Monthly Archives: June 2012

日光に行こう!(Let’s go to Nikko!)

日光に行こう!(Let’s go to Nikko!)

Two weekends ago I decided to take a trip with my friend Sarah to Nikko.  Neither of us had ever been before and since it was fairly affordable, we thought it would be a nice impromptu day trip.  We met at Gotanda station around 6:00 AM, and took the Asakusa line to Asakusa.  From there we transferred to the Tobu Line for a 2 hour train ride into the countryside.  It was beautiful to the gradual progression from crowded city to rustic landscape.  To my surprise the train was actually loud at times, filled with people talking about all different things.  Maybe it’s just a Tokyo thing to be quiet on trains in the morning.

Umbrella Army!

When we finally got there, the rain had picked up some more.  Our first stop was to see the various shrines and temples.  We took a bus that stopped by all the popular temples.  While on the bus we befriended a very talkative elderly man.  He was enthusiastic to help us and answer any questions we had.  That’s one thing I really like about living in Japan, people generally tend to look out for foreigners.  Unfortunately the man and his group of friends (who were also elderly men) were moving somewhat slow on this cold and rainy day, so eventually we parted ways.

Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil, See no Evil

I was surprised to see so many tourists out in the rain.  Armies of umbrellas paraded in and out of shrines, tour guides yelling over the loudness of it all.  Within the Toshogu Shrine complex, we climbed an almost never ending flight after flight of steep stone steps to the shrine of the Neco Nemuri (Sleeping Cat).  By the time we reached the top my legs were really burning!  The shrine and beautiful view was well worth the trip though. As we headed back down I periodically saw elderly men and women equipped with canes trying the best they could to make it to the top. Seeing this made me realize how important this shrine must be to some people.  I was in full respect for their dedication.  This wasn’t just a place for tourists to come, this was a sacred area.  After seeing all that we could in the Toshogu Shrine we visited the Old Japanese Garden and Treasure House.  Even in the rain the gardens still projected a rare beauty; I can only imagine how beautiful it is when the weather is good.  Within the Treasure House were some of the most amazing Buddhist tapestries I have ever seen.  I feel like I spent a good half hour taking in the dozen or so that were there.  Unfortunately, pictures weren’t allowed.  You’ll have to see it for yourself.

Sarah on the walkway before the never ending flight of steps

We took a bus for 20 minutes out west and up into the mountains to observe the Kegon Falls next.  Once in the area we got a bite to eat at a small local restaurant.  The waiters there were happy to see us (I think because we were foreign haha).  While there, one of the waiters struck up a small conversation with me.  Although it lasted all but a minute or so, it was the first conversation I had in a while in which I didn’t feel like I was really thinking too hard about speaking.  My speech just flowed.  All this Japanese studying is finally kicking in!

The Kegon Falls, well, that’s also something you’ll have to see for yourself.  Nikko is just a beautiful place.  I think I’m going to head up there one more time before I leave Japan.  Well until next time, Peace Everyone.

Entrance of Toshogu Shrine

Thanks again for letting me use the pictures Sarah!


International Exchanges


Last Sunday, my friend Kevin and I decided to head to Harajuku for some shopping/design inspiration.  Kevin, who designs clothes as a hobby, was looking for any pieces that really reflected different aspects of Japanese culture.  In a city as international as Tokyo it can sometimes be hard in general to find things that are uniquely “Japanese.”  Yet Harajuku was probably best place for us to start looking.  I myself was looking for clothes for family and friends; interesting pieces that you could only find in Japan.  Although Kevin didn’t have a phone, due to the high efficiency of public transportation in Japan, we met up with each other at exactly the right place and time.  I’m really really going to miss this transportation system when I’m back in Philadelphia.

Used clothing stores are very commonplace in Japan.  Unlike in the States where the likelihood of finding a trusted brand is minimal in used stores, Japan used clothing stores have tons of “cool”, quality, and expensive brands at marked down prices.  While walking in and out of these stores I came to realize that Tokyo is a very much consumerist society.  There were so many high end and usually expensive brands within these second hand stores; seems like fashion forward Tokyoites must change their wardrobe every month!

In some of the street wear stores I was surprised to find relatively underground US brands on hangers and shelves.  One in particular which caught me off guard was Maddecent.  This brand was started in Philadelphia by the music producer/Temple alum Diplo.  You would be hard pressed to find Maddecent in clothing stores in Philadelphia; yet here it was, all the way in Tokyo.

Making new friends at the International Party

After shopping for some time, Kevin and I hopped on the Yamanote Line and headed north towards Takadanobaba Station.  My friend, Yo (she goes by Yo because her name is hard to pronounce in Taiwanese) was co-hosting an international/cultural exchange party in the area.  I really like these types of events.  People from all different nationalities come out to meet and learn from new people.  Attendees at the party were for the most part very outgoing.  Yet most the Japanese people there did not really know English, so I made the best conversations I could out of the little Japanese I knew.  Communication barriers eventually turned into games for me.  If I didn’t know how to grammatically say what I want to say, I tried to think of different ways to use the grammar I already knew to get my point across.  We made a lot of friends, and got asked be in even more photos.  Even though my time here is limited, I’m looking forward to hanging out again with the friends I made at least once or twice before I head back to the States.

I have about one more month before get on that flight back to Philly.  I’ve keeping myself super busy with school and my internship, hoping to avoid the reality of the situation.  I have a feeling that I might come back to live here for a little while sometime after graduation.  Wow, I can’t believe I graduate next year!  Time, give me a chance to catch up please!

Thank you Yo for taking these pictures!

Lost in Connotation

Lost in Connotation

Generally speaking, people in America tend to be honest, straightforward, and direct when communicating.  Whether it be in business, among friends, or romance, we tend to be vocal about what we really want; in hopes that confusion/misunderstanding between other parties is minimal.  Individualism is also an important part of American society.  Standing up for yourself ensures that your opinion will be heard.  Media as well as our peers tell us that our opinion is important. Communication theories would say that because of these things, America is a low context society.  The way in which we communicate highly relies on the verbal.

Even the slightest drizzle and I find myself having to weave in and out of hordes of umbrellas.

Japan takes a different approach to communicating.  For the most part, communication among parties can be very indirect.  There is a lot of “assuming” that occurs in which intuition plays a big role in determining whether or not both parties are on the same page.  People generally tend to be less verbal, and more attentive to listening.  There is a collective mentality in this society, where group harmony is favored over individualism.  This mentality is even reflected within in the Japanese language.  When referring to oneself in a sentence, there is a strong tendency to drop the “I am…” in the beginning of the sentence.  In addition, the pronoun “you” is rarely used in conversation.  Because of these factors (as well as many others), Japan is considered to be a high context society.

A night out with my TUJ 友だち。

I regularly come across these differences in communication on a daily basis.  When hanging out with mixed groups of Japanese and American friends, my Japanese friends tend to be more “go with flow.”  Even if they aren’t interested in whatever the plan is at hand, they will not say they are uninterested.  They may drop hints in hopes that it would indicate their disinterest, whereas my American friends would just say exactly how they feel.

Once I started to become more aware of the differences in communication styles, I slowly learned how to adjust how I communicate with other Japanese.  I relied more on  intuition and body language to gauge how a person was feeling.  While trying to assimilate into a culture through communication, one comes to realize that there are other Japanese trying to do the same thing.  The influence Western culture has on this society blurs the line between high and low culture.  Especially in very urban areas such as Tokyo.

Being around so many different cultures in Tokyo has helped me learn a lot about how I communicate.  I have become much more attentive to small things in daily communication.  Sometimes I find myself mixing Japanese colloquial gestures and phrases into my English speaking.  Overall, I have realized that listening is an extremely important factor in all types of communication.  My strong sense of individualism sometimes clouds my listening skills, but I’m learning.

It’s not always about what someone says, it’s about how they say it.


Jazz, Animals, And a Crowded Ueno Park


Hey everyone.  A while back I took a trip to Ueno with my friend Maki.  I had never been and she hadn’t been since she was a kid, so we figured it would be an interesting place for both of us to go.  The train ride was a long one.  We left from Shibuya station on the JR Yamanote line: a loop that hits every major district in the downtown Tokyo area, and connects with just about every line in the city.  We accidentally got on going the wrong direction which took us in a roundabout way to our destination.  When we arrived, to our surprise, the entire station was packed.  It took us a good five minutes to get outside, only to run into even more crowds of people.  Everyone was out on this brisk, spring afternoon.  We looked around, trying to figure out if there was something special going on that we didn’t know about.  Our ears pulled us to a jazzy melody floating along in the brisk cold air.  The source, still unclear, led us to a huge crowd of people.  Finally realizing that what we heard was actually live, I couldn’t help but take my ear’s lead and try to get a glimpse of what was going on.  It was a live jazz band accompanied by break-dancers.  We stayed for a little bit, enjoying the sounds of the foreign group, which was anything but foreign for me.  We left the crowd, weaved in and out of people and stretched further into the park.  We reached a crossroads lined with cherry blossom trees in full bloom.  We wondered if we should wade shoulder to shoulder and inch our way deeper into the park.  Our other alternative was to take the less crowded path and check out the zoo.  We opted for the latter and made our way towards the zoo entrance.

Near the entrance of the park

Not only was the zoo interesting, the people were quite interesting as well.  As we walked up to cages and exhibits we heard people of all ages exuberantly pronouncing one of three things: かわいい(cute!)、怖い(scary!)、すごい(amazing!).  At some of the more crowded exhibits, like the lions and monkeys, finding an area to get a nice view was somewhat of a struggle itself.  Sometimes it felt like I was on a 7:00AM train that had just stopped at the always busy Shinagawa station.  Crowds were trying to push their way to the front, while others were trying to leave the exhibit.  In such a crowded city as this, it seems like the idea of “personal space” takes on a different meaning.  I could empathize with the parents pushing strollers around that day.

It was a cold day.

It was a cold day.

Everyone huddled close

Tired of walking around we made our way towards the zoo exit, different the from the one we entered.  Near this exit there were a dozen or so food stands selling all kinds of food.  I noticed one that sold big turkey legs for only 500 yen.  Both of us hungry, we decided that the legs would be the most filling (and cheapest) food we could get in the area.  We ate then headed back home.

“楽しかった?(Was it fun?)” Maki asked me.

“とても楽しかった、(It was very fun)” I replied.

To make things better, there were actually some free seats on the train.  I took the opportunity to grab a seat, my legs burning from all the walking I did that day.  Until the next post, Peace everybody!