Goodbye Tokyo

Standard

Well I’m actually staying during summer semester in Tokyo, but the Spring semester has ended and all the Temple students are going back home to America.

IMG_5787

The cherry blossomed during the end of our semester abroad. Poetically speaking, we have blossomed at the end.

Thanks to the Japanese couple for capturing this great photo. These were cherry blossoms at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.

IMG_5791

Take in the beautiful sight of cherry blossoms.

IMG_6694

The best cultural experience I had was being a part of a society that fosters a group mentality system. This means always waiting in lines for anything, including the busiest trains in the world.

Seriously, Japan holds the busiest train stations in the whole world. Shinjuku and Shibuya stations are the top two. Shinjuku station sees about 1.26 billion commuters per year and Shibuya station sees about 1.09 billion (based on a 2013 study).

So lets have some fun in Tokyo while we still can on our last days together in Tokyo!

IMG_6715

Fighting ninjas will be missed in Tokyo! Just kidding. This was at the trick museum in Odaiba.

IMG_6719

Sneak attack from the ninja under the tatami mat! Me: “Go back!”

Thanks to the employee working that day for capturing the moments.

IMG_6875

A huge architecture goal! To see the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza.

IMG_6937

It was Opalia’s last day and she wished to see the Nakagin Capsule Tower, so I surprised her with its address #SmallFriendshipGift:)

IMG_6894

That’s me wearing a Temple cap cheering for the architecture masterpiece.

IMG_7183

Tokyo Plaza Omotesando Harajuku by Hiroshi Nakamura.

IMG_7200

Tommy buying a soda from the vending machine. Having a vending beverage machine that sells hot coffee and cold beverages in almost all the streets is something everyone is going to miss.

IMG_7140

Opalia’s in Ginza, last day exploring Tokyo.

 

IMG_6650

Tokyo celebrates many cultures cuisines. Our new favorite obsession: Indian butter curry (which is basically sweet sauce.) It’s served with salad, rice, drink choice, and all you can eat naan! Pro Tip: Having lunch is better eaten out then dinner because the restaurants are very competitive during lunchtime and offer amazing deals.

IMG_7179

I’ll toast to that! Gresham drinking mango lassi, which is a fusion of an Indian and Japanese drink.

IMG_6349

Julie Kress who studied in Rome and Japan during her junior year is saying “But I don’t want to leave”

IMG_7208

What a better way to end a Tokyo study abroad experience then to have a last prayer. Thank you Tokyo for all the personal, profession, and academic growth you have provided us!

TUJ Architecture Program

Standard

We made it! The architecture students completed their studio. We didn’t know what to expect with the TUJ architecture program and Tokyo overall because there weren’t any upperclassmen to advise us. So here I am going to provide an account of TUJ architecture program.

Our class consisted of 8 junior architecture students from Temple main campus, 1 Temple main campus grad, and a 4th year student from Illinois Institute of Technology. Our studio professor was James Lambiasi (Jim), who helped all the students, that requested, receive an architecture internship. So if you’re an architecture student that wants to locate an architecture internship, reach out to him (even before you arrive to Tokyo)!

The program was well rounded. The focus was urban planning and architecture. For the first month and 1/2, we analyzed the city of Tokyo. We were given areas, stations, structures, building, and much more to explore and analyze. This was a great aspect on the program because we got to explore the city, get familiarized with it, become comfortable traveling, becoming aware of the Japanese architecture and design, understand the architecture culture, and added more knowledge then we expected. We presented our observations and analysis through an architectural presentation of maps and diagrams.

IMG_6103

After analyzing the city, we focused on Roppongi for it’s rapid development and art charge implemented to the area.

IMG_4239

Our two jurors were Daishi Yoshimoto and Bala Bognor along with our professor James Lambiasi.

Jim was very selective on choosing the jurors. Our jurors were highly knowledgeable about the area, which created strong conversations.

Gresham Smith presenting his project

Gresham Smith presenting his project

Gresham Smith proudly holds his study models after presenting

Gresham Smith proudly holds his study models after presenting

IMG_4240

Opalia Meade presenting her project

IMG_6073

Opalia happily holds her study models after presenting

IMG_6078

Caleb Baldwin’s perfectly crisp final model!

IMG_6092

Jazzmynn Hong final sleek model!

IMG_6076

Caleb Baldwin presentation board!

IMG_6083

Jazzmynn Hong presenting

IMG_6065

Liangchi Zhang caught his mistake. It’s always good to laugh at the small things.

IMG_6095

Kya Kerner model and presentation.

IMG_6102

Lourdes Monje and juror Balaz Bognar discussing the presentation.

IMG_6068

and that’s a wrap! Final Presentation are DONE! (sign of relief)

IMG_4251

After Presentation, we gather in a circle and discuss our opinions and thoughts.

IMG_4250

After the anxiety of presentation, we get rewarded ice cream treats. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

IMG_1109

Lourdes Monje and Julie Kress are as happy as can be!

“Parting is such sweet sorrow…”

Standard

As I sit here typing out my last blog post, in my increasingly emptying room, melancholy grips me tight as the evidence of my stay here gradually disappears with each item I stow into my luggage. At the same time, I smuggle away memories and souvenirs into my overflowing bags in an attempt to take back as much of Japan as I can with me. Being here in Japan has been one of the greatest moments in my life. Seeing Mount Fuji, climbing the steps to the famed red gates of Fushimi Inari, strolling down the world’s busiest crosswalk in Shibuya, I can now claim that I have done them.

12599285_1136102719775670_363339853_n

Kawaguchiko @ Mt. Fuji

12729695_1298433570173258_120072474_n

Fushimi-Inari

12918031_1703414759947132_874648613_n

Sakura behind Kitazono Women’s Dorm

But as they say, all good things must come to an end.

I did not experience much of a culture shock, coming here, but I fear that the reverse applies to me. I have become adept at navigating the congested streets and transferring from train to train. The wonder that is the combini, the kaiten sushi, the greetings and farewells that pass my lips when exiting and entering the dorm–after four months, I confess that it will be disorienting to not have them anymore when I return to the U.S. I came to Japan with no knowledge of the language, no one I knew, and nothing to lose, but now I leave with the basics of Japanese, friends from not just all over the U.S. but Japan too, and a metric ton of experiences. As much as the lure of home calls to me, it will be difficult to leave.

I would say that after these few months, I have become a little more worldly, a bit more of an adult. Studying abroad has encouraged me to budget my time and money and to also prioritize within my means. I have had to balance out maintaining my grades while also seeing as much of Japan as possible. Being so far away, it is so easy to slip into the mindset that it is vacation, and it doesn’t help that there is so much to do! But I do think that studying abroad is one of those experiences that you should not miss out while you are a student. As a working adult, it is hard to find a job that allows you to stay in a different place long enough to explore the country fully, much less allow a vacation long enough to do so. Living in Tokyo and being a student here, solidified the people in my eyes. Before, I consciously knew people lived in Japan but it was really abstract, kind of like the scenery or when you watch reality TV show but there is a disconnect. But after mingling with them and living with them, it really hit me that these are real-life people, and I am going through the same motions through life as they are. Pretty crazy. I have heard this from others who studied abroad before me, and I agree with them in that you learn about yourself while abroad. I never realized how much I identified with my American side until I came here. As a child of two worlds, I was always on the fence about what part was Chinese and what was American. I totally get the cliche moments when you bring something really weird like pig feet for school lunch, and people crinkle their nose and you are reminded how “un-American” you are because it’s not PB&J. But recently I have had “Aha!” moments where I realize what I just did was very Western and everyone else knows it too. It is definitely a funny feeling to have that reversal, but I am much more appreciative of my background now.

If you ever get the chance to study abroad, seriously, go with it. I regret nothing.

With this, I’m closing out this chapter of my life, and so I bid farewell to this place I have come to learn and appreciate. 日本,さよなら!Japan, farewell! May we re-unite again soon.

 

A day of exploring Tokyo

Standard
IMG_8675

Candid photo of Gresham Smith and Lourdes Monje exploring the city of The Zojoji Temple and The Tokyo Tower in Minato-ku

IMG_0001

Moved to Omotesando to get lost in the city while exploring the impressive and crazy architecture of Tokyo.

 

IMG_0002

But first, lets get coffee. Kya’s choice of the trusted Starbucks.

IMG_0006

Candid photo of Gresham Smith and Lynch Zhang debating the architecture over a cup of coffee

 

IMG_3215

We wanted to compare the McDonalds in different countries; they’re the same!

IMG_3907

Getting left behind at the light and everyone strikes a pose.

IMG_8745

Opalia Meade in Shibuya about to go Shopping!

IMG_9971

The endless options of gifts and souvenirs

IMG_8613

We shopped till we dropped! Now let’s get some food please.

IMG_0565

We ate so much, we had to stand up.

Trip To Nikko

Standard

What better way to procrastinate during Finals than to travel to another city for a day? Well that’s how the architects do it! Our architecture professors, the wonderful Dr. Deanna MacDonald, James Lambiasi, and Naho Degawa took the architecture students on a one day trip to Nikko!

 

IMG_6283

Sanjinko (Three Sacred Storehouses)

IMG_6162

The Shinkyo Bridge (神橋, Shinkyō, “sacred bridge”)

IMG_6160

I swear I didn’t plan the matching scarf! Photo Credit: the wonderful Opalia Meade

IMG_6166

After spending 15 hours each week together in classes and field trips, I can’t believe I’m saying this but…I’ll miss them.

IMG_6292

Architecture students in front of Nikkō Tōshō-gū

IMG_6197

The beautiful Opalia Meade in front of the Shinkyo Bridge 神橋

IMG_6288

Tosho-gu shrine. The first ever colored shrine we have ever seen.

IMG_6294

Architecture students and professors at the Tosho-gu shrine. Photo Credit: The Great Dr. Deanna MacDonald

IMG_6238

Constructing the beauty of nature

IMG_6267

Flip it with the The Gojunoto Pagoda. Photo Credit: Opalia Meade

IMG_6377

The force of nature!

IMG_6373

It’s very beautiful to sit and relax during Finals Week!

IMG_6387

Nikko is known for their tofu and let me tell you..that was the best tofu I have ever had!

IMG_6531

Enjoying the end of the trip with a view of Lake Chūzenji

After a great view of watching the sunset, we went to catch out trains, but not until we got a glimpse of the Yayoi Festival.

IMG_6629

Yayoi Festival

IMG_6589

Yayoi Festival

The Yayoi Festival occurs April 13-17, where the main event is on the 17th. For the Yayoi Festival, floats “hana-yatai” visit towns with food and drinks to signal the arrival of Spring. It was a humbling experience to watch the small town come outside and share an evening of laughter and happiness.

 

Bathtime is serious business…

Standard

And I don’t mean that in the way parents wrangle children into cleanliness as they try to escape. In Japan they seem to value baths, and it can be seen in the way that the bathrooms are structured to always include the bathtub with the shower and the easily found bath salts and “bath bombs” in drugstores. I also noted that there are a large number of Lush stores, more than I had ever seen while I was in California.

In an anthropology class that I recently took here, we discussed the term, skinship. Here, parents bathe with their children when they are young versus bathing children as it is usually in the U.S. The purpose of this is to strengthen the relationship between parent and child. And this concept of skinship can be seen also in the way that strollers are not as common as parents toting their babies around in carriers strapped around their front.

On the other hand, this translates to a very foreign experience for me. I couldn’t leave Japan without visiting an onsen which is like the equivalent to a hot spring. I would say it is one of the defining characteristics of Japan since I had always wanted to go to one before coming here, and as a country near much tectonic activity, Japan has many onsen. Furthermore, it emphasizes Japan’s fondness for baths since after a brisk shower to clear off any impurities, people sit and rest in these baths. (In addition, Japan also has public bath houses called sento.) People pay good money for onsen and sento. I mean, I think most people in the U.S. just take a bubble bath at home instead of paying. That being said, I am a little in love with onsen now. But that was after I got over the paralyzing terror that I would have to expose my nudity to complete strangers and my friend, although they were all female since most places are separated by gender. I don’t think I’m the only one out there with that initial sentiment. I had thought that I could keep my towel on me the whole time, and let it be known that swimwear is not permitted. Then I realized that the towel I was given was only for drying off.

Sooo…when in Rome, right? I bucked up my courage and went for it. Kudos to the Japanese for feeling comfortable with themselves to not be self-conscious. There is no staring or awkwardness because we’re all the same, and if anything, I came out with a confidence boost. I figured I shouldn’t be concerned about it since it was my body, and I should be okay with what I was born with. Body-shaming has always been a pretty important issue, and I liked how it didn’t matter how old you were or what size. You could go in there and just enjoy yourself without judgment, and that is exactly what my friend and I did. After awhile, the discomfort of being exposed evaporated. It was just so peaceful, relaxing in the hot water and stepping out to cool off on stone or wood benches while chatting quietly. It was the perfect way to decompress after my finals.

Snapchat-1771957609885717843

Went to LaQua at Tokyo Dome so if you wanted, you could go to the amusement park afterwards

Ladies and gents, my personal recommendation is to definitely try it. There is such a good feeling afterwards, and I am completely on board with the Japanese in regards to onsen.

Eating Out and Etiquette

Standard

There is an inkling of truth to when people joke about college students sustaining themselves on ramen. I am aware that I am playing into that conception, but in my defense, I am in Japan where ramen is nothing like that disappointing instant meal comprised of seasoning, noodles, and water. That’s not even factoring in all the different types of ramen Japan has. It is fundamentally on an another level. As such, its tastiness combined with cheapness is sure to keep you coming back.

But here’s the thing, ordering it is different than in the U.S. You order from a vending machine. Insert cash, choose the desired ramen and whatever additions you like by pressing the respective buttons, take the ticket(s) and change, and then hand the ticket(s) to the cook. Depending on restaurant, sometimes there is a waiter or waitress who will take them instead, but usually that’s only in larger restaurants. If you come during a quiet time, you might end up seating yourself. I actually like this system since I don’t have to worry about paying since I have already done it beforehand, and the process is straightforward. It is not just ramen shops that do this too since I have seen tonkatsu and udon restaurants with them. However, other restaurants typically follow the same kind of service as they do in the U.S. and in some cases, you can summon the waitress/waiter with a button which I find pretty useful since I always feel bad making them wait when I take awhile to decide my order.

As a side note, I would like to mention that while eating ramen, it is perfectly acceptable to slurp and to eat it silently is actually considered unusual. I went to eat with a Japanese acquaintance once, and it was remarked upon that I ate ramen in an interesting way because I didn’t make a noise. Honestly, by myself or with people I’m close with, I slurp and stuff my face in an unattractive manner, but I have been conditioned to eat properly in polite company, so I didn’t even think of it. It’s interesting how slurping in the U.S. is to be avoided while in Japan it’s expected, particularly when eating noodle soups. Just like how it is okay to drink your miso soup directly from the bowl in Japan instead of using a spoon.

Snapchat-4563306487534363602

Amazing pork ramen

Another thing I would like to point out is that service is good and efficient in Japan, but there isn’t that much customer/server interaction. That said, tipping is not part of the culture here so it is best not to. They are paid normal wages, and it might be insulting to do so. Also, doggy-bagging is not a thing here. If you have leftovers, unfortunately they will have to be left behind.

If you are in a rush in the mornings, it makes sense to grab your breakfast and eat it on the go. Actually, I’m pretty sure that is some of the advertising points on some foods in the U.S. Curiously enough, you rarely see anyone eating as they walk if it isn’t an open stall road with vendors selling street food. It just simply isn’t done, especially on the train, and you might end up drawing a few looks from people.

Hopefully, that gives a heads up on what’s proper and not when out eating in public!