Category Archives: Temple Japan

Castles and Eels (or Catching Up With Friends)

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I am currently writing this entry sitting on a shinkansen heading back to Tokyo from Shizuoka Prefecture, where I spent a close to perfect day seeing castles, art museums, and splendid temples. I woke up bright and early to catch a train to meet up with my friend and former tutor student, Yumiko. Yumiko and I worked together for my entire freshman year of college, when I tutored her in English at the Nationalities Services Center in Philadelphia. We were an odd pairing indeed—me a red jeans-clad, skull wearing 19-20 year old and her, a Japanese woman in her thirties who had just moved to Philadelphia with her husband so he could do research at UPenn. Shaky lessons of me talking too fast and having no idea what to do soon transformed into excellent conversations and lessons on idioms, colloquialisms, and grammar and we bonded over shared interests in our weekly lessons. Unfortunately, they had to move back to Japan in June 2013, and I was left saddened by the thought of never seeing her again. We kept in touch via email for the past year, and our continued contact helped spark my interest in Japan and learning Japanese. When I found out I would indeed be coming to Japan, Yumiko and I set a time to meet up. She lives in Shizuoka Prefecture and she offered to show me around. I was more than happy to get out of the city for a day.

A slow, uncontrolled smile crept onto my face as I disembarked the shinkansen at Shizuoka Station. It’s been over a year since Yumiko and I said our last goodbye in Philadelphia, and over email she had promised a day full of sightseeing and the chance to pick our own tea leaves. Unfortunately, the tea leaf picking was rained out, but we visited Kakegawa Castle and made up for the rainy afternoon with a visit to the Shiseido Corporate Museum and Art House and the Hattasan Soneiji Temple, all after a delicious lunch of grilled unagi.  Unagi, or eel, is particularly famous in Shizuoka and while I inwardly cringed at the thought of eating eel for lunch, I didn’t want to say no. Well, I’m glad I went for it, because unlike the eel sushi I’ve eaten in PA, fresh, grilled unagi is quite oishii* and not chewy whatsoever.

The rainy afternoon was spent poking around Kakegawa Castle, a reconstruction of the original 15th Century stronghold from the Bunmei Era. We befriended a ninja, inhaled the fragrant smell of tatami, and took in the incredible views both of and from the castle before venturing the the Shiseido Museum and Art House. As you probably know, Shiseido is the largest cosmetics company in Japan, as well as one of the oldest. The Shiseido Museum provided an interesting visual and audio history of the company from humble beginnings to cosmetics empire. The presentation and content were, at least to me, quite interesting, although I’m sure many a male visitor may not have thought the same. The Art House is a gallery-like museum filled with paintings and sculptures from various well-known contemporary Japanese artists.

IMG_1800 Kakegawa Castle in the misty afternoon

We finished off our sightseeing for the day with a visit to the beautiful Hattasan Soneji Temple, a Buddhist temple set in a gorgeous, mountain woodland, before heading back to Shizuoka and a sushi dinner. When Yumiko suggested sushi, my American mind immediately pictured a couple of tuna rolls and instant happiness. My American mind was a little off the mark. This sushi was the real deal. Chefs directly in front of us at the counter expertly sliced, diced, and served up ultra-fresh cuts of everything under the sun. From squid tentacle, which is not bad-tasting but just too chewy, to the most heavenly tuna and mackerel, it certainly was an experience to remember. I swallowed several bites of slimy baby sardines and while the taste didn’t bother me, their judging little eyes made it difficult to want to pop them in my mouth. The chunk of their mom that came later in the meal, however, was delicious, and in my sick sense of humor I made sure to acquaint parent and child before devouring the delicious former. I enjoyed all the different types of fish, most of which I’d never eaten before, and even managed to tolerate the chewiness of squid. The one exception to the tastiness of the meal came in the form of the expensive delicacy that is sea urchin. If you’ve never tasted sea urchin before, it is impossible to describe. It’s not fishy. In fact, it doesn’t particularly taste like any sea creature I’ve ever eaten before. The flavor is decidedly…”non-Western,” and even Yumiko, who loves it, admitted it is an acquired taste. I regret to say I have clearly not yet acquired that specific taste, but determined to at least try everything, I choked down the orange-y blob as best I could. Despite the unfortunate flavor of my formerly spiky friend, the sushi meal was a well-enjoyed and exceedingly memorable end to an excellent day.

IMG_1857 Sea urchin. Looks harmless, no?

The sights and taste of Shizuoka Prefecture are wonderful, but the best part of the day was reconnecting with an old friend. I hope to see her again someday soon, either here in Japan or back in the states. Seeing her brightened the end of a stressful and exhausting last week of classes and provided a respite from the hustle and bustle of both Tokyo and academic life. We may have been from completely different worlds when we met in October 2012, but despite our apparent differences, all it takes to reconnect with someone you care about is a little grilled unagi.

IMG_1858Not the best picture, but the only one of all three of us!

Terms:

Like I said, unagi is eel.

A shinkansen is a bullet train. They really are fast.

Oishii is the Japanese word for delicious


 

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

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The roar of the crowd, the bright lights overhead, vendors winding their way up and down stairways peddling snacks and drinks? For a moment, the raucous atmosphere of the game left me thinking I was home in Philly, cheering on Utley, Howard, and Hamels. But the friendly smiles of the rosy-cheeked beer vendors selling cans of Asahi for 520 yen stood out in sharp contrast to the sweaty, noisy, gruff old men who hawk $8 Bud Lights at Citizens Bank Park, reminding me that I was cheering for the Hanshin Tigers, not the Phillies. Japanese chants mixed with the English, “God Baystars!” as blue-clad supports rooted for the home team, while across the stadium a sea of yellow and black performed perfectly memorized chants and flag-waving that spurred the Tigers to eventual victory over the Yokohama Baystars.

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I love a good baseball game. Heck, I even love a bad baseball game (as a Phillies fan, I have little choice in this). The Baystars-Tigers game we attended on Saturday night was scoreless for most of the game, but that didn’t stop the fans from cheering like their lives depended on it. Towards the end of the game, the Tigers finally managed to knock in a solo home run, followed an inning or two later by another home run, bringing their total score up to 3 against the Baystars’ big, fat, zero. Aside from some minor suspense in the bottom of the 9th, the Tigers had the game in the bag, ending the night with a 3-0 victory over the home team. It might be easy to generalize something as simultaneously American and Japanese as baseball, saying that the two were “exactly the same” or that American baseball and its huge stadiums and glittering jumbo-trons are “better,” but the truth is that there were quite a few ways in which the two countries have completely different games on their hands. Sure, the game play is relatively identical, but when you think about it, there’s so much more to baseball than just how the teams function.

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In the US (at least in Philly), booing is practically as common as cheering, directed toward both the home and away teams. The opposing team scores? Time to boo! The home team commits an error? More booing! You don’t like the umpire, or the batter, or some random fan in the crowd? Hey, why not boo them, too? I once sat next to a man who returned to his seat in the midst of a volley of boos that were due to a bad call. He look around, cried, “Why is everyone booing? I like booing!” and proceeded to shout and hiss and spit as loud as he could. At the Baystars-Tigers game, there was no booing. None.  Not at all. Half the stadium was comprised of Tigers fan in Baystars territory, and not one of them received a single “boo” from the home team’s rabid fan base! I didn’t know that was possible! The positivity and team spirit of the fans was apparent not only in their lack of anti-cheers, but the precision and enthusiasm of their favored team chants and songs as well. Complex songs lead by trumpet and brass (there was no organ to be found), were sung in full voice by entire sections of the crowd. Volleys of percussive noise flew out into the stands in rhythmic beats as every single Tigers fan hit their noise-makers or clapped their hands or banged on any conceivable surface. Cheerleaders ran out onto the field with the Baystars mascots to lead the enthusiastic crowd in song and dance. The love for the team was apparent in full force, but the seething hatred for the opposition so signature in American sports was conspicuously absent. Everyone was just there, decked out in team colors from head-to-toe, to cheer on their team and have a great time. After the Tigers’ win, disappointed-looking Baystars fans lined up and shook hands with us and other victorious Hanshin supporters, proving that the love of one team does not have to equate being a bad sportsman or sore loser towards everyone else.

 

Adventures at Nagatoro and more

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Pretty lights against the night sky as we waited for our dinner

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Little did we know, we’d be cooking out own food!

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This was taken before we went rafting at Nagatoro

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We got instructions on what to do before we departed

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And took an unexpected group shot

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Study abroad students on the river.

Pictured: Trevor Flournoy (Champlain College), Paarth Malkan (Main Campus), Louis Graup (Main Campus), Ryan Fish (Indiana University), and Neil Sullivan (Main Campus)

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Pictured SA students: Chris Daily, Rasmy Nguyen, and Alex Chisar (All from Main Campus)

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Pictured: Daniel Kim, Maggie Lindrooth, Mike Allen, Michael Vy, Amanda Entenberg, Jeffrey Chan and Chloe Lieberman

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And the all-female boat

Pictured: Sara Birchard and Robin Zheng

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Afterwards, we relaxed by going to an onsen

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Chris Dailey (Main Campus) spots and interesting bug outside of the onsen

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Here is a closer look…

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And then we visited the Hundred Caves of Yoshimi

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The insides of the caves

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Corrina Brown stands at the top of the Hundred Caves

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It was Tony’s birthday so we decided to surprised him by buying him a princess set in Kawagoe

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And finally, my friends and I decided to to end our week by spending our free time at this playground in Mita

 

Note: all of the river rafting photos were taken by a photographer at the site, Outdoor Center Nagatoro.

The weekend of onsen and Darumas

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TUJ students in front of a steam locomotive bound for Minakami hot springs. The beginning to a long weekend of adventure.

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View of the top of the train

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We were welcomed to Minakami by the captain. Mike Allen (Main Campus) and Amanda Entenberg (Main Campus) pose upon arrival.

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Beautiful view of the river in Suwa Gorge

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We observed a man bungee jump from the bridge. Unfortunately, none of the TUJ students participated.

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Then we went to a glass-blowing factory and museum. Here are a bunch of TUJ students watching the process . (Pictured: Louis Graup, Alex Chisar and Ryan Fish)

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The railings outside were covered in amazing hang-made glass animals and objects.

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Tree at the bottom of Ikaho Shrine. People were writing their wishes on these pieces of paper and hanging them up here.

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Then it began to rain so we ran for cover. Pictured: Eric Mousin, Alex Kosaka and Darrel Kurogawa

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And a couple of us went to a indoor archery range. (Pictured: Trevor Flournoy from Champlain College)

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A bunch of Kewpies at the Toy & Doll Museum

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Darrel Kurogawa plays pinball as other TUJ students cheer him on

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At the end of the museum trip, we even got to paint our own miniature Kewpies!

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Next, we went to the Shorinzan Daruma-ji Temple for an introduction to darumas

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Eric Mousin and I pose in front of a giant Daruma

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Finally, we went to daimon-ya where we all got to paint our own Darumas! Ours didn’t turn out quite as well as the ones in the shop

Let’s Get Traditional: Onsen, Daruma, and More

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It’s hard to believe we’ve been here over a month now. The lazy days of orientation have melted into late nights studying and busy afternoons of school and internships. The shining beacon of hope, beginning for me every Friday at 3:40, is the weekend, which promises adventures in the form of field trips, museums, parks, and nights on the town. Weekend before last we attended one of our first Temple Japan-sponsored day trips. Waking bright and early on Saturday morning at the lovely hour of 5:30am, some of the other girls and I were out the door at 6:00 sharp, heading to TUJ to hop on a bus. This bus carried us out of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and into the countryside, where we white-water rafted on the Arakawa River, were treated to a sumptuous barbecue of meat and vegetables, and spent the afternoon relaxing in an onsen. Though I was initially nervous about rafting, as I’d never done it before, the hour-plus we spent in the water was a burst of energy, adrenaline, and laughter which I sorely needed. Though the river may have bored more experienced rafters, the freezing water and rush of the rapids, as well as the healthy competition between the groups, left me wanting to hop on a plane to Colorado, New Zealand, or anywhere really, so I could raft all day. All in all, it was an excellent adventure and I ended the day excited for what the next weekend would bring.

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Our delicious post-rafting barbecue. It’s definitely a serious one-up over burgers and hot dogs.

This past weekend, we once again boarded a 6:50am bus from TUJ. This time, however, we brought our overnight bags in preparation for a stay in Gunma Prefecture in the northwest of the main island of Japan not far from Nagano. We took a historic steam train that cut through mountains and past rivers, rice beds, and small, increasingly rural communities. Unfortunately, our first day was somewhat dampened (pun maybe intended) due to rain and once we arrived at our hotel, a massive, modern take on a traditional Japanese ryokan, I spent the next two hours relaxing in the onsen and napping on my comfortable futon.

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The steam locomotive preparing for its journey.

Onsens are traditional Japanese bathhouses located near hot springs. They are most often gender-separated facilities consisting of an indoor and outdoor “bath,” full of steaming-hot mineral water where one can soak and relax. The process of going to an onsen can at first seem quite ritualized and a little strange to the unsuspecting foreigner. First things first: NO tattoos. Large, bright yellow signs adorning the walls, both at the entrance and in the changing rooms, highlight this fact loud and clear. That being said, it is overwhelmingly possible to wear a sweatshirt, long pants, or otherwise cover oneself up and sneak by the watchful eyes of the proprietors. However, if another customer is made uncomfortable by the presence of ink, it is best to leave. Once inside, there are two changing areas: one for men and one for women, in which you strip down completely before showering off. As this is done in the company of whoever else happens to be at the onsen that day, I was exceedingly glad that years of changing for plays and dance competitions cured me of any embarrassment regarding the female form. After showering, including washing hair and body, it is permissible to enter the healing waters. We sat first in a steaming indoor bath which quickly became unbearably hot, before moving outside. At our ryokan, the onsen also offered a steam room and a sauna which we took full advantage of before plunging into the cold water also on offer. As counterintuitive as it seems, there is nothing more exhausting than sitting in hot water. Relaxing, yes, but in the way that causes an entire busload of college students to fall fast asleep until dinner time.

The next day, markedly improved weather set the stage for a trip to the Temple of Daruma, in Takasaki, and then to the daruma factory, where we painted our own. The daruma doll is a traditional Japanese symbol of perseverance and good luck and can be given as a gift or kept for personal wish-fulfillment. At the time of painting, only one eye of the doll is colored in. On fulfillment of the wish or dream, the other eye is then colored. Of all the activities I’ve done here and all the sights I’ve seen, onsen and painting darumas have to be two of my favorites. These traditional parts of Japanese life are quite different from anything we have in the States. Darumas are spiritual symbols of the common idea of hope, and onsen are the best way to relax I’ve ever experienced. These past two weekend trips were necessary diversions from studying, a much-needed break, and adventures full of laughter, relaxation, spirituality, and entertainment—something that, with my nose to the grindstone most of the time, I sometimes forget is absolutely vital. In school it is unfortunately all too easy to forget that I am in Japan and on the weekends, coordinating plans with friends is fun but sometimes exhausting. Although I normally despise feeling like a tourist, here I know that I stand out as one regardless. And you know what? My camera and I are having a great time.

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A pile of darumas, brought back to the temple after a year with both eyes colored in.

Ryokan: Type of traditional Japanese inn that originated in the Edo period (1603–1868), when such inns served travelers along Japan’s highways (Wikipedia).

 

Stormy Days and Sports Night

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It was another stormy week in Tokyo. This is a view from the balcony of the Kitazono Women’s Dorm

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While the weather may not have been perfect for going outside, it was perfect for a visit to the cat café where we were able to experience this kitten’s first day at the café.

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Sports Night provided by TUJ. Pictured SA students – Mike Allen (Economics, Main Campus), Michael Vy (Main Campus) and Rasmy Nguyen, Communication Studies, Main Campus).

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We began the night with some intense basketball

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Full-time TUJ students Tomohito and Shun pose mid-game

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On the other side of the gym, students participated in playing volleyball. Check out that jump on the left!

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The Sports Night crew!

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Even cleaning up afterwards was a friendly competition

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Afterwards, we were able to experience something rare: a full moon on Friday the 13th. The next time we will be able to see this is in 2049.

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Eric Mousin (psychology, University of Vermont) and Sarah Maloney (film studies, Sarah Lawrence) pose in front of Temple after class

 

 

Rain, rain, go away…

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It’s been raining here nonstop for the entire week. Normally I enjoy the peace  that the rain brings but it’s been constant downpour (and even that might be an understatement).

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People sought cover in all sorts of places

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I decided to check out the shops are Harajuku. The colors were exactly what I expected – lots of pinks and pastels.

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They had all kinds of accessories that you wouldn’t expect to find (nor would you be surprised to find them). Here is an accessorized Totoro backpack.

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I saw a bubble tea shop so, naturally, I had to get some.

 

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We took a closer look inside but quickly left as soon as we saw a man practicing kendo

 

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And then I paid a visit to my dear friend, Professor Sycamore at Pokemon Center.

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This has been one of my favorite foods yet in Japan – giant honey toast. My friends and I occasionally visit Akihabara  just to get one of these. Even with four of us, it was difficult to finish.

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Eric Mousin (studying psychology at the University of Vermont) taking pictures for his digital photography class

 

 

Nature in Chaos: Finding Space to Relax

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The sprawling, unthinkably vast city of Tokyo is really more akin to a network of smaller, interconnected cities. Shibuya, Shinjuku, Itabashi, Ikebukuro, Azabu, and many more that could all stand as towns in their own right are connected by a gleaming and stunningly efficient network of trains and subways. It is both magnificent and magnificently isolating. It is easy to feel small and alone, a single ant surrounded by a concrete jungle of Amazonian proportions waiting to swallow up lone passersby in endless shouts and careening cars. Beautifully sterile glass and concrete behemoths loom large on every side, dissected by shimmering rivers of asphalt. There are canals and trees, sure, but nature feels far-flung from the glowing billboards, shining like miniature suns, that dot Shinjuku. Shibuya and Harajuku scream consumerism as shop after appealing shop lure in wide-eyed customers. You would never guess that right around the corner lies the enormous Meiji Shrine and the equally sprawling Yoyogi Park, offering a soft patch of grass for the weary traveler to rest upon. Shady trees spread their branches wide, welcoming one and all to relax in their shade. A group of young men shout joyously as they kick a soccer ball in their own version of the World Cup. Enormous ravens, larger than my cat, squawk in the distance but for once their cries are reassuring in a fashion far from their midnight shrieks of “nevermore.” As I take a deep breath, my lungs notice the strange absence of exhaust, fumes from the subway, or even the smell of food that pervades my neighborhood. Nothing but trees and tranquility. Although I think of myself largely as a city girl at heart, sometimes nothing beats the sun on my face and a breeze in my hair. Water trickles somewhere in the distance and a bird whistles its tune overhead, seemingly unaware of the bustling metropolis mere minutes from its tranquil home.

IMG_1268 Picnickers enjoy a beautiful afternoon in Yoyogi Park

Across from Yoyogi Park is the elegant and intricate Meiji Shrine, originally completed in the early 1920s and dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. Tourists snapping photos stand alongside praying Shinto worshippers come to pay their respects. The enormous, elaborately carved temple compound hums with the noise of not only spectators, but the reverberations of a ceremonial drum as a wedding party marches solemnly into the temple for the marriage ceremony, the men in suits and the women in traditional kimonos. Though I am not a particularly religious person, I can’t help but be overcome with a great sense of spiritual peace. Joyous and reverent, the shrine and its beautiful grounds are a reminder that whatever your beliefs, we are put here to live for something larger than ourselves. The sweet air perfumed by incense and the thousands of trees that surround the area bring life. It is the same air that Emperor Meiji breathed and the same air that our great-grandchildren will breathe. The ultimate combination of old and new, Japan serves as a reminder that progress does not have to trump tradition, but rather that the two can thrive side-by-side. From my seat near Meiji Shrine, I can see a skyscraper glinting in the sun. I take another deep breath and remind myself that there is no rush to return to that frantic world. Just sit back and smell the incense.

IMG_0994A peaceful park just minutes from Tokyo Tower

Batten Down the Hatches, it’s Rush Hour

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There must be some sort of medal they give to gaijins who manage to navigate Shibuya train station at rush hour. Especially ones who have only been here for three weeks and have to navigate it twice a week, two times a day to reach their internship. Throngs of people rush every which-way—a roaring current that is liable to sweep away even the most seasoned businessman in rapids that never calm their frothy, frantic journey. Maybe a raft would make this better… I think, before taking a deep breath and plunging into the current. I whirl around corners and down stairwells, trying desperately to reach the opposite shore, where signs pointing me to the “Toyoko” train line beckon like land in a raging storm. “Sumimasen,” the only word I’ve said since I left the dorm at 7:15 in the morning, is my constant refrain as I try my hardest to unobtrusively barrel my way through the crowd.

2020_01 Photo courtesy of http://www.Japan-guide.com, as I am often unfortunately too overwhelmed from squeezing myself into the car to think about snapping photos.

Down a set of stairs, past the women clacking in their heels like it’s illegal to wear anything else, around another corner, outside, back inside (good thing it’s not raining), up an escalator, scan my Pasmo (bye, 200 Yen), through the flood gates, and finally, my head is above water again as I reach the platform. A few moments later, the train glides to an effortless halt and I ready myself. The sea of people has somehow transformed itself from water into sardines, packed tightly inside metal tubes. Elbows out, head down, I step slightly out of the way as the doors open, releasing a wash of sardines in suits onto the shores of the platform. Before the last commuter has pried himself from the car, we throng in, crowding up against one another until everyone fits. I cannot miss this train, I think as I consider elbowing schoolgirls and grannies alike out of the way. The catchy tune chimes, the doors beep and let out a hydraulic “whoosh,” and we lurch forward. There are no handholds to be found, but that’s not a problem—I can barely move to adjust my arm, which hangs dangerously close to areas I have no desire to discover more about. I try to angle myself in order to avoid the gentleman behind me that has no choice but to ride this train in an unintentionally similar fashion to the way clubbers dance on a Friday night. For someone who considers herself a little shy, I’ve gotten to know a lot of complete strangers far better than I’d ever wanted to in these past few weeks.

Uh oh, the man to my right is sweating profusely. Ew. I’ve got enough of that going on already, thank you!  Is it this hot for sardines when they’re canned? If I can just inch a little to my left… “Oh, Sumimasen,” Trapped. Only two more stops.

People shove by me as the train stops and I can’t help but think to myself, I’ll move, no need to push. A simple “sumimasen” will suffice, goodness. For such a considerate culture (in my experience), you’d better not try to stand in the way of a salarywoman who needs to exit the train if you value your limbs, or at least your shoes. “Kikuna desu!” That’s me! “Sumimasen, sumimasen,” The metro waits for no man! And to think, it’s only 8:05am and I have to come home later. Bring it on, evening rush hour.

 

Here’s a little vocab, in case you aren’t familiar with some of the words I used:

Gaijin: The less-than-polite term for “foreigner,” the correct term is “gaikokkujin,” but no one has time to say that these days.

Sumimasen: “Excuse me,” “I’m sorry”

Pasmo: The card, like an Oyster Card in London, that is scanned in order to get on and off the metro and trains.

Cranes: From Paper to Steel

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“Elvis” in Yoyogi Park on the weekend. There were so many different groups of people performing – from hip hop dancers to traditional Japanese dancers in kimonos to the group I found most fascinating, the Elvis impersonators!

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During the week, we decided to visit Akihabara. Here is Eric Mousin (left, psychology major from the University of Vermont) playing a Virtual Boy at Super Potato as Vince Cline (art major from Thomas More College in Kentucky) watches.

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The next day, I went to a restaurant called Gonpachi with my extended family for dinner. This was the restaurant where one of the main scenes from Kill Bill took place.

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Unfortunately, most of the food was seafood which I am allergic to but it surely did look pretty! It was served in miniature boats and wicket baskets.

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Afterwards, I came across this crow who actually stole a piece of bread from a child at a nearby bench. These crows are unbelievably evil and loud! Also significantly larger than those in the U.S.

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View of Roppongi from a balcony at Ark Hills

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I finally got the change to visit Odaiba, a manmade island famous for its giant Gundam statue and extensive shopping mall.

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I took experimental pictures of the ferris wheel for my Digital Photography class and they turned out pretty disorienting.

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Between classes, I went to get lunch at a local pasta shop near Temple. A nice old man came by my table and gave me a flower he had made from a pamphlet on his table. I thanked him and then a few minutes later he came back with a toothpick holder. He continued making me origami until I had to leave for class and while we may not speak the same language, I would say that I made a friend.

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To finish off the week, Eric and I decided to try out this drumming game called Taiko. It was super fun and worth the blisters, in my opinion.

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And the best part of this week is that we both won our first crane game and got adorable giant stuffed bunnies. The secret is that there is a secret to winning each type of crane game. All it takes is watching a stranger play and then doing it for yourself.