Category Archives: Tokyo

さようなら日本!(Goodbye Japan!)

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Well, this is it. The time has come. My last couple days in Japan have arrived. It seems to surreal right now. On August 26th, I arrived on Japanese soil and now it’s time to leave.

Throughout my time in Japan, I have had both good and bad experiences, but they have all helped me grow. For instance, back in the US, I have a tendency to refrain from approaching people and speaking to them, especially in social situations (yes, I am that socially awkward person). However, as time progressed, I found myself coming out of my shell more and speaking to others. I surprised myself when I would go out with some friends and I would be the one speaking to Japanese people and being able to understand them without asking おそく話して下さい (Osoku hanashite kudasai = please speak slower). I definitely have noticed that my listening and speaking abilities have strengthened and I have become more confident (I cannot wait to speak to my Japanese professor when I return. Maybe I will surprise even her).

One big happy Taiko family!

One big happy Taiko family!

I'm so glad I got to be by such an experience man.

I’m so glad I got to be by such an experience man.

Nevertheless, I can’t put into enough words what I have taken away from this experience. I have not only learned more about the Japanese people and their culture, but also myself. I’ve met old friends on the other side of the world, which I never thought would be possible. I’ve made new friends, whom I will cherish forever, but will miss dearly. I even had the opportunity to learn how to play the Taiko drums from Yukihiko Sensei, an incredible man who has been doing Taiko for 40 years! He was even so kind as to inform my friends and I before the lesson that Taiko wasn’t an art, but a sport! Sure enough, for the next couple of days, my arms and legs felt like I had been playing a sport (But the soreness and the memories that accompanied it were welcomed).

I will miss you girls so much! You made my time here so much more amazing <3

I will miss you girls so much! You made my time here so much more amazing <3

Yes, Japan. I will even miss your bizarrely good flavored snacks.

Yes, Japan. I will even miss your bizarrely good-flavored snacks.

Studying abroad also came with responsibilities, the primary of which revolved around academics. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had some challenges managing my time and prioritizing, but I took it upon myself to make the effort to triumph over such challenges. For instance, there was a concert I really anticipated going to during the week of finals, however, the night before, I realized I wasn’t prepared for my one of my classes so I put my final first, stayed home, and studied. When the week was over, I found out I received an A on that final. If there’s one thing I found to be the most important in my time in Japan, it has been finding that balance and knowing what to put first. It means growing as a student and an adult. As an ongoing process, I take it one step at a time to adapt and believe that being in another country has given me constant reminders of the benefits that can be reaped from hard work, determination, and perseverance.

It has been 15 weeks since I landed in Japan, but I have definitely gained more than 15 weeks of memories. So while the sun is setting on my time in the land of the rising sun, I have a strong feeling it will rise again soon. So for now, I take back the title of this final post. I won’t say goodbye, but  またね日本!(See you again, Japan!)

Cross Cultural Understanding Tour

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Honestly, it’s still hard for me to believe that I’ve been in Japan for almost fifteens weeks. Looking back, it feels like it was only a few weeks ago that I was getting on the plane to Japan, feeling both nervous and excited to begin my new adventure. I honestly still feel like a tourist when exploring areas off campus, which brings us to this week’s blog post!

The Saturday right before finals, my friends and I decided to sign up for a guided tour around Akihabara to explore and feel like tourists once more before some of us return to the US. The tour was hosted by Hosei University’s Cross Cultural Understanding (CCU) group. The group was created in 2012 to promote cultural exchange among Japanese citizens and those from overseas. Their vision is “Spreading Japanese Culture Overseas.” Their group occasionally hosts free guided tours around popular destinations in the Tokyo prefecture, so for future study abroad students, I definitely recommend attending one of their events! It’s always a fun time, and it’s a great way to get to know local students!

I went a little early to make sure I didn’t miss the event, and I found an unusual sight:

Just a man....walking his....ducks?

Just a man….walking his….ducks?

Just when I thought I was getting used to the things in Japan. But then again, I don’t think this is a common sight in Japan either.

Anyway, the CCU group was pretty easy to find since they had a cosplayer in their group.

My new friends, Chamomile and Frank! Chamomile is cosplaying Christa from Attack on Titan, an anime that has recently become popular in Japan and the US. Frank, isn't cosplaying, but he looks like he could be!

My new friends, Chamomile and Frank! Chamomile is cosplaying Christa from Attack on Titan, an anime that has recently become popular in Japan and the US. Frank isn’t cosplaying, but he looks like he could be!

We begin the tour by visiting Superpotato, a famous retro video game chain throughout Japan. It was well-hidden in the upper levels of another store (when searching for stores in the US, we tend to simply search horizontally. When in Japan, you also have to search vertically!)

Following Superpotato, we visited Kotobuyiya and Manarake, two popular stores in Japan for your anime products.

Apparently anime-themed food is a thing in Japan!

Apparently anime-themed food is a thing in Japan!

Then, we visited Busoushouten, a very small but fascinating replica weapon store. The cosplayers and role-players of the group excitedly rushed in, searching props. However, once everyone got in, it was very difficult to get out!

For our next destination, we visited Gachapon, a capsule-toy vending machine specialty store. The store has over 530 Gachapon machines! For 100 Yen (about a $1) you can capsule toy of almost anything!

Next stop, Don Quijote! Don Quijote is a discount chain store that carries a wide range of products from groceries to clothes to toys and much more. Our guide told us that Don Quijote tends to keep very late shopping hours (lots of them are open until 3 or 5 AM, some are even open 24 hours!), which is very rare in Japan, where most places close up by 9 or 10 PM. The closest thing I can probably compare Don Quijote to is Walmart. Okay, maybe a very cramped Walmart with multiple floors. The business plan is very similar, but for some reason, it feels completely different.

Showing our Christmas spirits in Don Quijote!

Showing our Christmas spirits in Don Quijote!

Afterwards, we visited Taito Station, a popular arcade chain in Japan!

Group Picture in front of Taito Station!

Group Picture in front of Taito Station!

The original plan was to play some arcade games together, but the girls convinced everyone to take purikura together.

My current purikura collection!

My current purikura collection!

These were all taken at CCU events! The first one was from their Harajuku tour! The other two were from this tour! This particular Taito Station let their customers borrow cosplays to take photos for free!

I think the one of the greatest thing about studying abroad is how it broadens your perspective on the world. At these tours, you get to meet lots of amazing people with different perspectives, and explore places you simply could never find in the US. At these kinds of events, you can really notice and appreciate the differences between other cultures. Studying abroad has given me the opportunity to truly immerse myself in a manner that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was simply visiting Japan, and I am truly grateful that I was given this opportunity!

Can You Hear the Drums?-Kodo Taiko Performance

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Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall, my ears are ready! Grace them with the sounds of Taiko drums!

Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall, my ears are ready! Grace them with the sounds of Taiko drums!

Doctor Who references aside, on December 2nd, I had the pleasure of going to the Kodo Taiko Performance at Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall. This was my first time seeing a taiko performance so I didn’t know what to expect.

The TUJ students were seated on the second floor, but the seats were really good, considering we got student discounts. Honestly, I think they were better than those that were on the first floor and close to the stage because there were certain effects that were incorporated into the performance that would not have been as visible to the first floor attendees as they were to us on the second floor.

The first part of the performance left me with tears in my eyes (yes, I was literally crying from how powerful it was). Before the intermission, there was a piece that included one center performer and four surrounding performers. The center performer started with five different taiko drums in front of him but by the end, he was surrounded by a circle of twelve drums. As it progressed, I got more and more emotional but could not quite understand why. The surrounding performers, in addition to playing their own drums, alternated and played alongside the center performer. It looked as if they were each battling the center performer but at the same time playing with him. I saw this as an intricate and powerful dance and my heart raced. The sound that was produced was indescribable. Thanks to the acoustics of the symphony hall, it felt like the rumbling of thunder was coursing through my body, from my ears all the way down to my feet. It resonated and I cried, but I wasn’t the only one. Andrea, the Kitazono Dorm Manager, who had eight years of playing taiko in the US, shared in my emotions and also cried. At the end, we both wondered how they would top themselves in the second part.

Part two of the performance was just as good as part one. They added humor to it, which was unexpected. For one part, there were three performers on stage, two females with small taiko drums and one male with a bigger drum. The two females stepped forward and as one played a fast-paced rhythm, the other mimicked, without hitting her own drum. Realizing she was “caught” she stopped. Then it was the male’s turn. He stepped forward, head raised proudly, and began to play furiously. His hands moved faster and faster and we all applauded. The only problem was that his drum was invisible.

I can't even begin to imagine playing a drum that big O_O

I can’t even begin to imagine playing a drum that big O_O

Then they brought out three big taiko drums (and I mean BIG) and I was amazed. Each drum was three times the size of the player’s upper body and the way they played it made it seem like there was an enormous amount of strength needed to play something that size. However, according to Andrea, it doesn’t take that much strength since different parts of the drum produce different sounds and the Kodo Taiko group definitely utilized that knowledge beautifully. Throughout the two hour performance, they used everything to hit the drums, including their own hands and I loved every minute of it.

We couldn't resist. Kodo inspired us :)

We couldn’t resist. Kodo inspired us :)

Pre-Finals Relief: Gaming the Stress Away

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As finals are just around the corner for me (next week to be exact), I can just feel the tension and anxiety building in my mind. So before I barricade myself in my room to study, I decided to spend the weekend partaking in some of the gaming culture of Japan.

I’m not what you would call a serious gamer, but as someone who loves music, I’m automatically attracted to anything that has to do with a beat. That being said, besides the obvious Dance Dance Revolution, I was immediately drawn to two rhythm games, Jubeat and Taiko no Tatsujin (also known as Taiko Drum Master).

Why hello Jubeat. I've figured out some of your tricks.

Why hello Jubeat. I’ve figured out some of your tricks.

Jubeat was definitely something new to me, but still surprisingly fun. The premise of the game is simple enough: there is a board of buttons and as the song plays you press the button or buttons that light up with the rhythm. You can plug in your headphones for a more focused play, but the songs range from anime to pop to rock to heavy metal, with different levels of difficulty. You can even play against up to three other players in a showdown. I tried to refrain from looking at those around me and watching them play, but alas, I gave in and was amazed. Their hands were moving so fast and I tried to keep up with them but couldn’t. I just kept thinking, “How? Just how?” Getting back to my game, at some point I figured out a trick. For me, it’s best when I don’t focus on any particular area of the board. This way, instead of my head darting from one side to another and trying to have my hands keep up, I focus on the light of the buttons I need to press and am able to hit the right buttons on time. I can easily see myself playing this game for hours as long as the songs keep coming.

Head to head Taiko no Tatsujin battle against two study abroad students. Who will win?

Head to head Taiko no Tatsujin battle against two study abroad students. Who will win?

Taiko no Tatsujin (or Taiko Drum Master) is a game that you can find everywhere, in  smaller arcades as well as larger ones like Club Sega. Yours truly even as the Playstation version at home so of course, I had to take on the original arcade version. My arms get a nice little workout when I played at home and here in Japan, it is no different. If anything, I get more of a workout because I’m standing up to play. Nevertheless, this has become my go-to game, not just for entertainment, but also as a form of stress relief. Some people smoke, some drink, some exercise, but I play Taiko no Tatsujin. 100円 gets you 3 songs, which can be picked from anime, J-pop, classical, etc. I am nowhere close to being on the same advanced level as some players, but I still enjoy the feeling I get as the sticks hit the drum. This game makes me yearn to learn to play actual Taiko drums. Perhaps I can find a taiko workshop nearby?

Mt Koya and Nara, Part 2:

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The futons (a traditional Japanese bedding, it’s kind of like a really thick sleeping bag) that Rengejoin Temple provided us was surprisingly comfortable (but then again, after a night sleeping on a bus, the group could probably sleep anywhere!). And at 6:20 AM as promised, we were woken up to attend otsutome (Morning Prayer) as requested by the monks of the temple. After breakfast, we would head to Okunoin, the largest a cemetery and sacred area in Japan with over 200,000 gravestones and memorial pagodas!

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, the thought of visiting a cemetery sounded rather depressing, and not quite what I would consider a tourist attraction. While funerals are still depressing, it seems as though Japan follows a more “circle of life” belief.

For instance, along the path in okunoin, we saw many Gorinto (five tier Stupa).

For instance, along the path in okunoin, we saw many Gorinto (five tier Stupa).

Our guide explained to our group that the shapes of the five tiers represents the five elements taught in Buddhism. The cube at the bottom represents earth, the sphere represents water, the pyramid presents fire, the hemisphere represents wind, and finally, the jewel shape at the top represents void. Japanese Buddhists believe that when we die, our bodies are not destroyed, but rather our physical bodies will go back to their original, elemental forms.

In addition, we also saw many little statues wearing bibs. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, so I ask our guide, who explained that they were statues of お地蔵さん (Ojizo-san), who is believed to watch over and protect children in the afterlife.

The bibs are placed by parents who have lost children, with prayers that Ojizo-san would watch over and protect them as a surrogate parent.

The bibs are placed by parents who have lost children, with prayers that Ojizo-san would watch over and protect them as a surrogate parent.

We then stopped by a well to check on our life expectancy.

Apparently, if you don’t see your reflection in this well, you will die within 3 years.

Apparently, if you don’t see your reflection in this well, you will die within 3 years.

Then we entered the Mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the place where Kobo Daishi is said to remain in eternal meditation.

It is said that Kobo Daishi entered his eternal meditation in 835. Twice a day, monks ritually offer meals to Kobo Daishi at the mausoleum as seen in this picture.

It is said that Kobo Daishi entered his eternal meditation in 835. Twice a day, monks ritually offer meals to Kobo Daishi at the mausoleum as seen in this picture.

This was actually the first museum I’ve ever been to where we were allowed, and encouraged to touch stuff, so I was quite thrilled. There were thousands of lanterns and miniature statues of monks. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed in the museum. At first, I always thought this was an annoying rule since so many famous places in Japan did not allow photographs, but recently I’ve been embracing it. There is something nice about occasionally disconnecting myself from technology to truly appreciate the moment in front of me, instead of trying to share it with friends via pictures consistently.

On our way out, we tested our strength and connection with Future Buddha! In this little stand, there is a heavy rock, which is said to be as heavy as our sins. Those who are able to lift this rock, and bring it to the second level, will apparently be closer to the Future Buddha, and will be welcomed to his paradise.

Joshua's face of victory as he completes the challenge!

Joshua’s face of victory as he completes the challenge!

I suppose the idea is that if you are a hard worker, it would probably show in your arm strength. Personally, I’m not very superstitious, but it was interesting to hear about superstitions of other cultures.

As we visit more historic sites and hear more about Japan’s culture, superstitions, and religion in person, I realize that our there is so much about Japan that is simply omitted from textbooks. The more I explore Japan, the more I realize how little I know about the country! And the more excited I become to learn more about it!

Fuji Forest and Onsen Adventure!

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After carelessly missing the bus for the Hawaiian Spa Resort, and a typhoon canceling the Hachijo-jima Island Boat Trip, I was determined to attend TUJ’s Fuji Forest Adventure no matter what. I had done zip-lining in the past while visiting a famous tourist attraction in China, but I had never done one that was combined with an obstacle course. It certainly was a combination that sounded entertaining and adventurous to me!

Of course the day of the trip, it rained, but it didn’t stop our group from having our adventure! However the rain did make it troublesome for those who came unprepared.

I made the mistake of wearing a jacket that wasn’t quite waterproof. Ming made the mistake of wearing pants that weren’t quite long enough.

I made the mistake of wearing a jacket that wasn’t quite waterproof. Ming made the mistake of wearing pants that weren’t quite long enough.

The course was already pretty difficult and required a lot of upper body strength and balance if you didn’t rely on the zip-line. The rain only made it that much harder and colder! I didn’t have much trouble with keeping my balance, I was thoroughly defeated by the weather! Half way through the course, I caved and brought gloves and a rain coat after realizing my jacket was completely drenched.

After losing his balance, Gabe cheats a little and grabs hold onto the zip-line to complete this course. Meanwhile, in the background, I “Tarzan swung” into a net.

After losing his balance, Gabe cheats a little and grabs hold onto the zip-line to complete this course. Meanwhile, in the background, I “Tarzan swung” into a net.

Fortunately, we were always attached to something, so it was very safe.

Ming faces her fear of heights, and takes a leap of faith into a net!

Ming faces her fear of heights, and takes a leap of faith into a net!

Not to mention a lot of coordination.

One of the adventurers got his leg stuck in the ring and had to take off his shoe in order to escape!!

One of the adventurers got his leg stuck in the ring and had to take off his shoe in order to escape!!

Even landing was quite tricky! We were supposed to pivot our bodies forward or sideways so we could use our feet to slow down our landing. However, we often ended up backwards and landing on our backs instead.

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The thrill of zip lining made Kayleigh completely exhausted.

Epic high fives on the last course!

Epic high fives on the last course!

After a tiring but exciting adventure, the onsen was exactly what we needed!

We all rushed to the warm bus, and were instructed to take off our shoes at the entrance of the bus. I was already quite used to taking off my shoes upon entering a house since we do this all the time in most Asian cultures; however, I had never did it upon entering a bus though. But considering how dirty everyone’s shoes got from our adventure, and Japan’s culture regarding cleanliness, it made sense.

Upon arriving at the onsen, everyone rushed for food. We were all expecting it to be pretty pricey, since it was at an onsen. To our surprise it was not only very affordable, it was very delicious!

Nothing like ramen after a tiring adventure in the rain!

Nothing like ramen after a tiring adventure in the rain!

I always thought that paying for food in Japan would be expensive since their diet has a lot of seafood, but it doesn’t seem to be to the case. Not to mention, workers in Japan don’t accept tips!

The onsen had a lounge for those who wanted to take a nap, chat with some tea, or get a massage.

The onsen had a lounge for those who wanted to take a nap, chat with some tea, or get a massage.

To be honest, I completely forgot that in Japan, people don’t wear anything at onsens, and packed swimming trunks. Upon entering the male’s locker room, and seeing everyone naked, I was once again reminded that there are a lot of things that are completely different in Japan. Surprisingly, being completely naked wasn’t as awkward as I expected. After the first few minutes, it felt completely natural. It was definitely a refreshing experience!

Teaching My Children-English Camp in Japan

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As I mentioned before, I was picked to be a participate in an English camp and it will definitely be an experience I will always cherish.

(Find out what training was like in my previous posts)

TUJ student, Anthony, encourages the YN students with a smile :)

TUJ student, Anthony, encourages the YN students with a smile :)

Teaching the lessons was new for me, but when partnered with at least one other TUJ student, we always bounced ideas off of each other and got the activities finished. I learned that if the lessons are fun, the students are more likely to want to learn and participate, so we got the students involved as much as possible. For example, for the Olympic Games lesson, after the students finished one of the worksheet activities we had 3-5 of them come to front of the class and when we gave them an Olympic sport, they would model it. As an alternative, we would model and the students would have to tell us which sports we were acting out. It was something that made the rest of the class laugh and put them in good spirits because it was fun (and who doesn’t like fun, right?) so they participated more.

We got the students to speak more English with a game of Pictionary.

We got the students to speak more English with a game of Pictionary.

We also rewarded the students whenever they conversed with us in English. Each student was given a card with 10 circles and each teacher was given stickers. We gave the students stickers only if they approached us and spoke English. However, this couldn’t be a simple “Hi, give me a sticker.” They needed to engage us in conversation by asking us questions and talking about themselves. These Q&A sessions mostly took place during mealtimes and in between classes but it was about more than giving them stickers. It gave us an opportunity to bound with the students. I met a student who absolutely loves Elvis Presley and the Jackson 5 despite only being 15 (Yep, good music has no age limit). I also met students who enjoy the same anime and movies as I do. I got to know a lot of the students and we shared a lot of the same interests.

Overall, I think all of the TUJ students came to the consensus that during these two days, it really felt like we were celebrities. Crowds of students would surround us to ask us questions and take pictures with us. During the last day, there was time set aside for picture-taking before everyone was free to leave so once finished, a fellow teacher and I started to make our way back to the main building where our luggage was. Within five seconds, three students came up and asked to take pictures with us. We finished and two seconds later, another five students approached us for the same thing. At some point we decided to run and after managing to get five feet closer to the building, SURPRISE, more students and more pictures. Once finished, we ran while saying to each other, “No more student. No more students. No more students!” Despite our short-lived celebrity status, we had the chance to write short personal messages of encouragement to the students and I truly felt like I was their 先生(teacher) . 私の心は幸せでした。(Watashi no kokoro wa shiawasedeshita = My heart was happy.)

私の学生が大好きです! (I love my students!)

私の学生が大好きです! (I love my students!)

I’m extremely glad I got to participate in an English-teaching event while in Japan. I think it has furthered my desire to want to teach here after I graduate. As a teacher, I became a different person. The quiet, reserved person that most people know me as became loud and animated for her students. The students at Yamato Nishi High School were wonderful and I feel like even though it was a two-day event, we really bonded. I see so much potential in them and I hope to see them again in the future. However, if I don’t, I still wish them all well in whatever they pursue.