To celebrate, a few friends and I decided to taste the more “touristy” side of Japan. This is Asakusa, known for its plethora of winding shopping streets, temples and shrines, rickshaw runners, and street food stands.

It was a clear and sunny day, which was a welcome surprise after the past few days of constant dark clouds. The main entrance to Asakusa is called Kaminarimon, and it’s a red gate with a huge red lantern (which is what the temple is famous for). From the gate, Tokyo Sky Tree was visible, towering over the rest of the buildings. f16901_tokyo_tokyo-sky-tree_tamlynkurata




The main shopping street between Kaminarimon and Senso-ji Temple

As depicted in the picture above, the street is incredibly crowded. I said Asakusa was touristy, right? The majority of the people walking the street are tourists, so many of the vendors speak English (for those of you who want to explore but know very little of the language, this is a perfect place to start). The shops sell a large variety of goods from toys and games to keychains and coin purses to full kimono and yukata sets.

One of the activities you should look into if you plan on going to a temple or shrine is omikuji (御神籤). These are sheets of paper with your fortune written on them, which you are given by shaking a box of sticks and the stick that appears corresponds to the drawer with your fortune card in it. They range from great curse (the worst) to great blessing (the best). If you get a bad fortune, don’t panic! There are places to tie your bad fortune to so you don’t take the bad luck with you. Sahara and Marie took a few tries, but a good fortune finally appeared.


Finally got a good fortune!



Senso-ji Temple


Another religious activity you might be interested in deals with the huge smoking pot in front of the main approach to the temple. It’s filled with incense sticks that you can purchase for about 100yen each. The resulting smoke is supposed to bless you if you waft it towards you. Want to become smarter? Waft the smoke towards your head. Want to become richer? Waft the smoke towards your wallet.


Incense Pot


The line of people waiting to pray (the third and final huge red lantern)

If you’re really dedicated to visiting a lot of shrines and temples, you may want to look into obtaining a shuincho (朱印帳)to collect goshuin (御朱印). Goshuin are like stamps that you can collect from almost every temple or shrine in Japan. They are handwritten by a monk or a kannushi, and have the temple/shrine’s seal, name, and date. Each one is very special. Senso-ji offers two goshuin, but most places only offer one.


Goshuin from Senso-ji

After praying at the temple, we walked around the shopping side streets a little bit. Asakusa has one shop in particular that is known for its large melon pan filled with ice cream. They also offer a spot to dress up and take photos with plastic versions of the bread.


Melon pan!


Exploring Chiyoda


Over the weekend my roommate and I decided to try and get out and see a part of Tokyo that we hadn’t been to you yet, so we biked from our house in Shinagawa to Chiyoda with the goal of seeing the Imperial Palace.

The bike ride was actually really easy; essentially all that we had to do was take the route we take to get to TUJ’s campus, and then continue down that road, up into and then past Roppongi. Or at least it looked that way on the map. What Google neglected to tell us was that this route seemed like it went out of its way to hit every massively steep hill in Tokyo, and after an hour of this, my legs were so sore that I almost fell over stepping off of the bike.

We finally made it to Chiyoda around three thirty in the afternoon. The size of the park where the palace is was astonishing; things in Tokyo tend to be much larger in real life then they look on the map. We tried to cross one of the bridges over the moat, but the gate was closed. We could just catch a glimpse of what looked like a tall, traditional Japanese style building over the wall. It turned out that we would need to go around to the other side of the park to the east gate to get in, but the park was closing in an hour, and we decided it wasn’t worth it.

Instead, we biked over to Hibya park, and to our surprise, found it the sight a large, international food festival: The Taste of Tokyo festival. This was so much fun, a ton of food stands offering different food and drink native to the nationality the stand was representing were scattered all over the park, and people were sprawled out with their families, eating and drinking and enjoying the fall weather. We eventually settled on getting Indian food, and I had a delicious Tandoori chicken sandwich, which I ate sitting in the grass watching a Japanese movie that was being projected on a big screen. All in all, though we didn’t get to see the palace, the day was a definite success.

The next afternoon I met up with a friend from one of my classes, and we actually went back to Chiyoda, to the other side of the park where I was the day before, to go to the National Gallery of Modern Art. The first thing that surprised me about this visit was the cost of admission. It was only about one hundred sixty yen for a student, which was incredible compared to American museums.

We started at the top floor and worked our way down through an incredible collection of both western and Japanese work. All of the labels and information plaques were in English as well as Japanese, which was life saving. Most of the exhibits were arranged by a certain overarching themes, such as life in the midst of war, the impact of industrialization, or nature and solitude. My personal favorite was an exhibit of modern Japanese art that all had to do with the moon and its relationship to and impact on the human mind.

Both of my trips over the weekend were a lot of fun, enabling me to see a part of the city that I haven’t been to before, and with the museum especially, allow me to experience a side of Japanese culture that I am not usually exposed to in my day to day life here.

Becoming Musical Prodigies (Sort Of)


I mean, I’ve been playing piano since I was three. Does that count?


This Monday was Sports/Health Day in Japan. Instead of studying for Midterms (which we all should have been), we decided to take a day trip out to Yokohama to watch a traditional music concert. Azumi’s grandmother has been playing koto since she was a little girl, and the other SA girls were really excited to see and hear a bit of tradition in a modern setting.

With Autumn in full-swing (the temperatures have dropped from mid-90 F with 100% humidity to mid/low-60 F with 50% humidity), some of the summer foods like cold soba and somen have begun to disappear and are being replaced with “warmer” dishes. One of my favorites is nabe (a pot filled with meat and vegetables simmering in a pot). This particular restaurant served 鴨 (かも, duck). f16801_tokyo_kamo-nabe_tamlynkurata

Upon arriving at the venue for the concert, there was a large exhibition table set up for shakuhachi. It looks like a clarinet, but the mouth piece is very similar to a flute. They were offering free shakuhachi made out of PVC pipe to those who could master the instrument in three simple steps. Want to know how? Follow along: f16802_tokyo_shakuhachi-table_tamlynkurata


Step 1: Play the plastic bottle


Step 2: Make a sound on a shortened form of the instrument



Step 3: Make a sound on the full instrument

Only Azumi and I were able to successfully make sounds, so we are now the proud owners of our own shakuhachi.


Demonstration by a long-time shakuhachi player


Show time! This is the curtain


Mrs. Nishizawa and her group performed 嵯峨の歌


The performance was amazing!

Mrs. Nishizawa invited us backstage to meet the other performers and stand next to a koto (which is over 6 ft tall).


While I definitely should have been studying today for my midterm, this was a much-needed break from the crowded streets of Tokyo with its large billboards and business suits. Sometimes we need to take a step back and breathe.


Rainy Days and Shrine Visits


Not all learning is done within a classroom.

That’s the philosophy that many students have at Temple University Japan. When the city is your classroom, there is no limit to what you can learn. Keeping that in mind, a few of the study abroad students and one bridge program student braved the rains to learn about the religious culture (namely, visiting a few shrines).


Takeshita-dori in Harajuku was even more crowded than usual with umbrellas


Azumi performs harae, ritual water cleansing, before entering the shrine gate


Sahara follows suit


Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine), a very popular shrine for visitors, weddings, and the devout to come and pray.


Ruby and Azumi take a picture together in front of the shrine


This is ema, which can be purchased at the shrine. You buy the wooden plaque and write your hopes and dreams on it. I hope Richard’s wish comes true!


Nearby is Togo Shrine, which is a much smaller shrine dedicated to Marshal-Admiral Togo Heihachiro. His flag is presented all over the shrine grounds.


“Does it look okay?” Azumi, Marie, and Sahara check the pictures they took at the shrine


Jumped on a train to Atago to visit Atago Shrine and its famous, steep rock steps (very dangerous on a rainy day, so be careful!)

Since Atago Shrine is on a hill high above the city, it was the designated “fire-watching” spot when large fires were common. Thus, the shrine is dedicated to the shinto fire god, Ho-musubi.


Atago Shrine’s expansive koi pond

With mid-terms coming up in the next weeks, all of the students at TUJ are feeling the pressure, so this little getaway was a great stress-reliever. Good luck with exams, friends!

Tokyo on a Budget


Tokyo is expensive. I’ve been here for a little over a month now, and my wallet is constantly hemorrhaging in a way it never did in Philadelphia. Nothing, not my classes and internship, not the distance between where I am now and home, not the language and cultural divide between me and the city I now live in, nothing is more stressful to me right now than the increasingly diminutive number in my account balance emails.

To get around this, I’ve had to adapt to living in Japan on a budget. My roommate and I spent last Saturday searching our neighborhood, which includes a large enclosed, pedestrian only shopping street, sort of like an outdoor mall, for the cheapest groceries we could find. Surprisingly, the best place we could find for stocking up on essentials cheaply was the one hundred yen shop, which is basically the Japanese equivalent to the American dollar store. However, just like how Japanese convenience stores are light-years ahead of their American counterparts in terms of what is available, the hundred yen shops we’ve seen put their American counterparts to shame. We were able to stock up on a few meals worth of noodles, soy sauce, spices, and iced coffee for fewer than one thousand yen, basically equivalent to ten dollars.

To help with the cost of living here, and to try and further immerse and involve myself in my neighborhood and life in Tokyo in general, I found a part time job. When living in Japan on a student visa, you are eligible to work up to twenty-eight hours a week, as long as the work does not interfere with your studies, and it is not “immoral” work, which essentially means that you can’t work in bars or nightclubs. I was able to find a job as a preschool teacher at a local English language immersion preschool, about a five-minute bike ride from where I’m living, in Ebara. The school works with children ages three to around six years old, providing both afterschool care during the week, and full classes on Saturdays. Meant for children whose parents want them to learn English from an early age, the classes are entirely in English, and are basically what you’d expect form a preschool in America. We play games and read books, go over the days of the week and the months in the year, talk about feelings and make simple crafts. The only difference is since the entire class is learning English as a second, or in some cases, even a third, language. As one of the instructors, I have to over exaggerate the already exaggerated speech patterns, actions, and facial expressions of a standard preschool or daycare teacher who deals with young children.

I will be helping to teach the Saturday morning class, as my schedule this semester doesn’t give me much free time during the week, but I don’t start until after Halloween, in early November. However, I’ve had the opportunity to help out in a few classes already, as sort of an orientation, and I’ve been amazed at these incredibly young kid’s ability to comprehend and communicate in English, and am looking forward to starting work!


The author teaching a class.

The Language of Friendship


This weekend, the SA Japanese class was invited to the house of Kaetsu University’s English Language teacher, Shimizu-sensei, for a cultural exchange party with her students. They offered “traditional” American food and Mexican cuisine, so a few of the study abroad students made the long trip out to Hanakoganei (about an hour away from the Kitazono Dormitory).


Matsuhashi-sensei, Abby, Cassandra, and Shannon wait for the bus outside Hanakoganei Station


“When you introduce yourself, it’s 初めまして、(name)-です,” Matsuhashi-sensei says.


Mingling: Tohru and Shannon meet Kaetsu students Miku and Kaede.

All of the food was cooked by Shimizu-sensei and her students. There was spare ribs, burgers, corn dogs, make-your-own tacos and nachos, enchiladas, deviled eggs, and a small cheese pizza.



Guacamole? What a rare treat!


Matsuhashi-sensei also baked an apple pie for all of the homesick American students.





Justynn and Kaede have fun talking about their interests and the struggles of learning a new language.


Special thanks to Shimizu-sensei and her students for welcoming us into her home and feeding us delicious food!

Communication was a bit of a struggle. Many of Shimizu-sensei’s students are beginners in English, just as the study abroad students are just beginning to learn basic phrases in Japanese. But the room was filled with chatting, laughter, pictures being passed around on iPhones, and exchanges of Facebook and Instagram accounts. Even though there was no common language, the exchange of culture drove the festivities onward. We look forward to meeting our new friends again!

Field Trips and (Educational) Parties?!


One of the newest classes at Temple University is Special Topics: Practical Japanese for the Study Abroad Student. This class not only teaches useful Japanese phrases to students, but also helps to immerse them in the culture through class activities and educational field trips. For this field trip, the class visited Zojo-ji (a Buddhist temple in Shibakoen) and Tokyo Tower.


Before entering a temple or shrine, everybody must cleanse themselves through harae (ritual water cleansing).


The SA Japanese class with a few native-speaking special guests! (Tohru from Temple University, Tom, Fumi, and Kaede)

“But the title mentioned a party?”

Correct! But yet again, not that kind of party.

Kitazono Dormitory, where many of the female students live, hosted an exchange party on Sunday (September 18th). There were some traditional summer festival games, free food, and lots of conversation between all of the tenants!



Nagashi Somen: cold noodles flowing in running water. Part of the challenge is to catch the noodles before they hit the ground.


Temple Student Mari and some of the other tenants celebrate their catch.


One of the dorm staff members helped to make kakigori (shaved ice) for the girls.


Fun games to play for prizes! Like ring toss for candy.


Or yo-yo tsuri for a cool yo-yo water balloon.


Kaya dropped her balloon😦


One of the tenants, Mai, showed off her grandmother’s yukata.


Zojo-ji Temple and the Tokyo Tower


One of my favorite classes so far here at TUJ has been my Japanese for Study Abroad Students class. The class is new this semester, and differs from a traditional low level language class in that the curriculum focuses not necessarily on building the foundation of fluency, but instead on teaching practical phrases that students will need to successfully navigate life in Japan. The class runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays; on Tuesdays we focus on language, and then Thursdays are devoted to a crash course in Japanese culture, which has proved more helpful than I could ever imagine.

One of the first things we talked about in the culture section of the course was the influence of Japan’s two major religions, Buddhism and Shintoism on Japanese culture. Because of this, our first field trip was to the gorgeous Zojo-ji Temple and nearby Tokyo Tower.

The class met outside of Azabu hall under clouds that threatened to, but thankfully never actually did, open up on us at any second. We had originally planned to take a bus to the temple area, but our professor informed us that it was only about a twenty five minute walk from campus, so we decided to take advantage of the weather while it was still on our side. Before long, the Tokyo tower rose up above the surrounding buildings before us, though we initially walked around it to the Temple.

The class was amazed at the size of the Temple grounds; we past what seemed like five separate main gates before we finally found the one we were looking for, the one that was very obviously meant to be the main main gate. At the gate, we met up with three students from a Japanese university in Tokyo who were coming with us; they showed us how to properly cleanse our hands at the hand-washing tub, and how to burn the incense inside of the temple while praying. The inside of the temple was incredible. Understandably, pictures were forbidden inside out of respect, but it was one of the most peaceful and serene environments I had ever been in. A service of some sort was going on inside as we entered; unfortunately I do not know nearly enough about Buddhism to know what was going on, but I do know that I could have stayed in there for hours, and was very disappointed when our professor pulled us away to go to the tower, which had been the part of the trip I was initially looking forward to the most.

We went up to the midlevel observation deck at the tower, which was still more than high up enough to get an incredible view of Tokyo. The city spread out as far as we could see in every direction; I’m still having trouble fathoming just how truly massive this city is. When we got there it was still daylight, but as we hung out on the observation deck the sun set, and we watched the lights of Roppongi on one side and the Odaiba Ferris wheel on the other light up as the sky went dark, and it was incredible.

The trip was one of the best experiences I’ve had at TUJ and in Japan in general so far, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the semester with this class.

Mikoshi Matsuri – The Final Summer Festival


With the end of summer comes the last summer festival: mikoshi matsuri. This fabulous festival brings the entire community together for food, games, and traditional Shinto worship and displays of camaraderie. It was a two-day event on September 10th and 11th. So, with that, it’s time to learn some vocabulary for this post!

祭(り)(matsuri) = festival

神輿 (mikoshi) = divine palanquin/portable Shinto shrine

金魚掬い(kingyo sukui) = goldfish scooping

たい焼き (taiyaki) = “baked sea bream”; a baked fish-shaped cake filled with azuki (red bean paste)


Sahara and Ruby participate in the traditional game of 金魚掬い. There was even a tiny turtle version at the main temple! Unfortunately, the dorm does not allow pets, so all of the fish had to be returned to the pool.


The mikoshi in front of the main shrine. It is paraded through the streets of the city as a vehicle of the gods to bring good luck to the city and the bearers of the palanquin.


Grace is ready to get the festivities started! Her happi coat has the name of the city on the front collars and the kanji for 祭 on the back.


While the palanquin is very heavy, the bearers stay upbeat by “bouncing” the palanquin, clapping, and chanting. One of the carriers said that some mikoshi exceed 1000 kg (OVER 2,000 lbs!!!)


Some of the SA girls after carrying the mikoshi over a mile to the main shrine, but it doesn’t end there! The carrying started at 3pm and didn’t end until 10pm.


Everybody is all smiles despite the weight of their cargo.


Abby is participating in the “women’s only” section, where the men follow in the back as the women carry the mikoshi to the next destination.


Pausing for a picture with one of the shrine workers at one of the resting stops. He is wearing a traditional happi coat adorned with the city’s name, as well as 地下足袋 (jikatabi), or traditional shoes that split the toe from the rest of the foot.


The smiles are starting to disappear as the hours tick on, but the sound of clapping and chanting never wanes.


Finally, the end of the festival. Time to celebrate with some たい焼き!


Trip to the Beach


So it has taken twenty years, but I have finally seen the Pacific. This past Saturday, my landlord told Pat and I that he would be throwing a barbecue

party at Tsujido beach; we were invited, and told to bring some of our friends from school. So that morning we woke up, quickly stuffed towels and bathing suits into our backpacks, and biked to Shinagawa Station to meet up with our friends Alexis and Kyoko, and then took the train south to Tsujido station.

Sota, our landlord, picked us up from the station and drove us the approximate two kilometers to the beach, where the party was just getting set up. The party would consist of me and pat, Alexis and Kyoko, as well as a few of Sota’s previous renters, plus his family and friends. It was an incredibly international group, with representatives from Japan, the United States, Korea, the Netherlands, and Italy present. We sat around with a great view of the ocean all day, listening to music, eating oysters and grilling everything from chicken to steak to hash browns and vegetables. The grill area was set up at the top of the beach, under an bridge, providing shade, which later served to save the party when it got dark; a light bulb on a cord was strung down from the top of the bridge so we could carry on into the night.

Tsujido beach, I was told by Anoma, one of my roommates who speaks Japanese, is actually a very famous surf spot in Japan, and has been featured in popular TV shows and movies here, similar to the way Venice Beach in LA is always seen in American shows. Although the surf was calm on Saturday, I could see why. The beach was breathtaking, with the Pacific stretching out endlessly in front of us, and the famous Enoshima Prospects Lighthouse to our left. When we stood facing the ocean, to our right (south) were mountains that I wish we could have seen more clearly; unfortunately, the day was too hazy to make them into anything more distinct than dark, cloud like smudges on the horizon.

Physically, the beach itself was very different from the North Atlantic beaches that I’ve grown up with in two ways. One, the sand was black! This is from the volcanic nature of Japan and the Pacific in general. Second, the water was far warmer than I was used to. On my phone it said the water a Tsujido was about eighty degrees fahrenheit. There was no way that was true; it felt maybe more like somewhere in the mid seventies, but it was still very nice.

We finally got back to our house at around ten or eleven p.m. I was exhausted enough by the time we reached Shinagawa Station, and had completely forgotten that I still had a 3-kilometer uphill bike ride to go before I was actually home. It felt so good to get out of the city for a little while, and to finally see a part of Japan other than the endless urban sprawl of Tokyo.