Category Archives: Tokyo

Sports in Japan

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Sports play an active role in Japanese society, and their impact can be seen through the prevalence of physical activity and sports media. The most common sports I see promoted are baseball, soccer and sumo wrestling, with others like kendo and tennis receiving substantial attention as well.

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A large field in Hirama, Kawasaki offers space for tennis, soccer and baseball

I have found a number of differences in the way sports are practiced and consumed in Japan, as opposed to the US. The most striking part of sports in Japan is simply how many people play them. Aside from major and minor league play, organized sports play in the US seems to end after college for most athletes. While in Japan, I have seen large numbers of organized teams consisting of adults, anywhere from their 20’s-40’s, playing regularly on weekends in gigantic, open playing fields. It is not uncommon on Sunday afternoons to witness an entire baseball team, with bats and equipment strapped to their backs, riding down the sidewalk on bicycles. 

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Bicycling baseball teams are a common sight on a warm Sunday afternoon

Another large distinction from the US is Japanese sports media. In the US, consumption of sports generally consists of simply watching teams, major, minor or college level, playing. While watching games and rooting for teams is also a large aspect of sports in Japan, sports consumption extends beyond live and televised games. Sports fiction, in the form of movies, television dramas, anime and manga play a big role in Japanese media, with little equivalent to be found in the US.

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“Baby Steps,” a popular tennis comic in Japan

The sport I see promoted and played most often in Japan is baseball. Since making an athletic friend, I have been playing baseball every Sunday at various fields in Yokohama and Kawasaki. The team I train with has just nine members, and I often act as a stand-in for players who miss practice. Many small, amateur teams and leagues exist in Japan. 

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A newfound hobby of mine has been touring Keio University, a massive college campus just behind the Hiyoshi mens’ dorm. On afternoons and weekends, young people of all ages can be found engaging in a variety of sports, including American football and tennis.

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This park in Rokugo-Dote, Kawasaki has 16 baseball fields

One of TUJ’s Office of Student Services activities this semester was the chance to experience the National Sumo Tournament, a widely recognized event tournament in Ryogoku, referred to as Tokyo’s “sumo town.” The rituals performed prior to each individual sumo match build up suspense and anticipation. To those unfamiliar to sumo, the actual matches are surprisingly short, with most resolving in a matter of seconds. Often participants may fall out of the ring, potentially harming judges and the audience. 

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The TUJ Office also offered tickets to Yokohama Stadium, to watch the Yokohama DeNA Baystars play the Yakult Swallows. Safety was a priority during the game, with loud whistles blown whenever a ball flew into the audience, and multiple police and security personnel rushing to the scene to treat potential injury. I later learned from my athletic friend that Daisuke Mirua, the team’s star pitcher, has a hairstyle resembling Elvis’s. 

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I have found sports in Japan to be an engaging experience, with an emphasis on teamwork and participation.

 

Viewing Sakura (cherry blossoms)

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Around this time of year in Japan, cherry blossom trees, known as Sakura, are in full-bloom. Sakura can be found here and there throughout Tokyo, from neighborhood streets to local parks. The largest collections of sakura appear to be in larger, iconic green spaces, like Ueno Park and Yoyogi Park. Sakura inspire a number of recreational activities and responses, from photography to hanami.

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A beautiful afternoon scene in Yoyogi Park

I was surprised to see how many non-tourists I found photographing sakura. Even lone trees in a largely populated area, such as outside of a train station, receive plenty of attention. My first view of sakura was toward the end of March in Yoyogi park. Unfortunately, even approaching the few blossoming trees proved difficult, as dozens of viewers with cameras surrounded them. By this time, the first week in April, blooming sakura appear all over Japan, and have become a common sight.

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A small park in Tsunashima, a town behind Hiyoshi, was decorated with lanterns

Hanami is the traditional activity of picnicking under sakura, and typically involves varying degrees of alcohol consumption. On any given weeknight, groups of businessmen can be found happily drinking in parks together. During noontime I have often seen groups of older women chatting together over lunch under sakura. On sunny weekends especially, I see groups of families spread out on blankets all throughout the park, accompanied by the sounds of children laughing and playing. This is a very happy, celebrated occasion that nearly everybody seems to enjoy and take part in. For some, the excuse to drink and party seems to take priority over the actual sakura.

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A typical scene of Hanami

Living outside of Tokyo, I have had the wonderful opportunity to explore many scenic, suburban  neighborhoods where parks and wooded areas are aplenty. My favorite park for sakura viewing is Tamagawadai Park, located right next to Tamagawa Station, just a few stops away from Hiyoshi. Its winding paths, wooden log fences and stone steps leading up sloped hills provide the area with a very natural, peaceful atmosphere. Despite the park’s length, on weekends in April it becomes so crowding that even walking in certain areas becomes difficult.

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I attended a local Hanami festival in Motosumiyoshi, another town near Hiyoshi. Families sat together near the canal, and nearby food stands offered a variety of traditional Japanese foods.

On the particular Saturday that I wrote this entry, I had assumed that a forecast for likely rain would have deterred sakura enthusiasts. Instead, Tamagawadai Park was as filled as ever, with participants barely reacting to a few bouts of rain that afternoon.

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A bridge over a local street running through Tamagawadai Park

With so many pleasant areas to visit and relax in, I choose to read, complete homework assignments, and write blog entries outdoors in places like Tamagawadai Park, as opposed to sitting cooped up in the dorm on beautiful evenings. Viewing sakura and experiencing Spring in Japanese parks has been one of the highlights of my time abroad. 

 

Kumano Kodo Nature Hiking & Ise Grand Shrine Trip: Part 4

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 Finally it was time for the main event: the longest hike on the Kumano Kodo route, which is a series of ancient pilgrimage paths that are over 1,000 years old.

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 The entrance of the path began with this lovely torii gate, signifying our entrance into a scared space.

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 After walking through heavy forest, we were suddenly in wide open fields of farms and quaint little houses. The weather was unbelievable.

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 We were lucky to be on the path during cherry blossom season, for the wild sakura trees were in full bloom. Everyone loved it!

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 There were several of these small rock sculptures casually sitting on tree stumps along the pathway. It was so nice to see evidence of other visitors.

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 We even saw the giant torii gate we had visited earlier in the trip! As you can see, even from so far away the gate is spectacularly large.

 

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Also marking the path were many of these stone markers, which I presume are gravestones of some sort (I’m not exactly sure, though). On each of these, there were piles of rocks stacked on top and around the base.

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 It was beautiful view after beautiful view as the path wove through forests and open spaces. This view was one of my favorites, especially because of the wild sakura trees and the hazy blue mountains in the horizon.

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After a few hours of hiking, we reached the shrine, which has an emblem of a three-legged crow.

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 We were lucky enough to see some Shinto priestesses and priests in a procession!

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 The shrine was absolutely beautiful. It was a perfect, peaceful conclusion to our day of hiking.

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Kumano Kodo Nature Hiking & Ise Grand Shrine Trip: Part 3

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Off we went back on the bus, hungry and ready to relax. To our delight, we stopped at a sushi conveyor belt restaurant. It such a fun experience! The sushi was very good quality too. We were each allotted a certain amount of plates, which as you can tell, we took full advantage of.

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Back on the bus we went, but it was never a boring ride. The views of the mountains and rivers were gorgeous, especially the unbelievably blue fresh water.

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We made a pit stop at Kawayu onsen, which is a famous location for hot spring water on the riverbanks. Digging in the dirt on the bank results in a fresh pool of extremely hot spring water. We had a lovely bento lunch and warmed our feet in the water.

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  Then, we arrived at our lodgings! The location was lovely, complete with a wide river and pleasant forests.

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  The cabins were also amazing! They were quite luxurious.

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  Inside, the cabins were Japanese-style, complete with tatami mats, futons, and a very comfortable bath.

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  It was also wonderful to find that bikes were provided along with the lodgings! Since we had a good amount of free time, we rode around the area and explored.

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  We also played a bit in the river that ran in front of the cabins. It was shallow and the rocks were comfortable on our feet. While the water was cold, it was invigorating.

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  Finally, it was dinnertime. The lodgings had perfect barbecuing tables outdoors. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a hot dog!

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Kumano Kodo Nature Hiking & Ise Grand Shrine Trip: Part 2

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The top of our first hike was a wonderful treat, for shrines and a large temple are at the peak. The roofs are some of my favorite parts of these buildings.

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 There were impressive spiritual statues as well. This figure was outside of the largest Buddhist temple, looking upon each of the visitors as they passed.

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 In celebration of spring and good future for children, these koinobori (carp flags) are strung up to fly in the wind. They’re adorable and so happy!

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 Continuing through the temples, we spot a beautiful waterfall in the distance. The large pagoda was also a spectacular sight.

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 After walking towards the waterfall, TUJ took a break for some tasty matcha (powdered green tea) soft serve ice cream: a perfect refreshing treat after hiking.

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  Back on the trail, we headed towards the waterfall. The journey was just as fantastic as the final destination, for the amazingly tall cedar trees were a monumental sight!

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 Still, the waterfall was one of the most beautiful scenes I have seen in Japan. It seemed to fall so slowly from the top of the cliff, watching it was hypnotizing.

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 After our first hike, we traveled on to the largest torii gate in Japan. These Shinto gates mark the entrance to a sacred place, symbolically marking the transition from our world into a more spiritual one.

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 It was MASSIVE (note the tiny person on the right)!

The Closest Beach Town to Tokyo: Kamakura

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 With my mother and my brother in town for a few days, we decided to go to one of the best locations for a day trip outside Tokyo: Kamakura!

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Kamakura is a very charming place filled with pretty knick knacks and lovely town scenery, not to mention a lovely beach. It is most well known for being a famous location for Buddhist temples and beautiful hiking paths.

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There are dozens of temples around the town, one of which contains an incredible graveyard of monks and notable figures.

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Each grave is individually ornamented with a beautiful stone and lovely fresh flowers.

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There were also some more specialized grave sites, such as this humorous and charming beer and cigarette offering.

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Regardless of the individualization, each grave was kept swept and manicured to emphasize the beauty of the stone statues.

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Each grave is incredibly beautiful and mysterious, thoughtfully incorporated into the surrounding nature.

IMG_7390The bamboo forest was breathtaking, especially with the light breeze. We visited on a perfect spring day.

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The sakura trees were blossoming throughout the entire neighborhood!

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My family and I went through some incredible hiking paths, where we were able to see a view of the Pacific through the trees!

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The main event was certainly the Daibutsu at the kotoku-in temple. Weighing approzximately 93 tons and measuring at almost 14 meters high, this statue is a monumental bronze sculpture of the Amida Buddha.

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It was incredible to behold.

Kumano Kodo Nature Hiking & Ise Grand Shrine Trip: Part 1

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Taking the night bus to Mie (approximately 400 miles away from Tokyo), those attending this TUJ trip awoke in the morning to find a lovely beach!

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Even though it was around 5:30AM, the sun and sea was refreshing and energizing (not to say we all didn’t nap after getting back on the coach).

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  After a bit of driving, we arrived at our first hiking site. It was a short trek up the mountain, very enjoyable for an early morning walk.

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  The trees were absolutely incredible, rising far above us but still allowing sun to dance around.

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  We discovered that the cedars were sacred objects themselves, most over 800 years old!

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  As we went further on, we found many other people making the pilgrimage up to the shrine at the peak. White is a traditional color to wear when making this pilgrimage.

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  The weather was perfect for hiking with a cool breeze and warm sun all day.

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  The peak offered a beautiful view of the valley, with cherry blossoms blooming and blue mountains fading into the horizon.

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  There were a surprising amount of people at the peak’s temple! Everyone was thankful to have completed the numerous amount of stairs leading up.

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  Each temple offers a stream of fresh water accompanied with a series of bamboo ladles to cleanse the hands and the spirit. There is a particular ritual of scooping and rinsing the mouth, which left me feeling cool and refreshed.

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The Prevalence of Books in Japan

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 A large force in Japanese mass media that is worth mentioning is, surprisingly, printed material. In a country associated with convenience and technological advances, it may be hard to imagine that the digital reading devices popular in the US are nowhere to be found in Tokyo. Books, magazines and printed newspapers appear as abundantly as ever. Bookstores small and large can be found nearly anywhere, sometimes even in train stations. Even convenience stores carry books. With the average commute to work being 1-2 hours per way for many, its not surprising that cheap printed reading material has remained a dominant force in Tokyo.

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A typical scene at any given convenience store, on any given evening

On any given train, you can easily determine what day of the week it is by which magazine riders are reading. Weekly Shonen Jump is released Monday, Shonen Magazine and Shonen Sunday release Wednesday, and Shonen Champion and Young Jump hit newsstands Thursday, to name a few of the more popular publications. Each phonebook-sized magazine packs roughly 250-500 pages, with monthly publications often reaching as many as 800 or more pages. Biweekly and seasonal magazines exist too, making it difficult to keep track of all the different material being regularly circulated. 

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A wide variety of magazines can be found at convenience stores, at newsstands and in bookstore

Newspapers remain big in Japan too. Sports are so popular that they receive their own papers, with a large variety of sports newspapers for different areas within Japan.

A popular bookstore in Shinjuku, and possibly the largest book retailer I have ever seen, is the massive nine-floor Kinokuniya. Each level carries different categories of books, with one level for foreign material.

Another big service in Japan thats remains relatively small in the US is the secondhand book market. Book-Off, a massive retailer found in most areas of Tokyo, sells cheap preowned books, many of which cost just 100 yen (around $1.00). Visit a Book-off on any given day and right at the front counter will be stacks of unsorted books bought from customers. While I wouldn’t expect to receive much more than a few cents per book, recent publications can be sold for a little extra, as indicated on flyers I often see stuffed in my bag as I leave. This speaks volumes of readership in Japan, where consumers buy lots of books, read them quickly, and then get rid of them in order to buy more books. Many Book-Off’s also carry used video games, CDs and DVDs. Smaller, local secondhand bookstores are fairly common in Japan as well. 

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A large Book-Off Super Bazaar that also sells used clothing, in addition to books

More books also means that the average person has a lot more paper waste, as evident by the enormous amount of recyclable paper found outside many neighborhood homes. Sorting trash in Japan is a huge deal, and reading material generally falls into one burnable category. Newspapers, magazines and old books stacked and tied up neatly on the curb is a typical sight in residential neighborhoods. Periodicals are often discarded en masse, with eight-or-so week’s worth of magazines commonly found tied up on the sidewalk.

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An entire year’s worth of Weekly Shonen Jump out for the trash

If you find yourself purchasing books or printed material in Japan, be careful- shipping them home can be expensive!

 

Hanami: Flower Viewing

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We are so unbelievably lucky to be in Japan during the spring. This is arguably the most beautiful location to experience the changing of the seasons!

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This is the view from my window! All of a sudden our neighborhood is filled with huge, blossoming cherry trees.

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The early morning is my favorite time to take walks on the edges of the canal by the Kitazono Dormitory. There are sakura (cherry blossom) trees lining both sides as far as the eye can see.

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 It feels like a dream to find such unbelievable flowers at every corner.

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It’s amazing how beautiful the city contrasts with the flowers. Tokyo is the largest metropolis on Earth, but there are blossoms everywhere!

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 This was the view from the train track as I stepped onto Naka-Meguro station. This neighborhood is known for it’s great blossoms and delicious street food.

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There were so many people celebrating the hanami (flower viewing) season!

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As the wind blows, the blossoms drift down into the streets and the canals. After a few days, the ground will be filled with petals.

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These lanterns lined the edges of the canal, enhancing the pinkness of the blossoms as night fell.

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Carolyn and I had such a lovely time enjoying the sakura trees; it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Traditional Arts Workshop

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Yet again, the Office of Student Services at Temple University Japan organized another excellent event for students.

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The traditional arts workshop offered an array of Japanese customs. To begin, the lovely woman pictured below gave us a demonstration of ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arrangement.

 

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Ikebana is a very philosophical tradition, emphasizing the beauty of the asymmetric and the changing of the seasons.

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The Japanese-style home we visited also offered an amazing set of painted screens. They were lovely!

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 Next, we were given a marvelous performance on the koto, a Japanese string instrument.

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The practice of the koto is truly unique. The performer presses on the strings to alternate between tones, creating an eerie and beautiful sound.

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All of a sudden, we were wearing kimonos! It was an adorable process as the sweet women picked out the colors of our arrangement and tied the obi.

 

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After being dressed, we practiced our calligraphy with traditional brushes and black ink. It’s harder than it looks!

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 Luckily, she was very patient and helped us write our names.

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 To conclude our lovely afternoon, we were shown the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. This is matcha, or powdered green tea that has been whisked with a bamboo tool in hot water. The frothiness was amazing.

 

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To accompany our tea, we were given traditional Japanese sweets for the spring season! They were all so delicious and sweet with the bitterness of the thick matcha.