Monthly Archives: January 2012

It’s raining Lolitas!

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Hello Everyone!

I hope this week finds you well. The weather here in Tokyo this week has just been crazy. Not only was there a small earthquake, but there was also days and days of rain and wet snow. And here I thought I was getting away from bad winter weather  in Ohio! Nope, just followed me here to Japan. Anyways, when it becomes rainy here in Japan, that is when you can really see some beautiful things. Everyone has their umbrellas open, which seem to be all the same clear, umbrellas, careful not to whack each other in the head. And yes, I will admit that I did almost hit my friend with my umbrella. It was an accident! Things can get a bit overwhelming in the mass of people, especially when there are umbrellas involved.

Weather aside, this week was actually pretty great. It was my friend’s birthday here and she managed to plan this wonderful afternoon at a Gothic Lolita tea house. For those that do not know, Gothic Lolita’s can usually be found wearing heavy makeup, dark colors, religious jewelry and some Victorian-esque dresses. They really have a style all their own, so it can be a bit difficult to try to describe them. I think you’ll see what I mean. Anyhow, a few of us made the trip to Shinjuku to celebrate…Lolita style!

Tucked away in an alley, and up some extremely narrow stairs was this tea house called Sumire no Tenmado (or Violet Skylight).  I have been to tea parlors in America, but this was nothing like it, except for the fact that they were serving tea. The room was very small, about the size of my dorm room, and everything was being operated by one woman. We all felt so bad for being such a big group for her to try to handle on her own. However I have noticed that Japanese service in restaurants or cafes, it much more efficient. They even have a pager for you to buzz them!

While we were there, we took in the beautiful hand-drawn artwork and décor. We sipped on tea, homemade mecha chocolate cake (that’s green tea cake!) and coffee.  The woman serving us even made the whipped cream herself while we were waiting!  Everything in the small room was beautiful, even the bathrooms were decorated flawlessly.  I can safely say that I have never been to a pace like this every before. Even Tim Burton was there once! Does that mean that I met someone famous? No, I guess not.

If Gothic Lolita is something that you are interested in, I would definitely recommend going to this tea house, Sumire no Tenmado. While it is not traditional Japan, it certainly is something that I think everyone should experience first hand. Our time there was so lovely that none of us wanted to leave and head back home in the rain!

Understanding Culture Shock

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Wow, I can’t believe I have been in Tokyo for over three weeks already.  So many things have happened in such a small amount of time.  Everyday I wake up, still thinking that my time here is simply just a dream.  Sociologists would say that I am in the “honeymoon” phase of culture shock: a time in which one is still drifting through “la la land” thinking that the new environment they are experiencing is too good to be true.  Based on my own experiences I would like to give this phase of culture shock an entirely different name: “realization and reflection.”  In my time here, I have realized so many things about my home society, and also have had a significant amount of time to reflect on my own life.  Realization and reflection is an ongoing process.  For now I will tell you guys how things are going so far, and will periodically come back to this topic throughout the semester.

I never really thought about how much I relied on the English language until I was getting ready to leave Narita Airport.  I had to take a bus into the city in order to get to my dorm.  When I went to purchase my bus ticket I started to speak a few words in Japanese, until I realized I did not have enough vocabulary under my belt to even finish the sentence.  I could not help but laugh at myself: for the first time in my adulthood I was really illiterate.  I finished the rest of my sentence in English, hoping the attendant would understand what I was saying.  Fortunately she did.  From that point on I had to figure out creative ways to explain to people what I was trying to say.  Even with my small bank of survival vocabulary, I still find myself miming in restaurants and convenience stores.

Growing up in America, I developed the idea that crime can happen anywhere.  I thought that it was a natural part of society that just had to be accepted and dealt with.  I could not even imagine how a city with little to no crime would even look like.  Tokyo showed me that a society like this is possible.  Although citizens of Japan by law have no civil rights, I do not think this is the main reason why there is so little crime.  The societal values that elders instill in the children are what make Japan what it is today.  Children are taught how to be polite and respectful, and that an educated person is a more moral person (according to Buddhist teachings).  The society has switched to that of an educational meritocracy, in which everyone has a chance to get a good education and the opportunity to get into some of the best colleges in Japan.  Parents with legacies at prestigious colleges can’t pull strings to get their child in, it’s all based on their academic merit.  In addition, others say that Japan has low crime simply because of the group mentality instilled in the people: they all see each other as one and therefore lose their individuality.  If anything, Japan is filled with as many individuals as America.  Yet in America, our individuality is not always used in a productive way.  Race separates us.  Religion separates us.  Status separates us.  Therefore, we tend to become only concerned with those close to us, and not think about the bigger societal picture.  I am not saying that Japan has the perfect societal structure, but there are definitely somethings that America can learn from their overseas friends.

My own personal transformation has been somewhat interesting to experience.  So far I have redeveloped the “double consciousness” which I had maintained for sometime in my mostly white high school.  The double consciousness, a term created by W.E.B. Dubois, says that an individual has the ability to think about himself, as well as think about what others think of him simultaneously.  In high school, I was always concerned about whether or not I was being a stereotypical “black guy” in the eyes students and teachers, or if they could discern the individuality that my skin color could have been hiding.  In college this feeling gradually dissipated, because I was now in a much more diverse environment.  Now that I am no longer in a racially diverse environment, this feeling of a double conscious has resurfaced.  Sometimes people will stare at me and I’ll think, “What did I do? Did I do something wrong?”  Since Japan is such a high context society, people will not really tell you if you did something wrong, they’ll just assume you know your wrong.  So far in my time here, I have no evidence to prove that I have been treated differently because of my background.  I guess the fact that I am in a different environment is why I have these double thoughts every once in a while.  If anything, I am just concerned with respecting their society, just like they have respected me since I have been here.  Well, that ends another blog post.  Until next week, じゃまた!

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A Day in Geek City

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Image          Last week, a couple of my friends and I decided to go to out on an adventure to a section of the city that we haven’t visited yet.  One of my friends brought up the idea of going to Harajuku.  Since it was Sunday, cosplayers would be at the Jingu Bridge.  So we all decided hop on the train to Harajuku, and check out all the crazy costumes and possibly get some pictures with the cosplayers.

Cosplay is very popular in Japan.   In a way, it provides some Japanese youth an outlet of expression in a highly polite and conservative culture.  I have noticed in my short time here that fashion in general plays a huge role in how Japanese men and women mold their identity.  But I’ll save that for another blog.  Unfortunately, when we finally got to Harajuku the cosplayers had not arrived yet.  Lost on what we should do next, we noticed that waves and waves of people were walking towards the entrance of a huge shrine across the Jingu Bridge.  We followed the crowd to see what was going on.

In this huge metropolis, it was nice to be around nature for once.  Trees towered above us, and streams flowed off into the distance.  Five minutes into our walk we reached an area filled with paintings and tapestries documenting the life of the late Emperor Meiji.  Come to find out it was the 100th Anniversary of his death.   As we walked deeper into the woods, the already marathon-sized crowd got even larger.  We finally got to the Shrine, it was an amazing site.  We did not have a enough time to enter into the inner sanctuary (it was a 2+ hour wait) but just seeing the gardens and the Shrine itself left us more than satisfied.

We must have been in the Shrine complex for hours because by the time we got back to Jingu Bridge, most of the cosplayers had already left.  We figured that we should come back another day and head to another interesting part of the city: Akihabara.  Akihabara or “Geek City” as I call it, is an overload on anime, technology, videogames, and anything else you might need to fulfill your inner おたく(prounounced otaku which means nerd).   Once we got there, we saw the massive Club Sega arcade.  As we walked down the street we saw another huge arcade, and then an even larger one!  Arcades were everywhere.  There were shops seven stories high consisting of nothing but manga and anime.  Other shops sold all different types of computer parts and pieces, new and used.   18 wheelers with gigantic televisions on each side were periodically rolling down the street, displaying ads for new artists as well as blasting their music.

We all were hungry, and the sensory overload was only making our pangs worse.  So we decided to get some crepes (which tasted better than crepes at Temple Main) and then head to the Taito Game Station.  The Taito Game Station is a six story arcade filled with classic arcade titles, new games which you can’t play in the US, and crane games.  I just could not get over the fact that arcades are still extremely popular here, whereas in the States they are pretty much nonexistent.  You would expect in an arcade a bunch of young kids and teenagers hanging out but surprisingly there were a lot of salary men and young adults as well.  Some were playing rhythm games, others were playing Street Fighter.  After working our way from the top floor down we headed across the street to one of the Club Sega arcades.  Expecting to see some of the same games in the previous arcade, there was actually more of a variety in this one.  I sat down an played a few rounds of Virtua Fighter until I was shamefully beaten by an unknown opponent (the systems are set up so you cannot see who is sitting across from you).  We stayed worked our way through the various floors and got ready to head back to Ontakesan.

What a long and eventful day.  It seems as if there is always something going on here in Tokyo.  A lifetime wouldn’t even be enough to fully experience the city for what it really is, and I only have four months!  Well until the next post, peace!

Skyline View

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Hey everyone! It’s Rowan here again. I wanted to show you what I did this past weekend… I almost got to go bungee jumping off a 781’ tall skyscraper in the Roppongi Hills on Saturday!
  

Haru had to go on a field trip for her art history class, so she and her friend, Nina, took me to the Mori Art Museum on the 55th floor of the Mori Tower. And when I say tower, I mean the kind that you can’t tell where it touches the sky! I asked Haru if I could go bungee jumping, but she said I wasn’t tall enough for the ride. So I asked her to go bungee jump for me, but then she said she was too short as well. If you ask me though, 5’1” doesn’t seem short at all!

When we got there to see the exhibit, Haru had to put me away so I didn’t get to see anything… But I’ve been to the Metropolitan Museum in New York before, and I always fall asleep. Haru says it’s because I’m a little kid though. And she told me the Meta…Me-metalbowl…ism… show didn’t allow people to touch anything, so I would have been really bored. But Haru and Nina took me to see the observatory at the very top of the tower after they were done taking notes!

 

Nina was wondering why there were poles sticking out of the floor into the ceiling. But what got me was how the city looked as flat as a carpet rolled out under her feet! Normally, humans look like towers to me, but the humans on the streets below were so small that I couldn’t even see them!
 

And look at me! That red thing behind me is the Tokyo Tower. Haru found out a lot of it was made out of recycled steel from damaged US tanks used during the Korean war. I hope Haru will take me there one of these days.

The room near the observatory’s café was SO BIG. To me, at least…

 I wanted to use the binoculars, but it’s hard to see through them if your head is too small to fit right.

 

So Haru let me sit on a stone bench to look out the window. People kept giving us weird looks, but the sun felt so good and Tokyo looked so cool, I didn’t care. Even my kitty, Komame, was straining to get closer to the view.

After leaving the tower, Nina and Haru went back to the Japanese gardens outside to take pictures. There, they saw some kids playing with a dog. I wanted to go pet him too, but Haru wouldn’t let me.

But I got to get close to the water. It looked so pretty – like the sky was living inside of it.

I almost got to jump in, but Haru grabbed me before I could. I’ve never seen anyone turn so white and floppy so quickly, as if they had suddenly turned into paper. When I asked why I couldn’t go swimming, she just made a face at me and said I’ve never taken a swimming class before.

Anyway, I wish I could have had more freedom to do the things I wanted to do, but I don’t mind right now. This visit is far from over after all!

Rowan

Afternoon Exploration

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Classes at TUJ have been going great so far. All of the professors have been so kind and helpful to all of those adjusting and just arriving in Japan.  Some of the professors are native Japanese, while others are American or from different places around the world.  So are the students! Not only are there American and Japanese students, but so far I have met classmates from Pakistan, Morocco and Finland. There is so much diversity here and it is a great place to learn about other cultures, of course.  This past week, after an early day of classes had wrapped up, a few of my friends and I decided to go exploring!

Off to Roppongi we went! Now, Roppongi certainly has a reputation amongst TUJ students and other travelers as well. While it is known for its nightlife, a few of my friends and I were curious to check it out during the day time. Suffice to say, we were  just a little nervous. We had yet to stray very far from our comfort zones of the specific train lines we use everyday to get to school and back to Ontakesan. I am sure that you can image that train stations can get a little scary if you do not know where you are going; the mass of people sort of jostling you around, trying to get to their platforms as they just happen to know exactly which direction they want to go. I have visited large cities before and traveled on their train systems, but have never really experienced anything on the trains like I have here in Tokyo.  But that is a whole other blog entry. However, I must say, it really was worth the confusion and extra minutes trying to find our way.

While Roppongi is known for its nightlife, what I saw was actually a lot of sophisticated shops, restaurants, museums as well as outdoor exhibits. The biggest one we encountered was a structure that was built to look like a spider towering over anyone that passes under it. Next to it was the Mori Art Museum which featured a beautiful sky deck view of the Tokyo Tower. I have yet to visit the Tokyo Tower, but just seeing it from a distance was awe inspiring.

There was a beautiful girl waiting in a kimono under the spider. I felt a little strange taking pictures of her, but I could not pass it up.

One major cultural difference that I viewed while in Roppongi especially, a high class and expensive city, is the difference in clothing style between Tokyo and my little town in Ohio. Everyone here is dressed in their most fashionable attire, even just to go to the grocery store. I have yet to see anyone here walking around in sweatpants or a young female without any makeup on. The people in this city really take pride in their appearance everyday.

Although I am sure that some might be apprehensive to visit Roppongi, do not count it out just yet.  There really are some beautiful gems tucked away in this neighborhood.

Home Base in Tokyo

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Hello from Tokyo!

It’s been about a week since I landed at Narita Airport and traveled to my host family’s home in Kanagawa Prefecture, where I’ll be staying for this Spring semester. Now everyday, I find myself making my way into the heart of the city, to Minato-ku, where Temple University Japan is located. It’s an adventure everyday just to make it to school, and a bit of a heart-stopping one since it’s my first time leaving the States for so long. There’s a whole different world out there, and it’s all intimidating at first.

But people are built to adapt and explore, which means meeting new people and making new friends. I’m surprised by what I’ve already learned in just the first week of my stay. It’s very surprising how many different points of views I’ve encountered while living here.

It’s all very exciting and new, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. But yes, sometimes I’ve felt lost and a little frustrated with myself since my Japanese speaking skills are not as smooth as I want them to be yet. The simplest things, like asking for directions or how things work, has made me brain freeze on more than one occasion. Although the people living here are understanding, I can’t help but feel somewhat embarrassed. That’s when I just wanted a place to speak English freely without feeling awkward.

Yes, this is Temple University Japan campus. It’s like home base, and I’ve met a lot of new friends already – Japanese, American, German, Swiss, Chinese, French, Australian, Mexican, etc. alike. It’s home base to about 40% Japanese students, 40% American students, and 10% of students from over 60 different countries around the world! Impressive right?

Already I’ve been out eating and exploring with friends. Recently, we went to a little restaurant called Asian Kebab, located somewhere between Shirogane-Takanawa metro station and TUJ. Japan’s a haven for good food, and it’s hard to go wrong.

After lunch, we found ourselves leaving the cozy little restaurant and heading back to TUJ, ready to go our separate ways for our afternoon classes.

But before we parted ways, I wanted to talk a bit more with my new friend. Kristina and I hit it off really well, and talked a lot together. She’s from Missouri, and she’s a Japan Campus student – not to mention the last home-stay student who lived with my host family in Yokohama last year.

Oh, and that’s me – the little guy sitting next to her. I forgot to introduce myself earlier. My name’s Rowan, and I’m a Volks Yo-SD boy, a Japanese BJD or “ball-jointed doll.” You’ll find a lot of my resin kin wandering around the streets of Japan with their human friends. They’re all over the place, and I’m not kidding! I’ll get Haru to take me to Shinjuku or somewhere, and I’ll show you. Japan was actually where I was born… but since I don’t remember anything, we’ll just call this my first real visit.

Join me on more adventures! I’ll tell them to you through my human friend, Haru, as I make her type it all down for me.

Till next time,

Rowan

First Time Foreigner

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ImageGreetings from Tokyo!!  Hi everyone, my name is Eric, a BTMM student from Temple University.  Having lived in Philadelphia my entire life, I have never left the country (vacations to the Bahamas don’t count).  Studying abroad in Tokyo, Japan is the first time I have ever ventured into a foreign land.  People have asked me, why study in Japan?  Why go so far?  The answer is really simple: I want to grow out of my comfort zone.  I thought that the best way I could do that was to implant myself into an entirely different culture, whose language I barely know.  Over the next few months I will be telling you all about my experiences here in Nihon.  So let’s get started:

Coming here to Tokyo I had an understanding that it was a huge, megacity.  It didn’t really hit me until I visited Shibuya.  This city really is massive!  From our dorm in Ontakesan my friend Amelia and I took the Tokyu Ikegami train line and transferred over onto the JR Yamanote line to Shibuya.  The subway and train lines are your best bet to getting around in Tokyo.  They literally go everywhere in the city, and all the maps and signs are in both Japanese and English.  As we followed the exit signs out of the Shibuya Station, I could sense the swarm of people around us getting larger and larger.  Before I knew it I was walking through Shibuya Crossing, one of the largest intersections in the world.  It was almost too much to take in, so I savored as much as I could before the street light changed.  From that point on, the streets branched out and winded further.  I felt like I was at the entrance of an amusement park.  We decided to continue straight ahead and hit the other streets on the way back.

One thing I noticed about Tokyo, is that on some streets (particularly those without sidewalks) it is perfectly fine to walk on the streets themselves.  Since so many people were out that Saturday, the streets were filled with more people than actual cars.  After a few blocks of walking we decided to go into Book-Off: a multi-floor book/videogame/movie/used clothing store.  Book-Off is known for its vast collection of used products.  We worked our way through the music on the first floor and then made our way to the second floor, which was filled with movies.  A significant amount of which were in English, or English-dubbed.  I’ll definitely be back to pick up a few animes before the semester ends.  The third and fourth floors were filled with books and manga.  Coming from a country with a dying a comic book culture, I could not believe how much manga was here that never reaches the states.  On top of that, these floors were the most populated.  Children were reading Naruto, businessmen were reading Bleach, women were reading romance mangas.  The comics section of Barnes & Noble is probably the last place I’d find my parents, and I bet you could say the same about yours.  Yet in Tokyo it is the complete opposite.

Scooting our way around all the intent readers in the manga section, we finally made it to the elevators and hit the streets.  Eventually we stumbled upon the Bape Store.  Short for “A Bathing Ape,” the Bape brand was brought to the States and popularized by Pharrell and his N.E.R.D band mates.  Having and interest in street fashion, I could not help but enter the legendary store.  It was truly one of the more unique stores I have visited in my life.

Well, that pretty much sums up my first visit to Shibuya, there is still so much more that I have yet to explore.  Be on the look out for next week’s blog on “otaku” culture in Akihabara!

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Finally in Tokyo!

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Hello everyone!

This is my first official entry, so I thought I should introduce myself. My name is Danielle and I am a 20 year-old Junior, majoring in Communication with an Asian Studies minor. I can usually be found at Mercyhurst College but this semester I am here studying abroad at Temple University Japan!  I hope this blog will give some great insight to those interested in studying abroad with TUJ as well as those interested in Japan!

It’s been almost a week since I’ve left the United States and wow, has it been a whirlwind!  These past few days have been some of the most exciting in my whole life!  I still cannot believe I am here in Tokyo, Japan! Wow! Flying halfway across the world was an interesting and long journey, to say the least.  I have never really flown before, and as the woman in the Narita Airport pointed out to me, I sure am a long way from home!  From security to immigration to customs, from Chicago to Narita to the Sheraton Miyaoko Hotel, from planes to shuttles to buses and taxis…Phew!  It was nice to finally arrive at the always comforting Ontakesan dorm for some much needed rest and relaxation, even with the always dreaded jetlag.  It doesn’t matter how tired I am, my body just does not want to sleep when I want it to.  But do not worry, slowly, it is wearing off.

En route to Ontakesan!

Meeting my fellow classmates has been a wonderful experience.  With Temple University being one of the most diverse universities in the country, it comes as no surprise that everyone here has an interesting story to share.  Before orientation, one of the first things we did as a group to get to know one another and the area was to explore our neighborhood.  There are so many tucked-away gems in our little town! One of my favorite places so far has been the fruit and vegetable market. Sandwiched between the two giant grocery stores (one is 3 floors!), the small veggie stand seems to be the most popular.  I have never seen apples and oranges the size of small pumpkins, or carrots the size of bricks anywhere in the United States!  It is a great and healthy alternative to buying our food from convince stores or the 7-11 just a bit further down the road.

Ontakesan Fruit Market

Amongst all of this running around, I have noticed a very big cultural difference: the extent that people will go for others in Japan.  For example, it did not matter to Aki, the dorm manager, or Yuki, one of the TUJ students, how heavy or large my suitcases were, they offered to carry them for me every inch of the way.  How polite!  Or, for instance when the staff of the Narita Limo Bus Company literally ran to hold the bus so it would not leave with out me.  On the other hand, I was not so lucky however, many hours before as I fumbled through the Chicago Airport with my 2 large bags, unsure if I would even be able to find my gate.

It has only been a few days but I am truly enjoying my experience here at TUJ and I hope you will enjoy my future blog entries!