Fun Before Finals

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On Friday, I took my last classes at TUJ. A few members of the Gamers Club were celebrating with an all-night karaoke session and invited me to tag along. I went to karaoke once last year, but this place was completely different. The karaoke place we went to actually scored songs based on a wide range of factors, and if your score was high enough, you won a prize. As one could imagine, most of the songs were in Japanese, but there was a small selection of English songs as well. Since I’m now able to read the hiragana on the screen, I at least attempted the Japanese songs. I got passing scores on every one, so that’s good enough for me! I also tried octopus for the first time while I was there. I normally don’t like seafood, but the octopus wasn’t that bad. Overall, it was a really fun night!

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The next day, my friend and I went back to Ikebukuro to go to a dancing festival. In the center of the city, there was a giant tower with people banging large drums and playing other types of traditional festival music. There must’ve been hundreds of people surrounding the tower and dancing along. There was also delicious food and even free fans. Even though the festival was rather small, it was even livelier than the one I went to in Shinjuku. Everyone looked very excited to be part of the festivities, and many people were dressed in yukatas and other festive garments. It was a fantastic experience!

After a dance or two, my friend and I explored parts of Ikebukuro we didn’t go to last time and eventually found Sunshine City, the mall containing the Pokémon Center we had searched so hard for during our last visit. The mall wasn’t nearly as big as the one in Skytree, but it was still fairly large. It had several cafes, an aquarium, and even a giant statue of Godzilla’s foot. Finding the Pokémon Center inside such a large building proved to be a challenge, but we were able to get there just before it closed. The store had much more merchandise than what I had expected. There were plushies of dozens of different Pokémon, ranging from the size of my hand to the size of my dresser. There were also giant statues of some of the more popular Pokémon as well as key chains, figures, clothing, and accessories. I was able to get some nice presents for my brother and my friend back home and also got myself a pair of Pikachu ears. The store was definitely worth the search.

During karaoke, one of my friends there invited me to Yomiyuri Land, an amusement park/water park. I love going to theme parks and rarely have the chance to go to any, so I was excited to go. Most of the stuff there was similar to what you would find at a regular American theme park, but there were a few things that stood out to me. The main difference I saw was the wide variety of performances featured throughout the day. I didn’t watch all of them, but the most notable one I saw was a knife juggler on stilts. There was also a grand performance in the water park’s main pool featuring Scott Man, the hero of the park. Scott Man was able to shoot a water gun out of his head and had his sidekicks shoot the audience with hoses and water works. The song he sung was very entertaining, and the entire crowd, including me, really got into the show. It was arguably my favorite part of the trip.

At the end of the day in Yomiyuri Land, one of my friends asked each of us if we could write her a goodbye note. That’s when I realized that this may be the last time I ever see some of those people. I can’t believe the study abroad program is nearly over already. It feels like just last week I was meeting the friends I’ve made here for the first time. I was honestly a little scared when I first came to Japan, only knowing two other people in a strange, new place. However, being so far out of my comfort zone forced me to become more independent and open, which has caused me to make so many great friends in such a short period of time. Even though I may not see many of them again after next week, I’ll make sure to stay in touch. I’m glad that I’m fortunate enough to have made at least a few friends from main campus that I’ll be able to see next school year. One of them is even joining the anime club! However, goodbyes are still a little while away. I have a few plans left before leaving Japan at the end of next week, and I’ll make sure to talk all about them. Until then, Sayōnara from Japan!

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Last Two Weeks in Japan

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There are only two weeks left in Japan. We have gotten more and more used to the crowded city, the kawaii culture, and the busy lively people. We are never tired of getting involved in the Japanese community.

This time, we went to Odaiba in Tokyo, Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, and Osaka.

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Odaiba is the place where the Fuji TV station is. They are shooting for today’s weather forecast and asked Katie and Amanda for help.

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Katie is writing down her dream on that ball

 

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In Gundam Cafe, Katie is trying this cute beamsabel umbrella.

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Inside Fuji TV Station, a cutout for Run for Money.

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Original drawings of Chibi Maruko Chan

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There is also a small Statue of Liberty in Japan, right next to the Fuji TV Station

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Osaka is even more crowed than Tokyo. So many tourists are shopping and eating over here.

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A house called Sekkatei in Golden Pavilion. This place is used to be a tea room.

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Golden Pavilion

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I feel so peaceful every time I see this traditional water place.

Fun At The Beach

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IMG_1208This weekend was one that just about everyone in the Takadonababa dorm was looking forward to all summer long. The final Temple-sponsored trip of the summer was an overnight trip to Shirohama Beach. Honestly, I was originally hesitant to sign up for this one since beaches aren’t my favorite thing in the world, but I felt that the beach experience would be better with friends. I wasn’t wrong. This trip turned out to be a blast.

The hotel we stayed at was amazing. Not only was the inside much nicer than the hotel at Gunma, but it also had a beach right out back as well as a gorgeous view of the ocean. My roommate and I stayed up for the sunrise, and it was a beautiful sight to see. The food there was great too. Of course, there was an onsen, and we all really enjoyed soaking in there as well.

Even though rain prevented us from actually going to the beach on Saturday, Sunday made up for it with sunny skies, big waves, and water that was just the right amount of cold. TUJ was kind enough to give each of us beach items to use during the day. I got a pump water gun, which turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected. A few people, including me, got into heated battles in the ocean, diving behind others, swimming under opponents, shooting from above another person’s head, blocking shots with boogie boards, and even using two water guns at once. I never knew water gun fights could get so intense!

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Speaking of boogie boards, the waves were just right for some great boogie boarding. They were strong enough to take a rider a long way but not large enough to overwhelm most people. I along with five other people ended our time at the beach by having boogie boarding races to the shore. I would consistently come in the top three, mainly because I was one of the riders with the most experience. My uncle is the master of boogie boarding and would do anything to get his nieces and nephews to learn a thing or two on the board. I think I made Boogie Boarding Pete proud that day.

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There was a lot of traffic on the way home from the beach, but I tried making the best of it. Besides getting some much-needed sleep on the bus, I also looked around each pit stop for something cool I couldn’t find anywhere else. My search paid off. I found yet another key chain, this time of Frieza from Dragon Ball Z along with Mt. Fuji. I’ve never seen anything like it before, so I’m glad I found it. I also got my mom a nice little trinket, but I won’t spoil what it is! Overall, Shirohama was a fantastic experience, and I’m very glad I decided to come along.

Earlier this week, my friend showed me a cafe she had her eye on for a while called the Milky Way Cafe. The cafe was really cute. It was covered in stars, and there was a parfait for each of the 12 zodiac symbols, as well as other delicious star-themed dishes. I ordered my sign, Scorpio, and was amazed with what I saw. Mine was a small bowl of corn flakes topped with several scoops of delicious vanilla and chocolate ice cream with dabs of custard cream, chocolate bites and chocolate straws, four giant graham crackers, and two star cookies on top. As a major fan of sweet things, I can say that this was easily the best thing I’ve eaten my entire stay in Japan, and I’ve had some pretty good food this summer. I’m extremely happy that I went, and I will never forget my first official parfait.

With finals coming up, I’m going to be pretty busy during my last weeks in Japan. However, I have made some room for a few more interesting things to see and do, so I’ll be sure to talk about them as they come up. Until then, Sayōnara from Japan!

Making Wind Chimes!

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This weekend, my friends and I went to Edo Fuurin to learn how to make wind chimes. These wind chimes weren’t like the ones back at home with a cluster of pipes tied to a base. These were glass spheres that were blown using a furnace and then cut from the top to include a small hole. The hole is then sanded, but not sanded enough to be completely smooth. Then a pipe is tied under the hole, which creates the chime’s sound. Given the nature of this process, no two wind chimes are alike. Some are slightly larger than others, and most are sanded in different ways, giving each chime its own unique sound.

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I was surprised when I heard just how much work it takes to be in the wind chime business. Just learning how to blow the glass into a sphere properly typically takes three whole years to master. In addition, it takes up to 10 years to learn the entire process. Now that’s dedication! A few of us were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to make very good wind chimes, but of course, there were aids who assisted us through the process. Sure, our wind chimes weren’t perfect, but knowing no two wind chimes are alike, everyone was happy with their creations.

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After making our wind chimes, we were given a chance to paint our own designs. I don’t quite understand why, but we were only allowed to paint on the inside. Maybe it had something to do with affecting the sound of the wind chime. This made painting a little difficult, but I think mine still came out okay. I tried making a cute, little kitten!

After the wind chime workshop, a few of us stayed behind to hang out with James. James is a member of TUJ’s student government and is the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to finding cool stuff around Japan. James took us to Oji, where there was an interesting building with a restaurant, shopping center, and arcade all in one. The food there was fantastic! The restaurant offered small platters for reasonable prices. I got the family bowl, which was a rice bowl with chunks of egg and chicken and an egg yolk with seasoning on top. It tasted really good, and I’m glad James knew about such a great place.

Of course, we couldn’t leave without visiting the arcade. I found Dance Dance Revolution, the greatest game ever created. My friend really wanted me to make a video playing the game while I was here, and I did not disappoint. I was definitely out of practice but still had a great time. We also tested out our skills on the crane games, which are a lot harder in Japan since most machines only hold one of each item. After 10 tries, I won my friend a giant chick. I’m glad I was able to at least get something.

Before I end my post, here are some more pictures of Tokyo Tower, this time from up close. My class ended half an hour early Tuesday, so I took the opportunity to finally venture over there. I got slightly lost on the way there since I am horrible with directions, but I didn’t mind. Along the way, I got to see many fancy buildings, the Australian Embassy, a temple, and even a mini park filled with animal statues. It was a fun afternoon. That’s all I have for this post, but I have several more exciting events coming up soon, so until then, Sayōnara from Japan!

Get Closer to Japanese Life

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Walking in the city of Tokyo and Yokohama, I saw various activities that enrich people’s lives in Japan.

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As the native sport, baseball is very popular among students. High school students are practicing baseball with their school team during the weekend.

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In Japan, they have this electric screen to be the other player and help people practice. It is like a video game.

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A golf course in Tokyo. In order to save spaces, they created this golf course with multiple layers.

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Yokohama is for people who love the ocean.

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Ramune, a very common summer drink in Japan. It is like soda, but it has a glass ball inside to create bubbles. It is fun to drink.

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Japan’s Kawaii culture at Takeshita Street, Tokyo

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Summer festival in Yokohama. They have so many little temporary stores set up and sell their food.

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There is going to be a election on July 10th. Candidates are busy driving from place to place and speaking for their new policies.

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A monument in Yokohama built by the Indian community.

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I made a wabako, or Japanese box. It is amazing how papers can turn into such a beautiful thing.

Adventuring Ikebukuro

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This weekend, my friend was going to Ikebukuro and invited me to tag along. I’m glad I did because it was much better than I had expected it to be. When people think of the anime industry in Japan, most people immediately bring up Akihabara. However, Ikebukuro has a sizeable anime presence as well, which I didn’t know about before studying abroad. Granted, Akihabara has a lot more stores, cafes, and other places to see, but Ikebukuro has its own must-sees as well.

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During our trip, my friend and I explored the sights and found many interesting stores. My favorite store was K-Books, which believe it or not is not a book store. There, they sold mini anime posters, figures, key chains, and more for as little as 100 yen. I was astonished by how great the deals were there. I got a few neat keychains of Chopper’s pirate roger from One Piece and Deidara from Naruto, two of my favorite anime characters. I wasn’t able to find these anywhere else I’ve been to so far, so I was really happy. By the way, I’ve slowly been accumulating a large amount of anime-themed key chains from all of my trips throughout the summer. At this rate, I’m going to have a large collection by the time I head home.

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Before leaving Ikebukuro, we stopped at an interesting food stand. I never found out the actual name of the food, so I’ll do my best to describe it. It was basically a giant dough ball stuffed with eggs and some sausage bits with your choice of sauce and/or topping. It honestly tasted really weird, but in a good way. I didn’t exactly like my topping (I was trying kimchi for the first time as well), but the dough ball itself was pretty good. I also surprised the cashier by being able to order my meal in Japanese. It looks like Elements I is finally paying off.

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Overall, Ikebukuro was an amazing experience. I wish we were able to see the Pokémon Center while we were there, but I didn’t find out until after we left that the Pokémon Center was inside the mall. For those of you who don’t know, the Pokémon Center is the largest Pokémon-themed store in the world. Now that I know exactly where it is, I would like to go back there before I leave. Luckily, Ikebukuro is only two subway stops away, so I won’t have a hard time getting back there.

Before I end this post, I would like to give a shout out to my little cousins, Ashley and Emily, as well as my Aunt Lisa, who sent me letters a few weeks back. It was great to hear from you guys. Thanks too to all my family and friends who are following along with my experience in Japan. It means a lot to me. Until next time, Sayōnara from Japan!

Asakusa and Japanese Food Culture

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Today, we went to Ueno to pay my first visit toAsakusa Temple, or Sensō-ji. That area also has a street selling all kinds of Japanese kitchenware, which is a necessary part of Japanese food culture.

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A top view of Asakusa Temple

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It is said that the smoke of incense in this temple could protect you from illness

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We met a group of middle school students. They are asking us about the impression of Japan in English.

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Amanda really likes Omikuji. Can’t wait to find out her fortune.

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Japanese girls wearing Kimono in the temple

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Ningyo-yaki, a snake cake in Japan. The shape is like human faces.

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Street decoration for Tanabata festival, asian valentine’s day. This festival is also celebrated in South Korea and China.

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A lantern store selling all kinds of lanterns for restaurants. The words on those lanterns are all about food, such as alcohol and sushi.

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These knife is only for soba noodle.

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These delicious-looking things are only the samples for actual food. In Japan, restaurants always put these samples outside rather than pictures.

Exploring Gunma

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IMG_1108This week was a tad stressful with four tests over the span of seven days, but luckily, I was able to have some fun on my trip to Gunma. Gunma is an area with many interesting shrines, gorgeous views, and relaxing onsen (hot springs). Out of the three Temple-sponsored trips I’ve been to so far, this one had by far the most interesting environment.

 

First, we went to Takasaki Kannon, a place filled with beautiful shrines and statues. I’m not quite sure what religion was being practiced, but the center of the area had a statue of what I assumed to be a goddess that was several stories tall. My friends and I were able to go inside the statue, where there was a museum-like display of statues representing the history of the religion. If only I knew more Japanese!

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Next, we took a steam train to Ikaho Green Farm, where we saw many different animals from sheep, to dogs, to cows, to even goats. My favorite animals there were the bunnies, but I just like cute little critters. While I was looking at the bunnies, some of my friends chipped in and rented a sheep. It was hilarious to see them walking a full-grown sheep around the farm. I also got to try ramen for the first time while I was there. I was really excited since I had been meaning to try ramen for a while, and I absolutely loved it.

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After the farm, we finally arrived at Onsen town, but before we went to the hotel, we stopped at a ridiculously long staircase. I like to call it the Stairway to Heaven because it had the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen at the top. I also like to call it the Stairway of Doom because it was a difficult time both climbing up and down. First, there’s 365 stairs to another temple with shops and food stands along the way. This is fine. Then, the real challenge begins. Behind the temple, there is a forestry mountain with stairs to the peak. I later found out that from the temple to the peak was roughly three miles long. Since I don’t exercise too often, I was pretty exhausted by the time I reached the top. However, the view at the peak was well worth the effort. Not everyone was able to make the climb, but I could tell that those who did were not disappointed.

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That night, we finally made it to the onsen. I like dipping in the onsen, but unfortunately, I get dizzy really fast when exposed to high temperatures. The fact that there was no cold bath didn’t help. After almost falling over (twice), I had to get out. Other than that, the hotel was a nice time and gave me a chance to rest after all that climbing.

The next day, we left early to see more amazing mountain views, see a few more shrines, and visit Kawagoe Town, a town with many authentic shops that sold stuff like dolls, beans, and more. The thing that stood out to me the most though was the Daruma Doll Shop, where we were able to make our very own daruma. The shop must’ve had hundreds of darumas, some big, some small, some gigantic, and some golden. My daruma didn’t turn out exactly like the model, but I think I did a pretty decent job. While making darumas, we learned that they were used for granting wishes. One eye is painted when the wish is made, and the other is painted when the wish is granted. Sorry, but my wish is a secret!

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Overall, Gunma was a very enjoyable place to visit. I saw many amazing things, bonded with friends, and brought back many souvenirs. A trip like this was just what I needed to get through my midterms. And now that those are over, I have much more free time to go on even more trips of my own. Until then, Sayōnara from Japan!

Gunma: Out of the City

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This time, we had a chance to visit Gunma, a city on the northern side of Tokyo. Unlike the modernity of Tokyo, Gunma is much closer to nature.

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Takasaki Kannon, which was built thirty years ago.

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Standing inside the Kannon, we could see Tokyo.

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In Ikaho Green Farm, Li Xie’s attention is only for this bunny.

 

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Li, Julie, and Ray are enjoying being children in the farm.

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Great view in the countryside.

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Harlan Shrine is hidden in this forest.

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People are tasting tea in a little shop on the way back from the shrine.

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Beautiful goldfish in the shrine

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A part of Misuzu Falls. The water fall is too high.

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Being happy to be in Japan and having this chance to see somewhere outside of Tokyo!

Walking around in Kawagoeshi

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Kawagoe has an area is called “little edo”, since the buildings are still like they were in the Edo period. Last weekend, we went to the Little Edo to feel the old Tokyo.

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My host mother is helping Amanda put on her yukata for a walk outside.

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Finished! So pretty! Thanks for my host mother letting us borrow her yukata and for the hand made flower too.

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These Japanese style boxes are actually lunch boxes.

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Neat setting in Izakaya(居酒屋)

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A knife store in Kawagoe. I was surprised by the elaborate carving on them.

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An udon restaurant called Marukamejima (丸亀製面) with traditional settings.

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The building in Edo period.

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This is Amezaiku, candy craft in Japanese. The girl is try to blow the candy.

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The currency in Edo period.

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This is a bank in Edo period. It has got some western styles.