mall. I’ve had no problems finding anything, and it’s been a lot of fun exploring around town with some of the girls I met on my hall.

Ontakesan

My friend Lauren and I were out exploring the other day, and we happened upon a shrine that was tucked away behind the mall. Yes, behind a mall! This is one of the things I truly love about Japan, especially Tokyo. No matter where you are, even in the busiest areas of the city, there are always hidden parks and small shrines tucked in between high rise buildings. The harmony between the modern world and nature is really wonderful, and to me, very calming. If I’m having a hard day, or if I’m sick of all of the hustle and bustle, I can walk to this local shrine and just have a peaceful moment to myself. It’s so beautiful, and I’m really glad that we found it!

In contrast, if I’m looking for some adventure and fun, I can easily hop on the train and head to one of the trendier neighborhoods in downtown Tokyo. The second day I was here, Lauren and I hopped on the train and went to Harajuku, and decided to explore Takeshita Dori which is most famous for its street fashion. I have been lucky enough to go to Harajuku before, and no matter what type of day I’m having, it always lightens my mood. People are free to dress how they want, and express themselves in every possible in Harajuku. This love of fashion is contagious, and the people watching that Lauren and I partook in was really inspiring. It’s also really cool because you can immediately spot the current trends amongst Japanese girls. For instance, right now its frilly socks. Many girls are wearing them with heels, or boots, and they really do add an adorable girly touch to any outfit.

Also in Harajuku, Laren and I discovered an arcade where we took プリクラ (purikura). Purikura are pictures that are taken in a photo booth, which can then be drawn on and printed out as stickers. There’s really nothing like it in the United States, and it’s so much fun to do with friends.

Tomorrow I am planning on going to La La Port, which is a really popular mall here in Tokyo. I will take some more purikura, and now that I have a prepaid cell phone (which I highly recommend) I will be able to scan the photos right on to my phone and upload them. Therefore, you guys can see what I’m talking about.

In terms of the phones, I really suggest getting one. It’s a very convenient way to keep in touch with friends, and a vital way for the school, dorm managers, or family to get in touch with you in case of an emergency. It’s fairly cheap ( you can decide how many minutes to pay for), and you can recharge the minutes every month at local convenient stores or online. Phones are a key part of modern Japanese culture, and almost everyone has one. Instead of talking on the train, many people spend their time texting or playing games on their phones. It’s pretty interesting to watch, and to take part in.

Well, thats all for now! I’m still feeling a bit sleepy at the end of a long school day, so it’s off to bed for me!