Monthly Archives: April 2012

Saying Sayonara

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Well, here we are!  Sadly, the end of my first and last study abroad semester here at Temple University Japan is upon us.  Going home is so bittersweet. There is the joy of finally being able to see my family and friends; of finally being able to understand what everyone around me is saying; of being able to go to a restaurant and actually convey what I want to order.  On the other hand, there is the deep sadness of leaving all of the great friends that I have made during my stay here and of leaving a country that has become my second home.

Making the flight to Tokyo feels like just yesterday. It is very easy for me to remember all of the nervousness and anxious energy I had in my stomach the whole way to the Ontakesan dorm.  I was so nervous about making new friends in a new country, new school and in a new culture.  But I am so beyond glad that I made the journey here.

Photo courtesy of TUJ Office of Student Services

One of my favorite memories of my time in Japan was definitely going on the Kansai trip.  And not just because it was my birthday! The scenery was beautiful, the shrines were impeccable and the food was delicious.  It was so interesting to see a different part of Japan than the capital city of Tokyo.  While still bustling, it was lovely to see a more traditional and slowed down city like Kyoto or Nara.  It was also a great bonding experience amongst friends and fellow TUJ students.  I’ll never forget being able to stay in a traditional Japanese tatami-mat room with my friends or feeding the deer in Nara as they chased all of us around. It was unlike anything that I have ever experienced before.

Leaving Japan is going to be very difficult and emotional.  I truly dread having to say goodbye to all of my new friends and classmates that I have met here.  Everyone is so unique and I feel so lucky to have met them.  The nervousness energy that I felt coming here, I can feel again as I am leaving.  My study abroad experience with TUJ has been the most amazing experience in my entire life.  I met the most kindhearted and interesting professors, I have seen some of the most beautiful places in the world and I have expanded my horizons to an entirely new culture and world.  Everyday there was something new to be felt, seen, eaten, or to be experienced.  Never a day went by that was not fulfilling or exciting.  Thank you Temple University Japan, thank you friends, thank you Japan!

From Tokyo to Kyoto

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From Tokyo to Kyoto

Get ready for a storm of pictures – pictures that will make you never want to see another cherry blossom or temple ever again.

Just kidding. But seriously, if you want to see your share of sakura, temples/shrines, and geisha – you must make your way to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, and the heart of its ancient culture.

First up, we all met at Shinagawa station in Tokyo. Everyone had to wake up super early to meet up, so half of them were half-asleep while the other half was buzzing with excitement. Luckily everyone showed up on time, so we all hopped on the Nozomi Shinkansen (新幹線), otherwise known as the famous bullet train. And yes, it travels very, very fast.

Here I was, all comfortable and reclined, ready for a nice long nap… only to be woken up about three hours or so later, to discover we were already in Kyoto. Talk about fast.

After switching to a local train, we took it to the… middle of nowhere. It was a huge change of scenery for most of us, as many of us hadn’t seen such open land in a long time. Tokyo isn’t exactly the most river, forest, and mountain friendly city here in Japan. So we took our time, taking everything in, and simply absorbed our surroundings. It started to get drizzly, so Haru had to put me back in her bag. It was a good thing too, since our next event was the Hozugawa (保津川) boat ride.

Here it is: our vessel. Haru and a few of her friends got front row seats, which meant some serious splashing form the rapids. Therefore, before we went anywhere, the lot of them were bundled up in plastic sheets.

It was a good thing too, because the weather was ridiculously unpredictable. One minute it was sunny, the next it was raining, and after that it was HAILING. Yes, hailing. Here’s a photo of Brittani and Yuan huddled under the plastic sheet wrap.

Next up was the Rurouni Kenshin bridge, for those of you who know what I’m talking about. That’s not its real name, but we couldn’t remember the real name of the bridge – just that it was the inspiration for the scene where Kenshin and Misao defeated a gang of thugs by destroying said bridge. At least that’s what Tonghwi said. And I’ll take our awesome student guide’s words at face value. After all, he’s lived in Kyoto for a while, and goes to Kyoto University too.

Anyway, you can also see a maiko, a geisha in training, walking with her entourage. There were plenty of them walking about Kyoto. It’s just not something you see here in Tokyo.

After eating lunch nearby, we went off to see Tenryu-ji (天龍寺), a super famous Buddhist temple with its famed gardens.

Although it was still rather cold and not all the flowers were blooming, it was still a sight to behold.

Soon after, we went to visit the Nonomiya Jinja (野宮神社), a Shinto shrine situated almost right next door. The shrine is especially famous for its amazing bamboo path. When the wind breathes through its sheltering foliage, the entire area is filled with music so sweet and a feeling so enchanting, that its as if the path belonged to another world altogether.

It was so beautiful, so otherworldly, that I believe I have turned into a poet during my short stay there.

Of course, for those who wanted to see sakura, or cherry blossoms in bloom, Kyoto had them by the road-full.

Here we are, walking into the Gion district. And if you are familiar with the name, you’ll know its home to the geisha. While we did pas a few geisha in training, Haru was more interested in capturing scenic photos.

With our three Kyoto University student guides leading us, we walked through the area visiting several stores.

For instance, here’s the Studio Ghibli store that Haru and her friends just HAD to visit. Being fans of Ghibli films and all, it was something none of them could pass up.

Of course, visiting this area also meant having to see the Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), an Eastern Kyoto temple that has achieved super-star fame as far as Japanese temples go. It’s associated to making wishes come true, such as finding true love.

In the Edo period, people actually believed that jumping from the Kiyomizu-dera’s stage and surviving the 13 meter drop would grant their wishes. Don’t try it though, since it’s more suicidal than anything. Not only is it prohibited these days, but let’s say you wish to become the world’s best-looking athlete. Even if you survive the fall, surely you’d have a few permanent injuries to the limbs and face. How would that wish come true then?

Anyway, the walk through the temple at night makes for a fantastic spot for a night time photo shoot. But even photos cannot capture what it actually felt like being there, watching the temple grounds light up at night.

After the walkthrough though, this is what people looked like.

As night fell, it was time to head to the hotel for some good food and a good rest. And it wasn’t just any hotel we went to – we actually lodged at a temple, the Hongan-ji Monpo-Kaikan to be exact.

The food was delicious, and the rooms were super comfortable. And for my public-bath-loving friend, it had a great hot tub.

Our adventures in the Kansai area are not over yet! Next up, I’ll tell you about the deer we met and fed in Nara.

Until then,

Rowan

Seizing Moments

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Spring is finally here in Japan.  The cherry blossoms are almost in full bloom.  Which means over the next few weeks I maybe invited to a few 花見 (hanami) parties by my friends.  Although spring is a symbol for new beginnings, there are so many things around me that seem to be ending.  The semester is finally coming to an end.  Some of my Japanese friends have graduated and are now entering the working society.  My study abroad friends are preparing to assimilate back into American society; everyday I see leftover Domino’s pizza boxes in the dorm trash cans, and other various American brands.  Even I myself brought a few boxes of Pringle’s recently, I guess my food cravings are subconscious indicators of homesickness.  Even with all of these things coming to a close around me, I feel like my adventure in Japan is still unfolding.  I have decided to extend my stay for the summer semester, and take in as much as I can in these next four months.

palance

Imperial Palace Grounds

It’s almost weird to feel accustomed to living in a place other than my home.  The first six weeks just felt like an extended vacation.  As time progressed, the repetitive school schedule began to reflect in my attitude.  I began to feel more and more apart of the society.  Unconsciously, I started to use Japanese gestures and expressions in my daily conversation, even if I was speaking in English.  I developed a “Where’s Waldo” mentality; some days I felt as if I blended in to the point at which I could not be distinguished from other Japanese.  Then moments later I’d snap out of it, looking around the train and seeing so many faces that don’t like mine.  It almost feels like a dream.

Ikegami Line

The emptiest train I've ever been on in Tokyo

As I write this on my birthday, reflecting back on the time spent here so far, I can say that there is one lasting lesson I’ve learned while living here.  Live Life in the Moment.  A year ago today I had lost all my intentions of coming to Japan.  Family and friends were worried because of 3/11, and tried everything they could to persuade me not to take the flight across the Pacific.  I let their thoughts get the best of me and gave up.  Fortunately, I remembered months later that I had to do this.  This is experience has taught me so many things I may have never realized had I let my family get the best of me.  Although I have no reason to, I kind of feel selfish for being in that small percentage of college students that study abroad.  My friends back at home always joke with me about how jealous they are because they are still in America.  People (including myself) always have an excuse for why they can’t do something.  If anything I hope that my experiences influence others to find a way around those excuses.  Every college student needs to do this!

Ikegami Shrine