The Long Journey to the First Day of Work

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The Long Journey to the First Day of Work

We’ve gone over adjusting to a different culture, but now let’s get down to business: what is an internship abroad like? As I’ve mentioned in my first post, I’ve now had two internships abroad: one in London and one in Tokyo.

Generally, an office is an office no matter what side of the ocean it’s on. You come in, work, eat lunch, do more work, and leave.There may be office hangouts or bar hopping Fridays, but those things generally depend on the office culture, not the country culture. Especially as an intern, you won’t be expected to know everything and be put in business-critical situations that could make or break the company, such as conducting meetings.

The look of confusion is a universal one, and people in any culture will be nice enough to help you through whatever you’re confused about. Don’t be self conscious about minor mistakes; just take a mental note for next time and move on.

So, what happens after you decide to work abroad? First thing first is:

Applying

This will be, minimum, 2-3 months before your projected start date. Make sure to start applying early! You don’t want to start late and realize you missed the chance. That includes trying to figure out how you are finding your internships. There are a couple ways to find internships abroad: directly applying to companies, applying to a non-university placement program, and going through a university program. I was semi-successful directly applying to a company last summer, but found a placement program that worked better with my schedule and needs. University programs tend to be the easiest and least risky route since you’ll be applying and working with staff within the States. As a rule of thumb, you should settle in on a program choice at the beginning of the semester before you fly out. For summer internships, that means you need to have a plan by January-Early February.

Any program will give you a list of possible placements and tell you to pick your top few choices to help you apply. If you’re not applying directly, staff will be there to help you craft a culture-appropriate resume and cover letter/ CV. If you are applying by yourself, make sure to research what is appropriate for the country you are trying to work in, and make sure to heavily research any visa requirements and such. It’s relatively easy to find information nowadays online. Once you send off a resume and cover letter, it’s just a waiting game to hear back about interview.

Interviewing

Time differences! Know the time difference between your city and the city you are planning to work in by heart! The UK is only 5 hours ahead of Philly, so that wasn’t bad. Tokyo, though, is a full 13 hours ahead. That was a nightmare to try and set up. I had originally sent my interview times in EST, and had said that in the email, but that got lost in translation. Long story short, I thought we had a definitive time setup, then I woke up in the morning to an email sent at 4 am saying I missed the interview.

Cat on a Clock because Why Not

Tic-Tok, something, something. I just wanted an excuse to put this cute cat clock in here

That was a mini heart attack. The company was understanding, since they knew I was so far behind Tokyo time, but I made sure to send my availability in Japan time just to make sure. And then my interview ended up being at 1 am. Yes. 1 am. It happens. Don’t be surprised if it happens to you. Otherwise, an interview is an interview. It will most likely be over Skype, and don’t be alarmed if the interview is under 20 minutes. For both internships, my interviews were 12 and 9 minutes respectively. I got accepted at both, so obviously it wasn’t too much of a problem.

Pre-Departure

So you have the internship, and you’re packing to go. If you walk away from this blog post, let it be this: email your supervisor before you even start packing and ask questions. More specifically, ask about the dress code. I was lucky; when I emailed for this internship, the response I got was “people wear jeans here, so it’s pretty casual!” There are companies, though, that may have strict dress codes and you won’t know until you ask. Even if your company is a casual one, you don’t want to be dressed up in a full suit on your first day surrounded by jeans and sandals. The opposite situation would be even more devastating.

Also, ask if there are any special instructions on arriving to the office. Is there a reception desk where you have to ask for a certain employee before you’re allowed in? Ask, especially, if there is a picture of the building you can have. Especially in Tokyo, this is important. Tokyo is an extremely dense city, often with offices, restaurants and stores all being stacked on top of each other with hard to find markings. My first day of work started with me being 30 minutes late because I found the office building on time, but couldn’t find the elevator that took me to the correct floor. Make. Sure. You. Ask. Don’t be like me.

Day 0

Once you land, you’ll most likely have at least a day or two where you have free time. Go to your office. Don’t actually go in, but look up directions and familiarize yourself with the area. Make sure you know the building and the floor number. Find the elevator you need to take. Pretend you are actually commuting, and go all the way up until the point you are staring at your office door (or at least as close as you can). Even if it looks easy on Google Maps, it can get hairy when you actually try and find your office, especially during peak/rush hour, when the streets can be bustling and the trains stifling. Once you know your office, you’ll be ready to actually start working. So please mind the gap, and get ready for the commute!

The Toyoko Line

Consider yourself lucky if the station is this empty when you board

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4 Unique Restaurant Experiences in Japan

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4 Unique Restaurant Experiences in Japan

Almost every time I go out to eat somewhere in Japan, it turns into an entire experience in itself. You could have fun here simply visiting restaurants and trying all the food that you could not get back home. That being said, if you are a picky eater, then I think you are truly missing out on some priceless experiences here in Japan. Here, I added pictures of my most memorable experiences:

 

1. Japanese Hotcakes

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The first picture is of the famous Japanese hotcakes. You might have seen videos of these on Facebook or some travel channel show. It was probably the best pancake I had ever eaten. The restaurant where you can find these unique pancakes is called West Aoyama Garden, a short walk from Nogizaka station after riding the Chiyoda line. The restaurant is based off of a high-end French cafe, so there is also bakery located in the front. Keeping with the theme, there are no chopsticks to be found either, and all the menu items are European to some degree. The servers even dress the part and give you a hot towel, known as oshibori, to wipe your hands with before the meal.

2. Maid and Butler Cafes

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Now, if you like cafes but want a more kawaii experience, then I would recommend any of the maid cafes in Akihabara or mascot cafes like Cinnamoroll Cafe in Shinjuku. There are also animal-themed cafes, like cat or dog or even owl cafes, where one is entertained by the animals while waiting for the food. I would recommend going to a maid cafe at least once because there is really nothing like it. As you probably have seen across websites or social media, all the servers are women dressed in maid outfits. At the maid cafe there is a bell you ring to get the servers’ attention, and if you grow fond of one of the servers, you can pay extra to get a picture of them. The concept overall seems to be geared towards single men, as those appeared to be the only other kind of customers other than tourists that were there when I went with a group of friends. The interactions with the server were always entertaining and funny, so they made for a good time.

However, if women in maid outfits don’t particularly appeal to you, then Japan also has a butler cafe, The Swallowtail, in Shibuya. This cafe delivers a much different experience. Here, the women are treated more like royalty, as the “master” title given to male customers in maid cafes has been substituted for the title “princess.” It is much more expensive, and there is a list of rules one has to follow when dining there. I haven’t yet visited, but it might be a place to check out.

3. Mascot Cafes

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A much more relaxing and cozy experience can be found at Cinnamoroll CafeIt doesn’t have the “maid experience” but, instead, has booths with plushies of the mascot that you can play with while waiting for your food. All the food items are designed to look like the mascot, too. This cafe seems like a much more popular date destination; half of the customers when I went seemed to be couples. I ordered a strawberry sponge cake when I visited, and it is still the best dessert I have had since I arrived.

4. Conveyor Belt Sushi

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The last kind of restaurant is the conveyor belt sushi. This experience was the most fun I had at a restaurant. With a device like an iPad, you can order a wide variety of sushi, and within minutes, the plate with your food comes traveling down the belt. It is not that expensive either, considering it charges per plate and the amount of food you can get for around $10 is substantial.

 

Culture Shock pt. 2: Getting through It

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Culture Shock pt. 2: Getting through It

So if you didn’t read my first post about how I experienced culture shock, here’s the run down: I’m an intern in Tokyo and I experienced culture shock, which surprised me.

As the second part of reflections on the topic, this post is going to be about getting over culture shock. Sometimes, culture shock can be an actual shock, over in 7 minutes. Other times, it can take months. Whatever the case, there’s always a light at the end of the shorter-than-you-think tunnel. So, before you go anywhere, learn a few ways to deal with the shock. Here’s how I did:

Step One: Recognition

Culture shock will most likely hit you in the first place where you really start realizing you’re not “home”, and that may not be some new and exciting place. If you’re in an internship, it most likely will be at your workplace Or at least it was for me: the first day of work was really when it hit me. I’m interning in a company where 98% of the employees are Japanese. For my first day, it felt like there were hours where the only sounds I heard were people typing. People tell you that no one talks on trains here, similar to many other countries (not the US, as many of you reading may know). What no one tells you, though, is that the “be quiet” rule extends beyond trains.

I’m not saying that Tokyo is this eerily stark-silent city. It’s just so quiet compared to other cities I’ve lived in like Philly and London. I spent the night after my first day on the job and half of the next day trying to figure out why I suddenly wish I wasn’t there, why I felt this pang in my chest if I thought about going back to work or riding the train. After hours of internal deliberation, I finally accepted that it was culture shock.

Once you realize you’re experiencing culture shock, it lifts half the weight off of your chest. Recognition can last from a months-long experience to maybe just a few days-long experience, because once you figure it all out, it’s easier and faster to move through it.

Step 2: Respond to Your Stress

Now, this is probably specific to me, but I need to reason myself out of being stressed or sad so that I can actually take action to get past whatever it is that’s upsetting me. You might be different. Before going abroad, really ask yourself how you respond to stress and what works for you. Even if you don’t get culture shock, knowing how to deal with stress will help you a lot. 

For me, I started by asking myself exactly what was making me so uncomfortable. That was easy to find out after my strangely quiet work day. I had to remind myself why that makes me uncomfortable, and then start listing any other thing that was contributing to my culture shock (ie. the language barrier). Anything that stops you from feeling as if you don’t belong in your temporary home–list them out. It really helps to know exactly what upsets you for…

Step 3: Point Out the Awesome

This is probably the most important step. Honestly, you might even be able to skip to this step. No matter what makes you uncomfortable, no matter what is different or strange to you, there will be 10 more things that are new and make you actually excited to be where you are.

A Typical, Cheap Work Lunch

Spoiler alert: most of what I love here is food, like this cheap and yummy lunch à la 7-Eleven and my work’s vending machine

For me, I was already loving:

  1. Sushi need I say more?
  2. Ramen bars where have these been all my life?!
  3. Udon barsimilar to point 2
  4. Non-SEPTA public transport seriously, why does SEPTA pose so much hassle
  5. Conbini EVERYWHERE I can even get sushi here (see point 1)
  6. How nice everyone is! I once had a very nice man take me 5 blocks out of HIS way because he saw a poor lost American
  7. Seaweed snacks I am addicted
  8. Fashion everyone looks so put together all the time
  9. Little random fairs everywhere street food is amazing no matter the country
  10. The Umbrellas ok, stay with me, but they are so cute here! And they really help rain or shine
  11. Sushi
  12. Sushi
  13. Just all the food, really
  14. Traditional Shrines they bring you peace and new culture
Meiji Shrine Entrance

The Meiji Shrine entrance, right in the middle of bustling Tokyo

The point is, no matter how long your culture shock lasts, even if it lasts for the entire time you’re here (which it won’t, don’t worry), keep reminding yourself of the reasons you DO want to be here. You’ll find that culture shock just subsides a bit everyday. Mine lasted about a month. Whether or not you experience full on culture shock, you will get a little homesick or feel a little sad sometimes. Just walk outside and find a new thing to fall in love with.

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So, now that we know how to get through the shock, shall we head to work?

 

3-Week Mark: Learning How to Get around Japan

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3-Week Mark: Learning How to Get around Japan

Three weeks in, and I can firmly say that when I ride the subway, I usually know what I am doing. For the traveler with no knowledge of the native language, the subways and the stations have been made very accommodating. Every overhead sign with info about the incoming train is in English. When riding, you’ll also hear every stop is repeated in English. Google Maps will become your best friend when you’re here. Just type in what station you’re at/near and what station you want to go to and it shows what route is the quickest, what trains to ride, whether it’s local or express, what platform the train arrives on, and even the approximate cost in yen of the trip. The trains are always on time, and if you miss your train don’t feel bad–there’s another one arriving in 3-5 minutes.  The subway is the go-to for traveling within and around Tokyo.

As it was mentioned during orientation here, Japan is not just Tokyo. There is also the city of Kyoto, which I highly recommend visiting, that has retained traditional elements of Japanese culture. Here you will find older shrines and temples, more people wearing kimonos and yukatas (a casual kimono), bamboo groves, festivals, and the elusive geisha. Now getting there from Tokyo can be a bit expensive. Everyone tells you to take a shinkansen (the bullet train) which gets you there with 2 to 3 hours. Tickets are around 12,000 to 16,000 yen one-way (about $120-$160) and get even more expensive if you really want to travel in luxury.

However, there’s also a second option that I chose to take advantage of, and the round-trip fare cost less than a one-way ticket for the bullet train. I took an overnight bus that departed Tokyo Friday night and arrived in Kyoto Saturday morning, and then picked me up Sunday night and dropped me off back in Tokyo Monday morning. It was easy to make the reservations on the website–it’s mostly in English and tells you the exact pick up and drop off points and the times to be there. Now, since I spent the weekend, I needed a place to sleep. Hotels are fine, but if you want to save money to use for other activities, I recommend staying at an 24-hr internet cafe. Another unique feature of Japan, these cafes allow you to spend 5 hours overnight for around $15. You get a small cubical that comes with a PC, all the Japanese manga you could read, a shower, snacks, and free drinks. They are surprisingly quiet, like most of Japan, and can be a great place to get some sleep.

I would also highly recommend taking any trips to places far away from Tokyo during the first couple weeks of your stay. You’d be surprised by how fast your weekends fill up. Depending on what kind of classes you’re taking and how many TUJ student activities events you sign up for, your schedule can become very busy. Almost every weekend since I have been here has been occupied with either class field trips or TUJ trips (TUJ trips are particularly fantastic, and are offered at a great price!), so it’s always beneficial to plan ahead. Japan is filled with so many beautiful unique places and cultural experiences that it really makes you consider signing up for a second semester abroad.

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These were the only geisha I could find after my weekend in Kyoto. People dressed as such are hard to find, so do not be surprised if there is a line of Japanese people waiting to take a picture as well!

Hi. I’m an Intern, and I’m Experiencing Culture Shock

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Hi. I’m an Intern, and I’m Experiencing Culture Shock

The title says it all — I suffered culture shock. So let’s back-track a bit. I’m a Summer Intern in Tokyo this summer. It’s not my first time interning abroad, but it is my first time in Asia. I interned in London last summer, so I didn’t have to worry about culture shock (to the same degree as here, anyway). England and the US are fairly similar in culture, to the point where I’d have to look closely at times to find differences in the culture. Tokyo has definitely proven to be a different experience.

It took me a few days to realize it, but those were a hard few days. It’s not the most glamorous subject and I’m probably about to write multiple posts about this, but I want to be clear, and thorough about this. I feel like some people talk about the concept of culture shock, but, at least for me, no one really impressed how it can emotionally drain you. Culture shock slowly sneaks up on you…and then it hits you right in the face. It wasn’t until I almost (almost, but not fully) regretted my decision to come to Tokyo that I really accepted that I was experiencing culture shock. If you’re reading this and are scared about culture shock, don’t be. It’s normal and it just takes a few days to really acclimate yourself–a couple days or weeks to really start loving where you are.

View From Talisman's Office

I mean, really–look at this view!

This is especially true for people interning. You’re going to spend 140 hours surrounded by people from a culture that’s different to yours, and it’s hard. But you know what? That’s good. You’re really experiencing culture. You’re not visiting, you’re living. That’s why you’re here. That’s what will make your experience that much more valuable to you when you return home (I may have repeated this to myself a few times until I finally came to believe it).

So, once you get here, be ready for it. Don’t just ask people what’s awesome about Tokyo (because trust me, there is a lot). Ask about the hardships, and ask how to get through them. If you don’t really know anyone who went abroad yet, and you’re interested in the perspectives of this random blogger who you’ve stumbled upon, then here we go. Since this is going to be a somewhat long story, I’m going to split this post in 2 parts: 1) “So What” and 2) “Getting through It.” This is obviously part 1:

I’m in Tokyo, I’m a student and an intern, and here is my culture shock story (cue the Law and Order *dun dun*).

So What?

Coming to Japan, I thought I was somehow immune to culture shock. Well, really, I hoped. I thought not experiencing culture shock somehow meant a person was a good “World Traveler”. News flash: it doesn’t. Culture Shock can come from the smallest things. For me, it was how quiet it seems to be here. The commute, the streets, my workplace. Everything just seemed so quiet. For others, it might be the language barrier (I’m getting remarkably good at pointing and interpreting body language), or maybe its the commute to work (I spent 6 minutes this morning not being able to move my arms on the train, but that’s a subject for another blog post).

So I went through a few days in denial, just thinking I was a little homesick and it would go away. If you find yourself almost resenting a certain thing in your new host country, or you find yourself constantly comparing it to another country you’ve been to or back home, stop yourself. Really take a step back and ask yourself, truthfully and repeatedly: “is this culture shock?” Once you find the answer (and really, if you’re asking, the answer is probably “yes”), it suddenly becomes a lot easier to move on. And once you move on, you’ll really start realizing how freaking cool it is to be here. Because trust me, it is!

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So let’s get started, shall we?

Preparation for the Land of the Rising Sun

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This is a picture I took when my flight started its descent into Abu Dhabi International Airport. My connecting flight to Narita Airport in Japan would arrive three hours later.

As the number of days until departure dwindle, I find myself filled with the same mixture of anticipation and excitement that I would get during Christmas time when I was younger. The list of things I am looking forward to is also continually growing: the bustling city life of one of the world’s largest and densest cities, unique local cuisine, historic castles, spiritual temples, festivals, and the beautiful forests. And I haven’t even mentioned the karaoke stops, hobby shops, hot springs, neon robot restaurants, and those weirdly themed cafes that seem to always show up on travel shows.

I had known that the Japanese held honor and respect in very high regard, with the traditional bowing as one of the most noticeable practices to any outsider. I also knew as an American student I would stick out in Japan, so before departure I looked up YouTube videos made by foreigners (“Abroad in Japan” is one of my favorites). Mostly videos about social etiquette with titles like “10 Things NOT to do in Japan” (this is part of my attempt to assimilate into Japanese society and not look like someone who has gaijin, or”foreigner,” written on their forehead. I thought it would be helpful to list some of the things I have found for myself and for those who are also interested in visiting Japan.

  1. Don’t misuse chopsticks (stick upright in rice bowls, rub together)
  2. Don’t tip, or modify food orders
  3. Don’t blow nose in public or eat on trains
  4. Don’t get physical (handshaking, hugging)
  5. Don’t forget to take off your shoes (private or public, look for change in floors)

 

Yes, this might be an incomplete list with only “don’ts” on it, so to lighten the mood I must offer an essential “do”. Do stay open minded and have fun! Try new things that you can only do in Japan, but be safe about it and be aware of your situation! I am telling myself this in preparation to try to alleviate whatever potential culture shock or frustration I might experience.

I thought it would also be wise to start learning some additional Japanese phrases that are useful in certain situations, like when one is at a restaurant, in a conbini (convenient store), or at a train station, and kanji (Chinese symbols that represent ideas) as well before leaving. I made sure to know what the kanji for man and woman looks like, because the last thing I want to happen is for me to accidentally walk in a Japanese women’s bathroom. One last thing I learned that I think also deserves some attention is Japanese-only restaurants or any place that prevents foreigners from entering. From my research, it seems these are rare in big cities, but in rural areas or perhaps in the outskirts or back alleys of cities, they seem to still exist.

As I prepare to leave for Japan, I have also been reflecting on the journey to this point. I think this is a good time to mention that partly what made this trip possible for me, particularly financially, was the Gilman International Scholarship. They give awards to students who are from minority backgrounds and who are the first in their family to attend college. They helped me take advantage of Temple’s study abroad program and made sure that I could get the invaluable experience of self-growth and education that one can only receive while abroad. Looking ahead, I am so excited to see what this summer in Tokyo holds for me!

passing the time by the pacific

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With Tokyo’s mild weather and all-around urban-ness, it’s easy to forget the city is only an hour or so away from the beaches of Kanagawa, even less for those living in the Musashi-Kosugi dorm. And I did forget, until a few days ago when I finally bothered to Google it and realized what I’d been missing out on. Childhood trips to the Jersey Shore instilled a love for the beach in me and from what I’d been told, the Pacific is by far superior to the Atlantic.

So on Thursday, I (with Caroline, as always) set out the same as I would for a day of class but in the opposite direction. With every station passed, the surroundings gradually became more green and less populated. Our first stop was in north Kamakura at a secluded temple with beautiful cedar forests and spiraling paths leading up into the trees.

From there it was on to the Kamakura main station and Komachi shopping street. Though there was no sea smell yet, the vibes were on par with those you’d find in Wildwood or Seaside Heights. Cheap flip flops and sarongs abounded at street stalls, and soft serve, beer, and fried snacks were available every few feet. We tried to keep it traditional and opted for more Japanese offerings.

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Shirasu, also known as jiyaku outside of Kamakura, are the tiny fish you might be able to make out amongst the potatoes. They can be found in a lot of conbini bentos but on Komachi street they were everywhere. With a cool, salty taste, they paired perfectly with the starchy potatoes and I would urge any picky eaters to risk it for the experience.

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After the above daifuku (strawberry resting on mocha, green tea flavored in this case) and a few other undocumented snacks, we were on our way to the Great Buddha of Kamakura.

The second tallest Buddha in Japan, with the first in Kansai region, the Kamakura Buddha had been on my to-do list as soon as I knew I would be in Japan so I’m glad I managed to see it. And at the perfect time, as there weren’t too many tourists around to interrupt my shots. The statue really seemed to radiate calmness, up on its pedestal against the trees. Being there at golden hour was also fantastic as it really brought up the oxidized blue of the bronze.

Then, finally, it was time for the beach. Specifically, Yuigihama Beach, fifteen minutes from the Great Buddha. With the sun setting, it was getting cold and most people were heading out as we headed in. Luckily, years of braving perpetually icy east coast waters had fortified this and we were the last on the beach as the sun went down.

Unfortunately, we didn’t bring bathing suits but maybe on a return trip we’ll take a dip. Either way, I don’t know how I’ll ever be happy in the Atlantic again after this. The water was so cool, clear, and absolutely lacking the fishiness that clings to my hair even if I don’t get it wet.

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I was starting to feel a little somber about not seeing Kyoto/Nara or Okinawa while in Japan but this trip to Kamakura just about made up for that. Hopefully, someday I’ll make it back here and experience the other locations for comparison!

(r)amen

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With my departure date drawing closer and finals in full swing, my to-do list has become less sight/site oriented and more bite oriented! TUJ doesn’t offer study abroad students any meal plan options, although there is a cafeteria for independent enjoyment in our dorm, so I knew early on that most of my meals would be eaten out. I cook sometimes but, as mentioned in a previous post, Tokyo has an abundance of restaurants offering affordable, balanced, and above all delicious meals around the clock.

Japanese cuisine tends to be less meat heavy than is common in the West, which is totally fine with me as a recovering vegetarian. (I’m nine years “clean.”) Noodles, rice, and starchy vegetables provide a base, topped with a portion of meat prepared in any number of ways, and pickles, ginger, and a bowl of miso soup will usually accompany the main dish. My favorite quick dinners, in no particular order, are: gyudon, beef bowl; udon, a thick buckwheat noodle, and tororo, grated yam if available; and, of course, ramen.

Despite being a broke, over-booked college student for over two years now, I didn’t actually have instant ramen until over a month into my time in Japan. I come from an Easy Mac family and the thought of having to boil water with noodles in a pot, rather than simply stick a packet in the microwave, repulsed me. I mean, really? It’s the 21st century. Little did I know, ramen (and I mean ramen, not Cup’O’Noodle noodles) can be purchased in a Styrofoam bowl, mixed with boiled water from a kettle, and cook in said bowl within minutes!

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Extra flavoring, a sheet of nori, seaweed, bamboo shoots, and slice of charsiu, pork, all preserved, come along with it! I get the spicy flavor but other bowls are available for those who can’t handle the heat. Instant ramen has changed me, for what I hope is the better.

For sit-down ramen, you can find at least two shops on every Tokyo city block. Chains abound as well as mom’n’pop spots and most only offer ramen, usually no more than five different bowls. This, as well as the standard mode of ordering via vending machine, makes ramen an especially valuable option for those who aren’t fluent in Japanese.

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Ichiran is an excellent introduction to ramen, checking all of the boxes of standard shops but allowing diners to customize their bowl in the slightest way. In Japan, modifications aren’t just discouraged, they’re non-existent: there’s no ‘sauce on the side’ or ‘without cheese’ or ‘hold the salad,’ you get your food exactly as it looks in the case model or advertisement. But Ichiran allows tweaks to spice level, toppings, noodle density (admittedly a modification allowed at other venues where noodles are made fresh), and noodle quantity, appealing to natives and tourists with equal measure. Added novelty comes from the cubicles customers sit in, leading it to be deemed an “anti-social supper club” by some.

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Slightly less universally appealing and accommodating but still excellent is Tenkaippin’s kotteri ramen. They offer two bowls, one with thin broth and the kotteri, which is almost gravy-like. (Thick, with two cs if you get me.) The latter tends to be more popular so I’ve stuck to it in my various visits, always adding a side of fried rice for only a dollar extra. Tenkaippin does not seat customers in cubicles but around a t-shaped counter, the room silent aside from slurping. Though I will definitely be dining there a few more times during my stay, I must say they lose points for solely providing water when offering the choice between that and tea is the norm.

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And for days when you want ramen but not the broth, due to heat or light colored clothing, whatever, I don’t know your life, there’s shirunashi, ramen dipping noodles. To try ramen without the broth, hit up an excellent shop called Doraichi right down the street from TUJ’s campus with a great lunch deal.

I’ll miss being able to get fresh made noodles whenever but luckily there’s room for a few of my favorite instant brands left in my suitcase!

 

 

 

 

 

 

tsukiji stakeout

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Sushi.
The food that is probably the most emblematic of Japan in western consciousness. We’ve all had a California roll, dabbled in roe (fish egg) or the supremely sea salt-y uni (sea urchin), and established our stance on wasabi as a condiment. But, where does all that fish come from?

A bounty of sushi bowls.

Probably from Tsukiji Market, located in the heart of Tokyo since the early 20th century and featured in at least half a dozen documentaries in the last decade alone. Housed in a massive complex not far from Ginza on one side and Ueno on the other, even fish caught outside of Asian waters comes through Tsukiji. Six days a week, the grounds are utter calamity, motorized vehicles whizzing over puddles of fishy ice water, tourists and wholesalers and locals all scrambling for purchase on narrow paths, braving fish-scented winds and hungry seagulls to get their hands on the day’s best catch.

The daily tuna auction is the market’s most noteworthy feature and the line starts at 4 am to be among the 120 spectators let in.
Moving the market has been on Tokyo’s agenda for some time now, with multiple delays, but with the 2020 Olympics nearing the market will be moved in the fall. This leaves the fate of Tsukiji as a tourist spot, which it was never truly intended to be, uncertain, so I knew I had to see it now.

Friday night, my ever trusted companion Caroline and I set out on the last train out of our local station, somehow managing our journey seamlessly through two more transfers. The last train in Tokyo is always a transcendent experience, utterly different from every train before it and definitely worth experiencing. We arrived at 1 am or so, with a few hours to kill before we thought we had to be in position but after an hour or two we were anxious and headed over. This ended up being the right choice and we were the last of the last group to make it in.

Caroline circa 3 am; our guide

The auction was prefaced by a lengthy historical intro by several guides and then an even lengthier waiting period. I thought I was going to pass out and sleep through it at several points! But getting on the auction floor was a good a wake up call as anything!
So much energy with bids being shouted out, carcasses being rolled away, ice bucket after ice bucket being poured out to keep things fresh. Being dazed and focused on pictures, I have no idea how the pricing works but according to Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Thanks Netflix! Thanks mom and dad for paying for Netflix!) the very first tuna sold in the New Year can go for a million yen!

I felt deader than these tuna at the time but rather neglected compared to the attention they garnered.

Luckily, the outer market’s offerings weren’t nearly as pricy and we managed an excellent breakfast for under 2,000yen! You’ll see lots of online guides urging you to try non-sushi dishes in Tsukiji but having eaten enough fish to maybe, possibly, hopefully not have mercury poisoning since I’ve been in Tokyo, I can confidently say the market offering should not be missed!

Uni fresh from the shell! Tamagoyaki cooked in front of you!

Sushi bowls, called don-buri, kaisen-don, and chirashi, with minor differences, are my favorite way to feast on fish and much more filling than standard cuts/rolls due to the rise that comes with them. The one I had at Tsukiji was superb, melt in your mouth fatty tuna with minced tuna and lots of wasabi. (By diner’s choice, of course.)

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If you’re in the neighborhood before October, I highly recommend a trip to Tsukiji. Hit the first onigiri/sushi shop across from the #3 parking lot, tell them I sent you for a confused look and an excellent sushi bowl!